Uncut – England’s Options, Euro Crisis, St Joseph’s Joy

Having pleaded on these pages earlier in the week for Stuart Lancaster to name Chris Robshaw as England captain it should be a relief that he has done so.

To a certain extent it is but I do rather wish that he had come out and really shouted it from the rooftops, saying “Chris is my man and he’s going to lead us right through until the World Cup.”

Other nations have done it, clearly McCaw, De Villiers, Fernandez Lobbe, and Horwill are the leaders for the Rugby Championship nations, while Sam Warburton will be Wales’ leader and the French seem pretty likely to stick with Thierry Dusautoir.

Lancaster spoke of the need to develop captains and cited the All Blacks as an example, where Kieran Read has stood in for Richie McCaw. To an extent he is right but the difference is that McCaw is clearly the leader of the All Blacks and Read is obviously the stand in.

Until any uncertainty over Robshaw’s position is removed then any development of other captains will just be seen as a challenge to Robshaw’s leadership, not the development of a leadership succession line.

However, Robshaw has been named and having seen the list of players that have been sent back to their clubs it seems pretty certain that he will start at 7 with Tom Wood at 6 and one of either Ben Morgan or Billy Vunipola at 8.

It is a pretty decent looking back row and a far better balanced trio than the Croft, Robshaw, Wood triumvirate that ended the Six Nations campaign against Wales. Gifted as they all are, they did not look balanced enough to complement each others games. With a big ball carrier at number 8 it ought to allow both Wood and Robshaw to focus on their tasks of winning and recycling the ball for what looks to be an exciting set of backs.

The exciting Marland Yarde seems likely to start on the wing with the returned to form Chris Ashton on the other. Ashton was poor last year but he has looked good for Saracens this season and with Yarde on the other wing and one of Joel Tomkins or Henry Trinder at 13 and Billy Twelvetrees inside them with just five caps it is important to include some experience around those players, hence the inclusion of Ahston over the much talked about Christian Wade.

That need for experience may lead to a start for Toby Flood at ten but Owen Farrell seems to be very much England’s main man now and despite still being young he has now got plenty of experience, particularly following the Lions tour.

The big surprise was that Ben Foden was sent back to Northampton Saints for the weekend, leaving Mike Brown a virtual shoo-in for the full back role. Brown has done little wrong in an England shirt and has been rather unfortunate to spend far more time on the wing that he might otherwise have liked so he deserves a go but Foden has been in delightful form later.

All in all though it looks like being a strong England side and the selection of Robshaw as captain was, to my mind at least, absolutely the right call. Perhaps the only major concern for Lancaster is that with the World Cup becoming more and more of a focus there are still very few that you would call ‘dead certs’ for a starting spot.

In fact I make it just three, Corbisiero, Cole, and Parling. Owen Farrell could move onto that list with a strong autumn, while if Ben Youngs can keep his consistency he seems to be the preferred option at nine. What England need is for Chris Robshaw to get on that list, maybe this autumn he just might.

The XV that I expect Stuart Lancaster to select against Australia is at the foot of the page (it is not necessarily the team I would select but the one I predict).

European Row

The saga in Europe has taken another twist with the Welsh regions announcing that they will be joining the English and the French in their breakaway league.

Assuming that that announcement is followed through with then that really does conclusively end any chance of the Heineken Cup remaining, as soon as one of the Pro 12 Nations breaks away it leaves the others with very little to negotiate with.

However why stop at one twist when you can have two in 48 hours. This morning the WRU announced that to help the Regions in this period of uncertainty, both competition wise and financially, they would be prepared to centrally contract players coming to the end of their contracts in order for the Regions to avoid losing them to overseas clubs.

Or in other words, the WRU realised that the Regions felt forced to side with the Anglo-French breakaway as it was the only sure way of having enough cash so they are offering to pay the players they might not be able to afford for them.

Or to see it another way, the WRU is finally doing what those involved have been saying for five or six years needed to happen – centrally contract players to avoid them moving to France.

