We are now just days away from the first match of the 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour of South Africa. Starting with a Test against Japan at Murrayfield, the Lions will then fly to South Africa, where they will face the 4 South African URC teams (Bulls, Stormers, Lions and Sharks) and South Africa A, along with a 3-Test series against the Springboks.
Taking place every 4 year, the Lions Tours cycle between the 3 nations who made up the old Tri-Nations: New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. But what if they looked to break this cycle and tour somewhere else? Honestly, I can’t see it happening anytime soon, but I thought it would be fun to look at some of the other potential tours.
Why travel all the way to the Southern Hemisphere when you have such a strong rugby nation just the other side of the channel. When you look at the usual matches you would find on a tour, France is one of the only other nations that can provide the same itinerary, with an established league full of world class talent.
The earl matches of the tour that would historically be against Super Rugby franchises could instead be against a selection of Top 14 teams, who like their touring counterparts will have just completed their domestic season. And of course France would certainly be able to provide a solid opposition in a 3-Test series. That in itself could be the tour, but it would also be easy enough to bring in Italy or Georgia as a one-off Test as part of the tour, perhaps the opener like this weekend’s match against Japan.
I mentioned that there was one other nation who currently has an established domestic league full of World Class talent, and that is Japan. While it may not get the level of attention as other competitions over here, the Top League certainly attracts its fair share of internationals and could provide sufficient opposition for midweek matches, with a 3-Test series against the Brave Blossoms. And if you wanted to throw in another slightly easier Test, well Hong Kong are currently ranked 22ⁿᵈ and could fill the spot.
Now this is where things get interesting, and this would certainly be a tour, as the Lions look to travel to the Americas.
Argentina would be the opposition in the 3-Test series, but the tour would start in the North, with matches against the USA and Canada, and potentially even an “MLR All Stars” team, before travelling South and facing nations like Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.
From a perspective of growing the game, I can’t help feel that a tour like this has some legitimate merit, which is why it will likely never happen in a sport where money comes first.
Finally we come to one that would recognise the oft-ignored nations who have historically given us such great rugby moments, as we send the Lions to the Pacific Islands.
For the Test series, I wouldn’t look to lift any one nation above the others, but instead have 3 Tests against a Pacific Island equivalent, made up of all the best players from the Pacific Islands. These players would also be away from their respective clubs and national teams (if also involved in the tour) in order to give them maximum time to gel together. And as for the midweek matches? Well we are about to see the formation of 2 Pacific Island Super Rugby franchises—Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua—so they would be in, while the other matches would be against Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, just minus the players called up to the combined Pacific Island team.
Would we see some of the most attractive and physical rugby ever on show, with crowds of fans who adore the game? Yes. Will the money-hungry executives let this happen? I doubt it.
Do any of these tours sound interesting to you? Are there any other’s you would suggest?
Keep an eye out on here for my thoughts from each of the Lions matches on this year’s tour. I’m not 100% sure yet exactly what format this will be in, while I also can’t guarantee exactly how quickly they will be up due to the myriad other sport on that I will be trying to fit around my job. But it was the last tour that really saw me start writing on here with some regularity and saw the first growth of this site, so I intend to cover the tour as thoroughly as possible.
Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies 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.
Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there. For each movie I will be giving some details about the movie and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.
Now, today I’m doing something a little different, by looking at a recently released documentary that is currently available to watch on Amazon Prime: Oceans Apart: Greed, Betrayal and Pacific Island Rugby
Directed by Callum Drummond & Axel Haudiquet
Released in 2020
Starring: Dan Leo
Synopsis: Former Samoa captain Dan Leo looks at the issues faced by Pacific Islands rugby players to see why these nations that are responsible for so many of the game’s superstars are struggling so much on the world stage.
This was a fantastic documentary and a real eye-opener. As a fan of rugby in general, I have been so disappointed to see the way that the Pacific Islands – especially Samoa and Tonga – have struggled over the last couple of decades as rugby has gone professional. So many times, I’ve been disappointed to see players from the Pacific Islands choosing to play for Tier 1 nations where they may earn just a handful of caps, rather than playing 40-odd times for the country of their birth – a notable example being Charles Piutau, who won 17 caps for New Zealand but had not played international rugby since 2015. Watching this though made me really begin to understand why the players choose to play elsewhere as there is limited financial incentive to play for the Pacific Island nations.
