The Rugby Wrap : Weekend Review (Friday, 22nd, September, 2017 – Sunday, 24th, September, 2017)

 

The Leicester Tigers prop Greg Bateman is congratulated by Telusa Veainu after his try against Harlequins in the 2017-2018 Aviva Premiership

That weekend was once again entertaining in both Hemispheres as the competitions are definitely too unpredictable. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Currie Cup is reaching the end of the regular season while there is a battle for relegation in the Mitre 10 Cup, too.

In the Aviva Premiership, just after four Rounds, there are no teams which are remaining unbeaten. It just shows how competitive the league is and we could say the same about the Pro14 and the Top14, considering the results that we got this weekend.

With Rugby Championship taking a rest this weekend, there were plenty of rugby played around the world. Here is a review of some of these contests in the North and the South. It features games from the european leagues, the Currie Cup and the Mitre 10 Cup, too.

* Cheetahs vs. Leinster : Pro14 (Bloemfontein, South Africa)

That was definitely the big game of the Pro14 for the weekend and the fans in Bloemfontein were not disappointed. The Cheetahs started that game with some intent as their fly-half Ernst Stapelberg scored the defining penalties for the team in the first-half.

Towards the end of the first-half, there was a great combination at scrum time, allowing William Small-Smith to score. The Cheetahs kept their attacking mindset with their forwards Thorsten Van Jaarsveld and prop Ox Nche scoring thanks to their set-piece.

Leinster almost achieved a perfect comeback with Sean Cronin and Jack Conan trying to make a big impact. However, the Cheetahs hung on superbly for a famous win as the franchise claimed a bonus point. That was a famous win for the Cheetahs (FT : 38-19).

* Gloucester vs. Worcester : Premiership (Kingsholm, England)

The Cherry And Whites started the game with their usual attacking game and they got some rewards. Fullback Jason Woodward threw some beautiful offloads and Gloucester scored two early tries. Worcester Warriors were on the back foot, unable to play rugby.

It seemed that the second-half was going to be the same when Henry Trinder made a wonderful assist for Billy Twelvetrees. However, after that, Gloucester spent too much time on defence and Worcester came back thanks to their skipper Donncha O’Callaghan.

Centre Ben Te’o found some gaps in the Gloucester defence and Ryan Mills had a good game at fly-half. The Worcester Warriors pushed until the end and went for the winning try. Nevertheless, Gloucester defended their lines and the home team won it (FT : 24-19).

* Hawke’s Bay vs. Taranaki : Mitre 10 Cup (McLean Park, Napier)

The two provinces were very strong in defence in the first part of the second-half with Referee Shaun McDermott giving some yellow cards warnings. Taranaki spent some time in the Hawke’s Bay 22-metre zone and Toa Halafihi scored a try after a very good scrum.

Hawke’s Bay definitely came back at the end of the first-half when Cardiff Vaega and Iahai West both scored. The turning point of the game happened at the beginning of the second-half when the scrum-half Te Toira Tahuriorangi was brought on for Taranaki.

His passing game and his tempo was defining for Taranaki and he set up some tries. Taranaki relied on the driving maul to score while Sean Wainui concluded a beautiful move. Finally, they got the bonus point as Hawke’s Bay did not come back (FT : 17-48).

* Clermont vs. Racing 92 : Top14 (Marcel Michelin, France)

These two teams always deliver some good performances when they face each other and that Top14 game was no exception. Clermont scored the first try in that contest when the Fijian winger Alivereti Rakka gathered a cross-field kick to score in the Racing 92 in-goal.

Racing 92 were never out of this game though as scrum-half Teddy Iribaren landed some penalties to keep them in the game. The second-half was played on a very slow tempo as the two sides were guilty of some lack of discipline with the referees branding the cards.

Clermont had two yellow cards while Racing 92 played with 14 players at a time. The difference in the game was Clermont’s ability to defend when they had players on the sin-bin. Camille Lopez scored some penalties to secure the win in a close one (FT : 23-21).

* Harlequins vs. Leicester : Premiership (The Stoop, London)

It was the blockbuster of the Saturday afternoon with that game taking place at The Twickenham Stoop. The first-half was very scrappy as Leicester Tigers scored the only try at that stage. Fullback Telusa Veainu scored and George Ford just converted the try.

The second-half was really entertaining as the Harlequins came back with some running rugby. Leicester Tigers replied with Jonny May and Greg Bateman touching down. George Ford’s display was the difference as he landed the penalty which sealed the win.

There was a controversy in that game as Referee Ian Tempest seemed to ignore an obstruction on Marland Yarde. However, Joe Marler probably should have received a yellow card against Wasps the week before so there were few complaints (FT : 28-31).

* Western Province vs. Griquas : Currie Cup (Newlands, Cape Town)

That Currie Cup game was very physical as the two sides played in a very direct route during the 80 minutes. The Western Province were a bit under pressure at the beginning with the Griquas landing some penalties and rewarding the work of the forwards pack.

The Western Province relied on his world-class stars to make the difference : Wilco Louw, Nizaam Carr, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Damian de Allende, Dillyn Lleyds and Seabelo Senatla. They all made the difference at some stage in that good game to win it.

In fact, the Western Province had a big forwards pack and scored some tries thanks to that with Damian Willemse running the backline. The Griquas remained in the contest in the second-half but then it was definitely a bridge too far for the Griquas (FT : 55-27).

* Scarlets vs. Edinburgh : Pro14 (Llanelli, Wales)

The Pro14 defending Champions had to wait a quarter in the game to find their attacking game. The Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac started all his best players in the backline including Rhys Patchell, Hadleigh Parkes, Jonathan Davies and winger Johnny McNicholl.

Scrum-half Gareth Davies scored a great try though there was a suspicion of an obstruction while back-rower Aaron Shingler scored a try on the left wing. Edinburgh were not helped in the second-half with a red card after a dangerous clear-out in a ruck.

Finally, the Scarlets got the bonus point try as the Irish second-row Tadgh Beirne got the Man Of The Match award. The Edinburgh staff disagreed with some of the calls made by the officials during the contest and in particular the Irish referee, John Lacey (FT : 28-8).

* Brive vs. Toulouse : Top14 (Amédée Domenech, France)

That was a Top14 game with so much at stake as Toulouse wanted to keep the momentum while Brive wanted to win a first game after four defeats. The game was very much in the balance in the first quarter of the game with some penalties exchanged.

Stade Toulousain had the better thanks to their brillant offloading game as hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini scored on the left wing. Then, the Australian playmaker Zack Holmes scored a brillant individual try, finding some huge gaps in the Brive defence.

In the second-half, Brive fought back and touched down thanks to a powerful driving maul. Toulouse were put under pressure in the closing stages of the game. Brive had a 5-metre scrum but Stade Toulousain got a penalty and that was the end (FT : 19-22).

* London Irish vs. Northampton : Premiership (Madejski Stadium, London)

The Northampton Saints may have heavily lost against Saracens in the first Round but their season is really improving. Against the London Irish, they scored two tries in the opening exchanges. The Wallaby winger Rob Horne scored a great double in that game.

The Wales winger George North delivered a very solid performance while Mikey Haywood had his try after a good driving maul. London Irish did fight back with winger Alex Lewington scoring a wonderful try on his wing to give some relief to his teammates.

Nevertheless, that was not enough as scrum-half Cobus Reinach picked up a loose pass to score a try. The Northampton Saints got a bonus point win while London Irish will have to bounce back as they could fight relegation with Worcester Warriors (FT : 25-40).

Conclusion

The Currie Cup and the Mitre 10 Cup will reach the end of the regular season soon, meaning that the November Internationals are not too far now. The respective provinces will hope that a strong finish will pave the way for a good Super Rugby season in 2018.

In the Top14, Clermont are still trying to find their mojo with Stade Toulousain discovering again their offloading game. The Pro14 was entertaining once again because the Cheetahs made a massive statement as they won against Leinster in Bloemfontein.

Finally, it seems that another would be needed to describe the Premiership as “competitive” is not enough representative anymore. With 50-50 calls in most of the games, the bonus points will definitely make the difference at the end of the season.

Big Competition ! Great Advertising !

Max.

 

The Mitre 10 Cup 2017 : Review (Round 6)

The Taranaki fullback Stephen Perofeta is put under pressure by the Hawke's Bay centre Jonah Lowe during the Mitre 10 Cup 2017 in McLean Park

As the Mitre 10 Cup 2017 is going into Round 6 this weekend, the standings are showing that most of the provinces are in the contest. In the Championship, it seems that all the provinces could still get promotion though it might be too difficult for Southland Stags.

In the Premiership, that is really interesting because Canterbury, Taranaki and North Harbour are all targeting the play-offs. The other four provinces (Tasman, Waikato, Auckland, Counties Manukau) could still make it but they could also be relegated soon.

With the Rugby Championship taking a rest this weekend, the New Zealand training camp released several players who were called in the squad for the Argentina game. Last weekend, flanker Jerome Kaino and winger Julian Savea performed as they scored tries.

Game 39 : Bay Of Plenty vs. Southland (Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua, New Zealand)

Bay Of Plenty started well the game as a driving maul led to a penalty try. The Southland’s back-rower Elliot Dixon was yellow-carded for foul play. Bay Of Plenty scored two more tries with Hugh Blake and Monty Ioane touching down very quickly.

Southland had no possession as Bay Of Plenty’s scrum-half Richard Judd found space on the short side at scrum time. In second-half, Elliot Dixon had a second yellow card for a high tackle and was sent off. Lalakai Foketi scored another try after taking a grubber.

Later, winger Monty Ioane scored a double after an interception. Centre Terrence Hepetema finished a nice move and flanker Jesse Parete scored from the back of a scrum. Finally, Lalakai Foketi scored a similar try to his first for his double (FT : 57-0).

Game 40 : Otago vs. Auckland (Fosyth Barr, Dunedin, New Zealand)

Auckland wanted a win because they battle relegation but it did not start well for them. Malakai Fekitoa’s pass was intercepted by Sio Tomkinson who scored. However, Auckland hit back thanks to George Moala who showed his power to touch down, then.

Otago had the ability to move the ball wide and their talented winger Jona Nareki was on the scoreboard. The Auckland team re-gathered and built a good phase which was concluded by Vince Aso. Otago kept the pressure on Auckland and finally got a reward.

Josh Furno had a try and Jona Nareki scored his double from a good turnover and set-piece play. George Moala also had a double but Sio Tomkinson grabbed a try, scoring a brace too. Auckland finally got a good bonus point try thanks to a penalty try (FT : 34-26).

Game 41 : Manawatu vs. Northland (Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North, New Zealand)

An entertaining game, Northland scored the first try of the game thanks to flanker Dan Pryor following a good work on the short side. Manawatu came back immediately when Newton Tudreu intercepted a pass to score a try despite Jone Macilai-Tori chasing him.

Manawatu Turbos had more possession at the beginning of the second-half and Ambrose Curtis touched down after an inside pass at scrum time. Northland hit back with back-rower Jack Ram powering his way through the try line, scoring an outstanding try, there.

Jack Ram had a double after another good carry but Manawatu replied with Newton Tudreu gathering a cross-field kick on his wing to score his double. Hamish Northcott charged a Northland kick down to secure the big win with the bonus point (FT : 39-25).

