England player chose the wrong moment to tell the Twittersphere all about his footwear – but another international picked the right time to put in a storming performance on his return from injury.
Suddenly, everyone loves Top 14 side La Rochelle – and why not? At the weekend, they made sure of a place in the end-of-season playoffs and a Champions Cup spot next season. Along with Pau, the team they beat, La Rochelle are threatening to bust open the monopoly of the Top 14’s all-important top six places, while big-spending behemoths like Racing 92 and Toulouse continue to struggle. What makes this season all the more remarkable is the fact that their win at Grenoble way back in the second week of the season was their first victory on the road in 518 days. It clearly started something. They have since won six more times away from their Stade Marcel Deflandre fortress – and haven’t lost in the league since November 19.
Speaking of surprise packages, the English Championship side on an island just off the French coast did what no other team in the competition has managed to do this season: beat runaway leaders London Irish. The result probably won’t affect the race for promotion to the Aviva Premiership – London Irish are 17 points clear at the top of the table, and have already beaten likely playoff opponent Yorkshire Carnegie three times (twice in the league and once in the British and Irish Cup) – but, for now, Championship bragging rights belong to the Channel Islanders.
British and Irish Lions fans
Up to 20,000 rugby fans are expected to head to New Zealand for the scratch team’s 10-match tour. With accommodation scarce and prices for what’s left sky-high, one generous All Blacks’ fan decided to do something. So, he started the ‘Adopt a Lions fan’ Facebook page to encourage other New Zealand rugby fans to offer spare rooms, sofas, floor space accommodation – for free.
After 12 weeks out with a shoulder injury, you could be forgiven for thinking Chris Robshaw would want a nice, warm seat on the bench and a relatively gentle 20-minute return to match rugby. But that’s not the Robshaw way. He played the full 80 minutes of Harlequins win over Newcastle. If we didn’t know all about Robshaw’s engine, we do now – and it may well be he has the Lions on his mind. He certainly left those journalists watching the game from the confines of the press box wondering if he could get the nod from Warren Gatland.
Got to love a slice of speculation. Bath are reportedly putting together a big-money deal to tempt the Wales and Toulon fullback to the Rec for the 2018 season. The 28-year-old had been in talks to return to Wales on a dual contract with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and his former region, Cardiff Blues. That, apparently, fell through, with the WRU said to be unwilling to extend a two-year deal to cover the 2019 World Cup, prompting Halfpenny to sign a year’s extension with the Top 14 side.
A report suggesting that rugby in Australia was less popular than ballroom dancing caused uproar, and prompted a swift response from the powers that be at the ARU. But, it’s not the first piece of bad rugby news from Oz in the past few days. Western Force issued a strongly worded statement about its future amid speculation it could be axed from next season’s Super Rugby competition, following suggestions the tournament could be reduced from 18 sides to 15. The ARU, too, said that no decision had been made about the future of the Perth-based franchise. But that speculation just isn’t going away.
Every side has a bad day at the office – just ask Bath about their away day at Saracens last weekend. Few, however, would have predicted Welsh outfit Ospreys, third in the Pro 12, to come unstuck at 11th-placed Treviso. But that’s what happened. Worse, they returned home with not even a losing bonus point, which leaves them four points behind Munster in the race for a top-two spot and home advantage in the play-offs. Treviso has now won three, and will probably finish higher than the league’s other Italian side, Zebre, to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup.
The Grenoble fullback had already announced he would retire at the end of the season after spending the past 11 years with the Isere side – but instead his career came to an early end midway through the opening half of the Top 14 strugglers’ must-win match at Stade des Alpes against Castres at the weekend.
Anyone who has any doubt about what a club can mean to a player should watch this:
Gengenbacher’s pain will have been eased as he watched Grenoble win, courtesy of David Mele’s third drop goal two minutes from time. And, to prove what a player can mean to a club, this happened next:
— Jonathan Joseph (@Jonathanjoseph0) March 26, 2017
Way to win over the fans, JJ. Some of their replies were … scathing.
— Miles Offside (@miles_offside) March 26, 2017
— Alex Beard (@BeardsBanter) March 26, 2017
— Tom Stranks (@tomstranks5) March 26, 2017