Top

DRAFTING BLOG

  • SUPER RUGBY: DIARY OF A DRAFT DAY

    I remember one of my first ever games of competitive cricket. I had played at home on the lawn against my brother and cousin, at school against my friends and even older kids and usually handled myself ok. I had even saved up my shekels and bought myself a Gunn & Moore (GM) ‘Skipper’ cricket bat. Truth be told a Skipper was the bottom of the GM line, but Richard Hadlee used a GM, so I thought it was pretty cool. But then in one of my first games, a kid in the opposition had a Duncan Fearnley ‘Magnum’. Martin Crowe not only used a Duncan Fearnley, he used a Duncan Fearnley Magnum. This dude had Martin Crowe’s cricket bat!

    It’s fair to ask the question in hindsight that what sort of parent spends that much money on a cricket bat for an 11 year old, but anyway, the upshot was I immediately had an inferiority complex. I mean, he had a Magnum! This guy must be the second coming of Viv Richards! Even if I knew I was somewhat capable, I felt like there could only be one result in the game. I thought of that incident when recalling the draft night for our current Fantasy Rugby Draft (FRD) Aviva Premiership season. I turned up at the draft with my laptop, a couple of print outs, a fairly good idea of my strategy and how I was going to build a competitive team, a reasonable level of knowledge about the league, experience playing FRD and subsequently, no shortage of confidence. A few minutes after getting there, Sophia, new to our league and trying her hand at FRD for the first time opened up her computer to reveal a spreadsheet the likes of which I assume the designers of the new Trident submarine might work from. It had tabs and filters and different colours and formulas and I heard her say something about 1,200 data points. I immediately felt even more inferior that the 11 year old kid almost too embarrassed to take my GM Skipper out of my cricket bag.

    But I did something that 11 year old me never did. I shook it off. Comforted by the fact that a couple of guys had turned up at the draft without so much as a sheet of paper. It helped that I also had something the 11 year old me did not: beer.

    Having managed to get a Thursday evening in the diary that most of our league could make, it turned out to be one of the very few sunny late summer days in London. Which, if you’ve spent any time in London you’ll know means every man and his dog heads to the pub. So instead of being able to pull together a couple of tables to run our draft at our chosen venue, we were greeted by a swarming mass of humanity and scarcely able to find one table open. We did manage to rustle up a few chairs but ended up with eight chairs spaced around a table not much larger than a dinner plate and us huddled around it like a bunch of homeless dudes hanging around a burning 44 gallon drum in a Philadelphia winter. It’s not an ideal space to try to fit three laptops, a tablet or two and numerous pieces of paper on. And that’s before we start to find room for glasses! It reminded me of the time five mates and I had to squeeze into one of the lads’ two door Honda Civic to get to a party one weekend.

    On a personal note, the evening got off to a rougher start when my laptop wouldn’t come to life. After about 10 minutes I looked and saw it was installing some updates, and was about 15% in at that point. Sweet; best laid plans. Fortunately I had some print outs with me so my carefully conceived strategy was not completely lost to the vagaries of technology.

    Don’t be a hater. Actually, do

    Pints sorted, the draft got under way. None of us in the draft talked about it openly, but particularly those who had played in the draft last year certainly had one guy in the league in our crosshairs. James won our league last year fair and square. But life is often neither fair nor square, and we were out to knock James down a peg or two this year, especially as we felt like he’d lucked his way into the title to some degree and seldom missed an opportunity to tweak our nipples about his all-conquering victory (as the rest of us would have done as well of course). It’s fair to say the anti-James feeling was fuelled as much by sour grapes as much as anything, like a couple of guys cursing their bad luck when a bloke heads home with a young lass after spending the night putting himself out there, chatting to and dancing with the ladies while the other two hang out like a couple of miserable gits at the bar. James likes to say he’d heard that Gopperth was going to play midfield and still kick goals, and thus picking the former Hurricanes and Blues flyhalf was sound drafting. Which it was. But Gopperth was such an outstanding player in 2016/17 that he literally won every award going: Premiership Player of the Year, the Rugby Players’ Association Player of the Year and Wasps Player of the Year, on top of being the Premiership’s top scorer and, not for nothing, the top points scorer in FRD. He proved to be the greatest draft pick since Michael Jordan and frankly, no one saw that coming and we felt James mainly picked him simply because he’s a Wasps fan. So our draft was unofficially billed as the Jimmy Gopperth sweepstakes and no surprises when Jimmy G was the first name off the board. Almost didn’t even need to hear the name called, which is a good thing given we couldn’t hear much amongst the din of the bar.

