I wrote this for The Rugby Blog – please click here to view
It hasn’t been long but we are back into the furnace of ‘international’ rugby this weekend. Countries, in the form of European club sides, take each other on again as the Northern Hemisphere’s premier club competition, the European Champions Cup, turns up the heat once more.
Not that we’ve been twiddling our thumbs. The digit responsible for scrolling and clicking on smartphones has been well utilised these past few weeks. The fallout from the RWC, especially in England, has reached seismic proportions, and some serious rugby distraction couldn’t come at a better time.
So what do we really want to see from the European Champions Cup this weekend? Here are some ideas for European Rugby’s talented scriptwriters.
Even those of other allegiances will not begrudge a little light shining England’s way soon. Such has been the calamitous and, at times, embarrassing unraveling of England’s World Cup campaign, we really need something positive to chew on. It would be pleasing to see one of the English teams (I quite fancy Exeter or Wasps) to pull out some tricks and remind us why on earth fans got all hopeful back in August.
There are some exceedingly bright English stars on show this weekend and if talented young individuals like Maro Itoje or Elliot Daly (pic above) could make a sizeable impression on the European stage, we’d all start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So much at the moment seems to be about the past. The future, to paraphrase my old games teacher, starts this weekend.
Wouldn’t it be great if we made it through a game without any need for a TMO? Can you imagine? A whole game without need for slow-motion replays or referees standing around looking skyward. We need a process by which the men in the middle are once again the sole arbiters. Of course, they make mistakes, get things wrong, but that’s ok. I’d genuinely rather have that than all this watching videos.
There needs to be some sort of apology to Craig Joubert as well. Why? Because we’re bigger than that. Yes his mistake was costly, yes it was frustrating, but you know what, a law infringement was what he genuinely thought had happened. He did what everyone would have done: he saw an incident and made a decision; that’s what I want refs to do. Get Joubert out on the pitch at half time, tell him we’re sorry and that we need him back. Make amends, reconcile; get Matt Dawson to do it. He can apologise about the Hakarena while he’s at it.
Bath travel to Toulon this Sunday, and that isn’t the sort of place you want to go with a squad trying to find its feet after a difficult opening month both on and off the field. For a myriad of reasons, the photo lenses of many a camera will be focused on the stands of the Stade Mayol, and Bruce Craig, a man not unused to being filmed watching his beloved Bath, could well find himself in shot. How wonderful would it be for him to hold up a sign that reads – ‘I know it didn’t work out, but shall we all just move on?’ It won’t happen of course, any sign would just as likely read ‘Steffon – call me.’ But I can dream.
Je ne sais quoi
We need the French back fizzing. How unusual was a Rugby World Cup without them really catching alight? And I want the whole shebang. I want hairy front five gargantuans punching each other for no reason, I want gauloise-smoking capriciousness and wing three-quarters called Jean-Pierre, not Scott. I want clichéd unpredictability, rugged yet charming rugby-football and generally all-round Frenchness.
In fact, thinking about it, I’m really after the northern hemisphere reasserting itself on the rugby world, stereotypes and all. The RWC saw the south swagger, but now it’s time we showed what our boys can do. I’m looking forward to a Champions Cup brimming with the likes of George North, Jamie Heaslip, Stuart Hogg, Dan Carter, Adam Ashley Cooper, Juan Imhoff, Victor Matfield, Ma’a Nonu and good old Quade. Oh… Never mind then.
He who should not be named
I feel I’ve done well. A whole article, nearly a thousand words and I’ve not mentioned him once. Okay, I’ve alluded to him but I haven’t said his name. How long before someone else does at the weekend? Chances are we won’t make it to Sunday when his former team are actually playing. Ruminations will continue; I suppose they have to. Lancaster has gone, fallen on his sword, but you can’t help think that he is also, somehow, a victim in all of this. Rugby in England seems so unwell at the moment, distressingly so.
I won’t be alone in feeling slightly dejected and, because of you-know-who walking out on us, rejected at the moment. There’s a good way to address that though. Time heals, and having some wonderful rugby to feast on will certainly help, but a big part of me would love one of the greatest weekends of European Rugby to unfold and somewhere on the other side of the world, a certain South Sydney Rabbitoh to shift uncomfortably on his sofa and think of what might have been. Wasn’t in his heart apparently. But it’s in ours. Let’s get out there and enjoy it.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.