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May 10, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/10/2012

Refs must get penalty ratio right

Writing in the <Sydney Morning Herald, Reds coach Ewen McKenzie picks through the pieces of his side's controversial defeat to the Crusaders.

"When you become the first team to hold the Crusaders tryless in Christchurch since 2000, it is difficult to understand why the statistic did not come with a memorable win.

"...For me, the ratio of penalties needs to be around 70 per cent against the defence, as this means the referee is concentrating on negating spoiling tactics. If this is done, you see plenty of excitement and ball movement and fans walk away happy.

"The closer the margin gets to 50 per cent, the more field position you get from kicking, as teams will - logically - not want to play in front of their goal posts. There has been a litany of games this season where teams have paid the price for playing too much football in their own half. It pains me to say that, but it is more a risk mitigation strategy than a coaching philosophy. It also means tight games are generally decided on goal-kicking."

May 4, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/04/2012

Facing the ghosts of past and present

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Rebels' Adam Freier offers an insight into the recent departure of team-mate Danny Cipriani.

"From the onset of Danny's address to his actual first words seemed to take an eternity. You wanted to break the tension with humour, but nothing was said for him, and the man who was known by some as the Prince was now handing over his sword.

"What Danny said should and will remain private, but I did find inspiration out of that moment. Not by any words or story, I saw it through the eyes of another. It's as though when listening to Danny, those big brown eyes of Kurtley Beale grew with every word. I felt like I was watching a scene out of the movie Ghost, where the spirit left one body and filtered through the eyes of another. This wasn't a farewell speech for me. This was a ceremony for the ages.

"Within two minutes a lot had happened for KB, but also within me as well. I had a moment of reflection; of a young boy I trained next to as a 17-year-old in Wallaby Camp, to the young man inheriting this new role of club quarterback."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/04/2012

Blues reminiscent of Titanic

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Wynne Gray compares the Blues' fortunes to that of the infamous White Star Line ship that sunk on its maiden voyage 100 years ago.

"Changes came but the suspicion lingers that the Blues were rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"They shuffled a few players for tonight's return game with the Hurricanes but there is a terminal smell about their work.

"The Blues plunge has been as dramatic, though not as disastrous, as the descent of the superliner a hundred years ago in the North Atlantic.

"However, there will be widespread fallout across the Blues and half the squad will be missing from next year's roster because of overseas contracts, attrition and inadequacy."

April 25, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/25/2012

Chiefs offering the challenge to the Crusaders

The New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue looks at the Chiefs rise in stature and whether the Crusaders finally have a worthwhile challenger.

"Something very promising in a longstanding sense is going on at the front-running Chiefs and long may this continue, because New Zealand rugby desperately needs a challenger to the Crusaders-dominated system.

"Oh no, here we go again" was the thought as the Crusaders continued to wind relentlessly through the gears against what has to be said was a mainly timid challenge from the Hurricanes last weekend.

Experience, confidence, tactical superiority and depth mean the Crusaders invariably get stronger through a season, having spent the early rounds clicking everything into place. A scary thing about the Crusaders is that the petrol in the tank includes a certain Richie McCaw and the mighty tighthead Owen Franks, who has been used sparingly and has yet to hit his most imposing form."

April 23, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/23/2012

You've got to feel for the refs

The Bulls' CJ Stander touches down for a controversial try against the Brumbies in Pretoria © Getty Images

Writing for Supersport, Kiwi commentator Tony Johnson reflects on a stressful weekend for the Super Rugby officials.

"The poor refs. These guys who have to have a brain like a computer, eyes in the back of their heads, the reactions of a ninja, and the hide of a rhino as they have to make subjective judgments based on a convoluted law book, not to mention the contradictory edicts of their bosses who scrutinise their every move and mark them out of five for everything they do from the moment they start lacing up their boots.

"They are charged with officiating over teams whose coaches go to all sorts of lengths to find a way, be it fair or foul, around the latest law adjustments or applications, whilst trying to manage the actions of players many of whom have only the vaguest grasp of what the law is. Meantime, everything they do is maximised, amplified, and vilified by probing TV cameras, replays, and commentators who think they know the law backwards…which might literally be true in some cases.

"We ask…nay demand from them consistency, without asking how that is supposed to be possible when there are so many inconsistencies, contradictions, misconceptions, and uneccessary-isms in the law book, or the law as it is preached to them by their superiors.

"Why can’t a prop put his hand on the ground for a moment just to steady a scrum? Why is it that a hooker will get pinged for throwing crooked into a lineout, and yet the current thinking allows the halfback put the ball straight under his locks feet at the subsequent scrum? Why is it that a halfback can reach into a ruck to pull the ball out, but when a loose forward does it it’s a penalty?"

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/23/2012

Can anyone stop the Chiefs?

The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Cleaver asks whether the Chiefs can maintain their impressive run of form in this season's battle for the Super Rugby crown.

"Don't underestimate a team that can hold the Sharks tryless on their own ground. That required a sound defensive system and the ability to scramble. The win came with its casualties. Lelia Masaga knocked himself and Lwazi Mvovo senseless when he got a kick chase wrong. There was nothing malicious in it, but Masaga fell short in the duty of care requirements.

"Perhaps more worrying to followers of fashion was the news Richard Kahui may have broken his beak. A nation holds its breath.

"Other than that, the Chiefs will arrive in Auckland around midnight tonight with few headaches. They've proved they can win in a variety of ways with a variety of personnel.

"Tanerau Latimer, for example, has been playing some of the best rugby of his career. Yesterday he watched from the bench as his replacement, Sam Cane, 20, had the best game of his fledgling career.

"The Chiefs' success defies explanation."

April 21, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/21/2012

Gouge claims leave Bulls open to scorn

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Spiro Zavos investigates the ''Gougegate'' surrounding the Bulls' recent Super Rugby clash with the Crusaders.

"This affair, in my opinion, has raised serious issues about the willingness of the Bulls to do what it takes to win matches.

"Jake White has told his young Brumbies side to prepare for a "baptism of fire" when they play the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld tonight. "Nothing untoward, nothing illegal, they just love their rugby, they want to win and will put pressure wherever they can," he said.

"My question is this: is it possible that this determination sometimes leads to unacceptable gamesmanship? If the Bulls franchise and their supporters complain that this is unfair, they need to understand that ''Gougegate'' may have exposed the Bulls to this sort of accusation."

April 16, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/16/2012

Matfield to fulfil crucial Boks role

Supersport's Brendan Nel is convinced that Victor Matfield is assured of a central role within the 2012 Springboks - but on or off the field?

"Matfield is still fit, having recently cycled the Cape Argus and is known to keep up a stringent gym routine since retiring at the end of last season, but whether he is sharp and fit for Super Rugby is another point.

"However, if the Bok lock is to captain the Springboks in that first game, he will need to get some match fitness and sharpness back into his game, with the plan being to give him three or four games at either the Sharks or Cheetahs franchises towards the end of the season.

"The underlying point to remember is that Matfield has also not said a word on a possible return, and part of his decision will need to be with his employers SuperSport, where the lock has been working as a comments man since the beginning of the year.

"Still, he did joke with earlier this year when Meyer was appointed that he could see himself lacing up boots, but the reality is that there is a lot that still must happen before Matfield can take up any role as a player in the team."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/16/2012

Blues show how awful they really are

The New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue doesn't hold back in his assessment of the struggling Blues.

"Time to give up on what remained of a brave face. Let's just wail and weep about the Blues. They are downright awful.

"The time to make a coaching change was last week, a last-gasp Hail Mary chance to avert the otherwise inevitable disaster which duly arrived at Eden Park when Pat Lam's bumblers lost to an average Sharks lineup. The Sharks mixed languid with little bursts of outstanding rugby before a wee gathering. Even a half-decent Blues side from their disappointing past would have smashed that lot.

"Lam had to be removed if the Blues were desperate and still dreaming the dream. The Blues' passes hit each other on the noggin while we just scratched ours. This team are dysfunctional, thus badly coached."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/16/2012

A lesson in rugby's intricacies

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, John Eales heaps praise on Brumbies flanker Michael Hooper.

"If I was going to teach someone about rugby, I'd instruct them to watch an open-side flanker like Michael Hooper, who again was brilliant in the Brumbies' comprehensive 37 points to 6 victory over the Rebels.

Eighty minutes watching a great open-side flanker in action gives an instructive perspective of the complexity and totality of rugby. They are either on the ball or preparing for the next iteration of play. They are in the thick of forward play, in the twinkle of the back line and providing a continuous link between the two.

"The greatest exponents are also among the game's most influential. All Black Richie McCaw has been the best credentialled of modern-day flankers but he is not alone. The Springboks narrowly lost their World Cup semi-final against the Wallabies last year largely because their man, Heinrich Brussow, departed early, allowing David Pocock to dominate. Likewise, when Hooper is not wearing the No. 7, the Brumbies are a lesser team. Australia has been replete with flyers over the years and in the established Pocock of the Western Force, and the emerging talent of Liam Gill, Chris Alcock, Hooper and others, it has some useful muses at different stages of their development."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/16/2012

Space, the final frontier

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Matt Burke pines for a little more breathing room in the modern game.

"With the existing laws in defence off a ruck or maul, the teams have to be behind the last man's feet. Can anyone please tell me when you have seen this law enforced in the past couple of years. Players in the defensive roles have been creeping up the last foot, leg even, so far as standing one-third up their side of the ruck. The effect of this is that they get a flying start and usually knock the team with possession back behind the advantage line, perhaps no more than one pass from the ruck, maybe two.

"With the eventual slow ball we now have a scenario where the halfback waits with the ball at the back of the breakdown and gets his forwards organised to smash it up only one pass from the previous ruck. I find this part of the game frustrating. Why are you playing slow? I know the answer is to set up for the next play but how many times have we seen a turnover from that ruck, or worse, a knock-on by a forward who received a bullet-like pass from the halfback around the ankles or even around the toes. The result? Scrum."

April 14, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/14/2012

Time to follow Anscombe the leader

Where Gareth Anscombe now goes, the Blues should go - according to the New Zealand Herald's Dylan Cleaver.

"The most instructive moment of the latest Blues' horror show against the Sharks was the sight of the 20-year-old first five-eighths barking out orders to the huddle when they were double-figure digits down in the first half.

"There was shades of Grant Fox about the way he was seizing control of the moment.

"That's not to suggest Anscombe is Fox. He doesn't have the authority, the unshakeable faith in himself and those around him to do the right thing at the right time, but Anscombe in that moment marked himself as a leader.

"He's not even the most talented young five-eighth in the country, but he's not far off and the Blues are hardly in a position to look a gift-horse in the mouth in this fragile state of disintegration.

"Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and, arguably, Lima Sopoaga look more physically advanced, more capable of playing on the advantage line and more likely to create space on their feet or through their hands."

April 13, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/13/2012

The Blues Conundrum

Wynne Gray, writing for theNew Zealand Herald, looks at the problems currently enveloping Super Rugby side the Blues.

For the last eight years there has been a recurring inquiry about the Blues.

The thrust is, how could a region rich in resources and significant playing numbers perform with such modest results in Super rugby?

A fourth place finish for David Nucifora's mob in 2007 and a similar result for Pat Lam's crew last season. That's it, the best outcome for the Blues since they last annexed the title under Peter Sloane's command in 2003.

This season? Who would place a wager when the Blues are stalled in last place in the New Zealand pool and searching for their second win of the series.

There are festering issues across the franchise which contribute to the dysfunction. Those areas of responsibility can be split roughly into three - the Blues' chief executive and board are one group, the coach and his staff comprise another while the players make up the other.

April 12, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/12/2012

Unfamiliarity a dangerous thing?

Reds boss Ewen McKenzie, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, looks at whether having limited knowledge can prove to be dangerous.

"Waratahs coach Michael Foley made a comment the other day that made me think about what the real expectation was of incorporating new players into a different playing environment.

"Sitaleki Timani has, through coming back from Japan late, undertaken a three or four-week crash course on how we are playing,'' he said.

The timeline given was probably a little longer than most people would assume it would take to get a player up to speed. The impression some people have is that rugby is rather homogenous and therefore the next player should automatically step-up and be able to fill in. The reality is this view is far too simplistic."

April 11, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/11/2012

Shame on the Bulls

Chiliboy Ralepelle levelled gouging accusations at the Crusaders © Getty Images

Gregor Paul lashes out at the Bulls following their run-in with the Crusaders over allegations of eye-gouging in The New Zealand Herald.

"A bit like Oscar Wilde's assertion that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, the only thing worse than eye-gouging, is making false accusations about eye-gouging.

"Shame on the Bulls - first for their clearly malicious and entirely false allegations that two of their players were gouged late in the game against the Crusaders; and then their refusal to apologise after the citing commissioner was unable to find any video evidence to substantiate the claims."

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/11/2012

Blowing off steam

Stormers back-rower Nick Koster reports back from their tour base in Queenstown for Supersport.

"Deon Carstens was the buggy-racing champion. He claims it’s all skill but the rest of us are convinced it was just his weight advantage. And the fact that we believe he’s been on at least 100 overseas tours, since he started his provincial and Springbok career before most of us were born.

"I have really enjoyed having Deon around. He’s been around the block – more than a couple of times – and has many stories to tell. He is a keen gambler and managed to rope a few of the guys into a poker game on Thursday night. Burton Francis took everyone's money. By the end of the game, Frans Malherbe was so sleepy that he mistook an Ace for a four. It cost him big-time!"

April 10, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/10/2012

Test-like intensity

The Stormers' Bryan Habana and Duane Vermeulen celebrate victory © Getty Images

Paul Cully runs through the five things he learned in the latest round of Super Rugby, beginning with the pace-setting Stormers, in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"The Stormers are Test-like in their quality. This is no guarantee that they'll win the competition come August – on current evidence they'll lose half their side to Springboks duty in June – but you can only applaud what they are now. And they've done it by throwing numbers into the tackle, not the breakdown. It's a tweak on what Ireland did to Australia at the World Cup, but instead of holding up the ball-carriers, the Stormers' gang-tacklers are driving them back."

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/10/2012

Henry for the Blues

Chris Rattue calls for the Blues to employ Sir Graham Henry in their bid to rescue a miserable season in The New Zealand Herald.

"Sir Graham Henry for the Blues. Now. The World Cup-winning coach is needed in his old stamping ground to nurse a dishevelled side through to respectability or perhaps inspire a miracle recovery act in what is shaping as the Blues' most disgracefully disastrous season ever.

"The Blues board must perform radical surgery on the fallen giant, starting with the immediate sacking of coach Pat Lam. They could leave Bryce Woodward in the assistant role, and tug on Henry's heart strings should he need any persuading. Henry, who won two Super titles with the Blues and assisted them to their last triumph way back in 2003, would come in as an interim head coach before a giant cleanout takes place at Eden Park before next season."

April 9, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/09/2012

Big black blanket

Wynne Gray compares the Stormers to the All Black sides of old following their win over the Highlanders in The New Zealand Herald.

"Ferocious forward deeds created the "big black blanket" phrase used to describe the All Black pack.

"The deeds came from men of the Meads era, like brother Stan, Kel Tremain, Ken Gray, Brian Lochore, Waka Nathan, Bruce McLeod and Wilson Whineray, a group who hunted with collective intent and purpose. Their power was in their unity, their influence based on cohesion.

"The same could be said of the Stormers, the only unbeaten side in this year's Super 15 after grinding out their sixth straight win on Saturday."

April 7, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 04/07/2012

Tackling the scrums

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray looks at how referees have tackled the problem of scrums in Super Rugby.

"Scrums remain the most debated Super 15 topic among coaches and former test forwards but Sanzar officials note they are also the most improved part of the game.

Referees have been told to concentrate most on scrum, tackle and offside issues in the Super 15 and game manager Lyndon Bray says statistics show improved compliance in all areas.

"The big one is the scrum which has been terminally ill up until this year as a phase in the game," Bray told the Weekend Herald."

April 6, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/06/2012

The big three

James O'Connor dives in to score against the Blues © Getty Images

Michael Lynch salutes the Melbourne Rebels' big three - Kurtley Beale, Danny Cipriani and James O'Connor - following their victory over the Blues in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"In many cultures and religious traditions three is the magical number, the figure denoting unity and completeness.

"For those adherents of the Rebel faith the coming together last night of their own rugby trinity - James O'Connor, Danny Cipriani and Kurtley Beale - for the first time in a Super 15 match this season was supposed to bring strength and purpose to a side that was languishing at the foot of the league table.

"With only one win in five outings, and that by the narrowest of margins, a single point triumph over the Western Force in their last home game, the Rebels needed their three big-name players to impose themselves on proceedings."

April 5, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/05/2012

Failure is an orphan

Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie reflects on a difficult couple of weeks and sets out his goals for the remainder of the Super Rugby season in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan. Never have truer words been uttered as cumulative losses build an intensity and focus on our 2012 campaign.

"One thing that always makes me smile when facing challenging situations is the predictability that comes with the circumstances. Press conferences always get bigger and people start to write to you more. There is something gladiatorial about this - a bit of blood in the water and the sharks appear.

