Thursday, 16 August 2007

The Last Post...

Well, not exactly the last post, but certainly my last effort before I disappear on holiday tomorrow for a fortnight. No, my laptop's not coming with me and yes, I know you'll miss me, but the next two weeks will hopefully just involve sun, sea and sand with the occasional San Miguel thrown in for good measure and little or no contact with the outside world. Don't worry though, I'll be back before you know it, opinionated as ever.

The timing works especially well this year as I'll have a few days after I get back to psyche myself up for the Rugby World Cup. No doubt I'll also be commenting on the following stories upon my return:

  • England delay naming starting line-up for first match against USA while they await urgent medical bulletin on the fitness of SuperJonny, knocked out while attempting to prevent last gasp winning try by the French in Marseille;

  • Brian Ashton confirms that, in any case, he still doesn't know what his first choice XV is, and so will select on the basis of age, starting with the oldest. Martin Johnson, Neil Back and Jason Leonard are late additions to the squad;

  • Shock re-call to the Welsh squad for Gavin Henson;

  • Shock axeing of Gavin Henson from the Welsh squad after it transpires he's been on the lash with Charlotte for the last three weeks;

  • Jake White criticises England's scrummaging technique, lineout interference, rucking, mauling and tackling, while sitting on Eddie Jones' knee;
  • Lote Tuqiri, Matt Dunning and four other Wallabies are sent home in disgrace after breaking curfew and staying up after 7pm;
  • New Zealand demand that all other hakas be abolished and that their traditional version, invented 12 months ago, be the only one allowed (out of respect for the Maori culture);

  • The right Reverend Graham Henry adds that whilst they were at it why not just abolish all national anthems apart from New Zealand's.

  • The Guinness Premiership season kicks off but no one notices.
Byeeeee....back in 2 weeks!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Gingerbread haka in hot water #2


Some of you may recall that I wrote a gentle, light-hearted spoof last month regarding the "Gingerbread Haka" advertisement and the possible reaction to it by holier-than-thou sections of the New Zealand public.

Well, according to New Zealand's stuff.co.nz, unbelievably enough the advertisement has, in fact, upset some members of the North Shore Maori community who feel the video borders on being culturally insensitive.

According to Northcote's Awataha Marae spokesman Anthony Wilson:

"It's easy to grab a cultural icon like the haka and use it, but unless you use it in an appropriate manner it can be very misleading in terms of what it represents.

"There's an obvious disconnection between the haka and gingerbread men," he says.

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. This would certainly be a much funnier spoof than the one I produced if it wasn't true. You really couldn't make it up.

For those who haven't yet seen the video, and at the risk of offending you, here it is again:




Waltzing mosquito


England's Rugby World Cup preparations have been laid low with the news that man-mountain loosehead prop Andrew Sheridan has been hospitalised by an infected mosquito bite.

So, having laid waste to the Welsh scrummage two weeks ago and having given the French front row plenty to think about at Twickenham last week, Sheridan has effectively been out-scrummaged by an insect.

The mosquito in question has been in training throughout the summer and is peaking at exactly the right time for next month's tournament. There is no truth to the rumour that Wallabies coach John Connolly was seen in Bath yesterday afternoon, making enquiries as to whether the mosquito had an Australian grandfather.

Power to the people

You've voted in your thousands (well, 14 of you) in the "Should I come out of retirement and play veterans' rugby this season" poll and a whopping 78% of you have said yes, I should just "stop pussy-footing around and get on with it".

So I guess that's it. The people have spoken and it's a landslide. Of course, I'm making no guarantees as, at my age, there's just no knowing when a part of my body will give up the ghost next. I am, however, fitter than I've been for a long, long time and I've been pleasantly (no, that's certainly not the right word) surprised by how I've coped with some of the contact work we've done in training. Yes, it's been hard and yes, it's been painful and a big shock to the system, but within a few days I've almost been walking normally again and, given that Vets rugby is not a week-on-week commitment I might just manage to survive it.

Incidentally, in the poll I must confess that it was me who cast the one vote for sitting on the fence, while I can only guess that the two voters who voted that that I was "too old and it'll all end in tears" were probably my wife and my mother.

Power to the people!

