Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Total Flanker Awards 2018

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, a warm welcome to you all as we once again recognise and celebrate the successes, failures, accomplishments, misfortunes, achievements and fiascos of the 2018 rugby calendar year.

Yes, welcome, willkommen and bienvenue to the 12th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony...

Straight into the awards, our first gong tonight is the TOTAL FLANKER WHERE HAS ALL THE CASH GONE? AWARD. This goes to joint recipients this year - Mr Steve Brown and the RFU - who appear to have frittered away gazillions of pounds earned from the 2015 World Cup, resulting in cuts to funding for the grassroots game and a shedload of redundancies at HQ. Well done.

Next up we have the TOTAL FLANKER JUST CALL ME SICKNOTE AWARD.  In previous years this would have undoubtedly been a shoe-in for a certain Manu Tuilagi, but this year only one man can be considered. Step forward Billy Vunipola - shoulder and knee injuries, a broken left arm (twice) and a broken right arm have meant that Billy has been in almost permanent state of rehab over the last 12-18 months. The lad is certainly due some better luck and maybe this award may be the start of it?

Moving on, the next award is the TOTAL FLANKER WHISPER IT QUIETLY, BUT WE MIGHT JUST BE WORLD CUP FAVOURITES AWARD. I  refer, of course, to the Ireland rugby team who have had a magnificent 12 months, losing only once (to Australia, of all teams). I have no doubt whatsoever that if the World Cup were being played now Ireland would win it. Whether that will still be the case next October we shall have to wait and see...

And so to the TOTAL FLANKER THAT'S THE WAY TO SHOWCASE OUR SPORT AWARD, which is awarded jointly to Saracens Women and Harlequins Ladies for playing out a magnificent final of the inaugural Premier 15s back in April, with the Sarries Women triumphing 24-20. It was a fabulous game of rugby and it's high time the mainstream media got behind women's rugby to give it the publicity and financial backing it deserves.

Nearly there, our penultimate award this evening is the TOTAL FLANKER COULD WE HAVE MADE ANY MORE OF AN UTTER HORLICKS OF IT AWARD. This award goes to World Rugby for the unlikely circumstances that saw Russia qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, which involved a Romanian referee overseeing a dodgy Belgian victory over Spain - thus ensuring Romanian qualification - and then the subsequent disqualification of Romania, Spain and Belgium, all for fielding ineligible players during qualifying. You simply couldn't make it up.

And finally we have a very special award - the TOTAL FLANKER COMPLETE AND UTTER HERO AWARD. This goes to man who, despite being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2017, continues to display the bravery he was known for on the pitch, and the humour and good grace he was known for off it, as he raises awareness of the condition and funds for research into a cure. I refer of course to Doddie Weir and his My Name'5 Doddie Foundation. Well done and good luck to you sir.

And so, that's it for another year. Thank you again for your forbearance and indulgence as I continue to trot out the usual drivel. I wish you all a Happy New Year - see you on the other side...

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Arise Sir Bill Beaumont

Huge congratulations to Bill Beaumont, awarded a knighthood in the New Year's honours list for services to rugby.

Antiquated as the UK honours system might be, the knighting of Beaumont does give me a certain satisfaction as it was his England team's 1980 Grand Slam that first fuelled my obsession with this wonderful game of ours.

Amongst Beaumont's many achievements in rugby, being the inspiration behind Total Flanker must rank right up there ๐Ÿ˜‰.

Arise Sir Bill!

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

England Rugby's next Head Coach?

As part of England's search for a successor to Eddie Jones next year, Nigel Melville, acting CEO at the RFU, apparently wants to speak to (among others) Warren Gatland, who leaves his role with Wales after the World Cup.

While Gatland has an undeniably proven track record I can't help feel that the RFU may be missing a trick here.

I am referring, of course, to one of Gatland's lieutenants, Shaun Edwards, whose CV also makes mightily impressive reading:

- English ๐Ÿ‘

 - International coaching experience  ๐Ÿ‘ - over 10 years as Wales defence coach and part of the 2009 Lions coaching team

- Head coach experience ๐Ÿ‘ - won the Heineken Cup, European Challenge Cup and 3 Premiership titles with Wasps.

I would have thought that Edwards was at least worth interviewing?

Friday, 14 December 2018

Is Rugby failing in its duty of care to its players?

The tragic death of 19 year old Stade Francias academy player Nicolas Chauvin, who died of "cervical trauma that resulted in cardiac arrest and cerebral anoxia" following a heavy tackle in the fifth minute of a game against Bordeaux-Begles at the weekend, should serve as a wake up call to us all. 

