Friday, 27 May 2016

Lost in France

If the news that Steffon Armitage is about to join Pau from French rivals Toulon is confirmed, it will at least save us from further press speculation about his non-existent England career.

“Armitage for England” calls from the English rugby media have been something of a regular thing during Armitage's successful 5 year stint at Toulon, despite the RFU’s clear stipulation throughout that players must play their club rugby in England to be eligible for international selection.

By choosing, once again, not to come back to England, Armitage will effectively be saying that he has absolutely no intention of trying to prove himself worthy of a place in the England squad - in reality making it clear once and for all that he has no desire to play for his country.

Much better for him to rely on the myth that he that he is the best openside flanker England never had…

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Head in the game...

Apparently Chris Ashton's decision not to tour South Africa with England Saxons next month is not a question of the Sarries winger throwing his toys out of the pram having been left out of the senior squad to play Australia.

Ashton's wife is due to give birth towards the end of June and so, according to Sarries Head Coach Mark McCall, his head "wouldn’t have been in the right place."

And yet his head would have been "in the right place" had he been selected to go to Australia. Go figure.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Wild West

There was a really interesting piece in the Grauniad last week about England's 2nd tier of professional rugby - the RFU Championship - having become "the wild west of professional rugby".

Much of the article revolves around the thoughts of Ben Hooper, a 28 year old prop plying his trade in the Championship with Yorkshire Carnegie, who tells of players being exploited, underpaid and let down by their clubs, the RFU and their own union.

It makes depressing reading but really should not come as too much of a surprise and, much like the arguments around ring-fencing the Premiership, kind of misses the point.

Despite the fact that the RFU remains “fully committed to the development of a professional English second-tier competition,” what everyone should be asking is how financially sustainable is professional rugby in England?

I've said for some time that rugby in England simply isn't big enough to sustain 2 fully professional leagues of 12 teams. The comments from Ben Hooper would appear to support this.

The sooner the powers-that-be recognise that English rugby can only sustain a limited number of fully professional clubs and structure the game accordingly, the better for all concerned, including those much put-upon players currently scratching out a living in the Championship.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Dave's Dad's Dog's Alive

Back into the Chesham Touch Premiership yesterday evening with Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead. 

Last year's record of played 10, won 10, with 130 tries scored (to which yours truly contributed precisely 1 (ONE) try) will take some beating, but we started off with a 9-7 victory last night in a fast and frenetic game.

And I feel ridiculously sore for someone whose contribution to the game, it has to be said, was entirely negligible. From a personal perspective it can only get better...

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

What's the score George Ford?

I've heard it suggested that George Ford may, sooner rather than later, follow father Mike out of the door at Bath.
The inference is that the Fords somehow come as a package and that, Mike having lost his job this week as Bath's head coach, young George may wish to follow him to wherever he goes.

Any such suggestion is surely ridiculous. We're talking professional rugby here, not some cosy local Under 13s coaching arrangement. Can George be so insecure that he can't play for a club that does not employ his old man? I don't think so.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Not a bad season

Maro Itoje's season to date:

England debut, Grand Slam Winner, RPA Young Player of the Year, Champions Cup Winner and now European Player of the Year.

And still the Premiership to come…?

Friday, 13 May 2016

On the move?

First of all, belated congratulations to Bill Beaumont following his elevation to the position of Chairman of World Rugby (aka the artist formerly known as the IRB).

And secondly, well done Bill for daring to broach the thorny issue of a global rugby season, for some time now ruby's panacea for players' welfare.

Beaumont has said that a possible move for the Six Nations to April "could well be a solution" - something that to date has not been countenanced by the "if it ain't broke" brigade who refuse to look beyond their bubble self-interest and insist that the current February to March slot is non-negotiable.

The fact is that something has to give to fix a ludicrous northern hemisphere season where players are pulled from pillar to post, bouncing between domestic, European and international action and where commercial planning for clubs becomes exceedingly complex.

The Six Nations is big enough and ugly enough to absorb any change and must look at the bigger picture for the benefit of the game as a whole. And who knows, a move to later in the season - when the weather is better and pitches are firmer - may even improve it as a product?

Thursday, 12 May 2016

An "open message" to Eddie Jones...

I like a rant as much as the next man, unless that next man is former Argentina and Australia prop Enrique "Topo" Rodriguez who appears to LOVE a good rant.

