Exiles stun Sarries, fans turn out in South Africa : PlanetRugby

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.

THEY’RE ON FIRE!

London Irish end Saracens’ run: In the London derby, the Exiles ended Sarries’ 11-match winning streak in major competitions following an outstanding display on Friday. Despite receiving significant setbacks, which included a red card for Adam Coleman (more on that later), they went away with a 29-20 triumph. Irish also found themselves down to 12 men at one stage after Rob Simmons and Rory Jennings were sin-binned in quick succession, but they showed great maturity to hold the league leaders out and finish off the game with a superb Chandler Cunningham-South try. It was a very impressive performance and could well kick-start their campaign.

South African derby crowds: After the criticism following the South Africans’ Champions Cup debut, it is only right to praise the teams and supporters as they drew in healthy crowds for their Christmas games. At Kings Park in Durban, there were almost 25,000 in attendance for the Sharks’ victory over the Lions, while the Stormers’ clash with the Bulls had a superb 29,000 fans. Festive rugby has been rare for a South African audience over the years, but it seems as though it will prove to be popular for the supporters over the coming seasons. It is great to see.

World Rugby’s attempt to speed up the game: We welcomed the new laws which were announced last week by the governing body. The general idea is to speed up the game and help improve the flow to make it more attractive to fans and sponsors, as well as help officials, players and coaches. They will come into effect on January 1, 2023 and include a ‘shot clock’ timer for both scrums and penalties. Equally, referees will be encouraged to clamp down on time-wasting, especially when it comes to the lineouts and overall gamesmanship. It is a simple but positive step for the sport and hopefully it will have the desired effect from the start of next year.

More accolades for Kevin Sinfield: The rugby league legend and current England union coach was rewarded for his efforts this year with a special BBC award during Wednesday’s Sports Personality of the Year event. After former team-mate and fellow Leeds Rhinos great Rob Burrow was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2019, Sinfield has sought to raise both awareness and money in an attempt to find a cure for the disease. His efforts by him have already helped bring in millions for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, but he is n’t stopping there and will continue to do his bit by him. Both he and Burrow are quite simply remarkable people.

RG Snyman closing in on return: In what will be a big boost to Mรผnster and the Springboks, the gargantuan lock is nearing his latest comeback following another lengthy injury. Snyman signed for the Irish province in 2020 but has only played four times since then due to rupturing his ACL twice. The second one occurred in October 2021, which means that he has already spent over a year on the sidelines, but Munster have confirmed that he is now nearing a return and should be back early in the new year. We pray that he remains injury-free and can help contribute significantly to both province and country in 2023.

Finn Russell signing a much-needed boost for the Premiership: The issues in England’s top-tier have been well-publicised over the past year. Clubs are struggling financially (more on that below) and, as a result, there has been a reduction in the salary cap, which means they are failing to truly compete with Europe’s best. Attendances are also down, perhaps partly driven by those factors โ€“ as well as the obvious cost of living crisis in the UK โ€“ but Russell’s arrival will generate plenty of excitement. The Scotland maverick is someone who people pay to watch and slightly bucks the recent trend of star players departing the Premiership.

COLD AS ICE!

Benetton’s racist incident: Cherif Traore revealed last week that he was subject to a vile and racist ‘joke’ when he was given a rotten banana as a Secret Santa gift’. The prop took to Instagram to call out his team-mates, both the perpetrator of the incident and also other members of the squad who shockingly laughed about it. That awful incident was then almost matched by Benetton’s extremely poor response. The Italian outfit convinced Traore to speak to the camera, saying that he had accepted an apology, but it looked more like a hostage video than anything else. After mounting pressure, Benetton have now suspended the culprit pending an investigation, but this whole episode has reflected very badly on Italian rugby and, to a degree, the sport as a whole.

Fortunate Thomas Ramos: We do despair sometimes when it comes to the citing and judicial process. The referees on the field have a tough enough job without the people in suits trying to mess it up for them. The latest bizarre episode came in the form of Ramos, who was punished for two separate incidents during Toulouse’s Champions Cup victory over Sale Sharks. Having received a red card for headbutting Byron McGuigan, the full-back was also cited for making contact with the eye area of โ€‹โ€‹Gus Warr. He was duly handed four and five-week bans, which you think would add up to nine weeks out of the game, but alas not. Of course, the panel came up with the idea of โ€‹โ€‹allowing Ramos to serve them simultaneously, with the suspension obviously finishing just before the Six Nations starts.

Qatar’s reported interest in rugby: Rugby doesn’t really have any moral high ground, especially when you consider the sevens has a leg in the UAE, but that still doesn’t make Qatar’s potential involvement any easier to digest. Reports surfaced last week that the Arab country are looking to invest in rugby union, with the British and Irish Lions their apparent target. The Qatar Rugby Federation are looking to host one of their matches during the 2025 Australia tour, while they also want to get involved in sevens. It will obviously be financially tempting for the respective governing bodies but, as has been well-documented due to the recent football World Cup, their human rights record is abysmal. Equally, it won’t add anything to the sport in the medium to long-term, just like Dubai’s involvement hasn’t benefited sevens, other than to boost the coffers.

Premiership’s financial worries: On the subject of money, it is looking bleak for the clubs in England. It has been revealed that there is a combined total of ยฃ300m worth of debt among the clubs in the top-tier. That is simply unsustainable and rather gives some context as to why Worcester Warriors and Wasps went to the wall. Covid has certainly been a big factor, while Brexit has hampered both business and the general financial outlook in the UK, but the Premiership still needs to find a way to make it viable, or else the English game will be in serious trouble.

Adam Coleman’s red card woes: A hat-trick of red cards for the former Wallabies lock, who was given his marching orders in London Irish’s Premiership clash with Saracens on Friday. Unfortunately, this has become a bit of a worrying trend for the 31-year-old, who was also sent off in both of the Exiles’ matches against Saracens last season. He escaped suspension for his second red card, but it is unlikely that he will be that lucky this time after his tackle on Tom Woolstencroft. Despite the heat of a London derby, an experienced lock of his quality should not get caught up in it.

Zebras: The Parma-based outfit succumbed to their 10th successive defeat in the United Rugby Championship this season after they went down to a 38-5 loss at the hands of Benetton. They have only won one league game since February 2021, which is quite frankly an appalling record. Fabio Roselli’s men were once again poor in their Italian derby, with the hosts completely outplaying and outmuscling Zebre, who struggled in most facets of the game. Although rugby in the country is generally growing and improving, it is concerning when one of their clubs is failing to develop.

READ MORE: Five takeaways from the South African derbies including Manie Libbok turning on the style

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