By Greg Boon
The knives are out and a host of people are lining up to tell you the wheels have come off England’s chariot. It’s a favourite saying for fans and pundits alike. In two games England have gone from world-beaters to write-offs, proof that you really are only as good as your last game.

First, some perspective.

England have lost away from home in hostile environments against teams that historically save their best for the old foes. Scotland were outstanding in every aspect, France were admittedly average. But they are average monsters. England’s back row looked on in awe of the breakdown prowess of the French pack.

England are still one of the best teams in the world with a fantastic win loss ratio, which includes a host of Southern Hemisphere scalps. They boast some of the best players in the world and a player pool the envy of most nations.

Time and time again they have shown that they can find a way to win, against both the run of play and their own form. Despite seemingly being unable to retain the ball for more than eight phases against France, they still came close to leaving Paris with a win.

They are mentally strong, with a well drilled defence that will offer a challenge to the best attacks in the world – but no defence is impenetrable.

Their attack is stuttering but no real cause for concern.

Did we expect too much of England’s exciting back three? Daly is just back from injury, and Watson is still new to the 15 shirt at Test level. It’s worth noting that England’s game plan is far better suited to Brown at full back. If changes were made to get the best out of Watson, they will take time to bed in. If not, then Watson was at a disadvantage.

We’ve not seen Joseph’s Guscott-like ability to glide onto the ball, but selected now instead for his skill in defence. But those skills remain.

Ford is out of form. He is England’s attacking maestro; the conductor of their attacking orchestra. He remains a rare talent whose prowess comes not from Cipriani-like flair but control and time, so much time he must own a secret TARDIS. Teams become harder to breakdown as the phases rack up, and Ford is alone in his ability to breakdown these defences.

He is also without his Leicester teammate Ben Youngs, playing instead with self-styled ‘finisher’ Danny Care.

Perspective established, why has the sweet chariot come across rocky ground? Sadly, Eddie as the man at the helm must shoulder much of the blame. The seeds of the losses to Scotland and France were sewn before the start of the Six Nations.

Sadly, Eddie as the man at the helm must shoulder much of the blame. The seeds of the losses to Scotland and France were sewn before the start of the Six Nations.

Selection is one of the most important decisions any coach will make, perhaps the most important.

Following the World Cup, English Rugby was at a dangerous low. Stage one of a long term project leading to the next World Cup was to establish an identity, confidence, and some momentum.

Stage two had to be to create a team that would lift the Webb Ellis Cup. Have England moved on from stage one?

Even being the fantastic leader and influencer that he is, is Dylan Hartley the hooker to start in Japan?

Chris Robshaw is one of the most underrated servants of English rugby. His work rate is second to none. He has a better all round game than many players, equally capable of tackles as he is offloads. Robshaw is a work horse, but is he ever going to dominate a side?

Where are we going to find an open side flanker?

Is Nathan Hughes really the best option at eight in the event England are without the titanic Billy Vunipola?

Danny Care? Mike Brown?

Eddie Jones said before the Six Nations that he doesn’t see the Ford–Farrell combination starting for England in Japan.

The Australian is fond of mind games but there’s a strong argument to see Ford benched. If England are looking for a try, then there are few better fly halves in England to look to. If Eddie needs control, or to play the conditions, then England have shown they are quite comfortable with a Ford-Farrell axis.

There can be no argument that the team that has started under much of Eddie Jones reign will be the team try to lift the World Cup. The key is when are we going to see these changes.

Schmidt’s Ireland has slowly been building, at times unfairly overshadowed by England. Not once have Ireland settled with their success as England did on their winning run. They have continued to develop and Schmidt has continued to build his world-beating side. He has brought in new players, better players, into a side that is winning, Stockdale and Leavy to name just two.

Could Ben Te’o be settled into England’s midfield, with Joseph settled outside him? You only have to compare the environments Leavy and Armand have been introduced into to see that Jones has ignored the opportunity to offer his players the luxury that Schmidt did his.


Scrum Time

Posted: March 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”.

People who say the scrum should be abolished clearly don’t appreciate the dark arts as much as they should, but there’s nothing worse than an exciting game being killed by reset scrum after reset scrum.

I understand, sometimes it’s unavoidable (either due to standard of front rows, conditions, etc) but the time ebbing away can cause frustration for everyone involved, viewers or players.

In the 2016 Six Nations, there were 266 scrums throughout the competition. According to Wales Online, there were 241 minutes, the equivalent of three games, lost to the competition as a result. In the game between France and Ireland alone, 27 scrums took place.

