Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Earth is not Flat - Proof

Members of the Flat Earth Society believe that we live on a disc, with the North Pole at its centre and a 150-ft high wall of ice, Antarctica, at the outer edge.

They are wrong...

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Whatever happened to: Amateurism?

Earlier today I read an article in the Telegraph by Mick Cleary calling for the RFU to declare rugby amateur again below a certain level and I must say I could not agree more.

I’ve long thought that professionalism in English rugby is simply financially unsustainable below the elite level – and I’ve floated the idea previously that the game cannot really afford to support more than, say, 16 fully professional clubs in England.

Whatever the merits if that particular argument, there’s no doubt that many clubs below the elite level find life incredibly difficult once they decide to start paying players.

It was once (and for some clubs still is) the case that clubs were run by and for the members who all contributed membership fees and all had the interests of the club and the local community at heart.

The advent of the league system in the eighties, followed by the introduction of payments to players in the nineties, then changed all that for many clubs whose misplaced ambition to progress through the system has led to inflated playing budgets and an over-reliance on sponsors or benefactors, fundamentally changing the nature of such clubs.

In many cases professionalism has proved to have been horribly divisive. Clubs once fielding 5 or 6 XVs in the amateur era have found that paying players in the 1st XV has led to alienation of players lower down the club with a disastrous effect on playing numbers, as well as a dwindling in support from the lifeblood of these clubs – the amateur volunteers who man the bars, cook the food, do the laundry etc. Effectively the “soul” of such clubs has been lost.

And all for what? A couple of promotions to a slightly higher standard of rugby?

Enough is enough. It is time for those rugby clubs to rediscover the joys of amateurism – of being self-funding, community based organisations run purely for the love of the game.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Baxter for England?

Assuming that Eddie Jones does decide to step down as England coach after the World Cup in 2019 (a stance he has consistently maintained), the temptation will be I’m sure, to try to replace him with another “proven” international coach.
I’m a fan of Eddie Jones – but just because he has been successful with England it doesn’t mean that the next England coach has to be from overseas.
If the RFU are genuinely after the best man for the job, for me the answer is simple - Exeter’s Rob Baxter.

And if the RFU could secure Baxter’s services to allow him to work with Eddie Jones through to the World Cup, all the better…

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Germans on strike...

I don’t want to fall back on hackneyed old stereotypes, but right now German rugby is hardly the paragon of efficiency that one might normally associate with that country.

I am referring of course to the fact that the German national team decided to go on strike prior to last week’s match against Chile, forcing the German Rugby Union (DRV) to field a scratch team and resulting in a 32-10 defeat.

Chaos is the word which probably best describes the current situation, with the players unhappy following the ending of funding arrangements between the DRV and Stade Francais owner Dr Hans-Peter Wild, meaning that the national squad’s full-time, high-performance training programme has had to be cut.

It’s such a shame as the fortunes of the German team were most definitely on an upward trajectory, with qualification for the 2019 World Cup by no means an impossibility and with the likes of Toby Flood and former Saints scrum half Lee Dickson expressing an interest in joining the German ranks.

One can only hope that common sense prevails and this all gets sorted out soon – as long as England never have to face the Germans in a penalty shoot-out. 😆

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Breach birth

Twenty year old Harlequins winger Jess Breach must think this international rugby lark is a bit of a breeze.

Six tries on her debut vs Canada at Allianz Park were followed by a mere five further tries in the third and final encounter of the series at Twickenham on Saturday (she missed the second test through injury).

 As introductions to international rugby go that's pretty damned spectacular...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Six Nations 2018: Appetite Whetted

It looks likely from this Autumn's internationals (and I appreciate that Wales and South Africa still have to slug it out again this coming weekend), that we are in for one humdinger of a Six Nations next year.

England and Ireland will go into the tournament as favourites - with England chasing a "three-peat" - but, for the first time in quite a considerable while, Scotland also find themselves in contention.

