RWC Semi-Final Preview: New Zealand vs South Africa

I’ve been tasked with previewing this round of the Rugby World Cup or as many have taken to calling it ‘The Rugby Championship 2.0.’

But instead of Southern Supremacy, these teams are battling for the title of Best In The World.

New Zealand are the defending champions, South Africa are the loud challengers. Whoever wins this game will have truly earned their spot in the Grand Final.

Here we will look at what each team needs to do to advance to the last game and key player match ups that will determine this epic Semi Final clash.

South Africa

What a team! Look at the names. Du Plessis. Burger. Habana. Staples of South African rugby, legends of the modern game.

This team is full of experience and old warriors ready for their final battle and they’ll be making damn sure that their last game doesn’t come this week.

South Africa haven’t played their best at times during this tournament. They were famously upset by Japan in their first game and were extremely lucky to slip past the Welsh in the quarter-finals.

While on paper their games against USA, Scotland and Samoa seemed one sided, they were physical match ups. They had to fight for every inch on many occasions and now they take on the current World Champions in New Zealand.

Much of South Africa’s game plan will likely focus on putting pressure on the younger All Blacks players. Halfback Foruie du Preez will be looking to dictate the pace with ball in hand-wear down the All Blacks forward pack and then will most likely target Milner-Skudder with box kicks with Habana/JP Pieterson in chase, testing the younger wings nerve under pressure.

Joe Moody has already stepped up in more ways than anyone has expected but will have to step it up another couple of notches when it comes to taking on Malherbe. Look for the large forward pack to harass the man with only 9 caps to his name, scanning for any little weakness in his scrimmaging.

South Africa need to play to their strengths. Their forward pack will have to put in their biggest game of the tournament, looking to capitalize on counter attacking after quick turnovers.

The All Blacks have a tendency to use some of their forwards in the backline often so South Africa will have to try and pick their moment and strike with turnovers.

The backline for the Boks will have to give this everything they have. South Africa and New Zealand are the only 2 teams in world rugby that constantly play it like an 80 minute game.

The second half and bench interchangers will be vital for South Africa because, as seen last week, the 2nd half is when the All Blacks go from a top rugby team to best on the planet.

This will be a tough, physical game for the Boks and no doubt that win or lose, it will take a toll on their bodies. The winner of this match still has to take on either Australia or Argentina in the Final next week which will be no small task.

If the All Blacks are Superman, then the Springboks are Batman. On paper, it looks like there will be one clear winner but if there is anyone who can stop New Zealand prematurely, its South Africa.

New Zealand

After the French Demolition last week, the World Champs set their sights on their long-time rivals, South Africa. The Boks are no walk over and a focused South Africa outfit can topple the best of teams.

New Zealand has had an interesting climb to this stage. After an under-whelming performance against fellow Semi-Finalists Argentina in Pool play, the current Champs then had a walk through against teams in a very one sided affair.

Their first real test came last week against France where we first caught a glimpse of an All Black side playing to win a World Cup.

New Zealand will have to be New Zealand. They need to strike early and hold the ball in hand. Steve Hansen is a master of using his reserves at the right time. The impact of people such as Sam Cane and Sonny Bill Williams can easily turn the tides of this match as seen last week against France.

As mentioned earlier, Joe Moody will have to really step it up against the fearsome forwards of South Africa.

He’s had a Stephen Donald like rise this World Cup – suddenly having pressure thrust upon him in a matter of weeks. He was extremely impressive last week against France and Steve Hansen wouldn’t have named him to start if he wasn’t confident that Moody can preform at this highest level.

Dan Carter has found some great form, putting many of his doubters to bed. His attacking has had some of his flair from ’05. His combination with the backline cannot be undersold.

The midfield combination of Nonu and Smith will have a tough task ahead. Jesse Kriel has risen to prominence on the world stage and is arguably one of the world’s best centres at this time.

Many people will be watching Nehe Milner-Skudder and how he preforms in a big match situation. He has jumped over ever hurdle that has been put in his way to date but now he is marking up arguably one of the best wingers in World Rugby with JP Pietersen.

Whitelock and Retallick are the best locking combo in the world and anyone who says otherwise is seriously misguided. These two men will have to be on point against a ferocious South Africa lineout and will have to be every bit as physical as their counterparts all with the knowledge that waiting for them on the South Africa bench is the legendary Victor Matfield.

Richie McCaw will go into battle once again with Schalk Burger. The two best openside flankers of the last 15 years will battle one last time, ending a rivalry that has spanned many Tri-Nations, Championships, Super Rugby and World Cup campaigns.

Both men will want to prove to each other who the real number one is because if there is any other number 7 in World Rugby that can come close to McCaw, its Burger.

Key Matchups

Richie McCaw vs Schalk Burger.

This will be a key matchup for the forwards. At this World Cup, Burger has the advantage over McCaw on paper. 2 tries, 20 more tackles, nearly 3 times the ball carries and over 100 more metre gained than McCaw. Richie, however, does lead Burger in turnovers won with 4-1. Both of these men will be looking to lead their forwards by example and will add an epic final chapter to this long rivalry.

Du Preez & Pollard vs Smith & Carter.

The battle of the halves combos will be vital. Both halfbacks will be looking to dictate the pace of how their side plays, both first-fives will be scanning the defensive line and looking to put their outside numbers into space. Very few halves have the chemistry that these 4 men have. They have subtleties to their game that are often over-looked. The game could be ‘make or break’ from these positions.

Savea vs Habana.

It’s the case of the veteran against the young buck. As far as physical match ups, this is probably as one sided as it gets. Saveas attacking stats put him above Habana but only just. However, it’s the defensive stats that make this match up interesting. Habana has made 3 times more tackles than Savea AND has a 100% tackle rate so far in this tournament. Can the smaller frame Habana take the wheels off the bus known as Julian Savea?

Prediction

I have every confidence that The All Blacks will win this battle before continuing on and beating Argentina in the Grand Final. It will be close. It will be physical. But I believe the All Blacks will come out on top by a margin of 8 points and under. Final score 28-21.

