Ruck and Maul: Lancaster can even inspire Vandals to keep their house in order

 

Stuart Lancaster's job as England head coach requires maintaining good relations with clubs big and small and the Rugby Players' Association, and on the latter count the signs are good according to Damian Hopley, the RPA chief executive.

Lancaster made a fine impression when addressing 75 first-year academy players, mostly 18-year-olds, on the professional game at Twickenham in August before the disappointment of the World Cup.

The then RFU Head of Elite Player Development spoke about the leap needed to make it from academy hopeful to Test player and the youngsters, including the likes of Wasps' centre Elliot Daly, were left in no doubt about what they need to do if they are to impress the boss in the years to come.

Hopley said: "The way Stuart spoke then and the way he continues to impress us all is just outstanding. The academy players saw that to be a professional rugby player is not just about what you do on the field or in training or on match days, it is about everything else that goes with it. It is not about signing your first contract; it is about what you do and how you fulfil yourself."

More recently, Lancaster answered a cry for help from London Division Three South West club Weybridge Vandals, who needed a last-day victory over their league's leaders, Old Alleynians, to stand a chance of avoiding relegation. "Think positively and prepare properly 24 hours out from the game and you never know what might happen," Lancaster wrote in a 100-word email; it duly inspired the Vandals to a 17-10 victory.

Black sheep join the Baa-baas

Mike Tindall and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu can say a second farewell to Kingsholm by turning out for the Barbarians against Ireland on 29 May.

The two centres, who are leaving Gloucester after a combined 10 years' service, played their final matches for the club at the ground in the last fortnight – Sapolu in the defeat by Newcastle Falcons and Tindall in the loss to Sale Sharks. But both have been called up by the Baa-baas for the first time for a summer tour that includes games with England at Twickenham on 27 May and Wales in Cardiff on 2 June.

"When I was young, I had only two goals in rugby," said Sapolu, who is heading for Japanese club West Red Sparks after staving off a playing ban for his Twitter remarks at last autumn's World Cup. "I didn't want to be a professional player, I just wanted to play for Manu Samoa and I wanted to play for the Barbarians... One of my favourite sports teams to watch when I was young were the Harlem Globetrotters. I loved the way their primary goal was to entertain but that they were so good they could beat the professionals."

Falcons feather their own nest

The vexed question of how to channel the unquestioned strength of rugby union in the north of England into big support for an Aviva Premiership club has seen Sale Sharks consider dropping the name Sale – and Newcastle Falcons are set to go the same way.

The club badge on the new first-team shirt includes the familiar wing-and-talon logo but only the word "Falcons" beneath it. Sale Sharks' chief executive Steve Diamond has quoted to Ruck and Maul the example of the Hurricanes in Super Rugby who, though they are based in Wellington, do not use the city's name in their title.

Fingers crossed for Cross Keys

After 127 years of trying in vain to reach a major final, Cross Keys have managed two in one season. A coaching team which includes the always free-thinking Mark Ring guided Keys to a 31-12 defeat away to Munster A in Friday's British & Irish Cup in Cork, but the Valleys club have their first Welsh Cup final against Pontypridd at the Millennium Stadium on 7 May to come.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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