29 Mar 2012

Stuart Lancaster's Pyramid of Success

Stuart Lancaster was announced as England coach today. For those who have an interest in the discussions he had with the RFU during their interview process, below you can find Lancaster's vision for how England can succeed. Lancaster's contract runs though till the end of the World Cup in 2015, expiring in 2016.

All Hail the King - Stuart Lancaster to land job as England rugby coach

Rumours are beginning to swirl around the RFU corridors (and have now been confirmed) that Stuart Lancaster will be given the reigns as England Head coach on a permanent basis after impressing as interim coach during the Six Nations. The selection process had been narrowed down to two suitable candidates; Lancaster himself and former South Africa and Italy Coach Nick Mallett. Both had been interviewed last week, but it appears Lancaster’s enthusiasm won over and was enough to convince new RFU Chief Executive Ian Ritchie (and the advisory panel of Sir Ian McGeechan, Richard Hill, Rob Andrew and Conor O’Shea) that he deserved his crack at International Rugby. Nick Mallett has supposedly been informed of the decision this morning and it just needs to be formally ratified at an RFU Board Meeting on Thursday.

Robbie Deans shackled by ARU - Appointment of McGahan 'Imminent'

Robbie Deans is sliding down a slippery slope, and don’t be surprised if he slides through the exit door too by the end of the year. It seems like it may have been left slightly ajar by the Australian Rugby Union.
Australia finished 3rd in the last World Cup, beaten in the semi’s by their neighbours and eventual Champions New Zealand. But as always with Australian sport, first is EVERYTHING, while second (or even third for that matter) is NOWHERE. Fans were understandably angry...but it didn’t help that Deans was a Kiwi too. ‘Deans is a plot by the NZRU to destroy Australia’s chances’ was just one of the tongue-in-cheek booze fuelled arguments given by Wallabies fans post World Cup. The morning after though saw an air of contemplation. ‘What did we do wrong that New Zealand did right?’ That was the ultimate question that needed answering. The review concluded that if Australia wanted to hold up ‘Big Bill’ in four years time at Twickenham, changes needed to made.

28 Mar 2012

Statistically Speaking - Which players are leading the way in Super Rugby 2012?

The Stats after 5 rounds of the Super 15 show some intriguing results, and will be of great interest to the new national Coaches of South Africa and New Zealand; Heineke Meyer and Steve Hansen. Robbie Deans though will hope that the stats of the Australian sides do not reflect how his side will fair in the upcoming Rugby Championship.
South African Conference
The Stormers and Bulls have led the charge for the South African sides in this year’s Super 15, but interestingly neither side has a standout player in the Super 15 according to the stats after 5 rounds. Considering they have been very successful, this must imply that the workload and thus the rewards have been shared equally throughout the teams. The Cheetahs have shown glimpses of brilliance, while the Lions have been much improved. John Mitchell and Carlos Spencer efforts with the Lions haven’t gone unnoticed. The Sharks are strong on paper, but just don’t seem to be able to deliver consistently; perhaps a sign that coach John Plumtree’s time is soon to be up.
On an individual basis, it’s been difficult not to notice Johan Goosen of the Cheetahs. While many have noted how he has looked like a Springbok in waiting due to his cool temperament and his ability to put points on the board off the kicking tee (currently heads the table for most points, most kicks, most kicking metres, most penalties goals & most drop goals), he also surprisingly leads the way through offloads (he is joint first with SBW on 11) and is second only to Highlanders recruit Tamati Ellison for running metres made (372m). This perhaps is an indication of the Cheetah’s well renowned attacking style; anyone who saw their game against the Crusaders in the last round could see that they are not afraid to give the ball some air. It also shows however that for the first time in a while they have someone who can orchestrate this style of play with aplomb. From an outsider’s point of view, it looks like they have unearthed a real gem. Many South Africans have talked up Pat Lambie’s chances as the next in line for the number 10 throne in the green jersey, but Goosen looks like he could usurp him, or at least challenge. We will have a better idea later in the season. For now though, Goosen can look at his stats with hell of a lot of satisfaction. Springbok coach Heineke Meyer will be licking his lips too.

26 Mar 2012

Super 15 Review – Round 5 (Video Highlights and Team of the Week)


Rebels 30 -29 Force
Blues 25 -26 Hurricanes
Waratahs 34- 30 Sharks
Crusaders 28 – 21 Cheetahs
Brumbies 33- 26 Highlanders
Lions 19- 24 Stormers
Bulls 61 – 8 Reds

