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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sam Burgess throws his body around in the Montpellier mud

Sam Burgess played just 28 minutes in his second outing for Bath, a 30-5 Champions Cup pool stage win over Montpellier. He came off the bench and got stuck in as only he can, throwing his considerable weight around, but almost landing in hot water.

Bath led 23-0 at the break so by the time he came on, the victory was all but secured as Montpellier struggled after having two players sent to the sin bin in the first half. Bath scored three tries in total, one to prop Henry Thomas, a penalty try and then a second half score for Leroy Houston.

Burgess' was eased into the game in a comfortable situation again, although that can't be said for the weather, which was miserable. He did well to impose himself, but was lucky that the referee chose not to taker a more stringent view of the tackle on Charles Geli that got the crowd fired up.

"That's the way he is. We're not going to change hi," said Bath coach Mike Ford of the tackle.

"He's going to be our enforcer a little bit with the way he defends. We're pleased with where he is.

When asked if he was thinking about giving Burgess his first start next weekend, Ford said: "Yes, I am. But we will watch the game, review it and decide early next week.

"It's disappointing that both games he has come on it has been raining, so we've not had much chance to use him, but he has done well so far," the Bath coach, and father of George, added.

Bath lost their opening two European Rugby Champions Cup matches, so this win takes them to five points in total, three behind Toulouse and four away from Glasgow Warriors.

Those two meet this afternoon, so the chances of Bath making the knockout stages are slim. Whatever happens, all eyes will be on Slammin Sam Burgess as his rugby union journey continues.

Posted at 1:59 pm | 28 comments

Saturday, December 06, 2014

South Africa beat Australia in Cup Final to win Dubai Sevens 2014

South Africa climbed to second spot on the overall HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series table after a powerful display in the knockout stages of the Dubai Sevens, where they beat both New Zealand (28-0) and Australia (33-7) on the way to the title.

Following a fourth place showing at the Gold Coast in October, they are now just two points behind Fiji, who lead the standings on 39 points ahead of the next round in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

They conceded just seven points on Day Two, while scoring 101 with victories over Argentina (40-0), series champions New Zealand, and finalists Australia.

The Australian side beat Fiji in extra-time of a thrilling semi final, and despite having an early intercept chance in the final, they couldn't keep up with South African's intensity on defence and at the breakdown, and their lethal finishing out wide.

Flyer Seabelo Senatla scored another two tries, following on from his hat-trick against Argentina, while Kwagga Smith showed great heart throughout, and picked up a hat-trick against New Zealand.

"We tried to play with variation and the guys really bought into the plan. The players deserve the credit for an outstanding display," said coach Neil Powell.

"We are not the biggest team on the circuit, but we are very physical and don’t stand back for any team in the tackle. Our form at the breakdown area was very good and we really took our scoring opportunities well," he added.

Pool Draw for next leg

The 16 teams now fly to South Africa for Round 3 in Port Elizabeth. The Pool draw was made earlier, so Dubai champions South Africa will face Wales, USA and Kenya in Pool A, while Argentina, Portugal and the non-core side Zimbabwe await Dubai runners-up Australia in Pool B.

Series leaders Fiji play Scotland, France and Canada in Pool C, with Pool D incredibly tough as Japan join Samoa, England and New Zealand.

Log after two rounds:
1. Fiji 39 points | 2. South Africa 37 | 3. Australia 28 |  4. New Zealand 28 | 5. Samoa 27

Below are highlights from Day Two, featuring the knockout stages. View Day One highlights

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Posted at 5:03 pm | 3 comments

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Looking back at the first ever European Cup match in 1995

European club rugby returns this weekend with fixtures that are crucial to the qualification hopes of clubs in both the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup. Here is a look at the first ever European Cup match, and a weekend preview.

This short piece celebrates 20-years of European professional club rugby, as it looks back at the very first Heineken Cup match that took place this week way back in 1995, in Romania.

This coming weekend however, the leading clubs in three of the five Champions Cup pools will battle it out, with RC Toulon and ASM Clermont Auvergne – currently first and second in the Top 14 – as well as PRO12 table-toppers, Munster, all involved in key match-ups.

