Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall has masterminded a season in which ‘Sarries’ have won a European title and have been table toppers in the Aviva Premiership for most of the 2015-2016 campaign. Continue reading
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.
Munster win the Magners in a thrilling weekend of sport.
Barcelona v Manchester United
The dust has settled on a thrilling weekend of sports. Although none of the teams I was up for won, all the eventual winners were well and truly deserved. Barcelona showed Manchester United how football should be played. I have heard numerous comments from sport pundits stating that it was great to see a classy team win the Champions League.
There is truth in this. Barcelona play a very stylish, fluid passing game. They are fantastic to watch and extremely hard to beat as United will testify. They appear to be a very tight squad of players led by the Barca legend, Pep Guardiola. Guardiola is a gentleman. He is a stylish man in how he dresses and in how he conducts himself and his team. It was wonderful to see Barcelona captain, Carlos Puyol pass the captain’s armband to his team mate Eric Abidal to give him the honour of lifting the Champions League trophy. Abidal has battled back from surgery on a liver tumour he underwent on March 17th. It is a great testament to the man that was back to lift the much sought after European trophy and a great testament to his teammates that they should recognize his very personal battle. Barcelona are deserved Champions of Europe.
Saracens v Leicester Tigers
Saracens are the Aviva Premiership Champions. Sarries overcame former champions Leicester Tigers in a thrilling match in Twickenham yesterday. Referee, Wayne Barnes saw fit to play 9 minutes of extra time in which Tigers had over 30 phases of play in their attempt to score a winning try. Saracens held Leicester Tigers at bay and celebrated only their second trophy in their history. With the squad of players coaches Venter and McCall have at their disposal, one guesses there may be more trophies heading to Vicarage road over the next few seasons. Saracens hooker Schalk Brits continued his great run of form yesterday. He was very impressive in his lineout throwing, his scrummaging and particularly his loose play, setting up a try for winger, Short.
No matter how good a hooker is in the loose, he needs to score a very high percentage in the accuracy of his throwing. Hookers are almost expected to have the dynamism of back row players these days but they must get their basic jobs of throwing and hooking done effectively. Brits did that yesterday and that may have been the difference between the two sides. Leicester Tigers struggled to get their usually dominant lineout functioning properly, largely thanks to the defensive work of Sarries captain, Steve Borthwick. For large parts of the game yesterday, Saracens also had the upper hand on Tigers in the scrums. If you can disrupt a team’s set piece, i.e. scrums and lineouts, you can effectively starve the opposition back line of decent ball from which to attack. This is one themes of yesterday’s final and a very influential one at that. Saracens are deserved Champions of England.
Munster v Leinster
Munster beat Leinster yesterday and in doing so became the Magner League Champions 2011. With all the focus on Leinster’s successes in recent times it is good to see Munster still possess the fiery will and determination which has made them one of Europe’s top rugby sides. There is a never say die attitude within the province and is was on display yesterday. Munster are undefeated at home this season. One could argue that last week’s epic Heineken Cup Final took it’s toll on Leinster who did seem fatigued, but that is taking nothing away from the men in red.
Munster had not scored a try against their provincial neighbours in over 400 minutes of rugby before yesterday. Tries from Howlett and Earls plus their warranted penalty try ensured that record would not continue. Munster did not have it all their own way and played the game a man down for 10 minutes while O’Callaghan was in the sin bin. The flash of the yellow card can be the making or breaking of teams. Being a man short in the forwards can increase the awareness and work rate of the 7 remaining players and it did just that for Munster yesterday who courageously defended their own try line. Mentally, this can be a massive boost for a team and cause the attacking team to question themselves.
Munster hooker, Varley will feel disappointed with the way the lineouts went as will Leo Cullen of Leinster. It is peculiar to see the touch judge move away from the lineout before the ball is thrown as was the case on numerous occasions yesterday. The touch judge is meant to keep an eye out for crooked throws by standing right behind the hooker as he throws the ball into the lineout. For some reason yesterday the touch judges seemed more keen to give the hooker his mark before scrambling off for a good view of the ensuing play. This may have saved the Munster hooker from a number of crooked throws being called against him.
Normally Varley’s throwing is dependable. There is nothing more frustrating for a hooker than to throw below par. One presumes he will get a chance to redeem himself, should he be part of Ireland’s preparations for the upcoming world cup. Leinster’s lineout did not function as well as they did the previous week. O’Connell would have studied countless hours of video containing clips of Leinster’s lineouts over the past few weeks. As a result, Munster’s defensive lineout was very effective. As a hooker, it can be terrifying throwing against a defensive lineout that consistently gets a man up in the air. It puts a lot of pressure of the hooker to ensure that his throws are very accurate. Psychologically it can be draining and damaging. Neither teams seemed to trust their lineout yesterday.
The men in red finished at the top of the league before the semi finals. A sure sign that Munster are deserved Magners League Champions 2011.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com #busy