#360rugby: Aussies atone, Nehe just class, Lancaster's bomb

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Australia and Ireland turn up the heat before the Rugby World Cup.

In our weekly round-up of all things rugby, #360Rugby takes in the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship victory, Argentina’s historic win in Durban and Stuart Lancaster’s unexpected World Cup omissions.

Welcome back Wallabies
With a Rugby Championship title and an All Black scalp, Australia have taken a huge step towards redemption after a barren few years marked by problems both on and off the field.

In a remarkably short space of time Michael Cheika has instilled a winning belief in his team with consecutive victories against the pre-tournament top-two rated sides in the world.

It cannot be stressed enough how important this momentum is in boosting the confidence of a group of players about to embark on the Rugby World Cup’s “Group of Death”.

Cheika’s back row gamble of playing two natural number 7s in Michael Hooper and David Pocock alongside each other was a huge success, with the duo proving a menace at the breakdown.

The astute appointment of Argentinean scrum-guru Mario Ledesma also seems to have paid dividends with the Wallaby eight more than holding their own against the much-fancied Springbok, Kiwi and Puma packs. The Wallaby set-piece is not such a great joke after all.

Milner-Skudder the real deal
New Zealand missed out on claiming the Rugby Championship after conceding 10 late points but Nehe Milner-Skudder’s debut will still have brought a smile to Kiwi faces.

The winger’s brace of tries was just reward for a complete performance that showcased his variety of skills. The Manawatu native demonstrated good pace and variation in attack, commitment in defense and the quality of selflessness that Steve Hansen holds so dear.

However those who hope that the loss will damage the All Blacks’ World Cup chances will be gravely disappointed.

Four years ago, the Wallabies claimed the Rugby Championship and defeated New Zealand shortly before the All Blacks went on to win the World Cup.

These losses apparently motivate the team under Richie McCaw and with the Bledisloe Cup still to play for next week, the AB’s are anything but dead.

Pumas leave Springboks scratching heads
Los Pumas’ win was as huge moment in international rugby. Not only did Argentina beat the mighty Springboks for the first time, but they did it on South African soil.

The South Americans out-performed their hosts in every single department from pace to passion, with Juan Imhoff set to join Milner-Skudder as one of the wingers to watch next month.

Bok captain Jean de Villiers was ‘embarrassed’ by the performance of his team who have dropped to fifth in the world rankings and collect the Rugby Championship wooden spoon.

To cap off a terrible evening for the Africans de Villiers is back in the sanitorium with a fractured jaw that will keep the centre out for up for four weeks.

Whilst no fan ever wants to see a player injured (and especially such a revered character in the game), the layoff may prove a blessing in disguise for South Africa who seem to be at their potent best when Jesse Kriel joins Damian de Allende in the centres.

Lancaster narrows England’s attacking options
In the most controversial news of the week Stuart Lancaster announced that Chris Ashton and Kyle Eastmond would be joining the release list from England’s World Cup preparations.

The winger’s absence leaves Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell and Semesa Rokoduguni to fight it out for the remaining three berths.

Ashton touched down 13 times for his club last season and while the remaining four wings undoubtedly pose unique threats, none are consistent try-scorers and the Saracen will feel rightly aggrieved at his exile.

While Eastmond’s exclusion also raised eyebrows, Lancaster’s thinking is more easily justifiable.

Given England’s plethora of footballing options in the centre and the Bath man’s inability to replicate his club form at the highest level, his inclusion would have been a gamble. A gamble that Lancaster would rather take on Sam Burgess given the former Rabbitoh’s ability to break the gainline.

Heaslip lives up to the hype
Captain Jamie Heaslip submitted an inspired display as Ireland overcame Wales in Cardiff to moved up to second place in the World Rugby Rankings.

The Irish attack looked direct and organised, with total domination of their hosts at the breakdown and scrum.

The only sour note of Joe Schmidt’s afternoon being a late injury to flanker Tommy O’Donnell who now looks set to miss the World Cup after a superb match.

A loss on home soil has no doubt left Welsh fans wondering if enough rugby was being played in their team’s much lauded World Cup training camps in Qatar and Switzerland.

In particular Wales’ defensive deficiencies and poor set-piece will be giving Warren Gatland some sleepless nights ahead of the return fixture in Ireland.

Extra Time
If ever a coach was looking for the perfect demonstration of passion, leadership and commitment, then Michael Hooper’s try-saving tackle on All Black juggernaut Julian Savea might just be it. While the tackling technique left a lot to be desired, the moment of inspiration gave his team the lift they needed to win an epic match.

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Michalak among big names ‘rested’ for England clash at Twickenham

Sport360 staff 10/08/2015
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Anxious wait: Frederic Michalak.

Half-backs Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Frederic Michalak have been left out of France coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s 25-man squad for next weekend’s World Cup warm-up against England at Twickenham.

