Sunday, 30 September 2007

Everyone hates us, we don't care

OK, I admit it. If you promise to put away the thumbscrews and remove those electrodes from my genitals I'll confess that, despite having something of a Welsh heritage, I could barely conceal my giggles as Fiji stormed into a convincing half time lead against Wales yesterday.

The fact that the match then turned into an absolute classic in the second half, with the Welsh storming back to rescue the game before succumbing to a truly heroic late charge by the Flying Fijians, should not detract from the point that, despite my parentage and my innate Britishness, by the end I was desperate for Fiji to win.

I know that sounds wrong and, believe me, there's a part of me that feels suitably guilty but, just as every Celt worth his or her salt would have been screaming for a Tongan victory on Friday evening (and will be willing the Aussies on to victory next weekend), I feel it only fair that we should return the favour and so I freely admit to supporting the efforts of Fiji, Italy and Argentina this weekend.

As the CEO of the Australian RFU, John O'Neill, put it at the back end of last week, in his entirely inappropriate (and failed) attempt to secure the Total Flanker Dunderhead of the Week award: " We all hate England."

If that's the case then we little Englanders really should adopt the attitude of Millwall FC supporters whose "Everyone hates us, we don't care" attitude is a rallying call and a source of considerable motivation. The point, however, is that we are sensitive souls deep down and really DO care and, in the absence of love and/or respect heading in our direction, the only sensible course of action is to reciprocate and wish all those who seek our demise the absolute worst of fortune at this World Cup.

For John O'Neill not to have secured the Dunderhead trophy this week is quite an achievement. Surely no other rugby personality could have been quite so crass in the last seven days? Step forward the IRB for their entirely inappropriate and over-the-top reaction in banning the Tongans from dyeing their hair green for Friday's game against England. Such a shame that the Tongans did not have access to (or resources for) legal advice on this issue as I'd be fascinated to know on what grounds the IRB could possibly justify this case of outrageous bullying. Shame on you.

Finally, it was educational to see the so-called fastest man in world rugby, Brian Habana, outstripped for pace by little-known USA winger Takudzwa Ngwenya this evening. As commentator Murray Mexted said, there's almost certainly a professional contract somewhere now awaiting the signature of this piece of greased lightening.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Blimey - fame at last

I know it's my birthday and all that but it appears that Total Flanker now has national recognition after being mentioned in dispatches by Hamish Henry in the online section of The Times.

I'm really not sure how I'll manage to cope with this new found fame. Paparazzi are beginning to gather outside the house. I expect a plethora of ex-girlfriends will now come out of the woodwork to dish the dirt and I've already put in a call to Max Clifford. A six-figure deal with Hello magazine is the least I can hope for.

43

Happy Birthday to me,

Happy Birthday to me,

Happy Birthday Total Flanker,

Happy Birthday to me.

Forty three years young today and feeling every single one of them.

The perfect present would be a flawless exhibition of power and skill from England tonight, striking fear into the hearts of the Wallabies and sending Messrs Henry, White and Laporte scuttling off into a blind panic as they wonder how they can possibly stop the invincible white rugby machine.


Alternatively a little competence wouldn't go amiss.


Thursday, 27 September 2007

More Chabalmania...





With thanks to hmmm-chabal.com.

All Aboard the Bandwagon


Losing next to no time in cashing in on the success of Sebastian "Sea Bass" Chabal at this World Cup, his club Sale Sharks have rushed out a new edition t-shirt to the "Chabal Merchandise Range" which, naturally enough, will be available via the club shop.

The t-shirt, featuring a "fantastic caricature"of Chabal dressed as a Caveman, is, we're told, due in store on Friday 5th October and we're assured that, at only £15.00, it's "a cheap and fun addition to your wardrobe."

No doubt it would represent tremendous value if the caricature bore even the slightest resemblance to Chabal, but personally I can't see too many Sale or French fans parting with their hard-earned cash so that they can strut around Manchester or Paris sporting a picture of a cross between a young Clement Freud and Ming the Merciless on their chests.

Or am I just being a bit picky?

Live and let dye

Back to the stories that matter at the Rugby World Cup...

Thanks to Joanna Bourne for bringing this one to my attention - a great example of "boys on tour" mentality is being displayed by the Tonga squad. Not content with one of their number, Epi Taione, changing his name by deed poll to "Paddy Power" before the tournament started, they have now apparently employed the services of an Irish hairdresser, Dermot Hickie, to dye the hair of the entire matchday 22 bright green before their encounter with England tomorrow evening. Each player, the Guardian reports, has gone for his own style and there will be varying shades of green.

The IRB having, predictably, refused to amend Taione's entry in the tournament guide to Paddy Power, the Tongans have, it seems, made this gesture to thank the Irish bookmaker for its invaluable financial support.

"They [the IRB] will go mad about this," Taione/Power is reported to have said - and I suspect he's right that the blazers will probably fail to see the funny side.

Another fine example of a squad adopting a tour mentality is to be found in the Australian camp where they appear to be maintaining their own tour blog, with contributions by the likes of Stephen Larkham, Stephen Hoiles, David Lyons, Steve Moore, Rocky Elsom and Phil Waugh.

