1. At the very top of my agenda for the new year is a commitment to everyone involved in the game in this country to build on the excellent work done by England at the World Cup. We saw a spike in terms of welcoming more people into the game after 2003 but what I really want to see is a greater diversity of people coming into rugby. I’ve said it plenty of times before because it is something I’m really passionate about but a third of the England squad in Japan were from BAME backgrounds. On the back of that I would love to see rugby grow and develop in areas such as inner cities as well as the traditional heartlands.
2. Law amendments. Where to start … if I were to make just one change it would be in an effort to reduce the amount of time wasted over reset scrums. During Exeter’s win over Sale last weekend it took four and a half minutes for one scrum to be completed. Stopping the clock could help but I also think that taking away the option of selecting another scrum from a free-kick could make a difference. Caterpillar rucks can also go too – no league likes to box-kick more than the Premiership and it is having an adverse effect.
3. Surely now is the perfect time to bring a greater transparency to the Premiership salary cap. I appreciate that a review of the regulations was recently announced but there is still a 103-page document sitting in Premiership Rugby’s offices and it is not publicly available. As far as I’m concerned, Saracens’ breach happened, they have been punished and it is time to move forward and the best way to do that for all the clubs is with as much transparency as possible. We often say it is a game for the fans but sometimes I wonder if they are given the full picture.
4. When England return to Japan for a two-Test tour in the summer it will be with an unfamiliar squad. There is every chance that not a single player involved in the World Cup will be involved. That presents Eddie Jones and a lot of players with an opportunity but the one thing I do not want to see is wasted caps. I look to the 2017 tour of Argentina when so many players were away with the Lions and some of that squad have just disappeared. Will Collier has not been seen for England since, nor Jack Maunder, and Denny Solomona has been in and out. A lot of the responsibility lies with the player – if you are given an opportunity you have to take it – but Jones must also avoid wasting caps and, if he picks players who are not contributing to England over this four-year cycle, then it is a waste.
5. In the coming months we have a fascinating Six Nations to look forward to with so many new coaches involved, followed by the business end of the club season. In each competition I want to see attacking rugby prevail. I wouldn’t begrudge Wales their 2019 grand slam – Shaun Edwards has always said that defence wins championships and he is so often right – but they had the second worst attack in the tournament. During the pool stages at the World Cup it was all about Japan and the speed and style with which they were playing. But then in the knockout rounds it was pragmatism and defence. At the moment I’m loving watching Racing 92 and Leinster in the Champions Cup, Bristol and Northampton in the Premiership. It is often the case that a winning team provides the blueprint for many others to copy. In 2019 one would have to say that was Wales and South Africa but next year I hope it’s a team that favours an attacking brand that sets the example.
6. Changes are clearly afoot when it comes to the global calendar – CVC have spent an awful lot of money for a seat at the top table – and some improvements can undoubtedly be made. It’s incredibly tough, like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with one hand, but let’s put the players front and centre. Players always want to know what is going on in the future. I think we’re moving towards a British and Irish league as well as a world club cup and that would have connotations for a revamped, perhaps streamlined, Champions Cup. If all the stakeholders can get together and iron out a global calendar that has the players at heart, perhaps by introducing a Christmas break, then rugby will be the better for it. In that calendar we need to build on the success stories of the World Cup. Japan simply have to join either the Six Nations or the Rugby Championship but there also needs to be a way for teams like Georgia and Fiji to have year-round access to matches against the top 10 teams in the world. And let’s do away with the term “tier-two” for good.
7. One particular incident at the World Cup showed that referees are coming more and more into the spotlight: Jaco Peyper’s misguided photo where he imitated the elbow by Sébastien Vahaamahina that earned him a red card against Wales. They are in the spotlight more because, on top of everything, they are in effect broadcasters as well. Everything they say is broadcast on TV and inevitably they are scrutinised more. Supporters will always want to hear more, know more and get greater insight but my concern is that it has gone too far. In commentary I have a button – we call it the lazy button – and I can use it to talk to a producer or a director to ask for replays and I can have that conversation without it being broadcast. I think TMOs need that same button so they can speak to the referee and say: “For the last couple of minutes everyone has been offside – you might just want to have a look at that.” I don’t think we see as many interventions from TMOs because every word is broadcast and it is becoming counterintuitive.