Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tri Nations Rugby Boks squeak in and Irish round up

Photo from
From the bottom of the ruck can exclusively reveal that after intensive half an hour research that Pieter De Villiers and Robbie Deans hatched a conspiracy to give the All Blacks easy wins and make them massively overconfident for next years world cup and set them up for a big fall.The fallout from this explosive revelation could rival that of the cheating Pakistan cricketers, and will probably make a few internet headlines whatever happens.

To continue maintaining the illusion that the All Blacks are far and away the best team in the world at the moment, Australia and South Africa played out a 9 try “thriller” leading to speculation that neither side knew who was supposed to win.

Pieter De Villiers and Robbie Deans are thought to have been overheard after the match at Loftus:

Pieter: “Do you think they’ll catch us?”
Robbie: “Naah”
Pieter: “Did you see their faces in New Zealand when I claimed there was a conspiracy? Little did they know!”
Robbie: “My performance review might a little tricky this year”
Pieter: “What’s a performance review?”
Robbie: “It’s a review of my performance by the NZRU every year.”
Pieter: “Don’t you mean the ARU?”
Robbie “Yeah, whatever”

OK, enough messing around, time for the serious match review.

After wandering for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, verily it did come to pass that the Bok that used to be known for spring but doth only gently hop now managed to trip a passing Wallaby. In fairness, in terms of the Bokke’s recent results it was a thrashing and a big turn up to produce decent performances two weeks in a row. It was probably also a golden opportunity spurned by the Wallabies to get that monkey off their back and record a win on the Highveld (a monkey on the back of a Wallaby?).

Pieter De Villiers neck is probably safe again but Robbie Deans’ collar will be starting to feel uncomfortably tight. The defense coaches are surely going to get the sack after this 9 try extravaganza. And the gallows builders will be testing the trap for Habana who looks like he should be afforded some well deserved R and R for about 6 months.

For the Boks, sending out a different team every week is hardly going to help the defense. Last week’s combo, Habana aside, looked like the right mixture of youth and experience and should have been stuck with. For the Aussies, it’s one that got away, but a big step up from last year.

Curtly Beale had a good match and James O’Connor had the knack of being in the right place at the right time. Adam Ashley Cooper has taken the ‘When in Rome…’ approach by sporting a beard.

For the Boks it was fitting that Victor’s centenary was celebrated with a win, Juan Smith is a revelation, and Francois Hougaard grows in stature with each match.

Next week it’s all going to come down to the wire – it’ll be a season defining match to see who’s going to clinch second spot – it actually feels more like a fight for 3rd and 4th, the AB’s are that far ahead at the moment.

In Ireland, catch Harpin on Rugby for some innovative thinking on summer rugby and a nifty guide to rugby on TV, and 99Call
has some fab photos of Munster.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Springboks and Wallabies - desperate battle of the wooden spoon

15 Frans Steyn, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (capt), 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp. Reserves: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Butch James, 22 Juan de Jongh.

This is the Bok teams for the Test against the Wallabies. It’s going to be a pretty desperate match as the Boks try and hand the wooden spoon currently in their grasp back to the Australians. South Africa can’t buy a win at the moment (hey that’s an idea, get the refs agent on the phone. He doesn’t have an agent?) and there will be 15 massively frustrated massive men on the field on this Saturday. Are the Boks going to be able to pick themselves up after the gut wrenching loss last weekend? Will Victor Matfield be the victor on his hundredth cap? And will Francois Hougaard get rid of that awful mullet he’s sporting? These are all deep, difficult questions to answer. And it’s safe to say that Hougaards hair will remain untouched for another week.

For me, I think it’s important to look at each coaches tactics for the weekend. Not for the game, but for the post match excuses if they lose. Deans is likely to run with his tried and tested ‘We’re building for the World Cup’. It’s served him well in the past, but the opposition (the press) have this one sussed now so he may have to come up something more creative. If I was him, I’d blame Cooper. That little upstart probably has all the Aussies feeling like they are hard down by with their salaries now. They may go on strike before the match.

De Villiers is a bit harder to predict, he could literally say anything. ‘Conspiracy’ was his initial gambit, followed by a bit of self deprecating( but spot on) humour by calling himself a clown. This is from 2008 “The same people who threw their robes on the ground when Jesus rode on a donkey were the same people who crowned him and hit him with sticks and stuff like that, and were the same people who said afterwards how we shouldn't have done that, he's the son of God," de Villiers said. "So that's exactly what we do. You have to look at history is repeating itself, and I'm not saying that I'm God."

