Eyes On: Bledisloe III 2018

Eyes On: Bledisloe III 2018

New Zealand and Australia prepared to kick off their Autumn tours to the Northern Hemisphere this weekend with their third and final meeting of the year in Yokohama. After a tight first half that saw the All Blacks lead by 7 points, the Australian defence was unable to keep up in the second half as New Zealand scored 5 tries in total to win 20-37 and take the Bledisloe Cup in a 3-0 whitewash this year.

Options in the backs

I have a couple of times recently been critical of the Williams/Crotty centre partnership as I do not feel the balance is right in midfield when they are together. While I do still think this, I think that Steve Hansen may have a solution. Ben Smith is in my opinion still the best fullback New Zealand have, but moving him to the wing and playing Damian McKenzie at 15 (where I rate him so much higher than at 10) meant that there was still another playmaking option beyond Beauden Barrett. Personally, I think there are better options than Smith on the wing but he is too good a player to leave out, so I imagine whether he plays at 14 or 15 will often depend on who is selected at centre.

Beyond that, it’s great to see TJ Perenara getting a start as he so often has to play second fiddle to Aaron Smith but would walk into pretty much any other international team, but I still feel that Richie Mo’unga needs to be given more gametime (he did not come on until 12 minutes remained) and especially as the starting 10. I can’t imagine him starting against England and Ireland but I will be shocked if he doesn’t start against Japan and Italy.

The backup

Very similar to Mo’unga, I really think Nick Phipps needs to get the starts at scrum half for Australia this summer. Will Genia is a talented player but did not have a good game in Yokohama. He was too quick to shift away from Kieran Read as he came off a scrum and – combined with Ned Hanigan being slow to break off the scrum – this made it easy for Read to go over for a try, while he also didn’t cover the blind side well enough from another scrum, allowing Reiko Ioane to break away and put Barrett over for another try. There was also another moment when I found myself yelling at the television as Australia took the ball into contact and gave away a penalty at the breakdown because he didn’t clean out and instead waited in position for a ball that was never coming back. It may be time to look at moving on from him.

Regardless of whether his starting place should be under threat or not, Phipps needs to get more game time as a starter in case something happens to Genia during the World Cup. Australia have a great set of players and if they can get their act together then they have the potential to challenge for the victory, but if they then have to turn to a 9 who is used to only playing about 10 minutes at the end of games, they are bound to struggle. The problem for Phipps now will be that recent results have been so poor for Australia, Cheika needs a successful tour, so I expect to see him stick with Genia for the matches against Wales and England.

What’s the plan?

Anyone who read my series throughout the Rugby Championship will know that I was not impressed with the way Michael Cheika was setting up his backline. This match was no exception. Israel Folau was wasted at 13 and his few decent breaks came from when he was back retrieving kicks. Even odder was the way that at every set piece, the Wallabies seemed to be swapping their position in the back line. While that could be done to great effect to confuse the defence, the only ones who looked confused were in green and gold! Folau’s best attribute is arguably his ability to contest the high ball – something wasted in the centre. I was not surprised to see the back line begin to look more organised once Samu Kerevi came on in the centre and Folau was moved to the wing. Suddenly players were in their correct positions and they had a hard, physical runner in the midfield. I’ll be interested to see what Michael Cheika does in the next few matches.

World Cup warm-up

While an important match in itself, the hosting of this match at Nissan Stadium – set to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final – was also meant to be a warm-up and test ahead of the tournament. To say I was not encouraged is a bit of an understatement.

Granted Australia have been in poor form, but to only have an attendance of 46,143 in a stadium with a capacity of over 72,000 seems hugely disappointing. Being a football stadium, the pitch also did not fill me with hope as it started cutting up almost immediately. While it can maybe withstand the odd game of rugby, will it be able to hold up to matches on 21st & 22nd September, 12th & 13th October, 26th & 27th October and then still be in a good enough condition to make the final on 2nd November the spectacle it should be? I have my doubts.

But perhaps worst of all in this match was the sponsors on the pitch. I completely understand the reasons for the sponsors to show on the pitch and I accept that, but to have them digitally added onto the broadcast rather than painted onto the pitch was a dismal failure! The computer systems seemed unable to differentiate between the pitch itself and the players, with the players constantly disappearing as they ran “over” the sponsors. If this is technology they plan to use for the World Cup, they have a lot of work to do!

Anarchy Quarterfinals

Anarchy Quarterfinals

The 2018 Ultimate Schmoedown is underway and as its name suggested, the Team tournament has been anarchy. For those of you who have missed a big chunk of this season (you’re missing out and really need to go back and watch what you missed), all teams were disbanded and picked from a hat, leading to 16 new teams– well technically 15 new and the Wildberries – and a number of new managers. Following the Shirewolves’ victory to earn the Team Title and a few other issues with the original selections, the 16 teams were confirmed along with the bracket and the tournament kicked off at the 3rd live event.

Rather than try to do a write-up for each match as I did for the Innergeekdom Tournament, as many of these teams may not have much of a future I have decided instead to give my overall thoughts from the round instead.

