Premiership sides off the pace in Europe

Freddie Burns

The last two weekends gave us some absorbing rugby in back-to-back Champions Cup matches. However, things are not quite going to plan for the Premiership teams – now two-thirds of the way through the group stages and Saracens are the only side that look like they will be competing for the grandest of prizes in European rugby.

The 2015-16 and 2016-17 winners have eased through so far; they sit on four wins from four, topping their group with 18 points having done the double on Cardiff Blues. Their 51-25 and 26-14 victories over the Welsh side mean they have so far scored an impressive 119 points, the third highest behind only Racing 92 and Leinster, with the second highest points difference – again behind only Leinster, although the Irish side and current champions have only won three of their four games.

Having one of the softer groups, with Glasgow Warriors, the Blues and Lyon, means they have not been tested too stringently, however they have still looked in imperious form and it is telling that they have been very unhappy with their performances, despite recording relatively comfortable wins. This latest victory extended their unbeaten run to 22 games in all competitions and you would have to put them in a bracket with last year’s winner and runner up, Leinster and Racing 92, as well as the impressive Toulouse, as the frontrunners for the title.

Outside of Saracens and there has been little to smile about for Premiership teams. Over the last two weekends we have had seven English sides in action in 12 games, and only four wins for the Premiership teams. Given two of those games were Gloucester versus Exeter Chiefs, so an English winner was inevitable, that leaves Saracens’ two victories over the Blues as the only wins over Pro14 or Top14 opposition.

Excluding those four games, the average margin of defeat was over 15 points. It is fair to say the Premiership sides look off the pace in Europe.

As it stands, Exeter, Gloucester and Newcastle Falcons are still in with a shot at progressing – although it would likely take two bonus point victories to make that possible, as well as a few other results going their way. Wasps, Bath and Leicester are dead and buried (although as I understand it there is still a small mathematical possibility of Tigers making it through).

If things play out as most expect, it would be the second year in a row that Premiership sides have only provided one quarter-finalist – Saracens (again) being the lone representative in the 2017-18 competition. Given the Premiership again have seven sides in the competition (thanks to qualification via the Challenge Cup), two from fourteen in two years is a pretty poor return by any measure.

So where has it gone wrong for the English sides? Does it go beyond them and to small differences in the refereeing and interpretation of the laws? Pro14 teams being able to rest their best players more regularly and target European matches?

To be fair, Bath and Leicester have both come into the competition in fairly abject form – hardly shining domestically in the Premiership and, despite their array of talent, never really looked like making the grade. Sunday’s game against Racing 92 was the eighth time this season Leicester have shipped more than four tries, Tigers head coach Geordan Murphy describing it as probably ‘the lowest ebb that I can remember in my history at the club’.

Newcastle have struggled too – although they seemed to be getting their season back on track after famous victories over Toulon and Montpellier earlier in the competition. That is what makes their double-loss to Edinburgh so disappointing, although injuries certainly played a part in that. Such was the crisis at tighthead, they were forced to go into the first game against Edinburgh without a specialist tighthead, having had three injuries in that position in the run up to the game and European Rugby denying them special dispensation to register another player.

Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards called the decision disappointing and labelled it a safety issue: ‘It is not like playing a left wing on the right wing.’ So maybe the Falcons deserve a little slack.

Wasps, Gloucester and, in particular, Exeter, have all been seriously underwhelming, however.

Wasps have perhaps flattered to deceive so far this season – and, although they sit reasonably comfortably in fourth place in the Premiership, you get the sense all is not quite right for the Coventry club. On field, and having swapped Danny Cipriani for Lima Sopoaga, the Kiwi is not yet performing with the same consistent class as the man he replaced. Added to the injury of star man Jimmy Gopperth and Wasps lack of synchronicity is understandable. What is more worrying is the rumour mill about a possible exodus at the end of season. Christian Wade has already raised eyebrows by departing just a couple of months in, to chase his dream of playing American Football, while supposedly three of their biggest stars in Willie Le Roux, Nathan Hughes and Elliot Daly look set to leave (for Japan club rugby, Bristol Bears and Saracens respectively). A certain amount of player churn is to be expected, and all will have their individual reasons, but the extent and calibre of players leaving suggests of a deeper malaise.

Gloucester are another who have blown a little hot and cold this season, and still have the feeling of a side coming together and finding its rhythm. For all the strides they have made with their game, perhaps this was a step too far.

