Super Rugby … showtime

After a ludicrously-conference-based season (4 bonus points for having a week off?) with an NFL style random fixture computer, SANZAR got what they wanted: 2 teams from each country in the play-offs, and the best 6 teams in the competition. The haplessness of the Lions wasn’t their fault, the expansion Rebels were always fun, and the what-will-we-do-with-Argentina question was punted into touch for another few years.

And now it’s even better – the teams which made up the top 4 since Easter are in the semi-finals. All Northern Hemisphere fans should look forward to this – the skill levels and intensity won’t be matched in many games this season.

Egg Chasers young brother (Óg Chaser?) went to Rebels-Reds in Melbourne a few weeks back, and he said the most notable thing about the match was no-one, including Quade Cooper, knew what Quade Cooper was going to do next. Except the Reds outside backs. That kind of unpredictablility is very hard to maintain a defensive line against for 80 minutes, and offers the Reds (and the Wallabies) huge attacking possibilities.

The Blues only lost by 6 when they came to Suncorp at the beginning of May, 2 games into a 4 game losing streak, which they arrested with 2 scratchy wins, including against the injury-stricken Waratahs last weekend. They have been consistently inconsistent this year, and we would be pretty surprised if they held out a Reds side that has the look of a team on a mission.

In the other semi-final, there is another team on a mission. The Crusaders have not played at home at all this season due to the Christchurch earthquake, and apparently the longest time they have spent in one place since February is 8 days. And yet they keep on winning. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will start, and rumour has it the South African officials will let Carter be tackled. The Stormers won the South African conference on the back of a mean defence, but never quite convinced in attack – they were out-scored by all the other South African teams, except the Lions.

One of the side-stories around this game (at least up here) is the presence of Saracens’ hooker Schalk Brits on the Stormers bench. Brits is great fun, but you have to ask why the only fallback they have in the probablity/event of McCaw and Kieran Read making hay at the breakdown is a hooker just off the plane? We fancied the Stormers before the play-offs began, but are edging towards the Crusaders now…

Super Duper Rugby

This weekend is the last weekend of the Super Rugby season, and the last two play-off places are still to be decided, as is which team gets a bye to the semi-finals, along with the Reds.

Currently, the table looks like this:

1. Reds 62
2. Stormers 58
3. Crusaders 57
4. Blues 56
5. Bulls 53
6. Sharks 53

7. Waratahs 52

Six weeks ago, the top six looked set in stone, and it consisted of everyone above except the Bulls. However, like the vampire which keeps coming back to life, six wins on the trot, including two on the road against the Stormers and Sharks, have rocketed them right back into contention. This weekend, the Sharks fly up to Pretoria hoping that last week’s sloppy draw next door in Jo’burg was a blip. If the Bulls win as expected, the Waratahs can sneak into the top six with a win against the hapless Brumbies in Sydney. The Blues have stuttered badly in recent weeks, losing four on the spin, but would be expected to beat the Highlanders at home. We can’t see the Reds losing to the Chiefs, or the Stormers and Crusaders not winning away to the Cheetahs and home to the Hurricanes respectively.

Any win for the Stormers will ensure second place as they have more wins than the Crusaders (it’s wins before points difference for tie-breakers). Is the Reds do lose, the Stormers have a chance to top the table.
We reckon the playoffs could pan out something like this:
Round 1:
Bulls beat Blues
Crusaders beat Waratahs
Round 2:
Stormers beat Crusaders
Reds beat Bulls
Final:
Stormers beat Reds

Moments of the Season Part 1

In keeping with the end of season theme, we’re going to take a look at our favourite moments of the season.  First, Egg Chaser takes us through his, tomorrow Palla Ovale follows suit.

Chris Ashton’s length of the field try against Australia. Australia, fresh from beating the All Blacks in a remarkable game of running rugby, landed in Twickers in November. Its fair to say WoC probably weren’t the only ones expecting the Wallabies to be the only team playing fast and loose, but in an incredible match, they were beaten at their own game.There had been flutterings of something happening for England in Australia in June, but the anthracite-clad red rose announced itself this day, with the highlight Ashton’s try. It established Ashton as a star, and signposted a gloriously unexpected positive attitude, the type of which we had not seen in an English team since 1990.



The best two teams in Europe collide. Coming to Lansdowne Road for the final game of the 6 Nations, England needed a win to complete a first Grand Slam since 2003, when it was also finished off (in style) in Dublin. Less than a minute into the game came the first scrum, something Dylan Hartley was clearly relishing, judging by the way he shoo-ed away the physio. Cue Mike Ross mincing the England scrum, a quick tap penalty by Sexton, Banahan’s outside shoulder exposed by Earls, and 80 metres gained by Ireland. The English platform had been decimated, and Ireland never looked likely to lose afterwards.

Reality dawns on the Northern Hemisphere. Following the rather dowdy and generally low-quality Six Nations, the Crusaders and the Sharks came to Twickers as refugees from the Christchurch earthquake. To stunned Northern Hemisphere fans made comfortable by the likes of Mad Dog Jones deriding the Super XV as basketball, this was a serious shock to the system. The players here seemed to be playing a different sport to that which “graced” Murrayfield and the Millennium Stadium. Not only did we see wonderful running lines and a series of deft and intelligent offloads by Daniel Carter and Sonny Bill Williams, we witnessed a display of powerful scrummaging from the Crusaders and ferocious rucking. Simply incredible.

Clement Poitrenaud not scoring against Clermont. If any passage of play symbolised French rugby over the last decade, it’s this one. Indeed, if any player symbolises French rugby over the past decade, it’s Clement Poitrenaud – a man who mixes the sublime with the ridiculous, sometimes within seconds of one another – just like here. Toulouse covered 105 metres in just six marauding phases, a mesmeric series of play full of offloads, line breaks and runners flooding the support channels, all in a visceral and powerful lunge at Clermont’s throat. Poitrenaud touched the ball 3 times in this magical 45 seconds, once to draw in 2 tacklers to a prop, again in a brilliant half-break to commit 2 more men before offloading to Servat, and the third time to drop the ball when all he needed to do was fall over to make this the try of the century. Which almost made it better.