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Cruden kicks Chiefs to tight win over Force

April 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Waikato Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 Super Rugby win over the determined Western Force in Perth on Saturday.

Cruden

Cruden landed a conversion and three penalty goals from his four attempts to prove the difference after both sides finished with a try apiece.

In winning the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s Super Rugby.

The Force, with their future Super Rugby participation under major threat over SANZAAR restructuring for the 2018 season, never gave the Chiefs a moment’s peace and kept them under the shackles.

The Chiefs finished off a gruelling tour where they split their two games in South Africa against the Western Stormers and Central Cheetahs.

The Chiefs remain in third spot three points behind the Canterbury Crusaders in the New Zealand conference after seven wins from eight games.

“I was proud of the way the boys were able to dig in in that second 40 minutes and grind it out,” Cruden said.

“We knew that the Force coming off a bye and obviously everything they are going through would show an immense passion and pride and that’s certainly what they did.”

Parent body RugbyWA has launched legal action against the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in a bid to keep threatened Force franchise afloat as the axe hovers over the Perth-based club.

Super Rugby’s governing body SANZAAR announced earlier this month that two South African teams and one from Australia would be axed from 2018, streamlining the 18-team competition to a three-conference 15-team format.

Both tries were scored in the first half with Liam Messam plunging over in the eighth minute and Force skipper Matt Hodgson scoring off the back of a rolling maul from a lineout win.

The Force suffered an injury setback midway through the opening half to their Wallaby back Dane Haylett-Petty, who came off with a damaged right hamstring.

The Chiefs have now won nine of their 11 meetings with the Force, but both of their losses have come in Perth.

Barrett off the hook over red card

April 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett has escaped further punishment after receiving a red card in the Wellington Hurricanes’ Super Rugby win over NSW Waratahs last week.

Barrett

The current World Rugby player of the year was sent off late in the match after receiving two yellow cards for deliberately knocking down the ball during Waratahs’ attacks.

The SANZAAR judiciary said it took Barrett’s exemplary disciplinary record into account before clearing him to play against the Auckland Blues this weekend.

“The player is therefore free to play and will serve no suspension,” it said in a ruling issued late Monday.

Barrett argued after the match that he was trying to intercept the ball but poor technique meant he knocked it down, rather than taking possession.

Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu was banned for one week after earning a yellow card in the same match for a dangerous tackle.

The judiciary said he received the suspension because it was his third yellow this season for similar offences.

All Blacks plan to face Samoa before British and Irish Lions’ tour

April 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The All Blacks hope to warm-up for the British and Irish Lions tour with a Test match against Samoa, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has revealed.

All Blacks

Tew said the world champions wanted a hit-out before the first Test against the Lions on June 24 in Auckland and were in talks with the Pacific islanders, who are renowned for their hard-tackling rugby.

He said the All Blacks benefited from a similar warm-up against Fiji the last time the Lions toured in 2005, when they won the series 3-0.

“In 2005, we played Fiji and that set us up very well for a very good first-off Test match in Christchurch,” Tew told SkySports late Tuesday.

“So we’re looking at that option, Samoa’s definitely one of those things that we’re working our way through at the moment.”

Tew also rejected criticism of the Lions’ gruelling tour schedule, which sees them face all five New Zealand Super Rugby teams and the Maori All Blacks, as well as playing three Tests.

He said the tourists had asked for a challenge after their 2-1 series win in Australia in 2013.

“The Lions said they wanted a tougher itinerary than they got in Australia,” he said.

“They wanted to play the five Super Rugby sides and they deliberately chose to play the Maori All Blacks the week before the first Test.

“So they’ve actually got what they wanted.”

Tew joked that doubts about taking on the Super Rugby sides may have emerged after the Waikato Chiefs thrashed the touring Wales side 40-7 last year.

However, he believed the Lions would be a different story.

“They’re going to come out here with a lot of depth and a lot of talent,” he said.

“If they don’t get hit with injuries in critical positons we’re in for a hell of a series.”

All Blacks not at their peak for Lions tour, says Lewsey

March 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ex-England international Josh Lewsey Wednesday said the British and Irish Lions had a great chance to overturn the All Blacks this year with the rebuilding world champions not at the “peak of their powers”.

All Blacks

Lewsey, speaking at the official launch of next month’s Hong Kong 10s tournament, said the timing was good for Warren Gatland’s Lions as they bid for their first series win in New Zealand in 46 years.

He said the All Blacks were “on their own journey” after greats including skipper Richie McCaw and fly-half Dan Carter stepped down following the team’s second successive World Cup victory in 2015.

“You can’t just replace those (players) overnight, it takes a while,” Lewsey said.

“That doesn’t mean players coming in aren’t just as exceptional, but bonding a team tends to take five, seven, eight years, for a team to really go for it.”

He added: “If you are going to go down there and have a result, you’re not playing a New Zealand who are right at the peak of their powers, so of course it’s an opportunity.”

Lewsey, 40, started all three Lions Tests on their last tour of New Zealand in 2005, when the visitors were whitewashed 3-0.

He tipped Lions coach Gatland to impose a cohesive style on this year’s composite team drawn from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

“Warren will have a very clear strategy about how he wants to play, and similarly, he will pick players who are most suited to play that style,” Lewsey said.

