Friday, 29 January 2010

Best team I ever saw?

During my recent self-indulgent nostalgia trip back into the eighties I got to thinking about the best rugby football team I ever saw.

Before I go on, I hereby acknowledge that attempting to judge the merits of teams from different eras is fraught with difficulty being, by its very nature, entirely subjective. There have, after all, been a number of outstanding rugby teams during the decades in which I've followed the sport: the Welsh and British Lions teams of the seventies, for instance, or the Springboks of the nineties, or the England team from 1999-2003 and not forgetting, of course, the All Blacks in between just about every World Cup:)

Nevertheless, I can confidently declare that the best team I have ever witnessed was the Wallabies team that toured Britain and Ireland in 1984.

Put simply, the 1984 Wallabies captured my imagination like no other team had before or has since. Northern hemisphere rugby at the time (France excepted) was a largely pedestrian affair (plus ça change) featuring big, slow, cumbersome and mostly moustached forwards and, at least in England, life-threateningly uninpsirational backs. Anyone remember Brian Barley and Rob Lozowski in the England midfield for instance? The arrival of the free-flowing and exotic Aussies to our shores was therefore a breath of fresh air.

Those 1984 Wallabies were synonymous with running rugby, hardly surprsing given the talent within their back division. The likes of Mark Ella, David Campese, Roger Gould, Andrew Slack, Michael Lynagh, Brendan Moon, Matthew Burke and Nick Farr-Jones graced our rugby pitches that Autumn, playing rugby that was light years ahead of anything else on offer at the time.

Perhaps more surprising was the fact that their forward pack was also pretty damned useful. A powerful scrummaging front row featuring Topo Rodriguez, Tom Lawton and Andy McIntyre was ably assisted by athletic ball-handling back five forwards such as Steve Williams, Steve Cutler, Simon Poidevin, Steve Tuynman and David Codey who were more than capable of mixing it with the best we had to offer as well as supporting their talented three-quarters in open play.

On an 18 match tour the 1984 Wallabies contrived to lose 4 matches, but their 1st XV was more than a match for the home nations as they eased their way to a Grand Slam, beating England 19-6, Ireland 16-9, Wales 28-9 and Scotland 37-12.

Impressive results, but it was the way they achieved those results playing innovative and attractive rugby that will live long in the memory.

And love him or loathe him, David Campese was unarguably the star of the show - here's why:

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Strange but true

Another piece of fascinating (sic) rugby miscellany which rises to the surface of this blog from time to time...

According to legend, French rugby player Gaston Vareilles contrived to miss his international debut against Scotland in 1910 thanks to the lure of a sandwich.

When his team's train stopped at Lyon en route to Paris, Monsieur Vareilles decided to hop out to the buffet. Unfortunately, however, the queue at the caféteria was rather long and he returned to the the platform, sandwhich in hand, to find the train disappearing over the horizon.

Vareille was replaced in the French team that day by sprinter André Franquenelle (who had turned up as a spectator) and was never selected to play for France again. Franquenelle, meanwhile, won two more caps for France.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Memory Lane

With the 6 Nations squads now announced the hype, build-up and anticipation can now begin in earnest. Every year it is the same - eager expectations leading up to the tournament, expectations in recent years built on faith and hope rather than on any logical reasoning, followed by feelings of being horribly let down once the England team actually start playing.

Twas ever thus and was especially so during the dark days of the 1980s. Then, like now, I would approach each February with huge enthusiasm and hopelessly unrealistic optimism. And then, like now, I would reach March with an an air of apathetic disillusionment once England had revealed their true colours.

After the glorious Grand Slam of 1980 the England team deteriorated pretty rapidly as the likes of Beaumont, Uttley, Neary and Cotton reached the end of their careers to be replaced by inferior models. Analogies with the 2003 World Cup team are easy to draw.

The decade that followed the 1980 Grand Slam saw a series of awful 5 Nations displays and some fairly forgettable players don the white shirt of England. Does anyone recall the likes of Graham Robbins, Dave Cusani, Steve Boyle or Bob Hesford? No? Exactly. And they were just the forwards.

Thrashed regularly by France and beaten habitually by Wales, there are two performances in particular that I recall that sum up England's efforts in the eighties: the humiliation of watching Scotland run amok at Murrayfield in 1986 as they eased to a 33-6 victory, a day we made the Sweaties look like world-beaters; and an abject performance in Dublin in 1987, a match in which we rarely looked like achieving competence (let alone troubling the scoresheet) as we sank to a 0-17 defeat in the opening match of the tournament.