Here's his somewhat bizarre "open message" to England coach Eddie Jones, published this month on, of all places, professional social media network - LinkedIn:
Every rugby ‘employee’ owes respect to the stakeholders and ultimately to "the owners of rugby" [the paying public & paying sponsors] – Do you think that TV is happy with your insanity? Unsteady Eddie...get off the stage and start coaching like any decent working Australian bloke! All those that had the opportunity to play against you and your Randwick "mates" know exactly what kind of ill-mannered individual you are. Should you wish for ‘quick fame’ at the expense of the listeners and readers? Go and get a job as a radio broadcaster… in the UK! But beware, Englishmen are very polite and patient, nonetheless, they will not tolerate your "Ned Kelly-alter-ego-split-personality"...a psychiatrist might!
You and your team do not deserve to even tour Australia! – Me? a ‘migrant wog’ of 32 years living in Australia, who incidentally has played 42 international tests more than you know how to behave in positions of privilege and power. Have you ever heard of the expression: FAIR PLAY?
I have more integrity and principles in my left hand than what you have been displaying in your international rugby coaching career. You are an utter disgrace and should give 50% of your salary to a decent charity of dispossessed human beings.
I’m pretty sure that Japanese culture doesn’t stand for the behaviour you display! – I think you left Japan before you were asked to do yourself the equivalent of a public rugby Hara-kiri. Japan beat South Africa in the 2015 RWC but make no mistake; Japan didn’t win the game…South Africa lost it by not putting 30 points on the score board in the first half. Elementary Watson, rugby didn’t teach you your gutter tactics and your selfish attitude. You are your own master at it. No Eddie…you are completely wrong! 
Elementary Watson, rugby didn’t teach you your gutter tactics and your selfish attitude. You are your own master at it. No Eddie…STOP, you are completely wrong and look/sound ugly! 
Enrique TOPO Rodriguez

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Credit where it's due...

The announcement last week that Rob Andrew is stepping down from his role as the RFU's Professional Rugby Director at the end of the season has been welcomed by those who have, over the years, jumped on the bandwagon at every opportunity to stick the boot in to the former England and Lions fly half.

Not me. The criticism that Andrew habitually receives is just ridiculous. I know I have previously declared my interest when it comes to Andrew, but I am genuinely often bemused at the amount of flak he has to take.

Those that like to lambast Andrew point to the the so-called "fact" that he was a dull, limited, kicking fly half.

Firstly, it's not true. Whilst it can be said that England did, for a period, play a more limited (albeit highly successful) game with Andrew at 10, it is equally true that England’s record try scorer – Rory Underwood – scored most of his 49 international tries with Andrew at fly half – as did Jeremy Guscott, 4th on the all time England try-scoring list. Andrew won 71 England caps, 5 Lions caps and 3 Grand Slams and appeared in a World Cup final. Not bad for a so-called limited player.

And secondly, why would that have anything to do with Andrew's role at the RFU?

Throughout his 10 year tenure at the RFU, it appears the main criticism levelled at Andrew is that he has survived various coaching, management and board regime changes at the RFU over that period. In other words, people simply seem to be a bit pissed off that he hasn’t been sacked, a phenomenon that might just be explained by the fact that over the years he has done a rather good job.

Andrew’s primary role at the RFU over the last 10 years has been the negotiation and management of the agreement between the RFU and England's professional clubs. A complex and difficult task, often conducted against the backdrop of what, to the outside world at least, has appeared to be a toxic political maelstrom at TW1, Andrew has, quite simply, delivered. Put simply it is no accident that there is now a conveyor belt of young English-qualified talent coming through the system from the clubs to the national team.

I’m sure he would be the first to admit that mistakes have been made along the way but, please, let’s give credit where its due - in a fair world Rob Andrew would walk away from the RFU with his head held high and with our thanks.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Whatever Happened to: the 10 metre rule?

Another in a long line of reminiscences about aspects of rugby that appear to have achieved "endangered species" status in recent times…

Whatever happened to the 10 metre rule (or, for those of a certain vintage, the 10 yard rule)?

Once upon a time the merest squeak of dissent, the slightest murmur of protest or even the faintest flicker of disapproval at a refereeing decision would incur not only a penalty against your team but also the immediate sanction of your team being marched back a further 10 metres, much to the disgust of the rest of the team whose withering looks in the direction of the perpetrator was always enough to ensure that it didn't happen again.

I can't think of the last time I saw this applied by a referee in a professional game. What's more, each week in Under 13 rugby I witness a combination of gripes, whinges and other assorted dissenting sounds more or less every time the referee's whistle is blown. It's not direct dissent, as such, more an expression of "life is so unfair" that comes with the territory of being a teenage boy - but that kind of thing certainly used to be more than enough to incur the referee's wrath and more often than not involved being made to retreat 10 metres. You soon learned to keep your mouth firmly shut.

Referees do tend to be a little more communicative with players in this day and age and, certainly at junior level, appear to want to explain each decision, almost as if they are seeking the players' approval. I can see that clarity is important and there is an element of educating the players but I have to say I much preferred the "back ten" approach which, if employed more often, I can't help feeling would radically reduce the level of incessant chatter aimed in the direction of the referee in today's game.

Call me old fashioned and all that...