From Bristol Bears to penalty tries and utility players to glory hunters, Paul Williams reflects on rugby’s happenings in April

Bristol Bears rebrand can help rugby grow

Newly-promoted Bristol RFC rebranded as the Bristol Bears in April. The decision saw social media’s stomach churn so much that it needed to take a crap in the woods. But amidst the volatile opinions, as is often the case with rebrands, the point was missed.

Not all rugby branding and marketing is aimed at traditional supporters – yet traditional supporters are often the source of most of the derision. Many rebrands are aimed at different audiences, and younger audiences in particular.

Whilst ‘Bears’ may not appeal to hard-core Bristol supporters, it will appeal to their children, where the use of mascots and mascot-related content will hopefully encourage a new generation of supporters.

Rugby supporters need to realise that traditional support isn’t enough for most clubs to break even, let alone grow. If it were, we wouldn’t see so many clubs in debt. Many still struggle with the notion that rugby isn’t just focused on 40-year-old men. Children and the female market are the future and, whilst many may not like the branding and marketing approach, it is necessary for long-term development.

Related: Pat Lam on Bristol’s future plans in the June 2018 issue of Rugby World magazine

Penalty tries create a new type of restart

The eradication of conversions following a penalty try has been an effective addition to rugby’s laws. It increases ball-in-play time and eradicates what was an unnecessary formality. But as with all tweaks to rugby’s intricacies, there is always a counter-effect and, in this instance, it has created a new type of restart.

Italy penalty try

Knock-on effect: Italy were awarded a penalty try against France this year (Getty Images)

The new restart is essentially a quick restart, but unlike any seen in the history of the game. With no conversion, the signalling of a penalty try means that both the kicking and receiving team return to the halfway line at the same time – often with the kicking team being in position first, due to the receiving team having to drop an extra ten metres.

There is no time for the receiving team to organise lifting pods, as the locks and props are often the last to arrive. Instead it is the quicker players, the backs and back-row forwards, who catch restarts in this new world of restart confusion.

It often means that a single catcher is now facing a single defender; a situation not seen since the introduction of lifting pods. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the coming seasons because the awarding of a penalty try can leave the beneficiary at a defensive disadvantage. Worth keeping an eye on.

Scarlets should be proud to have glory hunters

The Scarlets have achieved a vast amount in the past two seasons. Given the manner in which all four Welsh regions were underfunded under the previous WRU administration, their ascent has been remarkable. But above their Guinness Pro14 title and Champions Cup progression, there is one achievement which has gone unnoticed. The Scarlets now have glory hunters.

Scarlets fans

Red roar: Scarlets fans in full voice during the Champions Cup semi-final (Getty Images)

The Scarlets’ Champions Cup semi-final loss in Dublin, following a Leinster performance that Tier One Test teams would have struggled against, apparently saw many new Scarlets supporters disappointed with the scoreline and thus the lack of glory. But the Scarlets’ faithful should be proud to have glory hunters, not annoyed.

To have them is a mark of success. It is almost an unofficial KPI (Key Performance Indicator). After titles won, profits made, staff retained and infrastructure upgrades, glory-hunter levels should have their own column on a club’s spreadsheet.

Utility players deserve a new title

April saw Isa Nacewa announce that he would retire for the second time. Nacewa is Test standard in four positions and therefore will ultimately be classed as a utility player. But surely that isn’t a label with suitable gravitas for Nacewa or any utility player of that calibre?

Isa Nacewa

Class act: Leinster’s Isa Nacewa excels in a number of positions (Getty Images)

The same can be said of players such as James Hook and Austin Healey. ‘Utility player’ wreaks of not being good enough at one position to retain it long term. Utility players are the ones who ended up becoming Swiss Army knives when they were intended as samurai swords.

But that simply isn’t case with the names mentioned above and they need a new collective name – the ‘Hyper Utility Player’. In the same way that the ultimate supercars became known as hypercars in the late 2000s, so too the elite utility players require separating from the rest. To reach elite level in one position is awesome, to be elite in four positions, like Nacewa, is ‘hyper’ and should be recognised as such.

Weaker teams prove their strength

April is usually the month where rugby presents armfuls of precious metals to those on the rise and handfuls of lead to those who sink to the bottom. April saw London Irish relegated from the Aviva Premiership and the pressure is stacking up on Dragons for next season, before this one has even ended. But April has also been a month where those given little hope pre-season have excelled.


Bright sparks: The Jaguares celebrate beating the Blues in Super Rugby (Getty Images)

The Cheetahs have reached the Pro14 play-offs. Let’s not forget that the Cheetahs were, by some, welcomed as warmly as a drop of cheap lemonade in a pint of craft ale. Newcastle Falcons are thoroughly deserving of their place amongst the Premiership’s elite and the Jaguares recorded their first-ever win in New Zealand, although admittedly against a Blues team who appear to be wasting another squad of capable players. Hat tip to those teams who have proved everybody wrong.

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