Who’s hot and who’s not: Ulster and Leinster, European boost for South African teams, another blow for Manu Tuilagi

Adam Kyriacou

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.


Ulster and Leinster shine: The two most emphatic United Rugby Championship quarter-final winners over the weekend were Ulster on Friday and Leinster on Saturday as they comfortably dispatched Munster and Glasgow Warriors respectively. Ulster, led by the outstanding James Hume, scored some scintillating tries in their 36-17 triumph at Kingspan Stadium and will now head to Cape Town to face a difficult Stormers team in the last four. Leinster meanwhile took out their Champions Cup final anger on the Warriors, winning 76-14 as Jordan Larmour stood out for them. Leo Cullen’s men showed no signs of a European hangover and their clash with the Bulls on Friday will be tasty.

Gloucester end on a high note: Even Saracens boss Mark McCall was full of praise for how the Cherry and Whites are playing right now as they ended their season on a positive note, hammering their opponents 54-7. While Saracens did choose to rest several star names ahead of this week’s semi-final against Harlequins, rarely do you see McCall’s men picked apart in the manner they were at Kingsholm and it’s yet another sign Gloucester will be a force to be reckoned with next season. Keep an eye out for George Skivington’s side, who are building well.

Boost for South African rugby: After months of speculation, the news was finally confirmed on Thursday that South African sides would join the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup. One surprise was the Cheetahs, who were added as a fifth side, but with Bloemfontein such a hotbed for talented young players and currently boasting both Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn in their squad, they are another welcome addition. Many are sceptical of the Springboks joining the Six Nations but it’s hard to find similar negativity around the Bulls, Lions, Sharks, Stormers and Cheetahs coming into the European club tournaments and we can’t wait to see Toulouse v Sharks, Leicester v Bulls and more.

Premier 15s joy for Saracens: It’s congratulations to the Women in Black as they reclaimed the Premier XV trophy they lost to Harlequins last season as they got the better of Exeter on Friday, winning 43-21. England international back-row Marlie Packer was named the player of the match after she scored a brace of tries while Vicky Fleetwood, Mackenzie Carson, May Campbell and Alysha Corrigan also crossed. This is Saracens’ third title in the fourth season of Premier 15s and they dominated the final, showing just what a fine side they are.

Greats get jobs for home provinces: It might have been a weekend for the bunting to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and in keeping with that, rugby royalty should get similar treatment on their returns to their respective Irish sides from next season. Denis Leamy is moving back to Munster to take up their defence coach position while ex-Leinster back-row Sean O’Brien has been brought in to be the Dubliner’s contact skills coach. Both will be thrilled to be back in such familiar surroundings and should relish their new assignments. Congratulations to both.

Super Rugby semi-finalists: Then there were four. Congratulations to the Crusaders, Chiefs, Blues and Brumbies after they saw off their quarter-final opponents this past weekend. That means we’re set for the Crusaders against Chiefs and Blues v Brumbies showdowns on Friday and Saturday respectively, with the majority expecting a Blues v Crusaders final. That is not the view of the Chiefs and Brumbies, though, who will relish their underdog tags and can’t be written off causing an upset.


Scotland’s two sides bow out: We’ll either have an Irish or South African winner of the United Rugby Championship after both Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh were knocked out of the competition in varying fashion. For Glasgow they copped an absolute hiding in Dublin at the hands of Leinster, as mentioned going down 76-14, before Edinburgh were eventually beaten 28-17 at the Stormers. With neither side making the Challenge Cup semis to boot, the double defeat last weekend brought down the curtain on a disappointing season for the Scots.

Not again, Manu: There’s bad luck and then there’s bad luck and Manu Tuilagi must be scratching his head after yet another injury blow was confirmed last week. This time the England and Sale Sharks centre had a “routine procedure” on his knee that means he will miss the international series against Australia in July, with this the latest in a long line of injury problems he has suffered with. There is one positive, however, in that the Sharks and England are said to believe that a summer of rest and a pre-season will stand him in good stead in the future.

Johann van Graan and Munster: Much like Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh, there were wounds to lick for Munster following their last-eight defeat at the hands of Ulster. The Kingspan Stadium outfit played at a different level on Friday as they eased into the semi-finals, with Munster not at the races despite it being such a big game. It brings to an end their season and the tenure of Van Graan as he moves on to pastures new at Bath, with many in the media and certain ex-players highly critical of the latest showing and the South African’s time in charge.

A fitting end to the season for Bath: Speaking of Bath, a disappointing 43-27 defeat at the hands of fellow strugglers Worcester Warriors meant the West Country outfit ended their 2021/22 campaign at the bottom of the Premiership table. Just five wins and one draw from 24 games is just not good enough and when you throw in old rivals Leicester Tigers, who finished a whopping 60 points ahead of them on the table, it was a nightmare season. Make no mistake, Van Graan has a job on his hands turning things around, but the only way is up right now.

Gabin Villiere blow: It’s a real shame for both Toulon and France that we won’t see the electric wing in action during the Top 14 run-in and Les Bleus’ internationals against Japan in July. Unfortunately an ankle injury suffered in the Challenge Cup final against Lyon means Villiere will miss approximately three months, which is a blow not only to his club and country but also the neutral as he is a special player who punches well above his weight. The only positive to take from the injury is the timing, as at least his World Cup is not affected.

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