Friday, June 27, 2008

Rotation post-mortem redux

Random items crossing the transom the other day ... all unrelated, but possessing a familiar theme.

Reflecting upon the injuries to star All Blacks Richie McCaw and Ali Williams last weekend, Lindsay Knight at Rugby Heaven concedes, "in the present environment some rotation is inevitable, even desirable." But Knight has reservations:

Rotate, but not to the point of dizziness

Of the many rods the All Blacks coaching staff made for itself with last year’s failed World Cup campaign the one which has returned to provide the biggest pounding has been the rotation selection policy.


Unfortunately, where the mistake was made was in continuing to chop and change through the 2007 season, even at the World Cup itself, at an obvious cost to enhancing combinations and a team’s rhythm.

Blogger Dave, at the excellent Dave's Football Blog, looks at the NFL and EURO 2008 for his own impressions:

EURO 2008 Losers Should Have Learned From Tony Dungy

Three of the four Group Stage winners at EURO 2008 — Portugal, Croatia and the Netherlands — went out in the quarterfinals last week. The one thing those three teams had in common? They all clinched their groups after two games, then rested their starters for the third to avoid getting anyone else hurt before the Knockout Stage began. Result? They looked tentative and rusty, and their opponents, who all had to must-win third games in the Group Stage, looked sharper and played better.

This same sort of thing seems to happen to the Indianapolis Colts every year, doesn’t it? Most of the time, they clinch the AFC South with a few games to spare, and what does Tony Dungy do? He rests his players to avoid getting any of them injured. Every time he does that, the Colts get bounced out of the playoffs early.

Remember what happened the year the Colts won Super Bowl XLI? Dungy couldn’t rest his players. The Colts had to scrape and claw for playoff position right up until the end of the season, and they didn’t get a bye week in the playoffs, so they had to play right on through. They didn’t lose their edge, and they pushed through until they won it all.

I get that coaches don’t want their players to get hurt, but you know what? Injuries happen in football, and you can’t be scared of them. What’s worse: the risk losing a player to injury in a meaningless game, or the risk of losing your edge because all your players had a game off and bombing out early? This seems even more crucial in a competition as compressed as EURO 2008, which only lasts for a month. Are you telling me that these guys are so out of shape that they can’t play a full six games in 22 days?

So the next time anyone argues for resting players before a knockout stage, point them to the Indianapolis Colts. They’re as good a sign post as anyone here.

Now, taking all of this under consideration, I decided to compare-and-contrast the consistency of selection for New Zealand's greatest Rugby World Cup triumph (1987) versus their worst RWC flameout (2007).

The centre-position shows the All Blacks dilemma in glaring detail.

Check the All Blacks RWC-winning fixture list for the 1987 tournament versus the 2007 version, and look at who gets pencilled into the #13 jersey:

RWC 1987

NZ vs Italy

NZ vs Fiji

NZ vs Argentina

NZ vs Scotland

NZ vs Wales

NZ vs France

Fast-forward two decades --

RWC 2007

NZ vs Italy

NZ vs Portugal

NZ vs Scotland

NZ vs Romania

NZ vs France

It's bad enough that John Mitchell inserted Leon McDonald into the center position for the losing 2003 RWC AB side. It was worse that McDonald was handed the goalkicking duties. McDonald, after all, had never handled either responsibility at NPC or S12/14 level, let alone the international level, let alone as the desperate solution for the RWC. (And 'twasn't Leon's fault that Tana Umaga was laid out in a freak accident in the opener.)

But it seems doubly silly that Graham Henry would do the same for Mils Muliaina for the 2007 tournament. Yes, Muliaina had covered #13 at varying levels in the past. But doesn't it seem restrictive and counter-productive to start Muliaina in a knock-out test, when he hadn't started the position in a month?

Rotation certainly has it's value, as any manager of the top football (soccer) sides in the world would attest (Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, etc.).

Nevertheless, the game of musical chairs that seeks to protect a players' welfare by mothballing him, might in the long run risk inflicting even greater damage to the prospects of the whole team.

Sumthin' to think about...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rugby Planet disinformation and exploitation

A terrible accidental tragedy befell a young Argentine rugby player this past weekend.

