06
agosto


Super XV – Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) miglior marcatore dell’anno. Carter al 12esimo posto dietro a Michalak. By Giorgio Sbrocco

Concluso il Super XV sul campo con la prima storica vittoria dei Waikato Chiefs, è giunto il momento dei primi rilevamenti statistici. In attesa di conoscere i vari Best XV del torneo e di assegnare alcuni importanti riconoscimenti individuali, risulta di un certo interesse andare a vedere i numeri di top scorers della stagione. Tutti mediani di apertura, come logica vuole, ai vertici della classifica dei migliori marcatori. Al primo posto Aaron Crunden (Chiefs) che ha chiuso l’anno a quota 251, dietro a lui il sudafricano numero 10 dei Bulls Mone Seyn (228) e l’Highlandr Beaden Battet  fermo a 197. Il francese Michalak (107) vero eroe della stagione Sharks si è classificato all’11esimo posto, davanti a Dan Carter classificatosi 12esimo. Due a pari merito con 10 mete personali realizzate i vincitori della classifica dei meta-men: Bason (Bulls) e Taylor (Hurricanes).Giorgio Sbrocco

06
agosto


Sharks run out of puff as the Chiefs claim their first Super Rugby title. By Mark Ella

The Chiefs were crowned the 2012 Super Rugby champions after a dominating display of rugby in Hamilton New Zealand last weekend against a tired Sharks outfit 37-6.It was always going to be a tough battle for the Sharks who had defeated the highest ranked team in Australia then flying straight back to South Africa to put away the Stormers before jumping on another flight back to New Zealand when their luck finally ran out.  The Sharks looked formidable for the first twenty minuted of the match unsettling the confident Chiefs with their robust defence on a wet pitch which made the football hard to control but credit to both teams because they handled the greasy conditions very well.The Sharks put first points on the scoreboard when No.10 Frederic Michalak, who was playing his last game for the South African franchise, kicked a penalty goal in the 6th minute of play which reflected their control of the match at this point.The Chiefs seemed jaded after a tough match last week against the Crusaders and they took the field without the intensity that you would expect from a New Zealand side.But that all changed in the 19th minute when Chiefs winger Tim Nanai-Williams scored after Aaron Cruden ignited the Chiefs back line when he chipped over the top of the Sharks defence bringing the Chiefs back into the game and from this moment onwards the Sharks looked frail and constantly under pressure.Cruden converted the try and added a couple of penalty goals to give the Chiefs a handy half time lead 13-3 with the flow of the game dramatically favouring the Chiefs who had recovered from their early inertia.If the Sharks were ever going to compete in this Super Rugby final they had to score first in the second half but unfortunately the Chiefs lifted the tempo of the game and the task for the Sharks looked bleak when Chiefs lock Kane Thompson scored five minutes into the second half which was converted by Cruden to stretch the lead to 20-3.Last weekend in Cape Town the Sharks big men simply out muscled the Stormers in every facet of the match but the outrageous travel demands finally paid its toll with the Sharks finding it hard to keep up with the pace of the game.Two more tries to Lelia Masaga in the 61st minute and Sonny Bill Williams in the 71st minute crowned a fabulous year for the Chiefs who under coach Dave Rennie started the season with a radical cleanout with thirteen new faces at the franchise.The arrival of these new players singled the start of a new era at the Chiefs as they formed a brotherhood to mould the masterpiece that was completed last Saturday evening with an emphatic victory against the heavily jet-lagged Sharks.This year has be a huge transition for the Chiefs which finished 10th last season winning only six matches and loosing ten which is a credit to the vision of Rennie and his coaching staff which included an old mate of mine, former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith.Under Smith, Aaron Cruden has developed his game to the point the he is now a serious contender of the All Blacks No.10 jersey just behind Daniel Carter.Last year I also thought the Sonny Bill Williams was out of his depth playing centre for the All Blacks but with Smith calling the tune Williams has improved his game 100% and it will be a sad moment for New Zealand rugby when he heads back to rugby league at the end of the Rugby Championship.In big games it is often said that defence wins matches and the Chiefs were simply outstanding against the Sharks who never looked like getting across the Chiefs try line.The Sharks can’t go without a mention. Whilst they were outplayed for most of the match the competition format did them no favours at all.Travelling from Durban to Brisbane to Cape Town to Hamilton was madness.No team could hope to overcome such as exhausting schedule having knocked over the best in Australia and South Africa had thrown at them, New Zealand was one hurdle too much.Every one of the Chiefs was on the same page in last weekend’s final and has he has done all season, Aaron Cruden led the Chiefs  in attack and his back it up with a master class kicking display.The Chiefs were worthy Super Rugby winners in 2012 and now the question must be asked, will the All Blacks dominate the Rugby Championship which starts when they play the Wallabies in Sydney on August 18?Mark Ella   

