Monday, March 30, 2015
Northampton Saints winger George North received another blow to the head that has resulted in concussion and more concern about his long term playing career. The incident happened as he scored in Saints' 52-30 victory over Wasps on Friday.
Last week that we highlighted the concern about repeated Leigh Halfpenny concussions, but this time it was Wales teammate North that was knocked out, albeit in entirely different circumstances.
He finished down the wing after some excellent play from Samu Manoa, but in the process was struck in the head by Wasps number eight Nathan Hughes. It looked entirely accidental, but the referee felt it was clumsy and could have been avoided, so showed Hughes a red card.
North was struck in the head twice in Wales' recent Six Nations clash with England, causing a controversy over the way that was handled.
On this occasion he was clearly in no state to continue, and left the field on a stretcher. He later tweeted that he was up and about, and according to coach Jim Mallinder, was at the club on Saturday to receive treatment and further monitoring.
World Rugby (IRB) concussion advisor Professor Willie Stewart said that 22-year-old North needs to be given an extended period of rest to figure out if this is something that he has just not recovered from, or whether there are genuine issues.
"I think he personally needs to say, 'No, I'm not playing again this season'. If he does play again too soon it could be the end of his World Cup or even his career," explained Stewart.
"The people looking after him, including Northampton and the Welsh Rugby Union, should be recommending some time out and the experts he is seeing should recommend some time out. No-one should be talking about playing him next week. That's just ridiculous.
"I know at this time of year we're getting into the thick of it for trophies and championships but it's also getting into the sharp end for George's brain. I would be surprised if he makes another appearance," he added.
As for the actual incident, Hughes seemed to ask the referee how he was expected to lift his leg up to avoid North in that situation. Saints coach Mallinder didn't have too much sympathy though. "The opposition have got to then be very careful once the try is scored and it was reckless coming in with the knee. Some serious consequences happened because of it" he said.
Wasps coach Dai Young, who had a miserable night at the office, said that the Hughes dismissal was harsh and that he certainly isn't a malicious player.
"I hope George is okay, Nathan has gone looking for him to make sure he is okay - he is not that type of person [who would injure someone deliberately]."
View a highlights wrap from the match, which includes North's first try
Hughes has been banned for three weeks. Disciplinary hearing details
photo: tony marshall/getty images europe
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Fiji cruised to Hong Kong Sevens victory as they beat defending champions New Zealand 33-19 in the Cup Final. They beat overall series leaders South Africa in the Semi Final. Also, Russia have now qualified as a core team for the 2015/2016 season.
Savenaca Rawaca ended the tournament as joint leading try scorer, alongside the USA's Zack Test, as his brace of tries in the final added to the six he scored over the course of the weekend.
It was former England coach Ben Ryan's first taste of victory at the iconic Hong Kong tournament, which was celebrating it's 40th anniversary.
"This victory is certainly up there," said Fiji's coach Ben Ryan "We are now pushing hard for top place, we're moving away from that Olympic qualification and it's great for the people back home as Hong Kong means so much to them. It's perhaps a monkey off my back as well so I am delighted."
Following victory, Fiji are now just two points behind leaders South Africa (110) in the overall series standings, with 108 points, and just one ahead of New Zealand (107), with Australia (84) and England (78) the others in the top five, as the race for Olympic qualification continues.
Russia qualify for 2015-16 World Series - Highlights
While the top teams played out main event in Hong Kong, 12 regional qualifiers battled it out for one ever-present core team place on next season's 2015/16 series, with Russia emerging victorious after beating Zimbabwe in the final thanks to a last-minute winning try from Vladimir Ostrouskho.
"This means a lot, it allows our players to play more valuable games and gain experience and the win will be a motivation for the younger players too," said captain Dmitriy Perov.
View highlights from Day 3 below, with the other two days play shown on the next page, including an upset victory by Portugal over New Zealand on day two!
Friday, March 27, 2015
Leigh Halfpenny was removed from the field of play on Saturday having taken a serious blow to the side of his head when tackling Italy's big Samuela Vunisa. It's not the first time this has happened, prompting some questions about technique.
Vunisa made a clean break from his own 22 following a line-out, and was allowed to continue to accelerate to full speed until he met the last line of defence, Leigh Halfpenny, on the halfway line.
The Welsh 15's tackle, whilst undoubtedly remarkably brave, was also extremely poor technique.
"The thing is at full-back, people are running straight for you so you do have to have a proper technique and I think it's shown on a few occasions that his technique is a little bit flawed," said former Wales captain Gareth Thomas in his BBC column.
