Thursday, August 28, 2008

How about the Tri-Nations tournament this year? Is it not the best in...well almost forever. If not the best, the certainly the closest. A hotly fougth contest that will come down to the wire between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in Brisbane on 13 September. It is going to be fantastic. All those Wallabies fans out there will be watching to see if their team can pull off a two win tour of the Republic - an historic event to be sure. The suspension of Elsom will have riled many, and may yet be overturned. However, it is sure to have caused disruption in the preparation for this weekend's mighty clash against a Bok side that will be more desperate than the South Africans have been in generations to come away with a win...but if they weren't desperate before now, what does it take with this team? Being held to nil for the first time on home soil by a mediocre All Blacks performance should have given them cause to rally, but it didn't and they were well beaten by Aussie. The only question is, do they have anything left in them to pull out this weekend? Time will tell...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hey Fellow Super 14 Fanatics, the 2008 season is not far off, and is starting to make the sports news coverage. As is typically the case, there is a paucity of pre-season information about the teams, changes that have been made, and even coverage of the pre-season games that give a poor indication of the form we can expect from teams during the coming season!

There is a significant level of interest in this season's competition however, due in part to the departure of Robbie Deans for the fair shores of the Lucky Country at the end of this seasons Super 14 to coach the Wallabies. One last swan song at the helm of the Crusaders awaits NZ's most unlucky coach in recent memory. Who'd have thought that the All Blacks would retain a losing coach after the worst World Cup performance ever? The question that remains to be answered, and only time will tell, is whether or not the decision shows some maturity on the behalf of NZ Rugby, or if it is self interest at the highest levels of the NZRFU? As for Aussie, they fared no better and fell to an England team that played it tight and hard. South Africa, champions and deservedly so for no other reason than they played to their strengths, did not falter, and followed a game plan. A well deserved win for the Southern Hemisphere, but hopefully the South has been disabused of the arrogance that continually leads to supposed 'upset' victories when the teams actually play a full strength norther hemisphere side.

In any event, this blog is back underway. Posts are likely to be weekly until competition time when they will revert to daily or every two days during the season. Also I have found several newish sites that may be of interest to readers that feature some of the action from rugby around the world. I'll be adding those links in the near future. I'll also set up a poll where readers can choose the team they think will take out the competition this season. If you ask me, the Crusaders will win, but hey, let's see if some of those Blues fans come back to this site again! Keep those comments coming.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Blues Continue Winning Streak

The Blues game tonight was a hard fought contest and the Cheetahs certainly turned up to play at Eden Park tonight. There were some huge hits, and some of the Blues looked a bit worse for wear by the end of the game, this torrid encounter coming hard on the heels of a very physical clash with the Chiefs last week. Daniel Braid in particular needed some running repairs to his rearranged face. There will be some stitches required there methinks.

However, the Blues will be pleased to have won the game 26-8. Of concern for the Blues will be the way that their forward pack was unable to combat the lineout drive of the tourists, and was unable to get any momentum of their own against a pack that included a few heavy weights. Nucifora will no doubt be working on that during the coming week in preparation for the game against the Sharks next week who will definitely exploit this weakness with their considerable forward pack of test veterans.

On the postive side the Blues backline really fired and delivered a length of the field try that will certainly make the highlight reels for this season. It was chamagne rugby, superbly opportunism and some great skills to make a wonderful try that no team in the competition would have been able to defend against. Fantastic stuff for you Blues fans out there, this team is a virtual certainty for the top 4 if they can win any of their remaining four games. About time this team turned around.

Smoking Joe made a return to the field after sustaining an injury following the controversial reconditioning program that the All Blacks have been on fro the first half of the season. He looked short of a game, but to be fair the game had lost a lot of structure by the time he took the field and nothing could really be said about his game at this stage. Hopefully he will be back to his very best. It is all onwards and upwards for the Blues who face the Sharks at Albany and then must be due for their tour of Australia and the Republic. What a way to finish!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Break Over

Hi all, sorry for the infrequent postings of late, aside from being depressed about my complete inability to correctly tip any of the games this year (yes, my girlfriend is beating me again this year) I have also been moving and having to wait while interent is set up at my new place and so on.

