The Lineout Calls of the Week

The big talking points of the week took place off the field, as the heads rolled in the Coaching boxes in Wales and England. While Wayne Pivac’s exit stage left seemed inevitable in Wales, there were still many, ourselves included, who felt that in England Eddie Jones, despite feeling the heat, would somehow manage yet another stay of execution. It was not to be and the executioner’s blade has swung and both Eddie Jones and Wayne Pivac now find themselves updating their resumes. 10 months out from the World Cup as difficult as the results have been in the last two years for both sides, we can’t help feeling that sacking your coaches at this stage is a mistake. Another Coach who has been under the most intense scrutiny in the last twelve months has been Australia’s Dave Rennie, however despite a mixed bag of results and in many ways the same winning record as Wayne Pivac, Rennie keeps his job and in our opinion rightly so. In the case of Wales and England, although Pivac and Jones have had their issues, we can’t help feeling that there is a slight case of a knee jerk reaction by the management of both Unions to find a scapegoat to mask deeper problems crippling the game in both countries.

However, on a more positive note, we look forward to what should be two cracking weekends of European Champions Cup action. If you’re like us you’ll be fascinated to see how the three South African sides get on in this their first year of European competition.

So without any further ado, here’s what kept our pints frothy this week.

Pivac catches the first flight out of Cardiff as Gatland gets parachuted in

Pivac’s imminent departure seemed inevitable but can Gatland, as Wales’ apparent patron saint of rugby, really fix the problems that lie at the heart of Welsh issues in only nine months before the World Cup

Even though we question the logic of replacing your national coach only nine months out from a World Cup, in the case of Wales, logic aside it seemed that the decision had already been made prior to the recently concluded Autumn Nations series. Despite that historic first ever win on South African soil for Wayne Pivac and his men this summer, it wasn’t a pretty victory and still didn’t leave you with the feeling that Wales were turning a corner. In reality Wales have always looked like they are just managing to keep their head above water during Pivac’s time in charge. One inspiring performance is then let down by a series of mediocre follow ups and Wales never really look like they are developing into a side with any kind of cohesion or identity in terms of exactly what kind of game they want to play and perfect. Sadly for Pivac the numbers don’t lie and in his time in charge since 2019 Wales have only managed to win 13 of 34 Tests. The losses this year to Italy and Georgia in the citadel of Welsh rugby at the Principality Stadium were the swords that Pivac would ultimately fall on.

In Pivac’s defence his tenure has been plagued by injury lists that would be the stuff of most Coaches’ worst nightmares, and as a result he has often had to cobble together matchday squads from the outpatient wards of Welsh hospitals. In our view, here lies one of the deep seated problems with Welsh rugby. While it may upset Welsh supporters to hear this we can’t help feeling that much like Scotland, Wales can in reality only support two provincial franchises as opposed to the four it currently has. The present structure is a mess with Wales’ limited player resources spread too thinly across four clubs. As a result it means more players exposed to injury, less player rotation and overall weak sides – all of which feeds negatively upwards into the efforts of the national side.

Consequently whatever Pivac’s failings were as a Coach he was often forced to fight with one hand tied behind his back. In our opinion Wales, like Scotland should be fielding two strong sides in the URC consolidated from the four existing clubs of Scarlets, Cardiff, Ospreys and the Dragons. We appreciate that all four clubs have long and proud traditions, but in the professional era sadly resources need to be consolidated if Wales as a national side are to return to their glory days of old.

As for Gatland himself, with only nine months to go before the World Cup, while his knowledge of Welsh rugby is probably better than anyone else having led the Men in Red for 12 years from 2007 to 2019 is he really the fix Wales need? In that time he led them to four Six Nations Titles three of which were Grand Slams and two World Cup semi-finals. Whichever way you cut it from a Welsh point of view that’s an impressive resume. However, since leaving Wales his track record has not been as illustrious. Super Rugby side the Chiefs had a woeful record of losses under his tenure and as for the Lions Tour he led to South Africa in 2021, well we think most of us have consigned that to the dustbin of history as one of the most uninspiring Lions Tours ever to leave the shores of the British Isles. Things may improve slightly with Gatland steering the ship for Wales, but the deep rooted problems facing Welsh rugby as a whole are still likely to cause it to founder on the rocks at crucial moments.

