Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes on the World League and England Six Nations changes
Last Updated: 04/03/19 12:59pm
Stuart Barnes wades into the World League argument, and looks ahead to the next round of Six Nations clashes, including England vs Italy.
1. Everyone seems to have had their say, myself included last week. Social media is quite a scene, everyone trying to scream their love of the Pacific Islands loudest. It was a good story for a spot of righteous indignation. Never mind that my old mate, Gus, came online and said the facts were...anything but facts.
We were angry. Well, now the knees have stopped jerking quite as much, let's take a brief look at this World League. What it does is elevate the importance of internationals; it puts international rugby onto a central stage and will - hopefully - raise a bucket load of money. It will also test the ability of the club game to sustain itself in a world where players will face an even greater temptation to go central with their contracts.
How many of the ‘major broadcast markets’ are actually rugby playing nations Brett? do the opinions of us fans outside those markets not count?— Daniel Leo (@danleo82) February 28, 2019
Perhaps a better approach to ‘growing the game’ would be to look after the smaller nations who already play? https://t.co/k6o2M9Av8q
Less club rugby equates with better player welfare; something the current players are not getting because they are not taking the ramifications of the World League to the next level. It feels like an important stage of professional rugby and its evolution is about to be reached, one way or another.
2. Me, I would love the old muddled compromise to continue even as I sense something has to give. On Friday night I was at Ashton Gate, Bristol v Gloucester, the oldest of the West Country derbies. I arrived an hour and three quarters before kick-off; there was a real tingle around the bars outside the ground. The atmosphere was excellent, the game was good. That's the beauty of the club game and the relative proximity of teams a strength in creating an excellent and friendly rivalry.
3. That was Friday. On Saturday I was commentating with Miles on Racing 92 v La Rochelle, a game the Parisians, in eighth place before the match, had to win. So far this season there have been two Racing teams. The ones that have looked one of the most threatening teams with the ball in hand - in Europe - and the sloppy side that plays in second gear - in France. Well, the European version burst onto the French domestic scene and put half a century on La Rochelle. If they can tighten up their defence they'll threaten even Leinster and Saracens, not to mention the revitalised Toulouse, who they face in the quarter-finals.
4. On the subject of Toulouse; what a relief that Antoine Dupont has jumped to the head of the pecking order for French nines. He gives them a real razz around the base of the scrum. I think Teddy Iribaren of Racing is as rounded a nine as there is in France but nobody the other side of the Channel agrees with me. Come the quarter-final, the tangle between the two of them is going to be something to behold, that is if Racing start Ready Teddy Go!
5. Super Rugby hasn't been so super with so many of the leading All Blacks rested ahead of the many travails ahead in a World Cup year. Even so, we can't let the weekend pass without a mention of the mighty Sunwolves who won their first away game in the competition. The Chiefs away is a none too shabby first scalp.
6. Closer to home and round four of the Six Nations beckons. Wales have been mixing and matching their scrum-halves in the opening rounds. For the tricky visit to Edinburgh, I wonder whether Warren Gatland is going to stick with Gareth Anscombe as his starter 10 and bring Dan Biggar on to such brilliant effect as we saw against England or if the Saint will wear 10 and Anscombe play the impact role with Wales putting late pace on their passing game?
7. As for England, I would like to see them make a raft of changes to test the depth of the squad ahead of the World Cup. In particular I think George Ford should start with Owen Farrell either rested or switched to 12 to alter their distribution. Maybe Manu Tuilagi could be looked at as a 13. This wouldn't be a case of dropping Henry Slade, the excellent Exeter man, just testing a few alternatives. With the Grand Slam gone, Jones should experiment.
8. Two years ago Italy didn't commit anyone to the tackle and caused mass confusion in the English ranks. England's decision making, their understanding of the tactical issues, were brought back into question. I hope Italy are good enough to ask some more questions. England need to be tested in the head as much the body. Italy, it should also be said, have been a little unlucky to date. Not much has gone their way. Hopefully Tito Tebaldi will be as good at Twickenham as he was against Ireland.
9. Johnny Sexton cut a frustrated figure that day in Rome. He has taken some stick on the gain line where he plays with such bravery and skill. Opposition are after him and it's not being helped by the fact that Conor Murray is off form and making it easier for opposing defences to focus their aggression at Sexton. If Murray can find some form, Sexton will shine.
10. Change of the sexes. No Grand Slam for the men but the England women are on course. They face Italy, an improving side. You can see the game on Sky. I am really enjoying the way the women seek to play through space rather than adopting the old thud and blunder approach that appeals to the big boys. Judging by viewing figures so far, there are a lot of other converts. Have a great week.