England blazers row on as Kiwis call up latest 10
Tuesday 11 October 2011
The average New Zealander was rather looking forward to seeing the back of England following their miserable contribution to this World Cup, but even though Manu Tuilagi – or "Manu Overboard" as he has become known since jumping from a ferry into Auckland harbour – and the remainder of the party left the country yesterday, there is simply no avoiding other forms of trouble and strife emanating from Twickenham. Frustratingly for those who believe the game does not revolve around red-rose politics, those senior Rugby Football Union figures in town for the closing stages of the tournament are carrying on their squabbles regardless of geography.
Just as Rob Andrew, recently appointed to the new RFU position of professional rugby director, is preparing to begin his review into how and why the most lavishly-resourced team in the sport made such a hash of things on and off the field over the last five weeks, the chances are strengthening by the day that a special general meeting of the governing body's council will be called to examine the cringeworthy events of the last few months. These include, notably, the sacking of the chief executive John Steele and the role played by the former chairman and current acting CEO, Martyn Thomas.
Yesterday, the new RFU chairman Paul Murphy accused those pushing for an SGM of doing so "with the sole purpose of removing Martyn Thomas from office". He added: "There can be no hiding from the fact that those council members have put a personal matter above the greater good of the RFU."
Murphy also argued that the "day-to-day operation of the RFU is not in a mess, nor is it dysfunctional". It would be interesting to know his definition of the words "mess" and "dysfunctional", for in the eyes of the wider rugby public they are wholly appropriate.
Back in the world of serious tournament rugby, as opposed to the small-minded backbiting currently in vogue in south-west London, the All Blacks have lost two more players to injury: the long-serving full-back Mils Muliaina, who won his 100th cap in the quarter-final against Argentina on Sunday and picked up a shoulder fracture for his trouble, and the outside-half Colin Slade, whose torn groin muscle pretty much mirrors the problem that forced the senior No 10, Daniel Carter, out of the competition.
As a result of all this, the wing Hosea Gear, who should surely have been in the squad in the first place, and the Bath recruit Stephen Donald have been added to the party ahead of this weekend's last-four tie with Australia.
Muliaina, whose Test career is now over, bid an emotional farewell to his fellow All Blacks yesterday. "I know I'm not going to be back and it's tough," he said, tearfully. "On Sunday night I was on top of the world, winning that 100th cap. I'm back down again now." Donald's call-up, meanwhile, justified the coach Graham Henry's clever decision to ensure that even though the Waikato stand-off was heading for the English Premiership, he would not leave New Zealand until after the World Cup.
Henry confirmed that Aaron Cruden, the 22-year-old Manawatu player called in last week on Carter's traumatic exit, was now in line to start against the Wallabies. "It looks like he's our senior 10 now, doesn't it?" he said. "My main task is to keep him off his skateboard. Last week, he was skateboarding around Palmerston North, enjoying a few beers and watching the team play. Now, he's the top No 10 in the country."
And Donald? "He's been away on a whitebaiting trip," the coach revealed. "One of the criteria for selection was 2lb of fresh whitebait. There's a benefit to every situation."
The International Rugby Board has acted after the heavy criticism of what quickly became seen as an unfair fixture programme heavily loaded against the smaller nations, who were subjected to four-day turnarounds between matches, while the top-tier contenders had the luxury of week-long rests between games. The board has agreed that all sides will play midweek contests at the next tournament, in England in 2015. There will also be a review of the competition's commercial model and method of revenue distribution following outbursts from senior figures in the New Zealand and Australian unions, who say they are haemorrhaging millions of dollars as a result of losing home Tests every four years.
There is not a fair-minded rugby follower anywhere who will not support the move to balance the fixture list after seeing the likes of Namibia, Romania and Georgia forced to cram their four pool fixtures into periods as short as 16 days. It would, however, be far better – perhaps safer – to guarantee them a minimum of six days between games.
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