Monday, 16 September 2019

Gareth Thomas - Total Respect

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

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

I absolutely realise now that I was wrong.

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

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

Well done, sir.

Respect.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Ireland Rugby: World No.1

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

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

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

Ireland are, for now, world number 1.

We should all just get over it.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Chester Williams RIP


Sad to hear of the passing of Chester Williams.

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

And by all accounts a thoroughly decent human being.

49 is no age at all.

RIP.


Friday, 6 September 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019: Are 31 players enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

(Some) Women to go pro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Jack Nowell does it the hard way

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

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

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

Ireland ditch Devin Toner - surely some mistake?

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

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

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


Monday, 2 September 2019

Look who it is!

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

Well, now I know.

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

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

Still, as long as he’s having fun...

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Rugby World Cup: Russian Roulette

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

England Rugby: A Farewell to Smelly Ben

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

England Rugby - not the time for premature congratulation

Tempting as it is to to get carried away with England's performance against Ireland at the weekend (and it's difficult to argue with a 57-15 scoreline), the eternal pessimist in me still has a few concerns, namely:

- Were England that good, or were Ireland that poor?

- Ben Youngs. Nuff said.

- Elliot Daly - still not convinced he's an international 15.

- Even if just precautionary, Mako V coming off after just 17 minutes doesn't bode well.

- Are England peaking way too early?

Thursday, 22 August 2019

James Haskell: MMA Fighter

When, on James Haskell's retirement in May, I wished him well in whatever came next in his career, I was probably thinking more along the lines of rugby punditry.

I'm pretty sure that I wasn't thinking that he might become a professional mixed martial arts fighter.

And yet news today that Haskell, never one to shun the limelight, has signed a deal with Bellator MMA and is expected to make his debut as a heavyweight next year.

It's a brave move, for sure, and will be nothing if not entertaining.

Good luck Hask, you might need it!


Rugby to go gender neutral

It is safe to say that, in the time that I have been messing about with this blog, Women's Rugby has taken huge strides forward.

And the next stage in the evolution of the women's game comes with the announcement by World Rugby that, in future, no mention of gender will be included in the titles of marquee tournaments.

The Women's World Cup in 2021 will therefore be renamed Rugby World Cup 2021.

And to those who might claim that this will inevitably cause confusion with the men's Rugby World Cup, I'd say we're probably all big enough and clever enough to get our heads around it.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Rugby has to tackle mental illness

Fascinating interview with former Wasps lock Kearnan Myall in the Guardian earlier this week in which he highlights rugby’s failure in addressing the mental wellbeing of professional rugby players.

 The headline – “Several England players I know dread training camp” – is somewhat sensationalist and disingenuous as it does not really reflect the overall interview which highlights Myall’s struggles with mental illness during which, shockingly, he reached a point in his life where the pressure and scrutiny involved in playing professional rugby took him to a place where he had “made peace with the fact that, at some point, [he] was going to commit suicide.”

The fact that the revelations appear to have come as a surprise to his club, Wasps, highlights just how difficult it is for professional rugby players to admit to suffering any mental frailty.

It seems strange to those of us on the outside that young men who, on the face of it, are “living the dream” are, in fact, struggling so badly with mental illness – but there are increasing examples of players and former players – Joe Marler, Andy Powell, Alex Corbisiero, Duncan Bell, to name but a few – who have come forward over the last few years to discuss their struggles publicly, and research by the PRA confirms that the problem is way more widespread than one might imagine.

Myall – who is stepping away from the game to take a PhD in psychiatry at Oxford University – is to be applauded for his candour and for highlighting an ever-increasing problem for the game.

One can only hope that the powers-that-be take heed.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Are Wales now Rugby World Cup favourites?

And so Wales are, after all, now the number one ranked team in the world following their 13-6 win over England in Cardiff.

How that works - after previous incumbents New Zealand handed the Wallabies a 36-0 drubbing yesterday - is anyone's guess.

As Eddie Jones subsequently pointed out, technically that must make Wales, as the world no.1, the favourites for the World Cup.

Strange times indeed.




Saturday, 17 August 2019

Yorkshire Carnegie now taking the piss

The controversy surrounding Yorkshire Carnegie refuses to go away.

The long and the short of it is that last season the club went bust. But rather than be penalised by the RFU, Carnegie have been allowed to continue playing in the Championship whilst they allegedly still owe money to many of last season's playing staff.

And now, to put the icing on the cake - Carnegie have announced the signing of ex-England wing Tom Varndell - who presumably won't be just playing for his bus fare and post-match meat pie - who joins other high profile signing Joe Ford at Headingly for the coming season.

