Friday, 16 August 2013

2013 Rugby Championship - Australia v New Zealand

The All Blacks will be fielding a starting lineup of players with 683 Test caps on their combined CVs, versus an Australian team with 442 Test Caps. Riding the pine, New Zealand also have an advantage in experience - 169 to 93. That would seem to give us the edge, especially in the front row (who'll be looking to master new rules and continue the demolition act the Lions pulled on the boys in yellow), the loosies, and our granite-like midfield pairing of Smith & Nonu.

But that's not to say it will be easy. Nonu is carrying a dodgy ankle, and a huge chip on his shoulder; as ever, his discipline could be an issue. The loss of Messam also weakens us at blindside a little, as we are having to start a debutant in Steven Luatua in his place - and immensely gifted player at Super level. Richie McCaw has played some club rugby since November last year. And there is no Daniel Carter.

But look past the media whipped-up negatives. Aaron Cruden is a player of immense talent and skill. Sam Whitelock is turning into one of the best locks in world rugby. McCaw will be fizzing, and our back three will be itching to return the possible Brumb ... I mean Wallabies kicking game. Ben Smith, Julian Savea and Israel Dagg ... more dangerous than a SharkNado!

Huge test for Ewen MacKenzie’s team. I expect them to be fired up, and contesting everything to niggle away at New Zealand and disrupt them. They have talent out wide to burn ... but questions remain over their forwards ability to win & retain the ball those speedsters need.

It’ll be a cracker. Nerves all round .. but I think New Zealand will do it by 10 points. There. I’ve jinxed it.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Australia v British & Irish Lions - 2nd Test

Apologies for lateness. Like James Horwill’s lawyer, I’ve been changing nappies all week.

Well, it is a ding-dong old battle out there in this Test Series, and only one point is separating these two teams. The Lions scraped home (slipped home?) by one point in the first Test. The Wallabies strangled their way to a win last week by a single point. The tally for the whole series stands at one game a piece ... so the winner on Saturday night will win the the tour by a point.

However, while the tension is high, and immense bragging rights are at stake, last week’s match was not of the highest quality. No team is really at their peak yet, and rolling out a sparkling, dominant performance to really put away their opposition. Maybe this week? I hope so.

For me, O’Connor has to go. He is not an international 10 and is playing second fiddle to Genia still. We’ll see if he can deliver on Deans’ faith this weekend.

It has been great entertainment in the first two Tests, and it is now all on the line, set up nicely for the big finale. The final episode in this trilogy really needs to end in a big bang.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Australia v British & Irish Lions - 1st Test


After the damp squib that was the evening’s earlier Test between New Zealand and France, this first Test of the Lions’ Tour of Australia had all the noise and drama we had hoped for as rugby fans.

There was some stunning back play on display including two of the best wingers’ tries you’ll see this year from Israel Folau and George North. And in the end, though had Australia had clawed their way back into it, Beale slipped when taking the penalty that should have won it for the Wallabies.

An insane ending really. A Welsh-dominated team win because a pitch disintegrates not unlike their home stadium in Cardiff. And Kurtley Beale comes to the ground pretty much straight from rehab, sparks a recovery, but chokes at the end.

I really hope Beale is not criticised too much for it - he was the only reason Australia got back in the game to start with.

But for the last week, while I thought the Lions were dropping like flies in warm up games, and would struggle to get their best 22 through the 3 Test series fit, it was them that ended up battering the Wallabies, and forcing 3 players off on stretchers. I hope they are all okay, the hits looked fierce ... but any loss from that 22 of Deans’ poses real questions about their depth again.

And can we just all agree that James O’Connor is not an international standard 10? Where was he all night? Ah, I won’t go on too much ... I’m loving watching, but it’s not my teams. Enjoy the Series Wallabies and Lions fans. Its all on ... and check back in for more stat sheets after each Test.

New Zealand v France - 3rd Test

Well, it lacked a bit of polish from both sides (especially the All Blacks), and may not have reached the joyful epicness of last Saturday ... but its a clean sweep, 3-0, of teh France by New Zealand.

The stats from the Test are here in this infographic.

Most notably it will probably be remembered for Beauden ‘Keys to The Mill’ Barrett’s last minute try – his second beauty in two weeks. Otherwise it was a tad error prone, and just never really delivered as an exciting game. I mean, it was close for a while, but I don’t know ... simmered.

No respite for the French. I still believe Saint-Andre has not got a Scooby what his best team is, and until he (or any other French coach) picks a consistent 22, they will not string performances together in the Six Nations, let alone on tour in the Southern Hemisphere.

Apart from that, Carter’s back. Ranger is a loss. Vito didn’t spark (again). Ben Smith is amazing. Luatua and Matt Todd became All Blacks ... though where they sit for the rest of 2013 is anybody’s guess.

Great series win by New Zealand. Now the torturous travel schedule and brutal quadrangular opposition of Australia, South Africa and Argentina beckon in this year’s Rugby Championship. I hope we can again show some of that mighty defence springing into ruthless counter-attacking that we unleashed in the second Test.