Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Wayne's World

I’m sure Welsh rugby fans will have been delighted at the announcement that Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac will succeed Warren Gatland as head coach of Wales after the 2019 World Cup.

Actually, given the attractive, attacking style in which the Scarlets play, I’m pretty confident that there will be many in Wales who wish that Pivac could start immediately.

In theory succession planning is a good thing, of course, but it will also be interesting to observe the effect on the Welsh players – how will the knowledge that both Warren Gatland and Rob Howley will not be continuing beyond the World Cup affect attitude and performances?

Watch this space.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Rugby in the USA - a Giant awakens?


Big congrats to the Seattle Seawolves, winners of the inaugural Major League Rugby title in the United States, beating the Glendale Raptors in the final in San Diego this weekend.

Rugby appears to be on the up in the USA, what with the national team’s victory over Scotland last month, another top six finish in the World Sevens Series and now a successful first MLR season featuring teams from Austin, Houston, New Orleans, San Diego and Salt Lake City as well as the 2 finalists. And with teams from New York and Los Angeles set to join in 2019, professional/semi-professional rugby appears finally to be getting a foothold in the States.

One fly in the ointment is that MLR remains unsanctioned by USA Rugby, perhaps understandably cautious following the relatively recent collapse of PRO Rugby – its first venture into the professional game - and the subsequent financial fallout.

Neverthless there’s little doubt that there remains a huge amount of untapped rugby potential, both playing and commercial, in the US. Could the giant be beginning to stir?

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

He's coming home...

Football isn’t the only thing coming home following the announcement that Chris Ashton will be playing his rugby for Sale Sharks next season.

According to Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal the French club released Ashton from his contract for family reasons – but all the indications are that his move to the North West is an attempt to resurrect his England career in time for the World Cup.

Given his try-scoring prowess and the improvements to his game at Toulon, he will be an undoubted asset to Sale, but whether he can leapfrog the likes of Day, May, Nowell, Watson or Brown in the England pecking order remains to be seen.

Whether he can leave behind his history of wazzockry will also be interesting to see. A start would be to ditch the ridiculous swallow dive.

I won’t be holding my breath…

Monday, 2 July 2018

Respect - rugby still leads the way

Some of you may have noticed that there's a minor sporting event going on in Russia at the moment which appears largely to consist of young men theatrically throwing themselves to the floor as their team mates brandish imaginary cards, excruciatingly painful injuries clearing up in a matter of seconds, and a television replay decision system (VAR, What is it good for? Absolutely Nothing) which appears unable to spot blatant cases of assault and battery in the penalty area.

Furthermore, this little tournament - which has already deprived my Touch Rugby team of players for tomorrow evening's match (I despair of the youth of today) - has also provided us with several fine examples of how to show the utmost respect to match officials, culminating in this edifying little scene where Cristiano Ronaldo (so-called Greatest of All Time, ahem) was observed screaming obscenities into the face of the poor referee - an offence which earned CR7 a paltry yellow card.

As the so-called (or is that self-proclaimed) G.O.A.T, Ronaldo obviously has no concept of setting a proper example to the next generation or how difficult it now might be for the already beleaguered referees of grassroots football.

I know that I have raised concerns in the past about the lack of respect creeping into rugby and the last thing I wish to do is come across as all holier than thou, but at least we are not plagued by behaviour quite so appalling as this.

Nor, it is to be hoped, will we ever be.


Sunday, 1 July 2018

The Stag

Loving this pic of Owen Farrell setting off on his stag do. Looks happy, doesn't he?


Apparently the rest of the party were there dressed as outfield players - would love to see photos of that! 😃

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

England need to master eight

England's back row, or the balance thereof, has been the subject of debate for many a year, with the combination reaching its nadir in this year's Six Nations when it featured a second row (Lawes) at blindside flanker, a blindside flanker (Robshaw) at openside, and a Billy Vunipola-lite option (Hughes) at number 8.

In Eddie Jones' first year in charge Billy Vunipola's power game, ably supported by two 6½s (Robshaw and Haskell) was instrumental in getting England on the front foot and affording space to the half backs.

Clearly Plan A for Eddie Jones.

Unfortunately, in Billy's frequent injury absences since 2016, there does not appear to have been a Plan B other than to ask the inferior Hughes to do the same job but not as well or to give the seriously rapid Sam Simmonds a go but not alter the gameplan accordingly.

What Jones and his coaches must surely understand is that - in the continued absence of the overlooked Ben Morgan - there is no suitable like-for-like candidate to replace Billy.

Ergo, the gamelan must change.

It is perfectly possible to play international rugby without a big bruising number 8 making the hard yards. After all, Kieran Read, for instance, plays a much more fluid game for New Zealand, as does Toby Faletau for Wales - just two examples.