The most bizarre story to feature so far is that of Al "The Fuse" Baxter (you know, the bloke who's likely to win his 50th Australian cap at prop this week despite being unable to scrummage). Rumour has it that, during the Wallabies' pre-World Cup boot camp where the players all had to glove up and take on legendary Aussie mixed martial arts fighter Chris "The Hammer" Haseman, Baxter stepped up and laid the The Hammer out.

Here's a supposed eye-witness account from none other than Matt Giteau:

I remember Al was particularly focused that day. From looking at the bloke, you just knew he was going to win. He is psyched up. He's not talking to anyone. He's doing all these push-ups and things. And then he gets into the fight. He touches gloves with The Hammer, stares him down, and says, 'Get ready to be Baxtered.' He walks back. He's just mucking around with The Hammer. He's moving around, and then out of nowhere, he goes WHACK. He then stands over the Hammer and goes, 'You've been Baxtered.'

Nice try chaps, and well done to Giteau for keeping a straight face (see below) but obviously a huge WIND-UP. Still, nice to see someone's not taking life off the pitch too seriously - can you imagine anything as imaginative coming out of the England camp?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Kiwis duped

The New Zealand training camp was caught up in a storm of controversy last night after it emerged that various of the All Blacks' squad, including captain Richie McCaw, had been conned into describing the history of the Haka, with the aid of animated Maori stick men, in an advertisement for a well known German sportswear manufacturer.



A spokesman for the All Blacks confirmed that the players in question had no idea that the film was being made for commercial gain, but believed that they were making a cultural and educational film promoting a little known Maori community who settled on the outskirts of Nuremberg, Germany, shortly after Abel Tasman's arrival in New Zealand in 1642.

"The players were approached by a man called Hori Von Trapp who claimed that he represented a unique Maori community in Germany. He was very convincing. Had they known that this was nothing but yet another attempt to exploit the Haka for commercial gain there is no way they would have taken part," he said.

A Maori spokesman and expert in kapa haka confirmed that he thought the advertisement was, on the face of it, an affront to Maori culture.

"This never-ending exploitation of the Haka denigrates our culture," he commented, "and I believe it's time we reverted to a a far simpler interpretation of the Haka, as practised by the All Blacks during the 1970s."

Monday, 24 September 2007

Volcano dormant?

There's plenty of paper talk that Tonga are planning to call up Gloucester's Lesley "The Volcano" Vainikolo and unleash him on England on Friday night.

Fortunately (and this is purely from an England perspective) the big Tongan-born winger suffered a neck injury playing for his club against Saracens yesterday and, while it's not thought to be serious, I would guess it probably rules him out for the weekend.

More interestingly, Vainikolo (who has represented New Zealand at Rugby League) is qualified to play for England on residency grounds and has expressed an interest in doing so.

"My ambition is to play for England down the line," he has apparently said, "but I am also qualified for Tonga, so it's a question of whoever comes first."

In which case, if he does turn out to be fit and available, perhaps there's a case for Rob Andrew delivering a swift kick to the shins of the ineffectual Mark Cueto before calling The Volcano into the England squad?

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Dunderhead of the Week

Yesterday I, and millions of other rugby fans, witnessed the singularly most inept performance at this year's Rugby World Cup. Yes, even worse than the performance of England's Shaun Perry against South Africa were the efforts by ITV anchor man Jim Rosenthal to get Martin Johnson to sing the praises of Jonny Wilkinson after yesterday's England v Samoa match.

"Wasn't Jonny just fantastic", was the gist of Rosenthal's questioning, and when Johnson pointed out that actually no, Wilkinson hadn't won the game single-handedly, Rosenthal's line of questioning subtly switched tack to "But what an impact Jonny Wilkinson made on the game". Unsurprisingly Johnson stuck to his guns, pointing out that it was the forwards who laid the foundations for the win and that there were more than a few kicks out of defence by Wilkinson that were more than a bit iffy, but a late intervention by Francois Piennaar saved Rosenthal's blushes and confirmed that yes, after all, Wilkinson had an absolutely wonderful game.

That Rosenthal's next words were something along the lines of "Martin Corry - Superhero" tell you all that you need to know about this man's depth of rugby knowledge.

The only challenger to Jim Rosenthal for the all-new Total Flanker "Dunderhead of the Week" award is the official who allowed Scotland and New Zealand to play each other this afternoon wearing virtually identical kit. A combination of black and grey playing a combination of dark navy blue and off-white was difficult enough to follow on the TV and therefore must have been a nightmare for the referee (although I guess that he could have insisted that one of the teams change their shirts, or wear bibs, or play in skins!).

Friday, 21 September 2007

Iconic status for Sea Bass

Think John Kirwan in 1987 or Jonah Lomu in 1995, the player who is fast becoming the "face" of the 2007 Rugby World Cup is none other than South Manchester's adopted son Sebastian "Sea Bass" Chabal.

There's absolutely no doubt that the French public have really taken to this larger than life character and that he's very much taken over from Freddy Michalak as the darling of French rugby. That's why it's important for the competition as a whole that France look to have booked at least a place in the quarter finals with their emphatic win against Ireland this evening in Paris(although it's still ridiculous that they will, in all likelihood, have to travel to Cardiff to play the All Blacks).

