Kansas City takes another jab at World Series

Kansas City Royals had an excellent opportunity of winning the World Series after a long drought, but their hopes were shattered by San Francisco Giants. The team from the West Coast proved to be a tough nut to crack and their superior experience was essentially determining the winner. This doesn’t mean that the Royals have forsaken or who, in fact they are ready to return to their winning ways and 2015 is the year when they make the first attempt.

kansasMeanwhile, they need to strengthen their rotation, so that the next time they lock horns with a superior opponent, they will have a fighting chance. Among those that will probably join the team at the end of the training season is Alex Rios, who recently participated to the team’s annual FanFest. He has been with the Royals for quite a while, but fitness concerns have kept him away from the pitch and all this could be behind him when spring training resumes.

Kansas City is repairing with a couple of training games and having Alex back in the rotation would mean a great deal for their chances. He has played with other teams and has plenty of experience, at 33 years old so it is entirely up to him to lead the Royals to another deep playoff run. He underwent surgery in the second half of 2014 but recent signs are positive and it looks like he has fully recuperated.

Kaufman Stadium is where he will return to practice, with Lorenzo Cain being just one of the top players that will join him. He won the MVP last season as the best player for the Royals and together these two pack quite a punch and should help the team dominate division rivals. Speaking of which, this is expected to be a highly competitive one and anything can happen in over 80 games played.

The Royals will also need a couple of new players, but so far it is uncertain what acquisitions are worth making because there are not many players to choose from. Those who are free of contact are in the situation for good reason and Kansas City can’t afford to sign anyone who is not playoff material. Things have changed radically since 2010 when they had a losing record and in 2015, it is imperative for them to build on the existing momentum.

Manager Vern Cotter names players for Scotland squad

Those who are anxiously waiting for coach Vern Cotter to name the players that will feature in Scotland’s starting formation, were surprised by his decision. Earlier this month, he announced that he has a clear strategy for the upcoming matches and told the media that he intends to make some major changes. More on this matter can be found at http://www.scotsman.com/mobile/sport/rugby/latest/vern-cotter-has-progress-in-mind-for-autumn-tests-1-3549460.

worldrugbyApparently, he stuck to the plan, as he decided to name Grant Gilchrist captain for for the 2014 Autumn Tests, while keeping a couple of prominent players on the bench. Among those that were excluded from the starting formation is Kelly Brown who plays for the Saracens and did a great job over the last couple of weeks. The decision to use Grant as captain is hardly a surprise, given the fact that he has plenty of experience and achieve great things for Edinburgh.

17 players will be selected from those playing at Glasgow Warriors, with 10 other clubs providing players for the Scottish national team. Among those that will make their debut next week is Mark Bennett, who was the man of the match last week went less the Warriors defeated Bath. The victory in the European Rugby Champions Cup is only one of the reasons for why he was selected to play in the test games.

Gilchrist is only 24 years old, but he already led Scotland twice over the summer and one of those gains resulted in an impressive victory over Argentina. Back then, his team scored 21 points while allowing just 19 and Scotland needs to replicate that performance in late October and the first half of November. The games against New Zealand on November 15 and the opening match against Argentina on November 8 are by far the most difficult.

The month will conclude with a match played at Kilmarnock against Tonga, a game that the hosts are expected to win without breaking a sweat. By making these changes in the starting squad and choosing a new captain, the coach intends to strengthen the defensive while providing more options up front.

The game against Argentina is the one that will put the new team to the test, because their opponents have an extremely talented midfield and their players don’t lack the stamina to play at the same level throughout the match. The confrontation with New Zealand is going to be just as difficult, with the All Blacks being by far the best of all rugby teams and their recent victory in the Rugby Championship only serves as an additional argument in favor of this theory.

Saracens claim first place after win over Sale

The Aviva Premiership used to be dominated by the Saracens and that’s why many rugby fans were slightly surprised to see that the team had slipped from the first place. It is all history now, because following their victory over Sale by 40 points to 19, they are back on track and leading the domestic championship. They were more than a match for their opponents and overall they have dominated rugby teams in the Premiership, so they are entitled to be cheerful.

worldrugbyOne week ago, they struggled on the road at the London Irish, but at the end of the day what truly matters is that they got away with a narrow margin victory. The team had to wait until the very last minute to score the winning points, but it was good enough to bring them back at the top. Steve Diamond is probably furious about how his players performed, but had they played the best rugby they’ve got, the Saracens would’ve probably emerge victorious.