Runners and riders:

England - one narrow defeat (to Ireland in Dublin last year) in 2 years speaks volumes for a squad that Eddie Jones has made far more resourceful and resilient than in recent times. It's not always pretty, but they are damned difficult to play against and will probably start narrow favourites.

Ireland - dismantled South Africa earlier this month and are another mightily solid, if a tad unspectacular, group. If they can find the consistency lacking last year the Irish will be serious contenders for the title in 2018.

Scotland - the Scottish resurgence was started by Vern Cotter and is certainly gaining pace under Gregor Townsend. Fabulous in attack, doubts do remain over their defensive prowess which they will need to improve if they are to challenge England and Ireland.

Wales - Warren Gatland's conversion on the road to Damascus appears to have come 2 years too late. I can't decide whether the all-new attacking approach is merely a case of the Emperor's new clothes or whether it is genuinely likely to lead to a new era for Welsh rugby. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

France - who knows? There's plenty of noise about good young French players coming through, but there's been nothing in November to suggest that a French renaissance is imminent. Still, it's a post-Lions championship so France will probably confound us all by winning the damned thing.

Italy -I can't say I've followed Italy very closely in November, but results hardly suggest that they will be challenging for anything other than the Wooden Spoon. Again. The calls for the inclusion  of Georgia - who were unlucky to lose narrowly against Wales this month - grow louder.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Time to relax?

With both Fiji and Tonga making it through to the semi finals of the Rugby League World Cup, it is being suggested in various circles that perhaps Rugby Union should follow Rugby League's example in relaxing international eligibility rules.

A recent change to the eligibility rules in League has meant that players who were not selected by a tier-one team can now switch allegiances to another team for whom they qualify, resulting in a number of top quality NRL players now turning out for Pacific Island teams.

Clearly this policy has worked for League but then again it desperately needed to find ways of evening out the competition for the Rugby League World Cup to make the tournament credible.

Union doesn't face quite the same credibility issue, but there's little doubt that, as a short-term measure, for the Rugby World Cup a similar eligibility policy would make the tournament more competitive than it currently is.

Whether it could work in general, however, is more debatable. To ensure fairness across the board the new rules would need to be open to everyone and would no doubt be open to abuse - with economic factors playing a prominent part.

Opening up eligibility also flies in the face of recent measures introduced to tighten international eligibility rules. If you think that national teams picking foreign-born players is controversial now, imagine the furore when a player decides to switch international allegiance purely for a better pay packet.

No, for me the "Rugby League solution" is merely the equivalent of putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Tinkering with eligibility rules will not solve international rugby's widening inequality gap - which can only be settled by World Rugby and the so-called "Tier One" nations addressing how the game's wealth can be more equitably distributed.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Money, money, money

While I can understand why England's players decided against donating part of their match fees to their Samoan counterparts ahead of Saturday's clash at Twickenham, I still think it's a bit of a shame.

Yes, there is definitely something more than a little ethically questionable and unedifying about paying your opposition to play against you, and the issue of the funding of so-called tier 2 nations is something that needs addressing urgently by World Rugby rather than be left to the consciences of individual players.

And yet think of the impact that a more robust stance by the England's players would have made...

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Tom Crofted

I was sorry to read last week that Leicester's Tom Croft has retired from professional rugby on medical advice at the tender age of just 32.

Always a favourite of mine, Croft is a phenomenal athlete with serious pace but arguably it was only really Ian McGeechan, on the 2009 Lions tour, that ever properly extracted Croft's full potential as a ball-carrying blindside flanker (although I always thought that he would make a very decent number 8 in the mould of Kieran Read).

Enjoy your retirement Mr Croft.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

North Shields

I am intrigued by the news that Hurricanes captain Brad Shields will be joining Wasps next season.
Shields qualifies for England through his parents and his availability for England will no doubt fuel further debate about foreign-born players.
Not being a Super Rugby aficionado, the question I have is this:
If he's that good, why hasn't he been picked for New Zealand?