Jonny Wilkinson speaks about retirement

rugbyJonny Wilkinson is regarded by many as being the best player England had this century and the news of his retirement came as a blow in August 2013. http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/rugby-union/16151002 reported his decision of ending an illustrious career and just a few months later, Jonny told the media that this will also be his last season with Toulon.

Just when his colleagues and fans were about to adjust to this reality, Wilkinson admitted the fact that there is a good chance for him to continue for one more season. He doesn’t have any plans yet but this is still novelty after announcing his retirement, so his fans are happy to have their hopes reignited. Jonny will turn 35 in three months from now and the media was overly interested in his plans for the summer and beyond.

This is how the discussion began and the Toulon fly-half told reporters that even though he didn’t change his mind, he no longer dismisses the possibility of playing for one season or more. His club is more than willing to extend his contract, given his stellar results, but the player will need to make up his mind before the end of the season. There are other teams interested in his services, so it goes without saying that if he decides to continue playing professional rugby be on 2015, he will have plenty of tempting options.

Wilkinson said that one of the reasons for why he contemplates playing rugby for a bit longer is that he enjoys tremendous support from his club and teammates. The fans are completely behind his decision and there are many who still dream of Wilkinson returning to the national team, even though this is a most unlikely scenario and he is always quick to dismiss such rumors.

James Gaskell and Henry Thomas leave Sale Sharks

worldrugbyThe Sale Sharks have been in the reconstruction phase for a while and they’ve did a fine job strengthening their rotation, but this year, they will suffer a significant blow. James Gaskell and Henry Thomas will be leaving the team, and both of these players were promising youngsters that were supposed to become indispensable. James Gaskell quickly made a name for himself, by becoming Sale captain three years ago when he was only 20 and he successfully represented the England Saxons.

Henry Thomas played for three consecutive seasons for the Sharks and he is also one of the players who represents England in the Six Nations competition. It is uncertain where these two players with land, but it goes without saying that there are plenty of clubs interested in their services and a couple who have announced their intentions of transferring them. Boss Steve Diamond didn’t clarify matters and failed to provide accurate information about where Gaskell and Thomas might be heading.

There are plenty of rumors going around and many expect Gaskell to be playing for the London Wasps the next season while Thomas might be joining Bath. As for the Sharks, they are already hunting for players to replace these two veterans and there are a couple of prospects that the team is considering. For the time being, Diamond is unable or unwilling to provide names, but given the talent of those who recently departed it is hard to believe that the replacements will make their absence go unnoticed.

It is uncertain what prompted the two players to leave the club, but it looks like Gaskell is seeking a new challenge and he expects to find it in London. He did a fine job for the Sharks and now he is ready to move on, while Thomas didn’t give additional details about his decision. Both sides claim that there are no bad feelings between them and the team is grateful for the effort put in by these two players over the course of time and wishes them best of luck in future endeavors.

Mark Cueto and Tom Brady are going to join the club this season and the contracts are already signed, so the transition should be silky smooth. Steve Diamond added that the team is looking for a player to replace Peely as a half-scrum and acknowledges the fact that this is not going to be an easy move. He remains confident that the search won’t be in vain and expects the Sharks to have a replacement soon.

Aviva Premiership teams gear up for 2014

Aviva Premiership teams gear up for 2014Premiership rugby is not in recess despite the winter holidays and the first games of 2014 are scheduled for January 4. The Saracens are comfortably leading the table and they seem to be one class above their opponents, but they keep strengthening their rotation. Brad Barritt will return in January as he shook off his injury and exceeded expectations in his team’s lopsided victory over Worcester on Saturday.

Last week, he didn’t play for 80 min. but it is very likely for Brad Barritt to compete from start to finish when the Saracens lock horns with Glouchester. There is no doubt the Sarries are overwhelming favorites to win that fixture with or without Barritt, yet having him on the pitch is a great morale booster.

Glouchester will do their very best to cause a major upset on January 4, but they have very little to show for and will probably go down by a double-digit difference. They’ve barely won the last round at the expense of London Irish, thanks to Freddie Burns who scored a late penalty to deliver a victory at the Madejski Stadium. Their opponents took an early lead and were up 7-0 at one point but Glouchester fought back and scored 19 points without conceding one.

