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!

Leinster and Exeter Chiefs: The PRO14 and Premiership champions both showed their credentials on the European stage in Round One as they eased past Montpellier and Glasgow Warriors respectively. The Irish province won 35-14 on the road at a difficult ground in France on Saturday before Sunday saw the reigning Champions Cup holders wipe the floor with Glasgow, prevailing 42-0 to send a message to the rest of the potential European challengers that the Chiefs are not in the mood to relinquish their title. Exeter played rugby from another planet at Sandy Park as they ran in six tries to the Warriors’ zero points, with both feats equally impressive. What teams both have become.

Gregor Townsend: It was surely never really in doubt but finally it was confirmed that Townsend will remain in the Scotland coaching hot seat until the 2023 Rugby World Cup after inking an extension. The former Glasgow Warriors boss has grown into the international job and his side has progressed under his tenure, with a solid Autumn Nations Cup putting the seal on this new deal. He has been at the helm for 40 Tests so far, with 22 wins and a draw equating to a 55% win percentage, and had previously taken Scotland to their highest spot in the world rankings of fifth in 2017/18. He will now hope to continue his side’s upward trajectory under the knowledge he is in charge for France 2023.

Award winners: Last Tuesday evening saw the annual World Rugby Awards take place and there were some special gongs handed out on the night, including the Men’s and Women’s Player of the Decade which went to Richie McCaw and Jessy Tremouliere respectively. The New Zealand legend and France full-back were the main winners in a global public poll of the best players between 2010 and 2019, while Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip won the Try of the Decade for his effort against Italy in 2016. Other notable winners were New Zealand’s Portia Woodman and Fiji’s Jerry Tuwai, who were crowned Women’s and Men’s Sevens Player of the Decade respectively. Congratulations to all.

World Cup stars shine bright: They wowed us in the World Cup last year and Cheslin Kolbe and Kotaro Matsushima are at it again on the European club stage as they stood out for Toulouse and Clermont respectively. On Friday, Kolbe grabbed two tries against Ulster – once again giving Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale nightmares – before Saturday’s early game saw Matsushima cut loose for Clermont in a thriller against Bristol Bears. The Japan superstar scored a hat-trick as the early Champions Cup games kicked off in scintillating style and these two lethal finishers can take a fair chunk of credit for that. They truly are box office rugby talents and proof that rugby’s a game for all shapes and sizes.

COLD AS ICE!

Dementia worry: This past week has been dominated by the concerning and harrowing stories of former internationals such as Steve Thompson, Michael Lipman and Alix Popham and their struggles with early-onset dementia. Former England and British & Irish Lions hooker Thompson has admitted he can’t remember any of England’s matches at their victorious 2003 World Cup while an interview with Popham and wife Mel was incredibly sad to watch, as they opened the door on how his recent diagnosis has effected their lives. Impending lawsuits aside, to see ex-players in such a condition in their 40s is upsetting and let’s hope this isn’t the tip of the iceberg in terms of cases.

Unrest at Sale: It has been a pretty awful week for those in Greater Manchester as Steve Diamond stunned English rugby by leaving the club. Diamond has been a fixture at the Sharks, initially as a player and a coach, before taking the role of executive director of sport in 2011, guiding Sale from Premiership strugglers to genuine contenders. They have ambitions of lifting the Premiership title this year but they will now have to do it without the abrasive former hooker. His shock departure meant that Paul Deacon took interim charge and the new boss oversaw his first game on Saturday. The Sharks faced Toulon but they were evidently feeling the effects of the drama in midweek. There was a lack of energy and intensity and the home side dominated, opening up a 26-0 cushion after 55 minutes. The visitors did show some spirit, scoring two late tries, but it was a disappointing end to a potentially club-changing week for Sale. Expect more to come out on his exit soon.

Northampton Saints: As boss Chris Boyd stated, Saints are finding new ways to lose games and they threw away a wonderful opportunity to claim their first win in 12 matches. Northampton effectively controlled most of this fixture versus Bordeaux-Begles, creating numerous chances and playing against 14 men for 20 minutes, but they lacked composure at key moments. It was the sign of a team low on confidence. Nevertheless, the hosts were still 12-9 up going into the latter stages and looked on course for a priceless win, but they conceded a penalty in their own half. They were reprieved when Matthieu Jalibert missed the chance but for some bizarre reason the Saints players stood still and Santiago Cordero was on hand to win the match. It summed up the form of Boyd’s men, who have the small matter of facing Leinster next.

Eye-watering incident in Paris: There was an unsavoury moment in the Stade Francais versus Benetton clash in the Challenge Cup on Friday which saw two players red carded by referee Ben Blain. With 44 minutes on the match clock, Stade Francais flanker Charlie Rorke inexplicably grabbed the crotch of Benetton wing Leonardo Sarto, which led to the Italian international lashing out. That resulted in Blain giving both players their marching orders from the field but one sympathises for Sarto. What Rorke did has not place on the rugby pitch.