Thursday, 14 February 2019

Six Nations - Keep it terrestrial

With this year's Six Nations kicking off with a bang and with TV audiences looking more than healthy (I read somewhere that the Ireland v England match attracted north of 5.7m viewers on ITV, for instance), the unions of the Six Nations have - according to a report in the Daily Telegraph - been discussing a proposal to pool broadcasting rights for all of their home fixtures - including the Six Nations and November internationals - in an attempt to drive a better deal.

That's all well and good, as long it does not result in the Six Nations being lost to terrestrial TV when the current deals expire in 2021.

The Six Nations' plans will come as a kick in the teeth to World Rugby and Agustin Pichot who has tabled a proposal - discussed last month at a World Rugby summit in Los Angeles - to set up a new World League backed by a single broadcaster looking to secure TV rights for the Six Nations, Rugby Championship and November Tests.

Without wishing to go in to the merits of Pichot's proposal for a World League (fundamentally a bad idea for all sorts of reasons), the fact that all international rugby - including the Six Nations - would consequently more than likely end up on pay TV makes such a proposal, for me, a non-starter.

If World Rugby had real aspirations to grow the game long term it would understand the benefit of having the showcase tournaments available to all on free-to-air terrestrial tv.

Unfortunately World Rugby appears seduced by dollar signs and short-term financial gain - and I can only hope that the Six Nations unions, in their discussions, recognise how short-sighted that approach actually is.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

England Rugby - chickens should not be counted

England gave France a damned good thrashing on Sunday but I'm still not getting carried away. No chickens are being counted here.

Think back 12 months - an impressive opening performance away from home (vs Italy) was followed by an excellent first half (at home against Wales) and then an indifferent second half.

Sound familiar?

England then went to Murrayfield, had their trousers taken down unceremoniously by the Scots, and thus the season suddenly imploded.

So, will Cardiff in two weeks time prove to be another Murrayfield experience?

I hope not, and indeed there is evidence to suggest that history is not about to repeat itself, not least the fact that England are far more robust in their backrow and midfield this year, they appear all to be on the same page tactically and they are clearly all enjoying defending under the watchful eye of John Mitchell.

I am not necessarily saying that England will win in Cardiff - as Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth" - but I would be very surprised if they were to sink to the depths of ineptitude on display 12 months ago...

Monday, 11 February 2019

Women's Six Nations 2019 - England at a canter

This year's Women's Six Nations now looks to be a forgone conclusion with England sitting at the top of the table having scored a grand total of 15 tries in their first two fixtures - against Ireland and France (last year's champions).

With England's remaining fixtures being, with respect, against weaker opponents in Wales, Italy and Scotland, it is difficult to see anything other than the championship heading England's way.

This is, of course, to be expected given that the English women are the only full-time professional squad in the Six Nations.

And while professionalism is obviously currently great for England's women, I'm not sure that such disparity in standards is at all healthy, both in terms of the overall quality of the competition or, indeed, for the long-term development of the England team.

What is needed is greater competition and quality throughout with overall standards raised, and it is incumbent on the powers that be to explore how such an ambition might be funded.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Six Nations 2019 Round 2 - Verdict

The verdict is in for round 2 of the Six Nations:

Scotland 13-22 Ireland 
Redemption of sorts for the Irish but this was one Scotland could and perhaps should have won. Too many errors at crucial times was the undoing of the Scots, and they were not helped by Stuart Hogg having to leave the field injured following a blatant (but unpenalised) late tackle. Ireland were dogged, determined and made fewer errors and ultimately deserved the win.

Italy 15-26 Wales
Absolutely dire game of rugby in which a largely second string Welsh XV, without ever looking like losing, managed to scrape a win against the spirited but limited Italians. Very little quality on show however.

England 44-8 France
Big win for England who were out of sight with a bonus point by half-time. Impressive at times but this French team was one of the worst I think I've ever seen and a very flat final quarter will mean that there will be plenty to work on for England before heading to Cardiff in two weeks time.

Team of the week:
15. Rob Kearney 14. Jacob Stockdale 13. Henry Slade 12. Manu Tuilagi 11. Jonny May 10. Owen Farrell 9. Ben Youngs 1. Cian Healy 2. Jamie George 3. Kyle Sinckler 4. Courtney Lawes 5. Johnny Gray 6. Mark Wilson 7. Jamie Ritchie 8. Billy Vunipola

Friday, 8 February 2019

Six Nations 2019 - Round 2 Predictions

So last week (surprise, surprise) I wasn't quite on the money with my predictions. France should have beaten Wales but blew it, Scotland did manage a reasonably comfortable victory against Italy and England performed well above expectations against Ireland.

