Thursday, 28 October 2010

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu,

Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu...

Well, adieu anyway to Philip John Vickery OBE, who today announced that yet another neck injury has forced his retirement from the game.

A quick glance at his CV makes for impressive reading:
  • 73 England caps;
  • 5 x British Lion;
  • World Cup Winner;
  • England captain;
  • oriental tattoo which translates as 'I'll fight you to the death';
  • his own "Raging Bull" clothing range; and (last but not least)
  • a qualified cattle inseminator.
Not bad for the son of a Cornish dairy farmer. He's apparently a thoroughly decent bloke too.

Good luck to you sir.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Above the law

It would appear that All Blacks coach, the Right Reverend Graham Henry, is above the law.

A report by 3News in New Zealand suggests that our favourite preacher was pulled over by police on Auckland's waterfront last Friday evening after being clocked travelling at 81kph in a 50kph area. That's 50mph in a 30mph area in real money.

Henry was, however, allegedly let off the speeding charge, what with him being the coach of the All Blacks and a man of the cloth and all that.

We are suitably outraged.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Groundbreakers (again)

News this week that my club, Chesham, has in its own small and yet significant way taken another step on the journey towards a fully integrated men's and women’s game in England by recruiting England Women's winger Kat Merchant as its backs coach.

Kat joins fellow England Women's international "Rocky" Clarke on the Chesham coaching staff and the fact that my first reaction was "Backs coach? How extravagent" rather than "What, another woman?" speaks volumes for how successful the club's innovative recruitment campaign has been.

One thing the club does have is shedloads of talented young threequarters, so the new backs coach will have plenty of raw material with which to work. Today Berks Bucks & Oxon 1 North, tomorrow the world!

Saracens - new signing imminent

Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter today announced that he was about to make a sensational new signing.
The new face at Vicarage Road will not, however, be Gavin Henson, despite the Welshman training with the squad this week.

“Gav had a fantastic session with us and was well-received by the squad,” said Venter. “I would be happy to sign him but we've been unable to reach agreement with the Ospreys and negotiations with the BBC have proved particularly complex.

"So instead, and on Gav's recommendation, we've decided to sign Peter Andre. He has the pecs, the abs, the fake tan and a famous ex-WAG, pretty much everything that Gav would have brought to the table really. We're delighted to welcome him to the Sarries squad." 

Although ostensibly Venter was hoping to sign Henson as fly-half cover for the injured Derick Hougaard, it is understood that Andre will initially be expected cover for pop duo Right Said Fred by performing the club's anthem "Stand Up for the Saracens" prior to home matches.

Despite the contractual difficulties and the requirement to get dispensation from Premier Rugby to exceed the salary cap, it is believed that Venter has not given up hope of pairing Andre and Henson together for a 'dream team' Paso Doble ahead of his team's encounter with London Wasps at Wembley in December.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

At the request of GazP...

Did I hear correctly?

Did my ears deceive me or did the artist formerly known as Gavin Church actually utter the following words on last night's Strictly Come Dancing show?

"My biggest fear on Saturday was being voted off in front of my idol Peter Andre."


I would like to think that the above line was delivered with a large slice of irony. Sadly, however, I fear that irony does not feature in his repertoire.

Seriously, Gavin, get a grip.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Suits you sir

It's what England rugby fans have been waiting for...for the England rugby team to discover a little bit of French flair.

While we continue to wait for it to materialise on the pitch, the RFU this week announced a commercial deal with French fashion brand Eden Park at London’s swanky Kensington Roof Gardens, a contract which sees  all of England’s squads from under-18 level upwards kitted out in bespoke formalwear designed to make them look like the mutt's nuts.

It was interesting to see that Ugo Monye was chosen to model the outfits. I suspect that being available and local were the main criteria.

The brand was launched in 1987 by Racing Club de France players Franck Mesnel, Jean-Baptiste Lafond, Eric Blanc, Yvon Rousset and Philippe Guillard who all regularly used to wear berets and pink bow-ties during matches. Known as "Le Showbizz," they also used to, on occasion, sip champagne on the field at half-time. Perhaps this is the vital ingredient the English backline has been missing?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Game Sense 2

There were some interesting comments on my little piece about proposals to remove contact from Under9s rugby.

