Thursday, 31 May 2012

Tinkering is not the answer

A bit late with this one, but it seems as if the IRB have, after all, sanctioned a trial change to the scrummaging laws. Instead of the much maligned "Crouch, Touch, Pause, Ennnnnnnnn.....gage" we now have a new law 20.1 (g) which reads:
The referee will call “crouch” then “touch”. The front rows crouch and using their outside arm each prop touches the point of the opposing prop’s outside shoulder. The props then withdraw their arms. The referee will then call “set” when the front rows are ready. The front rows may then engage. The “set” call is not a command but an indication that the front rows may come together when ready.

Is that really the best that the IRB's Scrum Steering Group can come up with?

Apparently this has been successfully trialled at student level at Stellenbosch and Cambridge but this rather misses the point. It's at the elite level that the problem exists - where winning the "hit" is everything - and simply removing the 'pause' instruction will do nothing to change this.

I'm with Brian Moore on this one. Tinkering is not the solution. To cure rugby's scrummaging ills all one needs to do is apply the existing laws i.e. insist on a correct bind and go back to penalising the early shove and the crooked feed.

Simples.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Total Flanker Guide to: Touch Rugby


(a.k.a The Fat Boys’ guide to Touch survival)

The observant amongst you will have noticed that in May & June of each year you are treated to my fascinating updates relating to my escapades on the Touch rugby fields of Chesham.

Now in my 7th season of Touch, I believe I have amassed a certain level of insight into what it takes for a lardy 47 year old to survive in a game of frenetic pace and movement. Here are my top tips:
1. Do some training. Sounds obvious, but it is necessary and, remember, you’re not training to be fitter than anyone else, or even to be as fit. No, you are training to ensure that your heart, lungs and limbs continue to function. It’s all about survival, after all.

2. Join a team with a variety of ages and abilities. Having young, fit, rapid team-mates is a must. You can also delude yourself into believing that you are contributing your many years of experience and guile to the team effort.

3. Know your limitations. If trundling the ball up the middle is the sum total of your contribution then so be it. Look, I know I’m not going to out-sprint the opposition and they know it too. I only live in hope that occasionally we all might forget.

4. Don’t hesitate to sub yourself off when knackered. If you only last a minute, fair enough. Come off, have a drink, take oxygen, have CPR, whatever – you’ll soon be back on again as some other poor sod is gasping for breath.

5. If you need to take a sneaky breather on the pitch there are always places to hide – you just need to know where to look.

6. ALWAYS have a drink with your team afterwards. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Splashdown

Another rule of English rugby journalism appears to be that one is not allowed to write the words “Chris Ashton” without adding the words “swallow dive” or “Ash Splash” in close proximity.

Hence Ashton’s 3 tries against the BaaBaas yesterday was noted by most scribes on the basis that not one try featured his usual gymnastic celebration, much to the disappointment, apparently, of Twickenham man.

Perhaps the penny has finally dropped with Ashton. Whatever, it’s just good to see him crossing the whitewash again.

Come on without...

Media coverage of Harlequins’ inaugural league title has been somewhat disappointing.

BBC Breakfast on Sunday, for instance, failed to mention Quins’ victory over Leicester at all, preferring to focus on England’s meaningless football friendly, the Monaco GP qualifying, Carl Froch, the second day of the Trent Bridge Test and the third round of the golf at Wentworth. And poor old Englebert Humperdinck’s disaster at Eurovison, naturally.

Meanwhile, much as the printed press can’t write any article about the England rugby team without mentioning dwarf tossing, so Quins’ victory cannot be reported, it appears, without reference to Bloodgate. Lazy, very lazy.

So let’s put this right. Quins were simply excellent on Saturday and it warms the heart to see so many English players playing such fast and accurate rugby. It all bodes well for the summer ahead.

Congratulations to Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler, Danny Care et al – simply marvellous. And Conor O'Shea's tribute to Dean Richards...
"This is a massive tribute to Dean who put so many of the structures in place"
...was pure class.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The dragon before the cartel...

