Archive for the ‘super 14’ Category

Bledisloe 2- All Blacks a game away from the title

Tomorrow morning New Zealand could take this year’s Tri-nations title with 4 games still left to play. Their performances over the last few months have been excellent, they are unbeaten, and having adapted to the new set of laws with what is being labelled as an “all-action” style of rugby, they have simply brushed everyone else aside.

Anthony Faingaa makes a first start at 12

For Australia last week’s defeat stemmed from a combination of being starved of possession and silly errors. The red card given to Drew Mitchell following examination from the judiciary panel has been deemed a bit unlucky, but would Australia have stopped with New Zealand with 15? It’s hard to say. Robbie Deans has obviously felt changes were needed so in come the Faingaa twins, Saia and Anthony of the Queensland Reds. As for Anthony, good luck to him, because he’ll be facing the wrecking ball that is Ma’a Nonu.

To have your first start at inside centre against the All Blacks in Christchurch is like being put right at the bottom of the deep end, but anyone who saw him play at 12 for the Reds knows what he brings to the game; pace, flat on the game-line, and good off-loading skills. His combination in the centres with Adam Ashley-Cooper looks a little lightweight, but in truth AAC is their best player. His flexibility in the backline, he can play 11-15, is testament to his high level of quality. At full back, Kurtley Beale faces his biggest test yet at international level and Carter and Weepu’s smart kicking game will be used to test him early on. They will have to fight for every chance and if they can keep the ball away from the All Blacks and play the phases, the opportunities to score will come.

Weepu comes in at 9 for the injured Jimmy Cowan

Weepu is the only change to an excellent All Blacks side. Graham Henry will look for his players to produce the same error free performance as last week but to try and not concede as many points as Australia put on the board last time out. A home win, and the Tri-Nations title, seems likely.

Live on Sky Sports 2 from 8:30am

New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Jo Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Benson Stanley

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Will Genia, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (capt), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Cameron Shepherd.

Date: Saturday, August 7
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA)

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New Zealand ominously rampant in Melbourne

I’ll be the first to admit I went into this match thinking the Wallabies had more than a fighting chance to win in Melbourne. And after Drew Mitchell’s charge down and try in the first 15 minutes, the little bit of luck you sometimes need to win tight games seemed to be on their side. Then from the resulting kick off, Carter, who doesn’t often get mugged, redeemed himself by charging down Berrick Barnes and going over. And you never really had any doubt who was going to win.

Cory Jane steps his way over the try line.

Every 12-18 months before a World Cup comes around, the All Blacks always seem to be people’s favourite to win it, and yet in the last three World Cups Australia, England and South Africa have rubbished these predictions. But surely, surely, this time round, in New Zealand, the trophy is the All Blacks to lose. Forget for one moment Australia’s idiotic indiscipline and Drew Mitchell’s red card; this was an awesome performance.

The way the All Blacks seemed to win back every restart, as Greg Martin brilliantly quipped, was as if they had employed a volleyball expert to help them with their spikes. Their ball retention was excellent and it’s impressive that the Wallabies managed to get any points on the board given how starved they were of possession. The back row of Kaino, McCaw and Read performs so well as a unit that Rocky Elsom and co were easily made to look second rate, one moment when Kaino handed off Richard Brown onto his back side springs to mind. But it’s not just in the back row, it’s all over the park. Muliaina at full back is playing as well as I can remember, his lines are sensational, his pace hasn’t waned with age. His first try, coming from an unbelievable in-field chip from Cory Jane, was beautiful to watch. They work so hard to win the ball and run it around the park, but there’s never any sign of strained effort, it all flows so smoothly and to use a sporting cliché, they really do make it look so easy. Joe Rokocoko’s finish in the second half was another touch of class amongst a whole collection of exceptional moments.

Joe Rokocoko scores with a superb finish.

For the Wallabies, Quade Cooper’s attacking edge was missed, and Berrick Barnes up against Ma’a Nonu always had mis-match written all over it in terms of power. The back row in particularly got pushed around and they are far better players than what they showed. Pocock at 7 is still a diamond of a player who gets better with every test, his work on the ground at the rucks being top class and he is worthy of being labelled as the next McCaw. The one thing I would say is it’s so easy to forget how young this Wallaby side is. Genia, Barnes, Horne, Pocock and O’Connor to name a few are still under 24, and some of the inexperience on the bench in the form of the Queenslanders Slipper and Simmons is a bit alarming. Robbie Deans has been applauded for his bold youthful selections and rightly so but against the All Blacks with 50 minutes on the clock and a man sent off you don’t want to be bringing on guys in the tight five who’ve only got 2 or 3 caps.

Corey Flynn (16) is congratulated by captain McCaw after scoring try number 7.

As for Mitchell’s red card for two yellows, the first one for a no-arms tackle is a penalty that is being given more and more in the game and rightly so. Owen Franks for the All Blacks had been similarly sent to the bin minutes before, so there can be no complaints there. As for the second, Craig Joubert was very clear to both captains that he wouldn’t tolerate any slowing down of the ball from tap penalties or quick lineouts, and yet Mitchell still went and did it. Joubert admitted in the process of issuing the card that he knew how it would affect the game, but he didn’t really have a choice. Whereas other referees might have let it slide, Joubert stuck to his word, and regardless of how it affected the game, that commands respect.

Bledisloe 2 is next week in Christchurch and you bet the Wallabies will work hard on their discipline and restarts in training. As for the All Blacks, expect more of the same.

Marvellous Reds.

