What Happened in the Six Nations?

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The Six Nations is now done and dusted and we have to ask ourselves a number of critical questions and confirm what we have learnt and observed. Two key questions that come to mind are how the teams are now positioned in the global rankings and what does the future look like for each of team?

Over the weekend the average winning margin was only 3 points and included the following results:

  • France 33-31 England (Borthwick said they didn’t lose, they only ran out of time).
  • Ireland 17-13 Scotland – a scrappy game but Ireland once again were able to get through with a winning.
  • Wales 21-24 Italy – great comeback from Wales… but not enough

The IRB rankings for the Six Nation participant teams are now ranked as follows:

  • Ireland #2
  • France #4
  • England #5
  • Scotland #6
  • Italy #8
  • Wales #10 (record low)

Ireland have set themselves up superbly for a long-awaited showdown in the upcoming tests against World Champions, South Africa.

France sorely missed du Pont and looked below average for the majority of the tournament – they face Argentina, which will be a hard tests indeed.

England are off to New Zealand for a massive face-off against an all-new All Blacks coaching staff. Two countries trying to turn around their performances for different reasons and will make for brutal rugby.

Scotland will be playing Canada, US, Chile, and Uruguay, giving them a massive opportunity to give their broader squad exposure.

Italy will be playing Samoa, Tonga , and Japan, and should pick up some more wins. This should be seen though as a chance to cement some newer team combinations and give exposure to new squad players.

Wales have the toughest assignment. They will be up against Australia and based on last year’s RWC performance you might think Australia wouldn’t be a formidable challenge. They now have legendary Joe Schmidt, the original mastermind behind Ireland’s resurgence before Andy Farrell.

Wales should take a big squad and give new players playing time both now and on the end-of-the-year tour. There will be losses but they need to build a bigger squad with more depth.

The Six Nations have concluded with Ireland taking the championship title, followed by France and England. The tournament served yet again as a valuable springboard, allowing teams to refine tactics, experiment with new lineups and player combinations, and to help integrate new coaching staff.

As they move forward with a packed 2024 schedule, teams will face tough tests against Southern Hemisphere giants such as South Africa and New Zealand.

I for one look forward to a marvelous year of rugby!

Six Nations Recap: Week 2

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TMO Controversy

Most unfortunately, as the 2nd weekend of the 6 Nations came to a close, it will not be remembered for the right reasons. While the majority of the matches went the way most pundits predicted, it was evident that in at least two instances, it could have gone the other way.

The results were as follows: 

  • Scotland 16 – 20 France
  • England 16 – 14 Wales
  • Ireland 36 – 0 Italy

Ireland vs Italy

This game delivered no surprises but the Irish deserve special mention for the following 2 reasons: 

  • Firstly, their defense continues to be one of the most suffocating in the world, all without there being any yellow cards issued;
  • Secondly, they can remove themselves from all the hype and controversy that might be going on in the world of rugby, and simply get the job done.

Along Ireland’s current trajectory, I cannot see, nor do I foresee this year or until at least 2025 (probably longer), that any one of the 5 challenging contenders will be taking them on – they just seem to be unstoppable.

England vs Wales

Wales fought bravely and England would be the first to admit that they wouldn’t have been shocked with a loss had Wales held on. Sadly, the game was marred by moments where common sense was lost against the prying eye of the super slow-mo replay footage. 

Ollie Chessum went high in the tackle (if you slow down the replay to a snail’s pace). The still image looks much more controversial than it was in real life. I feel it was nowhere near dangerous play.

Mason Grady was the unlucky one on the Welsh side for his ”deliberate knock-on”. There is no way that he could have checked his initial reaction and I feel the card was harsh. 

In football, if someone gets struck on the hand from a bulleted volley a few feet away from them, it isn’t ruled as deliberate, and neither should these have resulted in sanctions. This is something the officiating authorities need to re-think going forward.

Scotland vs France

The Scotland vs France game was a defiant show of rugby by the Scotts against an error-prone France. All credit has to go to Scotland for the way they played and they should get some of the credit for forcing a number of French errors.

The disallowed try at the end should have been decided in Scotland’s favor. Every person watching the replays (from all angles) could see it was a try. The referee was also convinced it was a try based on the footage, but, based on technical trivialities rules the try not to have been scored. 

If matters become this technical and petty, what about Elliot Daly’s pas to Fraser Dingwall, surely this should then have been judged to have floated forward? And what should the ruling have been on George Ford’s tiny foot movement before kicking? 