Exeter have definitely been the biggest let down of all the English contingent. Although they picked up their first win of the competition on Friday, the Premiership heavyweights have rather disappointed. Something which is all the more frustratingly because of their good domestic form (just the one loss so far) and specific ambition to target Europe this season.

Their results by themselves have not been too bad – a draw against Munster and a narrow loss away to Castres are hardly epic disasters, but given the Chiefs recent success and ambition it is not enough. They progressed year-on-year in the Premiership, but in Europe they have stagnated.

Perhaps it is that their style just does not transpose into the European game as well as others – Exeter rely on stringing a large number of phases together in attack, utilising their hard runners and the power of attrition to tire the defence and create space. However, we have seen that referees are often more lenient at the breakdown in European matches and this allows teams to compete more aggressively at the contact area against Exeter, disrupting their flow and gameplan more effectively than Premiership opposition manage. Leinster did it to them last season, and Munster did it to them this year.

If Exeter are to progress in Europe – whether this year or next – they may need to tweak their approach. Given their Premiership success you would think it does not require a dramatic overhaul, but whatever the solution, they are not quite getting it right at the moment.

If Exeter truly want to be regarded as a heavyweight of English rugby in the same way as Saracens (despite their similar recent domestic success), then they need to target progress in Europe. That would be the icing on the remarkable cake that is Exeter Chiefs’ story.

By Henry Ker

38 thoughts on “Premiership sides off the pace in Europe

  1. Look at the Premiership. Its not overburdened with high class teams playing effective, efficient winning rugby. The standard this season has been generally poor. When the top 2 sides are so overwhelmingly superior to everyone else, it tells you that the league isn’t as competitive as it should be.
    Frankly some of our top teams need to take a hard look at themselves. There is no right to do well in Europe, and it must be acknowledged that there are some crack sides in the competition, but our sides should be competitive and capable of at least looking like they belong in this company.

  2. I’m not sure that Sarries (and particularly Jamie George, Billy V and Mako V) would agree that Warriors were soft opposition.

  3. “Having one of the softer groups, with Glasgow Warriors” That would Glasgow that are currently second (overall) in the Pro14, and are one of only two sides (the other being Harlequins) to stop Sarries scoring more than one try in a game all season. The 13 points Sarries scored in that game is their lowest points total in a game all season too.

    “Pro14 teams being able to rest their best players more regularly and target European matches?” What utter claptrap. It’s called squad management. No point in running your First XV in to the ground all season. I saw Newcastle rested a whole load of players for the first Edinburgh game, did them a whole load of good in the return fixture, where they still got beat off a mediocre Edinburgh team.

    Glasgow are putting out a squad every week with 18 or 19 current internationalists, not exactly resting players are they?

    Maybe the English teams should just take the hump again, and reform their own competition where the english teams get a 25 point head start in games.

    1. Niall,

      Glasgow may look good in Pro 14 but are cannon fodder in Europe. 18-19 INTs doesnt mean much when they are scottish.

      There are 2 awesome teams in the Pro 14 who are 1st and about 4th/5th in Europe (L&M) and 2 okish teams (G&S, though S are utter rubbish this season not least due to TB leaving). The rest are utter cannon fodder and means L&M can rest their A team and play their kiddies for over half a season and still only incur a few losses. Pro 14 is a weak competition compared to EP and T14. e.g. Leinster B would lose alot of T14 away games, maybe less so in EP.

      ECC is becoming a bit of a joke as the only teams that take it seriously are Saracens and the Irish teams.

      1. Jaco, take it you’re English. With @ least 1/2 the teams in the ‘competitive’ EP currently facing relegation, how does that make it so strong? With Saracens & Exeter running away with it, seems a bit like the P14 you denigrate doesn’t it? The above article implies that, Saracens apart, yr English teams too are little other than the ‘cannon fodder’ you ascribe to P14 sides. Also when England lost 6 on the bounce, followed by the disastrous SA tour, yr English internationals didn’t look too crash hot either. Hope yr fingers are xxed for Dublin & Cardiff nxt up. Hello & Merry Crimbo fella.

          1. Ok Jaco, puts a slightly diffetent spin on my post. However, if I’d inserted ‘the’ instead of ‘yr’ (regarding English teams, etc), it still poses the same ?’s doesn’t it?

            1. Donald, I m based in London and watch alot of EP, T14 and P14. The bottom half of the P14 is absolute pants. Kings, Dragons, Cheetahs, Treviso, Zebre are absolute drivel. Cheetahs were awful in SR and used to cop 40+ hidings at home and that was when they had a far better team as alot of their players have left. I dont see Worcester, Newcastle, Bristol, Northamps etc been anywhere near that bad. And T14 is similar apart from perhaps Perpignan. Its not just about the top 2, L&M are awesome its about the overall quality of the comp.

