Lions and England winger Anthony Watson calls for 20 game limit per season

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Anthony Watson says more than 20 games per season leads to injury

England and Bath wing Anthony Watson has called for players to be limited to just 20 matches per year for the sake of their well-being.

The Rugby Football Union is leading a tackle trial in the new season as the sport examines its approaches to concussion and injury reduction.

It means that in English rugby’s second professional tier, the definition of a high tackle will be lowered from above the line of the shoulders to above the armpit line.

At a time when a number of relatively young players are being forced out of the sport early by injury, including former Wales captain Sam Warburton who retired at the age of 29, the onus is on the sport to look after the best interests of those who take the field week on week.

Watson has questioned whether the trial in the new Championship season will have the desired effect, suggesting it could cause more concussion injuries with players colliding into knees of opponents.

The 24-year-old, currently sidelined by an Achilles injury, told the Mail on Sunday: “You don’t want to see passive tackles. I don’t think changing the nature of the game is the answer.

“What’s difficult is playing 25 plus games per year and you end up playing at 75 or 80 per cent. These things aren’t decided by the players but I’d have thought 20 games maximum is the right number.”

The Premiership season gets under way on Friday, with England stars again having loyalties to both their clubs and country.

The dual contract system employed by the likes of Wales and Ireland, that sees national associations regulate players’ game time, does not apply with England. It can make for a heavy workload, and players may feel a long-term physical impact.

“Sometimes England want one thing and your club want something else,” said Harlequins and England prop Joe Marler.

“Your club pay your wages so they’re the strong voice but you want to get picked by England.

“It’s difficult to manage without upsetting either party, so you either get caught up in the politics of it all or just go out and play. I look at the systems in Wales, Ireland or New Zealand with envy but senior people here say ‘too late, the ship has sailed’, and go back to the power of the clubs.

“Am I saying I know the right number of games? No, but I just know it should be less. I’d rather play fewer games per year, take less money and have a longer career.

“Just like I’d rather have a functioning body after rugby and less money, instead of more money and a hip replacement.”

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Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus blasts defeat to Argentina in Mendoza as “embarrassing”

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Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus

Rassie Erasmus, the SA Rugby Director of Rugby, described the Springboks’ 32-19 defeat to Argentina in the second round of the Rugby Championship, on Saturday evening (UAE time) in Mendoza, as embarrassing.

One week after suffering a 34-21 defeat at the hands of the Springboks in Durban, the resurgent Pumas produced a physical performance to snap an 11-match losing streak in front of an ecstatic crowd at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, following a 27-7 lead at halftime.

Erasmus was brutally honest in his assessment of the Springboks’ poor performance: “It was embarrassing and not the kind of performance you expect to see from the Springboks.

“We made only one change to the starting team from last week, when we dominated them. We have to point the fingers to ourselves, firstly as coaches and then as players, and we will have to fix it.”

Erasmus said the travelling to Argentina was definitely not a factor: “We travelled a day later and in the second half we outplayed them because we were the fresher team.

“We were playing better rugby in the second half but we just didn’t make use of our opportunities.

“I’m not going to look for positives after a performance like that. We have no excuses, we knew exactly what to expect, we prepared for it but we just didn’t handle it,” added Erasmus.

Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi scored his side’s only try in the first half and the Boks delivered a much better performance in the second half.

Lionel Mapoe (replacement wing) scored twice in the right-hand corner after the break for his first tries in the Bok jersey. Mapoe was an early replacement for Makazole Mapimpi, who suffered a knock to the knee.

Argentina outscored the Springboks by four tries to three, with fly-half Nicolas Sanchez instrumental, scoring 17 points courtesy of a try, three conversions, a penalty and a drop goal.

The Springboks return home on Tuesday and the squad will re-assemble on Saturday in Johannesburg, from where they will travel to Brisbane for their next fixture, on September 8 against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

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Dan Carter v Beauden Barrett in the battle for All Blacks' greatest fly-half performance

Alex Broun 26/08/2018
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Dan Carter chips over Josh Lewsey to score his first try against the Lions in 2005

The debate has already kicked off in the land of the long white cloud.

Which performance was better – Dan Carter against the British & Irish Lions in Wellington in 2005 or Beauden Barrett against the Wallabies at Eden Park in 2018?