    Picking fifth, I was hoping that one of the following would fall to me: Gopperth, Freddie Burns, Telusa Veainu or Semesa Rokoduguni. My worry (as discussed in the previous drafting blog) was there was so much uncertainty around the flyhalf position at a number of clubs, it was hard to know who was a sure-fire, week to week starter. Sure enough, all four guys disappear off the board and I am left with my laptop slowing installing updates and the decision I am most hoping to avoid. What I wouldn’t give for 1,200 data points right now! In the end I took a leaf out of Winston Churchill’s book and took a decent drink before making an important decision. The old FRD axiom “you can’t win your FRD league in the first round, but you can certainly lose it” flashed through my head, and went with what I considered the safest pick; Exeter flyhalf Gareth Steenson.

    Three rounds in, the draft starts to change. The big names are off the board and often times, leagues are won by your middling players, so it’s key to pick up players that can get you points consistently. Two of my first three picks last year were Nick Evans and Manu Tuilagi. Unfortunately in the offseason prior Evans turned into an old man and Tuilagi played about 10mins all season due to injuries. That’s like stalling on the starting grid in a Formula One race. Even if you get going eventually you’re so far behind you’re as good as toast. So my middle round picks didn’t really matter as it turned out. This year, after Steenson I picked up Alex Goode (Saracens, outside back) and the Wasps Front Row, so was feeling pretty good about life when we decided to stop for a beer and wings break.

    Cups runneth over

    The easy choice when it comes to the drinks to fuel your draft is to say beer, beer and more beer. And really, you can’t go wrong whatever your preference in terms of brand or variety. It’s not the only choice though; Sophia went for a gin ‘n’ tonic which I can sign off on. One thing I think you do need to steer clear of is wine. A draft is a face-paced event. You think two minutes is a lifetime in order to make your selections, but when the pressure is on that two minutes can disappear quicker than your wallet on a night out in Barcelona. With my brain operating at a speed most accurately described as somewhere between ‘resting’ and ‘stuck in molasses’ at the best of times, I feel like sipping a nice sauvignon or lovely pinot noir would slow me down even more.

    The key with the drinking though, is to find that happy place you ultimately want to reach when you’re playing pool or darts. That is, tuned up enough to feel relaxed and confident, but not having indulged to the point where you’re feeling cavalier. That’s when you outsmart yourself by being dumb.

    I’m not sure that makes sense but if you’ve been in that position before you’ll know what I mean.

    Stick to the strategy

    My first few picks reflected my overall strategy. For one thing, I wanted to avoid international players, or nailed-on international players at least. My feeling is in the Aviva Premiership they just miss too much time in November during the autumn internationals and then in February and March for the Six Nations. The second part of my strategy was to get players who are difference makers in their positions. Hence the Wasps Front Row pick; last year they scored on average better than 10 points more per week than the lower ranked front rows. That’s the sort of competitive advantage Sonny Bill Williams enjoys over most people in, well, pretty much any athletic endeavour. Or life in general really.

    Winging it

    When it comes to draft day food, wings are the obvious option, but that’s also because they’re the best option. How does a cliché become a cliché… All things being equal, ribs are better than wings. But you need to bear in mind that the quality of ribs varies greatly. A great plate of ribs really hits the spot. An average one is just that, average. They’re a bit like an Adam Sandler movie. A good one is pretty good, like Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison. But then there is Little Nicky, Jack and Jill and, well, pretty much every movie since The Waterboy. Wings, however are like a Harrison Ford movie. Some are better than others, and when they’re good they’re spectacular (I mean, the dude was Han Solo AND Indiana Jones) but they’re always at least watchable. That’s wings. Even in some pretty ordinary drinking holes, I’ve always had decent wings. That’s why they should be a go to for your draft. Also, ribs are always messy to eat. Do you really want all that mess when you’re working on your laptop (or in my case looking on forlornly as it continues installing updates), or potentially slopping up pieces of paper you’ve spent hours mapping out your draft strategy on? Chips, fries, wedges etc are all fine too. Pizza is a good option (to quote Stephen Baldwin’s character in the circa 1994 movie ‘Threesome’: “to me sex is like pizza. Even when it’s bad it’s still pretty good”). Burgers are fine, but again, burgers vary in quality like Beauden Barrett’s efforts off the kicking tee.

