Friday, August 30, 2013

I'm hoping for some 'exhibition style' rugby from the Saints!

 Jimmy Gopperth (picture

There is all sorts of rugby going on this weekend, but apart from the Top 14, the rest is provincial stuff, ITM and Currie Cup. Meanwhile, I’m going to see some good live rugby anyway as Leinster entertain Northampton Saints at Donnybrook. I saw the exact same match two years ago, notable probably as the beginning of the end for Shark Steven Sykes, who end the match in controversy, and was never really seen again.

At Leinster, Leo Cullen at 35 has been confirmed as the captain for another season, and Ian Madigan has signed up for three more years. A fairly lightweight team has been named in terms of experience, apart from the backrow of Ruddock, Jennings and Jordi Murphy, and I’m looking for big things from Quinn Roux, so I’m glad to see him in the team. In the backs, we get to see Jimmy Gopperth, and then there are a couple of names like Reddan and Cronin to come off the bench.

Northampton, meanwhile, are giving outings to the Pisi’s, George North, Corbiserio,  and Courtney Lawes. Let’s hope the Saints are going to play some ‘exhibition style’ rugby then because it look like they have a lot more firepower than we do on paper. Sure to be some good craic anyway.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Wallabies and Pumas improve, which wasn't that difficult really

 Bjorn Basson (picture

The Rugby Championship threw up another two exciting matches. The Wallabies didn’t stink this weekend – they didn’t get a win, but they restored a bit of dignity with a close loss to the All Blacks. New Zealand are an amazingly efficient team, taking all points on offer, and manufacturing tries at ease. Ben Smith won’t get 5 easier tries against the Aussies, ever, he’ll probably be lucky to get 5 more tries, altogether against anyone. Australia got stuck in at the breakdown, where Hooper really showed his mettle, and he can carry well too. Toomua was far more confident, making some good breaks and dictating play a bit. Genia looks out of sorts, they should rest him and look at their back up options. They won’t be far away from a win if they carry on playing like that. The All Blacks, meanwhile, don’t really look like they’ve been tested yet, and will probably only get that when they play in South Africa.

In Mendoza, the Springboks didn’t completely disgrace themselves as they scraped past the Pumas. When things are going well, they have their sacred Game Plan to stick to – when they aren’t they just defend and kick the ball away. I know there was a bit of luck at the start of Basson’s try, but when they can do that – why do they normally play such stodgy stuff. The Argentineans certainly turned themselves around in a week, but as ever, they need to watch discipline. I know it’s the Springboks, but even THEY object to being eye gouged and bitten. Argentina need to start developing their own style if they want to compete at this level, because they are still lagging behind the other three without that.

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 24
New Zealand 27 - 16 Australia 
Argentina 17 - 22 South Africa 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Big improvements needed from the Pumas and Wallabies!


It’s the reverse fixtures this weekend, with the Aussies in New Zealand and the Springboks in Argentina.

It’s a massive match for the Wallabies – they kept the score decent most of the last match, then saw it all blow out at the end. And that was at home, it’s going to be so much tougher in Wellington. The man that really needs to pull one out of the hat this weekend is Matt Toomua. He’s got to start directing play and creating something himself, and fast, otherwise Cooper should get one as quick as possible. I’d love to see him come on and do some damage, get the AB ‘fans’ something to really boo about. Scott Fardy is a replacement for the injured Hugh McMeniman. He’ll part of the physicality that the Wallabies need to bring after a fairly gentle outing last week.  Meanwhile Tom Taylor comes in for Cruden, Retallick for Romano, and Tony Woodcock makes his 100th test appearance.  Tom Taylor has played well for the Crusaders – he won’t have played with Smith or Nonu though, and it’s a big step up to test level, so is that a chink of opportunity for the Wallabies? Most people gave Australia no chance last week   – this week… they certainly aren’t burdened down by the weight of expectations. But the AB’s will get the job done no doubt.

Argentina have mountain of their own to climb against the Springboks. In this match last year, the Argentineans got a draw, probably deserved a win, and were narrowly beaten by Australia by 4 and 6 point s in their two matches.  It’s going to take some doing to make a comeback this week, after last weeks humiliation. I think the best they can be hoping for is a loss with a respectable scoreline especially as  the Springboks are notoriously bad travelers. They main tactic last week seemed to be to try and disrupt the Springboks, rather than impose their own game plan. The Pumas will be better no doubt, but it just hammers home how well they’ve been doing without a first class domestic competition and with most of their internationals playing abroad. I think the Boks will win, but by a more modest margin than last week.

