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« June 2011 | | August 2011 »

July 31, 2011

Boks have much to prove

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Peter de Villiers will have to pacify angry South African fans in their next match in the Tri-Nations © Getty Images

Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick, writing for the New Zealand Herald, reflects on the Springboks poor showing in the Tri-Nations.

"After a faltering start against Samoa, the Wallabies bounced back last Saturday with a very convincing 39-20 win over a second-rate Springboks side.

"Expect to see a very different Springboks side when these two teams meet in Port Elizabeth in three weeks.

Our victory over the under-strength South Africans in Wellington last night was extremely important for this All Blacks side, but for the Boks, their real test comes in their two home Tri Nations matches, which start against Australia in Durban on August 14 (NZ time).

They were awful for the second test in a row and they have just two games to get it right before the World Cup.

The Springboks have embarked on a different route to the World Cup than Graham Henry's All Blacks. Leaving a stack of players at home for the past two games, allegedly because they are injured, is not how I would lead a team into the biggest event on the rugby calendar."

Rivalries renewed

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Brendan Fanning, writing for the Irish Independent, looks ahead to Saturday's clash between Ireland and Scotland.

"World Cup warm-ups are fretful times for players, a mix of trying to play your way into the squad without playing your way out of it through injury. And before Declan Kidney can even announce his side to play Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday, in the first of five games in August, Gordon D'Arcy looks like he won't be going anywhere with Ireland until the New Year.

D'Arcy had surgery on an ankle in late June and the six weeks rehab from that leaves him short of any pre-season, which would appear to rule the World Cup out for him altogether. Kidney conceded last week that the timeline was "getting tight" for him. In Kidneyspeak, that sounds like the discomfort a crab experiences at 40 fathoms.

You would imagine that Fergus McFadden was nailed on in any case but the likelihood of D'Arcy's demise promotes further the case of a man whose versatility will be important when September rolls around and we're counting who is left standing and what direction they're facing.

Interestingly, the Scots are taking the low road on this one. Italy will provide their only other opposition before flying south, and relying on just two warm-up games seems unwise, especially when you consider that Andy Robinson took his marquee names out of the closing rounds of the Magners League.''

Pocock No.1?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Former Australian international Owen Finnegan, talking to David Sygall of the Sydney Morning Herald, believes David Pocock is the world's premier openside flanker.

"The notion that Richie McCaw is the best open-side breakaway in the world is as much a myth as the so-called Eden Park hoodoo, according to 1999 World Cup-winning back rower Owen Finegan, who has rated David Pocock a superior breakaway than the New Zealand captain.

As the Wallabies prepare to take on the All Blacks in Auckland next Saturday - where they haven't won since 1986 - Finegan paid Pocock the ultimate honour, judging him the best No.7 in the recent Super Rugby season and a better player than the 2010 IRB international player of the year.

Asked if he felt, as many believe, McCaw was still the world's premier fetcher, Finegan, the 1995-2005 Wallabies team of the decade player, said: ''No. I probably rate David Pocock above him. George Smith was the best No.7 I ever played with or against, and that included McCaw. And Pocock, towards the end of George's career, was the one who put George on notice.''

Abysmal Boks

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Liam del Carme, writing for the South African Times, picks apart South Africa's dismal Tri-Nations performance.

"In the wreckage that is their Tri-Nations misadventure Down Under, the Springbok brains trust will find some home truths that will greatly influence the remainder of their term in office.

Apart from handing the Wallabies and the All Blacks momentum, the Springboks now also run the risk of being exposed on home soil which will further fuel their Sanzar partners' furnace heading into the World Cup.

Of course, the Bok selectors can call for the cavalry in the form of the Rustenburg 21 for the home Tests but if the point was not underlined sufficiently in Super Rugby, it was drummed home in the last two matches that the Springboks antiquated game plan needs renewal."

Williams a concern?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Richard Loe, writing for the New Zealand Herald, reflects on the Tri-Nations clash between New Zealand and South Africa.

"Watching the game last night - in what felt like a freezer in Wellington - I think the All Blacks coaches would have seen a few more of the ingredients they need for their World Cup starting team; mainly form players and high work rates. Last week they went through the motions too much against Fiji - they needed to step up, and did. Every time anyone goes out this year in a Tri Nations test they are on trial.

A concern for me was Ali Williams. I think he had another average game. You look at the past few weeks; he was going well then played poorly against the Reds and Fiji. By his standards I'd suggest the Springboks test was another poor one, compared to what he's been capable of in the past."

Picture perfect

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Eddie Butler, in his column for the Guardian, believes Europe's players are in optimum condition ahead of the forthcoming World Cup.

"At the risk of igniting a firestorm of career-threatening injuries, the rugby players of Europe have never been in better shape. While the southern hemisphere countries hurl themselves into the Tri-Nations – or in South Africa's case, limp up to Rustenburg for secret conditioning – the hard graft of our summer has finished. The heavy weights have been lowered and stories of recovery outweigh tales of woe.

For every Hugo Southwell who has to be declared out of World Cup contention, there is a Stephen Ferris back in the Irish reckoning, or a William Servat starting to rediscover his aim into the French lineout after surgery to his left knee. Every nation bristle with rude health. Gavin Henson has passed every test at -140C in Poland. Maxime Mermoz, perennially unavailable, is just one of so many French players running around and leaving his coach, Marc Lièvremont, in the wonderful position of not really knowing what his best starting lineup is. Mauro Bergmasco, who last appeared for Italy in the Six Nations of 2010, is back. Goodness, even Jonny Wilkinson is fit."

Come in Mr Henson and Mr Faletau

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/31/2011

Welsh great Phil Bennett, in his column for the Daily Mirror, calls on Warren Gatland to make two controversial selection choices ahead of their Test with England.

"There are two names that have to be on the Wales team sheet to face England next week – Toby Faletau and Gavin Henson.

Faletau is a young kid who represents the future for Wales and we need to know ­whether that future starts at September’s World Cup in New Zealand.

Henson represents the past, but he’s never been adequately replaced and we have to learn whether or not he’s a past that can be recreated.

For my money, I think he can. He’s still only 29 and there isn’t that much mileage on the clock for a guy who was first capped 10 years ago."

July 30, 2011

Deans opens window to a future leader

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/30/2011

David Pocock has long been considered a Wallaby skipper in the making © Getty Images

In his column in The Australian, Mark Ella talks up the significance of Wallabies flanker David Pocock being handed the captain's armband during last weekend's win over South Africa.

"After a faltering start against Samoa, the Wallabies bounced back last Saturday with a very convincing 39-20 win over a second-rate Springboks side.

"The Australian players' enthusiasm was overflowing and they again showed just how damaging they can be given open space and half a chance.

"After watching the Queensland Reds dismantle most of the Super Rugby teams this year, it wasn't surprising to see the young Wallabies, led by Quade Cooper and Will Genia, show the world what to expect in September when the best compete for the World Cup.

"But what was surprising was coach Robbie Deans's choice as captain when he replaced Rocky Elsom 15 minutes into the second half with young David Pocock."

Interview: Graham Lowe, SRU Director of Performance Rugby

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/30/2011

David Ferguson of The Scotsman talks to one of the most important - but least known - figures in Scottish Rugby.

"Scotland's World Cup campaign moves into second gear next week with the first EMC warm-up Test against Ireland, Glasgow and Edinburgh are moving from army camps to game tactics and clubs across the country are putting the finishing touches to their squads for critical championships ahead of the league revamp.

"All will develop in virtual isolation, but one man watching each tier of the Scottish game is Graham Lowe. His name is one of the lesser-known in Scottish rugby. It should be one of the most well-known.

"Gordon McKie, the former SRU Chief Executive, stubbornly refused to appoint any form of rugby director in his first four years at the SRU helm, and when he did give in to a groundswell of opinion that Scottish rugby needed an individual wholly responsible on the board for, ahem, rugby, he gave it the "head of performance rugby" title, and appointed New Zealander Lowe."

New Zealand have been hot favourites for the World Cup before and flopped

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/30/2011

Writing in the Irish Independent, Winston Aldworth cannot shake off a familiar sinking feeling ahead of this year's tournament.

"If, as they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then this year I'm compos mentis.

"After 24 years of approaching Rugby World Cup competitions in a spirit of optimism, I've realised that expecting a knockout-round humbling for the All Blacks is the only protection against misery for a Kiwi rugby fan.

"1987 has become to New Zealand rugby what 1966 is to English soccer. For Bobby Moore hoisted on team-mates' shoulders we've got a lovely photo of wee David Kirk holding the Webb Ellis Cup with his mates behind him in composed, soft-focus bliss.

"It's a stirring memory. But in a nation where All Black success is considered the birthright of every fan, there's no escaping the fact that our last taste of World Cup glory came when mullets ruled the Earth."

July 29, 2011

Eden Park victory a necessity

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/29/2011

Rocky Elsom's leadership will be essential if the Wallabies are to prevail at Eden Park next weekend © Getty Images

Wallabies legend Nick Farr-Jones, talking to Greg Growden of the Sydney Morning Herald, believes a win next week in New Zealand is essential for the Wallabies if they are to take the World Cup later in the year.

"Nick Farr-Jones, a member of the last Australian team to win at Eden Park 25 years ago, believes it is crucial that the Wallabies break the Auckland drought next weekend if they are to seriously consider themselves a World Cup threat.

The 1991 World Cup-winning captain said the Wallabies scrum, and in particular the power of the Test front-row, was the key to their chances of becoming the No.1 team in world rugby.

Since Farr-Jones and his 1986 Wallabies team won the Bledisloe Cup series, Australia have suffered 11 straight defeats at Eden Park, the venue of this year's World Cup final. The Wallabies have also not won on New Zealand soil since 2001.

Despite the trauma caused by endless defeats in Auckland, Farr-Jones is convinced this year's team has the ingredients to be victorious at Eden Park tomorrow week."

It's always the quiet ones

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/29/2011

Greg Growden, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, provides his weekly take on southern hemisphere rugby.

"From a distance, the former Wallabies back-rower George Smith appears a quiet, uncontroversial soul. But there have been several volatile moments during his football life, and they are revealed in his just-released biography, written by the Herald's Mr Pedals, Rupert Guinness.

One lesser-known story revolves around the Brumbies' taxi affair in Cape Town in 2000, when several of Smith's teammates got in trouble following an altercation with a cabbie."

Henson on the road to RWC?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/29/2011

The Western Mail reports that Gavin Henson is impressing the Welsh selectors as he bids to be included in their World Cup squad.

"Gavin Henson has shocked Warren Gatland and the Wales coaching staff with his fitness levels and has edged closer to a place in the final World Cup squad, the Western Mail understands.

Henson returned from Wales’ 10-day training camp in Poland with his reputation enhanced, after successfully negotiating every test put in front of him by Gatland and his backroom team.

The glamour star of the Welsh game next faces what, in effect, amounts to a three-match trial to prove he is ready for a place on the plane to New Zealand and the opening match against holders South Africa."

No fantasy Boks

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/29/2011

Simnikiwe Xabanisa, writing for the South African Times , picks apart the Springboks.

"As the Springbok coach and captain groped for elusive positives from their defeat against the Wallabies last weekend, one couldn't help but reach the illogical conclusion that they could also be telling us: "We told you so."

One of our national pastimes appears to be putting together teams based on form. If our armchair selections are anything to go by, we live and die by the adage that you're only as good as the last quarter you played.

Our many Bok barometers, which hardly ever feature regular Springboks, and the fact that we complain about Sarel Pretorius's omission - when the truth is he would be hard-pressed to make a similar impact at test level as he did in Super rugby - tend to confirm this.

Former Springbok coach Jake White used to say the best players don't always make the best teams."

Pocock Idol

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/29/2011

Australian flanker David Pocock talks to Iain Payten of the Courier Mail about who he idolised when he was growing up.

"As far as a young David Pocock was concerned, the poster on the wall was more than justified.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, the fact that Robert Brian "Bobby" Skinstad had also been born in Zimbabwe was a major tick.

The fact he was playing for Pocock's then-favourite team the Springboks. Tick.

The number Skinstad was wearing on his back was his spot as well - No.8. Tick.

But despite all the evidence he was a rugby-styled Zimbabwe Idol, there was at least one cross on Skinstad in the household."

July 28, 2011

Mr Versatility: Higginbotham the man for all situations

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/28/2011

Scott Higginbotham is hoping to nail down a place in Australia's starting line-up for this year's World Cup © Getty Images

Queensland's Scott Higginbotham is striving to define his role within the Australia squad, writes Phil Lutton of the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Anyone who ever suspected Scott Higginbotham might actually be a dashing back-line magician trapped in a hulking loose forward's body might be on to something. The thundering breakaway laughs about his occasional cameo on the wing, but the truth is it's only half a joke as he strives to define his place in the Wallabies' rotation.

"In damaging form but parked behind captain Rocky Elsom for his preferred No.6 jumper, Higginbotham's impressive versatility, as much as his destructive ball running, shapes as one of his most attractive qualities as the World Cup looms.

"And it's not just the 24-year-old's ability to cover six and eight that is helping Higginbotham establish himself as a key part of the Wallabies machine. Coach Robbie Deans threw him on the wing for the final 10 minutes against South Africa, and the only thing that really looked out of the ordinary was his bulk."

Cory Jane's return from the brink

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/28/2011

Cory Jane speaks to The Dominion Post about his hopes of securing a place in New Zealand's World Cup squad.

"If someone had told Cory Jane six weeks ago that he would be playing for the All Blacks in a Tri-Nations rugby test against the Springboks this Saturday he would have laughed in their face.

"Such was Jane's lacklustre form for the Hurricanes in the Super 15 campaign that the fullback-cum-wing was considered to be lucky to be selected when the extended 34-man squad was named for the Tri-Nations series.

"Even then, he was only in the squad as an injury replacement, and had the misfortune to be ruled out of the All Blacks test against Fiji when he was himself injured after badly dislocating his ring finger in a provincial match for Wellington.

"He was today handed a rugby World Cup lifeline by the All Blacks selectors to start on the right wing in his 23rd test as one of four changes to the side which romped past Fiji 60-14 in Dunedin last Friday and said his head was in the right space to produce his best for the first time this year."

Faingaa has inside knowledge on cracking the Cooper code

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/28/2011

Wayne Smith of The Australian talks to Anthony Faingaa about playing alongside the maverick that is Quade Cooper.

"Anthony Faingaa is not the type to offer unsolicited advice but if any of his non-Reds Wallabies teammates need help in deciphering five-eighth Quade Cooper's play, he is more than happy to assist.

"Of all the players in the Australian team, Faingaa knows Cooper's game better than anyone, having played alongside him as a centre at club level for Souths, in the Super Rugby-winning Queensland side and, on five occasions, in the Test side.

"Brumbies battering ram Pat McCabe admitted after playing outside Cooper for the first time against the Springboks on Saturday that he was, if not exactly confused, at times unsure of what the mesmerising Wallabies playmaker was up to. On one occasion, Cooper ended up throwing a ball clean into touch when McCabe zigged when his five-eighth clearly expected him to zag.

"When queried yesterday on whether he had spoken to McCabe about the art of playing straight man to Cooper, Faingaa was conscious not to be seen to be proffering advice before he is asked for it."

Fit-again Ross Rennie free to focus on World Cup

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/28/2011

In an interview with The Scotsman, Edinburgh flanker Ross Rennie talks about his return to full fitness after a troublesome knee injury.

"Ross Rennie can easily recall watching the Scotland squad prepare for the last World Cup while conducting pre-season training with Edinburgh, and so, on a sunny day when news centred on Hugo Southwell's unfortunate injury, he was happy to report that he was in terrific health himself.

"That, in itself, is a success story for the 25-year-old openside flanker, who endured a harrowing early part to his professional career. A prodigious talent that many astute judges reckoned would hold down the Scotland No 7 shirt for years before the emergence of John Barclay, a complicated knee injury suffered against Irish opposition forced him on to the sidelines for the best part of 18 months and has left him needing good physio management to get through the rigours of a full week of training at pro level, never mind in the Test arena."

