Who’s hot and who’s not: New Zealand dominate Super Rugby Pacific quarter-finals and Springboks take back Jean Kleyn

Colin Newboult

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.


New Zealand teams dominate: Three of the four teams in the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals come from the country with the Chiefs, Crusaders and Blues making it through the first knockout stage. They have once again shown their much greater quality with the latter two enjoying dominant victories over Fijian Drua and Waratahs respectively. Meanwhile, this season’s pacesetters had a much tougher game against the Reds, but they were still too strong for the visitors, securing a 29-20 triumph. New Zealand franchises still reign supreme in the southern hemisphere.

Brumbies late show rescues Aussie hopes: It was almost four New Zealand teams in the semi-finals as the Hurricanes held a 33-25 lead over the Brumbies in the final quarter, but the Australians mounted a comeback and, to some extent, saved this season’s competition. Having this weekend’s clashes with only New Zealand sides represented in the latter stages would have been rather dull. The Brumbies will not be favourites for this encounter but the Chiefs showed on Saturday that they could be vulnerable.

Top 14 finalists: Toulouse and La Rochelle once again proved themselves to be the best teams in France after winning their Top 14 semi-finals relatively comfortably. It is a repeat of the 2021 showpiece event, where Les Rouge et Noir overcame Ronan O’Gara’s men 18-8 at the Stade de France. On Friday, Ugo Mola’s charges absolutely dominated Racing 92 to claim a 41-14 triumph before La Rochelle proved too strong for a battling Bordeaux-Begles outfit and emerged 24-13 victorious. It will be an outstanding game between two of the best in Europe.

Red Roses contracts: English rugby may be struggling at the moment but credit must go to the RFU who have consistently shown their commitment to growing women’s rugby. The latest announcement has seen 32 contracts awarded, up from 30, in a three-season agreement which covers the 2025 Rugby World Cup. It is great to see the governing body doing their bit to grow the game and they are being rewarded both on and off the field, as evidenced by the world record crowd which turned out for the Grand Slam decider earlier this year.

Arise Sir Wayne Smith: Congratulations to the coaching legend who has been knighted in New Zealand’s annual King’s birthday honours list. Smith is regarded as one of the brightest minds in the sport and played a key role in the All Blacks’ 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup triumphs before guiding the Blacks Ferns to the 2021 title. He has been an incredible servant to New Zealand Rugby and the country, and thoroughly deserves this honour.

Zach Mercer: The number eight has been named in England’s first training squad ahead of the World Cup. Mercer has been playing brilliant rugby in France for Montpellier, where he was ineligible for international selection. However, with the star Gloucester-bound he can now be picked. It is a massive boost for England to have such an in-form player return to the set-up just in time for the global tournament, which starts in under than 100 days.


London Irish suspended: It was almost inevitable – but no less galling – when it was confirmed that the Exiles were suspended from RFU competitions after their proposed takeover fell through. They became the third club, after Worcester Warriors and Wasps, to be ejected from the Premiership in what has been an awful few months for English rugby. Irish were then placed in administration the next day, putting the future of the club in severe doubt. It is absolutely horrible for the players, staff and supporters, and our thoughts are with them all.

Johnny Sexton: The Irish skipper has received a misconduct letter from European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) for his behaviour following Leinster’s Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle. Sexton, who did not feature in the game, is reportedly being accused on three counts, one being when he confronted the match officials after the game. The Irishman is expected to receive a ban that could see him miss out on warm-up games for the Rugby World Cup and possibly some of the global showpiece as well. This would be a massive blow for a player who is in desperate need of game time before the tournament in France.

Ireland drop the ball over Jean Kleyn: Andy Farrell could well be left to regret his decision not to reward the lock’s form over the past season. On Saturday, South Africa announced their Rugby Championship training squad and it included a certain Kleyn. Providing their eligibility application is accepted by World Rugby, the second-row will be available to play for the Springboks at the World Cup. Quite frankly, it was staggering that he was not named in Ireland’s squad, considering his form and the fact that he is the type of lock they lack. It could come back to bite, especially with the two countries in the same pool at the global tournament.

Another Wales player leaves squad: Will the last one out turn off the lights. Yet another experienced Welshman has decided to quit, with Cory Hill following Justin Tipuric, Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Webb in deciding to forgo his World Cup hopes. Unlike the other three, Hill has decided not to retire and has instead left to take up a fiscally lucrative contract outside of Wales. The club required him to be around during the global tournament and the second-row agreed to those terms. Ultimately, it is a short career and you cannot really blame him for putting financial security first.

Disappointing Racing 92: Toulouse are obviously one of the best club sides in the world but it was still a disappointing effort from the Parisians. They never really fired a shot and found themselves 20-0 down at the interval. Racing did score a couple of tries in the final 10 minutes but, by that point, they were already 34-0 in arrears. After fighting so hard to reach the semi-finals, this was a pretty meek surrender, especially when you look at the individual quality in their squad.

All Blacks lose Leicester Fainga’anuku: New Zealand Rugby have done a great job in keeping their best players in the country but they were powerless to stop the Crusaders wing moving overseas as he signed a deal with Toulon. On form, Fainga’anuku will be in the All Blacks reckoning and may well head to the Rugby World Cup, but he will not be available for at least 18 months after that. It is a blow for Scott Robertson, who takes over following the global tournament, and he will hope others do not follow the 23-year-old’s path to Europe. New Zealand have plenty of depth in the back three, but the youngster would have been in Robertson’s plans.

READ MORE: Winners and losers from South Africa’s 2023 Rugby Championship training squad