Do you want to buy the issue of Rugby World in which this article appeared? Back Issues Contact John Denton Services at 01733-385-170 visit http://mags-uk.com/ipcOr perhaps you’d like a digital version of the magazine delivered direct to your PC, MAC or Ipad? If so click here. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Hendre Fourie relaying another one of his stories to England teammates Dan Cole and Mark CuetoHe’s always fun to talk to, is Hendre Fourie. Never short of a story or two, the Leeds flanker tells a good one about how he first found out he was in the senior England squad. It was May last year, not long after he had done his bit to help Leeds avoid the Premiership drop, and there were mutterings that his reward might be a call-up to the squad to tour Australia.“Me and the missus had gone to the cinema in the evening to see Clash of the Titans and halfway through the film I saw my phone flashing,” recounts Fourie, who was born in Burgersdorp in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. “I didn’t answer it because I didn’t want to disturb people but I looked at the number and it was one I didn’t recognise. As we left the cinema I said to my wife, ‘What are the chances this is Martin Johnson?’ I listened to the message and it was Martin Johnson, congratulating me on making the England squad!”Fourie subsequently described his rise from Rotherham to England as a “fairy tale” – but there was no happy ending Down Under. In the tour opener against Australia A, Fourie suffered an ankle injury and that was that. No chance to compete for a spot in the two-Test series against the Wallabies, Fourie instead underwent treatment for the injury, then had a holiday in Bloemfontein. Cue another of his stories.“Juan Smith, the Springbok, has the neighbouring farm to the one owned by my wife’s family. So when I was there last July I went over to say hello and we had a good chat. I told him I might see him in the autumn at Twickenham, to which he replied with a smile, ‘Well, we won’t be friends on the pitch but we’ll have a drink afterwards’.”Even in his brief appearance in Australia, Fourie had done enough to convince Johnson that he was a player capable of withstanding the rigours of Test rugby. So the moment Fourie’s ankle injury healed, he was back in the England squad and he won his first cap in November.It was the culmination of a remarkable journey for Fourie, one that began at Free State University. Having played in the university XV with current Springboks such as Flip van der Merwe and Bismarck du Plessis, Fourie struggled to make any headway with the Cheetahs. South Africans prefer their loose forwards big and at 6ft Fourie got the impression that he was never going to rise high on the veldt. In 2005 he came to England, playing part-time for Rotherham while studying for a teaching degree at Sheffield Hallam University.Two years later he joined Leeds where he came under the tutelage of Neil Back, another openside who had to fight hard to prove that big doesn’t always mean best. “He’s done so much to improve my game,” Fourie says of the ex-England No 7. “He gives me small tips, little things you might not think are that important, but they’ve made me so much better as a player.” Fourie was called into the Saxons squad for the first time in 2010, having qualified on residency, and proved an instant hit. Here was a good old-fashioned openside, a snaffler and a spoiler. Richie McCaw is the acknowledged expert when it comes to thieving ball from the opposition, of course – as England found when they played the All Blacks in November. Fourie started the match on the bench, a fidgeting ball of sinew struggling to take in the magnitude of the occasion. “The whole experience was incredible,” he says. “Arriving at the stadium and seeing all the fans cheering, it made me very nervous. When I got to the changing room I was shaking so I told myself to calm down, relax, and treat it as just another game.”Fourie got on to make his debut for the last 14 minutes, by which time New Zealand had established an unassailable lead. Still, at least the after-match function was good. “I was presented with my cap at the dinner,” he says. “I also had a chat with Richie McCaw. Actually, I got my photo taken with him because of his stature in the game!”Fourie won his second cap in the spine-tingling win over Australia, started the Samoa game and ended the autumn by replacing the injured Tom Croft in the 17th minute of the match against Smith and his South African buddies. There must have been some choice banter flying about? “No, there wasn’t actually,” says Fourie, with a laugh. “There was no time for that. Bismarck did give me a playful stamp on my leg at one point just to let me know he was there, but the game was so intense we didn’t have time to stand around chatting.”With Lewis Moody out injured right now, Fourie has a great chance in the RBS 6 Nations to nail down the No 7 shirt ahead of the World Cup. For the moment, though, his mind is focused solely on England’s evolution as a world-class XV. “It’s really important that we use the Six Nations to continue building what we started in Australia last summer and continued in November. It’s such an important part of any successful team, to feel comfortable and confident playing together, and I feel a momentum is starting to build. It’s a blow to lose quality players to injury but we have the strength in depth to cope.”This article appeared in the March 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 22: Jonny Wilkinson of England kicks the winning drop goal during extra time in the Rugby World Cup Final match between Australia and England at Telstra Stadium November 22, 2003 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Stuart Hannagan/Getty Images) LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Everyone remembers exactly where they were when this happenedOn the night that Jonny Wilkinson retires from Test rugby here is THAT drop goal from the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the greatest moment for English sport since 1966.