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 24
New Zealand vs Australia 08:35
Argentina vs South Africa 20:10

Monday, August 19, 2013

The All Blacks and the Springboks lay down a marker!

 JJ Engelbrecht (

Two fantastic games got the Rugby Championship going this weekend, which despite the quality of the rugby, by a country mile, has the worst name and logo. I have to hold my hand up as well, I seriously underestimated the quality and vision of Heyneke Meyers’s coaching.

Australia and New Zealand is always something to look forward to, even if the Wallabies aren’t what they used to be. It was a sobering debut for Ewen McKenzie, as his side shipped a large home defeat. That always had the potential to happen, with plenty of unfamiliar combinations, but I think he has a plan, has picked the players for that, and the team will only get better.  Something he’ll have to fix is the Wallabies lack of physicality. You’ll only compete against the All Blacks if you’re constantly physically battering them. Matt Toomua was way to quiet as well, not asserting himself in any way. The All Blacks were full value for their best team in the world tag, constant quick front foot ball gave them all they needed to open up the Wallabies. Apart from a substandard lineout, they are the team to beat.

In Joburg, the Springboks dismantled the Pumas with alarming ease. The Pumas, with a few key players injured, just about held it together in the first half, but then indiscipline and a lack of an 80 minute effort sealed their fate. The Springboks won’t pick up much easier wins than that this year. They have put together a complete package in their team now – the normal massive, physical scrum, and then Englebrecht and Le Roux have added a new dimension to their play. Their bench is the best in the competition – Bismarck du Plessis, Oosthuizen, Du Preez, Serfontein, Lambie – all came on and kept the pressure on against the Pumas.

The All Black Springbok matches will be epic this year!

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 17
Australia 29 - 47 New Zealand 
South Africa 73 - 13 Argentina 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Rugby Championship kicks off - and I'm tipping Australia and the Springboks this weekend!

The biggest rugby annual rugby competition in the world is about to kick off- but there’s not too much excitement about this side of the world. I suppose it’d be a topic for debate which is the best tournament, with the contenders being the 6N, the Heineken Cup, and Super Rugby. But the top three nations in the world, plus Argentina, does it for me. Here’s a pocket form guide.

New Zealand – obvious favourites, they are nearly always in the top 1 in the world.  They have a few chinks though – no Dan Carter, and Cruden to date has never showed his Chiefs form for the AB’s. Then there’s Ritchie McCaw, who’s probably played about 20 mins of competitive rugby this year, and done it pretty anonymously, but he’s starting and captain. Still the favourites, but I think they’re  vincible.

Australia – Lots of upheaval in their camp, New coach, more prima donnas than you can shake a stick at, and a humbling loss in the last test against the Lions. As a group though, they’ve had a much better run into the series with the Lions experience under their belt than any of the other teams. I think they’re the dark horse this year, second at worst, maybe winning. I’m tipping them this weekend anyway.

South Africa – As normal, spoilt for choice with players, but still old tactics and old chestnuts like Fourie du Preez get rolled out. Surely, with the world cup 2 years away, now is the time to get new players bedded in. Heyneke Meyer doesn’t seem to have a grand plan, he’s making it up as he goes along. Probably win at home, and struggle everywhere else.

Argentina – fourth is fairly well nailed on already, unless the Boks can outdo themselves. Lobbe is a big loss for them, but they are sure to sneak a win this year and build from that. I doubt they’ll beat the Springboks this weekend though.

Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 17
Australia vs New Zealand 11:05
South Africa vs Argentina 16:00

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I'm talking up the Currie Cup, Tony Jantjies, and Pat Howard here

With nothing much going on in rugby this side of the world, I was pleased to be able to watch some Currie Cup action from SA as a filler until the Rugby Championship gets going next weekend. Pleased also I got to watch some decent rugby. I watched bits and pieces of the Lions Cheetahs, and Bulls Stormers matches. The physicality levels of these matches is set to barbaric, it’s a health and safety nightmare! And amidst all the testerone, some decent rugby gets played as well. The team I like to watch these days is the Cheetahs. They have the grunt, but they’re never scared to go wide, and have plenty of runners coming on to the ball at pace in a style that reminds me of Leinster. The wonder of it all is looking in their coaching box and seeing Os Du Randt and Naka Drotske sitting there – a prop and a hooker! How do they come up with that running rugby? Lets’ see how Heineke Meyer gets on with the Boks, but my  favourite to replace his him when the time comes is definitely Naka Drotske.

