Five things we learnt about rugby in March
The emergence or Jordie Barrett, professional rugby in Gwent's survival, a Parisien mess and Jonah Lomu rugby are all covered in this monthly round-up
Beauden Barrett’s brother no longer
March has seen Beauden Barrett’s brother go through a defining stage in his career. Not as important as the one where he will inevitably become an All Black, but important none the less. The point where his performances have reached such a level that he has ceased being referred to in relation to his brother, Beauden, and is now known as Jordie. In any other rugby nation, Jordie’s performances at fullback for the Hurricanes this season would have been regarded as worthy of a test call up.
However, as a fullback in New Zealand your performances need to be better than that of Ben Smith, Israel Dagg and Damian McKenzie. The reality is that his long-term position probably isn’t at fullback, but at 12. At 6ft 5inches tall and already 15 and a half stone at the age of twenty, Barrett is built like a home. He is genuinely a triple threat, with a run, pass and kick game that had already shredded some very senior reputations in Super Rugby. He is also a test standard goal kicker – better than Beauden – which is a rare chink in the current All Blacks’ setup. Well played Jordie.
The dilution of Australian rugby
Australian rugby is at a low point. Probably the lowest point since the game turned professional. An over-expansion of their Super Rugby franchises, added to the migration of their talent pool to the UK and France, has left Australian rugby diluted to the point that of rugby homeopathy – and is just as ineffective. After five rounds of Super Rugby only one of the five Australian franchises has a positive points difference – the Brumbies at plus ten.
Between them the Brumbies, Rebels, Waratahs, Reds and Force have a points difference of -244. The Kiwi five have +245 points. There simply isn’t the money, player or supporter depth in Australian rugby to maintain their current structure. The hard truth is that one franchise needs to go and if Aussie rugby is really honest with itself, two need to be deleted.
Newport RFC have a big decision to make
If when, in the womb, you were given the option of being born a supporter of any rugby team in the world, Newport Gwent Dragons or Newport RFC wouldn’t be the first name on most babies’ lips. Years of underfunding and political turmoil in Welsh rugby has left the region in a dreadful state of disrepair. March saw the burden of Newport’s rugby supporters increase further. With the Welsh Rugby Union stepping into save professional rugby in the region, by increasing their stake from 50% to 100%, the future of rugby in the whole of Gwent rests on the shoulders of Newport RFC. The situation is complex – it’s always thus in Welsh rugby.
If professional rugby is to continue in the region, the WRU, as part of the buyout, want control of Rodney Parade – which belongs to the amateur team Newport RFC. In short, Newport RFC must give up its assets to save regional rugby for the whole of the Gwent region. Many have viewed the WRU’s actions with suspicion, which is unfair. The union is doing everything it can to save pro rugby in the region. The easiest option for the union would be to shut the region entirely, write off the loss and adequately fund the remaining three regions. The decisions that need to made in the coming months are complicated, but without making them the outcome is simple – professional rugby in East Wales will cease to exist.
Racing 92 and Stade Francais -chaos
Racing 92’s proposed merger with Stade Francais will surely go down as one of the worst, if not the worst, pieces of rugby administration ever witnessed. The last time rugby witnessed such poor handling was when Mauro Bergamasco played scrum half. It’s not that the decision to merge is incorrect, there is sound financial reasoning for the bringing together of Paris’ leading clubs. But to announce it to your players, supporters and the wider public in such a cold way was bizarre. In an environment where every team selection, transfer and sacking is leaked days in advance, the concealing of such a dramatic piece of news was remarkable.
It appeared the decision had been made without any input from the stakeholders. Where were the stakeholder meetings? Where was the debate? Where was the right to reply? It’s rare when the rugby public feels sorry for Top 14 players and their diamond encrusted boots, but to leave two squads of players unaware of their employment status raised a collective eyebrow – especially in a sport where contracts are usually decided long before the end of the season. The merger is now off, at least publicly, but when it re-emerges, which it will, we can only hope that it is handled better.
Jonah Lomu Rugby – 20 years old
It may seem trivial to write about a rugby computer game in a rugby column. To some, sitting lazily in front of a PlayStation 1 is the very antithesis of the dynamic sport that rugby undoubtedly is. But to others, myself included, Jonah Lomu Rugby (JLR) is worthy of a place in rugby’s Hall of Fame. If, like me, your on-field ability was limited, the game gave you the chance to live out your dream and become the player you always wanted to be.
To be able to throw the 30 yard pass, launch a 50m line clearance, or live out every young Welshman’s dream of handing-off the entire England team in a rapid-fire burst of L1+R1. Sometimes, the addiction of palming people in the face with Lomu meant that you often wouldn’t take the quickest route to the try line – instead, taking the long way around to once more cruelly batter Mike Catt’s virtual self. All of which was wrapped up in the velvety wit of Bill Mclaren and the now Chairman of World Rugby, Bill Beaumont. In short, a rugby game so good that even after 20 years we are ‘digging like demented moles’ in search of a game that betters JLR’s playability.