Rugby Union News

Rugby Union News

Who’s hot…and who’s not!

Where has English Rugby gone wrong?

The ultimate question will be echoing around RFU corridors for months to come after the early exit of England from the home nations Rugby World Cup. Or will it?

Some say the arrogance of the RFU will flick this off the shoulder as quick as Anthony Watson side-steps the Australian defence and nothing will change.

But surely something HAS to change if we are to regularly compete at the top table of World Rugby. Are we to constantly stick to this rigid mindset and management without any fresh ideas or adaptability? I hope not.

But it’s hard to see any open mindedness and adaptability when you look at a lot of the senior management decisions.

The most obvious one is the blind faith in Rugby Union convert Sam Burgess. He is undoubtedly a fit a skilful Rugby League player but bringing that player into a Rugby Union World Cup squad with very little insight or playing knowledge of Union rules and at the expense of skilful indigenous and available Rugby Union players is going to haunt Mr Lancaster and the RFU board for some time to come.

Moreover, why would you, having to chase a life or death game against Australia, move a skilful, fast and imaginative player like Jamie Joseph out to the wing (after moving Farrell to 12) to bring in Mr Burgess, a beefy one trick pony, starving anyone outside of ball, increasing the chance of penalties and gifting Australia a predictable line?

The questions about management decisions, which started a while back, would fill any fans blog for months. All this is compacted by the fact that a so-called ramshackle English side with allegedly NO assertive management in place and the players calling the shots, got to the RWC final in 2007.

Other questions that regularly rise to the top of the fan forums are:

  1. The Premiership seems to have a plethora of skilful players lighting up stadiums week in week out, so why is it so difficult to simply pick the best, on-form players for the bulk of your squad?
  2. Why are ‘foreign based’ English players ignored because of RFU regulations and the fear of losing players to bigger pay packets when the RFU itself, like the big banks, is rolling in cash?
  3. Why is it, despite the rhetoric about opening up Rugby to the masses, that it’s still viewed as a minority,  elitist sport predominantly played by ‘posh’ schools and not by the mass of state schools thus providing only a narrow seam of talent? (unlike our antipodean friends)

A lot of ‘the management’ will counter a lot of these questions with answers like, ‘we are looking into this’, ‘it’s on our radar’ or ‘we have devised a training and development programme into xyz’ but it’s all beginning to sound like political spin from a corporate juggernaut… that has now crash landed and needs to get a serious wake-up call!

A marketer’s essential guide to the Rugby World Cup

How brands can exploit consumer engagement that will be ‘off the scale’.

If the Rugby World Cup is a less compelling marketing opportunity than its football equivalent, you wouldn’t know it from talking to Nic Fletcher, head of marketing at English rugby’s governing body the Rugby Football Union (RFU).

“The engagement with the Rugby World Cup is going to be off the scale,” he insists, looking ahead to kick off on 18 September.

“People love a big event in this country. They want to follow their country because they’re patriotic and it brings out a whole new tranche of people that want that excitement in their life and that passion point.”

The figures would appear to support Fletcher’s optimism. The quadrennial tournament, which takes place in England and Wales this year with the final on 31 October, is now comfortably the world’s third-largest sporting event in terms of global viewership after the Olympics and the football World Cup. This year’s tournament is expected to be the most commercially successfully to date, with over 20,000 hours of coverage broadcast in 205 territories.

A total of 83 countries competed in the qualification rounds to make up the final 20 teams – the highest number in the history of the competition. In addition more than five million applications were made for the 2.2 million tickets available for the tournament during the 17-day general sale window in September 2014.

So what does the sport’s recent ascent mean for brands that want to raise their visibility and drive sales and engagement during this autumn’s Rugby World Cup? Should all marketers look to get involved, and how can sponsors and non-sponsors alike capitalise on the biggest sporting event on British soil since the 2012 Olympic Games?

The ‘major event’ effect

Newspaper group Trinity Mirror, which owns the Daily Mirror and 100 regional news brands such the Manchester Evening News, believes the World Cup presents a clear opportunity for its titles and advertisers to reach a huge cross-section of the UK population. Research from its 4,000-strong reader panel finds that 66% plan to follow the tournament this year, with 61% stating that they follow a sport more closely when there is a major event. Seventy-one per cent also agree that they feel a sense of pride in home-hosted sports tournaments.

Zoe Harris, group marketing director at Trinity Mirror, attributes this response to the growth of ‘major eventers’ as a segment of the population, meaning people who have a limited interest in a given sport but who tune in and actively engage during major events. This is a consequence of sweeping demographic change across the country, she claims.

