May 2018 Rugby Ramble

May 2018 Rugby Ramble

Legend of the game

It was announced right at the start of the month that England fullback and legend of the game Danielle “Nolli” Waterman would be retiring from international rugby. A star of the women’s game, Nolli made her England debut in 2003 and went on to earn 82 caps for the Red Roses, playing in 4 World Cups and scoring in the 2014 final. Having also spent some time with the England 7s team, her time with the 15s has been a little more limited in recent years, but she has still been consistently one of the best players on the park whenever she has featured and finishes her career with only 1 loss in the 6 Nations to her name – against France this year. She has been an outstanding servant to England Rugby and women’s rugby – in fact rugby as a whole! – and it will be a shame to no longer see her representing England. With the Barbarians having now created a women’s team I sincerely hope she becomes a regular in this while she continues to play at club level.

The good news for England fans is that her replacement already seems to be in place. Ellie Kildunne has had a wonderful season for Gloucester-Hartpury and England. She has pace, footwork, good handling skills and is also strong enough to hold her own against larger opposition. Having trained and played alongside Nolli with England this year, she will have learned so much and it is possible that in 15 or so years we may be looking back on an equally impressive career.

Congratulations Nolli and thank you for everything!


Qualification nightmare

It feels like every time I write one of these recently we end up coming back to the absolute ****storm caused by Vlad Iordachescu’s refereeing of Spain v Belgium’s Rugby Europe Championship match that denied the Spanish qualification to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

It was eventually announced this month that the match will not be replayed as Belgium successfully argued that having Romania officials for this match is no different than a team of officials from 1 country in the 6 Nations refereeing a match in the tournament between 2 other teams. In my eyes, that is absolute bollocks as this wasn’t just any old match, but a match that decided whether Romania or Spain qualified for the World Cup. When there is such a prize at stake, neutrality is a must and I would not call Iordachescu and his team wholly neutral in the circumstances.

On top of that, Spain have been deducted 40 points from the Rugby Europe Championship, with Belgium and Romania being deducted 30 points each, for fielding ineligible players. This means that Russia have qualified automatically, while Germany – who were due to have a playoff to avoid relegation – will now have a playoff with Portugal to play Samoa in the next round of qualification.

While I agree that punishments must be meted out for fielding ineligible players, it just shows how difficult World Rugby have made player eligibility in the past. Moving forward something needs to be done to make sure someone else doesn’t unknowingly play for an international team as they were not aware they were already captured by another nation.


Get low

The above nightmare was not the only announcement from World Rugby this month, as they also announced recently that they will be trialling some new laws relating to high tackles in the upcoming U20s tournaments. There will be 2 separate trials taking place, 1 in the World Rugby U20 Championship and 1 in the World Rugby U20 Trophy. Per World Rugby’s announcement:

WORLD RUGBY U20 TROPHY

Law 9.13 The acceptable height of the tackle is reduced from the line of shoulders to below the nipple line.

The law will now read: A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the nipple line even if the tackle starts below the nipple line.

WORLD RUGBY U20 CHAMPIONSHIP

Tackles that increase the risk of head injury will be cited.

The match citing commissioner will issue a “High Tackle Warning” to THE TACKLER WHO IS DEEMED TO BE UPRIGHT (NOT BENT AT THE WAIST)

A tackler will be deemed to be upright when:

  • They are in an approximate upright standing position
  • They have made no clear attempt to lower the height of contact with the ball carrier to avoid the head or shoulders of the ball carrier
  • There is no knee flexion and minimal bending at the waist which brings the head into a dangerous position for collision with ball carrier’s head or shoulder
  • The high tackle warning will be issued in one of four types of incidents:
    • All HIGH-CONTACT PENALTIES, irrespective of sanction, during matches
    • All TACKLES THAT RESULT IN AN HIA, irrespective of whether to tackler or ball-carrier
    • High tackles that are missed during the match
    • Accidental clear and obvious head to head and head to shoulder contact

Sanctions:

The High Tackle Warning is issued ONLY IF THE TACKLER IS UPRIGHT, AND THERE IS CLEAR AND OBVIOUS HEAD CONTACT for either player

Each High Tackle Warning carries ‘one strike’. When ‘two strikes’ (two High Tackle Warnings) have been issued, a player will receive a one-match suspension (a right to appeal will operate)

High Tackle Warnings also form part of the usual accumulation of sanctions, including Citing Commissioner Warnings (CCWs) and yellow cards. A strong education element will be run in parallel, explaining that this player welfare initiative protects the tackler and their opponents.

