Friday, 28 May 2010

Blimey

I was sorry to read that ex-England fullback Josh Lewsey failed in his bid to climb Mount Everest, something he was attempting to raise funds for the Help for Heroes charity.

Lewsey was apparently only 500 feet from the peak when his breathing equipment failed and so had to get back down the mountain sharpish before his oxygen supply ran out.

"The most terrifying thing was seeing the dead bodies," said Lewsey. "I saw one Japanese climber who had died two days before. All you want to do is sit down and sleep because your oxygen levels are so low - but that's how they all ended up dying."

Blimey. And to think I get out of breath walking back up the hill from the village with my newspaper on a Sunday morning.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Old & Knackered

Only one word to describe how I've been feeling this week: bloody exhausted.

OK, two words.

After a weekend of way too much cheap red plonk (courtesy of Chesham Rugby Club's annual dinner) and subsequent hangover in 30 degree heat at my son's 7-a-side football tournament (that's association football - I know, I'm sorry) , I then spent 6½ hours in the car on Tuesday driving to and from my aunt's funeral, a day which was both physically and emotionally draining.

So I was obviously in great shape when I turned up for Tuesday evening's Touch Rugby and my contribution to the game was consequently minimal (although it was kindly pointed out that I contributed to at least 3 of the opposition's tries!). Despite my best endeavours, however, we scraped an 8-7 victory - our young speedster, Tom, proving the difference between the teams.

What Tom's performance has done is to cause me to reflect on something I lost many moons ago. Although possibly better placed as the subject matter of a fascinating, self-indulgent and melancholic entry in the "Whatever Happened To" series, a few words here about my lost youth do appear to be appropriate.

You see, whereas today I may be known as a confirmed member of the esteemed order of sad old farts, once upon a time I was imbued with youthful vigour, fitness, enthusiasm and stamina. For much of the 1980s I played or trained 6 days out of 7 and even well into my twenties I'd train twice a week, play for my club on Saturday, get up and play social rugby on Sunday and squeeze in a game of football for my firm midweek. No wonder I struggled to get my weight UP, tipping the scales at a puny 13½ stone despite my best efforts to bulk up, both in the gym and in the pub where I would usually stay until last orders most nights of the week.

Nowadays of course the ravages of age and a more sedentary lifestyle mean that my body's still suffering nearly 48 hours after a game of Touch Rugby, I fall asleep well before the pub closes and we no longer talk about my weight.

Youth and talent no match for age and treachery? Bollocks.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

England pay dispute resolved

The RFU and Team England Rugby have this week settled the pay dispute that threatened to undermine next month's tour of Australia and New Zealand.

The two parties have accepted the recommendations of an independent arbitrator brought in to review the matter.

The settlement finally brings to a close a dispute which has been ongoing for nearly seven years, during which time the England players have, to all intents and purposes, withdrawn their labour.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Cart before the Horse

The news from the IRB that that England will undertake a proper 3-Test tour to South Africa in 2012 is good news.

Or it it?

Old fashioned longer tours are all very well - and I'm sure will be a fantastic experience for players and fans alike. But consider the following schedule: 2011 - Rugby World Cup; 2012 - full England Tour to South Africa; 2013 - Lions Tour.
At what point, I wonder, will leading English players (and I realise that I'm making one or two massive assumptions here) actually have a close season? I predict a renewal of club v country hostilities in England and a continuation of severely weakened teams being taken on tour.

While I applaud the principle of encouraging longer tours, it appears that the IRB have ducked the central issue here - i.e. sorting out a co-ordinated global season to ensure that leading players are fit and available for international matches.

It's not just England that will face problems. The Springboks are also due to host 3-Test tours against France and Ireland in subsequent years.

Perhaps now, then, might be good time to actually put the horse before the cart?

Coming Soon to a Theatre near you...


Friday, 21 May 2010

Biscuit-gate

After Bloodgate, now we have Biscuit-gate.

All sorts of shenanigans this week surrounding the RFU's disciplinary action against Saracens' Director of Rugby, Brendan Venter, who appears to have been handed a 14-week ban for eating a biscuit during the disciplinary procedure.

