Archive for the ‘European Rugby’ Category


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

This phrase encapsulates a mantra all teams live by. Just like Tiger Woods changing his swing when he was World Number 1, a team at their peak must change their game in order to stay on top. 

The Heineken Cup ended three seasons ago, and thus, the Champions Cup was born. Throughout its infancy, there has been many complaints about the new-look European competition. Being honest, last year’s competition failed to excite me in any real way. But this year is different.

In the penultimate round of this year’s competition, every game seems to be bringing about a change in the top eight. The qualification table has changed a number of times since Friday evening and will continue to do so until the final game is played next week. This is what the fans of European rugby want; a competition in which their team must continue to produce at the highest level in order to qualify.

But there are still a couple of problems in this competition, problems which can be easily eradicated to both the players’ and fans’ benefit and enjoyment.

I’ve long campaigned that Treviso and Zebre should not have a place in the Champions Cup unless it has been earned through merit, and this has been more obvious than ever this weekend.

Connacht have suffered a high number of injuries this season. So many, in fact, that I reckoned that Zebre (after conceding seventy points to Leinster the week previous) may be in with a shout in their second European meeting. Connacht proved me to be magnificently wrong.

Playing with a scrum-half in the outhalf position, Connacht put 66 points past a poor Zebre side to go from third in their group to first and stormed their way into the qualification table. Between their two clashes, Connacht won 118-28. Not to mention Zebre also shipped 82 points to Wasps in their opening round.

I’m not here to poke fun at Zebre’s ability, but I am highlighting that the Italian teams are way out of their depth in this competition. As Andy Goode tweeted this week, this competition is for the European elite, and having poor Italian teams included just belittles the competition. 

Fine, you can argue that Northampton and Montpellier both shipped big losses to Leinster this season too, but it’s not the same argument. Neither side have been consistently poor in Europe.

The Champions Cup organizers need to change the qualification process for the Pro 12 teams. Including Zebre because they finished above Treviso in the league isn’t saying the stronger Italian team is being included; it’s saying the better loser is.

Both teams should be included in the Challenge Cup until strong enough to compete with the European elite. Simple as. This would strengthen the competition and avoid more embarrassment to players who, you can be assured, are doing their best. It would also end the idea that teams lucky enough to draw an Italian team are guaranteed circa ten points.

Zebre may not even be a team next year, as a centralized team in Rome is the aim for Italian club rugby  at the moment. But that newly-formed team, whenever it may come, should be forced to prove itself in the Chllange Cup before gaining entry into the Challenge Cup. Organizers should be learning from mistakes.

The second problem is the division of games between Sky Sports and BT Sports.

As I type this, I am missing Toulon v Sale, a game which has some of the world’s best players on show. Why? Because I’ve already paid a subscription to one sports channel.

European rugby is an expensive business for fans. New jerseys seem to be coming out every year, meaning parents are under pressure when their kids see their idols’ new uniforms. Away games can mean expenses such as plane tickets, accommodation, match tickets, food, etc. Home games aren’t cheap either. But that’s accepted. It’s part and parcel. 

What’s unacceptable is that fans who stay home are forced to fork out two subscriptions to two different channels in order to watch one competition. 

Champions Cup organizers should not divide the rights to the competition. It adds an extra cost to fans who already give their all to follow their teams, and put simply, it is unfair to impose that extra cost on fans to pay the wages of pundits they never wanted in the first place. 

The TV rights are up for renewal this summer and apparently they will not be shared again between two subscription channels. This needs to be imposed in order to continue to win over the public. It would be a very simple solution to what is a big issue.

The Champions Cup has been going from strength to strength and is finally capturing the imagination of fans again. But there are changes to be made. After all, to change is to improve.

Looking back at New Zealand v Wales, Australia v England, and South Africa v Ireland, The Loose Head takes a quick look at what we learned:

1. Wales can turn it on when they want. When the Welsh boys kept ball in hand, the All Blacks found it hard to live with them for an hour. Williams and North, most noticeably, made hay when offered a chance to run. Perhaps a tactic that should be kept for the series?

2. Liam Williams will no longer be a back-up to Leigh Halfpenny. The Toulon player is going to find it very difficult to get a starting berth ahead of Williams who put his stamp on the game yesterday. He made a couple of mistakes, but a shining light for Wales. Easily their Man of the Match.

