ALL BLACK Ali Williams will pull on the Nottingham shirt for the last time this evening when the Green and Whites take on the Rotherham Titans.The match, which kicks off at 7.45pm, will see the two closely placed sides do battle in a key test for Glenn Delaney’s men who will be looking for their sixth league win in as many games.The last three games the sides have contested on Nottingham territory have brought victory for the home sides, with tries from many current Green and Whites first team stars, including David Jackson, Tim Usasz, Jack Cobden, Andy Savage, Neil Fowkes, Ben Johnston and Luke Sherriff.Tonight will provide Director of Rugby Delaney the final opportunity to hone the extra prowess of New Zealand International Williams, whose arrival to the club at the end of December stunned the rugby world.Speaking ahead of the fixture, Delaney said: “The squad has been performing at a consistently high level in the Championship for back to back games since last year, so we’re confident about taking that form into this game and getting the result we want in front of the home crowd.“Having Ali for this key match is an obvious boost to the side. He’s fitted in incredibly well through this month and has been the asset we all knew he would be.“Overall the squad is looking strong at the moment, with injuries not hampering us too much for the time being. Despite the fixture pile-up we can call on all our key guys this evening and we can be confident of going out and playing our best game.” Look out for the team announcement on www.nottinghamrugby.co.uk later today.Tickets will be available from the turnstiles at Meadow Lane this evening and are priced as follows:Adults: £16Concessions: £16 LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Students: £7Children: £4
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Centre point: Jonathan Davies, who ran great attacking lines against Ireland, scores his second try in DublinBy Paul WilliamsWALES BEAT Ireland 23-21 in Dublin on Sunday in their opening Six Nations fixture, but what did we learn about the men in red? Here’s the lowdown on the good, and not so good, of their performance – and stay tuned for more Welsh analysis throughout the rest of the championship.1. Welsh back-line makes a big impressionEven by modern standards, Wales have assembled an enormous back-line and they dominated the Irish threequarters in a manner rarely seen in Tier One Test rugby. But this wasn’t the barrage of the ten channel that has historically welcomed Ronan O’Gara. The selection of the defensively sound Sexton and the absence of O’Driscoll meant that Wales targeted the 12/13 channel instead – and with enormous success. Jamie Roberts’s inside angles were destructive and Jonathan Davies’s blend of inside-out and outside-in attacking lines led him to top the try count and ball-carrying stats for both teams (two tries/64m). It meant that the comparatively diminutive centre partnership of Gordon D’Arcy and Fergus McFadden had to make 26 tackles between them, whereas Roberts and Davies made a miserly 12. But whilst the Welsh centre pairing may have dominated midfield, George North was, at times, unplayable. Whether he is running hard, direct lines or more subtle diagonals, North is beginning to embarrass some of the biggest names in rugby. Lions Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney were both dispensed with during North’s early touchline burst, but it was the manner in which he dismissed Fergus McFadden that produced the game’s ‘YouTube moment’.2. Never rule out Ryan JonesRyan Jones may no longer be the fulcrum of the Welsh team, but he played a vital role against the Irish. Jones doesn’t possess Dan Lydiate’s technical proficiency, which brought O’Brien, Ferris and Heaslip down to earth in the World Cup, but he is an organised and relentless defender – he was Wales’ third highest tackler with 11. But it is Jones’s ball-carrying that is most valuable to Wales. Whilst he rarely makes the 30-yard runs through the ten channel (the sort that close out Six Nations highlights programmes), it is his persistent five-yard carries in the narrow channels that are so beneficial to Wales. Jones’s heavy and belligerent ball-carrying not only sucks in more guards to the ruck area, it also allows Toby Faletau more freedom to sit wide (and create the sort of breaks that will, at some stage, close out a Six Nations highlights programme). If Wales had lost in Dublin on Sunday, it would have been yet another defeat that the Welsh management could justifiably put down to poor goalkicking. Wales had a success rate of just 42.95% in Dublin which is well below the requisite 75/85% demanded at Test level. Whilst Rhys Priestland’s goalkicking is notoriously temperamental, even he must have been surprised when he missed a 22m tiddler from in front of the posts. You could hear the words “I could have kicked that” echoing around Wales, and for once they were right. With so many scrum offences resulting in knee-jerk penalty decisions, Warren Gatland needs to consider whether Leigh Halfpenny should be given the kicking tee for the rest of the tournament.What did you make of Wales’ performance? Let us know your thoughts by using the comment box below. Tip tackles lose you matches. Having lost a World Cup semi-final for that very reason, you wouldn’t think the Welsh team need reminding that they shouldn’t lift players ‘above the horizontal’. That’s why Bradley Davies’s decision to upend Donnacha Ryan was unfathomable. It was negligent on so many levels. Davies’s decision reduced Wales to 14 men and created extra gaps in a