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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bryan Habana issues apology for taking a dive in Heineken Cup Final

Toulon winger Bryan Habana has issued a public apology for what can only be described as a football-like dive in yesterday's Heineken Cup final. This evening he took to twitter in an attempt to smooth over the incident, and issued a public apology.

The 95 times capped Springbok winger has reached the peak of the game due in part to his incredibly competitive nature and high workrate. Unfortunately in recent times (on more than one occasion) it appears that he's going a bit far, milking small knocks for all they're worth.

Against Saracens he didn't get much ball so was probably quite frustrated. Off turnover ball he set off in typical fashion, but a chip and chase resulted in a slight bit of contact from Owen Farrell, and Habana went down, theatrically, as noted by Top 14 commentator Martin Gillingham.

He might have got the penalty anyway, but he flung his body back in a way that should never be seen on the rugby field. Saracens captain Steve Borthwick could be heard shouting 'Embarrassing, embarrassing' in Habana's direction, and referee Alain Rolland had a word with him.

So this evening, Habana manned up and took full responsibility for his actions, apologising.

"So before anything.. Apologies in every way and to the whole community for happened in the Heineken Cup final yesterday... It was in no way intended with malice or to bring the game into disrepute. Sportsmanship and integrity are key factors to what makes rugby so special and I let myself, the fans, our opponents and the game down. Hopefully it didn't take away from what was a fantastic spectacle and even more so a special victory for @RCTOfficiel."

Fair play to him. He's been at the highest level for ten years now and with this weekend's win he's joined an exclusive club of players to have won pretty much everything - Currie Cup, Super Rugby, British & Irish Lions, Tri Nations, World Cup and now, the Heineken Cup.

And next weekend, possibly the Top 14 too. But diving, that can't happen again.

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Posted at 8:18 pm | 72 comments

Toulon defend Heineken Cup title with comfortable final win over Saracens

Toulon joined an elite group of teams to have successfully defended their Heineken Cup title as they beat Saracens 23-6 on a historic occasion at the Millennium Stadium yesterday. Jonny Wilkinson contributed 13 points in his final game on British soil.

Both sides started slowly in what was anything but a free-flowing game, but Toulon broke loose to score two fantastic tries, with former Test stars Matt Giteau and Juan Smith both going over.

Today Wilkinson turns 35 but yesterday rolled back the years, playing a hand in both tries as well as converting them. He was faultless from the tee in what was the penultimate game of his career, and managed to slot a trademark dropgoal too, with his right (wrong) foot.

"It's a hell of a feeling. I can't say enough how proud I am to be a part of that and a part of this team," he said post match. "We've had a hell of a time and our season's got one more game but this is something I'll take with me for ever. There is a lot of relief, a lot of excitement."

The center paring of Mathieu Bastareaud and try scorer Giteau put in another top performance, and in the forwards Craig Burden was everywhere in the first half (more on that to follow), while flanker Smith rolled back the years to remind fans exactly how good a player he is when injury free.

Steffon Armitage claimed Man of the Match, outplaying England number eight Billy Vunipola in most departments, and again putting pressure on national coach Stuart Lancaster, who was in the crowd.

Saracens have another shot at glory next week in the Aviva Premiership Final against Northampton Saints, but will spend a few days trying to work out exactly what went wrong in Cardiff.

With the win Toulon have become just the third club ever to win back-to-back Heineken Cups, following on from English club Leicester in 2001-2002 and Irish powerhouses Leinster in 2011-2012.

The match featured many big tackles and plenty of bruising clashes, so we'll get a clip up of some of those soon, but for now here as the highlights of the game, including the post match celebrations.

Posted at 4:03 pm | 25 comments

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Top 5 David vs Goliath (big man vs little man) battles

Rugby HQ have put together their list of the best big man vs little man moments, with a David vs Goliath compilation that features some must see moments from both Super Rugby, End of year tours up north and a bit of local club rugby too. Number one is worth waiting for.

The terminology probably isn't quite right, but as you'll see it's explained during the video. Which other similar moments would you add to the list? One recent example of a good David vs Goliath clip would be when scrumhalf Frae Wilson smashed Jimmy Tupou, a lock.

