Who’s hot and who’s not: Leinster’s and Saracens’ fine displays, Christian Lealiifano and Ben Healy’s differing fortunes

·10-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

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!

Leinster show title credentials: There was plenty of hype in the build-up to Leinster‘s Champions Cup quarter-final against the Premiership’s pacesetters, Leicester Tigers, at Welford Road, but it didn’t really deliver as such because Leo Cullen’s charges were simply too good. They produced a polished performance which helped them to a deserved 23-14 victory. The Irish outfit’s first-half display blew the home side away as they raced into a 20-0 half-time lead with Josh van der Flier and Robbie Henshaw crossing the whitewash. Although Leicester came out swinging in the second half – which they won 14-3 – the damage was done and Leinster did enough to secure the victory, with their all-round showing a statement of intent for the rest of the tournament.

A game for the ages: Munster and Toulouse played out one of the great European matches as the defending champions kept their hopes of retaining the title alive. It was an enthralling battle full of physicality, intensity and no little skill as the two teams could not be separated after 100 minutes. The encounter finished 24-24 following extra-time and went to rugby’s version of a penalty shootout. It is an awful way to decide a game but someone ultimately had to lose and Munster’s kickers just didn’t quite have the same composure as their Toulouse counterparts. Antoine Dupont in particular, despite – from what we can remember – never place-kicking for either club or country, was fearless and put the pressure on the Munstermen. It was cruel on the Irishmen but they still played a huge part in what was an epic clash.

Saracens hitting form at the right time: Friday night saw Mark McCall’s side pick apart Gloucester with ease to advance to the Challenge Cup semi-finals. Owen Farrell was outstanding for the men in black and is seemingly growing in form each week as both the European and Premiership seasons begin to reach their climax. In fact, the same could be said for the entire side, who look to be firing on all cylinders in hope of some silverware to show for their comeback season. This 44-15 scoreline bodes especially badly for Gloucester who will do battle with Saracens again at Kingsholm in the final round of the Premiership after a trip to Twickenham to play Harlequins. These two results will determine whether the West Country side can sneak into the Premiership play-offs. Friday was all about Sarries, however, who to a degree have gone slightly under the radar this season, given the dominance of Leicester, but they are finding their best at just the right time.

Brumbies extend their Kiwi-slaying streak: That’s three New Zealand wins on the trot now for the Canberra side after a successful trip to Hamilton resulted in a 38-28 win over the Chiefs. Defensive speed and a relentless pack helped the second-place Brumbies to victory in Super Rugby Pacific as the regular season nears its end. Although the Brumbies look to be the real deal, the next two weeks will be the most telling as they’re set to face off with the third-placed Crusaders and table-topping Blues. Can the Brumbies run the Kiwi gauntlet unscathed and make it five out of five?

Christian Lealiifano: The former Wallaby playmaker notched a milestone in Moana Pasifika’s defeat to the Waratahs in Auckland on Saturday when he slotted a penalty which brought up his 100th point in Super Rugby. As Lealiifano is in his first season with Moana, the bulk of those points were scored while he was representing the Brumbies between 2008 and 2019. His special moment came in the 46th minute against the Waratahs and he is only the seventh player to score 1000 points in the competition, joining Dan Carter, Morne Steyn, Beauden Barrett, Elton Jantjies, Bernard Foley and Stirling Mortlock in that elite club. Well done, Christian!

Chile rewarded with Scotland A match: The dust is finally being blown from the forgotten-about Scotland A team who last saw the light of day eight years ago against England. Scottish rugby announced that the A side, comprising of players on the verge of selection, will be the side to face Chile in Santiago in June before their three-game tour of Argentina. This is mutually beneficial as it will provide a good yardstick for Chile, who are on the verge of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup in 2023, while allowing Scotland to take a look at some of their younger players who otherwise wouldn’t get a look in on the tour. It is a great way to grow the game, with the South Americans impressing over the past couple of years and showing that they deserve a match of this stature.

COLD AS ICE!

Ben Healy’s missed kicks: It’s pretty tough to single someone out when a lot of variables decide the outcome of a game but the Munster replacement had the opportunities to take the Irish province into the semi-finals. His first chance to win the match was a difficult one – over 50 metres out – but they are kicks he has been successful with plenty of times before. However, it went awry and he followed that up with a drop-goal that drifted wide of the uprights at the end of extra-time. In the place-kicking competition, he was entrusted with two penalty attempts but both of his efforts missed and meant Toulouse claimed the win. For a young player, it is invaluable experience but it is fair to say it didn’t go Healy’s way on Saturday.

More chaos in Welsh rugby: A report commissioned by Wales‘ Professional Rugby Board (PRB) has suggested axing one of its four regional sides before the 2023/24 season, citing financial reasons. Dragons, who are owned by the Wales Rugby Union (WRU), and Ospreys, who don’t have a ground of their own, seem likely targets at this stage. Not only that, but the WRU have also permanently cut the age range of youth rugby players from 16-19 to 16-18 until 2026 (it was temporarily in place already). Ironically, the WRU have put this measure in place to help lower the number of players dropping out of the game. Overall, it’s been another dreadful week, especially from a PR perspective, for Welsh rugby.

Mark Tainton: The Bristol Bears CEO will step down at the end of the 2022/23 Premiership season for “personal reasons” but it is fair to speculate that the cause of his quitting stems from the Bears’ salary cap mishap. Bristol missed the deadline to release six players, allowing clauses in their contracts to kick in automatically, extending their stay by an extra year, despite the fact the club would have otherwise cut these players. This led to the reduced cap room being partially used on unwanted players, meaning the side could well struggle for squad depth next season after a poor campaign in 2021/22.

Rebels: The Melbourne-based side were absolutely obliterated 71-28 by the Blues in Auckland on Friday. Despite scoring first, after just one minute of play, the Rebels were sent packing by a ferocious Blues attack who dealt them a soul-crushing defeat. Kevin Foote’s side were left stunned and now sit ninth in the 12-team Super Rugby Pacific, followed by the Western Force and the newcomers Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika. The Rebels have been poor in 2022 and this performance was their lowest point of the season so far.

Injury denies Hallam Amos proper farewell: After announcing he would be retiring at the end of this season to pursue his medical career, the 27-year-old back already knew his time was limited. Sadly, a hamstring injury sustained against Munster has ruled Amos out for the remainder of the campaign, meaning he will likely never play professional rugby ever again. As a result, the Wales international will not receive the send off he deserves on the field after a fruitful career with Cardiff and the Dragons.

Fijian Drua: The Pacific Islanders headed to Wellington at the weekend where they went up against a rampant Hurricanes side, who dominated from start to finish en route to a one-sided 67-5 victory. Drua were never at the races and came off second best in most facets of play and were eventually outscored by 11 tries to one. The visitors were scoreless for most of this match before Onisi Ratave crossed for their five-pointer in the latter stages of the contest. The defeat means that Drua have won just one out of 12 matches played in the tournament and they are just a point ahead of fellow newbies Moana Pasifika in the standings.

READ MORE: Sunday Social: A penalty shoot-out, spectacular tries and a rugby legend hangs up his boots

The article Who’s hot and who’s not: Leinster’s and Saracens’ fine displays, Christian Lealiifano and Ben Healy’s differing fortunes appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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