Someone, somewhere is taking the piss.

Friday, 16 August 2019

All Blacks Old and Slow?

You've just got to love the Aussies. One victory at home against a New Zealand team who played half the game with 14 men and you would think they had won the World Cup.



With habitual rent-a-gob David Campese claiming that it is now time to "crush the fading All Blacks", the Aussie press, in the form of the Daily Telegraph, have weighed in with claims that the All Blacks are "old and slow", illustrating their point with Faceapp-treated photos of the ancient Sonny Bill Williams (34), Sam Whitelock (30) and Kieran Read (30).

My suspicion is that this will all come back to bite the Australians on the arse quite quickly. Tomorrow, in Auckland, to be precise.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

All Blacks' no.1 status under threat

I have to say I'm not a big fan of how the World Rugby ranking system works.

It is being reported that if the All Blacks lose to Australia again next weekend they will fall from 1st to 4th place in the world rankings. And if they lose by 16 points or more, they will slip to 6th.

All of which seems utterly ridiculous given their overall record over the past 12-18 months.

Obviously New Zealand's no.1 status should not be set in stone but it does seem perverse that what many perceive to be a mere a blip in form can have such dramatic consequences.

Furthermore, apparently a win by Wales over England on Saturday will see them climb to the top of the rankings, whilst an England victory by 16 points or more will see the English gain the no.1 spot.

Which, in either case, is ludicrous given that the game in Cardiff is merely another warm-up match for the World Cup.

Of course I fully expect New Zealand to beat the Aussies at the weekend so this will all be moot, but still...




Tuesday, 13 August 2019

England Early Birds Ahead of the Curve

Well done Eddie Jones - the early bird announcement of England's 31 man Rugby World Cup squad, nearly 4 weeks ahead of the 8th September deadline is, I think, a shrewd move, allowing the chosen players to focus fully on preparation without the distraction of not knowing whether they will be on the plane to Japan.

That said, injuries will no doubt play their part and I'd be surprised if the 31 named will be the ones flying out to Japan in September.

As to the squad itself, it is pretty much as I expected, although taking only 2 tight heads and 2 scrum halves is clearly a risk and the fact that so many of the squad - e.g. Ludlum, Singleton, Cokanasiga, Francis, Heinz and McConnochie - have so few international caps between them, does suggest that Eddie's 4 year planning process has not been without its flaws.

Still, Jones's track record at World Cups isn't too shoddy and in theory his knowledge of Japan's people, culture, climate and geography could work in England's favour.

I have to admit, it's beginning to get exciting...

Monday, 12 August 2019

International Rugby Phoney War in full swing

It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from the weekend's rugby.

What should we make of South Africa dismantling the Argentina to win a truncated Rugby Championship? (Answer: for a while now I've fancied the Springboks to win the RWC).

Does New Zealand's heavy Bledisoe defeat to Australia mean that the All Blacks are now officially vulnerable? (Answer: I doubt it, they'll be as tough to beat as ever in Japan).

How do we assess an experimental England team denying a full-strength Wales the world number one spot with victory at Twickenham? (Answer: not really a huge surprise given the Welsh track record at HQ in recent years, despite the pre-game hubris).

And - assuming that pre-season brawlers Ben Te'o and Mike Brown will not make the England RWC squad - who will make the cut when Eddie Jones announces his selections later today? (Answer: I haven't the foggiest, but Lewis Ludlum and Willi Heinz certainly did their chances no harm at all against Wales).

Confused? You will be...


Friday, 9 August 2019

Touchdown!

Wow.

What a start in American Football for former Wasps and England winger Christian Wade, who scored a stunning 65-yard touchdown with his first touch on his Buffalo Bills debut in a pre-season game against Indianapolis Colts.

And there was me questioning his decision to switch to the NFL.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Northern Exposure

They are certainly not happy bunnies down at Richmond FC.

Which is unsurprising really following the RFU's decision to allow the insolvent Yorkshire Carnegie to kick off the forthcoming season in the Championship at the expense of Richmond who were relegated last season.

Whilst there is an understandable desire to ensure the survival of professional rugby in the north, Richmond does have a more than compelling case that it cannot possibly be in the interests of the game that clubs be allowed to rack up huge debts with players not fully paid and contracts cancelled.

Especially when, given the reprieve, said club then recruits the likes of Joe Ford at - one imagines - not inconsiderable expense.