July 27, 2011

All blacks under wraps

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/27/2011

Following South Africa bringing a weakened side to New Zealand - All Blacks head coach Graham Henry has delayed picking his strongest XV © Getty Images

Writing for The Dominion Post Marc Hinton looks at All Blacks boss Graham Henry's decision to delay unveiling the All Blacks strongest XV.

"The moment the Springbok touring squad for the away-leg of the Tri-Nations was announced we knew that the team was going to struggle against their Antipodean rivals.

"Smart guy that Graham Henry. The All Blacks coach recognises this week for what it is - another glorified trial against opponents of limited ability.

Thus the weary get another week to recuperate and the scratchy get another game to search for that form. And some key fringe men - I'm thinking of Adam Thomson, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Ali Williams to name but three - get another chance to not only press their claims, but gain much-needed test experience.

That's the upshot of this Springboks "B" team that Peter de Villiers has elected to bring out for the away leg of their Tri-Nations. Never mind what he says this week, this is a team full of tackle dummies, few of whom will see the light of the World Cup from anywhere but their couches."

Boks too old fashioned?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/27/2011

Peter Bills, writing for The Independent , ponders whether South Africa's brand of rugby is good enough to win the World Cup

"Can South Africa defy the modern conventions and ways of an entire sport in their World Cup campaign?

The question comes ever more urgently into mind in the light of their opening Tri-Nations defeat by Australia in Sydney last weekend.

It is clear that New Zealand and Australia are playing a completely different game to the South Africans. They seek to utilise the opportunities afforded by the new law interpretations by keeping possession and attacking mostly with ball in hand.

By contrast, the South African game does not appear to have moved forward hardly one iota since 2007 when they won a kicking dominated World Cup by playing tactically, relying on their impressive line-out for solid, consistent possession, driving the ball on by hammering into the opposition and landing copious numbers of penalty goals."

No excuses for Wales

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/27/2011

WRU boss Roger Lewis tells David Williams of the Western Mail that he believes the Welsh team will be in peak condition come the World Cup

"WRU boss Roger Lewis has declared Warren Gatland will have the best prepared Wales team in World Cup history this autumn.

The WRU group chief executive made his bold statement as Matthew Rees and his colleagues fly home from their second intensive training camp in Poland.

Lewis believes Gatland’s men will come through their tough pool in New Zealand – despite many pundits predicting an early exit which would mirror the failure to reach the quarter-finals under Gareth Jenkins in 2007.

But Lewis indicated the build-up and preparation between the two regimes was like chalk and cheese."

Lomu bemused over all-black kit

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/27/2011

All Blacks great Jonah Lomu tells the Sydney Morning Herald he was left "dumbfounded" after the RFU announced they would wear an all-black strip in the forthcoming World Cup.

"England's decision to wear a controversial black strip during the upcoming World Cup has left New Zealand great Jonah Lomu "dumbfounded" with the former winger questioning the motives of the decision.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) released a statement on Friday saying the England team would wear the new second strip for the home international against Wales on August 6 and then for their opening World Cup match against Argentina on September 10."

SBW set to benched?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/27/2011

Former Springboks coach Jake White tells Duncan Johnstone of the Dominion Post that he believes Sonny Bill Williams will start his World Cup campaign for the All Blacks on the bench.

"World Cup winning coach Jake White is a big fan of Sonny Bill Williams but doesn't believe he will be able to break into the All Blacks starting side when it matters most.

White predicts an impact role for Williams behind the proven midfield combination of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.

White used his personal website to pass comment on Williams' game and influence on rugby since successfully switching from league.

"Sonny Bill is a sensation, which is great for rugby. The more people talk about him, the more people watch the game and that's great for the sport globally," White said in a question and answer session on the internet."

July 26, 2011

Opportunity Boks

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/26/2011

Springboks youngster Patrick Lambie could get his chance against New Zealand on Saturday © Getty Images
Writing for Sport24 Gary Boshoff says South Africa's second string must take the chances afforded to them by a flawed selection policy.
"The moment the Springbok touring squad for the away-leg of the Tri-Nations was announced we knew that the team was going to struggle against their Antipodean rivals.

"In fact, after this past weekend’s demolition job by the Aussies things are looking even more ominous (for the Springboks) for the upcoming All Black Test - no surprises there at all.

"So let’s not waste any time on this subject, that is, unless of course you are an opportunistic Peter de Villiers or John Smit pet-hater.

"However, what I’ve found very disappointing about the weekend’s performance is the lack of application and urgency shown by the Springbok second stringers in this golden opportunity to stake a claim for a spot in the RWC squad."

Beware Wallabies

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/26/2011

Former New Zealand skipper Sean Fitzpatrick tells Peter Bills of the New Zealand Herald that Australia's ruthless and rampant form will cause a stir in New Zealand.

"There were things from the Wallabies that will definitely raise an eyebrow or two in New Zealand," Fitzpatrick said. "Very much so. If you give them an opportunity, like if you kick badly, you are going to get punished.

"We saw this in Super rugby and they have carried it over. I think they look quite ominous when they play their best 15. They are quite dangerous. They sent out a warning here. They said, give us an opportunity and we will nail it."

Boks playing in the past

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/26/2011

And Bills also pens his thoughts on South Africa's World Cup chances for the Independent.

"Can South Africa defy the modern conventions and ways of an entire sport in their World Cup campaign?

"The question comes ever more urgently into mind in the light of their opening Tri-Nations defeat by Australia in Sydney last weekend.

"It is clear that New Zealand and Australia are playing a completely different game to the South Africans. They seek to utilise the opportunities afforded by the new law interpretations by keeping possession and attacking mostly with ball in hand.

"By contrast, the South African game does not appear to have moved forward hardly one iota since 2007 when they won a kicking dominated World Cup by playing tactically, relying on their impressive line-out for solid, consistent possession, driving the ball on by hammering into the opposition and landing copious numbers of penalty goals."

Hig school's high stakes

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/26/2011

New Zealand Herald's Adrian Hyland finds an inpressive standard of grass-roots rugby in New Zealand's schools.

"About 11 minutes are left on the clock and Mt Albert Grammar, who have just missed their sixth place kick, are finding it hard to put Hamilton Boys away in last year's school rugby showpiece, the national final.

"They may have scored three tries and done it playing fluid, largely error-free rugby, with width and intelligence, but they trail 15-17. In the defending champions they face not only one of the few teams that outweigh them, but also a team well-versed in the art of securing possession and winding the clock down.

"From the restart MAGS fullback Albert Nikoro leaps and gathers cleanly, then accelerates into the heart of the Hamilton defence. His forwards swarm around him as they have done all game, the ball is recycled quickly, and the process begins again.

"MAGS edge forward, their runners targeting the fringes and eliminating defenders, until lock Sean Brookman is turned in a tackle and goes to ground facing the wrong way. He twists himself so his team-mates can access the ball, but in a high-tempo game like this a few seconds are precious. The momentum is lost ..."

Sluggish ticket sales

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/26/2011

In the Scotsman Duncan Ferguson reports on how Edinburgh and Glasgow are hoping to counter sluggish season ticket sales.

"Season ticket sales for Edinburgh and Glasgow are struggling to get off the ground this summer, but chief executives at both clubs insist they are confident that a fresh "supporter- focused" marketing approach will lead to a greater support for the teams in the longer term. Edinburgh crowds plummeted last season to around 1,500-2,000 on average after highs of close to 5,000.

"The on-field struggles of the team were only part of the story, with the club's chief executive Craig Docherty furious with the SRU's decision last year to close access to Edinburgh supporters to the refurbished President's Suite in Murrayfield Stadium.

"He also hit the buffers in trying to develop other initiatives designed to grow the support under the ultimate control of Gordon McKie, the former SRU chief executive."

July 25, 2011

De Villiers must be ruthless

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/25/2011

South Africa have much to ponder ahead of their match against the All Blacks © Getty Images

South Africa coach Peter De Villiers must make ringing changes to the Springboks squad with a host of players simply not up to Test standard, according to Chris Ray in the South African Times.

"Springboks coach Peter de Villiers needs to rethink about those he has put faith in over the past few seasons if the Boks are serious about retaining the Rugby World Cup. In Saturday's humiliating 39-20 defeat by the Wallabies in Sydney, several players did enough to play themselves out of World Cup contention as the Boks slumped to their sixth Tri-Nations defeat in their last seven matches.

"Losing was no surprise, but the nature of the defeat was worrying. Australia led 39-6 and took their foot off the pedal with 25 minutes to go. In that time, the Boks scored two consolation tries to add a little respectability to the final score.

"Deon Stegmann is no test-quality openside flank. He was anonymous as the Boks were beaten at the breakdown, with the Wallabies turning them over at will."

Wallabies under the microscope

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/25/2011

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald former Wallabies captain John Eales takes a detailed look at Australia's revival of fortunes against South Africa.

"The most useful prospection must carefully consider which metrics are meaningful and which superfluous as not all that is calculable is critical. Invariably it is not simply about the macro of winning and losing; the answer usually reveals itself in the micro, in the detail.

"So to what detail, then, do we turn? The Wallabies' first try was instructive. The break was initiated by Quade Cooper from deep in the Wallabies' half. He offloaded to Kurtley Beale, who made important ground before passing on. From the ensuing ruck the ball was distributed along a back line awash with forwards and, through the astute handling of captain Rocky Elsom and finishing of prop Ben Alexander, the five-pointer was secured.

"The flair was self-evident but the detail most important. One piece of detail was Beale's contribution – not as a runner but at the breakdown, where his clean-out was instrumental in delivering the quick possession from which Alexander eventually capitalised. The accuracy of his clean-out typified the Wallabies' improvement."

Against the odds

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/25/2011

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Chris Rattue says some of the refereeing decisions during Fiji's defeat to New Zealand on Friday betrays a bias against the smaller Test-playing nations.

"The Fijians should have been hopping mad after getting belted by the All Blacks.

"Three All Black tries were open to question - not that there is much serious questioning when a Pacific Island country gets a raw deal against a rugby superpower.

"Fiji needed to make Dunedin a battleground by opening a PR war to change the subconscious thinking among referees. The whistlers are conditioned to believe certain teams are better than others and rule accordingly, in a sport where interpretation is nine-tenths of the law.

"Pacific Island teams are stereotyped as poorly disciplined, so penalties and yellow - or even red - cards against them are seen as supporting evidence rather than matters for debate.

Deadly duo

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/25/2011

The Australian's Wayne Smith believes that Quade Cooper and Will Genia are fast becoming as important and influential to Australia as Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are to the All Blacks.

"It is often said on this side of the Tasman that we'll only know how good the All Blacks are when they have to play without Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.

"Still bloody good, would be my response, but it is a pertinent observation nonetheless, especially so in the case of Carter. At a pinch, the All Blacks could cover the loss of McCaw who, having passed the dreaded 30 barrier, is starting to show the first signs of all the punishment his body has absorbed over the years. But against a major rival, there is no way Graham Henry would willingly send his team out without Carter.

"It's now time to pose the question of how good the Wallabies would be without halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper. It has now become almost obligatory to preface any description of them as "world class" and it is to be hoped that repetition doesn't dilute the impact of those words because they truly are the best 9-10 combination in the game at present."

July 24, 2011

Wallabies run riot

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/24/2011

The Wallabies celebrate victory over South Africa in the opening Tri-Nations bout © Getty Images

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Growden hails Australia’s victory over South Africa in the opening Tri-Nations clash but warns that the All Blacks will be several steps up next weekend.

"The ''A'' team were back for the Wallabies, and so too was their A game, enabling them to eradicate all the horrors of the Samoan smashathon by overwhelming the Springboks with a five-tries-to-two victory at ANZ Stadium last night.

"With all their key performers back, in particular five-eighth Quade Cooper, openside flanker David Pocock, second-rower James Horwill and winger James O'Connor, Australia were a revitalised team.

"Gone were the indecision and powder-puff play that saw them suffer the ignominy of being belted by Samoa last Sunday. Instead, they were back to their exciting and physical best, having the Test won after an hour by being effective in all areas of the game. After witnessing this substantial performance, the All Blacks know that in two weeks' time they will encounter something formidable in Auckland. But as Pocock warned last night: ''It will go up a notch against the Kiwis.''

Coops inside their head

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/24/2011

In the Sunday Mail Jim Tucker lauds another spell-binding display by Quade Cooper and says the fly-half wizard has a particular feeling for flooring South African sides.

"Quade Cooper could happily tease and topple South African sides every week for the rest of the year because his ad-lib brilliance seems to mesmerise the men from the republic more than any other side.

"Last night's decisive display in the clearcut 39-20 victory over the Springboks in Sydney followed his sparkling showings in the eight wins from nine starts that Queensland have racked up against South African opponents in 2010-11.

"The way Cooper plays the game can never be charted on paper as predictable patterns. He doesn't know what is coming next, so how can South African players?

"It was not the perfect night from Cooper. There was a knock-on and a pass into touch but his upbeat return to the Wallabies jersey doubled the potency of the attack."

Bok-up your ideas

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/24/2011

South Africa's humbling defeat to Australia should be a cause for great concern for the reigning World Champions, according to Rob Houwing of Sport24.

"Let’s not beat about the bush: this was a heavier defeat for the under-strength Springboks than most of us would have wished.

"I wrote earlier this week that the Samoan reverse for the Wallabies had been an ominous development from a Bok point of view, because of the backlash likelihood at ANZ Stadium – and it came, alright.

"Australia produced some of their most compelling, trademark ball-in-hand play as they ran in five tries en route to a 39-20 Castle Tri-Nations win, and when they banked the bonus point as worrisomely early as the 48th minute, uncomfortable memories of 49-0 in Brisbane five years ago flickered anew for South Africans.

"There’s a case, too, for saying that the game as a whole should best be judged on roughly that chunk of the match, because its one-sidedness put the Wallabies in a position to begin pulling off key customers for challenges ahead; rhythm and continuity was affected as a result.

"And up to that point and a little beyond it, there had been more than enough evidence for supporters of the World Cup champions’ cause to shake their heads in trepidation and depression."

Boot crazy colours in to touch

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/24/2011

Writing in the New Zealand Herald Gregor Paul is dismayed to see the All Blacks take the field against Fiji with an assortment of different coloured boots.

"For the All Black coaches, it was the breakdown. For many others, it would have been the unwelcome appearance of white and orange boots that was the most concerning aspect of the performance against Fiji.

"Despite the infiltration of garishly coloured boots into Super Rugby over the last decade, the All Blacks have preserved the tradition of their players wearing black and only black on their feet.

"That was until now and the greatest surprise in Dunedin was the shiny, entirely distracting array of coloured feet. Black jerseys, black shorts, black socks and then wham ... a handful of players were wearing white boots or, in the case of Ma'a Nonu, luminous orange. Even Dan Carter came off the bench resplendent in white boots."

New dawn for Smith in Land of the Rising Sun

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 07/24/2011

In the Sydney Morning Herald, David Sygall meets former Wallabies flanker George Smith ahead of his move to Japan.

"It's not all about money for the Japan-bound former Wallaby, who says the game has helped him rise from humble beginnings.

"He played 110 Tests over nearly a decade, captained the Wallabies, featured in 122 Super Rugby matches and is heading overseas this week to begin a deal that will make him Australia's highest paid rugby player.

"Yet George Smith says the highlight of his career was having his face put on the cover of a rugby-based video game, which he plans to have framed and mounted when he returns from his three-year stint with Suntory in Japan."

July 23, 2011

Kiwi improvements

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/23/2011

The All Blacks put Fiji to the sword but were still some way from their usual imperious best © Getty Images

Tony Smith picks through New Zealand's win over Fiji in The Dominion Post.

"All Blacks coach Graham Henry admits the All Blacks will have to lift their intensity, execution and accuracy for the Tri-Nations after a fits-and-start 60-14 win over Fiji.

Henry said it was "pleasing'' to score 60 points, the team "played well in patches'' and some individuals had strong games - notably wing Sitiveni Sivivatu and pivot Colin Slade.