By Cameron Corban

Week Seven Preview: Patriots vs. Jets

I really tried to go past this game and pick another match up but I couldn’t. The little voice at the back of my mind asked ‘Can the Jets give the Revenge Tour its first pit stop?’ And I hesitated with that thought, thinking of the implications if it were to happen. That’s why for this week, we’ll look at New England taking on New York.

New York Jets

The Jets have completely 180’d from last season. This time last year, they were sitting at 1-4 and at times looked like the worst team in the league. Then this season, against all odds, they are 4-1 and looking dangerous.

Can stand-in QB Ryan Fitzpatrick lead the Jets to their biggest win of the season to date?

Pros:

Defensive Upgrade.

The Jets are ranked number 1 in the league for defence going into this game. They will need every bit of that defence to stop the onslaught of Edelman and Gronkowski, both of which are in fine form indeed. If there is a defence that can stop the NE Offence, it’s the New York Jets.

Rush Game on Point.

In addition to the best defence right now, New York also have the best rushing game in the league.

Last week, wide receiver Brandon Marshall became the first WR in nearly 50 years to post four-straight 100 yard games for the Jets. Combine that with Eric Decker and running back Chris Ivory and the Jets had 366 yards and three scores. Ivory also rushed for 158 yards and one touchdown with only 20 carries.

Patriots, beware.

Stand-ins Step Up.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has done a brilliant job stepping up for the injured Geno Smith. He has some real playmakers that he is slowly becoming more and more comfortable with and is completing some real impressive plays. His game, while still slightly limited, is helping the Jets compete with the best-and now he has to go against one of the greats of the sport.

Cons:

Red Zone Performance.

The Jets have had some of their worst work come when the pressure was on. Their performance so far this season has been sub-par-not at all up to their usual defensive form. This will have to seriously be looked at to stop the likes of Gronkowski or Edelman sneaking in those TD’s. Brady may even fancy himself a couple of walk in scores himself.

Gillette Will Cut Deep.

Out of the last 10 years of competition, the Jets have only won 3 times at Gillette. The last time was back in 2011, over four years ago.

Its not a very nice environment, especially when you’re the visiting team attempting to upset the King of Boston.

The Jets will have a hell of a time trying to overcome that barrier.

Stopping Gronk.

Gronkowski is due for a big game. He scored a hat-trick in their week one demolishing of the Steelers and has only scored twice since then. Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers is in for a hell of a week trying to organise his impressive defence to stop Gronkowski.

New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the second half at MetLife Stadium - Photo Courtesy of Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the second half at MetLife Stadium – Photo Courtesy of Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots

The Patriots are on a tear. After putting the Colts to rest last week, Tom Bradys fired up focus now zeroes in on the Geno Smith-less Jets.

What do the defending Champs have in store for New York?

Pros:

Gillette Ground is Hallowed.

The Patriots will be damn focused on making sure that their first loss of the season doesn’t happen in their backyard. Gillette Stadium is already hard enough to win at as it is, let alone when the Patriots are on a personal vendetta.

Tom Brady.

Brady is on track to have his greatest season yet. That alone should truly scare any team in the NFL. He’s only thrown one interception in 5 games.

Compare that to his greatest rival in Peyton Manning who has thrown 10 interceptions in 6 games and half as many touchdowns. Brady is on fire-but he’ll meet some resistance in the Jets Defence.

Offensive Buffet.

The Patriots offensive options are straight up scary. You have Gronkowski who is a monster of a man, pretty much impossible to stop in a red zone situation. Then you have Edelman who is lightning quick and evasive. Then you throw in Danny Amendola and that is one line up that will scare even the Jets awesome D-Line.

Cons:

Scrimmage Underdogs.

Looking at the line of scrimmage, the Pats are actually the under dogs.  The Jets are averaging an entire yard more per rush than they are allowing. They gain around 4.5 yards per carry but yielding 3.5 yards while on defence. The New England defensive line should be very wary of Chris Ivory.

Richardson Returns.

Sheldon Richardson returns to the defensive line for New York after suspension and you can bet he’ll be looking to make an impact by shutting down Brady. If he can get some early sacks on Brady and set the pace for the rest of the game, the Jets defence could prove the game winner.

Overconfidence.

The danger in having a great start to the season is that many players get comfortable. They under estimate and under prepare mentally for opponents. The Patriots cannot afford to underestimate the Jets. There is no reason that the juggernaut of Brady wont be derailed in this game.

PREDICTIONS:

I’m 3-3 for my weekly picks (damn Giants). This week, I’m going with Brady and the boys from Boston. I think their offence will overcome the brick wall that is the New York defence.

New England to win 26-20.

Players to Watch:

New England: I think this will be the week TE Scott Chandler will shine. I picked him at the start of the season to be a sleeper star for the Patriots. Keep an eye on him.

New York: If the Patriots cant keep Brandon Marshall to under 100 yards, we will have a very good game on our hands. Marshall will make or break the game for the Jets.

By Cameron Corban

Week Six Preview – Giants vs. Eagles

Talk about the battle of the under performers. These two teams will go head-to-head to see who trails the Cowboys in the NFC East division.

In what should be a closely contested game, both these teams will be looking to get their season back on track.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles had an average season last year, finishing with a 10-6 record after a surprise loss to Washington.

Chip Kelly and Sam Bradford will be looking for a change in fortune a big way to get their season back on track.

Pros:

Lincoln Financial Field.

Home field advantage comes into play. The Eagles are already 1-1 at home but last time that the Eagles hosted the New York Giants, they held them scoreless with a final score of 27-0.

The Philly boys will be hoping to replicate those results and take their record to 3-3.

Murrays Finally Firing.

DeMarco Murrays efforts over the last few weeks have been well documented so far.

He’s looked slow, his rushing has been average and not looking at all like he’s worth the $42 mil, 5 year contract he’s been signed to. In the game against New Orleans in Week 5 however, he finally looked like he was finding a rhythm. But is it too little, too late for him?

Matthews – Under the Radar.

In all the talk about Murrays start to the season, it seems the the abilities of Ryan Matthews have flown under the radar. It seems like Chip Kellys game plan is more suited to someone like Matthews.