Leicester Tigers, who will break the one million fans barrier for European matches at Welford Road, host reigning champions, Toulon, in Pool 3 on Sunday with the French heavyweights aiming for a 10th successive victory in Europe's top flight. The clubs have met once before in Europe with Toulon emerging 21-15 winners in the 2013 quarter-final at Stade Mayol.
 
The Pool 1 clash of Munster and Clermont on Saturday will stir memories of previous big European games between the clubs, notably the 2013 semi-final in Montpellier when Clermont came through 16-10. A win for Munster at their Thomond Park citadel would bring up a 100th win in European competition (including one in the Challenge Cup) for the club.
 
Toulouse are also on the cusp of a piece of history as a victory over Pool 4 leaders, Glasgow Warriors, at Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday would mean a 100th win in Europe's top tier. In-form Glasgow will have other ideas and will be looking for a reprise of 2009 when they pulled off a rare success on French soil with a 33-26 win against the four-time tournament champions.
 
Two more unbeaten clubs go head-to-head in Round 3 with the Twickenham Stoop a sell-out for the visit of Leinster Rugby who are second to Harlequins in Pool 2 only on points difference.

View the fixtures for all ten Round 3 matches

TV Coverage this weekend:
All 20 Champions Cup games will be broadcast live either on BT Sport or Sky Sports with extensive coverage in France. The action will also be televised in the USA on ESPN, in Asia on Setanta, in Australia on beIN Sports, in South Africa on Supersport and in the Pacific Islands on Digicel.

Credit: European Rugby Champions Cup/Total Rugby

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Posted at 2:01 pm | 6 comments

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Sam Warburton Masterclass - 3 Ways to retain possession at the breakdown

Wales skipper Sam Warburton was excellent against South Africa at the weekend, not only leading his troops to victory but also by imposing himself at the breakdown. In this quality Rugby Tonight Pitch Demo, he explains how to secure breakdown possession.

One of the most frustrating ways to lose the ball for fans and players alike is when someone makes a break and is either isolated, or the support simply isn't there quickly enough. This often results in a turnover as the defensive side gets a man over the ball to either snatch it, or claim a penalty.

Here Warburton gives three different examples of scenarios you can be faced with, and explains how to counter them. As he says, while breakdown turnovers get a lot of attention, securing your own ball is often much more valuable as a side aims to build continuity and momentum.

"You might have 10 to 15 jackal attempts if you're pretty busy in defence," Warburton explains. "When attacking, you might hit 30 to 40 rucks in an international game. So attacking focus at the breakdown is probably slightly more important."

Warburton says that you have either a ball threat or a jackal threat, and you deal with them differently. He breaks things down excellently, so this is definitely one to watch for coaches, youngsters and even seasoned pros who could do with some tips from one of the best. 

credit: BT Sport

Posted at 7:27 pm | 2 comments

Donncha O'Callaghan banned for two weeks for kick to head

Poor Stuart Olding. His head must look similar to a rugby ball, because for the second time this season his attractive cranium has been roughed up by a boot. This time it was Munster lock Donncha O'Callaghan who did it, and has been suspended.

The incident occurred early in the second half of the Munster and Ulster Thomand Park clash last week Friday. When Olding needed medical attention it wasn't clear to see what happened at first, but replays showed that O'Callaghan's boot made contact with his head.

The 94 times capped Ireland lock appeared before a disciplinary committee in Glasgow, having been cited for allegedly kicking Olding in the Guinness Pro12 match.

They reviewed footage of the incident and listened to representations from, and on behalf of, O'Callaghan. They found that he had committed an act of foul play and upheld the citing complaint.

Their view was that the player's actions had been reckless, but that the primary contact with the opponent had been on his shoulder and chest area. In terms of seriousness, his actions were at the lower end of World Rugby's sanctions for foul play, which carries a 4 week entry-point suspension.

In light of mitagating factors and due to O'Callaghan's clean record over a long playing career, together with his conduct at the hearing, the committee determined that he should be suspended from playing for a period of two weeks, up to and including Sunday, 14 December 2014. 

