That was the month that was: December 2020

Colin Renton’s round-up of last month’s news stories from around the world takes in a few interesting refereeing appointments and some extreme weather sport

Snow rugby is all the rage in Russia
Snow rugby is all the rage in Russia

Fan fury prompts ref change

A dangerous precedent may have been set with the decision to relieve Andrew Brace of the refereeing duties ahead of the Champions Cup clash between Toulouse and Exeter Chiefs. The organisers, EPCR, stated that the decision to switch Brace to the Wasps tie at home to Montpellier was a response to the personal nature of criticism the Irishman received on social media after officiating in Autumn Nations Cup final that saw England edge out France. He was taken to task by the French coaches and that sparked a flood of unacceptable online comments which ended with him being replaced, albeit the game did not go ahead.

Adamson’s Connacht call-up

Elsewhere in the world of refereeing, Covid-19 not only had an impact on the scheduled matches in the European Champions Cup, with Glasgow Warriors v Lyon among the cancelled matches. It also affected appointments of officials. Mathieu Raynal, who had been in charge for Warriors’ match away to Exeter Chiefs, had to self-isolate following that encounter, despite a negative test. As a result, Mike Adamson was called up to take the whistle in the fixture between Connacht and Bristol Bears in place of the Frenchman.

Better news still for Adamson last week was the announcement that he will take charge of England’s clash against Italy at Twickenham on 13th February, making him the first Scot in 19-years to officiate a men’s Six Nations match.

Edinburgh sign Boan Venter, according to South African news report

MSPs question government bail-out allocation for rugby

Mike Adamson to end long wait for Scots referee in men’s Six Nations

Scots deliver tremendous tackle tally

A highlight of the statistics in the second week of European competition was the performance of the Scots Cameron Henderson and Jake Kerr for Leicester Tigers away to Bayonne in the Challenge Cup. The duo each produced an impressive tally of 16 tackles in a 28-20 win. However, that number was exceeded by Edinburgh second-row pair Ben Toolis and Jamie Hodgson who each weighed in with 17 tackles against Sale Sharks to feature as joint third performers in the Champions Cup.

Study shows fitness deteriorating

In a wider sporting context, some interesting work was launched by a new House of Lords Committee on a National Plan for Sport and Recreation. It initiated work aimed at removing barriers to participation in sport and recreation. The committee invited input from individuals and organisations with an interest in achieving higher levels of participation. Among the evidence underlining the need for action were the findings of one particular study. It showed that the least fit child in a class of 30 in 1998 would be among the five fittest children in a class of 30 tested today.

It was the best of times…

There’s always some controversy when a ‘best of’ list is revealed. So, it was no surprise that a few eyebrows were raised after World Rugby unveiled its men’s and women’s teams of the decade. The men’s selection featured seven New Zealanders, three South Africans and an Australian, with the Northern Hemisphere represented by Irish duo Conor Murray and Brian O’Driscoll, Welshman George North and Sergio Parisse of Italy. England’s absence from that list was amply compensated by the inclusion of eight players in the women’s team alongside six New Zealanders and a Frenchwoman.

League expansion may flow into cup competitions

South Africa has attracted attention for the number of players moving to other parts of the world – Scotland is currently among the preferred destinations. The global impact will continue towards the end of this season, when four teams are set to join the existing PRO14 sides, initially a shortened tournament dubbed ‘The Rainbow Cup’ by organisers, before a full season-long competition with sides from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and South Africa launches in the Autumn. There’s also a suggestion that the quartet’s participation in the league will be a stepping stone to involvement on the European stage, a move that may also happen as early as next season.

South African doping shows troubling trend

While South Africa appears to be producing much of the world’s talent at present, it has also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. The latest high profile case concerns the Lions winger Aphiwe Dyantyi, who tested positive for three banned substances while in a Springbok training camp last year. The 26-year-old, who was World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2018, claimed that he had ingested the drugs by drinking from a friend’s bottle in the gym. He received a four-year ban after failing to provide evidence that the incident was not intentional. With the suspension announced more than a year after the offence took place. The delay was blamed on a backlog at the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sports, partly due to the global pandemic but also evidence of a worrying number of incidents. Eight rugby players were banned in South Africa in 2019, and Dyanti’s case came less than a month after former international hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle lost an appeal against an eight-year ban following a third doping offence.

Laidlaw pounding the streets for good causes

Chris Laidlaw will see in the new year by pounding the streets of Edinburgh in the first leg of a gruelling challenge that aims to raise financial support for causes close to his heart. The 30 year old, who captained Boroughmuir Bears in last season’s FOSROC Super6 competition, will kick off 2021 with a 26 mile run and aims to run the marathon distance each month throughout the rest of the year. Laidlaw has been spurred to don his running shoes by the death of his mother and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s that was recently made public by his father, Roy, the former Scotland and British & Irish Lions scrum half. In addition to fundraising for Alzheimer Scotland, Laidlaw aims to use the runs to support two other charities, the Murrayfield Injured Players’ Foundation and Marie Curie. Donations can be made by clicking HERE.

Snow fun for Russians

Russia’s success in developing snow rugby has prompted Rugby Europe to hand the Russian Rugby Union a three-year deal to support the growth of that discipline, as well as beach rugby. Teams of five play matches of five minutes each way, with no tackles or scrums. The agreement states that the two governing bodies will work together to push for beach and snow rugby to be included in multisport games around the world.

A Trumped-up demand from Zebre

There maybe hasn’t been much to laugh about in recent months, but the Zebre social media person showed that some folks still have a sense of humour. A hard-fought 18-16 win away to Brive, left the Italian outfit top of the European Challenge Cup table. And, that led to a post-match Tweet that poked fun at recent events in the US:

No dampening Fijian spirits

It was a little soft underfoot as the players from Fiji’s High Performance Unit had a run out – boundless enthusiasm, but no TMO to adjudicate on whether the scoring pass went forward:

Edinburgh sign Boan Venter, according to South African news report

About Colin Renton 296 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!