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.

Which World Cup Pool is the ‘Group of Death’?

The Rugby World Cup is just months away and the pools have long been public knowledge. With more teams set to be chasing the favourites New Zealand than usual we take a look at which pool could be dubbed the perilous Group of Death.

Pool A

Pool A contains hosts Japan as well as form team of last year Ireland, a vastly improved Scotland, a competitive Samoa and minnows Russia.

Japan’s heroics from 2015 are still very much in the mind and they pushed England hard at Twickenham back in November. They have some very good players in workhorse, Michael Leitch, veteran scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka and skilful centre Ryoto Nakamura.

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By 江戸村のとくぞう – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74114242

Samoa are always physical and they possess their own array of international stars. Samoa will bring power and pace but much like their Pacific neighbours Fiji and Tonga they lack the finesse and poise to challenge the bigger boys of international rugby.

Russia are there for the ride, it’s taken a valiant effort to get there but realistically they aren’t going to trouble the runaway favourite two from this group, Ireland and Scotland.

There is just too much class from Ireland and Scotland for this to be called the Group of Death. Japan and Samoa might provide the odd moment of magic or a scare but unlikely to qualify for the last eight.

Pool B

Pool B has favourites New Zealand, a very strong South Africa, a competitive Italy, Canada who have really struggled recently and African also rans, Namibia.

New Zealand and South Africa are the clear frontrunners. Canada may have been a challenging prospect two years ago but not now and Namibia aren’t going to beat them.

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By PierreSelim – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17171268

Italy have beaten South Africa before but if we are honest even at full strength Sergio Parisse and co. Aren’t likely to have enough to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Pool C

Now here it’s a little more complex, it has the ridiculously inconsistent France, highly competitive Argentina, a rebooted England, sleeping giant USA and Pacific juggernaut Tonga.

USA did have their moment in the sun last summer as they beat Scotland. They are still far more of a force in sevens, their time in the expanded version of the game is yet to come but that result in June certainly suggests they could trouble England and Argentina and with the temperamental France we all know anything can happen.

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By The National Guard – National Guard sponsorship of USA RugbyUploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30882152

Tonga, a good team. However Wales’ 74-24 win over them in November proved just how big the gap is between the Pacific island nations and the Six Nations giants. Like USA if they copy their cousins Fiji they could beat France.

France, they are among the three most likely to emerge from the group the question is will they have enough to beat England or Argentina? You never know.

England are favourites for the group and rightly so. They should come out of this relatively unscathed.

Argentina was much better in the Rugby Championship last time out and building into the World Cup they will be confident. They have reached the knockout stages in the last three World Cups, their game against France could decide who qualifies for the last eight with England.

Definitely a competitive pool.

Pool D

Six Nations winners Wales, an Australia in disarray, the Flying Fijians, the rising force in Europe, Georgia are joined by South American minnows Uruguay.

Again this is complex. Fiji are exciting they have some real stars Nemani Nadolo, Viliame Mata, Leone Nakarawa, Semi Radradra and Peceli Yato are household names and tearing it up in Europe. They produce some breathtaking stuff and they knocked out Wales previously way back in 2007.

There is a clamouring for Georgia to join the premier international tier by being inducted into the Six Nations. They are known for their terrifying forwards and their famed scrum has seen having a Georgian prop as almost a requirement to win the Top 14 in France. Wales and Australia who are the two obvious leaders should brace themselves.

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By Paata Vardanashvili – https://www.flickr.com/photos/paata/434764326/ Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4593732

Uruguay like Namibia and Russia have done really well to get to the World Cup and they are much stronger than they once were gone are they days where New Zealand beat Namibia 142-0 or England beat Uruguay 111-13. They deserve to be there.

Will Fiji or Georgia beat Wales or Australia? It’s unlikely but Fiji definitely could beat Australia the mess they’re in and with Wales not the same prospect outside the cauldron of Cardiff could hand Fiji the chance and Georgia’s scrum could cause both problems. It’s unlikely though.

A competitive pool no doubt but unlike Pool C two clear frontrunners.

So there’s our verdict, Pool C as they have three teams that have the know how to reach the latter stages of the competition.

