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Rugby World Cup

Hansen Hands Departing Stars Chance Against Wales

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has made a host of changes for his side’s Rugby World Cup third-place play-off against Wales and given some men a chance to shine on their final appearance for the country

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(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

All Blacks head coach has made a raft of changes to his side for their Rugby World Cup third-place play-off against Wales in Japan on Friday.

Following their 19-7 semi-final defeat to England on Saturday Hansen has freshened things up while also allowing some stars a chance to sign off on a high as they prepare to hang up their international boots. 

Captain Kieran Read, centres Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty, as well as utility-back Ben Smith are all set to call time on their glittering international careers with the conclusion of the tournament and have all been named in the starting XV. 

To run through the team Joe Moody continues alongside Nepo Laulala in the front-row, while the pair are joined by Dane Coles who replaces Cody Taylor as the starting hooker, Brodie Retallick retains his place in the second-row and is joined by Scott Barrett who moves from flanker to the engine-room. 

Shannon Frizell comes in as the blindside-flanker, with Sam Cane on the openside and Read completes the pack from No 8. 

Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga are once again named as the half-back pairing, but have Williams and Crotty outside them in the midfield this week. 

Rieko Ioane replaces George Bridge on the left-wing, with Ben Smith taking Sevu Reece’s spot on the right, while Beauden Barrett continues at full-back. 

The likes of Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara have been completely left out of the 23-man squad, but there are returns to the bench for the likes of Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Matt Todd and Brad Weber. 

Speaking ahead of the game Hansen admitted he struggled to pick his side and confirmed that his team are fully focused on winning the game despite what the media have said during the week. 

“This was a tough team to select because, as always, everyone wanted to play. But with a short turnaround and the nature of the tournament, we feel that this is the right team for this occasion. There’s been a lot of external talk around this being the game that no one wants to play. However, from our point of view, we can’t wait to play it. Everyone in the squad – players and management – are motivated by the opportunity to show that our last performance wasn’t at the high standard that we know we can play at. This is a test match against an opposition that will also be keen to make a statement. Therefore, we will need to turn up with real attitude, intent and work ethic, and then execute our skill sets to the highest level possible,” he said. 

New Zealand will want to end their campaign on a high having failed in their quest to win three Webb Ellis Cups on the bounce. However, Wales will be no push-overs as they look to give Warren Gatland a perfect send-off with victory over the mighty All Blacks. 

Check Out the Full 23-Man Squad Below.

Starting XV:

1. Joe Moody (44)

2. Dane Coles (68)

3. Nepo Laulala (24)

4. Brodie Retallick (80)

5. Scott Barrett (35)

6. Shannon Frizell (8)

7. Sam Cane (67)

8. Kieran Read – captain (126)

9. Aaron Smith (91)

10. Richie Mo’unga (16)

11. Rieko Ioane (28)

12. Sonny Bill Williams (56)

13. Ryan Crotty (47)

14. Ben Smith (83)

15. Beauden Barrett (82)

Replacements:

16. Liam Coltman (7)

17. Atu Moli (7)

18. Angus Ta’avao (13)

19. Patrick Tuipulotu (29)

20. Matt Todd (24)

21. Brad Weber (4)

22. Anton Lienert-Brown (41)

23. Jordie Barrett (16)

International

Is Schmidt to Blame for Ireland’s RWC Failings?

The IRFU have placed the blame of Ireland’s dismal World Cup campaign on Joe Schmidt, but is it really that easy?

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(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Yesterday, the IRFU held a meeting with a group of handpicked journalists to deliver their verdict on Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign.

The result according to the IRFU was that Ireland failed to evolve a game plan, failed in performance due to anxiety, had poor preparation ahead of the tournament and had a skills deficit compared to the world’s best teams. 

All of which appears to have been placed on head coach Joe Schmidt, who stepped aside following the conclusion of the tournament. 

