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!
Waisake Naholo: The 25-year-old Highlanders wing has been sidelined since their Round One 33-31 loss to the Blues, when the All Black speedster broke his leg. Naholo’s return to top flight rugby was marked with a brace of tries in their 26-13 win over the Chiefs on Saturday. Not only did he get over the whitewash on two occasions, showing he hasn’t lost that finishing instinct, but he was instrumental in one of the defending champions better performances this year.
Sharks: Gary Gold’s side handed the Hurricanes a shock loss thanks to their suffocating defence and clinical finishing. The Durban franchise secured a rare bonus point victory over a more in-form Hurricanes outfit, who a week earlier had put 50 points on the Lions at Ellis Park. Springbok wing JP Pietersen scored a brace of tries in one of his better Super Rugby matches so far this season.
Zebre: The Italian side secured only their fifth victory of the PRO12 season when they beat Newport Gwent Dragons 47-22 at home on Saturday. This win not only secures Zebre’s Champions Cup spot for next season but it also lifts them off the foot of the table which sees fellow Italian side, Treviso, languishing in the last position. Zebre’s last win came against Treviso when they outclassed the home side 18-8 back on January 3 at Stadio Monigo. The perfect way to say goodbye to the retiring Marco Bortolami.
Leinster: Leo Cullen’s men ran in eight tries past Treviso in their 50-19 win, to secure the top spot in the PRO12 table. The eight tries included a brace from hooker Richardt Strauss in a match which saw Leinster use their physical domination to good effect. Now a home semi-final at the RDS awaits.
Marcel Brache: The Force utility back has been fairly quiet so far this year but the American-born back had an impressive knock against the Sunwolves over the weekend. He was instrumental in the 40-22 victory in Tokyo, running in a hat-trick which he remarkably achieved within the first 20 minutes of the match.
Blues: The Auckland side came up against the worse defence in the competition and yet they were made hard to work for their try-scoring bonus point. The Kings missed 31 tackles and despite this poor form they had to wait until the 84th minute before winger Tevita Li could add the Blues fifth try, ensuring a three-score margin over their hosts. The Port Elizabeth side were hammered when they came up against other New Zealand sides and Tana Umaga’s men will have to capitalise on their opposition’s mistakes if they want to leave any mark at the end of the season.
Brrrrr someone get these guys a warm cup of soup!
Harlequins: What a shambolic way to end Conor O’Shea’s proud time in charge at The Stoop. Exeter Chiefs ran in ten tries in their 62-24 thrashing of the Quins. Five of the ten were scored between the wingers, Jack Nowell and James Short with the former getting a hat-trick. Chiefs spread the ball out wide with so much ease that the Quins defence could not adjust to counteract the ruthless visitor attack in a dispiriting display before Friday’s Challenge Cup final against Montpellier.
Charlie Ngatai yellow card: Odd incident in the Chiefs-Highlanders clash on Saturday which saw the in-form Ngatai sin-binned after Elliot Dixon jumped into a tackle before flipping over his head and landing on his side. Nasty, but accidental, and the very brief suggestion of a red card had us prepared to throw our remote at the TV. Luckily Dixon wasn’t seriously hurt, or Ngatai more seriously punished.
Five yellow cards in Brive v Racing 92: Racing 92 saw yellow on two occasions in a match that was marred by poor discipline from both Brive and this year’s Champions Cup finalists. The home side had three players in the sin bin for their transgressions. Racing’s Thibault Dubarry and Cedate Gomes Sa were both carded while Matthieu Ugalde, Teddy Iribaren and try scorer Johan Snyman were all given 10 minutes next to field for Brive.
London Irish and Oyonnax: Relegation has been on the cards for these two clubs for some time and Saturday’s results won’t have exactly healed the pain. Irish were well beaten by play-off side Wasps while Oyonanx shipped over 60 points against Stade Français. Oyonnax still have a few weeks to go until their fate is sealed but Irish are now already looking to the Championship. With Halani Aulika’s move to Sale confirmed already on Monday, how many more will follow?