Friday, 30 May 2008

All roads lead to ... Bournemouth?

A new event on the sevens landscape this year (nay, this weekend) is the much anticipated Bournemouth Sevens, coming to a sports complex near you (if you live near Bournemouth that is).

The event is the brainchild of former ruby player Roger Woodall who realised there was a unique opportunity in England to create a 2 day festival on par with world tournaments such as Dubai, Hong Kong, and Amsterdam. His goal is to make this annual festival the largest in Europe appealing to everyone from all ages.

With 16 teams competing for the National Invitation Cup, 32 teams fighting it out for the Nintendo Open Cup, 16 teams competing for the Ladies Cup, 16 teams playing for the South West Cup and a further 16 teams not that bothered about the Beer Cup (unless it's full of course) the event is obviously going to be on a quite enormous scale.

And as well as the rugby there will also be a netball festival, live bands, cheerleaders, a pitchside jacuzzi, a huge beer marquee and much, much more. Set within 65 acres of picturesque grounds and a capacity to cater for 10,000 people each day, the event also boasts its own camp-site for 3000 people.

It sounds like it might just be a fantastic weekend for all involved - although I wouldn't fancy having to go into work on Monday morning after all that.

My only gripe? No Veterans competition - not that we'd want to play sevens, of course, but perhaps a gentle tens tournament next year for us old geezers please?

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Captain Underpants!

Funny clip of Donnacha O'Callaghan trying to play on in his underpants...



I hate to think what might have happened if he'd been hoisted in the lineout before he put his new shorts on!

Staying in Touch

Hold the front page, hang on to your hats and lock up your daughters (and other totally inappropriate expressions) because the Chairman's Stags last night won their second touch rugby match on the bounce for the first time since 2006!

To be fair our opponents, the splendidly named "Old Gitonians" did, despite their name, field a few touch rookies in their ranks and lacked a fairly crucial ingredient which we, with a few young whipper-snappers in the team, had in abundance - pace.

Nevertheless, for the most part we kept our discipline well and weren't tempted to try to play too wide too early - always a temptation when you sense that your team is quicker than the opposition's - opting instead to keep hold of the ball down the middle before releasing our quickies on the last couple of possessions.

It was far from perfect - too often the dummy half was left without attacking options, our final pass was often poor (and I hold my hand up to a couple of horrendously botched passes which I put down to over-excitement!) and we conceded a very sloppy try. I was also warned by the ref for "overly-aggressive touching" (!) which I again attribute to over-enthusiasm to take out man and ball (mind you, had I wanted to actually tackle the guy I might have knocked him into next week!).

Still, we have to be happy with a 7-1 victory and all in all I'd say we continued to build on the improvements we made last week.

Onwards and upwards...

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Another one bites the dust

I see the Rt Revd Graham Henry is back to his mealy-mouthed best. Following the announcement this week by Jerry Collins that he was retiring from New Zealand rugby Henry is reported to have said, somewhat uncharitably:

"He wouldn't have got in the All Blacks in this first selection anyway, so ner!"

In Collins' case New Zealand's loss will almost certainly be the northern hemisphere's gain. I certainly warmed to the Wellington flanker when it was reported last year that he'd turned out for the Barnstaple 2nd XV in order to get some rugby under his belt before playing for the Barbarians against South Africa last November. That he then sought to thank the Barnstaple club by wearing their socks for the BaaBaas was also, I thought, a great touch.

A story I failed to pick up on at the tail end of last year, however, was that one of the reasons Collins was in Devon last winter was to spend time with his English "love child" and the baby's mother, as revealed in what is obviously a quality New Zealand publication the Sunday News.

It's comforting to know that we in the UK are not the only ones who have to put up with such highbrow publications and I do find it hilarious that, in this day and age, rags like this will still refer to a baby born out of wedlock as a "love child". I mean, as scandals go, it barely registers on the scale does it? Collins is even reported to be fully supporting both child and mother for heaven's sake! (Although I suspect the fact that the child is a "Pommie love child" is actually what's upsetting the Sunday News editor).

Whatever the ins and outs of Collins' private life, players of his quality will be welcomed with open arms up here. There are many who say that importing foreign players stunts the development of young local players and, to an extent I'd agree, especially when it's obvious that the imports are either past their best and are merely topping up their pensions or are of no more than mediocre quality. However, in the case of Jerry Collins, one lucky club will be getting a 27 year old with bags of international experience who, arguably, has yet to peak and who can help develop local talent to meet his own lofty standards. I suspect that the queue for his services will be headed up by a number of French clubs, one of them possibly coached by a certain Monsieur Umaga.

It's a knockout

I read with interest Nursedude's account of how his foreign exchange student, Rodrigo, was concussed in a recent game and it reminded me of the couple of occasions that I've been knocked out in my rugby "career" (those that I recall anyway).

When I say "concussed" I don't mean the all-too-common groggy feeling you get after taking a bash to the head which tends to be ten-a-penny through any normal season. No, what I do I mean is that horribly unnerving disoriented feeling you can get, a clear indicator that - at some point in the match - you must have blacked out.

As I've said, it's happened to me a couple of times. The first occasion was back in 1987 when I played a few early season games for Henley's 3rd XV when I first started working in London (no, London to Henley isn't an obvious commute but one of my old university mates played for Henley and persuaded me to go down there and provided me with a lift). Anyway, one afternoon I found myself lining up for Henley 3rds against their equivalents from Guildford & Godalming - the club I'd played for the previous season. Having played for all four senior teams at G&G I therefore knew most of the opposition pretty well (far better than I knew my own team) so that was pretty weird in itself. Imagine my confusion, then, when I "came to", standing at the back of a lineout, trying to work out why on earth I was wearing the yellow of Henley and not the green and white hoops of G&G. In my befuddled state I worked out, entirely wrongly of course, that Henley must have been short of numbers and that I had been lent to them by G&G. Shortly afterwards the half-time whistle blew and I asked one of the Henley players what the score was. "Nil-nil mate," he replied, looking at me as if I was a total idiot. As the second half got underway the fog started to lift and I began to realise where I was and what must have happened and I actually played reasonably well as we scored a couple of tries to win the game. Afterwards it turned out that I had been involved in a big clash of heads in the first few minutes but that I'd seemed ok to carry on. Obviously what I should have done was get myself checked out by a doctor after the game but, being 23, I went out partying with some mates in London and drank myself stupid(er).

