We go around the rugby world to find some stocks on the rise and some which have taken a hit in the past week.
BUY! BUY! BUY!
An idea, no matter how crazy, can send stocks soaring. So it is with the Pro 12, who are, according to reports, seriously thinking of expanding to become a Pro 14 tournament – with the additional teams coming from America and Canada. The idea has been around for some time, but now reports suggest that powers that be in the Pro 12 have firmed up plans for an Atlantic Rugby Championship, made up of two conferences of seven sides. This set-up would reduce the number of games from 22 to 18, and give Pro 12 rugby a toehold in one of the biggest potential markets in world rugby. As for concerns over distance, they can always ask Super Rugby teams to offer advice on logistics.
Interest in Denny Solomona is likely to remain high for some time, given that his former employers, Castleford Tigers, have filed papers with the High Court in Leeds over alleged breach of contract after he failed to turn up for pre-season training, told them he had retired from rugby league and then popped up on the wing for Sale Sharks in union’s Aviva Premiership. But it’s his on-field activities that are catching the headlines right now. He has scored eight times in five outings for the Sharks since his controversial switch. And if head coach Steve Diamond’s maths is right, he could qualify to play for England in a matter of weeks.
Georgia are talking a big talk about their prospects of breaking through European rugby’s glass ceiling and into the Six Nations. George Nijaradze, their representative on the World Rugby council has said that they could guarantee 55,000-plus crowds in Tiblisi (which, in fairness, their annual Rugby European International Championship matches against Russia regularly achieve) for all matches in a future Six or Seven Nations competition. Meanwhile, Rugby Europe – organisers of the second-tier Rugby European International Championship – are set to officially request a Six Nations play-off match at a big meeting of European unions in Paris next month. Given Italy’s struggles (they are currently two places below Georgia in World Rugby’s rankings) the Eastern Europeans’ argument may have some merit. Expect any wheels to grind slowly, however. Six Nations organisers aren’t known for embracing change.
The first RUGDAQ bulletin in early February speculated that former Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill may be a target for ambitious Pro12 side Edinburgh. That speculation proved accurate this week when the Scottish side announced Cockerill would join the club when his current short-term consulting contract at Toulon finishes at the end of the season. With Chiefs’ Dave Rennie set to join Glasgow, at the other end of the M8 motorway, this could be the beginning of a boom period for club rugby in Scotland.
SELL! SELL! SELL!
Argentina’s Super Rugby sophomores have suffered a less-than-ideal setback a week out from competition kick-off, with star number 8 Facundo Isa last week announced as having signed for Toulon from the end of the 2017 season, before Lyon announced this week they had secured his services as a medical joker effective immediately. 23-year-old Isa was a standout performer for Los Jaguares in their first Super Rugby season, and an important part of Argentina’s test set-up. Los Jagures’ opening match of the Super Rugby season sees them travel to Port Elizabeth to play the Kings – so their short-term outlook is probably fine, but in the long-term Isa’s loss will prove a costly one.
The All Blacks coach reacted badly to news that Steven Luatua had decided to leave the promised land at the end of the Super Rugby season for a lucrative contract with Bristol, who by then are likely to be playing in the English second tier. He reacted even less well to news that the ambitious English side’s next coach, Pat Lam, had reportedly been instrumental in persuading the bulldozing flanker to sign on the dotted line. But his ‘ex-New Zealander’ comments were some way below the belt. No wonder Lam issued a rather stern rebuttal.
Two years ago, Rafa was the French rugby media’s preferred choice as Les Bleus’ next coach. Relatively young and definitely charismatic, his star was very much on the rise, and his Bordeaux side were playing wonderful attacking rugby to the delight of the 30,000-plus fans who headed to Stade Chaban Delmas every week. As recently as last November, it was reported that then-candidate for the FFR presidency Bernard Laporte had sounded out Ibanez about the possibility of taking over from Guy Noves. Now, however, the future does not appear so bright for Rafa. Bordeaux’s brand of rugby has taken a dull, conservative turn. They have not won at home in more than three months, and were beaten at the weekend by a Castres side that has only won twice on the road in nearly a year. Questions are being asked about the future direction of the club, and whether Ibanez should be allowed to continue a no-doubt lucrative second career as regular rugby pundit for TV channel France 2, which broadcasts the Six Nations.
The Montpellier owner’s bid to buy a majority stake in Premiership rugby side Gloucester has juddered to a halt after the board of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), which organises the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, voted to reject the plan. Under EPCR rules one person or entity cannot hold control of two clubs if those clubs could be in the same competition. Despite Altrad’s apparent confidence, this appears to have been a line-in-the-sand rule that EPCR would not ignore. But they are considering options that would allow him to invest heavily in the club, but not become the majority stakeholder. How that would affect the futures of Philippe Saint-Andre and Gonzalo Quesada, who had both been linked with key roles at the club under Altrad, remains unknown.
The Italian referee is quickly becoming fans’ Pro12 referee of despair. So far, coaches have – publicly at least – kept their counsel about some of his decisions, but the press and fans have been less backward about coming forward with a roll-call of perceived errors on his watch. And, if the venting of spleens on social media is anything to go by following his latest outing at the top-of-the-table clash between Ospreys and Munster at Liberty Stadium, he has been at it again. The worrying thing is that, with a couple of notable exceptions, the standard of refereeing in the Pro 12 has been a concern for some time.
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