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Fifty Shades of Beige – A 6 Nations Reprise Part 2

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A week on from the Battle of Cardiff and the 6 Nations decider and the dust still has not quite settled. Many commentators and critics have though adjusted their guns and lined them up on England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster rather than match referee Steve Walsh.

I suppose it was inevitable that Lancaster would have to take the flak eventually after a record defeat to the Welsh, and the ill-advised comments from his Coach Graham Rowntree regarding his “forensic analysis” of the scrum. His team selection has been pored over ad nauseam by the national rugby media and whilst Lancaster does need to keep his systems and selections flexible only a fool would conclude that Engalnd have become a lesser team in this Championship.

The autumn win against a knackered All Blacks side raised the bar of expectation a little too high in the evolution of Lancaster`s squad. Wales came along and adjusted it and now we all know where we stand.

He will have to make changes and he will have to discard some of the current crop of talent he has before the RWC of 2015 gets near. Like all athletes rugby professionals at the very top level of the game only, by and large, have a relatively short peak to their careers before the physical demands of the sport dull some of their edges. That is why succession planning is key and why somebody with the resources Stuart Lancaster clearly possesses must use this summer`s tour to Argentina to the full.

English rugby has a well trodden path to the senior international squad though the age-grades and Saxons set ups, but that must never become an exclusive members club whereby anyone who suddenly bursts into the kind of form worthy of a senior white jersey later in their careers is ignored.

The game in Cardiff highlighted some key areas where Lancaster and his team need to re-assess the weaponry at their disposal – front row, flanker, wing and full-back. I would then add to that centre.

The flanker issue is a problem for England but it should not be. Welsh rugby is in disarray if you believe everything you read in the papers but in Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton they have two of the best flankers currently in world rugby. And then they have Dan Lydiate. Very nearly the best. Get your scouting hat on Stuart, the answer to your problems is out there.

At centre Manu Tuilagi is still the darling of the English press because he is big, smashes holes and plays for Leicester Tigers. But Wales have wrapped him up pretty well in recent meetings as I suspect the Aussies will do when he turns up in a Lions shirt this summer. In Cardiff his limitations were laid bare and his lack of creativity and guile were a concern. If only you could transplant the rugby brain of Gloucester`s Drew Locke into the body of Tuilagi.

And speaking of Gloucester therein lies the answer to the full-back problem. England need a 15 who can kick, is confident under the high ball, can run superb lines of counter-attack and will run and tackle all day. Rob Cook is the man. Capped only at England Counties level up to now and currently in his first season in the Premiership, Cook was not expected to become the first choice full-back at Kingsholm so soon. The fact that he has is the mark of the man, so get him on your roster Stuart and take him to Buenos Aires.

On the wing it is time to blood a man who would run rings around Chris Ashton all day on current form – Exeter Chiefs` Jack Nowell. He has already been tagged for senior international honours, just won the LV= Breakthough Player of the Year Award, and lifted the 6 Nations crown with the England Under-20 squad. It is rumoured that he will be in the Saxons set up next season but why wait? why delay? why ignore the fact that the lad is ready? Dont waste time picking Charlie Sharples again – he has had his chance – let Nowell in the door this summer and nobody will be disappointed.

Up front I would stick with Vunipola but one prop I would mention as a wildcard is Carl Rimmer, also of the Chiefs. The former Coventry and Cornish Pirates man has really flourished in the last two seasons and easily taken to the Premiership. A strong scrummager who carries well he would go well against the Argentineans.

So in summary I just want Stuart Lancaster to think outside the box a little more. Once you start change you cannot suddenly stop it and if the England coaching team stick to rigid thinking and inflexible systems they will end up no better than the Martin Johnson regime.

Out of adversity comes opportunity and this summer`s tour should be seen as a massive chance for everyone.

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Fifty Shades of Beige – A 6 Nations Reprise Part 1

March 20, 2013 2 comments

rbs-rugby

 

Prior to the earth-shattering drama in Cardiff on Saturday evening there had been no real media hysteria about a 6 Nations tournament which had produced little out of the ordinary. That was until England turned up at the Millenium Stadium with the tournament virtually in the bag and the whole of the Welsh nation stood and laughed in their faces.

For Wales, who began the defence of their title so awfully with 40 minutes of clueless rugby against the Irish, this was not only their biggest win against the English but a performance of World Class stature. It is such a pity that when the big three from the Southern Hemisphere face up to them, Wales go back into their shells and bottle it.