“If you’ve only got a group of guys for a short period of time, it’s the most effective way of gelling, and to be really clear what you want to do.”

He added that Gatland, a New Zealander, would know all about the strengths and weaknesses of the All Blacks ahead of the tour, which gets underway in June.

Lewsey joked it would hard for the 2017 team to be less successful than their predecessors 12 years ago under former England coach Clive Woodward.

“Perhaps we could have been more specific in terms of how we wanted to play,” he said.

“Because if you look at the teams in ’05, man for man we had a fantastic group of guys, and obviously the Test series spoke for itself in terms of scoreline.

“But I can’t help but feel with the talent we had, we underachieved.”

No England-All Blacks clash in 2017

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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A mouthwatering showdown between England and New Zealand will have to wait until 2018 after it was announced Wednesday that the Barbarians will play the world champion All Blacks at Twickenham on November 4.

Retalick

England coach Eddie Jones had confirmed reports in the British media indicating that the Rugby Football Union, were keen to squeeze in a match between his Six Nations champions and New Zealand on that date.

But the invitational Barbarians, in a match marking their 125th anniversary, have now received approval from the RFU, English rugby union’s governing body, to play the All Blacks on November 4.

“The Barbarians approached the RFU last month with a request to stage this fixture at Twickenham and the request has been granted, replacing a Barbarians v Australia match previously approved,” said a Barbarians statement.

England are now not scheduled to play New Zealand until November 2018, with an RFU spokeswoman telling AFP that Wednesday’s announcement meant there was no chance of the two countries meeting later this year.

Their last clash was back in 2014, when New Zealand won 24-21 at Twickenham.

Several England players are, however, likely to face the All Blacks as part of the British and Irish Lions squad heading to New Zealand for a three-Test series in June and July.

England equalled New Zealand’s record of 18 successive Test victories by a ‘tier one’ or leading rugby union nation with victory over Scotland.

After that match, the Daily Mail reported that the RFU had approached their New Zealand counterparts about the prospect of a November 4 Test clash, although the paper highlighted tensions over how the gate receipts from a likely 82,000 sell-out crowd would be split.

England’s defeat of Scotland saw them retain their Six Nations title but their attempts to break New Zealand’s record and complete back-to-back Grand Slams foundered with a 13-9 loss to Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.

It was the Irish too who ended New Zealand’s run with a 40-29 win in Chicago in November.

Jones speaking after Saturday’s match in Dublin, the Australian’s first loss as England coach, said of the Lions’ prospects of a first series win in New Zealand since 1971 that the All Blacks were “there for the taking”.

England are already due to play Australia, Argentina and Samoa in November this year.

Adding another Test to the autumn international calendar led to concerns over player welfare, with England’s Premiership Rugby, which represents the country’s top 12 clubs, reportedly against releasing players for an additional fixture outside of World Rugby’s November international ‘window’ without significant compensation.

Meanwhile the Mail reported Wednesday that NZRU chief executive Steve Tew wanted the All Blacks to play the Barbarians on November 4 rather than face England outside of the ‘window’.

All Black Milner-Skudder out for six weeks

March 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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All Black utility back Nehe Milner-Skudder was told on Tuesday he will be out for at least six weeks with a foot injury, leaving his dream of facing the British and Irish Lions hanging by a thread.

Nehe Milner-Skudder

Milner-Skudder fell awkwardly in a tackle during Wellington Hurricanes’ Super Rugby loss to Waikato Chiefs on Friday and scans showed a break in his right foot.

“It’s disappointing but these things happen in rugby… it was just a freak accident,” he said in a statement.

The Hurricanes said it was a small fracture that required rest, not surgery, but Milner-Skudder would be out for at least six weeks.

The match was only Milner-Skudder’s second outing after a season-long layoff in 2016 due to shoulder surgery. He scored a hat-trick of tries in his comeback against the Melbourne Rebels.

A six-week Super Rugby absence, possibly longer, puts the 26-year-old on the sidelines until late April.

With the Lions arriving in June, that leaves him only half a dozen Super Rugby matches to persuade All Blacks selectors he is fully fit.

Milner-Skudder’s last Test was the 2015 Rugby World Cup final against Australia, when he scored a try to take his tally for the tournament to six.

His chances of facing the Lions may be boosted by the fact that fellow All Black backs Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Seta Tamanivalu and Lima Sopoaga are all nursing injuries after the bruising early Super Rugby rounds.

Big names shine as Hurricanes humiliate Rebels

March 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Defending Super Rugby champions the Wellington Hurricanes trounced the Melbourne Rebels 71-6 Saturday, with returning All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Nehe Milner-Skudder playing starring roles.

Rebels

Milner-Skudder scored three of the Hurricanes’ 11 unanswered tries, while Barrett set up three and kicked six conversions.

It was the Hurricanes second highest score ever, bettered only by the 83 they scored against the Sunwolves last week in Tokyo, when they notched 13 tries.

“When we were quite direct and kept things simple, we opened them up,” said captain Dane Coles, who sat out the Sunwolves game, along with Barrett and Milner-Skudder.

“It’s very pleasing, the attack’s going good and we’re going to enjoy the win.”

