Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Connacht produced the upset of the weekend, and one of the biggest in Heineken Cup history, as they beat Toulouse 16-14 in France on Sunday. Four time champions Toulouse insist that they did not underestimate the Irish province.
Toulouse scored two tries to one but 11 points from the boot of flyhalf Dan Parks edged the visitors in front. The former Scotland number ten kicked two penalties, a conversion and a drop goal.
Kieran Marmion's second half score, which required much deliberation by the television match official, gave Connacht a 16-7 lead before Toulouse, who had earlier scored through Jean-Pascal Barraque, then came back with a pushover try of their own, to Thierry Dusautoir.
It was a grand weekend for Irish rugby, one that included big wins for Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
Toulouse coach Guy Noves said that they expected to win against a team bottom of the Pro12.
"We thought we would win. Although that's not to say that we looked down on our opponents.
"The start of the match made us hopeful of scoring tries and progressing. But we missed more and more chances, time passed, and we definitely began to lose our heads.. we didn't play the rugby that was required against this Connacht team.
"Strategically we weren't able to adapt to their very quick repositioning in defence. And then we coughed up a huge amount of possession. There wasn't enough alternation in our game."
Despite the win Toulouse are still top of the pool on ten points, level with Saracens but Connacht are one point behind with the return fixture in Galway to come this weekend.
"Now we have to manage the trip to Ireland. But at least we've been warned and we know that it will be extremely difficult," said Noves ahead of what should be a fascinating clash.
Posted at 8:59 pm | 2 comments
South Africa paid tribute to the passing of Nelson Mandela in the best way possible, beating old rivals New Zealand 17-14 in the Final of the SA Sevens. It was their first ever series win on home soil, at the aptly named Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
New Zealand shot off to a 14-0 lead as it looked like the emotion of the weekend appeared to get the better of the hosts, but an inspired comeback and brace by Branco du Preez changed that.
The All Blacks Sevens team were aiming for their fifth consecutive title in South Africa, but after a few days that saw the passing of the great Madiba, as well as former boxing world champion Baby Jake Matlala, the victory for the hosts came at a poignant time.
"It was a very emotional weekend for all South Africans," said South Africa Sevens coach Neil Powell. "We realised that we needed to do it for his memory and for ourselves. We could only do it by playing as a team and playing for each other. It is an unbelievable feeling."
Samoa beat Argentina to take third place, while Fiji beat France in the Plate Final, England won the Bowl Final and Scotland claimed the Shield.
New Zealand are still top of the overall series standing with 58 points, but South Africa are now just two behind them, with Fiji in third place on 48 points and England in fourth on 40 points.
The series now moves to the USA for the Las Vegas Sevens in late January.
Credit: Thanks to the IRB for the coverage
Posted at 10:45 am | 1 comments
Monday, December 09, 2013
There were some excellent tries scored at the South Africa Sevens in Port Elizabeth this past weekend, so here is a look at seven of the best, starting with a scorcher from Carlin Isles. Isles' effort, against finalists New Zealand, is arguably one of his best since taking up Sevens last year.
He wasn't the only speedster setting the Nelson Mandela Bay Staidum alight though, as Shannon Walker and Dan Norton were also impressive, and then some of the other tries showed great ingenuity, as well as quick feet, to get over. Fiji's passing and support play was sensational too.
South Africa won the final against New Zealand - View the highlights here
Which try was your favourite?
Posted at 2:48 pm | 10 comments
Brian O'Driscoll was at his mesmeric best as Leinster crushed Northampton Saints 40-7 at Franklin's Gardens in round 3 of the Heineken Cup. Leinster scored six tries, including this one that featured an audacious through the legs flick from O'Driscoll.
The veteran centre rolled back the years as he set up a few tries and scored one himself. He was awarded Man of the Match, but praised his side, and specifically hat-trick hero Luke Fitzgerald.
"I've got the man-of-the-match but I find that amusing when I saw performances like Luke Fitzgerald's today," said O'Driscoll post match. "I thought he was outstanding. Besides the tries, I thought his energy was fantastic. There were lots of those sort of performances."
Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinger said his team's showing was embarrassing.
"We were embarrassed out there and came second best. We made a terrible start and that didn't improve. Sometimes you make bad starts and have a bad 5-10 minutes, but you at least expect to come back fighting. But we were completely outclassed.
"I feel embarrassed because we've let the fans down. We have some great fans here. They love their European rugby. It's a great competition for us but we've messed up. We were bad."
O'Driscoll meanwhile said he enjoyed his time out there, even if he was subbed before full time.
"I had fun today. I have yet to finish 80 minutes this season - they're looking after the old guy! But I'm enjoying it and it's only my second game in blue this year.
"I love playing for this team. We've managed to build a relatively good history in recent years and now it's about trying to build on that again," he added.
The two sides will meet for the round 4 return fixture in Dublin this coming weekend.
