Ruck and Maul: Seeds of doubt over whether Saints or Tigers are top dogs for Euro draw
Sunday 29 May 2011
Either Saracens or Gloucester will be lumped in with a fellow English club in next season's Heineken Cup when the draw is made at Twickenham on 7 June.
But there is mystery over whether this season's finalists Northampton Saints or the two-time winners Leicester Tigers have earned the higher ranking to join the new champions Leinster plus Toulouse, Munster, Cardiff Blues and Biarritz as the six top seeds who will each lead a pool of four teams.
The rankings table shown on the European Rugby Cup website a few days ago had Northampton above Leicester, though equal on 18 ranking points, but the table has been withdrawn while the organisers rule on which of two criteria take precedence: the Saints' better performance in the season just gone or Leicester's participation in the Heineken Cup for all of the four years that qualify for the rankings.
Johnson's family tries
Tom Johnson was not among the nominees when Leicester's Thomas Waldrom was named RPA players' player of the year in midweek, but the 28-year-old Exeter Chiefs flanker has been rewarded for a fine first season in the Premiership with selection for England against the Barbarians today.
He is likely to carry on to next month's Churchill Cup, which is poignant as his grandfather – the late Frank Johnson – served in the RAF during World War Two and became an Air Vice Marshal.
"Johnnie" Johnson played hockey and squash at RAF Command level but excelled at cricket. In the Indian Army he was the only European to play for the state of Sind in Indian inter-state competitions. Tom's father, Richard, became an air commodore.
Sinbad set for World voyage?
Another England starter today, James Simpson-Daniel, first appeared in this fixture nine years ago, famously running in a try by giving Jonah Lomu a necessarily wide berth.
The Gloucester wing, who turns 29 tomorrow, retains hopes of playing in a first World Cup in the autumn, seeing himself among "three or four" players – Dave Strettle and Ugo Monye would be two of them – behind Mark Cueto and Chris Ashton who are "far ahead" in the pecking order. Covering both wings and outside centre might help.
Injuries and illness have helped limit the Test career of "Sinbad" to 10 caps and, of course, he is not the biggest of men.
"I hear Willie Mason is involved for the Barbarians," Simpson-Daniel said of the 6ft 5in former Australia rugby league cap who will make his union debut off the bench today before joining (who else?) Toulon. "I was shit scared I could die when I first played against Jonah. Hopefully Mason won't be playing in my position."
Action Jackson wets whistle
Glen Jackson made it through his first match refereeing in Super Rugby with no red cards and one referral to the television match official when the former Saracens fly-half handled the Hurricanes and the Force on Friday.
His ambition is to be in the middle for a Rugby World Cup match in 2015 in England – where he first took up the whistle four years ago handling schools fixtures in Hertfordshire. "I've definitely got to get out of the player mentality," he told us back then. "Like when you see someone get punched and think 'well, you probably deserved that'."
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