One school of thought appears to be that removing contact will force bigger, slower kids out of the game. Another is that what is needed is for kids to be properly coached.

The problem is that one assumes that the only role for bigger, slower kids is to smash through opposition, while the other assumes (I think) that showing or telling kids what to do is the answer.

The whole purpose of 'Game Sense', as I understand it, is that you provide kids with an environment in which they solve problems for themselves and the idea of removing contact is designed only to encourage kids to work out another way of playing.

Now, admittedly, I'm no coach so I could well be talking out of my arse (it has been known) but here's an example of what I mean...

My 7 year old son plays football (and I have yet to disown him). Generally speaking, 7 year old footballers like to run with the ball, tackle and shoot, so in an inspired move earlier this year their coach introduced a practice match in which dribbling, tackling and shooting were not allowed. The result was that the boys passed, moved, passed, moved, passed...you get the picture. The great thing was that they weren't told to do it, they just worked it out. So, my son's team may not have fantastic individual players who can beat half a team on their own but they all now pass the ball bloody well.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Boo hoo

Poor Warren Gatland.

Premier Rugby's decision to comply with IRB guidelines by not releasing Premiership players until August 4th 2011 means that Gatland (and other national coaches whose players earn their living in the Premiership) will only have 35 days to prepare his squad before the start of the tournament. Only 35 days, Disgraceful. After all what could he possibly get done in 35 days? It's barely enough time to learn one another's names for god's sake.

An alternative view might be that Premier Rugby might actually (albeit inadvertently) be doing Wales et al a favour, allowing already knackered players to re-charge their batteries whilst sparing them from interminably dull training camps for a few weeks. Far be it for me to suggest that there is often a direct correlation between the length of time a coach has access to players and how abysmally they go on to perform on the pitch.

Naturally Gatland, being a coach, doesn't see it like that. Buoyed by his recent contract extension (and his track record of 4 wins out of the last 12 matches during the past year obviously speaks for itself) he has branded Premier Rugby's stance as being "completely ridiculous", instead taking the entirely conciliatory step of warning the likes of Dwayne Peel and Andy Powell that their Rugby World Cup places are consequently in doubt.

How very, very mature.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

I am not worthy

Another fantastic piece of satire over on The East Terrace - this time dealing with how the IRB have decided to embrace a new 1980s Rugby Retro campaign.

Of particular enjoyment for me is the suggestion that special 'Retro Law' weekends will be introduced in which referees will govern matches according to rugby laws of the 1980s, to include no lifting in the lineouts and allowing proper rucking.

If I'm honest, on the very rare occasions I venture forth onto the field of play these days, the only laws I do adhere to are those I learned in the 80s. It still irks me to this day, for instance, that if a penalty is kicked into touch the kicking side get the throw in and don't get me started on having to stay bound on the scrum.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Mission Statement

From time to time when I've nothing better to do (or, more accurately, when I should be doing something far more productive) I have a tendency to indulge in a spot of navel gazing as I try to decide what this blogging lark is all about.

Somewhat surprisingly this blog has now been going since May 2007, starting as merely something to satisfy idle curiosity before developing into a regular gig. I still don't fully understand what it's for or why I do it and, more pertinently, I haven't a clue why anyone would read what I write. I guess that, ultimately, it's a chance for me to let flow what little creative juices I have and an opportunity to voice my opinions on rugby without having watch Mrs Flanker's eyes glaze over as I do so.

