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Koch out, what's Dupont? - Jim Hamilton's Friday Five

By Jim Hamilton
Vincent Koch (Photo by PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP via Getty Images)

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Jim Hamilton looks are five talking points across the game of rugby heading into the opening round of the Heineken Champions Cup.

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Vincent Koch to Wasps
I played with Vinnie at Sarries. A modern-day tighthead prop and with that comes a high price tag. We know Saracens are having to trim back on the squad, with rumours circulating around Mako and Billy Vunipola heading for the door.

It didn’t come as a surprise that he was leaving, but it was a surprise with who he has signed. Were Wasps the highest bidder? I know he was sought after by a number of clubs. Kieran Brookes is leaving Wasps, and in Koch, you’ve got that issue sorted.

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The way the Saffas now pick their Test players, Koch is likely to be gone for a  big part of the season. Is that why Sarries maybe let him go? They’ve signed Italian international Marco Riccioni, and from what’ve I’ve heard he’s a fantastic player with a huge future. That said, Vincent will be a big loss for Saracens. It’s a void they may look to fill long term with a young Georgian or Saffa player, as players know that if you play for Sarries, there’s a clear route through to Test rugby.

Pollard a Tigers’ king
It’s the right signing for Leicester. I don’t know what flyhalves are out there could have filled that slot. I agree with Austin Healey’s comments about George Ford’s exit. The opportunity he’s had to give back to Leicester now he’s not playing for England means we’ve seen the full value he’s given to the Welford Road club this season.

It’s undeniable that he’s a top-class player. In Pollard, it feels they have a guy that is plugging a huge hole. You wonder how long he’ll stay around when compared to the money he will have offered to him in Japan or France. With that said, he’s a fantastic signing and absolutely the right signing for Leicester. Post-Pollard in terms of recruitment, it’s about finding a Marcus Smith style of player that can give Steve Borthwick that long-term sustainability in what is the most key position on a rugby pitch.

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Dementia in rugby
I was a little bit sad reading the comments made in The Guardian by Alix Popham’s wife regarding my previous Tweet around CTE and dementia in rugby union. I already gave context around that statement on the Rugby Pod and I apologised if it came across insensitive. It was never meant to be insensitive. We as players are all in this together and everyone has their own journey and their own way of dealing with things and what they feel is right.

I’ve reached out to Alix and Steve Thompson, directly, to have on the record and off the record conversations around the issue. Tomo decided not to reply. Alix decided not to reply having sent five messages the previous year asking me to invest in some of his ventures before then putting a childish emoji on my statement contextualizing my ‘we signed up’ comments. Obviously both as an ex-player, a husband and a dad of four, and with friends who are having issues with retirement and concussion-related matters, this subject needs to be at the forefront of everything going forward in the sport. I am happy to be involved in that process.

URC
It was almost inevitable that something was going to happen as the months ticked on with the Covid-19 situation far from over. Out of all the competitions, you could see the URC were front runners to be affected with all the travel involved. And that’s what’s happened. It’s caused real issues in the lead-up to this round of European matches.

Thankfully Munster and Cardiff have found reserves to fill the void left by the absence of their front-line players. It makes this first round of Heineken Champions Cup games a little bit farcical in what would have been a really intriguing weekend of rugby, especially with Toulouse coming to Cardiff and Munster going against old European rivals Wasps. Some people have likened it to Argentina’s bubble but it’s a completely different situation when you are in isolation in a hotel room by yourself.  Los Pumas were in quarantine together, trained together as a squad. Proper training is more or less impossible when you’re stuck in a hotel room by yourself. Not to mention eating crap food.

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Dupont wins player of the year
Who else? I’m not well placed to understand how good a scrumhalf is in the context of who’s the best in the world. However, it’s undeniable when you listen to experts say what it takes to be the best nine in the world and you watch Dupont’s influence on the game.

Be it passing, kicking, carrying or managing the game; there’s no question he is world player of the year. But where are the South Africans on that list? The Boks are best team in the world, the results have proven that. For me Eben Etzeabeth, if not joint first, is a close second. Lukhanyo Am and Siya Kolisi both deserved nominations at the very least.

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