Sunday, 28 March 2010

No sharks in Kalamata Bay - update

Incredibly sad news this week that England rugby and Superstars legend Andy Ripley is once again engaged in a battle with cancer after having seemingly beaten it a couple of years ago.

Two years back I read Ripley's account of his first attempts to beat prostate cancer and wrote about it on this blog. It was a fascinating and uplifting read which ended on a positive note with the disease apparently licked.

Sadly, however, the cancer seems to be back with a vengeance. When Ripley was first diagnosed his PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test revealed an off-the-scale score of 133 nanograms per millilitre (when anything over 3.5 for a man of his age would have been an indication of cancer). In April 2007 the score was down to 0.1 ng/ml. Last spring his PSA was at 1,696 ng/ml, and secondary tumours have now spread to his ankles and now his brain, pressure on his optic nerve causing him to lose his sight two weeks ago.

Ripley is, as ever, stoic in the face of such further adversity.

"The reality is I'm 62, I've had a blinding life and had more than my share. I'm strong and the family's strong," he told the Telegraph last week.

This is going to sound lame, but I can only wish him all the best of luck in his continuing battle - long may he keep the Grim Reaper at bay.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Strettle's cunning plan

Injury-prone winger David Strettle has hit upon a unique method of ensuring he stays injury free for the 2011 Rugby World Cup by agreeing to join Saracens from Harlequins next season.

The 26 year old England winger will move to Vicarage Road for the start of the 2010/11 season and is excited about the Sarries style of play under director of rugby Brendan Venter.

"Everybody in rugby can see there is something special happening at Saracens," said Strettle. "I am looking forward to being part of it, especially given that it's highly unlikely that I'll get the ball next season so there's very little chance of me getting injured. That's a big bonus given that it's a World Cup year.

"I'll also get lots of practice chasing high kicks, which means I should fit in with England quite well."

Six Nations Chumps 2010

Very briefly, the inglorious bar stewards of the 2010 Six Nations:

15. DELON ARMITAGE - with Lee Byrne not far behind

14. TOM JAMES - made Ugo Monye look the complete footballer

13. JAMIE ROBERTS - a far cry from the player we saw in South Africa last summer

12. RIKI FLUTEY - anonymous

11. UGO MONYE - just being quick is not enough

10. PHIL GODMAN - anyone dropped for Dan Parks is in trouble

9. TITO TEBALDI - subbed in the first half against France - says it all. Gareth Cooper edged out.

1. ALISTAIR DICKINSON - can't scrummage, won't scrummage

2. JERRY FLANNERY - wild hack deserved longer punishment

3. EUAN MURRAY - for picking and choosing when to play

4. ALUN-WYN JONES - idiotic trip set the tone for Wales

5. STEVE BORTHWICK - a coincidence that England were better without him?

6. JAMES HASKELL - went missing. Andy Powell saved by his golf buggy escapade.

7. MARTYN WILLIAMS - have the legs finally gone?

8. RYAN JONES - made Nick Easter look rapid.

Belatedly...a review of the 2010 Six Nations

Time marches on and another another Six Nations has come and gone.

Congratulations of course go to France on their deserved Grand Slam. It wasn't quite the final flourish we expected but you survived your squeaky bum moments to triumph at the end.

Well done also to Scotland for their long overdue victory in Dublin last weekend, to Wales for managing to play two halves of rugby in the same match and to England for finally looking like a team rather than a bunch of individuals shuffling around waiting to be introduced.

So, a little belatedly and in a move of stunning originality, I have once again pieced together my best XV from the last seven weeks' activity as I name the TOTAL FLANKER TEAM OF THE 2010 SIX NATIONS:

15. I'm kicking off with the fullback shirt and acknowledge that this really should be a shoe-in for France's Clement Poitrenaud who, all the experts agree, had a sublime tournament. Or did he? Despite his evident skill and ability there's something about Poitrenaud that, if I were a French rugby supporter, would scare me s***less as he always seems to be one fumble, missed tackle or misjudgement away from utter catastrophe. That said, Messrs Byrne, Kearney and Armitage all had disappointing tournaments and no one else really put their hand up. Except, of course, one man - and in a brazen move designed to shoe-horn one English player into the team I'm plucking someone from left-field and handing the shirt to BEN FODEN who made the absolute maximum of his limited time on the field.