Rugby Planet was quick to pick up the story and then rush to judgment:

Argentine rugby in mourning

Monday 23rd June 2008

Argentine rugby was left to mourn Juan Cruz Migliore on Saturday after he passed away from injuries suffered in a Buenos Aires Rugby Union (URBA) Premier Division game.

The 20-year-old wing, who was playing for C.U.B.A. against San Fernando, suffered a broken neck when a maul collapsed on him early in the second half.

Playing in just his third game since joining the club, Cruz Migliore had opened the scoring in the first minute of the game.

Got that...? As reported by Rugby Planet, Mr. Migliore was killed by a broken neck when a maul collapsed on him.

It might have been well enough to leave the facts, brief though they are, right there -- and correct them later if the facts are in dispute.

But no. Rugby Planet decided the timing was perfect to exploit the young man's death, and sermonize about the ELVs:

(Continuing directly...)

His injury and subsequent loss of life brings into question the new ELVs which are set to allow the collapsing of mauls.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) made a stance earlier in the month when they refused to let those playing age-grade rugby in England collapse mauls for safety reasons.

The sad loss of Cruz Migliore should serve as a warning to those in authority that certain aspects of the game need to be kept the same for players continued safety.

Rugby Planet didn't stop the moralizing there. In his "Voice From the Stands" commentary, columnist Marcus Leach hoses more gasoline onto the fire:

[O]n Saturday, 20-year-old Argentine wing Juan Cruz Migliore also died after suffering a broken neck when trapped under a pile of bodies.

Surely such an injury highlights the dangers involved in collapsing mauls and players freely going off their feet at rucks, and yet the IRB are happy to introduce the ELVs which allow mauls to be collapsed. It just doesn't add up.

Riders in the Tour de France were eventually forced to wear helmets, but not until several riders had died from head injuries - most famously Fabio Casartelli who died in 1995 after a crash in the race. Let us pray that it does not take the same wake-up call in rugby before those in power reassess the laws coming into play next season.

Poor kid dies, and Rugby Planet can't wait to scream, "Told ya so!!"

Except that the "facts" as presented by Rugby Planet may be stretching the truth elastic.

According to a witness named "Julian," who posts on the Rugby Planet forum, the tragedy had nothing to do with a broken neck, and nothing to do with a collapsed maul. He writes:

As always, the story is wrong, is not a collapsed maul, he was hit (not very hard) at the end of a RUCK.

His neck wasn't broken, the autopsy told the investigators death by sophocation.

(Sic: suffocation.)

"Julian" elaborates further in another thread:

Migliore was tackled and he felt down, inmediately five players of the opponent team formed a ruck and the ball came out quickly, it took no more than 10 seconds for the whole situation. He remained down and was given first attentions on the pitch as he didn't wake up, then he was transfered to the emergency room inside the club.

We have an state of the art emergency room, but it wasn´t enough, he suffered two strokes there and died on the ambulance in the way to the hospital. His family was witnessing the match, father, mother, uncle and relatives. He lived one block from the pitch.

The sense of anguish and desperation felt yesterday at every rugby pitch in Buenos Aires will be hard to forget.

O-kay, as heart-wrenching as that testimony certainly seems, it's nevertheless posted by a stranger on an internet forum. Gotta be skeptical of those. The guy could be any b.s. artiste, right...?

Since we can't rely on that single anonymous source, let's then look for an actual Argentine news report like this (w/photos):


Tragedia en Villa de Mayo

C.U.B.A. derrotaba a San Fernando por 26-11 cuando la noticia del fallecimiento de Juan Cruz Migliore sacudió la tarde. El wing universitario sufrió un golpe a los nueve minutos de juego y fue retirado del campo. Más tarde, el encuentro fue suspendido.

La tarde empezó como cualquier otra tarde de rugby. Incluso arrancó bien para Juan Cruz, de sólo 20 años (cumplía el 28 de diciembre), que marcó el primer try del encuentro a segundos del comienzo del partido ante San Fernando.

Pero luego sucedió el hecho trágico: Iban nueve minutos cuando Migliore, que estaba dentro dentro de un ruck, sacó la pelota y tres jugadores de San Fernando se le cayeron encima. [...]

