France v Wales

France v Wales

With the 2020 Six Nations set to finally conclude next week and the Autumn Nations Cup begin straight after, France and Wales met at the Stade de France for a highly entertaining warm-up match.

Les Bleus may have won the Six Nations fixture back in February, but they were soon behind as some lovely passing from Justin Tipuric helped put Leigh Halfpenny over in the corner, Biggar landing the conversion and a penalty soon after. The French soon got going though, and after Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont broke to bring possession all the way to the Welsh try line, prop Cyril Baille crashed over from close range. France were growing into the game and after another penalty from Biggar, an offload from Virimi Vakatawa released Teddy Thomas down the right wing and he played the ball back inside to send Antoine Dupont over for the try, with Ntamack adding the conversion to put the French ahead. Their lead was soon increased as Gaël Fickou put Vakatawa through a hole and Dupont was again found supporting on an inside line for a second try in quick succession, Ntamack nailing the kick to make it 21-13 at the break.

The second half started close, with both kickers adding 3 points to their team’s score, while the closest either team came to a try in the 3ʳᵈ quarter was as French number 8 Grégory Alldritt ran a beautiful out-to-in line to breakthrough the Welsh goal-line defence, only to fail to keep hold of the pass. The French struck soon after the hour mark, though, as Josh Adams – who had moved to fullback following Halfpenny’s departure – failed to collect a high ball from Dupont, which the scrum half then collected before breaking through a gap in the Welsh defence and feeding his captain Charles Ollivon for another try. The Welsh kept coming, though Biggar (who had been struggling with an injury since the tenth minute) missed a couple of kicks at goal, but after Ntamack failed to clean up a kick through by Nick Tompkins, George North collected and fed Tompkins to bring the Welsh up to the French goal line, with Nicky Smith forcing himself over a few phases later. Any chance of a Welsh comeback was soon ended however, as Teddy Thomas chased and collected his own chip to go over in the corner, with Ntamack kicking the conversion to secure a 38-21 victory.

French flair

If the Irish were watching this match in preparation for next weekend’s Six Nations fixture, I can imagine they got a little nervous.

This may be one of the best French teams I can remember watching, and there is the potential that they will only get better over the next few years as the younger players gain experience and more players from the recently successful U20s team make the step up to the seniors. Right now, all the politics that always seems to plague French squads appears to be gone, and the pressure is off the team, leading to incredible performances.

Antoine Dupont is securing himself as one of the best scrum halves in the world, while Virimi Vakatawa is almost unplayable when on form, with an incredible blend of strength, pace and footwork, and a killer offload when all that fails! Teddy Thomas’ abilities have never been in question and Romain Ntamack looks experienced beyond his 21 years and 17 caps. And then in the pack, you are getting a great blend of sheer physical power and more technical prowess.

In this game, the French attack was pummelling away at the Welsh defensive line throughout, but as they grew into the game, they started to find and manipulate the gaps, especially around wherever Vakatawa could be found, while Dupont always seemed to be in just the right place whenever a teammate broke through.

Assuming the French can stay away from all the infighting and politics that seems to always destroy them, I would make France my favourites for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Risky business

When Gareth Anscombe first started showing signs of discomfort during Wales’ World Cup warm-up match against England, I felt that he should be removed immediately to avoid the risk that a small niggle could potentially become something worse. The doctors chose to let him continue, but he went off a little later with his World Cup dream over and an ACL injury that he is still to return from. Obviously, I can’t say that keeping him on the pitch made things worse, but in a “warm-up” or “friendly” ahead of a tournament, the last thing I want to do is risk one of my key players if they are carrying a knock.

So imagine my surprise when Dan Biggar started struggling with an injury to his leg just 10 minutes in, but continued to play until the 73ʳᵈ minute. Now, credit to Biggar that he is a warrior who doesn’t want to go off and let his team down, but there were a number of moments throughout the match where he was either clearly limping or not looking fully comfortable, and I can’t help feeling that this injury helped contribute to his uncharacteristically poor 57% success rate off the tee. I also noticed that he didn’t seem to be as much of a figure in the kick chase as usual, a big loss considering just how impressive he is in the air.

What makes the decision to keep him on even more perplexing is that they had a replacement fly half on the bench in the form of Rhys Patchell, who could have very easily taken over the running of the team at any point, but was instead wasted on a 7-minute cameo with the victory already out of Wales’ reach.

It will be interesting to see how Wayne Pivac acts in the future of any key players take a knock.

The beginning of the end?

While it is wonderful to see Taulupe Faletau back in the Welsh line-up, I couldn’t help question before the match if he was still able to hold a spot in the starting XV, let along the wider squad. 80 minutes later and I still don’t feel any more confident.

The Bath number 8 was arguably one of the best in the world at his position and at 29 should still have a handful of good years in him, but he has missed so much time over recent years with a number of injuries and looks a shadow of the player he used to.

He used to be a real threat with ball in hand in wide areas, but in this game only carried 4 times for a tiny 9 metres. Defensively, he was still reliable with a 100% tackle success rate but that was only from 9 tackles, far off the total of Justin Tipuric, who you would much rather have getting over the ball after the tackle rather than making the tackle himself. The only other bit to Faletau’s game was his cleaning up, which he did to some degree with the scrum coming under heavy pressure.

But is tackling and cleaning up really enough from a Tier 1 starting number 8 these days? The Welsh need physical carriers in the pack to help them get on the front foot and make up for the loss of Haleigh Parkes at 12 and as such, I think that the team would benefit far more from Ross Moriarty or Josh Navidi (who should be nailed on as a starter) rather than Faletau. There is only so long that a player can be picked on past performances. To me, it is time for Faletau to earn his place back in the squad.

Six Nations 2020: Ireland v Italy

Six Nations 2020: Ireland v Italy

Almost 8 months after the 2020 Six Nations came to an early end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition resumed today with Ireland’s Round 4 match against Italy.

The Italians were the clear underdogs going into the game but had the brighter start as Seb Negri burs through the defence and into the 22 before passing to Marcello Violi. The scrum half was brought down just short of the line, but a cynical penalty from his opposite number Conor Murray saw the Munsterman sent to the sin bin, while debutant fly half Paolo Garbisi bisected the posts with the penalty. The Irish soon hit back though and a series of phases on the Italian line saw CJ Stander cross for the opening try despite them still being a man down, Jonathan Sexton nailing the converson and a penalty soon after. Like last night’s match between Scotland and Georgia, the game soon settled into a tense affair for the rest of the opening half hour, until Leinster wing Hugo Keenan was sent over in the corner for a try on debut. It looked like he had another just moments later after being set up by a great counterattacking run from fullback Jacob Stockdale, but the try was ruled out for an obstruction by James Ryan that allowed Stockdale to break through the defensive line. The Italians used the resultant penalty to set themselves in the Irish 22, but after Caelan Dorris won a turnover at the breakdown, the Irish countered and Keenan won the chase of Conor Murray’s kick for his second try of the game, Sexton kicking the extras for a 24-3 halftime score.

