This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a rising rugby star, Heineken Cup maths, and passports and visas…
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a rising star, maths, and passports and visas…
The trials and troubles of Welsh rugby have been well-documented over the past month or two, but there is a silver lining. His name is Eli Walker.
Is it overstating a bit to claim Walker might be the most exciting winger since Rupeni Caucaunibuca announced his presence on the sub-international stage?
Walker is blessed with all the pace of his peers and then some. A distinctively bow-legged stance makes him extraordinarily difficult to tackle, widening his stance against opposing shoulders and effectively lowering his centre of gravity. His upper body is prop-like in width if not girth.
He has a knack for carving up defences, ghosting past defenders with a step so subtle that it's hard to see out of slow-motion replays. Defenders frequently barely lay a finger on him.
Only a lack of outrageous skill separates him from everyone's favourite Fijian – not yet have we seen an ability to pick up the ball one-handed in full flight – while in terms of awareness he still needs to learn. After a scintillating 50 metre run against the Tigers on Sunday, he should have offloaded outside for Jonathan Spratt rather than take the ruck and wait for Kahn Fotuali'i to fling a fantastic pass.
But those are details that can be worked on. A magnificent natural talent is blossoming on the Welsh wing, making a trio of Alex Cuthbert, George North and Walker from which selection for the Six Nations teams is going to be fiendishly difficult. Wales have their woes, but if they can shift the ball there is life in the Dragons yet.
Heineken Cup January time! You know that time? That's the time at which everybody maintaining a serious interest in the tournament gathers round the tables and final fixture lists and works out all the permutations or tries to predict if their side will make it, even with the fillip of a home quarter-final.
As ever, we strive to be the first to paint the clearest picture, and have peered through the equations, done the arithmetic, factored in the quotients and worn down the algebra. This is what we came up with…
Edinburgh, Ospreys, Treviso, Connacht, Zebre, Glasgow, Exeter, Scarlets, Sale, Cardiff.
Saracens – Need a win at home to Edinburgh, a bonus point (tries? yeah, right) would highly likely be enough to get them a home quarter-final. Predicted points finish: 23
Munster – Probably won't catch Sarries unless there's a major upset, but a win at home to Racing Metro ought to see them through as best runners-up. Predicted points finish: 19
Racing Metro – Need a bonus point win at Munster and for Leicester, Biarritz, Northampton and Leinster all to lose (Leicester without a bonus point) to even dream of a second-placed finish. Predicted points finish: 12
Toulouse – Need a win away at Leicester. Predicted points finish: 19
Leicester – Need a win against Toulouse, which even then would only see them travel in the quarters. Predicted points finish: 20
Harlequins – A home quarter-final awaits, irrespective of what happens in Biarritz. Predicted points finish: 25
Biarritz – A bonus point win at home to Harlequins and any four of Leicester, Racing Metro, Munster, Northampton, Montpellier and Leinster losing sees them through. Predicted points finish: 18
Ulster – A win away at Castres will probably be enough to get them to Ravenhill in the quarters, a bonus point win definitely would. Defeat, not unthinkable, would leave them sweating, but even a single bonus point would be enough. Predicted points finish: 23
Northampton – a bonus point win and a pointless defeat by Castres, or any four of Leicester, Racing Metro, Munster, Biarritz, Montpellier and Leinster losing sees them through by the skin of their teeth. Predicted points finish: 19
Castres – A bonus point win at home to Ulster and defeat for any five of Leicester, Racing Metro, Munster, Biarritz, Montpellier and Leinster… about the same chance of making it as a pot plant in a tornado. Predicted points finish: 14
Clermont – The Marcel Michelin awaits someone. Even defeat at the Scarlets would not harm their chance of a home quarter, although a bonus point-less defeat would leave things edgy. Like that's going to happen. Predicted points finish: 27
Leinster – A bonus point win leaves them in a possible fight for a best runners-up spot, but they also need favours in the form of defeats elsewhere. Predicted points finish: 19
Toulon – A win gives them a fearsome home quarter, defeat to Montpellier will only damage their prospects of that, not of overall qualification. They are through, just need the win to seal the deal. Predicted points finish 27
Montpellier – A win over Toulon of any form would be enough to see them through as the best runner-up. Defeat leaves them needing any four of Leicester, Racing Metro, Munster, Biarritz and Leinster to lose too. Predicted points finish: 18
Predicted quarter-final line-up
Clermont v Toulouse
Toulon v Munster
Harlequins v Leicester
Ulster v Saracens
Oh yes! Bring that lot on!
But…. three English, three French, two Irish… and the English and French are complaining they don't get a fair deal out of the HEC???
We've long been advocates of a principle being introduced whereby to be valid to play for a country you ought to be a passport-holder… or at least eligible for such.
So the situation involving Hendre Fourie is a deeply regrettable one, a real illustration of the fantasy nationality that the current IRB eligibility rules can create. The time for change is nigh.
Significantly more sympathy was garnered this end for the plight of Cardiff Blues fly-half Jason Tovey, whose labrador puppy Buster's attempt to render his passport edible cost Tovey his place on the pitch in the Stade Felix Mayol this weekend!
Tovey was in the process of packing his stuff, when he happened upon Buster happily chewing away and having already ingested a good chunk of the docs. It did not take long for a Blues spokesman to reveal the extent of the disciplinary proceedings against Tovey as a result of his schoolboy excuse.
“He's in the doghouse” read a statement…
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson