It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past week.
THEY’RE ON FIRE!
New Zealand Sevens: Both Commonwealth Games gold medals were claimed by New Zealand over the weekend. The Women won an extra-time thriller against Australia that capped a perfect debut at the Games, while the Men’s team banished the ghost of 2014’s final loss as they beat Fiji.
Your Commonwealth Games Sevens Gold Medalists.????
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) April 15, 2018
Munster: Kudos to the men of Munster, as they become only the second PRO14 team to defeat the Cheetahs in South Africa. With Leinster, Scarlets, Ospreys, Connacht, Zebre, Edinburgh, Southern Kings and Cardiff Blues all having failed to achieve the feat, Munster join Glasgow Warriors in exclusive company after edging out a tight thriller 19-17 in Bloemfontein on Friday. Now it’s off to France to take on Racing 92.
Taqele Naiyaravoro: Northampton Saints supporters will be licking their lips in anticipation of the powerful winger’s arrival. The Suva-born destroyer has beaten 21 defenders, scored five tries and run for over 100 metres in his last three Super Rugby games (make that over 150 in his last two). When at full tilt, he’s reminiscent of Jonah Lomu. Consistency was lacking in the past but he finally seems to have found it.
Chris Ashton and Toulon: What a weekend for the former England wing, with the 31-year-old claiming the Top 14 try-scoring record after his effort against Montpellier. Ashton has enjoyed an exceptional first season in France and has duly overtaken Napolioni Nalaga, who crossed 21 times in 2008/09. It capped an excellent display by Fabien Galthie’s men, who built on several positive performances over recent weeks. They were unfortunate to lose to Munster and Racing 92 and this win against the league leaders has got them going in the right direction.
Record d’essais inscrits sur une saison de @top14rugby pour @ChrisAshton1 qui a marqué lors de #RCTMHR son 22ème essai de la saison et a été élu Toulonnais de ce match ! #RCT ?????? pic.twitter.com/cTLT6VH4El
— RCT – RC Toulon (@RCTofficiel) April 14, 2018
Sam Simmonds: It seems Exeter’s number eights have a knack of scoring tries. Thomas Waldrom was a regular crosser in recent campaigns and it seems Simmonds has taken over those responsibilities this, with a hat-trick against London Irish taking him second in the Premiership table on 12.
Italian duo: It is not often both Zebre and Benetton claim victories in the same round but that’s what happened over the weekend as Zebre came from 26-10 down at the interval to defeat the Dragons. Later on Saturday Benetton caused a major shock as they won 17-15 at Leinster.
Gary Graham: Some return for the flanker, who produced an excellent first-half display on his return from an injury picked up at England training. He carried superbly against Sale and his footwork caused the Sharks a number of problems, traits which deservedly earned him the man of the match award. There is a caveat, however, and that comes with his ‘punch’ on Ben Curry in the second period. It was nowhere near as bad as those on social media would like you to believe, but it was stupid and may leave Newcastle Falcons without the back-row for the run-in.
COLD AS ICE!
Denny Solomona case: We held back last weekend when delving into this matter as the full written judgement had not been released, thinking it would shed further light on the suspension, but, having now read the case, it has set a very concerning precedent. The fact that the panel believes one person’s story over another without any further evidence is farcical and a worry for the sport going forward. The RFU did provide a video which they claimed showed the Sale Sharks and England wing using a homophobic slur against Worcester fly-half Jamie Shillcock but that was rejected by the committee. While we of course abhor the use of such language and would recommend a lengthy ban – months rather than weeks – should it be proven, the Sale wing can feel harshly done by on this occasion.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) April 10, 2018
Scarlets, Leinster and Racing 92: Three of the four Champions Cup semi-finalists succumbed to shock or heavy losses over the weekend, with only Munster picking up a win. A second-string Scarlets were blown away 52-14 by Edinburgh, Leinster were stunned 17-15 at home by Benetton Rugby while Racing were easily seen off by Toulouse. At one stage they were 42-6 down before a strong finish at least made it a 42-27 loss. While their minds will obviously be on this week’s European matters, there is no hiding away from disappointing scorelines such as these.
Stade Français: To see a Stade Français side be rolled over in the manner they were at Lyon will no doubt have upset their fans. The 44-3 loss, coupled with Oyonnax beating bottom side Brive, means the gap between Stade and the relegation play-off spot is now just four points with two games remaining. Fortunately their next match is at home to Brive so the Paris side will hope to respond with a big performance.
Sunwolves: The Japanese outfit’s poor start to the Super Rugby season shows no sign of abating after they suffered 24-10 defeat to fellow strugglers the Blues in Tokyo at the weekend. That result means Jamie Joseph’s side have now lost their first seven matches of the season and leaves them firmly rooted at the bottom of the Australian Conference as well as the overall standings. With matches against the New Zealand heavyweights, the Crusaders and Hurricanes, looming on the horizon, it’s highly unlikely that Jamie Joseph’s side will claim that elusive win anytime soon.