The incident comes four months after the death of another young French player, Louis Fajfrowski, who suffered a heart attack in the changing room after receiving a heavy tackle playing for Aurillac. 

The common denominator here? The words "heavy tackle". 

We all know and accept that, in a contact sport such as rugby, the risk of injury is very real. But a risk to life? 

There have been (thankfully very rare) tragedies in the past, of course, but the deaths of two young players in the same season, both seemingly caused by heavy tackles, really should be setting alarm bells ringing amongst rugby authorities. 

The game has a duty of care to protect its players. Right now it looks as if it is failing in that duty.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

HMRC to probe English Rugby

The only surprise at the news that HM Revenue and Customs is launching an investigation into the tax affairs of the grassroots game in England is that it has taken this long.

HMRC has apparently identified clubs who “may not be applying the PAYE regulations correctly” – in other words those regularly who pay ‘cash in hand’ off the books.

Apparently initially the investigation will involve National League One and Two clubs but may be expanded in future to lower echelons of the English club game.

Certainly the news will be causing a few palpitations amongst club treasurers up and down the country, discreet cash payments to players to cover “expenses” certainly having been a staple part of the grassroots game even before the advent of professionalism in 1995...

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Time for Premiership Rugby to get radical?

I’m beginning to like Nigel Melville as acting CEO at the RFU.

Ok, so potentially he has a £4.7 million lawsuit hanging over him in the US following his stint as Chief Executive of USA Rugby but, hey, nobody’s perfect.

What I like about Melville as a Chief Executive is (a) that he knows his rugby, (b) that he is willing to think outside the box and (c) that he appears to agree with me. ๐Ÿ˜†

For some time I’ve been banging on about how 2 fully professional leagues of 12 teams in England is simply unsustainable financially.

I’ve even suggested that 16 clubs is probably the maximum number of sustainable professional rugby clubs in England. 

Lo and behold, when commenting on the possible ring-fencing of the Premiership, Melville has mooted the idea of expanding the Premiership to 16 clubs split into a two-league conference system with play offs to decide the champions.

The devil, obviously, will be in the detail, and the clubs may need to make some short term sacrifices (in terms of revenues being split 16 ways) for longer term gains, but I do like the fact that Melville is prepared to think radically to try to solve this thorniest of issues.

Of course how such radicalism will go down in the corridors of power in TW1 remains to be seen...

Friday, 7 December 2018

Mental health ticking time bomb for rugby

There’s a report in today’s Telegraph that new figures, compiled by the Rugby Players’ Association, show that 62% of retired professional rugby players have suffered mental health problems - ranging from panic attacks to suicidal thoughts - since retiring from the game.

The PRA research is based on approximately 200 retired professional players and reveals that former rugby players are approximately three times more likely than a member of the general public to suffer illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

It’s a truly shocking stat and I can only hope that it serves as a wake up call to the clubs and the powers that be to ensure that player welfare – both physical and mental – is given the attention it deserves…

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Premiership Rugby relegation question a red herring?

With only 4 points currently separating the bottom seven teams in the Premiership and a realistic prospect of one of the league's traditional big hitters being relegated at the end of the season, talk of ending relegation has once more raised its head.

I admit I can see both sides to the argument.

On the one hand, ending relegation and ring-fencing the Premiership would allow clubs to take more risks, promote younger English players rather than import from abroad, ease the workload on senior players, and plan commercially for the mid to long term.

On the other hand, preventing promotion from the Championship could serve only to stifle ambition and lead to the stagnation of rugby in the second tier - after all, without the principle of promotion and relegation, Exeter's remarkable journey to the upper echelons of English rugby would not have been possible.

I do not know what the answer is, but what I do know - and I've banged on about it before - is that there simply isn't enough money in club rugby in England to sustain 2 fully professional leagues of 12 teams.

The starting point of any discussion should therefore be the question of how many professional clubs can the game in England realistically sustain...?

Monday, 3 December 2018

Barbarians at the (exit) gate?

I must admit to remaining ambivalent about the Barbarians' place in today's rugby calendar.

Don't get me wrong, I love the concept of top players from different countries coming together to socialise, share experiences and play off-the-cuff rugby - it's very much in the true corinthian spirit of the game, harking back to the old amateur ethos with which I grew up.

However, watching a team of mostly South Africans, with a few others from the Southern Hemisphere thrown in to make up the numbers, take on what was almost an Argentinian development team, meant that there was very little to get really excited about in what was an error-ridden game, despite the dramatic conclusion.

