My pick of the best sportswriting from the past seven days.
Alex Shaw, Talking Rugby Union: The Rebirth of Owen Farrell
Farrell deserves huge credit for the way that he has developed his game over the past couple of seasons. His image as a fly-half exceptionally solid in defence and with the boot but lacking polish in other aspects of his game was undoubtedly calcified by the emergence of his antitype George Ford on the international scene in 2014 and 2015, but the way he has played for Saracens so far this season belies such expectation. Discussion of their relative merits will likely endure for much of their careers – although it is worth noting that they started as the 10-12 combination in the 2011 JWC. However, it will be a lot easier for Farrell to emulate Ford’s outstanding qualities than vice versa, and indeed – as Shaw points out – he has already begun to do so. It would be a surprise not to see Eddie Jones name him in the 10 jersey for England’s 6 Nations opener at Murrayfield.
Charlie Morgan, Rugby World: Clifford, Kvesic, Robshaw and Wallace state England cases
Chris Robshaw is another England international much maligned for his apparent limitations at the top level of the game, but here Morgan focuses on what he has always done very well, along with the ways in which he has developed. It’s unfortunate – for the individual and for England – that he was shoe-horned into a role that he was not quite suited for from the beginning of Stuart Lancaster’s tenure.
Demented Mole: Leviathan
The IRFU’s transfer policy has come under a good deal of scrutiny this winter, and Stephen Moore (overseas recruitment), Robbie Henshaw (national team development) and Ian Madigan (allocation of resources between provinces) serve as apt symbols for the three main issues David Nucifora faces in his role as the Union’s Performance Director. The ‘Plan Ireland’ white paper which prompted the creation of this role within the governing body stated that winning World Cups was the ultimate aim, and – as the writer notes – the effect of this focus may already have been seen over the summer in the coaching changes made at Leinster. The theory behind the creation of the role is fundamentally sound, and marries well with the Union’s defined vision; however, it must be hoped that Nucifora’s penchant for ignominious departures does not strike again and doom the position as a result of its first incumbent.
Adin Osmanbasic, Spielverlagerung: 1995 CL Final: AFC Ajax – AC Milan 1:0
German football blog Spielverlagerung consistently delivers superlative tactical analysis, and Adin Osmanbasic is one of the most insightful contributors to its English-language sister site. The Ajax side crafted by Louis van Gaal in the first half of the 1990s arguably represents his zenith as a club manager, and while this final wasn’t as convincing as many of their victories throughout the competition it was a fitting end to an unbeaten season in the Eredivisie and Champions League.
Ed Smith, Cricinfo: Has sport ever had it so good?
Smith is one of the first writers I would recommend reading to anyone interested in sport. A former professional cricketer, his cricket work is featured on Cricinfo but he also writes articles for The New Statesman and Intelligent Life. Few present as balanced and nuanced a view on sport, drawing on perspectives and ideas from a wide range of subjects. The thesis that sport as cultural product continues its exponential ascent in spite of ever more numerous scandals and cover-ups is a compelling one, although the foreseeable contraction of cricket on a global scale due to the administrative policies of ICC may provide evidence to the contrary in the long term.