Can't read Spanish...? Let's go to the Babelfish translation:

Tragedy in Villa of May

C.U.B.A. defeated to San Fernando by 26-11 when the news of the death of Juan Migliore Cross shook afternoon. Wing university underwent a blow to the nine minutes of game and was retired of the field. Later, the encounter was suspended.

Afternoon it began like any other behind schedule of rugby. It even took well for Juan Cross, of only 20 years (it fulfilled the 28 of December), that try of the encounter marked first seconds of the beginning of the party before San Fernando.

But soon the tragic fact happened: Nine minutes went when Migliore, that was inside within ruck, removed the ball and three players of San Fernando fell to him above.

Still with life, but without responding to no of the stimuli, he was removed from the playground and taken to the infirmary of the club, according to counted Rodolfo Bovazzi, doctor of San Fer. Without delay, an ambulance transferred to the Hospital Doctor Federico Father, of the Municipality of the Argentine Falklands, but Juan Cross passed away in the passage and its body, so that the autopsy is realised, was transferred to the Hospital Ramon Cheek, of Citadel.

To the 16 minutes of the second time the referee Diego Pasman received the news and, obvious, he gave by suspended the encounter.

"One was an accidental, fortuitous fact and without similar antecedents in rugby. This it is a sport of risk but of much chivalry. The accident took place in a normal situation of the party, Juan Cross was underneath five players and was laying by a blow in the base of the skull”, explained the Cuban DT, Pedro Lance, that soon added: “The mother was in the field and I greeted when it, she embraced to me and she said to me that for his son he was one of the happiest moments of his life”.

On the other hand, referee Pasman, that directed its second divided in First Division, told “formed ruck, loosen the ball, stopped all, I followed the play and to the rat they made signs me to indicate to me that Migliore was fallen”.

The official doctor of the Union of Rugby of Buenos Aires, Marcelo Saco, discarded that the death of Migliore has been brought about by disloyalty in the game or lack of apt doctor. “One was an accident. Its death did not have anything to do with a situation of disloyal game or lack of apt doctor. Juan Cross was a healthy boy”, assured to him to Télam.

In addition, Coat emphasized that “what happened to Juan Cross to him can happen in any sport practice and until in a traffic accident”.

From this space, all that we do Rugby Fun we wished to send our condolencias and to offer him to our support to the family of Juan Cross to him and C.U.B.A.

Rugby Planet was informed of these facts over a day ago. Rugby Planet has not yet reported and/or clarified these facts, nor offered a mea culpa for their disinformation and pious scaremongering. Juan Cruz Migliore and the IRB deserve better than to have their names dragged through the mud because Rugby Planet got on a high horse.

Monday, June 23, 2008

R.I.P. George Carlin

The Modern Man

"Advantages in comparative obscurity"

I've been mostly avoiding the latest tabloid scandal/possible criminality of the England rugby team, which recently got destroyed in a two-test series in New Zealand, purportedly having something to do with prostitutes at an all-night party/group sex-romp at the Auckland Hilton, one of whom may have been gang raped. It's hard to know what to believe, especially in light of last years' Duke Lacrosse Team Scandal. You can read the sordid details about the English rugby mess here, and here, and here, and hell -- just go here.

Simon Barnes, chief sports columnist at The Times of London, makes a curious observation about public reaction to the scandal.

Obscurity an ally on England rugby tour

Have you noticed the calm, relaxed and laid-back way in which we have greeted the news that four England rugby players may have been involved in a rape? The players have retreated into a legal silence, we wait to see if a formal complaint will be made and in the meantime life goes on, England get walloped by New Zealand and prepare to come home.

We don't need to imagine the way the news would be received if we swapped “rugby” for “football”. It would be the greatest crisis for humanity since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Hell, remember what happened when some bloke we'd never heard of was accused of rape at the Manchester United Christmas party?

