Ruck and Maul: Greenwood is punished by his own pupils at 'School of Hard Knocks'

Ever fancied giving a rugby pundit a good pasting? Sky Sports' 'School of Hard Knocks' will do it for you, in episode four of the series to be aired next Tuesday night. Will Greenwood and Scott Quinnell are attempting to turn a bunch of East London ex-criminals and ne'er-do-wells into a rugby team, and the latest episode sees one player, known as Lucky, pile into Greenwood during a tackle session. A suitably gravelly voiceover comes from Steve "Phil Mitchell" McFadden of 'Eastenders' – surprising really, when Ross Kemp is the real-life rugby fan among the fictional brothers. Anyway, with two more episodes to come even the relentlessly positive Greenwood, whose dad Dick was one of England's greatest coaching innovators, is wondering if this motley crew are worth all the aggro.

More Friday night training

Friday night matches are to continue in the Six Nations and it could be England's turn at the Millennium Stadium next year. Never mind the punters who will miss the last train out of Cardiff, it's broadcasters who hold sway, emboldened by an average TV audience of 4.4 million for Wales v France this year. Even so, the eve-of-weekend traffic around Twickenham seems likely to keep England's home games off the Friday rota.

Cold war warms up cup

Georgia scored five tries in a 36-8 defeat of Russia in neutral Turkey yesterday to go through to the 2011 World Cup as Europe's No 1 qualifiers. That means the Georgians, as in 2003, will meet England while runners-up Russia get the pool that their English coach Steve Diamond wanted: it includes a superpower-style clash with the USA.

Rolling with the blows

The RFU are to try out rolling substitutions in the English county championship in May. Similarly to Super League, 12 changes per team will be permitted in each of the 44 matches in the month-long competition, though only during stoppages. Top club matches already permit eight permanent replacements, plus blood-bin substitutions, so it will be interesting to see how much 12 changes allows teams to tinker with tactics. It is a legacy of last year's fake-blood scandal, when player welfare was highlighted. As England manager Martin Johnson put it: "I liked it when 15 guys had to battle it out and you had to be fit for 80 minutes... but it is maybe inevitable."

A steep learning curve

It's not what you know, it's who you meet skiing. Teenaged scrum-half Charlie Davies bumped into Stade Français chief executive Mathias Poursine in Alpe d'Huez in 2007, bombarded the Parisian bigwig with videos of himself playing for Nottingham and eventually won a contract with the 13-time French champions this season. After a handful of first-team appearances, including one opposite Toulon and Jonny Wilkinson, Davies is set today for a first England cap at any age, off the bench for the Under-20s against France in Saint-Nazaire. "Mathias gave me his card," Davies, now 20, recalled, "told me to keep in touch and I did, asking whether I could join their academy. Around Christmas 2008 I went over for three days of training and kept hammering on the door. Eventually they said they'd take a chance on me and Mathias said 'this is the biggest gamble of my career'." It's one way to get a piste of the action.


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