A look at what is going on in the world of rugby:
Australia 39 – 20 South Africa
Australia have bounced back from their surprise defeat against Samoa last weekend to inflict a fairly heavy defeat on world champions, South Africa in the opening round of this year’s shortened, Tri-Nations. The Wallabies’ Quade Cooper was is scintillating form and contributed enormously to Australia’s five tries. Two late tries from the Springboks front rowers, Chilliboy Ralepelle and captain John Smit made the score line appear more flattering for the visitors. The Australians are looking like a very exciting team to watch. Scrum half, Will Genia was quick to recognize the quality of his forwards’ set piece play, “I’m very lucky as a nine that the pack was going forward,” he said. The Wallabies have not included Matt Giteau or Matt Dunning in their Tri-Nations squad.
Rarely is scoring 7 tries to your opponents 2 tries considered “stuttering” but that is how the All Blacks’ victory over Fiji has been described. Top performances are demanded of the New Zealand public every time the Kiwis take the pitch and anything less is usually met with criticism. New Zealand rested their key player, Dan Carter to hand Otago Highlanders out half, Colin Slade a test debut. Slade has had the misfortune of suffering two broken jaws this year but has still managed to make his All Blacks debut and score 19 points in the process, including a try. It is also worth noting the centres Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu have played 27 test matches together, just one less than the famous partnership of Frank Bunce and Walter Little. The pressure is on this year’s hosts to win the famous Webb Ellis trophy. The All Blacks will go into the World Cup as favorites and anything less than winning the tournament will be seen as a failure.
Saracens Home & Away
Aviva Premiership Champions, Saracens have applied to the ERC (European Rugby Cup), the RFU (Rugby Football Union) and the South Africa Rugby Union to play one of their home Heineken Cup matches in Cape Town, South Africa. The game in question is their round 5 match against French side, Biarritz. It would appear as if the French rugby union are behind the idea. The biggest issue here is for the Saracens supporters. Each team only has 3 home games in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup and to take one of these games away from the loyal Sarries fans would not go down well at all.
However, this could be a great step in promoting the Heineken Cup in the southern hemisphere. I have made the point that if this fixture goes ahead in South Africa, it may well be a prelude to the highly anticipated fixture of the Super XV Champions V Heineken Cup Champions. Why not? The fans would love to see this game and I am very sure that the players would be happy to play this one too. We have already seen Wasps take on Harlequins in the LV Cup in Dubai earlier this year. Saracens have moved their Heineken Cup match against the Ospreys to Wembley stadium, a venue that has seen regular season NFL games in recent seasons. This kind of expansion is good for the game. Perhaps we should have a Tri-Nations fixture moved to the United States and grow the game here too?
Declan Kidney signs new contract
Ireland hand coach Declan Kidney new contract before the World Cup. This is proving to be a thorny issue. I started the conversation about this on twitter (@lineoutcoach) and also on my Facebook page (Gavin Hickie). This issue certainly seems to have people talking one way or another. Back in 2007 before Ireland’s poor world cup displays, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) decided to offer Ireland coach, Eddie O’Sullivan a new 4 year contract before the world cup. Ireland were poor by any standards at the world cup. As a result, the IRFU came under heavy criticism and in March 2008 O’Sullivan resigned as national coach. Now the IRFU has done something very similar and awarded Ireland coach, Declan Kidney with a new 2 year deal before the world cup. This seems incredibly reminiscent of past mistakes. For the record, I will be cheering for Ireland at the world cup and sincerely hope they can win the tournament. However, one cannot understand how any performance related contract can be handed out before a massive test like the world cup.
This is Kidney’s first world cup in charge of Ireland. This year’s tournament is the reason why he was installed as coach. So, if this world cup is the big test, how can you grant someone a new contract before the test? Without doubt Kidney has led the Irish team very well and won a fabulous 6 Nations Grand Slam in 2009, the first for Ireland in 61 years. His achievements as a coach should not be undervalued. We are quick to forget. As Ireland coach, O’Sullivan won 3 Triple Crowns with Ireland in 2004, ’06 and ’07.
Last year’s 6 Nations tournament was a completely different matter with a great performance against our old enemy, England, masking over some poor results. Kidney is right to have signed a contract extension offered to him. It is the IRFU who should be questioned on matter. One way or another, the public are going to scrutinize the coach after a tournament like the world cup. If he wins the competition, Kidney will warrant a massive contract and deservedly so. But if things go badly at the world cup, Ireland have the same coach for the next 2 years. Surely new contracts should be offered after a world cup. One thing is for sure, this world cup will sadly see some coaches lose their jobs, and as a result there will be some world class coaches looking for a new team come November. For better or worse, Ireland will not be in the market for a new coach. If they are, the IRFU have made a big mistake.