It is all getting a bit ridiculous to be honest. Give referees back the power and let common sense rejoin the party! 

You know it is getting ridiculous when you hear interviews with English supporters later in the day who all feel Scotland should have been given the try. The same English supporters who have been at the wrong end of the Calcutta Cup results recently! 

It was just clear to everyone that the calls were just wrong.

North vs South: Who is Better?

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The North Punishes the South

The whole rugby world is getting turned on its head and the ever-controversial North vs South debate is on everyone’s lips!

  • Is the North overtaking the South? 
  • What should be read into these victories? 
  • Which country is the strongest in the North and the South when it comes to club teams? 
  • How long will this shake-up continue?  
  • What would be the best way to see strength vs strength?

Let’s get stuck into some of these questions and see how the wonderful world of rugby is evolving.

Is the North Overtaking the South?

This past weekend delivered some interesting results in the world of rugby; Tokyo Sungoliath beat the Blues 43-7 while the Saitama Wild Knights beat the Chiefs 38-14.

…and the defending United Rugby Championship team vs the defending Super Rugby team Munster, beat the Crusaders 21-19.

If viewed in isolation the quick conclusion would be that the mighty New Zealand (Olympus) has fallen! 

Over the years, the New Zealand teams have often put up 2nd stringers in their club warm-up games and that was the case in the matches in Japan, but that was not the case in the Munster vs Crusaders clash! 

On the other side of the pond, South African clubs have entered the United Rugby Championship and the European Rugby Champions Cup (previously the Heineken Cup) and they are displaying some all-around competitive performances.

What should be read into these victories?

The gap between North and South at club level is starting to disappear VERY quickly. 

The Irish, Scottish, English, French, and Japanese teams are well-managed and coached and they are forces to be reckoned with. 

The New Zealand teams have rested on their laurels for a long time and have become complacent over the years as a result of their continuous dominance. They have though, in all fairness, been quick to react and adapt.

The South African teams rely heavily on their monstrous players but at times don’t have their coaching and administration at the same level. This is rapidly improving and main coach Rassie’s flamboyant attitude is rubbing off at all levels of the game. 

Overall, the game in South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, Europe, and the UK is evolving into a group of top professional leagues. 

In my opinion, though the North (mainly Ireland, France, and England) holds the slight advantage for now while the others are playing catch-up.

Which country is the strongest in the North and the South when it comes to club teams?

In terms of club teams Ireland is dominant in the North. This is even though they only field the 4 provincial teams. 

Leinster and Munster lead the pack without a doubt. No insult is meant for the French teams with Bourdeaux and Toulouse continuing to be dominant forces. It is just at the present moment that I think the Irish are a little step ahead. 

In the South, it sits with South Africa. The two teams leading the charge there are the Stormers and Bulls.

How long will this shake-up continue?

The good news for neutral fans is that we will see this going on for the rest of 2024 and probably well into 2025 as well!

What would be the best way to see strength vs strength?

The inclusion of the South African teams in the Europan Rugby Champions Cup and the United Rugby Champions Cup is truly a step in the right direction. 

What would make it even more exciting is if we could see a compilation of major pools. 

One that includes the teams from Africa, Europe, and the UK in two tiers in one pool. Let’s call them THE WEST (with THE WEST 1 and THE WEST 2)

Then a second pool includes teams in two tiers from Australia, New Zealand, the islands, Japan, South America, and North America. Let’s call them THE EAST (with THE EAST 1 and THE EAST 2).

Within the two tiers, there can be a promotion-relegation battle both in THE WEST and THE EAST.

Then there can also be a knockout for the “World Champions” with a quarter-final, semi-final and final. 

This can take the top 8 teams in Tier 1 of THE WEST vs THE EAST but also the top teams of Tier 2 from THE WEST vs THE EAST. 

Just an idea. A small logistical nightmare but an interesting concept nonetheless. Let’s see, perhaps someone with influence reads this post!

Six Nations Recap: Week 1

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The games completed thus far include: 

  • France 17 – 38 Ireland
  • Wales 26 – 27 Scotland
  • Italy 24 – 27 England

Below are a few key questions that came to mind as we evaluated the completion of the first week’s play:

  • Who is the most dominant and the early favorite between France and Ireland? 
  • Can any of the other 4 catch them during this season? 
  • Who will get the wooden spoon? 
  • There has been a massive intensity from all teams so far; will they be competitive against the South Hemisphere teams?
  • Who was the standout player of the weekend? 
  • What can we expect from this coming weekend’s fixtures before the teams go on break?

