It is time for Planet Rugby’s weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who’s making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
THEY’RE ON FIRE!
All Blacks: The men in black won their third successive Rugby Championship title with another clinical display in their victory over los Pumas in La Plata. Steve Hansen’s men dominated from start to finish and clinched the title with a four-try bonus-point which makes their upcoming clash against the Springboks in Johannesburg a dead rubber. Young Malakai Fekitoa deserves special praise after a superb performance in his first Test start in an unfamiliar role at inside centre.
Northampton: Facing a Bath side that had demolished Leicester Tigers 45-0 was always going to be a difficult proposition for the Saints but they came through that test with flying colours on Saturday, winning 31-24. They also picked up a try bonus-point in a result that lifts them to second in the standings, behind Saracens, with a trip to the also impressive London Irish next on their schedule. That won’t be easy.
Western Province: By beating the Pumas in Nelspruit, the men from the Cape achieved what no other team in the Currie Cup has managed to do yet this season. The Pumas have seen off traditional powerhouses like the Sharks and Free State Cheetahs in their backyard this season but were outclassed by WP who also secured a four-try bonus point which consolidated their position at the top of the Currie Cup standings.
Clermont and Toulon: Clermont had gone 517 minutes without conceding a try until Oyonnax’s Viliami Ma’afu finally broke through on Saturday. Les Jaunards nevertheless won 19-8 away from home and remain at the summit of the Top 14 standings having let in just three tries all season. Toulon, meanwhile, are second after laying down a marker against title-contenders Montpellier, winning 40-17 in a magnificent display of attacking rugby in the second half.
Rhys Webb’s Ospreys: Surely the in-form scrum-half has now nailed down the Welsh starting jersey for the November Tests after another stand-out performance in Ospreys colours. Webb played the conditions perfectly in Limerick as the region went four from four in the PRO12 with a 14-9 win at Munster. Don’t be surprised if he lines up alongside team-mate Dan Biggar, who is also going well so far in 2014/15.
Taranaki: There’s been plenty of riveting action in the ITM Cup this season but few teams have been as entertaining as the men from New Plymouth. The Amber and Blacks moved to the top of the ITM Cup standings after a thrilling victory over Auckland at the weekend and have lost just once and drawn once from eight matches played this season.
Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers: The Springbok veterans showed there is still plenty of life left in their old bones with superb individual efforts in their victory over the Wallabies. De Villiers capped a fine performance with a brace of tries and Burger played like a man possessed during a 25-minute cameo off the bench in which threw himself around the park, giving his side much-needed momentum at a crucial stage of their match.
Tevita Kuridrani: The Wallaby outside centre was unlucky to miss out on the official man-of-the-match award after a brilliant allround performance in his side’s defeat to the Springboks in Cape Town. Kuridrani impressed with several powerful runs including the break that set up Australia’s only try.
Jimmy Cowan: The former All Blacks scrum-half turned back the clock as he helped Tasman to secure victory – and a play-off place – over Otago in Nelson on Sunday. Cowan scored one of Tasman’s four tries and had a hand in the build-up for each of the other five-pointers.
Springboks: Perhaps we’re being a little harsh to not give Heyneke Meyer’s team a place in ‘hot’ section after their bonus-point win over the team ranked third in world. The Bok bench made a huge impact but, the truth be told, the hosts should never have been trailing with 10 minutes left to play having dominated the possession and territory stats. Once the euphoria has settled JDV and co. will have to reflect on a number of chances wasted by poor handling and below-par decision making. They cannot afford to do the same against the All Blacks .
GET THESE GUYS A CUP OF WARM SOUP!
Wallabies: 22 years without a win in Cape Town, Australia may have been on top on the scoreboard for much of the game – thanks to try against the run of play – but they were never in control. Having made countless tackles, things went pear-shaped in a big way in the last ten minutes.
Harlequins: In Conor O’Shea’s own words, Quins “didn’t look like a top side” at Sandy park on Sunday as they were thrashed by Exeter. After the hiding at the hands of Sarries a fortnight ago, things are not looking rosy as O’Shea begins to question the character of some players.
EP Kings: Under the guidance of former All Black playmaker Carlos Spencer, the Currie Cup Premier Division’s newbies can’t buy a win at the moment and are still winless with two rounds left before the play-offs. At the weekend they suffered their eighth successive defeat when they lost to the Sharks in Durban. They are bringing up the rear with just one point from a possible 40 on the table. They have now scored 18 points, and conceded 41, on average this season and are doomed to finish with the wooden spoon in their first season back in the top flight.
Canterbury: After winning their first six ITM Cup matches convincingly, the wheels have come off the Christchurch side’s bus in the last week. The defending champions had their first blip when they lost to North Harbour last Wednesday and suffered the same fate when going down to Southland at the weekend. After setting the pace at the top of the table for most of the season, Canterbury are now in third place behind Taranaki and Tasman.
Castres: Champions of France two years ago, CO are having a nightmare start to the season as they sit rock-bottom of the Top 14 standings following their 28-18 loss to Lyon. It’s far to early to start talking about the threat of relegation but it’s tough to see last year’s finalists make the play-offs.
Match officials in Bayonne: We try steer clear of criticising the men in the middle but referee S