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!
Connacht: Fairytale stuff wasn’t it. Connacht did what so many thought was impossible this season and won the PRO12 title. After being viewed as the ‘fourth province’ for so many years, this was an incredible feat from Pat Lam’s charges who, inspired by the likes of John Muldoon and Bundee Aki, dominated the final at Murrayfield as Leinster were left shell-shocked. 24 games, 17 wins and just 7 defeats in their PRO12 season. The future is bright in Galway.
Saracens: The double is secured. Congratulations to Mark McCall, his coaching group and a high-quality playing squad for getting the job done on Saturday against Exeter. It couldn’t have been easy playing in such crucial games week after week but they had enough in the tank to hold off the Chiefs at Twickenham, winning 28-20 in a gripping final. What a season for Jacques Burger and Charlie Hodgson to bow out on. The both deserve a summer of relaxation.
New caps: South Africa and New Zealand named their squads for June over the weekend and there were plenty of fresh faces included. For the Springboks Garth April, Ruan Combrinck, Faf de Klerk, Nic Groom, Steven Kitshoff, Jaco Kriel, Bongi Mbonambi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Scarra Ntubeni made it while the All Blacks included Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Damian McKenzie and Seta Tamanivalu. Well done newbies.
England: Considering that England were down seven starters from that victorious night in Paris, this was fairly impressive, especially from Joe Launchbury and Jack Clifford. Five tries against Wales is a fine return and had George Ford kicked better England might have cracked the 40-point mark. More on him later…
Faf de Klerk and the Lions: A quite brilliant performance from the electric scrum-half as he directed his Lions side around the field very well at Loftus Versfeld in their 56-20 win. Alongside Marnitz Boshoff, these two were part of a complete team effort but if we were to pick out others who shone then Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and winger Courtnall Skosan deserve applause. The men from Jo’burg are now seven points ahead of the Sharks in Africa 2.
Waratahs: A superb performance from the Waratahs as they beat one of the Super Rugby favourites, the Chiefs, 45-25 in Sydney. Israel Folau and Michael Hooper stood out with two tries apiece as the ‘Tahs head into the June break in great form, level on points with the Brumbies. This was Folau’s best game in the number 13 jersey since his move.
Australia Women’s Sevens: Australia’s women made history in France on Sunday when they became the first Australian team to lift a HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title. After five rounds of the series, the girls in gold needed just a quarter-final win in Clermont to secure the title, after winning series rounds in Dubai, Sao Paulo and Atlanta this season. However the double eluded Sharni Williams and her team, with Canada beating the series champions in a thrilling final in front of an incredibly passionate crowd in Stade Gabriel-Montpied in Clermont.
Someone get these guys a warm cup of soup!
Kings: Yes, they won but my word they made hard work of it. Playing against 13 men for so long – 12 towards the end when the Jaguares had Tomás Lezana yellow carded – the Kings were losing 10-22 on 64 minutes as they were incredibly coming off second best. Then a contentious penalty try with eight minutes remaining helped the hosts on their way before they wrapped up the win late on in Port Elizabeth. So much work to be done on the training field.
Jaguares red cards: Although the Kings battled before eventually cashing in on their numerical advantage, the two red cards in the first-half handed out to second-row Tomás Lavanini and tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera, once again brings the Argentine’s side’s discipline – or lack thereof – into the spotlight. The Jaguares have the worst disciplinary record in the competition by miles and that aspect of their game needs to be sorted out if they want to mount a serious challenge in 2017.
George Ford: Despite head coach Eddie Jones’ best efforts to applaud his all-round game, Ford will be hugely disappointed with his performance on Sunday. A goal-kicking record of one success from seven attempts is not international standard. He did not strike the ball with any conviction and unfortunately the crowd turned on him.
Wales: That was a dismal second-half showing from the Welsh at Twickenham. Leading 10-13 at the break after what was a decent opening 40 minutes, their performance then dipped dramatically as England finished with five tries to their name. If Wales play anything like that sort of rugby in New Zealand they are in for a nightmare tour.