Read my thoughts on previous rounds here:

The quarterfinal results were:

  • The Odd Couple beat The Paddington Two 29-24
  • Who’s The Boss beat Cinemaniacs 27-26
  • The Harris Brothers beat Take The Cannoli 29-25
  • KOrruption beat Founding Fathers in Sudden Death Overtime 32-31

Will they stay?

Much as I hope some of the new managers stick around beyond the tournament, I really hope some of these teams stick!

While The Paddington Two are by no means my favourite team in the tournament, I think they are at least as talented as Modok while also having a better balance between being fun and treating the matches serious. If they were to stick together and become an experienced team, I could see them in a Number 1 Contender match in 2019.

mtsharrisbrosWhile it was a shame JTE had to pull out of the tournament following his accident (get well soon!), I really enjoyed rookie replacement Jonathan Harris’ performance against Take The Cannoli. As well as being a talented competitor, he did a great job playing off “The Professor” and looked comfortable doing so – it’s rare we see a rookie get the trivia/showmanship balance right in their first match! I do agree though with whoever it was online that commented they missed a trick by not calling themselves “The Faculty” or something similar. I hope Jonathan gets the Schmoedown bug and continues beyond the tournament, if so The School of the Elite could quickly become a dangerous faction.

Sneider and Andreyko may be – as their name suggests – an odd couple, but they are playing so well together! Following the win over The Paddington Two, they were both talking positively about the pairing, Sneider saying “The Android” was binging out the best of him and Andreyko calling this his best game technique-wise. It’s hard to argue with that. While they are both highly impressive Singles competitors, they do have their blind spots, but as a pair they complement each other’s blind spots and Sneider has competed in more title matches than petty much anyone in the league! I can’t see Sneider joining the Fyffe Club or Andreyko leaving it currently, but Robert Meyer Burnett’s time with the Four Horsemen showed that it is not necessary for both team members to be in the same faction.

mtsdrewloganI really hope Take The Cannoli stay together beyond the tournament! Drew and Brianne are both wonderful competitors but once again they cover each other’s blind spots so well! More than that, then genuinely look like they are having fun together! I would never have thought we would see Drew coming out dressed as Logan, but Brianne managed to get him to do it! They are both such likeable competitors and Drew seemed very positive about the idea of them sticking together, so I really hope they do!

A “Mighty” fine competitor

As a fan of Top 10 and the Horsemen, it’s no real surprise that I’m a fan of Matt Knost, but the last 2 rounds have reminded me why I love watching him on this show so much. His sarcastic responses to pretty much anything anyone said were hilarious – he broke Kristian Harloff with a simple “good one”! – and his happy dance both as he deflated the beach ball his team were playing with and when he spun the wheel have been immortalised in GIFs that will live on forever.

I do wonder how much more he will continue to compete in the Schmoedown though. He has competed in Singles for 3 seasons but has only played in 6 matches (going 3-3), and it has been as a part of Top 10 that he has really made his mark on the league. Such has been the form of the Founding Fathers over these last few weeks, part of me can see Rocha and Murrell sticking together as the lead team for the Horsemen. Reilly, Rocha and Murrell are clearly the main competitors in the Singles Division and Inman in Innergeekdom. Where would that leave Knost?

I would love to see Knost take on the role of manager for the Horsemen. He is a great mouthpiece and while the managers don’t compete too often, I think it would be great to get him into an annual Manager’s Bowl. Whatever happens though, I hope he continues to feature regularly on the Schmoedown!

KOrruption but no controversy

How could I talk about this round of matches without giving my thoughts on the way KOrruption v Founding Fathers ended? Personally, despite cheering for the Founding Fathers, I fully agree with the judges’ decision that saw KOrruption win on the first question of Sudden Death. Let’s take a quick look through what happened.

  • Rocha uses Founding Fathers’ last JTE rule on their 5-point question before pulling Danny DeVito out his ass (that sounds painful). I’ve seen some people suggest Rocha only used the JTE for dramatic effect, but I disagree with this both from watching the footage and also listening to what Rocha said post-match. They knew DeVito was in the movie but not certain if he was the correct answer, so used the JTE rule to see if they could get a better answer and settled for DeVito as an educated guess.mtschallenge
  • On the first question in Sudden Death, Murrell initially writes the wrong answer, but realises his mistake at the last moment. With no JTE rule remaining he does not have time to write a legible correct answer. He is the first person to answer but as there was no legible correct answer on the whiteboard, the point is not awarded.
  • Chance shows the answer of David O’Russell, Rocha and Kalinowski show David O. Russell. The judges declare KOrruption the winner.
  • Rocha challenges the ruling, from the footage we see, the argument appears to be that as Murrell answers first and says the correct answer, the point should have been awarded.
  • Once we return from the challenge, Mark Ellis announces that the challenge has been overruled and KOrruption have won. During the explanation, Ellis does make mention of Chance’s misspelling.
  • In an emotional post-match interview, Rocha is not happy that Chance’s answer of O’Russell was allowed

The feeling I got from watching all this was that as the initial challenge over Murrell’s answer was going on, it came up that Chance had misspelt and this was added to the challenge – something we do not see in the broadcast footage.

