Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Oi, Gatland - NO!

On the issue of player welfare, Warren Gatland’s comments about Billy Vunipola pulling out of the Lions Tour are pretty despicable:

“I spoke to Billy and he just felt he couldn’t give us 100 per cent.

“It [Vunipola’s shoulder] was popping out during games and being strapped.

“I did try to persuade him to come over and be assessed and look at managing him but he was adamant that he was not right. If someone is not 100 per cent right in terms of their commitment, I fully understand and respect that decision.”

So what Gatland is saying is that a player should put his long term health and fitness at risk if he is asked to do so, and the fact that Billy wasn’t prepared to do that is a sign of lack of commitment?

Wazzock.

Back to the well...

Unsurprisingly the Rugby Players' Association has unanimously rejected a proposal for an extended 10 month domestic season.

In March Premiership Rugby had confirmed that the 2019/20 season would start at the beginning of September and finish at the end of June.

Watching the Premiership semi-finals this weekend it was evident just how physically brutal our sport has become. It's brilliantly entertaining and gladiatorial but, scarily, after a long and hard season our top players are still expected to put themselves through the physical and mental challenge of a tough summer tour. He probably won't agree, but the shoulder injury to Billy Vunipola, for instance, is probably a blessing in disguise in the longer term.

We need to ask ourselves just how often we can expect these players to go back to the well...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Cool Hand Henry

Two fantastic Premiership semi finals at the weekend, the highlight of which for me was not in fact Exeter’s dramatic last gasp winning try against Saracens, nor that of Wasps against the Tigers in Coventry.

Instead the moment of the weekend was the 60 metre plus kick to touch by Henry Slade to set up the winning position for the Chiefs at the death. I’ve long been a fan of Slade’s impressive skillset, but that kick also demonstrated that the boy has ice in his veins and I hope he now gets the chance to lay down a marker with England in Argentina.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Contract, what contract?

Louis Picamoles – undoubtedly one of the best signings of last season – is now one year into a 3 year deal with Northampton and yet has this week reportedly signed a “pre-contract” to join Montpellier next season.
No doubt Saints will end up receiving a substantial transfer fee, but that’s not really the point.
Picamole’s move to Montpellier is effectively being presented as a fait accompli with Northampton the unwilling victim and, if successful, sets a precedent in which the principle of Sanctity of Contract can be ignored by those with the deepest pockets.
If we're not careful I'm sure we can all see where this is headed...

Friday, 19 May 2017

Fit for rugby

I’m intrigued by RFU plans to roll out a new specific 20-minute exercise programme across all levels of the community game in England in time for next season.

As a youth team coach (well, I do put out the cones and hold the tackle bags) I will be directly affected by the plans, so I should probably pay attention.

The programme – which apparently focuses on balance, strength and agility to prepare players for the physical challenges of rugby – is designed to reduce overall injuries and is based on recent research which found that injuries fell by 72% when players completed the programme three times a week  before a match or training.

Looks like I’ll have some homework to do over the coming weeks…

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A farewell to Mr Ritchie

Ian Ritchie’s decision to retire as RFU Chief Executive this summer came as a bit of a surprise.

Although his reign hasn’t been an unqualified success – his managing of Stuart Lancaster’s time in charge of the national team springs to mind and he can hardly be described as any kind of visionary – there’s little doubt that the plusses of his time in office do far outweigh the minuses.  

The RFU is a far more stable environment than when Ritchie took over in 2011, he helped deliver a hugely successful World Cup (from a financial standpoint) and the England set up is now incredibly strong with the England men, women and age group teams all flying relatively high.

He has also enjoyed diplomatic success – brokering the deal that ensured English participation in the Champions Cup, overseeing the 8 year Professional Game Agreement with Premiership Rugby and, of course, he was instrumental in bringing Eddie Jones aboad as England’s Head Coach.

Apparently the RFU plans to announce Ritchie’s successor later this summer. Whoever he or she may be, they will inherit an organisation in rude health, although with a very tough act to follow…

Monday, 15 May 2017

From strength to strength

Huge congrats to Saracens for their Champions Cup victory over Clermont this weekend.

Winning the competition for the second year running is nothing to be sniffed at - and to be unbeaten in Europe in 18 games is quite remarkable.

