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

Not impressed

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.

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.

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...