mtsellischallengeI think Ellis does a great job of explaining the reasons behind the ruling. In what could be considered the “Jane Fonda Rule” it is explained that from the rules revision the whiteboard is not intended as a backup to the spoken answer but is used due to multiple competitors having the same question. As such, due to the time limit on the question, the answer must be legibly written on the whiteboard within the allotted time as well as said aloud when prompted. I agree with this, otherwise even the first person to answer would have a few extra seconds to think of the correct answer before they give it. The other rule that Ellis touches on is the “Japeto Rule” that as long as the written answer is legible and spelled phonetically. There was no difference in the way the name was said by Chance compared to Rocha and Kalinowski and personally – as someone who has come to the Schmoedown not as a giant movie fan – if I heard the competitors say the name and was asked to write it, then I probably would have done the same as Chance!

mtsfallout
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house watching Jenn’s interview with the Founding Fathers

Obviously, it’s a horrible way to finish a match and I think Kalinowski’s reaction as before he showed his answer suggests that he knew the controversy coming. This is only Chance’s second match and I hope the reaction doesn’t affect him moving forward in the tournament or as he begins his Singles career. As for the Founding Fathers, it was clearly a low point for them, but these guys are former – and likely future – champions and will both bounce back from this setback.

A fine line between right and wrong

“Should have just put Charlie” – Drew McWeeny

KOrruption’s Sudden Death victory wasn’t the only example of the fine line between right and wrong during this round. Asked who Freddie Highmore played in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, “The Godfather” wrote Charlie Button – a wrong answer as the surname is Bucket – and did not get the point. Jonathan Harris and Brianne both got the point by writing just the first name.

While I again fully agree with the decision, I think that it is a shame for McWeeny to miss out on the point here by trying to give the surname when the first name was sufficient. I would like it if moving forward, the question included a clarification as to how much of the name would be required.

Anarchy in a nutshell

If you ever wondered why the theme of the tournament was called Anarchy, just watch Cinemaniacs v Who’s The Boss!

“This team is anchored by veteran knowledge, homeless vagrants and talent” – Ben Bateman

First of all, let’s look at the teams themselves. Who’s The Boss has one of the biggest heels of the season in Ben Bateman paired with Mark Reilly, a Horseman who has had beef with Team Action this season for their lack of respect, with the moron/enigma (delete as appropriate) that is Finstock spewing nonsense pre- and post-match. The Cinemaniacs have Matt Knost paired with his former stablemate and traitor William Bibbiani, so they were clearly never going to get along, while Emma Fyffe is their manager but more interested in seeing the Shirewolves keep hold of their belts.

mtsgoodoneTo the entrances and Bibbiani and Fyffe come out with a happy upbeat entrance throwing a beach ball between each other. When the ball gets thrown to Matt Knost it looks like he’s joining in… until you realise that the smile and dance is because he’s deflating the beach ball, to the amusement of Ben and Reilly, who even high fives Knost as they sit down.

Throughout the match, Bateman channels his inner Andrew Ghai with his shit talk towards Bibbs, but is shut down by Knost when he tries to put him off.

mtsrochabossTo the Cinemaniacs’ post-match interview and it is crashed by Rocha, who congratulates Knost on his performance before confronting Bibbiani ahead of their title match. Rocha then crashes Who’s The Boss’ interview to congratulate Reilly and soon ends up trading barbs with Bateman (who threatens to run him over with his car) and Finstock.

As if the quality of some teams wasn’t reason enough to declare Anarchy a success, seeing competitors who wouldn’t often share the screen interacting with each other has led to some wonderful moments!

Predicting the Semifinals

Obviously all 4 teams are more than capable of winning now that they have made it to this stage, so it will not surprise me if these matches come down to the spin of the Wheel.

Who’s The Boss v KOrruption: It’s still so hard to judge KOrruption as we only have 2 matches on which to look at Chance’s strengths and weaknesses. My pick goes to Who’s The Boss as Reilly is looking back to his best and is working so well with Bateman as they each have abroad range of knowledge but also different specialities to allow them to cover each other

mtsoddThe Odd Couple v The Harris Brothers: So as I was writing this I was catching up on the last couple of episodes of Action Movie Anatomy and they were discussing the Harris Brothers with Brianne Chandler. They discussed how having grown up together, there is a potential that Lon and Jonathan may have quite a similar range of strengths, which could cause them issues if the questions don’t go there way. I would give the victory to The Odd Couple as Andreyko and Sneider are on such good form and cover each other’s weaknesses so well.

 

What did you think about this round? Who stood out to you and who are you expecting to win the semis? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

World XV Challenge

World XV Challenge

Following the 6 Nations, I found myself putting together my World XV but only containing players that had not been capped internationally. I really enjoyed putting the team together and had some really good conversations around it with a number of friends.

As I was watching the early rounds of the Rugby Championship, I found an idea forming in my mind of another World XV, this time picking the best possible XV while only selecting one player from each country. When I initially told a few friends of my intentions, I thought that it would take a long time to select the team, however I shocked myself by getting the XV together in just 2 days. However, having then discussed it with a few friends as I was about to write it, they suggested a couple of players that I had completely forgot and I ended up spending the next week switching the odd player to make a stronger line-up. I’ve given it a couple of weeks now to make sure I’m happy with my squad and now I feel confident enough to lock it in on here.

