#GOATWATCH: Which Faction is the Greatest of All Time?

#GOATWATCH: Which Faction is the Greatest of All Time?

Back in 2018, I made a decision to expand my focus to include the Movie Trivia Schmoedown – a combination of movie trivia and WWE entertainment. As the brand grew, my writing on here came to an end in November 2018 as I was given the chance to write for their new website, TriviaSD.com along with a number of other Schmoedown bloggers. Recently it was announced that as the crew’s focus is needed elsewhere, it was announced that the site will be coming to an end. This means that the Schmoedown will be making a return to this site!

First of all, I want to give a big thank yous:

  • To Schmoedown creator and Chairman of the league Kristian Harloff and TriviaSD.com Managing Editor William Bibbiani for giving me the chance to write for the site
  • To the cast and crew, who continue to create an amazing product that is just going from strength to strength
  • To the fans, who have helped to create such an amazing community

Over the coming weeks, I will be posting my articles from the site onto here. As some of these are almost a year old, some of them are somewhat outdated and may have proved to be completely off the mark.

Posted to TriviaSD.com 23/11/2018


Ever since John Rocha began planning the domination of the Schmoedown with the creation of the Four Horsemen, factions have been running rampant through the league.

The benefits of a faction are clear: you have the support of other experienced competitors around you, who can help you improve your knowledge and your tactics, give you moral support and help you stand up to your rivals… and most importantly join you in your theatrical entrances!

Some factions have had limited success and soon disbanded or faded away, while some have gone on to great heights and will likely go on forever in the memories of Schmoedown fans. But, as with the debate over who is the greatest competitor of all time, the same debate can be had for the factions.

So, let’s have a look at them!

The Four Horsemen

Members: John Rocha, Matt Knost, William Bibbiani, Robert Meyer Burnett

The first faction to form in the Schmoedown. Top 10 teammates John Rocha and Matt Knost brought in William Bibbiani following his debut victory over Marc Andreyko, where he set a new points record in the Singles Division, and then completed their stable at Schmoedown Spectacular with the addition of inaugural Innergeekdom Champion Robert Meyer Burnett.

In direct competition with the Lion’s Den, the Horsemen struggled to live up to expectations. Rocha beat Dan Murrell to win the Singles title, but lost it on his first defence against Mark Reilly. Top 10 lost the Teams Title at Spectacular to The Patriots. Burnett lost his title to Hector Navarro in his first defence and Bibbiani lost to JTE (his first solo victory in over 2 years), then TKO’d Eliot Dewberry, but then lost to Kristian Harloff.

And then, following Rocha’s title loss at Collider Collision, Bibbiani betrayed Rocha and announced that he was forming his new faction – The Growling Commandos – with Ricky Hayberg managing. Then, just days later, Burnett also announced that he was leaving the faction and joined the Lion’s Den, bringing an end to the Four Horsemen.

Opinion: Aside from Rocha’s title victory, there was very little for the Four Horsemen to write home about as they were too often on the losing side, especially in big matches.

The Lion’s Den

Members: Tom Dagnino/Finstock, JTE, Jeff Sneider (former), Marc Andreyko (former), Ken Napzok (former), Mark Donica (former), Robert Meyer Burnett (former), Grace Hancock (former), Dan Murrell (former)

Following “The Decision,” JTE split with Finstock but was turned down by Clarke Wolfe, so instead he teamed up with Jeff Sneider to create The Patriots. Finstock later returned to manage The Patriots following his split with Josh Macuga and brought in Marc Andreyko as a 4th member, as he wanted a second shot at new Horseman Bibbiani. The Patriots won the Teams Title by beating Top 10, while the faction also convinced Singles Champion Dan Murrell to join them following his victory over Mark Ellis.

Murrell lost his belt soon after to John Rocha and left the faction, citing a lack of support and Findreyko (Marc Andreyko as Finstock) and Dagnino both lost to Josh Macuga, but these were small blips in the faction’s fortunes in 2017.

The Patriots went unbeaten for the year, Jeff Sneider made it to a number 1 contender match, where he lost to Kristian Harloff, and JTE started winning again! The Lion’s Den then picked up Burnett after he chose to leave the Horsemen following Bibbiani’s betrayal, and he joined with Andreyko to create a second team, Blofeld’s Cat.

The big moment came in December 2017 as after Sam Witwer booked his place in the Star Wars title match, Dagnino emerged to announce that Ken Napzok had joined the Den, closely followed by Ken betraying his Nerd’s Watch teammate Rachel Cushing and making her take on Blofeld’s Cat in a 2v1 handicapped match (which she almost won). Napzok lost his Star Wars title at Schmoedown Spectacular 2, Tom Dagnino came up just short to Emma Fyffe in the inaugural Manager’s Bowl, Napzok lost his Star Wars title and Andreyko defected to the Fyffe Club, leading to Burnett being cast out as there was no longer any need for him with Blofeld’s Cat gone.

Following an impressive debut, The Den brought in Mark Donica to be their new Innergeekdom competitor and he made it to a title match, where he lost to Jason Inman. JTE lost in a triple threat number 1 contender match to Rachel Cushing to start the year and then to Rocha at the first live event, then The Patriots’ streak of victories came to an end when they lost to Above The Line in their 7th title defence, and they lost again to the Champions in an Iron Man match at Collision 2.

It was at this moment that the Den fell apart, as Ken left after finding out Dagnino was trying to trade some of the faction to other managers, Donica left with him and Sneider also walked away, leaving the Den with just Dagnino and JTE.

Opinion: The Patriots’ title successes are the foundation of this faction, along with some runs in singles from JTE and Sneider and a strong start from Donica. However, the faction’s overall record sits at almost .500 now including 7-5 in title matches. The real strength of this faction has been their ability to keep rebooting with new members, so it will be interesting to see who Tom Dagnino/Finstock brings in next.

Fyffe Club

Members: Emma Fyffe, Marc Andreyko, Clarke Wolfe, Rachel Cushing, Sam Witwer

Created at Schmoedown Spectacular 2, Marc Andreyko secretly defected from the Lion’s Den, allowing Emma Fyffe to win the inaugural Manager’s Bowl. Following Sam Witwer’s victory over Ken Napzok, he was also brought into the Fyffe Club. Off the back of Napzok’s betrayal, Rachel Cushing joined up with Clarke Wolfe to become the Shirewolves and they quickly joined the Fyffe Club to create the league’s babyface faction.