I have to declare that Sarries are, to all extents and purposes, the club I tend to follow (insofar as I follow anyone), being the most local to me and being heavily involved in rugby development in the local area (young Master TF having attended a number of their county developing player training sessions).

I have previously described Saracens as a "difficult team to love" - partly I think owing to their history of importing foreign (mainly South African) players en bloc, partly due to a suspicion that only lip service was ever being paid to the salary cap and partly thanks to what was, which even the most committed fez-head would admit, a somewhat perfunctory playing style.

It can safely be said, however, that the modern Saracens set up is very different. I can't really comment on the salary cap, other than to say that the club does not tend to sign big-money marquee superstars. Instead they tend to develop from within and recruit where necessary based on character as much as ability. What is telling is that Saracens started Saturday's Champions Cup Final with 11 English-qualified players in their starting XV - with none of the four non-English players exactly being household names outside of Barnet.

They also played vibrant and attacking rugby from the outset, showing just how far their game as developed over the years.



There's clearly a huge collective bond between the players at Saracens these days for which Mark McCall (to whom the RFU should already be talking with a view to 2020) and the rest of the staff at the club can take huge credit.

They now move on to Sandy Park for the Premiership Semi-Final, but whether or not they succeed in defending their domestic title this season (and I wouldn't bet against them), it is clear that as a club they are now setting the standards not only for other clubs but also for England...

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Auntie in Argentina

I was very pleased to hear that the Beeb will be broadcasting England's two tests in Argentina next month.
Being somewhat reluctant to line the pockets of Rupert Murdoch, I am always happy to see rugby appearing on terrestrial TV and, having no social life to speak of, I can confirm that I will be tuning in to BBC2 on the evenings of 10th and 17th June...


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Five years and a Pool of Death...

World Rugby’s decision at its meeting this week in Kyoto to scrap the 3 year residency qualification period, replacing it with a more stringent 5 year period, has to be seen as a good thing.

Hopefully it will end (or at least reduce) the practice  of "Project Players" being brought in by certain countries and will help protect lower tier nations who habitually lose players to other national teams purely for economic reasons.


Having said that, I understand that the new rule is not due to come into force until 31st December 2020 which, by my calculations (and call me an old cynic), gives countries until the end of this year to ship in as many Project Players as they can. 


Of course Kyoto also hosted the draw for the 2019 World Cup this week and there was a certain inevitability that Eddie Jones and England would be being drawn in another Pool of Death, having to face both France and Argentina in Pool C to progress to the quarter finals. Scant reward, it seems, for the team's recent 18 match unbeaten run...

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Re-Touched and an Anniversary...

It’s that time of year again as yesterday evening yours truly, despite legs that barely move and a heart and lungs in serious need of counselling, embarked on a 12th summer season of Touch rugby.

As it turned out a couple of weeks of light practice had done very little to prepare this knackered old carcass for the pace and intensity of our first fixture of the season against a very fit and young (pretty much exclusively young men in their 20s) Chiltern Barbarians.

A mixed (gender and age) and slightly understrength Dave’s Dad’s Dog’s Dead team were unfortunately no match for our fast and skilful opponents, although we did hang in there as best we could to limit our defeat to 11-14 – not too shabby all things considered.

My personal contribution involved much scrambling in defence, a few carries in attack, a fair bit of ineffectual hanging about on the wing and an awful lot of gasping for breath and wondering if anyone had remembered to bring the defibrillator.

By pure coincidence yesterday was also the 10th anniversary of the very first post on this blog. Yes, a few of you (and you know who you are) have been putting up with this drivel for 10 long, long years.  

Ten years ago I was beginning my 2nd season of Touch and was nursing various aches and pains after a narrow defeat in the first game of the season.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Family ties

Awful news this week that Tom Youngs’ wife is suffering from terminal cancer – news which prompted the withdrawal of brother Ben from the Lions touring squad to New Zealand.
Ben’s decision to support his brother and sister-in-law,  foregoing an opportunity which may not come around again, is as admirable as it is understandable. 
Family is, and always should be, paramount and my best wishes go out to the Youngs family at what must be a hugely difficult and emotional time.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Rugby on Five

I’m delighted by the news that Premiership Rugby has signed a deal with Channel 5 for next season which will see Premiership matches broadcast live on UK terrestrial TV for the first time.

