Friday, 14 June 2019

Poor return for England Under 20s

Disappointment for England Under 20s at the World Championships in Argentina, finishing third in their pool behind Ireland and Australia, despite thrashing the Aussies in the final pool game.

Consequently the English youngsters can - at best - finish in 5th place this year, assuming of course that they can overcome Ireland in a semi final and then one of Wales or New Zealand in the 5th place play off, which is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Considering that England have featured in the final of each of the last six World Under 20s Championships, one has to wonder whether the financial squeeze at the RFU is beginning to take its toll?

Thursday, 13 June 2019

England Rugby - Mitchell in pole position

News today that John Mitchell has had his contract as England’s defence coach extended by two years by the RFU.

Having originally been contracted until the end of the World Cup this year, Mitchell's deal is now extended to 2021 and, with Warren Gatland having ruled himself out of ever coaching England (query - was he ever actually asked?), the third Mitchell brother now appears to have a fair to middling chance of succeeding Eddie Jones as England's Head Coach at some point in the next couple of years.

This assumes, of course, that England's World Cup campaign doesn't go completely tits up - something I have learned never to take for granted.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Never Say Never Again

The worst kept secret in international rugby was exposed today as Warren Gatland was officially unveiled as head coach of the British & Irish Lions for the 2021 tour of South Africa.

So Gats will take charge of this third tour, despite having claimed he was "done" with the Lions following the 2017 series in New Zealand.


At least he won't be wearing a toupée 😀

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Israel Folau is not going quietly

So, it appears that not only is Israel Folau a bigot, he is also a hypocrite.

In 2018 he threatened to quit rugby if sanctioned by Rugby Australia for posting homophobic content on social media.

Instead, having been sacked following another Instagram post in April this year which stated that "hell awaits" gay people, Folau has now launched a claim with Australia's Fair Workplace Commission for up to AUS$10m in damages, asserting that his employment has been unlawfully terminated.

"No Australian of any faith should be fired for practising their religion," says Folau.

OK, so the question I have is this:

Would Folau’s attitude be the same if, for instance, a team mate posted content in support of a radical and abhorrent interpretation of Christianity which holds that all non-white people (i.e. people not of wholly European descent) will either be exterminated or enslaved in order to serve the white race in a new heavenly kingdom on Earth under the reign of Jesus Christ?

No, I thought not.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Grim up North

A sad state of affairs for Championship club Yorkshire Carnegie and its fans and for rugby in the North in general as the club, having lost a significant chunk of its funding for next season, is the latest professional rugby outfit in severe financial difficulty.
Unless it can agree a CVA with its creditors – which include several of its players – the club’s trading company faces being wound up.

Which just goes to prove what I’ve been banging on about for years – that the professional game in England simply cannot support two fully professional leagues.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Barbarian FC - an antidote?

From time to time I have questioned the relevance of Barbarians rugby in the modern professional game.

I'm happy to say that I'm starting to think I was wrong, as it is becoming increasingly clear that the annual end of season BaaBaas game against England at Twickenham is beginning to establish a meaningful toe-hold in the rugby calendar.

Not only does the fixture allow England to take a look at some exciting emerging talent - and Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant certainly did their future chances no harm at all at Twickenham on Sunday - but it is also apparent just how much playing for the Barbarians means to some of the players.

Take Joe Marler, for instance, who declared last week to be "the best week I’ve had playing professional rugby because it was very unprofessional." Or the retiring James Horwill, who claimed the week was "arguably one of the most enjoyable of my career."

The fact that top players can come together, have a few beers and play rugby for the sheer enjoyment of it and, in doing so, re-discover why they began playing rugby in the first place is, in itself, a pretty unique proposition.

This, coupled with the fact that the Barbarians have also embraced women's rugby - with the Barbarians women gracing Twickenham for the first time on Sunday - demonstrates that, not only may there be a place for the BaaBaas in the rugby calendar, but that the Barbarians may actually be the antidote to modern professional rugby.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Irresistible Saracens worthy Champions

A magnificent afternoon at Twickenham on Saturday, glorious weather, a hearty pub lunch, great seats in the South Stand and a quite superb game of rugby.

Exeter were excellent for three quarters of the game, frustrating Saracens at every turn and taking their chances clinically. Matt Kvesic and Henry Slade were particularly good and Jack Nowell's performance was just off the scale.

With 20 minutes to go there was only one winner, but then back came Saracens, refusing to countenance defeat in a breathtaking final quarter. Wigglesworth, Williams, Itoje and George really stepped it up and Sarries were just irresistible as they swept to victory.

The game was an excellent advert for the Premiership and both teams can hold their heads high. Unfortunately there could only be one winner and once again this year it was Saracens.

There will be many who continue to begrudge Saracens their success, with as yet unproven allegations of breaching the Premiership salary cap leading to accusations of the club somehow "buying" the title. Any such complaints, however, smack of sour grapes. Saracens, much like Exeter, tend not to spend big on marquee signings and you just have to look at the number of players in the Sarries squad who have either come through their excellent academy or joined the club as young men to tell you all you need to know about the club's ethos.