"What you can control is how you handle yourself. No matter if we are winning or losing, we will keep fronting up and telling it like it is. There are always reasons for things happening and we didn't become a championship-winning team overnight, nor will we become a bad team overnight."

April 4, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/04/2012

On the cusp of being feral

Could Jarrad Hoeata be the answer to the All Blacks' locking problem? © Getty Images

Gregor Paul looks at the All Blacks' lost stars - namely Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino - and what it will take to replace them in The New Zealand Herald.

"The country needs a hard man - a big scary bloke who keeps the Wallaby pack awake at night. Someone just a touch mental - on the cusp of being feral.

"Ideally, two borderline psychos will emerge this year as the All Blacks have lost their enforcement department now that both Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino have gone.

"Both Thorn and Kaino will be greatly missed for many reasons, but it was the volatility and extreme physicality they brought that will be hardest to replace."

April 1, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/01/2012

Day vs Night

The Waratahs' recent afternoon clash with the Sharks proved popular with supporters © Getty Images

Former Australia fullback Matt Burke argues the case for more afternoon kick-offs in Super Rugby in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"As I reflected on the opening rounds of the 2012 Super Rugby season, I couldn't help but notice the excitement among the players and spectators generated by afternoon games.

"It's the long-standing debate about when the game should be played. The question needs to be asked. Is the game being played for the benefit of the teams, the spectators or the TV rights holders?

"The debate about day versus night games will go on forever. The players want to play in the day and here are the reasons why. There is a better sense of awareness when you're playing in the day. Based on a dry afternoon, the ball handling is far better. The ball is nowhere near as hard to handle as the night games when the evening dew makes for slippery conditions. Therefore, rugby is an easier game to play, the skill level is higher and, to put it simply, not having to wait around all day is a pleasure."

March 31, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/31/2012

Alas, Smith and Smith

Wynne Gray has some advice for the All Black selectors following the Highlanders' Super Rugby rout of the Rebels in The New Zealand Herald.

"Mark down Smith and Smith because they should be in the All Black notebooks. They are not a southern legal firm but two Highlanders who dealt out rugby justice last night in Invercargill to the Rebel invaders.

"Halfback Aaron Smith and fullback Ben Smith starred in a rousing 43-12 victory as the Highlanders mocked the miserly margins in their four previous victories this season.
That sequence showed four, three, two and one-point advantages but as the Highlanders headed to their most southern ground in Invercargill, their winning margin soared north.

"The Smiths brought allround eye-catching quality as did flanker Adam Thomson in a three-try return to action - after a week away with injury- with a fourth rubbed out by the TMO. Behind the flashy stuff were men like Nasi Manu, Jason Rutledge and Josh Bekhuis who brought the toil so the athletes could strut their stuff in the comprehensive second-half shutout."

March 29, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/29/2012

Don't ask "why me"; don't ask for sympathy

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie faces up to his side's thumping defeat to the Bulls in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Well I wasn't expecting to be writing about a 60-point loss this week but it does give me an opportunity to put into words a completely new experience in my coaching or playing career. I feel it is warranted to discuss the pitfalls and opportunities that come with such an unwanted moment.

At this point, it's best to defer to the experts and I have sought the advice of NFL coach Bill Walsh, who dictates the five ''don'ts'' in this situation. Don't ask ''why me''; don't ask for sympathy; don't bellyache; don't keep accepting condolences; and don't blame others."

March 27, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/27/2012

Problems with players is they're human

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Cully counts down the five things he's learned from the latest round of Super Rugby.

"1. The problem with players is that they are humans

Coaches dip into a bag containing all manner of motivational tricks to ensure their players are in the correct frame of mind each week. It is an impossible task, and can result in grown men sleeping on bunk beds - probably asking in those dark hours why they accepted the task in first place. So when the Waratahs – pilloried for a week - produced a response like they did on Saturday, Michael Foley must be wondering if the Tahs respond better to the stick than they do the carrot."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/27/2012

Piri Piri chicken

Tracey Nelson delivers her statistical analysis of the New Zealand franchises' latest Super Rugby fixtures in the New Zealand Herald. Piri Weepu and the Blues look away now please.


Like a worn-out record the Blues lineout woes continued with Jason Eaton stealing two throws off the home side, while Jeremy Thrush and Victor Vito both got one each.

Thrush also stood out as the top tackler on the night, making a total of 16.

Andre Taylor made two clean linebreaks, the first his most impressive in what was a scorching run from his own side of halfway for the Hurricane's first try and his third of the season.

Piri Weepu was guilty of four missed tackles, including slipping off Cory Jane who scored in the first half and missing Beauden Barrett in the final moments in what was to prove to be the winning of the game for the Hurricanes."

March 26, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/26/2012

Entertaining rugby is not about the scoreline

The Waratahs celebrate a late try during their Super Rugby victory over the Sharks © Getty Images

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, John Eales reflects on the latest performances of Australia's Super Rugby sides.

"Despite what was hopefully an aberration against the Bulls, the Reds are a perfect illustration of just that as they have built their reputation on entertaining results.

"This wasn't actually a journey which began under EwenMcKenzie, as previous coach Phil Mooney had an attacking mandate and assembled some of the key players to deliver on the promise, but it was honed under his astute tutelage, for he understood that to capitalise on the upside, you must first manage the downside.

"Previously, the Reds had an attacking philosophy and showed glimpses of brilliance but were error ridden; last season they combined basics with brilliance.

"Of course, as it is a subjective matter, there will be conjecture as to what exactly comprises “entertainment” and what does not.

"Entertaining rugby for mine, however, is not about the scoreline or the number of tries but how smartly a team plays the game. That's what rings the bells, and the turnstiles.

"And the smart way to play will vary. Sometimes it will be through taking on the physical confrontation through mauling, sometimes through taking it wide, all the time through excellent execution as teams take their supporters on a journey with them, educating them along the way."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/26/2012

Referees proving to be a major obstruction

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Matt Burke believes that refs may be getting in the way of an expansive game.

"...there is still a limited understanding from the men with the whistle as to what the players are trying to achieve with the second-man play.

"A case in point was Adam Ashley-Cooper's disallowed try for the Waratahs last week. Rob Horne ran a strong line, with the Force expecting another crash ball. The defender had already made the decision to commit to the tackle, while Ashley-Cooper had run a great line to score what should have been a try from a well-worked play. Instead, the referee called it back for obstruction because the defender had thrown his arms up in desperation, shouting: "SIR!"

"The purpose of these plays, like anything in attack, is to force the defence to make a decision. This move has to be executed as close to the opposition line as possible if you are going to make the defender commit. That's when it's been done well. But the referees are blowing up the play, ruling obstruction from the attacker running the short line. I think this shows a lack of understanding from the men in the middle."

March 25, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/25/2012

Referees an obstruction

Former Australia fullback Matt Burke takes aim at referees' lack of understanding when it comes to 'obstruction' in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"I remember a training session with the Wallabies in Caloundra in 1998. Wayne Bennett had come along to observe. We were trying to expand our attacking prowess and had borrowed some ball-playing techniques that the rugby league boys had been using for quite some time. I'm talking about the second-man plays.

"The session went according to plan and we got through what we thought were some reasonable attacking options. Satisfied, the coaching staff thanked Bennett for his time and walked from the field.

"A few of the more inquisitive backs, however, stayed behind to talk to Bennett, making the most of a great opportunity to pick the brains of one of the best coaches in either rugby code. We asked him if we had been executing the plays correctly. In a very polite way, he said no. There were no egos among the players in taking the criticism – we wanted to soak up the advice being dished out by the then-Broncos coach."

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/25/2012

Precision and accuracy

Blues lock Ali Williams offers a frank assessment of his form to Wynne Gray in The Sunday Herald.

"The question, in retrospect, was a touch rambling with an impenetrable analogy about peaks reached and the potential for mental flat periods following.

"With a precision and accuracy that has mostly eluded him so far this season, Ali Williams had a direct response that does at least suggest he's not in denial about either himself or the Blues.

"Of course I had that moment [after the World Cup when I felt flat] and shoot me straight up, I am playing like shit. But what do you do? Do you live in another world and think you are not [playing badly]?"

March 22, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/22/2012

All change for Tahs

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald Greg Growden says the Waratahs are set for a massive overhaul.

"The Waratahs are uncertain how many will be in their squad next year or how much they can spend, but several high-profile players are already looking elsewhere. In the 22-man squad to confront the Sharks tomorrow are two forwards who are respectively contemplating offers from England and Japan, while a third was recently seriously considering heading to France. A back-line player has had discussions with another Australian province, but was met with only lukewarm interest and now seems to be heading to Japan. A dejected back, lucky to have been re-signed this year, is also wondering where to go. Two fringe forwards, who are not playing against the Sharks, are anticipating they will soon be farewelled by the Waratahs. No matter what, the 2013 Waratahs squad will be very different to this year's group."

March 21, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/21/2012

The cost of injuries

Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie deals with the issue of injuries, adn their effect on players and teams, in his column for the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Statistically, if a player returning from injury is still carrying an element of that injury, they are twice as likely to incur more damage. Given the Super Rugby season is getting longer, the idea of rushing players back or not resting them once fatigue hits is not a smart idea.

Injuries can have a huge impact on a team. Last year in the World Cup, New Zealand almost went into shock when Dan Carter was injured, followed quickly by Colin Slade and then Aaron Cruden. In the end, their depth and back-up plan shone through, with Stephen Donald stepping up to help them win.

At the Queensland Reds, we are up to our fourth injury replacement option this season in the No.10 jersey. I do, however, have something in common with Graham Henry - we share the same optimism that the next guy can step up. It's called faith and trust."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/21/2012

Easy Pisi

In the New Zealand Herald Daniel Richardson looks at the challenge facing Hurricanes new recruit Tusi Pisi as he arrives in Wellington.

"Like a high school student cramming for their final exams, Hurricanes' five-eighth Tusi Pisi knows the next few weeks will be full of study.

The Samoa international arrived in Wellington this morning (Wed) and greeted his new teammates for the first time at a wet and windy Hurricanes' training at Rugby League Park in Newtown."

March 12, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/12/2012

Derbies super competitive

Wynne Gray, writing for the New Zealand Herald, looks at the standard of New Zealand derbies.

"At last we have a decent New Zealand conference scrap after five years of sluggish Super rugby offerings.

In that time, only the Crusaders have been a beacon among the erratic New Zealand teams. Their worst round-robin finish in that time has been fourth as they picked up the 2008 title and ended as runner-up last season.

There have been blips of success for the others, probably better described as anomalies, such as the Chiefs finishing second in 2009 and the Canes coming third in the same season. On average though, results for the four other franchises have been underwhelming."

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/12/2012

Technique and influence

John Eales, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald looks back at Nathan Sharpe's remarkable career.

"Nathan Sharpe played his 150th game of Super Rugby on Friday night – against the Hurricanes in Perth – more than anyone from any of the three nations: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, that compete in the tournament. Unfortunately, it was memorable only for that particular achievement as he and his teammates would probably prefer to forget the 46-19 result.

Despite the outcome, however, after 70 matches for the Queensland Reds and now 80 for the Western Force, Sharpe has endured, and that deserves special recognition.

In fact, if someone only started following Super Rugby in 1999, they wouldn't recognise the competition without him. That will change at the end of this season when he retires."

March 8, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/08/2012

Waratahs beware

Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Cully warns the Waratahs ahead of their clash with the Highlanders that the New Zealand franchise are following of the All Black tradition of dominating the breakdown.

"There was a lovely little exchange picked up on referee Jaco Peyper's microphone during the fabulous Highlanders v Crusaders game last Saturday that would have prompted raised eyebrows among every loose forward across the ditch who has ever laced up a boot, and wry grins among fans that follow the Wallabies.

“You're taking space,” Peyper opined to outhouse-sized Highlanders No.8 Nasi Manu after he had made a huge tackle, released, got to his feet, and drove through and over the ruck. “You're taking space beyond the ball.”

It was a delivered as an admonishment, an explanation for the penalty Peyper had awarded, but it could just as easily have been an excerpt from the textbook on New Zealand forward play. Such is this game we love: legality is often in the eye of the beholder."

March 6, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/06/2012

McKenzie reluctant to complain

Reds boss Ewen McKenzie, talking to Greg Growden of the Sydney Morning Herald, is staying positive despite their nightmare fixture list.

"After just one round, Sharks coach John Plumtree was complaining there were too many Super Rugby local derbies, arguing that it was ''wearing the players down''.

The Australian coach who should really be moaning is the Reds leader Ewen McKenzie, whose start to the season is almost nightmarish, with three straight local derbies, followed by two weeks in South Africa tussling with the Sharks and Bulls, and then another derby against the Force in Perth.

Such a tough schedule has its logistical problems, as the titleholders will be heading to Durban just hours after Saturday night's match against the Rebels in Brisbane. But McKenzie argues ''there's no point getting stressed about it''.

''You take the attitude that as it's tough now, it must eventually get easier,'' McKenzie said yesterday."

March 5, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/05/2012

Writing on the wall for Lam

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Chris Rattue insists the pressure is already growing on Blues coach Pat Lam.

"The writing is on the wall for the Blues coach Pat Lam after a woeful effort in Hamilton. Lam won't last past this season and on what we've seen so far, there may be a case for relieving him of his duties before this long Super 15 campaign comes to what will be a depressingly inevitable conclusion for his hopeless mob.

"...Indeed, the Blues could now be rated as the worst of the New Zealand sides which is absolutely no surprise at all. Unfortunately, the signs were on the wall in the weeks leading into the season when it emerged that Tony Woodcock had granted himself a wee holiday, Piri Weepu would not hit the new season in top condition, and Ma'a Nonu would not hit the new season at all thanks to his Japanese sojourn. With Weepu a halfback option, Alby Mathewson looks befuddled, and maybe even pissed off."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/05/2012

One-eyed view from west of Rottnest

Former Wallabies and Reds star John Eales insists South Africa also benefit from the current Super Rugby conference system. Read his thoughts in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"You can never please everyone. Last week Sharks coach John Plumtree criticised the current conference system of Super Rugby, arguing it is unfair. The three-conference competition has each team playing each other team in their own conference twice and four of the five teams in each of the other conferences just once. He argues that there are too many local derbies and South Africa's local derbies are tougher than those of Australia and New Zealand.

"Plumtree's comments are common west of Rottnest but incomplete as the criticism makes sense on some levels but not in its entirety. On the surface, the Australian conference was less demanding than the other two in 2011 – as three of the five teams finished in the bottom five on the table, it is hard to argue otherwise. But that may not always be the case as there have been similar years when South African teams have clogged the bottom of the log. And sometimes relative position on the ladder belies the difficulty and toughness of the contest; home-town rivalry will see to that.

"From a business perspective, however, and Plumtree acknowledged this, the conference system works, and, like it or not, rugby at this level is a business more than a pastime, so it would be careless to tinker recklessly with a successful proposition."

March 3, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/03/2012

Get Carter

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Growden highlights how the Waratahs' Tom Carter exposed the Rebels' soft defence in their Super Rugby match-up.

"It was a turbulent night when the meek were soon exposed.

"And to the Waratahs credit, their newcomers were more than up to the task, with fullback Bernard Foley and halfback Sarel Pretorius excelling and all the NSW hard heads thrusting out their chests at the right time to enjoy a mean and nasty win over the Rebels.

"The Waratahs-Rebels boast a short history, as this was only their third encounter, but they attacked each other as if they had been involved in centuries-old territorial battles."

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 03/03/2012

Charging Rhinos

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray weighs up the increasing bulk on show in Super Rugby.

"A scan of the guide this season finds a dozen New Zealand players weighing in at 120kg or more.

"Highlanders lock Calum Retallick is close behind Tameifuna at 135kg, with Charlie Faumuina, Filo Paulo, Angus Ta'avao, Ben Afeaki, Brodie Retallick, Ma'afu Fia, Jamie Mackinstoh, James Broadhurst, Ben May and Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen breathing down their necks.

"Intriguingly, not one Crusader is on that list - their heaviest squad member is prop Nick Barrett at 117kg."

March 2, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/02/2012

Cipriani a weak link?

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Matt Burke puts Danny Cipriani's defensive work under the spotlight ahead of the Rebels' opening Super Rugby clash of the season against the Waratahs.

"What the Waratahs need to reflect on perhaps is their second game against the Rebels last year. It was tight until half-time and then they ran away with the game. This week will be no different. The intensity at the tackle is going to be huge.

"Yet you still have to question the defensive capabilities of the Rebels even though they have had five months of getting their systems sorted. The Chiefs, in an earlier trial, put six tries on them. While it might be foolish to read too much into a trial, I would prefer to have scored the six than let them in. So perhaps there are still some mixed signals when it comes to this team's defence.

"If I was the Waratahs coach I would be asking my runners to make a beeline at the No.10, just to make the experience as uncomfortable as possible. Try to isolate Cipriani as much as possible, creating extra work to nullify the other parts of his game."

March 1, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 03/01/2012

A sorry state of affairs

A New Zealand Herald editorial analyses the current state of Otago.

"The plight of one union should not be the catalyst for turmoil and dramatic change. All sorts of radical prescriptions have been suggested since the full extent of the Otago Rugby Union's financial woes was revealed. It would seem, according to several former Otago players, that the union is merely the unfortunate victim of an unaffordable and unsustainable structure.