              SR had this problem for several years but have cleaned out most of the rubbish and dumped them onto P14. P14 has unfortunately tried to expand and made the same mistake SR made.

              1. Well jaco, I’ve lived in London for a bit myself & occasionally visit the Stoop & watch the odd Prem game or other on TV. So what? Claiming to be an NZer with expressions like ‘pants’ & ‘absolute drivel’ tally more with that of that other English lover Jones of the S Times. Sure you’re not masquerading? You arrogantly denigrate all but the attritional GP with
                as much clout as Nigel Farage. Of course the Italian teams, for instance, with little comparative history aren’t that competitive. That 2 leading Irish teams manage their players, which helps get results, unlike the English teams whom are mostly already also rans in their Prem with 2 already having run away with it. How’s this so competitive? As for the H Cup being a joke? That seems like a cop out to me. And why don’t they simply pull out of it then? As for the SH S Rugby’s erroneous expansion, they’ve been expanding for yrs. That they may have overstretched in more recent times doesn’t ‘t make their ambition necessarily wrong. They fixed that by consolidating anyway. Who knows about the future though? Besides S Rugby, from which the international sides are produced, has won the odd WC. I really don’t know how you get through doorways with the size if yr nut. However, all is not lost. Some education & head squeezing are likely remedies for yr malaise.

    2. Hi Niall, take it you are a Glasgow fan? Didn’t mean that comment as a slight on Glasgow, but a view on the group as a whole (you conveniently cut off the comment after ‘Glasgow’), including Lyon and Cardiff, who have not been great. And while I meant the comment on squad rotation slightly facetiously, yes Pro14 teams get to rest their star players more and target European games. Yes, it is called squad rotation (wasn’t disputing that) but it is something the Premiership doesn’t do as much (for various reasons). And I wasn’t even directly using it as an excuse – just raising it as it is a factor often mentioned when people debate why Pro14 teams are strong in Europe.

      1. Oops HK, you’ve drawn a beigel on this one. Teamcam & Nial have 7 thumbs ups between them re same. Not excluding mine of course, but then I didn’t take a Glasgow pot shot.

      2. The top flight of English rugby revolves around the Premiership. The top flight of the Pro14 (I.e. Leinster & Munster) prioritise European competition. As an Exeter supporter I couldn’t give a monkeys about the Heineken Cup. English club attendances show that European cup rugby is at the bottom of the pecking order. English teams fight on two fronts, Pro14 one (can’t really count the non-competitive league). I wouldn’t cry into my pint if the English teams left the HC completely.

        English players play week in week out. Leinster rested every Irish Int player in between Autumn internationals and champions cup. Call it good player management, call it what you want, but the odds are heavily in favour of the Leinster/Irish sides.

        1. Well Mark P, my monkey’s extremely unhappy @ yr taking his name in vain! Nxt thing, you’ll be stating that you don ‘t give a monkey’s about England performing @ the WC. Same principle innit, a cup comp? Yr view seems somewhat narrow & insular & 1 which Sarries, presumably, don’t share with you. English rugby, clubs have more players, dosh than anyone (almost? Maybe France excepted?) else & if Exeter aspire to gr8er things, not least attracting players with ambition, then they/you need to broaden their/yr horizons. So there!

          1. Your monkey is perfectly safe Don! Of course England have aspirations for the World Cup, but it’s players will be going into a comp having playing 30+ games (unless you’re Ben T’eo of course, in which case you’ve only played about 10 games – same as the vast majority of Irish Int players). No excuse for Ireland not being able to win the 6N this year as most/all the squad should be suitably rested. Leinster for the most part have the IRFU (and other sponsers) bankrolling them and have a larger, more talented squad than most others. Saracens are able to achieve this through some ‘creative *cough* accounting’ and a plethora of quality academy products coming through (much like Leinster which appear to have some kind of Back Row & Centre orc farm going on).

            Exeter will not win any Euro bling until Baxter either recruits an attack coach with some massive cajones or pulls his head out of the massive scone and clotted cream he’s immersed himself in and get with the 2018/19 programme. Up the jumper 10 man rugby ain’t going to win against the likes of Leinster, Munster and the top French teams. They will eat that sh@t up until the cows come home. I’m hoping that with the arrival of Hoggy and perhaps one or two other shrewd signings, Exeter can build an attack around him. A plan B, C & D is desperately needed if Exeter are going to be taken seriously in Europe.