I have to bow down to the master and admit he will come out with something better than I ever will.

So who’s going to win? For the Boks Frans Steyn and Jaque Fourie make their returns after suspensions and French adventures have been overcome, adding a bit of welcome class and experience to the side. South Africa looked much better last weekend – it would be good to see them run with the ball, but at this stage as a supporter of the Bokke I would take any kind of win they could deliver, big small, boring, just don’t lose this one.

The Wallabies will have money man game breaker Cooper back, they are one up over the Boks, and are one smart team – how they manage to compete at this level with their player resources is a mystery. They also looked pretty decent against the AB’s in the last match.

But as I’m hoping somewhat against my better judgment that the Boks turned a corner last weekend  and I’m going with them for a 5 point win.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

All Blacks supernaturally good as they down the Springboks and Leinster/Wasps round up

John Smit, on the occasion of his 100th cap, sank down on one knee at the end of the match and put his head in his hands. I knew how he felt. The problem is, in the build up to the game, the Boks had been studying the rugby manual instead of ‘Tales of the Supernatural’ which is where their attention should have been focused. When the black beast is down, cut it’s head off, stuff it’s neck with garlic and drive a silver stake through it’s heart. It’s all very well coming to us after the match and telling us you forgot to bring your silver stake, but at this level, those kind of excuses just don’t wash.

Time for the Boks to hold to hold their hands up – they were beaten by a better team. There’s only one team in the world at the moment that could have beaten the Bok’s playing as well as they did and that’s the All Black’s. Every Bok tackle was of bone shuddering intensity, every man gave 110% and the Boks didn’t make more than a handful of mistakes, but they were all pounced upon and turned into points, as the AB’s ignored the altitude and finished much the stronger of the teams.

Their were many outstanding individual performances by the Boks, from Schalk Burger, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Juan Smith, and Francois Hougaard covered himself in glory. Morne Steyn fluffed his lines a few times, he’s not the complete player they need at 10 yet, and the substitutions on the whole were for less effective players.

For the AB’s, Ritchie McCaw was godlike, Dan Carter mixed it up brilliantly, Corey Jane and Nonu were outstanding and Weepu made a difference when he came on.

It’s all bow down to the new high kings of rugby.

Donnybrook Park was the venue as an understrength Leinster played host to a pretty strength Wasps. It was a friendly, but Wasps certainly look in impressive form going in to the season. Luke Fitzgerald was really sharp, he was a handful every time he got the ball. Sean O’Brien had a solid match, and Isa Nacewa put in a good few bone crunching tackles – there will be a couple of Wasps players still feeling their ribs. I though Trevor Hogan played well , and Heinke van der Merwe had a good solid start – he dropped the ball a couple of times, but I think he’s going to make a big impact, he’s not the biggest player but he’s awesomely strong. Isaac Boss made a difference when he came on.

For Wasps Tom Varndell looked dangerous and in fact the whole backline looks to be in tip top shape. Joe Simpson showed blistering place off the back of the ruck, and Riki Flutey is in good form. Finally in a special ceremony seven minutes before full time, Simon Shaw was presented with his 100th yellow card.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tri Nations rugby - Boks to take another tumble?

So these are the teams and a nicer bunch of guys you couldn’t want to meet. Except in an alley on a dark night.

This is the just about the best Bok team they could put out apart from injuries, suspensions, players in France, failed exorcisms, those detained for reasons of insanity and jail inmates. Francois Hougaard at 9 is my main worry – he’s a really good player – but it’s a big ask for a part timer ina specialist role. And big bad Jimmy Cowan is going to be all over him like a rash. A Kockott or a Duvenage has limitations, but has at least played against Cowen and Carter. Aplon is also a bit of a worry too, dynamite on attack but he’s short and could struggle under the high balls.

The All Blacks look typically savagely efficient but they aren’t ten foot tall, and they didn’t look too flash against Australia in the last match, especially in the second half. But in the form they’re in I glumly have to admit it’s unlikely the Boks are going to beat them. All Blacks by 10.

Boks: 15. Gio Aplon, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean de Villiers, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Morne Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Pierre Spies, 7. Juan Smith, 6. Schalk Burger, 5. Victor Matfield, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. John Smit, 1. Gurthro Steenkamp

Bench: 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17. CJ van der Linde, 18. Danie Rossouw, 19. Francois Louw, 20. Ricky Januarie, 21. Butch James, 22. Wynand Olivier

All Blacks: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.

