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7s World Cup

The players the Springboks simply cannot be without for the British & Irish Lions tour

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In the two-year run-up to the Springboks’ World Cup victory, the side perfected and mastered a high-risk, high-energy defensive system under Rassie Erasmus and defence coach Jacques Nienaber.

Precariously placed heading into South Africa’s away game in Wellington back in 2018, Rassie Erasmus claimed he was under pressure and would quit if they lost, citing his record of never losing three matches in a row as a reason.

Their defence gave up 34 points in a wild and thrilling narrow victory, but it was that aggressive defensive system that came through to pressure Damian McKenzie into dropping the ball on the very last play to seal the win.

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It wasn’t perfect, but it worked when it mattered.

In the return match in Pretoria, a dominant showing had the All Blacks completely powerless for the first time in a long time, with the visitors tryless for the first 54 minutes.

At 30-13 after an hour’s play, a serious warning light was flashing.

Not since before the 2015 World Cup had an All Black side been so thoroughly outclassed and out of answers. The reigning world champions and pioneers of try-scoring rugby were flummoxed, down heavily in a test match for the first time since 2012 at Twickenham.

Even the loss the year prior at home to the Lions with 14-men on the park had the All Blacks leading heading into the last quarter of the game.

A calamitous last twenty minutes by the Springboks handed the game away and the first 60-minutes of the game was quickly forgotten.

It shouldn’t have been, as it was the first real sign that the Springboks were in the process of developing the world’s best defence.

The Springboks continued to tinker and made changes to find the best formula.

Lukhanyo Am became the starting centre and Jesse Kriel became the finisher. Two starting quality centres, 1a and 1b, used in tandem to bring endless amounts of pressure.

With Am going off after 50 minutes, a fresh Kriel could come on and charge off the line for the remainder of the game, continuing the suffocating pressure needed to stop the ball ever getting to the edge.

In order for this system to work, it requires supremely conditioned athletes on the fringes.

Having one tank of fuel for each half meant that the energy would never dip out wide with one centre replaced by the other.

This means that Jesse Kriel is as important to the Springboks’ defence as Lukhanyo Am. The likelihood either one of them could keep up consistent intensity by themselves for the full 80 is unknown.

Certainly they would aspire to, but it would be a superhuman effort to actually do so.

The issue ahead of the Lions tour is the Japan Top League is not the ideal preparation for the physicality of test rugby, where Jesse Kriel currently is playing.

With only a handful of teams at a Super Rugby level, there isn’t consistent competition each and every week.

At 26-years-old, he is certainly not done in the test arena, but a question mark resides over whether Rassie Erasmus will pick Springboks out of the Japanese competition.

Erasmus says Europe is comparable to Test rugby, but the Top League is definitely not.

Outside centre options in South Africa not named Lukhanyo Am are lacking.

The Bulls last used Tongan-international Nafi Tuitavake. Ruhan Nel of the Stormers is a career Sevens player. Graduate South African under-20 prospect Mannie Rass of the Lions is promising but rather unproven as yet.

Jesse Kriel coming back to South Africa or finding a club in Europe is just what the Springboks need, otherwise Nienaber’s defensive system will suffer, with Am required to play high-intensity defence for eighty minutes.

The end of year tour in 2018 also gave Rassie Erasmus a taste of life without Faf de Klerk.

They beat Scotland narrowly and lost to Wales and England. The halfback options didn’t light the world on fire until Herschel Jantjies burst onto the scene in 2019 to become the reserve halfback.

As good as Jantjies has shown so far, there just isn’t another halfback in World Rugby that can do what de Klerk does in defence and a Springbok side starting Jantjies would be vastly different.

De Klerk can handle any winger one-on-one, shut down overlaps even when outnumbered, and his defensive spatial coverage across the pitch is second to none. His GPS numbers must be off the charts.

He knows when to shoot up and take space, when to commit to the tackle and when to hold off. He plays as an edge defender, a sweeper and a front line defender in the middle all in one.

Not to mention his physicality in contact; no other halfback comes close except perhaps Antoine DuPont.

His role in the defence is basically the glue that holds it together, often the last man in the chain to prevent the opposition from breaking away. And he does this time and time against the odds.

Without him, the entire defensive system risks falling part and the Lions’ chances of winning in South Africa dramatically increase.

Then there’s Cheslin Kolbe.

Kolbe has the most dangerous feet in the world. But that’s not the only reason why he became the first choice right winger under Erasmus.

Much like Am and Kriel’s ability to make the right decision when jamming in, Kolbe’s edge defence is spectactular. His reads and decisions are consistently excellent, and his tackle completion percentage is high.