It's vital for the competition as a whole that the hosts progress to the latter stages and on current form I wouldn't necessarily bet against the French making an impact in the quarters, even against New Zealand. It's equally important that the man who is now very much seen as a talisman for the French team continues to be included. It's not beyond the realms of possibility, however, that the nutty professor Laporte will seek to leave Chabal out. Laporte has never really been convinced by Chabal's qualities, hardly ever selecting him in his best position at number 8. It's absolutely clear that he's not one of France's best 2 locks (nor would he claim to be), but as a number 8, with Betsen and Bonnaire on the flanks, he'd add serious go forward to the back row. He certainly has to be ahead of Harry Ordinary (as Lawrence Dallaglio once described Harinordiquy) in the pecking order.

Just in case Monsieur Laporte is reading this (hey, you never know), here's a very brief reminder what Sea Bass brings to his team:







It's just a shame from an English point of view that he was capped before moving to Sale Sharks - I'm sure he would be a naturalised Englishman by now (although probably isn't old or slow enough to feature anywhere in the English pack at present).

Glass half empty

Back to the World Cup and time for another rant...

The Rugby World Cup in France has been superb so far, full of colour, vibrancy and plucky performances from underdogs cheered on by packed stadia. However, if ever there was a sound reason not to award games at this Rugby World Cup to Wales and Scotland it was the pitiful attendances at both Murrayfield (for Scotland v Romania) and Cardiff (for last night's match between Wales and Japan).

The crowd at Murrayfield was a pathetic 31,222 (capacity 67,800), which should come as no surprise given how poorly Scotland promoted the 1999 event, while in Cardiff a measly 42,588 (out of a capacity of 74,500) turned up. So, not only were Wales and Scotland given home advantage against two of the game's minnows (and I'm guessing that both results would have been much closer in a neutral venue) but the apathy of the Welsh and Scottish publics to these games contrasts hugely with the enthusiasm with which the French public has embraced the tournament.

What this highlights is not only the folly of allowing the tournament to be played in more than one territory (South Africa and Australia having previously shown that to host the event in a single territory works best), but also the intrinsically corrupt nature of how the IRB decides on who should host the tournament, with France effectively buying the Welsh, Scottish and Irish votes by promising them home matches during the group stages (the Irish subsequently handing these matches back when they realised Lansdowne Road wouldn't be ready). And yes, I know that the RFU didn't exactly behave in good faith when it demanded to host both semi-finals in exchange for voting for Wales to host the event in 1999, but that still doesn't justify what subsequently happened when the 2007 event was awarded.

And don't even get me started on the decision to give the 2011 tournament to New Zealand - a decision which caused such an outcry that surely the IRB must now wake up and see that the rugby public will no longer accept that decisions like this can be taken by a bunch of blazers behind closed doors.

Future decisions must be transparent and the people that make them need to be accountable. Nothing else will be acceptable.

Here endeth the lesson...

Auntie in trouble again

For those of you following the shenanigans at the BBC in recent months, where the results of a variety of phone-in competitions have been admitted to having been faked, it will come as absolutely no surprise to know that the controversy surrounding our favourite Auntie has now extended to the world of rugby.

Despite not having the rights to the Rugby World Cup for the 5th time in succession (1987 being the last time the RWC was shown on the Beeb) the BBC did manage to get in on the act by screening a few of the UK-based warm up matches in August, including the match between Ireland and Italy in Belfast.

'Man of the match' that day was Ulster flanker Neil Best. No problem there, I here you say, Best is a fine player and put in one of his typical barnstorming performances. The problem arises however because the person awarding the accolade was TV commentator Ryan Constable. Constable also happens to be a rugby agent, representing several top flight players one of whom is, yes you guessed it, Neil Best.

As Neil Best said: "The award didn't make me feel any better because my agent (Ryan Constable) was commentating for the BBC and he made the decision.

"He's obviously trying to secure another few years for me. And yes, I will be retaining his services, but don't tell him that because I want to keep him on his toes."

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Le Fraka

Looks like the French now have their own version of the Haka...


Le Fraka
Uploaded by ovaltv


No, I don't undertand it either!

Old Spice

The highlight of Saturday afternoon is unlikely to be happening in Nantes (unless you're Samoan). No, it looks like the pace to be will be Windsor Rugby Club where the 2nd Annual Windsor Rugby Vets Tournament will take place.

I must say it all looks very impressively organised. With bacon rolls on offer from 12 noon, a beer festival kicking off at 1pm, a steak, ribs and chicken barbecue on the go from 2pm and a curry evening starting at 6pm, I'm not sure how they plan to squeeze in the rugby but I daresay they'll manage it.

They also have BBC Radio Five Live broadcasting from the club in the lead up to and including
the England v Samoa game, with Brian Moore hopefully sticking around to present the Vets trophies. Add the Reading Belles Cheerleaders to the mix and it does sound like the place to be.

A shame therefore that, despite currently being included in the playing schedule, Chesham won't be attending. I'm not entirely sure why, something to do with the payment of a deposit I understand, but from a personal perspective it's disappointing as it looks like the ideal introduction to Vets' rugby - i.e. plenty of food and beer with a bit of rugby thrown in for good measure.

Click here for more information on the event.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

2000 - a rugby odyssey


Just a quickie to mark the fact that during the last 24 hours or so Total Flanker has received its 2000th visit.

Thanks for the continued support and have a virtual tipple on me!

Cheers...

