Monday, 27 September 2010

Baa Baas go orange

The Artist Formerly Known As Gavin Church is reportedly set to make his return to rugby union after accepting an invitation to play for the Barbarians against South Africa at Twickenham in December.

Having not played since March 2009 our favourite son of  the valleys is undergoing intensive preparation for the pantomime match by perfecting his foxtrot, paso doble and viennese waltz on Strictly Come Dancing while trying not to become too aroused by partner Katya Virshilas.

"Obviously our invitation to Gavin will attract a lot of attention. He is conscious of the need for match fitness but we're confident that the Springbok midfield will be bamboozled by his quickstep (see what I did there?)" said the Barbarians contracts manager Mike Burton.

The 28-year-old former Osprey will be joined in the Baa-Baas squad by Ireland's Willie John McBride (70), fellow Welshman Cliff Morgan (80) and former England captain Wavell Wakefield (1898-1983), all of whom are thought to have a better chance of reviving their international playing careers.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Unintended Consequences

Rotund former England fly half Stuart Barnes made an interesting observation on Sky Sports Rugby Club last week.

Although widely credited for the creation of more tries per match, the new interpretation at the breakdown does appear to have one or two unintended consequences.

One such consequence is that canny coaches, knowing that the attacking team will be favoured, are instructing their defenders not to commit to the ruck and instead fan out across the pitch. Another is that teams in attack, knowing that they will be treated leniently at the breakdown, are committing all sorts of offences which are largely going unpunished by referees.

The picture, from Sky Sports, is a great example of this. While no London Irish player is committed to the ruck, at least 3 Gloucester players have gone to ground over the ball to seal it off. And what is the referee doing? Warning the London Irish players about the offside line rather than penalising the Gloucester attackers (if I was a London Irish player I would be tempted to walk round and pick up the ball as, technically, no ruck exists).
Taken to the extreme the game may end up becoming a series of uncontested mini-rucks with defences spread across the field to reduce space and contain the attack until an offence is committed, with more games decided on penalties, the opposite of what was intended. And with no defenders in the ruck, what we are left with looks suspiciously like Rugby League.
Solution? Leave the game well alone. The biggest problem with rugby over the last four years has been the constant meddling of the IRB. First the ELVs, then a series of conflicting directions to referees on how they should interpret the laws.

Bottom line is that the laws are fine and that referees should be allowed just to get on with it without interference. Then we might actually get a game of rugby.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Andy Ripley Memorial Race

This Sunday (26th) the East Grinstead Athletic Club is hosting a cross-country trail race organised in memory of rugby legend and all round good egg Andy Ripley.

The inspirational Ripley, who sadly died of prostate cancer earlier this year aged 62, was a keen supporter of the Club and often presented the prizes at club events.

The race starts at 10:30am at Imberhorne School, East Grinstead and the 10k course will, allegedly, “take you along the lovely Worth Way”.

Entries will, apparently, be accepted on the day and runners are encouraged to support the Prostate Cancer Charity, for whom Ripley was an ambassador.

Good luck to all involved.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Best wishes

May I extend the best wishes of this blog to Tuui Radrava, the York Railway Institute backrow forward who was hospitalised with a “serious brain injury” following an incident in his team’s Yorkshire Division 3 match with Thornensians at the weekend.

Although the Fijian, a British Army soldier, is no longer on the critical list, his condition remains serious and the fact that 3 Thornensians players have since been been arrested and bailed by North Yorkshire Police suggests that this is not the last we’ll hear of this matter…

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Speaking of shameless publicity junkies...

Clearly hacked off with the number of column inches being devoted to other rugby playing narcissistic self-publicists, it was only a matter of time before Brand Haskell re-emerged in the pages of Britain's tabloids and, lo and behold, an 'exclusive' interview with Le Hask appeared last week in that bastion of all things good and true, the Daily Mail.

The interview is obviously a fascinating insight into the life of an Englishman playing professional rugby in France. Or maybe not.

We are, however, left enthralled by such snippets as his nickname at Stade being "La Machine," the fact that he quite enjoys being a gay icon and that he is "deadly serious" about reclaiming the England No 6 shirt for the Autumn internationals.

All of which will, no doubt, really impress Martin Johnson.

Monday, 20 September 2010

As you sow, so shall you reap...