Bench: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 John Afoa, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Israel Dagg.

I caught a look at the new Ireland jersey in Lifestyle Sports at Dundrum, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous like you do on a Tuesday night. The lable says it‘s blue curacao- new navy. I don’t think the graphic quite does it justice, my languages aren’t great, is curacao Portuguese for baby grower blue maybe?

I’m heading off on Friday to see the Leinster/Wasps match – I see Luke Fitzgerald is back, that’s great for Irish rugby.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tri Nations rugby - Springboks vs All Blacks at Soccer City - LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE!

We’ve had the Rumble in the Jungle, the Thriller in Manila, now welcome to the ‘Shocker at the Soccer City
Yes, Soccer City is the venue for the next leg of Tri Nations rugby, and what a stadium it is. It was the site of Nelson Mandela's first speech in Johannesburg after his release from prison. It had a fabulous upgrade for the world cup and is now the biggest stadium in Africa, able to seat 94 000 people.

It’s going to be 90 000 screaming Bok fans and probably a few hundred All Black fans enjoying what has to be one of the biggest contests in world rugby, the Springboks taking on the All Blacks.

Nigel Owens is the man in the middle – do the Welsh have anything against the Boks? Ask me next Sunday.

So is it going to be the All Blacks ‘bringing the pain’ or are the Springboks going to get biblical on their asses?

For the Boks the years have stripped back and once again they’re afraid of the dark, of the blackness the New Zealanders bring. Yup, it’s night lights all round again, hugging your teddy and waiting for dawn. The AB X-factor is back, and all of world rugby is scratching their heads again and asking ‘How do you beat the All Blacks?’.

Well, Heyneke Meyer, coach of the Bulls has some pretty good ideas here:

What I’m worried about is that with four weeks to twiddle his thumbs, Pieter de Villiers, a la Baldrick, has ‘Hatched a cunning plan’, which all Springbok fans will watch unfold in horrified fascination. Please don’t tell me they’re planning to play it ‘Loose and Funky’ to try and emulate the AB’s – when the Boks do that they look like a bear trying to breakdance.

This is way I see the match panning out if the Boks are going to win:  For the first 20 minutes, the Boks are each going to have enough adrenaline running through their veins to kill a horse – this is their manhood at stake after all. Hopefully this is directed and results in some points. The next forty minutes will be about defense, the AB’s need to feel like they’ve run into a brick wall each time they attack. Then the last 20 minutes will be about sealing the deal as the AB’s tire at altitude.

On the flipside, there is also a distinct possibility of this happening – the first 20 minutes sees a huge amount of energy expended by the Boks, to little or no effect. After soaking this up, New Zealand go on the rampage in the next 40 minutes and rack up enough points to defend in the last quarter, even if they are tiring.

Let’s see what the teams look like later in the week to see which is the liklier outcome.

If you're this side of the water, check out details of Leinster vs Wasps as a warm up this Friday:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tri Nations Rugby - All Blacks, Springboks, Wallabies - mid term reports.

With the action taking a break this weekend, it’s time to do mid terms reports, find out who hasn’t been doing their homework, and who could do better.


Record: 1 win from 3 matches, have conceded the Bledisloe cup AGAIN and look to be fighting it out with South Africa for second. Consistency – we don’t do that. But beat South Africa and looked competent and competitive in their last match.

Coach watch – Robbie Deans ‘We are building for the World Cup’. Could prove controversial when he reveals it’s for the 2015 cup. The job seems to have aged him, could look older than Graham Henry by the end of the tournament.

Star player – David Pocock by a country mile.

Style watch – New yellow jersey looks like beach wear – could be contributing to wrong mind set? Saia Faingaa is working those braids. George Smith might want to mention to him that the greatest Springbok prize in his era was not the Tri- nations or the World Cup, but one of his braids.

New Zealand

Record: 4 from 4. Have laid waste to the competition like the four horsemen of the apocalypse (who probably wore black shirts as well). Showing off in fact. Equivalent of teacher’s pet to refs. Standard seem to have dropped marginally in last match. This team could be destined for greatness.

Coach watch – Graham Henry – Smug, moderately insufferable. Has assumed the mantle of the wise man, starting to resemble Yoda. Must be sniggering at Robbie Deans.

Star player – All star performers but no one is bigger than the team – aahh.

Style Watch – Black is the new Black. Owen Franks’ short hair must be the reason he was the only AB yellow carded – the ref saw him and thought ‘Thug’. May as well get ‘Thug’ tattooed on his forehead. Close up photos have revealed this is in fact the case.