The Azzurri tightened things up at the start of the second half and began to get more possession, but still struggled to make anything of it, but when Ireland got the ball back, Sexton found his miss pass intercepted by Edoardo Padovani, who dotted down under the posts. The Irish soon hit back, with a driving maul resulting in a try on debut for flanker Will Connors, while Sexton crashed over for another try just minutes later to ensure the win was guaranteed with 15 minutes remaining. The Irish knew that they were set to go top of the table with this result, but with a trip to France still to come, it was important to score every point they could, and after turning over the ball deep in the Italian half, they spread the ball while to put Bundee Aki over in the corner, before scoring their 7ᵗʰ try entering the final minute as a rolling maul propelled Dave Heffernan over the line. Replacement fly half Ross Byrne chose to take a quick conversion to force the restart in the hopes of 1 more try, but this ended up proving costly as the Irish knocked on the high ball and after a number of phases in midfield, Garbisi broke through a gap and made it over for a consolation try, kicking the conversion for a final score of 50-17.

Looking to the future

One look at today’s Italy line-up – or the wider squad as a whole – will tell you that Franco Smith is already looking ahead to RWC2023 by selecting a younger and less experienced squad who will be coming into their prime com the World Cup. Fullback Jayden Hayward was the only player in the 23 in his 30s (with Leonardo Ghiraldini the only other one in the wider squad), while 7 of the 23 involved were 24 or younger, including 20-year-old fly half Garbisi. I also wouldn’t have been surprised to see 19-year-old scrum half Stephen Varney involved in the game following some scintillating displays for Gloucester since the restart, only for him to suffer a positive COVID-19 test.

There is the short-term risk that this lack of experience may make it harder for Italy to win games, but these players are coming in off some success with the U20s and improving performances from the Pro14 franchises, so this freshness may actually turn out to be exactly what the team needs right now. If nothing else though, they will be an experienced unit come 2023 and the World Cup.

Crash ball Canna

Carlo Canna is a talented fly half and playmaker. What he is not is an obvious pick to be a crash ball 12, and yet that is how he sees himself being used by Franco Smith. Fair play to Canna, he puts in the effort in this role, but (as you would expect) it is with limited success. This leads to Italy having to play with a deep line in order to try to make it to the outside, but when they are then caught in midfield, they are in danger due to most of their players now being ahead of the ball.

Italy have some wonderful ball carriers, especially in the forwards, and yet it is so rare to see them getting a chance to run at the defence outside 1or 2 men from the breakdown, where the defence is still tightly grouped so a line-break is unlikely. You just need to see Jake Polledri running riot for Gloucester or Seb Negri’s break in the opening minutes of this game to see just how dangerous this team can be if they are playing the right way.

Franco Smith needs to make a decision what he wants at 12. If he wants a second playmaker to help take the pressure off Garbisi, then he needs to have the forwards getting the ball in wider positions and have the blindside winger and Luca Morisi attacking the line more often. And if he wants his 12 to be a North to South runner, then he needs to change the personnel he is selecting.

Back row balance

Ireland went for a very different looking back row for this match, but it looked highly effective and I would not be surprised to see them go for something similar again.

While CJ Stander remained at 8, he was given some carrying support by playing Caelan Doris at 6. What is great about this pairing is that they are both different styles of carrier, with Stander making the hard yards from a high number of carries (74m from 21 carries – just over 3.5 metres per carry) while Doris is more of an effective carrier in open play (6 carriers for 33m – 5.5 metres per carry).

More than that, though, the selectin of Will Connors at 7 seemed to suggest that Andy Farrell knew he had plenty of turnover specialists throughout the team, so instead brought in a player who, much like Dan Lydiate used to do for Wales, would just tackle all day long, allowing players like Stander, Doris, Cian Healy and Tadhg Beirne to get in over the ball and make the turnover.

There will of course be tougher tests than Italy, but I think that Ireland should test this balance again in their upcoming matches.

Guinness Six Nations

Scotland v Georgia

Scotland v Georgia

With the resumption of the Six Nations and the new Autumn Nations Cup just around the corner, Scotland looked to get a preparatory Test match under their belt in a deserted BT Murrayfield against Georgia. The conclusion of last season’s Pro14 and beginning of this season’s league meant that the Scots had a fair amount of rugby already under their belt and they were the quicker team out of the blocks as Darcy Graham took a quick-tap penalty and forced his way over for the opening try within 2 minutes. Though the Lelos produced very little in attack, their defence held relatively firm for the next 25 minutes, until a stupid penalty from prop Lekso Kaulashvili allowed Scotland to kick to the corner and drive over from 5m out, with Fraser Brown dotting down in his first match as captain. Scotland were growing into the game and their next try came shortly after, as Hamish Watson was sent over in the corner to make the score 17-0, while replacement back row Cornell du Preez was just held up over the line with the final play of the half.

The Georgians struck first after the break and scored their first ever try at Murrayfield through Akaki Tabutsadze, with fly half Tedo Abzhandadze adding the extras. Any hopes of a Georgian comeback were swiftly denied as Fraser Brown dotted down from another driving maul, while his replacement Stuart McInally scored in similar fashion as the game reached the hour mark. As the Lelos began to tire, the Scots began to run riot with a 10/12 combination of Finn Russell and Adam Hastings, and an inside pass put debutant Duhan van der Merwe through to score under the posts. With Georgia’s replacement scrum half in the bin for the final 10 minutes following a deliberate knock-on, Scotland found themselves with another 5m lineout, but rather than drive this one over, they drew in the Georgian pack to defend the maul before breaking off to the blind side, with McInally and George Horne putting Graham over for his second try. As the clock ticked down, Blair Kinghorn played a hopeful kick forward but his chase looked in vain until Giorgi Kveseladze misread the bouncing ball and saw it go through his legs, leaving Kinghorn with a simple finish, which Hastings converting for a final score of 48-7.

