From the World League to Welsh rugby, Paul Williams assesses the game’s latest goings-on
Global league can’t exclude Pacific Islands
It may be speculation and little more. However, reports from down south suggest that the proposed World League may exclude the Pacific Island nations. This simply cannot happen.
The Pacific Islands aren’t just a part of rugby, they are rugby. Take one glance at your Test/club/region team and the chances are there is least one Pacific Island player in that squad.
The Pacific Islands have an approximate total population of 2.3m, yet their impact on the global game, per capita, is arguably the largest of any rugby community in the history of the game.
The Pacific Islands are already the production line of rugby. To limit their minuscule financial base, with exclusion from a lucrative global competition, would be to turn those nations into a puppy farm, where players are grown and then simply rehoused for a fee.
Weirdly, the news seems to have had a bigger reaction in the northern hemisphere than the southern. That the Pacific Island nations are more appreciated up north is worrying and rather telling. Maybe those down south have more to gain from a downtrodden Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
Rugby is very proud of its on-field values, but sometimes its off-field values seem dichotomous.
Changes to Welsh rugby are needed
On the surface, at least at Test level, things are functioning well. Wales are on a glorious winning streak, have just beaten England and are still on for the Six Nations Grand Slam. But appearances can be deceptive. And this is where Welsh rugby finds itself.
The game in Wales is currently walking around with a Harrods carrier bag, yet look inside and it’s full of stuff from Poundland.
In February it emerged that major changes have been discussed with regards to the Welsh regions. Mergers and closures have been tabled, as has the possibility of adding to the rugby base in North Wales.
The reality is that Wales can’t afford four regions. Keeping four means that everyone loses. The decisions that need to be made are massive and huge swathes of the rugby public in Wales will hate them. But that isn’t the point, or what matters.
This isn’t about whether your region will exist in 12 months and how it will affect your season ticket. The endgame is whether any professional teams will exist in Wales in 20 years.
Or will Wales, like the Pacific Islands, become a ‘puppy-farm’ for more financially stable rugby economies.
In 20 years’ time that some will feel no affinity for their nearest geographical region is a far more favorable outcome than young Welsh players going straight into a French academy aged 16. It could happen, unless something changes.
Kyle Sinckler doesn’t deserve the criticism
When you lose, someone must take the blame. It’s usually the head coach, but following England’s defeat by Wales the collective social media groin-punch was aimed at an individual player – Kyle Sinckler.
The criticism was unjust. Sinckler was fantastic against Wales and his scrummaging against Rob Evans showcased the next generation of Lions props (Evans was equally impressive).
As solid as his scrummaging was, it was Sinckler’s tackle count that endured the post-match fallout. In 57 minutes the tighthead made 22 tackles – that is ludicrous.
Many suggested that he was yanked after 57 minutes due to his fracturing temperament, but around 57 minutes is usually the mark when all front-row forwards are replaced.
Related: Downtime with Kyle Sinckler
Yes, he’s aggressive and yes, he’s a pain in the arse on the field, but that’s exactly why he’s picked. England didn’t lose that game because of Sinckler. Quite the opposite. Other than Tom Curry, he was their best player.
Backs joining mauls is now legit
During the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, backs joining mauls was usually accompanied by clown music. The sight of three 11st men joining a maul, with their combined effort exerting the same force as an ant yawning, was often a last-ditch attempt to secure the win, or some pride.
However, as we have seen during this Six Nations, backs joining the maul is now a genuine tactic and one which can change a game in the opening minutes and not just the last.
That backs now weigh more than 16st has led to their body weight genuinely helping move a maul forward. But arguably the biggest change has come from the way in which modern five-metre mauls are constructed.
The five-metre maul is now as effective and well-organised as a 1980s scrum. The body angles/body shape of the tight five are now almost mathematical in their construction.
The benefit being that when backs now attach to the maul they are adding their momentum to a mass that is moving forward and not in some random motion like we saw in the amateur days – where half of the players were driving towards the touchline and the other half heading for the posts.
It will be interesting to see how the tactic is utilised in the World Cup.
Salary cap breaches affect everyone
February saw Harlequins fined for a salary cap breach. It wasn’t a big fine and neither was the breach. But the importance can’t be overstated. Salary cap breaches are rugby’s ‘Butterfly Effect’. They create the wage inflation that rugby simply can’t cope with.
This is the major danger with stacks of cash being plowed into rugby. If it isn’t spent on physical assets, such as training facilities and academies, it will merely be added to players’ wages. This is great for the players and their agents, but foolish for the game. We will be paying more money for the same players and same talent levels.
Salary cap breaches are dangerous, the effects far-reaching and they shouldn’t be dismissed with a wry smile and a perfunctory press release.
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