defensive line that had played 65 minutes of intense rugby. Ten minutes in the bin also reduced Wales’ options in an already failing lineout. This will have implications beyond the game in Dublin, a citing is certainly in the post and will further deplete Gatland’s second-row options – he is already without Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris. But above all the incident was malicious, genuinely dangerous and a sizable ban is sure to follow.4. The Welsh lineout is brokenWales won in Ireland despite their lineout. What was once deemed an Achilles heel is beginning to resemble a compound fracture. Wales had a lineout completion rate of 71.4% on Sunday (W10, L4) – the worst lineout completion percentage of the opening weekend of Six Nations fixtures. It simply isn’t good enough. Wales’ first lineout saw Huw Bennett throw a tricky, five-yard short ball to the first jumper. Whilst this unorthodox move brought a cheer from the crowd, it spoke volumes about Wales’ lack of confidence in their ability to secure possession. Much has been made of the injuries to Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Dan Lydiate, but Luke Charteris’s absence is arguably the most damaging. Big debate: Should Leigh Haflpenny be giving the kicking tee permanently?5. Goalkicking wins games Seeing yellow: Bradley Davies is sin-binned3. Wales must remember that rugby is a 15-man game NOT FOR FEATURED
[imagebrowser id=24]BRAD BARRITT sums up the jubilant mood of the England team on the cover of the May edition of Rugby World. The Saracens centre is a guest columnist in an issue packed with quotes, pictures and analysis of the 2012 Six Nations. Our 14-page rundown is followed by Stuart Barnes’s verdict of the championship, in which he picks his Lions XV one year out from their tour to Australia.Ben Morgan, Leigh Halfpenny and Rob Kearney, three stars of the Six Nations, all feature, while Scottish gloom following a wooden spoon campaign should be dispelled by reading about Edinburgh’s flying Dutchman, Tim Visser – soon to qualify for Scotland. Ireland’s problems also come under scrutiny as Paul Wallace explains what must be done in the wake of their scrum implosion at Twickenham.With the Welsh exodus to France gathering momentum, Stephen Jones looks at what the newly crowned European champions can do to stop the drain of talent. And staying in the principality, Derek Quinnell remembers the legendary Mervyn Davies.Elsewhere, we report on the remarkable Bumble Bees from Yorkshire – England’s only mixed-ability team – and take Sale and England Saxons forward James Gaskell back to his roots at Sandbach. We also visit Dublin to put your questions to the ERC, see how the Pumas are gearing up for the first Rugby Championship, and see what happens when Essex side Eton Manor have a coaching session with London Irish.———————————————————————————————————————————————–The Front Row…30 minutes with Lee DixonSix Nations 2012 – A round-up of the tournamentDerek Quinnell – The former Wales back-rower pays tribute to Mervyn DaviesBrad Barritt – The centre on the Six Nations and England’s summer tourPaul Wallace – The ex-prop gives his solutions to Ireland’s front-row crisisSpotlights…Jonathan Davies – With the Grand Slam ticked off, the Wales centre wants a win Down Under. By Sarah MockfordGeoff Parling – The England lock relished his first taste of Test rugby and is hungry for more. Owain Jones reportsRory Best – Bea Asprey finds the Ulster hooker eager to right Ireland’s Six Nations wrongs by beating New ZealandGreig Laidlaw – The Edinburgh half-back hopes to draw a line under Scotland’s wooden spoon. By Katie FieldThe Centres…Stuart Barnes – A look back at the Six Nations teams, plus his 2013 Lions XVBen Morgan – The rampaging England No 8 is living the dream on the Test stage. Here’s his story…Leigh Halfpenny – The full-back has worked tirelessly to help get himself – and Wales – back on top formTim Visser – Will Scotland’s try drought end when Edinburgh’s scoring machine joins the side in June? Rob Kearney – This man has been getting the fans cheering despite Ireland’s disappointing tournamentTechnical Zone – Dan Cottrell’s tips on how to create gaps in defenceMinis Zone – Kicking, catching and your team’s first scrum sessionFitness Zone – Wales’ cold relief, plus how to perfect your gym techniqueSave our Season – Eton Manor need our help. So we sent them to London Irish to take part in a skills sessionWelsh Exodus – Stephen Jones on why Wales are haemorrhaging stars to France – and how to stop it happeningMixed Ability – We visit Yorkshire to meet a team breaking down barriers – the remarkable Bumble BeesEuropean Rugby – Your questions are answered as we go to Dublin to meet the boss of Heineken Cup rugbyArgentina – How the influence of Agustín Pichot has helped the Pumas’ enter the Rugby ChampionshipIt started here – James Gaskell’s rugby journey has taken him from Sandbach to Sale. And he’s not finished yetNaked Truth – We get to know the real Will Genia The Backs…Club Guide – All your grass-roots news, plus Team of the Month and School Team of the MonthNaked Truth – Meet Wallaby Will GeniaArmchair Zone – The latest books and productsTour Tale – A nasty wake-up call———————————————————————————————————————————————–Click here to subscribe to Rugby WorldClick here to find out where to buy Rugby World LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Would you like to sign up to Rugby World’s excellent weekly email newsletter? Click here.Or perhaps you’d like a digital version of the magazine delivered direct to your PC, MAC or Ipad? If so click here.
