Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
GP14, TOP 14, & AWC FINAL!
When you become a subscriber to The Rugby Channel what you’re really doing is awakening your rugby mind to exciting new experiences and giving yourself alternative perspectives into the sport you already love.
If you get bogged down watching only one type of rugby from the same level, tourney, or area of the world, it can seriously narrow your view of the game even if the rugby itself is good.
Watching The Rugby Channel does the exact opposite.
TRC’s multitude of fixtures from an array of competitions enhances your enjoyment of the entire sport and fully opens your eyes to the beauty of its diversity.
Last weekend was a perfect example of how the exact same game can be played in a variety of ways, based on the conditions, the tournament, and the strategic intentions of the teams involved. Every single one of the five matches we delivered was outstanding and a definite must-see with our Video On Demand system if you didn’t catch them LIVE.
The first forty minutes of this rescheduled fixture produced a strangely compelling 0-0 half of rugby and the entire match was one of the most entertaining draws I’ve seen in a long while.
A little bit of everything in very rainy conditions made it a close contest all the way. There were TMO try reversals, missed kicks, defensive stands, and moments of team and individual brilliance, plus a couple of nice converted tries.
In the end it came down to the most basic of skills. Ahead 10-7 with time running out, Leinster tried to keep the ball in hand deep in their own territory by repeatedly pounding it into the defense with their forwards, a technique they must practice all the time. Unfortunately for them though, one forward went in unprotected and was called for not releasing as the Scarlets defenders got their hands on the ball.
The subsequent successful penalty from Dan Jones tied the match, which left Leinster on top of Conference B with 64 points and Scarlets in second on 61.
The first Anglo-Welsh Cup semifinal took place on Friday night at The Recreation Ground in a torrential downpour that resulted in pools of standing water near the touchlines plus almost universally soggy and muddy footing all over the rest of it. As the commentators remarked more than once, possession in your own half on this night was not a good thing to have!
Bath managed an early penalty, then went up 10-0 on a Levi Douglas try before Northampton fought back through the boot of Stephen Myler to make it 10-9 at half. The visitors finally took the lead on another Myler penalty in the 55th minute.
The turning point in the semi came off a really dumb play with fifteen minutes to go. Saints Number 8 Teimana Harrison objected to a tackle at the ruck, visibly and intentionally headbutted reserve prop Nathan Catt and was shown a red card after a TMO review. Not a savage blow but a really costly one and certainly not how he wanted to celebrate his century for Northampton!
Josh Lewis then nailed the resulting penalty kick to give Bath a 13-12 advantage that they never relinquished. Northampton fought till the end but could never overcome being a man down so late.
Exeter made it into their fourth consecutive AWC final but it wasn’t easy against a loaded Newcastle side that included former England flyhalf Toby Flood.
The Chiefs scored first a couple of minutes into the match, then saw the Falcons fly out to a 17-7 halftime lead.
The second forty was all Exeter on the scoreboard as they battled back to 17-all, then went ahead 20-17 on a Joe Simmonds penalty three minutes from fulltime. Newcastle had a chance to win it with a long attempt from replacement Joel Hodgson but it came up just short.
The outcome was literally in doubt until the last second when Hodgson’s kick went under the crossbar, you can’t ask for much more from a semifinal!
Despite the scoreline, this was not a traditional blowout. It was a real tussle from beginning to end and even when the result was determined, both sides continued playing aggressive, unyielding rugby.
Part of this was a result of the unique try bonus point system the Top 14 uses – you have to score at least three more tries than your opponent – but mostly it was because these are the two highest ranked squads in the Top 14. After watching them slug it out for eighty minutes it’s easy to see why they’re there.
In my estimation the difference in the contest was the stellar scrumhalf play of Montpellier’s Ruan Pienaar. Why Ulster thought it was a good idea to force the versatile South African to leave will always be a mystery. Stars aplenty in this one!
After last week’s shock loss to bottom of the table Oyannax, Stade Francais needed to rebound at home and that’s exactly what they did against Castres.
It didn’t start well for the home team as their captain Alexandre Flanquart got yellow carded for pushing referee Alexandre Ruiz when the whistleblower was clearly in the way of play. In Flanquart’s defense, there was nothing malicious in it and I think he was just a little overzealous in trying to move the much smaller ref out of the way so he could make a hit on the Castres ballcarrier.
It’s probably happened before but I can’t remember a case of a yellow for accidental contact with the referee.
Castres will not be happy about this loss and will look to take it out on their next opponent, Brive.
Edinburgh will host Munster at Myreside in a cross-conference make-up match that promises to deliver some fireworks. The home side is in a bit more tenuous position at the moment, sitting third in B, ten behind Scarlets and five ahead of Ulster, while the visitors are second in A, twelve adrift of Glasgow and six clear of the surging Cheetahs.
Edinburgh are riding a four-match win streak and haven’t lost a GP14 fixture at home since September 15!
The enthusiasm and joy on the faces of the Bath and Exeter fans and players at The Rec and Sandy Park after last week’s semifinal wins shows precisely how important it is for them to come home with some silverware from Kingsholm.
Between 1984 and 1996 Bath won ten Anglo-Welsh Cups and six Premiership titles. The only thing they’ve won since is the European Challenge Cup and that was ten years ago. A win on Saturday would be massive for the club for that reason alone!
As reigning Premiership champs, Exeter obviously know all about winning big games. The club also has a palpable desire to hoist the Anglo-Welsh Cup again like they did in 2014, particularly after losing to Saracens and Leicester in the last two finals.
This is a final and the effort and intensity on the pitch will match the atmosphere at the ground. Can’t wait to watch it!
As mentioned above, Castres is smarting from their road loss to a team 20 points below them in the table and will be determined to avoid the mistakes that plagued them in Paris. Brive is 25 points beneath them but still a legitimate threat so there will be no let-up at Stade Pierre Fabre.
Brive are in 13th place and in full danger of relegation, automatic or otherwise. They’re desperate for wins and desperation can breed extreme performances. Brive are coming off close losses to Clermont and Racing 92 so their effort level is still high.
Get up early on Sunday and treat yourself to some delicious French rugby!
Toulouse is yet another of the Top 14 clubs fully stocked with both domestic and international talent. They occupy fourth place and are battling to stay there to avoid an away first round playoff game. Last week they lost at home to a good Lyon team, now they have to bounce back against the toughest squad in the competition.
Montpellier are riding high but it’s never easy to travel to Stade Ernest Wallon and come away with a victory, especially when Toulouse has just lost there. A second straight Montpellier win over another top four challenger would make a very substantial statement to the rest of their chasers.
If you feel like waking up a bit later on Sunday morning – catch the first Top 14 match on VOD then watch this one LIVE in all its glory!
Following last week’s cliffhangers and thrillers it would be hard to predict an even better weekend of rugby but that’s exactly what I’m doing! You absolutely do not want to miss a minute of any of these matches so Subscribe Now for just $59.99 and let the rugby trip begin!