England are not as perfect as their record suggests
What a stellar year for England Rugby. Grand Slam, beating Australia four nil and now undefeated for a whole year. The sun is shining on the English Rose garden. Or is it?
It is probably more of a comfort than a worry for the English coaching staff that England have yet to put in the complete performance in the last year, and there have been some close calls that may have impacted on their perfect record, George North’s foot at Twickenham springs to mind, but amongst all of this there is still a lot for this England team to figure out and work on.
As the first twenty minutes at Twickenham on Saturday shows, it is an 80 minute game and you won’t get off so lightly if you allow the All Blacks that much territory and possession for a quarter of the game.
The worrying sign for all of their rivals though is that this England team will only get better as 2019 comes over the horizon.
Head injury management still not right up top
George North has a history of putting his head in the wrong place at the wrong time but against Leicester at Welford Road over the weekend he was taken out by Adam Thompstone in the air, landed on his side and lay prostrate on the ground whilst a few handbags were thrown around him.
I’m not a doctor but I’ve seen people knocked out before on the field and he was clearly unconscious, yet after a Head Injury Assesment (HIA) he was allowed to return to the field.
Northampton have since released a statement saying he was treated for a neck injury and not an HIA but we’ve been here before with North and Saints should be putting player welfare at the forefront of their agenda.
There is even a call for the referees, agreed not medically certified to judge on this, to question whether or not that player should return.
Either way, I feel North was exposed to more unnecessary risk.
Bath starting to gel
After a disastrous year last year and some rugby early this season that hasn’t exactly lit up the Premiership, Bath are sat comfortably in the top four and after a win against the current champions on Saturday there is a general buzz around The Rec that the good times are on the way back.
Another solid defensive effort against a Saracens team littered with internationals including the man-machine Maro Itoje, who incidentally looked as though he could have run to Twickenham straight after, played 80 minutes and still been one of the best players on the park, was complemented by a blossoming midfield relationship between Dan Bowden, Ben Tapuai and Max Clark.
They welcome back their England stars this weekend which will only boost their chances of competing at the end of the season and if their form continues we may even see George Ford smile at some point!
Welsh rugby fans may be sitting a bit uncomfortably
We all love a British and Irish Lions tour and the hype that follows it for months on end, but if you are a Welsh rugby fan then you will be worried that the development of the senior squad is going to be severely damaged by the expectant announcement tomorrow of Rob Howley joining Warren Gatland on the Lions tour to New Zealand.
Joe Schmidt and Eddie Jones have already ruled themselves out of the Lions Tour, committing to their employers, but there are a lot of questions to be asked about the management of the Welsh team, and I think that the Welsh public may be in their right to demand some answers.
Munster find their Mojo
Munster seem to have found that galvanised, fighting spirit once again and they clearly showed this at a freezing Scotstoun on Friday night.
They still have a considerable number of regular players absent through injury or still feeling the physical toll that International Rugby takes out on the body but their stand-ins have held the fort admirably whilst they are away.
Ian Keatley was the hero this time with 11 points including a drop goal and it means that they deservedly now sit top of the Pro12 and haven’t lost in the league since early October.
Running hard and straight is now a yellow card
Racing 92 travelled to La Rochelle on Saturday evening in an entertaining game that finished level at 23-23 but the main talking point has to be the strangest yellow card I’ve seen for quite some time.
Viliamu Afatia stands at 1.83m and weighs 110kg. A monster of a man, he takes a crash ball and runs straight at the diminutive, replacement scrum-half, Arthur Retière. Now Retière measures 1.73m and weighs a spritely 75kg so let’s be honest about this, there was only going to be one winner. But as the LA Rochelle scrum-half tries to tackle his fore arm with his head he bounces straight off, lies in a heap, curls up into a little foetal ball, and then promptly leaves the field.
In no way did Afatia lead with his arm or elbow, nor did he look to use either of them as a weapon, he simply pushed him away, but our best friend slow motion obviously felt sorry for Retière and the Samoan prop was forced to join his ‘victim’ on the sidelines for the last 5 minutes of the match.
Please don’t let rugby go all soft on us Mr. TMO!
Here’s a clip of the incident, let us know what you think.
Follow Andy on Twitter (@scrum5ive)