This post is with a touch of bias, having followed the Reds since 2004, but seeing them come good this year has been a delight after years of mediocrity and finishing down the bottom of the table. I was away in Seville this weekend so didn’t get a chance to watch the game against the Bulls, but the highlights show briefly what an excellent game it was. Some great defence, a heroic effort from Scott Higginbotham and the usual top-class level of skill and power from the Bulls along with the Reds expansive running game seemed to be all on display. Enjoy.

All credit to Rugbydump.com for the highlights, without a doubt the best rugby highlights website.

The remarkable return of Julian Huxley

Those of you who follow Super 14 rugby will have heard about the comeback of Brumbies and Australia back Julian Huxley last weekend in the 30-23 win over the Chiefs in Canberra. Two years ago Huxley was diagnosed at the age of 28 with a benign brain tumour, which came as a result after collapsing and convulsing on the field following a head knock in a match against his old side the Queensland Reds. It required surgery, which went successfully, but his future rugby career was put in severe doubt.

Julian Huxley has made an astonishing comeback.

I saw Huxley play for the Reds against Stormers in Cape Town back in 2003 and in a team full of Wallabies such as Toutai Kefu, Elton Flatley, Tim Horan, Daniel Herbert and Ben Tune, remember being impressed by the young guy playing at full back, his pace and kicking were excellent and he scored a try towards the end of the match. The way his career progressed, with a switch to the Brumbies and then winning 6 caps for Australia, including playing in the 2007 World Cup, when the news of his brain tumour spread it was deeply saddening. In an interview talking about his recovery and desire to play again, Huxley said this;

“There were certainly a lot of people who said, ‘maybe it’s time to move on’ but it was never based around any sort of fact with regards to the safety of it. But I just wanted to explore that fully and I kept waking up wanting to do it. Life’s too short to worry too much about the future and you have to do what you want to do today within reason.”

It would be great if he was to one day play for the Wallabies again. But it’s even better to see him alive, and back on the field.

The Big games this weekend; Lote departs and Richie returns

With the Six Nations on a break this weekend it is back to club rugby and the vastly different leagues of the exotic, attractive Super 14, and the fearful, at times dull Guinness Premiership.

The pick of the bunch this weekend in the Southern Hemisphere comes in the all New Zealand derby of the Crusaders against the Blues. Despite a surprise defeat against the Reds in Queensland in Round Two, the Canterbury side have looked pretty sharp, with summer signing from the Hurricanes Zac Guildford scoring plenty of tries on the left wing. Combine him with Daniel Carter at 10 with his distribution skills and kicking and you have a good threat out wide in the backs.

Richie McCaw returns to captain the Crusaders

The return of Richie McCaw at 6 though gives the Crusaders a massive boost, as it would any team. As a captain and a player he is nearly peerless, especially in his position. Elsewhere the young new All Black prop Owen Franks is enjoying himself, proving his call up in the Autumn was no fluke. His technique is excellent, rarely getting hassled by the opposition, though he will have to be on his game against fellow All Black Tony Woodcock this weekend.

The Blues will boast an all-Test front row with Woodcock joining Kevin Mealamu and John Afoa. The rest of the pack though, minus Anthony Boric at lock and Jerome Kaino, are not quite as impressive as their opposite numbers, and will have to work hard at the breakdown against the likes of McCaw and Keiran Reid if they are to provide good ball for their lethal backs.

Stephen Brett will face his old side this weekend

Stephen Brett´s switch to the Blues from the Crusaders seems to be working as he is getting regular first team rugby, and he is always a threat. He has seemed to step out of Dan Carter´s shadow at the Crusaders and is now playing with real freedom. His relationship with another new signing in Alby Matthewson at half back seems to be growing every week. As for the backs, the likes of Benson Stanley, Joe Rokocoko and Rudi Wulf need no introduction to Super 14 watchers who have seen what they can do, but losing Isaia Toeava is a blow. Paul Williams at full back popped up with two tries in round 1 and will look to continue his good form.

As for a prediction, the Crusaders may not be quite what they used to be behind the scrum in the days of Aaron Mauger, Justin Marshall and Caleb Ralph, but there is enough spark to cause trouble. Upfront they should have the edge, plus with home advantage at the AMI stadium, if they can stop the Blues getting the ball wide and quickly, then they should win.

Back to the north, and the big game in the Guinness Premiership is where Leicester Tigers face London Irish. Irish have only won once in 2010 which has more than slightly hurt their title chances, with major injuries to key players hindering their progress, but they are still in a good position to secure a home semi-final spot if they can just start winning again regulary.

Tom Homer has been in top form for Irish

The lack of continuity at 10 goes on with Chris Malone and Ryan Lamb both not being able to keep hold of the shirt due to poor performances, but last week´s win over Harlequins should have given them confidence again. Also, the young back Tom Homer has really been a revelation with his goal kicking and attacking play, and at the moment he seems to keeping Irish going from 15. Without Sailosi Tagicakibau for the rest of the season, one of their main attacking threats has gone, but do not right them off. They will still play with ambition, and have enough to compete with anyone on their day.

Lote Tuqiri will play his last game for Leicester

Meanwhile for Leicester, who look strong as always, it will be the last game for Lote Tuqiri before he heads back to Australia and an NRL contract with the West Tigers. His loan signing has been successful, covering for Leicester´s injuries and scoring some great tries in the process. As for Leicester themselves, whilst minus a few of their squad on international duty they still possess a squad strong enough to win this game. Ben Youngs at scrum half has been one of the stars of this season with his searing pace and attacking flair from rucks and scrums. Irish have only won at Welford Road once. Ever. Don´t expect a second.