Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A big hand...

...for my old club Barnes RFC who achieved the remarkable feat of promotion to the National leagues on Saturday. Having finished 2nd in London 1 only on points difference to Shelford, Barnes faced Bracknell, runners up in South West 1, in a winner-takes-all play off at Barn Elms and emerged 39-18 victors to clinch their place amongst the elite.

It's a fantastic effort when you think that, back when I joined the club in 1991, we were playing in Surrey Division 2, and we thought we were pretty special when we achieved promotion to Surrey 1 during our unbeaten 1992-93 season. Nothing compared to subsequent achievements of course.

So, trips to Lydney, Henley, Bridgewater and Clifton beckon next season as well as the resumption of local hostilities with the likes of Richmond and Rosslyn Park. It isn't going to be easy - far from it - but it should be one hell of a ride.

Congratulations boys!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Flanker distraught by Lions omission

In an emotional outburst from his home in Hertfordshire, Total Flanker today confessed that he was "devastated" by his omission from Ian McGeechan's British & Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa this summer.

The veteran backrower had been tipped by those in the know as a possible "bolter" for the squad following his unprecedented (and never-to-be-repeated) three-try haul last month against Datchworth 4th XV. Despite TF telling all and sundry about how brilliantly he played that day, it appears that McGeechan has chosen to snub TF's talents in favour of those of Alan Quinlan and Andy Powell, amongst others.

Having also missed out on the 1983, 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, and 2005 Lions tours, TF was visibly upset when questioned about his omission from the 2009 squad...

"I admit that a place on the Lions trip had been on my mind all season," the portly breakaway forward sobbed today. "The whole season has been geared towards me reaching a mental and physical peak in time for the tour. At 44 this might be my last chance to make a Lions squad. I can even do a passable Irish accent."

Despite the fact that the Lions selectors wouldn't know a decent backrow specialist if it bit them on the arse, TF is still hopeful of being called up for duty in the event of injury...

"I've started playing touch rugby again at Chesham," he commented. "And I'll be drinking myself silly at the club dinner in a couple of weeks to ensure that I'm up to speed on the social aspects of touring."

Ian McGeechan was unavailable for comment.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Irish Lions

And so, as the dust settles on the announcement of the Irish Lions squad it's time to reflect on the fact that:
  1. The make-up of the squad isn't a million miles away from the squad I predicted.

  2. Of particular interest are:

    Bolts from the blue: (a) Keith Earls (Keith who?); (b) Alan Quinlan (better than Tom Croft? I think not); and (c) Leigh ½p.

    Lucky blighters: (a) Shane Williams and (b) Andy Powell. Selected on form? My arse!

    Sick as a parrot: (a) Tom Croft - made for the hard grounds of South Africa; (b) Delon Armitage - FAR more ability than Ugo Monye, for instance; (c) Ryan Jones - dumped on from a height by the Welsh management team; and (d) Scotland.

  3. In reality, of course, the squad announced is unlikely to be the squad that travels to South Africa - there's much rugby to be played in the next few weeks and the intensity of the latter stages of the Guinness Premiership and Heineken Cup is likely to throw up an injury or two.

  4. Even if this squad does travel to South Africa, how long before the victims of fired-up Boers - intent on wrecking the tourists' test chances - begin to trickle back to the UK on stretchers? Those on the reserve list may as well set up camp in the Heathrow departure lounge.

  5. In any event, no matter what team the Lions are able to field, the chances of success for what is essentially a scratch team against the World Champions in their own backyard is negligible. Why, then, am I so psyched up about this tour?

Saturday, 18 April 2009

2008-2009 season review

Somewhat unbelievably, this weekend is the last of the regular season for most rugby clubs in England and it seems an appropriate time to look back and reflect over the last 8 months and think about what kind of season my former and current clubs have had.

Chesham, my current club, have had what might be described as a very "solid" season. Starting slowly, they lost their first 8 matches before rallying mid-season to put together a 6 match winning streak and stave off the threat of relegation. A playing staff made up largely of teenagers and 30-somethings (and perhaps the odd 40-something) has eased the team comfortably into in 6th place in Berks/Bucks & Oxon 1 North and represents steady progress on last season's efforts. Chesham finish the season with a home fixture against Aylesbury 2nds today, a match they should win.

As for the Vets, having won our last fixture 3 weeks ago I think we have to conclude that the season has been a success. Having said that, I'm a tad miffed that our fixture today against Beaconsfield 3rd XV was called off. I've been nursing a sore achilles through the last couple of weeks so that I could play one last game of the season for the Vets so I was more than disappointed to hear that the game was off, especially given that I'd also forsaken the chance to play in a charity match at my old club Barnes in order to turn out for my team.

