LIGHT AT THE END OF A RUGBY TUNNEL


Cold winter winds have been blowing across the rugby grounds of Europe, and the Covid strains have placed even more pressure on our societies and ability to function. As you all know the next two rounds of our European tournament have been postponed by a French Government directive. Depressing though that is, the aggressive roll out of the vaccines means that an end of some sort is in sight – but parking that for now we can look at some really promising trends.

So, a Happy New Year to you all for a better 2021 in general and for rugby the signs are there. Here are five trends which I hope we will see develop……..

Inspiration over perspiration

Some mini heroes are emerging from some thrilling club matches over the last number of weeks. A stunning away win by Munster at Clermont revealed the men in red running into space and in particular a reborn JJ Hanrahan. Did you see O’Mahony handling like a seasoned centre? Having said that, Clermont were untouchable through the middle for 40 minutes and simply owe it to themselves to double up and do themselves justice. What a match that was!

Antoine Dupont is continuing to stretch the boundaries at scrumhalf for Toulouse as he can and no wonder Eddie Jones is forced to look at Harry Randall…… if you are good enough you are big enough. Robson remains my favourite to take the England game onwards out wide.

Radradra of Bristol Bears may well be  the best player in the world because he creates something every time he touches the ball, with pace, wit and is a physical handful. By the way, can the media delete the description ‘wrecking ball’ please. Irrelevant and outdated.

The Spiral Bomb

It was Stuart Barnes who perfected the art back in the 80’s and caused the ribs of many a fullback to be tickled by various chasers, mainly centres. Then came the rugby league end over end versions, which also meant kicks to touch went ten frustrating yards until Henry Slade changed the ambition in one kick at Exeter. George Ford has cottoned on to the skill and Watson didn’t like it one bit the other week. Now that’s proper kicking and if he can defuse the ticking time bomb called passing the ball, perhaps he can come back into the reckoning.

I am sure I echo the thought of every other rugby fan when I applaud the fact that the scrum half box kick obsession may just have been dealt a blow. Watson struggled more in one match than opposing wingers have in a whole year from the paintdrying practice currently employed.

Ambition- play at the gainline

One of the most striking aspects of the Wasps gameplay recently has been the impressive unpicking of midfield defences, as I can also see with Bristol, Munster, Toulouse and Clermont. It can be surely done at International level too as France will prove and Fiji and Japan continue to prove (ask Ireland and Scotland!). Imagine the crowds roar when this becomes the norm rather than the exception when forwards have exhausted Route 1 as well as bored themselves and the ‘crowd’ into submission.

South Africa

Whether it is the big 4 coming our way, or the B&I Lions Tour of S Africa (to discuss). It is clear that these giants of our game will be gracing the fields of Europe more regularly. What a prospect and how exciting to pitch against the World Champions, collective and individual.

Investment 

Back in home territory really! Rugby is a value stock. Great brand, opportunity to grow and no cash. Owners with big ideas and as with all individuals who have been involved in a start up, not the easiest people to deal with – and why should they be, as proud owners and serious passionate investors when the game was losing a fortune. Textbook style and the reason why CVC, SilverLake and MVM Holdings have in the recent days made their investment plans known. More to come I predict.

I am unashamedly seeing a cup half full here but will end on a sombre note.

The issue of dementia and concussion must be dealt with by a combination of acceptance, care for the many cases which exist and decisive action onfield and in training to fix the issues. Let us end the platitudes and see some action, without ever forgetting that physical risk is part of our game and every single player accepts that. Make this the number one priority can we?

Onward!

Thanks for reading,

Hallers 

Simon Halliday

I Can Feel It Coming In The Air Tonight – French Style


When I had dreams of being an England player aged 20 I went to France for my degree year, supposedly to teach but ended up working for the Forestry Commission in the Pyrenees. I trained at the local rugby club and it was there they taught me how to pass French style and to run into space. When I started to cut up defences the following year in England and Wales, I didn’t have the heart to say why. The French simply played a different game in those days under the influence of the great Pierre Villepreux and a summer of learning the hard way changed my outlook.

