Never give up
Saturday gave us the next chapter in possibly one of the greatest rugby stories of the modern era: that of Ian McKinley. The fly half, who played for Ireland U20s was forced to retire from rugby in 2011 after a stray boot caused him to lose sight in his left eye. McKinley moved to Italy to help coach junior rugby, but over recent years has worked his way back into playing professional rugby through the Italian leagues wearing a pair of specially manufactured goggles. His performances with Viadana and then Zebre led to him earning a contract with Benetton ahead of the 2016/17 Pro12 season.
The 2017/18 season has seen McKinley’s incredible comeback continue, as he has was called into the Italian national team’s squad for the Summer Tests – though he did not make an appearance – and was called up again for the Autumn Internationals. On Saturday, McKinley earned his first senior cap for Italy coming off the bench to replace Carlo Canna and even slotted the final penalty in their 19-10 victory over Fiji.
I can understand why people do not like the residency rules – and when it comes to project players I completely agree – but this is one of those wonderful circumstances where it has really benefited a player and given them a second chance. It is also a real benefit to Italy, as fly half has for years been a weak spot for them but they are now getting a bit of depth at the position with Canna, McKinley and Tommy Allan. Italian rugby is on the up in the Pro14, hopefully the national team won’t be far behind.
Persistence pays off
Another rugby story that shows the importance of never giving up is that of Welsh back row Josh Navidi. The Cardiff Blues back row made his senior debut for Wales way back in June 2013, when Wales played in Japan, but did not gain another cap until this summer, when he started against Tonga and Samoa during the Summer Tests. On Saturday, over 4 years after his first start, Navidi finally made his home debut for Wales in their 21-29 loss to Australia. Navidi has been so consistent for the Blues over the years, it is great to see that he is finally getting the caps his performances have deserved.
Of course, it is the unavailability of other players that has given him this chance. His first 3 caps have all come when players have been away with the British & Irish Lions and this autumn the Welsh are missing Ross Moriarty, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric. Against the Wallabies, both Navidi and fellow flanker Aaron Shingler put in solid (if not spectacular) performances that suggest they can at least hold their own on the international scene. Wales currently have incredible depth in the back row, and if everyone was available I would not want the job of picking the best out of Navidi, Shingler, Warburton, Moriarty, Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau, James Davies, Sam Cross, Dan Lydiate and James King. Just imagine if Sam Underhill or Ben Morgan had picked Wales over England too…
An unfortunate incident
If I was asked to pick the best outside centre in rugby at the moment, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick Jonathan Davies. It is a huge shame then that we will not see him in the 2018 6 Nations as he is expected to be out for 6 months following surgery for what looked to be an ankle injury but is being reported as a foot injury. The replays of the incident did not look nice as Davies twisted awkwardly as he was brought down by Marika Koroibete, but should he have even had the ball?
The restart from Australia was taken when the clock was already in the red beyond the 80 minute mark. It is great to see the new-look Welsh team willing to play from deep, but with the score at 21-29 there is no way they could win that game. The kickoff was taken by Dan Biggar who had enough time to kick the ball dead, however he immediately shipped it off to Davies. Trying to play the length on the field had no benefits in this circumstance, but has proved extremely costly for Wales.
On the plus side for Davies, at least he didn’t have a medic making things worse like South African prop Coenie Oosthuizen did!
Falling foul of the laws
There have been talks of a global season for a long time, but I appreciate that it is not easy to implement due to differing seasons. However even if there is no global season, I think World Rugby need to look at when they implement law changes.
When I looked at the new law changes back in July, I was looking at all the laws being brought into Northern Hemisphere rugby at the start of this season. However half of the laws had already been in place in the Southern Hemisphere since the New Year and the other half are not coming in until the coming New Year. This does not make it easy for referees or players who are suddenly having to play different laws than what they are used to, while knowing that they will be back to their usual laws in just a couple of weeks. We saw South African flanker Siya Kolisi fall foul of the law variations as he was penalised for kicking a ball out of a ruck – still legal for now in the South, but illegal in the North – and I’m sure this won’t be the last time someone gets caught out during the Autumn Internationals.
If World Rugby do not feel that a global calendar in feasible I can understand that, but I think that they need to ensure any law variations take effect at the same time worldwide and need to find a date when they can do so without changing the laws part way through a competition.