A Refreshing Change

A Refreshing Change

We all know that World Rugby are constantly tinkering, looking to improve the game. Well they’re at it again. Over the last couple of weeks, World Rugby confirmed that a number of global trials that have been taken place will now be written into law with effect from 1ˢᵗ July 2022 (the ones that we have got used to over recent years: 50:22 kick, goal line drop out, reducing pre-bounding) while the inclusion of the brake foot at the scrum—which we saw during the Six Nations—has now been expanded to a global trial.

But the big news came a few days later, with the announcement of a new global trial starting from 1ˢᵗ July that will limit non-playing personnel on the field to aid the flow of the game. Per World Rugby’s own news release:

For all competitions, including Rugby World Cup 2021 playing in 2022, Rugby World Cup 2023 or stand-alone matches that begin after 1 July 2022 the following adjustments to Law 6 will apply:

Medics

  • Can only provide water to players who they are treating
  • Cannot field or touch a ball when it is live in play (sanction: penalty kick)

Additional personnel

  • Teams are permitted up to two dedicated water carriers
  • Water carriers cannot be a Director of Rugby or Head Coach
  • In elite-level rugby, water carriers will only be able to enter the field of play twice per half at points agreed with the match officials – this can only be during a stoppage in play or after a try has been scored
  • A person bringing on a kicking tee may carry one bottle for the kicker’s use only
  • These water/tee carriers must remain in the Technical Zone at all times before entering the field of play as permitted. Any attempt to field or touch the ball while it is live in play, including the technical zone, will be sanctioned with a penalty kick
  • No-one should approach, address or aim comments at the match officials, save for medics in respect of treatment of a player. Should this happen, the sanction will be a penalty kick

Players on the field

  • May access water behind the dead ball line or from within their Technical Zone at any time

Personally, I love this! We have got to the point where rugby players have become behemoths, and the stop/start nature of the game is making it too much of a “bigger team wins”. Hopefully with less chances for water carriers to come on, we will see players having to adapt and improve their stamina to go longer without assistance.

Too often we see the game slowed down by a million non-playing personnel making their way on the pitch at the shortest of stoppages, unnecessarily drawing everything out. Hopefully this will bring a start to this, especially now that medics can only bring water for the player they are directly treating.

Hopefully along with this, we will start to see more efficient time management from officials. Some people will say I’m only making a fuss as the Springboks are World Champions and looking so strong, but their success comes from slowing the game down so much by drawing out stoppages, which allows their giant players to recharge and dominate. I pay money to watch rugby, not constant stoppages, so alongside reducing the impact of non-playing personnel coming on the pitch, officials need to start speeding up the game when a team tries to slow it down at the set piece.

Thirty seconds to form up for a scrum/lineout and restart play (unless the official chooses to stop the game for a legitimate reason), with a free kick against whichever team fails to adhere to this timing would speed the game up so much and make a massive difference t the quality of rugby we are all watching. Hopefully this is the first step in the right direction.

What do you think of this new law trial?

Top 5: Hookers

Top 5: Hookers

Welcome back to my “Top 5” rugby series. This 13-article series has been inspired by countless conversations among friends or other fans over the years and will see me selecting my top 5 men’s rugby players who are currently playing at each position.

With all of these lists, I am picking who I feel are the best 5 at each position, so there may be some surprises in there as I select the players who I feel are most appropriate to the position despite there being multiple ways to play many positions. I try to watch rugby from a broad range of leagues as well as plenty (or too much, depending how you ask) of Test matches, but I appreciate that I still have some blind spots, while a list like this is subjective; so while the majority of each article will be my list, I also set my good friend and occasional collaborator Phil the challenge to select his top 5, which I will include below. I’d also love to hear your picks, so go ahead and post them in the comments!

Today, we are looking at hookers.


Top 5


Julien Marchand

The conveyor belt of talent at hooker that Les Bleus have been able to field through the professional era must be the envy of most teams, and in current starter Marchand they have their latest superstar. As well as getting his basics right at the set piece, he is a willing runner with the ball with a good blend of pace and power, while also winning more than his fair share of turnovers.

Malcolm Marx

A regular in the South African “Bomb Squad” of late, Marx can occasionally have an off day at the lineout, but more than makes up for it around the park. With the way he carries in attack and jackals in defence, having Marx on the pitch is like playing an extra back row.

Codie Taylor

A close fight between Taylor and fellow Kiwi Dane Coles, but the Crusader just gets the nod here. Like Marx, he can be a little iffy at the lineout on occasion, but he makes the list by being a matchup nightmare in attack, as he will frequently find himself using his pace and power to break in midfield like a centre, making 0-40 metres before he is brought down.

Julián Montoya

The Pumas hooker was stuck behind Agustín Creevy for so long at Test level but has excelled since being given the starting spot and continues to also show his quality with Leicester as one of the best hookers in the Premiership. Exceptional at the set piece, Montoya is a strong carrier whose dynamism when he has space in front of him goes underrated, while in defence he can hit hard and jackal effectively.