The Shirewolves got revenge on The Lion’s Den with a debut victory in the Teams Division and went on to win the vacant Teams Title with 4 unbeaten matches. The Singles Division has been rather successful for the faction too. Rachel Cushing came to the faction with a title shot confirmed but, playing in the 5-round format for the first time, she came up just short against Samm Levine. Fyffe used her reward for winning the Manager’s Bowl to arrange a number 1 contender match for Wolfe against Mike Kalinowski. She won this but lost to Levine in Sudden Death. Andreyko won against Ben Bateman, a Triple Threat at Collision against Stacy Howard and Jeannine and then a number 1 contender match against Ethan Erwin to set up a shot for the vacant Singles Title against William Bibbiani, but like the ladies before him he came up just short.

In Innergeekdom, Emma managed to reach the 2nd round of the tournament, where she lost to Mara Knopic, while Rachel lost to Knopic in the next round in one of the most amazing (no pun intended) Sudden Deaths we will ever see. Unfortunately for Sam Witwer, he has been unable to play this year, which saw him being stripped of the belt, which was won by Alex Damon. Marc Andreyko also had some early success with Jeff Sneider as part of the Anarchy team The Odd Couple, where they won 2 matches before losing to the Harris Brothers.

Opinion: If picking the faction of the 2018 season, they Fyffe Club win hands down as they have had three competitors fight for the Singles title while the Shirewolves are Team Champions and arguably one of the strongest teams in the division. If they can start getting more victories in title matches, then they will arguably become the greatest faction of all time.

The Five Horsemen

Members: John Rocha, Matt Knost, Dan Murrell, Mark Reilly, Jason Inman

After beating JTE at the first live event, Rocha suggested that he would be reforming the Four Horsemen to take down the Lion’s Den once and for all. After plenty of time speculating who would be the new Horsemen, we finally got the reveal in stunning fashion at the next live event, with Jason Inman and Mark Reilly – back from retirement – joining the Top 10 boys on stage.

But there was more: after weeks of Andrew Ghai going around claiming he had beat Dan Murrell, the GOAT came out of retirement and was revealed as a fifth Horseman, making arguably one of the strongest factions on paper to ever feature.

Things didn’t start as they’d have hoped though: both Murrell and Reilly were TKO’d by Andrew Ghai on their return and Jason Inman lost his Innergeekdom title to Mara Knopic. John Rocha has once again been giving the Horsemen their title success with a run in the Singles Division that saw him beat both members of Team Action before winning the belt back from Bibbiani. In Anarchy, Rocha and Murrell formed one of the favourites for the title in the Founding Fathers, but they lost their second-round match to KOrruption in controversial fashion to bring an early end to their campaign. Knost was paired with former stablemate Bibbiani, who also lost in the second round to Who’s the Boss?

Reilly has seen success in the tournament, though alongside Ben Bateman, as part of Who’s The Boss? as they won the Anarchy tournament and will now face the Shirewolves at Spectacular. Murrell is the only competitor featured in the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament, the winner of which will face Rocha for the title at Spectacular.

Opinion: It’s still early to judge the Five Horsemen but they have recovered from some early stumbles to win the Singles title, while Murrell could conceivably win the Ultimate Schmoedown to set up an all-Horsemen title match. They may have lost the Innergeekdom title but Jason Inman is still one of the top competitors in the division. There was a good level of success in the Teams division and there is a chance Reilly could end the season with a belt, however with the success he is having with Bateman and Dagnino… will he remain a Horseman for much longer?

Viper Squad

Members: Jay Washington, Stacy Howard, Markeia McCarty, Jeannine LC, Brianne Chandler (former)

Originally formed when Jay Washington joined up with the team Six Degrees, and they were initially called the Missfits. The Missfits had mixed success in 2017, with both Howard and Chandler making it into the second round of the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament, while Six Degrees went out in the first round of the Teams version.

Following her loss to Mike Kalinowski, Chandler chose to step back from competing, but then reappeared at Spectacular 2 to announce that she was leaving the Missfits, before jumping in a car with Kalinowski. Stacy and Jay stayed together and brought in rookies Jeannine and Markeia to create the Viper Squad.

Results have been mixed for the Vipers this season. Stacy and Jeannine both started on strong runs in singles but lost to Andreyko in a Triple Threat match at Collision, Jeannine fell just short against Ben Bateman in the Gauntlet to enter the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament, while Stacy will face Dan Murrell in Round 1. Markeia has competed in just the one match, losing to Rachel Cushing in the opening round of the Innergeekdom tournament, while Jay also went out at the same stage.

The faction has not had much representation in the Teams Division this year until the Ultimate Schmoedown, where both Stacy and Jeannine went out in Round 1, as did Ethan Erwin, who was being managed by Jay Washington, while Markeia made it to Round 2 as manager of Take The Cannoli.

Opinion: The Viper Club have had a mixed season and not been able to make it to any title matches. However, Jay Washington has done a great job as a manager of taking on rookies and helping them bed into the league and they could still have some success in the Singles Tournament. Jay is continuing to manage Ethan Erwin for the rest of the season and if he can add Erwin and Jeannine’s War Machine teammate Brian Walton to the Vipers full-time, then 2019 could be their breakout season.

Wildberries

Members: Josh Macuga, Eliot Dewberry, Ricky Hayberg

Eliot Dewberry and Ricky Hayberg had some success in the early days of the Teams Division as ETC, however this was largely off the back of Dewberry carrying Ricky and they lost in two number 1 contender matches before Ricky brought an end to their partnership. Josh Macuga was also left without a partner after Finstock walked out on him, so the Wildman and Dewberry teamed up for the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown Team Tournament to create the Wildberries (WILDBERRIES!).

The Wildberries went out in the first round and then lost their next match to Only Stupid Answers, before winning 2 in a row against the Reel Rejects at the first live event and the Kingsmen by TKO. When all the teams were split up and the new Anarchy teams created, the Wildberries were miraculously drawn together with Ricky as their manager, and he immediately proved to be a perfect fit to round out the faction, but they lost in the first round to the Evil Geniuses.

Ricky and Eliot have not competed in other divisions this year, but Macuga has played 3 matches, beating Nick Scarpino, losing to Stacy Howard and recently losing to Lon Harris in the first round of the Gauntlet of the Ultimate Schmoedown.

Opinion: It doesn’t matter how much you believe in the “Macuga Magic”, the best chance the faction has of appearing in a title match will be one of their competitors being the last to the table at a Free 4 All. That said, they are a fun faction to watch and they sell t-shirts, so don’t expect them to change anytime soon.

Growling Commandos

Members: William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Ricky Hayberg (former)

As we approached the first Collider Collision, we saw Ricky Hayberg around the Collider studios scheming, but didn’t know what was going on. We got our answer following Rocha’s loss in the Triple Threat match to Dan Murrell, as Bibbiani betrayed Rocha and walked away from the Four Horsemen to join Ricky and create the Growling Commandos, bringing in Witney Seibold to become his teammate as part of Critically Acclaimed.

