18
giugno


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South Africa continue Southern Hemisphere dominance by defeating England in Johannesburg. By Mark Ella

South Africa survived a brave second-half comeback from England at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday to triumph 36-27 and take a winning 2-0 lead in the three-Test series.The Springboks dominated the first half to open a 25-10 half-time advantage only to see their lead trimmed to four points before right wing JP Pietersen scored a late match-sealing try and a ninth consecutive win over their English rivals.Victory for South Africa completed a great day for the southern hemisphere giants with New Zealand and Australia also winning to wrap up series against Ireland and Wales respectively.World Cup winner Pietersen was a deserved man of the match as his run from deep in his half started a move that ended when he dived over far out for a try that gave the Springboks a nine-point cushion with seven minutes left.A late chance for England to close the gap was squandered when they threw too long at a line-out close the Springbok try-line and the ball was cleared to the collective relief of most in a 65,000 crowd.The Springboks were always the better side but they gave England some easy tries at one stage although they played some great rugby in the first half, but credit must go to England for coming back and never giving up.England would have been very disappointed as they started the match quite poorly whilst the Springboks came out all guns blazing and did not give England a second chance throughout the game.A much improved showing at the breakdown and superb ball retention enabled the Springboks to dominate the first half in cold, clear conditions and turn over with a 15-point advantage.The green and gold were ahead within three minutes as an England put-in to a scrum rolled through the tunnel and out the other side for flank Willem Alberts to snatch the ball and race over unopposed.It was all South Africa in the early stages and they scored another try on eight minutes when the sheer strength of hooker Bismarck Du Plessis got him across the line between the posts and fly-half Morne Steyn converted.England reduced arrears the first time they entered Springbok territory with a break from full-back Ben Foden triggering pressure that led to a penalty which fly-half Toby Flood kicked.A Morne Steyn penalty restored a 12-point lead for South Africa and the rampant hosts claimed a third try at the end of the first quarter when scrum-half Francois Hougaard found space to nip over.Morne Steyn converted to give his team a 22-3 lead only for England to hit back when the Springboks reacted slowly to a tap penalty from scrum-half Ben Youngs and Flood raced over and converted his try.There was mixed luck for the Steyns in the closing stages of the half with Morne dropping a goal and missing a penalty and inside centre Francois going just left of the post with a 60-metre penalty attempt.England saw much more of the ball in the second half and cut the deficit to seven points with 18 minutes left thanks to a couple of tries from Youngs that Flood converted while Morne Steyn kicked two penalties.South Africa gifted the first try to the Red Roses by overthrowing at a line-out near their line and Youngs grabbed the ball and went over for a score that took an age to be confirmed by the television match official.The other try required no confirmation as England pressure against tiring opponents took them close to the try-line and when replacement prop Alex Corbisiero was halted, Youngs darted in to score and Flood converted.A gap that was once was 19 points closed to just four on 65 minutes when Flood succeeded with his first penalty shot of the encounter and the Springboks were clinging to a 31-27 lead.Rattled South Africa were under constant pressure and it took some magic from Pietersen to calm nerves as he began in his own half a move that culiminated in him diving over.Mark Ella

18
giugno


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A last minute drop goal from Daniel Carter gets the All Blacks home against Ireland. By Mark Ella