OK, so it’s only for 5 matches, but at least it’s a start and the package will also include a weekly highlights programme to be broadcast at 8pm on a Sunday.

It’s about time that rugby looked beyond the Pay TV model which, while bringing revenues into the game, fails to expose the sport to a wider audience and which (at least in my humble opinion) does the development of rugby at grassroots level no good at all. I hope the RFU take note and begin to re-think their TV strategy on England home internationals.

And yes, it will also fit in with my personal viewing habits perfectly.

I trust that the new arrangement, with the new Channel 5 highlights show replacing the current show on ITV, continues to recognise the genius of ex-prop-turned-pundit David Flatman.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Very proud...

The weekend saw my son's Under 14 team round off a great season with a hard-fought 28-20 victory away at Tring.

Sunday's win was the culmination of a hugely successful season for the boys, not just in terms of results (and yet the overall record of played 16, won thirteen, lost 3 - and victory at the Harrow 10s Festival - is not be sniffed at) but also in terms of just how well the boys have developed as players.

This time last year I posted my guide to coaching youth rugby and at the start of this season being involved in the coaching of the team was still very much akin to trying to herd cats, but as the season has progressed there has been a noticeable shift in attitude, with several of the boys now displaying an impressive mental maturity that was previously absent.

What is great to see is that often it is the boys themselves who are now working out what to do during a game rather than relying on instructions from the touchline, and on several occasions this season their sheer determination to defend their line has been a joy to behold.

There is also a fantastic camaraderie developing amongst the boys which is wonderful to see and which, as I keep harping on about to TF Jnr, is really what this game of ours is all about.

Quite honestly this season has been a pleasure to be involved with...

EXCLUSIVE: Hartley expelled from Hall of Wazzocks

Following his classy response to being left out of the 2017 British and Irish Lions touring squad last week, the membership committee for the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks has made the unanimous decision to expel Dylan Hartley from its ranks.


Mr Hartley will be required to re-apply should he wish to resume membership in the future.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Interesting titbit of the week...

Many Aussies will be gnashing their collective teeth over the news that the son of Wallabies legend Michael Lynagh has been selected to play for England Under 16s.
Louis Lynagh, a member of the Quins academy, will line up at fullback for England against their Welsh counterparts at Bath on 30 April.
If he's anywhere near as good as his Dad we may have a player here...




Friday, 21 April 2017

Now THIS is exciting

Unlike the Lions I have to say I am pretty enthused by the England squad Eddie Jones has selected to tour Argentina in June.

OK, so there are a few strange omissions - Christian Wade, Tommy Taylor, Semesa Rokoduguni for instance.

But there's not much not to like about a squad which blends the huge experience of Hartley, Robshaw, Launchbury, Haskell, Wood, Care, Ford and Brown with the youth and promise of the Curry twins, Sam Underhill, Nick Isiekwe, Harry Mallinder and Joe Marchant.

There are fifteen uncapped players in the squad, many of whom who have come via the Under 20s. 

I predict good times ahead...


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Lions selection 2017: Verdict

Well, everyone else seems to be doing this, so why not me?

Actually this is not really a verdict, more a comment or three.

Yes, the Scots should feel a tad upset about only having 2 representatives on the New Zealand trip and yes, it does feel as if Wales are somewhat over-represented (quel surprise).

But inevitably the players announced yesterday are unlikely to form the the actual touring party to leave these shores (injuries and/or suspensions before the season ends are more or less inevitable).

And you can bet your last sou that within days of arriving in New Zealand a steady stream of players will begin to return home crocked to be replaced by a long line of pre-photographed and kitted out replacements. In reality this Lions squad could easily stretch to 60+.

Ultimately I'm afraid I remain a tad cynical and not overly excited about another Gatland-led Lions tour. Time will tell...

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Shock Lions squad omission

Following today's British and Irish Lions squad announcement for the  tour to New Zealand in June, we caught up with veteran forward Total Flanker outside his Hertfordshire home to discuss his controversial omission from the squad.

"Naturally I'm as sick as a parrot", said the corpulent breakaway.

"Admittedly at my age selection for the Test team was perhaps a long shot, but I always felt confident I could play a valuable part as a member of the wider squad.

"I've been holding tackle bags, putting out cones and running the line for Chess Valley Under 14s all season, so to be honest I'm not sure how much more I could have done.

