The Next Rat Deserts the Ship. Is thd RFU Sinking?

For those that haven’t read it Mallender has left the RFU for Scotland. Whilst I’m not sure this us a massive issue on its own, what does it say when you add in all of the other non-playing talent that has left. For me this points to a big cultural issue at Twickenham that goes to the very top.

I wouldn’t invest in a company ghat was loosing senior leaders like that, why would I believe in the current board?

Look out old Mako’s back.

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England’s World Cup prospects have received a timely boost with Mako Vunipola, their highly regarded prop, declaring himself fit and ready for action after three months on the sidelines with a ripped hamstring.

The Saracens loosehead is in the mix for Saturday’s third warm-up game against Ireland at Twickenham and has pledged to “make the most of every day and to take nothing for granted”, after a series of injuries and setbacks have made him appreciate being back playing once again. Vunipola is one of England’s clutch of world-class players and his presence is sure to reinforce resources as they head towards Japan.​

Vunipola trudged off the pitch before half-time at St James’ Park in May in the final of the Champions Cup against Leinster and has not featured since, spending a fortnight completely immobilised in bed before taking on a long-haul flight to Tonga to perform best man duties at the wedding of brother, Billy.​

“I was in a wheelchair in transit at Los Angeles and some poor lady had to push me through the airport, which was the biggest I’d ever been through,” said Vunipola, who admitted that he had piled on a few kilos during his bed-bound shift. “It was ideal because it gave me an excuse not to leave bed. I don’t need much excuse. I was in bed constantly apart from when I needed to go to the bathroom or the kitchen. I had a pretty good set-up with the TV and PlayStation. For me, it was pretty much heaven. ​

“I was ready to get out of bed, though, by the end of it. I needed to move and get the hamstring moving, but I also felt very sloppy by the end of those two weeks. You get bigger and you lose muscle – not that you can really tell the difference. I tore the tendon at the top of hamstring so the muscle became detached from the bone, so the surgeon had to go back in and attach that back on. For two weeks I was not allowed to strain my hamstring at all, so it was a case of having a completely straight leg.

“Unfortunately I went to Tonga in those two weeks so it was hard going around on crutches and watching what I eat. Luckily my family helped me through that. Mind you, I gave a terrible speech. It was my brother’s fault because he didn’t tell me until two days before the wedding.”​

From feast to famine, Vunipola has weighed in recently at almost record low levels of 122 kgs, only a kilo above his lightest recorded weight in 2016. There is little doubt that Vunipola’s ball-handling skills set him apart. Any England side with him on the team-sheet greatly enhances their prospects.​

“Massively so. I took 2015 for granted because when you are that age you think that you have loads more World Cups coming around,” said Vunipola.​

“We have talked as a group about not taking anything for granted and to make sure that we use every day to get better. It has been a tough last four to five weeks, training by yourself in rehab and doing ridiculous amounts of running. I’ve been jealous of the other boys as they have been getting ready for matches, but I’m now excited about getting the ball in my hands for a match and doing what I love doing. What my injury, as well as Toby’s, has made me realise is that any day could be your last.”​

Vunipola was man of the match when England opened their 2019 Six Nations campaign with an impressive 32-20 win over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The 28-year-old made 27 tackles in the game, a remarkable tally for a prop forward.​

Vunipola’s availability is part of an encouraging medical bulletin for England with flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry also likely to be fit for this weekend. Another injured back-row forward, Mark Wilson, has an outside chance. Wings Ruaridh McConnochie and Jack Nowell, and centre Henry Slade, are making progress towards an appearance against Italy in Newcastle on Sept 6. Northampton flanker, Lewis Ludlam, is on a stand-down period as per player welfare agreements and will join the England squad at their training camp in Treviso.

Eddie Jones: ‘That’s why we’ve gone to having a more X-factor type fullback’

Eddie Jones believes test rugby has evolved into a hybrid of the NFL and football in the past 12 months, a trend he believes will place a great onus on pace, power and tactical kicking at the World Cup.

Such a shift, comprising longer passages of “unstructured” play, has contributed to selection reassessments in certain positions over the latter part of this four-year cycle.

Prioritising the speed of Elliot Dand Anthony Watson at fullback over the experience of Mike Brown has been one result of the England head coach’s logic.

“Brown is a great fullback.” said Jones. “He’s a great defensive fullback, but we feel, the way we want to play, we need a fullback who can attack and with pace. Fortunately for us, Daly and Watson are our best options.