05
agosto


All Blacks – Per Sonny Bill comincia un biennio di fuoco. Tornerà per sempre al XIII? By Giorgio Sbrocco

Campione della federazione pugilistica della Nuova Zelanda i carica per la categoria pesi massimi e fresco trionfatore del Super Rugby con i suoi Waikato Chiefs, il 26enne Sonny Bill Williams (17 caps AB) si appresta a cominciare il suo prossimo complicatissimo  e super impegnativo biennio  che lo porterà, nell’ordine: a giocare un paio di partite del Four Nations con la maglia degli All Blacks, quindi a trasferirsi in Giappone, dove disputerà il campionato nazionale con la maglia dei Panasonic Wild Knights (si parla di un milione di sterline di ingaggio) che hanno la base operativa nella città di Ota, per poi tornare al suo primo amore del Rugby XIII con una squadra di cui non  ha però voluto rivelare il nome. Non giocherà il Super XV del 2013. E, forse, non ci sarà alla Coppa del Mondo del 2015 in Inghilterra. Quanto al “mistero” sulla sua prossima collocazione del Rugby XIII (Nrl) ha recentemente dichiarato: “Si tratta di un patto che ho siglato con una stretta di mano alcuni anni fa prima di tornare in Nuova Zelanda. Niente di scritto, nulla di firmato finora. Perciò no sono in grado di fornire alcun particolare”. Le voci sull’argomento si rincorrono, e parlano di una sua destinazione australiana presso i Sydney  Roosters. Non è escluso che dopo tanto girare, decisa di tornare al XV. “Ho scelto la mia strada e adesso devo percorrerla” ha recentemente dichiarato il  talentuoso centro nativo di Auckland.Giorgio Sbrocco

01
agosto


Super XV – Bruciati in poche ore 25 mila biglietti. Stadio troppo piccolo per la finale Chiefs-Sharks di sabato. By Giorgio Sbrocco

Troppo piccolo lo stadio di Hamilton (25.100 posti la capienza ufficiale), casa del Waikato Rc (Itm cup) e della franchigia dei Chiefs (Super XV) per ospitare la massa di tifosi neozelandesi alla caccia di un biglietto per la finale del Super XV  in programma sabato (ore 9.35 in Italia) fra Chiefs e gli Sharks sudafricani di Durban (Natal). In coda davanti ai botteghini a partire dalle 2 del mattino (sei ore prima dell’apertura!), i supporters della formazione allenata da Dave Rennie (che si avvale dell’opera del “trevigiano” Wayne Smith come assistente) hanno letteralmente bruciato i circa 17 mila tagliandi sopravvissuti alle “finestre di acquisto privilegiate” cui avevano avuto accesso in precedenza: abbonati, sponsor, membri e famigliari del club. Nel corso della stagione (13 vittorie) i Chiefs hanno registrato un incremento del 97% quanto a biglietti venduti.Giorgio Sbrocco

30
luglio


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Super XV - Steve Walsh: il focoso neozelandese, diventato australiano per continuare a fischiare, arbitrerà la finale di Hamilton. By Giorgio Sbrocco