I know that it's fashionable for organisations these days to come up with a "mission statement" that goes to the very essence of what they're all about. Despite my contemplations, I'm not sure I'm quite in a position to go that far but, as an exercise in pure unadulterated self-indulgence, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts about what Total Flanker is, and what it is not. So, not even close to a mission statement, but here goes:
  1. Total Flanker is about opinion, i.e. my utterly biased, often unfair and mostly uninteresting rugby opinion. If you don't agree with it, great - I am more than happy for you to say so.
  2. Total Flanker is not about rugby news, not unless it involves something a bit left-field, or something a little weird, or something that just captures my imagination.
  3. Total Flanker will continue to chronicle my increasingly sporadic (some might say pathetic) attempts to continue to play the game - although it came as quite a shock when I realised that I hadn't actually laced my boots in anger since October 2009.
  4. Total Flanker is not about making money and carries no advertising for the very good reason that there's very little money to be made (and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or knows something I don't).
That's it. Utterly pointless, I know. My apologies if you've read this far expecting enlightenment (hardly likely).

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Game Sense?

There was an interesting article in the Grauniad last week by Robert Kitson examining why, generally speaking, when compared to our antipodean friends down under, England tends to produce players with a tendency to seek contact rather than space.

One answer appears to be the fact that traditionally we in this country tend to introduce full contact into mini-rugby at Under 9 level and the solution, it is suggested, is to adopt a different approach championed by a certain Gary Townsend, who also happens to be the RFU's player-development manager.

Townsend is running a  pilot scheme in Hampshire, Warwickshire and Durham, which he believes will not only improve standards but will also address the drop-off in participation levels within the community game. The idea is that contact should be minimised in a player's early years to encourage players to seek space rather than contact. It's also recommended that Under 9s matches are played seven-a-side and on a smaller pitch.

Intrigued by this approach I decided to do a bit of research (almost like a proper writer!) and discovered a paper written by Gary Townsend for the RFU in 2007 entitled "Game Sense" in which he suggests that we are in danger of overcoaching our youngsters and wonders what would happen, for instance, if we didn’t allow children to participate in any ‘organised’ sport but instead allowed them to just play and to discover for themselves skills of evasion, team work, rules and spatial awareness.

Prescriptive, drill-based coaching, he argues, leads to players who have the skills but don't always know when or how to best use them and that the “I have been coached this way, therefore this is how I will coach,” approach simply doesn't work.

His argument is that children are brighter than we give them credit for and that they are capable of discovering what works and what doesn't with minimal obvious intervention from grown ups. Although a 'Game Sense' approach still requires careful thought and planning by coaches, the emphasis is very much on encouraging players to find solutions for themselves rather than spoon-feeding answers from a coaching manual.

Predictably enough, the introduction of the pilot scheme has prompted an outcry from parents and the reaction of many Grauniad readers to the article was quite illuminating. Most were of the opinion that 8 and 9 year olds loved the contact stuff and relished tackling and that all that was required was to teach them proper technique.

This misses the point. Yes, kids (and boys in particular) like the rough and tumble of contact rugby but to an extent they need protecting from themselves. If they can smash through a tackle, when are they ever going to learn how to sidestep, or how create space for another runner. At some point they are going to be stopped by a tackle - what then? Yes, technique still needs to be taught, but if we really want to develop players for the future who are capable of thinking under pressure and making the correct decisions on the field of play, surely they need to be encouraged to solve such problems rather than hide behind their physique.

Southern hemisphere rugby players are brought up playing touch rugby, and it shows. Even playing touch rugby myself in the summer, for instance, I've observed perfectly competent rugby players who haven't the first idea about how to attack space. Removing contact from the equation at a young age is, in my view, a step in the right direction and I wish Mr Townsend the best of luck with his pilot scheme.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

March for Honour

Lance Corporal Ram Patten with players from London Wasps

I've been asked to give a mention to the following fund raising initiative and am delighted to do so.

As a part of this year’s Poppy Appeal, the Royal British Legion is running a new initiative called March For Honour, which involves 4 teams of Armed Forces marching one mile for every British fatality in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 – about 1000 miles in total!

The March will take place between the 4th and 11th of November, and the aim is to raise £1m as well as awareness for the “Afghan generation” of our Armed Forces – the problems facing the modern day boys and girls serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Teams from the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines will set off from four locations across the country, converging on Wootton Bassett, to collect the Book of Remembrance before marching to London for the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.

"Having served in Afghanistan I appreciate the support the Legion provides to returning troops with physical and mental injuries and the families of the bereaved," says March for Honour creator Lance Corporal Ram Patten.

