That was the month that was: January 2020

Nakarawa has unfinished business at Racing, player numbers boom on the continent, Japan set to reap the benefit of the World Cup but holding onto top talent could be a challenge ...

Full-back Kotaro Matsushima is teh first member of Japan's World Cup squad to move to Europe. He will play for Clermont Auvergne next year. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Full-back Kotaro Matsushima is teh first member of Japan's World Cup squad to move to Europe. He will play for Clermont Auvergne next year. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

by COLIN RENTON


Nakarawa not yet done with Racing

Leone Nakarawa’s return to Glasgow Warriors has brought some certainty for the player, who will be at Scotstoun until at least the end of the season. However, the unsavoury fall-out from his departure from Racing 92 rumbles on. The Fijian is taking his former employer to a tribunal in Paris. Nakarawa was sacked for serious misconduct after returning late from a post-World Cup break.  He wants the offence downgraded to simple misconduct.


Napolioni’s retirement plans blown apart

Fijian international Napolioni Nalaga continues to find new ways to extend his career. The 33-year-old, who has just spent several months with the Russian outfit Lokomotiv Penza, has signed for the Paraguayan club Olimpia Lions, which will contest the newly-formed American Super Liga. The competition will start at the end of February and will also feature a team from each of Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. Nalaga is expected to be first choice on one wing, with the Argentine international Manuel Montero on the other.


Brits abroad hungry for success

Rugby in Hungary has been going for half a century and has enjoyed significant growth in recent seasons, thanks in part to a Scottish influence. Welshman Richie Williams is now in his fourth season as director of rugby and has helped the Hungarians move up more than 10 places from 82nd in the world rankings. Meanwhile, Borderer Craig Dods has been in charge of developing the women’s game. Rugby is now headed only by football, handball and water polo in terms of player numbers. It also enjoys substantial government support, with the Ministry of Sport contributing to the cost of creating a national rugby stadium.


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Spanish acquisitions

There’s also good news on player numbers in Spain, where the latest figures show a rise of 2,400 over the past five years to the current level of around 37,000.

Last September, the SRU revealed that 36,207 people have registered as players on the governing body’s new SCRUMS system. That figure includes women and men, girls and boys.


Narbonne niggled as Nice nick it

A run of good results has moved the SRU’s partner club Stade Nicois into contention for the knockout phase of the Federale 1 season. But it hasn’t been without controversy, and Scot Ross Dunbar inadvertently found himself involved in a spat between clubs. The prop was yellow carded (he was later shown a second yellow) for an offence at a scrum during the 22-16 win over Narbonne but on his return to the field his replacement played on for several seconds, meaning Nice had 16 players. They scored a try shorlty afterwards. Narbonne complained and asked for the game to be replayed. However, the case was thrown out and the result stood. The sides ended January in joint third spot.


Toulon’s cheque book moving on

Mourad Boudjellal, the colourful owner of Toulon, is moving on, taking with him the cheque book that has bankrolled a host of big name signings over his years at the helm. He has already identified his next sporting challenge. He wants to become owner at Sporting de Toulon, the town’s football club, with the aim of steering it from the third division to the top flight.


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Tackles only tell part of the tale

The match stats for the Guinness PRO14 match between Leinster and Connacht at the RDS Arena showed that the encounter was the first to see more than 500 tackles since OPTA began recording the numbers a decade ago. Leinster posted 239 tackles, while the visitors managed a massive 279. However, while the total is evidence of a highly physical contest, a 54-7 win for Leinster suggests that the Connacht tally includes at least a few that were missed.


Salary info release riles RPA

The salary cap controversy continues in England. The latest chapter was the report by an independent panel which should have moved the whole issue a further step towards achieving closure. Instead, the publication of the report drew a stinging statement from the Rugby Players Association (RPA) over the amount of information it contained including players names and salaries. In the statement, RPA boss Damian Hopley said: “Having been given absolute assurances that all confidential player information would be redacted, we were stunned that the entire report was leaked elsewhere to the press and this has caused untold damage to all parties concerned.”


Matsu moving north

Kotaro Matsushima tormented Scotland at the World Cup and the Japanese full-back’s performances on home soil last autumn drew attention from several northern hemisphere clubs. The race for his signature has been won by Clermont Auvergne, and Matsushima will join the Top 14 outfit next season. He is the first of the current crop of internationals to move away from Japan since the World Cup. He may not be the last.]


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Land of the rising crowds

The wider impact of Japan’s success as World Cup hosts will be put to the test as the Top League season unfolds over the coming months. The competition, which started in early January, features 16 teams. The final will take place on 9th May. The World Cup effect is already evident, with pre-tournament ticket sales showing a 94% rise over the previous year. The first round of eight matches attracted 93,000 spectators, with four clubs recording new record attendances. Meanwhile, a largest ever crowd of 57,300 watched the final of the Japanese Universities championship.


Refs on the up

After many years in the wilderness, Scotland’s officials have been gradually moving up the pecking order over recent seasons. The country’s top whistler, Mike Adamson will have a role to play as assistant to Wayne Barnes on the final weekend of the Guinness Six Nations. In the women’s tournament, Hollie Davidson takes charge of two matches and is assistant in two others, while Katherine Ritchie has three assistant appointments.

There is also progress in the second tier Rugby Europe Championship. Sam Grove-White takes charge of Portugal v Belgium in Lisbon, with Ian Kenny and Graeme Ormiston as his assistants, while Ben Blain, Ross Mabon and Neil Muir haven been given responsibility for Portugal v Georgia, which will be played in Paris.


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About Colin Renton 212 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!

1 Comment

  1. Fascinating news that Spain have roughly the same number of players we do. Maybe we can go visit and ask them how they’ve done it?

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