March 25, 2019

Out On The Full - The run-in, the brilliance of sport and more

Well, what a season it has been... I can barely believe that we're at the point in the year when we're already thinking about playoffs, the Gallagher Premiership Final and looking at teams' run-ins whilst having heated discussions about which side may drop into the Greene King IPA Championship. 

I, like everyone, believe that this season's final Gallagher Premiership stretch will be the most compelling and unpredictable ever. On the one hand that is the beauty of sport, as my Dad told me after England's Six Nations match against Scotland, if we didn't get moments and matches like that we wouldn't love sport nearly as much as we do. But, on the other hand you always think about the permutations for the club that do drop out of the Gallagher Premiership. In short, that’s tough. 

Now you may well have been wondering where the regular Out On The Full updates have been? Well, I haven't been putting my feet up and sipping cocktails in the Caribbean somewhere. I have been writing on the Gallagher Premiership, England Rugby and across the world of rugby in general. Also, I’ve continued to work in social media and have been learning the ropes of the radio world. I’m so grateful to have been doing all of this for some outstanding people at some outstanding organisations. Alongside rugby I’ve also been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work within the world of netball too. Netball is England is going from strength-to-strength, it’s a massive year for the sport with the World Cup in Liverpool in July and being part of that, and its growth, is very special to me as a former player to an elite level. 

With just one pair of hands and 24 hours in a day (we all wish that we could make more right?), Out On The Full has stepped back. Do forgive me for not sharing the reasons for a quieter OOTF earlier but in all honesty, I didn't want to sound pretentious or above my station by ‘updating’ on my own status. However, I sat down and looked at Out On The Full and thought, 'Hang on a minute this does need explaining'. 

So, what's happening now? On Twitter - @Emma_T_Sport - you'll be able to see all of the articles and features that I work on across different sports but in terms of regular updates here Out On The Full will be pausing for the moment. I greatly appreciate every, single person that has enjoyed Out On The Full whether back in the early days or more-recently - it meant and still does means an awful lot to me. This platform provided me with the opportunity to learn and develop as a writer and was the vehicle to publish my work. If anyone is thinking about creating a blog, do it! Obviously think about what you're doing, why you're doing it and how you're going to do it but do it! Work off a solid frame and reason for being and most important enjoy it. 

September 21, 2018

Eddie Jones on Cipriani, Ford, Mitchell, senior coaches & more

Eddie Jones’ training squad announcement day was a busy one as the head coach talked through the major discussion points arising from his 36-man training squad for a camp in Bristol.

England’s camp will be their last period of time together before the Australian announces his Quilter Internationals squad on Thursday 18 October. It’s valuable time in order to ‘put down some parameters’ and another focus will be to ‘implement a slightly different defence philosophy’ with John Mitchell arriving in role. 

With 12 months to go before Rugby World Cup 2019, Eddie Jones wants his England side to continue to evolve tactically, in all areas, so that teams won’t work them out. Another clearly stated aim is to be the side that can get the consistency of performances together to regularly beat the best in the world. This, Eddie Jones explained, when reflecting on South Africa’s 36-34 win over New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.  

“I think it's great for World Rugby. The All Blacks’ losses are quite cyclical. If you look at their batting average, they're batting 90 per cent so they lose one Test every year. Everyone's excited but they're still a great team. It was a great effort from South Africa. The thing that always strikes me – and I've been coaching 20 years – is how much the value of emotion is in our game. 

“South Africa are under the pump, the coach is going to get sacked, they go to Wellington and they can't win. They come out with this unbelievable defensive effort, New Zealand are just slightly off their game and they win. The test is: can you keep batting at that intensity?

“The interesting thing is that you’ve got New Zealand here [out in front] and then you’ve got a host of other countries here [behind them]. Then there’s this battle of who’s going to get the consistency to get up there and challenge, and that’s what we’re aiming for, to be that team. 

“South Africa have done it this year but can they sustain that, we’ve seen Australia do it last year, we’ve seen Ireland do it, so like any great team they’re [New Zealand] beatable - every team is beatable - but you’ve got to have consistency to be able to sustain that effort.”

Away from England’s aims and ambitions, one man’s name dominated the conversation on announcement day - Danny Cipriani.

The new Cherry and White was one of the 30 players that received phone calls from Eddie Jones on Wednesday telling them that they hadn’t made the cut and talking through feedback about their respective performances. England’s head coach decided to take two standoffs in camp so that they gained the maximum reps during a short camp, in Bristol one day will be commercial so training time is ‘around 70 minutes’ according to Eddie Jones.

