Friday, March 30, 2007

Monday Morning 1st-Five (06/19/2006)

June 19, 2006

1. Australia crushed World Cup holders England by a score of 43-18 in Melbourne on Saturday and reclaimed the Cook Cup. It was a clean sweep for the Wallabies who defeated England in the first test match a week earlier 34-3. For those keeping score, that's a two test cume of 77-21, a pair of hammerings by any reckoning. Rugby Planet reports England, "are now at their lowest ebb since 1984 - that was the last time England suffered five successive Test matches losses. Big Ben is striking thirteen. It was another chastening experience for England coach Andy Robinson, who has lost 10 of his 18 Tests in charge since replacing Sir Clive Woodward."

2. Ireland ran the All Blacks close a second time, falling late again for the 2nd successive week, this time 27-17 at Eden Park in Auckland. The test was played for the most part in a torrential downpour, and both sides playing to minimize mistakes. New Zealand coach Graham Henry's rotation selection policy has so far demonstrated that in a few positions -- critically, at first-five and blindside flanker -- that the distance between the first picks (Dan Carter and Jerry Collins, respectively) and their replacements is a huge gulf. And there's still uncertainty at the center position following the retirement of Tana Umaga. Ma'a Nonu has not looked particularly great; on Saturday Casey Laulala wasn't much better. Injured Conrad Smith is still an option, as is fullback Mils Muliaina...

3. Argentina defeat Wales for 2nd week in a row, wrapping up their test series 2-0. After squeaking past Wales in Patagonia last weekend, they turned on the afterburners and ran Wales ragged for a 45-27 runaway victory in Buenos Aires. The Pumas have been in turmoil the past few weeks with striking players, but they have regrouped and come in to form perfectly for a home test against an understrength All Blacks squad next week.

4. New Zealand Maori won the Churchill Cup in Edmonton, thrashing Scotland "A" by a score of 52-17. The contest was much more exciting than the scoreline suggests. The Scots did not rollover, but were faced with a committed team on the gas pedal who were sticking incredible passes and offloads for tries. Even the All Blacks didn't come close to exhibiting the same ball-handling skills (albiet in wet conditions) earlier that morning against Ireland. It was "champagne rugby." Hosea Gear's off-balance offload to Joe McDonnell for a try, and Chris Smylie's sideline behind-the-back pass to Anthony Tahana, who offloaded to try-scorer Liam Messam, were both spectacular and had to be seen several times in slow-motion to be believed.

The only downside of the afternoon was the size of the crowd. Ordinarily a crowd sized at 7983 would be something worth crediting. But played in the 63,000-seat capacity Commonwealth Stadium, it is much too generous to say the stands were half-empty. It was 87% empty. The finals should not be played in a stadium that big and that empty. Better to play in a small stadium that seats 7,500 and let 500 unlucky spectators go home disappointed than to try selling a sport played in a cavernous and mostly empty stadium. It looks humiliating -- like throwing a party where nobody comes. Of course, that's not the reality (ie. "cool, nearly 8000 people showed up!"), but that's the perception (ie. "nobody came; pathetic; embarrassing.").

In other Churchill Cup action that same afternoon and venue, Ireland "A" snatched a thrilling 30-27 victory with a try in extra-time to get past the England Saxons in the Plate Final. And in a test many in the crowd would have appreciated as their "big test," hosts Canada rolled over the USA Eagles 33-18 to win the Bowl Final and claim 5th place in the six-team tournament.

5. Rupeni Caucaunibuca returns to international test rugby and Fiji downs Six Nations tourists Italy by a scoreline of 29-18 at Lautoka in Fiji. These two teams have a great head-to-head history, with Fiji now leading Italy 4 wins to 3.

Bubbling under...

South Africa claim a two-test series victory over Scotland, winning an uninspiring 29-15 borefest in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. And one northern hemisphere team got lucky and won a test -- albeit against weak northern hemisphere opposition: France downed Romania 62-14 in Bucharest.

Churchill Cup and int’l weekend test previews!

June 16, 2006

Unless you've been hiding in a cave the past week, there's a big tournament of nations playing round-ball in Germany. The hosts put on an amazing show against Poland the other evening. Then the next day England bumbled and stumbled through a frustrating bore against Trinidad & Tobago. In the entertainment sweepstakes, you win some and you lose some. But for full value in international team sports, nothing beats rugby union!

Once again, Rugby Planet walks us through a weekend of battle:

The annual Churchill Cup wraps up this weekend at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

The final goes between New Zealand Maori vs. Scotland "A". RP doesn't make a prediction, so I will: Maori to win by 17 points.

Canada hosts USA Eagles in the Bowl Final. Take the home side by 9 points.

And there's more heavyweight action from the southern hemisphere...

New Zealand vs. Ireland, 2nd test at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. (RP picks All Blacks by 15+ points.)

South Africa vs. Scotland, 2nd Test at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (RP predicts Boks by 20+.)

Australia vs. England, 2nd test at Melbourne, Australia. (Last week RP picked a slim England victory. England got pummeled by 31 points. This week RP makes a market correction and predicts the Wallabies by 22 points.)

Argentina vs. Wales, 2nd Test at Buenos Aires, Argentina. (RP picks Pumas by 10.)

Fiji vs. Italy, at Lautoka, Fiji.

Full June internationals fixture list and results here.

More N. American TV rumours…

June 12, 2006

Last week SANZAR announced a 5-year broadcasting deal with Mediazone's Rugby Channel for rights to stream live SANZAR rugby.

Two weeks ago I reported a rumour -- and I caution here that's all it is, a rumour -- that the new RCS ("Rugby, Cricket, Soccer") specialty channel owned by Telelatino and recently approved by the CRTC is the "code name" for Setanta Sports Canada.

I wrote Telelatino directly a week ago and they have yet to notify me that they even received my enquiry, let alone responded with any sort of answer. I'll try to light a fire under their arses again this week and have them get back to me on the record.

In any event, I wrote Tim Archer, the media liason for the Australian Rugby Union and asked him about the new Mediazone deal.

Here is our correspondence:

Att: Tim Archer;

Re: The announcement of the new 5-year deal reached between SANZAR and Mediazone to carry live rugby on the internet, reported a couple days ago.

Is this an exclusive deal for all broadcasting rights, or internet rights only?

Here in Canada, the Fox Sports World Canada specialty channel dropped their SANZAR S14 and Tri-Nations test coverage last year.

The CRTC (the gov't Canadian broadcast regulator) has recently granted a new license to a broadcaster calling itself RCS ("Rugby, Cricket, Soccer").

What effect will the SANZAR-Mediazone internet deal have on RCS -- or any other N. American broadcasters' -- ability to negotiate and broadcast SANZAR games on television?

Can American and Canadian broadcasters still negotiate for SANZAR's television rights, or does Mediazone have those rights locked up for North America for the next 5 years?

Thanks, any help would be mightily appreciated.

Mr. Archer responds:


Setanta owns the exclusive SANZAR broadcast and Internet rights in Canada and the US as of this year through 2010. They have sublicensed the Internet rights to Mediazone for the duration of the contract. The only way another TV broadcaster in Canada could get broadcast rights would be to approach Setanta.


Tim Archer
ARU Media Dept

If I am piecing this together correctly, if the rumour is true that RCS is code for Setanta Sports Canada, and as Mr. Archer confirms, Setanta owns North American rights to SANZAR competition until 2010 (plus Guinness Premiership, Celtic League and Heineken Cup rugby), then rugby fans patience will be rewarded and we will have a broadcaster that provides us a service we care about.

Let's cross our fingers. Hopefully Telelatino/RCS will get back to me shortly and confirm one way or the other.

[Update:] I never imagined being a rugby fan meant traversing through boring corporate miasma, but stay with me for a minute and follow the bouncing (oval) ball...

The new specialty channel RCS (Rugby, Cricket, Soccer) recently approved by the CRTC is owned by Telelatino Network Inc. (TLN).

A simple pdf flow-chart from the CRTC detailing Telelatino's ownership structure with the announcement of the RCS approval can be found here.

Telelatino's majority shareholder is Corus Entertainment (50.5%).

I'll see if Corus knows anything... (Alas, they don't!)

Rugby tackled in Global War On Terror

June 12, 2006

Via Rugby Planet:

Mass arrests as police mistake rugby for brawl

Players fall foul of 'counter-terrorism action'

More than 100 people were detained in the southern Russian city of Rostov-On-Don after police mistook an innocent game of rugby for a mass brawl.

The Russian news agency RIA said police had received a tip-off about a mass fracas at an empty sports ground on the city's outskirts on Sunday afternoon.

More than 70 officers arrived to find dozens of cars parked around a grassy field and around 60 people watching what appeared to be a fight between two criminal gangs.

The police broke up proceedings and detained some 100 people before determining that they were engaged in a bizarre sport instead of brawling.

All the detainees were released several hours later, but not before being scolded for not alerting authorities ahead of time.

The southern Russian region is adjacent to the troubled North Caucasus, where violence from Chechnya regularly spills into nearby areas.

