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George Ford’s advice for England’s new attack coach: Keep it simple, please

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Exclusive interview: Fly-half says he is looking forward to working with Simon Amor at Six Nations but does not want a revolution in style

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 9:31 am

Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 9:43 am
George Ford is one of three England fly-halves selected for the Six Nations (James Robinson/Land Rover)

Eddie Jones has yet to reveal his hand at fly-half for England’s Six Nations opener in France this Sunday but the coach’s cards are the same as the ones he dealt himself at the World Cup three months ago – a choice between George Ford and Owen Farrell to start at No 10, unless the Wasps youngster Jacob Umaga is about to receive a very unlikely promotion.

Where England are doing things differently to their rollercoaster run as runners-up to South Africa in Japan is in their line-up of coaches. Matt Proudfoot, previously with the Springboks, is now in charge of the England forwards, with Steve Borthwick redesignated as skills coach. And the biggest change is Simon Amor as attack coach in succession to Scott Wisemantel, who left for the same role with his native Australia.

As Amor’s coaching experience has been almost entirely in Sevens, it is a highly unusual appointment, leading some to identify a connection with the 40-year-old being on the books of the Rugby Football Union already, at a time when the Union is looking to control its costs.

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Almost all the England back division including the scrum-halves Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz also carried over from the World Cup, adding to the sense of player continuity at the pre-Six Nations training camp currently in Portugal. Just before the England squad left for the Algarve, Ford told i what he was expecting from Amor, who worked with the team at a handful of pre-World Cup sessions when Wisemantel was indisposed.

Simon Amor was England’s sevens coach before joining the men’s 15-a-side team (Getty Images)

“He [Amor] has a background in sevens, which is a very attacking game,” said Ford. “It is completely different and they probably think about the game a bit differently so I am massively intrigued in some of the ideas we will be doing with Simon. He is a positive guy, constantly giving you feedback. I am sure he’s watched loads of 15s, even if he might not have coached it that much.”

According to Ford, players are never consulted about the hiring of coaches, whether it is with England or with his club Leicester, where Borthwick will become head coach later this season. But Ford loves coaches who can put across the game’s inherent simplicity – and he says Jones is “incredible” at that, and Borthwick is “the best” at explaining “what you are doing and why you are doing it”.

Ford explained: “There is a lot spoken about systems and little links and intricacy, and I get all that. But I have been in environments where you focus too much on that stuff, working towards that one special move which might not even be there anyway. So what about the bloody rest of it? Rugby is an incredibly simple game. When you get the ball, where is the space? There has to be space somewhere.”

England and South Africa scrum down during the 2019 Rugby World Cup final (Getty Images)

And is there a change rugby could make to enhance that search? Ford went along with my joke that forward passes would make life simpler, and he referred laughingly to rugby league’s uncontested scrums. But then he said, more seriously, he would like union scrums restricted to two sets.

“I am not saying stop the set-piece by any stretch of the imagination,” Ford said. “But we could see a lot more ball-in-play attacking and defending if we sorted the scrum out. Maybe have a rule that you stop the clock while the scrums are reset. Or a rule that the maximum we can reset a scrum is twice. Everyone would know you have a scrum and if it goes down you have got one more chance and then it’s ‘boom’, play on, and it’s the referee’s call whether it’s a free-kick here or a free-kick there – and you can’t re-scrum, by the way, you’ve got to tap it.

“You might see less messing around. It’s something just to say you can’t come up with your little dark arts and your tricks, slowing the game down. You know the ball is going to come out and you get to play some rugby. The forwards still get their opportunity to scrum and win penalties because they get two shots at it. But it’s just not five minutes’ worth of… nothing really. Well it is something for them. But not for us.”

George Ford is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover has been helping rugby fans discover the sport for over twenty years. Visit LandRover.co.uk

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7s World Cup

Irish Rugby | Parsons Primed As Ireland Women ‘Hit The Ground Running’

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Life has certainly been hectic for teenage winger Beibhinn Parsons since her last appearance for the Ireland Women’s team back in early February.