The fact that the Twickenham crowd only numbered something in the region of 31,000 also suggests that this was a fixture that failed to capture the public's imagination.

I do hope that the BaaBaas concept can survive in an increasingly congested international professional rugby calendar, but fixtures like this really do it no favours at all.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Truth hurts for the RFU

Ah, you’ve just got to love the RFU.

No, you really do – as former CEO Francis Baron and former chairman Graeme Cattermole have just found out, having been stripped of their complimentary tickets and hospitality for international matches at Twickenham for showing “a lack of respect”.

The pair had the temerity to publicly claim that RFU finances were a mess, claims which were then largely substantiated earlier this week when the RFU posted its accounts for the year ending 30 June 2018 which showed income down by £12.5 million and an operating loss of £30.9 million.

The truth? The RFU can’t handle the truth!

All hail the 57 old farts!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Andy Farrell - England's loss, Ireland's gain?

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst English rugby pundits at the news that Andy Farrell is to replace Joe Schmidt as Ireland's head coach after the World Cup in Japan next year.

Farrell, you will recall, was jettisoned by England following the 2015 World Cup debacle (alongside head coach Stuart Lancaster, amongst others) and the news that he will now take the helm in Ireland means that Sir Clive Woodward, for one, is (somewhat melodramatically) "almost filled with despair". 

Woodward bemoans English rugby's loss of "an outstanding individual...a coach of massive potential" and, while I don't necessarily disagree with such sentiments, what is being forgotten here is that Andy Farrell being on the England coaching staff previously caused all sorts of issues when it came to England selection and the merits or otherwise of his son, Owen.

Is Woodward honestly saying that England should seriously be considering appointing a head coach whose son is the fly half and captain? This isn't the local club Under 16s. 

I'm sure Farrell Snr will prove to be a more than decent international head coach and who knows, in a few years, once young Owen has hung up his England boots, we may still see a Farrell in charge of England. The question, perhaps, is which Farrell will it be? Or - and this is not beyond the realms of possibility - will it be both of them?

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

November Rugby Internationals 2018 - the State of the (Home) Nations

My utterly subjective and not-at-all one-eyed assessment of where each of the nations of the British Isles stand following the Autumn internationals...

1st - Ireland

To use a well worn clichรฉ, Irish eyes are smiling. They may not be ranked world number one yet, but their utterly relentless display against the All Blacks earned them the tag of the world's best team on current form, since when they've bagged the World Rugby Team of the Year award to go alongside Coach of the Year (Joe Schmidt) and Player of the Year (Johnny Sexton).

Three questions:

- How will they deal with the burden of being favourites going into every game between now and Japan?
- Can they maintain form for the next 11months?
- How disruptive will Joe Schmidt's decision to step down after the World Cup be?

2nd - Wales

Can't say that Wales were massively inspiring this November, but they are discovering the art of winning ugly, something that:

- has eluded them in previous autumns and
- should serve them well in the months ahead.

Talk of Wales as World Cup contenders is, however, fanciful.

= 3rd England

Given how poor 2018 had been, Eddie Jones will be pleased with the improvements England made this November, particularly at the scrum, the breakdown and in defence. If (and it's a big IF):

- they can keep key players largely injury free and
- Eddie gets selection right (not a given, by any means)

then England can at least look forward to emerging from their pool at the World Cup.๐Ÿ˜†

= 3rd Scotland

Scotland remain an enigma - oscillating between brilliance and mediocrity, often in the same game. A 50% return this November reflects this lack of consistency, although the comprehensive victory over Fiji now looks all the more impressive when set aside the magnificent Fijian win in Paris.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Turmoil in TW1

Steve Brown's resignation as Chief Executive of the RFU is a strange one.

Was it, as is claimed, simply a case of him growing weary of rugby politics and the constant criticism and sniping from the sidelines from the likes of former CEO Francis Baron?

Or is it more to do with the fact that the RFU, despite turning a huge profit on the 2015 World Cup, somehow now appear to be in a deep financial hole, a massive overspend on the Twickenham East Stand redevelopment leading to savage cost-cutting, particularly to grassroots funding, and 60+ compulsory redundancies?

In other words, did he jump or was he pushed?

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Ireland now unofficially world's best rugby team

If the World Cup was being played this month Ireland would win it, of that I have no doubt.

They may not be officially the world's number one team, but I think we all know the score.

I suppose the question, after their near perfect performance against the All Blacks on Saturday, is whether it can ever get better than this for the Irish?