Since their formation, Critically Acclaimed have gone 3-1 with 3 TKOs to their name but suffered a shock loss to Late to the Party in the first round of last year’s Ultimate Schmoedown. Bibbiani’s Singles Career has been mixed since leaving the Horsemen: Round 3 struggles continued early on as he went 1-2 before becoming MVP of Free 4 All 2 to earn a number one contender match against Jeff Sneider. A KO in that match and a win over Andreyko in the title match saw Bibbiani win the belt, but he lost it to Rocha in his first defence to end his season.

Ricky played in the Managers Bowl at Spectacular, but his performance was anything but spectacular and he left the faction ahead of Critically Acclaimed’s match against Superhero News, unhappy with the team’s nice attitudes. In the Anarchy tournament, Bibbiani made it to Round 2 as part of Cinemaniacs before losing to Who’s The Boss? while Seibold went out in the first round as part of an impressive performance for the Self-Righteous Brothers with Marc Edward Heuck and manager Jonny Loquasto.

Opinion: They are a faction very much on the backburner at the moment and besides Bibbiani’s title victory there has been limited success. There was even uncertainty as to whether Critically Acclaimed would reform following Anarchy, but their return has since been confirmed. Regardless, if they bring in Heuck and Loquasto it could be the start of a much more successful (and fun) faction.

The League

Members: Mike Kalinowski, Adam Gertler, Jonny Loquasto, Roxy Striar

Kalinowski was already an established competitor in the Singles Division, but he finally got a faction around him as Striar, Gertler and Loquasto came to join him ahead of his Innergeekdom debut. Kalinowski lost this match in the infamous “Pudding” moment and later lost to Rachel Cushing to go 0-2 in Innergeekdom, but he finished 3-2 for the season in Singles, including a run to the Ultimate Schmoedown semi-final.

Gertler joined Kalinowski in the Teams Division and DC Movie News went 2-2 for the season, but cracks appeared to be forming, following a poor loss to Top That, and Kalinowski was seen leaving Spectacular with Brianne Chandler.

Kalinowski opened this season in the Triple Threat number 1 contender match against Rachel Cushing and JTE accompanied by Miss Movies rather than his faction but had a poor match and was out early. He was selected by the Fyffe Club to face Clarke Wolfe in her number 1 contender match where he lost in Sudden Death, again with nobody from The League present. Then following DC Movie News’ loss to Team Action, Kalinowski went on a tirade against his faction and walked out on them.

Opinion: With Jonny only competing in Free 4 All 2, this faction relied on the results of Mike and his partnership with Adam for DC Movie News. They had a good degree of success in the Singles Division, while Kalinowski’s ability as a triple threat across all divisions gave them a strong base to work from.

Young Bucks

Members: Cobbster, RB3, Greg Alba, John Humphrey, Hector Navarro

Following the Wangers’ retirement match loss to the Reel Rejects, Cobbster announced that he would be forming a faction that he would manage, taking on RB3 and the Reel Rejects. Hector Navarro then joined the faction after winning the Innergeekdom Title from Robert Meyer Burnett.

Now many newer fans of the league may be reading this and wondering why they’ve never heard of the faction and there’s a good reason for that: aside from Navarro’s title defence over Jeremy Jahns, this faction just didn’t win matches and they soon disbanded.

Opinion: In a time when the Lion’s Den and Four Horsemen were vying for dominance in the league, this faction never had the strength to stand out from the bunch. Bringing in Navarro was a coup but there was just not enough success overall for them to spot high on the rankings.

Heroes

Members: Jon Schnepp, Hector Navarro, John Campea (former), Robert Meyer Burnett (former)

Were they ever really a faction? Maybe not, but they deserve a mention. Formed by Schnepp and Burnett, they beat the much-vaunted Wolves of Steel in their debut before losing to The Patriots in a number 1 contender match. Schnepp was unavailable to face Superhero News due to injury so John Campea was brought in as a third member, helping the team get back to winning ways.

The original line-up was back for another victory, this time against Team Trek. Burnett also had some success on his own as he won the inaugural Innergeekdom match, however he lost his title to Hector Navarro in his next match. Through much of this run Burnett was a part of the Four Horsemen, but after his defection to the Lion’s Den, Schnepp threw him out of the team and replaced him with his ultimate rival – Hector Navarro.

Burnett got his revenge though, as his new team Blofeld’s Cat beat Heroes in the first round of the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown.

Opinion: As Burnett was part of the Four Horsemen at the time, they were not technically a faction, but their early success during Seasons 3 & 4 still deserves a mention and were it not for Schnepp’s untimely passing this could have been the basis for a strong faction

The Verdict:

If we’re looking to crown the greatest faction of all time, then we need to look at results rather than potential. As such, the Five Horsemen fall just short for now, but continued success could see them enter the discussion. The Fyffe Club have a better winning percentage overall than the Lion’s Den, but thanks to The Patriots the Lion’s Den have the best record in title matches (7-5 compared to 1-3). Dagnino has done a great job of keeping his faction legitimate for such a long time and modifying the line-up to keep them competitive.

But for me, the Fyffe Club’s dominance through the season and their strength in every division (when everyone is available) gets my vote, which will only get stronger if the Shirewolves defend their title and Clarke Wolfe has a strong showing in the Singles Tournament.

And now I throw the question to you: Who would you pick as the greatest faction of all time?

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool C

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool C

We are mere days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his all Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations article, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Today, we’re moving onto Pool C

England

As someone who can’t go a day without talking English/Premiership rugby, it wasn’t easy for me to figure out who would be the lesser-known players in the England squad. I eventually settled on Joe Cokanasiga, who at 21 years old and with just 2 seasons of Premiership Rugby under his belt is still relatively unknown. While many of the England back 3 are fast, agile but not overly physical players, Cokanasiga relishes in the physical game while also having the speed to trouble defences. Assuming the defenders manage to successfully tackle him, they then have to hope he doesn’t get the offload away. With tries against Japan and Australia in the 2018 November Tests, expect to see him adding to that list during the tournament.

France

While Antoine Dupont deserves a mention, I’ve picked Damian Penaud here for Les Bleus. Capable of playing centre but often used on the wing for the national team, Penaud has 2 tries from 11 Test matches, including 2 in this year’s Six Nations. He really appeared to come into his own down the stretch for Clermont however, and I expect him to be even better now with more experience under his belt… assuming the rest of the team perform.

