Friday, 17 January 2020

Saracens - time to bare all?


Woke up this morning to reports that, in another dramatic twist to the salary-gate scandal, Saracens now face automatic relegation from the Premiership in June unless they prove within a week that they will comply with the £7million salary cap this season.

Apparently Saracens were told at a Premiership Rugby meeting on Tuesday that unless they could prove compliance then they either had to hand back their titles won in the last three years or be relegated to the Championship at the end of the season, with the latter seeming the most likely outcome.

And all this without a single detail of the club's alleged breaches of the salary cap being made public.

It may well be that Sarries are completely bang to rights, but all this "behind closed-doors" stuff does neither the club or Premiership Rugby any favours.

If the reports are accurate and Saracens are to be relegated (which would potentially have cataclysmic consequences for the club, players, the Premiership and England Rugby) then surely it is imperative that a full disclosure of all of the facts surrounding the matter now occurs?


Thursday, 16 January 2020

International rugby eligibility rules are an ass

The selection of Nick Tompkins for the Wales Six Nations squad sits somewhat uncomfortably with me.

Whilst delighted for the player - the Sarries centre has been exceptional for the past couple of seasons and deserves his chance at international level - his selection for Wales just doesn’t feel quite right.

I say this both as an England rugby fan who is disappointed to lose a player of the ability of Tompkins to another country, and also as someone who thinks that the current eligibility rules are just plain daft.

Look, Tompkins is English, he’s come through the English system and played all his rugby in England and has represented England at both U20 and Saxons level - and yet by virtue of the fact that he has one Welsh grandparent he is somehow eligible to play for Wales? That's just nuts.

I know the argument - under the current eligibility rules he can be selected by Wales. Well, sorry, but the single grandparent rule is an ass.

And yes, I know that England have pulled a similar stunt in recent times with the selection of Brad Shields (although at least he had committed to join an English club), but that doesn’t make it any less farcical.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

If you can't beat 'em...

I'm loving the fact that England, having had their forwards routed by South Africa in the World Cup final, have just appointed Matt Proudfoot - who has coached the Springbok pack for the last 4 years - as the new England forwards coach.

A matter of "if you can't beat 'em, employ 'em!"

Big things are therefore expected of the England pack this Six Nations, not least at the lineout where Steve Borthwick - lineout geek extraordinaire - can now focus 100% in his new guise as skills coach.

I'm also encouraged by the appointment of national 7s coach Simon Amor as England's new attack coach. Having previously suggested Ben Ryan - who led Fiji to Olympic 7s glory - for the role, I'd say that Amor - who coached GB to a silver medal in Rio - is probably the next best choice.

Now, all we need is for Eddie to announce the England squad to get really excited...!


Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Salarygate: the story that refuses to die

With Nigel Wray having stepped down, new Sarries CEO Edward has admitted that the club face a period of instability as they try to demonstrate beyond doubt that they are currently operating within the Premiership salary cap rules.

What seems obvious to most (but not, it seems to Premiership Rugby) is that it is becoming increasingly essential that full details of the salary cap breach judgment against Saracens are released. as, without such full disclosure and transparency, the matter is bound to rumble on, with advocates on both side of the argument left unsatisfied.

Likewise it would be useful to understand what audit procedures Premiership Rugby has in place to police the salary cap across the league if we are to rid ourselves of the suspicion that one club is being scapegoated here. Let's not forget that it was a Daily Mail investigation that ultimately led to Saracens being punished, and I'm not convinced that the integrity of our game should be reliant on the whim of a national newspaper editor.

Again, a little transparency wouldn't go amiss.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Perspective

This blog's thoughts are with Worcester Warriors lock Michael Fatialofa, who remains in intensive care having suffered a serious neck injury in a collision against Saracens at the weekend.

Our sincere best wishes go out to him and his family...

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The Total Flanker Awards 2019

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, Signore e Signori, Damen und Herren, Damas y Caballeros, a warm welcome to you all to the 13th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony as we once again recognise and celebrate the ups and downs of the world of rugby over the past 12 months...

Hard to believe, I know, that another year has flown by and that 2020 - a year that seemed impossibly far into the future when I started playing this wonderful game of ours - looms large on the horizon.

Without further ado, let's hurtle headlong into the awards, starting with the TOTAL FLANKER DEADLY DUO AWARD. Ever since the halcyon days of Neil Back and Richard Hill, English rugby has been searching for an openside flanker worthy of the shirt. And now we have two. Step forward the Kamikaze Kids - Sam Underhill and Tom Curry - who combined to devastating effect in the England back row this Autumn. Injuries and selectoral foibles permitting, England may just have found a world class flanker combination for the next two World Cup cycles.

