Monday, 12 November 2018

Defeat to All Blacks a missed opportunity for England

Whether Courtney Lawes was onside or offside on Saturday (and I think it was marginal - he was no more offside than most players on both sides all afternoon) is immaterial. He was adjudged offside, it was what it was and we move on.

What Lawes did show is that he can operate very effectively on the blindside at international level - I take it all back. However his performance, good as it was, still paled into insignificance next to that of England's openside, Sam Underhill, who was simply magnificent.

My overall emotion at the end of the match was, nevertheless, a sense of an opportunity missed. The All Blacks were there to be beaten on Saturday and England blew it.

That may seem harsh in the wake of a great effort from the England team and there's no shame in a one point defeat to the world's number one team, but there were definite chances to win that game that England let slip.

Whatever else happens this November, however, Eddie Jones suddenly appears to have an embarrassment of riches in the back row - with Underhill, Lawes, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry and Zach Mercer all having impressed in the last 2 weeks.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

England squad v All Blacks does itself no favours

According to the old cliché, the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Zach Mercer: should be starting
And so, while Chris Ashton's first start for England since 2014 may be the headline news from today's announcement of the England squad to take on the All Blacks on Saturday, it is the selection of two second rows on the England bench, to the exclusion of the excellent Zach Mercer, that is the biggest cause for concern.

I would have had Mercer - playing out of his skin this season - starting at number 8, but his entire omission from the matchday squad means that England will have no proper back row cover on Saturday, with either one of Courtney Lawes or Maro Itoje probably having to fill in at flanker if required.

Let's be clear, Lawes/Itoje at flanker has never worked previously for England and there's absolutely nothing to suggest that it will be successful this time against what is probably the most effective back row trio in world rugby.

I had hoped that Eddie Jones might have learned from previous experience. It seems I was mistaken.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Anyone for Curry?

With an ankle injury now ruling England flanker Tom Curry out of the rest of the November internationals, Eddie Jones could do a lot worse than call up Tom's twin brother Ben, who captained the England Under 20s in the summer and who has been pulling up trees for Sale Sharks so far this season.

It won't happen, of course, but it should.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Farrell tackle legal, but the law is an ass

Let's get one thing straight.

Owen Farrell's tackle on Andre Esterhuizen in the dying seconds of England's victory over the Springboks on Saturday was, under the current laws, perfectly legal. The referee, TMO and citing officer agree.

It was below the shoulder line - so not high, did not make contact with the head - so not dangerous and it was not - as many people claim - a "no arms" tackle. Farrell went to use both arms but was unable to wrap his arms in the tackle due to the force of the impact as both players launched themselves into contact, Esterhuizen's upper arm/forearm slamming into Farrell's chest on impact at the same time as Farrell's shoulder connected with Esterhuizen's chest.

The question of whether such a tackle ought to be legal is a different one. The big chest-high hit should, in my opinion, be outlawed in the interests of player safety and indeed the RFU are this season trialling a law in the Championship Cup which requires the height of a legal tackle to be below the armpits. 

By the way, although clearly I was wrong about England taking a beating at the hands of the Springboks, there were times in the first half on Saturday when the floodgates looked about to burst open. The fact that England defended so resolutely and worked so tirelessly to stem the tide does bode well, although if next week the All Blacks have anywhere near the amount of possession afforded to South Africa we could be in for a difficult afternoon.

Still, a win is a win. Onwards and, hopefully, upwards.

Friday, 2 November 2018

England v South Africa could get messy...

I must admit I fear a shell-shacking for England at the hands of the Springboks on Saturday.

My guess is that the best plan Eddie Jones managed to come up with this week was, in the absence of the Fabulous Vunipola Boys, to launch Manu Tuilagi at the midfield for as long as possible - Tuilagi's subsequent "minor" groin injury first forcing Jones to select instead Ben Te'o (with all of 28 minutes of rugby this season for Worcester) to try do the same job, and then allowing Chris Ashton a return to the bench as the perennially unfortunate Tuilagi was declared unfit to participate.