Apparently the RFU decision is under review. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Irish rugby player wins Love Island

Amidst all the pre-amble to the pre-amble to this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan you might have missed the fact that for the last 9 weeks or so there's been this show on the telly every night called Love Island. You may have heard of it?

I'm not about to go into the inner workings of the show - it's been explained to me several times by my teenage kids but, frankly, I'm none the wiser.

Suffice to say that the show - and a £50k prize - was won by a couple which included professional rugby player and Ireland sevens international, Greg O'Shea.

Congratulations Greg, what an achievement.

And yes, it's been a slow news week.


Thursday, 25 July 2019

Bizarre Times...

Hi, just back from my hols to find we have somehow ended up with this buffoon as Prime Minister.

As a figure of fun, ripe for a piss take, Boris Johnson is manna from heaven for a blog such as this.

But Prime Minister?

Now we can all stop laughing at the USA.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Finishing Touch 2019


This week saw the culmination of my fourteenth consecutive touch rugby season. And what a season it was.

The final match this week turned out to be a winner-takes-all encounter against the reigning Chesham Premiership champions - all fit and fast twenty-something young men who had beaten us 9-8 earlier in the season and who had taken the league by storm.

And so to Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead, a squad regularly featuring (as well as our own fit young twenty-somethings) four over-50s, a couple of over 40s and a couple of females, who somehow, after some impossibly tight matches all season (never settled by more than three scores), found ourselves with the chance to take the title with victory in our last game.

By half time things weren't looking great - the opposition's 100mph style finding regular gaps in our defence to lead 6-2 at the break. 

But then the comeback - slowly but surely the defence tightened, skipper Tommy started to weave his magic and, with everyone working their socks off we eased back into the game and - at 8-8 - it could have gone either way.

Sadly I have to report that DDDD ultimately came up short, going down 9-8 once again, but there was a huge amount of pride and satisfaction taken from our efforts. The fact that this bunch of players can even compete against teams of far younger and fitter players is testament to the hard work and competitive nature of the group. It's a team the core of which has been playing together for 10 years, and I'd say that this season has probably been the most enjoyable so far, given the way we have responded to and dealt with the improving standards of the opposition across the board.

This time last year I was doubting whether I was capable of continuing to play in the more competitive league (with the slower-paced social league beckoning) - but I am so pleased to have stuck with it. Yes it was tough physically, but hugely enjoyable and satisfying - and the end of the 'season' again leaves me feeling somewhat bereft.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Gavin Henson is Wanted

Forget the announcement of England's World Cup training squad (which appeared to say sayonara to the international careers of Messrs Robshaw, Care and Brown).

Forget the launch of yet another England kit (hint: it's white) and the Wales World Cup kit (red, would you believe?).

No the key news of the week as far as this blog is concerned is the news that former Welsh centre, the perma-tanned Gavin Henson, appears to be on the run for the Channel Four reality TV series "Hunted" - a show where celebrity contestants are instructed to go on the run for a period of 28 days in mainland Britain whilst trying to avoid capture by a team of hunters including former police and intelligence personnel.




It must be nice to feel wanted.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Rise of Jaguares spells trouble for England?

Although admittedly not a Super Rugby aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, I have to say I am very impressed by the achievement of the Jaguares in reaching the Super Rugby Final this year.

It's the first time the Argentinian franchise has made it through to the Final and potentially doesn't bode very well for England who will face a whole host of Jaguares players, boosted by several European-based Argentinans, when they take on Argentina in Pool C at the World Cup in Japan this autumn.

 The group of death has potentially just become even more deadly.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Sacre Bleu

Continuing the Rugby World Cup new kit theme, here's my favourite shirt so far...

Allez le bleus!

Monday, 1 July 2019

All Blacks all black



As the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2019 continues the All Blacks have today launched their World Cup kit and it's...err...black!

Who'd have thought?

The Kiwis have also launched an 'away' kit which, as you can see, is a blatant attempt at cultural appropriation and is hugely disrespectful to England 😉


Thursday, 20 June 2019

Back to the drawing board for World Rugby

A "lack of consensus on key issues" has, it seems, led World Rugby to abandon plans for its proposed Nations Championship.

One of the major sticking points appears to have been the concept of promotion and relegation from the Six Nations, with some northern hemisphere unions unconvinced.

Although some might say that such a reason for not supporting the concept was a tad pathetic, I do feel that there are other areas where the plans were certainly deficient, not least in that they gave scant consideration to player welfare issues and didn't ever address the question of how crowning a new "World Champion" every year could not fail to undermine the World Cup.