Rugby World Cup 2019: Australia Are Genuine Contenders

Australia managed just four wins last year as well as suffering a humiliating defeat to Argentina on the Gold Coast, England thrashing them at Twickenham and Ireland claiming a history making 2-1 series win. They only won one game in November and that was against a very underpowered Italy in Padua.

If that wasn’t bad enough the media storm created by Israel Folau and his contract being revoked following homophobic comments will not have made life any easier for head coach Michael Cheika.

Despite all this Australia are still definitely capable of winning the World Cup.

One significant advantage are their pool opponents, now Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay should not pose a real threat to Australia and despite the abilities of these teams the biggest threat Australia will face is Wales.

Now Wales are in good form, 14 wins on the bounce including Ireland, England, South Africa and Australia but the last time Wales beat Australia away from home was way back in 1987 at the very first World Cup.

Now looking at Wales away form recently they aren’t quite the same team on the road, Wales struggled against France and Italy in the Six Nations, both times escaping by the skin of their teeth. Australia will fancy their chances there.

Australia will also have the chance to unleash arguably the best half back combination of recent Australian history in Will Genia and Quade Cooper both of whom have been in excellent form for the Melbourne Rebels.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.06.24.15.28.29-Quade Cooper, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60479171

Australia are so much better when Genia is playing, his speed from the base and tactical play is better than any other Australian scrum-half. Cooper is a genius, he attacks well and has a good mix to his play with clever kicks, an elusive turn of pace and an outrageous step. His game has also developed to incorporate him in link plays.

This half back mix could cause any team problems, that is Cooper can get his head in the right place and work hard.

One of the most celebrated part of Australia’s current team is the back row and that devilish mixture of Michael Hooper and David Pocock. Both world class openside operators deployed together to not just dominate but monopolise control of the breakdown.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.06.17.15.31.45-Michael Hooper run-0003, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60432829

The breakdown will be a key area at the World Cup no matter what team you play. If Australia get quick ball there will be hell to pay for the opposition Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks and Jordan Petaia are dangerous players and getting the ball in space crafted by a creative Wallabies midfield is what these players dream of.

If Australia can top their pool there is every chance they can win the World Cup. Dark horse is not the traditional Australian tag but one they will definitely be happy with after the horror show of 2018.

Potential XV for Gatland’s 2021 Tour

The British & Irish Lions will be coached by Warren Gatland for a third successive time when they tour South Africa. The tour is still two years away and there is a lot of rugby to be played between then and now including the Rugby World Cup and two Six Nations championships and both Ireland and Wales will definitely have new head coaches after the World Cup and Eddie Jones’ future following the World Cup is unclear.

We take a very early look at who could start the first test in South Africa two years from now.

  1. Mako Vunipola (England)

Arguably the best loosehead prop in the world and a key part of the extremely successful Saracens side. Works hard in the loose and over the last couple of seasons has greatly improved his set piece. He will be 30 when the tour rolls around.

2. Jamie George (England)

He has taken full advantage of Dylan Hartley’s absence this season and cemented himself as England’s first choice and will probably retain the shirt for the World Cup. Another powerhouse in the loose. He will also be 30 for the next tour.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

A very good prop. Excellent in the set piece and useful in the loose. Ireland and Leinster rely so heavily on him and he performed well in New Zealand two years ago. He is the youngest of this front row and will be 28 with his best prop years ahead of him for 2021.

4. Maro Itoje (England)

This man still has the chants of “Oh Maro Itoje” ringing in his ears from that famous night in Wellington. Undoubtedly world class and a potential captain for both his country, England and he is still improving all the time. He will be in his prime at 26 for the next tour.

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USO – Saracens – 20151213 – Maro Itoje

5. James Ryan (Ireland)

He has been the standout performer in the Champions Cup and greatly impressed on the international stage having emerged as a key man for Ireland. His age gives him the edge over the older Alun Wyn Jones. He will be just 24.

6. Peter O’Mahony (Captain, Ireland)

Our pick to captain our potential side. A key cog in Munster’s excellent European campaign as they went all the way to the semi-final before being knocked out by Saracens. Physical and inspirational. He will be the other side of 30, at 31 years of age in two years time.