What a difference a week makes.This time last week Ireland were left wondering just what they had to do to defeat the All Blacks in New Zealand when they were put to the Test losing in Auckland 42-10.A week later they matched the All Blacks in every part of the game except on the score board which read 22-19 after All Blacks No.10 Daniel Carter kicked the winning drop goal with less than a minute on the clock to break the dead lock and Ireland's heart.Last weekend Ireland played with great spirit but simple couldn't keep up with the frantic pace of the game with the All Blacks out scoring the Irish five tries to one.The first lesson learnt by Ireland after last weekends drubbing was defense and pressure  and for the second Test played in Christchurch after nearly two years they applied plenty of both to the Kiwis.In fact for much of the game Ireland dominated and they were a tad unlucky not have come away from AMI Stadium without a victory under their belt.  Unlike last week Ireland started strongly and set the pace when half back Connor Murray crossed the All Blacks try line after 10 minutes of sustained pressure which was converted by their No.10 Jonathan Sexton to take the lead 7-0.Another penalty by Sexton nine minutes later keep the heat on New Zealand who knew they were in for one hell of a game.But as we would expect from a champion side Carter kept them in touch when the All Blacks matched the intensity of the Irish by kicking three penalty goals to go into the half time break trailing Ireland 10-9.The All Blacks came out firing in the second half and it didn't take long for them to regain the lead when another rampaging run by Sonny Bill Williams created an opportunity for their No.9 Aaron Smith to cross the line which was converted by Carter to give them a 16-10 lead.Penalties to both Carter and Sexton followed and at the 67th minute of the game the score was locked at 19-19 which showed the tenacity of Ireland after last weekends result which described their massive improvement in one week.In the 72th minutes Ireland had the perfect chance to go on and win the match when All Blacks full back Israel Dagg was yellow carded for a late tackle to an Irish player and I thought that it was Irelands chance to rise on a cold and slippery Christchurch evening.But nothing is simple when playing against a team like New Zealand who lifted their own tempo to keep the challenge on Ireland and played the game away from their own territory.The defining moment came just after Carter tried to untie the deadlock when he missed a drop goal chance with minutes left in the game but rather than head back deep for the ensuing twenty two meter clearance referee Nigel Owens from Wales ruled that it had been touched in flight and correctly awarded a five metre scrum to the All Blacks in front of the goal posts.Classy players like Daniel Carter don't make the same mistakes twice and he neatly guided the football between the posts in the 78th minutes to give the All Blacks another victory against the hapless Irish who can't for the life of them defeat New Zealand.It was a heart breaking loss by Ireland who improved their game dramatically through the week to challenge the best rugby team in the world and many pundits would say that they deserved to win.Nevertheless they have another opportunity next weekend when they again meet the All Blacks in Dunedin in what is shaping up to be another rousing game between two sides who simply don't hold back and give everything they have to ensure victory.

18
giugno


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Wales lose their second Test match against the Wallabies in Melbourne but earn the respect from all. By Mark Ella

It was always going to be a close contest in Melbourne last Saturday evening after the Wallabies defeated Wales 27-19 in Brisbane a week earlier to lead the Test series 1-0.This is the first time that most of these Wallabies had been involved in a three Test series against the same side and familiarity played a big role at Etihad Stadium is Melbourne with reserve five eighth Mike Harris winning the match for the Wallabies 25-23 when he successfully kicked a penalty after the bell.Wales who haven't won in Australia for the last 43 years were as expected much smarter this time around making sure that champion No.9 Will Genia didn't have the same influence and dominance but it was a tight game with both sides committed to the contest.The Welsh defense throughout the match was terrific with the Wallabies attacking in waves though the midfield but Wales keep their composure and made the Wallabies work for their precious metres.In front of 34,000 fans Harris became our latest hero when he replaced Berrick Barnes with only six minutes of play left on the clock and like former Wallabies immortal John Eales who did much the same against the All Blacks many years ago, Kiwi born Harris nailed the football between the posts much to the delight of his teammates and Melbourne fans.Wales started the match much more aggressively and they were rewarded with the first try of the game after the third minute when Barnes kicked into touch without realising that he taken the ball into his twenty two. From the ensuing Welsh line out their forwards hammer the Australian defense controlling the play for eight phases before sending winger George North across the Australian try line which was converted by full back Leigh Halfpenny to give Wales the lead 7-0.From this point onwards the lead changed nine times throughout the match with Barnes and Halfpenny having a penalty shoot out and even though Barnes kicked seventeen points himself Harris will forever be remembered for securing Australia's victory to seal the series against Wales.The Wallabies only try of the match came about in the 39th minute when Barnes edged his way past Welsh captain Sam Warburton and centre Ashley Beck to send a great pass to teammate Rob Horne who can certainly score tries if little else.Wales scored their second try of the night Jonathan Davies three minutes into the second half to give the away team a lead of 14-13 when Genia threw a crazy pass to nobody from a Wallabies line out which was quickly seized upon by the Welsh.It was another high quality match marked only by the stupidity of Wallabies winger Cooper Vuna who tackled Halfpenny in mid air to earn himself a yellow card at a crucial time in the match and a likely two week suspension which may put him on the bench for long time to come.Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is serious considering replacing Vuna with Kurtley Beale who late last week was charged with assault after an incident in Brisbane leading up to the first Test match against Wales a couple of weeks ago.For Beale's sake I hope that he is able to resume playing rugby for the Wallabies subject to his fitness and pending police investigation because he doesn't need these distractions to impede his successful sporting career.Wales can consider themselves unlucky not to have come away from this second Test match without a victory when they had enough opportunities to close the match late in the game only to be foiled by a desperate Wallabies side.The Wallabies will now be hungry to achieve a clean sweep against Wales in Sydney on Saturday and if Beale is present I am confident that they can win this last Test match which will put them in a great position going into this years Rugby Championship.Mark Ella