3. Taulupe Faletau is dining at the same table as Read, Pocock and Vunipola. He was incredible yesterday. His work rate was second to none and was up there with Williams as Wales’ top performer. Special mention to Gethin Jenkins who was also immense.

4. A New Zealand team in transition is still the best team in the world. They couldn’t get into the game in the first half and lacked structure, with Julian Savea having a game to forget. But in the second half, they found their composure and blew Wales away. Slow to start, but still quick to put the opposition away.

5. Aaron Smith is the best 9 in world rugby. He ran support lines, kept his forwards moving, and was his all-round brilliant self. The honour of leading the haka was well deserved. He seems to love his team more than anyone, and dropped to his knees to celebrate when Naholo crossed the whitewash.

6. Julian Savea and Dane Coles are mortals. Although Savea scored, it was a day to forget for the winger, and Coles made uncharacteristic mistakes throughout the game too. Not saying they won’t bounce back, but rare to see them suffer poor performances.

7. England are probably the second best team in the world right now. Australia blew them away in the opening 20 minutes, but England held on and took their points when they were on offer. The English pack eventually got into the game and spoiled breakdowns, scrums, and mauls, scrums against a pack who demolished them in the World Cup last year.

8. Eddie Jones is not afraid to admit to his mistakes. Luther Burrell was shipped off in the first half to make way for George Ford, and that made a huge difference to England’s playmaking and backline. Farrell is well versed in the 12 role, and England continued to grow more dominant.

9. We still don’t know what Eddie Jones is thinking. A number of people, myself included, find it hard to understand why Alex Goode wasn’t in the starting XV, let alone the squad. Also, the selection of Yarde ahead of Nowell is also difficult to understand. But then again, England won, Yarde scored, and Mike Brown had a solid game bar a couple of mistakes. His thinking is justified.

10. Samu Kerevi was born for Test rugby. The Fijian born had a fantastic debut, and didn’t look uncomfortable in the Test arena. A star for the future.

11. Michael Hooper is the best number 7 in the world. He scored two tries, with one highlighting his pace down the wing and composure to finish. He took the captain’s armband in the 57th minute, and scored in the 58th. He is a leader, and it’s amazing to think he’s still only 24.

12. Micheal Cheika will have a lot of work to do before Australia’s next meeting with England. The Wallabies went 10-0 ahead after 17 minutes, but slowly faded out of the game. Pocock suffered a fractured eye-socket, and will be a big loss to the Australians.

13. Based on yesterday’s performance, South Africa are not the force they once were. The Boks weren’t helped with the early loss of Pat Lambie, but bar Mvovo and flashes from Le Roux, their backline showed little creativity. At one stage, before making way for Jesse Kriel, Lionel Mapoe looked perplexed at the lack of line breaks the Boks’ backs were making.

14. Jesse Kriel needs to start the next test. The Bulls man is a big, physical, dynamic player and offers a better attacking option than the centres of De Allende or Mapoe. Whatever the reasons for benching him for the first Test, he needs to start.

15. Eben Etzebeth relishes the physicality of the Springboks. Early in the game, he dove across a ruck to get to Stander. Later, he entered a ruck and blasted Jamie Heaslip. He constantly winds up his opposition, and holds no fear for his own safety. Made a number of mistakes late in the game, but one of the Springboks’ best assets.

16. Paddy Jackson showed the world what he is capable of. I campaigned for the Six Nations tournament for Jackson to be involved, and feel totally vindicated due to his performance. He was cool under pressure, and when the points were on offer, he told his captain he wanted to kick for goal. Ireland’s effort can be epitomised through Jackson, when in the 78th minute, he ripped the ball from Springbok number 8, Duane Vermeulen, in the tackle.

17. Andy Farrell has clearly made an impact on the Ireland team. Defence wins matches, and the first Test was a prime example. South Africa failed to score before half-time when Ireland were down to 13 men. Additionally, their first try should have been disallowed and their second came from an Irish lapse in concentration. The Irish defence will only continue to improve throughout the series. Henderson, Mike Ross, et al, were fantastic.

18. Jared Payne should continue to play at fullback for club and country. He only had to make two tackles but he aligned and marshalled his troops, and was sublime in attack, picking superb lines and making superb offloads. He is the best 15 in Ireland.