    The moment

    Our FRD draft has yet to have its “Andy Dalton moment”. Kind of like an inside joke that people remember for years, which I outline here. We came close last year, when throughout the middle rounds when people went to pick, the name Nev Edwards was bandied around. Edwards is a largely unmemorable winger for the Sale Sharks who, with all due respect to Nev, shouldn’t be going off anyone’s draft board until the very last rounds. But as the drinks start flowing and the clock starts ticking people become very open to suggestion and last year we managed to get a guy in our league hook, line and sinker. Good ole Nev found himself on the waiver wire a couple of weeks later but entered into pseudo legend status in the Hampstead Retirement Village Idiots FRD league. His name is involved pretty frequently to this day when people are scratching around on the waiver wire trying to pick up an outside back for the forthcoming game week. Sadly, on this draft night we couldn’t convince anyone to pick him up, not even the newcomers to the league. I suppose 1,200 data points will help you negotiate your way a few eighth grade level wind-ups.

    As the draft progressed, we feasted on more wings and chips and no shortage of beers, GnTs and terrible Dad jokes to boot. For all my talk previously about wings being a safe bet for draft night, the wings at this particular establishment had a little Reiko Ioane-X factor about them. The extra kick wasn’t necessarily a hot sort of spicy, but they certainly had some extra zing. The additional zing in my fantasy team (remarkably I still have a few Dad jokes left unused from that night) was provided by picking up Byron McGuigan and Harry Mallinder as a midfield combo. I saw the pair (and so it has transpired) as key difference makers because although listed as midfielders, McGuigan mostly plays on the wing and Mallinder can play #10, #12 and #15. Plus his Dad is the coach, or was (Saints coach Jim Mallinder was fired mid-season), so you know he’s getting a run out most weeks. Most importantly, he often kicks goals. We’ve seen in the Aviva Premiership FRD that midfielders are not as heavy scorers as midfielders in Super Rugby, but in McGuigan and Mallinder, I managed to select the two top scoring midfielders in FRD as we head into the Six Nations. So good have they been McGuigan has gone and gotten himself selected in the Scotland Six Nations squad; fingers crossed he doesn’t make the match day squad and gets released back to Sale. I have an FRD league to win, I’m not here to champion the careers of any players in my team.

    Hang in there

    As the draft winds its way into the lower rounds, those not too heavily sauced at that point can still pick up a player or two that can really help them. One guy I targeted in the lower rounds was another guy who mostly plays ‘out of position’. Exeter Chiefs loose forward Don Armand is listed as a second row by Opta but is usually packing down on the side of the scrum. Besides being a hell of a player who (happily for me) is almost inexplicably not in Eddie Jones’ England squad, playing as a loose forward but notching up FRD points as a lock Big Don is a consistent points scorer who sits atop of the FRD points scoring table for locks, ahead of Northampton’s Courtney Lawes who will be away with England for most of the next two months. Trust me when I say I’ve given this anti- internationals strategy some thought.

    Super Rugby difference makers

    So who are the Super Rugby versions of Don Armand? One thing to consider is that playing internationals is almost no concern whatsoever in Super Rugby FRD, so my strategy is to go after guys who are real difference makers in their positions, whatever the position. In saying that I am hoping all evidence of my column from three years ago when I suggested taking a front row before the last round of the draft was a total waste of time, has been destroyed. As I mention above I drafted the Wasps Front Row in the early rounds and will be targeting the Lions or Hurricanes fatties in the early rounds in Super Rugby this year. The highest scoring ‘player’ in Aviva Premiership FRD so far this year? Saracens Front Row.

