The Thursday rugby two-up: What needs fixing this Spring?

The Spring Tours are in various states for the southern hemisphere nations right at the moment – one is in progress, one is in a suddenly precarious state, and the other two are yet to begin. With games underway and games played, and even with other games yet to be played, we’ve seen enough of […]

The Thursday rugby two-up: What needs fixing this Spring?

The Spring Tours are in various states for the southern hemisphere nations right at the moment – one is in progress, one is in a suddenly precarious state, and the other two are yet to begin.

With games underway and games played, and even with other games yet to be played, we’ve seen enough of our teams to still have concerns, and either enough of other teams or not enough of other teams to be worried by some of the opposition’s key players.

But what can we do about it? And how much time do we have to do it?

In all honestly, there’s not much we can actually do, but talk about it.

And oh, how we can talk about it…

Question 1: What are you most concerned about, regarding your team, for the Tour? What are you seeing that you think needs urgent attention?

Negotiation methods with Japanese clubs, right at the moment!

When I first posed this question to the panel, I had attacking breakdown in my mind to answer this – and there’s certainly no question that this was an area lacking for the Wallabies last weekend against Japan.

But now that we know that Samu Kerevi definitely won’t play the next three Tests of the tour, the key priority is rebuilding the Wallabies game plan around the players who will now do the job.

On Tuesday in a comment, I said that Dave Rennie had to find “a game plan that plays to Hunter Paisami and the midfield and not require them to play like Kerevi.”

“Paisami obviously isn’t Kerevi, so let him be Paisami,” I said.

(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Now that Quade Cooper’s involvement is under a significant cloud as well (and the whole ‘he will withdraw’/’he hasn’t told the Wallabies yet’/’informed teammates he isn’t going’ reporting has become rather tabloid and undignified in the last few days, I must say), this point of mine is quickly expanded.

The Wallabies defence was still very good in Oita, so that shouldn’t be affected, but the biggest quandary right now will be to find a method of midfield attack that works to the strengths of the players, and doesn’t force them to play to a plan that worked last month.

So, who are the players fit and available, and what is the best way they can play in a way that will cause issues for Scotland next weekend, first and foremost?

There are many things that worry me about Los Pumas for this series and its future in general.

Unlike previous years, the players are scattered in different places and with different realities. A few are in Argentina, several in Premiere League and Top 14, and a few in Italy. The lack of training together and the poor performance at the last Rugby Championship present a huge challenge for Mario Ledesma.

Lack of coordination and quality ball to produce attacks and sequences will be a difficult deficit to improve in this context. The set pieces must make a huge improvement if Los Pumas want to have a chance.

The good thing is that with this low expectation anything positive will be encouraging.

The All Blacks’ offensive breakdown, and maybe just the ruck in general.

From the set up I have seen so far this season, we expose ourselves and our continuity with ball in hand by not being both accurate enough, nor committing enough numbers.

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This is an area I would dearly love to see some different systems employed by the All Blacks on this tour to address this and a higher output in terms of groundwork across our front eight.

Sides who have really attacked our rucks have caused us plenty of bother and really take the momentum out of our game; it is a key area to be fixed.

I’m worried about injuries to Springbok locks.

It wasn’t long ago we had five top-class locks in the 23: rugged, upskilled Eben Etzebeth, phenom Pieter-Steph du Toit, the happy giant Lood de Jager, super athlete RG Snyman, and the indefatigable Franco Mostert.

And now there are three. We can’t afford to lose another one.

All three have played big minutes in 2021 in big matches. I would rest EE and Lood against Scotland.

Eben Etzebeth

Does Eben Etzebeth need a rest? (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

With respect to the Wallabies, has our esteemed panel chief ever before posed such a timely question? Since dealing with the Brave Blossoms, things have turned sharply downhill for the Wallabies, and “concern” and “urgent attention” are indeed the order or the day.

Finding a 10, 12 and 15 and cover off the bench has suddenly become paramount. A debrief and new strategy on how to best balance all of the nuances around overseas player selection and availability will no doubt follow.

