Alternative England 23

Alternative England 23

With just 2 rounds of the Premiership and the playoffs left following this weekend and the European cups down to the finals, there is not much time left for a player to push themselves into contention for a place in his nation’s World Cup squad.

This close to the tournament, you must imagine that Eddie Jones will not be making drastic changes from the squads he has used in the last couple of international windows, but there is always a chance that someone could be a late bolter and make the plane.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to try creating an England 23 using players who have not recently played for England. My initial plan was to include anyone eligible (playing in England) who had not played for the team during this season’s internationals (the Autumn Tests and Six Nations) but as I was looking at the number of players available, I chose to also rule out anybody who featured in the 2018 Summer Tests so that I am looking at players who have gone at least a season without being capped.

Starting XV

  1. Beno Obano: Someone who made it into my Uncapped XV 13 months ago and was unlucky not to be capped over the last year, Obano was called up to an England camp last May, where he picked up sever damage to his knee ligaments that saw him out of the game until March this year. A strong scrummager, Obano became a huge part of the Bath defence last season with a series of huge tackles. With the depth England have at loosehead, it will be interesting to see how long he has to wait for another chance in the national team.
  2. Jack Singleton: The Worcester hooker has been unfortunate to find himself behind Jamie George, Dylan Hartley and Luke Cowan-Dickie in a position where Eddie Jones rarely rotates his players, but did get a start in the 45-63 loss to the Barbarians last May. Part of the new breed of hookers coming through that are equally adept in the loose and at the set piece, it will be interesting to see how his England chances are affected by going from the starter at Worcester to competing with George at Saracens next season.
  3. Will Collier: The tighthead spot does not appear to be as deep as loosehead at the moment, but Collier gets the nod here. Collier is Kyle Sinckler’s deputy at Harlequins but impressed on his 2 appearances against Argentina in the 2017 Summer Tests, where he proved himself capable of holding his own against a strong Pumas scrum.
  4. Dave Attwood: I honestly don’t understand why Dave Attwood appears so far down the pecking order. A strong all-rounder in the set piece, he is also a strong ball-carrier who comes to life when given a bit of space. Injuries appeared to drop him down the pecking order at Bath, but he excelled when on loan at Toulon and I’m sure he will star at Bristol next season. Unfortunately at 32 years old and with so much depth in the England second row, I find it unlikely we’ll see him add to his 24 caps.
  5. Ed Slater: I remember being very disappointed when it was announced that Ed Slater and Jonny May would be swapping teams given his injury history, but almost 2 years on I cannot imagine him not being part of the Gloucester squad. Another who plays a big role in the set piece, he has been a key part of a Gloucester pack that has got back to its best under Johan Ackermann. Slater captained England against the Crusaders in 2014 but considers that the day his international career faltered as he injured his ACL in that game.
  6. Sam Simmonds: A player who missed his chance to play in the Six Nations due to a ruptured ACL, it is unclear if the Exeter back rower would have featured anyway due to Eddie Jones seeing him as too small to viably play number 8 unless both Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes are unavailable. However, Simmonds is deceptively strong for his “small” size and also very good in space. Capable of playing at 8 or flanker, and with 20 tries from 28 Premiership games, his versatility may help him with the limited squad size in a World Cup.
  7. Don Armand: One of the players that it could be argued has been done dirty by Eddie Jones, it’s crazy that Don Armand has only appearances off the bench to his name (June 2017 in Argentina and the 2018 Six Nations match against Ireland). He has been one of the stars of the Exeter squad in recent seasons and would bring extra physicality to the back row.
  8. Ben Morgan: Matt Kvesic has performed so well in Sam Simmonds’ absence this season and was so close to making it an all-Exeter back row, but there was no way I could leave out Ben Morgan. The Gloucester 8 went off the boil a little bit following England’s RWC2015 nightmare (his last appearance for England came in that tournament against Australia), but he has been rejuvenated under Johan Ackermann and been one of Gloucester’s biggest stars this season.
  9. Willi Heinz: Scrum half was one of the harder positions to pick due to the heavy reliance on Ben Youngs and Danny Care recently being broken with appearances from Dan Robson, Ben Spencer and Richard Wigglesworth all making appearances for England this season. My Gloucester bias may have come to the fore a little here as I picked Willi Heinz. The kiwi was invited to train with England in 2017 but was never capped. Heinz has great experience of both the Premiership and Super Rugby now and has a great all-round game.
  10. Freddie Burns: Danny Cipriani was set to wear the 10 shirt until I chose to leave out players who featured on the 2018 Summer Tour to South Africa, which left me with a difficult choice. Billy Burns’ move to Ulster took him out of the running and Joe Simmonds has not pushed on as much as I expected after breaking out last season, which left me picking between Freddie Burns and Marcus Smith. Burns eventually got the nod here for his experience and his recent performances, where he has been keeping Rhys Priestland on the Bath bench. He may not be such a “maverick” as in his younger days but is now a great game manager with the ability to still beat an opponent with a moment of magic. Plus his chip and chase over a defensive line is still one of the best in the league.
  11. Ollie Thorley: What a season Thorley has been having. November’s Premiership Rugby Player of the Month was called into the England squad during the 2019 Six Nations but did not make it into any of the matchday squads. Injury saw him unavailable from February 2018 to November 2018 and he is currently out again, but he has still amassed 16 tries in 30 appearances in all competitions over the last 2 seasons with a number of teams struggling to deal with his combination of strength and speed.
  12. Brad Barritt: Another player who hasn’t featured for England since the World Cup disaster against Australia, Brad Barritt has continued to be a star for Saracens. A great defensive option at inside centre, he is someone you always know will put his body on the line and give everything for his team. A former British and Irish Lion, it could be argued that at 32 years old he could still do a job for England.
  13. Billy Twelvetrees: Another British and Irish Lion, Twelvetrees has not played for England since August 2015. Another Gloucester player who saw a drop in form, he has looked back to his best this season and has formed a great partnership with Danny Cipriani and Mark Atkinson in the Gloucester midfield. A strong runner and good defender, Twelvetrees also has the ability to fill in at the stand-off position and is also an accurate kicker off the tee.
  14. Anthony Watson: The Bath speedster looked like he could be the person to replace Mike Brown in the England 15 shirt, an Achilles injury picked up in the 2018 Six Nations match against Ireland has kept him out until this weekend’s match against Sale. Capable of playing wing or fullback, I was not sold on his defence before his injury but his speed and elusiveness is a huge positive and he has managed 15 tries from 33 England Test appearances. He is the player I think has the best chance of making it into this year’s World Cup squad.
  15. Alex Goode: Another who has been ignored by Eddie Jones in recent seasons, Goode’s last cap came against Fiji in November 2016. A talented playmaker and another who would be able to feature at 1st receiver, Goode has been arguably one of the best fullbacks in the Premiership over recent seasons but does not appear to have the style of play that Jones is looking for at 15.