The challenge for Joe Schmidt's men will be to sustain form through the Six Nations and on to Japan - with every other team trying to knock them off their perch - and to improve further.

One thing that is certain is that the All Blacks will be brooding about this defeat for some time and will undoubtedly come back all guns blazing.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Mind the (pay) Gap

I was surprised to learn that Saturday's fixture between England and Japan is only the second time the countries will have met at test level, the first being at the 1987 Rugby World Cup, some 31 years ago.

If ever there was a stat which highlights the paucity of opportunity for so-called 2nd tier rugby nations then this is it.

The gap between the haves and have-nots of international rugby has also been highlighted by the revelation that the Japanese players receive a match allowance of the equivalent of £13.64 each per match when compared to the £25,000 match fee enjoyed by their English counterparts.

Although the pay gap is clearly ridiculous, former England Women's captain Catherine Spencer makes a very good point that, while fully supportive of players being very well paid by their clubs, a player should receive no match fee at all to represent his (our her) country - the money saved being ploughed back into the grassroots game.

That's never going to happen, of course - not least because a number of countries operate on a central contracts model - but it would certainly clarify the motivation of a number of players and identify those that see international rugby merely as a meal ticket.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Mind the Gap

The tight results in the November internationals thus far suggest that perhaps the perceived gap between northern and southern hemisphere rugby may be closing.

England's one point victory over South Africa and one point defeat to New Zealand were both results that could easily have gone either way - ditto South Africa's last gasp win over France and Wales' 9-6 success against the Australians.

Not that we should be reading too much into such results, but in relatively recent times gone by the southern hemisphere teams have often found Europe in November to be a time and place of easy pickings - not so much now.

Of course it may still all unravel over the next two weeks, but increasingly it is looking like the race to next year's World Cup is at least starting from the same (or at least similar) starting blocks...

Monday, 12 November 2018

Defeat to All Blacks a missed opportunity for England

Whether Courtney Lawes was onside or offside on Saturday (and I think it was marginal - he was no more offside than most players on both sides all afternoon) is immaterial. He was adjudged offside, it was what it was and we move on.

What Lawes did show is that he can operate very effectively on the blindside at international level - I take it all back. However his performance, good as it was, still paled into insignificance next to that of England's openside, Sam Underhill, who was simply magnificent.

My overall emotion at the end of the match was, nevertheless, a sense of an opportunity missed. The All Blacks were there to be beaten on Saturday and England blew it.

That may seem harsh in the wake of a great effort from the England team and there's no shame in a one point defeat to the world's number one team, but there were definite chances to win that game that England let slip.

Whatever else happens this November, however, Eddie Jones suddenly appears to have an embarrassment of riches in the back row - with Underhill, Lawes, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry and Zach Mercer all having impressed in the last 2 weeks.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

England squad v All Blacks does itself no favours

According to the old clichรฉ, the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Zach Mercer: should be starting
And so, while Chris Ashton's first start for England since 2014 may be the headline news from today's announcement of the England squad to take on the All Blacks on Saturday, it is the selection of two second rows on the England bench, to the exclusion of the excellent Zach Mercer, that is the biggest cause for concern.

I would have had Mercer - playing out of his skin this season - starting at number 8, but his entire omission from the matchday squad means that England will have no proper back row cover on Saturday, with either one of Courtney Lawes or Maro Itoje probably having to fill in at flanker if required.

Let's be clear, Lawes/Itoje at flanker has never worked previously for England and there's absolutely nothing to suggest that it will be successful this time against what is probably the most effective back row trio in world rugby.

I had hoped that Eddie Jones might have learned from previous experience. It seems I was mistaken.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Anyone for Curry?

With an ankle injury now ruling England flanker Tom Curry out of the rest of the November internationals, Eddie Jones could do a lot worse than call up Tom's twin brother Ben, who captained the England Under 20s in the summer and who has been pulling up trees for Sale Sharks so far this season.

It won't happen, of course, but it should.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Farrell tackle legal, but the law is an ass

Let's get one thing straight.

Owen Farrell's tackle on Andre Esterhuizen in the dying seconds of England's victory over the Springboks on Saturday was, under the current laws, perfectly legal. The referee, TMO and citing officer agree.

It was below the shoulder line - so not high, did not make contact with the head - so not dangerous and it was not - as many people claim - a "no arms" tackle. Farrell went to use both arms but was unable to wrap his arms in the tackle due to the force of the impact as both players launched themselves into contact, Esterhuizen's upper arm/forearm slamming into Farrell's chest on impact at the same time as Farrell's shoulder connected with Esterhuizen's chest.

