Three Key Battles: New Zealand v South Africa

This is probably the most eagerly anticipated clash of the shortened 2019 Rugby Championship and should give us a clear indication about which of these will come out on top later this year when they meet in the pool stage of the World Cup.

Last year the Springboks won at the very same stadium (Westpac Stadium, Wellington). Could there be a repeat?

  1. Shannon Frizell v Pieter-Steph du Toit

Frizell comes into this contest with just four caps but he has had a strong season in Super Rugby for the Highlanders and he will be full of confidence against du Toit.

The South African is one of only two forwards retained following South Africa’s impressive win over Australia last weekend, he played a starring role with his deft kick through which led to Lood de Jager’s try.

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Credit: Instagram (@kingnoni676)

A titanic battle Frizell is definitely in form but du Toit is becoming undroppable for Rassie Erasmus.

2. Beauden Barrett v Willie le Roux

New Zealand’s superstar fly-half Beauden Barrett being deployed so the All Blacks can deploy three times Super Rugby winning ten Richie Mo’unga. Barrett certainly has the pace, control, tactical kicking and defence to play fullback it will be interesting to see how he is utilised in attack from the back.

The South African, le Roux. Dangerous attacker with electric feet, alongside two lethal finishers in Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi out on the wings, New Zealand will certainly have their hands full.

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Credit: Instagram (@wjjleroux)

Barrett at fullback could be a sign of things to come for New Zealand whilst le Roux is tried and tested and is among the best in the world in his position.

3. Sonny Bill Williams v Lukhanyo Am

The return of Sonny Bill Williams against one of South Africa’s newest stars Am. The six cap Springbok will provide stiff opposition for New Zealand’s poster boy. Am is a strong carrier and his pairing with de Allende is certainly there to provide physicality so New Zealanders will be hoping that Sonny Bill Williams is up for a testing battle following his injury.

We all know what Williams can do. He’s a freak.

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Credit: Instagram (@sonnybillwilliams)

Definitely one to watch to see if South Africa look to expose Williams lack of match practice and then if they do to watch how he responds, knowing him probably with one of his outrageous offloads or a thundering hit. He is the ultimate big game player.

It was hard to pick three all 15 of the one-on-one match ups could have been on here. New Zealand v South Africa is always a cracker, this is set to be no different.

Wales Warm-Up Could Give England Outsiders a Chance to Prove a Point

England’s first test of the summer against Wales is a golden opportunity for England to try out their fringe players and give the outsiders a chance to press a claim for inclusion in Eddie’s final squad of 31 that will play in Japan.

  1. Joe Marler

The Harlequins man returns from international retirement and the match against Wales is the perfect place to start staking a claim for that starting berth in Japan whilst current holder Mako Vunipola is out injured. It will also be interesting to see how long Marler lasts playing at test match level intensity.

2. Jack Singleton

England are likely to take three hookers to Japan and with Dylan Hartley not considered Singleton is likely to travel, he will need some minutes under his belt before arriving in Japan. Playing at a stadium like Twickenham against a team like Wales is the perfect audition.

3. Kyle Sinckler

More of a first choice name. He has been very good for England since the Lions tour but there are still questions over his temperament, if he can keep his cool in the red hot atmosphere of an England v Wales fixture he can probably keep a cool head anywhere.

4. Joe Launchbury

The athletic lock will need to lay down a marker to the other three established locks of the group (Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes). If he can play some of his best rugby combining his relentless work with the athleticism that sets him apart he will be on that plane.

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Credit: Instagram (@joe_launch)

5. Charlie Ewels

An outside bet for this position. Ewels is a talented man and his opportunities for England have been few and far between but definitely a player that could prove a point. He is a strong leader and a very good lineout technician.

6. Alex Dombrandt

The young back row had an excellent season for the London based Harlequins, he also played really well in England’s annual runout against the Barbarians. He showed his pace and power in a typical all-action blindside flanker’s performance.

7. Lewis Ludlam

The openside has been involved in all the World Cup camps and is the dark horse to make the final cut. Northampton have really got the best out of him this season and for him to be pushing standout players like Tom Curry and Sam Underhill for a place is a real testament to the form he was in.

8. Mark Wilson

Whilst Wilson is preferred at six with just one specialist number eight in the squad it makes sense to try out another option there and Mark Wilson is the only other player than Billy Vunipola that has played there at international level. It’s good to have all bases covered heading into a World Cup.

9. Ben Spencer

The Saracens man is still extremely light on international minutes and with Spencer and Heinz both likely to be deputising for Ben Youngs in Japan much like Jack Singleton, being part of the squad and playing in these high intensity matches are so important.