Game 42 : North Harbour vs. Canterbury (QBE Stadium, Albany, New Zealand)

Stage in QBE Stadium, Albany, it was one of the games of the weekend. North Harbour scored the first try thanks to Matt Duffie. Richie Mo’unga replied for Canterbury as he found a gap in midfield before Gerard Cowley-Tuioti touched down for North Harbour.

Later, centre Harrison Groundwater finished a nice move from North Harbour to extend the lead. However, Canterbury came back strong in the second-half with Tim Bateman and scrum-half Mitchell Drummond able to score from close range with the momentum.

North Harbour were put under pressure and Josh McKay scored on his right wing for Canterbury while Mitchell Drummond had a double. North Harbour got a bonus point thanks to Shaun Stevenson who gathered a cross-field kick on the left wing (FT : 28-41).

Game 43 : Waikato vs. Wellington (FMG Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand)

With the two provinces scoring a penalty each, the fans had to wait the last 5 minutes of the first-half to get tries. Wellington scored the first with second-row Sam Lousi on the scoreboard while Waikato hit back two minutes later thanks to the back Baylin Sullivan.

In the second-half, first-five eighth Dan Kirkpatrick took a gap to bring a second try to Wellington. The turning point of the game was Wellington’s ability to score two tries while their centre Regan Verney was sent to the sin-bin by the referee for some foul play.

Mateaki Kafatolu concluded a great build-up near the Waikato try line. Then, Peter Umaga-Jensen scored a great individual try before prop Alex Fidow finished a great collective move. Wellington convincingly won with the good bonus point try (FT : 10-34).

Game 44 : Hawke’s Bay vs. Taranaki (McLean Park, Napier, New Zealand)

There were some good passages of play in defence from both provinces. Taranaki got the first try thanks to their scrum and Toa Halafihi. Also, playmaker Marty McKenzie charged an Hawke’s Bay kick and won the race to score the Taranaki’s second try, then.

However, Hawke’s Bay fought back with two tries in five minutes, Cardiff Vaega and Ihaia West both touching down on the two wings. In second-half, Taranaki re-gathered and Ricky Riccitelli scored thanks to a driving maul while a penalty try was awarded.

Taranaki had freedom to play and back-rower Gus Sowakula touched down but Hawke’s bay replied with Jarvy Aoake. Later, Te Toira Tahuriorangi set up a try for Sean Wainui while forward Adrian Wyrill put the icing on the cake for the Taranaki side (FT : 17-48).

Game 45 : Bay Of Plenty vs. Counties Manukau (Tauranga Domain, Tauranga, New Zealand)

Counties Manukau started badly with two mistakes leading to two tries. Baden Kerr was charged down, allowing prop Solomona Sakalia to score. Then, on an attacking move, the ball was dropped. Mike Delany picked the ball up and offloaded for Terrence Hepetema.

However, the Counties Manukau replied thanks to their physicality. Fotu Lokotui and Augustine Pulu both scored similar tries from close range. In the second-half, they kept the momentum with winger Albert Nikoro concluding a move on his right wing, there.

Later, Nigel Ah Wong was also on the scoreboard but Bay Of Plenty came back. Lalakai Foketi had a try, finding space in the defence, while Jesse Parete scored thanks to a good carry. Liam Daniela scored a last try for Counties Manukau to take a draw (FT : 31-31).

Game 46 : Tasman vs. Southland (Trafalgar Park, Nelson, New Zealand)

Tasman were on song, scoring two tries in the first 3 minutes. Flanker Pete Samu powered his way through the try line and Viliami Lolohela concluded a counter-attack. Winger James Lowe was also on the scoreboard, benefiting from a very good turnover.

Southland replied with a try on the right wing from Mike Molly. However, Tasman added more tries with Viliami Lolohela scoring a brace and Ethan Blackadder carrying to score. Southland scored two tries in the second-half thanks to Aleki Morris and Elliot Dixon.

However, Tasman kept attacking and scored 3 more tries in the last 20 minutes. First, Jordan Taufua relied on a driving maul to score in the corner. Then, Alex Nankivell finished a great move. Finally, Mitch Hunt scored at scrum time for a big win (FT : 50-17).

The Talking Points :

Championship : Wellington are at the top of the standings following their win against Waikato. There are three points to separate Otago, Northland, Manawatu and Bay Of Plenty. Hawke’s Bay and Southland are probably out of the play-offs race, definitely.

Premiership : Canterbury made a statement against North Harbour, who are not unbeaten anymore. Taranaki are keeping the momentum while Tasman are now Mitre 10 Cup contenders. Waikato, Counties Manukau and Auckland are fighting relegation.

Ranfurly Shield : The Ranfurly Shield will be defended next weekend as Canterbury will be hosting Waikato in Christchurch. Waikato did not get great results in the last games but Canterbury know that it will still be a great challenge to defend that Ranfurly Shield.

Conclusion :

The Mitre 10 Cup 2017 is entering the last Rounds of the regular season next weekend with Round 7 set to be played. In the Championship, Wellington seem to be the clear favourites to win promotion but only consistency will allow them to achieve that feat.

In the Premiership, Canterbury were back to business while North Harbour and Taranaki know how great the challenge is. Tasman are outsiders while relegation will involve three provinces for this season : Waikato, the Counties Manukau and Auckland.

Canterbury will defend the Ranfurly Shield against Waikato in Round 7. There will be some big games such as Taranaki hosting Tasman and Wellington facing Otago at Westpac Stadium. Northland will play twice and they will need at least a win, definitely.

Another Great Round ! Brillant Rugby !

Max.

 

The Rugby Wrap : Weekend Review (Friday, 15th, September, 2017 – Sunday, 17th, September, 2017)

 

The Exeter Chiefs winger Olly Woodburn finding a way through Worcester Warriors defence in the Aviva Premiership during the 2017-2018 season

The rugby weekend was top quality once again as the season goes on in all the competitions played in both hemispheres. In South Africa, the Currie Cup is starting to become very interesting as the standings are very close with a few games remaining.

The Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand is giving further indications on provinces’ form as the competition is reaching the end of the first-half of the season. In the Northern Hemisphere, the domestic leagues (Aviva Premiership, Pro14 and Top14) are contested.

At Test level, the Rugby Championship was on stage this weekend. The four nations (New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Argentina) will take a rest in the next few days. The last two Rouds will come quickly though before the beginning of the November encounters.

* Griquas vs. Sharks : Currie Cup (Griqua Park, Kimberley)

That was another great Currie Cup game between the Griquas and the Sharks. The Griquas started well as they scored the first try of the game. The Sharks re-gathered and scored some tries after that with centre Jeremy Ward, instrumental to Durban Sharks.

In the second-half, the Sharks read very well the Griquas gameplan, making some interceptions. The counter-attacking plays were on and the Sharks skipper Keegan Daniel scored his 35th try in the Currie Cup, an impressive figure for the back-rower.

The Griquas did not quit and kept attacking until the end but the Sharks defence was too good. Top try scorer S’busiso Nkosi was quiet in that game but he delivered a great assist for the last try scored by his team which won convicingly with bonus point (FT : 22-40).

* Worcester vs. Exeter : Premiership (Sixways, England)

The Worcester Warriors needed a win as they lost their first two games so far in the competition. However, it was a step too far for Gary Gold’s men as Exeter Chiefs dominated the game for large parts, taking the bonus point finally in the second-half.

Fly-Half Gareth Steenson controlled things very well with Henry Slade taking the second five-eighth position. Number 8 Sam Simmonds delivered a performance which reminded the fans that he could deliver in place of Thomas Waldrom. He scored a deserved double.

Also, that game highlighted that winger Jack Nowell was on top form as he finished a great move on the right wing. Second-row Johnny Hill also was on the scoreboard as his try was impressive. He ran like a winger on the left, beating some defenders (FT : 10-41).

* New Zealand vs. South Africa : Rugby Championship (QBE Stadium, Albany)

Few people were expecting to witness South Africa’s worst defeat in its History with this game. That is what happened as the All Blacks scored 57 unanswered points with South Africa unable to score a single try. Their issues at lineout time are an explanation, there.

New Zealand scored the first try in the first quarter of the game and it escalated quickly. Nehe Milner-Skudder scored a double, his third try in only two games. Also, second-row Brodie Retallick was on the scoreboard alongside Scott Barrett, who was brought on.

The second-half was exactly the same as the first-half with the Springboks unable to breach the opposite defence. There was some good performances from Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown too and it was also the same for prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi (FT : 57-0).

* Australia vs. Argentina : Rugby Championship (GIO Stadium, Canberra)

The Wallabies and the Pumas were targeting their first win in the 2017 Rugby Championship. Argentina showed more intent and more urgency in the first-half, scoring a deserved try though there was a suspicion of an obstruction, not retained by officials.

Nevertheless, Australia responded and managed to score beautiful tries thanks to great moves. Fullback Israel Folau had a double in that game while it was an opportunity for Michael Cheika to give his bench more game time before the November Internationals.

Australia finally won with the bonus point as Argentina could not find their way to the try line towards the 60th-minute mark. The Pumas are not far from the win once again and it is small margins as Argentina deserve better in this Championship (FT : 45-20).

* Stade Toulousain vs. Stade Français : Top14 (Ernest Wallon, Toulouse)

Stade Toulousain confirmed that they are no longer the team which failed to reach the Top14 play-offs for the first time in their History last season. On the first 4 Top14 games, they got 2 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat. That is a great start given that the draw was away.

Against Stade Français, Stade Toulousain scored plenty of tries as the leaders stepped up. The combination between scrum-half Antoine Dupont and winger Cheslin Kolbe outstandingly worked. Fullback Thomas Ramos ran the show and he scored two tries.

Forwards pack delivered a huge performance as well thanks to the likes of David Roumieu, Yoann Maestri and Louis-Benoit Madaule. Coach Ugo Mola can be satisfied with the performance as Stade Toulousain could achieve greatness soon (FT : 53-17).

* Leicester Tigers vs. Gloucester : Premiership (Welford Road, England)

That was a bit frustrating for the Leicester Tigers fans because the team scored three tries in the first 30 minutes but did not get the bonus point. Nevertheless, it was the win which was the most important after two opening games that Leicester Tigers badly lost.

The backline performed better even if it was not always working. Centre Matt Toomua put some huge tackles, winger Nick Malouf scored a good try and fullback Telusa Veainu had more freedom to run. The pack was not bad at all with the back-row playing well.

It was a special game for winger Jonny May and second-row Ed Slater who swapped their respective clubs before the new season. Former Gloucester winger Jonny May is playing now for Leicester Tigers while Ed Slater took the opposite direction (FT : 24-10).

* Ospreys vs. Munster : Pro14 (Liberty Stadium, Swansea)

It was a huge contest at Liberty Stadium between the Ospreys and Munster as there was definitely not much to separate them. Munster had the early possession and scored the first with Tyler Bleyendaal succeeding with a penalty which was in front of the posts.

However, the Ospreys reacted almost immediately, playmaker Sam Davies combining well with his backline which replied with the try. Munster re-gathered and put pressure thanks to their forwards pack and winger Darren Sweetnam concluded a great play.

In the second-half, it was even more balanced as the game was over at the 82nd minute. The Ospreys trailed during the second-half as Sam Davies kicked 3 penalties to come back into the game. Munster held on in the last stages to clinch that win (FT : 16-21).

* Cardiff Blues vs. Glasgow : Pro14 (Cardiff Arms Park, Wales)

Cardiff Blues were chasing their first win of the season as they fell at home to Edinburgh and lost away to Leinster in the first two games. Overall, the Cardiff Blues did not play badly and were in the contest until the last two minutes of the game on their ground.