While I understand the need for increased safety both at professional and grassroots level, I think the lowering of the tackle height will become a difficult one to police, while it is already hard enough for the tallest players to get low enough to tackle the shorter player as they try to step around them. The idea of a “High Tackle Warning” from a citing commissioner seems a good idea though as it will encourage better technique whilst it also appears to be fair to the tackler by looking at the effort they have made to lower the tackle. I just wonder if 2 strikes for a ban will be a bit too strict over a season of weekly club rugby, though if this works well in the World Rugby U20 Championship then I would be interested to see how well this works over a season of club rugby.

Jared Payne has not played since the Lions Tour due to repeated headaches and it has now been announced that he has been forced to retire aged 32 and take up a coaching role with Ulster, this is a timely reminder of how important player safety is. It may be softening up the game to a degree, but players are larger, stronger and faster than ever so anything that improves a player’s safety should be considered.


WRUWelsh woes

I was so happy when the Welsh squad for the June Tests was announced with Josh Adams included. He had such a good season for Worcester, finishing joint top try scorer in the Premiership, but was not given enough of a chance by Warren Gatland before being dropped during the 6 Nations. I was hoping that this June, he would get the chance to prove himself. Unfortunately, that chance will have to wait as he has been dropped from the squad along with Tom Francis and Luke Charteris.

The reason the players were dropped? As Wales are playing their opening match of the tour outside the international window, Premiership clubs are not forced to release their players, so the 3 players will be unavailable for the 1st Test and as such Gatland does not see the point in taking them. While I feel it is a bit pathetic of the Premiership Clubs to not release their players, especially considering Adams and Charteris have not even had any club matches to play the last couple of weeks, I put the blame firmly on the WRU.

The international windows are clearly defined, yet for some reason the WRU continue to arrange matches outside these periods and then complain that their players are not available to them. It is not a hard job to stick to a designated period of time, but for them it seems near-impossible. I really sympathise with Adams especially and hope that he is a regular in the Welsh XV soon.

Eddie’s Forgotten Men?

With a large number of regulars unavailable for selection due to injury, suspension or being on the Lions Tour, I’m sure that many players who have been playing for the England Saxons or on the fringes of the Elite Player Squad felt that this summer’s tour to Argentina would be the perfect chance to show Eddie Jones they deserve a place in the EPS next season. I expect many of them, along with a number of fans, were surprised when Jones selected a number of young, uncapped players, many of whom were likely expecting to feature for the England U20s in Georgia this summer.

It is possible that Eddie has decided to use this tour against one of the ‘weaker’ top tier nations as a chance to blood youngsters with the pressure largely off them, as some of them could possibly be competing for a place in the 2019 World Cup Squad. Regardless of the reasoning, these players impressed against the Barbarians and in their games against the Pumas, winning all 3 games this summer, with many of the debutantes putting in great performances.

However, it does feel that there are some players who were overlooked for this squad that are young enough to still be around for the foreseeable future and also have performed well enough at club level to feel they should have been selected ahead of some of the youngsters. I will be the first to say that Eddie Jones’ record with England so far means that he has much more of an idea about who deserves selection than I do (he has stated that he has over 60 players who are competing for a spot in the EPS), so this is by no means a rant about players who should have gone or an attack on players who have been selected, but instead a look at some players who will surely be hoping that they are given a shot in the near future.

 

Dan Robson

Every time I see Dan Robson play for Wasps, a bit of me dies inside remembering how Gloucester let him leave to pursue more game time. Gloucester’s loss has certainly been to Robson’s – and Wasps’ – gain, as he has in my opinion become one of, if not the best, English scrum halves. His competition with Joe Simpson has brought out the best of both players at Wasps and with them having topped the Premiership table and come so close to winning the final, you would have expected at least one of them to be in contention for an England call-up. With Ben Youngs taking the summer off for family reasons, I felt that this would be the perfect time for Robson (who impressed for the Saxons in South Africa this time last year) to get a chance in the first team, however he instead missed out to 20-year-old Jack Maunder, who may be a good player (I haven’t seen enough of him to be able to form an opinion) but was not included in Exeter’s matchday 23 for either of their playoff games at the end of the season and barely featured against the Pumas.