“Ten is a very influential position. He’s the bus driver of the side and he’s the conductor of the side and if Danny is a better player than Owen and George he can certainly promote himself ahead of them.

“From what I’ve seen at the moment, he’s not in terms of the whole context of the team. But, certainly he’s a good player and he’s done some good things but there’s areas of his game that he needs to attend to and I’ve spoken to him about that. He understands it, his club understands it and they’re going to work very hard to fix those areas.”

Eddie Jones doesn’t share particulars about feedback due to those conversations being confidential between him and his players. Cipriani’s specifics weren’t discussed however the head coach did discuss elements that he looks at, in more general terms, from a fly-half.

“A Test match game of rugby now is 100 minutes. The ball is in play 40 minutes. So if you are a No. 10 you might touch the ball 15 times for one second. So you’ve only got the ball in hand for 15 seconds so what you do the other 39 minutes 45 seconds is vital and you don’t see that on television. What you do off the ball is massively influential in the game.”

When analysing the form of one of the fly-halves included, George Ford, England’s head coach was pleased with what he’s seen to date.

“He’s got back to being what he’s good at and that’s taking the ball square and flat, attacking the line, looking for opportunities. 

“To me, it’s interesting… I go and watch three club games a week and being at the game some of the quality of his [George Ford’s] play is absolutely outstanding. But, it’s like he’s an invisible man. Whereas one other player throws one pass and he’s super man!”

It’s been a busy time of late around the England set-up and the most recent announcement, prior to the squad, was John Mitchell’s appointment into the coaching team. The former New Zealand head coach was formally announced as England’s defence coach earlier in the week however Eddie Jones spoke about him being a ‘senior coach’ within the national set-up.

“If you look at the last three World Cups, how many senior coaches has each team had that’s won them? 2007, 2011, 2015 all had two senior coaches and I think it’s vital for the World Cup so I’ve always had the plan to find the right person and some circumstances you can control and some circumstances you don’t. 

“Guzzy got a promotion and left, that wasn’t planned but we’re very happy for him - he’s probably not that happy at the moment though [after Quins' loss at the weekend] - and John, who I’ve known for 20 years, I’ve coached against John since 2000 when he took over Waikato, and I know that every time I coach against a team that he’s coached he’s improved that team immeasurably, so it was almost a bit of a no-brainer for me. 

“You’ve got a bloke who’s got international experience who every team he goes to he improves, to have him on the coaching staff is fantastic. He’s a strong guy too, an opinionated guy and we need that in the coaching box.”

England’s coaches will have 36 players to work with in Bristol and have another 30 waiting in the wings. The competition for places is hotting up and the early signs are that the quality of rugby played in the Gallagher Premiership is soaring. It’s just as well too because with South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and Australia on the horizon, and Rugby World Cup 2019 hurtling around the corner at breakneck speed, the time is now for England to press on and deliver. 

September 14, 2018

Gallagher Premiership Thoughts: Three rounds and buckets of tries

After just three Premiership rounds there has been a record 1001 points and 116 tries scored. The previous bests, at this point, were 931 points in 1998 and 102 tries last year. 

With the weather playing ball, and the players too, it's been a scintillating start to the new season even if people that operate with their glasses half full will say that the records have come due to poor defensive work across the board. 

Now, as you all know I'm not a glass half full kind of person... instead I take the perspective that it's great to see teams going for it on the front foot. We need to embrace these rounds wholeheartedly because when the dark nights arrive and the weather turns we will have some slugfests! 

On Thursday Eddie Jones names a training squad for a camp that will be taking place in Bristol and we'll all have a chance to hear his thoughts about the early-season rugby. I'll be bringing them to you here at Out On The Full but for now, let's take a look at a few talking points from the first 18 matches of the new Premiership season. 

First, let's turn our attentions on Joe Cokanasiga. The 20-year-old's move from London Irish to Bath was hotly anticipated by those with blue, black and white running through their veins and so far he's not disappointed. The manner in which he touched down his first try against Harlequins showcased his athletic abilities and power. It was a finish that few could deliver, though the man on Bath's other wing would fancy himself to score it, and his 151 metres highlighted the extent of his work rate. Cokanasiga has shown in the first three rounds that he's a winger that's hungry for work and one that wants to get involved in the action. He doesn't hang out on the wing and hope for play to come to him, instead he comes in and looks to make things happen. As Bath's collective confidence rises Cokanasiga's influence should increase further and the young man will put himself firmly on England's radar once again. 