Blast from the past

Sorry I haven't posted for a few days - I've been updating Women's Rugby Review (which hasn't had my full attention during the Rugby World Cup, I admit) and decorating my son's bedroom, a project which is increasingly akin to the Forth Bridge. Given the amount of time it's taking, anyone would think he had a massive palatial bedroom but, no, it's just an average sized single room which is taking an inordinate amount of time to decorate, mainly due to the fact that I'm painting over some very bright colours with a more understated pale blue.

Enthralled and fascinated as you undoubtedly are by my tales of decorating woe, the reason I mention it is that while up the step ladder I had a peek into the loft space which is accessible via my son's room and discovered a load of old junk deposited there when we moved in 12 years ago, amongst which were some ancient rugby photos featuring yours truly.

These records of a bygone era will therefore be making an appearance on this blog from time to time and to start you off here's one of me from circa 1982 as a 17 year old Peterborough Colt, leaping salmon-like to tap a lineout ball in the general direction of my scrum half (I hope). Note the absence of lifters (or for that matter any support players) - back in the middle ages we had to get airborne under our own steam, believe it or not.

Speaking of lineouts, I received my very first tutorial in the art of lifting at training last night as we ran through the club's lineout routines. We practised lifting, catching and driving for about half an hour or so which was reasonably informative and interesting but which in all honesty mostly involved standing around watching and listening. Fair enough I guess, but having only had a short 15-20 minute practice match beforehand it didn't feel like I'd had much of a physical workout - so much so that I went out for a 25 minute run this morning which is more or less unheard of. What I do have this morning is a bloody sore shin - some young lad thought it would be great idea to back-heel a ball coming his way without realising that I was standing right behind him, the effect being that he whacked into my shin with his studs. Nice.

Afterwards I established with the bloke organising the 2nd XV that, for now at least, I was available for Vets only. Injury last week ruled me out of the 2nd XV game (in which they managed to scrape a 64-0 win despite my absence) and, having thought it through a bit more, I decided that one fixture a month for the Vets would be sensible planning on my part, especially given my injury record.

Now, where did I put that paintbrush?

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Swinging (very) low...

It says something about a player when a whole stadium gives him a standing ovation when he leaves the field in the middle of a match in which his his colleagues are giving everyone a lesson in total ineptitude whilst going down to a record World Cup defeat. That man was Jason Robinson on Friday - an absolute legend who produced a wonderfully defiant display against the Boks in the face of huge adversity.

Apologies for the England-centric tone of my recent posts. Unlike ITV I do acknowledge that there are a few other nations taking part at this Rugby World Cup but right now I feel like I've a fair amount of England-related stuff to get of my chest.

I've had a couple of days to reflect on the rest of the debacle against South Africa but it doesn't get any easier. I suppose Ireland nearly losing to Georgia (how funny would that have been?) puts things a little in perspective and, given that I had no expectation at all of England actually beating the Boks, I really shouldn't be so down about the whole performance.

However, what gets me is that England really do appear to be getting worse under Brian Ashton, the appointment of whom I supported. I figured that, after the paucity of the Andy Robinson regime, Ashton would instill the England set-up with a fresh mindset and was even willing to tolerate the stuffing we received at the hands of Ireland at Croke Park in March, accepting Ashton's reasoning that England had received insufficient preparation time. After a new-look team team then delivered a vibrant performance at Twickenham against France with Messrs Flood and Geraghty to the fore, I was convinced that England had turned a corner, and I'm sure that I recall Ashton commenting at the time that there would be no going back to the risk-free rubbish we had previously witnessed .

What, then, has happened? The England squad have been together since early July and yet the lack of cohesion, both in attack and defence, has been appalling at this tournament to date. What on earth have they been doing in training? Ashton's squad and team selections have been muddled and overtly conservative and our gameplan (such as it is) is predictable, uninspired and ineffective, as is our execution.

So who is to blame? The RFU spin will inevitably point to the clubs for putting their interests ahead of the national team but that's a fatuous argument - clubs are perfectly entitled to protect the massive investment they've made in the professional game and , in any case, despite popular belief they have produced plenty of decent quality English-qualified players for England to choose from.

The problem, as I see it, is that when players join the England squad they are joining a inferior set-up when compared to their clubs. Joining up with England should mean a step-up in the quality of facilities, coaching and organisation (as it was under Clive Woodward), but I get the impression that by and large players receive far better treatment at their respective clubs. It's certainly the case that in recent times club form appears to evaporate as soon as players pull on the white shirt and in some cases (Anthony Allen, Mark Van Gisbergen and Matthew Tait for example) players appear to have returned to their clubs with their form and confidence in tatters.

Ashton must take some responsibility for this and for the lack of cohesion amongst the World Cup squad, but I suspect the problem lies deeper. From my perspective the blame lies squarely at the door of the RFU, who have completely mismanaged the national team since the 2003 Sydney triumph. Not only did they fail to grasp the nettle and invest in the infrastructure to ensure that the team improved, they then reined in Woodward's plans before forcing him out, took the easy (but wrong) option of appointing Andy Robinson and, instead of supporting Robinson when he asked for help on the management side, let him bumble along before sacking his entire coaching staff post 2006 Six Nations and foisting a new coaching team on him later that year. Having belatedly appointed Rob Andrew to oversee things they then announced a return to the dark ages where selection was to take place by committee, before eventually sacking Robinson and appointing Ashton, who has since had to work with a coaching staff he didn't appoint or approve.

