From Jonny May to Richard Cockerill and leagues full of surprises, Paul Williams wraps up the goings-on of the past month
Jonny May has become the complete winger
There was a time when Jonny May was rugby’s version of the 1980s toy Micro Machines. Wind him up, point him in the right direction and he was off. But as with a Micro Machine, the fun didn’t last for long. After about five seconds and a thrilling burst of speed, both he and the toy would collide into something and the joy was over.
That is no longer the case with Jonny May and as this entire season has proven, he has become a complete wing. The headless-chicken passes have become hawk-like in their precision and the timing of his runs are now immaculate.
Even as a part of two teams that have struggled this season, England and Leicester Tigers, May has been one of the consistent players. You need only look at how many quality wingers have slid beneath him in Eddie Jones’s back-three selections to see how highly regarded he is by the England sectors.
The Premiership throws up myriad surprises
The English Premiership has received more sneers than envious glances in recent years. Rather like the ‘18 handicapper’ who turns up for a round of golf on Boxing Day with a brand new set of Mizuno blades and TaylorMade woods, the Premiership has been accused of having all of the gear and less idea – an argument pointed at the lack of success in Europe and at Test level.
However, this festive period that hasn’t been the case – and nor has it all season. The Gallagher Premiership is wonderfully competitive and highly chaotic. Whilst rugby supporters have been working their way through the festive booze out of choice, those in charge of setting the markets at the bookies have been ploughing through the sherry out of necessity. Who thought Sale would have rolled Gloucester at home? Who thought Quins would be in the top four?
The benefits and problems with the English Premiership come from relegation, and a simple decision will need to be made soon. If England’s Test team – and European rugby – is the pinnacle of the rugby hierarchy, then ringfencing is the way to go. If club rugby is viewed as the top, then relegation is a no-brainer. Either way, it’s been fantastic to watch.
Cockerill gets everything he wants for Christmas
Richard Cockerill has never been what you’d call a ‘good boy’, so him getting everything he wanted for Christmas flies in the face of Santa’s doctrine. But there is nothing more that the former Leicester player and coach could have asked for this festive season.
Edinburgh were immaculate in December. Two wins over Glasgow in the Guinness Pro14 and two over Newcastle in the Champions Cup showed how far Cockerill’s squad have come. And let’s not forget that little of this success has been bought. There are no £1m signings in Edinburgh’s squad. Cockerill has fused young Scottish talent in Blair Kinghorn with prudent signings in Viliame Mata and Duhan van der Merwe.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that Cockerill’s final Christmas present is the fact that Tigers, the team who sacked him, are struggling, but…
Northern hemisphere coach goes south, in silence
The end of the year saw Steve Tandy named as the Waratahs forwards coach. A prestigious role, at a glamorous club, with a stable full of marquee Test players. Yet for some reason his move barely made a ripple up north.
Even when Ronan O’Gara moved to the Crusaders, little was said. It’s almost as if in the northern hemisphere we’re ashamed of our coaches and render their skills inferior to those from down south.
The above statement isn’t without foundation of course; modern Test rugby has been built on the southern hemisphere blueprint. And it is perhaps this that makes the moves of Tandy and O’Gara so important.
If the coaching standards up north are inferior, then going south early in a coaching career is the solution. We shouldn’t be making less noise about the migration, but more. In two or three seasons both Tandy and O’Gara will hopefully be ahead of the curve and able to contribute on their return. Food for thought.
Top 14 goes bonkers
The period between Christmas and New Year is odd. A six-day period where blood is replaced by Baileys and cheese has become one of your internal organs. But it didn’t affect the players in the Top 14. The fixtures following Christmas were remarkable.
Whilst the highest score in the Premiership and Pro14, by any one team, was 35 points, there were six teams who scored more than 35 in France. Bordeaux scored 40, Lyon 52, Montpellier 41, Clermont 37, La Rochelle 53 and Toulouse 39. These are Super Rugby-type numbers.
The pick of the bunch was undoubtedly Toulouse’s 39-0 victory over Toulon. There were 16 clean breaks and 33 defenders beaten, which led to a five-try pounding of Toulon and has reinforced the fact that Toulouse’s squad rebuild is over and they are once again European monsters.
Gouging is the perfect crime
Gouging is no longer called gouging, it’s called ‘making contact with the eye’. But as Alan Partridge would say: “They’ve rebadged it, you fool.” The difficulty is that by rebranding the offence and splitting the act into making contact with the eye and/or eye area the offence has become unpunishable.
Unless someone’s eye is hanging out how can you prove anything? No television angle is going to prove that contact was made with an eye and no player is ever going to confess to it. Even if you brought the CSI Miami gang onto the field, they couldn’t conclusively prove that a fragment of nail had been left on an eyelid at a particular time or even if it was deliberate.
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This approach to the offence formerly known as ‘G’ is even more perplexing given the current focus on contact with the head. Making contact with the eye and making contact with the eye area are the same thing and should be treated as such.
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