Sarà il quarantenne Steve Walsh a dirigere la finale di Super XV fra Chiefs e Sharks in programma sabato a Hamilton. Suoi assistenti saranno il sudafricano Craig Joubert e il neozelandese Keith Brown.  La designazione di Walsh risponde a oggettivi criteri meritocratici, trattandosi di uno dei quatto o cinque migliori arbitri ovali attualmente in attività al mondo. Ma è la sua carriera, tutt’altro che lineare, a presentare interessanti spunti di riflessione. Neozelandese di nascita, smesso prestissimo (13 anni) con il rugby giocato a causa di un problema congenito alla colonna vertebrale, Walsh cominciò ad arbitrare all’età di 16 anni. Nel 2003, a soli 31 anni era già alla Coppa del Mondo. Ma uno scambio di opinioni catalogato dalla commissione disciplinare alla voce “inappropriate behaviour” con un membro dello staff dell’Inghilterra gli costò tre giorni di sospensione. Ma siccome era veramente bravo, scontata la pena, arbitrò il quarto di finale AUS-SCO. Nel 2005, nel corso del tour dei Lions  in NZ, ebbe un feroce scambio di opinioni (in campo) con l’ala dell’Irlanda Shane Horgan che ne aveva contestato una decisione. La cosa gli costò quattro mesi di interdizione. Ma siccome era veramente bravo, nel 2007 (il suo anno d’oro) fu chiamato a dirigere: finale Super 14, il primo match di rugby al Croke Park di Dublino e quattro match della Coppa del Mondo di quell’anno. Il 18 marzo 2009, con in tasca la designazione per l’incontro che a Cardiff avrebbe deciso l’assegnazione del Grande Slam in tasca, si presentò a una riunione tecnica  a Sydney completamente ubriaco. E fu cancellato dai ruoli della federazione neozelandese cui era professionalmente legato per contratto. Ma siccome…e si trovava già in Australia, offrì i suoi servigi alla Arfu (la federazione australiana) che lo accettò con la qualifica di “refering club” per la zona di Sydney. Ma siccome bravo lo era davvero, bruciò le tappe e nel 2010 entrò come rappresentante dell’Australia nel panel del Super 14. Nel giro di un anno era di nuovo al Sei Nazioni (Scozia-Italia) e alla Coppa del Mondo del 2011. Giorgio Sbrocco 

17
luglio


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Super XV – J.K. sulla panchina dei (decaduti?) Blues. “Ritorno a Auckalnd da dove sono partito”. By Giorgio Sbrocco

John Kirwan (47 anni) è da oggi capo allenatore degli Auckalnd Blues, la formazione (con cui l’ex ct di Italia e Giapppone ha disputato 142 partite e del cui staff aveva già fatto parte nel 2001) che rappresenta la più grande città della Nuova Zelanda e che per anni è stata la casa di una fetta importante dell’invincibile armata All Blacks. Ma che nella stagione di Super Rugby appena conclusa ha finito il campionato al 12esimo posto su 15. “Sono onorato ed emozionato – le sue prime parole dopo la nomina – per l’opportunità che mi è stata offerta. Confido che la prossima sarà una stagione di rinnovamento e di successi”. Kirwan, che ha sposato un’italiana e vive a Treviso, e che recentemente è stato nominato Cavaliere dal governo del suo paese ha aggiunto di sentirsi “particolarmente entusiasta dal fatto di tornare in Nuova Zelanda dopo tanti anni di assenza”. Ancora: “Sono orgoglioso di rivendicare le mie radici: sono nato con i Blues, qui è dove ho iniziato la mia carriera e questa è la mia gente. Mi aspetta un duro lavoro. Ma io amo le sfide e sono qui per ottenere risultati!”. Diplomatico nei confronti del suo predecessore (esonerato) Patr Lam: “Non è stato fortunato, la squadra ha patito tanti infortuni e lui è stato obbligato a cambiare troppo spesso formazione”.Giorgio Sbrocco

