Paul Williams reflects on rugby’s recent goings-on, from recruitment to scandals


Alex Dombrandt is a classical No 8

If Rembrandt had painted a No 8, it would have been Alex Dombrandt. He is a classical eight: 6ft 3in tall, 18-and-a-half stone, the type of acceleration that could flatten a loose stone wall. But whilst the Harlequins back-row has the appearance and grunt of a textbook ball-carrier, his handling is from a different book altogether.

He has been dominant in every appearance this season, but his work in the build-up to Danny Care’s try against Saracens was insane. Catching the ball from the back of the lineout, he cleverly passed an inside ball and left the first defender motionless. Then he managed to stay on Care’s shoulder, where he received one more pass before holding off the second tackler and finally executing a perfect reverse offload.

If primetime Sergio Parisse or Zinzan Brooke had done this, the world would be in awe. Dombrandt is the real deal. And whilst he isn’t in the England squad just yet, he will be.

Rugby has had its ‘expenses’ scandal

There was a time when Members of Parliament could claim for seemingly anything on top of their salary. Additional properties, stables for their horses, little hats for their ducks. But British politics’ gravy train came to halt. And now, hopefully, rugby’s has too.

Gloucester v Saracens

Sign of times: A Gloucester fan references the Saracens salary cap scandal (Getty Images)

Saracens have been dealt with, and rightly so. But the issue is so much bigger than just one club in England. Cheating the books is cheating the long-term health of the game. You need only look at the starting line-ups for the South African Super Rugby squads to realise just how unbalanced the global game is becoming at club level.

Related: Saracens relegated from Premiership – and docked further 70 points

Paying players good money for short careers is obviously a worthwhile goal. Modern rugby’s players pay a heavy physical price for their career choice and the renumeration should be commensurate with that. However, wages for individuals cannot take precedence over the good of the global game. Rugby is a sport that means a lot, to a lot of people. To adapt a political slogan, rugby should be ‘for the many, not the few’.

Bill Beaumont is right on fewer substitutions

Rugby has become an incredibly progressive game, but sometimes you need to step backwards to move forward and that is exactly what Bill Beaumont is proposing. Limiting the number of fresh substitutes in rugby would be a great move for the game and for many reasons.

Currently, there’s less space on a rugby field than in a studio flat in Clapham, so fewer substitutions would mean more tired players – and tired players mean more gaps in the defensive line.

The issues of the collision forces in rugby are well known and it has been exacerbated by allowing eight fresh monsters to replace eight tired monsters after around 55 minutes – fresh players running into tired players is a mathematical formula for injury.

Limited substitutions will also mean that many players will have to play the full 80 minutes and therefore prioritise fitness over mass. But perhaps the greatest benefit of limiting substitutions is that it will reduce the benefits of rugby’s ‘buying culture’.

Fewer substitutions will minimise the importance of the bench and allow a more level playing field for smaller clubs and Test nations. In modern rugby it is always the bench that makes the difference, particularly at international level. Beaumont is bang on the money with his suggestion.

Related: Should there be fewer substitutions in rugby?

Bristol are the new model for spending

The days of English Premiership clubs being able to stack their entire squads with Test players appear to be over. That recruitment model simply isn’t affordable under the current salary cap and having a depth chart that is deeper than the Mariana Trench is going to attract some weird glances in the future.

It is in this regard that Bristol seem to be changing the way that elite teams need to spend their money. Yes, they have signed some premium players in Semi Radradra and Kyle Sinckler. But they also have their fair share of ‘own brand’ players.

They have essentially chosen to build a squad based on expensive seniors and affordable juniors. What’s more they’re playing some of the most exciting rugby in the game. Bristol Bears are very much the future of English club rugby.

Welsh rugby is recruiting cleverly

Whilst we’ve all been focusing on what patterns Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones will be executing on the field, Welsh rugby has been doing some Carlos Spencer-type moves behind the scenes.

Firstly, they manage to secure Nick Tompkins and put him straight into the Wales squad. But, perhaps more importantly, they’re starting to lure some of the Welsh youngsters who leaked through the talent pipeline back to Wales. Sam Costelow has signed with the Scarlets and Sam Moore has joined Cardiff Blues.

Welsh rugby has been ringing its hands in recent years over the exodus of young Welsh players into the public school system in south-west England, but it has been rather clever in its approach.

Welsh rugby is essentially letting the private schools train and educate them to a high standard, then when they’re ready the Welsh recruitment drive begins. With stacks of young talent already featuring at Gloucester and Bristol, it will be interesting to see who else comes back in future seasons.

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