The Welsh region scored the first try while Glasgow Warriors replied with two of their own, relying on their offloading game. There was a big battle at scrum time with the two teams making many handling mistakes, not helping their flowing rugby on the pitch.

It was drama at the end of the game because Referee awarded a scrum penalty to Cardiff Blues. Glasgow disagreed with the decision and Cardiff Blues had the penalty in front of the posts. Steve Shingler missed, Finn Russell and Glasgow Warriors winning (FT : 19-20).

* Clermont vs. Brive : Top14 (Marcel Michelin, France)

The defending Champions wanted to bounce back following the heavy defeat away to La Rochelle next weekend. They bounced back in style as their Fijian winger Alivereti Raka scored one of the fastest Hat-Tricks in the History, achieving that fate in only 7 minutes.

Promising centre Damian Penaud was also on song and winger David Strettle scored his try at scrum time after a good combination, just before Half-Time. It was an impressive performance from Clermont who will host former Champions Racing 92 next weekend.

Back-rower Fritz Lee also had a rather good game and Brive could not do much. They were too much penalised and had some yellow cards which did not help them. At the end, Clermont were too strong and that bonus point win will be a relief (FT : 62-6).

* Montpellier vs. Toulon : Top14 (Altrad Stadium, France)

Coached by former Scotland coach Vern Cotter, Montpellier is adding some width to his gameplan and some French players are stepping up. That is the case for flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo and fullback Benjamin Fall who are coming back to their very best level.

Helped by a strong work at the breakdown from the Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis, Montpellier were better than Toulon during the second-half. Winger Nemani Nadolo and utility back Joe Tomane made a great impact as they won with a bonus point.

Chris Ashton scored a great individual try for Toulon but his team could not keep the momentum. Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar directed well the Montpellier forwards while Aaron Cruden organised the backlinewell and with a good kicking display (FT : 43-20).

Conclusion :

This Rugby Weekend was very entertaining as the Top14 delivered plenty of tries as many teams won with the bonus point. In the Premiership, it was pleasing to watch Leicester Tigers get their first win of the season as it is all about the confidence for them.

In the Currie Cup, the Sharks are pretty comfortable in the competition but they will have to battle with the likes of Cheetahs, Bulls and Western Province if they want to win the competition. The Pro14 Weekend was also a good one with some very close games.

With the Rugby Championship, New Zealand are only one or two points from winning another Title in the competition. The Southern Hemisphere teams will take a rest for the next weekend as the Mitre 10 Cup competition is starting to become really interesting.

Great Weekend ! Great Rugby played !

Max.

 

The Mitre 10 Cup 2017 : Review (Round 5)

Tasman forward Alex Ainley and Otago back Josh Ioane were yellow-carded during the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup game between these two teams in Dunedin

The Mitre 10 Cup was going into Round 5 this weekend with the competition for the play-offs still there in both conferences. Last weekend, in Round 4, Canterbury retained the Ranfurly Shield and they had to defend it once again against the Counties Manukau.

About the Championship, Northland claimed a brillant win last weekend against Waikato and they could be in the play-offs to gain promotion. Wellington and Otago are very strong and they will not be easy to beat in that race for Premiership next season.

In the Premiership, it seems that Auckland and Counties Manukau could fight to stay in the conference as they could be relegated. About the play-offs, Tasman could still make it while Canterbury and Taranaki are comfortable as they are both topping the standings.

Game 31 : Canterbury vs. Counties Manukau (AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand)

Canterbury started the Ranfurly Shield defence in style with Mitchell Drummond scoring a double with Richie Mo’unga and Dominic Bird making the assists. Winger Braydon Ennor and centre Tim Bateman also got their tries on the left wing and the right flank.

The Mitre 10 Cup holders kept their first-half momentum with scrum-half Mitchell Drummond adding two more tries for a quadruple. Tim Bateman concluded a move under the posts while Counties Manukau waited the second-half to score a well-built try.

Nigel Ah Wong scored in the corner but Canterbury replied immediately. Rob Thompson touched down while Poasa Waqanibau scored. Tim Bateman had a Hat-Trick and Josh McKay had the icing on the cake with another great try for such a big win (FT : 78-5).

Game 32 : Northland vs. North Harbour (Toll Stadium, Whangarei, New Zealand)

That encounter was highly contested and especially in the first-half. Both playmakers scored 3 penalties each so the teams could not be separated at Half-Time. Northland’s Dan Hawkins and North Harbour’s Bryn Gatland had scored the respective penalties.

In the second-half, Northland scored the first try with winger Jordan Hyland coming back inside to score.North Harbour came back with a world-class build-up, Matt Vaega, Shaun Stevenson and Bryn Gatland working together to send Tevita Li on the left wing.

Later, while Northland was chasing the game, Matt Vaega read well the play and intercepted a pass to score North Harbour’s 3rd try. They got the win as they remain unbeaten in the Premiership after another impressive performance really (FT : 22-31).

Game 33 : Southland vs. Auckland (Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill, New Zealand)

The two provinces definitely needed some points and Southland took the better start with hooker Brayden Mitchell scoring from close range. Auckland replied quickly with flanker Jerome Kaino finding a way through a ruck to score the first Auckland try, there.

Still in the first-half, Auckland managed to find space in the midfield with winger Vince Aso finishing the move on the right wing. Southland fought back when scrum-half Liam Howley took a great offload to score on the left of the posts for a well-built try, really.

However, Auckland had too much power in the second-half and they showed it when they scored two unanswered tries. First, forward Greg Pleasants-Tate scored from close range. Then, back-rower Taleni Seu touched down as well for the good win (FT : 17-27).

Game 34 : Taranaki vs. Bay Of Plenty (Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, New Zealand)

In Yarrow Stadium, the first-half was highly contested but the Bay Of Plenty flanker Henry Stowers was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle. Taranaki finally scored the first try of the game when Johnny Fa’auli made the offload for winger Declan O’Donnell.

The second-half was balanced but Taranaki had the best opportunities with Mitchell Graham concluding a move in the midfield. Later, winger Manasa Mataele read well the play and intercepted a pass from Bay Of Plenty to score with less than 10 minutes left.

Just after that, flanker Lachlan Boshier was yellow-carded for Taranaki for foul play. On the resulting scrum, Taranaki got the ball back and Sione Lea scored what was a coast-to-coast try. Bay Of Plenty had a consolation try with Elijah Nicholas at the end (FT : 29-7).

Game 35 : Waikato vs. Manawatu (FMG Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand)

Only two points could separate Waikato and Manawatu at the end of the first-half. Waikato had the first try with Pita Ahki touching down after a good driving maul. Manawatu scored a penalty with Jade Te Rure succeeding with a great 50-metre effort.

The second-half was on and Waikato relied on the forwards pack as prop Samisoni Taukei’aho was on the scoreboard. Manawatu stayed composed and scrum-half Jamie Booth picked up the ball at ruck time and took the space in the Waikato defence to score.

With the 60th-minute mark reached, Manawatu had a scrum near the Waikato try line. The pack made a great effort and Harrison Brewer scored from the back of it. Waikato tried to come back but it was a bridge too far and Manawatu claimed the win (FT : 10-23).

Game 36 : Otago vs. Tasman (Forsyth Barr, Dunedin, New Zealand)

The most controversial game in this edition so far. Tasman started brillantly with two tries coming on the left wing. Will Jordan managed to score after resisting to a tackle while James Lowe beat a defender to score the second try but Otago replied quickly.

Mitchell Scott gathered a Tasman’s chip and Teihorangi Walden scored while Tasman centre Levi Aumua beat all the defence to score. In second-half, Referee Mike Fraser gave Josh Ioane a yellow card and a penalty try for a deliberate knock-on but there was cover.

Tasman got two cards with Alex Ainley sin-binned for rucking and Levi Aumua red-carded for a lifting tackle. Otago came back with Sio Tomkinson chasing and scoring. Then, from the back of a scrum, Sione Teu touched down but it was too late (FT : 27-29).

Game 37 : Counties Manukau vs. Hawke’s Bay (ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe, New Zealand)

Like the game between Southland and Auckland, these two teams needed points. Counties Manukau started in style thanks to Tim Nanai-Williams. Hawke’s Bay came back in the first-half with Ash Dixon scoring from close range as Half-Time was there.

In the second-half, Counties Manukau played well with Fotu Lokotua and Johnathan Kawau showing their power to score. Tim Nanai-Williams scored a double after a great combination in the midfield with scrum-half Augustine Pulu, a key in this good build-up.

Later in the game, prop Kalolo Tuiloma also scored for Counties Manukau after a great build-up thanks to the forwards. Hawke’s Bay grabbed a consolation try thanks to Pasqualle Dunn but it was too late with Counties Manukau taking the win (FT : 33-14).

Game 38 : Wellington vs. Canterbury (Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand)

Under bad weather conditions, Wellington took the better start with winger Julian Savea finishing a counter-attack. Hooker Asafo Aumua also scored a try on the left wing. Canterbury replied with Josh McKay before the Wellington team scored two similar tries.

Canterbury was charged down twice with Isaia Walker-Leaware and Du’Plessis Kirifi scoring. The Mitre 10 Cup holders hit back with George Bridge scoring at scrum time. Malo Tuitama, the Wellington winger, replied with a try on his left wing under the rain.

Just after that, another winger, Ben Lam, showed his pace to score another try. Wellington kept their attacking game with two last tries. Malo Tuitama had his double while Regan Verney got the great offload to score the 8th try for Wellington (FT : 60-14).

The Talking Points :

Championship : Wellington made a statement with the Canterbury win. Northland and Otago fell to respective losses, opening the door for Manawatu. Bay Of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay can still make the play-offs while Southland is targeting improvements.

Premiership : Canterbury are still top even if they had a loss while North Harbour remain unbeaten. Taranaki are impressive while Tasman are back in the play-offs race. Waikato, Auckland and the Counties Manukau are not far behind so it is definitely close.

Ranfurly Shield : Following two successful defences of the Ranfurly Shield with 78 points scored twice, Canterbury still has it. They lost against Wellington but it was away. Canterbury will not defend it next weekend as they play North Harbour but also away.

Conclusion

The 2017 Mitre 10 Cup is definitely unpredictable because the standings are close. In the Championship, Wellington seems to be the favourites for promotion. However, Northland are competitive and Otago with Manawatu will have surely a word to say.

In the Premiership, there is no need to panic for Canterbury as they are still top. North Harbour and Taranaki are on song while Tasman are back in the race. Only 5 points are separating Tasman, Waikato, Auckland and Counties Manukau so it is relegation battle.

About the Ranfurly Shield, Canterbury will not defend it next weekend but they have a big game against North Harbour. Manawatu and Northland are facing each other while Wellington and Taranaki will play respectively against Waikato and Hawke’s Bay away.

Unpredictable ! What a Competition !

Max.

 

The Barrett Review : Rugby Championship 2017 (South Africa – Game I)

Beauden Barrett kicking for New Zealand against South Africa during Rugby Championship 2017 in QBE Stadium, Albany

Rugby Championship is going on in the Southern Hemisphere as Round 4 was going to be played this weekend. Following what happened in the last two games, a gap had been created as New Zealand won with the bonus point while South Africa had a draw as well.

New Zealand showed a big reaction in the second-half against Argentina because the Pumas played tactically perfectly before that. The All Blacks waited until the 55th-minute mark and Vaea Fifita scoring a wonderful try to finally find their mojo and their attack.

