Friday, 29 June 2007
- a positive drugs test against their Samoan fullback Apoua Stewart;
- the suspension and then sacking of fitness coach Darren Grewcock for allegedly verbally abusing a supporter, an allegation he strenuously denied, claiming that he had been "stitched up" and describing the club's disciplinary and dismissal hearings as "kangaroo courts"; and
- the suspension and subsequent resignation of club head coach Mike Umaga, allegedly for such heinous acts as allowing his wife to drive his club car.
However, the latest incident just beggars belief. Apparently the club has banned a lifelong fan from their ground after she was summoned to court to give evidence against them.
Thursday, 28 June 2007
Their enjoyment is spoilt by arguments over the rules, whether a touch was made etc etc. Certainly when playing informally this can be a problem – there will always be those in any sport or any walk of life who try to bend the rules and touch rugby is no different. The way to deal with this issue is to formalise it – turn the game into Touch with a capital “T”, agree a set of rules beforehand (better still, play to official Federation of International Touch (FIT) rules) and get someone to referee the game to those rules.
Their enjoyment is spoilt by people who are over-vigorous when touching, or by the fact that they themselves are accused of being too aggressive when they touch. Again, being overly aggressive is outlawed under FIT rules, punishable by a penalty– put the decision in the hands of the ref and get on with it. There was even one bloke sent off in a match this summer for raising an elbow going into contact – perhaps a little draconian from the ref but, like 15s, you play to a set of laws and accept the ref’s decision.
They are frustrated by the fact that they are neither quick enough nor skillful enough to get the most out of touch. This is a more difficult one – certainly not solvable by the appointment of a referee! I’d definitely say that playing Touch can improve skill levels and help develop handling and spatial awareness in attack, as well as communication and awareness in defence. The difference in some of our younger players towards the end of this summer’s Touch league was considerable. In the last couple of games the defensive communication and organisation in particular was streets ahead of where it had been for most of the competition and these guys really learnt something. As for pace, well if you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it. I should know. Once upon a time I was fairly quick and can still summon up a head of steam occasionally but, at 42, what I lack (and what our team lacked this summer) is real gas. I found on a number of occasions this summer that I had the ability to see a gap or even create the gap and sometimes even had the pace to go through the gap, but what I was missing what the acceleration to then run away from the opposition. The trick is to balance your team with a couple of flyers who can follow you through the gap and score the tries. We had a couple of such quickies last summer and it made a huge difference – it also enables those blessed with less pace to contribute to the team effort and get far more out of the experience.
The discussion on Saturday’s a Rugby Day then moves onto a more general point about positional attributes, with the blog’s author, Blondie, advocating the case for the number on your back being irrelevant - that, outside of set pieces, all 15 players on the field should all be able to run the ball, pass the ball, kick the ball, tackle, catch a kick etc. Certainly that’s true at the top end of the game and this was always Clive Woodward’s mantra, famously once sending the London Irish team he was coaching out onto the pitch numbered 1 to 15 based on the alphabetical order of their surnames.
Wednesday, 27 June 2007
His time as captain has already been a success with the Under-11s, who were runners-up at the Hayle Mini Rugby tournament in Cornwall at Easter and, under his leadership, the team won the Melksham Cats rugby tournament in April.
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
That we had been the worst two teams this summer wasn’t in doubt – the hackneyed old cliché “the table never lies” was spot on in this case – you only had to look at the number of tries conceded by each of us prior to this evening for the truth to emerge. We’d conceded 59 in 6 games and our opponents 69. So on that basis were we on for a 15-14 thriller?
Well, no, not really – what that assumption ignores is the paucity of both teams’ try-scoring capabilities. We’d managed 23 tries in our 6 games and our opponents 3 fewer, and once the game started it was obvious that the reason behind these unimpressive stats was that both sides were lacking real pace.