“The UK used to be split into upper, middle and working class and everyone sort of knew their place and therefore knew their politics and their sport,” says Harris.

“In the space of just a generation we’ve seen a real societal shift so that whilst there is still the very top sector of incredibly rich people and a struggling group at the bottom, we see from our data and our audience that there is a much bigger mass in the middle – what we call ‘Modal Britain’.”

She argues that the shared experiences of the majority of the population, such as the 2008 recession and the “democratisation of digital”, have led to a communal need for “belonging and betterment”. Major events like the Rugby World Cup meet these needs by facilitating mass involvement – a trend demonstrated by London 2012 and reinforced by people’s propensity to share what they are doing on social media.

“A generation ago rugby was a game played and watched by a southern, professional, university-educated elite,” says Harris. “Now with the World Cup there’s a real opportunity for everyone to make a day of it and get together with family. These major eventers are very happy to throw themselves into it too – it’s not a casual thing for them during the [tournament] period. It’s exciting and something they share with their friends and family.”

Trinity Mirror aims to reach this broad audience during the tournament with heightened levels of editorial coverage including videos, live blogs, social campaigns, interactive infographics and giveaways in its newspapers such as wall charts. Former professional players such as Matt Dawson and Barry John have also signed on as columnists.

Harris claims that advertiser interest increases significantly around major events like the Rugby World Cup as brands look to reach a highly engaged readership. According to figures from the Trinity Mirror reader panel, 45% of people notice more ads when there is a major sporting event being reported on.

“There’s still this perception that sports fans are just young men, but actually it’s much wider than that, especially on these types of occasions, so it’s a good opportunity for brands to get involved in something that’s feel-good and participative and also where there’s that growing interest in sport,” adds Harris.

Read more…


Ford and Slade Honoured at Premiership Awards

Hours after being named in Stuart Lancaster’s 50-man Rugby World Cup training squad, George Ford and Henry Slade received recognition for their outstanding domestic seasons.

Bath Rugby fly half Ford was named Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Year at a glittering ceremony in central London.

Alongside some outstanding exploits for England, he has led his club to a second-place finish in the regular season, earning a home semi-final against his former side Leicester Tigers on Saturday.

As well as scoring 191 points, the 22 year-old has instigated some eye-catching attacking play from pacey, penetrative backline and shown strikingly mature game management.

Indeed, Bath has lost just three of the 14 Premiership matches he has been involved in.

“George is a worthy recipient of this year’s Aviva Premiership Rugby Player of the Season award,” said Phil Winstanley, the Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby.

“There is no doubt he has spearheaded an extremely talented backline and his control and composure at fly half show a remarkable maturity for someone so young.

“Having graduated through the Leicester Tigers Academy and becoming the youngest player to make his professional debut in the Premiership  [aged 17] he went on to become the first Englishman to claim the IRB Young Player of the Year award.

“This season he has now cemented his position in the England team and I’m sure we all hope he can take his fantastic form from this season into this year’s Rugby World Cup.”

Though Exeter Slade missed out on a play-off place by virtue of points difference, the superb performances of Slade were an indelible highlight of the entire campaign.

Impressing at both fly half and outside centre and starting each of the season’s 22 rounds, he fully merited the Land Rover Discovery of the Season gong.

“Henry Slade is an exciting and special talent who is a key factor in Exeter Chiefs drive to be a regular top-six Aviva Premiership Rugby club,” said Mike Hynard, Premiership Rugby’s Head of Academies and Development.

“Henry has developed a fantastic all round game that makes him effective at 10, 12 and 13. He is a real threat in attack and has the ability to put players around him into space.

“I look forward to seeing him make an even greater impact in Aviva Premiership Rugby next season and push for international recognition.”

Other winners on the night were Bath’s Mike Ford, who scooped Guinness Director of Rugby of the Season to complete a family affair, and Saracens hooker Jamie George, named Aviva Community Player of the Season.

Wasps No 8 Nathan Hughes won Green Flag Forward of the Season and Joe Simpson was handed Citizen Try of the Season for his stunning solo effort against Exeter.

Thomas Waldrom of Chiefs received the Trivento top try-scorer prize, with Andy Goode’s 235-point haul being honoured with his third Gilbert Golden Boot award.

Finally, the BT Sport Aviva Premiership Rugby Dream Team was also unveiled:

15. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby)
14. Christian Wade (Wasps)
13. Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
12. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
11. Sinoti Sinoti (Newcastle Falcons)
10. George Ford (Bath Rugby)
9. Joe Simpson (Wasps)

1. Matt Mullan (Wasps)
2. Jamie George (Saracens)
3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs)
4. Graham Kitchener (Leicester Tigers)
5. Dean Mumm (Exeter Chiefs)
6. Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs)
7. Francois Louw (Bath Rugby)
8. Nathan Hughes (Wasps)

21 May 2015.


Rugby rehab in Venezuela

How do you make rum in Venezuela when your factory is surrounded by a brutal gang war?

