Was it really 6 weeks ago that Saracens took their game to new levels by shutting out Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup Final. It was a ruthless show of how to close out a pressure game from behind – a true International game in club jerseys. All played out in a sporting hotbed that was Newcastle. The irony of their relegation showed the dysfunction in the game nationwide. The North needs top class rugby not relegation and bankruptcy, Yorkshire Carnegie now effectively bust. Benign neglect in the case of the latter, so unacceptable when even limited vision could have changed this outcome.
Another International clash as Glasgow Warriors stormed the Leinster stronghold for the Pro 14 Crown and only just failed despite the strongest challenge. I have called the Scottish revival for a while and it is real and vibrant. They have finally got it right off the field and look what happens. A World Cup surprise could await – replay the second half of the England game if you doubt me. Meantime a just return for the Irishmen and if you think they are a busted flush, listen to the intent in Sexton’s rebuttal that they have peaked too early. I like that language, they will come again.
The Premiership Final was a triumph – Gallagher must have been smiling. On field The Cheifs did everything right other than the last 20 minutes. The great Bath teams never lost that piece of the game, and Sarries provided their own masterclass. Liam Williams pound for pound is the best player in the world currently and the performance of the Saracens big names in the closing stages was truly remarkable. England genuinely have no excuses in Japan……when you add in the exceptional Slade and Nowell at Twickenham the crowd were thrilled like at no other time in the last 12 months. I truly love the Chiefs and the next step is to turn the hurt into big wins.
Finally an error strewn Top 14 Final could not take away the shining rays of hope streaming from the Toulousains – their supporter chant is wonderfully threatening and meaningful, their squad and club are going places, and not just in France. Cheslin Kolbe is already one of the world’s best as a game changer, what a talent! A word also for Clermont who are a wonderful rugby family and that is it really – the best rugby families are winning now despite their Stade de France disappointment. It’s culture not just training, process and grimfaced physicality.
With Europe in mind, the scrap in the last couple of league weekends to make it into Europe shows the order of things in a good place – Montpellier, Sale, Bath, Ospreys were all smiling at the end.
Lastly, by the end of week the rugby world will know how the game may or may not change for both hemispheres. Big meetings are in train. I do not think that the world’s administrators need any further reminders of the growing jewels in our club game, attracting huge crowds as destination rugby takes hold. I say embrace this because it’s not going away, only becoming stronger. Entirely complimentary to an International game where ‘less is more’ as we were told by the CEO of World Rugby himself. As for the money, it is all about allocation and clear thinking, always has been. Step forward some clear thinkers please.
Very finally, some strong words at the beginning of the season on disciplinary matters finally got through and changes are making our game safer. If that is work in progress, we should ignore at our peril the issues for all our players worldwide. The pathway to a sustainable post career life is full of potholes and it has to change. My question is for rugby’s leaders – what are you doing for the players? In a world of investment, media interest, global trends, do NOT treat the player as a wasting asset. Or else they will become exactly that and we cannot allow it.
Let us meantime celebrate the season, and look forward with excitement to Japan – the game is on the rise no doubt and we must all harness the growth – at every level.
As the denouement of the Six Nations, Heineken Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and domestic leagues have played out over the last few weeks, it was tempting to look off-field as well as on-field for all the rugby stories.
Here are a selection of some which caught my eye and my theme is the business of rugby….. very topical!
Smart play and self-belief saw Wales to worthy Grand Slam status – my Welsh birthplace comes to the fore so I can at least claim some heritage! Top performance by Liam Williams in particular across all the games if I had to pick out someone. They went about their business and worked it out game by game- highly professional.
I played in seven Calcutta Cup matches and if you missed a tackle you agonised for days about it, as did everyone else. Twickenham saw a sensational match this year unrivalled in the history of the contest but firstly let’s pay tribute to a Scottish attack which will take so much optimism into Japan and, with a full squad, who knows. I called it a couple of months ago and at least I feel I wasn’t making it up. Thinking clearly under pressure (TCUP) was coined by Sir Clive Woodward and reflects England’s issue perfectly alongside some leadership questions. This will bother them until they lift the World Cup, no time left to assuage the doubters.
Was there a better weekend of club rugby ever for the Heineken Champions Cup Quarter Finals? 40,000 at Murrayfield to see Munster use their key moments a lot better than an Edinburgh team who will be back. The agony and the ecstasy for Racing and Toulouse players and supporters as a last minute winning try was overturned and the magnificent 14 man resistance by Toulouse saw them squeak through – what quality both teams showed and it ranks as one of the best matches I have ever seen, with the emotion to boot.
