Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
GP12 & ARMY v NAVY!
The Anglo Welsh Cup Final and two of the three Round 5 Six Nations matches went down to the last minute of play with the outcome still in doubt and if you were a subscriber to The Rugby Channel you could have watched every thrilling minute of it!
And even if you weren’t a subscriber then, you can become one now for less than a dollar per week and use our Video On Demand feature to re-live all the excitement from last weekend.
Plus, there’s even more drama upcoming as the Guinness Pro12 enters the homestretch and we give you unprecedented access to a storied rivalry between our two oldest military academies.
The Twickenham Stoop, Murrayfield, the Stade de France, and the Aviva Stadium all hosted important matches last Saturday and if you want to see the highlights, check out TRC Report #43.
This quartet of matches, however, are best watched from start to finish as they contain sides battling for the first silverware of the year, sporting pride, world rugby ranking points, Rugby World Cup pool placement, and a chance to set or deny a remarkable rugby record.
This was quite a final as the Chiefs and Tigers battled for the right to hoist the Anglo Welsh Cup trophy. Exeter scored the first try on a great run by James Short that started with a successful lineout and some quality passing in the backline.
Leicester responded when Tom Brady intercepted a pass and took it all the way to the line. Leicester’s cause was also helped by the three penalty kicks by flyhalf Freddie Burns that gave them a 16 - 5 lead at half.
The second forty contained a whole lot of pounding running and thumping tackling as neither side could do anything to affect the scoreline. Exeter finally broke through in the 78th minute after an extended period with the ball that showcased both their amazing ball-retention skills and Leicester’s newly stout defense and discipline.
Leicester eventually got the ball back from a determined Exeter side and was able to run out the clock for the title, their first in four years.
Probably the most surprising aspect of the victory was that in the aftermath, Tigers decided to bypass Coach Aaron Mauger and re-appoint Australian Matt O’Connor to lead the team for the rest of the season and into the future. Somewhat shocking to say the least!
This match started like many for Italy in this and previous campaigns. They played solid defense initially then slipped in their cohesion and commitment and began to leak tries as Scotland exploited gaps and took advantage of missed tackles.
Italy Coach Conor O’Shea has a lot of work to do if he wants his charges to ever stop regularly earning the wooden spoon in this competition, something they’ve done twelve times in the eighteen years they’ve participated.
Scotland sent Coach Vern Cotter off with a win as he’ll now be replaced by Gregor Townsend. Cotter did a fantastic job of turning the Scots into a side that believed in themselves and then translated that into some big wins on the pitch during his tenure.
Townsend will have plenty of young talent at his disposal when he takes the helm and will be hard-pressed to continue Scotland’s progress and maintain their number five world ranking.
You have to watch this match to believe it actually happened. The first eighty minutes were pretty entertaining. France scored an early try through outside center Remi Lamerat, Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny punished France’s indiscipline with a fine kicking performance and there was a fair bit of drama as France threatened the Welsh line as the clock wound down to eighty minutes.
What happened over the next twenty minutes had to be both embarrassing for the officials and frustrating for the players.
After a couple of minutes the French replaced a tiring prop (Uini Antonio) with a rested one (Rabah Slimani) after their doctor appeared on the field and claimed the first prop needed a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) despite no sign of needing one. The teams then scrummed down over and over, some resulting in French attacks on the line followed by Welsh penalties and others with scrummaging infractions by Wales.
During this time, Welsh prop Samson Lee was yellow carded for killing the ball on the goal line and was sent to the bin. A lengthy delay ensued as referee Wayne Barnes and the fourth official tried to determine if Wales had taken their other prop (Tomas Francis) off for injury or straight replacement and thus whether or not there would be contested scrums.
Welsh Wing George North also alleged that he had been bitten after a tackle. Referee Barnes thought the bite marks clear and severe enough to warrant a look by the TMO but no evidence of French chomping was found.
The commentators on the broadcast threw words like farce and disgrace around and they weren’t far off from the truth.
After the match, French lock Yoann Maestri openly accused Barnes of cheating against his team, even though they won.
The only way to accurately describe what happened in Extra Time in Paris is to say that it was a debacle. Watch it yourself and see if you agree.
This was the most important match of the round even though England’s second consecutive title was already secured before it kicked off.
Ireland were playing for pride, second place in the 6N table, to maintain their fourth slot in the rankings, and most importantly, to see if they once again could be giant killers and stop a team’s 18 match winning streak like they had done to New Zealand in Chicago last Summer.
Besides the Six Nations crown, England had everything else to lose and they did.
A highlights package can’t capture the sheer intensity of the match or the amount of ball retention and defensive commitment that Ireland showed throughout the contest so you have to watch it for yourself to really get the feel of the encounter.
England didn’t play poorly, they just made simple mistakes at all the wrong times in greasy conditions. This may prove to actually be a good loss for them in the long run though, with the pressure of the streak removed and the ability now to fully concentrate on building towards 2019.
Ireland will rue the losses to Scotland and Wales that cost them the Championship but will revel in their newly earned reputation as a team that can beat the very best the world has to offer!
LEINSTER V CARDIFF – Saturday, March 25 at 10 am ET
Leinster is firmly ensconced at the top of the GP12 table with 66 points, two ahead of Ospreys. They will be intent on maintaining that position for the rest of the season and thus securing a home semifinal. And since the Final is set for their home away from home in Dublin, the Aviva Stadium, they will have added incentive to not let anyone overtake them.
Cardiff can’t make the playoffs but they can make mischief over the next five rounds, beginning on Saturday at the RDS which will make this fixture definitely worth watching.
GLASGOW V CONNACHT – Saturday, March 25 at 12:15 pm ET
Glasgow are on 46 points in sixth position, 11 points behind Ulster for the fourth playoff berth. In other words, losses are now unacceptable the rest of the way, especially at home.
Connacht has barely a mathematical chance of reaching the postseason and defending their first-ever title but that slim possibility will drive them to give it their all in the final rounds of the campaign.
I’ll definitely be watching this one and expect plenty of fireworks.
ARMY V NAVY – Saturday, March 25 at 2:15 pm ET
The Army-Navy rugby rivalry dates back to 1970. The Rugby Channel is proud to contribute to this traditional matchup by broadcasting the game LIVE from West Point as the visitors from Annapolis are welcomed to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Anderson Rugby Complex.
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March will finish with the Guinness Pro12 and the Army v Navy match.
April will have more GP12, a Women’s Eagles match, Greene King IPA coverage, and HSBC Women’s Sevens Series action from Japan, and the British Army v Royal Navy clash for the Babcock Trophy.
May will feature the conclusion of the Guinness Pro 12 including the Semifinals and Final, HSBC Women’s Sevens Series action from Canada, and the D1A men’s collegiate Final.
June will see the Eagles in action against Ireland, Georgia, and Canada.
Subscribe Now and don’t miss any of the outstanding matches that The Rugby Channel will bring you in just the next three months.