Love him or loathe him, Clive Woodward provided the blueprint for English rugby to be successful and it is to this blueprint that we need to return. Whoever is Head Coach needs to be given a decent budget, the freedom to create the right environment for elite players to come into and autonomy when it comes to selection. I don't know whether that coach should be Brian Ashton - on this World Cup's evidence so far it would appear not - but until he's given the power and the resource to create his England team I guess we'll never know.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Nul Points

"And now let's go over to our Parisian jury, are you there Jean-Pierre?"

"Oui Terry, it's Paris calling. Voici les résultats de la voix française:

...Angleterre ... nul points."


That's NUL POINTS. Nil. Nothing. Rien. Nada. Not a sausage. And what's more England didn't look close to scoring points of any sort tonight against a South African team who didn't need to be any more than competent.

Given that it's only a few hours since the final whistle and that I'm neither rational nor sober this probably isn't the time or place to try to analyse what went on this evening, but equally I couldn't let it pass without comment.
My expectations were at an all time low before tonight's match, but somehow England failed even to live up to the miserably low expectations I had. What on earth they've been doing in training for the last three months is a complete mystery.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Rough justice?

It appears that the the Rugby World Cup disciplinary committee's tough stance on foul play has given a few players the jitters.

With high profile players like Phil Vickery and Schalk Burger already having received suspensions, it seems that the IRB are determined to send out the message loud and clear that players will not get away with blatant foul play.

New Zealand's flanker Jerry Collins (a citing waiting to happen, far be it for me to suggest) has expressed the view that players are now walking a "disciplinary tightrope".

"It's always at the back of your mind," Collins has said.

"It's a long way to come for the tournament to end early. Everyone wants to be here for the full quota."

The Wallabies are also reported to be shocked by what they see as an over-the-top crackdown on foul play.

"I think they've overreacted," Wallaby forward Stephen Hoiles is reported to have said (prior to Burger's suspension being reduced on appeal).

"That could be his whole World Cup just there. "Those four weeks are the biggest four weeks of a bloke's last four years."

Surely he's missing the point. If it's so important to players to last the course it shouldn't be beyond them to cut out the dangerous stuff. As long as the disciplinary procedure is applied consistently (which I concede is a a big proviso as several incidents do appear to have gone unpunished) then I've no problem with the book being thrown at players who put other players in danger through dirty or reckless play. Frankly it's about time.

Wallaby coach John Connolly is spot on when he says:

"I think the world of rugby, the IRB particularly, are trying to put a marker in this tournament for the future of the game for what's accepted and not accepted.

"I can see how we play and how we behave at World Cups at the top level influences how the game is administrated and judged down the grades.

"I think in this day and age we can't criticise that whatsoever."

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Dayglo's yellow card

Nice piece from the Scrum.com forum that I thought worth sharing, penned by a character called KiaKia, a kiwi with a sense of humour no less:


Responding to fierce criticism from the English management over Lawrence Dallaglio's yellow card, Jonathan Kaplan has admitted that his decision was not made on purely rugby grounds.

"To be honest it just seemed to be the best thing to do for the player," stated Kaplan to the three or four reporters after the game. "I mean, he was clearly out of breath and struggling a bit and I thought for his sake he needed a bit of a rest.

"It wasn't a snap decision either," added Kaplan. "I'd been thinking for a while that he was off the pace. I kept looking for him at the breakdown - in fact any breakdown really - and he was never there. And when he finally turned up he just stood at the back of the ruck trying to look really meaningful but I could see he was just trying to suck in as much oxygen as he could. And it wasn't much different in attack either. I watched him run into contact one time and then had to adjust my position rapidly as he was driven 5 yards back from the gain line.

"But I knew he really needed a good sit down when I spotted him at the bottom of a ruck and he looked disorientated like a guy with Alzheimer’s - he just didn't have a clue what he was supposed to be doing there.

"We've been given clear indications by Paddy O'Brien that when a player is clearly out of his depth like this we have a duty of care to remove him from the game for his own benefit. I was hoping the English management team would take the decision for me but for some strange reason they seemed unwilling to substitute him. So in the end, I sent him off."

Brian Ashton was unavailable for comment but Dallaglio's PR team has confirmed he is still the most important member of the squad and always will be, so there.


Dilemma

Half way through the warm-up drills session yesterday evening the 2nd XV captain approached me and asked "Do you play 2nd row and are you available on Saturday?"

I'm afraid my response, "Not since I was 16 and I'm not sure," probably wasn't exactly the commitment he was looking for.

The reason for my reticence is that, until he asked I'd honestly given no thought to playing anything other than Vets this season (and even then I've been having to convince myself that it's something I really want to do). And the thought of playing 2nd row again after a mere 26 year gap is a tad daunting.

After the warm up we played a full on practice match - a version of the 2nd XV that is due to pay on Saturday took on "the rest". Needless to say, after my bout of enthusiasm, I played for the rest, which actually was no bad thing as it did feature several 1st XV players who don't have a game this weekend (and in passing I should congratulate the 1sts on their 53-0 opening league victory last weekend).

