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

RWC Quarter-Final Preview: Australia vs. Scotland

The quarter-final stage is where the tournament really kicks off for me. Other than the teams who fought it out in the ‘Pool of Death’, the quarter-finals are the first real challenge that many of the dominant rugby nations will experience.

For the match between Australia and Scotland, their quarter-final face-off will be one to watch for sure.

On paper, Scotland’s pool play went as everyone expected, winning three of their four games with a few bonus points here and there. However, what they probably weren’t expecting was that the Japanese would do exactly the same; making their final match against Samoa a real do-or-die game.

By coming within a drop goal of missing out on the quarter-finals, the Scots will be looking for redemption in their match against Australia but are unlikely to come out with the win. Its not that the Scots will be doing anything ‘wrong,’ but it’s just that the Australians are doing so much ‘right.’

The Australian side are looking pretty slick at this stage and have become many peoples pick to take out the tournament altogether. With an almost backwards tournament, having their toughest challenges in pool play, and a relatively comfortable quarter and predicted semifinal, the Australians may as well book their hotel for the finals already.

Their form has been impressive to say the least and pose a real threat to any side they might encounter. A brilliant scrum, ability to win the turnover and a few playmakers here and there will give the Aussies confidence to go all the way.

The loose forward combination of Pocock and Hooper has been incredibly successful for the Australians, and Bernard Foley has been playing consistently out of his skin every game thus far. Combine this with the already fierce back line, packed with playmakers galore, anything short of a 14 point victory for the Wallabies will be surprising.

However, recent news that Pocock and Israel Folau are out for this weekends clash mean that the Aussies are without two of their key men.

For Pocock, Ben McCalman comes in as the replacement. While McCalman doesn’t possess the world class rucking abilities of Pocock, he’s still a handy threat on the field having scored two tries in the three games he’s played at this World Cup. Not a bad effort for a player who was coming off the bench, replacing one of the best in the world, and doing it all in the ‘Pool of Death.’

Still, the Wallabies will miss their star back-rower and the loss of Israel Folau out wide leaves a hole in the Australian backline.

However, this is a do-or-die match, and the Wallabies don’t need to win it by 30+. With the forward pack still remaining as strong as it has been throughout the pool stages, and with Foley and Giteau playing the tournament’s of their lives, its hard seeing Aussie being challenged significantly in this one.

Yes, the Scots have the ability to topple the Aussies, and on a good day they might just do that. But all things equal, they will most likely fall short.

If the Wallabies can do the business, that puts them just one win away from a potential World Cup final against the All Blacks, a circumstance that has never occurred in rugby history.

Considering the blood between the two teams this year – Australia winning the Rugby Championship and defeating the All Blacks in Sydney – it could be one of the best sporting events of the year!

By Guy Cowan

RWC Quarter-Final: All Blacks Player Ratings

The All Blacks churned out an energetic and inspired performance this morning to claim the biggest playoff win in Rugby World Cup history.

The 62-13 defeat over France was their biggest win at the 2015 tournament, and alleviated all fears that the All Blacks haven’t been performing at their best.

Clinical execution, strong discipline and unparalleled skill left the French scratching their heads at every moment of the game.

While some experts might be hesitant to dish out the all elusive 10/10, some deserved it tonight. Below are the player ratings for all 23 players.

1. Wyatt Crockett – 5/10

Unfortunately, Crockett was the only player not to stamp his mark on the game. A few errors at the breakdown as well as giving away an easy penalty right in front of the sticks caused Steve Hansen to sub the tighthead prop after just 28 minutes.

2. Dane Coles – 8/10

Once again, Coles was electric. Quick hands out wide, commitment to the ruck and the ability to break tackles. A brilliant turnover that led to Savea’s third try and the heart of a champion. Having the pacey hooker out wide has proved very successful for the All Blacks.

3. Owen Franks – 8/10

Franks stepped up. First to the breakdown, cleaning out the French every time and allowing Aaron Smith more time and more clean ball. Also proved heavy in the scrum and made a few darts from the ruck.