10. Danny Cipriani

It’s about time. Danny is back in the England squad. Everyone wants to see him start, we all know what Owen Farrell and George Ford can do. Now let’s sit back and enjoy watching Danny Cipriani wearing the white of England.

11. Ruaridh McConnochie

One of the signings of the season for Bath Rugby. The former sevens man has certainly made his mark even edging out another international in Semesa Rokoduguni in starting for his club. McConnochie’s pace is one thing, he also is good in the air and is explosively powerful.

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Credit: Instagram (@ruaridhmcc)

12. Manu Tuilagi

It will be exciting to see what havoc this man can cause playing off Cipriani. England have a few options in the centre but Tuilagi is by far the most powerful. This is game where power will be important.

13. Jonathan Joseph

He hasn’t played much for Bath so it would be good to see if he is test match ready. If he is ready he offers a different approach to both of England’s leading men Tuilagi and Slade. He has electric pace and is one of the best in his position defensively.

14. Anthony Watson

Like his club mate Joseph has had very little game time this season and hasn’t played for England since the 2018 Six Nations. Watson is equally at home at fullback but if Watson is up to the levels Eddie Jones expects then England’s back three can add this Lion into the mix.

15. Mike Brown

Leapfrogged by Elliot Daly as England’s leading fullback but still has so much to offer and could be key for England’s chances. A safe pair of hands in the air and his cannon of a boot make him England’s Mr Reliable which is far more complimentary than the Mr Angry tag he has been lumbers with in the past.

 

Rugby Australia Have Made a Brave Decision

Israel Folau’s contract with Rugby Australia is set to be terminated following a post on Instagram from the Waratahs star that stated that homosexuals among other groups are sinners and will be sent to hell unless they repent.

Accompanying the photo was the following caption “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”

This led to Rugby Australia releasing a statement which stated “”In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.”

This is not the first time Israel Folau has been accused of exhibiting homophobic behaviour due to his devout Christian beliefs.

This will not have been an easy decision for Raelene Castle and Andrew Hore to have made. We are just five months away from the 2019 World Cup and Israel Folau is undoubtedly a key player for the Wallabies.

This decision though is widely supported and makes a statement that this sort of unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated.

Previously athletes have got away with awful offences including domestic violence and assault but the contract termination has shown that there are human beings behind the corporate logo and image presented by some of sport’s most prominent governing bodies.

What’s next for Israel Folau? It’s unlikely any other Super Rugby franchise will take the fullback and a move to England is unlikely with their currently being a massive focus on culture and team spirit in England and a the divisive nature of Folau’s comments will not have gone down well.

Folau may see if any of his previous employers in the AFL or NRL are interested in the multi-talented player. He could also join the rugby revolution going on in Western Australia. One thing’s for sure Folau will no longer be Rugby Australia’s golden boy.

A very brave and strong decision by Rugby Australia, I for one support them.

Road to Tokyo: New Zealand Forwards Evaluation

Still very much the team to beat heading into 2019 we take a look at who’s booked their ticket to Japan and who will watching from afar. Here’s our look at New Zealand’s options.

This year has seen the meteoric rise of the frighteningly talented Karl Tu’inukuafe, out of nowhere he has made himself Steve Hansen’s first choice. At 25 years old he has his best prop years ahead of him. Alongside him there is veteran the 106 cap Owen Franks. Franks has been a stalwart for New Zealand for a long time.

Joe Moody is another player that has been around a long time and we know from history that experience counts at a World Cup. On the tighthead side behind Franks there are three very strong options with Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen all capped and with Hansen likely to take five props it will be a tough decision deciding which one to take although November suggests Tu’ungafasi is leading the charge. Add into the mix the uncapped duo of Tim Perry and Angus Ta’avao and it’s an area of strength for New Zealand.

In between the props things are a little clearer, Codie Taylor and Dane Coles are by far and away the best hookers in New Zealand. They offer so much more than anyone else.

New Zealand will probably need a third option in case one of their frontline options gets injured. The Chiefs Nathan Harris seems the obvious option but there could be a case made for the Highlanders Liam Coltman after a strong season for him in Super Rugby. Some tough calls lie ahead for the selectors.

Second row, New Zealand have the best pairing in the world in their ranks with Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. They have to go. Then there is the less glamorous Barret brother, Scott who had an immense title winning season with the Crusaders and has been a revelation for the All Blacks this year.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.22.55-Sam Whitelock, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951964

Behind them there maybe space for one more lock, there are a couple of viable options, Patrick Tuipulotu, he offers a lot in the loose and is a very capable lineout option which could be key with quick turnarounds Retallick won’t be able to play every game. The other option is Jackson Hemopo who has three caps. A more physical presence than Tuipulotu but less experienced.

