It was a dramatic weekend of rugby – we take a look at who and what stood out for the right, and wrong, reasons
Sevens in heaven
Team GB’s Olympic qualification hopes are back on track! After last weekend’s disappointing showing in Hong Kong, England sat fifth in the HSBC Sevens World Series standings and trailed Australia by six points. Now they are back in fourth and nine points ahead of the Aussies after beating South Africa 21-14 in the Tokyo Sevens Cup final – their first tournament victory since 2013.
With just two rounds of the series left – in Glasgow and London next month – England are in a strong position to finish in the top four and thereby qualify Great Britain for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Special mention must also go to Scotland Sevens, whose 17-14 pool win over Australia meant the Aussies didn’t make it through to the Cup competition, thus denying them precious standings points, and Canada, who shocked New Zealand 19-15 in the Cup quarter-finals.
A tale of two backs
In the opening European Champions Cup quarter-final in Dublin on Saturday, it was two rising stars who stole the show. Ian Madigan’s pinpoint accuracy from the kicking tee punished Bath’s every indiscretion while George Ford scythed through the Leinster defence to score one try and set up another for Stuart Hooper.
It was Leinster who emerged victorious 18-15, but Toulon are no doubt going to be reviewing Ford’s high-calibre performance to see if they can find similar holes when it comes to the semi-final in a fortnight.
Clermont were a class apart in destroying Northampton 37-5 in their last-eight tie – and it was the ability of their back-line to be so clinical that made the difference. Saints simply couldn’t hold out wave after wave of attack, with Noa Nakaitaci, Wesley Fofana and Nick Abendanon all crossing. If one player was brought down, another was ready and waiting to take the offload.
Abendanon has won many plaudits since, with people talking about his possible inclusion in the England squad, but from a French point of view, people will be asking why the likes of Fofana can play so effectively for Clermont but not for France.
As a sidenote, we must mention Tom Wood. While the Saints were completely outplayed at Stade Marcel Michelin, the flanker retained his sense of humour and later tweeted: ‘Thanks to Clermont for inviting us to their open training session today. We’ve left our non-contact bibs in the changing rooms #humbled”.
The Mighty Bosch
Two cosmopolitan sides went head-to-head in Paris on Sunday and it was an Argentinean who decided the outcome of an extremely tight contest. Racing Metro led 11-9 going into the last minute against Saracens, but poor game management from the hosts led to a late penalty against them.
Up stepped Marcelo Bosch, who had earlier put in a try-saving tackle on his countryman Juan Imhoff, to slot the crucial three points from long range. A 12-11 win earns Sarries a repeat of last year’s semi-final against Clermont (not to mention their two pool meetings this season) – only this time they have to travel to Saint Etienne.
Just the ticket – not!
Okay, this wasn’t strictly at the weekend, but we felt the long delays people faced trying to book Rugby World Cup tickets last week deserved a mention. Around 70,000 tickets went on sale on Tuesday but some people had to wait more than seven hours just to gain access to the website.
England Rugby 2015 repeatedly assured people that their website, run by Ticketmaster, would be able to cope with demand, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Given the problems that occurred with ticket sales for the London 2012 Olympics, you would have thought Ticketmaster would have found a way to deal with such a high volume of traffic three years later. Disappointing.
Alex Waller scored a late consolation try for Northampton in Clermont – but he then let himself down with his reactions. Irked by John Ulugia crashing into him as he dived over the line, Waller decided to throw his arm at the Clermont hooker’s head.
The officials reviewed the incident and decided no action was needed, but this looked to be something of a let-off. There has been much talk of ‘reckless’ behaviour over the past week following Nathan Hughes’s ban, but there was more intent than recklessness in this act.
Ali Williams scored the final try for Toulon in their 32-18 win over Wasps on Sunday – the irony being that he shouldn’t have been on the pitch at that time. Wasps had staged an impressive second-half comeback after trailing 22-6 at the break, with Will Helu scoring two tries. In the build-up to the second try, however, Williams clearly pulled back Elliot Daly, who, along with Joe Simpson, had a superb game.
Despite the fact Wasps still scored, the foul play from Williams should have resulted in a yellow card. The on-field officials may have missed it but this is exactly the sort of incident the TMO should alert the referee to. If Toulon had been down to 14 players with the score 25-18, who knows how the game would have finished.
RW columnist Stephen Jones reported in The Sunday Times that M&C Saatchi Merlin – a ‘talent management’ company – were promoting Stuart Lancaster’s availability to give talks on leadership to companies. M&C Saatchi listed the England head coach’s achievements, including England being ‘runners-up’ for various trophies for which only two teams play for, meaning they lost!
Lancaster is probably good at such speaking engagements, but the manner in which he is being promoted is not so good. Apparently the promotional material was published without his knowledge and M&C Saatchi have apologised – but it has still no doubt caused embarrassment for Lancaster.