4. Brodie Retallick – 9/10

What a performance. The young lock has continued to cement himself as the best in the world for his position. A beautiful first try off the back of a chargedown, a few key turnovers in the lineout as well as key support play for the rest of the forwards. Outstanding.

5. Sam Whitelock – 8/10

Whitelock, like Retallick, was everywhere. Solid in the lineouts, good on the kickoffs and a crucial player at the breakdown. Hard to fault his performance at all.

6. Jerome Kaino – 9/10

Kaino had a blinder. A try just after half-time capped off a brilliant game all round. He ran well, supported the forwards and won a few key turnovers.

7. Richie McCaw – 8/10

Richie once again lead from the front. Strong with ball in hand, disrupting the ruck at every opportunity and allowing his backs more time with the ball.

8. Kieran Read – 7/10

Not a bad outing from Kieran at all. A few dropped balls and miss-timed lineouts worked against him, but a great try under the sticks and great support play showed that he still has some left in the tank.

9. Aaron Smith – 9/10

Smith was unlucky not to grab a try this morning, but his performance was just as rewarding. Quick, fast ball to the backs, solid decision making and silky feet meant he set up more than just a few tries. Maybe not making the final pass, but he was involved in all but two of the All Blacks tries.

10. Dan Carter – 10/10

Carter was at his absolute best. Taking on the line, breaking tackles, offloading the ball and kicking well. 7 from 9 on conversions and kicking for touch with purpose. Carter is back.

11. Julian Savea – 10/10

Savea was unbelievable. The young winger scored another hattrick, his second of the tournament, and was duly named Man of the Match. He scored one of the tries of the tournament, if not of World Cup history and was everywhere on the park. Absolutely flawless.

12. Ma’a Nonu – 8/10

Nonu is looking as dangerous as ever. He broke the first tackle on almost every one of his runs. Unlucky not to score a try at the end but a good effort setting up his teammates, and his kicking game continues to improve.

13. Conrad Smith – 7/10

Classic Smith. Wasn’t a standout on the scoresheet, but was everywhere on the park. Strong running, good ball retention and the ability to give his outside backs some more space.

14. Nehe Milner-Skudder – 8/10

Electric as always. Nehe scored a scintillating try, further demonstrating his unparalleled speed and skill as he danced his way to the try line. Unlucky to come off at half-time with an injury, but looking dangerous and will be back for South Africa next weekend.

15. Ben Smith – 7/10

Smith was solid under the high ball. Something the All Blacks have struggled with over the course of the tournament. He supported well and always made sure he was in the right place at the right time. An error at the beginning which almost cost a try, and one or two positional errors means he doesn’t quite get a higher score.

Substitutes

16. Kevin Mealamu – 7/10

Not a bad showing from old Kev. Strong off the bench, good lineout throwing and some impressive tackles made him the perfect substitute for Coles.

17. Joe Moody – 9/10

Moody was phenomenal. Coming on after just 28 minutes, the young Cantab, flown over just days prior, played 50 minutes of unbelievable rugby. An amazing offload to Kerr-Barlow for an All Blacks try proved his talent, and his strength at the breakdown was nothing short of amazing.

18. Charlie Faumuina – 8/10

Faumuina was faultless. Coming on at the 51 minute mark, Faumuina made his presence known. A few big hits, strong physical presence at the breakdown, and a beautiful run and pass to set up Kieran Read under the sticks.

19. Victor Vito – 7/10

We only got to see 15 minutes of Vito, but his performance was solid. A few good tackles and some good runs.

20. Sam Cane – 8/10

McCaw’s worthy replacement. Cane came on and continued to apply the pressure at the breakdown. A few key tackles and a turnover that led to an All Blacks try.

