The New Heinrich Brussow?

Back in 2009, when Ugo Monye and Andy Powell were Lions, and Ian McGeechan’s tears filled Lions training sessions and not Sky studios, the tourists opened with two pretty easy wins, against a “Royal XV” and the (Transvaal/Golden) Lions. Their third game was against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, and was a hell of a close-run thing – the Lions went 20 points ahead early on, but the Cheetahs got closer and closer and the Lions eventually scraped home by two points.

The game was dominated by one Heinrich Brussow – the limpet-like openside owned the breakdown and the Lions got no decent ball for the last hour of the game. Brussow had been left out of the initial Springbok squad named by Crazy Piet de Villiers, and was somewhat of a cause celebre in the Republic (although not, amusingly, by that great exponent of openside flank play, George Hook – who hadn’t heard of him when questioned by Egg in advance of the game).

Brussow’s display was so good, he was drafted into the larger squad and ended up being one of the most influential players of the series – he started the first and third tests and came on in the second when the Boks were 11 points down.

Back to today, and, for the third game of this tour,  against the Queensland Reds, the hosts have named a team with their own cause celebre – Australia’s most naturally gifted footballer, Ed O’Donohue Quade Cooper. If Cooper shines against the Lions, and essentially forces Dingo Deans to call him up, just like Brussow did, it will spell bad news for the tourists. James O’Connor is currently being pencilled in as starting Wallaby outside-half, but it’s Cooper who is the better ten, a really dangerous one and a potential match-winner.

All the more reason to treat Saturday’s game as deadly serious – it might just directly affect the test series.  However, those of a parochial mindset should note that only one Irishman is in the starting line-up.  Time to start gtting enthusaistic about Matt Stevens and Owen Farrell.

Lions: Stuart Hogg (Scotland); Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Tommy Bowe (Ireland); Owen Farrell (England), B Youngs (England); Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Tom Youngs (England), Matt Stevens (England), Richie Gray (Scotland), Geoff Parling (England), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Sam Warburton (Wales, capt), Toby Faletau Wales). Replacements: Richard Hibbard (Wales), Mako Vunipola (England), Adam Jones (Wales), Paul O’Connell (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Conor Murray (Ireland), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), George North (Wales).


Seconds Out… Palla v Egg Round Two: Bloody New Zealand v Strylia

So, after round one, Egg is in front, by a nose.  But even he, despite his gloating, admitted he ws lucky and Wales should really have won.  Onto tomorrow’s game, which had better be a whole lot better, and we expect it probably will be.

Egg Chaser says: Australia will beat New Zealand

Egg Chaser must admit, he is much less confident about this one than he was about France, but letsgo with it.
This Australia team have beaten New Zealand in Australia and Hong Kong, the only place missing is in the land of the Long (All) Black Faces. And they will surely not have a better chance to do so, given NZ are missing Carter and are carrying not fully fit versions of Ruchie and Kieran Read.
And make no mistake, NZ without Carter are very human – in spite of having the best pair (or trio!) of centres in the tournament, they laboured against Argentina, and didn’t score a try until the 63rd minute – and this is the same Argentina side that Scotland nearly beat!
The Wallabies have defended stoutly in the tournament to date, conceding only 3 pointers to Italy, Ireland and the Boks, although, as noted in our France preview, NZ can actually score tries (we think).
If Pocock and Ruchie negate one another, the Aussies have the flamin’ back line to wreak havoc. While Quade Cooper has been, ahem, average in the RWC to date, he’s the man NZ fear, and he can be magical. I think the tyro back 3 might nick a couple of tries, and NZ may just fall short again.
Although, since its in Eden Park, that’s probably not true. Australia by 3.

Palla Ovale says: more Eden Park woe for Aussies

All evidence in front of me points towards a New Zealand victory.  Much has been made of the Aussies’ Tri-Nations-winning performance over the Kiwis, and the mental fortitude they will get frmo it, but that was back in Strylia; not in Eden Park, where they almost never win.  It will take something approaching a miracle performance for Australia to get a win in Eden Park in a world-cup semi-final.

The only miracle so far is that the Aussies have made it this far.  If WoC ever becomes a millionaire, the first thing we’ll do is hire a bunch of forensic scientists to work out how on earth they beat South Africa.  If their set piece, ball retention and out-half are even 20% as bad as they were in the quarter-final, there is no chance whatsoever of New Zealand failing to get over the try-line and punish them.  If Autralia’s set piece is poor again, the margin of victory could be as much as 20 points.  Quade Cooper’s form is atrocious – it does look like the pressure of being Public Enemy No.1 has got to him.

