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Today — May 8th 2021Your RSS feeds

O’Connor carries Reds to Super Rugby AU title

May 8th 2021 at 09:12

James O’Connor snatched a try after the buzzer against the ACT Brumbies as the Queensland Reds toppled the defending champions 19-16 in a frantic finish to the Super Rugby AU final Saturday.

Brad Thorn’s men have been the standout team this year, winning seven of eight games ahead of the decider, and they didn’t disappoint a bumper 42,000-strong crowd in a pulsating game at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

They went to the break 13-6 down but came back in emphatic fashion, with O’Connor crossing in the 84th minute then converting after a sustained period of pressure with two Brumbies players yellow-carded in the final few minutes.

It was only their second Super Rugby title. Their first came in 2011, when the competition also featured top teams from New Zealand and South Africa.

ALSO READ: Crusaders claim New Zealand Super Rugby crown

“It was a tough contest, it always is against the Brumbies. That was like a Test match,” said skipper O’Connor, who scored all 19 points.

“Super proud of my boys, they came home strong. We started a little bit slow, but we got there.”

It was the third match in a row against the Brumbies in which they had been down at half time and rallied to win.

“I want to congratulate the Reds, not only on tonight but a great season,” said Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa, whose side made the final after six wins from eight this season.

“I said to my boys, you’ve got to be proud of that effort.”

The Reds narrowly lost last year’s final to the Brumbies 28-23 and admitted before the game they were still smarting.

But it was all the Canberra team in the first half.

O’Connor nailed an early penalty to get the scoreboard ticking over in a fast and furious opening 10 minutes that the visitors dominated.

Their pressure paid off when Tom Banks crossed for the opening try after a deft offload from Noah Lolesio, who converted to put them 7-3 in front.

The Brumbies had all the possession and territory, but against the run of play O’Connor’s boot pulled the Reds back to within a point.

But the mini comeback didn’t last, with two more Lolesio penalties stretching the Brumbies advantage to 13-6 at half-time.

Wallaby winger Jordan Petaia was unfortunate to have a try disallowed soon after the restart as the Reds started fast.

But O’Connor bagged a third penalty to keep them in touch and then a fourth to take them within a point at 12-13 with 16 minutes left.

A composed Lolesio eased the pressure with his third successful penalty to restore a four point advantage going into the final 10 minutes, before two yellow cards for the Brumbies.

Crusaders claim New Zealand Super Rugby crown

May 8th 2021 at 07:31

A Richie Mo’unga masterclass saw the Canterbury Crusaders overcome two yellow cards to defend their Super Rugby Aotearoa crown with a 24-13 victory over the Waikato Chiefs in Christchurch on Saturday.

For a period in the second half when the Crusaders were defending a narrow 15-13 lead, they were down to 13 men, with All Blacks Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece in the sin-bin.

But flyhalf Mo’unga, whose footwork had baffled the Chiefs through much of the match, refused to be flustered as he produced raking touch finders to force them back and extended the scoreline with a drop goal and a penalty.

By the time the Crusaders were back to a full complement of 15 they were 21-13 ahead with 12 minutes to play and Mo’unga added a further penalty to settle the score.

ALSO READ: Gatland: Mental health will be toughest challenge for Lions

“I was as nervous as I’ve ever been in the box, it was very tight,” said coach Scott Robertson as his Crusaders produced their fifth consecutive Super title under his reign.

“Thirteen men, they (the Chiefs) had all the momentum, they were winning the air battles, we just couldn’t get territory and we had a couple of big scrums, a couple of really big moments and Richie Mo’unga.”

Captain Scott Barrett described the victory as “awesome” and credited the defence for shutting out the Chiefs.

“This group of boys don’t need much  motivation. They’re so driven and keep striving to be better. Richie and the backs put us in the right area of the field and we let our defence do the rest,” he said.

In a clash of Test match intensity before a sold-out crowd of 17,400, Mo’unga scored 14 of the Crusaders’ points, while Damian McKenzie was the sole scorer for the Chiefs.

It is the Crusaders’ second crown in two seasons of the New Zealand competition, to go with their 10 titles in 24 years in the multi-national tournament.

For the Chiefs it was a disappointing end to what had been a stunning turn-around to make the final after losing their first two matches and captain Brad Weber said he had dreamed of claiming the title.

Mo’unga “is the linchpin of that team and he’s been in outstanding form all year and obviously I’m devastated,” Weber said.

“We threw everything at it and just weren’t good enough. The Crusaders were incredibly clinical, even with guys in the bin, and their set piece was too good.”

An intercept by Ethan Blackadder rescued the Crusaders when they were defending desperately and sparked a counter attack which paved the way for the Crusaders’ first try by Reece six minutes into the game.

