Preview: Autumn Internationals, Week 3
Wales vs New Zealand, Millennium Stadium, 17:15, Saturday
For John Keats, autumn was the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness; thus far for Wales it has been the season of SHIT and raging timidness. Their forwards have been bullied by the packs of second/third-tier Southern Hemisphere nations, and the backs have been without guidance, sense or skill. Can they fix it this week? Doubtful in terms of result, but they must in terms of performance.
The team selection itself suggests a lack of direction with Rob Howley using a "one week on, one week off" policy with the 7 and 10 jerseys; a decision that seems unalloyed to any consideration of form or evidence. Priestland is back in this week, despite being awful both vs Argentina, when brought on against Samoa, apparently suffering from some kind of ball phobia that causes him to ship it on via a pass or aimless kick regardless of the game situation in front of him. Warburton is without any form at all, and if the plan is to let him play himself back to the level his class demands he perform at then why drop him in the first place?
Let's face it, not one European Team expects to win against the All Blacks, but Wales and Howley cannot afford another stinker. I fear a week is not long enough to fumigate their current form.
Spotter's Badge: Commentators wax about Jamie Roberts' barnstorming runs, 0.025 seconds later he's stopped dead on the tackle line.
England after the jump, and if you fancy a flutter on any of the matches this Autumn then you can find some great value and deals at FREEbets
England vs South Africa, Twickenham, 14:30, Saturday
England make six changes this week after a flaccid display against the Wallabies. If they achieve nothing else the new personnel up front are required to make them more competitive at ruck time, as a repeat of last week's flabby rucking disgrace is unacceptable. The likes of Morgan, Wood and Launchbury suggest more dynamism will be achieved, but my age and salary suggest I should have more money in the bank than I do, so that's where suggesting gets you.
Can England beat South Africa at home? Yes, but don't be too expectant. Given the last couple of performances England fans should be happy with better rucking and faster ball. Once that is achieved they can turn their attention to Barritt and Tuilagi doing sod all with it and coming up with solutions for that. And, of course, we have the 43rd coming of James Haskell, international rugby's equivalent of an unflushable turd, to look forward to.
Boks by 7 is the B&M call.
Spotter's Badge: Jean de Villiers and Brad Barritt vying to see who can get the edge in the stunning lack of creativity battle in midfield.
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: Springboks vs Wallabies - SA Ratings
The Springboks won when they should have lost against Wales in their first game of the RWC2011. They were outplayed in almost all facets of the game and lost the territory and possession battles but sneaked a win. The same thing happened to them on Sunday morning and I now have a very distinct idea of how that feels to fans.
I am not going to harp on about the ref but will say that his officiating at the breakdown was simply not good enough for a RWC quarter-final. That is not the reason for the Boks losing but it was an average to fairly SHIT performance from the kiwi.
Fourie Du Preez once again failed to find the magic that made him on of the best scrumalves in the world in 2009 and his slow service hampered the Boks time and again. He spilled the ball with the tryline beckoning in the second half and was outplayed by his opposite number.
Danie Rossouw gave away the penalty in the 71st minute which allowed James O'connor to put the Wallabies back in the lead. Dropped a couple of passes and was largely missing in the game. He has played well in this RWC but this was not one of his better games.
The Springbok's handling really let them down badly in this game. The ball was spilled far too many times and when it wasn't, it was lost on the ground.The Boks had more territory and possession than the Wallabies but if you cannot convert that into points, you do not deserve to win. Sad but true.
Pat Lambie may be one of the least experienced Bok players but he has shown a maturity far beyond his years. Made 3 great offloads in the tackle and made good sniping runs throughout the game. Solid at the back and put in some big kicks. A long future a head for the young whipper-snapper.
Bismark Du Plessis showed once again that he is probably one of if not the best hooker in the world at the moment. He was solid in the scrums and lineouts and made some big hits on defense but it is his work at the breakdown that makes him so valuable. With John Smit retiring, the Boks will be incredibly happy with his replacement.
It was as if Victor Matfield actually knew the Wallaby line out calls and stole their ball at will. He was solid as a rock on his own ball all day and put in some telling tackles. The line-out king payed one of his finest games for the Boks and will be missed as he has now retired from all forms of rugby.
The lineouts and scrums by the Boks were sheer quality. They pushed the Wallabies back on a few occasions and stole 5 of their lineouts. It is soley due to a very good performance by Radike Samo that the Wallabies were able to get any sort of good ball from scrums.
Special mention goes to Schalk Burger, Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers.
For more rugby thoughts check out Bowl Philosophy.
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.
Shit/Good Ratings: Springboks 13 - 5 Samoa
The Springboks are through to the quarter-finals and finish at the top of the their pool but they were made to work incredibly hard to get there and certainly did not look like possible title contenders for most of this game. In fact, truth be told that were fairly dreadful and will need a huge step up if they want to beat (probably Australia) in their next game.