Jamie George

Sometimes you can become one of the best just by doing the basics to a really high level. Such is the case with Jamie George. Super reliable at the set piece, George also has a great workrate in defence, while those who only watch him play for boring England probably don’t realise just how dynamic he can be in attack.

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Phil’s top 5: Malcolm Marx, Dane Coles, Folau Fainga’a, Bongi Mbonambi, Jamie George

Who makes your top 5?

Top 5: Loosehead Props

Top 5: Loosehead Props

Welcome to my new series, “Top 5”. This 13-article series has been inspired by countless conversations among friends or other fans over the years and will see me selecting my top 5 men’s rugby players who are currently playing at each position.

With all of these lists, I am picking who I feel are the best 5 at each position, so there may be some surprises in there as I select the players who I feel are most appropriate to the position despite there being multiple ways to play many positions. I try to watch rugby from a broad range of leagues as well as plenty (or too much, depending how you ask) of Test matches, but I appreciate that I still have some blind spots, while a list like this is subjective; so while the majority of each article will be my list, I also set my good friend and occasional collaborator Phil the challenge to select his top 5, which I will include below. I’d also love to hear your picks, so go ahead and post them in the comments!

Today, we are looking at loosehead props.


Top 5

  • Loosehead prop

Joe Marler

If you can’t scrummage, you’re not going to make it very far as a prop in rugby. Well Joe Marler has made a career of being an elite scrummager. While he may not be as visible around the park as some other names on the list and should never be throwing into a lineout again, Marler is super-reliable at the set piece and showed his quality in the RWC2019 Final when he came off the bench to shore up the England scrum against the Springboks.

Steven Kitshoff

Speaking of the Springboks, Steven Kitshoff was a part of that dominant pack in 2019. Often found these days as part of the “Bomb Squad”, Kitshoff is an elite scrummager, but what makes the Stormers loosehead stand out is his ability to get over the ball at the breakdown and jackal as well as any back rower.

Trevor Nyakane

As someone who has played both sides of the scrum at the lowest of levels, I know just how different tighthead feels to loosehead. As such, I have a degree of respect for anyone who can play both sides of the scrum to a good enough level for professional rugby. Nyakane is one such player, but his best performances have come in the number 1 jersey, where he dominated the British & Irish Lions at the scrum.

Cyril Baille

If I was having to pick a World XV right now, Baille would be getting my pick at loosehead. An elite scrummager, Baille can jackal almost as well as Kitshoff, but is arguably the most involved of these first 4 props in the attacking game, where he can not just carry hard but has the handling skills to keep the ball moving when contact isn’t the right option. In terms of all-round play, he currently has no match at the position.

Ellis Genge

Probably the most controversial pick on this list and I can already hear calls of English bias, but Genge crept into the top 5 off the back of some strong scrummaging displays. Where he really comes alive though is his dynamic carrying, where he has the power to bash over from close range or the pace to burst through a gap and make some big metres.

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Phil’s top 5: Steven Kitshoff, Ellis Genge, Cian Healy, Joe Marler, Ofa Tu’ungafasi

Who makes your top 5?

The Brady 6

The Brady 6

Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies and series that I have recently watched/re-watched and giving my thoughts on them. Getting into the Schmoedown and starting to follow a number of the personalities from the show has given me a much greater appreciation of movies and seen me starting to watch more, while a resolution for 2022 has also seen me making a resolution to watch more series.

Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there, while also now throwing in the occasional series. In each article I will be giving some details about the movie/series and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.

This series has been heavily influenced by Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai of Action Industries, but I will not be looking at the traditional “Fist-pump moment” and “Favourite line” sections due to just how much more content a series provides compared to a movie, instead talking about the prospects for the future of the show. Be aware, there will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

Today, I will be looking at an episode in the ESPN documentary series Year of the Quarterback called The Brady 6

Key facts

Released in 2011

Distribution (UK) Not currently streaming anywhere but can be found in full on YouTube, on the NFL Films channel

Starring Tom Brady

Synopsis A documentary looking back at the 2000 NFL Draft and the careers of the 6 Quarterbacks who were picked ahead of Tom Brady

Review

I really enjoy documentaries about Tom Brady. As someone who has paid some form of attention to the NFL since the mid-noughties and has closely followed the league since the 2009 season, he has been a constant in the league. The undeniable GOAT, Brady’s achievements are incredible and deserve respect, but are made into an even better story when you remember that he was a sixth-round draft pick!

That is what this episode focuses on, looking at the draft itself and why Brady dropped as low as pick #199 (he and his family were expecting him to go in the 2ⁿᵈ or 3ʳᵈ round) and looking at the careers of the 6 Quarterbacks who were picked ahead of him (spoilers: none will be considered in contention for GOAT status, some never even started a regular season game!). But really it could be called the Brady 7, as by looking at why Brady dropped down draft boards we see that a big part of it was the way that despite being the better QB, his senior year in Michigan saw him splitting time with Drew Henson—the one most people would have expected to go on to greatness at the time—and so he gets the same recognition and comparison as the Brady 6.