Saint-Andre has kept scrum-halves Rory Kockott and Morgan Parra, as well as fly-halves Remi Tales and Francois Trinh-Duc for Les Bleus’ first pre-World Cup warm-up clash.

Saint-Andre insisted it didn’t mean either Tillous-Borde or Michalak were out of contention for making his final 31-man World Cup squad, though. Tillous-Borde, 30, is coming back from a knee injury while Saint-Andre believes Michalak, 32, needs rest.

– RC: Cheika refuses to get carried away after All Blacks triumph
– RWC: Tommy O’Donnell’s injury won’t have the Irish running scared

– RWC: Anscombe determined to keep himself firmly in Wales’ selection

“He was injured a lot with Toulon this last season,” said Saint-Andre of the 71-capped Michalak.

“He hasn’t had any niggles in preparation but we wanted to give him another week.”

Some of the 11 players left out of the squad being taken to London are those from Top 14 finalists Stade Francais and Clermont, whose season only finished on June 13. One who wasn’t involved is France captain Thierry Dusautoir, who misses out due to a knee problem.

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#360debate: Is Dan Carter still the man for New Zealand?

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Mr Reliable: But Dan Carter is no longer as sure-footed with the boot.

Dan Carter’s place in the All Blacks has come under scrutiny due to a series of ineffective displays.

Our #360debate today is: Is Dan Carter still the man for New Zealand?

Niall McCague, Online Journalist, thinks YES

Dan Carter may not have performed to his decorated best against Australia on Saturday, but one bad game should not define his otherwise permanent class as the world’s best out-half.

Despite scoring three out of three penalties, his sole misfortunes were two missed conversions and poor kicking from hand.

Carter’s supposed downfall is hyped, and no doubt when the Rugby World Cup rolls into London in September, his experience and skillset will be central to the All Blacks’ ambitions of a third world title.

His capabilities as a match-winner were highlighted only four weeks ago against Samoa, as he inspired the All Blacks to an historic victory.

It’s fair to say the Islanders aren’t brimming with world class talent but the manner in which he orchestrated the game highlighted his reputation as one of the game’s greatest players.

This was seen through his metronomic accuracy with the boot, posting seven out of eight kicks and also the delivery of a cleverly weighed crossfield kick for George Moala’s try. 

Every international coach tasked with selecting their best squad want confidence, skill and experience, all of which Carter possesses in droves. Added to this, he controls the pace in attack better than any other New Zealand out-half at present.

Colin Slade, 27, and Beauden Barrett, 24, are the two replacement 10s, both of whom are impressive talents but their lack of experience at crucial moments of the game may curtail the team’s impact.

If you analyse Carter’s game there are few weaknesses: he has a quality long and short kicking game, he’s solid in defence, dictates the tempo of matches, makes valuable yards in attack and is an accurate goal kicker.

Most world-class players will come under scrutiny at many stages during their career. But to dominate in a position like No10 for more than a decade like Carter requires a natural ability to handle pressure at key moments.

The decision making and experience continues to confirm Carter’s status as the best in the world.

– RC: Cheika refuses to get carried away after All Blacks triumph
UAE: Rugby youngsters target progress at Malaysia U20 Sevens
– UAE: New Abu Dhabi Saracens centre ‘already feeling at home’ 

Matt Monaghan, Reporter, thinks NO

It is tantamount to iconoclasm but the time has arrived for New Zealand to look beyond legendary fly-half Dan Carter.

Even at 33, Carter continues to tread new ground, becoming the first player to pass the 1,500-point barrier in Tests during Saturday’s 27-19 Rugby Championship loss to bitter rivals in Australia.

Yet there is an increasing air of sterility and fallibility which surrounds him with little more than a month remaining until the Rugby World Cup kicks off.

A brave call is needed from head coach Steve Hansen to keep a hold on the trophy and to sacrifice Carter to a bench role now fits the bill.

Can Carter’s body be trusted to hold up for a month of red-hot competiton? The last two seasons have featured frequent interruptions because of muscle problems, affecting his rhythm.

The All Blacks needed a huge performance from him in Sydney and it did not arrive. Crucial conversions went wide in the second half as the Wallabies turned the screw.

This metronomic ability with the boot has seen his nation through many sticky moments during an exceptional 12-year representative career. Without it, the onus turns to his impact with ball in hand.

For a man with an impressive 29 Test tries it is incredible to think this figure has not been added to since he crossed over against Scotland in November 2010, creating a dry spell of 28 fixtures.

Hurricanes attacking hub Beauden Barrett looked much more dangerous in the 2014 Rugby Championship, while Lima Sopoaga has been peerless for Super Rugby champions Highlanders.

The value of what fresh faces and new ideas can bring was on show from both sides during the Bledisloe Cup contest. 

Wallabies scrum-half Nic White came off the bench to kick a penalty and convert his own try. For New Zealand, full-back Nehe Milner-Skudder delivered on the pre-match hype to score twice on debut.

Carter deserves to make the trip to England next month, yet the hallowed No10 jersey can no longer be unquestionably his.

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