Rusty Lelos

While Scots had the benefit of the Pro14 to get back to match readiness ahead of this match, many of the Lelos were coming in having not played a game… and it really showed! Though their defence did a good job of holding out for the most part in open play, they were not able to cause any real problems for the attacking Scots and they were completely dominated by the Scottish catch and drive. Meanwhile, the Georgian attack only had 2 moments of note: 1 driving maul that earned a penalty and the Tabutsadze try. Aside from that, they struggled for most of the match to make any positive metres in attack – and when they did, they usually ended up getting turned over – and this led to Abzhandadze having to play from a deeper position, which stopped the backs having any real influence on the game.

With the French-based Lelos going back to their clubs next week, then games against England, Wales and Ireland on subsequent weekends (how these Autumn Nations Cup pools can be considered balanced is beyond me!), the Lelos are going to have to work very hard to get anything from their Autumn.

Russell/Hastings axis

While the scots looked OK in attack over the first 55 minutes, they really came to life when Finn Russell came off the bench to replace James Lang, with Adam Hastings moving out to inside centre.

There was an immediate impact to the Scottish attack, as the ball was being spread more often and quicker, while there also appeared to be more variety to the play, such as the inside pass that put van der Merwe through to score. With George Horne coming on to up the tempo at 9 and 2 talented playmakers, the back line really came alive and this is what the team needs with 2 wingers as talented as van der Merwe and Graham. Of course, Stuart Hogg would add a playmaker option from 15 when he is available, but not to the same degree as a Russell/Hastings 10/12 axis.

Scotland will definitely face harder tests than the Georgian defence, but I would definitely be interested to see how this playmaker axis would work against Tier 1 defences.

Faceless villain

Regular readers of my articles will know that I have a soft spot for Tier 2 nations and them being given the chance to compete against and develop into Tier 1 nations. So imagine my disappointment at the way this match has been handled by the media for the British public.

While it was great to see the game on free-to-air television, the ITV4 broadcast saw 2 Scottish pundits (Jim Hamilton and Sir Ian McGeechan) who were only ever going to speak about their own nation. Then when it came to the match, we were left with Simon Ward and former Scotland international Scott Hastings, who were quick to praise the Scots for doing even the most basic thing right and barely made an effort to talk about the Lelos.

Even going onto the BBC Sport website, there were no articles ahead of the game announcing the Georgian squad (just the Scots) and the article titled “What you need to know about the Georgians” included no information about their style of play or star players, instead focusing on a previous national anthem faux pas, a shooting at the union’s offices and the fact that the union is bankrolled by a billionaire. With such pathetic reporting, the casual fan is unable to learn anything about the team and they are left as basically a faceless villain for the British heroes to face, and nobody is then going to champion the cause of getting them regular rugby in Tier 1 competitions – let’s not forget that Georgia are only in the Autumn Nations Cup this season because Japan pulled out!

The Lelos deserve more respect than this from the British media, and I hope that there is more balance during the Autumn Nations Cup.

Bracket Breakdown: Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament 2020

Bracket Breakdown: Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament 2020

WARNING: This will contain spoilers for the recent Team Championship match and the Singles Tournament Final!

 

 

The new Teams Champions have been crowned (congratulations to Shazam!) and with the Singles Tournament reaching it’s climax, we will soon be turning our attention to the upcoming Teams Tournament. Each faction will be sending 1 team into the tournament and the winners will get the chance to challenge Shazam! for the Teams Title at Spectacular.

Now, it’s safe to say that my other tournament brackets this year have been completely wrong (usually within 1 or 2 matches) so now is my chance to try to salvage some credibility with my predictions for the Teams bracket.

So first of all, with a number of new teams forming, let’s see who will be in the tournament:

  • Final Exam ~ Paul Oyama & Lon Harris ~ 3-1 (2KO)
  • Category 9 ~ Brandon Hanna & Jader Paramo ~ 0-0
  • The Witching Power ~ Haleigh Foutch & Perri Nemiroff ~ 0-0
  • TOM & Paul ~ TOM & Paul Preston ~ 0-1
  • Founding Fathers ~ Dan Murrell & John Rocha ~ 5-3 (4KO)
  • The Misfits ~ Eric Zipper & Adam Witt ~ 0-0
  • Odd Couple ~ Jeff Sneider & Marc Andreyko ~ 6-4 (3KO)
  • Deception ~ Marisol McKee & Adam Collins ~ 0-0
  • The Lethal Weapons ~ Ethan Erwin & Andrew Ghai ~ 0-0

feat MTS Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament 2020 bracket

Play In Match

The Witching Power v The Misfits: 4 veterans of the game join to form 2 rookie teams and give us a very enticing play in match. Haleigh Foutch has not competed yet this year so may be a little rusty, but I would expect that the online format may actually suit her, while Perri caught me out with how competitive she was in the Singles tournament. It hasn’t been a good season for Adam Witt, but perhaps the pairing with Eric Zipper – who has drastically improved under Kaiser’s tutelage – could be just what he needs. The only issue I see here is that Zipper’s IG knowledge (which could have been a weapon against some teams) may be somewhat cancelled out by Foutch and Nemiroff, so I have to give the narrowest of victories to The Witching Power.

Round 1

TOM & Paul v Final Exam: This really hasn’t been the season Paul Preston would have hoped for and I’m afraid I can’t see it getting any better with this match. TOM & Paul were meant to be the elite team for The Den, but an early loss and the success of The Pride saw their chances limited, while Preston also suffered a crushing defeat to Zipper in the Singles tournament. Final Exam meanwhile have played 4 matches together (many of them online) so have the experience of competing in this format. Combine with that a strong tactical link with manager Winston Marshall, while TOM’s match against Jader Paramo suggested there are still communication issues with Kate Mulligan. TOM and Paul are knowledgeable competitors so I expect them to keep it close, but I see Paul and Lon advancing.

Founding Fathers v The Witching Power: There’s no easy way to put this, but I can’t see any situation where the Founding Fathers lose this. Murrell and Rocha are so experienced both in the Schmeodown as a whole and even the online format. It’s fair to imagine that (barring a hideous spin) they could have only dropped a couple of points by the end of Round 2. Perri and Haleigh are great competitors, but I don’t think they have the breadth and depth of knowledge to go near-perfect in this match, and I can see the Founding Fathers winning without having to answer in Round 3.

Odd Couple v Category 9: The Odd Couple are former champions so arguably one of the favourites going into the tournament and find themselves against a rookie and someone who has only played in IG. It’s a strange pairing by manager Ken Napzok but it could be effective, as I imagine that Hanna knows enough to feel confident in the division while also having the potential of the IG slice to use as a weapon in Round 2, while Jader has impressed since winning the Golden Ticket in Orlando last year. I expect Category 9 to put up a fight and make people take notice, but I think that Sneider and Andreyko are to well-rounded as a pair to lose this match.