The good news is that I have foxtel and am loving it. Watching all the games live is the best thing ever, and having such a massive screen to watch them on fantastic. I am well set up and watched 6 hours of rugby straight last weekend, and felt fortunate to have recorded it all so I could watch it all again after the live stuff stopped. Technology is a wonderful thing...

This weekend should be a more settled round I feel. The Chiefs are an enigma. Most punters have tipped them this weekend at home, however they will be a difficult team all season this year. The Tahs may be due for a win, but here in Sydney it is all doom and gloom as the punters write off not only the Tahs, but also any chance the Wallabies may have to securing the World Cup later on this year.

The Blues have been going well, however they only lead the table because they have played one extra game over the sharks. Both these teams should win this week to add to their impressive starts to the season. Mark my words, the Africans will be back come world cup time and the impressive display the sharks put on last week against young pretenders (or old hands looking at the front row at least) the Cheetahs. That was a strong performance by the African tight five that rolled out for the Sharks.

Before I go I must make mention of the strong performance put in by Doug Howlett last week who copped a low blow from the opposing fullback in the game against the Lions, and that was followed up by what could have been an attempted head butt from the same player, and then a punch from the African half back. Normally wingers will throw the handbags, and then that's it. However Douggie went hard and knocked the stuffing out of the opposing fullback with some very strong and superbly timed tackles that really left him rattled. Great to see some hard play coming back into the game. All we need now are for some of the bigger men to start doing it and we'll have some games on our hands!

Good luck to you all for this round.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Upsets Continue in Round Three

Stormers Get First Win Against Lowly Chiefs

The Stormers handed the Chiefs their third loss from as many games, defeating one of the most dissapointing franchises from New Zealand this season 21-16 at Newland Stadium early saturday morning Australian time. I'm hoping that this is the last time this season that there wont be a game on to watch on Friday evening, nice organisational skills SANZAR. Get your act together. Aside from that, not much to say about this game except that the Stormers and the Chiefs are now tied at the bottom of the table on 5 points. It will be a long season for fans of either side from here on in.

Western Force Surprise Hometown Faithful

The Bulls surrendered their growing legend of toughness at home to newcomers, the Western Force this weekend, going down 30-27 in what was one of the more thrilling games this weekend. Cameron Shepperd was to the fore in his sides win against the predictions of most punters, and certainly the bookies. He scored 2 tries and kicked 6 goals for a massive point scoring haul to take his side home. Always nice to see a fat man score a try, and in this case we saw prop Gareth Hardy score the winning try for his side - especially sweet. The Force seem as if they may be...well a force to be reckoned with this season.

Hurricanes Pip The Blues

In Wellington the Canes managed to make Tana Umagas 300th first class game a fond memory for him downing the Blues by one point 23-22 in a see sawing match that the Blues will be kicking themselves for losing. They ought to have taken this match, but failed to show the necessary discipline and toughness in adverse circumstances and this cost them the game. Having won by one point the previous week, there is a certain sense of poetic justice about this result, incuding the fact that the Blues will at least walk away with a bonus point, and possibly can get into a good frame of mind to take on the resurgent Reds at home this coming weekend.

Ausse Derby Falls Flat

The much hyped Reds Brumbies match failed to deliver any attractive rugby as a hard fought, and very lucky 6-3 victory was attained by the Brumbies over a poorly judged match. Eddie Jones has been described as being OUTRAGED over the referee's calls during the game, especially those against the dominant scrum...I'd have to agree with him. There are too many backs outthere refereeing scrums about which they clearly know nothing and it is ruining the one aspect of the game that still sets Union apart from the other codes. The scrum is key, and we want to see a decent competition up front and well matched sides use their beef. This was a scrappy and intense game, but again this is one that wont make the highlights dvd for this season. Unfortunately Jones' contribution to free speech in Australia is likely to land him in hot water and incur a fine. This only adds to the Reds predicament after centre Johanssen was cited for a high tackle.

