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.

Brothers In Arms XV

There are a lot of family connections in the world of rugby, there are father and son pairings like Owen and Andy Farrell, or cousins like the Vunipolas and Taulupe Faletau but here we focus on exceptional siblings. We put together a team of 15 players, the only criteria must have a rugby playing brother.

1 Ben Franks (New Zealand)

The ex-All Black is an experienced man and has played rugby for some great clubs in both his homeland and more recently England and he will continue his journey in England next season with Northampton Saints. A solid set piece specialist.

2 Tom Youngs (England)

No longer on the England radar but still a very good player. He has been a wonderful servant to his club first as a centre before his transition to the front row. He’s a mobile unit and hasn’t lost his handling skills from his days as a back.

3 Owen Franks (New Zealand)

Arguably the best tighthead prop of all time. He has amassed 106 international caps over the last decade and at 31 as a prop he could have years ahead of him. He will go down as a New Zealand and Crusaders great.

4 Sam Whitelock (Captain, New Zealand)

Your classic enforcer. Sam Whitelock has been front and centre for the All Blacks for a number of years, an All Black team without Whitelock is like a burger without the cheese, it’s just not the same. Strong in the lineout and around the park. His experience and workrate make him our captain.

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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

5 Scott Barrett (New Zealand)

Scott’s style of play may not be the razzle dazzle of younger brother, Jordie or the fast, skilful show of older brother, Beauden but it is just as effective. Scott is an expert at the lineout and he has made this a considerable strength for his franchise.

6 Luke Whitelock (New Zealand)

The lesser known Whitelock. He may have just eight caps for New Zealand but is a testament to the man that he is such a valued member of the Highlanders. He has also shown how highly regarded he is with four caps for the Barbarians and an appearance for a World XV. A useful lineout option and abrasive in the loose.

7 Steffon Armitage (England)

A traditional openside flanker, starting at London Irish he flourished when he left for France and the eccentric Mourad Boudjellal’s Toulon. Armitage’s work on the floor is exceptional and he can turnover ball at will.

8 Ardie Savea (New Zealand)

Not quite as quick as his formidable brother but fast nonetheless. He makes the breaks of a centre with the power of a ten tonne truck. He has all the attributes of a world class rugby player. Fast becoming a shoo-in for Steve Hansen.

9 Ben Youngs (England)

England’s first choice scrum-half and has been for some time. Youngs is one of the leaders of both his national team and Leicester Tigers. He has an all court game, he kicks very well, passes quickly and he has that sniping ability with his pace.

10 Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)

The oldest of the Barrrett dynasty. The 28 year old has established himself as one of the best fly-halves in the world. Barrett is quick, frighteningly so and he uses this to great effect along with his vision. He’s the only superstar brother we want running our backline.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.08.19.20.17.44-Barrett chased by Rona, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61951911

11 Julian Savea (New Zealand)

Another man that is no longer part of the international picture but he has an astonishing strike rate for New Zealand with 46 tries in 54 appearances. He has extraordinary pace for his formidable size and he also has considerable power.

12 Manu Tuilagi (England)

Another powerhouse for this backline that is shaping up to be almost as big as the pack. Despite having an injury plagued career he is undoubtedly an extremely talented centre. His power and offloading game make him potent in attack.

13 Jordie Barrett (New Zealand)

Not quite as consistent as his older brothers but has all the talent in the world, remarkably skilful, terribly quick and terrifyingly brilliant. If he can match any of the achievements of his fly-half brother he could become a key part of a post-World Cup All Blacks team.

14 Alesana Tuilagi (Samoa)

There was only space for two of rugby’s largest family in both numbers and size. The Samoan winger was known for his powerful hits (ask Nick Abendanon) and barnstorming carries. Tuilagi adds even more terrifying physicality to this powerful backline.

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By Mark Meredith – Flickr: Ready for action, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16889376

15 Delon Armitage (England)

The veteran fullback was luckier than his brother regarding international caps, appearing 26 times for England and scoring eight tries in the process. A strong kicker and good footwork make fullback his best position although he’s also at home in the centre or out on the wing.

There we have it our Brothers XV. It was hard to pick our favourite brothers so instead of just making one team we made three, stay tuned and like the Facebook page to see if your favourite brothers made any of our later teams. Do you think this team could give your favourite team a run for their money? Let us know in the comments.