"Given the difficult, troubled situation in the region, at a time when counter-terrorism actions are being actively conducted, citizens are obligated to inform [authorities] either verbally or in writing of their intentions," said a police spokesman.

The players were quoted as saying such amateur matches were common and were often held in the neighbouring Volgograd and Stavropol regions of southern Russia.

"The fact that police took us to be hooligans, this isn't the first time," said one of the organisers, Alexander, who declined to give his last name for fear of offending the police.

"Honestly, it's the first time that we've ever heard that we're supposed to make public our plans to the local police."

Source: Rugby Planet

Gives a whole new meaning to "Red Terror."

It's a shame they didn't detain this cheap-shot goon:

Bush at Yale

Weekend internationals

June 12, 2006

Lots of action last weekend.

NZ Maori are into the Churchill Cup Final at Edmonton next weekend against Scotland "A". Full details and standings here.

In the southern hemisphere June internationals, the All Blacks gave their fans a fright and fought back late to snatch victory from Ireland. The Wallabies stuffed England. The Boks rolled Scotland. Argentina pipped Wales in Patagonia.

I was in attendance at the Canada vs. England Saxons match at York Stadium in Toronto. I've already posted a reaction in the Rugby Canada message board; so rather than provide an actual commentary, here's part of what I wrote:

... The wind didn't help matters, but then neither did Canada's tactics and inability to adjust.

Ian Kennedy in his report writes:

"There will be some Canadian rugby buffs who will be muttering in their beer still commenting on Canada’s 41-11 loss to the England Saxons Saturday at York University Stadium. Here’s my take on the result and I’m not ‘gilding the lily’ but just stating some facts."

It's true many of us were muttering, and the report does make some legitimate points about Canada's young team (translation: lotsa defensive lapses out wide). But Mr. Kennedy does in fact gild the lily by omitting what I think are a few obvious points.

For instance, playing into the teeth of a gale force wind in the first half, why were we kicking so much possession away for what amounted to absolutely NO GAIN in territory? There was one possession with Canada on the attack approaching the Saxons 22 after a nice sustained build-up of strong pick-and-goes making hard yards, where the ball was then kicked on a break (I think by Morgan Williams, who should have known better), but all the English defender had to do was retrieve the ball and boot an up-and-under that the wind took 80 metres down to Canada's goal area. You could see the heads and shoulders of the Canadian forwards droop in despair seeing what a waste all their efforts had been.

When playing into a strong wind, the backs have to be instructed to refrain from kicking up-and-unders from their own defensive zone. In fact, tell them not to kick the ball at all unless it is absolutely necessary, and drive the kicks lower, maybe make some grubber kicks, but do not put it up high where it comes straight back at you like a ferris wheel. Mystifyingly, we seemed to kick more balls *into* the wind in the first half than we did clearing our own defensive lines with the wind *at our backs* in the 2nd. Surely watching England let the wind do all the work of 70-80 metres with high kicks in the first half should have showed us something. Clearly, it did not.

Also, it was obvious from the first set scrum that England was demolishing Canada and shoving us back at a rate of knots. We had no resistance to it. It looked like an 8-man scrum against a 5-man scrum. And in fact, we were regularly short-changing ourselves by offering a 7-man scrum, and I'm not just talking about the period where lock Matt Phinney was sin-binned. It was obvious England had much bigger men than we did. But on virtually every scrum we had, our No. 8 Sean-Micheal Stephen was playing the role of halfback, *trying* to peel off the back of a scrum going backwards. All it did was de-power our scrum. Scrum-half Morgan Williams stood off to the side like he was a stand-off. I didn't see the point of it the first time we tried it; it got frustrating watching it happen on virtually every scrum we had thereafter.

That sound you heard wasn't English fans clapping; it was Canadian fans slapping their foreheads and groaning. Every one of our scrum possessions was an unmitigated shambles. We rarely made an inch with the tactic of the No. 8 roll-away, the scrum would go backwards or wheel or implode with a tighthead-- it was self-destructive and several times the ref had no option but to award possession to England or we ran into a wall and lost the ball. This was a tactic that clearly was not working, and yet we didn't seem to learn a thing, we didn't make adjustments and we kept getting our clocks cleaned on our own ball.

I feel a bit sheepish complaining about much of this, 'cos lord knows I love to see some first (or second) class rugby in the flesh. But the high cost of tickets and parking leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, and our inability to compete on the field sours that a little.

Kennedy's initial game report had the crowd at 7,500, and from my own look I thought it was a pretty good crowd all things considered, especially given the absense of rugby on Canadian TV the past year. We're never going to attract new fans if we charge NFL ticket prices for a sport that Canadians rarely-if-ever get to see on their televisions.

Hopefully The Score's coverage this year will get a few new fans to the competition next year. But doing my own polling of fans at the game, they were pessimistic, believing as I do that the absence of top-tier rugby union from our TVs the past few years is a disaster for the sport we love. The IRB can say they are throwing wads of cash at minnows to strengthen world rugby, but the fact of the matter is that if young Canadian kids don't see the excitement of rugby played in front of packed stadia around the world on their televisions, then they are probably never going to pay to watch rugby let alone participate in playing the sport, and our future internationals will continue to be filled with the sons of British ex-pats.

I'm going to keep the Montgomery Burns illustration around for the next few days. I'll provide further comment later. Suffice it to say, you know things have bottomed-out when yours truly is nonsensically maginalized as a suspected "ARU spy" by paranoid scaredy-cat assclowns. Right now my cynicism is at an all-time high. (Or is that low...?)

We’re on a road to nowhere

June 11, 2006

we're on a road to nowhere

Well we know where we're going
But we don't know where we've been
And we know what we're knowing
But we can't say what we've seen
And we're not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out

We're on a road to nowhere, come on inside
Taking that ride to nowhere, we'll take that ride
Feeling okay this morning, and you know
We're on a road to paradise, here we go, here we go

We're on a road to nowhere, ha, ha
We're on a road to nowhere, ha, ha
We're on a road to nowhere, ha, ha, whoo

Would you like to come along, we can help you sing this song
And it's all right, baby it's all right
They can tell you what to do but they'll make a fool of you
And it's all right, baby it's all right

We're on a road to nowhere, hey
We're on a road to nowhere, haaaa
We're on a road to nowhere, haa-haaaa

We're on a road to nowhere

(David Byrne, Talking Heads)

[Update:] I just got some intriguing news which is helping my low morale and giving me a little hope. I'm not holding my breath, but I am encouraged. Until I get a confirmation, the Burns painting stays...

Things that make you go, hmmmm?

June 10, 2006

Just watched an unusual 30-second video spot promoting rugby. It's French. It's, um, surreal. I don't know what to make of it. But there's a lovely piece of crumpet and it's worth a look.

SANZAR signs five-year deal with Mediazone Rugby Channel

June 10, 2006

SANZAR signs five-year deal with Mediazone Rugby Channel:

Rugby fans in 73 countries around the world can now watch every match of the Tri Nations, Super 14 and inbound Test matches live on the internet, after the South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby Unions (SANZAR) struck a five-year deal with Mediazone, a leading global online broadcaster.

An additional 77 countries will be able to access the matches on an 18-hour delay.

The ground-breaking deal will allow expatriate supporters to watch their provincial and national teams just like they would as if they were at home. It will also give new Rugby fans around the world their first opportunity to watch the best Rugby that the Southern Hemisphere has to offer.

Mediazone’s Rugby Channel includes every fixture from the Super 14, the whole SANZAR international season including the inbound Tests in June and the expanded Tri Nations series, the complete ABSA Currie Cup from South Africa, and the entire inaugural Air New Zealand Cup. [...]

Australian Rugby Union and SANZAR CEO Gary Flowers said Rugby was breaking new ground with the Mediazone deal:

“It doesn’t matter if you are in Canada or Croatia, the United States or Uzbekistan, Germany or Greenland, you will still be able to get live SANZAR Rugby on the internet.” [...]

For more information and to check out the full offer, go to

Full details here.

Canada names XV to face Saxons

June 9, 2006

Canada has named their starters for tomorrow's consolation test against England Saxons at Toronto.

Full details here.

Weeekend International Previews

June 9, 2006

As always, Rugby Planet is on the oval-ball with their international previews...

New Zealand vs. Ireland, at Hamilton, New Zealand. (RP picks All Blacks by 10 points.)

Tonga vs. Fiji, at Gosford, Australia.

South Africa vs. Scotland, at Durban, South Africa. (RP predicts Boks by 10.)

Australia vs. England, at Sydney, Australia. (RP picks a slim England victory (are they snorting the same stash as Wendell Sailor? Total Bet sees Wallabies winning by 14 points.)

Argentina vs. Wales, at Patagonia, Argentina. (RP picks Pumas by 10.)

Double-blow for Big ‘Dell

June 8, 2006

Shame. I liked the guy. And I'm not sure cocaine should be on the banned substance list, although I conceed it's more of a stimulant than cannabinoids, which are also (stupidly) prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Code.

Via Sydney Morning Herald:

The second of Wendell Sailor's urine samples has tested positive to the banned stimulant cocaine.

After a week of conjecture that there had been a problem with the testing process, sources have confirmed to the Herald that Sailor's B sample (the second half of the original urine sample provided on Easter Sunday) has mirrored the original cocaine result.