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Happy days: Rob Howley is finally adjusting to the void left by Warren Gatland, who is on a Lions sabbaticalBy Joe BarnesIT’S FAIR to say Rob Howley has been subjected to a testing introduction to life as an international head coach but chatting to him at The Vale, ahead of tomorrow’s game at Murrayfield, he cuts a far more relaxed figure than he has of late. For while Howley has attracted opprobrium as Wales lurched to five consecutive defeats on his watch, he deserves credit for reviving his side’s fortunes and putting them in contention for the Six Nations championship.Quick to smile, it’s clear Howley is finally enjoying his time in charge but he’s not afraid to admit that he and Warren Gatland faced teething troubles as they worked out a coaching transition as Gatland departed for full-time Lions’ sabbatical.“Taking the Argentina and Samoa games and then handing over to Warren for the Australia and New Zealand games was a difficult in terms of being a part-time coach. You know, managing the communications through that intense autumn period was difficult time for both of us.Testing times: Howley deep in thoughtOf course that chastening Autumn came off the back of a winless summer Series against Australia. “When you revisit the Wallabies and the 3-0 Series loss, that still hurts, yet if you look closer at the way we lost them and the nature of the defeat, they were very small margins but with huge consequences. On our return, we thought if we’d shown more composure in small areas we could have easily won that test series 2-1.”In this Six Nations, the portents did not bode well as it took Howley and Wales 43 minutes to kick into action, as they ‘won’ the second-half 19-7. However, this was after a torrid first half which had seen them commit a multitude of unforced errors to go in at the break 23-3 down. Howley concurs. “You cannot afford to give any international side the opportunities that we gave Ireland. The second half was a totally different story and to be honest we should have still won that game, we go back to those small margins that left us going into the French game with our backs against the wall.”The former Wales and Lions scrum-half refuses to take personal plaudits on his contribution to his team’s revival, instead preaching consistency and the need to give opportunities to those who have earned the right to wear the Welsh shirt.“Coming into the Six Nations, this team hasn’t changed dramatically over the last 12 months. We had injuries in the second row but players have come through, in particular Andrew Coombs, who has been outstanding. We’ve always believed in giving opportunity to players who have put their hands up with the Regions.” CARDIFF, WALES – FEBRUARY 02: Wales player Andrew Coombs (l) wins a lineout ball during the RBS Six Nations game between Wales and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images) Sterling effort: Andrew Coombs has impressedWith the clock on the Scotland game ticking, Howley is happy to see his side’s confidence returning, intimating to a return of attacking intent that has absent of late.“We’ve gone away in the last couple of weeks and played a game plan to suit the conditions. Winning has changed our mindset and bred a new self-belief and confidence. Of course we want to play with the ball in hand but it has to be in the right areas and conditions.”Howley’s dreams of front-foot, attackig rugby may be put on hold for a while as he plans to nullify Scotland’s ‘in form’ back three of Sean Maitland, Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg.“Quality players want time on the ball. We can’t afford to give Stuart [Hogg] any time. Our kicking game has to be accurate and put them under pressure, whether it’s from possession or kicking to the corners. We need a good kick chase because if you can beat the first or second defender at this level, it creates opportunities.”One points Howley has stressed to his squad is the importance of focusing on Scotland and not allowing thoughts to run ahead to the England game in eight days time. “Whatever happens against England will happen. The media and the supporters in Wales have always got one eye on the England game but we’re not looking beyond Scotland, for now.”
