Who’s hot and who’s not: Duhan van der Merwe and Ireland shine while it’s a bad week for Welsh rugby

Planet Rugby
Duhan van der Merwe and Dan Biggar split Six Nations Who's hot and who's not

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.


Duhan van der Merwe’s incredible double: The Scotland wing was at his brutal best at Twickenham on Saturday, producing a match-winning performance with a stunning solo try and completing his brace to seal the victory. England couldn’t deal with the abrasive back who beat a remarkable 10 defenders from his eight carries, spurring his side to another Calcutta Cup defence. His first crossing will be replayed thousands, if not a million, times over in the coming years and rightfully so, as he breezed past three defenders, stepped another and fended the last for a truly sensational score. A player of the match award capped off a memorable night for the speedster. His performance helped Scotland secure back-to-back wins over England at Twickenham for the first time ever. It also meant that Gregor Townsend’s side have won the Calcutta Cup for a third straight year, doing so for the first time since 1972. The big question is now can they back it up against Wales?

Ireland show their class: Andy Farrell’s side flexed their dominance against Wales, racing out to a 27-3 half-time lead in Cardiff. Ireland had not won at the Principality since 2013, but they looked unbeatable in their opening game of the Six Nations. The topped-ranked side in World Rugby impressed in all facets of the game, with the lineout running without a hitch, the attack slicing through Wales with regular ease, and their defence just leaking one try, a superbly taken one at that. Even the late withdrawals of Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy didn’t impact Ireland as they surged to a 34-10 bonus-point victory which throws down a marker to France, who many expect to be their title rivals.

Ange Capuozzo growing with each game: He’s no one Six Nations wonder, that’s for sure. Capuozzo was the heartbeat of Italy’s solid round one performance against France as he carried the fight, with his X-factor causing Les Bleus numerous problems on Sunday. He was unlucky to be on the losing side in Rome, but Italy and Capuozzo can take plenty from the narrow loss, with other Six Nations teams sent a warning shot that the Azzurri will be no pushovers. England are next up at Twickenham in what promises to be a thrilling game on Sunday.

Campbell Johnstone the first openly gay All Black: Much love and respect to the former New Zealand international prop, who will hopefully blaze a trail for other people to be comfortable with their sexuality. Johnstone follows the likes of Nigel Owens, Gareth Thomas and Nick McCarthy in high-profile rugby people coming out as gay, and it will hopefully help others who are afraid of talking about it openly.

Eben Etzebeth finally gets recognition: Since debuting for South Africa in 2012, Etzebeth has been a mainstay and top performer in the Springboks squad, finishing third in his first Rugby World Cup, winning his second and helping the team to a British and Irish Lions series victory. Adding to that, he became the youngest Springbok player to reach the 100 Test cap milestone, yet, throughout his career, one award has escaped him, the SA Rugby Player of the Year. That all changed this past week when he was recognised for his performances in 2022, taking home the top honour after nominations in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2021. It’s just reward for a servant of South African rugby and one of the greats to have donned the Green and Gold, who will now hope to back up his 2022 with another excellent campaign in this World Cup year.

Manie Libbok and Stormers: The Stormers headed to Durban in the only game of the United Rugby Championship over the weekend to take on the Sharks, with both sides depleted by the absence of most of their Springboks. The Sharks were billed as favourites for the match, but that would have only motivated John Dobson’s charges, who ran in six tries to the Sharks’ three in a comprehensive 46-19 win. Libbok, who played for the Sharks between 2020 and 2021, produced a masterclass for the Stormers at fly-half, scoring 19 points in the match, and assisting a further two as the defending champions claimed victory. The Stormers continue to earn praise from us and deserve every bit of it.


Bad week for Welsh rugby ends in abysmal defeat: Much of the talk before the game centred on the allegations of sexism, racism and homophobia within the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), and that is something which continues to stain the game in the country. Wales head coach Warren Gatland then tried to divert attention away from that when he asked in midweek for the focus to be on the rugby ahead of the start of the Six Nations. With minds duly fully focused on matters on the field once the match against Ireland had kicked off, Gatland no doubt hoped they could at least give their supporters something to cheer. However, they were comprehensively outplayed by the Irish, who bullied the hosts for the majority of the encounter as Gatland’s much-publicised return to the hotseat in Cardiff ended in a damp squib.

Siobhan Cattigan continues to be failed by Scottish Rugby: The family of the former Scotland international back-row, who died in November 2021 at the age of 26, are still searching for answers from the governing body. Significant questions need to be asked of the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), but they have seemingly done very little to help since her tragic passing. According to the family, their request for an independent inquiry has been met by a number of obstacles. They said in a statement: “In the 14 months since our cherished daughter’s passing we are still no further forward in seeking the answers from Scottish Rugby about the events which led to Siobhan’s tragic and avoidable passing.” Come on, Mark Dodson and Scottish Rugby, finally step up and help give her family some closure.

Another coach bites the dust: After Eddie Jones, Wayne Pivac and Dave Rennie departed their respective roles with England, Wales and Australia, we didn’t think there would be any more upheaval ahead of the Rugby World Cup, but Vern Cotter shocked everyone by resigning from his position as Fiji head coach. It is a huge surprise, and no reason has been given for his sudden departure on the eve of the tournament in France. It means that three sides in Pool C – Wales, Australia and Fiji – have all had a change in head coach prior to this year’s competition starting, which is remarkable. One wonders if we might see Rennie or possibly even Scott Robertson (after Super Rugby Pacific) take over.

Sharks come off second best: Yes, we have mentioned the Stormers in the hot section, but for all that was good about the Capetonians, there was a lot just as bad from the Sharks. To go down so heavily on their home patch will concern head coach Neil Powell and while many will point to the absences of the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am and others, the manner and margin of this loss cannot be papered over. They stay seven points behind the Bulls and are now a whopping 17 off the pace-setting Stormers in the South African Shield.

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