View more Top 5 compilations in our category page for it - Top 5 Compilations

Posted at 5:52 pm | 22 comments

Mathieu Bastareaud big dump tackle on Jaques Cronje in Top 14 semi final

Toulon beat Racing Metro 16-6 last weekend to book themselves a spot in the Top 14 final against Castres. Tomorrow however they face Saracens in the Heineken Cup final, with bruiser Mathieu Bastareaud sure to have a big impact in the midfield.

He made this big tackle on flanker Jaques Cronje at the weekend, but was yellow carded for it. You'd think he was a little hard done possibly because it was a solid hit, but the laws are the laws.

Tomorrow he'll form a lethal midfield partnership with former Wallabies star Matt Giteau, who crossed for a very well taken try against Racing Metro. Working alongside Jonny Wilkinson, with good ball from the forwards, they'll no doubt have a telling influence on the game.

Former Toulon forwards coach Olivier Azam has compared 'Bastarocket' to Ma'a Nonu, saying that there aren't many centers in world rugby with such size and penetration. At 25-years-old and still improving, he's sure to rack up the Test caps over the next few years.

Without getting too into it, all around the park there are great matchups but the loose trios of both sides in particular making for an exciting prospect. It's Springbok, Argentina and England up against Scotland, Namibia and England (full team sheets below).

As mentioned on our Facebook page, another interesting aspect to the game is that if Toulon do manage to defend their title, winger Bryan Habana will become just the 5th player ever to win the Heineken Cup, Super Rugby and the Rugby World Cup.

The others are Brad Thorn, Danie Rossouw, Bakkies Botha and Rod Kafer.

Toulon Team:
15. Delon Armitage; 14. Drew Mitchell, 13. Mathieu Bastareaud, 12. Matt Giteau, 11. Bryan Habana; 10. Jonny Wilkinson (c), 9. Sebastien Tillous-Borde; 1. Xavier Chiocci, 2. Craig Burden, 3. Carl Hayman, 4. Bakkies Botha, 5. Danie Rossouw, 6. Juan Smith, 7. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 8. Steffon Armitage. Replacements: 16. Jean-Charles Orioli, 17. Alexandre Menini, 18. Martin Castrogiovanni, 19. Ali Williams, 20. Virgile Bruni, 21. Maxime Mermoz, 22. Michael Claassens, 23. Jocelino Suta.

Saracens Team:
15. Alex Goode; 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Marcelo Bosch, 12. Brad Barritt, 11. David Strettle; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Richard Wigglesworth; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. Matt Stevens, 4. Steve Borthwick (c), 5. Alistair Hargreaves, 6. Kelly Brown, 7. Jacques Burger, 8. Billy Vunipola. Replacements: 16. Jamie George, 17. Richard Barrington, 18. James Johnston, 19. Mouritz Botha, 20. Jackson Wray, 21. Neil de Kock, 22. Charlie Hodgson, 23. Chris Wyles.

Posted at 2:04 pm | 23 comments

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ed O'Donoghue cleared of eyegouging after red card game changer

Reds lock Ed O'Donoghue was cleared of eyegouging following one of the most talked about few minutes of the season so far. The incident against the Rebels was briefly included in the Shortball earlier in the week, but here's a longer look.

With the scores tied at 27-27, Scott Higginbotham and O'Donoghue got in a tangle at the back of a ruck, then continued on the floor. There appeared to be a bit of a head clash (from Higginbotham), then O'Donoghue rubbed his hand all over the Rebels captain's face.

Referee Steve Walsh allowed play to continue but just as the Reds were about to throw in to an attacking lineout, the TMO intervened and recommended to Walsh that a red card - and penalty - for eyegouging was neccessary. The Rebels slotted the easy kick, winning the game 30-27.

Reds captain James Horwill was furious, saying that they were robbed by a 'stupid referee decision', and continued in the press conference by saying that Super Rugby was being ruined as a spectacle.

"I've played 150 professional games of rugby and I've never ever ever seen that happen before," an irate Horwill said. "This spectacle of Super Rugby is being ruined. There's too much going back and slowing of the game. It's getting beyond a joke.