The decision to deny London Welsh promotion to the Premiership (should they complete victory over Cornish Pirates) sits rather uneasily with me.

One the one hand I am firmly of the opinion that the professional game simply cannot support 24 professional clubs in the Premiership and Championship (and, indeed, it's not that long ago that London Welsh were in administration) and I remain unconvinced that promotion and relegation in its current form is a sustainable model going forward (despite the utterly convincing case presented by Exeter).

On the other hand it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is now a cartel of self-interested Premiership (and a couple of Championship) clubs who receive favourable treatment and disproportionate RFU funding designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Not only are the majority of these clubs still unprofitable (despite the huge financial advantages they enjoy), many do not even meet their own criteria for being in the Premiership, a point that hasn’t gone unnoticed by London Welsh.

That Exeter have somehow managed to gatecrash this party is nothing short of miraculous. Whether London Welsh manage to do the same remains to be seen. History, sadly, would suggest not.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

A touch happy

Second touch outing for the Bridesmaids last night in sweltering conditions against the BaaBaas, our nemesis from last year.

A daunting prospect, BaaBaas had won their previous outings 9-1 and 9-0 respectively whereas we’d scraped an unconvincing 8-7 victory in our opening fixture against the enigmatically named Spy Rugby.

Furthermore, given the horrendous state of my own personal fitness, it’s safe to say confidence wasn’t at its highest.

And yet…despite the much fancied BaaBaas being a team of superfit young men and despite us trailing 0-2 at halftime, somehow our motley collection of old fogies and teenagers held it all together, defended superbly and, as the BaaBaas tired, our youngsters started to play.

1-2, 2-2, 3-2 – somewhat incredibly we clawed our way back into the game and, with a one-point lead, began to frustrate the heck out of our opponents, especially when the old gimmers amongst us started to slow the game down to a strolling pace – the touch equivalent of a 50 yard rolling maul.

It all finished 4-2 to the Bridesmaids and, despite not feeling as if I’d contributed anything of any significance, I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite so knackered after a game of touch.

All worth it though – and I’m still struggling to wipe the grin off my ugly mug. :)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Euro Vision

After a comprehensive victory over Ulster in the final at Twickenham on Saturday, the question on many a lip this week is whether Leinster should now be considered the greatest Heineken Cup team of all time?

An unprecedented third European title in four years would suggest so, but perhaps a more pertinent question is this:

How come players who look like world beaters in blue can look so distinctly average when decked out in the green of Ireland?

Answers on the back of a postcard...

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

The IRB’s announcement this week of a bunch of law trials for next season appears to have been generally well received.

Not being a huge fan of law tinkering, however, I remain unconvinced.

Many of the technical changes are largely inconsequential and are, ergo, arguably pointless.

The more prominent changes involve the role of the TMO and a new law for use of possession at the back of the ruck.

Under current rules, TMOs can only rule on events which occur in-goal and in the act of scoring a try but their jurisdiction is being extended to incidents within the field of play that have led to the scoring of a try. How far back a TMO may go, however, remains unclear. It often already takes an age for the TMO to rule on whether a try has been scored – how much longer will this take if he has to decide whether there was, say, a forward pass 6 phases earlier?

And, while we all get frustrated by scrum halves who have time to put the kettle on and read the newspaper before clearing the ball from the base of a ruck, will a 5 second time limit really help? When, for instance, will referees deem the ball to be “available”? Surely they could just apply current laws and penalise teams for going off their feet and sealing off?

The one change missing, of course, is a change to the scrummaging laws. A proposed amendment from the current "crouch, touch, pause, engage" sequence to a new "crouch, touch, set" sequence has been referred to the IRB’s Scrum Steering Group (whatever that is) but I suspect the phrase “too little, too late” might end up being appropriate.

Friday, 18 May 2012

(N)ice idea

Ex-England scrum half Kyran Bracken has certainly come up with an interesting proposal.

The former Dancing on Ice champion has suggested that the RFU should buy cash-strapped Wasps and use the club as a breeding ground for young international prospects.