12
giugno


The Black Bus destroys Ireland. By Mark Ella

The man nicknamed The Black Bus by his Hurricanes team-mates, Julian Savea became the first All Black to score three Test tries against Ireland as the All Blacks were all class in Auckland over the weekend winning easily 42-10. Playing in his first Test Savea also joined an illustrious list of former All Blacks to have scored three tries on debut, Thomas Lynch in 1913, the great Christian Cullen in 1996 and Troy Fravell in 2000. It was always going to a difficult task for Ireland playing the RWC Champions at Eden Park because the All Blacks rarely play a bad game and last weekend was another outstanding performance from the All Blacks who crave success. New coach Steve Hansen had the luxury of giving all twenty two players a chance to display their talents as the Kiwi's played the game at speed and confidence making it hard for Ireland to keep in the game. Although Ireland will be disappointed with the final score line of 42-10, it could have easily been much greater if not for their tenacity in defense which was challenged on many occasions. In fact Ireland dominated the first fifteen minutes of the match playing great rugby, controlling the flow of the game by moving the football with confidence across the field. Unfortunately during this period they only managed to convert their territorial superiority by one penalty goal to No.10 Jonathan Sexton but as usual the All Blacks are masters of making every opportunity count with Daniel Carter kicking three penalty goals, two from fifty metres out to keep the pressure on the Irish. Savea scored his first try after All Blacks winger Zac Guildford dropped a return kick from Sexton in mid field 50 metres out in what looked like a knock on but they referee Nigel Owens from Wales deemed that the ball went sideways. The All Blacks quickly transferred the football down the left hand side before Carter gave Savea space to score In the corner to set the tone for the rest of the match. Savea scored his second try after after 37 minutes and along with Carter landing five from five to give the All Blacks a comfortable lead going in to half time 23-3 which reflected in their intensity and commitment to each other. Ireland were playing some good rugby when they has possession running the All Blacks all over the field but like most rugby teams they couldn't transform territory into points and from this moment onwards it was all New Zealand. It took only three minutes into the second half for The Black Bus to score his third Test try when he finished off a great set piece move which started from a line out on the right side of the field and finished by Savea in the left hand corner to give the All Blacks an unobtainable 28-3 lead.Although the All Blacks were dominating the game Ireland failed to give up and challenged the Kiwi's at every part of the game making them work hard for their points but in the end it was the sheer class of the All Blacks which prevailed. Further tries to replacement flanker Adam Thompson and centre Conrad Smith ended a fantastic first Test match against Ireland who managed to get across the All Blacks try line with winger Ferguson McFadden beating New Zealand captain Ritchie McCaw in a foot race to give Ireland some consolation. Ireland have not beaten New Zealand in 107 years of international rugby which is an amazing statistic, for All Blacks fans at least and sadly for Ireland they have lost all 28 Test matches play at Eden Park in Auckland. And sadly for Ireland I think that their record won't be challenged on this trip because the All Blacks look much stronger this early in the international season than I have ever before which is an ominous sign for the rest of their opponents in 2012. They are capable of scoring tries from any part of the field and they have the depth of players that is the envy of every rugby nation around the world not to mention the high number of quality players who would easily make it into a World XV. Ireland have the hardest Southern Hemisphere challenge of the three nations playing Test rugby over three weekends but they will learn the meaning of team work, commitment to the ball at the break down and what it takes to win rugby matches at this level. If Ireland don't adapt quickly to the speed of the game played by the All Blacks, The Black Bus will have a ball feeding off his inside runners who Iike nothing but to create havoc amongst their opposition. Mark Ella