Deception v The Lethal Weapons: This match is anything but easy to predict. Ethan Erwin is a former Singles Champion and looks back to his best this season, while Andrew Ghai has had some ups and downs but has generally been a high quality B player in teams. Ghai will provide the strategic expertise while Ethan is potentially an upgrade on Drew McWeeny. Rookies Marisol McKee and Adam Collins have both had strong starts to their Schmoedown careers, with “The KOyote Coyote” going on an incredible run in the Singles Tournament and “Lady Justice” coming away with an enhanced reputation despite a loss to Paul Oyama leaving her at 1-1. It’s easy enough to imagine that Deception and KOrruption have been regular sparring partners this season, while Erwin and Ghai have probably not had as much time together due to their work -and it must also be noted that Ghai has been vocal about not liking the online format, which Collins and McKee are used to from their time in the fan leagues. I’ll give the slightest of advantages to Deception, and hope that Ghai and Erwin can stick together as a team into Season 8.

Semifinals

Final Exam v Founding Fathers: This will be an interesting match. Paul Oyama has shown he has the ability to beat Dan Murrell 1v1, so I expect the pair to be close, which means this could come down to a battle between Lon Harris and John Rocha. “The Delinquent” has had his ups and downs this season but Rocha has appeared to miss the extra boost that a crowd gives him. I think the Founding Fathers will have enough to get by, but it will be close.

Odd Couple v Deception: The Odd Couple will be coming up against a much more dangerous opponent in the semis than the opening round. Sneider and Andreyko have the experience of working together, but that also means that Deception have more game tape to work off, while McKee and Collins’ experience in the online format will help them communicate effectively. Collins just ended Sneider’s run in Singles, I think that he and McKee have the depth and breadth of knowledge to do the same to his Teams campaign and defeat the former champions.

Final

Founding Fathers v Deception: And so we come to the climax of the tournament as Deception face off against former Team Champions for the second match running. As a tournament final, this should be a 5-round match, and I think that this could be where the Founding Fathers have the slight advantage as they will have the experience of playing the online speed round – though I’m sure Shannon Barney will do everything she can to get them prepped as KOrruption have experience from their recent title matches. As much as I would love to go for the underdogs, I can see the former champions pulling out a narrow victory to set up a Title Match against Shazam! at Spectacular.

So that’s how I see the tournament panning out; what does your bracket look like?

2020 Bledisloe Cup #2: New Zealand v Australia

2020 Bledisloe Cup #2: New Zealand v Australia

With the Rugby Championship kicking off in just 2 weeks, New Zealand hosted Australia at Eden Park for the second of four Bledisloe Cup matches in 2020. With last week’s draw meaning that 2 victories will be enough to win the series, both teams were up for a physical encounter in much more favourable conditions for running rugby.

After an open start, Richie Mo’unga opened the scoring from the tee. Some impressive counterattacking from Mo’unga and Dane Coles gave Beauden Barrett a platform to put a grubber in behind and pressure from Jordie Barrett caused Marika Koroibete to carry it over his own line for a 5m scrum to New Zealand. Jack Goodhue took the ball on a crash course to the try line on the first phase and Aaron Smith slipped under the challenge of Ned Hanigan to score the try, Mo’unga kicking the conversion. Australia looked to hit back and when Ned Hanigan slipped through Joe Moody’s attempted tackle to break deep into the All Blacks 22, a pass out to Taniela Tupou drew in the wide defenders and quick ball saw the overlap exploited for Koroibete to cross in the corner, James O’Connor making it 10-7 at the break with the conversion.

New Zealand were out of the blocks quicker after the break and extended their lead in just over 2 minutes, after Caleb Clarke broke into the 22 and a series of phases gave Mo’unga and Jack Goodhue the platform to send Jordie Barrett over in the corner, Mo’unga missing the touchline conversion. A loose kick from O’Connor and questionable chase from his teammates saw Clarke rampage through the defence, eventually being stopped in the 22, but the effort had left a massive overlap to the left and Ardie Savea rode Filipo Daugunu’s tackle to score. Australia needed to hit back and it looked like they had as Koroibete ran through Mo’unga to cross in the corner, only for the fly half to hang on and roll with the contact to hold the ball up. The chance wasn’t gone for the Wallabies, though, as they had a penalty advantage and chose to go for the 5m catch and drive lineout. Brandon Paenga-Amosa managed to dot the ball down over the line, but a referral to the TMO saw the try disallowed for a double movement, and the All Blacks were able to clear their lines from the resultant penalty. This was a big hit to the Wallabies, and momentum completely shifted away from them just minutes later as Mo’unga put Patrick Tuipulotu through a gap. The lock offloaded to Sam Cane and the captain cut inside the covering defender to score under the posts, with Mo’unga converting to make a 27-7 scoreline that would last to the final whistle.

From Blue to Black

Caleb Clarke may have only been making his first start after coming on for his debut last week, but his performance rightly deserved the standing ovation he received from the crowd when he was replaced and it’s easy to imagine that the former 7s star may have already secured the 11 jersey.

For those who hadn’t seen him playing for the Blues during Super Rugby Aotearoa, the son of Eroni Clarke (All Black #919, 24 caps) showed in his late cameo last week that he was a strong carrier on the wing. This week, with conditions much more favourable to running rugby, the 21-year old ran rampant, finishing with vastly more metres than anyone else on the pitch and leaving defenders in his wake. Not only is he incredibly strong and difficult to put down, but he is an elusive runner and you need to ensure as a defender that you go low and hang on for dear life to make sure that he can’t right himself mid-fall and carry on, as he did a few times in this match.

He will certainly have harder tests defensively as Filipo Daugunu had a quiet game, but such is his game-changing talent, it is hard to imagine him being left out of the side if fit. It looks like All Black #1187 is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Spoiling game

The Wallabies’ new lock pairing of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Matt Philip has really impressed me over these last 2 matches. While they were less of a feature in the loose this week, Philip especially stood out for me at the lineout.

Neither Codie Taylor nor Dane Coles had the best of times throwing at the lineouts during Super Rugby Aotearoa and with Tuipulotu and Tupou Vaa’i at lock, they had unfamiliar targets to throw at. Already this is going to make the lineouts more tricky than usual, but Philip did a great job of not just trying to get up and compete against the All Blacks, but also disrupt them before the throw by making as much noise as he can in order to put off the All Blacks and potentially make them mishear the call.