After the Premiership final, James Simpson-Daniel tweeted that Robson should be in the England matchday squad “every game next season”. As a Gloucester fan, I may be biased towards our former player, but I find it hard to agree with that sentiment.

Matt Kvesic

After the season that Matt Kvesic has had, I am not surprised that he was not included in this squad. Finishing last season with the most turnovers of any Premiership player was not enough to get him into the squad so there was no way that he would feature this summer after dropping behind Lewis Ludlow and Jacob Rowan in the Gloucester pecking order. Moving to Exeter should be good for Kvesic, but he will be up against fierce competition for the 7 jersey even at club level from the impressive Don Armand, who fully deserves his international call-up.

With England missing 3 players from their back row this summer (Billy Vunipola, James Haskell and Tom Wood), Eddie Jones took the chance to blood some young talent in the form of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry, who both excelled when on the pitch. Zach Mercer, who was fantastic leading the U20s in Georgia, will surely also come into consideration as another back row option (I would rate him above the Curry twins) and has the versatility to play multiple positions. I feel that the changing of the guard may have begun at 6 and 7 for England, however I do not think that Matt Kvesic will be high on Eddie’s list next season.

Danny Cipriani

Cipriani’s return to Wasps has not had the positive impact on his international career that I’m sure he was hoping for. Though he has spent some time training with England, his last cap was in August 2015 and he has not been included in Eddie Jones’ squads so far. The decision to call up Alex Lozowski – Owen Farrell’s backup at Saracens – in recent squads as a third fly half option suggests that Cipriani is not in Eddie’s immediate plans. Furthermore, having Henry Slade (recently classed as a centre but with plenty of experience as a fly half) in the squad gives Eddie Jones another option and the selection of Piers Francis (currently at the Blues but about to move to Northampton) means that things are not looking good for Cipriani, especially considering Max Malins will soon be graduating from the England U20s and will be looking to increase his playing time over the next few seasons.

Alex Goode

I really feel for Alex Goode as he has been a quality player for Saracens over the last few years. Unfortunately his style of play does not seem to match what Eddie Jones wants from a fullback, so he has been unable to make the squad despite Mike Brown’s drop in form over recent seasons (though he looked much more like his old self in the second Test against the Pumas). Further to this, Mike Haley seems to be the second choice at 15 these days for England, though even he was deemed surplus to requirements for the summer tour, so it looks like Goode will find his international chances limited while Eddie Jones is in charge.

Luther Burrell

Burrell quickly fell out of favour with Eddie Jones after a poor start to 2016’s summer tour to Australia. A strong runner, Burrell is fighting with Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi (when fit) for at best 2 places in the EPS, and when you consider the go-to England centre pairing recently has been Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph, there is no guarantee any of the 3 would make the starting lineup – though I would personally pick Te’o/an on-form Tuilagi over Joseph. Much like with Cipriani, I think Jones’ willingness to play a fly half in the centre will make it hard for the 29-year-old to add to his caps in the near future.

Christian Wade & Semesa Rokoduguni

I doubt many people are shocked to see these names on the list. Christian Wade equalled Dominic Chapman’s record for Premiership tries in a season but continues to be considered surplus to requirements by Eddie Jones. Semesa Rokoduguni has not featured for England since his Man of the Match performance against Fiji in November 2016 but is another great talent and finished joint third on the list of try scorers in the 2016/17 Premiership season with 10 tries, behind only Wade and Exeter’s James Short – who could also consider himself unlucky to not be selected.

There have been questions previously about their work rate in defence but it has appeared to me that they have both improved in this area, and they both clearly bring a lot to their club’s attacks – both are full of pace and where Wade is elusive, Rokoduguni is strong – so I am very shocked that they are continually overlooked for the EPS.

With Nowell, Watson and Daly all away on Lions duty, I was sure that these two would have been given a chance to prove themselves against Argentina, however Eddie Jones continues to pick Marland Yarde – for reasons that I can’t understand – and handed debuts to Denny Solomona and Nathan Earle, while also calling up Joe Cokanasiga from London Irish. Solomona is no surprise at all as he was one of the stars of the season on the wing and much like Wade and Rokoduguni his potential in attack outweighs his possible defensive frailties (as we saw in the 1st Test). He also needed to be capped soon in order to be eligible before World Rugby’s new residency laws take effect. I haven’t seen Cokanasiga play so can’t comment on his ability, but to play for England after making your Championship debut this season is a huge step up. Nathan Earle impressed me for the U20s a couple of years ago, but his game time has been very limited for Saracens and I was therefore surprised to see him called up. That said, I was highly impressed by his performance against the Barbarians and I hope that he gets regular time for Saracens next season in order to push for a regular England spot – though I will be happy if he misses the Gloucester games!

