That was the month that was: August 2023

Colin Renton reports on how joined-up thinking is helping drive an purple patch in French rugby

Louis Bielle-Biarre made his senior France debut against Scotland at Murrayfield despite being young enough to compete for Les Bleus in the Junior World Championship. Image: © Craig Watson -
Louis Bielle-Biarre made his senior France debut against Scotland at Murrayfield despite being young enough to compete for Les Bleus in the Junior World Championship. Image: © Craig Watson -

French benefit from multi-tier approach

The France Under-20s coach Sebastien Calvet suggested that his side’s recent world cup victory – the third in a row – was largely a result of cooperation at all levels across the country’s rugby set-up from amateur and youth academies upwards. In fact, he was happy to lose the services of key players Louis Bielle-Biarrey – subsequently named in the full World Cup squad – and his captain Emilien Gailleton (both of whom were debutants at senior level against Scotland) to Fabien Galthie’s training group, despite them being eligible for the Junior World Championship.

New role for Petrus the prop

Petrus du Plessis, the former Glasgow Warriors prop, has taken up a role as scrum coach at Leicester Tigers. The 42-year-old, who retired after leaving Warriors in 2020, has linked up again with Tigers head coach, Dan McKellar. The pair worked together in the Australian national set-up for almost three years. Du Plessis will fill the role during the World Cup, while Dan Palmer works with the Wallabies before moving to the Gallagher Premiership.

Scots among the latest Barbarians

Scottish trio, Mitch Eadie (who recently signed for Edinburgh on a short-term deal as World Cup cover), Damian Hoyland and Steven Longwell all featured for the Barbarians in the match against Manu Samoa in Brive. Eadie was in the starting line up, while Hoyland came off the bench just before half time and Longwell entered the fray with 54 minutes on the clock. The Samoans, with ex-Edinburgh prop Jordan Lay and former Glasgow Warriors lock Brian Alainu’u’ese in the side, emerged as 28-14 winners.

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Welsh grassroots clubs recognised

Warren Gatland’s Wales squad announcement for the World Cup 2023 in France underlined efforts by the Welsh Rugby Union to associate the international side with the grassroots game by linking the squad members on Gatland’s list with the amateur teams where they started their careers. The move provided a prompt for players interested in becoming involved in the game by offering a name check for clubs such as Pencoed, Beddau and Llangefni.

Venues announced for women’s tourney

World Rugby has announced the venues for the 2025 Women’s World Cup. The eight grounds, subject to confirmation of Salford Community Stadium being available and added to the list, are Brighton and Hove Albion Stadium, Ashton Gate in Bristol, Exeter’s Sandy Park, Twickenham, Franklin’s Gardens, Sunderland Stadium of Light and York Community Stadium.

Jones gets a hand from Hansen

Controversy is never far from Eddie Jones and he has provided further fuel for the critics by asking former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to join him in the Wallabies camp. Hansen is not receiving payment for his contribution, but that has not prevented him from taking flak from many critics, although Jones has described the move as being similar to asking a mate for advice over a beer.

Tap turns off for water carriers

Among the rule changes for the World Cup is an amendment to what is acceptable behaviour by water carriers. The maximum number of individuals employed in delivering water is now two, and the times they are permitted to enter the pitch will be restricted. Water carriers will now be able provide drinks when a try is scored. If there are no tries in the opening 20 minutes, the next natural stoppage should be used. If that stoppage is the result of an injury, the water carriers should leave the pitch at the same time as the medic.

French bonuses below expectations

The French federation will not honour the World Cup bonus promise of former vice-president Serge Simon. He had told players that they were in line for a payout of 10-11 million euros to be shared between the 33 players in the event of winning the title. However, a drop in budgets means the sums have been revised lower and will now be closer to 6 million euros, meaning players will pocket around 200,000 euros each if the hosts emerge victorious.

Head contact decisions provoke debate

Disciplinary decisions surrounding head contact continue to elicit debate. The Owen Farrell case which ended with a four-match ban has been fully reviewed in public, and Tonga’s George Moala had his appeal dismissed against a five-match ban for a tip tackle. Meanwhile, the Romanian lock Adrian Motoc had a red card rescinded. He was sent-off against Italy, but the disciplinary committee decided that the head contact with an opponent was caused by Italian flanker Michele Lamaro making a significant movement which led to the players coming together. Motoc is free to play the World Cup opener against Ireland in a group that also includes Scotland.

The benefits of glory

La Rochelle’s European Champions Cup success has been reflected in the club’s season ticket sales for the new season, with 99.5% of last year’s subscribers signing up again. Meanwhile, 7,200 people have joined a waiting list, up from 1,400 a year ago. The club had a full-house for every home game last season and ended the campaign on a run of 80 successive sell-outs.

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Fijian coffers are full

The Fijian Rugby Union has negotiated sponsorship deals that mean the Pacific Islanders will go into the World Cup pool alongside Wales, Australia, Georgia and Portugal buoyed by a stunning win over England and free of financial concerns. There have been money issues in the past, but agreements with backers including Fiji Water and Fiji Airways have delivered a budget of around £3.8 million to cover the costs of the campaign.

Ruthless Springboks rout roofless Wales

A string of bad news stories over recent months suggests that it never rains but it pours for the Welsh Rugby Union. Fortunately, the weather was favourable for the test match against South Africa at the Millennium Stadium as an electrical fault meant that it was not possible to close the roof. That was not the day’s only cause for concern as the Springboks eased to a comfortable win.

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About Colin Renton 281 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!