Snappy: Care has his mojo back with an impudent drop-goal1. Cian Healy (Ireland)If Wales were going to hi-jack Dublin, Adam Jones needed to deliver a trademark demolition job at the scrum. Despite the intense scrutiny from Wayne Barnes, that never happened and Healy showed how far his set-piece has come on. There weren’t any Hollywood charges, but a couple of short shunts kept Warren Gatland’s men on their toes. Healy’s main contribution in the loose was some terrific chop-tackling around the fringes, which allowed Ireland’s ruck scavengers to feast.2. Rory Best (Ireland)Best has a phenomenal engine – as if his magnificent back row needed any help in overpowering a strangely timid Wales – and was simply effervescent. Some dead-eye throwing also made him the architect of Ireland’s lineout maul, their most devastating weapon. He lasted 12 minutes longer than Hibbard and easily bettered his much-lauded rival.3. Dan Cole (England)Cole is so valuable to England and proved his worth over another hard-working shift. Replaced only in game’s dying embers, he has now racked up 155 minutes in this competition – far more than any other tighthead. That’s not to say the Leicester man paces himself at all, though. Indeed, his Calcutta Cup clash was saturated with honest graft and he eked a scrum penalty out of Ryan Grant as well.4. Paul O’Connell (Ireland)If Sexton was Ireland’s brain, O’Connell was the heartbeat. He set the tone for his side’s superior muscularity by man-handling Dan Lydiate to halt Wales’ first attack and dismantled the visitors’ lineout thereafter. Before kick-off, Schmidt mischievously suggested Ireland captain would need a big game to justify his return to the team. It proved a masterstroke in man-management and O’Connell was happy to rise to the occasion.Leader: O’Connell led by example5. Courtney Lawes (England)Lawes was commanding in every aspect at Murrayfield and his consistency at Test level is becoming fearsome. The individual statistics – 11 lineout takes, two steals, ten carries and seven tackles – are top-drawer, but the less quantifiable aspects of his play are just as impressive. This special Northampton Saint possesses the pace to terrify first receivers and enough presence to keep Jim Hamilton quiet.6. Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)For the second week in a row, a man wearing a number six on his back was the stand-out player across all three fixtures. At 6ft 3in, taller than most of the world’s best breakdown exponents, O’Mahony defied physics and Wales with a number of cast-iron jackals. Winning his first penalty after five minutes when Lydiate held on, he also ambushed Sam Warburton in the second half close to his line and was generally a complete pest to the men in red.7. Chris Henry (Ireland)Being in the right place at the right time is the very first thing on an openside flanker’s job description, and Henry is doing a fantastic job of letting Irish fans forget about the absence of Sean O’Brien. Fabulously irritating for the opposition in every contact situation, he benefitted from being at the heart of Ireland’s irresistible driving maul for a first Test try on the half-hour. Before and after that, the tenacious Ulsterman scrapped and spoiled wonderfully as Wales were derailed. 8. Louis Picamoles (France)At the end of a dismal first half in Paris, France needed something to lift their clunky, clumsy mood. The longer Italy lingered within a score, the tetchier the famously fickle French supporters grew. Luckily for them, Picamoles was on hand to bulldoze past three defenders and over shortly after the break. It became a catalyst for the spell that clinched an underwhelming match, though Toulouse’s talisman – with 52 metres from 12 carries – showed determination all day. Go forward: Mike Brown showed his class with a try and fine all-round performance on a sodden MurrayfieldBy Charlie MorganUnsurprisingly, Italy, Wales and Scotland do not figure highly in Round 2’s Team of the Week, so who impressed us? Let us know what you think…15. Mike Brown (England)Outwardly, Brown was magnanimous in the lead-up to Saturday and praised Stuart Hogg as a “world-class” performer. Deep down, he would have been desperate to make a point to a player who travelled in front of him for the Lions last summer. The Harlequin did that in the first quarter with a copybook hit on his opposite number before yet another impressive display of wiry running that included a second Test try in as many weeks.14. Andrew Trimble (Ireland)Trimble didn’t cross the whitewash as he managed against Scotland, but the Ulsterman was a picture of industry. Sparked by a fantastic one-on-one tackle on George North in the early stages, he harried after kicks relentlessly throughout a frenetic first hour, which featured one fine first-half bust. A return of 63 metres from nine carries on such a claustrophobic occasion is very commendable.13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)When O’Driscoll was writhing on the turf after receiving Scott Williams’ shoulder in the guts, it appeared his part in Ireland’s sweet victory could be over. Then he got up with a wry smile, the Aviva exploded into a throaty cheer and we all remembered how clever the timing of the great man’s script-writer is. This is far from a sentimental pick, though – O’Driscoll’s afternoon was full of understated excellence from canny grubbers to dogged counter-rucking and watertight defence. Sheer class, right until his role as peacemaker as it got ugly at the end.Mr Dependable: O’Driscoll put in a fine defensive shift12. Wesley Fofana (France)Jamie Roberts’ perseverance provided a solitary crumb of comfort for Warren Gatland and Wales, but a second-half magic spell from one of the tournament’s most genial players was enough to clinch a berth at inside-centre. First Fofana darted down the blindside to score himself, bypassing a weak challenge from Luke McLean. Five minutes later, he picked the pocket of Mauro Bergamasco and tore up the middle before hooking a sublime overhead pass to Yoann Huget, who in turn