19. Mathieu Raynal is not an international standard referee. He awarded a red card which nearly spoiled the game, went to the TMO every second occasion, and made poor calls for both sides throughout the game.

20. Special mention to the Ireland U20 team who beat New Zealand U20 yesterday in what was a thrilling game.

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“Pain is temporary”. A phrase a lot of young people are told when they first start playing rugby. It’s one of those old clichés, up there with “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. A lie, in other words. The bigger they are, the more painful they are to tackle. Nor is pain temporary. Not even close. With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place at the moment, we look at the safety of players and the impact rugby is having on their future health.

When you think of everything that goes into a rugby match, it is far more than just 80 minutes of trying to get the ball down on the other side of the pitch. There are a high number of collisions (between the tackle, ruck, and maul areas). A high number of training sessions include contact drills of some description. Players train in the gym in order to make themselves more athletic, stronger, and bigger than their opposition. And only the elite are monitored closely.

Most players will play while carrying an injury. Granted, they may not train in the lead up to that game in order to rehabilitate the injury as much as possible, but they will play. Look at Dan Carter in the Champions Cup final for Racing 92. He went into the game with one good leg, and came off early in the second half. Racing 92 still have the remainder of their domestic league to play-so why risk it? But the “it” is not risking missing your best player; the “it” is making sure the player isn’t risking his health in the future.

Sabbaticals are not a concept lost on Dan Carter. He went to Perpignan a number of years ago, and got out of the New Zealand limelight for a year. The idea was that playing away from all that pressure would rejuvenate his game. In theory it was a great concept. In reality, he ruptured his Achilles and played very little rugby.

Carter was destined to shine on the big stage, but getting knocked out of the 2007 World Cup and getting injured in the 2011 campaign stole that from him. He took a second sabbatical, this time not playing the game whatsoever. A while later, he was Man of the Match in a World Cup final, and kicked his last All Black conversion with his weaker leg.

I’m not saying a sabbatical was the magic behind his performance that day; I’m simply saying it helped.

Alex Corbisiero toured Australia in 2013 with the British and Irish Lions, and scored a try in the third Test. He established himself as one of the top front-rowers in the game. But he decided he had enough. His decision came about as his contract with Northampton Saints was winding down, and he chose to simply not renew his contract. Now, he’s in a good place.

“I’ve had 14 weeks off and feel really good. I was physically and mentally spent after 10 years of full-time rugby. The intensity, the physicality, the injuries and the pressure I put on myself took its toll. I knew if I wanted to play rugby again I had to stop for a while.”

It was brave of ‘Corbs’ to take a break, and he knew not everyone would appreciate his decision. But he did it anyway, as it was best for him. He was proactive rather than waiting for an injury to prevent him from playing long into the future.

But players want to play. They love the game, they love their job, and after earning an opportunity for become a professional sportsman/woman, why would they give it up for a year and face an uncertain future or a year with zero income? You require some level of robustness to play rugby, and fans can confuse that with being almost unbreakable. It’s simply not the case. Especially when it comes to younger players:

“The accumulative wear-and-tear worries me. Maro Itoje is a superstar at 21 and we need to make sure that in six years, at his peak, he’s fresh enough to be physically imposing. He’s a phenomenal player but we can’t have him being run into the ground by playing 30-odd games every season. Same as George North. He’s 24 and playing Tests since he was 18 – without a proper break. We have to look after these great players.”

Robert Kitson wrote a piece on England’s Rugby Championship system in which he referenced Ben Hooper’s sentiments. Hooper feels that players in the Championship are being forced to accept contracts by people with “scant interest in their physical or mental well-being”, but for very little money. Whereas the money is an issue, welfare should be the upmost priority. The mental aspect of the sport is just as strenuous as the physical.

Kitson also wrote an article based on the mental strain players face in professional rugby. He admires Rory Lamont’s opening up in the Sunday Times about his feelings towards retirement, and rightly so, as it was incredibly courageous:

“You’re thinking: ‘I don’t want to live like this. I’d rather die. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get struck by lightning or step in front of a bus.’ Coming out of rugby, my world pretty much collapsed.”