Before the beginning of Round 3, South Africa had the same number of points than New Zealand. However, they dropped a few after their draw against Australia. It meant that the All Blacks had the opportunity to make a greater step to the Title with a good win.

Part of this Round 4, New Zealand was hosting South Africa in Albany. The game will be played at QBE Stadium, a stadium which is used by North Harbour in the Mitre 10 Cup. The Blues have also staged some Super Rugby games there over the last few seasons.

As they showed against the Wallabies, South Africa is a country on the rise again because it was a long time ago since they did not lose in Australia. In the other game, Australia and Argentina were facing each other as the two teams were still chasing a first win.

New Zealand had the opportunity to nearly clinch the Rugby Championship with a win. However, they knew that it was not going to be so easy. Last year, in 2016, in the competition, the Springboks went in front in the first-half before the All Blacks reacted.

Background Information :

New Zealand : Back to business

The World Champions have not really enjoyed their rugby in the last two games. They won in the last two minutes against Australia while they lacked momentum against Argentina. Coach Steve Hansen had rotated his team but he did not use that as an excuse.

What was concerning as well for the All Blacks coaching staff was the penalty count and the overall lack of discipline. New Zealand conceded far too many penalties and were unable to play their usual attacking game as their build-up was not as good as usual.

As Steve Hansen was planning to name his strongest team against South Africa, he still had to make some big calls in some positions. With some players putting their hand up since the start of the Rugby Championship, some players were not sure to be involved.

South Africa : Keeping the improvements

It has been obvious since the June Internationals in 2017 and the beginning of the Rugby Championship. South Africa are not the team that they were last season when they almost lost all their Test matches. They are unbeaten and they have to be given credit.

Coach Allister Coetzee has decided to give the priority to the local-based players as he says that they have “synergy”. That is not wrong and the Springboks coach is reaping the rewards as South Africa have got 5 wins and 1 draw in the 6 Test matches in 2017 so far.

The Springboks will feel that they can still win the Rugby Championship. They know their strength and they will certainly not lack motivation coming into this game. Allister Coetzee will probably keep his faith in the same players who started most of the Tests.

The Players To Watch :

New Zealand : Kieran Read, Aaron Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder

Kieran Read : The All Blacks skipper is a very consistent player and leads New Zealand by example. Kieran Read is putting some big tackles in defence and his offloading abilities often make the difference in the attacking side. He is a great leader on pitch.

Aaron Smith : Very good scrum-half, Aaron Smith is a great manager on the pitch. He always know whether it is best for the team to kick or pass. He is a key in the defensive set-up as he is directing the forwards, telling them which zones they have to defend.

Nehe Milner-Skudder : The winger has got one of the best footwork in the world. Nehe Milner-Skudder is concluding many attacking moves and does not make many mistakes in defence. He is also very good in the aerial battle and he also has got some great pace.

South Africa : Malcolm Marx, Eben Etzebeth, Jesse Kriel

Malcolm Marx : The powerful hooker has got a big influence in the Springboks set-up. His throws are very accurate at lineout time and he is very competitive at the breakdown. He is winning many turnovers and he does not miss much tackles either.

Eben Etzebeth : Inspiring skipper, Eben Etzebeth is one of the best second-rowers. He is often the target at the lineout and his carrying abilities are used by the Springboks team. He is not afraid to put his body on the line and his range of skills are valuable, really.

Jesse Kriel : Having the ability to play either at centre, either at fullback, Jesse Kriel’s versatility is a must for the Springboks. He is powerful enough to play at centre but his running threat and his offloading skills mean that he can switch as well to the fullback.

Team News : Business as usual

In the past few years, there has been times when the All Blacks training camp was in much more harmony. There was not tension inside the camp or between the players but it seems that the All Blacks players are not as confident as they were in the last seasons.

Another element adding to that tension is that Steve Hansen is not happy at all with the journalists. The All Blacks coach thinks that they are deliberately targeting his players, trying to disrupt his team and he was really angry in the post-match conference, then.

Like last weekend, the All Blacks coaching environment gave a media release with his starting XV confirmed. Contrary to the last weekend, where he decided to change half of the team, Steve Hansen and his assistants opted for more experienced and settled team.

First of all, about the front-row, Kane Hames and Nepo Laulala were given the nod alongside Dane Coles, keeping his jersey at hooker. About the second-row, the classic partnership was trusted with Brodie Retallick starting with teammate Sam Whitelock.

The back-row was changed with Vaea Fifita and Sam Cane starting as the two flankers while Kieran Read skippered the team at number 8. The half-backs pairing was well-known with scrum-half Aaron Smith playing with first-five eighth Beauden Barrett.

In the midfield, Sonny Bill Williams retained his place with Ryan Crotty. About the back-three, Rieko Ioane and Nehe Milner-Skudder were the two wingers while Damian McKenzie retained the fullback jersey after a really good performance last weekend.

On the bench, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Wyatt Crockett were the replacement front-row. Scott Barrett and Ardie Savea covered the pack as well while TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga and Anton Lienert-Brown were the three backs named on that bench.

Game Summary : Outstanding performance

Like the Bledisloe Cup II game, the encounter was referred by Nigel Owens. The game was staged at QBE Stadium, in Albany. The Blues have often played there in the Super Rugby and there were more than 30,000 people to watch the All Blacks play their rugby.

The game started with the two teams showing some physicality. South Africa were very focused with prop Tendai Mtawarira leading his team. New Zealand put early some heavy tackles with Sam Whitelock making his presence felt with flanker Liam Squire.

Thanks to their first build-up, the New Zealand players got a first penalty when the Springboks midfield was penalised for an off-side position. In front of the posts, there was no issue for Beauden Barrett and the All Blacks were first on the scoreboard, then.

Keeping the pressure, the All Blacks were settled in defence and there were not many options for François Hougaard and winger Courtnall Skosan. The Springboks lost many balls as New Zealand were winning all the collisions and turned the ball over each time.

Being awarded another penalty on half-way line, scrum-half Aaron Smith made a quick-tap before making a little chip over the top. The chase was on with Rieko Ioane showing his pace to score on the left wing. Beauden Barrett converted the try from the touchline.

Steve Hansen was pretty statisfied and it only got better for his team as the linespeed was too much of an issue for South Africa. As they were trying to build something, Elton Jantjies was a bit confused and a pass was intercepted by winger Nehe Milner-Skudder.

The Hurricanes winger had support and combined with Beauden Barrett who made a flick pass and also the assist for Nehe Milner-Skudder’s try. That outstanding try was converted by the All Blacks first-five eighth and New Zealand had all the confidence.

After that, the Springboks tried to re-gather around their skipper Eben Etzebeth but they could not hang on to the ball. The workload from the forwards pack, including Brodie Retallick and the offloading ability from the centre Sonny Bill Williams were just perfect.

Building, Aaron Smith and the All Blacks got back in the Springboks’ 22-metre zone with 30 minutes played. Taking the ball, Beauden Barrett launched a cross-field kick for Dane Coles who combined with Nehe Milner-Skudder, making the assist for Scott Barrett.

The big second-row came on earlier for Liam Squire, who failed an HIA (Head Injury Assessment). From the right side of the posts, Beauden Barrett kept his good form and landed the kick to add two points and New Zealand already had the bonus point try.

Playing with freedom, the All Blacks kept attacking with all the players involved. Winger Rieko Ioane gained metres and found space in the midfield. That move resulted in a try scored by second-rower Brodie Retallick and it was easily converted by Beauden Barrett.

That was Half-Time at QBE Stadium and the New Zealand team had been ruthless and clinical. The Springboks were going to have to find their rugby in the second-half as already 31 points were conceded. The All Blacks coaching staff was pleased (HT : 31-0).

Playmaker Beauden Barrett kicked off and the second-half was underway in Albany. South Africa had the early possession with back-rower Uzair Cassiem trying to make the difference while fullback Andries Coetzee wanted to put pressure with the garryowens.

However, that did not work at all as the All Blacks re-captured the possession. Centre Ryan Crotty carried hard in the midfield and the scrum was relied. With a good build-up, Beauden Barrett made a long pass to his left, Nehe Milner-Skudder touching down later.

Nigel Owens wanted a TMO (Television Match Official) Review to check whether the winger was in touch. The try was finally awarded with Beauden Barrett making his second assist of the night but missing his first kick at goal, attempting to convert the try.

In that second-half, New Zealand kept their ruthlessness and they targeted the Springboks winger Raymond Rhule who was missing a few tackles. Getting some penalties, skipper Kieran Read was not interested in going for the posts at all, there.

He backed his forwards pack to shine and went for the touchline. Dane Coles connected with his jumpers and the driving maul was well constructed. Few phases of play later, replacement prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi showed his power and touched down for the 6th try.

Converted by the Hurricanes player Beauden Barrett, it was two more points for the World Champions. The Springboks tried to show a reaction with some good phases in the All Blacks’ 22-metre zone as prop Steven Kitshoff tried to add some urgency to the game.

Nevertheless, the All Blacks were too strong at the breakdown and players such as Sam Cane and also Kieran Read won many turnovers near their try line. They cleared their lines and started again as New Zealand definitely wanted to score more and more tries.

Towards the last quarter of the game, Steve Hansen decided to empty his bench to give all his squad game time. Flanker Ardie Savea was brought on and so was TJ Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown while Beauden Barrett shifted to fullback with Lima Sopoaga on.

New Zealand tried the little chips with the backline playing with more width. However, that was power who scored the next try. Anton Lienert-Brown beat Handré Pollard and raced before offloading to Lima Sopoaga for the try, Beauden Barrett converting well.

The All Blacks had scored 50 points but it seemed that it was not enough for them. There was a nice passage of play when the Springboks managed to hold their lines but it was very difficult for them to make the switch from defence to attack in that encounter.

As the game was near the end, Kieran Read asked Lima Sopoaga to go for touch for one last ride. The driving maul was successfully built and the All Blacks rumbled with Codie Taylor claiming the 8th and final try, once again converted by maestro Beauden Barrett.

It was the end of the game and like last year, in 2016, New Zealand scored 57 points against South Africa (FT : 57-0). This is South Africa’s worst defeat of all time with a 50-point defeat the last record (England, 53-3, 2003). New Zealand were just too strong.

The Barrett Review : Back To His Best

Kicks : 8/9 – Beauden Barrett brillantly bounced back from last weekend. He nailed 8 kicks with just one miss from the right touchline. Some of the conversions that he nailed were difficult (Rieko Ioane and Scott Barrett tries). That was a great performance.

General Play : Making two assists, one of them was world-class with a behind-the-back pass. His cross-field kick for Dane Coles resulted in a try and his defence was great. He attacked the line, distributed well and tried the little chips when he went to fullback.

Conclusion : Following last weekend, that was key for Beauden Barrett to bounce back. His reaction was massive and he has to keep the consistency now. New Zealand will need Beauden Barrett in the next games as they are still chasing the Rugby Championship.

What a Game ! Congratulations, Beaudy !

Max.

 

The Rugby Wrap : Weekend Review (Friday, 8th, September, 2017 – Sunday, 10th, September, 2017)

 

Bath Rugby skipper Matt Garvey is leading the team against the Saracens during Round 2 of the 2017-2018 Aviva Premiership at The Recreation Ground

That was another brillant weekend in rugby union with plenty of competitions going on. There were many games in the Top14, the Pro14 and in the Aviva Premiership. In the Southern Hemisphere, Rugby Championship was coming back with the third Round.

