#360rugby: Welsh woes, future of scrums & Cipriani

Martyn Thomas 16:31 13/01/2015
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  • A big blow: Danny Cipriani is rumoured to be moving to France if an England call-up doesn't happen.

    Last weekend saw some great rugby, huge results, and even bigger talking points. Here are five things we learned, as London Welsh lost again, Danny Cipriani put himself in the shop window and Leigh Halfpenny came to life in Toulon.

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    Welsh woes 

    Bristol fans may well disagree but while London Welsh continue to struggle woefully in the top flight, their travails should not be used as an excuse to shake up promotion and relegation.

    The Exiles lost their 13th game in a row on Sunday as Newcastle ran in six tries at Kingston Park to secure a victory that was embarrassingly straightforward.

    It is not just that Welsh are losing every week but the manner of their defeats that has caused fans to wince at times this season. But that does not mean the Championship play-off system is failing.

    Running away with it: Welsh have lost their last 13 games.

    Although Bristol are on course to finish top of the regular season for the fourth time in six seasons, they have not been promoted in that time. 

    Yet it is easy to forget that they were only separated by Welsh due to bonus points at the end of last term, and there have been success stories. Exeter have hardly been an embarrassment since coming up via the play-offs, and Worcester put up a good fight.

    Welsh’s problems stem from the task of gelling 26 new recruits during one pre-season, not the system that saw them promoted.

    Cipriani would be a huge loss to Sale, the Premiership and England
    Following a week that saw his boss Steve Diamond admit that a Six Nations snub could well result in Danny Cipriani packing his bags for France, the fly-half again proved his quality.

    Cipriani was the architect of Sale’s fine 20-7 win over champions Northampton, and comprehensively won the battle with fellow England hopeful Stephen Myler.

    Stuart Lancaster, watching on at the AJ Bell Stadium, could only have been impressed and now he has a serious decision to make ahead of the clash with Wales in Cardiff next month.

    Certainly Cipriani deserves to be included when the Saxons face the Ireland Wolfhounds in Cork at the end of January. And if he impresses, who knows?

    What is for sure, is the Sharks and indeed the Premiership will be the losers if the mercurial playmaker does head across the channel.

    Morgan injury gives Lancaster licence to experimentMissing out: Ben Morgan (c).
    Having grabbed hold of the England No8 short with a couple of dominant performances in the autumn, Ben Morgan’s injury is as ill-timed as it was horrific.

    Yet, the Gloucester man’s misfortune does give Red Rose coach Lancaster the chance to look at his options at the base of the scrum during the Six Nations.

    While Billy Vunipola should profit against Wales in Cardiff, Lancaster should take the opportunity to have a glance at Steffon Armitage and Nick Easter too.

    The case for Armitage’s inclusion in the England squad has been well documented and he continues to impress for Toulon as an eight. Easter meanwhile has arguably been the Premiership’s stand-out performer in that position, and despite his advancing years produced an incredible sleight of hand to set up a Danny Care try against Leicester on Saturday.

    Lancaster’s concern with Easter, who will be 37 in September, has always been whether he will still be playing at the top level when the World Cup arrives. A new two-year contract at Harlequins suggests emphatically that he will.

    Jones’ rage at scrum ‘farce’ understandable
    Another weekend of European rugby and another weekend dominated by the referees’ handling of the scrum.

    Newport Gwent Dragons head coach Lyn Jones clearly feels strongly about the issue, branding the set piece “the scourge of the game” and a “farce” following his side’s 22-11 defeat to the Ospreys.

    The former British School Al Khubairat coach has a point too. On Friday night Gloucester were almost denied victory as JP Doyle turned down what appeared to be a blatant penalty late on.

    It is an increasingly murky part of the game, and one where the interpretation of the referee is becoming more and more important, as he decides who is in the ascendancy.

    Jones says he coaches his players to push straight and true, and just wants others to do the same against his side, but that may be considered wishful thinking.

    Halfpenny hits his straps to cut Racing adrift
    It is fair to say that Leigh Halfpenny’s French adventure did not get off to the start he had hoped, but signs are he is beginning to settle in to life at Toulon.

    Halfpenny took just four minutes to score the opening try in his side’s 32-23 win over Racing Metro, latching onto a pass from Matt Giteau before crashing over the whitewash.

    Finding touch: Leigh Halfpenny.

    The Welsh full-back added a further 12 points from the boot, and provided the pass for Bryan Habana to score, in an impressive display as Toulon put breathing space between them in third and fourth-placed Racing.

    Halfpenny’s performance could not have come at a better time for his club side, with Delon Armitage suspended until February 9.

    Toulon will hope he can replicate his display in Europe as Ulster head to the south of France on Saturday. 

    Bonus Point
    While Halfpenny was kicking Toulon to victory, team-mate Bakkies Botha was providing prove – if indeed it were needed – that he is as hard as they come.

    The World Cup winner picked up a painful-looking broken finger in the first half at the Stade Felix Mayol, yet sauntered off as if nothing was wrong. We’ll let you judge for yourself…