The former Wallabies winger was originally tested after playing for the NSW Waratahs against the Brumbies on April 16 and was informed of the positive A sample on May 12, the night before a crucial game against the Hurricanes. He subsequently missed the match.

The dual international will now have to accept the laboratory findings and face an automatic two-year career-ending suspension, or he can choose to fight the positive doping charge before a drugs tribunal.

The findings have dashed hope of Sailor, a former rugby league Test player, claiming there was a mistake in testing procedures.

The rest of the story...


Scots into Churchill Cup Final

June 8, 2006

Scotland "A" held off a gutty effort by Canada in Ottawa yesterday evening, holding onto to claim a slim 15-10 victory. Full credit to both sides. The Canadian team put up a strong effort and had several chances to snatch the game with breakouts and attack at the line, but disciplined Scottish defence held them out. Complete match report here.

As predicted earlier, in the evening's other contest, the New Zealand Maori started their campign with a 74-6 thrashing over the United States Eagles in San Francisco, piling on 12 tries to none. The punishing details here.

NZ Maori now play Ireland "A" in the final match of the San Fran leg of the Churchill Cup this Saturday.

The winner will meet Scotland "A" in the championship title match on Saturday, June 17 in Edmonton, Alberta.

The second and third place finishers from each pool will also face each other that same day in Bowl and Plate finals. Current table standings are here.

Saxons name starting XV to face Canada this Saturday

June 7, 2006

Canada hosts the England Saxons in Churchill Cup competition this Saturday at York Stadium in Toronto.

The Saxons just named their starters and bench-warmers/substitutes. Nothing here terrifies me too much, but these are all seasoned pros coming right out of their league and the players will be playing hard to impress England selector's for national team selection for next years' World Cup. I'll be there and will report back afterward. Go Canada!

England Saxons

Forwards (from)
1 Micky Ward (Newcastle Falcons)
2 David Paice (London Irish)
3 Robbie Morris (Newcastle Falcons)
4 Nick Kennedy (London Irish)
5 Kieran Roche (London Irish)
6 Luke Narraway (Gloucester)
7 David Seymour (Saracens)
8 Kai Horstmann (Worcester Warriors)

Backs (from)
9 Richard Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks)
10 Dave Walder (Newcastle Falcons)
11 Andrew Higgins (Bath Rugby)
12 Chris Bell (Leeds Tykes)
13 Ben Johnston (capt, Saracens)
14 Richard Haughton (Saracens)
15 Delon Armitage (London Irish)

Replacements (from)
James Buckland (Leicester Tigers)
Stuart Turner (Sale Sharks)
David Barnes (Bath Rugby)
James Hudson (Bath Rugby)
Andy Beattie (Bath Rugby)
Ben Woods (Newcastle Falcons)
Clive Stuart-Smith (Llanelli Scarlets)
Sam Vesty (Leicester Tigers)
Alex Crockett (Bath Rugby)
Ayoola Erinle (London Wasps)

“Argentina has to find answers in Argentina”

June 6, 2006

Yesterday Argentina Pumas captain Agustín Pichot spoke to Planet Rugby about the current problems striking at the heart of Argentine rugby.

About 60 players declared they would not represent the Pumas during the forthcoming Tests against Wales and New Zealand, claiming that they were not receiving sufficient support from the Argentina Rugby Union (UAR).

The players then agreed to play after discussions with Argentina bosses, but the agreement to honour the Tests is more of a temporary ceasefire than a lasting peace treaty.

Pichot insists that the problems are not money-related as many believe, saying that he and other senior Pumas "would all play for free if we thought that would progress matters".

According to the veteran scrum-half, the main grievance is the UAR's failure to grow the game domestically - an issue that has angered many of Argentina's overseas-based players who yearn to return from foreign fields to play professional rugby at home. [...]

Have all the players agreed to cease the strike completely?
AP: We have. But we haven't agreed terms with the board. But for the future of rugby in Argentina we decided to play. Otherwise it would have shown a lack of respect to Wales as well. Unfortunately we have had to do something we did not want to do up to now. [...]

How long has the discontent been brewing?
AP: There are two aspects. One is the international aspect, the other is domestic. On the international scene, we were waiting for the great powers of the world - South Africa, New Zealand and the rest - to give us a chance, probably in the Tri-Nations. But it never happened. We saw that the Six Nations was not possible, we saw the Tri-Nations is not possible. Maybe - maybe - there is a chance to organise something with the Americas. You can say we are better than them, but for how long has France and England been dominating the Six Nations? But because we could not find a competition, and because we knew nothing would happen until 2009 because of the contract which they [SANZAR] signed in 2005, we got together and thought about doing something locally. The local drive was going well, and although the players were based abroad, we were preparing well and building well as a team and as a country. That all changed drastically with the new UAR guys that came in.

Read the whole interview.

ABs vs. Ireland starting XVs announced

JUne 6, 2006

Contrary to earlier reports, some Crusaders and Hurricanes are, in fact, playing this weekend. I count five starters and two on the bench (see bold, below).

Via New Zealand Herald:

Southland prop Clarke Dermody and North Harbour lock Greg Rawlinson will make their All Blacks debut in the first rugby test against Ireland, in Hamilton on Saturday.

An uncapped trio - Canterbury winger Scott Hamilton, Waikato first five-eighth David Hill and Auckland flanker Jerome Kaino - have been named on the bench and may also make their debut at Waikato Stadium.

Much of the interest in the team named today surrounded the forwards, with the two new caps joined in the tight five by lock Chris Jack, who wasn't originally named in the squad.

He was called into the team as Ali Williams was ruled out with an ankle injury.

Another feature is the naming of two specialist openside flankers, captain Richie McCaw and Marty Holah, in the starting pack.

Former Chiefs and Hurricanes rugby utility Isaac Boss is in the Ireland side as a halfback reserve, after injury ruled usual reserve halfback Eion Reddin out of the tour.

Boss, a halfback who can play fullback, who qualified for the team through an Irish grandmother, after helping Ulster to the Celtic League title.

Ireland this year won the Triple Crown and finishing second to France in the Six Nation.

All Blacks: Mils Muliaina, Doug Howlett, Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Mauger, Joe Rokocoko, Luke McAlister, Byron Kelleher, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Marty Holah, Chris Jack, Greg Rawlinson, Carl Hayman, Keven Mealamu, Clarke Dermody.

Reserves: Scott Hamilton, David Hill, Jimmy Cowan, Jerome Kaino, Troy Flavell, Neemia Tialata, Anton Oliver.

Ireland: Geordan Murphy, Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Andrew Trimble, Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Neil Best, Paul O'Connell, Donncha O'Callaghan, John Hayes, Jerry Flannery, Marcus Horan.

Reserves: Rory Best, Bryan Young, Mick O'Driscoll, Keith Gleeson, Isaac Boss, Denis Hickie, Girvan Dempsey.


Related: Silver Fern commentary: How the Paddies can beat the All Blacks.

Canadian Rugby News service now free subscription

June 5, 2006

Doug Crosse's Canadian Rugby News service, which used to be a paid subscription service only, is now free to all. CRN has just signed a partnership endorsement deal with Guiness, who are Rugby Canada sponsors.

The downside is you have to register with the website to access content, and that includes participating in a Guiness survey. It takes a few minutes, so stop complaining already. After you complete registration, you're taken directly to the Canadian Rugby News.

Go to CRN website here.

UAR vs NZRU: What’s the deal?

June 5, 2006

Two articles off the wires today with a whiff of those old rumours that won't go away vis-a-vie the 2011 RWC voting/horse-trading process.

1. Via Rugby Planet:

Argentina players' spokesman Mario Ledesma has accused the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) of selling out the Pumas.

The Clermont hooker recently helped broker a deal to keep Argentina's striking players on the field, but he has criticised the NZRU for a perceived failure to help the South Americans enter the Tri-Nations and Super 14 tournaments, insisting the forthcoming one-off friendly between the sides is a cheap option.

Minutes released by the Argentina Rugby Union (UAR) following September's bidding process for the rights to hold Rugby World Cup 2001 revealed that Argentina's vote went the way of New Zealand - the eventual winners - after a telephone call between the UAR's president-elect, Alejandro Risler, and NZRU president Jock Hobbs.

The minutes read: "Before the [final] voting process, [Risler] telephoned the president of the NZRU, Jock Hobbs, to tell him that Argentina would vote for New Zealand and not Japan and that the UAR needed to meet with them to discuss the possibility of having regular international competition in the southern hemisphere in the nearest future, having already obtained South African approval for Argentina's inclusion."

Although it was not made clear whether Hobbs agreed to Argentina's proposal, UAR representatives met with the NZRU in February to discuss the matter.

According to Ledesma, Argentina bosses left that meeting in Wellington with just one concrete deal - a one-off Test against the All Blacks in June.

To add to Argentine disappointment, it has been confirmed that the New Zealand side that will play in Buenos Aires will be without the likes of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Joe Rokocoko, Rodney So'oialo, Ma'a Nonu and Byron Kelleher.