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Cancelled train

It looks very much like I've fallen off the fitness wagon so far this week as I didn't make it to club training this evening. I did, however, have a damned fine excuse in that it was raining!

I know, I know...no commitment, no dedication, no backbone but, to be fair, it had been lashing down all day and was still doing so this evening and, let's face it, I'm only contemplating a comeback at Vets level - I'm not some twenty-something tyro keenly competing for a first team spot. Had I been 15 or 20 years younger no doubt I would have been out there trudging away in the wet, but I'm nearly 43 and there are times when you just have to act your age.

I can take a little solace from the fact that I followed up last Tuesday's hard club session with a tough hill run on Thursday (having decided it would be foolhardy to risk aggravating the contact injuries I'd picked up on Tuesday by attending another club training session last week) and a heavy gym workout on Friday.

However, with two weeks holiday on the island of Menorca starting this Friday, that only leaves me 2 days to squeeze in some fitness work as it will now be September before I'm back training at the club. I might even have to take my trainers on holiday, heaven forbid.

And anyway, it was the wrong kind of rain.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Predictable


So, the waiting's over and Brian Ashton has picked his 30 for the World Cup and there are absolutely no surprises in his choices.

It's not as if (unlike four years ago) the vast majority of the squad picked itself this time around, but ultimately no one really played themselves into this squad and so we're left with the tried and tested, or rather the tried, tested and (more often than not in the last few years) failed.

For the record those excluded were: Nick Abendanon, Danny Cipriani, Toby Flood, Kevin Yates, James Haskell and Tom Palmer, plus Mike Tindall and Charlie Hodgson, both of whom were always extreme outside bets given their efforts to recover from serious injuries.

Of those excluded, Danny Cipriani must be wondering how he was meant to show his ability given he's had no game time during the last two weekends and no previous opportunity to show his talents to Brian Ashton. Kevin Yates will also be disappointed after putting in a commendable shift on the South African trip, while I think England will miss James Haskell's athleticism and mobility in the back row, where Dallaglio and Easter hardly provide the most mobile of alternatives.

I guess what I was looking for from Ashton in his squad selection was that he had something or someone up his sleeve, a "bolter" like Cipriani or Haskell who might just offer up something different from the predictable fare that England are likely to serve up. It's all very well being predictable when you're winning, but when there's still a yawning chasm left to close between England and the top few teams then something different is needed.

The only player to be included in the 30 who might not have been a month ago is Bath's Olly Barkley - at the expense of the more unpredictable but less solid Toby Flood. That Barkley has worked hard and is a fairly robust character is not in doubt, but safety and solidity don't exactly set the pulse racing.

It'll be instructive to see who Ashton selects for his 1st XV away to France in Marseilles at the weekend...personally I'd go for Cueto, Lewsey, Hipkiss, Catt, Robinson, Wilkinson, Perry, Sheridan, Regan, Vickery, Shaw, Borthwick, Worsley, Dallaglio, Rees.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

The Total Flanker coaching clinic

Episode 1: How to open a beer with an egg flip - courtesy of Blue Mountains Golden Oldies, Australia.

Bound 4 Da Reload

It's official. Rugby is bad.

The RFU's recruitment campaign is beginning to bear some bizarre fruit with the apparent recruitment of So Solid Crew member MC Neutrino (aka Mark Osei-tutu) by Battersea rugby club London Cornish.

The 25 year old rapper (now I really do sound like my Dad), said he started getting involved with rugby because he was bored with football and working out in the gym. Club coaches now hope he might inspire South London kids to go to training and learn about the game.

"I'd watched rugby on TV growing up" he said. "We didn't have the chance to play it at school, but I'd always been curious about getting involved.

"I speak to a lot of young kids round the housing estates and when I say I play rugby they're a bit surprised...I know rugby is perceived as a white, middle-class sport and maybe it needs to rid itself of that. If I can do anything to help do that it's great.

"For whatever reason, rugby players have a reputation for being posh but I have fitted right in," he said.

"When I joined, I thought I would be the one standing in the corner by myself but it is not like that at all. I love the camaraderie - everyone at the club has really embraced me."