He thought the All Blacks were "inconsistent in our execution'' in their last test at Carisbrook but it was "a good step'' towards next Saturday's clash with the Springboks in Wellington.

"Playing the Springboks will heighten the intensity, and we're going to have to be, because... if we don't increase our intensity and accuracy, especially at the breakdown, we'll be in trouble.'"

2011 goals

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/23/2011

Spiro Zavos, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, provides his view on what the Wallabies need to achieve in this year's Tri-Nations.

"After Samoa's sensational first-time victory over the Wallabies, their captain explained the result with a cliche: ''We wanted to win more than the Wallabies''.

This explanation is nonsense. What lost the Test for the Wallabies was a failure to understand the psychology of Samoan rugby players. This failure was compounded by poor tactics on the field. As the Wallabies could meet Samoa in the World Cup quarter-finals, it is important this hard lesson is learnt.

Samoans believe Samoa is the centre of the universe. They are incredibly strong, mentally and physically. They believe that on their day they can defeat any team. In the 1991 World Cup, Western Samoa defeated Wales at Cardiff, a feat beyond most of the other Five Nations teams in the previous decade."

Walking on sunshine

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/23/2011

Sean Martin, writing for the New Zealand Herald, talks to a very happy Jarrod Hoeata following his debut for the All Blacks.

"A knee strain which forced Jarrad Hoeata from the field in his debut test could not wipe the smile from the Taranaki lock's face after helping the All Blacks to a 60-14 defeat of Fiji in Dunedin last night.

The 27-year-old left the field 15 minutes after the halftime break after tweaking his knee after landing awkwardly in a tackle early in the first half, but the disappointment of being forced from the field was softened by a performance in his first test that he could be proud of."

July 22, 2011

Another boilover?

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/22/2011

Australia's David Pocock puts his foot down during training © Getty Images

Matt Burke picks through the wreckage of Australia's loss to Samoa and offers some pointers for the Tri-Nations in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"The Wallabies are again favourites to win in Sydney against an under-strength - or perceived under-strength - team, this time the Springboks. Let's hope they have learnt the lesson of taking the points when they are on offer and playing field position to build pressure.

"It's interesting to hear the calls of ''run it'' from the crowd when you are at the ground. This is fool's gold. Sometimes it is easier to play without the ball to build pressure. I am not advocating kicking aimlessly, but if you are getting knocked back phase after phase, the better option might be kicking strategically."

Cause for concern

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/22/2011

Toby Robson reviews the All Blacks' opening Test of the year - against Fiji - and finds cause for concern in the performance of Ali Williams on

"Graham Henry would have had as many crosses as ticks in his notepad after the All Blacks' first test match of the season.

"The highlighter should have gone through the names of first five-eighth Colin Slade, flanker Adam Thomson, wing Sitiveni Sivivatu and halfback Piri Weepu.

"Those four grabbed their opportunities with both hands during a 60-14 win over Fiji that gave little away about any revolutionary tactical changes that may be in store in World Cup season.

"It's only a start, but Henry will have been less enthused about kick-off receptions and lineouts or the untidy comeback test of lock Ali Williams."

The golden child

Posted by Huw Baines on 07/22/2011

Ruaidhri O'Connor analyses the World Cup prospects of Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald in The Irish Independent.

"If being left out of Ireland's 2007 World Cup squad at the age of 19 came as a shock to Luke Fitzgerald, imagine how he felt about being dropped during this year's Six Nations.

"Until recently, Fitzgerald didn't do doubts -- he has always been the most single-minded of young sportsmen. He was simply fulfilling his long anointed promise -- the golden child of the schools scene was checking off achievements along the way to greatness.

"But over the last 18 months Fitzgerald has had cause to question himself as never before. Injury, loss of form and criticism were all new to a rising star who hit a bump in the road."

July 21, 2011

A unique view on the RFU's council

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/21/2011

Moore wonders whether former RFU chairman Martyn Thomas should still be part of the organisation © Getty Images

Brian Moore, writing for The Daily Telegraph, provides his take on the RFU's committee.

"The study of history is important to learn from past mistakes and to avoid their repetition. As English rugby appears to be experiencing Groundhog Day, it is a safe bet that there are few history graduates at the Rugby Football Union.

Sixteen years ago the RFU was convulsed by two years of internecine warfare in which one of the chief protagonists was Cliff Brittle. In 1996 the RFU commissioned a High Court Judge (Gerald Butler) to investigate, among other things, the way Brittle was running the union.

The judge was highly critical of Brittle’s actions, but instead of acknowledging his shortcomings, Brittle chose to completely dismiss the findings, blaming everyone else. He received support from, among others, the then chairman of the Reform Group, Martyn Thomas. The general committee proved impotent and supine, and from all of this the RFU lost some very good people, casualties of the zealous and blind support of Brittle."

Legend supports Giteau

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/21/2011

Tim Horan lends his support to dropped Wallabies fly-half Matt Giteau in The Courier Mail.

"Some Wallabies may have played themselves out of a World Cup spot last weekend against Samoa, but Matt Giteau certainly wasn't one of them.

There's been plenty of speculation about Giteau's World Cup future after being left out of the Wallabies' 22-man squad to play South Africa this week.

For a number of reasons I would not only have selected him in this weekend's 22, but I would have him on the plane to New Zealand as well.

Giteau is a talented player who can cover three spots in the Wallabies: five-eighth, centre and halfback.

Robbie Deans has gone with a five forwards-two backs bench to play the Springboks and if you are carrying only two back reserves, they need to be as versatile as possible."

Renaissance of Sivivatu

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/21/2011

All Blacks winger Sitiveni Sivivatu talks to Marc Hinton, of The Dominion Post, about proving a point on Friday against Fiji.

"Sitiveni Sivivatu may be on the ropes, but the experienced All Blacks wing sounds like he's determined to come out swinging.

The 29-year-old Sivivatu was a notable omission from Graham Henry's initial squad of 30 for Friday's clash against Fiji leading into the abbreviated Tri-Nations which kicks off for the All Blacks just a week later.

But the Waikato flyer earned a stay of execution when he was included among a quartet of injury replacements to cover for, among others, crocked back-three men Hosea Gear, Israel Dagg and Isaia Toeava."

New look Boks

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/21/2011

Simnikiwe Xabanisa, of the South AfricanTimes, eagerly anticipates seeing the new look Springbok XV take on Australia on Saturday.

"The South African sports fan is a beast after my own heart.

I've worked out that one of the main reasons I'm still wasting precious space on this planet is because I tend to go through life dikbek. An eternal pessimist, my theory is that I'm double-daring life into surprising me in spite of itself.

The reverse psychology has worked a treat: I've worked for a newspaper I never thought I'd work for when I was dreaming of being a chartered accountant, and I've been to places that were never on the horizon when the sun set in the old Ciskei.

Hell, I've had girlfriends - current one included - who I never thought would look twice at me when I was bribing girls to accompany me to the matric dance."

Memorable Samoa

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/21/2011

Peter Bills, of the Independent, looks back at a memorable weekend for Samoa.

"A single rugby result last weekend will have caused something close to panic in a lot of major rugby unions around the world. For sure, eyebrows will have been raised inside the Welsh and Springbok camps.

Samoa’s 32-23 victory over the Australians in Sydney sent a shockwave through the world’s leading teams with the Rugby World Cup now less than two months away.

No wonder Wallaby captain Rocky Elsom looked shell shocked after the defeat at ANZ Stadium on Sunday. No wonder he kept shaking his head and repeating himself, saying “I am not happy about it.” It was as if Elsom was in a daze, unable to comprehend the magnitude of what had happened."

Sign the Giteau petition

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/21/2011

Former Australia coaches Eddie Jones and John Connolly throw their weight behind the campaign to support under-fire Wallabies fly-half Matt Giteau in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"The past two coaches to take Australia to a World Cup have criticised Robbie Deans's decision to axe Matt Giteau and are adamant he should be the starting inside centre at this year's tournament.

Eddie Jones and John Connolly jumped to Giteau's defence after the departing Brumby was left out of the 22-man Test squad to play South Africa on Saturday night.

Jones said Deans had ''pulled the wrong rope'' by dropping Giteau, while Connolly rated the 28-year-old as one of the mentally toughest players he had seen."

The mysterious case of Mr Crockett

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/21/2011

Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald casts his eye over the case of All Blacks prop Wyatt Crockett.

"In many ways Wyatt Crockett is in an awkward position.

He does not fit the standard physical description for a loosehead prop and is one of the standby quartet involved in the All Black squad preparations.

But tomorrow night at Carisbrook he steps out in the No 1 jersey for his fourth test appearance against Fiji after a year of outstanding form for the Crusaders.

When the side was revealed yesterday, other key features were the inclusion of Jarrad Hoeata for his debut, at lock, alongside the repaired Ali Williams and the start at five-eighths for Colin Slade."

July 20, 2011

End of the road for Giteau?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/20/2011

Matt Giteau is delicately poised on 92 caps for the Wallabies © Getty Images

The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden ponders whether Matt Giteau will ever reach a centurion of caps for the Wallabies.

"Matt Giteau will have to rely on injuries in the back line to realise his dream of playing 100 Tests for Australia before he leaves for France after being dropped from the 22-man squad to play the Springboks in Sydney on Saturday night.

Selectors delivered the clear message yesterday they are now looking beyond Giteau by picking Pat McCabe at inside-centre and having midfielder Anthony Faingaa on the bench for the Tri Nations opener.

Team management also made it obvious that as there was now such versatility in the starting XV back line, there was no need to have Giteau even on the bench.

It is premature to say Giteau's international days are over because of a shortage in experience in the five-eighth and centre ranks, but it will be difficult for the 92-Test capped player to force his way back into a fully fit line-up."

No upset in the pipeline

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/20/2011

Duncan Johnstone, of The Dominion Post, believes there is no chance of Fiji repeating Samoa's heroics against the All Blacks on Friday.

Rest easy - the All Blacks won't do a Wallabies on Friday night. They have given Fiji far more respect than the Aussies afforded Samoa last weekend.

Graham Henry and his selectors look to have come up with a good blend for the opening test of the year.

Yes, some stars are rested, but not the wholesale approach that Robbie Deans came up with.

Of course Henry has the luxury of far more depth and that is apparent in the side who will take the field at Carisbrook.

The starting XV have 531 test caps amongst them and there's the insurance of another 216 test caps on the bench, including Dan Carter to help right any wrongs if things go haywire.

Not that they should. This isn't a first choice All Blacks side by any means - but it's still a pretty fine looking side."

Samoan superstars

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/20/2011

The New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue reflects on Australia's loss to Samoa.

"The day is fast approaching when one of the small Pacific Island nations will, with any luck, genuinely challenge for the Rugby World Cup and that day can't come quick enough.

Somewhere along the line, a so-called minnow is fully capable of going beyond the cameo stage, especially if world rugby stops treating them like also-rans.

Samoa's brilliant win over Australia was a fantastic shot in the arm for rugby, and not the least because it exposed the major nations for what they are - vastly overrated.

Okay, so Australia didn't quite have the top team out, but Samoa - who face hurdles far beyond anything the Wallabies could envisage - were fully capable of beating whatever lineup Robbie Deans selected."

Epic Parks

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/20/2011

Richard Parks, talking to Matt Lloyd of The Independent, speaks of his epic 737 challenge.

"It was in rugby that Richard Parks made his name but after almost losing part of his foot to severe frostbite, surviving a brush with death in a crevasse and dodging collapsing ice shelves, avalanches and even malaria, it will be as Britain's fastest adventurer that history will now remember him.

On the pitch, the former Wales international was a robust and athletic loose forward unfortunate to play at the same time as Martyn Williams, otherwise more representative honours would surely have come.

However, no one can put him in the shade on the world's highest peaks and polar caps, where this remarkable record-breaker stands peerless after achieving mountaineering's "Grand Slam" in record time"

O'Connor has his kicking boots on

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/20/2011

Wallaby James O'Connor, speaking to the Courier Mail, believes he stole a march on team-mate Quade Cooper during training after the utility back was awarded the kicking duties for Saturday's Tri-Nations opener against the Springboks.

"James O'Connor reckons he only got the nod to be the Wallabies' first-choice goal-kicker after he upstaged teammate Quade Cooper at a recent training session.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is spoilt for choice in the goal-kicking department ahead of Saturday's clash with South Africa, with O'Connor, Cooper and Kurtley Beale all handy sharpshooters.

Beale slotted the winning goal from beyond halfway to beat the Springboks last year in Bloemfontein.

Cooper had a 67.27 per cent success rate for the Queensland Reds during the Super Rugby season, and O'Connor is the incumbent kicker."

July 19, 2011

Deans in the spotlight

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/19/2011

Robbie Deans' selection policy has been slammed by a former Wallaby © Getty Images

Former Wallaby Sam Scott-Young, talking to the Courier Mail, has voiced his displeasure at Robbie Deans' selection policy in the aftermath of Sunday's Test against Samoa.

"Robbie Deans has been slammed for cheapening the Australian jersey by resting stars in a "brain fade" that has compromised the aura of the Wallabies eight weeks out from a World Cup.

That Is the forthright view of former Wallaby Sam Scott-Young, who plans to voice his displeasure when he mingles with the Australian coach at a function in Sydney tomorrow night.

Scott-Young, a fiery backrower during his Test days, is still boiling over Australia's needless 32-23 Test humiliation by a superb Samoan team in Sydney last Sunday."

Donald mystery

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/19/2011

Even Pedgen of the Dominion Post looks at the mystery of where All Blacks fly-half Stephen Donald will end up.

"Just where Stephen Donald is heading to play his rugby becomes more like an unfolding mystery novel the longer he leaves his announcement of his plans.

The latest revelation from a Sunday paper that he is heading to the Blues in Auckland for next year's Super Rugby season has been met by denials so vigorous from the Blues and the Chiefs that it seems the story is way off beam.

But if Donald is heading to Britain or Ireland to play his professional rugby at the end of the year it seems curious a deal has not yet been done, or at least announced.We can't ask him because for the last couple of weeks the Waikato first five-eighth has put himself off limits to the media."

Price gouging

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/19/2011

Dylan Cleaver of the New Zealand Herald looks at the sky-high prices visitors to New Zealand will experience during the World Cup.

"Ticket sales for the Rugby World Cup have soared past one million, but the boss of world rugby says he is disappointed some New Zealanders are price gouging.

International Rugby Board chief Mike Miller warns that if visitors to the country for the cup feel they have been taken advantage of, they will not come back.

Mr Miller, who is visiting from Dublin, says this will almost certainly be the last time NZ hosts the World Cup in a lifetime."

All-black malaise

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/19/2011

Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail reflects on England's decision to wear an all-black strip for the World Cup.

"There are many sporting institutions known by their colours, many reds and blues and even baggy greens; but there is only one team in world sport that is entirely defined, tip to toe, by the chromaticity of its kit.

The All Blacks.

Bitter rivals such as Liverpool and Manchester United both lay claim to redness and last season three teams in the Premier League alone could have been considered the Blues (Birmingham City, Chelsea and Everton). Yet mention the All Blacks and recognition is instant. No imagination is even needed to conjure a mental image. The All Blacks are New Zealand’s rugby union team and nothing else."

July 18, 2011

Lessons for the Wallabies

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

Samoa's Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu celebrates his side's victory over Australia in Sydney © Getty Images

In his column for the Sydney Morning Herald, John Eales reflects on a recent reunion for the 1991 Rugby World Cup-winning Wallabies and offers a few tips for their 2011 counterparts.

"One: Respect every opposition. In the opening minutes yesterday, when the Wallabies kicked to touch rather than taking the three points on offer for a penalty goal, they played into Samoa's hands.

Subconsciously they sent the message that this was a game they expected to win. So when they didn't leave with points it was a huge fillip for the Samoans. Similarly, in attack they too often moved sideways rather than forward to confront their bustling opposition. There are no short cuts to victory, and there is no victory if at first you do not respect the basics.

Two: Age, experience and reputation don't matter as much as form. It's nice to have a mix of youth and experience and big names can be comforting, but it's more important to have players in form.

