Thursday, 21 November 2019

Good luck Tom Smith

This blog's very best wishes go out to Tom Smith and his family, as the 48 year old former Scotland and Lions prop battles against stage four colorectal cancer which has spread to his liver and brain.

One of my favourite rugby memories was watching - on a small screen in a local pub - the relatively diminutive Smith, Keith Wood and Paul Wallace take on the mighty South African front row of Du Randt, Drotske and Garvey on the 1997 Lions tour and emerge victorious.

Smith's performances on that tour were typically brave and he will need all the bravery that he can muster this time around.

I am sure the entire world of rugby will rally round in support of Tom Smith and his family.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Saracens accept sanctions

I'd like to think that that the statement by Saracens that the club will not contest the recent ruling of the independent panel in relation to salary cap breaches will draw a line under the whole sorry saga.

I'd like to think so, but I doubt it will happen.

If it is true that the independent panel accepted that the club have “not deliberately sought to circumvent the regulations” - then the £5m+ fine and 35 point deduction remains, for me, utterly draconian and vindictive.

It seems that the club has, however, decided to accept the punishment in the hope that both they and the English domestic game can move on.

There will still be those who will continue to bang on about "systematic cheating" and demand that Sarries be stripped of their titles won. Perhaps, however, those people should start looking closer to home before making such demands.

And, Saracens being such a close-knit bunch, it wouldn't surprise me at all if their England contingent decided to put club before country this coming Six Nations to try to help ensure Premiership survival.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Folau plumbs new depths of bigotry

I can't express just how disgusted I am at Israel Folau's latest comments linking Australia's bush fires to the country's same-sex marriage laws.
Folau has described the fires - which have claimed several lives - as a "little taste of God's judgement".
Let's be clear. This appalling man is not a Christian. He is merely a bigot.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Shaun Edwards - il est Bleu!

So, with the announcement this week that Shaun Edwards has joined the French national set up as defence coach, it looks like England will miss out on his services for at least another 4 years.

I've previously touted Edwards as a possible successor to Eddie Jones. After all, how may other coaches out there (a) are English; (b) have extensive international coaching experience (with Wales and the Lions); and (c) as Head Coach have a CV which includes winning the Heineken Cup, European Challenge Cup and 3 Premiership titles?

Who knows? Perhaps it will all go a bit pear-shaped in France (the arrival of Edwards will certainly be something of a culture shock for the French players) and it's anyone's guess right now how long Eddie jones will remain in situ. 

As things stand, however, it looks as if the RFU have, once again, missed the boat.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

In support of the Blazers...

Interesting article over on the In The Loose blog, highlighting an apparent stagnation within grassroots rugby and the need for those in charge of grassroots and community clubs to either evolve or face extinction.

The piece contains some valid points, but my main 'beef' (to use a phrase my son might use) with it is the overriding implication that the current situation is somehow the fault of the "aged and backward" volunteer committee men and that unless younger people are involved in the decision-making process at club level then grassroots rugby is somehow doomed.

What the author (who happens to be 20) fails to acknowledge, it seems, is that without the selfless dedication of the "Blazers" and the many others who volunteer their time to perform all sorts of unglamorous tasks behind the scenes, grassroots and community rugby clubs simply would not exist.

It is the same for all amateur sports - past players staying involved and 'giving back' to the sport by volunteering their time to ensure that the club thrives for future generations.

This evening, for example, I am attending a meeting for the youth section of my rugby club. All of those attending will, I'm sure, be middle-aged (men and women), mainly because the youth section is, for the most part, run by volunteer parents. The committee for the senior section of the club does feature a slightly younger cast but, in the main, again it is dominated by people who have the necessary time, interest and willingness to offer their time and services free of charge.

Yes, ideally it would be nice if there was a "changing of the guard" but I guess my point is that there exists no lengthy waiting list of 20-somethings desperate to volunteer their services. It's hardly that surprising - they almost certainly have far more interesting things occupying their lives - but, believe me, if such a list existed they would all undoubtedly be welcomed with open arms.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Basta - Back and Forward?

According to the headlines, coach Eddie Jones has devised a new playing position - "back and forward" for Mathieu Bastareaud ahead of the Barbarians encounter with Fiji at Twickenham this Saturday.
Which is all a bit self-evident really as the former French international centre has been (successfully, it seems) turning out in the back row while on loan Lyon (prior to his move to Rugby United New York next year).
And, anyway, we all know that at heart he's a frustrated tighthead prop. 😂

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Jungle James

Time to get serious now.



It has been announced that one of this blog's favourite characters - James Haskell - will feature in this year's "I'm a Celebrity - Get me Out of Here".