The conclusion of where the team failed was reached by IRFU high performance director David Nucifora, who interviewed coaches and staff, while an independent body held discussions with the players, with all roads leading to the four failings mentioned above. 

Schmidt, who took over as head coach in 2013, a year before Nucifora took his role with the IRFU, is becoming the sole person responsible for the team’s failure, but is that fair?

Yes, Ireland appeared to be stuck playing the same game-plan as their impressive 2018 campaign, which saw them defeat all before them, which is a failure to evolve, but Schmidt had a full team of back-room staff, were they not capable of coming up with a different plan? Or were the players themselves unable to use their own initiative to bring forward a case of how they should play to Schmidt?

In terms of performance anxiety, these are international stars, playing on the biggest stage in European rugby for their provinces on a regular basis. Some criticized Schmidt for not rotating the team enough, but that meant that the same players where playing on the international stage for Ireland on a regular basis too, why are they anxious? 

These are the cream of the crop in Ireland, players that have won Champions Cups and PRO14 titles with their clubs, Six Nations titles and Grand Slams with Ireland, winning series tours with their country and some have even represented the British and Irish Lions on the grand stage. Why are they anxious and what does it have to do with Schmidt? 

Schmidt is a man renowned for his tactical and thorough preparation, looking at teams inside out to find their weaknesses and looking at his own team to find their strengths so what changed this year from a man that admitted his only regret when leaving the job was the fact that he only took one day off in six years. 

The team had played together many times before, went on training camps weeks before the tournament in Japan, including hot-weather camps to prepare for the soaring temperatures and humidity, and played pre-World Cup warm-up games. So why weren’t they prepared and once more how is Schmidt to blame?

Lastly, a lack in skills, an area were former players have noted Ireland failed to capitalise on during the past year. Some pointing towards Leinster’s style of play and asking why players weren’t following that example. 

It is true that Schmidt prefers a risk-free game, but surely once on the pitch, the players must use their initiative when opportunities arise, and play expansive rugby when the chances come if that’s how to win a game of rugby. 

Schmidt may have asked them to be more careful, but it is up to the players on the pitch to seize a game by the scruff of the neck and create openings. It seems unlikely that Schmidt would have argued with his players if they made it further in the World Cup by taking more of a risk. 

The four areas where Ireland failed to seem to be somewhat of the overall problem, and it would be foolish not to place some of the blame on the head coach, but it seems strange and even more foolish to pile the sole blame on him. 

There was a group of staff and players that prepared and went to Japan, a group of talented individuals, if Schmidt was falling short they should have been able to point it out and take it upon themselves to help solve the issues at hand. 

May the environment had gone stale after six years of the same routine, may the players needed more of a challenge, but what appeared to happen this year more than before was the players looked to lack motivation and desire in the green jersey, and that is on them no matter who tries to cover it up. 

While others find it easy to point the finger of blame to a man no longer associated with the IRFU, a look in the mirror may be a good idea. Afterall, if Schmidt was the problem then questions may be raised as to why it is his former right-hand man becoming Ireland’s head coach. Hopefully exciting times lie ahead under Andy Farrell, but don’t be surprised if more of the same is to follow.  

Four years ago Ireland were trounced in the quarter-finals of the World Cup by Argentina, in between then they arguably became the best team in the world under Schmidt, before being trounced again by the All Blacks at the same stage of the competition. The hope will be that Farrell can produce something others have failed to in the Irish hot-seat, but a review of a tournament isn’t what will help, a review of the system is needed and each member involved with Ireland’s failings should hold their hand up for the failure, because one man isn’t the only person at fault.

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Champions Cup

Kolbe Aims for Two More Gold Medals

Fresh off the back of his Rugby World Cup victory with South Africa, Cheslin Kolbe has confirmed that he has ambitions to add two further gold medals to his cabinet

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South African Rugby World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe has admitted he would like to win not only the Champions Cup but also Olympic gold with the Blitzbokke in 2020.