Who is the most dominant and the early favorite between France and Ireland?

Based on Saturday’s performance you would have to say Ireland. 

It would have been very interesting to see how France would have done if they had 15 players on the field for the whole game. 

That being said, Ireland remains the most amazing team in terms of discipline on defense. 

They got a yellow card in the game but it was their 3rd one in 3 years almost! 

If Ireland can do it, so can the other teams.

Can any of the other 4 catch the Irish this season?

No. Not in 2024, but, based on the results, it’s safe to say that it is going to be VERY tight over the next few weeks.

If Italy puts together 80 minutes like they did in their first 40 minutes, they can potentially upset either Wales or Scotland.

Having said that, if Wales play like they did in their comeback, England and Italy are in for a tough one.

Who will get the wooden spoon?

In my professional opinion, I predict a close call between Italy and Wales.

There has been a massive intensity from all teams so far, will they be competitive against the South Hemisphere teams?

Most definitely! All of the Southern Hemisphere teams have new head coaches… well South Africa’s coach is not exactly spanking brand new.

In 2024 things will look a little different but there shouldn’t be too much read into that. Teams are rebuilding and regrouping all around the globe after their respective World Cup tournament efforts. 

Who was the standout player of the weekend?

Although neither of them got man of the man, I would have to say that it should be shared between two Irish players, namely:

  • Jamison Gibson-Park played a pivotal role in connecting play and not just in a standard distribution role from set pieces, rucks, and mauls. He ran clever lines to create options for his team to play back in the other direction and one of these resulted in his try.
  • Tadhg Beirne was the forward of the week in my opinion. Not for the try he scored, which was amazing by the way, but for his relentless work at the contact points.

What can we expect from this coming weekend’s fixtures before the teams go on break? 

This coming weekend there are two fixtures that could get really interesting. 

The Ireland vs Italy game is not going to be that fixture; it should be a one-sided affair in favor of Ireland.

The England vs Wales game should go England’s way, but Wales will go into this game with far greater confidence than they’ve had for a long time. The abilities they displayed in their chase against Scotland were very impressive, and England had a spotty performance, to say the least.

Scotland vs France should be an interesting one and it starts the action this coming weekend! France will be wounded from their loss against Ireland and should come out guns blazing. Scotland got a real scare against Wales and will play a far more clinical game. Keep in mind this game is played at Murrayfield.

Overall we are in for an interesting weekend as the 6 teams all fight for different goals: 

I am fairly confident listing the following game goals:

  • France & Ireland will fight for domination of the tournament.
  • England will fight to regain glory and recapture some of the unexpectedly good results from the Rugby World Cup.
  • Wales will work hard to retain some level of respectability, and I am sure they will do their best to keep it there.
  • Scotland will fight to live up to the hype of the exciting rugby that they have promised but have often failed to deliver consistently.
  • Italy will fight to pick up a win or two along the way and earn some additional respect points.

This concludes our recap for the first week of this exciting tournament. As a new year of international rugby kicked off (pun intended), we look forward to bringing you updates, insights, and commentary on all the games to come!

Dan Carter Tribute: King of the Flyhalves!

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Daniel (Dan, or DC as he’s called by his teammates) Carter in my mind remains to be the undisputed King of the Flyhalves! 

People often say it is easier to give credit to modern-era rugby players as you remember their performances more vividly, but in Daniel Carter’s case, his outstanding player stats don’t lie. He has simply been outstanding and spectacular to watch throughout his career in numerous aspects of the game.

His career highlights are the equivalent of a human highlight reel, to say the least.

Let’s review some of the achievements that stand out right away:

  • He remains to be the highest point scorer in test rugby. Considering the sheer number of talented players, this achievement alone deserves all our praise.
  • He received the IRB Player of the Year Award no less than three times; in 2005, 2012, and 2015. Equaling one other All-Black player, namely the talented Richy McCaw.
  • He shared 3 Super Rugby titles with The Crusaders.
  • He played in 9 (yes you read that correctly) Tri-Nations Rugby Championships, which for most players already constituted a successful rugby career.
  • Dan also had the privilege of playing in two Rugby World Cup tournaments, namely 2011 and 2015.
  • In the 2011 RWC tournament, Dan suffered an unfortunate groin injury during the Pool Stages, effectively taking him out of the tournament.
  • In the 2015 RWC, the ALl-Black made it to the final and Dan received the Man of the Match award raking in points for his team with 4 penalties, 2 conversions, and a drop-goal.