Following her scintillating try against Wales in a Six Nations triumph at Energia Park – her third touchdown in just three Championship starts – the Ballinasloe native stepped away from the squad to concentrate on her impending Leaving Certificate examinations.

Within a matter of weeks, however, schools across the country were closed indefinitely in a bid to combat the Coronavirus pandemic and Ireland’s Six Nations campaign was also placed on hold.

Like the remainder of second level students, Parsons never got to sit in an exam hall and instead had to rely on calculated grades to determine her path into college life.

“I absolutely wanted to sit the exams,” she admitted in a video call. “I was gutted that I couldn’t have. Feel I’m part of the one percent that actually wanted to sit them!

“I’d loved to have wrapped it up, put a bit of closure on it and get a result that you know you’d deserved. I would have loved to sit the exams.”

Parsons is also going against the grain when it comes to her third level experience. An Ad Astra student in UCD where she is currently studying Biomedical, Health & Life Sciences, the Galwegian is presently based on campus.

Similar to the Ireland squad’s get-togethers and training camps at the IRFU High Performance Centre, this requires extra caution on her part, but she is managing just fine so far.

“I’m doing a science subject, so there’ll be labs but all the protocols are in place. I’m feeling safe in my college set-up,” she said.

“Keeping my bubble to an absolute minimum because I don’t want to put myself in jeopardy or any of my team either. Just three house-mates and that’s my social circuit. Keeping it that small.”

With just some internal games with Ireland and her new club Blackrock College under her belt, Parsons could be forgiven for lacking match sharpness ahead of this Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Italy in Donnybrook (kick-off 6.30pm).

Nevertheless, having kept well on top of her fitness levels during lockdown, the 18-year-old Connacht winger will not be found wanting if selected.

We worked really closely with our strength and conditioning coach (Orlaith Curran) through Zoom and phone calls. For girls who didn’t have weights, we used body weight exercises.

“Our strength and conditioning didn’t stop at all and lots of us used the time to treat niggles and injuries. Rehab and come back stronger and fitter.

“Actually a positive in that sense. The competitive edge is still there. Not worried at all because we’re all competing for jerseys. We’ve hit the ground running and are really excited to play Italy.”

Since making her debut as a 16-year-old against the USA in November 2018 – becoming the youngest ever player to earn a senior Ireland cap in the process – Parsons has generally looked unfazed by any challenge that is placed in front of her.

Still, the Ardscoil Mhuire alum often looks on in awe at the company she finds herself in during these international windows.

Being part of a back-three, Eimear Considine is an amazing athlete. I feel she has more hours in the day than anyone I know. She’s just a super human and gets everything done and her skills are through the roof. On her level would be Sene Naoupu.

“She’s amazing, such a bank of knowledge and experience that I love to pick at. The likes of young girls like Dorothy (Wall), she’s so skilled at a young age. There’s a broad range of players that are really skilled.”

An already strong Galway representation within the squad has been bolstered by the return of Claire Molloy to the Ireland fold. Due to work commitments, the influential flanker sat out last November’s Test against Wales and the opening three rounds of this year’s Six Nations.

She always intended to make a return at some point, but she has now bounced back to join fellow Tribeswomen Parsons, Cliodhna Moloney, Ciara Cooney and Hannah O’Connor in Adam Griggs’ set-up. Parsons acknowledged:

There’s a strong Galway contingent in the team and I’m a proud Galway girl and proud Ballinasloe girl. Claire’s a professional in everything she does. Ticks every box before training. Warm-up, conditioning. A full well-rounded player.

“I love training with her and love seeing how she carries herself. Of course she has a bank of knowledge as well and provides such a boost to any squad she walks on to.”

The presence of Griggs as head coach has undoubtedly helped Parsons to settle into what can be a high-pressured environment.

She had previously worked with the former Lansdowne and Leinster ‘A’ scrum half during her time with the Ireland Under-18 Women’s Sevens side, and his understanding made it a lot easier for Parsons to achieve a balance between sport and school over the past 18 months.