14. Despite the doom-mongering this wasn't a bad Six Nations for wingers and on the right wing Marc Andreu in particular looked a real find for France (despite making Ickle Shane Williams look like a giant). Mirco Bergamasco had his moments for Italy (usually involving a fight) and, with next to no ball to speak of, Mark Cueto was one of England's better players. Admittedly that's not saying a lot but credit where it's due. You'll be happy to know however that I'm not trying to squeeze another Englishman into the team as one player was a cut above the rest - step forward TOMMY BOWE, one of the very few Lions who enhanced his reputation this winter.

13. The outside centre position looked as if it would be sewn up by Mathieu Bastareaud after the first two rounds but he once again ended up in Mike Tindall's back pocket and is yet to convince that he has the temperament for the big time. Brian O'Driscoll was his usual energetic self and Nick de Luca finally looked the part for the Scots, while the undoubtedly talented Mathew Tait struggled in a moribund English backline. The standout player for me, however, was JAMES HOOK. Despite playing out of position and being far from perfect in his execution he did manage to look like scoring every time he touched the ball and was the best Welsh player by a country mile.

12. I can only surmise that the inside centre position is one of the toughest to play because very few players shone in this role. Graeme Morrison had his moments, as did Gordon d'Arcy whilst the Italian Ginger Ninja, Gonzalo Garcia, was typically robust and direct, but it was the old stager YANNICK JAUZION who stole the show, his return to form glueing the talented French backline together.

11. The lazy choice for the number 11 shirt would be Ickle Shane Williams but it would only be justified if wearing bright red-tinted specs as, unless I'm missing something here, his performances were patchy at best. Thom Evans looked the part until his horrible injury and Chris Ashton looks like one for the future but I thought that KEITH EARLS came of age in this tournament and was a threat throughout.

10. Not the greatest tournament for fly-halves, but François Trinh-Duc achieved the incredible feat of playing 5 games in a row for France, a luxury not afforded to many French no. 10s over the last few years. He's certainly improved substantially and was an important factor in the French Grand Slam. However, the pivot that impressed me most was JONATHAN SEXTON. OK, so his goal kicking sucked, but the rest of his game was mightily impressive, especially so given his relative inexperience. Let's be honest though, if he was English he'd be labelled the new messiah and would spend the next two seasons struggling to get into the Saxons starting XV.

9. With Mike Phillips only playing the final game against Italy, there were two credible contenders for the scrum half shirt. Ireland's Tomás O'Leary was superb throughout and in any other year would get the nod. MORGAN PARRA was however, head and shoulders above the rest (although not literally, of course).

1. For the loose head berth it was very much a one-horse race. The shirt therefore goes to France's 2nd choice loosehead (behind Fabian Barcella, apparently) - THOMAS DOMINGO who pretty much single-handedly laid waste to every scrum he faced. Amazing given that only 2 short years ago the French scrummage was in tatters.

2. The hooking position was again dominated by the French. Rory Best can be happy with his shift for Ireland and Ross Ford was as muscular a presence as ever, while Leonardo Ghiraldini led Italy from the front. The final choice, though, is a toss up between two Frenchmen. William Servat was superb, and certainly looks the part, but I thought that replacement DIMITRI SZARZEWSKI had a huge impact each time he entered the fray and, besides, his hair is much nicer.

3. On the tighthead side, England new boy Dan Cole pretty much had this sewn up until he was Domingoed in Paris. Adam Jones was his usual solid self as was Scotland's Euan Murray when he could be bothered to turn up. Nicolas Mas is most pundits' favourite but I give the no 3 shirt to Italy’s perpetual warrior MARTIN CASTROGIOVANNI who not only starred for Italy but also flew back to play man-of-the-match roles for Leicester in between internationals.

4 & 5. It was hardly a vintage year in terms of performances from the second row forwards. In Simon Shaw's absence England chose to go with anti-lock locks whilst refusing to blood new boy Courtney Lawes, Wales struggled in this department all tournament, Ireland's O'Connell and O'Callaghan didn't quite hit their usual heights and Italy were no more than solid. Only France and Scotland really impressed, with the likes of Pape, Pierre and Kellock all having good tournaments. My choices however are the warrior-like LIONEL NALLET (again, for the hair) and a lump of a man who has never previously troubled the awards radar - I'm talking of course about BIG JIM HAMILTON.