Kitson also describes how Lamont went on to describe how he struggles to cope outside what professionals would describe as a “safety-blanket” of club rugby. He added:

“Once that’s removed, you’re that little child, completely scared, totally vulnerable and very much on your own. I wasn’t always in love with rugby, but I was surrounded by friends, travelling the world. Suddenly everything was gone. I felt like a spent battery, tossed on the scrapheap.”

But all this talk of taking a break is not a recent phenomenon. George Chuter echoed Corbisiero’s sentiments in an interview with the Guardian, when he spoke about how his gift of a long career was in fact borrowed time from his future:

“I’m under no illusions. You have a great career, you have a great time – and it is a great career – but the human body can’t take that sort of punishment and come away scot-free. If you want to get to the top level you’ve got to make sacrifices. And it’s not just your time, or a bag of chips – it’s sacrificing your long‑term health. You want to have that time in the sun. But unfortunately it’s a deal with the devil.”

But Chuter decided to act, and like Corbisiero, he took a sabbatical in 2000. He felt he disillusioned with the game, so he walked away for a time. As fans will know, that did not signal the end of Chuter. He came back to have an illustrious career with Leicester Tigers and became a fan favourite.

But since Chuter’s sabbatical in 2000, one he took partially due to being mentally drained, things have changed. Players are only a tweet away from being accessible to the public 24/7, leaving them prime targets for upset fans after a poor game. Social media is just another platform where these players, who may be struggling internally, can be poked at with taunts and ill wishes. This does not help to aid their mental recuperation. It does not add to their self-confidence, or their self-worth. Just because they play sport at an elite level does not mean they aren’t struggling with their own issues.

Sabbaticals seem to work. Alex Corbisiero is happy. George Chuter returned to have a glittering career. Dan Carter became the World Player of the Year for the third time. His New Zealand team-mate and twice-winning World Cup captain Richie McCaw deemed one necessary. Of late, David Pocock had a sabbatical to study abroad included in his contract. Even Joe Marler has withdrawn himself from the England tour to Australia to rest for next season. But how could unions go about to make these breaks accessible to players who can’t afford to take one off their own backs?

Perhaps the unions could include a sabbatical period in every contract. Players could be offered the option of a period of 3-6 months half-pay in return for taking one, or clubs could offer the option of a six month paid leave after a certain period of service. Just an idea.

A sabbatical could offer players a chance to build on their lives outside rugby; experience what it’s like to live a normal life for a while, let them concentrate on their business or focus on what they’ll do when they hang up the boots. It would allow them to recover mentally and physically, so that Lamont’s situation won’t be repeated.

I am also in no way stating that the clubs, unions, or players’ unions are not doing a good job; I’m only hoping that player welfare continues to improve. With this being Mental Health Awareness Week, there’s no time like the present.

Image Credit: Sky Sports

Interview Credit: The Irish Times, The Guardian

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Tá stíl imeartha rugbaí d’fhoirne an Pro 12 ag dul in olcas. Tá foirne anois ag iarradh cluiche cosanta a imirt; tá siad ag iarraidh an cluiche a bhuachaint ó bhotúin a sainnithe. Ach ní féidir an méid seo a rá faoi Chonnacht.

 

Le trí shéasúr anuas, tá Pat Lam ag cruthú stíl imeartha nua sa gcúige, stíl ionsaithe nach bhfuil foireann eile sa sraith ag imirt. Chaill siad go leor cluichí ag tús a réimis, ach ní a thuilleadh. Ghlac na himreoirí leis, agus ghlac lucht leanúna an chúige chomh maith, agus anois tá siad sa dara áit sa sraith.

 

Bhí Rob Penny ag iarraidh an stíl céanna a chruthú do Mhumha nuair a bhí seisean ina chónaí i Luimneach, ach ní raibh lucht leanúna an Mumhain sásta fanacht air. Chaill sé go leor cluichí i rith blianta a cheannasaíochta (shroich sé babhta leath-cheannais na hEorpa freisin, rud nach ndearna Foley) agus fuarthas réidh leis.

 

Ach bhí an ceart ag Connacht níos mó ama a thabhairt go Lam a stíl imeartha a thabhairt isteach. Anois, tá na scileanna ag Connacht ionsaí a dhéanamh ó áit ar bith ar an bpáirc. Cé go bhfuil go leor gortuithe acu, tá siad fós in ann a stíl féin a imirt. Tá sé ionsuite sna himreoirí.