"It's sad because he's getting injured from a bad technique. There's cause for concern there, just for one for his personal welfare, but also potentially missing tackles because he's putting his head in the wrong place all the time. I think maybe he's favouring one shoulder over another."
Halfpenny made contact from the side, while coaches would say that Halfpenny should have hit with his left shoulder and placed his head behind the attacking player, thereby using the Italian's momentum to bring him down.
However, Halfpenny used his right shoulder in the challenge and as a direct result his head was in front of Vunisa's legs. After the contact it was clear that Halfpenny was not in a good way.
The medical staff were quick to realise and withdrew the fullback from the match shortly before halftime. After the break it was confirmed that concussion protocols were to be carried out, and the talisman kicker would play no further part in the afternoon’s proceedings.
Somewhat worrying is that this is not the first occasion on which Halfpenny has caused himself damage from sub-par tackling practise. In last year's RBS Six Nations he made a try-saving tackle on English centre Luther Burrell which resulted in a dislocated shoulder for the Welshman, and his subsequent early departure from the tournament.
Although such tackles are immensely brave and highly effective, his tendency to get injured performing them has raised concern amongst fans and critics alike, as pundit Jonathan Davies said "He's brave as they come. He never shirks a tackle, but I'm slightly worried now at the amount of times I see him hit his head on the wrong side."
Any criticism of Halfpenny's technique stems only from a collective concern from the rugby community that he may do himself some permanent damage and cut short an already outstanding career. We hope to see him back on the pitch soon.
View it here if you're outside of the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Republic of Ireland & Italy
For a powerful, fast, skilful and all round effective winger, look no further than Hurricanes and New Zealand star Julian Savea. Now an established Test player, the man-mountain is revelling on the world stage, having amassed a phenomenal 30 tries in only 30 tests.
But where did the unstoppable colossus come from?
In 2008 Savea was selected for the New Zealand secondary schools team and also became part of the Hurricanes academy. Initially the titan Kiwi was more celebrated for his pace and rapid ability to change direction, skills which afforded him a call up for the national sevens squad for the 2009 Adelaide Sevens.
His feats were not unnoticed and in 2010 he subsequently went on to score 8 tries for the New Zealand U-20 team in the 2010 IRB Junior World Cup, helping his country retain the title for the third successive competition.
Unsurprisingly Savea continued up the ranks, receiving his first full test cap against Ireland in 2012.
As far as dream starts go, the 22 year old debutant was in paradise. A consummate performance across the park, capped off with a hat-trick of tries, and Julian Savea was on the tongue of every rugby fan and critic around the world.
Away from the All Blacks, his domestic career for the Hurricanes is gaining momentum. Since his international recognition, Savea's lust for club success has not diminished.
In 2013 he was a man possessed against the Crusaders, with a powerful tackle on the equally titanic Robbie Fruean and twice bouncing off Israel Dagg, if anyone had any doubts about Savea's talents, they couldn’t anymore.
Such performances welcome the inevitable comparison with New Zealand legend, Jonah Lomu. Of course, there can never be another Lomu, but there most certainly are distinct similarities between the two; both powerful runners, formidable defenders, and big-match winners.
Savea enters his first Rugby World Cup with the eyes of the world and the weight of a nation upon him. As the Kiwis attempt to become the first country to ever retain the Webb Ellis cup, Savea's role in the production cannot be under-played.
An electric player, daunting tackler and a try-scoring machine, the ultimate stage, along with the ultimate prize, invites Mr Savea to show just what he can do - and we can't wait.
Is it fair to compare Savea with Lomu? Who would you rather have in your team?
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Fox Sports have put together another segment of the Shortball, that gives fans a round-up of all the Super Rugby highlights from this past weekend. It was an eventful week in the Southern Hemisphere, with 26 tries in total, some great hits and even a few red cards to boot.
The Hurricanes ran out on top of the Highlanders in a hard fought game in Dunedin, with All Black centre Ma'a Nonu putting in a few trademark tackles. This has put the Hurricanes into top spot, their best start to Super Rugby for quite some time.
The Lions also had a taste of success, turning over the Rebels in Melbourne. Had the Rebels kicked their penalties the scoreline may have been different, but the Lions capitalised on second half mistakes, scored a late try and picked up their first win in Australia for some time.