The hosts never lost confidence and found a way to level the score, but saw their hopes shattered in the final minutes of the game when Burns scored the decisive three points. Looking back at the start of the season, it is impossible to forget that Glouchester was credited with a decent chance of making the Aviva Premiership playoffs. Right now this is nothing more than wishful thinking and occasional victories against modest opponents won’t be enough to offset the pain caused by consecutive defeats earlier this season.

Daniel Hourcade will keep coaching Argentina

argentinapumasNothing consolidates a coach’s position better than victories and that’s exactly what happened with Daniel Hourcade who was recently confirmed as coach of the Pumas. The current Argentina Rugby Federation chief Agustín Pichot told the media that he is every bit as confident in Daniel’s abilities to lead the national team to success as he was back in November when former coach Santiago Phelan resigned.

He brings plenty of experience to the table, having coached the second Argentinian team in the past and recent results reconfirm his value. The Pumas have a difficult schedule ahead and with the World Cup looming they need to step up their efforts to be competitive. The team looked very well in the recent test series and piled up a couple of victories in the Rugby Championship. Overall, Daniel Hourcade has good reasons to be proud of his achievements although replicating them at the World Cup will be difficult.

Argentina is not the only team concerned about 2015 and beyond, with the British and Irish Lions making plans for the World Cup and following years. The good news is that Paul O’Connell is very likely to keep playing beyond 2015 and the 34 years old recently told the media that if his fitness allows it, he won’t leave the rugby field after the World Cup.

Among his main concerns is the signing of a new contract as the current one is coming to an end, but O’Connor refused to discuss additional details. He said that he enjoys the game as much as he did when he was a rookie and he doesn’t seriously contemplate retirement, but nothing is off the table. Reporters and rugby fans will need to arm themselves with patience, because Paul said that he would only make up his mind after the World Cup concludes.

European teams strengthen squads in November

worldrugbyWith their domestic championships running live and continental competitions in full swing, European teams are making important acquisitions. They’re trying to strengthen their formations, so that the second half of the season will see them advancing to the top of the food chain.

Toulon is one of the teams who had high expectations this month and were on the verge of signing a world-class hooker, but they came painfully close of hitting their target. Bismarck du Plessis was supposed to be joining the team later this year, but the Springbok player decided not to leave South Africa, in order to be close to his dying father. He recently told a magazine that his decision had to do with his father’s illness and that he would’ve otherwise joined the European champions. Additional details can be found at http://za.news.yahoo.com/why-bismarck-turned-down-toulon-113758623.html.

Other French teams were more successful in their attempts and Montpellier is a shining example, as they have extended the contract of international fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc. The team was in desperate need of his services and it was refreshing for both fans and management to see him continuing his activity in France. Furthermore, they have re-signed Fulgence Ouedraogo, their inspirational captain and one of the best flankers in the league, so the future looks promising.

Beyond the channel, Glouchester has also strengthened their formation by acquiring 25-year-old Sila Puafisi, who joined two of his countrymen. He was impressive in the match played by his country against Wales at the Millennium Stadium and has led his club Tasman Makos to victory in several games. Recently, they have won the ITM cup championship, a prestigious trophy that proves once more if necessary that Sila Puafisi is an excellent acquisition for the British club.

The team was in dire need of quality players after some of the veterans departed to the Harlequins, not to mention that recent performance left a lot to be desired. The Tongan international will be playing alongside Sione Kalamafoni and Lua Lokotui and it is expected to help him a lot to have two of his countrymen showing him around. Club officials and fellow players went to great lengths to make him feel at home from the very beginning and it is likely for him to be happy throughout his contract in England.

England surges in the IRB World Rankings

England surges in the IRB World RankingsA formidable weekend for rugby fans is ahead, with some of the best teams in the world competing in test games that everyone is anxiously waiting for. England is one of the hottest teams right now and following their recent victory over Australia, they greatly improved their position in the IRB World Rankings. While there are plenty of detractors who claim that the list is wrong on so many levels, the fact that England is surging right now can prove useful for punters interested in rugby.