 

D’imigh Connacht chuig an bhFrainc an deireadh seachtaine seo chaite chun cluiche leath-ceannais a imirt in aghaidh Grenoble, agus beidh ‘séard a tharla ann i gcuimhne na leantóirí go deo. Cluiche den scoth a bhí ann, cluiche a chaill Connacht le pointe amháin. Cé gur chaill siad, d’imir siad cluiche nach bhféadaidís in ann imirt trí bhliain ó shin. D’imir siad le saorimeacht, bród, luas agus paisean.

 

Thosaigh Shane O’Leary an cluiche ag uimhir a deich de dheasca gortuithe ag AJ MacGinty agus Jack Carty. Chuir sé cic trasna na páirce ina 22 féin, ach ní uaidh féin a tháinig an cinnedh sin; cinnte gur tháinig an teachtaireacht sin ó Lam chun an chic sin a dhéanamh. Ach rinne sé a sheacht ndícheall, agus tógfaidh sé go leor muinín ón gcluiche. Fuair sé slánú ón taobhlíne go luath sa gcluiche agus stiúir sé an imirt i rith a thréimhse ar an bpáirc.

 

Ach má tá muid chun caint faoi imreoir a raibh an tionchar is mó ar an gcluiche aige, caithfidh muid labhairt faoi Matt Healy. D’imir sé thar barr. Bhí sé breá compórdach i ról an lánchúlaí. Fuair sé úd, agus rinne sé dhá úd freisin. Rith sé gach uile liathróid a bhfuair sé agus ní raibh cosaint Grenoble in ann déileáil leis an sleaschéim nó leis aluas a bhí aige. Is dóigh go raibh Joe Schmidt ag breathnú ar an gcluiche, agus sheol Healy teachtaireacht thar a bheith soileár dó: tá sé réidh don stáitse idirnáisiúnta.

 

Bhí Fergus McFadden ar bhinse na hÉireann i rith an 6 Násúin mar gheall go raibh an córas cosanta ar eolas aige (nílim ag rá gur drochimreoir é ach oiread, ach bhí imreoirí Éireannacha eile ag imirt níos fearr ná é ag an am). Níor roghnaigh Schmidt Healy mar gheall ar seo. Ach i rith an tsamhraidh, ba cheart do Healy dul chuig an Afraic Theas agus geansaí na hÉireann a chaitheamh. Beidh bainisteoir nua ag foireann na hAifraice Theas agus beidh siad ag streachailt leis an stíl nua a bheidh á thabhairt isteach aige. Cinnte, cluichí fisiciúla a bhéas ann, ach is deis iontach é an turas sin imreoirí ar nós Healy, chomh maith le Ultan Dillane, Finley Bealham agus Garry Ringrose, a thriail. Taithí iontach a bheadh ann dóibh.  

 

Beidh Connacht ag imirt in aghaidh na Mumhan i nGaillimh an deireadh seachtaine beag seo agus is cluiche ollmhór é do na Connachtaigh agus na Mumhanaigh. Beidh daoine ag rá go mbeith sé deacair d’fhoireann Connachta a n-intinn a réiteach tar éis dóibh chailliúit sa bhFrainc.

 

Ach breathnaigh ar na firicí: chuaigh siad chuig ceantar na hAlpa gan a gcéad, dara nó triú rogha leathchúlaí amuigh; d’ionsaigh siad ó gach áit ar an bpáirc; ní raibh go leor imreoirí céad-roghnach acu; chaill siad Jake Heenan díreach roimh an gcluiche. Ach fós scóráil siad 32 pointe agus ceithre úd. Ní fhaigheann mórán foirne 32 pointe in aghaidh foirne Fraince le foireann iomlán sa mbaile, gan trácht a dhéanamh ar chluiche as baile.

 

B’fhéidir gur chaill Connacht in aghaidh Grenoble sa bhFrainc, ach d’imir siad thar barr, le himreoirí a chreideann sa ngeansaí, sa mbainisteoir agus sa stíl imeartha. Tá Jack Carty ar ais ag treanáil arís freisin, agus is suimiú ollmhór é sin freisin. Imreoidh siad leis an stíl imeartha agus an paisin céanna in aghaidh na Mumhan; ní athróidh tada ach an timpeallacht.

Pictiúr tógtha ó Newstalk.

