Sunday, 26 March 2017

Blue is the colour...

It's interesting to note that both Australia and New Zealand are trialling a system whereby a referee can show a blue card to a player to remove him from the game if that player is showing signs of concussion.

The idea is to target lower levels of the game where medical support and facilities are not always available.

Firstly, any move to help protect player health and welfare is to be applauded.

I can see, however, this move putting a unnecessary pressure on referees who will now be asked to make medical diagnoses on players, in addition to everything else they have to deal with. What happens, for instance, if they fail to recognise a concussion? To what extent will they be liable?

I can envisage referees becoming understandably over-cautious with potentially farcical consequences for the game at large.

And why the need to brandish a card? Which pocket will it be kept in? We need to know.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Six Nations 2017 - the Last Word

Time to move on from this year's Six Nations but here's a final thought. I wonder what the stats are for a team failing to win a Grand Slam at the final hurdle?

I can think of 5 occasions since the first Six Nations in 2000 that England have lost a grand slam decider - 2000, 2001, 2011, 2013, 2017 - and only 2 occasions were they have claimed the ultimate prize (2003 and 2016). And there were also a few occasions in recent memory in the old Five Nations where that final barrier proved a little too high for the England.

What this says about the English psyche is anyone's guess.

No such worries for England Under 20s and England Women last weekend who both wrapped up successful campaigns with victories over their Irish counterparts to each secure their own Grand Slam. Many (belated) congrats to both...

Thursday, 23 March 2017

England "greatness" remains on hold...

And so the RFU has admitted defeat in its attempts to host an England vs New Zealand match at Twickenham this November. Apparently the NZRU would rather play the Barbarians.

This, despite the RFU publicly (and rather unhelpfully) announcing its desire for such a fixture last week, a matter of days before England’s biggest game for years (which they subsequently lost, of course) against Ireland.

Not that Ireland needed any additional motivation, but to be almost dismissed as serious opposition to England’s impending “greatness” - as the English seemingly looked ahead to facing supposedly bigger and better opposition – must, I imagine, have made victory even sweeter for the Irish players.

For the fixture against the All Blacks then not to happen is a cock-up of fairly gargantuan proportions but, given the record of the muppets at HQ, hardly a major surprise.

And we wonder why we are labelled arrogant...

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Six Nations 2017 - Champs & Chumps

So here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for, my CHAMPS & CHUMPS of the Six Nations 2017.

CHAMPS:

15. Stuart Hogg - defence still iffy,  but his attacking repertoire is quite extraordinary.
14. Tommy Seymour - Lions 14 shirt starting to look a great fit.
13. Gary Ringrose - whisper it quietly, the heir apparent to BOD?
12. Owen Farrell - another certain Lions starter.
11. Elliott Daly - has everything and a move to fullback must be on the cards.
10. Finn Russell - indifferent at Twickenham but otherwise excellence personified.
9. Rhys Webb - a bit of a gobshite but was Wales' best player throughout.
1. Cyril Baille - key element to a hugely effective French front row.
2. Ken Owens - nuggety and consistent.
3. Tadhg Furlong - gargantuan - where did the Irish find this guy? 
4. Joe Launchbury - the relentless excellence throughout that we've come to expect.
5. Courtney Lawes - a player re-born, grafted hard and is no longer just seeking the big glory hit.
6. CJ Stander - strength of a bull, heart of a Lion.
7. Kevin Gourdon - proper ball-playing openside in the tradition of Jean-Pierre Rives.
8. Louis Picamoles - simply unstoppable.

And so to the CHUMPS. In fairness, a true reflection of this year’s championship would probably be just to select 15 Italians, with the 2017 Azzurri so far off the pace and even the great Sergio Parisse seemingly incapable of staying competitive beyond 60 minutes. However, in order to spread the love I've tried to as even-handed as possible...😀

15. Mike Brown - can't pass, won't pass and opposition defences are finding him increasingly easy to read. Time for a change at 15 Eddie.
14. Alex Cuthbert - Rob Howley picking him against England was arguably more cruel than me listing him here.
13. Jonathan Davies - and not just for his howler against England, he was part of a Welsh three-quarter line that would struggle to pass the parcel.
12. Luke MacLean - no idea what he or the Italian backline were attempting to achieve.
11. Giovanbattista Venditti - to call him a donkey would be unfair on donkeys.
10. George Ford - much to admire about Ford but he again wilted under pressure and defensively his channel remains extremely vulnerable.
9. Ben Youngs - very, very quiet championship, way too quiet for such an experienced number 9.
1. Alan Dell - key component of a struggling Scottish front row.
2. Fraser Brown - ditto, and in addition let down his team badly at Twickenham when yellow-carded early doors.
3. Uini Atonio - "Are you injured?" "I'm ok...er...I mean...my back's a bit sore...er...I mean...my head?"
4. Jake Ball - huge amount of effort. No end product.
5. Devin Toner - noticeable how much more dynamic the Irish pack were in his absence.
6. John Barclay - lost the plot at Twickenham badly.
7. Tom Wood - little impact whether a starter or a finisher.
8. Sergio Parisse - at times looked like he'd simply had enough, and who can blame him?



Monday, 20 March 2017

I hate to say I told you so but...

...I told you so!



Well done to Ireland for a fully deserved victory against England in Dublin on Saturday. It's not as if England could have been surprised by how well the Irish played but they had no answers and Ireland could and perhaps should have won by more.

All good things come to an end and, while it's a shame that the double Grand Slam wasn't achieved, it may prove beneficial in the long run that England's winning streak is now at end. Back-to-back 6 Nations champions is still something to be proud of but perhaps now all the nonsense about "greatness" can be mothballed indefinitely.

Of course the Dublin encounter followed a France v Wales match in Paris which will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. TWENTY minutes of added time at the end in which the Welsh kept giving away penalties knowing that the French would opt for yet another scrummage, a piece of blatant cheating by the French faking an HIA to enable a better scrummager to re-enter the fray, attempts by Wales not to replace a yellow-carded prop to try to engineer uncontested scrums, bite marks on George North's arm that the French coach suggested were self-inflicted (!) and a seemingly bewildered Wayne Barnes - all contributed to an utterly farcical conclusion to the match.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my team of the week:

15. Stuart Hogg 14. Tommy Seymour 13. Gary Ringrose 12. Gael Fickou 11. Liam Williams 10. Jonny Sexton 9. Keiran Marmion 1. Rob Evans 2. Ken Owens 3. Tadhg Furlong 4. Iain Henderson 5. Donnacha Ryan 6. Peter O'Mahony 7. Justin Tipuric 8. Louis Picamoles.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Beware the Ides of March

I have a horrible feeling that the phrase “pride comes before a fall” may prove apt this weekend.

England preparation for Saturday’s Grand Slam decider against Ireland doesn’t feel at all right.

There’s been way too much emphasis on the England players achieving “greatness” by breaking New Zealand’s 18 match winning streak, and Eddie Jones is quite rightly wary of Steve Hansen’s attempts to blow smoke up his arse.

And then there’s the announcement by his bosses at the RFU of a possible match against the All Blacks in November this year.

Not only is such a fixture potentially not in the interest of the England team (Eddie having previously suggested that leading England players may need resting in November after an arduous Lions tour), the timing of the news, ahead of England’s biggest game for years, is a hugely unhelpful distraction.

The ONLY focus this week should be on how England might overcome an excellent and highly motivated Ireland team who will be salivating at the prospect of derailing the chariot.

I fear the worst.