As fewer of our number turned out this evening, the opportunities to sub on and off were limited – I took a couple of breathers in a fairly frenetic first half where both teams lacked discipline and organisation and then, having turned round 5-4 up at half time, played the whole of the second half without struggling. I’d love to put this down to my massively improved fitness, but the truth is that the game wasn’t played at a particularly taxing pace and, although we spent much of the second half defending, it was relatively easy to do so as there was no pace to defend against.
We ended up tasting victory (8-5) for only the second time in this campaign and so avoided the wooden spoon. The past seven weeks have just flown by and, although some of our play and especially our defending (and by “our” I definitely include myself) has been frustrating, it’s still been hugely enjoyable and I’d say I’ve certainly played more of an active part than I did last year (which possibly explains our problems!).
Touch isn’t entirely finished – I think there are a couple of weeks of turning up and playing informally before pre-season kicks in for the club. I’ve yet to decide whether I’ll try to get involved further. Part of me really wants to give it a go and commit to playing a game a month next season at veterans level, but another part of me thinks the first part of me is barking mad.
Saturday, 23 June 2007
Friday, 22 June 2007
What does irk me somewhat, however, is the way in which certain New Zealanders appear to believe that being the world’s number one rugby team gives them the right to adopt a holier than thou attitude to the rugby issues of the day and/or to belittle other teams who might not be up to the All Blacks’ lofty standards.
Setting aside the furore that seems to attach itself to every performance of Haka these days, I for one get more than a little irritated by the self-righteous preaching coming out of the All Black camp from time to time.
The latest sermon by the right Reverend Graham Henry concerns what he describes as the "poaching" of New Zealand players by European clubs. Not only does he appear to lay the blame at the clubs’ door (failing to mention that perhaps it is the players and their agents who might, in fact, be initiating the process), he then has the temerity to criticise the players’ choice in succumbing to the temptation of the filthy lucre being thrown at them by the evil clubs.
Notwithstanding the delicious irony of a situation in which New Zealand is now painting itself as the “victim” of player poaching, this is the same Graham Henry, remember, who was paid a small fortune by the Welsh Rugby Union to be their “Great Redeemer” in the late nineties and whose coaching staff also grew rich in the Northern Hemisphere.
Henry also had the gall to lash out at the French recently, firstly for sending a severely weakened squad down under as their top clubs were still involved in the French Championship, and then criticising the French players’ “negativity” in not allowing the All Blacks to rack up a cricket score in the 1st Test. Firstly you have to ask why an international fixture was arranged to take place before the French Championship was completed, and then wonder what the patchwork cobbled-together French 3rd XV were supposed to do? Just roll over and accept a hiding?
This lack of respect for opposition that the All Blacks believe is beneath them also rears its head in the local press. Writing in the New Zealand Herald, Chris Rattue delights in pointing out that many of the current England training squad are a bit long in the tooth and that we have no chance of mounting a successful defence of the World Cup.
Jeez, tell us something we didn’t already know Einstein. We know we’re crap. We know we’re desperate. We know that a quarter final exit is the most likely outcome. It doesn’t take a genius to work that out and (apart from the odd bit of sabre rattling from a certain Welshman in the Sunday Times) no one in England is saying otherwise.
Such is the tone of Rattue’s article, so scathing is he of English chances, that I begin to wonder whether New Zealanders are getting a tad jumpy ahead of the tournament. Perhaps the memories are beginning to surface of how, despite the ridicule of the Southern Hemisphere press, Dad’s Army still won the 2003 event even though they were awash with thirty-somethings. Or perhaps New Zealand’s habit of being the best team in the world in between (but never at) World Cups is beginning to catch up with them?
Thursday, 21 June 2007
- He has the American basketball player Michael Jordan's autograph, addressed to Jonny with a 'h'; and
- His favourite film is The Matrix; and
- Jonny has stated that if he were to have a superpower, he would want X-ray vision;
- Due to a fishing accident in Jonny's youth, he now only has one testicle.
I suspect, however, that this revelation is no more than mischief making by a Wikipedia member who has added this "fact" to the biography. That it is in the middle of an article that otherwise appears to be factually accurate does lend it some credence, but the statement is not sourced at all and indeed Wikipedia itself concludes that the biography, as a whole, fails because it is not well referenced.
