Who’s hot and who’s not!

Date published: April 15 2019

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past week.

THEY’RE ON FIRE!

Guy Thompson and Leicester Tigers: Under pressure and desperate for a result that few predicted they would get, Leicester showed real fight to claim a priceless win at Newcastle Falcons on Friday that eased their Premiership relegation fears. It was a gripping battle at Kingston Park and Thompson was a standout for the Tigers, scoring two tries and setting up the other as he led from the front at number eight in a fine individual man-of-the-match effort.

Gloucester supporters’ gesture: On a week of unfortunate news story after unfortunate news story in the rugby union game, it was good to read this one from Kingsholm. Lions fan Anton Momberg started following the Cherry and Whites when Johan Ackermann moved from the Johannesburg outfit to take charge of the West Countrymen. Cue an incredible gesture from a group of Gloucester’s fans who set up a crowdfunding page to pay for his flight to see their clash with Bath. Momberg was overwhelmed by the gesture. Well done those fans. Their team isn’t bad either as they effectively secured their spot in the Premiership play-offs following a 27-23 win over their arch rivals.

Rugby Australia: The governing body deserves plenty of praise for showing strong leadership by finally deciding to take action against Israel Folau after his latest controversial social media posts. It must be remembered that Rugby Australia came in for criticism last year when they failed to sanction Folau after he also made homophobic posts. The organisation’s decisiveness in acting upon the matter by signalling their intent to sack the Wallabies and Waratahs star following his latest outburst must be commended as views such as those aired by Folau do not belong in rugby.

Glasgow Warriors: Are doing excellently to stave off a Munster charge and remain at the top of Conference A following a superb 39-24 triumph over Leinster. With just one round remaining, the Scottish outfit are three points ahead of the Limerick-based team and will secure their place in the semi-finals with a victory against intra-country rivals Edinburgh. Although Richard Cockerill’s charges have won both of their meetings this season, thus already claiming the 1872 Cup, they were disappointing in their last outing. With Glasgow finding their stride, having now won seven PRO14 games in a row, and at home in Round 21, the Warriors should do the business at Scotstoun.

Chiefs: After a poor start to the Super Rugby season, in which they lost their first four matches, to the Highlanders, Brumbies, Sunwolves and Crusaders, Colin Cooper’s charges have turned things around and got their campaign on track in recent weeks. After notching an impressive draw against the Hurricanes, the men from Hamilton sealed an emphatic win over the Bulls and also narrow triumphs over the Jaguares and Blues. Although the win over the Blues was a tight tussle, the Chiefs led for the entire match and the result puts them back in contention for a play-off berth.

South Africa Sevens: Produced a superb second-half performance to overturn a 19-0 deficit at the interval and defeat Fiji in the Singapore Sevens on Sunday. The Pacific Islanders were rampant mood in the opening half, scoring three times, before the Blitzboks responded via Kurt-Lee Arendse, Angelo Davids and Ryan Oosthuizen. They were still two points in arrears but Selvyn Davids kicked a late penalty to snatch the title from Fiji’s grasp. Following that impressive win, South Africa remain in fourth place in the overall standings, but opened the gap on England below them in the race for Olympic Games qualification.

COLD AS ICE!

Israel Folau and Billy Vunipola: Much has been said and written about Folau following his recent social media posts and it looks like his rugby career has come to an end after Rugby Australia decided to sack him following his latest posts. While reaction to Rugby Australia’s decision to terminate his contract was mixed, with many people praising them, there have also been those, like Vunipola, who have come out to support Folau. The England and Saracens back-row ‘liked’ Folau’s initial post and even went on to say that people should “live their lives how God intended”. The RFU will now meet with Vunipola and hopefully they will follow Rugby Australia’s lead by sanctioning the player. Supporters also voiced their displeasure over the number eight’s actions by relentlessly booing him during Sarries’ defeat to Bristol, while the PA system played “It’s Raining Men” after the game. Not a good few days for rugby or those two players.

Newcastle’s decision-making: Sport at the top level is all about the small details and they cost the Falcons in their crucial game against Leicester on Friday. They were the better side for much of the final 50 minutes of their encounter at Kingston Park, but some key decisions saw them suffer defeat. Firstly, Toby Flood’s errant pass was easily picked off by Thompson before their finish to the game left a lot to be desired. Prior to the tap penalty, which in itself was an odd call, and the eventual turnover that ended the contest, they had some momentum. The Falcons were making ground, sending the Tigers into reverse, which duly led to an advantage call from the referee. Despite having an opportunity to move the ball quickly and try something different, knowing play had to come back if nothing came of it, they instead slowed play down and effectively forced Wayne Barnes to blow his whistle. It allowed the Midlanders to reset in defence and, of course, the rest is history.

Harlequins: Have stumbled at just the wrong time, even if they still reside in the top-four. It started with their abysmal performance at home to Gloucester in March and they have not really recovered, losing their next three games to Saracens, Sale Sharks and latterly Northampton Saints. With their next game coming against leaders Exeter Chiefs, the Londoners may well be overhauled by the time Leicester visit on May 3. Northampton face bottom side Newcastle Falcons in Round 20 while either Sale or Bath will, at the very least, close the gap when they go head-to-head in late April. It is a nervous time for Paul Gustard’s men, particularly after their impressive start to 2019.

Pau: Their season is effectively over and it showed. They can’t reach the Top 14 play-offs while it’s unlikely Simon Mannix’s men will be relegated, but you at least expect a bit of fight. It’s not as though they have a European semi-final to prepare for so their capitulation was especially disappointing. They were 38-7 down to La Rochelle at half-time and it somehow got even worse in the early stages of the second half, with Jono Gibbes’ side going at over a point a minute at one stage, before they eventually settled for a 71-21 victory at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre. A shameful performance from Mannix’s charges.

Agen: Before we get into the visitors, you have to give enormous credit to Stade Francais for emerging triumphant at the Stade Jean-Bouin but, ultimately, how do you lose against 13 men? That’s right, Stade had two men red carded – Sekou Macalou and Jonathan Danty – with the second coming after 50 minutes, yet the visitors failed to take advantage. Even more bemusing was that the game was relatively tight before the first sending off, with the Parisians edging the contest 10-7, but Philippe Sella’s men contrived to lose the match. It is a huge opportunity missed for Agen, who then saw Grenoble reduce the gap in the fight to avoid the relegation play-off when they defeated Toulon.

Romain Poite: The directives are quite clear from World Rugby; shoulder to the head means red, unless there are significant mitigating circumstances. When Toulouse’s Joe Tekori connected with Clermont Auvergne’s Yohan Beheregaray, it appeared certain that the lock would be sent-off, yet he somehow escaped with a yellow card. It didn’t really have too much impact on the game but it certainly affected Beheregaray’s health – who was stretchered off in a neck brace – and we all send our best wishes to the hooker. Questions must be asked of Poite and again of the lack of consistency in the officiating throughout the various leagues and cups.