CARDIFF, WALES – This week’s Aviva Premiership Update has some interesting developments… The last weekend of action before the announcement of England’s Elite Player Squad for the Six Nations saw a number of players, including Bath’s George Ford and Antony Watson, stake their claims for places in the senior national team. However, as the New Year passed, attention was also focused across the border, as the civil war between Welsh regions and the national board heated up, with no positive outcome in sight.
WRU Considers Loaning Top Players to English Sides
In a desperate gambit, the Welsh Rugby Union floated a plan to loan centrally contracted stars, including Leigh Halfpenny, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Priestland, and Sam Warburton to Aviva Premiership sides rather than see the regions defect and form an Anglo-Welsh league. In a farcical turn, the scheme came to light during a meeting with the stars’ agents, who were forced to ask the WRU where their clients would be playing next year. The shocking turn indicates the dysfunction at the highest levels of Welsh rugby, a particularly disappointing development at a time when the national side is faring better than ever. With the upcoming Six Nations offering Wales’ returning Lions stars a chance to redeem themselves after an injury-plagued and underwhelming autumn campaign, the institutional instability which harms Welsh rugby more than any other Tier One nation is truly appalling. Rumors abound concerning the IRB’s involvement in the situation, though no news has been forthcoming as of Wednesday morning.
Race for the Top 4 Heats Up
One marquee matchup this weekend lived up to its billing, as Bath and Leicester battled to a thrilling 27-27 draw at Welford Road. Unfortunately, the other highlight on the Premiership’s weekend calendar was a snoozefest, with Harlequins and Northampton playing out a poor affair at Franklin Gardens. Harlequins stars Nick Easter and Ugo Monye took to Twitter after the match to express their frustration with referee Greg Garner. Easter claimed that Northampton’s manager had “an arm over shoulder ten minute influential chat [with Garner] in warmup…two committed to sides and a game ruined! Late apologies just add to frustration.” His anger was felt by all who watched the match, which was marred by repeated and indecisive TMO intervention for disciplinary offenses. Though the TMO’s increased involvement has been largely good for the sport, a delicate balance must be maintained between referee and technology. On at least one Saturday, Garner crossed the line and ruined the match as a spectacle.
Andy Goode rescued London Wasps with a last minute drop-kick, as the Wasps defeated Exeter 19-16 in a determined effort. Dai Young has done a magnificent job over the past two years, rescuing a side that was in serious danger of relegation as recently as 2012. Now, Wasps have a solid base of young England stars, including Joe Launchbury, and stable veterans such as Goode steering the ship. Gloucester, on the other hand, are seemingly intent on demonstrating how things can go from bad to worse in the shortest span of time. The Cherry and Whites are advertising for their upcoming Heineken Cup clash with Munster by asking fans to remember the legendary victory over the Irish side at Kingsholm in 2003, conveniently forgetting the far more famous “Miracle Match” which is remembered by the rugby world at large. An ad campaign focusing on the past makes sense in the context of this season, as Gloucester sunk to defeat once again, losing to Saracens 29-8. At one point a seven man Sarries pack pushed the Cherry and Whites off of a scrum, compounding the humiliation.
Unless you are a true Sale or Newcastle diehard, chances are you missed the Sharks 16-8 victory in blustery conditions. The match was a turgid affair witnessed by a mere four thousand spectators as the Falcons demonstrated an inability to score tries which has plagued them all season long. Though there are ten matches remaining the season, Worcester likely punched their ticket to the Championship with a 22-9 defeat at the Madejski Stadium, falling to the London Irish, whose points were all scored by James O’Connor. The Warriors are now 14 points adrift at the bottom of the table, and seem all but doomed, without a single victory this season.