released Hugo Bonneval to dot down for a debut try. In an attritional episode at the Stade de France, Fofana offered much-needed joie de vivre.11. Jonny May (England)Convention and coaching manuals take a back seat whenever May is in possession – and it’s simply mesmerising to watch. Scotland were dumfounded time as Gloucester’s mercurial wing shimmied and sashayed between would-be tacklers at will. May is also tougher than he looks in defence. In him and Jack Nowell, Stuart Lancaster has unearthed a pair of rough diamonds, ready to be polished.10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)Sexton’s partnership with Joe Schmidt is already dripping in silverware from years together at Leinster and their symbiosis is smoothly moulding Ireland into an international outfit with much promise. With a pack that was wreaking havoc at lineout and ruck, the hosts’ fly-half did precisely what he needed to – hit the corners, varied his kicking and slotted his goals. Composure and accuracy personified, he also put his body on the line – stripping Richard Hibbard of the ball and forcing the ball out of Roberts’ grip late on.9. Danny Care (England)Conor Murray comprehensively outplayed Mike Phillips, but over-hit a couple of box-kicks. Care kept control against Scotland – something he didn’t do quite as well in Paris – and guided England in winning the territorial tussle comfortably. The Harlequin also fizzed a crisp pass to Luther Burrell for the opening try, landed a magnificent snap drop-goal from 35 metres and managed referee Jerome Garces shrewdly. DUBLIN, IRELAND – FEBRUARY 08: Paul O’Connell of Ireland takes clean lineout ball during RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium on February 8, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images) LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
Ahead of this weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals, Rugby World runs the rule over the French contenders… Ready Freddie? Michalak has been making headlines recently with his performances at ten for Toulon LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Bright spark: Clermont’s Napolioni Nalaga will be looking to make breaks like this against LeicesterClermontLeicester head to Clermont on Saturday with the statistics stacked against them. Not only do the Heineken Cup record books show that in 68 quarter-final encounters 51 have been won by the home side, but the Tigers travel to the toughest venue in Europe. The last time Clermont lost at the Stade Marcel-Michelin was in November 2009 (to Biarritz in the Top 14), and since then the men in yellow and blue have compiled a 74-match winning streak.Admittedly Clermont suffered a surprise 26-24 defeat away at Brive last week, but they were without Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Lapandry, Julien Bardy, Jamie Cudmore, Vincent Debaty and Sitiveni Sivivatu. All are available for selection on Saturday, and all are likely to help Clermont make it 75 games on the bounce at the Michelin.On the move: will Toulouse be able to hit the ground running at Thomond Park against Munster?ToulouseOf the three French teams left in the tournament, Toulouse face the toughest task in travelling to Munster. Lying sixth in the Top 14 with only 11 victories from 23 matches, the four-times champions will be firm underdogs ahead of Saturday’s clash at Thomond Park. “It’s a major challenge,” admitted Toulouse coach Guy Noves this week. “We know it’s going to be hard to get back up (from the defeat to Toulon) but we’re going to try to do it.” No one club has dominated the Top 14 this season, with the three French teams in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals all showing themselves fallible. Then again, they’ve also played some superb rugby at times and their opponents on Saturday will have to be at their best if they’re to progress to the semi-finals…ToulonThe reigning champions welcome Leinster to the Stade Mayol on Sunday, a week after their dramatic 32-28 victory over Toulouse in Marseille. Star of that show was Frederic Michalak, the veteran fly-half scoring 27 points including the second of Toulon’s two tries.The previous week Michalak – for whom the word ‘mercurial’ could have been invented – looked lively against Clermont and he has no doubt why he’s hit form at this late stage of the season. “I’m in good shape. I no longer have any niggles,” he says. “That’s allowed me to be at 100% and to play without apprehension.”The fact he’s been given a run in the No 10 shirt – a position in which, he says, he “feels at ease” – is no coincidence after 18 months playing for Toulon mostly at scrum-half. Nonetheless, it’s expected that Jonny Wilkinson, absent from the Toulouse game with a thigh strain, will return to the starting XV for the visit of Leinster.Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal is rare among his peers in French rugby in attaching as much importance to the Heineken Cup as to the Top 14, and though he would love to do the double this season, he sees this quarter-final as an opportunity to make a statement.“We want to confirm that we’re not European champions by chance,” Boudjellal told a local paper this week. “That we’re capable of dominating European rugby. I’m not saying we’re there but we want to show that Toulon have the dimensions to become a European giant.” Hardly a full-throated battle cry from the veteran coach, who perhaps has prioritised the Top 14 over the Heineken Cup in the final weeks of the season. Toulouse are by no means certain to qualify as one of the purported seven French teams for Europe’s showpiece competition next season. Their total of 58 points is only three more than ninth-placed Brive and with only two wins in their last seven league matches Noves knows that the remaining three Top 14 encounters are all must-win games.As for the Munster match, Noves admits that “to win over there would be a huge, huge achievement…(and) if we lose in putting in a good performance it will allow us to say that the European Cup was not our priority.”