It was the Rebels, who received a tongue-lashing from coach Tony McGahan after a 56-18 loss to the Auckland Blues last week, who made the early running.

They were rewarded with two penalties to Reece Hodge before Barrett and Milner-Skudder sparked the Hurricanes to life in the 17th minute.

Barrett drew in three tacklers then sent a short pass to Milner-Skudder, who showed no sign of rust after 12 months out with a shoulder injury, launching into a trademark sidestep before crossing the line.

Barrett’s chip kick set up winger Vince Aso for the Hurricanes’ second a few minutes later.

Ngani Laumape made it three on the back of a dominant Hurricanes scrum then Aso broke down the wing with TJ Perenara to add a fourth.

It was Aso’s second brace in as many matches but the Hurricanes were not done, with Barrett setting up another try before half-time, this time for Matt Proctor.

Ardie Savea piled on more misery for the Rebels two minutes after the restart when his older brother Julian set him up for a five-pointer.

Hurricanes players were lining up to score by this stage, with Reed Prinsep and Julian Savea dotting down tries before Milner-Skudder completed his hat-trick.

He outpaced the defence to dive into the corner for his second and his third came after a surging run from Jordie Barrett.

Laumape then intercepted a loose pass and dashed two-thirds the length of the field for his second to complete a horror night for the Rebels.

Milner-Skudder extends NZ contract until 2019

January 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder has extended his contract with the Wellington Hurricanes and New Zealand Rugby until after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The 26-year-old, who burst onto the Super Rugby scene in 2015 with the Hurricanes and made the All Blacks that year, went on to start in the last World Cup final against Australia and scored a try in New Zealand’s 34-17 victory.

He played just two games for the Hurricanes last season before injuring his shoulder and was ruled out for the entire year, but is expected to be fit for the new season starting next month.

“Being part of the Hurricanes for the past three years has been an awesome experience and though I wasn’t able to play a big part on the field last year, winning the … Super Rugby trophy for the first time only reinforced my view that the club is building something special,” Milner-Skudder said.

“It’s been an absolute honour to represent my country and wear the All Blacks jersey and the only way to do that again is to stay in New Zealand.

“Hopefully I can play well enough to be considered for selection again, but as always there is some massive competition there, so my whole focus right now is just getting back on the field and trying to put my best foot forward with the Canes.”

The Hurricanes begin the defence of their Super Rugby title against Japan’s Sunwolves in Tokyo on Feb. 25.

All Blacks prop Faumuina to join French club Toulouse

December 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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New Zealand prop Charlie Faumuina has signed on with French club Toulouse but said Thursday he still wants to be available for the All Blacks when the British and Irish Lions tour next year.

Faumuina

The 46-Test veteran, who can play both sides of the scrum, will join Toulouse at the start of the next European season.

“I’m looking forward to my last season in New Zealand, making it a successful one with the Blues and hopefully getting the chance to play for the All Blacks,” he said in a statement.

The 30-year-old’s decision to leave New Zealand comes after first-choice tighthead prop Owen Franks confirmed he was staying through to the next World Cup in Japan in 2019.

Faumuina and Franks were both members of the All Blacks squad that retained the World Cup last year, with Faumuina taking the field as a replacement during the final against Australia.

His decision to leave at the end of next season leaves All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with the decision whether to retain Faumuina for the 2017 Tests or blood a new prop two years out from the next World Cup.

Faumuina said he was looking forward to joining Toulouse, one of the leading sides in the French Top 14 club championship table.

“Toulouse has a rich history and proud record. I have only heard good things from the people I talked to who played for the club and I’m sure the fans will support me,” Faumuina said.

“I’m sure I will enjoy the type of rugby they play. I know Toulouse is an ambitious club who aims to win titles. The Top 14 is a tough league, but I’m looking forward to play in such a competitive competition.”

Another three All Blacks — Ben Smith, Israel Dagg and Aaron Cruden — are off contract next year and are also believed to be considering lucrative offers to join French clubs.

Fiji fume at world awards snub

November 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Fuming Fiji Tuesday said they were gutted that none of their nominees won at the World Rugby awards this week and planned to make their feelings known to the sport’s governing body.

Fiji

New Zealand won a hat-trick of titles at the awards bash on Sunday in London, including team of the year, player of the year (Beauden Barrett) and coach of the year (Steve Hansen).

Fiji’s Sevens team, who won the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal at Rio, were nominated for team of the year with their English coach Ben Ryan in the running for the top coach accolade, but were overlooked for both.

The Fiji Rugby Union felt hard done by and in a statement widely carried by the nation’s media said it was “in the process of expressing its concerns and disappointment to World Rugby”.

“While we respect the achievement of the All Blacks during the year, we strongly believe that the impact of the Fiji Sevens team winning back to back World 7s Series titles and more importantly winning the gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games had a far greater impact to the game of rugby globally,” it said.

“We believe that our Sevens team with the meagre resources available to them has outperformed any other rugby team in 2016.

“The rugby world expects the All Blacks to do well every time because they have all resources available to them.”

It was also upset that South Africa’s Seabelo Senatla won the Sevens player of the year gong, instead of Osea Kolinisau.