In the match against the Saints, he averaged 10 yards per run. His running game seems to fit in more with the spread that Kelly seems intent on using this season.

If he can get a bit more aggression into his season, the Eagles offense will be in for a huge (and much needed) boost.

Cons:

Red Zone Throws.

Sam Bradford threw 2 Red Zone interceptions. In one half. The fact that they still won over the Saints after that is borderline amazing.

Sam will really need to try find some poise if he wants to overcome the Giants.

Key Injuries.

The Eagles were without their top 2 Linebackers Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks last week. Its painfully obvious as the Eagles defense have lost a bit of its ‘oomph’.

With both men still in doubt for week six, Chip Kelly will have to look at some reshuffling for his D-Line.

Basic Errors Proving Costly.

Simple fumbles and drops are plaguing the Eagles Attack. Ever since they lost to the Cowboys, the have looked shaky. It was really only against the Week 5 game against the Saints that it kicked into life.

If they can find that rhythm again, they can win here and get their season back on track.

Ryan Matthews of the Philadelphia Eagles brushes aside a tackle during the Eagles game against the Colts - Photo Courtesy of SportingNews.com
Ryan Matthews of the Philadelphia Eagles brushes aside a tackle during the Eagles game against the Colts – Photo Courtesy of SportingNews.com

New York Giants

The NY boys pulled out a gutsy win against San Francisco in Week 5. They now sit 3-2 and look to be getting some major momentum after their third win in a row.

What does Eli and his team need to do this week to keep that momentum going?

Pros:

Eli is on Form.

Eli Manning is red hot after the win over San Fran. 41 completions from 54 attempts for 441 yards.

That’s his career best and he looks like he’s just getting warmed up. He was linking up well with his offense and only had one interception for his 54 attempts.

He’ll be hard to stop.

Beckham Jr. Also on Form.

Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning may become the new powerhouse duo for the Giants.

Building off his amazing season in 2014, Beckham Jr has impressed everyone who has been claiming his rookie year was a fluke. Against San Fran, he amassed 121 yards with seven catches including a Touchdown.

Offense, offense, offense.

Defensively, I would say these two teams are pretty evenly matched. Both of them have had shaky starts to the season.

I feel that this match will be a higher scoring one and it all comes down to attack. Eli and his offensive options with Beckham and Vereen are looking like some of the best in the league right now.

Cons:

Defensive Woes.

Injury has spread through the defense of New York so far and their really missing some of their first and second string players out there.

Guys like Robert Ayers and Markus Kuhn are needed out on that field and their third string players just aren’t cutting it so far.

Crazy Calls.

Eli Manning is on fire right now. Yet sometimes he pulls out the most strange, inexplainable calls.

With 11 seconds left in the first half against the 49ers, Manning made a shocker of a decision, and a worse throw, tossing a pass toward a covered Odell Beckham in the end zone.

The pass was picked off by San Frans Tramaine Brock and was such a poor judgement throw from Manning.

Beckham Jr Possibly Injured.

Odell left the field briefly last week only to return to help win the game for them. But at what price?

At the time of this writing, he is still waiting on a medical report to see if he is fit enough to train this week and prep for the game against Philly. If he has to miss a week, the Giants offense will take a massive hit.

PREDICTIONS:

Giants all the way. Eli’s form is too much to ignore. Both teams need a lot of work on their defence. New York will win a higher scoring game 42-36. Gutsy performance by both teams.

Players to Watch:

Eagles: Ryan Matthews will be the Eagles go-to man over Murray this week. If they want to score points, watch Matthews carefully.

Giants: If Odell Beckham is cleared to play, the Eagles are in for a long night. He’s aggressive and is out to show his 1st season most definitely not a fluke.

By Cameron Corban

RWC Quarter-Final Preview: Ireland vs. Argentina

Forget the All Blacks v France, this is the 2007 World Cup rematch that will determine the rest of the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

These two proud nations will once again do battle in an attempt to throw away the tag of ‘under performers’ and I truly believe that whoever walks away from this game as the victors will be the team to beat for the rest of the tournament.

As a massive Brian O’Driscoll fan, Ireland have always been a sentimental favourite rugby side of mine. One of my favourite sides to watch take on the All Blacks as a part of me would secretly be chuffed to see them upset the best in the world.

Ireland are very familiar with the quarter finals at the Rugby World Cup – they’ve been here five times in the past. Only twice have they not made it past the pool stages – once in 1999 where they lost a quarter final play-off match against none other than Argentina. They also failed to make it past the pool stages again in 2007 when they lost a critical match against…Argentina.

Seeing a pattern here?

Ireland have met Argentina fifteen times since their initial clash in 1990. Ireland have 10 victories over the Pumas but at the Rugby World Cup, Ireland and Argentina have met 3 different times. Argentina have won 2 of those 3 encounters.

Ireland have had arguably the harder run to this stage. Not only did they have to overcome a scrappy Italian side but they had to fight off a vicious French team which hit them hard.

The game against the French was a double edged sword for both teams – the winner would take on the in-form, physical style of Argentina, the loser would have to attempt to dethrone the current number one side New Zealand.

Now its just a matter of seeing which side of the sword will cut the least. The Irish go into this game with a lot stacked up against them. Their inspirational Captain Paul O’Connell had his legendary 108-test match career ended prematurely due to a severe hamstring injury picked up against the French. O’Connells loss cannot be understated – he’s a natural leader for the team and has captained them to Six Nations glory in both 2014 and 2015.

They are also without blindside flanker Peter O’Mahoney who was also injured and will miss the rest of the tournament. He joins Jared Payne on the Irish injury list.

Another Irish loose forward that will be missing this crucial game will be Sean O’Brien who copped a week long ban for punching one of the French forwards in their final pool game.

In all of this, there is a silver lining. Star first-five Johnny Sextons initial groin injury may not be as bad as first indicated. This will be great news as Sexton is on fire right now. His form is undeniable and he could potentially be the game winner for Ireland. If not, they have an extremely capable replacement in the form of Ian Madigan who had a great 60mins after Sexton went down with an injury against France.