Some have even suggested the situation is so dire that the only answer is to return the national provincial championship to its amateur roots. They are over-reacting. While falling gates and player wages have created challenges for all provincial unions, Otago's wretched situation is hardly typical."

February 29, 2012

Posted by Huw Baines on 02/29/2012

Old school values

Adam Thomson charges clear for the Highlanders © Getty Images

Gregor Paul analyses the differing fates of Otago and the Highlanders following the opening round of Super Rugby in The New Zealand Herald.

"It's a touch ironic perhaps that old school values will be the making of the Highlanders but have been the killing of Otago.

"The Highlanders were in many ways the best thing about the opening weekend. They came to Hamilton amidst a serious injury crises that had already seen them raid the ranks of the Chiefs wider training squad and force 37-year-old scrum coach Kees Meeuws into the Auckland heat the previous week.

"Yet there was no negative talk from them in the build-up to their first game. There were a million excuses for them to reach for but never did."

February 27, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/27/2012

How the top two inches wins titles

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray reflects on the opening weekend of Super Rugby action.

"Class under fire. It is a precious commodity which the Reds and Crusaders showed as the Super 15 re-entered our sporting landscape.

"When sports coaches are quizzed about what separates the strong from mediocre teams, they invariably tap the top of their bonce and mention phrases about the top two inches.

"Little separates high-performance sides in their physical preparation, they are drilled to withstand the mixed challenges of speed, endurance and power which rugby demands.

"But when the general requests disperse and teams are asked to deliver, those who operate most calmly in blast furnace heat show their value."

February 23, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/23/2012

The hunted

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie confronts questions of complacency ahead of his side's Super Rugby defence in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"So I am led to believe that we are going to be ''hunted" this year. The Queensland Reds are going to be targeted, while also being so riddled with complacency and the good life that they are incapable of mustering a whimper let alone a sweat.

"Going out there and playing rugby each week is just going to be just too hard for this group - it's a bridge too far - bring me another pina colada and get Big Kev a mojito from the wet bar.

"Contrary to popular opinion, our young charges, whose average age is just 24, have not had their feet up. I am not sure where it is written that just because you win a championship that it's automatic that you can no longer be motivated enough to win another."

February 22, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/22/2012

10 ways to improve rugby

Rattue argues that we should embrace the drop-goal © Getty Images

The New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue provides 10 ways to improve the game ahead of the new season of Southern Hemisphere rugby.

"The national obsession starts up again this week. Here's a few improvement ideas for rugby.

1. Encourage the TV commentators to be a little kinder on the referees.

Players contest the breakdown, and commentators contest breakdown decisions. Constantly. Continually analysing this highly subjective area of the game is pointless, unfair on referees and affects the legitimacy of the sport. A few of our commentators appear to believe they know the rules better than the whistlers, which I bet they don't. The main point here is that breakdowns can indeed be things of beauty if there is greater acceptance that interpretations of them are largely in the eye of the beholder. Rugby by nature is something of a lottery folks - and the game appears all the better when you accept that. As for coaches who keep demanding greater consistency at the breakdown, they are usually excuse-makers who should put more energy into doing their own jobs better."

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/22/2012

Reds have the formula for success

John Eales, in his column for the Sydney Morning Herald, argues that the Reds are the favourites for the Super Rugby title despite being without Quade Cooper.

"For many, the shortest month of the year has popularly become the month for abstinence from alcohol.

Most call it FebFast. Some of my friends, however, call it "friendless February" because it's the month you lose your personality – and therefore your friends.

For others, February is the start of Super Rugby. This year's edition starts on Friday and, as always, it's a time where much of the inquiry speculates on the personality of the provinces and much of the pressure bears down on the teams to play both attractive and winning rugby.

One of the problems with such a challenge lies in the definition, as what is deemed attractive rugby is not always winning rugby and what is winning is not always attractive."

February 21, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/21/2012

Australia's unluckiest player

The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Gowden talks to Wallabies prop Benn Robinson about his comeback from injury.

"It's easy to choose the most relieved player in the Australian Super Rugby ranks. Wallabies prop Benn Robinson wins comfortably after he convinced himself and state selectors that his long injury ordeal was finally over by playing in the Waratahs comfortable trial win over Tonga in Sydney on Friday night.

Robinson was Australian rugby's unluckiest player last season. He hurt his knee last July, in what appeared to be an innocuous moment, when he set off for a run during a Wallabies training session at Coogee Oval before the Test against Samoa in Sydney.

And that was the last time Robinson was sighted in 2011, having to withdraw from the World Cup squad due to a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus. If available, Robinson would have been among the first picked for the World Cup. Instead, he was a frustrated spectator, although he had some involvement as a tournament expert on television."

February 20, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/20/2012

Believe in basics

Can a team lose a wealth of stars and still be competitive in the toughest competition in world rugby? Supersport's Brendan Nell previews the Bulls' Super Rugby campaign.

"There seems a never-ending queue of people lining up to write off the Bulls' chances this year, and while those in Pretoria may feel aggrieved, there is some merit to the theory.

"After all, no team come through unscathed when they lose a pack, their general and the architect of their success. The Bulls have certainly felt the losses, having said goodbye on the playing field to Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp, Gary Botha, Danie Rossouw and their general Fourie du Preez.

"Add to that Heyneke Meyer’s departure to the Springbok job and the brains trust has been depleted somewhat at Loftus.

"But despite all of this there is optimism in the Bulls ranks. They will rightly point out that they won two Super Rugby titles without Meyer helping incumbent coach Frans Ludeke and that the structures are what are important in their quest for glory."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/20/2012

Big effort needed to get Super fans back

The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Clever believes New Zealand's Super Rugby sides need to buildo n the success of the Rugby World Cup.

"New Zealand was the most disappointing performer during the 2011 Super 15 season in terms of people through the gate and eyeballs harvested on television.

"There were extenuating circumstances - most notably the Crusaders' being forced away from AMI Stadium - but nothing that could totally account for the fan apathy.

"While there was a rejuvenation of the Highlanders under Jamie Joseph, which is expected to continue with the move to the Forsyth Barr Stadium, the crowds were patchy at the Blues and grim at the Chiefs and Hurricanes.

"The Chiefs were hampered by shocking weather, with home games having a knack of coinciding with miserable conditions (a run that continued in the pre-season match with the Hurricanes in Taupo on Friday). Poor form did not help either."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/20/2012

Carter's understudy finally gets his chance

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Richard Knowler previews the opportunity afforded Crusaders playmaker Tyler Bleyendaal.

"Tyler Bleyendaal's separation from the Crusaders' No. 10 jersey is finally over

"With All Blacks five-eighth Dan Carter on extended leave and not likely to be sighted in Crusaders colours until late March, Bleyendaal is expected start at No.10 in Friday night's Super Rugby opener against the Blues.

"And when the 21-year-old runs on to Eden Park it will put an end to a year of frustration after not winning a Super cap last season.

"Following Saturday night's 19-14 win over the Rebels in their final pre-season outing in Melbourne, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder confirmed Bleyendaal will take the chief playmaker's responsibilities.

February 18, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/18/2012

Not a title defence

In the New Zealand Herald Justin Chadwick reports from the Reds's preparations for their Super Rugby title defence.

"They're confident - but just don't call it a title defence. Ewen McKenzie's Reds are heading into the Super 15 in rich form.

His big-name stars - inspired by the likes of Digby Ioane and Will Genia - were at their clinical best in a warm-up match against the Force, with their ability to string phases together on a consistent basis proving the difference.

The 40-10 thrashing of the Force in a trial match in Perth brought more bright news for the defending champions, with outside centre Anthony Fainga'a making it through 40 minutes unscathed in his first game back since shoulder surgery."

February 14, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 02/14/2012

White cards

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray looks at the change in officiating in this year's Super Rugby

"Watch for the white card during the Super 15.

Referees who suspect foul play but cannot identify a culprit or pinpoint the incident will use a white card to alert a citing commissioner to scan the footage.

That "on report" move is one innovation being introduced when the Super 15 begins next week.

Administrators, officials, referees and coaches have also agreed to streamline the judicial process, with players cited to face charges initially offered leaner bans if they accept a guilty plea and suspension suggested by the duty judicial officer."

February 11, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/11/2012

Loud and proud champions

The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden reports on the atmosphere surrounding reigning Super Rugby champions the Reds ahead of the new season.

"Ewen McKenzie has been on a fitness drive, lost the bulk around his girth, and looks taut, trim and terrific. But that doesn't mean the successful Reds coach has suddenly become feeble. No, he is again pushing straight off the front foot, arguing his team won't be going into their shell and want to be proud, loud winners.

"McKenzie could easily head in another direction, as he has justifiable reasons to be cautious."

February 4, 2012

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 02/04/2012

Rebel recruits impress

Stathi Paxinos reports for the Syndey Morning Herald on the Melbourne Rebels' pre-season preparation as they faced the Chiefs in a friendly in Geelong.

"Kurtley Beale showed glimpses of what the Melbourne Rebels faithful hope to see this Super Rugby season when the Wallabies full-back provided some of the rare moments of excitement in the team's 36-0 loss to the Chiefs in the year's first pre-season game last night in Geelong.

"At first glance the scoreline, with the Rebels giving up six tries, could give the impression that last year's wooden-spooners could be in for another hard season, but fellow star recruit James O'Connor disagreed. ''A trial game's [just] a trial game''.

"Beale excited the crowd with a couple of line busts and runs from full-back and, after playing about 30 minutes, declared that his troublesome hamstring, which he injured at last year's World Cup, had held up during the game."

February 2, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/02/2012

Rathbone reveals depression battle

Former Wallabies international Clyde Rathbone has gone public with his battle with depression. The Canberra Times' Jacqueline Williams reports.

"He played almost 30 Tests for Australia and was considered one of the most damaging rugby players in his heyday, but Clyde Rathbone was living a lie at the peak of his career and was close to becoming "another statistic".

"The former rugby star, who lives in Canberra, yesterday opened up to family and friends for the first time about his long battle with depression. Rathbone told his story to the The Canberra Times because he wanted people to know that the battle with depression could be won.

"This is an opportunity to make something good out of a bad situation... I just thought it was now or never," the 30-year-old said. "Hearing something like this when I was going through it may have helped me. The message is that depression is not just survivable and the goal should never be just to survive, you should be thriving."

January 30, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/30/2012

Tahs put their faith in Elsom

Rocky Elsom will be unveiled as the captain of the Waratahs tomorrow, capping off a spectacular return to the NSW franchise where he started his Super Rugby career and first captained the side in 2007. The Sydney Morning Herald's Josh Rakic reports.

"New coach Michael Foley and his assistants have spent the past month in discussions with senior players to find the perfect replacement for retired skipper Phil Waugh. And after narrowing down what it was the players expected and wanted from a captain, Elsom emerged as the clear choice.

"With Waugh having captained the side for the past five years, most Waratahs players only knew him as the captain, leading Foley to call on his eight-man leadership group and senior players to help elect a new skipper.

"Dan Vickerman had been touted as a possible option given his experience and composure but Elsom's history as Wallabies captain and his existing relationships with much of the team helped him get the nod."

January 23, 2012

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 01/23/2012

An immediate impact

The New Zealand Herald claims that Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor will take their bow for the Melbourne Rebels sooner rather than later.

"Wallaby recruits James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale are set to don the Rebels colours for the first time next week in Melbourne's opening Super Rugby trial match.

O'Connor has only been training with his new outfit a week and Beale is still on the mend from a hamstring injury, but coach Damien Hill said he wanted to see the stars in action against the Chiefs in Geelong on Friday February 3.

"Against the Chiefs, it will probably be a case of giving the whole squad some game time,'' Hill said.”

January 12, 2012

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/12/2012

Low odds on Ripia's prospects

The New Zealand Herald's Patrick McKendry reflects on the gambling woes of former Western Force player Willie Ripia.

"You can get away with quite a few things in rugby, even in the professional era, but former New Zealand Maori player Willie Ripia has learned that stealing from your teammates, as he is alleged to have done at the Western Force, is not one of them.

"...It's understood Ripia was officially reprimanded at least once because of behavioural issues connected to gambling and also alcohol while with the Hurricanes. Some officials there breathed a sigh of relief when he left.

"Although rugby players and officials tend to turn a blind eye to the occasional gambling or alcohol indiscretion, stealing from your teammates is seen as the lowest of the low."

December 22, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 12/22/2011

Win or die trying

Daniel Richardson, writing for the New Zealand Herald, looks at the Hurricanes' prospects for the forthcoming season.

"If a week is a long time in politics then a year in rugby must feel like an eternity.

Twelve months ago - give or take a few weeks - Mark Hammett was preparing for his first season as coach of the Hurricanes, a Super Rugby franchise known for their flash, brilliant and audacious backline play rather than the number of trophies in their cabinet.

From the glory days of Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga and Jonah Lomu in the late 1990s and early 2000s to the slick moves of Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu and Cory Jane in 2010, the Hurricanes knew how to entertain the crowds."

December 12, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/12/2011

Rebels to put Russia's raw talent to the test

Melbourne Rebels second-rower Adam Byrnes was dumbstruck during his first gym session with the Russian Rugby World Cup squad this year. The Sydney Morning Herald's Georgina Robinson reports.

"The backs were lifting the same weights Australian forwards usually lift and there wasn't a spotter in sight.

"I saw how naturally gifted these players are athletically, more so than any squad I've been a part of – the Reds, Waratahs, Leinster and the Rebels," Byrnes said.

"Just the build of the squad, they were truly pure athletes, but it was frustrating in the [World Cup] to see the disappointment when their defensive line was wrong or their scrum and lineout techniques weren't quite right.

"They can be so much better; I just saw the massive potential."

"Now back in Melbourne, Byrnes is campaigning to bridge the gap between Russian rugby's raw talent and its experience."

December 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 12/03/2011

Tew looks abroad for Super Rugby investors

The Blues could be run from overseas under a new licensing model proposed by the New Zealand Rugby Union according to the New Zealand Herald's Dylan Cleaver.

"The national body is advertising for expressions of interest in four of the five New Zealand Super rugby franchises, with NZRU chief executive Steve Tew saying the search will not be limited to this country.

"We're quite happy to go beyond the borders of New Zealand," Tew said. "We'll make it very clear, though, these teams will be New Zealand-owned and continue to play in our competition in New Zealand."

"The union signalled its intention to partly privatise its franchises two months ago and with this formal step out of the way, it's hoped licence holders will be in place by the start of the 2013 season.

"Tew admitted yesterday that "there's not a lot of economic sense in many of the investments in professional sport around the world".

"Given the NZRU will retain full ownership of the franchises, the contracting process and be involved with coaching appointments, it's reasonable to ask just what bang potential licensees would be getting for their buck?"

November 19, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/19/2011

Ashley-Cooper to bloom all over again

Adam Ashley-Cooper's switch to Waratahs brings an opportunity to bloom all over again according to the Sydney Morning Herald's Georgina Robinson.

"The new grandfather of the Australian back line, Adam Ashley-Cooper, has conceded he'd gone ''stale'' at the Brumbies and is ready to reinvent his career in Sydney. On the eve of the Wallabies' two-match spring tour, Ashley-Cooper said joining the Waratahs for the 2012 Super Rugby season was a much-needed chance to shake up his game.

''For me it's just an opportunity to start again,'' the 27-year-old said. ''I spent eight years in Canberra and I felt towards the end my football had become a little stale, so the change and coming up to Sydney and being part of the new set-up is very exciting for me. It's a chance to revitalise my career and prove myself all over again.''

"Ashley-Cooper has been proving himself in spades, playing every game of this year's Super Rugby season, every Test and every minute in the Rugby World Cup.

"He travels to Britain today as a veteran of the Wallabies' back line and, in the absence of the injured Drew Mitchell, Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale, hopes to shoulder some of the leadership responsibilities."

November 18, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/18/2011

Beale vows to aim up, not play up

Melbourne Rebels recruit Kurtley Beale has played down concerns that the side's off-field exploits will overshadow their Super Rugby performances. The Sydney Morning Herald's Georgina Robinson reports.

"With two big-name signings, last year's Super Rugby wooden spooners the Melbourne Rebels are suddenly packed with promise.

"Wallabies Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor will join good friend and England import Danny Cipriani to form a potentially explosive play-making trio and lift the fortunes of the competition's newest franchise.

"And yesterday Beale moved to dispel any concerns the trio's off-field activities would take the shine off their exploits on the field.

''I think we've all got this expectation of ourselves and what we bring to each other and also to our teammates, so we don't want to let anyone down and let anyone think that we're only in it for just the fun side of things,'' the 22-year-old said."

November 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/10/2011

McKenzie locked in by Reds

Wallabies coaching contender Ewen McKenzie doesn't covet Robbie Deans' Test post but there are no fears Queensland's Super Rugby-winning mentor will jump ship overseas. The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

"McKenzie and Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) chief executive Jim Carmichael today both stressed he wouldn't be leaving Ballymore anytime soon.

"Post-World Cup speculation has had the Reds coach in line to work as an assistant or consultant to Deans to boost Australia's coaching team, or be picked off by a foreign rival.