Fighting the same battle: Are teams from outside the traditional tier one looked after? In 2013 World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper declared that the 2015 tournament would have “the most balanced and equitable match schedule in the history of the Rugby World Cup”.Then director of Rugby World Cup Limited, John O’Neill also stated: “The message is that 2011 was the last time we could tolerate tier two nations having to face an unfair schedule.”Looking at the 2011 pool stage fixtures below, it can be seen why change was required.Scotland were the only tier one nation that had to manage a three day gap between matches while the nine other breaks of that length were given to the tier two sides. New Zealand, France, England, Argentina, Ireland, Australia, Wales and Fiji all avoided three and four day turnarounds completely while at the other end of the scale – USA, Russia, Samoa and Namibia had to play their four matches in 17 day windows.Facing Wales and South Africa with less time to prepare that their opponents clearly put Samoa at a huge disadvantage and the issue of fixture disparity received media attention after a series of tweets on the subject from Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu.The calls for a level playing field and to shake up the traditional format are understandable. Looking back through the relevant rugby statistics, the most (or perhaps only) balanced and equitable match schedule in World Cup history actually occurred back in 1995, when 14 of the 16 teams each played their three pool matches in a nine day window. South Africa and Australia had ten days, but that was due to contesting the opening match.The Six Nations and Rugby Championship teams have played 132 World Cup pool matches against tier two opposition, winning 123 of them by an average score of 48-13. Looking at the 56 previous quarter-finalists from 1987-2011, 51 of them were tier one teams. The exceptions were Fiji in 1987 and 2007, Samoa in 1991 and 1995 and Canada in 1991. The tier two teams go into a World Cup already hindered by a difference in resources, availability of players and not having regular matches against the ‘big’ teams in the preceding four years. There doesn’t need to be a further handicap imposed of a tougher set of fixtures.So how equitable is the 2015 schedule? TAGS: Highlight After successfully preventing Wales from facing Australia in Cardiff during the pool stage, former chief exec of the Australian Rugby Union John O’Neill said: “the only team with home-ground advantage is the hosts. After that, every other team has to be on a level playing field in terms of facilities, training and rest etc.” Why then have Fiji and Uruguay ended up with pool matches against Wales at the Millennium Stadium?It might be an improvement on 2011, but there is still work to be done before the World Rugby view that the tier two teams won’t “won’t have that excuse this time” of an unfair schedule is true. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Namibia haven’t been done any favours again, but there are now five tier two teams with a pool stage window of 21 days or more compared to two in each of the previous three tournaments.The total number of days doesn’t give the whole picture though. In 2003 Uruguay had a 23 day fixture range but that was a split of three, four and 12 days between games. In 2007, USA’s total of 23 was broken down to three, three and 13 days between matches.There is a fairer division of the three day breaks this time, with five going to the tier one teams and five to those in tier two. That hardship has been mitigated for the tier one teams though, as New Zealand face Namibia afterwards, Australia meet Uruguay, South Africa play USA etc. In contrast, Namibia have a game against Argentina, Romania meet Ireland.It can also be seen below that Canada, Tonga, Namibia, Romania and Fiji all have to cope with two breaks of three or four days. Of the 11 sides that have the benefit of at least two longer rest periods of six or more days, seven of them are tier one nations.Tonga will have a nine day gap after playing Georgia in their opening match this year but then face Namibia, Argentina and New Zealand in 11 days. Romania may have decent preparation for their game against Canada but that is negated by the turnaround before their Ireland and Italy matches. Both those teams would stand a better chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals if they had favourable breaks between every round like England, Ireland or Italy.
