Don’t cry because it’s over…

Don’t cry because it’s over…

“Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”

– Dr Seuss

This weekend as the end of an era. With the release of it’s season-ending event, Schmoedown Spectacular 7, the Movie Trivia Schmoedown came to an end. What started with a chance for Schmoes Know crew members JTE and Christian “Cobbster” Ruvalcaba to get bragging rights became something so much bigger, with weekly matches, multiple divisions, live events in front of sell-out crowds, player drafts, and even international and celebrity competitors.

I was lucky enough to find the show in its fourth season, and despite not being a movie buff, a fan of wrestling (the Schmoedown was very heavily based on WWE, and included kayfabe) or even knowing many of the competitors beyond some of the Schmoes and Collider regulars, I was almost instantly hooked! I would watch every match as well as the Schmoedown Rundown, the official aftershow, and went back to see all those that came before my discovery, so that I completely understood the history and the storylines. And eventually I was so hooked that it became a part of this site, which then led to me being invited by the creator himself to write for the show’s official website for the year that it existed—an incredible year that saw me actually having my writing published somewhere other than my own WordPress, while I had competitor William “The Beast” Bibbiani as my managing editor, someone who was always so supportive and great to work with.

But more than that, it gave me new communities. Not just the overall Schmoedown community, but also smaller communities that surrounded the individual competitors and introduced me to their work outside of the show, allowing me experiences such as a trip to London to see a live taping of Top 10’s podcast, which saw me meet the pair (and another Schmoedown star in Jeannine “The Machine”, make new friends in person and spend the night chatting with Matt Knost in a local bar, while I will always and forever be a member of the Action Army! The Schmoedown may be over, but the fans and the communities will remain.And it has changed my life even further too, as I now find myself watching more movies—and a much wider variety—and while I am nowhere near as obsessed as many in the community, I now find myself much more appreciative and paying more attention.

And so while it is a sad time, it is one where we should instead be celebrating an amazing show that gave us so many incredible characters and inspirational competitors. The show may be over, but that just means that we have more time to look back over the 9 years of extraordinary fun, so don’t be surprised to see articles still appearing on here about the show!

So thank you to Kristian Harloff and Mark Ellis for creating such an incredible show! Thank you to all the competitors, announcers, interviewers, writers, crew and everyone else who helped to make the product the success it was. And thank you to all the fans for creating a community to be proud of.

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2022 Rugby Championship: Team of the Tournament

2022 Rugby Championship: Team of the Tournament

It’s been a thrilling (and sometimes controversial) couple of months, but the 2022 Rugby Championship is now in the rearview mirror. In one of the closest tournaments to date, arguably the worst performing All Blacks team in years managed to come away with a win that will now surely keep Ian Foster in his job through to the end of the Rugby World Cup (sorry kiwis).

And now all that remains is for me to pick my Team of the Tournament. While I may use some stats to help me decide and sometimes back up my argument, this is largely done of feel from how the games went. I’d love to hear your own selections to, so let me know in the comments! And so without further ado, my Team of the Tournament is…


1) Ethan de Groot: Honestly, I’m shocked at how long Ian Foster stuck with George Bower’s awful defensive performances when de Groot was looking by far the more reliable player, but he was given the start in Round 2 and quickly solidified his place in the team with a series of reliable performances, while also helping to make the New Zealand scrum a formidable weapon.

2) Samisoni Taukei’aho: The decline of Codie Taylor and Dane Coles has been all too clear in 2022, but luckily for the All Blacks, it has coincided with the rise of Taukei’aho. The Chiefs hooker does not have the same pace as those who came before him, but makes up for that with great power and maximum effort around the park, and ended as the tournament’s top try scorer with 5, which helps him just beat out Malcolm Marx for a spot in this team.

3) Tyrel Lomax: Completing and all-New Zealand front row is Tyrel Lomax. Like de Groot on the other side of the scrum, he was given the chance to start in Round 2 and looks to have secured the number 3 shirt with a series of solid performances, making the scruma weapon while also providing a dynamic carrying option in the loose

4 & 5) Eben Etzebeth & Matías Alemanno: One of the most experienced and consistent locks in the world, Etzebeth consistently just goes about his business in both attack and defence and rarely gets the plaudits he deserves. Likewise Alemanno, who is so reliable both in defence and the set piece and does so much good without ever really standing out in highlight reels.

6) Juan Martín González: One of the breakout stars of 2022. The 21-year-old London Irish flanker has secured himself in the Pumas’ first choice back row in place of more recognisable names, and it’s understandable why, as he always seems to be in the right pace at the right time, ending the tournament with 4 tries (beaten only by Taukei’aho) and video footage of a sidestep on Willie le Roux that will be appearing in YouTube compilations for years to come.

7) Fraser McReight: Marcos Kremer is unlucky to miss out on a spot here, but McReight had the unenviable task of coming in at the eleventh hour to take the spot of talismanic captain Michael Hooper, and despite his lack of international experience, he performed with aplomb until being inexplicably dropped for the matches against New Zealand, ending with 3 tries.

8) Ardie Savea: Jasper Wiese is unlucky to miss out on a spot here, but he was playing for a team generally on the front foot, whereas Ardie Savea was often one of the best players on the pitch even when the rest of the New Zealand performance would be described as (to put it nicely) dire. Despite missing Round 5, he still finished joint-1ˢᵗ for carries, 1ˢᵗ for offloads and 2ⁿᵈ among forwards for metres carried.

9) Jaden Hendrikse: Who had Faf de Klerk losing the Springboks 9 jersey to a 22-year-old who started the season with just a handful of caps in their predictions for 2022. Such has been the form of Hendrikse though. Provides quick ball as the Boks try to play a more open game, but also puts in the inch-perfect kicks when South Africa went to their territory game.

10) Richie Mo’unga: Almost wins the spot by default as Santiago Carreras gets used to the position while Australia and South Africa chopped and changed at the position. But that’s not to say Mo’unga played poorly. Controlled games well and his goal kicking kept the scoreboard turning over, while he looked better as the team around him began to improve following Joe Schmidt’s arrival.

