Planet Rugby

Who's hot...and who's not!

12th February 2013 13:21

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Hot or not February 12 2013

Blitzbokke: Smokin' - PSA: Jokin'

It's time for our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment...and who is making headlines for the wrong reasons.

They're on fire!

England: The only team still on course for the Grand Slam. It's early days yet, but with two of their three remaining games at Twickenham, Stuart Lancaster's team are now the clear favourites for the title.

Andrew Coombs: Judging by his performances so far on the international stage, the Dragons lock is adapting without too many teething problems. Another monster performance from the 28-year old in Paris saw him top the tackling stats and put in a strong shift around the park. As a former back-row, Coombs' athleticism was obvious in the way he continually popped up to thunder through tacklers. Alun Wyn Jones might be fit again, but an instant recall is not for definite given how well Coombs has settled into Test rugby.

Stuart Hogg: A rare positive for Scotland in defeat to England at Twickenham, Hogg was the star attraction at Murrayfield against Italy and lived up to his billing with a brilliant interception try - reading Luciano Orquera's lazy pass and out-sprinting the Azzurri cover to run in from 80 metres. The well of full-backs for the Lions is deep when you consider Halfpenny, Kearney, Goode, Brown and more, but Hogg is well in the mix.

Antoine Classen: Another southern hemisphere ex-pat is called up to a 'foreign' national team. The son of former Springbok skipper Wynand Claassen has been on the French selectors' radar for a long time now. The Castres flank speaks fluent French having spent six years in L'Hexagone , so he should find his feet in the Bleus camp relatively easily.

Matt Smith: The Leicester Tigers centre made his 100th start for the club in Saturday's win over London Welsh, following in the footsteps of his his father, Ian. The pair are the only father-and-son combination to have racked up a ton of appearances for Leicester. "I'm a local lad. I was three weeks old when I came to my first game and I learned my rugby in front of the old clubhouse, so I enjoyed the moment." he told the Leicester Mercury. Bravo!

Union Bordeaux-Begles, Agen and Mont-de-Marsan: It was a weekend of elation mixed and frustration for the bottom three clubs in the Top 14. The taste of victory is extra sweet when you're threatened with relegation and UBB's demolition of Toulon, Agen's upset of Toulouse and les Montois' bonus point win over Grenoble sparked scenes of wild celebration. The festivities were cut short however when news filtered through that all four teams at the foot of the table had been victorious, meaning it was back to square one for all concerned!

The Blitzbokke: Victory in Las Vegas over the weekend was South Africa's first Sevens tournament win since 2011! Paul Treu's men become the fifth different nation to win a title from the five events played in the nine-round Sevens World Series so far.

Wasps: For Sale, London Irish and London Welsh, the immediate future may appear slightly worrying but there is always hope. This time last season, Wasps were in a similar position of concern, yet fast forward a year and the scenes are very different. Last Saturday was Wasps' first victory over Harlequins at The Stoop since 2007 and they produced an excellent performance - both Christian Wade and Tom Varndell might be deemed not good enough for the England squad, but they sure know how to score tries.

Sale and Irish: Neither of these two sides have had much to shout about this season, but Sale and Irish picked up their third and fourth respective victories of the campaign last weekend to edge closer to the supposed safety mark of 30 points. Sale looked dead and buried against Exeter Chiefs by half-time before a brilliant resurgence handed them a much-needed victory, with Irish responding the following day with a healthy 29-16 win over Saracens. Their victories mean London Welsh are pulled back into the relegation mix - with this weekend's clash between Sale and Welsh set to add another twist in the story.


Bbbbrrrrrr....

Philippe Saint-André: The knives are out for France's head coach. On top of the world two months ago after an impressive November campaign, the wheels have come off the French bus. Fans and journos are getting stuck in, with PSA's selections of players out of position top of the list of grievances. If Wesley Fofana does not start at 12 against England, we predict a riot.

Pitches in Paris and Dublin: Admittedly conditions up in the North have been better, but within minutes in both Paris and Dublin the turf begin to break up at an alarming rate, to the point where guessing the locations of previous scrums became fairly simple. A groundsman's work is never easy when when you have an Irish weather system intent on trying to flood every patch of grass it could find, but on a dry night in Paris there were no excuses. Scrums are bad enough without having to dig yourself out of them afterwards.

Jamie Heaslip: When the Irish captain dropped a slippery high ball in Dublin and promptly threw it away in disgust, you expected that he would never make a similar mistake again. Heaslip didn't even last the half. Ireland's handling errors kept on rising and sadly Heaslip was at the core of a subdued performance. Whereas the Irish cut loose in Cardiff, they were well contained against England, second best on the scoreboard despite having the edge in the set-piece. The loss is the first black mark on Heaslip's copybook since taking over as captain, and an afternoon he will be eager to forget.

Cian Healy: Ireland's loosehead usually features in the top half of this column but we weren't impressed with a couple of cheap shots at Lansdowne Road. He was cited for stomping on Dan Cole's ankle, but escaped sanction for leading with an elbow and connecting with Chris Robshaw's head. Poor form!

Toulon and Toulouse: The Top 14 leaders looked decidedly uninterested in competing once they had fallen behind in Bordeaux on Saturday and the 41-0 final scoreline can only be described as an embarrassment. It goes to show, money can buy a lot of things but it can't buy a fighting spirit. In response, Bernard Laporte summoned his troops in for an unscheduled video session first thing on Sunday morning where, well, words were spoken. As for the defending champions, defeat in Agen did not even come as a surprise, such is the current state of affairs in Toulouse where Guy Novès is struggling to get his players to sing from the same hymn sheet.

Harlequins: More commonly found in the 'Hot' rather than the 'Not' section, Quins have not tasted defeat all that often this season. Last Saturday's defeat at home to Wasps however will have stung (!) - even without their international stars the English champions have one of the best squads around and an off day with the boot from star fly-half Nick Evans meant that rather than snatching victory at the death, as has become their trademark, the ball this time went wide.

Pre-season injuries: Cory Jane, Eben Etzebeth, Keegan Daniel, Tim Whitehead, James Horwill, Brendan Leonard, Rob Horne, Cooper Vuna, Micheal Killian, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger (?)...in list of big name absentees from the opening rounds of Super Rugby is starting to get rather long!

By Ross Hastie and Ben Coles

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