JANUARY 2017: THE STORIES THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE HEADLINES

by COLIN RENTON

The Sick’s Nations

The RBS Six Nations kicks off this weekend. The tournament is a keenly anticipated annual feast of rugby and rightly promotes itself as a contest featuring the best players in the northern hemisphere. However, this year some of the most talented individuals will watch from the sidelines as the drama unfolds. A side drawn from those missing out on the first weekend of action through injury could look something like this (Only Trinh-duc is playing out of position):

Gareth Anscombe (Wales); Hallam Amos (Wales), Manu Tuilagai (England), Wesley Fofana (France), Keenan Giles (Wales); Peter Horne (Scotland), Francois Trinh-duc (France); Simone Ferrari (Italy), Sean Cronin (Ireland), WP Nel (Scotland), Andre Flanquart (France), Bradley Davies (Wales), Chris Robshaw (England), Dan Lydiate (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England)

The bench is laden with talent including props, Joe Marler (England), Alasdair Dickinson (Scotland), Maku Vunipola (England), Jefferson Poirot (France), Eddy Ben Arous (France) and Gethin Jenkins (Wales); hooker Camille Chat (France); Utan Dillane (Ireland) at lock; back rowers Charles Ollivon (France) and Dave Denton (Scotland); and backs including Anthony Watson (England), Rhys Priestland (Wales) and Rory Hughes (Scotland)

May the force be against you

A bizarre French Top 14 match on New Year’s Day started with defending champions Racing 92 toasting 2017 with champagne on the pitch BEFORE the game away to Toulon.

And the odd goings-on didn’t stop there. Toulon scored a try with the final play of the first half and, just as Leigh Halfpenny started his run up for the conversion, the stadium tannoy system played the pre-planned half time music – the theme from Star Wars – leaving the Welshman more than a little miffed as he returned to changing rooms (presumably for a cup of tea rather than a glass of bubbly).

A Brive encounter

Still in France, the habit of announcing signings before they are completed remains a feature. Brive went public on the news that Ryan Grant would be joining from Glasgow Warriors as medical cover for the rest of the season and that the club had also secured the services of another Warriors man, Sila Puafisi. Grant subsequently joined Worcester Warriors although Puafisi is heading across the Channel. Among his new colleagues will be scrum-half Florian Cazenave, who is moving from the Italian club champions Reggio. The 27-year-old was formerly with Perpignan but was banned by the French Federation after losing an eye in a bull running festival. However, Cazenave – an age group international – has now been given permission to wear goggles and resume his career in France.

Jones props up Harlequins effort

Former Welsh international Adam Jones, now player-coach at Harlequins, had his plans for a quiet day shattered after being called into action for his club in the match at home to Sale Sharks. With forwards coach Graham Rowntree unable to make the game, Jones received a phone call asking him to cut short his festive break and take charge of preparing the pack. An injury to Joe Marler during the warm up led to Jones being named on the bench and when both starting props suffered injuries, the 35-year-old stepped into the breach and played the final 60 minutes, helping Harlequins to a 29-26 win.

Not satisfied with his on-field efforts, Jones also earned plaudits for scoring a flawless 12 from 12 on Celebrity Mastermind although, to be fair, his chosen subject, British & Irish Lions 1993-2005, was something he already new a bit about. However, he scored a further eight points in the general knowledge round to finish second overall behind Patrick Grant, a judge on the Great British Sewing Bee.

Stevie – the Bard of Goldenacre

Rugby clubs across Scotland celebrated the Bard in January, with Burns suppers showcasing poetic and musical talent among members. Such evenings begin with a Toast to the Haggis, often a sedate affair but, as former Edinburgh and Scotland hooker Stevie Lawrie shows in this clip from three years ago, it can also be a high energy experience. Now the assistant coach at Heriot’s, Lawrie’s team talks will never again be seen in the same light.

Force of habit

Old habits die hard for Ronan O’Gara. The former Munster stand-off received a warm welcome when he returned to his old stomping ground with Racing 92, where he is on the coaching staff. But O’Gara clearly forgot where he was as he emerged from the tunnel and turned right towards the home dugout rather than follow his colleagues – force of habit or confirmation of the rumours that he will be re-joining the Irish outfit?

Kiwi poaching riles journo

Journalist Max Christoffersen wrote a strong piece in the Waikato Times about a disturbing pattern that appears to be gathering momentum in New Zealand. He spoke of the practice of schools in New Zealand offering scholarships to Fijian players as young as 12 to strengthen school sides and ultimately make them eligible to be All Blacks. This has led to local youngsters with the potential to develop into decent players being displaced by the newcomers and has caused anger among parents.

Featured image courtesy: Sky Sports

About Colin Renton 210 Articles
Colin has been a freelance writer on various subjects for more than 20 years. He covers rugby at all levels but is particularly passionate about the game at grass roots. As a fluent French speaker, he has a keen interest in rugby in France and for many years has reported on the careers of Scots who have moved across the Channel. He appreciates high quality, engaging writing that is thought provoking, and hopes that some of his work fits that bill!