State of the Nation: New Zealand (continued)

Part two analysing the All Blacks and picking our squad just six months out from the 2019 World Cup.

You can find part one and our forwards here.

At half back New Zealand are strong and there are two scrum-halves that would make most international teams. Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara both travel. Steve Hansen is likely to take a third scrum-half as part of his initial squad.

There are many options Augustine Pulu, Mitchell Drummond and Brad Weber all capped by New Zealand but Hansen will likely stick with the form scrum-half of last season Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, he adds some excitement to the settled pair of Smith and Perenara.

Scrum-Halves: TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs)

At fly-half there is no debate Beauden Barrett is first choice and will remain first choice. Behind him again a really easy choice after last season. Richie Mo’unga is a key part of the Crusaders success, he kicks well out of hand and is a good attacking player.

Fly-Halves: Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)

One are of considerable depth for New Zealand is centre especially with the recent return of World Cup winner Ma’a Nonu.

New Zealand’s Mr Consistent Ryan Crotty is a class act and goes about his job quietly yet efficiently and must be a part of Hansen’s squad. Alongside him his Crusaders partner in crime Jack Goodhue has the makings of a really good player. He’s in great form, he’s fast and got some real power, he offers New Zealand something really quite special in the midfield.

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Credit: David Molloy photography via Flickr

Behind the Crusaders duo there are so many options Matt Proctor is a very good player but will probably miss out, Vince Aso is another player that is on the peripheries of the picture.

One man very much front and centre is Sonny Bill Williams, can be a bit of a marmite player but certainly talented. It is shown by previous winning sides experience is key the proven big game performances and experience of the hulking centre make him an integral part of our squad.

We had trouble picking our fourth and final centre between powerful runner Ngani Laumpae and the skilful ball player Anton Lienert-Brown. The way Laumape has played over the past few seasons and the explosive presence he can offer make him our final pick.

Centres: Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue (both Crusaders), Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues)

These leaves five spaces in the back three to complete our 31-man squad.

Tries are going to be important in Japan especially with bonus points on offer in the group stage the same as in 2015. New Zealand have arguably the best wing in the world in Rieko Ioane, he’s a dangerous finisher with pace to burn.

It’s again a really competitive position, with him there is Ben Smith, a talented fullback and his ability to play wing is an added bonus. Talking of versatility New Zealand are going to need a player that can cover ten should the worst happen and Barrett get injured, after all look at the 2011 World Cup. Damian MacKenzie is that man. Not only can he cover fly-half but he’s also the best counterattacking player around.

To compliment Ioane, there is a wealth of options but very much leading the charge is Waisake Naholo, the winger is another speed merchant but Naholo really excels in his evasion, he has a low centre of gravity and a powerful leg drive.

Jordie Barrett is just outstandingly brilliant, creative, quick, dangerous. We have left him out, we have gone for a relative bolter in the shape of Ben Lam. He may not be as prolific as he was last time out but is still a danger man.

Back Three: Rieko Ioane (Blues), Ben Lam (Hurricanes), Damian MacKenzie (Chiefs), Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith (both Highlanders)

There we have it our 31-man squad for New Zealand, next up Wales check that out later this week. Who would you pick if you were Steve Hansen hit us up in the comments section!

Opinion: Bath Should Break the Bank to Land Pollard

Bath Rugby will be losing Wales veteran, Rhys Priestland at the end of the season, and with just two specialist fly-halves contracted for next season Bath have been linked with three high profile names to replace the outgoing ten.

South African Handre Pollard, 50 cap All Black Aaron Cruden and most recently Gareth Anscombe.

It’s been a while since Bath had a clear first choice fly-half with the shirt being shared between the departing Priestland and Freddie Burns as Bath have lingered in mid-table and failed to live up to any sort of hype.

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By Stemoc – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49998625

If Bath are serious about competing for the title Handre Pollard is their only option. The 24 year old international would be unavailable for the start of each season as he fulfilled commitments in South Africa but the quality he would provide for he rest of the season would offset this.

Pollard has kicked well in the past, a vital part of any fly-halves game, kicks can win games. Pollard would provide a safe pair of hands in that department.

Can you imagine the havoc Girvan Dempsey could cause if Blackadder handed him a resource like the Bulls star? Pollard is very good in attack, a master, he has pace and his passing game and playmaking ability make him dangerous, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel thrive outside him for South Africa. If he can replicate that with Bath’s selection of senior centres it could really set their game alight.

