Some musings from around the rugby world about odd selections, replacements, anthems, hakas, uniforms, dual cards, and a certain punch-up involving a couple Tier 2 nations somewhere in eastern Europe.
It’s always interesting to see what kind of strange selections international coaches come up with. Obviously to get to that level a coach has to take a certain amount of risks, but some of the howlers that have come up over the years really make one question what plane of sanity these guys are operating on. Nick Mallett picking Mauro Bergamasco at scrumhalf is a legendary gaffe, and how about Christian Cullen at centre, care of John Hart. Then there was Marc Lievremont, in a league of his own.
A few questions had to be asked from the weekend, the most pressing of Samoa. Stephen Betham worked wonders with the 7s side and seems to be a sensible fellow, but the rumours surrounding political intervention in selection continue to creep up and once again we saw some strange ones against Ireland.
For starters, why was Logovi’i Mulipola picked at tighthead? Sure, he covers there for Leicester, but he’s not known as a fearsome scrummager even at his preferred position of loosehead. To make matters worse, it was clear that he was carrying in injury into the game, which he duly aggravated causing him to limp off after 8 minutes of hell from rookie Jack McGrath. James Johnston, who has been average at best for Saracens this season, was the reserve and he hardly fared any better.
Sure, one could say that Betham gambled on Census Johnston being fit to play, but still given that, he instead chose to call up Benjamin Sa, an uncapped 33 year old journeyman from Bordeaux, when proven test performer Anthony Perenise has been in fine form of late for Bath. Surely there is more here than meets the eye.
There are other concerns, for instance why was Northampton wing Ken Pisi not included in the squad, especially when David Lemi was ruled out? Faifili Levave was a late inclusion on the bench after Alafoti Fa’osiliva dropped out, but why wasn’t Levave, a Super Rugby regular and clearly one of Samoa’s best available forwards, not in the side to begin with, not even on the bench? Why select both Isaia Tu’ifua and Fautua Otto in the reserves when they are both specialist centres, and leave out promising flyhalf prospect Patrick Fa’apale?
In Romania, Lynn Howells selected Valentin Calafeteanu, almost his entire career a scrumhalf, at flyhalf after he played a couple games there for the Bucharest Wolves recently. This was a terrible mistake that nearly cost them the match. Mihai Macovei even had words with him after he botched two scoring opportunities with half-witted drop goal attempts. Thankfully Howells appears to have smartened up and selected a proper flyhalf to the squad, but that was a predictably bad selection.
Meanwhile in Italy Jacques Brunel picked Michele Rizzo, Davide Giazzon, and Antonio Pavanello to start against Australia, and they proceeded to get absolutely mullered by who we all know is the poorest scrum in the land. Ten minutes into the second half Brunel had seen enough and brought on Matias Aguero, Leonardo Ghiraldini, and Quintin Geldenhuys and wouldn’t you know it, all of a sudden they were the ones going forward. Surely most pundits with any knowledge of Italian rugby could have predicted that outcome before the match.
On the topic of Australian scrums, one issue that has long been perplexing is the selection of Ben Alexander at tighthead and James Slipper at loosehead. It’s not so much the personnel involved, it’s that Alexander has spent much of his time at the Brumbies playing loosehead, while Slipper is almost exclusively a tighthead with the Reds! Not to suggest that it might be a solution to their woes, but surely it couldn’t possibly hurt to play them on the side they are used to playing!
Did anyone notice that rotund fellow with the microphone singing the Georgian national anthem? More importantly, did anyone notice that he wasn’t actually singing? It was like watching some cold war propaganda film, a bizarre sight indeed.
Thankfully some places can still handle the anthems with class, and none better than the Welsh. Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika is something to behold in their home stadiums, but the harmonic rendition delivered by the Welsh choir on Saturday was superb. Of course the king of goose-bump-inducing anthems is the majestic Land Of My Fathers. The sound of an entire stadium of Welsh singers hitting the chorus – Gwlad! Gwlad! – is almost surreal, enough to bring the likes of Alun Wyn Jones to tears every time. Fantastic stuff. Georgia, take note.
Surely by now we can all agree that the pre-match war dances of the pacific island nations are a unique and colourful tradition of the sport. For many viewers it is a real treat, and one that would be best served if the television commentators would please stop talking when it is getting started.
Jim Neilly and Reggie Corrigan were still nattering away when Brian Lima had obviously started leading the Siva Tau. To make matters worse they didn’t even recognize the 5-time World Cup veteran, assuming he was just some random bloke with his shirt off.
Meghan Mutrie wasn’t much better for the Eagles-Maori broadcast, too busy trying to impress us with her pronunciation of the word Maori. She blabbed on for a good 15 seconds while the side had huddled around Tim Bateman to start the Timatanga.
For pity’s sake people, shut your pie hole and let us enjoy the spectacle!
At least we saw the return to proper colours for both France and Scotland on Saturday night. Yes, we all realise that sponsors have to keep redesigning shirts so that Johnny Ticketholder will buy the newest one with silly black shoulder shoulder patches (looking at you, Wales), but wasn’t it nice to see France in their traditional blue with white shorts and red socks.
Credit to the Scots as well, who have donned some astonishingly awful jerseys in recent times. The navy blue with the white collars actually looked like they belonged on the Murrayfield pitch.
Is it coincidence that they both played so well?
YOU TWO, GET LOST
Did anyone else find it refreshing to see Alain Rolland send off both Gethin Jenkins and Coenie Oosthuizen for a break after the shambles in the scrum? Heyneke Meyer thought he had outwitted Rolland by sending Oosthuizen on for Frans Malherbe. The savvy old ref was having none of it, telling the new man that it was a team warning, and binning him after only one scrum! Yes, it took away from the game somewhat as they were forced to play with uncontested scrums for a few minutes, but no more than the repeated collapses had taken away already. Kudos to Rolland for sticking to his guns.
DON’T START A FIGHT IN GEORGIA
You’ll lose. That must be the lesson that Tyler Ardron should take away from the debacle in Tbilisi. Not only did he get thumped for his troubles, he was also red carded by referee Lourens van der Merwe. Canadian fans were up in arms about this as it appeared that Ardron had not thrown a punch, but had he kept his composure the only man taking an early shower would have been Viktor Kolelishvili. Ardron might have only meant to give the Georgian a shake and a few friendly words, but it sure looked like he was charging forward with intent to cause bodily harm.
Did he deserve a red card? Maybe not, but how can you blame the ref when there was no TMO to help, and all he and his assistants could see were punches being thrown by members of both sides? Someone had to go, and Ardron was the instigator. Lesson learned? Let’s hope so.