As for the Pumas, they have come so close to going all the way in the past, but have fallen short.

In 2007, they narrowly missed the Grand Final, thrashing the host nation of France in the Bronze Medal match, coming third for their best finish ever.

Argentina are to Ireland what France are to New Zealand – World Cup Kryptonite. They have spoiled the World Cup hopes for Ireland twice in the three times they have clashed on the largest rugby stage in the world and could very well do it again.

Argentina have had a bit of a walk through to the quarter finals. They gave New Zealand a bit of a fright in the first game and since then have cruised past the rest of their pool, scoring over 160 points in 3 matches.

Being involved with the Four Nations has clearly improved their game and moulded this team into quite a force.

Argentina are currently playing the kind of rugby the All Blacks WANT to play. Aggressive. Physical. They hold the ball and dictate the pace of the game to how they want it.

Nicolas Sanchez is doing an amazing job right now when it comes to kicking. And that has always been the game plan in a sense for Argentina. Physical defence, a great kicker but slightly lacking in the attack department.

But then in 2012, the Pumas had a visit from none other than the World Cup winning Kiwi coach, Sir Graham Henry. Ted enjoyed a brief stint between 2011 and 2012 as a consultant for Argentina who really began to get the ball rolling with sharpening the Pumas attack. He changed their mind set to be more evasive and to keep the ball in hand. And its worked.

They’ve begun to offload a lot more with their running attack and its paid off in spades. Their wingers are actually seeing the ball. Santiago Cordero and his fellow winger Juan Imhoff at times look like some of the most dangerous men on the pitch with ball in hand.

The Pumas too will be missing an influential player with centre Marcelo Bosch receiving a week long ban for a lifting tackle in their last game against Namibia. Argentina have been pretty lucky so far this tournament, they’ve managed to avoid any major injuries in key positions which will enable them to name an extremely close to full strength side.

PREDICTIONS

My heart says Ireland. My head says Argentina. The Pumas will over power the Irish forward pack and dominate a very physical game. Irelands missing two flankers and now a lock and their captain. If this was last week before Irelands string of injuries, I would have given this to them but Argentina have improved too much over the last few years.

Pumas will take this 26-16.

One thing is for certain: These are two amazing teams and I’m confident that both of them have the tools to go all the way to the pinnacle of the rugby world.

By Cameron Corban

Is Sage Northcutt UFC’s Next Poster Boy?

UFC 192 has come and gone. We saw a great championship bout with Daniel Corimer retaining over a very game Alexander Gustafsson with a tight split decision.

Ryan Bader overcame Rashad Evans and New Zealand boy Dan Hooker get narrowly beaten in a decision against Yair Rodriguez.

However, the real talk that’s been coming out of UFC’s latest Pay Per View has nothing to do with any of these fights.

They’re all talking about 19 year old Sage Northcutt – the young man labelled by critics and couchexperts around the globe as a ‘pretty boy’ who is more looks than substance.

Northcutt proved them all wrong to take his pro MMA record to 6-0 with clinching his first UFC win on his debut.

In his hometown of Houston, TX, he took apart his much more experienced opponent, Francisco Trevino (12-2) in 57 seconds – one of the fastest debuts in UFC history. This win comes just 323 days after his pro MMA debut and also makes him UFCs youngest fighter on the active roster.

The cynics are now his biggest fans. The haters are now singing his praises on the internet. Lets take a look at Sage Northcutt, the man that some are claiming will become the new ‘poster boy’ for UFC.

Sage started as a young child actor and part time model. But in his spare time, he was already doing what many couldn’t. At only 5 years old, his father would make him do 250 sit ups and push ups every day. Now this may seem drastic for such any child, let alone at 5 years old but his father was confident that his son enjoyed the challenge. By age 6, Sage was doing 1000 sit ups a day, pushing himself to the limit.

In 2014, he made his pro MMA debut and now, less than a year later he stands on the UFC roster. He looks like he’s carved from stone, more suited to be on a walk way than in an octagon. He moves well and has some surprising strength. He seems to have a slightly unconventional style of footwork which makes him unpredictable with spin kicks.

He didn’t get a chance to show off much of his ground work which I will be very interested to see. He has 2 wins via submission in his pre-UFC career so he has some form of ground game. He did take Trevino to the ground but it was more of capitalizing on a slip than a takedown.

His pre-fight hype was indeed massive which he managed to live up to-this time. Has he been over hyped? He managed to catch Trevino off guard when Trevino slipped. Certainly the sign of great reflexes but if that match happened again, who’s to say the result would be the same?

57 seconds is far too small of a time frame to judge a fighters calibre. Maybe he got lucky. Who can say for now?

The feeling among a certain core of fans is that he was given this opportunity over other more experienced fighters because of his looks. A fighter that looks good can bring in money – Dana White knows this. Was Sage Northcutt given an opportunity he perhaps hadn’t earned because of how he looks and not how he fights? Were the raging internet masses correct? Is Northcutt the pretty boy that will be given all the opportunities because Dana White likes him?

It certainly didn’t hurt Brock Lesnar – one of the most legitimate athletes to ever step foot in an Octagon. Lesnar was given a Heavyweight title match after only 2 UFC fights – 1 of which he lost. Many say that this was because White liked Lesnar and saw money in him (which was true as Pay Per View buys spiked when Lesnar was on the card). Are we seeing something similar here?

He had an impressive victory in his debut – will we see him pushed higher on the card because Dana White wants a new face for a new age of UFC fans? I highly doubt it.

White is a smart businessman. He knows that no one will pay to see an over hyped flop. Theres a method to all of this for Dana, to take a risk on a young talent and have him develop over time into a fighter that the fans can get behind. We have just seen the start of a long term investment for the UFC.

Where to now for Sage? He’s already said that he wants to get back into the octagon as soon as he can. He has no major injuries from his last fight and has mentioned that he would like to possibly be added to UFC’s upcoming cards with UFC193 in Australia and a UFC Fight Night in South Korea.

