Thursday, 25 October 2012

Heineken Cup - round 2

Two rounds of Heineken Cup have now finished. As usual, rivalry of the European elite provided us with a lot of excitement. Next games are scheduled for December, so now it is time for a short round up.

Pool 1
The top spot in the first pool belongs to Saracens, who defeated French Racing Metro 30:13. The game took place in Belgium. The stadium in Brussels was the twelfth venue on which Saracens played this season. In the second game in pool 1 Munster defeated Edinburgh 33:0. Scottish team had a rather miserable start of the tournament. They lost both games to nil.

Pool 2
In pool 2 French titans – Toulouse had to work hard to beat Benetton Treviso in Italy. At half time the hosts were leading 18:9. After all, it were the experienced visitors who won 21:33. Elsewhere in the second pool Leicester Tigers defeated Ospreys 39:22. Both teams got one win each and they are loosing 3 points to the leader Stade Toulouse.

Pool 3
Aviva Premiership champions – Harlequins outplayed Connacht 22:30 and are in control of pool 3. Quins are 4 points clear of Biarritz who defeated Italian Zebre 38:17.

Pool 4
Ulster - who have been undefeated this season in all competitions - are on the top of pool 4. They beat Glasgow Warriors 8:19. In the second match - Castres managed to stop sensational in the Aviva Premiership – Northampton Saints 21:16.

Pool 5
Clermont Auvergne is the only team with maximum 10 points after two games. The French scored 6 tries and win in Exeter 12:46. Not far behind them, with 8 points, are Heineken Cup Champions - Leinster who beat Scarlets 13:20.

Pool 6
Toulon head pool 6 with nine points. Jonny Wilkinson’s team defeated Cardiff Blues 14:22. Behind them, with 4 points are Sale Sharks and Montpellier. Montpellier beat Sharks 33:18.

So far, the favourites managed to win their games, but rivalry is very tense. Many more excitement is ahead of us. Below you will find standings after two rounds.







Monday, 22 October 2012

No record for New Zealand

Before Saturdays game with Australia, New Zealand was hunting for another record in the world rugby. All Blacks, which had straight 16 wins, needed just two more wins to equal the record of the highest number of consecutive test victories. Lithuanians, who managed to beat their rivals 18 times in a row, and hold the official highest total, do not need to worry. Their achievement stays safe. Wallabies and All Blacks clash finished with the 18:18 draw. All points have been scored from the penalties – nobody could outplay opponents defence. 

 This result is surely much more welcomed by the Australian team which has to deal with lots of injuries and definitely wasn’t the favourite before the game. Not many experts believed that Wallabies could actually stop the mighty All Blacks.

Although World Champions attempt to break the record was unsuccessful, they still had a good reason to celebrate. New Zealand hooker Keven Mealamu became the third All Blacks player who played in 100 test games. This is a truly fantastic achievement! Mealamu - one of the best hookers in the history is only 22d player who reached the milestone. Congratulations!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Heineken Cup - round 1

The first round of Heineken Cup has finished, and as usual provided a lot of excitement. It seems that once again we will see a tough battle for the European glory. There are usual favorites – Leinster and Stade Toulouse, but other teams will definitely join the battle.

In pool 1 Saracens started their campaign with a big victory over Edinburgh 45:0. In the second game Racing Metro defeated Munster 22:17.

In pool 2 Ospreys got a 38-17 victory over Benetton Treviso and Toulouse eased past Leicester Tigers 23:9.

In pool 3, English champions – Harlequins beat Biarritz 40:13. Elsewhere in the group, Connacht defeated the new boys in the tournament – Zebre 19:10.

In pool 4 Ulster beat Castres 41:17. Undefeated in this season - Northampton Saints fought back from 0:15 to win with Glasgow Warriors 24:15

In pool 5 Exeter Chiefs were very close to getting the scalp of the champions. Leinster survived, and won the game 9:6. French Clermont Auvergne dispatched Scarlets 49:16.

In pool 6, Sale Sharks beat Cardiff Blues 34:33 in a real thriller, which I described in my previous post. Elsewhere in the group, Toulon seemed to be on fire and got a win over Montpellier 37:16.