6. At blindside there were times when the star of Ireland's Stephen Ferris shone brightly during the 6 Nations, especially against England at Twickenham when he had the entire English backrow for breakfast. Likewise Scotland's Killer B (#1) Kelly Brown was omni-present throughout, making a right old nuisance of himself at the breakdown. The standout performer for me, though, was French skipper THIERRY DUSUTOIR who, even when all around him were panicking in the Slam decider in Paris, pretty much single-handedly kept France in the game in the second half.

7. For the openside berth it's a straight fight between 2 contenders, based on the fact that England and France didn't really select a true openside specialist (although Julian Bonnaire's performances were nothing to be sniffed at) while Martyn Williams was well off the pace and Mauro Bergamasco was as much of a liability as an inspiration for Italy. Although Ireland's David Wallace was excellent once again this year the shirt goes to Killer B (#2) JOHN BARCLAY who was just everywhere, winning ball, making yards and even getting on the scoresheet.

8. Conventional wisdom dictates that I should hand the 8 shirt to Imanol Harinordoquy. Admittedly he had a fine tournament overall and was often the standout forward on the field, but there's something of the flat-track bully about him that I just don't like. Playing at the back of such a ferocious pack really can't be that difficult and it was noticeable that, when put under pressure by England, he more or less went missing. Ireland's Jamie Heaslip had a good tournament, although was outshone by Scotland's Killer B (#3) Johnnie Beattie (who looks like a future superstar) in the final game. For me though the most impressive contribution was made by Italy's ALESSANDRO ZANNI who played fantastically well in adversity and demonstrated that the Italians have an embarrassment of riches in this position.

There, that's it. I doubt my team will meet with universal approval but ultimately you know I'm right. What is also certain is that the end of hostilities leaves me bereft of anything to moan or whinge about for some considerable time - at least until England's ritual humiliation in June. What's more, I guess I'm going to have to find something a little more productive to occupy my weekends, heaven forbid.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Well done England

Congratulations to the England Women's team who secured the 6N Grand Slam with a hard fought 11-10 victory over France in Rennes last night.

Victories over Wales (31-0), Italy (41-0), Ireland (22-5), Scotland (51-0) and now France have secured a fifth consecutive 6 Nations title and a fourth Grand Slam in five years - quite some achievement (something the men can only dream of) and the perfect preparation for the Women’s Rugby World Cup which is just five months away.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

EXCLUSIVE PICTURE

England's management team finalises selection for match against France...

















"OK, let's put this one here, this one here and that one there. Sorted. Now, where's the bar?"

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

We Can't Go On Like This

First and foremost I'd like to say that I knew all along that appointing a man with no experience of coaching at any level would be an unmitigated disaster. I'd like to say that but, in all good conscience, I can't as I was as guilty as the next man in believing that Martin Johnson would bring a winning mentality, clarity of thought and sheer bloodymindedness to the England set-up. The latter quality is undoubtedly still in evidence but as for the rest...

The glass half-full part of me really wants to believe that Johnno can still turn things round and I remind myself that it took Clive Woodward several years before things clicked into place. I can confidently say, however, that there was never a point in the Woodward era that England looked so joyless and so bereft of ideas and intent than they did at Murrayfield on Saturday. My faith is being sorely tested and I can't for the life of me see the "progress" that the England management assure us is happening.

Although England's scrummage is holding up well and the lineout is just about functioning, the breakdown is a shambles, the kicking game incompetent, the attacking game non-existent and the defence unreliable, despite (or because of) an army of supposed specialist coaches. Messrs Wells, Ford, Smith and Callard have much to answer for.

And so to Paris and an expected spanking of Max Mosley-esque proportions at the hands of the French. Logic dictates that now is the time to throw caution to the wind and go with brave selections and attacking intent but, given England's ultra-conservative and unambitious selection policy to date, I won't hold my breath.

Whatever happens against the French, even in the unlikely event of a miraculous victory, something has to change. To date I've viewed calls for Johnno's head as, at best, premature and, at worst, heresy - but, as David Cameron might say...