"From my experience of eye gouging, there's a mark. There was no mark on Higgers. Higgers thought he was in trouble. He was surprised [at the gouging claim]. At every breakdown, there are hands, arms, elbows, knees. That's the reality of a physical game. You can't pick one moment out and not go back for every single one in every game," he added.

Not Guilty

At the hearing it was found that there was no contact with the eyes, so O'Donoghue was cleared and the red card was scrapped from his record, no doubt compounding the frustration for the Reds.

"The act of eye gouging generally triggers a reaction from the victim, which was not evident in this case and helped support my finding," said the SANZAR statement. They also listened to submissions from the Rebels medical team, and Higginbotham himself, who said he had no complaints.

O'Donoghue says that eye-gouging sickens him."I despise the act of eye-gouging and to think my name is linked with it after a little wrestle around the ruck sickens me. I'm not a gouger."

The lesson in all this is that, as Rebels flanker Scott Fuglistaller says, 'the eyes are sacrosanct', and if you're going to stick your hand or fingers near them, be prepared to get a bit of heat for it.

Update: James Horwill has been charged with a code of conduct breach following his 'stupid refereeing decision' comment. He faces a possible fine of up to $500.

Posted at 1:45 pm | 24 comments

The Golden Thread - A Poetic Tribute to the Wallabies by Rupert McCall

The Australian Rugby Union have put together this emotionally charged video ahead of the Wallabies' series against France in June, and leading up to RWC2015. It features a poem by Rupert McCall as we see images of great Wallabies from days past. 

The video encapsulates what it means to Australians to wear and support the golden threads of their country, and aims to reinvigorate the passionate fanbase after a few tough years.

Some unbelievably talented players have worn the Wallaby jersey, from David Campese to Toutai Kefu, John Eales to Tim Horan. These are true legends of the world game and this tribute has been written to remind fans of the meaning and heritage behind the Wallabies.

Three months in the making, renowned Australia author and poet Rupert McCall has created a piece that is sure to spark the flames of pride for fans in the lead up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

It's a great idea and perhaps a template of sorts that could work well with other countries too. As we head toward to the showcase event, we're sure to see many more of these types of videos.

Some former Wallabies including Tim Horan, Al Baxter, Phil Waugh and Richard Harry speak about their reactions to the video on page two, and you can also read a full text version of the poem.

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Posted at 8:12 am | 1 comments

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jean Deysel suspended for three weeks for stamp against Crusaders

Sharks flanker Jean Deysel pleased guilty to a charge of stamping following the red card he received against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday. He has been suspended for three weeks. The Sharks went on to win the match 30-25. 

Deysel saw red in the 16th minute of the much anticipated clash between the two powerhouse sides. Early on it looked as though the match would be ruined as a spectable following the sending off, but the Sharks fought back courageously despite playing 65 minutes with 14 men.

Deysel has since faced a SANZAR judicial hearing, with Advocate Jannie Lubbe finding that Jordan Taufua illegally held on to the foot of Deysel, preventing him from joining the line of defence.

"In order to free himself, Deysel stamped with his boot on Taufua and made contact with the neck/head area of the player. Taufua sustained a minor injury to his mouth but was able to complete the match and subsequently provided helpful testimony that supported the medical evidence," the statement said.

The offence was categorised as mid-level which carries a five week suspension, but was reduced to three weeks due to mitagating factors such as Deysel's apology to Taufua post match, his clean record and his guilty plea and genuine remorse for his actions.

Meanwhile Taufua has said that he isn't holding a grudge. "He came up to me and apologised to me at the end and I just told him 'no hard feelings mate, it's a contact sport'," Taufua said.

"I think it was just a heat of the moment thing you know? I think he was trying to get back on his D-line and just reacted. I'm not angry at him or anything. I have got no grudge. I was just holding on to him in a ruck and then he just got me good. There was a bit of blood but that's rugby mate."

Sharks coach Jake White wasn't pleased with what happened, but defended Deysel's character.

"I can't stand here and protect a guy and condone that sort of thing.. It's not like him, that's the thing I feel most embarrassed about. He's not a dirty guy, he's got an unbelievable record.

"He's a tough man, carries the ball hard but I think he's as remorseful in the changing room as I would expect any player to be. It's not him," White added.

Posted at 6:39 pm | 22 comments

 
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