To put in perspective where we were at this point: Brady had just been named League MVP for the second time. He had led the Patriots to 4 Super Bowls, winning 3 and being named Super Bowl MVP in 2 of them. He also held the record for the most passing touchdowns in a season (50 in 2007), which has to date only been beaten once (Peyton Manning threw 55 in 2013) and matched once (Patrick Mahomes, 2018). If his career ended there, he was already probably a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Similar to Man in the Arena, we get input from Brady and a number of other people involved: the 7 QBs the show focuses on, Tom’s father, Bill Belichick, a number of coaches who drafted members of the Brady 6, draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr, a couple of the Michigan football staff, Aaron Shea (NFL Tight End and Brady’s teammate at Michigan) and more!

What this show manages in less than 50 minutes is to show just how easy it is for a player to be overlooked. Brady’s measurables were nothing special and the way that the coaches were splitting his time with Henson just added doubt in everybody’s mind. And in so doing it shows how Brady developed the chip on his shoulder and motivation that would take him to become the GOAT. Meanwhile it showed how big the jump can be from college to the NFL, or how injuries or a lack of quality around a QB can ruin a promising career by looking at the careers of the Brady 6.

Having just watched Man in the Arena, this actually worked as a great accompanying documentary, as its focus is more on Michigan and the Draft, while just touching on some moments from the first half of his career. And it’s a great reminder of just how special Brady’s success is from Pick #199 when you compare to the players picked ahead of him at his position, and also the other Patriots picked ahead of him that year—2 of whom never even made the main roster!

What did you think of The Brady 6? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!

Man in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies and series that I have recently watched/re-watched and giving my thoughts on them. Getting into the Schmoedown and starting to follow a number of the personalities from the show has given me a much greater appreciation of movies and seen me starting to watch more, while a resolution for 2022 has also seen me making a resolution to watch more series.

Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there, while also now throwing in the occasional series. In each article I will be giving some details about the movie/series and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.

This series has been heavily influenced by Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai of Action Industries, but I will not be looking at the traditional “Fist-pump moment” and “Favourite line” sections due to just how much more content a series provides compared to a movie, instead talking about the prospects for the future of the show. Be aware, there will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

Today, I will be looking at the documentary series Man in the Arena

sport screen man in the arena tom brady

Key facts

Seasons 1

Episodes 9 (currently)

Status 1 more episode in production

Released in 2021

Distribution (UK) Disney+

Starring Tom Brady

Synopsis A documentary series looking back through the career of Tom Brady, focusing on each of his Super Bowl seasons with the New England Patriots (with an episode planned for his Super Bowl run with Tampa Bay) looking at the iconic moments in Brady’s own words and with input from other people who played a key role.

Review

As someone who has paid some form of attention to the NFL since the mid-noughties and has closely followed the league since the 2009 season, a constant in the league has been Tom Brady. The undeniable GOAT, Brady’s achievements are incredible and deserve respect, but are made into an even better story when you remember that he was a sixth-round draft pick!

As such, I’ve always enjoyed documentaries about Brady, but this one still managed to leave me pleasantly surprised. While the name and poster would make you think it is all about Brady, the actual series feels on the whole more like a documentary about the Brady-era Patriots, with heavy focuses on some of the other influential players of the time, such as Drew Bledsoe, Willie McGinest, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, as well as input from some of the big names Brady faced in the Super Bowl (Michael Strahan and Richard Sherman). In fact, it is only really episode 7 that felt like it was really focused more on Brady, as it featured his family and looked back at a season during which his mother was going through treatment for cancer, while parts of episode 8 also focused on his relationship with the controversial Alex Guerrero.

Though I will admit that I haven’t seen many documentaries on the NFL, this one did a really good job of showing the psyche of the New England Patriots, which has been a key part of their success and ability to remain in playoff contention through multiple rebuilds. It really highlights an environment that certainly wouldn’t be right for every player, but pushes for success.

With such a long and high-profile career, there have been so many iconic moments, and it was great to hear Brady et al. talk about these, such as how time both times the Pats faced the Giants it looked like they had the win, only for a remarkable catch to help the Giants score on a late drive, and how history almost completed itself against the Seahawks. There was talk on the Tuck Rule, that comeback against Atlanta and those game-winning drives that earned Brady his early fame (including how one throw did not go as planned but worked out to their advantage), while also a moment where wife Gisele Bündchen inadvertently made headlines following the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. There’s something great about the way that sportsmen can remember games and talk about them years later that I love to hear, and as such this documentary—interviews spliced in amongst game footage, sideline footage and footage from news reports/football shows—was perfect for me!