Argentina

Argentina are spoiled for choice in the outside backs, but one player who looked to have all-but secured his spot in the XV before injury was winger Bautista Delguy. At just 22 years old, the winger already has 5 tries from 11 caps, including 3 from 5 Rugby Championship appearances. Argentina will create chances but don’t always have the composure to finish them. Delguy on the wing gives them that.

USA

Having won the Pro12 with Connacht and spent 3 seasons with Sale, AJ MacGinty still goes relatively under the radar, but my pick here instead goes to Joe Taufete’e. The Worcester hooker has found himself stuck behind Jack Singleton in recent seasons, but has shown his quality for the Eagles with 20 tries from 22 appearances, making him the tight 5 player with the most international tries. With experience of his English opponents and a strong runner with ball in hand, Taufete’e is one of the players leading USA rugby into a new era.

Tonga

At 31 years old, Sione Kalamafoni is a well-established player, but despite plenty of years in the Premiership with Gloucester and Leicester, is someone who goes relatively under the radar. Kalamafoni has vital experience to help Tonga in a tough pool, while he will tackle all… day… long. On top of that, he also has a good turn of pace in the loose that will catch the opposition out if they leave him too much space.

Who are you looking out for during the tournament?


I’m running a fantasy rugby league for the World Cup on the Rugby Magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6

Will you be picking any of these players in your squad?

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool B

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool B

We are just days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his all Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations article, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Who are you looking out for during the tournament? Today, we’ll look at Pool B:

New Zealand

Ngani Laumape was going to be my pick here until his shock omission, so I have instead chosen to look at Sevu Reece. I made mention of Nehe Milner-Skudder earlier in the article and he is basically the Milner-Skudder of the 2019 All Blacks squad, having only made his debut in recent months. With pace, power and footwork, Reece looks the real deal and comes into the tournament having been the top try scorer in the last Super Rugby season.

South Africa

The first 2 rounds of Super Rugby made it clear that I had to pick to Herschel Jantjies. The Stormers scrum half did me some help in my fantasy team this year but even I wouldn’t have imagined his international career would begin with 3 tries in 2 Rugby Championship games and a draw against New Zealand in Wellington. Capable of controlling the game well enough to lead the team, he is such a danger with ball in hand if given too much space. Between him, Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach, head coach Rassie Erasmus is spoiled for choice at 9.

Italy

While I have to mention Gloucester’s Jake Polledri who I rate highly, I am going to the backs again here with my selection of Matteo Minozzi. The fullback missed this year’s Six Nations through injury, but proved himself to be a potent attacking talent in the 2018 tournament with 4 tries in 5 games. Part of the rebuild going on at Wasps this summer after moving from Zebre, Minozzi will be looking to make up for lost time. Expect him to run riot against Namibia and Canada.

Namibia

This was the hardest of the 20 teams competing to pick by a country mile. Reynaldo Bothma was going to be my pick here until he recently announced his retirement – I really hope there was no pressure from Harlequins affecting that decision – so in his absence I have picked Aranos Coetzee. The prop gets a selection here by virtue of his experience of playing at a relatively high level, having played for Racing, Brive and the Cheetahs all in top tier leagues while also featuring for South Africa’s U18s team back in the day. An experienced prop will be invaluable during the tournament.

Canada

Canada are a team that have really struggled for success in recent years, but if they are to have any success in the tournament, D. T. H. van der Merwe will surely be involved. The winger bizarrely struggled to get any time at Newcastle Falcons but has excelled at the Scarlets and in 2 spells with Glasgow. Internationally, he has scored 38 tries in 57 caps and has started every game at the last 3 World Cups, scoring 6 tries – including 4 in the 2015 tournament.


I’m running a fantasy rugby league for the World Cup on the Rugby Magazine website, and you are all invited to join! Simply follow this link and use the Unique Token: b6c1e40d48e6

Will you be picking any of these players in your squad?

BAD INFLUENCE: Is Mark Reilly Turning to the Dark Side?

BAD INFLUENCE: Is Mark Reilly Turning to the Dark Side?

Back in 2018, I made a decision to expand my focus to include the Movie Trivia Schmoedown – a combination of movie trivia and WWE entertainment. As the brand grew, my writing on here came to an end in November 2018 as I was given the chance to write for their new website, TriviaSD.com along with a number of other Schmoedown bloggers. Recently it was announced that as the crew’s focus is needed elsewhere, it was announced that the site will be coming to an end. This means that the Schmoedown will be making a return to this site!

First of all, I want to give a big thank yous:

  • To Schmoedown creator and Chairman of the league Kristian Harloff and TriviaSD.com Managing Editor William Bibbiani for giving me the chance to write for the site
  • To the cast and crew, who continue to create an amazing product that is just going from strength to strength
  • To the fans, who have helped to create such an amazing community

Over the coming weeks, I will be posting my articles from the site onto here. As some of these are almost a year old, some of them are somewhat outdated and may have proved to be completely off the mark.

Posted to TriviaSD.com 12/11/2018


“But these heels… Don’t make me come out of retirement, ’cause I eat heels for breakfast.”

These were the words of Mark Reilly at the end of last year, at the Schmoedown Awards. The first Singles Champion, Reilly was Superman, the hero of the Schmoedown. He was driven to win the belt and, once he had it, to defend it, but he was always respectful of his opponents and always kept his cool – except on one occasion when Rocha crashed his interview and pushed things a little too far by disrespecting both Reilly and interviewer Emma Fyffe.

After losing the belt to Dan Murrell at the 2017 Collider Collision, Reilly took a step back from competing, coming back only to aid Clarke Wolfe in her quest to win the Ultimate Schmoedown Team Tournament – a run ended by eventual winners Above The Line. The Schmoedown was left without its hero, even though the heels wouldn’t stay away.

Fresh from his suspension following the infamous Tackle, “Dastardly” Andrew Ghai stole Dan Murrell’s spot at the Free 4 All and announced to the world that he was “the Ghai that beat the GOAT.” Weeks went by of Ghai parading around as if he owned the place… and it became too much for Reilly to sit by and take.

Reilly returned to the League in dramatic fashion at the 2nd live event, revealing himself as a member of the new-look 5 Horsemen alongside his fellow former champions Rocha and Murrell. The Horsemen looked to be the strongest faction assembled and they were here to teach the heels a lesson.

But almost straight away, things started to go wrong for Reilly and the Horsemen. Kal was stolen – supposedly by Ben Bateman – leaving Reilly unable to support Murrell at Collision when he lost to Andrew Ghai, then Reilly also lost to Ghai in a rusty first performance back, leaving him out of the race for the Singles title for the rest of the year. Reilly’s chance for a belt turned to the Team Division, where under the Anarchy format at the Ultimate Schmoedown he was paired with Ben Bateman to form Who’s The Boss?, under the management of Finstock.

