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Struggling Bayonne stun ‘distracted’ Toulouse ahead of European Cup final

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Toulouse’s forward coach Jean Bouilhou said his side were distracted after being beaten 32-28 at home by struggling Bayonne in the French Top 14 on Saturday as Cheslin Kolbe was rested a week before the European Champions Cup final.

South Africa’s Rugby World Cup winner Kolbe and former New Zealand back-rower Jerome Kaino were among those given the weekend off ahead of facing La Rochelle at Twickenham next Saturday.

Toulouse remain top, however, despite a first home loss to the Basques since 2006.

The result saw Bayonne go three points clear of Pau in the relegation play-off spot, with two games of the regular season to go.

“We won’t keep much from the match. Maybe the fact we had a double objective, it’s not easy to prepare with that in mind,” former Toulouse back-rower Bouilhou said.

“We blew what we thought would be a breeze, it’s the last one.”

Bayonne fly-half Maxime Lafage slotted 19 points in the win after former Samoa lock Joe Tekori and France full-back Thomas Ramos crossed for tries to help put the league leaders 14-0 up after just a quarter of an hour.

Toulouse winger Dimitri Delibes crossed with two minutes to go to claim a bonus point which handed his team a guaranteed place in the end-of-season play-offs between the top six teams. They remain in pole position for a direct spot in the semi-finals.

– Rhule the roost –

It was a different story for La Rochelle as South Africa winger Raymond Rhule claimed a try double in a 59-0 hammering of already-relegated Agen.

Head coach Jono Gibbes welcomed back numerous starters after resting the likes of former All Blacks Victor Vito and Tawera Kerr-Barlow as well as Australia lock Will Skelton for two losses in three days earlier this week.

La Rochelle returned to second in the table, leapfrogging Racing 92 after the Parisians’ win at Pau on Friday.

Elsewhere, Racing’s cross-capital rivals Stade Francais kept their hopes of a play-off place alive with a 32-10 victory over Montpellier, who had made 14 changes ahead of Friday’s European Challenge Cup final with Leicester.

Montpellier’s Springbok half-backs Handre Pollard and Cobus Reinach, who lifted the Webb Ellis trophy with Kolbe two years ago, were among those to miss the defeat.

“Handre’s had a little calf issue. He’s working a lot,” Montpellier coach Philippe Saint-Andre said.

“I hope to have him back on Monday to prepare for the final.”

Earlier, France fly-half Matthieu Jalibert kicked 15 points as Bordeaux-Begles overcame Castres 20-16 as they also eye a place in the top six places.

The late game saw another World Cup winner, Eben Etzebeth, making his first Toulon start in seven weeks, away at Clermont.

The Bok lock came on as a substitute in Tuesday’s loss at Montpellier after recovering from a finger injury sustained in late March, but there was to be no joy Saturday as Clermont ran out 25-16 winners to consolidate their fourth place in the table, just a point off Racing.

Former France scrum-half Morgan Parra was faultless from the tee, booting six penalties and converting Fijian Apisai Naqalevu’s late try for a personal haul of 20 points.

Toulon now lie seventh, with just eight points separating third-placed Racing and Lyon in ninth in what promises to be a desperate fight for a top-six place.

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World Cup

Miracle-seeking Vermeulen trains with Springboks before crunch Test

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Johannesburg (AFP)

Duane Vermeulen, attempting a miraculous Test comeback from an ankle injury, trained with the Springboks on Monday assistant coach Deon Davids said.

The back-row forward underwent surgery two months ago after being hurt in a domestic match and was written off as a possible starter in the three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

But the number eight joined the camp on Sunday amid speculation as to what role he may play in the series-deciding third Test against the tourists in Cape Town on Saturday.

With flanker and 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit nursing a shoulder injury, there have been suggestions that Vermeulen could start, or be on the bench.

If the third Test has come too soon for Vermeulen and he could be deployed to offer guidance and assistance with training and analysis.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber has ruled out selecting the 2019 Rugby World Cup winner if there is the slightest doubt about his fitness.