Nick Williams returns for the Italian side after a shoulder injury sidelined him for three monthsMore than three months after injuring a shoulder, Nick Williams is ready to come back in the starting lineup named by Aironi to face Newport-Gwent Dragons on Sunday afternoon in Viadana (kick-off at 4,30 in Italy, 3,30 GMT) in round 16 of the RaboDirect PRO12.The New Zealander number 8 played his last match on November 5th when Glasgow won in Viadana. Despite this long period on the side line, the five tries scored by Williams in the seven matches played still make him the leading try scorer of the Italian side. His return gives Aironi more offensive options and also the opportunity to stabilize the pack.There are two changes in the backs after last weeks match in Swansea. Matteo Pratichetti will play on the wing, replacing Giulio Toniolatti who is called by the Azzurri for the RBS Six Nations match in Dublin. At the same time, Roberto Quartaroli returns from the national team to play outside centre alongside Gabriel Pizarro. Alberto Benettin is confirmed at fullback as Sinoti Sinoti (who scored his fourth try of the season against the Ospreys) is on the wing.No changes to either of the halves, where Naas Olivier retains his place at fly-half and scrum-half Tito Tebaldi becomes the first player to reach 40 caps with Aironi. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS VIADANA, ITALY – FEBRUARY 23: Nick Williams of Aironi looks on during an Aironi rugby training session at Lavadera Village on February 23, 2012 in Viadana, Italy. (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images for Aironi) It’s not only Nick Williams who returns to boost the pack. Josh Sole is also back at blindside flanker, with Nicola Cattina completing the back row. Joshua Furno and Carlo Del Fava are confirmed in the second row and there are no changes in the front row, with Matias Aguero and Lorenzo Romano props and captain Roberto Santamaria hooking. Starting XV:15 Alberto Benettin14 Matteo Pratichetti13 Roberto Quartaroli12 Gabriel Pizarro11 Sinoti Sinoti10 Naas Olivier9 Tito Tebaldi8 Nick Williams7 Nicola Cattina6 Josh Sole5 Carlo Del Fava4 Joshua Furno3 Lorenzo Romano2 Roberto Santamaria (cap)1 Matias Aguero.Replacements:16 Fabio Ongaro17 Alberto De Marchi18 Salvatore Perugini19 George Biagi20 Filippo Ferrarini21 Tyson Keats22 Emiliano Caffini23 Riccardo Pavan.
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Which big dogs will be let off the leash in the Heineken Cup this weekend? Here are just four ultra-competitive players to look out for in the quarter-finals In analysis this week, Gopperth will almost certainly have reviewed the way Leicester and Toby Flood played at the Stade Mayol at this stage almost exactly a year ago. While Tigers eventually lost after Jonny Wilkinson and Chris Masoe woke up, the first half-hour was near perfect. Flood hushed a hostile crowd by playing the corners, maneuvering the plodding opposition pack and smashing over goals from everywhere. The East Midlanders led 9-0 without breaking sweat. Gopperth has precisely the right pragmatic skill-set to carry out a repeat and bring Leinster back to Dublin for the semi. This set of Heineken Cup quarter-finals is possibly the most enticing last eight ever assembled. Each of the four ties is jam-packed with stellar talent and most of the continent’s biggest names.As the pain-staking European saga edges closer to a resolution, the weekend feels like a something of a celebration of this wonderful tournament. But who are the figures that will decide these high-stakes encounters? Here is a run-down of our ones to watch.Munster v Toulouse (Thomond Park, Saturday 1.30pm)Joe TekoriYannick Nyanga’s ankle injury means Toulouse cannot start a simply immense operator whose athleticism at times beggars belief. It is a hammer-blow. With inspirational France captain Thierry Dusautoir also absent, two-thirds of the trio that bullied Saracens three months ago do not take the field. Top 14 budgets bring staggering squad depth, though. Clermont v Leicester (Stade Marcel Michelin, Saturday 4pm)Ed SlaterIn Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury, England boasted the best lock partnership of the recent Six Nations. Even then, Dave Attwood – magnificent off the bench – was not far off winning a starting spot. It speaks volumes for how well Slater is playing then, that the burly Leicester man is pushing this trio for Test involvement in New Zealand. Another colossal showing against Northampton confirmed as much.Toby Flood’s decision to leave Welford Road and his subsequent dip in form put Richard Cockerill in a bit of a quandary just after Christmas. Robust as ever, Leicester’s director of rugby was not afraid to make forthright calls. Young Welshman Owen Williams was handed a starting berth – an inspired decision given his assured displays since – and Slater took over as skipper. It has been a flawless fit, and sparked Tigers’ traditional end-of-season surge.The Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin is an intimidating stronghold that has seen 74 successive Clermont victories. For all their eye-catching quicksilver out wide in the likes of Wesley Fofana (who scored a try on his return from injury this weekend), Les Jaunards lay foundations with ferocity up front. Thomas Domingo, Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines, Julien Bonnaire and Fritz Lee are truly monstrous men and it is not without justification that Leicester are an astronomical 11/2 with most bookies. But that’s how they like it. Slater possesses a considerable streak of mongrel and won’t back down. His teammates won’t either. A wrecking ball: Joe Tekori of ToulouseLouis Picamoles has recovered from a hip complaint to anchor the scrum, while livewire teenager Yacouba Camara brings pace and industry. Then there is a 123-kilogram Samoan behemoth to fill the final back-row berth. Predominantly deployed at lock, Tekori is the polar opposite of angular, awkward adversary Peter O’Mahony – Munster’s jackalling talisman – and marries brutish brawn in the contact area with subtle offloading skills. He may become exposed if the contest opens up, but the early stages at Thomond Park will be tight. And eye-wateringly physical. Expect Tekori to be prominent.Most sides would get intimidated by the emotional intensity of Limerick. Despite average Top 14 form, Toulouse won’t. They have already overturned Saracens at Wembley this season. Empowered by their fanatic home support, Munster are a hugely challenging obstacle to shift. That said, the four-time champions – bolstered by Tekori– will back themselves. In the thick of it: A burly Ed Slater gets involved against Northampton Saints Metronomic: Ruan PienaarUlster v Saracens (Saturday, 6.30pm)Ruan PienaarIn years gone by, there hasn’t been a great deal of subtlety about Saracens.It’s fair to say that they