Thursday, 24 May 2018

Ashton back at Twickenham

Like moths to a flame, the English rugby media can't resist a good story about Chris Ashton, and his appearance in Barbarians colours against England this weekend has proved impossible to ignore.

Much of the coverage refers to his supposed "unfinished business" with England and how, perhaps, Ashton ought to be turning out in an England shirt.

All stuff and nonsense, of course. Yes, Ashton has been scoring tries for fun for Toulon but, let's be honest, scoring tries has never really been an issue for him.

I commented back in 2016 that Ashton was struggling under the high ball, had poor defensive positioning and tackling technique, a rudimentary kicking game and was getting turned over far too easily. 

Add to that a sketchy disciplinary record and his refusal to tour South Africa with the Saxons that year and it's not difficult to see why Ashton fell out of favour.

And rather than stick around to address his issues don't forget that, like others before him, he chose to skidaddle to the Top 14 in the full knowledge that it would render him ineligible for England. Funny how a player's absence from the domestic game tends to imbue him with previously undiscovered mythical super powers, isn't it?

Of course, he'll probably score a hat-trick for the BaaBaas on Sunday. So what? Nothing changes. 

It's easy imply that you should be playing for England when there's no chance of it happening. If Chris Ashton truly wants to play for England again the answer is simple - he should come back to the Premiership, knuckle down and make the case for inclusion irresistible. Much like a certain Mr Cipriani has done...

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

England Rugby - Is something rotten in TW1?

The appointment of England defence coach Paul Gustard as Head Coach of Harlequins appears to highlight a major problem in the way elite rugby works (or doesn't work) in England.

In most countries, notably New Zealand and Ireland, there is a clear coaching pathway to the national set up and the national team is the undeniable priority.

In England, however, it seems as if being part of the national coaching team is now just becoming a pathway to a Head Coach position elsewhere - the loss of Gustard following on from the departure last year of skills coach Rory Teague to Bordeaux-Begles.

According to Gustard the move to Quins is an opportunity he couldn't turn down but what does that say about the RFU and England? Is something rotten in TW1?

To lose one coach from the England set up might be considered careless, but to lose two...?

Monday, 21 May 2018

Give James Haskell a Break

The flak copped by James Haskell for attending Prince Harry's wedding on Saturday - rather than watching his Wasps teammates play Saracens for a place in the Premiership final - does seem a little harsh.

Lord knows I am no royalist and frankly, given the choice, would have preferred to be at Allianz Park, but given that Haskell was (a) injured, (b) invited and (c) given permission to attend the wedding by Wasps DoR Dai Young, I really don't see what the problem is. It's not like his presence in the stands would've made any difference to the result.

In any event, let's be reasonable - it was a media opportunity that The Hask could in no way be expected to turn down. And what kind of wedding would it have been without the presence of the Archbishop of Banterbury? πŸ˜‰

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Gloucester Lions?

Gloucester's announcement of a new club logo as part of a re-branding exercise strikes me as another example of a marketing agency making money for old rope. 

Unusually Gloucester have also said that the club will pay for fans who have a tattoo of the old club badge to get the new logo tattooed on their body.

Admittedly that's a nice, if a little quirky, touch and there is nothing particularly wrong with the new logo per se.

What price, however, on a change of name to Gloucester Lions in the not too distant future?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification: the Farce that Keeps on Giving

Somewhat improbably it seems that Russia will play at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

This follows the fall-out from the Belgium v Spain qualifier in March, won by Belgium thanks in no small part to the refereeing performance of Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu, a result which conveniently meant that Romania qualified for the World Cup finals.

Whilst an independent enquiry somewhat incredibly ruled that the result of the Belgium v Spain match should stand, a separate emergency enquiry was launched into the alleged fielding of ineligible players in qualifying matches.

The outcome – with Romania, Spain and Belgium all sanctioned by World Rugby for breaching the eligibility rules – means that Russia, who finished in third place in the qualification table, now qualify and will contest the opening match of the 2019 World Cup against Japan. Meanwhile Germany, who finished fifth, will now play off against Portugal for the dubious pleasure of facing Samoa to qualify. 

All subject to appeal, naturally.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Incredibly sad news...


Very sad to hear news of the two amateur rugby players who have died while on tour in Sri Lanka.

Thomas Howard (25) and Tom Baty (26) were admitted to hospital in Colombo with respiratory problems on Sunday morning and tragically have subsequently passed away.

They were on tour in Sri Lanka with Clems Pirates, a touring team based at Durham City RFC which regularly raises money for charity.

Rugby tours are generally the best of times but this must be just horrendous for all involved.

Our thoughts and sympathies are very much with their families, friends and teammates.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Is Eddie Jones losing the plot?

I am beginning to wonder about Eddie Jones.

His comments last week of there being an inherent selfishness in English sport smack of a man trying to deflect attention from his own failings.

