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Daily Archives: March 21, 2014

Top 14: Toulon 16, Clermont 22


This weekend’s Top 14 action kicks off on Friday with a battle for the championship lead as Toulon face the ever-perilous trip to Clermont.

This fixture has become somewhat of a grudge match in recent times since Toulon came within inches of breaking Clermont’s long unbeaten record in 2012 – sparking owner Mourad Boudjellal’s infamous “refereeing sodomy” remarks – before taking revenge in last year’s European Cup Final.

Clermont’s unbeaten run now sits at 73 games over a period of four years and only the very bravest would bet against les Jaunards notching up another win in front of their fanatical supporters.

But they will have to do it without several of their international stars. Lock Alexandre Lapandry injured a shoulder in France’s loss to Ireland in the last of the Six Nations games, while centre Wesley Fofana is still sidelined with bruised ribs. While coach Vern Cotter will have Mike Delany, Regan King and Raphael Chaume back at his disposal, he will have to do without Julien Malzieu, Julien Bardy and Benjamin Kayser. While Toulon’s entire Six Nations contingent is given a rest, Clermont have named France prop Thomas Domingo in their starting XV with Vincent Debaty and Damien Chouly on the bench. Flanker Julien Bonnaire returns from a fractured arm.

European champions Toulon will miss international centres Maxime Mermoz and Mathieu Bastaraud, both rested a week after the loss to Ireland, as well as Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni. Australian international Matt Giteau and Rudi Wulf will make up the centre partnership with Frederic Michalak getting the nod ahead of Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half. Toulouse-bound French international Alexis Palisson makes a rare start for Toulon on the wing. Josua Tuisova makes his first start since November .

England prop Andrew Sheridan and Springbok lock Bathies Botha are nursing long-term injuries, but coach Bernard Laporte will be able to recall scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde, who has recovered from a foot injury.

Toulon won 25-19 when these team last met, back in October at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice. The two powerhouses of French rugby both have 60 points to their credit with five games to go before the end of the regular season when six teams will proceed into the playoffs. Both sides seem assured of achieving that primary goal, but will be keen to stay in the top two places, thus avoiding having to play in the first round of the playoffs.

Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Gerhard Vosloo, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Ti’i Paulo, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Benoit Cabello, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Damien Chouly, 20 Thierry Lacrampe, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Regan King, 23 Daniel Kotze.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Alexis Palisson, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Josua Tuisova, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Virgile Bruni, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Noirot, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Pierrick Gunther, 20 Jonny Wilkinson, 21 Theo Belan, 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Levan Chilachava.

Date: Friday, March 21
Venue: Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin
Kick-off: 20.45 local (19.45 GMT
Referee: Pascal Gauzère
Assistant referees: Sébastien Clouté, Christophe Malterre

Cheetahs not on same ‘wavelength’


imagesThe Cheetahs have gone from heroes to zeroes in less than 12 months and everybody is looking for answers.

The men from Bloemfontein, after reaching the play-offs for the first time in 2013, are currently propping up the table – with just one win (15-9 against the Bulls in monsoon-like conditions) from five starts. However, it is their three-match losing streak on tour in Australasia – where they have conceded an astonishingly 138 points and leaked 19 tries at an average of just over six tries per match – that showed up the biggest decline in their make-up, defence.

At the heart of last year’s success was improved defence and conversely that is their biggest weakness in 2014. They have a tackle success rate of just 86.6 percent this season, which dropped to 85 percent in the demoralising 27-60 loss to the Hurricanes last week – where they slipped 31 tackles. Backline coach Hawies Fourie feels that both on defence and attack the Cheetahs have simply not been good enough this season. He spoke of turning over too much possession, but felt the real problem is in their disjointed approach on defence.

“This [past] weekend we retained the ball better against the Hurricanes in the first half, but after the break we again conceded turnovers too easily,” Fourie told this website in an interview ahead of their final tour match – against the Blues in Auckland on Saturday. However, a far bigger issue for Fourie is that he feels on defence everybody are simply not on the same wavelength all the time. “It doesn’t help when players are under pressure and every player is trying to do his own thing,” he told this website.

“You have to work as a team [unit] on defence, work with the guys next to you in units of three. “It is vital that we get on the same wavelength. “We worked hard on that [aspect] last week and again this week, so we hope it will improve dramatically [against the Blues] on Saturday.”