Pollard also is a strong defender, he doesn’t miss many tackles and he’s a physical tackler. Defence has been a focus for Premiership teams over the past years with the majority clubs seeing how well basing success on defence has worked for the ever improving Saracens.

The final thing that sets Pollard apart from Cruden and Anscombe is his age. Pollard is 24, three years younger than Ansombe and six years younger than Cruden.

The Springbok playmaker has his best years ahead of him.

South Africa are determined to keep him at home but with Bath’s large cash reserves, if they really want him they should be able to get him.

Our opinion, Bath should do whatever it takes to make him theirs next season.

Crusaders v Hurricanes: Three Key Battles

This weekend presents us with one of the most enticing Super Rugby clashes as the champions, Crusaders take on the exciting Hurricanes.

Crusaders are favourites playing at home and with the Hurricanes missing star All Black, Beauden Barrett who only returned to training on Monday.

  1. Jordan Taufua v Reed Prinsep

Two very talented players match up in this crunch tie. Jordan Taufua is set to be New Zealand’s next import to England with Leicester Tigers snapping up the flanker.

Taufua’s most high profile appearance to date was when the Barbarians played South Africa at Wembley in 2016, the game ending in a 31-31 draw.

For Reed Prinsep this will be somewhat a homecoming considering he played his NPC rugby for Canterbury. Prinsep is less experienced than Taufua at Super Rugby level but certainly has the pace and physicality to match the rampaging Crusader.

2. Richie Mo’unga v Fletcher Smith

The Crusaders fly-half was the in-form player at the end of last season as he guided his team to a second successive title under Scott Robertson. Mo’unga’s kicking skills and game management earned him his first All Black call-up.

For Fletcher Smith this will be a tough one, the 23 year old has just one Super Rugby appearance to his name and Beuaden Barrett’s boots are big ones to fill for the youngster.

It will be interesting to see if the young ten can hold his own against one of the best players in the league in this high pressure, high stakes game.

3. Matt Todd v Dane Coles

Not a positional battle but the two captains will be going head to head. Matt Todd is one of the less celebrated Crusaders players who has been pivotal for his franchises success. He is a traditional open side, strong at the breakdown and a master on the floor. Todd leads by example and he’ll need to inspire his team to beat a very competent Hurricanes outfit.

This is some test of Coles leadership, the hooker is brilliant. Just exceptional at his best, he runs well, tackles physically and leads exceptionally.

It will be interesting to see which captain plays to the referee early on as that could effect how the game is played.

This will be a close one and definitely one of the biggest games this season. Two franchises that are sure to have play-off ambitions for the end of the season.

Six Nations Will be Open Affair

Ireland are clearly the frontrunners heading into the Six Nations as they capped a successful 2018 by beating the All Blacks following their 2-1 tour win in Australia over the summer.

Guided by fly-half Johnny Sexton they have the firepower in the forwards with Tadhg Furlong leading the charge, then they have the lethal finishing ability of Jacob Stockdale out wide.

It will be no walk in the park though, Wales look like a different team to the boring, one dimensional Welsh team we have come to associate with two time Lions boss, Warren Gatland.

Gareth Anscombe has changed the game, his attacking ability makes the talented Wales backline tick.

Ireland and England both face the trip to Cardiff’s cauldron like arena and following an unbeaten autumn Wales will fancy their chances.

England look rejuvenated their excellent win over Australia and bullish victory over South Africa showed that Eddie Jones’ side still have that hard edge. They also ran the mighty New Zealand very close.

Not to mention they did all this without frontline stars like Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Nathan Hughes, Joe Launchbury and Dan Cole.

England do arguably face the toughest task in terms of fixtures with both the Ireland and Wales ties away from the fortress of Twickenham. They are also set to bear the burden of injury again with Bath trio Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph unlikely to play any part in the competition.

Scotland are still strong, France look to have some rhythm back and Italy seem to have found an identity but it’s unlikely that they’ll challenge the other three this year.

The likelihood of a Grand Slam is low as it will be difficult for Ireland to win in Cardiff, England won’t fancy their chances in Dublin and last time Wales beat England was in the 2015 World Cup.

The countdown to the World Cup is on and with September approaching, this Six Nations is crucial step towards Tokyo and the William Webb Ellis Trophy.

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