In Round 3, for the second week in a row, George Ford took it upon himself to lead the way for Leicester Tigers and had another outstanding performance at the Ricoh Arena. He created three of their four tries due to his vision and exceptional ability to make the right choice at the line. The fly-half goes flatter to the line than some in his position will ever dare to and, with defenders rushing onto him, sees everything around him and nine times out of ten makes the correct decisions. His 15 points off the tee went a long way towards Leicester almost pinching a gutsy 14-man victory away from home and the 25-year-old is at the heart of their productivity. 

Now, let's discuss Exeter Chiefs' start to the new season. Three matches and three bonus-points wins... that's pretty tidy as they'd say in Wales! Rob Baxter is a man that always talks a great deal of sense and, as always, it was a pleasure to speak to him at the Gallagher Premiership season launch. The Director of Rugby was clear that he wanted his side to carry all of the positive aspects from last season into this one and build on them. He was very clear about the fact that the Chiefs didn't need to fall into the trap of trying to change too drastically. 

Instead, the Director of Rugby was keen to remind his squad that they were starting their new term off the back of a highly productive 2017/18 campaign. Despite losing the final they finished top of the tree at the end of 22 rounds and collected more points than they'd done before to secure that position. The side won their semi-final more convincingly than they had done before but just fell short in the big dance. 

Already this season the Chiefs setting the height of the bar for others to reach, along with Saracens. They are the ultimate team, they compliment each other and are as tight as they come as a group (coaches and players together). Of course individuals like Henry Slade, Don Armand and Sam Simmonds can be singled out but it's the collective that makes Exeter such a force. It's not too much to say that they're an early shoe-in for another crack at the title come May 2019 and it will take some stopping them in that match if they progress on from their early-season level. 

September 3, 2018

The earliest of new season changes

As I was charging across the concourse at London Waterloo this evening after a day of meetings and a spot of training at BBC Broadcasting House (yes I did get stuck in the office due to the bomb disposal unit’s work on an suspicious vehicle) I saw a notification arrive on my iPhone highlighting the fact that Matt O’Connor and Leicester Tigers have parted ways.

‘Goodness’ was my first reaction. Now, I’m not naive to the fact that Leicester’s round one performance was far below the standard that they would have wanted or expected. But, I didn’t expect to see such an announcement quite so early in the season. I, like most people I guess, thought that the management structure would remain in place for a number of rounds yet. If things didn't change then calls for a shift would have grown and if things weren't rosy leading into the season, then you'd have expected changes to have been made over the summer. No?

Of course all of us are not privy to the inner workings at the club. Our positions outside of it mean that while opinions may be cast, only those within the four walls of the Tigers know about the climate and the intricacies of the outfit. I’m always conscious of that fact and yes, it may sound like I’m shirking away from giving a forthright opinion, but my perspective on this stems from my time as an athlete. In the teams and set-ups that I was involved in, there was always more detail to decisions than those outside of the bubble were aware of. As a result this makes me conscious of casting assertions without intricate knowledge of environments. 

The Tigers’ Round 2 meeting with Newcastle Falcons was already going to be an much talked about occasion, given the context of their Round 1 outing, and this news has just taken it up a level or five. With the match not being one of the televised games of the weekend I expect plenty will be tuning into BBC Radio Leicester or turning up at Welford Road to see the encounter for themselves. Will this news spark a performance from Leicester that is unrecognisable (in a good way) from the one that we saw in Round 1? Potentially yes, but that may have arrived anyway. 

Now of course, conversations will be had about a permanent replacement for Matt O'Connor and there's no doubt about the fact that Geordan Murphy will put his best foot forwards at turning his interim position into a permanent one. He knows the club inside out and back to front from his years as a player and he'll have learnt plenty more from his  time as a coachThe head coach role at Leicester Tigers is a coveted and prodigious one. The talent house in the squad is vast, their fans are ardant and knowledgable and Welford Road is an incredible place to call home. Jake White's name will fly across social media (in jest) and more serious candidates will be discussed at length. Now, it's a case of watch this space over the coming days and weeks. 

August 26, 2018

2018/19 Gallagher Premiership Season

(C) Premiership Rugby
“In the past, people have said it will be the most competitive Premiership ever. Maybe they were lying four or five years ago but I don’t think we’re lying when we say that now. There’s new, world-class coaches, some really exciting signings at all of the clubs, so we’re excited but nervous at the same time."

The thoughts of Mark McCall about the forthcoming season and I have to say that I am firmly in his camp because there's no question in my mind that the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season will be the best yet. 

