Ruck and Maul: Bristol could be in fashion as Welsh look for Old Deer status
The break from Championship fixtures for the semi-finals of the British & Irish Cup – Cross Keys beat Cornish Pirates 20-16 yesterday and will meet Munster A in the final – allows a drawing of breath before the annual "will they, won't they" saga of the play-offs, won last season by Worcester.
There are four odds-on favourites to qualify, but neither Bedford nor Cornish Pirates from Pool B have applied to be audited for the Premiership so they will not be promoted if they win the Championship.
In Pool A, Bristol and London Welsh have applied, and Bristol are thought to have satisfied the key criterion – often referred to wrongly as "primacy of tenure" – of guaranteeing to host Premiership fixtures to the league's requirements.
As for London Welsh, they are exploring a plan to develop part of the Old Deer Park (not their ground of that name but the wider area also occupied by London Scottish and Richmond) even though its status as Crown land has always gone against them. In the meantime, the Welsh have nominated two stadiums nearby as home Premiership venues, with a third further afield as back-up.
The Premiership's bottom club, Newcastle, have set themselves a budget of £3 million to compete next season and would surely challenge any weakness of Bristol and London Welsh in meeting the criteria. The incoming Newcastle director of rugby, Dean Richards, has positive memories of a season in the second division with Harlequins, but the Falcons would not try it unless they really had to.
Too many Wasps flee the nest
Newcastle may yet overhaul Wasps, who are eight points above them in the Premiership, with three matches remaining including their meeting on the final day in High Wycombe. It is only five years since Wasps won the Heineken Cup, and four since they were Premiership champions. The latter coincided with the retirement in May 2008 of Lawrence Dallaglio, and later that year Steve Hayes became Wasps' owner.
Hayes, who is on bail after he was arrested in February for alleged computer hacking, and is selling the club, said at the time of his takeover in December 2008: "London Wasps is undeniably one of the most successful clubs in Europe on the pitch and I have a very clear vision which will incorporate and align all facets of the club to this level of success... We also want to keep and attract the best players, we are clearly England's international side with us having so many international players here."
As it has turned out, the number of internationals who have retired or left the club since then has been instrumental in Wasps' decline. This lot would have been a formidable squad in any division: Dallaglio, Josh Lewsey, Fraser Waters, Tom Voyce, Paul Sackey, Tom Palmer, James Haskell, Danny Cipriani, Mark van Gisbergen, Dave Walder, Simon Shaw, Joe Worsley, Phil Vickery, Jason Hobson, Tom Rees, Steve Thompson (all England), Eoin Reddan, Jeremy Staunton (both Ireland), Mark Robinson (New Zealand), Raphael Ibanez, Serge Betsen (both France), Dan Leo, David Lemi (both Samoa) and Andy Powell (Wales). England's Rob Webber, who is joining Bath, and Riki Flutey, heading for Japan, are leaving this summer. Palmer and Haskell have re-signed.
Good scents among old farts
Gabby Logan's TV documentary Sexism in Football? prompted Ruck and Maul to look at English rugby for parallels. Among the 63 members of the RFU Council once described as "old farts" by Will Carling, the first and only female member, Deb Griffin, joined in 2010. And the Union gained their first woman board member, Sophie Goldschmidt, as chief commercial officer last July.
Giselle Mather, the Teddington RFC and London Irish apprentices coach who is the only female in England qualified to Level Four – and completed Level Three with her six-week-old daughter in a papoose, told Total Rugby this week: "My gender has nothing to do with it. I want to be seen as a great coach, not a great female coach."
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