The Eddie Jones factor, Spidercam, the Champions Cup draw and Wales' tactics switch are all discussed
Eddie Jones ‘won rugby’ in June
Eddie Jones won rugby in June. He won the whole thing. Every aspect of it. To spin a failing national squad around in such a short time frame is remarkable. To be vindicated over the decision to choose Dylan Hartley as captain is ‘Any Given Sunday’ type stuff. To win a test series three to zip against the Wallabies, away from home, is worthy of the British and Irish Lions’ job – even though he doesn’t want it. To play an outside half, in Owen Farrell, at twelve (which is a very Wallaby thing to do) was devilishly astute – hopefully other Northern Hemisphere test coaches were watching.
To make two first half substitutions, due to performance and not injury, was as ballsy as it was effective. And to resurrect the seemingly tarnished career of Chris Robshaw into one of the key performers of the summer tours was no mean feat, to put it lightly. But above all else, he oversaw the equally rejuvenated James Haskell execute a once in a career sidestep, and for that we salute you Eddie Jones.
The quality of the Champions Cup draw
June wasn’t exactly Europe’s finest month, but we can all agree that the changes to Europe’s elite competition requires no second vote. You just need to look at last month’s draw. Barring Zebre, who are the tooth-picks at this grand banquet, there are no longer any gimmies in the Champions Cup. A situation which occurs in no other rugby competition in the world. Every other league and tournament coughs up a shoal of minnows, even the Rugby World Cup – the Champions Cup has but one.
It is now a competition where even the weaker pools are ‘pools of death’ and the stronger examples, like number three, are ‘pools of euthanasia’ – where Sale and the Scarlets may be considering a trip to a Geneva clinic rather than be put through the pain of Toulon and Saracens. Super Rugby may have the skills, and the Top 14 the cash, but the Champions Cup is now the envy of the rugby world.
Wales chose the right time to change tactics
Many will argue that Wales chose the wrong time to change their long-held tactics. And a three Test defeat to the All Blacks in June may well have illustrated that. But to others, this was exactly the right time to throw out angles as old as Pythagoras himself. Wales could have continued with their carrying through the twelve channel and obsession with contact for another month, but it would have proved nothing.
Wales needed to change the way they were playing in order to remain competitive over the next four year cycle and prevent a widening gap between themselves and the All Blacks. To be bold and competitive for 50 minutes against the All Blacks was not enough and to be blown away in the third test was nowhere near enough. This series was the perfect time for Wales to change. If anything it proves that the change came too late.
Spidercam needs its own rule
Most people are afraid of touching spiders. On the list of fearful creatures they come just below wasps (the animal, not the club) and jellyfish, but rugby players shouldn’t be scared of touching spider-cam with a rugby ball. It is a situation which occurred during the Wallaby v England test and left even Nigel Owens, the benchmark in referring, making an unusual call. With the ball having been kicked at Spider-cam, and contact made, the resulting deflection was declared as ‘play-on’ – the insinuation being that the situation is equally unpredictable for both teams.
But this cannot be. If the ball hits the referee, or a player is obstructed by the referee, play stops and spider-cam is no different. Rugby players shouldn’t have to worry about what’s above them, as there are plenty of far more worrying things in front of them. Can you imagine if a Rugby World Cup final was decided by a weird deflection from Spidercam or any other piece of kit for that matter? It’s a simple situation to correct and corrected it must be.
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British and Irish Lions’ tickets are correctly priced
Rugby regularly finds itself reeling between its amateur ideals and the need for professional revenue streams. The cost of international tickets often being the fulcrum of the argument. And the pricing announcement for the British and Irish Lions tickets for New Zealand 2017 has been no different. The prices range from approximately £80 to £280 and have received some criticism for their seemingly excessive cost. But the reality is that they aren’t overly priced. This isn’t to say that they don’t cost a lot of money, they do, but the perceived value of the product is in line with other such premium events.
The British and Irish Lions’ test matches aren’t normal test matches. They’re priced in line with other events like the Olympics, the Ryder Cup and the Rugby World Cup; where an accumulation of multinational talent is on show and therefore charged accordingly. They’re ‘bucket-list’ items, once in a lifetime opportunities for many and as a result carry a price premium. What’s more, the revenue from the ticket sales benefits the home unions hugely and sustains the game in the Northern Hemisphere. If rugby wants to move forward commercially, it needs to get over this notion that tickets should be affordable. Tickets don’t need to be affordable, they need to sell. And in this instance they will, ten times over.