South Africa’s number two right-wing, Sbu Nkosi, was beaten multiple times by Wales in the opening twenty minutes of the World Cup semi-final, caught out in no man’s land as the Welsh continually raided the left-hand channel.

Wales’ one try of the match came through Josh Adams with centre Jonathan Davies gifting him the last pass off a scrum play. Nkosi was out of sync with Am on the blitz, arriving too late to shut down the play.

If Davies is lining up for the Lions next year, the Welsh centre will be licking his lips if he sees Nkosi out wide.

Whilst the Springbok pack is vitally important to their set-piece and physicality in close, what really keeps the opposition score surpressed is the work of the Springbok centres/wings and halfback out wide in Neinaber’s system.

The Lions rolled out a successful width attack around the Sexton/Farrell axis in New Zealand in 2017. If they bring a similar plan, it puts these three guys under the microscope who have been absolutely critical to making the Springboks a historically great defensive side.

A Springbok side minus De Klerk, Kolbe or either Am or Kriel would be a very enticing opponent for Warren Gatland.

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7s World Cup

Kenya and Colombia to play in Rugby World Cup repechage qualifier

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Kenya will play Colombia in their rescheduled Rugby World Cup repechage qualifier on 25 August 2021 at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi.

This fixture was originally set for Saturday 18 April 2020 before being postponed in support of the Kenyan Government’s precautionary measures to protect public health against the COVID-19 pandemic which ravaged local and international sport.

Head Coach Felix Oloo, currently in Tokyo for the Olympics with the Kenya women’s national sevens team said, “The team has been preparing quite well. Our sessions have been quite eye-opening. A number of my players are away on Olympic duty with the sevens team but I believe the remaining players have received a taste of elite international rugby in the two tests against Madagascar. As a technical bench, we have spoiled for choice and pretty positive heading into the clash against Colombia.”

Kenya Rugby Union Chairman Oduor Gangla said, “This is the first time we have an opportunity to be able to compete for the right to play in the RWC and it is a testament to the growth of the women’s game in our country.

Obviously, it is unknown territory and we have started our preparations for the game and are really looking forward to the particular match where we will be able to test ourselves against Colombia and hopefully proceed on to the repechage.

The women’s team has been evolving and making a lot of progress. We’ve also now split our sevens and fifteens teams just to ensure that we are able to field a very competitive side going into the competitions. We’ve just had two fixtures in the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup as part of our preparations, the first time that we have played without our sevens players and that is a pointer of the depth that we are developing in the women’s game in Kenya.

The opportunity to be able to compete at the highest level is always the dream of every player or coach and we really appreciate World Rugby for giving us that opportunity and for the support they have given us towards the growth and development of women’s rugby. I just want to wish the Lionesses the very best as they prepare for the Colombia match.”

Kenya’s Lionesses earned their ticket to this stage of the competition after finishing second behind South Africa in the 2019 Rugby Africa Women’s Cup while Colombia’s Las Tucanes defeated Brazil 23-19 in their Sudamérica Rugby region playoff fixture on Saturday 7 March 2020.

The repechage tournament will consist of the second-placed teams in Asia, Europe and Oceania regional tournaments and the winner of the play-off between South America and the second-placed team from the Africa regional qualifier.

The 2021 Rugby World Cup is scheduled to be the ninth edition of the Rugby World Cup for women, to be held in New Zealand in the cities of Auckland and Whangārei. It was originally to be held in 2021, but was officially postponed by a year in March 2021 due to COVID-19 and will now take place from 8 October to 12 November 2022.

(With Inputs from APO)

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7s World Cup

Samoa seal Rugby World Cup qualification over Tonga

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Samoa have qualified for the 2023 Rugby World Cup after beating Tonga 37-15 in Kirikiriroa Hamilton this afternoon.

Samoa celebrate a try against Tonga.

Samoa celebrate a try against Tonga.
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Manu led by 20 points early in the second half but withstood a determined ‘Ikale Tahi comeback to prevail 79-28 on aggregate over two legs, following last weekend’s 42-13 victory in Auckland.

With their place in France now confirmed, how is coach Seilala Mapusua feeling?

“The first word that comes to mind is relieved, a little bit of satisfaction and a hint of excitement,” he said post match.

“I’m just proud of the way the boys performed over these last four weeks. We had a really good lead-up and then I asked a lot from the boys in the last four weeks and they definitely delivered.”

The first quarter of the match was dominated by long stoppages and basic errors in the slippery conditions, with Tonga losing lock Harrison Mataele and hooker Siua Maile to injury inside the first ten minutes.

