The continued excellence of Saracens, lenient biting bans, Keelan Giles' massive potential and the emergence of China as a global player in rugby are all covered
‘Pick and Mix’ rugby is a dangerous game.
The days of a six month rugby season are long gone. Rugby is a nine month slog for all international players. However, there is an additional problem in the modern rugby calendar – the option to play ‘Pick and Mix’ rugby. Where players switch from club to club, mid-season, across multiple leagues and hemispheres. As we saw with both Matt Toomua and Jaco Kriel, in October, playing ‘Pick and Mix’ rugby is an accident waiting to happen. Both were injured having played Super Rugby, The Rugby Championship and then switching hemispheres for a pension top-up.
Toomua is now out for six months and has left Leicester Tigers with very few remaining options at centre, whilst Kriel’s injury has ruled him out of the Springbok’s northern hemisphere tour. The rise of players choosing to extend their seasons in the English Premiership or Japanese leagues is a major problem for rugby player’s safety. The result of chopping and changing between various head coaches, fitness coaches and on-field roles means that injuries are inevitable. This is also a problem that can only solved by the players themselves. The unions and governing bodies are not to blame for ‘Pick and Mix’ rugby – this is purely a player problem.
Saracens – the true kings of Europe
Winning the Champions’ Cup last season obviously proved that Saracens are the best team in Europe. However, beating Toulon away in this year’s comp put it beyond doubt. Plenty of teams have won European Cups – Toulouse, Munster and Leinster to name a few. However, NO-ONE has ever beaten Toulon, in Toulon, in the top competition. It was a statement win.
A win that even impressed the rugby neutral – for which both Saracens and Toulon hold very little appeal. For many, Toulon v Saracens is like watching Nigel Farage in a boxing bout with Piers Morgan – the ideal result being that they both knock each other clean out instantaneously. There are many teams that have a test-level backline or a test-level pack of forwards, but Saracens truly have both. They’re well on their way to becoming Europe’s new rugby dynasty.
Keelan Giles has arrived
For many with a keen eye on Wales’ age grade rugby Keelan Giles’ rise has long been anticipated. However, October saw Giles hit the mainstream with a series of scorching performances for the Ospreys. Eight tries in four games is a remarkable strike rate, but something which shouldn’t be dwelled on – it is his skillset which requires full attention. Giles covers 40m in 4.71 seconds, can step off both feet and has the handling skills of an inside back. Despite his devastating attacking mindset it is his defence that sets him apart.
Giles’ tackling is solid, a trait which is rare in small framed wingers. Lightening quick wingers are ten a penny, the ones that can tackle are priceless. Of course we must exercise caution, if there is one thing faster than Giles’ 40m split, it is the Welsh public’s desire to crown the new ‘Shane Williams’. With that said, Giles could easily feature on the bench against Japan during this month’s Autumn Internationals. Japan are bringing a weak squad on tour, which could be an ideal opener for young Giles.
Nine week ban for biting is a joke
October saw Oliviero Fabiani receive a nine week ban for biting. The ban was originally set at 18 weeks, but as we have all become accustomed, rugby bans are now comparable to a bank’s interest rates – the rate you receive is often not what was advertised. It’s a ludicrously low ban for what, alongside gouging, is the worst possible offence in rugby. Stamping, high tackles and tip tackles are all excusable to a point, as each of them involve parts of the body which are fundamental to playing rugby, i.e feet and hands.
Teeth have nothing to do with rugby, at all, and never have done. If you are using your teeth in rugby you either have fundamentally failed to understand how to catch the ball or you are planning on taking a chunk out of the opposition. Most nursery schools issue more severe punishments for biting than the one issued to Fabiani. It needs sorting.
China pumping the cash
Perhaps the most important aspect of October’s rugby occurred off the field. China have just pumped £80 million into developing a professional league with the aim of creating 1 million players and 30,000 coaches by 2021. The money has been provided by the commercial giant Alibaba and represents a significant move forward for the game as a whole.
In a country of over a billion people you simply need a fraction of the sporting public to take a meagre interest in rugby and it can become a commercial success. It opens up a truly enormous market for both television/ sponsorship and money which rugby desperately needs. Rugby may have taken quantum leaps commercially over the past decade but it still remains a sporting minnow. China could help change that.