The other occasion was in 1992, playing for the Bandits - a social team organised (in the loosest sense of the word) by yours truly. One day I'll write an account of the illustrious albeit short-lived history of the Bandits but on this occasion I'll limit myself to this particular incident. We were playing the social team from Bishop Stortford RFC and I'm told that, early in the first half, I attempted a tackle in which my head hit the opposition centre's knee, with me dropping to the floor like a "sack of spuds." Moments later I was up, insisting I was fine but, after another few minutes, was led from the field after having taken up a fairly unorthodox lineout position behind the scrum half! Again, I remember "coming to" sitting on the touchline trying to work out where the hell I was. We weren't playing in the green & gold of Barnes (my club at that time) so I knew it couldn't be a Saturday. I also couldn't work out why 2 girls I recognised from my university days were there watching (obviously they were there supporting their other halves - who I'd asked to play). I must have sat there for 30 minutes or so trying to piece everything together until, eventually, the mist lifted again and the pieces started to fall into place. This time, being a little older and a tiny bit more mature, I was a little more sensible and stayed off the booze, although I did drive home and I'm pretty sure I turned out the following Saturday for Barnes.

These days I'd like to think that clubs, coaches, referees and players are likely to be a little more aware of the risks of head injuries, would recognise the signs of concussion (for example a player asking the score when it's 0-0 must either be concussed or just thick) and would ensure that the player received proper medical attention. What I do know, however, is that being concussed is one of the weirdest and most unpleasant feelings I've ever experienced.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Congratulations

No, not to Russia for their highly questionable Eurovision Song Contest victory - I'm with Wogan on that one - but to the following highly deserving recipients this weekend:

  • Congratulations to Munster on winning the Heineken Cup for the 2nd time in three years. If I'm honest I must admit that didn't think they'd be good enough to win it this year - but, once again, Munster proved to be masters of playing to their strengths and preventing teams from exploiting their weaknesses and to see off a club like Toulouse in the final with a certain amount of comfort is no mean feat.

  • Congratulations also to England's women. Not only did they win the Six Nations and Grand Slam for an unprecedented third time on the bounce in March, they followed that up with winning the European Championships this weekend in Amsterdam. Furthermore, having already won the Amsterdam Sevens last weekend they beat the Aotearoa Maori in a one-off exhibition match at the London Sevens at Twickenham today, inflicting a second defeat in as many weeks on the New Zealand women who had previously gone nine years unbeaten (click here for more details).

  • And finally congrats must also go to Bath for their European Challenge Cup win against Worcester. It had looked as if Bath might end up empty-handed this season but this win is just reward for them playing some great stuff this season. I'm particularly pleased for Steve Borthwick - a player I've always thought very highly of but who doesn't appear to be particularly rated by many journalists. The important thing about Borthwick, though, is that he's hugely respected by his peers for his consistency and his professionalism - qualities that will, I'm sure, stand him in good stead for his stint as England skipper. He's also as hard as nails - not in an obvious Rambo-esque kind of way perhaps but, if you've any doubts as to his toughness, there's a piece in today's Sunday Telegraph that recounts how Borthwick once ruptured a testicle on a Saturday, had the operation to fix it on Tuesday and was back playing again by the weekend... thus setting a benchmark of bravery at Bath when any injury in training or during a game was assessed as follows: "Burst a bollock, have you? No. Well, get up and play on then."

Friday, 23 May 2008

Lost in translation

I describe this blog as "...a sideways look at the world of rugby by an over-the-hill former ex-rugby player..."

In homage to the Eurovision Song Contest which takes place this weekend and in an otherwise entirely pointless exercise, I therefore set out to find out how this might translate into other European languages (at least according to a combination of the Google and Babel Fish translation services):

So, in French it comes out as "...le côté un regard sur le monde du rugby par un au-delà de l'ancienne colline ex-joueur de rugby..."

While in Italian it's "...un lato guardare il mondo di rugby da un sopra-la-collina ex-ex-giocatore di rugby..."

And in Spanish we have "...un lado mirada al mundo de rugby por un exceso de la colina de ex-ex-jugador de rugby..."

Moving into Northern Europe, in German it's "...eine Seitwärtsbewegung Blick auf die Welt der Rugby durch eine über-dem-hügel ehemaligen Ex-Rugby-Spieler..."

While in Dutch it's "...zijdelingse blik op de wereld van rugby door een over-heuvel voormalige ex-rugby speler..."

And now for something entirely incomprehensible - in Russian we have "...боком взглянуть на мир по регби-за холма-бывший экс-игрок регби..."

And in Greek it comes out as "...το πλευρό κοιτάξουμε τον κόσμο του ράγκμπι από πέρα από τον λόφο πρώην πρώην παίκτης ράγκμπι..."

Although it's fair to say that it's all Greek to me.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Will they never learn?

Think December 2003 - the England rugby team's open-top bus ride through London to celebrate winning the 2003 RWC in Australia. Full of its own self-importance, awash with MBEs, entertained at Buckingham Palace and fêted at Downing Street, the England rugby team has never fully recovered.

Think September 2005 - the England cricket team's team open-top bus ride through London to celebrate winning the 2005 Ashes series (at home, no less). Full of its own self-importance, awash with MBEs and fêted at Downing Street the England cricket team has never fully recovered.

Think May 2005 - the Welsh Rugby team were joined by 20,000 fans, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in the Millennium Stadium to celebrate winning the 2005 Six Nations Grand Slam. Full of its self-importance, the Welsh rugby team then endured 2 highly mediocre Six Nations campaigns in 2006 and 2007 before being dumped out of the 2007 Rugby World Cup by Fiji, failing even to make the quarter finals.

