Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Chiefs and the Sharks were awesome, the Crusaders and the Stormers weren't!

He's the Man! (picture

I must have been one of the only people with a TV watching a recording of the Chiefs/Crusaders match instead of the Olympic opening ceremony. And I missed out, can’t beat the British for putting on a show. What I did get to see however was a spine tinglingly intense game of rugby. The conventional wisdom (well my wisdom anyway) was that the (rusaders were only a roll, the Chiefs weren’t, and it was going  to be a win by the men in red and black. Wrong! The Crusaders didn’t know what hit them (I’ll come back to that) and it puts into perspective the gushing praise the Crusaders were getting in NZ on the back of putting away a tired looking Bulls team last week. What hit them – I think it was Messam, Schalwager, anyone with a name ending in olo. The Chiefs to me had a definite strategy of getting in the Crusaders faces, literally, and the Crusaders didn’t like it, couldn’t cope with it. The Chiefs also came to play, Cruden is just awesome, so was Sonny Bill, what a final it’s going to be!

Meanwhile, in Cape Town, it was expected by most people (me anyway) that the Sharks were going to be too tired to beat a well rested Stormers side with the best defensive side in the competition. They looked they’d rested all right – on the beach eating pies! They were as sluggish as, well, the slugs eating all the flowers in my garden! I’m amazed at how little the Sharks had to do to beat them. Pietersen’s cheeky try was an embarrassment for them, and Michalak proved (as did Cruden) that size doesn’t always count. I think the Sharks play better when they are jet lagged! I don’t know how they’ll cope with another long plane trip, but don’t count them out just yet.

Super Rugby
Saturday , July 28
Stormers 19 - 26 Sharks 
Friday , July 27
Chiefs 20 - 17 Crusaders 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Super Rugby Semi Final Time!

Sayonara Sonny (picture

Hamilton is the venue this Friday as the first semi final kicks off. Again, why it’s on a Friday I have no idea. I see the auditions for New Zealand’s Got Talent are on - I suppose they knew they’d never get an audience for the rugby with competition like that. Anyway, how’s it going to shape up?  The Chiefs topped off a great season with a stumble at the end, losing to the Crusaders and the Canes. Then they’ve had a week’s break, and a break before that for the Summer/Winter tour. All the momentum is with the Crusaders, and all the experience, the composure to deal with a big game. The Chiefs have got an awesome attack, but that only works when you have the ball, and the Crusaders have a stout defense anyway.  Even with the X-factor of the departing SBW to me, this is the situation where the Crusaders get down and dirty and grind out a win.

Then on Saturday, we’re off to Cape Town to see the Sharks come up against the Stormers. The Sharks, like the Crusaders, are a team with momentum and self belief.  They’ve chosen just the right moment to show what they can really do, with a rampaging run into the semis.  The Stormers meanwhile, had a less then impressive performance against the Rebels, and then have had a week to think about this match.  They have the most watertight defense in the competition, but not an awesomely effective attack.  The question is, can they prevent the Sharks from scoring more points than they can? I think the Sharks can absolutely beat the Stormers but jet lag has to come into it, they’ve literally flown around the world in the last week. And had to fly to Cape Town after that. The Sharks have also lost Steyn and Jordaan from midfield, and Lambie is out. The Stormers have had a horror run of injuries in the back row, and start with a hooker at eighth man. I’m going with the Stormers because of that jet lag factor for the Sharks.

Chiefs v Crusaders:
Date: Friday, 27 July
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: (19.35 local, 17.35 AUS, 09.35 SA)
Stormers v Sharks:
Date: Saturday, 28 July
Venue: Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Kick-off: (17.05 local, Sun 29 Jul 03.05 NZT, Sun 29 Jul 01.05 AUS)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Crusaders slay the Bulls, while the Sharks terrorise Queensland

The semi deciders got going in Christchurch, with the Bulls taking on the Crusaders. If ever a team looked like they’d got off a 24 hour flight, this was the Bulls. In fact they looked like they’d got off a 24 hour flight, gone straight to a 24 hour party, and then come to the match. All in all, they put in a decent  spell for about 10 minutes in the second half.  Their A plan didn’t fire, and let’s face it, this is the Bulls, let’s not confuse things by having two plans. The Crusaders played well, but weren’t really tested. McCaw is pure class, and could easily be starting for the All Blacks at no 8 (depending on how Read recovers) , while Carter is back to his best. The Bulls weren’t help by a succession of injuries, and a bad day at the office from Morne Steyn.