It is a shame in many ways as the Nations Championship concept did at least try to address the question of a global season. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, however, I would have thought that World Rugby could use the work done so far to come up with something that might garner unanimous support?

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Is it so, Joe?

According to The Times, Joe Marler has been named in England's elite player squad (no official confirmation as yet) and therefore is in contention for a return to international rugby for this year’s World Cup.

As an England fan I hope it is true.

As a Marler fan, I'm not so sure. 

Having announced his retirement from the international game in September last year and having since opened up about his mental health difficulties, I only hope (and I've said this previously) that both he and Eddie Jones have made the correct call as far as his health and well being is concerned.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Big Basta à Big Apple: a Frenchman in New York

With Mathieu Bastareaud (along with Morgan Parra) omitted from France's 37 man training squad for the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year, his decision to try his hand in Major League Rugby with  Rugby United New York may well end up being a longer-term move than first anticipated.

I have to say I am surprised that Jacques Brunel chose to omit Bastareaud. I do think it's the correct call if France want attacking fluidity in their midfield, but Brunel's tendency so far has been to rely on Bastareaud's bulk, solidity and breakdown nous at the expense of speed and creativity, so his non-selection is a little unexpected.

It had been anticipated that Bastareaud's move to New York - where he will team up with the likes of Ben Foden - was to be something of a sabbatical from the weekly grind of the French Top 14 but now, who knows, with his French international career possibly coming to a conclusion, the 30 year old may yet see MLR as his long term future?

POSTSCRIPT Wed 19 June 2019 - "LA PAGE BLEUE SE TOURNE" - the clairvoyant powers of Total Flanker know no bounds as Monsieur Bastareaud today announced his retirement from international rugby. Sometimes I just impress myself...

Friday, 14 June 2019

Poor return for England Under 20s

Disappointment for England Under 20s at the World Championships in Argentina, finishing third in their pool behind Ireland and Australia, despite thrashing the Aussies in the final pool game.

Consequently the English youngsters can - at best - finish in 5th place this year, assuming of course that they can overcome Ireland in a semi final and then one of Wales or New Zealand in the 5th place play off, which is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Considering that England have featured in the final of each of the last six World Under 20s Championships, one has to wonder whether the financial squeeze at the RFU is beginning to take its toll?

Thursday, 13 June 2019

England Rugby - Mitchell in pole position

News today that John Mitchell has had his contract as England’s defence coach extended by two years by the RFU.

Having originally been contracted until the end of the World Cup this year, Mitchell's deal is now extended to 2021 and, with Warren Gatland having ruled himself out of ever coaching England (query - was he ever actually asked?), the third Mitchell brother now appears to have a fair to middling chance of succeeding Eddie Jones as England's Head Coach at some point in the next couple of years.

This assumes, of course, that England's World Cup campaign doesn't go completely tits up - something I have learned never to take for granted.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Never Say Never Again

The worst kept secret in international rugby was exposed today as Warren Gatland was officially unveiled as head coach of the British & Irish Lions for the 2021 tour of South Africa.

So Gats will take charge of this third tour, despite having claimed he was "done" with the Lions following the 2017 series in New Zealand.


At least he won't be wearing a toupée 😀

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Israel Folau is not going quietly

So, it appears that not only is Israel Folau a bigot, he is also a hypocrite.

In 2018 he threatened to quit rugby if sanctioned by Rugby Australia for posting homophobic content on social media.

Instead, having been sacked following another Instagram post in April this year which stated that "hell awaits" gay people, Folau has now launched a claim with Australia's Fair Workplace Commission for up to AUS$10m in damages, asserting that his employment has been unlawfully terminated.

"No Australian of any faith should be fired for practising their religion," says Folau.

OK, so the question I have is this:

Would Folau’s attitude be the same if, for instance, a team mate posted content in support of a radical and abhorrent interpretation of Christianity which holds that all non-white people (i.e. people not of wholly European descent) will either be exterminated or enslaved in order to serve the white race in a new heavenly kingdom on Earth under the reign of Jesus Christ?

No, I thought not.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Grim up North

A sad state of affairs for Championship club Yorkshire Carnegie and its fans and for rugby in the North in general as the club, having lost a significant chunk of its funding for next season, is the latest professional rugby outfit in severe financial difficulty.
Unless it can agree a CVA with its creditors – which include several of its players – the club’s trading company faces being wound up.

Which just goes to prove what I’ve been banging on about for years – that the professional game in England simply cannot support two fully professional leagues.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Barbarian FC - an antidote?

