Thursday, December 04, 2014
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.
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
Posted at 2:01 pm | 6 comments
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
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
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
Posted at 3:08 pm | 8 comments
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
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
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
The Springboks' end of year tour ended poorly but there was some consolation in the announcement that the great try they scored against New Zealand was named the International Rugby Players' Association (IRPA) Try of the Year 2014.
South Africa lost in the northern hemisphere for the first time in three years, but will take heart from a season that ended with a 71% winning rate, as they won 10 out of their 14 matches. They scored 44 tries in total, conceding only 19, which is their best defensive effort in 15 years.
One of the highlights of the season was the 27-25 victory over New Zealand, and Francois Hougaard scoring this great length of the field team effort. He becomes the third South African to win the IRPA Try of the Year award, after Jaque Fourie in 2009, and Bryan Habana in 2012.
2013 – Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
2012 – Bryan Habana (South Africa) – South Africa v New Zealand
2011 – Radike Samo (Australia) – Australia v New Zealand
2010 – Chris Ashton (England) – England v Australia
2009 – Jaque Fourie (South Africa) – South Africa v British & Irish Lions
2008 – Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland) – Australia v Ireland
This year's panel of judges was made up of Samoa's Seilala Mapusua, New Zealand great Jeff Wilson, Ireland's Alan Quinlan and Scotland's Dan Parks. They chose this effort over the shortlise that included Jamie Roberts, Cornal Hendricks, Magali Harvey and Jonny May.
IRPA Executive Director Rob Nichol said that choosing one winner was a difficult process.
"With so many great international tries during 2014, involving both individual brilliance and collective effort, it is never an easy process to settle on one try. However, when it came down to it, Hougaard’s try stood out for the judges due to the high level of skills involved by different players and, most importantly, the teamwork required to make it happen."
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said that it was truly deserving of the accolade.
"I'd like to congratulate Francois Hougaard on winning this award. It was a fantastic try," he said.
It started from deep within the Springboks' own 22. There was wonderful elusive running, lightning passing, rapid recycling, a deft kick ahead, which was expertly gathered and then a well-timed run from Francois finished it off in style.
"It was a real team effort that demonstrated ambition, enterprise and no little skill against the number one side in the world. In short, it was a try that was truly deserving of this accolade.
"The competition was very stiff for this award with four other great tries in the running. It was particularly pleasing to see the best try of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 being shortlisted. Magali Harvey's score was a real highlight of that tournament and I'd also like to congratulate Jamie Roberts, Cornal Hendricks and Jonny May for their contributions."
View all the tries on the IRPA Try of the Year 2014 shortlist
Posted at 9:44 am | 11 comments
Saturday, November 29, 2014
League convert Sam Burgess made his highly anticipated Rugby Union debut in last nights 25-6 Bath win over Harlequins at the Rec. It was a short cameo, playing at centre, but showed glimpses of what he could be capable of with ball in hand.
Just seven weeks ago he was playing rugby league, winning the NRL Grand Final after breaking his cheekbone in the first minute. Now he's a rugby union player, and one that has the whole of England, and indeed fans around the world, watching on closely.
His debut came in quite bizarre circumstances, as Harlequins were down to just 12 players after referee Wayne Barnes brandished three yellow cards. It was also raining so the conditions weren't ideal, but post match he had a smile ear to ear, seemingly loving every minute of it.
"I've been mixing it up in training but I think I'll stay at centre for now, certainly over the next few games," said the 25-year-old when asked about what position he'll likely play in.
"But we've got a lot of time. It's certainly not an overnight transition and the worst thing we could do is rush it. It was always going to be hard but I've really enjoyed it and everyone's been open to teaching me things.
"The game's tough to learn and I was sat on the bench a little bit nervous. I haven't felt that for a while but I enjoyed the feeling and the adrenalin and once you get on the field you just enjoy the game," said the former league star who was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal a few weeks back.
He came on in the midfield last night, but Bath coach Mike Ford wants to try him in the forwards.
"The two carries he had were very, very good. He needs to get out there and play and when the pressure's on that will accelerate his learning," Ford said.
"There's a plan there and Sam's first few games are going to come at 12, but when it's dry we're going to have a look at him in the back row as well. Personally, I think that will suit Sam personally more.
"It's a gut feeling of mine as he's a guy who carries and tackles a lot and I don't want to stick him out in the centre to do nothing. That's not his skill set. Can we get him over the gain line with six, seven or eight on his back? Of course we can and the next month or so we'll know where he is.
"My vision is for Sam to be a barnstorming back row and we'll see how it unfolds, it'll be a good journey," Ford, whose son George starts for England at flyhalf today, added.
It's been debated before, but after seeing a bit of him in action and hearing what both he and coach Ford have to say, where do you think Burgess would be best suited?
Posted at 11:26 am | 20 comments