Obviously there are some nations I don’t know that well so I may have missed a few names. Let me know what you guys think and what your XV would be!

1: Rabah Slimani – The Frenchman can play both sides of the scrum and is arguably one of the most dangerous scrummagers in the 6 Nations. Add into that good ball skills in the loose and he’s a solid selection to start off the front row

2: Malcolm Marx – The Lions hooker is arguably one of the best in the world at his position, being a strong carrier but also like an extra flanker at the breakdown. How do the Springboks follow up legends like John Smith and Bismarck du Plessis? With Malcolm Marx!

3: Tadhg Furlong – Arguably the best tighthead prop in the world at this moment, Furlong is a destructive scrummager and ball carrier, while also having the deft hands to keep the play alive

4: Brodie Retallick – Some people may be surprised by me using my New Zealand representative in the tight five, but Retallick is head and shoulders ahead of everyone else at his position. Great in the tight and the loose, even given New Zealand’s strength in depth they miss him when he’s unavailable

5: Leone Nakarawa – For a long time I was certain my Fijian representative was going to be in the backs (for obvious reasons), then I remembered Nakarawa. A Gold medal winner at Rio 2016, the Racing 92 lock provides a slight of hand that no other player in his position can provide. There may be better players at his position, but none as fun to watch!

6: Jake Polledri – Perhaps this is my Gloucester bias coming through, but Polledri quickly became my obvious Italian pick when I looked at the positions they could legitimately contribute to this squad. He may only be 22 years old and in his second year of professional rugby, but you would not think that if you watched him play. I’ve seen a number of his games for Gloucester and Italy and can only remember a couple of occasions where I have seen go backwards in contact, while he also has the pace to cause trouble when he breaks through the defensive line

7: David Pocock – The 7 shirt was always going to be filled by an Australian when I started making this list, the question was “who?” Pocock’s versatility means that he often plays elsewhere in the back row to accommodate Michael Hooper, but I would consider he Zimbabwe-born openside the best in the world at his position. When he gets over the ball, it’s all but impossible to (legally) get him off it!

8: Samu Manoa – Realistically, fly half or number 8 were the only positions where I felt the USA could contribute, however I felt that I had a better option that AJ MacGinty at 10 so chose to include Samu Manoa. One of the stars of the Northampton team when he was there and part of the Toulon galacticos, he is another strong runner and tackler while his experience at lock allows him to also contribute at the lineout. Now at Cardiff, I’m looking forward to seeing how he does in the Pro14

9: Sonatane Takulua – This was going to be Greig Laidlaw’s spot until a last-minute change elsewhere in the back. While he may not have the best kicking game in open play, Takulua is a dangerous attacker and will always be a threat if given a little space

10: Nicolás Sánchez – Had I been compiling this team following the Summer Tests, this positions would have been filled very differently, however Sánchez looked back to his best in the Rugby Championship. A reliable goal-kicker and a talented playmaker, I would argue that the Argentinian is often overlooked when discussing the best fly halves in the world

11: DTH van der Merwe – A player I expected to shine at Newcastle but who never got a chance, the Canadian has been a prolific scorer for Glasgow and the Scarlets as well as for his country. Despite Canada exiting RWC2015 at the pool stages, van der Merwe still managed to score 4 tries in the tournament, only 6 players scored more in the entire tournament that year!

12: Owen Farrell – I would argue at the moment that there is a lack of top quality talent in the centres. Hadleigh Parkes was close to getting the nod, however the Welsh selection was needed elsewhere, so Owen Farrell gets the nod. Despite being a natural 10 (arguably one of the bet in the world) he has spent much of his recent international career at inside centre, where he uses his talents as a second playmaker to aid the 10 in the running of the backline and put his fellow backs through with pinpoint passes and kicks

13: Jonathan Davies – In my eyes the best outside centre of recent years, Davies was the clear selection for me at this position. Effective in attack and defence and with a cultured left boot, Wales and the Scarlets both benefit heavily from his involvement on the pitch

14: Tim Nanai-Williams – Nanai-Williams has played for Samoa at 10 but is much more dangerous further out, most notably on the wing or at 15. He is by no means the biggest player on the pitch, but he has a blend of pace and footwork that will punish any defender who commits to early

15: Stuart Hogg – Telusa Veainu was set to take the 15 spot until I realised that his last cap was in 2016! A quick switch at 9 freed up a spot for Stuart Hogg who was on the list for a long while previously. With ball in hand, Hogg is one of the most exciting and destructive attackers and his monster boot adds another string to his bow. Had he not got injured at the start of the tour, he would have likely been pushing to start the Lions Tests

Finding a Fly Half

Finding a Fly Half

The Scarlets’ Champions Cup campaign has not started how they would have hoped. After a late penalty try gave Racing 92 the victory at Parc y Scarlets in Round 1, they were blown away at Welford Road by Manu Tuilagi’s Leicester Tigers and currently find themselves bottom of their pool with just 1 losing bonus point to their name. While they have undoubtedly been hurt by the loss of injured duo James Davies and Aaron Shingler from the back row (combined with Tadhg Beirne’s move to Munster), I would argue that their biggest struggle over the opening 2 rounds has been at fly half.