It comes to something when the highlight of a decade at Twickenham was probably Erica Roe's topless streak in 1982 but there was also the occasional shaft of light (rugby-wise) - Chris Oti's hat-trick at HQ against Ireland in 1988 to a chorus of 'Swing Low' as we won 35-6 springs to mind, and the eighties also saw the emergence of future warriors in the shape of Brian Moore, Wade Dooley, Dean Richards, Mick Skinner and the magnificent Peter Winterbottom, all of whom would go on to serve their country with distinction in the 1990s.

But that, as they say, is another story...

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Now THAT'S a ban

What's the betting that David Attoub's 70 week ban for gouging will:

(a) be denounced by Stade President Max Guazzini as "Anti-French" and

(b) be reduced or overturned by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, meaning Attoub might be allowed to play in the T14?

Neverthless, congratulations must go to Jeff Blackett and his disciplinary panel for growing a pair and imposing a proper sanction for this most cowardly of offences.

Let's just hope it sets a precedent.

Blimey

News from across the great divide where Castleford Tigers coach Terry Matterson has recently provided incontrovertible proof that Australian Rugby League types are seriously hard bastards.

Matterson, it seems, contrived to have a finger ripped off in a freak accident at a training camp in the south of France, catching his wedding ring in a steel fence while jumping over it to retrieve a ball...And it wasn't until after he had retrieved the ball that he realised what had happened.

"One minute I was climbing a fence looking for a ball, then the next I was looking for my finger, " Matterson is reported to have commented afterwards, adding in a somewhat understated fashion:

"It's not ideal."

Bill McLaren RIP

Sad news today that rugby commentating legend Bill McLaren has died, aged 86.

I very much grew up with McLaren's commentary. With phrases like "Those props are as cunning as a bag o’ weasels" and "He’s like a demented ferret up a wee drainpipe," rugby on the telly hasn't quite been the same since his retirement in 2002.

Rest in Peace Bill.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Here comes the summer?

I should be playing rugby today. I'm not, for various reasons including the fact that it's my son's 7th birthday party (although you'd think a clever Dad might manage to avoid that particular punishment) and, of course, my continued obesity and lack of fitness. Even if fit and available, however, my game this weekend would have been cancelled owing to the continuing wintry conditions.

This brings me on to my thought for the day (it's dangerous to have more than one)...

The weather has meant that Chesham 1st XV, for example, haven't played a fixture for more than a month and I'm sure that amateur rugby clubs up and down the land are experiencing similar problems.

Which begs the question: isn't it about time that we sorted out the northern hemisphere rugby season so that we avoid playing in December and January?

Not only are matches lost to the weather, but so are training sessions at both senior and - perhaps more importantly - mini rugby level. And when training does take place it is cold, wet and thoroughly miserable, hardly the environment to nurture and encourage our future talent.

It makes eminent sense to me to look very seriously at the feasibility of summer rugby. As well as being far more enjoyable, playing rugby in decent conditions would undoubtedly allow skills to develop more readily and the game would be far more entertaining to watch (and - with the prospect of cold beers and and a barbeque - a far more pleasant experience).

There may be an argument that harder ground might lead to more injuries but, let's be honest, how often do we have a long dry summer these days? And, even if we did, I'm sure we'd adapt.

Perhaps more importantly, a switch to summer rugby would finally provide the opportunity for the northern and southern hemispheres to align their respective rugby seasons, giving us that long sought-after holy grail - the global season.

You know it makes sense.

Undecipherable quote of the week

Sales Sharks DoR Kingsley Jones talking about the ongoing speculation surrounding Dwayne Peel:

"I think Dwayne is bigger than Christiano Ronaldo in terms of Manchester and in terms of Welsh rugby."

Huh?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Matt Hampson Six Nations Dinner

I've been asked to help publicise a forthcoming dinner at the Battersea Evolution on Wednesday 3rd March in aid of Matt Hampson, the young England U21 prop who suffered a catastrophic neck injury in 2005.

I'm more than happy to do so.

The dinner is supported by Martin Johnson and the full England squad and money raised will go to the Matt Hampson Trust, which offers help and support to the spinally injured.

For more info please take a look at http://www.matthampson.co.uk/user/content/hambo-dinner.pdf

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

I never thought I'd see the day

I never thought I'd see the day when the USA would elect a black President.

I never thought I'd see the day when bankers would become more vilified than politicians, or even estate agents.

I never thought I'd see the day when temperatures in the UK would plummet to below those of a domestic freezer.

And I never thought I'd see the day when a man named Shontayne would be chosen to play rugby for England.

Weighty matters

Further news this week in the seemingly never-ending saga of Mr. Gavin Church.

The orange one is, apparently, talking to the Ospreys about a possible comeback to the game after spending the last couple of years or so swanning about on his yacht getting pissed injured.

