Congratulations are due to the England Womens team who drew their final test against the Black Ferns at Esher on Saturday, leaving them 2-0 winners in the three test series. This will have provided some revenge for the English girls who are still smarting at their heart breaking loss to New Zealand in the 2010 World Cup Final. The Kiwis have lost only 3 games in the previous 21 years, making England’s achievement all the more notable.
England coach Gary Street and his team have made significant strides in recent years but this series win is a milestone worthy of note. It is only unfortunate that with all the turmoil at RFU headquarters this series win has not received the headlines it deserves.
One of the stand out Heineken Cup games this weekend will be the clash at Llanelli between the Scarlets and Munster. They are two clubs similar in style. Both steeped in tradition but still as competitive in the professional age as they were in the amateur era. With both teams occupying the top two positions in Pool 1, this promises to be a cracking encounter – though perhaps one for the purists.
Ronan O’Gara will notch up his 200th Heineken Cup appearance for Munster in Saturday’s game, which will sit comfortable alongside his 116 caps for Ireland. Two Heineken Cup winners medals and a Grand Slam with Ireland in 2009 are career highlights so far, but there are numerous other achievements, most notably three Lions Tours as well as being the record points scorer for Ireland and Munster.
O’Gara’s Lions tours were nothing if not eventful. In 2001 he was the victim of a violent attack by Duncan McRae, which saw the New South Wales full back sent off and O’Gara left battered. His defence was savagely criticised, perhaps fairly, during the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005. While in 2009 he was guilty of a rash tackle on Fourie du Preez in the 79th minute of the second Lions test in South Africa in 2009, which resulted in Morne Steyn kicking a penalty to secure the series win for the Springboks.
O’Gara’s game is by no means flawless and he attracts more than his fair share of detractors. It has been said that he is only able to perform as well as he does thanks to the protection he receives from the Munster and Irish forwards which allows him time on the ball. However, when it comes to tactical and goal kicking he is peerless in the European game. Has any other man kicked so many crucial goals in the dying moments of important games?
This weekend promises to be another feast of rugby for those watching the Heineken Cup. The top two teams in each of the six pools will face off against each other, which only adds to the sense of anticipation ahead of the weekend. While seeding for the pool stages is partly responsible for this situation, there is also an element of chance in this outcome. With return games the following weekend there are a number of enthralling encounters ahead which will keep many aficionados anchored to the armchair when they should be doing their Christmas shopping!
In announcing plans to offer for sale four of the NZ Super rugby franchises, NZRU CEO Steve Tew referred to the Super 15 as the world’s best rugby competition. While it’s difficult to compare Super Rugby with Heineken Cup, the drama and suspense which is consistently served up in the European competition puts it in a league of it’s own. Given the pool structure of the Heineken Cup, teams can ill afford to lose games in the round robin stages. Every match is crucial and the rugby played reflects this.
Tew should book himself a flight to Europe for a weekend of Heineken Cup rugby and see what is without a doubt the most compelling provincial/club rugby competition rugby in the world.
England successfully retained their Dubai Sevens title at the weekend, in the second competition of this years IRB Sevens series. This leaves England second in the overall standings, behind Fiji, as the series moves on to Port Elizabeth this week.
England coach Ben Ryan is still not happy with how England are playing and will demand more from his squad as the series continues. Considering he is employed by a union in a state of disarray, with no full time CEO and no national coach, Ryan is providing great leadership to his group of players.
With Sevens Rugby taking to the Olympic stage in 2016, Ryan has firmly established himself alongside Gordon Tietjens (New Zealand) and Michael O’Connor (Australia) as the one of the leading lights in coaching the short form of the game. With competition likely to be fierce for medals in Sevens at Rio, their respective national unions would do well to secure the services of these coaches before tempting offers are put in front of them from countries trying to get an understanding of the game.