Saturday, 29 November 2008

England 21 New Zealand 19

Fantastic result for England today , a wonderful triumph in the face of adversity and one in the eye for all that talk of southern hemisphere supremacy...

Sorry......what?

Dubai Sevens?

You mean that wasn't the score from Twickenham?

What?

Lost 32-6?

Bugger.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The story so far...

Nearly 3 months into the so-called brave new world of the ELVs but are we any the wiser?

The RFU, bless 'em, continue to listen (check out the RFU Survey) but what happens after they've gathered, sorted and lost our opinions is anyone's guess.

So far this season the ELVs haven't exactly covered themselves in glory at the elite level and various high profile coaches in this neck of the woods have expressed their severe misgivings. But what of us, the mere mortals of the grassroots game, what do we think of the story so far?

Over on Confessions of a Rugby Referee, Big Dai gives a very eloquent verdict on the ELVs from the point of view of a grassroots rugby referee. One of the stated aims of the ELVs was to make the game easier to referee but, from reading Dai's analysis, the new laws appear to have, for the most part, achieved the precise opposite.

Anyway, for those of you have never listened to what a referee has to say and aren't about to start now, here's my entirely objective take on the ELVs from the point of view of an old and lardy grassroots forward...

ELV 1 - Assistant Referee - Assistant Referees to provide additional information to the referee to assist in decision making. What assistant referee? Great idea but totally irrelevant to the vast majority of matches played up and down the land every weekend.

ELV 2 – Maul -Remove reference in Law to head and shoulders not to be lower than hips. Sounds like a bad idea but, to be honest, I don't think I've ever seen someone penalised in a maul for his body position.

ELV 3 – Maul - A defending team may pull the Maul to the ground. The world and his wife agrees that this is a crap idea and potentially very dangerous. That said, although in my first game the driving maul appeared to have become extinct as a result of this law, in subsequent games it has been resurrected and, given that it really isn't so easy to drag down, the driving maul can, if used judiciously, still be a weapon.

ELV 4 - Lineout and Throw When a defending player receives the ball outside the 22 metre line and passes, puts or takes the ball back inside the 22 by any means, there no gain in ground. In my three games this season this has been picked up a grand total of once. No noticeable increase in attacking from the 22 either.

ELV 5 - Lineout and Throw- A quick throw may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team’s own goal line. Great in theory but totally impractical in Vets rugby where no one has the energy to counter-attack and we're all glad of the breather.

ELV6 - Lineout and Throw There is no restriction in the number of players who can participate in the lineout from either side (minimum of 2). Harmless - no impact whatsoever.

ELV 7 - Lineout and Throw The receiver in a lineout must stand 2 metres back from the lineout. Why? Does anyone pay attention to this law, let alone the scrum half or, indeed, the referee?

ELV 8 - Lineout and Throw The team not throwing into the lineout MUST have a player in the 5 metre channel who must be 2 metres away from the front of the lineout. This player cannot join the lineout until the ball has left the hands of the player throwing in. Yawn, although apparently Dai has picked this one up once (obviously in a moment of sheer pedantry).

ELV 9 - Lineout and Throw Lineout players may pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in. Has been happening for years and is irrelevant in a Vets lineout where no one really leaves the ground.

ELV 10 - Lineout and Throw- The lifting of lineout players is permitted. And has been since 1995 if I'm not mistaken.

ELV 11 – Scrum - The offside line for a player who is not in the scrum and is not one of the scrum halves is 5 metres behind the hindmost foot of the scrum. I had great hopes for this one but it's virtually impossible for refs to pick up encroachment without help and any space gained seems to be used as extra time to get a kick away more often than not.

ELV 12 – Scrum - The defending scrum half must stand next to his opponent when the ball is put into the scrum. Once the ball is in the scrum the scrum halves may then either (1) follow the ball ensuring that they remain behind the ball (2) retreat behind the hindmost foot of their players in the scrum or (3) retreat behind their side's 5 metre offside line, but if they do so they may not come forward again until the scrum is over. But has anyone actually noticed?

ELV 13 - Posts and Flags around the Field - The corner posts, and posts at corner of touch , in goal and dead ball line, are no longer considered to be in touch in goal except when a ball is grounded against the post. Great news as I was always hitting those damned posts when diving over for tries in the corner...not!