With some autobiographies being a complete waste of time, The Loose Head took the time to bring you our favourite rugby reads.

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It’s In The Blood: My Life (Lawrence Dallaglio)

The ex-England player and captain writes openly and candidly about everything in his life, from the tragedy of his sister’s death to winning the World Cup with England to his brief yet unhappy marriage separation. Incredibly frank, Dallaglio leaves you turning page after page as he describes life’s incredible highs and devastating lows.

Tales of England tours, Lions’ tours and World Cups are all told, along with brilliant details which bring us right into the heart of Wasps, Dallaglio’s club. He tells of how, as a young player, he was scouted not only for Italy but for Ireland as well. A chapter is also designated to the ‘drug dealer scandal’ which lost him the England captaincy, in which he blames the journalists who set him up along with himself for playing along. Some stories will have you laughing out loud, others will have you putting the book down in order to digest what you just read. All in all, a fantastic read.

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Bull: My Story (John Hayes)

If your a fan of the humble Hayes, his story is right up your alley. Characteristically modest, Hayes tells of his start to rugby as a teenager and the path it took him on. He credits as many people as he can and makes sure not to exclude anybody.

He writes as honestly as he played. He describes the long journey Munster were forced to take before winning the destined prize in 2006 and 2008 and makes no excuses for their failures along the way. He is so humble that he credits his opponents throughout his career, not only by saying the games themselves were tough, but by naming them individually as well. Hayes’ story has plenty of laughs throughout, especially when he describes the humiliations and jokes his team mates played on him throughout his career, and also shows how important family life is to the Cappamore farmer. A great book written by a modest man.

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Rainbow Warrior (Francois Pienaar)

Although the autobiography doesn’t delve deeply into the hardships South Africa faced as a country during his playing years, Pienaar describes his rugby career thoroughly from starting at school to finishing in Saracens. He never once questions his abilities throughout his story and you feel almost as if he believed himself to be one of the greatest flankers to ever play.

In respect to the 1995 World Cup winning captain, it would be extremely difficult not to reference the Springboks’ World Cup journey and he does so very well. He expertly describes the players along with his close relationships with his coaches and Nelson Mandela. He also describes how he was almost forced to take his career to England and his role in developing a then sub-standard Saracens. A good read if you liked him as a player.

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Red Blooded (Alan Quinlan)

Out of all the autobiographies written by past players, this one has to be up there as one of the most brutally honest. Quinlan’s story is told through hilarious stories and dismally depressing tales. It’s clear he wrote this as he played: in your face and to the point.

‘Quinny’ humourously talks about his youth and early playing days with Clanwilliam, Shannon and Munster before becoming more serious in talking about his dreams and international ambitions. He discusses his injuries and his disciplinary issues with clarity, but the most poignant moment of the book comes when he describes his feelings after his self-imposed exclusion from the 2009 Lions tour and the actions he took in order to recover. An incredibly honest and brilliant read.

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Chester (Mark Keohane)

A biography rather than an autobiography, this tells the story of Chester Williams, the sole black player in the 1995 South African World Cup winning squad. He tells of his non-political upbringing, the death of his brother, how he was never really interested in playing rugby as a youngster and what it was like for a black rugby player trying to make it in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Chester is set in the same time-frame as Pienaar’s work but rugby is shown in a completely different light than his international captain’s story. Chester tells of the hardships he endured because of his colour and of the isolation he felt in the Springbok camp. He tells of how other black players were not given the same chances as their white comrades and gives a wonderful insight into what it was like to play under a certain Nick Mallet. Chester gives a valuable insight into life as a black Springbok in post-Apartheid South Africa, a valuable read for any rugby enthusiast.

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Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson (Paul Kimmage)

A biography based on the life of Matt Hampson, a fantastic young Leicester and England prospect who was left paralysed after a freak training ground accident. Hampson’s story is hugely inspirational and a must read for any player who has ever felt upset or frustrated by an injury, or for those who simply wish to read the most inspiring modern day biography.

Hampson tells his story, a story that will leave you laughing and crying, sometimes at the same time. The majority of the book is written as if it was based in a courtroom setting, with interviews given from Hampson’s fellow players and ex-coaches. This incredibly brave ex-prop shows his braveness as he does not let the injury hamper him in any way. He not only shows his love for rugby and Leicester, but also for his family, his friends and his life. A five-star read for any athlete, regardless of sport.