The Crusaders demolished the Cheetahs in a clinical second half display, scoring 8 tries in total. Dan Carter picked up a brace, Nemani Nadolo had the pick of the bunch though. The Giant Fijian winger kicked through without breaking stride, a sublime first touch, gathered and dotted down for 5 points.
The major talking point of the weekend was in the Sharks vs Chiefs game, where 3 red cards were shown during the first 30 minutes. Bismarck du Plessis, Frans Steyn and Chiefs hooker Hika Elliott were all given their marching orders for various offences, Du Plessis's being the most shocking.
He has since been banned for 4 weeks, reduced from eight. Frans Steyn's red card was rescinded after he was proven not guilty to a tip tackle offence, whilst Elliott's no arms dangerous charge earned him a week on the sidelines.
Chiefs captain Liam Messam was quick to defend the trio, claiming they 'aren't dirty players', though he too was later cited for actions 'contrary to good sportsmanship.'
The footage of Du Plessis is clear as day, do you think 4 weeks is the right penalty?
Famed for his no-nonsense attitude to officiating, referee Nigel Owens was evidently fed up with England captain Chris Robshaw's persistent attempts to influence his decisions during England's 55-35 win over France at Twickenham on Saturday.
In the 72nd minute Robshaw made an effort to draw Owens' attention to an incident where he clearly believed a French player to be at fault. After replying with his opinion on the situation, Owens was unimpressed with Robshaw's continued endeavours to change his mind.
In a school teacher tone of voice, Owens flashed the England skipper a serious look and said, "Christopher," after which Robshaw quickly apologised with "Sorry sir," and the game continued.
The incident is highly amusing, but also a fantastic advert for the respect shown to match officials in the sport. Whilst it may appear the England leader is pestering Owens, he isn't acting far outside the remit of any other international captains, and is quick to make amends and apologise for his actions when aware he's overstepped the mark.
Some of the most successful leaders of all time, such as Martin Johnson and Richie McCaw, are famed for their ability to mediate a match by influencing refereeing decisions and winning favour with the officials – the trick is knowing when to stop however, a mistake Robshaw won't likely make again.
View more of Owens sorting out players, including 30 players at once, in the Related Posts below
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
In what was a farcical first half in the rain of Durban, three players were red carded within twenty minutes as the Sharks and the Chiefs played out a tense Super Rugby round 6 contest. Arguably the worst of the three was this uncalled for kick to the face, that resulted in a month ban.
Just minutes after Chiefs hooker Hika Elliot was red carded for charging into a ruck with his shoulder, Springbok hooker Du Plessis was held by number eight Michael Leitch on the floor. In the process of releasing his foot, he lashed out, kicking Leitch in the face.
Referee Angus Gardner, who had a tough day out, had little choice but to send Du Plessis from the field. He has since received a four-week suspension from SANZAR.
"The player’s kick was pre-meditated, intentional and unprovoked," explained SANZAR Duty Judicial Officer Adam Casselden. "It was reckless, that is the player knew (or should have known) there was a risk of committing an act of foul play.
"In my opinion the offence was a grave one and the possibility of serious injury existed.
"The Chiefs' No. 8 was in a vulnerable position on the ground. He did not see the kick, even if he had, he had limited means available to him, given the position of his arms and body, to protect himself from the player's actions.
"Whilst the player claims he was frustrated by Chiefs' No. 8 not releasing him from the tackle earlier that does not, in my opinion, entitle him to retaliate by kicking his opponent in the area of the head with a studded boot. The head is of course sacrosanct."
Casseldon went on to state that Du Plessis has a very clean record, considering his long playing career and his only blemish being a suspension in 2008 for a dangerous tackle.
"The player has played professional rugby for approximately 12 years. He has played 77 Test matches for South Africa, 125 Super Rugby matches and in the order of 47 Currie Cup matches. Apart from a three week suspension in 2008 the player's disciplinary record is unblemished.
"This is his first red card offence in a lengthy first class playing career [note: the sending off against New Zealand, from two yellow cards, was expunged from his record when it was found to be the incorrect referee decision].
"Having regard to the above mitigating factors and the overall culpability of the player’s offending, I was satisfied that the eight week entry point should be reduced to four weeks," he concluded.
Liam Messam guilty of headlock but not punished
Chiefs skipper Liam Messam can be seen holding Sharks player Renaldo Bothma in a headlock just prior to this incident. Messam was cited for dangerous tackling, but admitted his guilt and was charged with commiting an act contrary to good sportsmanship.
Due to his good disciplinary record, no further punishment was handed out.