They took the lead early on and pushed forward from the very first minute, leaving their opponents with no chance whatsoever to come back in the race. Alex Goode was simply unstoppable and by the time Sale realized what was happening, they were already down by 10 points. They closed the gap for a brief period of time, but Mark McCall’s players were clearly unimpressed as they scored another 13 points and they were once again in command and this time it was impossible for the opponents to close the gap.

They were leading by 23 points to 7 at half time and didn’t shift into a less aggressive gear, as they were fully aware of the fact that their opponents were paralyzed. The Saracens also accomplished the task of getting a bonus points try and it is Richard Barrington who can brag about his performance. When the final whistle was blown, everyone was happy that the match has ended, even though for different reasons.

Golden Lions win opening match over Blue Bulls

Two weeks ago, the South African rugby Federation announced that teams participating in the Currie Cup shouldn’t call upon players that are scheduled to compete for the Springboks. Not surprisingly, there were many who criticize the ruling, but there was very little that the managers could do and they were forced to find worthy substitutes. Everyone was anxiously waiting to see how the opening match will unfold, given the fact that the Golden Lions were supposed to take on the Blue Bulls.worldrugby

The home side came out firing on all cylinders and did his very best to keep the ball for most of the time, a strategy that quickly paid off. The visitors were overwhelmed by their offensive prowess and before they could effectively retaliate, they found themselves in a 23 – 3 hole. Stokkies Hanekom and Ruan Combrink quickly added their names on the scores’ sheet but the man of the match was Marnitz Boshoff who scored most of the goals and was very active on the pitch.

The visitors had no intention to simply roll over and they didn’t give up without the fight, trying to contain the Golden Lions in the second half of the match. Sampie Mastriet spearheaded the offensive and caused plenty of headaches for the hosts, but the threat posed by this gifted player was neutralized. The Lions quickly regained the initiative and after a couple of impressive plays, they managed to score once again, en route to a convincing victory.

The hosts decided to play in their original equipment, which proved to be a lucky choice as they had no problem in overcoming the Blue Bulls. Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and Derick Minnie received plenty of praise after the match was over, for their commitment. It was pretty obvious by half time that the Golden Lions were not going to allow the visitors to take the lead anytime soon and they didn’t shift into a less aggressive gear, even though they had a considerable advantage over their opponents.

For the Blue Bulls only two players stood out from the crowd, with Mastriet scoring a try, while Potgieter being the author of one, and one penalty. Despite all those concerns regarding the decision not to call upon the Springboks in Currie cup games, the competition seems to be every bit as interesting as it was in the previous years. Granted this is only the opening match and a lot can change in the upcoming rounds, it is a good way to start the tournament.

Springboks improbable to play in 2014 Currie Cup

The 2014 Currie Cup is about to begin and under normal circumstances, local teams would be calling upon the Springboks to help the win it. The competition is very popular, but for those who are relatively new to rugby or don’t follow South African sports, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currie_Cup will shed some light on this matter. The recent announcements made by the South African Rugby Union are a bit surprising, as the Federation asked the squads not to call any national team players for these games.worldrugby

In the previous years, the best South African players were an integrated part of the teams competing for the Currie Cup, but this is probably not going to happen in 2014. It goes without saying that some teams are more effective than others, but interesting enough, the ones who have the best players are the most frustrated once. The prospect of not being able to rely on their playmakers is infuriating, but there is very little that they can do, as Sharks CEO John Smit confirmed in a recent statement.

One of the reasons for why the South African Rugby Union made this request is to have these players fit for the rugby championship. This has been a constant concern for the Federation not to get players injured or extremely tired but until recently, the teams were allowed to call upon these top players. It goes without saying that this current edition of the Currie Cup will be far less interesting without the Springboks, but on the bright side, their absence will give younger players a chance to shine.

Only time will tell whether the impact of this request will have a deterring effect on those who are planning on watching the Cup unfold live. For the time being, all we have are mixed reactions from the rugby fans, while the ones opposing the measure are the owners of the teams. From a punter’s perspective, these news are bothersome but they also offer the possibility of bigger profits, because bookmakers will have a hard time finding the perfect odds for the upcoming matches.

Not all news coming from South Africa are worrisome, in fact those who are big fans of Juan Smith have plenty of reasons to rejoice as the player might return for the test rugby match. The player suffered a severe injury two years ago and he decided to take a lengthy break from rugby, but it looks like his health problems are behind him. The best case scenario is to have the former Heineken Cup and Top 14 winner fit to play, which would be a great addition to the Springboks in their quest for victory in the Rugby World Cup scheduled for 2015.

