Kevin Roberts says that much of the English club rugby he has seen looks like rugby league.


NZ Rugby World - - Contents -

And it’s agony for the op­po­si­tion, for ref­er­ees and for fans. I’m sure Ed­die Jones has found a lot to like about this – and I’m con­cerned it’ll be worked on and brought out by Eng­land in 2018 to stop the All Blacks.’

WHILE EA­GERLY AWAIT­ING the res­tart of All Black hos­til­i­ties – and hav­ing just re­cov­ered from Bris­bane – I was watch­ing Premier­ship rugby in Eng­land with some Euro­pean stuff too. It was a hard slog. I grew up in the north west of Eng­land and went to a great rugby play­ing school – Lan­caster Royal Gram­mar School – in the mid­dle of a strong rugby league lo­cal cul­ture.

As a bud­ding 16-year-old fly-half I was ap­proached by a man in a rain­coat and flat cap – not of the creepy tribe – that was just nor­mal wear for adults in the 60s in the mid­dle of the rainy rugby season in Lan­cashire.

He took me to a quiet cor­ner of the ground and asked if I fan­cied a rugby league trial with Bar­row on Tues­day evening of the fol­low­ing week – all un­der a dark cloak of sub­terfuge and se­crecy.

In those days we be­lieved even talk­ing to a rugby league scout could get us banned. I’d watched a bit of rugby league [Wi­gan were my team] and Tom Bro­phy – a lo­cal rugby union star fly-half – had just turned pro with Bar­row, so say­ing noth­ing to my mates or my dad, I went up to Bar­row to play un­der lights in a trial with their sec­ond string.

I didn’t en­joy it much. It seemed to be like Ground­hog Day – end­less phase af­ter phase of one player tak­ing the ball up, get­ting gang tack­led, get­ting up and do­ing it again and again.

Early in the sec­ond half some A-team loose for­ward took ex­cep­tion to my at­tempt­ing to step him and took my head off with a huge swing­ing bi­cep. I woke up in the dress­ing room 15 min­utes later. So en­deth my rugby league ca­reer.

I was re­minded of this when watch­ing the Premier­ship. Many teams are go­ing through phase af­ter phase, go­ing nowhere, keep­ing pos­ses­sion, be­com­ing in­cred­i­bly bor­ing and pre­dictable.

Stu­art Barnes, by some dis­tance the most in­sight­ful, vi­sion­ary and open­minded com­men­ta­tor on the game in the UK, wrote a great piece in The Times where he dis­sected this tac­tic as prac­tised bril­liantly – if bor­ingly – by sur­prise cham­pi­ons Ex­eter.

They have stud­ied the laws, fig­ured out the loop­holes, and are ex­ploit­ing them. The laws al­low for only the first man ar­riv­ing at the tackle to play the ball on the ground with his hands. Every­one else has to stay on their feet. And they must be bound. Watch Ex­eter wres­tle and win ev­ery ball. They never let it go.

And it’s agony for the op­po­si­tion, for ref­er­ees and for fans. I’m sure Ed­die Jones has found a lot to like about this – and I’m con­cerned it’ll be worked on and brought out by Eng­land in 2018 to stop the All Blacks.

Stu­art’s ar­ti­cle out­lines the tech­ni­cal is­sue bril­liantly. End­less one-paced phase rugby. Like rugby league be­fore the six tackle rule. Coaches and law-mak­ers – help! The other big talk­ing point is the bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee plumped for South Africa and this was sup­ported by the board of World Rugby.

The eval­u­a­tion was thor­ough and the South African bid scored strongly across all the five cri­te­ria – vi­sion, tour­na­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion, venues, in­fras­truc­ture and com­mer­cial plans.

World Rugby rated South Africa num­ber one with 79 per cent France num­ber two at 76 per cent and Ire­land num­ber three with 72 per cent.

I re­spected South Africa as a choice. I en­joyed trav­el­ling the coun­try in 1995 – if not the end re­sult and I cer­tainly could have lived with­out Louis Luyt – but my heart yearns for a World Cup in Ire­land. One for the ro­man­tics.

SMASH IT UP English club rugby is evok­ing strong mem­o­ries of rugby league.

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