On top of that, the provincial competitions are starting to become very interesting as the Currie Cup and the Mitre 10 Cup will be highly contested once again in 2017. The Cheetahs have to find the balance as they are playing both in Currie Cup and in Pro14.

Let’s review a few rugby games which were played this weekend and it is including all these competitions that were mentionned. Some competitions are unfortunately missing such as the NRC (National Rugby Championship) which is taking place in Australia.

* Pumas vs. Sharks : Currie Cup (Port Elizabeth, South Africa)

The Currie Cup game between the Pumas and the Sharks was really entertaining as the two provinces were very close. The Sharks scored a couple of nice tries in the opening including a decent effort from a promising player playing in the back : S’busiso Nkosi.

However, the Sharks were too much penalised and they received two yellow cards towards the end of the first-half. Skipper Keegan Daniel was on the wrong side of the officials’ decisions. It meant that the Pumas came back early during the second-half.

Flanker Chris Cloete was instrumental once again for the Sharks as he won many turnovers at the breakdown. But the Sharks kept their composure, Garth April directed well the backline and they hung up to a defining win in the Currie Cup (FT : 25-27).

* Edinburgh vs. Dragons : Pro14 (New Myreside, Scotland)

It was a very good game in the Pro14 and probably a draw would have been fair. The Dragons showed clear signs of improvement during that contest as fly-half Gavin Henson scored some penalties. The Dragons were in the contest until the very last quarter.

There was some controversy as well as a try was denied to the Dragons for a foot in touch. It was not that obvious and the Dragons can feel aggrieved because it probably was the turning point of the game as they could have reclaimed the lead in the game.

Edinburgh was not as convincing against Cardiff last weekend. Nevertheless, they still proposed some good moves with fullback Blair Kinghorn performing well. Hooker Ross Ford came on in the second-half to bring some valuable experience, there (FT : 35-18).

* New Zealand vs. Argentina : Rugby Championship (Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth)

Staged at Yarrow Stadium, the All Blacks were made to work by the Pumas who had the lead until the 55th-minute mark. Playing under terrible weather conditions, with strong rain and wind, the All Blacks did not get their usual flow and it benefited Argentina.

The Pumas scored a try just before Half-Time thanks to Nicolas Sanchez and winger Emiliano Boffelli landed two kicks from 50 metres out. New Zealand only reacted after a defining try scored by Vaea Fifita, the Hurricanes flanker celebrating in style his start.

In the last moments of the game, the New Zealand team made sure the bonus point win was theirs with Damian McKenzie scoring his double and Beauden Barrett making amends. The first-five eighth missed three shots at goal and was sin-binned (FT : 39-22).

* Australia vs. South Africa : Rugby Championship (nib Stadium, Perth)

That encounter was interesting because for years, it wass always very contested when these two countries met each other. The Wallabies showed their intent as Bernard Foley scored penalties and Michael Cheika’s side reacted immediately after the Springbok try.

Kurtley Beale showed why he is one of the best players in the World as he scored a try to come back into this game. Australia took a 10-point lead at the beginning of the second-half but a lack of experience explained why South Africa levelled the score later, then.

South Africa scored a penalty to go in front but Australia earned the right to tie the game again when scrum-half Will Genia was targeted. Bernard Foley was on song and the Wallabies defended their lines until the end as Springboks tried to drop-goal (FT : 23-23).

* La Rochelle vs. Clermont : Top14 (La Rochelle, France)

It was meant to be the game of the weekend in the Top14 but it did not reach the expectations. Clermont started the game in the worst possible way as they leaked a try to winger Gabriel Lacroix after just 42 seconds. Defence and discipline were not there.

With the first-half going on, Clermont made some cynical infringements and Referee Romain Poite yellow-carded two players from the defending Champions. La Rochelle had licence to play and players such as Victor Vito and Ryan Lamb did not disappoint at all.

Clermont made the scoreline a bit more respectable in the second-half as they scored two tries but La Rochelle already had the bonus point. The defending Champions have already lost twice in 3 Rounds and they definitely need to bounce back later (FT : 51-20).

* Bath vs. Saracens : Premiership (The Recreation Ground, Bath)

Following last weekend’s away win against Leicester Tigers, Bath were ready for another big battle at home against Saracens. Rhys Priestland scored a drop-goal and a couple of penalties in the first-half while flanker Francois Louw was in for a try in the corner.

It was definitely more difficult in the second-half as Mark McCall sent his British & Irish Lions player on the field for Saracens. Bath were penalised many times once again and number 8 Taulupe Faletau was yellow-carded as he collapsed a maul near the try line.

Defending very well, Bath managed to strike back in the last five minutes of the game. Winger Semesa Rokoduguni scored an outstanding try to get the lead back. He intercepted a pass to score a brace and seal a famous win for Bath Rugby (FT : 31-21).

* Bordeaux-Bègles vs. Stade Français : Top14 (Bordeaux, France)

Bordeaux-Bègles were one of the French sides on song from the last two games in the Top14. Stade Français had no answer in the first-half as a beautiful move allowed the Bordeaux-Bègles team to score with winger Nans Ducuing playing a big part in that try.

Very well coached, the Bordeaux-Bègles team remained strong and a cohesive unit in the second-half as their opponents were trying to score. However, it did not work as the defence was very good and they managed to keep the scoreboard their own definitely.

Last season, Bordeaux-Bègles were not far from reaching the Champions Cup Quarter-Finals. They will be able to produce the same performances as they kept the same squad. There are many talents in that squad and they just definitely can perform (FT : 30-10).

* Munster vs. Cheetahs : Pro14 (Thomond Park, Limerick)

That game was special as Rassie Erasmus, current Munster coach, was facing his former team, the Cheetahs. The Munster province started outstandingly well with Jack O’Donoghue picking the ball at scrum time and carrying to score a very good try, then.

Winger Alex Wootton became only the 5th player to score 4 tries during a Pro14 game. Other players stood out for Munster such as Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway for the back-three but also Chris Farrell at centre and Ian Keatley, doing the job at fly-half.

That was another disappointing for the Cheetahs who are clearly better than what the scoreboard is suggesting. They are currently playing in the Currie Cup as well so there are several players who are unavailable but it will be different at home (FT : 51-18).

* Scarlets vs. Zebre : Pro14 (Parma, Italy)

The Scarlets had rested some players after the great bonus point win against the Southern Kings the week before. With a tough trip against Ulster awaiting them, the Scarlets gave an opportunity to the youngsters and some players from their academy.

It was not the Scarlets team that was witnessed last weekend but they still put a decent performance. Leaders such as Rhys Patchell and Johnny McNicholl drove very well the backline. Zebre did not have a bad game at all as they fronted very well in the first-half.

It was a bridge too far in the second-half but Zebre, like their coaching staff stated, have nothing to lose and they will still target improvements. The Scarlets will rely on their British & Irish Lions players to do the job the next weekend against Ulster (FT : 10-41).

* Worcester vs. Wasps : Premiership (Sixways, Worcester)

At Sixways, Worcester Warriors were in the contest with Wasps most of the game but handling mistakes meant that they could not build some momentum. They had a try disallowed in the first-half as there was obstruction on Wasps hooker Ashley Johnson.

The Wasps did not play well in attack though it was obvious that they were trying some tested combinations in training. They did not get the bonus point though Marcus Watson had the first try. Willie Le Roux had the second and the third try was a well built one.

Danny Cipriani’s little chip over the top of the Worcester Warriors’ defence was well gathered by Josh Bassett. Jimmy Gopperth had a commanding game as well but that contest showed that Worcester have got what it takes to compete this season (FT : 10-24).

Conclusion

The Rugby weekend was a great one as there were a couple of outstanding performances such as Munster and La Rochelle winning with the bonus points. That was much more difficult for Clermont and the Cheetahs who need to bounce back quickly the next week.

Bath got two wins from their first two games and the key for them is the consistency. Wasps are still trying to find their from from last season which allowed them to play the Premiership final. The Scarlets are preparing for a tough trip to Ulster, in Belfast, as well.

Besides, Bordeaux-Bègles had a decent game and could be one of the big surprise in Europe for the upcoming season. The Sharks are probably one of the favourites in the Currie Cup while New Zealand could make a greater step in the Rugby Championship.

Great Weekend ! Great games !

Max.

 

The Barrett Review : Rugby Championship 2017 (Argentina – Game I)

Beauden Barrett scores a try for New Zealand against Argentina at Yarrow Stadium, in New Playmouth during Round 3 of Rugby Championship 2017

New Zealand secured the Bledisloe Cup two weeks ago following an outstanding Test match against Australia, in Dunedin. They won the game thanks to a 78th-minute try to retain the Bledisloe Cup. Two weeks after, the All Blacks were back in the competition.

The standings were very close before the beginning of Round 3 as New Zealand and South Africa both had 9 points. Australia and Argentina did not manage to win during their first two games but they are not too far as these contests are always very close.

With Round 3 which was going to be played this weekend, New Zealand was hosting Argentina in Hamilton while South Africa was playing Australia away in Perth. The All Blacks players were targeting their second bonus point win of the competition in 2017.

Nevertheless, the other game was going to be interesting. South Africa was the other unbeaten team in the competition while Australia was staging that game in Perth. That is the location of the Western Force, the Wallaby franchise cut from Super Rugby in 2018.

The big question was going to be the affluence to that game. The Perth-based fans had to decide whether to come to this game or not. They could show their support to the Western Force or show their anger to that decision and decide to boycott the encounter.

Background Information :

New Zealand : Targeting improvements

The second Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies was not perfect from New Zealand. Somehow, they managed to recover from a terrible start to clinch the win in the last moments of the game. It was pleasing but it also raised questions in the training camp.

Coach Steve Hansen explained that complacency can always be an explanation. After the Wallabies game, two weeks ago, he congratulated his players on the comeback. Nevertheless, he stated that his team needs a 80-minute effort to be more comfortable.

Since the start of the 2017 Test season, New Zealand are not consistent. During the first game of the Rugby Championship, the first-half was great but not the second. The All Blacks are not as good as they were in the last quarter and they just had to change that.

Argentina : Keeping the discipline

The Argentina team is currently in re-building as they are developping their players’ pool and their 10th place in the rankings are not reflecting their quality. The aim for Argentina is the 2019 World Cup so they want to improve in each of their encounters.

One of the issues with the Pumas is not their gameplan because they have one and when it works, it can do a lot of damage. The issue is their discipline as they often cannot stay with 15 players on the pitch during 80 minutes and it is putting them under pressure.

Daniel Hourcade, the talented Argentina manager, has got a very talented squad. Most of the players are playing for the Jaguares in Super Rugby. Argentina must keep their discipline first and they must not give away penalties if they want to play their game.

The Players To Watch :

New Zealand : Nepo Laulala, Beauden Barrett, Israel Dagg

Nepo Laulala : The powerful prop from the Chiefs is given opportunities. Nepo Laulala knows well the All Blacks set-up and he is a good scrummager. He can improve his workrate on the field but his power at scrum time suits the New Zealand gameplan.

Beauden Barrett : The All Blacks first-five eighth got his confidence back. His running game is creating try scoring chances again for his teammates. The goalkicking is improving and Beauden Barrett is also immense in defense with great accurate tackles.