The question of whether such a tackle ought to be legal is a different one. The big chest-high hit should, in my opinion, be outlawed in the interests of player safety and indeed the RFU are this season trialling a law in the Championship Cup which requires the height of a legal tackle to be below the armpits. 

By the way, although clearly I was wrong about England taking a beating at the hands of the Springboks, there were times in the first half on Saturday when the floodgates looked about to burst open. The fact that England defended so resolutely and worked so tirelessly to stem the tide does bode well, although if next week the All Blacks have anywhere near the amount of possession afforded to South Africa we could be in for a difficult afternoon.

Still, a win is a win. Onwards and, hopefully, upwards.

Friday, 2 November 2018

England v South Africa could get messy...

I must admit I fear a shell-shacking for England at the hands of the Springboks on Saturday.

My guess is that the best plan Eddie Jones managed to come up with this week was, in the absence of the Fabulous Vunipola Boys, to launch Manu Tuilagi at the midfield for as long as possible - Tuilagi's subsequent "minor" groin injury first forcing Jones to select instead Ben Te'o (with all of 28 minutes of rugby this season for Worcester) to try do the same job, and then allowing Chris Ashton a return to the bench as the perennially unfortunate Tuilagi was declared unfit to participate.

While a Farell-Te'o-Slade midfield is somewhat experimental and is unlikely to last longer than an hour, it is upfront where I fear England are more likely to struggle.

The front row looks a tad fragile and Malcolm Marx against Dylan Hartley has the potential to be one of the biggest mismatches in international rugby history. And, while Mark Wilson's selection in the back row is to be applauded, I can't for the life of me figure out what Brad Shields has shown so far this season to merit his place at blindside.

Wilson at 6 with the in form Zach Mercer at 8 would have been a better balanced and more dynamic selection. I've nothing against Shields per se but, call me old fashioned, I do like to see players actually earn their England caps.

The Springboks, by comparison, look awesome upfront. This could get messy.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Great Britain 50s Men's Touch Rugby

A shout out to the GB 50s Men's Touch Rugby Team - who have begun preparations for next year's FIT World Cup in Malaysia.

The team's mantra is the promotion of men's health and wellbeing in the over 50s and the honour of representing GB. Can't argue with that.

Although I would have loved to have been involved, personal circumstances unfortunately prevented me from throwing my hat into the ring for selection this time around. Not that I would have been picked, but it would have been fun to have had a go.

Best of British to those involved - and if anyone can help with corporate sponsorship and support I know it would be welcome:

Email: Facebook: GB Touch Men's 50's Twitter: @GBTouchMens50s

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

All Blacks launch radical new kit

The New Zealand rugby team has unveiled a radical new kit and it's...

...wait for it...


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

England Rugby "not arrogant enough"

The RFU believe that the problem of a "perceived lack of arrogance" has been solved with the appointment of 52 year old former captain Will Carling to the England management team as a "leadership mentor."

According to head coach Eddie Jones the England team has suffered over the last few years from being "too likeable".

"It's important that the team connects with its arrogant past" he said.

"Because I'm not English, I can't teach them how to be arrogant and unlikeable. I can teach them how to be a chippy little Aussie but it's just not the same.

"I've always thought we have possibly had a gap in that area. I've tried with Owen Farrell and Mike Brown, and Maro Itoje shows promise, but it's important that these guys work with someone who truly understands England's history of arrogance.
"We want to get back to being everyone's most hated team. We need a figurehead, a face that the whole world wants to slap.
"Will Carling is that face."

Friday, 26 October 2018

There is no place in rugby for this...

I've been more than a little appalled by what I've been reading this week about behaviour at Coleraine RFC - fined £5,000 after a female referee was the target of sexist abuse from the touchline at a match last season.

Although the incident (which quite understandably led to a boycott of the club’s home matches by Ulster referees) now appears to have been dealt with, issues still remain - not least an apparent lack of an apology to the referee in question by Coleraine RFC as well as the inexplicable failure of the club to take any internal disciplinary action in relation to the incident, with no individual having been held to account.

Whichever way you look at it Coleraine RFC has hardly covered itself in glory.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Is more in fact less for Premiership Rugby?

The new season structure - effective from next season - announced by the RFU,  Rugby Players’ Association and Premiership Rugby this week is, in many ways, ground breaking.