So, in what was designed as a bonding exercise for the 2nds, I played blindside and number 8 for the opposition - essentially a defensive exercise really, but I got my hands on the ball a few times and set up a few rucks. It was pretty physical and boiled over on occasion but was also enjoyable, despite the darkness (the temporary floodlights light up a small fraction of the pitch and catching the ball when looking into them is nigh on impossible) and the fact that I somehow strained a pectoral muscle early on which is bloody sore this morning.

Afterwards, in the bar, it was left that I'd give the 2nd XV skipper a call to let him know my availability. On the plus side I have come though a few robust contact sessions now with no major problems (a sore right tit aside) and the match is away at Chess Valley which is very convenient for me. However, as my wife pointed out quite rightly in the opening round of negotiations last night, when I started training again I hadn't envisaged turning out regularly at this level. With two young kids, a weekly commitment to playing is something I can't give but, given that it doesn't look as if the Vets have a game until mid October, a run out sometime this month might be useful.

So, a decision is required. It may be that this week my sore body will make the decision for me, but sooner or later I'm going to have to get off the fence and decide what it is I want to do.

Monday, 10 September 2007

On a lighter note...

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

It seems that it is now the turn of the Italians to offend the All Blacks by "disrespecting" the Haka.

Instead of facing the Haka before their encounter with New Zealand on Saturday, the Italians huddled together in a tight circle with their backs to the New Zealanders. This, according to centre Luke McAlister, made the All Blacks "a little more angry".

"The traditional thing is to stand up and respect it and by them not doing that it was pretty disrespectful," he said.

Furthermore the NZ Herald claimed it was "a sad indictment on the Italians that they made a premeditated decision to give [the Haka] the cold shoulder".

Sad indictment? I'm afraid the only sad indictment applies to all-too-predictable reaction of the overly precious Kiwis. Once again it is demanded that the world respects their Haka (we have to endure it, why on earth do we have to respect it?). Not only that, but the list of actions that are disrespectful continues to grow, including:

- turning your back on the Haka and ignoring it;
- practising kicking at the other end of the pitch a la Davd Campese;
- getting the face of the All Blacks a la Richard Cockerill;
- standing in a semi circle with your captain in the centre and then throwing a blade of grass into the wind (this, despite having taken advice from a Maori elder on how to receive the Haka, led to Lions' captain Brian O'Driscoll nearly having his career ended by Messrs Umaga and Mealamu some minutes later);
- as spectators, singing to encourage your own team as the crowd did at Twickenham last year;
- daring to suggest that the Haka is performed before the home National Anthem.

The New Zealand players have time and time again suggested that they perform this dance for themselves, to help psyche themselves up for the game. The other leading nations have no equivalent (despite Jake White's farcical suggestion earlier this summer). Consequently, while there's no doubt that the Haka currently adds to the pageantry of the occasion, the Kiwis need reminding once again that to be allowed to perform it is a privilege and not a right.

French clean up

When you think of Paris, images of the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles readily spring to mind and, for fans of the Rugby World Cup descending on the French capital, that's exactly how the French authorities want to keep it.

According to last week's Guardian, the French authorities have been accused of staging a "brutal" clean-up to hide the underbelly of Paris society from Rugby World Cup fans. This apparently includes razing shanty towns of Gypsies, moving rough sleepers in Paris and forcing out the homeless rag-and-bone men that work in the capital's flea markets.

Near the stadium in Saint-Denis, police this week are said to have cleared around 600 Romanian Gypsies from a shantytown where they had been living for more than a year because, heaven forbid, it would have been an the eyesore for corporate hospitality guests guzzling champagne and munching on foie gras nearby.

"France wants to pretend these people don't exist and make itself look beautiful instead of dealing with its problems," claims Malik Salemkour of the French Human Rights League.

Perhaps a more worrying reaction is that of a homeless man who restores objects found in bins and doorways in the chic areas of Paris to sell in the capital's flea markets:

"The police said I had to be out by Friday because of the rugby... I've always hated rugby, but I really loathe it now that people can be left with no shelter."

No doubt he's now an Argentinian supporter.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Lessons learned?


We found out very little today about how New Zealand and Australia might fare in this Rugby World Cup. New Zealand dismissed Italy with ease, way too much ease from any Italian point of view, and Australia completed the expected rout of Japan with little fuss.

What we did learn though, if we ever had any doubts, was that England are light years away from being close to mounting any credible challenge for the RWC title. On the strength of their performance against the USA they are due one almighty stuffing from the Springboks next Friday and have a fair to middling chance of being turned over by the Samoans a week later. Earlier this evening I began drafting a damning report of England's efforts against the USA but half way through thought "what's the point?" It really was that bad.

What troubles me is that I'm not all that upset or angry - just resigned to expecting mediocrity.

Vive La France?

Ooops! Le chat est vraiment parmi les pigeons maintenant.

So, when I said in my Rugby World cup preview that I thought France would win the tournament, what I really meant was that I thought Professor Bernard Laporte's men had absolutely no chance.

Obviously I neglected to remember what an awkward bunch of mongrels the Argentinians are, and I certainly did not anticipate that the French would be so awful.

It's not all over for France, at least not yet. Remember England lost their opening game to new Zealand in 1991 and still made the final. France could even still win the pool - it's still feasible that they could beat Ireland, and the Irish are capable of beating the Argies, leaving a three-way tie at the top with the number of tries or points difference (as I forecast in my preview) deciding who goes through.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Red Ben


Here's a story I missed while on holiday - Ben Cohen has, it appears, gone on strike at Northampton after being overlooked for the club captaincy. Apparently he hasn't attended a training session since Bruce Reihana was confirmed as skipper a couple of weeks ago and has told chairman Keith Barwell that he wants to leave the club.

