Rugby Championship of 2017 will be exciting read all about it

THE Rugby Championship of 2017 promises to be one of the more intriguing showdowns between the four SANZAAR countries for many a year given that three of the countries are in a state of flux while perennial champions New Zealanders have had their invincibility questioned earlier this year by the British and Irish Lions.

The one thing that we have learned over the years of Tri-Nations and the Rugby Championship is that Super Rugby form is not always a guarantor of how a country will perform, although it can often be a pointer. Regional teams can battle in Super Rugby only for a national composite team to come good under a national coach.

This year’s Championship is shaping up to be a cracker and could be one of the closer events for some time.

New Zealand

The back-to back World Cup holders had won 47 consecutive matches on home soil before the British and Irish Lions beat them in the second Test of their June series and then the tourists had the effrontery to draw the “decider” at hallowed Eden Park. Unquestionably the drawn series was interpreted by New Zealanders as a “loss” and a “victory” by the Lions.

Inevitably, the Kiwis will take that series result as a clarion call to raise their game to a higher level, to banish any possible vestiges of complacency and re-impose themselves on world rugby.

How dare the Lions question their supremacy …?

Unfortunately for South Africa, Australia and Argentina, a visibly shaken All Blacks side is going to going to rebound with a vengeance and with respect to the other three countries, this Championship could end up being about who comes second to New Zealand, unless the Boks, Wallabies and Pumas can raise their games to new levels having seen that the All Blacks can be beaten.

Player to watch

Sonny Bill Williams

The heavyweight boxer, former Rugby League star and All Blacks centre is one of sport’s larger-than-life figures. His sending off in the second Test against the Lions was regarded as game-changing and the Master of the Offload is going to be in hungry mood to redress the damage he will feel he inflicted on his country by his moment of shoulder-charging madness.

South Africa

Questions have been asked about the strength of the French team that toured in June, especially in the first Test when they were short of a number of first-choice players, but the Springboks played even better in the second and third Tests and there can be no denying that a clean sweep of France signals that the Boks have turned the corner after the horrors of 2016.

Coach Allister Coetzee has learned the hard way and this year the spine of the Bok team from the very first Test was comprised of in-form Lions players from South Africa’s in-form Super Rugby team.

The Boks this year are playing with a distinctive game plan (after the muddled performances of 2016), they have confidence, smiles on their faces and they have momentum.

They also have a more experienced and composed backroom staff, notably including Brendan Venter (defence) and Rassie Erasmus (Director of Rugby).

Key Player

Jan Serfontein

The 2012 World Junior Player of the Year has yet to reach his potential but in June against France there were signs that he is not far off. In 2016 he was sidelined by a wrist injury and probably only got his chance against France because of injuries to in-form 12s such as Rohan Janse van Rensburg, but boy did he grab the opportunity to show what he can do to defences.

Argentina

The Jaguares were much improved in their second season of Super Rugby which is a good sign for the Pumas, who are pretty much the Jaguares in sky blue and white disguise. But this is also slightly misleading because there is no doubt that Agustin Creevy’s men grow an inch or two when they pull on their national colours and national coach Danial Hourcade seems to be able to get more out of his players on the international stage than his counterpart at Super Rugby level. The Latin temperament and the deeply rooted patriotism of the Argentineans contributes significantly to this.

The Pumas came fourth in the 2015 Rugby World Cup playing a new style of attacking rugby (encouraged by consultant former All Blacks coach Graham Henry) and they continue to grow in a style of rugby that suits their disposition. They will continue to play positive rugby and will target the Springboks in Salta, where they have had success against the Boks, and the Wallabies in Mendoza.

Key Player

Martin Landajo

The 29-year-old scrumhalf has proved a worthy heir to the legendary Puma Agustin Pichot and is a 70-cap veteran for his country. He is the catalyst for the attacking rugby the Pumas are intent on playing. He is exceptional at reading the game and probing defences to target where best to attack.

Australia

Rugby sentiment is at an all-time low in Australia after their Super Rugby sides were swept aside, notably by the Kiwi teams that won every single game against Australian teams.

In June, the Wallabies struggled against touring Scotland and lost one of the Tests to the tourists. There is unhappiness in Australia over the axing of the Western Force and even talk of players striking as a result. The heartening news for Wallabies fans is that coach Michael Cheika is a supreme motivator and he will believe that he only needs the best 15 players, plus substitutes, from the ravaged Super Rugby franchises to build a strong national side. In 1998, South Africa had one of their worst ever Super 12 years but Nick Mallett built a Bok team that won the Tri-Nations.

Cheika, a fierce competitor, will have had the Wallabies for a month before their first game, against the All Blacks in Sydney, and he will whipping his underdogs into a frenzy.

