Who’s hot and who’s not: Finn Russell shines, World Rugby hampering sport’s growth and poor results for SA URC teams

David Skippers
Bath fly-half Finn Russell, Sharks back Werner Kok and a screenshot from YouTube.

Bath fly-half Finn Russell, Sharks back Werner Kok and a screenshot from YouTube.

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.


Zebre Parma win at last: The Italian side’s wretched run of 28 successive defeats finally came to an end when they clinched a 12-10 United Rugby Championship victory over the Sharks at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Friday. As the scoreline suggests, this was a hard-fought encounter, and the end result was in the balance until the game’s closing stages. However, Fabio Roselli’s troops dug deep and held on for their first triumph since April 2022, when they beat the Dragons. In the win over the Sharks, Geronimo Prisciantelli was the hero as he slotted three penalties, while Jacopo Trulla also added a three-pointer off the kicking tee.

George Ford and SaleAt the moment, their heavy defeat against Exeter Chiefs looks like an aberration, as the Sharks have been very impressive otherwise. Sale, who were runners-up last season, showed their class to defeat Bristol Bears 27-13 at Ashton Gate. England fly-half Ford was very much the star man as he guided his team around the pitch superbly for the club’s fourth win in five matches so far in 2023/24.

Finn Russell and Bath: Speaking of fly-halves, this time of the Scottish variety, the maverick Russell has settled in rather nicely at the West Country outfit. The talented playmaker was outstanding for Bath as they staged a superb second-half comeback, coming from 20-10 behind to defeat their great rivals Gloucester 45-27. After a difficult few years, things are starting to come right for Johann van Graan’s men, and this result displayed their improvement under the South African. Russell has been a key reason as to why, with his confidence – which was demonstrated by his shushing of the Shed – permeating around the squad.

Benetton last men standing: After four rounds of action in the United Rugby Championship, the Treviso-based outfit are the only unbeaten team left in the competition. Head coach Marco Bortolami and his players can be proud of their efforts as they currently occupy sixth position in the standings after notching victories against Cardiff, the Lions and Stormers, and they also clinched a draw against the defending champions Munster. On Saturday, Benetton held on for a narrow win over the Stormers, but they deserved their triumph as they finished the stronger of the two sides and that result will give them some confidence ahead of a tricky assignment away to Glasgow Warriors.

‘National interest’ deal: The Scottish Rugby Union have taken a leaf out of Ireland’s book as this week Ali Price completed his loan move from Glasgow Warriors to Edinburgh. The deal was described as being “in the national interest”. It’s a smart bit of business from the SRU, with Price dropping down the pecking order at the start of this year before regaining the starting jumper in the latter stages of the World Cup. It allows George Horne and Jamie Dobie to rack up more starting minutes at Glasgow while Price jostles with Charlie Shiel and Ben Vellacott at Edinburgh.

Hat-trick Henry: England winger Henry Arundell wasted no time settling into life in the Top 14, running in a hat-trick of tries on debut for Racing 92 on Sunday evening. It took 36 minutes for the rising star, who scored five tries at the Rugby World Cup, to open his account at the Parisian club before he added another on the hour mark and a third seven minutes later. His heroics were not enough to see Racing to victory as Toulon etched out a 31-26 victory.


World Rugby hampering sport’s progress: While the Rugby World Cup is now done and dusted, the negative headlines from World Rugby’s copyright clampdown continue. During the tournament, World Rugby blocked fans and content creators from sharing footage of the action and has continued to do so following its conclusion, with popular YouTube analyst Squidge Rugby having his 40-odd minute review of South Africa’s triumph taken down from his channel. “Younger audiences are going to be engaged if there are viral moments, and the only way we’ll get viral moments is if we make them accessible,” Squidge Rugby’s Will Owen told I news. It is a view we very much agree with and hopefully the governing body takes heed moving forward.

Andrew Conway’s retirement: It was so sad to see that the former Ireland wing has been forced to hang up his boots due to injury. Conway was an outstanding wing for club and country, who had an impressive strike rate for Ireland, scoring 15 tries in just 30 games. Without the knee problem, the speedster would have undoubtedly earned many more caps for the national team, but unfortunately, it ultimately ended his career. We wish Conway all the best in whatever he decides to do next.

Zach Mercer injury setback: Speaking of injuries, the Gloucester number eight has received a blow with the news that he will be out for ‘months’ following surgery on an ankle problem. No exact timeframe has been given, but it doesn’t sound good with the Six Nations not especially far away. England head coach Steve Borthwick decided against picking him for the Rugby World Cup, but Mercer was one of the players he might have taken a look at in 2024 as they start building towards the next global tournament in Australia.

Sharks suffer another loss: The Durban-based outfit’s poor start to the United Rugby Championship season continues and that defeat to Zebre Parma means that John Plumtree’s charges are languishing at the bottom of the table. This, after they lost all four of their matches in the tournament so far and apart from their loss to Zebre Parma, they also suffered defeats against Munster, Leinster and the Ospreys. Plumtree has called for patience from Sharks supporters as they head back to South Africa in a bid to get their campaign on track and they will be determined to do just that when they host Connacht in Durban this weekend.

Welsh regions: It was a disastrous weekend for the Welsh sides, who all succumbed to defeats despite being at home. The Welsh Rugby Union’s issues have been well-documented and this suggests that they are still some way off competing with the best. Cardiff and Dragons can be forgiven for losing to Bulls and Leinster respectively, who are obviously superb sides, but Ospreys and Scarlets may well regret their results. The latter were particularly disappointing as they fell to the Lions, which gave the Johannesburg franchise their first victory of the season. Welsh teams currently occupy three of the bottom four positions in the URC.

Newcastle Falcons: The Tyneside outfit don’t have the resources of the other Premiership sides but they are usually competitive at the very least. However, the Falcons have yet to taste victory this season, losing all five of their games, with the latest, a 50-12 hammering at the hands of Saracens, especially concerning. While they were facing the champions, the Londoners decided to rest the likes of Jamie George, Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell, and Newcastle never got close. Some fans are now concerned that they won’t win a Premiership game this season.

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