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.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Rugby snippets from the weekend...

1. The All Blacks are human after all and still, it appears, reluctant to go for the drop goal.

2. No matter how crap the team you support are, hurling foul-mouthed abuse at players and pushing kids is never acceptable.

3. In Zach Mercer have England found the big, mobile ball carrying forward they so desperately need?

4. Joe Cokanasiga looks fairly handy on the left wing too.

5. And Henry Slade looks in fine fettle.

6. Another blooper from Ian Tempest - apparently a blatantly late tackle (Dan Cole) cannot be late if it occurs after a tapped penalty has been taken from the wrong place. Go figure.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Twelve months to save international rugby?

This week’s warning from World Rugby’s vice-chairman Agustin Pichot that international rugby game is under threat should be taken seriously by all involved.

Pichot wants unions and clubs to agree a new 10 year global calendar before the 2019 World Cup in Japan – in other words, “Rugby I love you, but we only have 12 months left to save the game”. (Bonus points for spotting the movie reference there 😀).

The fact that Premiership clubs this week felt confident enough to turn down a £275 million takeover bid shows that the club game in the northern hemisphere is, at least on the face of it, in rude health.

Many international unions, however, are facing financial difficulty, and the steady drip, drip, drip of players from the southern hemisphere to the north is in danger of becoming a torrent – particularly if (as seems likely) further huge investments are made into the club game.

And let’s face it, any organisation investing vast sums into, say, the Premiership, is hardly going to be thrilled at the prospect of losing its key assets – the international players – for extended periods of the season.

It’s therefore easy to understand Pichot’s fears that the international game is in jeopardy. And yet, conversely, international rugby remains the game’s showpiece and the club owners must know that the interest generated by the international game is ultimately what drives domestic rugby, both in terms of TV coverage and bums on seats.

In the middle of this, of course, are the players – pulled from pillar to post and flogged both physically and mentally by the game’s stakeholders pulling in opposite directions.

Pichot is right. It needs sorting out, and sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The sad, sad case of Marc Cecillon

Former French captain Marc Cecillon - perhaps best known in England for being smashed in a tackle by Mickey Skinner in the 1991 World Cup Quarter Final - is apparently back in prison.

In 2004 Cecillon, who suffered problems with alcohol and depression following his retirement from the game, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murdering his wife, having shot her 5 times in front of guests while drunk at a barbecue. He was released on parole in 2011.

Sadly it seems as if the demons are very much still there for the former "Quiet Man" of French rugby, having now been found guilty by a Perpignan court of assault, theft of a vehicle and drunk driving during a night of violence at a vineyard last month. 

Cecillon is subsequently serving 12 month jail sentence (with six months suspended).

We can only hope he now gets the treatment he so obviously needs...

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

By George, I think he's got it

Although not a massive fan of meddling with the laws of the game, sometimes someone comes up with a proposed change in the laws that makes eminent sense.

On this occasion it is Ospreys head coach, Allen Clarke, who has put forward a clever idea to help create space amidst rugby's increasingly congested defensive lines.

Clarke suggests that if a player kicks the ball from inside his own half and the ball bounces into touch in the opposition's 22, the kicking side should be awarded the throw-in at the subsequent line out

To defend against this and prevent conceding a dangerous set-piece in its own 22, the defending team would therefore need to position its wingers deeper, thus reducing the numbers in the front-line defence, ergo creating more space for the attacking team.

Of course, a defence may still choose to push up to deny space, in which case the defending team may be vulnerable to the kick in behind and then having to defend a line out deep in its own territory.

The beauty of the proposal is its simplicity. And who knows, it might even work!

Monday, 10 September 2018

A fit and proper captain?

Mathieu Bastareaud's disgraceful forearm smash on the prone Christophe Samson - in the weekend's clash between Toulon and Castres - was nothing short of assault and battery.

A lengthy ban must follow and in my humble opinion Bastareaud will be lucky if he escapes police action.

And following his ban earlier this year for on-field homophobic abuse, his hold on the French captaincy has to be in doubt...  

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Premiership Rugby in the money?

The reported £275m bid, by former owners of Formula 1 – private equity firm CVC Capital Partners – for a controlling stake in Premiership Rugby, is an interesting one.

Effectively the bid values Premiership Rugby at £550m – not peanuts, certainly, but actually only between 2½ and 3 times the value of serial-diver Neymar. 😏

With PRL members due to meet next week and with unanimity required for the bid to be accepted, it seems unlikely to succeed.

It is, however, a stake in the ground and may well be the beginning of a process which could see significant financial investment in the English domestic game.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The times they are a-changin' ... PART 2

Hot on the heels of the sacking of Matt O’Connor by Leicester Tigers comes news that the Championship’s Ealing Trailfinders (one of my almae matres back in the day) have decided to part ways with head coach James Buckland - again after just ONE game in charge.

According to the club, the dismissal of Buckland is the “right time to make a change in the best interest of the club” despite the fact that Buckland was only appointed in JUNE OF THIS YEAR!

Clearly patience does not feature as part of Ealing's ambitions to reach the Premiership...

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Goneva's innovation should be applauded

Much has been made of the denial of Vereniki Goneva’s try for Newcastle against Sarries at the weekend for a “game value offence” (whatever the hell that is).

To recap, Goneva fielded a missed drop goal attempt behind his own line and feinted to touch down, touching the ball against his boot before running the length of the field to score.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, however, referee Ian Tempest had already blown up for a 22-metre drop out and the try was not given (and, in any event, the Saracens players had stopped when the whistle was blown).

So that – really – should have been that. In my view the referee clearly thought the ball had been touched down and erroneously blew his whistle. Mistakes happen, get over it.

Except in this instance Tempest, rather than admit his mistake, chose to shoot himself in the foot by saying that he had seen the non-grounding of the ball but decided that Goneva’s subterfuge amounted to a “game value offence”.

Which – clearly – is nonsense as Tempest should, if that were the case, have penalised the Fijiian rather than award the 22 metre drop out.

My view on this is quite simple. Goneva’s innovative and creative trickery is to be applauded and encouraged. In attempting to label it an offence in order to cover up a (perfectly understandable) refereeing error, Ian Tempest is simply being disingenuous.

The only way to dig yourself out of this hole, Mr Tempest, is to admit your mistake.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The times they are a-changin' ...


The sacking of Matt O'Connor as head coach of Leicester Tigers after ONE game of the new Premiership season shows just how much rugby has changed.

Yes, Tigers we're thrashed by Exeter, but I'm certain they won't be the only team to suffer a tonking at Sandy Park this season.

Such a knee-jerk reaction by the Leicester hierarchy smacks of pure panic and is unworthy of this historic club which has prided itself on its traditional rugby values over the years.