Hallers Christmas Blog


As the Autumn Internationals played out, followed by two tumultuous European weekends, there has been much to admire as well as ponder as we approach a seasonal period of rest and reflection – unless you are a professional rugby player who isn’t banned or injured in which case not much of either. 

First the good news – I was asked two years ago whether I was concerned about the Irish amid the Anglo-French dominance in the Champions Cup and I suggested they would be back sooner than anyone thought – so it proved. First they provided two semifinalists last year. Then, two weeks ago, a fully refreshed Leinster took the English Champions Exeter down on their own ground and resisted their best efforts the following week. Munster under Rassie Erasmus has injected pace and power into their youngsters and their toothless semifinal against Saracens is a distant memory after their double over Leicester. A compelling set of performances by Ulster could pay dividends, and meantime Connacht is unbeaten in the Challenge Cup. A ruthless Autumn series has left Ireland looking at Twickenham with real confidence and while the Calcutta Cup is going to be tumultuous, England v Ireland will be something else again.

You could argue that the performance of the French team in the Autumn was nothing short of disastrous but they are in good shape in Europe, sporting their multinational squads. A rejuvenated Clermont look dominant and the rising star of La Rochelle have illuminated the competition, while Montpellier and Racing 92 lurk dangerously. I love the look of Rounds 5 and 6 with Toulon, Bath and Scarlets all in the hunt in their pool.

As for the English, I presume Eddie Jones finalised his extra squad members this Autumn because little else was established than Daly’s star quality. At the club level  some signs of mid season tiredness but there is no margin for error in Europe.

More worryingly… here we are again, and whether accidental or deliberate the number of damaging head contacts continues apace. Donnacha Ryan, an influential International name, has called it ‘a blight on the game’ and calls for action. In my opinion tackling targeted above the shoulders could be called automatically yellow and possibly red with a minimum six week ban. Then people will stop doing it. The only thing about the game that is going soft is in the coaching diktat which demands high tackling to stop the offload. Plain wrong.

Do I need to mention the clear out again? Ask Faletau how he feels about his knee ligament injury caused by exactly that by Mathieu Basteraud

To end on a positive and festive note however, the Northern Hemisphere rugby world is buzzing at most levels and the Rugby Club Christmas parties and carol-singing will be in fine voice.

To anyone who is still reading my piece at the end of a long but fulfilling year, thank you for that, and my New Year hopes and fears will be with you well before the old year rings out.

A Merry and peaceful Christmas to you all.

H

England’s Finishers Prove A Point


Many a team came to Bath’s Recreation Ground in the champion years of the 80’s and left shaking their heads at a scoreline they felt was grossly unfair. Opposition front rows or line outs often claimed moral victories despite conceding 30 points or more. We just smiled and knew the real difference. Brutal speed based training orchestrated by ex SAS Olympic Pentathlete Tom Hudson was designed to give us critical finishing power and skills when everyone was tired in the last 20 minutes.

Sound familiar? England has altered its training pattern to have that last 20 minute intensity and Danny Care in particular took the art of making an impact from the bench to a different level last weekend to achieve what seemed a crazy scoreline only 15 minutes earlier. Care must think the game rather easy having scored or created three tries in 8 minutes! No wonder Jones calls his bench the ‘Finishers’, it is the strongest in world rugby and that includes the All Blacks.

More than one senior rugby figure has suggested to me that substitutions should be injury not tactical based, which would reduce onfield collisions between fresh impact players and their tiring opposition. Whether supported by statistics or not, this has logic and I support also the reduction of interminable replacements at the end of games which is so disruptive. It will not get Eddie’s support however. His focus on the last 20 minutes and who should be on the field could win the World Cup.

People are queuing up to highlight weaknesses in the All Blacks as they come to the end of a very long season and just squeezed past Scotland. I prefer to pay credit to a nation which is riding on the crest of a wave. Top 5 in the world, real pace and ingenuity in the backs, and unforeseen depth in a forward pack riddled with injuries. They would also have been motivated by the inspirational sight of their afflicted hero, Doddie Weir, who presented the match ball. The world of rugby is rallying round efforts to raise awareness of Motor Neurone disease from which this great man suffers, and that battle will continue.

With a weekend to go before the Autumn Internationals come to a close there is no doubt in my mind that a top 4 has emerged in the world order – New Zealand, England, Australia and Ireland. However, I am already looking forward to the Calcutta Cup 2018 – I played against Scotland 7 times and every one was fiercely fought with no quarter asked or given. The 2018 vintage could be right up there and, even with the Aussies in town and possibly there for the taking, the Auld Enemy is on the horizon and the glens are stirring impatiently to fashion an appropriate welcome.

H.

Autumn International Days at M Twickenham


Sporting Wine Club are proud to present the M Twickenham Autumn Internationals Match Day offering, with SWC members receiving a 15% Discount!

Situated directly opposite Twickenham station, and less than a 10 minute walk from the ground, M Bar & Grill is the perfect venue for both your Pre and Post Match entertainment.

You can view the incredible “Match Day Experience”, hosted by Simon Shaw and guests, here.  This is a full day experience and includes a meet and greet, lunch with the legends, Q&A Build up and Post Match party.

If you would like to attend please complete this booking form.  As soon as you return the form to M Twickenham, your booking is confirmed. Please note however that the Shawsey Experience does not include match tickets.​

Post-match, tables are available for dinner from 7pm onwards, you can book a table via their website: www.mrestaurants.co.uk/twickenham/reservations/

Please advise M Twickenham if you would like any further information on any of the above offerings. Demand is obviously high, so we suggest that you book as far in advance as possible.

We look forward to seeing you there!