The rugby season is only a week old and already there is an incredible amount to talk about, it could shape up to be quite a year!
There have been a few things that have particularly gripped me this week though, hopefully you will agree!
Schools Rugby off to a Flyer
It really was a fantastic start to the school season last weekend. I think that most people in school rugby circles were aware of that RGS High Wycombe were going to be big players this year but I would be surprised if many had them to beat Wellington away on that famous Bigside pitch on the opening week of the season.
The result that probably got most people really talking though was Millfieldâ€™s draw at Warwick. I was not at the game but knowing Millfieldâ€™s players rather well and given Warwickâ€™s run in the Daily Mail Cup last year I think that we may see as the season progresses that in fact Warwick are really rather a good side this year, much as their coaching staff like to play their side down.
In any case, we ought to find out rather a lot about the order of things this weekend as Millfield travel to RGS High Wycombe, Wellington travel to back to back Daily Mail Cup champions Dulwich, and Warwick travel to Bromsgrove (who lost to Denstone last weekend).Â As those results come in tomorrow I suspect we will begin to gain a little more understanding as to each schools relative standing.
Speaking of standings, it is worth having a look at the new Daily Mail Trophy league. Formed from the old merit leagues, it is an excellent way to track each sides relative standing and as the season progresses we should see the best teams consistently at the top of the table. Also, each week we have a little prediction competition running for four of the Daily Mail Trophy â€“ it should be a fun way to get the excitement going ahead of each weekâ€™s fixtures.
From a personal point of view it was great to see so much competitive action in the North last weekend â€“ last season there were some opinions being voiced that rugby in the North was not as strong as it had been but I think last weekend showed that that certainly wont be the case this year, if it ever was. Kingâ€™s Macclesfield were particularly impressive in their victory against QEGS Wakefield.
It was also pleasing to see Northampton School for Boys get a win against Bedford in midweek after Bedford had given Oundle a bit of a bashing at the weekend. Not because I revel in seeing one school beat another but because after their great run to the Daily Mail Cup final it was sad to see NSB lose so many talented players over the summer, particularly Rotimi Segun to Stowe, so to see them pick up a victory against a big scalp so early in the season will have given them the little confidence boost that they probably deserve.
Heineken Cup Saga
Thank goodness we have been able to talk about the joy of the school game on Fifteen Rugby all week, showing the good, great even, side of rugby because the Heineken Cup saga has shown rugby in the worst possible light over the last few days.
What is probably a good point, that qualification for an elite tournament should at least vaguely be based on merit, has been lost in a seemingly never ending spiral of greed, deceit, lies, power struggles and pettiness. On Wednesday my phone was buzzing with contradictory press statements almost by the minute; it was, frankly, ridiculous.
The only good news is that there almost certainly will be a solution at some point because nobody can really afford for there not to be. The English clubs need the Pro 12 clubs because an Anglo-French tournament is a sham, and given that some French clubs are pretty nonchalant about the Heineken Cup over the Top 14, they hardly seem likely to give a smaller tournament a bigger priority. The Pro 12 clubs also need a solution because they need to have a European tournament otherwise they will simply run out of money. It is for that reason that they are being so guarded because there is a very real risk that they could be forced into accepting a bad deal because in their financial situation a bad deal is better than no deal.
It is probably best not to go too deeply into this though or this blog could quite easily become a book, however what is clear is that the Heineken Cup has, admirably, always tried to make sure that each major nation has representation in the group stages.
That to me seems like something that should be preserved, therefore (if we assume the 20 team tournament made up of six from each league plus the Heineken and Amlin winners) that would mean the Pro 12 would only have 2 available qualification slots, making qualification a bit of a farce.
So, why not give the Pro 12 8 slots, reflecting the fact that it is after all a league that represents four different nations as opposed to 1 each for England and France, meaning four qualification slots.
If only the fight were really about the structure and not about the money and power behind the tournament.
Did anyone see this comment by Nigel Wray the Saracens Chairman?
“To me, the one person always neglected in these discussions is the customer. What do they want? They don’t want more and more games, they want big games. And that applies to everything in life – the big concerts, the big songs, the big sports games. They don’t want to see meaningless games. If that is what the customer wants, then that is what you’ve got to give them.â€
Nigel Wray is an intelligent man but that comment misses the point completely. Sport to some is at its best when there is an underdog with a chance of making it all the way, look at Edinburghâ€™s run to the semi finals two years ago; by Nigel Wrayâ€™s thinking they should never have been in the tournament because games against them would have been â€˜meaninglessâ€™, yet they made it to the semi finals were I assume Ulster did not regard them as meaningless.
I suggest he ask the customer what they want before telling them what they want.
Rugby Championship Excitement
What about the Wallabies then, they didnâ€™t look too shabby against the Lions until the final Test but since then they have imploded. They sit bottom of the Rugby Championship and they face the very real prospect of losing against Argentina tomorrow, particularly if the Pumas can destroy their scrum last week like the Springboks did.
The Springboks meanwhile are looking rampant and theyâ€™re scoring tries, something that one cannot normally readily associate with the men in green and gold. They travel to New Zealand full of confidence and with the All Blacks missing Richie McCaw the South Africans might fancy their chances. It should be a fascinating weekend.
It has been a great first week of the season, with plenty to talk about, plenty to moan about and plenty to be excited about so lets hope for more the same this week (though perhaps with a little less noise from those negotiating the future of European Club Rugby), this round of school fixtures in particular looks mouthwatering â€“ it could be a classic school season, we certainly appear to have the competition.
By Angus Savage