06
giugno


Scotland send the Wallabies into disbelief for the second time in three years. By Mark Ella

When Matt Giteau missed a last minute conversion three years ago at Murryfield to give Scotland an unexpected victory over the Wallabies 9-8, the result caused ramifications in Australian rugby and the back door for Giteau. Last year leading up to the RWC Wallabies coach Robbie Deans picked a young side to tackle an unknown Samoan side in Sydney for their first outing for the season and again Deans was embarrassed when the brave Samoans defeated the Wallabies without too much trouble. And again in 2012 Deans had to face the humiliation of watching the Wallabies lose their first of 15 Tests in 2012 to a young and hugely committed Scottish side who failed to win one of their Six Nations internationals last season. After last years failures Deans is now under more pressure than ever and no matter what excuses he serves up to the Australian media the fans will be baying for his blood. Scotland are currently ranked twelfth on the IRB ranking and the fanciful Wallabies second but reputations mean nothing if teams like Australia cannot deliver results with any consistency. The Wallabies can cry as much as they like about the lack of time to assemble their team because of Super Rugby and that the match was played in almost cyclonic conditions but what they fail to realize it that the brave Scots are in the same position resting some of their seasoned players in order to give the youngsters a go. In the first half playing into a gale with rain constantly in their faces they Wallabies stupidly elected to put up the high ball only to watch it sail back over their heads which makes one wonder if they had any brains at all. After a brief period when the Wallabies dominated early possession the Scots used the wind to their advantage and spent most of the first half in Australian territory and they were rewarded with two first half penalties to No.10 Creig Laidlaw. As you would expect in such trying conditions both sides played the game close to their forwards and this was a match where the three-quarters just made up the numbers with relentless pick and drives from the pigs. Trailing 6-3 going into the second the Wallabies running with the wind at their backs quickly drew level when Mike Harris kicked his second penalty for the day to even the score 6-6 after 42 minutes. One would have thought that the Wallabies would have started to take control of the match  and again it was nine man rugby from the Wallabies with half back Will Genia looking for his forwards to punch it down the middle. There were plenty of opportunities for Genia to send his pass wider to his possession starved backs but no he elected to play wet rugby to the hilt to the extent that most of the Wallabies backs joined the pick and drive machine if only to keep warm but unfortunately to no avail. In the second half the only time Scotland crossed the half way and into Australian territory was with five minutes of play left in the game with the score locked at six all. The Scots maintained control of the slippery football gradually working their way to within striking distance and their efforts were rewarded when referee Jacob Peyper awarded a penalty to Scotland after the Wallabies scrum collapsed. Laidlaw kicked the winning goal in extra time to give Scotland a deserving victory in Newcastle 9-6 to send shivers through out Australian rugby for the third time in as many years. For Australian rugby supporters it was a wet and miserable evening with most supporters getting hypothermia watching the Wallabies make a mess of it all over again. It will be interesting to see what Deans does before the weekend when the Wallabies face Wales, the Six Nations champions in Brisbane because another loss will quickly set the anti Deans faction into over drive. It was a disappointing effort from the Wallabies and it would be a waste of time to offer any excuses for their insipid performance. But Scotland should be proud of defeating Australia at home and away which will give them confidence when they travel to Fiji and Samoa later this week. Rugby is a funny game if you have a sense of humour but in Australia we haven't had much to laugh about for years now and we are beginning to become very depressed and unsettled about our rugby which in my opinion continues to struggle.  Mark Ella

