Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, salutes rugby’s professionals for putting it in when they have nothing to gain and ponders the Eddie Jones succession story.
This column has always had a slightly jaundiced view of rugby’s values. They are mostly just about being a good person, respecting your opposition and looking after your mates and who wouldn’t do that in any walk of life? You don’t need them rammed down your throat all the time.
But there are some people, who should know better, who trumpet them endlessly when they should put a sock in it and get off their high horse.
On and on, they spout about teamwork, humility, sportsmanship and all the rest of it blah de blah de blah and repeat ad nauseam. All good stuff but we knew that already.
Sometimes the hypocrisy is stomach-turning but there is one value of rugby that stood out this weekend like a pint being priced under a fiver in London’s West End.
There are players turning out after drug bans, homophobic on-pitch rantings, cracks at referees and a shroud put over the dark issues of concussion and injuries that will leave blokes who are 25 now cripples, or worse, by the time they are 50.
But one thing you can say about the modern player is they never chuck the towel in. We are sure it has happened in the past but there has been no evidence of it over the last few days.
Professional pride still means a lot and that much was obvious in the last couple of rounds of the Champions Cup when some blokes could have been coasting with their eyes on the Six Nations.
Others could have been coasting knowing they had a week on the beach coming up whilst the Anglo-Welsh Cup was on, but they got stuck in. Good and proper.
And good on them.
Just imagine if your boss said you can earn as much business this week as you like but your chances of going to France, Ireland or Wales on a quarter-final jolly, on Easter weekend, are nil.
You can earn a million quid for the firm between now and Wednesday lunchtime but if you think you are going to the Aviva Stadium, Parc y Scarlets, Thomond Park or Stade Marcel Michelin then sorry, sonny boy, you have got another thing coming.
Most of us would have a duvet day, and get up only to answer the door to the pizza delivery man and put the next episode of Eastenders on, but that is why most of us are not professional rugby players.
You hear a lot of, what you might think is, guff from coaches when their teams have been knocked out of Europe and they have still got a couple of games to play. Pride in the shirt, put a performance in, make the fans proud, owe ourselves a good game and all the rest of it and most people might think it is utter guff.
But on the evidence of the last couple of weeks it is anything but guff and the organisers of the Champions Cup should get down on their knees and give thanks.
And there are some teams who should probably send a quiet crate of beers to another team who got them out of the proverbial. Wasps did not really have a chance of going through, Munster were always going to beat Castres at Thomond Park, but Wasps did what they had to do and, in the end, Saracens were the beneficiaries. It would have been easier to go into pipe and slippers mode.
In round five, Northampton were out already and all known form lines showed they should have shipped at least 5000 points to Clermont at Franklin’s Gardens. Clermont had a pile of injuries but frankly you wouldn’t have got a price about them losing. They did – 34-21.
Northampton’s players had a newish boss, Alan Gaffney, to impress but no-one would have really blamed them if they had downed tools and kept their powder dry for the Premiership.
On the same weekend, Harlequins were a busted flush having already performed their own personal Brexit and voted to leave Europe’s top table. But they beat Wasps 33-28 after doing a rope-a-dope that even Muhammad Ali would have been proud of.
In the end the 20 minutes of madness at the finale of that game did for Dai Young’s team’s chances of a last eight spot. And on Sunday Quins had a right royal go at La Rochelle, only going down 16-7 when there was nothing on it for them barring a couple of beers on the south west coast of France.
On Saturday, RugbySpy was at Scotstoun to see Glasgow bury Exeter 28-21. The Scots, who had nothing to play for, saw no ball for almost the entire match, tackled like machines and scored four tries.
Three of them were breakaway scores and Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell were involved in most of the attacking stuff – that should make for an interesting Six Nations for Scotland. Hogg had not played since November, and was obviously itching for a game, but the bodies-on-the-line defence from Glasgow was amazing.
They really did give a monkey’s about a game that no-one else in Scotland, or anyone outside of Devon, gave a monkey’s about.
And Leicester were already out on their ear before the Christmas cards had arrived. They were slightly hamstrung in round five – they had to rest some of their England big guns who had played a certain amount of minutes in the autumn internationals – and their second team was duly cuffed 39-0 in Castres.
But on Sunday, in round six, they had George Ford, Dan Cole, Jonny May, Ben Youngs and the crew back. They had nothing to play for, they had a flight to catch to Portugal for some England training and they might have fancied chucking a sickie.
Before the game the Leicester boss Matt O’Connor had said: “We have obviously not done as well as we would have liked in Europe this season but this is a huge opportunity to put in a big performance against one of the premier teams in the tournament in front of our own fans at Welford Road.” Yeah right. But he was right and fair play.
His England stars might have wanted to put up a show for Eddie Jones but as Jones told us in the week that club rugby is totally different from Test rugby so why would you bother?
Don Armand and Olly Woodburn play out their skins most weeks for Exeter, and Dan Robson likewise for Wasps, and have got about as much chance of England call-up as RugbySpy so what is the point?
But all the Tigers lads put in a shift in. Leicester got beaten 23-20, by, as we tabloid hacks like to call them, Dan Carter’s Racing 92, but they got out from under their duvet and gave it a crack even though there was jack all riding on the game for them.
More importantly it kept the integrity of the competition going. If anyone rolled over and had their tummy tickled the tournament would be a shambles but no-one has. There is plenty wrong with the Champions Cup, with its bizarre draws and seeding system, the crack pot way of sorting out the semi-finals, but you can’t knock the players for effort and doing their bit.
And that is why we are all going to the office, building site, bar, restaurant, school, cab office and all the rest of it to work this week and they are going training to talk about line out defence, kick chase, rolling mauls and cut out passes.
And that is why we go to watch them at the weekends.
Eddie Jones was a hooker in his playing days but he has developed a side-step worthy of a winger like Gerald Davies since taking over as England coach.
We had all been led to assume that the Australian would be in a hammock watching cricket in the West Indies shortly after the 2019 World Cup.
But this week we were summoned to Twickenham so the RFU could tell us that Jones’ contract as head coach was being extended until 2021.
And we were told that Jones’ successor would work alongside the man himself for a while before taking over the reins.
There are two ways of looking at this……………
The first is well done on the RFU chief executive Steve Brown. He has got one of the best coaches in the world nailed down for another couple of summers.
And after the succession of succession blunders that the RFU have made since 2004 then hats off to Brown. Some of the knifings on that front have made McMafia look like family viewing.
The second way of looking at it is this…………..
Jones told us in the week that when his anointed successor is in – he is still the gaffer. He makes the ultimate call on everything.
All well, and good.
RugbySpy first met Jones in 2001 when he was associated with the Wallabies, under Rod Macqueen, ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour.
Since then we have met him in incarnations as Aussie head coach, Saracens’ gaffer, assistant to the World Cup-winning South African team in 2007, Japan head honcho and finally with England.
And he is a bloody good coach.
But he is one hell of a task master. He drives his players and coaches relentlessly – so who would would want to go from being a number one, at a club for example, to being a number two to King Eddie?
A brief straw poll of mates, not conducted on the back of a fag packet cos we have given up, says that they don’t give two figs as long as England win the next World Cup.
The one after that is a different matter. Would you play second fiddle to Eddie?
Please address all letters to Steve Brown, C/O the RFU, Whitton Road etc, etc