In this week’s #360rugby, we take a look at the recent Rugby Championship fixtures, the IOC changing eligibility rules for Rugby Sevens and the closing of the Tokyo National Stadium project having ramifications for Japan’s 2019 Rugby World Cup.
ALL BLACKS DAD’S ARMY? THINK AGAIN
After a sloppy performance in their pre-tournament friendly against Samoa, the Argentineans may have felt that they could cause New Zealand some problems. They would have been wrong.
Much has been made of the Kiwis’ aging pack, but they delivered an accurate, ruthless performance that blew the much-vaunted Pumas forwards away.
In the backs, Steve Hansen continued to experiment with combinations with mixed results. Sonny Bill Williams produced one of his finest performances at 12, with his off-load a piece of rugby poetry. However, SBW’s centre partner Ma’a Nonu was unusually quiet and is clearly not a natural 13.
The highlight of the evening for Argentina was the performance of captain Augustin Creevy, who refused to bend the knee. The hooker was the deserving recipient of two tries and the South Americans noticeably struggled when he was strangely substituted on the hour mark.
On this performance, though, it looks like being another All Black year for the Rugby Championship.
CLOSE FOUGHT WIN MASKS AUSTRALIA’S FRAILITIES
South Africa began the shortened Rugby Championship as favourites to win in Brisbane but Tevita Kuridrani’s controversial last-minute try snatched it for the Wallabies.
Unsurprisingly, there were jubilant scenes at the final whistle for gold-clad players but only after the Springboks exposed some major weaknesses in the hosts’ armour. For 70 minutes, the Africans pulverized the Australian scrum into submission – a fact that will have had England scrum coach Graham Rowntree licking his lips ahead of their World Cup group showdown with Australia in October.
One positive for South Africa coach Michael Cheika was the return of David Pocock. Combining well with Michael Hooper on the other flank, the duo were menacing at the breakdown. In contrast, Heyneke Meyer will be very disappointed that a lapse of concentration cost the Springboks a game that looked to have been sown up until the last 10 minutes of play.
However, Cheika will not be disheartened by his team’s showing. Schalk Burger rolled back the years to produce a vintage performance at number eight while the green defensive line underlined their status as the most effective in the world.
OLYMPIC ELIGIBILITY BLOW FOR NEW ZEALAND
The ongoing debate surrounding player eligibility has taken a new turn with the IOC announcing a minimum five-year residency rule for holders of more than one passport wanting to compete in the Olympic sevens.
The move counters certain countries that allow dual-citizenship in order to increase their playing bases and thus, their chances of winning an Olympic medal.
The new statute prohibits current New Zealand XVs representatives Malakai Fekitoa (Tonga), Waisake Naholo and David Raikuna (both Fiji) from playing in black at the Olympics.
In recent years Rory Kockott (France), Manu Tuilagi (England), Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa), Tevita Kuridrani (Australia) and Jerome Kaino (New Zealand) have been among players who have taken full advantage of World Rugby’s relaxed residency rules to further their international ambitions in the longer format of the game.
The governing body would do well do learn from the IOC ruling and increase the required residency period for want away players which would prevent cheapening what it means to represent your country.
– Related: Manu Samoa down USA in Pacific Nations Cup opener
– Related: Australia’s Cooper backs out of big-money Toulon switch
– Related:Japan announces 2019 RWC Nations Stadium setback
LANCASTER VIEWS BURGESS AS CENTRE
England coach Stuart Lancaster has ended speculation on what position Sam Burgess will play at the World Cup if selected by naming him as a centre.
This announcement will have disappointed the many rugby fans, including this scribe, who saw Slammin’ Sam as a wrecking-ball blindside flanker in the mould of Harlequins number six and fellow league convert , Maurie Fa’asavalu.
However international rugby requires a much higher technical proficiency from its flankers to those of the Premiership and no-one can dispute Lancaster’s argument that Burgess is still too green.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) July 17, 2015
England place a significant emphasis on their lineout play and intensity at the breakdown and currently the Bath man is not experienced enough in ‘the dark arts’ as is required at Test level. Imagine if Burgess conceded a penalty on the last play of a game that knocked England out? Heads would roll.