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The Autobiography (Jonah Lomu)

The late great omits no detail in his no-holds-barred autobiography, honestly depicting his early life and troublesome youth. He tells of the trouble he got into as a teenager and how rugby ended up as a fantastic outlet for his anger, becoming somewhat of a savour in his life.

One of the most famous wingers to ever play with the infamous All Blacks, Lomu writes about his entire career, one which changed the way rugby would be played forever. His story includes the tales of his first training sessions with the All Blacks (including a humorous training ground incident which also highlights the seriousness in which All Blacks take their training), his ambitions, his love for the Sevens game, his relationships on and off the field and, finally, the illness which forced him to give up the game. The Autobiography gives the reader a fantastic look at Lomu’s life and is a must-read for any All Black or rugby fanatic.

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The Outsider (Geordan Murphy)

One of the most under-valued players during Eddie O’Sullivan’s Ireland reign, yet one of Leicester’s greatest overseas signings, The Outsider tells the life of Geordan Murphy’s rugby life. His story begins as an out half at junior level at home in Naas before playing as a teenager in New Zealand to finishing as full back for one of the most powerful clubs in European history.

Murphy’s rugby life is told in complete honesty, including many references towards his relationship with Eddie O’Sullivan (who, in his own autobiography, Never Die Wondering, states very clearly that he and Murphy had no problem at all). He tells us how he started at junior level before travelling to Leicester for a trial and living with no other than Martin Johnson’s parents! Murphy’s desire to succeed is well documented, with some comedic stories put in along the way including IRFU officials, Martin Johnson, the Tuilagi family and, in particular, one very funny story which took place on the training ground involving Lewis ‘Mad Dog’ Moody. A great read for any Irish rugby follower.

Other books which may be of interest:

Beware of the Dog by Brian Moore

Tackling Life by Jonny Wilkonson

The Autobiography by Martin Jonhson

My Autobiography by Ronan O’Gara

Between the Lines by Matthew Knight

Playing the Enemy by John Carlin

Stand Up and Fight: How Munster Beat the All Blacks by Alan English

Brothers in Sport: Rugby by Charlie Mulqueen

Rags to Riches: The Story of Munster Rugby by Barry Coughlan

Never Die Wondering by Eddie O’Sullivan

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On the 23rd October, 2011, a little over 61,000 people travelled to Eden Park to watch the world cup final between France and the hosts, New Zealand. France’s tournament had been marred by rumours that Marc Lièvremont had lost the dressing room.

The year previous, Lièvremont coached France to a grand slam in the 2010 Six Nations championship, which was a fantastic achievement for a team ranked 8th in the world in mid-2009. The following tournament did not reflect this success, with England losing to England and, for the first time in their history, Italy. To add insult to injury, France had been leading Italy by 12 points with 20 minutes of the game remaining.

France were a super power in world rugby, the fifth best team in the world by official rankings. But their style of play was probably only second to New Zealand. They were famous for running the ball from deep, offloading as often as possible, and their belief that they could score from anywhere. But they should have also have been able to close that game out. The omens were not looking good for the world cup.

France went on to beat Wales in the semi-final of the 2011 world cup, and the assistant manager took the press conference instead of Lièvremont. Lièvremont, however, did go on to label some of his players as “spoil brats” after they celebrated the Wales win. It seemed the wheels were starting to fall off the French carriage.

France went on to lose the final to the hosts, and that’s when everything came into the spotlight. Imanol Harinordoquy criticised Lièvremont heavily and stated the team had managed themselves from the pool stages onwards. One would just have to look at the out-half choices during the tournament; playing Parra out of position and leaving François Trihn-Duc, a specialised 10, on the bench just shows not all was right during the tournament.

Lièvremont was quickly dropped after the tournament and in came Phillipe Saint-Andre, who was a French legend in his playing days. Unlike his predecessor, Saint-Andre managed a win against Italy in the 2012 Six Nations, but losses to England and Wales, with a draw against Ireland, resulted in France finishing fourth in the tournament.

The following tournament was even more damning for Saint-Andre and French fans. France lost their first three games, 18–23 against Italy, 6–16 against Wales and 13-23 against England. A 13-13 draw with Ireland and a 26-13 victory over Scotland offered a glimmer of hope, but it didn’t prove enough and France finished the tournament in last place.