If this scandal had attended the England football team, rather than the England rugby team, the four would somehow have been named and shamed and every newspaper in England would have its hardest hacks in Auckland. Indeed, if the England football team had held a party that involved late-night shenanigans of any kind, it would have been the most frightful scandal: unprofessional behaviour, poor match preparation, letting the nation down, etc, etc. But because these are good ol' rugby boys, we let it all wash over us. Yes, poor show and all that, but not such a terribly big deal.

Why should this be? Do we think claims of rape are more serious when footballers do it? The answer to that must be yes.

We love and hate footballers in equal measure. Let them step a foot out of line and we will muster every bit of righteous anger we can. Rugby players deeply envy footballers their fortunes. Those who were involved, no matter how innocently, should understand that there are advantages in comparative obscurity.


A class apart

Bad week for Her Majesty! New Zealand won the inaugural World Junior Championship with a ruthless 38-3 smashing and pulverization of a thoroughly undisciplined England in yesterdays' final at Swansea in Wales. Rugby Planet match report, click here. The Kiwi youngsters were clearly head & shoulders above every other team in the tournament.

After hearing Kiwi worrywarts complain for several months about top professional players leaving New Zealand for fatter paycheques in the northern hemisphere, it was amusing to hear the British TV match commentators griping about the state of rugby development in the U.K. They reckon the current influx of Kiwi rugby players to the north is a double-whammy, firstly by harming the development of young English rugby players and future stars, who are wasted languishing on their teams' benches, while Kiwi imports get regular starts in important Heineken Cup and Guinness Premiership matches; and secondly, the Kiwi rugby exports leave vacant positions back home for young Kiwis to slot into, thereby giving them an edge in actual game experience at elite levels of Super 14 and NPC. It's an interesting theory. NZ teams, it appears, don't re-build so much as they re-load.

I thought the entire World Junior Championship tournament was fantastic, and expect to see it grow in popularity in leaps & bounds over the next decade, much like the World Junior Ice Hockey championships. I also like the idea that it's an annual event, and that Japan gets the next tournament. These are the sorts of tournaments that "new" rugby nations need to host before we gift them RWCs.

And how good was it to see the trophy lifted by skipper Chris Smith (pictured above), from my old Takapuna club. Good on yer, mate!

Hollywood discovers rugby

It's uncommon to see movies about rugby.

This Sporting Life, the 1960 "kitchen-sink" gem directed by Lyndsay Anderson and starring Richard Harris (in the defining role of his career), is one of my fave films of all time. But alas, the "sporting life" played here is rugby league.

And at least four movies have been made about the Stella Maris College "Old Christians" rugby team from Montevideo, Uruguay. Alas, that story was more about a plane crash and cannibalism in the Andes, than anything about rugby.

So imagine my suprise -- and skepticism -- when I saw a trailer at Setanta Sports for a new film -- and it really does seem to be about rugby union -- titled Forever Strong, starring Gary Cole and Sean Astin. A reviewer at IMDB who has had a sneak peak, gushes, "It reminded me a lot of Remember the Titans because it included comedy, sadness, and just awesomeness," and "definitely Oscar worthy," neither of which I value as ringing endorsements.

In Martin Scorcese's (decent-but-way-overrated) Oscar-winner The Departed, we see Matt Damon wearing a flyhalf jersey (when he's supposed to be a flanker!), but now Jason Bourne has taken the rugby role one step further. According to press reports the past couple months, Damon is in line to play Springbok captain Francois Pienaar in a new movie directed by Clint Eastwood about Nelson Mandela and South Africa's nation-building RWC win in 1995:

Matt Damon will star as the captain of South Africa's 1995 World Cup-winning rugby team in a film to be directed by Clint Eastwood about Nelson Mandela and the transformative effect of the sporting win, weekend newspapers reported in South Africa.

Damon will star as Springbok ex-captain Francois Pienaar and Morgan Freeman will play Mandela in the film adaptation of a yet-to-be-released book by British journalist and author John Carlin entitled Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Made A Nation.

Freeman, who had the idea for the film and brought Eastwood and Damon on board, has described the Mandela role as the the role of his life.

Pienaar admitted to The Sunday Times his wife was especially "pleased" the star of blockbusters such as The Bourne Identity and The Talented Mr Ripley had been chosen to play him.