Round 5 saw the return of the King, as Dan Carter took to the field helping the Crusaders to victory over the Cheetahs in the first match at Christchurch’s new ‘Rugby League Park’. The Cheetahs clawed their way back from a large deficit but even Johan Goosen couldn’t ruin the Party, as they eventually went down 28-21.
The Hurricanes upset the Blues once more thanks to a late Conrad Smith try following a truly magical break from the ‘man who would be king’; DC’s heir apparent Beauden Barrett. The Blues now lurk near the bottom of the table. Unsurprisingly Pat Lam is getting roasted but Hammet’s Hurricanes look like a dark horse.
The Brumbies also continued their surprisingly good start to the season showing too much passion for a Highlanders side inspired by James ‘the Brand’ Haskell in Canberra. The Brumbies backline didn’t seem to be miss the injured Matt Toomua, as Christian Lealifano marshaled them beautifully.  Stephen Larkham’s coaching is paying dividends it seems and everyone can now see why Jake White resisted England’s overtures. The Highlanders though had to cop a season ending injury to pivot Colin Slade. Good luck to the guy. He’s had his fair share of injuries…. he needs a break (ouch).
Four points automatically went to the Chiefs this round as they benefited from their bye. They face the Waratahs in Hamilton next weekend.
The Reds would have wished they had their feet up at home too after a torrid 80 minutes at Loftus Versfeld. The Super 15 takes no prisoners (even if you are ‘reigning Champions’) and the Bulls crushed them 61-8 in a rampant display of power.
The Stormers meanwhile surged to the top of the table, repelling a second half comeback from the Lions to win 24-19, with two well taken tries from Tian Liebenberg (who was earning his 50th Cap for the Cape Town Franchise) and Bryan Habana (scoring his 50th Try in Super Rugby).
Danny Cipriani also gave us an impromptu audition for Strictly ‘Down Under’, as he got his dancing shoes out after leading his Rebels to their first victory of the season against the lowly Force. The match ended 30-29.  The moves were something to behold (from the player voted ‘worst tackler in Super Rugby’ during 2011). Sale fans can know what to expect, as they have announced his arrival for next year’s campaign.
Sydney’s Allianz Stadium meanwhile showcased yet another tight match as the Sharks dominated the Waratahs for most of the game…but still lost. John Plumtree will be tearing his hair out and his men will be hoping to get their season back on track in the self proclaimed ‘most competitive conference’ in Super Rugby.  The sharks seem to be drowning under the weight of expectation.
Dumptackle ‘Team of the Week’
This week’s team sees a few positional changes and has a large influence from the victorious Brumbies and Bulls sides. Ben Franks is included at tighthead prop (despite playing loosehead) to leave space for Ben Alexander who had a blinding game against the much vaunted Highlanders pack. With the abundance of top fly half performances this week (a feature of the 2012 campaign thus far), some tinkering also sees Beauden Barrett at Full Back (a position he has employed at NZ U21 level), while Zane Kirchner moves from Fullback to the Wing. If you disagree with any of the choices, please leave your comments below!
1.Ben Alexander, 2.Bismark DuPlessis, 3.Ben Franks, 4.Juandre Kruger, 5.Nathan Sharpe, 6.Jacques Potgieter, 7.Michael Hooper, 8.Ben Mowen, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Johan Goosen, 11.Joe Tomane, 12.Christian Lealifano, 13.Conrad Smith, 14.Zane Kirchner, 15.Beauden Barrett.

Dumptackle Player of the Week

Beauden Barrett (Huricanes) - Barrett capped what has been a mesmerising debut start to the season with the kind of break every kid dreams about. His offload to Conrad Smith led to the matchwinning try which he duly converted. If there is anyone who looks like a guaranteed future All Black, its him. Honourable mentions go to Michael Hooper of the Brumbies and Johan Goosen of the Cheetahs who gave excellent individual performances against the Highlanders and the Crusaders respectively.

23 Mar 2012

Sevens Rugby Vital for Growth of the Game - John Kirwan

Rugby World Cup winning All Black John Kirwan stated today that Rugby Sevens is the key to unlocking Rugby’s true potential as a global game.  Speaking at an HSBC hosted media debate in Hong Kong on the eve of the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Kirwan said, “Sevens is fundamental [to the growth of the game]. We do not have a global game… yet. Sevens will be the global game whilst Fifteens will be the international game.”

In just four years, Rugby Sevens will become an Olympic sport at the Rio Games and Kirwan, former Coach of Japan, is excited about big nations waking up to the potential of the Game following the Olympic inclusion.

"America has been the so-called sleeping giant and the question has always been ‘when will we be able to unlock this?’ Well it’s just been unlocked!  America will be a Sevens country within the next four years,"Kirwan said. "There are three thousand elite level athletes that don’t get scholarships at American colleges and there has been no other sport in America that they can play. So, there are three thousand athletes each year in America waiting to play Sevens. Now that that [Olympic] funding is hitting, you will see an incredible American Sevens team within four years."

Also at the event was Trevor Gregory, Chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, who host the biggest international Rugby Sevens tournament this weekend.  Gregory was similarly excited by the potential growth of the sport – especially in Asia. 

"The potential for Rugby to grow here is enormous - Asia boasts 80% of the world’s youth and we are seeing tremendous growth in the sport here in Hong Kong. There are already over 3,000 games of Rugby played each year in Hong Kong.  We almost can’t keep up with the growth of the sport at all levels here."

This year’s Hong Kong Sevens boasts a new qualifying tournament which will enable three emerging Rugby nations to become core teams on the HSBC Sevens World Series next season.  Kirwan is adamant that this opportunity for developing teams to play against the top teams like New Zealand and England will be good news for Rugby. 

"Competition is crucial to the growth of the Game.  Countries who qualify this weekend in Hong Kong will start to compete on a regular basis with the established nations. That’s how they will improve" he said.

Head Coach, and former Captain, of China, Johnny Zhang, explained how much of an impact the Olympic decision has made on the sport in China, with the union choosing to focus on Sevens rather than Fifteens.
"The Chinese government realized there would be a change with Rugby coming into the Olympics. Sports development in China is very heavily dependent on the government and Rugby Sevens is an Olympic sport.
"Sevens is the focal point of the development, but they’re not going to give up on Fifteens because this is where Rugby originates. Their policy is to bring people from Sevens to Fifteens.  Rugby used to only be played in schools and at universities but since the Olympic decision in 2009, the Government has backed the sport and is now investing heavily in Rugby meaning its being played more widely."