“I won’t lie and say it’s easy. Of course it’s difficult but it just means I have to be organised. Last year was a huge year for me, doing my Leaving Cert.

“I just had to be organised and be honest and say, ‘here Griggsy, can we have a chat, can I see how we’re going to manage this?’, and they were more than accommodating.

“We sat down and picked out training that I could go to, matches that I could go to and couldn’t go to. That’s just what had to be done. I’m getting used to juggling it. I’m not sure if it makes it any easier but you just have to be organised.”

Parsons was speaking at Canterbury’s launch of the new Ireland Women’s Rugby home jersey, which is now available for the first time in a non-World Cup year. She sees this as the latest chapter in an exciting development within the game and hopes this growth can continue into the future.

I think the 20×20 movement has been amazing and girls now doing their Junior Cert can see lots of Irish players. In that short period, Women’s sport is so much more in the limelight, where it should be! Where it deserves to be.

“I know for people my age now they have the ability to watch Women’s rugby and buy a Women’s jersey which is huge in my eyes.”

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Australia left to deal with financial hit from Springboks’ Rugby Championship snub

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By Reuters Time of article published5h ago

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SYDNEY – Rugby Australia were stunned by the Springboks’ withdrawal from the Rugby Championship but are confident they can deal with the financial hit stemming from their absence, chairman Hamish McLennan said on Wednesday.

SA Rugby pulled the world champions out of the southern hemisphere competition last week citing concerns over player welfare, leaving a rump three-nation tournament and a hole in the finances of hosts Australia.

“We’ll find a way through it,” McLennan told reporters at the launch of Australia’s indigenous jersey.

“We were surprised because South Africa did agree to the tournament and the scheduling so we were disappointed that they pulled out.

“It will cost us quite a lot of money but we’ll find a way through it … we’ve proven so far that we’re a pretty resilient organisation.”

McLennan said there was no question of any claim for compensation against the Springboks but did question the wisdom of pulling out.

“I think it was obvious that (the competition) was good for everyone,” he said.

“If you look at South Africa, their top players won’t have played test rugby for 20 months when the (British and Irish) Lions come through next year.

“We would have given them ample time to prepare for the tests, we’ve already got the Argentinians out here at the moment and they are quite satisfied with how their preparations are going.

“So we were a little perplexed but we’ll have to move on …”

The 54-year-old was confident the Rugby Championship would be back to full complement next year and said planning for Super Rugby in 2021 was continuing apace with discussions over some crossover competition with New Zealand teams.

“We’re still looking at a domestic competition with a (post-season) crossover but again we’re trying to pin our Kiwi friends down so hopefully we’ll have an idea of how that looks over the next month or so,” he said.

RA was still open to a joint competition with New Zealand next year, McLennan added.

“We have to continue to form an ANZAC block, I think it’s very powerful on the global stage,” he said. “We’ll be better players if we play Kiwi sides every week and it’s what the broadcasters and fans want.

“There’s no stumbling block from our side so it’s up to New Zealand to decide what they want to do.”

McLennan has butted heads with New Zealand Rugby several times in his short period as RA chairman and laughed when he was asked how relations were between the two unions.

“They’re getting better every day,” he grinned.

Reuters



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Beibhinn Parsons ready to move on the next level

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The youngest player to ever play rugby for Ireland is growing up. Beibhinn Parsons will be 19 by the time the World Cup qualifiers arrive in December.

Capped at 16, when she instantly displayed a turn of speed and power that bamboozled her American opponents, Parsons, refreshingly, embraced the opportunity to speak over zoom about how much she is enjoying Ireland camp, of her disappointment about the Leaving Cert, on scholarship living in UCD and discussions with Anthony Eddy – the women’s director of rugby – about spearheading the Sevens attack (whenever that globetrotting sport returns).

She never once got annoyed. Not even when we asked her about playing other sports.

“I started off in Ballinasloe club which had a really strong girls’ team and I really enjoyed it. Why not rugby would be my question back to you. I think it is a great sport and I have met some of my best friends through it.”