No way through: Sam Burgess is unlikely to let a lot of traffic past himThe Brad Barritt-Sam Burgess centre pairing, which is not going to miss many tackles might have been picked even if Jonathan Joseph had been fit. Chuck in another tough tackler at number 10, in Owen Farrell, and maybe Lancaster has been looking at the stats on the defensive front.The odd percentage point can make a difference so maybe Lancaster is looking to nudge the tackle percentage figures closer to the ones from Cardiff.But come 10pm on Saturday the only one that will matter to his future employment prospects will be the ones on the scoreboard. By Adam HathawayStuart Lancaster says he is not obsessed by statistics but you could hardly blame a former schoolteacher if he was a bit of a number-cruncher on the sly.Most modern coaches who use the maths wouldn’t dare admit to relying on them.I don’t know how much he really pores over the figures but a small improvement in some of the digits could help England beat Wales on Saturday. They also give a clue as to why it seems he is, according to reports, going to pick the ‘defence-is-key’ backline he is.If he has had a look at the stats from the Fiji game, one jumps out as below par, and that is the tackle count.Then there’s the three lost scrums out of nine, but Graham Rowntree has been on the case trying to fix that this week.Tightening up: England struggled to handle the imposing figure of Nemani NadoloThe rest of the stats don’t look too bad, compared to what England did in the Six Nations and are hardly the massive dip that will foreshadow a huge beating at Twickenham this weekend.All these numbers come from the same source so, hopefully, they are roughly in the same ball park as the one that Lancaster uses – because England have copped from flak over some of them.In the Fiji match, England, according to our man with the abacus and the anorak, conceded 16 turnovers and missed 16 tackles out of 96 for a success rate of 83 per cent. They also gave away 12 penalties, two more than Clive Woodward’s magic maximum of 10 per game, and lost 16 turnovers.Put that lot in the magic mixer and it spits out a 35-11 win described by most observers as stuttering. They might not have got away with them against other sides but hey ho.Or they might have. Judgement day: Stuart Lancaster will have assessed the numbers before picking his side for Wales Stats not everything: England weren’t perfect against France in March but ran out convincing winnersIn the last game of the Six Nations, the madness against France, England missed 25 out of 186 tackles, for a success rate of 86 per cent, gave away 12 penalties and were turned over 16 times. They won that one 55-35.In the 25-13 win over Scotland at Twickenham in March, Lancaster’s team missed 16 out of 137 tackles – up to 88 per cent – and gave away 10 penalties and 17 turnovers.The one day when there stats were better was that wretched evening in Paris last month when England lost 25-20 and never looked like winning the game. Apart from a couple of late tries, on the evidence of the eyes, they were given an utter pasting.Parisien nightmare: Despite England posting decent statistic against France they lost disappointinglyBut they made 90 per cent of their tackles, gave away 12 penalties and were turned over just 12 times. Lies, damn lies, and statistics.There were other factors at work that night and losing four line-outs did not help their cause.In losing to Ireland, in the Six Nations in Dublin, the figures were 87 per cent tackles, 13 penalties and a massive 23 turnovers. That led to a 19-9 defeat and a game that England were never in, just like Paris.But all this maths does give us a clue to why Lancaster has supposedly picked the team he has for Saturday’s game against Wales.The win in Cardiff in February, when England came through 21-16 was built on the back of a 91 per cent tackle rate, concession of just nine penalties and 14 turnovers against a team with Sam Warburton starting and Justin Tipuric coming off the bench. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS If England are reverting to defensive type for this weekend’s huge clash against Wales, it may be down to the statistics. Either way, England daren’t lose…
Rugby may already have a law book that is as difficult to comprehend as Donald Trump’s administration, but it does require one further tweak. ‘Crossing’ should result in a scrum, not a penalty. The perfect example occurred during the 49th minute when Scotland tried to exit their 22-metre line by running the ball.Penalised: Tommy Seymour was penalised for crossing but is it a fair rule?Having won their own feed at the scrum, Scotland used the narrow channel to feed Tommy Seymour into space, who then stepped infield and rather innocuously ‘crossed’ in front of Ryan Wilson. The result was a penalty to Wales and an opportunity to kick to touch. It was in this, and all instances, an overly severe punishment for the attacking team. ‘Crossing’ isn’t an act of foul play and shouldn’t be treated as such. Crossing should fall into the same bracket as a knock-on, where losing possession and a resulting scrum is punishment enough. Someone please change it. Change of position: Liam Williams has said he prefers full-back, so play him thereAs we have seen repeatedly in this year’s Six Nations it is in the outside/wing channel, where fullbacks cause the most confusion. Their late ‘running lines’ regularly cause the defensive players to ‘number up’ incorrectly, a situation which Williams’ was himself undone by for Tommy Seymour’s try. Wales have already made positive tweaks in their centre selections, if they are truly committed to changing the way they play, then they require one more.Scotland are playing beautiful rugbyThis column is supposed to view the Scotland v Wales fixture from the viewpoint of the Welsh, but how can one not be charmed by the Scottish performance? As with all their performances in this year’s Six Nations, it is rugby as we all wish it to be played. An artistic backline adding colour to what can be a very monochrome game at test level. A backline littered with players who are comfortable handling the ball at speed has created the best counter attacking