"Story continues below But McKenzie denied he was interested in either prospect and conceded his QRU contract, which expires at the end of 2013 at the same time as Deans', had no escape clause to become a Test mentor overseas."

November 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 11/03/2011

A damp squib

The New Zealand Herald's Patrick McKendry is less than impressed by the announcement of the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchise squads.

"It's Guy Fawkes night on Saturday and emergency services around the country will be ecstatic if the traditionally explosive affair passes with the sort of whimper that today's announcement of the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchise squads represented. As damp squibs go, this one couldn't light a match.

"...An NZRU media release was sent at 1.15pm today confirming the make-up of the five squads. Until that time media organisations had to contact each franchise in a bid to have the squad lists sent through. In the age of the internet and instant news, this isn't good enough.

"Super Rugby? Let's hope so. A super start? Definitely not."

August 2, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 08/02/2011

Last one out switch off the lights

Toby Robson, writing for The New Zealand Herald, analyses the recent happenings at Super Rugby franchise the Hurricanes.

"Hurricanes fans are being dragged kicking and screaming into rugby's professional era.

Coach Mark Hammett is public enemy No 1, the man who is taking apart "their" team. And he's a Cantab to boot. It's simply too much to take.

First it was Skux and Horey, then Azza, and now Powza is heading north.

It prompted Wellington board member Ken Laban to tweet this week he and the rest of Wainuiomata would be Blues supporters next year.

But what happens if Piri Weepu heads to Europe or Japan in 2013?

Will it be Blues or Hurricanes then?"

July 12, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 07/12/2011

Reading the tea leaves

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."

July 11, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

From rabble to rugby's rousers

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."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

Unlikely Reds among worthy champs

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."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/11/2011

The Reds' badge of courage

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."

July 9, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/09/2011

History nears for McCaw's troops

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."

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/09/2011

Generals' tactics hold key to victory on battlefield

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.”

Posted by Mark Doyle on 07/09/2011

Can Cooper get Carter?

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

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 07/08/2011

Epic finale

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."

July 7, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 07/07/2011

Fly-half battle

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.”

July 5, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 07/05/2011

Super Rugby reflection

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). "

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 07/05/2011

Too close to call

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. "

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 07/05/2011

Epic final

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."

July 4, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

Reds just out to have fun

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."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

The Southbridge Magician v The Tokoroa Conjurer

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."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/04/2011

No disgrace in losing to quality team

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?"

July 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

SANZAR ready to review 'ring-in' rule

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)."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/03/2011

Cooper steers charges into the big one

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."

July 2, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/02/2011

Sonny Bill may join Nonu at the Blues

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."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/02/2011

'Lions fought transformation'

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."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 07/02/2011

Crusaders shine a beacon of hope

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

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 07/01/2011

Epic Super Rugby

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. "

June 27, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 06/27/2011

Winning ugly in Super Rugby

Following the Blues victory in the Super Rugby play-off, Jamie Pandaram looks at their unique brand of 'ugly rugby' in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"How ironic.

Two sides in this year's Super Rugby tournament were roundly berated for their conservative attack, yet the team that survived the first round of the finals was the one crowing about the merits of ''winning ugly''.

The Blues, particularly playmakers Stephen Brett and Luke McAlister, suppressed their urges to create 80-metre tries by kicking long and loud in the second half against the Waratahs - who continued with short chips that confined them in dangerous territory.
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The teams scored two tries each, and penalty goals proved to be the difference. Penalties accrued through possession in NSW's end, with the Blues pressuring their defence."

June 20, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/20/2011

Crusaders ready to cut loose

The Crusaders are ready to step things up a gear in the Super Rugby Finals according to Marc Hinton from

"Having survived what they've survived and come through what they've come through, the Crusaders are clearly up for anything their coach can throw at them.

"So when Todd Blackadder walks into the tunnel in Wellington on Saturday night and talks about his team being ready to "unleash" in Super Rugby's finals arena and his players being "fresh, fit and determined" you couldn't help but marvel at the audacity of the man.

"His troops had just concluded the most gruelling, sapping, emotional round-robin campaign in the history of a pretty tough competition, and there was Blackadder lifting the bar even higher. Not so much patting his players on the back, as smacking them upside their heads.

"Never mind that his men had just completed their 11th win, to go with a draw and just four defeats, in a season that's seen them play not one single match in their home town. The neverending tour was about to hit playoff territory, and Blackadder had a message to deliver."

June 17, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/17/2011

Tahs need arrogance about them

The boys in blue need some arrogance, and to watch their language, too - according to Matt Burke in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"The Waratahs need to walk into ANZ Stadium with great self-belief. A team that says, ''I am a top-six team.'' They should take some arrogance into this encounter - balanced with respect. Take the lead from Phil Waugh, and follow Kurtley Beale as he advances up the field.

"In a game like this a team pressing for a place in the finals can play a little tight knowing what the outcome brings. You can play flashy by having a skill level. That's when the 50-50 passes stick, they might even become 60-40 when confidence is high.

"But the Waratahs have too much to play for to let this game slide. They will want to work for this victory because it will justify their position in the top six."

June 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/10/2011

Telling Super 15's fortunes

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray casts an eye over the penultimate round of Super Rugby action.

"The Waratahs and Highlanders are chasing the leading group of six and meet in Sydney tomorrow. It's possible both could miss the finals if they win one and lose their other remaining match.

"If pushed to consult the crystal ball, gaze at the tea leaves and spin the dice, the best bet might be that both will miss the finals, leaving the Reds, Stormers, Blues, Crusaders, Sharks and Bulls to juggle their order and shoot for the inaugural Super 15 title.

"Of those, the Bulls are perhaps the most vulnerable. They have twin local derbies to finish against the Stormers and the Sharks who lie ahead of them in the points table.

"While all six leading teams at the moment are scrambling to remain in that group, the prize for consistent performance is being the top team in each conference. The best teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa automatically qualify for the playoffs, those conference winners assured of a finals match at home."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 06/10/2011

Five big Newlands match-ups

Sport24 offers five one-on-one duels that could have a bearing on the outcome of the Stormers v Bulls humdinger on Saturday.

"1. Andries Bekker (Stormers) v Victor Matfield (Bulls) - Should these quite outstanding No 5 locks be fighting for only one slot in the Springbok team this year? If that is the case, then rightly or wrongly Matfield must be favoured to start because of his deep-rooted role within the “leadership core”. But the cat might be among the pigeons if Bekker gets the better of the more seasoned international again: he did so in overall terms during the first-round encounter at Loftus. Still, more and more critics are just beginning to fancy that you could play the Stormers man at No 4 for the Boks, considering his much better ability and willingness these days to “mix it” and do unglamorous coalface chores. Matfield is back much nearer his lineout A-game at present ... it only spices this particular clash of minds and bodies even more.

"...5. Jean de Villiers (Stormers) v Wynand Olivier (Bulls) - The Bulls’ awakening in recent weeks has coincided influentially, I believe, with Olivier rediscovering some lost lustre at inside centre. Like most players in his midfield role, he is in his element when his team is going forward ... he has started probing gaps once more, and also taken the ball into contact with commendable gusto as the Bulls have found strong “second wind” mojo at Loftus of late. But this is Newlands, where another blond, wily bomber lurks in the form of De Villiers. This Bok favourite was pretty close to his lethal best in the destruction of the Rebels last weekend, which he may feel bodes well for his clash with Olivier. No disrespect to Jaco Pretorius, but he is advantaged, too, by having the ever-classy, great-communicating Jaque Fourie as his “13” on Saturday ..."

June 9, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 06/09/2011

O'Connor worth a million?

Boy-wonder James O'Connor is hot property © Getty Images

After news of James O'Connor rebuffing the Reds came to light, Simon White ponders how much the wonderkid is worth in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"If James O'Connor re-signs with the Western Force for another season - as is widely expected - the 20-year-old will reportedly cost the Perth Super 15 franchise, Australian Rugby Union and assorted third parties up to $1 million.

But what is O'Connor really worth?

The answers vary from "plenty" to "not as much as some people reckon", depending on who you speak to and how you ask the question."

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 06/09/2011

Nonu undermined coach?

After Ma'a Nonu's imminent departure from the Hurricanes was announced, it has emerged that he and Andrew Hore refused to accept the coach, according to Toby Robson, inThe Dominion Post.

"Those who think coach Mark Hammett arrived with an agenda to drive out the senior Hurricanes players this season are wrong.

"But in week 16, Nonu's was an act of petulance that may have rubber-stamped his belief there were certain players who would not, and could not, change.

"Similarly, captain Andrew Hore's continued penchant for a midweek pint suggested he too either could not, or did not, want to get with the programme.

"Hammett has tried to put stakes in the ground about the standards he expects.

"Nonu has pulled them out from the moment he was yellow-carded twice in the opening match against the Highlanders."

June 8, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 06/08/2011

Mealamu Blues' only hope

A bloodied Kevin Mealamu looks on © Getty Images

Chris Rattue, the eternal Blues pessimist, believes only Kevin Mealamu can halt the slide in The New Zealand Herald.

"He's the last great standing and Keven Mealamu is the Blues' best hope for turning their free-falling season around.

This is a forlorn hope, of course, as anyone who watched them stumble around Eden Park last Saturday night would attest.

And they've got virtually no chance of winning in Timaru, where Pat Lam's troops will face a Crusaders outfit whose desperation levels will be raised by Richie McCaw's absence."

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 06/08/2011

All Blacks success secondary

The architect of this year's Rugby World Cup says he would rather see the All Blacks lose the tournament than New Zealand botch its hosting role in the The Sydney Morning Herald.

"In comments likely to puzzle a small country painfully aware of its under performance in World Cups past, Martin Snedden said most of the 85,000 people expected to visit New Zealand in September and October "don't give a toss" if the Kiwis win.

"I talk to New Zealand audiences all the time about this and half the audience shakes their heads and think I'm an idiot," Snedden, a former international cricketer and past New Zealand Cricket chief executive, said."

June 7, 2011

Posted by Tom Hamilton on 06/07/2011

Auckland feeling the Blues

Chris Rattue argues that Auckland rugby needs restructuring despite the Blues finding themselves top of the New Zealand conference, in The New Zealand Herald.

"Auckland rugby needs a giant shake-up and having the Blues perched near the top of the Super 15 tables presents an illusion about the city's rugby strength.

"The Blues were awful against the Chiefs on Saturday night in a very poor game. Judging by the grandstand scenes, a lot of people were put off by a combination of bad weather and Auckland's poorly sited and outdated stadium. Considering Auckland is the country's largest city, the Blues are challenging for the title and the Chiefs represent a local derby, this was a sadly vacant scene."

June 6, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/06/2011

Thinking outside the box

Scott Higginbotham makes some yards against the Blues © Getty Images

Wayne Smith proposes something radical for the Reds, namely switching back-rower Scott Higginbotham to midfield for their meeting with the Force, in The Australian.

"The Reds lost half their backline in their brutal 22-14 loss to the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, with strike winger Digby Ioane, defensive linchpin Anthony Faingaa and rising fullback Ben Lucas all badly injured.

"A stunned hush fell over the stadium when Ioane was knocked out cold by a head-high tackle by Ita Vaea in the 49th minute -- a moment of carelessness that earned the Brumbies number eight a one-week suspension yesterday -- but for all the drama surrounding the incident it appears he will spend less time on the sidelines that his two other injured teammates."

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/06/2011

Send in the TMO

Greg Growden calls for players to be allowed to refer contentious refereeing decisions in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Tennis players do it. Cricketers do it. Now it's high time to let rugby players do it. Let's all do it. Let's fall in love with the idea of giving rugby teams a chance to dispute dreadful refereeing decisions.

"At the top level, tennis stars can query line calls. International cricketers have taken to calling on the third umpire to adjudicate on contentious lbw decisions and other forms of dismissal.

"And after this year observing a long line of mind-boggling decisions from Super Rugby referees or their supposed back-ups - touch judges who now go under the glorified name of assistant referees - it's time that team captains who feel hard done by can go to the chief whistleblower and call for a second ruling on contentious calls."

June 3, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 06/03/2011

It is all about living in that 80-minute moment

Writing on Rugby Heaven, Adam Freier talks about the way in which his attitude towards the game has changed over the course of his career.

"On a typical training day in Carlton, I sit in the eating area with my teammates loading up on packed lunches and sandwiches. We are not far away from our field session and each player leaves to get strapped or begin their warm-up. Like most days this year I know I will be watching from the sidelines. I find myself alone, head down in a bowl of chow.

"Enter Robbie Deans. New Zealander by name and Aussie by trade. There is much to like about our national coach. With a half crooked smile and the tight handshake that starts from far out wide, his mannerisms would suggest he has spent a lifetime as a fair dinkum Australian.

"Robbie is known among the players for his long, delayed silences while in deep conversation. In the movie world this would be articulated as "dramatic effect", but in Robbie's world it is more often a way of delivering the right message. A message that has played a part in my recent rugby reincarnation - it's time to start living in the 80-minute moment."

June 2, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 06/02/2011

Forget Quade for a minute

Reds playmaker Quade Cooper © Getty Images

In his regular column in the Sydney Morning Herald, Ewen McKenzie salutes the no-frills players in every team who receive little recognition for all of the good work they do.

"The media hype last week surrounding Quade Cooper and Sonny Bill Williams resembled that of a boxing match rather than a rugby contest. But the reality was that the supporting casts from both teams were going to play just as influential of a role to the outcome of the game.

"I actually made the offer at one press conference to discuss the merits of a Kieran Read or Owen Franks but to no avail. Every day, I seemed to answer the same questions about the same players. Even Richie McCaw and Dan Carter seemed to get pushed into the background.

"We can all get caught up in the key messages, topics and individuals pushed by those in the media. We only really know what we are told and we can only talk about what we know so it becomes self-generating.

"Rugby for me is the ultimate team sport for all body shapes and sizes. The contribution of the entire team is just as critical to the end result."

June 1, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 06/01/2011

Sonny Bill is no superstar

Sonny Bill Williams in action during the Crusaders' loss to the Reds © Getty Images

Mark Reason fires a shot at Sonny Bill Williams as the Crusaders centre returns to the boxing ring in The Dominion Post.

"Roll up, roll up, see the giant tattooed man and his amazing offloads. Sonny Bill Williams is a freak show.

"His manager Khoder Nasser has swapped the old Victorian leopard skin for a pair of boxing gloves, but the message is the same: "It's showbiz, baby, SBW tops the Bill, he's the biggest draw in town."

"And there ain't a thing wrong with any of that. Professional sport is about entertainment and people pay to watch Sonny Bill. Kevin Kiwi may be bonkers to part with a cent to watch Williams box, but they probably said the same thing about those Victorians who queued up to see the bearded lady."

May 27, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/27/2011

'Super Rugby not so Super'

The new format of Super Rugby is not so super from the perspective of South African teams - Sport24's Stephen Nell writes.

"That is the view of Stormers chief executive and WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd managing director Rob Wagner, who has written to SANZAR about the issue.And, in an interview with Sport24, Sharks and Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis has raised some points on how South African teams are being disadvantaged.

"...“That inequality in the tournament definitely needs attention because as things stand now, the playing field is definitely not level for all the teams,” said Du Plessis.

“It’s much easier for a team like the Reds to play the Rebels and Force twice than it is for us to play in tough derby matches every week."

May 26, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/26/2011

Feeding the beast

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has a healthy relationship with the media © Getty Images

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie offers an insight into his relationship with the media in his latest column for the Sydney Morning Herald.

"People often ask what it’s like to deal with the media.While I generally enjoy the interaction with the media, I fully understand that like a pet snake; it has a great capacity to bite you if not dealt with in the right manner. I’ve found that if you work with the journalists then you find the bite is almost never too toxic and you are able to recovery quickly from your wounds.

"As a coach, it’s imperative you grasp both the essential role the media play in the business of sport and the different requirements of every journalist and their broadcast medium. You deal directly with some journalists and others not at all, so it’s important to be pushing the correct messages at every opportunity you get."

May 23, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/23/2011

Self-interest will boost code

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, former Wallabies skipper John Eales defends the Super Rugby format.

"Certainly, the new Super Rugby system is not perfect but it is the most interesting since its inception. The most conspicuous flaw is that each team doesn't play every other team in the pool matches, as each side will skip one team in each of the other conferences. Significantly, in both the NRL and the AFL competitions, although teams do play each other at least once, they play only some teams twice. So occasionally, even in these mature competitions, one's season may sway on the luck of the draw.

"This may not be ideal in any system, however Super rugby maintains its integrity through the finals system where, if a team happens to slip through an easier conference, they should be accounted for in the play-offs. Despite this anomaly, regardless of conference, it is hard to argue that this isn't the most difficult Super competition to win so far.

"Certainly it is now a more robust product and can raise its head less shyly against the more established behemoths of the NRL and AFL. In fact its international flavour gives it a viable point of difference."

May 18, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/18/2011

Haskell weighs up Super Rugby switch

It is the quality of the experience that holds the key to James Haskell’s happiness as he weighs up his playing future.The Daily Telegraph's Mick Cleary reports.