"The game was only added to the fixture list because we voted for New Zealand to get the World Cup," Ledesma told New Zealand's Herald on Sunday newspaper.

"We were hoping, as a result of helping New Zealand, they would then help us, but that hasn't happened.

"We were hoping they would look at extending the Tri-Nations to include Argentina. If not, then add an Argentine team to the Super 14. But they haven't done anything.

"[They] see us as not having box office appeal for their competitions, but we need help to raise the profile of the game in Argentina."

But NZRU chief executive Chris Moller has declared that his union "did not make any agreement with any country in return for votes".

As for the meeting in Wellington, Moller said the NZRU had offered the UAR advice on how to improve its domestic competition and agreed for some of the specialists in the All Black camp to provide coaching later this month when New Zealand play Argentina in Buenos Aires.

"Argentina need to develop a viable domestic competition - all options will be open and up for consideration when we renegotiate," said Moller.

"The reality is that the majority of their players play in Europe. The Test window is in June but the Tri-Nations is played in July, August and September.

"Without wishing to sound disrespectful, that signalled a mismatch if put up against three of the world's best sides.

"If we did have a gentleman's agreement, it couldn't have been a very good one because Argentina didn't vote for us in the first round.

"I dealt with these accusations after we won the bid - we did not make any agreement with any country in return for votes."

Source: Rugby Planet

2. Meanwhile, via New Zealand Herald:

NZRFU masterstroke wins top PR award

Monday June 5, 2006

The New Zealand Rugby Union's bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup has won a the top public relations award.

The Public Relations Institute of New Zealand awards are designed to celebrate the best public relations campaigns in New Zealand and are open to all members of the institute.

The institute's national president and chief judge, Lisa Finucane, said that while the NZRFU entry was technically good, it was the nationwide impact that won it the supreme award.

"If one of the main achievements of a PR campaign is to influence a chosen stakeholder group, then this succeeded above all others. It was a focused stakeholder dialogue with a great outcome that impacts across New Zealand.

"Judges agreed that there were no second chances or opportunity to 'do it better next year', and only one outcome was acceptable. The development of, and adherence to, a sound communications strategy to achieve that outcome in the face of a doubting New Zealand and international media was the masterstroke."


Churchill Cup highlights video

June 5, 2006

Video: Scotland A down Saxons - highlights

June 2nd, 2006

Highlights and reaction from Scotland A's victory over the England Saxons.

Upcoming NZ Maori vs. USA

June 5, 2006

nz maori

I'm awaiting the NZ Maori starting lineup to face the United States Eagles for Wednesday night's Churchill Cup match in San Francisco. The Eagles fell to Ireland "A" 28-13 on Saturday, and the Maori look like a much stiffer test for the Americans. The Maori are stuffed with experienced Super 14 veterans, especially in the engine room with locks Paul Tito and Kristian Ormsby, both experienced NZ Maori veterans, are coming out of the Super 14 Final; the Maori front rowers (Greg Feek, Scott Linklater, Joe McDonnell, Deacon Manu) have a ton of experience; add Jono Gibbes at the back, and it could add up to an education for the Eagles pack. If Taseva Lavea can get fast ball out wide to Shannon Paku and Hosea Gear, it could be a very long day for the home side.

Having said all that, comments posted on the Ireland-Eagles thread in the IRB forum seem to suggest the USA loss to Ireland was flattering and that the Eagles looked like a pretty good side.

We shall see... and we'll have to wait for Maori coach Donny Stevenson's selections to face them...

[Update:] The Maori team has been announced. Probably not what you would consider their first XV, but pretty formidible all the same...

Five players will make their debut for the New Zealand Maori team on Thursday (NZ time) when the team kicks off its Churchill Cup campaign against the United States in San Francisco.

North Harbour prop Mike Noble, Otago halfback Chris Smylie, Hawke’s Bay first five Matt Berquist, Waikato midfielder Richard Kahui and North Harbour winger Zar Lawrence have been named in the starting line-up for the competition opener.

Taranaki lock Paul Tito takes over the captaincy from Jono Gibbes, who has been named in the reserves.

New Zealand Maori coach Donny Stevenson said he hoped the team would continue its form against the United States following last Friday’s 20-16 win against the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney.

“We will look to lift our game a notch after last week’s win. Our understanding is that rugby is growing here and we are delighted that we can aid the development of the game in this part of the world,” Stevenson said.

New Zealand Maori team: 1. Greg Feek, 2. Luke Mahoney, 3. Mike Noble, 4. Kristian Ormsby, 5. Paul Tito (captain), 6. Thomas Waldrom, 7. Liam Messam, 8. Jake Paringatai, 9. Chris Smylie, 10. Matt Berquist, 11. Cory Jane, 12. Pehi Te Whare, 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Zar Lawrence, 15. Shannon Paku. Reserves: 16. Scott Linklater, 17. Deacon Manu, 18. Ross Filipo, 19. Jono Gibbes, 20. Corey Tamou, 21. Callum Bruce, 22. Anthony Tahana

Source: Rugby Canada

Why was Reuben sandbagged?

June 5, 2006

Like a lot of kiwis, Richard Loe isn't happy about the plight of Reuben Thorne, ex-All Black captain and a stalwart in the Crusader championship dynasty.

I think Reuben Thorne has been treated poorly by All Black selectors. He has been hard done by on the selection front but I think he was treated even worse in the way he missed selection. ...

He is an 80-minute man who works hard all the way.

That sort of 80-minute player is now less common and old once-was'ers like me feel uncomfortable about All Black jerseys being handed out for players coming on for the last 10 minutes of a test - especially when you have real workers like Thorne who do the business for 80 minutes.

Read the rest...

RCS Rumour Mill

June 4, 2006

I mentioned in an earlier comment I'd try to dig up more about RCS, the new specialty sports channel ("Rugby, Cricket, Soccer") operated by Telelatino that was recently approved by the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). I'll try to get ahold of them directly, but doing some preliminary googling this weekend I came across a curious piece of gossip on an Aussie Rules forum:

I have confirmation that "RCS Television" is the code name for Setanta Sports Canada. This channel MIGHT be of interest to Aussie Rules Footy fans in 2007.

(Note that FOX Sports World Canada has rights to Aussie Rules in 2006, and that the international TV rights distributor to Aussie Rules in 2007 hasn't been determined yet.)

As for the code name "Soccer Television", it doesn't take a genium to figure out what that channel will eventually be: --- Soccer ------- Canada.

One of my moles at Canwest Global in Winnipeg said this about the future of FOX Sports World Canada: "...the writing is on the wall..."

Canwest Global's CRTC licence for FOX Sports World Canada will expire 31 August 2007.

Canwest Global's programming sublicence with FOX Sports Int'l for FOX Soccer Channel programming will expire 30 September 2006.

Canwest Global also has a separate programming production deal to supply FOX Sports World Report to FOX Soccer Channel. That deal runs through 30 September 2007.

I can't swear by the credibility of the poster -- it is the internet after-all, so take it with a grain of salt. But it's interesting none-the-less. If Fox Sports World Canada's license does expire, it'll be just desserts. FSWC was the most successful launch of all Canada's specialty digital cable channels back in 2001 and initially offered a credible service. Key word there -- "initially." I have been a subscriber since the first week, and can testify that the decline of FSWC the past two years has been accelerated, providing lousy service on the back of false advertising and broken promises. Lying to the CRTC on a license-renewal that claimed their service would improve didn't help, but the thing that stung me the most was their (FSWC and parent Canwest Global Communications) callous disregard for the concerns and questions of their paying subscribers. In short, an unprofessional piece-o-crap service that deserves to disappear. And nobody will wave goodbye.

Churchill Cup gets underway

June 4, 2006

The Barclays Churchill Cup is under way.

The England Saxons had an inauspicious beginning for the new team name, going down gamely to Scotland "A" 13-7 in a steady drizzle in front of 4200 fans at York Stadium in Toronto yesterday.

The game's first half was forgettable, a dreary affair with lots of dropped ball and numerous mistakes. The game was tied 3-3 at the half. The 2nd half raised the intensity and England looked dominant with their rolling mauls, wiining a penalty-try with an unstoppable scrummage at Scotland's goal-line, but they could not maintain their advantage and gave up a weak openfield try only minutes later.

The game came down to an exciting climax with what seemed like ten minutes of overtime England camped out on the Scotland line, retaining ball patiently, and the Scottish forwards heroically saving the day with tackle-after-tackle. Ten phases of attack at the line were repelled, and the referee blew the final whistle with the ball held up over Scotland's line. It was a cracking finale, and the exuberant joy on the faces and body-language of the Scots after they held out their big bro' border-rivals was evident for all to see!

In the days' other action, Ireland "A" beat the USA Eagles 28-13 (in a game that I did not see).

It's worth noting that the England Saxons vs. Scotland "A" game was the first XV-man rugby match seen on English-language Canadian TV in a year. The games are being broadcast on The Score. Big thanks to them, if you have a chance, read the story at that link and drop their programmer a word of thanks.

Handbags out of control

June 2, 2006

[Another bloody update:] It won't die.