Ewen McKenzie, current Reds coach and tight-head prop from the class of '91, followed this policy through to the Super Rugby title and it has always been a mantra of Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. With most of the in-form Reds rested after their campaign, the Wallabies were left fielding players who had limited success this season."

Wales beware

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

The Western Mail feels a chill in the air in the wake of Samoa's headline-grabbing victory over Australia - just a few short months before they clash at the Rugby World Cup.

"Wales coach Warren Gatland, his coaching staff and the players know of Samoa’s threat anyway, but yesterday’s major upset will have hammered home just how dangerous they are as the World Cup beckons.

A quarter-final place at this autumn’s World Cup should be the minimum requirement for Gatland’s men, but with Samoa producing these sort of performances it isn’t going to be straightforward by any means.

After Wales open their campaign against defending champions South Africa in Pool D on September 11, they come head-to-head with Samoa a week later before taking on minnows Namibia and then Fiji, their perennial bogey team.

It was the Fijians who sent Wales crashing out of the last World Cup and Gatland and co will know that if Wales aren’t firing on all cylinders it could be another early exit this time around."

Silence greets Boks in Oz

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

The Independent's Mike Greenaway reports from the Springboks' low-key arrival in Australia.

"It was an almost eerily subdued arrival for the Springboks in Sydney on Sunday, with barely a soul acknowledging their presence at the arrivals hall when in previous years the full-strength Boks have been accustomed to being trumpeted onto the bus to the tune of Sarie Marais by a Cape-style band, while thronged by autograph-hunting, homesick green-and-gold clad expats.

Maybe the day lost to the recalcitrant Engine No 3 on Friday’s QF 64 spoiled the planning party, and the total no-show of Aussie reporters (not one – never mind the usual TV crews) at the arrivals press opportunity was mostly because of the Test match against Samoa that had ended not long before the Boks landed at about 8pm local time.

“Where is everybody?” captain John Smit smiled rhetorically. “Ah well, I guess they are not excepting too much from us but for the life of me I don’t know why. But I reckon we can be very assured that this loss to Samoa we have just heard about is going to shake things up a bit this week and I think we might see the heat being taken off us being the ones accused of fielding a second-strong side ...”

Steele highlighted RFU malaise

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Gavin Mairs offers further insight into the yet-to-be published Blackett review into the events surrounding the sacking of former RFU chief executive John Steele.

"Following internal and external surveys, Steele assessed there was “poor leadership, a lack of direction and poor management of operations” and that the RFU “thought it was a better organisation than it actually was”. Steele found that “income generation took priority” and the decision-making process was “complex”.

Of more concern was a survey of the governing body’s stakeholders that revealed “less than half felt the RFU dealt with them honestly and openly and over half felt that the RFU did not listen to them or act on their concerns and issues”.

The morale of RFU staff appeared to be in even worse condition. Steele found there was no emphasis on “people development, no collaborative leadership and low empowerment”.

Confusing tale of signing that never was

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

The New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue tries to get to the bottom of Stephen Donald's on-off move from the Chiefs to Bath to the Blues.

"A player like Donald might perfectly complement [Gareth] Anscombe as he takes the early steps in his Super 15 career, but his presence could also be an impediment if the coaches keep leaning on experience and the young player continually feels insecure about his position.

The Super 15 should not be regarded in an overly exalted way. It is a physically arduous tournament, yes, and one which will test a rookie's endurance and concentration. But the standard this season was often very ordinary.

The real story concerning the development of Gareth Anscombe is the Blues' outright failure to establish a star No 10, relying instead on the fly-by-nighters Stephen Brett and Luke McAlister this year. Brett was a Cantabrian through and through who fell out of their queue. McAlister's idea of dedication to any cause was summed up by his North Harbour no-show last week."

Mighty Samoa send Cup warning

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, David Leggat hails Samoa's historic victory over Australia in Sydney.

"Samoa were terrific. They threw themselves into their work, bruised a few Wallaby bones as well as egos and showed that they are tuning up just fine for the big show starting in 53 days' time.

As ever, get them on a roll and you've got problems. The object of these games, including the All Blacks' run against Fiji in Dunedin on Friday night, is to run through the playbook and come away with plenty of ticks in the positives column. Deans will have jotted down precious few last night.

Samoa have form for this. Remember the 1991 World Cup, when they turned over, oh yes, Wales, at their national stadium. Pool D is suddenly alive with possibilities. South Africa, Samoa, Fiji, Wales and Namibia. This won't be viewing for the faint-hearted.

As for Australia? They need to regroup fast. South Africa are in Sydney this week."

A primal scream for fans

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/18/2011

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter FitzSimons reflects on Australia's shock defeat to Samoa.

"Six years ago, in the same game, the Wallabies won 74-7 and were expected to double the dose this time. For how could a side from a nation of only 180,000 people, with only 7000 senior players to pick from, who've lost five of their last six Tests, possibly compete against a two-time world champion team of Australians, in Australia, la creme de la creme of 40,000 players?

An easy victory beckoned. Instead, of course, our blokes were reduced to a bloodied and muddied bunch of Goliaths as a courageous and wonderful bunch of Davids in blue jerseys cut them down to size, ran them ragged and then danced on their rugby graves.

And it was no fluke. From the moment the enormous Samoan winger Alesana Tuilagi scored the opening try, the Wallabies were reeling as blue wave after blue wave kept crashing on them and three more tries followed. The Wallabies' two tries in reply were well constructed but in terms of bridging the gap were no more effective than throwing a couple of rocks into the Grand Canyon. As the Wallaby captain Rocky Elsom said after the match: "They played better than us, and won."

July 17, 2011

The wake-up call Australia needs

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/17/2011

Australia struggled to cope with Samoa's physicality in Sydney on Sunday © Getty Images

Peter Fitzsimons of WA Today reflects on Samoa's remarkable 32-23 victory over the Wallabies on Sunday and argues that it might prove a blessing in disguise for Robbie Deans' men.

"Nobody told them there'd be days like this! In terms of stunning upsets in sport, the 32-23 victory of the Samoan Test side over the Wallabies at the Olympic Stadium yesterday was absolutely stunning.

"Six years ago, in the same game, the Wallabies won 74-7 and were expected to double the dose this time. For how could a side from a nation of only 180,000 people, with only 7000 senior players to pick from, who've lost five of their last six Tests, possibly compete against a two-time world champion team of Australians, in Australia, la creme de la creme of 40,000 players?

"An easy victory beckoned. Instead, of course, our blokes were reduced to a bloodied and muddied bunch of Goliaths as a courageous and wonderful bunch of Davids in blue jerseys cut them down to size, ran them ragged and then danced on their rugby graves."

Graham Henry finally faces the ugly truth

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/17/2011

Marc Hinton of The Dominion Post believes that All Blacks head coach Graham Henry has now realised that, when it comes to this year's World Cup, winning is all that matters.

"For the first time in his eight years in charge of the All Blacks, Graham Henry appears ready to embrace the art of winning ugly.

"Not before time, some would suggest, no doubt with a roll of the eyes. Finally, it would appear the penny has dropped when it comes to the demands of the quadrennial test of fortitude known as the Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks have long preferred expression over pragmatism, and many would argue that it has been the major contributor to a 24-year world cup drought.

"Where Australia, England and South Africa have all grasped the need to be prosaic rather than pretty in the white-hot atmosphere of a world cup, All Blacks sides ever since 1987 have ignored it to their cost. It has even seemed in the past that the All Blacks would rather not win at all than win ugly."

AB back where he started

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/17/2011

In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, Derren Witcombe talks about his long road to recovery after a career-ending neck injury.

"Derren Witcombe didn't know what he was going to do. His rugby career went down with him after his neck injury in a collapsed scrum during Auckland's opening game of the 2007 Air New Zealand Cup campaign.

"The former All Blacks hooker had always been told his rugby career could be over at any time but Witcombe had hoped it might be years later than 28. His neck, however, dealt to those thoughts. He had spent time in forestry before becoming a professional rugby player but didn't have many options.

"Four years later, Witcombe is very clear about what he wants to do. Yesterday, he was back where his professional career started, this time coaching the Northland forward pack in their ITM Cup season opener against Tasman. At 32, he is one of the youngest professional coaches in the country. It's been an incredible and somewhat fortuitous journey."

Wallace sharpens focus for battles that lie ahead

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/17/2011

Veteran flanker David Wallace speaks to the Irish Independent as Ireland begin their World Cup preparations.

"Carton House was a busy place to be last week - especially the gym. The latest stop for the juggernaut that is Ireland's pre-World Cup camp was the luxurious hotel and its gym and, according to David Wallace, there was plenty of competition between the players when it came to the sessions.

"Although the Limerick man refused to divulge the name of the biggest show-off, he did admit that there was lots of peer pressure and plenty of banter too. But that doesn't mean the Ireland squad was not working hard. They divided their time between the gym and the pitch doing a variety of sessions. Plenty of conditioning, weights, skills, and fitness work with a few practice games thrown in too.

"After the conditioning, which takes a lot out of the players, they have down days to rest and gather themselves for the next block of training. The levels of preparation that players put in have pretty much come full circle since Wallace started playing professional rugby."

Why have so many survived this pantomime?

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/17/2011

Writing in The Telegraph, Brian Moore offers a scathing critique of the current state of the English game's governing body.

"Shambles; farce; meltdown - these emotive words have all been applied to the RFU in the past few weeks, but they are not melodramatic; they are, if anything, understatements of the actualities at Twickenham.

"Even the report of the RFU’s chief disciplinary officer HHJ Blackett, the very report commissioned to examine what went wrong and why, was unable to be fully written because of defects in process and detailed legal agreements.

"It evidences an organisation that is at best dysfunctional and at worse anarchic. In it Blackett stated that many members of the RFU council do not trust the Board and many members of staff do not trust the management of the Union. That is the depth to which the richest union in world rugby has sunk and anyone with any regard for the good of English rugby cannot misunderstand what is at stake here."

July 16, 2011

Continuing the success

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/16/2011

Following the success of the Reds in Super Rugby, the pressure is on the Wallabies and Robbie Deans to deliver on the international stage © Getty Images

The Sydney Morning Herald's Spiro Zavos analyses Australia head coach Robbie Deans' task of transferring the nation's success in Super Rugby across to the Wallabies.

"The long march for World Cup glory for the Wallabies reaches its first staging point tomorrow afternoon with the Test against Samoa.

The Wallabies will play four more Tests, with home and away matches against New Zealand and South Africa, as the march continues, then Robbie Deans will name his 30 players for the World Cup.

They will carry high hopes, no matter what happens in the Tri Nations tournament. It is a truism that the Wallabies have played above their weight, in terms of world rankings, in previous World Cups. With two titles out of six tournaments, the Wallabies are the second most successful World Cup team, behind the Springboks, with two titles in four."

Mixed emotions

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/16/2011

Ireland's Rory Best, talking to of the Irish Independent, looks ahead to Ireland's poignant game against the USA on September 11.

"Rory Best has revealed that the Irish squad have already discussed the emotional impact of staging their match against the USA on September 11.

Ireland open their World Cup campaign against Eddie O'Sullivan's Eagles on the 10th anniversary of the tragic events of 2001 in New York and the hooker believes the opponents will be intent on commemorating those who suffered by putting in a performance in New Zealand.

With their former coach and keen psychologist O'Sullivan in charge, Best and his colleagues know that the coach will use the significance of the day to get a performance out of his team, who will be massive underdogs."

All Blacks shake up

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/16/2011

All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith, talking to the Dominion Post, hints at a change in New Zealand's tactics ahead of the World Cup.

"There will be as much intrigue in the All Blacks' ulterior tactics as the first players chosen to implement them in next week's opening test against Fiji.

With many of the extended 34-man squad suffering from fatigue and disrepair, the two-day camp in Auckland this week consisted of classroom lessons, rather than outdoor preparations.

Clarity of game plan was the focal message delivered by former headmaster Graham Henry and his assistants as the squad were schooled on how best to adjust their skills from Super Rugby to the international arena.

All three All Blacks coaches have sat back, for six months, analysing the ever-changing rugby landscape across both hemispheres."

Christchurch calling

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/16/2011

Duncan Johnstone, of the Dominion Post, writes about the All Blacks' decision to visit Christchurch on Sunday.

"A group of All Blacks will visit Christchurch tomorrow to hand out tickets to next week's All Blacks test against Fiji, meet residents of some of the hardest-hit parts of the city and personally thank the city's emergency services.

Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Adam Thomson will present specially designed jerseys to representatives from Canterbury's emergency services as the All Blacks kick off a week of activity ahead of Friday's test in Dunedin which is a fundraiser for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.

The players will also hand out tickets - donated by All Blacks sponsors adidas, Air New Zealand and Telecom - to young rippa rugby teams from Burnside and New Brighton Rugby clubs and to earthquake affected Christchurch residents."

All-black fallout

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/16/2011

TheNew Zealand Herald looks at the fallout from the RFU's decision to release an all-black kit for the World Cup.

"No, that's not New Zealand playing boring 10-man rugby, just England wearing black.

The England rugby team's reported plans to wear a black strip at the Rugby World Cup haven't bothered the All Blacks much but fans have voiced their outrage on a Facebook protest page called Get Our Gear Off.

The 2003 world champions, who traditionally wear white, will open their tournament by wearing a black jersey and shorts combination against Argentina in Dunedin on September 10, the Daily Mail reports."

July 15, 2011

England All Blacks?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/15/2011

England have worn red, purple and navy blue away kits in the past © Getty Images

Luke Benedict, writing for the Daily Mail, reveals England have been taking fashion advice from their New Zealand rivals.

"The England rugby team will wear an all black strip when they kick off their World Cup campaign against Argentina in New Zealand.

The decision to wear the new 'away' strip for their opening pool match in Dunedin on September 10 is certain to ruffle a few Kiwi feathers and could even spark a diplomatic row with the host nation before a ball has been kicked.

Both the shirt and the shorts of the new strip are jet black with no other colour except for the Red Rose badge."

Domestic rugby returns

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/15/2011

TheNew Zealand Herald's Dylan Cleaver previews the ITM Cup.

"The timing, in every sense, is a long way from ideal.

"The national provincial championship, known for the past two seasons as the ITM Cup, this year undergoes a radical overhaul while being shoehorned into the narrow window between the Super 15 and the World Cup.

"Over the next seven days 11 matches will be played. By the time you get your heads around the intricacies of the new format, it will be over and we'll have moved on to our quadrennial anxiety attack.

"This much we can tell you. Last year's 14-team ITM Cup has been split into a seven-team Premiership and seven-team Championship, based on the finishing position in 2010. The top seven - Canterbury, Waikato, Auckland, Wellington, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and Southland - make up the Premiership. "

Who will step up?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/15/2011

Dylan Cleaver, writing for the New Zealand Herald, begins the search for Dan Carter's replacement.

"It's time to start scratching a seven-year itch.

"Since Daniel Carter made the No 10 jersey his own at the end of 2004, the search for an heir apparent has been long and largely fruitless.

"Nick Evans came closest to establishing himself as a genuine world-class back-up, but he left post-'07 World Cup for a more lucrative life with the Harlequins of London having never fully felt the love of the national panel.

"In the intervening years, Carter has for the most part held firm, while Stephen Donald, Luke McAlister, Mike Delany and Aaron Cruden have been given opportunities to start tests wearing the No 10. "

World Cup build up

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/15/2011

Matt Burke, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, previews Australia's clash with Samoa.

"The Wallabies have a rare afternoon Test match on Sunday and the players would enjoy looking forward to playing an expansive game, but as I look into the crystal ball of weather predictions it may be a little wet.

Perhaps this is a good starting point for the World Cup campaign as there is the possibility they will be facing indifferent conditions in New Zealand. Understanding how to play and adapt to conditions you are not too familiar with is important to a team's success.

However, what needs to be at the forefront during the next couple of weeks is not to worry about the conditions but the influence of strong leadership. This week hails the welcome return of captain Rocky Elsom after his frustrating Super Rugby season where he spent most of his time observing from the sidelines."