By Jan de Koning

Jake’s got Bulls number


2014 Super Rugby: Cell C Sharks v Vodacom BullsCell C Sharks director of rugby Jake White is upbeat, excited and confident ahead of his team’s Vodacom Super Rugby derby against the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday and the chance to forge further ahead.

According to Sharks website editor Michael Marnewick, while the Cell C Sharks might have scored a bonus point win in the opening round match at Kings Park, they know the Bulls are a very different beast when they play at home. “The Bulls have a great record at Loftus, they’re a very different side to when they play away from home, it’s going to be a difficult game,” he admits. However, they know what to expect from the home side.

For the Bulls it’s about clinical execution before innovation. To always be good at the same things that have proven successful in the past.”It’s not that they play differently at home to enjoy such a successful record, they haven’t played differently for 30 years,” he observes. “We know what’s coming: Kicks from 9, kicks from 10, maul, a bit of variation. “Then kick from 9, kick from 10, maul. “That’s it.”

Dewald Potgieter has returned from Japan and will provide experience in the back row. “They’ve been tried a few things at 8th man, now they have him here; in four fixtures, they’ve selected four eighthman, he’s their fourth, they see it as an important role. “He will know exactly what his role is because that role hasn’t changed in the last umpteen years. “He will do exactly the same as what he did last year and the year before that.”

If they know what to expect from the Bulls, will the Bulls know what to expect from the Cell C Sharks? “We’ve been speaking about this first away game, it’s at altitude, it’s a hard ground, it’s a derby game and an opportunity to try some news things. “Not just because it’s the Bulls, but it’s the sixth week of the competition, our fifth game, and we probably need to evolve our game as we go along. “There are a couple of things we are going to bring in this week, and hopefully it will be difficult for the Bulls to read us as quickly as they would like.”

If the Bulls battle to prepare for possible unknowns, the Cell C Sharks are happy with their homework. “It’s easy to prepare against the Bulls,” says White. “You can take a video from last week, the week before, last year, five years ago. “You can probably click on any lineout and it’s exactly the same. “It’s really exciting for us, going up to the Highveld, playing a team we scored four tries against in Week One in Durban. “We’ll be playing on a nice, hard ground and we have guys like S’bura at outside centre, JP is playing his 100thgame, Lwazi is really quick, Ryan is a good athlete at 8, the same with Lewies in 2nd row.

“So there is an opportunity for us to really keep the ball alive and test their defence.” Winning four games in a row this season brings a certain amount of confidence in themselves and their record against the Bulls at Loftus is fairly successful which adds to the feel-good factor going into this game. “We are going up to Pretoria, we like playing there, we have done well there in the past, we’ve done well against this Bulls team.

“It’s a hard ground, we scored four tries in the first round so there is a massive amount of confidence. “I’m looking at it from all the positives: the glass is half full. “We’ve had a great start, a team that’s settled, some exciting youngsters who have joined us in Andre and Tim who I think can really add value and something different from what we gave the Bulls in Week 1.

“Hopefully we can build on that momentum.”

Vodacom SR: Waratahs 32, Rebels 8


imagesThese all-Aussie derbies can be bore-fests at times, but this season the Waratahs and Rebels have been anything but boring.

Both have produced some spirited performances – albeit the Rebels doing so more in their first match, against the Cheetahs, than the last couple of weeks. The Waratahs dropped their first match when they were upstaged by the Brumbies last week and know they are up against another team with the potential to derail their campaign. And the Rebels are in a confident mood, with assistant coach Matt Cockbain making reference to their pre-season win over the Tahs when asked for reasons why the visitors can win. “It was good to get the win against them in Albury during pre-season,” Cockbain said in his coaches blog on the Rebels’ website.

“We had a number of players who hadn’t suited up against the Waratahs before, and they’ll draw confidence from that, but it’s a completely different level and scenario now that we are facing off for competition points.” The Rebels mentor pointed out that the Waratahs rested a few players in Albury. Among those who watched from the stands in the pre-season outing were Israel Folau and Michael Hooper. “With a full compliment now available to them, it will certainly be a stern test,” Cockbain said.

“They have seventeen Wallabies in their squad, which is a testament to their quality, depth and ability to play good rugby. “We will need to be at our best to beat them this week.” He added that the Rebels have remained upbeat, despite the two recent defeats. “We speak about consistency a lot,” he said, adding: “About being able to turn up every day at work and perform your role for the team.” Waratahs scrumhalf Nick Phipps takes on his old franchise for the first time in Super Rugby, since joining the Waratahs at the start of this season.