First the handbag, now the video. The Jolly Poacher Tavern in Christchurch has seen fit to cash in and auction their security camera videotape of "the incident." They are also providing a public service. The stills don't look like much. But the eye-witness testimony of the seller makes it sound like this "attack" is more frivolous than even I had originally presumed.

"This is a one time offer, of footage of The Hand Bag Incident in the Jolly Poacher, Christchurch, NZ.

"The footage is about 30 seconds long, shows Tana playfully swatting Chris Masoe with a ladies hand bag. There have been so many questions regarding exactly what happened, and if this would be available; we have decided to put it up for sale.

"In these frames, Tana is swinging handbag as it makes contact with Chris's head. They are in the centre of the shot, Tana is wearing a beanie.

"The footage is black and white, and grainy, as the still here shows but you can clearly see what is happening.

"There are 4 swipes with the hand bag and then everyone is laughing. Once Tana sees Chris is upset, he gives him a pat on the back. This wasn''t an attack, but a playful swat to calm a situation that had happened prior."

The TradeMe auction closes Wednesday.

[Update:] Inky made more sense about the overblown tempest in his latest commentary:

[Umaga and Masoe] were getting their people around them after a silly late night embarrassment in Christchurch. Masoe's swat at a Jolly Poacher patron who he'd thought tripped him was dealt with on the spot by a Samoan brother. Just as with Lome Fa'atau by Jerry Collins in Bloemfontein, Masoe was immediately disciplined under the stars with the nearest blunt object. Polynesian mothers use sa-sa brooms. Tana chose a handbag.

Tana has been included since in the Queen's Birthday honours list, and the handbag he clipped Masoe's ear with went for twenty grand on Trade Me. Tana's people are pros, and Chris is lucky they're his people too. He's keeping quiet in All Black training, avoiding the coaches' eyes as do all respectful Polynesian boys whether chastised or not.

Anyway, while respectable sportswriters were trying to promote some intriguing fixtures, they were competing for space with every oversexed gossip columnist and can't-grow-a-beard reprinter of spam out there. Maybe Queer Eye isn't doing enough to perpetuate gay stereotypes and there's some agenda here I'm not getting... maybe eyeliner, banging hair and pret-a-porter accessories mean the Hurricanes are fair game for that sort of humour... but to me it seemed the handbag incident dragged on horribly.

Fair enough I suppose, it was like everyone needed a release of tension after two more weeks rugby than they're used to, but the Junior All Blacks and Maori had big games and not many fans seemed excited. It was like the Germans not being interested in an Iraqi war because it wasn't on a grand enough scale for them.

In other words, much ado about NOTHING.

[Correction:] $22,750.

umaga handbag

I've been generally avoiding the details over the Chris Masoe-Tana Umaga "handbag incident," but when you see sensational silliness spilling over to the BBC and now indie hipster American sport blog Deadspin, I felt compelled to add my $0.02, which I did and you can see for yourself if you head over to their comments section.

Just so there's no question about my parochialism...

tana 3

tana 1

International Test match season again!

May 31, 2006

The Super 14 season is over, and the southern hemisphere moves into its winter international season. There is going to be a pantload of international rugby in the next few weeks, struggling for attention at the same time as the soccer World Cup. It's going to be crazy!

Thankfully, Rugby Planet has provided an international test fixture list to help us keep it organized. Bookmark it!

I've got my tickets for the England-Canada match at the Churchill Cup (go to that website for regular updates, count me impressed!) in a couple Saturday's.

Of course, the England squad playing in Canada -- the England Saxons -- formerly England "A" -- won't be the first XV England test team. The "real" England test team will be on a two-test tour to Australia.

And equally of course, the NZ Maori side participating at the Churchill Cup will be minus the best Maoris in Graham Henry's 39-man All Black side(s).

The All Blacks schedule the next couple weeks looks particularly weird. Read this story about the ABs lock conundrum to get an idea the difficulty of the logistics of selection. They host a very tough Ireland for a two-test series a week out from playing Argentina. Graham Henry has selected his teams so that ALL of the ABs from the Super 14 Final (Crusaders and Hurricanes) will be rested for then first Ireland test, and hardman Jerry Collins has surprisingly been selected as test captain for the AB team that travels to Argentina. In other words, you're looking at three very different AB test teams for three separate tests. Ireland may very well claim their first ever victory over the All Blacks in over 100 years, and Argentina will be no pushovers. It'll be a huge challenge for all sides fronting up.

Impacting news -- Argentina will front:

Pumas drop strike threat - will play All Blacks

UPDATED 11.40am Wednesday May 31, 2006

BUENOS AIRES - The Pumas have dropped their strike action against the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) and will play their test matches against Wales and New Zealand, local media reported today.

Argentina meet Wales in two tests, in the Patagonian city of Puerto Madryn on June 11 and Buenos Aires six days later.

They host the All Blacks on June 24.

The Pumas threatened last week not to play the tests in a conflict with the UAR over the structure of national team training, medical cover, expenses and bonuses.

They sparked a week-long crisis when the UAR, close to bankruptcy after losing a court case brought by a player left quadriplegic in a game, announced they would not pay expenses for the June tests.

Rugby correspondent Frankie Deges says it appears the players have only agreed to a temporary ceasefire, with their grievances unresolved.

He said hostilities will no doubt resume in July, after the Pumas have faced the All Blacks and Wales.


Last word: The Churchill Cup organizers did a great promotional job getting out their 8-page supplement to daily newspapers last week, but unfortunately that supplement did a lousy job highlighting the participants -- the teams and legacies. They'll get it sorted out for next time, I guess. Right now, marketing rugby in Canada means repeatedly trying to explain the Rules of the Game in print, since the game isn't shown on TV. No matter, I'm there. If you're in the Toronto / southern Ontario area that weekend (June 10) join in the fun. Go Canada Go!

Good news for CauCau

May 29, 2006

NZPA reports:

Monday May 29, 2006

The Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) has lifted a 12-month ban on Rupeni Caucaunibuca to allow the star winger to return to international rugby.

National coach Wayne Pivac confirmed the former Blues winger would join the Fijian side for their opening match of the Pacific Five Nations against the Junior All Blacks in Suva this weekend.

Caucaunibuca, who last played for Fiji at the 2003 World Cup in Australia, is scheduled to arrive from France, where he plays club rugby, on Wednesday.

The FRU suspended Caucaunibuca for 12 months last year for not showing up in camp before the Fiji-NZ Maori after he was flown from France. The ban was to run through to August this year.

However, the union decided to cut the penalty saying Caucaunibuca had since shown genuine remorse.

A FRU statement said Caucaunibuca showed "much willingness to come back and represent his country".

"The original ban was to run through to August but he has been in constant contact with coach Wayne Pivac over the past few weeks and appears very serious about making amends.

"The FRU board thus agreed to reduce the ban, bearing in mind he had already missed out on last November's tour to Europe as well as the Commonwealth Games."

Former Auckland coach Pivac said Caucaunibuca had agreed to pay back money he owed to FRU and to follow team schedules properly.

"I think Rupeni genuinely regrets what happened last year," Pivac told the Fiji Times.

"He's been tearing up the turf in France this year and is the top try-scorer in the competition. I'm looking forward to having him in the squad for the Pacific Five Nations."


Jerry Collins to be AB skipper in Argentina

May 29, 2006


Sunday May 28, 2006

CHRISTCHURCH - Jerry Collins will captain the All Blacks and there were a handful of other surprises when the biggest international squad in New Zealand rugby history was named here today for tests next month.

The 40-man squad is divided into 25 players to play in the two-test home series against Ireland, and the starting 15 to play the subsequent test against Argentina in Buenos Aires.

Coach Graham Henry has adopted this approach to keep his players fresh following the completion of the Super 14 last night.

Richie McCaw will be captain for the Ireland matches on June 10 and 17 but a surprise appointment was that of Collins as skipper for the Argentina test on June 24.

He has never led his country previously.

There are three new caps, all for the Ireland series -- Canterbury winger Scott Hamilton, North Harbour lock Greg Rawlinson and Otago prop Clarke Dermody.

A host of All Blacks not required last year have also been recalled, including Canterbury centre Casey Laulala, Waikato first five-eighth David Hill, and Auckland flankers Jerome Kaino and Troy Flavell.

Eleven players from the Ireland series will be named later to travel Argentina to boost that squad.


For the two tests against Ireland, in Hamilton on June 10 and Auckland on June 17 (25 players):

Backs: Mils Muliaina (Waikato), Scott Hamilton (Canterbury), Joe Rokocoko (Auckland), Doug Howlett (Auckland), Ma'a Nonu (Wellington), Casey Laulala (Canterbury), Aaron Mauger (Canterbury), Luke McAlister (Auckland), David Hill (Waikato), Byron Kelleher (Waikato), Jimmy Cowan (Southland).

Forwards: Rodney So'oialo (Wellington), Craig Newby (Otago), Richie McCaw (Canterbury, captain), Marty Holah (Waikato), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Troy Flavell (Auckland), Ali Williams (Auckland), Greg Rawlinson (North Harbour), Carl Hayman (Otago), Neemia Tialata (Wellington), Clarke Dermody (Southland), Anton Oliver (Otago), Keven Mealamu (Auckland), Andrew Hore (Taranaki).

