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...



Friday, 10 May 2019

Rugby World Cup - Beer Warning


I was quite amused by reports earlier this week that the Rugby World Cup 2019 organising committee has warned bars and restaurants in host cities in Japan not to run out of beer during the tournament later this year.

Forget the rugby, a beer shortage during the Rugby World Cup would simply be the biggest of PR disasters.

There are, reportedly, bars and restaurants in Japan who entice customers in with all-you-can-drink ‘nomihoudai’ deals. Whilst I’m sure that this would normally work as a marketing strategy, the average rugby fan rarely needs enticing into a bar and for most this would undoubtedly simply be treated as a personal challenge…

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Into Touch (2019)

So, here we are again, beginning my fourteenth consecutive touch rugby season and my tenth with Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead in its various incarnations over the years.

Yes, touch rugby is firmly back on the agenda as our Chesham Premiership campaign kicked off on Tuesday evening.

Those who have religiously followed my touch rugby career - i.e. absolutely no one - will recall that last July, having finished the summer season with a comprehensive defeat, doubts were being voiced about whether those of us of a more mature vintage would wish to continue playing in the more competitive league, perhaps instead opting to play a more social version of the game.

Somehow, however, last year's musings were entirely forgotten as we signed up for yet another year of chasing around after younger, fitter players in a forlorn attempt to roll back the years. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I turned up on Tuesday evening to find that for our first game we had a total squad of 8, and that 5 of that squad were over 50. And we were playing a bunch of 16 year olds.

Forty minutes of lung-busting activity later, somehow us knackered old fogeys had managed to hold out for an 8-5 victory, largely brought about by hard work and good communication in defence and a certain naivety amongst our opposition. And the heroic efforts of our less mature players, of course.

Having only eight players, however, did mean that it was bloody hard work with very little respite, so I'm hoping and praying (to the touch rugby gods) - for the sake of my poor aching body - that we get a couple more (younger) players turn out next week.

More fascinating updates to follow as the season progresses....

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Irish sign Jackson

The signing of Paddy Jackson by London Irish for the 2019-20 Premiership season is an interesting one.

Jackson, you may recall, was involved in high profile rape allegations last year and, although acquitted at trial, some pretty unpleasant and offensive behaviour emerging from evidence ultimately led to his dismissal by Ulster.

After a season away in France with Perpignan, Jackson will now return to assist London Irish on their return to the Premiership, with many fans unhappy at the club's apparent short memory.

It's a difficult one. Arguably Jackson has been punished for his "crime" and - having previously expressed his shame and remorse for what happened - deserves the chance to rebuild his career. On the other hand, he carries with him now a certain toxicity that will be difficult to shake off.

It's therefore either a very brave or a very foolish move by Irish.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Happy Retirement James Haskell

I was sorry to hear that James Haskell is to retire at the end of the season.

Never shy when it comes to self-promotion and perhaps not the most naturally gifted of players, Haskell is one of those players that won over his critics with sheer hard work, the force of his personality and his wholehearted approach to rugby and to life.

77 England caps, a Lions tourist in 2017, a Grand Slam winner and player of the series in Australia in June 2016 is not a bad return on his career. And, with spells in France, Japan and New Zealand, Haskell definitely did it his way.

Good luck Hask in whatever comes next in your career...


Sunday, 5 May 2019

The Total Flanker Guide to: Box Kicking

The art of box kicking - of kicking from the base of a ruck, hanging it high for your players to chase and (hopefully) regain possession, has in recent years become an integral part of any aspiring scrum half's repertoire.

Whereas previously such a tactic may have been used sparingly to catch out the opposition, these days it is very much the default tactic for many teams.

Here's how it works...

Firstly, as scrum half, you get your forwards to win the ruck. Simple enough.

And then, you slow down. You slow everything right down. Put the kettle on, check your text messages, whatever. Have a look around. If there is any danger of any opposition player getting within two metres of you, call another player into the ruck, then another, then another in a nice long crocodile-line, moving you further and further back from danger.

And then, only then, when you are good and ready and when all 29 other players on the pitch plus the referee, touch judges, coaches, replacements and spectators have all had a wee snooze, launch the ball skywards, inviting your players to chase it.

Things to bear in mind:

  • Don't worry about Law 15.17 which states that "when the ball has been clearly won by a team at the ruck, and is available to be played, the referee calls “use it”, after which the ball must be played away from the ruck within five seconds." In reality the referee will wait an age before telling you to "use it" and then phone his Mum while you make your interminable preparations; and
  • Don't worry about the likes of Joe Marler shouting "You're fucking boring me, hurry up!" He's right, of course, it is incredible dull, but since when was that your problem?

To be honest, if I could change one thing about rugby right now it would be to limit the use of the box kick. As a  bare minimum referees should be instructed to declare the ball available and issue the "use it" command much earlier and then strictly enforce the five second rule. And once the ball is available teams should not be allowed to add extra players to the ruck.

And I would be tempted to go even further. A radical solution would be to insist that from rucks and mauls the ball must be passed at least once before it can be kicked. You never know - it might be worth a go...?

Still, right now none of this is your problem. Just keep taking your time and boring the pants off everyone...

Friday, 3 May 2019

Rugby World Cup Kit Race Begins...

It's started.

South Africa have become the first team to launch their new kit for the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

The new kit is described by manfacturers ASICS as "unstoppable."

Which is nice.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

England Rugby need to move quickly for Edwards

So Shaun Edwards will not, after all, be staying on as Wales defence coach following the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Edwards had been expected to stay on with Wales, having turned down jobs with Wasps and Wigan RL in recent weeks but, it appears, was ultimately unimpressed by the 2 year contract on offer from the WRU.
The French national team would now appear to be favourites to secure his services, but what price Edwards joining the England set-up post World Cup with a view to taking over from Eddie Jones in 2021?
How many other Englishmen have Edwards' international coaching experience?
Sadly such a scenario would involve the RFU moving quickly and decisively. I shan't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Rugby Shorts...


A few things on this first day of May:



  • I know I've banged on about the likes of Israel Folau and Billy Vunipola in recent days/weeks, but there was simply no need for Samu Kerevi to apologise for quoting from the Bible and posting about his "love for Jesus" over Easter. There was nothing offensive whatsoever about Kerevi expressing his religious beliefs and certainly nothing for which to apologise.
  • Meanwhile, the rumours are true. Mathieu Bastareaud will play Major League Rugby next season, joining Rugby United New York on a season-long loan deal after this year's World Cup in Japan. According to RUNY, Bastareaud will be “a big presence.” There is certainly no denying that.
  • It looks like, in the absence of a minor miracle, Newcastle Falcons will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of the season. No doubt the promotion/relegation/ring-fencing debate will rage on but, as I keep saying, the real question here should be how many professional clubs the game in England can realistically sustain...