The never ending rugby season
Updated: Oct 30, 2020
It’s a season like no other but 15 months on since the start of the 2019/2020 rugby season it will finish this Saturday. Well not quite….Ireland’s Women’s 6 Nations match is off because of a Covid-19 outbreak in the French camp; so is the Wales v Scotland women's match and if that’s not enough bad news it has just been announced that 13 Barbarians players will be charged over coronavirus breaches after their game with England was cancelled at short notice last week.
The pandemic has disrupted all our lives but with the men’s 6 Nations finishing on Halloween it has all the markings of being a thriller!
Calculators at the ready. Ireland currently top the table and the destiny of the title is entirely in their own hands if they can secure a 4-try bonus point victory in Paris against the French.
If Ireland secures a victory without a 4-try bonus point while England notch a 5 point victory against Italy (win the game plus score 4 tries) then it the Championship will boil down to points difference.
Of course England could win the title if Ireland fail to beat France but wait…if France got a 5 point win in Paris and their margin of victory was at least 2 points greater than England then Les Blues could win the title. Exciting – yes of course it is but as England’s match is first up both France and Ireland enters the final game of Super Saturday knowing exactly what they need to do to win the title.
Earlier in the day Wales take on Scotland in the opening game of Super Saturday. From a Scottish perspective they’ll be desperate to win on the road and perhaps this is their greatest chance in recent years to win away from home especially as the match is taking place at the Parcy y Scarlets in Llanelli without a crowd.
Emotions however will still be running high in the Welsh camp and a special mention goes to Alun Wyn-Jones who will become the world’s most capped player when he plays his 149th international match. I managed 65 during my playing career over a period of 12 seasons but imagine the number of team meetings, scrummaging sessions, buses and flight he has been on to amass that total!
At the other end of the spectrum, 23 year old, Shane Lewis-Hughes will make his debut in the back row for the men in red. Wyn-Jones has enjoyed a spectacular career and is a wonderful ambassador for the sport. He still has ambitions to be selected for his 4th British & Irish Lion’s Tour to South Africa next summer and it would be no surprise to me if he ends up captaining the Lions! What an accolade that would be.
Your first cap is always your special one. It’s the one that you dream of. It’s the one that you train for on wet dark winter evenings. It’s the one that makes you want more. It’s the one that makes the hair’s prickle on the back of your neck so for Lewis-Hughes he’ll saviour that moment but so will Alun Wyn winning his 149th!
A special mention for Welsh Rugby Legend – JJ Williams
It is worth also mentioning the sad passing off former Welsh wing, JJ Williams. I met him a few times and he was always interested in chatting with former international players. He got his first cap in 1973 having moved to play for Llanelli but it was in the red jersey of the British & Irish Lions that I remember him mostly. His electric pace left scorch marks on the fields of the ‘high veldt’ of South Africa in 1974 and he also scored a peach of a try in 1977 against New Zealand. Rugby greats come and go and that’s what makes playing at the highest level very, very special.
Congratulations to the Exeter Chiefs
We have all missed our sport during the lockdown periods of the 2020 covid pandemic but only the elite levels of rugby have had the chance to return. As one rugby season ends we must pay tribute to the Exeter Chiefs who achieved a famous double with the European Champions Cup and Premiership titles.
Rob Baxter has been at the forefront of the coaching effort and has moulded a very special team at Sandy Park; recruiting and mentoring local talent whilst bringing in star names to grease the engine of a very special club.
Whenever I have visited Sandy Park, I have been made to feel very welcome and I even played against Exeter in my playing days when I Captained a Barbarian team that celebrated 100 years of rugby at the County Ground back in 1993!
One of my last visits to their new ground was commentating with Sky Sport at the European Grand Prix 7s tournament in 2017. I kept calling the ground Sandy Lane after the famous Sandal’s resort in Barbados and got a ticking off from my producer during one of my live commentaries when this booming voice erupted in my ear; ‘Hastings, stop saying Sandy Lane, it’s fuckin Sandy Park! You are obviously on a freebie holiday given the number of times you’ve mentioned them today and I’ll be reported to Ofcom if you don’t fuckin shut up!’ Maybe I should have reported him for foul language but there again he was no on air!
The new season and beyond
So as one season ends (almost!) another has already started!
Will crowds be allowed to return to stadiums? Which player’s will come to the forefront of Lion’s selection and will that tour go ahead?
I sincerely hope so as this will provide the international players with additional focus this season. It is going to be a long one and it’s going to feel different. I am intrigued to see how the new Autumn Nations Cup will unfold and before you know it we’ll be back to next year’s 6 Nations.
What do I fear most? Well it’s those players who play their rugby in clubs across the length and breadth of the country, who have no outlet to play their sport.
As a supporter I don’t get to watch my local club or attend matches and I miss that.
I miss the smell, the debate, a pint, the friendship, the passion. I miss all of that and a way lot more but the good times will return and those that are fortunate to play in the professional game can carry our hopes on their shoulders. They have a duty to uphold the values of the game and that means managing the risk and responsibility that goes with it. We’ll support you if you support us!