Archive for the ‘British and Irish Lions Tour 2017’ Category

With the Lions Tour behind us we have to confess to having been lulled into some summer laziness as the barbecue, beach and deck have taken up more of our time than rugby since the end of the Lions series last month. However, with the Rugby Championship just around the corner it is time to shake ourselves out of our summer stupor and get back to business. We also feel that it is high time that the women’s game gets some attention from this site, and having watched some of the opening rounds of the Women’s World Cup in Ireland today we’ve been highly impressed with what was on display in terms of quality rugby – so we’re in for a penny in for a pound as they say! To also make up for our laziness over the last few weeks we’ll leave you with some of the best of YouTube on our glorious sport in a Lions retrospective and a look at the Women’s World Cup of three years ago.

The Lions

There was controversy aplenty on this Lions Tour but let’s also be honest it still drew the crowds in their thousands. Despite accusations of it being no longer relevant, try explaining that to the players donning the coveted Lions jersey or those in an All Black, Springbok or Wallaby jersey who go up against them. Playing as or against a Lion is still considered by many players as one of the highlights and pinnacles of their Test careers.

This Lions tour became increasingly intense with each match leading to the epic finale and ultimate draw in the third Test. It seemed inevitable that it was going to be a series whitewash for the All Blacks after the first Test and very few of us imagined we would actually have anything more to write about come the final whistle in the second Test. How wrong we were! Sure the side with only fourteen men is always going to struggle to emerge the victor in Tests of this intensity and calibre, and had New Zealand been playing with 15 men the results of the second Test might have been different. However, there is also no denying that the Lions ultimately still had that second match under control, albeit by the slimmest of margins, but their determination to claw out a victory and hang onto it was there for all to see. In the end it was a thoroughly deserved victory that set the series alight and set the stage for a potential cliffhanger ending.

Once more a controversial decision ensured that the series would end a draw, though there is no guarantee that even without the decision from referee Romaine Poite that awarded the All Blacks a scrum instead a shot at the posts, New Zealand would have slotted the penalty and won the match and with it the series. However, you can understand the frustrations of All Black supporters over the vagaries of refereeing at times, but they are not the first and certainly won’t be the last team to be feeling hard done by in terms of inconsistency in interpretations of the laws by officials. However, all that being said both teams played a Test match of epic proportions in terms of both physicality and intensity and it was certainly one of the most nail biting Tests we can remember watching for a long time and as a result a real rugby spectacle.

Consequently, now the dust has settled and despite the controversies and the hype – was it a series we will remember as one of the greats? In short absolutely. It had drama, tension and an intensity that we simply don’t get on a regular basis at Test level. There is no question that a Lions Tour brings out something special in the Lions players and in the opposition they are up against. The desire and what it means to beat a Lions touring party is clear to see in any All Black, Springbok or Wallaby player. It’s something special, steeped in history and has an allure second only to the World Cup. Therefore in our opinion it is still a very relevant and important event every four years. Just ask any of the 20,000 travelling fans who have often saved their whole lives to take a month following their English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish heroes around a distant Antipodean land. Australians, Kiwis and South Africans will ensure that there are no spare seats in any of their stadiums well before the Lions have even stepped off the plane. It’s classic bums on seats rugby spectacle and we can’t see it changing any time soon. Bring on South Africa in 2021!

Here are some video recaps of a thrilling month from the best of YouTube. A special shout out to The 1014 whose coverage and analysis of the series we thoroughly enjoyed and are really looking forward to their thoughts on the upcoming Rugby Championship, so subscribe to their YouTube channel to help keep more of their excellent work coming.

Women’s Rugby World Cup

Women’s Rugby has come a very long way in the last five years. The last World Cup in France in 2014 was a thriller, and from a Canadian perspective definitely something to shout about. The quality of the rugby was outstanding and the women’s game lacks nothing in terms of intensity, physicality and sheer skill. Just watch the highlights of the last tournament and the evidence is there for all to see. Women’s rugby has clearly made its mark on the Test stage and after watching the opening rounds today, the 2017 tournament should provide even more spills and thrills than the 2014 edition.