The Springboks' World Cup victory at home a year after the country's first democratic elections is seen as a defining moment in the history of post-apartheid South Africa.

The image of then president Mandela clad in a Springboks jersey presenting the Webb Ellis trophy to Pienaar became a symbol of new-found unity in the "rainbow nation", given rugby's association with the white minority.

Filming of the movie, which covers the turbulent period between 1985 to 1995, is set to begin next year, the newspaper reported.


Whatever works.

Churchill Cup '08 home-and-hosed

The annual Churchill Cup wrapped up Saturday with Plate, Bowl and Cup Finals played at Toyota Park in Chicago, home of the MLS franchise Chicago Fire. (Wouldn't it be cool to see Canada play future test matches at downtown Toronto's swanky new cosmopolitan BMO Field -- home of Toronto FC -- instead of the dowdy temp stands of Fletcher's Fields next to the cornfields of rural Markham? I digress...)

In the curtain-raiser, Ireland 'A' ran roughshod over Argentina XV, claiming the Plate Final 33-8.

In the tight Cup Final, England Saxons were too good for Scotland 'A' and drew away late to win 36-19, in a match that was closer than the score indicated.

The most exciting game of the afternoon/early evening was the 5th/6th-place Bowl Final, contested between Canada and the United States Eagles, and the only full Test caps awarded for any game of the tournament. The United States led 10-nil at the break, but American coach Scott Johnson conceeded his team was shot at the break, telling SKY TV he'd never seen such a tired group slog back to the changing shed. A fiery halftime sermon must have been delivered by new Canadian coach Kieran Crowley, as the Canadians stormed back in the second half to claim 26 straight unanswered points through a pair of tries each to flanker Nanyak Dala (Man o' the Match) and center Ryan Smith to claim a handsome 26-10 test victory over their biggest rival. Truthfully, Canada's 2nd-half performance, especially in terms of continuity and commitment, was the best Canadian performance that I have seen in years. Congrats to Crowley and the boys -- Onward and Upward!

Rugby Canada has a full report with video. Click here.

Rugby Dump

It's been a while since I've added a new rugby link to the box in the upper-right corner, so let's roll out a warm welcome to Rugby Dump, a blog-resource collecting all sorts of weird 'n wonderful rugby video clips. Check it out, and be sure to bookmark!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hulk Smash!

The RWC champion Springboks squashed Italy in an unimpressive 26-0 win at Newlands in a downpour.

Food for discussion:

Do NFL shoulder pads make rugby players appear to be bigger, tougher, stronger & more intimidating American gridiron players?

Or... do NFL shoulder pads on a rugby field make the wearers look like timorous pantywaist pussies?

Still unresolved.


Too much rugby means too little sleep, too little socializing, and too little time to blog. (Throw in those Euro 2008 matches, and it's problematic!)

This past weekend has seen international test match tours to the southern hemisphere, the Pacific Nations Cup, the finals of the Churchill Cup, plus the finals of the IRB World Junior Championship. I'll try to get reports and/or comments on all, especially the Canada vs. USA test at Chicago. Stay tuned...

Lineout woes downunder

From a TSF thread:

I got a bit tired of [Sky Sports commentator Stuart] Barnes telling us how [Springbok locks] Matfield and Botha will be licking their lips at the sight of the NZ lineout, but unfortunately he is right. Ali Williams is a class international lock, but for all his grunt, Brad is ineffective as a lineout forward.

Height has always been Brad Thorn's problem at the lineout, but he went fine (4-for-4) against Ireland, and truthfully, the throw-ins to the lineout in both Pom tests were shit. How many times did the ABs lose balls on crooked throw-ins alone? How many were lost because the throws missed their targets? Too many to count.

Take a look at the above pic from yesterdays' test match. Thorn could have been Wilt Chamberlain, and he still would not been able to control that throw-in. Thorn clearly has his opposite Steve Borthwick beat, but the ball is astray, and that wasn't the only shit ball thrown his direction yesterday or the week before. In the photo Thorn can be seen head-and-shoulders above his challenger, so height nor timing isn't the problem. The Blacks need to keep it simple. Either Andrew Hore shouldn't attempt throws beyond his range of accuracy, or the lineout caller should call for something simpler. Thorn demonstrates here that being at a full stretch and obliged to jump backwards will not get the job done. That ball is difficult to control, and lifters have a near impossible task of trying to safely control the off-balance receiver.