From time to time I have questioned the relevance of Barbarians rugby in the modern professional game.

I'm happy to say that I'm starting to think I was wrong, as it is becoming increasingly clear that the annual end of season BaaBaas game against England at Twickenham is beginning to establish a meaningful toe-hold in the rugby calendar.

Not only does the fixture allow England to take a look at some exciting emerging talent - and Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant certainly did their future chances no harm at all at Twickenham on Sunday - but it is also apparent just how much playing for the Barbarians means to some of the players.

Take Joe Marler, for instance, who declared last week to be "the best week I’ve had playing professional rugby because it was very unprofessional." Or the retiring James Horwill, who claimed the week was "arguably one of the most enjoyable of my career."

The fact that top players can come together, have a few beers and play rugby for the sheer enjoyment of it and, in doing so, re-discover why they began playing rugby in the first place is, in itself, a pretty unique proposition.

This, coupled with the fact that the Barbarians have also embraced women's rugby - with the Barbarians women gracing Twickenham for the first time on Sunday - demonstrates that, not only may there be a place for the BaaBaas in the rugby calendar, but that the Barbarians may actually be the antidote to modern professional rugby.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Irresistible Saracens worthy Champions

A magnificent afternoon at Twickenham on Saturday, glorious weather, a hearty pub lunch, great seats in the South Stand and a quite superb game of rugby.

Exeter were excellent for three quarters of the game, frustrating Saracens at every turn and taking their chances clinically. Matt Kvesic and Henry Slade were particularly good and Jack Nowell's performance was just off the scale.

With 20 minutes to go there was only one winner, but then back came Saracens, refusing to countenance defeat in a breathtaking final quarter. Wigglesworth, Williams, Itoje and George really stepped it up and Sarries were just irresistible as they swept to victory.

The game was an excellent advert for the Premiership and both teams can hold their heads high. Unfortunately there could only be one winner and once again this year it was Saracens.

There will be many who continue to begrudge Saracens their success, with as yet unproven allegations of breaching the Premiership salary cap leading to accusations of the club somehow "buying" the title. Any such complaints, however, smack of sour grapes. Saracens, much like Exeter, tend not to spend big on marquee signings and you just have to look at the number of players in the Sarries squad who have either come through their excellent academy or joined the club as young men to tell you all you need to know about the club's ethos.

No, we should just celebrate Saracens for what they are, an outstanding rugby team built on incredibly strong core values.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Aussies enter Rugby World Cup kit race

And so, hot on the heels of South Africa, the Aussies have now launched their spanking new World Cup kit.

Hardly surprisingly it's yellow (or gold if you prefer) and very reminiscent of Norwich City with the yellow (gold) socks.

And there's also an indigenous-based dark green change kit for all those times Australia will face another team dressed in yellow (gold). Which, given that Romania haven't qualified, is never.

Why no indigenous design on the yellow (gold) kit? Who knows...

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Women in Rugby

I'm really quite impressed by the new ‘Women in Rugby’ campaign launched by World Rugby this week.



The campaign - ‘Try and Stop Us' - using the inspiring stories of 15 "unstoppable" women and girls involved in rugby - is aimed at driving increased participation and engagement among players, fans and investors in women’s rugby.



The women’s game is undoubtedly one of rugby's success stories, with participation levels currently at an all-time high.  For the second year running, apparently, more young girls than boys have started playing rugby globally - a remarkable stat in itself.

So, onwards and upwards for women's rugby - check out the campaign at www.women.rugby

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

World Rugby Nations Championship back on the agenda

All eyes turn to Dublin today where World Rugby’s proposed “Nations Championship” is back firmly on the agenda.

The proposed format, which has evolved since its initial inception, would involve a top division of 10-12 teams from both hemispheres play each other once per calendar year (via the Six Nations, Rugby Championship or during the summer and autumn test windows), with the top two teams meeting in an end-of-year showpiece finale.

There still remain a number of issues to resolve, including the inclusion of Pacific Island countries, the concept of promotion/relegation, player welfare concerns and the very real possibility that the new competition would undermine the Rugby World Cup.

Personally I’m not a fan of the idea but, call me an old cynic, I suspect much of the moral and principled opposition to the idea will - despite opposition from leading players - simply melt away in the face of a proposed financial package on offer from World Rugby worth in the region of £5 billion.