So, the decision to bring Rugby into the Olympics seems to be having a lasting effect. I for one can't wait to see how the game evolves over the next few years given the increased importance it has been given globally since it's inclusion. The Rio Olympic games will be a defining moment in the history of rugby, and given the support seen at the recent South American Sevens Championships (won narrowly by Uruguay over Argentina), I expect the atmosphere to be like one great carnival. As for John Kirwan's remark that USA was a sleeping giant, its difficult to argue against him. On the sevens scene teams such as Kenya have made dramatic improvements in recent years so I wouldn't bet against it given the athletes they could potentially have at their disposal in a few years time.

For now....bring on the Hong Kong sevens this weekend!

22 Mar 2012

Best of the Rest - A World XV Rugby Team (for players not invloved in Six Nations / Rugby Championship)


Given the response I have had on Planet Rugby for my article on the 'Rise and fall of Romania' (as can be found here:
I have decided to compile what one could describe as a ‘Rest of the World’ Team, for the Nations not involved in either the ‘Six Nations’ or the newly named ‘Rugby Championship’. I’m sure there are a few selections which one could dispute, but to make a nice mix, there is a reasonable balance of players from the nations available.
* My apologies to Japanese supporters: your team plays a very exciting brand of rugby and I am looking forward to see how they progress under Eddie Jones, but seeing as I don’t have access to watching their domestic league I have chosen to omit them from the selection process.
1. Soane Tonga’uiha (Northampton and Tonga)
Arguably the best loose head prop in world rugby. Conistently dominating his opponents in the Aviva Premiership and the Heineken Cup, Tonga’uiha has been the cornerstone of the Saints pack in recent years. He’s an immovable object in the scrum and rampaging with the ball in hand.
2. Marius Tincu (Perpignan and Romania)
Tincu is a vastly experienced player with Perpignan and has played in his fair share of World Cups too. Anyone who has seen the Perpignan pack in actions will know why this bruiser gets automatic selection in the team. He almost helped Romania to a famous victory over Scotland in the last World Cup too.
3.  Davit Kubriashvili (Toulon and Georgia)
Georgia’s performances in the World Cup were impressive, testing England Scotland and Argentina far more than anyone had expected. He’s a tough nut up front and really challenges you physically. His name is almost as challenging too and thus warrants a place in the side.
4. Kane Thompson (Chiefs and Samoa)
Thompson is a vastly underrated player. Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith have recognized his value though, including him in their Chiefs squad for this year’s Super 15. Thompson is athletic around the park and more than useful in the lineout.
5. Jacques Burger (Saracens and Namibia)
The Saracens faithful will tell you just what a team player Jacques Burger is. He could warrant a place in the squads of most national sides. For pure aggression he plays the enforcer role in the team. Technically a loose forward, I think he is more than capable of switching to lock for the balance of this side.
6. Todd Clever (Suntory and USA)
Clever is a well known name in South Africa where he has plied his trade for many years in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. One of the standout players for the USA Eagles over recent years, Clever adds experience at the top level as well as some American bravado!
7. Adam Kleeberger (London Scottish and Canada)
It was hard not to recognize Kleeberger during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.  Chabal was not selected for France which left a gaping hole for someone to assume the status of ‘Caveman’. Kleeberger’s beard helped him get recognized…. then we were able to see just how destructive he was on the field.  Kleeberger is the Cult hero of the team.
8. Mamuka Gorgodze (Montpellier and Georgia)
Known as ‘Gorgodzilla’ by his Montpellier teammates, Mamuka is a real monster of a player. Incredibly versatile, he started his career at lock but has most recently specialized at number 8. He has scored 19 tries for his national side already and was voted best foreign player in the French Top 14 last year.
9. Kahn Fotuali’i (Ospreys and Samoa)
Fotuali’I is a really electric halfback. He never looked out of place playing for the Crusaders along Dan Carter and was inspirational for them during the World Cup. He helped inspire a stunning victory for Samoa over the Aussies last year too. He adds real quality to the backline.
10. Tusi Pisi (Hurricanes and Samoa)
Tusi Pisi is a player who has moved around a lot in his short career. He has added a lot of elements to his game and looked a very sharp player for Samoa in the World Cup. He has been rewarded with a contract with the Hurricanes this year. Whether he will get an opportunity to play ahead of the impressive Beauden Barrett is another story…
11. Alesana Tuilagi (Leicester and Samoa)
Year in, year out Tuilagi scores tries for fun. He was among the top try scorers in the 2011 World Cup and is often the point of difference for Leicester in tight games. Tuilagi is a big time player and brings pure strike power.  He would be a real threat against any opposition…. just ask Australia.
12 Seremaia Bai (Castres and Fiji)
I thought hard about including Seilala Mapasua in this position, but decided to opt for Bai instead, purely because he’s Fijian and should add a little flair. Bai is quick and strong and is a name often seen on the Barbarian’s team sheet in the Autumn Internationals.
13. George Pisi (Northampton and Samoa)
Pisi was a player with real promise in New Zealand. Once considered a potential All Black by many pundits, Pisi decided to move offshore young and has been a star performer for the Northampton Saints since he signed for them. He should (hopefully) form a telepathic understanding with his brother Tusi too at flyhalf.
14. Vasily Artemyev (Northampton and Russia)
The Russian with an Irish accent; Artemyev was a real handful for the opposition defence during the World Cup and gave a few eye-catching displays.  He was a rewarded with a contract at the Saints this year and looks to be a main-stay in the improving Russian side for years to come.
15. Takudzwa Ngenwya (Biarritz and USA)
The Zimbabwean born USA Eagle is one of the best broken field runners in World Rugby. Frequently he is a candidate for try of the season and his skinning of Bryan Habana during the 2007 World Cup was truly something to behold. Yes he is normally a winger, but in this ‘fantasy team’ I’m giving him licence to run every ball back from Fullback! No kicking allowed…that’s an order.

