Who’s hot and who’s not: Springboks’ World Cup heroes make the difference, Leinster win derby and another Rugby Australia blunder

Colin Newboult
Leinster's Hugo Keenan in action against Munster alongside the Six Nations trophy.

Leinster's Hugo Keenan in action against Munster alongside the Six Nations trophy.

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.


Leinster edge epic derby: They were not at their best but Leo Cullen’s men emerged victorious in the standout game in the United Rugby Championship (URC) at the weekend. Their great rivals, Munster, put up an excellent fight, but ultimately tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Dan Sheehan and Jordan Larmour proved to be enough for the Dubliners. That leaves Leinster in second position in the URC table and in good shape ahead of the crucial domestic and European period around Christmas and New Year.

Returning Springboks show their class: It might have only been the Dragons but the Sharks produced a much better performance as they thrashed the Welsh region 69-14. With their Rugby World Cup winners now back following the end of the celebrations, head coach John Plumtree loaded his team with Springboks and it showed. They dominated the game, with the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Grant Williams and Makazole Mapimpi all making big impacts. Elsewhere, the Bulls also claimed an impressive triumph as Willie le Roux enjoyed an excellent debut by touching down at the end of the first half.

Maro Itoje back in form: The England lock was struggling going into the Rugby World Cup, but he gradually improved as the tournament went on and by the end of it the second-row was playing some excellent rugby. That form has continued since returning to his club Saracens. Against Harlequins in the London derby, Itoje was utterly magnificent and on Saturday against Bristol Bears he was arguably even better. The 29-year-old is playing superbly well, which bodes well for both club and country heading into 2024.

Benetton upset Blair Kinghorn’s farewell: Benetton’s fine start to the 2023/24 season continued as they upset Edinburgh 24-22 on Friday. It was meant to be a celebration for the hosts, who were saying goodbye to their excellent Toulouse-bound playmaker Kinghorn, but in the end it was only the Italians that had smiles on their faces. On a personal level, it was a good night for Kinghorn as he touched down twice on his final game before heading to France, but it was the visitors who deservedly took the spoils.

Damian Penaud shines for Bordeaux: France’s star wing seems to have quickly forgotten their Rugby World Cup heartbreak, or at the very least is taking out his anger on the other Top 14 sides. Penaud, who should break Les Bleus’ try-scoring record next year, touched down four times for Bordeaux-Begles against Perpignan at the weekend. All of them came in the first half as he showed his instincts to get on the end of some fluid UBB backline moves.


Free-to-air worry for Six Nations: There are concerns that ITV and BBC in the United Kingdom will be unable to afford the television rights for the Six Nations going forward. It means that the only option would be for it to move to pay TV, which is financially more lucrative in the short-term but could ultimately harm the growth of the sport. Rugby needs the Six Nations to be free-to-air, with the matches regularly attracting big viewing figures, otherwise it may have a devastating long-term impact on the sport.

Tom Curry’s setback: There was hugely disappointing news for the back-rower during the week, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing a hip operation. It is an injury which he has been carrying for quite a while and the decision has been taken for him to get it sorted now. It is a huge shame for Curry, as well as Sale and England, but as the Sharks’ director of rugby Alex Sanderson stated, it will hopefully benefit his long-term career.

Rugby Australia’s latest blunder: It has been a dreadful year for the governing body and it may get worse as, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, they stand to miss out on over AUS$1 million if they can’t come to an arrangement with the French Rugby Federation. It all centres on the Rugby World Cup warm-up which took place in Paris on August 27. Hamish McLennan and Bernard Laporte reportedly agreed on a AUS$1.7 million match fee back in 2021, but a formal contract was not written out. With there being a change of president since then due to Laporte’s resignation following his corruption conviction, RA are still waiting on that payment having only been given under AUS$100,000 so far. It rather sums up Australia’s year.

Montpellier’s struggles continue: Speaking of Laporte, the disgraced former FFR president became director of rugby at the Top 14 club during the week, with Patrice Collazo taking over from Richard Cockerill as head coach, but it did not make an immediate difference. They suffered their seventh defeat in eight matches as they went down to an abysmal 26-21 loss to newly-promoted Oyonnax on Saturday. Although all hope is not lost, they are currently bottom of the table and are very much in a relegation dogfight, which is some fall from grace for the 2022 champions.

West Country coaches under pressure: We are very much not talking about Bath, who have started the season in fine fashion, but their regional rivals, Bristol Bears and Gloucester. Both teams have the same record of two victories and five defeats in seven matches and it has left their respective coaches, Pat Lam and George Skivington, under pressure. This isn’t just a matter of the two teams struggling for a brief period of time, it is the fact that they have consistently failed to rectify their problems. Considering the sides finished in the bottom three last season, you have to think that their respective bosses are under significant pressure.

READ MORE: Maro Itoje stars as Saracens make it five in a row