Mathew Brown – The Rugby Channel Column
EAGLES, GP14 & TOP 14!
What kind of rugby do you most enjoy watching?
Are you a diehard United States fan that absolutely has to see the Eagles LIVE every time they’re playing at home or abroad in the Americas Rugby Championship, June Tours and November Tours?
Or are you more interested in professional rugby from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Italy, where some of the strongest teams on the planet are battling on a weekly basis to top their respective conferences in the newly revamped Guinness PRO14?
Or perhaps your taste is the best funded league in the world, the French Top 14 that features the largest collection of international stars to be found anywhere?
Or maybe you prefer the plethora of domestic collegiate, club, and sevens rugby championships that are broadcast from all over America?
If you’re like most rugby fans, you simply love it all and can’t wait to see what’s going to happen every single week in these competitions, plus the Women’s Sevens Series, the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the Greene King IPA Championship!
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Last weekend in the ARC the Eagles extended their lead at the top of the table after three rounds by defeating Chile.
In the GP14, Leinster finally passed Scarlets with a solid win and Cardiff made a heavy push for a playoff spot with a victory over Munster.
In the Top 14, Lyon stayed in the hunt for a postseason berth with a comprehensive triumph over Clermont and Racing 92 took a step towards possibly securing a bye and a home semifinal by outlasting La Rochelle.
Every single one of these matches is worth a look and here’s why.
The Eagles got off to a quick start with a third minute try from Captain Nate Augspurger and looked to be off to the races. But then Chile responded with defensive grit, kept possession for long periods and prevented the game from becoming a rout. After forty minutes the USA led by a paltry 10-3 scoreline.
After what I’m sure were some very choice words in the locker room at halftime, the Eagles scored twice in the first five minutes of the second half and were fully in control thereafter. It was a day for the newer players to shine as center Dylan Audsley notched a double, and debutants Malon Al-Jiboori and Paul Lasike each dotted down as well.
The USA now has 14 points from three wins and are in the driver’s seat in the ARC, especially with previously unbeaten Uruguay losing to Argentina XV. Now the Eagles head to South America to play Brazil on Saturday followed by Uruguay in the final round.
Both those tests will be LIVE on The Rugby Channel!
Leinster has been chasing the defending champion Scarlets all year in Conference B and last weekend they finally overtook them in a head-to-head clash at the RDS in Dublin.
Scarlets first and only try was a beauty. Leinster crossed three times and yet the visitors were somehow able to keep it close enough for a late penalty to give them the losing bonus point.
Scarlets seemed a little overmatched at times but always managed to respond with good aggressive play to keep the outcome in doubt throughout. Definitely worth your time to check it out.
This was one of the most entertaining GP14 matches I’ve seen this year. It wasn’t super flashy with tons of tries but it had two teams who both like to play physical rugby and that’s always fun to watch!
Cardiff are re-discovering their previous incarnation as a committed rugby outfit and again believe that they can beat anybody when they cut down on unforced errors and concentrate on playing their game.
The Blues came out on fire with three first half tries then relied on the boot of Jarrod Evans to keep them ahead of a Munster side that looked primed for their usual second half comeback. The men in red came up short at the Arms Park but did manage a penalty at the death to secure what could be a vital bonus point.
Lyon needed this win to keep themselves in the middle of a big group of teams fighting for playoff position in the Top 14. The five points they garnered from hammering the woeful defending champs moved them up to sixth place on the ladder with 47.
Clermont is having a nightmare Top 14 campaign beset by injury and overall bad luck. This loss nearly eliminates them as they find themselves in twelfth with 32 points, well behind the clubs in serious postseason contention.
Lyon put on a clinic of how to score opportunistic tries from opposition errors in this encounter, enjoyable viewing for everyone but Clermont fans.
This fixture was a possible Top 14 semifinal preview, a top-quality outing from start to finish. As befitting a match between two sides in second and third place, this one went right down to the wire before Racing 92 was able to clinch the victory.
The hosts played a very convincing first forty minutes of rugby and took a 19-0 lead into the break. La Rochelle came out in the second forty and were able to keep Racing from adding to their advantage while slowly chipping away at the deficit. They kept at it until the very end and were only denied a potential tying score in the eighty-third minute by the bounce of the ball.
After you’ve watched Lyon vs Clermont and Racing 92 vs La Rochelle, be sure to check out all the other matchups from Round 17 so that you’ll be fully prepped for the thrills to come in Round 18 on The Rugby Channel!
The last time the United States was leading the ARC and travelled south to play Brazil they were upset 24-23 on a last-minute penalty kick. I doubt that anything similar will happen this year but it helps to remember that this is an improving Brazilian team that can cause damage at home.
The Eagles control their own destiny in the Americas Rugby Championship but they still have to continue to improve their defense and get better at the fundamentals of controlling the game offensively.
This should be a fun test for all Eagles supporters everywhere!
Now that Leinster is atop Conference B they will want to string together as many wins and bonus points as possible to put space between them and the Scarlets in order to eventually secure a home semifinal at the RDS.
The Southern Kings are still in search of their first win in the Guinness PRO14 and the odds are long that they’ll be able to upset Leinster at home.
The reason to watch this one is to see the Kings in action for the first time since the beginning of the season!
The Scarlets are on a two-loss skid and need to end it immediately to keep in touch with Leinster.
Ulster have lost two of their last three and are in fourth place on 46 points, just behind Edinburgh on points differential in Conference B.
Ulster will be less affected than Scarlets by national team callups but both teams will want this one badly enough to pull out all the stops. I can’t wait to see it unfold!
TOULOUSE V BRIVE – Sunday, Feb. 25 at 6:30 AM ET
Toulouse is in the thick of the postseason chase in fifth position with 48 points. Last week they thoroughly thumped thirteenth place Agen and will be looking to do the same to twelfth place Brive.
Beating the lower ranked teams and getting full points is essential in the Top 14 and Toulouse will be fully aware of the task at hand, particularly at home. Despite their current position, Brive is a talented side and can’t be taken lightly.
LA ROCHELLE V TOULON – Sunday, Feb. 25 at 10:50 AM ET
Number three meets number four in a crucial near top of the table confrontation on Sunday. La Rochelle is playing pretty good overall rugby and Toulon is finally living up to expectations.
Toulon won the first meeting 26-20 back in September by kicking two more penalties than the visitors.
This will be a highly entertaining encounter and the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning!
The fourth rugby weekend in February promises to be yet another fantastic one and you can watch it all for just $59.99 by purchasing an annual Subscription to The Rugby Channel. Subscribe Now and let the rugby flow all year long!