Nice quote from Mike Tindall in the Torygraph:

"...if you don't do stuff to invite the press in, they don't come. If you don't look for media attention, you don't get it. With us, Zara gets on with the riding and I get on with my rugby, and we stick to that and it seems to work for us. We're quite simple."

Perhaps certain shameless publicity junkies (who shall, in the interests of not feeding their fame cravings any further, remain nameless) could take note?

Stranger than fiction?

There appears to be a certain amount of confusion at large about what teams are now allowed to do, or not do, in response to the Haka – something that once upon a time used to be a great piece of sporting theatre but what has in recent years turned into some sort of nonsensical politically correct hot potato.

I have previously made known my views on the Haka and in particular the ludicrous idea that the rugby world is expected to pay it some kind of awe-inspired respect, especially when virtually every response is in some way regarded as disrespectful and an affront to Maori culture.

For some reason, however, the IRB appears to have stuck its nose in where it is not wanted by fining the Wallaroos, Australia's women's rugby team, £1000 for advancing on the Black Ferns’ Haka before their World Cup pool match last month.

IRB tournament rules apparently now dictate that teams must face the Haka and remain motionless 10 metres on their own side of the halfway line, a protocol which would be laughable were it not so tragic.

The whole issue has been thrown into glorious confusion by a typically irreverent piece by our friends over at The East Terrace, the only problem being that the words used in the spoof article were then quoted verbatim as a genuine IRB statement by TVNZ who had somehow failed to get the joke.

Joking aside, it’s clear that the IRB have got this one badly wrong. I’d encourage every international team facing the All Blacks this season to breach this ludicrous protocol and take whatever fine is coming, so long as the message hits home that this stage-managed nonsense has gone far enough.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Hensonwatch

Critical update on T.A.F.K.A.G.C. (the artist formerly known as Gavin Church):

He doesn't want to play for the Hairsprays as he's worried about changing room banter;

He's trying to be the best father he can be;

He may have been naive in agreeing to promote the new Welsh kit;

He may be joining London Irish;

He...no, sorry, I really can't be arsed...

Fish out of water

I found myself in alien territory last weekend as somehow I ended up as caretaker manager of my son's Under 8s football team.

In reply to an email request for help from parents I had foolishly said that I was "happy to help when available."

Schoolboy error!!

What I meant, of course, was that I'd be happy to give the occasional lift, or put out a few cones, or collect the training bibs etc. What I obviously had not envisaged is that I might be put in charge of 12 kids all wanting to play centre forward.

Despite nearly arriving late to a school field in deepest, darkest Hemel Hempstead (I really must get sat nav) I somehow managed, with help of another press-ganged dad, to organise, in the loosest sense of the word, the boys into a team of seven (with 5 subs at half time) all with a notional position to play in theory. It was all going rather swimmingly, I thought. And then we kicked off.

Any instructions issued prior to kick off were of course instantly forgotten as my players gave into their swarming instincts and my increasingly desperate pleas from the touchline were mostly ignored. Had it been rugby I might have been able at least to offer some relatively constructive advice. As it was not rugby, however, my advice amounted to little more than "oi you, mark him, no not him, HIM!"

Being Under 8s we are forbidden by the FA from publishing the result (thank goodness). Suffice to say that we came second although, to be fair, had any scrums been awarded I reckon we'd have had the upper hand.

I doubt Mr Capello will be losing much sleep...

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Pitbull on Ice?

What do Kyran Bracken, Matt Dawson and Austin Healy have in common?

Easy - they were all competing scrum halves in Clive Woodward's England team circa 1999-2003.

OK, what do those 3 also have in common with Josh Kronfeld, Norm Hewitt, Wendell Sailor, Martin Offiah, Kenny Logan and Gavin Henson?

The answer, believe it or not, is that they have all appeared as contestants in a reality TV dancing show, whether that be Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing with the Stars or Dancing on Ice.

And now it is rumoured that this illustrious group of former rugby players (and I use the term "former" advisedly) is to be joined by none other than Brian "Beware of the Dog" Moore.

Yes, the Pitbull is said to be in training with a view to take part in the new series of Dancing on Ice, due to hit our screens in January, where it is thought he will pit his spins and toe loops against the likes of such luminaries as Jilly Goolden, Calum Best and...wait for it...Vanilla Ice. I kid you not.

The New Year can't come soon enough...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Primum non nocere...

...or "first, do no harm."

