It was pleasing to see so many of the Springboks “injured 21” return to the field of play in this weekend’s narrow loss to the Wallabies. Concern has been voiced over the injury sustained by the Boks illustrious captain John Smit but early reports from the South African camp have dismissed suggestions that Smit had torn elbow ligaments and will miss the Rugby World Cup.
The Wallaby scrum dominated the Springboks up front in Saturday’s Test, but only after Jannie du Plessis left the field and Smit moved to tight head. Bismarck is breathing down Smit’s neck in the race for the first choice hooker position but Captain Fantastic brings much more to the team. Smit’s leadership skills were proven during the 1st Test of the British & Irish Lions series against the Springboks in Durban in 2009.
If concerns were to persist over his availability for the World Cup, he could still make a significant contribution from the sideline as Andy Dalton did for the All Blacks in 1987. However, if Smit proves his fitness would he be better starting with the number 16 on his back?
England’s dominance at the set piece in Saturday’s match against Wales counted for nothing, with the Welsh exacting revenge for last week’s loss at Twickenham. The English forwards did not have it all their own way though with the Welsh back, row led by Sam Warburton, dominating the breakdown.
With Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips both sin-binned, England had a one man advantage for 20 minutes of the 2nd half. Despite this Wales outscored England on the try count for the second weekend in a row and the English attack again lacked incision. The Welsh fitness training camp last month in Spala, Poland appeared to pay dividends at they finished the game strongly.
In Toby Flood’s words “it was embarrassing”. Johnno was apoplectic. While these games may be mere warm-ups for the main event in New Zealand, there can be no denying that they offer teams the opportunity to enter the World Cup with momentum. England’s last game of the August series is against Ireland in Dublin on August 27th and this game has now become a must win for them.
Who would you pick to start for England, Mike Tindall or Manu Tuilagi?
Following last month’s milestone Pacific Nations victory over Fiji, Japan ran Italy close at Stadio Manuzzi on Saturday. They continue to progress under coach John Kirwan, whose long term goals include making the last 8 of the 2015 tournament and then the final of the 2019 World Cup to be held in Japan. Is JK smoking something?
Japan’s RWC record is nothing to be encouraged by. Although they have attended all 6 World Cups they have only one pool win to their name, against Zimbabwe in 1991.
They have been drawn in Pool A for RWC 2011 and will not be fancied against host New Zealand or France. However, having beaten Tonga in July and Canada twice in 2009 when they last played, Kirwan will no doubt be eyeing both games as opportunities for the Cherry Blossoms to improve their Cup record and continue progress towards achieving their long term goals.
Four matches in to the Tri Nations we have yet to see a player sin-binned. At the same stage in last year’s competition 7 yellow cards had been awarded, with Bakkies Botha having the dubious distinction of receiving 2 of them.
Rugby union is a game best contested by two teams of 15 players each. Long may this trend continue.
Injuries continue to mount
With the start of the Rugby World Cup a matter of 25 days away, the injury count continues to rise. The failure of Juan Marin Hernandez to make the Argentina squad after knee ligament surgery in March is a loss not just to the Pumas but to the tournament. Hernandez was one of the stand-out performers of the 2007 World Cup in France, where Argentina finished third.
Amongst some of the higher profile players currently injured are Matthew Rees, Gavin Henson, Lewis Moody, Andy Sheridan, John Smit, Frans Steyn, Hugo Southwell, Maxime Mermoz, Wycliff Palu and Drew Mitchell.
In March 2005 Matt Hampson was on the cusp of realising his rugby dream of playing for England. He was training with the England U21 squad when a scrum collapsed, with Hampson taking its full weight on his neck. His neck was dislocated and his spinal cord trapped and he was left a tetraplegic. “Engage” was the last word Matt heard before his accident.
6 years on and Hampson has moved into a house custom-built for him by his father. His passion for rugby is undiminished. His sense of humour is remarkable. Paul Kimmage has ghost-written Matt’s book “Engage” which is published this week.
With so much focus on Rugby World Cup, referee errors, controversially coloured away jerseys and other such matters, Matt Hampson’s story provides a reality check and should remind those fortunate enough to play our great game to enjoy it no matter what the result.