Israel Dagg : Israel Dagg is coming back in the New Zealand team. Versatile player, he is often switching from fullback to wing. He has got some skills in the air and has a good knowledge in the game. Defensively, Israel Dagg is not making many mistakes either.

Argentina : Agustin Creevy, Tomas Cubelli, Joaquin Tuculet

Agustin Creevy : The inspiring hooker is a key in the Argentina set-up as he is leading all his teammates. Agustin Creevy is not wasting many opportunities at lineout time and his scrummaging is good. He is also winning turnovers at the breakdown for the team, too.

Tomas Cubelli : Very good scrum-half, Tomas Cubelli is bringing some threat with his running game and his accurate passing. Tomas Cubelli often finds gaps in the defence and can offload as well if needed. He is always searching for some space for his team.

Joaquin Tuculet : Joaquin Tuculet is an exciting player in the back-three. Playing fullback, his running game is dangerous and he can make things happen on the pitch. His kicking game in open play is good and he is always involved in the attacking phases.

Team News : Relying On Experience

The last two weeks were pretty busy in the training camp for the All Blacks, especially after the drama in their last game in the competition. The New Zealand coaching staff worked with all the squad on what went wrong in the first-half of the last encounter.

Some important work was achieved also in training about getting the combinations right in the attacking play. Some All Blacks players were also released to their Mitre 10 Cup provinces to get game time and potentially try to come back in that All Blacks team.

As usual, last Thursday morning, a press release confirmed the New Zealand starting XV to play the Argentina team in Hamilton. Later in the day, Steve Hansen held a press conference with his assistant to talk about the selections and the upcoming game, too.

The front-row did not show changes from two weeks ago as Dane Coles retained the hooker jersey. Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala started with him in the pack. In the second-row, there was a little change with Luke Romano starting alongside Brodie Retallick.

About the back-row, skipper Kieran Read led the team once again while Vaea Fifita and Ardie Savea were given the nod. The half-backs pairing had one change with scrum-half TJ Perenara directing the backline with his Hurricanes teammate Beauden Barrett.

The midfield partnership was a new one with Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown starting. There was also re-shuffle in the back-three with Nehe Milner-Skudder and Israel Dagg named on the wings while Damian McKenzie started from fullback, too.

On the bench, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett and Ofa Tu’ungafasi covered the front-row. Scott Barrett and Sam Cane were respectively the reserve second-rower and the reserve back-rower. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Lima Sopoaga and centre Ngani Laumape were there.

Game Summary : The Pumas Challenge

The Referee from Australia Angus Gardner was officiating in this Test match which took place at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth. Nigel Owens was running the touchline as well and the weather conditions were very difficult in Taranaki with rain and strong wind.

The Pumas had all the possession in the first-half with their forwards carrying strongly to gain metres. The All Blacks put some huge tackles early with the likes of Brodie Retallick and skipper Kieran Read trying to compete like they could at the breakdown.

On one of their first attacking moves, New Zealand managed to find the answer as fullback Damian McKenzie found a gap and made an assist to winger Nehe Milner-Skudder who scored his first try since the one he scored in the last 2015 World Cup final.

First-five eighth Beauden Barrett was wide from the conversion. Argentina kept attacking and got some rewards when they were awarded a penalty as the All Blacks were infringing. Nicolas Sanchez scored the penalty to put Argentina on the board, there.

Just after that, as the first quarter was already reached, New Zealand had the ball in the Pumas’ 22-metre zone. Building with a scrum, the ball went wide, reached Beauden Barrett who made a grubber for Anton Lienert-Brown who scored the second try, then.

There was a TMO (Television Match Official) call from Angus Gardner to check the grounding but there was no problem. Try was awarded and that was a second conversion attempt for Beauden Barrett but the ball went wide to the left of the posts.

Argentina re-gathered and carried well thanks to players such as Javier Ortega Desio and they came back into the game. Emiliano Boffelli scored a 50-metre penalty while Nicolas Sanchez kept his composure to score a drop-goal and Argentina was back into the game.

The All Blacks tried too much kicking to unlock the Argentina defence and they definitely relied on their scrum to put pressure on their opponents. As TJ Perenara wanted to settle things, Beauden Barrett got the ball and threw a long pass to Israel Dagg who just scored.

On that third try, Argentina did not manage to defend and Israel Dagg got his try. Beauden Barrett had a difficult conversion from the right touchline. He tried to nail it but the ball went to the right and that was another miss from the Hurricanes playmaker.

As Half-Time was coming, the All Blacks were making handling mistakes and the Pumas backline got the ball. Winger Santiago Cordero and fullback Joaquin Tuculet put boot to ball and New Zealand had to negociate a tricky throw near the 5 metres with pressure.

The ball went loose as Ardie Savea lost control when Dane Coles threw the ball. Argentina got the turnover and skipper Agustin Creevy led the charge. Going wide, the ball was picked up by Nicolas Sanchez and he found some space to score a great try.

The Jaguares playmaker converted his try and the Pumas were leading the All Blacks at Half-Time (HT : 15-16). Steve Hansen and his backroom staff were going to have some work to do with their Half-Time speech as New Zealand was struggling to play the game.

As the second-half started, the New Zealand leaders on the pitch tried to bring some positive energy. Dane Coles, Brodie Retallick, Kieran Read and Sonny Bill Williams wanted to make sure that an improved New Zealand side was taking the pitch quickly.

Nevertheless, it did not really work immediately as Referee Angus Gardner penalised New Zealand for a breakdown infringement and it gave another long-range opportunity. Winger Emiliano Boffelli went for the posts and was successful with his second penalty.

Few minutes later, Steve Hansen’s players were put under pressure at scrum time as Dane Coles and the two props Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala were penalised for an early push. Nicolas Sanchez had the penalty but he pushed the ball to the left and he missed.

The Pumas still got the ball and rushed back in the New Zealand’s 22-metre zone where the All Blacks conceded multiple penalties for off-side plays. With Argentina pushing, Beauden Barrett tried to compete at the breakdown but his action was deemed illegal.

Angus Gardner showed the yellow card and New Zealand was going to play with 14 men until the 60th minute while Nicolas Sanchez added 3 points from the resulting penalty. As Israel Dagg had an HIA (Head Injury Assessment), Lima Sopoaga was brought on.

On the re-start, New Zealand had some possession and a pass was made in the direction of Vaea Fifita. Taking the ball on the 10-metre line, the Hurricanes flanker started to run and beat several defenders on his way to the try line to score a brillant try in the corner.

Lima Sopoaga converted the try and suddenly the World Champions had some momentum. Getting a penalty, Kieran Read pointed to the posts and Lima Sopoaga had a chance to score more points but the ball was off target and it was a 22-metre drop-out.

Beauden Barrett came back on the pitch and with Israel Dagg not coming back, he finished the game at fullback. Argentina were feeling the pressure right now and New Zealand started to threaten their lines more and more with Luke Romano and Sam Cane.

Showing some patience, New Zealand carried a couple of time. Then, the ball was spread wide and Damian McKenzie found some space on the left wing to score his 3rd try of the competition. Lima Sopoaga kept the goalkicking duties and landed the conversion, there.

Argentina gave the ball back to New Zealand and the All Blacks played with more freedom. Vaea Fifita found space once again and offloaded to Damian McKenzie for the score. However, the try was ruled out by a TMO review with the offload slightly forward.

With the last quarter of the game coming, New Zealand had secured the bonus point and kept playing. Lima Sopoaga scored a penalty and some speed allowed Tawera Kerr-Barlow to combine with Lima Sopoaga, making the assist for Beauden Barrett’s score.

There was a last conversion from Lima Sopoaga and that was the end of the game (FT : 39-22). Once again, the All Blacks were put under pressure but managed to make the difference in the last quarter of the game. They will face the Springboks next weekend.

The Barrett Review : Not dreadful, but Just

Kicks : 0/3 – Beauden Barrett had 3 difficult kicks from tough angles and he did not nail them. When he was yellow-carded, Lima Sopoaga came on and kept the duties until the end. With no doubt, one of his toughest days with the boot and it is really concerning.

General Play : Even if managed to make two assists for Anton Liernert-Brown and Israel Dagg and score a try, Beauden Barrett did not play well. Two kick-offs were not good, the kicking in play was not decisive and he was yellow-carded for the 5th time this season.

Conclusion : If Beauden Barrett was defended by Steve Hansen, the goalkicking has become a major concern. It could definitely have some bad consequences and Beauden Barrett also has got to improve his on-field display as South Africa come next weekend.

Tough game. Stay Strong.

Max.

 

The Mitre 10 Cup 2017 : Review (Round 4)

Tevita Li on his way to the try line for North Harbour against the Counties Manukau during the Round 4 of the Mitre 10 Cup 2017

The Mitre 10 Cup is more and more entertaining as the provinces involved were playing Round 4 this weekend. Just like last weekend, three provinces were remaining unbeaten. There were Canterbury, the Mitre 10 Cup holders, North Harbour and Wellington, too.

The Rugby Championship was back as well, meaning that few All Blacks players were released to their provinces. That was a big week for two provinces playing in the Championship : Wellington and Hawke’s Bay. These two provinces were playing twice.

Also, following last weekend’s heavy defeat against North Harbour, Auckland had to salvage something from the opening Rounds. They were hosting Taranaki at Eden Park and that was a big challenge. Taranaki are one of the favourites teams in Premiership.

Game 23 : Wellington vs. Hawke’s Bay (Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand)

That game was about two Hurricanes provinces facing each other. Wellington took the better start with winger Julian Savea showing his power to score. Later in the first-half, Sitiveni Paongo was on the scoreboard while Alex Fidow had his try under the posts.

The last try featured a good work from Wes Goosen but Hawke’s Bay came back just before Half-Time with Cardiff Vaega scoring in the left corner. In second-half, prop Alex Fidow got his double while Wes Goosen was over the line after some great footwork.

Hawke’s Bay came back later with Jason Long powering his way through. Wellington scored a last try with Malo Tuitama getting a great offload. Hawke’s Bay had the bonus point with Sam McNicol and Jorian Tangaere touching down but too late (FT : 40-27).

Game 24 : Counties Manukau vs. North Harbour (ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe, New Zealand)

Since the start of the season, North Harbour were facing their toughest challenge against the Counties Manukau. They started pretty well in fact with prop Sione Mafileo on the scoreboard after just two minutes. The Counties Manukau bounced back quickly, then.

Fullback Luteru Laulala concluded a great move towards the end of the first-half. Tim Nanai-Williams found a gap and offloaded before the ball went wide. Nevertheless, in the second-half, it was inconsistent from the Counties Manukau in the Pukekohe town.

They managed to score a try in the second-half thanks to Tim Nanai-Williams but were often penalised. Ben Volavola scored several penalties while Tevita Li beat three defenders on his left wing to score the defining try and take the defining win (FT : 18-27).

Game 25 : Canterbury vs. Southland (AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand)

Coming for the Ranfurly Shield, Southland tried to give his best. In a close first-half, Canterbury started well with Richie Mo’unga scoring a double but Southland came back. Junior Ngaluafe and Heria Fomai concluded great moves including some good offloads.

In the second-half, Canterbury unleashed his power with Braydon Ennor finding space on his left wing twice for two tries. Fullback George Bridge was also on the scoreboard after good work from the forwards and there was more issues for the Southland Stags.

