Dylan HartleyPaul Diggin TAGS: Northampton Saints Joe Ansbro training with Northampton SaintsReward comes to those who wait, as Scotland’s first black international player is proving. Three seasons of battling for selection at club level and a desire to impress Scotland’s coaches have finally paid off for Joe Ansbro. The Northampton centre won his first cap against South Africa last month and found his patience and persistence rewarded as his team achieved a 21-17 victory – only their second defeat of the Boks in 12 meetings in the pro era.Ansbro joined Northampton in 2007, fresh from Cambridge University, but hasn’t established himself as a regular starter for his club. However, he registered on Scotland’s radar and was picked for Scotland A during 2008-09, but opted out because he’d just returned from injury and Northampton wanted him to stay put. He did make his Scotland A debut at the Nations Cup in 2009, helping the Scots to triumph, but a niggling knee injury restricted his game time and stopped him from kicking on from that breakthrough last season. “I found myself watching more club games than I played,” Ansbro explains. “Then Scotland asked me to play for the A team again but I had just got back into the Northampton team and made the difficult decision to try to get a run of games with them and miss another chance for Scotland A.”With his knee fixed, this season Ansbro has been challenging Jon Clarke and James Downey for selection at the Saints and has played almost every match, whether starting or off the bench.Scotland coach Andy Robinson responded by naming Ansbro in his 34-man squad for the autumn Tests. He wasn’t picked for the first match, a 49-3 trouncing by New Zealand, and was preparing to play for Scotland A against the USA at Netherdale the following week when he was called up to replace the injured Max Evans at 13 for the Test against South Africa. “Initially I was a little bit shocked,” Ansbro says. “I was thinking of playing a big game for Scotland A and putting my hand up for selection against Samoa. To get straight in – well, my heart was going.”In the ensuing 36 hours he managed to buy a dozen match tickets to add to his player’s allocation, as his parents, five brothers and sisters, his girlfriend and her family all wanted to be at Murrayfield. Rainy weather didn’t manage to spoil Ansbro’s big day and Scotland secured a famous win which lifted them to an all-time high of sixth in the IRB world rankings. “I absolutely loved it!” laughs Ansbro. “I was pleased with how it went and I got really positive feedback from the coaches. There are always things to work on but it’s a good foundation.” Scotland showed great mental fortitude to put their beating by the All Blacks aside, but Ansbro wasn’t surprised. “We had trained hard and we were fully focused and well prepared. I realised we were going to perform in a ruthless manner. We played a lot smarter than the week before.”Ansbro is the first black player to play for Scotland but his colour has never been a factor in his rugby career. “It didn’t influence me. I’ve just been someone with ambitions of playing at the highest level. I would love to be a good role model but just as a rugby player representing his country.” Ansbro’s rugby journey began at the age of six when he joined his elder brother Alastair at Stewartry Sharks rugby club. “Our parents were keen for us all to play sport. We would always be outside and you were never short of someone to play with in my family!” Just before his eighth birthday, Ansbro headed south to Lancashire to go to boarding school at St Mary’s Hall and then on to Stonyhurst College. Other former pupils there include Will Greenwood and Iain Balshaw, and the rugby culture soon rubbed off. Ansbro played for Lancashire Schools but didn’t get through the England U16s trial. Knowing he was from Glasgow, the England coaches asked if he planned to try out for Scotland at U18s level instead, but Ansbro says: “After that, pride made me come back and have a go at England U18s and I got in!” After school Ansbro put his professional rugby ambitions on hold in favour of reading natural sciences at Cambridge. “The chance of going to Cambridge was something I was never going to turn down. I had worked very hard to get there. Luckily I got a chance to do the rugby afterwards,” he says.Now that his talent has taken him to the highest level, his next target has to be his Six Nations debut. Scotland host Wales, Ireland and Italy in 2011 and have the potential to win all three and pose a threat in Paris and London too. Ansbro is certainly optimistic. “Providing we prepare well and play smart rugby then the quality is certainly there for us to beat anyone. ”But having fought so hard to get his first Scotland caps – he was retained for the win against Samoa in Aberdeen – Ansbro isn’t looking ahead to the Six Nations, never mind the World Cup.“Now I’m just trying to get back into the Northampton team. That’s what helped me get involved with Scotland in the first place.”Learn more about Joe’s teammates at Northampton… LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS With the upcoming World Cup in his back yard, Richie McCaw will have even more pressure on him to lead out a successful team. Making his international debut before turning 21 and captaining the All Blacks at 23 is a great feat for someone who still has a lot to offer the game. Total rugby caught up with the three-time winner of the IRB player of the year award to get a closer insight to his game.
