• • • ive brought up the possibility of including World Cup qualifiers only on merit It is a classic case of having teams with a geographic reach but whom none of their national associations can claim to control, as exemplified by the Southern Hemisphere and this season’s Super 12. The Rugby Championship and the International Rugby Board’s proposed Nations Championship should, therefore, either be based on what rugby groups can influence but not control, or on the principle of traditional regional power aligning itself for the southern hemisphere. In either case the clubs’ influence on team selection should be severely limited, or absent. It would be a great pity to see the Lions squad cut in half (as it will be, since they had no competitive tour last season), but it is the resulting numbers that are fixed for the next three years and don’t have much value in terms of quality.
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I admire the depth of Premiership football, but I’d be shocked if the Premiership expanded its membership. Having money to spare does not give a top-flight club a monopoly on excellence. Champions have always come from the teams that get stuck in and develop talent, as Hull, Bradford and Bolton have showed. Form, attitude and organisation matter. I would, however, be surprised if there were no growth in Championship England. I get a sense of excitement at each opportunity to watch Championship play, and teams’ performances have got stronger. We should look again at introducing the Yorkshire side Cliftonville to the First Division, and of more teams coming out of the Championship and joining the top flight.
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Harry Hadden’s squad selection is a poor reflection on the player in his charge. Hendre Fourie, the South African flanker and a bit of a fine player himself, is picked for more of an experience than what he offers. He has nothing left to prove at Saracens. He hasn’t scored a try this season or a lot of tries in his career, and is nowhere near the form of his younger contemporaries. He’s moving away from his weaker position, at open-side flanker, and is dropping down the England depth chart. He would be better off going to Leinster, or Stade Francais, for a couple of seasons, then coming back home. It’s his state of mind that will make the difference rather than what he did on the field.
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Ian McGeechan led Wales to a win over South Africa in the 1992 World Cup quarter-final in Rotterdam, which we later lost to the Springboks on penalties. He was a fine squad player in a lost era for the Welsh national team, but if I was at Twickenham and in charge for the tournament in 2010 then he would not be picked. His belief in old-fashioned forwards-dominated rugby is still very much in vogue, and he is being blocked by Danny Grewcock and Phil Vickery. Plus, his selection criteria is still, to quote an Oxford University scholar, “antiquated and archaic”. It would be better if the RFU gave its coach more power, such as it has.