London Cornish first-team player Will Ho (which just has to be a made up name) allegedly said: "He's pretty big and quick, but you can tell he hasn't been playing the game for long. He's only been training with us since March, but he hasn't missed a session. He has improved a hell of a lot and he's started to get more involved in the games he's playing. The boys still give him a bit of banter for his flash car and the chain, but it's all a bit of fun."

The even more bizarrely named Dickon Moon, the London Cornish Director of Rugby added:

"He is a powerful unit and is incredibly keen to learn. He has attended every session since he started and our only problem now is to work out where to play him.

"We are hoping that his involvement may inspire other potential players from communities not normally associated with rugby union to get involved with their local clubs."

The 30-strong So Solid Crew had a chart topper in 2001 with "21 Seconds" and as one half of Oxide and Neutrino, Mark had another No 1 single with "Bound 4 Da Reload" whose opening lyrics are:

Shit I'm shot I don't fuckin believe this Can everyone stop getting shot shot shot shot...Can every one stop getting shot..Bound 4 da bound bound 4 da reload Bound 4 da bound bound 4 da reload Bound 4 da bound bound 4 da reload Mister DJ give it dat reload Bound 4 da bound bound 4 da reload Bound 4 da bound bound 4 da reload...

Who knows, it might just catch on but it's hardly Swing Low Sweet Chariots is it?

Friday, 10 August 2007

Getting personal...


Here's a post from the pages of the World Masters Rugby Yahoo Group, a group for all current and former "Old Fart" players and supporters aged 35+ from around the world. Ostensibly the purpose of the group is to provide information and news on tours, tournaments, reunions or other gatherings pertaining to geriatric rugby, but there's also some genuinely funny stuff posted there.

This one relates to the efforts of one member of the Chicago Grey Lions to get himself in shape...

For my fiftieth birthday a couple of years back, my wife (the dear) purchased a week of personal training at the local health club for me. Although I am still in great shape since playing with the Chicago Lions since '79, but only Grey Lions once a season in this decade, I decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and give it a try.

Called the club and made my reservation with a personal trainer named Belinda, who identified herself as a 26 yr old aerobics instructor and model for athletic clothing and swim wear. My wife seemed pleased with my enthusiasm to get started!

The club encouraged me to keep a diary to chart my progress:

MONDAY: Started my day at 6:00am. Tough to get out of bed, but it was well worth it when I arrived at the health club to find Belinda waiting for me. She was something of a Greek goddess - with blonde hair, dancing eyes and a dazzling white smile. Woo Hoo!!!!! Belinda gave me a tour and showed me the machines. She took my pulse after 5 minutes on the treadmill. She was alarmed that my pulse was so fast, but I attributed it to standing next to her in her Lycra aerobics outfit. I enjoyed watching the skillful way in which she conducted her aerobics class after my workout today. Very inspiring, Belinda was encouraging as I did my sit-ups, although my gut was already aching from holding it in the whole time she was around. This is going to be a FANTASTIC week!!

TUESDAY: I drank a whole pot of coffee, but I finally made it out the door. Belinda made me lie on my back and push a heavy iron bar into the air, and then she put weights on it! My legs were a little wobbly on the treadmill, but I made the full mile. Belinda's rewarding smile made it all worthwhile. I feel GREAT!! It's a whole new life for me.

WEDNESDAY: The only way I can brush my teeth is by laying the toothbrush on the counter and moving my mouth back and forth over it. I believe I have a hernia in both pectorals. Driving was OK as long as I didn't try to steer or stop. I parked on top of a GEO in the club parking lot. Belinda was impatient with me, insisting that my screams bothered other club members. Her voice is a little too perky for early in the morning and when she scolds, she gets this nasally whine that is VERY annoying. My chest hurt when I got on the treadmill, so Belinda put me on the stair monster. Why the hell would anyone invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete by elevators? Belinda told me it would help me get in shape and enjoy life. She said some other shit too.

THURSDAY: Belinda was waiting for me with her vampire-like teeth exposed as her thin, cruel lips were pulled back in a full snarl. I couldn't help being a half an hour late; it took me that long to tie my shoes. Belinda took me to work out with dumbbells. When she was not looking, I ran and hid in the men's room. She sent Lars to find me, then, as punishment, put me on the rowing machine, which I sank.