"Those who doubted the reasons behind James Haskell’s move to Paris might take heed now as he considers a stint in Super 15 rugby, a return to the Premiership or staying put with Stade Français. It is not about the money, it is about the quality of the experience.

"Haskell is back on British soil on Friday night when Stade Français take on Harlequins in the final of the Amlin Challenge Cup at Cardiff City Stadium.

"He is a better player than when he left two years ago, tougher mentally, more mature and, as shown when starting every one of England’s Six Nations matches, he brings energy and physicality to the game.

"Haskell went to France not for the big bucks but to find himself. In short, he has grown up. That was the real value in the deal."

May 17, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/17/2011

Reds have come of age

Quade Cooper celebrates his early try against the Blues © Getty Images

John Eales believes that the Reds have proven their mettle as a top-level side in Super Rugby in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Rugby is typically most entertaining when equal teams are the combatants. It also helps when they bear a similar mindset. The best thing about playing the All Blacks is that they back their skills and their tactics against all comers. So do the Reds and the Blues, so when they confront each other the result is delectable.

"There is no question that playing entertaining rugby requires a positive mindset but if it were that simple Anthony Robins and Deepak Chopra types would be in everyone's roster. But it also requires both skill and speed; the former beget's the latter.

"Accuracy in the execution of your skills is the antecedent of speed hence the reason the Reds sit atop the Super rugby table. For it was such precision, particularly at the breakdown and for the most part in defence, that delivered quick and quality possession from which the Reds pressured the Blues."

May 16, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/16/2011

Boxing not-so-clever

Sonny Bill Williams will make his fourth pro boxing appearance on June 5 © Getty Images

Chris Rattue questions Sonny Bill Williams' decision to return to the boxing ring mid-season in The New Zealand Herald.

"The Crusaders were running on empty in Bloemfontein yesterday morning and if they've got any sense, or any say in the matter, they'll be telling Sonny Bill Williams to forget about his June 5 boxing bout.

"After Williams failed to appear for the second half during the loss to the Cheetahs because of what is being described as a minor knee knock, you also wondered if he was now putting his sporadic boxing career ahead of rugby.

"Okay, there was some injury, but his departure was hardly an example of the do-or-die mentality we see on our television screens every day - in the ubiquitous, myth-making All Black-laden advertisements, that is."

May 14, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/14/2011

More surgery for Super Rugby?

Super Rugby adopted a new format this year but Wynn Gray, in the New Zealand Herald, believes a revamp is needed to revive the competition.

Whatever, the figures are not flash. Here's a couple of ideas for retooling the series.

* Start it a month later in March and slash it to a transtasman contest just like the netball competition so we get all the games in a similar time-zone.

* Run the semi-professional ITM Cup at a similar time, perhaps as curtainraisers to the Super 15 matches. That would free up part of the congested rugby calendar and have fit replacements on tap if needed for Super 15 injuries.

* It may seem old-fashioned but every team should play each other. Then we can forget the imbalance of the Crusaders, for example, this season not playing weaker sides like the Lions and Rebels.

* Forget the June break for tests. About 130 players in the New Zealand sides should not have to down tools so 30 others can ply their international trade.

May 12, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/12/2011

Learning from league

Reds scrum-half Will Genia clears the ball © Getty Images

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie compares kicking tactics in union and league on Rugby Heaven.

"There is always discussion around the volume of kicking in the Super Rugby competition. On the surface, most people equate more kicking with the game being less interesting. History tells us that in most Super years, the high volume kicking teams tend to be more successful.

"This year the stats show it's the Australians who are leading the kicking charge. The devil is always in the detail and it's worth discussing the role kicking plays in today's game.

"The expression “field position” is generally coupled with the idea of kicking the ball so that the game is played in the opposition half."

May 10, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/10/2011

What to do with Danny?

Mick Cleary gives his view on Danny Cipriani's recent troubles with the Melbourne Rebels in The Daily Telegraph.

"For one whose vision fired his imagination on the field of play, it was the one quality he lacked away from the game, never showing the slightest sign that he could see himself as others perceived him.

"Self-confidence is all very well: self-awareness is a far more precious character trait. This time, there is to be no get-out sympathy clause for Cipriani, no George Best mitigatory joke when a hotel night porter might wonder where it all went wrong as the footballing genius lay on his bed surrounded by cash, champagne and girls. Best had conquered the sporting world before the devil raised its horns within.

"Cipriani has not even left the foothills. A mere seven caps is all he has to his name and a celebrity quite at odds with his achievements."

May 9, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 05/09/2011

In a good place

Gavin Rich previews the Stormers' tour and analyses their increased options after the return of some big names on

"Tiaan Liebenberg, who started the year as the first choice hooker but suffered a knee injury, returned from a nine week lay-off towards the end of the Crusaders match and after also playing part of a Vodacom Cup match the week before he will now have shaken off enough rust to be up for selection to the starting team for the opening tour match against the Chiefs on Saturday.

"But Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is in the happy position of not needing to rush Liebenberg back into action as Deon Fourie has been one of several young players who has been a revelation in the first half of the season. It won’t be an easy selection for Coetzee, and neither will be some of the selection decisions he faces in the backline.

"Both Peter Grant and Bryan Habana have been declared fit to play against the Chiefs if Coetzee wants them to. But both Lionel Cronje and Johann Sadie have done well enough in the absence of the experienced star duo for it not to be completely necessary for Coetzee to start with them. This could be a time when, like Sharks coach John Plumtree, the Stormers coach can look at adopting a policy of easing injured players back through the bench."

May 7, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 05/07/2011

Blowing the whistle on fair comment

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Spiro Zavos questions where the lines should be drawn in criticising officals.

"The case of Digby Ioane suggests that all the tweets in rugby should be restricted to the whistle of referees. That seems to be the official position. But it seems clear (to me, at least) officials have overreacted to Ioane's criticism of referee Keith Brown. Their main game should be to get rid of the ''hometown'' referee system.

"Ioane, a passionate, intense player, was overcome with distress when Aaron Cruden kicked a penalty right on full-time to give the Hurricanes a victory against the Reds. After the final whistle the injured winger tweeted ''worst ref ever''.

"SANZAR has gone totally over the top by fining Ioane $2000 and forcing him to make a grovelling apology: ''I'm sorry for any harm that I may have caused … Referees deserve respect.'' Well, yes. But the problem is just how respectful players and, say, commentators should be to referees. Not as respectful, in my view, as SANZAR wants them to be."

May 6, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 05/06/2011

Sonny Bill show hits Cape Town

So finally South Africans will be able to see what the whole deal with Sonny Bill Williams is when the Crusaders run out at Newlands on Saturday. Sport24's JJ Harmse reports.

"He is big and strong and very skilful in offloading in the tackle. There cannot be any doubt that this match will present a massive challenge for him. The home side has only conceded six tries in the competition this far, so has a proven defence. What's more, their midfield combination is the best in the country.

"Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie have played in 22 Tests as a midfield combination since first combining more than five years ago and have admitted to developing a ‘sixth sense’ in what the other player will do. They are also the two most capped centres in South Africa, with De Villiers (53) just ahead of Fourie (51) when it comes to caps as a centre.

"They are also in a battling each other to become the midfielder with the most Test tries. Neither is known as an awesome defender, although Fourie’s ability to organise defences is well respected.

"I am sure they have made a plan to combat Williams this weekend (not to forget Robbie Fruean of course), but I thought some extra advice for the Stormers midfield couldn't hurt..."

April 28, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/28/2011

White hot on discipline

In the Sydney Morning Herald Greg Growden reflects on the appointment of Jake White as the latest coach to attempt to revive the fortunes of the Brumbies.

"David Nucifora tried, and was shown the door. Andy Friend was more malleable, and was also shown the door. Now Jake White will attempt to transform the Brumbies from a province that once succeeded due to the influence of player power but is now struggling, into a more traditional football organisation where the coach is boss and the players follow.

The former Springboks coach will make a difference in Canberra because he won't have anything to do with players setting the agenda. And he won't feel obliged to mollycoddle past Brumbies stars who are looking for a cosy off-field position. White will only associate himself with those who understand that he is No.1 in Brumbyland for the next four seasons."

April 27, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/27/2011

Cips set for axe?

Danny Cipriani's defensive frailties have placed his position in the Rebels starting XV in jeopardy, says Jamie Pandaram in the Sydney Morning Herald

"A major problem for the Rebels defence has been the lone rush-up style by five-eighth Danny Cipriani, which has created holes either side that have been exploited heavily this season. But Waratahs coach Chris Hickey refused to identify Cipriani as a weak link.

''He brings a lot to the Rebels in terms of his ability to control field position from his kicking game, and the number of points he's scored off the boot have been really significant for them in the games they've won,'' Hickey said.

The Rebels will finalise their team today, with speculation that Cipriani would be dropped to the bench following his poor defensive efforts in the past few weeks."

April 25, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/25/2011

Bulls at a tipping point

The defiance in their eyes may still save them, but even the Bulls management must realise by now they are at a tipping point this season, so writes Supersport's Brendan Nel.

"The three-time champions returned home on Monday from a rough tour – where they suffered a whitewash against the Crusaders, were bamboozled by the Reds and pressed the self-destruct button against the Force to return home with their tails between their legs.

"The opening victory over the Hurricanes was the only reward the defending champions could take for their troubles, and now face the possibility of missing out on the enlarged playoffs altogether.

"Whichever way the Bulls look at it, things don’t look good for them. They languish in eighth position on the overall log, six points behind the Waratahs and a massive 12 points behind the Sharks in third place in the South African conference."

April 20, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/20/2011

A surprise runner

Mark Gerrard has been in strong form for the Rebels © Getty Images

Former Wallaby Mark Gerrard has emerged as a front-runner for Australia's Super Rugby Player of the Year, The Sydney Morning Herald's Jamie Pandaram reports.

"Gerrard has enjoyed a fine season for the Melbourne Rebels despite playing just five games due to injury, and has bucked the trend of players fading away after heading overseas.

"He gained an early release from the third year of his Brumbies contract to join Japan's NTT Communications in 2009, and played his last Test for the Wallabies at the 2007 World Cup, but national selectors will have taken notice of his renaissance."

April 19, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/19/2011

Brisbane league team in talks with SBW

A Brisbane league franchise that doesn't have a ground, a name or a competition to play in, is in talks to sign All Black Sonny Bill Williams after the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand Herald reports.

"Williams is contracted with the New Zealand Rugby Union until the end of the this season and can't play in the NRL until 2013 as he's still tied to the five year contract he signed with the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2008.

"Cooper's contract with the Australian Rugby Union also expires at the end of 2011.

"We don't know whether we're in or not, but we have approached Quade and Sonny," Brisbane bid delegate Bill Rae told the newspaper.

"We want Quade and Sonny Bill to get their World Cup campaigns out of the way first, but once that is done we will up the ante for them."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/19/2011

Quade the Wallaby weak link?

Sport24's Gary Boshoff bucks the trend and suggests that in-form Reds fly-half Quade Cooper may not be the Wallabies' most potent weapon.

"However, despite his incredible abilities, it is his combination and almost telepathic relationship with his halfback partner, Will Genia, which has been the secret element of his success. Genia, like George Gregan was to Stephan Larkham, is the one that is always scanning for attacking opportunities: he constantly checks where the defences are lined up; who is lined up in defence and on what side and then makes the decision to attack with either a flat or wide ball.

"The combination of Genia and Cooper has much to do with the degree of success Cooper achieves in any given match. Saturday was one of those days when the combination could do no wrong and produced the desired results.

"While Cooper might be a very gifted stepper, passer and distributer of the rugby ball, he is not, in my opinion, the ideal flyhalf to take into a playoff at the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

"Firstly, his goal kicking success record is one of the lowest in Super Rugby while his passing exploits tend to be high risk and prone to being disrupted or spoiled by intelligent defenders."

April 18, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 04/18/2011

How do you spell 'culture' in Melbourne? C-a-s-h

Waratahs fullback Kurtley Beale recently announced his decision to join the Rebels next season © Getty Images

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Growden argues that it is money, and money alone, which is attracting top players to the Melbourne Rebels.

"The Super Rugby scene has suddenly become a barrel of laughs. The first half of the Eden Park match on Saturday night was like watching an old TV episode of Batman, with ''Crash'', ''Bang'' and ''Kapow'' screaming across the screen every time a Waratah fell over, missed a tackle or knocked himself out.

"A few hours later came a marvellous moment of mirth when Digby Ioane performed ''the Dancing Crab'' after scoring an exceptional try for the Reds in an extraordinary match at Suncorp Stadium. Ioane should be fast-tracked into the Australian Olympic Games gymnastics team after that acrobatic effort.

"Nonetheless, the most side-splitting moment came when Rebels officials tried to hoodwink all by arguing the reason Kurtley Beale was leaving the Waratahs for Melbourne next season was related to culture, not cash. The Rebels clearly aim to make their organisation sound like the world's most enviable rugby outfit, and their agenda revolves around pushing the line: ''It's not about money.... It's the pursuit of excellence."

April 17, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/17/2011

Reds rack up sixth straight win

The Sydney Morning Herald's Phil Lutton reports from the Reds' latest Super Rugby success against the Bulls.

"When they trounced the Reds 30-6 in round two of the Super Rugby season, the Waratahs had every reason to feel satisfied with their night’s work.

"The problem is, next week they travel to Suncorp Stadium to face the very monster they helped create. The Queensland Reds are quickly becoming a rugby juggernaut and it’s the Tahs they have to thank.

"In a game of immense quality last night, the Reds posted their sixth consecutive victory with a 39-30 win over the defending champion Bulls at Suncorp Stadium. Tactically, there are improvements to make but the willingness to smash the ball into traffic or drop the shoulder in defence was beyond reproach.

"It wasn’t so in round two, when the Waratahs belted the ambition right out of the Reds and put them back in their box after the chirps they made in the previous season, one in which they went from laughing stock to potent threat."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/17/2011

Bulls better...but stuffed

Sport24's Rob Houwing reflects on the Bulls latest Super Rugby defeat at the hands of the Reds.

"In certain respects, it might have been better if the Bulls had simply repeated their Timaru horror show last week and we could all have begun to suspect that there must be unrest of some sort in the champions’ camp.

"But events in Brisbane on Saturday, where the once-mighty Bulls were beaten once more -- 39-30 by the delightfully free-spirited and inventive Reds – did very little to suggest that disharmony is poisoning their flickering Super Rugby campaign.

"For the one thing Victor Matfield’s side did appear to win back in Queensland was their spirit, so glaringly absent for large tracts of their humiliation at the hands of the Crusaders.

"They got stuck in with much more of the bodies-on-line relish you could once virtually take for granted, and never allowed their heads to drop despite being on the back foot, both in field position and scoreboard terms, for the bulk of the pulsating contest."

April 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 04/15/2011

Beale signing points to Rebels' winning ethos

Waratahs fullback Kurtley Beale will be lining out for the Melbourne Rebels next season © Getty Images

Writing on Rugby Heaven, Adam Freier ponders the significance of Kurtley Beale's imminent move from the Waratahs to the Melbourne Rebels.

"No words can explain Kurtley Beale's decision to come to Melbourne more than his actual movement towards the Rebellion.

"His signature is a remarkable one for the Rebels but what we really need to pay homage to is that this is a colossal step in taking our game to a "national" level.

"The Rebels are fortunate, in that the NSW Waratahs have done a remarkable job in his development from a teenage prodigy into the young man he is now.
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"The Rebels can only ensure that he will join a nursery of talented young men with whom he will continue to grow. The question will be asked, should a state such as NSW lose one of its true talents to ensure the growth of rugby in Australia?"

April 13, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/13/2011

A bicycle wheel on a monster truck

Toby Robson takes a light-hearted look at the latest Super Rugby action in The Dominion Post.

"Coach Todd Blackadder has fallen in love with small-town South Island."If I had my way, we would be going back every week to there [Timaru] and Nelson," he said, clearly enamoured with the former's Aigantighe Art Gallery and Nelson's Enriching and Wellness Day Spa.

"The good: A team that doesn't skip a beat without Carter at first five-eighth. All due respect to Matt Berquist, but it's a bit like putting a bicycle wheel on a monster truck and nobody noticing."

April 11, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/11/2011

Bulls lucky to get zero

The Crusaders' Kieran Read fends off the Bulls' Dean Greyling © Getty Images

Sport24's JJ Harmse believes the Bulls were lucky to only lose 27-0 to the Crusaders in their latest Super Rugby clash.

"The one positive the Blue Bulls Company should take from yesterday's woeful Bulls performance is that they probably won’t lose any players for the Currie Cup competition.

"It is incredibly hard to envision them producing any Springboks for the World Cup if they keep on performing like they did against the Crusaders.

"The Crusaders thrashed the (current) champions 27-0.

"It is not often that you see guys throwing away their names in 80 minutes of rugby like we saw yesterday, which is probably the Bulls' darkest day in recent Super Rugby history.

"You would have to go back to 2005, when they also scored zero points (against the Higlanders), to find a more pathetic performance like the one in Timaru yesterday.

"The Bulls were unable to catch, unable to tackle, unable to think, and showed about as much heart as a French soldier during the opening weeks of the Second World War.

"Yes, they were lucky to get zero."