First, let's look across at the player movement that Mark talks and I guarantee you that the bubbles of excitement about the new season will start building. Stardust is arriving in the form of George Smith and Charles Piutau at Bristol Rugby, David Strettle is back at Saracens and personally I'm keen to see Semi Kunatani's role at Harlequins. Elsewhere, Dan Biggar's and James Haskell's development at Saints will be fascinating as will the work of some of Leicester Tigers' key newbies - Guy Thompson, Kyle Eastmond and David Denton.  

Ahead of the 2018/19 season, clubs have been astute when it comes to boosting their squads and the targeted nature of their recruitment should see their outputs enhanced. I know that it sounds obvious, and clearly that's the point of recruitment in the first place, but sometimes teams don't quite hit the nail on the head fully. There are plenty more new recruits to look at and instead of highlighting the obvious here's a few others to watch out for. Keep an eye out on Sione Vailanu at Saracens, Johnny Williams and Tom Arscott at Newcastle Falcons, Duncan Weir at Worcester Warriors and Gerbrandt Grobler at Gloucester Rugby. All are individuals that I'm keen to see develop over the first few weeks of the new term and perhaps are individuals have gone slightly under the radar during their sides' pre-season campaigns. 

The second element of the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season that excites me is the fact that so many of the clubs have points to prove. From where I'm sitting all 12 sides have extremely strong driving forces behind them and I'll touch on a couple now. 

For Bristol Bears it's all about bucking the recent trend of the promoted Championship side struggling and shaking things up from the get to. The first past the post nature of the Championship last season, will have facilitated Pat Lam's planning and the names within their squad certainly sends a message of intent. But, the unknown is the team's ability to convert that intent into results and their ability to ride the relentless nature of the Premiership competition. Will they have the output and squad depth to pick up wins, week in and week out? For now, the short-term goal will be starting strongly and being in a position that creates some waves after the first six rounds. 

Two established Premiership clubs that will have ambition burning through their veins stronger than ever will be Harlequins and Northampton Saints. With new management at the helm of both clubs their challenges will be similar - gelling as units, adapting quickly to fresh voices and gaining results whilst doing so. After disappointing finishes to their respective seasons last time out, starting strongly and banishing any niggling doubts about the possibility of that happening again will be vital. 

The pressure on Mark McCall's Saracens will be to embrace (once again) being the 'hunted'  side and the reigning champions. It's a familiar position for them to be in and one that I expect them to thrive from. I was at their final pre-season match against Ospreys and their players looked well-drilled and in excellent condition. It looked to me like their S&C work has gone up a notch and you'll know exactly what I mean when you see Will Skelton on your screens for the first time. The holders look to be ready to raise their playing intensity to a new level and have the talent in their squad to set the pace from day one. 

One other element that I'd like to touch on before wishing you a very prosperous new season is the fact that there's the small matter of Rugby World Cup 2019 just around the corner. From a player's point of view that will be something that's in their minds... externally, they'll say that it's not a consideration point but we all know that it is. This Gallagher Premiership season there will be some individuals looking to knock the socks off Eddie Jones and prove that they are the 'X-Factor' player and 'bolter' that he's said that he's keeping an eye out for. For others, opportunities may arise unexpectedly and they will want to make sure that they are the first cab off the rank in that situation. The players that are already firmly in Jones' thinking won't be comfortable (he's famed for making things uncomfortable for all) and as a result that will be driving their personal output.

Player movement, clubs with points to prove, new management and the context of Rugby World Cup 2019 are all factors that should drive the new season forwards at pace. The 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season has the potential to be more competitive than ever before and I can't wait to see it kick-off in front of a club record attendance at Ashton Gate on Friday night. Welcome back Premiership rugby, we've missed you!

The Gallagher Premiership Rugby season starts on Friday 31 September with Bristol Rugby taking on Bath Rugby at Ashton Gate and the match is live on BT Sport 1 from 7pm. Out On The Full will have all of the team news for that game HERE on Thursday.

August 24, 2018

Premiership Rugby & Hawk-Eye

Image - Premiership Rugby

Two words that instantly take you to the tennis court and thinking about whether a shot is in or out. Soon those two words will become more closely associated another sport, a sport that we all love - rugby union. 

The start of the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership Rugby season will see Hawk-Eye technology being introduced to help reduce the number of undiagnosed concussions in the English club game. 

The premise is that a 'spotter system' will be run by Hawk-Eye at every Gallagher Premiership Rugby match, home European match, Premiership Rugby Cup match and also in the Premiership 7s. The aim is very simple, to improve player welfare. 

