Who’s hot and who’s not!

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.

THEY’RE ON FIRE!

England: It needed something remarkable to beat the defending champions and Eddie Jones’ men produced it. Tactically superior, dominant at the breakdown and generally precise in attack, the Red Rose simply had too much for the All Blacks. Their forwards were utterly outstanding while their efforts behind the scrum were similarly impressive. Both George Ford and Owen Farrell kicked well out of hand, but it was their variety which caused New Zealand problems throughout. They dovetailed superbly and helped keep the Red Rose on the front foot throughout the 80 minutes.

Maro Itoje: He deserves a section of his own after his monumental effort in the victory over New Zealand. The lock has surprisingly been doubted at times, particularly by those in the southern hemisphere, but Itoje showed why he is up there with the best players in the world. Despite not receiving the recognition or praise of ‘Kamikaze Kids’ Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, the second-row has been very effective in this tournament and was at his best on Saturday. There was plenty of talk about the lineout going into the contest but the Saracens man led it superbly while he was typically industrious in the loose and constantly disrupted opposition ball.

Handre Pollard: The Springbok fly-half came to the fore with arguably his best showing of the Rugby World Cup in his side’s 19-16 victory over Wales in their semi-final in Yokohama on Sunday. In a tightly contested match, the 25-year-old was calmness personified and delivered a superb all-round performance. His goal-kicking was particularly impressive as he put in a faultless display off the kicking tee slotting five out of five shots at goal.

Northampton Saints and Gloucester: Although the 2019/20 Premiership season is still in its early stages, these sides have made fantastic starts and are the only unbeaten teams left in the competition. Both registered bonus-point victories at the weekend with Saints claiming a 35-16 win over Worcester Warriors at Franklin’s Gardens while Gloucester beat Wasps 25-9 at Kingsholm. This follows narrow victories over Saracens and Sale Sharks in their respective tournament openers.

Tasman: For the first time in their history, Tasman lifted New Zealand rugby’s top prize aloft as they won the Mitre 10 Cup final 31-14 against Wellington. It was a remarkable campaign from the Makos as they were victorious in all 10 of the regular-season matches before overcoming Auckland in the semi-finals. On paper they boasted an outstanding team and from the early fixtures it looked like it would be a major shock if they were to be denied the trophy, with the likes of Will Jordan, Jordan Taufua, Alex Nankivell, Liam Squire and David Havili all quality operators. It was perhaps fitting Jordan had a big role in the final – scoring the first and last try – as Tasman were crowned champions.

COLD AS ICE

Naive All Blacks: As much as they were outplayed by the Red Rose, Steve Hansen’s men didn’t help themselves at times. New Zealand attacked brilliantly against Ireland, manoeuvring the men in green around the field, but they never adapted to England’s game plan. Considering they had two superb decision-makers in Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett alongside a couple of intelligent centres in Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue, they failed to impose themselves on the opposition. Their kicking game was non-existent and they regularly decided to go from deep, which put themselves in trouble – did New Zealand not watch Australia last week? It is the end of a remarkable period of dominance at the World Cup, but no doubt they will be back.

Wales v South Africa: What a dreadful game of rugby. While their respective styles have served both teams well over the years and in this tournament, it doesn’t exactly serve the sport well for those trying to promote it. You have to credit South Africa and Wales in many respects, who were clearly two of the best four teams in the World Cup, but when you get two sides that play in a similarly dull way it does not make for good viewing.

A shocker in Parma: Continuing this theme, spare a thought for those supporters who came out to watch Zebre v Leinster on Saturday. 3-0 (yes, three points to nil) it finished as the Irish province claimed victory thanks to Ross Byrne’s penalty in the 20th minute. As one might expect, there isn’t much else to say about the contest other than we are glad it’s over.

Leicester Tigers: Yes, they have their internationals away and players such as Taufua and Tomas Lavanini should also improve the team, but there doesn’t appear to be a discernible game plan at the moment. The Tigers used to be one of England’s biggest club sides, but they were almost relegated last season and have started the 2019/20 campaign poorly. Geordan Murphy’s men had an opportunity to gain a rare victory over champions Saracens, who were more depleted than themselves, but the visitors were far more assured. With a tough game against Gloucester to come, the Midlanders may open the campaign with three successive losses.

Welsh regions: It’s not been a great weekend for Welsh rugby, despite the Dragons’ impressive victory over Glasgow Warriors. The national team’s defeat to South Africa followed losses for three of their regions as the Scarlets, Cardiff Blues and Ospreys all succumbed in the PRO14. Although the Llanelli outfit had won their opening three encounters, head coach Brad Mooar will be concerned by their 46-7 thrashing at the hands of Edinburgh. As for the other two, they have lost three of their four games this season and reside in sixth position in their respective conferences.