"It's particularly galling having narrowly missed out on selection for the 1983, 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013 Lions tours.

"I'm beginning to think that my chance may never come."

Warren Gatland was unavailable for comment.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Dan the Man

Huge congratulations to Dan Norton, who left the Hong Kong Sevens this weekend as the world's all-time top international Sevens try-scorer.

Whether or not Sevens is your cup of tea, Norton's try tally of 246 (and counting) over a period of 8 years or so is truly outstanding.

And all achieved while wearing some truly abominable kits...


Saturday, 8 April 2017

Get well soon


My best wishes go to England legend Brian Moore, currently recovering in intensive care at St George's hospital in London after suffering a heart attack.

Get well soon Pitbull!

Friday, 7 April 2017

It was supposed to be a joke but...

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and it seems like my meagre attempt at an April Fool's joke this year wasn't massively wide of the mark, with Wasps revealing this week that they are interested in the possibility of setting up a Super League club in Coventry. 

Wasps say say they need to host more rugby league events at the Ricoh Arena to assess support for the idea before having "a serious look at it." 

With the RFL having already stated that it would listen any Super League club wanting to relocate its franchise, this does raise the possibility of an existing Super League club being sent to Coventry, with the sport extending it's northern power base in England south by 100 miles...

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Announcement: Total Flanker in association with...



I am pleased to announce that this blog is now sponsored by the Rugby Football League - the governing body for professional rugby league in England.

I admit that this is in flagrant breach of my previously stated objectives, but there comes a time when money talks. In this instance the Rugby Football League are willing to pay me handsomely to promote their sport to fans of rugby union.

So for the next 12 months this blog will exclusively feature rugby league content - under the terms of the deal rugby union content will no longer be included.

The astute amongst you will have spotted that, as the 13-man code does not feature flankers, the name Total Flanker will no longer be appropriate. You are quite correct, of course, which is why I plan to change the name of this blog in the coming weeks to "Dummy Half".

I apologise if these changes spoil your enjoyment of this blog but hope I can rely on your continued support for what promises to be an exciting new chapter. 

Thank you.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Johnno return to rugby unlikely

Martin Johnson said this week that he is happy living a normal life and has no burning desire to get back into rugby at any level.

I'd say that's a huge shame.

I know the popular media narrative is that his brief time in charge of the England team was something of a disaster,  but I'm afraid it's a narrative I don't particularly buy into.

Yes, the England 2011 World Cup campaign was marred by some indifferent displays on the field and poor discipline off it (where Johnno was, in my humble opinion, let down badly by certain players and was disgracefully hung out to dry by the English press).

Let's face it, however, going out to France in the 2011 quarter finals turned out to be a major triumph when compared to the utter horlicks that followed 4 years later and the above narrative also conveniently ignores Johnno's overall record in charge which included winning the Six Nations title in 2011, drawing a series in Australia in 2010 and giving international debuts to the likes of Ben Youngs, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw and Dylan Hartley - all regulars under Eddie Jones when fit and available.

Given the flak that Johnson had to take on the chin post-2011, it really should come as no surprise that he has decided that he now prefers life out of the limelight. It remains a massive shame, however, that his vast experience  - and that of many more of England's 2003 generation (the likes of Dallaglio, Vickery, Dawson, Thompson, Bracken, Robinson etc etc) - appears now to be lost to the professional game. 

It's almost as if the RFU had no plan (who'd have thought?)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

This is what rugby is all about...


With an estimated 20,000 plus Lions fans expected to travel to New Zealand in the summer and with hotel accommodation either sold out or unaffordable, it is great to see that many Kiwi fans have offered to open up their homes to accommodate British and Irish visitors.
A Facebook page, Adopt a Lions Fan 2017, has been set up encouraging  locals to open their homes for free and "adopt a Lions fan (or two), and really show them the true hospitality Kiwis are world famous for".
It's a fantastic idea and heartwarming to see that there are so many New Zealanders keen to play host and provide hospitality to travelling fans.
What a wonderful thing this game of ours is...

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Blue is the colour...

It's interesting to note that both Australia and New Zealand are trialling a system whereby a referee can show a blue card to a player to remove him from the game if that player is showing signs of concussion.

The idea is to target lower levels of the game where medical support and facilities are not always available.