Whatever the outcome though, it seems ridiculous that this is all effectively being negotiated in public, that entire announcement could have been done privately and neither side’s position would have been weakened. As it stands now the Pro 12 looks ready to give up on ERC at any moment and jump to the Anglo-French breakaway, the Welsh Regions look ready to follow the money, and the WRU looks like it is losing control of its regions.

I am sure there is a lot more detail involved and that those many not be the positions that each are actually in, but that it is the perception and in this world perception is everything.

One positive on the European Rugby front appears to be the action of the ERC mediators, Graeme Mew and Stephen Drymer, who at least seem to have managed to hold a meeting that has ended with an outcome rather than an inflammatory statement.

Following their meeting with various representatives of the ERC Unions they released the following statement:

“There is consensus that there should continue to be two professional European club rugby tournaments, with each tournament consisting of 20 clubs. A third tier European tournament should also be considered.

 

The Primary Competition would be made up of 20 clubs, with six each from PRL and the LNR, and seven from the Pro12 tournament. The clubs would come through meritocratic qualification from their respective leagues. In the case of the Pro12, there will be at least one club guaranteed from each country.

 

In year one, the 20th place would be allocated through a play-off match between the 7th placed PRL and LNR clubs. For the following years, the 20th club would qualify through play-offs between the 7th placed PRL and LNR clubs and the two next non-qualified Pro12 clubs. The winner of the secondary competition would qualify to participate in the play-offs, if not already qualified by right.

 

The English and French clubs would have home advantage in the play-offs against the Pro12 clubs.

 

The Secondary Competition would consist of up to 20 clubs made up of the remaining 18 PRL, LNR and Pro12 clubs. Two places could be allocated to clubs qualifying from a third competition.

 

Distribution of Revenues. There is also consensus that distributable revenues generated through the competitions would be divided one third, one third, one third per league with the stipulation that monies to be received by the Pro12 countries would not be less than the current levels.”

A very sensible statement and plan of action except that it sounds remarkably like what the English and French have been saying, which could lead us to a situation where two almost identical tournaments are proposed and it is simply a case of picking sides.

The problem is that, while in a normal scenario this is an excellent statement, likely to bring the two sides far closer, there is still one major problem; one side is going to have to break their multi million pound TV deal and that will have serious repercussions.

Fix that and we may just get closer to a resolution.

St Joseph’s Festival

I had the pleasure of spending the weekend at the 27th Annual St Joseph’s College National Schools Rugby Festival and it truly was a pleasure.

St Joseph’s themselves won the competition for only the third time in its history, playing some fantastic rugby along the way. With the likes of Millfield, Dulwich College, John Fisher, Merchiston Caslte, Witchurch High, RGS Newcastle, Bedford, and fellow finalists RGS High Wycombe all involved there was some breathtaking rugby on show and it was a guarantee that the winners would have to be a splendid side.

Taking it all in across the two days it was clear that there were a number of future internationals on show across various different teams. The beauty of it was, and indeed this is the beauty of school rugby, these players are all prepared to just go out and play and do what they can.

It will certainly be worth keeping an eye on all of the sides that were competing for the main trophy on Day Two, there will be some names to remember among that group.

That St Joseph’s won perhaps made it all the more special, the grounds were absolutely packed with their pupils, parents and past pupils and the atmosphere was absolutely splendid, a real demonstration of the passion that exists in schools rugby.

That passion was on show again last night at Sixways where RGS Worcester and King’s Worcester competed for the annual Modus Cup. There must have been somewhere between 3000 and 4000 supporters there; an absolutely phenomenal amount of people to watch a school game.

England XV v Australia (Predicted):

1. M.Vunipola* 2. D.Hartley 3. D.Cole 4. C.Lawes 5. G.Parling 6. T.Wood 7. C.Robshaw (c) 8. B.Morgan; 9. B.Youngs 10. O.Farrell 11. M.Yarde 12. B.Twelvetrees 13. J.Tomkins 14. C.Ashton 15. M.Brown.

*Assumes that Alex Corbisiero is unfit.

By Angus Savage

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