Starting 15 for the test against Argentina in Buenos Aires on June 24:

Backs: Leon MacDonald (Canterbury), Rico Gear (Nelson Bays), Isaia Toeava (Auckland), Sam Tuitupou (Auckland), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Waikato), Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Piri Weepu (Wellington).

Forwards: Mose Tuiali'i (Canterbury), Chris Masoe (Taranaki), Jerry Collins (Wellington, captain), Jason Eaton (Taranaki), Chris Jack (Canterbury), Greg Somerville (Canterbury), Anton Oliver (Otago), Tony Woodcock (North Harbour).

(Note: 11 players from the Ireland series will be named later to travel to Argentina)


NZ Maori squad named for Canada

May 29, 2006

New Zealand Maori coach Donny Stevenson has named his first squad since replacing Matt Te Pou for the forthcoming Churchill Cup campaign in North America - which will also feature 'A' teams from England, Scotland and Ireland.

Stevenson has selected 13 new players alongside captain Jono Gibbes and fellow veterans Kristian Ormsby, Chris Smilie and Joe McDonnell.

"Having 13 making their debut brings excitement and a challenge for us as coaches," Stevenson said.

"But we've enough of the old heads, with the likes of Greg Feek and Jonno, for there to be a good mix."

The Maori squad assembles in Christchurch on Monday ahead of a Sydney warm-up against the NSW Waratahs on Friday. They fly to San Francisco next Saturday to play the United States on Wednesday June 7 and Ireland 'A' on Saturday June 10. The teams then fly to Edmonton for the Churchill Cup play-offs on June 17.

NZ Maori squad: Neil Brew (Otago), Callum Bruce* (Otago), Greg Feek (Tasman), Ross Filipo (Wellington), Hosea Gear (Wellington), Jonno Gibbes (Waikato), Cory Jane* (Wellington), Jason Kawau* (Otago), Tanerau Latimer* (Bay of Plenty), Zar Lawrence* (North Harbour), Tasesa Lavea* (Auckland), Scott Linklater (Waikato), Joe McDonnell (Wellington), Deacon Manu (Waikato), Luke Mahoney* (Wellington), Liam Messam* (Waikato), Mike Noble* (North Harbour), Kristian Ormsby (Counties- Manukau), Shannon Paku (Wellington), Jake Paringatai (Northland), Chris Smylie* (Otago), Anthony Tahana* (Bay of Plenty), Corey Tamou* (Northland), Paul Tito (Taranaki), Pehi Te Whare* (Southland), Thomas Waldrom (Wellington).


Sale wins Guinness Premiership

May 29, 2006

Via Rugby Planet:

Sale Sharks upset the odds and the iniquitous laws that normally govern English play-offs by following up their table-topping heroics by clinching the inaugural Guinness Premiership title courtesy of a well-taken 45-20 victory over Leicester Tigers in the Grand Final at Twickenham on Saturday.

Super 14 Final lost in the fog

May 27, 2006

I'm still half asleep rubbing my eyes. What a (bad) joke. As others have said for years, rugby games should not be scheduled for the night-time in the South Island of New Zealand during winter. Test matches and Super 14 Finals, especially. What a lousy spectacle and a lousy promotion for the sport. Congrats to the Crusaders -- they are just too experienced, too clinical, too professional -- in short, too damn good. From what we could tell, the Crusaders were thoroughly dominant, from possession, to territory, to injury-count to scrums dismantled, they had it all. The scoreline flattered the Hurricanes. although their defence was committed and huge and got them within a sniff of stealing the game in the dying moments. That's a game I have no reason to ever watch again. [Correction: I watched it again. It's actually pretty compelling...]

Via New Zealand Herald:

Crusaders 19 Hurricanes 12

The Crusaders confirmed their status as the kings of Super rugby by beating the Hurricanes 19-12 in a surreal Super 14 final played in thick fog at Jade Stadium here tonight.

The team who won five of the 10 Super 12 titles before the competition expanded this year were too polished for a Hurricanes team playing in their first final.

However, the biggest talking point was the conditions, with a lack of visibility creating an at-times farcical affair.

Conditions worsened as the match wore on and sections of the crowd in the multi-storied Western Stand were reportedly forced to leave the ground because they couldn't see the field. Television coverage was also adversely affected.

The conditions ruined what many had predicted would be quality spectacle between two in-form teams laden with All Blacks. ...

Read the rest.

Rugby Planet piles on:

Pity the spectators at the ground and round the world. After the great build-up between these two great teams, little patches of match only were visible and then they too had an eeriness about them.

Forget seeing anything that happened 30 metres away except sometimes in vague outline when the fog was kinder. Some spectators left the ground and some huddled near the big screen in the hope of seeing something.

It will be forever the fog-bound Final. It was far, far worse than the sleet Final of Canberra.


Super 14 Final coming!

May 26, 2006

Just a reminder: the Super 14 Final between the Crusaders and Hurricanes goes early Saturday morning. I reckon the Crusaders class is going to see them through comfortably, but I'm setting myself up for heartbreak, wearing yellow and screaming for the 'Canes.

BartMan at Silver Fern has an excellent head-to-head and preview. He does the math and says the final is "too close to call..."

... But, you always have to make a call, and when in doubt, I always pull in the "who would you back if you had to put you life on the line".

Simple answer, and the one I reckon 90% would make if given that line, the Crusaders.

On the other hand, encouragingly, Grant Fox has a recipe for a Hurricanes win.

rugby channel s 14 final

In North America, Mediazone Rugby Channel has the live broadcast, Saturday morning 3:35 a.m. ET. Order today!

Barclays Churchill Cup

May 26, 2006

Yesterday the Toronto Sun, big daily newspaper in Canada with satellite newspapers in Ottawa and Calgary, had an 8-page special promotional supplement for the coming Barclay's Churchill Cup. (Thumbnail scans below.) This is the biggest marketing push I've seen for Rugby Canada in a very long time --encouraging to say the least.

Churchill Cup 1
Churchill Cup 2
Churchill Cup 3
Churchill Cup 4
Churchill Cup 5

Go directly to the official Churchill Cup website here.

Munster hold on to win Heineken Cup

May 20, 2006

I just listened to Ian Robertson's blistering live commentary on BBC Live Five's Sports Extra. Munster are crowned kings of Eurpoean club rugby. Sounded like a real nailbiter and congrats to all the crazed fans in Limerick.

Via Rugby Planet:

Munster bid to win the Heineken Cup at their third attempt met with success at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday. The Irish side needed to stain every sinew to dispose of Biarritz Olympique and they duly delivered, recording an epic 23-19 victory that will go down in history as one of rugby's finest team performances.

Full story here.


Super Final history

May 24, 2006

Rugby Planet has an excellent historical overview of the Super 14 championship from the inaugural South Pacific Championship in 1986 right up to the current format. Give it a read!

Crusaders stroll into S14 Final

May 20, 2006

It was only a couple weeks ago the Crusaders were shocked by a run of a tie against the pushover Force and then a loss to the Stormers. Cantab fans got worried and opponents got excited, believing the red-and-blacks era of domination was over and there were weaknesses to exploit. The Crusaders rectified the poor run by dumping the Bulls in the Bulls home turf.

So despite Bulls fans eternal optimism, it was hardly going to be a surprise to see the defending champion Crusaders repeat the trick at home with a berth in the Super 14 Final on the line.

As expexcted, the Crusaders clinically dismantled the Bulls this morning, running away 35-15 winners and setting up a classic All-Kiwi S14 Final next weekend.


Crusaders to meet Hurricanes in final

Saturday May 20, 2006

Crusaders 35 Bulls 15

The Crusaders preserved a remarkable semifinals record by beating the Bulls 35-15 here tonight to stroll into next week's Super 14 rugby final against the Hurricanes.

In a result that was widely predicted, the Crusaders cruised away from their outgunned opponents to set up a return to Jade Stadium next Saturday, where they will play their fifth consecutive Super final and eighth in total.

Up 16-8 at halftime courtesy of two tries to winger Rico Gear, the Crusaders added three more after the break and were rarely troubled in a second half that lacked the vigour of last night's first semifinal when the Hurricanes beat the Waratahs 16-14 in Wellington.

The Hurricanes are likely to provide a greater threat to the Crusaders in an all-New Zealand final.

The Crusaders had far too much panache tonight for a Bulls side who looked bereft of attacking options and leg-weary after only arriving from Pretoria on Tuesday.

The result continued the Crusaders' perfect semifinals record, having won all their seven appearances in the old Super 12 competition.

The Bulls were also true to form, having lost their two appearances in the Super 12 semifinals. [...]

Crusaders 35 (Rico Gear 2, Chris Jack, Corey Flynn, Aaron Mauger tries; Daniel Carter pen, dropped goal, 2 con)
Bulls 15 (Bryan Habana, Pierre Spies tries; Morne Steyn pen, con).
HT: 16-8.

More details here.

Hurricanes make S14 final

May 19, 2006

Hurricanes 16 Waratahs 14

In a combative and thrill encounter, the Hurricanes won their first Super rugby semifinal in four attempts and will face either the Crusaders or Bulls next week after tomorrow's second semifinal in Christchurch.

