If you thought that rugby was going to be in the headlines less once the World Cup was all done and dusted, you would be wrong. This week has been a busy one in the rugby world, unfortunately beginning with some sad circumstances.
News of Jonah Lomu passing away overnight on Tuesday was shocking and devastating. Though he was back on six hours of dialysis a day, seeing him working actively and enthusiastically throughout the World Cup made the news all the more shocking.
Tributes have come in from around the globe, and rightly so. He was rugby’s first truly global superstar and his stardom helped the sport enormously as it turned professional, bringing with it a horde of sponsors wanting to be associated.
He was a superstar because he was brilliant, his size was obvious but his pace, 100m in well under eleven seconds, gave him the choice; go round you or go over you. He was perfectly happy with either.
I was lucky enough to see him live on a couple of occasions, most memorably at Twickenham in the 1999 World Cup semi final. Though that day is always remembered for France’s tremendous comeback and victory, what will always stick in my mind was Lomu hauling at least four French defenders over the line behind him as he scored a try that was equal in brilliance and beauty as it was brutality.
The big man will be missed by all.
There was a departure of different sorts overnight on Wednesday as the great Richie McCaw announced his retirement, or Sir Richie, as he will surely become – reluctant as he might be.
Two Rugby World Cups as captain, more test caps than anyone else, more test tries than any others forward. Just incredible. The stats are not the most relevant part of the McCaw story though, the sheer scale of his influence is what has made him, in my view, the greatest player I have ever seen. Influence over his teammates, the opposition, even the referees, it set him apart. That and his insatiable desire to get better every single game. McCaw is a shining example to school players of what humility, hard work, and an eagerness to learn and to understand the game can do.
Another big lesson that can be taken from McCaw’s career came out as all of the stats around his career began to surface on Thursday. McCaw actually played more games for the All Blacks (148) than he did for the Crusaders (145), which is huge lesson to teams all around the World about managing the workload of their players and prioritizing the national side.
Which leads us nicely on to Eddie Jones, confirmed this morning as England’s new Head Coach. Jones has already said that he thinks for England to be successful they need to follow the lead of most of the rest of the world and to get their players on central contracts. His point is a good one, but it will ruffle more than a few feathers.
Jones has never been afraid of ruffling feathers, that is for sure, but will it work with this group of England players? It seems that every time things have gone wrong for England over the last eight years you start hearing stories and rumblings from players about things that they perceived as unfair or that they did not like. Will they all start moaning if Jones starts laying down some hard truths? It must be a worry, but Jones has proven class.
On the schools front it has been a big week this week, and there is an even bigger one ahead next week, with Wednesday set to provide one of the great days of school rugby. At 14.30 at Allianz Park the Champions Trophy final between Bedford and Epsom College takes place, that is followed on the same pitch at 17.00 by the AASE final between Bicton College and Hartpury College, as if that was not enough, there is also the small matter of Sedbergh v Wellington College at Broadstreet RFC at 18.00 among other fixtures. Quite a day, and quite a week!
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