Hore and Keven Mealamu need more throw-in practise. Many years ago I sent a frustrated (though polite) letter to Anton Oliver telling him to start shooting basketballs through hoops, or hang a car tire on a rope from a backyard tree branch and do target practise that way, like NFL quarterbacks for accuracy. It's not simply Thorn's height that is the problem with NZs lineout -- it's the crap throw-ins. Grant Batty used to spend hours perfecting his throw-ins back in the days when it was the wingers' responsibility. Hookers -- especially full-time professionals with six-figure salaries -- should start doing more of the same.

The TSF poster continues:

[Jerome]Kaino and Rodders [So'oialo] will have their work cut out for them at the back of the lineout in a month's time, trying to peg back Juan Smith and Pierre Spies. What are NZ going to do at No.2 in the lineout when the Boks come knocking?

Ex-AB coach Laurie Mains answered that a week ago:

The [Blacks] lineout is easily solved. It's a timing and co-ordination issue with the lineouts rather than any problem with individual players.

I would like to see the lineout forwards getting in front of their opposition rather than waiting for the ball.

Perhaps the All Blacks ought to exercise some simple ole fashioned remedies -- and their fans exercise some simple ole fashioned patience -- before they throw the baby out with the bathwater.

All Blacks lay out the Poms

The new-look All Blacks dismantled an under-siege England for the second straight week, despite losing skipper Richie McCaw and Ali Williams to first-half injuries.

(McCaw will miss most of the Tri-Nations with a bad ankle strain; Williams is expected to return to action shortly.)

The final score of 44-12 was a fair reflection of the gulf in class between the two sides, notwithstanding England's boast of having been a RWC finalist only seven months ago, and Fleet Street's promises that New Zealand are the team on the decline.

In sum: new-look NZ doesn't even get out of second-gear, beats England, a team comprised of professional players who toil in a league that the Stephen Joneses and Eddie Butlers of the world believe are streets ahead of the Antipodes, by a cumulative score of 81-32.

Debutantes for the All Blacks, Rudi Wulf, Richard Kahui, Adam Thomson and Anthony Boric all went well for New Zealand, with center Kahui the most impressive. Besides a brilliant try on his debut and some solid line breaks and defense, the match will long be remembered for Kahui's massive (accidental) head-clash tackle on Matthew Tait.

See sickening youtube viddie, as below:

Monday, June 16, 2008


An international rugby telethon this past weekend, and am I tired! The All Blacks smashed England. The Haka has a good match report, and His Bobness at TSF has a good round-up of English press commentary.

Choice quote:

"Bits of Test rugby are not optional," said [Rob] Andrew bluntly. "You get found out in Test rugby, that's why it's called Test rugby. It is brutal and, if you make simple mistakes, you will be punished.

New-look Wallabies nudged a gutsy Ireland. South Africa cleaned up against Wales. Scotland shocked Argentina. The Churchill Cup sked (Cup, Bowl & Plate finals) for Chicago next Saturday is settled. Canada got nipped by a point by Argentina XV and will face the host Americans in the consolation Main Event. The curtain-raisers include the actual final, to be contested between England Saxons and Scotland 'A'. Read all about the Pacific Cup, Nations Cup, Churchill Cup, World Junior Championships at Rugby Planet and don't be afraid to poke around the rugby websites linked in the above-right box.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Huge weekend of rugby

Big test match action this weekend. All Blacks host England. The new Deans-era starts for the Wallabies, hosting Ireland; and Wales face the Springboks in their second test. Line-up details below. Be sure to check all the links (box - upper-right) for more action -- this weekend is heavy with Pacific Cup, Nations Cup, Churchill Cup and IRB World Under 20s Championship. The amount of rugby I'm seeing on Setanta right now is incredible, there's hardly any time to watch it all, let alone blog about it. (Add the NRL, Super League and State of Origin, and it's overkill!) I'll be up in the wee hours watching much of it tonight.