Hurricanes 16 (Lome Fa'atau try; David Holwell pen, con; Piri Weepu pen, Jimmy Gopperth pen),
Wararahs 14 (Peter Hewat try; Hewat 3 pen).
HT: 13-8.

More here...

Nose-candy a world of hurt for Wallaby winger

May 16, 2006

Radio Australia, via NZH:

Sailor given week to challenge dope test

15.05.06 1.00pm

Wallaby and Waratahs winger Wendell Sailor has a week to challenge the positive drug test that has forced his indefinite suspension from rugby union.

Sailor was stood down before Saturday night's 19-14 loss to the Wellington Hurricanes in Sydney for an alleged serious breach of the Australian Rugby Union's code of conduct.

Rugby authorities had been informed on Friday that an A sample provided by Sailor had tested positive to a banned substance.

It's understood the 31-year-old may have tested positive to the recreational drug cocaine.

Sailor's Wallaby team-mate Nathan Sharpe described the news of Sailor's positive test as "shattering".

"That's shattering for big Dell. He's a good mate of mine and if that's the case I'm very shattered for him. Hopefully he's going to come out of this all right," he said.

Sailor has been in trouble three times in the past 10 months for drunkenness and breaking curfew.

The rugby league convert was banned for three weeks in February after an incident in a South African nightclub.

Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie refused to speculate on Sailor's future, preferring instead to wait until the ARU and New South Wales Rugby Union's investigations were complete.

"I'm not going to sit in judgement until the whole thing's sorted out and we can talk formally, then I'll let my opinions be known at the right time," he said.

Sailor can request the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) to test a B sample before any further action can be taken against him.

If he does not, or if the second test also proves positive, Sailor faces a possibly career-ending two-year ban.

Radio Australia


Sailor positively stunned

By Jacquelin Magnay and Greg Growden
Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, May 15, 2006

Controversial Waratahs winger Wendell Sailor was "shocked" and "staggered" when he was first advised he had tested positive for cocaine last week.

Sources close to Sailor said he couldn't comprehend the test results from a urine sample he provided after the Waratahs' match against the ACT Brumbies in Sydney on Sunday, April 16. "He was shocked and is still staggered at what has happened," said a friend of Sailor's.

Sailor left Sydney to ponder his future and avoid the furore which erupted when his immediate suspension became public, but is expected to return for crisis meetings with his legal advisors today. Sailor is set to meet with the Australian Rugby Union Players Association chief executive, Tony Dempsey, this week.

Sailor also sent a text message to his Waratahs coach, Ewen McKenzie, who was forced to frantically reshuffle his team for Saturday night's final-round match against the Hurricanes after being informed his winger had to be stood down.

McKenzie said yesterday that Sailor used the text message to apologise for not telephoning and discussing the issue with him.

"He's obviously sorry, there's no question about that," McKenzie said. "He has certainly expressed that."

Sailor has yet to decide whether to accept the A sample result and fast-track a hearing before the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority or to check the result by having the B sample (the second half of the original sample) tested in the presence of one of his agents.

Sailor was tested at random several weeks ago, following on from a three-match ban and $4000 fine he incurred after an alcohol-fuelled altercation outside a Cape Town nightclub.

Cocaine remains in the body for one to three days and the excreted compound, benzoylecgonine, can be found in the urine for as long as 60 hours after taking the drug. The metabolism of cocaine depends on an athlete's metabolic rate, the amount of drug taken, the size of the athlete and even the dilution of the urine.

If Sailor is found guilty, he will be forced into premature retirement, as he will be unable to play any professional sport for up to two years. He will be prevented from returning to rugby league or taking up any other major sport while under a drug suspension.

The Australian Rugby Union has all but ripped up Sailor's hefty two-year playing contract, worth in excess of $600,000 a season, pending the final outcome of the drug testing results and then a hearing before ASADA. The global sports signed to the World Anti-Doping Agency code, including the International Rugby Union and the National Rugby League, are bound to honour the sanctions and bans imposed for drug offences committed in any other sport.

"As a general rule, we would observe any suspensions imposed by a properly constituted tribunal," said NRL chief executive David Gallop. "And now under WADA there is a commitment applicable to us and all other WADA-compliant sports to observe those suspensions."

Sailor - popular among fans for his generous nature - received support from around the world, including New Zealand, yesterday.

Bulldogs player Willie Mason, whose own dramas with performance-enhancing drugs were splashed over the front pages of newspapers two years ago, said he was supportive of Sailor.

Mason - whose drugs tests results were the result of in-house club testing, not the more stringent ASADA protocols, and resulted in a hefty fine - said at Telstra Stadium: "I don't know too much about it so I can't really comment, but I support him whatever the outcome; he's a good bloke."

McKenzie, however, found it difficult to hide his despair that because of the Sailor saga, he had to make last-minute changes to a team which was eventually beaten by the Hurricanes, losing the chance of hosting a home Super 14 semi-final next weekend.

"Wendell has a problem, and he has to sort it out," McKenzie said yesterday.

"I don't enjoy not having players available, so I am disappointed. And there's no question that last-minute changes and running combinations you haven't trained with all week isn't going to help.

"One thing about these issues is that if you are getting repeat offences, there's obviously issues you maybe can't fix."

When asked if Sailor had tarnished rugby's image, McKenzie replied: "It's not helping."

The ARU was informed of Sailor's positive test on Friday night, and quickly alerted NSW, which then suspended their Test winger indefinitely.

"Hearing about this the night before an important match is not an ideal time frame for anyone," ARU chief executive Gary Flowers said last night.

"But the NSWRU have certainly dealt with it in a positive way and handled the situation very well."


...and more...

Wendell racks up a first

By Jacquelin Magnay
Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, May 15, 2006

Wendell Sailor's case will be the first drugs hearing before the newly formed Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.

ASADA will conduct the prosecution and also hear the case as soon as the testing process is complete. This could be in about three weeks' time.

When athletes provide a drug test, the urine sample is divided into two test tubes, labelled A and B, and sent to the Australian Sports Drug Laboratory in Pymble.

So far, the A sample of Sailor has tested positive to traces of cocaine. Sailor has 10 days from being first notified of the result to demand the opening of the B sample in the presence of himself or his agent. In nearly all cases, the B sample confirms the initial diagnosis.

Sailor still has several days to decide whether to accept the positive A finding or contest it. If he demands the B sample be tested, the testing may not take place until early next week. Once Sailor is deemed to have a positive test, quaintly termed a "notifiable event", he will go before a hearing of the ASADA.

This body, which replaced the Australian Sports Drug Agency in March this year, has the imprimatur to conduct the drugs hearing and make binding judgements. The Australian Rugby Union will be at hands-length from the hearing, although the arbitrator will conduct the hearing using the ARU anti-doping code, which complies with the World Anti-Doping Agency regulations.

Under this code, Sailor could face a two-year ban for testing positive to a stimulant in competition. If he can provide mitigating circumstances or assist officials with prosecutions of drug suppliers, he may be given a more lenient sanction of one year.

Interestingly, cocaine and other recreational drugs are not looked for in out of competition tests under the WADA code. This is why three AFL players, who have tested positive on two occasions each to recreational drugs, have not faced official sanctions. In the AFL cases, the tests were conducted in midweek and not on match days under an in-house AFL testing regime.

ASADA was established to remove national sporting organisations from any burden of sanctioning their own members.


...and now for the lawyers...

Lawyers defend Sailor

By Philip Cornford
Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, May 15, 2006

Footballers are "not slaves", so the public release of information that Wendell Sailor had tested positive to drugs was a "major invasion of his privacy and civil liberties", Australia's two top civil liberties lawyers said yesterday.

"We are growing increasingly concerned by a significant decrease in the civil liberties of high-profile sports people in relation to their off-field behaviour," Terry O'Gorman, president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, said.

Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said: "The announcement was premature. Nothing should have been said until the results of a first test were confirmed by a back-up test.

"There have been instances where the B tests have repudiated the results of the A test - but by then it is too late, the damage to a reputation has been irreparably done."

O'Gorman added: "It is clear that the rugby union authorities had a responsibility to say absolutely nothing until the initial test results had been confirmed by the follow-up tests. Initial tests are notorious for being wrong."

O'Gorman said high-profile sports people "are being sacrificed in the name of sponsorship as sports seek high corporate backing". He continued: "The relentless push to make money is interfering with their civil liberties and their right to privacy.

"It was clearly wrong for the rugby union to make any announcement until it had exhausted all checks.

"There has most definitely been a major infringement of Wendell's civil liberties and right to privacy."

Murphy said the rugby union and rugby league administrations should follow the example of the AFL, which only publicly identifies drug users after three offences.


England Saxons set to invade Canada

May 15, 2006


via Rugby Canada:

London, England

England will defend their Barclays Churchill Cup title in Canada next month under a new name – England Saxons.

Known as the A team since 1992, the side will be called England Saxons from now on and will play Scotland A and Canada in Toronto on June 3 and 10 respectively before the Churchill Cup finals in Edmonton on June 17.