April 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/10/2011

Reds on top of Super rugby table

The Reds have stamped themselves as genuine Super Rugby title contenders by upsetting the previously-unbeaten Stormers 19-6 in Cape Town. The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

"It gave the Reds a 2-0 record from their two-week road trip to South Africa and put them equal with the Crusaders on top of the ladder (30 points), but in No.1 spot as they have enjoyed more wins.

"Not since 1999, when John Connolly coached them to the minor premiership, have the Reds sat atop the Super Rugby table.

"In a match which was to offer Queensland a true gauge of their ability following five wins over bottom seven sides, the visitors rose to the challenge in front of a packed-out Newlands Stadium.

"The Reds quietened the capacity crowd quickly by grabbing the upper hand largely through a superior kicking game from Cooper and Genia to play the bulk of the first half in the Stormers territory and with front-foot ball."

April 8, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/08/2011

Scrum like it hot

The Waratahs dominated the Chiefs up front last weekend © Getty Images

Greg Growden looks at the recent strides made by Australian franchises at the scrum in The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Over the years, Australian front-rowers have grown accustomed to being laughed at for resembling puffed-up pillows.

"However, it is only when the Australian scrums have at last gained some parity at set-piece time that the criticisms have come from a less personal angle, all aimed at undermining their progress. That was the case this week when the Chiefs queried the Waratahs' scrummaging technique.
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"After several seasons in which the Australian scrums have wavered, the early rounds of the Super Rugby season have shown the local front-rowers are getting their act together."

April 7, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/07/2011

Polota-Nau needs to be wrapped

Tatafu Polota-Nau is set to be a cornerstone of the Wallabies' World Cup challenge © Getty Images

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Cully casts his eye across the Super Rugby stage with one eye on the World Cup.

"If the ARU were to book a significant delivery of cotton wool to Waratahs HQ every Monday morning with a polite but insistent note reading, "For the immediate and/or future use on one Mr. T Polota-Nau" it could hardly be blamed.

"The sight of the outstanding hooker - and, to a lesser extent, Benn Robinson - repeatedly peeling himself from the SFS deck in obvious discomfort on Friday night before hurling himself back into the action was another reminder in a World Cup year of the potential for the needs of the Wallabies and the Super franchises to clash.

"Thankfully, Australian rugby has been absent of the club versus country rows that have bedevilled northern hemisphere rugby, especially in England, and credit must go to the organisations involved for managing that relationship, or least keeping any disputes behind closed doors.

"There is no suggestion that Polota-Nau is playing injured but his immense worth to the Waratahs, and his own determination to play on through pain, at least create the possibility that what is good for the Waratahs might not be good for the Wallabies. Coincidentally, the debate about overplaying Victor Matfield has also begun in South Africa."

April 4, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/04/2011

A clash of styles

The Bulls were able to smother the Hurricanes © Getty Images

Wynne Gray ponders the respective World Cup styles of the All Blacks and Springboks after the Bulls' win over the Hurricanes in The New Zealand Herald.

"Fast forward to October. The All Blacks want to play a fast-paced, ball-in-hand style of rugby at the World Cup.

"The Springboks will favour muscular confrontation and an aerial bombardment if they adhere to recent comments from coach Peter de Villiers, who wondered why his side should vary much from the attritional, combative style the Springboks had used with success in annexing two World Cups.

"Late-night kickoffs, greasy conditions, rugby under increased sudden-death pressure and lights - they are conditions favouring a kicking game unless your interplay is spot-on."

Posted by Huw Baines on 04/04/2011

A different type of contest

Brian Moore offers his thoughts on the difference between Super Rugby and Test matches in The Daily Telegraph.

"It is correct that the game was one of the best examples recently seen at Twickenham of teams, particularly the Crusaders, giving an exhibition of running rugby, sleight of hand and the basics of running and support play. However, the automatic assertion that this is how the Tri-Nations teams play is wrong and any proper and disinterested comparison of the facts shows this.

"Unfortunately, anyone who has the temerity to point this out runs the risk of being denounced by rugby’s thought police. It is rugby’s equivalent of questioning whether Arsenal might temper their manager’s quest to play perfect football by occasionally being pragmatic and shooting at goal.

"During the said game, and in countless games in the Super 15 in this and previous seasons, teams are determined to commit the fewest number of defensive players possible to the breakdown. On Sunday last week, the defending team had two or fewer players in the vast majority of rucks and on several occasions had none, because the lone tackler himself got to his feet and then defended further out. If this sounds fanciful, watch the replays properly."

April 2, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 04/02/2011

Super 15 dynamos raise the bar

Writing in The Independent, Brian Ashton reflects on the impression left by the recent Super Rugby clash at Twickenham.

"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Where do the die-hard critics of Super 15 rugby go now, following the fast-flowing splendour of the Crusaders-Sharks game at Twickenham last Sunday? I spent some time at the annual National Schools Sevens tournament this week and bumped into no end of people – from Joe Public on the one hand to international coaches and players on the other – who had been blown away by the standard of play produced by Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams and the rest of the southern hemisphere cast.

"The question posed by those still to be convinced by the kind of spectacle produced by the New Zealand and South African franchises is a basic one: is it real rugby? There is no doubt that Super 15 has an element of "entertainment" built into it, but whether this is necessarily a bad thing is open to debate. You might argue that in the professional age, when people pay good money to watch live sport, "entertainment" should be obligatory. But leaving such philosophical discussions to one side, we can surely base a judgement on whether Super 15 is in any way artificial on the evidence of our own eyes, and I have to say that the heavy-duty scrummaging of the Crusaders tight forwards and the ferocity of the counter-rucking by both sides as they went in search of turnover ball looked pretty real to me."

March 31, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/31/2011

John Smit's days numbered?

How much longer will the Sharks rugby team continue with John Smit? Sport24's Christo Buchner reports.

"On current form the Springbok captain certainly does not deserve his place in the Sharks team. In fact, he should not even be on the substitutes bench.

"The front-row dilemma that the Sharks have - they feel compelled to pick Smit - might well trip them up in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition.

"Sharks coach John Plumtree admits that the scrumming performance against the Crusaders was the worst in a long time.

"The New Zealand team shoved the Sharks backwards at Twickenham in London as if it was the easiest thing in the world. “We did not scrum well. We were weak in that area of the game,” said Plumtree.

"While Plumtree will not openly criticise his captain, it did come through that Beast Mtawarira’s appearance in the second half brought about a major improvement."

March 30, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/30/2011

Twickenham fails to fill Crusaders' coffers

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Crusaders' high-profile Super Rugby clash with The Sharks was not the money-spinner they had hoped.

"While the Crusaders' Super Rugby match at Twickenham last Sunday proved an on-field success, the New Zealand club says it was not the financial lifeline it hoped for in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.

"The team remains homeless and cash-strapped after Christchurch's AMI Stadium was damaged in the February 22 tremor which claimed more than 160 lives, forcing it to host "home" matches in venues holding barely 10,000 fans.

"The match at London's famous Twickenham, where the Crusaders emerged 44-28 victors in a pulsating clash with South Africa's Sharks, was supposed to shore up the club's books after the quake.

"However, the 35,094 crowd at the first Super rugby match ever played outside the southern hemisphere fell well short of the 55,000 anticipated, leaving the the competition's most successful team in a financial hole."

March 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Doyle on 03/29/2011

Crusaders performance reminiscent of 1970s France

Writing in The Independent, Peter Bills salutes the Crusaders for producing a thrilling exhibition of back-line brilliance in London at the weekend.

"The creative back line skills of the Crusaders in the highly revealing Super 15 game at Twickenham on Sunday were better than almost anything I have seen in world rugby since the French at the start of the 1970s.

"The intuitive ball skills, the ability to find space, make the ball do the work and do the basics crisply and efficiently hallmarked this outstanding performance. There have, of course, been some superbly talented threequarters in world rugby over the course of the last 40 years. The British & Irish Lions’ back line of 1971 in New Zealand, for example, was exceptional.

"But I can’t remember players from a single country combining to perform so brilliantly in back line play since the French at the start of the 1970s. In that era, they had ball players of genius like Jo Maso and Pierre Villepreux, and they supplemented them with the likes of Jean Trillo, Jean Pierre Lux, Roger Bourgarel, Jean Sillieres and Jean-Louis Berot."

March 28, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/28/2011

Crusaders rise to the occasion

A Crusaders fan holds a placard supporting the earthquake-hit city of Christchurch © Getty Images

The Sydney Morning Herald's Marc Hinton believes All Blacks coach Graham Henry has plenty to smile about following the Crusaders eye-catching showing against The Sharks at Twickenham.

"The sight of Carter slipping into his best form would have been worth a line or two. Not that the master five-eighths is under any sort of selection threat - far from it - but it's always nice when your key men confirm their class.

"Carter certainly did that. His running and distribution game was quite magnificent, his kicking was perfect and his combination with Sonny Bill Williams has now reached a level of such fluency that it must start to have major All Black implications.

"As good a soldier as Ma'a Nonu has been, how can Henry not now be tempted to leave this Crusaders five-eighths pairing intact come the international programme?

"Williams is certainly playing his part in that equation. Another storming display would have done nothing to dampen the hysteria around this fabulous athlete, and it's hard to see how he does not now have the inside running on that black No 12 jersey."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/28/2011

A glorious showcase for Super Rugby

The Guardian's Rob Kitson reports from the Crusaders' impressive Super Rugby victory over The Sharks at Twickenham.

"Adversity brings out the best in some people. It will take more than a decent 80 minutes of rugby to rebuild the ruins of central Christchurch but a spectacular win for the Crusaders achieved some important goals in the London sunshine. The occasion not only raised £175,000 in ticket revenue alone to help victims of last month's earthquake but will have done almost as much for the morale of those clearing up the mess.

"Last but by no means least this was the day when several fond, smug northern hemisphere assumptions were systematically torn apart. Yes, the weather was glorious and conditions perfect for running rugby. Yes, there were 22 internationals on the field at kick-off. Yes, a few tackles went astray. But long before the Crusaders wing Sean Maitland scored the decisive ninth try of a pulsating match it was equally clear that those who reckon the Super 15 has nothing to teach its European counterparts inhabit the myopic land of cloudy cuckoos."

March 26, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/26/2011

Superficial rugby?

The Crusaders players train in London ahead of their Super Rugby clash with the Sharks © Getty Images

In the Independent Chris Hewett speculates whether Super Rugby clash between the Crusaders match and the Sharks at Twickenham on Sunday will reveal the competition to be trully super or merely superficial.

"There have been times over the last 15 years when oval-ball aficionados in the British Isles – indeed, in Europe as a whole – felt entirely justified in viewing southern hemisphere Super Rugby, in its many numerical manifestations, with the deepest suspicion. Cavalier refereeing, a blatant disregard for the basic tenets of the sport, the sacrificing of "real" union on the altar of mass entertainment... all these alleged sporting outrages left traditionalists from the old country feeling about as comfortable as a fish in a tree. Forget "super", they said, and try "superficial" instead…

Tomorrow afternoon, upwards of 40,000 spectators – maybe even 50,000, depending on the size of the last-minute walk-up to the Twickenham turnstiles – will watch two of the leading exponents of southern hemisphere franchise rugby, the Christchurch-based Crusaders and the Durban-based Sharks, strip layers from each other in the recently expanded Super 15 tournament."

March 25, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/25/2011

White will bring broom to Brumbies

Eddie Jones has predicted that if close friend Jake White wins the coaching job at the Brumbies, he will get rid of the existing assistant coaches.The Sydney Morning Herald's Jamie Pandaram and Rupert Guinness report.

"The forecast by Jones, a former Brumbies and Wallabies coach, brings into doubt the futures of the coaches at the ACT team: Tony Rea, Stephen Larkham, Justin Harrison and Marco Caputo.

''That's an organisational decision, but if an experienced head coach comes in to an organisation, he wants to put in his staff,'' Jones said.

"The Brumbies sacked head coach Andy Friend after just two games this season amid speculation the players led a revolt, although more recently it has been suggested that the assistant coaches played a part.

"Rea was appointed as Friend's replacement but Brumbies chief executive Andrew Fagan flew to South Africa last week to interview White for the head coach role. If appointed, White would not tolerate player pressure, said Jones - who was White's assistant during South Africa's World Cup victory in 2007."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/25/2011

I won't change - Bakkies

Springbok lock Bakkies Botha will not change the way he plays, even though there is growing evidence that he is being targeted by citing officers. Sport24's Brendan Nel reports.

"Botha, speaking at the Blood Brothers breakfast in Pretoria – to celebrate his testimonial year with lock partner Victor Matfield – received a standing ovation when he told the crowd he would not back down from his physical approach on the field.

"But Botha did call on officials to have a look at the citing system, and he was supported by Matfield, who indicated that Botha was looked at with a different set of rules than other players.

"While Botha is known for his approach, he is seen as a serial offender and has been in the dock a number of times for foul play. He did, however, escape any punishment when charges of a dangerous tackle on scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenhage in last weekend’s game against the Stormers were thrown out by a SANZAR judiciary.

"“I work hard and things happen on the field. I did wrong last year and paid the price for it, but I stood up and came back from that,” Botha said in reference to his nine-week ban for head-butting All Black scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan in the Vodacom Tri Nations test in Auckland."

March 24, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/24/2011

Crouch, touch, pause... audience disengaged

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Reds coach Ewen McKenzie wades in on the scrum debate.

"A scrum will collapse because the directional forces - one and a half tonne in each direction - get to an impossible angle so that collapse is inevitable.

"Loose footing, feet too far back, standing too far apart, poor techniques, inability, lack of sound mind and heart all might contribute. But essentially, the physics dictates it will happen if there is mis-alignment.

"The scrum laws of today have evolved primarily to add safety to the process and assist in controlling the variables at the scrum engagement. The bit when the scrums come together has not changed a great deal. How you get to that point has.

“Crouch…..Touch…..Pause……Engage” is what is called the cadence and there are efforts worldwide to make the timing of this to be consistent and slow. This is to make the scrum entry more homogenous and safe.

"What is interesting is that in some games there are many collapses and in some games there are none."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/24/2011

SANZAR's debt to Cheetahs

Sport24's Rob Houwing believes that SANZAR owe the Cheetahs a debt of thanks following their upset victory over the Waratahs.

"Was it simply an aberration? Clearly the Waratahs think so, because I read in the Sydney Morning Herald afterwards that the players themselves convened a rare “truth session” on the Monday.

"And back-rower Ben Mowen conceded: “The way we were beaten suggests we did take them for granted.”

"Never mind all that: the mere fact that this result actually happened would have caused widespread relief, I imagine, among SANZAR officials (or at least those without real or sentimental links to the Waratahs).

"And yes, it was enough to make me rethink for the moment my own intention to lament an increased watering-down of this competition.

"I do rather hope it serves as a catalyst now for other “minnows” like the Lions and Rebels (especially when they step on long-haul flights) to wish to emulate the Cheetahs for shock factor against supposed big guns.

"Super Rugby needs, from time to time, outcomes like Waratahs 3 Cheetahs 23 if it is going to thrive down the line."

March 23, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/23/2011

Youth of today

The Stormers put the brakes on the Bulls last weekend thanks to Bryan Habana © Getty Images

Gavin Rich looks at the importance of youth development following the Stormers' Super Rugby victory over the Bulls on Supersport.

"Coach Allister Coetzee and the players deservedly took a lot of credit for the Stormers’ famous drought-breaking win over the Vodacom Bulls last weekend, but a statement from skipper Jean de Villiers inadvertently pointed to someone else who should be lauded for his massive role in the turn-around.

“The age-group teams are enjoying great success and a lot of those players are now coming through into the senior team,” said De Villiers.

“The injection of new blood has been refreshing and it has brought a fresh attitude. Someone like Gary van Aswegen (last year’s WP under-21 flyhalf who sat on the bench at Loftus) has never lost against the Bulls. So for him there is no baggage when he plays against them.”

March 16, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/16/2011

A sign of things to come?

Wynne Gray evaluates the Crusaders' decision to take a Super Rugby match to Twickenham in The New Zealand Herald.

"The Crusaders have always been the red-and-blacks. Even more so now as matches in Christchurch are farmed out from their earthquake-ruined stadium.

"Figuring out a solution to their disrupted Super 15 campaign is about finding a balance between holding matches for their supporters and making a profit, seeing the figures in the black column swamp those in the red.

"So if chief executive Hamish Riach and his advisers figure the best deal for the Crusaders is to play their sixth-round clash against the Sharks at Twickenham, rather than say Nelson, Timaru or Eden Park, they should go for it."

March 12, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/12/2011

Cipriani - hero and villain

The Sydney Morning Herald's Stathi Paxinos reports from the Rebels' latest rollercoaster of a clash that ended in defeat to the Sharks.

"After the disappointing effort against the Chiefs the previous round, it was the Rebels' turn to show the fighting spirit as they rattled the Durban-based South African team in a way they have not been this season.

"The game went down to the wire when Rebels blindside flanker Jarrod Saffy scored a try, which Danny Cipriani converted with two minutes remaining to reduce the deficit to two points and giving the crowd hope of a similar last-minute win to their round-two upset over the Brumbies. But things were not to be, time running out for a Rebels outfit that had regained much respect with the performance.