have preferred to batter the front door down than sneak through the back gate. With a pack that includes the Vunipola brothers, George Kruis and co., power remains a huge part of their game. Since September though, there has been another dimension. Enhanced off-loading skills have injected dynamism and Owen Farrell looks capable of creating things.John Afoa, Chris Henry, Dan Tuohy and Johann Muller must be at their very best for Ulster, using the template of their superb performance at Welford Road back in January. That day, Leicester got crowded behind the gainline and had no answer as claustrophobia descended. Amid the chaos and collisions, a diminutive No 9 called the shots.Pienaar is a supreme scrum-half whose game management – deciding when to look for territory, when to punch holes around the fringes and when go wide – is second to none. His kicking is world-class too. From the tee he rarely misses, from the box he sets targets and encourages chasers to contest. Without disrespecting Michael Heaney, the South African’s presence was sorely missed in the recent loss to Cardiff Blues. He’s back for this humungous occasion and will be a pivotal figure in Ravenhill’s hostile atmosphere.Toulon v Leinster (Sunday 4.30pm)Jimmy GopperthRetiring icons Jonny Wilkinson and Brian O’Driscoll will – to their cringing discomfort – dominate the build-up to this seismic clash between the two sides that have clinched four of the five Heineken Cups since 2009. However, when all the fanfare is over and these awesome sides finally go at it, another wily veteran could have a decisive say.Extremely important contributions: Jimmy GopperthMany raised eyebrows at Leinster’s signing of Gopperth when Johnny Sexton hopped across The Channel. In theory, the former Newcastle Falcons points machine was supposed to provide back-up as Ian Madigan fulfilled his burgeoning potential. For whatever reason, that hasn’t quite happened this term and Gopperth has been extremely important to Matt O’Connor, especially in away games. In fact, the Dubliners would not have reached the last eight without a two-try, 21-point haul from their experienced Kiwi in Castres during the group stage.
The Scottish Rugby Union’s strategic plan as of 2012 was and still is to build towards a Six Nations and a World Cup win by 2016. Despite this aim (usually greeted with a wry smile by Vern Cotter whenever it is brought up) and some post-match positivity by Dave Denton, the prospect of Scotland setting anything other than our own hair on fire come the autumn is now very slim indeed.With warm-up games against Ireland, Italy (twice) and France still to come, the best that could be said is that we are gluttons for punishment. The worst is that we face a real possibility of another injury-ravaged, makeshift and inexperienced backline (without Matt Scott and/or Alex Dunbar and/or Mark Bennett) taking the field as early as our first group fixture against Japan. Facing Samoa or the Springboks with the team that was so bedraggled by the end of the Ireland match doesn’t bear thinking about.Something to shout about: Stuart Hogg was Scotland’s stand-out player. (Photo: Action Images)Hogg was a big influenceStuart Hogg was Scotland’s player of the tournament by some distance. Revitalised after a poor season last year, when his club future and international temperament were questioned, he bounced back with a seven-week display of counter-attacking rugby that was not only wonderful to watch for neutrals, but as also at the core of what this Scotland team are trying to do. Shame no one told the rest of the team.The Welsh love Leigh Halfpenny, the English Mike Brown and the Irish Rob Kearney but if you consider Hogg’s three try-saving tackles in the first 20 minutes at Twickenham and also his failure to ground the ball late on against Ireland, that’s the trophy for England right there. Maybe worth a few Irish votes in the player of the tournament poll, eh?We’re not as bad as last yearLet’s try to end on a positive note or two. Ireland aside, there were no thumpings dished out this year. How much we lost by was kept to a respectable level and we were in with a chance of getting something from almost all the games, had the odd decision gone our way – especially against Wales, which was where the autumn’s momentum really began to stall. We also have two of the top players of the tournament in Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg, who were statistically beyond all of their illustrious peers. Scant consolation to them, I’m sure. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Ireland are currently much, much better than usThere was a sneaky hope that Vern Cotter could get some egg on to the face of his chum and sometime coaching partner Joe Schmidt with a shock result on Super Saturday (after all, Brian O Driscoll had retired, right?), but Scotland were comprehensively outthought, outfought and outplayed in the second half at BT Murrayfield.The most damning indictment of this was a ten-minute spell when a series of kicks by the Irish backs, Johnny Sexton to the fore, pinned Scotland deep inside their own 22. Scotland would secure the lineout, make some yards up the field, then either kick the ball away or turn it over involuntarily and – boom – they were kicked right back to square one in the corner. It was a plan executed almost without flaw, without the coaches telling them to do it, and was totally demoralising to a side low on confidence and badly in need of a plan B.We’re low on leadersShould anything have happened to Paul O’Connell (who was fantastic all tournament), Ireland could have called on Jamie Heaslip, Peter O’Mahony, Rory Best and Sexton – every one of them a proven leader.Scotland had Greig Laidlaw and Ross Ford who are both previous captains of Edinburgh and Scotland and played in all five games. Rob Harley has occasionally captained Glasgow and Jim Hamilton led Gloucester for a while, but there is a very thin layer of leadership experience in this Scotland squad and it is easily skimmed off in the heat of battle.Leader: Kellock should return. (Photo: Action Images)Many of our experienced leaders – John Barclay, Kelly Brown, Chris Cusiter, and Scottish rugby’s finest leader Al Kellock – were left at home, as was the inexperienced captain elect, Grant Gilchrist.Some may no longer be part of the playing setup, but if you can’t find big Al a job as awater-carrier then you’re not thinking straight.We’re not going to win the World Cup Scotland suffered a Six Nations whitewash and finished with the wooden spoon for the first time since 2012, so what lessons can Vern Cotter and co learn from this campaign? Rory Baldwin reports. Unhappy end: Dougie Fife wasn’t the old Scot with a bloodied nose after the Six Nations. (Photo: Inpho) They’d rather be part of a winning team than gather some nice-looking individual statistics.For that the wait goes on.