One problem appears to be that he has reportedly lost around 3 stone from his playing weight, just tipping the scales at around 11½ stone these days.

This shouldn’t necessarily be a problem as, by happy coincidence, I have about 3 stone to spare. All Mr. Church need do is contact me at totalflanker-blog@yahoo.co.uk with a sensible offer.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

3D

So, it’s been announced that England's 6 Nations encounter with Wales at Twickenham on 6th February is to be Europe's first live 3D sports broadcast.

The Welsh match will be broadcast to 3D-bespectacled rugby fans in 40 cinemas across the UK and England's match against Ireland on 27th February will follow suit.

According to the blurb, “sophisticated polarised 3D cameras” will give fans “the closest experience of the atmosphere inside Twickenham.”

Given England's one-dimensional rugby during the autumn, let us pray that someone in the RFU has informed Martin Johnson’s team that all three dimensions are now available.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Gollum?

Anyone read the Brian Moore interview in today's Sunday Times?

Blimey. The recent revelations about Moore having been sexually abused as a boy were shocking enough, but Paul Kimmage's interview with the former England hooker reveals a man in torment, a man dealing with chronic low self-esteem and who appears to have a Gollum-like character in his head constantly criticising and putting him down.

The interview is an incredibly sad, moving and somewhat alarming read and digs deep into the psyche of this hugely driven individual. Moore comes across as a total basket case, it's true, but a basket case who is painfully aware of his issues and failings and who is desperate to be "normal" and happy.

It's an utterly fascinating article and his new autobiography looks like it will be a must-read book.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Rugby Pioneers

Sticking to something of an historical theme, while googling for interesting rugby images I came across this photo of an encounter between two French clubs (featuring a player sporting a beret) dating back to the early 1930s, just one image from a fabulous collection of images and other rugby memorabilia to be found at rugby-pioneers.blogs.com .

The site is the brainchild of Frederic Humbert, a collector fascinated by the early days of rugby (between 1870 and the 1930s) and who has built up a superb collection of memorabilia, much of which is displayed on the site.

The odd thing is that I've known about and admired rugby-pioneers.blogs.com for some time now and had assumed that I had included a link to it from this blog. It came as a big surprise to me to discover that I had omitted to include such a link - something I can now put right.

For rugby geeks like yours truly there are hours of fascination to be had at this site. I recommend, however, that you do not access rugby-pioneers.blogs.com from your computer at work - not unless you are prepared to be entirely unproductive.

Keep up the good work Frederic!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

From the ridiculous to the sublime

Glory be!

At last, a rugby shirt that looks like a rugby shirt.

Following the purple monstrosity, England rugby players will finally look like proper rugby players (before kick off, at least) when they don a one-off commemorative jersey against Wales on 6th February to mark the centenary of Twickenham stadium.

It is, of course, no more than a blatant marketing ploy designed to fill the coffers at the RFU, but on this occasion I really don't mind at all. It's a proper rugby shirt after all, with a collar, with no sponsor's logo on the front and, by the looks of it, with long sleeves.

Which means that many of the England players will even have to roll their sleeves up, literally as well as metaphorically.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Making History

Well done to John Birch of Letchworth Girls Rugby fame who, in the midst of his epic research into the history of women's rugby, appears to have unearthed a remarkable story of what may possibly have been the first girl to have played rugby.

It seems that in 1884 a teenage girl - Miss E F Valentine - having been refused permission to play rugby at her school, Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland (this was Victorian Britain after all) started playing rugby with her brothers and friends every Saturday, and some records even suggest that they played some fixtures in 1885.

So, a female version of William Webb Ellis perhaps (although factually more accurate)?

For more on this remarkable story click here...

Belated congrats

Rather belatedly I'd like to add my congratulations to Ian McGeechan on the knighthood awarded to him in the New Year's honours list.

Whilst not a huge fan of the honours system in the UK (it being a tad silly to be awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire when no such Empire exists), given that gongs do get awarded to all and sundry these days I'd say that Geech's achievements in rugby over the years are certainly worthy of the highest recognition.

Arise Sir Geech!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Rugby Lover

On a lighter note, whilst checking out rugbyblip recently I stumbled across an ad for rugbylover.co.uk.

It turns out that this isn't, as the name might suggest, a site for lovers of rugby but is more a site for people who are looking for lovers who are also lovers of rugby (!) - somewhat cheesily describing itself as providing "UK Dating for lovers of rugby to find their rugby match."

I should point out that, being very happily married to Mrs Flanker, I have not attempted to use the services provided by said site, nor am I endorsing such services in any way, shape or form. I am merely amused by the concept of a dating site for people looking for rugby types and would be happy to hear from anyone who might have used the service, successfully or otherwise.

