Who’s hot and who’s not: Current and former All Blacks shine, but Ardie Savea in the dock
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.
THEY’RE ON FIRE!
RG Snyman’s return: After over 16 months out of the game, South Africa’s World Cup-winning lock made his comeback as he came off the bench in Munster’s 49-42 victory over the Scarlets on Friday. It was just his fifth appearance for the Irish province since signing for them in 2020, having suffered two serious ACL injuries. Snyman’s issues started just seven minutes into his debut when he ruptured his ACL before suffering the same injury in October 2021. That latest one has kept him out of action since then, but Munster have been careful to not rush him back. Hopefully the second-row can now have a string of games in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and Champions Cup and will put himself in the frame for Springbok selection ahead of the upcoming World Cup.
Bristol Bears and Charles Piutau: Where has that been all season, Bristol? It was some performance from the Bears as they utterly destroyed Northampton Saints on Friday to put themselves in the play-off picture. It no doubt helps having stars such as Semi Radradra and Piutau fully fit and on form, but there was more to their display than their better players simply turning up. The defence, for example, was much improved while the interplay and cohesion was back to the level of the 2020/21 season, where they finished top of the pile. Having endured a poor first two-thirds of the campaign, the top-four may just be out of reach but their showing at the weekend will give the supporters plenty of hope.
Sale win battle of top two: Despite absent players slightly taking the shine off this contest, it still proved to be a thrilling affair with the second-placed outfit coming out with a 35-24 victory. Saracens controlled the early stages, going 16-0 ahead, but Sale showed plenty of resilience and quality to come back and claim an impressive triumph. Sarries have effectively sealed their home semi-final but, with this win, Alex Sanderson’s men have gone a long way to joining them. They reside 13 points ahead of Leicester Tigers, who are currently in third position, and should confirm their place in the top two soon. Both Sale and Saracens have comfortably been the best teams in this season’s Premiership and Sunday’s encounter showed why.
South African dominance from the Stormers: John Dobson continues to do a magnificent job at the Cape Town outfit and with three rounds remaining they claimed the South African Shield. Their victory over the Sharks, combined with the Lions’ triumph at the Bulls, meant that they reigned supreme in the country once again. After becoming URC champions last season, the Stormers are making a fine defence of their title and it wouldn’t be a surprise should they make it two in a row at the end of the campaign.
Richie Mo’unga on fire: After being outplayed by Damian McKenzie in the Crusaders’ shock home loss to the Chiefs last weekend, the All Blacks fly-half was very much back to his best as they hammered the Highlanders 52-15 on Friday. Mo’unga showed several moments of genius, including a brilliant counter-attack which led to Fergus Burke’s try, and was pinpoint off the tee, kicking all seven conversions. In total, the playmaker finished with 22 points scored, laying down a marker for the rest of the campaign.
World Cup draw change: It has always been bemusing to us that the draw has often taken place so far out from the World Cup, so it is refreshing to see World Rugby seemingly take steps to address that. It is a shame that the governing body has almost been forced to change the way they go about it due to the lopsided nature of the upcoming global tournament, but late is better than never.
Australian cheer in Super Rugby: Victories for Australian teams over their New Zealand counterparts have been rare in recent times, so for the Brumbies to overcome the Blues could be very significant going forward. The Aucklanders are an exceptional outfit and were the runners-up in the 2022 version of the competition, but the Canberra side fronted up superbly. All the points were scored in the first period with the Brumbies going 25-20 up at the break, a lead they would hold in the final 40 minutes with some outstanding defensive work, especially at the breakdown.
COLD AS ICE!
Ardie Savea’s throat-slit gesture: During the Hurricanes’ 39-33 triumph over the Rebels, a scuffle broke out which eventually led to a yellow card for the All Blacks number eight. Savea was evidently unhappy with the actions of a particular Rebels player and ran his thumb across his neck in a throat-slit gesture. He was subsequently criticised on social media and we tend to agree it was an inadvisable action. To his credit, the 29-year-old apologised in the post-match interview and that will probably be the end of the matter, but it is a lesson learned from the back-row.
All Blacks head coach search: It is becoming increasingly evident that New Zealand Rugby (NZR) are a poorly run organisation. The latest farce comes as they search for their next head coach, who will replace Ian Foster following the Rugby World Cup. Foster had stated that he would have liked another shot at the job should they emerge triumphant in France later this year – and who can blame him – but the governing body have seemingly taken it out of his hands. Contrary to what the 57-year-old had already said publicly, Foster then released a statement announcing that he would not be reapplying. Alongside those comments were the first we had really heard from NZR, who said that a new head coach would be confirmed in “four to six weeks”. Until that point, they had allowed speculation to reign, which was particularly unfair on Foster.
Prop problems: It has not been a great week for the front-rowers. ‘Leading’ the way was Mohamed Haouas, whose Six Nations was finished by a four-week suspension for his brainless headbutt on Scotland scrum-half Ben White. Another tighthead, Finlay Bealham, also had his tournament ended, although his was was not self-inflicted. Having filled in superbly for the absent Tadhg Furlong, the Connacht man sustained a knee issue which has put him on the sidelines. He is joined by Waratahs and Australia loosehead Angus Bell, who has re-injured his foot and could be out for up to four months. We wish both Bell and Bealham all the best in their recovery.
Edinburgh struggles in the URC: The Scottish outfit are quickly losing ground in their race to secure a play-off spot. On Saturday, they were comprehensively beaten 47-27 by league leaders Leinster. Facing the Irish province is no easy task, but the game taking place while Scottish internationals are away meant it would always be a testing fixture. However, Edinburgh have been in poor form in the competition of late, losing seven of their last eight games. Mike Blair’s decision not to renew his contract is a further blow to the side as they will need to recruit a new head coach, which might help in turning things around next season. However, things need to change quickly in the Scottish capital if they are to make the URC knockouts.
Willis Halaholo reveals heartbreak of Welsh situation: There were stories that players who were earning up to £250,000-a-year haven been told that they can now only bring home £30,000. Perhaps Halaholo is one of those with the centre, who is currently injured, stating that the salary offered to him is ‘not enough to feed his family’. It is a distressing and quite frankly awful situation for him and the Welsh-based players to find themselves in. With the Wales international also currently injured and potentially out for the next 12 months, his future is uncertain. Hopefully he and the other individuals in a similar situation can sort their futures out over the next few months.
Blitzboks: Halfway through the 2021/22 World Rugby Sevens Series, South Africa were utterly dominant, winning the first four tournaments and looked well on course to claiming the overall title. However, since then, it has gone horribly wrong. They somehow contrived to lose last year’s series, with Australia pipping them at the end, and their decline this season has been stark. The Blitzboks won in Dubai and were runners-up in Sydney but have otherwise had very mediocre results. It then culminated in a disastrous 13th-placed finish in Canada at the weekend, which leaves them down in seventh in the standings.
READ MORE: Sunday Social: Records broken, drunken pests and RG Snyman returns
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