“You make the thugs play rugby,” says Alberto Vollmer, the CEO of Santa Teresa, Venezuela’s most prestigious rum company.

“Rugby is a contact and a team sport that allows you to efficiently teach values like respect, discipline and teamwork,” he tells the BBC.

Mr Vollmer, a Venezuelan of German origin, should, on paper, not be very popular with the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro

He comes from money, owns land and profits from it.

However, his Project Alcatraz, which reintegrates criminals into society through rugby, has made him popular not only with the local community but with the government, too.

His family’s hacienda is located in the municipality of Revenga, an area that used to be one of the most violent in a country which is among the most dangerous in the world.

In 2003, the murder rate in this part of central Venezuela was 114 homicides per 100,000 people.

Official figures suggest it had dropped to 12 homicides for every 100,000 people ten years later.

This makes Revenga one of the least violent places in Venezuela and many locals think this is thanks to Project Alcatraz.

Members of seven different local gangs, which have since ceased to exist, have passed through Project Alcatraz.

About 400 men have been given the chance to start a lawful life.


Every year, a rugby tournament is played at the hacienda as part of Project Alcatraz drawing professional, university and amateur teams from all over the country.

At the most recent tournament a few weeks ago, a team made up of inmates from the local Tocoron prison took part for the first time.

It is managed by none other than Mr Vollmer himself.

The story of rugby at the hacienda goes back to 2002, when some of it was the target of a land occupation.

Rather than fighting the occupiers, Mr Vollmer encouraged them to build proper houses rather than makeshift shacks.

He also encouraged them to come work for him.

The occupiers are now part of the staff at Santa Teresa. Some work at the rum factory; others are part of Mr Vollmer’s security team. Read more…

Jonny Wilkinson warns England they must win Six Nations first to claim World Cup glory

By Gary Fitzgerald 10th Jan 2015

Jonny Wilkinson pictureJonny Wilkinson has told England they must win the Six Nations if they want to go on to lift the World Cup.

The man who landed the winning kick in the 2003 World Cup Final believes Stuart Lancaster’s side must become kings of Europe before they can think about ruling the world.

England have finished runners-up in the last three Six Nations and Lancaster has never managed to mastermind overall victory.

Last year they won the Triple Crown but a 26-24 defeat to France proved costly as they lost out to Ireland on points difference in the final standings.

The pressure is now really on Lancaster and England to shake off the lucky losers tag when they open their 2015 campaign against Wales in Cardiff next month. Read more…

England Sevens Squad Announced

Nov 26th 2014

England Sevens have named their squad for the second leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series in Dubai, and welcome captain Tom Mitchell back into the mix.

Mitchell was injured during England’s Commonwealth Games campaign in Glasgow, and Head Coach Simon Amor says that he’s pleased to see last season’s series top points scorer back in action.

“Tom’s a great player, and was rightfully nominated for the World Player of the Year last season, so to have him back in training has been a massive boost,” Amor said.  Read More


Neil Farrow travelled up to Leicestershire for a chat with England and Leicester hooker, George Chuter.

Neil Farrow 2009

Born in 1976 George first went to a school which was purely football oriented and they felt he didn’t have the physique for any position on the pitch. In fact he didn’t start to play rugby until he attended his secondary school, Trinity, in Croydon. His physique was then seen as a major attribute.

Old Midwitgiftians was the local club and George didn’t waste time establishing himself as a forward with promise. From their his potential was spotted and he moved to Saracens in 1996 training for four years amongst a stable of rugby greats such as Michael Lynah, Philipe Sellar, Francois Pinnear and Richard Hill. It was the start of the professional era and George couldn’t quite grasp the magnitude of the situation in front of him. He said “At nineteen it was a real eye opener to come out onto a pitch and train with these legends that I used to watch on TV only a few years before. I look back now and I don’t think I actually appreciated what was happening. I was living away from home with a few mates having a great time and being paid to play rugby next to the true giants of the game. It was quite surreal really.”

In 1995 it became legal to legitimately be paid to play Rugby Union and the man that started the whole industry hailed from ‘the other side’. Peter Deakin was the messiah in Rugby League marketing and had a massive impact at Bradford Bulls before bringing that experience down to Saracens. George recalls “Peter brought the razzmatazz to Union that had previously worked so well in Rugby League with the Bulls. Although a lot of ‘old school’ eyebrows were lifted in disgust, the cheer leaders and family atmosphere translated well to the new code and gates started to grow. Little touches like the remote control truck that brought out the kicking T…the kids loved that stuff.”