No, we should just celebrate Saracens for what they are, an outstanding rugby team built on incredibly strong core values.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Aussies enter Rugby World Cup kit race

And so, hot on the heels of South Africa, the Aussies have now launched their spanking new World Cup kit.

Hardly surprisingly it's yellow (or gold if you prefer) and very reminiscent of Norwich City with the yellow (gold) socks.

And there's also an indigenous-based dark green change kit for all those times Australia will face another team dressed in yellow (gold). Which, given that Romania haven't qualified, is never.

Why no indigenous design on the yellow (gold) kit? Who knows...

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Women in Rugby

I'm really quite impressed by the new ‘Women in Rugby’ campaign launched by World Rugby this week.



The campaign - ‘Try and Stop Us' - using the inspiring stories of 15 "unstoppable" women and girls involved in rugby - is aimed at driving increased participation and engagement among players, fans and investors in women’s rugby.



The women’s game is undoubtedly one of rugby's success stories, with participation levels currently at an all-time high.  For the second year running, apparently, more young girls than boys have started playing rugby globally - a remarkable stat in itself.

So, onwards and upwards for women's rugby - check out the campaign at www.women.rugby

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

World Rugby Nations Championship back on the agenda

All eyes turn to Dublin today where World Rugby’s proposed “Nations Championship” is back firmly on the agenda.

The proposed format, which has evolved since its initial inception, would involve a top division of 10-12 teams from both hemispheres play each other once per calendar year (via the Six Nations, Rugby Championship or during the summer and autumn test windows), with the top two teams meeting in an end-of-year showpiece finale.

There still remain a number of issues to resolve, including the inclusion of Pacific Island countries, the concept of promotion/relegation, player welfare concerns and the very real possibility that the new competition would undermine the Rugby World Cup.

Personally I’m not a fan of the idea but, call me an old cynic, I suspect much of the moral and principled opposition to the idea will - despite opposition from leading players - simply melt away in the face of a proposed financial package on offer from World Rugby worth in the region of £5 billion.

After all, money talks.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

RFU finances in the spotlight again

I was surprised to read that the RFU have signed off further substantial cuts in spending to its business plan for next season which are certain to result in further redundancies.
This follows the 63 redundancies made last year as part of a major cost-cutting exercise by former CEO Steve Brown who resigned last November.
At the time the RFU ruled out further job losses, but it seems as if the RFU are continuing to overspend to an alarming degree and it is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the whiff of financial mismanagement, especially given the massive profits generated by the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
I guess the most important thing in all of this of course is that RFU Council members continue to enjoy the perks of membership. 

You think there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Think again.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Who you gonna call? Joe Marler?

Following Mako Vunipola's serious hamstring injury which, despite reports, must put his participation at this year's Rugby World Cup at risk, many on social media are now calling for Eddie Jones to get on the phone to Joe Marler to persuade the Quins prop to come out of international retirement.

Marler retired from England duty last autumn, citing a desire to spend more time with his family, and has since described the severe anxiety he suffered when on international duty.

I'm a big fan of Marler and there's no doubt that his presence in the England squad would enhance the team's prospects.

However, especially given that we are coming to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, it is hugely important that no pressure is brought to bear on Marler to reverse his retirement decision out of some misguided sense of duty or obligation.

Marler must simply do what is right for him and his family. I'd love to see him back, but certainly not at the expense of his health and wellbeing.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Jake White gets it right

I find myself in agreement with former Springbok coach Jake White who has this week questioned why teams are made to announce their match-day squads at least 48 hours before kick-off.

Although he was referring specifically to Super Rugby, the rule does appear to apply generally throughout the pro-game but, other than to provide fodder for the media, I'm not at all clear as to the rationale behind the practice. It doesn't happen in football, for example, where teams tend to be announced an hour so ahead of the game commencing.

I have never really understood the necessity for a coach to provide 48 hours notice of his team selection to the opposition as all it does is give the opposition coach the opportunity to prepare a strategy to counter any selections. Wouldn't it be better to announce the team closer to kick off, allowing for the chance for a coach to perhaps spring a selectorial or tactical surprise on the opposition?

There's more than an element of "paralysis by analysis" these days in rugby, so to add an element of unpredictability by making teams react to what is put in front of them on the day can only be a good thing, right?

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Touched

Ok, so I promise not to bore you every week with details of my touch rugby season, but last night's victory 8-5 victory over those pesky BaaBaas from Watford was of particular note as it featured yours truly crossing for THREE tries.

Admittedly all three were scored by me lurking out on the wing, hugging the touchline and taking the scoring pass on the tryline but, hey, they all count and the stats don't lie.

That's four tries my first two games with my next score now scheduled for 2023! 😁

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

McCall in the frame for England Rugby?

The latest name being bandied about as a potential successor to Eddie Jones as England Head Coach is, rather unsurprisingly, Mark McCall of Saracens.

McCall's success at Saracens - which includes four English Premiership titles (so far) and three European Champions titles - makes him an obvious contender for the England job and it is now rumoured that he is the preferred candidate at TW1.

