Biggest Winners and Losers in World Rugby for Weekend of April 17-19
Toulon and Clermont Auvergne were undoubtedly among those teams most pleased with their outings this weekend in world rugby, winning in the European Rugby Champions Cup to set up a replay of the 2012-13 European final.
Those French titans were joined by Edinburgh and Gloucester as this season’s European finalists as the latter pair triumphed in their respective semi-finals to make the Challenge Cup closer.
For there to be winners, however, there must also be those more glum with current circumstance, and New Zealand coach Steve Hansen received news that fly-half Aaron Cruden may miss this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Read on for discussion of those headlines and much more as we round up the biggest winners and losers in world rugby this weekend.
Gloucester stood resolute against the threat of Exeter Chiefs on Saturday, coming away from Kingsholm with a 30-19 triumph in tow and their place opposite Edinburgh in the Challenge Cup final booked as a result.
Edinburgh’s last-four win against Newport may have been considered a more routine result, but the Cherry and Whites were pressed to emerge victorious against their Premiership foes.
Tries from Bill Meakes, Tom Savage and Jonny May drove the West Country side on as Grieg Laidlaw and James Hook added the necessary extras from the tee.
The Cherry and Whites dominated in possession—accounting for almost 70 percent in total—and the territorial duel also ran firmly in their favour to round off a terrific display and book a first European final since 2006.
Loser: Aaron Cruden
New Zealand rugby was pained to hear news this week that fly-half Cruden could be absent for the 2015 Rugby World Cup after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Chiefs' win over the Crusaders on Friday, per ESPN Scrum.
With his playmaker looking at a six-month recovery window, coach Hansen was quoted as saying:
It's obviously hugely disappointing for Crudes and we will be supporting him as he goes through this tough time and we wish him all the best with his surgery and rehab over the next few months. He has developed in a very good Test All Black and is a key member of our team. He will be a loss for the Chiefs and the All Blacks.
As we know in the game of rugby, there are always going to be injuries and as selectors we plan for these unfortunate events and are constantly looking to build depth in all positions across the team.
Hansen has used Cruden most regularly as ageing veteran Dan Carter edges his way toward international retirement, although he’ll be forced to assess his options in light of the news.
Beauden Barrett has had to settle for bit-part roles as part of the national team setup in the past, but the in-form Hurricanes star may now be pushed to the head of the All Blacks’ order.
New Zealand are being looked upon as favourites to retain their world title later this year, and although one injury won’t decide their campaign, Cruden’s absence could come to have a dramatic impact on their hopes.
Winner: Top 14 Giants
It’s a notion that’s becoming more and more evident with each season, but the grip boasted by France’s titans when it comes to European competition tightened that much more this weekend.
In staging a repeat of the 2012-13 Heineken Cup final against Toulon, the Top 14 giants also have the chance to win their third European crown in succession, a feat managed by no other team in history.
Bernard Laporte’s side claimed an extra-time victory over Leinster while Clermont slipped past Saracens with a much slimmer 13-9 victory to book their place at Twickenham.
With the money being invested in the Top 14, one can only wonder how long it is before the likes of Racing Metro, Toulouse, Montpellier, Bordeaux and Stade Francais begin to account for even more of the final places in European competition.
Loser: Azzurri's Inner Conflict
Italy captain Sergio Parisse has chosen to take a stand against Federazione Italian Rugby (FIR) president Alfredo Gavazzi following some inflammatory marks from the Azzurri official.
According to an ESPN Scrum report, Gavazzi claimed he was upset with some of "the pensioners" in the team, adding "it's not my fault they're 15th in the world."
The comments come after Italy just about avoided the wooden spoon award in this year's Six Nations, but Parisse evidently feels his side are deserving of more respect, tweeting his reply with the hashtag reading: "Give us respect."
ESPN Scrum's report mentions several other veterans of the Azzurri squad following their captain's lead in defiance of Gavazzi, implying there seems to be great unrest among an already troubled team.
Winner: James O'Connor's Reds
The Queensland Reds franchise has gone through a stage of turmoil in its history of late, but a tough and gritty 18-17 win over Cheetahs this weekend showed something fans will be hoping to see more of.
Prior to their trip to Bloemfontein, the Australian outfit were on a six-match losing streak, but conjured up a rousing finish to their fortnight-long tour of South Africa.
James O’Connor was on form, too, as the versatile back returned from a calf injury to set up two of his team’s tries and do his bid to earn a Wallabies call-up much good.
Having trailed 10-3 at the break, the Reds showed strong mental resolve above all else to prove they can be a stubborn opponent and breathe some new life into their 2015 Super Rugby season.