Growden investigates

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/15/2011

Greg Growden, of the Sydney Morning Herald, looks at the situation at the Waratahs, the Reds win and rugby fashion in his weekly take on rugby.

"Perfect timing. The rising Wallabies have it, Kiwis have the jitters because their All Blacks never do and the uncertain Springboks may just be three years beyond their peak.

"In a twinkling, the rugby universe has spun from a Reds-tinted craze of fist-pumping, delirious trophy lifting and victory parades into a countdown to the World Cup.

"Those rugby fans who always considered the showpiece tournament as a distant horizon will have it flooding their senses from now until Cup kick-off in 56 days.

"In the same fortnight that the Reds were celebrating a record Super Rugby crowd of 52,113, organisers saluted the sale of the 1,000,000th ticket to New Zealand's World Cup."

All coming together

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/15/2011

Jim Tucker, of the Courier Mail, believes the Wallabies are peaking at the right time ahead of Sunday's clash against Samoa.

"Perfect timing. The rising Wallabies have it, Kiwis have the jitters because their All Blacks never do and the uncertain Springboks may just be three years beyond their peak.

"In a twinkling, the rugby universe has spun from a Reds-tinted craze of fist-pumping, delirious trophy lifting and victory parades into a countdown to the World Cup.

"Those rugby fans who always considered the showpiece tournament as a distant horizon will have it flooding their senses from now until Cup kick-off in 56 days.

"In the same fortnight that the Reds were celebrating a record Super Rugby crowd of 52,113, organisers saluted the sale of the 1,000,000th ticket to New Zealand's World Cup."

July 14, 2011

Where now for the RFU?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/14/2011

Former RFU CEO John Steele with England boss Martin Johnson and Rob Andrew in happier times © Getty Images

Brian Moore, writing for the Daily Telegraph, provides his view of the recent developments at the RFU.

"Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, along comes another staggering act of maladministration that leaves you wondering where it will all end; no, not News International, the Rugby Football Union — again.

"The John Steele debacle exposed the almost negligent stewardship of the RFU’s management board in allowing a situation whereby the RFU does not have a chief executive officer, finance director, head of human resources or director of performance.

"The board asked its chief disciplinary officer, Jeff Blackett, to head a five-man inquiry and report before the meeting of the RFU’s council last Sunday.

"In just three weeks, following the accumulation of a staggering amount of evidence, a 52-page report with recommendations was produced.."

Henson to return?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/14/2011

Andy Howell, of the Western Mail , believes Gavin Henson will be included in Wales' second boot camp in Poland.

"Warren Gatland is ready to hand a huge World Cup boost to Gavin Henson and Welsh back-row youngsters Toby Faletau and Josh Turnbull.

"The trio are set to get Gatland’s nod for the second pre-World Cup training trip to Poland which starts in Spala on Monday, after impressing during the first visit.

"But their good news could be countered by bad news for a crop of other players who look in danger of missing the cut.

"Senior back-row men Andy Powell and Jonathan Thomas are amongst those Gatland seems likely to leave behind, with young guns Faletau and Turnbull being given the chance to impress the coach instead."

Talking the talk

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/14/2011

Wellington's Jeremy Thrush, talking to The Dominion Post's Hamish Bidwell, is determined to make the 2011 ITM Cup a successful campaign.

"Sounds like the Hurricanes' younger brigade have finally found their voice.

Having watched askance, as the senior members of their Super Rugby squad tore the franchise apart this year, their would-be successors have cried "no more".

Yesterday was meant to be the launch of Wellington's season, but it turned into the final scuttling of the Hurricanes' ill-fated 2011 voyage.

Having had his captaincy of the Lions confirmed, Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush used yesterday as an opportunity to put some distance between his team and the events of the past Super Rugby season."

Experimental XV

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/14/2011

Greg Growden, of the Sydney Morning Herald , casts his eye over Robbie Deans' Wallaby XV which will face Samoa.

"Meet the Wallabies' ''holding pattern'' Test XV.

No one should start believing the Wallabies have taken a radical detour down a back alley by including so many new names to play Samoa at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, because it has more to do with resting numerous overworked Super Rugby champions and experimenting in several positions while they can.

Normal transmission will resume next week when Will Genia, Quade Cooper, David Pocock, Kurtley Beale and James Horwill return to the Test starting line-up, when the season steps up a gear with the first round of the Tri Nations against the Springboks in Sydney."

Slow ticket sales

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/14/2011

Steve Hepburn, of the New Zealand Herald , looks at the slow ticket sales for New Zealand's clash with Fiji.

"New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew admits he is concerned about the slow ticket sales for the test at Carisbrook next week but says the union will break even on the game.

Just over 10,000 tickets have been sold for the test between the All Blacks and Fiji at Carisbrook on July 22, well short of the capacity 28,000 crowd that has filled Carisbrook for the past three tests.

Tew believed there were various reasons for the slow ticket sales."

July 13, 2011

Ted's Army

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/13/2011

The All Blacks at the forthcoming World Cup may have an older average age than England did in 2003 © Getty Images

The New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue looks at the average age of the All Blacks ahead of the World Cup.

"Looking for a World Cup omen?

"Here's one - the All Blacks' top starting side might be older than the English team which won the 2003 World Cup final in Australia.

"Yes folks, Ted's Army will be older than Dad's Army, the nickname given to Clive Woodward's victorious mob. His English troops were allegedly so well aged that youngsters gave up their seats for them on the bus. Well, that was the image, if not the reality.

"By my calculations, the England team which started against Australia in the final averaged a touch over 28. The following is a lineup Graham Henry might have in mind: Mils Muliaina, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. If this team happened to start the World Cup final in late October, the average age would be close to 29."

Where now for Wallaby front row?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/13/2011

Greg Growden, of the Sydney Morning Herald , looks at Australia's front row options following Benn Alexander's season ending injury.

"The Wallabies front-row stocks have already been exposed after loose-head prop Benn Robinson limped off the training paddock with a knee injury yesterday, placing him in serious doubt for Sunday's Test against Samoa.

"As many of the Reds players and key Wallabies such as Rocky Elsom and David Pocock were allowed to sit out training, it was difficult to work out what exactly will be the Australian Test line-up before it is announced this morning.

"The only certainty appeared to be that the Test front-row would be Robinson, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander at tighthead. But this all changed when Robinson was hurt during an attacking drill and hobbled off Coogee Oval feeling his right knee."

Tense relations

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/13/2011

The Daily Telegraph's Gavin Mairs looks at the tense relationship between Sport England and the RFU.

"Thomas was forced to resign after six years in the role at the RFU’s council meeting on Sunday following the presentation of a fiercely critical review into the sacking of John Steele as chief executive last month.

"The review, which had been compiled by a five-man panel led by the RFU’s disciplinary officer, Judge Jeff Blackett, had recommended that Thomas and nine non-executive members of the board step down for their handling of the appointment and subsequent sacking of Steele, nine months into his role.

"Thomas retained his position as acting chief executive only after Blackett was shown an email during the course of his presentation that Thomas’s lawyers would issue a writ for defamation if the review was published. The council later voted for the review not to be made public, against Blackett’s wishes, and rejected the call for the board to step down, which allowed Thomas to remain as acting chief executive."

The vanishing McAlister

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/13/2011

The Dominion Post's Liam Napier looks into the bizarre no-show of North Harbour's New Zealand international Luke McAlister.

"Luke McAlister is in hot water after seemingly walking out on North Harbour.

The 30-test All Black failed to front for training on Monday and hasn't returned frantic calls from Harbour management.

He has subsequently been scratched from tomorrow's ITM Cup opener against Otago.

McAlister failed to make the 30-man All Black squad on Sunday and there is a belief at Harbour that he has done a runner to French club Toulouse, which he is contracted to at the end of the season.

Charlie McAlister, Luke's father, has weighed into the debate, saying the reason his son missed training was because of a sick child."


Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/13/2011

The New Zealand Herald's Michael Dickison believes the New Zealand public will prefer to watch the World Cup on TV rather than live.

"Only one in 10 New Zealanders plan to attend more than one Rugby World Cup game, a new poll shows.

"The latest Fly Buys/Colmar Brunton Mood of the New Zealand Traveller Survey, released by the Tourism Industry Association, found that 70 per cent of Kiwis plan to watch games on television and 15 per cent plan to go to stadiums.

"Fly Buys chief executive Lance Walker said the poll showed New Zealanders did not want to miss the historic event."

July 12, 2011

What next for Blackett?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/12/2011

Will Judge Jeff Blackett leave the RFU in the wake of the recent developments? © Getty Images

The Daily Telegraph's Graham Clutton wonders what Judge Jeff Blackett will do next following the RFU's reception of his report into John Steele's departure from the organisation.

"The board of directors survived a vote of no confidence at the RFU’s annual meeting on Sunday despite a damning 52-page report that recommended their removal following the controversial sacking of chief executive John Steele last month.

"The majority of the RFU’s council, which met at Twickenham on Sunday morning, was expected to back the recommendations of the report, compiled by a five-man panel, chaired by Blackett.

"Furthermore, it is understood that a significant number agreed to back a vote of no confidence in the board, which would have forced the directors to quit en bloc."

All Blacks running scared

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/12/2011

The Sydney Morning Herald's Marc Hinton says the Reds' Quade Cooper and Will Genia have got the All Blacks running scared.

"This is how grave things have got. Even the All Blacks hooker is worrying about those influential Aussies Quade Cooper and Will Genia.

Seriously. It may not be exactly consuming Keven Mealamu but the veteran Auckland hooker doesn't mind admitting that after suffering twice at the hands of Queensland's dynamic duo this year, then watching them pick apart the Crusaders in Saturday's Super Rugby final, he's more than a trifle concerned about their growing influence extending to an improving Wallabies outfit.
Many experts believe the Wallabies will present the final, and most significant, hurdle for the All Blacks in their quest to end their 24-year wait for World Cup glory."

Playing it safe

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/12/2011

Dylan Cleaver, writing for the New Zealand Herald, analyses All Blacks coach Graham Henry's test 30.

"This much is true of the All Blacks squad in 2011: the coaches are not interested in "projects" in a World Cup year.

"Graham Henry has chosen to go down a safe route in his 30-man squad and few would blame him in such a high-stakes year.

"The coach and his cohorts Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith are in the envious position of being able to pick a very good side and a very safe one all at once.

"Even the squad's one uncapped player is a relatively sound bet.

"There's no rush to burnish the rough edges off Jarrad Hoeata because his selection is down to the fact that his game is one giant rough edge - he's Brad Thorn when Thorn is not there."

A new Crusade?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/12/2011

Marc Hinton, writing for the Dominion Post, looks at where the Crusaders go from here after their Super Rugby defeat.

"It's rest, not tests that overloaded Crusaders players need in the next few weeks, although All Blacks coach Graham Henry has made it clear that he does not see Richie McCaw in that category.

Henry understands as well as anyone the need to manage the workloads of Crusaders players who have been through not only a gruelling Super Rugby and extended playoff run, but also the unprecedented demand of having to travel for every match.

Throw in the emotional turmoil of the earthquake and its reverberations and Henry has himself a pretty unique situation with a group of players comprising over a third of his expanded 34-man squad.

So the kid gloves will come out for Crusaders players who can expect to be on light duties as the pre-World Cup season gets up and running with a training camp in Auckland later this week. A test against Fiji will follow in Dunedin on July 22, followed quickly by the Tri-Nations kickoff against the Springboks in Wellington eight days later."

Reading the tea leaves

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/12/2011

Peter Bills, writing for the New Zealand Herald, ponders whether any omens can be construed from the Super Rugby final.

"An Australian side playing party poopers? That can't be a good omen for New Zealand rugby in World Cup year.

"But for the watching South Africans, there were some highly valuable lessons to be learned from last weekend's Super 15 final in Brisbane.

"Firstly, a New Zealand side that most assumed would lift the trophy was denied at the last gasp. An omen for the World Cup? It must have given encouragement to John Smit and his men to see the seemingly invincible Kiwi team beaten on the crucial occasion. Maybe New Zealand rugby players have still not got that monkey off their backs of falling over the major hurdle in the biggest competitions."

RFU fiasco

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/12/2011

The Guardian's Paul Rees picks apart the recent development at the RFU.

"Since taking over as the Rugby Football Union's chief disciplinary officer in 2003, Judge Jeff Blackett has placed a premium on transparency, insisting that all his reports are quickly put into the public domain on the governing body's website. He was to find, as he chaired a five-man panel to investigate the goings-on at HQ that led last month to the sacking of John Steele as chief executive, that some of his colleagues swam in murkier waters.

"Blackett had been charged by the RFU's council to look into not just the circumstances of Steele's departure but also his appointment last year. As a member of the legal profession, he insisted that the report be based on evidence which is why he was doubly surprised when, during his address to the council at its meeting at Twickenham on Sunday, he had to pause when the RFU's legal department head, Karena Vleck, received an email from solicitors representing Martyn Thomas, the chairman of the union's board of directors and the acting chief executive since Steele's departure, warning him that if he went ahead and made the panel's report public he would receive a writ for defamation."

July 11, 2011

From rabble to rugby's rousers

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

The Reds celebrate their Super Rugby Final victory over the Crusaders © Getty Images

The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden celebrates the Reds' Super Rugby Final victory over the Crusaders.

"Just four years ago, Queensland rugby was on its knees. In the final round of the 2007 season, it was a down-and-out province that had just suffered the worst moment in its history when the Reds were belted 92-3 by the Bulls in Pretoria. When they returned to Brisbane, the cellar dwellers were justifiably ridiculed for looking like a rabble.

"Adding to the problem was that the Queensland Rugby Union was also in a financial mess. But to its credit, the organisation learnt from its trials and did what it could to pull itself out of the quicksand. To turn it all around in such a short period, culminating in their first professional Super Rugby title on Saturday, is an extraordinary achievement, with everyone at the QRU, from chairman Rod McCall down, deserving enormous credit. Today, it only gets better when the Reds will take part in a ticker-tape parade through Brisbane.

"After the Reds had won - overcoming perplexing scrum and breakdown problems to take advantage of the big moments, in particular with Will Genia's 65-metre try in the 68th minute - they talked about the importance of being diligent students of history. Reds captain James Horwill well remembers the days of horror."

Unlikely Reds among worthy champs

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

The New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue picks through the pieces of the Super Rugby Final.

"I've never encountered so many Aucklanders upset at Canterbury losing a rugby game and, as heartless big city slickers with no shame, it goes without saying there is an ulterior motive behind the despair.

The All Blacks will lose the World Cup - that's the subtext to the Super 15 grand final. The nerves are jangling, the World Cup is not far away.

The Queensland Reds were fabulous in victory over the heavily-favoured Crusaders, relying on a resilient defence akin to Wallaby sides at their best.

The most effective Australian rugby defences aren't overly confrontational, but use smarts, speed, and stamina. This was also a hallmark of winning Brumbies teams.

Once again, Suncorp Stadium starred in its own show. Suncorp is the theatre of sporting dreams.

In an atmosphere like that, the quality of a game becomes almost irrelevant and hard to gauge. With so much on the line, every moment - the good and bad - is a heartstopper."

Nervous Williams keen to impress

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

Lock Ali Williams had known about his All Black restoration for a while but he looked and acted like a "nervous rookie" at the announcement of the latest New Zealand squad. The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray reports.

"Normally the 30-year-old bounces around, taking the mickey out of others and interacting with fervour.

Perhaps it was the 31-month international interlude that coach Graham Henry referred to, but he was unusually twitchy.

He has not worn the black jersey since late 2008 because of injury and there were hamstring and form strains this season.

"For the first time I don't really know what to say, to be honest," he admitted as he thought about adding to his 61 caps.

It was rewarding to reach his initial squad selection target and to conquer the doubts and confirm the inner beliefs he had about his ability."

The Reds' badge of courage

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, John Eales hails the Reds' historic Super Rugby triumph.

"I knew I'd be crying, one way or another, on Saturday night. These tears are welcome. Tears of relief. Tears of pride. Tears of joy. And tears shed among many united in the celebration of their team.