FRIDAY: I hate that bitch Belinda more than any human being has ever hated any other human being in the history of the world. Stupid, skinny, anaemic little cheerleader. If there were a part of my body I could move without unbearable pain, I would beat her with it!. Belinda wanted me to work on my triceps. I don't have any triceps. And if you don't want dents in the floor, don't hand me the *&%#(#&**!!@*@ barbells or anything that weighs more than a sandwich. The treadmill flung me off and I landed on a health and nutrition teacher. Why couldn't it have been someone softer, like the drama coach or the choir director?

SATURDAY: Belinda left a message on my answering machine in her grating, shrilly voice wondering why I did not show up today. Just hearing her made me want to smash the machine with my planner. However, I lacked the strength to even use the TV remote and ended up catching eleven straight hours of the Weather Channel.

SUNDAY: I'm having the Church van pick me up for services today so I can go and thank GOD that this week is over. I will also pray that next year, my wife (the bitch), will choose a gift for me that is fun like a root canal or another vasectomy.

Funnily enough I've been thinking about some personal training sessions to move my fitness on the next level (that'd be level 2 then!), but then again, perhaps not.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

The Total Flanker Guide to playing: Centre

Here’s something I definitely feel qualified to talk about. Not because I’ve ever played in the centre (apart from the odd cameo for 10 minutes or so) but because I’m sure I could. I mean, how hard can it be?

Sure, at the elite level a centre has to have a range of skills – great defence, great hands and distribution skills, pace, at inside centre a kicking game to rival the fly-half, at outside centre a devastating outside break…but how many centres at your rugby club are blessed with all that?

No, most centres at most clubs have one or more of the following attributes:

  • Tunnel vision – when this type of player gets the ball he is inevitably magnetically attracted straight towards his opposite number, oblivious to any calls of support from outside him or from his pursuing back row. Even having been flattened several times he continues to be drawn down this narrow channel – it’s why all backs who want to see the ball always volunteer to play inside centre.

  • Lateral drift – this type of player has absolutely no concept of running in a straight line and, as soon as he gets the ball runs sideways towards the farthest touchline, pushing the rest of the backs into an impossibly tight 5 metre channel before either throwing a hospital pass, being flattened himself or literally running into touch. Much loved by back row forwards.

  • Kicking delusions – this player believes he should be a fly half and so kicks nearly every piece of possession he receives. The trouble is that when he kicks it is always an adventure as neither he nor anyone else has a clue of where the ball will go. If it does go forward (by no means guaranteed) it inevitably ends up straight down the fullback’s throat or goes out on the full. He also takes every opportunity to try for a drop goal, spurning four man overlaps as his comical attempts either never make it off the ground or soar majestically over the corner flag.

  • Impossibly neat kit – for some reason centres are usually immaculately turned out, with socks up, shirt tucked in and shorts neatly pressed. Not only that, but they are often permanently tanned and their hair is rarely ever out of place. They nearly always look the most impressive players on the pitch until they get the ball.

That about sums it up. Hope it helps.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Train crash

Ouch.

Lulled into a false sense of security by how I managed to cope with last week's session, training last night was a major shock to the system. They certainly upped the ante and it was hard - very hard. Whereas last week there was semi-contact, this week it was much more full-on, driving hard into pads and plenty of rucking and mauling practice which just sapped the energy out of me and left me battered and shaky. We finished with a full contact (albeit at walking pace) opposed session, and by that stage I had nothing left to give.

In addition I now have bruises on top of last week's bruises, my shoulders and back are in agony, I've a partially sprained wrist and a smashed-up ego. It was certainly a reality check as far as reviving my playing days goes - especially as I've been diligent in getting down to the gym at least 3 times a week.

Nevertheless, half an hour in the clubhouse afterwards, talking rugby and supping a beer, made everything look a little rosier and, despite my exhaustion, I departed having given my contact details to the bloke running the Vets team.

I had planned to go along again tomorrow (Thursday) to keep up the momentum but I'll have to see whether my aches, pains and strains have sufficiently subsided before making that call, but I'm very aware of the fact that I go on holiday at the end of next week which makes the need to get fitter all the more pressing.

Blimey I hurt.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

1000 up

Just a quick post to celebrate the fact that Total Flanker has now received 1000 visits.