            1. That’s an astounding amount of ignorance on show about the Pro14. Just an unbelievably dismissive attitude. There is no basis for any of your “non-competitive” comments except that’s there’s no relegation? That doesn’t make it any less competitive. For example, if the league was irrelevant, Dragons wouldn’t be sacking Jackman on the basis of their league position.

              Just because there’s no relegation, doesn’t mean everyone just phones it in for the year. Beyond just derbies, and grudging rivalries (E.g. Leinster – Glasgow), league position is very important to a lot of the clubs. As, and quite probably more, important than the GP. There’s no English/French sugar daddy money, no extravagant TV deals that those two leagues have, instead there’s the 4 broke Welsh regions, the IRFU trying to support 4 clubs in what’s comfortably the fourth most popular ball sport in the country, two clubs supported by the broke SRU, two clubs supported by an underfunded Italian RU, and two supported by a broke SA. The influx of money from making the HC is crucial, not to mention how it affects your ability to sign the one or two SH players you can afford. If you don’t bother, as you seem to think Pro14 teams do, then you lose all that, plus fans start walking.

              This also is why teams play academy players, as an alternative to the frivolous spending that goes on in the other 2 leagues. With the result that, shockingly, teams like Leinster have a second string team with experience and skills. In fact, I’d back their B team to beat everyone in the GP bar Sarries at home, and most of them away

              1. Agree about relegation GKDA. Super Rugby has no relegation either & it’s served NZ ok, despite claims that it’s ‘candy floss’ rugby. There’s nowhere to be relegated to, from. It was created as a stand alone comp & it produced a couple of WC’s. Anyway, there’s more dosh in England, France whereby they drain the SH & by the same token weakening home talent opportunities. Thus they mismanage their rugger in the long term. And it doesn’t seem to be working in the Prem too well this yr though, does it?

                1. The principal difference between the GP/T14 and the Pro12/SR is relegation / promotion. When I read people lamenting that various unions / franchises being broke and attendances being down (and most of them being from Pro12 / SR) then that must surely be because the competition they are playing in is not as appealing to sponsors or supporters – and this is largely because as suggested above, who really wants to see Leinster B vs Cardiff and similarly a the Crusaders in cruise control vs the Sunwolves…?

                  Supporters and sponsors flock to the he GP and T14 because the integrity of the competition is not compromised by being ring fenced. At this point it is also worth noting that rugby is probably similarly to Ireland, nglands 4th ball sport and way down the pecking order in sport overall with it’s inability to engage the masses and being seen as a predominantly middle-class / private school sport.

                  Within the GP and Top 14 there are other pressures going as well as the need to avoid relegation. The fight to get into Europe (sides from certain countries within the Pro12 are guaranteed places), the fight to get into the top four and then the playoffs.

                  So the cycle is unrelenting and then players have to manage their club vs country commitments.

                  As a final note – how are players expected to cope with an 11 month season? I love my rugby but I also think that too much of a good thing can be bad. I’d rather see 8 months of high quality than 11 months of attrition.

              2. Fair points and for me, every day is a learning day etc. My points are mainly levelled at the Irish sides.

                There seems to be a whole heap of people on various rugby forums (presumably of a Pro14 bias) that like to beat English posters (or anyone who expresses an alternative opinion) with the ‘Leinster/IRFU are much better than your shower’ stick. Irish rugby has hit a purple patch and this hasn’t always been the case, I get that. But the conditions have been created whereby a Leinster A team probably would beat most GP teams, especially this season. No GP team would routinely rotate academy products, rest their best players for half a season and expect to get away with it and avoid relegation. English rugby does have its problems and clearly the IRFU/NZ model is the way forward regards welfare and management for the players, but the GP & TV money rules the roost. Until this rights itself then I wholly expect the Irish teams to rule Europe for some time to come and for various sanctimonious Pro14 posters to tell us all how sh@te the GP and English rugby is.