England may have lost 30-3 and are still clearly hurting badly after seeing first a Grand Slam and then a 6 Nations Crown snatched from their grasp in a breathtaking game in the Welsh capital. The sheer intensity of the game coupled with an almost manic fervour  spilling over from the crowd in the packed arena made this Test Match Rugby at its best. Stuart Lancaster`s England will learn and they will come again.

I don`t buy the notion in certain media reports that Referee Steve Walsh had a big part to play in the demolition of England`s front row because he is somehow “anti-English”. The scrum is a mess period, the IRB really must act to let everyone involved where they stand again at the set piece, and the Welsh front row tore England to pieces. It doesn`t matter that Graham Rowntree has argued that his forwards had the better technique because the Welsh front five tuned in very quickly to what Walsh wanted and what they could get away with. New Zealand are brilliant at that. England need to watch them.

And was anything Walsh decided upon at scrum time any worse than what we see week-in week-out in club games up and down the country? If anyone truly thinks Steve Walsh was so badly wrong in his handling of the game then get out and watch more of it. I`m no fan of this particular whistler but it is the system which needs fixing by the IRB, not one man.

Wales will now move on having blooded some new faces during this 6 Nations and re-affirmed their claim for a big share of the British Lions touring party. England will reflect and those not going to Australia with the Lions can look forward to a gruelling tour to Argentina. Stuart Lancaster is building a squad to win the 2015 World Cup. It was simply just not their time for glory when they went down the M4 to Cardiff on March 16th 2013.

 

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Battle at the Bottom – The Real Drama

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This weekend I will be heading north to the delightful old ground at Cross Green, Otley and the potential RFU Championship play-off decider between Leeds and the Cornish Pirates.

In another madcap adventure combining juggling jobs and hours of motorway driving I will rock up on Sunday morning as probably the only travelling journo from the far south west. Quite who will be there from the local press remains to be seen with BBC Leeds deciding not to cover the game so if it is a match commentary you want then you will be stuck with me, Steve Tomlin, and BBC Cornwall.

This game is important in its own right as clubs battle to be involved in the second stage of the Championship contest and earn a bit of extra cash from one additional home fixture at least. But with Newcastle Falcons in absolutely irresistible form last weekend against the Pirates it is virtually (but not totally) impossible to see any shocks at the top end of the table now.

Down at the other end things are a little bit different. It looks like a three-way scrap to avoid relegation between Doncaster Knights, Jersey and Moseley. With 6 games to play Plymouth Albion are probably safe whilst just three points separate bottom club Doncaster (18) and Moseley (21). They along with Jersey (19) both have games in hand at home against Bristol and Nottingham respectively and with those clubs in turn scrapping to be in the top four the plot thickens again.

For Moseley five of their remaining games, starting with the massive clash against the Knights at Billesley Common tomorrow, are at home. If they can`t make that count then they don`t deserve to stay up.

Jersey have a tricky run-in facing four games on the road away from the Island. They have brought in a couple of signings this week in Mark Foster (Exeter Chiefs) and Mark McCrea (Connacht), along with talented but sadly injury prone Charlie Walker-Blair to bolster their back row. Fresh legs and fresh faces at such a key time could make a massive difference.

Doncaster simply have to get something at Moseley tomorrow. If they do and they can battle their way to a win over Rotherham at Castle Park next week then their survival bid is on.

Unless Bedford have an off day they can forget sharing the spoils at Goldington Road but Nottingham at home is an interesting proposition. I tip the Green & Whites to blow up before the end of the season just as Bristol did last year, for this play-off scenario is new territory for Martin Haag`s men.

That then leaves the Knights with Jersey at St.Peter`s and Plymouth Albion at home. Whatever happens at the bottom it will go right to the wire.

Moving in the opposite direction at the end of April looks likely to be Ealing Trailfinders as they complete their escape from the bear-pit of fierce competition that is National League One.

Barring any unexpected implosion in their form they should seal top spot if they can beat second-place Blaydon at home on March 23rd.

Championship Predictions:-

London Scottish v Jersey – Scots by 7

Bedford Blues v Bristol – Blues by 9

Leeds Carnegie v Cornish Pirates – Leeds by 3

Moseley v Doncaster – Moseley by 5

Rotherham Titans v Newcastle Falcons – Falcons by 22

Nottingham v Plymouth Albion – Nottingham by 12

 

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