Following a close season that didn’t really exist, courtesy of The Lions Tour and the Womens Rugby World Cup, there was a very fresh feel to the opening two weekends of Club rugby which augurs well for the coming months.
A Look Back
My prediction of an England Red Roses/New Zealand White Ferns final was not exactly visionary, but the nature of the contest was not predicted at all. The professionals of England were outlasted by a turbo charged New Zealand in the last quarter showing that an attacking tactical plan can outweigh basic fitness when the pressure is on. Their close quarter pace game destroyed England, and the men’s team showed it to perfection with their last Bledisloe Cup try against the Aussies. Take a look at the way in which a number of players running different angles attacked close in to the ruck or maul using their handling skills to shift the emphasis and direction of attack. It is indefensible and Saracens did exactly the same thing in their opener against Northampton. The way in which Brits, Burger, Wriggleworth and Wray handled their way into the heart of the Saint’s defence is showing the new benchmark. Others are copying this attack plan and watch out for more this season, even Northampton Saints brought out their own version against the Tigers!
Thankfully, at last the game is moving away from the boring one-dimensional biff of ‘coming around the corner’ and ‘going through the phases’ as it is called. England, in Argentina anyway, have started to push the boundaries and must do so again this year to maintain their development which stuttered a little last year as they coped with a new-found position at the top of the European game. Perhaps the clubs are showing the way!
This has also been driven by some of the law changes at the breakdown where that negative skill called ‘jackalling’ handed far too much power back to the defender and now there is quicker ball to use.
Elsewhere, the Scarlets blitzed the new boys from South Africa, the Kings. Despite some flashes out wide there was nothing to suggest anything regal about their performances but it is early days. Also, this doesn’t give enough credit to the Scarlets who are the story of Europe, two crushing victories last year over Munster and Leinster in Dublin were unthinkable not so long ago. If their style feeds through to the national team there could be some fun in the Six Nations this year.
If there is a better fullback in the Northern Hemisphere than Anthony Watson then please send me the name. He was awesome against Saracens this weekend in a true thriller of a match and England won’t win the World Cup without him there – prediction. Jerry Guscott watched him alongside me and was a little concerned about his unpredictability (seriously??) and that sealed it for me. As Bath remain unbeaten after two the key theme for me is team spirit. Finishing games against top opposition with 13 or 14 men is not ideal but the work ethic is exceptional – reminds me of another era, we await more evidence.
Elsewhere it was a reversion to a norm after the opening weekend’s fireworks. Worcester Warriors will hand out some headaches and bruises but look worryingly short of quality, but the Quins finishers Yarde and Walker are looking very sharp. Together with ‘Roko’, Nowell and Jonny May England are blessed with top wingers that others can only envy.
In France, La Rochelle’s 50 point thumping of the Champions Clermont has confirmed their arrival at the top table if it was needed, and Harlequins will have made note ahead of their Champions Cup opener. Vern Cotter, fresh from elevating Scotland to 4th in the world, has steered Montpellier to the top after 3 matches, but we all know that on their day any French team can turn in a performance so it’s way too early to call.
Four matches in and no wins so far for the South Africans or the Italians, but no-one wins titles in September and I continue to love the ‘Scarlet way’, perhaps Wales will adopt such a style and then we are talking.
Anyone bored of seeing interminable box kicking? The worst thing is that they are unfailingly poorly placed and offer wonderful counter attack opportunities to the opposition. Back in the day the scrumhalf would get a verbal lashing from the backs and a lot worse from the long-suffering forwards. Where is the logic, only a matter of time before the videos tell a story.