Concussion awareness, and systems to deal with concussion in professional rugby, has progressed year on year. I don't claim to be a medical expert or an expert in incidents surrounding concussion but I, like all of us, welcome any development that helps to improve the safety of rugby players. The area of concussion is taken extremely seriously by all and this latest development highlights a continued commitment to improving the processes surrounding the area. 

Each Premiership Rugby club will have a dedicated match day Pitch-side Video Reviewer (PVR) and their focus will be to use the Hawk-Eye system to identify head injury events. The PVR will have up to eight different camera angles available to them and medical staff will be able to analyse match footage in real-time. 

“The Hawk-Eye system gives every club – home and away – an eye in the stand, who will now have access to more camera angles and the opportunity to rewind the action," said Corin Palmer, Premiership Rugby’s Head of Elite Performance and Player Development.

“Should they spot something they can bookmark it in seconds and transfer it down to the pitch-side medical team for them to review and take action, which could be a permanent removal or the need to carry out a Head Injury Assessment.”

Players' safety is key. The physical nature of rugby union is all part of the sport that we love and it's a side that players often relish too. But, with such intense physicality comes dangers to players’ well-being. With the ongoing systems in place, and this new use of Hawk-Eye technology, the rigour maintains surrounding concussion and that's excellent to see.

May 27, 2018

England v Barbarians: The View from Twickenham

“It felt like we were playing one-day cricket; score for score. In the first 20 minutes, we struggled to adjust to the speed of the game. We got a bit shocked by it. We adjusted well, got ourselves back into the game and played some good rugby. But then when we got fatigued in the last 20 minutes we made some crucial errors in execution and it ended up costing us the game.”

These were Eddie Jones’ initial thoughts when I asked him about his assessment of their Quilter Cup encounter with the Barbarians at Twickenham Stadium. 

In the sweltering heat England and their opponents defied the conditions and played at a relentless pace. The intensity of the collisions had me wincing in the stands on numerous occasions and, with 15 tries put on the board, it’s safe to say that the 58,000 strong crowd watching in the stands saw more points than they had expected to. 

For some this annual fixture against the Barbarians isn’t cherished or loved however it certainly didn’t disappoint me. This year, like those prior, provided England’s head coach with an opportunity to see some different combinations and less experienced players cutting their cloths in South West London. 

“As an experience for some of the young players it was absolutely outstanding. I was just speaking to a number of them then and they just struggled to cope with the speed of the game.You’ve got to look at what the game is. We don’t have our top 15 players and we have another 22 players unavailable, so it was a test of our depth. We played against a very good, fast, powerful Barbarians team and at times we struggled to cope with that.”

The chances that the Australian has to expose these individuals to Test level rugby are few and far between and we all know that a World Cup is arriving at a rapid pace. If you can’t test players out against the Barbarians, and shift individuals into slightly different positions, than when can you?

At the same time I am very impressed with some of the young players. Piers Francis had his best game I’ve seen since Argentina. Tom Curry hasn’t played Test rugby for a long time and I thought he came back and did some good things, but his timing was a little bit off at times. Singleton had his best game that I’ve seen since the Barbarians game last year. So they are good things for us, but we are obviously disappointed with the result.”

From a Barbarian perspective it all came together in superb fashion. When you looked down their team sheet and thought about them clicking, the type of output that we saw was always possible. 
Chris Ashton, rightly, will gain a large proportion of the headlines as will the man of the match Semi Radradra. However, let’s just pause and talk about Josua Tuisova who was also spellbinding. He caused havoc from the first moment until the last and his skills reminded us all of the outstanding athletic ability that Fijian rugby players have. 

As individuals the Barbarians opened every trick in the book and had the cohesion as a team to drive a historic result home. The last time that invitational side beat England at Twickenham was 2014. At the helm Pat Lam clearly gained the balance right between ‘relationship building’ as he liked to call it afterwards and work. They had just three training sessions together and yet they used them wisely and naturally the head coach was delighted afterwards. 

“I’m hugely proud and honoured. I said before that we'd celebrate the five days that we've had and the relationship building exercises that we've had right throughout the week.

“We’ll celebrate that this team will never, ever play again and that this was a one-off. We'll celebrate Lobbe's career.Yes we have lots of X-factor players and lot of players who can play as individuals, but in our beautiful game of rugby it's nothing to do with individuals but about team work.”

Lam himself brought his own selected coaches into the group this week - Jonathan Thomas from Bristol, an analyst and also Tim Allnutt from Connacht - and after he made clear how much he valued their input. The man who will be leading Bristol back in the Premiership next season also shared that he videoed the Barbarians’ training sessions so that those players that may not have been fully ‘with it’ could watch them back! In short the 49-year-old got it just right and his players clearly were incredibly driven to honour the Barbarians jersey and all that it stands for. 