11) Marika Koroibete: A consistent performer while the Wallabies’ team performances fluctuate wildly, but still had some performances where he was near-unplayable. His workrate in some games was incredible, but arguably lucky not to be penalised for that try-saver on Makazole Mapimpi.

12) Damian de Allende: Maybe struggled at times with his decision making as the ball went wide on attack, but so reliable with his direct carries and his defence, while also had to take on more responsibility with the loss of midfield partner Lukhanyo Am midway through the tournament and the chopping and changing of players at flyhalf.

13) Len Ikitau: Lukhanyo Am almost earned the spot despite missing half of the tournament, while Matías Moroni’s chances were harmed by Argentina’s inconsistency. However in a Wallabies backline that was constantly changing through injuries, Len Ikitau did a solid job of providing some consistency at a key position.

14) Emiliano Boffelli: Always a danger in the air and arguably not targeted enough in some games, what was most noticeable was how Boffelli’s kicking percentages off the tee were much better as he became the main kicker, leading to him equalling Richie Mo’unga’s points haul a the top of the stats sheet.

15) Jordie Barrett: An argument could certainly be made that his best game came at 12, but was also highly reliable at fullback. Finished the tournament in the top 1 for points scored, offloads, carries, metres carried and defenders beaten.

2022 Rugby Championship Round 6: South Africa v Argentina

2022 Rugby Championship Round 6: South Africa v Argentina

The 2022 Rugby Championship reached it’s finale on Saturday with South Africa taking on Argentina in Durban. Following New Zealand’s victory over Australia at Eden Park, South Africa knew that in order to win the title they would need not just a bonus point victory, but also a winning marking of at least 40 points.

And after a close and physical start, the Boks got the ball down across the line following a 5 metre lineout, Eben Etzebeth getting over, however it was adjudged that Etzebeth had played the ball back to Siya Kolisi before taking the ball back off him from a position in front of him, so the try was disallowed. The Springboks were keeping ball in hand and putting pressure on with attack after attack, and after 15 minutes the pressure told as an accumulation of penalties saw Marcos Kremer sent to the bin, and the Springboks took advantage of the missing forward a few minutes later to drive a 5m scrum over the line, allowing Jasper Wiese to dot down as the first quarter came to an end. The South African pressure continued, as did the Argentinian penalties, and within moments of Kremer returning to the pitch, his fellow back row Juan Martín González was sent to the bin for collapsing a maul, and though the first chance the Boks had saw Willie le Roux held up over the line, the next saw skipper Kolisi peel off a rotating maul to crash over for try number 2, while the Pumas were dealt an extra blow by the loss of Pablo Matera to injury. After 30 minutes of almost constant defence, a strong driving maul from the Pumas allowed them to kick a penalty into the hosts’ 22, but their attack came to nothing as Joel Sclavi—on early after Eduardo Bello struggled in the scrums—ran a blatant blacking line just 5m out from the try line. As the second sin bin perod came to an end, South Africa’s decision to go only for tries came to a confusing end as Frans Steyn kicked a penalty from well inside his own half, and that decision was made to look even more questionable in the grand scheme of things as Gonzalo Bertranou sniped over from close range just before halftime following a clever kick to the corner from Santiago Carreras, which left the teams going in at the break with a 17-7 scoreline.

Having ended the first half on the front foot, the Pumas continued that pressure at the start of the second, with a brave tackle from Canan Moodie stopping Julián Montoya from scoring off a clever move at the front of the lineout, while their next attack was ended by Joel Scavi being penalised for rolling on the floor after contact. However they kept coming and after attacking down the blind side, a lovely step from Juan Martín González saw him wrong foot le Roux and go over in the corner, Boffelli’s conversion cutting the lead to just 3 points. The Boks surely knew that winning the tournament was out of reach by this point and that they should focus on winning the game, and the 54ᵗʰ minute saw a strong driving maul collapsed short of the line for a penalty try, with Jeronimo de la Fuente becoming the 3ʳᵈ Argentina player to receive a yellow card in the match. In deteriorating conditions, Eben Etzebeth was given a yellow card as a push while chasing a kick led to Emiliano Boffelli being contacted in the air. With the game now 14v14, the Pumas used the penalty to kick into the 22, but their driving maul was held up over the line, but another strong driving maul minutes later saw Faf de Klerk sent to the bin for collapsing it, and as de la Fuente returned to the pitch, the Pumas used their 2-man advantage to eventually send Matías Moroni over for the try, Boffelli’s conversion again making it a 3-point game with 11 minutes remaining. With Etzebeth returning, South Africa were back on the attack, and another strong lineout drive saw them earn a second penalty try of the game, with Sclavi making his way to the sin bin for the final minutes. with 5 minutes remaining and de Klerk back on the pitch, the hosts were able to add a sweetener to the victory by putting Kurt-Lee Arendse over with the final play of the game to put an extra shine on the scoreline, but the 38-21 victory was not enough to overturn New Zealand at the top of the table.

Costly Call

Why did South Africa go for goal just before half time? Granted Frans Steyn is an expert at kicking from range, but that is still a risky kick, and in this match the reward just didn’t make sense.

In a one-off match it would be understandable, as it sends a message to the opposition that any penalties around the halfway line could be 3 points, while with the score at 14-0 it made it a 3-score game. But this was not just any game, this was a match where the Boks needed to score 3 tries more than their opponent and win by a 40-point margin, so at 14-0, a penalty kick doesn’t really help much.

But it’s not as if South Africa were even really struggling. They had dominated the vast majority of the half and were winning penalties with most attacks, so even if the driving maul wasn’t working at 100% they should have still felt comfortable about kicking down into the Pumas 22 and putting together one more attack before halftime, which incidentally would have taken away the couple of minutes that the Pumas utilised to score their own try.

It may not seem like much at the one moment, but it highlights the importance of each decision, as what could have been a halftime lead of 21-0 (and maybe even another yellow card for the Pumas) ended up becoming a 17-7 lead. One could argue that this was the decision that lost them the Championship.

Penalised

If you thought Australia’s discipline was poor, the Pumas said “Hold my beer” and put on a masterclass of how not to play defensively, with penalties coming with far too much frequency.

