Back-to-back All Blacks risks devaluing the Tests
The Rugby Football Union have confirmed that New Zealand would be the team launching next year's autumn series at Twickenham – the last round of cross-hemisphere matches before the home World Cup in 2015 – and presented it as headline news.
It was not quite such a show-stopper as the governing body made out because the All Blacks, for so long one of the biggest box-office draws in sport, are in danger of being overexposed. England are about to face them five times in less than a year – they take them on in London next month and play three Tests in the Land of the Long White Shroud in June – and as a consequence, what was once cherished as a jewel in the union game's crown has diminished so much in rarity value that it has become mere common currency. More than half a century separated the first and fifth games between the two countries, and until the late 1990s, meetings remained relatively rare. Now, they are two-a-penny.
South Africa, who will also visit Twickenham next year, are every bit as familiar, while Australia, who open this autumn's programme on 2 November and will be on the list yet again in 2014, seem to play here every other weekend. In many respects, the fourth of the teams pitching up in the capital in 13 months' time – the fast-improving and increasingly threatening Samoa – are the most interesting opponents of the lot.
During this week's launch of the doomed Heineken Cup, one senior establishment figure reminded his audience: "International rugby is still the financial driver of the sport." But others take the view that there are far too many Tests between too few major teams and that inertia is becoming a serious problem. Unfortunately, the top-heavy fixture list has found its way on to rugby's hard drive – and no one in authority knows how to delete it.
Talking of the Wallabies, who will finish bottom of the Rugby Championship if they lose in Argentina on Saturday night, there was another episode of the long-running James O'Connor soap opera. The 23-year-old back, dropped from the Test team last month after a drink-related incident at an airport and currently without a Super 15 deal after being released by the Melbourne Rebels, has had his Australian Rugby Union contract scrapped and will not be offered one for next year. Without a significant improvement in behaviour, he will not be considered for the World Cup, either.
Bath, badly beaten at Saracens a fortnight ago after leaving many of their best players on the bench, will travel light again when they visit Sale for tonight's Premiership game. This time, though, it is not through choice. Dave Attwood and Rob Webber, two front-line tight forwards, are injured, as is the wing Matt Banahan and the full-back Anthony Watson.
F1 Chinese Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton proves master of the spray as he takes record-breaking pole
Dylan Tombides: West Ham confirm 20-year-old striker has died after battle with cancer
Hull v Arsenal: Arsene Wenger admits 'I am not in the best position' as contract uncertainty continues
Steven Gerrard profile: the Lion of Liverpool who embodies fight for Hillsborough justice and is poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
Chelsea v Sunderland: Premier League match preview
- 1 'Natural' energy drink banned for containing erectile dysfunction drug
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 Dylan Tombides: West Ham confirm 20-year-old striker has died after battle with cancer
- 4 Loch Ness Monster found on Apple Maps?
- 5 Angus Steakhouse: How does tourist staple continue to thrive in today's gourmet market?
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back