Shame really. Not because I'd wish that on anyone but because it could only add to the myth and the legend of Superjonny.
Wednesday, 20 June 2007
I always say that there’s nothing like playing Touch with the sun on your back – and last night was nothing like playing Touch with the sun on your back. After a gloriously warm sunny day the clouds were gathering ominously as we arrived for our match and kick off was greeted by a few large spots of rain and a distant rumble of thunder. By half time it was chucking it down and the second half was played out in near-monsoon conditions accompanied by jagged flashes of lightning. Bizarrely enough, as soon as the game ended the rain came to an abrupt halt as if someone had just turned off the tap.
Spectacular, yes, but dry it wasn’t. My t-shirt ended up plastered to my body in a grotesque parody of a modern-day tight-fitting international shirt, my boots squelched on the insides and when it came to driving home afterwards it was a question of deciding what I could safely strip off without getting myself arrested for indecent exposure.
As to the game itself, surprisingly it went much better than in previous weeks. Admittedly the opposition weren’t that great aside from a couple of kiwis who were savvy enough to work out where our weaknesses were and good enough to exploit them, but we communicated well in defence and showed a bit more attacking nous than usual. Final score was an 8-6 defeat and if we hadn’t switched off a couple of times and conceded tries immediately after scoring ourselves we might just have sneaked a win.
The fact that both sides managed to cope with near impossible conditions and that the game was played in a great spirit made it an enjoyable, albeit very soggy, experience.
Monday, 18 June 2007
Friday, 15 June 2007
At a secret location just outside Hereford lies a military training camp housing a number of veteran rugby players who are being put through their paces by special forces fitness instructors in order to get them ready for selection for the final World Cup squad in mid August.
While Ashton remains tight lipped about any such plan, a source close to the landlord at the Spread Eagle Inn in Hereford revealed:
“What Brian Ashton has recognised is that his squad lacks experience and leadership which is why Dallaglio was brought back. However, privately Brian doesn’t think this will be enough and so, although I can’t reveal the identities of the players he has in camp here, I can tell you that he is planning to bring in some big names from the past”.
Several pints of Hook Norton later it was revealed that the players involved include nineties heroes Brian Moore (45 ) and Mickey Skinner ( 49 ), former England captains Bill Beaumont (55) and Budge Rogers (74), as well as legendary winger David Duckham (61) and former BBC commentator Nigel Starmer-Smith ( 63 ).
When told of this development Sunday Times columnist Stephen Jones said:
“This is wonderful news. As I’ve always said, England will never win anything with callow youths in the team. These older players will bring vital leadership and years of experience into the England set-up and what’s more they’ve all put on so much weight since their playing days they’ll now be more than a match for the Springboks physically.”
Reports that the names of Prince Alexander Obolensky and Wavell Wakefield have already been pencilled into Ashton’s final squad can probably be dismissed on account of both players being long since dead, although a lack of vital signs does not appear to have hampered the careers of Ben Cohen and Ian Balshaw.
Thursday, 14 June 2007
In this modern age of impact substitutions and having to have front row cover on the bench, there probably isn’t the same status (or lack of it) attached to being a replacement as there was in my day (blimey, how much of an old fart does that make me sound?).
Being on the bench usually meant that not only that you weren’t considered quite good enough to be in the 1st XV, but also that the 2nd XV had also decided that they could manage without your services that particular week. It was also usual to name 1 forward (always a backrower as there were always plenty of us to go round) and 1 back (usually a centre for the same reasons). Consequently, in my younger days, I occasionally had to do my duty and serve time on the bench.
So, the ego having been well and truly mangled when the team sheet arrived in the post on a Thursday morning (yes, there was a time before emails and text messaging), it was essential to devise a strategy to make sure that, when the selection committee met the following week, you were not cast off into the barren wastelands otherwise known as the 3rd XV.
