Most recent blog post at top...please scroll down for previous musings.
The Six Nations.
What a start!
In Blog # 1 I suggested France at 6/1 were a reasonable bet while in Blog #2 I suggested England’s game against France would result in either “huge redemption for England or nasty headlines in the Monday Newspapers”.
Too Many Round Pegs in Square Holes
Hard to Recall a Worse First Half by England
Author of Own Misfortune
Unbalanced Underpowered England.
The overall likely outcome will be no Grand Slam as Wales have to visit Ireland and England, France have to visit Wales and Ireland have to visit Wales & France. So some interesting factors could come into play. Bonus points could end being very critical with the result that the kick by the French scrumhalf to kick the ball “dead” in the 79 minute could well come back to haunt France!
England scored a bonus point in the 80th minute of the game and leaving France with a point could well become very crucial in the end. The other factor relates to Italy and the 42 points loss to Wales. If, at the end of the Tournament, some teams are equal on points at the top then points scored, for and against, come into play. Wales already have a net 42 points in the bank and that is bad news for Italy. The other four teams will now be looking to take Italy “to the cleaners” and to do so for a full 80 minutes in order to bank as many points as possible. Italy, on Saturday, looked like a bunch of players who had to introduce themselves to each other in the dressing room having played as individuals rather than a team. On Sunday they visit France and, based on the game against Wales, it will be the France of old, all-out attack with no need to defend!
Ireland vs. Scotland (19-12)
This was a tough game for Ireland against a determined Scottish team which appears to have improved since the World Cup. As one pundit put it “great to watch but annoying to support”!
However the visit on Saturday by an England team “fit to be tied”, will determine if the improvement was an optical illusion. Stuart Hogg’s mini rugby (not schoolboys!) type error will haunt him for quite some time. However, he must have thought he was playing for a 3B club team, where the referee is 40 yards behind the play, when he “pretended” to celebrate scoring having dropped the ball! Sorry Stuart, but they have had video referees for quite some time now! But you do feel sorry for him as he is a truly great player and an absolute delight to watch in action.
Ireland won but lost four players; Ringrose for the next two games with a broken thumb, Doris and Kilcoyne, possibly out for this Saturday’s game with head injuries, and Furlong also a doubt with hamstring problems.
Wales vs. Italy (42-0)
Not a lot to say about this except it just shows how important Sergio Parisse has been to Italy over the years. He wasn’t playing on Saturday but he would not have allowed Italy to play like that if he was on the field.
France vs. England (24-17).
Three people, not on the field, were probably responsible for the French win; Shaun Edwards, Eddie Jones and Nigel Farage! France has always been an attacking team, largely ignoring defence, and relying more on scoring more points than the opposition. Shaun Edwards, their new defensive coach, has changed all that with Johnny May the only one to break that defense with his outstanding broken field running. The loss of Billy Vunipola was a big blow to England but one has the feeling Edwards would have had a plan to deal with him also. Curry, being asked to play at #8, was a poor selection. Eddie Jones, as usual, let his mouth run away with him, boasting of how England were going to do some physical damage, all within the laws of the game (!) against the youngsters of France, as a welcome to international rugby. One way to get the oppositions hackles up!
And then there was Nigel, his mouth and his antics. His flag waving in Brussels, against the rules of the European Parliament, and his post Brexit speeches may not have been noticed in most rugby circles but they were noticed in France as the final straw. The result was every person entering the stadium was given a French flag and I doubt if so many national flags have ever been seen at a rugby game! England were on the receiving end of a post-Brexit retort!
Farrell, Itoje and others.
It has not been a good few months for this talented band of Saracen brothers playing for England! First of all failing to turn up in the Rugby World Cup Final after the highs of defeating the All Blacks in the semi-final, then to come home to the Saracens debacle, followed by demotion to the Championship, and finally seeking redemption in the Six Nations only, yet again, not turning up.
This time it was only for the first half so I guess Eddie will have considered that progress. They say revenge is a “dish best served cold” but I think Scotland can expect a very hot one on Saturday.This is a very annoyed England team!
Saturday: Ireland vs. Wales, kick off at 2.15pm
In this century, Ireland has won six times at home against Wales with one draw, while Wales has had three wins.
Home advantage may well be the deciding factor in a tight game.
Scotland vs. England, kick off at 4.45pm.