Of course, if you know your NFL history, you will know that there are also some controversies to cover in this time, with Spygate and Deflategate. In credit to the series, it does not shy away from these moments, and it does go into how the players felt and how it affected them. However, while it does talk about Brady’s suspension as part of Deflategate, I noticed that it brushed over the reason that he was suspended, while I can’t help question just how accurate these sections are considering Brady is an executive producer.

A few final thoughts on the series:

  • Of course a part of the Patriots success was down to the input of TE Aaron Hernandez. While some of the footage used shows a couple of his plays, and he occasionally features in sideline shots, it was noticeable to me that even as Brady talked about the 12-package they used with him and Gronk, Hernandez was never actually discussed by name.
  • I could have happily sat through a series where each episode focused on each season of Brady’s career rather than focusing on the Super Bowl runs, but many of the other seasons do get some kind of mention, while these are all the big talking points of Brady’s career, so I can understand why it was kept to this more condensed format.

The Future

As mentioned earlier, we are set to get one more episode which will focus on Brady’s move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their Super Bowl victory. And who knows, with Brady coming out of retirement, there’s always the chance of yet another episode being required later down the line.

What did you think of this series? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!

Seeing Red

Seeing Red

If recent reports are to be believed, World Rugby are considering expanding the 20-minute red card to more competitions. If they do this, it will just show how out of touch the governing body is with the sport and how it is putting the spectacle before player safety.

So let’s take a step back first and look at what the law is. Much like football, if a player is red carded, they are immediately removed from the field of play and their team plays the remainder of the game with a player less. However under the new variation that is currently being trialled in Super Rugby Pacific, while the red carded player’s match is over, the team is allowed to bring on a replacement after 20 minutes.

So what’s happening in Super Rugby. Well I think the only appropriate word would be “mayhem”! It’s not much of an overstatement to say that the majority of games are seeing at least one red card, generally for dangerous play that included contact with the head.

Red cards are surely at an all-time high worldwide, with amendments to the laws in recent years that have been intended to make the game safer by reducing contact with the head. And yet despite the increased sanctions with the risk of a red card—and despite stories in the news of James “Cubby” Davies recently retiring due to a concussion, having not played since November 2020, and former players Steve Thompson and Alix Popham’s revelations that they now suffer from early-onset dementia—players appear to be unwilling or incapable of adapting to the new laws.

The red card is meant to be a deterrent, a punishment to encourage better behaviour, but it has clearly not been enough and the arrival of a 20-minute red card is even less of a punishment, so it is no surprise to see Super Rugby matches turning into a contest of “who can crack a man’s skull open first?” And the reason that this 20-minute red card is being considered: because there is a group of people out there—unfortunately fuelled by a number of so-called “experts” in the media—who complain that red cards ruin the game. Newsflash: they don’t. What ruins the game is players suffering avoidable injuries.

So what should be done?

Well first of all, the 20-minute red card should be scrapped altogether rather than expanding. Current punishments are clearly not a sufficient deterrent, so reducing them will just make things worse, as we are seeing in the Southern Hemisphere.

Secondly, the post-match disciplinary process needs a complete overhaul. As it stands, different offences have different minimum entry points depending on the severity of the offence, while extra weeks may be added for repeat offenders. However, this is all ruined by having weeks taken off for such rubbish as accepting the charge, remorse, attending a “tackle school”, good behaviour in the disciplinary hearing and a previously clean record. You just need to look at the recent case of Axel Müller, whose horror tackle started at a 10-week entry point but ended up being just a 5-week ban once everything was considered! I would argue that any reasons to reduce a ban are removed, while a financial impact also be brought in, with both club and player receiving a fine dependent on the severity of the incident and the disciplinary history that season, with the money being spread among grass-roots rugby and charities focused on head injuries and player welfare. If bans haven’t been enough to encourage better behaviour, perhaps losing money will give players the impetus to improve their technique, or give teams the reason to focus on improving technique.

In line with this, World Rugby needs to enforce more consistency across the board, both from match officials and disciplinary panels. While nobody could argue Hame Faiva’s red card in the Six Nations against Ireland, Ireland’s Ryan Baird escaped even a citing for exactly the same thing later in the match. English referee Karl Dickson is accruing a horribly long list of incidents that he has adjudged to be a yellow card or less, which have then resulted in a citing and the disciplinary panel deciding the incident worth of a red card. Meanwhile, some of the decisions of the judiciary panels SANZAAR have put together have been questionable to say the best, as a number of red cards have been overturned, including a horror shot from Tom Banks on Toni Pulu that rightly ended in a penalty try and red card, but also left the Brumbies fullback requiring facial surgery. You need consistency in order to set a precedent, otherwise players will be able to cite previous incidents where players have escaped punishment for the same offence.

Finally, there is a law that I thin needs changing and that is the one that if a maul becomes unplayable, the ball is turned over. Instead I feel that whichever team was the more dominant right before it became unplayable should get the scrum feed. The reason for this is that the law encourages players to go high for the “man and ball” challenge that holds the player up and creates a maul, leading to a turnover. Look back at England’s match against Ireland and Charlie Ewels’ early red card. England went for a number of high tackles in those opening minutes in an attempt to hold up the ball, and it was a combination of this and Ewels’ inability to adapt to the tackle laws that led to him getting an early shower.

