Every season there are a few weekends that really stand out in the calendar, in rugby terms, and this is most certainly one of them.
For the vast majority of rugby fans, the RBS 6 Nations is the weekend’s headline act, with a Friday night game and two games on Saturday. For us here at Fifteen Rugby though, things go far deeper than that!
The major story for us this weekend is going to be the U18 NatWest Cup and Vase semi finals at Allianz Park on Saturday, as I’m sure you can tell by the focus placed on them in this week’s Weekend Review.
That is not where we stop though, there is plenty more to be covered, with five U18 7s tournaments on our radar this weekend, the Durham 7s on Saturday, followed by the Reed’s 7s, Marches 7s, West of England 7s, and the Oakham 7s on Sunday.
There is more than just schools rugby to keep the attention fixed here though, we also have the U20 RBS 6 Nations to focus on, with England v Ireland and Italy v Scotland this evening, followed by Wales v France on Saturday.
Then there is the first U18 England international of the season, they are in France on Saturday afternoon as they prepare for the U18 5 Nations Championship.
All in all a pretty busy and exciting weekend looms!
None of which relates to what I actually planned to talk about today though – Super Rugby.
Forget the expansion of the league, certainly well intentioned, or the bizarre new structure of conferences, and let’s talk about the rugby.
Surely everyone in the Northern Hemisphere has now got past our slightly arrogant assumption that Super Rugby was all show and without any ‘real’ rugby. That the attacking rugby on show was only possible because defences were not as good as ours. I think we can safely say now that that is a very outdated view.
It all kicked off this morning with the Blues beating the Highlanders 33-31 and the Brumbies beating the Hurricanes 52-10. Both were breathtaking games of rugby, real examples of what an exciting sport ours can be, true adverts for the game.
Yes, the game there is refereed in such a way as to promote attacking rugby, but the players still go out and show that attacking verve. Sure, we get the occasional performance like that, Wasps have shown it a few times this year, Bath regularly last year, but such attacking accuracy, quality, and pace is rare here.
Not for a minute do I buy that players in the Southern Hemisphere are just innately more talented and attacking than players here, so what can we do?
Here, of course, you get the inevitable argument about the weather, and there is an argument for a summer season, but before we get so radical, how about we look at some simpler things?
At the top level we need to be coaching players to go out and win, not to avoid losing, and we need to place more emphasis on attack. In just about every Home Union, besides the Head Coach, the Defence Coach seems to be the most important person – why are we not emphasising the attack and making Attacking Coaches the priority? Think of the way Mike Catt seemed like something of a peripheral figure in the old England regime.
Should we not be picking players based on what they can do, rather than on what they can stop the opposition doing? It seems to me that you can teach an instinctive attacker how to defend, but it would be an awful lot harder to teach a good defender how to attack instinctively.
I think back to a column from a few weeks ago where I spoke about a friend from New Zealand who was watching his first club game in the Northern Hemisphere, when I asked him about the differences he said it was immediately obvious how much more structure we play with here.
Structure has its place, but it should serve to create a platform for creative rugby, not as a rigid system preventing it.
It’s time we started catching up or the gap between the North and South will grow ever bigger, and it all starts with attitude.