"Rebels coach Rod Macqueen said he was proud of his side, which secured two bonus points for scoring four tries and finishing within four points of the Sharks."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/12/2011

Livid coach defends Habana

Sport24's Rob Houwing reports at Stormers coach Allister Coetzee goes on the offensive in defence of under-fire wing Bryan Habana.

"For whatever reason, there was an insufferable wait for the respective coaches and captains to do their media thing at Newlands, and the complimentary bar service for the hacks was a predictably popular tranquiliser.

"So when one well-loved, particularly gravel-voiced scribe finally got his chance to raise the suggestion – not totally unreasonably, you might argue – that maybe a “four-try day” for Habana in the ranks of the Western Province Vodacom Cup side would not be the worst restorative measure in the world, he got unusually short shrift from Coetzee.

"Bear in mind that in a quirky selection strategy thus far in the season, the Stormers have not been shy to banish relatively staple personnel from last year’s Super 14 – when they had reached the final – like Wicus Blaauw and Adriaan Fondse to the blue and white hoops.

"But the coach was having none of it, it seemed, in terms of Habana: “In my book he’s (still) doing his job. He’s got a helluva workrate ... he threw one intercept pass and some people went ‘ooh, there goes Bryan again’.

March 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/10/2011

A beast that needs to be tamed

Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, Reds coach Ewen McKenzie believes rugby's laws are a beast that needs to be tamed.

"The issue for the referees is that there are many things to watch at a breakdown and where do you concentrate your attention? There has been a shift this year by the IRB to make sure that arriving players do not go off their feet at the breakdown – this is code for make sure the attacking players are not “sealing off” to prevent the defence contesting the ball.

"It's all good in theory but what it does is give the referees more to worry about, a less specific focus and a bigger list of priorities. The result this year has been a far greater contest at the breakdown and as a consequence less fast ball. Teams become encouraged to invest time in being destructive rather than attacking.

"It is a very complicated animal but the good news is that SANZAR have been proactive across the years and have pioneered much of what has become accepted as part of modern refereeing.

"The game is always changing. Monitoring trends and understanding the cause and effect of the laws is difficult but should not be left unattended."

March 9, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/09/2011

Mac's mitts

Jamie Mackintosh halted the Bulls to keep the Highlanders' unbeaten run alive © Getty Images

Wynne Gray enjoys the Highlanders' recent resurgence and the light-fingered work of prop Jamie Mackintosh in The New Zealand Herald.

"Chalk it up as the day Mac's Mitt went into southern rugby folklore. When his paw joined others in that Hall of Hands like Kevin Skinner's sledgehammer dukes and David Latta's light-fingered fatality in a Ranfurly Shield challenge.

"Just in case you missed it, Big Mac aka Jamie Mackintosh, the Highlanders' captain, took a chance and knocked the ball out of the grasp of Bulls halfback Fourie du Preez as the South Africans pressed for a try in the death throes of their match at Pretoria."

March 6, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/06/2011

Players do their bit to lift heavy hearts

There were cheers, tears and even a few beers as the Crusaders marked their region's twin tragedies with a triumphant return to Super Rugby in Nelson. Marc Hinton was there to soak up the emotions for the Sydney Morning Herald.

"A rare neutral at Trafalgar Park described it later as the most unusual atmosphere he'd ever experienced at a footy game. It was as though the 10,500 who packed Nelson's tranquil little rugby ground had come to shed their tears as much as to shout their cheers. The Crusaders were a sidelight to the cathartic experience of honouring the fallen.

"Part wake, part remembrance, part game of rugby. Rarely, if ever, can rugby players have felt such heavy hearts as they took the field - honouring not just their fellow Canterburians devastated by the earthquake but the 29 who died in the Pike River mine disaster.

"That Todd Blackadder's men were eventually able to harness their emotions, shake off their anxieties and focus on the job at hand was a tremendous tribute to their spirit. By the way, they defeated the Waratahs 33-18 and made a previously unbeaten side look pretty ordinary."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/06/2011

Highlanders stun the Bulls at home

Supersport's Brendan Nel reports from the Highlanders stunning victory over the Bulls in Pretoria.

"The victory ended a magnificent run of 18 unbeaten matches at their fortress, and 20 in Vodacom Super Rugby in a game that showed that this Highlanders team can be considered championship material so early in the season.

"To be honest, like the Lions, the Bulls got their wake-up call this weekend. After two games where they sneaked home where they could easily have lost, the Bulls produced a performance hardly worthy of their championship tag as they struggled to get the ball, and when they had it were only a shadow of themselves on attack.

"Still, in a game where they were rarely in it, the Bulls did well to get themselves within a whisker of drawing the game and were so close to it, until Wynand Olivier chose to go himself with two players on his outside, and was stopped short, ending the game.

"The Bulls were poor, especially by their own high standards, but to not give credit to the Highlanders for their performance would be an injustice to the game."

March 4, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 03/04/2011

Lions need to change their stats

Wynne Gray looks at the plight of former All Blacks coach John Mitchell and his new-look Lions in The New Zealand Herald.

"When well-travelled coach John Mitchell looks at his Lions side he notes they don't have much experience in their tight forwards.

"But you can almost pick up the anticipation in his voice when he learns that the Blues have switched half of their All Black-laden pack to the bench.

"He delivers some "Blues know best" thoughts about that selection as they look for some renewed energy in their Super 15 campaign."

March 3, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/03/2011

Has-beens, never-beens and might-bes

The Rebels face their first overseas assignment against the Chiefs on Saturday © Getty Images

A New Zealand newspaper has taken a swipe at Melbourne Rebels as they prepare to embark on their maiden overseas assignment against the Chiefs. The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Clever is the guilty party.

"To that end, they [the Chiefs] are fortunate the Rebels are coming to the Tron on Saturday night.

"The Melbourne side are a hotchpotch of has-beens, never-beens and might-bes. No self-respecting side with designs on the playoffs should lose to them, especially at home.

"Still, even the Rebels might not be the pushovers that were expected after they flubbed their lines in round one against the Waratahs.

"They turned around and beat the Brumbies, albeit in the most fortunate of circumstances who, you might recall, were coming off a win in round one - against the Chiefs."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/03/2011

Brumbies never do things by halves

The New Zealand Herald's Wynne Gray reflects on the Brumbies' decision to give coach Andy Friend the boot.

"The Brumbies must have some coaching depth. Their media guide gushes that Andy Friend is a "world class" coach, a description they cannot change while the Super 15 side pushes on with replacement coach Tony Rae for the rest of the season.

"Friend's culling yesterday was as dramatic as the Broncos' sacking their coach Ivan Henjak just weeks before the start of the NRL. It had either been brewing for some time as chief executive Andrew Fagan suggested or it is the most staggering reaction to any result in Super rugby history.

"The Brumbies lost to the new Rebels side at the weekend, after playing like they were the new pickup side in the competition. They were woeful but somehow managed to hit the lead before an unfathomable penalty from referee Jonathan Kaplan sank them in the last minute."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/03/2011

Big three just flexing muscles

We are into the third week of the Super Rugby season and the main South African hopes for success, the so-called big three, are all in the happy position of being unbeaten even though none of them have yet even come close to bringing out their A game.Supersport's Gavin Rich reports.

"The Sharks received some rave reviews for the convincing way they beat the Blues 26-12 in Durban last weekend, but they were still far from employing the style that won them the Currie Cup last season. After starting out with a bye, the Stormers predictably carried a lot of rust when they stuttered and bumbled their way to a narrow 19-16 win over the Lions in Cape Town.

"And the Bulls have made more of a statement as a team that is able to absorb pressure and still have the composure to win than as a team that stamps themselves on the game and the opposition. Yet they are in the great position of having two away victories to show for their efforts, and it is because those wins came away from home that of the three local sides, they are the best placed at the moment.

"There are reasons why all three of the sides have yet to hit their straps -- the Sharks coaches are quite open about the fact they struggle to play a quick paced, possession orientated game in the Durban humidity, the Stormers were always going to suffer for opening their competition season 80 minutes after their opponents, and the Bulls probably never had enough hard warm-up fixtures, which explains why they have yet to deliver a full 80 minute performance."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/03/2011

Emotional debut for the newest Crusader

Four months after his entrance as an All Black, Sonny Bill Williams will play his first game of Super Rugby on Friday. The New Zealand Herald's Dylan Clever reports.

"With his innate sense of drama, he could hardly have a more emotionally charged stage for his Crusaders debut.

"The Crusaders travel to Nelson today for their first "home" game of the season and their first since the devastating earthquake that hit Christchurch nine days ago.

"The convert from league describes himself as one of the "lucky" ones. He's been unable to access his central city apartment, crashing at a mate's place, and yesterday revealed that his mum, Lee, had wanted him back in Auckland in the days after the quake.

"But there are a lot of people much worse off than us," he said. "There's a lot of destruction. I count myself lucky and I know the rest of the boys do too."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/03/2011

Fully focused Crusaders ready to rip

The Crusaders are champing at the bit to face the Waratahs after using a sports psychologist to help deal with their emotions following the destructive Christchurch earthquake. Jamie Pandaram reports for the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Players spilled their emotions after a poor training session on Monday during which their heads were not clear. Yesterday, they were a team transformed, as coach Todd Blackadder said his side ''trained like demons''.

"The team enlisted sports psychologist Gilbert Enoka to prepare their players for the mental hurdles of tomorrow's match against NSW in the aftermath of New Zealand's second deadliest earthquake in history.

''Gilbert talked to the guys about the trauma they have been through and I think it really helped refocus us,'' Blackadder said. ''It just helps you focus, it makes you feel like all the thoughts and feelings you've been having are quite normal for a really abnormal situation.

''For us it was just really good to talk about it, it's really healthy, but we obviously parked it because we came out here and trained like demons so it was obviously worth it.''

March 2, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 03/02/2011

No lack of physicality

In a column for Sport24, former Springboks international Breyton Paulse reflects on the opening Super Rugby action.

"Overall the new format is a positive in that since the start of Super Rugby the derbies have been the matches that have been the most keenly contested, the most physical and, perhaps most importantly, the clashes that most appeal to the public in terms of bringing people through the turnstiles.

"But from Bok coach Peter de Villiers’ viewpoint the new format must be a nightmare as already we have seen more blood flow than is usually the case and already the national coach also faces a few injury problems. As expected, the South African derbies have been more physical than the overseas games, and in time this could prove problematic for the Springboks.

"The coaches are really going to have to manage their players well during the Super Rugby season if they want to reach the business end of the competition in July with all their best players still standing and feeling refreshed enough to give it a full go in the knock-out stages.

"As far as all this relates to the South African World Cup chances later in the year, a lot will hinge on how well De Villiers works with the various local franchise coaches and conditioning personnel. He needs to be clear on everything he wants and expects from the franchise coaches, and they need to understand what he wants."

February 25, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/25/2011

When tragedy overshadows a mere game

The Chiefs and the Highlanders observe a minute's silence in memory of those killed by the Christchurch earthquake © Getty Images

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, former All Black Inga Tuigamala reflects on the devastations wrought by the recent Christchurch earthquake.

"The New Zealand Rugby Union will face extraordinarily tough decisions regarding the World Cup - ones that none of us could ever have envisaged when this country was awarded the tournament.

"The Crusaders were right to pull out of their match with the Hurricanes, given the turmoil and emotional state of the players. It was comforting to hear Hurricanes prop Neemia Tialata voicing his sentiments about this and his support for the Crusaders players.

"Maybe the World Cup can be a rallying point, but we all know how long it has taken Christchurch to recover from the September 4 quake, which was not nearly as devastating as this one. The NZRU needs to take time in evaluating the overall situation.

"Cantabrians are a tough breed, typified by their Crusaders team.

"Richie McCaw, a remarkable character, has been strong, and yet through his words you can hear and sense the shock and pain.

"We are all feeling the same, and this is a time when the country must stick together."

February 23, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 02/23/2011

Just between mates

Chris Rattue criticises the lenient sentence handed to All Black Ma'a Nonu following his late hit on Jimmy Cowan in The New Zealand Herald.

"How sweet. All Black teammates Ma'a Nonu and Jimmy Cowan's love-in may have worked a trick at the rugby judiciary but it's done nothing to remove the image that our rugby rivalries are merely spats between branch offices of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

"Nonu knew the score, virtually admitting he got off lightly when Nigel Hampton, QC, gave him a one-week suspension for what amounted to a flying head-butt on Cowan, who reportedly asked that Nonu be treated leniently.

"This case of victim providing support is where the independence and credibility of Sanzar and its judicial system takes a flying hit. Cowan wasn't so quick to put pen to paper after Bakkies Botha head-butted the prone All Black halfback during a test."

February 21, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/21/2011

We cannot afford Nonu's stupidity

Hurricanes centre Ma'a Nonu reflects on his red card against the Highlanders © Getty Images

The Ma'a Nonu who turned up for the opening round of Super 15 is the one Graham Henry should think seriously about deleting from his World Cup plans, according to the New Zealand Herald's Chris Rattue.

"Nonu, the Hurricanes' midfield back, is the bloke most likely ... to stuff up years of careful planning on the big day.

"On the face of it, his ridiculous high and late charge on Highlander Jimmy Cowan was the last thing the All Blacks needed to see in an opening Super 15 weekend, where the highlight was a dazzling game at Eden Park.

"Maybe it was exactly what Henry needed to see, though, because Nonu showed he remains a potential trainwreck ready to arrive at the Sandringham Rd station.

"So Cowan "milked" the situation by staying down. There is still no need to obscure what really happened in Wellington on Friday night, where a drab contest was swung the visitors' way by Nonu's red card dismissal."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/21/2011

Coleman confirms the hype

When someone is shortlisted for the International Rugby Board's Junior Player of the Year award, he must be special - as the Brumbies' Robbie Coleman proved on Saturday night. The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden reports.

"The 20-year-old inside-centre could be excused for a quiet initiation, especially when encountering head-to-head such a notable international veteran in Umaga. Instead Coleman, the latest of a long line of fine footballers who have emerged from St Edmund's College in Canberra, took over the occasion with a near-perfect first-half, which included scoring the standout try of the opening round.

"The highlight of a mistake-ridden game was when Coleman grabbed the loose ball in open play and decided to make a difference. He first ran at, and then in between, two Chiefs defenders to find himself in open space. In front of him was Muliaina, as good a defensive fullback as any in international football.

"That didn't deter Coleman, who kept his angle, until a great step off his right foot had Muliaina going the wrong way, and with it emerged a clear passage to the try line. That was not Coleman's only memorable moment: he was also involved in numerous upfield charges, ensuring he will hold the Brumbies No.12 jersey for some time."

February 20, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/20/2011

Ruck laws bring fringe benefits

Stricter policing of the offside rule at rucks could be a feature of the game by the time the Rugby World Cup begins.The Sunday Herald's Gregor Paul reports.

"The biggest concern is that players on the immediate fringe of the ruck are usually half a metre to a metre offside and that prevents the attacking team halfback from being able to run down the channel between the breakdown and the first defender.

"[SANZAR Game Manager Lyndon] Bray says the message has been given to referees that they have to be vigilant and ruthless; set the tone early by penalising those teams who set up their defensive guard at rucks deliberately offside.

"The other area being targeted for improvement is scrums. While the engagement descended into farce during the ITM Cup and for much of the November test schedule, Super Rugby statistics from last year are encouraging.

"Across the competition, there were 28 per cent fewer re-set scrums. If the Waratahs, Lions and Cheetahs are removed from the equation, then there was actually a 37 per cent improvement.

"Bray says the goal is to see another 30 per cent improvement this year from all teams and strive for what he calls the golden 80:20 rule - where, for every five scrums, only one requires to be re-set."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/20/2011

Barnes beats the first-year blues

Berrick Barnes has revealed his anguish at what he described as a sub-par 2010 for the Waratahs and Wallabies, and declared himself back to his best.The Sydney Morning Herald's Josh Rakic reports.

"Barnes struggled for game time at Super Rugby and international level last year, being shifted from his preferred No.10 position to inside-centre in place of Daniel Halangahu and Matt Giteau respectively. But with a year in Sydney under his belt, a new two-year contract with the Tahs and scintillating trial form, Barnes said he was ready to return to the lofty heights he expected from himself.

''I did it tough early in that Super 14 - and probably all the way through the season, if I'm being honest,'' 24-year-old revealed to The Sun-Herald. ''And then early in the Test year I struggled, too. I didn't start really feeling myself until the end of Tri Nations/club season and then going into the spring tour.

''But all those things made the year what it was for me - it was tough. A bit of a roller-coaster, lots of ups and downs. But at the end of the day, I think I'm better for it. I feel like I'm really back to being myself.''

February 19, 2011

Posted by Huw Baines on 02/19/2011

The man that time forgot

Tana Umaga is shackled on his Super Rugby return © Getty Images

Wayne Smith takes a look at Tana Umaga's remarkable return to the Super Rugby landscape with the Chiefs in The Australian.

"There is a story, probably apocryphal, that at the end of the West Indies tour of Australia in 1979-80 Donald Bradman was asked how he would have fared against the terrifying Caribbean pace quartet of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft.