World Rugby has a big decision to make regarding the 20-minute red card. I just hope that they make the right decision.

Avengers XV

Avengers XV

Those who know me will know that as well as being a big sports fan, I am a massive geek. Star Wars has been an obsession as long as I can remember, Middle Earth became one when the release of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy introduced me to that world, and following a massive binge ahead of Captain Marvel to catch up on everything I had missed in time for Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Union has also secured a place in my heart.

These last couple of weeks have been big for me in my MCU fandom. With the home release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, I am finally back up to date with the MCU, and have loved the opening 2 episodes of Moon Knight, while me rewatch of the franchise with my mother (whois watching for the first time) is also getting close to being up to date. So with all that going on, it’s safe to say that I have had the MCU on the brain.

And so for a bit of fun this week, I decided to cross over the MCU with one of my other great loves: rugby. Imagine the the Avengers and their allies got together for a game of rugby, what would the team look like?

Obviously this is just a bit of fun and very tongue in cheek, so please don’t take this too seriously and let me know your selections in the comments, as you’ll notice I ended up leaving out some big names, while also stuck to the heroes rather than include the villains.

Loosehead Prop: Korg

MCU Thor Ragnarok Korg

The scrum is a vital part of the game, and with Korg packing down in the front row, it’s hard to imagine many people will be pushing him backwards. Not only that, but as such an easygoing character, he’s not likely to get too riled up by his opposition.

Hooker: M’Baku

MCU Black Panther M'Baku

A late addition to my team, the leader of the Jabari Tribe will provide some leadership in the front row and show a ferocious visage to unnerve his opposition. Strong but dynamic, he is everything you want from a modern hooker.

Tighthead Prop: Hulk

MCU Thor Ragnarok Hulk

Let’s be honest, props generally are the smartest members of the team, you just don’t notice as they hide that on the pitch behind a much more ferocious attitude… sound familiar? If you thought Korg’s side of the scrum was imposing, imagine the big green meanie packing down on the other side of M’Baku… then feel sorry for the opposition pack.

Locks: Groot & Ant-Man

We’ve got a huge front row and an even bigger second row! With Groot’s ability to grow on the spot and Scott Lang able to grow to at least 60ft, it’s going to be all-but impossible for M’Baku to overthrow them at the lineout. Let’s just hope Groot isn’t calling the lineouts or the only play will be “I am Groot”.

Blindside Flanker: Iron Man

MCU Iron Man 2 Tony Stark

Let’s be honest, blindside is an interesting position these days as there’s so many ways you can go, depending on the type of game you’re trying to play. You could go for an enforcer or a slightly more dynamic third lock.Well in Tony Stark, you have an all-rounder, as his suit has enough firepower to make him an enforcer, while also keeping him super dynamic in the loose and being able to take advantage of his suit’s rockets to be an extra jumper at the lineout.

Openside Flanker: Black Widow

MCU Black Widow Natasha Romanov Yelena Belova

Some people may be surprised at this pick, but the Black Widows have proved that they can hold their own, while they are also experts at covert infiltrations, exactly what you want at the breakdown. And just like with Sale’s Curry Twins, if Natasha isn’t available, her “sister” Yelena can do the exact same job just as well.

Number 8: Drax the Destroyer

MCU Guardians of the Galaxy Drax

It was probably pretty obvious that he’d be my pick here once he wasn’t named in my front row. Drax is a number 8 in the mould of Billy Vunipola and Duane Vermeulen: a big guy who will run at you hard and put the team on the front foot with some impressive carries.

Scrum Half: Rocket Raccoon

MCU Guardians of the Galaxy Rocket

Let’s be honest, a scrum half is just a small guy without the physicality to back up his big mouth, who the opposition hate all the time and his teammates hate some of the time.

Fly Half: Hawkeye

MCU Thor Hawkeye

One of the key members of the Avengers though often underrated (the Avengers have never lost with Clint Barton present). A highly experienced operator with a quiver full of tricks, and you know you can count on him for 100% accuracy.

Inside Centre: The Winter Soldier

MCU Falcon and the Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes

Centres these days need to be a jack of all trades, and as a supersoldier, Bucky Barnes certainly brings that to the role. Years of experience alongside his fellow centre (more on that shortly) makes for a reliable defensive organisation, while in attack Bucky uses his vibranium arm for some wicked handoffs and beautiful offloads.

Outside Centre: Captain America

MCU Avengers Captain America

Perhaps the most rounded player on the pitch, the 13 needs to have pace, physicality, good all-round skills, and be a leader and organiser in defence. Well, Steve Rogers is certainly all of that, and with his old pal Bucky at 12 they’ll have a strong partnership.

