Monday, 27 February 2017

But is it rugby?

I have to say I’m really not sure what to make of yesterday’s England v Italy game at Twickenham.

On the one hand I want to say well done to Italy for implementing an innovative and effective defensive strategy by refusing to engage in rucks and rendering the offside-line obsolete.

On the other hand it did turn the game into a shapeless shambles in which referee Romain Poite appeared to be complicit. It looked to me like he was enjoying just a little too much the fact that England were for the most part bamboozled by the Italian tactics.

Poite may well just be “a referee, not a coach” but it did feel for much of the game that he was an enthusiastic and active participant in the Italian gameplan. I know it is common for coaches to speak to referees beforehand to seek clarification on how the game will be refereed, but I think it’s now clear that such briefings do need to involve both teams to avoid the perception of referee collusion. Monsieur Poite also, in my view, made several calls wrongly, allowing Italian players to disengage from the ruck before making the call “tackle only”.

That said, England’s failure to cope with the Italian tactics and their failure to adapt to the referee was extremely poor and their overall performance level, especially in the first half, was shockingly bad.

Eddie Jones may be decrying the Italian approach in public, but in private he must be more than a little miffed that England were comprehensively out-thought by Italy for much of the game and will be furious with his players’ inability to deal with the unexpected as well as some of the performances of individual players.

Owen Farrell had a shocker on the occasion of his 50th cap, George Ford was again defensively frail, Danny Care looked bewildered for 40 minutes, James Haskell and (worryingly) Dylan Hartley looked clueless, Nathan Hughes and Dan Cole gave away a succession of mindless penalties and the whole team looked rudderless for long periods. Only Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell emerged with much credit from the debacle.

It will be interesting to see what the fallout will be in terms of selection for the Scotland game in a fortnight. I suspect Jones’ patience with some players in running a little thin.

Anyway, rant over. I’m not going to comment on the other 2 games - my team of the week below reflects my overall view of the weekend’s action:


15. Stuart Hogg 14. Jack Nowell 13. Michele Campagnaro 12. Robbie Henshaw 11. Tim Visser 
10. Finn Russell 9. Conor Murray 1. Cyril Baille  2. Rory Best 3. Rabah Slimani  4. Joe Launchbury    
5. Sebastien Vahaamahina 6. John Barclay 7. Hamish Watson 8. Ryan Wilson

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Denny for England?

Sale Sharks winger Denny Solomona has apparently decided that he would like to play rugby for England.
Solomona has scored 8 tries in 5 games for Sale since controversially switching codes from Castleford Tigers in December.
The New Zealand-born winger has represented Samoa at rugby league but will soon be qualified to play union for England under the 3 year residency rule.
Should he be selected?
There is no problem with his eligibility. Under the current regulations he would clearly be eligible for selection.
Morally and ethically, though, it is less clear cut. He is not English, has no connection with England, has previously expressed no desire to play for England and only now qualifies to play for England owing to a period of time spent playing a different sport in this country and a switch to rugby union in circumstances which were highly controversial and which currently remain the subject of a legal dispute.
If he does turn out to be good enough to play international rugby and it is decided that he is better than the wingers England currently has, then I guess that Eddie Jones would be foolish not to select him.
It would be a decision, however, that for all sorts of reasons would not sit very easily with me.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Georgia on my mind (again)

The case for Georgia’s inclusion in the Six Nations, whether via a play-off against the bottom team or as part of an extended championship, is becoming increasingly difficult to refute.

Currently ranked 12 in the World Rugby standings (2 places above Italy and only 4 behind Scotland), Georgia have won every Six Nations 'B' tournament since 2011 and lead this year’s championship with 2 wins from 2.

The Six Nations remains an anachronistic closed shop, however, leaving Georgia starved of regular fixtures against Tier 1 nations.

To international rugby’s shame, it took years before Argentina were allowed to eat from the top table. The same fate should not be allowed to befall the Georgians.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dan Vickerman RIP

Shocked and saddened by the tragic death of former Aussie lock Dan Vickerman.

37 is no age at all...

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Age is only a number

With no international rugby on which to focus this weekend, my attention is drawn to comments from Andrew Walker, former Australian dual rugby international, who has volunteered his services to the Brumbies at the ripe old age of 43.
According to Walker "the fire is still blazing" and although he may have "lost about 10 per cent of speed” he “makes up for that with experience”.
You have to love this guy’s optimism and enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, 52 year old Total Flanker has once again made himself available for British & Irish Lions selection.
I still have a few smouldering embers” said the rotund veteran, “and while I may have lost more than 70 per cent of my pace, I more than make up for it with cunning, dishonesty and treachery.”

Friday, 17 February 2017

The story so far…

As a fallow 6 Nations weekend approaches, time perhaps to reflect on what we have seen so far:

- Cracking rugby;

- Five of the six teams have achieved at least one victory in their opening two matches;

- England’s late, late shows are doing my heart no good at all;

- Two-thirds of all games have been edge of the seat affairs decided by one score;

- Attacking intent is evident even if, to date, defences have largely prevailed;

- Italy’s progress has at best stalled – and calls for Georgia to replace the Azurri in the competition are, whilst probably unrealistic, no longer without merit;

- The number of injuries gives lie to any suggestion that the Six Nations should in future be cut from 7 weeks to 5 – yes it’s frustrating but the fallow weekends are important to allow teams to rest and recuperate.

Can’t wait for next weekend…