Think 26th May 2008 - and the Welsh Rugby Union's announcement that a free music party is being thrown at the Millennium Stadium for fans to celebrate the 2008 Grand Slam. The party will include The "As long as we beat the English" Stereophonics, X-Factor failure Rhydian Roberts, Shaun Edwards' ex-girlfriend Heather Small and rent-a-Welsh-voice Katherine Jenkins. Expect, at the very least, a sobering hammering at the hands of South Africa to follow next month.

Think Ireland, wondering whether it might have been a good idea to celebrate their 2006 and 2007 Triple Crowns after all.

And think Scotland, wondering whether they'll ever have anything to celebrate again.

Midas Touch

Victory! I must admit that I've been wanting to use that headline for a little while now but was beginning to think I might not have the opportunity. But last night changed all that as (and it shocks me to say it) our touch team played...erm...really rather well.

It helped that, unlike last week, we were up against a team against whom we were reasonably well matched, although the "Globetrotters" - as they're known - did thrash us 11-1 last summer. Admittedly they had lost one or two faces from last year and our team is definitely stronger, but what was particularly pleasing was the fact that we had learnt from our headless chicken efforts last week, worked hard and communicated well in defence and, for the most part, held on to the ball and used up our set of 6 touches each time we had the ball. It's a simple game - if you don't cough up possession and run hard and straight for the first 3 or 4 phases you make ground, put the opposition on the back foot and create space for your quicker players.

We also managed to rotate players much better than last week with the whole team aware that it was important to give everybody game time. And at this point I must give a big shout to the 2 girls in the team last night - Robyn and Steph - who worked their socks off for the whole 40 minutes with no relief available from the sidelines.

From a personal point of view it was far more satisfying than last week. It's not all about winning (although that helps), but to be able to get involved in carrying the ball regularly and even in providing a couple of scoring passes meant that I came away feeling I'd made a contribution and the beer afterwards tasted far better.
Final score: 6-3. Onwards and upwards?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Ickle Shane the movie star

Back in November I mentioned that plans were afoot for Catherine Zeta-Jones to produce a movie about a Welsh village rugby team in which the intention was for the perma-tanned Gavin Henson to play himself in a cameo role.

Not only is there no news on any progress in getting this movie made (thank heavens - it sounds utter rubbish) but it looks as if Henson has been beaten onto the silver screen by his Ospreys/Wales (same thing these days) team mate Ickle Shane Williams who plays himself (who else?) in "Hope Eternal", the latest film by Welsh director Karl Francis which premieres at the Hay Festival this week (hardly Cannes, but you've got to start somewhere).

The plot - for what it's worth - revolves around a Welsh doctor who introduces the joys of Welsh rugby to a Madagascan AIDS worker and her daughter (seriously) who then travel to Wales in a bid to meet Ickle Shane.

Notwithstanding that really Shane should be auditioning for the role of the Artful Dodger in the West End, I must congratulate him on his new found status as the darling of the Welsh media.

And not a tube of fake tan in sight.

The case for the Defence

A very big hand for Canada's Defence Minister Peter MacKay who played 40 minutes in his Rugby Canada Super League debut yesterday for the Nova Scotia Keltics.

The 42 year old MacKay struck a blow for us forty-somethings everywhere by turning out at inside centre for the Ketics against Super League rivals the Niagara Thunder.

MacKay, who apparently used to play rugby with former Canadian captain Morgan Williams, also showed that he is in the right job as, when he made his exit at half time, his team were only 9-0 down.

Unfortunately, however, whoever replaced MacKay in the centre will not be applying for a role at the Canadian Ministry of Defence anytime soon as the Keltics finished the match losing 49-5.

I somehow can't quite envisage the UK's Defence Minister, Des Browne, turning out on a rugby pitch - although the idea of blitz defence guru Shaun Edwards being appointed to the Ministry of Defence might just be worth considering.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Urrghhh!

The sickening image of Danny Cipriani in agony yesterday as he clutched the shin from which, as the picture shows, his foot looked as if it had become detached, is something that I'm finding hard to shake off today.

I still can't look at the picture without feeling a tad queasy but, nevertheless, I've been drawn back to it several times already today as if it has some kind of control over me.

I realise that I probably shouldn't show the picture, that it's in poor taste to indulge oneself (no matter how uneasily) in another's agony - but I have to admit to a sort of sick fascination with injuries such as this. Maybe it's the thought that something like this could so easily happen to any one of us who play the game - "there but for the grace of god" etc etc - or perhaps, like the public at large, it really does just come down to a morbid curiosity. You only have to look at the newspaper coverage of incidents like this and similar injuries in the world of football (Alan Smith for Man Utd a couple of years ago and Eduardo for Arsenal this season both spring to mind) to see that there is a public appetite for this kind of thing and I'm sad to say that I am not immune to it.

Fortunately (touching wood several times) I have neither experienced nor witnessed an injury quite so horrific on the rugby field. I'm not sure how I'd react if I did.

With news that Cipriani will be out of action for at least six months, all I can say is that I wish him a full recovery and I look forward to witnessing further displays of his genius again on a rugby field in the not too distant future.

Friday, 16 May 2008

You know you're ready for Veterans Rugby when...

Your conversations with the guys at the rugby club mostly start with "...in my day...";

More than half your team are more than half your age;

You can remember being penalised for lifting in the lineouts;

You can remember when a try was worth 4 points;

Your team mates congratulate you when you make it through the warm up;

Everything hurts and what doesn't hurt, doesn't work;

It takes longer to recover than it did to get tired;

You spend more on strapping in a season than you do on beer;

You find yourself popping ibruprofen pills before kick off;

Your idea of weight lifting is standing up;

You wonder how you could be over the hill when you don't even remember reaching the top.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Bean counter to blame

Theobald Grimm, an accountant at the RFU, today admitted that he was to blame for the current pay dispute between his employer and the England rugby team.