New Zealand hammers England to win series

The three Lions knew that they were in for quite a challenge against New Zealand when the two teams met this week. The All Blacks are a formidable opponent and they ride a lengthy winning streak, so it came as no surprise that England was credited with the second chance to win. The series didn’t start well for the English side who lost the first two games and was on the verge of suffering yet another sweep.

What was regarded by many pundits as inevitable happened, with New Zealand in complete control and in less than 40 min. the fate of the match was decided. England had its fair share of injury concerns and had to do without some key players, but even if they were at full strength, the All Blacks would’ve probably prevailed. New Zealand played brilliantly in the first half while their opponents struggled heavily, which explains how it was possible for them to build up such a commanding lead by half time.worldrugby

England created very few scoring opportunities and even when they had the chance to add some points on the scoring board, they missed out. Stuart Lancaster’s team played with a sense of urgency in the next half but the offensive was rather toothless and New Zealand countered them on multiple levels. Ben Youngs was one of the few bright spots in their rotation and he met expectations by exercising constant pressure on the All Blacks. Unfortunately his efforts were not enough to turn the tide and England never came within striking distance of their opponents.

Savea had a good chance to score a hat trick, but in the end he had to settle for less, but what truly matters is that New Zealand played its a-game. English players didn’t look fit to play 60 min. at the same level and fatigue is just one of the reasons for why they failed to put up a convincing fight. The players gave everything on the pitch, but sadly for them that was not enough to hold New Zealand in its tracks and something needs to change radically before the world championship.

Interesting enough, the All Blacks still have a couple of things to fix and it is only fair to say that despite the crushing victory, they didn’t play their best rugby. If they do, it will be virtually impossible for any team to win against him and New Zealand’s dominance is very likely to continue.

Toulon wins back to back titles

The Saracens played brilliantly throughout the domestic championship and cruised to a relatively easy title, but they were outclassed in the Heineken cup. Toulon brought a team packed with stars and every single one of them shined brightly this Saturday, when the French side won by 23-6. They led from start to finish and the outcome of the match was never in doubt, despite the British side’s efforts.

Wilkinson was the man that everyone expected to perform to the highest level and the former England fly-half exceeded expectations. He spent most of the time in the spotlight at it was only natural to be so, as he is probably playing for the last year. Winning back-to-back Heineken cups is a remarkable achievement and the English rugby player has one more chance to lift a trophy in Paris.worldrugby

Toulon is not a team to depend on one or two players and they put this theory to the test yesterday, when steamrolling past the Saracens. Their opponents were highly motivated and came out firing on all cylinders, but Toulon knew exactly how to douse the flames and the English side was rendered irrelevant in the second half. They never found the strength to close the gap separating them from the leaders and trailed for the entire match, with the last 20 min. being downright disappointing.

They have one more game to play next week, but it is of no importance whatsoever because this was the trophy that the Saracens ware hoping to lift. Past performance and recent results suggested that they might be up for the task, which made the crushing defeat even more disheartening. In order for them to stand a chance, they needed their defense to play impeccable rugby and sadly for them this didn’t happen.

Scoring one more point than the opponent is a strategy that sometimes delivers positive results in domestic championships, but the Heineken cup is the competition of an entirely different caliber. Toulon were clearly the better team and they showed no weakness in any area, while the Saracens looked stiff and tired. Punters and pundits were probably unimpressed by the results as many proclaimed before the kickoff that the French side will cruise towards victory.

The surprise resides in the fact that they won by 17 points and they never had to close the deficit, or even worry that the Saracens might tie them for the lead. Only time will tell how they will perform in 2015 and beyond, with Wilkinson and two more players announcing their retirement. For the time being, Toulon have a great squad and if they replace these two players were departing with some that are at least half as good, they should have a decent chance at winning the Heineken cup for the third time in a row.

Schalk Burger to start for Stormers on Saturday

The Stormers and the Highlanders will be going at each other’s throats this Saturday, which means that both teams will try to field the most competitive starting formation. Allister Coetzee is particularly motivated to win this game, as it will be played in front of its fans and as a result decided to make certain changes. Four players will be replaced and Springbok flank Burger is one of the beneficiaries, as he will play instead of Siya Kolisi.

