Monday, 5 September 2016

Jonny May: I've half an eye on Autumn International return for England

England flyer Jonny May is eyeing an international recall for the Autumn Internationals as he targets a speedy return from a serious knee injury.

After rupturing knee ligaments in December, Gloucester wing May was forced to play the role of frustrated bystander as England completed a Six Nations Grand Slam and whitewashed the Wallabies in Australia.

But now May has his sights set on a potential return against South Africa at Twickenham on November 12.

“Why not go for it?” he tells me. “But if the knee’s not right, I’ll be patient and sensible about it.

“I’ve got plenty of time. I’m only 26.  I want to get a healthy knee and I’m confident my best days are ahead of me.”

May, who has 19 caps, was injured just a month after Eddie Jones arrived as new England boss, but a steady flow of messages from Jones has buoyed May’s confidence, as did his inclusion in Jones’s 45-man provisional squad for the Autumn Internationals.

“I got injured as soon as Eddie came in but he texted me as soon as he found out I’d got injured and has texted me every now and again to check up on me,” said May, whose club, Gloucester, are yet to record a win this season having lost against Leicester and drawn at Worcester.

“I wasn’t expecting that but I was really pleased he did because it gave me a bit of motivation and showed I was still in his thoughts."

“I’m aware I’ve a long way to go and I’ve a lot to get right but I hope that I’ve still got some of my best days ahead of me. I definitely want to play for England again.”

May, who faces a battle with Exeter Chiefs’ Jack Nowell, Harlequins’ Marland Yarde and Bath’s Semesa Rokoduguni for the England wing berths, is scheduled to return to full fitness in the first week of October.

* This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in The Rugby Paper. For detailed coverage of rugby in the UK at every level, see The Rugby Paper every Sunday. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Phil Dowson: Too early to assess impact of Dean Ryan departure on Worcester Warriors

The true impact of Dean Ryan’s departure from Worcester won’t be known until the club’s season is under way in earnest, admits Warriors flanker Phil Dowson.

But Dowson says a core of senior players at Worcester are helping to fill the gap created by the director of rugby’s sudden departure at the end of June.

GUIDING HAND: Phil Dowson acknowledges he has an important leadership role to fulfil at Sixways this coming season

Thirty-four-year-old Dowson says he, Chris Pennell, Donncha O’Callaghan and club captain GJ van Velze – who will skipper the side again for the 2016-17 campaign – held talks after Ryan’s exit to help ensure the transition to a post-Ryan regime was as smooth as possible for the wider squad.

“It’s sad to see Dean go and a lot of the players feel the same way in terms of his expertise and what he brought to the club but at the same time with the group of coaches we’ve got and the group of senior players it hasn’t actually been massively disruptive,” Dowson said.

“A lot of it has to be driven by the senior players – the decisions on the pitch and the culture.

“Dean leaving is a big loss and we won’t necessarily know how much of a loss until the games start.

“We get on well enough within the senior group to have been able to talk about the implications of Dean leaving and how best to cope with it.

“The rest of the boys have taken it all in their stride and it’s not really upset the apple cart.

“If something like this is going to happen then the best time for it to happen is probably during the off-season when the guys have time to get over the idea and have a whole run up to get used to somebody else.”

Head coach Carl Hogg and high performance director Nick Johnston now form the Warriors’ senior management team, with Sam Vesty and Mefin Davies working with the first-team backs and forwards respectively.

“Whoever is sitting in that head office, my job as a flanker doesn’t change and the same goes for the scrum-half, the fly-half, for everyone,” said Dowson.

“The structure of the week might change a bit but fundamentally our jobs remain the same. The guys have dealt with it pretty well.”

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Rugby Sevens and the Rio Olympics

It used to be the game that you'd play after the real toil was done.

After six months of slogging it out in the 15-man code, you'd have your end-of-season club dinner and then field a groggy-headed motley crew for a weekend of Sevens.

But as Matt Cleary writes in this excellent piece in The Guardian, Sevens is now an altogether more serious business. And with the Rio Olympics just around the corner, the game is set to go up a further notch or too - both in terms of its general popularity and the regard in which it's held within rugby circles.

Even if this chap doesn't make an appearance:

As Cleary's article makes clear, Sevens isn't a game that a rock star of the 15-man code can now simply drop into, no matter how stratospheric his play-making skills may be. It is a craft in and of itself, demanding a particular skillset.

To see those skills on show in Rio will not only take rugby to new audiences but also further inflate Sevens' credibility as a serious sport. And that will be to the benefit of all fans of the oval ball.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Can Billy Vunipola be stopped? Bath v Saracens

Billy Vunipola leaves a trail of Exeter defenders in his wake in last week's win over Exeter Chiefs. Will Bath be able to contain the Saracens wrecking ball in tonight's Aviva Premiership match at The Rec? Check out Saturday's Times and Sunday's The Rugby Paper for my reports and analysis.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Saracens' defensive 'wolfpack' defanged by Wasps - Mark McCall reaction

Nevermind France beating Ireland in Paris, the shock result of the weekend was closer to home: Wasps' eight-try walloping of Premiership leaders Saracens at Saracens.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall gives his reaction to the 64-23 loss.

If we didn't know it already, Sunday's game confirmed that loose forward Nathan Hughes is one heck of a piece of kit

You certainly won't want to watch this if you're a Sarries fan, but if you're a Wasps supporter then make it your desktop:

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Jonny Arr: No more under-achieving by Worcester Warriors

Jonny Arr says he is ready to shoulder greater responsibility at Worcester and ensure the Warriors shake off their tag of under-achievers.

And scrum-half Arr, who signed a new two-year deal with the club in December and is its longest-serving current player, is dissatisfied with the newly-promoted club’s record of two wins from their opening batch of Premiership matches.

“We’re sitting on the verge here, but for us it’s not enough to be almost there – we’re fed up of that now,” said Arr, whose Warriors side has yo-yoed between the Premiership and the Championship since he made his first-team debut in 2007.

“We know we’re good enough to get results and move forwards, not backwards.

“My goal is to see this club change and change for the better.”

Wins over Northampton and Newcastle might be thought to represent a decent beginning to the Warriors’ return to the top-flight, but Arr is setting the bar higher.

“Whilst we’ve started pretty well, we expect more,” the former England U20s half-back told me. “We want more from the effort we’re putting in and the positions we’re putting ourselves in.

“We are gutted not to have picked up a couple more wins. We’re not content with losing by the narrowest of margins here. We feel like we’re good enough to be getting more results.”

Arr, who has been at the club since he was 10, views his seniority and new contract as bringing new leadership duties.

“I think I have to regard it as having a bit more responsibility. My time here has flown by and all of a sudden I’m 27 not 18 and I’m sitting on quite a few appearances.

“My role has to chance given what I’ve done. I’ll look to give input where I can and add a bit of value to the side.

“Whether I’m playing or not playing, I just want to see this team get better.”

Dean Ryan jettisoned a number of established Worcester players when he took control of the club two years ago, but Arr has remained a pivotal figure in the director of rugby’s plans. And Arr believes there is still much to come from Ryan’s transformation.

“Dean has worked extremely hard to bring his vision,” he said. “We took a bit of a hit when he first arrived with relegation but it gave us a year to really start from scratch.

“It might take a year or two but the plans we have in place are good enough for us to bring that change.”