By Alan Dymock
THE FIRST round of the Autumn Internationals has been and gone and happiness is being found in the unlikeliest of places.
England rumbled onwards, despite chronic wastefulness. Ireland got up close to the Boks, despite notable absences. France dealt with the Wallabies clinically, despite their inherent unpredictability and Scotland, well Scotland celebrated finding their new-found try-scoring knack, despite a hefty thumping from the All Blacks. The exception was the inconsolable Welsh, so bereft after a dispiriting loss against the Pumas.
Indeed, several fans are celebrating the weekend and even looking forward to the next.
Of course there are some players from these nations, who like kids not invited to the birthday party, have reason to be a little put out by their exclusion from the annual Autumn rugby jamboree. Rugby World looks at four of them.
The burly Harlequin has continually been touted as England’s No 8. Which is part of the problem.
Seen as emblematic of ‘old England’, he hardly fits in with the new England ethos that Stuart Lancaster is trying to establish. Reinstating him would be seen as a backwards step, despite his irresistible form, close understanding with Chris Robshaw, and Thomas Waldrom’s tendency to spill ball.
Yet, as England dominate set piece and look like continuing to do so, remedying the No 8 spot is not a top priority.
Easter would be a much safer option binding the backrow and he is the undisputed champion of the horrible, rolling maul. But he’s That Guy, and Lancaster ain’t no fan of That Guy.
The Glasgow-based nuisance has become a firm favourite with the Warriors fans, yet he cannot, for love, nor money, buy a place in the Scotland squad.
Although no one would have been happy to see Ross Rennie departing with a serious looking injury against New Zealand, Fusaro may have at least hoped he was at the front of the queue for a squad place.
But the flanker then had to watch with the rest of us as David Denton bounced Richie McCaw and shouted for every ball the scrum-half could offer. In truth, the back row looked more balanced with Denton at No 8, Al Strokosch at No 6 and Kelly Brown at No 7. His Warrior team-mate John Barclay has also been called up to the bench as an option in all three back row spots leaving the angry openside known as ‘Gino’ at the Trattoria, smarting at the injustice of it all.
Unfortunately for the Racing Metro prop, he is another to miss out in Philippe Saint-Andre’s selection merry-go-round.
The French would appear to have unbounded options if they can afford to leave out him, alongside Yannick Nyanga (before Dusautoir got injured), Jean-Baptiste Poux, Yannick Jauzion and Clement Poitrenaud. The talent conveyor belt whistles around while gifted players fall by the wayside yet any one of them could be reeled back in at a moment’s notice.
The problem for Ducalcon is that at the weekend the Australians wilted at ruck time and the French pack could afford to grunt forward thanks to the aggressive ball-carrying of players like Louis Picamoles. Anyone hoping to break into the dark places may have to wait some time while Les Bleus play this angrily. Zut alors!
It’s a strange world we live in when the standout openside in France’s brutal, attritional, unrelenting league cannot get a look-in at Test level.
There may have been issues surrounding Armitage – he has been unequivocally cleared of any doping charges by the French Federation de Rugby (FFR) – but he has scored freely in the Top 14 and regularly leads from the front in Toulon’s star-studded team.
He could easily play in a back row alongside Robshaw, or even, revolutionary this, at No 8, but he’s in France and at the moment, the RFU seem disinclined to wrestle with Top 14 teams in disputes over preparation time for international matches.
And of course, while England are racking up bumper scores or challenging teams at the all-important breakdown, as Chris Robshaw has done, there’s no need to lose-sleep over parachuting in a player who will drop to the ground like a truffle-pig whenever the ball is an arm’s length away. The wait for recognition goes on.
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