There were various reasons for England's difficult Six Nations this year, which included injuries to key players, vast improvements by the opposition (especially Scotland and Ireland) and post-Lions fatigue, exacerbated by the players then being over-played by their clubs and then flogged to death in training by Jones.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Jones then selected poorly and prepared the team inadequately, with England being outthought and outfought for much of the championship, particularly around the breakdown.

And let's just say that Jones is correct and that a culture of selfishness has begun to develop within the England ranks. Whose fault, exactly, is that? Surely it's Eddie's job to fix the team's culture if there's a problem, and mouthing off in public - rather than dealing with it behind closed doors - hardly seems the best way to go about it.

When Jones was appointed various Aussies predicted that early success would give way to cracks appearing as the players grew tired of his methods.

I am beginning to wonder if they were right.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Return of the Prodigal Son for England

The big news today is the not wholly unexpected return, after a 3 year absence, of Danny Cipriani to the England rugby squad.

I only say "not wholly unexpected" as the likelihood of Cipriani's selection for the squad for next month's tests against South Africa has been mooted in the press all week. However, when you think about it, the selection of the Wasps playmaker does remain somewhat left-field given that:

(a) he is leaving Wasps at the end of the season and (unless there's something we don't know) will most likely end up playing abroad - thus ruling himself out of future selection; and

(b) at best Danny-Boy is still likely to play second (or maybe third) fiddle at fly-half to either George Ford or tour skipper Owen Farrell.

Equally intriguing to Cipriani's selection is the announcement of Scott Wisemantel as England's attack coach for the tour, although I have to admit that my initial reaction is "Scott who?"

Whoever Mr Wisemantel might be, he is sure to have his work cut out restoring credibility to England's stodgy offence.


Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The World's Worst Rugby Club...


...or my new favourite rugby club.

Hats off to Pontycynon RFC aka #TheWorldsWorstRugbyClub who have kept us royally entertained all season with tales of incompetence,  drunkenness and record defeats.

No matter that Pontycynon RFC may only exist on Twitter, to all intents and purposes this is a proper coarse rugby club to which we should all aspire to belong. Even more so should I be doing Pontycynon a great disservice and it all turns out to be real!

Below are just a few of the inspirational tweets that have kept me chuckling all season...



Saturday, 5 May 2018

Rugby Headline of the Week (possibly the Year):

Australian rugby star apologises for urinating on bar while dressed as cow

Step forward, Nick Phipps.



Nothing more to be said...

Friday, 4 May 2018

More Congratulations ...

...this time to my son's Under 15 team who on Sunday completed a magnificent season by winning the County Plate, triumphing 31-22 in a tense and hugely physical final which could easily have gone the other way.

In mid-March I commented on the boys' incredible unbeaten run which had stretched to 21 matches from midway through last season. Unfortunately a combination of the Easter holidays, appalling weather and sod's law then intervened and the team lost its very next game, letting the league title (although, fortunately, not promotion) slip from its grasp.

That was two weeks ago, and so Sunday's match was all the more important if the boys were to have their fantastic season rewarded with something tangible. And, although by no means their best performance of the season, the team really dug deep to see off determined and feisty opposition who at one point came from 17 points down to close the gap to just 2.

My son ended up bruised and battered but happy. And I couldn't have been prouder.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Jackson and Olding not for Sale?

Rumours that Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are on their way to Manchester next season have been dismissed by Sale Sharks.

According to reports, Sale Sharks had agreed a deal to sign Jackson and were also close to agreeing terms with Olding, the players having had their contracts terminated by Ulster last month following their enormously high-profile rape trial.

Although acquitted, the trial did reveal some pretty unpleasant and offensive behaviour by the pair which ultimately led to their dismissal by Ulster and inevitably means that there will be a certain toxicity about what they do next.

Sale Sharks have decided, it seems, not to take the risk and, while I am not saying that the players are incapable of redemption or that they should not be allowed to rebuild their careers and reputations, any club signing the players as a pair risk being accused of condoning the culture of misogyny that landed the players in court in the first place.


Monday, 30 April 2018

Congratulations

Big congrats to Saracens Women on winning the inaugural Premier 15s title, beating Harlequins Ladies 24-20 in the final at Ealing Trailfinders ground yesterday.

There's little doubt that England’s new elite domestic rugby competition for women has been a huge success, elevating the women's club game in the rugby public's consciousness.

The message now needs to spread wider. Mainstream media really do need to get their act together on this, whilst the RFU could help themselves enormously by ensuring that all of the country's elite players - many of whom are gadding about the world playing sevens - are made available more often to play for their respective clubs.

Onwards and upwards...

Friday, 27 April 2018

An Open Letter to the British & Irish Lions



Dear Sirs

I write to express my delight that, to mark the 130 year anniversary of the first British & Irish Lions game against Otago in Dunedin on 28 April 1888, you have decided to award a hand-stitched ceremonial cap to 419 living Lions players and the relatives of 416 deceased Lions. 