England players are currently paid £9,000 per game regardless of the result and are reportedly unhappy with RFU proposals to make pay more dependent on win bonuses and how the England team perform in the Six Nations and World Cup.

However, Grimm - who has worked at the RFU since qualifying as an accountant in 1898 - today confessed that it had been his idea in 2003 to get rid of win bonuses and pay the England players an upfront fee.

"Five years ago England were beating everyone they played," he said. "It occurred to me that we could save a few shillings by not paying win bonuses and by giving the players a lump sum instead. I took the idea to Francis Baron who nearly bit my hand off - he was delighted with the idea and soon claimed it as his own.

"Unfortunately the England team has been more or less rubbish ever since which has meant that we've effectively overpaid the players - we'd certainly have saved more if they'd been on a performance related package," he continued. "And sadly for me Mr. Baron now says that it wasn't his idea at all and the blame has been squarely laid at my door."

It is expected that Grimm, who is on a rolling one year contract, will be removed from his position shortly and offered the role of Head of Pocket Money for the England Under 16 squad.

Rugby - for Aliens

Imagine an alien landing on this planet and the first person he bumps into is a rugby player who decides to introduce his new extra-terrestrial friend to the sport of rugby.

"So how is the game played, what are the rules?" asks the alien (obviously via some kind of universal translator - I doubt they all speak English).

"Well, it's a little complicated," replies the rugby player. "In the northern hemisphere we're playing to normal rugby laws, those we've played under for years with the occasional tweak here and there. It seems to work pretty well and this season in particular we've seen some fantastically exciting rugby in our domestic competitions.

"However," he continues, "world rugby's governing body has decided that the sport needs to be made 'more exciting' - particularly for Australian couch potatoes - so they've introduced a whole bunch of experimental new laws, some of which are being trialled in the southern hemisphere's premier provincial competition called the Super 14.

"Despite the jury being firmly out on whether these experimental laws have been a success, the governing body has recently pushed through 13 experimental laws - some of which are different to the laws currently being trialled down under - and these will now be trialled worldwide from August this year and a decision will be taken on whether or not to adopt these laws permanently in November 2009.

"That said," (as the alien begins to wish he'd never asked the question) "the Super 14 will continue to employ the experimental laws that they are currently trialling while New Zealand domestic rugby will trial the 13 laws that are being trialled worldwide from August plus another 3 laws relating to awarding free kicks instead of penalties - laws which will only be trialled in the northern hemisphere in an as yet unspecified premier tournament.

"However, in June various northern hemisphere countries will be touring down under and the southern hemisphere players, who have been playing under the new laws in the Super 14, will have to revert to playing under the 'old' laws for the tour matches. Then, following the June tours, the Tri-Nations series kicks off between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and no one seems to know what laws will be applied."

"In other words," says the alien, "it's all a bit of a shambles," as he wanders off to play football.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Losing Touch

I was really looking forward to touch rugby yesterday. After such a good workout last Tuesday I was champing at the bit to start the "season" and get stuck in. For various reasons, however, it was a most unsatisfactory evening.

Given that it was the first Tuesday of the season there was a certain amount of inevitable chaos as teams sorted themselves out - but having turned up at 7pm it was about 8.15pm before our game kicked off. No problem, you might think - just enjoy watching the first matches on a balmy summer's evening. Except that it wasn't a balmy summer evening. After a week of gloriously warm weather it had decided to turn decidedly chilly yesterday evening and we found ourselves shivering on the touchline, clad only in our new team t-shirts, waiting for our game to start.

When, eventually, it was our turn we found that we were up against a team from Tring - probably the best team in the competition and the same mob to whom we conceded 14 tries last year as they showboated their way to victory. This was not necessarily a problem - after all, we have to play them at some point and it may as well be first up when, perhaps, you might expect them to be a little rusty. No, the problem was that, when facing a team as good as they are, you need your best players on the pitch as often as possible and we palpably failed to do that. Bizarrely enough the issue was that we had too many players (not a problem we've often experienced in the past) - to recap, a touch team consists of 4 men and two women (at least) - and while we had 3 girls rotating for their positions we had something like 10 blokes rotating for the 4 male positions - which meant getting game time was quite an issue for some of our better players while one or two stayed on the pitch well over their limits. For this to work we're going to have to work out how we rotate players to give everyone a fair crack of the whip (assuming we have the same numbers every week).

Anyway, back to the game and the first ten minutes went reasonably well - the score was even 2-2 at one point - before last year's problems of poor defensive communication set in and we allowed the opposition's speedsters to pull our defensive line out of position and isolate our slower players. The second half was therefore a bit of a procession - the final score being 12-2 - a situation not helped by our inability to hold onto the ball when we had it and to use up our six touches.

All in all, then, very frustrating. From a personal perspective I barely got into the game - I probably managed to play about 7 or 8 minutes out of the 40 (more than some) but didn't feel I contributed very much at all, barely working up a sweat. It certainly doesn't feel like I had much of a workout which means that a trip to the gym is called for later today - something I hadn't been planning at all given how I usually feel the morning after.

Still, it can only get better...

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Johnno gets it right (mostly)

Martin Johnson endeared himself to the vast majority of England rugby supporters this morning when he left Iain Ballsup out of the England squad to tour New Zealand next month. For good measure he also decided to exclude the other form-blind Ashton-pick, Lesley Vainikolo, another move which will go down well with most England fans.

OK, so there are a few players in the squad who can consider themselves lucky to be there - Ben Kay, Luke Narraway and Toby Flood for instance - and I'd have liked to have seen just a tad more boldness shown by the inclusion of Shane Geraghty and Ben Foden - but all in all the squad looks well balanced with plenty of experience backed up by young first-timers such as Dylan Hartley, David Paice, Nick Kennedy, Danny Care and Topsy Ojo. When you consider that the likes of Vickery, Moody, Ellis, Wilkinson, Lewsey and Simpson-Daniel have been left out to deal with various injuries, it shows that there is a fair bit of depth in the English game.