After a McKenzie penalty for the Chiefs, a David Havili chip kick produced their second try to Will Jordan.

The Chiefs were down 12-3 when McKenzie scored from an innovative lineout drive which most of the backs joined before the ball went wide for the elusive fullback to score in the opposite corner.

A McKenzie penalty after 59 minutes narrowed the gap to two points before Mo’unga’s boot wrapped up the game for the Crusaders.

Yesterday — May 7th 2021Your RSS feeds

Reds on revenge mission, Crusaders on a roll for finals

May 7th 2021 at 09:53

The Queensland Reds are seeking revenge while across the Tasman, the Canterbury Crusaders will look to extend their dominance when Australia and New Zealand’s domestic Super Rugby competitions play their finals this weekend.

The Reds narrowly lost last year’s Super Rugby AU decider 28-23 to the ACT Brumbies and admit the defeat still smarts, setting up an epic rematch in front of 50,000 fans in Brisbane on Saturday.

Reds halfback Tate McDermott said footage of the Brumbies celebrating after last year’s win provided ample motivation for Saturday’s clash.

ALSO READ: Meet Lions tourist Duhan van der Merwe

“We’ve re-watched that final minute of the grand final, where you see them kick it out and there’s a bit of carry on and they win,” he said.

“There’s definitely been a fire burning since that moment last year that has really helped the team… we do owe them a lot from that game.”

The Reds have overtaken the Brumbies as Australia’s most consistent team this year, losing only once in an outstanding season that has included two victories over their Canberra-based rivals.

Coach Dan McKellar admitted his Brumbies were the underdogs but warned the Queenslanders not to expect an easy victory in front of what is likely to be a sold-out Suncorp Stadium.

Five-year streak

“We’re quite happy – backs to the wall, big crowd at Suncorp, just ourselves and our family to bounce off,” he said.

“We’ll go out there and prove a few people wrong and continue our reign as Australia’s leading team over a number of years. That’s the goal.”

Over in New Zealand, the Crusaders are red-hot favourites to defend the Super Rugby Aotearoa title, adding a second domestic championship to the record 10 international Super Rugby titles already in the trophy cabinet.

Victory against Waikato Chiefs in Christchurch on Saturday would make it five straight years the Crusaders have won Super Rugby or Super Rugby Aotearoa.

They are unbeaten in 24 post-season matches contested at home, including six finals, and coach Scott Robertson said it was not a record they would give up lightly.

ALSO READ: Bok boss Nienaber: ‘Phenomenal’ that Lions are on their way

“Occasions like this are exactly what we play for, the chance to represent the people of our region on the big stage,” he said.

By contrast, the Chiefs began the season as competition losing their first two matches to compound the pain of a winless 2020.

But a five-match run of success turned their campaign around, with coach Clayton McMillan saying the Chiefs felt a burden had been lifted and they could defeat anyone, even an outfit as formidable as the Crusaders.

“On any given day, any team can be beaten, and we’ve proven that,” he said.

“This weekend we are going down to Christchurch with confidence and believe we can upset the Crusaders.”

Gatland: Mental health will be toughest challenge for Lions

May 7th 2021 at 09:36

Warren Gatland says looking after the mental health of his British and Irish Lions players could be his toughest challenge as they prepare for up to 10 weeks in a coronavirus bubble.

Head coach Gatland announced his 37-man tour party for the South Africa tour on Thursday, picking veteran Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones as captain.

Squad members – including those with no remaining English Premiership commitments – will meet for a training camp in Jersey in mid-June and return from South Africa on August 9.

“The big challenge for us is being in the bubble in South Africa and potentially having to quarantine when we come back,” said Gatland.

“If you add in the two-week camp before we go it could be up to 10 weeks away and in a bubble.

“The rugby side takes care of itself so it’s important we get the other stuff right and think about the players’ wellbeing and mental health.

“The rugby’s going to be the easy part. We need to get the other stuff right and then we’ve got a chance of performing on the field.”

ALSO READ: Bok boss Nienaber: ‘Phenomenal’ that Lions are on their way

The tourists hope to publish their revised schedule for South Africa next week with the eight fixtures culminating in a three-Test series against the world champion Springboks now taking place in Johannesburg and Cape Town only, reducing travel during the pandemic.

Former Wales coach Gatland admitted the tour would provide unique challenges. South Africa is Africa’s worst-affected country with more than 1.5 million infections and over 54,000 deaths.

On their return the players are likely to have to quarantine in isolation at a government-approved hotel, with South Africa on Britain’s red list of countries.