Can you sense what is coming down on the breeze now? A French effort into the 2023 World Cup which will recall the brilliance of a bygone era, and how we mourn the passing of Christophe Dominici who summed up the ‘style francaise’. Or in my time the likes of Mesnel, LaFond, St André and the peerless Sella and Blanco. In a match of crushing conservatism on Sunday, the slashing break of Jalibert and the weaving brilliance of Dulin in attack and defence are in fact the abiding memories.

Of course I felt the drama and loved the return of adrenaline to a rugby occasion. England found the way somehow and barely deserved it but there is no indication they are worried by that. Time to question the coach on tactics? I would and did often. The world class ability of Watson remains unfulfilled and he probably wished he had been substituted earlier. The best contribution from the outrageous talent of Slade was for the 79th minute pushover. Another issue is that the mind and body forgets after a while. When England moved wide they found Daly on a lateral run at half pace and lobbing the ball in Watson’s general direction.

Ford found a beautiful kick in minute 79 for the last line out and we rubbed eyes in disbelief. The rest is silence. However the decision is made and Eddie is clear about it – England keep winning and who complains other than the opposition and the media, who knows (or cares) about the crowd. Meantime the ball is a ‘ ticking time bomb’ according to our current stand off. My humble opinion is that the real underlying problem is at 12 because the talent out wide is undeniable.

The smiles on our face did get wider at the weekend as promised but it was Fiji who supplied the script as they provided a belated reminder at sodden Murrayfield that man for man they could be the best side on the planet. Even the Welsh provided some cheer with the back row running amok with the ball in hand. Oh and the Jalibert/Dulin show. Will they even play in the 6 Nations?

The only issue with making favourites of the French or the English is they seem not to relish the tag – ever. Whether they like it or not, they are currently two of the best sides in the world. Meantime an incredibly well rested Springbok squad will bide their time, although rather undercooked as the Lions start to prowl and come into view.

Thanks for reading,

Hallers 

Shooting Stars across a grey autumn Rugby Sky


Nobody quite knew how this new International tournament would pan out but between the Fiji débacle and a constantly buffering Amazon (in my household anyway) to date it has been a mixed and rather soggy bag with some spluttering fireworks alongside. I suspect that an anticipated England France dénouement will definitely whet the appetite.

I remember in the heydays at Bath, we were constantly criticised for conservative play and excessive concentration on defence and the riposte (not mine) was always that if the other side do not score we will always win. I remember being 40 points up with 15 minutes to go against a top side and spending the rest of the game tackling everything that moved to ensure that they remained scoreless. All this with a world class backline capable of unleashing havoc from any part of the pitch. So too for the double grand slam winning England team I was fortunate to be part of – it all sounds familiar reading the reaction in some quarters to England’s three games so far this autumn? 

I subscribe to the view that this England team intend never to be physically taken out again as they were in the World Cup Final. The hurt will remain until they get their revenge in 2023 – at least that must be the narrative. Last weekend’s match at Twickenham was therefore an intended exercise in physical masochism, almost cathartic.

England may not care that they played for most of the Ireland match without the ball because they knew that without Sexton, Ringrose, Larmour, Henshaw and Conway there was little to fear other than honest endeavour. I wonder about the Irish attack coaches explanation for their one track approach because it turned into a test of England’s tackling technique against a frontal assault, one they would never fail. Meantime two flashes of May brilliance sufficed to occupy the column inches and cause people to compare it to Chris Ashton’s length of the field effort versus Australia. Just for the record, there is no comparison. If you watch how May turned Chris Farrell inside out, burned him for pace and controlled the ball like Lio Messi for 50 yards then we will all understand just how good that was.

In the previous matches, a rainy night against Georgia was enlivened by Farrell’s slashing break and Young’s eye for a gap while a consummate piece of skill from Slade and Joseph against Italy was just enough for a TV audience on emergency rations. God only knows what Ollie Lawrence makes of it all who is now injured but probably more down to stiff joints due to inactivity.