The hero of the Schmoedown was stuck alongside 2 of the biggest heels in the league.

For their first match against the Crazy Eighty-Greats, it was clear that Reilly was not impressed with his team, voicing his displeasure with Bateman’s lack of respect and his role in Kal’s theft. Throughout the match he was apologising for Bateman’s insults and being every bit the hero stuck in a bad situation. And at the victory, his celebration was with his stablemate Rocha rather than his team, though he did note in the post-match interview that he was impressed with Bateman’s ability.

That respect for Bateman appeared to continue growing in their second match against Cinemaniacs. Reilly was less apologetic as Bateman targeted William Bibbiani with his barbs, but still had the decency to correct his teammate post-match when he called Jenn Sterger “Jessica”. He again celebrated with Rocha but not at the expense of his new team and worked as peacemaker between Bateman and Rocha. A hero still, but adapting to his new team.

And then, the bombshell. Finstock managed to get video footage proving Bateman’s innocence in Kal’s theft, and that it was in fact Mike Kalinowski – their next opponent – who was responsible. Reilly’s drive to win the belt appeared to be joined by another desire: revenge. In their pre-match promo against KOrruption, Reilly seemed more a part of his new team than ever before. Any thought of holding Bateman back was gone and he even called Kalinowski a “little ninny bitch” – a classic Team Action insult.

Had Kalinowski’s crime put the hero over the edge? Perhaps not, as he did still stand up for Rocha and Emma Fyffe when Finstock called them dopes, though not a single Horseman was in sight to celebrate with him.

With the Gauntlet to enter the Singles Tournament scheduled before Who’s The Boss? takes on The Harris Brothers in the final, Reilly had a chance to spend some time away from his team. But when Bateman stepped out, Reilly was there beside his “partner” and Dagnino. Reilly seemed to have no problem with Bateman’s comments about how his mission was to crush Rocha and also failed to defend his stablemate when Finstock insulted him. More than that, he actively laughed along when Finstock made fun of Jay Washington and claimed to own him.

Perhaps Reilly has decided that the only way he can claim a belt and stop the heels is to sink to their level. It’s fair to say that Wolves of Steel never reached the heights they were expected to, but Who’s The Boss? are currently looking like one of the strongest and most well-rounded teams in the division, and no manager has had greater success in the league than Finstock/Tom Dagnino. Will he decide that his new team can do more for him than Rocha and the other Horsemen can?

The Dark Knight included the line “You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain.” If Who’s The Boss? continues to win, which Mark Reilly will we see at Spectacular: Yodi… or Darth Reillus?

Do you think that Reilly’s moving towards a heel turn? Let me know in the comments what you see Reilly doing moving forward!

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool A

RWC2019: Players to Watch – Pool A

We are just days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup and we now know the players who will be on show. With the 31-man squads finalised, it’s time to start taking a look at the squads and looking at who will stand out during this tournament. In 2015, Nehe Milner-Skudder made his All Blacks debut in August, before going on to be a star of the tournament and make the tournament dream team, along with Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who definitely wasn’t known to the masses before the tournament.

With so many people who aren’t die-hard rugby fans set to watch the tournament, or many whose knowledge is maybe limited to their own nation’s players, I decided to do something similar to my Players to Watch in the Six Nations articles, and expand that to each team of the World Cup. While I try to watch as much rugby as I can around the world, you’ll see that even I have blank spots as I select some players that may be bigger names in their teams, but they still may be lesser-known names to the wider public.


Journey to RWC2019 series:


Who are you looking out for during the tournament? Today, we’ll start with a look at Pool A:

Ireland

Ireland were not the easiest team to pick a lesser-known player to look at here, as the majority of their regular starters are now so well established in international rugby. Eventually I settled on a player that regular readers will already know I am a big fan of. Tadhg Beirne was a star in the Scarlets squad and has carried on that form since moving to Munster. With Devin Toner and James Ryan having formed a regular partnership, injury harmed Beirne’s chances of forcing himself into the starting XV during the Six Nations but he is a dangerous runner in the loose and with decent game time he has a good chance of topping the turnover charts in a match.

Scotland

There were a few players I could have picked for Scotland, with honourable mentions going to Jamie Ritchie, Sam Johnson and Blair Kinghorn, but the pick here goes to Darcy Graham. The Edinburgh wing only made his Scotland debut against Wales in November, but has impressed with 5 tries in 7 appearances. With a good blend of pace and power, I expect him to be part of their ideal back 3 and think he can keep his scoring record going through the tournament.

Japan

Michael Leitch is the big name in this squad but his back row partner Amanaki Mafi also deserves a mention. While off-field issues have blighted his time with Bath and the Melbourne Rebels, he is a quality player and with 9 tries in 24 Tests, he will be looking to shine in this tournament. If Japan want to qualify for the knockouts, they need players like him at the top of their game.

Russia

This will likely be a last World Cup for many of the big named in the Russian back line, including 32-year-old Vladimir Ostroushko. A name that may be familiar to fans of the World Rugby Sevens Series, he will bring experience to the back line and also cause real damage to a team that gives him too much space. With 25 tries from 47 games, he could be key in their matches against Japan and Samoa.

Samoa

When looking through the Samoa squad, the name that stuck out to me was that of Chris Vui. The Bristol skipper was probably one of the best locks in the Premiership last season but still went somewhat under the radar due to the incredible performances of some of his teammates. Able to cover lock or the back row, Vui brings a great blend of strength, mobility and ball-handling skills to stand out from the crowd.


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RWC2019: Absentee 23

RWC2019: Absentee 23

The Rugby World Cup is less than a week away and we are now at a stage where all 20 nations have had to finalise their squads for the tournament. While there a plenty of players who will currently be thrilled at the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage, there will also be players left disappointed at missing out on a place in the squad, hoping they will get another chance in 4 years’ time. For some of these players, it will be badly timed injuries. For some, it will be a result of too much strength in one position. Some may have even found that their face just didn’t fit with the current organisation.

Today, as we continue to build towards the tournament’s kickoff, I will be looking to create a team from players who are set to not feature in the tournament. I was initially looking to select just a starting XV, but after arguing with my friend Gez over who deserved the 10 spot out of Cipriani and Anscombe, I decided to expand it to a full 23-man matchday squad – which simply took the argument to who should be the starter!


Journey to RWC2019 series:


1: Karl Tu’inukuafe:- Maybe not the player most would have expected to take this spot given some of the Home Nations players missing out, but on recent international pedigree, I couldn’t leave Tu’inukuafe out. Nominated for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2018, Tu’inukuafe was a star for the All Blacks despite having been a security guard as recently as 2015. A strong scrummager who showed good skill in the loose, he misses out on a spot in the All Blacks squad courtesy of the depth at prop in New Zealand.

