Source: Mike Lee, KLC Fotos

A Look at the World of Rugby this last week

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Perth SVNS

Astonishing events in Western Australia. All the teams you probably put a golden guinea on failed to win.

A first triumph for the Irish. You can see that as a justification for the privileged position the Sevens squad was given by the IRFU. Now all they have to do is get a gold medal in Paris.

For one or two of us (= me) GB’s bronze medal was yet more extraordinary. After years of constant changes in staffing and players, they have gained stability and come through some exceptionally tight games to get on the rostrum.

One feature I didn’t appreciate in Perth was in the four semi-finalists: Australia, GB, Ireland and USA. All use English as one of their official languages. That seems too parochial to me; there are a few thousand other lingos around the globe.

Then the undying dilemma of 15s/7s priorities. Will any of the competing nations alter their strategy between now and Paris, or, more significantly, between now and the next RWC?

GB

A quick look at the bemedalled GB XIII: Abbie Brown, Abi Burton, Shona Campbell, Lauren Torley, Emma Uren, Isla Norman-Bell, Jasmine Joyce, Ellie Boatman, Amy Wison Hardy, Rhona Lloyd, Jade Shekells, Heather Cowell, Alicia Maude. That adds up to 2 Scots, 1 Welsh, 10 English. Is that a hint of a future Lions squad balance?

Of the English the most notable absentee is Meg Jones, for several seasons the co-captain with Abbie Brown. Now she is attempting to lead Leicester Tigers to their first success, an uphill struggle. The other newcomers to the PWR, Trailfinders, offer no fewer than four players to that GB squad. But Giselle Mather will have been aware of that outcome before she offered them terms.

My surprise at GB’s advance is that they have been confined to ninth place thus far, more or less their average for the last few years. It has taken a long time for them to settle into an established squad. Players have come and gone with bewildering rapidity till recently.

What is still unclear to the general public is when, and on what terms, does the GB staff allow their players to return to 15s? I have missed a statement clarifying the situation. Despite the long HSBC SVNS season, there are still gaps between tournaments. The next one is in Vancouver, 23-25 February. Four more take place between the start of March and the start of June. It’s the gaps in between that matter.

Unlike all but a few of their opponents, most of the GB squad have club affiliations. How strongly do they feel them?

Pack of Cards

SVNS: a flurry of red cards, especially against Australians, especially against the Levi sisters. In the key Oz-NZ contest it soon became a permanent 6 v 6.

This tournament was another example of the ever increasing number of cards being issued. The prime aim of the red version is to reduce the number of serious injuries. Quite right. But is it having the desired effect? World Rugby will be monitoring the figures closely. Is the total number reducing fast enough? The answer at present must be no. In 7s the effect is even more drastic than in 15s.

Then to the disciplinary committees. WR has laid down any number of mitigatory factors. A six- match ban can be reduced to three, if, for example, the player undertakes a course of instruction. Is that the most sensible response? In the most serious cases should mitigation play any part?

Celtic Challenge

Ireland’s success in Perth reflects directly on the Celtic Challenge. The three nations have each reacted in their own way to the competition, Ireland and Wales allowing quite a number of test players to compete, Scotland to a smaller extent. PWR clubs have given players to the competition (generously) and removed them (less generously).

Each of the unions must have worked out its policy towards the 7s/15s split. For example, we must assume that Scott Bemand already knows whether he will have a player of Beibhinn Parsons’ quality available for the Six Nations. She, along with Lucy Mulhall and Amee-Leigh Murphy-Crowe, is central to Ireland’s success on the 7s field. But only Parsons has appeared with any regularity in the Six Nations.

Now the fourth round of the CC is complete, it’s a relief to see the three nations pretty evenly balanced in the table. There have been very few one-sided games; the latest one (Sunday 28 January) saw a one-point victory. Just the job.

PWR

In the one match of the weekend (rearranged from Round Three), Exeter Chiefs had few problems overcoming struggling Sale Sharks away from home 54-3.

The win helps to stretch them (33 points), Saracens (35) and Gloucester-Hartpury (34) further ahead of the chasers; but G-H have one game in hand. Not for the first time in the league, the two crucial issues will be: who finishes fourth (i.e. qualification for the play-offs) and who will win the right to play at home? Bears lie 8 points behind, Lightning a distant 12.

Next round: 3-4 February

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