Elsewhere, the outrageous talent of Vakatawa and Rattez with of course the irrepressible Dupont was enough against Scotland on another night for the purists, cue Wales/Georgia and Wales/Scotland. France look ominous if still unlikely to peak before 2023 rather than Saturday week.

Thought for the autumn – Has there ever been worse (intentional ) kicking at this level since the beginning of International Rugby?

It is certainly much tougher for International Rugby to play behind closed doors because of the inevitable lack of atmosphere but for a tournament that was replacing development tours and therefore laying the ground for youngsters to come through, we have all been left wishing for more ambition. 

On a brighter note let us welcome the belated Govt funding for the game. We even have some crowds set to return but the timing is as illogical as the original decision to impose a blanket ban. Enough said, the grey skies are lightening somewhat off the field and of course the Heineken Champions Cup hoves into view shortly with a cracking new format. Keep smiling!

A Tale of Two European Rugby Cities


Ex England, Bath and Harlequins Centre, current Chairman of EPCR and our Co-Founder, Simon Halliday, shares his latest thoughts on the world of sport over a glass of sporting wine…

A few years ago, I jumped into a taxi in the heart of Paris and the driver looked at me blankly when I asked to go to Racing 92’s rugby ground. No longer, as they now ride high in world club rugby inside a magnificent new stadium La Défense.

Meantime the steady rise of Exeter from a time when Bath only played them midweek with their 2nd team (admittedly 35 years ago) has been inexorable and an inspirational story for the ages. These two gladiators of our game were rightful claimants to the throne of Europe.

It was a European rugby finals weekend of giant proportions to raise the spirits and to celebrate pace, skill, determination and heroism. The reasons why we all play and support this great sport were there in abundance on Saturday in Bristol, and the night before in Aix en Provence when Bristol Bears dramatically and against the odds downed the heavyweights from Toulon. They are rebuilding but in front of a raucous crowd – yes a crowd – it was still a magnificent feat by the West countrymen.

Semi Radradra played out the best midfield performance I have seen for years, and Ben Earl and Max Malins showed why Saracens know how to operate at the top level. They were both awesome, as was the diminutive Harry Randall – if you are good enough you are big enough. Such joy in the win, but humility too as they know this is just the start. They targeted Europe and will reap the benefit.

It was appropriate to be at Bristol the next day and to see whether Chairman Chris Booy’s post-match celebration dancing in France had done any lasting damage. Happily not. The heart ached for 67,000 in sun- drenched Marseille but that is set for 2021 and Ashton Gate did us proud under the circumstances. The nervousness of the Exeter directors was palpable and Jacky Lorenzetti understandably elected to stay with the team in the ‘red zone’, pitch side. A grand total of 30 invitees in a stadium of 30,000 saw the two premier teams in European club rugby do battle and it was a stunning spectacle, worthy of a huge crowd and the tribal atmosphere it would have generated. Political myopia ensured it was not to be even a percentage of that.

Exeter claimed they were not at their best on the day (they still won!) but with respect they were up against a world class array of talent playing at the top of their game. If not for crucial errors and an inability to stop the ‘pick and go’ (untranslatable into French), it could easily have gone the other way. In the last five minutes against a 14-man team, it was try line heroics for Exeter and heartbreak for a Racing team who knew they could have won it at the death. Slade was moved to describe his emotions in terms of pay back from World Cup final defeat. When a top player makes that observation, you know that the Heineken Champions Cup has a unique place in the heart of rugby.

There is no one more passionate than Jacky Lorenzetti and in his third final (after Leinster and Saracens) will have felt that this was their moment. To translate that hurt towards a final in Marseille in 2021 is the challenge. Knowing him, his team and their culture that is a strong likelihood.

Thanks to all for sticking with the tournament for almost 12 months, through suffering and adversity and worse. It has been a time for resilience and hope and to come out the other side. We are not through the problems yet, but that sporting weekend did make us smile and how precious is that.