The England Saxons, who will also play matches against other Six Nations opponents next season, will be coached by the Rugby Football Union’s National Academy coaches, reporting to England Head Coach Andy Robinson OBE.

Andy Robinson said: “The future success of rugby in England depends, to a large extent, on the next best 15 players.

“England Saxons is a key part of the development pathway to the senior side and myself and the other coaches will have close contact with the team.”

“The England Saxons will give up and coming players a platform to perform in an international environment and to show that they can make the step up when required.”

The Barclays Churchill Cup squad will be announced tomorrow and Robinson added: “The squad travelling to Canada not only want to retain the Churchill Cup but put down a marker for the future that playing for the England Saxons really means something both in its own right and as a gateway to the senior side.”

Sponsored by O2 like the seniors, the England Saxons will have their own branded playing kit and RFU Business Operations Director Paul Vaughan said: “The England Saxons will play a vital role in the Elite Rugby structure.

“We have consulted with all stakeholders including players, coaches, the media, sponsors and fans and the consensus was unanimous – a strong motivated England Saxons team is essential to the future success of the England national team.

“You only have to look at the 10,000 strong crowd who turned out to watch the team take on Ireland A at Kingsholm in March to see how popular this level of rugby is.

“We are confident that with the England Saxons we now have a team with a real identity to take into the Churchill Cup and forthcoming seasons.”

- RFU -

Saturday, June 3rd

Pool A (Toronto)
England Saxons v Scotland A
York Stadium 2.45pm

Pool B (San Francisco)
USA v Ireland A, Santa
Clara Stadium 2pm

Wednesday, June 7th

Pool A (Ottawa)
Canada v Scotland A
Twin Elm Stadium 6.30pm

Pool B (San Francisco)
USA v New Zealand Maori
Santa Clara Stadium 7.30pm

Saturday, June 10th

Pool A (Toronto)
England Saxons v Canada
York Stadium 2.45pm

Saturday, June 17th
(Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton)
Matches from 12pm
Barclays Churchill Cup, Bowl final
Barclays Churchill Cup Final
Barclays Churchill Cup Plate final

Source: Rugby Canada

Richie McCaw named new AB skipper

May 15, 2006

As expected, the worst kept secret is now confirmed as Richie McCaw has been handed the All Blacks captaincy. BBC reports:

McCaw handed All Blacks captaincy

Flanker Richie McCaw was named as Tana Umaga's successor as All Blacks captain on Saturday.

Coach Graham Henry had hinted McCaw was the favourite to take over the post and made it official at the weekend.

"As well as a great honour and privilege, it is a big challenge to captain the All Blacks," said McCaw.

"Along with the other team leaders, I hope we can keep improving on the success of the last 18 months and play some exciting rugby."

McCaw has previous experience of leading his country, first taking over the role as a 23-year-old against Wales in 2004.

He also led New Zealand against Ireland on last year's Grand Slam tour when Umaga was rested.

His national coach said: "It's a natural step for Richie McCaw to take on the captain's role.

"He has been an All Black since 2001, he is a world class player, and he has led the team well in previous Tests. He has also been a highly successful captain with the Crusaders and with Canterbury."

McCaw made his All Blacks debut in 2001 against Ireland and has played a total of 36 Tests.

Source: BBC

All set for Super 14 semi-finals

May 15, 2006

SANZAR's Super 14 regular season has just concluded and the semi-finalists for the championship have been settled.

As reported a few days ago, the defending champion Canterbury Crusaders ended their season atop the table after bushwhacking the ACT Brumbies 33-3. The Crusaders will host a semi-final at Jade Stadium against the 4th-place Bulls from South Africa.

The other home semifinal goes to the Wellington Hurricanes to travelled to Sydney on Saturday and held on for dear life to pip the New South Wales Waratahs 19-14.

Those same Waratahs finished in 3rd spot and will travel to Wellington next week to try to return the favour.

And the last semifinal sport goes to the Bulls, who trashed the woeful Stormers 43-10 at Newlands on Saturday. The 33-point victorywas exactly the points margin they needed to overtake their compatriots, the Sharks, in fourth place on a tie-breaker.

Curiously, the 4th place spot resulted in a three-way tie with the Bulls, Sharks and Brumbies all level at 38 points. Alarmingly, the Brumbies do not make the playoffs despite having secured one more victory than both the Bulls and Sharks (and suffering two less defeats that the Sharks), but they suffered in the points table by not acquiring enough bonus-points.

Full fixtures, details, results and final table standings can be found at the official Super 14 website.

In short, the Bulls now head to Christchurch on Sunday, where they will meet the table-topping Crusaders in the first semi-final on Friday. The second semi-final will be on Saturday, when the Hurricanes host the Waratahs in Wellington.

Rugby Planet has their Super 14 Week Round 14 Team of the Week here.

Super 14 last chances!

May 12, 2006

South African hopes for a Super 14 semi-finalist are on life support. NZPA via New Zealand Herald...

Late-charging Crusaders power past Brumbies

13.05.06 10.05 pm UPDATE

Crusaders 33 Brumbies 3

Richie McCaw delivered a timely reminder of why he is the All Blacks captain-in-waiting as the Crusaders powered away from the ACT Brumbies 33-3 here tonight to take the top seeding into next week's Super 14 rugby semifinals.

While five-time Super 12 champions, the Crusaders, will end the first Super 14 regular season atop the standings, the Brumbies' qualification is in limbo after they conceded three tries to the rampant hosts in the final nine minutes at Jade Stadium.

What started as a dour tactical battle ended in the worst possible way for the Brumbies, who may yet concede fourth place to the Sharks or the Bulls.

The Sharks need to beat the Western Force by at least 10 points in Durban tomorrow morning (NZ time) and score four tries to move past them. If they can't do it, the Bulls will have their chance, also requiring a bonus point against the Stormers on Sunday morning at Cape Town along with a 26-point winning margin.

If neither side can manage it then the Brumbies will return to Jade Stadium next week for a semifinal but it will take a dramatic turnaround in fortunes to reverse the result.

The Crusaders dominated the first half but could only take 9-3 lead to the break. And it was only 12-3 after 70 minutes before reserve hooker Corey Flynn, prop Campbell Johnstone and reserve flanker Tanerau Latimer all crossed, the latter a contender for try of the season.

Without suspended halfback George Gregan and injured second five-eighth star Matt Giteau, the Brumbies were content to play a conservative style, in a clear tactic to ensure the score didn't blow out.

It worked for most of the match but they appeared run off their feet in the closing stages.

McCaw, widely expected to be named All Blacks captain tomorrow morning, led by example and was at the heart of a muscular Crusaders forward effort which proved decisive. They dominated the set pieces and eventually wore their tackle-weary opponents out through persistent pressure at the breakdown.

Playing his first game for three weeks and wearing the No 6 jersey rather than his usual No 7 had little impact on McCaw's all-purpose game.

There would have been some shudders among the national selectors when he went down clutching his shoulder early in the second half but the Crusaders skipper played on with little evidence of pain.

The pack's endeavour allowed first five-eighth Daniel Carter to control proceedings with a mix of long and attacking kicks. He became an increasing threat with ball in hand as the game wore on.

Cool weather and greasy underfoot conditions turned the match into a kick-fest, with neither side prepared to take undue risks inside their own territory against water-tight defences.

There were an enormous number of lineouts, where the Crusaders had an edge but their possession was often lost at the breakdown at the hands of champion Brumbies snaffler George Smith, like McCaw playing out of position at No 8.

Carter landed three first half penalties to one from Brumbies skipper Stirling Mortlock.

A fourth Carter penalty soon after the break was followed by a long period of Crusaders dominance, camped for large chunks in the Brumbies quarter.

However, it took until the 71st minute before the Brumbies line was finally breached.

Carter towed a loose ball ahead, forced a turnover and created a sizeable overlap from which Flynn ran over unopposed.

Johnstone crossed for a rare try from another overlap before the Crusaders ended the game on a high, sweeping 70m through eight pairs of hands, the last of which was Latimer's.

Mortlock was resigned to waiting and hoping they could still qualify after their late collapse.

"It really stung us. We were hoping to really up the ante in the second half but unfortunately they did," Mortlock said.

"Unfortunately now we're in the lap of the gods. Hopefully the Force can help us out."

McCaw was delighted with how his team finished off the game.

"We said this week we didn't want to use the travel as an excuse," he said.

"For the last 20 minutes the boys threw everything at it and it paid off."

He said breaking down the Brumbies was always a difficult task and it was no different tonight, even though they were missing some important figures.

"People talk about key players being out but they must have good systems because nothing much changes. They certainly threw everything at us for the first half of the game anyway."

McCaw said a home semifinal, and possibly final, would guarantee nothing in coming weeks.

"It's great to play in front of your home crowd and everything's familiar.

"But it is just a rugby field and you still have to do the business."

Crusaders 33 (Corey Flynn, Campbell Johnstone, Tanerau Latimer tries; Daniel Carter 4 pen, 3 con)
Brumbies 3 (Stirling Motlock pen).
HT: 9-3.


This weekend's epic S14 contests previewed here.