Sunday, 28 February 2010

I've seen the future

...and his name is Ben Foden.

A major (although not the only) silver lining to the black cloud of England's defeat to Ireland yesterday was, I thought, the performance of replacement fullback Ben Foden.

It may have taken an injury to Delon Armitage to force Johnno to relent and finally give Foden some game time but the impact was immediate and dramatic. Unlike the passive Armitage, Foden went hunting for the ball and, unlike the England centres, constantly asked questions of the Irish defence.

He even comes with ready-made celebrity girlfriend (and we know how much Johnno just loves that).

Anyway, for the record here's my assessment of the England players' performances:

15. Armitage 5 (out of 10) - passive and anonymous
14. Cueto 6 - solid and unspectacular
13. Tait 6 - had his moments, just not enough of them
12. Flutey 4 - was he playing?
11. Monye 5 - good under high ball but will somebody please take his blinkers off
10. Wilkinson 7 - best game for a while although missed kicks at goal ultimately costly
9. Care 5 - would've been a 7 if not for daft penalty reversal
1. Payne 7 - had the measure of Hayes all afternoon
2. Hartley 5 - lineout's becoming a problem
3. Cole 8 - a real find this season, great scrummaging and deserved try
4. Shaw - wasn't on long enough to grade..
5. Borthwick 6 - decent enough game but lineout was hit and miss
6. Haskell 6 - half decent second half after anonymous first period
7. Moody 7 - worked his socks off as usual with little support from back row colleagues
8. Easter 4 - worst game I've seen from him. How many times does he need to be told to stay onside?

Reps:
Deacon 5 - outshone by an unfit DOC - Lawes in next time please
Foden 8 - real impact. Shoe-in for Scotland
Worsley 6 - should have replaced Easter rather than Moody
Hodgson 7 - very composed and could start at Murrayfield
Mears 7 - another itching for a start next time out
Wilson 7 - looks like England now have genuine options at tighthead. Needs to sort out the man boobs though.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Lomu gets the message

Some of you may remember that last March the junior section of Vigo Rugby Club in Spain wrote a message in a bottle intended for the attention of All Black legend Jonah Lomu.

Well, eleven months and 41,000 kilometres later the bottle/message has reached its final destination, with Lomu taking possession last Sunday following the match between his current club Marseille Vitrolles Rugby and Sporting Club Mazametain.

It appears that the the six degrees of separation theory that lay behind the plan to get the message to Lomu didn't quite work, with the former All Black being the seventh link in the chain.

For more on this story click here.

Postscript

As an aside from the comments of a certain Mr J. Wilkinson yesterday I'd like to put on record that I, too, am rarely satisfied by my rugby performances, largely owing to the fact that I am a far more talented rugby player in my head than ever manifests itself on the field of play.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

He can't get no....satisfaction

Extracts from The Art of Positive Thinking by Jonathan Peter Wilkinson, aged 30 ¾ :

"I'm as unsatisfied as I've ever been. In every game I've ever played I've never been satisfied.

"I'm at the same level of dissatisfaction as I've been throughout my entire career.

"I will probably resign in however many years probably the most unsatisfied man in the world but I'm happy to go that way because it keeps me driving.

"I don't mind coming off the field saying I could have done that better. Give me long enough and I'd find 100 things for you. "

Sunday, 21 February 2010

But is it rugby?

Given how negative much of the rugby in the northern hemisphere has been this season we're hardly in a position to criticise, but how on earth can defences be so bad so as to allow a 72-65 scoreline?

Judge for yourself...



Friday, 19 February 2010

The English are coming

It appears that the Super 14 will this year be graced by the ample frame of none other than former Leicester pivot Andy Goode.

The Sharks, it is reported, have decided to replace the injured Juan Martin Hernandez in their squad by recruiting the big-boned, non-tackling, 29 year old England fly-half from Brive.

Setting aside my shock that he is still only 29, the announcement of Goode's arrival in Durban this year and today's confirmation of Danny Cipriani's much-anticipated move to Melbourne next year suggests that there might be a sinister pattern emerging. Keep it under your hat, but the Super 14/15 is slowly but surely being infiltrated by English playmakers (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) with a view to rendering southern hemisphere backlines utterly impotent.

All part of Martin Johnson's cunningly fiendish masterplan?

Mwahaha, Muwhahaha!!!!!!!

Monday, 15 February 2010

@...

A few short messages aimed @ some of the weekend's participants:

@ Steve Borthwick - please engage brain before speaking. The performance wasn't as bad as some are making out but "FANTASTIC" it certainly wasn't.

@ Martin Johnson - with 3 front row forwards on the bench you let Italy set the agenda. The game was crying out for Ben Foden. Please trust in talent.

@ the RFU - clearly the only solution is to wear the retro shirts on a permanent basis. You know it makes sense.

@ France - sacre bleu. Bloody impressive mes amis.

@ Jerry Flannery - very, very lucky to stay on the parc. Collective myopia from match officials. Expect to miss at least the next match though.

