That was the month that was: September 2020

Former Scotland cap Johnnie Beattie made a return to action when he lined up for the invitation side, Les Coujards, to play the unique WateRugby tournament in Toulouse.
Former Scotland cap Johnnie Beattie made a return to action when he lined up for the invitation side, Les Coujards, to play the unique WateRugby tournament in Toulouse.

A crazy night in Georgia 

These are unusual times, but few incidents have been as bizarre as the one which unfolded at the headquarters of Georgia Rugby in Tbilisi. The federation’s vice-president, Merab Beselia, has been arrested after shooting a player. Beselia fired a gun that he was subsequently found to have bought illegally, wounding Ramaz Kharazishvili, former captain of the Georgian sevens team, in the leg. Beselia, who has been at the helm since the resignation of Giorgi Gorgaslidze in August, was arrested, while Kharazishvili is now recovering. Georgia will meet Scotland at BT Murrayfield on 23rd October. They will be without record cap Davit Kacharava, who has announced his retirement after 122 international appearances.  

Howley returns to rugby 

Rob Howley is back in rugby a year after leaving the Welsh camp at the World Cup in Japan when he was found to have been betting on matches. Howley was banned for 18 months, nine of them suspended, and is now hoping that his appointment as Canada’s assistant coach is an opportunity to put his previous problems behind him. He will combine his new role with work as a consultant for Toronto Arrows when the new Major League season starts in March.   

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North’s shorter ban means longer absence  

Ospreys winger George North received a four match ban for tackling an opponent in the air during the Guinness PRO14 match with Dragons last month. The suspension, which was cut from eight weeks given the player’s previous good record and remorse for the offence, means North will miss the friendly between Wales and France but should be available for the rescheduled Guinness Six Nations clash with Scotland. By contrast, given his club’s busier schedule, Saracens and England stand off Owen Farrell, who was handed a five game stretch for a badly mistimed effort that was widely condemned for its violence, will have served his sentence by the time international rugby resumes.  

Barnes family banter  

English referee Wayne Barnes returned to Twitter after a 15 year absence and noted that he expected to be the subject of negativity from many of his 20,000 plus followers. However, he would have been surprised to discover that, amid the rugby banter, his earliest critics included his wife Polly, who tweeted: “My husband turning up on Twitter is like your dad dropping you off in front of the school gate in an estate car.” 

Henson not yet finished 

Gavin Henson has returned to rugby after an 18 month absence. Now aged 38, the former Wales centre has switched codes, signing up with the rugby league outfit, West Wales Raiders, which plies its trade in the third-tier Betfred League 1. The coronavirus lockdown means it will be next year before Henson makes his debut for the club.  

Beale demands a pay cut 

Kurtley Beale earned the instant respect of his new colleagues at Racing 92 when he demanded a pay cut shortly after joining the Parisian outfit. The Aussie learned that the other squad members had been forced to accept reductions to help the club survive the pandemic. And he asked the club president to apply a similar percentage cut to his salary, which is believed to be €450,000 a year.

World Cup draw delayed

The draw for the 2023 World Cup has been moved from the end of November until mid-December, but the seedings have been announced with Scotland placed amongst the third grouping of countries.

The seedings are normally based on world rankings at the time of the draw but, with the Test calendar disrupted by coronavirus, officials are using rankings from the start of this year, when the Scots were ninth in the world. They are now eighth, which would have made them second seeds, with almost certainly a significantly easier draw.

More than a few online pundits have questioned whether the Typhoon Hagibis fall-out between Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson and World Rugby at last year’s World Cup might have been a factor here. They do say that revenge is a dish best served cold!

The draw will now take place a few days after the final match of the Rugby Championship, the rescheduled Bledisloe Cup clash between New Zealand and Australia, takes place in Sydney. That meeting, which could have an impact on world rankings, has caused some consternation, with the All Blacks insisting they did not agree to the date. Under current rules, the Kiwi players would have to quarantine for two weeks on their return, meaning they would miss Christmas with their families.

Recent weeks have not been plain sailing for Australia either, with the federation drawing some criticism for easing the rules on selecting overseas-based players, then suffering a financial blow when the airline Qantas ended a 30-year sponsorship deal.

Douglas signs off with Brumbies win 

Former Edinburgh lock Murray Douglas helped Brumbies to a 28-23 win over Queensland Reds that ended a 16-year Australian Super Rugby drought for the Canberra-based outfit. It was the 30 year old Fifer’s final appearance for Brumbies before he heads to Japan, having signed for Yamaha Jubilo.     

International assignments for Scottish refs  

The recent progress of Scottish referees has been underlined by the appointment of Mike Adamson and Hollie Davidson to take charge of matches in the upcoming autumn fixtures, while Sam Grove-White will work as an assistant and a TMO. Adamson will referee the match between England and the Barbarians on 25th October, as well as running the line in four others, while Davidson has refereeing assignments for the Ireland v Italy and England v France games in the rescheduled Women’s Six Nations, and will assist for Italy v England.  

Nakarawa case set for French courts 

Leone Nakarawa’s legal case against Racing 92 will be heard this week according to a report in the French media. The 32-year-old was sacked for returning late from a trip to his native Fiji, and subsequently signed for Glasgow Warriors. Nakarawa is reported to be seeking €1 million for unfair dismissal.     

American rugby on road to recovery 

USA Rugby has started the process of rebuilding after an agreement with creditors was approved by the Delaware Bankruptcy Court. The organisation entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March, citing the impact of coronavirus as the main reason for its financial difficulties. Its plan will allow USA Rugby to repay creditors over a five year period.  

Beattie back with a splash 

Former Scotland back row Johnnie Beattie made a return to action when he lined up for the invitation side, Les Coujards, in Toulouse. However, the 34-year-old has not reversed his decision to retire from rugby. Instead, he was among the stars of the WateRugby tournament which was played in front of a socially-distanced crowd that lined the banks of the River Garonne. The tournament, contested on an island in the middle of the river, and offering a dip in the water for try scorers, was won by a Toulouse legends side that included Emile Ntamack, Fabien Pelous and Thierry Dusautoir.    

COVID-19 scares provide timely reminder of pro rugby’s vulnerability

About David Barnes 2992 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.