Perhaps more alarming is the name of one of its sister sites - horseylover.co.uk

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Beware of the Dog

The cynics (and I admit I have been known to be somewhat cynical from time to time) will question the timing of Brian Moore's revelation that he suffered sexual abuse as a child and wonder whether it is an entire coincidence that he has a book to sell.

The admission is, nevertheless, hugely shocking - far more so than the public coming out of Gareth Thomas - and perhaps goes some way to explain Moore's infamous nastiness on the field of play, amongst other things.

Profit or no profit, going public with a such a revelation can't have been easy. "Brave" is an overused word but is entirely appropriate in the context of such a taboo subject matter.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Total Flanker Guide to: 2010

Welcome to 2010. I don't yet know whether it's "twenty-ten" or "two-thousand-and-ten" but welcome anyway. The noughties are at an end and now we enter whatever this particular decade will be known as (the teenies?).

Welcome, too, to the 661st entry on this blog - little did I or anyone else suspect, when I started this drivel some 2½ years ago, that I'd still be droning on come 2010. Even more astounding is that this blog has now received over 80,000 visitors which just goes to show that there's no accounting for taste.

The beginning of the new year also sees me uphold the tradition of attempting to make predictions as to what might occur in the year ahead and so, with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek and with nothing other than a healthy dose of scepticism and anti-logic on which to base my guesswork analysis, here goes:

IRB - I hate to think what the IRB might do in 2010 to further ruin our sport. Prepare yourself for ever more confusing edicts issued to referees on how to interpret the breakdown and brace yourselves for the carnage to follow.

Six Nations - I've a feeling deep within the recesses of my bowels that this could be England's year. Madness, I concede, and the form of the participating nations during the autumn dictates that the title should go to either France or Ireland. The Irish, however, have all the scrummaging power of an Under 8s tag rugby team and I can certainly see them coming unstuck away from home in Paris and Twickenham. France, meanwhile, remain at the whim of their head coach Marc Lièvremont. If he picks his best team and sticks with it they could prove unstoppable, but that's a very big if. England are, on the other hand, significantly ahead of where they were this time last year (when they eventually came 2nd) and if Messrs Flutey and Armitage can stay fit I can see England winning their home games as well as picking up wins in Rome and Edinburgh. So England 1st, France 2nd, Ireland 3rd, Scotland 4th, Wales 5th and Italy again taking the wooden spoon.

Premiership - Really tough to call this one. I can see Saracens' ruthless efficiency being enough for them to end up top of the pile at the end of the regular season but they're going to need much, much more creativity if they are to succeed in the play-offs. Northampton and London Irish have played some great stuff this year and, in Jim Mallinder and Toby Booth, each have an England coach in waiting but, somewhat inevitably, I suspect that Leicester and Wasps will once again be the teams to beat at the business end of the season, with Wasps sneaking in late and winning the title at Twickenham. At the other end I'm very sorry to say that Neil Back's Leeds look doomed.

Heineken Cup - If the Premiership was tough to call, the Heineken Cup is pretty much impossible. Neither Leinster nor Munster can be written off, while it really is time a French club got its act together in this competition. I don't think any of the English clubs are capable of mounting a credible challenge this year while the Welsh teams, I suspect, will continue to under-achieve. If I have to stick my neck out I'd say that Stade Français must sooner or later repay the huge amount of cash invested in their squad, so why not this year?

Super 14 - You know what, I really haven't a clue (or, I admit, a huge amount of interest) in who might take the Super 14 (or 15, or however many teams are taking part this season) crown this year. My only prediction - and I say this with some confidence - is that it won't be an Australian team - which (given my expertise in these matters) is probably a cause for celebration by fans of the Reds, Brumbies, Waratahs et al...

Tri Nations - Conversely (or perversely if you prefer) I do fancy the Aussies for this one (to the dismay of Australians everywhere). Of the three southern hemisphere teams who played oop north this autumn they looked by far the most accomplished, despite the rather amusing blip against Scotland. Although it pains me to admit it, the Wallaby front row was just superb, whilst David Pocock looked immense and Matt Giteau is currently the world's best 10 in my book. Just to put the kaibosh on their chances I'd also install them as favourites for the 2011 RWC.

Chesham Vets - whatever Chesham Vets accomplish this year, I only hope I'm part of it. A dodgy back has led to very little physical activity since October with the inevitable results - I'm fat, unfit and not about to set the rugby fields of Buckinghamshire alight any time soon. It's a cliché to say that my new year's resolution is to lose weight and get fit ('twas ever thus) but times are getting more than a little desperate...

A happy and prosperous New Year to you!