I’m sure there will be readers who disagree with some selections but this is a team with a nice mix of nationalities. Notable absentees include Sona Taumololo (Chiefs and Tonga), Seilala Mapasua (Samoa) and Akapusi Qera (Glucester and Fiji).
Please leave any suggestions below if you believe you could form a better team!

21 Mar 2012

The Rise and Fall of the Romania Rugby Team (As featured on Planet Rugby)

Many years ago, if you looked down your National side’s fixture list on tour and saw the words ROMANIA – Bucharest; it’s fair to say that it may have caused a fair bit of angst and trepidation. They had a very distinctive style of play built around an imposing and bruising pack of forwards. Welsh great Phil Bennett once famously remarked that the name ‘All Blacks’ sent a ‘shiver up your spine’ and ‘shudder through your heart’. Romania was not far behind in the intimidation stakes.
Throughout the early 20th Century, Romania had seen as one of the most viable threats to the Home Nations’ domination in Europe. While they were not involved in the ‘Five Nations’, they were included in the Nations Cup from 1966 until 1973 and from then on the FIRA Trophy until 1997. Other sides competing included France, Italy and the Soviet Union....even Nazi Germany had had a go during the first four tournaments in the 1930’s. However, despite the fact that France was a powerhouse in European Rugby (as shown by their ‘Five Nations’ success); it had been Romania who regularly lifted the trophy. Their Trophy cabinet shows successful teams in 1969, 1975, 1977, 1981 and 1983. Some uninformed pundits may argue that the competition wasn’t strong....but looking at the facts, France were ‘Five Nations’ Grand Slam winners in 1967, 1968, 1970, 1977, 1981 and 1983. Arguably, Romania could have been given the unofficial tag of ‘Best Team in Europe’.
The 1980’s were definitely Romania’s heyday. In this period they boasted more than 12,000 players in across 110 clubs domestically. If the previous argument didn’t convince you of their strengths, other notable victories had also come over Wales (twice) as well as the 1984 Scotland team (which had won the Grand Slam). In 1981, Romania also came perilously close to beating the All Blacks, losing 14 -6. If it wasn’t for two disallowed tries, they may have achieved something truly special. After all, a Test victory over NZ is a feat neither Argentina, Ireland, Scotland nor Italy have been able to achieve in their long rugby histories.
But where is Romania now? Many top class players would see a match against Romania as an opportunity to get on the score-sheet a few times. Indeed when Romania played England in 2001, they lost miserably, going down 134 points to nil. That score was hardly grounds for an optimistic future. Given their sudden demise on the International circuit, what was the reason for their success and their subsequent dramatic fall?
The main factor behind their success was the influence of Politics. The National side was heavily linked to the nation’s communist regime. It used rugby like the Soviet Union used the Olympics. It was a propaganda tool, where every notable victory over ‘Western’ opposition was presented as a direct result of their Communist ideology. One might suggest that like their soviet counter-parts, performance enhancing drug abuse may have been a factor contributing to success. It may have...and we won’t ever know for sure, but one thing we do know was that they had an outstanding team and the structures were all in place to support their success. Huge financial resources were directed into rugby (sadly at the detriment of domestic development in the country). Top players were employed in the army or the police, whose teams, Steaua and Dynamo, practiced six days a week in superb sporting centres. This infrastructure bred a talented national side able to match any other in the world. When you consider the importance given to rugby by the regime, it is perhaps unsurprising that they became so successful so quickly.
As mentioned earlier, rugby, was not just a sport, it was a tool.  Former All Black scum half Chris Laidlaw wrote that rugby in the 70’s and 80’s was a positive force in East-West relations at the time:
"Rugby tours between countries on either side of the Iron Curtain have generated considerable political interest among the governments concerned, and the results can be quite astonishing. The recent Romanian tour of New Zealand, for instance, germinated other contacts between the two countries and was partly instrumental in the establishment of new trade agreements which otherwise might not have begun”.
Therefore, once the communist regime fell in Romania, so too did the importance of rugby. No longer was it supported financially. Some players even fell by the way side too, defending the country’s leadership. Florica Murariu for instance, the Romanian Skipper and an Army officer, was shot dead at a road block during the 1989 revolution. There were several others who met a similar fate.
Since their communist regime fell and professionalism occurred in Rugby, the number of clubs in Romania has declined to a miserly 28. The numbers of amateurs playing around the country has also apparently fallen by 75% according to the last survey. It is no surprise given these statistics that the National side is no longer a ‘tour de force’ globally.
However, there is always hope. During the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, Romania (as well as Georgia and Russia) appeared visibly stronger and we have seen a greater influx of players from the National sides competing in the main European Leagues. Marius Tincu, Ovidiu Tonita and Silvio Florea are well known names in the French Top 14, while Paulica Ion can be seen plying his trade in the Aviva Premiership in England for London Irish. All of them represent Romania. Vasily Artemyev, the big Russian winger has also joined Northampton Saints this year after an impressive World Cup. Therefore, while Romania may not be as dominant as they once were, the ‘Eastern Bloc’ is definitely on the rise. If the IRB can continue to invest in that region....we may just see some new forces in International Rugby....and perhaps the resurgence of an old one too.

