It’s time for our Monday wrap-up on who’s got their name in the spotlight and who’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.
I’M ON FIRE!
Munster ends Stormers streak: Defeats to Glasgow Warriors and the Sharks had brought Munster back down to earth after a decent run of form earlier. Subsequently, few have given them much chance to upend the reigning United Rugby Championship holders in their Cape Town fortress. But that’s exactly what Graham Rowntree’s men did when their bonus-point success ended the Stormers’ 19-game winning streak at home and lifted Munster to just five points behind fourth-placed Glasgow. They will savor and celebrate this special triumph.
Leinster on and off the pitch: Staying on the Ireland theme, it’s been a fantastic week for Leinster fans, as Irish internationals James Ryan, Josh van der Flier, James Lowe and Ronan Kelleher all signed new deals. Leinster center Liam Turner has also re-signed to add polish to the news. Adding even more brilliance is the stunning news that Springboks manager Jacques Nienaber will be joining the club after the World Cup as senior manager in place of Stuart Lancaster. On the pitch, too, there was cause for rejoicing as the young squad sent to South Africa to take on the Lions stunningly beat the home side in a victory which once again demonstrates the incredible depth of this team. Fly-half Sam Prendergast was man of the match and rightly so.
Samisoni Taukei’aho and the Chiefs: There was fantastic news on and off the pitch for the Chiefs as well, as All Blacks hooker Taukei’aho penned a new deal that will keep him in New Zealand until the 2027 Rugby World Cup. he will continue to improve for both club and country in those years but right now he is helping lead the Chiefs to their outstanding Super Rugby Pacific start to the season. Their success on the Hurricanes on Saturday means it’s now seven wins from seven, as they once again showed their class. Rieko Ioane followed Taukei’aho by becoming the second player to re-sign until the end of the World Cup in Australia and both deals are significant for New Zealand.
Point of reference for Chris Ashton: The experienced winger became the first player in history to score 100 Premiership tries this weekend when he scored a hat-trick of tries in Leicester Tigers’ triumph over Exeter Chiefs. The legendary and prolific star achieves the outrageous feat just days after confirming he will retire at the end of the season. The century of tries is a groundbreaking moment in Premiership history and elevates Ashton to one of England’s top finishers in a long time. Huge credit and huge congratulations, Chris.
Hat-trick hero Tom Stewart breaks try-hard record: The Ulster hooker has had a stellar season in Belfast. She earned a call-up to the Irish squad during the Six Nations, and while the 22-year-old didn’t make his Test debut, she can’t be too far off. You scored a hat-trick last time out for Ulster in the URC against the Bulls and you equaled that tally against the Dragons on Saturday. She goes into the final match of the regular season of the URC season with a league record 16 tries from 13 matches, a tremendous change! While some of her tries have come from the rolling maul, her scoring to complete her hat-trick showed her athleticism. She is definitely a player with a bright future worth monitoring.
COLD AS ICE!
Red card given to Olly Woodburn: The Exeter man can certainly be feeling stiff after picking up a second yellow card for diving on a downed player as he came on to assist Chris Ashton’s tackle of Stuart Hogg. Woodburn’s contribution pushes the ball carrier into touch and subsequently prevents the try. This resulted in a penalty try and a card. It may not be a bad call, but it is very tough and the letter of the law itself needs to be attended to for this incident.
The Bristol Bears slide continues: There has been a marked decline in the Bears’ performance of late, as they have gone from being one of the Premiership’s great entertainers near the top to bottom half strugglers. From the outside looking at Friday, there appears to be a lack of confidence, ideas and positivity in the field as they have been well beaten by Sale. Physically they were no match for the Sharks, but it was worrying to hear that the rain was limiting their ability to go wide where the chances were decidedly high. Their fans must want the season to be over.
England will lose Jack Willis: Unless the RFU’s policy on picking overseas-based players changes, the back row will not be available to Red Rose manager Steve Borthwick after the Rugby World Cup. Willis has signed a three-year contract with Toulouse, keeping him at the French club until at least 2026. There have been calls for England’s governing body to scrap the law, which prevents the international manager from selecting those outside the Premiership, but they don’t seem to budge from that. With others joining Willis in moving to France, don’t be surprised if the RFU changes locations over the next couple of years.
Ox Nwho tests his luck: The Springboks and Sharks prop risked his arm on Friday night when he feigned injury in an attempt to get the referee and TMO to look into potential foul play on him. Unfortunately for Nche, the day’s officials didn’t make it and Ben Whitehouse penalized the front row, awarding a penalty to Benetton. We would hate to see rugby union go in the direction of players faking injuries to get a favorable decision from referees. Hats off to Welsh referee Whitehouse, who acted quickly and decisively.
Billy Vunipola Injury Setback: Saracens confirmed last week that the number eight will miss the rest of the season with a serious injury sustained in the European Cup defeat to La Rochelle. Vunipola was stretchered off in the defeat meaning his participation in the Rugby World Cup is in high doubt. Even though they missed the Six Nations, with Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt among the preferred options, the defensive line played superbly and did more than enough to come back. We wish him all the best in his recovery.
Ellis Park faithful? The plethora of empty seats at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park has become a regular nuisance in recent seasons, and not even a double URC fixture at the stadium drew crowds last weekend. Although the 62,000 capacity stadium attracts 20,000 fans, it feels eerily empty, but when the Bulls faced Zebre Parma in their opening match of the day, there seemed to be barely 5,000 fans in attendance. That number hasn’t improved much – in fact, it may have even worsened as Lions hosted table-top Leinster on the day – a sad state for the iconic rugby stadium which is clearly suffering from its position.
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The article Who’s hot and who’s not: Chris Ashton creates history, Munster ends Stormers run and Olly Woodburn decision first appeared on Planetrugby.com.