Steve Borthwick, vastly underrated by the British press (and in particular by a certain Stephen Jones) is a great choice as skipper and, assuming that key players don't fall by the wayside as the Premiership reaches its conclusion during the next couple of weeks, this squad could mount a decent challenge in New Zealand.

However, given that even the best England team in living memory only managed a 2 point win in Wellington in 2003, expectations need to be set accordingly - a drawn series would therefore represent a major achievement and 2 narrow defeats (as long as the team performs) might even be acceptable.

England squad:

Forwards: A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), T Payne (Wasps), M Stevens (Bath), J Hobson (Bristol), L Mears (Bath), D Hartley (Northampton), D Paice (London Irish), S Borthwick (Bath, capt), B Kay (Leicester), N Kennedy (London Irish), T Palmer (Wasps), T Croft (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), J Worsley (Wasps), M Lipman (Bath), T Rees (Wasps), N Easter (Harlequins), L Narraway (Gloucester).
Backs: M Brown (Harlequins), P Sackey (Wasps), D Strettle (Harlequins), T Ojo (London Irish), M Tait (Newcastle), M Tindall (Gloucester), J Noon (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), O Barkley (Bath), D Cipriani (Wasps), C Hodgson (Sale Sharks), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks), P Richards (London Irish), D Care (Harlequins).

England Attack Coach vacancy

(from the RFU website)

ENGLAND ATTACK COACH

Remuneration package to attract the best candidates (except you, Brian).

Reporting to the England Team Manager, Martin Johnson, this is a fantastic opportunity to work with (and be stabbed in the back by) senior England players and coaches. The England Attack Coach is responsible for providing specialist Attack coaching for players in the England senior team squad - coaching which the players are more than likely to ignore when push comes to shove. This coaching role will cover all aspects of attack play, even the scoring of tries - heaven forbid.

You will provide coaching both at England training sessions and with individual players at club locations where you will be regarded with hostile suspicion. It is an important aspect of the role that the Coach engages in coaching sessions at Premiership clubs in conjunction with, and to the irritation of, the Clubs’ Directors of Rugby.

Other key responsibilities include:
  • Working with the England Team Manager and the Elite Rugby Director in developing and implementing the annual team playing and selection bun fight for the England senior team.

  • In conjunction with the England Team Manager plan, implement and review specialist attack skills and strategies for the England team, passing and catching being the no.1 priority.

  • Liaise with the England Team Manager and the Elite Rugby Director to ensure all England players within the EPS squad have a single co-ordinated programme, to include a list of dates when visiting a Soho nightclub will be permitted.

  • Work closely with the Guinness Premiership club coaches, whether they like it or not, and provide coaching support and a shoulder to cry on to agreed England players within their club environment.

  • To succeed in this high profile role, candidates will need to demonstrate:

- A background of high-level achievement in a senior coaching role at either National or Regional level or within a high performing, senior professional Club within the sport. Coaching a team who finished second at the Rugby World Cup, however, just won't cut it.
- A good appreciation of the structure and the issues of the game within England and the challenges it faces within and across the global platform. If you've been watching the Super 14 on the telly that might help.
- An influential personality who is highly self-motivated and has skin as thick as a rhino's; an instigator and driver of progress with a genuine enthusiasm and commitment to the task in the face of open hostility from, in particular, the England forwards coach.
- (unlike your employers at the RFU) a high level of integrity and credibility within the game, with an ability to develop effective working relationships, both internally and externally.

This is a national role which will be based at Twickenham and from home, and involve irregular hours, extensive travelling and no thanks whatsoever. An excellent employment package is offered including company car; pension scheme; life assurance, family health benefits, psychiatric therapy and a whacking great severance package when we scapegoat you when results don't go our way.

To apply, please send your CV and covering letter, quoting your current remuneration package, to the Head of Human Resources, Rugby Football Union, Rugby House, Twickenham, TW1 1DS or email recruitment@therfu.com.

Err, not you, Brian.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Total Flanker Guide to playing: Hooker

"You don't have to be mad to work here...BUT IT HELPS!!

...So the old not-very-funny saying goes and I was thinking that perhaps a similar cliche might apply to playing the position of hooker on a rugby field. No, on second thoughts scratch that idea - because, quite frankly, it's obvious that you DO have to be barking mad to choose to play hooker.

Let's face it - who in their right mind would choose to be slap bang in the middle of two sets of heavy men intent on driving each others' spines out of their arses, with no protection other than the two fat blokes either side of you, behind whose backs your hands are trapped, and with no weapons other than your head, your mouth and your stubble? Only a madman with a ridiculously high pain threshold and a psychotic personality, that's who.

Although it's increasingly common for international hookers to be big lads in the Steve Thompson mould, in real rugby hookers are commonly relatively small and bordering on wiry in build. However, any lack of size is more often than not compensated by an aggressive streak as long as a reticulated python. "Nuggety" is a word often used to describe hookers, "terrier-like" is another - but I prefer the term "psychopathic".

Not only that, having punched, bitten and snarled their way through the rest of the match, hookers are then expected to be the epitome of calm and serenity when they are faced with throwing the ball in to a lineout full of players who are simply too tired to jump - and this ability to switch from one mood to another so adeptly is probably why so many hookers also end up being their rugby club's social secretary.

To sum up, then, here's a list of the elements required to be a successful hooker:

• a ludicrously high pain threshold;
• psychopathic tendencies and/or unlimited aggression;
• the ability to throw a punch in a scrum with both arms trapped behind your back ;
• unerring accuracy when throwing in at lineout (a background in professional darts helps);
• a ready-made list of excuses for when throwing-in goes awry which includes doubts about the parentage of all jumpers and lifters; and
• the words to every rugby song known to man imprinted on your memory.

Hope that helps :)

227 Shopping Days to Christmas...

You'd better get out a pen and paper and start writing your letter to Father Christmas right now because the must-have Christmas present this year is unlikely to be a Telly-tubby, a Buzz Lightyear or a Nintendo Wii (or another technological gizmo). No, the item that absolutely everyone in the civilised world will covet will undoubtedly be the forthcoming autobiography from Irish fly half Ronan O'Gara.

