Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Back in touch

I was pleased to get back to playing Touch Rugby last night having missed last week owing to my daughter's unfortunate accident outlined in the post below.

Last night we were up against the previously unbeaten "H Team" - a team formed by Vets' centre Phil who had poached two of our number from last season (albeit his daughter and her boyfriend) prior to the league starting. Sadly, however, we were not to see the blistering pace of Carl (the boyfriend) as he was nursing a leg injury. Shame really as I'm sure I could have taken him (yeah right).

Actually it was just as well he wasn't playing as it was hard enough keeping up with all the other young fit things populating their team (Phil obviously deciding to invest in youth to do his running for him).

We started reasonably brightly before enduring a ropey few minutes before half time in which we conceded a couple of soft tries, one of being a dispiriting length of the pitch interception. Early in the second half we found ourselves trailing by 3 tries but fought back and played some decent stuff in the process, just losing out 7-6 at the whistle.

Personally it was a good blow out after a couple of weeks of inactivity. I played ok in patches, delivered a few scoring passes, made some yards and even stepped my way past 3 defenders at one stage before being let down by a chronic lack of acceleration.

Plus ça change...

Monday, 25 May 2009

Good week, bad week

It's been one helluva week for yours truly, for reasons explained later - but who are the other winners and losers from the last 7 days?

GOOD WEEK:

  1. Leinster - great week for the Irish province winning their first Heineken Cup at Murrayfield on Saturday. A second successive win for an Irish team in Europe, following an Irish Grand Slam this year, is a strong indicator of how the balance of power in European rugby has shifted in the last couple of years.

  2. Steve Thompson - the forgotten man of English rugby, Wally has been picked for the England squad to take on the BaaBaas and Argentina over the next few weeks. If he can get anywhere near his 2002-2003 form it's no exaggeration to suggest that he could transform the England forward effort.

  3. South Africa - I admit that I haven't been paying much attention to the talks on the future of SANZAR rugby but it seems to me like the South Africans have very much been allowed to have their cake and eat it. Here's what Sportsfreak makes of it all...

BAD WEEK:

  1. Bath Rugby - oh dear. A punch up with Quins players outside a Fulham pub, accusations of recreational drugs use, the sudden "retirement" of Justin 'Plank' Harrison and a bunch of players refusing to provide hair samples all suggests that there's an underlying problem at the club and that Matt Stevens was perhaps not an isolated case. Tight head prop Duncan Bell, meanwhile, spent the day in question clearing out his garage :)

  2. Alan Quinlan, Jerry Flannery & Leigh ½p - all not on the plane to South Africa for various reasons. Quinlan deserves little sympathy and ½p may well join the tour at some point but Flannery's chipped elbow is majorly unfortunate. That said, with Croft, Ford and Hook joining the squad (although what Delon Armitage has done wrong escapes me), the Lions squad hardly looks weaker.

  3. Danny Cipriani - not in the England squad and seemingly behind Flood, Goode, Geraghty, Vesty and possibly Wilkinson in the pecking order. Oh how the mighty have fallen etc...


  4. Newcastle United - apologies for straying off-topic into the world of football, but yesterday the fate of the club I've supported since 1971 was sealed by another limp display from a bunch of overpaid underachievers, the 1-0 defeat at Villa condemning us to playing in the fizzy pop league next season. My fingers are firmly crossed that Alan Shearer will stay on as manager, with backing from the owner, and be given the chance to clear out all the deadwood and begin to build the club from the bottom up. Fat chance.

  5. My daughter- all of the above misfortune pails into utter insignificance, I'm afraid, compared to the week I've had with my 7 year old little girl who fell badly on Monday evening and suffered a compound fracture of her right forearm. Seeing your child in that much pain and discomfort is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy and the subsequent 3 hour operation and couple of nights in hospital were really, really tough on all of us. I must say, though, that the staff at Watford General's children's ward were just superb and my daughter is now very much on the mend. Not an experience I'd care to repeat however.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Get well soon Nursedude

Blimey.

Surfing a few rugby related blogs this afternoon and was utterly gobsmacked to read that, less than 48 hours after playing rugby last Saturday, Nursedude - regular reader of and contributor to this blog - ended up in hospital with chronic chest pain that was soon diagnosed as a pulmonary embolism (that = blood clots on the lung to you and me).

