by Preeti Virdee
Monday 26th October 2015
by Preeti Virdee
Monday 15th June 2015
A fortnight has come and gone, but it may as well be a season with all the drama in world rugby in that time.
First up, Saracens showed their true colours and became the first team to win the Aviva Premiership Trophy from outside of the top two finishers in the 22 weeks of the league. And with such gusto; by half time Bath Rugby were trailing 3 points to 25, short three converted tries, looking like a team that came in with a tad too much confidence, and were consequently ripped apart. By the final whistle, Saracens were still two tries clear of their championship rivals, with the final score a more than convincing 28 points to just 16. Bath may well have outscored the Saracens in the second half by 13 points to 3, but the Premiership Champions out-ran, out-tackled, out-scrummed, out-tried and overall very smartly outplayed a west country team who arrived at the home of English Rugby thinking they had it in the bag on the bus coming up the M4 to South West London.
The match was not without its own controversy, as Bath coach Mike Ford was adamant in the post-match press conference that Owen Farrell should have been red carded for his alleged high tackle on Anthony Watson just two minutes into the game. On reflection, but even at the time up in the Twickenham media room, there was a clear consensus after the replays that Farrell had done little wrong other than go in on a tackle he was already committed to at the precise moment that Mako Vunipola had low tackled the Bath full back, catching his proverbials in the process, causing Watson to grimace and begin to double over as Farrell caught him in a situation that without context, could have been a lot worse. But what kind of a final battle would that be without at least one coach throwing his toys out of the pram, whilst Mark McCall passed on his usually dour demeanour and actually cracked a grin.
Head over here to relive another year in rugby and Saracens’ triumph in words & highlights…
Later the same day, Cammi Calvisano retained the Trofeo Eccellenza in Italy for a second consecutive year, relatively trouncing Rugby Rovigo in the first half of the match leaving the contenders scoreless 11-0. But the second half saw Rovigo fight back and almost overtake, but remained just a point short, losing 10-11.
For the 2014-15 Eccellenza results, click here…
Finally that day, the bravado of Munster Rugby was left wanting at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, as the Glasgow Warriors became the first ever Scottish side to win the Celtic trophy at the Guinness PRO12 Final. At worst, the Irish province were down 21-3 just prior to half time, but managed to pull back to 10-21 with an Andrew Smith converted try; at best the Munstermen crept to within 8 points in the third quarter. But the Warriors were fierce to match their name, and tore through the Munster defence to eventually clean up in Belfast with a powerful 31-13 final score.
A celebratory open top bus last week took the triumphant Warriors to George Square in Glasgow to show off their haul and share with the fans who have waited an eternity for such an occasion.
For highlights and reports of a year in the PRO12, click here…
Lastly that weekend, the mighty Barbarians fell in a record-breaking 73-12 loss to an England XV at Twickenham which stunned likely everyone. The previous record was the British & Irish Lions who beat the BaaBaas by 51 points in Hong Kong en route to the Australia Tour in 2013. A side that boasted All Blacks, Springboks, Wallabies, Pumas, Samoans and two England internationals, were unable to muster any more than two tries from captain Brad Thorn, and Thomas Waldrom playing against his former teammates. A partially unrecognisable England team, on the other hand, gave the BaaBaas a routing scoring ten converted tries, and with Danny Cipriani’s penalty, 23 points from the fly half began to make a case for his Rugby World Cup squad inclusion. A lesser strength BaaBaas side had beaten an almost full strength Ireland XV 3 days earlier, and there is the distinct possibility the invitational team may have gotten a tad carried away imbibing the spirit of the Barbarians! On a positive note for England, the likes of Mat Tait, Christian Wade, Marland Yarde and the long-awaited return of Joe Launchbury gave Stuart Lancaster something to think about pre-RWC camp, whilst youngsters like Elliot Daly and Henry Slade showed their mettle.
England’s final outing this season ended on a somewhat sour note though, after Danny Cipriani, who is no stranger to tabloid headlines for his previous antics, was pulled over by the Police in the earlier hours of Monday morning after the winning celebrations for drink driving. Cipriani was bailed pending blood test results due in August, when he is to return to Fulham Police Station to answer the charges if the result is positive. In the meantime, the RWC-hopeful will join the England camp on 22nd June as planned. Of course this is not helpful to Lancaster’s rightly strict culture of discipline and respect, but there is definitely no crisis in England Rugby, the culprits so far being players with form on final warnings and duly expelled on being found guilty of infractions.