CheeTAHS To Good For Woeful WarraTAHS

The battle of the Tahs has been fought this year, and the Aussie side have slumped to their second loss for the season, the homeside Cheetahs continuing on their impressive run since entering Super 14 last season. They won in Kimberley 30-26 over a Warratahs side that included the underperforming multimillion million dollar man Lote Tuqiri who was shown a thing or two about commitment and performance by the rising star Kurtley Beale who scored brilliant solo try in his first Super 14 start. We will be seeing much more of Beale, and may even see more of him come world cup time...The Warratahs will look forward to the bye and to having some home games in the coming weeks after this tour.

Crusaders lose to Lions

The biggest upset of the round must be the Crusaders loss to the woeful Lions in the republic in a poor game that was decided 9-3 in faovur of the home side. This was a tryless encounter, as the Crusaders continue to feel the effects of the loss of their All Blacks for the first half of this season. On the road in the republic this side have been knocked over in other boilovers, but this was a particularly poor game by their standards and it can be put down to the second string side having to play in World Cup year. Not much to take out of this one except the fact that the Crusaders may not be worthy of backing this season, and of course they do get a bonus point in this one which may help at the end of the season.

Sharks Beat Highlanders

This was probably the easiest to predict of all games this round. The Sharks did manage to play to the script and took out the game thanks to Montgomerey who scored all 23 of the Sharks points against the 16 mustered by the Highlanders. This kept the Sharks unbeaten record intact and provided good competition points for this side who are now at the top of the table, 3 points clear of the Force, Blues, Cheetahs, Brumbies and Hurricanes all tied for second place on 9 points.

And that is it for round 3. Plenty of tight games, but only a couple produced any actual excitement. Bring on Round 4 (the first of the rounds with byes for some of the sides).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Crusaders Back to Their Winning Ways

The Crusaders returned to form tonight in front of the hometown faithful, triumphing over the Reds by 33-22. The Crusaders snagged a bonus point which may serve them well in the weeks to come. One always had the impression that the Crusaders were unlucky against the Blues, having had the game presented to them on a platter by an at times wayward Blues gameplan that has become a hallmark of that team in recent years...However, this victory may see a return to winning form for the Crusaders, and certainly this team will count these 5 competition points without their All Blacks as especially sweet.

The Reds did push hard, but few would have backed them to take out the Crusaders at home. It was close until near the end, with the Crusaders holding only a two point margin with little time to go. A final try added the difference and pushed out the victory to a more respectable margin than it might otherwise have been. More importantly the Reds have been denied a bonus point in the course of this loss, losing by more than 7 and failing to score 4 tries. Schifkofske kept them in the game with his boot, however kicking is not normally enough to beat the Crusaders at home....

Let the games go on!
Round Two Surprises

Hurricanes Back on Track by Beating Wayward Chiefs

In the first game of the round the Chiefs seem to be back to their most woeful worst. They bumbled at least 3 first half tries and handed a barely deserved victory 32-39 to the Hurricanes, who also looked unimpressive. In the words of the straight shooting Umaga, they were very lucky to win. Tito, former winner of the ugliest man in Super 12, snatched victory for the canes in the dying stages of the match leaving the Chiefs 0 from 2 at home...not a good start to the season and it seems the cellar dweller ways of the Chiefs may have returned. It could be a long season for them.

Force Notch up First Win Against Stormers

The much favourited Stormers failed to get any traction in this game, even with the aid of their formerly great number 7 Schalk Burger. They were pitiful in this game, and they will fail to attract much of a home crowd if they keep playing like this. They too appear to be destined to dwell in the lower stages of the competition. The Force on the other hand did manage to get a good win under their belts after the disappointing display against the Highlanders at home last week. 22-3 was the margin and very few would have picked that the Force would blos the Stormers off their own ground.

Warratahs Outclassed by Sharks

Despite a wealth of possession the Warraths confirmed for all to see why they have never managed to take out the title. Missed tackles, bumbled passes, and an inability to win a game that was there for the taking, this loss 22-9 will be considered a warning sign by the fans of this side. Class players simply failed to live up to their reputation and the home side ground out a win predicted by the bookies, but in the press the Tahs were considered a good bet. Not so it would seem. Poor penalty kicking did not see the Tahs put pressure on the home side, missing four of seven shots at goal. The Sharks on the other hand managed to get their kicks at goal and grind out a win in a scrappy affair from which no plays are likely to make the highlights reel from this season.

