Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
ARC FINALE, GP14 & TOP 14!
Do you want to watch the Eagles lift some silverware? Are you yearning for heated contests between Celtic powerhouses? Does the power and artistry of the LNR fill a void in your oval viewing schedule?
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After last weekend’s big win over Brazil the United States have put themselves in perfect position to defend their ARC title, plus the races for playoff spots in the GP14 and the Top 14 are sizzling hot, so Subscribe to The Rugby Channel right now to watch our fantastic lineup of matches LIVE or anytime you want with our Video On Demand option.
In Round 4 of the ARC the USA avenged a 2016 loss in the southern hemisphere, Leinster and Scarlets continued to duel for the top rung on the GP14 ladder, and Toulouse and Toulon both got important Top 14 wins in their quest for home advantage in the postseason.
The last time the USA went to Brazil with the lead in the ARC they were shockingly defeated by a penalty kick at the death and their campaign subsequently fell apart. This time they jumped out to an early lead, looked to be running away with it, then slumped in the second half before coming alive at the end to finish with a much more respectable scoreline.
The Eagles took a 26-10 lead into halftime and then didn’t score again until the 69th minute as Brazil battled them physically and fought their way back into the match.
When you watch this match again or for the first time, focus on flanker Hanco Germishuys. The young openside scored two tries, defended like a demon, and seemed to pop up everywhere he was needed. He would have had a hat trick but one five pointer was called back by the TMO. His development into a solid backrower is proceeding nicely and the 21-year-old looks to have an exciting future ahead of him for the USA.
Hanco is just one of a bunch of newer players who are getting a chance to show what they can do in Eagle colors under new Coach Gary Gold. Guys like Dylan Audsley, Paul Lasike, Psalm Wooching, Bryce Campbell, and Huluholo Moungoloa are already having an impact as they begin their international careers.
There wasn’t a whole lot of drama at the RDS as Leinster basically put on a tryscoring exhibition for ten thousand of their fans. The home side sewed up the win and bonus point early on by scoring six tries in the first half then added another four after the break.
The try of the evening was a cross-field kick-pass from flyhalf Ciaran Frawley to winger James Lowe in the corner. Leinster is having to utilize every bit of their depth while the bulk of their stars are away with Ireland and the reserves like Frawley are grabbing their opportunities with both hands.
Injuries and unavailability are parts of the modern professional game and even when Leinster have a full squad again, it will be terribly important to have blooded youngsters who can contribute at crucial moments down the stretch.
This was a major win for Scarlets who were coming off back-to-back losses for the first time this season. After a first half effort that saw them trailing 3-7, they rebounded in the second forty and scored four tries to earn the bonus point and avoid falling further behind surging Leinster.
The best try in this one was also a kick-pass but of an entirely different sort as flyhalf Dan Jones popped a little chip over the top to a charging Paul Asquith who caught it in the air and dotted down.
The defending champs seem to have righted the ship and will now have their sights set on passing Leinster next week when they meet in Llanelli.
I didn’t expect such a close match from these two as they were heading in different directions on the ladder. The final score was a bit misleading as Brive kept it close until the waning minutes when Toulouse were awarded a penalty try that gave them an important bonus point as time expired.
And yet again, the try of the match involved a flyhalf (Thomas Ramos) kicking the ball ahead to be gathered on the run by a winger (Yoann Huget) who touched it down for an awesome Toulouse score. Talent and speed abound in the Top 14 and Toulouse has more than their fair share of both.
Toulouse are now in third place with 53 competition points and appear ready to challenge Racing 92 and Montpellier for first position in the standings.
If you have any question about how tough the Top 14 is, then watch this match and you’ll be suitably impressed by both the physicality and skill level of this competition. Going into Round 18 La Rochelle was in third and Toulon in fourth, generating what felt like a playoff preview atmosphere.
Two tries in particular stand out from this thriller. La Rochelle hooker Pierre Bourgarit amazingly rambled more than sixty meters to the tryline in the first half but that effort was almost immediately overshadowed by a seemingly impossible flickback pass from Toulon center Semi Radradra that eventually ended up in JPR Pietersen’s hands to dot down.
The lead went back and forth throughout the encounter and the result wasn’t decided until the final minute, but in the end, the superior goalkicking accuracy of Toulon proved to be the difference with five penalties and one conversion from Jonathan Wisniewski and Anthony Belleau.
If you only have time for one VOD match this week, make it this one and you won’t be disappointed.
And don’t forget to watch the Top 14 Round 18 Highlights Show with all the tries from every match!
To paraphrase Coach Gary Gold, even though they haven’t played brilliantly, the Eagles have put themselves in position to have everything to play for on Saturday. A win secures a second consecutive ARC title and runs their unbeaten string in the comp to ten matches.
The USA’s last loss in the tourney came in 2016 to this same Los Teros team at Estadio Charrua, 29-25 so they can definitely not be taken lightly. Overall the USA is 14-2-1 against Uruguay, with both losses coming in Montevideo.
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Munster is in second place in Conference A but still harbors hope of catching up to Glasgow, who they beat last Friday night. Edinburgh is third in Conference B and wants to put as much distance as possible between them and fourth place Ulster.
This is a great way to get the weekend underway as Edinburgh strive to defend Myreside and extend their winning streak to five in a row while Munster attempts to beat the Scottish club for the second time this season.
It doesn’t get much bigger than this in the PRO14 as #1 and #2 in Conference B go at it at Parc Y Scarlets. In a quirk of the new schedule these two sides just met a fortnight ago in Dublin where the men in blue won 20-13. Their meeting prior to that one was the 2016/17 PRO14 semifinal when Scarlets pulled off a stunning upset on their way to the championship.
After chasing Scarlets most of the campaign, Leinster now leads 62 points to 59 so this clash is huge!
In the Top 14 the bottom of the table team is automatically relegated to Pro D2 and the second from bottom side gets a playoff with the Pro D2 runner-up.
Stade Francais are currently 11th and Oyannax is 14th which makes them both vulnerable to relegation and turns this into a critical fixture for both, which probably means a hard-fought and entertaining battle for you the viewer!
CLERMONT v LA ROCHELLE – Sunday, March 4 at 10:50 AM ET
La Rochelle has slid to sixth place with two straight losses to very good teams. Defending champions Clermont reached a new low last week when they lost at home to Oyannax.
La Rochelle needs a win to get back on track and keep pace with the leaders. Clermont has as much talent as any team in the tourney and has to start playing like it.
Americas Rugby Championship history is about to be made this weekend as the Eagles seek to become the first nation to defend their ARC title. You’ll absolutely want to watch it LIVE and the only place you can do that is on The Rugby Channel, so Subscribe Now and see the Eagles soar to new heights!