20 Mar 2012

Super Rugby Week 4 Highlights / Team of the week

1. Arizona Taumololo (Chiefs) – The big Tongan has now scored 3 tries in his his last 3 outings for the Chiefs. For that reason, he takes the loosehead prop berth this week.
2. Tian Liebenberg (Stormers) – The Stormers demolished the Blues in the set-pieces and Tian Liebenberg was at the heart of most that was good in that regard. Solid Lineout throwing and spectacular scummagging.
3. Brok Harris (Stormers) – Was active around the field and absolutely hammered the Blues up front. The number of penalties the Blues front row conceded was truly astonishing.
4. Callum Retallick (Chiefs) – Reminiscent of former All Black ian Jones, Retallick produced another fine effort which saw his reputation enhanced once more. The tallest lock in NZ Super Rugby will have an eye on Brad Thorn’s vacant spot in the AB’s.
5. Andries Bekker (Stormers) – Back to his best. Another Stormer putting his hand up for national Selection with the Boks. Likely to be a starting Springbok given the retirement of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders) – Thomson provided a hell of a lot of energy around the park, as well as being the main lineout jumper from blindside flanker. He was integral to the Highlander’s efforts in their narrow victory over the Canes.
7. Siya Kolisi (Stormers)- Standing in for the injured Schalk Burger, Kolisi’s game has gone from strength to strength. A concern prior to the campaign was that he may be too small for top level rugby but he has proven any doubters wrong in the opening weeks. He is a hugely physical and energetic flanker.
8. Victor Vito (Hurricanes) – A flawless game from the qualified lawyer. Vito showed his smarts and skills around the cake tin with some special touches. His work rate was huge and he is beginning to show the leadership many pundits thought he would.
9. Jimmy Cowan (Highlanders) – The Southlander has had his starting spot taken by nippy halfback Aaron Smith in recent weeks. Cowan offered a more physical style this week and can be happy with his efforts. With no standout number 9’s this week, Cowan get’s the spot for responding well to his critics.
10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) – Aaron had an outstanding game on Friday night. His kicking radar was definitely working, as he landed some difficult penalties/conversions, as well as directing the backline sharply. Depending on how Carter comes back from his injury lay-off, Cruden could be challenging for a starting spot with the AB’s.
11. Bryan Habana (Stormers) – The best game I have seen for a long time from the man who once famously raced a cheetah. Habana gave Blues debutant Ben Lam a torrid time on the wing chasing down every high kick. He was rewarded with a try for his efforts.
12. Jean DeVilliers (Stormers) – Bruising in defence, Effective in attack. As the saying goes...DeVilliers is like a fine wine. He seems to get better with age. He led the backline strongly and did enough to prevent what had seemed an unlikely Blues comeback.
13. Jackson Willison (Chiefs) – He gave the Chiefs a deserved victory with a late try in his first start of the campaign. Apparently he was even challenging Kahui and Sonny Bill for a starting spot following his pre-season efforts. Willison can be pleased with his first competitive return since the ITM Cup final with Waikato.
14Willie Le Roux (Cheetahs) – LeRoux was certainly in the action this weekend. He got on the score-sheet again with 2 tries against the Rebels in a closely contested game. He makes mistakes...but you can’t deny that he also gives a fair bit of x-factor - something sorely needed since Sarel Pretorius upped sticks to play for the ‘Tahs.
15 James O’Connor (Rebels) / David Harvey (Force) – This week i’m awarding the full back spot to two players. James O’Connor arguably had the better game (he scored a fine try as well as plenty of points with the boot) but he has to share the honour with plucky David Harvey of the Force. He only joined the Force on an initial four match deal early last week but was the surprise hero with a personal haul of 16 points via the boot and one intercept try.

Player of the Week
Victor Vito
Vito’s game has risen to a new level this year. A member of last year’s victorious World Cup winning squad, Victor Vito will be looking to earn a starting spot in the All Blacks this season (an eminent possibility given Jerome Kaino’s absence for 6 months through injury). Vito looks imperious in the lineout, frequently catching the ball one handed and his work rate from the back of the scrum is huge. We always knew he had great speed and acceleration but he has added another dimension to his game this year. Thus, Vito deservedly is the player of the week for round 4 (despite finishing on the losing side for the Hurricanes).

19 Mar 2012

RBS 2012 Six Nations Review

Champions – Wales
What does it mean?
This weekend Wales secured their 2nd Grand Slam under Warren Gatland’s tenure with a tense 16-9 victory over France at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.  While some rugby commentators have argued that the current slam was not as impressive as their efforts in 2008, I for one have to disagree. The 2005 and 2008 campaigns saw Wales sneak up on their opposition with some at times scintillating rugby, but their success seemed to hinge on their squad being in great form at the time and this proved true as they were never able to defend their titles with much authority. This year though Wales came into competition with everyone beating their drum. After their glorious performance in the 2011 World Cup, they were considered favourites along with World Cup finalists France. On this occasion Wales delivered and they delivered under the weight of expectation; a true champion’s trait.
What next?
Wales have proven that they can deal with the big boys of Europe. Their young stars have improved since the World cup and are evolving into leaders at International level.  Their young back row of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau are a match for any side in world rugby. Throw in the youthful exuberance of Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Rhys Priestland and Sam Cuthbert and one can see that they are creating a powerful, potent mix with a long term future in International Rugby. The next logical step is to see Wales bump one of the Southern hemisphere giants. They travel to Australia in the summer to embark on a 3 match tour. If they can pull a result or 2 out of the bag away from home, NZ and South Africa will be looking over their shoulders.
Warren Gatland’s Lions Conundrum
Everything seems rosy for Wales at the moment, but there is a problem looming over the horizon for their rugby administrators. With no outstanding coach from the Home Nations, it looks a dead certainty that New Zealander Warren Gatland will be offered the role of Head Coach for the Lions tour of Australia in 2013. If he chooses to accept the position, it will surely affect his performance with Wales. I’m sure a lot of rugby fans remember how the tide turned against Graham Henry, once known as the ‘Great Redeemer’ in Wales when things started to go wrong. How will Gatland cope with the dual responsibilities? Or would the reigns be handed over to Shawn Edwards for a season? Time will tell.