Will we see another name added to the already stacked UFC 193 card in Melbourne? Will we be able to look back at the results of that card in 10 years time and say: ‘Wow, Ronda Rousey, Mark Hunt, Antonio Silva, Uriah Hall and Sage Northcutt all on one night?’ Or will Sage be a flash in the pan like so many before him? Only time will tell and I cant wait to watch his journey from here.

By Cameron Corban

Week Five Preview – Broncos vs. Raiders

With so many interesting match ups this round, it was hard to pick just one preview for this week.

You’ve got the Patriots (3-0) who lead the league in offense and passing taking on the Cowboys (2-2) in Dallas which will be awesome to watch. Seattle (1-2) are taking on the undefeated Bengals (4-0) which is something I never thought I’d write.

This week however, we’ll be looking at a game that will really impact the AFC West division with the Denver Broncos (4-0) taking on their division rivals the Oakland Raiders (2-2).

It will be an interesting match to say the least-can Peyton Manning shake the cobwebs from last week and get Denver to a 5-0 start?

Denver Broncos

The Broncos had a close miss with the Vikings in Week 4. Their defence proved why it’s one of, if not the best in the league right now.

Pros:

Dominating Defence.

Denver has the best defence in the league. For the most part, Denver’s D-Line kept Adrian Peterson chances to a minimum. They gave him zero space and that is no easy feat. Ted Bridgewater won’t be sending Denver a Christmas card anytime soon. Denver handed out seven sacks including T.J Ward’s strip for a turnover.

Hillmans Got Pace.

Watching back, the Denver/Vikings game (I can’t usually watch the games from work), this was my first real time taking notice of Ronnie Hillman. He had a few starts over the last season but he seriously impressed me with his game reading and running abilities. He looked like a padded up version of Tim Nanai Williams from the Chiefs Super Rugby team at times with his ability to run the sideline.

CJ Anderson may have lost his starting position after that game.

Playing Under Pressure.

All four of the Broncos wins have come in the final few minutes. This season has seen them come close so many times to a loss and that’s when the team steps up the most. That vital ability mixed with their amazing defence is more than capable of taking them all the way this season.

Cons:

Manning Showing His Age.

Peyton is old. He looks like it and he’s playing like it. Its week 5 and he’s currently on 6 TD’s and 5 Interceptions. He looks sluggish. At times he has had flashes of his old brilliance but his throwing power seems painfully limited. He’ll need to find that inner youth if he intends to take this season to 5-0.

Limited Ground Game.

Denver has some pretty poor rushing stats this season which is disappointing as they are capable of so much more. CJ Anderson has struggled to find any space so far this season which may lead to Ronnie Hillman taking over starting duties to inject something into the attack of Denver.

California Knows How to Party

This is usually the time of the season where Oakland rallies and kicks their season into gear. And doing it at O.Co Stadium in Cali sounds just like the kind of place that they’ll do it. Denver can’t underestimate the Raiders attack – it may be what breaks their defence.

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) prepares to pass against the Denver Broncos during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014 - Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Ben Margot
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) prepares to pass against the Denver Broncos during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014 – Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Ben Margot

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders were unlucky last week, just being narrowly nudged out by Chicago. They’ll be looking to make a statement against their AFC West rivals this week. Can the young Derek Carr step up against one of the greats in Peyton Manning?

Pros:

Bill Musgrave.

Oakland’s offence is in the middle of a large scale reshuffle, all thanks to Bill Musgrave. In a few short weeks, he’s gone from a bunch of players that took three quarters to score against Cincinnati to having some great big plays up his sleeve. The Raiders scored 64 points and accumulated 917 yards of total offense in winning their past two games. That’s a major turn around and they look like they’ll only get better from here.

Crabtree Getting His Roots.

Michael Crabtree is finally gaining some footing and coming into form. He’s had an average start to the season. Not terrible but not one to write home about.

At only 28 years old, he’s still got some years in him but he is definitely one of the older guys in the Offense for Oakland. If he’s finding some form, he may be the one to crack Denver’s Defensive line.

Young Team on the Rise.

Oakland has a lot of young players still trying to build their footing. Some of them have found it, some are still slipping along the way but they feel like a team that will become a real threat with a bit of time. Derrek Carr is only 24. Amari Cooper is in his rookie year at age 21 and making an impact. Latavius Murray is 24 years old.

This is a great young team to watch.

Cons.

Defensive Decline.

If Denver are the Kings of Defence, Oakland are the dead opposite.

Only the Cleveland Browns have a worse defence right now and even then it’s a close call. Oakland better hope that this isn’t the week that Manning brushes off the dust.

Hometown Hit.

Oakland have already lost one game at home this season and with it, they have lost any aura of an ‘impenetrable fortress’ that many teams like to associate with their home stadium. Never under estimate the mental effect a home town advantage can have for a team

History.

‘History Never Repeats’. Split Endz obviously never saw these two teams play. Since the 1960s, the Raiders and the Broncos have faced 111 times. The Raiders are sitting on 60 wins compared to Denver’s 49 wins (and 2 draws). But Oakland haven’t beaten the Broncos since 2011.

They’ll need a lot of help with this one.

PREDICTIONS:

I’m currently 2-2 with my weekly picks. I’m hoping to get it right this week. Denver’s defence is far too strong. Peyton will find rhythm in 4th quarter to win it for the Broncos 24-14. At the same time, if the Raiders upset the Broncos here, I wouldn’t be overly surprised.

Players to Watch:

Ronnie Hillman will bust the game open for the Broncos, especially against the minor defences of Oakland. I’m hoping he gets the nod to start over CJ Anderson.

Derrek Carr is one of my favourite young players of the last year. I think this season is when he’ll start getting some treading in his career. If Oakland have any chance of winning, it will be on the shoulders of Carr.

By Cameron Corban

Week Four Preview – Jaguars vs. Colts

Over this NFL Season, I’m previewing one game a week with pros and cons for each team. I’m doing my best to do each team at least once in the season which is why this week I have chosen Jacksonville taking on Indianapolis instead of some of the clashes between some of the ‘bigger’ teams such as Ravens v Steelers.