Plenty of good games to come this round, the main event being the Crusaders against the Reds from Christchurch. Also, the Blues shape up against the Brumbies and with Stirling Mortlock out for the game, the Blues may be feeling that things are starting to go their way. Traditionally they haven't done well against this side, especially in Canberra, and this could be a cracking game. Enjoy, and check back here for more of the results.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

End of Round One Round Up

Brumbies Burst Chief's Bubble

The Brumbies have destroyed the air of confidence that had surrounded the Chief's build up this season by beating the Chiefs in front of their home crowd at Hamiton 15-21. The Chiefs did outscore the Brumbies 3 tries to 2, but discipline hurt the team and Huxley made sure that they paid for it on the scoreboard by making his shots at goal count and taking the game away.

Wallaby Mark Gerard limped from the field in the second half, and this sight would be causing a few concerns for Knuckles as injury further depeletes the ranks of an unimpressive Wallabies side. However, the World Cup is a long way off and so far there is no suggestion that the injury to Gerard is unlikely to heal as the season goes on.

Stirling Mortlock again had another cracker of a game, he is easily Australia's most potent attacking weapon on the paddock, and while he is in the Wallabies, that team always has a fighting chance. He showed his class with the opening try, and by half time the Brumbies had the buffer they needed to ride out the game. A well deserved win away from home, and the Brumbies will be feeling a lot more confident about their home game next week against a scratchy Blues side that failed to impress against the Crusaders.

Reds Destroy Hopes of Hurricanes

Last night the Reds destroyed any feeling of confidence that there may have been among any Hurricanes supporters. The Reds turned on an impressive display to down the 'canes in Brisbane 25-16. It was a sound display by one of the underperforming teams in the Super 14. Clearly Eddie Jones has made a significant impact on this side, and the nay sayers about his credentials will have to eat their words in Queensland. A win to kick off the season is just what they needed and their confidence will have shot up no end.

The Reds were particularly impressive up front, the pack picking and running all over the Hurricanes who suffered several key injuries in the loss that will hurt them for the rest of the season. In particular the canes lost two props, one for the season, and this lead to uncontested scrums - a devastating sign this early on in the season. This will further dent the ability of an understrength pack to combat the opposition. Wellington would do well to try and find some replacement props out there in the world or their season is pretty much over.

League recruits Berrick Barnes and Schifcofske acquitted themselves well in the first official turnout in regular season. This Reds outfit is stronger than in recent years, and they will need to be. Next week they are off to Christchurch to face the Crusaders at home, never an easy task. In addition, the Crusaders will be livid that they let the mediocre Blues win the opening game when it was there to be taken by them. Watch out for the backlash next week, but the class of the Reds may see them through still. Should be a good game.

Sharks Have Beef for Breakfast

The Natal Sharks took out the Blue Bulls this morning 17-3 at home. The bulls are a team that seem to stutter on the road, even within the Republic. Two tries to winger J P Pietersen got the homeside across the finish line. He scored one try in each half and these proved the difference between the two sides. Montogomerey also contributed by converting the tries to take the Sharks outside of the 7 pioint margin to deny the Bulls a bonus point from the encounter. No surprises in this game, an easy result to pick, and the bookies got this one right.

Cheetahs Weather the Storm, and Come Out on Top

Relatively new franchise, the Cheetahs continued on their winning way from last season against the Storm at home, 27-9. This was a great result for the team, many having picked the Stormers to start with a win in round one. However, the Cheetahs have learned from last year, and are playing well at the start of the competition, clearly appreciating how important it is to win the home games. Ahead only 5-0 at half time, the home side had been applying pressure to the Stormers all of the first half, and were denied tries several times by the TMO. Eventually the side cracked and the Cheetahs were able to score from all the pressure they had been putting on with Strauss exploiting a huge overlap to run in a good try right on half time.