A so called no-brainer then, apart from 2 questions:

1. Would he be willing to leave Saracens? and

2. As an Irishman, would he want to lead England?

As a fascinating aside, with Andy Farrell (another ex-Saracen) taking over the Ireland job later this year, might we be left with an Englishman coaching Ireland and an Irishman coaching England at the 2023 World Cup?

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Goode Heavens

Many congrats to Saracens - deserved winners in a brutally intense European Champions Cup final against Leinster at Newcastle's St James' Park yesterday - and to Alex Goode, voted European Player of the Year.

Goode had another excellent game for Saracens yesterday, having maintained a consistently high level of performance throughout the season, bringing his usual guile and creativity to the Sarries backline.

Naturally enough many wonder why someone can be, year on year, the Premiership's best fullback and yet cannot break into the England team.

Clearly, for Eddie Jones, something is missing. Whether that something is the lack of a yard or two of pace at international level, a perceived lack of aggression or an apparent defensive vulnerability, I'm not sure. What is clear though is that Goode has, in the past, come up a bit short when playing fullback for England.

Might Goode be worth another chance with the World Cup looming? Certainly his performances for his club would merit another opportunity but, at 31, the chances of Goode getting another bite at the cherry ahead of the likes of Daly, Watson, Nowell or Brown are fairly slim I feel.

He may just have to make do with being a legend at Saracens and the best fullback in the Premiership.

POSTSCRIPT 13 May 2019: As if his legendary status at Sarries was ever in doubt
- here's a pic from Sean Maitland's Instagram account of Alex Goode, still in full kit,
celebrating in a St Albans pub 24 hours after the Champions Cup victory...



Friday, 10 May 2019

Rugby World Cup - Beer Warning


I was quite amused by reports earlier this week that the Rugby World Cup 2019 organising committee has warned bars and restaurants in host cities in Japan not to run out of beer during the tournament later this year.

Forget the rugby, a beer shortage during the Rugby World Cup would simply be the biggest of PR disasters.

There are, reportedly, bars and restaurants in Japan who entice customers in with all-you-can-drink ‘nomihoudai’ deals. Whilst I’m sure that this would normally work as a marketing strategy, the average rugby fan rarely needs enticing into a bar and for most this would undoubtedly simply be treated as a personal challenge…

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Into Touch (2019)

So, here we are again, beginning my fourteenth consecutive touch rugby season and my tenth with Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead in its various incarnations over the years.

Yes, touch rugby is firmly back on the agenda as our Chesham Premiership campaign kicked off on Tuesday evening.

Those who have religiously followed my touch rugby career - i.e. absolutely no one - will recall that last July, having finished the summer season with a comprehensive defeat, doubts were being voiced about whether those of us of a more mature vintage would wish to continue playing in the more competitive league, perhaps instead opting to play a more social version of the game.

Somehow, however, last year's musings were entirely forgotten as we signed up for yet another year of chasing around after younger, fitter players in a forlorn attempt to roll back the years. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I turned up on Tuesday evening to find that for our first game we had a total squad of 8, and that 5 of that squad were over 50. And we were playing a bunch of 16 year olds.

Forty minutes of lung-busting activity later, somehow us knackered old fogeys had managed to hold out for an 8-5 victory, largely brought about by hard work and good communication in defence and a certain naivety amongst our opposition. And the heroic efforts of our less mature players, of course.

Having only eight players, however, did mean that it was bloody hard work with very little respite, so I'm hoping and praying (to the touch rugby gods) - for the sake of my poor aching body - that we get a couple more (younger) players turn out next week.

More fascinating updates to follow as the season progresses....

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Irish sign Jackson

The signing of Paddy Jackson by London Irish for the 2019-20 Premiership season is an interesting one.

Jackson, you may recall, was involved in high profile rape allegations last year and, although acquitted at trial, some pretty unpleasant and offensive behaviour emerging from evidence ultimately led to his dismissal by Ulster.

After a season away in France with Perpignan, Jackson will now return to assist London Irish on their return to the Premiership, with many fans unhappy at the club's apparent short memory.

It's a difficult one. Arguably Jackson has been punished for his "crime" and - having previously expressed his shame and remorse for what happened - deserves the chance to rebuild his career. On the other hand, he carries with him now a certain toxicity that will be difficult to shake off.

It's therefore either a very brave or a very foolish move by Irish.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Happy Retirement James Haskell

I was sorry to hear that James Haskell is to retire at the end of the season.

Never shy when it comes to self-promotion and perhaps not the most naturally gifted of players, Haskell is one of those players that won over his critics with sheer hard work, the force of his personality and his wholehearted approach to rugby and to life.

77 England caps, a Lions tourist in 2017, a Grand Slam winner and player of the series in Australia in June 2016 is not a bad return on his career. And, with spells in France, Japan and New Zealand, Haskell definitely did it his way.

Good luck Hask in whatever comes next in your career...


Sunday, 5 May 2019

The Total Flanker Guide to: Box Kicking

The art of box kicking - of kicking from the base of a ruck, hanging it high for your players to chase and (hopefully) regain possession, has in recent years become an integral part of any aspiring scrum half's repertoire.