For now, those that ran out for the invitational outfit will be able to put their feet up and enjoy the off-season. Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe hangs up his boots for good and his final conversion, including the reception that he gained from every player on the pitch, spoke volumes about the 36-year-old. 

The next steps for England and Eddie Jones will be gaining players back from Exeter Chiefs and Saracens and the head coach formalising his final squad for their tour to South Africa. We'll all wait for an update on Tuesday evening regarding that and then it’s all systems go ahead of the first Test against the Springboks on June 9. 

March 22, 2018

Disappointment, debriefs and development

When it comes to England Rugby there’s been much discussion of late about what’s happening now? What's happening after after England finished in fifth position? Is it just being parked and brushed aside? 

Well, at Twickenham Stadium on Wednesday lunchtime the RFU’s Chief Executive Steve Brown made clear about what is occurring internally and also gave his perspective on the recent competition. His appointment into this role was announced on September 1 last year and he replaced Ian Richie who retired from the position. The now CEO, had been involved with the RFU since 2011 as the Chief Financial Officer and also was the Managing Director of England Rugby 2015 as they were responsible for organising Rugby World Cup 2015. 

Every month Steve Brown sits down openly with the media to provide his perspective, thoughts and opinions on various issues. These sessions cover a many topics and don’t just get put in the diary after something ‘big’ has come to light, they're ongoing.

As you’d expect at Twickenham Stadium on Wednesday the focus was very much on the senior men’s recent Six Nations Championship performances and tournament. His point of view was clear and he highlighted the detail of the next steps that I mentioned earlier.

“The results in the Six Nations were not what we wanted, not what we expected and there is no attempt by us to dress this up. Everyone is deeply disappointed, we will learn from this and make it doesn’t happen again. 

“The key is, what do we do next? Eddie and his team do a thorough debrief, that's part of the routine. The debrief has started today and is part of an extensive review session. I was at the start of it this morning for the first hour or so. It's a thorough process that we do after every single tournament. It goes into some detail, including an analysis of what has gone on and what needs to happen. No stone is left unturned. 

"Eddie comes to the board after each tournament and that has been set in the diary for a while. Eddie will come to the RFU board meeting on Wednesday to give a debrief and some of that will be the content of the review today, the views, thoughts and findings. It will also help the RFU board understand what has happened and more importantly what can we do to make it better going forward.”

The Chief Executive also use the term ‘a bit of a bump’ in the road and made it very clear what now wasn’t the time for. 

“It's worth reflecting but Eddie has an 86 per cent win record with England. You don't become a bad coach or team overnight. We were motoring pretty well and things were going particularly well. We have hit a bit of a bump and now is the time to regroup and reassess and get back on track.

“Eddie and his coaches have my confidence and the measure of how good they and can be will be how they respond to these tough times. No one is patting each other on the back, they're looking for solutions to put us back to where we were before.

“We’re hugely disappointed but confident in the ability to turn this around. These are the moments when you don’t knee jerk without the evidence and data. We are not knee jerking but we are going to learn. We go again and we will bounce back.”

As you may have read from my reflective piece after England's loss at Twickenham Stadium I'm in accordance with these views. The losses against Scotland, France and Ireland and the performances in those games weren't what England's players, coaches or fans would have wanted to deliver. However, they happened and performances of that nature do in professional sport. Do sporting outfits always win? No. Do teams have challenging periods of time? Absolutely. It just so happens that when the English national side do stutter the wave of uproar is five, or ten, decibels higher than for any other side. It's worth pointing out at this moment in time that debriefs like the above occur after every competition the autumn internationals, a summer tour, a Six Nations... they're not reserved for 'bad' moments. 

Of course Eddie Jones' contract was extended in January to beyond Rugby World Cup 2019 and Steve Brown’s opinion on that move was that it remains the right, and best thing, for the team.  

“We spoke before and as you’ll recall the whole point of that [contract extension being announced now] is the two things we wanted to achieve. One of them was to secure Eddie post-World Cup based on success, so there’s a performance element in that. If Eddie is not successful, and we’re not successful, there is no contract after that so that is clear-cut. 

“The second bit, which you may argue the opposite at the moment, was to take the distraction away. We didn’t want the distraction, the debate and the deliberations and whatever else might have been on Eddie’s future, and our future, in the build-up to the World Cup. They were the two primary reasons for doing that and absolutely it was the right thing to do and we stick by it.”