A devastated Ulster just failed to overturn Leinster and their King of Wings blew a winning intervention – the ups and downs of sport. Meantime Saracens’ warriors were far too strong for the Celtic version and marched on ominously into the semi-finals where they employed their unique combination of power and pace to overwhelm Munster. For Toulouse, their young side will come again, but it doesn’t help when your 9 is picked at 10 for such a big match as Leinster, and Jonny Sexton wasn’t going to miss that opportunity.
The Newcastle European Finalists are now known and both Leinster and Saracens have set the standard on how well organised you have to be at every level – it is a business. Multiple numbers of Academy based players dominate their squads, ie homegrown. Anyone can buy in talent and it mostly doesn’t work. Invest in your own and you get the best of all worlds.
Talking of club-grown talent and adherence to the employment rules, or otherwise, in recent criticisms, particularly of Saracens….. let me ask a different question – how many clubs really look after their players from start to finish of their career, like they do? Whether it be injury, loss of form or retirement that suddenly calls time? Cricket has worse statistics, but rugby has a serious issue with depression and mental health issues for retired players in the professional game. Too many clubs pay lip service to this, and it is a real problem. Let us think about the duty of care to the players we enjoy watching and how they cope when it’s all over. I am wondering whether corporate sponsors should be contractually obliged to take some of these multi-talented assets on board?!
Incoming monies are revolutionising the pro game right now and people are panicking because they doubt investors intentions. The reality is that our sport is commercially underdeveloped and these investments will add significant value. None of the rugby governing bodies can operate in a vacuum. It may be painful to break old habits but this is an inflection point for the game.
Meantime, communication and shared objectives are critical in business. Too many rugby authorities think they can grow and develop on their own. Do not live in a bubble!
If I was to explain rugby management to an outsider, I would allude to four main characters in the game – the volunteer amateur (99% of the game), paid administrator, wealthy investor, ex player with business experience. Simplified but essentially correct. They all have a rightful voice, but the trick is to take what is best from all of them and the effective compromise is complete. The next 12 months will be the most critical in our professional game to date – and they all have to remember that they owe the game at large a successful outcome. A rocky time ahead, but a game which is surging in popularity around the world can harness huge waves of support.
Think correctly under pressure, on and off the field.
When two of the top three teams in the Premiership meet in the City’s Capital, its going to be tasty and so it was last weekend at the London Olympic Stadium. Saracens the Champions took on the fast improving Harlequins for Arnold Hills – Heroes and it was an intense, quality occasion. Even more so because Schalk Burger wines were on show, ranging from the Bohemian Syrah and the Hat Trick to the Meerkat twins of Rose and Sauvignon Blanc. With Burger Junior on the pitch doing his bit, they helped Sarries to a morale boosting win before the vital QF clash with Glasgow Warriors in the Heineken Champions Cup.
Two days later at the Saracens Foundation Dinner, Schalk’s Hat Trick and Chardonnay were enjoyed as we focused on the Foundations great work with Autistic children and fundraising for the London Air Ambulance Charity. Sporting Wine Club has made a significant charity commitment to the Saracens Foundation and look forward to a wonderful partnership with them and the club at large.
Saracens Rugby and their values fit with everything that SWC stands for, we are a proud partner and by the way we also stock Michael Rhodes’ Gin, the Finesmaster!
All the wines mentioned here will attract a special 10 day ‘Sarries’ one off discount of 15% to wish them luck for a strong weekend of rugby, just use the code sarries15 at checkout.
It was said that England lost the Rugby World Cup Final of 1991 against Australia through inflexibility. Our narrative was that we felt our strategy was going to work, and then it didn’t! The Campese deliberate knock down hardly helped but we didn’t mix up our game enough to keep the Aussies guessing when the game was there for the taking.
So it was in Cardiff, when nobody really believed that England’s kicking based approach would work again on it’s own but they persisted and the game slipped away. Why not give that new look midfield a bit of ball. But no. Then on Saturday against Italy the equivalent of cricket’s ‘flat track bully’ (remember Graeme Hick) was in evidence and any side would have struggled against that power. Rumour abounds that Jones wants to try the Ford/Farrell axis again this weekend, well why not perhaps in the last 20 minutes.
Surely people can see what is happening here! Journos have too much space to fill now and are refuelling on new stories wherever they look. Jones seems to be trying to make sure he is equipped for any strategy and of course he has at his disposal the deepest playing resource in the world. As we sit here, England has all the on-field diversity that it needs. The biggest question is whether they can flex the strategy when faced with challenges, as with Wales. That is a mental thing and the answer will not come on Saturday as a feeble excuse for a grudge match unfolds. Scotland is riven with injury and Jones may extract some personal revenge as will the team after last year. With it could come the Six Nations Title of course, lest anyone forget!
