Friday, 18 January 2019

Eddie Jones back on form

The suggestion by Eddie Jones that he is considering playing Exeter wing Jack Nowell at openside flanker has to be mischief-making of the highest degree.

And yet the England coach's comments have clearly had the desired effect, as the national media are lapping it up, apparently taking Jones at face value.

It's pretty clear to me that he's just taking the piss. After all, there is no way on earth that he would seriously contemplate selecting a player at flanker at international level who had no experience whatsoever of playing the position, having played all of his rugby at wing or fullback.

Or would he?

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Is Eddie Jones missing a trick?

England's Six Nations squad, announced today, hardly sets the pulse racing.

There will be the usual debates surrounding the perennial exclusion of Danny Cipriani, of course, and I guess it is mildly surprising that Dylan Hartley and Danny Care are not featured, but there is not a lot to get really excited about.

Yes there are four non-capped players included - Ben Earl, Ollie Thorley, Dan Robson and Jack Singleton - but I'm not sure any of those is likely to make the starting XV in the Six Nations and of the four I'd only really expect Robson to be in the running come the World Cup.

For me, if an inexperienced player is to be included, at least make it someone who can make an instant impact, leave a big imprint on the Six Nations and be a genuine contender for the World Cup squad - someone like Alex Dombrandt, who has simply been sensational in recent weeks, pulling up trees in the Quins back row.

With the inclusion of players like Te'o, Tuilagi. Cokanasiga and Devoto, Eddie Jones appears to be looking to add power to his line-up, and they don't come much more powerful than Dombrandt.

With Chris Robshaw not making the squad through injury, with Brad Shields yet to convince and with the likes of Ben Earl and Jack Clifford still very much unproven, I'd say Dombrandt is certainly worth a punt, even at this late stage.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Wasps - Crisis? What crisis?

What the hell is going on at Wasps?

Of the starting XV that began the Premiership final against Exeter less than two years ago, there are six players - Christian Wade, Danny Cipriani, James Haskell, Matt Symons, Phil Swainston and Matt Mullan - who have left the club, plus another four from the bench - Marty Moore, Guy Thompson, Alapati Leiua and Frank Halai.

Add to that the recent announcements that Willie Le Roux (probably to Japan), Nathan Hughes (to Bristol) and Jake Cooper-Woolley (to Sale) will definitely be leaving for pastures new at the end of this season, plus the heavily rumoured departure Elliot Daly to Sarries - and I really don't think that use of the word CRISIS is entirely overstating the issue.

Something clearly is not right...

Tuesday, 15 January 2019


Although not too upset about its effect on Wales,  I was still sorry to hear that one of my favourite players, Bath and Wales number 8 Taulupe Faletau, is more than likely to miss this year's entire Six Nations campaign, having broken his forearm for the second time this season.

To break your arm twice in a season pretty unfortunate in itself but quite extraordinarily is still one arm break fewer than Faletau's cousin, England's Billy Vunipola, who has suffered three forearm breaks in the last 12 months.

What is it with those Tongan boys? Faletau and Vunipola don't look particularly brittle to me, but five broken arms between them in the last year or so might suggest otherwise...?

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Rugby safety - FFR to lead the way

I'm really pleased to see that the French Rugby Federation is making an effort regarding player safety by announcing a global forum in March alongside World Rugby to discuss player health and the evolution of the game's laws.

This follows the death of a fourth young French player in the last eight months - 23 year old student Nathan Soyeux having passed away in Dijon last week having been hospitalised following a tackle in a match at a student tournament in November.

Soyeux became the fourth young French player since May to die after being injured during a match, following the tragic deaths of Stade Francais youth flanker Nicolas Chauvin (18) in December, Aurillac's 21 year old Louis Fajfrowski in August and 17-year-old Adrien Descrulhes in May while playing for amateur club Billom. 

We all know that rugby has its risks, but four fatalities in eight months is just shocking. Something has to change - so well done to the FFR for taking the lead...

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Whatever happened to: Loyalty?

Transfer speculation - a fact of life in association football for many a year - is now becoming increasingly common in rugby.

In England for instance, from January in each year a player whose club contract is due to expire at the end of the season is allowed to speak to another club about moving to that club once his contract has expired.

And so the transfer rumours begin. Whether it is a Wasps prop agreeing a move to Sale, a Leicester backrower being spotted at Quins' training ground or a Bath centre being linked with Northampton, the transfer merry-go-round is, it seems, in full swing.

It's the way of the world now, I guess, but I do find it all a bit unedifying.

Whatever happened to, I wonder, a little bit of loyalty?

I'm not just talking about a player's loyalty to the club that may have helped develop his career, I'm also thinking of a club's loyalty to the player who has served the club so well over the years. It's a two-way street after all.

However, with the need to earn a living, inflated salary demands, the influence of agents, the pressure of the salary cap and the day-to-day commercial realties faced by clubs, it does seem that the one-club man - the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio or Richard Hill, for example - has become an increasingly rare commodity.

Which, if I'm honest, is a damned shame.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Premiership Rugby not "at war" with RFU

It's official.

Premiership Rugby and the RFU are not "at war" over the question of ring-fencing the Premiership.

Who says? Gamekeeper turned poacher, Ian Ritchie - former RFU CEO and current Premiership Rugby Chairman - says, that's who. So it must be true.

This, despite the fact that the Mail on Sunday appear to have a copy of leaked minutes of a Premiership Rugby board meeting which suggests that the clubs are considering forming a breakaway league, outside RFU control, if the governing body doesn't give way on the issue of promotion and relegation.