“The game keeps changing. I see this game now where it is basically a mixture of NFL and soccer. You have got the first three phases that are basically all power and precision. Then you have the kick-return game which then becomes football.

“That sort of analogy for us became clear in the last 12 months and that’s why we’ve gone to having a more X-factor type fullback who can be more commanding in that more unstructured rugby.”

Daly, who started the 13-6 defeat against Wales on Sunday and was bombarded by high balls from Dan Biggar in the early exchanges, estimated the international game is now “65 per cent unstructured to 35 per cent structured”. While there are generally fewer opportunities to launch first-phase moves, a set-piece platform remains so valuable that carefully-choreographed shapes, akin to offensive plays in NFL, are drilled meticulously.

Jones also highlighted centre Henry Slade, “a 13 who can kick, run and pass”, as England aim to manipulate back-field defences and find space by putting boot to ball. Grubbers, dinks and chips were prominent weapons as they amassed 24 tries in this year’s Six Nations.

The composition of England’s back row is another interesting consideration. The candidates are undoubtedly working hard. Jones revealed that Billy Vunipola had “run 300 metres further than he ever has in a game” during the 33-19 win over Wales at Twickenham nine days ago.

Confirming that Tom Curry and Courtney Lawes would be seen as potential blindsides in Japan but that Maro Itoje would remain at lock, Jones suggested the back row would be altered according to England’s opponents. Teaming up Curry and Sam Underhill, for example, might be problematic against a team with more than two specialist lineout jumpers.

“We played Wales the last four years and averaged five lineouts a game, so the lineout is not a significant factor against them.

“But we played New Zealand in November and they schooled us in the second half in the lineout. They had [Scott] Barrett, [Kieran] Read, [Sam] Whitelock, [Brodie] Retallick and we couldn’t win the ball.

“They had four jumpers and I think we lost five lineouts and it probably cost us the game. Against New Zealand, we have to have a jumping back rower. They are a huge kicking team.”

There is still time for England to add variety. In naming his 31-man squad around a month before World Rugby’s deadline of September 8, Jones has aimed to “minimise the noise”, adding external distractions may have been possible because “the media is more powerful [in England] than anywhere else in the world”.

Having said that, first-five George Ford hinted humid weather expected in Japan and simulated at England’s training camp in Italy could enhance the value of a strong kick-chase.

“The thing we noticed most in Treviso was how the humidity affected the sweatiness and greasiness of the ball,” Ford said. “It was like playing in wet weather sometimes, and sometimes in wet weather, you are better off without the ball. You’ve got to understand when it is going to be like that and how difficult it is going to be to keep the ball. That might bring the kicking game into play more and having a really strong defence.”

Three locks doesn’t work.

Lawes is an ace, genuinely class player. He carries well, has a trademark tackle and silky hands. He also offers a great lineout option.

But he shouldn’t start for England. If Eddie starts three lockable on any knockout stage or one of the latter two games in the pool we will find it quite hard to win.

Lets start with the drawback to starting him; the breakdown suffers massively. Lawes is slow and ineffective at the breakdown. In 2018 we were dominated there in almost every game he started at 6. This was also apparent in Cardiff last week. The amount we play off of 9 and 10, and the quality of jacklers around the world, highlights that we need a solid breakdown.

It doesn’t help that he hasn’t started with either underhill or curry yet but having him and Billy in the back row puts too little emphasis on the breakdown and if teams were to figure out how to deny undercurry free reign in the breakdown then we would be screwed. Wilson must start so we can have dominance in the breakdown without losing a big carrier and tackler.

Another positive of keeping Lawes from the starting pack (sounds harsh) is that the bench becomes considerably stronger by having such a threat coming on for 30 minutes at 4/5/6. A lot of our early success with jones came from winning the last half by bringing on players of a starting calibre.

Without two of Curry, Underhill and Wilson, we lose much of what gives our massive pack it’s momentum. Bringing Lawes on for the second half once we have established good breakdown work and the ref views us as the dominant team going forward will allow some pressure to be lifted and for Lawes to go about being the nuisance we love.

Who would you select against Ireland?

My eternal gratitude to CMJS for the creation of our new home. Without further ado let’s talk ruggers.

Knowing what we now know from th two games against Wales. Who do you select against Ireland?

1. Marler
2. George
3. Sinkler
4. Maro
5. Kruis
6. Ludlam
7. Underhill
8. Billy

9. Heniz
10. Farrell
11. May
12. Francis
13. JJ
14. McC
15. Watson