MCKENZIE TOO HOT TO TROT
When you see odds of 1/2 lobbed on someone’s head you don’t so much infer a hot favourite as a race that’s already been run. And the winner is Ewen McKenzie? Eh, not so fast there big boy.
From my very limited knowledge of how these things work, that price may represent the bookie taking a position as much as it does a hefty wedge being tacked onto one of the runners. This race is only starting, and if you remember that canter over in Merrion Sq which was eventually won by Trapattoni, four different favourites emerged over the course before the Italian got home.
A month ago McKenzie came out front and said that he would be wrapping up with the Reds at the end of this season, and that he wanted to step up a level thereafter. This was calculated to increase the heat under Robbie Deans’s backside.
It was a surprise that Deans has lasted as long as this. The end of the spring tour, as it is for the Aussies coming to Europe in November, seemed the perfect point to cut him loose from his win ratio of sub 60 per cent. The Lions series is the last junction before the World Cup if they want to change direction.
Even if that goes ok for the Wallabies, it might be spun into something that could and should have been better. In which case McKenzie will slot into the role. If he fetches up in Dublin then it will have all gone wrong.
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BEST LOOKS TO FRANCE
All the talk of making Twickenham home this weekend and Ulster going head to head with Mark McCall brought to mind a previous era when the Bangor man was enjoying his time in Ravenhill. I remember interviewing him during that period – they won the Celtic League in 2006 – and he was looking forward to a future built on a pack of home produced forwards. It ended soon after that.
One of the leading lights in that group was Neil Best. You’ll remember him as a dangerously physical flanker, with an attitude that was perfectly suited for playing high profile teams. He didn’t give a toss how many caps his opposite number had, he just wanted to level him.
Now with Worcester, a family man with a missus and three kids, the next step for Neil Best looks like taking the brood off to France.
“I’m in good nick and playing well and enjoying it as much as ever but I’m getting on now (he turned 34 last month) and they’ll want an England qualified player to replace me,” he says. “There’s that financial tie up with the RFU for getting more English eligible players into the squad, so I won’t be getting an offer next season.
“When you’re on your own you’d go anywhere but with the family now I have to give it a bit of thought. A good offer from France would be nice. Or the Ireland coaching job. I tried a bit of that with Warwickshire county a while back and it was like pulling teeth. Still, it would pay well – you reckon I have a chance?”
He will make some club in France happy.
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MUNSTER MESS NEEDS AIRING
The Munster schools agm next month is sure to feature another episode in the saga about restrictive practice – ie the new regulation, due to come in next season, forcing players who change schools midstream to sit out a year before they can play senior cup rugby for their new school. So for example if, after your junior cert, you are offered a place in one of the big rugby schools, then it will involve missing a year’s rugby before you can qualify to wear the new jersey.
This topic was given a good chunk of airtime on Pat Kenny’s radio show last week. It featured a compelling argument from John Broderick of St Munchin’s that it was unconstitutional to deny a young man the chance to escape a regeneration area in Limerick and transfer to the stimulating and challenging environment of his school. For colour he had the testimony of Keith Earls who said that if he hadn’t been able to make the same switch he wouldn’t be sure how his life would have turned out.
The bizarre bit was that there was no explanation of why the regulation has won the support of five of the eight schools in the competition – Pres Cork, Glenstal, Crescent, Castletroy and Ard Scoil Ris; with Rockwell, St Munchin’s and Christians opposed to it.
Incredibly there had been virtualy nothing forthcoming from the Munster branch. If legal action unfolds then it will cost them to open their mouths.
I’m going to take a wild stab here and infer that the regulation is to combat a recruitment drive by some schools to strengthen their senior cup programmes. Given that not every school is entitled to draw from outside their catchment area, and may have neither the cash nor the will to pursue this policy even if they had, clearly this practice isn’t being carried out on a level playing pitch. Nor was there any mention of the effect on youth rugby who stand to lose players when big schools come calling.
Surely the solution is to look on each case on its merits. That way the St Munchin’s plan to offer an alternative lifestyle to those who need it, wouldn’t be dead in the water. That the saga is unfolding in a vacuum however highlights how the schools like to operate in a little world of their own. Not good for business, that.