Love him or hate him the RFU have made a dreadful short term mistake

The sacking of controversial English Coach Eddie Jones could not have come at a worst time for a side reeling from perhaps their biggest crisis of confidence in recent history

Whether or not you’re a fan of former England Coach Eddie Jones, his sacking this week smacks of a knee jerk reaction from an RFU so out of touch with the game it is charged to manage that it is laughable. With only nine months to go before the start of the World Cup, sacking your Coach defies all logic, and while Jones’ recent results have set alarm bells ringing across the land, there is still no denying that up until the last two years he has been England’s most successful Coach to date. Much like Wales, the game lurches from one crisis to another in England. Famous clubs going bankrupt, a lack of a structured development plan for up and coming English players to be fed into the national side and in general haphazard oversight of the integration between club and country.

In short, the RFU come across as the stuffed suits they are caricatured as. Out of touch with the modern game and how it is evolving and essentially incompetent – that’s the modern day snapshot of the people running the RFU. To cover up for their inadequacies Eddie Jones has conveniently lined himself up in their crosshairs, and made himself the scapegoat for everything that is wrong with English rugby. The social media frenzy around Jones has not helped his cause and the English rugby public has to take some responsibility for Jones’ dizzying fall from grace.

While Eddie Jones may not have helped his situation by some of his own behavior and comments there is still no denying that until recently he knew how to make England win, even if a lot of the time it wasn’t particularly pretty. He led England to a World Cup final, three Six Nations titles and an unprecedented 18 game winning streak when he first took over in 2016. His overall win rate despite the recent issues stands at 73% which no-one else can touch. His loyalty to players is well documented and perhaps lies at the heart of his undoing, but to a certain degree you have to respect it even if it has cost England dearly at times. However, his seeming inability to develop and blood new talent until it is almost too late in England’s World Cup cycle no doubt played a part in finding the sword that he ultimately has fallen on.

As for his potential replacement in Leicester Tigers Coach Steve Borthwick, while boasting an impressive resume, there is no denying that in essence the RFU are throwing him from the frying pan into the fire. Having recently rescued Leicester from the abyss of English club rugby, to then ask Borthwick to do the same with the much more complicated beast that is the national side in a mere nine months ahead of a do or die World Cup seems beyond reasonable. The pressure could well break and ruin one of England’s most promising national Coaches in the making. While Jones had openly admitted that he would be moving on after this World Cup, surely it would have made more sense to bring in Borthwick as an understudy for the next nine months to support and help Jones and learn the ropes of coaching at Test level with the Australian’s unrivalled experience at his disposal?

In short, we feel that in sacking Jones England have made a mistake that they will come to regret come the World Cup in France in September, and possibly even sooner with the Six Nations in February. Coaching at Test level is not a popularity contest and Jones never set out to win it but at this stage in England’s World Cup cycle we can’t help feeling that better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Time will tell!

Dave Rennie manages to put a stop to the speculation about his future

Despite a tough year, the Australian Union have stood by their man Coach Dave Rennie and it’s the right call

As Wayne Pivac and Eddie Jones find themselves trawling the help wanted columns of International Rugby, Australian Coach Dave Rennie has weathered the storm of a challenging year and secured the backing of Australian Rugby to lead the Wallabies through to next year’s World Cup. In our humble opinion, unlike in England and Wales, at least in Australia common sense has prevailed.

Like Pivac, Rennie’s win rate with Australia since taking charge after the last World Cup has been less than stellar and is the same at 38%. However, the difference is that his attempt to forge a Wallaby identity in how they want to play the game and the players they feel they need to do so is clearly evident during his tenure. Rennie has developed young talent and provided them with experienced and capable veterans to support them. The results haven’t always been there, but the intent clearly is on show. He has the backing of his players old and new, and let’s be honest Australia even in defeat have shown some remarkable resolve and played some thrilling rugby.