Whilst I have to confess that I have never played for the Lions and am not the next of kin for any deceased Lion, I would nevertheless like to register my interest in receiving such a cap having narrowly, and often controversially, missed out on selection for each of the 1983, 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017 Lions tours.

Missing out on the last three tours in particular has been quite galling, especially given my return to the game after a 13 year hiatus in 2007 and my hat-trick of tries against Datchworth 4th XV two years later, not to mention my frankly stunning form in Touch Rugby for the past 12 seasons. 

At no point has Ian McGeechan, Warren Gatland or anyone else associated with the British & Irish Lions contacted me to explain exactly why I have been omitted from the squads which, you have to admit, is more than a tad rude. If only for this reason I feel I deserve one of your lovely caps.

If it helps I am willing to send you a cheque or postal order to cover the cost of postage and packaging - just let me know how much.

Yours expectantly,

Total Flanker

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Happy Retirement Mr Habana


This blog's best wishes go to Bryan Habana who has announced that he will retire at the end of the season.

The 35 year old Habana, who has struggled to make it back following knee surgery, can look back with fond memories on 124 caps for South Africa, 67 international tries and a World Cup winner's medal in 2017.

One word: Legend.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Blessing in disguise?

So, Dylan Hartley is ruled out of England's summer tour of South Africa, having failed to recover from the concussion sustained during last month's Six Nations defeat to Ireland.

Whilst wishing him a speedy recovery, perhaps this a blessing in disguise for England given Hartley's indifferent form for some time now, although his injury does mean that he now joins a long list of the walking wounded who will not make the tour, a list which includes the likes of Nathan Hughes, Courtney Lawes, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson.

Added to that is another list of players - which includes Hartley's obvious replacement at hooker, Jamie George and leadership candidates such as Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje - who are frankly knackered and need a rest having been on the international rugby treadmill for the past couple of years.

All of which means that Eddie Jones will have his work cut out this summer - time to start earning his not insubstantial salary, methinks. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

Lancaster redeemed

Leinster's dismantling of the Scarlets this weekend in the Champions Cup semi final was mightily impressive. 

And at the heart of what is turning into one of the best ever Leinster squads is senior coach Stuart Lancaster.

Yes, that Stuart Lancaster, the chap who was pilloried from all quarters following his England team's elimination from its home World Cup group stages in 2015.

The fact is that Lancaster was and still is a fine coach and a thoroughly decent bloke.

Where he failed with England was ultimately with selection and with getting the preparation for the World Cup badly wrong.

And even then he did the decent thing by accepting responsibility and stepping down.

With Leinster in the Champions Cup final his redemption is almost complete.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

North Shields or South Shields?

In a possible tug of war between England and the NZRU over the services of Hurricanes backrower Brad Shields this summer, there is only one likely winner.

Shields is eligible for England via parentage and has signed to play for Wasps next season, enough for the RFU to give Eddie Jones the go ahead to select him for England's tour of South Africa in June.
Jones wants to select the player and Shields, given that he appears to have requested to be released for the tour, wants to go.

As World Rugby regulations require the release of selected players during any international window it therefore seems that, despite their protestations to the contrary, the NZRU have little choice but to comply.

My only question is why the rush? Shields arrives in the Premiership in September. Why not see how he gets on and then (call me old fashioned) select him if he demonstrates that he's good enough?

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Taxi for Folau?

The fallout from Israel Folau's public declaration of his views on homosexuality refuses to go away, despite Rugby's Australia's somewhat pathetic attempts so far.

Folau's comments on social media - that gay people were destined to a life in hell unless they repented for their "sins" - have so far been met with condemnation from all quarters other than from Rugby Australia who, desperate to cling on to their prized asset, have even commented that they "accepted Israel's position".

Does Folau have the right to express his views publicly, no matter how abhorrent? 

Absolutely.

Does he have the right to do so without consequence or sanction?

Absolutely not, especially where such views are so clearly at odds with his employer's public commitment to inclusiveness and the universal values of rugby.

Folau has, more or less, threatened to quit the sport if sanctioned.

Rugby Australia needs to grow some bollocks and call him out on this one.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Bear Necessities


Some 16 days late for April Fools’ Day, Bristol Rugby has announced that, having allegedly spent the best part of the last 18 months carefully considering “how best to shape its long-term future”,  the answer is, apparently, for the the club to become known as the Bristol Bears with effect from 1st June 2018.

Owner Steve Lansdown says that he wants to “shake up the status quo”, although what he has against the masters of the three-chord boogie is anyone’s guess.

In being so innovative, Bristol Bears will join Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors and Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership as clubs whose names have no bearing whatsoever to their location, traditions or history. 

Meanwhile there is an account director at a marketing agency somewhere laughing all the way to the bank...

Monday, 16 April 2018

Back to the well...again

Mako Vunipola was impressive again for Saracens against Bath yesterday but really should have been sitting in the stands with his feet up. 