21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow – 9/10

Substituting Aaron Smith is a hard task. Couple that with the questions surrounding the All Blacks depth at halfback, and Kerr-Barlow had a challenge on his hands. However, he slotted in perfectly. Scoring two tries and getting to the breakdown with speed, Kerr-Barlow proved his worth as an All Black.

22. Beaudan Barrett – 7/10

Not a terrible performance by Barrett, but certainly not his best. Two kicks that failed to gain many metres when the All Blacks were pinned back in their own 22 made things tough. Solid defense however and good support play.

23. Sonny-Bill Williams – 8/10

SBW at his finest. A beautiful offload to Nonu on a set play led to Kerr-Barlow’s first and another offload to Ben Smith which almost resulted in a try on the wing. Some sound tackling as well proves that Sonny-Bill is a real threat off the bench.

Team Rating – 9

A complete team performance that saw many questions answered. If the All Blacks can churn out another showing like that against South Africa, and carry that into the final, its hard seeing anyone being able to stand in their way.

By Sam Hewat

RWC Quarter-Final Preview: New Zealand vs. France

In 1999, the All Blacks looked set to progress all the way to their second Rugby World Cup title.

Victories over Tonga and England in the first two rounds followed by a 101-3 thumping of Italy in the final game of pool play sent the All Blacks into the knockout stages with all form in hand.

Then, in the semi-finals, the French crushed the hopes of a nation by defeating the All Blacks 43-31.

Gone was the hope, once again, that the All Blacks would win the Rugby World Cup for the second time in their history.

Then, in 2007, the All Blacks looked unstoppable. They gave away just four tries in all of pool play. They averaged 77 points a game and finished with a points differential of +274.

It was, as the punters put it, a ‘sure thing.’

And who should the All Blacks meet in the quarter-finals? The same team that had forced its foot at their throat just four years prior.

The scene was set. Millennium Stadium. 72,000 fans. Redemption.

Enter Wayne Barnes. And a game that will be forever etched in rugby history.

That forward pass. That yellow card. That crucial penalty.

France had knocked out the All Blacks again, 20-18.

Fast-forward to 2011, and the hoodoo struck again. The All Blacks would face France in the Rugby World Cup final, in New Zealand, for the second time in history.

This time, however, they made no mistake.

8-7. Thank you Tony Woodcock; rise Sir Beaver.

It was but a mere rebuttal to a French onslaught that had lasted almost 25 years.

Now, as if the rugby gods had written their own piece of poetry, the All Blacks and French are to meet again in the quarter-finals.

Once again, Millennium Stadium. Once again, 72,000. Once again, it’s do-or-die.

But this time, the All Blacks have more to prove than ever.

Yes, they defeated the French in 2011 to claim rugby’s most coveted prize, but this means something else.

Northern Hemisphere. Cardiff. Millennium. 2007. It’s got to mean more.

This time, the All Blacks will slaughter the French. There is no doubt.

Unlike the past, the media has played right into the All Blacks hands. It has been a non-stop barrage of questions, accusations and assumptions about the All Blacks ability to rid the voodoo and rectify the loss of 2007. This is exactly what they need.

In 2011, Sir Graham Henry filled the All Blacks dressing room with newspaper cutouts right before the final, of what the media had been saying about 2007. It fired the boys up. And it’ll do the same thing again.

The players have been stiff all week. Dismissing the media bait and focusing on the important things. It is the notion that 2007 will repeat itself that will make the All Blacks more determined than ever.

Cast your mind back to August this year. The All Blacks lost to the Wallabies in Sydney and the response was devastating. Even New Zealand’s own media lost belief in the All Blacks only months out from the RWC. But a week later, the All Blacks demolished the Wallabies in one of the most complete performances of the past four years. They thrive on the challenge. They yearn to prove people wrong.

But what about some more tangible reasons.

Well experience is a start.

The All Blacks boast close to ten returning players from the 2011 World Cup. Mix that with the explosive talent of rising stars such as Aaron Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ben Smith, and you have the perfect recipe. Its something France lacks and it will prove the difference.