“We will never risk a player who is not 100 percent fit, but he brings experience to the squad and it will be great to have him with us,” he said.

Before flying from his Pretoria home to Cape Town at the weekend, Vermeulen underwent weeks of intense rehabilitation at his franchise, the Bulls.

Davids said the presence of Vermeulen, who turned 35 last month, had an immediate positive impact on the camp.

“It is really fantastic to have Duane back with the group and he joined our training session today,” he told an online news conference.

“He has already been part of our review sessions. We will hopefully have more details about his injury tomorrow.”

Another concern for the world champions is scrum-half Faf de Klerk, who went off with a hamstring injury during the second half of a 27-9 triumph last Saturday.

Were De Klerk ruled out, Herschel Jantjies would be the obvious replacement with third-choice Cobus Reinach promoted to the bench.

Meanwhile, Nienaber has added winger Rosko Specman, scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse, hooker Johan Grobbelaar and loose forward Dan du Preez to the squad.

Specman and Du Preez were released recently when the squad was trimmed while Hendrikse and Grobbelaar have been called up for the first time.

“We have a tough Rugby Championship series after the Lions and, given the strict Covid-19 protocols we adhere to, decided to bring the players in sooner rather than later,” said Nienaber.

South Africa start their campaign in the Southern hemisphere Rugby Championship against Argentina on August 14.

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The damning statistics of the Lions’ second Test attack… and how they can fix it to win the series

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Coincidentally, according to Opta, New Zealand spent 77 rucks in possession – the exact same number registered by the Lions on Saturday. Whereas the Lions only completed 85 passes, though, Steve Hansen’s team completed a whopping 143. Their average number of passes per ruck was 1.86, compared to the Lions’ 1.1 on Saturday. That represents a huge difference in approach. 

The Lions did find some success with their kicking game. Watson won back Murray’s first box-kick of the second Test, and Biggar’s high ball earned a five-metre scrum in the first half following a spill from Willie le Roux. However, errors in the aerial exchanges crippled them. 

Hogg’s spill just after half-time led to Makazole Mapimpi’s try. Later on, Watson’s early tackle on Mapimpi foreshadowed Am’s finish. South Africa only need a sniff to squeeze rivals and rack up an ugly scoreline. Remember, they were beaten when the Lions came out on the right end of the kicking battle in the first Test.

Be bold

The highest number of passes that the Lions managed to string together in any one phase on Saturday was five, coming here while Cheslin Kolbe was in the sin bin:

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All Blacks’ Bledisloe performance could “cement” Foster’s place for World Cup

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Former All Black Jeff Wilson believes Ian Foster’s quest to coach New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup starts with this weekend’s Bledisloe clash.

Having coached the side since December 2019, Wilson believes a strong result against Australia should see Foster “cement” his spot as head coach before the World Cup kicks off in 2023.

“This is as we know, the season for Ian Foster to cement his place as All Blacks coach going through to the next Rugby World Cup,” Wilson said on Baz and Izzy for Breakfast on SENZ.

“This for me is where it starts for him but he won’t be thinking about that.

“I have spoken to him about that but they’re going to need to start really strongly.

“They’ve got the talent, there’s no doubt about that.

“The first challenge is who they’re going to start at 10, that’s the big question mark.”

With no one yet to settle in to the fly-half position on a permanent basis, Wilson believes Richie Mo’unga deserves the first shot at it.

“I think Richie Mo’unga deserves that opportunity in the 10 jersey,” Wilson added.

“He was very, very good once this season of course once again.

“Everyone’s got this question mark whether he has done at the highest level in the biggest games.

“Well, there’s only been a couple, and obviously, there’s the semi-final against England in the Rugby World Cup. Everyone is judging him off that one performance.

“Has he proven at All Black level against the toughest competition that he’s world class level? Not just yet, but I think he deserves the first opportunity to do that.”

The All Blacks host Australia in the first Bledisloe clash this Saturday night at Eden Park.

The game kicks off at 7:05pm (NZST).





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