NB the Farrell/Tuilagi/Slade midfield is the one they need to win a World Cup.
The big one in Cardiff is tough to call. Ireland is arguably a team which has peaked too early and trying desperately to hold the level, while Wales has already achieved something incredible against their resource backdrop and domestic turmoil. Huge credit to the coaches and the squad. A wonderful end to a tournament which has been disappointing in so many ways. The much anticipated level playing field was tarnished by French ‘laissez faire’, Scottish injuries and an improving Italy failing to match a general upturn in standards. It rendered half the matches meaningless and although I wasn’t there, the second half of the France and Italy games at Twickenham apparently resembled a multi thousand strong drinks and networking occasion rather than a properly competitive atmosphere.
For what it’s worth, I think that emotion and home advantage should see Wales edge Ireland but not by much. In which case they and England will progress to the Rugby World Cup as strong contenders for at least a semifinal place. Make no mistake though, England is the unknown quantity and a team to fear. How things change in a year.
Finally, I wonder if Italy smell an upset in the Rome sunshine against the French. They have offered enough in attack to indicate their capabilities and they know how to sustain their effort. No-one will forget Nick Mallett’s tears as he coached Parisse and his men to glory a few years ago against ‘Les Bleus’ – it was special and could happen again.
The Sporting Wine Club team is thrilled to be introducing it’s latest Sporting Wine, the Louis 57 range, named of course after the great Louis Oosthuizen. Why 57? He shot that score at Mossel Bay GC on the Garden route!
Louis’ vineyard is based at Boschkloof one of the oldest wine growing regions of South Africa next door to Stellenbosch. This means we now have a wonderful spread of South African wines when added to the Hemel en Aarden Valley and Wellington near Paarl.
Louis has a special selection of wines to include the iconic ‘Open Champion’ Syrah after his win in 2010, the Double Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon after his incredible shot at the 2nd hole of the Augusta Masters when he shot a 2 on the Par 5 and the Jasoma Conclusion, named after his three children. We also love his Rosé, as he says combining the strawberry with hints of candy floss. I personally love his Sauvignon Blanc too.
As you know we are keen to emphasise our links to the winemakers charity. The Louis Oosthuizen Foundation supports disadvantaged young children’s charities in Africa and we are delighted to put our weight behind that.
Our members recently enjoyed all the wines being displayed, and we look forward to a long association with our new sporting connection.
It has all been about England in this year’s Six Nations, with some very smart kicking strategy and then the ball most often in the hands of their playmakers and matchwinners. With this approach, the traditional back row contests and set piece battles become statistics but not match defining. I can think of plenty of talented backs starved of ball through their career who wonder why this has suddenly happened!
England’s win against France last week owed a lot to this phenomenon. Back in the 80’s, France was so full of talent they would pick centres on the wing – Charvet, Bonneval eg- and they became even more potent. England even did it once. Opposing wingers found themselves humiliated by intelligence and creative genius. But you have to be ready and able! To see the wildly impressive English wreak humiliation on the woeful French was great for a while until we realised that selecting three under prepared, out of position players in the French back field was asking for a cricket score and it duly happened. Fair play to England, they were perfectly happy to take candy off the French baby. To those who were awaiting a full-blooded clash there was something lacking about a game which could have been a victory by at least 50 points or more, something I alluded to last week but didn’t really believe – less le Crunch, more marshmallow.
I ask myself how England seem so superior all of a sudden? Partly due to the cycle of their post-World Cup endeavours, the continuing hurt of a pool stage exit and a poor season last year, partly because when all their players are fit and focused, they should be the number one team in the world. If the attitude is right, the selections smart and the tactics well thought through, then tick all three boxes so far this season. Add in a coach who has now realised that he doesn’t need to play so many word games and even the PR starts to look good.
The beauty of sport however lies in its unpredictability – England expects to win down in Cardiff and then onto the Grand Slam. Fanciful some may say after last year’s downturn, but such adversity makes you stronger. However, even the best players when given little space or time can crack – there can be no other Welsh strategy and let us not forget they have some pedigree of their own. I will never forget the wide-eyed look on Lancaster’s face after the 30-3 drubbing a few years ago but the steel and knowledge in the England squad this season is undeniable. Fascinating match in prospect, and if England win I suspect the rest of the tournament becomes an exercise in World Cup preparation.