  1. Harry Thacker: I don’t understand how Thacker fell out of favour at Leicester and was allowed to leave for Bristol! There are very few hookers I would rather have in my team when we are attacking in open play than Thacker. He came back to haunt the Tigers yesterday with a late try to down his former club – his 7ᵗʰ of the season in the league.
  2. Val Rapava-Ruskin: A player who recently featured in my Premiership Rugby XV Challenge, Tbilisi-born Rapava-Ruskin is also eligible for England. He is an incredible talent who comes to life in open play, while at the breakdown he is like an extra back row. If he can put his injuries behind him, I can imagine him moving up the England pecking order in the coming years.
  3. Nick Schonert: The South Africa-born prop came off the bench for Kyle Sinckler against the Barbarians but is yet to receive a Test cap. A regular for Worcester, he is probably one of the most under the radar players on this list, but a couple of injuries at tighthead could see him pushing for his first cap.
  4. Jonny Hill: A player who has become a regular for Exeter, Jonny Hill is probably the second row on the list most likely to play for England again due to his age and his team’s continued success. A good ball-carrier and a key part of the lineout, Hill has 6 tries from 45 Premiership appearances.
  5. Guy Thompson: I was so close to picking Alex Dombrandt for this role, but at 21 years old and in his breakout season, I decided to go instead for a more experienced player. Such have been the performances of Guy Thomson over the years for both Wasps and Leicester, it is crazy to think that he has never received any international recognition. Able to play across the back row, he is so dangerous at the breakdown and can make a team pay if they give him too much space with ball in hand.
  6. Joe Simpson: Simpson has 1 cap to his name – coming off the bench in the 2011 World Cup against Georgia – but has found himself unfortunate not to feature more recently due to some badly timed injuries. A player who was always regarded as one of the pacier 9s back in the day, Simpson has amassed 181 Premiership appearances for Wasps, scoring 26 tries. He may have lost a step but he has replaced that with experience and his battle with Dan Robson for the starting spot over recent seasons has brought out the best in both of them.
  7. Marcus Smith: He may not have been capped but he has been called up to train with England on a couple of occasions. He’s only 20 year old but has already clocked up 316 points in 40 Premiership appearances following his Harlequins debut in September 2017. A star for Quins in his debut season, he’s not been as impressive this year but I would still guess that it is a matter of “when” not “if” he gets his first cap.
  8. Jason Woodward: Woodward gets the final spot in the squad courtesy of his versatility, being able to play fullback, wing and outside centre. A player I have rated for years, he scored 11 tries in 44 Super Rugby appearances for Melbourne Rebels and the Hurricanes and even kept Julian Savea out of the ‘Canes’ starting XV for their 2016 final victory against the Lions. He’s continued those great performances with Bristol and Gloucester, scoring 13 tries in 46 Premiership games despite arriving in England after the 2016/17 season had already started.