The Stormers then took the lead with two penalty kicks being successfully landed by Naas Olivier. Ariel ping pong began and the Cheetahs retook the lead with two successful penalties to Bosman to take the lead again. 11-6. The Stormers narrowed the gap with a penalty kick of their own, 11-9. However, the Cheetahs took out the winning lead by a great try to springbok prop C J van der Linde to take the score to 16-9. The Cheetahs added two more penalty goals, and sealed the win with a good try to Kabamba Floors in the last moments of the game. A well deserved win.

Of note, Schalk Burger made his comeback in the Super 14 proper since his devastating neck injury last year. The Africans will be glad that he is back, he makes a huge difference to the forward pack, and their competitiveness at the break down. However, his yellow card for a late and dangerous tackle (most out of character) was deserved and he spent 10 minutes in the firts half cooling his jets. He'll want to work on that area of the game.

So, that's round one done and dusted. All I can say is that I am so glad that Rugby is back, and Super Rugby is proving to be quite interesting this year without the key All Black players being available for the New Zealand franchises. This is proving to be making a difference to the New Zealand sides, and it will be whomever can overcome this problem the best that will still be in it at the end of the season. The teams playing the New Zealand franchises early on will be thankful for the opportunity to rack up some early points.
Round One 1/2 Way Stage Round Up

And we are off. Round one kicked off last night, and I was able to enjoy watching the game live on tv, although I had no commentary for the match, I enjoyed it immensely. This was mostly because I have been missing rugby, the off season is too long for fans, and not long enough for players! Maybe we just need a few more decent siozed competitions that can kick off at different times. In any event all of the specualtion and preseason hype is over, and the game have begun.

Blues Over Crusaders

The Blues took out their first at home game of the season in a scrappy display that wont give their fans that much confidence for the rest of the season. Of particular concern was the Blues scrum that was shunted off the ball several times by a no name pack of Crusader young pretenders. The game was won by Auckland out in the backs, and the 9 point gap ought to have been much greater. The final score was 34-25, however the Blues failed to snag a bonus point, the difference between the two sides being the kicking game of the Blues and their ability to slot the penalties. Perhaps crucially the Blues denied the Crusaders a bonus point that may be important in the latter stages of the season. Not much to take out of this game except that the Blues have a long way to go with an average forward pack. Troy Flavell also was sin binned in the final ten minutes for stomping, something that wont assist his journey back to the black jersey...shame really, apart from that he had a very strong game.

Force Fails in Firey Heat against Highlanders

In spite of making several expensive purchases over the off season, the Western Force failed to win at home against an understrength Highlanders side. The bookies got this one wrong, however it was very close, the Highlanders getting home by one point, 8-7. The Highlanders are without All Blacks Oliver and Hayman, were also without playmaker Nick Evans who has another injury...this seems to be something that is dogging his otherwise promising career. The underdogs ground out the win, and points from road trips must be cherished. Well done Highlanders, and the Force can at least take some heart from the bonus point they picked up, and the narrow margin of their defeat. Plenty of time yet for them to improve.

Waratahs Tame the Lions

The South African team known formerly as the Cats, may have changed their name to the Lions but are still failing to deliver the goods on field. Last night they went down to the Waratahs 25-16 at home in the republic. Lote Tuqiri was beaten for pace by a young winger to make a game of it in the second half, however the Tahs got home 3 tries to 1. No bonus point here for either side, and with the New Zealand franchises understrength for the first 7 rounds every point will count this year, more than others. Discipline cost the African side, a stupid spear tackle on Tuqiri resulted in a sin binning for centre Fourie and the Tahs took out the game during the 10 minute moment of numreical supremacy. The Tahs are looking to make the finals for the third straight year this season...

So, that's the round up so far. More rugby to come this weekend yet, thankfully. Somehow I feel compelled to break with tradition for this blog and remark upon the upset victory at Sydeny Cricket Ground last night where England finally managed to knock off the Australian cricket side after 9 straight losses to that side. A remarkable win, and this makes the next two games extremely important, with the likely outcome being New Zealand and England playing for the final berth in the showdown series with the home side. Good stuff, but not rugby so I wont go on about it any longer! Check back soon for more results as they come in.