There was plenty of off the ball shenanigans that seemed to distract both sides but the game was a thriller and exciting until the final whistle. I felt Nigel Owens could have controlled the game more and should have sorted out the off the ball stuff early on but at least he tried to allow the game to flow.
Let's have a look at the Yes please! vs the OMG that was terrible, ratings...
The kicking of the Springboks was so unbelievably shit, possibly just as bad as their inability to change tactics and try something else. They insisted on the up and under strategy in the 2nd half into the wind and failed every time to win the ball back. It was poor tactics and even worse execution.
Paul Williams hitting Brussouw in the face. Yes Brussouw had been hitting his hands because of William's not letting go of his jersey but you cannot retaliate like that. There may well be a few citings after this game and this will be one of them.
Fourie Du Preez, the Bok scrumhalf has been a shell of his former self and it showed again today. He takes far too long to get the ball out of the rucks and his kicking was mostly aimless.
David Lemi, the right wing for Samoa had some fantastic breaks and looked dangerous every time he touched the ball. It is a pity we will not get to see more of his fancy footwork and sidesteps in the knock out stages.
Schalk Burger, the MOTM. Schalk was everywhere on the field. He made 13 tackles, threw some good passes and provided good go-forward ball with some bullocking runs. He looks to be hitting some good form for the knock out stages.
The Samoan performance in the 2nd half. The Samoan ball retention was sheer quality in the second 40min. They built phases and used the pick and go to good effect. They threw everything at the Boks and look to have taken a definite step up in general with a structured approach. They have definitely benefitted from the majority of their squad now playing in Europe.
The Bok scrum was perhaps one shining light in an otherwise sea of shit. The scrummed very well and the Samoans gave away penalties due to the immense pressure they were put under.
Notable mentions go to Samoan scrumhalf Kahn Fotuali'i, JP Pietersen and Pat babyface Lambie.
Agree, disagree, let's discuss.
SHIT/GOOD Ratings: South Africa 87- 0 Namibia
The Springboks maintained their unbeaten run in this RWC and extended their unbeaten run in World Cups to 10 with a big victory over the hapless Namibians. Having said that, this performance was far from perfect and indeed quite poor at times from the South Africans who were always expected to win this, comfortably.
The Namibian side is mostly made up of club players who very seldom get to play as a team. With only one professional player in their ranks, they did well to get some synergy and keep the Boks at bay for 20 or so minutes in the second half but struggled for the majority of the game, especially on defense.
The Bok handling was poor in this game, they had 17 handling errors in total and against a stronger side, could have been made to pay for coughing up so much possession. They looked impatient on attack at times and were not clinical or composed when they needed to be.
The Bok lineouts were not great. John Smit missed his jumpers three times when throwing to the back and once again, against a better side, this could have cost them. Definitely something to work on looking ahead to the Samoan game.
The Namibian scrum was driven backwards all night and they conceded a penalty try when scrumming on their line. The scrums did get better but basic stuff that they will need to work on before the Wales game or else expect much of the same against a good Welsh scrum.
The first time tackling on both sides was average with the Boks missing 14 tackles and the Namibians missing 28 in the game which is fairly embarrassing, especially at this level.
Francois Hougaard had a very good game, scoring two tries. He had some quality offloads, defended well and showed some fancy feet and good pace and awareness when moved to the wing.
Jacques Burger, the Namibian captain, who plays his rugby for Saracens, seemed to be everywhere on the pitch and made 16 tackles. He was by far their best player.
The Bok substitutions lifted the tempo in the last quarter, with the Boks managing to score 7 tries in the last 20min.
Notable mention goes to Willem Alberts (MOTM), Frans Steyn, John Smit and Crysander Botha, fullback for Namibia, who kicked well into space and made good ground with a few sparkling runs.
Rugby World Cup: 10 things we learned from week two
1. Ireland proved that form can sometimes mean very little. The Irish looked in worse nick that Dolly Parton without her wig and make up until Saturday, when a combination of a world class scrummaging performace in the tight and and back-row performance in the loose did for Australia.
2. Speaking of Australia, it seems that talk of the revival of ther scrum has been premature. While the Ireland scrum is far better than it was, it's still the Ireland scrum, and the Wallabies were puched about like bewildered tourist staniding on the left of Tube escalator. The fact is, as a friend of mine pointed out, Australia have not had a consistently decent scrum since about 2003, that eight years without developing scrummagers. Unforgivable.
3. England campaign is looking more and more like 2007 every day. The poor form and the limited gameplan were already there, but now there is a player speaking out about the players having no idea what is going on. Sound familiar?
4. Because of 2. abover, one half of the knockout draw is now very likely to not feature any southern hemisphere sides; leaving the big Tri-nations three to duke it out in the bottom half of the draw while the top half hold an RBS Six Nations Lite.