Key Player

Michael Hooper

The new Wallabies captain was a often a lone figure in the front line of the desperately disappointing New South Wales side this year. He tackled himself to a standstill and won many a turnover. The Waratahs just did not have the quality of player or the belief in their coaching staff to raise their game as a unit. Hooper is the kind of lead-from-the-front player that will get more out of better company.

PREDICTION

1. New Zealand

2. South Africa

3. Australia

4. Argentina

FIXTURES

August 19: Australia v New Zealand, Sydney; South Africa v Argentina, Port Elizabeth

August 26: New Zealand v Australia, Dunedin; Argentina v South Africa, Salta

September 9: New Zealand v Argentina, New Plymouth; Australia v South Africa, Perth

September 16: New Zealand v South Africa, Albany; Australia v Argentina, Canberra

September 30: Argentina v New Zealand, Buenos Aries; South Africa v Australia, Bloemfontein

October 7: Argentina v Australia, Mendoza; South Africa v New Zealand, Cape Town

by Mike Greenaway

Crusaders smash Emirates Lions’ Vodacom Super Rugby 2017 dream

The Crusaders defeated 14-man Emirates Lions 25-17 in a gripping Vodacom Super Rugby Final played at Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon to lift their eighth title and deny the home side a dream finish to an emotional campaign.

The match was marked by the first half red card shown to Kwagga Smith for making contact with David Havili in the air two minutes before the break.

In fairness though, the Kiwi side dominated the opening stanza to set them up for success, despite the courageous fight back from the home side in the latter stages of this absorbing clash.

The match was played before a record capacity crowd of 62 000 and was also the farewell occasion of Emirates Lions coach, Johan Ackermann, who will join English Premiership club Gloucester next week.

Ackermann said afterwards the Crusaders deserved to win the title and also praised his team for their fighting display, especially in the second half.

“The result did not go our way, but I asked the guys at half-time not to give up, to keep fighting and they did that,” explained Ackermann.

“It took a lot out of 14 men for them to come back and I’m very proud of them – they showed a lot of character. It was phenomenal, coming from 3-25 down to run them close is what will stay with me.

“They did their homework and contested well in the lineouts where they stopped our drives close to their line. They played good rugby all year, have been consistently superb and are worthy champions.”

The Highveld team made a slow start and it was the visitors who was setting the pace in the collisions, while they also took their chances to keep the scoreboard busy. With one man down and battling a 12-point deficit at halftime (15-3), the home side had a mountain to climb in the second half against the competition’s most successful team.

After the restart, No 8 Kieran Reid crashed over for a converted try and while adding a penalty, the Crusaders stretched their lead to 25-3.

To their credit, the home team dug deep and fought back bravely, with scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and the rest of the bench making a huge impact. Lively hooker Malcolm Marx scored their first try, while Corne Fourie added a second later on.

However, in the end it was the Crusaders’ spirited defence against a late, determined home onslaught that ultimately clinched the 2017 title.

Scorers

Emirates Lions – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Corne Fourie. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalty: Elton Jantjies.

Crusaders – Tries: Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Kieran Reid. Conversions: Richie Mounga (2). Penalties: Mounga.

Unchanged Emirates Lions and Crusaders set for titanic deciding battle in 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final

Capacity crowd to watch 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final in Johannesburg

The Emirates Lions and the Crusaders have announced unchanged teams for their 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby Final on Saturday in Johannesburg.

Kick off at Emirates Airline Park is at 16h00 and the decider will be televised live on SuperSport 1.

Emirates Lions coach Johan Ackermann has announced the same match 23 for a third consecutive encounter following their sensational 44-29 comeback triumph over the Hurricanes at the same venue last weekend. Springbok flanker Jaco Kriel will again lead the Johannesburg side in the injury absence of regular skipper Warren Whiteley, who is battling with a groin problem.

They will run out against an unchanged Crusaders team which defeated the Chiefs 27-13 last weekend in Christchurch, thus keeping alive their quest for an unprecedented eighth title triumph.

The Highveld team is only the second South African side to play in two consecutive Finals and they follow in the footsteps of the Vodacom Bulls who first achieved the feat in 2009 and 2010. They fell to the Hurricanes in the 2016 Final in Wellington.

Last Saturday’s thrilling victory over the ‘Canes was also the 15thconsecutive home win for the men in red, which extended their record for a sequel of consecutive wins.

The Emirates Lions will play the seven times champions in front of a record, capacity crowd of 62 000 home supporters and a Test-match like atmosphere is expected at their Johannesburg fortress.

The statistics and record-breaking feats aside, the match will also be an emotional affair for the team, their loyal supporters and especially Ackermann. The Final is his farewell game after in charge of the Emirates Lions before he heads to Gloucester in England, with assistant coach Swys de Bruin set to take over the head coaching duties.