Rhys Patchell has missed both matches due to injury and his replacements Dan Jones and Angus O’Brien have not come close to effectively filling his boots. Against Racing, O’Brien looked nervous in poor conditions and was then unfortunate enough to suffer an ACL injury just before halftime which has likely ended his season. Jones was a big part of the team’s success last year but at the moment does not appear to be in a good run of form and does not appear to be able to get the back line going – something crucial to the region’s recent success. Between injuries and international duties, Patchell is likely to miss time this season and with O’Brien also out, there are no other recognised 10s in the Scarlets squad, centre Steffan Hughes coming on towards the end of the Tigers match.

Watching the Tigers game, I couldn’t help feel that the Scarlets need to get another 10 in for the rest of the season, either on a permanent basis or even just a loan. They could potentially go for a player from the Welsh Premier Division, but if they want continued success I think they would do better finding a player already used to top-tier rugby, so have pulled together a couple of potential options.

Matthew Morgan/Steven Shingler – Cardiff Blues

If you are looking for experience of the league, these woud be the best bets. With Jarrod Evans and Gareth Anscombe the preferred options at 10, it leaved limited minutes for Morgan and Shingler. The sheer number of quality fly halves may even make the Blues willing to part with one of their talents as they have the depth to cover the position even when Anscombe is away with Wales. For Shingler, it would be an opportunity to play alongside older brother Aaron, while Morgan is a talented attacker who could shine in the Scarlets back line.

Jason Tovey – Cross Keys

I was honestly shocked when I found out Tovey was currently playing in the Welsh Premier Division! At 29 and with experience playing in the league for the Dragons (two stints), Cardiff Blues and Edinburgh, he clearly knows the league well and can still bring something to the Scarlets. While he may not be as attacking as Patchell, he is a reliable 10 and his tactical kicking could be just what they need in a harder match. The only problem here is that the Scarlets may have left it too late, as it is looking increasingly likely that Tovey will be starting a third stint with the Dragons as they look to cover their own injuries at the position.

Demetri Catrakilis – Harlequins

Brought in to the Stoop from Montpellier to replace Nick Evans, the South African was unfortunate to pick up an injury early in his Quins career that led to the emergence of Marcus Smith. Add to that the further development of James Lang and Catrakilis looks to be third choice this season having struggled somewhat when he got on the pitch. Now aged 29, could a change of scenery be just what he needs to revitalise his career? He is a highly experienced player and featured in a few South Africa training camps when younger and his experience of playing in South Africa could benefit the Scarlets when they are facing the Kings and the Cheetahs. However, considering Smith has featured in the England squad as an apprentice player and Lang was capped by Scotland in the Summer Tests, I doubt they would want to let Catrakilis go and risk leaving themselves short in the case of international call-ups.

Owen Williams/Lloyd Evans – Gloucester

Like with Cardiff, Gloucester have options at 10 with Danny Cipriani looking set to get the majority of the minutes and still not in line for an England spot, while Billy Twelvetrees looks back to form and can also cover the position. Gloucester were willing to let Billy Burns go to Ulster and could potentially afford to let either Williams or Evans to go. Williams would be the more attractive signing due to his experience and big boot from the tee (handy when Leigh Halfpenny is unavailable) while he has also spent a lot of time at 12, allowing the Scarlets some flexibility during the internationals. Not only that, but it would likely be an attractive move for the player too, as the increased minutes and playing in Wales may help to put him back on Warren Gatland’s radar. Evans may not have the experience of the other names on the list, but he is also training as part of a Gloucester team that it looking to play attractive rugby anywhere on the pitch – sound familiar Scarlets fans? The one issue right now would be the potential unavailability of Cipriani as he is likely to receive a ban following his red card against Munster and could still come into the England squad, so Gloucester may not be willing to spread themselves too thin in the midfield.

Max Malins – Saracens

Potentially the England 10 of the next generation, Malins will find his first team opportunities limited this season with Owen Farrell, Alex Lozowski and Alex Goode all seeing time at the position. He has a good all-round game and has impressed when given a chance with the first team while excelling with England U20s. The issue here would be that I can’t see Sarries wanting to let go of such a talent on anything more than a season-long loan, while I doubt Malins would want to leave England long-term as this could push him back on his pathway to the senior England squad.

Jamie Shillcock – Worcester

At just 21 years old, Shillcock already has a decent amount of Premiership experience due to Worcester’s issues at 10 in recent seasons. Now with Jono Lance and Duncan Weir both at Sixways and depth in the centre allowing Ryan Mills to also cover 10, suddenly opportunities look more limited for the youngster. With so many players in front of him and none of them likely to disappear during the internationals a move away to a team like the Scarlets could be just what he needs to further his career, either in a short- or long-term capacity.

