Lion in Wait

I fully admit that I got the result of the second Super Rugby semi a bit wrong – which is a bit like saying I almost saved a penalty!

The Lions charged into the final like a raging bull (to mix metaphors – or whatever that is).

It would be a major surprise if Alistair Coetzee doesn’t base his Springbok starting XV for the Rugby Championship on the majority of the Lions side. This of course assumes that he can pick them and stay within the ‘Transition’ rules.

The Highlanders were not without hope yesterday but the power of the Lions set piece – in particular the scrum was a factor in stopping them get the momentum they needed.

It was also noticeable that the South Africans have some very powerful runners – often they were not held in the tackle and were up and off again. This combined with the altitude and their travel fatigue meant that the Highlanders were always struggling to stay in the game. It didn’t help that Lima Sopoaga, uncharacteristically, missed a couple of early penalties that would have kept them closer.

The Highlanders have some class acts in their side – not least the ‘Smiths’, but they couldn’t live with the power of the Lions and the subtle skills of Elton Jantjies.

The New Zealanders scored 4 tries against the Lions 5, but in the end they were well beaten.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QucD7xt9TA

The Highlanders, and indeed all of the New Zealand teams will be hoping for a less confrontational fixture list when the conferences for 2017 are set – I think I read somewhere that there will be changes to the 2016 format (but don’t quote me!).

Despite all the criticisms of the format and structure for 2016 – all fully justified in my view – the best two sides will contest the final next week in Wellington.

I imagine Johan Ackermann is maybe having second thoughts about resting his first team from the trip to Argentina in the week before the knockout stage. If he hadn’t they would now, in all probability be looking forward to a final in front of their home crowd. It may be something he will live to regret.

Whatever happens next week the 21st Super Rugby will be a team that hasn’t won before.

Alistair Coetzee has announced a training squad to meet this week – without any Lions or overseas players included.

It will be a surprise if, when he announces the squad for the Rugby Championship on 6th August, it isn’t packed with players from the Lions.

Smug Bastard

I know that I’m a bit OCD about rugby (as well as many other things according to Terry as it happens).

This causes me to read and watch just about anything on the game from anywhere on the planet.

If I find something that I find interesting (or annoying) I shove the link on Twitter for others to enjoy or rant about.

Quite often this leads to various blokes and Doris’ having a go at me as if everything I put up is my own personal view. Generally I’ll respond but mostly I’ll simply ignore the stupid sods –  which seems to be pretty much how they also think of me. As you will appreciate, this is not a small or exclusive club!

Anyway, I was trawling some stuff from New Zealand and I came across this article which I thought was pretty interesting –

http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/82546564/head-to-head-are-we-getting-smug-about-new-zealands-success-in-super-rugby

Not the sort of headline you’d expect from the land of the long white cloud – well, at least  I wouldn’t.

Two respected sports writers give their opposing views and it is well worth a read.

I suspect if I was a New Zealander I’d be a right smug bastard – the All Blacks have been the number one team in the world for most of my life and play a brand of the game that is mostly a delight to watch.

They also have incredible depth of talent – as witnessed by the almost seamless transition that has been made since almost half of the 2015 World Cup winning side retired.

I was a seriously smug git when we won the World Cup back in 2003 – and more recently when we won the series 3-0 down in Oz.

New Zealand fans are entitled to feel superior about the All Blacks – because quite simply they are superior.

Hurricane Force

Have just finished watching the first Super Rugby semi-final – a great game that deserved a bigger crowd. Topping the regular season means that the Hurricanes will host the final.

There were many empty seats and hopefully another 10,000 will turn up next week for the final at the Westpac.

The final score of 25-9 looks like a bit of a stuffing – well, yes and no.

If you look at the stats on possession and territory it is hard to believe that the Chiefs didn’t win – they butchered more chances than Dewhurst’s!

However, the Hurricanes were good for the win and their defence and strength at the turnover saw them home comfortably in the end.

Their line speed was brilliant and Beauden Barrett showed that he can tackle with the best of them – one memorable example being his take down of Brodie Retallick, three yards out during the 10 minute siege by the Chiefs in the first half.

But that wasn’t Barrett’s biggest contribution – he made on for Ardie Savea, scored from an interception and, oh yeah – kicked pretty well – from hand and tee.

In the battle for the black shirt in the Rugby Championship he moved some way ahead of Aaron Cruden in my view.

I also think that T J Perenara also did enough to get to shadow Aaron Smith from the bench.

The worry all week was that the Canes would badly miss Dan Coles – Ricky Riccitelli did a fine job standing in for him.

Victor Vito, Ardie and Uhila (the ‘Bear’) were huge, both in defence and attack and they pressured the opposition into mistakes. With better execution the Chiefs might have still been in contention with 10 minutes to go, but in the end the Canes came home comfortably.

The ref did a good job, in particular following the new rule of not keep repeating scrums if the ball has come out – the one criticism I would have is that I think the Hurricanes were very lucky not to get a yellow card until well after the hour mark.

No wonder Steve Hansen signed on for the 2019 World Cup this week – he must think it’s his birthday every day with the depth of talent he has available. Despite being on the losing side Damien McKenzie showed that he has lightening feet and quick hands – mind you he has to get past Ben Smith and Israel Dagg first!

The second semi kicks off in a couple of hours – whoever wins that will have a tough job next week!

Finally, a word for the bloke running the tannoy at the Westpac – full marks for playing some great 60s tracks that everyone could sing along to – ‘Build me up Buttercup’, ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Delilah’ had the stadium rocking!

Take note Twickenham, with a bit of luck it could even drown out that negro spiritual dirge!

 

A Singha Smile

In the absence of any XV a side rugby last night I tuned into the Singha 7s from Franklin’s Gardens.

Compared to the World Series 7s and the level of competition we are likely to see in Rio next week the matches did not have the same intensity or skill set.

Having said that it was good entertainment and was infinitely better than watching Non Celebrity Big Brother. Seriously, does anyone know who most of these people are? Several of them look like they arrived from ‘Cosmetic Surgery Disasters’ – I know I saw a bit of it when I was trying to switch to the T20 Blast during a gap in the 7s.

The big difference in the 7s matches was players using the same tactics as in XVs – which, to be fair, is what they play most of the time. In 7s you only kick if you are 99% sure to retain the ball and score – possession is everything –no matter if you are pinned back in your 22 or even behind the goal line.

Harlequins arrived late having been stuck on the M25 and M1 – you think they might have noticed it was a Friday night and only the second week of the kids summer break!

It didn’t matter – they were a class above everyone else there and won all three of their games by a distance – despite having to play the first two back to back.

Saints also qualified for next week’s finals – with Tom Collins in particular looking every inch a future star.

The finals are on BT Sport and it will take some side to stop Quins picking up the trophy.