“The impact Osea Kolinisau had on the game of Sevens in the last two seasons by far outclasses any performance by Seabelo Senatla and we are disappointed he was not awarded the Sevens best player of the year,” it said.

Sevens rugby is Fiji’s national sport and part of its culture. The gold medal success in Rio galvanised the country with thousands of fans lining the flag-bedecked streets of Nadi to catch a glimpse of their idols on their return.

All Blacks’ Irish revenge on hold for Italy test

November 11, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Thoughts of avenging a first defeat to Ireland in over a century will take a back seat, for 80 minutes at least, when the All Blacks face new-look Italy on Saturday.

Ireland

New Zealand’s impressive streak of 18 consecutive Test victories was ended last week when they lost to Ireland for the first time in 111 years.

On Saturday, when former Harlequins coach Conor O’Shea leads out a largely youthful and untested Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, an All Black rout may well ensue.

But coach Steve Hansen believes New Zealand, whose 40-29 collapse to Ireland in Chicago was put down to “mental fatigue” and their “predictable” game, will have to step up their performance if they’re to avoid another upset.

“It will be a tough game,” Hansen said. “We have got to improve our performance from last week.”

Anyone thinking New Zealand didn’t already have one eye on a highly-anticipated revenge match in Dublin on November 19 has been given food for thought.

Hansen has made 12 changes for the Italy game, suggesting a fully fired-up All Blacks will grace the Aviva Stadium.

Former Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris says they will arrive “a bit like a wounded animal”, adding: “The whole of Irish rugby was on a high over the weekend but the boys will be aware that the All Blacks can score from anywhere at any stage of the game.”

Hansen defended his selection strategy in midweek, but said a win and a return to their usual, world-beating standards would be more than welcome.

“We always had the plan to pick this side,” Hansen said after announcing his starting XV.

“This is the team we thought would be right for Italy and nothing that happened in Chicago has changed that.

“Whilst it is not the same people playing, it is the same jersey and the same expectation, so this group has got to go out and get back to the type of rugby we want to play and to the standard we want to play at.”

New Zealand will notably see flanker Sam Cane skipper the side for the second time while hooker Liam Coltman and teenage wing Rieko Ioane will be hoping to make international debuts from the bench after being named in the match-day 23.

Italy captain Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, is set to overtake fellow veteran Martin Castrogiovanni, who is not selected, to earn a record 120th cap.

O’Shea, who has injected a fair bit of renewed belief, if not yet results, into Italy’s squad, is mostly gambling on a youthful line-up sprinkled with a few old heads.

Notably, the Irishman has handed Treviso’s Giorgio Bronzini an international debut at scrum-half in an untested half-back partnership with Carlo Canna, who has only 12 caps to his name.

“A few months ago I was playing the Eccellenza league, now I’m about to line up against the world champions wearing the Italy jersey. It’s like a dream,” said Bronzini.

O’Shea’s back three of fullback Edoardo Padovani and wings Giulio Bisegni and Angelo Esposito have just 12 international appearances between them.

The second row combination of South African-born Andries Van Schalkyk and Marco Fuser is untried and flanker Maxime Mbanda will be making his first appearance on Italian soil after winning his first two caps against the USA and Canada.

More familiar heads include Australian-born Luke Mclean, who, along with veteran hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, wins his 82nd cap, at inside centre.

“O’Shea is building a great squad here, it’s a mix of really experienced guys and younger athletes with interesting potential,” said Ghiraldini.

“Conor is ambitious, and so we have to be even more so. There’s nothing better than playing at home, we’re fired up ready to give it everything.”

Whether that is enough for an upset remains to be seen as the All Blacks have never lost to the Italians.

Ireland stun New Zealand to claim first win over All Blacks

November 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland ended a century-long losing streak to claim a historic first-ever win over New Zealand here Saturday, sending the All Blacks spinning to a 40-29 defeat with a scintillating display.

Ireland

Just days after the Windy City erupted in celebration after the Chicago Cubs landed their first World Series baseball crown in 108 years, Ireland booted their own 111-year rugby hoodoo firmly into touch.

Roared on by army of green-clad fans in a 62,300 crowd at Soldier Field, the Irish outscored the All Blacks by five tries to four to seal their first win over the Kiwis in the 29th instalment of a rivalry dating to 1905.

“It has been a long time coming and history (has been) made. We’re absolutely ecstatic,” Ireland skipper Rory Best said after leading his team on a raucous lap of honor at the famed NFL venue.

“We knew they are a great side. You can see how good a side they are and how much it means to our boys to have won that.”

Ireland were forced to cling on in the closing stages after a ferocious New Zealand fightback, which saw the All Blacks recover from a 30-8 deficit to go within four points at 33-29 with around 15 minutes to go.

But with the crowd roaring them home, Ireland scored a fifth and final try through outstanding center Robbie Henshaw, converted by replacement fly-half Joey Carbery, to clinch a famous victory.

It was New Zealand’s first defeat since their loss to Australia in August 2015.

Only last month, the All Blacks had set a world record for consecutive victories with their 18th win in a row.

New Zealand’s preparations for the Test had been thrown into disarray by the absence through injury of first choice locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock.

The further absence of second row Luke Romano following a family bereavement had forced them into starting a makeshift pairing of Jerome Kaino and Patrick Tuipulotu.