Under the terms of the agreement between the RFU and Premiership Rugby, Sarries should have rested Vunipola for one of the four weekends after the Six Nations, something they chose not to do.

Yes, Saracens have next week off anyway, but why have an agreement if clubs can choose to ignore it without sanction?


Another example of the powers-that-be merely paying lip service to the concept of player welfare, methinks.


Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Cardiff Booze Ban not WRU's best idea

Apparently the WRU are planning to ban alcohol on a trial basis, creating a "dry" section in the Principality Stadium for the November autumn internationals.

The booze ban follows various reports of drunken fan behaviour including supporters in the stadium being showered with beer and, in one instance, "a tirade of foul language" being directed at disabled man.

The WRU are dressing the ban up as “customer choice” – but what about those fans who are perfectly capable to going to a match, having a few beers and behaving perfectly responsibly?

Surely the obvious response to the misbehaviour would be to adopt a zero tolerance approach to the idiots who behave so obnoxiously and boorishly…?

Or are the WRU effectively saying that, other than in a small section of the stadium, getting utterly shitfaced and acting like an total twat is now deemed acceptable?

And what's to stop someone getting tanked up at the pub before the game and then behaving like a complete wazzock in the sober section of the stadium?

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Unacceptable

So, Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Waratahs are asking Israel Folau to explain himself  after he commented on social media that God's plan for gay people was: 

"HELL.. Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.


Rugby Australia's CEO Raelene Castle has so far commented only that "Israel's comment reflects his personal religious beliefs" but that "it does not represent the view of Rugby Australia or NSW Rugby" - which, quite frankly, is nowhere near a strong enough condemnation of what was said.

I fear even the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks may be too good a place for Mr Folau.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Saracens - For Sale?

Apparently Saracens is not for sale. At least not according to their chairman Nigel Wray, despite co-owner Johann Rupert's decision to withdraw his financial support from the club.

Wray will now take full ownership of Sarries and apparently is "confident of finding new investors".

Which doesn't really suggest to me that the club is "not for sale".

It strikes me that this situation may offer a unique possibility. It is clear, at least to me, that in the long term something radical has to happen if the uneasy compromise that currently exists between the Premiership clubs and the RFU is to be addressed and more than lip service is to be paid to the issue of player welfare. 

I've long thought that the RFU should partly be using its vast wealth to take more of a stake in the club game - and the opportunity to invest in the nation's most successful club in recent years should not be dismissed lightly.

I'm not saying it would be easy or, indeed, that an RFU investment in Saracens is currently feasible. But somebody, somewhere in the corridors of power, really does need to start thinking outside the box...

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Adam Jones - the Next Chapter

This blog would like to add its hearty congratulations and best wishes to legendary Wales and Lions tight-head prop Adam Jones who last week announced that he will retire from playing first-class rugby at the end of this season.
Jones has had a long and remarkable career, making his debut for Neath in 2000 and going on to earn 95 Wales caps (including 3 Grand Slams) as well as 5 caps for the Lions.
His retirement is more than well-earned and we wish him all the best for his future which will include combining his role as scrum-coach at Harlequins with his studies at the University of Cambridge.
Jones, who holds a First Class MSc from Cardiff University, will begin a 3 year PhD in Quantum Mechanics at Cambridge in October.
"I'm really looking forward to it" says Jones. "I've always been fascinated by Physics and have tried to apply my scientific knowledge to the mechanics of scrummaging over the years. However the PhD is another level altogether and will be by far the greatest challenge I've faced. I can't wait."
So does this mean that we may see Adam Jones in the 2018 Varsity Match?
"Honestly I've no plans to play rugby at Cambridge," he says. "But never say never."

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Not Guilty

I've refrained, so far, from commenting on the rape trial of Ulster and Ireland players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, the matter being sub judice after all.

Now that the Not Guilty verdicts are in, however, I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

Clearly there was insufficient evidence to convict, but equally there was obviously enough to bring charges and the fact that the trial lasted eight-and-a-half weeks suggests that there was certainly a case to answer.

However you look at it, the behaviour of Jackson and Olding (and the other other men charged in connection with the incident) doesn't look great and quite rightly the players remain relieved of all duties until a review into the incident by IRFU and Ulster Rugby is concluded.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Elephant in the Room

It appears that next month's Professional Game Board meeting at Twickenham will consider an RFU proposal to introduce a play-off in May 2019 between the bottom team in the Premiership and the top team in the Championship, with the winner being guaranteed a place in the Premiership for 5 years.

During that period there would be no relegation - thus allowing Premiership clubs a degree of financial stability. Of course, the ramifications for the losing team in the play-off would be huge - no prospect promotion to the Premiership for 5 years would make attracting sponsors, backers and players extremely challenging and I guess there will consequently be an inevitable widening of the commercial gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Although that does seem a little harsh - and the likes of London Irish are probably more than a tad concerned at the prospect - ultimately something had to be done to address the fact that (as I've stated on more than one occasion) that there simply isn't enough money in club rugby in England to sustain 2 fully professional leagues of 12 teams.

