Who’s hot and who’s not: Chris Ashton creates history, Munster end Stormers run and the Olly Woodburn decision

Adam Kyriacou
Whos hot and whos not: Split with Chris Ashton and Olly Woodburn

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 after the weekend.


Munster end Stormers’ streak: Defeats to Glasgow Warriors and the Sharks had brought Munster back down to earth somewhat after a decent run of form prior to that. Subsequently, few gave them much chance of overturning the reigning United Rugby Championship holders at their Cape Town fortress. But that’s precisely what Graham Rowntree’s men did as their bonus-point success ended the Stormers’ 19-game winning streak at home and put Munster just five points behind fourth-placed Glasgow. They will savour and celebrate this special triumph.

Leinster on and off the field: Staying with the Ireland theme and it was a fantastic week for Leinster fans as Ireland internationals James Ryan, Josh van der Flier, James Lowe and Ronan Kelleher all inked new deals. Leinster centre Liam Turner also re-signed to add the gloss on the news. Adding even more gloss is the stunning revelation that Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber will be joining the club after the World Cup as a senior coach in place of Stuart Lancaster. On the field too there was reason for cheer as the young squad they sent to South Africa to face the Lions incredibly beat their hosts in a win that yet again demonstrates just what incredible depth this side has. Fly-half Sam Prendergast was man of the match and rightly so.

Samisoni Taukei’aho and the Chiefs: There was fantastic news off and on the field for the Chiefs too as All Blacks hooker Taukei’aho put pen to paper on a new deal that keeps him in New Zealand through to the 2027 Rugby World Cup. The special player will continue to improve for both club and country in those years but right now he’s helping to lead the Chiefs on their outstanding start to the Super Rugby Pacific season. Their success over the Hurricanes on Saturday means it’s now seven wins from seven as they once again showed their class. Rieko Ioane followed Taukei’aho by becoming the second player to re-sign until the end of the World Cup in Australia and both deals are significant for New Zealand.

Landmark for Chris Ashton: The experienced wing became the first player in history to score 100 tries in the Premiership over the weekend as he crossed for a hat-trick of tries in Leicester Tigers’ triumph over Exeter Chiefs. The prolific wing achieves the outrageous feat only a few days after confirming that he will be retiring at the end of the season. The century of tries is a groundbreaking moment in Premiership history and elevates Ashton to one of the best finishers over a long period of time in the English league. Huge credit and massive congratulations, Chris.

Hat-trick hero Tom Stewart breaks try record: The Ulster hooker has enjoyed a stellar season in Belfast. He earned a call-up to the Ireland squad during the Six Nations, and while the 22-year-old did not make his Test debut, one cannot be too far away. He scored a hat-trick last time out for Ulster in the URC against the Bulls and matched that tally against the Dragons on Saturday. He enters the final regular season match of the URC season with a league record of 16 tries in 13 matches, an outstanding shift. While a few of his scores have come from the rolling maul, his effort to complete his hat-trick showed his athleticism. Definitely a player with a bright future who is worth monitoring.


Red card handed to Olly Woodburn: The Exeter man can definitely feel hard done by after being given a second yellow card for diving on a player on the ground as he went in to assist Stuart Hogg’s tackle of Ashton. Woodburn’s contribution pushes the ball carrier into touch and subsequently prevents the try. This resulted in a penalty try and a card. It may not be an incorrect call but is very harsh and the letter of the law itself needs to be looked after this incident.

Bristol Bears’ slide continues: It’s been a stark decline in performance from the Bears in recent times as they’ve gone from being one of the Premiership’s great entertainers near the summit to bottom half strugglers. From the outside looking in on Friday, there appears to be a lack of confidence, ideas and positivity in the camp as they were well beaten by Sale. Physically they were no match for the Sharks but it was concerning to hear that the rain limited their ability to go wide where chances were definitely on. Their fans must want the season to be done.

England set to lose Jack Willis: Unless the RFU’s policy on picking overseas-based players changes, the back-row will not be available to Red Rose head coach Steve Borthwick following the Rugby World Cup. Willis has signed a three-year contract at Toulouse, keeping him at the French club until at least 2026. There have been calls for the English governing body to get rid of the law, which prevents the national team boss from selecting those outside the Premiership, but they don’t look like budging from that. However, with others joining Willis in moving to France, don’t be surprised if the RFU change their stance over the next couple of years.

Ox Nche testing his luck: The Springboks and Sharks loosehead prop chanced his arm on Friday evening when he feigned an injury in an attempt to get the referee and TMO to check potential foul play on him. Unfortunately for Nche, the matchday officials were not having it, and Ben Whitehouse penalised the front-row, awarding Benetton a penalty. We would hate to see rugby union go in the direction of players simulating injuries to get a favoured decision from the officials. We tip our hat to Welsh referee Whitehouse, who acted swiftly and decisively.

Billy Vunipola injury setback: Saracens confirmed last week that the number eight would miss the rest of the season following a serious injury sustained in the Champions Cup defeat to La Rochelle. Vunipola was stretchered off in the loss and it means his Rugby World Cup participation is in severe doubt. Although he missed the Six Nations, with Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt among those preferred options, the back-row was playing superbly and doing more than enough to force his way back in. We wish him all the best in his recovery.

Ellis Park faithful? The plethora of empty seats at Ellis Park in Johannesburg has become a regular eyesore in recent seasons, and not even a double-header of URC matches at the stadium drew in the crowds over the past weekend. Even if the 62,000 capacity stadium does attract 20,000 fans, it does look eerily empty, but when the Bulls faced off against Zebre Parma in the opening game of the day, it seemed like there were barely 5,000 supporters in attendance. That number did not improve much, in fact, it may have even got worse by the time the Lions hosted table-toppers Leinster later in the day – a sad state for the iconic rugby stadium that is clearly suffering from its location.

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