All in all then I'd venture that the ELVs' impact on the game I play has been negligible (although to be fair the game I play tends to be under the laws that were last in operation in 1994). Of bigger impact has been the directive to referees to police the breakdown with zero tolerance which, as I've alluded to before, has turned most rucks into a lottery.

So, the ELVs aren't as bad as I feared but I guess the question is that, if the ELVs are making such little impact, why bother?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Walking tall

Congratulations to Shane Williams who the other evening was named the International Rugby Board Player of the Year for 2008.

Perhaps even Ben ("Shane who?") Cohen will remember his name now after Ickle Shane picked up his award at the IRB Awards ceremony at the weekend.

Some will say that it's been a fairly mediocre year for rugby whilst other less charitable souls than myself may point to the fact that the overall standard of this year's 2008 Six Nations was rubbish.

I, on the other hand, prefer to say "not bad for a little bloke who can't tackle."

Perhaps all is not lost for Charlie Hodgson.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tring-a-ling-a-ling

While England were receiving a thrashing at the hands of the Boks (or the Proteas, or whatever it's politically correct to call them these days) I and my fellow Veterans from Chesham were attempting to roll back the years on the decidedly chilly playing fields of Tring.

I'm not entirely sure what has happened in the Chesham area recently - it's possible that there's been something introduced into the local drinking water supply, but when I arrived for the match 30 minutes before kick off as usual I found almost a full compliment of Chesham players in the changing room already changed. We even had 2 replacements. I admit it took me a few minutes for the brain to compute what was happening but then something occurred that had me totally flummoxed and ready to be persuaded that the world was, indeed, flat...

...We indulged in a team warm-up.

Even more amazingly, none of our number injured themselves during the said warm up and we approached the kick off against the Tring 4th XV almost ready to play - although with a certain amount of trepidation as a glance at our opposition revealed them to be a somewhat youthful outfit with barely a grey hair to be seen.

The world may be flat, but the pitch we played on was certainly not, a slope running across the pitch meaning that play tended to be concentrated along a 20 metre strip - conditions which probably favoured us on the whole and certainly upfront we were able to get amongst the opposition and prevent them getting much ball out to their backs. Our set pieces were solid - the scrum was very steady and we won a surprising amount of ball at the lineout - even yours truly leaping salmon-like (well, minnow-like) in the middle to claim a few.

The referee this week was a Kiwi and, despite that, did a pretty good job (other than one bizarre moment in the second half) adopting a refreshingly pragmatic (rather than dogmatic) approach to the breakdowns.

When Tring did get the ball they looked dangerous when moving it wide and they scored an early try under the posts to take a 7-0 lead. What was strange though was that whenever they were awarded a penalty (and there were more than a few) they kicked for touch (where we were strong) instead of running wide (where we were not). Conversely we tapped and ran almost everything, even from our own 22 (much to my consternation), in the mistaken belief that we could run the length of the field - all of which added to the surreal nature of the afternoon.

The Twilight Zone continued to exert its influence in the second half. Tring had crossed for their second try via the simple tactic of giving the ball to their youngest, quickest player and making us chase him up the hill. Thereafter we pretty much dominated territory and possession and, at one stage, were camped in the Tring 22 battering away under the posts when a Tring player kicked the ball out from the back of a ruck. The referee blew his whistle and raised his hand and I immediately took up a position on the left flank (bottom of the hill) waving my arms frantically to indicate that I was ready to receive a pass or a kick - a certain try assuming I could catch the ball (!). The next thing I knew the ref had uttered the words "penalty try" - much to everyone's surprise - and it looked as if all our hard work had been rewarded, only for him to change his mind and award a penalty again - but this time to Tring! He didn't actually reverse his decision, just decided to change his mind, and we still haven't a clue what the supposed infringement was.

Anyway, just as it was looking as if we might suffer an undeserved shutout, Tring decided to spread the ball wide down the hill (much easier to chase) and Tim, our centre, intercepted to sprint most of the way to the line before offloading to his fellow centre Eric to score under the posts.

So, a 14-7 defeat but, unlike England, nothing to be ashamed of. With a bit of luck we may even have won and, from a personal perspective it was certainly the most productive and enjoyable of the games so far this season. Next up is Beaconsfield Vets on 17th January - so plenty of time to eat and drink myself fit.

The Unlikely Scrum

Great article from the New York Times about how rugby can break down barriers...