Both were mesmeric, record-breaking performances by players on top of their game and unmatched on the world stage.

Carter was electric on that night 13 years ago. He scored 33 points from two tries, four conversions and five penalties as the All Blacks thrashed Clive Woodward’s Lions 48-18 to claim the series.

It was similar for the middle Barrett brother who scored 30 points from four tries and five conversions as the All Blacks dispatched the Wallabies 40-12 to retain the Bledisloe Cup for the 16th year.

The Wallabies saw a blur when they looked at Beauden Barrett

The Wallabies saw a blur when they looked at Beauden Barrett

Carter’s 33 points was a record by an individual in a Test against the Lions, as was Barrett’s 30 points in Tests against the Wallabies.

For then 23-year-old Carter it was just his 20th Test, and only his fifth start at fly-half.

Barrett, at 27, is a little further into his career, playing in his 66th Test and 35th as the No10 after serving a three year apprenticeship under Carter up until the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

For both players the match was a significant milestone.

For Carter, three-time World Rugby Player of the Year in 2005, 2012 and 2015 it was a coming of age on the international stage.

A player of undoubted talent showing what he was truly capable of in the most intense of Test match platforms.

For Barrett, two-time World Rugby Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, it was a reinstatement of his undoubted talent after his place had been put under threat by the rising support for the Crusaders No10, Richie Mo’unga.

Carter’s strengths were an accurate left boot, he scored 1,451 points with his left foot in Tests (plus two more with his right in the 2015 RWC final), superb vision and distribution and the eye for a gap.

Barrett’s right boot is definitely not as accurate, he has just 375 points from conversions (123) and 43 penalties, but what Beauden gives up for in kicking for the poles he makes up for in tactical kicking and the speed not only to see a gap but to scorch through it – as he did time and time again against the Wallabies.

Carter was unstoppable that day in 2005

Carter was unstoppable that day in 2005

In weighing up both performances the Lions were undoubtedly the tougher opponent with Carter opposed by another of the greatest fly-halves of all time – Jonny Wilkinson, as well as Jason Robinson and Shane Williams on the wing and Paul O’Connell leading the pack.

Carter picked out the Lions’ weaker link of Gavin Henson, in for the tour captain Brian O’Driscoll who was controversially injured in the first Test, and ran through him all day, putting on a masterclass of skills.

Wilkinson himself stood in awe at Carter’s first try as the All Blacks playmaker sprinted into a tight corner then kicked over the top of full-back Josh Lewsey and re-gathered to score.

The Daily Mail’s Chris Foy, reminiscing in 2009 about what he saw that day, chose a different sport to try to sum up Carter’s display.

“It was once said of Nick Faldo that he had conquered golf – he had beaten the game,” Foy wrote.

“Well, against the Lions in Wellington four years ago, Carter seemed to conquer rugby. The majesty of his performance was astonishing. It defied belief at times.”

More than this Carter had done the impossible in a heated atmosphere with the Lions seething over the (unpunished) tackle on O’Driscoll by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu and hell bent on squaring the series.

Could Barrett’s performance be adjudged to have done the same?

He was up against a mis-firing Wallabies side shorn of one of their few world class players in full-back Israel Folau, which certainly allowed Barrett to score at least one of his tries, easily outpacing Folau’s slower replacement, Dane Haylett-Petty.

But Barrett too was under great pressure – with not one but two world class No10s breathing down his neck (Mo’unga and Chiefs utility Damian McKenzie) Barrett chose this day to show what he was truly capable of.

The true test for the current owner of the All Blacks No10 jersey may come in a few weeks’ time when the marauding Springboks pack come to Wellington with a hungry back row intent on cutting Barrett down to size.

Perhaps the only fair way to judge is to look at what each player brings to their side.

Carter was more of a controller of play in a traditional sense – knowing when to pass, when to kick and on the odd occasion when to run. He thrived at the set-piece.

While Barrett is more of a broken field runner who thrives on turnover ball and an unset defensive line.

For mine, Carter’s Lions effort just shades Barrett’s Wallabies walkover but Beauden has many more days in All Black to come.

He may yet topple Carter’s magnus opus.

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