Sunday, 27 February 2011

Dummy


Chabal (right) with
his waxwork dummy
 EXCLUSIVE - The Musée Grévin in Paris is launching an internal investigation after it was revealed that one of its waxwork dummies played 50 minutes for France at Twickenham yesterday during the 17-9 defeat to England.

We can reveal that the waxwork likeness of Sebastien Chabal, unveiled at the Musée Grévin earlier this month, started the match for France at number 8 before eventually being hauled off by Marc Lièvremont and replaced with the slightly more animate Julien Bonnaire 10 minutes into the second half.

The whereabouts of the real Sebastien Chabal remain unknown.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

What Danny did next #3254

Danny Cipriani's stated intention to live a quiet life out of the pubic eye down under really doesn't appear to be going to plan, the former saviour of English rugby getting himself into a wee bit of bother having been reportedly chucked out of a nightclub in the early hours of the morning last week after allegedly stealing a bottle of alcohol from behind the bar.

Fortunately things do appear to be going a little better on the pitch, Cipriani nailing penalty in the final minute to give the Rebels a 25-24 victory over the Brumbies yesterday to make up for their embarrassing 43-0 defeat to the Waratahs in their opening Super 15 outing last week.

However, with many of Cipriani's ex-England colleagues preparing to take on the French at Twickenham today I still feel that Cipriani's strategy to win back his England place looks a little misplaced.

It's too early to say "I told you so" and the move to Oz may still be the making of him, but I've never quite understood how disappearing to the other side of the world to play for a rookie franchise, rather than staying in England and proving himself worthy of a recall by competing directly with his rivals for the shirt, was ever going to work.

It's still early days of course, but despite all the talk of staying out of the tabloid glare and knuckling down to prove himself as a player in the Super 15, the evidence still seems to suggest it's going to be a long hard slog on the pitch while his off-field behaviour is proving to be just as attractive to the tabloid hacks in Oz as it did back home.

Shame, really, because I can't help feeling that a fit and firing Cipriani would quite enjoy playing in the current England team.

Friday, 25 February 2011

On the move...

Mathew Tait's proposed move to Leicester Tigers, having last week been released  from his contract with immediate effect by Sale Sharks, is probably the best thing that can happen to him.

A real talent who, during the 2007 World Cup looked as if he was only a step or two away from breaking through on the world stage, the last few years for Tait have been rather disappointing.

Selectorial foibles, fluctuating form, injuries and being in a (mostly) poor Sale team have all contributed to his lack of progress. The thing is, looking back, I don't recall Tait ever really having had a stinker for England. Even on his debut in 2005 (where he was smashed twice in tackles by a certain tangerine-skinned Welsh opponent), he didn't play that badly. He has, however, failed to convince completely in an England shirt and is currently well down the pecking order, especially given the current preference for behemoths in the centres.

The move to the Tigers, therefore, can only be a good thing. Being around top players, top coaches and, most importantly, a winning culture, can only improve his prospects. Just look at Toby Flood.

Too late for this year's World Cup? Probably, but at 25 Tait's still young enough to be around in 2015 and much can change in 4 years. I do feel that it will be England's loss if they do not find a way to make the most of his talents.

Genius!

A letter to Steve on the eve of his wedding...

My cap is suitably doffed.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Pitbull Muzzled

According to that purveyor of all things true and wise (aka the Daily Mail), former England hooker and current BBC rugby pundit Brian Moore has decided to close his Twitter account following criticism after the publication of a couple of less than tasteful jokes.

Last month Moore apparently re-tweeted a post saying: "Apparently Gary Glitter is the new Aston Villa manager. He heard the strikers are Young, Bent and possibly Keane, boom boom."

Tasteful? No.
Funny? Yes, very, at least according to my admittedly puerile sense of humour.

More recently, following England’s win over Wales in Cardiff, a (possibly Welsh) tweeter named Sam Downes sent a public tweet to Moore accusing him of being "literally the worst, most biased commentator in the history of rugby, sport and the universe," to which one Moore’s followers responded, questioning whether Downes’surname had anything to do with his medical condition, a remark which Moore apparently (and possibly ill-advisedly) re-tweeted.

Tasteful? No.
Funny? Not really, but so what?

The real point here is that the nature of a medium like Twitter is that remarks are often made that are intended largely for private consumption (or at least for consumption by followers who presumably have signed up because they know what sort of views they are likely to get) but which are, in fact, consumed by a much wider public. Tasteless jokes and remarks are part of life and therefore part of Twitter. Sometimes they're very funny, sometimes they're wide of the mark. Moore's not the first well-known figure to be caught out by Twitter (and, remember, he didn't even make the original comment) and certainly won't be the last, but for anyone to genuinely take offence at some throwaway line on a social media site strikes me as being more than a little ridiculous. I suspect that those who have jumped on the bandwagon of condemnation are motivated more by a general dislike for Moore's persona than by any real offence caused.