The rugby practice field at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School bears little resemblance to the manicured lawns of the English boarding school where the sport was born... more

42-6

There's not much I can say about the scoreline at Twickenham yesterday. I wasn't expecting a win, but a thrashing of that magnitude simply wasn't on the cards either. It's all very well for Johnno to claim that we created more scoring opportunities this week, but to ship 42 points at Twickenham is, in anyone's language, a disaster. Taxi for Mike Ford?

Only 2 positives, as far as I can see:
  1. I didn't watch it (having my own little encounter to deal with - more of that later) and decided against putting myself through watching the highlights after I had heard the score on the radio; and
  2. It can't get any worse...can it?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Strictly Scrum Dancing

In a remarkable case of real life mirroring reality TV, veteran rugby player Total Flanker looks set to quit playing for Chesham Vets because he fears there is a real risk that he could score a try.

After a two games this season in which he was denied tries, firstly by a last gasp tackle and then by a myopic referee - incidents which prompted a national debate on the injustice of it all - TF has indicated to vague acquaintances that that he is ready to call it quits after analysing the balance of probabilities.

"It all started off as a bit of of a laugh," the overweight backrower said today. "But there's a real chance that I might actually score a try soon and that we might win a game, both of which would be a joke too far."

The nation's online message boards lit up with complaints after today's news as the public voiced their suspicions that TF has fallen victim to people taking rugby far too seriously.

"I am very angry about this," said one poster. "Watching TF huffing and puffing around the field and messing up try-scoring opportunities is simply hilarious."

Fans of the portly 44 year old breakaway need not despair, however, as he is committed to giving a "farewell performance" away against Tring 4ths this weekend.

"It's the least I could do to give my many fans one last giggle," he admitted.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Thought for the day...

Unearthed by the Telegraph's Kevin Garside...

Apparently more than half of England's team today passed through the state school system and the team is managed by a comprehensive school kid who attended the same school where his father worked as a caretaker.

I wonder if Australia can claim the same?

Bench press

I must say I'm not hugely optimistic about England's chances against the Aussies this afternoon.

It's not that I disagree with the way Martin Johnson is running the show or, indeed, his selections - broadly he's got it right (although the selection of Jamie Noon continues to baffle). It's just that I don't think that England are quite ready enough to take a Southern Hemisphere scalp just yet, even at Twickenham. Pundits like the Sunday Times' Stephen Jones have declared that it would be a "disaster" to lose to Australia today, that England simply must win. Not only does this attitude seriously underestimate this Aussie squad, it also largely ignores just how poor we've been in recent years. It's going to take some time before the heights reached in the early part of this decade can be achieved again - don't forget just how long it took for Clive Woodard's England to start winning matches regularly against the big 3.

One thing I do like about the way Johnno's going about his business is his obvious desire to have impact players on the bench - Stevens, Hartley, Shaw, Haskell, Lipman, Ellis and Flood are all players who can come on and make a difference (as opposed to the previous regime's "making up the numbers" approach). I'm a little disconcerted about the imbalance between forwards and backs - a couple of injuries to our back division and we could really struggle - but just imagine how demoralising it could be for a tiring Aussie pack to have to face up the rampaging quartet of Stevens. Hartley, Shaw and Haskell in the last quarter...

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Looking forward, looking back

Just returned from another circuit training session at the gym. I say "another" as if it's a regular occurrence but in fact it's only the second time I've been - and the first occasion was 4 weeks ago.

Hardly regular then, but with my next game looming large on the 22nd November I felt that desperate measures were called for - and, yes, I realise that fitness doesn't really work that way but I subscribe to the theory that something has to be better than nothing, no matter how painful.

It will come as no surprise to learn that I struggled, but what I couldn't get over is how some people simply don't appear to have sweat glands. There was I, totally and utterly drenched in sweat, whilst several others demonstrated no more than a healthy glow and some looked more or less exactly as the same as when they'd started (I console myself, of course, with the misguided notion that they couldn't have been working as hard as me).

So, with my thoughts turning to the next chapter in my great rugby odyssey, it turns out that, according to the Fullerians RFC website, in our last match their Vets team only beat us 38-5, a far better result than I had remembered (I lost count as we shipped tries late in the game, and what's more so, apparently, did the referee). Furthermore, it turns out that my opposite number in that game was a former Aussie international.

