Thursday, 29 August 2019

Rugby World Cup: Russian Roulette

Russia's 35-22 defeat to English Championship team Jersey, in a World Cup warm up game in Moscow this week, doesn't do very much  for the credibility of the Rugby World Cup.

Russia, you may recall, only qualified for the World Cup after Romania and Spain were thrown out of the competition for fielding ineligible players in the 2018 Six Nations B championship.

And it would appear that, going by this week's defeat by Jersey and the recent 85-15 thumping at the hands of Italy, the Russians are more than likely to be seriously out of their depth when they get to Japan.

Pooled with Ireland, Scotland, Japan and Samoa, it could all get very messy indeed.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

England Rugby: A Farewell to Smelly Ben

I find myself agreeing with Ugo Monye - insofar as there is a distinct whiff surrounding Ben Te'o's decision, announced last week, to bugger off and join Toulon.

The move exposes Te'o for what he is - a rugby mercenary.

Nothing wrong with that, one might say, the bloke's a professional rugby player and has the right to provide for his family and ply his trade wherever he chooses.

The fact that he decided to head off to the southern France pretty much as soon as he was dropped from the England RWC squad by Eddie Jones, though, suggests that this move had been in the offing for a while.

More fool the RFU, perhaps, for selecting him in the first place - even without the gift of hindsight it was pretty obvious that his decision to leave Leinster in 2016 to pursue an England career was, in no small part, primarily motivated by cold, hard cash - so the powers-that-be really shouldn't be too surprised that the time and money spent developing Te'o as an international player has now been rewarded in such a fashion.

"You can't come and swear allegiance to the country and then the moment things get a bit bumpy, catch the next flight to the south of France" says Ugo Monye.

 "Just watch me" - is obviously Te'o's response.

One might think that the "once bitten, twice shy" principle might be adopted by the RFU in the future, although recent history (Nathan Hughes, Brad Shields, Willi Heinz) suggests otherwise...

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

England Rugby - not the time for premature congratulation

Tempting as it is to to get carried away with England's performance against Ireland at the weekend (and it's difficult to argue with a 57-15 scoreline), the eternal pessimist in me still has a few concerns, namely:

- Were England that good, or were Ireland that poor?

- Ben Youngs. Nuff said.

- Elliot Daly - still not convinced he's an international 15.

- Even if just precautionary, Mako V coming off after just 17 minutes doesn't bode well.

- Are England peaking way too early?

Thursday, 22 August 2019

James Haskell: MMA Fighter

When, on James Haskell's retirement in May, I wished him well in whatever came next in his career, I was probably thinking more along the lines of rugby punditry.

I'm pretty sure that I wasn't thinking that he might become a professional mixed martial arts fighter.

And yet news today that Haskell, never one to shun the limelight, has signed a deal with Bellator MMA and is expected to make his debut as a heavyweight next year.

It's a brave move, for sure, and will be nothing if not entertaining.

Good luck Hask, you might need it!

Rugby to go gender neutral

It is safe to say that, in the time that I have been messing about with this blog, Women's Rugby has taken huge strides forward.

And the next stage in the evolution of the women's game comes with the announcement by World Rugby that, in future, no mention of gender will be included in the titles of marquee tournaments.

The Women's World Cup in 2021 will therefore be renamed Rugby World Cup 2021.

And to those who might claim that this will inevitably cause confusion with the men's Rugby World Cup, I'd say we're probably all big enough and clever enough to get our heads around it.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Rugby has to tackle mental illness

Fascinating interview with former Wasps lock Kearnan Myall in the Guardian earlier this week in which he highlights rugby’s failure in addressing the mental wellbeing of professional rugby players.

 The headline – “Several England players I know dread training camp” – is somewhat sensationalist and disingenuous as it does not really reflect the overall interview which highlights Myall’s struggles with mental illness during which, shockingly, he reached a point in his life where the pressure and scrutiny involved in playing professional rugby took him to a place where he had “made peace with the fact that, at some point, [he] was going to commit suicide.”

The fact that the revelations appear to have come as a surprise to his club, Wasps, highlights just how difficult it is for professional rugby players to admit to suffering any mental frailty.

It seems strange to those of us on the outside that young men who, on the face of it, are “living the dream” are, in fact, struggling so badly with mental illness – but there are increasing examples of players and former players – Joe Marler, Andy Powell, Alex Corbisiero, Duncan Bell, to name but a few – who have come forward over the last few years to discuss their struggles publicly, and research by the PRA confirms that the problem is way more widespread than one might imagine.

Myall – who is stepping away from the game to take a PhD in psychiatry at Oxford University – is to be applauded for his candour and for highlighting an ever-increasing problem for the game.

One can only hope that the powers-that-be take heed.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Are Wales now Rugby World Cup favourites?

And so Wales are, after all, now the number one ranked team in the world following their 13-6 win over England in Cardiff.

How that works - after previous incumbents New Zealand handed the Wallabies a 36-0 drubbing yesterday - is anyone's guess.