Yes, I'm referring to the breaking news that O'Gara has signed a deal reportedly worth "a healthy six-figure sum" to write his autobiography - or to be more accurate, to tell his ghost writer Denis Walsh what to write.

The book is expected to deal with a number of controversial topics including:


  • how Duncan McRae was unfairly treated after O'Gara had attacked the NSW's fly half's fist several times with his face on the 2001 Lions tour;
  • how all English Premiership players are "shoite";
  • how O'Gara rose above allegations of gambling addiction and marital problems in the French press during the World Cup to deliver world class performances for his country;
  • how all Leinster players are "gobshoites"; and
  • how O'Gara won a bet with his long-term half back partner Peter Stringer, worth "a healthy six-figure sum," that he could persuade some eejit to publish his autobiography.

The autobiography is due to be published in October 2008 and will be available from all good bookshops and quite a few rubbish ones as well. It is understood that all royalties from the book will be paid directly to a Mr P.Power Esq. of Dublin.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Free(ish) advertising

Being an incredibly influential rugby writer these days [!?;)], it came as absolutely no surprise to me to receive an email this week from someone called Haran Ramachandran of the rather splendidly named Splendid Communications.

What Haran was after was some free publicity for his client, Guinness, who are obviously short of a bob or two and apparently can't afford to pay me the going rate of a lifetime's supply of their very fine beverage.

In normal circumstances I would snort with derision and send Haran to the back of the lengthy queue of blue-chip companies who are hammering on my door with their lucrative advertising offers. In this case, however, I may be willing to make an exception as Guinness have actually come up with a half decent idea that may be of interest to my 2 regular readers.

The project is called Club Together, and what it does is offer members of non-professional rugby clubs in England, Scotland and Wales the chance to play at Twickenham on 31st May as part of this year’s Premiership final. All you need to do is explain to a Guinness "expert panel" - in no more than 100 words - how your rugby club has increased the number of adult participants at your club during season 2007/08. Of course, if your club had failed to increase its membership, then you've no chance of winning - but if your club has increased its membership and you're eloquent enough to explain exactly how, then you could win the chance to select two teams made up of members of your club to receive a training session from a Premiership Director of Rugby before the final, plus tickets to the final, team kit and a commemorative photo - if, that is, you can round up the 30 members of your club who haven't already buggered off on holiday.

To apply to you'll need to go to the Club Together website.

Haran, mate, I'll email you my address for the Guinness delivery - if I'm not in please just leave it behind the side gate ;).

1st Anniversary

Happy Anniversary one and all - yes, today it's exactly one year since I started this blog and I must say the year has flown by incredibly quickly.

Twelve months ago I hadn't played a game of full contact rugby for nearly 14 years and Brian Ashton, Gareth Jenkins, Pierre Berbizier, Eddie O'Sullivan, Mad Bernie Laporte, Jake White and Knuckles Connolly were all international coaches. Furthermore, New Zealand were dead certs for the Rugby World Cup, the Aussies were claiming that Matt Dunning was a much-improved scrummager and the ELVs were just a minor irritation in domestic tournaments on the other side of the world.

How times have changed.

Not only is it a year ago that I started posting, this also happens to be, quite neatly, my 150th post of 2008 and my 365th post overall - which means that somehow I've managed to find the time to come up with some rubbish or other, on average, once a day (if you ignore the slightly inconvenient fact that it's a leap year this year).

I can honestly say that I simply don't have the time to blog that often so can only surmise that somehow my computer is hooked up to some kind of space-time continuum which allows me to exist for more than 24 hours a day.

Either that, or I seriously need to get a life.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Action stations...

Against the ELVs? Worried that they'll ruin the game you love? Don't know what you can do about it?

Here are a few ideas that have sprung up recently as the reality of the situation begins to sink in...

Any other ideas most gratefully received.

Personally I like the idea of a protest rally and a march to the HQ of the IRB in Dublin, preferably on a route that takes in a few of the city's excellent hostelries.

Take Care

I like the look of Danny Care - not only has the 21-year-old scrum-half been in blistering form for Harlequins, he also appears to have an ideal temperament for his position, as his interview published in the Sunday Times revealed. For instance, in the recent Quins v Newcastle match there were a few fisticuffs between the 5ft 9in, 13 stone Care and none other than 6ft 4in 19 stone man-mountain Carl Hayman, after which Care admitted: “I told him that I picked him just to let the others know that I’m not going to be messed with."

He added: “You can see a glint in the eyes of big ball-carriers when they see you in the defensive line, and they’re thinking, ‘I’m going to run all over that little twat’. So, if I knock them over I let them know about it. As a No 9 you’ve got to be chippy and dish it out - and you’ve also got to be able to take it.”

Care's eye for a break and chippy arrogance remind me very much of a cross between Matt Dawson and Austin Healy (not a bad combination) and, with Harry Ellis looking like he'll be having further knee surgery this summer, a Care-Cipriani combo at half-back on England's New Zealand trip looks a very real and exciting prospect. Bring it on.

Rugby Shorts

  • It doesn't look as if Austin Healy will be getting the job of England backs coach anytime soon. Healy recently had Johnno over to his house and, according to Healy, told him: "Okay, I’ll tell you what, I’ll make you dinner if you give me a job...I’m only joking, you dick . . . no, seriously, you can have the crackling if you give me the backs job". Apparently there was a moment of uncomfortable silence and, at that point, Healy knew he wasn’t getting the job. Shame.

  • Will the last player to leave New Zealand please turn out the lights? All Black fly half Nick Evans is the latest to abandon ship - arriving in October to play for Harlequins, following a path north trodden by several of his World Cup colleagues including Luke McAlister, Aaron Mauger, Carl Hayman, Chris Jack and Doug Howlett. With Jerry Collins also heavily linked with a move north (although not to Barnstaple, I understand) and with Dan Carter reportedly mulling over a series of lucrative offers, the drain of talent out of New Zealand must seriously dent their domestic product if not the All Blacks themselves. Still, a couple of years of under-achievement might not be a bad thing and might just help them get rid of the tag of being the best side in the world in between World Cups?