The new structure would appear to feature more rugby - with an elongated campaign stretching into the summer, but also less rugby - with in-season breaks for top players and a mandatory five-week off season.

The media focus this week has, however, mainly been on the detrimental effect this may have on Lions tours, with tours being reduced to 5 weeks and not finishing until early August.

The Lions concept has, of course, been on a slippery slope for years and remains something of an anomaly in the professional era - and what the media furore misses is the fact that the abridged 5 week tour was actually agreed by World Rugby in San Francisco some 18 months ago to general media apathy.

Yet when the big, bad English clubs organise their league structure to fit around an already established principle, the same media get all agitated.

I’ve said it for a long time – although I’d be sad to see it go, the Lions concept needs a radical re-think if it is going to stay relevant.

Meanwhile the jury is out on Premiership Rugby's plans - is less in fact more, or is more in fact less? I guess we'll have to wait and see...

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

A(nother) rant about rugby kits

Every now an again I admit I am prone to rant on about rugby kits. Everybody has a particular bugbear and this is one of mine.

Imagine my delight therefore when presented with evidence that the world has gone officially bonkers when Cardiff Blues and Glasgow Warriors lined up for their Champions Cup fixture last week wearing more or less identical (or at least very,very similar) kits.

The result, of course, was utter confusion for players, officials, spectators and the TV audience and a whole heap of post match complaints, opprobrium, blame and finger-pointing.

Cardiff can point to the fact that their sky blue and grey kit is their official European playing kit, while Glasgow - the away team - can justifiably explain why they were wearing their official sky blue and white away kit.

Common sense, it seems, cannot prevail faced with such impenetrable logic.

What no one seems to be asking is why - other than when there is likely to be an obvious clash of colours - any team needs to wear anything other than its first choice kit. Had Cardiff and Glasgow just worn their usual home kits we would have had this:

No colour clash, no problem.

While I concede that a second kit is sometimes necessary to deal with the occasional colour clash, there is no justification whatsoever (and Cardiff are by no means the only offenders here) for a separate European version of a club's playing kit - other than, of course, a desire to coerce fans into spending more on replica shirts. I know football clubs do it, but that in itself should be enough reason for rugby not to follow down that path.

There, rant over (for now).

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Zebo says soz

Simon Zebo acted like a complete idiot when taunting opposite number Michael Lowry while in the act of scoring for Racing 92 against Ulster at the weekend.

But at least he had the good grace to apologise afterwards...

Monday, 22 October 2018

Time for Chris Ashton to grow up?

Predictably enough, Chris Ashton scored a hat-trick of tries at the weekend on his competitive debut for Sale Sharks as they sealed a 34-13 win against Connacht in the European Challenge Cup.

Equally predictably the so-called "Ash-Splash" is still very much in evidence. And I still hate it.

I don't suppose there is any chance of Ashton growing up any time soon.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Christian Wade → NFL

I am sure you have all read the reports today that Wasps (and, very briefly, England) winger Christian Wade has dramatically quit rugby and has left Wasps to attempt a career in the NFL.

I have to admit the first thing I did when I heard the news was to check the date to make sure it was not 1st April. 

Wade is certainly British rugby's highest profile player to cross the pond try his luck in American Football, but my gut reaction is that his relatively diminutive stature and total lack of experience is likely to be something of a handicap. Still, the riches on offer in the NFL are potentially life changing although as yet there is no news of which particular franchise will take him on. 

I do, of course, wish him well - but can't help feeling he really should have spent the last few years shredding international defences for England. After all, it was only 5 years ago that he was deemed worthy of a call up to the Lions squad in Australia and a more enlightened selection and coaching approach at national level could and perhaps should have found a way to make use of his unique talents.

There's no doubt whatsoever that he will be sorely missed at Wasps. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Billy Broken - again

This is getting ridiculous.

Having twice broken his right forearm last season, it has been confirmed that Billy Vunipola will definitely miss this year's November internationals with a fractured left forearm. ๐Ÿ˜ž

It is terrible luck for Billy who has also had to endure a shoulder operation and major knee surgery in the last 12-18 months, but also bad news for England who are now faced with a potential crisis at number 8 (with Sam Simmonds also out injured and Nathan Hughes facing several weeks suspension), as well as at loosehead prop with Mako Vunipola doubtful with a calf injury, Ellis Genge also out injured and Joe Marler in retirement.

Any number 8s or looseheads heading to Twickenham to watch England this Autumn ought probably to take their boots...

Monday, 15 October 2018

He's Behind You!!