As far as form goes, the All Blacks haven’t played great rugby, yet they still hold the most tries scored so far at this World Cup. The fact that they have grinded out convincing wins despite not being at their peak is a testament to just how good this side is.

Couple that with the fact that All Blacks haven’t lost a World Cup match since 2007 means they are still on the top of their game.

As for France, an uncomfortably tight win against Italy in pool play as well as a heavy loss to Ireland mean they are far from being an in-form team.

Now, with the news that the players have sacked head coach Philippe Saint-Andre, things keep going from bad to worse. The locker room is a mess, they lack leadership and cohesion and those are things you need on your side when you face a team like the All Blacks.

Defense is another key area.

The All Blacks missed only four tackles in their pool game against Georgia. An enormous achievement considering the size and strength of the Georgians.

France, on the other hand, are having to make a lot more tackles (an average of 124 per game compared to the All Blacks 88) and average 16 missed tackles a game.

Considering the plethora of attacking prowess in the All Black backline, this will make things especially tough for the French, and it is hard to see their defense lasting the full 80.

Now, all stats and facts aside. All media speculation and betting odds forgotten. This is France. And this is a side that has an unparalleled sense of belief, pride and determination. There is no doubt that they will test the All Blacks to the very limit.

However, this time round, there is just too much on the All Blacks side. All the talent in the squad points towards a complete blowout.

Dan Carter is still fully fit and on his way to winning his first Rugby World Cup, after he missed 2007 and 2011 with injury. Richie, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Mealamu and Woodcock are all hanging up the boots and this is the way they want to go out.

The talent, the heart, the camaraderie, the passion.

This is our time again.

Prediction

All Blacks 43 France 10.

By Sam Hewat

RWC Quarter-Final Preview: South Africa vs. Wales

Wales v South Africa is the first of the four titanic struggles this weekend that are the RWC quarter finals.

These two teams are no strangers to each other, having met on 30 occasions since their first encounter in 1906.

However, the wins column is very much in favour of South Africa, having won 27 of those games, Wales winning 2 and the teams drawing one.

This weekend’s quarter final is anything but a foregone conclusion though, despite the devastating injury toll that Wales has taken, they have shown they can rally together and win tough, tight matches.

Let’s take a look at what both teams need to do to win, and also have a look at the key players and their roles.

Wales

The Breakdown.

The Welsh forward pack have shown they are capable of matching it with some of the biggest and best. They also have some of the biggest and best, with players like Captain Sam Warburton and veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones. They will need to continue to be competitive in the tight again this weekend, as it is no secret that South Africa will try to bully them up front.

In saying that, the Welsh are one of the best teams at this years RWC when it comes to turning the ball over at breakdowns, sitting 2nd in the tournament and with 12 more turnovers than South Africa. If they can continue their fast approach at the breakdowns, they can get in and out of the contact area’s before the big South Africans can arrive.

Kicking.

The Welsh First-Five, Dan Biggar, has been in sensational form this tournament. Most recognisable for his peculiar goal kicking technique, don’t let his “Macarena” fool you, he has been controlling his team tactically all tournament.

He has had several combinations outside him due to the injuries but he still ignites his big wingers, giving them space and time to be at their best.

His goal kicking has been radar like too, kicking at 94% and putting over 12 penalties. If South Africa give away penalties in range, money’s on Biggar to knock it over.

Gareth Davies.

What can be said about this man? Becoming a professional Rugby player at the age of 17, he clearly showed talent at a young age. He had only 4 test matches under his belt before been thrown into the mix at this year’s RWC due to the injury to first choice halfback, Rhys Webb.

He took this opportunity with both hands and is one of the best halfback’s at the tournament so far. He has carried his team at times with his energetic running and snipping around the rucks. This has lead to 7 clean breaks, 9 defenders beaten and 4 tries, one of which was the winning try against England.