BATH, ENGLAND – MAY 23: Stuart Lancaster, the England Saxons coach looks on during the England training session held on May 23, 2011 in Bath, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images) England XV15 Mike Brown (Harlequins)14 James Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester Rugby)13 Henry Trinder (Gloucester Rugby)12 Matt Banahan (Bath Rugby)11 Ugo Monye (Harlequins)10 Charlie Hodgson (Sale Sharks)9 Paul Hodgson (London Irish)1 Joe Marler (Harlequins)2 David Paice (London Irish)3 Paul Doran-Jones (Gloucester Rugby)4 Graham Kitchener (Worcester Warriors)5 David Attwood (Gloucester Rugby)6 Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs)7 Carl Fearns (Sale Sharks)8 Luke Narraway (Gloucester Rugby, captain)Replacements16 Joe Gray (Harlequins)17 Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons)18 James Gaskell (Sale Sharks)19 Jamie Gibson (London Irish)20 Micky Young (Newcastle Falcons)21 Stephen Myler (Northampton Saints)22 Jordan Turner-Hall (Harlequins) LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Stuart Lancaster looks on at the Englang team he’s selected for the fixture against the Baa-BaasFive newcomers will pull on a senior England shirt for the first time against the Barbarians on Sunday (2.30pm).Centre Henry Trinder (Gloucester Rugby), prop Joe Marler (Harlequins), lock Graham Kitchener (Worcester Warriors), and flankers Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs) and Carl Fearns (Sale Sharks) were all named in the starting line-up for the non-cap game at Twickenham Stadium.Trinder, 22, is in midfield alongside Matt Banahan (Bath Rugby) and Charlie Hodgson (Sale Sharks) in an experienced back line that also includes British and Irish Lions wing Ugo Monye (Harlequins).Number eight Luke Narraway leads the side and is one of four full internationals in a young pack with hooker David Paice (London Irish), prop Paul Doran-Jones and lock David Attwood (both Gloucester Rugby).The replacements include Newcastle Falcons scrum half Micky Young and London Irish flanker Jamie Gibson, drafted into the squad this week following injuries to the Northampton Saints pair of Lee Dickson (shoulder) and Calum Clark (back). The side is coached by Stuart Lancaster, assisted by Jon Callard and Simon Hardy, and will form the core of the England Saxons squad defending the Churchill Cup next month.Head coach Lancaster said: “It’s a very exciting line-up with a good blend of experience and youth and we have the opportunity to measure ourselves against a very experienced Barbarians side including some of the very best players in the world on Sunday.“It is a young England side and the match day squad has an average age of 23, but these are players who’ve been in terrific form for their clubs and many of them have played a major part in big games at the end of the season in the Aviva Premiership and in Europe.”