"Amidst a golden year for Queensland sport, the Reds sit comfortably among the champions. The Firebirds in the netball, the Brisbane Roar in the A-League, the Maroons in the State of Origin and now the Reds in Super Rugby. Try picking a team of the year from that lot! But on Saturday there was just one team, the Reds, 18-13 victors over the Crusaders.

"Whether your vantage point was from the bar, on the couch at home or in your seat at the stadium, the tribal nature of sport educes all manner of emotion, all form of contortion."

Bradley takes diplomatic route

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

As he prepares for his first season in charge of Edinburgh Rugby, head coach Michael Bradley takes a diplomatic approach to the question that always dogs the coaches of Scotland's two pro teams - are you your own man, or do you just do what the national coach tells you? The Scotsman's Martin Hannan reports.

"Former Edinburgh Rugby head coach Andy Robinson is currently in charge of the national side, which is in camp preparing for the World Cup in New Zealand, and he is nothing if not dedicated, as Bradley revealed.

"I got an e-mail from him this morning at 5:30am," said Bradley, "and I have to say he wasn't my most popular coach at that time - I think Andy's already on New Zealand time or something."

Bradley feels Robinson's experience at Edinburgh gives him a useful insight, and perhaps unlike previous national coaches, there is no prescription from the top as to how he should have Edinburgh playing the game.

Bradley said: "I'm the Edinburgh Rugby coach and my responsibility is to Edinburgh Rugby first and foremost. My job is to get Ws (for wins] on the board. Andy, as the national coach, recognises that as well."

Super Rugby hurting Currie Cup

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

It will be a tough errand for whoever is sent to do the job, but the future wellbeing of the ABSA Currie Cup may well ­depend on the South African Rugby Union (SARU) convincing their Australian and New ­Zealand counterparts that the current format of Super Rugby needs to be changed. Sport24's Ken Borland reports.

"One of the oldest provincial rugby tournaments in the world has survived perfectly happily for 119 years and through two world wars, but its prestige is being seriously threatened by the new, expanded and ­thoroughly imperfect Super Rugby competition.

This year is also a World Cup year, so the full Springbok squad of 30 will not be involved, while SARU has plans to reduce next season's Currie Cup from eight to six teams in order to fit it into a schedule that has been squeezed by Super Rugby.

"The length of the Super ­Rugby competition has affected our local competitions and that is something we have to ­address," SARU CEO Jurie Roux admitted."

Johnson left to decide his own future

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

The Guardian's Paul Rees believes the on-going chaos at the Rugby Football Union means England manager Martin Johnson will decide on his own future.

"Martin Johnson will effectively decide whether he remains as England's team manager after the World Cup, with the administration at Twickenham at its most chaotic in the Rugby Football Union's 140-year history. It has no full-time chief executive or chairman and it is no closer to appointing a performance director than it was when the position was created six months ago.

"Delegates at the meeting of the RFU on Sunday may have lost their nerve when presented with a damning report from a five-man panel, chaired by the governing body's chief disciplinary officer, Jeff Blackett, into the way the board of directors had been run this year and flouted a recommendation to take a vote of no confidence in the board, but the governance of the union has never been under closer scrutiny.

"With the administrators preoccupied with starting the search for a full-time chief executive, finding a board chairman to replace Martyn Thomas, who will continue as acting chief executive for at least the rest of the year, and deciding whether it wants a performance director or someone with a grander title and sweeping powers, Johnson will take England to the World Cup with no risk of interference from above."

July 10, 2011

History makers

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

The Reds proved any doubters wrong under the guidance of head coach Ewen McKenzie © Getty Images

The Courier Mail's Andrew Slack looks at the greatest day in the Reds' history.

"To this point, it had been the greatest day in Queensland's rugby history. Somewhere in Fiji presumably, Mrs Samo was heavily pregnant with Radike when the then "Maroons" smashed New South Wales 42-4 at Ballymore in late May, 1976.

"The resurgence of the game in this state had a starting point.

"The code now has a new greatest day and a new starting point. A barren 15 years of professional rugby matters no more.

"Not only have the 2011 Reds exorcised a decade and a half of disappointment, they've done it in a manner that has the game back in the good books."

Difficult interview subject

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

The New Zealand Herald's Celeste Gorrell Anstiss has an awkward run in with All Blacks international Ali Williams.

"Ali Williams is doing the publicity rounds for his new book but he appears to have the blues when it comes to talking. Celeste Gorrell Anstiss discovers the former All Black is indeed utterly unreliable as an interview subject.

"It's quite obvious from the outset that Ali Williams doesn't really want to be in this interview about his new book, Ali's Utterly Unreliable Guide to the 2011 World Cup.

"After wandering through the eerily dark and empty corridors of Eden Park with the book publicist to find the right suite, I'm excited at the prospect of an hour's chat, including time for a photo session, with the great man of rugby."

Randall's 30

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

Former New Zealand international Taine Randall, writing in The Dominion Post, picks his All Blacks squad for the Tri-Nations.

"The All Blacks squad to be named today is a complex – and on-going – 30-piece jigsaw. While experience will be the focus, there will be plenty of opportunity for improving players to move into the mix.

"Experience will provide the backbone of the All Blacks squad named today but there should be room for form players to push their way into the mix.

"Graham Henry and his selectors will rely heavily on the players who have helped their team dominate the test landscape in recent years. With this first squad of the year forming the basis of the World Cup ensemble they will look to the players that got them out of tight situations like Soweto and Sydney last year – those who showed calm heads in pressure-cooker situations."

Blackadder not yet ready for All Blacks

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

The New Zealand Herald's Gregor Paul believes Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder is the All Blacks supremo in waiting, but reckons he will have to wait for his chance.

"It's a matter of when, not if, Todd Blackadder will be All Blacks coach - but 2013 is likely to be the earliest he'll have a crack.

"The undoubted people's favourite has conducted himself with the quiet dignity and poise he maintained when All Black captain.

"Thrown the near-impossible task of following Robbie Deans into the Crusaders coaching job, Blackadder has consolidated and even enhanced Super Rugby's greatest team.

"They are unquestionably his side now - tough up front, inventive out wide and, if anything, more entrenched in the community than they were under Deans. With the All Black job to be opened to tender after the World Cup, Blackadder could be swept into the post by public opinion."

End of the road for Thomas?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

The Guardian's Owen Gibson speculates that Martyn Thomas will be asked to step down from the RFU on Sunday.

"Martyn Thomas, the chairman of the Rugby Football Union, and most of his board will on Sunday come under intense pressure to resign following the publication of a damning report into their ousting of the former chief executive John Steele.

"It is understood that the internal review, headed by Judge Jeff Blackett, is highly critical of their conduct and the RFU's governance processes. As such, it is expected to plunge the governing body into turmoil once more. It recommends that Thomas and all nine nonexecutives on the board apart from Bill Beaumont stand down immediately.

"The board gathered for an emergency meeting on Saturday ahead of Sunday's gathering of the RFU council to consider Blackett's damning conclusions. Before their AGM, the 58 members of the RFU council will decide whether to force a dramatic putsch of the board or risk further ridicule by ignoring Blackett's conclusions. Insiders said on Saturday night that the RFU, thrown into disarray by the departure of Steele less than a year into the job, was "at a crossroads."

Super Reds

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

The Courier Mail's Robert Craddock revels in the Reds Super Rugby win.

"THIS is our time!" thunders the Reds' new catchcry and after all the years of frustration, heartbreak and broken dreams, it finally is. The jinx is broken. The witch is dead.

"After 16 years without a title, the magnificent Queensland Reds are Super Rugby champions. Who would have thought it could happen?

"From being the franchise which could not keep their own players, they have suddenly become the best provincial side in the world.”

Under-strength French side?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

The Dominion Post's David Long suggests France may field a second string against New Zealand in their pool game.

"French coach Marc Lievremont has hinted he could put out a ‘B’ team against the All Blacks in their Pool A Rugby World Cup clash.

"Lievremont has raised fears that Graham Henry’s men could again head into the knockout stage under-done by suggesting he’ll field an under-strength team when his side plays the All Blacks in France on September 24.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,’’ Lievremont told French rugby magazine Midi Olympique this week.”

Consistency the key

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Richard Loe selects his World Cup 30 and hopes for consistency from the All Blacks coaches.

"There's no surprises in my All Black squad of 30 for the Tri Nations - even though I am usually of the mind to pick from form, rather than reputation.

"To me, this is a fairly straightforward selection, with little room left for major drama. Form has been consistent, most of the players have been consistent and so selection becomes consistent, too.

"This season has mostly been about consolidating those who have been selected before - and there is very little room for some to force their way in.

"Having said that, there is nothing to stop the selectors sending some who haven't had much rugby or who haven't shown much form lately off to the ITM Cup - and then seeing if they rate highly enough to make the final World Cup squad.”

Give Slade and Siti a chance

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/10/2011

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Paul Lewis argues that Colin Slade and Sitiveni Sivivatu should be given a chance by All Blacks coach Graham Henry.

"You'd have to say - quietly, mind you - that pretty much every step taken on the path to the Rugby World Cup this year by Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith has been firm, correct and is setting up the All Blacks for their best shot at (hush, now ... whisper it) a World Cup title since 1987.

"The All Black squad for the Tri Nations is due out today and it will contain few, if any, surprises.

"Henry has reduced the "bolter" dimension to almost zero in past years - even before the advent of the recent training camps which pre-announced such things as the dropping of Stephen Donald and faith in Aaron Cruden.”

July 9, 2011

History nears for McCaw's troops

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/09/2011

Will it be James Horwill or Richie McCaw who lifts the Super Rugby trophy on Saturday night? © Getty Images

The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Cleaver cannot foresee anything other than a Crusaders victory in today's Super Rugby final clash with the Reds.

"Listing the reasons the Reds will win tonight is not easy. It's not to say they won't - rugby uses a funny-shaped ball and all that - it's just difficult to find a logical reason.

"When logic deserts, you're left with a bunch of intangibles, none of which the Reds has any control over - luck, poor refereeing, Dan Carter having an off day with the boot, a couple of critical Crusader errors. Even the vaunted home-ground advantage means little in this game. Sure, the Crusaders would rather be playing this at AMI Stadium, but they've shown they are completely at ease playing in foreign conditions."

Generals' tactics hold key to victory on battlefield

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/09/2011

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Spiro Zavos argues that how the respective coaches, Ewen McKenzie and Todd Blackadder, set up their defences will decide the outcome of today's Super Rugby showdown between the Reds and the Crusaders.

"Traditional accounts suggest that the military general Sun Tzu completed his Art of War, a treatise on military tactics and strategy, some time between 544-496BC. Rod Macqueen, the most innovative rugby coach in the modern era, used the Sun Tzu aphorisms to prepare the Wallabies to win the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

"This use of the ancient military insights was intuitive and appropriate - the DNA of rugby indicates the military aspect of the game. The terminology of rugby, for instance, is full of war metaphors: bombs, torpedo kicks, snipes down the flanks, field position.

"Invincibility lies in the defence: the possibility of victory in the attack.”

Can Cooper get Carter?

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/09/2011

The two best No.10s in world rugby go head-to-head as the Reds meet the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final today. Winston Aldworth of The Independent compares Quade Cooper and Dan Carter.

"Rugby's perfect No 10 could meet his match today in a player whose imperfections are part of his charm.

"Daniel Carter, the game's perfect brain packaged in a silky machine of surprising pace and power, has been rugby's finest playmaker pretty much since he first donned the black of New Zealand black in 2003. The Crusaders fly-half is as close to the perfect 10 as you'll see, with his style on the field straight out of the manual and a tactical nous that reveals a dedicated and serious student of the game.

"The talents of the Australian Quade Cooper are more mercurial. You'll find very little of his game in the Carter textbook. His kicking for distance can be loose and he is prone to the odd stunning gaffe, but when the muse strikes, the Queensland Reds fly-half can be near impossible to contain."

July 8, 2011

Genius or cheating?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/08/2011

Peter de Villiers will field an under-strength side for their away games in the Tri-Nations © Getty Images

The Dominion Post's Marc Hinton analyses South Africa coach Peter de Villiers' recent announcement that 21 Springboks are not fit for their opening Tri-Nations games.

“It's a ruse. It's a sham. It might even be illegal and immoral. But Peter de Villiers' decision to rest - yes, I said rest - his Springbok heavyweights for the away leg of the Tri-Nations is also a sensible move.

"Possibly even brilliant (now there's a word you never thought you'd use in conjunction with de Villiers). Time will tell on that one.

"Not for the first time, something tells me the Springboks have got it spot-on with their decision to withdraw 21 top players for the first half of the Tri-Nations. ”

Epic finale

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/08/2011

The Sydney Morning Herald's Matt Burke previews Saturday's Super Rugby final.

"This is what it's all about - the two best teams in the competition in an arm wrestle to claim the Super Rugby title. Both teams have battled adversity off the field to get to this point. Both teams have set the pace in the way the game should be played, in terms of skill and entertainment.

"In the lead-up to big games like this one, cliches are plentiful - ''The team that wants it more will win'' or ''You have to turn up on the day''. Both comments couldn't be further from the truth in regards to the Reds and the Crusaders. Both teams will turn up to Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night wanting the victory. But merely wanting something doesn't make it happen."

Leaving on a jet plane

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/08/2011

The Dominion Post's Duncan Johnstone has sought scientific confirmation that the Crusaders will not be affected by their extensive travels this season as they prepare for Saturday's Super Rugby final clash with the Reds.

"Don't write off the Crusaders in tomorrow's Super Rugby final because of the travel factor - that's the word from a sports science expert.

"The Crusaders have had to fly from Cape Town to Brisbane for the final against the Reds, taking their total travel in this competition beyond 100,000km. That figure is inflated because of their inability to play home matches due to earthquake damage in Christchurch.

"Their ability to cope with constant long-haul air travel has stunned many."

Canterbury united

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/08/2011

The Crusaders' fans unite behind their team in the New Zealand Herald.

"The Crusaders may have appeared in an unprecedented nine Super Rugby finals, but their 10th trip to the tournament decider is arguably the most important for the franchise's legion of fans.

"The team's amazing run to the final - without playing a single game at their home ground after AMI Stadium was damaged in the February 22 earthquake - has provided a reprieve to Canterbury's rugby-mad residents."

Expected withdrawal

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/08/2011

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray argues that the rugby watching public should not be surprised by the Springboks recent move to withdraw 21 players from their away ties in the Tri-Nations

"Don't blame the Boks. In late 2002 when the All Blacks toured Europe, they left 21 senior players behind to rest and recuperate for the next World Cup.

"Now the Boks are doing something similar, settling on 21 as the number of players to leave behind for the Tri-Nations tests in Australia and New Zealand.

"No one should be surprised. "

July 7, 2011

Fly-half battle

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011

Who will win the battle of the fly-halves come Saturday? © Getty Images

Duncan Johnstone, writing for The Dominion Post, looks at the eagerly anticipated match-up between Reds fly-half Quade Cooper and Crusaders 10 Dan Carter ahead of Saturday's Super Rugby final.

“Quade Cooper is a poor man's Carlos Spencer. I'd stake my house on Dan Carter ahead of the flighty Queenslander any time.

"The two go head to head in the Super Rugby final in Brisbane on Saturday night in what could be a pointer to bigger duels to come in the Tri-Nations and, most importantly, the World Cup.

"Don't get me wrong, Cooper is a real talent and arguably the most exciting individual running around the Super scene this year.

"He's made some big strides, bringing a bit more consistency to go with his electric game.

"He's a handful for any defence who won't know what he's planning to do until it's unfolding in front of them.”

Final preparations

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie, in his column for WA Today, talks about his previous experience of finals and what he will change before this weekend's Super Rugby showpiece.

"It's my last blog of the Super season so it is now appropriate to talk about the final. Enjoyably, the Reds are in it, so it makes for a bit more fodder for discussion.

"Many people subscribe to the theory that you must lose a final before you can win one. I am not one of those people.

"Saturday is far from my first final and I understand you certainly don't win them all. But you have a 50/50 opportunity and that is a lot better than it was at the start of the year.