For Canada, the women are so far ahead of the men’s game in terms of skill and ability that it is almost as if there are two completely different governing bodies for rugby in this country. The men’s team which is wallowing in the depths of obscurity could learn an enormous amount from Canada’s women in the next few weeks; especially in terms of what it means to have composure, focus and the ability to execute under pressure. If the men’s team had even half the passion, focus and intensity of the Canadian women they would be in a very different place than their current woeful position of 23 in the world rankings.

Canadian winger Magali Harvey has already shown that the magic she possessed in the 2014 tournament, that resulted in one of the IRB’s top ten tries of 2014 in both the women and men’s game, is still there aplenty as she tore Hong Kong to pieces in Canada’s opener today. However, looking at the ability and sheer ball carrying ability of Canada’s pack across the park today made us feel incredibly optimistic about their chances of lifting the trophy. This is going to be a very hard group of ladies to beat! We will be glued to our TV sets and cheering as hard as we can for you over the coming weeks. To the entire Canadian women’s team and management – we salute you and all the very best of luck!

There were few of us here to be honest who imagined that we would get to write a headline like the one above when Warren Gatland and his boys boarded the plane to New Zealand. In all honesty we were convinced that it was going to be all done and dusted by the Second Test. However, history is a powerful force and clearly the legend behind the Lions shirt, some lucky breaks and some outstanding defence last weekend enabled the Lions to suddenly turn this series on its head albeit by the narrowest of margins. With expectations now raised to a fever pitch for both sets of players and supporters, this weekend’s epic showdown at Eden Park has the potential to go down as one of the biggest Lions encounters in recent memory. All that being said though spare a thought for the Men in Red as what they are being asked to do, has been done by very few and next to hoisting the Webb Ellis trophy aloft is probably one of the most daunting challenges faced by any rugby team in the professional era. Eden Park is probably one of the most hallowed grounds in rugby with an almost religious reverence and awe attached to it, and since 1994 only those who wear black emerge triumphant. If and it’s a very big if the Lions were to completely upset the enormous odds stacked against them, they would go down in history as one of the greatest Lions touring outfits ever despite their middling fortunes in the provincial matches this tour. New Zealand will simply not entertain the idea of coming off second best and as a result the Lions will have to find yet another higher gear from last weekend, something we are not convinced they have in the long run. Either way an epic Test awaits as this Series has suddenly become the most exciting rugby event since the World Cup!

New Zealand vs British and Irish Lions
Saturday, July 8th

As mentioned above we were fairly certain when this tour started that the preview of this match would be one based on a damage limitation exercise as the Lions would have lost the first two Tests and thus the series. Last weekend, proved us blissfully wrong even though against our better judgement we hoped and even dared to predict a Lions win, despite much of our analysis heavily favoring the All Blacks. It was a prediction based simply on heart and less on common sense and one which wanted to see a series decider so that the tradition of Lions tours was held intact. We were delighted that we were ultimately given cause to celebrate after an enthralling Test match. Sure there was controversy aplenty at times, and the Lions did get lucky to a certain extent, but when it mattered most they held their nerve and threw the All Blacks off course, something we see very rarely.

We agree with many of the articles that we’ve seen¬†since the epic dustup in Wellington last Saturday, that had the All Blacks been playing with a full complement of fifteen men last weekend then the result may have been very different. There has been much debate about the red card received by New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams, which proved to be such a pivotal moment in the match, and the Lions Mako Vunipola only getting a yellow for a seemingly similar offence. We have looked at the footage of both incidents repeatedly and feel that referee Jerome Garces did actually make the right call. Vunipola’s challenge was clumsy and careless but he appears to glance off Barrett in attempting the charge down rather than deliberately aiming for his head as some aggrieved supporters suggest. The Sonny Bill Williams challenge is equally clumsy but his shoulder charge with no arms going into the tackle is clearly aimed at Anthony Watson’s head where he makes contact. Sadly in the interests of player welfare the call had to be made as the Williams challenge is potentially more dangerous than that of Vunipola’s even though we don’t actually think it was intended with any malice on the part of Williams. The debate on this is likely to rage long after Romain Poite’s final series ending whistle on Saturday, but it was an important call that needed to be made even if it did have a huge impact on the outcome of the second Test.