And given that England can field a back three including the the likes of May, Watson and Daly, it's not exactly rocket science to suggest that a faster back row, including a seriously mobile number 8, might be the way to go?

As for candidates for the role - I'd look at Zach Mercer, or Sam Simmonds, or perhaps Don Armand, or maybe Brad Shields, all of whom could bring something a little different to the position. Partnered with one or both of the Curry twins, or Sam Underhill perhaps, England might then just be able to play at the tempo required for international rugby.

Monday, 25 June 2018

10 things we've learned from the June Rugby Internationals

1. Let's not try to pretend that England are anything other than in crisis, notwithstanding ending their losing streak in a dead rubber, in wet conditions, on a slow track, against an understrength Springbok side in Cape Town.

2. Jonny May, however, is now a fully-fledged international class winger.

3. Jury is out on the Springboks. The core of a very good team is there but the Rugby Championship will tell us more.

4. Wales will be very happy with a 2-0 series win, having rested several senior players, albeit against a poor Argentina team.

5. Whether Wales are now (according to an overly smug Warren Gatland) "poles apart" from England remains to be seen. Don't forget Eddie Jones was in exactly the same position 12 months ago.

6. Scotland remain an enigma - spectacular on occasion but still horribly inconsistent.

7. The significance of the USA's first victory against a tier one nation (Scotland) should not be under-estimated.

8. Ireland are now an admirably efficient and ruthless outfit. Can they maintain their form through to the World Cup and will efficiency and ruthlessness, in the absence of a splash of inspiration, be enough?

9. Australia don't look that far away from being a more than decent team - and again I guess the Rugby Championship will reveal more.

10. After a routine and relatively comfortable series win for New Zealand (albeit with some generous officiating at times) against a competitive but limited France, the All Blacks remain the benchmark...


Thursday, 21 June 2018

Whatever happened to: Diversity?

I look at rugby today and wonder when it all changed.

When, exactly, did everyone become so massive? Whatever happened to diversity?



Once upon a time rugby was a sport for all – whatever your shape, size or personality there was a place for you in the team.

Short and gobby? Scrum half.

Like a pie and a pint? Why not try propping? 

Nuggety psycho? Hooker’s your position, old chap.

Lanky with no co-ordination? Try the second row mate.

Barely ten stone wringing wet? Let’s keep you out of harm’s way on the wing, son.

This principle even applied at the elite level where all that was required was the addition of a generous splash of talent and a modicum of fitness and dedication to make it to the top (ok, so I’m exaggerating here for dramatic effect, but you know what I mean). Think Gareth Chilcott or Mike Slemen, for instance, for examples of players at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Nowadays everyone – certainly in the professional game – is a finely tuned athletic specimen of muscle and sinew, able to squat and bench press obscene amounts of weight and, when required, run through brick walls. Scarily it is becoming increasingly common for backs at the top level to be bigger and stronger than the forwards that played internationally when I was a lad. That’s just not right and proper.

Even at grassroots level, at any amateur junior club with any ambition whatsoever physical conditioning is beginning to play a major part, with abs replacing flab at an alarming rate.

The only refuge from this unrelenting spiral into physical perfection appears to be the category of the game known as “coarse rugby” – the basement levels of the game, the bottom of the league structure and the equivalent 3rd or 4th XVs, where shape, size, age and proclivity are irrelevant so long as you turn up approximately on time for kick off and make sure you buy a round in the clubhouse afterwards.

It is the continued existence of this level of the game that gives hope to this overweight former backrower in his fifties, with the turning circle of an ocean liner and all the pace of a tectonic shift, that he may one day take to the rugby field again to play a match with his much younger, fitter, faster and way more talented son.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Welcome Jacob Vunipola - a star is born?

Congratulations to Mako Vunipola and his partner Alex Johns on the arrival of their son, Jacob.


I wonder what the odds are of Jacob Fe'ao-moe-Lotu Vunipola starring in the 2043 Rugby World Cup?

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

High time Eddie Jones rediscovered the plot

Apologies for droning on about England and Eddie Jones (I do realise that there are other teams in the world currently playing rugby) but England's head coach does have a way of capturing one's attention.

His latest offerings:

- that he is "absolutely loving" the situation in which he finds himself;

- that England's chances at next year's World Cup are somehow enhanced by the fact that the team has just lost five test matches on the bounce; and

- that it is when things are not going well that you find "which players in your team can really stand up to pressure” 

are arguably the most bizarre yet, especially as:

no one else remotely connected with English rugby is enjoying this one little bit, Eddie;

- no one with the remotest grip on reality now gives England any chance in Japan next year; and

- on the evidence of the last few weeks Jones can therefore rely upon a maximum 3 or 4 players. 

Time to find the plot, Eddie, and quickly.