What follows therefore is a survival guide to being a replacement which, with a little tweak here and there, can be equally applicable today:
- Before the match, go through the motions of warming up and do it alone. You can still look keen without getting in the way and there’s no point in tiring yourself out or getting all psyched up when the best you can hope for is a stint running touch.
- Knowing the line-out calls (or the backs moves as applicable) is also irrelevant at this stage – you can always ask if and when you do get on. Obviously this might not apply these days if you’re a planned tactical substitution, but it may still do so if your hooker can’t hit a barn door with a banjo anyway.
- Don’t, under any circumstances, volunteer to run touch. Let the other replacement do it. If it’s bitterly cold then there might be a case for doing the job just to prevent hypothermia setting in but not otherwise. If it’s raining get under an umbrella and make the other guy do it.
- Grab the oranges at half time and run on with them, looking really enthusiastic. At this stage it’s all about appearances, so plenty of vocal encouragement – make them believe you’re a team player.
- Try and avoid having to go on until there are, at most, 20 minutes to go. Any longer and you’ll have some serious work to do. If someone goes down injured before this deadline, make all the right noises about how well he's playing and how he’d be letting the team down if he came off.
- With about 20 minutes to go start dropping hints to the coach about how the team might use some fresh legs. If you’ve managed to persuade some poor sod to stay on the field for the last hour or so, despite him being crocked early on, you can now start muttering about how he’s struggling to keep up and is letting the team down.
- If and when you do get on it’s important to make an immediate impact, causing the watching selectors to wonder why you weren’t picked as first choice. So, lots of vocal encouragement and a couple of big tackles will help, but easily the best way is to poach a try with your first touch. Luckily this happened to me the first time I was replacement for Peterborough 1st XV as an 18 year old. I came on with, you guessed it, just under 20 minutes to go and managed to lurk around the edge of a maul for a minute or so before our veteran number 8 broke to the blindside and popped a pass to me. I had about fifteen metres to run but the fullback was out of position and I made it over the line just as he tackled me. It was my debut and it cost me a jug but it was well worth it.
- After the game be very modest about how brilliantly you played for those last 20 minutes, about how the groundwork had already been laid by the rest of the team, about how well the player you replaced had played until you went on. Modestly repeat this several times during the evening, especially within earshot of anyone on the selection committee.
There, that about covers it. Hope that helps…
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
Another is to allow mauls to be collapsed. Yes, you did read that correctly. The driving maul, the one tactic which forces the opposition to commit players to the breakdown, will be rendered obsolete as a couple of opposition forwards will be licensed to drag it down while their mates all hang around clogging up the midfield.
Tuesday, 12 June 2007
For the record we took another caning - this week it was 13-4. That wouldn't be too bad a score if the opposition were something special but they really weren't. They had one or two good players but we really should have been able to match them. Our problems stem from our defending which is both lazy and lacking in any common sense. We're happy enough charging forward with ball in hand but when it comes to defending we leave too many mismatches, allowing opposition quickies a run at our slower players and we're way too static and way too quiet (I did try to organise and be vocal but, to be honest, breathing was the main priority).
Surprisingly tonight's game was also a bit niggly. I don't know the ins and outs, but one of the opposition apparently had a history with one or two of our lads and there were a few touches that were a little bit more forceful that perhaps they should have been. It all culminated in a fairly unseemly scuffle at the end of the game when the said opposition player swung an arm at one of our guys who responded pretty physically. Handbags really, but it added a bit of spice to the evening's proceedings.
So, pulling out some positives to make my glass half-full:
- the punch-up was fairly entertaining;
- the weather was great;
- I enjoyed my post-match beer; and
- tonight's result left us with 1 win from 5 and with 2 matches remaining it looks very much like we'll be competing for the wooden spoon this year - so at least there'll be something to play for!
Monday, 11 June 2007
Jones has been down this route before, so I won’t accuse him of a knee-jerk reaction to England being out-muscled on the recent tour of South Africa. However, the idea of picking a squad on size and physicality alone smacks purely of damage limitation and, as Ashton said before the recent tour, “Brian Ashton doesn’t do damage limitation.”