Different alternatives have often been discussed: give the attacking team 60 seconds to restart the game or the defending team are awarded a free kick; uncontested scrums (many would prefer to come up with a different concept of restarting the game than this). I don’t agree with any of them.

I think there is a very simple way to deal with the time lost to restarting the games and the curse of reset scrums.

Why not stop the clock when the whistle is blown for a knock on, and only restart the clock once the ball is used from the back of the scrum, either by the number 8 or scrumhalf.

It may not make much of a difference in some games, but in others it could. It would also mean time can’t tick away due to reset scrums in close contests.

This brings the issue of what happens with time back on in regards a pushover try. Again, there’s a number of solutions.

Seeing as those tries are usually scored from 5m out, or a penalty try, the referee could simply say “time back on” if he thinks the scrum is moving sufficiently, or in the case of penalty tries, the clock restarts once the whistle is blown to award it.

If the scrum collapses, time stops again.

The main aspect of this would mean the “ball in play” time increases. This means players have to work harder, and also fatigue more. The workload for every player increases.

Fatigue means a decrease in communication levels amongst players defensively. It means gaps in defence and the game opening up more.

The scrum should always remain a pillar of the game. But why not give the clock a rest?

An obvious disadvantage of this would be TV scheduling and the impact it may bring, but the game should be more important than the fact an advert has to be shown.

Ireland – Scotland

Posted: March 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

I tweeted yesterday about a young boy on the DART to the Aviva stadium. His conversation with his dad about the players was one-sided and excited, and when he saw the Aviva appear his face lit up. He was in complete awe.

Getting off the train he continued his one-sided dialogue, talking a mile-a-minute of how Keith Earls was “the man”. He skipped rather than walked.

I saw the same kid a little while later getting an Ireland flag tied around him by a random fan. His smile was infectious. You could see, regardless of the score later on, that this day was going to stay with him for a long time to come.

That experience set the tone of the day. In the Sandymount Hotel before the game, both sets of fans supped pints quietly, chatting about the game to come, and cheering two early Rashford goals. It was a place for Scots, Irish, and Mancunians.

The atmosphere was one I’ve not witnessed at Lansdowne Road for a while.

Upon reaching the stadium, I found that my seats were in the middle of a large group of Scotland fans. To say this was a blessing in disguise is an understatement.

They sang Flower of Scotland as if they were in Murrayfield. Loud, confident, and oozing with pride, it was almost a challenge to find out who loved their country more.

About ten minutes into the game, a shrill blast of a set of bagpipes almost gave me heart failure. The unexpected blast turned into a rendition of Molly Malone, and the crowd sang and clapped and laughed, and applauded the musician fondly.

His repertoire was almost as impressive as his lung capacity.

Another group of Scottish fans (and eventually everyone) decided they were going to get a wave from Stuart Hogg, and chants of “Hoggy Hoggy Hoggy-Oi Oi Oi” and “Come on Hoggy give us a wave” rang out until Hogg, smiling, turned and obliged to a monstrous cheer. It’s worth noting Scotland were 21-3 down on the scoreboard at this stage, but they were winning hearts of fans all around them.

One Irish fan decided to tell the bagpiper to stop (he was on his own, which doesn’t come as a surprise when you think about it) and was duly slaughtered. A reply of “you’re winning you miserable git, enjoy yourself” and chants of “we only sing when we’re losing” duly followed.

After the game, the Irish and Scotland fans continued to sing and laugh with one another and, whilst walking to Ballsbridge, one Scottish piper played Ireland’s Call while Irish fans accompanied him.

This continued outside Mary Mc’s pub, where for two hours, every Scottish and Irish fan became French for two hours. Upon the final whistle, which sealed the Championship for Ireland, the place erupted. Irish fans cheered and sang; Scottish fans were in the middle of it.

Bagpipes were played inside the pub and the band that night sang Flower of Scotland to huge reply. You wouldn’t think Scotland lost. You wouldn’t even think you were in Dublin.

The day belonged to Ireland, due to the win and clinching the Championship. But huge credit has to go to the Scotland contingent who travelled.

They added hugely to the spectacle, and the day wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable without them. Cheers.

Photo: Rob Robertson

Six Nations Weekends

Posted: January 28, 2018 in Uncategorized

In six days time, one of the greatest rugby tournaments in the world will begin. Train, plane, boat, and bus journeys have been booked, jerseys ironed, hats and gloves dug out jacket pockets along with old ticket stubs. It’s a competition that brings an element to the game that not many other competitions can.

As a kid, I remember waking up on Saturday mornings and immediately looking forward to the games of the day. I’d sit chewing a Tayto sandwich and absorb as much as possible about every player. Not much has changed.