A number of years ago England travelled to Scotland seeking the Grand Slam, the “England Grand Slam Winners” tee shirts were even printed! Scotland ruined that dream! England travel seeking redemption for the Paris no-show, Scotland seek the same after Dublin and the Hogg error! The ground will be festooned with Scottish flags although I don’t know if the Scottish RFU’s largesse will stretch as far as giving everyone a free flag. Scotland vs. England has a life of its’ own, the mantel of being favourite has little bearing on the game. It should be a humdinger!
France vs. Italy kick off at 3pm.
If this game was played in the Vatican then there might be some hope for Italy! This will not be a good day for Italy against a rampant French team but, then again, French teams can be fickle. But that was the past and under Galthie and Edwards France will roll on and should put points on an abject Italian team.
In horseracing, if a horse wins the Derby then, because of his increased value at stud, he is retired the following year to a life of pleasure! Rugby doesn’t work that way but still I wonder? On Saturday the outhalf for Scotland and the outhalf for France were the sons of famous rugby internationals, Gavin Hastings and Emile N’tamack. Gavin played 61 times for Scotland while Emile played 103 times for France and both played in the World Rugby Classic. Maybe rugby scouts should be finding out where the sons of former internationals are playing their mini rugby and go watch them. Going to the school games may be just a few years too late!
Just a few weeks ago I suggested Saracens, with a 35 point deduction, would finish outside the relegation area, that qualification for the 2020/2021 Heineken Cup would have to come from this year’s competition and that some of their players, not in the future plans for England, might go to France.
Now more punishment has been heaped on the Club with relegation to the Championship and thus out of the Heineken Cup for the 2020/2021 season. And on top of all of that, they have had a further deduction of 70 points added bringing the total to 105 points to ensure they finish last in the Premiership this season.
Talk about a game changer! Many have suggested that Saracens should have been stripped of their Premiership titles but the rules of the Premiership don’t allow such a retrospective action.
However, going forward, that rule will most likely be changed. Sponsors won’t be too enamored with Championship exposure, star players may find playing before a few thousand in middle England on a Friday night not to their liking, the fervent supporters might consider a trip to Doncaster a “trip too far” and there will be less money around to pay players, staff etc.
However, the Championship could well benefit with greater television exposure and more sponsorship money so every cloud has……!
One suggestion mooted is for the top players to have a gentle 2020/2021 season, concentrate on playing for England in the Six Nations (two seasons) the incoming Autumn Tours and possibly a Saracen tour to South Africa. And after the rigours of the past year, many of them do need a break!
Whatever happens it is a shattered dream for the players, particularly those who have come though the Saracens Academy and those younger players who felt they had a great rugby future beckoning, including being part of the pipeline to playing for England. You have to feel sorry for them.
Now their former CEO, who signed up as interim CEO for a year in January, has resigned after less than a month in the job stating “it was always going to be a short term appointment”.
Twenty-six days is certainly “short”!
The Heineken Cup
Leinster, having finished as top seed, now face the last placed team from the knock-out stages. That team happens to be the defending champions, Saracens, so I guess you might think the rugby gods have a sense of humour. A “poisoned Heineken Chalice”? With the “first team” now concentrating on the Heineken Cup quarter final, and with the next tier of players getting experience in the Premiership, Saracens are probably the last team Leinster expected to face.
That quarter final is certainly going to be the worth the price of a ticket even if bought on the black market! Expect fireworks!
The Wooden Spoon
When I was a youngster the Wooden Spoon in rugby was not “won” every year as it appears to be now. Back then it was not “won” by the team which finished last in the Six (Five, Four) Nations but by the team which lost all their games. Not sure when it changed, or even if it did, maybe people just simply got it wrong. To “win” the Wooden Spoon” was an honour to avoid as it had a certain sense of failure attached to it. “Awarding” it every year has resulted in depreciating the honour!”
Rugby has managed to keep for many years a relationship between the number on the back of a jersey and the player’s position. The player with #14 on his back played on the right wing and the one with #11 on the left wing. Even the numbers on the jerseys of the eight replacements followed this with #21 the replacement scrumhalf. I’m not sure how a professional soccer player, in a game with eleven players, with #32 on his back feels but unwanted springs to mind!