Building up a teenager who is already a fundamental part of Ireland’s plans leaves the individual open to many pitfalls. That concern is allayed by the way Parsons confidently answered the questions put to her at the second Canterbury jersey launch.

And anyway, her talent leaves the media with little alternative. The try against Scotland last February – an intercept and 90 metre dash – planted a flag before she weaved around three Welsh defenders for another gem. Not to compare, but Donnybrook had not seen an explosion of such raw ability since the most capped Irish male scared the life out of Ulster in 1999.

Growing excitement around Parsons stalled when she ruled herself out of the Six Nations due to the Leaving Cert mocks.

“It has been crazy. Thinking I was going to miss out on three Six Nations matches and potentially missing only one. That’s a huge positive that I am taking.

“The Leaving Cert didn’t run its course but things happen, that’s the new normal that we are living in.”

You get the feeling that teenagers are adapting far quicker than everyone else.

“It was difficult. We had to remain patient. Our orals were firstly postponed and then cancelled. Our Leaving Cert was postponed and then cancelled. You had to roll with the punches. We were all in the same boat, knowing you had unity with your class mates, you can take that.”

But the Leaving Cert debacle still simmers for the class of 2020.

“I absolutely wanted to sit the exams,” she said after training in Abbotstown. “A bit gutted that I couldn’t. I feel part of that one percent that actually wanted to sit them.

“I would have loved to wrap it up, put a bit of closure on it, get a result that you know you deserve. Yeah I would have loved to sit the exams.”

Eimear Considine is just an amazing athlete. I feel like she has more hours in the day than anyone I know. She is just a super human. She gets everything done. Her skills are through the roof.

Her rationale becomes clear after checking the CAO points range (topped at 625) in 2019 to study Biomedical Science at UCD.

Parsons has begun her scholarship and new life on campus.

“I am part of the Ad Astra academy, which is really positive, they work with me really closely to make sure I am able to train and able to keep college afloat.

“We are keeping ‘on campus’ [classes] to an absolute minimum. I am doing science subjects so of course there are going to be labs. All the protocols are in place, masks and social distance, so I am feeling safe in my college set up. I am keeping my bubble to an absolute minimum because I don’t want to put myself or the rest of the team in jeopardy.

“I am currently on campus with three house mates, that’s my social circle and I am keeping it that small. They are all scholarship students, some athletes some academic students.”

Back to the rugby, the expectation (the hope) is that herself and Eimear Considine will tear up the Italian defence on Saturday evening in Energia Park.

“Eimear Considine is just an amazing athlete. I feel like she has more hours in the day than anyone I know. She is just a super human. She gets everything done. Her skills are through the roof.

“On her level is Sene Naoupu, she is amazing. She has such a bank of knowledge and experience that I like to pick at and gain as much from her as I can.

“To see the likes of young girls coming up, like Dorothy [Wall] who is so skilled at such a young age, there is a broad range of young players that are really skilled and coming through.”

Wall (20), from Fethard RFC, also showed enormous potential, making 20 tackles in 40 minutes against Scotland, before the Six Nations was paused. The flanker is one of those players that team-mates seek to avoid during tackle drills.

“You never like to be opposite Linda [Djougang],” Parsons revealed. “She hits really hard. You never want to be opposite Dorothy either. Physicality should be in their name. They love contact.”

Eventually the demands on Parsons time will grow. She is an obvious target for Eddy’s Sevens squad and her presence in a Blackrock team, when the club game returns, should draw plenty more eyes to the All Ireland League.

The rise of Parsons will not happen on its own but her limitless potential, still in the early stages of what promises to be a special international career, is worth switching over to RTÉ on Saturday at 6pm. Just after the men sign off from the Aviva stadium on Virgin Media.

“Yeah, I am having conversations with Anthony [Eddy] and Griggsy [Adam Griggs] around Sevens and 15s. Right now, my eyes are on this Six Nations and the world cup qualifiers. That’s where all my energy and all my focus is going to. Sevens might come into the equation down the line but right now I am very happy in 15s.”

And 15s is extremely excited to have her.

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