I was surprised last week to see Rob Simmons only on the bench, but right now I agree with Dave Rennie’s decision and think that Salakaia-Loto and Philip are the top pairing the Wallabies can field.

Costly injuries

With the Rugby Championship (and the third Bledisloe Cup match) just 2 weeks away, both teams saw a couple of influential players go down injured in this game.

Matt To’omua went off just before half time after struggling for a few minutes with an injury that appeared to come about as he kicked a clearance – possibly a groin/hip flexor. The Rebels playmaker is a key part of this Wallabies backline, controlling the game along with James O’Connor while also leading the Wallabies defensive effort. It was no surprise to see the All Blacks piling on most of their points after he had been replaced.

Meanwhile for the All Blacks, Sam Whitelock was missing from this match due to concussion and there were 2 more head injuries for them in this game, with Joe Moody being knocked out after getting his head on the wrong place trying to tackle Ned Hanigan in the build-up to Koroibete’s try, while debutant Peter Umaga-Jensen failed a late Head Injury Assessment. You would hope that 2 weeks would be sufficient for all 3 to make a recovery, but head injuries are tricky things to judge and you need to be extra careful with them. What makes the potential loss of Umaga-Jensen (himself a replacement in the squad for the injured Braydon Ennor) more of a worry is that last weekend’s 13 Reiko Ioane missed this match through injury. That leaves very few options behind Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue, though I would not be against seeing Jordie Barrett cover the centre position – he is wasted on the wing – to create space on the right wing for Will Jordan, who would himself be getting a chance due to a season-ending injury for George Bridge.

Both teams will certainly be hoping that they can get as many of their squad back to full fitness as possible ahead of the next Bledisloe Cup match, as victory for the All Blacks would secure the title for 2020.

The Change We All Need?

The Change We All Need?

My mind has been on the laws of rugby union a fair amount recently due to my recent post giving my thoughts on the law trials in Super Rugby. While I can see that many of these laws are trying to improve player safety, I think that there is one area of the game that is being largely ignored but seriously brings down the spectacle of rugby: the scrum.

Much like the lineout, the scrum is intended to be a means of restarting the game in some competitive form while creating space for the backs by collecting all the forwards together. However, with the strength of defences these days and the accuracy of goal kickers even from range, the scrum has basically become a way to win penalties. This has led to large chunks of time being wasted with reset scrums as teams try to collapse the scrum while making it look like it was actually their opponent who collapsed it, leading to a stop-start game with too little actual rugby being played.

I’ve been thinking about this, and I have one simple suggestion that could change the game massively: replace all scrum penalties with free kicks

This may sound drastic at first, but if you consider the lineout, all the offences there are free kicks (the maul is not considered part of the lineout), with the exception of taking the man out in the air, which is a penalty anywhere on the pitch.

If the scrum cannot result in a penalty, then teams will switch to positive play at the scrum, looking to get the ball in and out with a legitimate push to put the opponent on the back foot. Not only does this speed up the scrum itself, but the more positive play will lead to less resets, while teams will be more likely to take a quick tap following a scrum offence rather than scum again.

Not only this, but how often do we see the referee award a penalty at the scrum but replays suggest that the penalty should have gone the other way? With free kicks instead of penalties, not only will we probably see less collapses requiring a referee to make a decision, but these decisions will be less costly if they go the wrong way as teams will not be able to kick 3 points or kick to touch and get the throw-in at the lineout.

All of this will lead to a more exciting, positive game of rugby with more focus on skills and fitness… Isn’t that what we all want to see?

Do you think this law change would help the game? Let me know!

2020 Bledisloe Cup #1: New Zealand v Australia

2020 Bledisloe Cup #1: New Zealand v Australia

Tier 1 international rugby returned this weekend with the Bledisloe Cup. This was the first of 4 Bledisloe Cup fixtures we will see over the coming months, with another match next week and then 2 more fixtures during the Rugby Championship.

Match 1 took place in wet and windy Wellington but any thoughts that the home team would have an early advantage were soon quashed as Australia came out the gates strongly. However, the quality of the All Blacks soon shone through and after Damian McKenzie countered a kick, they took just a few phases to put Jordie Barrett over in the corner for the first try of Ian Foster’s tenure as head coach – though they were lucky that assistant referee Angus Gardner missed an obvious foot in touch from Reiko Ioane in the build-up. Barrett and James O’Connor struggled off the tee in heavy winds but each successfully added 3 points as the half went on. Australia had one more chance to attack in the half off a lineout, but Folau Fainga’a gave away possession at the back of the lineout and the All Blacks broke en masse. The ball came to Ioane who crossed the line, but replays showed that he had been too casual grounding the ball and had knocked on in the process and the score remained 8-3 going into the break.

New Zealand struck first after the break, playing pretty much the same move off the lineout that Australia had tried at the end of the first half and pulling it off to put Aaron Smith over in the corner – though it appeared that all the officials missed Joe Moody holding James Slipper in the maul as he tried to roll out and make a tackle. At 13-3, it felt like Australia had to score next o have any chance of winning in their first match under Dave Rennie, and that is exactly what they did with a great first phase play that saw O’Connor put Marika Koribete over in the corner. Then just after the hour mark, Damian McKenzie managed to get his hands in to turn over the ball on the flood as Matt Philip was brought down, but the ball was not secured and Nic White reacted quickest to put Filipo Daugunu over in the corner on his debut. With just 6 minutes left, a breakdown penalty allowed O’Connor to kick the Wallabies ahead for the first time in the match, but a pair of penalties allowed the All Blacks to reach the Australian 22 and then Rob Simmonds conceded a penalty at the maul, which Jordie Barrett kicked to level the scores.

And then in the 79ᵗʰ minute, the game went crazy. Australia won a penalty about 5 metres inside their own half (though the angle probably added a couple more metres to the post) and they called upon the big boot of replacement centre Reece Hodge. With the wind at his back, distance was no issue, but the accuracy was just off and the ball came crashing back off the post, only to be claimed by Australia in the New Zealand 22. However, after a number of phases looking for the try – and a clear penalty at the breakdown by Tupou Vaa’i missed by all officials – the kiwis turned over the ball and made their own way down to the Australia 22, only for a series of turnovers before O’Connor finally saw sense and kicked the ball out after 89 minutes to secure a 16-16 draw.

Shut down

Ian Foster may not recognise the quality of Richie Mo’unga judging by how little he had him controlling the game, but Australia certainly did. So many times, the Crusaders first five-eighth would find himself under heavy pressure with a defender or 2 blitzing up in his face to give him limited time to get the ball away. Not only that but there were a number of times where he got smashed after the pass, though the hits were always soon enough after the pass that they could be considered legal.