It’s something that we sadly see too often with the Pumas in recent years: if you play one-up rugby against them then their defensive line will dominate you, but if you look for the short passes around or in the contact—as South Africa were doing here, running hard and then offloading in contact—it puts the defence on the back foot and they are too slow to reorganise, leading to a number of cheap offside penalties and then stupid penalties at the breakdown as players try to slow the ball down to give the defence time to recover.

And then there were also the moronic penalties from Joel Sclavi. Brought on to sure up a struggling scrum, his dumb and wholly avoidable penalties ended 2 promising attacks for the Pumas 5m for the South African line, before he ended his game by collapsing a maul for the penalty try that eventually secured the game for South Africa.

Argentina have shown that on their day they can beat anyone. But if they want to start beating other top teams with regularity, which they will need to in order to win a tournament, then Michael Cheika desperately needs to work hard on preparing a defence that can stay organised and retreat with the same effectiveness as they do coming forward.

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2022 Rugby Championship Round 6: New Zealand v Australia

2022 Rugby Championship Round 6: New Zealand v Australia

Probably the closest Rugby Championship in a long time reached it’s final week, and it all started aut Eden park, with New Zealand facing Australia. Last week’s controversial victory saw New Zealand enter the weekend at the top of the table courtesy of a 13-point advantage over South Africa in overall points differential, while Australia knew that a bonus point that denied the All Blacks any bonus points would see them go top of the table and hoping Argentina pulled off a shock in South Africa.

But Australia’s job became so much harder just 2 minutes in as Jed Holloway’s cleanout of Dalton Papali’i saw him take the flanker beyond the horizontal, leading to an early yellow card. And the All Blacks were immediately taking advantage of the extra man, with Beauden Barrett—starting at fullback—breaking down the left wing and chipping on, with the pressure forcing Marika Koroibete to carry the ball out over his own dead ball line for an All Blacks 5m scrum, but the Wallabies defended manfully so close to their line and eventually won the turnover penalty after 5 minutes of pressure, allowing them to clear their lines and get back to 15 men. As the game remained a tight, error-strewn affair, the All Blacks finally opened the scoring with a Richie Mo’unga penalty, while the Wallabies were dealt a blow, losing Lalakai Foketi to injury, with Jordan Petaia coming on. And things soon got worse for the men in gold as Will Jordan used his pace to find some space with an arcing run to get outside Petaia and go over for the opening try. The All Blacks were suddenly taking over the game, and a break from Rieko Ioane just a minute later led to an 8ᵗʰ penalty in 25 minutes, though despite the Wallabies being on a team warning, skipper James Slipper somehow avoided a yellow card. However the All Blacks got the drive on from the resulting lineout, and when it went to ground, Andrew Brace awarded a penalty try and sent hooker Dave Porecki to the bin. 1 points down and with a man in the bin, the Wallabies needed something, and a clever move at the front of the lineout released Pete Samu (throwing in due to Porecki’s absence) up to the All Blacks try line, and when the ball came back to the blind side, Koroibete dropped over in the corner, only to find that his foot was in touch. But the Wallabies had a penalty advantage and went for the line again, which saw Harry Wilson stopped just short and the ball held up a phase later. The australian pressure continued, but in their quest for tries not penalties they found themselves turning down kicks at goal but unable to get across the whitewash, and the kicking of Mo’unga and the Barrett brothers continued to find space deep in the backfield to push the visitors back and put the under pressure, so the teams reached the break with the All Blacks leading 17-0.

The Wallabies ay have been back to 15 as the second half kicked off, but they were under immediate pressure, and Sam Whitelock forced his way over the line after just 2 and a half minutes, and despite Angus Bell’s best efforts to dislodge the ball on the way to ground, TMO Ben Whitehouse adjudged that Whitelock had managed to keep control and the try was given. Mo’unga kicked the conversion and a penalty just minutes later to open up a 27-0 lead after just 47 minutes, and this lead was stretched further on 53 minutes as a scrum penalty allowed the All Blacks a lineout 5m from the line, and Codie Taylor was given the easy job of dropping over the line after a strong driving maul. The Walabies finally got on the scoresheet as the hour approached, Mo’unga’s kick partially charged down to Pete Samu, who advanced down the wing, and as he tried to find Folau Fainga’a on his inside, his pass was knocked towards the try line by the despairing hand of Will Jordan, allowing the Wallabies hooker to dive on the loose ball and let his momentum take him over the line. However a series of unforced handling errors from the Wallabies put them under pressure deep in their own 22, and when New Zealand won a penalty, they went to the corner and pushed over replacement hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho for their 5ᵗʰ try of the night, while only the efforts of Koroibete covering back denied the All Blacks a 6ᵗʰ just moments later as Akira Ioane chased his own grubber kick down the wing. The result may have been beyond doubt with 10 minutes remaining, but that was no excuse for TMO Ben Whitehouse choosing to ignore what should have been a red card for Sevu Reece for a tackle on Reece Hodge that led to a head clash, and it was said All Blacks wing who forced a turnover on his own line from Australia’s next attack, with the All Blacks then countering and adding a further 3 points from the boot of Mo’unga. Australia had one last chance to grab a consolation try at the death as they kicked a penalty to the corner, and after 6 phases of pressure, Nic White’s flat miss-pass sent Petaia over beneath the posts as the defence jammed in on Pone Fa’amausili, and Reece Hodge added the conversion for a final score of 40-14.

All that was left for the All Blacks was to wait for South Africa’s match later, with the Springboks now needing a bonus point victory by a margin of at least 40 points in order to deny New Zealand the title.

Inside man

While last week was costly for the All Blacks with the loss of both Quinn Tupaea—who will be out long-term—and David Havili, it may have been a blessing in disguise. While some may have thought this would be the chance for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to get a start, Ian Foster instead chose to move fullback Jordie Barrett into the 12 shirt, with brother Beauden coming into the team at fullback.

Beauden Barrett is a fantastic player, but not as good a fly half as Mo’unga, and with Jordie Barrett the incumbent at 15 and covering long-range goal-kicking duties, Beauden’s talents were being left to just late cameos.