  • It looks like petty bureaucracy will deny legend Richard Hill a proper farewell in front of the Saracens fans at Vicarage Road. Under the terms of their groundshare agreement with Watford FC, Saracens cannot use the Vicarage Road stadium 24 hours or less before a football match and Watford play on Sunday afternoon. No problem, just bring Saracens' game with Bristol forward to midday and the problem is solved. Except that it isn't - Premier Rugby insists that all last-round fixtures start simultaneously, despite the fact that Saracens v Bristol is, in effect, a dead-rubber, the result having no bearing on who might or might not reach the play-offs. What this "rules is rules" mentality means is that Hilda will say his farewells in the less than salubrious surroundings of Milton Keynes. Shame on you, Premier Rugby.

This is how it's done...

A great try from the 2007 Touch Rugby World Cup Final...

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Touch and Go

Although the Touch Rugby "season" at the rugby club doesn't start until next week, I was surprised but delighted to find out this morning that in fact informal practice sessions had already started - not only on Saturday mornings (which I already knew about) but also on Tuesday evenings. With Saturday mornings ruled out (it's when I take my son to his football training), I was beginning to think that I'd have to start "cold" next week - so to be able to turn up this evening and run around was an unexpected bonus.

The fact that it was also a gloriously warm sunny evening meant that conditions were pretty much ideal and it was great to get back into the swing of things. Yes, it was hard work; yes, it was exhausting; and yes, I can begin to feel myself seizing up even as I type this - but I played more or less non-stop for about 75 minutes, my fitness just about held up (proving that the time in the gym hasn't been entirely wasted) and, in patches, I even played reasonably well.

Speaking to the club's Chairman, who organises our Touch team in the competition, he's lined up a couple of real speedsters for the team - something we were sorely lacking last summer. Like Alan Shearer in his last few season's at St.James' Park, I feel I need others to do much of the running for me while I trundle along making a nuisance of myself!

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable evening's workout to whet the appetite for the weeks to come - there really is nothing better than throwing a rugby ball around with the sun on your back.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Short sighted

It's good to see that Newcastle Falcons are keeping up with the likes of the RFU and the IRB in terms of ludicrously stupid decision making. I'm referring of course to the news that they have decided to do without the services of England players Toby Flood and Mathew Tait, both of whom (along with young backrow prospect Ben Woods) will leave the club at the end of this season, despite having a year left on their contracts.

Unsurprisingly, Flood has been linked with Leicester, while Sale Sharks have snapped up Tait.

The logic of the decision was explained by club chairman Dave Thompson: "Having four of our first-choice back line away with England for so long this year, and the fact that they would miss half of our league games next season, has been a major consideration in the decision to allow both Toby and Mathew to move.

"The impact of four of our back line going out en-masse and then returning at various stages of the season has caused us certain difficulties....we are currently in advanced negotiations with two Super 14 players."

I know how the argument goes - why should we produce our own players when all they do is bugger off to play for England and leave us to struggle on without them? It's far better to have players who are available 100% of the time.

The likes of Leicester and Wasps seem to have managed pretty well though - and the new agreement with the RFU should see the clubs well compensated for producing England players - certainly well enough to be able to afford to build a big enough squad to cope with a few players being away on England duty. All this decision does is bring closer the time when England players are all properly centrally contracted to the RFU.

Having been brought up in the area I've had a bit of a soft spot for the Falcons and, despite their lack of tangible success, have been impressed with the emphasis they've put on developing young English talent in recent seasons.

This decision, however (which, to my mind, signals a change in policy to rely on foreign talent rather than develop their own), coupled with the decision earlier this season to sack John Fletcher (responsible for bringing through nearly all of that talent), means that I find myself really hoping that it all backfires on them and that relegation beckons next season.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Our Rugby Club?

Blimey. Today is obviously a day for extreme ideas because, over on The Rugby Blog, they're publicising a radical new venture called "Our Rugby Club".

The idea behind Our Rugby Club is that rugby fans are given the chance to help a small or medium-sized rugby club climb through the leagues by offering collective financial assistance.
By bringing together a community of like-minded rugby supporters and by pooling financial resources, Our Rugby Club intends to invest in a club to enable it to purchase state of the art training equipment, attract new players and coaches and provide everything required to transform the club and move up through the leagues. Our Rugby Club members will pay an annual subscription of £30, every penny of which, it's claimed, will be invested in the partner club. The target is 10,000 members, enabling Our Rugby Club to fund the club in question to the tune of £300,000 per year.

I absolutely love the idealism that is driving this venture and I'm sure there'll be no shortage of clubs clamouring for the funding - but I wonder whether those behind the venture realise just how much admin will be involved (and the subsequent cost), and I'd have serious doubts about whether £300,000 per year would even come close to achieving Our Rugby Club's stated goal of helping "transform the club into a Premiership heavyweight."

For more info take a look at The Rugby Blog or check out http://www.ourrugbyclub.com/.

Strike!

Rather than just moan about the ELVs (guilty as charged), over at Confessions of a Rugby Referee Big Dai is getting off his backside and calling for action:

"...I propose that a mass demonstration to the ELV is staged on September 13th 2008, the 1st or 2nd weekend of grass roots rugby that will be affected. I want, referees, players, spectators, volunteers at all levels to stay away in London, England, Wales, Scotland, Britain, France, Italy; wherever..."
A strike by grassroots rugby? It would certainly get the message home...


Thursday, 1 May 2008

Thirteen...unlucky for some

Well, I guess it was too much to expect the IRB not to make a complete dog's breakfast of the whole ELV trial implementation, so it's not exactly a shock to hear the news that, for a 12 month period starting on 1st August 2008, a global trial will take place of 13 of the 23 proposed ELVs.