5. Chris Ashton is still doing that dive thing, despite him jumping the shark with it about the third time he did it.
6. Wales have shaken off the Samoa shaped World Cup monkey from their backs. Unfortunately, Samoa shook the fitness out of both Hook and Lydiate for the rest of the group stage, and Fiji and their Jedi mind tricks still lurk in the near distance.
7. Scotland are impervious to weather. They look as bad in the rain as they do in the dry.
8. New Zealand are hitting their stride slowly. Not that us Europeans care, we won't see them until the final, and they we can just poison them an win by a drop-goal like someone else did once. Allegedly.
9. South Africa keep winning and with increasing certainty, which is annoying for us all. It's even irritating for South Africans, because deep down none of them want history to reflect that P Divvy did well at a Rugby World Cup.
10. Russia are everyone's new favourite team.
What have you gleaned from a week of sleep deprivation of excessive Sky plussing?
SHIT/GOOD Ratings: SA 49 Fiji 3
A thousand humble apologies for the late S/G ratings for this game. I got a wee bit smashed on Saturday after drinking champers and OJ from 8:30am. Terrible idea but a great day of rugby. First the Bokke played a very entertaining game and then the Aussies lost to Ireland. hmmm.... delicious.
The Springboks needed a strong showing after their stuttering start against Wales and coach Pieter de Villiers will be smiling ear to ear with the performance of all 22 players on the day. Fiji failed to get their game going and struggled to cope with the powerful Bok forwards. With that said let us dive into the S/R ratings starting with the not so good.
The Fijian scrum was almost non existent in this game and is one of the reasons for the heavy loss. In the last 15 minutes the Springbok scrum achieved two tightheads and scrummed the Fijians completely off the ball by driving them back 5 metres. Fiji will never be able to compete at this level until they sort out their scrums.
Fijian flank Dominiko Waqaniburotu for his dangerous tip tackle on Pat babyface Lambie. The tackle was not only illegal but also late and possibly a result of the frustrations of a side being dominated in almost every facet of play. He has been cited for his effort.
The Springbok defense was immense in this game. They may have missed a few first time tackles but they scrambles very well, swarmed all over the Fijian backline and never allowed them the space they needed to work their magic. The attitude on defense was excellent and the players definitely all took a step up in this department.
Frans Steyn and Jaque Fourie. Last Friday I spoke about how good Nonu and Smith were and the difference it made to the All Black game. The performance of Fourie and Steyn had just a telling impact in this game and Steyn had another cracker of a game, his second in a row. He scored a try off a quality little chip kick through by Brussouw and landed a 55m penalty kick in the first half. Fourie marshalled the defense to perfection and made a few telling breaks, all in all a sheer quality from the centres.
Danie Rossouw the MOTM. Danie took control of the lineouts in the absence of Victor Matfield and back up, Johann Muller. The versatile Bulls strongman has played at 6, 7, 8 , 4 and 5 in his career but is more suited to the lock positions. His handling let him down at times but he made up for this with his smash the barn door down and keep on going runs. He showed a great step and and all in all made over 110 metres with his runs. He, like most of the forwards enjoyed the forward battle and put in some hits on defense for good measure.
All in all the defending champs have put down a marker and should be a handful for the teams they will play. Looks like they will now face the Wallabies in the quarters, which could be a classic.Turns out they do know how to keep ball in hand and don't look too shabby when they run the ball, who knew? There is room for improvement but they have made a step (giant leap) in the right direction.
Video: Zinzan Brooke: South Africa questionable Rugby World Cup winners
It all starts in a matter of hours! Have a look at this video of Will Carling, Zinzan Brooke, Matt Burke, Scott Quinnell and Rob Henderson waxing about the Rugby World Cup in the first of their This Is The Game sessions. Many topics are covered; Trevor Leota's overly physical approach to training, Matt Burke's love for the All Blacks (sort of), and Zinzan basically saying that SA have never really been appropriate winners.
“For more insights and analysis from the Heineken Ambassadors into Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, please visit www.thisisthegame.com.”
Players I shouldn't like, but do: #2 Bakkies Botha
by Richard O'Hagan
Unlike yesterday's entry, I've never been able to put a finger on why I like John Philip Botha. As second row forwards go, there's nothing that outstanding about him. His only spectacular talent is for finding trouble - his three bans for foul play put him up there with Danny Grewcock, and I've never been a fan of Grewcock's.
Over the years, there have been many second row combos who played the 'good cop/bad cop' routine - Paul Ackford and Wade Dooley literally did it, and Ben Kay and Martin Johnson were perhaps the finest exponents in the game's history. But Botha's pairing with Victor Matfield takes this into a whole new realm, that of 'clever cop/thick as concrete cop'. At times it is as if the sole point of selecting Botha is to make Matfield look even better.
And yet I can't help liking the guy. He plays the game hard, if not always fairly. He's always in the thick of the action and he never shirks a challenge. He might be a steaming great lummox of a player, but he's one I never tire of watching