Fingers of fateEdinburgh No 8 Cornell du Preez executed not one, but two superb tap-tackles to stop Gloucester’s most potent strike runners from scoring. As well as bringing May down a couple of strides from the line, he also halted a dangerous break from Charlie Sharples in the first quarter. The two tackles showed what great athleticism and determination du Preez has and Edinburgh will hope to use him to greater effect nextseason after he missed most of this campaign through injury.Who’s the daddy?Much was made before the Edinburgh v Gloucester clash of the head-to-head battle between Scotland’s top two No 9s, Greig Laidlaw and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. It was the more experienced Gloucester man who out-shone the young pretender and Laidlaw’s cool head and excellent game management really came into play when Gloucester were defending a six-point league with 14 men in the closing stages.He guided them through 20 phases to wind down the last five minutes of the clock, mostly just popping a pass to the nearest forward and occasionally spreading the ball a little wider, but knowing that Edinburgh could not afford to give away a penalty and so would have to be careful at every breakdown. Hidalgo-Clyne’s day might come, but Laidlaw showed what a valuable asset he is this time.Hair-raising: Supporters of #IAMASHLEYJOHNSON will hope it’s not a windy day (Photo: Action Images)Hair-brained schemeHats off – or should that be wigs off – to the Wasps Academy, who have launched an innovative fundraising campaign for The Brain Tumour Charity.The young players will be handing out 15,000 Ashley Johnson-style wigs before next weekend’s Wasps v Leicester match, in return for donations of at least £1 per wig. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS This #IAMASHLEYJOHNSON campaign aims to raise at least £10,000 for the UK’s largest dedicated brain tumour charity, while giving fans the chance to emulate their hero’s unmistakable hairstyle en masse at the Ricoh Arena.Supporters who are unable to attend the match will still be able to donate by texting WASP88 to 70070 followed by the amount they want to donate.Robinson to the rescueBristol went into the Greene King IPA Championship play-offs at the top ranked club, but looked in danger of coming unstuck as they trailed Rotherham 17-8 early in the second half of their semi-final first leg.It looked like the West Country side were going to squander their home advantage, then – after a penalty from Gavin Henson reduced the arrears – replacement fly-half Nicky Robinson rescued the game for Bristol with a moment of magic.He darted through a gap on the blindside and passed to David Lemi, who sprinted in for a try and from there Bristol kicked on to win the first leg 32-20.A fine proposalMaidstone rugby club skipper Ben Williams showed a bit of star quality on Sunday. First he led his team to victory in the RFU’s Intermediate Cup final at Twickenham, where they beat Bridgnorth 31-18 to cap off an unbeaten season. Then the loosehead prop called his girlfriend Jo down onto the pitch immediately after the trophy presentation, got down on one knee and proposed to her. Happily, she said yes!Double trouble: Noa Nakaitaci compounded one error with another. (Photo: Inpho)The SinnersNo, No NoaNoa Nakaitaci had a moment of madness which cost Clermont Auvergne three points during the Champions Cup final. He attempted to field a long kick from Sebastien Tillous-Borde, but he ended up dropping it over the touchline. The canny Bryan Habana raced up to Nakaitaci as he picked the ball up again in touch, pretending he wanted to take a quick throw, which would not have been allowed. The Clermont wing stupidly threw the ball away, Habana waved his arms at the officials to bring their attention to the misdemeanour and Toulon were duly awarded a penalty which Leigh Halfpenny kicked, to extend their lead to 19-11.Off you go: Referee Jerome Garces points the way for Bill Meakes (left). (Photo: Inpho)Bad boysGloucester almost lost the Challenge Cup final through their own indiscipline, as Ross Moriarty was sin-binned with 55 minutes on the clock then Bill Meakes was shown a red card eight minutes later.Moriarty earned his time in the cooler by planting a knee in the back of Fraser McKenzie after a scrum broke up. The ball was nowhere near him and it was a needless bit of foul play which could easily have seen him get his permanent marching orders.Meakes was sent off for a high tackle on Sam Beard when the Edinburgh centre ran across him as a support runner. Again, it was a reckless foul and while some might argue it could have been a yellow instead of a red, it still landed his team in a heap of trouble.The mystery of the empty seatsFantastic though the Challenge Cup final was (especially as a Gloucester fan), it was very frustrating to see scores of empty seats around the Twickenham Stoop, when I know there were fans who had tried and failed to