Yes there are still problems, most notably the Wallabies crippling issue with discipline and at times difficulties with the set pieces, but there is more to like than dislike about this emerging Wallaby outfit in terms of where it is headed in the future. With a favorable side of the draw for their initial path through the World Cup, Australia and Rennie have the right to feel optimistic about their chances of at least a semi final berth in next year’s global showdown in France. The squad boasts some serious talent, both young and old and as we’ve seen this year even with the odds stacked against them this Wallaby team plays for each other and just refuses to lie down and quit. Their final game of the year against Wales and that extraordinary comeback is proof enough for us that this is a side that will need to be reckoned with come September in France. Also look at this end of year tour and, despite the one point loss to Italy, put it in perspective. They played the two best sides in the world, France and Ireland, and lost to both by only one point to the former and three to the latter while remaining exceptionally competitive in both for the full eighty minutes.

Australia have shown common sense and we’re delighted to see Rennie being given the benefit of the doubt, and feel that England and Wales could ultimately wish they’d seen the wisdom of Australia’s ways in the months to come.

The European Champions Cup gets some added muscle and spice!

The European Champions Cup has always been a classic tournament, but with the addition of three South African sides its international appeal has suddenly grown tenfold

Put your hand up if you’re excited about the start of this weekend’s European Champions Cup and the introduction of South African sides, the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks. We’d imagine that we’d be seeing a big show of hands in any pub or bar where we asked that question. The Heineken Cup has always been one of the highlights of our rugby viewing calendar, but this year it’s gone to another level. The clash of French, English, Irish and now South African styles of rugby is a truly mouth watering prospect and we for one can’t wait. Even better for the first time ever it’s fully accessible here in Canada in terms of being able to watch the games live and on demand without breaking the bank.

The introduction of the three South African sides is a huge boost to an already high quality tournament. Last year’s URC champions the Stormers face off against traditional French giants Clermont in their opening fixture, followed up by hosting underdogs London Irish in Cape Town. The Bulls who narrowly lost to the Stormers in last season’s URC final open their Champions account by hosting dangerous French outfit Lyon and then travel to England’s West country to wrestle with Exeter. Meanwhile the Sharks tackle English Premiership legends Harlequins in the Shark Tank in Durban before travelling to France and meeting a tricky Bordeaux side.

It could be said that, despite their success in their first year of European competition in the URC, the South African sides may face a much steeper mountain to climb in European Club competition. However, we can’t help feeling that they will once again surprise their critics and make an already outstanding tournament even more captivating. So wherever you are this weekend, and whatever the weather fire up those braais and let the games begin!!!!

Could this be the best European competition we’ve seen since it all began back in 1995

We have a hunch that this year’s European Champions Cup or Heineken Cup as it is better known may well end up being the best in the competition’s 27 year history

As mentioned above, we’re pretty excited about this year’s edition of our beloved Heineken Cup and it’s not just because of the addition of three South African sides to the main tournament and one to the Challenge Cup. The quality of competition across the board is so high and looks set to make for some thrilling match ups that are likely to be at an intensity akin to Test level rugby.

There are underdogs aplenty most notably in the shape of England’s London Irish and Gloucester, French outfits Bordeaux and Lyon, Ireland’s Ulster and South Africa’s Sharks. There are the traditional giants of the competition such as Ireland’s Munster and France’s Clermont even though both sides have until recently this season in their own domestic competitions struggled for form. And then there are the six pedigree racehorses all of whom are reckoned to be in with a chance of lifting the silverware in the following order and based on our good friend Two Cents Rugby’s (see video on the TV Page) odds:

Ireland: Leinster – 23.5%

France: Toulouse – 10.5% and La Rochelle – 9.5%

England: Saracens – 8.7%

France: Racing 92 – 8%

England: Leicester Tigers – 4.5%

We’re going to resist the temptation to make our own predictions, even if it’s pretty hard to deny that Leinster on paper would appear to be the favorites, but then look what happened to them last year given that they were also tipped to lift the trophy. Either way you’re in for a treat over the next two weekends. So make excuses to your family, take your wives and husbands to a five star meal on Friday night as appeasement and lock yourselves in front of the TV for two days of unadulterated rugby pleasure starting Saturday morning!!! In short, you won’t want to miss a second!

Published by Neil Olsen

Passionate about rugby and trying to promote the global game in Canada and North America.

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