Personally I see no reason to make a change - and find it difficult to get my head the perspective of those calling for a change - and even if the tour to South Africa involves a loss I can’t see England benefitting from this type of reaction now. I’ll go back to the initial point that the RFU's CEO made ‘you do not become a bad team or coach overnight’, he is right. One thing I do think that could add to this England side though would be to tap into the knowledge of a great attacking vision and mind, Ben Ryan as a clear example. From an RFU perspective because they are 'well-resourced' there is the financial support to bring in another individual to the team, whether or not that will happen will be based on the outputs of the ongoing review process and, of course, the perspective of the man at the helm Eddie Jones.

As I've stated already England's Six Nations campaign wasn't what anyone expected or any player, coach or fan wanted. However let's not forget some of the factors that were at play including a number of England's players that had been on the British & Irish Lions tour going into the competition without any form of prolonged rest. Lessons must, and will be learned, and rightly so in my opinion there won't be any knee-jerk reactions taken by the RFU's Chief Executive right now. 

March 17, 2018

England Rugby - Post Ireland Perspective

Three losses on the bounce and Ireland securing a Grand Slam at Twickenham Stadium was not what Eddie Jones and his side wanted to contemplate before kick-off. However, it was the reality that met them after the full-time whistle on Saturday afternoon. 

This Six Nations campaign has been far from a walk in the park for England and instead it's seen them finish with fifth position next to their name. Following the full-time whistle their head coach first praised Ireland's performance and his side's effort before focusing on the period that they find themselves in:

"Our team played with plenty of character and stuck at it but we just weren’t good enough and the other team was too good. We gave them penalties that were avoidable which has been a trait for us during the Six Nations and allowed them to skip away too far at half-time. Then, we were chasing our tail for the whole game. 

"You have these runs and I’ve coached long enough to know that you have them. Sometimes you get out of them quickly and sometimes it takes a bit longer. At the moment we’re in a position where it’s gone on for three games. It’s not nice but it’s part of the process of being a better team."

England's coach is right and if you’ve ever been part of a sports team striving to be the best then you’ll know that the road there isn’t easy. It isn’t plain-sailing and it doesn’t run smoothly. I know this from personal experience having progressed up the ranks to the national level as a netball player. 

In sport there are days, matches, tournaments and championships when things go astray. Performances are put on the park, or on the court in my case, that you know just don't reflect your personal capability or your team’s capabilities. Injuries occur, players are missed, confidence is knocked and as a result losses happen. One loss or even two or three arrive. It's sport and that's the reality of it. 

Confidence is something that can play a major part in runs like these, be them good or bad runs, and Eddie Jones discussed this his post-match assessment. 

"I’ve coached over 150 Tests and you have these runs. Everything is going well then you lose a game, you lose a little bit of confidence and you start losing those 50/50 decisions. Then you get some injuries and it just becomes a bit of a cycle that you need to break. 

"Sometimes you break it through a bit of luck, sometimes you break it through an individual player, sometimes you break it because the opposition aren’t as good on that day. You’ve just got to keep at it, wait for the opportunity and make sure that people stick together and keep believing in the process. If you do that then you get out of it."

Up until this point the Australian's England side have shown themselves to be an all-encompassing outfit. By that I mean a side that was able to dominate others or in separate instants grind out results during indifferent occasions. However right now, that skill of grinding out results, has gone missing and it’s linked to confidence. 

"It’s funny isn’t it? Because up until now that’s what we have been exceptionally good at [finding a way to win] and as I said you lose one and that little bit of confidence ebbs away. You don’t get the bounce of the ball, you don’t get the 50/50s and than you don’t find a way to win. How do you get it back? No-one knows you just have to keep at it."

As I mentioned in my pre-match thoughts there are fundamental elements to England's game right now that aren't perfect - their breakdown work and their creativity moving forwards in particular. However when their confidence returning, the latter in particular will start moving back on an upwards trajectory. When George Ford arrived onto the pitch on Saturday and Owen Farrell moved back to 12 England started to show more. The Leicester Tiger is an individual who I would have in my side every day of the week and as a duo I remain of the belief that together they are a key partnership to helping this side to spark when they couple fresh ideas with confidence. 

Will Eddie Jones bring in a new coach specifically to add an extra element to England's attack? Who knows? If he does that may be a productive move and one that helps to accelerate the re-emergence of their confidence. Why? Well, when you're attacking with conviction and flair and delivering moves that other sides can't cope with then that breeds positive feelings. That ability in turn energises the whole group and can be the catalyst to turning around a run of this ilk. 

On Sunday morning shots will be fired, metaphorically of course, at Eddie Jones and his England outfit. The number five will be shouted from the rooftops and their current flaws discussed at length. However, I personally would urge a spot of perspective to be delivered and consideration given to the fact that no side in the world runs white hot constantly. 