"The March provides an opportunity to thank the Royal British Legion, raise vital funds and make the public aware of the brilliant work they do."

For donations, the webpage is http://www.uk.virginmoneygiving.com/marchforhonour and the text shortcode is: text MARCH to 70222. £3+one message @ standard network rate (bill payers permission required!).

For more info the March For Honour website is http://www.marchforhonour.com/ and all of the rugby photos are on the Facebook fan page, which can be found at www.facebook.com/marchforhonour.

Balls

Another example, perhaps, of truth being stranger than fiction.

A little while back I wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek post about the launch of the new adidas "Jabulani" rugby ball for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when last week I received an email from someone (who obviously does not read this blog) at an agency on behalf of adidas asking me to promote the new adidas "Torpedo Respect" - apparently the new official match ball for the Heineken Cup.

Here are a couple of statements - see if you can tell which statement is fictional:

(1) ...manufactured using a new design consisting of 16 thermally bonded 3-dimensional panels molded from ethylene-vinyl acetate and thermo-plastic polyurethanes; or

(2) ...is 100% hand stitched and crafted from natural rubber, the interior is composed of a mixture of latex and butyl to offer exceptional quality and durability.

No? OK, I'll make it a little easier:

(1)...through positioning the valve in the seam and not in the middle of a panel, there is an enhanced sweet spot area ideal for kicking; or

(2)... adopting a ball with similar properties will discourage kicking to touch and long-range penalty attempts.

So, Torpedo Respect or Jabulani?

Admittedly some people might be very excited by the launch of the new ball but, frankly, I'm not one of them. A ball is a ball is a ball. Both regular readers of this blog will know that I'm not in the habit of endorsing products - not unless it's a product I genuinely believe in or unless I am showered with free samples. Suffice to say I'm not expecting the postman to be calling anytime soon and perhaps the most salient point about the new adidas ball is that it retails at 50 quid.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Maurice Ignatius Keane RIP

Very sad news this week that former Ireland and Lions legend Moss Keane has died of bowel cancer aged 62.

Keane made his Ireland debut in 1974, just 4 years after taking up rugby in his early twenties following the lifting of the Gaelic Athletic Association ban on playing "foreign" sports.  He decided he "did not need to be a rocket scientist to be a second row."

During an 11 year international career he was never dropped by his country, a remarkable stat. I caught the tail end of Keane's international career as my interest in the sport blossomed in the early eighties and remember him as a larger than life character and hugely committed forward. His playing prowess was matched by his camaraderie, fondness for a few pints and ready wit, with several examples emerging in the various obituaries being penned about him this week. Here are just a few:

  • On the 1977 Lions Tour to New Zealand, when asked for his comments after a game, Keane replied "The first half was even. The second half was even worse."
  • During the famous Munster victory over the All Blacks in 1978, following the lineout code being called at a Munster lineout, Keane was heard to exclaim "Oh Christ, not me again."
  • Former England skipper Bill Beaumont approached Keane in the tunnel prior to an Ireland v England game and said "May the best team win," to which Keane replied “I hope they don’t.”
  • In a teamtalk he was reported to have coined the phrase, "Spread out and stick together."
  • And finally, former England hooker Peter Wheeler was invited to stay with Keane in Kerry and, on arrival at Keane's house late at night he asked if Moss Keane lived there, to which the woman who opened the door replied "Yes, bring him in."

This has to stop

My thoughts go out to Gavin Quinnell, brother of former Wales forwards Scott and Craig and son of former Wales and Lions legend Derek, following reports that he has permanently lost the sight in his left eye following an incident during Llanelli's Welsh Premiership game against Cross Keys last weekend.

At any age that's a pretty horrific thing to happen and at only 26 years old it looks as if that's his professional rugby career over.

The fact that the Scarlets and Llanelli RFC have lodged a formal citing complaint with the WRU and that Gwent Police are also investigating an allegation of assault, suggests that the injury may have been the result of a deliberate act.