Until that devout wish does come to pass, the fact remains that the two most compelling upsets to shake the game to its foundations in well over 200 matches played in the World Cup Finals since 1987 were those two eye-popping afternoons when, literally out of the blue, the French XV gloriously ran ragged the hitherto strutting and cocksure All Blacks – in the quarter-final of 2007 when Les Bleus won by 20-18 and, eight years before in the Twickenham semi, mesmerisingly by 43-31 after trailing 24-10.Before then, I suppose the very first World Cup upset did produce rugby’s still most hoary and enduring joke – precisely 20 years ago this 6 October when, immediately after Wales’ cataclysmic defeat to Western Samoa in 1991, a red-faced red-decked Taff in an Arms Park bar sighed with relief: “At least, thank the Lord, we weren’t playing the whole of Samoa.”To be sure, you’ve gotta slay a dragon or two.This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.Find a newsagent that sells Rugby World in the UK Or perhaps you’d like a digital version of the magazine delivered direct to your PC, MAC or Ipad? If so click here. For Back Issues Contact John Denton Services at 01733-385-170 visit LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Fiji historically beat Wales 38-34 in a thrilling match during the 2007 World CupHere’s to the Kiwis staging a spectacular show-stopper. May they make it a magnificent seventh World Cup – the richest and most rewarding of festivals so far, a gathering of the clan blessed with an abundance of stirring contests, razor-keen rivalries, chivalrous derring-do, high drama, low tackles, and a hatful of dazzling tries. All that and, it goes without saying, may the best team win.Most fervently of all, however, I pray for some gloriously upset apple-carts. C’mon you giant killers! Please, oh please, can a few of you tiddlers rudely bite some of the big sharks painfully on the backside.Since curtain-up in the inaugural pipe-opener in Auckland 24 years ago – New Zealand 70, Italy 6 – the game’s successive quadrennial Finals have not exactly overindulged in dragon-slaying upsets of the romantic kind which have traditionally illuminated knockout tournaments staged by other sports. Truth is that rugby’s first five World Cups remain almost exclusively logged in the history books as either embarrassing mismatches or heavyweight battles between the big beasts.Till 2007 that is. Rugby’s last World Cup in France at least and at last offered a series of heart-warmingly rousing hints that a few of the presumed makeweight no-hopers were finally and boldly stirring themselves to dare put a few Goliaths to the sword.That serious challenge to the established order, remember, had begun at the very beginning in the Stade de France when on opening night Argentina gloriously tweaked the hosts’ smug presumptions in the gala premiere – and the skilful, sassy, saucy South Americans were to repeat the dose, of course, at the closing curtain more than a month later when they beat the French again in the third-place play-off. Over the two games Argentina won by a total of 51-22, a sound thrashing in anyone’s language.In between, Argentina not only beat Ireland and Scotland but inspired no end of threatened upsets from other unconsidered bold little big men and cock-eyed optimists. First, Fiji beat Wales 38-34 in that frenzied technicolour toe-to-toe shindig before, in the quarter-final, shaking the eventual champions South Africa till their teeth rattled – it was 20-20 with less than 20 minutes left. In turn, little Japan had given those same Fijians the fright of their lives at 35-31, as did Georgia to Ireland when, at 14-10, again there was only four points in it.There were a few other dramatic instances of the old order being lined up for ambush in 2007 and, four years on, here’s to more of the same, but this time with giants not only being severely embarrassed but gaudily, cruelly and terminally slain. NANTES, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 29: Fiji players celebrate their team’s 38-34 victory as the final whistle blows during the Rugby World Cup 2007 Pool B match between Wales and Fiji at the Stade de la Beaujoire on September 29, 2007 in Nantes, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
We will not accept any images of national or professional players unless they are visiting your club as part of an initiative and pictures must be a minimum of 5MB in size. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS To enter our competition, email your photos and contact details to [email protected] with the subject title ‘Photo competition’ by Wednesday 30 April 2014.Winning submissions will feature in Rugby World as part of a photo special at the end of the season. So what are you waiting for? Get snapping! Just like that: This is a professional image of Iain Balshaw being tackled, but could you do better at your local club?FANCY YOURSELF as an amateur photographer? Out in all weathers, snapping away as your local side battles on the pitch? Well, here’s the chance to see your snaps showcased in Rugby World Magazine!The joy of rugby: John GoldmanWe are looking for fans of amateur, schools and grass-roots rugby to send us their photos from the current season; photos that capture the spirit of rugby, on and off the pitch. The picture of 70-year-old prop John Goldman (right) illustrates what rugby means to him and we want to see what it means to you.There are no stipulations on how many pictures you can send in, or indeed who you take a photo of, but there are a few rules. John Goldman aged 70 plays for Mill Hill RUFC vs Verulamians 2’s Feb. 5 2011