The Lions at times were lucky to win on Saturday. Although they were spectacular in defence and weathered their patch with only 14 men exceptionally well, after Vunipola’s yellow card, there were still too many errors and for a thirty minute period up to around the 65th minute their discipline was woeful. Had New Zealand fly half Beauden Barrett been more accurate with the boot we’d be having a much different history lesson. However, they upped their intensity dramatically from the first Test, and at times played some outstanding rugby and most importantly outscored the All Blacks in the try department 2 tries to none. In the last ten minutes it may not have been pretty but the Lions managed to hang on against a determined New Zealand onslaught. Perhaps most important of all they clearly rattled the All Blacks to the point where they looked unsure of themselves and just a tad disorganised, something they are usually able to fix by the final quarter but not so last weekend in Wellington. To achieve this against an All Black side on home soil is a clear testament to the fact that although it may not have been perfect last weekend, the Lions found something special to bring to the table in Wellington which had eluded them up to that point.

So more of the same will be required this weekend, but the Lions, if they are to stand any chance, must improve and build on the tactics that worked so well for them in Wellington. Just like last Saturday it is going to be a titanic struggle in the forwards with no quarter given. Apart from a purple patch in terms of discipline the Lions were outstanding at the breakdown in the Second Test and expect no quarters to be given here once more. In the front rows though we still hand the edge to New Zealand, as despite the Lions heroics we feel the experience of New Zealand’s two props Joe Moody and Owen Franks is just too much for the Lions’ Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong despite some real heroics from the Lions duo on this tour. New Zealand’s Codie Taylor has really caught the eye at Hooker and while we have been very impressed by Jamie George, Taylor possesses many of the traits that make regular All Black stalwart in the position, Dane Coles, so devastating especially in attack. The second row partnership of New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock still is without equal in our opinion despite the result last weekend. Maro Itoje was tremendous for the Lions but also attracted the attention of the referee far too much for our liking in Wellington. Consequently for us 1-5 is still weighted heavily in favor of New Zealand for this Saturday’s match up. In the back rows though we really liked what we saw from the Lions in Wellington. Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien were exceptionally effective at the breakdown and really got under the skin of New Zealand, while Taulupe Faletau was outstanding at number eight and clearly got the better of New Zealand’s Kieran Read. We very much doubt that the trio of Read, Jerome Kaino and Sam Cane, are likely to be as out of sorts as they were in Wellington – to say that revenge will be on the minds of these three exceptionally talented and very physical gentlemen is an understatement. Consequently although Warburton and company are likely to give as good as they get for the Lions, we hand the advantage to the All Blacks overall up front in Auckland tomorrow.

The half back battle tomorrow should once again prove fascinating. The Lions Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton got the measure of New Zealand’s Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett last weekend and stand a good chance of doing so again this Saturday. However, with so much to play for in front of a home crowd, as talented as the Lions duo are, coupled with the fact that they are teammates at Test level for Ireland, the New Zealand duo are unlikely to be as off the pace as they were last weekend. In short an even contest here, with Barrett’s remarkable skill set just giving New Zealand the edge on what should be a drier and consequently pacier pitch.

In the backs, it’s experimentation time for New Zealand as they are denied the use of Sonny Bill Williams due to suspension, and Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith due to injury. The wings see the return of Julian Savea, and while this player is potentially one of New Zealand’s biggest threats we still feel that his form of late has still been hit and miss. When on form he is truly unstoppable but if the Lions can get the measure of him, they have the potential to negate whatever threat he may pose, however we’re not sure Anthony Watson is the man to do it if Savea finds his groove tomorrow. Much the same could be said of Savea’s colleague on the opposite wing Israel Dagg. We thought he had a poor game by his considerably high standards last weekend and the Lions Elliot Daly clearly got the better of him especially under the high ball, and to be honest we expect to see no change here tomorrow. In the centres though it’s danger all round from New Zealand. Despite their relative lack of Test Caps, Anton Lienert-Brown and Ngani Laumape spell trouble from the opening whistle. Ever since his debut last year we have been huge fans of Lienert-Brown and think he is a real threat on attack and defence. Laumape also shows some real strength and skill so expect some fireworks from this newcomer. Although we think the Lions Jonathan Davies is having a stellar tour at centre and has been one of their best players, we are not convinced that outside the England setup, the Lions’ Owen Farrell is working as well or effectively as he could at number 12. As a result we see some dominance by the All Blacks as the order of the day tomorrow in this area of the park. Lastly at fullback we are relishing the opportunity to see Beauden Barrett’s younger brother Jordie get his first All Black cap. He has shown that he has many of the extraordinary skills possessed by his brother, and we expect him to form quite the dynamic and potentially unstoppable duo with Beauden on Saturday. The Lions’ Liam Williams has still scored one of the best tries of the series in the opening Test and he will need to draw on all his experience to contain the unknown X-factor of his All Black opposite Jordie Barrett, but despite his lack of Test experience we’re giving the Kiwi the edge here.