The RFU's 11-page statement referred to Venter's "arrogant behaviour" during the hearing which apparently included "eating a biscuit".

"You don't go into the Old Bailey eating a biscuit. You show a degree of respect to the process in the court," said Old Fart in a Blazer Chairman of the RFU Management Board, Martyn Thomas.

"Why did the RFU provide biscuits if they were not to be eaten?" asked Sarries Chief Executive Edward Grifftiths, perhaps not unreasonably.

Meanwhile Sarries hooker Schalk Brits received a reprimand as to his future behaviour after being observed sucking a sherbet lemon.

The plot thickens...

Golden Touch

Week 2 of the Touch Rugby 'season' and another victory for the Odd Bods - this time 14-7 over the Irish Exiles (so named because they play in green and are led by a chap called O'Brien).

Touch on Tuesday was again an enjoyable romp in increasingly summer-like conditions (including those infernal midges). Our team, as it happens, is playing very well as a team. It is, after all, a team game - which is why the team all make the effort at every opportunity to get the ball to Tom, our young quick bloke.

The result of these stunningly original tactics was a fairly convincing victory and I even managed to get on the scoresheet by the cunning strategy of following aforesaid young quick bloke over the tryline to take a scoring pass. A try from minus 2 metres is something of an achievement in my book and makes the fact that I'm still hobbling around three days later almost worth it.

Next up is Chairman's Choice - effectively my Touch Rugby alma mater - although it will be touch and go (no pun intended) whether I will make it back in time to play from my aunt's funeral in North Wales next week.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Whatever happened to: Lineouts

Confirming my status as a complete and utter sad old fart, here's another of a sporadic series of nostalgic ramblings about aspects of the game that appear to have gone AWOL since I started playing back in the mists if time.

This time it's the lineout.

The lineout? Really? Surely that hasn't disappeared from our game?

But it has. Or at least the lineout that I remember has. (And don't call me Shirley).

My first ever lineout is described in my first ever post on this blog. Now, admittedly, that somewhat haphazard experience may be something of an extreme example of the lineout genre of that era but the principle holds true that, in basic terms, the hooker chucked the ball into the lineout while players, usually 2nd rows, jumped in an attempt to catch the ball or, more usually, slap it back in the general direction of the terrified scrum half. Players involved in a lineout barged, leant on shoulders, pulled shirts, held arms and generally did everything in their power to disrupt the opposition whilst protecting their own jumper. In short, it was chaos.

Nowadays, of course, it's all very different. For the most part (and I admit there are exceptions) the lineout is a heavily choreographed means of re-starting games, with "jumpers" being hoisted into position so that the hooker can find his target with relative ease. There's something quite aesthetically pleasing about the modern day lineout, having a certain elegance in its execution and, more often than not, securing clean ball for the team throwing the ball in.

Which, if that's what you want from a lineout, then great. Old style lineouts, however, were genuine contests and, while much, much messier than their modern day equivalents, involved (in my most humble of opinions) a higher level of skill to perfect. The likes of Eales, Dooley and Norster, who somehow managed to secure ball amongst the mayhem going on around them, were true lineout giants. And hookers, as well as being truly nasty, had to have the unerring accuracy of Phil "The Power" Taylor.

There was also greater variety. Maybe not at the elite level, but certainly at club and college level there was certainly a myriad of calls as teams very much lived on their wits and were alert to the possibilities of quick throws or throws over the back or shortened lineouts. Nowadays, at the level I play at least, the ball rarely gets past a throw to the front jumper and a ball over the back is pretty much unheard of. So, whilst the modern lineout is a cleaner, easier-to-referee and more efficient way of re-starting the game I do sometimes pine for the organised chaos of the old days, where a nod or a wink to the hooker would be enough for him to chuck the ball in early or perhaps realise that you wanted a lob rather than a flat throw.

