Here are your rugby evening headlines for Sunday, May 22.
Faletau gets special goodbye
Taulupe Faletau was given a special goodbye at Bath’s last home game of the season ahead of his move to Cardiff, putting in two match-winning moments against London Irish on his final outing at The Rec.
The Wales and Lions back-rower made a stunning break from a restart to create a try for Ben Spencer, and made a try-saving tackle three minutes from time to secure Bath a 27-24 comeback win after trailing by 10 points in the second half.
Faletau, 31, will have one more final outing for Bath – against Worcester on Saturday, June 4 – but savoured the occasion at home with his two children as he exited the field to a warm reception from fans.
Bath head coach Neal Hatley said: “Whether players were leaving or not, that was the result we wanted. It was special for Roko (Semesa Rokoduguni) and Toby (Faletau) and for Val Morozov and Max Clark.
“You see Toby make a 60-metre break for Ben’s try and then, with three minutes to go, make a tackle he’s no right to make. It just shows what a quality player he is and how much he puts in.”
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Springboks given another edge over Wales
South Africa have been given an even greater edge over Wales for this summer’s three-Test showdown after their United Rugby Championship double against the leading two Welsh regions, according to Jake White.
The former World Cup-winning Springboks boss saw his Bulls team beat the Ospreys 38-31 in Swansea, while the following night the Scarlets lost 26-21 to the Stormers in Llanelli. To compound a miserable weekend, the Dragons were defeated 21-11 by the Lions while Cardiff were smashed 69-11 by Benetton in their own final games of a truly woeful season for Wales’ regions.
The South African media predict that the Ospreys and Scarlets “will provide the bulk of the Welsh team in July”, with 19 players in Wayne Pivac’s 33-man squad coming from those two regions.
They say the Bulls made a star-studded Ospreys pack containing probable Wales starters Alun Wyn Jones, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard and Dewi Lake look ordinary at times and “showed the Boks how to subdue the Welsh”.
That view was backed up by White, who said: “The Ospreys are a very big set-piece team. I’m sure the Springbok staff and coaches would look at that game. Vice versa, the Welsh staff and coaches would be looking at the games and looking at ways in which they can try and nullify the set-pieces and the way we play as South Africans.”
Wales have a decent record over the world champion Springboks in recent times but have never beaten them in South Africa. Pivac will be seeking to spring an upset and change that record in the Tests on July 2, 9 and 16.
The Wales coach badly needs a boost after a woeful Six Nations campaign which culminated with his side embarrassingly losing at home to Italy. The fallout prompted former Wales captain and top pundit Gwyn Jones to say he has lost confidence in Pivac and is dismayed by the less adventurous way Wales are trying to play under him these days.
McGeechan drooling about Springboks in Europe
Rugby legend Sir Ian McGeechan says South African involvement in next season’s European Champions Cup will make it the best tournament yet – and he already can’t wait for the action to commence.
This season’s knockout stages were dominated by French, Irish and English teams in the quarter-final stages, with the final between Leinster and La Rochelle next weekend. But McGeechan says the involvement of the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls next year will take things to a whole new level and warns others sides will need to significantly up their game.
He points out the South African teams have already proven nigh on unbeatable at home in their inaugural season in the United Rugby Championship, with only two of the 16 fixtures won by European teams.
“If the impact of the three South African giants upon the URC is any guide, they will not only hugely enhance the Champions Cup, but will provide a formidable challenge for the best of the Top 14 and Premiership clubs,” McGeechan wrote in a Telegraph column.
“In the URC, the South African quartet have already made the top Irish provinces in particular into better sides because they have provided a different and more varied challenge.
“Every URC side who have travelled from Europe to South Africa have been asked new questions. The physicality of the four South African sides has been relentless, but their back moves and ability out wide, not to mention the humidity and the altitude, have forced the visiting northern hemisphere clubs to adapt.
“How the Top 14 and Premiership sides who are drawn in the same pools as the three South African provinces will fare at Kings Park, Newlands or Loftus Versfeld will be fascinating.
“One of the great achievements of the Champions Cup is to throw up herculean contests between sides that do not usually play each other, and stadiums filling up as a result. Imagine the Stormers, Bulls or Sharks hosting Toulouse, a full-strength Leinster, or Saracens. The spectacle, the quality of the rugby, and the drama – especially in its knockout rounds – will surely bring back their crowds.”
The Ospreys will be Wales’ sole representatives in next year’s Champions Cup, with Edinburgh the only side from Scotland.
Pocock lands top political seat
Wallaby legend David Pocock is set to land a major seat in the newly-formed Australian Parliament.
The 78-times capped herculean former flanker has moved into politics after hanging up his rugby boots and is a well-known campaigner on the environment.
He is poised to win a seat in the Australian Senate by becoming the first independent to hold the role in the country’s capital Canberra. Although votes were continuing to be counted, Australian broadcaster ABC reported Pocock was likely to unseat Liberal senator Zed Seselja.
Pocock, 34, ran as an independent in the Australian Capital Territory, where he played for seven distinguished years with the Brumbies.
“We’ve clearly shaken up politics in the ACT,” he said.
Pocock was always outspoken on political issues during his stellar playing career, rejecting criticism that he should focus on his rugby.