                1. Well Mark P perhaps you could re-read Jaco, the alleged NZer’s, post in which he denigrates every comp, other than the Prem, as shite, including the error ridden SH S Rugby set up. In my exp, most tend to ‘talk up’ their own, to some extent anyway. Partly natural I suppose. I think we’re all more interested in our own. However,
                  after a couple of ‘results’, it can suddenly seem to appear that a team or is country a world beater. The Irish are no different it appears. Even recall that Joe Schmidt was ‘the best coach in the world’ being bandied, BEFORE the last WC. And now, 1 national win v NZ & even here, some imply that Ireand only have to turn up to win the nxt one. Well, sort of & we’ll see. Anyway, that their Pro 14 sides manage their players by rotation, does make sense however & their results in Comps currently reflect this. The Prem is stuck in this respect as it, not the RFU, has the real power in the game & mainly has its own interests @ heart. Mostly through the necessity of survival & results. Don’t foresee this sit changing, whereby the RFU take control of running the clubs. Maybe a reverse takeover of the RFU by the clubs in time? In any event, agree that the game model legislates against the clubs here & for now @ least, the (top) Irish clubs hold sway. So it’s a case of grinning & bearing I guess. OTOH, nothing stays the same forever, so have to see what the future holds. Afterall England will still have more players, dosh than (most) other sides, countries.

        2. That may be Mark, but which carries more clout & with whom? Seen from a wider context, prestige, success @ a higher level must surely come with a Euro Cup jug? The reasons as to who, what, how, when, where or why the English & P14, or even the T14, rugby & clubs do what they do, is down to their choice in the end. If English clubs play too much, then that’s an issue for them to fix.. with the RFU, PPA, PR? It is what it is unfortunately & that £ dictates may also need to (collectively & via WR? Although I find this body as toothless as a budgerigar) addressing. Doubt whether the 1dime Baxter will be replaced any time soon, but he needs to stop losing.. any more games.

          1. He won’t be replaced anytime soon, not until Tony Rowe grows impatient for some Euro silverware and either gives Baxter a nudge or shows him the door. But then Exeter are still a young club in the GP, still finding their feet and seeing what works. The whole ‘more than the sum of their parts’ soundbite only takes them so far. They still lack a few Int standard players (and coaches for that matter) that could really make a difference in Europe.

            1. Mark P, well they could go into debt & spend, spend, spend like Sarries. Spot the non internationals. Jones of the S Times reckoned that Sarries are a role model club for the rest to follow. Maybe so, but if only they hadn’t run @ a loss of only £2m last(?) season. I think I read this somewhere else in the same paper. IMO, it’s mainly in the coaching (provided you have some sort of team to begin with). Not only with basic skills, but in the decision making of options. Execution of what to do & when, accurately & @ speed count for plenty methinks. Maybe some sharpening up in these areas are necessary, along with an expansion of tactics to have an all round game rather than too much R1? A couple of strategic, key offshore signings might also help.

            2. Mark P – pretty stunned by your views on Baxter, as a Chiefs fan. He’s level-headed, with the priorities well balanced, and an excellent attitude towards learning and developing. He’s also not stupid enough to throw ‘proven internationals’ willy-nilly into the squad and kill the ‘band of brothers’ vibe he’s been carefully nurturing since the Championship. Exeter pick the players they feel will fit – and the results with Turner, Waldrom, and Salvi show the benefits of choosing comparability over stardust.
              He may be slow and measured compared to many coaching regimes, but that is one of his greatest qualities. And I’m relieved he is being allowed to get on with it by Rowe, as it is what has got Exeter to this point. With a few of the more live wire players back from injury (Nowell, Woodbury, Simmonds) they’ll get the freeflowing attack back too, and finish the season strongly – and with the prospect of mixing Hogg in for next year as well. It may be disappointing to have this year’s European cup go by with a whimper, but throwing baby out with bathwater would be a catastrophic overreaction, and is totally unnecessary.

              1. I’d rather have Bax over many other coaches in the Prem. I’m not against him per se, more that I feel the club has to evolve if they are serious about Europe and maybe a fresh coaching addition may help. Steenson for all his calming and organisational influence on the pitch is stifling any creativity. Ex really crave a creative FH. The sooner J Simmonds gets his chance there the better.