Nevertheless, six fixtures in total represents two more than last season and I must say I've thoroughly enjoyed my second season back in the game. I'm far more comfortable in what I'm doing, my confidence has been high, my defence is much improved on last year and I've even chipped in with a few tries late in the season. All I need now is to get my fitness levels up and my weight down (the two are just possibly related) for next season. And if anyone knows where I can purchase a bucket-load of pace, please let me know.

Barnes, meanwhile, have had a storming season in London 1, and trail leaders Shelford on points difference only. They play Luton today, needing a huge win to overhaul the leaders and with the best will in the world it's a huge ask. Nevertheless, 2nd in London 1 is nothing to sniff at and they should, at the very least, get a crack at winning promotion to the National leagues via a play off. Given that they were in Surrey Division 2 in my first full season in 1991-1992 the progress they've made as a club is just fantastic.

Just as impressively, if not more so, with two fixtures remaining Ealing sit 2nd in National 3 South behind London Scottish. I'm not sure how many teams go up to National 2 this season (if any, given that there appears to be yet another re-organisation on the cards) but the club (who were in the old National 4 when I first joined back in the late eighties) certainly occupy their highest league position and hopefully, with a tough away fixture at Rosslyn Park (how the mighty have fallen) today, can maintain their lofty status through to the end of the season.

Meanwhile Guildford (formerly Guildford & Godalming) - for whom I played in 1986-87 - sit 3rd in London 3 SW. After two successive relegations this represents something of a success and at the very least steadies the boat. With the top two in the division, Chichester and Wimbledon, clashing today, an away win for Guildford at Effingham & Leatherhead could see them end the season in 2nd place, a creditable finish.

Finally Peterbrough, where I started my club rugby career, face Longton today and are currently 5th in Midlands 1 - almost, but not quite, challenging for promotion. Again this represents an improvement on last season and it's good to see the club going so well. In checking out their website I noticed that not only did Benny Lee - a teacher at my old school - turn 70 last year, but that he also played in a Veterans rugby match at Peterborough to celebrate the occasion. Benny was a pretty handy backrow forward in his day, as I recall, and was largely responsible for starting my school's first ever 1st XV when I was in the sixth form. I only wish I'd known about the match last year as I'd have loved to have played a part. I guess I'll gave to wait for his 80th!

Well, that's it. Although there's talk of another Vets match being organised before the season closes I suspect that it won't happen and that the season is, in fact, over. I'll look back on this one with some satisfaction - I'm just pleased that I've managed to get through another "bonus" season more or less in one piece!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Walk4Matt

I had an email yesterday from Nick over at Welshrugbyblog asking for a little publicity for Walk4Matt, a charity walk organised by the frankly inspirational former Leicester Tigers and England A prop Matt Hampson.

I won't go into details, but please do check out what's happening on http://welshrugbyblog.co.uk/2009/04/help-out-a-great-rugby-charity/ or alternatively http://www.walk4matt.org/.


Thank you.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Perspective

Putting the ELVs, Lions selections, Super 14 and other such trivial matters in perspective, L'Aquila Rugby Club in Italy are faced with somewhat more pressing issues as they participate in the rescue effort following Monday's 6.2-magnitude earthquake in the region.

With the death toll now said to be in excess of 250 and with some 20,000 people made homeless, the local rugby club has has joined in the massive rescue effort, their efforts made even more poignant by the fact that one of their number, 20 year old prop Lorenzo Sebastini, is believed to have been one of the victims. Lorenzo was a former Italian Under 19 international in his second season with L'Aquila Rugby in Serie A.

For details on how to help victims of the earthquake please visit the Italian Rugby Federation website.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Seconds out...

Message in a Bottle

It's not often that I get sent press releases and when I do receive them more often than not they are usually from some agency or other seeking free advertising in exchange for a "story."

Yesterday, however, I received something a bit different from Nicolás Murillo on behalf of Vigo Rugby Club in Spain.

Entitled "A MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE FOR JONAH LOMU" the press release was from the 'infantile and cadet category' (which I interpret to mean the junior section) of Vigo Rugby Club who have written to Mr Lomu to explain the economic difficulties that the club is currently experiencing, difficulties that threaten its very existence.