The second match was much better – OK, I’m a little biased because I’m a Sharks fan, but there was a lot more running rugby, and the teams were a lot closer. I don’t know where the Sharks have been hiding this form, but for the last three weeks they’ve been on fire. Their loose trio is immense, ( and with Alberts at lock and Bismarck they have 5 loose forwards!)and the running from the backs, in particular JP Pietersen, is savage as my son would say. Paul Jordaan impressed as well. It all went wrong for the Reds when Cooper tip tackled last week. Then Lucas went off, they lost their shape, and found it nigh impossible to break down a determined Sharks defense. With a bit more luck with injuries, they could have done a lot more this season.

This is how they line up next week. Why host the NZ side on a Friday though?

Chiefs v Crusaders:
Date: Friday, 27 July
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: (19.35 local, 17.35 AUS, 09.35 SA)
Stormers v Sharks:
Date: Saturday, 28 July
Venue: Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Kick-off: (17.05 local, Sun 29 Jul 03.05 NZT, Sun 29 Jul 01.05 AUS)

Super Rugby
Saturday , July 21
Crusaders 28 - 13 Bulls 
Reds 17 - 30 Sharks

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Super rugby - time for the semi semi finals

After 18 rounds of slugging it out, we’re down to the knockout stage of Super Rugby. This week I guess is the semi semi final, and the intricacies of the system mean that if the Sharks beat the Reds, the Stormers play the Sharks at Newlands in the semis. Should the Reds win however, the Stormers will play the winners of the Crusaders/ Bulls match.

So, there’ll be two things on the Crusaders minds this weekend – beating the Bulls and hoping like hell that the Reds win, otherwise they’ll be on the plane to SA for the next round. The Crusaders (or team Whitelock as they are now known), have only one key player missing , Kieran Read. McCaw has stepped into the breach and is covering the number 8 position and lying all over the ball.  I can see a yellow card in this match – for standing on McCaw at a ruck. The Bulls have namedan impressively large team, and I’m sure the strategy will be to pulverize the Crusaders pack, score on the breakaway, and kick the penalties. The critical question is will they be able to contain the flair of the Crusaders backs? I’m saying, no, they won’t so a home win for the Crusaders.

The Reds have sneaked into this final, with some very up and down form, mainly as a result of a long string of injuries. They will be missing Quade Cooper, not renowned for any type of tackling, and then last week he goes and does a tip tackle. How Will Genia plays is absolutely crucial for them, he could take them through on his own.  The Sharks have picked Alberts at lock, and are planning to pulverize the Reds pack – where have I heard that before? Without Lambie in the backs they are little short on flair, so again I’m going with the home team to get the win.

Super Rugby
Saturday , July 21
Crusaders vs Bulls 08:35
Reds vs Sharks 10:40

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Block rocking Boks grab three, New Zealand two and the Aussies one

One to watch ( picture

It’s a good thing I don’t put money on my predictions. The Chiefs will be kicking themselves after handing the top of the league to the Stormers, in the last minute of their last round robin match. Composure! That’s what champions have, and I kind of doubt that the Chiefs are going to be champions this time around. Next up in the kicking themselves stakes are the Brumbies, who after hanging on to lead of the Aussie division forever it seems, managed to lose to whipping boys the Blues in their last match, and bow out of the competition.  It’s tough, but Jake White has done a great job with a team nobody expected anything of.

After that, it went to form, with the Crusaders easily beating the Force,  and the Reds trouncing the ‘Tahs to grab a spot. With only 58 points, in a real competition, they would have got sixth spot, but Sanzar gave the Reds 3rd.