This should also be a big day for Kurt Coleman who is expected to play for the Stormers in his debut game, while Scarra Ntubeni and winger Sailosi Tagicakibau will also return on the pitch. There were a couple of fitness concerns that kept both of them on the bench but it looks like they are now back in shape and has trained with the team this midweek.stormers

Having all of them in the starting formation will greatly improve the hosts’ chance of prevailing, but it would be a mistake to minimize the importance of Deon Fourie and Siya Kolisi. These are highly versatile players that can field several roles with ease and if they would be playing in the same squad as Schalk Burger and Kurt Coleman, they’d get creative. This is going to be a very difficult match for the hosts even with all this talent, but they are rightfully credited with the first chance to win.

Another big news is that Richie Gray has signed a contract with the Springboks and he’s expected to play a significant role next year. The November tests and the Rugby Championship provided him with extra opportunities to prove his usefulness as a consultant, which explains why he was given a permanent role. He brings a lot of experience to the table as he worked for the Scottish Rugby Union for over a decade.

Richie makes no mistake and is fully aware of the fact that expectations are high, but he has all that you can hope from someone in his position. The South Africans had problems in the past with the breakdown, but most of these issues are expected to find a swift resolution, now that Gray is on their side. The World Cup is just a year away, and the interest for the upcoming competition is tremendous already.

New Zealand wins the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens event

There is nothing stopping New Zealand right now and regardless of competition, the All-Blacks win back to back games. The World Cup is the event that everyone is anxiously waiting for, but meanwhile there are plenty of matches and trophies to be won. New Zealand won the Hong Kong Sevens after a 3-year break following a dazzling display of power and precision.

New Zealand wins the Hong Kong eventEngland did a fine job throughout the event but they were no match for the All-Blacks in the final and couldn’t manage more than 7 points. Their defenses were tested early in the game and failed too much to keep the team alive, eventually allowing 26 points. They were never in charge and after Tim Mikkelson, DJ Forbes, Sam Dickson and Ben Lam scored in the first half, England kept chasing without success.

Sometimes the score can be misleading in rugby, but it is only fair to say that this was a one-sided match that New Zealand won without breaking a sweat. The World Series champions scored a big win over their South Hemisphere rivals by winning in Hong Kong. South Africa is scrambling to build a compact team that could challenge the All-Blacks later this year but they have a huge gap to close.

The tournament was a treat for fans and rugby enthusiasts who attended and those who were in the stands for the England vs Fiji match were in for a treat. Few expected Fiji to play so hard as they did, but eventually it was England to claim a spot in the final. There weren’t any surprises in the final stage of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, as Fiji cruised past the USA while New Zealand crushed Australia by 19-7.

One match before the semi-final, their rivals had a hard time overcoming Canada who held its ground brilliantly and only lost 14-12. Scotland’s performance in the match against France was truly memorable and the Scotts fully deserved the 31-5 victory. Individual players set milestones of their own, with Collins Injera becoming the third most successful try scorer while Duarte Moreira scored a hat-trick for Portugal, who defeated Sri Lanka 24-19.

Richie McCaw plans to hang boots in 2015

Richie McCawTwo weeks after Wilkinson commented on his recent decision to retire in 2015, another prominent player said that he contemplates retirement from international rugby. New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw could be hanging his boots next year, after playing more than 120 past games so far. He was even the captain of the All Blacks back in 2011 when New Zealand won, so his absence will be hard to compensate.

Reporters were curious about whether he will be still playing rugby in 2016 and the New Zealand skipper told them that this is most unlikely. He plans to retire in 2015, even though he seems to be fit to play for a couple of more years and it goes without saying that his team could use his service. Those who thought that he might simply retire from the national team while moving overseas to play for a rich club were proven wrong by his recent statements, as Richie has no intention to relocate.

While these prominent rugby players prepare for retirement, younger ones get ready to prove their worth in the big arena and George Ford is a shining example. He will make his test debut off the bench in place of Brad Barritt, but he won’t be the only player that will take advantage of an injured veteran. Dan Cole is still sidelined, which means that Davey Wilson will start in his place and these will be the only new faces in the team that recently defeated Scotland by 20-0.

Lancaster’s decision is not surprising, as the coach has contemplated the possibility of including Ford in his team and the time is right for him to make this move. The young player has been training for three weeks and apparently convinced the coach that he’s got what it takes to play in a big match. The promising youngster has proven his worth in Junior squads and everyone hopes that he will develop into a player capable of regularly assuming a place in the senior team.

Those who are wondering whether Brad Barritt will return to the team once he is completely recovered from injury, have reasons to be optimistic. The coach said that he remains a key member of the team and once he is back to fitness he will have the first chance to reclaim his position. The next couple of weeks with the Saracens should help him make a smooth transition and speed up his recovery.