Who’s hot and who’s not!

Date published: December 5 2016

It’s time for our wrap of who has their name in lights at the moment… and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.

They’re on fire!!

England: A perfect year – it does not get much more hotter than that. England started slow but settled down at Twickenham, those two quick tries from Marland Yarde (was it a knock-on? More on that later) and Ben Youngs swung the momentum England’s way and they never let go of it. Even way off their best they still won by 16 points. To win 13 games out of 13 is outstanding and Eddie Jones and his coaching staff deserve a ton of credit.

Blitzbokke: Boy did South African rugby need that after a rough month. Defeating the reigning Series and Olympic champions Fiji in the final is some achievement. Chris Dry had an outstanding tournament in Dubai and with weapons like Cecil Afrika and Seabelo Senatla there is reason to be optimistic. With Cape Town up next week Neil Powell’s group have a strong chance of opening up an early lead at the top of the standings.

Castres: A first away win of the season as Castres continue to climb up the table, momentarily hitting the top four until Toulon’s win over UBB on Sunday. Lyon has proved a tough place to visit this season and to come away with the victory despite twice losing a front-rower to the bin is a credit to Christophe Urios and his side. Geoffrey Palis deserves credit for an accomplished performance off the kicking tee as well in the absence of Benjamin Urdapilleta.

Bath: Somewhat of an upset win at home over Saracens, even with both teams depleted by international call-ups. Max Clark, a favourite of new coaches Todd Blackadder and Tabai Matson, grabbed the key try for Bath as his centre partnership with Ben Tapuai continues to gel. After last season’s disaster, Bath are up to third.

Brendan Macken: Coaches as we know love a fast start so you can bet that Dai Young was grinning when Macken scored after 51 seconds in Wasps’ win over Worcester. The centre’s well-timed interception had the hosts on the back foot from the start in another concerning loss for the Warriors, who sit only six points ahead of bottom side Bristol.

Munster: Excellent win away at Scotstoun considering the number of absentees. We expected a tight contest and this duly delivered, with Ian Keatley’s 11 points including a drop goal along with Andrew Conway’s try getting Munster the win. They stay top of the PRO12 ahead of Leinster on points difference after ten games.

Left in the freezer!

Key decisions at Twickenham: Australian complaints over some of the big calls on Saturday seem fair. The Marland Yarde try which swung the lead back England’s way looked contentious after multiple replays, suggesting the wing lost control in the grounding. Then at the death the yellow card at the end for Dane Haylett-Petty seemed exceptionally soft. Not forgetting what looked like a forward pass in the build-up to Youngs’ try. England might have won anyway, but those missed decisions matter, especially in the big Tests but in every game too.

Sale Sharks: A real shambles of a performance in Friday’s 21-3 loss to Exeter with the Sharks struggling to get anything going and to make the most of Josh Charnley’s finishing ability out on the wing. The rugby league convert probably didn’t swap codes to be shoved into touch time and again. This was a sixth loss of the season for Steve Diamond’s squad and AJ MacGinty, signed to replace Danny Cipriani at fly-half, is yet to start running the show as expected.

Bayonne: Game over once Grégory Arganese was red carded after 18 minutes and Bayonne certainly paid for it, with Stade Français running in eight tries and putting a half century of points on Vincent Etcheto’s side. Worrying times for the newly promoted side, who have just three wins from 13 matches since their return to the top flight.

Dan Lydiate’s injury: Sad news for Ospreys, Wales and Lions fans with Lydiate ruled out for the rest of the season due to upcoming ACL surgery. Lydiate might be often criticised for lacking the natural ability of a Justin Tipuric or a Taulupe Faletau but defensively there are few better, and he certainly has been in Warren Gatland’s thoughts to head to New Zealand.

The George North incident: Watching the Wales wing lying flat out on the turf at Welford Road after being taken out in the air by Adam Thompstone rang major alarm bells. Northampton stated that North had been treated for a neck injury and was not knocked out, despite the sight of him prone on the ground suggesting otherwise. Given his history after two concussions against England in 2015 and another shortly afterwards, if there was any suggestion of another concussion, then there is every right to be concerned.