The benches look evenly matched for tomorrow’s encounter, though we still just give the Lions’ the slight advantage here, despite it being really hard to gauge their effectiveness from last weekend as they were hardly used. However, once unleashed last Saturday in Wellington New Zealand replacement scrum half TJ Perenara and flanker Ardie Savea looked absolutely lethal and the Lions will have to draw on every last ounce of reserve to keep these two at bay in the final quarter. In short we think the Lions will hold their own for the first hour, but eventually bodies will tire and discipline will slip against a much more highly tuned and clinical All Black onslaught than what we saw last weekend in Wellington. A riveting contest should be in the making but one in which the All Blacks will ultimately regain the kind of composure and dominance they are so used to finding in the final quarter coupled to their legendary finishing skills. We’d love to see the history books rewritten for the good of the global game, but feel that the challenge facing a brave and highly motivated Lions side is just too big and consequently the All Blacks to seal the series 2-1 by 11 points!

It’s crunch time for both the Lions and Canada this weekend as both head into Test matches they simply have to win. The Lions to keep the series alive, and Canada to keep their World Cup dreams alive as they head into the second round of a two Test World Cup qualifying battle with the United States. The Lions came unstuck in the end last weekend after a brave fight and a try to be remembered, but ultimately just couldn’t match the sheer skill and finesse of an All Black side that for all intents and purposes was just warming up. Meanwhile Canada put on a heroic showing for the home crowd in Hamilton in a thrilling match but once more their lack of execution, missed opportunities and inability to close out big games came back to haunt them resulting in them having to settle for a draw. Nevertheless in Canada’s case they at least managed to break a depressing string of losses albeit with a draw.

New Zealand vs British and Irish Lions
Saturday, July 1st

As the Lions head into a crucial and potentially series deciding second Test with the All Blacks this weekend, the omens don’t look good for the Men in Red. While there were flashes of sheer brilliance last weekend, epitomised by Liam Williams break out from the Lions 22 resulting in Sean O’Brien’s try for the Lions, the Lions performance was ultimately overshadowed by a truly mesmerizing display of skills by the All Blacks, which sadly only served to highlight the glaring differences between New Zealand and the rest of the world. There is no doubt that the Lions will be up for this weekend’s encounter in no uncertain terms, as the aura of the Lions jersey is still a powerful talisman, but spirit alone may simply not be enough to overcome the all round ability that seems to be in endless supply in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

There is a serious danger that after this weekend, this Lions Tour may end up being one of the most overhyped and undercooked Lions tours in history. Put your hands up if you didn’t cringe during Sky Sports pre match coverage when Scott Baldwin pranced around the pitch at Eden Park in some sort of embarrassing Game of Thrones spin-off. We actually switched to the New Zealand coverage of the match after the first 20 minutes which we found much more balanced and down to earth. We always had our doubts about the choice of Warren Gatland as tour Coach, anxieties that were reinforced when we saw Rob Howley thrown into the coaching mix. Still all that aside it’s a Lions Tour and wearing the sacred red jersey is always a special talisman for the players, whatever adversities they may be faced with. With the Lions 1-0 down they will need to dig deep into the archives of inspirational Lions history over the years if they are to defy the odds and overcome an All Black team that has few if any chinks in its armor.

Some pundits seem to be labouring under the illusion that the wet weather forecast in abundance for Saturday’s match in Wellington is likely to favor the Lions. We are struggling with the reasoning behind this. If you’ve ever been to New Zealand and Wellington in particular, you’ll know it’s one of the wettest and windiest cities on the planet, making Europe’s damp winters seem lightweight by comparison. In short, European teams may be used to plenty of wet weather ball, but the New Zealanders are no strangers to it either.  Try chucking a rugby ball around in Invercargilll in the middle of July and you’ll see what we mean.