"Many can play a career and never get in a final. Luckily for me, rugby has been kind and that has taught me a number of valuable lessons along the way."

Tee-total final

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011

Stuff's, Richard Knowler reckons Crusaders' head coach Todd Blackadder will avoid the pub prior to the Super Rugby final.

"Insiders say Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder won't be flogging any ideas from Ricky Stuart's pre-match routines ahead of Saturday's Super Rugby final against the Queensland Reds.

"That's probably a good thing if he doesn't want to wake up with his mouth feeling like a busy barber's floor on match day.

"If Stuart looked a bit jaded in the NSW Blues coaching box last night, he maybe could have blamed someone for tipping alcohol into his wine goblet on the eve of Origin III.

"The Blues coach was sighted by several New Zealand reporters in the same venue burning off his pre-match jitters with friends at an inner-city hotel bar."

World Cup to end all World Cups?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011

The New Zealand Herald's.
Scott Kara argues that the forthcoming World Cup will be a "entertainment extravaganza."

"Stop it right now, you naysayers. Here are 10 reasons why the Rugby World Cup will be an entertainment extravaganza - for rugby and non-rugby fans alike.

Party central will rock

No, really, it will. Forget Kronic, the natural high that you will feel down at Cloud Nine - as we fondly refer to it here at TimeOut - when Dan Carter slots the drop kick (practise, Dan, practise) to win the final will be better than anything Matt Bowden and his mates can offer. Celebrate good times, come on...."

Road to recovery

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011

In the Irish IndependentRuaidhri O'Connor talks to Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery about his latest attempt to return to full fitness.

"The Munster and Ireland hooker (32) is in danger of becoming the forgotten man of Irish rugby, appearing in squad announcements and being tipped for comebacks only for another part of his body to break down and revert back to square one.

"The last time he played the full 80 minutes was in April 2010 as his province exited the Heineken Cup at the hands of Biarritz in the San Sebastian sun. It's not even a happy memory to reflect on. He hasn't played an international since earning a six-week ban for an 'attempted kick' on Alexis Palisson as Ireland collapsed to a 33-10 defeat in the Stade de France. Fifteen months and counting."

Sleeping Lions

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/07/2011

Simnikiwe Xabanisa looks at the demise of the Lions and their financial troubles in South Africa's The Times.

"What with the claims and counter-claims by the Lions and the Guma group in explaining the real reasons for their break-up, one has no hope in hell of telling who was more justified in calling the whole thing off.

"Yet the inescapable fact is that this was a missed opportunity not only for the Lions and Guma, but also for South African rugby.

"The Lions have lost the important financial foundation from which winning teams are built. Guma partners Robert Gumede and Ivor Ichikowitz have lost out on the opportunity to present themselves as benevolent benefactors - instead of being the guy with the questionable Home Affairs IT contract and the arms dealer, respectively."

July 6, 2011

Butch is the man - Stransky

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/06/2011

Will the Lions' Butch James spearhead the Springboks' attack at the World Cup? © Getty Images

Former Springboks fly-half Joel Stransky believes Butch James is the man to wear South Africa's No.10 shirt at this year's Rugby World Cup. The Independent reports.

“I’m not sure right now that the Boks have an idea of who that starting flyhalf is going to be. To be fair, the way he has played, it should probably be Butch,” Stransky said.

“I assume that that is the thinking, and they would probably leave him at home for the Tri-Nations tour coming up (the first Test is against Australia in Sydney on July 23).

“I, right now, would go for Butch. His ability to make decisions, to play closer to the gainline, defending that channel. All of that, plus his experience, means for me that he would be the flyhalf. Butch’s kicking game has improved dramatically since the last World Cup, and even in that tournament, he kicked out of hand really well. He looks comfortable as a goal-kicker too, and looks natural. With his experience, they won’t look past him.

“There is only one thing – whether he will stay on the field. It’s those hot-headed tackles every now and then, and he has had three or four knee reconstructions. His longevity might be an issue.”

Kepu's itching to lay his ghost to rest

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/06/2011

The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden chats to Australia's Sekope Kepu as he launches his comeback from injury.

"The Waratahs front-rower was the standout tight-head prop of the five Australian provinces during the Super Rugby tournament before damaging his medial ligaments against the Sharks. The injury has sidelined him for the past six weeks.

"Despite earlier concerns that Kepu would miss the early part of the international season, he was at Wallabies scrum training at a windswept Coogee Oval yesterday, with his knee heavily strapped, but still believing he will be available for Test selection next weekend.

"While there is a push for Kepu to move into the Test No.3 jersey, due to the absence of James Slipper, the most likely scenario is that selectors will play it safe and pick him on the bench, as back-up for Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson.

"It will all depend on how Kepu fares for Randwick against Eastwood at Coogee Oval on Saturday, where he is expected to play for at least 40 minutes. Nonetheless, he is a certainty to be chosen in the Wallabies' 40-man training squad, to be announced on Sunday."

A two word Bok plan: 'drop' and 'goal'

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/06/2011

The New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue believes that the Springboks may turn up at this year's Rugby World Cup with a game plan you could write on the "back of a postage stamp".

"Peter de Villiers didn't look like a happy man in the stands as the Crusaders pummelled the Stormers at Newlands on Sunday.

"Away from the public glare though, the Springboks coach might have afforded himself a wee smile because the Super 15 semifinal provided further confirmation that the world champions don't have what it takes to compete with New Zealand and Australia's attacking game.

"Knowing he doesn't have the players to attack, de Villiers can get back to basics, which in South Africa involves trench warfare, lineout supremacy, field position, bombs, kicking the goals and letting opponents make the mistakes. This is a formula by which they are more than capable of defending their title."

McCaw a 'serial law infringer'

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/06/2011

As the Crusaders prepare for Saturday's Super 15 final, former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer has labelled some of their key players "serial infringers" of the laws of the game. Peter Bills writes for the New Zealand Herald.

"The World Cup-winning coach singled out Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Owen Franks and Hurricane Conrad Smith for special mention.

Dwyer praised the Crusaders, per se, for making it to Saturday's Super 15 final against the Reds in Brisbane. "Their technique is beyond reproach which is what makes them the great side they are."

But he slammed certain players, particularly All Black captain McCaw. "You only have to watch what Richie does in a match. He would be guilty six times of obstruction in every game. He knocks players away from the ruck so his players can get in first to the ball. They are very good at it.

"For a variety of offences, players like Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Wayne Crockett and Conrad Smith [of the Hurricanes] are all serial infringers. The amount of infringements New Zealand props get away with is incredible."

Scarlets are bearing fruit

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/06/2011

Scarlets supremo Nigel Davies is exuding a quiet confidence ahead of the new season according to the Western Mail's Simon Roberts.

"While the loss of New Zealander Regan King to French giants Clermont Auvergne in the summer would have once been viewed as a disaster, it is now being seen as sign at the development down West.

Scarlets Jonathan Davies, George North, Morgan Stoddart, Tavis Knoyle, Rhys Priestland, Rob McCusker, Josh Turnbull and Scott Williams are now all Welsh internationals.

Davies clearly sees it that way and admits he is in no rush to splash the cash in an increasingly spiralling market caused by the cash-rich clubs in France.

“If somebody gave me a £1m to spend on players right now, I would be very careful on how I spent it,” said Davies. “I probably wouldn’t want to spend it this season and just throw it away on anyone out there. I certainly wouldn’t spend it on someone who is way past his best. We have to sign the right type of player, person and character."

Dan Carter goes back to school

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/06/2011

All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter goes back to his Christchurch Boys High roots alongside the DailyTelegraph's Mark Reason.

"It is almost impossible to understand how big rugby is in this long and lovely land. Boys High has 125 sports coaches. The match against local rivals Christ College is televised and the parents are breathalysed before being allowed into the ground.

Andrew Mehrtens, Aaron Mauger, Colin Slade, Stephen Brett, almost every recent New Zealand fly-half went to Boys High, including, of course, Carter. But, in 1999-2000 season, he was a loser. That was the last time Boys High were beaten by Christ's College and Carter still feels the pain.

He ranks the anguish of the defeat not far behind New Zealand’s World Cup losses in 2003 and 2007. “I was devastated,” he says. “Some of my my team-mates were in tears. They were distraught. It was hard to go back to school the next day.”

July 5, 2011

Super Rugby reflection

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/05/2011

Sonny Bill Williams has been outstanding all season, but does Super Rugby need him more than he needs Super Rugby? © Getty Images

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Dylan Cleaver reflects on the 2011 Super Rugby season.

"The first Super 15 reaches its conclusion on Saturday night. Has the new format worked? Is the rugby better for the addition of conferences and increased local derbies, or is it treading water? Who have been the winners and the also-rans?

"1. The tournament lacks integrity - The only way you get a truly fair competition is by each team playing home and away against all the other teams. That's not going to happen unless we start the tournament on Boxing Day and schedule some midweek games. At the very least you have to play every team at least once. How do you think the Crusaders feel about the 10 points they didn't get by not being scheduled to play either of the Lions or Rebels? There went the only chance Wellington will ever have of hosting a Super rugby final (boom boom). "

Too close to call

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/05/2011

Blues coach Pat Lam, talking to Robert Lowe, anticipates a nip and tuck Super Rugby final in the New Zealand Herald.

"Too tough to call is Blues coach Pat Lam's take on the Super 15 rugby final on Saturday night.

Minor premiers the Queensland Reds will host the nomadic Crusaders in Brisbane and Lam has seen both teams up close over the past month.

The Blues lost to the Crusaders 23-16 in Timaru in the penultimate round of the regular season, the result effectively deciding top spot in the New Zealand conference. "

Epic final

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/05/2011

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Gowden looks at Saturday's potentially epic Super Rugby final.

"In a weekend of memorable rugby moments, one of the best came in the final minute of an exceptional Crusaders win over the Stormers.

The television cameras panned to Springboks coach Peter de Villiers in the crowd, and he looked devastated. He was resting his head on his right hand and glumly staring into space. The reason for his discomfort was simple. He had just witnessed his best South African provincial team on their home turf clinically disposed of by the core of the All Blacks Test line-up.

His despair also would have something to do with what occurred in the first half. De Villiers is renowned for making baffling comments, and one of his most ridiculous occurred some weeks ago when he targeted Sonny Bill Williams. He described Williams's keenness to offload in the tackle as ''nonsense'' and a bad example for young players."

Superstar winger

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/05/2011

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Gowden backs Reds winger Rod Davies to gate-crash the Wallaby backline.

"Rod Davies could not have picked a better time to become the first Queensland Reds player to score a hat-trick of Super Rugby tries, with his form sure to spark a major rethink about the make-up of the Wallabies backline for their opening Test against Samoa in Sydney on July 17.

Davies's ability to blitz through the Blues' defensive structure in the 12th, 50th and 57th minutes of Saturday's semi-final has put him in strong contention for a Test wing spot - as long as he can back up and handle the pressure of the Super Rugby final against the Crusaders in Brisbane on Saturday."

O'Brien on a mission

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/05/2011

The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor talks to Leinster and Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien who believes he can be his country's secret weapon at the forthcoming World Cup.

"Sean O'Brien reckons he could be Ireland's secret weapon at the World Cup in September, writes Ruaidhri O'Connor.

The Tullow tyro will go to the tournament as European Player of the Year but he is hoping to spring a surprise against Australia in New Zealand. The 24-year-old wants to return from the tournament as one of world rugby's big names.

"That's what you want to do," he said. "Over there I suppose they don't know much about me. Hopefully they will by the end of it."

July 4, 2011

Reds just out to have fun

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Reds fly-half Quade Cooper shouts at his team-mates during their victory over the Blues © Getty Images

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, John Eales reflects on the Reds' Super Rugby semi-final victory over the Blues.

"The opportunism of the first of Rod Davies's hat trick of tries, an intercept, was symbolic of the evening as the Reds persisted in the face of a deficit of both possession and territory. But when opportunities were presented, no matter how unlikely, they were invariably taken.

"They even created them from seemingly nothing – sorry, from actually nothing. And typically the catalyst was Quade Cooper. To win big tournaments you need brilliant players playing brilliantly and Cooper, as ever, played his part.

"The Reds second try was almost all Cooper. Squeezed onto the sideline to retrieve a kick he bumped off one defender, deceived another, and continued to trace the touchline before somehow extracting a pass for Ben Tapuai to score. Tapuai's job was not complete but Cooper's magic had cast its spell.

"That Cooper was in position to retrieve such a kick is an anomaly. To lighten his tackling load while the Reds defend he retreats to the deep while Jono Lance advances from fullback to the front line to cover for him. The weakness of this strategy is that Cooper may find himself inconvenient to the action from a turnover in possession and such opportunistic transitions are when he is most dangerous. But if his relative impotency in defence reveals a weakness, it also unearths his potency from another angle, one which defences must now counter."

Stormers' humiliation bodes ill for Springboks

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Peter Bills fears the Stormers Super Rugby semi-final reverse to the Crusaders on home soil could spell bad news for the Springboks.

"A rugby lesson was conducted in Cape Town yesterday. Just weeks before the World Cup begins, South Africa's last participants in the Super rugby season were not so much beaten as humiliated.

"Some will see the 29-10 Crusaders victory as just another triumph for the homeless Canterbury side. They may even regard it as evidence the New Zealand side will seal the deal against the Reds in Brisbane this Saturday and lift the Super 15 trophy without having played a single game at home this season.

"But if you study the wider picture, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Dan Carter and their pals could not have achieved a higher prize than utterly humiliating South Africa's last representatives in the competition in their own back yard."

The Southbridge Magician v The Tokoroa Conjurer

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Writing in New Zealand Herald, Wynne Gray previews the Super Rugby Final showdown between Reds fly-half Quade Cooper and his Crusaders counterpart Dan Carter.

"The Southbridge magician against the Tokoroa conjurer - part two in a series of (possibly) five blockbuster duels between the best five-eighths in world rugby is on our doorstep.

"Actually it's at Suncorp Stadium in six days when Daniel Carter strides onto the new turf to lay out his Crusaders credentials against Quade Cooper, who tormented and destroyed the Blues at the weekend.

"The pair are a class apart from the rest of the global talent, men whose influence will go a long way towards deciding whether the Reds take the Super 15 crown in their first foray into a final or the Crusaders march off with their eighth title."

"I need a fresh start"

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips is hoping to put a troubling few months behind him, WalesOnline reports.

"Phillips will join French side Bayonne next season, and the feisty 28-year-old admits he will be relieved to escape the goldfish bowl of Welsh rugby.

"The Lions star only returned to the Welsh squad last week after issuing a public apology following an altercation in Cardiff city centre.

"Phillips was suspended for 10 days after photographs emerged of him being pinned to the ground by a McDonalds bouncer in the early hours of the morning.

"He insists the whole saga was "blown out of proportion" and says he found himself "in the wrong place at the wrong time".

No disgrace in losing to quality team

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Supersport's Gain Rich offers his thoughts on the Crusaders' Super Rugby semi-final victory over the Stormers.

"It was disappointing to see the Stormers bow out of the Super Rugby race with such a whimper at the weekend, but some of the over-reaction to defeat in the Cape should be tempered by a reality check.

"Since the final whistle blew at Newlands to signal a 29-10 Crusaders win and the end of the Stormers’ campaign I have repeatedly either seen it written or heard it said on social media that they were a disgrace. A disgrace to lose to the Crusaders – come on, you have to be kidding me?

"If the Stormers are a disgrace for losing in a semifinal to the best team in the competition by some distance (they are the best, the travel is the only thing preventing them from running away with it) then what does that make the Sharks, the Bulls and all the other teams that weren’t able to get this far and that came second to the Stormers for most of the season?"

Stormers not good enough?

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Sport24's Stephen Nell picks through the pieces of the Stormers' Super Rugby campaign.

"Such was the Crusaders’ dominance in the scrums that the Stormers were not even sure of winning the ball on their own feed. One can only hope that the psychological damage inflicted on Wicus Blaauw and a regular solid performer like Brok Harris is not permanent.