04
giugno


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Catching up with a Great mate and Rugby Friend Massimo Cuttitta. By Mark Ella

The best thing about rugby is the camaraderie that last life times rather than eighty minutes and it felt like stepping back in time when I caught up with an old friend in Massimo Cuttitta in Sydney last week. Cuttitta is of course the scrum coach for the Scotland rugby team who are in Sydney preparing for their Test match against the Wallabies this Tuesday to announce the start of the international season in the southern hemisphere. I first met the Cuttitta brothers when I arrived in Milan in 1989 to begin a four year escapade in Italy for my family and I that was the defining moment in my rugby career. Massimo and Marcello spoke perfect English having lived in South Africa and both these gentlemen made it easier for me to adapt to the rigors of living and playing in Italy in a football mad city like Milano. After playing for Amatori Rugby Milano in the finals in 1989/90 I was appointed coach with a one year contract which was succinct and to the point. And as Presidente Sandro Manzoni eloquently stated in broken english to me at the time, you win you stay, you lose you go. I then had to rely greatly on the playing group and the likes of Massimo Cuttitta to get my message across to the other players who could speak English but at various levels of understanding. In my first season as coach we went through the season undefeated to win the Italian Championship with the help of Wallabies super star David Campese who at the time was easily the biggest name in world rugby. In 1992 I selected Cuttitta as Amatori Rugby Milano captain seeing that he was a exceptional talent who knew the game and had a great empathy with his own players and opposition alike not to mention enormous respect from all for the champion prop. He has been scrummaging coach for Scotland for the last six years as well as assisting both Edinburgh and Glasgow clubs which now consumes most of his time. Living just south of Rome, Cuttitta commutes to Scotland every ten days before returning back home and whilst he seems to be enjoying plying his profession in Scotland where he is highly regarded by Scottish coach Andy Robinson, he seems a little home sick and would like nothing better than to coach in Italy. He acknowledges that rugby has been good to him and through some hard and dedicated work he has won four Italian Championship in 1990/1, 1992/3, 1994/95 and 1995/96 as well as representing Italy on 68 occasions, captaining his country 16 times. He was also an integral part on the Italian team when the growing rugby nation entered in competition against the games traditional foes in 2000 which is now the Six Nations. I watched Massimo play in two RWC in 1991 and 1995 and although he may not have had the speed and excitement that his twin brother Marcello was blessed with, like most good forwards the harder the challenge the greater was his response. We even managed to get Marcello it of bed when we rang him from Sydney and like Massimo he is coaching rugby in Milano and enjoying promoting the game through his past experiences to the next generation of Italian rugby players including his own two sons. Scotland does not have the rugby depth and playing numbers of many of the bigger rugby nations and it is always hard work to get quality players in numbers to make life easier and so Cuttitta doesn't waste time instructing his players. I know that in all rugby countries including Australia politics at the top level makes it difficult for former players to have a high profile coaching role and I hope that one day that both Massimo and Marcello Cuttitta have the opportunity and blessing from FIR to give back their passion, energy and commitment to Italian rugby. Mark Ella