While a Farell-Te'o-Slade midfield is somewhat experimental and is unlikely to last longer than an hour, it is upfront where I fear England are more likely to struggle.

The front row looks a tad fragile and Malcolm Marx against Dylan Hartley has the potential to be one of the biggest mismatches in international rugby history. And, while Mark Wilson's selection in the back row is to be applauded, I can't for the life of me figure out what Brad Shields has shown so far this season to merit his place at blindside.

Wilson at 6 with the in form Zach Mercer at 8 would have been a better balanced and more dynamic selection. I've nothing against Shields per se but, call me old fashioned, I do like to see players actually earn their England caps.

The Springboks, by comparison, look awesome upfront. This could get messy.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Great Britain 50s Men's Touch Rugby

A shout out to the GB 50s Men's Touch Rugby Team - who have begun preparations for next year's FIT World Cup in Malaysia.

The team's mantra is the promotion of men's health and wellbeing in the over 50s and the honour of representing GB. Can't argue with that.

Although I would have loved to have been involved, personal circumstances unfortunately prevented me from throwing my hat into the ring for selection this time around. Not that I would have been picked, but it would have been fun to have had a go.

Best of British to those involved - and if anyone can help with corporate sponsorship and support I know it would be welcome:

Email: Facebook: GB Touch Men's 50's Twitter: @GBTouchMens50s

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

All Blacks launch radical new kit

The New Zealand rugby team has unveiled a radical new kit and it's...

...wait for it...


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

England Rugby "not arrogant enough"

The RFU believe that the problem of a "perceived lack of arrogance" has been solved with the appointment of 52 year old former captain Will Carling to the England management team as a "leadership mentor."

According to head coach Eddie Jones the England team has suffered over the last few years from being "too likeable".

"It's important that the team connects with its arrogant past" he said.

"Because I'm not English, I can't teach them how to be arrogant and unlikeable. I can teach them how to be a chippy little Aussie but it's just not the same.

"I've always thought we have possibly had a gap in that area. I've tried with Owen Farrell and Mike Brown, and Maro Itoje shows promise, but it's important that these guys work with someone who truly understands England's history of arrogance.
"We want to get back to being everyone's most hated team. We need a figurehead, a face that the whole world wants to slap.
"Will Carling is that face."

Friday, 26 October 2018

There is no place in rugby for this...

I've been more than a little appalled by what I've been reading this week about behaviour at Coleraine RFC - fined £5,000 after a female referee was the target of sexist abuse from the touchline at a match last season.

Although the incident (which quite understandably led to a boycott of the club’s home matches by Ulster referees) now appears to have been dealt with, issues still remain - not least an apparent lack of an apology to the referee in question by Coleraine RFC as well as the inexplicable failure of the club to take any internal disciplinary action in relation to the incident, with no individual having been held to account.

Whichever way you look at it Coleraine RFC has hardly covered itself in glory. Club membership of the Hall of Wazzocks has not previously been considered, but perhaps it has some merit?

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Is more in fact less for Premiership Rugby?

The new season structure - effective from next season - announced by the RFU,  Rugby Players’ Association and Premiership Rugby this week is, in many ways, ground breaking.

The new structure would appear to feature more rugby - with an elongated campaign stretching into the summer, but also less rugby - with in-season breaks for top players and a mandatory five-week off season.

The media focus this week has, however, mainly been on the detrimental effect this may have on Lions tours, with tours being reduced to 5 weeks and not finishing until early August.

The Lions concept has, of course, been on a slippery slope for years and remains something of an anomaly in the professional era - and what the media furore misses is the fact that the abridged 5 week tour was actually agreed by World Rugby in San Francisco some 18 months ago to general media apathy.

Yet when the big, bad English clubs organise their league structure to fit around an already established principle, the same media get all agitated.

I’ve said it for a long time – although I’d be sad to see it go, the Lions concept needs a radical re-think if it is going to stay relevant.

Meanwhile the jury is out on Premiership Rugby's plans - is less in fact more, or is more in fact less? I guess we'll have to wait and see...