These stats easily clear him as the best attacking halfback at the tournament and if he can bring this fantastic attacking game to the quarter final, it will put Wales in a great position to tire out the bigger South African team.

Gareth Davies of Wales gets past Bryan Habana of South Africa - Photo Courtesy of Huw Evans Picture Agency
Gareth Davies of Wales gets past Bryan Habana of South Africa – Photo Courtesy of Huw Evans Picture Agency

South Africa

Tall Timber.

With the injury to Victor Matfield, it almost comes as a blessing in disguise as it allows Coach Heyneke Meyer to play his 2 best locks in Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jagger. The only word that can describe these 2 is dominant.

Eben Etzebeth at 2.04m and 117kg has really exerted his physical dominance at this tournament, he has carried the ball 18 times over the gain line and these carries have often been in scrappy tight situations.

His fellow locking partner, Lood de Jagger has been immense at this year’s RWC. The statistics columns almost always feature his name and he is almost always the player getting his team on the front foot, whether it is from a huge tackle (he’s made the 2nd most in the tournament with 50) or a big carry (he’s made 21 over the gain line) you can count on him to step up. His work rate is just enormous; he seems to pop up all over the field.

Wales will have to shut these 2 down. They have shown they can do this, David Pocock almost had no impact on the game last week, however Australia still won the contest. This will be a key area of the game.

Attacking Rugby.

You can put to bed any myth that South Africa plays “boring 10 man rugby”, this team have been brilliant at this tournament, igniting their backline and beating defenders. They have carried the ball third most in the tournament, and almost half of those carries are over the gain line, a far cry from a team that plays territory over possession.

It is vital that the Welsh make their tackles, this may seem obvious but South Africa feed off line breaks and beating defenders, they have made 38 line breaks so far, 3rd in the tournament and from these types of carriers they finish off in brilliant fashion, scoring 23 tries, only 2 behind the All Blacks.

Bryan Habana is top try scorer in the tournament with 5, and a hat trick to go with it. He now is equal with the great Jonah Lomu for most tries scored in RWC history, 15.

If South Africa can continue this style of rugby, then Wales will have to look to control possession to negate these attacking threats.

Midfield Battle.

This will be one of the biggest games of Jamie Robert’s career. He has a wealth of experience boasting more test caps than the other 3 midfield players put together, with 73 games for Wales he will need to be the calming influence to his younger centre pairing, Tyler Morgan who at 20yrs old only has 2 test caps. If Robert’s can use this experience to manipulate the young South African pairing, Wales then have a great chance at unleashing their far bigger wing combination.

The South African midfield however, is almost as raw as Morgan. Damien De Allende and Jesse Kriel have just 18 caps between them, but have been devastating when given half a yard of space. Both players love to take the ball into contact, often beating defenders and freeing up the fast outside backs.

It is a clash of youth versus experience and is a key component of this quarter-final matchup.

Fourie du Preez spreading the ball for South Africa in their matchup against the All Blacks this year - Photo Courtesy of Rugby Banter Page
Fourie du Preez spreading the ball for South Africa in their matchup against the All Blacks this year – Photo Courtesy of Rugby Banter Page

Key Matchup

Gareth Davies vs Fourie du Preez.

This might seem like an odd matchup to look into, however the halfbacks have been vital in this RWC, they are the key to the game, either slowing the pace down or speeding it up.

Gareth Davies as I alluded to before loves to run. He sparks the Welsh attack with his unpredictability and brilliant step.

Du Preez on the other hand, is far more measured; he reads the game brilliantly and can dictate the pace of his sides attack. He also has a great box kick which takes a lot of pressure off his First-Five. Look for him to use this at key times in the game, often to push the Welsh back and make them bring the ball forward into the big South African forward pack.

With a heavy injury toll and some tough, physical matches it is easy to write off Wales. But we have seen in the past injuries often bring a team closer together; they fight for each other and thrive off the underdog status. If Wales can do this then this game is going to be an epic battle.