    The more observant amongst you will note I did not draft them. I did have the pleasure, however, of sitting next to the guy (another James) who did at the Aviva Premiership opening day London Double Header at Twickenham a couple of days after our draft as the Sarries front rowers racked up 60.5 as Saracens destroyed Northampton. He’d also drafted Saracens wing Sean Maitland who scored a hat trick before halftime and flyhalf Alex Lozowski who scored a try and kicked conversions from all over the park. If that wasn’t enough, we found out at half time that Wasps halfback Dan Robson had scored four tries in their game against Sale. Who had Robson in their team? Yep, James, on his way to a 257.9 point effort opening weekend. The cackling didn’t stop until he headed off home about 10pm that evening. Made all the more painful by Harlequins being turned over by newly promoted London Irish in the late game.

    Other Super Rugby players who can provide a competitive advantage in their positions include TJ Perenara at halfback, Jaco Kriel and Ardie Savea at loose forward and Jordie Barrett at outside back. Not that you would complain with an Israel Folau or Reiko Ioane either. Looking at it from a distance though, the end goal is to be the person in your FRD league that everyone else is pissed off at, because that generally means you’ll be the one bragging come your draft day next year.

  • AVIVA PREMIERSHIP: FORGET WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW

    I remember as a young lad thinking that the fairer sex were about the most complex creatures on earth. And I was right. However, as I got a bit older, at various points I thought I had finally figured them out. But it didn’t take long to realise once more that I had no idea; in fact knew precious little more as I approached 30 than I did as a 15 year old. Along the way as you talk to older blokes you realise they don’t have a freaking clue either, despite the fact that a few will tell you things like: “the secret to women is…”, or, “see, so long as you do X, you’ll be right as rain.” Bollocks. At least now when I’m copping it from the missus I never tell myself that one of these days I will have her sussed out and never be on the end of such a tongue-lashing again. It’s like life in Fiji. Many days it’s idyllic with sun shining and waves gently lapping white sand beaches. But every now and then a tropical cyclone hits and all you can do is baton down the hatches and try to ride it out.

    The first season of Aviva Premiership Fantasy Rugby Draft (FRD) reminds me a bit of that. Everything we thought we knew heading into the season, admittedly based on knowledge informed from playing FRD in Super Rugby, really turned out to be incorrect. Well, not everything, but a lot.

    International no-go zone

    One assumption from this time last year that did prove correct was that international players couldn’t be counted on like they are in Super Rugby. However, to say we got this ‘correct’ would have been like saying “I don’t think Trump is a good choice to be President” prior to him taking office. Sure, he has proven that to be the case, but it’s such a vast understatement that it almost ceases to be a true statement.

    While we thought the unavailability of international players during the November test window and the Six Nations in February-March would affect those players’ value, we, or I certainly never realised just how drastic the impact would be. Almost unbelievably, there was only one regular international player in the top 10 scorers in FRD last year, that being Harlequins and Scotland winger Tim Visser in seventh. This seems totally incongruous given that by very definition the international players are the best players generally speaking. Extrapolating further, there were only three in the top 20 scorers (Bath, now Leicester and England flyhalf George Ford and Quins and England fullback Mike Brown were the other two). Lions hero and Saracens and England flyhalf/midfielder Owen Farrell only finished in 92 nd position in terms of total points. It should be noted his average points per game (PPG) of 19 was 20 th best in FRD, but he only played 474 minutes in the Premiership due to a combination of England duties, injuries and being rested for games ahead of big European Cup matches. By contrast, Farrell’s understudy at Saracens Alex Lozowski was the sixth highest scorer in FRD, also at an impressive average of 19.9 PPG in playing 1,294 minutes; almost four times what Farrell managed. Not since Nomi Malone took over for Cristal Connors at the Stardust Hotel in the infamous movie ‘Showgirls’ has an understudy so vastly outshone the person they were supposedly second fiddle to. Fortunately Lozowski didn’t have to resort to shoving Farrell down some stairs to get his break like Nomi did. Well, that we know of. Farrell did miss some time last year with injury.

    So is Lozowski a safe bet for a high pick this year? Probably, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. But this issue speaks to a wider one in the Premiership this year; uncertainty around the flyhalf position.