And so to Round 2:

Scotland v Ireland
If Scotland can replicate the physicality shown by England last week then they'll be in with a shout against Ireland. Although I do expect the Irish to be far more successful on the gainline this week, you can't discount a vibrant Scottish attack (assuming their pack can secure enough possession) and, although the weather forecast is not great, if Scotland can get their all-court game functioning I can see them sneaking this one by 6 points.

Italy v Wales
Warren Gatland, quite rightly, talks about how momentum can propel a team forward to win the Championship. And so, with momentum having shifted  Wales' way during a remarkable second half last week in Paris, Gatland has now made 10 changes to his team to face Italy who, incidentally, finished strongly at Murrayfield. It's either a brave or foolish move by Gatland as Italy nearly always perform well in their first home game of the tournament. Wales to win, I think, but only just - possibly by less than 7.

England v France
Will the real France please declare themselves. Outstanding the in the first half last week, if the French find their rhythm early doors then England will be in for a long afternoon. Fortunately, for the most part (South Africa in November aside), Eddie Jones seems to have his team coming out of the blocks pretty quickly these days and early scores against Les Bleus could bite deep into the French psyche. On that basis I'm going for England by 9-12 points.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Positional switch for Mathieu Bastareaud?

I’ve long thought Mathieu Bastareaud too slow to command a place in the French backline and now it appears that former France outside half Thomas Castaignede agrees with me.

I don’t, however, share Castaignede’s belief that the Toulon centre could launch a new international career at number 8, nor agree with his ludicrous assertion that Bastareaud “could be even better than Louis Picamoles.”

I’ve no doubt that Bastareaud could learn to play number 8, given time, but any suggestion that he could be good enough to play there at international level is, I suggest, fanciful and serves only to illustrate Castaignede’s knowledge of backrow play.

In any event, I always thought Bastareaud would make an excellent tighthead prop 😉

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Rugby X

I’m not sure what to think of plans by World Rugby to introduce a new format of rugby – Rugby X – later this year.

Apparently plans are afoot to debut the new format indoors at London's O2 Arena in October.

The new version of the game, which former England and Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan is reported to have helped develop, is due to feature five-a-side teams, 10 minute games, no half-time, uncontested three-man scrums, quickly taken line-outs and tap-and-go restarts from the try-line.

So, an exciting new venture designed to appeal to a brand new audience, or just a gimmick?

Given that we already have a perfectly successful shortened version of the game in Sevens, and the fact that the planned timing of the launch pretty much coincides with the Rugby World Cup, I am inclined to suggest the latter.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

England Rugby - chariot needs more tests to pass M.O.T.

Enough already.

Yes, England were bloody good in Dublin at the weekend but any talk of a Grand Slam, or of England now being New Zealand's main challengers at the World Cup in 7 MONTHS time, is as silly as it is premature.

It can only be hoped that the England team are not indulging in the ridiculous self-congratulatory back-slapping which has been evident amongst the English rugby media who, it appears, have very short memories.

Pride, after all, comes before a fall and England are certainly going to have to be on their mettle this weekend if they are to avoid a rather large banana skin in the form of a French team intent on righting the wrongs of a self-inflicted defeat to Wales in Paris on Friday evening.

Let's enjoy last weekend's win but, for goodness sake, let's wait for a little more evidence of consistent quality from England before getting too excited.

Monday, 4 February 2019

France Rugby - the farce that keeps on giving...

The extent of the muddled thinking amongst French ranks in the second half of Friday's match against Wales - which saw Les Bleus blow a 16-0 lead - has been highlighted further by the admission of Sebastien Vahaamahina that he had no idea he was France's on-field captain during the closing stages of the game.

Vahaamahina, who threw the ludicrous cut-out pass that was intercepted by George North for the the winning try, has admitted that he only found out that he had taken over the captaincy - following the withdrawal of Guilhem Guirado - when informed of the fact by referee Wayne Barnes when being asked what he wanted to do with a penalty award.

You really couldn't make it up...