After all, money talks.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

RFU finances in the spotlight again

I was surprised to read that the RFU have signed off further substantial cuts in spending to its business plan for next season which are certain to result in further redundancies.
This follows the 63 redundancies made last year as part of a major cost-cutting exercise by former CEO Steve Brown who resigned last November.
At the time the RFU ruled out further job losses, but it seems as if the RFU are continuing to overspend to an alarming degree and it is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the whiff of financial mismanagement, especially given the massive profits generated by the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
I guess the most important thing in all of this of course is that RFU Council members continue to enjoy the perks of membership. 

You think there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Think again.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Who you gonna call? Joe Marler?

Following Mako Vunipola's serious hamstring injury which, despite reports, must put his participation at this year's Rugby World Cup at risk, many on social media are now calling for Eddie Jones to get on the phone to Joe Marler to persuade the Quins prop to come out of international retirement.

Marler retired from England duty last autumn, citing a desire to spend more time with his family, and has since described the severe anxiety he suffered when on international duty.

I'm a big fan of Marler and there's no doubt that his presence in the England squad would enhance the team's prospects.

However, especially given that we are coming to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, it is hugely important that no pressure is brought to bear on Marler to reverse his retirement decision out of some misguided sense of duty or obligation.

Marler must simply do what is right for him and his family. I'd love to see him back, but certainly not at the expense of his health and wellbeing.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Jake White gets it right

I find myself in agreement with former Springbok coach Jake White who has this week questioned why teams are made to announce their match-day squads at least 48 hours before kick-off.

Although he was referring specifically to Super Rugby, the rule does appear to apply generally throughout the pro-game but, other than to provide fodder for the media, I'm not at all clear as to the rationale behind the practice. It doesn't happen in football, for example, where teams tend to be announced an hour so ahead of the game commencing.

I have never really understood the necessity for a coach to provide 48 hours notice of his team selection to the opposition as all it does is give the opposition coach the opportunity to prepare a strategy to counter any selections. Wouldn't it be better to announce the team closer to kick off, allowing for the chance for a coach to perhaps spring a selectorial or tactical surprise on the opposition?

There's more than an element of "paralysis by analysis" these days in rugby, so to add an element of unpredictability by making teams react to what is put in front of them on the day can only be a good thing, right?

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Touched

Ok, so I promise not to bore you every week with details of my touch rugby season, but last night's victory 8-5 victory over those pesky BaaBaas from Watford was of particular note as it featured yours truly crossing for THREE tries.

Admittedly all three were scored by me lurking out on the wing, hugging the touchline and taking the scoring pass on the tryline but, hey, they all count and the stats don't lie.

That's four tries my first two games with my next score now scheduled for 2023! 😁

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

McCall in the frame for England Rugby?

The latest name being bandied about as a potential successor to Eddie Jones as England Head Coach is, rather unsurprisingly, Mark McCall of Saracens.

McCall's success at Saracens - which includes four English Premiership titles (so far) and three European Champions titles - makes him an obvious contender for the England job and it is now rumoured that he is the preferred candidate at TW1.

A so called no-brainer then, apart from 2 questions:

1. Would he be willing to leave Saracens? and

2. As an Irishman, would he want to lead England?

As a fascinating aside, with Andy Farrell (another ex-Saracen) taking over the Ireland job later this year, might we be left with an Englishman coaching Ireland and an Irishman coaching England at the 2023 World Cup?

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Goode Heavens

Many congrats to Saracens - deserved winners in a brutally intense European Champions Cup final against Leinster at Newcastle's St James' Park yesterday - and to Alex Goode, voted European Player of the Year.

Goode had another excellent game for Saracens yesterday, having maintained a consistently high level of performance throughout the season, bringing his usual guile and creativity to the Sarries backline.

Naturally enough many wonder why someone can be, year on year, the Premiership's best fullback and yet cannot break into the England team.

Clearly, for Eddie Jones, something is missing. Whether that something is the lack of a yard or two of pace at international level, a perceived lack of aggression or an apparent defensive vulnerability, I'm not sure. What is clear though is that Goode has, in the past, come up a bit short when playing fullback for England.

Might Goode be worth another chance with the World Cup looming? Certainly his performances for his club would merit another opportunity but, at 31, the chances of Goode getting another bite at the cherry ahead of the likes of Daly, Watson, Nowell or Brown are fairly slim I feel.

He may just have to make do with being a legend at Saracens and the best fullback in the Premiership.

POSTSCRIPT 13 May 2019: As if his legendary status at Sarries was ever in doubt
- here's a pic from Sean Maitland's Instagram account of Alex Goode, still in full kit,
celebrating in a St Albans pub 24 hours after the Champions Cup victory...