England's Six Nations campaign has been a tough one for the players involved and one that they would not have envisioned ahead of their opening game. However, as long as it's build on and learnt from that's what counts. Right now, would England win Rugby World Cup 2019 in their current form? No but that doesn't mean that they're down and out or that it's time for loud calls of 'Eddie out'. 

March 16, 2018

England v Ireland - Super Saturday 2018

England’s encounter with Ireland is a fascinating one isn’t it?

The final weekend of the Six Nations Championship, England coming into it off the back of two losses, Ireland with a Grand Slam on the line and week that has been far from quiet off the field too.

Of course we could have had a straight shoot-out for a Grand Slam and what a prospect that would have been however I personally am fascinated by this encounter. The more people I have spoken to about this game, the more I’ve heard the same sentiments and the words ‘I’m just not sure I can call it’.

Now I realise that to some reading this article that sounds absurd. However, allow me to explain my perspective and why I cannot wait to watch the action unfold on Saturday afternoon.

When it comes to this match the unknowns are greater than usual, on both sides of the fence. For England the fact that Eddie Jones has decided to twist his personnel and make seven changes does bring the first element of the unknown.

Yes tried and tested partnerships are being placed into the Test arena – Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and George Kruis – however  as a collective will England, in this formulation and this guise, be able to deliver off the back of two potentially confident-knocking losses?

The second unknown from an English perspective is whether or not they can fix the fundamental issues that they have been exhibiting during the past two Test matches. The breakdown being the most obvious alongside their tardy pace of adapting. With Ireland in their faces and well aware of their current ‘fragilities’ do they have the personnel and courage of convictions to lift themselves to victory at home?

From an Irish perspective the first focal point is the weight of expectation and the weight of pressure that comes with having a Grand Slam on the line.

This Irish side are an established team and a team full of players that have cut it at the highest level, be that for their clubs in the European Cup or as individuals in the British and Irish Lions. Yet, most have not shouldered the burden that comes with this particular situation – a Grand Slam opportunity. Will they thrive? Will they romp to victory like we saw England do against Ireland back in 2003 in Dublin? Or will they find it too much no matter how much they prepare not to?

In this game, more than any other during the Championship, both side’s emotional levels, and their control over them, will be pivotal. This was an area that Eddie Jones focused on during the week and openly admitted that England had got it wrong against Scotland and France.

"You don't understand what the Six Nations is until you're really in it. The emotional part of the game is enormous in the Six Nations," England’s head coach said.

"It's probably more than any other tournament I've experienced about your ability to not get over-aroused, not to be under-aroused, to be at the right arousal level. Looking back at Scotland we were probably over-aroused and sometimes it looks like lethargy and again that was my responsibility, I got it wrong.”

England are going into this game with ample pressure of their own, not when it comes to things regarding the Championship but when it comes to the criticism being levelled at them from all sides. In the space of a few short weeks it has ramped up considerably. Of course there are elements that aren’t there and their performances have exposed key weaknesses however from my perspective the intensity has been a touch severe. These periods happen in the development of sporting outfits, it’s how professional teams grow and develop. The famous class of 2003 that I just mentioned didn’t always have it all their own way, look at the path that Saracens have been on this season too as an example.

"This is going to be good for us,” said Eddie Jones, honestly, on Thursday at England’s training base in Bagshot.

"I love it. This is what we get paid for as coaches. It's the best time in rugby, when you are under the pump and you have got to produce it. And the team feels the same way.

"It is a fantastic test for us. It is the first time that we have been tested like this. It is better off happening now than later on."

Toeing the party line? Saying it for the sake of it? No. We all know that the Australian isn’t just delivering these messages because they’re the right thing to say during challenging times.  He means them and his team will too as they approach the considerable challenge that is being laid at their door this weekend.

On paper, even with the weight of a Grand Slam expectation on them, Ireland’s noses are in front. Yet, if England in this formation click and if they iron out even just 90% of their issues from their previous two games then we’re in for one hell of a ride.

Passions will run high, the odd tear or two will be shed by fans and even perhaps players either way and the competition that runs with title of ‘Rugby’s Greatest Championship’ will live up to its name. Roll on 2.45pm.

England: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Te'o, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Dylan Hartley, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 6 Chris Robshaw, 7 James Haskell, 8 Sam Simmonds. Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Don Armand, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Mike Brown.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rory Best, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 James Ryan, 5 Iain Henderson, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Dan Leavy, 8 CJ Stander. Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.