Archive for the ‘guinness premiership’ Tag

Leeds desire showing as Sale slide to the bottom

Leeds’s resurgence has meant that there is now a dogged, exhilarating scrap between themselves, Sale, Worcester, Newcastle and possibly Harlequins occurring over the Premiership’s trapdoor.

It has been the same now for so many years with few exceptions; team is promoted from ND1, squad has lack of time to bond, quality is scarce, and along with financial constraints but for no lack of heart or effort, they are automatically relegated straight back down. Leeds know this story well, having been relegated in 2006 to come back up again in 2007, before dropping again. The yo-yo effect is a familiar one, but this time round though things seems different.

Leeds Hendre Fourie is a new call up to the England squad

At first the heavy losses bore an all too familiar resemblance to how Leeds have struggled in the past, but the coaching team of Andy Key and Leicester legend Neil Back insisted that their side would come good. Visa problems, a lack of time for all the players to bond and trying to get confidence into a side have all been challenges which Leeds have faced and overcome. In terms of personnel, there really are top players in key positions, Seru Rabeni at centre, in-form Cieron Thomas and the impressive young Joe Ford at fly half, and ex-England scrum half Andy Gomersall provides great experience. In the forwards, Andy Titterell and Marco Wentzel are both proven Premiership players, whilst there are the really exciting prospects in the back row in Calum Clark (set to join Northampton Saints next season), and Hendre Fourie, who at the time of writing has just been drafted into the England squad. The fact that Leeds have been at the foot of the table for so long this season is almost beneficial; it has brought then together tightly as a group where whilst the class all over the pitch might not be there as with other sides, there is so much desire and energy. They know how to scrap out a relegation battle, and that will help massively as the season draws to a close.

Sale's future is looking bleak after eight successive losses

Where as Sale, champions in 2006, are now in major trouble. The quality is still there in certain positions, Dwayne Peel and Charlie Hodgson are both Lions touring members, whilst Mathew Tait and Lee Thomas are very good centres, and even out wide there is Mark Cueto to score the tries. But it just seems Sale went through so much change over the summer, notably the departures of director of rugby Phillipe Saint-Andre, and key players such as Sebastian Chabal and Sebastian Bruno. This core of players and management being taken away after so many years of stability meant a transitional year was inevitable.

However for Sale to be now at the bottom of the table with 6 games to go, although they admittedly have a game in hand, and to now be eight successive losses on the bounce, things look grim. Kingsley Jones and Jason Robinson have a hell of a task on their hands to try to keep Sale firstly believing they can survive and secondly to play with confidence. The worst thing now would be if the players go into their shells and are afraid of taking the risks or chances which could win them matches. What it does mean now though is that we have a really exciting relegation battle.

Expect more twists and turns before the end in May.

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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.