The Case For The Defence

In a Lions year, there hardly seems a break before the season begins again but of course the media are now sunning themselves as are the Lions contingent – even if everyone else is in pre season training. I see Eddie Jones offered them some voluntary work at his squad weekend. A brave man that says no to that and an even braver one who turns up and gets shown the door for disciplinary issues. Mind you, even we didn’t stay out till late before a key training session and my double grand slam squad certainly knew how to party. There’s a time and a place…

No defence there then. What I really meant by the title was the way that teams like Ireland, the B&I Lions, Saracens and the Crusaders have turned their defensive walls into winning machines in the past season. Not to say that they don’t know how to attack but playing well without the ball has become a key objective and it does win matches. The great Bath team of the 80’s was supreme in that regard. We hated conceding tries at any time and were probably the first ‘Wolfpack’ of its time, to borrow the Saracens modern day description.

So, can England add the same to their armoury this season? Last minute wins are one thing, and their stunning attacking game in Argentina have meant there is no turning back which I love. But can they also defend their line? We may not need to worry in the November International Series, but Scotland away from home will focus the mind as well as last years stumbling block Ireland. France away should also be a hurdle but losing 3-0 to a South Africa Development team is hardly ideal preparation. Apparently, they are on notice to beat the All Blacks at least once this autumn or it is all change so who knows what Paris in the Spring will mean other than a wonderful weekend away.

As I write, the Women’s World Cup gets going in Ireland and while there could be some romantic notions, the Final should be between England and New Zealand. They are both ‘professional’ after all, whatever the detail of the RFU contract announcement. The women’s game is booming in England (as well as around the world) and regular funding should follow. The other uncontracted and distinctly amateur teams in the RWC will have been looking on enviously at the money on offer to a very small minority. The bigger issue for World Rugby is to help finance the women’s game everywhere or else the top teams will eventually have no-one to play.

Finally, before you go back to red hot European beaches, or to enjoy a traditional English late summer, a moment on player protection. Anthony Watson was a stand out player for the Lions on tour and will approach this season with supreme optimism but his career could have been damaged by Sonny Bill’s needless head charge in the second Test. The day when tackling above the chest is automatically red-carded is coming closer. The clearing out of static players at rucks should also be punished with lengthy bans. No, the game has not gone soft, just have a look across the Atlantic at the NFL’s challenges and we will realise that this is serious and in some cases we need to protect the players from themselves!

Now where is that umbrella…