Incredible. I can't imagine what the Saints fans think of this but I've always had my suspicions about this guy and this confirms it. On the basis of one good season for England (2002-2003) and a few underwear ads, Cohen (or his agent) over the years has styled himself as rugby's David Beckham - and like Beckham he's been more about style over substance for some time. When he pulled out of the England squad earlier this summer it was seen by many commentators as a blow to England's World Cup chances, but can anyone honestly say he was among the top six (let alone the top four) wingers in the country at the time?

Furthermore, does Cohen think that his actions will endear him to potential suitors? What it certainly does highlight is how unsuitable he is for captaincy.

While no club with any sense will now touch Cohen with a barge pole (him being linked to Leicester sounds purely like hype from his agent), training at Northampton for the rest of the squad must be increasingly difficult, what with the training ground being littered with spat-out dummies and toys thrown from prams.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The Total Flanker Guide to: Rugby World Cup 2007

On the eve of the tournament, here it is at last - my guide to what to look out for at this year's World Cup.

It seems to have taken an age to arrive (the tournament, not my preview) but finally it's here at last and all the meaningless international friendlies and even this year's irrelevant Tri-Nations are firmly behind us. For all those teams who fielded weakened teams during the last 12 months in order to preserve players for this tournament, I wonder if it will prove to be worth it? I mean, only one team can win the Webb Ellis trophy.


So which team will that be? Let's have a look at the qualifying pools:

Pool A - England, South Africa, Samoa, Tonga, USA
"Quel surprise," as they say in France, Jonny is crocked again and it's all doom and gloom in the English media who appear to be under the illusion that a fit Wilkinson gives us a great chance of beating South Africa and progressing through the tournament. Do me a favour! Although I wouldn't entirely write off an English victory against the Springboks (the packs are pretty evenly matched in my view), South Africa's all round solidity should see them home comfortably whether or not Jonny plays. Jake White's become so irritating of late that I'd love to see his side fail miserably, but I suspect they'll win this pool and then progress to at least the semis. England should (although it's by no means guaranteed) see off Samoa and make it to the quarters. Samoa v Tonga could be one of the games of the tournament if big hits turn you on, and I'd expect the referee will need to remember where his red card is. It's a difficult pool for the USA whose best chance is against Mr. Paddy Power and the big-eating Tongans.

Pool B - Australia, Wales, Fiji, Canada, Japan
Despite home advantage for the Welsh, Australia should stroll through this pool. The Aussies still lack a half-decent front row, but are lucky enough to be drawn against teams who are probably not capable of troubling them in this phase. Wales have gone backwards at a rapid rate of knots since Mike Ruddock was scandalously dumped last year and the decision to leave out Henson is baffling. They are extremely fortunate that the other teams in the pool are unlikely to offer much resistance and that they won't be facing their nemesis, Samoa. It will be Fiji and Canada battling it out for 3rd spot with Japan propping things up.

Pool C - New Zealand, Scotland, Italy, Romania, Portugal
This really is going to be too easy for the All Blacks, especially as Scotland and Italy are likely to field second-string sides against them whilst keeping their respective powders dry for their own little encounter. In 2003 a pool game injury to Umaga threw the All Blacks out of kilter and a similar scenario involving Carter and/or McCaw could spell trouble. I'm clutching at straws here but if New Zealand are seriously undercooked at the quarter final stage, are missing one or two first choices and don't manage to sort out a creaky lineout and unconvincing centre pairing, they could just be vulnerable. The Scotland v Italy game will be the major game of interest and I fancy the Italian forwards to dominate this one. Portugal's first appearance is welcome although I do fear for their safety and they'll do well to keep the score against Romania respectable.

Pool D - France, Ireland, Argentina, Georgia, Namibia
Aka the "Pool of Death". One very good team will be eliminated from the tournament and it's not easy to predict who that will be. It looks like O'Driscoll will be fit which is a huge boost for Ireland as without him they are a much reduced force. France face the Argies in the first game and this could be pivotal. Argentina have a fabulous recent record against the French but there's so much riding on it I just can't see France losing. Ireland's problem against both France and Argentina will be coping at scrum time, but ultimately I see them coming through second in the pool behind the French, although this one could go down to the number of tries scored or points difference. Georgia and Namibia provide the sideshow in this pool, with Georgia likely to record their first World Cup victory.

Overall the Kiwis deservedly start as favourites, but South Africa, Australia and hosts France have closed the gap this year and must realistically fancy their chances. Personally I think home advantage will be huge this year and so, if I have to get off the fence, I'll predict France to keep the cup in the northern hemisphere.

Vive La France!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Pub grub

Back to the stories that matter at the 2007 Rugby World Cup...

Today's Daily Mirror reports that the Tongan squad popped into the Fusion Inn pub in Lymington, Hampshire last week and consumed 30 chickens, 60lbs of roast lamb, 60lbs of beef, 30lbs of pasta and 30lbs of salad.

They then apparently asked for more and the pub had to send out for £25 worth of chips from a nearby chippie.

