Saints and sinners: The weekend’s talking points
The sensational Hurricanes, the Blitzboks march on in windy Las Vegas and tweet dreams at Gloucester – it's been another eventful week in the world of rugby
Beware of Hurricanes
The Lions won’t need reminding of what awaits them in New Zealand this summer, but they got another memo anyway.
The Hurricanes provided a sensational attacking exhibition against the Rebels, scoring 11 tries in a 71-6 thrashing in Wellington.
Nehe Milner-Skudder, playing his first Super Rugby game for a year after shoulder surgery, scored a hat-trick and his second try owed much to a huge left-hand pass by replacement hooker Ricky Riccitelli.
Julian Savea only scored once but what a move, as backs and forwards interlinked for the length of the field. Two offloads, by TJ Perenara and Brad Shields, showed the lightning speed of hands we associate with Kiwi players.
Vince Aso, playing because of a neck injury to Cory Jane, grabbed two tries and the first followed Beauden Barrett’s decision to run from his own line off a defensive scrum.
Perenara, heavily involved in that score and just about everything else, did a lot of sprint training in the off-season and looks electric.
The Lions may have a blinding full-back in Stuart Hogg but the All Blacks can take their pick from the magical feet of Milner-Skudder, offloading king Damian McKenzie and Ben Smith, the world’s best 15 who’s currently sitting things out with concussion. Gulp.
Blitzboks running away with it
South Africa had the rub of the green in their 19-12 Las Vegas Sevens final win over Fiji, but there’s no disputing their new-found status as the world’s best sevens team.
HSBC World Sevens Series runners-up for the past four years, the Blitzboks have now won four of the first five tournaments this season and have a massive 24-point lead in the standings.
They’ve lost just two of their 30 matches and are turning the series into something of a procession.
England are the only team to have beaten them – in the Cape Town final and in a pool game in Sydney – and they had to settle for fifth place in Vegas.
With 19 seconds left against Australia, England’s 13th man, teenager Charlton Kerr, trotted on for his debut with his team trailing 7-5.
Kerr, who starred for Stowe at successive Rosslyn Park Schools tournaments, not only tidied up an awkward loose ball in his own 22 but then got on the end of Dan Norton’s pass after the winger’s kick and chase. The delight of Kerr’s team-mates was clear to see.
Work, rest and play
BT Sport introduced a new element to their coverage of Aviva Premiership rugby at Welford Road – the work-to-rest ratio.
Thus, we were told that Exeter have this season produced 44 minutes of work for each 47 minutes of rest on the field, giving them a ratio of 0.92 – an extremely high figure.
Leicester’s average is 0.69 so the high tempo and ball-in-play time suited the Chiefs to a tee. The Tigers struggled to stay with the pace in a match that saw a final figure of 0.9.
Just another layer of detail to BT Sport’s excellent coverage.
The 100 club
How fitting that Ashley Johnson assumed the Wasps captaincy on Saturday after Matt Mullan left the fray at Bath.
It was Johnson’s 100th Premiership appearance and he becomes the 22nd player to achieve that milestone for Wasps.
He only started one match for the Springboks, against Australia six years ago, but Johnson has proved a cracking signing for the current Premiership leaders, able to play back-row or hooker with unfailing gusto and reliability.
He’s scored 22 tries in those 100 games, with only Paul Volley (23 in 119 games), Trevor Leota (26 in 146) and Joe Worsley (28 in 218) ahead of him among players in the same position.
Dave Ward, who captained Harlequins to their dramatic win at Kingsholm, is another who’s doing a lot for the reputation of flanker-hookers right now.
Not for the first time, the issue of player release in Wales has reared its head.
It’s not Wales’ fault that Cardiff Blues have a long casualty list that includes the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Rey Lee-Lo, Josh Turnbull and Ellis Jenkins. But they do have the power to release Blues players from the national camp for Guinness Pro12 duty.
Instead, Alex Cuthbert, Kristian Dacey and Scott Andrews, and more understandably Sam Warburton, were retained in camp while Blues went into battle with Munster without 14 players. And their hopes of Champions Cup qualification took a dent as they succumbed 23-13.
Players like to get game time, and keeping them back – no matter what the rules say – seems counter-productive. Certainly the Irish are taking a different approach.
Falling on his sword?
Where does the blame lie for Gloucester’s stunning late collapse at home to Harlequins?
With captain Willi Heinz, for not taking all the potential points on offer from penalty kicks?
With hooker Richard Hibbard, who ignored the referee’s instruction to release the ball at a ruck and got needlessly sin-binned with nine minutes remaining?
Head coach Laurie Fisher clearly felt he should carry the can, as this extraordinary tweet shows:
Leading 27-15 with eight minutes to play, Gloucester crashed 30-27 to incur a tenth Premiership defeat of the season. They sit in ninth spot and Champions Cup qualification looks a distant dream.
Blow me down
For the second year running, the Las Vegas Sevens was marred by a powerful wind that severely hampered the players.
Passes and kicks became something of a lottery, with one pass in the final by South Africa’s Rosko Specman blowing at least ten metres forward but being adjudged okay because of the angle of his hands.
England’s Richard De Carpentier almost hurt himself landing on concrete when chasing down a grubber kick that picked up speed in the wind.
You could argue that players must have the skills to adapt to the conditions. Or you could argue that all of us want to see sevens played at its best and thank goodness the show moves on to Vancouver’s indoor stadium this weekend.
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