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Eyes on the prize: Owen Farrell is game for a laugh on this week’s video insight into the England campInteresting insight into the England camp in this week’s O2 Inside Line. There’s a decent tactical breakdown of England’s win over Wales, the boys pumping some tin in the gym and the squad designate the funniest team-mate. Clue. Joe Marler is a multiple nominee…
Scott Spedding says French fitness needs to improve and if they are to succeed at the World Cup, it maybe thanks to a British invention… In the blue: Spedding playing for France but next year he’ll wear the yellow of Clermont Stiff competition: Spedding will be up against Nick Abendanon for the No 15 shirtHas he joined the right club, then? Clermont have famously triumphed just once in their 12 Top 14 final appearances, a fact Spedding acknowledges. “There’ll be a lot of pressure at Clermont this season because their supporters are demanding a trophy,” he says. “Personally I’ll be competing with Nick Abendanon [for the full-back’s jersey], who had a great season last season, so that just adds to the excitement.”In the meantime, however, Spedding’s horizon stretches only as far as England and France’s opening match against Italy at Twickenham on September 19. “We’ve still got lot of work to do but I think with the World Cup still two months away we’re well-placed,” he says. “Everything that’s gone before counts for nothing. When we gathered three weeks ago we started from zero and we’ll be ready for our first game. The French know they have a point to prove and the French are never more dangerous when they have something to prove.” There have also been the odd social outing to further forge friendships but in truth, says Spedding, “we’re pretty broken by the evening so we eat and then go to bed.”Such has been his focus in recent weeks that Spedding has not even had the time to find a flat in Clermont, the club he’s recently joined from Bayonne . “Clermont have been really supportive and told me to concentrate on France for now so I haven’t done anything about moving in,” says the 29-year-old, who is relishing the prospect of playing for last season’s beaten Champions Cup and Top 14 finalists.“It’s a massive motivation to join Clermont and try and help them win a title,” says Spedding. “And of course I want to win a title, too, because there are two things that mark a player’s career – caps and titles.” If France do surprise the world and win the Webb Ellis Cup in October they’ll have to give grudging thanks to a British invention. The ‘Wattbike’ has been their primary fitness machine during their first four weeks of preparation, Les Bleus investing in a dozen of them for their training at Marcoussis and latterly Tignes, in the Alps.The static cycle was first developed in 2008 at the request of British cycling, who wanted an indoor training bike that, in the words of Wattbike’s website, could measure “your power output, your pedalling technique and heart rate”. The result is a machine used by, among others, Team Sky.France coach Philippe Saint-Andre isn’t much interested in the technique bit, more the heart rate and particularly the power output. That’s why their 12 Wattbikes were transported from Paris to Tignes last week, and were seen on Tuesday at an altitude of 3,000 metres as part of the squad’s high-altitude training. The French players – like those of England, Scotland and Wales – are learning that being beasted at high altitude improves the delivery of oxygen to the muscles and that in theory leads to better athletic performance. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS “I think fitness has been a problem with the French team for a number of seasons because we’ve never had the time to work together before Tests, just a week or so,” says Spedding. “At Test level that’s not long enough so this is the first time this coaching team have had the squad for such a long period and that means we have the time to work on an attractive game plan and on our fitness.”The shared suffering has been good for the squad, says Spedding, forging strong bonds that he believes will be tough enough to stand the pressure of the impending World Cup. “It’s been a really hard three weeks, but we’re all going through the same thing and we’re encouraging one another and really knitting tighter together.”Putting in some graft: Scott Spedding is training at altitude in the French Alps The more one pedals on the Wattbike the greater the resistance, and the French squad on Tuesday started with six and half seconds maximum