Another player who could easily come into the mix in the next few seasons will be Gabriel Ibitoye of Harlequins. A contender for the World Rugby Junior Player of the Year award alongside his U20s captain Zach Mercer, Ibitoye often looked a real danger in Georgia and will only improve as he gets more game time.

Eddie Jones is not the kind of man to bow down to fan pressure, so I feel that it may be a while before we see either Wade or Rokoduguni as regulars in the EPS. I think their best chance to play for England over the next few years would be to have a word with Simon Amor about featuring on the 7s circuit.

 

What do you feel about this list? Is there anyone that you think I missed? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

Bringing Rugby to the Masses

Amidst the copious write-ups of the 6 Nations and stories about the sad passing of both Joost van der Westhuizen and Sione Lauaki, one story that probably didn’t get as much attention as it deserved last week was the announcement that ITV have secured the rights to broadcast the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cups. Well it is great to see such a big tournament still being kept visible to such a wide audience on free-to-air TV, probably the best bit of the story was that this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup and the U20s World Championships 2017-2019 will also be broadcast on ITV.

One of my earliest ever articles on this site was rather critical of the amount of broadcasting that the women’s game gets, and it looks like some of the people at the top agreed, as this year has so far been very promising for the broadcasting of the women’s game.

Though there are not just one or two broadcasters showing the Women’s 6 Nations tournament in the UK as it is for the men’s game, all the England matches are being shown live on Sky Sports. Likewise many of the Wales games are also featuring on S4C or BBC Wales, so it is good to see that, even if it is not on free-to-air TV, broadcasters are becoming more willing to show this tournament. Hopefully this will be the first step in a process that will end with all games in the tournament being broadcast by the same company, or spread over just a couple of broadcasters, allowing people to watch more of the tournament as a whole.

The BBC have also created a 30 minute weekly highlights show for the Women’s 6 Nations. This is part of the reason that I have held off writing this for a week, as I wanted to watch this show for a couple of weeks to properly judge it. I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the program, with decent highlights being shown – it does tend to focus more on England, but that is almost to be expected – and also a good calibre of guests giving analysis. There is no point getting the usual BBC pundits if they have no knowledge of the women playing, so I have been very happy to see big names from the women’s game like Gary Street and Non Evans on the show so far. In recent years, we have had to rely on the BBC giving a quick montage of any games that had been played up to that point in the week, or games from the week before, so it is good to now have these highlights in more detail and on free-to-air TV. Some people may be unable to watch games that are on Sky, or may not yet be big enough fans of the women’s game to consider it worth 2 hours of their time to watch live, so this highlights show will help keep fans up to date and hopefully help to build up a bigger fan base for the women’s game.

It is great to see that the Women’s World Cup is getting the same treatment as the men’s by broadcasting it on ITV. ITV already have the highlights show for the Premiership and broadcast half the 6 Nations as well as all of the men’s World Cup, and will also be showing a number of live Premiership games from next season. It certainly feels as if they are trying to become the definitive free-to-air broadcaster of rugby union, and I think they have realised that the women’s game is an area of the sport that is growing at an impressive rate, especially after the performance of Team GB in Rio. With the (now professional) Red Roses defending their title so close to home, the interest in the tournament will stretch outside its usual group of fans, so free-to-air broadcasting will help spread women’s rugby to the masses. The agreement only seems to be for the 2017 tournament at the moment, but hopefully if this goes well we will see future tournaments being added to this.

While I was very happy to see the Women’s World Cup picked up by ITV, I was extremely surprised, but not in a bad way, to see ITV also pick up the next three U20s World Championships, starting this summer. Many of the games that I have seen in recent years have been entertaining affairs, with England’s regular success again likely increasing the interest in the tournament. We have also seen a number of recent graduates from the U20s featuring at the top levels, including Baptiste Serin, Jack Clifford, Ross Moriarty, Jack Nowell and Maro Itoje all starting games in the opening rounds of this year’s 6 Nations, and current members of the England U20s like Zach Mercer and Sale’s Curry twins regularly playing top-level rugby for their clubs. As we begin to build towards Tokyo 2019, some of these players may be making it into the senior national teams in time for the World Cup, and I’m sure many more will be making the step up in the years following, it’s never to early to start watching the stars of the future.