However as I have covered multiple times before, Jordie is (in the kindest of ways) a freak of nature, as he has the handling, passing and kicking skills to cover playmaking positions, he also has the size and power to carry hard. Havili has frequently been used in the 12 position outside Mou’unga, where he can use his own playmaking and kicking abilities, so Jordie Barrett provides a similar option at this position, but then also added an extra dynamic in the way that he could just run hard into contact himself, while we know that Beauden is more than capable of excelling at 15, allowing him to work his magic while Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett run the game.

With the Autumn Nations Cup coming up, don’t be shocked to see more of Jordie Barrett in this position as New Zealand look to climb back up the rankings.

Their own worst enemy

Australia are their own worst enemy at the moment. They will defend like dogs and hold out when conventional wisdom would suggest they should break, while in attack they can be so incredibly dangerous—especially with this week’s dynamic back row of Rob Valentini, Pete Samu and Harry Wilson—and yet they then ruin everything by giving away a million penalties a game!

OK, so a million may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s not far off. They gave away 8 penalties before they even reached the half hour mark; a top team should be hoping to only just hit double figures in an entire game. And once again they have spent 20 minutes of the match with players off the pitch in the bin, their 7ᵗʰ and 8ᵗʰ yellow cards of the tournament. When you are playing that much rugby a man down, you’re making it all-but impossible to win, while it also can’t help but be in an official’s mind going into a game that this is a team that frequently offends, meaning they will be looking for those offences.

But its so much more than that. Just take it back to a base level. Penalties stop your attacks (Holloway’s overzealous cleanout of Papali’i ended a promising early attack). It gifts your opponent possession, and leaves you having to work harder defending than you would in attack. And it gifts your opponent territory, allowing them to clear their own lines if in trouble, or kick deep into your half if you are in attack.

When you consider how many players Australia are missing at the moment through injury, the fact that they can be so competitive is impressive. However until the Wallabies can improve their discipline, they will struggle to get results consistently going their way.

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2022 Rugby Championship Round 5: Argentina v South Africa

2022 Rugby Championship Round 5: Argentina v South Africa

After a few days of arguing who messed up more out of Mathieu Raynal and Bernard Foley, we finally reached the second half of round 5, which saw the Pumas hosting South Africa in Buenos Aires. The Springboks had stuck with the same starting XV that demolished Australia 2 weeks ago but went behind after 8 minutes when Franco Mostert’s hands in the ruck allowed Emiliano Boffelli to kick a penalty from halfway, though Damian Willemse soon cancelled this out with a penalty of his own from much closer in and both kickers missed their next attempt from range. It was the South Africans who made the first chance of note, going to the blind side created off a lineout maul to get Canan Moodie up to the try line, and while Jaden Hendrikse was held up with his pick-and-go, it was only through the efforts of Santiago Carreras, who had been in an offside position, leading to a penalty try for the visitors. Boffelli soon cut the lead with a penalty, but the Boks won a penalty off the restart and went to the corner, and while they were unable to drive the maul over, the ball went out to the backs and Hendrikse soon found space on the fringe of a ruck to snipe over between the posts. As the penalty count began to rise from the Pumas, the Springboks took full advantage, going to the corner again and driving Malcolm Marx over for their third try, Argentina welcoming Carreras back to the pitch but now down 6-22. A clever lineout move saw Siya Kolisi release Marx into the Pumas 22, and with the defence under heavy pressure, a series of penalties saw Gonzalo Bertranou sent to the bin, but South Africa were unable to add another try before the break, as Mostert fumbled the lineout and though he eventually knocked the ball backwards, referee James Doleman decreed that as the ball was initially lost forward and Mostert never recovered control, it was a knock-on.

If the first half had been mainly fought in the tight, the second half was a display of open rugby as both teams looked to play the ball with very little thought for it’s security, and while the Pumas were suddenly looking a threat despite the numerical disadvantage, poor passing and handling skills—and an interception from Damian de Allende—cost them a couple of early chances. However the extra pressure was drawing penalties from the Springboks, which led to Willie le Roux being sent to the bin on the hour, though yet another handling error from the Pumas allowed South Africa to clear their lines. The hosts finally got across the line on 65 minutes as Cubelli went off the back of a scrum only to be held up over the line, however Kwagga Smith’s actions to hold him up were deemed illegal, resulting in a penalty try and a yellow card for the flanker. And with a 2-man advantage, the Pumas were soon scoring again, with a flat inside pass from Marcos Kremer releasing Matías Moroni, who rounded any remaining defenders to ground under the posts—despite every attempt from the TMO to find a loss of control in the grounding. With their lead cut to 2 but le Roux returning to the field, a penalty allowed the Boks their first real opportunity in the Pumas 22 since the first half, and a series of phases battering the home defence soon saw Damian de Allende fight his way over beneath the posts, Frans Steyn’s conversion making it a 2-score game with 5 minutes remaining. And the Boks secured the win in the final minute as they spread the ball through the hands to release Makazole Mapimpi down the left, with the wing drawing the final defender and playing the ball back inside to Marx for his second try, Steyn kicking the conversion for a 20-36 victory.

Disjointed

Have this Argentina side ever played together before? You wouldn’t have thought it from the way they attacked in this game! To say they looked disjointed is somewhat of an understatement.

Highly experienced scrum half Tomás Cubelli was throwing passes to the knees of his locks and behind his centres, floated wide passes were dropping between players, while the timing was off every time the Pumas tried a soft pop of the ball into the hands of someone coming on to it at pace. Even a couple of promising cross-kicks to space on the left wing early on were wasted as they came with centres hugging the touchline rather than the speedy wings who could have converted these chances into points.

Moroni’s try showed just how dangerous they can be when they get the timing and the passing right—and even that pass from Kremer was right on the border between flat and forward—and such was their dominance for much of the second half, a more accurate performance could have seen the Pumas going into the final round of still in with a chance of winning the Championship.

Beatable Boks

We’ve seen it a number of times since the World Cup: the defending champions are beatable, you just need to play them the right way. And the right way to do so is to take the game to them and challenge them by playing an open attacking game.