For some unfathomable technical reason Nursedude's blog won't let me leave a comment so I'd like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt "Get well soon fella."

It looks like the next 5 or 6 months will involve taking blood thinners which means rugby is off the agenda for a while but, as Nursedude admits, that's a small price to pay for being alive. Talk about a reminder of one's own mortality...

Nursedude's bravery, however, obviously knows no bounds as his willingness to publish a picture of himself in THIS SHIRT demonstrates! :)

Take care of yourself matey ...

Turning Japanese

So, the RFU have unveiled England's bid to host the 2015 Rugby World Cup - and a very impressive bid it is too.

The bid was presented to the IRB Council in Dublin last week, England’s bid team outlining proposals to bring the RWC back to England for the first time in 24 years, a move it believes will "leave a lasting legacy for the global game."

With iconic stadia such as Twickeham (82,000 capacity), Wembley (90,000), the Millennium Stadium (74,000), the Emirates (61,000) and Old Trafford (76,000) amongst those proposed, there's no doubting the economic potential of this English bid - the target being to sell 3 million seats, a 30% increase on France 2007.

Not only did the bid feature the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio and Will Greenwood, it also apprently has the full support of Her Majesty’s Government (well, those members of the Government who are not too explaining away how they fiddled their expenses).

What's more, the RFU is committed, it says, to investing 100% of its surplus from the tournament back into the grassroots game at home and abroad and so, all in all, it all sounds very, very impressive indeed.

So why don't I support it?

Don't get me wrong - I'm sure that England would put on a fantastic tournament and I will undoubtedly be fighting to get tickets should the bid prove successful but I can't, in all conscience, support this bid.

The bottom line is that Japan, who were utterly shafted by the IRB when the 2011 tournament was shamefully awarded to New Zealand, deserve the 2015 gig. The Japanese also have great stadia, an excellent infrastructure, are geared up for a tourist invasion and have hosted a major world tournament relatively recently. More importantly rugby really needs to grow beyond its traditional heartlands and awarding the tournament to Japan (who have, like England, guaranteed £80m in revenue to the IRB) would send out all the right signals.

The decision will be made by the IRB Council on 28th July in Dublin and, while the head says that England could probably deliver a better financial return, the heart very much says that the 2015 Rugby World cup should go to Japan for all the right reasons.

Turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese I really think so... (The Vapors, 1980).

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Touched up

Well, here we are again as another "season" of Touch Rugby lurched into action last night at Chesham. Unbelievable really that a another year has passed and that I'm now starting my fourth consecutive summer of Touch.

I say "summer" but there's still a distinct chill in the air and, even with my particular talent for perspiration, it was still an effort to work up a sweat.

Being the first proper week of Touch there was an element of chaos involved. We've had three Tuesdays so far of what has been known as "social" Touch - but the league kicked off last night and, while you might think that teams would get organised in advance, it was evident fairly early that it would be a case of the Chairman's Stags, my team from the past three summers, cobbling together a team for the first game.

Not that it was a bad team - not by any stretch - but we were lacking in numbers and, perhaps importantly, in females and two of our players from last year - including the lightening-quick Carl - had been poached by a rival team. Bastards.

We started well and, on the whole, didn't play too badly apart from a tendency to run across the pitch rather than send runners straight down the middle. We also had the Chairman's young son playing and were guilty of leaving him isolated in defence too often - not his fault by any means and something we should have been more switched on to (although the opposition targeting a kid isn't exactly playing within the spirit of the game in my humble opinion...)

Anyway, the upshot was that we lost 4-6 to another Chesham based team - the inappropriately named "Barbarians". Not the most auspicious of starts, then, but there were upsides:

  • the fact that numbers were down meant more game time and, consequently, a better workout;

  • it can only get better; and

  • all in all, the standard doesn't appear to be that high this year with the Tring outfit not taking part (apparently they're playing "soccer" this summer - hmmmm) and with the Old Berkhamstedians, last year's winners, looking somewhat under-staffed last night. Of course, they're bound to get their act together before too long but generally no one looks unbeatable.
Famous last words.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Whatever happened to: the Mitre rugby ball?