However England fans need not fret. With Manu Tuilagi unavailable for selection, Burgess will likely be used to provide the explosiveness and ballast to get England over the gain line in midfield instead.
JAPAN’S NATIONAL STADIUM IRKS WORLD RUGBY
Rugby headlines off the field have been dominated by the announcement from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Tokyo’s National Stadium will not be ready for the 2019 World Cup due to over-budgeting for the project.
The situation has provoked World Rugby into pointing accusing fingers at the Japan RFU for failing to meet their World Cup submission promise that Tokyo’s new venue would become the centre piece of the tournament.
— Japan Rugby (@JRFURugby) July 13, 2015
At this point World Rugby should keep things in perspective. The JRFU do not have the power to overrule their government’s decisions regarding national expenditure.
Instead World Rugby should focus on the main point that the Rugby World Cup is finally coming to Asia and will expand the game into important territory.
It is understood that Yokohama’s 72,000-capacity International Stadium, which hosted the 2002 football World Cup final, is now favourite to step in. Hardly the garden shed.
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In a sneak preview of their opening match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, world number nine Samoa kicked off their Pacific Nations Cup campaign on Sunday with a 21-16 win over the US.
Samoa, who dropped to a close 25-16 defeat to top ranked New Zealand earlier this month, jumped out to a 21-3 half-time lead against the Americans then held on for the victory at Avaya Stadium.
The Samoans used just five players from their game against the All Blacks. Captain Alesana Tuilagi scored Samoa’s only try of the game, while outside half Patrick Faapale kicked just enough points to stave off the US’s late rally.
Samoa and the 16th ranked USA open their World Cup quests with a match against each other on September 20 at the Brighton Community Stadium in England.
In the earlier Pacific Nations Cup game, Japan easily defeated Canada 20-6. Japan captain and all-time leading point scorer Ayumu Goromaru booted five penalties and Yoshikazu Fujita had the only try of the game against Canada. Gordon McRorie kicked two penalties to account for all of Canada’s points.
The tournament had got underway earlier Saturday in Suva, where Fiji came from behind to beat Tonga 30-22 in the only match to be played in the Pacific.
All the remaining matches will be played in North America, with the six sides split into two pools and the top two sides from each group playing for the Cup on August 3 in Vancouver.
South Africa’s squad depth will be tested ahead of this week’s Rugby Championship Test against New Zealand after picking up injuries in their heart-breaking loss to the Wallabies.
Crestfallen by their 24-20 defeat on the last play of the game in Brisbane, the Springboks are also licking their wounds. Captain and line-out general Victor Matfield was forced off with a hamstring strain midway through the first half and flanker Marcell Coetzee suffered a knee injury in the final stages.
Prop Jannie du Plessis also came off the field following a head knock and flanker Francois Louw suffered a nasty cut to his mouth. All the injured players will be re-assessed by the Springbok medical team in Johannesburg on Monday, the team said.
Matfield and Coetzee will be in a race against time to be fit to face New Zealand in Johannesburg on Saturday.
“There were lots of hard knocks out there and all these injuries will certainly test our depth, but the guys next in line will have to show what they’ve got and stand up next Saturday,” coach Heyneke Meyer said.
“We’re already without experienced players such as Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts, but we always wanted to use the Tests in the Rugby Championship to see what depth we have and there will probably be more changes next week.”
Meyer said it was another bitter loss to the Wallabies after losing in similar fashion in 2014.
“It’s heart-breaking to lose like that for a second year running in Australia, but we simply can’t dwell on it and have to take some harsh but valuable lessons to heart,” Meyer said.
“Losing our captain early was tough and we finished the match with eight players who were playing in their 10th Test or fewer than that. It’s not an excuse – we will be better for it and we will have to look at ways to overcome this.
“Although we played some brilliant rugby at times, our execution let us down and I think we left two tries out there, right at the end of the first half and midway through the second.
“We probably lacked some experience at the end when we needed to close the match, but we’ve said from the word go this season that we wanted to use our five matches in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup to get ready.”