buy tickets.The Harlequins website says the ground’s capacity is 14,800 and the attendance on the night was only 14,316. So why, after Gloucester and Edinburgh members had snapped up their small allocations, was it only possible to buy tickets on Stubhub and Viagogo, at prices many times above the face value?Fan fun: Gloucester folk celebrate with Nick Wood, but more were left at home. (Photo Getty Images)I tried and failed to get tickets from Ticketmaster 12 days before the final and spent more than an hour in a telephone queue to the Gloucester ticket office last weekend attempting in vain to buy a couple of tickets for family members.Who had the tickets for the nearly 500 seats which turned out to be empty on the night?Were they people who had bought them in the autumn, hoping their team would be there, then decided not to go and tried to sell them at inflated prices via the above mentioned websites? Were they sponsors and other companies, who had not handed back unwanted tickets? The SaintsTreble triumphWe can all accuse Toulon of buying their success, and there is no doubt their riches have allowed them to assemble an unparalleled squad, but they still deserve plaudits for becoming the first side to win the top tier European cup three times in a row thanks to Saturday’s Champions Cup final triumph over Clermont Auvergne.Money can get you a long way, particularly against teams who have smaller budgets, but there is a lot more to creating a truly great rugby team than just opening your cheque book. The character of the players as well as their talents, the skill of the coaches to manage all the egos and create a proper squad ethos, the ability of the players to produce their best on the big stage – all of these things are important and Toulon have mastered them.Game breakerToulon led 16-11 at half-time in the Champions Cup final and extended that lead to 19-11 before Nick Abendanon scored a wonder-try for Clermont Auvergne to make it 19-18. It looked as though the balance of the game was shifting decisively towards Clermont, until a piece of individual brilliance from Australian wing Drew Mitchell gave the initiative back to Toulon.He received a pass after a lineout around half-way, scorched through a gap, swerved and stepped his way around Jonathan Davies and Abendanon to touch down for the try. Leigh Halfpenny failed with the conversion but the six-point gap proved to be enough and Mitchell’s contribution was vital to Toulon’s success.Nippy Nick: Abendanon cruises across the try-line for his superb try. (Photo: Getty Images)Nice one, NickNick Abendanon joins the ranks of the Saints from the losing side, as his 63rd minute try put Clermont right back into the game. The Englishman caught a poor clearance from Bryan Habana and ran back at the Toulon defence, chipped beautifully over their heads and collected his own kick to claim a stunning score.He ran 168m with the ball in hand during the final – by far and away the most ground gained by any player in the match – but had to settle for a runners up medal.May Day celebrationThe evening before the Champions Cup final, Gloucester beat Edinburgh 19-13 in the European Challenge Cup final, thanks in no small part to Man of the Match Jonny May. For once the wing wasn’t on the scoresheet himself, but he created a try for Billy Twelvetrees with a brilliant run from halfway and a perfectly timed pass.May came within a whisker of scoring himself after 25 minutes when a run from his own 22 was only stopped by a superb tap-tackle from Cornell du Preez.Accused by some of lacking the all-round game to go with his devastating pace, May was also excellent under the high ball, didn’t miss a tackle and even stopped a drive on the line.If no less a figure than Brian O’Driscoll calls your performance “exceptional” and “phenomenal” you have plenty to be proud of. Gloucester fans have a new reason to remember this 1st May as May Day.Chasing a lost cause? Cornell du Preez is hunting down Jonny May. (Photo: Getty Images) Dynamite Drew: A triumphant Drew Mitchell with the Champions Cup. (Photo: Inpho) TAGS: GloucesterWasps The stakes were high when Toulon and Clermont Ferrand lined up for the European Champions Cup final and Gloucester and Edinburgh battled it out for the Challenge Cup. Who placed the winning bets and who backed a loser? Either way, there were Gloucester and Edinburgh fans watching the game on TV, who would have loved to have been there.Selling tickets for the Champions Cup final throughout the season is a good idea, as it is difficult to sell it out when the fans of the clubs who reach the final only have a couple of weeks’ notice that their team has qualified. But if the Challenge Cup final is held at a smaller stadium, with a capacity of under 20,000, then the tickets should not be put on sale until after the semi-finals and the vast majority of them should go to the two clubs involved. I hope the organisers have a re-think next season.