But New Zealand coach Steve Hansen refused to blame the injury crisis for the loss.

“The right side won,” Hansen said. “The Irish side played very well and congratulations to them.

“We don’t want to use (the injuries) as an excuse. We trained well enough, we prepared well enough, we thought. We’re not going to make any excuses about not having the right people.”

The moments before the match had seen Ireland pay an emotional tribute to beloved former international Anthony Foley, who died suddenly last month at the age of 42.

As New Zealand lined up to perform their traditional haka, Ireland’s players stood before them in a figure of eight — a reference to Foley’s position.

“We felt it was the right thing to do,” Best said. “There was a lot of emotion.”

Once the game got under way, Ireland wasted no time in exploiting New Zealand’s weakness at second row.

Johnny Sexton kicked Ireland ahead with a penalty after only four minutes when French referee Mathieu Raynal whistled the All Blacks for not rolling away at the breakdown.

But New Zealand hit back immediately with the opening try of the game, George Moala finishing off after Waisake Naholo’s electrifying break.

Fly-half Beauden Barrett scuffed his conversion attempt to leave New Zealand’s lead at 5-3.

Ireland were then handed a crucial advantage after All Black prop Joe Moody was sin-binned for a clear tip tackle on Henshaw.

The ensuing 10-minute period saw Ireland score 12 unanswered point through tries from Jordi Murphy and C.J. Stander to make it 15-5.

Barrett closed the gap to seven points with a penalty after Ireland were offside but Sexton restored Ireland’s 10-point lead with a further three-pointer.

Ireland were forced to make a change in the 26th minute when Murphy was stretchered off with what looked like a knee injury, replaced by Josh van der Flier.

But the disruption was fleeting, with scrum-half Conor Murray dummying Aaron Smith to scamper over for Ireland’s third try. Sexton converted to make it 25-8 at half-time.

The second half began with New Zealand looking sharper and faster, but it was Ireland who scored next, Sexton feeding Simon Zebo for 30-8.

Yet New Zealand roared back through tries from replacement scrum-half T.J Perenara and Ben Smith to take the score to 30-22.

A Murray penalty put Ireland 33-22 ahead but a 64th minute try by All Black debutant lock Scott Barrett, took New Zealand back to 33-27.

Brother Beauden added the conversion and New Zealand were suddenly within four.

Ireland’s defenders resisted furious late pressure, though, and Henshaw crashed over with four minutes to go to complete a magnificent win.

Fearless Irish ready for All Blacks

November 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ireland captain Rory Best says his team will not fear New Zealand as they chase an elusive first ever victory over the world champions in Chicago Saturday.

Ireland

The veteran hooker, who earns his 98th cap at Soldier Field, said the Irish would take a positive mindset into their latest attempt to end a 111-year losing streak.

“We’ve got to respect them but we can’t go out and fear them,” Best told a press conference.

“We’ve got to go out and have our gameplan, stick to it rigidly and ultimately beat the All Blacks.”

New Zealand, who clinched back-to-back World Cup crowns in 2015, arrive in Chicago on the back of a record winning streak.

The New Zealanders have compiled 18 consecutive victories and are favorites to record a 19th against Ireland, who have never beaten the Kiwis in 28 meetings since 1905.

If Ireland are to stand any chance of an upset, Best believes his men will have to play a near-flawless game.

“From what I’ve seen over the Rugby Championship you’ve got to minimise the amount of unforced errors you have,” Best said.

“They’re going to create chances. You can’t then gift them chances on top of that.”

Former New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick recently described the current All Blacks team as the greatest ever, an assessment that Best was reluctant to contradict.

“It’s kind hard when you’re comparing back through generations. But there’s no doubt that this All Black team is an extremely talented team that know how to win games of rugby, and know how to win well.

“And if Sean Fitzpatrick is saying they’re the best team then they would have to be close to it.”

Best was a member of the Ireland starting line-up on the last occasion the two teams met, in Dublin in 2013, when the host nation suffered a 24-22 defeat with the final kick of the match.

Best was forced out of that contest after 15 minutes with a broken arm. At 34, Best knows that time is running out if he is to be part of a victorious Ireland team against New Zealand.

The fact Ireland have been unable to break their All Blacks hoodoo vexes him.

“Having played in a lot of very good Irish teams it seems strange that Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks,” he said.

“We’ve come close a few times. We see ourselves as a top tier nation and we’ve shown it. It’s almost like we’ve shown it against everyone except the All Blacks.

“That side of things is disappointing.”

Nevertheless, Best said Ireland are determined not to let the millstone of history weigh heavily.

“History is history. We can’t affect that,” Best said.

“All that we can affect is what happens on Saturday. It’s disappointing that we’ve never beaten New Zealand but we have a chance now to change that.”

For Best though, the All Blacks retain an aura which he first encountered as a boy when watching the New Zealanders on their 1989 end-of-season tour, when they won all 14 matches.

That included the famous Test against Ireland at Lansdowne Road, when Irish skipper Willie Anderson marched his team into the middle of the All Blacks’ pre-match Haka.

“It always was special when the All Blacks came to town,” Best said.

“I remember the Willie Anderson one where they charged the Haka. It was all about blood and thunder for as long as they could hold out.”