Whether this proposed solution is the right solution is debatable and I would have thought that it can't be beyond the wit of man to devise a format to accommodate all of those teams who have the structure and financial wherewithal to operate successfully as a professional rugby club.

That said, at least it looks as if this particular elephant in the room is finally being addressed.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz


As we're on the subject of try celebrations, I have to say I was very amused by how Maro Itoje celebrated his try against Harlequins at the weekend by feigning being asleep - in reference to the claims by various scribes (including yours truly) that he needed a rest.

Whilst admittedly Itoje's try-scoring performance against Quins was full of energy, it does not (in my humble opinion) detract from the argument that his workload over the past 18 months has been somewhat excessive and that, once the season is done and dusted, he should be allowed to spend a prolonged period on a beach somewhere rather than be subjected to 3 arduous Tests in South Africa.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Sheeeeeeaaaarrrerrrrrr!!!!

As a long time (and long-suffering) follower of of the fortunes and misfortunes of Newcastle United, I have to admit was tickled pink by Nicky Goneva's "Shearer" celebration of his try against Northampton at St James' Park on Saturday...


Thursday, 22 March 2018

Rugby on the Telly

An important part of the Six Nations is that it has always been (and hopefully always will be) broadcast on free-to-air terrestrial TV in the UK (with the BBC and ITV currently sharing the rights).
While Pay TV money has been a major factor in the funding of rugby since the sport turned professional in the mid-nineties, it is also vital for the development of the grassroots game that rugby is available free-to-air to as many people as possible.
That’s why I’m delighted that Channel 5, who made history in December by broadcasting the first Premiership Rugby League match on terrestrial TV, has announced the further 4 fixtures that it will be broadcasting this season, beginning with the Saracens vs Harlequins clash this Saturday from the London Stadium.
Also encouraging is the news that from next season Channel 4 has announced that for the next 4 years it will screen one live match per round during the Champions Cup pool stages plus one live match from each of the knockout rounds.
It may not sound that much but every little helps…

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Pain in Spain caused mainly by Romanian

Away from the hullabaloo of the Six Nations, it  really wasn't good to read about the unedifying scenes of Spanish players furiously chasing after Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu following their controversial 18-10 defeat in Brussels to Belgium at the weekend - a defeat that cost them automatic World Cup qualification.

That said - and while in no way condoning the players' actions - Spain were red hot favourites to beat Belgium and qualify, Iordachescu did apparently penalise them TWENTY EIGHT times compared to Belgium’s eight, and the country that stood most to benefit from a Spanish defeat was, yes, Romania who now qualify automatically for Japan 2019 while Spain are left to negotiate the play offs where they are likely to face Samoa.

So I can understand why the Spanish players might have been a tad upset, although the behaviour of some them was simply unacceptable.

Why a Romanian referee was allowed to officiate is anyone's guess and, for the sake of propriety, I would have thought that the case for replaying the fixture - without, I hasten to add, the participation of the offending Spanish players - is pretty persuasive.

Time to send for Nigel Owens?

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Whither England? - a Post Mortem (and a 10 point plan)

Much has already been written about England's failings during this year's Six Nations and I would hardly be breaking new ground if I used words such as fatigued, muddled, indisciplined or incompetent.

There were all sorts of issues with this England team which admittedly were not immediately apparent as early points were racked up in Rome but which came crashing to the fore in the second half against Wales at Twickenham and then continued in Edinburgh and Paris before the denouement on home soil against Ireland.

Chief among these were a diminishing ability to attack space and a confused approach to the breakdown, but these weren't the only issues. A paucity of pace in the forwards - especially when Sam Simmonds was absent - caused England no end of problems, as did an unconvincing scrummage (despite the much heralded session with the Georgians), an ineffective driving maul and a pedestrian midfield.

Selection - the achilles heel of former head coach Stuart Lancaster - was also a problem. Two years ago Eddie Jones selected cleverly to get England firing and competitive again and was rewarded with great initial success. What he has failed to do, however, it to recognise when it is time to evolve the team and to reward those whose form merits inclusion ahead of those who appear to be treading water.

Add to that a propensity for flogging desperately tired players to death in training in some misguided attempt to make them "40% fitter" (whatever the hell that means), and you can see how it all adds up to spell disaster.

So, what is to be done?

Well, for what it's worth here's a 10 point plan for Eddie to consider:

1. Take responsibility, acknowledge mistakes and accept that you got it wrong. Particularly with selection. Stop all the BS about "moving forward" and accept that it was a disastrous campaign leading to a crisis of your own making. And stop all the rhetoric about winning the World Cup, it just sounds silly.

2. Decide who to jettison. You've said certain players may have played their last game for England. Make that decision and move on. I know who I have my eye on but it's not up to me, is it?