Admittedly the traffic levels are hardly provoking advertisers and sponsors to beat a path to my door with suitcases full of cash, but money was never the motivation behind this blog. No, the point of all of this is just to allow me to ramble on about the sport that I love and chart my progress towards actually playing again.

So, 1000 visits since the middle of May is something I'm quite chuffed about. Perhaps not a champagne moment, but certainly worth a virtual pint.

Cheers!

Losing Le Plot


Here's another mess for the IRB to sort out.

France coach Bernard Laporte, for whom the term "Mad Professor" seems somewhat inadequate, has put his foot in it again, this time publicly questioning the drug enforcement policies in England and New Zealand.

It's less than a month ago that Laporte was forced by the French Rugby Federation to write a letter of apology to Stuart Dickinson after Laporte had verbally abused the Australian referee in a Wellington hotel the week following the first test against New Zealand in June. Laporte allegedly told Dickinson that he was so disgusted at his performance in the match that his team would not turn up to any game that Dickinson was appointed to in the World Cup and that he could finish Dickinson's refereeing career.

So, a letter of apology in French and the matter is closed, a particularly feeble response from the powers that be. And now this, a thinly veiled accusation that New Zealand and England are drugs cheats. If Laporte has evidence of this he should bring it to the attention of the IRB. If not, then I don't think I've seen a clearer example of someone bringing the game into disrepute and the IRB should throw the book at him.

Bernard, think about it...you are accusing England, of all teams, of taking performance enhancing drugs, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary...

Beards R Us


Not only is Europe going to be inundated with thousands of insufferably gloating Kiwis next month, it also looks as if a large majority of them will be sporting facial hair.

"Hayman's Beard," a group of nutters from The Land of the Long White Cloud who have (successfully it seems) been campaigning for the iconic All Black tight head prop Carl Hayman to re-grow his beard, have now switched the focus of their campaign and made a call for national unity, urging all New Zealanders to grow beards between now and the World Cup to show their support.

"We are calling on all New Zealanders to abstain from shaving from now until the end of the All Blacks World Cup campaign, which we of course hope will end with victory in the final on October 20th," said a Hayman's Beard spokesperson.

"The key is for everyone to cease shaving immediately, so that the country can present a hairy front as a sign of our loyalty and support."

So, assuming that the New Zealand nation gets behind this campaign, we can expect France to be invaded this autumn by hoardes of overly hirsute Kiwi rugby supporters - and that'll just be the women :).

Monday, 6 August 2007

White noise


Last week I said how pleased I was that the IRB had decided to clamp down on "bleating rugby coaches" who use the media to try to undermine match officials.
Well, here's their chance. South Africa's Jake White has, apparently, asked the IRB to assist in ensuring that England's Mark Regan stands in the correct position at lineouts when England play South Africa in the World Cup.

How do we know this? Well, because Jakey-boy has helpfully told the media that he's emailed IRB referee supremo Paddy O'Brien, saying how concerned he is about referee Joel Jutge.

" That's why I want to put pressure on Jutge, because Regan can't be allowed to get away with that, " White said.

So, let's get this straight. By writing to Paddy O'Brien, presumably White's playing it by the book and following accepted procedure. However, the fact that he's also gone public with his concerns surely undermines that and is exactly the sort of behaviour that O'Brien said would not be tolerated. If you ask me this smacks of Eddie Jones' influence and the IRB should jump on it from a height unless they want to see more of the same leading up to and during the tournament.

The fact that White also labelled the English performance "boring" is also a good sign that England might be on the right rack.

The old ones are always the best #3


It's the final of the Rugby World Cup, and a man makes his way to his seat right at centre of the field. He sits down, noticing that the seat next to him is empty.

He leans over and asks his neighbour if someone will be sitting there."No," says the neighbour. "The seat is empty."

"This is incredible", said the man. "Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the final of the World Cup and not use it?"

The neighbour says "Well, actually, the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first World Cup we haven't been to together since we got married in 1987."

"Oh ... I'm sorry to hear that. That's terrible. But couldn't you find
someone else, a friend or relative, or even a neighbour to take the seat?"

The man shakes his head "No, they're all at the funeral."

Saturday, 4 August 2007

All creatures great and small...


