By Katie Field
The O2 Ireland Wolfhounds proved that excellent defence is just as valuable as exciting attacking play as they defeated England Saxons 14-8 on Saturday. The English team had more than 60% of possession and spent long periods of the game battering away at the Ireland 22, but the more experienced visitors defended superbly and refused to buckle.
The Wolfhounds conceded just one try, an interception snaffled up and run in by Anthony Watson, but their excellent one-on-one tackling – they made more than 120 tackles – and their faultless defensive organisation meant England could not breach the barricade again.
Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones both put a desire to stay at home in Wales ahead of the megabucks they could have earned in France by signing new contracts this week. Jones opted to stay with the Ospreys for the next two years, putting a long-term end to speculation about his future.
Warburton’s new contract caused more of a stir as he became the first player to sign for the Welsh Rugby Union on a central contract. It means the Union, not Cardiff Blues, will have to foot the bill for his wages and he will be “leased” free of charge to the Blues outside of the international window.
The Welsh regions have said they will not play any centrally contracted players until their current war with the union ends, but surely it will be resolved before the start of next season?
The Wales’ captain’s decision attracted criticism from people who are anti-central contracts, but ultimately Warburton has put Wales first, so should be applauded for his loyalty.
Jackson on song
Jackson Wray blasted through for two tries within five second-half minutes to help Saracens beat Newcastle 41-8 and claim a place in the semi-finals of LV= Cup. The 23-year-old back row, who has made six Aviva Premiership and two Heineken Cup starts this season, grabbed his opportunities well, while scrum-half Ben Spencer was also key to the victory, kicking 21 points and missing just one attempt.
Saracens had played the Sharks from South Africa 24 hours earlier (and beaten them 23-15) so to defeat the Falcons with such ease proved what strength in depth they have in their 41-man squad.
Burns bungles it
He thought he saw a chance to score a vital try for England Saxons, the smallest of gaps on the blindside of a maul right on the Ireland Wolfhounds’ line. With the Saxons trailing 14-8 and the match in its final play, Freddie Burns went for glory, trying to single-handedly secure the try which would then set up a match-winning conversion chance for him. But the fly-half went from potential hero to zero when the ball slipped out of his grasp as he dived into the corner and ended up hitting the touch-judge instead of the turf.
His expression afterwards said it all, as he lay prone on the turf with his head in his hands. The error rounded off a disappointing afternoon for the Burns, who was trying to play his way back into the running for the England No 10 jersey. He missed a conversion and a penalty for the Saxons, hitting the woodwork with both, and he threw a few wild passes in open play too. The conditions were difficult in the wind and rain, but Burns and the Saxons had hoped for better.
European rugby players are used to playing in the wind and the rain, but the conditions at the Twickenham Stoop for Saturday’s LV= Cup clash between Harlequins and Leicester went from bad to potentially disastrous as the game neared its climax.
The referee was forced to call time nine minutes early as such a storm hit the ground that advertising hoardings were blown onto the pitch and some scaffolding on the South Stand was threatening to come down.
Harlequins were leading 20-6 at the time and the final score was allowed to stand by the cup organisers, but the dangerously foul weather ruined the afternoon for many of the supporters.
Further west, Newport Gwent Dragons’ LV= Cup clash with Northampton Saints had to be stopped for a few minutes during the first half due to a hailstorm, but was then completed successfully, albeit in atrocious conditions.
Roll on spring!
New Zealand Sevens star Sam Dickson picked up a nine match ban for gouging an opponent during the pool match against Fiji at the Las Vegas Sevens. Such serious foul play is a rare occurence in the HSBC Sevens World Series, hence the length of the ban.
Dickson’s act means he will miss his own home leg of the series, which takes place in Wellington, New Zealand on 7 and 8 February.