Do you think any of these players will make it on the plane to Japan? Who would make your squad if you had been picking this list?

March 2019 in the Premier League

March 2019 in the Premier League

March was a month of beginnings and endings in the Premier League. Manchester United officially named Ole Gunnar Solskjær as their permanent manager after his time as caretaker manager got the team back on track. In slightly worse news for United, this month also saw their unbeaten league run under the Baby-faced Assassin come to an end with a 2-0 loss at Arsenal. Arsenal were also involved in Tottenham’s last league match at Wembley before moving into their new stadium at the start of April, holding their North London rivals to a 1-1 draw. Meanwhile, the Brendan Rodgers era got underway at Leicester City with an injury time Andre Gray goal denying the Foxes a point, but 3 wins after that (including a 1-2 win at Burnley despite playing a man down for the majority of the game) got their season back on track. Less celebratory were Huddersfield, whose 2-0 loss at Crystal Palace, combined with victories for Burnley and Southampton, saw the Terriers become only the second team – following Derby County in the 2007/8 season – to be relegated before the end of March.

Going to ground

We all hate diving and want to see it removed from the game. The problem is, too often a dive seems to be required in order to get the decision. Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Southampton saw a moment where Alexis Sanchez looked in with a good chance of scoring, only to be pulled back in the box by Jan Valery. Sanchez stayed on is feet in an attempt to get back on the ball and referee Stuart Attwell waved play on rather than give a penalty.

It was great to see Sanchez trying to play positively here and he should not be penalised for trying to keep his feet when he is clearly being fouled. We want to be eradicating diving from the game, yet players who honestly stay on their feet do not get the decisions they deserve so feel they need to throw themselves to the ground in order to get the referee to act. Credit must be given to Southampton’s Nathan Redmond against Tottenham, who refused to throw himself to the ground after Moussa Sissoko thrust his head into his face. That should have been a clear red card but the Spurs midfielder escaped with a yellow and you can’t help but think that referee Kevin Friend was influenced by Redmond keeping his feet.

Players should not have to go to ground to get a decision. In the same game between United and Southampton, Chris Smalling was lucky to not concede a penalty after pulling Ryan Bertrand back in the box. I can’t help but feel that Bertrand’s theatrical fall cost him here as it looked so over the top for the foul he received, yet that does not hide the fact that he was fouled.

VAR will hopefully help, but there is still a reliance on referees judging on the foul itself not whether a player goes down. Brighton’s 1-2 win at Crystal Palace saw Scott Dann and Shane Duffy tussle in the box and eventually pull each other to ground at a free kick. Craig Pawson should have been calling either a penalty or a free kick depending who made the first offence, but as we see at every corner and free kick, play was waved on and the incident ignored. On top of that, the highlights package of the Cardiff v Chelsea match alone had 3 clear penalties not given for players being pulled over in the box!

We need to get more consistency from the officials if we are to get rid of diving as players need to know that the officials will call fouls on them even if they keep on their feet and try to still get to the ball.

We’ve got a long way to go.

A mixed day

For Jordan Pickford, who came up through the Sunderland Academy and first team before moving to Everton, a match at Newcastle United will be a big deal. I can’t help but agree with Ian Wright’s comments on Match of the Day that the Everton keeper let this affect him in a negative way and that he should have been more focused on the game.

