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!

Brian O’Driscoll Tribute: Centre, Leader, Legend

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Brian O’Driscoll’s rugby CV is as exciting as reading a Tom Clancy novel! His career seems almost unreal. He was almost single-handedly responsible for changing the course of Irish rugby. 

If one considers his list of accomplishments and stats, it quickly becomes apparent why he is considered by many as one of, if not the most, impressive player in Irish and World Rugby history.

He was born in Dublin on 21 January 1979 and his career includes the following impressive achievements:

– He was the 4th most capped player in Union with 141 tests; 133 for Ireland (83 as captain) and 8 for the Lions. 46 tries for Ireland and 1 for The Lions made him the highest Irish try scorer.

– He was the 8th-highest overall try-scorer and the highest-scoring center of all time (yes, read that again!). He also scored the most Six Nations tries (26) and to add to his long list of accolades, he also holds the record for the most Heineken Cup tries scored by an Irish player (30).

– He was awarded the Six Nations Player of the Tournament in 2006, 2007, and 2009.

– During his High School days at Blackrock College, he was capped three times for the Ireland Schools tournament. In 1998 O’Driscoll was selected for the U19 Ireland team which won the U19 Rugby World Championship. In 1999 he made his U21 Ireland Debut.

CLUB CAREER

Brian’s club career spanned an impressive 15 years, from 1999 until 2014, a tall order for a professional rugby player. Some of the key moments, achievements, and top performances include:

– A debut match for Leinster in 1999, followed by an impressive win in the Celtic League two years later in 2001.

– O’Driscoll captained the Leinster from 2005 until 2008. In 2008 Leinster won the Magners League (now URC).

– In 2009 O’Driscoll scored an intercept try and was awarded Man of the Match in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup. In the final, they won 19-16, with O’Driscoll scoring a drop goal in that game while playing with a shoulder injury.

– In 2011 O’Driscoll won his 2nd Heineken Cup, after suffering a knee injury the week prior, he helped his team come back from behind to win against Northampton with a final score of 33-22.

– In 2012, now a regular player in the Heineken Cup, he collected the Cup for a 3rd time.

– O’Driscoll played his final game for Leinster on 31 May 2014, in the 2014 Pro12 Grand Final at Leinster’s home ground. Unfortunately, O’Driscoll was injured and substituted early in the first half, however, Leinster won the game 34-12 and Brian’s final heroic act was helping the club captain lift one last trophy in front of his home crowd!

– O’Driscoll ended his club career for Leinster and amassed an insane 186 caps, scoring 311 points.


INTERNATIONAL CAREER

O’Driscoll’s late start in rugby didn’t keep him from stepping into the test arena and professional rugby at an early age. It wasn’t long before he habitually started stacking the stats in the typical O’Driscoll style we had all come to know and appreciate!

His continued greatness has been captured in the following summary of his rugby stats:

– He played his test debut at age 20, on 12 June 1999, against Australia. Interestingly Brian played for Ireland before he played for the senior Leinster team.

– In 2000 an O’Driscoll hat trick gave Ireland their first win in Paris since 1972. Fans soon started wearing started wearing “In BOD we Trust” t-shirts.

– In 2002 O’Driscoll was handed the captaincy of Ireland for the first time, against Australia, and they won 18-9. this was the first Irish victory against them since 1979, ironically the same year O’Driscoll was born. At age 24, O’Driscoll was handed permanent captaincy in 2003.

– Under O’Driscoll’s captaincy Ireland won the Triple Crowns in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, the first time since 1985. In 2004 he led Ireland to a 17-12 victory over South Africa, again an impressive “first”, this time since 1965.

– In 2009 Ireland won the Triple Crown and the Six Nations. The Six Nations’ victory was a Grand Slam (one team beating all the other teams), 61 years in the wait. O’Driscoll scored a try in every match except one and won the last game 17-15, where O’Driscoll also scored.

– On 15 November 2009, O’Driscoll scored a last-minute try against Australia, the match ended in a 20-20 draw.

– In 2009, he was runner-up, IRB Player of the Year after losing against Richie McCaw by one point, an award O’Driscoll won in 2001.

– On 8 March 2014 in this last international test on home ground, he contributed to 3 tries to secure an Irish victory over Italy. When he retired he was the most capped international player (141 caps).

-Brian O’Driscoll played his last international match against France, in Paris, for the 2014 Six Nations Championship, beating France in Paris for only the second time in 42 years. In an emotional post-match speech, O’Driscoll said that he could not have wished for a better ending.

BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS

One cannot give an honest review of O’Driscoll’s career without also touching on his outstanding achievements for the British and Irish Lions teams. Here, again, Brian silenced any critiques, if there ever were any, with a plethora of achievements:

– He played in all 3 games in the 2001 Australian tour, scoring an outstanding individual try in the Lions’s first victory.

– He was named captain in the 2005 tour of New Zealand but unfortunately got injured in the opening minutes of the first test. He remained on as a non-playing captain, and only received surgery after returning to Ireland.

– In 2009 he captained the Lions against the Golden Lions.

– He assisted 2 tries against the first test against South Africa but had to withdraw early due to a concussion suffered in the second test.

– In 2013 O’Driscoll was called up for his fourth British and Irish Lions tour, the third player to achieve this in 125 years!

– O’Driscoll was also selected to play for The Barbarians 3 times while scoring once.

Brian O’Driscoll’s list of rugby achievements is too many to mention in one blog post. The above list is a list that emphasizes some of his career highlights. He remains to be one of the most prestigious and decorated rugby players of all time and single-handedly placed Ireland on the world rugby map forever.

Brian O’Driscoll has been involved in various activities after his retirement from professional rugby. He has worked as a rugby pundit, providing analysis and commentary for television broadcasts. O’Driscoll has also been involved in business ventures, including ambassadorial roles and endorsements for various brands. To this day he remains to be an Irish legend and loved by many, including his opponents of yester years!

The World Cup Final Recap: South Africa vs New Zealand

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What a final! What an absolutely epic story! 

There were so many records broken and waiting to be broken in this game but there was really only one that both teams wanted… and now South Africa has it.

In short, the game started with South Africa dominating much of the first half with an extremely physical and suffocating display. 

The New Zealand team did what they tend to do in the second half and found another gear to go over for the only try of the match. 

It was a non-stop slugfest with neither team flinching and South Africa coming away with another 1-point victory to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for a record 4th time. 

This was honestly a game of 46 warriors. All of them were willing to fight to the death for their respective teams and countries and THAT made it a thing of beauty in my eyes. 

The All Blacks faced a Springbok team that wouldn’t back down to anything throughout the match but as they did, they kept probing and trying without ever giving up. 

They played hard and good rugby despite being starved of space and time on the ball. 

Brodie Retallick was immense and nearly single-handedly dismantled South Africa’s lineouts at times. 

On the day, he was really one of the most formidable forces for the All Blacks and it was the Brodie that previously won World Rugby Player of the Year that we saw in that final. 

This year’s World Rugby Player of the Year was just that little bit better. Ardie Savea could not have done more. He was a class act throughout the game and displayed the veracity and energy levels that no other player on this planet possesses. Well, not for 80 minutes at least. 

He is able to produce this in every single game and lead by example with the loss of Sam Cane due to the red card. 

Fighting an uphill battle with only 14 men was courageous, valiant, and honorable and I have complete respect for this team. 

After the game, Sam Cane was interviewed and asked about the red card. He showed a touch of class by simply stating that he should have known better and should have tackled lower. 

For me that summed up how you handle a situation like this when you can’t be hurting more from a loss and you might have a few choice words to share on your opinions of the officiating. 

He respected the referees and respected the game and Sam Cane and the All Blacks all deserve our respect. 

But the Springboks were truly something else. You could see that there was a fire in the team that could not be put out, no matter what. 

No one embodied the mood of this team more than Pieter Steph du Toit. He was an absolute force to be reckoned with in the final. There were two times that he stopped promising All-Black backline moves by putting in massive hits on Jordie Barrett. 

All of this counted toward his ridiculous tackle count of 28 tackles in the game. Marcos Kremer, who made the most tackles in the tournament, averaged just over 13 tackles per game. 

With the ball in hand, there were a few good runs from South Africa and they got over the line once but were held up. The game was definitely won on the back of Jacques Nienaber’s strength, namely defense. 

This was just emphasized once again by the try-saving tackle from an 80 kg Kurt-Lee Arendse on 105 kg Rieko Ioane. That was one of the defining moments of the game in my opinion. 

South Africa played to their strengths and a lot of their focus was on field position followed by secure defense. 

Pegging the All Blacks down in their own half in the first half, put them in range for Handre Pollard to get the 12 points South Africa needed. 

Keeping the dangerous All Blacks team just far enough away from the try line, helped to force the All Blacks to hope for kicks from a little further out than their kicker’s normal range. I felt bad for Jordie Barrett who had the opportunity to win the game but just had to attempt it from the very edge of his range. 

Overall though, it was a battle for the ages and definitely the right way for a final to end between the two biggest rivals in World Rugby. 

Quantifying exactly how the Springbok team did it and what their motivation was, is difficult to explain to someone who isn’t South African. 

