In the Lions seat
Stuart Barnes praises the performance of Dylan Hartley as the Premiership ups the attacking ante.
Last Updated: 11/09/12 7:42am
It's been a great day so far. Midday Monday and I've been to see a new horse in which I have acquired a modest share. Arrived home to find the new Bob Dylan CD in the post which I would play right now except I have to whizz off with Mrs Barnes for an afternoon's racing with my friends from Bath Ales at Bath. There is a God!
Monday is my Sunday and this is turning into a good one; you never know, I may even pick a winner on the flat (although I wouldn't stake much on that!). It's pretty difficult to think back when there is so much to look forward to but how about using a name from yesterday to link the immediate past with the present.
Dylan - the great man - awaits my attention, whilst Dylan of the Hartley variety cheered me hugely with his performance on Sunday. He'll never be Bob and the Kiwi accent is not quite like the old snarl of Mr Dylan but, hey, I don't think Bob could dream of playing like Hartley. If the new CD is as good as Dylan's performance was it is going to be a pleasure listening tonight (Monday night).
I know, I know, it is only week two of the Premiership and I know that recent European campaigns highlight that the English top flight is not always quite what it thinks it may be (or at least those who market the game) but this was a spellbinding effort.
His tight work was immaculate; his captaincy decisions cold, considered, and rightl and his game in the loose exceptional. In a first fortnight where the impression is definitely of an English game trying to up the ante in attack by keeping the ball alive and making it harder for defences, Hartley's clever sleights and powerful runs from deep epitomised what has been an encouraging start.
Looking ahead (beyond even the third playing of Tempest - for that is the CD's title) to next summer and the Lions, I am not going to say Hartley has laid down a challenge to the likes of Rory Best and Matthew Rees but I am prepared to bet that if he can maintain this form in a white shirt, he is the man most likely to wear the Test shirt in June.
Staying on the Lions theme, poor old Australia; even when they achieve a sorely needed victory against the Springboks (an impressive five in a row) the news errs more on the bad than good side. Scarring the win is a knee injury that will apparently keep Will Genia out in excess of six months.
These are the sort of injuries that threaten the career and the ability of a player to return the force he was. The injury helps the Lions but nobody wants that sort of assistance. Genia, given a front foot by his forwards, is one of the finest scrum halves on the planet and I would like to think Lions fans would be keeping their fingers crossed for a quick recovery.
The Lions have a great chance next summer but Australia - a nation with thin resources when all their union players are fit - are horribly hampered when their best players are out. James Horwill, his replacement as captain, David Pocock and now his replacement as leader, Genia, are suffering from the Aussie captain's curse. We wish them all well.
Well done, too, to Argentina. Sure the conditions in Wellington helped but they have a fine defensive game, a bright understanding of the breakdown and an excess of guts. The one thing they really lack is a fly half. Hernandez is a great rugby player but that's not the same as a great fly half.
He was the world's best fifteen for a while; he will never be the best ten on the planet and until Argentina find a fly half with more rhythm and feel they will remain admirable defenders but limited attackers and the wins against the best will remain rarities. Still, it has been a fine start for them and hats off to them, Hartley and here's hoping for a speedy recovery, Will.
Stuart answers your emails...
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Hi Stuart, Do you agree with Warren Gatland warning France-based stars they may not be picked for the Lions tour if they are unavailable from the start?
STUART REPLIES: Mark, I do, especially as a warning and a statement are two different things... By the way I also think French clubs are NOT duty bound to release players. The Lions are not a big deal in Toulouse, Toulon, Clermont etc.
Stuart, I know it is early days but what did you think of Kyle Eastmond's display for Bath against Wasps? Do you think union can learn anything from the 13-man game?
STUART REPLIES: Great try, quick feet and an ability to make things happen around the breakdown. Can union learn from league? Loads, as league can from union and cricket from baseball etc.
Hey Stuart, You said on The Rugby Club that you didn't expect the Saints to finish in the top four? After the first weekend, do you still feel the same? And who do you think will be there challenging us for the spot?
STUART REPLIES: Michael, that statement was hardly written in stone. I always say that I would rather see teams for a month before commenting on prospects but in this imperfect world... After a fortnight I am hugely impressed with the power and organisation of the pack but still concerned about the ability to win when the forwards are matched. Right now the Saints look top-four material but a fortnight is no time for concrete judgements, although I predict Leicester will be thereabouts come the final.
Hi Stuart, I just watched highlights of Northampton v Exeter which has left me confused over the refereeing of spear tackles. GJ Van Velze was given 10 minutes in the sin bin for this offence, yet when Sam Warburton was sent off for exactly the same offence, the pundits general stepped up to defend Alain Rolland's decision. The red card is not used consistently for this offence, so who is right?
STUART REPLIES: David, I don't know who defended Rolland's decision but I sure as hell did not. I won't speak for my media colleagues but who is right? I guess Rolland was according to the letter of the law but in my mind Doyle was in accordance with a feel for the game. He'll get a roasting for not using the red card but if the law is the ass we must discuss the correctness of the law as well as the referee's decision.
Stuart, Looking through the Argentina squad the majority if not all of the players are from England or France. With the Rugby Championship running well into the Aviva and Top 14 seasons do the Argentinians run the risk of being clubless soon? Why pay players that miss a few months?
STUART REPLIES: James, The players will come back battered, bruised and half the players they previously were. Argentina are doing pretty well but the long term implications are not being talked, through. They cannot play Northern Hemisphere seasons and Southern Hemisphere rugby without something giving. Eventually Argentina's finest will have to choose between their country and their wage package. Same as British players who play in France and want to also play for the Lions.
Hi Stuart, Do you think that South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer is out of his depth and the game has moved on? I look at the talent they have and cannot believe they are not utilising their promising youngsters. Against England I saw glimpses of what this Bok side could be like but I don't understand the refusal to try out different things, to select a squad that allows for different approaches and to live the dream of coaching a national team?
STUART REPLIES: Sean, are you related? No. I do not think Meyer is out of his depth. The core strength of South African rugby is the game he knows and given some time I think he will have the Springboks there or thereabouts. The selection he makes for the autumn tour to Europe will tell us whether your fears are justified or not.