If Mo’unga is allowed to get into a rhythm and dictate the game, he will rip a team apart and there were a few hints to this in the game, but the Wallabies did a great job of hurrying him, while also winning a number of collisions and slowing down the ball whenever possible to give their defence every possible chance to not just recover, but to go out and compete against a dangerous All Blacks lineup.

Between this and England’s victory in the World Cup, the way to beat the All Blacks is becoming clear.

Isolated

This Australia team looked immediately better than many we saw in the latter days of Michael Cheika’s tenure. There was a very balanced look tot he team, with Hunter Paisami and the wingers bringing a physical edge to complement James O’Connor and Matt To’omua in the back line, while players like Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Matt Philip and Taniela Tupou were constantly willing to take the ball on and make the hard yards. Even Nic White appeared to attack the fringes more than we would usually see him doing in the Premiership with Exeter!

While this was great to see, there were some clear hints that the team is still getting used to playing together, and the big one was the number of times that players would get isolated. A couple of times White found himself snagged after taking on the ball himself rather than making the pass, while a large proportion of Australia’s 14 penalties conceded came from their own attacking play, with the team either being penalised for holding on at the ruck or illegal entry to the breakdown. Had they been a bit better in this area, they could have ran away with the match, as they found themselves turned over on the All Blacks try line on a couple of occasions.

This isn’t a big surprise though. This is the first competitive game for this Wallabies side, which is heavily changed both in personnel and playing style. Give it a few games together and this is an area that should improve. I thought that the Wallabies may struggle in the Rugby Championship, but if this performance is anything to go by, they could be a dark horse for the competition.

Take a risk

Unlike the Wallabies, Ian Foster’s first All Blacks XV had a very familiar look to it. For a team as successful as New Zealand, the tried and tested players aren’t necessarily the wrong choice, but I think that Foster seriously missed a chance here.

Jordie Barrett, Hoskins Sotutu and Will Jordan were arguably 3 of the star players during Super Rugby Aotearoa, yet this match saw them wasted out of position, on the bench and not even in the 23 respectively. Caleb Clarke had limited time on the pitch but really seemed to bring something to the attack after his introduction, as did Sotutu.

With next weekend’s second Bledisloe Cup match the All Blacks’ last game before the Rugby Championship, I think that this is the perfect chance for Ian Foster to look at some of his options by starting some of the form players from the Rugby Championship. Bringing Sotutu in for Shannon Frizell (and moving Ardie Savea to 6) could add more variety to the back row, and while I would recommend keeping the Mo’unga, Goodhue, Ioane midfield, I would look at playing Jordie Barrett at 15 with Will Jordan and Caleb Clarke on the wings, which I feel would lead to a more balanced (if inexperienced) back 3 than what we saw in this game. Similarly, I would also look to take more of the control of the game from Aaron Smith and let Mo’unga play more of his natural game that we see with the Crusaders. Eve if this becomes a “Plan B”, it would still be a message to the other nations that if you find a way to stop one gameplan, the All Blacks will find another way to win.

Wasted opportunity

Did ether team really want to win this game? You wouldn’t think so from the way the game played out after Reece Hodge struck the posts. Both Australia and New Zealand had multiple phases inside the opponent’s 22, and yet the 9 minutes of extra rugby passed with not a single phase where a team put a kicker in the pocket to go for the drop goal.

It was absolutely crazy, with plenty of breakdowns relatively in line with the posts to minimise the risk (even with the wind), while the Wallabies had 3 recognised kickers on the pitch in O’Connor, To’omua and Hodge, and the All Blacks had 2 in Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett. Any one of these players could have been the hero who won the Bledisloe, but nobody stepped up (or back, as the case may be) in the moment.

I understand that a team would much rather win with a last gasp try at the death as it’s much more exciting, but as Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto tells Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner in The Fast and the Furious, “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile; winning’s winning!” You’re not going to turn up your nose at a drop goal if that’s the Rugby World Cup final, so you better get your practice in now.

Honestly, both teams should look back at this match and consider it a loss due to the way they threw away this chance to win!

Premier League 2020/21: September

Premier League 2020/21: September

It feels like only yesterday that we finished the 2019/20 season of the Premier League but we’re already back up and running with many teams already 3 matches into the 2020/21 season.

4 teams made it through September unbeaten: defending champions Liverpool, local rivals Everton, Leicester City and Aston Villa (who have only played 2 games), while newly-promoted Fulham find themselves without a point in 3 games, alongside Sheffield United and Burnley (though the Clarets have only played 2 games).

As with last season, I’m back again to give my big thoughts from each month’s action and stories. I will also be unveiling a few new features for this season’s articles. So without further ado, let’s get to the football!


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) & Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 5 goals, Son Heung-Min (Tottenham) – 4 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 5 assists, 7 players on 2 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) – 2 clean sheets, 11 players on 1 clean sheet


A welcome improvement

After last year’s farce, I was worried about how well VAR would work given the limited time between seasons, but – and I hope I’m not jinxing anything by saying this – things appear to be going much better this season. Personally, I put this down to 2 main factors.

First of all, it seems that when it comes to checking offsides, we’re not getting the ridiculous checks to see if the attacking player is offside by the narrowest of margins. I’m not sure whether this is down to attacking players holding their runs a little more to ensure they are onside, or if there has been some directive that VAR hasn’t got to atomic levels of precision when checking an offside (or maybe a bit of both). Regardless, getting rid of these incidents is saving so much time and making the system look much less pathetic when making its decisions.

Secondly, the VAR is now being used properly by having many of the subjective decisions checked by the referee. Part of the VAR system has always included a pitchside monitor for the referee to use, but it was largely ignored last year as those in the booth made all the decisions. Using the pitchside monitor leads to a much better experience as there is the consistency of the same person making the decisions as during the rest of the game. VAR is not a way to catch the referees out and berate them for getting the initial decision wrong, instead it is there to give them an opportunity to view an incident again to ensure they are making the correct decision.

Having followed a number of sports for years that utilise video replays, I know how effective VAR can be if used right. Hopefully we are now seeing things go in the right direction.

Poorly handled

While VAR seems to be improving, the way that handballs are being dealt with this season is absolutely ridiculous!

The Premier League went against the curve last year with how they refereed potential handballs, but this year they have had to come in line with the other leagues around the world. And it has shown to have an impact, with a massive rise in the number of penalties for handballs in these early rounds.