Wings: Pietro Maximoff & Spider-Man

Is there anything more scary than a wing with pure unadulterated pace? Nope, and that is why Pietro Maximoff was probably the easiest pick of the entire XV. Meanwhile how annoying is it for a team to put in some lovely build-up play only for the wing to knock the ball on? Well with Peter Parker and his sticky fingers on the wing, you have the safest hands on the pitch.

Fullback: Kate Bishop

MCU Hawkeye Kate Bishop

We’ve all seen it before: the seasoned veteran gets the start at fly half, while their successor starts at fullback to get first team experience in a similar position with slightly less pressure. Well, enter Kate Bishop for a taste of first team action as Clint Barton’s retirement nears.

2022 FIFA World Cup: The Pools

2022 FIFA World Cup: The Pools

The first November/December World Cup is getting closer by the day and now with just 3 places still to be decided, the pools have been drawn. 37 teams (who will be whittled down to 32 in the final couple of qualification matches) were sorted into 8 pools of 4, with the top 2 from each pool proceeding into the knockouts.

As always, the pools were selected by a random draw, with confirmed teams split over 4 bands depending on their spot in the FIFA World Rankings to keep the pools somewhat balanced (though as hosts, Qatar earned a spot in the top band despite being ranked at 51), while nations from he same confederation could not be drawn in the same pool, with the exception of 5 pools having 2 European nations.

So how are the pools looking and who will be making the last 16? I’ve taken a look at each pool to give my thoughts. For each pool, I’ve listed the teams included in the order of the bands they were in (top to bottom), with their current pot in the FIFA World Rankings in [brackets].

Pool A

Teams: Qatar [51], Netherlands [10], Senegal [20], Ecuador [46]

The pool that everyone in Bands B-D would have wanted to end up in due to Qatar taking the Band A spot. The rankings certainly suggest that the Netherlands and Senegal should go through, but could home comforts give Qatar a boost and see them pull off an upset? And further to that, don’t ever rule out Senegal from an upset against a European team in the World Cup—France learned the hard way in 2002.

Pool B

Teams: England [5], USA [15], Iran [21], Euro Playoff Winner (Wales [18]/Scotland [39]/Ukraine [27])

The first pool still awaiting confirmation of their final team, and as such it makes it a little more difficult to predict. That said, this should be England’s pool for the taking with the quality of players they have. While the rankings would suggest that the USA would join them in the last 16, I can’t help but feel that Scotland or Wales could take the second spot should they qualify. But what of Ukraine? Well if they qualify, could they find that the current events going on in their country gives them extra impetus, similar to Denmark in the Euros following the loss of Christian Eriksen.

Pool C

Teams: Argentina [4], Mexico [9], Poland [26], Saudi Arabia [49]

The rankings are certainly a little misleading here in regards to Mexico, as they so rarely play teams who are currently ranked in the top 20. As such, I expect things to be relatively comfortable for Argentina, while the match between Poland and Mexico will be crucial in deciding who joins them. Don’t be shocked if this goes down to goal difference.

Pool D

Teams: France [3], Denmark [11], Tunisia [35], Inter-Confederation Playoff Winner (UAE [68]/Australia [42]/Peru [22])

While there are still 3 possible teams to fill the last spot, I must be honest and admit that I can’t see any of them seriously influencing the outcome here. France will be the obvious favorites to top the group, while I expect Denmark to be too strong for the other nations and secure the runner-up spot.

Pool E

Teams: Spain [7], Germany [12], Japan [23], Inter-Confederation Playoff Winner (Costa Rica [31]/New Zealand [101])

Again no offence to Costa Rica or New Zealand, but I can’t see either of them really troubling the other teams in this pool. A European 1-2 looks the obvious call here with the match between the pair deciding who tops the pool, but if one of them comes in struggling for form, then Japan could become a threat.

Pool F

Teams: Belgium [2], Croatia [16], Morocco [24], Canada [38]

Another pool where a European 1-2 looks the most likely, as the rankings don’t give justice to the difference in strength of squads between Croatia and Morocco. Meanwhile Belgium find themselves with a squad brimming with talent but without the trophies to back it up; could a solid group performance to top the pool set them up for their first appearance in a World Cup final?

Pool G

Teams: Brazil [1], Switzerland [14], Serbia [25], Cameroon [37]

A favourable draw for Brazil, who should be able to rotate and qualify comfortably for the knock-outs. Meanwhile I expect a tight affair behind that, but think that Switzerland have the experience to qualify just ahead of Serbia.

Pool H

Teams: Portugal [8], Uruguay [13], Republic of Korea [29], Ghana [60]

Oh how Ghana would love to get some revenge in Qatar for Uruguay controversially knocking them out of the 2010 World Cup on penalties, but I can’t see it happening here. Portugal v Uruguay will likely decide the pool winner as the pair qualify comfortably. I will however predict Uruguay getting the top spot in this pool.

How do you see these pools finishing?