Big wins from Saracens, Harlequins, Ulster and Toulon make these teams potential title contenders. Other clubs like Northampton Saints or Sale Sharks showed great spirit and came from behind to win their games. There are more exciting fixtures to come this weekend. Who is your favorite to win?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Rocky at www.salesharks.com

I am very happy to inform you all that my latest article has been posted on the official Sale Sharks website!
http://www.salesharks.com/news/1486.php

Heineken Cup thriller - Sale Sharks v Cardiff Blues 34:33

I had a fantastic day at Salford City Stadium. It was my second time watching Sale Sharks play against Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup, and just like last time, the excitement was immense!

I decided to set off for the stadium early to fully appreaciate the match day experience. I had plenty of time to visit the Sale Sharks store and browse through the new range of kits, include home, away and European. I also visited the fan bar and tried a pint of Devil's Advocate guest ale. A pint I definitely recommend to others!

The match started at 12.45pm and the Welsh visitors were first to put points on the board, with Leigh Halfpenny's successful penalty kick after only 2 minutes. Nick MacLeod managed to level-up 10 minutes later and although Sale seemed to have possession and played within Cardiff territory, they couldn't convert to points. Shortly after, unforced errors in defense allowed the Blues to score two soft tries and after 20 minutes, we were losing 3-17.

At this stage, the situation was not looking good. It seemed to knock the team's confidence and they started to play a bit weaker. Cardiff took their chances and managed to score another try before the half-time. We could only reply with two penalties from Nick MacLeod. So at the end of the first half, Cardiff Blues were leading 12-24.

The second half was a completely different story! Although Cardiff extended their lead to 12-27, it was Sale Sharks who dominated the game. Danny Cipriani and Cillian Willis were introduced in the 49th minute of the game, and I think it was the players from the bench that had a massive impact and raised the spirits of the entire team.

Six minutes later Cipriani scored a beautiful try. At this point fans became even more vocal than before! We tried harder and louder to become the extra player and help our team out. Passionate supporters, in the East stand especially, were almost constantly chanting until the last whistle!

In the meantime, Leigh Halfpenny managed to score another penalty, but the new substitutes, Johnny Leota and James Gaskell, increased Sharks' strength even more and their dominance became more visible.

In the 63rd minute, after a quick tap penalty, Cipriani and Leota created space for Mark Jennings, who placed the ball behind the opponent's try line. Rob Miller added 2 points with a successful conversion, leaving the home team with only a 6-point deficit.

The pressure was on! The atmosphere around the stadium was fantastic as we all believed in our boys in the sky-blue kit.

In the 73rd minute, Blues' Lewis Jones was sin-binned. Our pack then put massive pressure on the visitor's scrum, which led to Tony Buckley scoring the 3rd try! Rob Miller converted and for the first time in the game we were in front with 31 to 30 and only 5 minutes left on the clock!

Shortly after Rob Miller kicked another penalty, Leigh Halfpenny replied, taking the score to 34-33. Although the clock went to 80 minutes, the brave Sharks had to survive another few minutes, whilst Cardiff kept the ball alive and tried their best to take the lead for one final time. These few moments felt like a lifetime, and cost me my voice due to constant screaming! It was worth it though. Sale Sharks won their Heinken Cip opener 34-33.

The match, especially the second half was absolutely fantastic! It was a real Heineken Cup thriller with a much needed, happy ending.

Thank you Sale Sharks for your passionate performance!


















Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Aviva Premiership short summary

Six rounds of Aviva Premiership have already finished. The most prestigious leagues in Europe will pause for the next 2 weeks. Heineken Cup will attract fans attention instead. I think it is a good time for a short review.

Aviva Premiership fans cannot complain about lack of excitement. There were top quality games and unexpected results in every round so far. This year’s league is very tough; most games are played at the high pace. Players entertain spectators by showing good skills and lots of vigour.

Northampton Saints have had the most reasons to celebrate so far. They won 6 matches and they are currently sitting at the top of the table with 22 points. Not far behind are Harlequins, Leicester Tigers, and Saracens – all of them with 20 points, and definitely with lots of willingness to secure play-off spots. Although first 3 teams are very entertaining to watch, Saracens are playing in rather average style, mostly relying on Charlie Hodgson’s good kicking rate.

