Andy Farrell is essential to the Lions chances in New Zealand this summer.

Andy Farrell as the Lions Defence Coach in Australia in 2013.
Andy Farrell as the Lions Defence Coach in Australia in 2013.

After England’s terrible performances in the 2015 Rugby World Cup Andy Farrell, then serving as England’s defence coach, was sacked along with the rest of the coaching team: Head Coach Stuart Lancaster, Forwards Coach Graham Rowntree, and Backs Coach Mike Catt. England’s Defence had been pretty strong during Farrell’s tenure and therefore it was no surprise to see him snapped up as a consultant for Munster Rugby soon after his sacking, and for him to then progress to working as Ireland’s Defence Coach following the 2016 Six Nations Championship (which was the earliest point at which his contract would allow him to work for another international side).

Following his taking the role with Ireland, Farrell has continued his strong defensive work, helping Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt to mastermind victories over the All Blacks in Chicago, and last week beating Australia. Along with his achievements whilst coaching England, and his previous achievements with Saracens and on the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, Farrell should be the first person who Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland ensures is on the plane to New Zealand in the Summer — his place is arguably as important (or perhaps even more important) than any of the players who are in the running for this summer’s tour.

The reason for this is Farrell’s relationship with the players. One of the difficulties with the Lions is building a rapport and trust between players and coaching staff and building partnerships between players in such a short space of time. This was one of the reasons why Warren Gatland, who was successful as a coach on the last tour and was also successful as the Forwards Coach on the 2009 tour to Australia, was retained as Head Coach this time around. Farrell offers similar benefits, because he worked on the 2013 tour, but also because he has experience with both the England and Ireland players whom, given the form of their respective sides, look set to make up the bulk of the touring side this summer.

Nowhere will Farrell’s influence be more important than in the backs, where his defensive coaching and relationship with the players will be hugely important. Conor Murray, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, and Jonny Sexton all toured with the Lions in 2013 and were coached by Farrell, I would expect all four of these players to tour this time around. If they retain their current form then I would expect Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, George Ford, and Jonny May to also be on the plane to New Zealand — all of these players have also been coached by Farrell at a recent point in their careers. Ford, Joseph, and May were in the England squad at the 2015 World Cup, whilst Henshaw and Ringrose are in the current Ireland team.

Whilst the partnerships built between players are hugely important on a Lions Tour, the partnerships between players and coaches are equally important.

With this in mind, Andy Farrell is the first person that Warren Gatland should be calling when he begins to put his coaching team together next week.

Under Eddie Jones England could once again reach the heights of 2003.

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Eddie Jones is in the process of turning the England team into world beaters. 

 

On Saturday, the England rugby team continued their perfect record under coach Eddie Jones with a 58–15 victory over Fiji at Twickenham. If we include the thrashing of Uruguay at the end of the 2015 World Cup (Stuart Lancaster’s last match in charge of the side), England’s winning streak now stands at twelve matches, and in that time they have won a Six Nations Grand Slam, defeated Australia three times, and beaten South Africa for the first time in ten years.

These exploits have led to the team already being considered one of the favourites to win the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and emulating the England team which became world champions thirteen years ago today. There are a lot of similarities between the side that became world champions thirteen years ago, and the team which Eddie Jones is in the process of sculpting at this moment.

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This team looks as though it could emulate England’s 2003 World Cup winners. 

 

Similarly to the current team which suffered heartbreak in crashing out of the 2015 world cup on home soil having failed to advance beyond the group stage, the 2003 squad suffered a similar failure. In the 1999 World Cup, the England side which contained many of the players who would go on to become world champions were demolished by South Africa in the quarter finals. This loss bred a desire and focus in the side which hadn’t been quite so evident before, and all the evidence suggests that the 2015 debacle has had a similar effect on the current side.

In addition, the current side has a similarly phenomenal depth of talent as the 2003 side had. In 2003, head coach Clive Woodward was able to leave players of the quality of Graham Rowntree, Simon Shaw, Austin Healey, and James Simpson-Daniel out of his final 30-man world cup squad without this impacting upon quality, such was the depth of talent from which he could pick. Eddie Jones has the similar luxury of a deep talent pool today. Prior to the ongoing Autumn Internationals, several key first team players had been ruled out of action. Despite missing James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford, Manu Tuilagi, Jack Nowell, and Anthony Watson among others, England have still managed to field a side that would be considered the envy of many other nations. Even with all the injuries players of the quality of Danny Cipriani, Dan Robson, Joe Simpson, Christian Wade, Matt Kvesic, Matt Symons, Paul Hill, and Jackson Wray don’t make the cut. For Eddie Jones, such a selection dilemma is a brilliant luxury to have.