On the other hand, the early loss to Japan hurt the South African’s, they are a very proud nation and I think that that was the huge wakeup call the team needed. Since that loss they have been absolutely brilliantly and you would be hard pressed to see this juggernaut being stopped so early in the knock-out stages.

Prediction:

South Africa to win this win by a relatively slim margin 26-17.

Let the knockout Rugby begin!

By Matt Jenkins

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

Bathurst – Paint by Numbers

This Thursday sees beginning of the greatest weekend of motorsport in Australasia, if not the world – The Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

Tens of thousands of petrol heads will descend on a sleepy little New South Wales town for 4 days of motorsport, music, camping and, well, sinking booze.

The annual Ford v Holden battle – a battle that has it originating roots at Mount Panorama – will again be fought on the track, and in the camp grounds.

Oh, plus there is Volvo. And Mercedes. And Nissan.

Last month I regaled you with the tale of endurance racing, and with the tams to watch. Much of that remains the same, so this month, I thought we would take a look at something a little different.

Each season, V8 Supercar teams use Bathurst as chance to mix up the paint schemes on their cars, normally driven by sponsors, and sometimes as a result of heritage. Let’s take a look at some of the more eye catching, iconic and out there retro liveries seen on the Mountain.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.14.50 am

Triple Eight Racing Team Vodafone / Holden Dealer Team Throwback

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bathurst 1000, Triple Eight took it back to 1982 with a Marlboro Holden Dealer Team inspired paint scheme. Designed to look like Lowndes’ mentor Peter Brock’s winning car, there were slight modification made to the design. Obviously, the Marlboro logos were removed, as tobacco sponsorship is banned. But the iconic #05 that Brock raced with had been retired in 2006, as a mark of respect following his death.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.14.58 am

Ford Performance Racing / Moffat Ford Dealers Team Throwback

Harking back to the historic 1977 1-2 finish for Allan Moffat and Colin Bond, FPR went with the classic white with red and blue stripes. Sadly, their results did not match those of the ’77 team with Winterbottom finishing 11th and Will Davison 24th, some 18 laps down.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.15.06 am

Dick Johnson Racing / Tru-Blu Throwback

Few men have had the varied history at the mountain that Dick Johnson has had. 3 race wins, which could have been 4 if it weren’t for the Nissan Skyline of Richards and Skaife (and the rain) but also some terrible luck. This was evident in the 1980 editions where, as a privateer, Johnson came ever so close to winning, were it not for a clipping a rock in the Cutting. The Tru-Blu sponsorship was revived in 2012 on the Moffat/Davison #18 Falcon. So much so, that they even renumbered the car #17, like the 1980 car.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.15.17 am

Dick Johnson Racing / Shell Helix Throwback

2014 saw Johnson do it again with this retro paint scheme, designed to look like the ’94 Johnson/Bowe race winner, just with refreshed sponsorship. Dick Johnson Racing / Greens-Tuf Throwback This is a personal favourite, not because of the retro nature of the paint job, but for the story behind it. In 1983 Johnson, again a privateer, entered the race with his Greens-Tuf sponsored Ford Falcon. During qualifying, he had a horrific accident at Forest Elbow that he was incredibly lucky to walk away from. Rolling the car through the trees, the car was a near write-off. Were it not for an all nighter by his team, and the TAFE training students, Johnson would not have made the grid the next day.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 10.15.24 am

Holden Racing Team 1990 Throwback

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of HRT’s first team win for Win Percy and Allan Grice. Honourable mentions go to Nissan Motorsport and Bottle-O Racing for their cars over the years. And to Red Bull Racing Australia for their camp-themed cars from 2014. I deliberately left these out of the countdown as the last lap from last years race, with Jamie Whincup running out of fuel and costing himself another Bathurst victory still haunts my dreams. This year sees Holden Racing Team, Nissan Motorsport, and Erebus Racing all sporting either new or throwback liveries. Time will tell whether they will be classics or not.

By Daniel Olander

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