Whereas previously such a tactic may have been used sparingly to catch out the opposition, these days it is very much the default tactic for many teams.

Here's how it works...

Firstly, as scrum half, you get your forwards to win the ruck. Simple enough.

And then, you slow down. You slow everything right down. Put the kettle on, check your text messages, whatever. Have a look around. If there is any danger of any opposition player getting within two metres of you, call another player into the ruck, then another, then another in a nice long crocodile-line, moving you further and further back from danger.

And then, only then, when you are good and ready and when all 29 other players on the pitch plus the referee, touch judges, coaches, replacements and spectators have all had a wee snooze, launch the ball skywards, inviting your players to chase it.

Things to bear in mind:

  • Don't worry about Law 15.17 which states that "when the ball has been clearly won by a team at the ruck, and is available to be played, the referee calls “use it”, after which the ball must be played away from the ruck within five seconds." In reality the referee will wait an age before telling you to "use it" and then phone his Mum while you make your interminable preparations; and
  • Don't worry about the likes of Joe Marler shouting "You're fucking boring me, hurry up!" He's right, of course, it is incredible dull, but since when was that your problem?

To be honest, if I could change one thing about rugby right now it would be to limit the use of the box kick. As a  bare minimum referees should be instructed to declare the ball available and issue the "use it" command much earlier and then strictly enforce the five second rule. And once the ball is available teams should not be allowed to add extra players to the ruck.

And I would be tempted to go even further. A radical solution would be to insist that from rucks and mauls the ball must be passed at least once before it can be kicked. You never know - it might be worth a go...?

Still, right now none of this is your problem. Just keep taking your time and boring the pants off everyone...

Friday, 3 May 2019

Rugby World Cup Kit Race Begins...

It's started.

South Africa have become the first team to launch their new kit for the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

The new kit is described by manfacturers ASICS as "unstoppable."

Which is nice.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

England Rugby need to move quickly for Edwards

So Shaun Edwards will not, after all, be staying on as Wales defence coach following the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Edwards had been expected to stay on with Wales, having turned down jobs with Wasps and Wigan RL in recent weeks but, it appears, was ultimately unimpressed by the 2 year contract on offer from the WRU.
The French national team would now appear to be favourites to secure his services, but what price Edwards joining the England set-up post World Cup with a view to taking over from Eddie Jones in 2021?
How many other Englishmen have Edwards' international coaching experience?
Sadly such a scenario would involve the RFU moving quickly and decisively. I shan't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Rugby Shorts...


A few things on this first day of May:



  • I know I've banged on about the likes of Israel Folau and Billy Vunipola in recent days/weeks, but there was simply no need for Samu Kerevi to apologise for quoting from the Bible and posting about his "love for Jesus" over Easter. There was nothing offensive whatsoever about Kerevi expressing his religious beliefs and certainly nothing for which to apologise.
  • Meanwhile, the rumours are true. Mathieu Bastareaud will play Major League Rugby next season, joining Rugby United New York on a season-long loan deal after this year's World Cup in Japan. According to RUNY, Bastareaud will be “a big presence.” There is certainly no denying that.
  • It looks like, in the absence of a minor miracle, Newcastle Falcons will be relegated from the Premiership at the end of the season. No doubt the promotion/relegation/ring-fencing debate will rage on but, as I keep saying, the real question here should be how many professional clubs the game in England can realistically sustain...


Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Touch Rugby World Cup

As I begin to wind up towards my annual foray into summer Touch Rugby, good luck to all those participating in the Touch World Cup in Malaysia.

My best wishes extend in particular to the GB 50s Men's team - a combined over 50s team from around the British Isles who have been putting in the hard yards in training over the past few months.

The team is something with which I would have loved to have been involved had circumstances allowed.

Maybe next time?

Monday, 29 April 2019

Saracens Women retain title

Many congrats to Saracens Women who retained the Premier 15s title on Saturday, a dominant first half display leading to a 33-17 victory in the Final against perennial rivals Harlequins.

The only disappointment was a relatively small crowd of around 2,500 at Franklin's Gardens in Northampton to witness the achievement.

I can't help feeling that the women's game is on the verge of becoming something really special and, given the quality on show, it really should be incumbent on the RFU and the clubs to do a much better job of promoting this show-case event.


Friday, 26 April 2019

Hall of Wazzocks gains new member

Sorry to keep going on about it, but I am so disappointed that there has been no apology from Billy Vunipola thus far for his support of Israel Folau's homophobic social media post, nor has his own offensive Instagram post been deleted.

Insensitively awarded Man of the Match against Munster last Saturday by BT Sport (although admittedly he did play well), Vunipola could have used the platform to issue a heartfelt apology to those hurt by his actions, but chose not to do so.

"I believe in what I believe in" is as unapologetic as it gets. He simply appears not to regret his actions.

Instead we witnessed BT Sport's unedifying and ludicrous attempts to paint Billy as some kind of victim in all of this - "toughest week of his life" etc - suggesting by implication that all is now forgiven simply by him playing well for Saracens.