Forget the World Cup, forget England’s so-called Twickenham renaissance today, the real rugby is in fact taking place this weekend over the pond in New York State.

Considering that there’s now a fair to middling chance that I’ll be joining its ranks this season (at least if my body holds up to the rigours of pre-season training), I thought the very least I could do was pay attention to what’s going on in the world of Veterans rugby (or Old Boys rugby, or Golden Oldies rugby, as it’s often referred to).

So, as I write this, there are a bunch of ageing rugby fanatics who almost certainly should know better, dragging their tired limbs and flinging their frail bodies around the playing fields of the Can-Am Tournament in Saranac Lake, New York.

Considered one of the largest and best run rugby events in the world, the tournament was created in 1974 by the Mountaineers Rugby Club of Saranac Lake, New York and is now in its 34th year, the inaugural eight-team affair having mushroomed into a mid-summer tradition involving 100 teams and eight different divisions, including Women and Old Boys.

The tournament kicked off yesterday and will feature all-day play today and playoff matches tomorrow, culminating in the division championship finals.

The Old Boys event features three divisions: the Over-50s (now there’s a goal I should be aiming for) which features six teams, including Blackthorn who went undefeated in last year’s tournament; the Over-45s (for which I’m still a couple of years shy) in which White Plains will look to defend their 2006 Championship while the Mountaineer Old Boys (MOB) will attempt revenge for their loss in last years final; and the Over-40s – for young whippersnappers like myself – which features a nine team field that includes last year’s champions Myths and Legends as well as two touring sides, Halifax Old Boys and Turks & Caicos Islands RFC.

All I can say to all competing is good luck – and I’m sure that the local bars will have a VERY profitable weekend.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Go Play Rugby

By sheer coincidence, given my attempts to get myself back into shape sufficiently to contemplate a return to the rugby field, the RFU are in the midst of trying to attract former players back into the game.

The RFU’s efforts have passed me by somewhat, which doesn’t say a huge amount for their publicity machine, especially given that they are allegedly spending some £1m and involving over 700 clubs and 130 universities and colleges in an attempt to bring back to the game over 6,000 men and women who played rugby at school and university but then hung up their boots due to work and family commitments (that’s the equivalent of 400 new teams to put it into context).

The "Go Play Rugby" campaign, launched last month, focuses on reminding ex-players of the enjoyment that being part of a rugby club can offer and is fronted by Will Greenwood (one of my favourite players and characters from the Woodward-era England team). It’s a fine idea, although by targeting the 17-30 age group I think they’re missing a trick – there’s probably a huge number of older blokes like me who would welcome a return to the game but just need a little gentle persuasion. Maybe that goes some way to explaining why the campaign didn’t appear on my radar earlier.

Anyway, here’s one of the videos promoting the campaign - pretty effective I’d say:




However, somewhat paradoxically the RFU have asserted for the last few years that playing numbers in England have been on the increase, despite the fact that it’s been obvious to many that this was not the case with many clubs either going under or drastically reducing in size due to a lack of playing numbers.

As Peter Bills points out in his article in Sunday Life this week, professionalism changed everything within rugby. Many amateur volunteers, people who gave their time for free, walked away when players began to be paid and many have been lost to the game forever. This, coupled with the pressures in modern day society to spend social time with the family rather than selfishly going off all day to play rugby, goes a long way to explaining why numbers are down.

The fact that the RFU are attempting to do something about it is laudable. But, as Peter Bills concludes, the campaign misses the point. Expensive marketing campaigns are one thing, but what grassroots rugby really needs for the RFU to concentrate its considerable resources on the amateur game and leave the running of the elite professional game to someone else. The RFU (together with the majority of the world’s elite rugby governing bodies) has focused far too much time, attention and money on the professional game (and, in the RFU’s case has made a right old pig’s ear of it) to the detriment of the game as a whole. It should relinquish control of the professional game, or at least hive it off as a separate business, and re-focus its efforts on grassroots rugby.

Otherwise, as Peter Bills so rightly says, players and volunteers will continue to drift away from the sport, no matter how glitzy the RFU recruitment campaigns are.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Fiji off the grog

The leading Rugby World Cup story this week, as far as I'm concerned, is not the fact that Gavin Henson will now miss the tournament so that he can work on his tan for the new domestic season. Nor is it Brian Ashton's attempt to create the slowest back row in international rugby since records began.

