From high tackles to Hawaii, Paul Williams picks out the key talking points from the past month
Michael Cheika is under pressure
No one likes to see a coach lose their job, unless you’re Jake White of course! But the Wallabies look like they need to make a change. They’re ranked seventh in the world and are arguably at their lowest point since the game went pro. The results, or lack of them, speak for themselves – they’ve lost eight from ten.
However, to illustrate the genuine Wallaby worries you need to look at the recent squad selections. That Michel Cheika has ditched Bernard Foley, his long-term option at ten, for Kurtley Beale reeks of panic – especially 12 months out from the World Cup.
A decision made even more peculiar when you consider that Beale has been so effective at 12 and was arguably the form inside-centre in Test rugby.
Add to that Israel Folau being switched to the wing and locks that get fiddled with more than your average Chubb and the Wallabies prospects of reaching the World Cup semi-finals look bleak, which is sad for the game.
Being tall isn’t an excuse for high tackles
September saw some high-profile high tackles. The most notable was Will Spencer’s hit on Tommy Taylor, for which he received a four-week ban.
The following days opened up the debate regarding whether the new dangerous tackle interpretations skew against taller players. But they don’t. And for many reasons.
Firstly, we’re not talking about Robert Wadlow-type giants here. Spencer is tall, but he is only 6ft 7in tall. With wings and centres in the modern game, regularly hitting 6ft 3in, 6ft 7in is becoming par for the course when it comes to locks.
Perhaps the most important piece of evidence against tall players not being able to tackle low is the fact that the game’s giants seem to have no trouble lowering their bodies in other aspects of the game.
How many times have you seen a lock fly into a ruck about two feet off the ground? It happens all of the time and they seem to have little trouble in adopting a body position that most reptiles would be pretty happy with.
If you can lower your body to clean a ruck, you can lower your body to tackle below the chest.
Hooker is the new 12
Rugby is in a state of constant flux. The rules and changes in player roles mean that you can see a game of rugby from ten years ago and it looks like a different sport.
Watching a Test match from the mid-Nineties, through the lens of today’s rugby, is like watching the Pamplona Bull Run – it seems senselessly violent and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets scooped from the floor covered in blood.
And true to form, rugby has once again evolved. Hookers or, more specifically, the best hookers are now playing the role of a 1990s inside-centre.
To watch Codie Taylor play for the All Blacks over the past few weeks has been mesmerising. Mesmerising to the point that Dane Coles, the best hooker in the world pre-injury, has got a massive job on his hands getting the shirt off Taylor.
Taylor has taken the role of the modern hooker, created by players such as Keith Wood, to the next stage. That a hooker can sit in the wide channels and have the pace to stretch an outside defence is now a given. Taylor has now created the role of a distributing hooker; a player who can supply perfect passes and offloads to the wings and full-backs who pour through the wide channels. It is now up to the next generation of hookers to follow suit.
Leicester – the joyless roller coaster
Roller coasters, by their very nature, are supposed to be a mix of vomit-inducing fear tempered with a rush of adrenaline, but above all, the experience should be overwhelmingly pleasurable.
This is where the Leicester Tigers’ roller-coaster ride differs. You get the fear, but there is no end and therefore no joy. Sacking head coach Matt O’Connor after the first game was laughable. Not because he should or shouldn’t have stayed, but because that decision should have been made months prior.
Geordan Murphy took control of the rickety ride and the first victory over Newcastle Falcons was hugely promising and a climb up the table looked inevitable.
But since then, Tigers have been beaten by Wasps and conceded 44 points to Worcester at Welford Road. Allowing Worcester, a perennial relegation team, to score six tries with just 31% possession and 31% territory is alarming; allowing that to happen at your home ground is a step beyond even that. An unconvincing win over bottom-of-the-table Sale will have convinced few.
How the ride ends, nobody knows. But at the moment it’s looking less Alton Towers and more like one of those fairgrounds you see on the outskirts of a ropey holiday resort.
Hawaiian Super Rugby
In a league renowned for its flamboyant ball-handling, Super Rugby’s handling of its structure is currently making the headlines. Talk of opening a franchise in Hawaii is next-level weird.
With the possibility of further South African teams joining the Pro14, it’s easy to see why Super Rugby needs to alter its model. But surely expansion into the Pacific Islands is more realistic, even though it may not be as lucrative.
The consortium that has been looking to buy Kiwi NRL franchise the Warriors is also keen to open a Super Rugby franchise in Hawaii. A franchise in Hawaii would make the already bonkers travel schedule even worse – there are astronauts who have spent less time in the air than some Super Rugby squads. But who knows, it could easily happen.
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And just in case it does, I’ve already grabbed the domain names to cover any further expansion plans. The Atlantis Dolphins, Silver Moons and the Mars Bars are registered to me, so hands off.
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