Wade to the NFL

Wade to the NFL

In the big news of the week, Christian Wade has left Wasps and rugby union as a whole with the intention of pursuing a career in the NFL. The winger, capped just once by England, could potentially have broken the Premiership record for tries in a career but appears to have played his last game (for now at least).

Since the news broke, I have not yet been able to find anything saying how he plans to enter the league: whether he plans to train with a view to entering the draft, or will he sign on directly with a team as an undrafted free agent in a similar way to rugby league star Jarryd Hayne.

Wade becomes the latest in a list of pro rugby players who have made the switch to the NFL in recent years. The aforementioned Hayne had an impressive preseason but struggled in the regular season and split his time between the active roster and practice squad before leaving for the Fiji rugby 7s team less than a year after signing for the 49ers. 2015 RPA Sevens Player of the Year came through the NFL’s International Player Pathway program and currently finds himself on the Atlanta Falcon’s practice squad. Former Worcester lock Christian Scotland-Williamson also finds himself on the practice squad, in case for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As can be seen from those players, it is not an easy transition from rugby to the NFL. The two sports may share many similar skills but they are also two very different games. Whereas rugby requires endurance to keep going for 80 minutes, the NFL is about 4-6 seconds of going flat out with rests in between. Roles are much more specialised and involve skills such as precise route running and blocking. On top of this, there is the extra equipment (a gumshield looks insignificant next to NFL pads and helmets) and also the extra physicality from more larger players and plenty of impacts that would be far from legal in rugby.

Assuming Wade can make the transition, where will he play? Personally, I see him playing offense due to his dangerous footwork and ability to make a player miss. With that footwork and pace, I expect his earliest contributions to be as a returner, much with Hayne in San Francisco. If he develops well enough to feature away from special teams, then I can see him at one of two positions.

My initial thoughts when I heard he was leaving rugby was to imagine him as a Wide Reciever. At 5’8″ it will not be easy for him especially in the redzone, but if he can run precise routes then he could become a dangerous slot receiver like Wes Welker, while his pace could also make him a dangerous downfield threat.

The other position I can see Wade would be in the backfield. Obviously he’s not someone that I would want to see running between the tackles regularly but in more of a scatback role – running outside the tackles and catching out of the backfield. My only worry about this position would be the need for him to learn to pass block and pick up the blitz, or his Quarterback could be in trouble.

How will he do? Well judging by the fact that Wasps look set to sign Malakai Fekitoa, Wade must have been on a pretty nice contact at Wasps, so to give that up he must be confident that he can make it in the NFL and, I would assume, have taken advice from people who know the league. The important thing will be getting a team that will be willing to take the time to develop him rather than expecting him to be an immediate star. It will also help to end up on a team with coaches who can scheme to take advantage of his skills while also trying to limit the impact of his weaknesses. Suffice to say, I will be following the progression of this story with great interest.

Picking the England Back Row

Picking the England Back Row

Without wanting to sound dramatic, England are reaching crisis point in the back row ahead of the Autumn Internationals. Billy Vunipola’s broken arm – mere weeks after returning from another injury – means that he will have to wait until the 6 Nations to make his return to the England squad. Sam Simmonds is potentially done for the season following an injury to his ACL, while Vunipola’s usual backup Nathan Hughes looks set to be unavailable after being cited for a punch on Lewis Ludlow which he has likely made worse by moronically tweeting out his displeasure during the hearing. The last 22 Tests have seen one of the above 3 players fill the number 8 shirt so Eddie Jones will be venturing into uncharted territory with his selection. To add to his troubles, regular starter Chris Robshaw, Joe Launchbury, Nick Isiekwe, Ellis Genge and Mako Vunipola are all out injured, while Joe Marler has also recently retired from international rugby.

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Chris Robshaw has been almost an ever-present in the England squad under Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones is going to have some big decisions to make in the back row, which will likely also be affected by his selections elsewhere. Jones has clearly favoured a larger, more physical presence at 8, which has limited Sam Simmonds’ chances so far, and often this year England have looked short of physical runners with a lightweight back line and Vunipola missing from the squad.

With this in mind, I will attempt to give my options for each position in the back row for the Autumn Tests. Due to Launchbuy’s absence, I will not be considering Maro Itoje or Courtney Lawes in the back row as they will be needed in the tight 5, not to mention I have yet to be convinced they are international quality blind-side flankers.

 

8 – Judging by previous selections and current form, the next man up at number 8 would be Bath’s Zach Mercer. Anyone who regularly reads my blog will know I am a big fan of the former England U20s captain and I am sure that he would excel if given his first cap (his only appearance so far was a non-capped game against the Barbarians). At 6 foot 3 and 111kg, he is very similar in both physique and playing style to New Zealand’s Kieran Read and if he gets a good run in the team it will be hard to oust him from the XV. However given the need for a physical presence, another option would be a recall for Gloucester’s Ben Morgan. Morgan has not played for England since the 2015 World Cup and we already know that Eddie Jones is loath to pick Gloucester players no matter how well they are playing, but he is in the best form I have seen him in for a couple of the seasons and earned a timely Man of the Match award in Gloucester’s win over Castres with Jones in attendance. Morgan is more of a like-for-like replacement for Vunipola and Hughes, so with the lack of physical options currently available he would look to be the preferred option.