This game is actually really going to effect the AFC South Division, with all of the teams currently off to a slow start at 1-2, the points difference against conference teams could make up all the difference at the end of the regular season.

Currently, the leading team in AFC South is the Tennessee Titans thanks to their +12 point difference.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags were humbled in Round 3 with a thrashing at the hands of a determined Tom Brady and focused Patriots outfit.

Can Blake Bortles rally the troops in this weeks important clash against Indianapolis?

Pros:

Bortles-Hurns.

I’m not gonna lie, its freakin’ hard to find any pros at all for Jacksonville heading into this one! Their one win has been against an underwhelming Miami side.

The one positive I’ve been able to draw from their game against the Patriots is that when Bortles went looking for Allen Hurns, the Jags attack actually looked semi-dangerous.

They created an amazing 59 yard TD against the Patriots – something that not many teams could pull off.

Underestimation.

This is how bad I’m stretching to find a pro. Jacksonville have been victim to a string of injuries, keeping many of their first string and some second string players off the pitch. With all these injuries, the Jags may get lucky and be underestimated enough to pull something out of the hat for this one.

Gus Bradley.

Gus Bradley has shown in the past that with a bit of time, he can really help improve a teams defence. This is his third season with the Jaguars.

This is usually when Bradley’s game plan starts to show and we see signs of improvement. But will it happen this week? I doubt it.

Cons:

Injuries.

Writing cons for this side will be much easier.

Going into their game against the Patriots, they already had two defensive backs injured and out and lost three more during that game.

By the end of it, they had Peyton Thompson who usually plays corner back (and has been cut 6 times in the last 2 seasons form various teams) and Nick Marshall, an unknown, undrafted rookie playing defensive back.

Defence Lapses.

The game against the Patriots set the record for the most points ever allowed by the Jaguars. Not a good thing to have weighing on the mind heading into such an important game, especially a game away from home.

The atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium won’t help the pressure for the Jaguars.

Discipline.

As of late, Jacksonville have gotten into a bad habit of giving away flags on plays. Against the Pats, Jacksonville were flagged 7 times for 114 yards. They also gave away an interference penalty which neutralised an interception and handed the Pats a massive 80+ yard return that had the Patriots on the Jaguars 1 yard line.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles- Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles- Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck pulled the Colts out of the darkness last week with a tight win over the Tennessee Titans and steered them away from a 0-3 season start.

In a gutsy performance on the road, Luck hopes that this is the start of a hot streak for the Colts.

Pros:

Preforming When it Matters.

Andrew Luck pulled off two TD passes 56 seconds apart in the 4th quarter. I don’t care who you are, when you’re down by that much in the 4th quarter, 2 touchdowns is damn impressive.

Luck seemed to finally be getting rid of some of that rust that has plagued him for the last few weeks and if he’s gearing up, Jacksonville need to get ready.

History Backs Them Up.

I know that this comes up every week but never underestimate history and home field advantage and the mental effect it can have on players.

This game is being played at Lucas Oil Stadium, the home field of the Colts. The last 3 times these teams have played, the Colts have won by a deficit of 20 points or more with their last encounter going 23-3 in the way of Indianapolis.

Luck Knows How to Roll.

The Colts were in this exact scenario last year-0-2, gain their first victory and then go on a winning streak.

Last year they ended on a respectable 11-5 which isn’t too bad seeing as their 2 losses were from the 1st two weeks, they recovered very well. In an ironic twist, the team that they beat before going on 5 game winning streak last season was the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I expect more of the same this year.

Cons:

Injuries.

Indianapolis went into this season with great depth at corner back. That depth is being tested.

With at least 4 of their CB’s in question for this game with a wide variety of injuries, including neck, ankle and concussion issues, it will be interesting to see if the Colts defence will be up to par.

Out of Luck?

Andrew Luck has looked sluggish as of late. In fact, it wasn’t until the 2nd half of the game against the Titans where he really seemed comfortable.

The Colts game plan hinges on whichever Andrew shows up on game day. Will we see the Andrew Luck that threw 2 Touchdowns in 56 seconds? Or do you think he’s out of Luck? (Not sorry for the pun).

Still Rebuilding.

Its obvious the Colts are still getting over the loss of experience when it comes to Reggie Wanye and its also abundantly clear that they desperately miss Ahmad Bradshaw, their ex-Running Back.

It’s a reasonably young team and this season may end up being written off as a rebuilding season.

PREDICTIONS:

Colts will win but not as easily as recent history between the two sides suggest. Andrew Luck and the Colts move to 2-2 with a 28-26 victory.

Players to Watch:

Jacksonville Jaguars: Allen Hurs at Wide Reciever. Hes had a few niggly injuries the past couple of weeks but he has potential to become a lethal combo when combined with Bortles. If he gets some space down field-he may break the game open.

Indianapolis Colts: Keep an eye on Luck. If hes found his form this season, he should rip this game apart with all the attacking options he has at his disposal. Donte Moncrief is also slowly forming himself into a big play threat so watch him closely as well, especially if the Colts get backed into a corner.

By Cameron Corban

Sam Cane – A Glimpse Into the Future

On Wednesday 23rd 2015, there was an All Black media conference that sent ripples throughout the nation’s rugby fans.

Sam Cane, the young understudy for King Richie at only 23 years of age will lead the All Blacks into battle against Namibia at the Rugby World Cup.

It’s an announcement that was met with hearty celebrations from some and cautiousness from others.

In a reasonably young/uncapped starting XV, Cane has been picked over his more senior team mates such as Victor Vito, Liam Messam and Sam Whitelock.

New Zealand can’t really be blamed for being nervous with this call. For many, it was a wakeup call that the international careers of some of our best and greatest All Blacks are coming to a close.

Icons such as Richie, Conrad Smith and Keven Mealamu will be hanging up the black jersey at the close of Rugby World Cup 2015.

This reality suddenly seems more real now that we are in the Pool Stages of the Rugby World Cup, as if up until this point it was a dream or something that didn’t need to be handled until the time came.

The time is now.