All the signs suggest that this England side is destined for greatness, and for that a lot of credit should go to Eddie Jones who has got the team playing the an exciting and dynamic fashion that they have got close to in the recent past. However, some credit should also be reserved for his predecessors in the role, particularly Stuart Lancaster who unceremoniously left the role of head coach following the World Cup. The nucleus of the current side were capped for the first time under Lancaster, and he should be given some much deserved credit for their rise to prominence. It was Lancaster who placed faith in Owen Farrell and capped him as a twenty year old in the 2012 Six Nations Championship, Farrell now has 45 caps and has been twice nominated for the IRB World Player of the Year, meaning that he is widely considered one of the best in the world in his current position. Equally, the likes of Joe Launchbury, George Ford, George Kruis, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Alex Goode, and Jack Nowell, all first established themselves under Lancaster, and it was in Lancaster’s team that they properly learned the ways of international rugby. Lancaster is often denigrated for his time as England coach, but in fact he achieved a lot, it was simply a case of him lacking the experience to take England to that next level, which is what Eddie Jones has done. Equally, the likes of Ben Youngs, Danny Care, James Haskell, new captain Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, and Dan Cole, first established themselves under Martin Johnson, and with these players now comprising the nucleus of such a good team, he should also take some credit for their rise. As I said previously it was simply that someone like Eddie Jones was required to move England into the world class bracket, and put them in with a chance of properly competing for the World Cup in 2019.

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Stuart Lancaster deserves credit for blooding most of England’s star players. 

Overall, this England team is one that could be remembered as one of the best England teams in history. With such a great talent pool to pick from, and a brilliant coaching team of Jones along with Steve Borthwick, Neal Hatley, and Paul Gustard, it is a team that is going to go far.

It is rare for an England supporter in any sport to begin watching a match expecting to win, but the quality of this England team is such, that that is exactly what every England supporter will be feeling when they tune into Saturday’s match against Argentina.

Is Emmanuel Macron really the saviour of France?

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Photo: Ed Alcock / M.Y.O.P

Last Tuesday Emmanuel Macron resigned from his position as the French Minister of the Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, a move clearly made with the aim of making a run for the Presidency.

Macron has long been touted as a future French President, perhaps the last hope of the French centre-left in an election which current President François Hollande (if he chooses to run) looks certain to lose. Hollande’s extreme unpopularity is seen as having tainted the Socialist Party in the eyes of the French electorate, which would suggest that Macron’s association with the Hollande administration (he has been a Presidential advisor or Government Minister since 2012) would make a run for the Presidency difficult.

However, Macron has always been seen as being somewhat independent from Hollande and the Socialist Party as a whole. Although Macron was a member of the Socialist Party between 2006 and 2009, he is currently an independent — although he has set up a centrist movement known as ‘En Marche’, ostensibly not as a political party but as a way of fostering new centrist ideas. Although it seems as though this move was really a way of testing the waters in advance of a potential Presidential run, as was always suspected.

One of the things that gives Macron more of a chance of securing the French Presidency than incumbent Hollande, is that he is seen as being a pro-business. Somewhat predictably, Macron previously worked as an investment banker, something that centre-left politicians around the world seem to consider necessary in order to prove their pro-business credentials.

But Macron has already proved that he backs serious reform of the French economy, something that those on the left in France have often been accused of working against. In recent years Macron has attacked areas such as France’s 35-hour working week and large public sector — both seen as sacrosanct by the left. This has made him unpopular with many in the Socialist Party but has succeeded in burnishing his image as someone who could put an end to France’s economic travails.

But, although his expertise on the economy will prove beneficial to Macron’s candidacy, next year’s election is likely to be one which is fought primarily on the issues of terrorism and security. These are issues on which Macron is likely to lack gravitas when compared to his potential opponents in the upcoming Presidential race, most of whom have held high-level elected office before.

This is something else which distinguishes Macron from his opponents, he has never been elected. He worked as an advisor on Hollande’s 2012 Presidential campaign, and an economic advisor to Hollande as President, before being appointed as a Government Minister. But given that he was never elected, he was effectively working as a Civil Servant. If he were to be elected to the Presidency despite having never held elected office before, then this would be astonishing.

What’s more, as mentioned earlier, Macron is not currently a member of any political party. Although this could be seen as being beneficial in terms of detaching him from the perceived failures of the current Socialist Government, the negative is that it denies him any sort of party machine to aid him in winning the Presidency. This may make it extremely difficult to gain any sort of traction in the Presidential election. However, Macron has been busy recruiting an army of around 16,000 volunteers, mostly young people, who spend time door-knocking in an attempt to build the base of support that Macron lacks. They hope that this hard work can propel him to the Presidency.

But ultimately, the 2017 Presidential Election may prove to be too soon for Macron to win. Although he is currently the second most popular politician in France (after only Alain Juppé) it is hard to see him maintaining his position once the main parties unify (or at least attempt to unify) following the conclusion of their primary campaigns.

Given his inexperience and lack of a political party he doesn’t really have the base of support which is often said to be necessary for success in Presidential elections (although Donald Trump has proved in the United States that Presidential candidates can gain momentum without the help of the party machine). What’s more, his inexperience in terms of national security issues may make it hard for him to adequately respond to the types of questions that could be asked of him during the Presidential campaign.

However, although it is hard to see Macron winning the Presidency next year, taking part in the campaign (either as a candidate or a commentator of sorts) could boost his profile and put him on the right track to winning the Presidency in 2022. Whatever happens in next year’s election, expect Emmanuel Macron to be one of the most important figures in European politics in the years to come.