I may not be the biggest fan of ITV sports coverage in general – I hate the regular ad breaks – but the quality of the rugby broadcasts have generally impressed me over recent years. I can only see this new deal with ITV as a positive. Current and new fans will have more access to live rugby, the sport will be able to reach a wider audience and ITV will have the chance to increase their viewing figures during these tournaments, whilst improving their monopoly over a number of free-to-air sporting events. Next thing on the list: get the Women’s Premiership televised!

 

What are your thoughts on the new broadcasting deal? Are you enjoying the increased coverage for the Women’s 6 Nations? Want to give your opinion on anything I’ve mentioned? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

A Welcome Bonus?

This week it was announced that Bonus Points will be added to the 6 Nations competition as of 2017. The biggest shake-up to the tournament in years, the announcement has certainly divided opinion in the rugby world. Having spoken to 4 of my close friends, I have found myself feeling very much positive about the change, but only half of them have agreed with me.

Moving forward, the points on offer in the 6 Nations will be:

  • Win – 4 points
  • Draw – 2 points
  • Loss –  0 points
  • Scoring 4+ tries – 1 bonus point
  • Lose by fewer than 7 points – 1 bonus point
  • Win all 5 games (the Grand Slam) – 3 bonus points

While it may not impact the standings every year (the 2016 table looks the same under both point systems), here are my thoughts on what this change means to the competition:

Attack! Attack! Attack!

While the last couple of 6 Nations tournaments have had thrilling final weekends, the rest of the tournament has not regularly reached even close to the same level of excitement. Admittedly, February and March are not always the best months for playing expansive rugby from your own 22, but hopefully the new bonus points will encourage more attacking play. Teams are clearly able to score tries, they just need the incentive to do so throughout the tournament.

It frequently comes up in conversation how different the quality of rugby appears to be when you see teams from the Rugby Championship (maybe excluding South Africa at the moment) executing stunning attacks involving everyone on the field. The skill set seems to put more of an emphasis on playing rugby rather than physically dominating your opposite number. It can be highlighted by the decision of the Welsh coaching staff to repeatedly pick Dan Lydiate, arguably a great defensive player and relentless tackler but not much of a factor in attack, in favour of Justin Tipuric, who frequently impresses with his ball-playing abilities in open play.

Hopefully the addition of bonus points will lead to teams being more willing to go for the try, leading not just to the selection of talented attacking players, but also to a change of mindsets to encourage more penalties to be kicked to the corner rather than at goal. It will hopefully also encourage teams to continue playing for the full 80 minutes in the hopes of getting something from the game, reducing the number of games where the final 20 minutes feel like 2 teams going through the motions. Surely this can only be good for the fans…

Protecting the Grand Slam

The idea of introducing bonus points to the 6 Nations is not a new thing. Whenever it has been mooted previously, I have liked the idea behind it, but been worried about the possibility of a team winning the Grand Slam but losing the tournament to a team who has lost a game but earned more bonus points. Luckily, someone had their thinking cap on and included an extra 3 bonus points for beating all the opposition.

I’ve done the maths here (maybe with the help of a calculator) and calculated that the minimum number of points that can be earned in a Grand Slam campaign (5 wins, no 4 try BPs, 3BPs for the GS) is 23. The maximum number of points a team with 4 wins and a loss can manage (4 wins, 5 BPs for 4 tries, 1 BP for losing by fewer than 7) is 22.

The ultimate prize of the Grand Slam has been protected by the people at the top, which was surely the biggest worry whenever bonus points were considered previously. Players are used to this points system from their domestic leagues and the World Cup. With the caveat of the extra points for a Grand Slam, doesn’t it make sense to make this points system universal in the top league?

What next?

The change to the points system will be in effect for the U20’s 6 Nations as well as both the men’s and women’s 6 Nations tournaments in 2017, with plans to review it after the tournament. I am a bit surprised that it will be reviewed after just one season, but hope that it is given a real chance and not ditched if the effect is limited in the first year. It may take fans a bit of time to get used to it, but I have faith that it will be well received for the most part if given a chance.

