Time for our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
It's time for Planet Rugby's weekly wrap 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!
Henry Speight and the Brumbies: What a performance from the Fijian-born wing who is surely soon set to don Wallaby colours. 13 carries, 140 metres, 4 clean breaks and 11 defenders beaten made Speight our man of the match against the Chiefs. But one man doesn't win a rugby match as the collective was strong for the Brumbies, especially in the first-half when they scored three tries to lead 22-10. The Waratahs will be wary next week.
Sharks pack: Jake White's forwards were dominant at the set-piece from the outset of their play-off victory over the Highlanders in Durban. The Highlanders pack were shoved off the ball on several occasions and Sharks' skipper Bismarck du Plessis got over for a deserved try when his opponents capitulated under the pressure at a back-pedalling scrum on their own five-metre line. Although the starting props Jannie du Plessis and Thomas du Toit laid the groundwork, credit must also go to their replacements, Lourens Adriaanse and Dale Chadwick, who didn't relent when they came on to the field.
Craig Joubert's early decision: Many a referee would have settled with giving Chiefs centre Tim Nanai-Williams a warning when he blatantly slowed down a ruck in the fourth minute in Canberra. Joubert though saw the cynical nature of the offence and rightly sent him to the sin-bin in an early warning to the other 29 players. What happened? We had a great game of rugby as those on the field took the message on board that no messing would be tolerated. So well done to the South African referee, who saw an offence such as this being yellow whether it's in the fourth or 74th minute.
Highlanders counter-attack: Although they finished on the losing side, the men from Dunedin didn't go down without a fight and had the Kings Park faithful worried when they held a 17-13 lead at half-time and when they were in front 27-25 with less than 10 minutes left on the clock. That was largely due to superb counter-attacking tries from Malakai Fekitoa and Kane Hames, in the first half, and Phil Burleigh after the break. Hames rounded off a move which went through several pairs of hand and which started inside the Highlanders' 22. Definitely a contender for try of the tournament.
Island rugby: This week saw confirmation from the Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegao, that the All Blacks will face Samoa in Apia on July 8, 2015, thus ending a ridiculously long wait for New Zealand to go and play a match on the island. We, like the rest of Samoa's public, can't wait to see this fixture happen and with Brian O'Driscoll then adding that the 2017 British and Irish Lions should do the same en route to New Zealand, could we be seeing more decisions not solely based on financial gain? In his words, it would be “more of a give than take for the Lions”.
Machete-wielding thugs: Details are still vague as what happened in the build-up to a group of Clermont players being ambushed by a dozen-odd thugs armed with blades of varying sizes and shapes in a small town in southern France. Retribution is the likely motive for the attack as it seems the players had – non-violently – stepped in to prevent a young lady being harmed by an aggressor at a nightclub earlier in the evening. Let's hope these oxygen thieves face some swift justice.
Referee harassment: Shocking news coming out of the Eastern Cape in South Africa last week as the Eastern Province Rugby Union cancelled all matches scheduled for the weekend after officials raised concerns over growing verbal and physical threats, including being spat on and needing to be protected by players at matches. This type of behaviour is so far removed from the ethos of rugby, it's sickening. Aggression – aimed in the right direction – is part and parcel of the game, so making sure referees are safe is top of the list of requirements for any game to even kick off. The guilty parties need to find some other form of entertainment – they are not welcome in our sport!
Highlanders scrum: There's a popular saying in France and Argentina – “no scrum, no win.” Never was this more true than at Kings Park where the Highlanders' set piece was given a hiding. The visitors' attacking brilliance was washed down the drain when their scrum buckled. Two of the Sharks' three tries originated from their dominant scrum, leaving the men from Otago's front row with plenty to think about.
Dopers: According to findings from the World Anti-Doping Agency released recently, in 2013 rugby recorded a higher percentage of positive test results than both cycling and athletics, sports more regularly associated with doping. While the IRB insist that the results show that “an intelligent anti-doping program in rugby is working and catching those using illegal substances” it also highlights a darker side of the game that does not always get the attention it deserves. Quite often positive tests would come from supplements but more can still be done in terms of deterrence, testing and education around the dangers of doping, especially at age-group level were size often matters more than it should.