Bracken makes the very good point that outstanding prospects like George Ford are being held back by lack of game time at the top level. Ford, an outstanding prospect, has struggled to get a game at Leicester behind Toby Flood but if he was at a club owned by the RFU, Bracken argues, at which player development was prioritised, he would gain vital Premiership experience and his progress towards international rugby could be accelerated.

Not sure how this would work while the possibility of relegation exists, but as proposals go this one is radical, innovative and forward-thinking…

..and is therefore a non-starter.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Identity Crisis


The selection of Edinburgh’s Dutch winger, Tim Visser, for Scotland's summer tour squad brings the age-old debate about international eligibility to the fore once more.

On 12th June McVisser will have resided in Scotland for 3 years and will therefore be eligible to represent the the land of William Wallace.

As a reminder, currently a player may play for the country in which he was born, or in which a parent or grandparent was born, or in which he has completed thirty six consecutive months of residence (provided, of course, that he has not already played for either of the top two representative teams or the senior sevens team of another country).

So, under the rules, Scotland are perfectly entitled to select McVisser and no doubt rugby in Holland will receive a boost as a result. Nevertheless, as with the smattering of South Africans now plying their trade with England, the selection just doesn't feel right.

In the modern professional era the IRB's eligibility criteria, particularly the residency qualification (and in some cases the grandparent rule) have meant that, effectively, players end up playing international rugby for a country other than their country of birth, more often than not for economic reasons.

Perhaps McVisser's case is not the right example to use as he almost certainly would not have had the opportunity to play top class international rugby for his country of birth (and arguably still won't with his adopted country!) but, unless the eligibility rules undergo a radical overhaul, there is a danger that international rugby will simply lose its soul with each country fielding a multi-national line up of immigrants playing under a flag of convenience. Player development will become pointless - after all, a player could play age-grade rugby for one country and then accept a lucrative 3 year contract in another country and end up switching allegiances. And where is the incentive for a country to develop, say, a new prop when there are already a bunch of, say, South African props already playing professionally in that country and biding their time until they are eligible?

The solution? I quite like the system currently being operated by the England & Wales Cricket Board, namely that a player must complete a residence period of 7 consecutive years, unless he arrives in the country as an under-18 (where a 4 year period applies).

Would this solve all the problems? No, but a 7 year qualification period would certainly ensure that a player would need to be fully committed to his chosen country rather than just be a transient economic opportunist (where are you now Mr Flutey?). And, while we're at it, let's abolish the grandparent rule entirely to avoid Thomas Waldrom-like situations where an English grandmother was somewhat conveniently discovered in time for the Rugby World Cup last year.

Best in France

This man has been named the French Top 14's Player of the Season by rugby newspaper Midi Olimpique.

What price on Steffon Armitage featuring for England in the final Test in South Africa this summer?

Robshaw - Morgan - Armitage - a backrow to be reckoned with.

Friday, 11 May 2012

M.I.A.

No major problems with Stuart Lancaster’s England squad for the tour of South Africa other than the absence of:
o Billy 36 – can’t help feel that England are missing a huge trick here.
o Jonny May – a star in the making, get him involved now.
o Steffon Armitage – obviously exceptional form does not = exceptional circumstances.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Five

Today this humble little blog is 5 years old.

And in that time over 250,000 of you have visited to view this nonsense.

You'd have thought that both you and I would have grown out of it by now...

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Sharks Attacked

Well done to Steve Diamond and Sale for fielding a starting XV consisting of entirely English-qualified players against Quins at the weekend.

Who gives a hoot if their primary motivation was to secure £200,000 in extra funding from the RFU. Their young, hungry, English players were arguably more competitive than any "first choice" Sale XV might have been and I wish more clubs would follow suit.

Integrity of the league? Bollocks.

Sale should be applauded, not criticised. Messrs Cockerill and Griffiths take note.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Whatever happened to: Proper Rugby Kit?

Those familiar with my inane drivel will confirm that I often get a bee in my bonnet about kit design.