The advances of the professional era have leveled the playing field since then, Best said.

“Physically we’re more than able to do it,” he said. “It’s just mentally if we can stay in the game.”

All Blacks crush Australia for record 18th straight win

October 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Julian Savea’s stunning late try double ended Australian resistance as the All Blacks claimed a world-record 18th consecutive victory with a crushing 37-10 win in Auckland on Saturday.

Savea

It was hardly vintage All Blacks and the tense game at Eden Park wasn’t settled until Savea’s game-breaking effort in the second half, scoring two tries and setting up a third.

But the ultimately convincing win rewrites the record books for Steve Hansen’s side, who surpass the top-tier record winning streak of 17 set by the All Blacks of 1965-1969 and matched twice since.

The All Blacks hit the front in the fifth minute when Israel Dagg scored and they never surrendered the lead, but for long periods Australia dictated terms and only stout defence earned the All Blacks their place in history.

They were only ahead 15-10 — after Australia had had a try disallowed by the TV match official — and defending constantly with 25 minutes to play when Savea burst into life.

There were questions ahead of the game whether the Wallabies would prove giantkillers, having stymied the All Blacks three times in recent years when the record was on the cards.

But Bernard Foley missed two close-range penalties and a Henry Speight try was disallowed when the TV official judged that Dane Haylett-Petty blocked Savea as he chased Speight.

For all their attacking flaws, sloppy discipline and rushed decision-making, the All Blacks scored six tries with Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, TJ Perenara, Savea (twice) and Dane Coles all crossing the line.

Aaron Cruden, brought off the bench early in the second half after Beauden Barrett missed the first three conversions, added seven points with the boot.

Rory Arnold scored Australia’s only try with Foley adding a conversion and penalty.

The Test record caps a remarkable 12 months in which the All Blacks became the first team to successfully defend the World Cup, retained the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup for a 14th consecutive year and won the Rugby Championship for the fourth time in five years.

Since Hansen took over as head coach after the All Blacks won the 2011 World Cup, the side has lost only three of 64 matches.

The Wallabies had the first opportunity to score only for Foley to hook a 33-metre penalty and the All Blacks responded immediately, exposing the Wallaby centres with two smart tries.

Ben Smith ran around Reece Hodge to put Dagg over wide out for the first touchdown and four minutes later Lienert-Brown, taking a short pass from Ryan Crotty, zipped past Samu Kerevi for the second.

For 15 minutes through the middle of the first half the Wallabies enjoyed a measure of control and they eventually broke the All Blacks defence when Arnold used all of his 2.08 metres (6ft 9in) to stretch out and score in the 28th minute.

They had a chance to turn it into a 10-point try, as Kieran Read was penalised in a confrontation on the line, but Hodge was astray with his long-range attempt at the restart.

The All Blacks struck back immediately with scrum-half Perenara charging down a Hodge clearing kick, regathering the ball and running in the All Blacks’ third try.

Foley landed a penalty early in the second half and Australia continued to keep pressure on the All Blacks until Smith broke out from his own 22 and set up Savea’s first try.

The big wing smashed through Speight and Nick Frisby for his second and then sent Coles over to settle the outcome.

Australia delay naming of side for All Blacks clash

October 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Australia rugby coach Michael Cheika has raised the stakes in his psychological battle with New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen by delaying the naming of his team for Saturday’s test at Eden Park until Friday.

Cheika

Test sides are traditionally named on the Thursday before a match and while Cheika has often delayed firming up his replacements bench, leaving the matchday squad announcement until the eve of the contest is a new twist.

All Blacks coach Hansen, whose side will be aiming for a top tier record 18th successive test victory in Auckland, earlier played a few mind games of his own by suggesting a few selections he thought Cheika would make.

Hansen said he thought New Zealand-born flyhalf Quade Cooper would be dropped, with Bernard Foley moving back into the number 10 shirt from the inside centre berth he occupied for most of the Rugby Championship.

Cooper has often struggled for the Wallabies in the land of his birth, where he was dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” during the 2011 World Cup.

“I’m picking they’ll play two big guys in the midfield,” Hansen told the New Zealand media on Thursday.

“They’ll play Foley at first-five and give Quade a rest for this one (and) someone like (Reece) Hodge or either one of the Fijian boys in the midfield to try to get some go-forward which is probably something they lacked in the first two tests.”

Samu Kerevi took over at outside centre from his fellow Fiji-born back Tevita Kuridrani for the second of the two drubbings at the hands of New Zealand with which Australia opened the Rugby Championship in August.

Regardless of whether he rejigs his backline, Cheika must decide whether to bring standout loose forward David Pocock into the starting line-up after his recovery from injury.

He must also replace Will Genia, who has returned to club duties in France, at scrumhalf.

The two Rugby Championship victories ensured that New Zealand will retain the Bledisloe Cup, which they have held since 2003, regardless of the result of Saturday’s test.

Australia have not beaten the All Blacks at Eden Park since 1986.

Ex-All Black Carter ‘cleared by doping probe’

October 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Former All Black great Dan Carter has been cleared of doping following a probe implicating the star fly-half and two other Racing 92 players, L’Equipe sports paper said Monday.