    No perfect 10

    Generally speaking in FRD Super Rugby edition we have seen over the years around five or six of the top 10 point scorers being flyhalves. Mostly for the simple reason that they are goalkickers. Except in the case of Beauden Barrett, which becomes a problem when you make him your first draft choice in two leagues. I knew he was a, shall we politely say, inconsistent kicker (something that was apparently a shock to a lot of people in the Lions series), but rationalised it by thinking he would still be kicking a lot of conversions for the high scoring Hurricanes team. Turns out he wasn’t kicking at all and as such, my seasons went down in flames. My bitterness aside, it highlights the need to have a goalkicker in your flyhalf position in FRD; even with Barrett racking up running metres and tries etc, carrying a non-goalkicking #10 ultimately cost me a spot in the playoffs. The problem I see this season is the uncertainty that surrounds the position at a number of Aviva Premiership clubs. I’ve touched on Farrell and Lozowski at Saracens already (just to be clear, I’m not suggesting Lozowski is the better player or number one flyhalf at Sarries, just that it’s not evident who the best pick in FRD is, mostly from an availability standpoint), but the question can reasonably be asked who will start at Harlequins, Exeter, Northampton, Sale and Gloucester.

    At Quins, you assume they’ve brought in Demetri Catrakilis to start, but frankly Tim Swiel showed me enough last year that I’d like to see him given a chance. Truth be told it seems like they’re both just keeping the jersey warm for Marcus Smith in the long run. It feels like Chiefs want Henry Slade to prove himself as the team’s starting #10, but for all Slade’s potential, they keep going back to the steadier Gareth Steenson, who captained the team in the Premiership final last year. There’s a similar situation at Saints, where you get the feeling Stephen Myler’s days are numbered but he also finished the season as the starter and when push comes to shove, it doesn’t seem like Saints are quite ready to throw their eggs in the Harry Mallinder basket (it should be noted that Mallinder is listed as a midfielder in FRD so could provide great value if he ends up starting at #10 and/or goalkicking. If not, he’s just a run of the mill midfielder in terms of FRD points (average PPG last season 9.4)). And what of former Blues star Piers Francis. He is at least an intriguing prospect. Intriguing enough for the mostly self-appointed ‘king of intrigue’, England coach Eddie Jones, to take a look at him on the recent England tour of Argentina. He certainly played pretty well for the Blues in recent years, so I have to think has every chance of nailing down a starting position at Franklin’s Gardens, in either the #10 or #12 shirt. Either way, Northampton have options, which makes it an uncertain situation for FRD managers, which is bad. The reason FRD managers don’t watch ‘Prime Minister’s questions’ is because they like certainty and the ability to make a decisive decision. And let’s be honest, watching Teresa May and Jeremy Corbyn change their minds and contradict themselves every five minutes is hardly gripping television [editor’s note: Piers Francis will miss the start of the season with a jaw injury]. Meanwhile, Sale presumably signed AJ MacGinty to be its starting flyhalf but he never quite nailed the position and Sam James ended up spending a lot of time there. Now they have James O’Connor coming in from a Paris street corner French Top 14 club Toulon, who is listed at flyhalf but could play all over the park. But do you really want to entrust your club’s or FRD team’s fortunes to O’Connor? Ali Williams will probably tell you O’Connor isn’t a man to be relied on; he might still be employed at Racing 92 if O’Connor had proved more adept as a look-out. And at Gloucester, Billy Burns had a pretty sound season last year, but will he start over the incoming former Leicester Tiger Owen Williams? I for one was surprised to see that Williams not only scored more points in total than Burns (202.8 v 179.1), but also at a slightly higher average (13.2 v 13.1). Perhaps that can be explained away as simply as Williams enjoyed playing in a more successful team at Tigers last season. A further curveball is the incoming Jason Woodward. He will almost invariably play wing or fullback rather than #10 but is a legitimate goalkicking option.

    Given the lack of byes in the Aviva Premiership, handcuffing some of the players mentioned above is an option. A concept that O’Connor is certainly familiar with. You may get caught out a couple of times a year when the third stringer gets a run, but it should serve you adequately.

