The eligibility conundrum, Wales' needs for a 'hitout', Saracens' incredible season and the difficulty of adapting to Sevens all covered
League caps need to be included in union eligibility
May saw Ben Te’o selected for the England squad. A decision which saw a few rolled eyes when it shouldn’t have, as his mother is English. However, the Te’o issue did highlight the need for rugby league representative caps to be taken into account when assessing union eligibility. Twenty years ago it didn’t matter if you had played league before union, the codes only crossed one way. In fact, if you were a Welsh player who ‘went North’ to play league, you essentially walked in Cersei Lannister’s shameful footsteps as you crossed the border – except you were pelted with pints of Allbright and brick hard Welsh cakes.
However, with the modern codes closer than ever and ‘code hopping’ becoming a legitimate career option for so many players, the need for the acknowledgement of representative caps between both codes needs is pressing. It does seem wrong that, in the case of Te’o, a player can represent one country in league and another in union. The issue needs sorting before another league convert hops over.
Wales needed the England fixture on many levels
Wales playing a pre tour fixture against England, in May, received a raft of criticism. Most of it hugely unjust. The playing benefits were obvious. Rolling up in New Zealand for a three-test tour, which is the equivalent of three World Cup finals in a row, without playing a warm-up match would have been stupid beyond belief. However, most of the criticism for organising the fixture focused on the notion that the game was a cynical money spinner.
But so what if it was? Welsh rugby is one of the poorest relations of European top table. The type of relation whose house is full of tatty furniture and desperately looking at a payday loan to buy some new stuff. In case you haven’t noticed, whilst the Top 14 and English clubs are buying new 50-inch LED TV’s and plush Italian leather sofas, Wales is still staring at a 32-inch Hitachi whilst slumped on a fag burned beanbag. If Welsh rugby wants to retain/return their star players and lure some southern hemisphere giants, then it needs as many cynical money spinners as it can get.
You can’t just ‘have a go’ at Sevens
There are many things in life that you simply can’t ‘have a go at’; brain surgery, air traffic control and controlled demolitions heading the list. However, having watched Jarryd Hayne playing in London, we can now add elite sevens to the list. Hayne had an eye opener, in London, to the point where his eye lashes became his fringe. He was frequently caught out of position, missed simple tackles and struggled enormously handling the twitchy, unstructured passing on which sevens is built. Hayne’s struggle should come as no surprise.
It has taken Sonny Bill Williams months to learn sevens, and SBW had been playing union for the past four seasons – Hayne had been knocking around with American Footballers for 12 months prior. If this build up to the Rio Olympics has taught us one thing, it is that sevens, as a discipline, is hugely different from 15s – and to think that 15s players can merely turn up and dominate devalues both sevens and its players.
The miracle ‘reverse’ offload isn’t as dangerous as it looks
If you’ve recently watched any rugby, live or in a pub, you’ll be familiar with supporters shrieking at the first sight of a player offloading the ball, using the ‘back of the hand’; a sort of reverse offload if you will. May’s dry weather saw a noticeable increase in this type of offload and its execution immediately makes supporters think that an unnecessary risk is being taken with possession.
But the reverse one handed offload is far safer than a standard one hand offload, and with Wales, England and Australia playing the big three Southern Hemisphere sides next weekend, it’s a style of offload that you will witness five to ten times a game. Whereas a standard offload has just one contact point – the ball and the players hand (ie the palm of the hand), the reverse offload has three contact points; one between the palm of the hand, the other at the join of the hand and wrist and another on the upper part of the fore arm. For the perfect example keep an eye on Damien McKenzie as he executes that type of offload roughly every 0.45 seconds.
Saracens. To be ‘hated’, you have to be awesome.
To be generally hated by the masses, in any sport, you have to have reached a certain level of excellence and domination. Few supporters ‘hate’ average teams. For instance, generally, no one hates London Irish, or Watford FC, they simply haven’t won the amount of trophies required to whip up the necessary levels of negativity that ring the hatred bell. However, in May, Saracens reached that level of domination and now have the general ‘hate’ rating which Manchester United reached in the mid noughties.
Saracens were awesome in May and absolutely dominated all whom they played. Their destruction of Leicester Tigers and Exeter Chiefs in the finals of the Aviva was particularly memorable. They were essentially playing 23-man test rugby against club teams. Even the mighty Racing 92 squad were made to look like a Pro D2 team when put under Saracen’s relentless test level set piece, defensive line and goal kicking. Whether you love to hate them, or hate to love them, Saracens were the best team in Europe this season and by some distance.