The fact that Moore, whose views are generally always entertaining (whether or not you agree with them), has felt compelled to close his Twitter account is a shame but, as with many so-called scandals these days, the matter does appear to have been blown out of all proportion.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Christchurch

My thoughts are very much with the people of Christchurch following the devastating earthquake there this week.

With the death toll rising and with 300 people still reported missing, the ongoing rescue mission is, quite rightly, the absolute priority.

New Zealanders will also need the time and space to mourn their dead.

Rugby, quite frankly, can wait.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The continuing adventures of Marc Le Fou...


"gibber, gibber"


"We appreciate our Italian cousins with whom we share the same quality of life, we appreciate the Celts and their conviviality … and among all these nations we have one huge thing in common: we don't like the English."


In other breaking news, the Pope was today revealed to be Catholic...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Welsh stars struck down

Victim of Japha Fever
Breaking News: It emerged today that WRU officials have declared an orange alert in Cardiff following the outbreak of an "very aggressive" strain of a virus that has affected several members of the Welsh rugby squad.

It is believed that the virus, commonly referred to as Japha Fever, is endemic to areas of South Wales and has struck down the likes of Lee Byrne, James Hook, Mike Phillips and Andy Powell, all of whom are believed to be in isolation at University Hospital Cardiff.

A spokesperson for the Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, Dr Mfanwy Llewellyn-Morgan, commented that the virus had medical experts stumped.

“There was a similar outbreak amongst the Welsh squad in 2008,” said Dr Llewellyn-Morgan. “What we don’t know is whether the virus has lain dormant since, and we are stumped as to why the virus has re-appeared this year.”

Symptoms of Japha Fever include orange skin, hairless legs and an inability to perform basic tasks.

There is no vaccine and no known cure.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Whatever happened to: Backrow moves?

Another in a series of musings about bits ‘n’ bobs that appear to have disappeared from the game since my so-called heyday back in the dark ages of the 1980s.

This time I would like to focus on a phenomenon very close to my heart - I am referring of course to the long lost art of backrow moves.

Those of you under the age of 25 may be wondering what the old fool is wittering on about now but I can assure you that, back in the day, it was not uncommon to see the number 8, two flankers and scrum half all break from the scrum together in any manner of combinations to bamboozle the opposition fringe defence and either create space for the backline to flourish or, on a good day, charge over to score themselves.

Be honest now, when was the last time you saw that happen, if ever? These days very occasionally the number 8 might  pick and go from the base of the scrum and once in a blue moon he may pop the ball to his scrum half or inside to a supporting flanker but it's probably decades since I saw a backrow move worthy of the name.

Back in my unversity days (undoubtedly as a consequence of having way too much time on our hands) our college team probably had up to a dozen or so variations from the base of the scrum. While it's true that on occasions we felt the need to run through our entire repertoire during a match with the (mostly) unintended consequence that our three quarters were starved of possession, that's really besides the point. The fact is we had attacking options from the scrum which kept the opposition backrow 'honest'.

I'm sure that the shambles in which scrummaging currently finds itself doesn't help, but this can't be the only reason that the art of the backrow move has disappeared. A new generation of players appears to have grown up without recognising the attacking possibilities that a scrum can provide, especially in this day and age of 5 metre gaps behind the rear foot.

Coaches, please take note!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

To swallow or not to swallow...

At the risk that the title of this post might attract one or two unintended visitors, I thought I'd add my tuppence ha'penny's worth to the current debate raging around the "Ash Splash" - Chris Ashton's swallow-diving try celebration.

I know that it has captured the imagination of the public at large and the words "exuberence" and "entertainment" are being liberally sprinkled around but, being a tad old school (which I know will come as a great surprise to many of you), I am afraid I have to admit that I just don't like it, mainly for the following reasons:

1. It smacks of the one thing of which English rugby is often (and mostly unfairly) accused - arrogance. I'm sure it's not intended, but the inference is that this try-scoring lark is so easy we can afford to arse about before we touch down. Not good. Far more effective, methinks, would be to underplay the celebrations - simply dot the ball down and trot back, the sub-text being that this is no big deal, we do it all the time.

2. Seriously, it's only a matter of time until Ashton drops the ball, with the inevitable fallout. So far he's only indulged when clear of defenders but the one-handed wrist-grip on the ball as he leaps into the air is stupidly high risk and I'd hate to be in his shoes if his antics were to cost England victory in a tight game.

3. Ashton's physique is not exactly whippet-like, which means that there's a more than reasonable chance that crashing to the turf from such a height could do some serious damage to his ribcage. To me it looked as if he'd winded himself after his fourth try against Italy - he's lucky not to have done more damage and it looks very much like an accident waiting to happen.