22
aprile


Crusaders meet the Hurricanes head on to win Easily.By Mark Ella

Last year the Crusaders made it to the Super Rugby finals against the Queensland Reds without playing a game at home after the devastating earthquake in Christchurch in the Canterbury region of New Zealand. They have won more Super Rugby trophies than any other team and the way they played against a desperate Hurricanes side on the weekend it looks like they are just starting to hit their straps. Every professional team in world sport knows the importance of winning at home and what a bonus it is to win away and that is what the Crusaders have been doing for years now because great teams can rise to the occasion all the time and not just every second week. After a slow start to their Super Rugby season there are ominous signs ahead for the Crusaders opponents starting with the Waratahs next weekend in Sydney. I expected a close contest between the two leading New Zealand provinces but after the first 36 minutes the Crusaders were leading the Hurricanes in Wellington by a massive 32-0. The Hurricanes playing is front of their home crowd were doing their best and not taking a step backwards against their more fancied neighbors but the Crusaders simply had too much grunt up front with their forwards dominating the game and too much speed out wide. All Blacks great Daniel Carter had been moved to inside centre to accommodate another rising No.10 Tom Taylor who played like a veteran and kicked seven goals out of nine attempts in an effort that we expect from Carter himself. It is amazing just how the Crusaders can continually breed their next generation of champions who of course play a big role in the structure of the All Blacks and young Taylor will get his opportunity soon. After scoring four tries in the first half to secure an early bonus point, including one to Carter playing in his 100th Super Rugby match, the game was over after the first 40 minutes. To their credit the Hurricanes didn't lie down and attempted to play positive attacking rugby at all times as was displayed when full back Andre Taylor gave his team some remote hope when he slipped around a couple of Crusaders players to score in the right corner on the bell of half time. They also scored the first try in the second half when All Blacks No. 8 Victor Vito crossed the line but the Crusaders put the final nail in the coffin when full back Israel Dagg put the game beyond question when he scored in the 62nd minutes. The Crusaders are littered with All Blacks both in the forwards and throughout the three-quarters with the likes of Andy Ellis, Carter, Robbie Fruean and Zac Guildford taking every opportunity to make the most from turnover ball by spreading the ball wide to willing runners. After watching a rather dull and unimaginative Waratahs side defeat the Rebels in Sydney 30-21 last weekend it will be a welcomed change to have a quality team like the Crusaders in town to show us rugby fans just what we are missing out on every weekend. Apart from the Brumbies who played with passion and commitment against the Bulls in South Africa, AustralIan rugby's other four Super Rugby franchises are way off the pace and doing their best to turn rugby fans off the code. New Zealand teams on the other hand like the Highlanders, Chiefs and particularly the  Crusaders are playing with so much flair and adventure that they are a pleasure to watch. And I am not the one to want the Crusaders to defeat the team I played all my rugby with when I was a bit younger but a thorough shellacking by the Kiwi's over the Waratahs may make them realise just what it takes to earn a Super Rugby title.

15
aprile


Brumbies continue to dominate Australian Conference with easy victory over poor Rebels.By Mark Ella

The Rebels went to Canberra last weekend with high hopes after a convincing victory against the Auckland Blues at Easter but unfortunately for them the ACT Brumbies saved their best for the Melbourne team winning 37-6. Unlike most teams in the Australian conference the Brumbies have only a handful of Wallabies in their line-up but under the tuition and control of Jake White they are leading the way after Round 8 of the Super Rugby competition. Scoring four first half tries to secure a bonus point was a fantastic effort and they certainly hit the ground running and never allowed the Rebels to get into the game such was their domination particularly in the first half. The aggressive Brumbies forwards man handled the Rebels eight who were soft and made it hard for their star studded back line to get any momentum at all. Having quality players like Danny Cipriani, James O'Connor, Mark Gerrard and Kurtley Beale means nothing if they don't have the football in their hands and they did more tackling in this match than should have. The Rebels chances of defeating the Brumbies were always at long odds and unfortunately their victory over the Blues a couple of weeks ago gave a false indication of where they are at right now simply because the Blues were atrocious resembling nothing of their past glories. And when the Rebels did get some possession they quickly turned the football over with some sloppy passing with no go forward making the fancy Rebels back line look ordinary and out of kilter with each other. James O'Connor who dominated proceeding last weekend against the Blues had little impact on the game as did Kurtley Beale but with their forwards struggling to secure much possession it was always going to be long day in the office for the talented duo. The Brumbies to their credit are playing way above their weight at the moment and deserve to be at the top of the Australian conference if only for the belief and trust that they have in each other. Playing a direct game with centre Pat McCabe knowing only way to run made it easy for five eighth Christian Lealiifano to concentrate on other parts of his game and it wouldn't surprise me if Wallabies coach Robbie Deans gave him a phone call later on in the year. The Rebels will continue to be chicken fodder for most of the teams in this competition until they get more bigger and stronger forwards because without the football even the greatest back line in the world is reduced to being spectators. At half time the match stats showed that the Brumbies had controlled the break down with the mauls and rucks going the Brumbies way 56 - 18 with the Rebels also making the Brumbies attack look good missing 14 tackles in the first half which is why the Rebels trailed the Brumbies 30-6. Perhaps the writing was on the wall when Pat McCabe ran straight over the top of James O'Connor from five metres out to score the Brumbies first try of the game after eleven minutes of play. The Brumbies went on the score five tries to nil with Michael Hooper, captain Ben Mowen and Scott Fardy scoring twice joining McCabe on the scoreboard to defeat the Rebels so convincingly that it will be back for the drawing board for Rebels coach Damien Hill. It will be hard for the likes of Beale and O'Connor to be on the loosing side almost every weekend but they better get used to it because victories will be far and few between which I hope will give them added cause to strive harder for success when they run out in the green and gold later this year. The Rebels will get another drubbing on the weekend when they play the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday and the Brumbies will have a much harder task facing the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in South Africa but playing a disciplined game will make their odds of success so much better.

