While England's footballers are still digesting Friday's draw for next year's World Cup, the country's rugby counterparts have known the line-up for the 2011 finals since last December.
The long run-up gives England and Wales the chance to recce New Zealand well in advance, and both have been invited to play the Maori next summer. Needless to say, England will be obliged to have a chat with their clubs first. The current schedule has Martin Johnson's men facing Australia in Perth and Sydney on 12 and 19 June, with a midweek match beforehand in each city, and the Maori hoping to host them in New Zealand on 22 or 23 June. "From a development point of view, having a bigger squad on effectively a senior tour, we'd like to do it," said Rob Andrew, the RFU's elite rugby director. "We're working through issues with Premier Rugby – how many players we have to take, player welfare, the five-day rule – and Australia and New Zealand to achieve it." Wales, unusually, will host South Africa in Cardiff on 5 June, before heading Down Under to face the Maori followed by two Tests with the All Blacks.
England revert to plan A
Andrew went stony silent in a recent media conference when asked whether there was any point to the targets set for England in the RFU's eight-year strategic plan to 2015-16. But what are the targets? "It is considered to be a realistic, although challenging, objective to win the World Cup in 2011 and 2015, with no worse than a semi-final place in both," says the plan, available on the RFU website, "...[and] to win the Six Nations' Championship four times including the Grand Slam twice." The previous plan set the same objectives for 2005 to 2013 and though a last-four appearance in New Zealand in 2011 would fulfil the World Cup element, England would need to win the Six Nations for the next four years to hit the mark. As for summer and autumn matches against Sanzar opposition, don't even ask...
Yet more stubble trouble
The so-called jinx of Gillette is not brand new. Four years before the collective woes of Messrs Henry, Woods and Federer, the razor merchants selected Brian O'Driscoll, Gavin Henson and Jason Robinson for a campaign to go with the Lions tour of New Zealand. Painstaking photo shoots of them shaving and moisturising ensued...followed by Robinson joining the tour two weeks late due to his wife giving birth, an "absolutely devastated" Henson being dropped from the First Test and O'Driscoll landing in a heap on a dislocated shoulder. The ads never saw the light of day.
Tiger pounces on a mouse
Richard Cockerill will kick his heels again today as Leicester Tigers go to Wasps, while his four-week ban from "match day coaching" continues. In a temporary lapse from his uplifting metamorphosis from snarling hooker to smilingly approachable director of rugby, he tore a strip off match officials during the Anglo-Welsh Cup – or "a Mickey Mouse competition with Mickey Mouse refereeing", as Cockerill described it during his red-mist moments, for which he apologised profusely.
The three winners of our Barbarians competition were Steve Curtis, Simon Corby and Jonny Cash. We hope they enjoyed their day at Twickenham yesterday and thanks to all who entered.