I would be grateful if someone could explain the following to me:
Steph Brennan, former Harlequins physio, buys a bunch of fake blood capsules from a joke shop which he then uses, on instruction from his employers, to cheat by faking blood injuries to certain players. Following a disciplinary hearing yesterday he was struck off by the Health Professions Council.
Meanwhile Dr. Wendy Chapman, former Harlequins doctor, not only took part in the fake blood capsule subterfuge but also went to the extraordinary lengths of actually cutting the inside of a player's mouth with a scalpel to perpetuate the scam. Following a disciplinary hearing a couple of weeks ago she was given a warning by the General Medical Council that her conduct had been "unacceptable and should not be repeated" but was allowed to continue practising.
The question surely must be who actually did harm here? Steph Brennan clearly participated in Quins' cheating and is rightly banned from the game, but his actions had nothing at all to do with his ability or fitness to practice as a physiotherapist.
How galling must it be for Brennan to see another medical practitioner, who clearly committed the more serious act and whose medical judgement must surely be questioned as a result, walk away with her career more or less intact while his lies in tatters.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

One Year to Go

Finally, a story that doesn't involve Gavin Henson...

To mark the occasion of there being only one year to go until the start of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, over 2500 people took part in an attempt to break the record for the world’s largest Haka on Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, New Zealand today.

Sadly the record attempt ended in failure (the record remains at 3264 people set in Ngaruawahia in the Waikato region of New Zealand in 2008).

Far be it for me to suggest that the doomed attempt is the first sign of New Zealanders beginning to choke under the weight of expectation...

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Daily Henson

The Buckinghamshire Home for Rugby Waifs and Strays today issued a statement denying that it had signed a contract to add the artist formerly known as Gavin Church to its list of inmates this season. This, despite a report in The Times to the contrary which suggested that the unfeasibly tanned fame junkie had agreed a deal to check in at High Wycombe upon finishing his commitments to the world of ballroom dancing.
According to our orange friend, the only reason he is donning the sequins rather than lacing up the boots this autumn has been the inability of his solicitors to extract him from his current contract with his more-than-generous employers, the Hairsprays. Nothing to do with his rampant desire for celebrity then.
Meanwhile, it appears that the media furore surrounding the WRU's choice to model the new Wales rugby kit this week has resulted in sales being 100% up on the equivalent kit launched two years ago. Apparently the media coverage has been estimated to have been worth some £2m in publicity. Happy to have played my part, obviously (the invoice is in the post).
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Mirror reports that, owing to a lack of female company since his split from Miss Voice of an Angel in May, the "Wales rugby hunk" is concerned that he might 'get aroused' when getting up close and personal to his dance partner during Strictly. The only solution, as far as I can see, is to pair him with Anne Widdicombe.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Feeling a little husky...

Back in the papers this week is none other than the artist formerly known as Gavin Church.

Ostensibly the story is that he is planning a comeback and wants to play in the 2011 World Cup, although which club would have him is anyone's guess.

The truth, of course, is that he is once again indulging in a spot of self-promotion which, on this occasion, also includes his involvement in a ludicrous-looking reality TV show set in Norway entitled "71 Degrees North" during the filming of which, he claims (with no hint of exaggeration), he "nearly died seven times."
Meanwhile, back in the real world...

ADDENDUM: It was also announced this morning that our orange friend from the Valleys will be one of the contestants in this year's BBC "Strictly Come Dancing" programme, which tells you all you need to know about where his priorities lie. World Cup? My arse.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

On a mission from God?

Jake White & Eddie Jones
Following the Springboks' disastrous 2010 Tri-Nations campaign it appears that Jake & Elwood (White & Jones) are ready to put the band back together at short notice in an effort to salvage the 2011 World Cup campaign.

It's clear that the Springboks have problems which can't all be explained away by the new law interpretations. The last time I checked it wasn't illegal to tackle for instance. It appears, however, that the collective will of the players is no longer sufficient to hide the shortcomings of their head coach.

So what's to be done? Apparently Jake and his band are ready to start next week if required, but I'd advise the SARU against a knee-jerk reaction. P de V is a great bloke, top coach and is in no way insane. Do us all a favour and keep him in place - at least for the next 12 months.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Remarkable

photo: rugbymatters.net
The New Zealand women's rugby team are simply outstanding.
Not only did they beat an excellent England team in Sunday's Women's RWC Final to secure their 4th consecutive world title, they did so having played hardly any international rugby during the past 4 years.