Winger Ryan Tongia was sin-binned for a shoulder charge on Richie Mo’unga. It did not help as George Brige touched down. Josh McKay had his try while Braydon Ennor had a quadruple, George Bridge, a Hat-Trick, and Tim Bateman scored the last try (FT : 78-20).

Game 26 : Manawatu vs. Bay Of Plenty (Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North, New Zealand)

This contest was some battle with Manawatu scoring the first try of the game thanks to playmaker Oter Black. Bay Of Plenty closed the gap with two penalties from Kelly Haimona but Manawatu kept their momentum and back Lewis Marshall had the try.

Towards the end of the first-half, Bay Of Plenty managed to score their first try thanks to a good combination at lineout time. Joe Webber was on the scoreboard and Bay Of Plenty showed some strength in defence during the second-half to keep Manawatu quiet.

With just 10 minutes remaining, Manawatu number 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis was yellow-carded for not retreating 10 metres. Bay Of Plenty got a penalty try and that was the end of the game, Manawatu falling very close to the win at Palmerston North (FT : 17-20).

Game 27 : Auckland vs. Taranaki (Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand)

Auckland had to react after the last two games but Taranaki had the better start. Declan O’Donnell touched down in the right corner while Toa Halafihi intercepted to score. Auckland got back into the game with Vince Aso finishing a nice move on the right wing.

Then, Marcel Renata touched down from close range before Stephen Perofeta found a gap to score for Taranaki. Taleni Seu had his try for Auckland just before Half-Time. In second-half, Taranaki kept attacking with back Te Toira Tahuriorangi on the scoreboard.

Once again, Auckland made too many mistakes in their build-up and Taranaki scored from counter-attacks thanks to Lachlan Boshier and Kylem O’Donnell. Vince Aso scored two consolation tries to grap a great Hat-Trick in another thrilling contest (FT : 38-49).

Game 28 : Northland vs. Waikato (Toll Stadium, Whangarei, New Zealand)

Following a good start to their season, Northland wanted to keep the momentum. They scored two tries in the opening half with fullback Solomon Alaimalo on the scoreboard. Forwards Ross Wright had enough power to touch down as well for the great second try.

Waikato lacked discipline and forwards James Tucker was yellow-carded following a dangerous tackle. Forwards Jack Ram scored Northland’s 3rd try of the game when he used the momentum which was created by a good driving maul near the Waikato’s line.

Running the ball from their own half, Northland had the bonus point try thanks to Jack Goodhue while Waikato scored their first try with Adam Burn crossing. Later, winger Jone Macilai-Tori put the icing on the cake with a last try for Northland team (FT : 37-7).

Game 29 : Tasman vs. Wellington (Lansdowne Park, Blenheim, New Zealand)

Another classic encounter happened in Blenheim with Wellington scoring a 105-metre try thanks to prop Alex Fidow. After that, Wes Goosen collected Jackson Garden-Bachop to race through, making the assist for Ben Lam while Tim Perry had a try for Tasman.

That was an entertaining game with Sam Lousi scoring after a good build-up for Wellington and James Blackwell concluding a great move. Tasman remained in the game as Will Jordan scored and James Lowe collected Alex Nankivell’s grubber for a great try.

Wellington were on the back foot and conceded another try from Mitch Hunt. However, they came back almost immediately thanks to Losi Filipo but it was too late and Tasman hung on to the win in the closing stages to claim their second win of the year (FT : 37-35).

Game 30 : Hawke’s Bay vs. Otago (McLean Park, Napier, New Zealand)

The Southerners did not wait long to show their intent as Josh Furno and Dillon Hunt benefited from good build-ups to score the first two tries. Patelesio Tomkinson had his try on the left wing after winger Jona Nareki found a gap in the Hawke’s Bay midfield.

It did not get better for Hawke’s Bay when Fletcher Smith scored after a reverse pass. Hawke’s Bay had their first try thanks to Jonah Lowe but Otago still attacked. Joshua Furno had a double while Marino Mikaele-Tu’u was on the scoreboard for Hawke’s Bay.

However, Sekonaia Pole scored from a driving maul for Otago. He was followed by Fletcher Smith and Aki Seiuli. Ellery Wilson scored one more try for Hawke’s Bay while Fletcher Smith had a Hat-Trick try to give the big win to the Otago province (FT : 21-64).

The Talking Points :

Championship : Despite the Tasman loss, Wellington remain at the top of the standings. Northland and Otago are building nicely while Southland has to win quickly. Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu can still make the play-offs but they will have to fight with Bay Of Plenty.

Premiership : Canterbury retained the Ranfurly Shield while North Harbour and Taranaki got wins. Waikato are inconsistent while Tasman is coming back. Auckland and Counties Manukau could just fight to stay in the Premiership for the next season in 2018.

Ranfurly Shield : Canterbury will defend the Ranfurly Shield for the 3rd time of the season next weekend. They got wins against Otago and Southland while Counties Manukau is coming to Christchurch, next weekend, to try and win that prestigious Ranfurly Shield.

Conclusion

With Round 4 having been played this weekend, only two provinces are remaining unbeaten : Canterbury and North Harbour. These two provinces could well face each other for the Mitre 10 Cup in a few weeks if North Harbour is keeping the momentum.

Northland is not the province which was struggling in the last three seasons anymore. They will defeinitely fight with Wellington and Otago for promotion in the Premiership. Tasman and Manawatu are outsiders but they can definitely come back for the play-offs.

Canterbury will defend the Ranfurly Shield against Counties Manukau next weekend as both provinces will play twice. Northland will host North Harbour, Otago and Tasman will face each other while Canterbury will play the Wellington side later in the weekend.

Thrilling Round ! Great Games !

Max.

 

The Rugby Wrap : Weekend Review (Friday, 01st, September, 2017 – Sunday, 03rd, September, 2017)

 

Winger Johnny McNicholl is tackled during the Scarlets' opening Pro14 game against the Southern Kings in Llanelli during the 2017-2018 season

That was a great rugby weekend to open September with the Aviva Premiership coming back and Pro14 starting. The Cheetahs and the Southern Kings were playing their first ever games in the new competition as challenges are awaiting them after Super Rugby.

In England, that was a brillant start to the 2017-2018 season while Top14 was already playing Round 2. There was no Test matches with the Rugby Championship taking a break. The Southern Hemisphere competition is coming back quickly next weekend.

Also, the provincial competitions are still on such as the Currie Cup and the Mitre 10 Cup. So far, it is the regular season but the play-offs will come quickly. Let’s review some games which took place at the weekend in the different competitions over the world.

* Blue Bulls vs. Griquas : Currie Cup (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)

Following two losses against the Cheetahs and the Pumas, the Blue Bulls needed a win to chase the play-offs at the end of the season. It was a high scoring affair against the Griquas at Pretoria. The game was entertaining as the two sides ran the ball each time.

Promising fullback Manie Libbok touched down for a great try in the first-half and scored twice in five minutes in the second-half for his treble. Former Connacht fly-half Marnitz Boshoff managed to reach the 400 Currie Cup points and drove well the team.

The Griquas had a great second-half as they put the Blue Bulls under huge pressure. However, the Blue Bulls sealed the game at the 79th minute when Tony Jantjies landed a penalty. The Griquas scored a last try but it was too late to win that game (FT : 44-42).

* Munster vs. Treviso : Pro14 (Musgrave Park, Cork)

Finalists last season, Munster did not want distraction to open their season as it is confirmed that their coach Rassie Erasmus will be leaving. He has agreed to come back to South Africa and his departure is scheduled to happen at the end of the year 2017.

Treviso came in Cork with strong players such as Whetu Douglas and Marty Banks, both having played in Super Rugby. However, it was a bridge too far for the Italians who only managed to score a penalty as the lack of discipline definitely cost them in that game.

Munster were clinical in the first-half with the forwards pack dominating. Wingers Darren Sweetnam and Andrew Conway got their tries while players were rested. New players who came in the set-up such as Chris Farrell and James Hart delivered (FT : 34-3).

* Taranaki vs. Counties Manukau : Mitre 10 Cup (Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth)

Part of the Round 3 in the Mitre 10 Cup, Taranaki had to bounce back after a bad loss against Wellington last weekend. The weather conditions were very difficult and Taranaki never had the momentum as their offloading game definitely did not work.

Winger Waisake Naholo made a bad mistake in the first-half which allowed Counties Manukau to score. Nevertheless, the Highlanders player made amends later in the game with two tries. His second try was impressive as he beat two defenders before scoring.

Taranaki remained under pressure until the end of the game. Losing the ball at the lineout and scrum, they stayed composed at the breakdown. Hooker Ricky Riccitelli scored a 79th-minute try, converted by Marty McKenzie, to give that win (FT : 30-27).

* Wasps vs. Sale Sharks : Premiership (Ricoh Arena, Coventry)

Celebrating their 150th anniversary this season, Wasps were targeting a bonus point win at home against Sale Sharks and they managed it. That was obviously not perfect from Dai Young’s team but they did the job and secured the first win in that last quarter.

Once again, the 10-12 axis with Danny Cipriani and Jimmy Gopperth worked well as Gabriele Lovobalavu made a brillant debut. In the forwards pack, second-rower Joe Launchbury led his team by example while Matt Mullan had a strong game at scrum.

Scrum-half Dan Robson scored four tries in an accomplished performance. Sale Sharks remained in the game during a very long time with Denny Solomona scoring another try. At the end, Wasps were strong and scored 50 points to get a precious 5 points (FT : 50-35).

* London Irish vs. Harlequins : Premiership (Twickenham, London)

Promoted from Championship, London Irish did not want to start badly and battle for relegation all season. With an ambitious squad and a talented manager in Nick Kennedy, they entertained Twickenham and recorded an absolutely deserved and famous win.

Former Leicester Tigers playmaker Tommy Bell scored the first two penalties for his team. Then, London Irish scored three memorable tries with Topsy Ojo, Tommy Bell and Ofa Treviranus concluding a flowing move with runs, skills and offloads in the build-up.

Harlequins almost had the perfect comeback with Marland Yarde, Danny Care and Charlie Walker touching down. Nevertheless, scrum-half Brendan McKibbin had the bonus point try for London Irish and that was just a big statement of intent (FT : 39-29).

* Scarlets vs. Southern Kings : Pro14 (Parc Y Scarlets, Llanelli)

The defending Champions started the Pro14 season in some style, cruising to 57 points against the Southern Kings. The franchise from Port Elizabeth played well in the first-half but they had not the answer to the Scarlets’ attacking power in the second-half.

Winger Johnny McNicholl, coming from New Zealand, was named Man Of The Match as he won more than 200 metres and scored some tries. Centre Hadleigh Parkes was also impressive and so was Scott Williams while Rhys Patchell had another brillant game.

The forwards pack did the job as well such as flanker James Davies. The front-row was clinical with Rob Evans and Samson Lee, the two props. The Scarlets will definitely be the team to beat because they are targeting silverware again for that season (FT : 57-10).

* Connacht vs. Glasgow : Pro14 (Sportsground, Galway)

That game was always going to be interesting as two coaches who worked together in the last few years were facing each other. Kieran Keane and Dave Rennie coached the Chiefs in Super Rugby and are now coaching Connacht and Glasgow Warriors, respectively.

In a very close contest with both sides trying to play against a strong wind, penalties were exchanged in the first-half with Jack Carty and Peter Horne. Glasgow Warriors made the difference in the second half of the second-half thanks to their forwards pack.