The Hard Men
A recent article in an Irish newspaper had an article on some of the hard men of rugby, including Willie John Mc Bride and the late Willie Duggan. The article had a picture of Willie tackling a Welsh scrumhalf but the only problem is it wasn’t Willie but Keith Crossan, the Irish winger. Anyone who knows rugby are well aware that wingers are not considered hard men! Willie, along with Geoff Wheel of Wales, became the first player sent off in a Five Nations match. Willie did not consider himself to have been sent off but was simply asked by the referee “would he mind leaving the pitch” to which he replied “Sure not at all, I was buggered anyway”.
“Happy Days are here Again!”
The Six Nations start this weekend with Wales against Italy and Ireland against Scotland on Saturday and then, on Sunday, France will host England.
Wales, Ireland France & Italy have a new coach with possibly the biggest change coming in France where Fabien Galthie, the former captain, has selected a very young team for this year’s Championship, possibly with an eye to 2023 when France hosts the World Cup. Eddie Jones will select a team still smarting from the World Cup, and players still smarting from the Saracens’ incident, all with purpose of “welcoming” the French youngsters to the rigours of the Six Nations. Ireland and Wales should prove too strong for Scotland and Italy while the Sunday game will either be a huge redemption for England or nasty headlines in the Monday newspapers! Overall England are the favourites to win the Six Nations, an accolade which rarely sits well with them! Enjoy!
So here we go with a new decade, the 6th in the history of the Classics; with the Easter Classic running from 1972 to 1994 and the World Rugby Classic starting in 1988.
There have been twenty-one Easter Classics and thirty-two World Rugby Classics so far. That’s a lot of “Classic” Rugby! The Easter Classic was for current players and it was the only international rugby event played over Easter when it started. The other main rugby event was the Barbarians tour of Wales.One game in Bermuda, sun, sea and whatever or three games in Wales, cold, mud and concussion.....tricky choice!
The Easter Classic attracted three Lions captains, the captain of the first team to win the Rugby World Cup, many who captained their country and players who were, at the time, their countries most capped players.
Tom Kiernan (1972) - 1968 Lions Captain
Willie John Mc Bride (1979) - 1974 Lions Captain
Ciaran Fitzgerald (1982) - 1983 Lions Captain
Rugby World Cup Winners:
David Kirk (1990) - 1985 Captain of New Zealand
Clive Woodward (1894) - 2003 Coach of England
Rugby World Cup Referees:
Alain Rolland (1988) - 2007 Rugby World Cup Final
Captains of their Country:
New Zealand (1)
Two of the Easter Classic visitors were knighted for their service to rugby; Sir Gareth Edwards and Sir Clive Woodward.
Some one hundred and fifty internationals played in the Easter Classic with around 3,000 caps for their country and the Lions. And that was at a time when you didn’t get a cap for running on in the 89th minute of a game!
The World Rugby Classic started in 1988, and for a few years there were two Classics each year but, in the early 1990’s, it soon became apparent that Easter was starting to become a crowded rugby calendar and so the final Easter Classic was played in 1994.
The Easter Classic was the catalyst for the development of corporate hospitality in Bermuda, for when it introduced hospitality, there was just one proper-sized tent available and no outside caterers. Easter Sunday at the Classic, with a champagne brunch and a buffet from the chefs at Newstead, quickly became a Bermuda tradition for the rugby loving crowd. The cost of $100 per person paid for the airfares of the players who were all hosted in private homes!
The expansion of a combined sporting and hospitality event to an even greater extent came about with the start of the World Rugby Classic in 1988 and, over the following years, many businesses got involved with outside catering, event management and the supply of tents etc. as the World Rugby Classic expanded. A significant by-product of all of this was that Bermuda was now in a position to stage international sporting events and to expand on what the Classic had set in motion. A number of those involved in those events credited the Classics with what was now possible, and that has to be a nice legacy in itself!
The Laws of the Game
Alain Rolland, after his days blowing the whistle in international games all over the world, became head of the international referees, finally retiring after the recent Rugby World Cup in Japan.In September, we suggested to him a law change, as such changes are deliberated during the Rugby World Cups, for consideration. Now just to be clear here, we do have a history with regards to changes in the laws! The Easter Classic was the first to allow a quick throw in at lineouts, now a normal part of the game. It was done by that famous Australian, David Campese, and the referee, John West of Ireland, said he would bring it up at the next referees’ symposium and it became law.