“The safety of the players is paramount and the mental health of the players comes first,” said Gatland. “Being in that bubble, being away from family, it will be about making sure we stay connected with our families.

“We’ll have to keep the players entertained, put things on for them — competitions, pool, darts, cards, casino nights, sing-songs, quizzes. We’ve got to be creative in that area.

“We’ll probably continue with the singing and choir practice that we’ve done in the past. That was successful for us. Those kinds of things are something that we need to get right.”

Lions boss Gatland on leaving Sexton out and facing the Boks

May 7th 2021 at 05:01

Warren Gatland said concerns over Johnny Sexton’s “durability” lay behind one of his “toughest decisions” in omitting the veteran flyhalf from the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

Ireland captain Sexton was the most high-profile absentee from the 37-man squad unveiled by Lions boss Gatland on Thursday, with the New Zealander opting for Wales’ Dan Biggar, England’s Owen Farrell and Scotland’s Finn Russell as his three No 10s for the July-August campaign.

Sexton, a veteran of 105 Tests, has featured in the Lions’ last six internationals spanning the 2013 series win in Australia and drawn encounter in New Zealand four years ago.

He also impressed for Ireland during this season’s Six Nations.

ALSO READ: Alun Wyn Jones to lead 2021 Lions in SA

But Sexton, whose career has featured several head injuries, has since suffered concussions.

While Gatland said he had a “huge amount of respect for Sexton”, 36 in July, worries about his ability to get through a tour culminating with three Tests in as many weeks against the physical, world champion Springboks had counted against him.

“It was one of the toughest decisions we had to make,” Gatland told reporters.

“When we looked that we are going to South Africa, the thing that we kept coming back to is Johnny’s durability and being able to put a string of big matches together consecutively,” the New Zealander added.

“He’s been rested on a number of occasions and unfortunately that’s what swayed it for us – not having the confidence that he could get through a tough, physical tour.”

‘Exciting Simmonds’

By contrast, Exeter No 8 Sam Simmonds is in the squad even though the reigning European player of the year won the last of his seven England caps in 2018.

“For the Springboks you’ve got to have players in your forward pack who don’t just put the ball under their arm and run hard and straight,” Gatland said.

“You need players with footwork and Simmonds has that and pace. He also scores tries. I’m really excited about him getting the chance.”

South Africa have not played a Test since winning the 2019 World Cup final in Japan because of the fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic.

ALSO READ: Meet Lions tourist Duhan van der Merwe

But Gatland, ahead of his third tour as Lions head coach, was in no doubt of their quality.

“I think South Africa have gone back to their DNA,” he said.

“It’s about being physical and winning that physical battle…It’s going to be brutal at times.”

Prior to a warm-up Test against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26, the Lions will hold a training camp in Jersey.

A self-governing territory dependent on Britain for its defence, Jersey has been at the centre of a post Brexit row between the UK and France over fishing rights.

London recalled two navy vessels on Thursday while protesting French fishermen returned home without blockading the Channel Island’s main port.

“I’m only concentrating on the rugby side, not the gunboats and the other stuff that’s going on,” said Gatland.

“We’ve just got to make sure that if we do go fishing, we don’t go out too far,” he added jokingly.

Highlanders coach exits early to help Japan prep for Lions

May 7th 2021 at 04:46

Coach Tony Brown has been forced skip Otago Highlanders’ Super Rugby Trans-Tasman campaign to help Japan prepare to face the British and Irish Lions, in a situation he conceded Friday was “not ideal”.

Brown has contracts with both the Highlanders and the rugby union in Japan, where he coached the now defunct Sunwolves and was an assistant with the Brave Blossoms at the 2019 World Cup.

The roles were never supposed to overlap but Brown said rescheduling caused by the pandemic had created a clash that left him unable to fill both roles.

“Having to head to Japan earlier than expected is disappointing particularly leaving my (Highlanders) team before the end of the season, it’s not what anyone would have wanted,” he said.

ALSO READ: Meet Lions tourist Duhan van der Merwe

The Brave Blossoms play the Lions in Edinburgh on June 26 in a warm-up for the composite team’s tour of South Africa.

Brown said Japan’s internationals had not spent time together since 2019 and they would undergo a short but intense preparation before heading to Scotland.

The Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition – which pits Australian and New Zealand clubs against each other for the first time since the pandemic began – runs from May 14 to June 19.

“The way it has worked out means Brownie’s international obligations suddenly overlap with his Super Rugby duties, which obviously is a situation that doesn’t sit comfortably with anyone,” Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said.

He said assistant coach Clarke Dermody would take over, with Brown providing regular input remotely.

Brown’s contract with the Highlanders runs until the end of next season.

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