Glasgow Warriors scored two tries thanks to Ali Price and Lee Jones. That last try was great in his build-up as Ali Price’s cross-field kick found Leonardo Sarto. The Italy winger stayed in field and then offloaded for Lee Jones who had the defining score (FT : 12-18).

* Toulouse vs. Pau : Top14 (Ernest Wallon, Toulouse)

Toulouse are still searching for that former Glory which meant that they won so many Titles in the last two decades. If their first two games in the new Top14 season are far from perfect, they are remaining unbeaten and that is the major positive thing, there.

Following a draw away to Oyonnax last weekend, Toulouse started the game in a brillant way with Maxime Médard finding space on his right wing. The team had good structures and were contesting well at the breakdown as Pau got a yellow card after a foul play act.

The second-half was another affair as Toulouse spent 40 minutes in defence. Cheslin Kolbe used a counter-attack to score his second try of the season. Toulouse finished the game with 14 played and had to defend until the end to secure the win (FT : 23-19).

* Leicester vs. Bath : Premiership (Welford Road, Leicester)

The closing game of the Aviva Premiership Round 1 for the 2017-2018 season did not disappoint. The two sides played their attacking game with Bath taking their opportunities in the first-half. Centre Max Clark got a double after good team efforts.

Also, in the same half, Manu Tuilagi had a try while winger Semesa Rokoduguni intercepted a George Ford’s pass. In second-half, both teams traded penalties with Rhys Priestland and George Ford. However, Bath Rugby lacked discipline and were penalised.

Referee Luke Pearce showed three yellow cards to Kahn Fotuali’i, Matt Garvey and Matt Banahan. Leicester came back as Jonny May scored twice and had a late opportunity in Bath’s 22 metres . Nevertheless, the ball was lost and Bath claimed the win (FT : 27-30).

* Clermont vs. Toulon : Top14 (Marcel Michelin, Clermont)

The remake of last year’s Top14 final was played with much tension in Clermont. Three yellow cards were shown by Referee Pascal Gaüzère who also lost communication with his TMO. It complicated things and especially in the second-half, towards the end of it.

Clermont started well that game with an early penalty but Toulon hit back with Chris Ashton scoring his 3rd try in 2 games. The defending Champions scored two defining tries when Toulon had two players in the sin bin following some bad infringements.

First, Fijian winger Alivereti Raka touched down on the right wing while centre Damien Penaud re-gathered Nick Abendanon’s little chip to score. Toulon scored a couple of penalties at the end of the second-half but Clermont hung on to win that game (FT : 21-16).

Conclusion

This weekend was definitely a great one as all the teams showed their commitment to get the best result possible. The provincial competitions (Currie Cup, Mitre 10 Cup) are more and more entertaining as it seems that tackling is not that good in the Currie Cup in 2017.

About the Top14, the second Round was played and it was pleasing to have the defending Champions bouncing back after last weekend. Overall, the Top14 is not that great given the tension on the pitches each weekend and the quality is not really there, sometimes.

Other domestic leagues such as Aviva Premiership and Pro14 kicked off and the fans were not disappointed. As usual, the standings will be very close once again while the Cheetahs and the Southern Kings made their debut, trying to learn from the first games.

Great Week-End ! Next One !

Max.

 

The Mitre 10 Cup 2017 : Review (Round 3)

Waisake Naholo is running the ball for Taranaki as Tevita Nabura from the Counties Manukau is chasing him during the Mitre 10 Cup 2017

Following the first two Rounds in the Mitre 10 Cup 2017, only three provinces are remaining unbeaten : Canterbury, North Harbour and Wellington. Canterbury retained the Ranfurly Shield last weekend after an impressive game in Christchurch against Otago.

North Harbour played well in the first two games but they have not faced Premiership provinces yet. Wellington have got the potential to deliver but they cannot get complacent. Rugby Championship will have a rest this weekend so it will be interesting.

Some All Blacks players might be released to their provinces to get some game time. In Round 3, Tasman will target their first win of the season while Southland and Otago will also try to get back to winning ways after two really disappointing results for them.

Game 15 : Auckland vs. Waikato (Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand)

In Eden Park, Waikato started strongly with Tyler Campbell diving on the left wing after a good driving maul. Auckland hit back quickly with Patrick Tuipulotu carrying to score. However, on the kick-off, there was confusion with Auckland losing the ball so quickly.

Flanker Jordan Manihera had his 6th try of the season for Waikato with that mistake. The Auckland team re-gathered and used their pack, allowing Marcel Renata to be on the scoreboard. Penalties were exchanged in the second-half with Waikato taking advantage.

Waikato were rewarded with a penalty try and winger Sevu Reece re-gathered his chip-kick to score his try. Auckland reduced the gap with Sione Havili but it was just enough as Matthew Lansdowne scored one last penalty for Waikato in Eden Park (FT : 27-35).

Game 16 : Bay Of Plenty vs. Wellington (Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua, New Zealand)

The Wellington side offered a clinical effort under difficult weather conditions. Winger Malo Tuitama had the first try thanks to a long pass from Jackson Garden-Bachop. Second-row Isaia Walker-Lewaere showed his power to touch down for the second try.

In the second-half, Wellington kept the momentum as Jackson Garden-Bachop delivered his second assist of the night with a cross-field kick for Ben Lam. Mike Delany returned the favour as the centre Terrence Hepetema scored under the posts for Bay Of Plenty.

However, Wellington had too much power in the last quarter of the game. Back player Wes Goosen had an individual try as Bay Of Plenty did not complete the tackle. Hooker Asafo Aumua scored his 3rd try of the season with the great driving maul (FT : 10-31).

Game 17 : Hawke’s Bay vs. Canterbury (McLean Park, Napier, New Zealand)

McLean Park, Napier. Canterbury, as usual, started their game strongly with Brett Cameron scoring the first try under the posts. The first-half was played with intensity and Hawke’s Bay kept their strength when powerful flanker Hugh Renton had his try.

The game was in the balance at Half-Time but Canterbury came back with their attacking power. Winger Marshall Suckling had a double in 10 minutes, finishing a beautiful move and re-gathering a ball after a great cross-field kick on the right wing.

Winger Braydon Ennor also had two tries, finding gaps in the midfield and on the left wing. Back-rower Nick Herawiko was yellow carded for a lifting tackle but Canterbury still scored two tries thanks to Josh McKay and Inga Finau for a great win (FT : 10-53).

Game 18 : Otago vs. Manawatu (Forsyth Barr, Dunedin, New Zealand)

Josh Ioane and Otere Black traded penalties early for Otago and Manawatu, respectively. Jonathan Ruru had the first try for Otago but Ngani Laumape replied for Manawatu. The All Blacks centre took Otere Black’s pass and made a powerful run to come back quickly.

Otago had the lead again when winger Jona Nareki collected a cross-field kick to score but Manawatu had a try before half-time thanks to a driving maul and Jackson Hemopo. Otago started strongly the second-half with Mitchell Scott concluding a move on a wing.

Later, Sam Anderson-Heather was on the scoreboard while Jamie Booth had his try for Manawatu after working on the short side. However, centre Teihorangi Walden thrown two assists for Jora Nareki, scoring a Hat-Trick and that was just too much (FT : 40-30).

Game 19 : Southland vs. Northland (Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill, New Zealand)

Northland was coming with confidence in that game and they opened the scoreboard when Jone Macilai-Tori beat two tackles to throw the offload for Jack Goodhue. Winger Jordan Hayland touched down too after a defining footwork from Solomon Alaimalo.

Just before Half-Time, scrum-half Sam Nock took a gap on the right wing and scored the 3rd try for Northland. They kept the momentum in second-half as Jone Macilai-Tori had his try while flanker Kara Pryor set a good try for Solomon Alaimalo who was rewarded.

Southland had to react and they showed it when Ryan Tongia offloaded for Aleki Morris. Nevertheless, it was a bridge too far for Southland as Northland added a late try. Forward Jordan Olsen powered his way over the whitewash for the big win (FT : 13-44).

Game 20 : Taranaki vs. Counties Manukau (Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, New Zealand)

Yarrow Stadium was hosting that game played under terrible weather conditions. Early penalties were scored but Counties Manukau had the first try. Waisake Naholo’s clearing kick was not good enough and it allowed winger Tevita Naburu to score on the left wing.

Towards the end of the half, Waisake Naholo made amends and finished a move on the right wing. The second-half was difficult for Taranaki as their offloading game was not working. Jonathan Taumateine scored from a close range for the Counties Manukau.

Then, hooker Joe Royal concluded a world-class move and Taranaki had to react. Centre Charlie Ngatai started the comeback with a good try and Waisake Naholo had his double after beating two defenders. Ricky Riccitelli sealed the win with a late try (FT : 30-27).

Game 21 : Waikato vs Tasman (FMG Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand)

One of the most entertaining games of the weekend, Waikato had the first try when prop Loni Uhila collected an offload to score on the right wing. Tasman reacted with Billy Guyton scoring from close range and flanker Vernon Fredericks on the scoreboard, too.

However, Sevu Reece had his try for Waikato as Half-Time was coming. Tasman showed his power in second-half with Will Jordaan concluding a move and Jordan Taufua having his try as well. However, back James Lowe was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on.

Waikato launched a fightback with forward Samisoni Taukei’aho scoring after a driving maul. Fullback Zac Guildford scored unopposed on the right wing while Tawera Kerr-Barlow added a 4th try. The try was unconverted so Tasman won that game (FT : 29-31).

Game 22 : North Harbour vs. Auckland (QBE Stadium, Albany, New Zealand)

It was one of these games when a team has no answer to his opponents’ tactics. North Harbour was the only team on the field as Shaun Stevenson scored the first try after a world-class move. Matt Vaega threw his second assist when winger Matt Duffie scored.

Shaun Stevenson had his double when he collected Bryn Hall’s little chip. Auckland tried to react with George Moala scoring a try. However, Tevita Li had space on his wing to score after Matt Vaega’s 3rd assist. Hooker James Parsons intercepted for a try as well.

Auckland could not play their rugby as winger Tevita Li added another try and scored his double after another great build-up. He threw the offload for replacement Ben Volavola for a last converted try. North Harbour convincingly won the game (FT : 57-10).

The Talking Points :

Championship : After two difficult games, Otago got back to winning ways while Wellington remain unbeaten. Northland are definitely a threat while Hawke’s Bay, Bay Of Plenty and Manawatu are fighting for play-offs. Southland are struggling to get a win.

Premiership : Canterbury are the favourites with Taranaki claiming a defining win. Tasman have launched their season while North Harbour have the talent to compete. Waikato had a loss while Counties Manukau and Auckland could fight for the relegation.

Ranfurly Shield : The Ranfurly Shield was not defended in Round 3 as Canterbury was playing away. It will be contested next weekend because the Christchurch-based province will host Southland in AMI Park. As Otago showed, it should be a great game.

Conclusion :

The Mitre 10 Cup Round 3 was really interesting because it gave interesting pieces of informations. The standings in the Premiership show that Canterbury, Taranaki and Waikato are comfortable and North Harbour seems to have the talent to compete, there.

About the Championship, Wellington are keeping the momentum with Otago coming back. Northland could be the big surprise while Manawatu and Bay Of Plenty have to do better. Southland still can make the play-offs but they need to bounce back very quickly.

Next weekend will be defining for two Championship provinces : Wellington and Hawke’s Bay. Both are playing twice and have to come back with at least half of the points available. Counties Manukau playing North Harbour should be really interesting.

Great Games ! Same in Round 4 !

Max.