Another in the very occasional series of ramblings about things that seem to have disappeared from rugby since I first started playing the game way back when...

Whatever happened, I ask you, to the old white leather Mitre rugby ball?

You know the one - white, leather, big black 'Mitre' logo and a very, very shiny layer to protect the ball from inclement weather. So shiny, in fact, that you pretty much had to be a world class player simply to be able to catch and pass one of those things.

Take a look at a modern rugby ball, made from super-grip rubber laminate with a bobble effect for extra grip and additional stickiness just in case you still can't catch it. And some players still resort to wearing gloves! Honestly, the modern day rugby ball should never, ever be dropped and passing on either hand really should be a doddle. (And yes, I do still manage to drop the ball with worrying frequency).

Compare the modern ball, however, to the old Mitre ball and it's like comparing chalk and cheese - only a lot more slippery. How often did that old ball spill from your grasp or squirt out of an attempted pass? How often were you simply unable to catch it? And remember - that was when the weather was dry. In the wet I honestly believe that a piglet greased in baby oil would have been far easier to catch.

Furthermore, much like Gilbert today, the Mitre ball was somehow ubiquitous throughout the UK. The company's marketing department must have been staffed by the most phenomenal of marketing gurus as it appeared that every school, college and club played with this impossible-to-catch ball. Little wonder then that the English rugby 'style' (much derided by southern hemisphere types) developed in the way it did. Up and down the land English schoolboys, college students and grassroots rugby players were busy trying to shove an over-sized white bar of soap up our jumpers as often as possible purely to ensure that it wasn't dropped. Letting those backs have the ball, while fine in principle, simply wasn't an option.

You may think that I'm exaggerating or that my memory might be playing tricks with me but I do know what I'm talking about here - you see, I still have a Mitre rugby ball from that era (pictured) and, believe me, it's near impossible to handle.

Rugby players of today - you don't know you're born.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

2nd Anniversary

Blimey. Another 12 months has slipped by in the blink of an eye and, lo and behold, this blog is somehow celebrating its 2nd anniversary.

What started out as an experiment, somewhere to air a few opinions and share my tentative steps back into playing rugby after many years sat on the sidelines, has developed over time into something way beyond my expectations. When I started the blog, not only did I not know whether I'd actually commit to playing rugby again, I also doubted very much whether the blog would last longer than 5 minutes. The fact that people out there have read and responded to the blog has therefore been a source of constant amazement and I'm always surprised and delighted that anyone has the time or inclination to post a comment, no matter whether such comment is positive or negative.

Let's face it, I've been extremely fortunate that there's been no shortage of subject matter to pontificate about: - 2 seasons of playing Vets rugby, the largely insane ELVs, a World Cup, the fluctuating form of the England team, an impending Lions tour and any number of strange-but-true rugby stories from around the world all being meat and drink to a rugby geek like yours truly.

To anyone who reads the blog - my sympathies for putting up with my inane drivel and my sincere thanks for sticking with it. The quantity of my output may have dropped in recent months but the quality remains the same - in other words I'm still spouting the same old bollocks, just not quite as often.

Tonight I shall celebrate this momentous occasion with a few beers at the rugby club dinner.

Cheers,

TF.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Fuss about nothing

There's been a huge amount of flak heading the way of the ERC this week after the Heineken Cup semi final between Leicester and Cardiff was decided by a penalty shoot out.

The words "unfair," "lottery," "humiliating" and "cruel" have been bandied about as commentators have jumped on the bandwagon to condemn this means of settling matches where teams cannot be separated after extra time.

The argument appears to be that it's unreasonable to expect a game to be decided by players having to perform a skill that is alien to many of them and that it's particularly unfair to expect forwards to convert a kick from 22 metres out in front of the posts.

Do me a favour! Anyone with a modicum of co-ordination should surely be able to make a decent fist (or foot) of taking a straightforward kick at goal. And we all know anyway that forwards all like to think they can kick a bit and love to have a sneaky practice in training.