As pointed out above the Lions did put in a worthy shift at Eden Park last weekend. While they were ultimately outclassed they did hold their own for long periods of the match and defensively at times were superb. However, the continuous onslaught of black jerseys clearly took its toll as many of the Lions players looked dead on their feet by the sixty minute mark with the bench struggling to shore up the damaged walls. The All Blacks by comparison looked like they were just getting started on the hour mark. The intensity from both sides was ferocious but New Zealand’s execution was simply streets ahead of the Lions, and the error count was simply too costly for the Lions despite some enterprising and potentially game changing moments. Spilled passes, fumbled catches and lapses in defensive focus were the Lions Achilles Heel all afternoon.

This weekend the Lions will have to find something special as the All Black line up for Saturday looks to have few if any weaknesses even with the absence of the incomparable Dane Coles at Hooker and the withdrawal of fullback Ben Smith and centre Ryan Crotty due to injury. We felt that the tactic of using Conor Murray’s box kicking was overplayed last weekend especially as the match wore on and New Zealand were simply able to read it too well and place players accordingly. While the wet weather may tempt the Lions into more of the same we hope it is not the case as even in the wet the All Blacks have shown few weaknesses in terms of the aerial game, whereas the Lions kicking game was often error strewn and didn’t go to hand often enough last weekend.

We thought last weekend that New Zealand might have had the edge up front and if they were able to smother the ball through positions 1-10, a tough and grinding physical encounter might just swing their way especially once the bench started making its presence felt. After what we saw last weekend, we can’t help feeling that New Zealand has the clear dominance up front, let alone in the backs. The Lions front row was bossed around at scrum time last weekend and expect more of the same on Saturday.  Vunipola, Furlong and George all put in an admirable shift last weekend but the All Black front row of Moody, Taylor and Franks had the mobility, strength and discipline to get the upper hand and we see no reason to expect any different this weekend. In the second row, New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock made mincemeat of the Lions George Kruis and Alun-Wyn Jones. So much so that we are flabbergasted to see Jones in the starting lineup again this weekend, as he looked distinctly tired at the best of times last weekend. While George Kruis didn’t exactly have a stellar game we feel that partnered with Maro Itoje, who gets his start this weekend, the efficiency of the Lions in this area of the park would be greatly improved. While we are heartened to see Courtney Lawes on the bench for the Lions, his strength and quiet rage would have been more effective than Jones in our opinion. In the back row, once more it’s all about the All Blacks. Sam Cane and Kieran Read were immense for New Zealand last weekend with Captain Read showing off some extraordinary skill and foresight in setting up one of New Zealand’s tries from the scrum. We feel that Peter O’Mahony had an excellent game last weekend and worry that Gatland will regret the decision to not give last week’s Captain a spot on the bench. Sam Warburton has Lions experience and can be a real warrior but we just don’t think he has the puff and fitness to last a match of this intensity. Taulupe Faletau had a good game last weekend but was simply no match for the awesome presence of his All Black counterpart and Captain extraordinaire Kieran Read.

In the half backs, we just can’t help feeling that the combination of Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett is too much for the Irish duo of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. Sexton is a bit like the French team, as you are never sure which version you are going to get on the day, plus given his injury frailties despite his bravery and willingness to throw himself into the fray headfirst, the All Blacks will be targeting him all afternoon. We felt that Owen Farrell was completely outclassed by New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett last weekend, despite his considerable talents, but whereas Barrett was often the centre of attention Farrell appeared almost non-existent. While Farrell plays well as a centre backed up by a strong fly half, Sexton and Farrell have never partnered before at this level, whereas the New Zealand duo are a proven partnership allied to the phenomenal Anton Lienert-Brown and Sonny Bill Williams in the centre channels. Still the Irish half back duo of Murray and Sexton did get the better of Smith and Barrett last November, so it is not beyond the realm of possibility, but the weather is likely to favor the All Blacks in terms of familiarity and combinations.

