Monday, 16 September 2019

Gareth Thomas - Total Respect

Revelations by former Wales and Lions winger Gareth Thomas, that he has been living with HIV for a number of years, are as brave as they are shocking.

When Thomas came out as gay nearly ten long years ago I have to admit I was a tad cynical about his motivations for doing so.

I absolutely realise now that I was wrong.

For a professional sportsman to have had the courage to come out as gay so publicly was really quite remarkable and Thomas has since gone on to be a passionate and eloquent advocate for LGBT rights and campaigner against homophobia.

To admit to having HIV, however, and to challenge the stigma and taboos around the illness, takes his bravery to a new level.

Well done, sir.


Monday, 9 September 2019

Ireland Rugby: World No.1

So, after Ireland's victory over Wales on Saturday, it's the men in green who head to Japan as World Rugby's number 1 ranked team.

Arguments about whether they deserve to be ranked number 1 are fatuous. Yes, the World Rugby ranking system - whereby a team can be comfortably beaten three times in a calendar year and still be elevated to number one status three weeks after suffering a 15-57 thrashing - does appear to be a tad dysfunctional.

But the system is the system - and it's the same one that has seen New Zealand at the top of the rankings for the last several years.

Ireland are, for now, world number 1.

We should all just get over it.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Chester Williams RIP

Sad to hear of the passing of Chester Williams.

An iconic figure in the 1995 World Cup winning Springbok team.

And by all accounts a thoroughly decent human being.

49 is no age at all.


Friday, 6 September 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019: Are 31 players enough?

With injury concerns hanging over a number of his England squad, Eddie Jones has been forced to include 3 players (Joe Marchant, Matt Kvesic, Charlie Ewels) in his 23 for tonight's warm-up against Italy who are not amongst the 31 names selected to play in the World Cup in Japan.

Which begs the question: is 31 the right number of players for a World Cup squad?

Given the length of the tournament, the number of games and the attritional nature of the modern game, I think the answer is probably a resounding NO.

None of the major playing nations would embark on an overseas tour - featuring a maximum of 3 or 4 games - with only a 31-man squad. Any yet they are expected to go to a World Cup limited in this way.

England, like other teams, have decided to go to Japan with only 2 scrum halves and 2 specialist tight head props. Both decisions carry obvious risks - and yet we must acknowledge that, given the 31-player limit, sacrifices have to be made and risks have to be taken somewhere within the squad.

This hardly chimes with World Rugby's efforts to make the game safer for players as inevitably teams will be forced on occasion to send out players to play who are not fully fit, thus putting their health and welfare at risk. I have no doubt that players will suffer injuries as a consequence.

It's too late for Japan, but if World Rugby are serious about player welfare they will consider allowing teams to increase the squad size to, say, 35 players for future tournaments.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

(Some) Women to go pro

Another leap forward for Women's Rugby in England with news breaking this week that some Premier 15s clubs will be paying their players during the coming season.

Both Saracens and Worcester will be paying players from this season, the Saracens' package apparently consisting of a combination of retainers and match fees, whilst Worcester, who have finished bottom of the Premier 15s for the last two seasons, will pay just match fees.

Payments will be on top of the money earned by England players under their RFU contracts - thus allowing certain players to be, effectively, fully professional.

The clubs involved are to be applauded for their enlightened approach to taking the women's game to the next level.

A note of caution, however - just as there is a danger of an unlevel playing field at international level, with England the only professional team in the Six Nations, so the club game needs to guard against the gap widening between perceived haves and have nots.

Saracens are already double Premier15s champions and the decision to pay players will hardly reduce their status as odds-on favourites to repeat the trick this coming season. If the ultimate goal is to create a vibrant, competitive and successful domestic women's league in this country then serious thought does need to be given as to how such ambition can be funded across the board.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Jack Nowell does it the hard way

Meanwhile, if England's Jack Nowell actually makes it to the World Cup in Japan, it's safe to say that he will have done it the hard way.

Not only has he been fighting all summer to recover from an ankle injury sustained at the PremiershipFinal on 1st June, he has now had to have his appendix removed at a hospital near England’s training camp in Treviso.

Clearly Nowell will not be involved in any of England's World Cup warm-up games, so fingers crossed that his rehabilitation goes well enough for him too make the plane to Japan as his absence would definitely leave England weaker.

Ireland ditch Devin Toner - surely some mistake?

You have to feel for Devin Toner. For the 67-capped Leinster lock to miss out on World Cup selection to a freshly qualified South African must sting more than a little.

It’s not Jean Kleyn's fault - he didn't make the eligibility rules. But the rules remain an ass and I have to say that, in ditching such a stalwart player and key figure in Ireland's lineout in favour of someone utterly unproven at international level, I think Joe Schmidt has lost the plot.

I suspect this decision will do little for squad unity and will ultimately come back to bite Ireland on the arse.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Look who it is!

I often find myself asking the question: Whatever happened to Gavin Henson? 

Well, now I know.

Having been released by the Dragons at the end of last season, our Gavin has, it seems, bought himself a pub, the Fox and Hounds in St Brides Major in the Vale of Glamorgan, and has even started a Sunday League football team.

Super Fox United – in a nod to the pub - has been set up with a collection of Henson's mates from the area although it’s safe to say the inaugral season hasn’t started too well with the results so far (0-6, 1-6) looking more like a very one-sided tennis match!

Still, as long as he’s having fun...

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Rugby World Cup: Russian Roulette

Russia's 35-22 defeat to English Championship team Jersey, in a World Cup warm up game in Moscow this week, doesn't do very much  for the credibility of the Rugby World Cup.

Russia, you may recall, only qualified for the World Cup after Romania and Spain were thrown out of the competition for fielding ineligible players in the 2018 Six Nations B championship.

And it would appear that, going by this week's defeat by Jersey and the recent 85-15 thumping at the hands of Italy, the Russians are more than likely to be seriously out of their depth when they get to Japan.

Pooled with Ireland, Scotland, Japan and Samoa, it could all get very messy indeed.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

England Rugby: A Farewell to Smelly Ben

I find myself agreeing with Ugo Monye - insofar as there is a distinct whiff surrounding Ben Te'o's decision, announced last week, to bugger off and join Toulon.

The move exposes Te'o for what he is - a rugby mercenary.

Nothing wrong with that, one might say, the bloke's a professional rugby player and has the right to provide for his family and ply his trade wherever he chooses.

The fact that he decided to head off to the southern France pretty much as soon as he was dropped from the England RWC squad by Eddie Jones, though, suggests that this move had been in the offing for a while.

More fool the RFU, perhaps, for selecting him in the first place - even without the gift of hindsight it was pretty obvious that his decision to leave Leinster in 2016 to pursue an England career was, in no small part, primarily motivated by cold, hard cash - so the powers-that-be really shouldn't be too surprised that the time and money spent developing Te'o as an international player has now been rewarded in such a fashion.

"You can't come and swear allegiance to the country and then the moment things get a bit bumpy, catch the next flight to the south of France" says Ugo Monye.

 "Just watch me" - is obviously Te'o's response.

One might think that the "once bitten, twice shy" principle might be adopted by the RFU in the future, although recent history (Nathan Hughes, Brad Shields, Willi Heinz) suggests otherwise...