Rugby Thoughts – Black Boots and the Challenge Cup

My rugby thoughts from the last week including black boots, doping, Muster losing at home and the popularity of the challenge cup.

Black Boots

For the traditionalist the plethora of coloured boots that are now worn by players nowadays is a stab to the heart. It’s not just players either with Brian Moore pulling up Nigel Owens for wearing white boots! Nigel did put up a good defence, it is hard to find black boots in the shops and I hope that Brian follows through on his promise to send Nigel a black pair in the post.

Personally I don’t mind the coloured boots as long as they go with the kit. Yes I might be going all metrosexual on you but to me, the All Blacks with neon yellow or orange boots just looked wrong. But we don’t have to worry, Adidas will be backing up their “blackest ever” jersey with black boots for the world cup. The All Blacks can do something like this as the whole New Zealand setup is sponsored by one company. In other countries where clubs/players do have different sponsors to the countries it’s impossible to coordinate. Let’s be clear the players only have so much say in the matter as they have signed away the choice as part of their marketing/sponsorship contracts.

Doping

Yes this is a topic I have talked about quite a bit, this week I want to start by reminding everybody that Rugby is in a better place than some sports. Last week a NFL player was banned for PED use. The WADA code, that all olympic sports have to abide by, has a first time ban starting at 2 years. With American Football not being an olympic sport they set their own rules and his ban is only 4 games. That is no deterrent and he will be back for the playoffs if his team make it.

Back to rugby and it was good to hear RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie admitting that there is an issue with doping and that they are dealing with it. Unfortunately over in Ireland it appears that there might be a more “head in the sand” approach. Joe Schmidt has been quoted as saying “I don’t see any abuse of supplements in what I’ve been working with. I’d question the amount of evidence.” This is a disappointing approach and hopefully will change sooner rather than later to a more “We need to stay vigilant and keep up the fight” approach.

Munster’s Loss at Home

One of the talking points from the European Rugby Champions Cup has been the lack of change from the Heineken Cup. That has been from a positive sense that the standard of rugby is high and the competition entertaining. There have really been two main changes from a playing point of view:

  1. Less teams so, in theory, less one-sided games
  2. Seeding according to last seasons domestic performance rather than 5 years european performances

In European competition, Clermont were only the third side to win at Munster and the first ever French side. I think a lot of that was down to Clermont doing their homework and Minster not being the side of old. But I can’t shift a nagging thought that the seeding might also have played a part. Munster were always #1 seeds under the old system, this time round they were tier 2 instead. With Clermont being the tier 3 side I’m probably wrong but I can’t shake that nagging feeling it’s having an impact this season.

European Rugby Challenge Cup

The second tier of European rugby has never been as loved as the top-tier, with most teams using the opportunity to rest players. In previous years that hasn’t bubbled up as an issue. This year though it really is feeling very unloved to the extent of being a distraction to some of the teams, especially in France. This has lead to both the Rugby World and Rugby Blog doing pieces on it.

The Pro12 teams clearly don’t have relegation so don’t have to worry about it being a distraction so much. This season the Aviva Premiership sides also don’t have to worry about relegation as it looks like London Welsh are the ones going down. The Top14 is very different with only 6 points separating the bottom 6 teams.

I hope that they can find a way to get the French teams engaged and that there is no talk of them pulling out in future years. At the very least, it does look like removing the automatic qualification for the following seasons Champions Cup, was a big mistake and should be reversed.

 

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