3. Rest. Mako, Itoje, George and Farrell all look shot. Leave them out of the South Africa tour and let them recharge the batteries. (Incidentally they are all Saracens - so work with the club to get these guys back to their best). While you're at it, have a rest yourself. Have a holiday. Chill.

4. Coaching team - is it as good as could be? Get the best guys in - Lord knows the RFU can afford it.

5. Fresh blood - the Argentina tour last summer showed the benefits of introducing new, young, fresh talent into the squad. Isiekwe, Mercer, Ben Curry, Marcus Smith - all could have played some part this Six Nations. The opportunity was missed - don't repeat that mistake.

6. Billy. Don't rush him back if he's not 100% ready. If there isn't a like-for-like replacement (and there isn't) - play differently.

7. Identify a group of English openside flankers and then work with them to develop them to the required standard. Currently I'm thinking the Curry twins, Sam Underhill, Ben Earl, Jack Willis, Matt Kvesic, Luke Wallace, Will Evans and there are probably others. Get them in, get a specialist in to work on their skills, pick the best 2 to tour South Africa, but work with that group over the next 18 months.

8. Selection - if he's fit and available, pick Henry Slade. He's been great all season. Likewise Dan Robson. And pick players in their proper positions. For example blindside flankers rarely make good opensides. I explain why here.

9. Tactics - are we seriously limiting the way England play to kick, chase and bosh? Somewhere between Rome and London the concept of creating and attacking space appears to have been mislaid. Bring in whoever you need to in order to fix this - see point 4.

10. Make it fun. The England boys constantly look under pressure with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Lighten the heck up.


Monday, 19 March 2018

Six Nations 2018: Final Round Verdict plus Champs & Chumps

Another Six Nations has come and gone and, while the quality was variable at times, there was certainly no shortage of excitement or controversy and it all ended with a much deserved and fitting Grand Slam for Ireland on St Patrick's Day.

Here are a few thoughts about where the last couple of months of rugby leaves the respective competing nations:

IRELAND

Champions and Grand Slam Winners and deservedly so. Ireland flirted with defeat in Paris and wobbled a little at home to Wales and Scotland but on each occasion pulled through and were then comfortably clinical at Twickenham in a match they never looked like losing. Joe Schmidt has developed a formidable squad who must surely fancy their chances against New Zealand in November. Whether they can maintain momentum through to Japan in 2019 is another matter, but they are now firmly established as the World's number 2 team and will be setting their sights higher.

WALES

A second place finish is nothing to be sniffed at but if Warren Gatland is honest with himself he'll realise Wales were a distant second and, other than in the opening match against Scotland, were never particularly convincing. Reverting to Dan Biggar for the French game showed Gatland's true colours and I can't help feeling that Wales are going to have to embrace fully the Scarlets' attacking philosophy if they ever want to be more than also-rans.

SCOTLAND

Very impressive at Murrayfield but much less so elsewhere and were quite fortunate to escape with victory in Rome. There is the basis of a good team there, with a potent backline and very mobile back row, and in Gregor Townsend Scotland have an exciting and progressive coach. Achieving consistency will be the next big challenge ahead.

FRANCE

OK, so my prediction that chaos would prevail and France crowned champions did not quite come to pass but actually France were not that far away. The French are by no means a great team but they are robust and competitive and defensively very sound. It took an incredible Johnny Sexton drop goal to beat them in Paris in the opening fixture and the French would definitely have won in Cardiff if not for a second-half comedy masterclass from Francois Trinh-Duc. Something to build on...

ENGLAND

Poorly selected, knackered, over-trained, over-coached, lacking energy and rugby nous, England fully deserved their worst championship finish since 1983. There's no lack of effort but it all looks horribly misdirected at the moment. Eddie Jones needs to take responsibility for this and stop spouting the "moving forward" BS. Nowhere near good enough.

ITALY

Although the Italians are once more propping up the table having again been whitewashed, there are signs that they are not a million miles away from being competitive again. Italy really should have held on to beat a lacklustre Scotland this weekend, had their chances against Wales and France and played some good rugby throughout. Some good young players coming through does bode well for the future, especially in the back row where Sergio Parisse now has some much-needed support.

TF Team of the Week:

15. Matteo Minozzi 14. Keith Earls 13. Garry Ringrose 12. Mathieu Bastareaud 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Johnny Sexton 9. Connor Murray 1. Cian Healy 2. Rory Best 3. Tadgh Furlong 4. Alun-Wyn Jones 5. James Ryan 6. Sebastian Negri 7. Jake Polledri 8. CJ Stander

And so to the Champs & Chumps of the 2018 Six Nations...

First up, the Champs...

