Who’s hot and who’s not: Marcus Smith boost for England and Harlequins, Fiji impress and Tom Wright dropped for poor form

Who's hot and who's not photo 24 July 2023.jpg Credit: Alamy

Who’s hot and who’s not photo 24 July 2023.jpg Credit: Alamy

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.

THEY’RE ON FIRE!

Impressive Fiji: When they announced their squad ahead of the Pacific Nations Cup, it looked strong, and the Fijians confirmed that they are a team to watch following a fine victory over Tonga. Against a team who themselves were stacked with talent, the hosts flew out of the blocks, scoring three tries in the opening 12 minutes. Although ‘Ikale Tahi responded with a couple of scores of their own, Simon Raiwalui’s men were too strong and completed a fine 36-20 triumph. Fiji continue to look like a side that could cause Pool C opponents Wales and Australia serious problems in the Rugby World Cup.

Marcus Smith boost for Quins and England: It had long been rumoured that the talented fly-half was set to move overseas and join Racing 92 as a replacement for the Bath-bound Finn Russell. Under current RFU regulations, that would have stopped him from featuring for England while he was in France, but fortunately for Steve Borthwick he doesn’t need to worry about that anymore. Smith has signed a new deal with Harlequins, which is huge for club, country and the Premiership itself, a competition which is on its knees after a dreadful 12 months.

Smart appointment by the Reds: The Queensland-based outfit have confirmed Brad Thorn’s replacement by bringing Les Kiss back to Australian shores. Kiss spent six years at the Waratahs between 2002 and 2008 but since then has plied his trade north of the equator, firstly with Ireland before then going on to coach Ulster and London Irish. The Exiles’ demise left him without a job but he has returned home in what, on the face of it, looks an excellent appointment by the Reds. The 58-year-old is a superb coach and his free-flowing style will suit the Brisbane side.

ANZAC XV headlines Lions schedule: This week the fixtures for the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2025 were announced and features a clash between the historic side and a combined Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC) XV. The team last played against the Lions in 1989 and the return of the ANZAC side has been welcomed by the rugby world. The specifics of selection have not been mentioned yet but the inclusion of the clash is a brilliant idea and certainly adds the feel of an unofficial Test.

U20 Rugby Championship: SANZAAR have announced the inaugural U20 Rugby Championship starting in 2024 with the four key member unions committed to helping the development pathways in those countries. The decision comes after northern teams dominated the World Rugby U20 Championship with South Africa finishing in third as the best placed southern side. The U20 Rugby Championship is a huge step in the right direction for young players from the four giants of the south, although we would have liked to have seen nations such as Fiji and Japan involved as well.

BROKEN THERMOSTAT

England edging towards central contracts? Although it has not been officially announced, reports have surfaced that the Rugby Football Union have agreed a deal with England wing Anthony Watson to pay his wages through until the end of the Rugby World Cup. The speedster is currently unattached and has yet to find a club, but head coach Steve Borthwick wants him to remain in the country. As a result, a contract with the governing body has been organised. According to The Telegraph, the RFU were at pains to state that it was not a central contract akin to the Irish system, but it does suggest that English rugby is heading in that direction. Whether it is a good idea, we are not wholly certain, but they definitely need to do something to reverse the fortunes of the professional game in England.

COLD AS ICE!

Michael Leitch and Japan: A moment of rare stupidity from the back-row, who was sent off for the Brave Blossoms in their 24-22 defeat to Samoa in the Pacific Nations Cup. Leitch led with his shoulder into the head of visiting number eight So’otala Fa’aso’o in the first half and was correctly handed his marching orders. Although his team-mates battled, they would go on to lose, suffering their seventh defeat in a row. With the Japanese in poor form heading into the Rugby World Cup, they could have done without their experienced back-row doing such an unnecessary act.

Tom Wright pays price for form: The Brumby showed some class for his franchise during the Super Rugby Pacific campaign but did not convert that onto the Test scene with two poor performances against South Africa and Argentina. As a result, he became the first high-profile cut of the second Eddie Jones era as the veteran coach looks for his best side whilst transforming the Australian game plan. The axe also fell on Pete Samu and Reece Hodge ahead of the Bledisloe Cup clash against the All Blacks.

Viaplay causes headache for URC: Swedish company Viaplay Group have announced their plans to depart the UK market, which would leave the United Rugby Championship without a key TV contract. Viaplay took over Premier Sports in July 2022, looking to expand from their traditional base in the Nordic region, but they have run into financial problems. Subscriptions have not increased as they expected, resulting in them cutting costs and laying off 25 per cent of staff. The immediate future is uncertain for the URC and it has not been helped by the governing body failing to comment on the current situation, leaving fans in the lurch.

Fijian duo forgo World Cup dreams: This isn’t a criticism of Peceli Yato or Api Ratuniyarawa, but it is a huge shame that they seemingly have to sacrifice their chance of appearing at the World Cup to look after themselves and their family fiscally. No official reason was given for Yato’s departure from the squad, but it would not be a surprise if Clermont Auvergne needed him for the start of the 2023/24 Top 14 campaign, which begins on August 18.

READ MORE: Sunday Social: Barbie or Oppenheimer, golf swings and Eddie Jones

The article Who’s hot and who’s not: Marcus Smith boost for England and Harlequins, Fiji impress and Tom Wright dropped for poor form appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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