Collision course: Samu Manoa is an integral figure for Northampton Saints TAGS: Bath RugbyExeter ChiefsHighlightLeicester TigersNorthampton SaintsSaracensWasps SaracensCurrent position: 2nd, 61 pointsFinal three league matches: Northampton (A), Exeter (H), London Welsh (A)They may have seen their European dreams dashed for another season in Saint-Étienne, but Saracens are in decent shape. An archetypal performance against Leicester a fortnight ago showcased relentless tenacity in defence alongside razor-sharp execution. Even if the Clermont machine won out, plenty of Mark McCall’s side look in good touch. Out wide, Marcelo Bosch, Alex Goode and Chris Ashton are firing. Up front, Maro Itoje is poised to add energy and dynamism. Do not underestimate the morale-boost generated by a heap of contract renewals, either. Tomorrow’s re-run of last year’s final will hold no fear whatsoever.Key player: Brad Barritt – a lynchpin in terms of defensive organisation and so courageous.Hard man: Brad Barrit trucks up for Saracens in their Champions Cup semi-finalBathCurrent position: 3rd, 61 pointsFinal three league matches: London Irish (H), Harlequins (A), Gloucester (H)Mike Ford needs to be ruthless here, because a return of at least 14 points and a home semi-final should be Bath’s goal. With the pitches firming up, their phalanx of classy backs – Six Nations stars George Ford and Jonathan Joseph leading the charge – can truly damage teams. Media circus aside, Sam Burgess could start to influence given a run of games in the number six jersey. Without disrespecting the Exiles, Harlequins and Gloucester, a trio of games against opponents with little to play for (and the sturdy safety net of Carl Fearns waiting in the wings) feels like a prime scenario in which to learn before the knockout stages begin.Key player: George Ford – the conductor of Bath’s incisive midfield who will also have so high-pressure kicking to do.Exeter ChiefsCurrent position: 4th, 58 pointsFinal three league matches: Wasps (A), Saracens (A), Sale (H)Attaching the adjective ‘plucky’ to Exeter should have been outlawed a long time ago. Rob Baxter’s Devon boys survived on winning promotion in 2010 – a seminal campaign for the club. This season, an equally important one, is when they began to really thrive. The bristling power of Dave Ewers and 13-try Thomas Waldrom forms a potent blend in the back row, while Henry Slade has become a consummate operator at fly-half. Jack Nowell adds the predatory instinct while outstanding tighthead Tomas Francis – slayer of the much-vaunted Saints scrum recently – is likely to fuel a tug-of-war between Warren Gatland and Stuart Lancaster. Sunday in Coventry will be thoroughly entertaining. Prevail, and Chiefs can sneak a top four finish.Key player: Dave Ewers – a force of nature. Arguably the best player in the league yet to win full international honours. He is that good. As a fascinating Aviva Premiership season reaches its final straight and a sprint to the finish, six teams are in with a chance of winning the title. We take a look at the contenders. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Long levers: Dave Ewers offloads on a trademark charge for Exeter ChiefsLeicester TigersPosition: 5th, 55 pointsFinal three league matches: London Welsh (H), Wasps (A), Northampton (H)Tigers centre Matt Smith hit the nail on the head this week. “We’ve got guys that have won two or three Premierships,” he said. “We know what it takes.” Whatever their failings this year – and with a try tally stuck at 26, superior only to that of relegated London Welsh, it is fair to suggest there have been a few – Leicester are ominously comfortable when squeaky bum time arrives. Only Tom Wood’s last-gasp score 12 months ago prevented a tenth straight decider, remember. Welsh at Welford Road represents a cast-iron five-pointer this weekend before what are effectively two Midlands derbies – occasions the likes of Dan Cole and the Youngs brothers live for. Stranger things have happened.Key player: Ben Youngs – dictates pace and tempo on the front foot, scraps like hell on the back foot.WaspsPosition: 6th, 53 pointsFinal three league matches: Exeter (H), Leicester (H), London Irish (A)All roads lead to the Ricoh Arena for a face-off between two of this competition’s most enterprising, refreshing outfits. Indeed, the hosts begin the imminent round of fixtures as the most prolific try-scorers in the land with 69. Electric pace has been their primary weapon, Christian Wade, Joe Simpson and Bristol-bound Tom Varndell key protagonists. Add in the dexterity and ambition of Elliot Daly – currently operating on an entirely different level from mere mortals in the division – and you have a fleet of threats. Dai Young’s pack, suspension-free Nathan Hughes and Oreo back row buddies James Haskell and Ashley Johnson included, is a force to be reckoned with as well. Neck healed, Joe Launchbury comes back to take on Tigers. That coup will bring the same feel-good factor as a world-class signing. Overturn Exeter and all bets are off.Key player: Nathan Hughes – dominant and domineering, he will be unleashed again following the farcical disciplinary fall-out that caused him to miss the Champions Cup quarter-final. Intrigue, excitement, outrage, indignation – the current domestic campaign in this country has encouraged just about every emotional reaction from a captive audience.With three regular season rounds to go, six teams remain in the hunt for top Aviva Premiership honours. The race to make the play-offs amounts to an extremely claustrophobic traffic jam.Two fixtures this weekend – Saracens against Northampton Saints on Saturday before Wasps‘ clash with Exeter Chiefs the following afternoon – will no doubt turn the situation on its head once more.While we can then, why no take stock of the teams, their remaining games and pivotal personnel?Northampton SaintsCurrent position: 1st, 67 pointsFinal three league matches: Saracens (A), London Welsh (H), Leicester (A)Rampaging form in the early part of this term has earned the reigning champions a deserved six-point cushion. Still, there are nagging concerns for their trophy defence. Jim Mallinder’s men have suffered comprehensive defeats in succession to Clermont Auvergne and Exeter. George North’s concussion worries continue, the England contingent seem slightly tired and their set-piece – Alex Corbisiero and all – was destroyed at Sandy Park. They have an excruciatingly tough run-in too. They should still reach Twickenham, but silverware will depend on whether the likes of Courtney Lawes and undervalued Salesi’i Ma’afu can rouse this stumbling giant.Key player: Samu Manoa – a hard-hitting gain-line bully intent on a grand send-off to Toulon.