I remember studying England when they played in Twickenham, just before they became champions of the world, and trying to calculate how they swept teams aside so easily.

Comedian Tommy Tiernan tells an anecdote of how people enjoy seeing England being beaten “in things such as sport…and war!” and while true, as an Irishman, I was forced to respect the way England went about their business. True, sometimes they failed to win the Slam, but so has every other team at times.

I remember the Bull crying in Croke Park, and thinking for the very first time, that sport truly does transcend above all else. People often say that it was a day for history books, but I believe that doesn’t even come close to describing the occasion.

I was never the quickest kid on the pitch, but that didn’t stop me trying to emulate Shane Williams on Sunday mornings, trying to step and twirl out of tackles while running full belt. Gravity was the only defender needed in those days. Tripping up became the tackle.

Offloads on Sunday mornings would drive underage coaches all over Europe demented. Why pass normally when the French can do it one handed? Not to mention hookers becoming quarterbacks at lineouts like Ibanez.

Who can forget that final day of rugby three years ago, when it all came down to points difference. If ever there was an exhibition day for the tournament, that was it. Unless you were French, English, or Irish you were treated to an absolute belter of a game to top it off.

Unthinkable moments happen in the Six Nations: last minute wins; underdog victories; fingertip catches for last gap tries. And I’m sure this year will be no different.

England’s chances of a Slam are being talked down by Eddie Jones, but as Conor O’Shea pointed out in his humorous manner, they’ll be tough to beat. When you have characters like Owen Farrell in the squad, losing does not become an element in the equation.

Ireland will have one eye on the title too, and a Paddy’s Day decider in Twickenham is being heavily tipped as the decider. Irish players are in flying form at the moment, with three provinces involved in European quarter finals. Schmidt is a man who can take that form to the next level again.

Scottish fans will be more excited for this tournament than ever. The reigning Five Nations champions are on the up under Townsend, and Finn Russell has stated they’re no longer happy to just target home games. Expect a big tournament from the Scots.

Wales will be heading into the tournament without the likes of Faletau, Biggar, Davies, Warburton, Ball, Lydiate, Webb, and Williams. Whereas Gatland has strength in depth, any team in world rugby would miss those players and it will prove to be a mountain to climb. But this is the Six Nations and stranger things have happened.

France are a shambles. With new coach Brunel taking the reigns he will be lookong to put his stamp on the team, and Ireland will be privately pleased they face France first. Odds are they’ll be unsettled and unbalanced and, as a result, undercooked.

And finally, Conor O’Shea’s Italy. Personally I can’t wait to see what tactic is employed this year to give them the edge. Who can forget the almost comic responses from Poite to bewildered England players. But on a serious note, O’Shea’s influence is bearing fruit, which can be seen through Treviso’s European campaign this year. I expect them to manage two wins this year, and would love to be surprised with more.

I’m unsure if French children grow up with the same fear of the wooden spoon as Irish children, but I predict French players this year will feel its sting. They will struggle against structured and organised attack, and new combinations will mean lapses in defence and poor communication in attack.

To all those travelling abroad for games, and to those who have managed to secure tickets by hook or by crook, my advice is to enjoy every second. You may forget the game, but you’ll never forget the craic. You may as well take the Monday off too while you’re at it.

The Six Nations is my favourite annual international tournament and, in my eyes, next Saturday and the Tayto sandwiches can’t come fast enough.

On the Loose with Census Johnson

Posted: December 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

Census Johnson is is a tighthead prop who has played international rugby with Samoa, and at club level with Taranaki, Biarritz, Saracens, Toulouse, and currently Racing 92.

1. You’ve played countless games with a number of different teams, be they international or club level. What’s your all-time favourite rugby memory?

My all time favourite memory was winning the Heineken cup back in 2010 in my first season with Toulouse. We were littered with world class french internationals at the time, but you would’ve never noticed. Everyone was down to earth; no egos, just a bunch of guys working towards one goal: winning trophies.

2. Who’s the best player you’ve played alongside and the toughest player you’ve ever faced?

A few to name but Thierry Dusautior. Just a hard worker.

Also, again a few to name, but Bakkies Botha was pretty tough and I don’t think many would argue.

3. What’s your favourite part of playing in France?

The pre-match meals, the fans, and I love the french culture.

4. What lessons did you take from club to club?

Lesson I took was things change, situations change, you have to adapt wether it’s good or bad.

Things happen for a reason. Remember all good things… There are people worse off than you are.

5. Who was the best coach you’ve played under, and why was he such an influence on you as a player?

I have 2 coaches to name. Eddie Jones and Guy Noves. Different styles but some similarities. No nonsense attitudes, they either loved you or disliked you but brought out the best in you.

