Sunday’s Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) vote for reform was hailed by David Buttress, the Just Eat magnate and chairman of Dragons, one of Wales’s four regions, as a “big day – clocks have gone forward one hour and Welsh rugby has the chance to move its governance forward 150 years”.
Some obvious nuances remain: the WRU board of 12 directors will have four members elected by the grassroots, and some would prefer a clearer division between professional and amateur, while the move for five of the directors to be women is described as an “aspiration”.
Photos from Sunday’s EGM of the WRU in Port Talbot showed a top table of five men including chairman Ieuan Evans, president Gerald Davies and acting CEO Nigel Walker, in a room of mostly men. So there is some way to go, but as Buttress tweeted: “The hard work and rebuild starts now.”
Premiership bosses in England witnessed further evidence that set-piece showdowns can prosper in a slimmed-down fixture list in the future, as 55,107 spectators thronged Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for Saracens’ 36-24 win over Harlequins.
Meanwhile 13,543 was the highest rugby attendance at Brentford’s Gtech Community Stadium this season, as London Irish won their “St Patrick’s Party” match, 37-22 against Northampton. In France’s Top 14, around 40,000 fans watched the Basque derby between Bayonne and Pau across the Spanish border in San Sebastian.
The nine-try London derby ended with much attention on Owen Farrell – and specifically his left ankle. The Saracens fly-half caught his foot in the Spurs turf as he attempted a tackle in the 69th minute, and he was clearly in pain as he limped off.
England’s head coach Steve Borthwick and Farrell himself had batted away all questions about a rumoured ankle problem in the run-up to the Six Nations match in Ireland nine days ago, but Saracens have now confirmed it existed, and it may have got worse.
Saracens have guaranteed themselves a home semi-final in the Premiership with three matches to spare, but they turn now to the Heineken Champions Cup, with Ospreys at home in the last 16 this Sunday, and a possible quarter-final against La Rochelle or Gloucester a week later.
“I think he has just aggravated the ankle that he aggravated with England,” Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, said of Farrell.
“It was a grade-one [strain] before, which is normally a seven-day turnaround which he managed to do for the England week, and played that game. Whether or not it is still a grade one, we’ll see, and if it’s more than that, he won’t play. We certainly wouldn’t want to play him if he’s not right.”
Munster at a crossroads
Scarlets’ players sang a souped-up version of “Sosban Fach” to celebrate their 32-20 win over a strong Sharks team, but the South African element to the URC and Champions Cup looms large over the rest of the season.
Harlequins jetted off to Cape Town on Sunday to meet Stormers in the Champions Cup, while Munster go to Sharks in Durban. And the Irish province’s place in next season’s Champions Cup would rest on winning this season’s competition, if they don’t do enough through the URC and their trips to Stormers and Sharks in April.
Leinster have already guaranteed winning the Irish Shield in the URC, as have Glasgow and Stormers in their respective Shields, so fifth-placed Munster need to join third-placed Ulster among the four highest-finishing teams who have not won a Shield – and Connacht, Bulls and Sharks are among those who could still leapfrog them in the table.
The winners of this season’s Champions Cup qualify for 2023-24 if they miss out via their league, at the expense of the lowest-ranked qualifier from that league.
Six Nations head coaches including England’s Borthwick attended a World Rugby seminar convened by the governing body’s director of rugby Phil Davies last Monday, with top referees present too.
The concern that a World Cup final could be ruined by a dubious red card cropped up in the wake of Freddie Steward’s dismissal for England versus Ireland – a decision subsequently downgraded to a yellow card at Steward’s disciplinary hearing.
World Rugby continue to state no law changes are permissible before September’s World Cup, but there is talk of a tweak to the TMO protocol, if all “stakeholders” agree, to allow a referee to award a yellow and then allow it to be revised by a TMO while the match proceeds.
This is similar to but not the same as Super Rugby’s current trial with an eight-minute window for the TMO to ponder a possible 20-minute red card; there will only be yellows and full reds at the World Cup. And, as one source pointed out to i, the Steward debate lasted well beyond eight minutes…