27
maggio


Cheetahs continue Waratahs horror year with close win at home. By Mark Ella

The Waratahs travelled to South Africa hoping to return back to Australia still in contention for this year’s Super Rugby finals but a defiant Cheetahs side ensured that the Waratahs will miss out this year.Their defeat 35-34 to the Cheetahs followed up another loss to the Stormers last weekend 19-14 gave the Waratahs three points out of a potential ten and no doubt there will be changes within the coaching and playing group next year.Former Wallabies assistant coach Michael Foley has done little to improve the playing capacity of the Waratahs in 2012 and he must take responsibility for their poor performances in what has to be Australia’s strongest rugby state, NSW.The Cheetahs looked out of the game on a number of occasions but to their credit they never gave up and buoyed by the local fans they played with passion and commitment to deservedly to win the match. The Waratahs started the match on fire scoring two tries to flanker Dave Dennis and lock Sitaleki Timani within the opening five minutes of the game and the Cheetahs were struggling to keep up with the pace of the game.After last week’s disappointment when the Waratahs were severely chastised for kicking away far too much possession they punched through mid-field making breaks at will and doing it far too easily.The match was there to be taken and instead of putting the Cheetahs under more pressure the Waratahs took the foot off the pedal and allowed the Cheetahs to come back into the game when No.9 Piet van Zyl scored in the 14th minute followed up closely when winger Willie le Rouxx scored a great individual try four minutes later to even the score.With the match swinging both ways the Cheetahs continued their dominance when hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss intercepted the ball on half way to sprint to the try line to put the Cheetahs in front for the first time 19-14 followed by Riaan Smits conversion to make it 21-17.  This Cheetahs comeback snapped the Waratahs back into action when Adam Ashley-Cooper chipped over the top and regathered the football to combine with half back Brendan McKibbin to send centre Rob Horne underneath the posts.The Waratahs didn’t settle for second best when fullback Bernard Foley ran down the left hand side of the field before passing inside to Timani again to score his second try to give the Waratahs their bonus point.The score after the first forty minutes was 31-21 to the Waratahs and it could have been much more is the Waratahs have worked harder to control the football.Sadly it was all one way in the second half with the Waratahs scoring only three points from a penalty by McKibbin but the Cheetahs scored two converted tries to prop WP Nel in the 53rd minute and another great try to the flying le Roux who was the best player on the field.In the second half the Waratahs changed their tactics by playing field possession and not continue putting the Cheetahs under pressure by running the football.And whilst they didn’t kick as much against the Cheetahs as they did a week ago when playing the Stormers they simply lost their momentum and allowed the South Africans back into the game.When the Cheetahs took the lead with over 20 minutes left in the match there was still plenty of opportunities for the Waratahs to strike back as any good side would have done but this Waratahs side is deficient of hunger and they faltered because they didn’t want victory enough.  It was a deserving result in terms of effort and belief in each other with the Cheetahs holding on to outshine their more fancied opponents.This loss spells the end of the Waratahs who currently sit on 30 points, ten behind the Reds of 40 and fifteen behind the Brumbies on 45. With only one team in each Conference guaranteed a position in the finals it is time for the Waratahs to say grazie mille and see you again anno prossimo!Mark Ella

21
maggio


Stormers put an end to the Waratahs hopes of making this season Super Rugby finals. By Mark Ella