@ Scotland - WTF? The most astonishing piece of mass hara-kiri ever witnessed on a rugby field?

@ Thom Evans - get well soon - ditto Chris Paterson.

@ Lee Byrne - I seriously hope that it WASN'T a dive.

@ Andy Powell - charged with drink driving in a golf buggy? MUPPET.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Twitter strikes again

Thank heavens that gay rugby ref Nigel Owens has responded with appropriate good humour to the so-called "homophobic outburst" on Twitter by Welsh forward Jonathan Thomas .

Despite an outraged response from the likes of The Independent and gay rights rent-a-quote Peter Tatchell, Thomas's "homophobic outburst" was in fact no more than a schoolboy joke.

In response to Opsreys team mate Ian Evans tweeting "Legs and ass are in bits, can't move," Thomas is reported to have replied "U gotta stop hanging round with Nigel Owens!"

Being possessed of a somewhat puerile sense of humour myself I actually thought that the tweet was quite funny but it was clearly all too much for the PC brigade.

The Independent referred to the tweet as "offensive" whilst Tatchell called it "unacceptable".

Thankfully common sense has been added to the equation by Owens who referred to the matter as being "just banter."

"I have no issues with people pulling my leg like that," said Owens, "it's been taken totally out of context, I think people are sometimes losing their sense of humour."

Good for you Nigel.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Crime and Punishment

News today that Alun-Wyn Jones has been selected to play against Scotland on Saturday and thus is given a chance to make amends for his yellow card against England.

A-WJ has not escaped scot-free, however, as Messrs Gatland and Edwards will, we understand, make the Welsh lock wear a specially commissioned jersey...



He's a Celebrity...

Being firmly of the opinion that his players should spend as much time as possible in the celebrity spotlight, Martin Johnson would no doubt have been delighted to learn that Saturday's man-of-the-match James "Le Hask" Haskell is, according to that scurrilous tabloid the Daily Telegraph, now "courting" Jo-Emma Larvin, ex-girlfriend of Welsh boxing legend Joe Calzaghe.

Miss Larvin is, according to her agent's website, a former glamour model who has since turned her talents to TV presenting (as Jim Davidson's glamorous assistant on The Generation Game) and acting, where her mastery of the renowned "Meisner Technique" bagged her the lead female role in a McFly music video. In other words she makes Kelly Brook look like A list.

Total Flanker...bringing you the stories that matter.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Weekend reflections

This weekend the Flanker household was visited by the winter vomiting bug. Mrs Flanker succumbed on Thursday night (and is still suffering the after effects today) while young Master Flanker spent from 1.30 am to 7.30 am on Sunday morning retching his little heart out every 45 minutes. With little Miss Flanker also recuperating after a minor operation it meant an exhausting weekend for yours truly who was in full nursemaid mode for the entire weekend.

Domestic God, I can safely report, I am not. My only respite was, fortunately, the sofa, the TV and the 6 Nations (with Mrs Flanker indisposed, there was no one to object) and, whilst not exactly serving up a feast of high quality rugby, the opening weekend did, I think, pour a tasty aperitif ahead of the weeks to come.

In Dublin Italy did what they always do – provide awkward, obdurate opposition without ever looking like getting a result. Ireland started well, but were soon – like many a team before them - dragged into the attritional abyss that the Italians so enjoy. Ireland’s lineout dominated and their scrum held up surprisingly well, but the rest of their game was, after the first half hour or so, shambolic. Early days, however, and we’ll know more after Paris.

England v Wales, despite being error-ridden, lacked nothing in intensity and was a great result (if not performance) from the men in cream. Alun-Wyn Jones will be kicking himself after his yellow card but his public lambasting by Warren Gatland only served to hide the painful truth that, James Hook and the 57 year old Martyn Williams aside, Wales were largely rubbish. To be fair, England weren’t much better but a much improved James Haskell produced a combative, muscular performance on the flank (although his man of the match medal should probably, in my humble opinion, have gone to one of Messrs Borthwick or Easter). The return of Riki Flutey to a moribund England backline cannot come soon enough, however.

After watching the Scotland scrummage being savaged by the French on Sunday I wonder what Euan Murray was thinking this morning about his decision not to play on Sundays on religious grounds. Cards on the table here – I’m an atheist. Not a card-carrying, evangelical atheist but an atheist nonetheless. As such (and I appreciate that this comes from an ignorance of the scriptures) my understanding is that “the Sabbath” falls on either a Saturday or a Sunday depending upon your particular persuasion. It follows that, as pretty much all professional rugby is played on a Saturday or a Sunday, being a professional rugby player is somewhat incompatible with holding such fervent beliefs. That said, I can think of only two words to describe the French – effing ENORMOUS!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Where women glow and men plunder?

How is it that, one day before the start of the Six Nations, Martin Johnson faces questions not about his team's chances against the Welsh but about where a player who is currently his country's 6th choice fly half might be playing his rugby next season?