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Japanese rugby is riding a wave of popularity after an incredible 25 million people tuned in on television to watch their Pool B win over Samoa.Having stunned the world with their historic win over South Africa on the opening Saturday of the World Cup, Japan have become the story of the tournament, and could yet reach a first-ever quarter-final. TAGS: Japan MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 03: Japan line up before the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between Samoa and Japan at Stadium mk on October 3, 2015 in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images) 25 million Japan TV viewers for Samoa v Japan. A world record for domestic rugby anywhere, smashing TF1 France record of 2007.#RWC2015— Brett Gosper (@brettgosper) October 5, 2015For their pool win over the Samoans, they broke the broadcast record which dated back to 2007 when 20.7 million watched France’s semi-final with England on TF1.Brett Gosper, the chief executive of World Rugby explained: “This is a significant result for the game in Japan. It shows that the general population there appreciate the sport and the amazing performances of their national team over the past few weeks.“Their style of play has really caught the imagination of rugby fans around the world and, as these broadcast numbers indicate, in Japan.”After beating Samoa 26-5, Japan are third in Pool B, two points behind Scotland, and a further point behind South Africa.A win over the USA would give them a shot of reaching the quarter-finals, but they would need either Scotland to lose to Samoa, or the Springboks to go down to the USA to make the knockout stages.That is in large part due to their tough schedule, which saw them face Scotland just four days after their win over South Africa. However it is still not clear which players will make up the new side, with a number tied to Super Rugby teams, as well as the Top League.That should all become clear in the next month, but now is certainly the time for the JRFU to take advantage of the exploits and popularity of the Brave Blossoms. A record 25 million people watched Japan beat Samoa in Milton Keynes on Saturday as they continued their fantastic World Cup. Eddie Jones is moving on to the Stormers after the World Cup. Photo: Getty Images.After keeping it tight for the first 50 minutes, they unsurprisingly collapsed in the final half-hour, going down 45-10.However, even if Japan fail to make the last eight, the sport appears to have grabbed the imagination back home, four years before the country hosts the tournament.The task now has to be to build on this success, with legitimate concerns over the future of Japanese rugby.Eddie Jones is leaving his job as coach of the national side at the end of the tournament, and one of his assistants, Steve Borthwick, is already being mentioned with regards to England if they decide to change their coaching team.The favourite to replace Jones is Fiji coach John McKee, the New Zealander who has overseen a revival of Fijian fortunes in recent seasons.Fiji coach John McKee is favourite to take over as Japan boss. Photo: Getty Images.Despite failing to pick up a point in their first three pool games, Fiji have been one of the best tier two sides, and have pushed England, Australia and Wales hard.He is also being tipped to take over the country’s Super Rugby side, and concerns over its participation appear to have eased, with news that the new franchise will be called the Sunwolves.
Close call: Tommy Seymour looks relieved but Scotland live to fight another dayEven if many are injury-stricken as a result while Scotland are still at near full strength, Wales, Ireland and the rest will all be accustomed to test-level intensity. Yes there is hope, but there is also ignoring the evidence of our own eyes. We so desperately want this young team to be good and we believe they are, but sadly we’re going to need a little more to go on than that in the knockout stages of a World Cup.Without wishing to come over all Private Frazer, if the performance that every Scotland fan sees this team capable of in his minds eye doesn’t materialise in at least some form next weekend – and for 80 minutes – Australia will quite simply rip us apart. Now they’ve negotiated the Pool stages with a few heart-in-mouth moments, Scotland can approach the Wallabies game with nothing to lose By Rory BaldwinThey say if you’re sitting around a poker table and you can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you. Looking at the quality of performance that was seen in the last round of Pool matches by those who made it (and some who didn’t), are Scotland the suckers?Let’s be clear, Scotland deserve to be in the quarter-finals, but even the most tartan-tinted spectacle wearer would concede that their presence in the knock-out stages has been reached despite them putting in a complete, or even nearly complete performance.Is there anything in any of our matches to date – dispatching three Tier 2 sides and being hammered by South Africa – that makes us think we could cross the line where Wales failed against Australia? Or that we could cope without our captain and our playmaker and still dispatch France?For us it is now a successful World Cup (unless you are SRU supremo Mark Dodson), but the improvement required from now until Sunday in order to remain ‘in the game’ suddenly looks very tall order indeed.Fan-tastic: The Scottish fans packed out St James’ Park as Newcastle turned into a Scottish fortressCould Scotland profit from being the ‘new Japan’?Being plucky underdogs is where Scotland tend to thrive, and no-one’s going to put us down as favourites to topple the reborn Wallabies. Okay, so we were party-poopers in the end for the Brave Blossoms, but perhaps Scotland can find a way into the hearts of the neutrals that adopted them if they can keep playing an attacking brand of rugby in games where no one gives them a hope in hell of progressing.The problem with that is that we need to actually do that, rather than applying dubious tactics (as seen