                1. I think the Exeter coaching is evolving and adapting reasonably well season by season – again, the bringing in of seasoned players potentially at the tail end of a career means you can have those players teach by example on the pitch and the training paddock to all the players developing throughout the club. Salvi’s stayed on as a defence coach, which seems to prove that that is the approach Exeter has with many of these players. They’d be the first to say they’re still developing, building the foundations right so that the club doesn’t overstretch or become brittle in places by trying to change too quickly. As said, Hogg as a signing for next year is a good sign they want to get the attack side to the game back, and I’m hoping to see from the last 2 pool matches this year that the Chiefs are mastering adapting their game-plan to the European game (more breakdown focus etc). If they do that, then signs are very good for next year.
                  As for Steenson, I actually rate his ability on attack better than many – a couple of seasons back, the only reason I could see why he wasn’t getting Ireland caps as Sexton’s deputy was that he was playing in England! He’s got the attack ability, but also a level head – and so I trust him to not go for a miracle play when it’s too risky. That he is possibly appearing to have limited creativity currently I would argue is as much a compliment to opposition defences than through some major shortfall in his own ability.
                  J Simmonds got a decent run-out last year, so Baxter’s not afraid to play him if he’s in form, but presumably Steenson is looking sharper at the moment (as well as being an important on-field leader). Joe is back on the team roster for Northampton, so Baxter is definitely still trying to manage the inevitable transition for when Steeno does stand down.
                  As a final note on FH at Chiefs, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re hoping to lasso a veteran FH post-WC to act as a further on-field tutor, general, and replacement for Steeno in due course, to work in tandem with J Simmonds. Will have to see if it happens!

  4. Said this to the Leinster fans I was sat next to at the weekend (while freezing my ar$e in the Aviva off watching Bath get taught a lesson); we will likely never compete with sides like them in Europe until their domestic league becomes more competitive, or ours becomes less attritional.

    If their B teams can put 50 points on other sides in the league, it’s not competitive, is it? How anyone can argue that I don’t know. English sides are playing in a league where almost anyone can beat anyone. That is bar Sarries of course, whose use of the salary cap is a thing of wonder (yes, Bath, I know, but how they’re weighing up Daly on top of everyone else is ridiculous).

    The Leinster fans also mentioned how they have the pick of so many private schools, so their homegrown talent pools are ridiculous. Some of the players that don’t make the grade become internationals eventually after signing for other clubs! Maybe we need provincial teams in England to compete with that?

  5. No real surprise with Bath, Leicester and Gloucester, I didn’t expect them to challenge much in Europe. Gloucester need a bit more time with the new team/players etc. I expect them to be more consistent in 2019/20 season. Wasps I am dissapointed with. I knew their group would be tough but I expected more fight from them both in Europe and Prem this season, clearly some unrest. Exeter is a strange one, and as per the article I can only see their issue as not being able to adapt enough to the different styles in Euro and having a plan B. I do however feel they will come good once they bring in a couple of x-factor players..Hogg being one off the list already.

    There is a general buzz in Irish rugby right now and so no suprise their three teams looking decent. Leiniester – well they are Leinster, and Munster just always turn up in the H-Cup.

  6. Both Wasps and Exeter suffered from the loss of crucial players at a vital time in Europe this year. Wasps are nowhere near the same team without Launchbury and Gopperth, haven´t replaced Cips adequately and have both Robson and Spencer injured. Exeter had their back row balance badly disrupted by the loss of Simmonds. and also miss LCD and Woodburn. Certainly other sides have similar injury lists because player welfare is no longer any sort of priority in the Premiership, but with Exeter in particular many of their players are home-bred and are being forced into slightly premature exposure at the highest level. The fact that the current England scrum half has not been starting for Leicester lately is indicative of the sort of form he has been in, and they seem to have little defensive co-ordination plus Dan Cole seems to be determined to give all his presents before Christmas in the form of stupid penalties. How can a man play so long and learn so little?

    1. Andy L, is that Joe Simpson the 1/2back? If so, wondered what had happened to him. Really rated JS. Thought he should have played for England. He is qualified I think? Not only ran like a wing 3/4, IMO he was also unpredictable & had more variety to his game than other 1/2’s.

      1. Yes Don, that’s him. He had a really nasty injury which kept him out for a long time and has never really managed to push Robson aside at Wasps since. I thought he might be a regular England player at one time but EJ seems to be suspicious of scrum halves with a rapid accurate pass, pace and a real eye for a gap. I offer Youngs and Wiggie as evidence.

  7. A happy Christmas to the rugby blog and all that sail in her!
    My thanks for your efforts throughout the year. Long may it continue. Also to all the commentators that make this such an enjoyable waste of my working time…
    Here’s to an even better 2019 and the England Rugby team, World Champions 2019!!

    1. Why, thank you Pablito & a Merry Crimbo to you too. I can see from yr England team’s aspiration comment that you also believe in Father Christmas. Fair do’s. And who knows, maybe both will come to pass as being true? Fingers xxed! Well, for the 1st part anyway, so off to open my pressies now! Mind you Santa will have had a hard job getting down MY chimney. It’s sealed! Fingers…II!


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