The aim of the letter is that it reaches Mr Lomu in Auckland via the six degrees of separation theory that holds that we are connected to any person in the world through a chain of 6 interpersonal acquaintances. The letter, which has been placed in a bottle, is currently on its way to Dublin in the possession of ex-Malahide player and current Vigo resident Joe Scully.

The message isn't a begging letter, but it is hoped that the support of Jonah Lomu and the publicity generated by this innovative and unusual campaign, will raise funds which will help the club to survive.

I'm more than happy therefore to publish the text of the letter below:


To Jonah Lomu
Legend of All Black

Dear Jonah,

We are writing to you this letter because you are the best rugby player of all time for us and because, in the hard moments we are going through, you are our role model.

We are the infantile and cadet players of the Vigo Rugby Team. Vigo is an industrial city of the Atlantic coast of Spain. There are not many fans by our sport here, but as you will know, when the passion for rugby arouses oneself, it is all the same there were many or few people on the terraces.

That´s why you will understand that, in normal conditions, playing rugby here is not easy. But now, with the economic crisis, the situation has turned worst. The unemployment grows around us, the companies close down and the horizon looks
really bad.

This situation affects us especially because we live it in our families also in the team surroundings. This year we start the competition without sponsors. Those we had have just gone because their situation has got worse. Finally we have been able to jump on the pitch once again thanks to the veterans of the team that have got involved and have afforded us the money.

As you will see, we don´t have a lot of reasons for being happy, but we have one to continue fighting: the rugby. Our trainer always insists on the fact that it is necessary to fall in order to learn to stand up. And that is what we do everyday… and the trick we use to stand up faster and in a stronger way is thinking on legends of our sport like you are, running and crushing your adversaries. Jonah you are the best.

And that is all. We don´t want to write a letter to cry. This is a fighting message, to don’t give up. We greet you, Jonah, with the hope for being, some day, so strong as you are, physically and minded.

Best wishes from all the infantile, cadet and training schools of the Vigo Rugby Club.

The progress of the bottle can be tracked through the websites of both the Club - ww.vigorugby.com - and the Communication Consultancy Torres y Carrera - http://www.torresycarrera.com./


Monday, 6 April 2009

Of Wasps, Falcons and Lions...

Yesterday, I attended the Wasps v Newcastle clash at Adams Park and have to say that the lunch and beer were far more entertaining than the match itself.

That said, it wasn't that the two teams weren't trying to play an open game, it's just that both teams lacked precision and, apart from a late surge by the Falcons, there wasn't really what one might describe as a clear try-scoring opportunity.

The only flash of brilliance came from Danny Cipriani who slotted a dropped goal from just inside his own half, but it was a mixed bag again from him and, unless McGeechan does decide on a big dose of nepotism, I can't see any way young Danny can make the Lions trip this summer. Likewise Josh Lewsey, who was fairly ineffectual yesterday and whose pending retirement looks well timed.

Speaking of the Lions, there are now less than 2 weeks before Geech names his party. Based largely on 6 Nations form (and so ignoring possible "bolters" that may make it) I'd go with the following 36-strong squad:

Backs: Mike Phillips, Harry Ellis, Dwayne Peel, Stephen Jones, Ronan O'Gara, Toby Flood, Brian O'Driscoll, Riki Flutey, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Mark Cueto, Lee Byrne, Rob Kearney, Delon Armitage.

Forwards: Gethin Jenkins, Andrew Sheridan, Adam Jones, Phil Vickery, Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Rory Best, Lee Mears, Paul O'Connell (capt), Donnacha O'Callaghan, Alun-Wyn Jones, Simon Shaw, Martyn Williams, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Joe Worsley, Tom Croft, Jamie Heaslip, Ryan Jones.

Not a huge contingent of Englishmen there - but probably a deserving quota based on the second half of the 6 Nations. A selection on these lines would also leave Martin Johnson with a decent bunch to choose from for the 2 Argentina test matches in June, for example:

Props: Payne, White, Corbisero, Wilson
Hookers: Hartley, Paice
Locks: Borthwick, Kennedy, Deacon, Crane
Flankers: Haskell, Rees, Moody, Armitage/Robshaw
No 8s: Easter, Narraway
Scrum halves: Care, Foden
Fly halves: Cipriani, Wilkinson
Centres: Geraghty, Barkley, Tait, Tindall
Wings: Monye, Sackey, Simpson-Daniel, Banahan
Fullbacks: Abendanon, Morgan


No doubt the front row will come under huge pressure and it could be a baptism of fire for the likes of Corbisero and/or Wilson - but there's plenty of opportunity here for Johnson to develop a few younger players whilst maintaining a degree of continuity from the 6 Nations.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Getting shirty

At some point this week I appear to have missed the fact that this blog has received its 50,000th visitor. My apologies to whoever that was - a bottle of virtual bubbly is the least I can offer in recompense. Thanks to all who continue to visit the blog and read this nonsense.