I've long been a fan of Billy Vunipola, both as a player and as a character. This episode, however, undoubtedly sours my opinion of him. I had thought that the formal reprimands issued to Vunipola by both the RFU and Saracens amounted to a proportionate response. Without an apology, however, such sanction is meaningless.

In the absence of any formal action there is only one thing for it - welcome, Billy, to the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Lions look to Gatland again

It appears that Warren Gatland is to be asked to undertake another tour of duty as Head Coach of the British and Irish Lions in South Africa in 2021. 

Makes perfect sense to me given Gatland's Lions track record - although I'm sure he pretty much said "never again" after the New Zealand tour in 2017?

Intriguingly, should Gatland take the Lions job the door remains open for him to take over as England's head honcho after the Lions tour. Can't see it happening, personally, but you never know...

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Time for Billy Vunipola to say sorry

Is a formal reprimand, issued to Billy Vunipola by both the RFU and Saracens for him expressing his support for Israel Folau's homophobic social media post, sufficient punishment?

I think so. As a "first offence" I believe the response is both appropriate and proportionate. I do think, however, that it ought to be accompanied by a proper apology from Vunipola.

This has not yet been forthcoming. Merely stating that his intention was "never to cause suffering" is insufficient. There's a big difference between saying "I didn't mean any harm" and "I'm sorry for what I said."

Vunipola continues, like Folau, to hide behind "the word of God."

That's simply not good enough. Vunipola needs to learn from this and move on. He also needs to do the right thing.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Vive la France!



So, French amateur clubs have voted in a referendum against the French national team appointing a foreign head coach.

Perfectly understandable, of course. After all, having a French head coach has worked so well in recent years.

Oh, wait ...

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Billy, don't be a zero

Billy Vunipola's support for Israel Folau is either naive or just plain wrong.

According to Vunipola, Folau's Instagram post claiming that "hell awaits" homosexuals (amongst others) was merely a case of Folau saying that people should live their lives "closer to how God intended."

No, Billy.

Firstly, who is Folau, or indeed Vunipola, to tell anyone what God (for those who choose to believe in such a being) intends, but the main issue here is that the tone and the language used by Folau was way more than mere lifestyle advice.

Use of the term "hell awaits" promotes an  aggressive intolerance that has no place in society and is contrary to the values of rugby. Taken to the extreme, language like this leads to discrimination and violence and for Vunipola to condone it shows a spectacular lack of judgement.

Rugby Australia finally appears to have woken from its slumber on this issue and Folau's days as a professional rugby player look numbered.

The RFU will be speaking to Vunipola, apparently, and rightly so. He needs to acknowledge his mistake.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Youth Rugby - I'll have a Half...

While we're on the subject of youth rugby, I see that the currently voluntary "Half Game Rule" - whereby all age grade players (aged 6-18) in a match day squad get to play at least half a game - will become a regulation from next season.

This follows research by the University of Essex which concluded unsurprisingly that players who regularly play half a game or more report higher enjoyment, self-esteem and rugby playing competence.

Which is all very well until you are dealing with ultra-competitive 15/16 year olds and above.

At a recent safeguarding seminar we were told that winning wasn't very important to kids and that fun and participation were the key drivers. That may be true of 6 year olds, but from experience of coaching from ages 13 to 16, the desire for victory amongst the boys grows stronger year on year.

In our current Under 16 team - which features a maximum of 22 boys of mixed ability - we do our very best to implement the Half Game Rule by using regular rolling replacements. Sometimes, however, in a tight league or cup game, for instance, it is just not possible - not unless we're willing to incur the wrath of some very stroppy teenagers questioning why we have lost them the game.

A great example of this was a cup game played a few weeks ago. At half time we were two tries down, whereupon the opposition coach brought on six replacements. Ten minutes later, after we had scored two tries ourselves, those replacements were suddenly withdrawn and the original players restored to the fray. Naughty, but understandable given that his team wanted to win an important game.

And then, of course, there is the question of which boys actually deserve to play. Is it fair, for instance, for a player who barely ever shows up at training to turn up to a match and be guaranteed a half at the expense of someone who trains diligently every week?

As a concept the Half Game Rule is fine - as coaches we all want to give our players as much time on the field as we can to help develop their skills and encourage their enjoyment of rugby.

For it to be compulsory, though, is possibly a step too far. How on earth would it be policed, for instance, and how would sanctions be applied?

And has anyone considered the obvious unintended consequence that unscrupulous clubs and coaches will simply select smaller match squads for key matches to ensure that their weaker players are not involved?


Thursday, 11 April 2019

Youth Rugby - another season draws to a close


Last weekend saw my son's Under 16 team (of which I am one of the esteemed coaches) finish their league season with a tough 7-7 draw.

It was a brutally physical match in which, unfortunately, both of our flankers broke ankles. I've mentioned previously just how physically confrontational and brutal rugby has become and Sunday showed that the Under 16s game is no exception - an enthralling game of rugby but two broken ankles does seem to me to be a high price to pay.