All a shoot-out does is test whether players can handle a pressure situation and, ultimately, someone has to miss. There has been an enormous outpouring of sympathy for Cardiff's Martyn Williams who missed the crucial kick and, while I'm not entirely unsympathetic to his plight, he's a big boy who I'm sure will get over it. Who knows, he may even land himself a pizza ad as a result. If anything, it was disappointing that we didn't get to see Gethin Jenkins take on Julian White in a head-to- head Prop Idol kicking duel.

Of course, the whole argument is pretty much academic as how often have we seen major matches finish level at full time, let alone after extra time. OK, a couple of World Cup Finals have come close, admittedly, but the scoring system in rugby means that it's highly unlikely that we're going to see this happen on a regular basis.

And if we do, I say bring on the props!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Jumpers for goalposts

Just when I thought it was safe to venture back to the rugby club...

With the hours of daylight getting longer, with the weather ever-improving and with social touch rugby sessions in full swing on Tuesday evenings ahead of the touch league season starting on 12th May, I could have been forgiven for thinking that the rugby season was done and dusted for another year. Time to put the boots and gumshield into mothballs for another summer and reflect on another season back playing this wonderful game of of ours.

Or so I thought. Ever since the cancellation of our final match of the season, Vets skipper Colin had been murmuring about not letting the season peter out and about having one last match to see off the season in style...

And so it transpired that a bunch of us turned up at the club yesterday for what was, ostensibly, a Vets vs 2nd XV match. In fact, it was a game for anyone who fancied a runout (and several that didn't) and who hadn't volunteered for or been press-ganged into going on tour with the rest of the club to some seaside town full of unsuspecting English holidaymakers.

The format of the game was simple enough. Thirty players who, after ensuring that there were 2 complete front rows, were split up fairly randomly into 2 equal sides. Our team featured mainly Vets, supplemented by a few more youthful souls with extremely useful pace and stamina - and the opposition were pretty similar in make-up - so more by luck by judgement we ended up with 2 fairly evenly matched sides.

Colin, who had magnanimously declared himself to be referee, explained the laws to us - or, as they shall now be known, the CREEPs (Colin's Radical Experimental & Exciting Permutations). As the goalposts had already been taken down, there would be no kicking at goal and, just to make things interesting (for him and anyone watching, rather than for those playing) all kicking of any nature was outlawed, punishable by (ironically) a free kick. Jumpers were placed over the holes in which the goalposts had once resided and the pitch was marked out with tape and cones. And so, with the sun beating down and with the temperature rising, we kicked off - or rather tapped and passed off - to start the match...

As it turned out, despite the heat, despite the fact that there were no automatic rest periods to allow the ball to be retrieved from the hedge from whence it had been hoofed, despite the fatigue that hit me after about 10 minutes and stayed with me for the rest of the game and despite the grazed knees and chaffed elbows, it turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable runaround. Our team ended up scoring several tries, the opposition not quite so many, but no one was really keeping count and, with the no-kicking rule being strictly adhered to, there was plenty of opportunity to get hands on the ball and gallop around the paddock like a fat asthmatic gazelle with a hip replacement. And if sweating was an international sport I'd be a shoe-in for the England team, I guarantee it.

I can only hope that there are no Australians reading this blog. How long before news filters through to John O'Neil of this radical new approach to the game? How long before the IRB adopts the CREEPs internationally? How long before, in order to speed up the game and make it more "accessible", goalposts are removed, kicking of any kind is outlawed and games are decided purely on the number of tries scored?

Give me a sedate game of rugby in the mud any day.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Monsieur Le Showbizz?

News this week that Seabass Chabal is swapping the somewhat prosaic delights of Stockport for the ever-so-slightly up-market surroundings of Paris next season, signing up with newly promoted Racing Métro.

Racing Métro 92 Paris (to give the club its full name) is, of course, the successor in title to Racing Club de France who, in the late 80s and early 90s (very much MY era) added a certain glitz and glamour to the French club rugby scene via its self-styled "Le Showbizz" backline featuring the likes of Franck Mesnel, Jean-Baptiste Lafond, Eric Blanc, Yvon Rousset and Philippe Guillard.

The highlight of this era for Racing was winning the French Championship in 1990, with Le Showbizz wearing pink bow-ties during the final and sipping champagne from crystal glasses at half-time.

The Caveman should fit right in.