Our UFC fighter, Dricus du Plessis, screamed it into the camera after beating Robert Whittaker… and this was done by Damian Willemse after the game screaming it into the crowd while holding on to the crest on his chest: 

“Hulle weet nie wat ons weet nie!”… 

“They don’t know what we know!”

Rugby World Cup: Final Preview

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This is the Rugby World Cup final we all wanted and we didn’t even know it. 

This year’s Rugby World Cup final will take place on Saturday between the rampant All Blacks and their traditional rivals, the Springboks. 

The All Blacks stormed into yet another final with a try-fest coming from their start winger, and tournament-leading try scorer, in a hat trick of tries against their hapless opposition.

The Springboks, by comparison, narrowly scraped through their rain-drenched semi-final with a lone try ultimately deciding the result. Unconvincing at times throughout the tournament, the Springboks face the mighty challenge of trying to stop their much-favored opponents this weekend. 

An almost precise repetition of what led to the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final in South Africa! 

The History

If you look at this special rivalry, you can’t look past some of the very significant stats surrounding these encounters. 

Overall, the two teams have met 105 times with the All Blacks winning 62 times, the Springboks 39, and a total of 4 draws. 

This gives the All Blacks a winning percentage of just a little more than 59%. 

Interestingly, the Springboks have been the most effective at stopping the All Blacks over the years, out of all the respective test-playing nations that they have faced. The second-best team is Australia who kept them down to a 70% win record, making sure they put a tiny dent in their all-time 77% win record. 

In their history, the All Blacks have had a 100% win record against 12 other test-playing nations, and the rest are placed somewhere in between. 

There have been countless close calls between these two teams over the years and the average winning margin for the All Blacks has only been 4 points over the years. The average score is 21-17.

Although that goes back for some time, we can’t expect this to be vastly different in this final.

Rugby World Cup history

There have been a number of meetings between these two giants of the game at the Rugby World Cup but none as historic as that memorable 1995 final. 

With an absolutely rampaging New Zealand team with the destructive Jonah Lomu running in tries for fun, the Springboks were given no chance.

The epic final went into extra time, which was eventually won on the back of a Joel Stransky drop goal

The whole build-up to the final had some controversy that went with it as well and it is difficult to know exactly what the full story was. 

This week already started with some controversy with the racial slur allegations made by England’s Tom Curry against Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi. 

The build-up to the game thus far has had social media channels blowing up with support for both teams and it is bound to be another historic day in Rugby World Cup history. 

The game will mark the first time a player has played in 3 x finals and we are talking about the legendary Sam Whitelock of course. 

The all-time try-scoring record is beckoning for Will Jordan.

…and most importantly, the winner will have the honor of being the first team to win 4 Rugby World Cups! 

The All Blacks

They weren’t really tested against Argentina and before that had some mixed results with their two major tests of the tournament. 

One was a failure against France and one was a win against Ireland in the quarter-finals. 

But the All Blacks have shown signs of their rugby brilliance as the tournament has progressed and they are exceptionally dangerous when they are offered a little bit of space to operate in. 

It opens up a number of attacking options for them ranging from kick passes to well-drilled backline moves that are exceptionally difficult to defend against. 

Their ability to keep their concentration and defend effectively for long periods of time has often formed the foundation on which they have built victories in difficult games. 

Their only weakness at times has been when they have been put on the backfoot and their forwards have not been allowed to lay a solid attacking platform. 

When their confidence is high they are nearly impossible to stop. If they are disrupted in these areas, they can be beaten.

The Springboks

South Africa has not had a flawless run through this World Cup by any means. They lost against Ireland in the group stages and beat France and England respectively by a single point and the narrowest of margins. 

The French win they can take more pride in than the semi-final match against England in many ways. Depending on how you look at it, the England win might be seen as more impressive as it was achieved on the back of an under-par performance and inability to adapt quickly to what England threw at them. 

They have been at their best when they have focused mainly on forward dominance to really suffocate other teams into submission. 

England nullified that to some extent in the semi-finals. 

But keep in mind that the Springbok team runs on a different kind of fuel and motivation than most other teams. In a country where a lot is going wrong, the Springboks are a beacon of hope and the team knows it. 

They play for their people, with an unrivaled passion, and this has been a big reason why they have been able to pull these results out of the fire over the past 2 weekends. 

My Prediction

Both head and heart this time tell me that it will be a back-to-back World Cup win for the Springboks. Most likely a reversed score of the All-Black average in these matches. 

Springboks to win by 4 points with the score at 21-17. 

It will be a brutal and beautiful contest that all rugby fans would be able to enjoy including the multitude of small battles that will decide the outcome of this war.