One such culprit, Manu Tuilagi is the subject of a rumour that he is being courted by Toulouse and Racing Métro 92 for a possible move to France, whilst Saracens are also in the mix, despite there still being a year left on his Leicester Tigers contract. As expected, RFU CEO Ian Ritchie made it very clear that if Tuilagi opts for France over an English Premiership side, any chance of an England Rugby return will be immediately quashed once he has served his temporary expulsion which expires in January 2016.
Click here for the Barbarians Summer Tour 2015…
As the end of the Northern Hemisphere drew to a close, rugby news across the globe was overshadowed by the tragic news of the death of All Blacks legend Jerry Collins, and his partner Alana Madill, who were killed in an horrid accident en route to Montpellier from Canet-en-Roussillon. 10 days later, and the couple’s baby girl Ayla is still in a Montpellier hospital and not yet out of the woods, but it appears she he has the Samoan warrior spirit. She is now surrounded by her
Canadian family from her mother’s side, whilst Jerry’s family await his repatriation from France early this week. He will be accompanied back to New Zealand by his cousin, former All Black Tana Umaga and dear friends former All Black Chris Masoe and his wife Gemma, and Stevenson Malotu'upule. The tributes from across the rugby world have been overwhelming, and all that weekend, not a match kicked off without a minute’s silence for Samoa and Wellington’s son.
A public funeral will be held at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua, where Jerry grew up, at 10am NZST Wednesday 17th June. The family have announced that all are welcome to the service. Following the funeral service, Jerry will be buried in a ceremony for extended family and friends.
Our tribute to ‘The Hitman’, Jerry Collins…
Last week, a most tear-jerking tribute was paid to Jerry and Alana by his All Black teammates including Carl Hayman, Ali Williams, Chris Masoe and Byron Kelleher in France, at the scene of the crash as they performed the haka on the roadside. Neemia Tialata posted the video on social media for the world.
For the first time, New Zealand will be visiting Samoa in the summer, and strong calls from around the globe have poured in to name this match a tribute to Jerry Collins, and also to make this an annual fixture. For too many years, the New Zealand Rugby Union has poached the best players from the Pacific Islands and not given anything back. Now is their time to stand up and be counted.
On a happier note, we grow one step closer to RWC 2015 as Prince Harry and Jonny Wilkinson launched 100 Days To Go at Twickenham on Wednesday 10th June, handing over the trophy to RWC winner Will Greenwood to kick off the final leg of the RWC Trophy Tour. The final 100 days will see the Webb Ellis Cup travel across the UK and Ireland, kicking off with five days in Scotland, five days in Northern Ireland, five days in the Republic of Ireland, ten days in Wales and 75 days in England before arriving at the Opening Ceremony on September 18. It follows the successful international Trophy Tour which completed visits to 15 countries, engaging and exciting fans across the world in the run up to England 2015.
100 Days To Go was marked with HRH joined by local schoolchildren from Richmond and Hounslow, as well as RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie, England Rugby 2015 Chairman Andy Cosslett and Managing Director Stephen Brown, and we got a little up close and inquisitive with both the CEO and MD…
To view the full Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour schedule click here…
To round off Rugby World Cup news, hosts England Rugby have called in a small group of the RWC squad for a pre-RWC camp at their base, Pennyhill Park in Surrey. In an attempt to ensure optimum fitness levels of the side for the duration of the six week-long tournament following a gruelling camp in Denver, Colorado and three warm up matches over the summer, captain Chris Robshaw alongside fellow Harlequins and club captain Joe Marler, Exeter Chiefs’ Jack Nowell and Gloucester Rugby’s Ben Morgan have all forgone summer beach holidays in Dubai and the like to get up to peak levels.
Stuart Lancaster has also brought in Quins fullback Mike Brown, who is finally completely symptom clear of the concussion he suffered in the Six Nations home match against Scotland. Brown returned for the final winning match against France where he suffered another more serious blow, and Quins rested him for the remainder of the season.
The full squad returns to camp on June 22nd, and following the England Rugby kit launch on 6th July, they will head to the USA for the altitude training part of their preparations.
Meanwhile back at England HQ, the RFU has formally appointed RWC winner and England’s most capped international, Jason Leonard OBE as the President of the Rugby Football Union and their 2015 AGM. What wouldn’t we give to be a fly on the wall to hear the conversations between the new President aka ‘The Fun Bus’ and the Patron of the RFU, Her Majesty The Queen at the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup!
In a final round of Super Rugby matches across the Southern Hemisphere, the Hurricanes, NSW Waratahs and DHL Stormers retained their top 3 positions in the combined conference in that order, and the play offs heading in to the final weeks of the tournament are set. The Highlanders will play the Chiefs and Stormers take on the Brumbies in an attempt to secure semi final spots against the Canes and the Tahs.