The Stormers didn’t look to flash putting away the Rebels, but they already had their eye on potentially a final. If you top the log, you normally win the whole thing, is this going to be the Stormers year? The Sharks played their normal half of rugby, but lucky for them chose the second half this time, and put down a spirited Cheetahs side. JP Pietersen and Willem Alberts had big games, but it’s a pity to see Lambie out now.

Finally, the Bulls ran over the Lions, it was contest for some of the match, but in the second half the Bulls opened up and put the game to bed. Impressive for me was JJ Engelbrecht, who looks like he could add some much needed flair to the Bok backline.
So that’s the final standing, 3 from the Republic, two from New Zealand, and an Aussie side scraping in. Good news for the Boks.

1. Stormers 66
2. Chiefs 64
3. Reds 58
4. Crusaders 61
5. Bulls 59
6. Sharks 59

Then these are the next matches, while the Stormers and Chiefs take a break.

Saturday , July 21
Crusaders vs Bulls 08:35
Reds vs Sharks 10:40

Super Rugby
Saturday , July 14
Brumbies 16 - 30 Blues 
Crusaders 38 - 24 Western Force 
Stormers 26 - 21 Melbourne Rebels 
Sharks 34 - 15 Cheetahs 
Reds 32 - 16 Waratahs 
Bulls 37 - 20 Lions 
Friday , July 13
Hurricanes 28 - 25 Chiefs

Thursday, July 12, 2012

50 Shades of Blue - relax, it's a Leinster round up , plus final round Super Rugby predictions

Here are a few links with some info on two new signings by Leinster, Tom Denton, and Michael Bent. Bent is apparently qualified to play for Ireland, so that could work out well. Are we going to have a shot at signing Brumby Ruaidhri Murphy?  The big news of course is that we’ve got Luke Fitzgerald back for another year. Crazy that he hasn’t got an IRFU contract, injuries aside, he’s been getting back to some really good form.

I’m predicting no change in the Super Rugby standings, with wins for the Chiefs, Stormers, Brumbies, Crusaders and Sharks. Well that was easy! I’d say the Sharks have their work cut out against the Cheetahs, and of course the battle between the Chiefs and Hurricanes will be epic.  Freddie Michalak has been in sparkling form for both France and the Sharks, who look like they are timing their run just right this year. With Lambie and Alberts on the bench, the Sharks have enough firepower to get home.

Super Rugby

Friday , July 13
Hurricanes vs Chiefs 
Saturday , July 14
Brumbies vs Blues 15:30
Crusaders vs Western Force 19:35
Reds vs Waratahs 19:40
Stormers vs Melbourne Rebels 15:00
Sharks vs Cheetahs 17:05
Bulls vs Lions 19:10

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A sprinkle of Irish News and Super Rugby

Connacht spread the word (picture

Not much Irish news as far I can see, except that Leinster will be taking on Ireland in a 20/20 match of cricket ( 27th July, 2.30) – sounds excellent! I met Irish captain Trent Johnson the other day and he’s a big tall strong lad – would have made a pretty fearsome rugby player I’d say. I’m not expecting too much blocking from Leinster… Also I see Connacht  did a bit PR around the great platform of the Volvo Ocean Race, with an open skills session and some touch rugby.

Super Rugby

I didn’t get to see the Sharks/Bulls match, as a barbeque, my son’s cricket and mowing the lawn conspired against me. But they did OK without me, a bonus point win against the Bulls is none too shabby. The top of the Table is quite SA heavy at the moment, with the Stormers inching towards the top, and the Bulls and the Sharks in the last two play off spots.