By playing a game that focuses on playing tight and getting forward dominance in the set piece, as the British & Irish Lions did on their most recent tour, you are playing into the hands of arguably the most dominant pack in World Rugby; and while the Pumas won a couple of penalties against Frans Malherbe at the scrum in the first half, this allowed the Springboks to take control of the game and move the ball—and Pumas pack—around the pitch at their leisure, keeping the backs poised and fresh for the moments that they were needed, such as Hendrikse’s try.

However, the moment that you start trying to vary your attack, with balls back inside, clever cross-kicks, crash balls and working the ball out wide to create overlaps, the Springboks will find themselves stretched and—as good as they are defensively—even they will not be able to cover every gap. And no offense to Jesse Kriel, but the absence of Lukhanyo Am just makes the Boks even more vulnerable.

That’s not to say that a varied attacking game will win you the game. You still need to try to match the Boks in the set piece and find a way to deal with their physicality, their aerial dominance and increasingly diverse attacking game. But by taking the game to them in attack, you’re giving yourself the best chance to win and giving the fans a spectacle at the same time.

2022 Rugby Championship Round 5: Australia v New Zealand

2022 Rugby Championship Round 5: Australia v New Zealand

Round 5 of the 2022 Rugby Championship kicked off in slightly unusual circumstances on a Thursday in Melbourne with Australia facing off against New Zealand for the first Bledisloe Cup match of the year. The All Blacks came in topping the table after a big victory over Argentina, and took advantage of the Wallabies’ failure to win the kickoff to establish early dominance in the 22, resulting in a driving maul pushing Samisoni Taukei’aho over for the opening try after 3 minutes. Richie Mo’unga, getting a run of games in the starting lineup, kicked the touchline conversion and added a penalty for a breakdown infringement after 10 minutes as ill discipline and handling errors from Australia gifted the All Blacks possession. Australia finally earned some possession and soon kicked a penalty of their own through Bernard Foley, who was appearing for the first time in 3 years, while their next possession in the All Blacks 22 saw them create an overlap to send Andrew Kellaway over in the corner, only for the efforts of Rieko Ioane and Mo’unga to hold the ball up. It was just a temporary delay,  though, as Rob Valentini crashed over from short range just minutes later while Dalton Papali’i—on as a replacement for Sam Cane who had suffered a head injury—was sent to the bin for an offence in the build-up. The try and man advantage appeared to spur on the Wallabies, however a series of 15 phases deep in New Zealand territory was ended by a timely jackal from Quinn Tupaea—on early after David Havili suffered a head clash in a friendly fire incident—while the Wallabies also had to bring on Darcy Swain for Rob Leota, who had been attempting to run off an early knock. And the All Blacks immediately made Australia pay for the missed opportunity, with Caleb Clarke breaking from his own 22 into the Australian red one and forcing a cynical penalty from Tom Wright, who was sent to the bin, while Swain joined him just seconds after his introduction for a dangerous cleanout on Tupaea (who left the field with a knee injury), while Papali’i returned to the field to change a 15v14 into a 13v15 situation with 5 minutes left of the first half, which the All Blacks took immediate advantage of to drive Taukei’aho over, only for Jake Gordon to force the ball loose as the hooker tried to ground it, and the home team held on to half time with the scores level at 10-10.

The Wallabies replaced injured captain James Slipper at half time with Scott Sio coming on, but the All Blacks were ahead before the prop had a chance to get involved in the game, with a clever kick downfield and determined chase taking advantage of the extra space in the Australian backfield, while Taukei’aho was not to be denied this time when he got the ball close to the line, while a poor decision to kick from Hoskins Sotutu with plenty of men in support was the only thing that denied the All Blacks scoring on a break from their own 22 with their very next possession. A breakdown penalty won by Lalakai Foketi allowed Foley to cut the lead to 4 as the Wallabies got back to 15 men, but that didn’t last long as Jake Gordon was soon given a yellow card for collapsing a maul. WIth a man advantage and a back line featuring Mo’unga and 2 Barretts,  maul was stopped immediately, Mo’unga found a gap outside Foley and held onto the ball through a double tackle as he went to ground to score next to the posts. Just minutes later, Will Jordan beat everyone to a Beauden Barrett chip over the defensive line and swerved around the despairing tackles of the remaining defenders to score under the posts, Mo’unga’s conversion stretching the lead to 13-31. The All Blacks were looking comfortable, until Foley got his arms through a tackle and offloaded to send Kellaway over for a try as they prepared to return to 15 men, which flipped the momentum in favour of the hosts, who struck again with 13 minutes remaining as Foley’ wide pass beat the New Zealand defence and send Kellaway over again, the conversion from Foley bringing the deficit down to just 4 points. Mo’unga kicked a penalty to fight back against the flood of points, but the Wallabies had their tails up, and Pete Samu combined with Marika Koroibete to put the back row over in the corner, while Foley’s conversion drew the scores level with 6 minutes remaining. Rob Valentini won a penalty that Nic White kicked from just inside the All Black half for the unlikeliest of late leads, and when their defence stopped the All Blacks maul 5m from the line and won a penalty with just over a minute remaining, it looked like a momentous comeback victory was on the cards. However referee Mathieu Raynal decided that he had not played a big enough part in the match to this point, and having allowed time wasting from both teams throughout, chose this moment to decide that enough was enough and gave a New Zealand 5m scrum after adjudging that Foley took too long to take his kick to touch, and having been gifted one last chance, Will Jordan sent Jordie Barrett over in the corner for a controversial 37-39 victory.

Dropping like flies

Just one year out from the World Cup, Dave Rennie must be getting very nervous at the number of injuries his squad is picking up. Through both this tournament and the preceding Test series against England, they have found themselves losing a couple of players each game, and rarely just with a knock that would see them back for the next match.

While it does have some benefits by allowing Dave Rennie a chance to test some of his fringe players against strong opposition—just look at Foley’s first cap since the 2019 Rugby World Cup and Pone Fa’aumausili making his debut—the constant chopping and changing of personnel is stopping the team from getting any consistency in selection and creation of units. And as good as all these players are, they need to be playing together regularly to build up the chemistry and trust between each other—you just have to look at the former New Zealand back row of Kaino, McCaw and Read or centre pair of Nonu and Smith to see just how chemistry can take players from very good to great.