No, the main news is that the Fiji team will be off the booze during the tournament and will be placed under curfew, only being allowed limited contact with friends and family.

According to Fiji's high performance manager, Peter Murphy, the Fijian players' use of kava will be restricted to traditional ceremonies, consumption of alcohol will be closely controlled and players will not be allowed to mix with family and friends at the team hotel to ensure they remain focused on the rugby.

Ironically, this is the same Peter Murphy who was arrested and charged by police in Fiji over the weekend for drink driving, another embarrassing incident involving the Fijian management team following last month's police caution to coach Ilivasi Tabua and his former backs coach Iliesa Tanivula after their partying in the early hours of the morning provoked complaints by neighbours. Perhaps it's the management who should be under curfew?

The Fijian public appear largely to support the alcohol restriction, judging from the reactions in The Fiji Times, a number which point out that Fijians don't know the meaning of "just a few beers". The best response however is that of "Peter of Fiji" (presumably not Peter Murphy) who innovatively suggests that the Fijians should:
"Just take some designated drinkers with them. I suggest national trials for designated drinkers next week. Trialists must be able to drink grog for minimum of 12 hrs and drink beer for minimum of 2 days."

Oh Scrum All Ye Faithful

The news we've all been waiting for...

Mazda Motor Corporation has upgraded the "Scrum Wagon" and "Scrum Van" micro-mini vehicle lineup for the Japanese market. Both vehicles are available at Mazda dealers throughout Japan from today.
The upgraded Scrum Wagon, according to the marketing blurb, comes with new interior fabric colors designed to match the characteristics of each model grade and front seats with thicker, contoured seat edges that enhance the vehicle's level of quality and comfort for passengers.

What the blurb fails to mention, however, is how appropriately named this vehicle is. Just look at it. Solid, squat, powerful and mobile - the epitome of a modern day front-row forward.

Shhhhhh!

I'm delighted that world referee supremo Paddy O'Brien has decided to clamp down on what he calls "bleating rugby coaches, players and officials".

O'Brien, the IRB's refereeing co-ordinator, gave notice this week of a crackdown at the World Cup on players questioning referees' decisions.

"This has crept back into the game," he said.

"Experienced players are taking on inexperienced referees and cashing in on their lack of experience. We're not going to accept this at the World Cup. Those players doing so will be penalised at once."

Fantastic - international rugby these days is just too damned loud with pretty much everyone on the pitch chipping in with their comments and opinions - it's about time they all just shut up played the game and let the referee do his job.

O'Brien is also unhappy with the growing trend for coaches to use the media to undermine match officials and players, the Springboks' recent criticisms of Richie McCaw being the latest in a long line of public whinges by people who should know better.

"I am determined that the World Cup will be won by the best team on the paddock, not in newspaper columns and certainly not by a coach running to a newspaper, bleating," said O'Brien.

"We are banning all meetings between coaches and referees before World Cup games. No other sport allows coaches to go in and see referees, armed with laptops, statistics and photos, before a game...it is absurd.

"Referees must referee what they see in front of them on the field during a game, not have pre-conceived ideas through coaches trying to influence them 24 hours before a match even starts. We will be putting a huge emphasis on that point before the World Cup begins."

Too right Paddy. I'm not sure when this trend started, but the likes of Clive Woodward and Eddie Jones were masters of raising concerns about opposition tactics in public in a brazen attempt to influence match officials. I'm sure we all remember Woodward's media briefing about the alleged crossing/obstruction by the All Blacks and Eddie's bleating about the English "truck and trailer". Woodward even went as far as to hire Alistair Campbell to mastermind the Lions' spin for the 2005 New Zealand tour and we all know how well that went.

My only concern is how they can put a stop to it. It's easy to punish players - just penalise them on the pitch or fine them off it. How will they prevent coaches whinging to the media though? Disrepute charges? Financial penalties? Suspensions? If so, we could see a situation where all of these issues end up in front of a disciplinary committee - in which case each team will need a legal representative (something Woodward already had in place in 2003) and the whole thing will be in danger of spinning crazily out of control.