Under the Clock Chronicles: New thoughts on club v country


Ahead of a three-hour journey back north on Sunday, I bought The Rugby Paper for the first time in, well, probably ever.

It’s a canny read, with plenty of analysis and opinion, which I like. However, I must take issue with Jeremy Guscott’s column on the upcoming England v New Zealand game, in light of the club v country argument that I have written about before.

Now I tend to be on the club side of the argument. Would I rather England won the World Cup or the Falcons won the Premiership? No need to even think about it. I’d rather the Falcons beat Cardiff this Friday than England won the World Cup next year.

I’ve mellowed a bit over the years, and I understand that it is ultimately good for the Falcons that we have players playing internationally, otherwise we will lose our best players, like we did with David Wilson and Mathew Tait. We can only hope that the same doesn’t happen with people like Mark Wilson, and Kieran Brookes’ selection shows that Stuart Lancaster and co are not against picking Falcons players.

I can see why some people go the other way though, their emotions are with England and that’s fine. Perhaps it’s easier when you support an amateur team who won’t lose players to England, or a club like Saracens who can live without their internationals for a few weeks because of their squad’s strength.

Where was I? Oh yes, Guscott’s column in The Rugby Paper.

He expresses concern that England won’t have had as much preparation time as the All Blacks. Sure, they won’t have had as much time to practice their systems and re-learn about each other, but the following sentence really baffled me: “Training does not replicate the intensity and emotion of a Test match, and there is no opposition on the training pitch as good as the All Blacks”. Well, obviously. However, I think this shows a big ignorance of the standard of club rugby.

Look at Toulon. They are an incredible side, and they would surely give the All Blacks an almighty game. Therefore, surely any Scarlets players selected to play against New Zealand in a few weeks’ time will have had a game of a similar standard recently.

Intensity and emotion? Never mind the Champions Cup, the Bath-Saracens Premiership game the other week was as intense as any international friendly (and that’s what the upcoming games are, lets not forget) I’ve ever seen, and many Six Nations games, with barely less emotion. Are we really saying that our win against Exeter last month didn’t have more intensity than an England training session, and didn’t benefit the likes of Brookes and the two Wilsons as they look to hit the international game?

I think in England, a country where the clubs and national team are run completely separately, there has to be a recognition from the union that they cannot and do not need to do everything, that the clubs can complement them.

I understand why England want to keep players the week before a test match to prevent injuries, but in some cases I’d imagine that playing for (for example) Leicester against Northampton in a top-of-the-table derby game would be perfect preparation for a match against New Zealand or France.

In another side-example, why do England need a ‘skills coach’? Do they really believe that the time the players spend with England (which we are always told is too short) is better spent practicing basic skills than running defensive drills, attack patterns and set plays with teammates they do not usually work alongside? If a player has been selected for England, presumably he can already pass, tackle etc. As well as he needs to, or at least to a standard that cannot be improved significantly in three weeks away with the national side. Unless I misunderstand the ‘skills’ part of Mike Catt’s job title.

Anyway, just some thoughts on an idle Tuesday lunchtime. Any comments or contradictions welcome.

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)


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