2: Dylan Hartley:- He may have potentially dropped behind Jamie George in the England pecking order, but the England captain would have still been guaranteed a place in the squad had his 2019 not been ruined by a knee injury. England have been missing his captaincy of late.

3: Owen Franks:- One of the biggest shocks from New Zealand’s squad announcement was the omission of Owen Franks. The tighthead has over 100 caps to his name and has played at 2 World Cups but has missed out as Steve Hansen has looked to more mobile options. With Franks set to join Northampton and become ineligible for international selection, it looks like his international career will end on the sour note of the Bledisloe Cup loss in Perth.

4: Richie Gray:- 65 caps for Scotland, 1 Test appearance for the British and Irish Lions, Top 14 champion as recently as this summer… That is a lot of experience to leave out of a Scotland side that needs big runners, but it looks like he will not be involved in Japan as he has chosen to take a summer off following injury issues and the birth of his son just a few months ago.

5: Will Skelton:- A behemoth who failed to live up to his potential in Australia, Will Skelton has revitalised his career since moving to Saracens and dropping a bit of weight to become more mobile. With just 18 caps to his name, Skelton falls well short of the threshold to allow him to feature for the Wallabies without playing in Australia, leaving him ineligible for selection.

6: Facundo Isa:- Capable of playing at 6 or 8, Isa should have so many more caps than the 27 he has currently earned. Unfortunately, playing in France has seen him enter an international exile and though he was given a chance this summer, he was unable to force his way into the squad as Mario Ledesma decided that he had sufficient home-based options available to cover the back row.

7: Seán O’Brien:- We have known for quite a while that O’Brien would be missing the tournament as it was announced in May that he would require hip surgery. Injuries have ruined his career in recent years and sadly it looks like his move to London Irish will see the Tullow Tank finish with 56 caps for Ireland and 5 Test caps for the British and Irish Lions.

8: Taulupe Faletau:- I almost picked Ben Morgan here after having one of his best ever seasons for Gloucester, but I could not leave out Taulupe Faletau. One of the best number 8s in world rugby, Faletau has 72 Wales caps and 4 British and Irish Lions Test caps to his name, but hasn’t featured for Wales since the 2018 Six Nations due to injuries. Sadly, he has been ruled out of appearing in his 3rd World Cup due to a collarbone injury.

9: Rhys Webb:- With 31 caps for Wales and 2 British and Irish Lions Test caps, Rhys Webb is arguably Wales’ best all-round scrum half, but at 30 years old it looks like he will never feature in a World Cup. He missed the 2015 tournament due to an injury picked up in their warm-up match against Italy, then his chances of selection for this tournament were brought to an end when the new 60-cap rule was implemented shortly after the announcement that Webb would be signing for Toulon, making him ineligible for international selection.

10: Danny Cipriani:- I had resigned myself to Cipriani being left out, but that still didn’t make it any easier reading the England squad for the first time. Cipriani has revitalised his career with Sale, Wasps and now Gloucester, winning a host of awards and personal accolades this last season. Eddie Jones took him to South Africa where he set up Jonny May for the only try in their sole victory during their 2018 tour of South Africa. Sadly, it doesn’t look like he was given any real chance of making the squad by Eddie Jones.

11: Aphiwe Dyantyi:- The 2018 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year looked certain to travel to Japan this time last year, but he has missed out on a place in the squad after injury issues stopped him taking any part in this year’s matches… and now his career is in jeopardy following the announcement of a positive test for a banned substance.

12: Ngani Laumape:- Owen Franks’ omission may have been the big news from the All Blacks’ squad announcement, resulting in Laumape’s not getting the attention it deserved. 5 centres vying for 4 spots was always going to result in someone missing out but the NRL convert has been one of the stars of recent Super Rugby seasons and has impressed when given a chance in the national team. Of the 5 centres, he would have been my first choice in the squad.

13: Mathieu Bastareaud:- France have plenty of different options at centre, but it was still a shock to see the experience of Mathieu Bastareaud left out of the squad. A hard runner and dangerous at the breakdown, it appears that Bastareaud lost out as the coaches looked at more mobile options. Following his omission, he has retired from international rugby and after a loan spell at Lyon (what will see him playing in the back row), he will be moving to Major League Rugby to play for Rugby United New York.

14: Santiago Cordero:- One of the most exciting players in the Premiership last year, Cordero thrilled at the 2015 World Cup and has got back to that form over the last season. Equally capable on the wing or at fullback, he joins Isa as one of the shock omissions from Mario Ledesma’s squad having been deemed surplus to requirements due to playing outside of Argentina.

15: Damian McKenzie:- A capable 10 but a wonderful 15 at international level, it looked like Damian McKenzie was about to make the fullback position his own for the All Blacks, using the extra space to devastate defences as a playmaker. Unfortunately, McKenzie suffered a season-ending knee injury in April, leaving Steve Hansen to look at other options.

16: Tatafu Polota-Nau:- Moving away from Australia to play for Leicester Tigers was always going to be a risky move for Polota-Nau. An established and experienced hooker, he had enough caps to still be eligible, but it still opened up a chance which Folau Fainga’a and Tolu Latu took to become the main 2 options. I thought He may still make it in as a 3rd choice for his experience, but Michael Cheika chose instead to look to the future by selecting 22-year-old Jordan Uelese as the final hooker.

17: Rob Evans:- Despite being a former British and Irish Lion, Jack McGrath just misses out on a spot in the 23 to Rob Evans. Injuries have hampered Evans’ chance to train in the build-up to the tournament and in the end that proved costly, despite Evans being one of the best Welsh forwards in the loose.

18: Uini Atonio:- The La Rochelle behemoth was a regular in the France squad, but an injury early in the Six Nations opened up the opportunity for Demba Bamba to prove himself in senior international rugby. Throw in a return for the experienced Rabah Slimani and it made the battle for a spot on the plane much harder. Like Bastareaud, it looks like Atonio eventually missed out due to the coaches wanting more mobile options.

19: Devin Toner:- Probably the most shocking omission from the Ireland squad, Devin Toner has been a favourite of Joe Schmidt throughout his tenure, with his height and prowess at the lineout being a key reason. However, Tadhg Beirne’s return to Ireland and Jean Kleyn becoming eligible through residency made the Irish second row much deeper and in the end, Toner’s questionable form saw him left at home.

20: Pete Samu:- Capable of playing across the back row, Samu was beginning to establish himself in the Australian squad and finished the season well for the Brumbies. Unfortunately, an injury in the quarterfinals caused him to miss the start of this year’s international window and he saw himself fall behind Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Isi Naisarani and Jack Dempsey in the pecking order.