Jones’s point is that England need to dominate the collisions which is fair comment as far as it goes but isn’t nearly enough. What happens when we win the ball and find that all we have is big lumps to crash it back in and try to win it again, or even if we’re able to spot an overlap we’re entirely unable to exploit it?
His obsession with size leads him to some bizarre conclusions – he goes for Andy Farrell purely for his size for instance. Farrell has been treated pretty shoddily by the media after a difficult first Six Nations, but if you’re going to pick him you do so for his excellent distribution skills, not just because he’s a big lad. Jones also goes for the Saints’ Jon Clarke because he’s “big and potentially good” which, 3 months or so before a World Cup, is bizarre reasoning to say the least. He also advocates the case for including Ayoola Erinle and, while I too would have liked to have seen Erinle tested at international level over the past season or so, for Jones to say that not being able to pass doesn't matter for a potential international centre just beggars belief.
The other strand of Jones’s argument is that England should go for the tried and tested but, as far as I’m concerned, for "tried and tested" please read "tried, tested and failed.”
Jones appears oblivious to the fact that many of the players he names have simply underperformed for a number of years...Josh Lewsey has had a torrid couple of years in an England shirt whilst Mike Tindall hasn't been a force since the last World Cup and appears to have no concept of how to put a man in space (his comical attempt to pass to Lewsey in the France match this season, when Lewsey was all of 2 feet away, neatly summed up his limitations). Ben Cohen? Last good game for England was probably in June 2003. Ditto Ben Kay. Danny Grewcock? Not been at his best since the 2001 Lions tour. The list goes on…and to name only Martin Corry and Lawrence Dallaglio as number 8s in the squad suggests that England will struggle to carry the ball over the gain line in France and therefore will have no chance of winning the collisions upon which Jones puts so much importance.
I could go on, so can only hope that Ashton sticks to his principles when he picks his squad this week. There were signs in the Six Nations, at home to France and even in defeat in Cardiff, that England were developing a cutting edge. By all means shore up the pack in certain areas but to abandon the progress made all for the sake of a likely World Cup quarter final exit (which is what will probably happen no matter what side he picks) would just be madness.
Friday, 8 June 2007
Thursday, 7 June 2007
The fact is, while there may be some scientific justification for this twaddle at the very highest level of the game, for the vast majority of rugby clubs a winger is a winger for one or more of the following reasons:
- he has absolutely no talent, and putting him out on the flank keeps him out of harm’s way. It does mean of course that your game plan becomes a little narrower but it’s a price worth paying. This winger has a love of wide open spaces, a unique tolerance to hypothermia and the expression of a startled squirrel when the action heads in his direction. If he ever does get the ball that expression turns to blind panic as he scampers about haphazardly before throwing the ball over his shoulder and running away to hide. Usually he's also painfully thin, never gets his kit dirty and therefore never needs a post-match shower; or
- he's very quick and has just about learned how to catch the ball but couldn't throw a decent pass if his life depended on it. If he could pass he’d be picked in the centre. As it is, he's likely to score bucketloads of tries and win Player of the Year at the end of season awards; or
- he believes he's the next Jonah Lomu. What this usually means is that he is just big and for some reason believes that will be enough, despite having no pace and minimal skill. Sadly, against some opposition wingers, he's right - it is enough; or
- deep down he's really just a rugby fan who likes to tell his mates that he plays. He's incredibly keen and therefore spends most of the game shouting and clapping, encouraging his colleagues to send play his way until that crucial moment when he's called into action and off he goes to collect the oranges at half time, or retrieve the ball from the stream.
If you fit into any of the above categories then you can play on the wing. If not, you should play in a proper position.
Hope that helps…
Wednesday, 6 June 2007
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to award Martin Johnson a Knighthood”.
