It’s time for Planet Rugby’s weekly round-up of who has their name in lights at the moment… and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They’re on fire!
New Zealand: Surely the best 40 minutes we’ll see all year long in that first half in Sydney. The Wallabies were a shambles, no question, but the quality of passing from New Zealand in the build-up for Beauden Barrett’s try in particular was on another level. They are now firm title contenders (well, more so after the first weekend) and while their intensity dipped a little in the second half, that’ll happen when you’re well up over 30 points.
Warren Whiteley: Man of the moment for South Africa as he secured the match-winning try in Nelspruit, capping off an excellent game for the Lions captain. Elton Jantjies and Lionel Mapoe have struggled to transfer their Super Rugby form into Test rugby but there have been no such issues for Whiteley, who is emerging as a senior figure despite Saturday being only his sixth cap.
Stade Français: That’s more like it! The 2015/2016 season was a nightmare for Stade, crowned champions at the end of the previous campaign, but their 54-20 hammering of Grenoble pointed to a brighter season for Sergio Parisse, particularly given Jules Plisson’s 100 percent record off the kicking tee (landing 11/11) and their four late tries to secure a bonus point win.
Facundo Isa: Argentina couldn’t defeat South Africa for only the second time ever but Isa was outstanding for Los Pumas, continuing his own good Super Rugby form with carry after carry, pinballing his way past Springbok missed tackles. Frighteningly still just 22.
Bayonne: Massive result on Sunday for the newly promoted side over Toulon with a special mention to hooker Gregory Arganèse who grabbed a first brace of his career at the age of 33! It’s going to a be a long season, but what a start.
Scenes in Fiji: We knew what a first Olympic medal for Fiji would mean back home but the scenes have been quite something, with head coach Ben Ryan doing his best to capture the action on the team’s return home on Sunday.
— Ben Ryan Fiji 7s (@benjaminryan) 21 August 2016
Support for Christian Lealiifano: Brumbies and Australia back Christian Lealiifano has been in our thoughts over the last few weeks following his leukemia diagnosis, with team-mates past and present hailing him as one of the nicest guys in the sport and rallying around him. What’s been great has been the sight of Wallaby team-mates Matt Giteau, David Pocock and others shaving their heads in support, with Lealiifano’s former coach Jake White along with Jesse Mogg and Nic White doing the same at Montpellier. Top class.
— nemzy (@nemani_nadolo) 20 August 2016
South Africa: A win is a win, but for 70 minutes in Nelspruit the Springboks were very average. Hesitant under the high ball, dropping passes and missing tackles, there appears to be a hell of a lot of work ahead for Allister Coetzee. It would be wrong to ignore those negatives, just as it would also be wrong to not acknowledge that a late 17-point turnaround to take the victory showed plenty of character and skill under pressure. They’re a mixed bag right now – which is why we have this category in the first place.
Australia: Unacceptable, and here’s why in numbers: Australia made 102 out of 142 tackles, so 72 percent, and in that disastrous first half ended up with 34 percent possession and 29 percent territory. New Zealand made 22 line breaks. Australia made just two. Forty times – 40! – New Zealand beat an Australian defender. Some of the decisions at the lineout as well beggared belief. They better get things together quickly for Wellington.
Montpellier: A try-less start to the season for Jake White and Montpellier, with the ambitious Top 14 contenders failing to set pulses racing after they came away from Toulouse without even a losing bonus point. Given their level of investment over the last two seasons, and Toulouse’s decline, more was expected.
Matt Giteau’s injury: If that is the end of Matt Giteau’s international career, then it’s been some innings. Giteau’s broken ankle after just ten minutes in Sydney will keep him out of the rest of the Rugby Championship and at 33 and still a key figure at Toulon, there’s a real chance he won’t play in the green and gold again. After 103 caps and close to 700 points, it’s been a hell of a career. But Australia also need to find someone new at inside centre who can eventually emulate his excellence.
Racing 92: A losing start for the defending champions on the road at UBB, with Dan Carter outscored in the penalty stakes by new Bordeaux-Bègles signing Ian Madigan despite Racing turning out a strong side. Fatigue? Given the 57 days gap between Final and new season, it’s not unreasonable to suggest it played a part.
Auckland: Ripped apart by a strong Canterbury side in their first game of the Mitre 10 Cup, going down 43-3 in Christchurch. We expect big things from Auckland this year after the Blues’ strong end to the year in Super Rugby, but this was far from a positive opening.