But what is causing so many injuries? Are they working to hard in training, leaving muscles at risk? Or are they just going through a string of really bad luck, as you sa with injuries to players like Banks and Perese? Whatever the case, with limited matches remaining between now and the Rugby World Cup, Dave Rennie needs to hope the injuries end soon so that his ideal 23 can get used to working together. In a pool that contains Fiji, Wales and a Georgian team that should never be written off, that chemistry and familiarity could be the difference between topping the pool and an early exit.

Scraping through

While it may be a win for the All Blacks, it’s a very odd one to look back on. While they had moments of genuine quality, many of these came when they were playing with a numerical advantage, while the playmaking trio of Mo’unga and the Barretts was enforced through injury rather than a brilliant tactical decision from Foster. But more telling was just how many breaks or half-breaks came to disappointing ends due to either handling errors or wrong decisions, most notably when Hoskins Sotutu chose to kick with teammates supporting on either side.

But equally worrying is just how easy Australia found it to hit back after periods of All Black dominance. We’re not used to seeing New Zealand take their boot off their opponent’s neck once they get on top, and you would usually expect that a couple of quick tries to build up a 13-31 lead just after the hour would be a spot from which New Zealand would go on to win comfortably rather that the prompt for a fightback from an Australian lineup who are not used to playing together. If recent matches are anything to go by, New Zealand will be better in round 6 after a match of sizing up their opponents. But if they do win he final fixture, then a 3-game winning streak will be hiding plenty of deficiencies still very present within this team.

URC 2022/23: 7 to Watch

URC 2022/23: 7 to Watch

We are now just days away from the return of the URC. The debut season of the new league was a roaring success and the new season, kicking off on Friday evening as Benetton host Glasgow, will surely even be more exciting.

And so with jut days to go, there is only one thing that remains: my look at all the players who have moved clubs this summer and selection of 7 players who I think we should be keeping an eye on this season. And as usual, we have a nice blend of domestic transfers and new arrivals to the league…


Marcus Watson

Not my original pick of Benetton’s new signings as I was going to look at Alessandro Garbisi, however with the announcement that Monty Ioane has been released from his contract, the acquisition of Marcus Watson suddenly goes from being a great signing to a crucial signing. The former England 7s star and Olympic silver medallist has impressed in the 15s game for years with Newcastle and Wasps, and I can only assume that he was one of the many casualties of the reduced salary cap in the Premiership, but I expect him to thrive in the URC. He may have lost a little pace from his prime but is still more than fast enough, while his years of top flight experience will be vital as Benetton push for a Champions Cup spot.

Sio Tomkinson

It’s a new name for Dragons RFC and (hopefully) a new and more successful start. Well the signing of Sio Tomkinson from the Highlanders certainly feels like a step in the right direction. Tomkinson is a highly physical centre who, at 26, should be in his prime years. The former New Zealand U20 will have a key role to play in a team that has not qualified for the top tier of European Cup competition since the 2010/11 season, helping to set and organise the defence, while using his hard running to create space out wide for the wings.

Malakai Fekitoa

Tomkinson isn’t the only former Highlanders centre joining the league this year as Malakai Fekitoa makes the journey from Coventry to Limerick. With Damian de Allende leaving, there wouldn’t have been many replacements of the same quality available but Munster managed to find one as they look to rebuild under Graham Rowntree. A solid and dependable all-rounder, the former All Black and now Tongan international will be looking to provide an X-factor that will help the province compete with Leinster.

Vaea Fifita

The second former All Black to leave Wasps for the URC this summer, Fifita is one of many who tried and failed to secure the All Blacks 6 shirt since Jerome Kaino left New Zealand, but that does not mean that he is not a talented player. Has transitioned from blindside flanker to lock over the years, creating a dynamic option in the Scarlets tight five with solid handling skills. New World Rugby eligibility laws could make this signing interesting, as he is now eligible for Tonga, so have the Scarlets signed someone who will be an ever-present, or someone who will be absent during international windows?

Vincent Tshituka

Considering the Sharks have also signed Eben Etzebeth and Rohan Janse van Rensburg, this may seem like an odd pick, but such is the potential of Tshituka. One of the few players to stand out for the Lions against the British & Irish Lions, Tshituka is a hard-hitting, dynamic loose forward and one of the new generation of impressive loose forwards coming through in South African rugby. With the Bulls and Stormers facing off in last season’s final, Tshituke is the kind of player who can help the Sharks be even more dangerous this season, while also giving them a true talent to build around in the future.

Josh Furno

It’s been all change at Zebre Parma this summer, with 21 players leaving and 22 arriving. One of the most recent of the 22 is my pick here, Melbourne-born Italian international lock Josh Furno., who returns to the club he played for in the 2016-2017. A journeyman whose list of former clubs includes Newcastle, Biarritz, Otago, San Diego Legion and most recently Union Sportive Bressane (Bourg-en-Bresse), Furno brings years of experience, including 37 caps for the Azzurri. With such a turnover of playing staff, such experience will be crucial to help the suad gel quickly and effectively in a competitive league.

Byron Ralston

This time last year, Irish-qualified Australian Mack Hansen was preparing to make his competitive debut for Connacht after a summer move from the Brumbies, and we all know how well the last 12 months have turned out for him. Well Connacht will be hoping that lightning strikes twice as this summer sees 22-year-old Irish-qualified Australian wing Byron Ralston arrive from Western Force. A real speedster whose chance came when COVID saw the return of the Force to top-flight competition in Super Rugby AU, which led to a place in Super Rugby Pacific. While a repeat of Hansen’s first season feels unlikely given the depth Ireland have on the wing, don’t be shocked to see Ralston become a regular starter at The Sportsground.


Which new signings are you most looking forward to watching?

Thanks for reading!

Premier League 2022/23: New signings to watch (Part 2)

Premier League 2022/23: New signings to watch (Part 2)

Ahead of the start of the new Premier League season, I looked at the transfers teams had made over the summer and selected 8 who I thought were worth keeping an eye on. Well the timing of Transfer Deadline Day meant that there was still over a month for teams to make transfers after the point that I released this article, so I’m back with a part 2, looking at a handful more signings, with the caveat being that they were signed after 27ᵗʰ July, when I wrote Part 1.