South Africa

Record: 0 from 3. Abysmal. Obviously did no home work at all on the new break down rules. Looked old and sluggish. Won it last year, from hero to zero this year. COULD DO BETTER.

Coach watch – Pieter de Villiers - ‘Conspiracy!’ ‘Favouritism!’ ‘What I meant was…’ It WAS a conspiracy – Elvis told him. Borderline psychotic rants vastly more entertaining than watching the Boks.

Star player – I’m struggling here – could have been Danie Roussow had he not failed to make contact with McCaw.

Style watch – style free zone. Mullet is the hairstyle of choice, and beards are in, making Victor Matfield look 15 years older than he actually is. The coach’s ‘tache is the only thing more ridiculous than what comes out of his mouth.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

All Blacks and Wallabies in no card shocker!

Photo from:

Yes it’s taken 5 games of Tri Nations rugby, but the first card free final has finally arrived. You really have to question the commitment of the players when nobody’s sufficiently fired up to pilfer ceaselessly and illegally at the ruck, carry out a spear tackle or carelessly behead an opponent. Jonathan Kaplan, the somewhat cold referee from South Africa, found nobody motivated to enough to be awarded with a card.

The whole card situation leaves refs in a tricky situation, giving them little scope for expression. The IRB, in typical dictatorial nanny state style, has decreed that refs may only choose between a yellow or a red card. No flowery Hallmark or Forget-me-not cards for our refs, or even the ever popular Garfield card, to be used by the ref with a sense of humour (if there is one). No it’s just yellow or red.

A yellow card from a ref means ‘I’ve had my eye on you (no, not in that way). You’re a free spirited type, do it my own way, I don’t play by the rules kind of guy. I admire your boisterous commitment to the game, I’m sure that when you stood on his foot/hand/head it was purely an accident. You’re obviously red hot today, and way ahead of the others – let’s give them 10 minutes to catch up to you, OK.’

It’s every players dream to be noticed by the ref – some like Schalk Burger, grow their hair long and blonde to make it easier for them to stand out, while others, no matter how they try (eg Ritchie McCaw) have to be content with the ref shouting ‘Number 7!’ the whole time.

A red card from a ref means ‘Your continuous enthusiasm to obtain: the man of the match award/various not generally detachable body parts/a prison record leaves me with little choice but to hand you over to the autographs hunters before everybody else. Enjoy your well earned rest and an opportunity to shower before all the hot water’s gone.

Surely the IRB, in an attempt to improve the image of refs and make them seem more approachable, could introduce a range of new cards. There could be the green card for sportsmanship ( not likely to be used often but it’s the thought that counts), the silver card for the best hairstyle (sponsored by L’Oreal – because you’re worth it!) the pink card – ok maybe not a pink card, and of course for the IRB to disclose the secret card that all international refs carry, the all black card, which is Ritchie McCaws all time get of jail free card.

How was the match you ask? Well, the first half was a frenetic barnstorming affair, the All Blacks showing off their attacking flair while the Wallabies hurt them on the counter attack. By the time the second half rolled around both teams were so cream crackered that not much happened.

The Wallbies played much, much better, there was a bit of passing behind the player, not unexpected when you look at the backline changes, and Curtly Beal made a big impact. I’m looking to forward to seeing Cooper in action again, and where has Digby Ioane gone, that’s how they’ll unlock defenses.

The All Blacks were superb again, controlled and ruthless, solid in defense, there’s only one show in town at the moment and it’s colour is black.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wallabies v. All Blacks – Round 2 or what do the Wallabies have to do to beat the All Blacks?

If had the ear of Robbie Deans ( and laying aside the fact I don’t quite have his coaching experience) I’d say to him ‘Robbie, or if I may call you Dingo…’ this is what you need to do to beat the All Blacks:

1. Take them on at their strengths. They like fast ball from the ruck – how about some s-l-o-w ball from the ruck. Drop overmuscled but underbrained Richard Brown, shift Rocky to 8th man, bring on another fetcher – is it Waugh, is it Smith, is it whoever, but two fetchers will slow the ruck down, while the All Black backline kick their heels and practice their swerves.

2. Kick intelligently and practice all week:

• Kick it out and steal the opposition ball from the line out (you might practice getting your own ball while you’re at it)

• Kick a few highly pressurized up-and-unders – I’ve seen Mils get the dropsies and The Rocket man bounce one off his noggin.