Six Nations Team of the Tournament
Gethin Jenkins, Rory Best, Dan Cole, Richie Gray, Geoff Parling, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, David Denton, Mike Phillips, Owen Farrell, George North, Wesley Fofana, Jonathan Davies, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney
Unlucky absentees include Sergio Parisse, Adam Cuthbert, Joann Maestri and Tom Croft who all missed the cut narrowly.
Form Lions Team for 2013
There will be a lot of competition for places and one can be sure that when the time comes, intangibles such as club combinations etc will come into play when making the ultimate team selections. However, based on the form shown by Home nations players in this year’s RBS Six Nations here is my Lions team to take on Australia down under. Injured players such as Brian O’Driscoll have not been taken into account.
Gethin Jenkins, Rory Best, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Richie Gray, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton, David Denton, Mike Phillips, Owen Farrell, George North, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney
Unlucky players include Rhys Priestland, Jonathan Sexton, Ben Youngs, Toby Faletau, Adam Cuthbert, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Croft, Ben Morgan and Adam Jones. All could push their way into the team depending on form. Newcomers such as Stuart Hogg of Scotland also have a chance.

16 Mar 2012

Super 15 Week 3 Video Highlights / Team of the Week

Dumptackle Team of the Week

1. Arizona Taumololo (Chiefs) 
He's carrying on his form from the World Cup for Tonga. Remember his screaming at the end of the France-Tonga match? He was imposing, physical and scored a try to boot.
2. Bismark DuPlessis (Sharks)
Helped kickstart the Sharks campaign with a typically bruising effort. Leadership too gave him the nod in this position.
3. Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs)
 Gave the Crusaders All Black front row a torrid time. At over 130kgs, he's an absolute monster and a good bet at as a future AB.
4. Brode Retallick (Chiefs)
The 20yr old stood up to the duel challenge of AB's Whitelock and Donnelly...and even outplayed them. The NZ U21 representative looks a bright prospect indeed.
5. Jason Eaton (Hurricanes)
Revival? The former All Blacks with the distinctive caveman beard had a storming performance in the tight and the loose. The Black jersey is looming again.
6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders)
An all action display from Thomson. Linking the play up with deft hands and showing his speed around the park. A shoe-in for the AB's 6 Jersey given Kaino's injury woes.
7.Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs)
In a struggling cheetahs team, Brussow's class stood out. He had another magnificent performance..if only he had more help at super rugby level.
8. Pierre Spies (Bulls)
A Dominating game for the Bulls captain last weekend. He just needs to produce it consistently now to earn the tag of best number 8 in world rugby.
9. TJ Perenara (Hurricanes)
Hat-trick on debut? Can't ask much more from the 19 year old Wellingtonian can you? Yet another scumhalf off the current NZ conveyor belt this year.
10. Gareth Anscombe (Blues)
29 Points on debut to silence the home crowd. Anscombe looks the future at 10 for the Blues and can be delighted with his performance.
11. Bjorn Basson (Bulls)
Basson scored 2 tries with an electric performance on the wing for the Bulls. Can he reproduce it for the Springboks though?
12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs)
Has started the season in barnstorming form giving the Chiefs great momentum taking the ball up hard through the middle. The Williams - Kahui partnership looks potentially deadly.
13. JP Pieterson (Sharks)
He's a sleak and snakey runner and 13 could be a long-term position for him given his skill-set. He should get more opportunites throughout the season.
14. Willie LeRoux (Cheetahs)
I must confess he's not someone I knew much about prior to this round but he scored the try of the week against he Brumbies. A beautiful set piece move full of jinks and verve.
15. Andre Taylor (Hurricanes)
Looked absolutely glorious running the ball from the back. He consistently beat defenders with ease and got himself on the scoresheet too.

Player of the Round

Gareth Anscombe - As mentioned earlier Anscombe scored 29 points away from home to give the Blues their first victory of the campaign. He was a calming influence on the backline, scored 2 tries and was deadly with the boot. His combination with new recruits Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu was very promising.The Blues seem to have unearthed the first true successor to Carlos Spencer at Fly Half, although he is more in the Grant Fox mould (no bad thing!) The question is...why didn't he start sooner? Anscombe will be looking to cement his position in the team for the rest of the season.

