Who’s hot and who’s not: Heavyweights set up mouth-watering Champions Cup final, SVNS winners and England stars’ stupid antics

Dylan Coetzee
Leinster's James Lowe, Argentina players celebrate and Harlequins prop Joe Marler.

Leinster's James Lowe, Argentina players celebrate and Harlequins prop Joe Marler.

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.


Champions Cup finalists: At times, they were brilliant, while in other periods of their respective semi-finals, Leinster and Toulouse went off the boil, but it matters little at the end of the weekend as they progress to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Leinster were outstanding early on against Northampton as they powered their way to a 20-3 lead on 43 minutes, but then surprisingly the Irish province were held scoreless and had to cling on amid a Saints fightback. It was a similar story for Toulouse against Harlequins before a Juan Cruz Mallia try settled the nerves. The net result is a Leinster v Toulouse final on May 25 and what a match it promises to be. Two powerhouses of the game lock horns.

Sharks comeback: It was an epic semi-final at the Stoop on Saturday – the Sharks’ temporary home for the weekend. Clermont were the better side for most of the game, taking an 11-point lead at one point before the Sharks’ quality shone through in the second 40. Eventually, after an hour, Vincent Koch crashed over while Makazole Mapimpi scored in the last 10 minutes. Siya Masuku was brilliant, too, kicking six penalties and two conversions, including the winning kick from the sideline. It was a goal-kicking master-class from the Springbok hopeful.

Sharks v Clermont: Five takeaways including Springbok wildcard Siya Masuku as big names secure Challenge Cup final spot

SVNS winners: Huge congratulations to New Zealand’s men’s and women’s Sevens teams after they won their respective competitions in Singapore over the weekend, the latter also picking up the league winners prize as they finished two points ahead of Australia in the overall standings. Meanwhile, Argentina savour the league winners honours in the men’s competition despite a form dip in the most recent three rounds. Well done to all three of the teams as the focus now turns to the Grand Final tournament in Madrid which kicks off on May 31.

Super Rugby Pacific goes to Tonga: For the time ever the tournament went to Tonga where Moana Pasifika hosted the Highlanders in the capital, Nuku’alofa, with 10,000 people in attendance. The hosts would go on to lose the Super Rugby Pacific fixture 28-17 in terribly wet conditions, but it was the rugby that was the true winner on the day as the tournament broadened its horizons. The game serves as a massive step forward for Pacific rugby with their very own side able to host teams on the islands.

Reds’ first win in Christchurch this century: Just a week after the Crusaders’ statement win over the Melbourne Rebels, their hopes were smashed again, this time at the hands of the Reds who claimed a 33-28 win. It was the Queenslanders’ first win in Christchurch since 1999, which is before some of the players on the pitch were even born. It is a thumbs-up for the Les Kiss era at the Reds this time around while the Crusaders get another unwanted record this season, with their hopes of making the Super Rugby Pacific play-offs taking a hit.

Dr Rassie Erasmus: The Springboks head coach finally officially received his honorary doctorate in coaching science from North West University in a lovely ceremony where Erasmus’ exploits were duly celebrated. The coach’s influence goes far beyond the field and he was hailed for his desire to unite the nation in any way he could. Erasmus was seen to get emotional during the ceremony and thoroughly deserves the accolade.

TJ Perenara try record: The experienced All Blacks scrum-half went into the Hurricanes’ encounter with the Waratahs in Wellington on Friday as Super Rugby’s joint leading try-scorer – alongside former All Blacks and ‘Canes team-mate Julian Savea – on 62 tries. With Perenara starting on the bench against the Sydneysiders, it was highly unlikely that he would cross the whitewash to hold that record on his own but, despite coming on as a replacement in the 62nd minute, that’s exactly what he did in the closing stages of his team’s 41-12 win. Savea could obviously draw level or move ahead of Perenara when Moana Pasifika faced the Highlanders on Saturday but that didn’t happen and Perenara is now sitting at the top of the try-scoring charts on his own. Well done, TJ!

Johann van Graan long-term deal: It was a good week for Bath’s South African head of rugby after the West Country outfit announced that he has signed a new long-term contract, which will keep him at the Premiership club until the end of the 2029/30 campaign. Van Graan joined Bath 2022 from United Rugby Championship side Munster and has led a transformation in fortunes, with his new club challenging for league honours as they currently occupy third place in the standings. While it’s rare for coaches to sign such lengthy contract extensions, it shows that Van Graan is highly rated by his bosses at Bath and he will be hoping to repay the faith shown in him by bringing back some silverware to the club soon.

James Lowe brilliance: Leinster scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park produced a stunning performance to be named Player of the Match, but it was hard to ignore the side’s winger, who grabbed another three tries against Northampton Saints. This came after his brace in the quarter-final victory over La Rochelle – where he also assisted three tries.

Leinster player ratings: Jamison-Gibson Park and James Lowe star as another Champions Cup final secured


Northampton’s first half: Boy that was bad, unrecognisingly bad from the Saints. They simply couldn’t string passes, let alone phases, together against Leinster as they looked a shadow of the side that has wowed supporters in the Premiership and Champions Cup this season. Credit must go to Leinster’s impressive speed off the line and physicality, but there was plenty Northampton got wrong on their own in Dublin. Their second-half fightback and coming so close to snatching victory will no doubt add to the frustration and regret of that first-half showing.

The ongoing Billy Vunipola saga: After featuring in this column last week, after video footage emerged of him being tasered and arrested by police during a drunken night out at a Majorca nightclub, the Saracens and England number eight has opened up about the incident. The 31-year-old was fined 240 euros (£205) following an express trial for resisting the law and said he has a problem with “knowing when to stop”. Vunipola revealed that it was the first time he drank alcohol since August 2022 as he anticipated it would be his final team-bonding trip with Saracens before he leaves the club in the summer. However, things did not go according to plan as the drink got the better of him.

Joe Marler antics: The England prop’s latest brain fade ended any chance of a glorious Harlequins comeback. It was a needless slap on Thomas Ramos that resulted in Quins’ penalty being overturned, and with two minutes left to play, it ended any chance of grabbing a late winner.

Crusaders fall again: This season really is turning into an annus horribilis for Super Rugby’s perennial champions as that defeat against the Reds means they have now suffered eight defeats and won just two of their 10 matches played so far this season. Prior to Saturday’s loss against the Reds, Rob Penney’s troops had a spring in their step after sealing an impressive 39-0 win over the Rebels in Christchurch and despite being back on their home patch, they could not replicate that performance. Remarkably their play-off hopes are still alive but the Crusaders simply have to win their remaining four league fixtures if they want to advance to the quarter-finals.

Western Force: While the Crusaders are struggling in Super Rugby Pacific, the Force are in an even worse position as they are firmly entrenched at the bottom of the table. The Perth-based outfit headed to Hamilton at the weekend to take on the high-riding Chiefs and it was a one-sided affair as the home side cruised to an emphatic 56-7 victory. That result means the Force have amassed a paltry 10 points from their 10 matches played, and they will be hoping to return to the victory trail – after losing their last two matches – when they host the Fijian Drua and Waratahs in their next two fixtures.

READ MORE: Toulouse v Harlequins: Five takeaways as ‘remarkable’ Francois Cros causes chaos and disgraceful director costs Quins