"The committee accepted the action was not intentional," said Munster's team manager.

The ban rules the 35-year-old out of back to back fixtures against Clermont in the European Champions Cup, starting this Saturday at home, before the reuturn fixture in France on Dec 14th. 

Olding, who was kicked in the head by Romain Taofifenua just over a month ago (resulting in a three week ban), left the field for treatment but came back on and finished the match.

View the incident below, and official highlights from the match on page two

credit: Le-Rugbynistere

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Posted at 3:08 pm | 8 comments

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Jean De Villiers injury might rule him out of Rugby World Cup 2015

Springbok captain Jean De Villiers is set to be out of rugby for at least eight months following the knee injury suffered during South Africa's 12-6 loss to Wales on Saturday. At this stage it looks unlikely that he'll be fit in time for the World Cup.

De Villiers twisted his knee under in a ruck 17 minutes into the second half in Cardiff. His cries of pain could be heard on the live feed, and just as commentator Jonathan Davies said that there won't be replays because of the ugly nature of the injury, one was shown.

The 33-year-old centre went in for the turnover, but was cleared out and as Toby Faletau attempted to twist and move him, the Welsh number eight's weight bent De Villiers' leg in the wrong direction.

He was actually well set but it's a prime example of the risks involved in going in for a turnover in that body position. His loss was massive for the Springboks on the day, as they usually finish well but sorely lacked his leadership in those final twenty minutes.

He will require surgery on the left knee, with all eyes on the Rugby World Cup next year. He dislocated his kneecap and reportedly tore his hamstring at the same time too, so it's going to be a long year of hard work ahead.

A statement on Monday afternoon said that the scans revealed significant ligament damage to the knee, so he will require a surgical reconstruction of the knee.

UPDATE 04/12/2014: De Villiers underwent a successful operation in Stellenbosch earlier today. He had a full reconstruction of the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments of his left knee, with an artificial graft as well as a repair of the medial collateral ligament.

"The procedure went well, but at this stage it is difficult to determine an exact return to play time-frame," said team doctor Craig Roberts. "The use of an artificial graft should speed up his rehabilitation and hopefully increase his chances of making a successful return to the playing field."

De Villiers said: "I would like to thank every medical practitioner involved in my injury, from Saturday when it happened until today’s operation.

"My focus will now be on the arrival of our third child in the coming days. Thereafter it will be about recovering as soon as possible so I can start with my rehabilitation. I still have my sights set on going to next year’s Rugby World Cup and will do everything in my power to get to England.

"I would also like to thank everyone for the well-wishes and support in the last week, it means a lot to me and my family and we really appreciate every message."

Posted at 8:50 am | 18 comments

Monday, December 01, 2014

Bloodied Brad Barritt happy to put body on the line in win over Wallabies

Brad Barritt left the field in a awful state as England ended their Autumn Internationals on a high with a 26-17 victory over the Wallabies. The centre took a number of knocks, but said post match that he is fine and it was all part of playing for his adopted country.

Barritt has played professional rugby at a high level since the age of just 19. Even back then, he very quickly became known for his unbelievable courage no matter who he was up against. His defensive effort was key in England's win over old foes Australia on Saturday.

The headclash with Quade Cooper, which can be seen in the video recap below, looked particularly bad. Barritt says that his face, despite being a bit of a mess, is doing okay.

"It's fine. I've spoken at length - I'm definitely not getting any prettier. To be able to do that and put your body on the line for England and for the team is a proud moment for me," he said.

Thanks to that gritty defence, two tries from Ben Morgan and 16 points from the boot of George Ford, Stuart Lancaster's side got one over the Wallabies, who lost three matches on tour. 

England's record over the last few weeks stands at played four, won two, with losses to New Zealand and South Africa, but wins over Samoa and then this latest victory over Australia.

"To get the win was extremely pleasing, but we know it's not all smelling of roses and there are things to work on and improvements to be made," said skipper Chris Robshaw.

"We know that when you get to a World Cup you can't afford to lose one or two games because then you are packing your bags and watching everyone else on TV."

credit: England Rugby

Posted at 1:40 pm | 24 comments