League fans envious of in a row when their national team hasn’t beaten the Kangaroos for a decade, have something to look forward to. Great Britain are coming back. Yes, I know, you’ve heard it all before. But this time it’s true – apparently. As union’s British and Irish Lions gear up to dominate the media next summer when they head to New Zealand, a relaunch of the League Lions is being planned, at last.
It’s nine years now since Richard Lewis brought the curtain down on the Great Britain story after 60 (at times) glorious years, 10 since GB played down under and 24 since an Ashes series was held in Australia. But I am reliably informed that plans are evolving for the return of Great Britain & Ireland and the Ashes, last competed for on these shores in 2003 when Great Britain contrived to turn three laighted with their 2-1 victory over Sampdoria on Wednesday night.Cristiano Ronaldo jumped 71cm off the ground to nod in Alex Sandro’s cross and win the game, after a Paulo Dybala volley had been cancelled out by Gianluca Caprari’s effort.“Dybala’s gte leads into three narrow defeats.
With World Cups down under next year and up here in 2021, an Ashes series in 2018 would most likely be in the UK. Alternatively, Great Britain could go back to Australia in 2020. With Australia’s players union still demanding a fallow year between World Cups, it will be one or the other, not both.
So what would a modern Ashes tour look like? The whole point of bringing it back would be to give players and fans a different experience to the Four Nations or World Cup. It would mean warm-up or midweek matches at provincial venues, and three Tests. While it would not go on any longer than the current four to five weeks, more could be packed in.
But how could Great Britain & Ireland look any different to England? Assuming they took the traditional rugby union Lions’ philosophy of having every home nation contributing, there would be management and players from all four camps, surely led by a British coach. If you were choosing it now, a Lions squad could include Scotland’s Matty Russell, Danny Brough and possibly eays the Armenian is the Gunners’ fourth best-paid player but has flattered to deceive at the Emirates since his 2018 swap deal with Alexis Sanchez, who moved to Manchester United in Mkhitaryan’s place.The 30-year-old, who earns £180,000-a-week, is cven Adam Walker, the Welsh flavour could come from Lloyd White, Ben Flower or Rhys Evans, and from Ireland, possibly Ben Currie and the Kings brothers from Warrington. None of these players would be guaranteed a spot in a GB XIII picked on merit alone, but the Lions should be more than that.
The main reason Great Britain was mothballed in 2007 was that it had become an all-English team anyway. Other than Tony Smith’s bizarre selection of Samoan Maurie Fa’asavalu in 2007, as far as I can fathom, Irishman Brian Carney is the only Great Britain player not born in England since Welshman Rowland Phillips played in Papua New Guinea in 1996, bringing to an end a century of union converts from the celtic nations.
Nowadays the celtic contribution to Great Britain – or rather the “British Isles XIII” as the crest on my cherished old GBRL shirt declares – will most likely be English-born. But they could certainly bring the spirit and grit missing from Wayne Bennett’s England side last month.
So that was the 2016 season. Farewell rugby league; see you again in February. Unless that is you live in or near Yorkshire, are into the women’s game or have Wednesday afternoons free. In which case, the season is just getting into its stride!
The 14-team Hull League remains in winter while the Pennine League may have shrunk a little since the RFL’s bizarre “summer season” campaign yet still has 54 teams up and running this year. That’s just one more than the number of university teams playing now, from Northumberland to Brighton. There are 41 sixth form and further education colleges playing, including newcomers Leyton Sixth Form and Sir George Monoux in Walthamstow, neighbours in east London.
I feel I need to find out more. Add 12 women’s teams (including Liverpool University), the Girls League and the Yorkshire Junior League and there’s rather a lot of competitive league being played in December and January after all.
While our professionals are back in pre-season training, across the channel the action never stops – especially for Toulouse and Catalans. Both have their reserves in Elite 1 again, providing a testing ground for their best young talent which, in theory, will emerge into the sunlight in spring. Catalans’ reserves, coached by Jerome Guisset, have dispensed with the name Saint-Estève-XIII-Catalan, ending about 80 years of those two historic clubs, and want to be known as Catalans U23, a sorry and unnecessary Anglicisation. Les Baby Dracs pushed table-toppers Carcassonne all the way recently, coming from 26-6 down to lose just 28-20, with Belgium rugby sevens winger Marc Sowell Tchangue among their scorers. They will continue playing once the Elite 1 season ends in May, facing British reserve teams.
While Catalans’ second team are looking strong, Toulouse Broncos – AKA Toulouse Olympique’s reserves – are without a win in their opening seven games. Coach Sylvain Houles will no doubt fish out some exciting young talent as 2017 unfolds. Look out for a full-length interview with Houles here on the Guardian in the bleak mid-winter. Lezignan look strong again and have gone top, while Catalans play Toulouse in a friendly on 21 January.
Clubcall: Toronto Wolfpack
The Wolfpack are the club that keep on giving. Press launch, media release, new signing, breaking story; repeat. Who knows what will happen when they actually start playing. Since I was last with you they have signed a deal with cool Italian kit manufacturers Kappa; abandoned plans to share Bradford Bulls’ Tonge training base and instead decided to set up camp at Brighouse Rangers; announced pre-season fixtures at Hull FC and against Wigan; and signed a second American-born player, with 19-year-old Gold Coast Titans prop Jerome Veve joining Virginian flyer Ryan Borroughs in their ranks, alongside some chap called Fui Fui Moi Moi. The 18 trialists they are bringing over to Brighouse from the Americas include a 17-year-old from Vancouver Island and USA internationals Terrance Williams from Georgia and Casey Clark of Montana.
The Wolfpack might also cause a stir expected to replace Maurizio Sarri in the Stamford Bridge hotseat.”After the season he has had with Derby and with Chelsea’s transfer ban in place, there is no-one better equipped than Frank to succeed at Chelsea,” the 38-year-old was quoted in Chel in Manchester. They will play home Challenge Cup ties and any play-off games at Manchester Regional Arena, next to the Etihad. On 5 February, Wigan will provide the first visitors to the home of Manchester Rangers, the amateur club who the RFL apparently lined up to replace York City Knights in League 1 before former London Skolars GM Jon Flatman rescued York on Thursday night. Intriguing.
Fifth and last
The confirmation that USA and Canada have been granted hosting rights for the 2025 World Cup went down well. However, we will not have to wait that long to see major international action over the pond. Despite the Kangaroos supposedly bringing down the curtain on the Four Nations, there is discussion over there being one more – in 2019… in the US!
This would act as a first test of the Moore Sports International’s capabilities in hosting a major tournament and prove a leg-up for the professional league they hope to launch that year. Expect the fourth team to be a top Pacific nation or the US Hawks. The US are also in the running to host the first Intercontinental Cup, which looks like being delayed until 2022 to avoid Rugby Union World Cups in 2019 and 2023. That would be a practice run for the 2025 World Cup.