The flying-winger, who was also part of Toulouse’s Top14 winning team last season, as well as the Springboks Rugby Championship winning squad before the World Cup has set his sights on those two competitions in particular. 

“There are two more things I would still love to achieve and that’s probably winning the European Champions Cup and hopefully the Olympics with South Africa. I will keep on working hard and if there’s a door that opens or an opportunity that comes my way I’ll just make sure that I’m ready for whatever opportunities,” he said after being crowned the Top14 player of the year at Monday’s awards ceremony. 

The 26-year-old has previous experience with the South African Rugby Sevens having featured during their 2016 Olympic campaign and admitted that he is hopeful he can be a part of the set-up once again, but it is yet to be discussed. 

“I haven’t discussed it in person with SA Rugby. It’s something I would love to be a part of. It’s another big event. It’s probably one of the biggest stages of rugby or sport. If it does it happen, it happens,” he added. 

As well as being part of winning teams this year, and claiming last night’s top prize, Kolbe was also nominated for World Rugby player of the year, which he lost out to Springbok teammate Pieter-Steph du Toit and is thankful for the players he has had around him during his successful year. 

“It’s been a phenomenal season, not just for me but for my club and for my country, winning the Top 14, The Rugby Championship and then World Cup in one year I’m really blessed. I couldn’t have done this without all my team-mates. I give credit to all of them because if they didn’t create opportunities for me as a winger to finish off I wouldn’t be standing here now,” he finished. 

Kolbe will be hoping to hear from the Blitzbokke soon with regard to his chances of featuring at the Olympics next year, however, before then he will be not only trying to achieve his goal of Champions Cup success but help Toulouse climb the Top14 table where they currently sit in eighth position.

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Rugby

Gatland Explains England RWC Final Comments

Warren Gatland has come out to explain his comments around England’s Rugby World Cup final as well as looking back on one vital mistake he made in his career

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(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Former Wales head coach Warren Gatland has given his reason for predicting England’s fall in the Rugby World Cup final while talking to Off the Ball.

The coaching great, who stepped aside from his 12-year stint with Wales following the conclusion of their World Cup campaign was promoting his new book ‘Pride and Passion’ and explained how the emotional toll of England’s semi-final win over New Zealand was hard to follow up. 

“At the very elite level of sport, it is the emotion that counts. And sometimes when you have a great performance and you are emotionally charged right on the edge, it is difficult to repeat that,” he said. 

It proved to be the case for England as they failed to find another gear in the final, being dominated by South Africa who ran out 32-12 winners. He drew on past experiences in his career to back up his point, including a discussion about the 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour.

“When I look back at my time coaching, there are two examples that really strike out for me. One was in London coaching Wasps, and we played Leicester in the last round. Martin Johnson’s last game and Neil Back’s last game at Welford Road. I completely underestimated the emotion of that. They beat us 45-24 or something like that. Then in the final, I didn’t think they could bring the same level of emotion so we put 40-points on them in the final. It was the same scenario with Australia in the second test in 2013. James Horwill, tears running down his eyes, the effort and energy they put into that, I didn’t think they could bring the same the following week,” he added. 

That Lions tour threw up some major complications for Gatland including a decision to drop Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll for the third test, which caused huge backlash and the Kiwi regrets how he went about the decision that week. 

“The biggest mistake we made was on the Sunday after the second test we put Brian up for media. That was a huge mistake because everyone just assumed with Sam Warburton getting injured that Brian was going to play and going to be captain the following week. So we made the decision and I said to the other coaches ‘there could be a big falling out over this’. I didn’t realise quite the extent,” he finished. 

Gatland’s experience is easy to see and he will take charge of yet another Lions tour in 2021 as he leads his charges to South Africa as he completes the full cycle of tours having also managed them to a series draw with New Zealand in 2017. In the meantime Gatland has taken up a role with Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs as he returns to his homeland looking to add further success to his CV.

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