2022 Six Nations: Team of the Tournament

2022 Six Nations: Team of the Tournament

You knew it had to be coming! With the 2022 edition of the Six Nations completed,there was only one thing left for me to do: pick my Team of the Tournament.

It certainly wasn’t easy this year, wit a number of impressive individual performances standing out in poor team performances, while some players may not have been quite so noticeable but actually played a key role in the success of their teams.

As always, I’ve picked my team on the feelings I got watching the matches, but I have included some stats (courtesy of the Six Nations website) that support their cause. Let me know in the comments who makes your team.


So without further ado, my Team of the 2022 Six Nations is:

1) Cyril Baille: Ellis Genge’s performances certainly had him in contention until his humbling at the hands of the French scrum, while Danilo Fischetti was a real stand-out for Italy, but Baille gets the nod here. An argument could certainly be made that Baille is one of the top 3 looseheads in the world right now. Part of the formidable French front row, Baille is a incredible player in the loose, dynamic and with impressive handling skills (he managed 8 offloads through the tournament). But what really impresses me is that he has the rugby IQ to know when to hit the ruck following a break and when to instead modify his run to instead take the crash ball on the next phase to further destabilise the defence.

2) Julien Marchand: Marchand is just one of the latest in a long line of elite hookers the French national team has been able to call on. In the loose, it is like having another back row on the pitch with his dynamic carrying and his threat at the breakdown. But not just that, he is super reliable at the breakdown, working with his props to form a dominant scrum while having a solid lineout despite Cameron Woki’s inexperience calling the lineouts.

3) Uini Atonio: Completing a French lock-out in the front row, Uini Antonio is anything but new to the international stage, but appears to have improved over recent years as he appears to have balanced his incredible physicality and scrummaging with some improved fitness, which has made him a much more dangerous player.

4 & 5) Maro Itoje & Paul Willemse: Cameron Woki and Will Rowlands were very close to making the list but just miss out. One of my major issues with Itoje over the years is how he ruins his incredible defence with some truly moronic penalties, but he appears to have cut this out and that has helped him reach a new level of quality. Meanwhile Willemse provided the hard carrying to help put the French on the front foot and the physicality behind Atonio to help the French scrum dominate.

6) Rory Darge: Made his Test debut during the tournament but honestly looked like a seasoned pro. carried well in attack and scored a deserved try, but where he really came into his own was at the breakdown. Darge finished the tournament with 5 turnovers, many of which were at crucial times.

7) Michele Lamaro: Who would have thought that sosoon after Sergio Parisse’ Italy career came to an end that the Azzurri would find another talismanic captain so quickly. Well enter Michele Lamaro. The young Benetton flanker leads by example and finished the tournament with a whopping 86 tackles—16 more than the next closest tackler. Topped off the tournament with Italy’s first Six Nations victory in Cardiff. At just 23 years old, expect him to be a regular contender for this list over the coming years.

8) Grégory Alldritt: A shout-out to Taulupe Faletau who was unbelievable in some of the matches, but Alldritt gets the nod here. The French number 8 was back to his best, carrying hard 65 times (9 more than the next carrier) and with 7 offloads that made his carries even more effective. But it wasn’t even just in attack that he excelled, finding himself in the top 10 for tackles (53) with 6 turnovers.

9) Jamison Gibson-Park: It feels like sacrilege not to pick Antoine Dupont after captaining France to the Grand Slam, but as good as he was, I don’t think he quite reached his lofty high standards. Gibson-Park meanwhile played a key role in the Irish attack, keeping a consistent high tempo that just accentuated the Irish ability to play from 1-23, while he finished the tournament with 4 assists and 390 passes (by comparison, the next-most passes was Ali Price’s 287).

10) Romain Ntamack: Dan Biggar had some wonderful moments in a poor Welsh team, but Ntamack gets the pick here. With Melvyn Jaminet taking the pressure off of him by dealing with kicks at goal, Ntamack controlled the French team with a great blend of kicking and attacking play, finishing the tournament with 4 assists.

11) Gabin Villière: Talk about taking your chance! Just a couple of years ago, Villière was splitting his time between playing for Rouen and the French national sevens team. Now he’s at Toulon and must be working his way up to undroppable status for Les Bleus. A dynamic and skilful attacker, Villière finished the tournament with 3 tries, but it was in defence where he really showed his quality, being one of only 2 backs in the top 10 for turnovers with 4 steals.

12) Jonathan Danty: On the subject of turnovers, Danty’s 5 steals were the most of all backs in this year’s tournament. As well as this, Danty secured himself as a key part of the French midfield by using his physicality to put France on the front foot in attack, while he combined wonderfully with centre partner Fickou to secure the French defence.

13) Gaël Fickou: Fickou has long been one of those super-underrated French players whose skills both in attack and defence have probably not got as much recognition as they deserved. However with Shaun Edwards now in control of the defence, the organisational quality of Fickou has really been highlighted as he helps make Les Bleus so formidable, while his attacking quality is not sacrificed at all.