As the documentary explains, Dan Leo was the captain of Samoa when the team threatened to boycott a match against England at Twickenham in 2014 due to financial discrepancies within the Samoan Rugby Union, as publicly-funded money was not reaching the team. The game eventually went ahead with the promises that everything would be investigated, but nothing ever came of it bar a few headlines at the time, and Leo found himself omitted from the squad moving forwards. Leo was not the only influential Samoa player to be dropped from the national team following criticism of the union, which is headed by the Prime Minister, and the way that funds are used.
In this 1 documentary, Leo really highlights the impact of the lack of funding – showing a player who has been left to fend for himself in Romania after losing his contract due to a kidney issue while also updating us on what happened to Fijian wing Rupeni Caucaunibuca, who was one of the stars of RWC2003. As we follow his investigations, which also involve interviews with a key members of the rugby community, including James Haskell (who played in the 2014 match against Samoa), Ben Ryan (who coached Fiji to Olympic Rugby 7s Gold), outspoken Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and a number of Pacific Islanders who play in the Premiership and Pro14, the issues become clear.
As the documentary shows, many of these unions are led by people who could be considered problematic due to their role in the nation’s government, but as the documentary shows, the issues go beyond the national unions and to the way that the nations are treated by World Rugby, who clearly favour the “Tier 1” nations, with Brett Gosper (who was at the time CEO of World Rugby, but will now be stepping down to take up a role within the NFL in the New Year) coming across very poorly in an interview.
I won’t say any more about this, except that this should be a must-watch for all rugby fans, and that hopefully this will lead to pushes for change that will give more support to nations outside of Tier 1.
What did you think of the documentary? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!
Since taking over the England head coach job after their abysmal group stage exit from the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Eddie Jones has done a fantastic job of making England competitive again, to the point that they have only lost 1 game in 2 years!
When he named his first squad, the players picked were for the most part the same ones that Stuart Lancaster had called on, but as each subsequent squad has been named we have seen more and more young players earning their first caps as Jones looks to build towards 2019’s tournament in Japan. While I’m sure he would have done this anyway as he has talked about his desire of having at least 60 players to pick his EPS from, he has also had his hand forced somewhat by injuries, suspensions and this summer’s Lions Tour.
In the back row, Billy Vunipola is arguably one of the best number 8s in the world, but his England appearances have been limited recently due to a succession of injuries, which has given Nathan Hughes the chance to develop into a more-than-able deputy a international level. Chris Robshaw’s move from 7 to 6 has seen him become an integral part of the team despite Jones’ misgivings about him before taking up the role. James Haskell also played some of the best rugby of his international career early in Jones’ tenure, but has struggled to regain that form since injury. Tom Wood, a former contender for captaincy under Lancaster, was brought back into the fold for a while to help give the team some experience, but his ban at the end of last season has pushed him down the order as the Australian has looked at other options.
Maro Itoje and Courtney Laws are regulars in the England squad and are generally considered as second rows, however Jones has not been afraid to move one of them to 6 in order to give the team more physicality – though I personally prefer them at lock. Jack Clifford was one of the first young players to be given a chance under Eddie Jones and certainly brings more pace to the back row in attack when compared to most of his rivals, but he has also suffered with a series of injuries that have seen him drop down the order. At only 24 though, he has plenty of time to force his way back into the squad. Ben and Tom Curry are both on Jones’ radar but at 19 it is probably slightly to soon for them to be regulars, though they could still force their way in before the World Cup, as could Zach Mercer whose form for Bath and England U20s over the last season and a half have seen him join the senior squad as an apprentice player.
People have been looking forward to Sam Underhill’s return to England for a coupe of years and he has not really disappointed when given a chance in the England back row so far, showing himself to be a tackling machine in his first couple of starts. Sam Simmonds has broken through in the Premiership this year in a way similar to Mercer last season and certainly deserved his debut this autumn. He had a quiet first half against Samoa but really grew into the game. Compared to many of the players around him he seems quite small, though he runs stronger than many bigger players. He also has that extra turn of pace that many of his rivals (other than Clifford) don’t have.
