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!
Saracens and Maro Itoje: Deserved champions, that’s for sure. Tryless finals we can do without – this was the third European one without a five-pointer – but if you couldn’t appreciate the way Saracens manhandled Racing physically and tactically then that’s your loss. So many players excelled – the Vunipola brothers, Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell while Maro Itoje was superb again, adding two further jewels to his 2016 crown with the man-of-the-match and European Player of the Year gongs. On Farrell he will never be widely admired, heck nor will Saracens, but they have earned respect. There’s no club like them. The double is on.
Highlanders: The kings of the south sure played like champions on Saturday. Waisake Naholo is very much back and it feels like each week another player in the squad puts their hand up and performs out of their skin – this week’s star cameo coming from replacement hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate. A couple of weeks ago the Highlanders were adrift, but now they’re tied at the top of the New Zealand Conference. Coming to the boil nicely.
Samoa: A first title for Samoa since 2012 came out of nowhere after they looked dead and buried against Fiji, before completing one stunning comeback to win 29-26 in Paris.
Lionel Mapoe: The Springbok finished with a hat-trick in his side’s rout of the Blues at Ellis Park, helping the Lions get back to winning ways after that humbling from the Hurricanes before the bye. Johan Ackermann’s side hold a slender lead over the Sharks in the Africa 2 Conference.
Montpellier: If you listen to the club’s owner Mohad Altrad and head coach Jake White then Friday’s Challenge Cup title will be the first of many. Montpellier have surged up the Top 14 table and now have a first major piece of silverware in the cabinet after brushing off Harlequins. Too good at the breakdown and too clinical, it was an impressive result.
Waratahs: Kurtley Beale’s dramatic injury could have shaken the ‘Tahs off their game, but David Horwitz did well coming off the bench at inside centre and against an off-colour Bulls side the Nick Phipps-inspired side got the job done. After a shaky start, they lead the Australian Conference.
Sunwolves: Completely deserved to win in Singapore before Vincent Koch’s late try robbed them of second ever victory. The Sunwolves’ obvious improvements in defence were heartening and their shambolic showing against the Kings feels like an age ago. Promising signs.
Stuck inside an igloo
Blues: Paid the price for not turning up at the start at Ellis Park by going down 19-0 after ten minutes. From then onwards it was a disaster, with Joe Edwards’ consolation score not enough to cover up the Blues’ flaws. It was another reminder that Tana Umaga has a long-term project on his hands. They’re some way off the rest of the Kiwi sides.
Ben Botica: ‘Brain freeze’ would be the polite way of assessing Ben Botica’s horror moment for Harlequins as they chased the game in the Challenge Cup final. Botica inexplicably kicked the ball away with Quins looking level the scores to take it to extra time. Why? We’re not sure even who knows. Who is he joining next season? Friday’s winners, Montpellier.
Dan Carter and Kurtley Beale’s injuries: One minor injury, one very serious one, but both with major consequences. Not having a fully fit Carter meant Racing would always be handicapped in the final in Lyon and so it ultimately proved. Beale meanwhile must be questioning the gods after suffering what looked like an innocuous injury that could keep him out for up to half a year, the day after he signed for Wasps.
Vélez Sarsfeld ‘entertainment’: We’re big fans of the atmosphere generated by the fans in Buenos Aires, but pumping out loud music while Jean Deysel was left prone on the ground wondering if he’d suffered a serious neck injury wasn’t the best timing.