15. Matteo Minozzi - discovery of the tournament. 
14. Steff Evans - excellent first Six Nations and one for the future.
13. Garry Ringrose - gives Ireland midfield the X Factor missing since BOD's retirement.
12. Huw Jones - a few wrinkles to iron out, but his performance against England was one of the competition's best.
11. Jacob Stockdale - new kid on the block took international rugby in his stride.
10. Johnny Sexton - simply the best.
9. Maxime Machenaud - just why did Brunel keep substituting his most influential player?
1. Cian Healy - brilliant, even when clearly concussed.
2. Rory Best - consistent and relentless as ever.
3. Simon Berghan - shored up the Scottish scrummage and strong in the loose.
4. Alun-Wyn Jones - hugely consistent and a surprising finder of midfield holes.
5. James Ryan - a great new prospect for Ireland.
6. John Barclay - will dine out on that performance v England for years to come.
7. Josh Navidi - another proper open side from the Welsh production line.
8. CJ Stander - appears to improve every time he plays. Remarkable.


And now, sadly, the Chumps...

England. Nuff said



Friday, 16 March 2018

Six Nations 2018: Final Round Predictions

I've been holding back on my predictions this week until the team selections for the final round of this year's Six Nations were published. The following forecasts are therefore made using precise criteria and proven algorithms to ensure maximum reliability.

Or, alternatively, I'm just guessing as usual.

And so, without further ado, to the final three courses of this year's Six Nations feast (see what I did there?):

Italy v Scotland




The only thing that can prevent this being a try-fest on Saturday is wet weather. Otherwise I see Scotland winning by a significant margin with Italy also crossing the whitewash regularly. Want me to be more specific? Oh, ok then, 53-25 to Scotland.

England v Ireland




Hmmm. Ireland will be as ruthlessly efficient as ever and I just can't see them letting this one slip unless England can somehow summon up a Lazarus-like transformation. England won't just lie down and no doubt it will be competitive, but I'm going for Ireland by 6-9 points.

Wales v France




This one could be a humdinger with neither side wholly convincing but both buoyed by encouraging recent performances. France have proved that they can be awkward buggers and, despite Wales being the more fluent of the two teams, will make life difficult for the Welsh. I've been predicting French chaos to prevail all competition so why change now - France by 3.


Thursday, 15 March 2018

Oi - Jones - No!!!

Frankly the last thing Eddie Jones needed this week - as he tries to salvage something from the wreckage of this year's Six Nations - was for details to emerge of a talk he gave to RFU sponsors in July 2017 in which he described Wales as a "shit little place" and referred to our friends from the Emerald Isle as  the "scummy Irish".

No doubt he thought at the time that it might raise a laugh. Who knows, despite being crassly unfunny, maybe it did? However, if he honestly believed that comments like that would never see the light of day again then he was being, at best, horribly naive.

He has, apparently, apologised unreservedly, no doubt hoping that a line will be drawn under the whole affair. I'm afraid I'm not convinced he will get off so easily...

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Sunday Youth Rugby Lifts The Gloom...


Having witnessed Ireland set the bar fairly high in Dublin on Saturday only to endure the utter failure by England to come anywhere near it in Paris, my weekend's gloominess was, fortunately, dispersed by two things:

- attending Rob Brydon's stand-up show on Saturday night - a very funny man indeed; and

- the performance of my son's Under 15 team in their penultimate league match of the season on Sunday morning.

Up against the early-season pace setters who boasted a quite enormous and somewhat mature-looking pack of forwards, our boys - unbeaten so far this season - played some of their best rugby, defending superbly, tackling their hearts out, contesting the breakdown (so it CAN be done) and moving the ball wide at every opportunity.

A 31-0 victory, although probably not reflective of the physical nature of the game, was nevertheless deserved and guarantees us promotion to the division above for next season. Only a few matches left to go now this season, including the chance to win our division and also contest the County Plate Final. The boys' unbeaten run now stretches to 21 matches from midway through last season and they can all be very proud of the huge effort they have put in and the improvements they have made. I know that we as coaches certainly are...


Tuesday, 13 March 2018

England - Another Inquest

With the dust settling on Saturday's defeat in Paris I do wonder what Eddie Jones is thinking now he has the benefit of hindsight.

Has he, for instance, asked himself why he selected a lightning-quick back three against France but then didn't employ any kind of cohesive strategy for getting the ball to them?

Has he thought about why he selected a strong running inside centre with a limited passing game to play at 13 where he was, predictably, ineffective?

Has he justified to himself why he chose to persist with a lock playing at blindside flanker and a blindside flanker at 7, especially given that the same combination had failed so spectacularly at Murrayfield two weeks previously? What did he think they would do differently? [Incidentally, both played well enough individually and would probably have been very effective in their proper positions].

Can he, hand on heart, honestly say to Wasps DoR Dai Young that Nathan Hughes was fully fit to play international rugby?

By labelling Jamie George's performance in Paris as "workmanlike" does he really think that England's abject performance would have been better had Dylan Hartley been available to play - notwithstanding that Hartley had been in charge of the Murrayfield fiasco?

Can Eddie explain just why England have started the last 2 matches with so little intent? Is the gameplan really just to kick away possession and wait for the opposition to make mistakes?