sprint with 24 seconds of recovery, a sequence repeated over a total of 24 minutes. “What I’ve learned in the last few days,” gasped Wesley Fofana at the end of the session, “is that I’m not really cut out for cycling.”Scott Spedding who, incidentally, went to the same South African school as the current leader of this year’s Tour de France, Chris Froome, says the Wattbike is just one part of a training programme that has pushed the French squad to its limits this month. “We started with 10 days at Marcoussis that was just fitness,” explains Spedding. “As well as the Wattbike there was a lot of cross-fit and gym workouts. Here at Tignes we’ve started to work on the rugby but it was made clear from the start that we would be working in three week blocks; the first block 70% fitness and 30% rugby and then vice-versa for the second block.”Once the second block is over, France play England in two warm-up matches in August, an opportunity for the French to avenge in some small measure their record 55-35 defeat in last season’s Six Nations. “Against England the ball was in play for a crazy amount of time – something like 40 minutes [42, according to Saint-Andre] – and I think in the second half we weren’t as fit as England,” reflects Spedding. “And as we began to tire so we started to struggle to make good decisions. That’s one thing we’re working on because if we want to compete at top we have to get that right.”Train harder: Spedding admits the French squad needs to be fitter to cmpete for 80 minutesThe South African-born full-back concedes that in general in recent seasons France haven’t been as fit as their rivals, and that certainly seems to be the objective of Julien Deloire, the conditioning coach tasked with preparing the players for the World Cup. “My major objective consists of improving the players fitness capacity rather than their muscle volume,” he told Midi Olympique on Monday.
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS — Carl fearns (@Carl_Fearns) November 5, 2015RW: When Sam Burgess left Bath you tweeted eight weeping faces. Why? Lyon are 11 points clear of their rivals at the top of the ProD2, France’s second division, and at the heart of their success in the first half of the season is Carl Fearns. The former Bath back-rower, who was part of the England U20 side that reached the final of the 2009 IRB Junior World Championship, has been one of Lyon’s standout performers. Selected three times in the last two months in Midi Olympique‘s XV of the Week, the 26-year-old Fearns tells us about life in France and that tweet he sent on hearing of Sam Burgess’s departure from Bath…Rugby World: Why did you move to Lyon?Carl Fearns: I wanted a new challenge and when Lyon came in it was a no-brainer. When I signed for two years I knew they were ambitious and wanted to get back into the Top 14. So it was always part of my plan to come into the club when they were in ProD2, play a season and establish myself, and hopefully go up to the Top 14.RW: Was it hard to leave Bath?CF: I wasn’t starting as many games as I would have liked. I was coming off the bench, making a big impact and wasn’t really getting rewarded. When I re-signed for Bath it was under Gary Gold and when he left (in December 2013) the club didn’t really seem the same to me. So I hadn’t been happy for probably a year.RW: Were you pushed out?CF: No, I wasn’t. It was my decision, I wanted to leave.Eyes front: Carl Fearns on the attack for Bath last season. Photo: Getty ImagesRW: What about the fans?CF: I miss them. I felt I had a lot of support from the fans and I think that’s because whenever I played for Bath I gave everything and I they appreciated that.RW: How have you settled in France?CF: Really well. I’ve two children and my little boy (who’s three) is going to an international school and he’s loving that. There are a lot of South African and Australian players at Lyon so my wife spends a lot of time with their wives and girlfriends.RW: How’s the French?CF: I’m doing lessons twice a week and slowly getting there. I’ve hit a wall now! I was doing really well and now it’s slowed up a bit, but I’m cracking on with it.RW: What’s the biggest differences between the Premiership and ProD2?CF: Probably the speed of it. Here it’s not as quick as the Premiership. But then there are big, big men in this league and it’s just as physical, if not more. Lyon flanker Carl Fearns talks Bath, Burgess and bidding for promotion On the ball: Carl Fearns enjoys the style of play at Lyon in France’s ProD2. Photo: Getty Images RW: Does that suit your style more?CF: A little bit, yes. But also the fact I’m enjoying my rugby again. At Lyon I’m getting my hands on the ball more and I’m more involved.RW: You toured South Africa with England in 2012 but there’s been nothing since…CF: That was a factor in coming to France. I’d spent about eight seasons in the Premiership and never really got a look-in with England apart from the tour. Stuart Lancaster said that I was one of the standout players in the last midweek game (a win over the SA Barbarians North) but wasn’t in any of the next squads.Fine