With so much young quality coming through, it will be interesting to see how much longer Robshaw can hold onto his place in the squad. At 31, you can imagine that RWC2019 will be the end of his international career at the latest, but Jones may decide that he has the quality to leave him out before this, so that the world cup becomes just the next stage in a quest for dominance rather than the end of a cycle. I have nothing against Robshaw, but his big draw outside of his experience is his tireless tackling, which is now able to be covered by Underhill. I enjoy a back row with a balance of speed, strength and defensive capability, so would love to see Jones start to focus in on combinations containing Vunipola, Hughes, Clifford, Simmonds and Underhill going forward.
The Pacific Island problem
I’m not going to write much about this because I am no expert on Pacific Island rugby and the issues that Samoa in particular are having. Every day in the build-up to this weekend’s game there seemed to be a different story coming out about the state of Samoan rugby: the head of the SRU says their bankrupt, World Rugby says that’s not the case. Regardless, rugby benefits from strong Pacific Island teams and currently only Fiji makes the top 10 and Samoa aren’t even in the top 15!
Samoa showed they have quality against England, with Jack Lam especially having a good game, but I felt that Tim Nanai-Williams was wasted at fly half as he is at his best further out where he can take advantage of space.
So many players are lost to the Pacific Islands due to choosing to commit to other unions who can provide more financial security. Just this morning I read that former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Frank Halai are considering switching allegiance to Tonga in time for the World Cup, as they will have both gone long enough without playing for New Zealand’s representative teams so will be eligible if they play a couple of Olympic qualification 7s tournaments for Tonga. While I would rather players committed to these countries straight away rather than as a second option once being deemed surplus to requirements by the Tier 1 nations, having players of this calibre in the national team can surely only help the Pacific Islands.
What World Rugby needs to do though is find a way to stop the talent drain away from the islands in the first place. It is far too rare that a Tier 1 nation plays one of the Pacific Island teams in that country and if the vast majority of the revenue goes to the home team then that is not fair on the Islands. I feel that having a Pacific Island team in Super Rugby would also help as players would not have to leave for Tier 1 countries in order to play top flight rugby.
While rugby continues to grow in countries like Georgia, Japan and the USA, it would be a shame if this was at the expense of countries that have given fans so much to cheer about over the years.
Return to greatness
Those days are past now, And in the past they must remain, But we can still rise now, And be the nation again, That stood against him, Proud Edward’s Army, And sent him homeward, To think again.
The final verse of Flower of Scotland, which along with the first verse is sung as part of the national anthem before matches.
As someone who did not get into rugby until late 2002/early 2003, I have no memories of Scottish rugby success, but Gregor Townsend’s men are rising again. They were clearly improving in recent years under Vern Cotter, but Townsend seems to have taken the players to another level again.
After a win against Samoa that left them disappointed with their leaky defence, they put in a great performance against New Zealand and lost by just 5 points despite playing much of the second half with a hooker in the back row, and even then could have won the game had Kieran Read’s cynical playing of the ball on the floor been picked up with less than 10 minutes less, or if Stuart Hogg had not lost the ball forward at the death. In many years past, I feel that such disappointment would have resulted in them getting hammered by Australia in their final match, yet instead they ran out 53-24 winners. They were certainly helped by Sekope Kepu’s red card just before half time, but I feel that they had already shown enough to suggest they would beat Australia for the second time in 2017, despite losing Hogg in the warm-up.
Probably the most impressive thing about these results is that they have done so well despite a number of players – including Richie Gray, Ross Ford, Fraser Brown, Matt Scott, Duncan Taylor, Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg, Alasdair Dickinson, Allan Dell, WP Nel, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar and captain Greig Laidlaw – missing some/all of the games through injury. For a nation with only 2 pro teams, that should be a crippling injury list, yet they have had probably the most impressive Autumn Series of all the Home Nations.
If Scotland can continue this trend that they’re on and get as many of their players available as possible, I fully expect them to finish at least top 3 in the 6 Nations and possibly even push for their first title since the last season of the 5 Nations in 1999.