A word of warning though - even the modern version of the lineout is fast becoming an endangered species. There are far fewer lineouts than in yesteryear and, given the lack of contest these days, coupled with law changes that discourage kicking into touch, I do wonder how long it will be before the powers-that-be decide that they can dispense with this particular set piece altogether?

And then we'll all be asking whatever happened to the lineout.

Friday, 14 May 2010

3rd Anniversary (belatedly)

Somehow it escaped my notice that last Sunday this blog celebrated its 3rd anniversary - which just goes to show how quickly time passes as you get older (not to mention how forgetful you become).

If you'd have told me when I started experimenting with this blogging lark that I'd still be bashing out the same old bollocks three years later, I'd have said you were barking mad. After all, I'm not THAT sad, I do have a life and all that. Or maybe not.

All I can say is that I'm still very grateful to those who continue read this nonsense and to those who choose to contribute comments, favourable or otherwise. Virtual pats on the back all round.

And the bad news is that there are no plans to stop blogging just yet...Cheers!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Will the last player left in England...

...please turn out the lights?

With a cast of 44 being taken to Australia in June by Martin Johnson and with a further 26 players heading out to the US with the Saxons for the Churchill Cup I'm wondering whether there will be any English-qualified professional rugby players left in the country this summer?
That is, apart from Danny Cipriani, now officially England's 71st best player.

Danny, you know where the light switch is...

Mellow Yellow

Yesterday was a momentous day.

Britain got its first peacetime coalition government since 1922 and I appeared in a winning Touch Rugby team for the first time since 2008.

Being unqualified to comment on the machinations that led to the unlikely Tory/Lib-Dem pact, I must reserve my observations for the evening’s Touch Rugby, which once again took place on the playing fields of Chesham.

Having played the last 4 summers ostensibly in the same team – the Chairman’s Choice – I had made the somewhat contentious decision last week to throw in my lot with fellow Vet Steve and his “Odd Bods” team, a decision that was greeted with predictable “banter” yesterday evening from the Chairman.

Despite this encouragement, however, I lined up with my new team - decked out in not-very-stylish, lurid yellow, Primani t-shirts - a mixture of Vets, rookies, kids and one or two players borrowed to make up the numbers, to take on the “Misfits” a similarly assembled combo of newbies and players of a more mature persuasion.

On paper therefore it looked like the teams were fairly evenly matched, but a slow start saw us concede an early try and the signs looked ominous. The try, however, appeared to deliver a much needed kick up the arse and our game just sort of…well…clicked. Playing simple Touch we began to use up our 6 possessions effectively, made ground up the middle, attacked space and worked the overlaps, resulting in one-way traffic which eventually saw us run out winners by 12 tries to 3.

The result leaves the Odd Bods as the early pace-setters in the league and fully vindicates my choice of team. Well, no, not really – with all due respect to our opposition they are unlikely to be the strongest team we face this summer and I must also point out that the Chairman’s choice team were also victorious, continuing the habit of every team I play for improving when I leave! (That said, the Chairman’s team did appear to have a cast of thousands so it’s unlikely I’d have had very much game time…)

As a footnote I must also point out that I failed to get on the scoresheet – that’s no tries for me in competitive Touch since 2007.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

And another thing...

What's with Premier Rugby's idea to extend the Premiership to 14 teams, something the RFU vehemently opposes?

Both sides are missing the point. The actual number of teams in the Premiership is a red herring, as is the issue of a ring-fenced Premiership. What both sides should be asking is how financially sustainable professional rugby is in England.

The current structure, with a fully professional Premiership and Championship - 24 clubs - obviously isn't sustainable. The likes of Coventry and London Welsh have proven that.

It strikes me that what is needed is a period of time where a clear distinction is made between professional and amateur rugby. Personally I'd guess (and it's no more than a guess, admittedly) that the game can support no more than 16 professional clubs in England.

Of course, it would be impossible to force an "amateur" club into not paying its players, but if the incentive of automatic promotion to the professional ranks was removed so would the chances of clubs bankrupting themselves in pursuit of the so-called holy grail.
It's not about ring-fencing the Premiership - it's all about ring-fencing the professional game.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Blue Skies

The latest piece of "blue sky" thinking to emerge from Premier Rugby is an apparent desire for professional rugby to be played on artificial pitches.

