The coach who guided Fiji to gold and our resident columnist
HE NEW season is in full swing and pecking orders are being decided in terms of selection and league position. Pre-season is long gone, lone players have been loaned and new coaches are stamping their mark on things. Fringe and younger players will now know where they stand; some will have made it into the match-day squad, while others will be looking to get their diet of rugby through A League (Premiership Shield) games and at other clubs while on loan.
On top of that are the new Premiership and Championship Cups, which start in the coming weeks. They’re league cups for the first and second tiers, with pools and knockout rounds. Personally, I think a combined competition would have been better, but a tournament without the pressure of league points at stake gives players and management a chance to improve and enjoy their rugby.
Various bodies talk about restricting training loads and matches, but many players in Premiership squads simply don’t get enough meaningful rugby, especially for their own club. At least this new format gives players below the first team more games in which to improve as individuals.
There is nothing more boring for a player than just training and never getting match minutes. It’s also one thing playing on loan but another actually wearing your own club colours. It’s the same for coaches. Those that
Thave a specialty or a smaller role to play in terms of the league can take a lead role in this cup competition to nurture their skill-set and experiences. Plus, it’s an opportunity for teams to experiment a little more in how they play the game.
Nothing beats games for players or coaches and it does frustrate me when I hear talk of reducing the number of games that players play. It’s a bit like asking how an injury occurs. Yes, there is a list of the most common injuries and those are easy to work out. However, there are multifaceted reasons.
It might be a law that needs to change because it encourages reckless play or the coach might have overtrained or undertrained players. There could be artificial turf next to the pitch and it might be that the change in surface as a player steps into touch causes an injury. It might be that a player is in a bad mood or has a cold and gets their timing in a tackle wrong.
My point is that injuries are not due to one thing. When injury audits look at information, they never see the more human aspects.
Take the Premiership Sevens at the start of the season. Players from academies or who are new to the club are flying around with abandonment, so happy to be out there and keen to impress. Speed and accuracy gets affected and, with it, injuries sometimes occur.
In the Championship Cup, we will see a lower tackle height trialled, with a high tackle defined as above the armpit line rather than above the line of the shoulders. What will this do? Hopefully, better technical tackles will occur and more one-on-one tackles, rather than double shots – one defender to tackle the player and another to target the ball.
I hope we see cleaner breakdowns as a result, perhaps even more offloading as the ball should be more available and I think, as with all new ideas, it seems sensible to put it out there in a lesser competition and see how it goes. Nothing ventured and all that.
If I was to introduce a trial, I’d probably allow rolling subs so that teams can let players returning from injury, and others on the fringes, have a run. It just gives teams way more flexibility and could be a law used below the Premiership to help clubs in all sorts of ways.
I’m all for more trials, as long as they don’t devalue the game, embarrass the players or dilute the competition.
Then again, they could just enforce one or two breakdown laws…
Game timeHarlequins and Bristol meet in the Premiership Shield