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6 Nations

France – The Blind Leading The Blind

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Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images

“We can do this. But do we work on it? No.” The telling words of Morgan Parra after France’s humiliation at Twickenham. The veteran halfback questioned the preparations of the French team after their disastrous performance against England. “I think that we are capable of doing what the English do, but are we working on this during training? I think we don’t work on it enough, even not at all”. Embed from Getty Images

Parra has not made the 23 for this weekend’s game against Scotland, for what Jacques Brunel calls “sporting reasons”, so read into that what you will. Camille Lopez is in the same boat; after the game, he acknowledged that the French players were accountable, but he said I think it is not just us, and we are not alone in this disaster”. After watching the Wales game, you would’ve thought that French rugby couldn’t get much more disorganised, but when you hear stories of poor Romain Ntamack being sent on to the pitch not even knowing what position he was to play, there really must be something rotten in the state of France.
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Selection policy is something French coaches generally have difficulty with. Whether its the pressure or expectation of the job, who knows, but most of the time its absolutely mystifying. This weekend’s backline is the most sensible one to be seen on a French teamsheet in quite a while, compared to last week’s rabble of four centres and a wing as the outside backs. Thomas Ramos is wearing the 15 jersey for the weekend. Ramos made his debut in Twickenham, limiting the damage in the second half to fourteen points, compared to 30 points in the first half.
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France at home are a different beast to the shower of chancers that turned up to play England game. Last year it took a Hail Mary moment from King Johnny for Ireland to get over the line in Paris, and they came absolutely flying out of the blocks against Wales. Two early tries from Yoann Huget and Louis Picamoles and a peachy drop goal from Camille Lopez had Wales rattled. Wesley Fofana was a brute in midfield, Arthur Iturria and Louis Picamoles were making gains with ease up front. It looked for all the world like France were back.

The second half was a different story. Wales began defending and two gift-wrapped tries for George North later, France were behind. It is no coincidence that France really began to fall apart after captain Guilhelm Guirado went off. A rather alarming interview with Sebastian Vahaamahina revealed that late in the game there was such confusion in the French ranks that Vahaamahina didn’t even know he was captain.

France didn’t close out the Wales game when it was in the balance because the leaders among them didn’t cool the heads around, nobody was there to say “Boys! Take it easy! Keep it simple!” (or the French equivalent). Instead you had a second row throw a 20m miss pass that ended up being intercepted for Wales’ decisive try. The same thing happened in Twickenham. The lack of consistency in French selections mean that there is no real leadership group in the French squad. Guilhelm Guirado is a fantastic captain, that any team would be delighted to have, but there is only so much he can do, and playing in the front row as he does, he is rarely going to finish a game. Embed from Getty Images

Compare this to Ireland; Rory Best is captain. He leaves at the 50 minute mark, you still have Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, Leinster captain Johnny Sexton, and you have CJ Stander who has loads of experience captaining Munster. Sean O’Brien is not a captain, but is apparently one of the most influential voices in the Irish squad. This is the benefit of consistent selections. A group of leaders emerges in the squad, but if you pick a different pack every week, this just won’t happen.

For many years France have not had a non-French coach, and this is their downfall. They need a fresh voice, someone from outside the system. Guy Noves was good; his results were not, but there was signs he was building something, blooding players, trying to build combinations. You would be fascinated to see what someone like Vern Cotter or Joe Schmidt could do with the talent of the French backs, but given the FFR’s track record this is highly unlikely.

It is clear there is something rotten in the French team. The players can see it, the fans and pundits can see it, but whether the coaching staff will figure it out who knows. Scotland will arrive at the Stade De France this weekend with an injury plagued squad; as to what kind of France team will face them, nobody knows. Embed from Getty Images


6 Nations

Official. Eddie Jones signs new England Deal.

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(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England men’s head coach Eddie Jones and the RFU have agreed a contract extension which will see him continue his role until the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
 
Jones joined England Rugby at the end of 2015 and has coached the men’s national side on 54 occasions winning 42, drawing one and losing 11 – giving him a win ratio of 78%, the highest in the history of England coaches.
 
Under Jones, England has won two Six Nations titles including a Grand Slam in 2016, a 3-0 away Test series win against Australia in the same year, an unbeaten run of 18 matches equalling New Zealand’s record and were finalists at last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. 
 
Jones said: “The extension is a great honour for me, but in the current environment, it is only right to acknowledge what a difficult time the world is facing.  We are all looking forward to a time when we can get back to playing rugby and use the sport as a force for good in bringing people back together. I never thought coming here four years ago I would be doing a second four years but the circumstances are right. Obviously it is important for the team that we keep improving and my focus will be solely on that.
 
“I am excited about raising the standards again. We have a great team. We set out four years ago to be the best team in the world and unfortunately we missed that by 80 minutes. Now we want to be the team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen. It’s a big ambition but I believe we are capable of doing it. We have players with an enhanced reputation, we have a team that is expected to do well, so it’s a great opportunity for us to keep moving forward.”
 