Perhaps, just perhaps, Freddie Burns' spectacular blunder against Toulouse at the weekend (whereby he had the ball dislodged from his grasp in the act of prematurely celebrating a try) might now just see players stop behaving like utter arses when in the act of scoring and actually act like professional sportsmen.

I suspect that Burns - who effectively cost Bath the match - will in future be keen to get the ball to ground as soon as humanly possible and will forego the need to salute, blow kisses or whatever else he thought he was doing. Maybe one or two others (who shall remain nameless) might re-think their behaviour too.

On the subject of questionable behaviour, I can't quite decide whether Maro Itoje mockingly celebrating Glasgow's non-try with the Glasgow players was an act of a total arse or whether it was just bloody funny. I'm leaning towards the latter although I suspect that if I were a Glaswegian I'd probably think otherwise. The one thing for certain is that Itoje looks back to his rumbustious best, which must be a crumb of comfort for Eddie Jones who appears to be witnessing his key players drop like flies on an almost weekly basis.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

No joke for Nathan Hughes

Wasps number 8, Nathan Hughes, appears to have done himself no favours at all thanks to a poorly judged decision to engage with social media.

Hughes, charged with punching Gloucester’s Lewis Ludlow in the head at the weekend (perhaps a tad harshly given that he was being pinned down at the time), has managed to land himself in deeper, hotter water by allegedly tweeting “What a joke” during his disciplinary hearing on Wednesday.

Already facing a potential six week ban for punching, Hughes now faces a possible further charge of “conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game” after proceedings were adjourned while the RFU investigates an issue that arose during the hearing, that issue being – apparently – Hughes’ ill-advised tweet.

The chances of Hughes - not previously known for wazzock-like conduct - featuring in any of the November internationals now appear pretty slim and, frankly, he would only have himself to blame. 

On the bright side, Bath’s Zach Mercer – if he can stay injury free – now looks nailed on to (at the very least) understudy Billy Vunipola next month...

Monday, 8 October 2018

Honest Billy something of a rarity

It comes to something when one of the main talking points from the weekend's Quins vs Sarries clash was the fact that Billy Vunipola admitted knocking the ball on in the act of attempting to score, thus saving the referee the hassle of having to consult with the TMO.

That Billy has been praised for his honesty is fair enough, I guess, but the fact that such honesty is worthy of attention because it is now such a rarity in the game is, I feel,  a little sad.

That said, I once received plenty of stick from team mates for admitting to the the ref that I hadn't grounded the ball properly when playing for my club's 5th XV at the time - so perhaps such acts have always been somewhat rare?

Friday, 5 October 2018

Get well soon Steve Ojomoh

My best wishes for a speedy recovery go out to former Bath and England flanker Steve Ojomoh, who is reported to be in intensive care in hospital after suffering a stroke...

Eddie Jones - The Movie

One of the more slightly left-field stories of the week features news that Kiwi actor Temuera Morrison – probably best known for playing Jango Fett in the Star Wars franchise – has been lined up to play the part of Eddie Jones in a movie about Japan’s epic 34-32 victory over South Africa in the 2015 World Cup.

The movie’s working title appears to be “The Brighton Miracle” and at first glance Harrison does have more than a passing resemblance to Jones – so we may not need to suspend disbelief quite so much as when watching Matt Damon play Francois Pienaar in Invictus, or when anticipating Mickey Rourke taking on the role of Gareth Thomas.

And the accent shouldn’t be too much of a stretch either…

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Well done Joe Marler

It may have sent certain sections of the media into meltdown but it is quite clear what Joe Marler meant when he commented this week about how he used to try to get himself suspended to avoid England duty.
Even before Marler's subsequent statement confirming that he had never deliberately done anything to get a ban, it was pretty obvious that it was the anxiety that he suffered around going into England camp that often caused him to behave so irrationally on the pitch.
Rational behaviour and anxiety are not natural bedfellows, as anyone suffering from anxiety or (like me) has a friend or family member who suffers, will know.
From time to time I admit that this blog can be quite critical of players' behaviour. Mental health, however, is a whole different ball game. 

Joe Marler is to be applauded for his admission and it is clear that, by stepping down from the international scene, he is doing what is right for his family and for his own mental health.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Chuckle of the Week

Sunwolves and Japan prop (why is it always a prop?) Takuma Asahara apparently managed to get himself run over by a car last week after a drinking session with team mates.

The 31 old year old seemingly decided it was a good idea to lie down for a nap next to a parked car and was trapped underneath when the the driver tried to pull away.