4. It's not even a decent swallow dive. Ashton's technique is severely deficient - way too vertical for a start - and if he's going to persist he needs serious work on what is currently no more than a turkey flop. Must do better.

All that said, Ashton is a superb rugby player and has transformed the way the England team play. Bottom line is that, as long as he keeps scoring, he can pretty much celebrate as he pleases.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

6 Nations 2011 - Round 2, in a word...

ENGLAND - patchy

ITALY - chaotic

SCOTLAND - shambolic

WALES - improved

IRELAND - gutsy

FRANCE - French!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Good bloke

Yesterday's quote from Martin Johnson about prospective England newbie Alex Corbisiero tells us much about how he judges a player...
"Alex has done himself a world of good whenever he’s been with us in training. You get that feeling. He’s fit, strong, humble, keen and sharp. And he’s impressed as a bloke.”
Impressed as a bloke. Perhaps another player with an Italian-sounding surname currently in self-imposed exile down under should take note.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Observations in the cold light of day

OK, with a bit of time to digest the weekend's Six Nations action, here are some very brief observations:

ENGLAND - good, at times very good, but I wonder in hindsight whether we'll all be thinking "well, it was only Wales."

WALES - rubbish, with one or two exceptions (Bradley Davies, Jonathan Davies). Thing is, they've been consistently poor for some time now and yet no one appears to be seriously questioning Gatland's position.

IRELAND - phew, just got away with it. Outmuscled upfront and mostly contained behind - Ferris and Heaslip can't come back quickly enough.

ITALY - did what they always do at home and made life bloody difficult for the opposition. Almost a famous victory and it would have been fully deserved.

FRANCE - mesmerising at their best, but it's being conveniently forgotten that they conceded 3 tries and looked shaky in defence against a team hardly known for its try-scoring prowess.

SCOTLAND - can take heart from certain aspects of their performance and in Richie Gray they appear to have unearthed a monster. Euan Murray, however, might now want to also consider opting out of playing on a Saturday.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Gavin L'Eglise

Clearly not content with all those highly-paid footballers grabbing the headlines on transfer deadline day, one of the more interesting snippets I missed last week was the decision by the artist formerly known as Gavin Church to leave Saracens after only 4 games (and only 1 start) to join the mercenary foreign legions at Toulon.

Obviously this was purely a decision based on rugby and the fact that it will now be much easier for him to see his 2 London-based children, one of the reasons given by our orange friend for wanting to leave the Hairsprays last year.

No doubt he will also be taking intensive French lessons and will be immersing himself in the local culture. Or perhaps not - although at least with the climate down there he should save himself a few bob on fake tan.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

What a week, what a game...

Last week didn't start well at all - a very early morning train up to Manchester for one of the slowest, dullest meetings I've had the displeasure to be involved in followed by the news, discovered late at night while trying not to fall asleep on the return journey, that Newcastle United has sold their best player, Andy Carroll, to Liverpool for an albeit ridiculous £35 million.

The rest of the week should have been taken up with the build up towards the Six Nations. Sadly, the DTRTC (deal that refuses to complete) put paid to that idea as a series of early starts and late nights took me through to Friday. Fortunately, however, by late Friday afternoon all round 'deal fatigue' had set in amongst the parties to the DTRTC and I was able to make it home in time for the match and avoid being an unintended victim of the tournament schedulers.

And so to the match - and what a match it was. Not one, perhaps, for the purists and at 23-9 up England really should have gone on to win comfortably, but the blood and thunder nature of the game played in such a superb atmosphere was exactly what the Six Nations is all about and it was a brilliant way to open the tournament.

As for England, as Johnno put it afterwards, they are due a few "rollickings" on Monday, not least Ben Foden for his ludicrous "little brother" comments before the game and Chris Ashton for that swallow dive - I'd personally have driven down to Cardiff to shoot him if he'd dropped the ball. There were, however, many positives - Toby Flood was excellent, as was Mark Cueto and in the forwards Tom Palmer and Dylan Hartley were immense and Tom Wood had a very promising debut. The spell following Louis Deacon's sin-binning, when England controlled possession for the best part of 10 minutes, was really when the game was won and England should take great heart from a first win in Cardiff since 2003.

As for the Welsh, what on earth has happened? Bradley Davies was the only forward to emerge with much credit, Mike Phillips was awful, Jamie Roberts was anonymous and both James Hook and Ickle Shane were reasonably easily contained. Yes they have a few injuries to deal with but to be dominated at home like that has to be worrying. Messrs Gatland and Edwards have a job on their hands.

So, the 2011 Six Nations is now up and running. Bring it on!