Who’s hot and who’s not!

Date published: March 6 2017

It’s time for our wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.

They’re on fire!!

Crusaders and Sharks: You wait for one unbelievable comeback and then two come along at once. The Crusaders’ effort away to the Highlanders seemed farfetched already – coming from 27-6 down to snatch the 30-27 win through Seta Tamanivalu – before Curwin Bosch’s deft grubber set up Lukanyo ‘Lucky’ Am for the winning score in overtime for the Sharks against the Brumbies. You can’t beat that sort of drama. And after a relatively lukewarm Round 1, this kickstarted the competition.

Hurricanes: Make that 24 tries in two games for the ‘Canes. Twenty-four! The defending champions have shot out of the gate so far this season, putting more points past the Rebels than in Round 1 against the Sunwolves, as they tore through some frankly unacceptable defence. Vince Aso is shining out on the wing, while the key group of Ardie and Julian Savea, TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett all look red hot. Oh, and a hat-trick as well for Nehe Milner-Skudder. They are the team to beat.

Kings: Let’s be honest, the Kings have rarely featured in the ‘Hot’ section of this column. And while not everything about their win over the Sunwolves was positive, they were by a wide margin the better team. Lionel Cronje looks good at fly-half and they soaked up plenty of pressure from their hosts before being clinical on the counter. This was also their first away win since April 2013.

La Rochelle: The story of the European season so far, after knocking off Toulouse away from home on Sunday to move four points clear in first place in the Top 14. This took an outstanding defensive effort in the closing stages and Patrice Collazo’s side continue to surprise us, built around a tough pack who play with no fear away from home, unlike most Top 14 sides, and always keep the scoreboard ticking over thanks to Zack Holmes and Brock James. Outstanding.

Francois Hougaard: The Springbok has been a phenomenal recruit for Worcester ever since his arrival last year, and it was Hougaard’s try and assist in the first half that left Bristol dead and buried in the relegation scrap at Sixways. Hougaard burned Tom Varndell on two occasions as Worcester went into the break up 31-10, holding off Bristol in the second half to then go six points clear of bottom place.

Leinster: The Scarlets have troubled plenty of top sides since the turn of the year, which makes Leinster’s 45-9 thumping dished out on Saturday in Dublin all the more impressive. Seven tries, including doubles from Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery, meant the result was never in doubt, as Leinster go top of the PRO12.

Billy Vunipola’s return: From missing the Six Nations outright to possibly facing Italy, Vunipola returned a week ahead of England’s clash with Scotland on Saturday. A bench spot would therefore not be out of the question, although don’t expect a clean answer from Eddie Jones until the team is announced. Good news however to see the World Rugby Player of the Year nominee back on the pitch.

Trapped in the freezer…

Bristol: Soft defence in the first half ultimately cost Bristol, and although there are still five matches to go it will take a miraculous turnaround to avoid the drop now having watched Worcester move seven points clear. Having been red carded two days earlier playing for the Blues, and subsequently banned for four weeks, recent Bristol signing Steven Luatua has had better weeks.

Australian Super Rugby franchises: Not a good weekend at all for the Australian contingent in Super Rugby (aside from the Force, who picked up a first home win in 663 days). The Waratahs were outmuscled by the Lions, the Rebels ripped apart by the Hurricanes, while the Brumbies had the chance to beat the Sharks with two lineouts in great positions, only to end up losing in a calamitous fashion. The pressure is on for a response in Round 3.

Racing 92: After few weeks following off-field incidents involving Dan Carter and Ali Williams, Racing desperately needed a win away to Grenoble to steady the ship. Instead, what they got was a fifth-minute red card for Chris Masoe, leading to a 19-10 defeat. It never rains…

Gloucester: A sadly familiar tale at Kingsholm after the Cherry and Whites seemed to have put throwing away winning positions behind them having taken down Saracens last month. Instead from 27-15 up with seven minutes to go it was a case of Attack of the Chisholms, James and Ross for Harlequins, whose tries levelled the scores before Luc Jones landed the winning penalty. Laurie Fisher, the Gloucester head coach, then suggested on Twitter that it was time to move on.

Simulation: England Sevens captain Tom Mitchell was having none of this act of simulation by Samoa’s Lafaele Vaa and rightly so. The sooner incidents like this are stamped out the better.

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