Firstly, any move to help protect player health and welfare is to be applauded.

I can see, however, this move putting unnecessary pressure on referees who will now be asked to make medical diagnoses on players, in addition to everything else they have to deal with. What happens, for instance, if they fail to recognise a concussion? To what extent will they be liable?

I can envisage referees becoming understandably over-cautious with potentially farcical consequences for the game at large.

And why the need to brandish a card? Which pocket will it be kept in? We need to know.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Six Nations 2017 - the Last Word

Time to move on from this year's Six Nations but here's a final thought. I wonder what the stats are for a team failing to win a Grand Slam at the final hurdle?

I can think of 5 occasions since the first Six Nations in 2000 that England have lost a grand slam decider - 2000, 2001, 2011, 2013, 2017 - and only 2 occasions were they have claimed the ultimate prize (2003 and 2016). And there were also a few occasions in recent memory in the old Five Nations where that final barrier proved a little too high for the England.

What this says about the English psyche is anyone's guess.

No such worries for England Under 20s and England Women last weekend who both wrapped up successful campaigns with victories over their Irish counterparts to each secure their own Grand Slam. Many (belated) congrats to both...

Thursday, 23 March 2017

England "greatness" remains on hold...

And so the RFU has admitted defeat in its attempts to host an England vs New Zealand match at Twickenham this November. Apparently the NZRU would rather play the Barbarians.

This, despite the RFU publicly (and rather unhelpfully) announcing its desire for such a fixture last week, a matter of days before England’s biggest game for years (which they subsequently lost, of course) against Ireland.

Not that Ireland needed any additional motivation, but to be almost dismissed as serious opposition to England’s impending “greatness” - as the English seemingly looked ahead to facing supposedly bigger and better opposition – must, I imagine, have made victory even sweeter for the Irish players.

For the fixture against the All Blacks then not to happen is a cock-up of fairly gargantuan proportions but, given the record of the muppets at HQ, hardly a major surprise.

And we wonder why we are labelled arrogant...

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Six Nations 2017 - Champs & Chumps

So here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for, my CHAMPS & CHUMPS of the Six Nations 2017.

CHAMPS:

15. Stuart Hogg - defence still iffy,  but his attacking repertoire is quite extraordinary.
14. Tommy Seymour - Lions 14 shirt starting to look a great fit.
13. Gary Ringrose - whisper it quietly, the heir apparent to BOD?
12. Owen Farrell - another certain Lions starter.
11. Elliott Daly - has everything and a move to fullback must be on the cards.
10. Finn Russell - indifferent at Twickenham but otherwise excellence personified.
9. Rhys Webb - a bit of a gobshite but was Wales' best player throughout.
1. Cyril Baille - key element to a hugely effective French front row.
2. Ken Owens - nuggety and consistent.
3. Tadhg Furlong - gargantuan - where did the Irish find this guy? 
4. Joe Launchbury - the relentless excellence throughout that we've come to expect.
5. Courtney Lawes - a player re-born, grafted hard and is no longer just seeking the big glory hit.
6. CJ Stander - strength of a bull, heart of a Lion.
7. Kevin Gourdon - proper ball-playing openside in the tradition of Jean-Pierre Rives.
8. Louis Picamoles - simply unstoppable.

And so to the CHUMPS. In fairness, a true reflection of this year’s championship would probably be just to select 15 Italians, with the 2017 Azzurri so far off the pace and even the great Sergio Parisse seemingly incapable of staying competitive beyond 60 minutes. However, in order to spread the love I've tried to as even-handed as possible...😀

15. Mike Brown - can't pass, won't pass and opposition defences are finding him increasingly easy to read. Time for a change at 15 Eddie.
14. Alex Cuthbert - Rob Howley picking him against England was arguably more cruel than me listing him here.
13. Jonathan Davies - and not just for his howler against England, he was part of a Welsh three-quarter line that would struggle to pass the parcel.
12. Luke MacLean - no idea what he or the Italian backline were attempting to achieve.
11. Giovanbattista Venditti - to call him a donkey would be unfair on donkeys.
10. George Ford - much to admire about Ford but he again wilted under pressure and defensively his channel remains extremely vulnerable.
9. Ben Youngs - very, very quiet championship, way too quiet for such an experienced number 9.
1. Alan Dell - key component of a struggling Scottish front row.
2. Fraser Brown - ditto, and in addition let down his team badly at Twickenham when yellow-carded early doors.
3. Uini Atonio - "Are you injured?" "I'm ok...er...I mean...my back's a bit sore...er...I mean...my head?"
4. Jake Ball - huge amount of effort. No end product.
5. Devin Toner - noticeable how much more dynamic the Irish pack were in his absence.
6. John Barclay - lost the plot at Twickenham badly.
7. Tom Wood - little impact whether a starter or a finisher.
8. Sergio Parisse - at times looked like he'd simply had enough, and who can blame him?