Now firstly, I want to say that I do agree with bringing the Premier League in line with other leagues. Football is one sport and to me all the leagues should be in line with each other as it creates a consistency to the product.

However, the way that the law is being refereed is an absolute joke! The idea of what constitutes a handball relies on the arm being outside a standardised silhouette of someone standing with their arms by their sides. However, this same silhouette is used for all circumstances, including a player jumping for the ball. Try jumping for the ball while keeping your arms by your sides and you won’t get very high and will look ridiculous, but this means that as soon as a player uses their arms to help propel them into the air, they’re giving away a penalty if the ball hits their arm. But then things get even more ridiculous as Gabriel escaped a handball penalty against West Ham when the ball struck his arm away from the body, only for nothing to be given as the ball struck his upper arm where his sleeve is – which apparently doesn’t constitute a handball!

Something needs to change. Is the answer to say that any contact between the arm and the ball is a handball, similar to how any contact with the foot or the back of the stick is an offence in hockey? Or do we need more situational parameters set as to what constitutes a handball in different circumstances – eg challenging in the air, going to ground to make a challenge, protecting body with arms? That’s for people who get much more than me to decide, but something has to change.

Immediate impact

Is there anyone who would argue right now with the opinion that James Rodríguez has been the signing of the summer?

The Colombian, signed from Real Madrid, has had an immediate impact at Goodison Park, providing the range of passing and movement to find holes between the midfield and defence and create space for Richarlison to run into, while also being a goal threat himself on the edge of the box.

After his World Cup heroics, it looked like he would be fighting with Messi and Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or for years to come, but he was just anther big name at Real and eventually fell out of favour, leading to a loan spell at Bayern Munich. However coming to Goodison Park and reuniting with a manager that has a good history with him is really bringing out the best in him and I think that we are going to really see that quality for Everton this year.

Perhaps he is the missing piece that can see the Toffees compete for Europe again.

Same old story

While Everton may have brought in just the player they needed in the offseason, Manchester United are looking pathetic in the transfer market once again.

Not only are they struggling to offload the players deemed surplus to requirements, but the only signing they have made is Donny van de Beek, who appears to be giving some depth to midfield rather than fixing some gaps in the starting XI. The Jadon Sancho transfer saga is dragging on and it’s not hard to imagine United missing out on their man, while they are also in desperate need of an upgrade at centreback and on the left side of defence.

The problem is that this isn’t a one-off, but just another example of Ed Woodward’s inability to deal effectively in the transfer market. Manchester United remains one of the biggest names in football, but the lack of success has not been helped at all by an inability to bring in the players required on a consistent basis. When you look at the signings that Chelsea and Arsenal have made for this season and the players Liverpool have brought in to to strengthen their squad – hell, even Spurs have actually had a decent transfer window with Højbjerg, Doherty and Bale arriving – United need to be doing better if they want to consistently finish in the Champions League places and look to compete for the title again.


Team of the Month

Leicester City

I wasn’t intending to just pick the league leaders for the first month, but when I looked deeper into things I had to pick the Foxes.

An away match at newly-promoted West Brom is far from the hardest way to open a season, but it could still very easily be a banana skin, yet Leicester came away with a 3-goal win despite having a goal disallowed. They followed this up with another goal-heavy win over Burnley, and ended the month with an incredible 2-5 victory at the Etihad where they completely outplayed Manchester City.

And all this while having limited options at centreback and having to use a midfielder there at times! You couldn’t ask for a much better start to your campaign!


feat football prem league logo yellow

Springbok Showdown

Springbok Showdown

The World Champions upped their preparation ahead of the Rugby Championship and their first match since winning the Rugby World Cup with the Springbok Showdown. 50 home-based players were split into 2 squads of 25 and faced off in a “Green v Gold” (though going by the kits, Green v White would be more accurate) match at Newlands, where they had been due to face Scotland in their first post-World Cup international.

In a sleep-inducing first half, Damian Willemse and Elton Jantjies traded penalties, but those of us who didn’t fall asleep saw Willemse miss 3 out of 4 kicks, leading to Gold trailing 6-3 at the break. The second half started with more positive rugby, but it was bad news for Gold as Willemse was rightly adjudged to have prevented a probable try by pulling back Yaw Penxe out wide, leading to a penalty try for Green and a 10-minute spell on the naughty step for the fly half. Though they gave away more penalties than Gold, Green built some dominance in the set piece and on 56 minutes, they drove a maul up to the try line from close range, allowing captain Siya Kolisi to break off and cross for the try. As time passed with little success for Gold, Green secured the win with a 3ʳᵈ try, positioning a number of forwards out wide for a cross-kick following a 2-man lineout, and a fortuitous bounce off the head of JD Schickerling and a scramble on the floor resulted in replacement back row Juarno Augustusdotting the ball down over the line. As the clock ticked down, a break from Lukhanyo Am set up Gold for a commiseration try, but Jason Jenkins was held up over the line and the Green defence held strong following the resultant scrum, with Thomas du Toit winning the penalty that allowed Gold to kick the ball to touch to finish the game as 25-9 victors.

Defence first

South Africa won the Rugby World Cup off the back of strong defensive displays and powerful set pieces allowing them to score a try or 2 to best their opponent. Judging by this match, there is no immediate change in tactics planned under new head coach Jacques Nienaber.

In the first half especially, the game very rarely went past a handful of phases before the ball was kicked downfield. Territory was at the forefront of players’ minds tactically, and though the attacking play increased after the break, it was still very limited.

It was very hard for the players in the back 3 to show their quality in attack and I felt especially sorry for Rosko Specman, who worked tirelessly in a support role and chasing kicks up and down his wing for very little reward.

Don’t expect the Springboks to be throwing the ball around in the coming years. A physical, defensive, territory-focused game may not be the most attractive rugby to watch, but South Africa do it so damn well.

Rusty

While a defensive performance isn’t the most attractive of things at the best of times, it becomes a hundred times worse when the players are as rusty as the 50 on show in this match. Super Rugby was suspended in mid-March, but unlike New Zealand and Australia, South Africa has not had any top-flight rugby since then and the only players who have were not included as they are based abroad.

While the teams often looked to play the territory game, there were times that they actually tried to played the ball, only for things to come to a swift close due to someone knocking the ball on or throwing a loose pass. Meanwhile a number of lineouts ended with scrappy ball off the top, putting the attacking team under immediate pressure. Even a large portion of the kicking game was questionable, with some deep kicks being fielded too easily and a number of more attacking kicks not paying off.

The Springboks still have time before the Rugby Championship begins, but they don’t have the competitive matches under their belt that the majority of the Australian and New Zealand squad do, and that could harm them in their opening matches.