In the backs while we can’t see any glaring weaknesses in the Lions’ offering, the All Blacks quintet just boasts too much all round talent. Israel Dagg who was outstanding last weekend on the wing takes the fullback position in place of the injured Ben Smith, and has proven time again that he is completely comfortable in either role. Liam Willams had a brilliant game last weekend at fullback epitomised by his setting up of the Lions first spectacular try, but as the match wore on he struggled to keep up and the errors started appearing. Anthony Watson had a strong game on the wing for the Lions and was dangerous in space but defensively he lost the plot at times and his execution in attack on occasion let the side down and the same can be said of Elliot Daly on the opposite wing despite some impressive carries. For us one of the Lions stars of last weekend was centre Jonathan Davies who we felt had a blinder of a game. We have always felt that despite some negative press Davies is one of Wales’ best players and when on form as he has been this tour, is one of the world’s most dangerous centres. The Lions will be looking for a big performance from the Welshman on Saturday and we feel he is one of their strongest cards. However, as mentioned above the centre partnership of Anton Lienert-Brown and Sonny Bill Williams is likely to prove too destructive on Saturday, even in the wet, for the Lions to really be able to counter it as the game wears on, coupled with the exceptional Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane on the wings. Ioane answered all the doubters last weekend in his Test debut regarding his inclusion in the starting fifteen over Julian Savea – in short he lived up to his billing and then some.

Once again we feel that the Lions pack the stronger bench, but we fear the All Blacks are likely to have done too much damage by the time the bench starts making an impact. As a result the Lions will likely be chasing the game in the final twenty minutes even more than they were last weekend. Despite the weather and the seeming inevitability of an All Black win, the sense of history and occasion is still likely to produce an epic Test match even though the series is likely to be wrapped up in New Zealand’s favour by the final whistle on Saturday. Consequently we are still anticipating tomorrow’s fixture with great excitement but ultimately predict a Lions victory by 3 points! Having said that though we like most, for the sake of a great series and a thrilling climax next Saturday, will be hoping for a historic if unlikely Lions win.

USA vs Canada
Saturday, July 1st
San Diego

Despite the result, it was a thrilling match last weekend in Hamilton. If Canada had cut out some of the schoolboy style errors they would have walked away the winners, something we to be honest in light of their recent performances were not expecting. Winger DTH Van der Merwe was as usual an unstoppable force in his own right and justified the price of admission regardless of what else happened in the match. What we did see from Canada though was some genuine passion, real intent and an outstanding attacking game, all sadly undone by woeful lapses in concentration and some handling errors that should have been left on a high school pitch. However, let’s be honest if you’ve read our ravings over the last few years such problems seem to be a constant in Canada’s performance and no closer to resolution. Away from home in front of an extremely vocal and patriotic crowd just getting revved up for the US 4th of July celebrations, Canada have just like the Lions a pretty monumental task ahead of them on Saturday, despite the many positives on show in Hamilton last weekend. On reflection, a loss in San Diego would not spell the end of Canada’s World Cup chances as they will have two more kicks at the can in terms of qualifying before the global showdown in Japan in 2019. Furthermore, qualifying in this round would put them in a pretty daunting pool with a rampant England, resurgent France and always ferocious Argentina – not exactly a Sunday afternoon stroll to the knockout stages!

Nevertheless a win on Saturday and the stress of qualifying for the World Cup behind them would be a big plus for a Canadian side that has taken a beating to say the least in the last two years, and one that still languishes in a disgraceful position of 23rd in the World Rankings. As mentioned above there were some excellent performances last Saturday in Hamilton but what is needed now is to pull those performances together as a clinically efficient and cohesive unit.

We felt the USA had the better scrum last weekend, and their second row was constantly causing the Canadians issues in the lineouts, despite some clear disciplinary indiscretions from the Americans. What we did like though was Canada’s back row efforts and as they did last week, we feel they have the edge this weekend. Readers of this blog know we are big fans of new lock Admir Cejanovic and barring a few mistakes felt he put in a sterling effort in Hamilton and we’re looking for him to take his game to another level in San Diego.  Fellow back rower Matt Heaton also impressed and number eight Tyler Ardron was back to his very best. We liked Phil Mack’s urgency at scrum half, and consequently are less than excited to see the much more conservative and pedestrian Gordon McRorie taking over the duties this weekend. Shane O’Leary had a mixed bag at fly half and expect to see McRorie take over more of the goalkicking duties on Saturday.

