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Neil Francis: Something is rotten at core of Clarke saga


Craig Clarke, Connacht

Craig Clarke, Connacht


Craig Clarke, Connacht

The Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) has something on their website called a car history check certificate. They can tell you whether a certain car has outstanding finance on it, whether it has been used as a taxi or hackney, give accurate information on its NCT history and tell generally relevant information about the car.

Most importantly, though, it can tell you whether the car has been stolen, scrapped, written off or crashed. The National Consumer Agency has a 21-page guide on what to look for when buying a second-hand car. It is quite informative in terms of what to look for, how to spot structural damage and crash repair work, and even simple obvious advice like 'check under the bonnet'.

Last week we were told that Connacht's prize signing Craig Clarke will be out of the game for an indefinite period because of a concussion he suffered against Saracens in their Pool 6 Heineken Cup match at Allianz Park.

Along with the communiqué came the rider that Clarke had suffered 10 concussions in the last 22 months. This was vigorously denied by the Waikato Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie who claimed it was closer to three while Clarke was at the Waikato Super 15 franchise. There was always the possibility that the player could have sustained more head injuries while playing for Taranaki in the NPC Championship or in training. Either way, Rennie was sticking by his medical team who he states observed all the protocols in relation to head trauma.

We do know that Clarke suffered a pretty bad concussion back in April 2013 and he was out for five or six weeks as a result. This suggests a pretty potent blow to the head. Pat Lam, we would have to assume, did not pluck this figure of 10 concussions in 22 months out of the sky and you would have to guess that the player told the coach and that there was no other reason to divulge that fact other than to tell him the truth. Clarke played the full 80 against Saracens if indeed his fellow players did not.

If Clarke did indeed suffer 10 concussions in 22 months – that's one every nine or 10 weeks – there are questions that need to be answered. What procedures are in place to check if you are buying a crashed car? In regard to any foreign players who enter into this country to play rugby, what tests are carried out to ascertain what state the player is in physically and mentally? Would the appropriate people perform an MRI of his brain and his spine to check that there is nothing seriously wrong with the player in the neuro-cranial-spinal area? Is there a medical dossier or file which is held on every player who plays professional rugby union? Is there such a thing as a concussion register which is updated every time the same player picks up a concussion?

Were Connacht aware either before or after they signed Craig Clarke that the player had suffered 10 concussions in such a short period of time? If they knew before they signed him – that is a scandal. If they found out afterwards and they still played him, that is a scandal.

It is strange indeed that a player of Clarke's quality who has come off winning back-to-back Super 15 titles and is in his prime (30) would sign for Connacht. Going from the best club team in the world to not the best team in the world – it doesn't make sense.

There is fundamental issue here and somebody better start clearing it up. When Clarke's headaches calm down for a concerted period, what guarantees have we that he won't continue to sustain his stated averages? Is it safe for him to play at all?

As far as signing more foreign players goes, there must be procedures to check under the bonnet. If we can do it for cars . . .

Good forecast for Irish groundhogs

Happiness is seeing the muscular lifeguard all the girls were admiring leave the beach hand in hand with another muscular lifeguard. I don't think I have been quite as happy leaving the Aviva after a rugby match as I was last weekend. Everything that the Welsh tried to embroider into a tapestry of the pre-match preamble backfired wonderfully.

Wazza's CV is undoubted but he is not a clever coach and he was ruthlessly exposed and so the quest goes on for the Championship where there is no outstanding team and only one outstanding coach.

I am not sure how good Stuart Lancaster is as England coach. After the Scotland game, Lancaster said: "I don't think Scotland had a ruck in our 22 in the second half which shows how good our defence was." No Stuart, it shows how shite Scotland are.

England could have and should have won by another 15 points. Scott Johnson is by some way the worst coach to have taken charge of an international side in the northern hemisphere in the last 20 years. Abraham Lincoln had a brighter future when he picked up his tickets at the Ford Theatre box office. Scotland and France are unquantifiable because their head coaches are so bad, Lancaster now meets someone who knows what he is doing. Does he have the minerals to match him intellectually?

England have played a bit of rugby and gained encouragement from throwing the ball around. I think if England try and throw the ball around against Ireland, they will lose. I can't see them scoring off set-pieces against Ireland and it really does depend on what sort of ball they generate at the breakdown.

Vunipola reminds me so much of Ulster's Nick Williams, Superman going forward with the ball, Clark Kent without it. Williams, whenever he plays against Leinster, isn't a factor because Leinster know how to neutralise the South Sea Islander. Vunipola will be corralled off and shut down.

I think his back-row colleagues of Wood and Robshaw are admirable players and powerful athletes but neither are geared to play at the breakdown and England might point at the prowess of O'Mahony, Heaslip and Henry on the ground at the tackle zone but might not have the armoury to do anything about it.

Ireland have posted big numbers on turnovers, well into double figures. This kills opposing teams. The only quibble I have is that Conor Murray box-kicks nearly all of it away. The tactic has been reasonably effective but I have always thought the cardinal rule of turnover ball was shift the ball wide from the tackle zone as quickly as you can. Murray obviously has been told to do it and Ireland's kick-chase has been spectacularly effective. In this sphere Ireland's fullback has been exceptional. Billy Whizz has changed his name by deed poll to Rob Kearney. If catching in the air and measuring the kick-chase was a degree course, Kearney would graduate magna cum laude. Kearney's contribution has been significant and his exemplar personality in the air will be a key factor.

Ireland haven't played rugby yet and if the storms are gone and we have a dry, windless arena in Twickenham, Ireland can come out on top. They will of course get squeezed up front but will be comfortable without the ball.

Champions recognise the need to continually improve and Ireland have greater scope to do this. This one will be won on Thursday and Friday and in the 15-minute interval at half-time.

Sunday Indo Sport