Preview: Autumn Internationals - Week 1
We're back and make no apologies for the short-lived nature of our retirement. That's all that's going to be said about that.
It's Autumn Internationals time; a time when European teams enter a form of rugby user acceptance testing before the go live system date of the Six Nations in February and Southern Hemisphere teams drag their arses around the globe after a long season to freeze their conkers off in games they'd probably rather not play but still usually win anyway. But that doesn't stop us fans from lapping it up.
England vs Fiji - 2:30 Saturday
Stuart Lancaster sends out an inexperienced team against the perennially entertaining tryers from the Pacific Islands. Despite being a hit by injuries, the home side should still have too much quality for a visiting side who have about as much support from their home union and clubs as a drunk man gets from his sleeping wife when he demands sex at 2am. It's a miracle they even turn up, really.
If the game's poor you can always sit and smile about the fact that not a single one of the England players will be James Haskell.
More previews after the jump....
Wales vs Argentina - 2:30 Saturday
This kick-off clashes with England vs Fiji, so the neutral will face the not so tough call of watching this game. Grand Slam champions Wales go into this fixture without Adam Jones, which in recent times has usually meant they effectively go in without a scrum - not a good thing against the Pumas. All eyes will be on the latest person tasked with filling the hairy void, Aaron Jarvis, and also on Rob Howley who many fans have not a great deal of faith in.
Argentina come off the back of a fitful but respectable first season in The PoundStretcher Rugby Championship but, like the toddlers of chav parents on a plane, they really don't travel well and Wales should see them off.
This game is also another opportunity for commentators to be become woozy with excitement about Juan Martin Hernandez before he plays like a third team show-pony. AGAIN.
Ireland vs South Africa - 5:30 Saturday
Ireland, still in that difficult transitional period that they seem to have been in for as long as anyone can remember face a South African team who had a pretty miserable Primark Rugby Championship. This blog is looking forward to having another look at Eben Etzebeth, the latest in the long line of Bok Locks who come out of the womb as a fully formed terrifying beast of a man.
Ireland's potential to come out of this transitional period well will be fully tested given the lack of six nailed-on starters through injury (O'Driscoll, O'Brien, Ferris, O'Connell, Best and Kearney). The best they can hope for is probably a decent performance as the Saffers should have too much for them.
Scotland vs New Zealand - 2:30 Sunday
Scotland are going to lose, but in Tim Visser and Henry Pyrgos there are a couple of new player to have a look at while they chase All Black shadows, so that's nice.
SHIT/GOOD Ratings: New Zealand 31 Argentina 10 - New Zealand ratings
by Richard O'Hagan*
The All Blacks sqeaked through against the Pumas, two late tries giving the scoreline a far more flattering look than they deserved.
Ma'a Nonu - Although the All Blacks didn't play well there were few shockingly bad performances, but the usually reliable Nonu butchered at least three attacking moves simply by taking his eye off the ball as it was passed to him. Schoolboy errors from such a good player.
Sonny Bill Williams - Whilst accepting that New Zealand are a bit short of wingers at the moment, he looked utterly wasted out there and whilst he himself did everything asked of him you suspect that the game would have been more comfortable if he had been brought into it a lot more.
Mils Muliaina - Looks to have lost almost all of his pace and it was no surprise when he was brought off on halftime
Piri Weepu - Put in the performance of the tournament so far. Superb passing, superb kicking from hand, superb place kicking. Why Graham Henry ever thought that Jimmy Cowan was a better option is baffling; it is akin to preferring a Pot Noodle to a twelve course Chinese banquet.
Cory Jane - The Pumas couldn't contain him and the fact that it took his side so long to cross the goal line was no fault of his.
Conrad Smith - Proved why he is the premier 13 in world rugby.
Handling - Nonu's errors aside, the speed and dexterity of the All Black passing was wonderful to see, especially in a tournament where so many sides have struggled to keep hold of the ball.
*The Editor was supposed to be doing this one, but he's off celebrating it being four years since he passed his GCSE resits, so you've got me again
SHIT/GOOD Ratings: New Zealand 31 Argentina 10 - Argentina ratings
by Richard O'Hagan
The Pumas put up such a fight that is seems harsh to single out any one player for either praise or criticism. But it isn't in the nature of Blood & Mud to let anyone off lightly, so here goes.
Felipe Contepomi - Simply not an international centre and the weak link that the All Black runners drove at relentlessly. Also, if he had landed a first half penalty, the game might have been very different. By choosing to take it himself instead of allowing the mighty boot of Marcelo Bosch to do so he may have singlehandedly changed the course of the game.
Leonardo Senatore - If there is one skill that a Number 8 must have it is to be able to pick the ball off the base of the scrum when it is under pressure. Senatore failed miserably.
Nicolas Vergallo - Would have been in the GOOD category but for one of the dumbest yellow cards of the tournament.
Mario Ledesma - Aged 38, looks 58, played with the heart and stamina of an 18 year old on his debut. Magnificent in his final game in the blue and white jersey
Juan Manuel Leguizamon - Was not overshadowed in his battle with Richie McCaw and superb in the way that he bailed out Senatore time and again.
Julio Farias Cabello - Dominated the lineout and showed well in the loose, was missed when he went off injured.
Rugby World Cup: Things we learned from the groups stages about the quarter-final teams
1. Ireland have a very good bunch of forwards now, the transformation in their front-row in particular has been nothing short of lazarusesque.
2. Dan Carter is out. Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden are not exactly mugs, but they're not Dan Carter either (who is?), and no matter how much spin they want to put out in press conferences this loss will hurt NZ both on the field and in their heads. They should still win comfortably against Los Puma, and then the whole thing. But we've been there before haven't we?