That said, Australia will hardly be as bad again.  The sight of the black shirts should bring out something better in them, but it will hardly be enough.  The Kiwis injury troubles are being overstated – Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui are back in tandem – they’re only really missing one player, albeit a crucial one.  But while we’re on that topic, Aaron Cruden looked happier to be there against Argentina, and should provide more presence than the ghostly Slade.

New Zealand by more than a score.

World Cup Preview: Australia

Group C Opposition: Ireland, Italy, USA, Russia

Pedigree: More than respectable – took Bill home in 1991 and 1999, each time the outstanding team in the competition. Dragged to the final in 2003 (and almost won it) by their outstanding half-back combination – George Gregan’s refrain of “Four more years mate” in the semi will freeze Kiwi blood for a very long time.

Players to watch: [WoC Ed: Just look at the age of these lads …] Gregan’s spiritual successor Will Genia (23) is the man who makes the Wallabies tick, although it’s Quade Cooper (23) who gets the headlines – though, with footwork like he has, its kind of deserved. Outside them you have the similarly talented Kurtley Beale (22) and James O’Connor (21). All 4 won’t even be at their peak until 2019 – be afraid, be very afraid.

Good Tournament: This time last year, a semi-final may have been acceptable. After keeping pace with NZ throughout last season, followed by the Reds Super Rugby success this year, its looks like a final appearance is the minimum requirement.

Bad Tournament: Being put out by any team that doesn’t copy that funny pre-match dance Munster patented in 2008.

Prospects: After throwing their toys out of the pram following an Andrew Sheridan-inspired destruction in 2007, Australia paradoxically managed to get running rugby banned by the IRB for 2 years. Luckily, everyone saw sense, and the emasculation of Morne Steyn has coincided with an upturn in Aussie fortunes, helped, of course, by the emerging talent mentioned above.

Robbie Deans has patiently been building towards this tournament for a while – as recently as 2009, they only won one Tri-Nations match. In that tournament, Deans blooded some of the players that now backbone his team, included Cooper, O’Connor, Genia, David Pocock and Ben Alexander.

From 6 back, they have a huge amount of options – even captain Rocky Elsom is under serious pressure for his place from the superb Scott Higginbotham, whose Tri-Nations appearances off the bench have been outstanding. And in the back division, they have piles of creativity and danger – as we write, Matt Giteau can’t make the 22, and Berrick Barnes’ un-retirement is a footnote. The problems lie further forward. Like Ireland, they have only two props who can scrummage, and Deans has found it difficult to settle on a hooker and second row combination – they can occasionally get mauled up front, and there are only so many times you can turn that around.

In a tournament like this, there is always a requirement to tough out games, particularly at the business end, which may not suit the Wallabies – the semi-final against England or France already looks like a flashing warning light. Despite the advancement in the last two years, 2015 is probably a more realistic target.

Verdict: They should beat Ireland, and will have to dig deep to negotiate a very tricky semi-final (especially if France click), but New Zealand will be a bridge too far. Beaten finalists.

Quade Cooper: Rugby Genius

Did you see it?  Did you see Quade Cooper’s two ridiculous line-breaks and offloads for the Queensland Reds in Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final against the Auckland Blues?  The first, a hand-off followed by two outrgeous dummies, a sprint up the line and an absurd offload to a support runner who was at least five metres away, set up a magnificent try. The second involved quick footwork and superb ball-handling to create space between two defenders, followed by a behind-the-back offload to the supporting flanker, Higginbotham, who was eventually tackled, but a penalty was secured.  Both were simply breathtaking – so good in fact that you’d be forgiven for overlooking the bullet-speed cut-out pass that set up Rod Davies to score his second try that followed in the second half. 

If you didn’t see it, it’s all free to view here, and we encourage you to do so.  As a Eurosport commentator once said, ‘If you’re a fan of brilliance and spectacular action, you’ll want to see this’.

It all has us slightly terrified of facing Australia in the World Cup.  We’ve seen Kurtley Beale shred defences in recent weeks, now Quade Cooper looks even more devastating an attacking threat.  Could he be the equal of Dan Carter?  A grand total of twelve points missed from the kicking tee would indicate that he still has a bit to go (what is it with these Aussie geniuses who can’t place kick for toffee?). Might Australia have a backline to match even that of the Kiwis?  Next week’s final against the Crusaders will give some indication – it cannot come soon enough.

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…