The dream final also sees the competition’s two top-ranked team going into battle against each other.

The Emirates Lions finished in first place on the overall standings on 65 points, two more than the Crusaders in second. Both sides lost only one of their 15 regular fixtures, with the Joburg outfit crucially bagging two more bonus points and home ground advantage throughout the playoffs.

According to Kriel, his team has received an enormous amount of support and encouragement from all over South Africa since their sensational semi-final win.

“The amazing amount of messages we have received from all over the country since last Saturday is just incredible,” explained Kriel.

“We are very humbled and grateful for this support and were are also very determined to give our best performance against the most successful team in the history of the competition. It will be a very tough but exciting contest on Saturday.”

If the scores are tied after full-time, then the teams will play two extra halves of 10 minutes each with a break of five minutes in-between. The Final will be refereed by Jaco Peyper, who will be assisted by South African compatriot Marius van der Westhuizen and New Zealander Glen Jackson. Marius Jonker (SA) will perform the television match official duties.

Teams and match information:

Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.

Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody. Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge.

PIC Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders

Match information:
Date: Saturday, 5 August 2017
SA Time: 16h00
Venue: Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson, Marius van der Westhuizen
Television match official: Marius Jonker

Issued by SA Rugby Communications

This is the poster from 2005 signed by Tana Umaga ahead of 1st test on Saturday

The match day 23 for the first Test of the DHL New Zealand Lions Series is listed below (with Test caps in brackets):

This is the poster from 2005 signed by Tana Umaga (my daughter was 5 ) at the time..Casey is now 17 and will be watching on Sat ..helps put the series into perspective the significance that some great players never get to play the Lions -Special thanks to Mike Greenaway for getting pic signed

1. Joe Moody (25)
2. Codie Taylor (16)
3. Owen Franks (91)
4. Brodie Retallick (61)
5. Samuel Whitelock (85)
6. Jerome Kaino (78)
7. Sam Cane (41)
8. Kieran Read (97) – Captain
9. Aaron Smith (59)
10. Beauden Barrett (50)
11. Rieko Ioane (2)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (34)
13. Ryan Crotty (26)
14. Israel Dagg (62)
15. Ben Smith (61)

16. Nathan Harris (5)
17. Wyatt Crockett (59)
18. Charlie Faumuina (47)
19. Scott Barrett (5)
20. Ardie Savea (13)
21. TJ Perenara (30)
22. Aaron Cruden (47)
23. Anton Lienert-Brown (10)

The matchday 23 sees the return of captain Kieran Read with Ardie Savea moving to the bench.

Rieko Ioane has been named on the left wing replacing Julian Savea in what will be Ioane’s first start in his third Test.

It will also be Ioane’s third time facing the Lions in this year’s DHL New Zealand Lions Series. Ryan Crotty returns from injury and has been named at centre, with Anton Lienert-Brown moving to the bench.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “This was a really tough team to pick because there were a number of players in great form vying for positions. But in the end the three selectors felt this was the best combination to take on the Lions in the first Test.

Hansen added it was great to have Read and Crotty back.

“They’ve both been on target to return for this game all the way through, are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they’re really excited at what’s ahead of us.

“I’d also like to congratulate Rieko on getting his first start for the All Blacks. His outstanding form throughout the season this year, including against the Lions, has earned him his start on the wing.”

Hansen said there was a massive amount of excitement within the team.

“There’s a real understanding that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The players are well aware of the history of the All Blacks and the Lions and are determined to respect that history with their performances.

“We know this is a very good British and Irish Lions team; probably one of the best to have toured here. It’ll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing Test to prepare for and to be part of. We know the importance of this match and we will bring real energy and intensity. It’ll be a physical Test but, just as importantly, it will be a mental test.

“There will be a unique and electric atmosphere at Eden Park on Saturday night. It’s something we’re really looking forward to and we can’t wait.”

Interesting Facts
* The DHL New Zealand Lions Series is the 12th tour to New Zealand by the Lions. The first game was in 1904. The teams have played 38 Test matches.

The All Blacks have won 29 of those matches.

* The most recent Lions Test was at Eden Park on July 9th 2005 where the All Blacks won 38-15.

* The All Blacks last weekend became the first team to reach 15,000 Test points in the team’s 553rd Test. (15,002). France is second on 13,450 points.

* Beauden Barrett has now scored 321 points in Test matches and is fifth on the all-time All Blacks list. Aaron Cruden is fourth on 322 points. The top three are pretty well-known names: Carter, Mehrtens and Fox.

* Owen Franks will become the ninth most capped All Blacks in his 92nd Test on Saturday, equal to All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick.

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