Nevertheless it was a hugely brave and committed performance from our lads against a very tough team with an astonishingly good defence. Having been promoted to Herts/Middlesex 2nd Division at the end of 2017-18, this season was always going to be a big step up for our boys, especially physically, so they can be really proud of their efforts (as I know the coaches are), having finished with a P7 W3 D1 L3 record in the league and having performed consistently well in friendlies throughout the season.

Having somewhat cantered through last season, it has been good for the boys to learn this season how to lose with good grace and also how to learn from their defeats - and as the season has gone on there has been a  marked improvement in their ability to problem-solve and adapt during games (take note Eddie Jones!).

It's been great to witness the team's progression and just how much togetherness they are now displaying as a squad. As coaches, ultimately the goal is to have as many of the boys as possible to want to continue to play into adulthood. They will step up into Colts rugby next season - another stepping stone on the way...

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Will Rugby Australia finally sanction Israel Folau?

Israel Folau is at it again, posting on Instagram this week that hell awaits "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters".
Such comments are "unacceptable" according to Rugby Australia.
As I've said before, Folau has the right to say whatever he wants.  Such bigotry cannot be, however, without consequence. 
The question remains as to whether Rugby Australia will, unlike last year, finally grow a pair and sanction the bigot? 


Friday, 5 April 2019

Crusaders - what's in a name?

I completely understand why the Crusaders are considering changing their name and branding following the recent terrible terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch which claimed 50 lives.

The Crusaders' name and brand is  based on the Christian crusades in the 11th to 13th centuries to reclaim Jerusalem from Muslim rule, with the team’s current badge featuring a medieval knight with a cross on his chest and pre-match entertainment featuring knights in chain mail on horseback.

Not only might this be described as culturally insensitive, apparently the shooter in the recent attacks in Christchurch actually referred to the Crusades in his manifesto and had names of medieval Christian military leaders printed on his weapons.

So I get why the Crusaders are reviewing the name and brand and in doing so I believe they are doing the right thing.

And yet, what’s in a name?

No one is seriously suggesting, are they, that the Crusaders organisation, purely by the use of the name and brand, is actually islamophobic?

For the marketing people, clearly having an identifiable name and imagery around which a club can rally support and put bums on seats, is a positive thing – although in general terms (and I’ve said this before)  I've always thought it a bit naff where the imagery and brand used has no historical content or link with the local area. Exeter Chiefs (and indeed the Crusaders) fall right into that category as far as I am concerned and Bristol Bears are the latest example - Bristol being, by and large, bear-free as far as I am aware.

A tragedy like the one suffered in Christchurch last month, however, should always give us pause for thought and reflection. If, following the terrorist attack, the Crusaders’ name and brand has become so offensive to large sections of the local community that it has become toxic as a commercial asset, then inevitably change will, and should, come.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

No place for diving in rugby

The theatrical way in which Munster lock Tadhg "Neymar" Beirne hit the deck in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final, to milk a penalty following minimal contact from Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman, does neither the player nor the game any favours.

To me it merited a yellow card for the otherwise excellent Beirne and I believe the authorities should look at it and at the very least issue a reprimand.

Failing that, let's hope that the ridicule and scorn Beirne has endured since the incident will deter both him and other players from indulging in similar behaviour in the future.

Cheating (because that is what it is) is something that is beginning to creep into our game - witness players brandishing imaginary cards in the Racing-Toulouse encounter on Sunday - and needs stamping out before it gets out of control.  This isn't football.

Meanwhile Beirne's application to the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks is in my inbox.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Tigers keeping it in the family

I have to admit that I had to check that the news that former England and Ireland coach Mike Ford was joining Leicester Tigers' coaching team was not an April Fools prank.

It does appear, however, that Ford will help coach the Tigers – including his two sons, George and Joe – until the end of the season as they fight relegation from the Premiership. 

Rumours remain unconfirmed that former England scrum half Nick Youngs is insisting that he also joins the coaching staff to keep an eye on sons Ben and Tom. It is, however, believed that Dan Cole’s Auntie Jean has been appointed scrummaging coach...

Monday, 1 April 2019

World Rugby to consider Golden Oldies tackle laws

Another interesting tit-bit to come out of the recent World Rugby player safety symposium in Paris is a proposal to introduce Golden Oldies type tackling laws into mainstream rugby.

Although precise details have not yet been confirmed and require clarification, it is believed that the proposed new laws would mean that any player wearing red shorts may be "claimed and held" but not tackled, any player wearing gold shorts may not be held or tackled, while any player wearing purple shorts may not be held, tackled, touched or obstructed. All such players, it is proposed, may only run with the ball for a total distance of 15 metres before passing to a team mate.

The devil will be in the detail and obviously there will need to be limits to the numbers of players in special shorts per team, but the proposal is clearly being considered with player safety in mind and would allow teams to protect certain players who would otherwise vulnerable to injury.

World Rugby has confirmed that no decision has yet been made on this matter and no changes would be made until after the World Cup in Japan. If endorsed, however, it is expected that the new laws will initially be trialed in French amateur rugby with a view to being introduced, if successful, by 1st April 2020.

For the record I am in favour of any measure that improves player safety...