At 0-1, the England number 1 completely misjudged a Matt Ritchie cross and dropped it pretty much right into the path of Salomón Rondón. The only reason Rondón didn’t score? Pickford rugby tackled him well off the ball as he ran past the stranded keeper. Unbelievably, referee Lee Mason gave Pickford the benefit of the doubt that he was going for the ball and gave just a penalty, when Pickford arguably should have been heading for an early shower. This decision had an immediate impact on the game as Pickford saved Ritchie’s penalty and Everton doubled the lead through Richarlison just over a minute later.

If Newcastle fans weren’t already angry enough, Pickford decided to provoke them further as he was left stranded in his box when Rondón got through on goal and chipped him, only for the ball to bounce just wide of the post. Rather than recognise that he had been let off by the miss, Pickford decided to antagonise the home fans with a smirk and sticking his tongue out at them.

Karma had it’s say in this game though as Pickford (who looked shaky throughout) went on to concede 3 goals and lose the game, the second coming after he parried a long-range strike from Miguel Almirón straight into the path of Ayoze Pérez. And in a moment of poetic justice, Everton – who should have played an hour with 10 men – came away with no points as Peréz scored a winner that should have been disallowed for Rondón being offside in the build-up.

Pickford is a quality keeper on his day, but he has to sort out his mentality as he has had some awful flubs this year. He needs to focus on getting the football right as if you act up but don’t perform, you won’t keep your job for much longer.

Mic them up!

Pickford’s attempt at playing rugby against Newcastle wasn’t even the oddest moment of the month as it was beaten out by Raheem Sterling’s opener for Manchester City against Watford. Sergio Aguero chested on a ball forward for Sterling, who was in a clear opposition. Sterling was beaten to the ball by Daryl Janmaat, however the Dutchman’s attempted clearance was blocked by the England winger and deflected into the net. It initially looked like the goal had been (rightfully) disallowed as the linesman called the offside, but after going over to discuss with him, referee Paul Tierney overruled the initial decision and gave the goal.

“It was a game before that moment, and after that decision the game changed” – Javi Gracia

First off, this is an awful decision and I can’t wait for VAR to come in to get rid of shockers like this. I think that football should go even further though and take another leaf out of rugby’s book by allowing us to hear the communications between the officials. I recently saw a video of Australian referee Jared Gillet wearing a microphone for his final A-League match and it was great to be able to hear his communication with the players.

Some people may argue that the language from the players means we shouldn’t hear this, but players should not be surrounding the officials anyway and having the audio available to the public may actually help to improve the way players act towards the officials. If nothing else, we’d understand what the officials’ reasons are for their decisions and it may also benefit VAR, similar to how TMOs in rugby league can be clearly heard talking through every stage of their decision.

Top 6 prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Arsenal
  4. Manchester United
  5. Tottenham Hotspur
  6. Chelsea


Premiership XV Challenge

Premiership XV Challenge

When it comes to rugby, I’m a sucker for a pick a XV challenge and watching the Premiership recently I decided to set myself a new challenge: picking a Premiership XV with no more than 1 player per nation. I did something similar a while back in picking a World XV, but at first I was nervous that I would be able to find players from enough different nationalities in the league. Going through all the squads though, my fears were easily quashed and I found myself also able to add in the caveat of not including an England player and still find myself leaving some nationalities out.

So without further ado, let’s look at the team:

  1. Val Rapava Ruskin: The Gloucester loosehead has had more than his fair share of injury issues, but when he is fit is a quality operator. A former Georgia U19 captain, he is one of the more mobile props in the league and is like an extra back row at the breakdown. He is yet to play at senior international level which does leave him eligible to play for England, but such is the depth at this position right now, I can’t see him playing for them anytime soon, so I couldn’t leave such a talented player off the list.
  2. Joe Taufete’e: The USA international may find his playing time at Worcester limited with Jack Singleton also on the roster, but he is a quality hooker. A strong runner, at just 26 years old, he already has the most international tries of any player in the tight five, with 20 tries from 22 matches.
  3. Vincent Koch: One of the few Premiership-based Springboks likely to feature in the World Cup, the Saracens tighthead combines reliable scrummaging with good ability in open play. At time of writing this, no prop has been selected by more players (28%) on the Rugby Magazine Premiership Fantasy Rugby game, 7th overall of any position.
  4. Andrei Ostrikov: Not many Russian rugby players have made it outside of their own domestic league at the moment but Ostrikov is one of the success stories. A regular for Sale since the 2013/14 season, he has to date made 146 appearances for the Sharks, scoring 7 tries.
  5. Chris Vui: A former Blues and Worcester player, Vui moved to Bristol ahead of the 2017/18 Championship season and made the league’s Team of the Season. Now playing for the Bears in the Premiership, he is a regular and reliable contributor in the second row. Vui become the youngest captain in World Rugby when he began skippering Samoa in 2017.
  6. Sam Skinner: Capable of playing at lock or in the back row, Skinner became the latest Exeter player to gain international honours when he made his Scotland debut in November, receiving the Man of the Match award in the same game. Injury severely limited his playing time in the Six Nations this year, but at 24 years old, he looks like he will be a regular fixture in the Scotland squad over the coming years.
  7. Thomas Young: The fact that he struggles to even make it into the Wales squad, let alone the 23, shows the quality the Welsh have in the back row at the moment. Things didn’t work out for him at Cardiff Blues or at Gloucester, but a move to Wasps (where dad Dai is Director of Rugby) for the 2014/15 season has seen him become a star. Dangerous in the loose, Young comes alive around the breakdown and is a turnover king.
  8. Renaldo Bothma: South African-born, Bothma qualified for Namibia through his mother and has gone on to be one of their star players. A highly physical back rower, Bothma has scored 8 tries in 17 Tests since making his debut against Kenya in June 2018.
  9. Nic White: With only Australia caps to his name, White’s decision to leave the Brumbies for Europe brought a premature end to his international career. Now at Exeter, he brings experience and a cultured kicking game to the Chiefs’ scrum half corps and has been known to rock some exquisite facial hair.
  10. Gareth Steenson: He made it onto my Uncapped XV and now he makes another list. Playing for Exeter has made him ineligible for Ireland but he is a quality player regardless. One of the most accurate kickers in the league, he controls the Exeter back line so well and makes sure his team are playing in the right areas of the pitch.
  11. Vereniki Goneva: He may be 35 now but you wouldn’t think it when you watch him play. A star at Leicester, the Fijian has carried on his form since moving to Newcastle. He may have lost a step of pace but has the footwork and experience to still cause the defence major issues.
  12. Jimmy Gopperth: Another player who makes it onto both this list and my Uncapped XV, the fact that Jimmy Gopperth has never played for the All Blacks shows the quality of players available to New Zealand. Things didn’t really work out for him with the Hurricanes or Blues in Super Rugby, but he has been a star in the Premiership, first for Newcastle then more recently Wasps. Equally dangerous at 10, he comes alive at 12 where he plays the second playmaker role with aplomb. Wasps have sorely missed him this season as he recovers from an ACL injury.
  13. Michele Campagnaro: One of Italy’s real stars in the back line. Injuries have really hampered his career but he has an undeniable talent. Stuck in a highly competitive Exeter back line, Campagnaro got his chance with a move to Wasps and next season will be calling the Stoop his home. Also able to play wing, he has good pace and elusiveness but also the strength to keep going through tackles.
  14. Santiago Cordero: Cordero on form is box office! The Argentine first came on my radar with his stunning performances in the 2015 World Cup, but his move to Exeter in 2018 has stopped him from featuring for the Pumas. Able to star on the wing or at fullback, his pace and footwork makes him a nightmare for opposition defences. A casualty of the salary cap, Sandy Park will miss him when he moves to Bordeaux this summer.
  15. Telusa Veainu: Another player who has missed the majority of the season through injury, Veainu is almost unstoppable when on form. A great counter-attacker, he has 22 tries in 52 appearances for the Tigers and 5 tries in 9 matches for Tonga. It’s crazy to think that despite great try-scoring records for Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay and Melbourne Rising, he only made 16 appearances (3 starts) in 5 seasons of Super Rugby.

Who would make your XV?

Major Change Incoming

Major Change Incoming

Big news came out of the USA today as Major League Rugby announced the format for the 2020 season, with new teams and a brand new format.