If they can cut out the unnecessary errors we still vastly prefer Canada’s offering in the backs over the Americans. Wingers Taylor Paris and Andrew Coe ran some great lines last weekend with Paris providing some useful defence. However, Coe’s schoolboy dramatics and showboating in an otherwise excellent try scoring effort cost Canada the match last weekend. Hopefully he has learnt his lesson. DTH van der Merwe’s incredible pace, strength and skill set make him a one man demolition team against the US defences. Van der Merwe can singlehandedly turn a game upside down in Canada’s favor and the US will need to watch him like a hawk on Saturday. We felt that Connor Braid at centre and Ciaran Hearn at fullback in particular both had poor defensive games last weekend, and both these players will need to up their game on Saturday. Braid in particular is a significant threat and Canada will want to see him put in a big effort on Saturday. Overall we just feel that the Canadian back unit is tighter, pacier and more menacing than the American offering and expect Canada to have the edge here providing the execution is stepped up a notch in San Diego.

On the benches Canada packs some serious firepower in the shape of tireless veteran Aaron Carpenter who once more proved to be the hero of the day last Saturday in Hamilton. Carpenter is a player who always brings something special to the Canadian cause and is clearly a source of inspiration to those around him. We continue to like Lock Kyle Baillie, and centre Nick Blevins always provides some excitement with ball in hand. However, despite Canada having in our opinion the overall edge in terms of talent and cohesion we just think the Americans are better coached and have a better understanding of the game they are trying to play. Consequently their execution seems to be better and they seem more composed than the Canadians. This and the fact that an extremely passionate American holiday weekend crowd is likely to be an even bigger sixteenth man than the Canadian fans worthy efforts in Hamilton, makes us hand this match to the Americans by four points! However, once more just as in Hamilton a thriller in the California sunshine awaits!

After a short hiatus due to the pressures of work, we’re back albeit briefly this week as we have a quick look at Super Rugby’s latest action. Also by reflecting on the past, we start our buildup to the Lions Tour of New Zealand which kicks off in a mere two weeks. So as Super Rugby gets to the business end of the tournament and with the buildup to the upcoming Lions tour to New Zealand as well as the June Internationals, we along with every other rugby fan out there have plenty to look forward to next month.

Super Rugby

The action is really starting to heat up as Super Rugby heads towards its conclusion in July, and braces for a month-long hiatus as the June Internationals take over the rugby world in the coming weeks, including the highly anticipated British and Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand. To be honest the competition is so far turning into a mirror image of last year’s, as three New Zealand teams, the Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes are utterly dominating proceedings with only South Africa’s Lions offering any genuine threat to the New Zealand triumvirate. New Zealand teams are clearly the sides to beat with even the two bottom placed outfits in the New Zealand conference the Blues and Highlanders providing plenty of fireworks.

The Australian conference sadly seems to have become the tournament’s laughing-stock this year, with even the top placed Brumbies posing little or any threat to the rest of the tournament’s teams, even though due to the vagaries of the conference system they are guaranteed a play off spot, which seems a trifle unjust as their standard of play has been far from stellar and mediocre at best.

In the African conferences, as mentioned above it is only South Africa’s Lions and Sharks who have made any kind of impact on the tournament, with the Sharks having done better than last year in terms of consistency. The Cheetahs and Bulls are languishing in Super Rugby’s no man’s land much like the five Australian teams. The Stormers have shown some real promise and flair at times, but an inability to perform away from their home field at Newlands in Cape Town has proved a serious handicap. Perhaps the talking point of the tournament so far has been the Southern Kings. Their recent run of form has enabled them to suddenly turn from one of the worst teams in the competition to one of the most exciting. ¬†Beating the Waratahs in Sydney and the Sharks at home has certainly turned some heads and they clearly have some talent that could well be some solid building blocks for a much-needed revitalization of a battered Springbok cause. Lastly Japan’s Sunwolves continue to remain firmly camped on the lower rungs of the tournament standings ladder, despite giving some of the big teams a few nasty scares at times, while Argentina’s Jaguares started the tournament looking the real deal, but already seem to be running out of puff at a rate of knots as the tournament wears on, much as they did last year. The last few rounds before the summer internationals next month will be key if the Jaguares hope to stand any chance of a sniff at a playoff spot.

The Lions

The amazing inspirational speech from the legendary Jim Telfer on the 1997 Lions Tour to South Africa provides the soundtrack to this video and as the title says – are you ready? We certainly are and can’t wait. More to follow in the coming weeks!