Both gave me confidence and believed that I could be one of the best tightheads.

6. What’s the single funniest incident you’ve ever seen in a dressing room?

First year in Biarritz, the prematch rituals of head butting, slapping, and yelling was pretty funny at the time until I got an unexpected slap on the chest that hurt like hell.

7. Including yourself, what’s the best 1-8 you’ve played in?

Poux, Servat, Lecoules, Maestri, Tekori, Dusautior, Picamoles, Nyanga.

8. What do you think needs to be done to help Pacific Island rugby?

We need a fair funding model where unions have to share a certain percentage of what they make at gates.

Tier 1 teams need to play in the islands more.

World Rugby need to provide more funding, helping pacific unions with more resources and coaches for local talent.

I could go on and on.

9. How would you like the rugby world to remember you?

A prop that could do everything.

10. Do you have ambitions to move into coaching when the boots are hung up?

I didn’t at the start tobe honest. But having a chat with a few people [they] convinced me to try and stay involved in the game and get into scrum coaching.

So I thought to myself that it would be nice to share a lot of the things I’ve learnt over the years.

People want to know:
What’s the loosest night you’ve had with any team?

I don’t have many loose nights these days but If you’ve done a tour in the Barbarians you definitely in for a few loose nights.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Fly so I can just take off on holiday when I want and it’s cheap.

On the Loose with Mark Roche

Posted: November 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

Mark Roche currently plays for Irish Rugby’s 7s team and agreed to answer ten quick questions about his life in sport.

1. What’s your favourite rugby memory?

MR: Favourite rugby memory has to be when Ireland won the grand slam in Cardiff in 2009.

2. Irish Sevens seems to be going from strength to strength. What’s the ultimate aim?

MR: It has and the ultimate aim is to qualify for the 2018/2019 World Series by winning the Hong Kong series in April next year.

3. Who’s the best Sevens player you’ve played with and against?

MR: Best player I’ve played with is Hugo Keenan because he’s got a great work ethic, he is a reliable teammate, effective in everything that he does and one of the best tacklers on the team.

Best sevens player I’ve played against would be Australia half back Maurice Longbottom. He’s got speed, footwork that beats defenders with ease and a dangerous player when on the ball.

4. Do you think Sevens is receiving the support and coverage its due?

MR: Yes I think it is, the IRFU are fully behind the sevens programme they have given the players a lot of support and still continue to do so, the coverage is getting there as we had to start at from division C and work are way up to the top.

The IRFU have done a great job getting tournaments on live stream on the website so that family, friends and supporters of the game can watch the games.

5. You won a number of AIL titles. What makes club rugby so special for you?

MR: Yes, I have won 2 AIL titles with Lansdowne back in 2013 & 2015. What makes it special for me is the new friendships you make coming out of school into this whole new environment.

The competition is greater as you are competing against guys that are older and younger which makes it a challenge in itself as you’ve always been competing with guys that are the same age in school.

6. Do you think the AIL/club game should be promoted ahead of the B&I Cup?

MR: I feel that it is getting there. I think both competitions are important to Irish rugby and that they both should always be looking to improve from the year previous and get the country aware of both competitions.

AIL has been promoted a lot more this year as there certain rewards for try of the month and player of the month and it’s about recognising the talent Ireland are producing in the AIL.

7. What’s was the toughest part of transitioning from 15s to Sevens?

MR: The toughest part was definitely adjusting to the speed of the game and how fast it is and different it is with 7 players on the field. Same space with less numbers and constantly working for 14 minutes is tough and there’s no room for error in this game.

8. What advice would you give anybody who wants to break through in the Sevens game?

MR: I’d encourage everyone to play as it’s a game that improves basic core skills. It gets everyone involved and you always have a job to do as there’s only 7 on the field.

You also get to play against a number of teams in the tournament as you play 3 group games on day 1 and 3 knockout games day 2.

9. Who’s the best coach you’ve ever played under and why?

MR: The best coach I’ve played under would be Mike Ruddock. I had Mike coach me for a number of years with Lansdowne and the Ireland u20s. I think he is brilliant at managing his players and keeping the team morale high, knows what’s best for the team.

He’s a very honest coach and when he talks to you about your performance he will tell you exactly what you need to know for you to improve your game and he always gets a performance out of the players.

10. You’ve trained with the Women’s Sevens team on numerous occasions. Is the Women’s team receiving the funding and the support they deserve in all codes of the game?