Click here for the final round of Super Rugby 2015…
And finally, Stade Français clinched the Top 14 title from ASM Clermont Auvergne in a not so thrilling final at the Stade de France. Clermont had a poor day at the office, while the Paris side also managed to not capitalise on all of its opportunities, but did enough with four penalties to two to win their first French title since 2007.
Click here for a report from the Top 14 Final and all results from 2014-15…
And on that note I bid you adieu until the next instalment from your humble editor…
by Preeti Virdee
Friday 29th May 2015
WELL, we arrive at the last week of the Northern Hemisphere season for 2014-15 (bar of course the Top 14), and finally I make an appearance! Bloody poor show wouldn’t you say! Feel free to chastise at will…
It has been a rollercoaster year of fantastic rugby again, but the woes of England and their thwarted World Cup squad appear to dominating all of late. The RWC host nation can boast three of the best players in their respective positions in world rugby, all fit and ready to go in September to lay out their stall with home advantage for the greatest sporting event on earth.
But alas, the bulldozer 12, Manu Tuilagi, who has been a powerhouse centre when he has played for his country, managed to get into a pointless inebriated scrap with a taxi driver and subsequently two lady police officers resulting in an arrest. The Leicester centre pleaded guilty to three charges of assault, one of criminal damage for damaging the wing mirror of the taxi, and ordered to pay £6,205 in fines, compensation and costs. Stuart Lancaster swiftly ruled him out of any World Cup squad following his completely unacceptable behaviour.
Next, 2014 European Player of the Year, former England Rugby openside flanker, Steffon Armitage was finally ruled out of the tournament later this year, deemed not enough of an ‘exceptional case’ to be allowed to play while contracted to an overseas club. The RFU exceptional case clause, brought in under former coach Martin Johnson’s watch when John Steele was CEO, is a most ill-defined provision, and has caused much consternation for Lancaster since his tenure as head coach, and will eventually be dealt with, but not any time soon. This of course also led to this year’s European Player of the Year, Clermont’s Nick Abendanon to be ruled out. Though what likely did not help Armitage’s case is the prosecution still looming for alleged assault pending since December 2014. The case has been sent back for a rushed police investigation, and of course he is innocent (and has pleaded so) until proven guilty.
And finally there is the prodigal son, Dylan Hartley. The Kiwi Englishman has not brushed with the long arm of the law, but in yet another moment of folly, felt it was right and just to headbutt his opposite number, Saracens hooker Jamie George in the Aviva Premiership semi final whilst captaining the Northampton Saints, ironically handing his World Cup spot to the as yet uncapped player. The chances are, had George headbutted a low profile player, no citing commissioner would likely have even looked at the incident. But when you have a questionable rap sheet which includes suspensions amounting to 54 weeks over your professional career, counting amongst your sins biting, gouging, fisticuffs and swearing at the referee, dropped from the 2013 British & Irish Lions squad for the latter, it would be hard for any official to overlook such an indiscretion.
If you knew Dylan, you would understand why he is much praised and liked by many sections of the rugby world. He is a decent chap, charming, funny, witty, and often has press rooms in stitches with his demonstrative antics. But sadly there does appear to be a crazy switch buried deep in his psyche which too often rears its ugly head and he momentarily sees red. And the consequence more often than not is yet another blight on his disciplinary record.
“He is excellent in an awful lot of ways,” said the England coach of him, “But clearly emotional control and the ability to make good decisions under pressure -and let’s be fair the white hot pressure of a World Cup will be that- is a key quality in all players.
“He has let himself down and has got to suffer the consequences. Unfortunately the consequences are not only huge consequences for him, but also for the team because he was an important cog in the wheel.”
But Lancaster is a fighter, and will not let the failings of those he entrusted with the pride of the England Rose deter England Rugby from achieving its ultimate goal in this World Cup year. And he will be closely watching the Premiership Final for his back up hookers in George and Bath Rugby’s Rob Webber.
And so to the Aviva Premiership Final. Bath Rugby are seeking to become champions of England for the seventh time, although they have not claimed the title since 1996. This is Bath’s second appearance in a Premiership final following their 6-10 reversal to Wasps in 2004. The West countrymen have won only one of the last seven finals they have contested in all tournaments since 1998.
Saracens are attempting to become the first side from outside the top two finishers after the regular season to win the Premiership Rugby title. Saracens have been English champions once before in 2011 when they beat Leicester 22-18 in the final, and have appeared in two other Premiership Rugby finals, losing both.