Somehow Asahara managed to escape serious injury after his team mates managed to lift the car so that he could free himself.

You have to laugh...

Don't Panico

By and large I would say that for professional rugby players to have interests outside of the game is a good thing.

Becoming a drug dealer, however - apparently the chosen extra-curricular pastime of Zebra and Italy prop Sami Panico -  probably is not the cleverest of ideas.

According to Italian press reports the 25 year old has been arrested by Italian police on suspicion of "possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking", with 1.5kg of marijuana and 330g of hashish seized from his home and €10,000 found stashed in his garden.


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Say it ain't so, Joe

Joe Marler's decision to retire from England duty, announced today, is as brave as it is unexpected.

It seems that Marler has simply had enough of the international rugby treadmill and his desire to spend more time with his wife and children appears to have held sway over his World Cup ambitions.

Twenty-eight is no age at all for a loose-head prop to retire and there's little doubt that England will miss his 58 caps-worth of experience in Japan next year.

I've always liked Marler - despite his occasional tendency for on-field wazzock-like behaviour - and the international scene will certainly be a less colourful place without him.

And the fact that a second twenty-eight year old England international prop (after Alex Corbisiero in 2016) has decided that he can no longer carry on playing the game at the highest level should begin to ring alarm bells among the powers that be that elite players can only be pushed so far.

Monday, 24 September 2018

White Noise for England Rugby

Imagine my total and utter lack of surprise at today's news that the RFU is launching yet another England kit in its relentless pursuit of the hard earned cash from our wallets.

I’ve long given up making too much of a fuss about this kind of thing although continue to believe that a brand new kit every single bloody season (and “alternate” kit, which this year is anthracite – or dark grey to you and me) is simply taking the piss.

And spare us please from the inevitable nonsensical marketing bollocks from kit manufacturer Canterbury - who this year claim that the design of the home shirt takes its inspiration from ‘white noise’ which, they say, is the "effect created by the sound of England supporters cheering the team on". 

I kid you not.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Pull the other one, Eddie

Eddie Jones' comment that Danny Cipriani has been left out of the 36 man England training squad announced today "100%" on rugby grounds is, at best, disingenuous.

Let's be honest, I've long been critical of Cipriani's off-field antics and, fair enough, I could comfortably get behind a decision to leave him out of the squad for behavioural reasons.

But for Jones to claim that Cipriani is currently only England's "third or fourth choice" fly-half is, quite frankly, utter nonsense given the Gloucester outside-half's spectacular early season form and the fact that he is (or was) England's incumbent no.10.

The decision, and the reasons given for it, does the credibility of Eddie Jones amongst England rugby followers (and, surely, amongst the squad) no favours whatsoever.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

England's Women going full time...

Delighted by the news this week that the RFU have finally seen sense and have decided to reintroduce professional contracts for the England Women's 15-a-side team from 1st January 2019.

Twenty-eight full-time deals will be awarded plus seven elite player squad agreements. 

Not before time.

The move represents something of a u-turn from the previous policy of only paying the 15-a-side team on a match by match basis, full time professional contracts having been cancelled following last year's Women's World Cup.

Now all the RFU need to do is prioritise the 15-a-side game (and use Sevens as a development pathway) for sense truly to be the winner...

England appoint Mitchell

The RFU has finally confirmed that the rumours are true - Phil  Mitchell has been appointed as England’s new defence coach until the end of Rugby World Cup 2019.

Mitchell will leave his role as general hard nut in Albert Square, Walford E20, to join Eddie Jones' squad ahead of England's November internationals. 

It's a joke that will never get old...

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Rugby? Gone soft? Don't be daft.

While I do have some sympathy with Leicester's Will Spencer's red card for a high tackle against Wasps on Sunday, the decision was ultimately the correct one.

There was no malice or intent in Spencer's tackle on Tommy Taylor - but it was a forceful shoulder-to-head tackle and the law is clear that such a challenge constitutes a red card offence.

To those whose knee-jerk reaction is that the game has "gone soft" - please - don't be daft.

Just take one look at the number of walking wounded at Premiership clubs after just 3 weeks of action.

Go on, ask Cornell du Preez (fractured larynx), Brad Shields (fractured cheekbone) or Olly Woodburn (broken jaw) whether the game has gone soft. Or ask former Leinster and Leicester flanker Dominic Ryan - forced to retire this month aged 28 after repeated concussions.

It is right and proper that World Rugby is attempting to address the increasing issue of head injuries by making players tackle lower - and if there are a few perceived injustices on the road to Damascus then so be it.