Us rugby fans are all post coital. June has arrived and the domestic leagues are done and dusted. What memories shine through the half cut, semi-conscious state of this particular Aviva Premiership campaign? Here’s ten things that definitely happened this season. I think.
London Welsh. Let’s start at the bottom. And unfortunately for these Exiles, I mean the very bottom. London Welsh lost more games by more points in the Aviva Premiership than any team previously. They were, by consensus gentium, turdlike. They seemed to start games well, and on occasion were even looking good at half time, but the attritional nature of a Premiership eighty minutes soon took its toll. I’ll also never forget Piri Weepu jumping ship with a few weeks to go. The former All Black, who rarely looked like the player his CV had promised, signed for Wasps from London Welsh at the end of February. No, cheers mate, yeah. We’ll take it from here.
Losing your wingman. Over the last ten years, the question of who should play on England’s wing has been pondered more than whether Austin Healey is more annoying than Matt Dawson. Three wingers whose names have been thrown about in bar room conversation as much as any, decided enough was enough this year. James Simpson Daniel, Mark Cueto and Ugo Monye all hung up their whitewash splashed size nines, and the sport was a little poorer for them doing so. Another, for whom England selection has pissed off rather than pleased, and whom, for me, deserves a special mention also departed. Not retiring, but diving across the channel to dip his wick in France: David Strettle said goodbye to the UK after a typically sublime display in the Premiership final for Sarries. He goes with a gold medal and much love. A tout a l’heure David – expect everyone next season to be talking about him like they did Abendanon this. “No, no, he’s like really good now…”
Bang on the head. Previously, we would chuckle to ourselves like Romani around a dog fight when players got concussed. Seeing a man falling sparko towards the dirt was supposed to be included in the entrance fee and we didn’t really think about just how frigging dangerous losing consciousness was. This year we sobered up; heard anecdotes from ex-players who have to have daily botox injections into their skulls and generally realised that blacking out is a hop and a skip away from ‘serious death’. Players now sit out the full three week protocols rather than sniffing salts and slapping cheeks. A massive step forward has been taken in the care of future former players.
Bath whacking Leicester. Leicester being beaten by forty plus points hasn’t happened since, well, ever. So when Bath piled on forty-five without response in mid September, the rugby world raised a unanimous eyebrow and typed #WTF on Twitter. The same two teams met again in the play-off semi-finals in May and Bath, much to the gibbering, five-fingered delight of the West Country crowd, found the same tricks and tomfoolery worked just as well second time around. Cockerill, crestfallen; the Rec couldn’t point and laugh quickly enough.
Youth emerging. Apparently, experience counts for nothing in rugby. The younger the better this year. Names like Henry Slade, Maro Itoje and Jack Clifford were bandied around by RFU bigwigs despite the oldest being only twelve (thirteen in July). Referees are getting younger too. Baby-faced Craig Maxwell-Keys (above) hit the headlines for incorrectly red carding Wasps’ Nathan Hughes in January and was henceforth told to go to his room and have good, long think about the way he behaves. His mates immediately took to Facebook with a hastily spliced together vine of the sending off and Denzel Washington in a car nodding.
Not playing for England. Lancaster’s reign in charge of the national side this year seems to have been mostly about who he doesn’t pick. Early doors it was all about Cipriani not getting the nod and then, having successfully stuck to his guns about the made up rules of playing your club rugby in France, disciplinary issues decided to dick him around come May. Both Manu Tuilagi and Dylan Hartley, two of the Premiership’s more famous rugby hand grenades, gave the England supremo enough reason to exclude them. They’ll watch, rather than play in, England’s Rugby World Cup. Tits.
Wasps in Cov. Very few good things have ever happened in Coventry but Wasps thought they saw a gap in the market. Having moved from their original home in Sudbury in Middlesex to Loftus Road (1996) and then from there to High Wycombe (2002), Wasps completed a hattrick and took up residence at the Ricoh Arena in early 2015. Much to the disappointment of all the fans who said they couldn’t afford the round ticket from South Bucks to Shitsville, they filled its capacity out a couple of times and then generated bucket loads of cash by floating on the stock market. Maybe we’re wrong, maybe good things do happen in Coventry.
Pretty in pink. There was no better referee than Steve Walsh. Actually, let me try that again. There was no better looking referee than Steve Walsh. The New Zealander with the Zoolander pout, Caribbean tan and uncanny ability to pull off a garish pink shirt better than anyone, quickly and mysteriously retired from the game in March. We are all the worse off. Rugby will not be the same without Walsh consulting the Television Match Official, staring at the big screen, ignoring everything that is said, muttering ‘Fack, I look gud’ under his breath, and then awarding the try.
Super Saturday. The RBS Six Nations culminated in Ireland, Wales, England, and at an outside push France, all looking to take the trophy. Games were scheduled one after the other and as the egg-chasing feast progressed rugby libidos started to skyrocket, until, by the time England played France at 5pm, the world’s oval ball fans had started to hum maniacally and dry hump their sofas. Never had we had it so good. Ireland won but everyone patted themselves on the back and thought ‘We should do this more often’. “Once a year is more than enough,” said a brown leather high-backed settee from Gloucestershire.
Being buggered by the playoffs. Having had to include London Welsh in the top flight because of a farcical playoff system, the powers that be still hadn’t learnt their lesson and set about the same routine for the Greene King IPA Championship showdown between Bristol and Worcester. Worcester, beaten twice by Bristol in the league and comfortably the second best team over the season, progressed to the top flight after a one point aggregate victory over a two legged final. Leaving Bristol, and more specifically Andy Robinson, to twitch their way into the off season and work out how the hell they gain access to English Rugby’s most exclusive club. Is there a more ludicrous promotion process in professional sport? No, but then rugby has never made it easy for itself.
So, until next season, keep your tackles low and remember to put it in straight.
All rights reserved. © 2015 Sam Roberts