As Eddie Jones subsequently pointed out, technically that must make Wales, as the world no.1, the favourites for the World Cup.

Strange times indeed.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Yorkshire Carnegie now taking the piss

The controversy surrounding Yorkshire Carnegie refuses to go away.

The long and the short of it is that last season the club went bust. But rather than be penalised by the RFU, Carnegie have been allowed to continue playing in the Championship whilst they allegedly still owe money to many of last season's playing staff.

And now, to put the icing on the cake - Carnegie have announced the signing of ex-England wing Tom Varndell - who presumably won't be just playing for his bus fare and post-match meat pie - who joins other high profile signing Joe Ford at Headingly for the coming season.

Someone, somewhere is taking the piss.

Friday, 16 August 2019

All Blacks Old and Slow?

You've just got to love the Aussies. One victory at home against a New Zealand team who played half the game with 14 men and you would think they had won the World Cup.

With habitual rent-a-gob David Campese claiming that it is now time to "crush the fading All Blacks", the Aussie press, in the form of the Daily Telegraph, have weighed in with claims that the All Blacks are "old and slow", illustrating their point with Faceapp-treated photos of the ancient Sonny Bill Williams (34), Sam Whitelock (30) and Kieran Read (30).

My suspicion is that this will all come back to bite the Australians on the arse quite quickly. Tomorrow, in Auckland, to be precise.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

All Blacks' no.1 status under threat

I have to say I'm not a big fan of how the World Rugby ranking system works.

It is being reported that if the All Blacks lose to Australia again next weekend they will fall from 1st to 4th place in the world rankings. And if they lose by 16 points or more, they will slip to 6th.

All of which seems utterly ridiculous given their overall record over the past 12-18 months.

Obviously New Zealand's no.1 status should not be set in stone but it does seem perverse that what many perceive to be a mere a blip in form can have such dramatic consequences.

Furthermore, apparently a win by Wales over England on Saturday will see them climb to the top of the rankings, whilst an England victory by 16 points or more will see the English gain the no.1 spot.

Which, in either case, is ludicrous given that the game in Cardiff is merely another warm-up match for the World Cup.

Of course I fully expect New Zealand to beat the Aussies at the weekend so this will all be moot, but still...

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

England Early Birds Ahead of the Curve

Well done Eddie Jones - the early bird announcement of England's 31 man Rugby World Cup squad, nearly 4 weeks ahead of the 8th September deadline is, I think, a shrewd move, allowing the chosen players to focus fully on preparation without the distraction of not knowing whether they will be on the plane to Japan.

That said, injuries will no doubt play their part and I'd be surprised if the 31 named will be the ones flying out to Japan in September.

As to the squad itself, it is pretty much as I expected, although taking only 2 tight heads and 2 scrum halves is clearly a risk and the fact that so many of the squad - e.g. Ludlum, Singleton, Cokanasiga, Francis, Heinz and McConnochie - have so few international caps between them, does suggest that Eddie's 4 year planning process has not been without its flaws.

Still, Jones's track record at World Cups isn't too shoddy and in theory his knowledge of Japan's people, culture, climate and geography could work in England's favour.

I have to admit, it's beginning to get exciting...

Monday, 12 August 2019

International Rugby Phoney War in full swing

It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from the weekend's rugby.

What should we make of South Africa dismantling the Argentina to win a truncated Rugby Championship? (Answer: for a while now I've fancied the Springboks to win the RWC).

Does New Zealand's heavy Bledisoe defeat to Australia mean that the All Blacks are now officially vulnerable? (Answer: I doubt it, they'll be as tough to beat as ever in Japan).

How do we assess an experimental England team denying a full-strength Wales the world number one spot with victory at Twickenham? (Answer: not really a huge surprise given the Welsh track record at HQ in recent years, despite the pre-game hubris).

And - assuming that pre-season brawlers Ben Te'o and Mike Brown will not make the England RWC squad - who will make the cut when Eddie Jones announces his selections later today? (Answer: I haven't the foggiest, but Lewis Ludlum and Willi Heinz certainly did their chances no harm at all against Wales).

Confused? You will be...

Friday, 9 August 2019



What a start in American Football for former Wasps and England winger Christian Wade, who scored a stunning 65-yard touchdown with his first touch on his Buffalo Bills debut in a pre-season game against Indianapolis Colts.

And there was me questioning his decision to switch to the NFL.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Northern Exposure

They are certainly not happy bunnies down at Richmond FC.

Which is unsurprising really following the RFU's decision to allow the insolvent Yorkshire Carnegie to kick off the forthcoming season in the Championship at the expense of Richmond who were relegated last season.

Whilst there is an understandable desire to ensure the survival of professional rugby in the north, Richmond does have a more than compelling case that it cannot possibly be in the interests of the game that clubs be allowed to rack up huge debts with players not fully paid and contracts cancelled.

Especially when, given the reprieve, said club then recruits the likes of Joe Ford at - one imagines - not inconsiderable expense.

Apparently the RFU decision is under review. Watch this space.