New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Rodney So'oialo, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Neemia Tialata. Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 John Schwalger, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Sione Lauaki, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Leon MacDonald.

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Luke Narraway, 7 Tom Rees, 6 James Haskell, 5 Steve Borthwick (c), 4 Tom Palmer, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Andrew Sheridan. Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Tim Payne, 18 Ben Kay, 19 Joe Worsley, 20 Danny Care, 21 Jamie Noon, 22 Mathew Tait.

Date: Saturday, June 14
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Weather: Cloudy but dry, Northerly breeze, 10°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch judges: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), Paul Marks (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)
Assessor: Stuart Beissel (New Zealand)

Rugby Planet NZ v ENG preview, click here.

Rugby Heaven NZ v ENG preview, click here.

Australia: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 James Horwill, 3 Matt Dunning, 2 Stephen Moore,1 Benn Robinson. Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 Phil Waugh, 20 Sam Cordingley, 21 Ryan Cross, 22 Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Ireland: 15 Robert Kearney, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Denis Leamy, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Rory Best, 1 Marcus Horan. Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Mick O'Driscoll, 19 Stephen Ferris, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Geordan Murphy, 22 Girvan Dempsey.

Date: Saturday, June 14
Venue: Telstra Dome, Melbourne
Kick-off: 20:05 (11:05 BST, 10:05 GMT)
Weather: Floods, hurricanes and hail the size of golf balls. But hey, it doesn't matter because the roof will be closed!
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Touch judges: Chris White (England), Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
Assessor: Andrew Cole (Australia)

Rugby Planet AUS v IRE preview, click here.

South Africa: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Tonderai Chavanga, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Luke Watson, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Bolla Conradie, 21 Francois Steyn, 22 Percy Montgomery.

Wales: 15 James Hook, 14 Mark Jones, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Jonathan Thomas, 6 Ryan Jones (c), 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins. Replacements: 16 T Rhys Thomas, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Ian Evans, 19 Dafydd Jones, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Andrew Bishop, 22 Tom James.

Date: Saturday 14 June, 2008
Kick-off: 15:00 (13:00 GMT)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Weather: Clear skies and sunshine all day, highs of 20°C with a slight north-west wind
Referee: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Dave Pearson (England), Stuart Terheege (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
Assessor: Patrick Robin (France)

Rugby Planet SA v WAL preview, click here.

Check Mediazone and Setanta links for broadcast times and options in North America.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

First hurdle jumped...

Oh yeah, almost forgot. The All Blacks beat Ireland in atrocious conditions at Wellington last Saturday. No worries (he says, bitten fingernails scattered everywhere). The streak continues. Now bring on the Poms.

Friday, June 06, 2008

International season starts Saturday

The international season kicks off Saturday, with referees under strict orders from the IRB to police the breakdown, and Southern Hemisphere sides having to resort to the old laws different from the ELVs played in this years' Super 14 (and different from an entirely new set of ELVs that will be used for the Sanzar Tri-Nations championship in a month). Confused? The SH players will be. Are upsets on the card?

The world champion Springboks host Six Nations champs Wales at Bloemfontein. Rugby Planet preview here.

South Africa: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Tonderai Chavanga, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Butch James, 9 Bolla Conradie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Luke Watson, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp. Replacements: 16 CJ van der Linde, 17 Bismarck du Plessis, 18 Victor Matfield, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Percy Montgomery.

Wales: 15 Jamie Roberts, 14 Mark Jones, 13 Tom Shanklin, 12 Sonny Parker, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Gareth Cooper, 8 Ryan Jones (c), 7 Dafydd Jones, 6 Jonathan Thomas, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins. Replacements: 16 Duncan Jones, 17 Richard Hibbard, 18 Ian Evans, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Warren Fury, 21 James Hook, 22 Morgan Stoddart.

