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

25th February 2014 11:18

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Joy vs pain: England and Stormers

It is 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.

They're on fire!

England: Growing week by week. Brian O'Driscoll had more caps than the whole of England's backline combined at Twickenham last Saturday but when it counted most, when discipline was integral with only a three-point lead on the clock and Ireland attacking, England held out. It was a big feather in the cap for Stuart Lancaster, "the most significant win" of his career. They impress week after week.

Wales: Class is permanent and all that. Wales hit back with a bang following their defeat to Ireland in Dublin as France took the brunt of a Welsh backlash on Friday. Les Bleus, who entered the game with a two wins from two record after beating England and Italy, looked like making it three after Alun-Wyn Jones was ruled out before kick-off. However, Jake Ball, Rhys Webb, Sam Warburton, Gethin Jenkins and the rest put in a performance of champions as the Welsh got their title defence back on track, winning 27-6 as George North and Warburton crossed.

Duncan Weir: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. That saying certainly holds true for the diminutive Glasgow Warriors pivot, who was the toast of Scotland when his drop goal secured them a last-gasp Six Nations victory over Italy in Rome. After a horrific start to their tournament, Weir's big match temperament certainly put smiles on all the Scottish rugby supporters' faces.

Reds: Many enthusiasts doubted that the 2011 champions would be the force they once were now that their former boss Ewen McKenzie has moved on to coach the Wallabies. Judging from the way they played in their triumphant season opener against the Brumbies, Reds fans have little to worry about as the transition appears to have been smooth since Richard Graham has taken over the reins from McKenzie.

Highlanders: Few were expecting that performance from the Highlanders as they stunned the Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium, winning 29-21 thanks largely to a 24-0 lead they amassed by half-time. Quality tries from Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith set the hosts on their way and despite the Blues recovering in the second half, the Highlanders were deserved winners. A shout for Shane Christie for his 21 tackles.

Chiefs: Playing the Crusaders in Christchurch must be one of the toughest tasks in Super Rugby. Try telling that to the men from Hamilton, who showed scant regard for the seven-time winners' reputation in their own backyard. The Chiefs burgled the points while the hosts, who had 14 All Blacks in their matchday squad, left with nothing.

Lions: The Johannesburg-based outfit's players are living the dream after their comprehensive victory over the Stormers cemented their place amongst the frontrunners on the Super Rugby table. That makes it two out of two victories for Johan Ackermann's charges, who were considered to be hot favourites for the wooden spoon by many enthusiasts at the start of the tournament.

Biarritz: The Basques have held an almost permanent slot in the "not hot" section of this column over the past five months, but last Saturday they came good. Not only did they finally win a game, but they did so in Grenoble, becoming the first team to win there this season. It's a pity the revival has probably come too late to save BO from relegation.


Broken thermostat

Montpellier: Clermont were there for the taking and even lost Morgan Parra to a red card, but Montpellier couldn't get the job done. Not by some distance. Even with an all-international backline featuring Rene Ranger, Robert Ebersohn, Wynand Olivier and François Trinh-Duc they were not good enough to end Clermont's unbeaten record at home, which now runs to an absurd 73 matches. Right in the pack in the Top 14's top six, every win is vital and they let a chance slip.

Philippe Saint-André: While will have to admire France's head coach for having the courage to take the bold step of dropping one of his best players in defence of the core values of rugby - particularly respect for referees - one can't help but question whether the punishment fits the crime. Many would argue that the big number eight had every reason to feel aggrieved with Alain Rolland's decision to show him a yellow card and his sarcastic clap was hardly vulgar. The move also deprives les Bleus of the Six Nations Championship's best ball carrier. It's a harsh call.

Leicester: The Tigers are back in the Premiership's top four and have won their last three matches in the league, but by margins of one, three and five points against Worcester, Gloucester and London Irish. In short, they have been utterly unconvincing, and they will face a tough battle to make the playoffs unless their execution improves. The Six Nations this year is also not an excuse, given that only Tom Youngs was away with England and Dan Cole is injured.


Get these guys a cup of warm soup!

Stormers: They must have wondered what hit them in Johannesburg against the Lions. Allister Coetzee's side looked shell-shocked after their hosts raced into the lead and after that the boys from the Cape ran around like headless chickens in an effort to salvage something from the game. To say they lost the plot would be an understatement as they looked clueless despite having the bulk of the possession and territory.

Blues: It's early days yet, but Blues fans got that familiar sinking feeling on Saturday. Are we witnessing another false dawn in Auckland? Not for the first time, the pre-season hype around the Blues was a far cry from what we saw on the field as a dismal first half against the Highlanders made for the worst possible start to the new Super Rugby season. A second-half recovery was the silver lining to a dark day, but the result was certainly not what most expected.

Jean-Marc Doussain: There is no way Doussain should have started against Wales. Now, if France have any title ambitions, he simply cannot start against Scotland. The Toulouse number nine's form and goalkicking have been shoddy at best. A change must be made.

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