One area that will be interesting is the back row, some very big calls to be made here. Despite growing calls from the public to drop him Kieran Read is likely to be captain in Japan.

Sam Cane is still very much a valuable weapon for New Zealand, the traditional ‘fetcher’ and leads the charge despite pressures from the outstanding Ardie Savea and Matt Todd. Todd has been great for the Crusaders but with spaces limited in the back row and Savea’s versatility could see him forced out.

Shannon Frizell is the bolter coming out on nowhere and would be a worthy addition to the All Blacks, he has the pace and power to make a serious difference and bring a new dynamic to New Zealand. Liam Squire will be looking over his shoulder at the 24 year old coming into 2019. The final man in contention is Akira Ioane, uncapped and raw but definitely talented, must be something in the water at the Ioane household, with his brother Rieko being one of the best wings in the world.

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Taken by http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com

There is also the presence of Vaea Fifita who has been in and around the New Zealand squad all season but with the restriction of just 31 players he could be one of the unlucky ones.

In summary

On the Plane: Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Brodie Rettalick, Sam Whitelock, Karl Tu’inakuafe, Codie Taylor

In the Departure Lounge: Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Scott Barrett, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane

Checking In: Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Matt Todd

Packing: Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris, Patrick Tuipulotu

Booking Elsewhere: Angus Ta’avao, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Tim Perry, Liam Coltman, Jackson Hemopo, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Vaea Fifita

World Cup Countdown: State of Play

We’ve seen a great autumn of rugby so far including the dramatic ending to England’s victory over South Africa, Wales’ 74 point rout of Tonga and Ireland defeating New Zealand for the second time in three games.

With one week left and just under a year before the World Cup we take a look at the contenders for next year’s showpiece event.

New Zealand are still top of the tree despite their loss to Ireland but their position looks less stable than it has in recent years. South Africa and Ireland have beaten them, England ran them extremely close as did South Africa in the second leg of their Rugby Championship tie.

Steven Hansen was quick to label Ireland favourites for the World Cup but I think it’s safe to say New Zealand will still be fancied by the bookmakers to claim their fourth World Cup title.

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By Government of NZ – http://gg.govt.nz/content/mike-eagle-christchurch-onzm-services-rugby, CC BY 3.0 nz, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59328418

Rassie Erasmus is doing a terrific job with South Africa, they defeated England 2-1 in the June test series which is a massive boost. Siya Kolisi is magnificent captain and with the dangerous duo on the wings of Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi have emerged as two of the most in-form wings in the world maybe just behind Jacob Stockdale and Rieko Ioane.

Their narrow loss to England showed they do have some weaknesses, despite Malcolm Marx’s work in the loose he is still unreliable at the set piece, his lineout issues at Twickenham handed the second half initiative to England as they trusted in Owen Farrell’s boot to guide them to victory.

Ireland, all conquering in the 2018 Six Nations which was followed up by a series win over a very disappointing Australia outfit before swiftly dispatching of Argentina and then dismantling New Zealand. Johnny Sexton is a remarkable player, he directs play, Beuaden Barrett got taught a real lesson in Dublin.

Peter O’Mahony he stops at nothing to deliver the win, tenacious, hard working and physical. Tadhg Furlong is the best tighthead prop going, you can argue all you want it won’t change fact that he is tremendous. Joe Schmidt has taken his time moulding Ireland into the team he wants them to be.

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By Warwick Gastinger – Rugby World Cup 2015 DSCN4929, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43622816

Schmidt has built a group that knows what it feel like to win, they know how to win, they certainly have the credentials to be crowned champions in Japan. That is if they get past New Zealand.

Their Celtic cousins Wales have had a great November series, they started it off with a free flowing, open win over Scotland in Cardiff. They then scraped past Australia before expertly punishing Tonga by scoring loads of tries.

Warren Gatland now has a group of players from the Scarlets that love to attack, gone are the days of ‘Warrenball’, Gareth Anscombe is transforming the backline, he’s fast, skilful and can expertly manage a game.

Then there Is England. People may laugh after the year they’ve had but the world should be wary of Eddie Jones’ charges. The writing seemed to be on the wall this autumn, but England roared back into life despite it taking them 40 minutes to get into the South Africa test.

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By DIALLO 25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57847156

They gave New Zealand one hell of a game, make no mistake they rattled Hansen’s cage, the Six Nations opener against Ireland is going to be an amazing game. Owen Farrell is leading the charge and they’ve finally found an openside in Sam Underhill and Tom Curry isn’t far behind.

There we have it the five frontrunners just under a year out from the World Cup. New Zealand leading the charge but the others aren’t far behind.