Mid table is occupied by Gloucester, Exeter Chiefs, Bath, and London Wasps. These teams will definitely try to break in to the first four, but more reasonable target for them is to secure a place in the first six, which guarantees taking part in the next season’s Heineken Cup.

On the ninth, tenth and eleventh place are currently Worcester Warriors, London Welsh and London Irish respectively. The most pleased are probably London Welsh, who are new to Aviva Premiership and already won twice and scored 10 tries.

Sale Sharks are at the bottom. Their poor performance is the biggest surprise to most of rugby fans and experts. Sale lost all six games and managed to gain only one bonus point.

As I mentioned before, Aviva Premiership comes back in two weeks’ time (26.10.12), until then European rugby fans will focus on Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Rugby Championship review

The first Rugby Championship is now over. The title was awarded to New Zealand which managed to secure the victory last week. All Blacks were second to none. They won all games and remain unbeatable for 16 matches in a row, now. Last Saturday, they beat South Africa 16:32 despite losing 16:12 at half time. The team’s captain Richie McCaw had one more reason to celebrate. As the first New Zealand’s player he took part in 100 won matches. It is a really impressive achievement! The charismatic back row player, who has been All Black’s skipper for years, won almost 90% of the games he played in. Congratulations!

Rugby Championship runners-up – Australia did not have an easy task as they had to deal with lots of injuries. In the last game they beat Argentina away. The hosts, as usual, played very brave physical game, however, the visitors showed a real passion and composure which helped them gain the well-deserved victory.

South Africa came third. The key Springboks player was Bryan Habana. The South Africa team, despite periods of a really decent game, failed to outplay mighty New Zealand.

Argentina took the fourth place. Before the tournament had started, many doubted if Pumas were ready to face the world rugby elite. Although South American players did not win a single game, they managed to draw with South Africa and proved a very demanding opponent. Argentinians played at a very high level. They produced strong defense and showed that they cannot be underestimated.

Changing Tri Nations proved to be a very good idea. The tournament remained at a high level. Argentinians brought in freshness and the games stayed equally or even more entertaining for the fans. Unfortunately, despite of a great attitude of South American players, some of their fans seem to be still too immature to experience rugby at the top level. During the game with Australia, some of the local fans tried to distract the opponents targeting them with lasers beams while the players were kicking at posts. Such behavior is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated! It’s not what the rugby spirit is about! This disgusting incident was the only bad point of the Rugby Championship. SANZAR will have a discussion about it with Argentinian Rugby Union. I hope that it was the first and the last time when we saw such incident.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

New Zealand wins Rugby Championship!

Although there is still one round of the Rugby Championship left, All Blacks have already secured the title. New Zealand produced a truly wonderful performance and defeated Argentina 15-54. The game in South American La Plata was definitely the best All Blacks performance of the year. If there are any rugby fans that missed this game, I highly recommend catching up. The World Champions scored seven tries, Pumas managed to score two.

The match started with a wonderful try scored by the Argentinians. However, the hosts’ lead was short-lived. In the 15th minute, the visitors got in front and never looked back. In the first half, All Blacks scored four tries - one by Aaron Smith, one by Cory Jane and two by Julian Sevea. In the second half opponents’ try line was also crossed by Ma’a Nonu and by Cory Jane, who added two more tries and finished the game with a hat-trick.

Although only the backs scored points, all players performed very well. Special mention goes to phenomenal Kieran Read who truly deserved the man of the match title. The mighty All Blacks proved again to be the very best team in the world!

In the other game, South Africa crashed weakend by injuries Australia 31-8 and moved up to the second place in the IRB ranking. The Springboks improved their game, especially in the attacking. Bryan Habana rediscovered his talent, and stole the show by adding another hat-trick of tries to his amazing career.

Next week, South Africa will face a much more difficult challenge. They will play with undefeated in last 15 games All Blacks. In the second game hungry for success Argentina will play with struggling with injuries Australia.