Bath’s only victory over Saracens in their last ten meetings since February 2010 was 21-11 at the Recreation Ground in October 2014, whilst the two clubs have never before clashed in a final, or played each other at Twickenham in a game of XVs. This one may just be too tight to call, but if forced to put down cold hard cash, I’d lean on the side of a full strength Sarries team at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon.
Swiftly following the Premiership match is the Guinness PRO12 Final in Belfast, featuring Munster who are chasing a fourth PRO12 title and their first since they won the Final against Leinster at Thomond Park in 2011. That was their most recent appearance in a major final and was their fifth successive victory in the final of all tournaments they have contested. The Munstermen are unbeaten in their last six Guinness PRO12 encounters.
The challengers are Glasgow Warriors who are bidding to become the first Scottish side ever to carry off the Guinness PRO12 title, and are playing in a second successive final following their defeat to Leinster at the RDS Arena 12 months ago. Warriors have lost just two of their nine fixtures with Irish provinces this season - at Ulster in October and at Munster in February.
Head to head, the two sides have won their home fixture but lost away. The two teams have matched each other in points in this season’s PRO12, but the Scots secured one more win than the Irishmen in 22 rounds. The winners…I wouldn’t hazard a guess but for Kingspan not exactly being a neutral venue for Munster, and the PRO12 committee have not made it easy for far-travelling Glasgow fans to get to the match. Being held of an evening in a city closest to where the Irish Open is ongoing and where the Foo Fighters are playing Slane Castle for one night only, there is barely a hotel room to be had without a re-mortgage! Bravo chaps…better luck next year with forward planning.
There is also a small matter of the Eccellenza coming to its culmination on Saturday evening in Rovigo, Veneto in northern Italy, where the homeside Femi-CZ Vea Rugby Rovigo Delta taken on Cammi Calvisano from neighbouring Brescia. The two sides have remained in the top 3 for 15 of the 18 weeks of the Italian competition, and swiftly made their journey through the semi finals to claim a place in the ultimate national battle. Rugby Rovigo last won the Italian Championship 25 years ago in 1990, while Calvisano have claimed the accolade on five occasions in the last decade, and are the incumbents.
Outside of the finals, the Top 14 play offs are afoot with Stade Français, Racing Métro 92, Toulouse and Oyannax battle for a coveted semi final place to take on either European Champions Toulon or runners up, ASM Clermont Auvergne.
An England XV - bereft of its premier players all involved in the Premiership Final - take on the mighty Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday afternoon, coached by former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, who on Thursday night put away an Ireland XV 22-21.
Lancaster has named Northampton Saints scrum half Lee Dixon captain, while welcoming back Joe Launchbury and Ed Slater following long term injuries. Matty Tait finally returns to the England fold after 5 years, and England U20s & Junior World Championship captain Jack Clifford makes his senior debut, though caps are not awarded for this fixture. Wasps winger Christian Wade is hoping to make a case to the England coaching team, and the fixture promises to be quite a testing ground for the home team, whilst no doubt a raging hoot for the as yet unnamed invitational side.
15 Mathew Tait 14 Christian Wade 13 Elliot Daly 12 Henry Slade 11 Marland Yarde 10 Danny Cipriani 9 LEE DICKSON (C) 1 Matt Mullan 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie 3 Kieran Brookes 4 Ed Slater 5 Joe Launchbury 6 Mark Wilson 7 Jack Clifford 8 Josh Beaumont BENCH: 16 Tommy Taylor 17 Alex Waller 18 Gareth Denman 19 James Gaskell 20 Jon Fisher 21 Will Chudley 22 Shane Geraghty 23 Alex Lewington
Elsewhere, the Super Rugby reaches Week 16, the top six spots close to cementing, with only the Hurricanes already a definite for the play offs, 16 points clear of the nearest contenders, the NSW Waratahs. The pole position in the South African Conference is a weekly swap between the DHL Stormers and the Vodacom Bulls.
Of course you already know we've launched Rugby Unplugged's RWC2015 Unplugged with a smattering of useful info including warm up matches, tournament schedules, and a host of news for you to peruse at your leisure, in anticipation of kicking off in earnest with more content than you could shake a stick at...
Check out all our tournament pages by clicking on each logo above. And you can also catch up with the competitions that have recently culminated across the globe here, as well as what's to come…
So for now, I’ll leave you with this overload of information for what one hopes will be a craicing weekend in both hemispheres. And don't forget...you don't need to be on social media to follow all our live reporting from across the world! We've embedded it right here so you don't miss out...