"I probably wouldn't have averaged much more than 50," the Don is reputed to have answered. And then, after a momentary pause that showed he had comedic timing every bit the equal of his timing with the bat, he added, "Of course, I did turn 71 back in August".

"Maybe he wasn't joking. He was, after all, periodically shooting lower than his age on the golf course at the time, so it's just possible he was giving no more than an honest appraisal of his chances."

February 17, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/17/2011

Rebels mix Johns with dash of AFL

Rod Macqueen's Rebels will make their Super Rugby bow against the Waratahs on Friday © Getty Images

Melbourne plan to unleash a radical ''hybrid'' form of rugby when they make their Super Rugby bow against the Waratahs. The Sydney Morning Herald's Jamie Pandaram reports.

"The Rebels have held secret training sessions with the coaching staff of Carlton's AFL team, while rugby league great Andrew Johns has been coaching the midfield players on running lines specific to the 13-man code for tomorrow night's Super Rugby opener against NSW. While this new brand of rugby might also help in luring young league and AFL stars to switch, Rebels chief executive Ross Oakley said the club was determined to sign a number of off-contract Wallabies stars by the end of the season.

''I would like to think we can excite some Wallaby types, and if our style of play can be developed relatively quickly, and players see us playing a new style of rugby, there maybe some real attraction there,'' Oakley told the Herald.

''We will be looking at Wallaby-type players, that is no secret, and if that is to happen in the next five months, we need to work out where these players come from and get them interested in that we're doing. We're going to play an entertaining brand of rugby. [Coach] Rod Macqueen is a very strong innovator.

''We will be taking parts of Australian football, parts of rugby league, and incorporating it into our game. It will be a hybrid union mix that will incorporate strengths of the other two codes."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/17/2011

Matfield: Best yet to come

Bulls captain Victor Matfield has sounded an ominous warning to their Super Rugby rivals - Sport24 reports.

" The Bulls believe their best is yet to come, captain Victor Matfield said at the team's first press conference of the year on Wednesday.

"Things haven't changed that much during the off-season when we worked hard on improving some facets of our game, but I do feel our best is yet to come," said Matfield.

"The skipper's belief in continued improvement has a lot to do with the team that Bulls coach Frans Ludeke selected for their first Vodacom Super Rugby fixture against the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.

"Apart from a few injury enforced absentees and the introduction of wing Bjorn Basson, the team is almost an exact replica of the one that brought home two Super 14 titles in the last two years."

February 16, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/16/2011

Cooper hints Ballymore is home

Will Quade Cooper be playing for Reds beyond this year? © Getty Images

Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper has hinted that he may make the Reds his long-term home. The Sydney Morning Herald's Phil Lutton reports.

"Where the fast-stepping Quade Cooper goes on the rugby field is anybody's guess. When he's in the mood to entertain, which is almost always, conventional wisdom is thrown out the window like an old apple core.

"The other mystery surrounding Cooper in 2011 is of more consequence to Queensland rugby and the ARU, or potentially rugby league. Given he's become one of the hottest properties in either rugby code, there is much riding on the outcome of his contractual talks this season.

"For his current employers, Cooper's lofty talk this morning of playing 100 games for the Reds, who begin their Super 15 campaign against the Western Force on Sunday, would have been sweet music to their ears.

"QRU chief executive Jim Carmichael, as well as coach Ewen McKenzie, are confident Cooper will remain at Ballymore beyond this year, even though his one-year deal expires at season's end."

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/16/2011

Ashton highlights Cipriani's shortcomings

It’s somehow fitting that Danny Cipriani should end up playing for a side called the Rebels while Chris Ashton turns out for the Saints, according to the Daily Telegraph's Mick Cleary.

"Cipriani has headed to Australia where many a non-conformist soul has ended up in the past looking for a spot of correction, self-inflicted or otherwise.

"Ashton, meanwhile, will make a visit on Tuesday to Martin Johnson’s headmaster’s study at England’s Pennyhill Park training base, ready to stuff a few textbooks down his shorts lest the punishment for defying the big man’s orders not to swallow-dive when scoring tries turns out to be of the corporal kind.

"It’s indicative of the change in mood in the England camp, as well of the nature of offences, that Cipriani’s brushes with authority turned out to be so damaging while Ashton’s up-yours celebration has all the hallmarks of pantomime.

"True, he’s sure to get a dressing-down from the England manager for the simple reason that Johnson’s original objection to the flamboyant touch-down remains: not only would the Northampton wing look a pillock if the ball did slip from his one-handed grasp but, more pertinently, the team would suffer."

February 11, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/11/2011

Rugby looks to Super Rugby for boost

Southern hemisphere rugby officials are banking on the revamped Super 15 competition to revive the sport's appeal to fans and broadcasters in difficult economic times and in an increasingly cutthroat sports marketplace. Sport24 reports.

"The inclusion of a fifth Australian team based in sports-mad Melbourne, the establishment of regional conferences to produce more fan-friendly derby matches, and the substantial lengthening of the season are all intended to offer value to broadcasters and intrigue to fans.

The organisers SANZAR believes the changes will help reverse a recent decline in live and television audiences and rejuvenate a competition which began with 12 teams in 1996, increased to 14 teams in 1996 and will now have 15, with suggestions of further expansion into the Pacific and South America.

Rugby is in a strong position in New Zealand, particularly as it prepares to host this year's Rugby World Cup. In South Africa, home of the Bulls who won last year's Super 14, rugby weathered the inevitable upsurge in the profile and popularity of football during and after last year's FIFA World Cup.

But in Australia, rugby faces immense pressure to maintain its audience share in what Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill calls a "incredibly bloodthirsty market."

February 10, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/10/2011

Older Rebels to be 'bedrock'

Nothing beats experience when it comes to setting up a Super Rugby team from scratch according to the Melbourne Rebels. The Sydney Morning Herald's Stathi Paxinos reports.

"Critics have questioned how many older players there are at the Rebels, which includes Stirling Mortlock, 33, Julian Huxley, 31, Greg Somerville, 33, Hoani Macdonald, 32, and Sam Cordingley, 34, as well as the several experienced players who are past the halfway point of their sporting lives.

"However, for Western Force captain Nathan Sharpe, New South Wales Waratahs coach Chris Hickey and his skipper Phil Waugh, experience was one of the most important elements Melbourne has for its first season.

"Hickey said there was no alternative for a start-up team but to buy in experience and critics were uninformed. ''Those people probably don't understand the value of experience in the team and I think that's been the real strength of the recruitment program that the Rebels have undertaken,'' Hickey said.

''As a coach, experience is something you can't develop, you've got to buy it and I think that's what the Rebels have been able to do."

February 9, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/09/2011

'It's just a sore foot'

All Blacks and Crusaders captain Richie McCaw has played down concerns over a foot injury that will sideline him for the start of the season. The New Zealand Herald reports.

"Being a World Cup year All Blacks' fans should naturally be worried but talking to Radiosport's Tony Veitch this morning McCaw said the reaction to his injury was a 'bit crazy'.

"End of the day it's just a sore foot. It's going to take a wee bit to come right but hopefully they forget about it once the rugby starts next weekend."

"With 212 days remaining until the start of the Rugby World Cup, McCaw says that leaves plenty of rugby ahead with the Super Rugby and Tri Nations.

"It's still a long way from a rugby point of view. We've got a lot of rugby between now and then. I think for everyone that's the focus for this year.

"Six weeks out of an 18 week is a big part but it's not the whole lot."

"McCaw says experience will help him bounce back and be match-ready for the Crusaders as soon as possible.

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/09/2011

O'Neill laughs off exhaustion fears

South African concerns that the expanded Super Rugby tournament will lead to players suffering from exhaustion at this year's World Cup have been laughed off by their Australian counterparts. The Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Growden reports from the Super Rugby launch in Sydney.

"With just over a week before the start of the Super Rugby competition, which involves a 33 per cent increase in the number of games, a new conference structure, more local derbies and a fifth Australian team, Springbok coach Peter de Villiers has warned that players could find the new structure too demanding.

"Mindful that South African provincial sides that make the finals could be involved in 19 matches between February and July in three different time zones, De Villiers said: ''There is a concern that the players could physically be totally exhausted after the Super Rugby competition. The competition is going to be more intense and therefore more exhausting.''

"But when the Australian Super Rugby launch was held at the Sydney Observatory yesterday, there was not an oxygen bottle in sight. Instead the Australian contingent argued they wouldn't mind more top-class games.

"When told of De Villiers's comments, Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill said: ''We don't share that concern, and at five minutes to midnight it is a bit late to be raising it. In planning and formating this competition, everyone had an opportunity to voice any concerns. The pros and cons were workshopped pretty thoroughly.''

February 5, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 02/05/2011

Stand and deliver

The Sydney Morning Herald's Stathi Paxinos previews the Rebels entry onto the Super Rugby stage.

"The Rebels, who play their final trial game tonight against the Crusaders, will run onto the field as a Super Rugby team for the first time on February 18 when they take on the New South Wales Waratahs at AAMI Park. Having been awarded the licence for the 15th Super franchise last year - nearly six years after Melbourne was overlooked for inclusion into the Super 14s - the Rebels have an enormous task of putting together a competitive unit for this season.

Off the field it has a strong coaching panel headed by another World Cup-winning coach in Rod Macqueen, who was also the inaugural coach of the Brumbies, and respected assistants Damien Hill and Mark Bakewell. On the field, Macqueen has assembled a mixture of end-of-career veterans, former Wallabies who have fallen out of favour at their previous teams and promising youth. The squad has been criticised by many and slated as finishing near the bottom, but [former Wallabies coach Bob] Dwyer believes it has ''enough quality there to be viable''.

"The Rebels have precedents in the Brumbies, who entered the competition in 1996, and the Western Force, in 2006. The Brumbies cobbled together a squad of largely unwanted players from NSW and Queensland and became a powerhouse, making the final in 1997 before winning the competition in 2001 and 2004, while the Force has struggled for on-field success."

January 31, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/31/2011

Run and gun

Waratahs star Drew Mitchell has sent an ominous warning to Super Rugby rivals on the eve of the new season. The Sydney Morning Herald's Josh Rakic reports.

"With their first full season and a successful Wallabies campaign behind them, Mitchell, Berrick Barnes, Kurtley Beale and Lachie Turner are better positioned than ever to light up the field for the Tahs. Mitchell declared their confidence was sky high.

''We all took a lot of confidence from that tour and on top of the Waratahs last year, I think as a back line we're more in tune than ever before,'' said Mitchell, who bounced back from being cut from the Wallabies to become one of their best on the spring tour after his first season in NSW's sky blue.

''Hopefully the Waratahs' attack can build off the back of the Wallabies last year, and I think it can. Berrick got his chance against the French, and Kurtley, I mean, he was nominated in the IRB awards. Lachie Turner - when he got his start he went really well - and then Rob Horne is coming back from injury. We've got some options, too, with Ryan Cross and the like, then there's Hangers [Daniel Halangahu] and Tom Carter.''

"The try-sneak said he was determined to continue on from last year, during which he was Super 14's top try-scorer."

January 30, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/30/2011

Kiwis take a no-bull approach

The Hurricanes literally had a field day with a 35-31 win over the Chiefs in their Super Rugby warm-up clash - the match in a cow paddock north of Wellington attracted 10,000. The Sydney Morning Herald's Chris Barrett reports.

"That such an unlikely stage - a makeshift field in a farm, two hours' drive north of Wellington - was the launch pad yesterday for World Cup fever in New Zealand said everything about a country's sacred attachment to a game.

"And to be fair, describing this Super 15 pre-season match between the Hurricanes and the Chiefs as simply a contest of rugby would be selling a unique occasion significantly short.

"Sure, it was played on a carefully cultivated pitch, prepared laboriously by farmer Neil Symonds on a patch of land on which he usually grazes stock. There was a smattering of All Blacks in the line-ups, fine-tuning for a fast-approaching new season. But the Hurricanes' 35-31 win was only a fraction of the story.

"This gathering of almost 10,000 in a tiny village across the winding ranges from the city of Palmerston North was something else. Imagine the Waratahs and Brumbies facing off in a Condobolin shearer's backyard."

January 23, 2011

Posted by Jonny McLeod on 01/23/2011

Stepping into the unknown

In the New Zealand Herald, Michael Brown contemplates the consequences of the new Super Rugby format.

A bit like a Star Trek voyage, Super Rugby is heading into the unknown. A new team, vastly new format and new finals series has added intrigue to a competition entering its 16th year.

Instead of teams playing every other side either home or away, they are now split into three conferences based on national boundaries (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa) and play significantly more local derbies.

It's been done to freshen up a tired competition as well as provide greater local interest - TV viewing figures show Kiwis are far more interested in seeing local derbies than games against sides from other countries - but it also means a longer season in an increasingly congested rugby calendar.

January 21, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/21/2011

How to break the try drought

Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Wynne Gray previews the Chiefs' chances of breaking their Super Rugby drought.

"Former All Black captain Tana Umaga is in the mix for midfield selection while also being an influential member of the leadership group.

"He has rehabbed his niggles well, he has exceeded expectations in training and settled in very well," Foster said.

"The original plan was something round the five to seven games mark but Tana has suggested we debate that a bit more. He still has a lot in him and is contributing widely to the group.

"Tana is very professional, determined and stimulating for others in the squad."

January 20, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/20/2011

Brumbies give Giteau a French blessing

The Brumbies are ready to wave au revoir to Wallabies star Matt Giteau and they couldn’t be happier according to Jim Horton and Ben Horne in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Normally football clubs despise losing senior players before the season starts but the ACT-based outfit are grateful Giteau’s post-World Cup future will be determined before Super Rugby kicks off.

"The 91-Test playmaker is set to sign a lucrative French contract in the coming days, with cashed-up Toulon and Bayonne the two front-runners for his services.

"Giteau, Australia’s highest-paid player over the past five years, lost his Wallabies No.12 jersey to Berrick Barnes for the last Test of 2010 but that doesn’t appear to have impacted on his decision.

"Brumbies chief executive Andrew Fagan indicated Giteau had made it known before the end of last year’s Super 14 he was likely to head overseas following the 2011 World Cup.

"Knowing the dynamic inside back’s desire and the huge interest from at least four French clubs, Fagan said there were no strong attempts to keep him in Australia."

January 17, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/17/2011

Huxley ready to write new chapter

The Sydney Morning Herald's Melissa Woods chats to the Rebels' Julian Huxley on the eve of the new Super Rugby season.

"It's almost fitting Melbourne Rebels veteran Julian Huxley is sidelined by an injury that mostly affects young players, because he feels like he's starting his rugby career anew.

"The 31-year-old will miss the fledgling Super rugby club's first three trials this month because of osteitis pubis. It's a setback, but after beating a brain tumour diagnosed in 2008 during his playing days with the Brumbies, it's no big deal.

"...Huxley, who has nine Test caps, said he wanted to put the painful memories behind him and start a new chapter in his life with Melbourne, where he's signed a two-year deal.

"He said the biggest drawback to the new injury was that he hadn't been able to contribute in training as he would have liked. "I feel like a little bit of an outsider, as most footballers will tell you when they're injured and not in there with the guys," he said."

January 16, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/16/2011

Rebels yell: More, more, more

The Rebels' Danny Cipriani and Cooper Vuna celebrate their victory with some fans © Getty Images

The Sydney Morning Herald's Stathi Paxinos reports from the Melbourne Rebels' first outing against Tonga.

"It was expected the Melbourne Rebels would be rusty and somewhat disjointed when they took on Tonga in their first trial game last night at Olympic Park. They certainly were, but in between the clumsy periods, there were some promising stanzas during their 43-13 romp.

"The real competition is still a few weeks away, but the Rebels did take a large step forward for local rugby when they took to the field for the first time. The name has been used before — when Melbourne made the final of the short-lived Australian Rugby Championship in 2007 — but just over six years after the city was overlooked for a berth in the Super 14 competition, it is now just three trials away from its inaugural Super Rugby season game against NSW Waratahs.

"The Rebels last night seemed more concerned about getting combinations set, as coach Rod Macqueen split his team into two squads, which played a half each, rather than the end results. Tonga proved a tough first-up contest until the Pacific Islanders, who were without their European-based players, wilted in the second half."

January 14, 2011

Posted by Graham Jenkins on 01/14/2011

Cipriani named Rebels vice-captain

Melbourne Rebels coach Rod Macqueen says wayward England star Danny Cipriani will be vice-captain for their historic first rugby outing against Tonga, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

"Macqueen downplayed a report out of England that Cipriani would be given extra responsibilities during the Olympic Park clash in an attempt to draw the best out of the controversial five-eighth.

"The club has shielded Cipriani from the media since his arrival in Melbourne, determined for him to be known for his rugby rather than his celebrity antics and famous girlfriends, which caused him to fall out of favour with the England rugby hierarchy.

"Despite the ban, he has still managed to attract attention by taking former Neighbours actress Stephanie McIntosh to a club function last week.

"That's not true," Macqueen said when asked whether Cipriani had been given a leadership role to keep his focus on rugby. We won't announce our captain or vice-captains for the next couple of weeks. This is pretty typical of what the English press are doing, it's all hype."

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