Thursday, 30 November 2017

Germans on strike...

I don’t want to fall back on hackneyed old stereotypes, but right now German rugby is hardly the paragon of efficiency that one might normally associate with that country.

I am referring of course to the fact that the German national team decided to go on strike prior to last week’s match against Chile, forcing the German Rugby Union (DRV) to field a scratch team and resulting in a 32-10 defeat.

Chaos is the word which probably best describes the current situation, with the players unhappy following the ending of funding arrangements between the DRV and Stade Francais owner Dr Hans-Peter Wild, meaning that the national squad’s full-time, high-performance training programme has had to be cut.

It’s such a shame as the fortunes of the German team were most definitely on an upward trajectory, with qualification for the 2019 World Cup by no means an impossibility and with the likes of Toby Flood and former Saints scrum half Lee Dickson expressing an interest in joining the German ranks.

One can only hope that common sense prevails and this all gets sorted out soon – as long as England never have to face the Germans in a penalty shoot-out. 😆

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Breach birth

Twenty year old Harlequins winger Jess Breach must think this international rugby lark is a bit of a breeze.

Six tries on her debut vs Canada at Allianz Park were followed by a mere five further tries in the third and final encounter of the series at Twickenham on Saturday (she missed the second test through injury).

 As introductions to international rugby go that's pretty damned spectacular...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Six Nations 2018: Appetite Whetted

It looks likely from this Autumn's internationals (and I appreciate that Wales and South Africa still have to slug it out again this coming weekend), that we are in for one humdinger of a Six Nations next year.

England and Ireland will go into the tournament as favourites - with England chasing a "three-peat" - but, for the first time in quite a considerable while, Scotland also find themselves in contention.

Runners and riders:

England - one narrow defeat (to Ireland in Dublin last year) in 2 years speaks volumes for a squad that Eddie Jones has made far more resourceful and resilient than in recent times. It's not always pretty, but they are damned difficult to play against and will probably start narrow favourites.

Ireland - dismantled South Africa earlier this month and are another mightily solid, if a tad unspectacular, group. If they can find the consistency lacking last year the Irish will be serious contenders for the title in 2018.

Scotland - the Scottish resurgence was started by Vern Cotter and is certainly gaining pace under Gregor Townsend. Fabulous in attack, doubts do remain over their defensive prowess which they will need to improve if they are to challenge England and Ireland.

Wales - Warren Gatland's conversion on the road to Damascus appears to have come 2 years too late. I can't decide whether the all-new attacking approach is merely a case of the Emperor's new clothes or whether it is genuinely likely to lead to a new era for Welsh rugby. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

France - who knows? There's plenty of noise about good young French players coming through, but there's been nothing in November to suggest that a French renaissance is imminent. Still, it's a post-Lions championship so France will probably confound us all by winning the damned thing.

Italy -I can't say I've followed Italy very closely in November, but results hardly suggest that they will be challenging for anything other than the Wooden Spoon. Again. The calls for the inclusion  of Georgia - who were unlucky to lose narrowly against Wales this month - grow louder.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Time to relax?

With both Fiji and Tonga making it through to the semi finals of the Rugby League World Cup, it is being suggested in various circles that perhaps Rugby Union should follow Rugby League's example in relaxing international eligibility rules.

A recent change to the eligibility rules in League has meant that players who were not selected by a tier-one team can now switch allegiances to another team for whom they qualify, resulting in a number of top quality NRL players now turning out for Pacific Island teams.

Clearly this policy has worked for League but then again it desperately needed to find ways of evening out the competition for the Rugby League World Cup to make the tournament credible.

Union doesn't face quite the same credibility issue, but there's little doubt that, as a short-term measure, for the Rugby World Cup a similar eligibility policy would make the tournament more competitive than it currently is.

Whether it could work in general, however, is more debatable. To ensure fairness across the board the new rules would need to be open to everyone and would no doubt be open to abuse - with economic factors playing a prominent part.

Opening up eligibility also flies in the face of recent measures introduced to tighten international eligibility rules. If you think that national teams picking foreign-born players is controversial now, imagine the furore when a player decides to switch international allegiance purely for a better pay packet.

No, for me the "Rugby League solution" is merely the equivalent of putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Tinkering with eligibility rules will not solve international rugby's widening inequality gap - which can only be settled by World Rugby and the so-called "Tier One" nations addressing how the game's wealth can be more equitably distributed.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Money, money, money

While I can understand why England's players decided against donating part of their match fees to their Samoan counterparts ahead of Saturday's clash at Twickenham, I still think it's a bit of a shame.

Yes, there is definitely something more than a little ethically questionable and unedifying about paying your opposition to play against you, and the issue of the funding of so-called tier 2 nations is something that needs addressing urgently by World Rugby rather than be left to the consciences of individual players.

And yet think of the impact that a more robust stance by the England's players would have made...

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Tom Crofted

I was sorry to read last week that Leicester's Tom Croft has retired from professional rugby on medical advice at the tender age of just 32.

Always a favourite of mine, Croft is a phenomenal athlete with serious pace but arguably it was only really Ian McGeechan, on the 2009 Lions tour, that ever properly extracted Croft's full potential as a ball-carrying blindside flanker (although I always thought that he would make a very decent number 8 in the mould of Kieran Read).

Enjoy your retirement Mr Croft.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

North Shields

I am intrigued by the news that Hurricanes captain Brad Shields will be joining Wasps next season.
Shields qualifies for England through his parents and his availability for England will no doubt fuel further debate about foreign-born players.
Not being a Super Rugby aficionado, the question I have is this:
If he's that good, why hasn't he been picked for New Zealand?