Monday, 20 March 2017

I hate to say I told you so but...

...I told you so!



Well done to Ireland for a fully deserved victory against England in Dublin on Saturday. It's not as if England could have been surprised by how well the Irish played but they had no answers and Ireland could and perhaps should have won by more.

All good things come to an end and, while it's a shame that the double Grand Slam wasn't achieved, it may prove beneficial in the long run that England's winning streak is now at end. Back-to-back 6 Nations champions is still something to be proud of but perhaps now all the nonsense about "greatness" can be mothballed indefinitely.

Of course the Dublin encounter followed a France v Wales match in Paris which will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. TWENTY minutes of added time at the end in which the Welsh kept giving away penalties knowing that the French would opt for yet another scrummage, a piece of blatant cheating by the French faking an HIA to enable a better scrummager to re-enter the fray, attempts by Wales not to replace a yellow-carded prop to try to engineer uncontested scrums, bite marks on George North's arm that the French coach suggested were self-inflicted (!) and a seemingly bewildered Wayne Barnes - all contributed to an utterly farcical conclusion to the match.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my team of the week:

15. Stuart Hogg 14. Tommy Seymour 13. Gary Ringrose 12. Gael Fickou 11. Liam Williams 10. Jonny Sexton 9. Keiran Marmion 1. Rob Evans 2. Ken Owens 3. Tadhg Furlong 4. Iain Henderson 5. Donnacha Ryan 6. Peter O'Mahony 7. Justin Tipuric 8. Louis Picamoles.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Beware the Ides of March

I have a horrible feeling that the phrase “pride comes before a fall” may prove apt this weekend.

England preparation for Saturday’s Grand Slam decider against Ireland doesn’t feel at all right.

There’s been way too much emphasis on the England players achieving “greatness” by breaking New Zealand’s 18 match winning streak, and Eddie Jones is quite rightly wary of Steve Hansen’s attempts to blow smoke up his arse.

And then there’s the announcement by his bosses at the RFU of a possible match against the All Blacks in November this year.

Not only is such a fixture potentially not in the interest of the England team (Eddie having previously suggested that leading England players may need resting in November after an arduous Lions tour), the timing of the news, ahead of England’s biggest game for years, is a hugely unhelpful distraction.

The ONLY focus this week should be on how England might overcome an excellent and highly motivated Ireland team who will be salivating at the prospect of derailing the chariot.

I fear the worst.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Fan-dabi-dozi

As an aside...

...the announcement this week of plans for a second Scottish independence referendum by Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, appears to me to be a somewhat extreme reaction to her team's shell-shacking at the hands of the English at Twickenham on Saturday...


Everybody out - Stade players on strike

The players of Stade Francais are apparently on strike over the club’s plans to merge with Racing 92 to form a Parisian super-club next season.

According to the two iconic French clubs, who have between them won 20 domestic titles, the plan is to pool resources next season to 'give birth to a new club'.

Obviously if the merger goes ahead a number of players and staff will lose their jobs. Does the fact that it is the Stade players who are now on “open-ended strike” suggest that is they, rather than their Racing 92 counterparts, who have not received any assurances about their future?

I suggest this is very much going to be a case of “watch this space.”

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Magnificent Seven

Slightly belated congrats to England Women's winger Kay Wilson after she scored SEVEN of England's twelve tries in their 64-0 win over Scotland at the Stoop on Saturday.
A fantastic achievement, but what on earth happened to the conversions?


Monday, 13 March 2017

Six Nations - Round 4

Wow. What a weekend of rugby.