Carter

Carter “has been cleared and was notified on Saturday, “following an investigation by the medical commission of the French Rugby Federation, the newspaper said.

Carter along with fellow former All Black Joe Rokococo and Argentinian winger Juan Imhoff were questioned by the commission last week after testing positive for corticosteroids following last season’s Top 14 final in which Racing beat Toulon 29-21. Carter and Kokoromiko contributing 20 points between them.

L’Equipe said that Rokococo and Imhoff “will probably have been informed of the same outcome”.

However, Racing said Monday neither the players nor the club had been informed of any decision as yet.

The commission ruling is subject to appeal by the players or the French anti-doping agency AFLD which ordered the original tests in which traces were found of corticosteroids, which can be used against pain, inflammation or allergies.

The substance is illegal when taken orally or injected in either the blood or muscle, unless accompanied by a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE).

Racing has denied all wrongdoing, saying the substance was administered by an “authorised method” several days before the Top 14 final and there was no need for a TUE.

All Blacks drop Aaron Smith over toilet tryst

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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The All Blacks suspended halfback Aaron Smith Thursday over a toilet tryst with a woman at a busy airport, in the latest scandal to hit the beleaguered New Zealand Rugby union.

Smith

Coach Steve Hansen said the 54-Test veteran breached team standards and his fellow players felt he should be punished.

“As a result Smith was not considered for selection for this weekend’s Durban Test,” Hansen said as the world champions prepare for their Rugby Championship Test match against South Africa.

Hansen said Smith was seen entering a toilet cubicle with a woman at Christchurch Airport the day after the Test against South Africa in the South Island city last month.

Commentators said it continued a “season from hell” for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) after incidents involving Waikato Chiefs players and a stripper, followed by a teenage star’s violent rampage.

New Zealand media ran grainy mobile phone photographs of Smith, 27, and the woman leaving the airport’s disabled cubicle after about 10 minutes.

“This was not discreet, it was 2pm on a Sunday where there were a lot of children and fans around,” a unnamed witness told the New Zealand Herald.

“He was in his full All Blacks uniform and there was not an ounce of remorse or regret on his face.”

It is not Smith’s first brush with controversy. In 2014, he said he was “hugely embarrassed” after a naked selfie emerged on social media but insisted he had learnt his lesson.

He will face a misconduct hearing on his return to New Zealand.

NZR chief executive Steve Tew said: “This was really bad decision-making by Aaron which reflects poorly on him, and on the team.”

Tew faced criticism from women’s groups last month over NZR’s handling of a stripper’s allegations that Chiefs players sexually assaulted her during a team night out.

And last week, the organisation made a clumsy U-turn after initially standing by promising teenager Losi Filipo over a vicious street attack on four people, including two woman, in Wellington.

Filipo’s contract was eventually terminated after a massive public backlash.

Fairfax Media rugby writer Duncan Johnstone said NZR would be fuming over Smith’s latest indiscretion.

“This has hit them at their highest level -– their beloved All Blacks, their global face and marketing giant, the pillar of their revenue,” he wrote.

Herald columnist Chris Rattue said rugby was “turning into a national embarrassment” and needed to come down hard on Smith.

“Smith has treated his partner, the public, his teammates and the All Black fans with contempt,” he said. “He is coming across as an arrogant prat.”

NZR has long prided itself on its off-field discipline, espousing the mantra “better people make better All Blacks”.

However, with the squeaky-clean image in danger of becoming tarnished, Tew said he had called a review.

“We are taking action to improve the culture of our game and are about to embark on an independent review of respect and responsibility in our professional player environment,” he said.

“We have drafted the terms of reference and are currently talking to prospective panel members. We will provide an update on this shortly.”

Three-try blitz sets up All Blacks triumph

October 2, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Title-holders New Zealand scored three late first-half tries to set up a 36-17 Rugby Championship triumph over Argentina in Buenos Aires Saturday.

Barret

Two yellow cards to the All Blacks aided the Pumas as they staged a comeback from 29-3 behind at half-time to outscore their rivals during the second half without ever threatening to win.

Victory moved New Zealand, who clinched the southern hemisphere title in the previous round, closer to a world-record 18 consecutive victories.

The reigning world champions will achieve that feat if they defeat South Africa in Durban next Saturday and Australia in Auckland on October 22.

New Zealand needed just 124 seconds to go ahead as Argentina flanker Pablo Matera was penalised and fly-half Beauden Barrett slotted an easy penalty.

Argentina responded with plenty of ball-in-hand attacks and skipper Agustin Creevy was unlucky when incorrectly penalised with the try-line in his sights.

The speed with which the All Blacks attacked whichever Puma had possession was a feature of the first quarter, as was the power of Argentine No. 8 Facundo Isa during his surges.

When New Zealand were awarded a close-range penalty in front of the posts after 24 minutes they opted for a scrum.

A second penalty in almost the same position resulted in another scrum and this time the gamble of seeking seven points instead of a safe three paid off as Anton Lienert-Brown dived over and Barrett converted.

Argentine toil deserved some reward, though, and they trimmed the 10-point deficit by three when fly-half Nicolas Sanchez effortlessly stroked a penalty between the posts.