If that is the case I can only hope that the perpetrator is dealt with in the strongest possible manner - this kind of cowardly attack simply must be eradicated from the game and if it takes a life ban and/or a prison sentence to achieve that then so be it. If I was Gavin I'd also be instructing solicitors to sue.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Good Evans

Reports in the New Zealand press this week suggest that a man allegedly posing as a member of the 1977 British Lions team has been enjoying VIP treatment in Rotorua.

Gareth Evans, a Rotorua-based tool maker who claims to have emigrated to New Zealand from Wales in 1983, has apparently been passing himself off as the former Welsh international winger Gareth Evans who played three Tests for the Lions on the 1977 Tour of New Zealand.

On on the strength of his false claims Mr Evans has been wined and dined by the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce, met with civic leaders and was a recent guest of the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union for their match against Otago.

As scams go, this one was harmlessly small-scale and really quite clever, obviously working on the premise that the real Gareth Evans is hardly a household name and that no one, least of all Rotorua's alickadoos, would be any the wiser. Sadly, however, the ruse was rumbled when the Rotorua Review's top investigative journalist obviously smelt a rat and contacted the real Gareth Evans who, it turns out, has never lived outside Wales.

Meanwhile in South West France an Englishman by the name of Iain Balshaw continues to insist that he used to play rugby for England.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Prop Idol

Good grief. England loosehead prop Andrew Sheridan, master bricklayer and chief layer-to-waste of Australian scrummages, has just released an album.

No, not a photo album, a genuine album of music - 16 songs in total - entitled "Where We Go From Here."

Listen to brief extracts here. It seems to be a collection of folky, country & western influenced guitar-strummed ditties - not my cup of tea really but not unpleasant on the ear and probably tailor-made made for Radio 2. Hardly reaching the heights of Kevin Keegan or Waddle & Hoddle, but maybe that's a good thing.

So, with Matt "X Factor" Stevens due to resume hostilities on the field of play in January, England could at least field the most musical front row at next year's World Cup. For those unsure what on earth I'm on about, here's a reminder of Stevens' talents:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In absentia II

They seek him here, they seek him there
Those Rebels seek him everywhere
Where has he gone, where can be be?
That damned elusive Danny C
A visa problem, so they say
Is keeping Danny-boy away
The real reason, I'd have thought
Perhaps involves a different sport
Or maybe just the fact that he's
Addicted to celebrity
And Melbourne, being so far away
It rarely features in OK!
They seek him here, they seek him there
Those Rebels seek him everywhere.

In absentia

Saturday, 2 October 2010

46 not out

In a week when I turned 46 to no fanfare whatsoever (too busy at work for starters), a few rugby stories caught my eye...

According to Paul Rees in the Grauniad, the IRB is investigating claims that Australian players were wired up to their coaches during the 2003 World Cup.

Although I believe that it is common practice in the NFL, for instance, that players are wired for sound (for example via miniature electronic earpieces stitched into headgear), it is strictly verboten in rugby. If true, however, this nefarious practice might explain the absurd phenomenon of backs wearing scrumcaps, something on which my views have previously been made known.

That said, a fat lot of good it did the Aussies in the final minute of the 2003 World Cup Final as "DROP GOAL, DROP GOAL, DROP GOAL, OH F**K" was screamed into the players' earpieces.

The other story of note was the scandalous decision by Saracens to send Steve Borthwick to the Munich Oktoberfest with the rest of the squad rather than requiring him to attend the launch of this season's Heineken Cup.

When I say 'scandalous' what I mean of course is 'brilliant'. Utterly unprofessional no doubt, but it's good to see that there are those that still appreciate the value of a few beers together and are not entirely in thrall to the corporate dollar (or, in this case, euro).

Finally, there was the astounding hold-the-front-page announcement by Chesham Rugby Club that it will be running a 3rd XV this season. With very few Vets fixtures planned this season the 3rd Xv may well turn out to be my only opportunity for rugby action this year. That said, my current state of fitness leaves something to be desired and, given the reported numbers at club training (which I have not yet experienced first hand, it must be said), there's a very real possibility that I wouldn't get a game anyway. C'est la vie.