A thrilling round of Super Rugby has set up a tense finale with just one round of the regular season to go, before the playoffs begin.
The Reds are guaranteed a home semi-final after a last-gasp victory over the Force in Perth in a game they didn’t really deserve to win. David Pocock was immense as usual for the home team, but Quade Cooper stole the show in setting up the match-winning try for Dom Shipperley.
The Stormers bottled it in another huge match, losing to the Bulls at Newlands 16-19. It wasn’t a befitting spectacle for the game billed as the tie of the round, but the Stormers are still looking good for a home semi-final with a match with the Cheetahs to come next week.
The Crusaders, Blues and Bulls could all pinch second place for a home semi, whilst the Sharks and the Waratahs are also in contention for the top 6.
Here is the current table – the top team from each of the 3 country conferences automatically qualifies for the 6-team finals stage, and the remaining 3 final slots are filled by the next best 3 teams, regardless of conference.
England Saxons line up Churchill Cup climax with Canada
Stuart Lancaster’s Saxons were impressive again in dispatching Tonga 41-14, particularly up front where the pack destroyed the opposition eight.
We thought two penalty tries for England against Australia last summer was remarkable – there were no fewer than three in this fixture, with Tonga unable to live with the Saxons scrum power. It’s another feather in the cap for Matt Stevens and must surely be in Johnno’s World Cup reckoning.
Jordan Crane was also outstanding, and should be in contention for New Zealand as well. We’ve been critical of his lack of dynamism on this blog in the past, but he went some way to ease those concerns. Exeter’s Tom Johnson was influential again, and here he is speaking to Talking Rugby after the game:
Were there any other Saxons worthy of consideration for the World Cup squad?
Junior World Championship gets underway in Italy
The Under 20 World Championship kicked off in Italy on Friday night, with England narrowly defeating Ireland by 33-25. Elsewhere, there were victories for Wales over Argentina, as well as Australia, New Zealand, France and South Africa.
Mako Vunipola (another thoroughbred Englishman, clearly) caught the eye in England’s front row, whilst Matthew Morgan of the Ospreys looks like one to watch for Wales.
This week’s Hero award goes to Kurtley Beale of the Waratahs. His teammate Tom Carter grabbed a hat-trick of tries, but Beale had an exceptional game for the Tahs, and looks to be peaking in time to take the World Cup by storm. What a talent, and he’ll be a great addition to the Melbourne Rebels next season.
The Villian this week is Butch James. Despite turning in an outstanding performance against the Sharks, he spent ten minutes in the sin bin for a tackle that nearly beheaded flanker Keegan Daniel. He’s been cited already, which is hardly surprising – we’ll try and find the clip for you.
Did you spot anything that was worthy of a mention this weekend? Who is catching the eye ahead of the World Cup?