The matches I did watch were the Crusaders/Chiefs match, where a lack of composure and a brutal line out saw the Chiefs hand a win to the Crusaders. It was a good game though, very skilled, high tempo and passionate.  I also saw the Highlanders/Reds game, where again a nervy Highlanders team ran themselves into the ground, made errors at key moments, and lost a match they had the winning of. The Reds look great in fits and starts, but don’t seem to able to maintain their concentration. Ben Smith is the stand out player for the Highlanders.
Super Rugby
Saturday , July 7
Blues 32 - 9 Western Force 
Waratahs 15 - 19 Brumbies 
Cheetahs 6 - 13 Stormers 
Lions 37 - 32 Melbourne Rebels 
Friday , July 6
Chiefs 21 - 28 Crusaders 
Reds 19 - 13 Highlanders 
Sharks 32 - 10 Bulls 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Irish provincial signings and a bit of Super Rugby

CJ Stander (picture

Irish Round Up

All seems quiet on the Leinster front with all the news coming from the other three provinces. It seems you are nobody if you haven’t signed a South African recently – Leinster snapped up lock Quinn Roux, Munster have got their hands on CJ Stander, a promising young flanker from the Bulls, and Connacht are in on the act as well, signing wing/full back Danie Poolman,  from the Stormers.  All three can potentially play for Ireland, but they might want to cast their eye over the career of another South African who came here looking to play rugby for Ireland, Robbie Diack. Diack was tipped by some to be a future Springbok, but his chances with Ireland seem slim when he’s struggling to make Ulster’s first team. Time will tell who makes the grade. With Ricard Strauss waiting in the wings as well , the days of the Springboks using Afrikaans for line out calls when they play us are numbered.

Meanwhile, Ulster, in a ‘signing a South African is so last season, dahling’ move,  have signed a kiwi, Nick Williams.

Super Rugby

The Chiefs could do the Canes a big favour by beating the Saders, and I actually think they have a chance, even with Carter, Dagg and Read back in the team. The Reds should beat the Highlanders, and put pressure on the Brumbies, who on paper should lose against the Tahs.

The Sharks vs the Bulls rivals the first match in terms of impact. I’m not expecting anything fancy – in fact I’d fall off my chair if I saw anything fancy- it’s going to be South African rugby at it’s brutal best. The Sharks are without Lambie and man mountain Alberts, and have slipped up in recent matches. I’m going with home advantage to see them through.

The Blues and Western Force, and the Rebels and Lions promise to be fascinating encounters…not.
Enjoy the rugby!

Super Rugby
Friday , July 6
Chiefs vs Crusaders 19:35
Reds vs Highlanders 19:40
Sharks vs Bulls 18:10
Saturday , July 7
Blues vs Western Force 19:35
Waratahs vs Brumbies 19:40
Cheetahs vs Stormers 15:00
Lions vs Melbourne Rebels 17:05

Sunday, July 1, 2012

#Leinster sign Quinn Roux and bits and pieces of Super 15

Leinster have announced the signing of Quinn Roux from Western Province. He’s the lad on the right (not the one in the middle, thank goodness), while the other chap is Eben Etzebeth, the new Springbok sensation. He’ll add some much appreciated grunt to the engine room, and I guess is a medium term prospect for Ireland. I hope Damian Browne gets more game time this season as well, he’s come along a lot with the opportunities he’s had.

Well with the North on Holiday, it was time to catch up with the S15. I caught three  derbies, Crusaders/Hurricanes, Brumbies/Force and Bulls/Cheetahs.  The first was the closet, and an exciting match. It got really helter skelter near the end, I guess the Crusaders miss some old heads like Carter and Read to calm things down, but you have to take your hat off the Hurricanes for a great win.

The Aussie derby was pretty dire- low skill levels, and the amount of mistakes! The Force lost their coach mid season, and it shows, with heads hanging firmly down.

Finally, it was the Bulls, in stampede mode in the first half, running in four trys as easy as you like. To me the stand out player was Juandre Kruger (former Saint), he’s frighteningly agile and mobile for a man his size. When the Bulls turn it on, I’d say a sniper is the only thing that would save you. With the match won, they then totally switched off and let in a few easy trys. Heinrich Brussow didn’t feature much at the breakdown, but what an all round player, evening scoring a wings try.