21: Danny Care:- A star for Harlequins and a regular in the England squad for so long, Care has seen himself plummet down the pecking order over the last year and has not featured for England since their win over Japan in November 2018, leaving England with very little experience at 9 behind Ben Youngs. Surgery following an injury in training has now denied him the chance of even being an injury replacement.

22: Gareth Anscombe:- Anscombe may have made himself the starting fly half but his early Wales career also saw him playing plenty of fullback, where he played for the Chiefs before moving north. Anscombe was almost certain to start at the World Cup, until he damaged his ACL and cartilage in his knee during the first warm-up match against England.

23: Huw Jones:- There were so many different ways I could go with this final spot, with names like Waisake Naholo, Chris Ashton, Juan Imhoff and Simon Zebo all eligible for this spot, but I chose to go a different way for this final spot and select Huw Jones. A few seasons back I would have argued that Jones was one of the best 13s in world rugby. However, a combination of injuries and falling out of favour at Glasgow saw his chances limited in a Scottish squad that is suddenly becoming very deep at centre.

 

Who are you most disappointed to see missing the World Cup?


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Premier League: August 2019

Premier League: August 2019

Premier League football is back! It feels like only yesterday that I was finishing off last season’s write-ups and I am back again this year to continue the monthly format. August saw us get through the majority of 4 rounds of fixtures but some things never change as Manchester City and Liverpool already occupy the top spots, with Liverpool the only team on maximum points with 4 wins including a 3-1 victory against Arsenal. A 2-2 draw for City at the Etihad sees them 2 points behind but still unbeaten, while Leicester City are the only other team in the league to still be unbeaten. At the other end of the table, Watford’s lone draw sees them bottom, with newly-promoted Aston Villa and Norwich City also occupying the drop zone.

VAR from the finished article

After the amount of time that I have spent in the last 2 seasons complaining about the number of wrong decisions and lack of support for officials, I couldn’t really talk about the first month of the season and not take a moment to give my thoughts on how VAR is getting on.

Though many people seem to be completely against it and now willing to give it a chance, I think that VAR has done a generally good job so far. The vast majority of its decisions have been spot on and I would not say that there have been any monumental errors from VAR.

Many people (fans, players and pundits alike) debated the merits of VAR after Leander Dendoncker’s disallowed goal for Wolves in Round 1 at Leicester and Gabriel Jesus’ disallowed last minute winner against Spurs in Week 2. In both cases, the goals were disallowed as the ball came to the scorer after contact with the hand of a teammate – though in both cases it looked unintentional. VAR came in for a lot of grief for these decisions, but it worked perfectly and any criticism should instead be directed towards the new handball rules, which state that any contact with the hand or arm by an attacking player in the build-up to a goal is an offence. This rule was made very clear to everyone throughout the summer, yet the sight of Wolves and City players arguing with the referee was disgusting and I was furious with the way the media focused on the merits of VAR – big shout-out to Sam Quek who did correctly state in her column that it was the handball rule that was wrong not VAR – when discussing these decisions rather than the unfair handball rules, which will only feed into the public’s dislike of VAR.

Unfortunately there are still situations where the decisions are horribly wrong. The Premier League appears to have decided that any subjective decisions will not be overruled, so any incidents like players being dragged down in the box at set pieces. The introduction of VAR is a step in the right direction, now the league needs to make sure offences are being picked up appropriately.

Early days

August was a very mixed month for Chelsea. With a new manager arriving in the form of Frank Lampard, a transfer ban until next summer and star player Eden Hazard leaving for Real Madrid, this was never going to be easy. Their first 4 league matches have resulted in a big loss to Manchester United, 2 draws and a win over Norwich. Across all competitions, Lampard became the first Chelsea manager to go winless in his first 3 games since Rafa Benitez, and just 2 weeks into the league season, the morons on social media had already started the hashtag #LampardOut.

Personally, I think that while the team has not got off to the best start, there is plenty to be happy about. The transfer ban has led to Lampard giving a chance to a number of young English players and we are already seeing some great performances from Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount among others. The team still has much to learn, but they will learn quickly from playing in these matches and though the first couple of months may be hard, I feel confident that they will come through and be all the better for it.

This is a team that needs time. Providing the improvement is clear as the season goes on, Lampard should be given a free pass this season given he was unable to sign any players, allowing him to focus on building the team this season for a title challenge in 2020/21.

Pick one… Liverpool edition

In Mo Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool have one of the best front lines in European football. But if you had to pick just one of these players to build a team around, who would you go for?

Since the start of the 2017/2018 season, each of the players has almost the same number of appearances. Mané’s played the least games (69) but has an impressive 34 goals – almost 1 goal every 2 matches. Salah has an incredible record of 57 goals in 78 games. Surprisingly considering he is the central striker, Firmino has the worst return of the trio with 29 goals from 75 matches.

On those figures, Salah would be the obvious pick, however I would actually go a different direction if forced to pick just one. His diving issues aside, whenever I watch Salah, I find myself disappointed by how selfish he can get in the final third. Mané is another who I have often looked at and thought to be quite selfish and while I completely agreed that he should have been given the ball when wide open against Burnley, I thought his strop after being substituted was childish. If I was going to pick one of these players to build the team around, it would be Firmino, The Brazilian is a highly skilled front man and a proven goal scorer, but more importantly than that, he always looks like he is putting the team above his own personal success, being fully willing to turn provider if one of his teammates is in a better position to score, probably in part due to his versatility, being able to play a wider or slightly deeper role as well as leading the line.

If I was building a XI, Bobby Firmino would be my man. Who would you pick?

Eyes On: Ireland v Wales – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: Ireland v Wales – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Ireland and Wales faced off at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon in their final warm-up match ahead of the Rugby World Cup. With Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland head coach finishing ending in Japan, this was his last game on Irish soil and it had a fairytale ending. Rob Kearney put the hosts ahead with a try, but Hadleigh Parkes’ try and 5 points from Leigh Halfpenny’s boot gave Wales a 7-10 lead. The second half could only be described as a siege as it felt like the entire 40 minutes was spent in the Welsh 22, with Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan crossing to give Ireland a 19-10 victory that earned them the #1 spot in the World Rankings for the first time in their history.

Ireland

Devin Toner’s omission from the Irish squad was understandable given the depth in the Irish second row and his own drop in form, but it was also a surprise for one big reason: Ireland’s lineout has been anything but secure this year. Rory Best, Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell are all highly impressive players, but they have struggled to get consistency when throwing in.