Some might even say that I’m a tad obsessed but it is my submission, m’lord, that it is all with good reason and it seems entirely appropriate that Proper Rugby Kit should make it into my sporadic series of nostalgic ramblings about aspects of the game that appear to have vanished...

When I began playing rugby in 1979 rugby kit had barely changed in 100 years, specifically:
- Heavy cotton rugby shirts, with collar and a couple of buttons down the front, in plain colours, hooped or, for the more avant-garde teams, quartered design. And long sleeves, always long sleeves, so that you could roll them up or (as became the fashion in the 1990s) hack them off with scissors. 
 - Sturdy cotton shorts in plain white, black or navy. With pockets, always with pockets, for storage of gumshield, sweets and cigarettes.

- Cotton/wool socks, plain, topped or, for team that likes to show off, hooped. Socks that didn’t stay up, no matter how many rolls of electrical tape were used.
Club colours and designs remained the same year on year and, despite the occasional embellishment here and there and the appearance of sponsors’ logos as money reared its ugly head, for many years little changed.

And then it did.

Pinpointing when it happened is difficult. Some say the England World Cup team of 2003, others point to the All Blacks in 1999. What is clear though is that now we are left with:
- Skin tight, lycra based, round-necked t-shirts with no collars. Even when not featuring incomprehensibly lurid designs they are invariably festooned with a myriad of sponsor logos and emblems – on the front, on the sleeve, on the back, down the side, on the inside? And short sleeves, always short sleeves, so that anyone wanting long sleeves has to squeeze into an even tighter base layer worn underneath.

- Tight, shiny, genital-hugging shorts, colours to match the t-shirt, which frankly wouldn’t look out of place in a San Francisco nightclub. And no pockets.

- Lycra-infused socks that attach themselves to the calves like clingfilm and take an age to put on and take off.
What next? Aussie-rules style vest and budgie smugglers?

Contrary to popular belief I am not an utter Luddite and do appreciate that the modern professional game needs to move on and that technological advancements in kit design are inevitable (despite unintended consequences like the impossibility of getting a decent bind in the scrum).

Sadly, however, such ‘advancements’ are not limited to the professional game and it has become all too commonplace for the slightly less toned athletes amongst us to have to squeeze into such lycra abominations. There is only so long one can hold one’s breath, after all.

No, rugby kit that fits and looks like proper rugby kit – is that too much to ask?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Wisdom of William John Heaton Greenwood

Fantastic quote from Will Greenwood which sums up exactly how I feel about rugby and why I'm still running round making a fool of myself on the touch rugby field:
"You don’t always win, you don’t always play well. What counts is the feeling of unity that being part of a team brings."



Friday, 4 May 2012

Amateur Hour

Farcical doesn’t begin to describe the position at the bottom of the English Premiership.

Ostensibly the result of the Wasps vs Newcastle match will decide which of the 2 teams is relegated to the Championship.

Yet of the 4 teams vying for promotion from the Championship via the play-off system over the next few weeks, only Bristol currently has Premier Rugby approval for its ground and facilities. London Welsh don’t have primacy of tenure while Cornish Pirates and Bedford appear to be a urinal or two short of the required standard, or some such bollocks.

It appears therefore that whoever is ‘relegated’ stands a fair chance (75% as things currently stand) of not being relegated at all, but still might be. And in the meantime the ‘relegated’ club is expected to plan for next season. How, exactly?

Only one word for it - amateurish.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Catt in the bag

http://creaturesfeatures.wordpress.com

Surprise, surprise, England's attempts to recruit a backs/attack coach have been utterly shambolic.

First of all Andy Farrell, having been more or less nailed-on, turned the role down (with the Daily Fail claiming Sarries were only offered £60k compensation).

Then Wayne Smith, having issued a thinly veiled “come and get me” plea, decided (after Stuart Lancaster came and got him) that he couldn't take the role for family reasons – a decision which was in no way whatsoever influenced by the subsequent outcry in the NZ media at his possible defection.

So now Mike Catt is in the bag as an interim solution and, assuming he doesn’t cock things up too badly, must have a decent stab at the permanent job – as his new boss will testify, possession is nine tenths of the law.