MR: Yeah, I think they are getting the funding and support they need. They are a World Series team and are doing a great job and the IRFU are in full support in getting the players to where they want to be.

Bonus Questions:

Would an octopus wear gloves or socks?


Worst roommate you’ve ever had?

Nick Timoney as I roomed with him once and he is a messy guy.

Aki’s Residency

Posted: October 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

Bundee Aki played one of his best games for Connacht in a long time against Munster on Friday night. Deft hands helped set up a wonderful score for Tiernan O’Halloran, and his defensive reads throughout the game helped Connacht to a four point win.

It’s not the first time Aki has been lauded for a performance in a green shirt. It certainly won’t be the last. It’s the issue of which green shirt that seems to bother people.

Aki took part in an Irish Rugby training camp at the end of the summer, and was included in the latest Irish squad (one that had a number of questionable omissions) for the November internationals. His form and style of play is enough to ensure his inclusion.

But every rugby fan knows Aki. He doesn’t step back. He doesn’t give up. He doesn’t like to come off second best.

Much has been written about the residency laws in the last number of years. Payne bore the brunt of articles, as did Stander. When the B&I Lions were announced, some people couldn’t wait to take to social media to air their graces.

Aki is the latest to be subjected.

I read an article earlier in the week that stated Aki will be eligible to play for Ireland simply because he boarded a plane three years ago, travelled thousands of miles to somewhere he’d probably heard very little of, and played rugby for three years. I paraphrase, but that was the idea.

Nothing was written about him having to leave his family, including his daughter, who reside in New Zealand.

Nothing was mentioned about his arrival to a team who were, at the time, struggling to perform in their domestic league.

Nothing was written about the fact he left his home, friends, culture, and way of life thousands upon thousands of miles behind him.

In fact, it was written that Aki’s decision to emigrate and ply his trade abroad offered him the chance to play international rugby, something that would not have been possible if he had stayed at home. This being despite the fact Richie McCaw and other New Zealand alicadoos openly stated they wanted him home.

If Aki earns a regular starting Test spot in an Ireland jersey, it is simply because he is the best available Irish qualified player in that position. Simple as.

He has broken no laws. He is not being snuck in. He is not being afforded preferential treatment to the expense of an Irish-born player.

A number of arguments have been made that his inclusion blocks the path of players born in Ireland. The same was said about Stander and Payne. But let’s take a look at that.

CJ Stander came to Munster and took time to acclimatise. It took him a long time to earn a a starting place for Munster, but took him no time at all to appreciate and respect the Munster culture. He adopted it so much, in fact, he has captained them on numerous occasions.

Upon gaining (or earning, as would be the appropriate verb in my eyes) his Irish residency, he earned a starting spot in the Irish squad. Many said he shouldn’t be in the Irish team. But why not?

He, too, left his family, friends, and culture behind and boarded a plane to take a chance to further his career.

And is he blocking Irish born players from a Test spot? He was the best player in his position whenever he played for Ireland. And with at fully fit Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, and Jack Conan heading into the autumn internationals, will he retain that starting spot? It looks doubtful. So who is he blocking?

Perhaps in credit to those who begrudge the law, I was surprised to see Rory Scannell omitted from the last squad. But not due to Aki’s inclusion, but McCloskey’s. Aki, for me, would be my choice beside Henshaw in the autumn internationals.

Aki has earned his spot. If it was about the money, Aki wouldn’t have resigned with Connacht when he could have played in France or England for a considerably higher sum than offered by Connacht.

These players earn the right to represent their adopted countries. It is not as simple as boarding a plane and playing ball.

These players are human. They have families, friends, memories, and cultures all left behind. They make a very difficult decision to emigrate in order to further their professional life. Unless you have been in that position, and faced these problems, who are you to bemoan them?

The new incoming law change will see a player need to play in their chosen country for five years rather than three. The change has done some good to quell to never-ending criticism of overseas-born players but plenty would still like to see it pushed to ten.

Ten is far too long. It would mean a player, moving at 21 years of age, wouldn’t be capped until they were at least 31.

How many players in world rugby have celebrated international careers which began in their third decade? A law stating ten years suits those who believe you should be born in the country you wish to represent. It doesn’t take the human side into account.

People travel the world in the hope of bettering their lives, be it professionally or personally. Yet when when a rugby player makes the choice to travel to do that, some feel the need to let them know they’re not, nor will ever be, truly Irish, English, or whatever.


Recently, the powers that be in England have asked World Rugby for help in stopping other clubs from poaching their young players into playing their rugby outside of England.

Given Hartley, their captain, their loosehead and number 8 and a number of other players in their team were not born in England, it makes me laugh a little bit.