They triumphed in the Cook Cup by scoring 20 points as compared to Australia’s 13 and they are now just one point behind South Africa. For the losing team, this means that they sank two more places and they are now just two points above France, with this weekend having the potential of changing the rankings once again. England is getting ready for a difficult match against Argentina, which sits in the 10th place but has a highly competitive team although the real test is scheduled for one week from now.

England will be facing New Zealand, a team that has dominated the IRB World Rankings for four years in a row and the all Blacks show no sign of weakness. Recently they won 54-6 against Japan and even though the points didn’t count in this particular ranking, the victory suggest that the All-Blacks are the team to beat right now.

Australian players are under a lot of stress these days and their local media was most unkind to them, adding additional pressure on their European tour. Things turned from bad to worse because Australia was already trailing England at half time and failed to close the gap of seven points separating them from the hosts. Many fear that the downswing can continue for the Wallabies and claim that the team from the southern hemisphere is in danger of losing a string of games in Europe.

The Saracens prepare for a clash against Toulouse

The Saracens prepare for a clash against ToulouseTwo weeks ago, the Saracens exceeded expectations by defeating their archrivals at Twickenham Stoop, in a game that the Harlequins dominated in the first half. Their fighting spirit shined brightly once again and eventually they earned another victory on one of the most hostile arenas. Now they try to achieve a similar result against a team from abroad, with Toulouse visiting them this Friday.

The French side has its fair share of struggles in the domestic league and they are trying to restore their former glory, but in continental rugby they are every bit as dangerous as they always were. The fact that they will lack home pitch advantage is obviously disappointing for the players, but they plan on improving their position in Heineken Cup Pool 3.

The visitors are not under the impression of starting the game as favorites, but the underdog status can be in their favor because it will alleviate the pressure on their shoulders. By contrast, the hosts are now expected to deliver a string of consecutive victories, and their fans are more demanding than in the previous seasons. Luckily for them, the Saracens have an impressive lineup and with Mako Vunipola, Chris Wyles and Schalk Brits they should be more than a match for the French team.

Mark McCall congratulated his players for their recent performance especially the victory over the Harlequins, but at the same time demands them to be more clinical upfront. The truth is that the Saracens have squandered numerous scoring opportunities and found themselves on the brink several times. It is most unlikely for Toulouse to cut them any slack tonight and that’s why the hosts need to make the most of all the scoring opportunities that they might get.

Punters are usually inclined to stay away from highly contested games, especially when the odds for the home team are not particularly high. This is exactly the kind of game that keeps them at the edge of their seat throughout regulation time but then again it is hard to resist temptation. If you want to make it interesting and place a wager on this particular match, do yourself a favor and back on the Saracens to cover the spread, for better odds.

Saracens keep winning streak alive at Twickenham Stoop

Saracens keep winning streak alive at Twickenham StoopA rugby match between the Saracens and Harlequins is usually the highlight of the week, even when the two teams meet in the opening games of the season. This is exactly what happened on Saturday, when the Saracens traveled to Twickenham Stoop for a match against their arch rivals. The home team was prepared for what was expected to be a very difficult game, against an opponent who was riding a three games winning streak. The Harlequins were no pushover either, in fact they had a better head to head record, so the stage was set for an entry confrontation.

Something had to give at Twickenham Stoop but unfortunately for the hosts, the Saracens were simply unstoppable and at the end of the regular time they were 10 points ahead. The Harlequins were confident ahead of the game, following a lopsided victory over Worcester, but as early as the first half it became obvious that the visiting team was a class about them. Home pitch advantage was supposed to propel the hosts forward, but the opposite happened as the Saracens took the initiative and never relinquished it.

Interesting enough, the hosts were the ones to score the first points and Nick Evans was the architect of this temporary success. He gave his team an advantage over the Saracens and although they quickly reduced the handicap, the Harlequins got ahead once more. Evans was once again too fast for the visitors to contain and despite the course of the game, at half time the hosts were ahead by six points.

Unfortunately for them, everything went down the drain when the two teams returned from the lockers, as the visitors conceded no points. Their defensive display was dazzling and in a matter of minutes they leveled the score and kept pushing the Harlequins further into their own half. Chris Ashton and Farrell were the best players for the Saracens and they’ve brought them back into the game, eventually being the ones to thank for extending the winning streak.