Season 3 of the USA’s professional league sees the total number of teams in the competition increased to 12, with 3 new expansion teams: the New England Free Jacks (Boston), Old Glory DC (Washington D.C.) and Rugby ATL (Atlanta).

The expansion has lead to a change in format, as the league splits into 2 conferences. The Western Conference will be home to Austin Elite Rugby, Houston Sabercats, Glendale Raptors, San Diego Legion, Seattle Seawolves and Utah Warriors. The Eastern Conference comprises the 3 new franchises along with NOLA Gold, Rugby United New York and Toronto Arrows.

Starting in mid-February, each team will play home and away against the other 5 teams in their conference and 6 games against teams in the other conference (3 home, 3 away). Once the regular season is over, the top 3 teams from each conference will enter the playoffs, where (like in the Pro14) 2ⁿᵈ and 3ʳᵈ will play each other with the winner taking on 1ˢᵗ to be declared the Conference Champion. June 28ᵗʰ will see the Conference Champions face off in the MLR Final.

First off, I’m really happy and excited to see the league continuing to grow and bring in more expansion teams. I really hope that rugby takes off in the USA and becomes its next big sport, so to see the MLR go from strength to strength after the way PRO Rugby fell apart is great to see. It’s also great to see the spread of the franchises over the country (and also spreading into Canada).

I’m not the biggest fan of a conference format but in the circumstance of such a new league that is still expanding and finding its feet, I think that this is a smart idea as it makes it easy to add new expansion teams without dramatically altering the league. I do however have some gripes with the timing of the competition as a February start means that some teams will still be struggling with cold weather for the first half of the season, while teams will also be losing players to their international teams during the Americas Rugby Championship.

Though I do have some issues, I am largely positive about how things are going in the league. The quality of rugby appears to be improving from what I have seen and having players of the calibre of Ben Foden out there will only be helping the league and USA rugby in general. With the next season starting after the World Cup, I will be interested to see if any players retire from international rugby and move over to give the MLR a go, which could push the league forward to the next level.

Suffice to say, I will be watching on with great interest.

He’s At It Again…

He’s At It Again…

Oh dear, here we go again…

Back in April last year, Waratahs and Australia star Israel Folau got himself in hot water for a comment on Instagram stating that God’s plan for homosexuals was

HELL… Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God

Fast forward a year and he is at it again. His first remarks were on Twitter, where he appeared critical of Tasmania no longer legally requiring gender to be included on birth certificates, with the following tweet:

The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free.

He then returned to Instagram to post a picture that said:

WARNING    Drunks   Homosexuals   Adulterers   Liars   Fornicators   Thieves   Atheists   Idolaters   HELL AWAITS YOU   REPENT!   ONLY JESUS SAVES

As I mentioned at the time of his previous comments, I have no problem with freedom of speech and while I don’t share his views I will not condemn him for having them. However as one of Australia’s star players and one of the biggest names in rugby, he is a role model for so many young fans and as a result should be much more responsible as to what he posts on his social media.

I have a couple of problems with these social media comments:

  • He makes these comments against homosexuals and hides behind his religion, however he has a number of tattoos, which appear to go against the bible (“Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you” – Leviticus 19:28)
  • If these comments were about people of colour rather than homosexuals, then there would be uproar and he would be punished instantly. Why should this be any different? Whether race or sexuality, discrimination is discrimination

Last time, the Rugby Australia chose not to punish him as he used his religion as a shield – conveniently he was nearing the end of his contract and had not yet committed to staying with the the Wallabies, so they were afraid to push him away. Following that incident, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle said “There’s no doubt we’ve had conversations with Izzy about continuing to present his views in a respectful way. He is walking the line, we’ll continue the dialogue with him.”

Rugby Australia gave him the benefit of the doubt and now he has thrown that back in their faces with his latest comments. In a statement released earlier, they said:

Rugby Australia is aware of a post made by Israel Folau on his Instagram account this afternoon.

The content within the post is unacceptable. It does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the Rugby community.

The Rugby Australia integrity unit has been engaged on the matter tonight.

But how far will Rugby Australia go? In my opinion, he has had his chances and a significant ban is required – if not a ripping up of his contract. However, with the Wallabies in disarray and the World Cup just around the corner, will they be willing to make the big call or are they willing to risk losing face by trying to keep one of the sport’s biggest names available for the tournament?

Change for the Best?

Change for the Best?

