So as mentioned over on the Podcast, we’re changing things up a bit this week and for the foreseeable future. With all the Rugby going on right now, Women’s World Cup, Autumn Internationals to name but a few big ticket items, we have to confess to be struggling to keep up. We barely have enough time to watch all the games, let alone write them up along with the demands of day jobs, families and life in general. In short, in order to not let this blog stall at such a key moment one year out from the World Cup, we will be limiting our musings every week to some key points that came out of the previous week’s action and which provided the most discussion and kept the pints frothy. So from now on much like over on the Podcast, we’ll be doing a weekly wrap-up here as well, although the subject matter will often be different.
So on that note with the Autumn Internationals just around the corner and a weekend of thrilling Women’s Rugby World Cup quarter-finals coming up, here’s what got us talking.
Canada’s women revel in a job well done but now the really difficult part of the World Cup begins for the Ladies in Red
First and foremost – heartfelt congratulations to Canada’s women at the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand. They won all their pool matches relatively comfortably, and finished as the second seed coming out of the Pool stages. That’s an impressive achievement whichever way you cut it and something that we can all be immensely proud of. However, now we’re at the business end of the tournament forgive us for thinking that perhaps Canada would have benefitted from a slightly more challenging route to it. Sadly playing the Americans once more in the Quarter-Finals is probably not the best preparation to take on our likely semi-final opponent England.
As impressive as Canada’s journey has been so far in the World Cup, the fact that we didn’t get to cut our teeth in the Pool stages against an opponent like England, France or New Zealand is in our opinion a slight handicap. You could argue that New Zealand is in the same boat but they still had the benefit of a plucky Australian side and, third place finishers in this year’s Six Nations, Wales to contend with as a warmup for their likely semi final with France. Canada should get past the Americans once more in the quarters but to take down tournament favorites England a week later in the semis, they will need to cut down their handling errors, improve their goalkicking and up their tackle success across the board by 40%. That’s a very tall order in the space of two weeks and while the game against the Americans will help this process it’s unlikely to really tell us where we stand in relation to the Kiwis and the two European juggernauts of France and more importantly England.
Like we say this is by no means an attempt to take any of the shine off the performance by Canada’s women in this tournament which has been outstanding, and one which we can all be rightfully proud of. There are plenty of strengths to build on such as the fact that our lineout is the best in the competition along with New Zealand, we have the most successful scrum record, and are second behind New Zealand in our success rate at ruck time. However, our tackle success rate is the worst amongst the eight quarter finalists as is our goalkicking. Given the way England are carving up pitches in this tournament we simply have to be more successful in the tackle department and simply can’t afford to be leaving kickable points to chance. There is no question that our physicality is a force to be reckoned with in attack but defensively we need some urgent and critical care. Two weeks is a very long time in international rugby, but Canada’s women know that the really hard work has to now begin in earnest and those impressive pool performances have to go up another few gears.
Who can stop the Red Roses?
To be honest we’re not sure anyone can. France gave it a really good go in the pool stages, and did show us that the Red Rose juggernaut can be slowed considerably, but even they failed to grind it to a halt. This weekend England take on Australia in the quarter finals, and the Wallaroos will be noble and valiant opponents but ultimately England are likely to continue their seemingly inevitable march to the final. Assuming things go according to plan against Australia they will then have a semi final date with Canada, which will see them attempt to claim their 30th consecutive victory, and if that’s not motivation enough ahead of a World Cup final then we don’t know what is.
England don’t really dominate any of the statistics outright, but then they are playing so cohesively as a team they don’t need to. Their only weak point is perhaps their goalkicking at a 63% success rate but that’s still the third best in the competition, and an area which all the teams have struggled with. However, they’ve run an astounding 2052 metres so far in three matches which is an average of 684 metres a game. New Zealand takes top honors in this department by quite the margin, but England are clearly the next best team in this regard by a country mile. Although the coaching staff would perhaps like to see the scrum and tackle success rates get slightly higher, there are no alarm bells ringing just yet. England look composed, confident, focused and apart from the encounter with France utterly untested so far.
However, the French game did show that when the chips are down this English team’s staying power and ability to get the job done is second to none in the competition. But therein lies the rub, if France do manage to conquer their likely semi final opponents New Zealand, then could les Bleus be wise to England’s tricks a second time round in a final? If you ask us that’s the most the most tasty plot line we can think of in this World Cup!
Clearly not a group to mess with!