form: Nick Abendanon on the burst for Clermont v Bordeaux. Photo: Getty ImagesRW: Should England pick players from French clubs?CF: I think you pick best players regardless of where they play. Nick Abendanon and Steffon Armitage won European Player of the Year awards and if they were in the England squad, it would help drive people to make sure the way they were performing was at the top level.RW: Lyon are running away with ProD2, is it hard to keep focused?CF: No. We’ve got an experienced bunch and we’re putting pressure on ourselves from within to keep working hard. We lost to Perpignan at the weekend (20-16) and we know that everyone in the league is after us so we’ve got to expect teams to raise their game against us.RW: Can Lyon survive if promoted to the Top 14?CF: The club has gone up and down in recent seasons and they’re addressing that. Foundations are being laid that I think, with some hard work and a few more additions in the summer, will see us shock a few people in the Top 14. CF: It wasn’t aimed at him, I really liked Burgess. It was more the situation at Bath.For the latest Rugby World subscription offers, click here.
LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Hard graft: A double tackle in the Wasps v Leicester game (Getty Images) Taking a break: Billy Vunipola sits out England training (Getty Images)3. Game management“If you’re likely to be playing 30-40 matches per season, work with your coaches to plan the year. Where in the season are you going to be getting some rest? Can you be managed through the season, resting during some of the perceived easier games?“Don’t ever be tempted to play three games in eight days, it’s just not worth it. Injury rates go through the roof when players have to periodically contend with this scenario with fixture lists. Fatigue is way too high to contemplate performing at the level required.”Related: Check out Henry Barratt’s website here.4. Prevention is better than cure“Work out how many physio/massage/stretch sessions you need to do per week to keep in top condition and allow your body to recover. Add regular mobility/stretch sessions, even look at the power of learning to breathe effectively for relaxation, calming the bodies sympathetic nervous system.Body work: All Black Sam Cane going through his gym routine (Getty Images)“I would suggest most rugby players lack true flexibility, have never come across breathing strategies and spend zero time addressing these areas.”5. Although part of a team, focus on your individual needs“As well as making the most of what the club has to offer, is there anything else you can be doing outside of this that will help keep you strong both physically and mentally? Is it a mentor, therapist, acupuncturist, speed coach? Someone to look at your individual needs with a different perspective? Pro player turned personal trainer Henry Barratt offers his advice on managing your body throughout a tough campaign “Be prepared to pay for this service and see this as an investment to the longevity of your career. That said, it has to be done with consent and in symmetry with the club’s training. Don’t be the lone ranger and potentially alienate yourself from the club.”Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Five rest and recovery tips to survive a long rugby seasonHenry Barratt’s professional rugby career was cut short due to injury at the age of 25 and now he works as a personal trainer.Before retiring in 2008, he had played for Harlequins, Wasps and England U20, and he has dedicated the past ten years to teaching others how to train to an elite level. Now he is going to give you his best rest and recovery advice.“While it is important to push yourself throughout the season to help drive your team and career forward, a lot can change in a very short period of time and managing your body is crucial to ensuring a long and successful career,” he says.Whether you’re a professional player, semi-pro or play purely for the love of the game, here is Barratt’s advice on how to maximise rest and recovery to help you get through the long season ahead.1. Don’t neglect mid-season recovery protocols“It is no coincidence that the players who take the time to follow recovery protocols are the ones who are the most professional, detailed and serious about the longevity of their career.Chilling out: Australia prop Sekope Kepu in an ice bath (Getty Images)“Massages, ice baths, regular check-ups and treatments with physios/chiropractors/osteopaths all go a long way to body maintenance. It is simply not possible to survive the season and the physicality required without having treatment, no matter how good you feel.”2. Listen to your body“No one needs to be a hero in every training session (unless you have a serious point to prove). When muscles get tight, train appropriately. Help the coaches and conditioning staff to understand your body so it’s no surprise to them if you need to rest from a session.“Too many times players get injured in training through fatigue. Why push through that last set/sprint, when you feel your body is telling you to slow down or stop?”
