Historically, at least July and part of August has provided much needed rest in what seems these days to be an endless rugby season. However, with the Rugby World Cup around the corner, the phoney war is well and truly underway.
Fear and trepidation abound for all teams who have Fiji and Tonga in their pool. They mean business and pound for pound have some of the best players on the planet, look at their squads! They will be better prepared than ever so expect an upset or two!
I was certainly wrong about the Springboks’ physicality ruling the show in Auckland last week – The All Blacks played with such pace and skill on the gain line that they were untouchable in the first half. Jordan and Frizzell could be players of the tournament if they stay fit. France beware in the World Cup opener – as for Australia who meet the men in Black at the weekend, they will do well to keep the score below fifty. That is unless the All Blacks pick a ‘B’ team or Eddie manages to conjure up some form out of his admittedly athletic group but who seem to lack any structure. A better set piece will help.
Alarm bells for England as Argentina seem to be peaking just in time and their performance against the Springboks will be educational – carrying good momentum into that vital opening match in Marseille is just what England don’t want. A chastened South Africa could just do them a favour.
Meanwhile, the buzz from training camps grows louder. If only tournaments could be won in practice. Competition in the England camp is fierce as you would expect. Borthwick’s no 9 selections tell you everything. Structure and stability based on traditional England strengths – never going to be enough with at least 5 other teams playing at a different pace and level of game understanding- what option does Borthwick have amid the wreckage of the Jones era. Scrap your way to the semi-final and then it’s a one off – completely understandable, and even achievable!
Elsewhere, for tomorrow’s players, the demolition job done by France U20’s in winning the World Championship (again) in South Africa tells its own ‘histoire’ – their domestic game reaping the benefits of great vision and forward thinking. Ireland the losing finalists may always suffer a little because they don’t have the resource, but they are the No 1 rugby nation in the world and for a good reason. England have won two matches in their last 6 -against Fiji and Georgia. Hardly surprising because these players spend most of their time watching Premiership matches (fact) rather than improving their skills on the field. When I was aged 20, I was paying 35-40 matches a season not 12. Getting match experience for tomorrow’s talent is the No 1 priority from a playing standpoint in England – financial stability being the focus off the field. As the recently appointed Chairman of our Championship clubs, it will be my role to represent what is currently a disenfranchised group who in fact hold the key to much of the future for our national game through providing opportunities for our young stars and maintaining the essential ethos which connects our community game all the way up to the top. Over the next few months, we will know a lot more.
Lastly, I had to smile at the recent Bakkies Botha press article suggesting the game was rather lost for him because you could no longer have a scrap during a match and get away with it. His reputation as the ‘Enforcer’ was well earned although I do remember pot-shots being taken at people rather smaller than him than the other way round. Previous generations of Springboks forwards will recall a rather harder and more physically confrontational game in the amateur era when Bakkies may have had his work cut out more than he thinks. Just saying…….from 2000 miles away.