It is the start of the NatWest Champions Trophy next week, which has me particularly excited.
The Champions Trophy has become a bit of a personal favourite of mine since it was introduced in 2014. At first is was that finally some of the big names missed from other national school tournaments, such as Tonbridge and Millfield, were now involved in a big term long competition.
However from the first game the allure of this competition was not the names and the fact that therefore few could dispute the winners’ validity, it was the sheer competitiveness and drama that every single tie seems to throw up.
It is hard to remember more than just a handful of games that have not been fiercely entertaining or full of drama. Already this season we have had drama, Dulwich College v Eton College took place ahead of schedule earlier in the week. It ended in a 17-17 draw, sending Eton through as on try count.
It was classic Champions Trophy drama, and you can be sure that there will be more over the course of next week’s game.
Perhaps it is how close teams are to the final right from the start that makes the games that step higher than your average school game. After all, just four wins will take you to Allianz Park on the 30th November for the final.
Whatever it is that sparks such drama in this competition, I’m delighted that it’s underway again and can’t wait to try to bring across that drama to you, our readers.
It has been a big of an odd week from a citing point of view, there was a huge furore over an apparent bite from Chris Ashton. Northampton Saints’ Ethan Waller cleared Ashton out with his forearm to Ashton’s face, Ashton promptly bit it and now faces a 13 week ban.
From my point of view, there are two issues with the disciplinary process here. First of all, Waller should have been cited for the forearm to the face, his clearout was completely unlawful and therefore should have been punished. As a game we need to crack down on illegal clears.
Second, and perhaps controversially, Ashton should have been banned for longer. If he is guilty of biting, and that was what was decided, then the ban should be huge. Biting is completely unacceptable, and there is no mitigation. I would not dispute that the Waller forearm was annoying and painful and reaction provoking, but a bite is a ridiculous reaction. It is the reaction of a small child – literally. I’ve played enough rugby to have my share of blows to the face, not once has a bite seemed in any way a natural reaction, and I refuse to believe that it was for Ashton. If you want to eradicate something from the game, be strong.
That was just the appetiser though, the main course of the disciplinary week was a ridiculous decision in France as Brive’s Matthieu Uglade was given a paltry 14 week ban for one of the most blatant and horrific eye gouges I have seen.
France has previous with glossing over gouging and it is simply unacceptable. Of all the ‘unforgivable’ crimes in rugby, gouging is the worst. How there was any justification for not banning Uglade for the rest of the season at least is unfathomable.
I have said it in one of these posts before, World Rugby need to take control of discipline, all citings and hearings should be dealt with under their jurisdiction. That is not to say that they will get everything right, simply that at least we will get some consistency. Had Ugalde done that in the Premiership he would be gone for a long long time. It does not matter which view is correct, what matters is creating a system where there is some consistency.
Top class in the land of the long white cloud
Did anyone else see New Zealand beat South Africa last weekend? They put 40 points on them and did not even play that well…it’s going to be a long June for the Lions on this evidence.
Despite not playing well though, what was clear is that in Aaron Smith and Dane Coles the All Blacks have two players who are completely unrivalled in their positions in the world rugby. Smith has so many qualities, pace, an eye for a gap, that buzz that all good scrum halves, but what really stands out is that flat, fast, pass of his. A good pass is the key to being a scrum half yet it is so often underlooked, his is a thing of beauty and all aspiring young scrum halves should be looking to emulate it.
As for Coles, all players of any position should be looking at him. As a pure hooker he is world class, but his skills around the pitch are top class no matter what the number is on the back of his shirt. It is a pleasure to watch him play, and that pass for Whitelock’s try was worth the ticket price on its own.
There’s a weekend off from the Rugby Championship though, but we’ll be busy enough with plenty of schools rugby, and then it’s into a week of the Champions Trophy and NatWest Cup – I can’t wait.