• If they know you’re going to run it each time that’s easy to defend so mix it up a little – and they find broken play running as hard to defend as you do.

3. Discipline discipline discipline - no more yellow cards

4. Practice receiving kick offs.

5. Fitness – hit them in the last 20 minutes when they start to tire like they did last week.

6. This is a bit underhand – but you want to win don’t you? Rough them up, be all over them like a rash, in their faces – I saw the Sharks do it to the Blues a few years ago, and in about 5 minutes flat BAM! notoriously short of fuse Troy Flavell was in the bin for trying to land a haymaker. The New Zealanders will see the funny side eventually. Probably.

7. Invade New Zealand. You have a big army, they have a little army. Simple really. They’ll never have the Bledisloe cup again because:

• Your army will take it

• It’ll be one country now, nobody to compete against

That’ll mean you’ll be hosting the World Cup next year, home advantage for a record three cups – sounding better all the time. Come on the All Wallabies! Robbie Deans will get all smug with Graham Henry – who got the better job now huh? HUH?

8. The Wallabies could claim there’s a refereeing conspiracy against them to drum up interest in the World Cup. Nah, that’s way to far fetched, that would just be silly.

There you go Robbie, spurn these pearls of wisdom at your peril.

So while I’m at it, a few sage words for Graham Henry:

1. Do exactly what you did last week

2. This is a golden opportunity with the Tri Nations practically wrapped up to try out a replacement for Achilles Heel (because there’s only one of him) play maker extraordinaire Dan Carter. Give Aaron Cruden a good go.

My prediction: well the All Blacks can’t play that well four Tri Nations matches in a row, but in Christchurch they aren’t going to lose so a 7 point win over the Wallabies.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The All Blacks march on and the Aviva Stadium opens

Well I hate to think what would have happened if the Wallabies hadn’t got to see the All Blacks attack plans. The New Zealanders all but wrapped up this years Tri Nations as a contest as they ran out convincing 49-28 winners over Australia. Their blitzkrieg style in the first half was just too hot to handle, scoring four tries and leaving the Wallabies grasping at shadows.

The match started with each side generously giving up a soft try, and then the All Blacks really got going when Franks was pretty unjustly sin binned. Both sides seemed to play better with 14 men. It it just me or does it seem like this Tri-Nations has been the easiest ever to pick up a yellow card? As Tana Umanga once famously remarked to a ref ‘We’re not playing tiddlywinks out here you know’

When Drew Mitchell was red carded (for dumb play which the Aussies weren't happy about at the start of the second half it looked like it was going to be a massacre but the Aussies to their credit manned up and played some of their best rugby to score two tries. On this sort of form it could be a while before the AB’s ship three tries again.

Ritchie McCaw was back to his best, and Pocock chipped in a another big match, both of them, in the words of the commentators were ‘Like a seagull on a chip’ when it came to the loose ball.

What can you make of the result? The All Blacks are back to their devastating best , but they still have a few areas to work on. They fell off noticeably in the second half, is that players like Thorne, Woodcock, Mealamu and even the great Ritchie McCaw starting to show their age, great players for 50 minutes then going AWOL in the last 30 minutes?

The Wallabies have issues of their own, particularly in depth, did they have 6 debutants on the bench? And the inexperience of some their younger players showed as well, there was some very average defense shown by Brown and Genia, and you have to wonder how long Horne is going to last in the team. They really have to work on set pieces as well, their kick offs were abysmal and their line outs were all over the place. But overall I wouldn’t be too hard on the Wallabies, they had an awesome second half and their fitness might just tell next weekend.

The new Aviva Stadium

A new era in Irish Rugby kicked off at Landsdown Road in Dublin as the literally gleaming new stadium hosted an Ulster/Leinster combination taking on a Munster/Connacht selection. Note the anarchists were out in force.

The stadium was a lot more interesting than the rugby that’s for sure, as Ulster/Leinster ran out easy 68-0 winners. It was all about their backline ably marshaled by captain Luke Marshall and well assisted by wings Craig Gilroy and Andrew Boyle. Fly half Paddy Jackson kicked all his conversions including several from the touchline. The future of the eastern half of the country looks good.

The attendance was 25000, I caught the train and got in no problem, it was easy to get in and out and to get a beer or something to eat. There was good atmosphere, not dampened by the rain, although it did seem like quite a few spectators got wet, fine when you’ve paid €10 but maybe not when you’ve stumped up €75.

The first of many visits.