For the All Blacks there remains a concern that the balance between physical confrontation and swift ball movement isn’t quite set in the right position. That shouldn’t be a problem over the next fortnight, but Ireland and France will demand that the All Blacks pay due respect to the way their opponent plays, as well as their own style of play.

Question 2: And which one player are you most worried about among your team’s opposition this Tour?

Like the first question, I had someone in mind straight away when posing this question, too. But I don’t need to change to someone else this time.

And watching highlights reels of what Finn Russell is doing with Racing 92 in France at the moment does nothing to ease these concerns. He was really good in the final Lions Test in South Africa, to the point that more than a few ‘The Lions would have won the series if Russell played from the start’ articles out there on the interwebs.

If he can quickly jell with countrymen, the Scots will be a handful in attack. In many ways, it will be a huge shame if indeed Cooper doesn’t make the trip to the UK, because they certainly strike as similarly minded players in pretty solid form right at the moment.

But, if there’s a plus side to knowing how Russell plays and how to stop he and the Scots in attack, the Wallabies do have one ace up their sleeve: Scotland’s former defence coach, Matt Taylor, now does the Wallabies’ defensive planning.

Antoine Dupont is the scrumhalf of the moment and he seems unstoppable.

This player is one of the adversaries’ worst nightmare with his outbursts and always being in support throughout the court, is definitely the man Los Pumas should neutralise. Easier said than done.

As I have clearly been made aware that I can only select one player, it would have to be Antoine Dupont.

I personally do not take in a lot from the Northern competitions and given the fanfare around this chap, I am really looking forward to watching him play against New Zealand and an obvious big threat.

(Marcus Smith would be the other bloke but as NZ are not playing England than I haven’t broken any rules around numbers of nominated players – just saying, clear loophole in the laws.)

I will keep a close eye on Welsh wings, but in particular, Josh Adams.

He’s a clever slider in tight spaces, is a serious finisher, and backs himself. Lukhanyo Am and Sbu Nkosi will need to be a blanket.

With the loss of Samu Kerevi and subsequent uncertainty around midfield combinations, Manu Tuilagi shapes as a potential troublemaker for the Wallabies, when they reach Twickenham.

The obvious fly in the ointment for the All Blacks is French halfback Antoine Dupont. An already great player currently at the top of his form, the All Blacks will need to ensure they slow the France’s ball down and tackle surely, to deny him opportunities on the back-up.

It’s a real shame that Aaron Smith isn’t on tour, denying fans a juicy, heavyweight match-up.

OVER TO YOU: What most concerns you around your team and the Spring Tour?

And which one opposition player are you most worried about?

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Rugby World: ‘Global Super Cup’ to fix spring mess, Eddie’s Japan ‘conflict’ and ‘f—ing chaotic’ selections

Welcome to the third edition of Rugby World, where we take a look at stories making news here and abroad this week. ‘Let’s have a Global Super Cup’ Is the spring tour as it stands – hectic yet unstructured – a wasted opportunity? Yes, according to former England Sevens captain Rob Vickerman. Vickerman joined ex-England […]

Rugby World: ‘Global Super Cup’ to fix spring mess, Eddie’s Japan ‘conflict’ and ‘f—ing chaotic’ selections

Welcome to the third edition of Rugby World, where we take a look at stories making news here and abroad this week.

‘Let’s have a Global Super Cup’
Is the spring tour as it stands – hectic yet unstructured – a wasted opportunity? Yes, according to former England Sevens captain Rob Vickerman.

Vickerman joined ex-England hooker Brian Moore on his Full Contact podcast earlier this week and had some strong views on how to sort out the erratic fixture list over November.

By Vickerman’s calculations, there will be 14 teams playing international rugby in the northern hemisphere over the next month.

“Why then would this not be an opportunity to say ‘right let’s just take November, the four weekends, and have a global Super Cup, akin to a World Cup,” Vickerman said.

“You’ve essentially got the best teams in the world. You could have three pools of four, put them in the big locations around the UK and have this amazing product.