Words like "important milestone" were bandied about by IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset when the announcement was made today that some ELVs will be trialled throughout the game, some ELVs (mainly the free kicks instead of penalties nonsense) would be trialled in a selected 'elite' Northern Hemisphere competition (I vote for the meaningless Anglo-Welsh tin cup), some (including the daft handling in the ruck idea) will be referred back to the shadowy Laws Project Group for further reflection (or filing in the nearest bin) and the Southern Hemisphere will continue to go their own merry way continuing to play to their own rules until summer 2009.

For "important milestone" read "utter shambles."

The 13 ELVs to be inflicted on us are:

  1. Assistant Referees can assist referees in any manner required when appointed by a match organiser [Fair enough - no big deal]
  2. The corner posts are no longer considered to be in touch in-goal except when a ball is grounded against the post [sensible]
  3. If a team puts the ball back into their own 22 and the ball is subsequently kicked directly into touch there is no gain of ground [seems universally popular, but let's see how it works]
  4. A quick throw may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team's own goal line [effectively signalling the beginning of the end for lineouts and, consequently, very tall players]
  5. There is no restriction on the number of players who can participate in the lineout from either side (minimum of two) [watch the midfield fill with forwards]
  6. The receiver in a lineout must stand 2 metres back from the lineout [why, exactly?]
  7. The player who is in opposition to the player throwing in the ball may stand in the area between the 5 metre line and touch line but must be 2 metres away from the lineout [huh? - I thought the idea was to make laws easier to understand?]
  8. Lineout players may pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in [pretty much as they do already]
  9. The lifting of lineout jumpers is permitted [already the law, no?]
  10. Players are able to defend a maul by pulling it down [NOOOOOooooooooooooooooo!]
  11. Remove reference in Law to heads and shoulders not to be lower than hips [surely that's dangerous?]
  12. Introduction of an offside line five metres behind the hindmost feet of the scrum [the ONLY really good idea]
  13. Scrum half offside lines (must be in close proximity to the scrum as present Law or must retreat five metres) [unnecessary]

I suppose we should be thankful to get away with just 13 - but I've a horrible feeling that this is only the beginning...

D-Day

Today is May Day. It is also, from the future of rugby's point of view, D-Day.

Today, in Dublin, the IRB debate whether or not to implement the ELVs with effect from 1st August. The IRB call it a "trial" and say that if the new laws do not work then they will be rescinded, but we all know - proponents and opponents alike - that once they're in, they're in.

I can only hope that common sense will prevail - that the national unions of England, Wales and Ireland will stick together on this, that they will find support from other countries to oppose these largely insane proposals and that political and financial pressure applied by the IRB does not prevail.

I'm not overly optimistic though.

Vets Focus: Y Gogs

Welcome to a new feature on Total Flanker in which I, rather self-indulgently, focus on some random thing or other that has caught my eye in the world of Veterans rugby.

This week (or month, or year - as I've no idea how regular this will be) it's Y Gogs.

"Y Gogs?" I hear you cry. "What in heaven's name is Y Gogs?"

Well, I'm glad you asked, because Y Gogs is a rugby team from North Wales who have embraced "Oldies" rugby with a passion. The name Y Gogs stands for Geriatrics o Gymru which, for those like me whose Welsh language skills are a little rusty, translates as "Geriatrics from Wales." The team is based at Clwb Rygbi Caernarfon (that's Caernarfon R.F.C. to you and me) - Caernarfon being a town where, apparently, 87% of the population speak the Welsh language (which explains the name).

Formed in 1993 to attend the International Golden Oldies Festival in Dublin, Y Gogs have since travelled the world enjoying Oldies Rugby, taking in International Golden Oldies Festivals in Christchurch,Vancouver, Cape Town, Toulouse and Brisbane as well as EGOR (European Golden Oldies Rugby) Festivals in Benidorm and Zurich (where they were awarded the ‘Battered Relic Cup’ for the team which reflects the spirit of the festival). No doubt they'll also be showing their ageing faces at this June's EGOR Festival in Madeira and at the International Golden Oldies Festival in Edinburgh in September.

Before looking into this I wasn't fully aware of what "Oldies" rugby involved - I'd assumed it was the same as Veterans rugby (i.e. over 35s), which I've found to be exactly the same as "normal" rugby except that it's a bit slower and, occasionally, played in a better spirit. Oldies rugby, however (at least under EGOR), appears to have its own unique set of laws including such gems as: all 8 forwards must remain bound in the scrum until the ball has been cleared; the scrum half must not follow the ball around the scrum; scrums must be uncontested; defending players may kick the ball only in their own 22; there are no quick lineouts and no lifting; and, my favourite, no player may run more than 20 metres before passing the ball. I hope the proponents of the ELVs are taking notes!

Furthermore, there are restrictions on tackling 'older' players who are identified by wearing specific coloured shorts and, at EGOR Festivals, competitiveness is discouraged, the results of games not being listed (so, pretty similar to sport in Britain's schools if the Daily Mail is to be believed).

So, having established that Y Gogs is an Oldies rugby team, what is it about them that merits their inclusion in my esteemed blog? It's not as if there are any famous names on the team's roster (although apparently the likes of Brynmor Williams, Gareth Davies and Jonathan Davies have not refused the offer of a trial!), their players being the usual collection of blokes in their 40’s, mostly 50’s and a few zimmer frames in their 60’s. No, what's notable about Y Gogs is that, in 2010, they will host the 10th European Golden Oldies Rugby Festival.

Yes, in 2 years' time teams from all parts of the continent will be making their way to Caernarfon, a town famous for its castle and...er...that's all (I should know - I spent many a summer's afternoon as a boy in a cramped car with my Mum, Dad, Grandmother and brother eating ice cream looking up at the grey castle walls as the rain lashed down). That will mean some 1000 players and supporters will descend on Caernarfon over the four days of the festival.

All I can say to that is congratulations to Y Gogs and to Caernarfon for winning the bid to stage the festival and to all those planning to take part - enjoy your ice cream! :)

Click here for more on Y Gogs and the Festival.

And the winner is...

The prize for the worst depiction of a rugby match on film or on TV goes to...