threat in the championship and an ability to finish tries that Wales currently doesn’t have.Playmaker: Stuart Hogg is playing with freedom and a smile on his faceBut it isn’t just their counter attack which makes them so effective, with a backline built around Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg even their structured play is refreshingly unstructured. A facet that northern hemisphere rugby’s often binary attitude to attacking play is currently struggling to defend- just ask Wales and Ireland. Scotland’s wonderfully laissez-faire approach to back-play may indeed be born out of an inability to dominate teams upfront. Despite having two excellent locks in the Gray brothers and a dogged set of backrow forwards, Scotland’s set piece can be unpredictable, but then so is their backline – and that is the beauty. Well played Scotland.Crossing shouldn’t be a penalty Wales suffered their first defeat in a decade to a vibrant Scotland, to leave Rob Howley’s men with their backs against the wall for the remaining two games LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Time to ponder: Wales are left to reflect on their first loss in a decade against Scotland Wales are struggling to ‘handle’ changeWales’ 29-13 defeat, to yet another irrestistible performance from Scotland, proved that despite a clear intent to move on from Warren Gatland’s attritional game plan, they are a long way from executing it. Despite impressive breakdown work from Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton, a Lion’s performance from Rhys Webb and yet another near effective offensive performance from Liam Williams (he was uncharacteristically caught out of position for Scotland’s first try), Wales looked uncomfortable handling the ball in pressurised scenarios. Jon Davies’ ‘drop and pop’ to Rhys Webb in the 48th minute being a classic example.Close call: After a fine break, Jonathan Davies was unable to find his support runner, Rhys WebbHaving dropped to the ground following a tackle and managed to roll onto his back, Davies needed to ‘pop’ up the ball to chest/ waist height for the supporting Webb to gather for a certain try. Instead the ball looked like it had been strapped to an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile and nullified what had been a classic Jon Davies line-break. Wales turned over the ball over 17 times in total, some of which was down to rugged breakdown work from John Barclay et al, but most of which came from poor handling in high traffic areas. Wales are emerging from an era where the rugby ball and the ability to handle it quickly were secondary to size and fitness. They must adapt quickly. It is no longer the case that Wales need to improve their offensive skill sets to compete with the world’s top 4. As Scotland are proving, EVERYONE has moved on.Was George North really fully-fit?George North touched the ball three times in 80 minutes against Scotland – a number which seems almost inconceivable for a test wing. Most wings touch the ball at least three to four times per game from kick returns alone. By pulling out a foldable camping chair and sitting on the halfway line you’d probably touch the ball three times as the play merely passed by you. A number made all the more bizarre when you consider that Liam Williams touched the ball 16 times on the other wing.Below par: With his leg heavily bandaged, was George North really fit?It may be that North simply had a bad day, players do, but far more likely that he hadn’t recovered from the injury which saw him sit out the England game. North clearly wasn’t ready to play – a statement further evidenced by the fact that he only made three tackles and more alarmingly missed just as many. It’s not as though Wales didn’t have options, they did, his selection was as poorly conceived as Moriarty’s early yank against England.Liam Williams is wasted on the wingThe Welsh coaches may view Liam Williams as a “wing who can play full-back”, but many see him as a modern fullback, who should be playing fullback. Williams was yet again near flawless in his offensive execution against Scotland. Williams is as comfortable giving unorthodox passes as he is receiving them and is adept at picking less than obvious lines – a rarity in Welsh backline play over recent years.
All smiles: World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont“We now await the decision of the IOC Session and continue to be fully committed to the Olympic Charter and the highest standards of anti-doping as we look to what promises to be a spectacular Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and, hopefully, beyond.”The IOC are expected to announce where the 2024 Olympic Games will be held in an extraordinary IOC session in Lausanne over 11 and 12 July. They will decide which city out of Paris and Los Angeles will hold the games in 2024 – with the city losing out to be slated as the hosts for 2028. In a significant statement from the International Olympic Committee, their executive board have announced that they will retain all 28 sports that featured at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for the 2024 Olympic Games programme. The move means that Olympic sevens will go on beyond the 2020 Games in Tokyo.As they said in their statement today: “In another decision regarding the Olympic programme, the Executive Board approved the overall composition of the sports programme for the Olympic Games 2024 to include all 28 sports on the programme of the Olympic Games Rio 2016.”FOR THE LATEST SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS, CLICK HERETalking of the announcement, World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “While the IOC Session will ultimately consider this recommendation, World Rugby, like the entire global rugby family, is very excited by today’s Executive Board’s recommendation. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Jumping for joy: Ellia Green scores for women’s Olympic sevens champions, Australia “I would like to thank the IOC President Thomas Bach and the IOC Executive Board for placing their continued trust in rugby, and our national member unions, players and passionate fans for making sevens the best it can possibly be.