It’s time for our Monday cover of who’s got their name in lights and who’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.
THEY ARE ON FIRE!
One of the great 40 minutes: That was quite a special first half in Dublin as the world number one and two put on a show for the Aviva Stadium spectators and those watching on television. The intensity, speed and quality of the rugby were of the highest order as Ireland and France look by all accounts the title contenders for the Rugby World Cup later this year. However, the here and now is Six Nations rugby and ultimately, as expected, the Irish were on a nose for performance and form at the moment. It really was a great half between two excellent teams as Ireland finally pulled away for a vital 32-19 win that takes them one step closer to a now-probable Grand Slam.
Milestones: Congratulations to Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Dave Kilcoyne, who all reached the 50 cap mark for Ireland this weekend. The trio would have been thrilled to celebrate the milestone with that victory over France and all put in a shift in Dublin, making the day extra sweet. There was also a milestone for Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg at Murrayfield as he played his 100th Test (98 for his country and two for the Lions). Like the Irish trio, his own performance became even more special after Scotland overcame Wales.
Finn Russell and Scotland turn him on: After an indifferent first half performance, Russell turned on the style after half time as he helped Scotland to a 35-7 win as they took two bonus points out of two on Saturday. The Six Nations result ends their frustrating round two hoodoo of the past two years as they finally secured an opening championship win. Russell was brilliant in the second period as his kicking and offloading play had Wales all the way at sea. If the fly-half can replicate this form in Paris in round three, Scotland could deliver a shock.
Jack Willis and Ollie Lawrence: Both lost to England in their opening round defeat to Scotland, but Willis and Lawrence’s comebacks were certainly emphatic as they helped the Red Rose to a comfortable victory over Italy on Sunday. Despite playing just 53 minutes, the flanker scored 20 tackles and threatened the breakdown in an emotional return to Test rugby, proving how crucial he will be for Steve Borthwick moving forward. Elsewhere, Lawrence has been a wrecking ball in midfield and now looks to have nailed down a center jersey.
The return of Jakes White and Sbu Nkosi: There was a double boost for the Bulls as these two key players have recently returned to the club’s headquarters after their absence. It was a troubling time for both of them. White underwent life-saving surgery after a blood clot damaged his small intestine, while Nkosi struggles with his mental health. The Springbok wing was reported missing by the Bulls after being “absent without leave” for three weeks. Thankfully he was found safe and sound and last week he and White were back with the Pretoria team as they look ahead to the rest of the campaign. Fortunately, these disturbing stories had a positive ending. Welcome back, both of you.
All Blacks stars on their way to Toyota: Japan looks set to be the place to follow the Rugby World Cup after Toyota added Verblitz All Blacks stars Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett to their ranks. With those two world-class players together, they’re bound to be incredibly hard to stop next season. It also continues the trend of New Zealand stars heading to Asia to enter into fiscally prudent contracts, rather than heading to Europe, where the money is similar but the toll on the body would be significant. What a half-back combination to sign up for.
COLD AS ICE!
Wales suffers heavy defeat: Are they destined for the Wooden Spoon this season? It seems an increasing possibility after that performance at Murrayfield as Wales were picked apart in the second half. Warren Gatland wielded the ax for this game as he wanted to watch young players in his side and although Christ Tshiunza came out of the loss with some credit on the bench it was a largely underwhelming effort from Wales overall. They are currently a poorly disciplined team with no clinical lead and they need to fix these issues before England come to Cardiff or the prospect of a clean run of defeats looms, with Italy and France (both out) struggling games in March. in.
Death of Worcester Warriors: Our hearts go out to the Worcester supporters, who actually saw their club die after Jim O’Toole and James Sandford (otherwise known as the Atlas Consortium) effectively ended their existence. After previous owners, Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring, managed the club so badly that they were forced into administration, O’Toole and Sandford came in by promising a lot but delivering very little.
Questions should also be put to the Begbies trustees, whose job it is to help the creditors (i.e. those who owe money from the club, including players and staff), but under the current arrangement they will receive absolutely nothing. Atlas’ plan is to merge with National 2 side Stourbridge and rebrand as Sixways Rugby, meaning they won’t have to pay the £5.2 million outstanding debt.
The RFU set Worcester, and the other financially stricken club Wasps, a deadline of 14 February to meet their criteria to play in the Championship, but negotiations broke down, leading to the latest developments. However, despite O’Toole and Sandford’s insistence that they wanted to act in the best interests of the club, there are serious doubts whether that was the case.
They have always been the trustees’ bidder of choice, but the other consortium, including former Warriors rugby director Steve Diamond, has insisted their bid was to pay all the money owed by creditors. If that is indeed the case, and Diamond frankly has a much better reputation than those two, then Begbies haven’t done their job. This story has a long way to go but our thoughts are with Worcester supporters as well as former players and staff.
Leicester Tigers exodus continues: After Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield have left to become England head coach and defense coach respectively, two more will leave after the end of the season. Current interim Tigers boss Richard Wigglesworth and head of physical performance Aled Walters will also join the Red Rose. Walters will be a particularly big miss – and a major coup for the national team – as he helped the Tiger side get conditioned. He played a vital role in South Africa’s success in 2019 and Borthwick hopes he will have the same effect at England. However, it is quite brutal for the Premiership holders, who have completely decimated their coaching staff. There have been rumors of some pretty impressive names apparently chasing them, but the Tigers are in a rebuilding phase.
Vinaya Habosi: It was announced on Tuesday that Fijian Drua had terminated wing Vinaya Habosi’s contract ahead of the 2023 campaign after it was alleged he assaulted his partner. The 23-year-old was outstanding for the Super Rugby Pacific team last season and was subsequently rewarded with a debut for Fiji. However, we will not see Habosi in action this year “due to a high-level breach of the club’s code of conduct,” de Drua said in a statement. The wing has reportedly signed a deal to join Racing 92 after the Rugby World Cup.
End of an era for England: After a world record 30 wins and two Rugby World Cup finals, the women’s team will see head coach Simon Middleton leave after the upcoming Six Nations. He’s done a great job and arguably helped change the landscape of women’s rugby during his time in charge, but there will still be regrets after those two defeats to New Zealand in the 2017 and 2021 global tournaments (well , 2022). He leaves the England game better, but without the reward he and perhaps the Red Roses deserved.
Rassie Erasmus’ latest Twitter diatribe: The SA Rugby boss was in the news again this weekend when he took to Twitter to respond to comments made by former Springbok head coach Nick Mallett on Supersport’s television program Final Whistle. In response to a question about the state of coaching in South Africa, Mallett said it’s part of Erasmus’ duties as the country’s rugby director and he should do his job properly, rather than tweeting about the Springboks. Erasmus was not happy with that criticism and hit back at Mallett via a voice note he posted to Twitter early Saturday morning. In his response, Erasmus accuses Mallett of “saying things without substance”, that he “doesn’t know what a rugby director is” and also uses foul language at the end of the video. Erasmus’ tirade leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and one wonders why he couldn’t just confront Mallett over a private phone call to clear the air. Will he ever learn?
READ MORE: Six Nations: Five takeaways from England v Italy as Steve Borthwick’s men go back to basics in promising shows
The article Who’s hot and who’s not: Dublin performs and Finn Russell shines while things look bleak for Wales and Worcester Warriors appeared first on Planetrugby.com.