7 – While Sam Underhill is probably the most similar to Robshaw – he will tackle anything that moves in front of him – I think that Tom Curry is likely in the driving seat here following some impressive performances during the tour to South Africa. The Sale flanker has been around the squad for a couple of years and starting him in these Tests would be the logical progression. However, he could come under pressure from Matt Kvesic, who has been in incredible form so far this season after revitalising his career in his second season at Exeter. The former Gloucester flanker is a great nuisance at the breakdown, much like Curry, but has also really developed his game in open play. It has been a torrid couple of seasons for him since he was last in contention for an England spot, but this is probably the best chance he has had of a cap in years!

6 – The selection at 6 is very reliant on Jones’ selection at 8. Should Morgan get the nod at that position, I would pick Zach Mercer here as he is too good a player to leave out of the XV, while his versatility allows him to cover the entire back row. Should Mercer wear the 8 shirt, a more physical presence will be required at 6. EnterDom Armand, who really should have more than 2 caps to his name after a stellar couple of seasons for Exeter. The Zimbabwe-born flanker has had a limited effect from the bench against Argentina and then in the dismal performance that saw them lose to Ireland in the 6 Nations, but from the start he would be able to establish himself in the game as a solid runner while also providing a lineout option. If anyone but Jones were selecting the squads, he’d likely have a lot more caps to his name by now and at 30 years old, he would provide a more experienced head in a young back row alongside Mercer and Curry.

 

So those are my options and if I was the one making the picks, then I would go for a combination of Armand, Curry and Mercer with Morgan on the bench. Do I think Eddie will agree with me? Not at all, and I won’t be surprised to see players like Michael Rhodes, James Haskell, Brad Shields or Mark Wilson all selected ahead of at least a couple of these names. But I think we’ve come to expect that by now.

With the World Cup just a year away and only the 6 Nations and warm-up matches remaining following these Tests, Thursday’s squad announcement could potentially be the most important so far in Eddie Jones’ tenure…

Anarchy Round 1

Anarchy Round 1

The 2018 Ultimate Schmoedown is underway and as its name suggested, the Team tournament has been anarchy. For those of you who have missed a big chunk of this season (you’re missing out and really need to go back and watch what you missed), all teams were disbanded and picked from a hat, leading to 16 new teams – well technically 15 new and the Wildberries – and a number of new managers. Following the Shirewolves’ victory to earn the Team Title and a few other issues with the original selections, the 16 teams were confirmed along with the bracket and the tournament kicked off at the 3rd live event.

The Round 1 results were:

  • Founding Fathers beat Wait, I Know This! by TKO 20-17
  • The Paddington Two beat War Machine by TKO 23-21
  • The Odd Couple beat Team Seb’s by TKO 20-10
  • Who’s the Boss? beat Crazy Eighty-Greats 28-27
  • Cinemaniacs beat Franchise Force by TKO 26-19
  • KOrruption beat Inky and the Brain 19-18
  • Take the Cannoli beat The Self-Righteous Brothers 35-31
  • Evil Geniuses beat Wildberries by TKO 25-15

Now rather than try to do a write-up for each match as I did for the Innergeekdom Tournament, as many of these teams may not have much of a future I have decided instead to give my overall thoughts on the round instead.

Who stole Kal?

Ben Bateman was famously thrown out of Collider Collision II by Commissioner Thadd Williams after evidence suggested he was responsible for the theft of Kal the Schmoe Dog, which left Mark Reilly unable to attend fellow Horseman Dan Murrell’s match against Andrew Ghai.

mtskalgonebenIt became clear ahead of his first match with Ben as part of Who’s the Boss? that Reilly has not forgotten or forgiven “The Boss” for this. But Bateman once again declared his innocence and I’m still inclined to agree with him. It still seems far too convenient to me that Thadd was sent a picture of Kal in Bateman’s car as he was stood with Team Action.

But who would steal Kal and set up Bateman? Well Finstock is one potential culprit and that could play in great later down the line considering he is now managing this team, but I have a sneaky feeling that Kal’s disappearance was part of a greater corruption… or should I say KOrruption. Kalinowski has made it clear that he is not a fan of factions and the Horsemen are the one faction he has not made clear moves against, while it would have been a great chance to put Andrew Ghai off his game against Murrell (if that was the plan, it didn’t work) as revenge for Action’s win over DC Movie News.

Changes to the Viper Squad?

When it was first announced that Ethan Erwin and Jeannine “The Machine” would be on a team together and managed by Jay Washington, this looked like the perfect opportunity for the Viper Squad to recruit him. Unfortunately, plans may have been scuppered slightly by Ethan having to swap partners due to scheduling issues, but “The Urban Gladiator” managed to sweet-talk Thadd into allowing him to manage both teams. Sadly for Jay, neither of his teams could make it past Round 1, but it looks like he may still have a chance of winning over Erwin as he announced that he will remain as his manager for the remainder of the season.