Ahead of his proposed MMA debut in 2020, Haskell will enter the Australian jungle next Sunday alongside the likes of Ian Wright and Caitlyn Jenner, amongst others.

Given the likelihood of significant weight loss whilst having to survive on rice, beans and kangaroo's gonads, perhaps Haskell is contemplating life as a middleweight?

Let the entertainment begin...


Monday, 11 November 2019

Unpleasant

Yesterday morning I, as usual, ran touch for my son's rugby team - away at a club that shall remain nameless.

Now, normally when I'm flag-waving I share a level of friendly and light-hearted banter with those on the sidelines - opposition coaches, parents, spectators etc - and, at least in the early part of yesterday's match, it was business as usual.

As the match progressed, however, and as it became increasingly obvious that the home team were likely to lose a closely-fought contest, a combination of opposition parents plus boys who were supposedly on the bench ( I say "boys" but at Under 18 level that's not really the case), grew increasingly loud and aggressive, patrolling up and down the touchline, criticising refereeing decisions, abusing our team and and winding up their own boys playing on the pitch.

Not far short of a baying mob, to be honest, and the final act - me raising my flag to indicate a player being pushed into touch - was met also met by a torrent of abuse.

Our boys, to be fair, kept their composure and saw out the win, but it was a thoroughly unpleasant and depressing experience, at least for me.

The worst part, I think, was that the coaches on the sidelines, whilst not actively involved, did nothing to discourage behaviour which does nothing for their club's reputation. I know for certain that similar behaviour from our boys (or their parents) simply would not be tolerated.

So much for the spirit of rugby...

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Whither England (post-RWC 2019)?

A week on from the disappointment of last Saturday, where do England go from here?

As previously mentioned, England can look back upon the 2019 World Cup with a certain degree of satisfaction, despite the gut-wrenching disappointment of failing to perform on the biggest stage of all against the Springboks in the Final.

The high point for the England squad was without doubt their semi-final performance against the All Blacks, when all the stars aligned as Eddie Jones’ men played very close to the perfect game. That they couldn’t replicate that performance in the Final will, however, be of immense frustration to the players and the management.

Nevertheless, from a playing personnel perspective England undoubtedly remain in a good place – with very few players being north of 30. Most of the squad (fitness and form permitting) will probably be available in 4 years time and so on the face of it there is little need for a post-RWC cull.

The question is, though, how soon does Eddie Jones move on from those players unlikely to be around in France in 2023? Post World Cup he has already said that this England team is “finished” and that he will “make a new team for the Six Nations” but what does he mean?

It is clear that scrum half is a position that needs addressing given that Ben Youngs is currently 30, and his RWC deputy, Willi Heinz is 32. It’s a position in which Jones failed to build depth over the last 4 year cycle – with only the discarded Danny Care (another 30-something) getting any significant game time other than Youngs. Jones – assuming he stays – will not want to make the same mistake again.

Other players the wrong side of 30 are Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes and Mark Wilson. While I can’t see Cole featuring again, the latter two still have plenty to offer, at least in the short term, so I would be surprised if they were jettisoned early doors.

Eddie Jones being Eddie Jones, I am sure we will get a few curve balls when the squad for the 2020 Six Nations is announced. Following that performance against the All Blacks, however, England could come bottom of the Six Nations and, quite frankly, all would be forgiven.

Aside from whether players will be around in 4 years time, the issues facing Jones are pretty much the same as he has faced for the last few seasons, namely:

- Lack of depth at scrum half (see above)

- Over-reliance on Billy Vunipola at 8 – Billy didn’t have a bad World Cup, but did appear to coast at times and could do with some genuine competition

- Deciding on his optimum midfield – will the Ford/Farell axis continue and what is his best 12/13 combination?

- Fullback – as things stand it can’t possibly remain Elliot Daly, can it?

- Leadership and how certain players react under pressure.

There is also the question of what effect Premiership Rugby's 35 point sanction on Saracens might have. I can quite see for instance, should the sanction stand, Saracens players choosing to prioritise their club this season, which could decimate the England squad.

Finally there remains the question of how long Eddie Jones will stick around. He is contracted for another 2 years but, with the Aussies sniffing around, could he be tempted home? Even if he stays, should the RFU push for him to sign up for the full 4 year cycle? And if Eddie does go, what next?

Friday, 8 November 2019

Dylan Hartley retires

Good luck to Dylan Hartley following the announcement that he has retired from professional rugby after failing to recover from a long-standing knee injury.

Not everyone's cup of tea, Hartley's playing career was beset by a litany of on-field disciplinary issues, but off the field by all accounts he was a gent, and England owe him a great debt of gratitude for his leadership post 2015 World Cup.

I suspect we'll see him coaching before too long...