In the Bulls WP match, the men who caught my eye were Tony Jantjies, surely soon to eclipse his elder brother Elton, and Pat Howard, who took a beautiful line for his try.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A few noodlings on Leinster's upcoming 2013/2014 season

 Matt O'Connor (picture

With friendlies against Ulster and Northampton Saints coming up at the end of the month, it’s time to have a look at Leinster’s prospects for the 2013/2014 season. It’s all change this year- with the departure for one reason or another of Joe Schmidt, Jonny Sexton and Isa Nacewa, with new arrivals Matt O’Connor, Jimmy Gopperth, and Zane Kirchner, who’ll most likely only arrive in October after his involvement with  the Springboks and the Rugby Championship is over. He might get a call-up for the November internationals too! They are going to have to manage Kirchner carefully, as he’s been paying rugby since February, and he’s going to be pretty well played out for this year.

Madigan and Gopperth will be fighting it out for the fly half spot – Madigan has the edge, but Gopperth will keep him on his toes. 

Matt O’Connor is going to have to get working on some succession plans, with O’Driscolll, D’Arcy, Cullen, Jennings, Reddan and Ross likely to depart in the near future. Or get injured at their age.  We need one of the host of locks signed last year to really stand up this season – I’m hoping Quinn Roux gets a good clean run of health as I think he has great potential.  Former Tiger’s boss O’Connor should be upping the ante for Leinsters scrum, while in an ideal world not stiffing the creativity of the backs

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's the Chiefs and the Lions who win in Super Rugby this year


The Chiefs wrapped up their season in style with a really hard fought win over the Brumbies. That was proper rugby, with the Brumbies giving it all, building a good lead and then watching the Chiefs claw it back. It remains the one tournament where, although there’s a play off, winning the round robin stage is the surest route to becoming champs. The Brumbies shocked the Chiefs though with good defense, canny points taking, and a breakaway try that nearly broke the Chiefs. With defenses so tight and organised, it seems in the last few weeks that an intercept is one of the only ways to breach the opposition line. The Chiefs play great rugby, they have sparkling backs, and honest grafters like Clarke, Messam and Retallick. Ben Tameifuna I’m not so keen on – both this and last years final he should have at least been yellow carded for shoulder charges with a half hearted arm thrown about to disguise them as a tackle. For the Brumbies, just an absolutely brilliantly drilled side, that must be due a Super Rugby title soon.
Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, the Lions fell over themselves to lose to the Kings, but somehow escaped with a precious berth into next year’s competition.  Everyone’s a loser babe- I cant’ ever see the Kings coming back now, with little top class competiton to keep their level good, and for the Lions with a huge player drain, the likelihood they’ll have a decent season next year is pretty slim. 6 SA sides in Super Rugby? It seems like 5 has been too many for years and years, with the Lions as often as not propping up the table. Maybe SA should sort out 5 sides first before they get another involved.
Super Rugby
Saturday , August 3
Lions 18 - 23 Southern Kings 
Chiefs 27 - 22 Brumbies 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Finals weekend...looks like the Chiefs and the Lions!

Finals weekend is here! The winner of Super Rugby will be decided, and also which South African drops out of the competition this year.
The Chiefs didn’t always look like champs this season, but when they needed to they rolled up their sleeves and got on with it. Their win last weekend over a Crusaders team stuffed with All Blacks was very impressive. Interesting to see if more Chiefs start to get a look in for the All Blacks.The Brumbies meanwhile have had a great season, a touch of luck to come out on top against a resurgent Cheetahs, and the same with some poor decision making by the Bulls. The biggest challenge for the Brumbies is going to be coping with the physical onslaught of the Chiefs, on top of all the travelling they’ve been doing. Jake White is an astute coach, and if anyone is going come up with a plan to beat the Chiefs, he’ll do it. My feeling though is that it’s a year early for the Brumbies, they come close but the Chiefs will win it.
That’s early Saturday, and then in the afternoon it’s the Southern Kings and the Lions. This could well be the end of the Spears, unless a way of accommodating them in properly in Super Rugby is discovered. There’s’ something ludicrous about having as many as 5 teams in Australia, and only 5 teams in South Africa. This year Kings got into Super Rugby automatically – hard to see them ever being able to qualify without players or a proper competition. It should be a good game again, but the whole thing is just so messy! I think the Lions will come through, especially with home advantage.
Super Rugby
Saturday , August 3
Lions vs Southern Kings 
Chiefs vs Brumbies