The 2014 tournament didn’t offer the French followers much either. An unconvincing win over Scotland with losses to Ireland and England seemed reflective of 2013. But against England, France did play with the flair they seemed to have lost, running the ball from deep and offloading at will. But the history books will only show they allowed England to score over 50 points.

What is to blame for this decline? The coaches can’t take all the blame. Lièvremont coached Les Blues to a grand slam even if he did lose the dressing room afterwards. Saint-Andre may have installed a game plan not suitable for the players, but with the likes of Dusatoir as captain, the players have the skill to change it on the pitch.

The lack of young French-born players coming through the club system is also a factor. If you look at Toulon, not many French players appear in their first XV, with Bastareaud probably being the most noteworthy. The billionaire owner doesn’t seem too worried about this and is making his Top 14 side as comical as his work in terms of their signings. If they continue the way they are going, other teams won’t have enough players to field a team against them.

Clermont have the luxury of having the best centre partnership in France with Rougerie and Fofana, which benefits the national team. Having Bastareud play inside of an English or Australian player doesn’t.

A shining light in all of this is this year’s Top 14 champions. Stade Francais fielded ten French born players in their final against Clermont Auvergne last week. They had also beaten Toulon in the semi-final to get there.

But winning a Top 14 is a lot different to winning a world cup. It is a different standard of play, with a much faster pace and higher intensity. Not all of those ten players are of international standard either.

It would suit the French team if the world cup didn’t take place until the following year as Stade Francais could really test themselves against Europe’s finest. These players would benefit massively from weekly games against European giants, which would in turn benefit the national team.

Taking nothing away from the ten months of hard graft it took to win the Top 14, Stade Francais’ progress will be tested in next year’s Champion’s Cup. But the national team will be tested in September. They need a coach who will select the best players in their respective positions, and install a game plan that players are comfortable with.

Ireland, Italy, Canada and Romania will be France’s opposition in the pool stages so getting out of the group is the least they should expect. But that aside, big clubs must follow suit and adopt Stade Fancais’ practice for the future benefit of French rugby.

Any speculation regarding where O’Connell’s future lay was put to bed yesterday when he officially penned a two-year-deal with the French giants Toulon. Rumours, started by Medi Olympique, were circulating that the second row may only be signed after the world cup as an injury joker. But rumours are rumours and they were wrong.

O’Connell will join a plethora of superstars for the post-RWC season and he was released from his IRFU contract. It’s believed his international rugby may come to an end after the world cup as well. But let’s think about this for a minute.

A certain Irish 13 was ready to retire a couple of seasons ago, up until chants of “one more year” rang around the RDS. It was also no secret that Joe Schmidt encouraged him as much as the Leinster crowd.

But wasn’t Schmidt the Irish coach at that stage? He was indeed, and he had a different reason for encouraging O’Driscoll to play: the All Blacks were coming to town.

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Granted, Schmidt knew any 13 coming in to replace BOD would benefit hugely from his tutelage. But wouldn’t he rather have his experience on the field rather than shouting advice off it?

There is absolutely no denying O’Connell’s presence. Many players have openly stated that he colossal in character as well as in person. Most recently, Munster’s CJ Stander spoke about the encouragement O’Connell gave him at the start of his Munster career. The man studied Afrikaans so as to better understand South Africa’s lineout calls. Dedication isn’t even the word.

On Lions’ tours, injured players are sent home to make room for replacements. Even on that fabled tour to New Zealand in 2005, the captain, the Irish 13 previously mentioned, travelled home due to a shoulder injury (he chose to go, admittedly).

But on the last tour, O’Connell broke his arm and was asked to stay by management. His captaincy was just as important off the field. The Lions won the series, 2-1.

O’Connell’s Toulon contract will expire in the summer of 2017, right around the time of the next Lions tour. The destination? New Zealand.

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Much like O’Driscoll and Schmidt, I’m positive the future Lions’ coach would only love to use the second row’s experience. For those who think he will be too old, he will still have fuel in the tank for this. Being selected for the Lions is a dream come true, let alone for this tour.

A successful Lions’ series in New Zealand. Now that would be some way to go out.

Pictures thanks to http://www.skysports.ie and http://www.the42.ie