by COLIN RENTON
A challenge for Finn
A blunder against Perpignan aside, Finn Russell has found another gear since moving to Racing 92 and has been outstanding for the Parisian outfit. Initially he was expected to compete for a starting berth with Pat Lambie. However, the South African has been out with a knee injury since the end of last season, allowing Russell to make the number 10 shirt his own. That looks set to change, with Lambie now restored to fitness and ready to challenge for his place in the side. Not a bad headache for coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers. Russell’s move to Racing has been aided by the arrival at the club of Simon Zebo. The banter between the two included a recent comment from the Irishman, saying of his Scottish colleague, “It’s bizarre. Finn doesn’t look like a rugby player. He has absolutely no muscle. To me he has the physique of a darts champion. But he is ridiculously gifted and has an unbelievable individual technique, whether it’s at tennis, football or rugby”.
The power of rugby
Greig Laidlaw, who is also plying his trade in French top flight rugby, played for Clermont Auvergne in the 49-24 Challenge Cup win at home to Newport Gwent Dragons. That the match attracted a crowd of 15,700 was down to some diplomacy on the part of the Gilets Jaunes, the protestors who have brought parts of France to a standstill with their activities over recent weeks. A march that was set to clash with the European tie was postponed to the following day and a Facebook message from the Auvergne group of demonstrators explained the decision, saying: “We took into consideration that on Saturday, at the same time, the (Clermont) match would attract a lot of people. We believe it is unjust to ask people to choose between this event and the one by the Gilets Jaunes.”
Coaching breakthrough in US
Tina Faaee has struck a blow for women with her appointment as forwards and tackle coach at the New York United franchise which will compete in the expanded American Major League that starts next season. Faaee was born in California but spent part of her childhood in New Zealand and Samoa and represented both at rugby league. She played rugby union for US Eagles and captained them in the 2017 World Cup. Faaee is believed to be the first woman appointed as coach to a men’s professional side.
And more on the horizon
Another American, Katherine Aversano, has been named as a beneficiary of an Aviva Premiership coaching scholarship. Aversano was forced to give up playing the game when a parachuting accident left her with a broken spine and leg. She has spent time with coaches at Saracens, London Irish and Harlequins on the Premiership Rugby Scholarships programme, which is run in partnership with the Friends of the British Council and USA Rugby and is offering support for up to 50 US-based coaches.
Dan’s the man in Japan
Dan Carter weighed in with five conversions and a penalty to help Kobelco Steelers beat holders Suntory Sungoliath 55-5 in the final of the Japan Top League Championship. For Carter, who is half way through a two-year deal with Steelers, it was a fourth major club title in a third country. He has also enjoyed success with Crusaders, Perpignan and Racing 92.
Drotske still in danger
Former South Africa hooker Naka Drotske remains in hospital after being shot during an armed robbery near Pretoria. The 47-year-old who was a replacement when the Springboks won the 1995 World Cup, was hit by three bullets. His fellow international and current business partner Os du Randt escaped uninjured in the incident. Drotske is reported to have tried to tackle the four masked intruders who stormed into the house and fired tear gas.
1872 Cup coverage –
A high-flying solution to marketing Edinburgh
An unlikely source may offer a solution to the perennial issue of how to attract crowds to BT Murrayfield for Edinburgh Rugby’s Guinness PRO14 matches. The airline Ryanair has started to sell tickets for sporting events. So, for example, a tourist heading for Barcelona may include the price of a football ticket in their booking. Anyone who has tried to walk along Princes Street on a Friday afternoon over recent months will know that Edinburgh is a massively popular tourist destination. Many visitors will be looking for some sporting action but few non-rugby fans will know about matches in the city. Perhaps the marketing folks at the club should get together with Ryanair’s boss Michael O’Leary and put together a package. Obviously half time pies would be an additional cost, although a seat could be included in the price.
Robbo regales with rugby tales
If Santa didn’t bring a copy of ‘Rugby: Talking a Good Game’, the tale of Ian Robertson’s 47 years as a commentator, it’s worth seeking out a copy. The Scot who became BBC radio’s voice of rugby tells some chuckle-worthy stories about his life. Among the anecdotes is a tale of a pre-match talk by Sir Clive Woodward ahead of England meeting the All Blacks at Twickenham. Woodward had listed both sides on a flipchart and, addressing the players, said “I’ve gone through it over and over again and I’m telling you now: I would not swap a single one of my players for one of theirs.” Robertson’s story goes on to explain that the silence was broken by Jason Leonard, who suggested, “I’d have that Jonah Lomu just ahead of Austin Healey, that’s for sure.” The meeting ended at that point.
Conor cops a doping ban
Conor Hirini, who played for Edinburgh Accies last season, is one of three players banned by the New Zealand Federation for doping offences. Hirini’s offence dates back to October 2014 when he was playing for Horowhenua Kapiti. He has admitted buying Clenbuterol with intent to use it. However, he stated to the Federation’s Judicial Committee that he had disposed of the substance without taking it. Hirini has been suspended for two years. The others found guilty of the same offence are Blake Ensor (Otago) and Heywood Kuka (Bay of Plenty).