Part 1’s list has already seen a number of players putting in fantastic performances, so can the players below continue the trend?


Alexander Isak

With the takeover of Newcastle United and the end of years of stagnation under Mike Ashley, there was talk of all the superstars that the club could afford to sign. And while Eddie Howe has focused on solid and reliable players rather than “superstars”, the signing of Swedish international Isak is a signal of intent. At just 22 years old, Isak already has 37 caps (9 goals) and has averaged a goal every 2-3 games throughout his club career. A huge upgrade on Callum Wilson and Chris Wood (while also much younger), expect him to quickly become a fan-favourite at St James’ Park.

Neal Maupay

Last season showed just how desperately Everton needed to find a capable back-up striker for whenever Dominic Calvert-Lewin was unavailable, as Anthony Gordon is not a striker and players like him, Demarai Gray and Dwight McNeil desperately needed someone to target in the box. Is Maupay the answer though? While an experienced player, goals have never been his specialty, with his 2018/19 Championship season for Brentford (28 goals in 49 matches—all competitions) a clear outlier as he has only hit double figures for a season 4 other times, with 13 goals in all competitions his best return. Can Lampard get the best out of Maupay? At least he should still be an upgrade on Salomón Rondón…

Emmanuel Dennis

Making the jump from Championship to Premier League survival is far from easy and needs some good work in the transfer market. And while Forest have been very busy this summer, Dennis could be a key signing. While the Nigerian’s goal returns are far from the most impressive, he was one of the more impressive players for Watford during the nightmare that was last season, with his 10 goals double that of any of his teammates. With players like Jesse Lingard and Neco Williams now looking to set him up, Dennis has the opportunity of a breakout year in England, which will be crucial for Forest as Dean Henderson does his best to keep out the goals at the other end.

Mikkel Damsgaard

When Christian Eriksen became unavailable following his collapse during the Euros, it was the young Damsgaard who came in for him and made a name for himself with his impressive performances through the rest of the competition. Now, with Eriksen choosing Manchester United over a return to Brentford after they gave him a return to professional football, the Bees have made the same move as Denmark by signing the 22-year old from Sampdoria. The Dane has shown himself as an impressive technical player and should thrive with target men like Toney and Mbeumo in the box, while the Danish contingent at the club will also hopefully help him settle quickly.


Which new signings are you keeping an eye on?

Thanks for reading.

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2022 Rugby Championship Round 4: Australia v South Africa

2022 Rugby Championship Round 4: Australia v South Africa

Week 4 of the Rugby Championship continued with the first ever match at the new Allianz Stadium in Sydney as Australia hosted South Africa. The World Champions, coming in on a shock 2-game losing streak, made a number of changes to their squad for this match and were immediately on the front foot, putting heavy pressure on in defence and looking dangerous in attack. And so it was no surprise to see the Springboks open the scoring, after phases of pressure in the 22 from the forwards drew the defence in tight, leaving space for Eben Etzebeth to spin in contact and offload to Damian de Allende to go over beneath the posts, while Matt Philip was also sent to the bin for not retreating 10m at a penalty in the build-up. The South African dominance continued as the half went on, but wet conditions led to a series of handling errors that brought their chances to an end, while Australia were forced into a reshuffle of their back line as Hunter Paisami went off just before the half hour with a head injury, Andrew Kellaway coming on at 13 while Len Ikitau moved to 12. The Wallabies grew into the game though and Noah Lolesio put them on the scoreboard with 8 minutes left of the half with his first kick at goal. However the Springboks got the last laugh before the break as Canan Moodie outjumped Marika Koroibete to beat him to Jaden Hendrikse’s box kick before running in uncontested to score on his Test debut and give the Springboks a 3-12 lead at the break.

The second half began much like the first, with incredible pressure from the Springboks leading to an early try as Willie le Roux sent Franco Mostert over in the corner, while the Wallabies were dealt a blow as replacement Taniela Tupou suffered an injury when warming up and Noah Lolesio left the pitch, forcing another reshuffle that saw replacement scrum half Jake Gordon come on to play on the wing. The Wallabies put together a patch of dominance which ended as Allan Ala’alatoa was penalised for a clean-out direct to the head of Damian de Allende, and the South Africans put the pressure straight back on, winning a series of penalties that saw de Allende held up over the line, but with 10 minutes remaining, the ball was spread wide for Willie le Roux to send Makazole Mapimpi in the corner for a try, with the wing also being sent to the bin after his reaction sparked a coming together between both teams. With a man advantage, Australia went over for a consolation try with just minutes left, while le Roux was sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on in the build-up, but there was no further time for the Wallabies to fight back and the game ended in an 8-24 victory for the World Champions.

The right trio?

Have Australia got the right trio in the back row? They look like they had found a reliable trio in Rob Leota, Michael Hooper and Rob Valentini, but with Hooper pulling out, and the decision to bring in Jed Holloway in place of Leota, that balance is having to be found all over again.

McReight is certainly doing his best to replace Hooper, but those are big boots to fill for a player so inexperienced at this level, and while Holloway is surely doing plenty of work that goes unseen, he des not appear to be getting as involved as Leota used to.

For me, McReight needs to stay in as a specialist 7, but I would argue that Holloway be replaced, either by Leota or my preferred choice Pete Samu: Capable of playing across the back row, he brings power, dynamism and is also good for a couple of turnovers per game. Adding him gives the Wallabies another genuine weapon in attack, while the Wallabies could also draw up a couple of plays off scrums that see Samu and Valentini swap positions.

Dominant

After 2 losses in a row, South Africa needed a reaction. Well the certainly got one in this match. Right from the kickoff, this looked like a team that were looking to ensure that they not only won, but dominated their opposition.