Date: Saturday 7 June, 2008
Kick-off: 15:00 (local) 14:00 (BST)
Venue: Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Weather: Sunny, still, 18°C
Touch judges: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand), Stuart Terheege (England)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
Assessor: Patrick Robin (France)

Early Saturday morning Eastern N.Am Time, the new-look All Blacks host Ireland at Wellington. This is New Zealand's first test match since their infamous flameout against France at the RWC quarter-finals. Many of the old crew have skipped to the northern hemisphere, meaning new faces starting for the ABs, some of whom are still recovering from last weekends' titantic Super 14 Final. Ireland, on the other hand, are playing under their normal rules and will be comprised mostly by the Munster team that won the Heineken Cup European championship two weeks ago. Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks, not in a century of competition, but this is a good opportunity for an historic boilover.

Rugby Planet preview here.

New Zealand Herald preview here.

Rugby Heaven preview here.

New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Rodney So'oialo, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 John Afoa, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Neemia Tialata. Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 John Schwalger, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Leon MacDonald.

Ireland: 15 Robert Kearney, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Denis Leamy, 5 Donncha O'Callaghan, 4 Paul O'Connell, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan. Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Mick O'Driscoll, 19 Shane Jennings, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Geordan Murphy, 22 Girvan Dempsey.

Date: Saturday, June 7
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 (07:35 GMT)
Weather: Showers, strong north-westerly wind, 8°C
Referee: Chris White (England)
Touch judges: Nigel Owens (Wales), Matt Goddard (Australia)
Television match official: Christophe Berdos (France)
Assessor: Stuart Beissel (New Zealand)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Red 'n Black Dynasty

Gotta do this quick! Crusaders beat the Waratahs 20-12 to win the 2008 Super 14 championship, to cement their place as one of the worlds' great sporting dynasties. The final was exhilirating, played at breathless pace and test match intensity, the most compelling rugby game of the year (so far). This one had it all. Massive defense; controversial referee decisions (I've looked high-and-low for footage of Brad Thorn's phantom punch on Dan Vickerman, sixty yards and five phases prior to Wyatt Crockett's disallowed try, and still can't see anything more than a vicious Vickerman shoulder barge on Thorn's prone back and a little retaliatory handbag swing); stunning twists and turns; and the right team won.

A poke in the ribs caused Brad Thorn to uncharacteristically erupt and belt Dan Vickerman before he was yellow-carded in the Super 14 final on Saturday night.

Thorn's ill-discipline in the second half cost the Crusaders a crucial try to loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett, with referee Mark Lawrence disallowing the five-pointer before marching 55m back to award the Waratahs a penalty and give Thorn his marching orders.

"I sort of felt I got hit late off the ball in a ruck, in the ribcage. I just had a `moment' and gave him a bit of a whack," Thorn said. "He had headgear on, though," he mused before adding: "But these days you can't do that."

Crockett's try would have put the Crusaders ahead 19-12.

Instead, the Waratahs kicked for the corner and set up an attacking lineout inside the home side's quarter.

But the Waratahs were unable to score when the Crusaders were down to 14 men.

To see Thorn retaliate was unusual, and he had plenty of time to reflect on his actions during his time in the cooler.

"Basically I sat there for 10 minutes thinking `what the heck am I doing there?' In the big matches it is all about discipline and focus. It's not my style.

"It just seemed a bit surreal."


More: Sport Africa's Super 14 Player of the Tournament:

Player of the tournament: This was tough, as many players put their hands up — we think of Ryan Kankowski, Andries Bekker, Phil Waugh, Richie McCaw... in fact all the usual suspects. However, our award goes to the man who hops between Rugby Union and Rugby League with seamless ease — Brad Thorn.

So, the end of an era...? Coach Robbie Deans has retired from the Crusaders to move on to the Wallabies; the only member to be a part of all seven of the Crusaders championships, Reuben Thorne, also got onto the field for a few minutes to extend his record-breaking Super rugby record, played his last match for the Christchurch faithful and moves to Japan.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another retirement - that being the stalwart Wasps and England international Lawrence Dallaglio, who hangs up his boots following his teams' 26-16 win over Leicester to claim the Guiness Premiership title at Twickers on Saturday. (Brit reports are post-selling the match as having been "absorbing," which I guess it kinda was -- Andy Goode, find your kicking boots already -- but certainly not the enthralling Super 14 final played only a few hours earlier.) Larry Dallaglio retires on top, and IMHO goes down as the Greatest English Rugby Player Evah.