Words like "higher quality" and "consistent surfaces" are being bandied about. And therein lies the problem. Battling the elements and adapting to the conditions has always been part and parcel of the game and, setting to one side safety concerns, I suspect that the effect of the introduction of artificial grass will actually be to alter the fundamental nature of the game, forcing all teams to play an identikit form of rugby with good old fashioned forward play, yet again, becoming emasculated.

Another example, in other words, of the authorities trying to dumb down the game in the name of contrived entertainment. Next thing you know they'll be getting rid of the unfair and uneven bounce by making the ball round.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Time for zero tolerance

"To feel something slide inside your eyeball, and get pulled out at an astonishing rate… I can't fathom the words to describe the immense pain."

The words of 24 year old Clarence Harding, the Gravesend number 8 who has lost the sight in his right eye having been gouged during a match against rivals Maidstone in January this year.

No one has yet been punished for the attack and the Kent police are apparently still investigating the incident.

But Clarence knows who did it. Gravesend Rugby Club know who did it. Maidstone Rugby Club know who did it. But will anyone have the balls to do something about it?

Monday, 3 May 2010

That was the season that was...

For those expecting a review of the professional game, look away now.

The fact is that if you are a rugby player in the UK then, unless you happen to be in the privileged position of being a professional player challenging for end-of-season honours, the chances are that your season is now well and truly over and you are already thinking of barbecues, beer and anything else that will get you out of shopping on a Saturday afternoon.

Around this time of year, therefore, I tend (in my habitual self-absorbed way) to look back over the last 8 months or so and reflect on what kind of season my former and current clubs have had.

To kick off - Peterbrough, where I started my club rugby career, playing three seasons in the Colts before making my senior debut as far back as 1983. At the end of last season Borough appear to have secured a somewhat miraculous promotion, with the entire Midlands 1 Division seemingly re-designated National 3 Midlands. Heady heights indeed and, with Borough finishing 7th out of fourteen, never was the phrase mid-table respectability more apt.

Now to Guildford (previously known as Guildford & Godalming), for whom I played in 1986-87 while at the local College of Law. Guildford were also promoted at the end of last season (only legitimately so) - from London 3 SW to London 2 SW - and they more than held there own in the higher league, finishing 4th behind London Irish Amateurs, Guernsey and Tottonians.

When I moved to London in 1987 I played a couple of seasons at Ealing who, at the time, were something of a yo-yo club, moving between the London and National leagues. It seems, however, that Ealing are now very much established National 2 South - and a 3rd place finish suggests perhaps loftier ambitions in the years ahead.

Barnes, meanwhile, where I played some of my best and most enjoyable rugby between 1991 and 1995, were always going to face an incredibly tough season having been promoted via a play off to National 2 South the previous season. So it proved. Despite finishing second bottom, however, Barnes did manage a couple of notable away wins at Lydney and Richmond and finished the season very strongly, all of which bodes well for life in London One next season.

And finally...Chesham, where I (very occasionally) strut what little stuff I have left these days. Chesham have had a pretty decent season really - ending up in 4th spot in Berks/Bucks & Oxon 1 North (an improvement of 2 places on last year) whilst also introducing several younger players from the junior ranks to senior rugby, both at 1st and 2nd XV level. The trick, I guess, is to keep the young'uns interested through into their twenties to fill a noticeable generation gap. Then all the old gits still clogging up the ranks of the 1st and 2nd XVs can find their true level with the Vets.

Speaking of Vets, one victory plus several other very competitive outings represents an improvement on the last couple of seasons - mostly, I suspect, because I wasn't available very often! The fact is that I managed only one game this season - my lack of fitness going into the season contributing to the succession of injuries I subsequently suffered. Disappointing really, but a lesson for next season perhaps.

That's that then. A mad dash run through the fortunes of the clubs I've graced or disgraced over the years. Sadly time stops for no man and yet another season bites the dust...