It occurred to me this week - and this gives some clue as to my sad little existence - that it is getting on for two years since the RFU unveiled that monstrosity otherwise known as the England rugby kit. You know the one - the garment with the horrible ketchup stain swished across the shirt and spilling onto the shorts. Unbelievably the replica version sold in its tens of thousands which leads me to believe that the RFU will soon again want to cash in on our naivety by releasing a new version of the shirt this summer.

Normally I would be against such blatant exploitation of the humble England rugby supporter - don't they know there's a credit crunch on and all that - but in this case I'm actually looking forward to seeing the back of (if you get my drift) that abomination we've had to put up with in recent years.

What prompted these thoughts was, ironically, the recent release of the new England football shirt by the FA and Umbro, a shirt which looks far more like a proper, traditional rugby shirt than the glorified nylon t-shirt which passes for an England rugby shirt these days. The supreme irony of course is that we now have a bunch of overpaid prima donna footballers poncing around in an extremely elegant looking shirt whilst England's elite rugby players still look like a bunch of 1980s throwbacks on a booze cruise to Benidorm.


One can only hope that the design genius at Nike and the marketing powers that be at Twickenham have taken note of the decisions taken over at Soho Square and restore a smidgen of dignity to the next England rugby shirt design.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Blown away

I have to admit I was tickled pink recently by a story that I was initially convinced was an April Fool's joke.

However, a quick check on the date of the story - 16th March - shows that it is either a very early prank or an extremely elaborate hoax. Or perhaps it's true.

Whatever the veracity of the story, it is claimed that Nottingham RFC's recent National Division One clash with Exeter at Meadow Lane was watched by an an extra 1,000 inflatable fans provided by a local company who specialise in enhancing crowd scenes for films and TV.

The company had apparently spent hours blowing up and dressing up the "supporters", who sat in the Family Stand, attempting to make them look indistinguishable from the normal fans. The idea was that the presence of an extra 1,000 inflatable "people" in the crowd would encourage more supporters to come and cheer on their local team.

I'm not so sure about how that might work - unless the inflatables start paying for tickets - but, you never know, this might just catch on. Who knows, it might not be too long before teams employ inflatable players (a cunning ploy, perhaps, to circumvent the salary cap) - although to be honest in some some cases I reckon it would be nigh on impossible to spot the difference.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Rugby in new ELV crisis

News from the aftermath of the IRB conference on the ELVs, held at the Lensbury Club in South West London where it is reported that Australian Rugby’s CEO John O’Neill is threatening the biggest schism in rugby history since the formation of the Northern Union in 1895.

O’Neill, a fanatical supporter of the ELVs, has apparently reacted badly to the news that the maul is to be reinstated and that his beloved sanctions law is to be parked.

“He was expecting the usual battle with the Luddites in the Northern Hemisphere,” said an Australian rugby insider. “But when the South Africans started to turn against him John really began to lose it.”

It is understood that, rather than seek compromise, O’Neill demanded further ‘improvements’ to the game in an effort to make it a more TV-friendly spectacle including the introduction of four periods of play (or “quarters”), allowing the ball to be passed forward, full body armour for the players, rolling substitutions, specialist kickers and spectacular half-time entertainment.

“The rest of the world don’t appreciate the pressure John’s under from Rugby League and Aussie Rules,” the ARU insider said. “He needs to deliver something unique for our TV audience.”

When it became clear, however, that even the New Zealand Rugby Union would not support these new proposals, O’Neill is said to have stormed out of the summit and it later emerged that the ARU have been in secret discussions for months with the NFL to establish franchises in ACT, New South Wales and Queensland – franchises that would swallow up the Brumbies, Waratahs and Reds organisations. The new franchises would compete against the likes of the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers in the NFL next season.

“It makes sense financially,” confirmed the ARU insider. “The TV revenue alone would be enormous and will give us the fiscal muscle to compete with the other sports in this country. We might even consider including the NRL in future discussions.”

When asked about the fate of the Western Force the ARU insider is reported to have replied:

“Who gives a f**k about those drongos.”

The conference’s recommendations will be voted on by the IRB next month.