NEW YORK, NY – Over the last few weeks, we have reviewed our 2014 USA, Canada and European Rugby classes as well as name our 2015 classes. Having covered North America and with the 6 Nations right around the corner we turn our attention to our 2015 European Rugby Class but first, we will review European Rugby Class of 2014.
WOMEN: Ruth Laybourn (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks/England): Ruth had a tough 2014. Her club struggled as they only finished 5 and missed out of the playoffs in the RFU Women’s Premiership. She herself had a bigger disappointment as she didn’t make the roster for the WRWC (Womens Rugby World Cup) team. Hopefully she bounces back in 2015.
ENGLAND: Anthony Watson (Bath): Watson had a great 2014. He did not receive a full England cap but got a Saxons cap. He also impressed his club at Bath so much that he has been moved to Fullback. Watson played Fullback through age-grade but was moved to wing to help him get used to playing at the pro level. Now that he is the first choice fullback for his club, he is in the running to be the first choice fullback for England. It is Mike Brown’s job to lose without a doubt but Watson is one of two players fighting to be second choice especially with Ben Foden injuried and if Brown dips in form or injury, Watson may be next ship of the dock.
FRANCE: Jules Plisson (Stade Francias): ): Jules has established himself as the first choice fly-half for his club Stade Francis. He has permanently unseated Springbok Morne Steyn. He is having a harder time getting the France starting jersey. He did play in 3 games for France in 2014 but was still finding his feet at international level. He is currently battling it out to be the 2 choice fly-half. Considering his youth, it is a good place to be for the young man.
IRELAND: JJ Hanrahan (Munster): IRELAND: JJ Hanrahan (Munster): We have a beef with Munster head coach Axel Foley. After a 2013-2014 season that saw Hanrahan come to the fore as an option at 10 or 12 under Rob Penney, Foley has let Hanrahan rot on the bench. Foley has preferred Ian Keatley’s safe and conservative hand. Hanrahan has trained with the Ireland squad but his limited opportunities at provincial level have forced his hand. Hanrahan has decided to leave Munster and join Aviva Premiership champions Northampton for the 2015 season.
ITALY: Tommaso ‘Tommy” Allan (Perpignan) – Tommy Allan started the first three of Italy’s 2014 Six Nations matches against Wales, France and Scotland in 2014. He now has a total of 12 caps for Italy. His club Perpignan were relegated to the French Pro D2 after 2013/2014 season. Unlike a lot players whose clubs get relegated though, Tommy went down with his club and is looking to help it fight its way back into the Top14. All signs point to a long positive future for Tommy.
SCOTLAND: Jonny Gray (Glasgow): Jonny played in 1 six nations match, and in the Spring and Autumn internationals for Scotland. He even locked a couple of times with his bigger brother Richie. Jonny has moved himself up into the rotation for lock and is one of the 4 options for Scotland. Not bad for a kid that is not even 21.
WALES: Samson Lee (Scarlets): Going into 2014 Adam Jones was the incumbent tighthead prop for Wales. Samson Lee was the heir to the position but by the end of 2014, it was Lee that had become the first choice prop for Wales. So much so that Jones just retired from international duty. Lee also signed a dual contract with his region, Scarlets, and the Welsh national team, pledging to be one of the new breed of Welsh players promising to stay in the principality. He is just 22 which is still young for a prop, so expect to see him in red for a long time to come.
6N (Six Nations) B
GEORGIA: Merab Sharikadze (Bourg-en-Bresse): Sharikadze had a good his first season of pro rugby in France, playing for Pro D2 side Bourg-en-Basse. He played in 15 games, starting 12 of them. He didn’t get on the scoresheet but that may have been due to the poor performance by the team overall. His club Bourg-en-Bresse were relegated from the Pro D2. Luckily for Merab, he impressed enough that he got a contract with another Pro D2 side, Aurillac. At the tender age of 21, he is already the leader of the Georgian backline and will no doubt be crucial to their RWC2015 campaign.
SPAIN: Julen Goia (Biarritz): The man from the Spanish Basque country still plays for French Basque giants Biarritz . However 2014 was not a good year for him. He was plagued by injuries and only made one appearance for the club. He is still young and has loads of potential. It is interesting to note that despite all those challenges, the coach for Biarritz, Eddie O’Sullivan (formerly of Ireland and the USA), did not release Goia. There is a high amount of expectation on Goia and his potential is so apparent, no one is ready to dismiss him yet. So hopefully 2015 is his season to shine.
England – Bristol RFC (Greene King IPA Championship): Bristol ran away with the RFU Championship division in regular season. However due to the complicated system that is the Championship playoffs, Bristol missed out. Bristol can also blame themselves for having such dominate form that they were unfamiliar with a tight match that when they got into tight matches against the London Welsh, they failed to change tact and win. The club and its owners have doubled down this season by once again bring in more top flight talent and signing some for next season as they expect to make the Aviva Premiership this year.
France: Biarritz (Top14): We didn’t have to wait long to see what would happen to the Basque Country club. They were relegated to ProD2 calling. The club shed some marquee names that they couldn’t afford to keep held on to some players they could afford as well as a few players choosing to be loyal to the club rather than move. The club has re-built and could be back in the T0p 14 for the 2015-16 season as they currently occupy 1 of the 4 playoff spots for promotion.
France – Laurent Travers & Laurent Labit (Racing Metro): The Lolos or Two Laurents survived a horrid first season at Racing Metro, despite having a budget unlike any other except Toulon. The pair bounced back last to make the semi-final of the Top 14 playoffs. The goal is still to win it all but the two Lolos ideology and abilities seem to be taking shape in Paris.
England – Andy Robinson (Bristol): Serving as Bristol’s Director of Rugby since 2013, Robinson has done a great job in recruiting top level talent to the second-tier club. Having a war chest that is the envy of some premiership clubs doesn’t hurt either. Falling short of promotion didn’t help matters and the pressure is on to gain promotion this year.
Scotland – Vern Cotter: Cotter barley had a chance to decompress from a long run into the playoffs of the Top14 with Clermont, before he took over Scotland in May. The summer tour didn’t tell anyone much as he had barely been with the squad to shape it and determine talent. The November internationals did teach us something. Cotter is starting make his mark with the squad. They played better and showed more finishing against minnows and gave the All Blacks a huge workout before succumbing. How the squad goes in the 2015 6N and World Cup is still anyone’s guess.
Wales RFU: They finally came to a solution with the RRW. For the good of the game in Wales, that was huge step in the right direction. They started the national dual contract process as part of the resolution with the RRW so players would be signed to both region and country. They are still working to pay of the Millineum stadium and that may be great but they have to help create a better Pro12 product because no Welsh team has any real chances of advancing beyond pool play.
Regional Rugby Wales (RRW): The other half of the Welsh regional drama is the organization represents the 4 Welsh regional sides (Cardiff Blues, Scarlets, Newport-Gwent Dragons and Neath-Swansea Ospreys). The finally came to a solution with the WRFU. That was massive for them as now they have the dual contract system and plan ahead on player availability. As mentioned with the WRFU, they need to work together with the WRFU to help create a more competitive and quality on the pitch product for fans to come and see.
Premiers Rugby Limited (PRL): The president of the PRL, Mark McCafferty, will consider the destroying of the Heineken Cup and the creation of the European Champions Cup a positive. Others will disagree but PRL got what they wanted out of the deal so for them, it was a success. They also appear to be clashing with the RFU about the World Cup but look set to avoid any major dust up. They have done well to prove that they are force and strengthened the negotiating powers of the Aviva Premiership.
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