Consider this. From losing to New Zealand in the 2006 RWC final in Canada through to the start of this tournament, the England team played over 30 matches, winning the Six Nations on 4 occasions (including 3 Grand Slams) and arguably setting the standard for women's international rugby worldwide.
The Black Ferns, on the other hand, played 6 times in the same period. That's all - SIX matches in 4 years, an astonishing statistic which makes their victory on Sunday all the more remarkable.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Another player comes out

Ageing backrow forward, Total Flanker, an occasional member of the Chesham Veterans XV, today astonished absolutely no one when he admitted to the world that, actually, he was quite dull.

"It's true," he said. "I've been living a lie all these years, pretending to be funny and interesting when really all I yearned for was a quiet beer in front of the telly.

"I know I'm letting down many people who think of me as the life and soul of the party but my secret life has been tearing me apart and I just can't keep up the pretence.

"It was obviously a huge shock to my wife and family who had no idea. The last thing I wanted to do was to hurt them but they have been amazingly supportive."

The overweight loose forward hopes going public will inspire other rugby dullards to come out of the closet and has been encouraged by the reaction of current and former playing colleagues who appear to have taken the news in their stride.

"Fair play to him, I always suspected he was a boring bastard," a former team mate responded when told of the news.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Breaking News

Apparently Gareth Thomas is gay.

What - you hadn't heard?

Obviously not content with the largely measured "fair enough" non-reaction to his coming out from the rugby public at large, barely a day goes by now without Thomas appearing in the press somewhere to declare how his coming out was the best thing that ever happened to him, how great his life now is, how Mickey Rourke wants to make a movie about him, how Manchester should host a gay rugby tournament, how wonderful it is to be the only gay in the village...

Seriously, Gareth, enough already. We get the message.

Friday, 3 September 2010

What Danny did next #3


He may claim that it's all just a bit of fitness training, but Danny Cipriani's continued flirtation with the round ball game suggests otherwise.

After stints with with QPR and Spurs in London it appears that Cipriani is now flaunting his wares at the MLS team the Colorado Rapids in the USA.

Apparently a talented footballer as a teenager (he was once offered youth terms by Reading), Cipriani is, according to Rapids' communication manager Jason Gilham, looking to secure a contract with the MLS franchise.

"I think he is looking at that possibility," says Gilham. "It is something that is being looked at from both sides."

Danny is, of course, still expected to show up in to Australia shortly to play for the Melbourne Rebels who are expecting him on 1st October.

"We have seen no evidence to say that he is not coming," says Rebels coach Rod McQueen. "Other than the fact that he's lifting his skirt for any football team that'll have him." (OK, so I made up that last bit).

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Final Countdown

photo: rugbymatters.net
Well, as expected, the Women's Rugby World Cup final on Sunday will feature England vs New Zealand, after both teams won their respective semi-finals yesterday.

England put away a cussed Australia 15-0, but will face a huge task against the reigning champion Black Ferns who apparently have not lost a World Cup game since their semi-final defeat against the United States in 1994 and who comfortably saw off France 45-7 yesterday at the Stoop.

For both teams (and indeed all the other teams in the tournament) Sunday will be the 5th game in 17 days - which is a tremendous achievement in itself and testament to the fitness and conditioning levels of the players involved.

Inevitably mainstream media coverage of the tournament has been patchy at best but John Birch over at the Letchworth Girls Rugby blog has covered more or less every second...

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Cockers = Legend

There may not be the characters in the game that there once were, but try telling that to Leicester DoR Richard Cockerill.

Always a no-nonsense sort of bloke as a player (compulsory for the Tigers front row I'd imagine), coaching has hardly mellowed him - as the below quote regarding his man-management amply demonstrates:

"Look, if it were down to me, I wouldn't let any player wear any colour boot other than black. They wouldn't die their hair blond, or drive around in poncey cars either. But that's not the world we live in.

"As long as they play well and their attitude is good and they train really hard, I'm a little more forgiving, even though I still might think that bloke's a prat because he wears white boots."
Classic! I couldn't have put it better myself.

Even better was his reaction to Jordan Crane revealing the extent of an ankle injury on Twitter:
"Jordan has twisted his ankle and has got a bit of damage in there and we are awaiting the results of a scan. It’s not ideal, but we will wait for the prognosis. He’s now banned from tweeting or whatever you call it.

"And the next time he does I will break both of his ankles - and you can quote me on that."
Legend!