Any such move, were it to happen, would of course have huge consequences for the England national set up.

You may have thought Brexit was a mess. You ain't seen nothing yet.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Whither Rugby?

Happy New Year one and all, a year that is likely to be hugely significant for this game of ours.

2019 is of course a World Cup Year, and is therefore a huge opportunity for rugby to showcase all that is good about the game (and the very fact that the tournament is being hosted in Japan - hardly one of rugby's traditional superpowers - is a fine demonstration of the the game's global intentions).

There do remain, however, challenges for rugby to overcome, player safety being to the forefront of issues currently occupying (one hopes) the minds of the powers that be.

In the light of the recent tragic deaths of 2 young players in France and the regular sight of players seemingly constantly leaving the field with significant concussion or other serious injuries, it is clear that rugby is beginning to develop an image problem.

There are those who dismiss such concerns with talk of rugby being a "man's game" but they miss the point, which is that allowing rugby to continue down it's current path will put the future of the game at risk. There have already been calls to ban tackling  in schools and, let's face it, what parent is going to want to actively encourage their offspring to take up rugby after witnessing the brutal nature of the current professional game on TV?

My son plays for the local club Under 16s and even at that level there is a tendency in many teams for physical confrontation at the expense of skill and guile. The size and strength of some of the boys the team faces each week is just frightening.

I have little doubt that the game at most levels has become far more collision based over the years, and it is this area that needs addressing more than any other if we are to reduce the number of serious injuries in the game.

It's almost certainly too late for World Rugby to do anything of significance to address such issues before the eyes of the world focus on Japan in October. All we can do, therefore, is cross our collective fingers and, if we are so inclined, offer up prayers to our deity of choice that the tournament passes without tragic incident.

All that having been said, there is plenty of excitement to look forward to in the coming months including a potentially fascinating Six Nations looming on the horizon. I only hope, in the midst of the unprecedented commercial progress that rugby currently enjoys - the recent £230m investment by CVC Capital Partners in Premiership Rugby being a prime example - that the powers that be have more than one eye on the bigger picture.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Total Flanker Awards 2018

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, a warm welcome to you all as we once again recognise and celebrate the successes, failures, accomplishments, misfortunes, achievements and fiascos of the 2018 rugby calendar year.

Yes, welcome, willkommen and bienvenue to the 12th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony...

Straight into the awards, our first gong tonight is the TOTAL FLANKER WHERE HAS ALL THE CASH GONE? AWARD. This goes to joint recipients this year - Mr Steve Brown and the RFU - who appear to have frittered away gazillions of pounds earned from the 2015 World Cup, resulting in cuts to funding for the grassroots game and a shedload of redundancies at HQ. Well done.

Next up we have the TOTAL FLANKER JUST CALL ME SICKNOTE AWARD.  In previous years this would have undoubtedly been a shoe-in for a certain Manu Tuilagi, but this year only one man can be considered. Step forward Billy Vunipola - shoulder and knee injuries, a broken left arm (twice) and a broken right arm have meant that Billy has been in almost permanent state of rehab over the last 12-18 months. The lad is certainly due some better luck and maybe this award may be the start of it?

Moving on, the next award is the TOTAL FLANKER WHISPER IT QUIETLY, BUT WE MIGHT JUST BE WORLD CUP FAVOURITES AWARD. I  refer, of course, to the Ireland rugby team who have had a magnificent 12 months, losing only once (to Australia, of all teams). I have no doubt whatsoever that if the World Cup were being played now Ireland would win it. Whether that will still be the case next October we shall have to wait and see...

And so to the TOTAL FLANKER THAT'S THE WAY TO SHOWCASE OUR SPORT AWARD, which is awarded jointly to Saracens Women and Harlequins Ladies for playing out a magnificent final of the inaugural Premier 15s back in April, with the Sarries Women triumphing 24-20. It was a fabulous game of rugby and it's high time the mainstream media got behind women's rugby to give it the publicity and financial backing it deserves.

Nearly there, our penultimate award this evening is the TOTAL FLANKER COULD WE HAVE MADE ANY MORE OF AN UTTER HORLICKS OF IT AWARD. This award goes to World Rugby for the unlikely circumstances that saw Russia qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, which involved a Romanian referee overseeing a dodgy Belgian victory over Spain - thus ensuring Romanian qualification - and then the subsequent disqualification of Romania, Spain and Belgium, all for fielding ineligible players during qualifying. You simply couldn't make it up.

And finally we have a very special award - the TOTAL FLANKER COMPLETE AND UTTER HERO AWARD. This goes to man who, despite being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2017, continues to display the bravery he was known for on the pitch, and the humour and good grace he was known for off it, as he raises awareness of the condition and funds for research into a cure. I refer of course to Doddie Weir and his My Name'5 Doddie Foundation. Well done and good luck to you sir.

And so, that's it for another year. Thank you again for your forbearance and indulgence as I continue to trot out the usual drivel. I wish you all a Happy New Year - see you on the other side...

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Arise Sir Bill Beaumont

Huge congratulations to Bill Beaumont, awarded a knighthood in the New Year's honours list for services to rugby.

Antiquated as the UK honours system might be, the knighting of Beaumont does give me a certain satisfaction as it was his England team's 1980 Grand Slam that first fuelled my obsession with this wonderful game of ours.

Amongst Beaumont's many achievements in rugby, being the inspiration behind Total Flanker must rank right up there 😉.

Arise Sir Bill!