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!
Well done Ulster, twice: Dan McFarland’s men secured runners-up place in the United Rugby Championship after getting the job done against Edinburgh. They were dominant virtually throughout Friday and deservedly walked away with a 28-14 triumph at Kingspan Stadium. As a result, Ulster beat the Stormers, who finish in third place on the same points but with fewer wins, meaning they will have a home semi-final if they get there. It was a key achievement for Ulster, coming after the club unveiled the new Nevin Spence Memorial Stand, named in honor of the center who tragically lost their lives along with his brother Graham and father Noel 10 years ago . What a beautiful tribute.
Northampton lights up the style: This was one way to wrap up the Saints’ regular season, who won at Kingston Park on Friday. After being stunned early on by Adam Radwan’s superb try, Northampton kicked into high gear and ended up enjoying an impressive 66-5 success against Newcastle Falcons. They played sublime rugby and, following London Irish’s defeat by Saracens on Sunday, qualified for the semi-finals. In this kind of form, they will provide a severe test of Saracens’ qualities in the semi-finals in a fascinating encounter.
Sharks Sale Seals Home Comforts: Congratulations to Alex Sanderson’s men as they go into their first home semi-final since winning the Premiership title in 2006. They have been outstanding for most of the season and sealed their play-off match at the AJ Bell Stadium by overcoming Gloucester 25-22 at Kingholm. The Sharks have been stuttering lately but they’ve gotten good at the right time and needless to say, will pose a significant threat to the title. Sanderson’s charges have power and solidity from set pieces, combined with a star quality behind the backline, so it will be fascinating to see if they can measure up to that ability when the pressure comes.
Munster’s impressive response: Province Ireland have been a strange side to watch this season. They got off to a poor start before improving and getting on the right track under manager Graham Rowntree. They entered the last 16 of the European Cup on reasonable form but were soundly beaten by the Sharks. This rather raised questions about their abilities and, before the tour to South Africa, they were in danger of missing out on ‘European’ qualification for next season. However Munster produced a huge performance to defeat the Stormers and then went down from 19 runs to draw with the Sharks. Rowntree’s men will then appreciate their chances to go to Scotstoun and claim a win to progress to the semi-finals.
Clermont’s response to Delon Armitage: It was a busy Tuesday night in the south of France as Toulon inducted eight players into their Hall of Fame. The event attracted past players to their former club, including Armitage. During an interview at the event, Armitage called Clermont fans “bastards” for heckling and booing him for years after he flaunted himself scoring against them in the 2013 Heineken Cup Final. Toulon distanced himself from the comments from Armitage, but Clermont’s response was superb! Les Jaunards’ statement, accompanied by a picture of Napolioni Nalaga defending Armitage, read: “Better known for his outbursts than his advice, former Toulon full-back Delon Armitage has taken the liberty of insulting our fans publicly branding them as ‘bastards.’” during the club’s Hall of Fame ceremony. A pitiful way to celebrate his reunion with the Toulon crowd who, like ours and all who fill our sport’s grandstands, have mastered the nuance between ‘getting under the skin’ and ‘offending’.” Magnifique, Clermont Auvergne!
Free Scoring Bulls: Jake White’s side bounced back from their European Cup exit to Toulouse to win their next two United Rugby Championship games by an aggregate score of 140-19. The Bulls ran in 11 tries against Zebre and backed that up with an emphatic 62-7 win over Leinster. Provincial Ireland had not lost a single game this season before defeat in Pretoria, but the Bulls were ruthless, inflicting the heaviest defeat in their history on the young side. Springbok winger Canan Moodie has been in stellar try form, getting three goals in the first game and a brace in the second. It’s a notable turnaround for the Bulls after a poor run in all competitions in 2023.
COLD AS ICE!
Evan Roos Cheap Shot: Last season, the Springbok were regularly hailed as a ‘hot’ for his incredible displays for the Stormers, but this week his hothead earned him a mention. Whilst he looked to be returning to fitness in his first start since returning from injury, his performance against Benetton took on a bad blemish when he was penalized for a flanker Manuel Zuliani’s head into Danie Craven’s turf . Useless was the rightly brandished word for his actions, even though Zuliani had Roos’ teammate in a headlock. It’s also not the first time young Bok has committed this type of offense after shoving Leinster’s Harry Byrne to the face and getting into a similar altercation against Edinburgh last season.
Abysmal Newcastle Falcons: Whilst the Saints were brilliant, Newcastle were chaotic, and that summed up quite a few worrying weeks for the Falcons. That performance was the culmination of a month-long hiatus, starting with the departure of Dave Walder as head coach in March. Fellow managers Scott MacLeod and Mark Wilson looked after him last week which left Newcastle with a lot of rebuilding to do in the off-season. It is certainly a worrying time for the club, despite the new contract with academy graduate and key defender Callum Chick.
Jack Nowell’s Expensive Tweet: A few words cost the England winger £10,000 after he was punished for posting a tweet criticizing a decision by referee Karl Dickson. The match official controversially decided to hand Olly Woodburn a second yellow card and award Leicester a penalty try in Tigers 62-19 triumph over Exeter Chiefs. It was a call that caused a stir on social media, with several Exeter players including Nowell voicing their disappointment. However, the 30-year-old was the only one to directly target Dickson’s decision, which led to him being fined. The RFU also supported the referee stating that he had correctly followed the laws set by World Rugby. Ultimately, Nowell was a little too blunt and was justly punished for his actions, but we do have an element of sympathy. This law needs to be changed in the wake of Woodburn’s call, or else it could open a can of worms in the future.
Josh Navidi forced to retire: It was very sad to see the Wales and Cardiff backrower hang up his boots last weekend. Navidi has been an outstanding player for both region and country, making every team he has played for substantially better. Unfortunately, the 32-year-old couldn’t get over a serious neck injury when he retired from playing, having made 30 international caps. He could, and maybe should, be even more, but Navidi should still be proud of what he’s achieved in the game. We wish him all the best in the future and look forward to what he does next.
Dai Young suspended: Continuing with Cardiff’s theme, it was revealed that their director of rugby had been suspended and duly lost Cardiff’s 38-21 triumph over fellow Welsh Region Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship. The capital club described it as “unforeseen circumstances” but several complaints have been made about Young’s behavior by employees, including players, which are very serious allegations, according to UK media reports.
Winless Zebras: It has been a difficult season for the Italian side, who have lost all 18 of URC’s games this season. Indeed, the Zebras lost all four games in the Challenge Cup as well. In the URC they conceded 734 points at an average of around 41 points per game. The Dragons dropped the second-most points (534), but the 200-point difference only shows how far off the pace the Italians are. This season’s disappointment comes after just one win in the URC last season.
TO KNOW MORE: Sunday Social: Goodbye to a veteran, record calls and big tries
The article Who’s cool and who’s not: Premiership and URC play-offs confirmed, Evan Roos’ low shot and winless Zebras first appeared on Planetrugby.com.