Monday, 20 November 2017

Cheik mate

So Michael Cheika appears to be in a spot of bother over his behaviour at Twickenham on Saturday. I understand that he felt/feels hard done by the fact that the Aussies hardly got the rub of the green against England - but is childish petulance really the answer?

Cheika's ire appeared to be directed towards referee Ben O'Keefe who denied Australia a couple of tries having consulted with the TMO. Much has been said about the possible emasculation of referees by over-use of the TMO and, while I do have some sympathy with that view (and, indeed, have expressed something similar myself previously), what Saturday showed is that the most important thing is that ultimately the correct decisions are made.

Imagine the controversy had Ben O'Keefe not checked the video replays and made the wrong calls...

Friday, 17 November 2017

If not now, when?

First things first, I am sure that Eddie Jones knows a lot more about selecting an international rugby team than I do.

And yet picking Maro Itoje to sit on the bench for the majority of tomorrow's game against the Aussies does make me wonder.

Simply put:

If Maro Itoje genuinely needs a rest then he should be on a beach in the Bahamas.

If Maro Itoje is fit enough to be in England's match day squad then he has to be in the starting XV.

And if Maro Itoje is in the starting XV then he should be England captain.

C'mon Eddie, you know it makes sense.

Thursday, 16 November 2017


Great news that England's women have landed a new pay deal.

Under the terms of the new deal the RFU will pay the players match fees and training fees when on England duty and it is believed that players involved in all 3 Tests against Canada this November will make between £4,000 and £5,000.

While still somewhat shy of what the chaps are paid, this nevertheless represents a significant step forward following the controversial cancellation of the XV-a-side contracts post World Cup.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Quelle Surprise - France 2023

So, at the end of what was supposed to be a fair and transparent process, it was France who was today announced as the “surprise” host of Rugby World Cup 2023.

This, despite World Rugby having made public an independent technical evaluation report last month which recommended South Africa as host.

Unfortunately for South Africa the report, commissioned by World Rugby in the interests of transparency, was not binding on members of World Rugby’s council and so ultimately failed to prevail in today's (not so transparent) secret ballot, instead succumbing to intense lobbying (particularly by the French and the other contenders, Ireland) and the customary horse-trading amongst members. 

The biggest surprise, however, is that anyone is surprised by the outcome. Plus ça change etc...

Monday, 13 November 2017

How F****** Stupid are we?

Ok, so on Saturday England were a bit lacklustre against Argentina, who rather inconveniently didn’t just roll over and allow England to run through their playbook.

It wasn’t great, but neither was it the disaster being painted by many commentators. Take young Sam Underhill for instance. Twenty-odd tackles on his Twickenham debut in an immense defensive effort and yet apparently he doesn’t get involved enough in the attack!

Put in context, 2 months ago New Zealand beat Argentina by 39-22 and by 36-10. So an England win by 21-8, although in many ways underwhelming, was still a decent victory against difficult and obdurate opponents who, although they’ve struggled for results recently, are always ultra-competitive.

Expectations that England were somehow going to run up a cricket score were as disrespectful as they were unrealistic.

I suggest we all get a grip.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Whatever happened to: the Rugby Song?

Following an initiation ceremony at Howe of Fife RFC during which a player suffered internal injuries (having reportedly had a bottle inserted into his anus), the Scottish Rugby Union recently handed out a record 347 weeks of suspensions to 14 players, a coach and a club official.

Now, while I’m sure that, back in the day, behaviour was nowhere near whiter than white, I honestly don’t recall it ever crossing the line to anywhere near the extent outlined above.

Prevalent throughout my playing days, however, was the almost compulsory post-match singing of songs in the clubhouse bar deep into the evening. Which begs the question: Whatever happened to the Rugby Song?

I have to say that, no longer being a regular at clubhouse bars late into the evening, this is a question to which I genuinely do not know the answer.

What I do remember, certainly from the eighties, is that the lyrics to most of the songs sung were – when analysed in the cold light of day – fundamentally offensive. No offence was intended of course (to the drunken juvenile rugby mind it was all just harmless frivolity) but there’s little doubt when I look back that there must have been people who would have been awfully offended at song lyrics which were basically either sexist, racist, homophobic, misogynistic or, indeed, all of the above.

Certainly having grown up a (tiny) little bit I have come to realise (although I’m sure the “political correctness gone mad” brigade will disagree) that whether something is offensive or not can only really be decided by the person it affects and I do cringe with a certain amount of shame at some of the words used in songs I used to sing with gusto.

Hand on heart, I would certainly apologise to anyone I offended at the time and can only hope that in these more enlightened times such songs have been consigned to history.

That said, I’m convinced that, at its essence, the clubhouse sing-song can be an extremely valuable and enjoyable team experience, helping to forge bonds and cement friendships between clubmates. There is no reason, however, why songs need to be so offensive or distasteful and I remember, during the nineties for instance, happily belting out various classics from the likes of Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Don Mclean and John Denver, amongst others. Whilst my taste in music and vocal quality may not have been everyone's cup of tea, at least I can be confident that no one would have been overly upset.

So, whatever happened to the Rugby Song?

In it’s traditional unpleasant and objectionable form I sincerely hope that the Rugby Song is dead and buried. But equally I trust that communal clubhouse singing to accompany the quaffing of beer will remain a staple ingredient of rugby clubs throughout the land for many years to come.