“I’ve got a lot of friends down there [in Melbourne], but it won’t be any different to playing any other Australian franchise,” he said. The Rebels have a strong recent record against the Waratahs, having won back the Weary Dunlop Shield last season in a 24-22 thriller in Melbourne. New coach Tony McGahan has overhauled the squad to produce the beginnings of an abrasive and successful new style characterised by tough back-rowers Scott Higginbotham and Sean McMahon and powerful backs such as Tamati Ellison and Tom English.

“Their backs are running a lot more direct lines, trying to run blind and keep the breakdown on the ball and they’re always attacking, playing quick taps and quick line-outs,” Phipps told the Sydney Morning Herald. “They had a good game [first up against the Cheetahs], then lost to the Force pretty convincingly, then last week [against the Crusaders] they were in it until about the 60th or 70th minute, so they’ll be looking forward to travelling to Sydney.

“They’ll be confident and stinging to have a crack at us.”

Recent results:
2013: Rebels won 24-22, Melbourne
2013: Waratahs won 31-26, Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 30-21, Sydney
2012: Waratahs won 35-19, Melbourne
2011: Waratahs won 28-9, Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 43-0, Melbourne


Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements – from: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Benn Robinson, 19 Wycliff Palu, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Rob Horne, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 Pat McCutcheon, 25 Jonno Lance.

Rebels: 15 Angus Roberts, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Cruze Ah-Nau, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Male Sa’u, 23 Tom Kingston.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Vodacom SR: Higlanders 35, Hurricanes 31


imagesThese two sides have shown promise, only glimpses, but still did enough to suggest they could be major threats.

However, neither has been consistent enough to stay with the pace set at the top of the standings. The Hurricanes play their first match of the season against New Zealand opposition, still fresh from their emphatic 60-27 win over the Cheetahs last Saturday. Hunting their second win of the competition, the Hurricanes will face a Highlanders team in a desperate mood after the latter fell to the Western Force in their previous match. The Highlanders go into the fourth match of their campaign, and third at home, with just a solitary win to their credit – against the Blues in round one (29-21).

They also lost by two points to the Chiefs in Hamilton (19-21) and have played one fewer game than the Hurricanes, owing to their first bye before the Force match. Some key players in the Highlanders side will be No.8 Nasi Manu, scrumhalf Aaron Smith, midfielders Shaun Treeby and Malakai Fekitoa, and fullback Ben Smith. Hard-running Manu will help provide go-forward and physicality for the Highlanders, against the Hurricanes who attacked the contact situations with purpose against the Cheetahs. In contrast, the Highlanders were lacklustre in this area against the Force and Jamie Joseph’s men won’t be off the pace two weeks in a row.

All Black scrumhalf Smith will provide energy to the Highlanders’ dangerous midfield liaison of Wellington’s Shaun Treeby and Auckland’s Malakai Fekitoa, while fullback Ben Smith is their talisman at the back. For the Hurricanes, Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett are two Hurricanes players who could cause problems for the home side based on form and history at this ground. Hooker Ged Robinson believes the Highlanders have learned from their indecision against the Force and will bring a tougher attitude to Dunedin on Friday.

Robinson was one of the few players to enhance his reputation when he replaced Liam Coltman in the second half against the Force last Saturday. He said hard lessons had been absorbed since their 29-31 loss to the West Australians, when they couldn’t capitalise despite the Force being down to 13 players for the last eight minutes. “We discussed it and we realise there was some wasted time,” Robinson told NZ Newswire. “We’ve put in place a plan that there will be one player delegated to make decisions in the future.

“Some of us chipped in and we probably shouldn’t have. It’s about making the decisions, backing them and going for it. We’re a fairly new team this year and we’re learning from our mistakes. Our attitude wasn’t as good as it had been.”

Recent results:
2013: Highlanders won 49-44, Wellington
2013: Hurricanes won 23-19, Dunedin
2012: Hurricanes won 26-20, Dunedin
2012: Highlanders won 19-17, Wellington
2011: Highlanders won 13-6, Invercargill
2011: Highlanders won 14-9, Wellington


Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Shaun Treeby.

Hurricanes: 15 Marty Banks, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Jack Lam, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson/Adam Hill, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Andre Taylor.

Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)