We rugby union fans are now in the annual ‘Phoney war’ period before anything actually happens.
Thus the (rugby) media is full of little ‘puff’ pieces from every last Tom, Dick and Harry detailing how their poor form last season was due entirely to a long term niggle but happily – this now being ‘sorted, together with the fact they’ve been able to have a trouble-free pre-season – they’re about to fulfil their potential by beginning a five-year England career, or will do so if only Eddie Jones opens his eyes and watches them play!
Eddie, meanwhile, had just announced his first 44-man training party of the new season – in advance of the autumn internationals in November – and (surprise surprise) it contains both some well-past-it old lags as well as callow teenage potential ‘bolters’ for inclusion in the 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.
Arguably, nobody over the age of 32 should even be considered unless their name is Richie McCaw (mind you, he’s a Kiwi and a retired one at that) and/or the very best in their field position – which neither Hartley or Haskell are.
The 2018/2019 Premiership season will be a highly-remarkable one if any club other than Saracens, Exeter Chiefs, Leicester Tigers and Wasps make the top four play-off places come the beginning of next May.
As ever, most Premiership fans I talk to are (illogically) buoyant about their team’s prospects, feeling that at last their squads are ‘balanced’ and that at last this is going to be their breakthrough year.
Oh no it isn’t – let’s make that quite clear from the outset.
Fingers crossed, I’m hoping he will do so, if only (as I tease him) because it’s always good to know that there’s somebody somewhere who’s worse off than yourself!
Meanwhile over the weekend I kept my hand in by watching some other sporting action on the box.
I don’t know whether cricket’s First Test between England and India at Edgbaston has ‘saved’ the genre – as some scribes seem to claim – but it did seem to have a bit of everything: no particular ascendancy of bat over ball (or vice versa), England first doing well and then suffering a batting collapse – no England Test really counts unless there is one somewhere along the line – and then, over the course of the entire game, a degree of intensity and parity between the sides. It could truly have gone either way. A low scoring game doesn’t matter when both sides are suffering!
And from me a rare salute to women’s sport. Firstly, I thoroughly enjoyed the TV coverage of the Women’s World Hockey Cup from East London, not least because of Ireland’s spectacular journey against the odds to the Final.
The game’s custodians have done a fine job about the means of beginning the game and keeping it flowing – the idea that (within reason) long corners and free ‘hits’ can be taken as quickly as the team in possession decides at a stroke neatly prevents time-wasting on the part of the ‘offending’ team because – as soon as the whistle goes – they have now all be trained to retreat and get back in defensive position pronto lest they concede a serious advantage to the attackers.
How cute a solution is that?
As a result hockey generally has gained a new dynamic in both the men’s and women’s version. Every player has to be fit and able to run for miles – the action is always fast and furious and everyone gets on with it. It’s not only a great TV sport but – I must preface this comment by noting that my native Scotland failed to qualify for the World Cup – has the added masochistic attraction of a much-vaunted England squad bedecked in viewer-expectation that then contrived to under-perform on every outing. Just how English sports fan love them to be!
I also thoroughly enjoyed the last seven or so holes of the Women’s Open at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s, with Georgia Hall from Bournemouth taking her first-ever Major title by coming from behind on the last day with a stunning round of 67 to finish 17 under par.
She stalked Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum all the way, squeezed into a winning lead on the 17th hole and closed out the tournament with a determination and calmness that was would have been impressive in any first-time Major victor but particularly so in a 22 year old.
Ms Hall seems to have a natural maturity and self-absorption about her that could carry her towards a long and successful professional career. Definitely one to watch.