Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The Total Flanker Awards 2019

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, Signore e Signori, Damen und Herren, Damas y Caballeros, a warm welcome to you all to the 13th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony as we once again recognise and celebrate the ups and downs of the world of rugby over the past 12 months...

Hard to believe, I know, that another year has flown by and that 2020 - a year that seemed impossibly far into the future when I started playing this wonderful game of ours - looms large on the horizon.

Without further ado, let's hurtle headlong into the awards, starting with the TOTAL FLANKER DEADLY DUO AWARD. Ever since the halcyon days of Neil Back and Richard Hill, English rugby has been searching for an openside flanker worthy of the shirt. And now we have two. Step forward the Kamikaze Kids - Sam Underhill and Tom Curry - who combined to devastating effect in the England back row this Autumn. Injuries and selectoral foibles permitting, England may just have found a world class flanker combination for the next two World Cup cycles.

This gong is awarded to Premiership Rugby for its handling of the Saracens salary cap breach. I'm sorry, I still don't understand why a breach, which the independent enquiry accepted was not a deliberate attempt to cheat, still deserved the maximum punishment available? The lack of transparency - the details of the case have still not been published - is particularly troublesome, as is the suspicion that one club is being made an example of whilst others appear to be able to make superstar signings at will. I suspect we have not heard the last of this...

Hey ho, moving along, our next award is the TOTAL FLANKER WTF IS GOING ON? AWARD. This particular prize is awarded to former Australia fullback Israel Folau. Having posted some horribly bigoted and homophobic comments on social media - not for the first time - he somehow managed, having rightly been dismissed by Rugby Australia for a serious breach of their code of conduct, to paint himself as some kind of martyr being persecuted for his religious beliefs and was even able to drag an apology out of his cash-strapped governing body as part of an ill-deserved settlement. He may be a bigot, but that was quite some performance from Folau and his legal team.

On a less confrontational note, our next award is the TOTAL FLANKER PEFORMANCE FROM THE GODS AWARD. Where it came from I have no idea, but England's display against the All Blacks in the World Cup semi final was simply fantastic and one for the ages. From as early as the V-shaped response to the Haka you could sense that the England players were about to produce something special - and so they did. It's just a shame - for England fans at least - that (as predicted by Warren Gatland) they failed to reach such heights again the following week. Nevertheless, a performance worthy of this prestigious award.

Our penultimate award this evening is the TOTAL FLANKER YOU WILL BE SORELY MISSED AWARD. This award is shared between a couple of very prominent kiwis, Messrs Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen. Gatland's impact on Welsh and British rugby can not be underestimated, consistently managing to make silk purses from sows’ ears time and time again, while Hansen has presided over unprecedented All Black success with calmness, equanimity and good sportsmanship and without the sanctimony of his predecessor. You will be greatly missed, gentlemen, and have set the bar incredibly high for your respective successors.

And finally to our top award of the evening - the TOTAL FLANKER WELCOME TO THE TOP TABLE AWARD. There can only be one winner - so please step forward Japan, not only for the exciting brilliance of your national team's rugby during the World Cup, but also for the way you dealt with the effects of a devastating typhoon, embraced our wonderful game and hosted a quite magnificent tournament. Japan are now, for me, a Tier One rugby nation in every sense and I hope you get your deserved rewards in the coming months and years.

And that, my friends, is that. 2019 is done and dusted and we now look forward to a fascinating post-RWC 2020. Frankly, I can barely wait!

Thanks to all for your continued indulgence and support as I wish you a very Happy New Year...

Thursday, 19 December 2019


I read this week that England tighthead Kyle Sinckler apparently has no memory of the Rugby World Cup final, having been knocked out in a collision with Maro  Itoje’s hip in the opening minutes.

To which the only obvious response is I wish I could say the same.

Monday, 16 December 2019

HUGE Congrats to Doddie Weir

It was an honour and privilege to watch Doddie Weir be awarded the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award on TV last night.

The award is given annually "for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity" - something for which Weir is eminently qualified, having thrown himself with typical gusto and good humour into raising more than £4m for research into Motor Neurone Disease and to help those suffering from the disease since his own diagnosis with MND in late 2016.

Much of Doddie's struggle - as well as his life as a rugby player straddling the amateur/professional eras - is documented in his excellent autobiography - My Name'5 Doddie - which I have recently read and which I heartily recommend.

Good luck with your continued fight against this dreadful, debilitating disease Doddie - your award last night was so richly deserved.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Lions in jeopardy?

Much is being made about Premiership Rugby's refusal to bring forward the date of its final in 2020-21, thus further hampering the already tight preparation time for the British and Irish Lions ahead of the South Africa tour next summer.

Many make the point that such intransigence jeopardises the future of such a commercially lucrative enterprise as the Lions.

My point is this: if the Lions is so commercially lucrative then the answer is relatively simple. Either:

- simply make Premiership Rugby a financial offer they can't refuse; or

- demand that the host nation (in this case South Africa, but it applies equally to New Zealand and Australia) - who benefit hugely from the income generated by more than 30,000 travelling fans - create a tour itinerary which allows for sufficient preparation time.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Folau settlement stinks

I am sure that Rugby Australia's decision to reach a settlement last week with Israel Folau was a matter of financial expediency, but it still stinks.

What really sticks in the gullet is the fact that, as part of the settlement, Rugby Australia were made to apologise to Folau's family.

Chief Executive Raelene Castle has hardly covered herself in glory on this one...

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Rugby Post-gate

On the search, as ever, for a slightly left-field rugby story, I came across the discussion surrounding an innovative tactic, employed by Edinburgh against Munster at the weekend, of lifting the protective padding around the goalposts to prevent the scoring of a try.

The tactic, employed twice by Edinburgh by props Pierre Schoeman and Pietro Ceccarelli, is clearly dangerous and there is no doubt that World Rugby need to make it abundantly clear that such practice is illegal.

That said I have always found the law that enables a try to be scored when a player grounds the ball against the opponents’ goalpost (or surrounding padding) to be grossly archaic, ridiculous and unfair, as it rewards teams for not crossing the whitewash and, from a breakdown on the line and next to the goalposts, makes it impossible to defend the posts without being offside.

World Rugby could do everyone a favour by ruling that the ball must touch the goal line for a try to be awarded...