This could possibly be the biggest shake-up to the tournament since the inclusion of Italy, but I am sure that it won’t be so long until the next one. The performance of Georgia in recent seasons has rightly led to many calling for them to be brought into the tournament, either through an expansion or the introduction of promotion and relegation. I am very much in favour of expansion, but definitely feel that whatever the decision is, it needs to be sooner rather than later. This Autumn has shown that the quality of International Rugby in Europe is at a high point right now, it needs to be given every chance to flourish, and what better way than to have regular games between Tier 1 teams and Tier 2/3 teams.

What will happen next? Only time will tell…

The Stars of Tomorrow: A few takeaways from England U20 v Italy U20

While many people are focusing on England’s upcoming June Tests in Australia and the Saxons’ Tour of South Africa, it is also time to look at the international stars of the future in the World Rugby U20 Championship. The England boys had a poor 6 Nations, finishing in 5th place with a win in Italy their only victory in the campaign. At this year’s tournament, being hosted in Manchester, the Italians were England’s first opponents ahead of future group fixtures against Australia and Scotland. After a tense 1st half, the hosts ran away with the game in the 2nd half to win 48-10 and top the group after Round 1.

Below are a few takeaways from last night’s game:

  • Though England ran away with it after half time, the 1st half was a tight affair, with both teams making errors and struggling to take advantage of any areas of dominance. With the squad having only assembled a week previously, I think this poor start was more due to players having to gel together so should not be too much of a worry. 4 of the starting XV were making their débuts at this level (3 of those in the back line) and a further 2 players came off the bench for their 1st U20s appearances, so it will take a bit of time for players to get used to unfamiliar combinations and tactics to what they are used at their clubs. In this regard, it is very lucky that Italy were the first opponents as, being the weakest team in the group, this gave England the chance to still win comfortably whilst not playing the best rugby. However, England must play with much more accuracy in their remaining matches to give themselves the best chance of victory.
  • What a season it has been for Harry Mallinder! He’s had a great season with Northampton and looked very impressive on his U20s début. With team captain Jack Walker on the bench, Mallinder was picked to captain the side last night, but if he felt any extra pressure, he certainly didn’t show it, even after the early substitution of fly half Theo Brophy-Clews. Much of England’s best play involved Mallinder, most notably his inch-perfect kick for Sam Aspland-Robinson’s try. He also nailed 5 kicks off the tee, including a beautiful touchline conversion, and was rightly named man of the match. If he continues to play like that I would be very surprised if he is not in the running for the honour of being named World Rugby Junior Player of the Year. As was mentioned in the commentary last night, a number of players have graduated from the U20s to the senior England team in recent years, including Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and former U20s captains Jack Clifford and Maro Itoje. With such a wide variety of skills, if Mallinder can continue to build on this season, I doubt it will be long until he is getting capped at senior international level and I look forward to seeing him impress over the next few years (though I’d appreciate it if he has poor games against Gloucester).
  • England’s line-out performance was poor for much of the match. Especially in the 1st half, a number of line-outs were either turned over or were inaccurate, hampering the team’s ability to get anything going off the first phase and almost gifting Italy a try. Even England’s second try only came about as a result of Brophy-Clews reacting quickly to an overthrow in the Italian 22, though this did lead to him going off injured. My hope is that this was just down to limited time training together, so it was good to see Martin Haag keeping faith in starting hooker Jack Singleton until late in the 2nd half, by which point the lineout appeared to be functioning much better. The set piece is such an important area of the international game, so I’m sure there will be work done to make sure this doesn’t happen again in later matches.
  • Though Engalnd’s line-out may have struggled for much of the match, the scrum was much less of an issue. Although the English pack weighed less than the Italians, they held their own in the early stages and by the end of the match had almost complete dominance, even winning a penalty try from a 5 metre scrum. Once the lineout began to function better, this strength was also seen in the power of the English driving maul, which led to Singleton’s try.
  • As in every tournament, strength in depth is vital. England picked up a number of injuries during this match, hopefully none of them serious. It shows the strength in this squad that their captain was able to be left on the bench for the majority of the game. Zach Mercer has a great impact on the game after coming off the bench and I thought that substitute scrum half Harry Randall looked lively on his début as was unfortunate not to score a try of his own just before the penalty try. Not only is this good to see for the team in this tournament, but with many of these players being available for the next couple of seasons, it bodes well for the future prospects of the U20s team, and also the senior team in the future.

 

For an opening match, I think there was much for the coaching staff and fans to be happy about. While it must be taken into account that Italy are not at the same level as England, this was a good match to prepare for the tougher tests to come. Next up is Scotland on Saturday, a match that could decide who tops the group. Good luck boys…