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UNCUT – School 7s excitement, Red Card anger, 6 Nations launch, and more Euro fighting.

This is quite a week for Rugby Union, we had the final round of Pool matches in the Heineken Cup, a possible resolution for next year’s competition, the official launch of the 2014 6 Nations, and the draws for a couple of the big School 7s tournaments. All that and it is only Wednesday.

The dawn of the Six Nations is always an exciting time of year, it is the perfect antidote to the January blues really – speak to any rugby fan at this time of year and they will be bursting with positivity, convincing you that this year, finally, it will be their year.

Of course by the end of the opening weekend of the Championship half of them will be telling you that this is the worst they have ever seen their side and asking how they can possibly recover in time for the World Cup, possibly more than half actually as some Nations are not satisfied merely with winning but require winning well – oh to be in that luxurious position, some of us will find ourselves searching for comfort in merely having seen our side show ‘signs of promise’ at times.

Euro Yes or Euro No?

Perhaps the most significant thing about the beginning of the Six Nations period of the year though has been the meeting at Heathrow airport earlier this week, where negotiations (yet again) on the future of the Heineken Cup were taking place.

Despite a rather bland statement after the meeting it now seems that there is a general consensus for the Six Nations to take over the running of ‘a European competition’ instead of ERC, thus paving the way for the English clubs to come back on board. The French, thankfully, appear to have dropped the idea of getting FIRA to be the organising committee – I say thankfully because nobody seemed willing to go for that one, not even the Welsh and they seem to have agreed via one body or another to just about every proposal thus far, though never as an entire body of Union and Regions.

All of which appears to leave just one sticking point – that TV deal with BT Sport from the Premiership clubs.

Presumably moving from ERC organisation to Six Nations organisation is a neat way of bypassing Sky’s contract with ERC for European Rugby TV rights but, and I accept I am no legal expert here, it would be a surprise if it were that easy. It is certainly not difficult to imagine that Sky have a pretty handy little legal team checking that out. Would you not?

The Pro 12 clubs are not going to be too keen to rock the boat with Sky in case, they have a deal with them for the coming season that is going to pump plenty of cash into the League, cash they cannot very well afford to back out of or risk losing.

So where do we land? Well, frankly, my guess, your guess, anybody’s guess could be right.

At least we appear to be down to just the one sticking point though, for now. The way this story has developed we could be back to mass fallout again by this time tomorrow.

One thing that all sides are very clear about though is that it is not about money or power. Sure, we believe you.

Seeing Red

Back to the actual business of the rugby though.

All went much as expected in the Heineken Cup this weekend as Leinster and Saracens snaffled up the last two qualification spots.

The real talking point that exploded onto the scene though was the issue of stamping or ‘use of the foot’ on the head area from Ospreys Ian Evans and Connacht’s Nathan Catt.

Evans saw red for his actions, while Catt saw yellow – which, given that the incident was sent to the TMO is utterly ludicrous, Catt clearly caught Brad Barritt in the face. Did he mean to stamp on his face? Probably not, it looked like he was going to the body and not the head but as the ruck moved so too did Barritt.  It matters not though, it was utterly reckless play and if you are being reckless with your feet and you catch someone in the face then you should see red, as Catt should have.

There are three fundamental pieces of foul play that in the eyes of most rugby players and fans are absolutely unforgivable – biting, gouging, and studs on the head. All are simply cowardly acts of violence.

School 7s

Another reason that these acts of thuggery must be punished harshly is that the last thing that we want to see is this sort of thing creeping into the grassroots of the game at schoolboy level. Last week I heard an allegation of gouging in a schoolboy game – that is precisely what lawmakers and disciplinary panels must be striving to prevent.

To happier topics from the school scene though!

We’ve had the draw for the Shiplake and South Coast 7s already this week as well as the line up for the Hymers College 7s to go with the Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s draw a week or so ago, and I for one cannot wait.

Sevens is a serious business nowadays with many Schools now having dedicated 7s squads rather than the previous get together for a bit of a run-around on a Wednesday afternoon before a Sunday tournament – a development that looks set to cause quite a stir this season.

However there is still a certain relaxed nature about 7s, perhaps it is the waiting around between games, and the bumping into old mates from other schools. Maybe even the sunshine, though if last year’s 7s season is anything to go by then perhaps not.

That relaxed nature is what we love about the approaching 7s season though, there’s nothing better than being able to get out to tournaments with dozens of schools playing, many of which we may not have seen yet this season, and being able to interact and see more players, enjoy some gloriously exciting rugby, and spend the entire day doing what we love – watching and talking about exciting rugby with all of the tries, drama, and celebration that that entails.

That excitement is already building here though and the line ups for the Shiplake, Hymers, and South Coast 7s that were announced this week have done nothing to dispel that, they are astonishingly competitive.

In the spirit of excitement at the arrival of the 7s season it would be great to hear from you, our readers. We want to hear what you prefer; 7s or 15s, and why. Tweet your answers to @FifteenRugbyXV with #7or15 and we will handpick a few of our favourites a get you some Fifteen Rugby t-shirts.

New Addition

We will be announcing a new addition to the Fifteen Rugby team over the next couple of weeks so keep an eye out for that, they should be bringing us some exciting new coverage for you to enjoy.

We are always on the looking out for exciting new recruits though, so if you are a budding young writer or photographer, or if you think you can get involved in some other way then please feel free to get in touch at promotions@fifteenrugby.com or you can contact me directly via Twitter, my handle is at the foot of this page.

I will be making my Six Nations predictions in my next blog but for now I shall just leave you with that tired old cliché; you just never know which France will turn up. It’s the not knowing that makes it exciting though.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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