Dan started playing rugby at the age of 5 and later went on to play for Southbridge Rugby Club, as a scrumhalf. He later played in the representative teams for Ellesmere College in Canterbury County. In his final year, he transferred to Christchurch Boys’ High.

In his professional career, Dan had no equals when it came to point scoring and he racked up some of the most impressive rugby performances in a range of different categories:

  • Most test conversions (293)
  • Most penalties (281)
  • Most points vs England (178)
  • Most points vs France (163)
  • Most points vs Springboks (255)
  • Only player over 1500 test points 
  • Most conversions in RWC matches (58)

There is simply no arguing that Dan Carter was the most prolific points scorer and he remains comfortably seated at 352 points ahead of the second-placed point scorer. It will take an exceptional player to beat Carter’s current record.

Dan ended his rugby career with 1598 test match points from 112 tests (29 tries, 293 conversions, 281 penalties, and 8 drop goals) at an average of 14.27 points per game, the highest average of all players who ever scored more than 500 test points.

Here is an overarching year-by-year breakdown of Dan’s rugby career:

  • 2002 – Canterbury debut.
  • 2003 – signed by Crusaders, Super 12 Final, played mostly as the inside center, made All-Black’s debut at age 21, scoring 20 points vs Wales, included in the RWC 2003 squad.
  • 2004 – played mostly as the inside center, Super 12 final, secured his permanent position during the 2004 UK-France tour, displacing Carlos Spencer.
  • 2005 – moved to flyhalf, won first Super 12 final, starred in the 48-18 All Blacks win vs the Lions, he scored two tries, five penalties, and 4 conversions, ended the match with 33 points, breaking the previous All Black record of 18 points vs the Lions in a match, Carted was named 2005 IRB played of the year, first New Zealander to win the award.
  • 2006 – won Super 12 final, scored most individual points for a player in a season (221 points), most points in Super 12 history.
  • 2008 – Won Super Rugby title, signed a six-month contract with Perpignan.
  • 2009 – January he ruptured his Achilles tendon, Perpignan still won Pro 14, recovered in time to play for his Provincial Canterbury team, and got selected for the All Blacks team in August, after just a few months of recovery.
  • 2010 – after scoring a halfway penalty vs Wales, Carter became the highest-point scorer of all time
  • 2011 – reclaimed top points scorer, got injured during a training session early on in the RWC
  • 2012 – top scorer in Super Rugby history 1301 points, IRB Player of the Year.
  • 2013 – fifth All-Black to play 100 caps.
  • 2015 – joined Racing Metro after RWC, for 1,500,000 euros per year, making him the highest-paid rugby player, played his final game in the Bledisloe Cup final decider, played his final All Blacks game in the Bledisloe Cup final (lost the trophy for the first time), RWC 2015 final he scored 4 penalties, two conversions (one with each foot), and a drop goal, Man of the Match, and IRB Player of the year, final test kick was with ‘weak’ foot
  • 2016 – won top 14 (score 19-21), Dan Carter scored 5 penalties (15 Points), despite being 1 man down 18 minutes into the game (red card).
  • 2018 – Joined Kobelco Steelers in Japan’s top League.
  • 2019 – Returned to Racing Metro in February, after Patrick Lambie was forced to retire due to injury.
  • 2020 – Dan Carter made the switch to The Blues, but never made an appearance.

In 2021 Daniel Carter announced his retirement from professional rugby on Instagram but remains active in the sport in various public relational and public speaking roles.

Dan will forever be remembered for his tenacity, flair, and consistency, effectively earning him the title of King of the Flyhalves!

Bryan Habana Tribute: Tries, Highlights, and Running Against a Cheetah!

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Bryan Habana was one of the most explosive try-scoring machines to have ever played this game. His ability to accelerate away from the opposition and score game-winning tries was a hallmark of his highlight-filled career starting in the early 2000s and ending at Toulon in 2018. 

The young Bryan Habana was a talented rugby player. Born in Johannesburg, in 1983, he went on to finish his schooling at King Edward VII, popularly referred to as KES, which is one of the top sports schools in South Africa. 