It was the ‘Ikale Tahi who opened the scoring with a fourth minute penalty, after Samoa had spilled the kickoff and then conceded a penalty from a scrum. Samoa levelled the scores five minutes later before Henry Taefu’s second penalty gave the Manu a 6-3 buffer on 13 minutes.

James Faiva (R) puts in a chip kick.

James Faiva (R) puts in a chip kick.
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

After a cagey start to the match, in which both teams struggled to build phases and hold onto the ball it was Samoa who seized the initiative 15 minutes before the interval . A long raking kick pinned Tonga back inside their own 22. Samuel Slade stole the resulting lineout and the ball spun wide, with first five Rodney Iona’s looping cut-out pass finding dynamic winger Ed Fidow, who raced away down the right-hand touchline to score the opening try, with Taefu adding the extras.

By now, the Hamilton rain had calmed somewhat and Samoa were starting to find a lot of space in the Tongan defence.

The red wall broke again two minutes before half-time, with Neria Fomai evading four defenders and offloading to a team-mate, who slipped an inside pass to energetic halfback Jonathan Taumateine who raced away for his first test try. Henry Taefu’s conversion gave Samoa a commanding 20-3 half-time lead.

Ed Fidow scored the opening try in Hamilton.

Ed Fidow scored the opening try in Hamilton.
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Samoa stretched their advantage to 20 points with a penalty goal shortly after the restart before Tongan fans finally had something to smile about.

A long period of pressure hammering away at the Samoan goal-line was rewarded when replacement hooker Jay Fonokalafi drove over for a try on test debut. James Faiva added the extras to cut the deficit to 23-10 with 28 minutes remaining.

The ‘Ikale Tahi were almost in again a couple of minutes later when Faiva’s cross-field kick found Walter Fifita on the left wing. The Tongan sevens star bumped off his opposite Ed Fidow, only for the Samoan winger to dust himself off and make the tackle at the second attempt.

Replacement hooker Jay Fonokalafi scored a try on test debut.

Replacement hooker Jay Fonokalafi scored a try on test debut.
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Tonga didn’t have to wain much longer for their second try, with the ever-present Sione Tu’ipolotu rumbling over from close range in the next phase to make it 23-15 Samoa with just over a quarter of the match remaining.

Samoa were reduced to 14 players when prop Tietie Tuimauga was sent to the sin-bin with 15 minutes remaining but veteran flanker Jack Lam, in possibly his last ever test, won a crucial penalty at the breakdown to ease some of the pressure.

The result was then put beyond doubt when Stacey Ili regathered a clever chip kick from Rodney Iona and race away to make it 30-15 after the conversion with seven minutes to play.

Jonathan Taumateine scores his first test try.

Jonathan Taumateine scores his first test try.
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Kalolo Tuiloma scored Samoa’s fourth try in the final minute to complete a 22 point win on the night.

Tonga coach Toutai Kefu was encouraged by his side’s improved performance and felt they could have won if a few calls had gone their way.

“I think the scores midway through the second half were 23-15 and we had that penalty on the far side. I thought we got penalised for that driving maul – I thought that was a bit of a weird call but I thought that was probably the turning point for us,” he said.

“If we were to have executed that driving maul and maybe got to 23-22 the game could have gone anywhere I thought.”

Samoa’s qualifying win means they will join England, Japan, Argentina and a qualifier from the Americas in Pool D at the 2023 World Cup in France.

Tonga will face the Cook Islands in Pukekohe next Saturday for the right to playoff against the winner of the Asia Rugby Championship.



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7s World Cup

Tokyo 2020: Team Ireland profiles

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Jordan Conroy

Jordan Conroy. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Jordan Conroy. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 27

Position: Winger

Club: Buccaneers

The flying winger dabbled in soccer and athletics before setting into rugby, playing for Tullamore in the All Ireland League. He first appeared in the 7’s team in 2016 and has played in 21 competitions across the world. One of the best finishers in the game and Ireland’s leading try scorer, he is a regular selection for tournament Dream Teams and a key player in Tokyo.

Billy Dardis

Billy Dardis. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Billy Dardis. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 26

Position: Halfback

Club: Terenure

Team captain, he came through UCD, having begun in Naas RFC and Newbridge College, where he also played GA. He later went to Terenure College, focussing on rugby. He was in the Leinster Academy for a few years and was part of the 7’s team that missed out on Rio 2016. Captained Ireland at the 2018 World Cup 7’s finishing with 32 points, second highest of all players.