The Waratahs hopes of securing a finals spot in this year’s Super Rugby were all but dashed when they were defeated by the Stormers 19-13 in Cape Town over the weekend.Again in was a match of two halves with the Stormers dominating the first half to lead 16-3 at the break after playing attacking rugby with the ball in hand unlike the Waratahs who put up a barrage of high balls with little return.Waratahs No.10 Berrick Barnes never made much of an attempt to put the football through the hands and he kicked consistently which played in the hands of the Stormers.Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen and winger Gio Aplon took everything the Waratahs could throw at them and quickly defused the aerial assault to give the Stormers the advantage.Pietersen opened the scoring for the Stormers when he scored in the left corner after sixteen minutes to give the lead which the Waratahs failed to capture for the rest of the match.I would have thought that the Waratahs would have been desperate to win this game to stay in the race but their tactics were mis-guided in thinking that the monotonous kicking was ever going to win them the match.The Stormers second try came in the thirty second minute after some great ball skills from their forwards to put hooker Tiaan Liebenberg in the right corner to give the Stormers a healthy lead.After trailing the Waratahs for the first quarter of the game the Stormers managed to rally back with some entertaining rugby to control the back end half of the first half to finish with an overall possession statistic of seventy percent which reflected on the scoreboard.The Waratahs played much better in the second half but unfortunately they wasted the first forty minutes so it was a matter of playing catch up football and it didn’t take them long to score their first and only try.After two minutes into the second half the Waratahs centre Rob Horne crossed the line after some great lead up work from their forwards replacement lock Kane Douglas and flanker Dave Dennis to trail the Stormers 16-8.By this stage Barnes had stopped the incessant kicking and the Waratahs started to look like they knew what they were doing and they should have taken the lead when prop Sekope Kefu dropped the ball a couple of metres out from the Stormers try line.With penalties to both Peter Grant for the Stormers and Brendan McKibbin for the Waratahs the final score was 19-13 with the best team winning.The Stormers are at the top of the Super Rugby table and they deserve to be because they play with the right spirit that is enjoyed by all their players and it will take a good team to defeat them especially playing in South Africa.Fullback Joe Pietersen is only slight in stature but he plays with a big heart and gets involved in every aspect of the game which motivates his team-mates to rise to the occasion unlike the Waratahs who think they can win by simply going through the motions.For the Waratahs their season has just about come to an end after playing much of the year without many of the star players due to injury which shouldn’t be used as an excuse for many of their poor performances in 2012.They have lost four games in a row and eight losses from twelve matches which isn’t championship material and their coach former Wallabies hooker Michael Foley will struggle to hold onto his position.Players like Rocky Elsom and Adam Ashley-Cooper look disinterested and make little or no impact on the game anymore and it is about time that there was a thorough clean out of the Waratahs administration, team management and players roster. Mark Ella

14
maggio


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Crusaders meet the Rebels with a Cause. By Mark Ella

The Rebels surprise victory over the Crusaders on the weekend 28-19 in Melbourne has certainly lifted the odds of Kurtley Beale pulling on the Wallabies No.10 when Australia meet Scotland in Newcastle early next month.I never thought I would say this but the last two outings from the Rebels have been classic encounters against two of the strongest teams in the Super rugby competition.After scoring five tries against the Bulls the week before losing narrowly 41-35, the Rebels drew a line in the sand and made a pact that they would attempt to play at that level week in week out.But no one including me, expected them to come anywhere near the Crusaders in Melbourne last Saturday evening but not only did they manage to win the match quite convincingly, the gallant Rebels held the Crusaders scoreless in the second half which is an amazing feat on its own.The Rebels dominated possession in the first half but went into the change rooms trailing 19-10 and many expected the Crusaders to build their lead against the lowly rated Rebels but instead they capitulated under enormous pressure and a myriad of mistakes made it harder for them.Beale is obviously enjoying directing the play not to mention kicking two conversions and three penalty goals to keep his mind in the game. He looks like he is again enjoying himself and been in the thick of it is bringing out the best in him.He is playing flat and transferring the football with equally flat passes which is getting the Rebels over the advantage line and creating continuity which is something that has been missing from their game.Personally I would like to see Beale stay at fullback rather than move to five eighth because No.15 is a position which comes naturally to him given the additional space and his perchance for counter-attack.But when the time comes around Wallabies coach Robbie Deans might not have many options up his sleeve with injuries to other contenders apart from considering the Waratahs five eighth Berrick Barnes whoin recent weeks is doing his best to run the football rather than kick it.I feel that Barnes is off his game along with the Waratahs who were defeated by the Bulls on the weekend and although he can play in a number of positions, Barnes should be selected on the bench rather than in the starting line which means that Beale would revert back to where he started in rugby at schoolboy level.Playing Super Rugby is a lot different to Test matches just ask Quade Cooper because strong organised defences can restrict your influence in the game unless of course your forwards totally dominate proceedings which I doubt will happen with this Wallabies team.But it is amazing what a couple of great games can do for your confidence and if the Rebels can continue to play as they are at the moment Beale will be confident that he can lead the Wallabies into battle.There doesn’t seem to be anything that Beale can’t do right now because his kicking game is solid and his defence is also improving.Beale just needs to hit the football a bit straighter or at least have his support players outside of him running straighter angles and into gaps rather than across field drifting with his passes.The Rebels play against the Force on Sunday in Perth and on their current form it is hard to see the Force causing too many upsets and I expect Kurtley Beale to continue in his pursuit for the Wallabies No.10 jersey. Mark Ella

