I watched 8 games over the weekend – 6 of them ‘live’ in real time. I had to record the Currie Cup as it clashed with the Double header at Twickenham and they only showed highlights of the game at Montpellier against Toulouse.
I loaded up the sofa with a pile of pasties and cans and put my feet up to prepare for a feast – of tasty rugby entertainment as well as it turned out.
My wife seemed a bit miffed over the weekend – I have no idea who upset her. It can’t have been something I said since my mouth was almost permanently full and I was concentrating on the rugby the whole time.
It started at 8 am with the Pumas braving the storm as well as the storming runs of the All Black back row. The Pumas started well and ignoring the script had the temerity to silence the Hamilton crowd by actually scoring the first try. Normal service was restored when Kieran Read off loaded a sublime pass to allow Aaron Smith to dive over in the corner.
The Pumas remained combative and competitive throughout but were never likely to upset the odds. It was not vintage All Blacks; however the performance of Steven Luatua taking full advantage of his opportunities since the hamstring injury to the unlucky Liam Messam must have warmed Steve Hansen whilst the elements froze the players on the pitch.
The downside will be the injury to captain McCaw which sees him out for the rest of the Championship. Sam Cane will have the chance to show his credentials as heir apparent against the much heftier Francois Louw starting next Saturday in Auckland against the brute force of South Africa.
The big question is whether Hansen will think about bringing back the chunkier Messam to combat the enormous Willem Alberts. If he does it would be harsh on Luatua – although expect him to explode off the bench at some point!
A couple of hours later the Wallabies felt that full force of the Springboks as their heavy forwards (and backs) bludgeoned their way to a convincing victory that makes it 9 wins on the bounce (the All Blacks have 6 consecutive wins in the bank following their surprising loss to England last November).
There was some (limited) good news for McKenzie – the back line looked sharp at times, Folau will only get better and we discovered that when push comes to shove Quade can tackle. But upfront it was ugly.
Saturday in Auckland promises to be a mighty battle – can’t wait.
T’up North the premiership kicked off on Friday night – after several weeks of warm and dry weather someone realised that rugby was on the agenda again and so of course the rains poured down.
Last week I put down my predictions for the opening weekend and almost unbelievably I was right for 5 out of the 6 results!
My forecast and the actual were as follows–
Bath (away) to beat the Falcons : 21 – 0
Saracens to overcome the Irish in the Twickenham double header : 42 – 20
Gloucester (home) over the Sharks : 16 – 22
Saints (home) to edge out the Chiefs : 38 – 11
Quins to take Wasps – Twickenham double header and finally : 16 – 15
Leicester to put away the Warriors : 32 – 15
Before I get carried away (which is what my wife wishes would happen) we need to look behind the results. The reason that you get a match report and not just the score in the media is because the final tally doesn’t always tell the full story.
Newcastle Falcons were always likely to struggle initially – they were promoted from the Championship where the physicality is less intense. Despite having the very experienced Dean Richards as coach the shock of the increase in pace and brutality will have woken the team to the realities of life in the Premiership. It is likely to be a long hard season for the Falcons. Bath did enough to show that they can have genuine hope for challenging the favourites this year.
Saracens put away the Irish with some ease and both Vunipola brothers showed they have the power and strength to get over the gain line almost at will – in particular Mako from the bench looked a real handful. He’ll have a job wrestling the starting place for England from Corbisiero but will scare any opposition when Lancaster introduces him after 60 minutes.
I’ve not been a huge fan of Chris Ashton and his soccer style celebrations but you can’t deny the guy can finish and his last gasp effort on the final whistle gave Saracens their fourth try and a welcome bonus point.
Gloucester’s game at Kingsholm against Sale was one of my banker results for a win – the match wasn’t televised but reading the reports it seems that the vaunted backline only fired occasionally and the forwards were out muscled by a combative Sale pack. Gloucester forwards were once feared by everyone – they’ll need to get that aggression back or their star studded three-quarters won’t get the chance to shine. If they don’t my prediction of a top 4 finish looks decidedly dodgy.
Northampton Saints against Exeter Chiefs was another game that wasn’t broadcast – I expected the Chiefs to be far more competitive even against the Saints gallactico line up this year. By all accounts the Chiefs were lucky to come second and only a latish try by Aussie Dean Mumm prevented the final score looking like a complete rout. The lesser known Sam Dickinson was man of the match but George North, Dylan Hartley, Corbs and Tom Wood all put in strong performances to make me feel comfortable about my prediction that they’ll be in contention to the death.
Another game that I only just got right was Quins edging out Wasps – Andy Goode hit the post with the last kick of the match otherwise I’d have egg (as well as pasty) on my face. Goode is the most unlikely looking fly half in the Premiership – but also one of the most reliable. His shape (he was nicknamed Andy Food at one club) is well padded but he has been one of the best kickers for many years in the Premiership, Top 14, Super 14 as it was, and for England. He makes more breaks than you’d expect and scores tries too – perhaps, like me, he’s deceptively slow!
It wasn’t an especially entertaining game until the last kick dramatically bounced back off the post and the entire Quins team, management and supporters gave a huge collective sigh of relief.
Sunday’s final game saw Leicester back in the groove in the first half and were leading 18 – 3 at the break. Fielding all four of their Lions forwards who showed no sign of a tour hangover they looked comfortable and we all expected Leicester to saunter to a bonus point win. We reckoned without Dean Ryan the new no nonsense Worcester coach. Whatever he said the Warriors came out and started to live up to their nickname. Mike Williams must have taken his words too literally as he was soon yellow carded for a blatant block on the diminutive Ryan Lamb.
Leicester duly got their bonus point but not until the final minute when Vereniki Goneva showed his electric feet and not before Worcester showed that they will give as good as they get this season.
It rounded off an entertaining weekend in the Premiership – Stuart Lancaster will be fairly pleased – Tom Youngs, Alex Corbisiero, Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole will keep the front row strong and there were some impressive wing performances – with David Strettle, Ugo Monye Tom Varndell, Chris Ashton, Marlon Yarde and Christian Wade all looking hungry enough to make competition for places healthy.
In the back row Tom Wood and Jordan Crane had stand out games – more worryingly Ben Morgan, Mark Kvesic and Chris Robshaw were fairly quiet. There are still questions at half back and centre although Danny Care looked very sharp for Quins.
The last games I saw were in the Top 14 – Montpellier did well to shut out Toulouse and will be even stronger when Rene Ranger arrives. The best thing about the Clermont v Stade Francais game was the handbags just before half time which resulted in two yellow cards for the main protagonists who both landed good short jabs before the rest of both packs joined in the general pushing and shoving.
Stade Francais won on points if you’re interested.
So that’s week one done and dusted – I’m pleased that I got 5 out of 6 right but some of them were both close run and against the run of play. I’ll post my predictions for round two later on this week. There’s little point in showing the table until we are two or three games in.
It’s early days yet and as Forrest Mars famously said ‘It’s a Marathon not a Snickers!’