Misbehaving Wallabies, innovative All Blacks and the importance of Samson Lee for Wales are all topics addressed in this July review
Wales have a lot riding on Samson Lee
July saw some huge positives emanating from the Wales camp. The extreme conditioning programme has been hugely successful and the coaching staff seem genuinely happy with the progress of the squad – but the one area of concern remains Samson Lee. It is testament to the Welsh staff that he is even anywhere near the required fitness levels given his injury, yet Warren Gatland’s admission that Lee is still “touch and go” is a problem.
Whilst Wales don’t have the strength of the All Blacks or South Africa, in the majority of positions there is enough depth to make Wales competitive come September. That is not the case at tighthead and an awful weight of burden rests on Samson Lee’s young shoulders – shoulders that are admittedly powerful enough to underpin a subsiding three-storey Georgian town house. Without the impressive Lee, the Welsh scrum will be forced to rely on Aaron Jarvis, newbie Tomas Francis and Scott Andrews – with just 21 Test caps between them. A meagre amount when considering the challenge ahead.
The naivety of Quade Cooper
July saw the England squad being given a guide to sensible social media usage during the Rugby World Cup (a mandatory for all teams participating in the competition). The 24-point guide could easily have featured a few case studies on bad practice from Quade Cooper – his Twitter blast last week being a fine example.
However, Cooper’s finest social media faux pas remains his decision to wear a Toulon shirt, whilst having his picture taken with Mourad Boudjellal, when there were obviously doubts remaining over his desire to complete the move. Wearing the jersey and shaking the hand of the owner is rugby’s equivalent of placing the ring on the bride’s finger. If three months later you decide to run off with a better proposition, your new bride may feel justified in cutting up your clothes and lobbing them out of the bedroom window. And if reports in the media are to be believed Boudjellal is already sharpening his scissors.
If Cooper does make the plane to England in September, on landing Michael Cheika would be wise to grab Cooper’s phone and bung it straight in the Thames.
Sam Burgess chaos
July once again saw the Sam Burgess ‘issue’ come up as England confirmed that they view Burgess as a centre, not a back-row forward. There is of course the argument that England have never had any doubt over Burgess’s positon within the squad, but that is largely academic when his main employer thinks otherwise. Whether or not England believe Burgess is a centre is futile when he played the last few weeks of the season in the back row.
It is not as if the debate is even focused on whether Burgess is a 12 or a 13, a wing or a full-back, or a six or an eight; for Bath and England to still be haggling over whether he is a forward or a back is calamitous. Made even more ridiculous when you consider that the Rugby World Cup is kicking off in a matter of weeks.
With the warm-ups against France just days away this time should be spent refining and honing defensive lines and attacking patterns, not reacquainting a player with a position he hasn’t played for months. No matter how many times this situation is explained, it is still spectacularly strange.
All Blacks continue to innovate
Whilst July saw northern hemisphere Test teams involved in hardcore fitness regimes, it was the All Blacks who once again showed the world why they are still far and away the team to beat come September. Richie McCaw’s exquisitely simple lineout move, which enabled the All Blacks to beat the Springboks at Ellis Park, was a reminder that strength of muscle is nowhere near as powerful as strength of mind.
In truth this isn’t the first time that the Springboks have been undone with this exact move, Samoa also did it in 2013, but it once again illustrates that speed of thought can undo even the fastest of lineout pods. Whilst some of the biggest lumps in rugby and arguably the finest lineout in the world geared up to defend a catch and maul on their five-metre line, the All Blacks had other ideas. Instead they threw short, soft and flat straight to an unmarked McCaw who carried straight over the line.
We’ve seen plenty of pictures of flexed-up northern hemisphere players dragging tractor tyres across fields this summer, let’s hope fitness doesn’t take precedence over finesse.
A more flexible Premiership could corner the market
July saw Taulupe Faletau’s move to Bath falter. The awkward, yet vitally important, issue of international release being the sticking point. Without full release the WRU won’t sanction the move and with full release Bath potentially face penalties from Premiership Rugby. Yet whilst Premiership Rugby’s stance on international release is laudable, and a reflection of the strength of their league, a simple relaxing of their release rule would provide them with a significant commercial advantage.
By allowing all of the Premiership teams two ‘wildcards’ each season, whereby those wildcard signings wouldn’t face sanctions if they were released outside of the international window, those clubs would have a big advantage when signing marquee players. This may seem like suicidal advice for a Welshman to be advising the English Premiership on how to poach more players – but it seems like a common sense approach with few drawbacks. I need to wrap up this article quickly, before angry Welsh hordes, armed with pitchforks, set fire to my house.
For the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here.