14) Montanna Ioane: I usually try to stick to a left wing at 11 and a right wing at 14 as the positions do have some differences, but this year I had to pick 2 11s as their performances were so impressive. Despite not even scoring a try in this tournament—thanks to a great cover tackle from Josh Adams—Ioane was consistently superb for the Azzurri. With 51 carries (4ᵗʰ) for 498 metres (2ⁿᵈ) and 9 offloads (1ˢᵗ), Ioane played a key role in frequently putting Italy on the front foot, while his kick chasing continually put the opposition under pressure even if he couldn’t retain the ball himself.

15) Hugo Keenan: Freddie Steward was a positive at 15 in a dull England team but it was Hugo Keenan who had to get the nod here. The Leinster fullback was super reliable in the backfield and under the high ball, while his 47 carries (joint-5ᵗʰ) for 388 metres (8ᵗʰ) helped the Irish get on the front foot.

Guinness Six Nations

2022 Six Nations: France v England

2022 Six Nations: France v England

And so we reach the finale of Super Saturday and the 2022 Six Nations, as England travelled to Paris to face France. The French knew that a win would secure the Grand Slam and as a climax to the tournament, the crowd were ready to do their part to make the occasion one to remember. And with the Paris crowd roaring on their support, it was Melvyn Jaminet who opened the scoring off the tee following a scrum penalty. France were looking the stronger team with Grégory Alldritt winning some big turnovers, and when Gabin Villière took advantage of Freddie Steward’s inexperience on the wing, the French pulled the England defence from side to side and sent Gaël Fickou over in the right corner. England pulled things back slightly with a penalty from Marcus Smith and were incredibly lucky to see Jack Nowell stay on the pitch after taking Jaminet out in the air, as TMO Marius Jonker shockingly felt that Nowell had been impeded in his chase. Luckily for France, Jaminet was able to continue, and he and Smith each added another penalty, before one last attack from France saw them break down the English right wing to get on the front foot, and after Romain Ntamack was stopped just short by the despairing tackle of Ellis Genge, François Cros managed to get the ball to the line, with Jaminet adding the conversion for an 18-6 lead at the break.

England started the second half on the front foot, and after Joe Marchant broke through in the middle, some quick but calm handling from Courtney Lawes and Jamie George allowed Marcus Smith to put Freddie Steward over in the corner. However the French began to bring on the replacements and up the tempo in attack, which resulted in Aldritt carrying around the fringe and offloading to his captain Dupont to score on the hour. Down by 12 points, the English continued attacking but the closest they could get was with 10 minutes left as Alex Dombrandt was held up after crashing over from close range, and they held on to secure the 25-13 win and a Six Nations Grand Slam.

France

3 seasons of rugby have led to this. With Fabien Galthié taking over leadership of the team following the World Cup, the decision was made to basically drop everyone and start again with a team made up largely of young and inexperienced players. The idea was that by rebooting immediately after the World Cup they could start picking the players who they would expect to be playing in the 2023 World Cup, allowing what will likely be the vast majority of the future World Cup squad to spend 4 years playing together and growing not just as individuals but as a unit.

In starting this so early, it has led to a core team that has spent the last 3 seasons playing together, and allowed new faces like Melvyn Jaminet or returning faces like Jonathan Danty to come into a settled system that could then gratefully benefit from whatever this new player could introduce to the team, with the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup (where each French player was only allowed to feature in 2 matches, resulting in a 2ⁿᵈ/3ʳᵈ string team narrowly losing to England’s 1ˢᵗ team in the final) and the Summer Test series in Australia giving Les Bleus a chance to test their depth and see who was ready to step up into the main squad.

And so, with the World Cup a year and a half away, this team has built into a unit that has capably beaten the All Blacks and now won a Six Nations Grand Slam. With World Champions South Africa coming to Paris in November, that will be the next sign as to how ready they are to compete for the World Cup, but even then they will still have the best part of a year to grow and improve. I called it soon after France named their first squad under Galthié that France were my favourites to win RWC2023. Right now, everything is going to plan.

England

England went for a very interesting tactic in dealing with the French kicking, repeatedly dropping Ellis Genge back along with the usual kick coverage, with the intention to play the ball off to him and give him a 20+ metre run-up into contact.

I’ve seen dynamic carrying props used in a similar way before, with the Melbourne Rebels often fielding long goal-line drop-outs during Super Rugby AU and having Pone Fa’amausili or Cabous Eloff get a 20+ metre run-up charging back at the defensive line with ball in hand, much like we see off a rugby league kickoff.

So it’s nothing new to see a forward drop back to do this off open play kicks, but the issue here is the selection of Ellis Genge. While he is definitely a destructive ball carrier, he already had a big enough (no pun intended) challenge in the scrums facing Uini Atonio—a challenge which was proving too big for him—so should have been keeping his fitness for that. If Eddie Jones was so desperate to have a dynamic carrier doing this, why was he not starting Alex Dombrandt somewhere in the back row?