Next we have the TOTAL FLANKER LET'S MAKE A DRAMA OUT OF A CRISIS AWARD.
This gong is awarded to Premiership Rugby for its handling of the Saracens salary cap breach. I'm sorry, I still don't understand why a breach, which the independent enquiry accepted was not a deliberate attempt to cheat, still deserved the maximum punishment available? The lack of transparency - the details of the case have still not been published - is particularly troublesome, as is the suspicion that one club is being made an example of whilst others appear to be able to make superstar signings at will. I suspect we have not heard the last of this...

Hey ho, moving along, our next award is the TOTAL FLANKER WTF IS GOING ON? AWARD. This particular prize is awarded to former Australia fullback Israel Folau. Having posted some horribly bigoted and homophobic comments on social media - not for the first time - he somehow managed, having rightly been dismissed by Rugby Australia for a serious breach of their code of conduct, to paint himself as some kind of martyr being persecuted for his religious beliefs and was even able to drag an apology out of his cash-strapped governing body as part of an ill-deserved settlement. He may be a bigot, but that was quite some performance from Folau and his legal team.

On a less confrontational note, our next award is the TOTAL FLANKER PEFORMANCE FROM THE GODS AWARD. Where it came from I have no idea, but England's display against the All Blacks in the World Cup semi final was simply fantastic and one for the ages. From as early as the V-shaped response to the Haka you could sense that the England players were about to produce something special - and so they did. It's just a shame - for England fans at least - that (as predicted by Warren Gatland) they failed to reach such heights again the following week. Nevertheless, a performance worthy of this prestigious award.

Our penultimate award this evening is the TOTAL FLANKER YOU WILL BE SORELY MISSED AWARD. This award is shared between a couple of very prominent kiwis, Messrs Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen. Gatland's impact on Welsh and British rugby can not be underestimated, consistently managing to make silk purses from sows’ ears time and time again, while Hansen has presided over unprecedented All Black success with calmness, equanimity and good sportsmanship and without the sanctimony of his predecessor. You will be greatly missed, gentlemen, and have set the bar incredibly high for your respective successors.

And finally to our top award of the evening - the TOTAL FLANKER WELCOME TO THE TOP TABLE AWARD. There can only be one winner - so please step forward Japan, not only for the exciting brilliance of your national team's rugby during the World Cup, but also for the way you dealt with the effects of a devastating typhoon, embraced our wonderful game and hosted a quite magnificent tournament. Japan are now, for me, a Tier One rugby nation in every sense and I hope you get your deserved rewards in the coming months and years.

And that, my friends, is that. 2019 is done and dusted and we now look forward to a fascinating post-RWC 2020. Frankly, I can barely wait!

Thanks to all for your continued indulgence and support as I wish you a very Happy New Year...


Thursday, 19 December 2019

Memories?

I read this week that England tighthead Kyle Sinckler apparently has no memory of the Rugby World Cup final, having been knocked out in a collision with Maro  Itoje’s hip in the opening minutes.

To which the only obvious response is I wish I could say the same.

Monday, 16 December 2019

HUGE Congrats to Doddie Weir

It was an honour and privilege to watch Doddie Weir be awarded the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award on TV last night.

The award is given annually "for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity" - something for which Weir is eminently qualified, having thrown himself with typical gusto and good humour into raising more than £4m for research into Motor Neurone Disease and to help those suffering from the disease since his own diagnosis with MND in late 2016.

Much of Doddie's struggle - as well as his life as a rugby player straddling the amateur/professional eras - is documented in his excellent autobiography - My Name'5 Doddie - which I have recently read and which I heartily recommend.

Good luck with your continued fight against this dreadful, debilitating disease Doddie - your award last night was so richly deserved.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Lions in jeopardy?

Much is being made about Premiership Rugby's refusal to bring forward the date of its final in 2020-21, thus further hampering the already tight preparation time for the British and Irish Lions ahead of the South Africa tour next summer.

Many make the point that such intransigence jeopardises the future of such a commercially lucrative enterprise as the Lions.

My point is this: if the Lions is so commercially lucrative then the answer is relatively simple. Either:

- simply make Premiership Rugby a financial offer they can't refuse; or

- demand that the host nation (in this case South Africa, but it applies equally to New Zealand and Australia) - who benefit hugely from the income generated by more than 30,000 travelling fans - create a tour itinerary which allows for sufficient preparation time.