Saturday, 5 January 2013

Freddie Flintoff becomes a Saracens centre and other predictions for 2013

In between figgy pudding and Special Brew, I've been taking counsel from a series of rugby sources over the festive season. Here are my insights and predictions for 2013:

Talks over the future shape of European club rugby drag on. And on. Inspired by the example of the Fiscal Cliff in the United States, rugby administrators draw up an ultimatum in an effort to focus minds. If a new arrangement cannot be agreed by April 1, then the location of the 2014-15 final will be decided by a game of Ludo, and Brian O'Driscoll will be banned from playing Heineken Cup rugby in any position other than second row. "Never mind the Fiscal Cliff," says one man at the negotiating table. "This is the O'Driscoll Cliff."

After mediocre viewing figures of his reality TV boxing show, Ashes to Ashes, Freddie Flintoff announces he's turning his back on a fledgling career in the ring to pursue his dream of becoming an inside centre. Saracens announce the big Lancastrian will be training with them on a three-month trial. Channel 5 will be filming Freddie's every move, from a lineout masterclass with Steve Borthwick to a three-legged pub crawl around the bierkellers of Bavaria.
"It's been a life-long ambition of mine to take a crash ball and run straight at Allan Donald – I mean Stephen Donald," says Freddie. "The skinful in Germany should be a right laugh too."
A Saracens spokesman, speaking from the club's newly laid synthetic surface at Allianz Park, adds: "Freddie's used to swatting away burly South Africans on a sticky wicket, so he should do well on the astro here." Channel 5 reveals that the series will be called Ashes to Splashes, with Freddie honing his try- scoring swan-dive with weekly tips from Chris Ashton.

After one post-match outburst too many, the Leicester management order Richard Cockerill to take the vows of a Trappist monk. Henceforth, Cockers communicates at press conferences through a blend of elaborate scowls, aeronautical semaphore and intriguing hand gestures.

Former Bath skipper Luke Watson announces he is returning to The Rec from his native South Africa. "I've taken counsel from the man upstairs and I'm coming back to the UK," says the famously devout number eight/fly-half. "Gary Gold can be pretty persuasive."

Bath are linked to every starting international scrum- half in Tier One rugby. So intense is the speculation that Nick Farr-Jones rules himself out.

The O'Driscoll Cliff deadline of April 1 comes and goes. There is no agreement over qualification and TV rights for the future of European club rugby. Leinster issue a statement: "We're disappointed that there's still no agreement, but Brian looked good in the number four shirt in last week's RaboDirect Pro12 match against Zebre."

This column was first published here.