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Days of the Jackal numbered?

Another measure apparently being considered by World Rugby following last week’s player welfare symposium in Paris is to prevent any player arriving at the breakdown from playing the ball with their hands.

This would effectively end "the jackal" as we know it.

Finally World Rugby are listening to me!!

The proposal is clearly being considered with player safety in mind, with the likes of Sam Warburton and David Pocock - both world class jackals - having suffered long term injuries caused by heavy hits taken to the back and neck while in an exposed position competing for the ball at at the breakdown. Is it any wonder that these players, who clamp themselves over the ball with head and neck exposed while the opposition smash into them in an attempt to remove them by any and all means necessary, suffer long term damage?

Back in my day (here we go go again), when I last played in anger in the 80s and 90s, the jackal didn't actually exist. When you were tackled you had to release the ball immediately - none of this rolling around for a few seconds and placing the ball back - while anyone arriving at the breakdown was required to drive over both the ball and any prone player. No hands were allowed, but there was still plenty of competition for possession. Yes, there would be the occasional/regular boot to the body (and occasionally worse), but wounds tended to be mostly superficial rather than the high impact, long-term injuries prevalent today.

I'm not sure when that all changed, when locking on to the ball with your hands after a tackle first became permitted and then encouraged, but there is no doubt that the physical punishment taken by today's jackals is far more severe than the the occasional boot to the body.

So, while any change to the laws aimed at driving the jackal out of rugby would, of course, fundamentally alter the game as it is played now, I don't think that would be a bad thing. The contest for possession would not disappear, only change in its nature.

And rugby would be a darned sight safer.




Sunday, 24 March 2019

New law trials on the horizon for Rugby

A few interesting bits and pieces to come out of last week's three-day player welfare and law symposium in Paris, with World Rugby considering a handful of radical proposals for new laws to be trialled after the World Cup.

With player safety at the forefront, French amateur rugby will trial a new approach to the tackle laws, with the height of a legal tackle being lowered to the waistline and the two-man tackle being outlawed. There is no doubt that such an approach would fundamentally change the game, making it easier to break through tackles and to offload. This may or may not improve the game and it may or may not prove safer - although logically it makes sense - but unless you try these things you'll never know.

Another morsel of interest is the proposed introduction of a "50-22" law whereby the attacking team is awarded the throw-in at a lineout when the ball is kicked from within their own half and bounces into touch inside the opponent’s 22. The idea is that defenders would need to drop back to defend the kick and leave more space in the defensive line, ergo fewer collisions. It may work (although beware of unintended consequences) and it may not - but, again, probably worth a try...


Saturday, 23 March 2019

The Total Flanker Guide to: Being an Alickadoo

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Alickadoo as:
"A person who is attached to or associated with a rugby game or club but does not play, especially an administrative official or committee member."
I am a person attached to or associated with a rugby club (in my capacity as a coach of a club Under 16 team) who does not play.

I am not, however, an Alickadoo - at least not yet. I do, however, have aspirations in that direction.

The definition of an Alickadoo is quite correct when it makes reference to administrative officials and committee members but there are a few things that the definition omits:

1. The Blazer

A blazer, preferably in club colours, is the staple uniform of any self-respecting Alickadoo and is to be worn on an almost permanent basis and definitely whenever within a 2 mile radius of the clubhouse. This is vitally important - after all, what is the point of being an Alickadoo if you can't be identified as such. It's not for nothing that club Alickadoos are often collectively referred to as "the Blazers." I don't have a club blazer. I must buy one or, if none exists, invent one.

2. Clubhouse residency

Another characteristic of any Alickadoo is that they spend every spare waking hour at the clubhouse. Effectively, whenever the clubhouse is open the Alickadoo is expected to be there, positioned in very close proximity to the bar, alcoholic beverage of choice in hand. Maintenance of this constant presence is key to everyone understanding just how important you are, although side effects may include inevitable insolvency, liver failure and marital difficulties. An understanding spouse is therefore hugely advantageous. This may be my biggest challenge.

3. Talking a good game

It is impossible to be an Alickadoo unless you have the capacity to regale anyone who will listen, and even those that won't, with stories and anecdotes about how marvellous rugby was in your day, about games you've played in and tours you've been on and about certain long-gone club characters who no one else can remember as well as proffering your considered opinion on the current state of the club, your county, professional rugby, your national team and rugby in general. Fortunately this happens to be my default setting. I feel I am half way there.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

England Rugby's Flowerpot Men

BILL & BEN
So, according to the media, Billy Vunipola and Ben Te'o have had to make a "grovelling apology" to team mates after returning to the team hotel late and the worse for wear for drink following a night out after the 38-38 draw with Scotland on Sunday.

That's two grown men going out, letting off some steam and getting a bit pissed AFTER the conclusion of the Six Nations tournament.

No one was hurt, no damage was caused, no laws were broken, no one was arrested.

How times have changed. I mean, it's hardly Dean Richards and John Jeffrey and a severely dented Calcutta Cup it it?

Move along ladies and gentlemen, nothing to see here.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Whither England 2019?