vs South Africa) or barely turning up at all as we saw in the first half against Samoa. Show a little heart and a willingness to fling it about, and you’ll win the crowd over. Flap around like a fish out of water and the best you’ll get is an ironic cheer when you score that late consolation try.We’ve got a lot going for us on paper Point machine: Greig Laidlaw’s game management has been spot onDespite four good halves of rugby out of eight, Scotland still have players topping the tables at this tournament, not least Greig Laidlaw who has scored the most points (60) in the competition. The Gray brothers are both in the top ten for tackling, and even Ross Ford is in the top five for lineouts won (it’s also pleasing for Glasgow fans to see the departing DTH Van Der Merwe and offl-load champ Leone Nakarawa topping the charts).There are also fewer and fewer debates over positional choices in the team, although the back row blend continues to be a source of concern given Ryan Wilson‘s rush of blood to the head for his yellow card and David Denton carrying less profitably than he did in the warm up games.Greig Laidlaw is Borders born and bred, but the captain aside, it does say something that our two best performers in the group stages have probably been John Hardie and WP Nel, a couple of imports. Laidlaw’s game management has been very savvy, but there are still questions around his speed of service, with many fans left screaming at him to get the ball away from the ruck where Samoa were so effective and Scotland seemed to commit so few players.Pooper await: The dual threat of Michael Hooper and David Pocock await ScotlandThose screams will only become louder when the fearsome Michael Hooper and David Pocock are on the pitch, scavenging for any ball they can get.Time is running outOur continued mantra has been: wait till we click, we’ll give someone a shock. One-hundred cap stalwart Sean Lamont has this week been cautioning against writing Scotland off next weekend, which is the sort of thing we like to hear, even if all evidence appears to the contrary.Although we are back where we want to be as plucky underdogs, the time to build has run out in this tournament. Many teams looked like they hit peak form this weekend past in some terrific test matches. Relief: David Denton and the Scottish team thank the fans after the Samoa game LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
Big future: England’s Henry Slade makes a break against Uruguay at RWC 2015. Photo: Getty Images A full list of contents for the January 2016 edition of Rugby World Tour Tale – Former Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris’s night out in QueenstownFor the latest subscription offers, click here. Jonny Gray – Why the Scotland lock is destined for superstardomChristmas Gift Guide – A feast of present ideas for the rugby fans in your lifeArgentina – Meet the man behind the Pumas’ progress, Daniel HourcadeGrass roots – How the World Cup inspired one man to play rugby for the first timeStephen Jones – What does our columnist make of the salary cap saga?Oyonnax – George Robson and Eamonn Sheridan explain what life is like at the French clubADVICEPro Insight – Former GB captain Steve Brown on how to master wheelchair rugbyNutrition – How to get enough fuel during busy weeksFitness – Exercises to help you kick as far as Stuart HoggLong range: Want to kick as far as Stuart Hogg? We have tips! Photo: Getty ImagesPro Playbook – Sam Vesty breaks down a try-scoring lineout moveMini Rugby – Play kick and catch, and how to clear outREGULARSClub Focus – A round-up of news from the club game, plus interviews with Ireland Women’s star Sophie Spence and Zack Test of USA SevensEssentials – The latest books and products on the rugby marketUncovered – Sale No 8 Josh Beaumont on his journey to pro rugby TAGS: Highlight LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS With the 2015 World Cup done and dusted, it’s time to look to the future and Rugby World does just that in the new issue! We have exclusive interviews with three youngsters set to be key figures for their countries on the road to RWC 2019 – England’s Henry Slade, Ireland’s Iain Henderson and Scotland’s Jonny Gray. As well as providing a detailed insight into those three stars of the future, we pick a Wales team for the World Cup in Japan in four years’ time – how many changes have we made?On top of all that, Stephen Jones gives his verdict on the salary cap, one man explains how the World Cup inspired him to pick up a rugby ball for the first time and we’ve compiled a Christmas gift guide. Plus, there’s a sevens calendar for 2016 included with every issue in the UK and Ireland.Here’s a full list of contents – find out where to buy your copy here or get our free magazine finder app here. Plus, you can download the digital edition here.NEWSFive questions for Eddie Jones, Riche McCaw in numbers, 30 Minutes with World Cup winner Joe Moody, European Champions Cup, concussion tests, festive fixtures, women’s kit rant and a rugby quizWorld champ: Joe Moody on a victory parade with the All Blacks. Photo: Getty ImagesCOLUMNISTSJohn Mitchell – The former All Blacks coach pays tribute to Jonah LomuThe Secret Player – Our former pro gives an insight into Euro adventuresJames Horwill – Harlequins’ new lock on this year’s Big Game against GloucesterSPOTLIGHTSMatt Kvesic – Why the Gloucester flanker is just what England needDTH van der Merwe – The Scarlets and Canada wing talks turnovers and turnaroundsRed hot: DTH van der Merwe scores for Canada. Photo: Getty ImagesArdie Savea – Julian’s little brother is being tipped to be the next Richie McCawDavid Denton – The Scotland back-row on his roller-coaster move to BathCJ Stander – The Munster No 8 is talking Joe Schmidt’s sort of languageFEATURESHenry Slade – Get to know the Exeter Chief who’s English rugby’s next great hopeIain Henderson – The Ireland lock talks maths, microwaves and motivationGreen machine: Iain Henderson should be an Ireland regular for years to come. Photo: Getty ImagesWales – Who should be in the Wales team at the 2019 World Cup?