7. Tom Curry (England)

England’s standout man during the Six Nations and he has continued that form for his club, Sale Sharks. Very good at the breakdown both winning turnovers for his side and slowing the ball down for the opposition. And he certainly has age on his side, the youngest pick so far he will be just 22.

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

A fourth Saracen in Anglo-Irish pack. Vunipola carries very well using his powerful leg drive and big frame. A competent defender and an explosive force from the base of the scrum. He will be two years younger than his brother and 28 for the South Africa tour.

9. Conor Murray (Ireland)

An all court scrum-half, the best box kicking scrum-half in the world and has the height and strength that Gatland values. He has become a leader for Munster and should be a valuable deputy to his fellow Munsterman O’Mahony in South Africa. He will be 32.

10. Owen Farrell (England)

It’s no contest, Farrell has proved over the past few years that he is a class act. A metronome off the tee, a good defensive leader and has the big game experience with both Saracens and England to make him world class. He will still be under 30 at 29 years of age in South Africa.

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By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847661

11. Liam Williams (Wales)

The first Welshman on the list. Liam Williams has come on leaps and bounds since joining Saracens (are you starting to spot a theme?) unflappable in the air and quick enough to trouble defenders when he counter attacks. He will be 30 when Warren Gatland names his team.

12. Huw Jones (Scotland)

The Scottish centre is more of a natural 13 but could definitely slot in at 12. He’s a powerful runner and has the upper body strength to beat any weak, high tackles. Having that power and explosiveness allow him to open holes in midfield. He will be 27 for the next tournament and therefore gets in ahead of that will be a 31 year old Hadleigh Parkes.

13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)

One of Wales’ best players during their current 14 match unbeaten run, he was also key for the Lions in New Zealand. No doubt one of the British Isles most potent, attacking threats, he has the pace and defends well enough to fill the 13 jersey. He will be 33.

14. Jonny May (England)

Out and out pace. He has matured greatly over the past two to three years and his finishing ability make him a match winner. May has become better in the air and improved his positioning. He would be given plenty of opportunities with the Jones-Davies combination inside him. He will be 31.

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Injury robbed the brilliant Scot from playing on the 2017 tour. Still very much one of Scotland’s biggest stars and most exciting players. Pace and a wicked step make him a pushing attacker and he competes out lethal back three. He has been around a while but will be just 28 for the 2021 tour.

There we have it England lead the way with seven players, five of them being Saracens. Ireland have four players and Scotland and Wales have two each.

Who would you have in your team? Let us know in the comments section.

Danny Cipriani Can Win England the World Cup

Danny Cipriani has had an exceptional season for Gloucester and proved that by scooping two of the end of the season awards.

The only thing that has eluded the talented ten is the England call-up his form is just crying out for with his only appearances under Eddie Jones coming last summer in England’s tour to South Africa. Cipriani playing a starring role in the consolation victory in the third test.

With Eddie Jones likely to take just two tens to Japan and with Owen Farrell a bonafide starter for England is there space for a gamebreaking visionary like Cipriani?

Past selections would suggest that George Ford is firmly in England’s plans despite a frankly abysmal season for his club, Leicester Tigers compared to Cipriani’s high flying Gloucester finishing in third.

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By Chris Brown – Danny Cipriani, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7434808

Unlike Ford Danny Cipriani can still control a game is his forwards are in reverse. Danny Cipriani is able to control a game without needing the quick ball George Ford thrives off.

Another attribute Cipriani is blessed with is his vision, he sees things most players wouldn’t even imagine, and not only does he see them he has the talent to exploit the situation opening doors that counterpart Ford didn’t even know existed.

This is not to say Cipriani should start for England. Owen Farrell is England’s fly-half all day, every day but when Farrell can’t do it there needs to be someone who can and that has to be Cipriani.

Cipriani breaks the mould and coming into a high pressure game with say 20 minutes to go he is the man that could produce that sprinkle of stardust to win England games. This remarkable ability could be the difference between England crashing out in the semi-final or finally a glorious repeat of 2003.

Bulls v Sharks: Three Key Battles

It’s our second instalment of this feature and again we take a look at one of the weekend’s Super Rugby clashes as two of South Africa’s strongest franchises take on each other in Pretoria.

These are the three contests we think could decide what is set to be an enthralling contest.