Foster Horan

Foster Horan. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Foster Horan. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 28

Position: Prop

Club: Lansdowne

He debuted for the Irish team in 2018 at the London Sevens. Played youth rugby with Gorey before attending Kilkenny College. An outside centre with the Irish Under-20s, he played in the 2012 U-20 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, where Ireland finished fifth. At 90kg in weight and 180cm tall, he plays in the much more mobile position of prop in the 7’s game.

Greg O’Shea

Greg O’Shea. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Greg O’Shea. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 26

Position: Back

Club: Shannon

Love Island winner in 2019, he left the UK and red carpets for life as a rugby player. From Limerick, his mum and dad Carol and Niall were both international sprinters. Began his rugby in Shannon and Crescent College, where he won the achools senior cup. He left the Munster Academy and began playing with the Irish 7’s team in the 2017 season.

Harry McNulty

Harry McNulty. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Harry McNulty. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 28

Position: Forward

Club: LA Giltinin

Born in Bahrain to Irish parents, he began playing rugby in that country but currently plays with the LA Giltinin in Major League Rugby in the USA with brother Sean. He also played ice hockey in New York with the Rye Rangers, where he lived for 10 years. Went to Rockwell College, Trinity and the Munster Academy. He is also an accomplished photographer.

Terry Kennedy

Terry Kennedy. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Terry Kennedy. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 25

Position: centre

Club: St Mary’s College

Has played for the 7’s team since 2016 and is another member of the Irish team that won the 2017 Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series. He was the top scorer with nine tries in the Moscow Seven’s tournament in 2018. Another one of the group that came through the Irish Under-20 system and was a member of the squad that were runners up in the U-20 Rugby World Cup in 2016.

Ian Fitzpatrick

Ian Fitzpatrick. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Ian Fitzpatrick. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 26

Position: Forward

Club: Lansdowne

In rugby 15’s played as a fullback in the Leinster academy. Also played with the Leinster under-20 team and was a member of the Ireland squad that played in the 2014 Junior World Cup. Has come back strongly after suffering a setback in the summer of 2016 when he injured his knee and had to undergo surgery. Began his 7’s career with Lansdowne RFC.

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Jack Kelly. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

 

Age: 23

Position: Prop

Club: Dublin University

A fluent French speaker, the former St Michael’s pupil played alongside Dan Leavy and James Ryan. A law student in Trinity, he made his debut in 2019 at the London Sevens. Had a breakout season during the 2019-2020 World Rugby Sevens Series, Ireland’s first season as a core team, where he led all Irish forwards with nine clean breaks and eight tries.

Adam Leavy

Adam Leavy. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Adam Leavy. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 25

Position: Prop/Hooker

Club: Lansdowne

A brother of Leinster and Ireland flanker Dan, he played for St Michael’s College on the wing. At the 2019 Hong Kong Sevens, he helped Ireland gain a place as a core team for the 2019-20 World Rugby Sevens Series. Leavy also competed at the 2019 London Sevens, where Ireland secured wins against core teams England, Scotland, and Canada to finish in sixth.

Hugo Lennox

Hugo Lennox. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Hugo Lennox. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 22

Position: Halfback

Club: Skerries

A graduate of Skerries Community College and Skerries RFC – where Ciaran Frawley also played his early rugby. Took up a place in Maynooth College studying Business Management before the call from Anthony Eddy in 2017. A small but teak tough outhalf, his play making abilities and slick passing at pivot have seen him develop into a key member of the squad.

Gavin Mullin

Gavin Mullin. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Gavin Mullin. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 23

Position: Prop

Club: UCD

Has the genes, as his father Brendan was a prominent Irish centre in the 1980s. A standout player in school at Blackrock he played Ireland U-20s and joined the Leinster Academy for three years. He didn’t get a lot of game time there gaining just two caps off the bench. But his attacking style was picked up and he joined the 7’s set up last summer. Just finished a UCD business and law degree.

Mark Roche

Mark Roche. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Mark Roche. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

 

Age: 28

Position: Halfback

Club: Lansdowne

Played with Blackrock and went on to play for the Ireland U-20s in the 2013 Junior World Cup. He has played scrumhalf for the 7’s since 2015, the same year he won the AIL with Lansdowne and is one of the most experienced in the squad. He started at scrumhalf for the Ireland team that finished third at the 2018 London Sevens and was selected on the tournament Dream Team.

Bryan Mollen

Bryan Mollen. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Bryan Mollen. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Age: 25

Position: Prop/Centre

Club: Blackrock

The son of a Dutch diplomat father and school teacher mother, he was born in Kenya and moved around the world for various stages of his life, picking up rugby in Australia. Living in Berlin, he was sent to Blackrock College. At Trinity, Tony Smeeth put his name forward for 7’s and he never looked back. Now in his third year and one of the core group of players.


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