Sorry about everyone else in Rounds 2 and 3. You earn the right to plaudits in my view – a promising Scottish assault on the stuttering Irish side momentarily caused the crowd to roar but the rest was a catalogue of errors and while Italy stayed in the game through Welsh profligacy (again) we were left wanting much more. An injury-ridden, half-strength Scotland in Paris may hand the French a vital win, while only an eternal optimist could see a victory for the Azzurri. Weather is set for cloudless skies, so the Piazza Navona could be a favourite venue for the travelling Irish to enjoy the magic of Rome.
Back here, it is all about the pressure cooker of Cardiff. I wonder, will it be Tom Jones or Max Boyce on the microphone???
Exciting news from Sumaridge Estate as not only is the 2019 harvest underway but they are also taking advantage of the latest winemaking techniques using gravity (rather than mechanical pumps) in the fermentation of their famous Pinot Noir. Using gravity rather than force means the extraction of colour, tannin and flavour is a more natural, gentle process resulting a more delicate, nuanced wine.
The Chardonnay has just been handpicked from the best blocks of the vineyard; selected again in the cellar, destemmed and gently crushed. Simon tastes their juice less than three hours after the grapes were picked!
To celebrate the start of the harvest – described by Sumaridge winemaker Walter Pretorius as an exciting year for both the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – and as it is the 2019 vintage we are offering a 19% discount across the two wines.
A stunning improvement on a classic Pinot Noir with exciting darker fruit notes. It combines rich flavours of black cherry with smoky spice and savouriness to deliver a luxurious wine with a silky finish.
For every two cases (12 bottles) you purchase from the Collalbrigo Estate collection you will receive a complimentary ticket to the Six Nations clash between Italy and Ireland in Rome on Sunday 24th February.
Collalbrigo Estate, owned by the Cosulich family, have been sponsors of the Italian Rugby team for over 20 years, with Augusto having played for Italy under 20’s. The family also produces natural wines from the Island of Susak, Croatia and these are also included in the offer.
We have 10 tickets to give away, with members having priority – for any non-members now is the perfect time to join!
This offer will stand until Thursday 21stFebruary or until the tickets run out.
Get in touch with Alex to place your order and claim your prize!
There comes a time when an English rugby team has suffered enough, certainly after two humbling defeats against the Irish in past years depriving them of silverware in one case and suffering in silence their grand slam celebrations at Twickenham in another. England had all the psychological advantages against a country which carried uneasily the mantle of the world’s best side, itself unprecedented. Ireland felt a need to control that position and manage it, not throw it away and confront what was coming at them. Indeed England had warned as much!
In addition, their two form second rows were injured, Sexton and Murray were undercooked from injury and the Henshaw experiment was interesting but unnecessary. Their midfield was a real mess and the kicking game rather average – the space against England is out wide but it never happened. Interesting that Schmidt chose not to employ Carbery or Larmour two more form players. In the post match interviews he sounded accepting of the reality check. Time will tell if this is a blip – I suspect so. But enough of the excuses, let us praise England undilutedly.
My last piece talked of payback and what it takes to deliver – this was it. In hunting down this Irish team into every corner and across every blade of grass, two sublime passes from England’s now nailed on midfield created two winning tries. My long held but frustrated admiration of Slade was gloriously justified and he has such great awareness of space. Tuilagi was asked to do exactly what he can so well – batter through and keep the ball for the next phase. Jonny May will never play a better game for his country and Daly is world class, never any question of a doubt there. PLEASE do not change this backline.
Jones’ prematch commentary was respectful of the occasion and his players, almost embracing normality – another welcome shift and he also made his best selection yet. Payback indeed from the players exclusively and what a test match, credit to both sides and a privilege to watch.
Meantime, I know about Greeks bearing gifts, but French bonhomie hit the heights in the Stade de France on Friday night as a scarcely deserving Welsh team took home the spoils, and George North who was rather average apart from his two tries somehow was somehow man of a very soggy match. Liam Williams was in fact a class apart and the one bright spot. France could ship 50 at Twickenham especially if they allow Hail Mary passes from Second row forwards but I bet they don’t… the psychological boot is on the other foot. But Gatland is right, Wales have forgotten how to lose and France needs more than Gallic shrug and a change of fortune.
Anyone spot the new man Sam Johnson doing some smart things in the Scottish midfield against Italy? Probably won’t trouble the better teams quite yet, but I like the look of him and Scotland will definitely fancy their chances this weekend with Russell and Hogg also in stellar form.
Anyone thinking about Wales v England yet??!!
Amid the 6 Nations romance, the 14th Feb is not far off now so go to www.sportingwineclub.com for inspiration! There’s more to life than rugby!