15 Mar 2012

North Island vs South Island - The Battle of New Zealand

It has emerged this week that part of the NZRU’s bailout package for Otago will see the new Forsyth Barr Stadium host an unprecedented ‘North Vs South’ match. This could be an outstanding event and if it is successful commercially could become a yearly event, like the State of origin rugby league series competed between Queensland and New South Wales.
The criteria has not been discussed on how you qualify to play for each side, whether it is where you are born, or which NPC or Super Rugby side you currently represent. Either way, it is sure to create a fierce contest and could be seen as the level between Super rugby and International test matches.
I have decided to compile a current team for each side based on which Super Rugby sides they play for currently as the conditions. Despite splitting the talent pool of Nz between 2 teams, some All Blacks still miss out on starting spots...most notably Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu. I would be interested to have feedback on what some might consider dodgy team selection!
North Island XV

1.Tony Woodcock (Blues), 2. Keven Mealamu (Blues), 3.Ben Tamefuna (Chiefs), 4. Jason Eaton (Hurricanes), 5. Ali Williams (Blues), 6. Jerome Kaino (Blues), 7. Liam Messam (Chiefs), 8. Victo Vito (Hurricanes), 9. Tawera Kerr Barlow (Chiefs), 10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), 11. Rene Ranger (Blues), 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs), 13. Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), 14. Richard Kahui (Chiefs), 15. Corey Jane (Hurricanes)

South Island XV

1. Jamie MacIntosh (Highlanders), 2. Andrew Hore (Highlanders), 3. Owen Franks (Crusaders), 4. Jarred Hoeata (Highlanders), 5. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), 6. Adam Thomson (Highlanders), 7. Richie McCaw (Crusaders), 8. Kieran Reid (Crusaders), 9. Aaron Smith (Highlanders), 10. Dan Carter (Crusaders), 11. Hosea Gear (Highlanders), 12.Tamati Ellison (Highlanders), 13. Robbie Fruean (Crusaders), 14. Zac Guildford (Crusaders), 15. Israel Dagg (Crusaders)

Those teams could easily beat most international teams, so if the selectors are able to pick a full compliment of players...I for one will be watching!

Jock Hobbs – The Man Who Saved Rugby Union

This week, sad news emerged that Jock Hobbs had passed away after a long battle with Leukemia. Hobbs was an All Black during the 80’s and his playing career has much been discussed as well as his ability to deliver a World Cup against the odds to New Zealand soil. His achievements in those regards are truly outstanding. However it is possibly the beginning of his career as an administrator in NZ that has had the biggest impact on rugby in general.

Jock Hobbs, a qualified lawyer, devoted his energies to his family and career, but his links to rugby remained and he became a New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) councillor in 1995, ‘emerging as a crucial figure in defusing the rift that had developed between players and the NZRU when rugby went professional’.

‘The defection of New Zealand's top players to the Kerry Packer-backed World Rugby Corporation had been considered a done deal until Hobbs, still a fledgling administrator, worked around the clock for six weeks to secure the key players' signatures for the NZRU. He was lauded as "the man who saved rugby" after persuading All Blacks poised to join a breakaway professional circus to return to the NZRU fold. He was involved in negotiations to finance the new professional game that emerged following the 1995 World Cup.’

Hobbs is now a revered man in NZ rugby and should be viewed in the same manner in the rest of the rugby playing world. If it wasn’t for him, the rugby landscape could look very different. We could be playing a cross breed of Union and League. I for one am delighted that our proud game remains as it is and Hobbs deserves his credit for playing such a vital role in securing its future.

RIP Jock Hobbs

Legendary All Black Richard 'Tiny' White Dies Aged 86

Amid the heart-felt eulogies that have been given since Jack Hobbs untimely passing this week, another great All Black’s death seems to have gone under the radar in world media coverage. I am talking of the passing of Richard ‘Tiny’ White (a neighbour of my relatives in NZ) who passed away in Gisborne home at the age of 86 this week.
Richard was ironically nicknamed ‘Tiny’ due to his tall frame as a lock forward, dwarfing team mates at the time, standing 1.88m tall. This of course would not be considered tall in the current game, but he was a man mountain of a player during his time.
‘Tiny’ represented Poverty Bay and was capped 55 times for the All Blacks between 1949 and 1956. Renowned for his unbelievable fitness and work in the tight/lineout (which allowed him to play 30 of the 36 tour matches of the UK and France in 1953/54), White’s rugby career came to a sad and painful end when he was infamously kicked in the lower spine by a South African at Eden park in 1956. The player had thought that he was Kevin Skinner. This injury left him unable to continue playing, suffering from a paralysed hand as a result. The event was one of the historic talking points of NZ and South Africa’s epic rivalry and a particularly confrontational tour. Years later the South African player (who had previously been unknown) admitted his guilt on TV, and apologised for the atrocity he committed.
Following White’s forced retirement, he continued to farm locally as well as eventually becoming Mayor of Gisborne. A true New Zealand hero, Richard ‘Tiny’ White will be sadly missed.

14 Mar 2012

What can New Zealand learn from Japanese rugby? - Published on Planet Rugby as 'Letter of the Week'