I'm referring of course to Danny Cipriani who is heavily rumoured to be planning to take his scrum cap and his model girlfriend Down Under to hook up with the Melbourne Rebels next season, having (maybe rightly) concluded that there was no future for him with Johnson's England.

Asked whether Cipriani could play for Melbourne and stay in the England squad Johnno was typically forthright: "No of course it's not...it is impossible for him to play for England in the Six Nations if he is over there. I am sure he understands that."

Who knows how accurate the rumours are? Personally I think it'd be a huge cop out by Cipriani. Stay and prove the England management wrong or run away and prove that Johnson's suspicions as to his character are spot on?

Bottom line is that if he was playing well enough he'd be closer to a return for England. Fact is he isn't, and 2nd choice fullback for the Saxons is about his level right now.

Oh, for pity's sake...

(That's the clean version above).

The tinkering with the breakdown continues.

Yet another new interpretation, it seems, will be in use during the Six Nations.

Just when teams were coming to terms with the interpretation in vogue since the summer and beginning to rediscover the art of attack, along comes the IRB in full meddling mode - deciding that tacklers must now give their prone victims time to release the ball before attempting to steal possession.

What constitutes "time" no one knows.

It is reported that the Stormers, who will play under the same interpretation in Super 14, have been trialling a new scheme of clapping their hands over their prey to show officials they have given the tackled player a chance to play the ball. That's how farcical the situation has become.

Not so long ago the law was simple - the tackler simply had to roll away or be penalised - no ifs, no buts. Everyone knew exactly where they stood.

Thanks to the seemingly unaccountable buffoons at the IRB, however, players and refs now pretty much have to cope with laws which appear to shift in emphasis from week to week.

You really couldn't make it up, although that is exactly what the IRB appear to be doing.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A lovely quote...

...from Bill McLaren's grandson Gregor Lawson last week at the great man's funeral:

"Papa used to always say he ranked a distant third in nana's affections behind Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller. We all knew that was just a tease - he was actually fourth behind Gregor Townsend..."

...showing that wit and a great turn of phrase runs in the family.

Monday, 1 February 2010

He's at it again

I'm referring of course to Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times.

When not demanding that Martin Johnson sacks skipper Steve Borthwick (who apparently isn't good enough to play lock for Old Gitonians 6th XV), Mr Jones does like to make bold statements such as:

"England in this era have three players of true world class — Andrew Sheridan, Simon Shaw and Lewis Moody, all up front, and Sheridan is injured. They have a few players who can be world class in streaks (Ugo Monye, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Danny Hipkiss)"
Not too many arguments with the first half of that sentence, although arguably only Shaw has proven to be consistently world class over the last few years. The second half of the statement is, however, quite risible. Let's look at the list:

Ugo Monye? The bloke who cost the Lions the 1st Test in South Africa by butchering 2 tries and couldn't catch a cold against Argentina in November.

Dylan Hartley? Undoubted raw potential but his class is far from proven.

Courtney Lawes? Seriously? Based on 5 minutes against Australia and a couple of decent Northampton performances? Unproven.

James Haskell? James Haskell? The one with the white boots, upright posture and a penchant for giving away daft penalties? That James Haskell?

Danny Hipkiss? Really? Based on what exactly, the ability to run smack into his opponent each time he gets the ball?

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that these aren't dreadful players (well, not all of them) but world class, even in streaks?

World Class? My arse.

Strictly Breakfast

Last week I attended a breakfast run by London Wasps Business Club, something I've done a few times over the past year or so.


The Business Club, I find, is a good opportunity to network with businesses in the locality with the added advantage that talk does tend to centre on rugby rather than business which, on balance, can only be a good thing. More importantly, perhaps, they serve up a sensational full English breakfast - cholesterol city.

Moreover, Wasps usually get a decent speaker along to entertain the gathered throng which in the past year has included the Wasps physio Prav Mathema, Premier Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty, former England wing Jon Sleightholme and Wasps' owner Steve Hayes.

Last week it was the turn of former Wasps and Scotland winger and dancing legend Kenny Logan who recounted his journey from farmer to professional rugby player to ballroom sensation (sic) to businessman. Although it could have been shorter (less being more) and included one or two brazen plugs for his autobiography and for his new business venture with former Wasps flanker (and latterly the club's Commercial Director) Peter Scrivener, Logan's speech was nevertheless fascinating, especially his comments on how he had to cope with chronic dyslexia which meant that he only learned to read and write when he was 30.


Logan's presentation also made me wonder just how many of the current batch of young professional rugby players would be capable of giving such an entertaining speech once they have retired from the game. On what, after all, could they base any anecdotes? They haven't been to university, for instance, or had a job, or lived any sort of life outside of training and playing the game. They are told what to do and when to do it and barely seem able at times to think for themselves. What they will do when they can no longer play rugby is anyone's guess but my bet is that they won't be troubling the likes of Messrs Geenwood, Healey etc on the after dinner speech circuit.