Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Sarries and Chiefs the remedy to England's ailments?

Belated congratulations to Saracens on a superb performance on Saturday against Exeter to take the Premiership title.

The Chiefs, who truly have been excellent all season, should really take it as a compliment that Sarries had to play so well to win.

What was so heartening was that, for both teams, so much English-qualified talent was in evidence. 

Farrell, the Vunipola brothers, Itoje, Wray and Alex Goode led the way for Saracens while Ewers, Hill and Sam Simmonds were all pretty prominent for Exeter.

And, judging by the powder puff efforts of the English XV against the Barbarians the following day, Eddie Jones could certainly do worse than injecting his team with a dose of Saracens and Exeter medicine.

Yes England were nowhere near full strength, but the meek nature of the display against a scratch team who had been on the lash all week (in what was England's fourth defeat in a row) hints at deeper issues.

Success on the forthcoming tour to South Africa is now beginning to look more and more critical for Eddie Jones.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

New "nipple-line" law for rugby?

The introduction of a new trial law at next week's Under-20 World Championship to lower the height of the tackle to “below the nipple line” is attracting plenty of attention.

Anything designed to improve plater safety has to be applauded, although how the law is implemented by officials will be key.

Apparently a high tackle warning will be issued if the tackler does not bend at the waist when tackling and there is clear head contact. Two high-tackle warnings for the same player will lead to a one-match ban.

No doubt referees will be uber-vigilant at first and players will struggle. The problem is that, over time (as happened the last time the high tackle was the subject of referees' focus) officials are likely to become a bit more laissez-faire about enforcement.

I'm therefore not sure that a "nipple line" law is required - instead all that is really actually needed is for the current high tackle laws to be properly refereed.

And what happens when the law filters down to grassroots? Believe me, I've seen some nipple lines pretty close to waist level! 😂

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Ashton back at Twickenham

Like moths to a flame, the English rugby media can't resist a good story about Chris Ashton, and his appearance in Barbarians colours against England this weekend has proved impossible to ignore.

Much of the coverage refers to his supposed "unfinished business" with England and how, perhaps, Ashton ought to be turning out in an England shirt.

All stuff and nonsense, of course. Yes, Ashton has been scoring tries for fun for Toulon but, let's be honest, scoring tries has never really been an issue for him.

I commented back in 2016 that Ashton was struggling under the high ball, had poor defensive positioning and tackling technique, a rudimentary kicking game and was getting turned over far too easily. 

Add to that a sketchy disciplinary record and his refusal to tour South Africa with the Saxons that year and it's not difficult to see why Ashton fell out of favour.

And rather than stick around to address his issues don't forget that, like others before him, he chose to skidaddle to the Top 14 in the full knowledge that it would render him ineligible for England. Funny how a player's absence from the domestic game tends to imbue him with previously undiscovered mythical super powers, isn't it?

Of course, he'll probably score a hat-trick for the BaaBaas on Sunday. So what? Nothing changes. 

It's easy imply that you should be playing for England when there's no chance of it happening. If Chris Ashton truly wants to play for England again the answer is simple - he should come back to the Premiership, knuckle down and make the case for inclusion irresistible. Much like a certain Mr Cipriani has done...

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

England Rugby - Is something rotten in TW1?

The appointment of England defence coach Paul Gustard as Head Coach of Harlequins appears to highlight a major problem in the way elite rugby works (or doesn't work) in England.

In most countries, notably New Zealand and Ireland, there is a clear coaching pathway to the national set up and the national team is the undeniable priority.

In England, however, it seems as if being part of the national coaching team is now just becoming a pathway to a Head Coach position elsewhere - the loss of Gustard following on from the departure last year of skills coach Rory Teague to Bordeaux-Begles.

According to Gustard the move to Quins is an opportunity he couldn't turn down but what does that say about the RFU and England? Is something rotten in TW1?

To lose one coach from the England set up might be considered careless, but to lose two...?

Monday, 21 May 2018

Give James Haskell a Break

The flak copped by James Haskell for attending Prince Harry's wedding on Saturday - rather than watching his Wasps teammates play Saracens for a place in the Premiership final - does seem a little harsh.

Lord knows I am no royalist and frankly, given the choice, would have preferred to be at Allianz Park, but given that Haskell was (a) injured, (b) invited and (c) given permission to attend the wedding by Wasps DoR Dai Young, I really don't see what the problem is. It's not like his presence in the stands would've made any difference to the result.

In any event, let's be reasonable - it was a media opportunity that The Hask could in no way be expected to turn down. And what kind of wedding would it have been without the presence of the Archbishop of Banterbury? 😉

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Gloucester Lions?

Gloucester's announcement of a new club logo as part of a re-branding exercise strikes me as another example of a marketing agency making money for old rope. 

Unusually Gloucester have also said that the club will pay for fans who have a tattoo of the old club badge to get the new logo tattooed on their body.

Admittedly that's a nice, if a little quirky, touch and there is nothing particularly wrong with the new logo per se.

What price, however, on a change of name to Gloucester Lions in the not too distant future?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification: the Farce that Keeps on Giving

Somewhat improbably it seems that Russia will play at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

This follows the fall-out from the Belgium v Spain qualifier in March, won by Belgium thanks in no small part to the refereeing performance of Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu, a result which conveniently meant that Romania qualified for the World Cup finals.