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO said: “My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU are with everyone impacted by COVID-19, both across the country at large but also within our own rugby union community. In exceptionally difficult times, we are pleased to be sharing some good news.  We are delighted that Eddie will continue as head coach to run England’s campaign to take us to the 2023 Rugby World Cup. His record since joining speaks for itself and he has proven why he is one of the best coaches in world rugby. The progress shown by England since 2015 has been indisputable and having fielded the youngest-ever team to play in a World Cup final, we know even more growth is possible. We are all excited by what this squad can do and having Eddie leading the team is very important to us. 
 
“We reached an understanding soon after returning from Japan but there were some things that we wanted to make sure worked for both sides. We have announced Eddie’s contract extension a few weeks later than planned as our focus was diverted to support the English rugby community during this difficult time, we are now turning our attention to developing plans to support the rebooting of rugby and a winning England team will provide a vital role in that.”
 
Ahead of the Guinness Six Nations Jones confirmed Simon Amor and Matt Proudfoot would join Steve Borthwick and John Mitchell as his assistant coaches. Jason Ryles will join later in the year as skills coach following Borthwick’s departure towards the end of the season.

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6 Nations

RFU CEO gives COVID-19 planning & support update

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(Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Bill Sweeney – RFU, CEO

My thoughts and those of all of us at the RFU continue to be with everyone impacted by the difficult and exceptional situation we are all facing, both across the country and within our own rugby union community.

Earlier today we held a virtual board meeting and I am writing to advise you of the actions that have been agreed to offer a support package directly funded from the RFU worth £7m to provide support for community clubs in England.  

IMPACT

To support clubs we are today announcing that the RFU will be providing a £7m relief package for community clubs. The package includes monies ring fenced and diverted for the community game as well as additional funding. These measures include:

•       An early release of £800,000 cash due to clubs through the ticketing fund.  

•       Early release of final funding payments (£600,000) to Constituent Bodies and suspension of the activity plans against which this was allocated, enabling them to utilise this to provide “immediate support grants” to clubs most in need. In addition £400,000 will be made available to Constituent Bodies who elect to match fund from their own reserves.

•       A suspension of the Quarterly loan repayments for clubs with outstanding loans due in March (£335,000).  

•       The creation of a £5m support loans programme, offering loans of between circa £2k and circa £10k to clubs, with deferred re-payments for six months and repayable over three years. 

We will be providing more details on this financial package in the coming week. We will also be issuing regular club recovery updates with practical advice on how government grants can be accessed as well as other business management advice. 

We welcome government interventions which will provide business rate holidays and grants for clubs.

The RFU will continue to provide a free helpline to assist clubs with legal and tax related matters: https://www.englandrugby.com/participation/running-your-club/legal-and-administration

Significant progress has been made on the process for considering the implications of ending the season early. We will ensure a fair and balanced outcome for the game and are now committed to update on this by the middle of April.

No one can predict every possible outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak particularly with regard to the duration of this crisis and we are managing in the unknown. We have modelled three potential scenarios and are working on an assumption based on a medium term impact with a view to a return to rugby in the autumn. We will continue to monitor against this assumption and review and revise planning where necessary.

The RFU had budgeted for a loss making year within a four year cycle due to the costs of the 2019 RWC campaign and hosting only two home Six Nations games. The loss will now be considerably more as we face challenges similar to businesses across the country. 

The RFU’s biggest asset is also a major cost and the closure of Twickenham Stadium has a significant impact on the revenues we can generate to re-invest back into the game. In that sense we are like every other club in the Union, when we do not stage matches and events we do not generate revenue.

Based on our planning assumption we estimate RFU revenue losses over the next 18 months to be approximately £45-£50 million and have a firm plan in place to mitigate this. The RFU Executive Team will be taking a cut in remuneration in excess of 25%. In addition, combined Board fees will be reduced by 75%.

WELFARE  

We are continuing our support to ensure colleagues and communities are given help to follow government advice and are providing recommendations on how to stay fit and healthy and a range of new content will be made available to players and fans across our social media channels. 

We are discussing with government and the NHS the role the RFU and Twickenham Stadium can play in providing volunteers as well as support for the NHS including accommodation, parking and meal provisioning.

I am confident that rugby will play a big role in energising communities across England after this difficult period. In the meantime, we are working hard with the wider rugby community to take the necessary measures to safeguard a financially resilient Union so that we can.

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6 Nations

Rodney Parade to help in fight against coronavirus

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(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Rodney Parade has become the latest sporting venue to open its doors to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Newport stadium has been provided free of charge as a base for front-line NHS staff to check if they have the virus and are able to continue working. At this stage only NHS staff are eligible to be tested at Rodney Parade to see if they have COVID-19. Dragons managing director Mark Jones said: “The health service and care workers are doing an incredible job in such difficult circumstances so we are happy to offer our help and support in any way we can.

“Playing our part in the local community is at the heart of what we’re about at the Dragons and in times of crisis people stick together. We would urge everyone to follow the latest NHS advice on protecting themselves from the virus, particularly to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel.”

A statement from Aneurin Bevan Health Board read: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is essential for delivering services for the people of Gwent. It is fundamental during this time when the most vulnerable people need us most.

“We have set up a drive-through facility to test staff for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and help us get our teams back in to work on the front line. The testing site is located at Rodney Parade in Newport and we ask that everyone practises the stay-at-home guidance and does not visit the site.

“Everyone at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board would like to thank the team at Rodney Parade for their community-focused approach and accommodating us during these difficult times.”

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