Sunday, 14 March 2010

O Flower of Scotland

GORDON BROWN...ALEX SALMOND...BILLY CONNOLLY...DAVID TENNANT...SEAN CONNERY...WILLIAM WALLACE...ROB ROY...BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE...ROBERT THE BRUCE...GAVIN HASTINGS...JEANETTE KRANKIE...


Your boys nearly gave us one hell of a beating!!!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Big Ben Returns?

Heads are expected to roll amongst the RFU's administrative staff after it emerged this evening that an administrative error has led to an England recall for former winger Ben Cohen.

"I can't understand how it happened," an RFU source said. "A letter was supposed to go out to Ben FODEN informing him that he'd been selected for bench duty this weekend against Scotland. Instead the letter went out to Ben COHEN. It looks like a straightforward admin error."

It is understood that the letter to Cohen, signed by England manager Martin Johnson, amounts to a binding contract and the RFU's Director of Elite Rugby, Rob Andrew, is said to have spent the day with the RFU legal team trying to resolve the issue. Unless a compromise can be negotiated it is thought that Cohen, and not Foden, will have to take his place on the bench at Murrayfield.

Neither Andrew nor Johnson had any comment this evening, although our source has revealed that the England manager has been walking around all day sporting a "grin like a Cheshire cat."

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Yeah but, no but, yeah...

“Yeah but no but yeah, that Martin Johnson right, he's clueless innit and is SO out of his depth and doesn’t have no experience and is WAY too conservative and ONLY picks his mates and NEVER picks the younguns apart from that Dylan Hartley and that Matt Mullen and that Dan Cole and that Courtney Lawes and that Ben Youngs and he dropped that Moody bloke as punishment for deciding to leave Leicester and replaced him with someone even slower from Wasps…

[pause for breath]

…and he knows NUFFINK about playing 2nd row and that Borthwick’s HOPELESS and that Deacon’s RUBBISH and should be replaced by someone who’s been playing at blindside flanker all season and that Danny Care, right, his pass is SO slow and he’s a liability and everything and Wilkinson’s past it and stands WAY too deep and has failed to form a partnership with that Flutey bloke despite two WHOLE games together and that Matt Tait’s thighs are WAY too big and he’s lost his pace and all that and Cueto never had any pace and that Monye bloke can’t pass and Armitage can’t do anything really and his ribs are broken anyway and what about Ben Foden?”

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Monday, 8 March 2010

Recall for Billy Whizz?

Intriguing news last week that under-pressure and short-numbered Sale Sharks thought seriously about asking Head Coach Jason Robinson to make a sensational comeback.

Robinson, who retired from rugby in 2007, is not only still in great shape, he's also - as he showed when scoring a couple of typically dazzling tries in the England v Ireland Legends match at the Stoop recently - probably still Sale's most potent attacking weapon.

Perhaps, just perhaps, England should also consider begging him to return?

Far-fetched? Yes, but no more so than Mike Tindall being recalled to the squad.

DOH!

Anyway, here's what we're missing...



Wednesday, 3 March 2010

MISSING

James “Le Hask” Haskell


James has been missing for 4 weeks. He was last seen in the Twickenham area on 6th February 2010 wearing a cream coloured outfit.

Although there have been reported sitings recently in Rome and in London these were mere fleeting glimpses which remain unsubstantiated. It is believed that he may have been abducted by a large mean-looking man in South West London.

James is most easily recognised by his white boots and insatiable appetite for self-publicity.

Anyone spotting James should contact his Uncle Max in Paris immediately.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Twickenham Tidbits

A couple of further observations regarding the goings-on at Twickenham on Saturday:

1. Johnno, it seems, believes that England ran the ball too much on Saturday. I can see his point. It seems that we are very much an either/or team. Either we just kick the leather off the ball or we run it from side to side until we go backwards. No one seems to realise that running and kicking need not be mutually exclusive. It is perfectly possible to run AND to kick.

2. Ireland, it is reported, made a massive 99 tackles during the game (to England's 30) and missed only one. That's a phenomenal effort and is very much to the credit of the Irish defensive coach, Les Kiss. A word to the wise though - under no circumstances should you Google "Les Kiss" while at work.