In the changing rooms after the game I heard someone mention that the opposition had an ex-international in their back row but, as I was unable to hang around after the game that day, I was unable to verify the rumour. It turns out, however, that the player in question was none other than Bill Calcraft who played in the Australian back row in the mid-eighties before captaining Oxford University in the Varsity Match. In our match I must admit he was pretty solid in the tackle and difficult to put down, and was also fairly sprightly around the park - certainly more so than yours truly although, admittedly, that's not saying much. Given that he's also a good 5 years or so older than me, hats off to him.

No doubt the match against Chesham Vets will probably go down as a career highlight for him and he'll be recounting for many a year how I was unjustly denied my try by a myopic referee...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Back in black

It's been a momentous week.

A black man has been elected President of the United States.

A black man has won the Formula 1 World Championship.

And three black players occupied the back three positions for England against the Pacific Islanders yesterday.

Whilst the first two events were (rightly) hailed internationally, the selection of Paul Sackey, Delon Armitage and Ugo Monye had, in a small way, its very own significance. Setting aside the fact that all three had excellent games for England yesterday (and it's possible, just possible, that in Armitage we may finally have found someone to occupy the fullback birth for some considerable time), the fact that we now have 3 black players in the England team, with the likes of Danny Cipriani also having a West Indian father, a Maori playing at inside centre (a concept that I'm not wholly comfortable with if I'm honest) and the likes of Tom Varndell, Topsy Ojo and Steffon Armitage not too far away, demonstrates that English rugby is becoming far more representative of the diverse nature of the country as a whole.

And it certainly gives lie to the theory popularised by followers of Rugby League that Union remains the preserve of the white middle-classes.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

View from (near) the top...

Continuing the somewhat vulgar and distasteful self-congratulatory theme, I should probably give myself a rather large slap on the back for the fact that this blog has jumped a massive 7 places up the Wikio UK Sports Blog charts to number 6.
Of course, I've still no idea what this actually means , how accurate the Wikio system is or whether anybody takes any notice of it but, as I've said before, a league table is a league table...

Seriously, continued thanks to all who persist in reading this nonsense and to those that see fit to link to it.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Fame game

I was delighted to discover that a link to this blog has recently been added to the rugby pages of the Daily Telegraph website and I'm beginning to see a steady trickle of traffic coming through.

Lord knows what serious Telegraph-reading rugby folk make of the drivel posted on here but, although the paper's political stance is often somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan, in a spirit of co-operation and fraternity I am more than happy to reciprocate by wholeheartedly endorsing the rugby scribes of the Telegraph as being more than half-decent.

I'll bet they're ecstatic.

Tag Rugby Development Trust

Just a note to highlight the remarkable work of the Tag Rugby Development Trust (TRDT), a unique charity that introduces primary school children in developing Countries to Tag Rugby through volunteer tours that build a positive legacy through local involvement and UK support.

Since their first trip back in 2002, the Tag Rugby Development Trust has organised nine tours, taking in Uganda, Zambia and India . On these tours the coaches are all volunteers and the target is the grass roots level, not to mention leaving behind the skills so they can continue playing.

“I think sport is an area where you can give an opportunity on a very equal level,” says founder Martin Hansford. “The children have a great time, they learn something, we leave their teachers with some new skills they can use and keep training the kids even when we’re not around.”

As well as learning a new sport, there’s also an added incentive for the children to stay in school – to be able to take part in the end of week tournament.

So, not only do TRDT spread the rugby gospel, they also leave behind a lasting legacy, a fact highlighted on the current tour to India. In 2006 TRDT took a Tag Rugby Tour to Bhubaneswar, Orissa. Two years later the Kalinga Institute for Social Sciences (KISS), a school for tribal children, is producing Tag Rugby teams that are winning tournaments in the UK and Australia.

Furthermore the skills and enthusiasm the charity's volunteers gave children back in 2006 is being passed onwards to other children in the school and has caught the attention of the highest level of authority on Rugby in India - the Indian RFU will be hosting the first ever U-16 tournament at KISS and on 2nd August this year the foundation stone for the KISS Rugby Academy was laid.

The TRDT would really appreciate any support that you can give either in the UK, professionally, financially or with your time but especially by touring with the charity to share your rugby skills and experiences. Click here to get involved.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Whatever happened to: Trevor Leota?

You remember, don't you, the former Wasps and Samoa hooker, famed for his big hits and even bigger girth?

Well, here he is, being given his marching orders playing for Stade Montois recently. Late tackle? I'd argue that he got there as soon as he could.

On the upside I guess the sending off would have given him some extra time to seek out the nearest KFC...