If the Black Ferns Haka isn’t frightening enough this Halloween then we don’t know what is. Not to exaggerate but we find it infinitely more spine chilling than the Men’s version. However, one Haka does not a World Cup trophy make as the saying goes and this Black Ferns side are just as terrifying on the pitch over eighty minutes as they are in their pre match warmup. As the hosts they are clearly enjoying playing in front of a rapturous home crowd, and putting behind them what has been a difficult year leading up to the World Cup. Under the new Coaching regime of the legendary Wayne Smith, New Zealand’s troubles are very much a thing of the past, and they now boast a unified squad of outrageous talent and depth who are clearly thoroughly enjoying their day jobs.
As far as we can see it their only potential Achilles Heels are their goal kicking and the scrums. Even their scrum in the final pool game against Scotland went from a 33% success rate in their opener against Australia to 100%. In short, this is a team that can adapt and fix it’s apparent weaknesses in the blink of an eye. Add in a second row that is clinically efficient, a back row that boasts the remarkable talents of Sarah Hirini and Alana Bremner allied to a halfback partnership that can read each others’ minds. Then there is that set of backs that highlights the almost insane talents of Ruby Tui and Portia Woodman and the Black Ferns are simply the most dangerous side in the competition plain and simple.
However, the pressure of winning your own World Cup in front a rugby public that is renown for accepting nothing less may be a stumbling block that New Zealand may struggle to clear against France in the semis or England in the final, should Canada fail to unseat the Red Roses. New Zealand are clearly favorites and seem to be getting better with every outing leading to an almost unstoppable momentum. Once again it seems to all point to France having to break the mold of a script that seems to have been written quite a while ago – as New Zealand and England look set to contest the final. Guess we’ll all be watching the first quarter final between France and Italy this weekend with rather intense interest!
These guys need to share a pint and have a chat
It’s been one of the hottest topics of debate this week, and it’s been hard to look away. Love him or hate him – Scottish fly half Finn Russell finds himself out in the cold this November as Scotland Coach Gregor Townsend chooses not to include him in his Autumn Nations plans. The fact that the two seemingly don’t see eye to eye appears to be well documented, with Townsend’s “my way or the highway” clearly clashing with Russell’s impish maverick nature.
Anyone who has read these pages knows we have some sympathy with Townsend’s dilemma in recent times. Russell is a genius in the ten jersey of that there is no doubt. Just watch his performance in a Racing 92 jersey against Montpellier this weekend. However, therein lies the problem. Much of what Russell engineers is risky to say the least. When it works it is sheer brilliance in its audacity, but often it doesn’t and puts his team completely on the backfoot and struggling with damage limitation in the blink of an eye. What needs to happen is that Russell’s infinite and renegade talents get blended into his side’s game plan. However, Townsend is not the man to do it and sadly the resulting clash of egos and wills is set to continue at Scotland’s expense.
Scotland’s current offerings for the Autumn Nations campaign in the ten jersey are no slouches and will get the job done, albeit in a relatively predictable manner. Opposition sides are unlikely to be surprised, whereas with Russell they would likely have been kept guessing from start to finish. Russell’s play style either opens up opportunities for the opposition as a daring and reckless play goes awry, or they are constantly on the backfoot trying to figure out what’s coming next. It’s a gamble but at times one Scotland will need to take, if they are to go toe to toe with sides like New Zealand, Argentina and Scotland – let alone Fiji which is almost a team made up entirely of Finn Russells. In short, without Russell, one of Scotland’s key strengths of forcing opponents to expect the unpredictable is gone. In the interest of Scotland having an ace up their sleeve, Russell and Townsend need to put their differences aside and make it work plain and simple for the greater good and an eye to the World Cup.
The Return of a Legend
We can’t begin to express how delighted we are to see one of our favorite Wallabies of the last decade back in the gold jersey this Saturday against Scotland. Furthermore, in addition to saluting his courageous decision to take himself out of the spotlight and look after his own mental health which had suffered as a result of the relentless physical and mental pressures of Test rugby, we’ve been really happy to see the support and respect he has been given in the process. Although the Captain’s duties will remain with James Slipper, the sheer presence of Hooper on the field will lend a stability to the team which they clearly lacked at times during the recent Rugby Championship. Hooper knows when and how to challenge some of the decisions in terms of officiating that got in the way of Australia’s recent matches, he also lends a sense of composure to his teammates in the face of adversity. In short, he’s a talisman that Australia have sorely missed in the last three months.
It’s a strong side that Australia are putting out on the pitch at Murrayfield this Saturday, even with some notable omissions due to injury. However, even though this match falls outside the official Test window, Australia will need all their ducks in a row as Scotland field a very dangerous side. Scottish bolters Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham out wide will pose a serious threat to the Wallabies often tenuous defense on the fringes especially with Marika Koroibete out of the equation for this Autumn series. In a match that could go either way for both sides, the calm head and experience of “Hoops” is likely to be Australia’s most valuable asset on Saturday in a fast paced and open game.
Welcome back Michael from all of us!!!!