Interesting news came out of Paris late last month as a three-day Player Welfare symposium suggested 8 change proposals to be put forward to the Law Review Group next month. World Rugby regularly make amendments to the laws with a view to improving player safety and the quality of the game itself, but this close to the World Cup there will be no changes brought in ahead of the tournament.

There is understandably a need for change: as money has come into rugby, players have got bigger and fitter, which has led to more and larger collisions. The danger of head injuries has become clearer to everyone, while a number of other players have suffered serious injuries at the breakdown.

But are these proposed changes the right way to go? I’ve taken a look at some of the suggested changes to give my thoughts on the idea.

50-22 kick

Probably the most widely publicised of the suggestions, this is a variation of the 40-20 kick from rugby league. The suggestion is that if a team kicks the ball from within their own half and bounces it into touch inside the opposition 22, then the throw-in at the lineout would belong to the kicking team rather than the opposition.

I can understand the reasoning behind this, as it will likely lead to more players covering in the backfield to deal with the potential kick, which will lead to more gaps in the defensive line, reducing collisions and promoting more attacking rugby. However I am not a fan of this change as the kicking team already has an advantage at the lineout due to the pressure of playing rugby in your own 22, so they will often be fielding a kick within a couple of phases anyway. With the way the lineout and maul are currently refereed to benefit the team throwing in, bringing in this law would make it far too easy for teams to kick into the 22 and then maul it over. Even as a former front row who can enjoy a forwards battle, I’d soon begin to find that boring!

Sin-bin reviews

The suggestion here is that when a player is yellow carded, the citing commissioner will review the incident during the 10-minute sin-bin period and would be able to upgrade the sanction to a red card.

We all want to see the right decisions made on the pitch and a post-match ban is no help to a team who should have played with a numerical advantage for half the game, so I generally like the suggestion. That said, I hope that the referees will still continue to call the red cards if they see them, rather than play it safe by giving a yellow card and allowing the citing commissioner to make the big decision.

It will also be important to find a way for this to be clear to fans watching both in the stadium and at home, which has been one of the main criticisms of VAR in football so far.

The tackle

A number of the prospective law changes (unsurprisingly) centre around the tackle.

One is to expand the ‘high tackle warning system’ from last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship into another elite competition. This system gave players a post-match warning following any challenges that result in a HIA or contact with the head of either player if the tackler was found to be upright (not bent at the waist) when tackling. Each warning is classed as a strike and 2 strikes in the tournament would lead to a 1-match ban. Early tests in the U20 Championship saw concussion incidents reduced by 50% so I would be very interested to see this tested further. If brought in to a league, I will be interested to see if the 2-strikes rule remains or if further strikes are required due to a longer format. Personally, I think sticking with 2 strikes will be a good deterrent without being too harsh, as no players reached the 2-strike mark in the U20 Championship.

2 others that are going to be trialled by amateur clubs in France next season are lowering the height of the tackle to the waist and also eliminating 2-man tackles. I am all for eliminating the choke tackle and reducing the tackle height, but to lower it all the way to the waist seems to be a drastic change and will need a big shift from players. It will lead to more offloads and potentially a more exciting game but at this moment I need to see this in action to be won around to such a drastic change.

I am firmly against outlawing the double tackle, though. I understand that there is a risk of players clashing heads when both tackling the same player, but this is generally down to poor communication as players are taught to tackle 1 high and 1 low. While single-man tackles only will again increase the chance of offloads and better attacking play, it could also make things hard for defenders if an attacker targets the space between them and they are hesitant to risk giving away a penalty for both making a tackle. Again, though, seeing this in action could change my mind.

The ruck

The last potential change I will mention is to ban the use of hands in the ruck, leading to defenders having to win the ball back by driving over the ball.

I’m not a fan of this at all. The jackal has become such a great part of the sport, but it is seen as bad for player safety due to the number of injuries, especially to the back and neck. I would counter that this would not be an issue if the laws were applied correctly as we consistently see jackals clearly off their feet but not being penalised – in fact often praised by commentators for such a great jackal – and players going off their feet to clear them out. Doing this and banning the crocodile/judo roll (as former England and Fiji 7s coach Ben Ryan has spent years campaigning for, as it leads to a number of serious knee injuries) will make the breakdown a much safer place without making and serious changes.

What do you think of these potential changes? Are there any changes you would like to see made to the laws?