In the World Rugby Classic, to encourage open play, we set it in stone that the backrows had to stay bound till the ball was out of the scrum.That too became law! So what did we suggest this time? Well, it appeared a bit silly to me that when an attacking team gets a penalty within five metres of the opponent’s line and within the 15 metre line that, if they want to have a lineout, they need to kick it into touch or into the top tier of the stand! Now on the field are players who can kick a ball between the posts, from some 50 metres without too much difficulty, and they are now being required to kick it, at most 15 metres, into touch. So the suggestion was made that one of the options offered should be a lineout. Not a quick lineout but a properly formed lineout.
So far we have had heard nothing but, bearing in mind our history, anyone want to bet against three in a row?
How lucky we are!
In the “good old days” when television had two colours, black and white, I envied the football followers as they had wonderful club games very week while we had a couple of months of international rugby in the depths of winter and club games to warm the cockles. How things have changed!
Now we have incoming Autumn Tours, the Premiership, the Pro14, the Top 14, the Heineken Cup, the Rugby World Cup etc., so many games that players now have to be rested! That use to be the prerogative of the selectors or those with a grudge! And you can watch them all on television in glorious Technicolor on television sets the size of beds! How spoilt we are, but isn’t it great?!
But in spite of all that progress, what happens in February and March each year, namely the Six Nations, does take some beating. It is one of the great events on a rugby calendar and the funny things is that, half an hour after the game is finished, no one is talking about it! The game may take around 80 minutes but the craic takes days!
So this year, the Irish supporters will travel to Murrayfield and Twickenham, the Welsh to Dublin and Twickenham, the English to Paris, Murrayfield and Rome, the Scots to Dublin, Rome and Cardiff, France to Cardiff and Murrayfield while the Italians will visit Cardiff, Paris & Dublin.
England are favourites overall, but trips to Paris and Murrayfield will be problematic. So possibly no Grand Slam, bonus points will be crucial, and France at 6/1 are a reasonable bet under a new coach.The Six Nations kicks off on the 1st February with Wales against Italy and Ireland against Scotland, while the following day England will have a tricky visit to Paris. Ireland ,Wales and Italy also have new coaches, the Irish and Welsh captains, Rory best and Sam Warburton, have retired while the Italian captain, Sergio Parisse, told me he would be in Bermuda for the 2020 Classic!
The recent “carry-on” at Saracens, which resulted in a 35 point deduction in the Premiership and a massive fine, won’t have endeared them to the other clubs in the Premiership. However since they weren’t particularly liked anyway, that is not likely to worry them! The points deduction will, in all probability, leave Saracens in 9th or 10th place at the end of the season with around 40 points, with Leicester or London Irish one of the teams likely to be demoted. As a result, qualification for the “Heineken” Cup for 2020/2021 will have to come though this year’s Cup competition.
The chairman, Nigel Wray, the man with the deep pockets, has just resigned as Chairman having written off loans to the club of some 40 million sterling while the lasts financial figure show continuing losses of some 4 million sterling. Exeter, their main rivals, on the other hand continue to show a profit. Wray will continue to support the club financially but the various trophies they have won over the years now have an asterisk against them as far as the other clubs are concerned.
However “deep pockets” are only so deep and, with ongoing losses, the time may come when contracts will have less favourable terms and players begin to look elsewhere. In particular, those who are not on Eddy Jones’ list for England duty in 2023 may look to France for the remains of their playing days. The season before they became a professional club, Saracens toured Bermuda and few then would have thought what a power house they were going to be while producing so many players to the England team.
By the way in case you were wondering the Saracens fine was distributed amongst the other Premiership clubs which each receiving almost half-a-million pounds!
The Rugby World Cup
No sooner has one finished than we start to plan for the next and that will be in France in 2023. It will run from the 8th September to the 21st October and currently twelve teams have qualified with another eight due to qualify in 2022.
Already there are:
South Africa (1995, 2007 & 2019 winners)
New Zealand (1987, 2011 & 2015)
Australia (1991 & 1999)
Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France, Italy, Argentina, Japan & Fiji.
The first five winning captains have all been to Bermuda:
David Kirk (1987), Nick Farr Jones (1991), Francois Pienaar (1995), John Eales (1999) & Martin Johnson (2003).
There is a suggestion of having a second tier Rugby World Cup to run alongside the main event but I think that would not be welcome by those eight teams outside the top tier such as Canada, the USA, Uruguay et al who would prefer participation in the main event. Maybe a Plate Tournament at the Rugby World Cup would be a better notion with the teams already in situ, thus providing an opportunity to extend participation in an event for which they have worked towards for four years!