3. Wales are improving game by game since the Samoa outing. The reason they were so stilted in that game was due to nothing but pure psycholigical terror and fear of failure against their bogey-nation again. Once that was out of the way they settled into a rhythm that could see them go far. Just a simple glance at the SportGuru predictions give you an idea of just how impossible to pick their game vs Ireland is.
4. England are playing very badly and have not looked fluent, confident or proficient at any time so far in the tournament, and they can count themselves extremely lucky they had that group to play in. This malaise of form will not right itself in the next week. History books may eventually show that they reached the semis, but someone will have to include the caveat "Struggled past Scotland, then beat a divided and demoralised France, lost to someone decent"
5. Australia will go a lot better if Berrick Barnes is more involved.
6. Argentina have provided some great moments and are a team that we all admire and like to watch, but this is the end of the road come Sunday. However, if they can do this well now, what will they be like next time around after four years of TriNations games?
7. France make it very hard for sports writers and bloggers to be original by living up to every single cliche ever written about them. But, despite the disgraceful performance against Tonga it's still very hard to say they will definitely lose against England.
8. After New Zealand, South Africa are the team looking the most likely. However, the gap between NZ and the rest is pretty damn big.
Rugby World Cup 2011: The weekend not really previewed within Twitter limits
We tried to preview each of the weekend's games in 140 characters, like on Twitter. We failed. Instead we fell into stereotypes, conjecture and outright silliness. What else did you expect?
Aus vs USA: Aus win on scoreboard, US claim moral victory by invading Wallaby dugout on 70 mins and ousting Robbie Deans as an unelected "rogue leader" who the Australian people do not want due to his inabililty to lengthen vowels properly. Or coach scrummaging.
England vs Romania: England win by shedloads, everyone remains unconvinced with ease of victory due to number of tries scored because all the blond and/or short Romanian players running away from Mike Tindall. England forwards are completely dominant but still give away 11 penalties.
NZ vs France: NZ win. France players run around humming Daft Punk tunes, posturing in an elegant yet artistically aggressive manner and discussing Alain Ducasse's more challenging recipes. Morgan Parra spends the whole match looking at the bench and shrugging his shoulders and Sonny Bill Williams comes off the bench and asks Yachvili what the pay is like at Biarritz.
Fiji vs Samoa: Boom, whack, crunch - oh good hands fella! Such lovely handling. Tuilagi brothers, playing for heart and nation - except the English one, and the non-rugby playing one. BOOM! Samoa win by one try and two intact limbs.
Ireland vs Russia: Shaven-headed men in 90s black leather jackets and jeans enter Ireland dressing room 30 minutes before kick off. Ireland triumph in error strewn game by three points, with Andrew Trimble amazingly dropping the ball five times when in sight of the line. Unnamed Russian man wins $2.5m on spread bet markets. Ronan O'Gara spends the post match press conference saying how much he's looking forward to having time for fishing when not playing rugby in future while weeping over a picture of a large Carp. He later denies any knowledge of the sport of fishing, water, fish and any conversation relating to them.
Argentina v Scotland: It being a Sunday, the Lord's day mind, both teams sit in quiet prayer for lost colleagues Contepomi and Murray for first 20mns. Play starts, Nick de Luca drops ball in space and/or Morrisson goes into contact and drops ball in tight. Argentina fail to capitalise on hands like feet state of Scots midfield and do doing silly things at breakdown. Paterson does good kicky-kicks. It may rain - it won't matter. Scotland by 6.
We do promise proper reviews of the matches, albeit with swearing.
Rugby Video: Rugby + Argentinian prisoners = improved rehabilitation
A lovely video about rugby being used to rehabilitate prisoners in Argentina.
Try to ignore that some of them have mugged a granny, murdered someone or knocked off a post office and drink in its main message; that even prisoners with no experience look like they can pass better than Tom Varndell. [video via Pat Moroney]
Video: Leguizamon ever so slightly mis-times his tackle on Sebastian Chabal
In fact, not only is it comically late, it's not even a proper tackle.
Open Thread: Weekend Internationals
I'm up against it a bit this week, so I am taking the lazy way out and getting you to provide the content. Well, that is what Web 2.0 is all about they tell me!
Australia are due to hammer play England again; Wales will be attempting to prevent their dignity being defouled on live TV gain a decent result against the All Blacks; Scotland, the only side that won last week remember, will be hoping to do it again in Argentina; and the Saffers will, like a cat with a shrew, toy with Italy until they get bored and kill them before going for a nice lie down.
Ireland have already taken a beating, 31-28, against NZ Moari, so you may just want to do the text equivalent of pointing and laughing at them for a little while.
For what it's worth, my predictions are: Aus by 10, NZ by 20, Pumas by 5, Saffers by 25.
Over to you; let's have your previews, live views, post views and any other kind of views that you can think of.
Pumas make an early appearance at Twickenham
The Argentine Rugby Union team are making the most of their time in and around Twickenham Stadium next week. As they prepare for their game against England at the stadium on November 14, the Pumas will be making a personal appearance at the Rugby Store at Twickenham Stadium on November 12 from 2pm-4.30pm.
Fans are invited to come along, meet the team and get their autographs in the store on the main concourse. Well known players such as Gonzalo Tiesi, Juan Martin Fenandez Lobbe and Rodrigo Roncero will all be present thanks to their sponsor Adidas who have organised the session.
Also, to use your time efficiently, you could also ask Dr Felipe Contepomi (pictured) about any medical niggles you may have. Just don't tell him we told you that...
Rugby Video: Autumn Internationals highlights 22 November 2008
Quick round-up of: England vs South Africa; Wales vs New Zealand; Australia vs France; Ireland vs France.