First of all we had a Friday night game in Cardiff under a closed roof – a fantastic advert for Six Nations rugby, sizzling atmosphere, hugely physical game and unbelievably tense until Wales scored late to seal the game. Strange really as Wales barely strung a passing move together (with one exception) all night and still won 22-9 against an Irish team that looked far more dangerous ball in hand but were unable to provide the cutting edge to cross the whitewash. 

Italy v France was a somewhat subdued filler in this weekend’s Six Nations sandwich and merely served to confirm that right now the Italians can be competitive for parts of a match but still make way too many errors to stay in the game for 80 minutes, while France clearly have the talent but not, as yet, the consistency to step up to the next level.

And so to Twickenham and, let’s be honest, who really saw that coming? Yes, the Scots didn’t exactly help themselves, but England played with a relentless ferocity unmatched by anyone in the tournament so far and were well worth their 61-21 victory. There’s not much more to be said really – England were excellent and the Scots were sent hameward tae think again.

Team of the week:

15. Brice Dulin 14. George North 13. Jonathan Joseph 12. Owen Farrell 11. Anthony Watson 10. George Ford 9. Rhys Webb  1. Joe Marler 2. Ken Owens 3. Dan Cole 4. Joe Launchbury 5. Courtney Lawes 6. Maro Itoje 7. Kevin Gordon 8. Nathan Hughes.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Swinging Low?

Criticism from African-American scholars, as featured in the New York Times this week, that England rugby supporters are singing a slave song without fully understanding its historical context is, I'd venture, a tad over-precious. 

I'm referring of course to Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot,  the spiritual song thought to have been written by an African-American slave in the mid-1800s which calls for release from the suffering of slavery. 

It is, on the face of it, perhaps a strange song for England rugby fans to sing. 

Swing Low has, however, been been a regular feature of rugby's clubhouse choral repertoire for as long as I can remember - although admittedly when I first belted it out, along with accompanying hand gestures, I'm sure that neither I nor anyone else had any idea as to its origins. 

As for its associations with England, I first recall Swing Low being sung en masse at Twickenham in 1988 as England's Chris Oti scored a second-half hat trick of tries against the Irish. The fact that Oti was a black player has led some (including the New York Times) to suggest that there might have been some (albeit benign) racist motivation amongst those singing, but my recollection is that it was very much a spontaneous expression of joy and amazement at England scoring an almost unprecedented 6 tries at Twickenham.

I also don't remember subsequently hearing Swing Low sung much at Twickenham until the song was officially adopted and commercialised as an official anthem by the RFU for the 1991 World Cup, since when of course it has been sung regularly, perhaps too regularly, by England rugby fans worldwide.

So whilst it is important to understand the origins of the song, it is also important to understand the context in which the song is sung and its connection with the sport as an expression of celebration and support.

What I would say, however, is that:

- the song is sung way too often and has (in my humble opinion) really become a bit of a dirge;

- those fans that sing Swing Low the most often appear only to know one verse; and

- for the RFU to have turned a profit from the commercial exploitation of a song about the suffering of African-American slaves is, at best, somewhat distasteful.



Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Stuck in the past

Today, 8th March 2017, is International Women’s Day.

Great to see, therefore, that the RFU is embracing the occasion by refusing to commit to a deadline to make 30 per cent of its board female.

The Government’s Code for Sports Governance requires national sports governing bodies to “adopt a target, and take all appropriate actions to encourage, a minimum of 30 per cent of each gender on its board.”

By refusing to commit to a deadline for reform the RFU risks being stripped of millions of pounds of government funding.

It appears that the 57 old farts are alive and well.

Friday, 3 March 2017

He's back!

Look who Saracens have named at number 8 to face Newcastle Falcons this weekend:




What price on Billy joining brother Mako and the other England "finishers" next week?


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Regarding Henry

While it is difficult to criticize a head coach who has just overseen 16 straight wins, I am more than a little bemused by the decision of Eddie Jones to leave Henry Slade out of the England squad preparing to face Scotland on Saturday week.

The Exeter player only had a few minutes off the bench against Italy last week but in that time looked a class act, as he has done on the very few occasions he has been allowed to pull on an England shirt.


I have no problem with Jonathan Joseph’s return to the squad, but surely Slade’s all-round excellence is deserving of further reward and I can’t help but think that Eddie Jones will have failed if players of the quality of Slade are not fully-fledged internationals by 2019.