All-Blacks win controversial game

allblacksWe are all so used with New Zealand winning rugby games that very few pay attention to news saying that the All-Blacks added another victory to their already impressive records. What makes this recent triumph over the Springboks so interesting is the fact that it came at the end of a game that saw du Plessis eliminated in the first 45 minutes. Many claim that if Romain Poite hadn’t send the South African out, his team would’ve had a better chance at causing a major upset.

If we are to take a look at what happened on the pitch, the controversial game raises several questions but it also tends to justify the referee’s actions. du Plessis was particularly aggressive in the first half and he was shown two yellow cards in a relatively quick succession, although the first one was somewhat debatable. New Zealand was on a roll from the very beginning and their opponents tried hard to contain them, which only led to more aggressive plays from the South Africans.

As the All-Blacks extended their lead, pressure was mounting and du Plessis made another foul play that triggered his untimely elimination. Not surprising, the South African bench exploded and the coach asked for explanations but it was all in vain because the decision was not to be reversed. The Springboks didn’t play badly in the first 45 min. but once their player was eliminated they sunk into near irrelevance and found it impossible to rebound.

The impact of the two yellow cards were obvious and without Bismarck du Plessis on the field, New Zealand made short work of their opponents scoring almost twice as many points. The referee played his role in the outcome of the game by deeming Plessis tackle the legal, but it would be unfair to say that the All Blacks were saved by his decision. Even without this elimination, they would’ve probably still won the game but this doesn’t make it any less frustrating for the South Africans.

As far as New Zealand is concerned, the game went according to the plan and the players made very few mistakes both before and after Plessis saw the second yellow card. In 14 men the South Africans couldn’t do much to stop them in their tracks and they were already down in a big hole, digging themselves ever deeper. By the time they were up 24 to 10 it was obvious that the All Blacks got away with victory and the final five points made no impact.

Now that the game is over, the South Africans are still steaming over that elimination but their fans are not completely convinced. The Springboks need to improve their game dramatically if they are to have a chance at the upcoming World Cup, but then again so do all the teams. New Zealand is the country to beat in 2014 and with or without numeric superiority, they are a formidable opponent that can make short work of any team.

Clermont earns hard fought victory over Toulouse

rugbyRugby enthusiasts from France enjoyed a royal treat last Saturday, as the best teams in the country went head to head at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin. The hosts were counting on a narrow margin victory over their archrivals, but didn’t expect to prevail by 38-19. At a first glance it might look like the game was a lopsided one and there were even articles claiming that Clermont destroyed Toulouse at home.

Without stripping them of their merit, after all the hosts scored twice as many points as the visitors, Clermont had to fight hard for this victory. Toulouse gave them a run for their money and the score at half time was 13-10, with both teams creating and squandering multiple opportunities to score. The second half was equally intense and it looked like the game could’ve gone either way, but unfortunately for them the visitors barely missed several opportunities to score.

By contrast, Clermont was more pragmatic and Julien Bonnaire helped them consolidate their lead over the visitors, with Wesley Fofana striking the decisive blow in the final minutes of the game. The hosts were hard-pressed to come out firing on all cylinders if they were to maintain an impressive streak of consecutive wins. They didn’t lose at home in more than 60 games but it is these games against Toulouse that are most likely to bring an end to such an impressive streak of victories.

Ahead of this match, rugby specialists were reserved about Clermont’s ability of containing the visitors after they suffered a disheartening defeat to Oyonnax. The newly promoted team somehow found a way to beat them at home, but that proved to be nothing more than an accident. Toulouse won the championship 19 times and with players such as Lionel Beauxis and Yann David in their rotation they are a tough nut to crack.

The man of the match for Clermont was Australian fly-half Brock James, but the entire team fought hard and some players even saw yellow cards. Julien Bardy and his counterpart from Toulouse, Yohan Montes were sent to the bin in the first half and the two teams were neck and neck until Brock James converted another penalty. The hosts missed out on several opportunities to consolidate their lead at the end of the first half but Toulouse was saved by the break and the second half resumed fast and furious. Until the two teams meet again, Clermont is very likely to add more victories to its string of consecutive wins.