    However, if you’re fortunate enough to be picking in one of the top draft slots, when it comes to flyhalves either Jimmy Gopperth or Freddie Burns should be taken. Gopperth is 34 and it seems inconceivable that he can have a better season than last year when he was the Premiership’s top point scorer, the top point scorer in FRD, the Premiership Player of the Year, the Rugby Players’ Association Player of the Year and Wasps Player of the Year. Hell, he even scored the try that was voted Try of the Year and won £34 in his work Grand National sweepstakes. But he should still be better than most, and Danny Cipriani is not going to wrest the goalkicking duties from him anytime soon.

    Burns had a really solid season last year, and there is no reason to think it will be any different this year. For one thing, he did split some time with Owen Williams in 2016-17, but should have a pretty firm hold on the #10 jersey at The Rec. Clearly his time with England has come and gone so that’s not a problem. Injuries are always a concern with him and his form, particularly in relation to goalkicking can fluctuate, but he should be a sound choice for a starting flyhalf for an FRD team. If nothing else, there is a level of certainty around him that you don’t have with #10s elsewhere.

    Front row front runners

    Even as recently as a couple of years ago I advocated not picking a front row until the very last round in your FRD draft. But like any truly modern man, I continue to evolve my thinking. Not in the sense that I now think it’s acceptable for a bloke to get a manicure, but in that I have now come around on drafting a front row early in your draft. In Super Rugby this pertains particularly to the Hurricanes, where Dane Coles’ presence means a huge amount of running metres and try scoring that most front rowers simply don’t offer. Consider this: four front rows were ranked in the top 20 points scorers in FRD last year – Wasps, Saracens, Leicester and Harlequins. Consider this also: the difference in total points between Wasps, the top scoring front row and Gloucester at the bottom of the table was, almost inconceivably, 300 points. Even discounting the cherry and whites, who were 90 points worse than even the second-to- bottom front row the Saints, were 210 points behind the Wasps fatties come the end of the season, a difference in PPG of 10 points. You don’t have to be Will Hunting to figure out the maths on that one. It’s simply a points differential you cannot ignore so if the opportunity to get your hands on the Wasps front row presents itself, even early in the draft, make like Oscar Pistorius and pull the trigger. Saracens are also a good shout, with players like Jamie George, Schalk Brits and Mako Vunipola picking up points for running metres, offloads, turnovers, defenders beaten and oversized ear lobes (in Vunipola’s case at least) where other front rowers do not.

    In terms of Saracens, new arrival Liam Williams will almost invariably make a huge splash in the Premiership. As much as it hurts me to say, Sarries are a very canny and well run operation and always seem to sign guys who fit into their system. Williams can fit in anywhere so I expect he will flourish playing with the Fez boys. In fact you might say; “confidence is high, repeat, confidence is high”.



    My expectation is he will play the majority of his games on the wing with Alex Goode remaining at fullback but who knows, maybe Williams’ form will be so irresistible he will force his way into the #15 jersey. My view is shaped largely by pragmatism; Williams can play wing and fullback, Goode can only really play fullback (or flyhalf) due to his lack of pace. So to get both on the park that seems to be the sensible option. Bear in mind though that Williams will be a late starter to the season, having been on the Lions tour, and have time away with Wales. Goode has been all but excommunicated from England by Eddie Jones so he should be available from week to week and has been a mighty and consistent performer for Saracens for a number of years. Another outside back I am intrigued to watch this year is Jonny May, now of Leicester Tigers. It seems an odd one on the surface. He just doesn’t seem like a Tigers kind of player. In fact, he often seems sort of …. lost when he’s playing. He can run like the wind though, which is never a bad thing on a rugby field. Or in life more generally probably. Sadly, I wouldn’t know. Last year however, he actually had the highest PPG of any outside back in FRD who played enough to give us a decent sample size; at least three points better per game than the likes of Semesa Rokoduguni, Christian Wade, Olly Woodburn, Visser, Vereniki Goneva, James Short, Telusa Veainu and Jack Nowell (interestingly, three Exeter outside backs in that list). Playing at Tigers I have to assume they will find a way to use May, but I have niggling doubts that they will realise that his ultimate destiny lies on the blindside flank, which will likely diminish his FRD value.



    Ultimately, I’m just not sure I can trust a guy who tried to put his head up Mako Vunipola’s arse in my FRD team. I’m weird like that.