While 291 people out of a population of more than 60 million might not sound much it was more, for instance, than achieved by the following motions:
- “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to support our dairy farmers in their fight for cost effective milk prices" or
- “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to change building regulations to force new buildings to be at least partially self sufficient in energy" or
- “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to clarify the government's position as regards to disabled workers”
So, does Martin Johnson deserve a knighthood? Well, given that we appear to be stuck with an increasingly irrelevant royal family and that we insist on giving out gongs each year to all and sundry merely because they do their jobs properly, I don’t see why not. In any event it appears that a few quid bunged into the Labour party coffers can buy you a peerage these days so yeah, have a knighthood Martin and good luck to you.
After all, taking a meritocratic stance, Johnno was the finest forward of his generation (and we are, naturally, all willing to turn a blind eye to the odd disciplinary transgression), he was the captain and driving force behind the England World Cup triumph in 2003 and even now is a fine ambassador for the game (or at least for the brands he represents). If Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst were deserving cases then why not the captain of an English World Cup winning rugby team?
Johnno surely had more influence over England’s success than Sir Clive Woodward ever did, something with which former Wales coach and current New Zealand assistant coach Steve Hansen appeared to agree when, in a tit-for-tat war of words with the then Lions coach Woodward in 2005, he said:
So that’s settled then – a knighthood for Johnno. Time to turn to the next item on the agenda:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister” (7,385 signatures so far!!)
Once again we were pretty shambolic in both attack and defence, although personally I felt I contributed more than I did last week, at least managing a break and pass to set up our one try after about 5 minutes. That reduced the score to 2-1 at that point, although obviously that’s where we peaked. There were also a couple of other neat moments but what we really lack in attack is sheer pace (something the other teams seem to have in abundance). There was one kid on the other team tonight (and when I say kid I mean he was probably about 9 or 10) who had a fantastic burst of speed which saw him carve through our ranks on more than one occasion. Not that carving through our ranks was that difficult given our inability to move up as a line – your average mutt would have been very proud of our dog-legged strategy.
Still, for some reason it was nowhere near as demoralising as last week’s efforts – at least I felt I tried to contribute albeit with a limited amount of success. I guess it’s just a question of me lowering my expectations, enjoying the game for what it is and having a beer afterwards.
And there’s always next week…
Sunday, 3 June 2007
And then came the 1980 Five Nations, following swiftly on from my debut on a rugby pitch, and an interest fired by a desire to see how the game should be played (as opposed to the somewhat comical efforts of my school's under 15s) as well as being driven by questions as to why, whenever I'd seen England play on the TV during the seventies, we'd always been on the wrong end of a hiding from the Irish, the French, the Scottish and, in particular, the Welsh.
From the moment Bill Beaumont led his team out onto the Twickenham turf to face Ireland in the opening game I was hooked. Looking back it was a motley collection that took the field for England that day. Dusty Hare waddled around at fullback without ever suggesting he could break into a canter, let alone a sprint; Mike Slemen on the wing looked as if he might snap if tackled; and John Horton at fly half looked like a science teacher lost in in some bizarre experiment. The forwards were largely droopy moustached and distinctly unathletic-looking and all in all, when compared to the gym-enhanced monsters that grace the game at the top level these days, looked like a bunch of blokes that had been assembled in the pub half an hour before kick off.
Fortunately appearances did turn out to be deceiving as the English pack tore into the Irish that day with the likes of Fran Cotton, Roger Uttley and Tony Neary to the fore and the 24-9 victory was the start of a push towards England's first Grand Slam in decades. A 17-13 win followed in Paris with Clive Woodward making his debut, followed by a tight 9-7 victory over Wales at Twickenham, a match in which Hare kicked 3 penalties and Paul Ringer was sent off. Finally John Carleton's hat-trick and a virtuoso Woodward performance saw England seal the Slam at Murrayfield.
It was the first time I'd followed the Five Nations from beginning to end, I was a confirmed convert to rugby, England had won the Grand Slam and a new era of English dominance was about to begin.
Err, well, not quite - the following season, with Messrs Uttley and Neary having retired, England quite comfortably slipped back into a complacent mediocrity which they managed to maintain for the remainder of the decade. It made no difference though - my appetite was whetted and my expectations set...