Whilst an independent enquiry somewhat incredibly ruled that the result of the Belgium v Spain match should stand, a separate emergency enquiry was launched into the alleged fielding of ineligible players in qualifying matches.

The outcome – with Romania, Spain and Belgium all sanctioned by World Rugby for breaching the eligibility rules – means that Russia, who finished in third place in the qualification table, now qualify and will contest the opening match of the 2019 World Cup against Japan. Meanwhile Germany, who finished fifth, will now play off against Portugal for the dubious pleasure of facing Samoa to qualify. 

All subject to appeal, naturally.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Incredibly sad news...

Very sad to hear news of the two amateur rugby players who have died while on tour in Sri Lanka.

Thomas Howard (25) and Tom Baty (26) were admitted to hospital in Colombo with respiratory problems on Sunday morning and tragically have subsequently passed away.

They were on tour in Sri Lanka with Clems Pirates, a touring team based at Durham City RFC which regularly raises money for charity.

Rugby tours are generally the best of times but this must be just horrendous for all involved.

Our thoughts and sympathies are very much with their families, friends and teammates.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Is Eddie Jones losing the plot?

I am beginning to wonder about Eddie Jones.

His comments last week of there being an inherent selfishness in English sport smack of a man trying to deflect attention from his own failings.

There were various reasons for England's difficult Six Nations this year, which included injuries to key players, vast improvements by the opposition (especially Scotland and Ireland) and post-Lions fatigue, exacerbated by the players then being over-played by their clubs and then flogged to death in training by Jones.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Jones then selected poorly and prepared the team inadequately, with England being outthought and outfought for much of the championship, particularly around the breakdown.

And let's just say that Jones is correct and that a culture of selfishness has begun to develop within the England ranks. Whose fault, exactly, is that? Surely it's Eddie's job to fix the team's culture if there's a problem, and mouthing off in public - rather than dealing with it behind closed doors - hardly seems the best way to go about it.

When Jones was appointed various Aussies predicted that early success would give way to cracks appearing as the players grew tired of his methods.

I am beginning to wonder if they were right.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Return of the Prodigal Son for England

The big news today is the not wholly unexpected return, after a 3 year absence, of Danny Cipriani to the England rugby squad.

I only say "not wholly unexpected" as the likelihood of Cipriani's selection for the squad for next month's tests against South Africa has been mooted in the press all week. However, when you think about it, the selection of the Wasps playmaker does remain somewhat left-field given that:

(a) he is leaving Wasps at the end of the season and (unless there's something we don't know) will most likely end up playing abroad - thus ruling himself out of future selection; and

(b) at best Danny-Boy is still likely to play second (or maybe third) fiddle at fly-half to either George Ford or tour skipper Owen Farrell.

Equally intriguing to Cipriani's selection is the announcement of Scott Wisemantel as England's attack coach for the tour, although I have to admit that my initial reaction is "Scott who?"

Whoever Mr Wisemantel might be, he is sure to have his work cut out restoring credibility to England's stodgy offence.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The World's Worst Rugby Club...

...or my new favourite rugby club.

Hats off to Pontycynon RFC aka #TheWorldsWorstRugbyClub who have kept us royally entertained all season with tales of incompetence,  drunkenness and record defeats.

No matter that Pontycynon RFC may only exist on Twitter, to all intents and purposes this is a proper coarse rugby club to which we should all aspire to belong. Even more so should I be doing Pontycynon a great disservice and it all turns out to be real!

Below are just a few of the inspirational tweets that have kept me chuckling all season...

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Rugby Headline of the Week (possibly the Year):

Australian rugby star apologises for urinating on bar while dressed as cow

Step forward, Nick Phipps.

Nothing more to be said...

Friday, 4 May 2018

More Congratulations ...

...this time to my son's Under 15 team who on Sunday completed a magnificent season by winning the County Plate, triumphing 31-22 in a tense and hugely physical final which could easily have gone the other way.

In mid-March I commented on the boys' incredible unbeaten run which had stretched to 21 matches from midway through last season. Unfortunately a combination of the Easter holidays, appalling weather and sod's law then intervened and the team lost its very next game, letting the league title (although, fortunately, not promotion) slip from its grasp.

That was two weeks ago, and so Sunday's match was all the more important if the boys were to have their fantastic season rewarded with something tangible. And, although by no means their best performance of the season, the team really dug deep to see off determined and feisty opposition who at one point came from 17 points down to close the gap to just 2.

My son ended up bruised and battered but happy. And I couldn't have been prouder.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Jackson and Olding not for Sale?

Rumours that Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are on their way to Manchester next season have been dismissed by Sale Sharks.

According to reports, Sale Sharks had agreed a deal to sign Jackson and were also close to agreeing terms with Olding, the players having had their contracts terminated by Ulster last month following their enormously high-profile rape trial.

Although acquitted, the trial did reveal some pretty unpleasant and offensive behaviour by the pair which ultimately led to their dismissal by Ulster and inevitably means that there will be a certain toxicity about what they do next.

Sale Sharks have decided, it seems, not to take the risk and, while I am not saying that the players are incapable of redemption or that they should not be allowed to rebuild their careers and reputations, any club signing the players as a pair risk being accused of condoning the culture of misogyny that landed the players in court in the first place.