Missed opportunity

With Handré Pollard currently missing through injury, this was the perfect opportunity for Damian Willemse to stake his claim for the Springboks 10 jersey and potentially even win the starting job ahead of Elton Jantjies. Unfortunately, things didn’t really work out for him.

His kicking off the tee left a lot to be desired, only managing to bisect the posts on 1 of 4 attempts, but that was far from the end of it. He certainly tried to get things going in attack and get the team firing, but too often this came to a quick end as players did not seem to be on his wavelength – though there was a lovely grubber in behind early on that required a wonderful covering tackle from far-side winger Penxe to stop Specman when a try looked likely. And then unfortunately, Willemse found himself spending 10 minutes in the bin having given away a penalty try by pulling back Penxe when he was chasing a kick into the in-goal, and by the time he returned to the pitch, he was moved to 15 as Curwin Bosch had entered the fray.

Granted Jantjies didn’t blow the proverbial roof off with his performance, but he did what was required to get the team the win and did not seem as involved in any errors or negative moments.

However, this may not be Willemse’s chances of a starting spot gone, as he put in a good performance after returning to the pitch at fullback, including controlling the air when coming forward to take high balls. Very few players got a chance to stand out in the back lines, while having a playmaker at 15 would give the Boks extra tactical options, so don’t be too surprised if the 22-year old gets the nod there to open the Rugby Championship.

Replacing the Beast

This is a new era for the World Champions, as they look to go on without Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, who retired from international rugby following the World Cup. Luckily, they been spoiled for years by already having one of the (in my opinion) top 5 looseheads in the world sharing time with him: Steven Kitshoff.

The Stormers prop did not have the best of starts to this game, struggling in some of the early scrums, but soon sorted things out and started winning penalties at the set piece with some degree of regularity. Meanwhile, he continued to excel around the park, with his handling skills highlighted by a great pickup from a terrible pass by Scarra Ntubeni deep in their own half. But more than anything, he has an engine, lasting longer than most of the front rowers while getting himself around the pitch, such as when he went from a scrum on the Green 22 to winning a turnover penalty – there are few props who win turnovers as often as him –  on the Gold 22 on the other side of the pitch following a Green break!

Kitshoff has the number 1 shirt secured for the forseeable future, the Boks just need to find the right man to come off the bench.

The Verdict: My Thoughts on Super Rugby’s Law Trials

The Verdict: My Thoughts on Super Rugby’s Law Trials

With Super Rugby AU now over and the internationals still a few weeks away, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the last couple of months of Southern Hemisphere rugby.

As well as bringing more focus to the refereeing of the breakdown, both Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU trialled some new laws this season – with Super Rugby Aotearoa trialling a new law for red cards and Super Rugby AU trialling this and a number of other laws. A few of them came up while I was giving my thoughts on the individual matches, but now that I have had the chance to watch them in effect for a full tournament, I think it is fair to take a look at how successful the trials have been.

Mark

A kick originating in the attacking 22m area cannot be marked by the defending team within their own 22m area. The kick can however be marked within the defending team’s in-goal area and play restarts with a 22m line drop-out

Personally, I liked this amendment. Though there were very few instances where it came into play, it opens up the attacking options for a team close to the try line by and gives them more reason to try chips over the defensive line or cross-kicks without waiting for a penalty advantage.

Verdict: Keep

Red card

A red carded player can be substituted after 20 minutes, unless all substitutions have been used

If we thought that the Mark trial had barely come into play, the new red card trial had even less chance to have an impact, as the only red card was given to Scott Scrafton with less than 20 minutes of the match remaining, so there was no difference in the game. I can see a positive to this trial that a game is not ruined as a spectacle by an early red card following an accidental poor tackle/challenge in the air, however I also wonder if this will lead to worse discipline and also feel that sometimes teams need to learn the hard way how to play the game within the laws.

Verdict: Continue the trial

50/22 and 22/50

A kick taken from within the kicking team’s 50m area that travels into touch within the opposition’s 22m area having first bounced in the field of play results in a lineout throw to the kicking team. This does not apply following a free kick.

and

A kick taken from within the kicking team’s 22m area that travels into touch within the opposition’s 50m area having first bounced in the field of play results in a lineout throw to the kicking team. This does not apply following a free kick.

These just don’t do it for me. I understand that the idea of the law trial was that it would create space by forcing the defending teams to drop more players to cover the backfield, but teams have generally been able to do so without having to drop more players. Instead, the only times that these kicks have generally paid off have been when the defence is on the front foot and putting the attacking team under heavy pressure, leading to a complete change in momentum that has not been earned by the attacking team.

Verdict: Ditch

Goal line drop-out

When an attacking player carrying the ball is held up or knocks the ball on in the in-goal play restarts with a goal line drop-out

or 

When a kick enters the in-goal area and is grounded by the defending team play restarts with a goal line drop-out

So here’s an interesting one. Part of me disliked the change for an attacking team that had been camped on the opponents’ line being held up and then having to restart an attack from deep, but it has led to some great attacking and with players having ground to create momentum and generally get themselves quickly back in the 22. However, while it has been fun watching behemoths like Pone Fa’amausili, Cabous Eloff and Taniela Tupou crash into the defensive line after a 30m charge, I can’t help wonder if this is really what we want at a time where we are so focused on player safety – similar to how the NFL has changed the kickoff in recent years to reduce the run-ups before collisions.

Verdict: Continue the trial

Extra time

(Australia): 2 x 5min periods of extra time; in the event of a drawn game after regulation time where the first points scored wins the match for the scoring team

or 

(New Zealand): If matches are drawn after 80 minutes, teams will go into a 10-minute period of extra time and the first team to score any points will win the game.

Super Rugby Aotearoa’s only draw was due to a cancelled match so the 10-minute extra time was never trialled. Super Rugby AU saw a couple of matches go to “Super Time” – the first a boring pointless waste of 10 minutes, the second over in less than 2 minutes. To me, 5-minute halves are too short to get any quality momentum built, especially if teams are afraid to give away a penalty, and I think one 10-minute period works better. If I’m completely honest, I don’t feel that golden point works in a game where the game can be won by a penalty kicked from within the kicking team’s own half and think that more often than not, we will see teams playing to win a penalty without giving one away as opposed to looking for a try. Furthermore, in a round-robin competition, I can’t see why there is need to have extra time as there are already reduced points available for a draw.

Verdict: Ditch

Of course, these are only my personal opinions, what do you think about these law trials?

Thanks for reading. Until next time!