Simon Halliday - Rugby Blog

 Sporting drama in June – A Rugby Tale of Three Fly Halves and two coaches 


What a month of sport around the world, where to start? Bairstow’s heroics at Trent Bridge against the world’s No 1 team, New Zealand, was inspired by the legendary Kiwi Brendan McCullum, a delicious irony and so far a visionary choice for England’s new supremo. He may not have done all the courses but he seemingly knows how to get the best out of people. A critical quality. 


Or the boy from Sheffield come good, golfer Matt Fitzpatrick. A wonder shot to close out the US Open, something ‘Monty’ Montgomery failed to do a number of years ago. With all his family looking on he has become our newest and unlikeliest hero. When the golf news has been dominated by petrodollars and challenges to the authorities, here was a simple piece of sporting brilliance combined with all the humility that goes towards building real affection in people’s minds and hearts.


Meantime we saw the dramatic dénouement of a chaotic rugby season as we approach World Cup year. The re-emergence of Farrell the warrior, dragging his Saracens to the pinnacle after one year away, has been significant to the point that I now believe he will start at 10 for England in the World Cup. No choice really because of Jones’ refusal to invest in the midfield to replace Tuilagi. It may seem hard on Marcus Smith, who is also paying the price for Jones’ refusal to consider an alternative to Ben Youngs or find some centres he can play with. That has hurt England, and the belated re-selection of Danny Care exemplifies this. For what it’s worth, the best 9 in England is Alex Mitchell in my view – not even on the tour. Smith was one of the few players to emerge in credit from the dismemberment at Twickenham by the Barbarians, anything but Babas.


I loved the redemption for Freddie Burns in the Premiership Final, and with that last minute drop goal securing victory against Saracens he has buried any demons and become a hero in Leicester- strange feeling for a Bath boy! Who could also deny the emotional triumph of the day for Tom Youngs the Tigers stalwart who had lost his wife to cancer only days before. To Borthwick’s credit it was this which dominated his post match analysis. Perhaps he has made Nigel Redman’s job easy in the systematic search to replace Eddie Jones, or perhaps not. It is about the team of coaches around you, to which Clive Woodward would attest. 


At Twickenham, it was the French coaching team who dominated at the Home of Rugby. Shaun Edwards’ smile lit up the stadium as he saw the second-string French scratch team run rings around an England side which looked as if it would rather be elsewhere. Like on a plane to Australia. The avuncular Fabien Galthié revelled in the opportunity to rub some noses in the dirt, but it is Edwards who drives this operationally. A senior figure at the RFU suggested the French were weak at scrum half ex Dupont – don’t think so!


The French mean business and their superlative youngsters – Le Garrec, Spring, Macalou to name a few who shone brightly for the Barbarians – are the product of a collective domestic effort. Galthié simply needs to keep the faith because the hard work has been done and 2023 cannot come too soon. Eddie Jones pleaded for England supporters to keep the faith, well you just had to listen to the Premiership’s top coaches take a swipe at Jones the week before for his random selectorial whims towards England brightest young players. As Jones has said 100 times, he picks every team. 200 selections later, with Farrell as the warrior king, the return of the previously discarded Vunipolas and some really talented youngsters – blooded way too late – can the Australia tour be a launchpad?


Sporting leadership comes from every angle – this last month has taught us that. Also, player performances can put a smile on faces but can only paper over cracks where they exist off-field. More to come on that, I propose that there is a gaping chasm in sports leadership right now that must be resolved. And can be.


Meantime, Grand Chapeau to The Barbarians, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Fitzpatrick and Freddie Burns. Wonderful, beautiful sport.


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