  1. Cornal Hendricks v Sbu Nkosi

Both right wings so we will probably be robbed of watching a foot race between these two amazing finishers that have been key men for their franchises.

Nkosi is one of the most deadly players in the league and is in a backline that will want to get the balls to their wings and exploit the wider areas.

Hendricks possesses slightly less pace than his Sharks counterpart but with the strong pack the Bulls possess and a very creative midfield if Hendricks is given space there will be fireworks.

2. Handre Pollard v Robert Du Preez

Two very capable fly-halves with rounded games. Du Preez is in his last season with him set to join England’s Sharks based in Sale.

Pollard is South Africa’s number one for a reason, he’s an attacking master and if he is given the front foot by his pack he will have no problem running at defenders and using his handling and kicking game to manipulate the Sharks defenders.

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By David Roberts from London, United Kingdom – South Africa vs. USA, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44256325

Du Preez showed what a good player he is in Sale and proved that he has it in him to be a really steadying presence. He will not be found wanting off the tee and Pollard will have his work cut out containing the Sharks ten.

3. Schalk Brits v Akker van der Merwe

The all action Brits has had a great career and he is continuing to defy the ageing process back in his homeland following a very successful period with Saracens in England. Akker van der Merwe is no pushover though and earned his first three caps for South Africa last year.

Brits will be his usual self playing like a centre in a hooker’s body and will be key to give Bulls some go forward and try to give Bulls the advantage on the gainline.

Akker van der Merwe will try and build on what was a good season for the 26 year old last time out if not for the Sharks. A different type of player than Brits but very good at the basics and offers Sharks some real power.

This game could decide the winners of the South African conference and is sure to a brutally physical and bruising encounter in Pretoria.

Opinion: My Radical Revamp for World Rugby

Following the proposal’s put forward detailing a 12 team World League, we thought we would take a look at how we would change the calendar without putting player welfare at risk, increasing travel for the larger southern hemisphere nations drastically or shutting out strong tier two nations such as Fiji and Georgia.

  1. SANZAAR Tier Two Agreement

The November tests are great, they are some of the best games of the year and showcase the best talent the southern hemisphere has to offer in the great European amphitheatres of rugby.

I would have New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina all sign an agreement stating that one of their Internationals in the autumn would be against a European side outside the Six Nations.

Having New Zealand travel to Tbilisi or South Africa play in Bucharest would firstly be a great cash maker for these smaller nations by brining in large crowds and a chance for these nations to test themselves against the very best.

2. Six Nations Tier Two Agreement

This would basically mirror the SANZAAR agreement, in November the major Six Nations teams would agree to play at least one game against a southern hemisphere (including Japan and USA) team outside the Rugby Championship.

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By Dɐ – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32969443

3. Six Fixed Destinations

For the next six non World Cup years 2020, 2021, 2022, 2024, 2025, 2026 I would have a deal where New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Japan and Fiji tied would host one of the Six Nations each year on a rotation basis.

The deal would also state that the destination be a nation that you haven’t played the previous autumn, this would further allow the smaller nations Italy, Japan and Fiji to play a larger array of the world’s best.

In Lions tour years, one destination would be compromised due to the Lions tour, in this case Samoa and Tonga would be added as a joint destination for a two test tour.

On top of this in Lions years any Lions nations visiting would play just two tests to try and reduce the amount of players away for the start of pre-season.

4. A Revamped Churchill Cup

A new Churchill Cup being played on rotation in the USA or Samoa/Tonga. This tournament would include twelve teams in four groups of three.

The teams would be USA, Tonga, Samoa, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Canada, Uruguay, England Saxons, Ireland Wolfhounds, Scotland A and New Zealand Maori.

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via Eoin Gardener (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/18091975@N00/3654141771

The games would be played over the course of three weeks whilst the larger nations are playing test series with each team playing two group games then like in 7’s play offs to decide rankings. This tournament would run up until the same year as the three test tours.

In Lions years Samoa, Tonga, England Saxons, Ireland Wolfhounds, Scotland A and New Zealand Maori would sit have not take part and an abridged version would be played.

We think our proposals would help grow the game and give us some mouthwatering rugby to look forward to as well as a brand new competition. Tell us what you think in the comments, do you think these proposals are better than World Rugby’s?