The election of Sam Cane as our 67th All Black captain has brought forward the fact that next years All Black squad will look very different indeed as so many chapters close after the World Cup campaign.

Naturally Kieran Read seems to be the next captain after Richie. He, along with Mealamu have been McCaws right hand men. That position now seems destined for Sam Cane, the only natural replacement NZ currently have to take over the coveted black 7 jersey.

This starting XV against Namibia may end up featuring many of next year’s starting All Blacks. Cane already has number 7 in the bad. Fekitoa should be in the midfield mix with no Nonu or Smith next year.

Ben Franks will most likely end up taking Woodcocks number 1 jersey and it would be fair to say that unless Aaron Cruden plays some of the best rugby of his life next Super Rugby season, Barrett or Sopoaga are in line for the number 10 kicking duties.

At 23 years old, Sam Cane has another 10 years ahead of him in a black jersey (barring serious injury). He has been deemed the leader for a new generation of All Blacks while names like Read, Messam and Smith will become ‘the old guard’.

Its natural for the public to feel a little tentative about the new blood coming through the ranks but that’s part of our national sport. Soon, there will be another young flanker on the bench awaiting his turn. And so the cycle continues.

Change is pivotal to make sure the All Blacks stay successful in the world of rugby. It’s a sport that continues to change and evolve and Sam Cane is the latest in the next evolution for the All Blacks.

The ground work has been set for him – he has no one to blame for any potential failure. The best we as the New Zealand supporters can do is to put our trust in the coaching staff that have laid out this path and put our faith in Cane as a Kiwi rugby player who will strive to fill the boots of the legend that preceded him.

As per usual, there will be the ‘couch coaches’ and ‘keyboard warriors’ who claim that Cane isn’t ready, that there are much better choices waiting in the wings that should have been picked.  To those people, I say this: there is a reason why you are not an All Black selector. If the player you like better is as good as you think he is – they would of picked him.

I will take the word of a panel of experienced rugby experts over someone who’s greatest rugby achievement is winning Jonah Lomu Rugby on Hard Mode.

The current pecking order for the black 7 jersey is as follows:

-Richie McCaw

-Sam Cane

-Matt Todd

-Ardie Savea

-Insert other loose forward here.

Sorry to disappoint any Savea fans here – he’s not cutting it at openside. My recommendation will be for him to swap to the blindside. With Messam off to Rio, Kaino getting up in age and Vito never really slotting into a permanent position, Ardie would do much better for himself at 6.

Matt Todd is building himself into a strong, consistent player that looks much more comfortable at 7 while I feel Ardie is much more versatile.

With yesterdays announcement ushering a new age of young blood in New Zealand rugby, the question is whether they will be up to the standard set by their predecessors. Can they, like those before them, carry the hopes and dreams of an entire sporting nation?

As I sit here, typing this away for you to read, these are the kind of things I think about. I believe that they will because I believe in the black jersey.

I believe in the legacy and the history of the All Blacks. And ultimately, I believe in Sam Cane as an All Blacks captain.

FUN FACT:

Sam Cane is only the 2nd Chiefs player in history to be captain of the All Blacks. The other was Mils Muliaina in 2009.

By Cameron Corban

Week Three Preview – 49ers vs. Cardinals

The third week of the NFL is already here and after a lot of deliberation on my part, I have chosen this week’s preview: Carson Palmer and his Arizona Cardinals taking on the Tasman’s favourite NFL team, Jarryd Hayne and the San Francisco 49er’s.

This is an important clash for the NFC West division. Arizona currently lead the division on 2-0 while San Francisco sit on 1-1.

Both teams will be keen to stay ahead of both Seattle and St. Louis so will need to bring their A-Game.

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona took full advantage of Jay Cutler’s injury last week and crushed the Chicago Bears 48-23. They are 2-0 and well on the way to improving their record last year, a respectful 11-5 ratio.

Pros:

Phoenix Fortress.

Last year the Cardinals held a 7-1 record at the University of Phoenix where they tied with New England, Seattle and Detroit for the 2nd best home record.

Last time San Fran took a step into the University, they were sent home after a 23-14 beating. It’s a result that Palmer & co will be looking to replicate.

Fitzgerald’s Drought Is Broken.

Last season, Carson Palmer only played 6 games due to injury which also stunted the amount of attacking power Arizona had.

The chemistry between Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald is undeniable. In fact, until last week Fitzgerald was on a 9-game TD drought.

With Andre Ellington still injured, Palmer looked to Fitzgerald to step up and between them, they scored 3 Touchdowns for the 1st 3-TD game in Fitzgerald’s career.

Bruce Airans Slowly Bringing it Together.

Bruce Airans took the helm at Arizona in 2013 and has been working the franchise to his design and its really shown over the last couple of seasons.

In 2014/2015, the Cardinals were 11-5 which tied the franchises record for most season wins and he was also named AP Coach of the Year for the 2nd time in his career. If anyone has a chance to turn Arizona into a legitimate threat, its Airans who has just signed on until 2018.

Cons:

History.

Over the last 5 years, Arizona and San Francisco have met 10 times. The Cardinals have won 2 of those 10 encounters. Each time they have lost, it has been by 10 points or more with the exception of their most recent meeting in 2014 where there was a 3 point difference.

Arizona will have to step up their defence to make sure that this time, they come out on top.

Defence Deeply Worrying.

‘Defence wins matches’ is the old cliché and currently, Arizona is ranked 22nd with their defence. Not a stat you want when you go into a game with the 49er’s.

San Fran are ranked number 2 in rushing and 4 in offence and they look to be improving.

Airans is going to need to do a lot of work to counter Kaepernick and all the options he has for rushing.

Andre Ellington Missing in Action.

Andre Ellington is one of Arizona’s up and coming talents that is just starting to find his rhythm. He’s injured himself in the game against Chicago and at the time of this writing has not been cleared to play against San Francisco so the attack options of Arizona have taken a slight hit.

It will be interesting to see what Airan will do to remedy this.