He continued “I remember the first conversations about trying to come up with some sort of marketing hook that could work in the stands. A few guys mentioned the Saracens name and what it meant with its Middle Eastern type history. The next thing they were off on a tangent about pointed curly slippers with tassels until some bright spark brought it to their attention that as they were worn on the feet, no one would see them! Anyway, things progressed and a few fans started to wear the odd Fez here and there. Within weeks half the stand was covered in Fez’s and it was adopted by the club and became an instant icon”.

After moving from Enfield, Saracens moved to ground sharing at Watford and many recall the winces by the big visiting clubs when they saw the ‘Hollywood’ style show before them. How times change. All the clubs in the premiership have spent hundreds of thousands trying to emulate that razzmatazz and increase gates based on Deakin’s marketing ethic. Deakin himself sadly didn’t see the big change as he passed away after a brave fight against a brain tumour in 2000 but his legacy lives on.

In June 2000 George had come to the end of a contract and had another on the table but felt he needed some time off. He had lost some of the drive and love for the game and felt slightly isolated over time and as such wanted to get away and breathe some fresh air. He started his time out catching up with family and friends around the country who he hadn’t seen for what seemed like years. From there he set of for Australia and the spectacular 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Moving around the area, dossing on floors with old mates, it all brought back the fun and freedom of his youth and he decided to keep travelling. Georges girlfriend at the time (now wife, Katy) was teaching in South Carolina, USA, so George set off to meet up with her and stayed for a few months visiting places like Nashville and Memphis and enjoying one of his favourite pass times… country music. Yes, I did say country music! Admittedly it’s not the first type of music genre you would choose for a 24 Cap England Rugby player, but George loves his Jonny Cash, Willie Nelson and the like. Now quite intrigued by this almost confessional secret I couldn’t help but ask about other players’ musical pre-match tipple and consequently found out that Andy Goode is in to his rap and hip hop, big Italian/Argentinian prop Martin Castrogiavani likes his native Spanish guitar and Flemenco music and Alex Tuilagi is into his soft rock, like Survivor and Foreigner. Bless.

george chuter image

On the home front George and the family, they have two daughters, have only been at their current address in Burbage for eighteen months and as he confessed “we still haven’t unpacked yet”. When it comes to technology he likes his gadgets and gaming and one of his favourite bits of kit is his iPhone. Knowingly in a somewhat privileged position he stated that all the England squad were given one at an O2 sponsors party. In fact George is a fan of all things Apple. He and his wife have a couple of iPods each, they have an Apple Hi-Fi in the front room and George recently purchased a MacBook which he is seldom without. “Apple products are so user friendly. Ok, you may pay a bit more for them but it’s worth it. You get what you pay for. They always have the style edge too. They all look and feel so cool” said George. “The boys at the club like their kit too and Ben Kay is a complete gadget freak” George laughed.

Big screens abound in the house, up stairs and down and George rarely lets a few days go by without logging onto and seeing what his next purchase could be. The sitting room has a big 42” Panasonic Vierra plasma with all the trimmings. Sky+, Sony Play Station and his brand new Logitech Harmony One remote control which can operate everything on a single touch screen unit. Even his girls Ellie and Georgia get in on the act with little Leapster educational touch screen tablets which George says are a godsend for long journeys in the car.

With fitness and nutrition being extremely important in the Leicester and England camps George has to watch what he eats. “It’s quite difficult at home because I have to be careful about my diet and the kids don’t want or like what I have to eat. I will regularly prepare things like fish, steak and vegetables but my wife will cook separately for the kids”.

George seemed a tad jealous of some of the other players who obviously have a totally different metabolism. “ I don’t know how they do it” he exclaimed “some of them can eat all sorts of shit and it doesn’t affect them at all. With my body size and height I have to keep an eye on everything and it can be quite a slog at times, a lot of repartition”.

QuickFire Round

  1. Kieser Chiefs or Kasabian? A. Kieser Chiefs
  2. Pinot Noir or Pinot Griggio? A. Pinot Griggio
  3. Lee Evans or Jack Dee? A. Jack Dee
  4. Thai or Indian? A. Indian
  5. Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig? A. Pierce Brosnan
  6. Skiing or Boarding? A. Don’t do either but want to go skiing
  7. Heroes or Torchwood? A. Heroes
  8. Dali or Da Vinci? A. Da Vinci
  9. Sponge Bob or Scooby Doo? A. Scooby all the way!