07
maggio


Highlanders dominate possession but Sharks win at home. By Mark Ella

It must have been a very frustrating night for Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph as his side completely dominated all facets of the game against the Sharks, except on the score board. If you are a stats person, you will be scratching your head when you learn that the Sharks made two thirds more tackles than the Highlanders with the later dominating territory with nearly seventy percent of possession, only to lose 28 to 16. So what can you make out of that?  Certainly the Sharks defended like their lives depended on it aided by some ill discipline from the Highlanders which kept the Sharks in the game allowing them to take a 15-9 lead into the half time break. It wasn't the most exciting 40 minutes of rugby I have seen with referee Steve Walsh getting frustrated with the constant infringements around the ruck area. The Sharks eventually lost Jacques Botes around the 31st minute to ill discipline costing him ten minutes in the sin bin. You could see what the Highlanders were trying to go and that was to play he game from side to side and run the big Sharks forwards around, however poor ball control, mainly from captain Jamie Mackintosh, took the pressure off the Sharks. The Sharks on the other hand were always running sideways and as much as they tried rarely put any pressure on the Highlanders try line. The only good thing to come out of the first half for the Sharks was the return of loose head prop Beast Mtawarira who was certainly putting pressure on his opponent at scrums. The Highlanders did have an excuse for being out of sorts as they had injuries to flankers Doug Tietjens and replacement flanker Elliot Dixon, then having to put a lock on the side of the scrum. The second half started brightly for the Highlanders with great ball movement with Mike Delany and Hose Gear making some decisive breaks giving encouragement to the Kiwis. The were rewarded in the 49th minute after a line out near the Sharks line resulted in Kurt Baker scoring in the right hand corner with Delany converting giving the Highlanders the lead 16-15. This try at finally sparked the Sharks into action with their backs and forwards, led by Keegan Daniel hitting the line with purpose putting the defense of the Highlanders under pressure. Two more goals by Lambie from ruck infringements by the Highlanders restored the Sharks lead to 21-16 then after a Highlander restart, the Sharks scored their only try for the night. Live wire Sharks half back McLeod caught the restart on his 22 line and ducked under two high tackles to link up with Keegan Daniel who kicked ahead which Hose Gear couldn't control. The result being that an ever alert Patrick Lambie swooping on the ball to score close to the left upright for him the convert for the Sharks to lead 28-16. Lambie had scored all of the Sharks points and obviously the momentum was clearly going the Sharks way when rain started not long after making it all the more difficult for the Highlanders to drag back the Sharks lead. The final score of 28-16 wasn't a true reflection of the game and it must be said that the Highlanders had so much possession with nothing to show for it. The Highlanders don't get back into New Zealand until Tuesday and then play the Hurricanes on Saturday evening which will be another tough game considering their injury toll. As for the Sharks who are sitting in third place in their Conference they now have a run of home games to cement their place in the Super Rugby finals, now the heat is coming on all teams as they will live and die by their results in the second half on the competition. Mark Ella

Rugby Ball