Carson Palmer, quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, looks downfield for an open receiver - Photo Courtesy of Fantasy Guru Bros
Carson Palmer, quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, looks downfield for an open receiver – Photo Courtesy of Fantasy Guru Bros

San Francisco 49er’s

The Hayne Plane is in full effect. With Reggie Bush on a week to week basis, the Rugby League convert has been given a chance to step up and is a contributing factor as to why San Fran are currently ranked number 2 in rushing stats so far this season.

It’s gonna be an interesting battle for the 49’ers if they want a chance to take over from Arizona at the top on the NFC West division.

Pros:

On Paper, They Look Good.

San Francisco are currently the leading team in the NFL with rushing. They are ranked 4th on offence and 16th on defense. They have a great attack/rushing set up with Kaepernick and Hyde/Hayne. They are a dangerous team to face and with the motivation of taking the lead in the NFC West, they will be hard to stop.

Jim Tomsula.

In 2010, Tomsula was named as San Frans interim head coach. Remember before when I brought up the stat that over the last 5 years, these 2 teams have faced off 10 times? And how San Fran have won 8 of these 10 encounters? Yeah, Tomsula had a lot to do with that.

Jim has been a mix of Defensive coach and Head Coach over that period of time. In fact, his first game as Head Coach for the 49er’s ended in a 38-7 victory over Arizona. So he knows what he’s doing when it comes to taking on the Cardinals.

Versatility.

San Fran have one of the most versatile squad of players this season. Even with injuries to Reggie Bush, they’ve been able to counter that with a mix of Carlos Hyde and Jarryd Hayne. Hayne may even be given a shot at another position.

His career is still so young that Tomsula could slide him in at fullback and see how he goes.

The versatility of the 49er offence will be a key factor to their season.

Cons:

Kaepernick Looking Uncomfortable Under Pressure.

In the 43-18 loss against Pittsburgh in Week 2, something seemed off about quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Usually a cool head under pressure, Kaepernick never look 100% certain and didn’t find a rhythm in his game until the game was well and truly out of reach.

On the receiving end of 5 sacks from the Steelers, he’ll need to get into game mode a lot earlier if they want to overcome the high flying Cardinals.

Turning Drives Into Points.

Two San Fran long drives (17 plays in the first half, 19 in the second) ended with just 3 points on the board for the 49er’s.

Kaepernick threw for over 330 yards in the game against the Steelers. They have had the opportunities with the ball in hand. They just need to turn those opportunities into points.

Hyde Down?

Rumours are flying at the moment that Carlos Hyde may not be fit enough for this vital clash. With Reggie Bush also on the fence, there’s suddenly a lot of pressure put on the Hayne Plane.

Between him and Mike Davis, there is a chance to step up and make a name for themselves. Can the Hayne Plane step up and be the hero that San Francisco desperately needs?

PREDICTIONS:

This is a tough one. I’m going to go with my heart on this one and say San Francisco wins a close one in the final quarter. Ultimately, the mix of Tomsula’s coaching and a re-focused Colin Kaepernick will overcome Arizona at home and add the 1st ‘L’ to the Cardinals this season.

The recent history between these two teams is too much to ignore and Arizona’s defence will crumble to the rushing game of San Francisco.

Players To Watch:

John Brown – Arizona Cardinals. This young player is poised to have a break out year. Potentially the best Wide Receiver in the Arizona locker room, look for Carson Palmer to be targeting Brown a lot during their plays.

Jarred Hayne – San Francisco 49er’s. You could probably guess I was going to pick the hero from Down Under. A good performance here could really top off his already amazing rookie season from a NRL convert to professional NFL Player. Look for him to step up in Carlos Hyde has to take a week off.

By Cameron Corban

RWC2015: Wales – Three Things You Need to Know

Wales. The great under-achievers of the Rugby World Cup.

Having placed third in the 1987 RWC, Wales never got as far as the quarterfinals, until 2011, where they placed fourth after, signalling a shift in momentum.

Sitting fifth in the World Rugby Rankings, with the only other European team ahead of them being England, Wales have propelled themselves back into the spotlight with four years of hard work and good wins.

Having won back-t0-back Six Nations titles in 2012 and 2013, the Welsh will be eager to keep the momentum of the last four years going as they look to solidify their top five spot in world rugby.

They have all the tools to upset the upper tier of teams and here is three things that could help them with that.

1. The Gatland Factor

Warren Gatland has really come into his own as an international coach.

He’s been at the head of Wales since 2007 and under his tutelage, they reached the semi finals of the RWC in 2011, won back-to-back Six Nations tournaments in 2012 and 2013, and he also led the British/Irish Lions to a successful tour around Australia in 2013.

Australia are arguably the toughest challenge for Wales in their pool so with most of the Welsh starting XV being in that Lions squad, they will be mentally prepared for their clash with the Wallabies.

2. Young Blood

Wales has arguably one of the most exciting young players at the tournament with George North.

No relation to Kanye, George North announced his arrival to World Rugby with style at the last World Cup aged just 19 years old.

He scored 2 tries after he came off the bench against Nambia, making him the youngest ever try scorer at a World Cup.

Over the last few years, he has grown into a real seasoned international player. At just aged 23, he already has 50 caps to his name and will be a staple for Wales this tournament if he can avoid any more concussion concerns.

3. Redemption

Last Rugby World Cup could of had a very different outlook. Wales narrowly lost to France 9-8 in the Semi Finals in 2011.

France of course then went on and made the final against New Zealand and the Welsh supporters had to go home empty handed after getting so close to the biggest stage that they’ve had in world rugby since the 1987 World Cup where they placed 3rd.

This year, Wales will be the team that will sneak in key victories over higher ranked teams that will underestimate them.

Prediction

Despite all the experts writing off Wales after injuries to key players Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb, Wales can go all the way.

With England and Australia to overcome in their Pool, it wont be a walk in the park for the Welsh Dragons but don’t be surprised if they come out number one in Pool A and make it to the next stage.

If they can get past that hurdle, the passion of the squad to make another semi and do one better will be a huge factor and could see them make it all the way to the final.

And the thought of doing that on their arch-rival’s home turf would be added incentive.

By Cameron Corban