Posted at 8:30 am | 14 comments
Friday, December 06, 2013
Rugby leaders from around the world have paid tribute to former President Nelson Mandela, who passed away in Johannesburg aged 95. It was in 1995 that he played a large role in uniting a divided South Africa around the Rugby World Cup.
In 1990 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was released from prison after having spent 27 years in captivity for his efforts in changing the way that the white ruled country was run. Just four years later, aged 75, he was elected President following a democratic election in a rapidly changing country.
A year later, with South Africa having been awarded the rights to host the first ever Rugby World Cup that the Springboks would compete in, Mandela played his part in uniting the new Rainbow Nation behind a sports team that traditionally favoured only white players. One Team, One Country.
His role, from before the tournament to the victorious final against the All Blacks, has become a thing of legend, and his relationship with then captain Francois Pienaar something quite unique.
"Francois, thank you very much for what you have done for our country," Mandela said to victorious Pienaar as he stood holding the Webb Ellis trophy at a packed Ellis Park.
"No, Mr. President. Thank you for what you have done for our country," Pienaar replied.
Current Springbok captain Jean De Villiers spoke of the impact he has had on the country.
"My lasting memory of Madiba is that of a person who had enormous ability to bring people together. His presence at a Test Match just lifted the crowd and energised the team - it is actually hard to describe.
"Of course, as a sportsman I am so grateful for him for what he did for our country. He inspired South Africans, who for so long were very divided, to peacefully build a united Rainbow Nation."
South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins echoed the thoughts of all South Africans.
"His name will rank among that of the greatest liberators and humanitarians for as long as mankind walks the earth. It was our privilege to have lived in this country during his lifetime."
NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew said the sport had lost 'a champion of our game'. "New Zealand Rugby has enormous respect for Mr Mandela and his incredible contribution to his country and people.
"We have lost a champion for our game, a leader whose inspiration ensured Rugby World Cup in 1995 was a remarkable time for our sport and whose influence on sport has been far-reaching.
"His presentation of the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar after South Africa overcame the All Blacks in the Final is a moment that few New Zealanders will ever forget," he said.
Mandela was a boxer, but his belief in the power of sport led to him becoming somewhat of a mascot for both the South African rugby and cricket teams. Below is a short tribute, with words from the great man himself. Rest in Peace, Tata Madiba.
Posted at 10:00 am | 15 comments
Thursday, December 05, 2013
This is a very quick clip of a great tackle that happened in Round 9 of the Aviva Premiership, in the game between Newcastle Falcons and Harlequins at Kingston Park. Harlequins came away with a comfortable 35-9 victory.
Quins scored four tries to get the bonus point win but Newcastle made one of the hits of the game, with flanker Mayhew timing things really well to come in and smash winger Sam Smith.
You can see that Smith stayed down for a while, and Mayhew's timely intervention probably prevented a try as Harlequins had a clear overlap out wide. Smith did recover, and scored two tries.
Mayhew also has a very impressive moustache, no doubt part of his Movember effort.
On a side note, this was Newcastle coach Dean Richards' first game back against his old club, from which he was famously banned following Bloodgate in 2009. The irony was that Tom Williams, who was very much involved with that whole controversy, scored the first try of the game.
"I couldn't give a toss who scored the first try," insisted Richards afterwards.
Posted at 11:00 am | 8 comments
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Toulon suffered a heavy defeat to Stade Francais in round 13 of the Top 14 as their star studded side went down 23-0 at the Stade Jean-Boiun stadium. One positive for the visitors was the form of Mathieu Bastareaud, who made this huge charge early on.
Two second half tries and the boot of Julien Dupuy helped Stade Francais to a well deserved win over Toulon, who had many stars in the first fifteen, but were missing key man Jonny Wilkinson.
It was actually in the flyhalf channel that they conceded one of the Stade tries, as talented number ten Jules Plisson cruised straight through a fairly feeble tackle attempt by Frederic Michalak.
With Bryan Habana and Drew Mitchell starting for the visitors, Toulon weren't without attacking threats but failed to create anything of note in what was a fairly dour affair.
One highlight was this big run by the incredibly powerful Bastareaud, who returned from Test duty with France to throw his weight around in the midfield. He showed that he's not only a bit of a wreckingball, but also has quick feet and isn't too bad on defence either.
This particular run ended badly for lock Alexandre Flanquart, who felt the full force of Bastareaud and had to leave the field not too long afterwards, likely due to the knock he received in contact.
Stade Francais scored a late try to add further gloss to the scoreline, as Meyer Bosman kicked a loose ball ahead and Geoffrey Doumayrou picked up the scraps, before replacement flyhalf Morne Steyn slotted the conversion.
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal has since blamed his team's scrum for the loss, saying it is the worst in the Top 14. It doesn't get any better for them either with the news that former England prop Andrew Sheridan might be forced to retire due to a neck injury.
Posted at 6:04 pm | 9 comments