Pub manager Shannon Van Dreven (undoubtedly from the Hampshire Van Drevens) apparently commented: "When all the players moved in to fill their plates at the same time the room went dark - it was like a total eclipse of the sun.

"They didn't want any pudding, I think they were on a strict diet," she added.

Now there's something about this story that just doesn't ring true...

30lbs of salad?

Ton up

Welcome to the 100th post on Total Flanker - another little milestone deserving of a small celebratory drink (although it's a little early in the day, I'll admit).

Back to training down at Chesham last night for the first time in nearly a month and, despite me doing plenty of running on holiday and a fair bit of gym work either side of my break (including a tough session on Monday), I feared the worst.

As things turned out it wasn't too bad. Evidently the club had taken part in a trial match against Watford at the weekend which had highlighted the need to work on ball retention, so last night's session was mainly dedicated to that, with a full contact practice match thrown in for the last 20 minutes or so. I felt I coped ok, certainly better than expected, and was able to contribute reasonably even towards the end.

I'd even go as far to say that I came perilously close to enjoying myself - the only real downside being the irritating presence of seemingly thousands of mosquitoes (as the nights are now beginning to draw in). I managed to slap a dozen or so before they could bite but, having had two weeks on holiday with barely a nibble, I'm pretty sure that a few of the blighters made it through my defences last night for a late feast. I'll know soon enough when the tell-tale itching starts over the next 24 hours...

As to my long-awaited playing comeback, at the moment it doesn't appear that the Vets team has a fixture until next month so plenty of time to kick back and enjoy the World Cup...

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

It's the appliance of science

Forget the form book. It's science that will win the Rugby World Cup.

You heard it here first. The All Blacks have as much chance of winning the trophy as England have of defending it. Why? Because they'll be wearing the wrong shirts.

So, get your wallet out and bung a few quid on Australia, South Africa, Ireland Scotland and Japan - yes, you read that correctly - because it is these teams and only these teams who are wearing the revolutionary new rugby shirts developed by Canterbury, shirts that have caused such a stir that they have had to be tested and cleared by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Apparently (and now for the science bit) the material in the shirts reacts with sweat to create a negative ion charge that stimulates blood flow, bringing more energy to the muscles and speeding up the removal of lactic acid. Tests, according to people who know what they are talking about, have shown that the fabric can provide athletes with a huge boost in performance levels, up to 2.7% allegedly. Not only that, but the shirts' development dates back to World War II when Luftwaffe pilots were put into decompression chambers and bombarded with negative ions to enable them to fly longer missions.

So forget the All Blacks' spray on shirts or the abomination that is now the England rugby shirt as those designs are strictly passé. Expect, instead, the New Zealanders to commission Adidas to weave microscopic magnets into the fabric of their shirts to reverse the polarity of the Canterbury shirts and bring the Aussie and Springbok athletes to a grinding halt.

You know it makes sense.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Priorities

The Port Elizabeth Herald reports that the Nelson Mandela Bay traffic department were forced over the weekend to deny reports that its traffic officers were “brushing up their rugby skills during peak hours”.

This follows a story published by the Herald on Friday in which a reader complained about traffic officers playing touch rugby during peak hours at Maitlands Beach last week. The Herald quoted the reader as saying: “They were playing, and when they noticed me they stopped. I find it rather interesting that while people violate traffic rules every day during peak hours, traffic officials are brushing up their touch rugby skills. We never see them on the roads. We now know where to go when we want to see them.”

The official version of events is that the traffic department have had a select group of officers undergoing pre-screening tests for a VIP protection training course, part of which involves a series of physical assessments which were conducted at various locations, including Maitlands Beach.

Yeah, right.

Tongan Irish

One in the eye for the IRBs commercial department as Tonga's Epi Taione, no stranger to controversy, has apparently changed his name by deed poll to ...wait for it ...Paddy Power.

A former Sale Shark and Newcastle Falcon whose playing career in England came to an end after he was found guilty of biting Munster's Dennis Leamy, Taione (or "Power", as we might now have to call him) has reportedly signed a sponsorship deal with the Irish bookmakers who have agreed a five-figure deal to fund hard-up Tonga's preparations for the Rugby World Cup.
"I haven't got any Irish heritage - although I'm partial to a nice pint of Guinness and like listening to U2," said the new Mr. Power.

This is more like it - after the phony war of the last few weeks finally some real news!

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Back in Blighty

Hola Amigos!

Well, I'm back after a couple of weeks sampling the delights of the Mediterranean - San Miguel and Vina Sol chiefly it must be said, but I also surprised myself by dragging my bones out of bed in the mornings (well, nine out of fourteen) and plodding along the Menorcan south east coast for about 25 minutes or so. Not exactly full-on fitness training but better than nothing and it did make me feel less guilty when I ordered an ice cream for myself every time the kids wanted one.

Anything happen in my absence? Not much it appears. The anticipation grows for the start of the World Cup despite the lack of coverage in the national press (the transfer deadline business by Fulham or Crystal Palace obviously taking precedence).

Yoda Ashton has, it seems, issued a warning that England will not relinquish their RWC crown lightly, despite the lack of evidence to support his assertion or the fact that his first choice XV (whoever that may be) have yet to play together. I'll save my tournament preview for later, but I'll be pleased when the event finally gets underway and we can finally watch some meaningful international action.

More soon...