An exploding head coach and a hooker in hot water...welcome to the new year
THE game is evolving at a pace that would give Charles Darwin a fit of the vapours, so only a complete fool would dare to predict what 2015 will bring to the world of rugby. Here is what may, or may not, occur over the next 12 months.
Under Vern Cotter Scotland get off to a flying start in the Six Nations opening with a win in Paris. In the aftermath French coach Philippe Saint-Andre insists that Scotland’s competitive and skilful display in Paris amounted to “unsporting behaviour,” considering how bad the visitors have been over the last decade or more. Scotland end with three wins, but Wales win the tournament after beating England in the opening game. No one wins the Grand Slam, France struggle throughout, but Italy finish in their usual position at the bottom of the pile.
» Glasgow shake off their mid-season torpor and make history by becoming the first Scottish pro-team to win something meaningful when they lift the Guinness Pro12 title at the end of this season, beating the Ospreys in a close-fought final at the Liberty Stadium. It proves a bittersweet moment for head coach Gregor Townsend, who uses his enhanced reputation to move abroad. It could be Australia or South Africa, but France is the favoured destination as he still speaks the language well enough to conduct a pitchside television interview in Toulouse. Like Hank Williams, Townsend was a rambling man all his playing career and there is no reason to suspect he won’t follow the same course as a coach; experiencing different cultures and coaching methods can only increase his own skill set.
» Townsend may ultimately have his sights set on the Scotland post, but, at 41 years old, he has oodles of time on his side and Vern Cotter will probably take Scotland up to RWC’19 in Japan provided the team goes well this year. Jake White throws his hat in the ring, but Shade Munro takes over the reins at Glasgow.
» Alan Solomons returns to South Africa in the summer and, while Jake White throws his hat in the ring, either Duncan Hodge or Carl Hogg takes over as Edinburgh head coach. Given their healthy budget, Edinburgh have underperformed to date with five wins from 12 starts, and, while a change of coach is not always the answer, neither is an influx of middling foreigners.
» Bad boy hooker Dylan Hartley finds himself in hot water again after the England forward is once more found guilty of gouging… the match referee. He is suspended for another 50 weeks. Stuart Lancaster agrees to sit down and speak to Hartley in a tone of voice that would stop a Labrador’s tail wagging. Northampton coach Jim Mallinder stands by his man.
» Sticking with the England theme “Slammin” Sam Burgess makes no more than a marginal impact at the World Cup. This is no slight on the man or his ability to learn new skills under the most intense scrutiny but rather a consequence of Bath Rugby. His club pay his wages, as they never fail to remind us, but their insistence that Burgess gets game time at centre AND back row is bewildering. If we didn’t know better, we might suspect that Bath owner Bruce Craig was making a point about power just to spite England and Stuart Lancaster. Falling between two stools almost did for Andy Farrell after he made the move to union and asking Burgess to get to grips with two entirely different positions in the space of ten months is frankly nuts.
» Thanks to a timely nudge from Professor Allyson Pollock and her book, Tackling Rugby, the SRU set up a system whereby full and comprehensive data collection on all rugby-related injuries is collated across the country at all age groups. The aggregated data means that some years down the line the IRB acts to tighten up safety before the 2019 world cup in Japan. Two players are outlawed from competing for the ball in the air (the defending team has rights) and a legal tackle is lowered from the shoulders to the nipple line in an attempt to offer better protection against head injuries. In an effort to counter the sheer size and strength of modern players, the number of substitutes is dropped from eight to five, two of whom must be front row forwards. Any team that runs out of front-row forwards and causes non-competitive scrums must play with 14 men.
» There will be a scandal of some sort that blights the game in 2015 and looking at the sheer size and strength of some of the players the thorny old issue of steroid abuse is as good a guess as any. This one won’t involve young players but seasoned professionals and household names.
» The much-vaunted, newly inaugurated and expensive BT academies will make not one iota of difference to Scotland’s age-grade teams because their problems cannot be fixed in the gym. The young Scots need to play intense, competitive games on a regular basis, nothing else will work. One highly promising Edinburgh schoolboy player joins a first-class English rugby university rather than Edinburgh Rugby Academy. He is followed by a raft of others who simply want to play rugby every weekend.
» It is too soon for any bolter to come through in time, but Scotland win that must-win match against Samoa to book their place in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. Contrary to Murrayfield’s predictions, the Scots do not go on to win the World Cup, but they will gain the respect of the world after their old-school coach uncovers some old-school belligerence.
The final is between England and South Africa, but it is overshadowed by Springboks’ coach Heineke Meyer, pictured left, whose head explodes in the coaching box following an England score. Jake White throws his hat in the ring, but Scotland’s Richie “Gala” Gray takes over and coaches the Springboks to the William Webb Ellis trophy.
» Realising that the colour of the jersey is the only way of identifying international teams these days because everyone (with the honourable exception of Argentina) is hiring foreign mercenaries, the Dublin bigwigs extend the current three-year residency rule to five years.
No. As you were. Only joking. That is far too much to hope for from the group that, with all due modesty, likes to be known as World Rugby. Happy New Year.