When rugby turned pro in 1995, did the game embark on a road to amazing new heights or commence a slither into the abyss? Read this debate from our July 2020 edition Here are my beefs – or at least some of them. Media handlers. Players are too often cosseted, their personalities kept under lock and key. Previously, you watched guys perform, then drank with them in the clubhouse.Covering the All-Ireland League was a weekly joy, until professionalism came along and those brilliant rivalries and the craic that went with them slowly ebbed away. Great clubs in Ireland and Scotland and Wales are bit-part players now, there but largely forgotten. A sin.Teams used to tour in the amateur era. Proper tours to weird and wonderful places. Stories? How long have you got? There are few proper tours left. Something special has been lost.Fist pump: Tom English (left) at Scotstoun in 2017, proving he can still get excited about rugby! (Inpho)Teams play too much rugby. The game has become too expensive, too attritional, too dangerous, too lacking in too many of the qualities we loved about it in the first place. The best defence wins. Free spirits are a dying breed. It’s sad.Self-interest rules in all corners to the point that the Lions, another sacred entity, are forever endangered by players being too exhausted to deliver their best.I’m ranting. Rugby is still a delight but the old boys had a point. I know that now.” Catch your breath: Ireland v Japan at RWC 2019 had a ball-in-play time of 38min 59sec (Sportsfile/Getty) Face-off: Is the professional era better than the amateur one?SAM LARNERCo-host of Running the Numbers podcast and RW contributor“Christmases and birthdays were better when we were younger. It follows that rugby was also better back in the halcyon days of our youth. It wasn’t.In the 1991 World Cup the ball was in play for an average of 24min 48sec; in 2019 that figure was 36min – 11 minutes more per game. Even England v Australia, the game with the fewest minutes of ball in play, had more rugby than the average match in 1987, 1991 or 1995.There is also more happening in a game – 273 passes in 2019 versus 201 in 1995, 174 rucks or mauls versus 94. There are fewer kicks (45 to 59) and penalties (17 to 26). The sport is filled with more action than occurred in the amateur era.The common response is that all those things are true but rugby now lacks invention. Yet in 2019, 56% of tries were scored from two or fewer rucks and 53% of tries were scored off the back of four or more passes. This is rugby at its best.The players are far more skilful, a side-effect of not having to fit training around a second job. Forwards can no longer make themselves scarce until it is time for a scrum. Arguably the biggest change in rugby has been the vast improvement in the skill level of forwards.As incredible as Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, David Campese et al might have been, they were performing their magic against less skilful and less fit players. Their modern-day equivalents are doing the same thing against people who have been pros since they were 16.”Legend: but would Campo have scored all those Test tries against modern defences? (Getty Images)TOM ENGLISHBBC Scotland’s chief sports reporter and RW contributor“Back in the day, us young guns in Ireland used to chide the older scribblers when they bemoaned the arrival of professionalism. I can’t say they were wholly right, but they weren’t nearly as wrong as I thought they were. The more that time passes, the more I feel myself drifting into old fogey territory. LATEST RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION DEALS Proper tour: Mike Teague and Wade Dooley have a beer after the third Lions Test in 1989 (Getty Images)What do you think? Email your views to [email protected] debate first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Rugby World.