Has he considered the wisdom of physically flogging players in between Six Nations matches, many of whom have been on a non-stop rugby treadmill for around 18 months and are obviously knackered?

Does he really believe that the solution to England's problems is just more power? Has he considered how the likes of Scotland and Wales have created scoring opportunities through pace and guile?

Does he honestly believe that the England rugby team are not, or cannot be, athletic enough to play a fast-paced running game?

Having taken charge of England's attacking strategy himself, does he consider himself accountable for it's abject failure?

Has he stopped to wonder just how ludicrous his public statements about winning the World Cup and being World No 1 - alongside many others about being brutal, ruthless etc - now sound?

Publicly Jones appears to be attributing England's travails purely to having issues to resolve at the breakdown and, while clearly there are challenges to meet there, my concern is that England's problems at the ruck are beginning to look as if they may be symptomatic of a wider malaise...?

No wonder he's saying it could take 18 months to fix.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Six Nations 2018 - Round 4 Verdict

So, unless you're Irish - in which case your eyes will be smiling in anticipation of a Grand Slam next weekend - Round 4 of this year's Six Nations was all a bit anti-climactic (ok, maybe not so much if you're French).

In Dublin Ireland wrapped up the Championship with a bonus point win that was all a little bit too comfortable. Scotland were game but were not allowed the leeway at the breakdown they enjoyed at Murrayfield two weeks ago, either by the Irish back row or by the referee. The Scots did butcher a couple of gilt-edged try scoring opportunities but Ireland were more than good value for their win. A Grand Slam almost certainly awaits.

Ireland's result meant that England needed a bonus point win in Paris to keep the Championship alive.  In 2016, even last year, they would have fancied their chances, but it was pretty clear from the early decisions to kick for goal (even from within their own half) that confidence was at a premium. What followed was a turgid, frustrating and, at times, frankly incompetent effort against an energetic and powerful French outfit. Amongst all the disappointment it is only right to congratulate France on a deserved victory, but right now England have big, big problems.

And finally to Cardiff for what effectively was a dead rubber. Wales looked sharp in parts and were predictably comfortable winners, while the Italians had their moments but once again could not sustain enough of them for long enough periods to stay in the game. Wales v France next week now looks like it could be interesting...

TF team of the week: 15. Matteo Minozzi 14. Blair Kinghorn 13. Garry Ringrose 12. Mathieu Bastareaud 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Johnny Sexton 9. Maxime Machenaud 1. Jefferson Poirot 2. Rory Best 3. Tadgh Furlong 4. Cory Hill 5. Devin Toner 6. Yacouba Camera 7. Dan Leavy 8.Taulupe Faletau

Friday, 9 March 2018

Six Nations 2018: Round 4 Predictions

Although my track record as an oracle so far during this Six Nations hardly inspires confidence, here anyway are the TF predictions for Round 4:

Ireland v Scotland




If the Scots perform at the levels they reached against England at Murrayfield then they are in with a real shout against an Ireland team that was not wholly convincing last time out. I'm not convinced, however, that Scotland will be able to overcome their collective agoraphobia away from Murrayfield - Ireland therefore to win by 9-12 but with no bonus point.

France v England




My pre-Six Nations prediction that France would embrace chaos this year and take the tournament by storm has been laid bare by the fact that in reality the team just isn't very good at all. England really should win this one comfortably but the result in Edinburgh, aided and abetted by the re-selection of a back row with all the pace (and possibly the breakdown nous) of a three-toed sloth, makes me very nervous indeed. So much so that I'm going for France by 3.

Wales v Italy




Wholesale changes to the Welsh team by Warren Gatland suggest that he isn't really taking the Italian challenge very seriously at all, but as it turns out this looks a better Welsh team than that which took the field last time out against Ireland. Unless Conor O'Shea can pull a rabbit out of a hat in Cardiff on Sunday I honestly can't see anything other than a Welsh bonus-point win.

There you go. If you're partial to a wager and have any sense at all you'll put your money on precisely the opposite outcomes of those predicted above...

Thursday, 8 March 2018

England in Paris - Good News/Bad News

Jamie George replaces the injured Dylan Hartley, with Luke Cowan-Dickie on the bench. Finally the two best hookers in England are in the match day 23 πŸ‘

Elliot Daly starts on the wing with Anthony Watson replacing Mike Brown at full-back πŸ‘

Courtney Lawes remains at 6, Chris Robshaw at 7, and England persevere with the slowest back row in the history of Christendom πŸ‘Ž


Saturday, 3 March 2018

Things that make me feel old #5

It just occurred to me that I am older than the head coaches of 50% of the Six Nations national teams with only Messrs Jones, Gatland and Brunel having the decency to be more senior than me.

It's equally as bad in the Southern Hemisphere, with both Michael Cheika and new Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus both having fewer miles on the clock than yours truly.

It appears that a career in international rugby coaching may just have passed me by...😒