Who’s hot and who’s not!

Date published: June 17 2019

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 over the past week.

THEY’RE ON FIRE!

Toulouse: Title number 20 for Toulouse was wrapped up on Saturday in Paris as they announced their return to the top in impressive style. Granted, they have shone both domestically and in Europe this past season but to get reward for their efforts was hugely deserved. Ugo Mola is doing a wonderful job at Les Rouge et Noir and, despite playing glittering rugby for most of the season, in the final against Clermont they demonstrated they also have the ability to mix their game as they ground their way to glory. So, could this be the start of a new Toulouse dynasty?

Chiefs:ย It has been some turnaround from the New Zealand franchise having lost their opening four matches of the campaign. They began to find their rhythm against the Bulls, defeating the South Africans 56-20 in Pretoria, and duly sealed three victories in a row, but a horrific injury to star player Damian McKenzie caused further disruption. However, they have responded very well in the latter stages of the season and their stunning 59-8 triumph over the Rebels in the play-off decider was absolutely superb as they booked what seemed an unlikely place in the knockouts.

Smart deals for top players: South Africa hooker Malcolm Marx last week joined New Zealand second-row pair Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick in being handed contract extensions that include sabbaticals in Japan. These deals will both financially benefit the player for later in life and also keep them in their home country for the majority of the contract, thus helping their international sides build for tournaments. This outside the box thinking must be applauded from the respective unions as they simply cannot compete with the big-spending offers from abroad, so working around them is the only option. Unfortunately, limited finances means it’ll only be for the select few.

Argentina U20s: For just the third time since the inception of the World Rugby U20 Championship in 2008, they have made it to the semi-finals of the competition. It came as a result of demolishing defending champions France as they played superb rugby and scored some superb tries. Thomas Gallo’s 60-metre effort was the standout, simply because it came from a rampaging prop, but there were also some outstanding team tries. There are a number of talented players in this group and, following the Jaguares’ success this term, the future looks brighter for Argentinian rugby.

Referee review: All too often the officials are scrutinised for their performance, but in the 26th minute of the Jaguares versus Sunwolves fixture on Friday something refreshing took place. While there was a break in play, referee Federico Anselmi walked over to one of his assistant referees, Nick Briant, for an on-the-job review. They discussed how the game was flowing, whether discipline was an issue and the plan moving forward in the match. We’d like to see more of this from those in the middle as games can quickly go down the wrong path. Great to see.

COLD AS ICE!

Rebels:ย Considering what was on the line, their showing against the Chiefs was absolutely abject. While the New Zealanders were excellent, the Melbourne outfit meekly succumbed and once again missed out on the play-offs. It’s the second season in a row that Dave Wessels’ men have faltered in the latter stages of the campaign and questions must be asked. There is significant talent in their side but too many individuals underperformed on Friday. Quade Cooper, who otherwise had a good year, had a veritable shocker, while Reece Hodge made uncharacteristic errors.

Waratahs:ย The Rebels were not the only Australian team to suffer humiliation at the hands of a New Zealand franchise as the Sydney-based outfit shipped 49 points against the Highlanders. Remarkably, 42 of those came in the first half as the ‘Tahs were unable to halt the wave of attacks from the hosts. Aaron Mauger’s men eased off in the second half, which allowed the ‘Tahs to prevent them from getting over the half-century, but it was still a chastening loss for the visitors.

Blues: Everything was set up for a rare away victory to one of their New Zealand rivals, but the Aucklanders once again contrived to lose a game they should have won. It has basically become a trademark of the franchise and it’s difficult to see, in the short-term at least, what they can do about it. Against a Hurricanes line-up that were resting many of their first-choice XV ahead of the play-offs, the Blues dominated the first half and deservedly went 24-5 up at the break, but their intensity was completely lacking at the start of the second half. It allowed a weakened ‘Canes team to get a foothold as they scored two quick-fire tries and that gave the 2016 champions the momentum they needed to win the match.

Sunwolves: When they shocked the Waratahs 31-29 in Sydney in Round Seven, almost immediately after the controversial decision to axe the Japanese outfit from Super Rugby, they appeared set for a positive end to the campaign on the field, but that hasn’t transpired. Particularly in the final five matches, the Sunwolves have been extremely poor and, as a result, they have been left rooted to the foot of the table with just two victories all season. Next year will be their last campaign in Super Rugby and one hopes they finish with a flourish after a dismal 2019.

Lions: There is no hiding from it, missing out on the play-offs is a remarkable fall from grace for the Lions. After making the Super Rugby final in 2015, 2016 and 2017, to not even progress to the knockout stage comes as a major shock to the South African side. They lost seven games this season and ultimately missed the cut by just one point, with the absence of captain Warren Whiteley for the majority of their 2019 challenge not helping matters. However, there can be no excuses for their slide down the table as they currently look a shadow of their former selves. Work to be done.