This morning a bailout of the Otago Rugby Union was approved, after Dunedin City Council agreed to effectively forget the repayment of $400,000 it was owed by the union. The NZRU will also loan $500,000 to Otago, subject to conditions including the resignation of the Otago board. This rescue package means that the Otago Rugby Union has managed to stave off liquidation as well as potentially an end to 131 years as one of New Zealand’s most well supported rugby institutions. It had been announced 3 weeks ago that it was facing $2.35 million in debt, which could have potentially risen above $3 million if it was not dealt with quickly and effectively. Thankfully the situation has been resolved and the Otago faithful can rest easy once more, knowing they too will have a team to support in this year’s ITM Cup.
Despite this apparent rugby miracle, it is obvious that New Zealand provincial rugby is still in dire straits. Otago are not (and have not been) the only ones suffering financially recently. The plight of many of the smaller unions has been well publicised. New Zealand may be the reigning champions on the field, but they are falling behind off it. So, what exactly is the problem?
The problem does not lie so much with the Super Rugby Franchises. By and large these are well run with the top players in New Zealand contracted to the National Rugby Union and then leased out to the Franchises (this is partly why the top players are so well distributed throughout the 5 franchises). The problem is with the domestic provincial unions such as Otago, Manawatu, Tasman, Bay of Plenty, Southland and Hawkes Bay.
New Zealand provincial unions have had a problem with putting bums on seats in recent years. Attendances in general have been low, and despite optimism that attendances will rise following recent World Cup glory, a nation with little over three and a half million (spread over a vast landscape) is going to find it difficult/ near impossible to achieve the attendances being seen in the Home Nations, let alone some staggering numbers seen in France. Therefore, they will never come close to earning a similar match day revenue.
This increase in revenue has led to a huge increase in wages being seen in Europe and Japan over the last decade.  How can New Zealand unions compete? This is a huge problem for NZ rugby administrators. The reality is that they can’t under their current guise. While the lure of the Black jersey has been enough to keep a number of the top players signed on the books of the NZRU, the main problem area has been how the unions have dealt with those on the fringes of Super Rugby selection. Provincial unions have been lured into paying inflated wages for average players to keep their squads looking healthy from the European onslaught.
Otago in particular, who have been pining to return to their glory days, were one of the unions who were a tad over-zealous and naive in this regard.  One of the key agreements of the rescue package says as much. It reads that the NZRPA, NZRU and ORFU are to work to reduce the 2012 player contracting spend by $290,000 from the original budget while the NZRU are to also approve all player contracts.
So while it seems Otago have managed to escape what had seemed an inevitably sad conclusion by the skin of their teeth on this occasion, next time the outcome may be less forgiving. Perhaps this is the moment rugby administrators in New Zealand need to have a cold hard look at how business is being conducted. There is no clear solution (that is for sure). This has been a reality check however and the options need to be looked at. The fact that this situation has appeared at one of NZ’s proudest and most historical unions proves that it is a dangerous time for all domestic unions in NZ. While it is difficult to compete financially with European based clubs based using the current business model, there is one other strategy that may provide a brighter future financially, or at least keep these unions safer from disappearing completely, something we would all like to see. That would be private ownership of domestic sides as seen in Japan.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but Japanese rugby is perhaps a model which could succeed. Although they remain a tier two nation internationally, their domestic competition is flourishing both on the field and off it. Key to their success in the domestic market is that they have been able to lure house hold names from around the world to compete with their local talent.  Recently, one can count English International James Haskell and World Cup Winner Ma’a Nonu as world renowned players who have plied their trade in Japan. They have been able to do this because the league is made up of mostly company teams. They include the Sanyo Wild Knights, Richo Black Rams, Suntory Sungoliath, Sanyo Wild Knights, Toyota Verblitz, Coca-Cola Red Sparks, NEC Green Rockets, Fukuoka Sanix Blues and Toshiba Fuchu Brave Lupus.  While these names may seem rather uninspiring and it may seem even more hideous from some fans to ponder the existence of a Hitachi Highlanders at the Forsyth Barr Stadium, this may be the future. A look at most professional sports around the world shows that the team which prosper the most are the ones who are privately owned (most premier league football teams, basketball and NFL sides) or at least have ownership shared amongst their fans (for example FC Barcelona). This is not a guaranteed solution, but a glance at the balance sheets of most provincial unions in New Zealand proves that alternatives need to be looked at.

9 Mar 2012

Dump Tackle: England – World Champions at making excuses!

Dump Tackle: England – World Champions at making excuses!


Argentina sign Graham Henry as Advisor to Argentina

With all the speculation surrounding the next England rugby coach recently, it appears that a rather impressive move has gone under the radar. On Wednesday the Argentina Rugby Union made the surprise announcement that Graham Henry would be given a one year contract to assist and mentor Argentina’s top coaches. He will be doing so both at age grade levels and with the Senior International side. Given that Argentina replaced Marcelo Loffreda with a very green coach in Santiago Phelan a few years ago... this can only be considered good news for ‘Las Pampas’.  He brings vast technical knowledge and a great understanding of how to put structures in place, which can enable greater success.  His role apparently will be to ‘give coaches an insight into what is required to create a national programme that will lead to a more competitive national team’.  For any league fans out there, the role is reminiscent of when Wayne Bennett assisted Stephen Kearney and the Kiwis during the last Rugby League World Cup.
It seems like the news has been well received in all quarters. Current Argentina coach Santiago Phelan has said: “it makes me very happy that Henry is joining us. He’s coming to work with us and make our play better”. Henry’s move to an international competitor also appears to have the blessing of the NZ rugby union (despite having so recently coach New Zealand). NZRU performance manager Don Tricker claimed that “Sir Graham takes up his role with the NZRU’s blessing and it’s a real positive not only for him but for Argentinian rugby as well”. Henry (whose contract ended following World Cup Victory) had coached the All Blacks to 88 wins in 103 tests for a winning percentage of 85.4 percent - A truly remarkable set of stats.
I for one am really looking forward to see what impact he can make with Argentina in this year’s Four Nations. We need more competitive teams and Argentina’s passion and skill could eventually lead them to being one of the major powerhouses in International rugby. Good luck.