"Apart from scrumming power, an important component of most good sides is that their loosehead is a dynamic ball-carrier – examples are Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Charlie Faumuina (Blues) and Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders).

"Those kind of props don’t grow on trees and without one on the market the best option is developing your own. It will be interesting to see how young props such as Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe develop in the Currie Cup.

"The Stormers contracted CJ van der Linde before the season started, but his form has been poor and he has struggled with injuries. He did not prove a good investment."

July 3, 2011

'In the defence of Eden Park'

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

Auckland's Eden Park will play host to this year's Rugby World Cup Final © Getty Images

Following recent criticism of the re-vamped Eden Park, RNZ 2011 boss Martin Snedden launches the case for the defence in the Sunday Herald.

"The best sporting memories are not created by bricks and mortar. They help, and the re-developed Eden Park will play its part, but what matters much more are such things as the importance of the event, the history that surrounds the occasion, the on-field action and the passion of the people who are there in the stadia.

"These are the crucial factors which will converge to bring Eden Park alight when RWC 2011 gets under way in 68 days.

"In international sporting terms, this is a really big event. It is by far the biggest New Zealand has ever staged. We know that a sizeable international spotlight will be on us for those 45 days and that our country's international reputation is on the line.

"The very magnitude of this opportunity will create a real edge but should also be accompanied by a feeling of goodwill which will be felt in all our RWC stadia, most particularly at Eden Park as venue for the opening match and final. Those present are there not just to witness, but to play a part in making sure that the occasion succeeds."

SANZAR ready to review 'ring-in' rule

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

SANZAR say they will review the rule that looks as though it conveniently allows "ring-ins" - overseas-based players quickly shoehorned into Super Rugby for the play-offs. The Herald on Sunday reports.

"Two South African sides - the Sharks and last night's opponents of the Crusaders, the Stormers - are the ones in question after the materialisation of French test star Freddie Michalak and former Springbok hooker Schalk Brits for the Sharks and Stormers in the playoffs.

"The Bulls are probably the team with the biggest complaint. Michalak, playing at first five-eighths, controlled the game beautifully - turning the big Bulls pack around consistently. That saw the Bulls out of the playoffs, their defeat engineered by a man who hadn't been a part of the Sharks outfit earlier in the round robin.

"The move looks even more dodgy (even though Michalak has played for the Sharks previously) when it is realised that Michalak was nominally there to cover halfback. The Sharks, taking advantage of a Sanzar rule that says specialist players can be replaced from outside the squad if they genuinely have no further options internally, brought in the Frenchman (who can play both 9 and 10)."

Shades of Carlos about Gareth

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

Writing in the Sunday Herald, Taylor Mosen chats to New Zealand U20s fly-half Gareth Anscombe following their IRB Junior World Championship triumph.

"Anscombe, like any 20-year-old, loves heading out with his mates for things like a round of golf or going fishing - but he's not interested in participating. Whatever it is, he's there to win.

"That competitive attitude has helped Anscombe earn a two-year contract with the Blues, signed in February. With Stephen Brett and Luke McAlister heading abroad after the World Cup, the opportunity to nail down a spot on the field is looking promising.

"He also signed on for three years with his adopted province Auckland in November last year, after moving from North Harbour."

James determined to grace World Cup stage

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

Wales prop Paul James is ready to make up for lost time and make a World Cup impact - eight years after his first taste of the tournament.The Wales on Sunday's Simon Roberts reports.

"The Ospreys prop may not be viewed as a headline act but his importance to Warren Gatland’s side cannot be overstated.

"The 29-year-old, who has won 23 caps, enhanced his growing reputation as Gethin Jenkins missed the whole Six Nations and Adam Jones only returned for the final Test in France.

"Jenkins is still on the comeback trail from a toe injury and Jones hasn’t rediscovered the form which made him one of the most feared scrummagers in world rugby.

"But James has shown he can pack down on either side of the scrum and play a far bigger part than when he was flown out as a 20-year-old rookie to replace the injured Duncan Jones at the 2003 World Cup in Australia.

“I had a little taste of it then when I was called up for that tournament but I didn’t actually play,” recalled James."

Pocock steps into Smith's place

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

David Pocock has admitted to being nervous at taking over as Australia's first-choice No.7 from George Smith. The Sun-Herald's Josh Rakic reports.

"Speaking with The Sun-Herald from Perth, where he is in a training program devised by Wallabies coaching staff before the team's assembly next week, Pocock said he was excited at the prospect of wearing the No.7.

''I've really enjoyed progressing through and learning from guys like George Smith,'' he said. ''But when he retired last year, I guess I was pretty nervous. He's obviously been such a big part of the Wallabies for so long and whoever played No.7, there were massive shoes to fill.

''But I've tried to use that as motivation to become more consistent and really worked on trying to make a big contribution to the team's performance every week."

Elsom set to face Samoa

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

Injured Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom is set to make a shock return to the playing field and lead Australia in their first Test against Samoa in a fortnight. The Sun-Herald reports.

"The star flanker revealed to The Sun-Herald he has all but overcome the ankle injury he suffered a month ago in his successful return match for the Brumbies against the Force and expects to join the Wallabies camp in Coogee next Tuesday at full fitness.

"After being caught in a terrible position at the breakdown midway through the Force match, Elsom looked as though he would be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines. However the 28-year-old recovered well and resumed training last week. He expects to finish rehab over the weekend before arriving in Sydney this week in preparation for the biggest Wallabies camp of his career.

''I can't see any reason why I wouldn't be fit for the Samoan Test,'' Elsom told The Sun-Herald. ''It's almost been five weeks now and, for once, everything has gone to plan. I've had no complaints with it at all, other than the standard ones."

Cooper steers charges into the big one

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

The Sydney Morning Herald's Phil Lutton reflects on the Reds' Super Rugby semi-final victory over the Blues in Brisbane.

"Winger Rod Davies showed no signs of his hamstring injury, burning the Blues with scorching pace to score the first hat-trick for the Reds in the Super Rugby era and doing his World Cup prospects no harm.

"Burly centre Tapuai scored the other try for the Reds, capitalising on a piece of Cooper genius in the 31st minute after the Reds playmaker made a mockery of Lachie Munro's defence before breaking down the sideline and finding support inside.

"The win is a massive tonic for a code that was almost dead and buried in Queensland. Now it will share centre stage this week with a State of Origin decider being dubbed the biggest game in the history of the interstate series."

'Lions run like amateur union'

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

Robert Gumede, and his partner, Ivor Ichikowitz, insist that negotiations with the Golden Lions Rugby Union over their planned investment broke down this week due to resistance against change at the GLRU. Sport24 reports.

"Ichikowitz said on Saturday that the transformation for which they had strived had less to do with race and more with the way in which the GLRU, as a business, was being run.

"Our walking away from this deal is not a racial issue, said Ichikowitz. "It is simply that the Lions is not being run like a company; it is being run like an amateur union.

"Our goal was to change the way the business leg of the Lions was run with specific emphasis on marketing and management, or creating a brand all South Africans can identify with."

"Prior to the arrival of the billionaire investors, the Lions had already started restructuring by firing some of their key decision makers.

"First, in perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments in the union's 120-year history, coach Eugene Eloff was sacked in May 2009, a week before the Lions hosted the British and Irish Lions. Then, the following month, long serving president Jannie Boshoff was asked to step down.

"Like Eloff, who later spoke out about the union's poor administration, Gumede and Ichikowitz have voiced their disappointment. Their concerns surfaced in a document signed by Gumede and Ichikowitz that was leaked to the media this week."

July 2, 2011

Hansen and Foster to steer All Blacks?

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/02/2011

Current assistant coach Steve Hansen is favourite to take the All Blacks' top job after the World Cup © Getty Images

Steve Hansen has drawn the inside lane in the race to be next All Blacks coach, a position that will be filled "before Christmas", according to the New Zealand Herald's Dylan Cleaver.

"Hansen is understood to have been assembling a team that he will put in front of the New Zealand Rugby Union board at the conclusion of the World Cup review, win or lose.

That team is understood to involve Ian Foster as his right-hand man and current kicking and skills coach Mick Byrne in a broader role.

Foster, who ended his eight-year reign at the Chiefs last month, has put opportunities in the United Kingdom on hold as he waits to see how the World Cup pans out. His fate, essentially, is tied to Hansen and the All Blacks.

Byrne has been working as forwards coach under John Kirwan with the Japanese national team to bolster his portfolio.

At least one senior player was told during the spate of recent contract negotiations that Hansen and Foster, who are respected among the players even if they have never been fully embraced by the public, were well-placed to take the All Blacks into 2012 and beyond."

‘Moral responsibility'

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/02/2011

Wales coach Warren Gatland has told his World Cup hopefuls they have a “moral responsibility” to the Welsh shirt in the wake of the Mike Phillips affair. The Western Mail's Jon Doel reports.

“It won’t affect Mike’s selection chances for the World Cup,” he said.

“But it’s about the public humiliation of being out at that time in the morning and we have taken some action.

“Legally he has done nothing wrong, but morally, once you put that jersey on, you have a social responsibility to that jersey. We have made the players very much aware of that.

“Maybe 10 years ago you might have got away with such things, but with Facebook and Twitter and camera phones, you can’t do anything these days.

“I think the players are more aware now just how careful they have to be, particularly when they’re going out.”

Sonny Bill may join Nonu at the Blues

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/02/2011

The Dominion Post's Tony Robson reports that Sonny Bill Williams may join his All Blacks team-mate Ma'a Nonu at the Blues next season.

"He [New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew] was also "positive" about on-going talks with Williams to keep him in the country post World Cup.

"We are closer than we were yesterday. It's progressing. There are a number of complexities in Sonny's arrangements, but its all stayed very positive and we have no reason to think it won't get there. But until you have a final decision you keep working."

It will be no surprise if a sabbatical is in the works, with Tew heralding the concept as a raging success after Nonu became the latest player to be given leave to play overseas.

Tew suggested the concept was no longer restricted to "special" players like Dan Carter, who got the ball rolling with his brief and ill-fated stint in France.

"We haven't defined special. We've simply said we will treat every player on his merits. In fact if a young promising player came to us and said I'd like a year or two away on contract then we might look at that as well."

'Lions fought transformation'

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/02/2011

The Guma TAC group have said they withdrew from talks with the Johannesburg-based Lions due to the Union's reluctance to allow for transformation. Sport24 reports.

"Guma TAC partners Robert Gumede and Ivor Ichikowitz explained at a media conference on Friday why they had withdrawn from talks to buy a 49.9 percent stake in the GLRU.

"Our insistence on ensuring that the Lions executive team be reconstituted and led by a CEO with a proven track record of turning around failed businesses has been met with resistance," Gumede said.

This after a Guma TAC letter leaked to the media this week, which was addressed to GLRU president Kevin de Klerk and signed by Gumede and Ichikowitz, alleged that the union was battling to make financial ends meet.

Gumede and Ichikowitz painted a bleak picture of the running of the union and said it had become impossible to continue with the agreement."

Crusaders shine a beacon of hope

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/02/2011

The Independent's Winston Aldworth reflects on what has been an epic season for the homeless Crusaders.

"When the dust cleared from the earthquake that struck Christchurch on 6 February, the locals had bigger concerns than the state of the city's main rugby ground.

More than 180 people were dead – many of the bodies have never been recovered. Parts of the city that had been without running water since a quake last September were rendered uninhabitable by February's shake.

Against this grim backdrop, the prosaic business of getting on with a professional rugby season lay before the Crusaders, the region's Super Rugby side – the most successful team in the competition's history.

They were one week into their 2011 campaign, having been beaten by the Blues in Auckland, when the quake hit. With their home ground ruined by soil liquefaction, the Crusaders have been on the road ever since. Three months, countless aftershocks and 94,000km later, they arrive in Cape Town to face the Stormers in a semi-final."

July 1, 2011

The next generation of Wasps

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/01/2011

Dai Young will have a limited budget at Wasps so will look towards the likes of Elliot Daly and Joe Launchbury. © Getty Images

Writing for The Guardian, Paul Rees believes new Wasps boss Dai Young will have to look to the next generation of players.

"David Young may be swapping the Celtic league, sorry the RaboDirect Pro12, for the Premiership having left Cardiff Blues and signed a four-year contract with Wasps as the club's third director of rugby this year, but in at least one sense he will be in familiar territory.

Wasps, like the Blues, are financially challenged. They do not make any money and Young's unveiling on Thursday was accompanied by shrill tones from the Welsh region, who are threatening legal action because he had a year left on his contract.

Do Wasps have the readies to pay compensation? Will the Blues waste money they do not have paying solicitors? Young has been linked with a number of Premiership clubs during his nine years in charge of Cardiff and then the Blues and he feels he is entitled to make his move."

Farewell to a legend?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/01/2011

The Irish Independent's Ruaidhri O'Connor pays tribute to John Hayes as it appears he will not be part of the Munster squad for the 2011-12 season.

"John Hayes could have played his last game for Munster after the province confirmed they have no plans to extend his contract beyond the World Cup.

The legendary prop will turn 38 in November and was left out the 45-man squad published by the province earlier this week, fuelling speculation that he is set to retire after the tournament in New Zealand."

Nonu perfect fit for the Blues

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/01/2011

Duncan Johnstone looks at Ma'a Nonu's high profile move to the Blues in The Dominion Post

"Ma'a Nonu will be a good fit with the Blues and coach Pat Lam will back himself to get the best out of a player who was forced to leave the Hurricanes under a cloud.

Nonu's outrageous talents were too good to be ignored.

He still has plenty to offer plenty to top teams and rugby fans in New Zealand should applaud the ability of the national body to keep him here with another clever flexible contract.

With Sonny Bill Williams yet to commit, the NZRU have got in first and nailed down Nonu for a couple of years."

A new club competition for Sydney?

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/01/2011

The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Gowden looks at the future of club rugby in Sydney.

"The push for a new Sydney first-grade premiership competition is gaining momentum, with several clubs eager to organise a new format, due to a difference of opinion with those in charge at NSW Rugby. Already several clubs are working on a competition model that is markedly different to the Shute Shield structure. The new competition's sponsorship is expected to come from an intriguing source - a cashed-up rugby identity with close links to the club structure who has good ideas on how Sydney club rugby can be improved."

Well-rested Reds

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/01/2011

Writing in his column for The Sydney Morning Herald, Matt Burke analyses how the Reds will respond after their week off in their Super Rugby semi-final showdown with the Blues.

"Will the week off be good for us or will it be a hindrance? This is the question that haunts teams around finals time - in all codes.

Finishing one or two in Super Rugby means teams get the week off, and more time to prepare for a high-impact, high-speed semi-final.

The amount of on- and off-field work has to balance. The Reds approached the first week of the finals series as if it had been a bye week, putting in place a plan that will get them the best result."

Holmes holds the key

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/01/2011

Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Gowden analyses the role of Reds prop Greg Holmes in Saturday's Super Rugby semi-final against the Blues.

"Greg Holmes hasn't been part of the Wallabies fraternity since the 2007 World Cup but the former Test prop will be transformed into one of Queensland Rugby's most vital assets in tomorrow night's semi-final against the Blues in Brisbane.

Holmes, who played 13 Tests between 2005-07, was yesterday selected ahead of Guy Shepherdson at tighthead prop to anchor the Reds scrum in place of the injured Wallabies front-rower James Slipper.

Holmes is among Test rugby's recent overlooked front-rowers but as far as Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is concerned, he is an invaluable force to the extent that despite Holmes being better known as a loose-head, he was chosen ahead of a tight-head specialist."

Epic Super Rugby

Posted by tom.hamilton on 07/01/2011

Dylan Cleaver looks forward to the weekend's epic Super Rugby semi-finals in The New Zealand Herald.

"For those unimpressed by semifinals, who need more than the cut-throat world of knockout rugby, there's an obvious World Cup subtext to Sunday morning's clash.

There's nothing wrong with that. Watching this match through the prism of a tournament that does not kick off for 70 more days is okay.

Reading the World Cup tea leaves will in itself become the national sport over the next two months. In this case it's more justified than usual. "

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