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 cliché, 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.😆

= 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 cliché, 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