From Wales to Wasps, Paul Williams gives his verdict on rugby’s latest goings-on

Pat Lambie’s retirement – ask him if the game’s gone soft

January saw some really sad news for rugby: Pat Lambie’s retirement due to concussion.

For those who still think that the game’s gone soft (they’re typically the same people who want to bring back hanging and relive the good ol’ days of the Empire), Lambie’s retirement is a game changer.

The South African isn’t some low-profile player knocking about in the lower division of French rugby. He isn’t some academy player in England who no one has ever heard of. And he isn’t some haggard blindside flanker who’s had a 20-year career and earned a solid pension pot.

Lambie is just 28 years old, was in the prime of his career and was one of the most creative players in the global game. For a player to be forced to finish at 28 is one thing. But to be forced to finish for a condition that some people still like to pretend doesn’t exist is another matter entirely.

Rugby hasn’t gone soft, it’s got serious.

Gatland the flexible

It’s very difficult to criticise Warren Gatland. And, why would you? Apart from two seasons where he persisted with an overly contact-focused game plan, and equally stagnant results, his Test coaching career is up with the very best of all time – and a further British & Irish Lions tour is by no means a shot in the dark.

Warren Gatland

Trophy hunting: Warren Gatland with Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones (Getty Images)

Gatland has a reputation for sticking to his guns regardless, but in recent seasons he has put away the elephant rifle and started using lighter, more nimble weaponry. His squad selection for Wales’ opener against France proves that Gatland 2.0 is becoming increasingly flexible with regard to his game plan.

Gareth Anscombe starts at ten, with Dan Biggar on the bench, indicating that Wales will look to at least run as much as they kick. Josh Navidi, once regarded as possibly too lightweight for a ‘Gatland’ back row, has now become a staple of the Welsh squad and together with Justin Tipuric will ensure that one of the largest French packs ever selected will be sweating through their eyeballs after 50 minutes.

Liam Williams starts at full-back, and whilst it is in the absence of Leigh Halfpenny, it does show that Gatland is willing to use hands and not just boots from deep.

Tomos Williams

Fine nine: Tomos Williams starts at scrum-half against France (Getty Images)

Perhaps the most radical selection is Tomos Williams at scrum-half. He is a wonderful young player and, together with George Horne of Scotland, is one of the next generation of Six Nations scrum-halves.

This is Gatland’s last ten months with Wales and it looks like he wants to go out with the success in which he came in.

Related: France v Wales preview

Wasps can’t complain about money

“My diamond shoes are too tight” and “My private tropical island is getting smaller due to global warming” are just two examples of complaints that people will have very little sympathy for.

Another is Wasps complaining that they can’t compete because they don’t have enough cash. It may well be that that Wasps don’t have as big a player budget as some of the Top 14 clubs. It may well be that Wasps don’t have the recruitment funds to compete with Leinster. But it is also true that Wasps don’t manage to bring through as much academy talent as Leinster.

For a director of rugby to state they can’t compete financially, in a week when they signed two All Blacks, shows just a complete disregard for how lucky some teams in the Gallagher Premiership are.

All four Welsh regions, both Italian clubs and Scottish teams, and at least one of the Irish regions would love to sign Malakai Fekitoa and Jeff Toomaga Allen. These aren’t even aging, bargain basement All Blacks, they’re both under 28.

It’s not been a great season for Wasps. On many fronts.

Rugby is fantastic – when you stop worrying about it

Mindfulness is a fantastic technique for coping with modern life. A thought pattern that helps you block out the unnecessary and one which is hugely beneficial for those of us who suffer from mental health problems (a subject very important to me).

And without wishing to trivialise the subject, ‘rugby mindfulness’ is something we could all benefit from.

When you constantly read social media, it’s very easy to be dragged into a grey world where rugby is doomed. The rules are too complicated, crowds are diminishing, there’s not enough money, or there’s too much money.

But rugby is still an amazing game, as I discovered when I went to watch a game in January. I wasn’t writing about the game. I wasn’t thinking about player performances. I wasn’t dwelling on coaching changes/problems. And I wasn’t stressing about the future of regional rugby in Wales or the long-term viability of the Heineken Champions Cup.

Owen Lane

Fast show: Owen Lane scores for Cardiff Blues against Lyon (Getty Images)

I had a pint in one hand, a pasty in the other and had both eyes locked on Owen Lane absolutely gassing his opposite number. Rugby is a simple, wonderful game if you let it be so.

Anyway, I’m off to start a Buddhist rugby retreat in Tibet – DM me if you’re interested.

Spare a thought for Codie Taylor

Super Rugby is just around the corner. The most amazing part of the season, when the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere seasons fuse in a wondrous rugby eclipse – unless you’re a Sky Box of course, in which case you’ll need a dose of digital Valium to see you through the next few months.

But whilst we all wonder whether the Crusaders can once again dominate and whether the boosted Rebels can present a real challenge, spare a thought for Codie Taylor.

Codie Taylor and Dane Coles

Two No 2s: All Blacks hookers Codie Taylor and Dane Coles (Getty Images)

This year sees the proper return of Dane Coles, arguably the best hooker in the world. In his absence, Taylor not only stormed Super Rugby but also became a hugely effective All Black. Such was Taylor’s ability to become a third centre in multiphase play that many didn’t even notice that Coles had gone.

But that will soon change. Coles is back and will want the No 2 shirt for the Rugby World Cup. It’s understandable, but equally hard on the impressive Taylor.

Let’s introduce post-watershed press conferences

January saw the always demure and softly-spoken England defence coach John Mitchell say that Ireland “will try and bore the s*** out of us”.

John Mitchell

Strong words: John Mitchell talks to the media (Getty Images)

Many balked at his coarseness, but what if rugby ran with it? What if post-watershed press conferences became a real thing. Hold them at 10pm and let all the coaches go full Malcolm Tucker.

Once a week, let’s put the ‘one match at a time’ and ‘we’re just focusing on our own game’ platitudes back in the PR cupboard and bring out a four-letter-word **** fest. Live stream it. Pay-per-view. £5. Stick me down for a season pass.

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