“Broadcast would be all over it, it would champion the game at a time when it needs it the most and it would unify what at the moment is a completely scattergun schedule.

“It wouldn’t demean the World Cup – that’s the first question people would ask.

“That is still going to be the prestige tournament, the big conversation, but it seems so bizarre you’ve got all these teams coming across to Europe at a time when it’s more difficult than ever to do so, and there’s no synergy.

“There’s no understanding of why it’s happening. It would be an amazing Super Cup. It’s a nonsense there isn’t something a little more aligned.”

The northern rugby festival kicks off this weekend with all eyes on the All Blacks’ visit to Wales.

After the New Zealand’s ran up a century in their demolition of USA, most are expecting another romp, with the game being played outside the official three-week window requiring club teams to release players for international duty.

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Chris Foy, writing in the Daily Mail, was the strongest voice in opposition to the game, which is, nonetheless a sell out and will do wonders for Welsh rugby’s bottom line.

“New Zealand’s 104-14 rout of a weakened USA side re-emphasised rugby’s urgent need for a proper, integrated global season,” Foy wrote.

“The whole game is diminished by the inability to achieve a streamlined logical structure … damaging overlaps between international and club fixtures cannot go on.

“Wales won’t fold as easily as the Americans when they face the All Blacks, but the sad fact is that Wayne Pivac’s side – missing a raft of regulars – have no chance of winning the out-of-window test.

“It will be another sham fixture; an exercise in making money from a mis-match.”

Wales were further hit on Wednesday with news that their former Super Rugby-winning Hurricanes midfielder Willis Halaholo will miss the game after testing positive for Covid-19.

He was expected to line up at inside centre against the All Blacks, who still expect the 74,500 sell-out Test to proceed.

“There will be all sorts of talk around the game and is it in jeopardy but as we understand right now the player who has tested with Covid has dropped out of their environment,” NZ assistant coach John Plumtree told reporters. “They’ll all get tested and all have to be negative before they can play in the weekend.”

Pressure on Eddie

Eddie Jones’ consulting role with Suntory Sungoliath has been raised by the UK Telegraph in the wake of the decisions by Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon not to tour Europe – a three Test campaign that includes a match against Jones’ England.

The decision by Kerevi and McMahon has angered Dave Rennie and Andy Marinos, and comes even though Australia has the right to choose the pair under regulation nine.

The Telegraph said: “It has been stressed to Telegraph Sport that Jones, whose association with Suntory stretches back over 20 years, had nothing to do with the decision.

“Even so, there is an obvious perception of a conflict of interests. As recently as last week, Jones praised the influence that hard-running Kerevi has had on a recent resurgence for the Wallabies, who are on a run of five consecutive Test wins.”

England’s Rugby Football Union commented on Jones’ job with Suntory last year: “Eddie has had a consultancy agreement with Suntory for over 20 years. We have been aware and comfortable with that since he joined the RFU. He provides consultancy in his holidays and this role is in no way a conflict with his England team priorities.”

Meanwhile Jones has been the subject of a withering attack by veteran rugby writer Stephen Jones in The Times after naming his 34-man squad for the November Tests.

The writer was irked by Jones’ decision to jettison several older players, and his comments following the selection that questioned the desire of those left out, concluding the result was “the most ludicrous England squad in my memory”.

“The England squad for the autumn games announced last week is insulting to some players of unimpeachable sporting character and insulting to the Gallagher Premiership as a competition because the top-grade evidence it provides on elite players under pressure has been blithely ignored by England’s head coach,” Stephen Jones wrote.

“It is insulting to club coaches who know their players, psychologically and physically, way deeper than the England coaches ever could and who would never eject them as Jones has, simply to test their motivation — surely, that would be a sure sign of coaching failure.

“The squad is ageist, insulting to the whole arena of international sport, which should always be about choosing the very best players. There are enough premature bright sparks in the squad to start a damaging forest fire. The whole thing is also insulting to our intelligence.”

