NEW YORK, NY – Over the last two weeks, we reviewed the 2013 USA and Canada Rugby Classes and singled out their respective 2014 Classes, as well… Now it’s time to zoom our binoculars, eye-pieces and looking glasses in on our friends in Europe. Following our established protocol, we’ll start with a look back before predicting the future stars. With that, here’s our European Rugby Class of 2013 Review.
WOMEN: Ashleigh Baxter (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster): Baxter was part of an Irish Women’s team that had a Grand Slam, won the RBS 6 Nations in 2013 and had a strong 7s campaign – finishing 7th in the Rugby World Cup 7s. Considering the Irish 7s program is in a neophyte phase, that was massive. The 7s team will also play in the Women’s Sevens World Series. Things look bright for Ms. Baxter and the Irish Women.
FRANCE: Gael Fickou (Toulouse): Monsieur Fickou made his French international debut at the age of 18 against Scotland on 16 March 2013, in the RBS 6 Nations. He scored his first try for France against the Auckland Blues on the summer 2013 tour to New Zealand. For a player not out of his teens, that is a very impressive year. This also includes helping Toulouse reach the 2103 Top14 playoffs.
ENGLAND: George Ford (Bath): Mister Ford had been a guaranteed starter since 2009, but decided in early 2013 to leave Leicester Tigers for Bath, after the end of the 2012/2013 season. He sat out England’s tour of South Africa after getting hurt in the spring. This fall he came back fit and firing. Bath’s rise to #3 in the Aviva Premiership standings can be attributed to several reasons but no rugby pundit worth their salt will deny that Ford is not a key part of that resurgence. He has scored tries, kicked goals and completely directed the backline, making it into a proper threat. Look at Bath’s performance in the Amlin Cup; they are the reasons Ford has now been named as part of the England squad for the 2014 Six Nations.
IRELAND: Robbie Henshaw (Connacht): Henshaw was named in the Ireland Wolfhounds squad for their “friendly” against England Saxons on 25 January 2013. He started the game at fullback and played well until he was subbed out in the 58-minute. After debuting for the Wolfhounds, Robbie then made his debut for Ireland Under-20 on 8 February 2013. In that game, he started at fullback 16-15 victory against England. After impressing with both sides, Henshaw made his senior debut for Ireland against the USA on 8 June 2013, starting at fullback at the age of 19. The young man from Athlone came off the bench against Canada on 15 June 2013 and followed that up by playing in the November internationals against Australia on 16 November 2013. Henshaw had a very busy/solid year.
SCOTLAND: Grieg Laidlaw (Edinburgh): Grieg’s shift to back to scrumhalf has paid dividends. He has exerted a greater influence on the game from being closer to the action. He has worked with the rotating 10s for the national squad and has helped spur a Scottish resurgence. He has continued to take kicks for club and country and also captains both sides.
WALES: Eli Walker (Neath-Swansea Ospreys): Though his talent is undeniable, Eli had a unfortunate 2013. He played well for his club Ospreys in the 2012/2013 season, but missed the Wales tour of Japan in the Summer due to injury. Laidlaw also missed the November internationals for injuries. Yet the fact that he was selected for both training squads, along with the 2013 6 Nations training squad, means it is a matter of him staying healthy enough to showcase his ability.
RUSSIA: Denis Simplikevich: Denis unfortunately didn’t get the contract in England or France as we expected. He did, however, have a good season with his club Yenisey-STM and helped the national 7s team win a gold in the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia. He also helped the team win the Bowl at the RWC7s in Moscow.
PORTUGAL: Aderito Esteves: Esteves was personally recommended by RWU friend, Pedro Leal. Esteves had a good 2013 in 15s for the Portuguese National Side. He played at center as well as wing, scoring two tries at center. The switch may become a more permanent solution to get the dynamic runner more touches, as well as a common move for an aging winger. He was also part of the Portuguese 7s team that managed to escape relegation and finish 14th.
England – London Welsh (Aviva Premiership): They fought the law against promotion and they won. Unfortunately for the Welsh, they lost the fight on the pitch. They were unable to win enough games to stay up. It also didn’t help that a team employee forged documents in the process of acquiring a player, which led to a points deduction and sealed their fate.
Italy: Zebre (RaboDirect Pro 12): The Italian Rugby Federation run club is having an okay first season. They are not currently at the bottom of the table and have amassed a win on the road and at home. They are far off from being competitive, but they do provide a great stepping stone to Italian national team hopefuls.
France: Bernard Laporte (Toulon): As the head coach of Les Galaticos de Toulon, Laporte had a mixed 2013. He managed to achieve the incredible task of bring home a Heineken Cup title. This pleased maniacal owner Mourad Boudjellal, who demanded the title happen immediately. Laporte was unable to do the League/Europe double as they came up short int he Top14 final against Castres.
England: Dean Richards (Newcastle): Serving as Director of Rugby, Ryan – as predicted – led the Falcons to promotion into the Aviva Premiership. Life in the Prem hasn’t been a dream but the team finds themselves a place above the relegation zone. They let themselves down in the Amlin but are doing a good job of building for the future.
Scotland (Scott Johnson): Johnson had a 4-5 record in 2013. He went 2-3 in the 6 Nations, 1-2 in the Summer Internationals and 1-2 in the November Internationals. However, if you look beyond the record there is progress in Scotland rugby. F0r 2014, Johnson will handle the squad for the 2014 6 Nations then move into the Director of Rugby position and hand head coaching duties to Vern Cotter.
Wales RU: The drama surrounding the WRU and the 4 regions of Wales Rugby has been covered in-depth by us in our Weekend Wrap Ups and Previews, so lets just say it was not a good year for the WRU.
Ireland RFU: The IRFU made some key decisions, like not re-signing Johnny Sexton. They also remained strong on player contracts and made the big decision to sign Joe Schmidt as the head coach. The union and game in Ireland has never looked stronger.
The LNR have shown that they are the power in French Rugby. The Heineken Cup debacle shows their strength, as they were able to push the decision and help in the negotiation of a major new contract with TV sports channel Canel+. They have power and are not shy exercising that power.
That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.