Northampton's Clarke can fill England shoes
- It is easy to criticise Martin Johnson from the safety of a blog. In person I call him 'Sir'. But the lack of coaching clarity was highlighted on saturday against New Zealand in his use of substitutions.
Why on earth call up the belligerent young Courtney Lawes at the start of the autumn series and then after the shortest of run-outs against Australia send him back to Northampton? Louis Deacon is a Premiership lock and nothing more and certainly no impact substitution.
It is Lawes, who plays just within the letters of his surname, you want charging and snorting onto the Twickenham turf against the All Blacks and forcing Brad Thorn to admit 'I fought C.Lawes and C.Lawes won.'
And why when Mathew Tait was the one back capable of a soft shoe shuffle, rather than a thump into contact, was he just given 10 minutes at the end of the game? Ayoola Erinle, Dan Hipkiss and Matt Banahan were Bish, Bash and Bosh in the England backline. Oh for soft hands (in Banahan's case any hands) and a sublime running line.
Will Greenwood and Mike Catt, Jonny Wilkinson's midfield lieutenants in World Cup glory, are now both pundits and very good ones. But what modesty forbids them saying is that what England most need is a Greenwood and a Catt.
There is a centre at Northampton Saints called Jon Clarke, who has been horrendously unlucky with injury. Nearly four years ago in a match report for The Sunday Telegraph at Franklin's Gardens I wrote:
'Clarke is an apt name in England's shoe capital and it will surely not be long before Clarke is wearing England boots. He has a touch of Will Greenwood in his pomp about him, with his tall, angular frame, keen rugby brain and poised stance. And England could do with some midfield creativity.' Nothing much has changed and Clarke is just 26.
- Apologies to Scotland. Last week I deleted their match against Fiji without even watching it. I should be forced to watch their heroic defence and victory over Australia time and time again. It was not pretty and this is an average Wallabies side, but do not underestimate what this historic win could do to lift Scottish rugby. Murrayfield even found its atmosphere.
- Good to see little Shane Williams back. The Wales wing only had statues in the form of Argentine defenders to negotiate in Cardiff, but it was just nice to watch somebody enjoying himself, playing what was in front of him, having a go and not 6ft 3.
Posted by: , on November 23rd 2009 on 01:34am0 Comments
Purple Drain Purple Drain
Rupert Bates reviews the weekend's international rugby action
France 20 South Africa 13
The game of the weekend and the player of the weekend in France prop Fabien Barcella. Muscular in the tight as part of a pack that bullied the world champions and everywhere in the loose the
Biarritz bull was magnificent. Forget all the romance of Gallic back play, the soul of French rugby lies in the front-row. Louis Picamoles was outstanding at number eight too. Monsieur Incredible, or Incroyable, could tattoo the Bayeux Tapestry on his thighs and biceps, such is the power of the Toulouse man. Yes the Springboks are tired, but this was a hugely significant win in Toulouse for the French - or would be if we knew what to expect from France next time out, with a coach in Marc Lievremont who has the look of someone who would rather be elsewhere. Then again there is nothing more dangerous than an insouciant Frenchman.
Wales 17 Samoa 13
A banana skin - appropriate given the hideous yellow welsh jerseys - narrowly avoided. These South Sea Islanders would be world beaters if they ever got the proper funding. It would be nice if the all blacks played in Polynesia for a start. New Zealand are quick enough to poach their top players. You’ve gone to Japan and filled out Milan, so why not a three Test series in the South Pacific against Samoa, Fiji and Tonga rather than interminable Tests against Australia?
Scotland 23 Fiji 10
You know just how far Scotland have fallen when you record them on Sky and then delete the game anyway. So I never saw it. If it had anything to commend it please let me know.
Italy 6 New Zealand 20
The rugby failed to match the occasion with an amazing 80,000 crowd packing Milan’s San Siro football stadium. Martin Castrogiovanni cemented his position as one of the world’s great props dismantling the All Blacks scrum. A second-string New Zealand side, but crucially they won over thousands of Italians, drawn to rugby by the allure of one of the world’s great sporting institutions.
England 16 Argentina 9
How depressing was this? As they say on the Pampas of South America, England were all hat and no cattle. In the end I was shamefully willing on Argentina to win to spare me from Martin Johnson and Steve Borthwick talking of beating a side above them in the world rankings. Borthwick is not even a journeyman as he goes nowhere, bar the one rumble in the prelude to Matt Banahan's winning try - and what the hell was the Bath wing doing cockily strolling round under the posts ball in one hand to taunt the Pumas?
If Borthwick goes - and the stubbornness that made Jonno such a formidable opponent counts against him as a manager - who do you have as captain? No point in upsetting Jonny Wilkinson’s current karma. Lewis Moody, a rare light on a dark day? Mad Moodos chases ball with the considered judgement of a dog chasing cars, so not exactly captaincy material. Then again at least a touch of madness and mayhem at the helm might be worth watching. Those at Twickenham should start a Facebook page called ‘Give us our money back RFU’. As for those purple jerseys – a commercial disgrace as bad as the team.
Ireland 20 Australia 20
Who writes Brian O'Driscoll's scripts? Also good to see Rocky O'Elsom scoring in Dublin, his adopted city after his stellar season with Leinster. The wallaby captain is the obvious person to lead the Melbourne Rebels when they join the super 15 in 2011. Rocky was born in Melbourne and raised on the Mornington peninsula, before moving to Noosa, on Queensland’s sunshine coast. Digby Ioane was also raised in Victoria, although the Aussie centre did not know what state he was in when O’Driscoll burst through the midfield for that last second try. The weekend was topped and tailed by a prop, with Ireland debutant Cian Healy showing far too much energy in the loose for a front-row forward, including a sublime offload.
Thinking about it if England could adopt Barcella and Healy we might have a half-decent backline. Talking of adoption, if Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira is not qualified for South Africa, do they forfeit the Lions series and other Tests he'd played in? Clutching at straws maybe, but far better than gouging at eyes.
Posted by: , on November 16th 2009 on 09:37pm1 Comments
Hi my name is Rupert Bates and I will now be blogging for Everything Rugby.
I have been scribbling about rugby for The Sunday Telegraph and Rugby World for many years now and also cover the European game for Rugby News in New Zealand – the game’s best- selling
I’m holding a glass of wine in my blog picture because it was red and tasted good. The bricks? I also write on property. My rugby career? It
peaked in France playing hooker for Valence and troughed there too. I blame it on the red.
I am delighted that England centre Tom May of Everything Rugby – he’s the Toulon 12 who makes the Toulon 10 look good – has asked me to blog for the site.
It will be random weekly thoughts on the world of rugby each Monday, looking back over the weekend’s action and the issues of the day.
Hopefully I will blog with a hint of wit, a slice of wisdom and a
mischief of provocation to stimulate debate online. Not enough to
pebble dash the kitchen with coffee in disgust as you read my blog
over breakfast. But plenty to make you pause before you butter your
Be it an international weekend, the Guinness Premiership, or the
Heineken Cup, I’ll take a look, as well as keeping an eye on the
French Top 14 and the England boys illuminating that league and also what’s happening in the southern hemisphere. Everything Rugby is grass roots up, covering every tier of the game, so please suggest any topics of discussion at any level and post your views.
Posted by: , on November 11th 2009 on 01:59am1 Comments