He added: “My colleague, Owen Slot, summarised beautifully the whole selectorial morass overseen by Eddie Jones, in two words: “So Eddie.” A giant England player of the past decade also had a reaction: “The trouble with Eddie’s chaos theory of selection is that it’s f***ing chaotic.”

Rassie back in his box

Rassie Erasmus will put down the water bottle and return to the coaching box in the Springboks’ three Tests in the UK next month, providing he’s clear to do so after his World Rugby hearing.

Erasmus angered Lions coach Warren Gatland by running the water in their series, but missed the trip down under for The Rugby Championship.

“Rassie is here in his capacity as director of rugby,” Nienaber said in a media briefing from Paris on Wednesday. “The normal trend was always only two water carriers in the technical box, but for the British and Irish Lions series World Rugby made three available and that was a role that we said we were going to fill internally. That gave Rassie the opportunity to be the water carrier.

“But we are now back to two water carriers in the technical zone, so there is no space for him. We normally had certain individuals that would fulfil that role and they will continue fulfilling that role. He will fulfil his normal role as director of rugby and he will be in the box with us at the top.”

Head coach Rassie Erasmus looks on

Rassie Erasmus (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Erasmus and SA Rugby are set to appear before an independent disciplinary committee for bringing the game into disrepute this weekend in the wake of his 62-minute video ref rant.

Meanwhile, SA publication Rapport claimed this week that World Rugby believes Erasmus was right on 23 of the 26 errors highlighted in the video.

Can rugby do more to tackle racism?

British and Irish Lions and England forward Maro Itoje says rugby can do more to tackle racism and to increase diversity in the sport.

“Rugby needs to cast its net wider to include more people and attract more talent,” Itoje told Radio 5 Live.

“The Rugby Football Union does a lot. Can they do more? Perhaps. Premiership Rugby does some things. Can they do more? Definitely. Premiership clubs probably don’t do as much as they should. Can they do more? 100%.

“The more invested we all are in this, the greater the outcome will be.

“It has to do more to attract young rugby players from different backgrounds, environments and socio-economic groups and if it does that, everyone wins.

“There will be a better game and a better product and will lead to more fans, more people engaging and more demand for the broadcasters in terms of TV and for the guys putting money behind it

“Everyone’s a winner when the game is more diverse.”

While Itoje still takes the knee before games to highlight racism, not all of his teammates do.

“One thing that is clear from all the England players is that they’re against racism, they’re against discrimination and they’re against any form of racial abuse,” he said.

“Each player has to make their judgement whether they feel comfortable doing that and players will have their certain reasons.

“I’m not going to say if you don’t take the knee it means you are racist, that’s too simplistic.

“But while I do believe symbolic gestures are important, the most important thing is doing the work when you are in the public eye but also in private life as well.”

Men in tights
England players Johnny May and Max Malins took advantage of a new rule allowing players to wear tights on artificial pitches last weekend.

May ran in a couple of tries and Malins bagged four for Saracens against Wasps.

“I knew I was going to get some stick for it, so had to put on a good performance didn’t I?” Malins said. “The amount of looks and comments I got, was exactly what I expected. It was coming from all different angles, but you’ve got to own it.”

In the same game he made a brilliant diving tackle and his opponent was left bleeding from the knees from the harsh surface. It might not be long before the tights – especially for those in the back three who dive for tries and try savers wear them more often than not.

Read’s 12s selection

Kieran Read has picked six All Blacks and a former NRL star in his dream 12s team.

Ardie Savea, Sam Whitelock and Richie Mo’unga are among the All Blacks while Springboks Steven Kitsoff and Cheslin Kolbe make the cut alongside Fijian Semi Radradra, a superstar in rugby league before his switch.

Read recently told Stuff he’d like to coach in the 12-a-side competition, which is being touted as rugby equivalent of the IPL. It is due to launch with a men’s tournament in England next year, followed by a women’s tournament in 2023.

The World 12s are seeking 192 players for eight franchises to play 30 minute matches between sides with six fowards and six backs.

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