Things Are Going South

A politically minded rugby fan could well be drawn to events down South. As our new CEO nestles into his unfamiliar role things are getting tipped upside-down at Twickenham.

RFU acting Chief Exec Martyn Thomas stepped down the other day after a meeting with the board, perhaps doings so before he suffered the indignity of losing a vote of ‘No Confidence’, which would have been his second such vote in the last three months. That time round he had been refusing to allow enquiries into the dismissal of CEO John Steele go public. Now he has ended his own reign, also resigning from his position as Chairman of the organising committee for World Cup 2015.

England are in disarray and it is splashed across all of the press. The irony is that by seeking to keep all of the glaring RFU issues private he made it a more interesting story. He sealed his own fate. When this is added to England’s poor showing at the World Cup in New Zealand, the indiscretions of their players abroad and the questioning of England’s coaching team it becomes a scary old time for those fond of the status quo.

It does not help matters that some of the England players, already out of favour with their po-faced board, refused to talk with Fran Cotton about the quality of coaching, tactics and team building done by Martin Johnson and his staff. Cotton may or may not be out of touch, or had an agenda going into his enquiry, but the fact that some English players avoided such an enquiry is ludicrously childish. Particularly following a tour where they were called out for callow behaviour, being obscurant seems a misstep. The enquiry has been scrapped.

However, in the interests of rugby I am not whooping at the prospect of the English suffering. In fact in the interests of rugby it is not even the English movement that caught my eye.

Neither were the stories of a Wasps exodus, with a now freelance Shaun Edwards perusing potential jobs and a rickety Simon Shaw deciding that he maybe didn’t actually want to play in the Premiership for one more year. No. It is not any English movements in this hemisphere that interest me…

James Haskell, the outspoken attention-sponge Number 8 has been registered to play for the Highlanders in the Super 15 competition in 2012. When he finishes up in Japan with the Ricoh Black Rams, and before returning to London Wasps, Haskell will play at the Otago Stadium as the Highlanders’ first overseas international.

He follows the example of Premiership performers last year when Gareth Delve and the much-maligned Danny Cipriani played in the competition for the Melbourne Rebels.

Delve actually played a fairly large role in the competition for the Rebels and Cipriani, despite all of his failings and social baggage, played well for the Australian outfit. Of course he made some defensive errors; we come to expect that from him, but no more so than Quade Cooper or Stephen Donald. He also demonstrated, in spurts, his sizeable attacking talents.

Now Haskell will take a trip over the time zones and there is a chance he could play a bit of rugby for the Highlanders. Whether or not he will play at 8 or 6 depends on what the coaches want to do with All Black Adam Thomson and he will certainly have to speak a little less, particularly in the presence of key Highlander forward Jamie Mackintosh and newly signed All Black hooker Andrew Hore.

A guy I know who had seen a lot of Haskell during his time at Wasps once alleged that the young man’s father made all of his important decisions for him. A forceful agent, if you will. You could, perhaps, see this in the player’s lucrative move to Japan. That one is about the money more than the challenge. There is little doubt about that. However, with the move to Super 15 as well as time in France’s top flight and the English Premiership I can’t help but think of a wee boy excitedly playing Jonah Lomu Rugby. Surely Haskell is living the dream? “That’s the best League, I’ll go and play in that. Oooohhh, there are great players and competitions there. I’ll go and play in that one.”

Any truly ambitious rugby player cannot help but be slightly jealous of Haskell’s free and easy attitude to competition. He is seeking out the top competitions to be part of and it certainly makes for a sparkling CV.

So could any Scottish players ever make it into the Super 15?

It is a well trodden path, the one between New Zealand and Scotland. There are big Scottish communities over there and a lot of their club players come across from the islands to make a living and play on our shores. It is also a right of passage for many Scots players that are ambitious but nowhere near a pro-contract. A trip to play in NZ is a challenge many take up for a few months.

Could a Scotsman get a game for one of the franchises down there, though? I will leave this one up to you. What I will say is that a select few could certainly play in a handful of positions, but the list is very, very short. In Australia perhaps more of our free-flowing players could do a job. A completely new challenge and Southern style of game could certainly suit a John Barclay, for example. A completely fit Beattie could maybe do a job, too. A Cusiter and Blair in their prime could make it anywhere.

In South Africa, particularly with the lesser teams, there is even more prospect of playing. American captain and 7 Todd Clever once played a season for the Golden Lions (a few years before that he spent a year with NPC side North Harbour). Of course to do this you have to play the South African game, but some of our bulky forwards could do it. Dan Parks does enjoy sitting in the pocket and can hit a drop goal…

We find it surprising and impressive when our players sign for top English and French sides. Those are great achievements. Imagine how blown our minds would be if one of our own played in the Super 15.

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.