You can imagine that if Paul O’Connell had hair, he would be ripping it out watching recent matches; the lineout used to be such a weapon for Ireland, but it currently feels as likely to hurt them as it does their opponent. The set piece is such a vital piece of international rugby and losing the ball on your own throw as regular as Ireland have been is a big worry. They may be able to get away with it int heir pool, but it could prove costly against Scotland and will certainly be an issue if they make it to the knockouts and have to take on either New Zealand or South Africa.

Wales

Wales have a fantastic defence, but even the best of defences will be breached a couple of times if not given a break. In the second half against Ireland, Wales could not stop defending because they could not get any significant time on the ball. This match highlighted the big worry with the Wales squad that may prove costly int he World Cup: they lack carriers in the pack.

When you watch teams like England, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, France and Australia, they all have a number of forwards who will carry over and over again and regularly make at least a metre or 2 to keep the team going forwards. Even Italy are starting to get this with players like Jake Polledri and Seb Negri. Wales seriously lacked that in this match. Their pack (both starters and replacements) combined for a measly 30 metres, which was only 4 more than Josh van der Flier made on his own. It is this lack of carriers that made the omissions of Samson Lee and Rob Evans even more of a surprise as they are comfortable taking the ball in hand.

Phil, Gez and I all had Wales making it to the semifinals and eventually finishing 3ʳᵈ when we made our predictions for the tournament. If they don’t get their forwards carrying more, they will be lucky to make it past the quarterfinals.


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Eyes On: Australia v Samoa – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: Australia v Samoa – RWC2019 Warm-ups

With their first World Cup match just weeks away, Australia finished off their series of warm-up games by taking on Samoa in Sydney. The Wallabies made a number of changes for this match but still took a 22-3 lead with tries from Adam Coleman, Marika Koroibete, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto. Samoa made a comeback after the break with a brace from Dwayne Polataivaia, before 2 late tries from Dwayne Haylett-Petty and Matt To’omua secured a 34-15 victory.

Australia

Despite making a number of changes, Australia’s attack was great to watch in this match, especially the first half. They kept a high tempo, which really caused the Samoan defence issues as it stopped them getting reset.

A big part of the way they kept the tempo high was by not waiting for the scrum half to reach the breakdown, instead trusting the forwards to assess the situation, realise that the ruck had been won and get the ball out to the backs themselves. Not only that, but 6 of the starting pack ran for 10+ metres in this game. This was a set of forwards who were comfortable on the ball and were trusted to do what is right.

Now it is just a matter of waiting to see if this approach continues in the World Cup. It’s one thing letting the team play freely against a team you are confident of beating; its something entirely different to take the risk of playing with less structure in a big game against a stingy defence.

Samoa

Watching the first half, I was shocked by how far Samoa had fallen. The team that was famous for hard runners and hard hitters like the Tuilagi Brothers and Brian Lima has fallen so far over the last couple of cycles, to the point that they only qualified for the World Cup via the repechage. I remember a team that were always going to be a physical challenge but also play great rugby and simply lack the organisation and discipline to regularly beat the Tier 1 nations. Watching this game, there was nobody putting in the hits, players were dropping off tackles everywhere (Koroibete’s try was embarrassing defence from Samoa) and there was very little to write home about in attack.

Things quickly changed in the second half, though, as Paul Alo-Emile and Logovi’i Mulipola came on for Michael Alaalatoa and Jordan Lay in the front row. The impact was immediate, as they began to take control of the scrum, which led to a try just a few minutes later as they forced a wheel that allowed them to break down the blind side for Polataivaia’s first try. That try really seemed to flip a switch and bring back a little of the old Samoa. They suddenly looked up for a fight and quickly scored again through Polataivaia, while Australia were forced to regroup in order to get back in control.

Pool A is one of the more open groups. Ireland and Scotland would be expected to qualify for the knockouts with Japan coming 3ʳᵈ, but if Samoa can regularly play like in the first 20 minutes of the second half, then they could definitely put themselves in the mix.


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Eyes On: New Zealand v Tonga – RWC2019 Warm-ups

Eyes On: New Zealand v Tonga – RWC2019 Warm-ups

After a couple of weeks off, New Zealand played their last Test before attempting to win their third consecutive Rugby World Cup. Facing off against Tonga in Waikato, the All Blacks fielded a strong lineup that put their opponents to the sword, scoring 14 tries through 9 different scorers, while Beauden Barrett and debutant Josh Ioane added 14 and 8 points with the boot respectively. Tonga did get a consolation try in the final minutes through captain Siale Piutau, with Tane Takulua kicking the conversion for a 92-7 final score.

New Zealand

Having just gone 92-0 up with about 15 minutes left, New Zealand made an interesting decision to remove Ryan Crotty but not bring anyone on in his place, instead finishing the match with 14 men. Speaking after the game, Steve Hansen explained that part of the reason was as they did not want to risk Crotty any further as he returned from injury, while it was also a chance to put themselves under pressure and replicate going a man down in a match situation.

Personally, I don’t know if I believe that not wanting to risk Crotty for the full 80 was really part of the thinking, as if this was the case then they would have removed him rather than Ben Smith or Beauden Barrett. I think that they were always planning to use this as a chance to test themselves a man down.

Part of me likes the thinking here. Going a man down in a big match can be a killer and no training will really replicate a matchday situation. However, they did not really react to the situation, continuing to play a high-tempo game with quick-tap penalties rather than slowing everything down as they usually would to use up the 10 minutes. It was telling that they started to give away a number of penalties after going down a man and eventually conceded in this period despite barely being troubled in the first 70 minutes.

The thing that doesn’t sit quite right to me though is that I can’t help but feel that (intentional or not) it was a little disrespectful to do this against Tonga in a capped Test. I definitely feel that there is a place for this sort of situational practice in a match, but I don’t know if that should be happening in a capped Test. I would rather see an uncapped match in the build-up to a tournament where teams announce ahead of time that they will be running situations like being a man down, that way it does not feel like the Test or the opponent is being disregarded.

Tonga

As someone who does not get to watch Tonga play very often, this match was disappointing. With Sevu Reece, Ben Smith and Codie Taylor all scoring in the first quarter, the game was already over as a competition.

Watching the game, Tonga didn’t really do anything horrible. They had 48% possession and 51% territory, while New Zealand actually attempted 3 tackles more than Tonga. What proved the difference was the Tonga defence. It set itself up very narrow to avoid being broken through the middle, but that just let the All Blacks play it wide and get around them that way, while turnovers proved costly. What it came down to was that the Tongan defence were unable to deal with the might and skill of the All Blacks once their front-up defence was left chasing.

Tonga have the misfortune of being in an strong World Cup Pool, hopefully they can do some work on their defence over the next couple of weeks to deal with the opposition once they get past the initial defensive line.


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