After finishing his schooling, he went on to the University of Johannesburg. Playing in the Varsity Cup is often a logical next step for rugby players in South Africa with big aspirations, but things would change quickly as his rugby abilities pulled him into the sport full-time.

Bryan Habana’s club rugby career

His career started a little more quietly at the Lions, where he played from 2002-2004 when he also became a Junior Springbok. 

He then moved on to the neighbouring Blue Bulls where he played from 2005-2009. He went on to win two Super Rugby titles in 2007 and 2009 respectively and this was partly due to his brilliance!

The game-winning try in 2007 was a piece of individual brilliance that left the whole Sharks team flatfooted and gave the Pretoria-based franchise their first Super Rugby title. 

2007 was a particularly amazing year for Bryan Habana as he also helped the Springboks win their second World Cup ever. In that World Cup, he became the first player to equal the great Jonah Lomu’s 1995 record of scoring 8 tries in one World Cup tournament. 

Those tries were some of the most spectacular tries of his career! Two years later, in 2009, he also played his part in securing a series win against the British and Irish Lions. 

In that same year, he also won another Super Rugby title with the Bulls, etching his name into the history books for the Blue Bulls. This was followed by a move to their rivals, the Stormers where he played from 2010 to 2013 and featured in a losing final against the Bulls in 2010. 

Two of the things that made Bryan an exceptional player were his tremendous speed and his ability to sniff out a try. 

His amazing speed was on display when he raced a cheetah over 100m and he had a 100m time of 10.4s to his name! 

Some of his most spectacular tries however came from absolutely nowhere. He would create something from nothing with very little space to work with, would intercept and score with regularity and displayed exceptional skills with chip kicks he would run down to score spectacularly. 

Habana went on to play from 2013 to 2018 for French side Toulon where he continued his try-scoring and amassed numerous records. During his time at Toulon, he secured a Heineken Cup and Top 14 title in the 2014 tournament and another Heineken Cup in 2015.

Playing for these respective club teams he racked up 535 points from 107 tries! The blueprint for many of these was simple: get the ball in his hands and he will do the rest. 

This would always lead to another try…and another…and another…and another…

Bryan Habana’s Springbok career

He was also no slouch for the Springbok team and became their all-time record try scorer with 67 tries, totalling 335 points. 

He played for the Springboks from 2004 to 2016 and picked up a World Cup winner’s medal in 2007 equaling the try-scoring record of 8 tries in a single tournament. 

His test career started on the end-of-year tour in November 2004. He made his debut as a 21-year-old who came off the bench in a 32-16 losing effort by the Springboks. 

He managed to score a try the first time he touched the ball against the 2003 Rugby World Cup holders. This was definitely a sign of more things to come as he started piling on the tournament wins, records and awards. 

There was the World Cup win in 2007, where he scored 8 tries. In 2009 he was part of the Tri-Nations and Lions series winning teams, to go with his Super Rugby title at the Bulls.

Individual achievements being awarded World Rugby Player of the Year in 2007. In 2005, 2007 and 2012, he was also crowned SA Player of the Year. 

All of this is on his way to becoming South Africa’s all-time leading try scorer and the player who scored the 2nd most international tries ever. 

The Bryan Habana Springbok tries

Bryan Habana was able to score at will at just about any of the opposition teams he played against. The countries that he scored against fewer times were often only because he didn’t play against them a great deal. 

His favourite opponents to score against were clearly the bigger rugby nations and this is a rough breakdown of the tries he scored as a Springbok. 

He scored 6 tries against old foe England. He scored 4 tries against Scotland, France and Wales respectively. Against the big teams, he showed his class and really turned it on. He scored his most international tries against Australia with 9 in total.

Against Argentina, he scored 8 and was also able to stack up 8 tries against arch-enemy New Zealand! 

Against the smaller teams, he still managed to achieve quite a few tries. He scored one for the Springbox XV in 2014, ran in 2 against Uruguay, and 1 against Namibia.

He got a massive return of 8 tries against Samoa, 6 against Italy and 5 against the USA. He scored another 2 against Ireland and 1 against the British and Irish Lions.

In Conclusion

Bryan Habana had a spectacular rugby career and showed pure class wherever he played. He would outrun, outwit, intercept, chip, chase, and, inevitably, score.

By pure talent and focus, he became one of the deadliest try scorers to ever play the game!