Thursday, 20 June 2019

Back to the drawing board for World Rugby

A "lack of consensus on key issues" has, it seems, led World Rugby to abandon plans for its proposed Nations Championship.

One of the major sticking points appears to have been the concept of promotion and relegation from the Six Nations, with some northern hemisphere unions unconvinced.

Although some might say that such a reason for not supporting the concept was a tad pathetic, I do feel that there are other areas where the plans were certainly deficient, not least in that they gave scant consideration to player welfare issues and didn't ever address the question of how crowning a new "World Champion" every year could not fail to undermine the World Cup.

It is a shame in many ways as the Nations Championship concept did at least try to address the question of a global season. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, however, I would have thought that World Rugby could use the work done so far to come up with something that might garner unanimous support?

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Is it so, Joe?

According to The Times, Joe Marler has been named in England's elite player squad (no official confirmation as yet) and therefore is in contention for a return to international rugby for this year’s World Cup.

As an England fan I hope it is true.

As a Marler fan, I'm not so sure. 

Having announced his retirement from the international game in September last year and having since opened up about his mental health difficulties, I only hope (and I've said this previously) that both he and Eddie Jones have made the correct call as far as his health and well being is concerned.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Big Basta à Big Apple: a Frenchman in New York

With Mathieu Bastareaud (along with Morgan Parra) omitted from France's 37 man training squad for the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year, his decision to try his hand in Major League Rugby with  Rugby United New York may well end up being a longer-term move than first anticipated.

I have to say I am surprised that Jacques Brunel chose to omit Bastareaud. I do think it's the correct call if France want attacking fluidity in their midfield, but Brunel's tendency so far has been to rely on Bastareaud's bulk, solidity and breakdown nous at the expense of speed and creativity, so his non-selection is a little unexpected.

It had been anticipated that Bastareaud's move to New York - where he will team up with the likes of Ben Foden - was to be something of a sabbatical from the weekly grind of the French Top 14 but now, who knows, with his French international career possibly coming to a conclusion, the 30 year old may yet see MLR as his long term future?

POSTSCRIPT Wed 19 June 2019 - "LA PAGE BLEUE SE TOURNE" - the clairvoyant powers of Total Flanker know no bounds as Monsieur Bastareaud today announced his retirement from international rugby. Sometimes I just impress myself...

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.