Winger Israel Dagg was stopped just short of the Argentine try-line, but it would not be long before New Zealand unleashed their full attacking might with devastating effect.

The first of the three tries came gift-wrapped from Pumas hooker and skipper Agustin Creevy.

He overthrew at a line-out just metres close to his line, All Blacks skipper and No. 8 Kieran Read stole the ball and set in motion a move that ended with centre Ryan Crotty dotting down.

Lienert-Brown set up the next try by blocking a kick from rival centre Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias and Dagg broke free to send hooker Dane Coles over.

Barrett converted both tries and the clinical finishing of the visitors had created a 24-3 advantage as half-time neared.

But the men in black were not thinking of the break and struck again when a Crotty break down the left culminated in scrum-half TJ Perenara darting over.

Barrett failed for the first time with a shot at goal, his conversion veering right, but New Zealand had a 26-point half-time advantage.

The rampant visitors scored again five minutes into the second half as Lienert-Brown shrugged off two tackles to create a try for full-back Ben Smith and Barrett kicked his fourth conversion.

New Zealand were temporarily reduced to 14 men when prop Joe Moody was sin-binned for swinging an arm at Sanchez in an off-the-ball incident.

His absence was quickly felt as Isa scored a pushover try beside the post that Sanchez converted.

Loose forward Liam Squire later became the second All Black to be sin-binned and full-back Joaquin Tuculet scored an Argentine try which Iglesias converted.

Confident All Blacks want big start against Springboks

September 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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New Zealand captain Kieran Read has hammered home the message he does not want a repeat of last week’s start against Argentina when they play South Africa in Christchurch on Saturday.

Barrett

The All Blacks are confident they can take the Springboks in the fourth-round Rugby Championship match and possibly wrap up the title if Australia beat Argentina in the other match.

However, Read said they do not want another slow start after slipping behind Argentina three times in the first 50 minutes of their last match before eventually taking command to pull off a convincing 57-22 victory.

He said they need a strong opening against a Springbok side looking to atone for consecutive losses against Argentina and Australia.

“We don’t really want to be focusing too much on them but if we can get a start in terms of our physicality and a bit of intensity in our own play then the scoreboard does funny things to teams,” Read said Friday as the All Blacks wrapped up training.

“If we can get a lead obviously that helps, but we know it will take a big effort against the Boks tomorrow night.”

The All Blacks are rated overwhelming favourites to extend their winning streak, which currently stands at 14, with the misfiring Springboks under attack for their woeful return of one win from three matches.

Former South Africa coach Nick Mallett has branded then a “B division” outfit, saying they were shown up last week by “a poor Australian side, lacking confidence”.

But Read did not accept the criticism, believing the Springboks would find an extra gear to face the All Blacks.

“This Springboks team will be pretty eager to prove some people wrong,” he said, adding the All Blacks remained confident.

“I don’t think I’ve ever not had that feeling in an All Blacks jersey. We go out every game, some games are a lot harder and tougher than others, but you always have confidence in your own ability as a group.

“Tomorrow is no different, but in saying that it doesn’t mean we don’t respect what the opposition is going to throw at us.”

Remember Christchurch mauling, Pumas warn All Blacks

September 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Argentina captain Agustin Creevy has warned New Zealand to “remember Christchurch” as they prepare to unleash their lethal rolling maul in Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash in Hamilton.

Pumas

The world champion All Blacks are overwhelming favourites after putting 71 points past Australia in their last two games.

But the Pumas are not lacking in confidence after a win and a loss against South Africa, and memories of how their rolling maul highlighted an All Blacks weak spot when they clashed in Christchurch a year ago.

Creevy scored two tries from rolling mauls that night — not enough to prevent the All Blacks from winning 39-18, but enough to hurt their morale.

A fuming All Blacks coach Steve Hansen later described the tactic as “bloody boring” and called for a law change so it could be legally brought down.

But there have been no changes and Creevy has promised more of the same, noting that the All Blacks are not invincible despite being on a 13-game winning streak.

“It’s an important part of the game,” he said of the rolling maul, after leading his side through their final training run on Friday.

“We know it is an important weapon if we do it well during the game. First of all we have to have a good lineout to start making a good maul. It gave us good results last season in Christchurch.”

Argentina have never beaten the All Blacks in 22 attempts, losing on 21 occasions and pulling off a 21-21 draw in 1985.

But Creevy said they have never stopped believing that one day they will get on the right side of the ledger.

“No one in the history of Argentina rugby has beaten the All Blacks so that’s why it’s a huge challenge for us,” he said.

“But we believe that if we do things really well, if we have the perfect game, we can beat them.”

The 31-year-old Creevy, who will be playing his 52nd Test on Saturday and ninth against New Zealand, said the Pumas benefited a lot in their first full season playing Super Rugby as the Jaguares.

Although the Jaguares only won four of 15 games, and were the most heavily penalised side in the competition, he said they learned to be comfortable with the fast-paced southern hemisphere style of play.

He attributed that to how the Pumas bounced back from their narrow loss to the Springboks in the first round of the Rugby Championship to beat them 26-24 a week later in Argentina.

“When we beat them in Salta that gave us a lot of confidence because it showed we are a team with a spirit that can get a good result after having a bad result the week before,” he said.

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