Siya Kolisi played like a man possessed, absolutely dominating the breakdown, while usual replacements Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff were running hard with ball in hand and doing everything they could to disrupt the Australian breakdown. Jasper Wiese carried hard and in my view should now be the first choice number 8 , likewise Hendrikse at 9 who remains a handful and kicks so effectively. De Allende varied his play at 12—though I would argue he still put in too many questionable kicks—while Willie le Roux did his usual job of calming things down and keeping things in order in the back line. And lets also take a moment to mention Canan Moodie, who made his debut and arguably outplayed one of Australia’s most consistently dangerous players in Marika Koroibete!

They put the pressure on the Wallabies and never really let off, never giving them a chance to properly get their own attacking play going , while still also using the kicking game to keep them in their own half. Was it a perfect performance? No, but it’s a timely reminder that playing with desire, aggression and intensity—as long as it’s correctly channeled—is important if you want to win in Test rugby.

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2022 Rugby Championship Round 4: New Zealand v Argentina

2022 Rugby Championship Round 4: New Zealand v Argentina

The 2022 Rugby Championship entered the second half of its competition with the second of Argentina’s matches in New Zealand. The Pumas came into the match topping the table after their first ever win over the All Blacks in New Zealand, but an early handling error from Tomás Lavanini gave the All Blacks immediate possession in the Pumas 22, and a minute of pressure earned them a penalty, which RIchie Mo’unga calmly slotted for an early lead. In wet conditions, the Pumas continued to make errors that gifted New Zealand possession and territory, and when Rieko Ioane recovered a chip into the Pumas 22, the All Blacks quick ball kept them on the front foot and eventually saw Ethan de Groot crash over for the opening try. The All Blacks extended their lead as the first quarter came to an end, Mo’unga sending a grubber in behind the Pumas defence—and taking a big hit from Marcos Kremer in the process—which Will Jordan won the race to, and with the Pumas defence retreating, the ball was spread wide on the next phase to send Caleb Clarke over in the corner, Mo’unga converting for a 17-0 lead. This finally sparked a response from Argentina, whose first attack of real note won a penalty, but they chose to kick to the corner and were soon undone by another handline error as they tried to spread the ball wide. Emiliano Boffelli finally put Argentina on the scoreboard with a penalty after 32 minutes, however a lack of communication recovering the restart led to them giving away a penalty in their own 22, and after the All Blacks’ initial attempt was stopped, Samisoni Taukei’aho crossed for the try—written off for a knock-on in the build-up by Tyrel Lomax—while Lavanini was sent to the bin for not being back 10m at the penalty. And the All Blacks took immediate advantage of the extra man, choosing to take a scrum and getting the push on, before giving to the backs to send Rieko Ioane over beneath the post, Mo’unga kicking the conversion for a 24-3 halftime lead.

The Pumas made a change at half time, with Benjamín Urdapilleta replacing Santiago Carreras—who had taken a knock to the thigh courtesy of an unpenalised late hit from Sam Cane—and he immediately had the Pumas on the attack, until a strip from Sam Whitelock on Thomas Gallo saw the All Blacks win the ball back and kick downfield, with a great chase putting the Pumas under heavy pressure, resulting in possession once again deep in the Argentina half and, soon after, another penalty for Mo’unga. As both teams went to their benches, George Bower found himself turned over by Matera n the Pumas try line, and this sparked a period of attacking intensity from the Pumas which saw Fletcher Newell binned for collapsing a driving maul and as the penalties continued to come their way, Lavanini’s stretch for the line saw the ball dislodged by Mo’unga, while another handling error ended their next attack in the 22. Winning a penalty advantage off the resulting scrum, the All Blacks chose to try and play with ball in hand, and Will Jordan released Rieko Ioane to break away, and a few phases of pressure saw Sam Cane put through to draw the last defender and feed Jordie Barrett for the try. That try killed off any remaining hopes of an Argentina comeback, and New Zealand’s next foray into Pumas territory also saw them score, Ardie Savea dotting down with 12 minutes left to make it 2 tries scored while Newell was in the bin, while Brodie Retallick marked his return from injury with a try with 6 minutes remaining and Beauden Barrett crossed after the final hooter, with brother Jordie converting for a 50-3 victory that will likely see many with short memories say that Ian Foster is the man to lead the All Blacks again.

In behind

Last week I talked about how the All Blacks just mindlessly ran into the heart of the Pumas defence phase after phase. Well it looks like Ian Foster has done his homework and created a gameplan to attack the Pumas (a week late), as they have done much better this week. And it all comes down to one thing: kicks in behind the defence.

The Argentina defence is made up of a group of absolute units getting in your face and hitting you hard, but once you get in behind them, they are vulnerable as they are forced to chase back, and often start giving away high numbers of penalties. This week, the All Blacks were finding a way to get in behind the defensive line, by having Richie Mo’unga and David Havili play clever shallow kicks in behind the front line.

It was a clear planned tactic as Will Jordan was always aware and ready to chase for it, while the kicks all notably came when playing to the All Blacks’ right wing, away from aerial master Emiliano Boffelli. Worst case scenario, these chips and grubbers were forcing the Pumas to have the ball deep in their own half, but what was often happening in the game was that Jordan was beating the defence on the turn, and in that moment the All Blacks attack would press their advantage to score a few phases later.

Now if only Ian Foster can start figuring out how to beat a team in 1 week rather than 2 or 3, the All Blacks may be able to put together a run of wins.

Kicking themselves

While New Zealand got their tactics right this week, the Pumas didn’t. Much like in the first round against Australia, Argentina focused too much on attacking with the ball in hand, which worked against them as a combination of wet conditions and a solid All Blacks defence saw them continually making handling errors that killed off their match.

What they should have been doing was playing the kicking game that they did in round 2, putting the ball up and letting players like Carreras, Boffelli, Cordero and Mallia put pressure on the All Blacks in the air. Granted the All Blacks are better set to deal with this than the Wallabies (courtesy of both Jordie Barrett and Will Jordan being experienced fullbacks), but with conditions making the ball slippery, it would have still been a much more effective tactic, while also forcing the All Blacks to play from deep.

It’s noticeable that the high ball game did feature a little more after the break, and it did cause some problems for the All Blacks, but the game was already all-but over as a competition by that point and needed a more attacking gameplan from the Pumas, which then worked into New Zealand hands as the handling errors continued.