Ok, a few days has passed since the most ridiculous game of rugby I have ever witnessed, so time to reflect a little more calmly on England's performance during the 2019 Six Nations.

Not that I have calmed down that much, and the news today that spoon-bending publicity junkie, Uri Geller, is urging Eddie Jones to take him to the World Cup as the answer to England’s psychological problems tells us just how ludicrous Saturday's implosion was.

First of all let's be honest - England's second half performance against Scotland at Twickenham was the stuff of nightmares as a 31-0 lead somehow became an unbearable burden to the extent that it was squandered by a team that panicked at the first hint of a Scottish revival. We are talking about hardened professional rugby players who lost all semblance of shape, control or discipline. It was truly, truly shocking and no amount of positivity about how well England attacked at times during this competition can disguise that.

That there is an underlying mental frailty - also demonstrated in Cardiff - cannot be in doubt. But for Eddie Jones to lay this at the door of England's premature exit from the 2015 World Cup is simply disingenuous. Jones has had four Six Nations competitions (and indeed won his first two) to iron out any World Cup hangovers and this team is very different from the one that failed in 2015, so the only conclusion to draw is that Jones is just trying to pass the buck. Next thing you know he'll be blaming Sam Burgess.

On the plus side, the England squad as a whole looks stronger than it has done for a while.

England now have some great front row options with the emergence of Ben Moon to cover Mako Vunipola at loosehead and with Kyle Sinckler establishing himself a potentially world class number 3. There are plenty of quality locks - with Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes to return - and the backrow now has proper balance with Curry and Wilson, although I do have my concerns about Billy Vunipola's diminishing returns. What the pack does lack is someone to take control and get hold of the game. Dylan Hartley? Perhaps, but I'd be surprised if his form could merit a return. 

In the backs England look to be in fine fettle with the exception that Manu Tuilagi still looks decidedly uncomfortable at 12 and Elliot Daly remains unconvincing as a fullback. There are, however, classy wings in abundance (including the now superb Jonny May) and Henry Slade now looks to the manor born. The main issue appears to be at half-back. Ben Youngs, despite his 85 caps, seems incapable of properly shaping a game at scrum half while Owen Farrell - good player that he is - has worryingly lost the plot tactically on the two occasions that England have been put under real pressure.

Unfortunately it is almost certainly too late for Eddie Jones to change tack now. I'm sure he has most of his 31 man World Cup squad pencilled in (barring injuries). All he can say is that he will bring in someone to fix England's psychological issues - as if it's that easy.

Let's just hope that someone is not Uri Geller!

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

England Women's Grand Slam - congrats and a warning...

Many congrats to England's women on their Six Nations Grand Slam which was never really in doubt.

With a points difference of 233 and an average score per match of 55-9 this really was as straightforward as it gets, not massively surprising given that England were the only fully professional team in the competition.

It's great that England's women are being rewarded, but given their utter dominance it is incumbent on the powers that be to ensure that standards are raised across the board - a title sponsor for the Women's Six Nations would be a good start.

After all, while the England women can, in the short term, bask in their much deserved success, without meaningful competition the women's game will simply atrophy in the longer term.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Six Nations 2019: Champs & Chumps



Here it is, the moment you've been waiting for, the Champs and Chumps of the 2019 Six Nations...

CHAMPS:

15. Liam Williams - faultless.
14. Josh Adams - outshone his more illustrious wing partner.
13. Henry Slade - now a fully fledged international centre.
12. Hadleigh Parkes - colossus in the Welsh centres
11. Jonny May - now world class.
10. Finn Russell - touch of genius.
9. Antoine Dupont - a chink of light amidst French darkness .
1. Cian Healy - a warrior for Ireland
2. Jamie George - Dylan who?.
3. Kyle Sinckler - getting better and better.
4. Alun Wyn Jones - currently the world's best lock.
5. George Kruis - back to his best.
6. Josh Navidi - superb.
7. Tom Curry - England finally have a proper openside.
8. Ross Moriarty - now undroppable.

CHUMPS:

15. Robbie Henshaw - totally exposed by England's kicking game.
14. Angelo Esposito - apparently "esposito" is Italian for turnstile.
13. Mathieu Bastareaud - France will never progress until they stop picking a prop at 13.
12. Bundee Aki - opposition now appear to have him worked out.
11. Yoann Huget - defensive liability with horrible attitude.
10. Camile Lopez - Sexton and Farrell were disappointing, but Lopez was truly awful.
9. Morgan Parra - AWOL at Twickenham and French career seemingly over. Ben Youngs a close second.
1. Andrea Lovotti - whatever happened to fantastic Italian scrummaging?
2.  Leonardo Ghiraldini - only contribution now is stroppiness.
3. Dan Cole - not quite sure what he's doing back in the England fold.
4. Jonny Gray - just making tackles is no longer enough.
5. Sébastien Vahaamahina - briefly French captain without knowing it!! 
6. Arthur Iturria - general loose cannon.
7. Sean O'Brien - nowhere near the levels he's previously achieved.
8. Sergio Parisse - sadly the light has faded. Tight call with Picamoles.