The Viper Squad have done a good job this year considering two of the 3 competitors are rookies and there are some underrated talents in that faction, but if they can convince Ethan Erwin to join the faction, then that will instantly make their rivals sit up and take notice.

mtsmarkeiaBut will all of the other Vipers still be there? It looks like Jay has managed to keep the peace between Jeannine and Stacy Howard after they were put up against each other and Andreyko at Collision, but “Marvelous” Markeia McCarty appeared to be enjoying her time away from the Viper Squad as manager of Take The Cannoli, saying that she felt smothered and not allowed to shine in the Viper Squad. The Viper Squad could really push into the upper echelons of the factions if they can continue to grow together, if they have to keep rebuilding every year, it will be hard for them to dominate the league.

A star is born

As far as debuts go, they don’t go much better than Chance Ellison. “The Cobra” made his debut alongside Mike Kalinowski as part of KOrruption at the tender age of 20 (I feel old!) and looked instantly at home. Having come up from the fan leagues, people already knew that the knowledge was there, it was just a question of whether he could cope in the top flight with the pressure of the lights and the crowds. Well he’s already popped up onstage at the live event, joined Napzok and Kalinowski in a pre-match scene and won his debut team match.

mtschanceAnd in his debut match itself, he was the top scorer in the opening round, missing a perfect round by just 1 point whilst also correctly answering his solo question in the final round and working well with “The Killer” to work through a poor spin in Round 2. 1 match may be a small sample size, but so far he’s proving the crowd’s chants of “overrated” very wrong. The Founding Fathers will be a much sterner test than Inky and the Brain and there will be no easy matches as they work through the bracket, but if they can carry on through the tournament, Chance could add his name to the shortlist for Rookie of the Year.

One other thing that could help him go for Rookie of the Year would be a strong start to his Singles career. He’s been named as one of the 5 competitors in contention for the final 2 places in the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament. There are some strong names even in that group of 5 so there is no guarantee that he will progress, but if he can continue how he has started, we may have just seen a new tar enter the league.

mtstptRoom for improvement

The Paddington Two may have beat War Machine and impressed me along the way, but they will have sterner tests as the tournament progresses. They clearly have a strong knowledge of movies but I still worry that (despite Matt Atchity having now played 12 matches and both Free 4 Alls) they will struggle with their knowledge of how to play the game.

When Atchity and Duralde were conferring in Round 2 they were making no attempt to cover their mouths, so if they had got the question wrong, their conferring may have helped their opponents get to the right answer for the steal. Atchity also asked on a steal for multiple choice – not possible as War Machine went for a 2-point answer – which is something that I have noticed he does in most of his matches.

The Schmeodown has come on so far from its beginnings, movie trivia will get you so far but you need to be able to play the game if you are going to rise to the top. I can’t see them pulling off a result against The Odd Couple.

mtscoyMore please

One of the best bits of Round 1 has been seeing some other competitors reborn as managers. I’ve been a fan of Coy Jandreau’s happiness and enthusiasm when he is on the Schmoedown and I was so happy to see him named as a manger in this tournament. He didn’t disappoint at all with his Jeff-Goldblum-inspired promo at the live event and while I was happy as a Horsemen fan to see the Founding Fathers win, it was disappointing knowing that Coy’s time as a manger in this tournament would be over.

Jonny Loquasto is another who I have really enjoyed this year as a mouthpiece for his competitors and again it is a shame that his time in the competition was over almost as fast as his time at the announcer’s desk at Collision.

Markeia looked energised managing Take the Cannoli – who can blame her with competitors like Drew and Brianne! – and Ricky Hayberg was a wonderful addition to the Wildberries.

I really hope that the Anarchy tournament leads to some of these guys deciding to stay as managers as they have not all found success competing but all bring something to the league. They don’t all need to start factions, but even just being as mouthpieces for unaligned competitors would bring a new dimension to the league, whilst also ensuring it wasn’t the same 4 or 5 people competing in the Manager Bowl every year at Spectacular.

Predicting the Quarterfinals

I wrote this during the week before the quarterfinals started but due to a combination of work and travel, it is likely that the first match will have aired by the time this goes up.

The Odd Couple v The Paddington Two: Assuming Sneider and Andreyko can continue to work together, I think their better knowledge of the game will give The Odd Couple the victory

mtswtbCinemaniacs v Who’s the Boss?: Plenty of pedigree in this match with the current Singles Champion and former Team Champion facing off against the former 2-time Singles Champ and one of the best prospects in the game. Reilly is getting over his rust and I think the way that he and Bateman are gelling will see them make it to the semis

The Harris Bros v Take the Cannoli: It’s such a shame that JTE has had to step back from the Schmoedown for the rest of the season as he recovers (get well soon JTE!) as it looks like the Evil Geniuses could have been dangerous. I don’t know anything about Lon’s new competitor other than that it is his brother, so I have to lean towards Take the Cannoli

UntitledFounding Fathers v KOrruption: Putting aside all Horsemen bias here, I’ve still got to pick the Founding Fathers as they have experience on their side. That said, if Chance can put in another great performance and the categories fall right for Kalinowski, this could easily go against the former champions

What did you think about the first round of the tournament? Who stood out to you and who are you expecting to win in the Quarters? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!