    Big Billy, Big Ben, Thomas the Tank Engine…

    Speaking of Vunipolas, brother Billy’s PPG was a clear three points higher than any other loose forward not named Alex Rieder. While Billy will obviously be missing for large parts of the season due to international duty, I do think he’ll play a fair amount early on given he didn’t go away on the Lions tour [editor’s note: latest is Billy will be a late start to the season as he overcomes shoulder surgery]. With the bench available to your FRD team, you can afford to carry a few players who will be missing for parts of the season and Billy might be one of them. If you’re not quite prepared to splash out on a high priced player like Vunipola, Ben Morgan of Gloucester might be a good option also. Again, a guy whose England days seem behind him, he performed well for Gloucester last year and averaged a handy enough 10.3 PPG. If a loose forward is giving you that more or less week in and week out, you can live with it. Speaking of players for whom eight is not only the number on their back but also their cholesterol level, Thomas Waldrom was the highest scoring loose forward last year and did so at a pretty good clip of 12 PPG. My worry is he is getting a little older so may start to slow down, but then I have been half expecting that for some years now.

    Two lesser known guys you might be able to get for a song are Brendan O’Connor at Tigers and Thomas Young at Wasps. O’Connor was the second highest point scoring loose forward last year at a handy 10.8 PPG average. The advantage with a player like O’Connor is he plays most weeks and will likely fly under many people’s radar. He’s like a girl who is the marrying type. Not some tarted up Kardashians wannabe; a more homely but still attractive lass who is good fun and unlikely to embarrass you by getting her boobs out at a work party. Young is slightly more glamorous and probably more well known, but he’s less of a big name than his Wasps teammates James Haskell and Nathan Hughes. However in an FRD sense, he is far more valuable. If anything he might even get better this year as he’s still a young guy and Wasps seem likely to continue playing an open game.

    Another guy with pedigree coming into the Premiership this year is Nic White. The former Wallaby halfback has had a couple of years in Montpellier but has signed with Exeter for the coming season. I don’t think he has done any kicking at Montpellier but it’s worth remembering he has a very big boot on him. Coming back to a point I made earlier, if Chiefs decide to give Slade an extended run in the #10 jersey, then White may take some of the kicking duties. Counter to that, it’s also worth remembering that Exeter coach Rob Baxter usually eases new players into his team, so there is no guarantee White will be the starting halfback from the off. But in a position like halfback, having a guy who kicks goals is a bit like having a friend who is a minor celebrity with you on a night out. His presence alone isn’t going to guarantee you anything, but it might attract the attention of a few young ladies and gift you a few scoring chances you might not otherwise have had.

    Don’t be a homer

    One trap to avoid falling into is to blindly pick players from your favourite team in your FRD squad. If they go well, it can be doubly rewarding because going well in FRD invariably means they’re helping the team out as well. But it can cause some blind spots and when it doesn’t work out it’s a bitter pill indeed. Take it from the guy who drafted Nick Evans in the first round last year. Brutal.

    It can work in your favour also though. The guy that won our league last year basically rode Jimmy Gopperth like a Lippizaner stallion all season. He likes to tell us it was a considered selection based on his formidable rugby knowledge, and he’d heard Gopperth was going to play in the centres but still kick goals etc etc. Let’s be honest, he’s a Wasps fan and he picked him because Gopperth plays for Wasps. No sore loser here then. Until someone (hopefully) knocks him off this season, we all have to endure the constant reminders of who won our league. Call it a “fantasy tax”, if you will.

    It’s all about draft day

    Speaking of our league; our draft day is in the diary. We’ll be doing it on the Thursday night before the season kicks off. I’d like to say we planned it that way to have all the information possible before kick off in the new season, but frankly we’re all just pretty useless. Most of us will be parked up at a local establishment doing the draft in person, quaffing down wings and other suitable foodstuffs as our picks get progressively worse as the rounds and empty pint glasses mount up. Two days later, a group of us from the league are off to Twickenham for the opening day Double Header (Saracens v Northampton and Harlequins v London Irish) where picks will be parsed over, praised and mocked as the Premiership and FRD season gets underway. That’s the way to play Fantasy Rugby Draft.