Until next time,
H.

Lastly, with an England hat on… J Simmonds surely has to start for England soon, with his brother and Jonny Hill in the must have category. Add in Slade and LCD and there is a potent Exeter mix there. Please tell me that Dan Robson will get a go, and of course fellow Wasp Willis on form is a clear favourite. The search for a 12 goes on… and on…and on…

A look at post lockdown Super Rugby..


Some years ago, Jerry Guscott and I were watching a Bath match at the Rec where we had enjoyed so many good times cutting up the opposition – often courtesy of Stuart Barnes. As we looked on, every time the ball got to the Bath 12, he kicked it regardless of position or opportunity. We shook our heads at the preplanning of it all apparently at the behest of the coaching team, who were likely to take action and replace the player if instructions were not followed.
 
It seemed that spontaneity had been lost to the game for good in favour of some playbook.
 
The post lockdown Super Rugby on offer has shown much more immediate ambition and the breakdown changes have allowed turnovers to result in counterattack opportunities. Are we seeing the first signs of this in Europe? The Premiership after a shaky start seems to be embracing the thought. This has brought some space for midfield play to reassert itself. A throwback.
 
Exeter’s stunning opening try against Sale Sharks featured an inch perfect cut out pass from Henry Slade, followed by an even smarter inside flick by the same player to set up the try. Poetry in motion and a contender for try of the season.
 
Jack Willis’ efforts have revolutionised the Wasps open field play and their attacking lines are too hot to handle as they race up the table.
 
Semi Radradra could be the best signing ever by Bristol against this backdrop and Lasike of Harlequins came in twice on an angle from the scrum half which looks suspiciously like an old Bath move but similarly unstoppable.
 
Youngsters are being blooded because they have to be but I am already seeing unknown names grabbing the limelight and that is so promising.
 
The crowds would be loving this and no amount of shouting from the bench or piped in music can make up for the emptiness, cue the question at what stage does sport receive a specific answer on what is an acceptable risk to return supporters to a stadium? In Scotland Edinburgh and Glasgow managed 1,000 at the weekend. It is a start but only that.
 
Moreover, what is an acceptable risk for the community game to resume action? I know a very senior medical practitioner on the committee of one of our famous old clubs who cannot understand the rationale. What price our amateur game?
 
From the rugby we can see, onfield the ambition grows, elite players are vocal about their own health and the game is being forced to communicate across their own sometimes self constructed borders. Promising.
 
 
Simon John Halliday

We Are Still Delivering Wines & Spirits Direct To Your Door!


Since lockdown we have had a lot of people contacting us asking whether they are able to buy our wine even if they are not a member of our club. The answer is YES you absolutely can!

Whilst there are numerous benefits to joining the club you do not have to be a member to purchase wine from us and access our current offers.

Sporting Wine Club has made so many strides in the few years of its existence. 15 sporting wine and spirit producers from around the world are not only suppliers but friends. We support numerous great charities and proudly donate more than £100k a year through our various activities. 

We are open and ready to deliver but like many small businesses we will need everyone’s support to get through this crisis.  Each wine purchase makes a genuine difference! There may be no live sport on but countless historic video moments to view and how much better to enjoy those moments than with a glass of sporting wine by your side!

So, with this in mind, we would love you to share our lockdown offers with all your friends/family/colleagues and if anyone makes a purchase, you will receive £10 wine credit to spend on any of our sporting wine portfolio! Just get them to mention your name at checkout under ‘Company Name’. That’s £10 per person who makes an order!

You can find our lockdown offers here and see below our latest Lionel Messi offer – 18 bottles for the price of 12! His award-winning wines are sensational and a best-seller here at SWC.

Thank you for your support, best wishes and most importantly, stay safe,

Hallers and Titus

An Offer To Lift Your Spirits


We have a small but quality sporting spirits collection and to celebrate the launch of Michael Vaughan’s Declaration Gin we have put together a offer showcasing all of our sporting gins!