27
febbraio


Super15 Rugby Tournament - Mark Ella's comments on the first 2 games

Australia has always had a reputation as a sporting nation because of our tepid climate and outdoor lifestyle but in life nothing is perfect because our expectations on winning makes coming second unpalatable. And in a sports mad environment in which rugby competes against cricket, Australian Rules Football, Rugby League and Football almost every weekend, winning by playing attractive rugby is crucial to the growth in our game and share of mind from the fans.In recent years Rugby in Australia has suffered dramatically because of a 'winning ugly' syndrome which has turned rugby fans away in droves and reduced the codes market share in terms of sponsorship and television dollars.That is why last weekends start to the Super Rugby season was so important for Australian rugby and although the two matches between the New South Wales Waratahs and Queensland Reds and the ACT Brumbies up against the Western Force didn't reach any lofty heights it was a start at least.Australia's most successful team the Brumbies have in 2012 the least amount of Wallabies  and under former RWC winning coach Jake White they will struggle to keep up with the pace of the game.Even though the Brumbies defeated the Force 19-17 in Canberra it was a scrappy game with far too much reckless kicking from both sides with field position rather than ball in hand ruling the day.The Force coached by former Queenslander Richard Graham will struggle again this year particularly in the three-quarters who are young and energetic but lack the strategic nous to challenge the better teams in this competition.It was always going to be a close game between the Waratahs and Reds played in Sydney  particularly without their respective No.10's, Wallabies Quade Cooper for the Reds and Berrick Barnes for the Waratahs.Cooper has become the heart and sole of the Reds attack and without him their rhythm was down-beat rather than exciting and unexpected as we have become used too with replacement No.10 Mike Harris doing a fine job but without the fancy tricks that Cooper conjures up on a weekly basis.Harris though proved to be a excellent goal kicker landing six penalties and one conversion from seven attempts which wasn't a bad effort for a bench player and coach Ewen McKenzie will be very satisfied with the Reds performance.Although the Reds had the better of the loose play their scrum was out muscled and one of the Waratahs two tries came about after the Reds scrum collapsed under the pressure in the first half.To their credit the Waratahs kept in the game after trailing for most of the match and with 13 minutes left to play it looked like they might get away with defeating the defending Super Rugby Champions when they took the lead after former Cheetahs half back Sarel Pretorius scored his try on debut.But great teams do not surrender until the final whistle has blown and it was when the fans were starting to exit ANZ Stadium that Reds winger Dom Shipperley picked up a loose ball from inside his own half and skirted down the right hand side of the field to give the Reds the final say, winning 25-21.Many would say that the Waratahs were unlucky to win particularly playing without five Wallabies Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Lachlan Turner, Dan Vickerman and captain Rocky Elsom.NSW rugby prior to professionalism dominated Australian rugby but sadly since then they have struggled to win any silverware at all and they play without heart and commitment.They have lost their traditional running style and the players always seem to take the easy options rather than trying to test themselves and at least join them those around them.Without the free flowing style of the Reds Australian rugby would be struggling and my hope in 2012 is that the Waratahs at least join them in the Finals but first they must find their passion for the game which I hope in still in their hearts.  Mark Ella

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