Ruck and Maul: Melville is in sevens heaven thanks to Olympic inclusion
England's women revelled in their recent Test series win over the world champions, New Zealand, but in sevens they had to bow to the year's dominant team, Canada, losing 26-7 in the final of the recent IRB Challenge Cup in Dubai.
In another example of sevens' growth since its admission to the 2016 Olympic Games, the USA have awarded 15 men and eight women full-time training contracts at the Olympic Training Centre in California. "There are so many advantages to living and training in a high-performance environment [all] year," said Nigel Melville, the former England scrum-half and Wasps and Gloucester coach whois USA Rugby's chief executive.
"Full-time coaches, trainers, dieticians, sports psychologists and so on. It really is necessary if the USA are to be on the podium in 2016."
In September the Netherlands, another country very much a minnow when it comes to 15-a-side, became the first country to create a fully-funded women's sevens squad.
By George, he's got it
While the Saracens wing Marcus Watson has been scoring tries for England in sevens, his younger brother, the England Under-18s full back Anthony, has been nominated for the BBC's young sports personality of year award. The last rugby nominee, the Leicester fly-half George Ford, was beaten by the diver Tom Daley in 2009.
Ford, still only 18, is reckoned a possible bolter for the Six Nations' Championship squad next month, or the Saxons at least. He wouldn't be working with his dad Mike, whose contract as England defence coach has not been renewed, but young George has a committed French fan in the European Rugby Cup chairman, the former France back Jean-Pierre Lux.
"The best No 10 in this year's World Under-20 championships was Ford," Lux told Ruck and Maul. "I don't know who the next France fly-half will be. Our U-20 fly-half was Jean-Marc Doussain but he can't get a game for his club, Toulouse."
Ford, the first Englishman to be named as the IRB World Young Player of the Year, has made 11 first-team appearances for Tigers and one of his clubmates, the England scrum-half Ben Youngs, told Ruck and Maul: "George is a huge talent, one of the most talented kids about. The only thing holding him back is his age – you'd wonder how he would get on in a big Heineken Cup game away from home. But I've no doubt in my mind that he's got the talent to control a game."
The Wales wing Shane Williams's retirement from international rugby this month prompted widespread debate over whether a similar-sized player would make it in his position in Tests again.
A trawl by Ruck and Maul through the 24 squads registered for this season's Heineken Cup revealsonly three outside backs – Kyle Eastmond at Bath, Castres' Romain Teulet and Treviso's long-serving Brendan Williams – who are both shorter and lighter than Williams 170cm and 81kg. There are plenty of scrum-halves of lesser stature, of course, and it should be remembered that Williams was a some-time No 9 before switching to the wing.
Eastmond has been waylaid by injury since arriving from St Helens rugby league – interestingly, Wigan's Sam Tomkins, who was tipped by Sir Clive Woodward last week for England honours if he decides to switch codes, weighs in at a Williamsesque 79kg.
Fry was poetry in motion
Stephen Fry may have appeared an unlikely expert to be invited by a Rugby World Cup sponsor to enthuse about the sport but the national treasure certainly did not hold back. "When rugby builds to the right climaxes it is the most exciting game man has ever devised," Fry said.
"There's no game that makes you stand up and scream like rugby. Though of all the sports I love it's the one I know least about, because I don't really follow it at the county level."
And did Big Steve ever play the game? "For my house at school I wore a cashmere scarf and gloves and I took a pocket of poetry and they made me stand somewhere. Centre, I think."
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