Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Shame on you Reverend

The Right Reverend Graham Henry's crass comment that match-fixing may have been to blame for the All Blacks' defeat to France in the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final does his credibility, and that of New Zealand rugby, no favours whatsoever.

Henry's suspicions, apparently revealed in a forthcoming biography, do nothing more than highlight a deep-seated arrogance and ignore the basic facts that New Zealand, with a plethora of possession that day, were guilty of poor execution and terrible decision-making, both on and off the pitch (Henry’s decisions to field a palpably unfit Dan Carter and to select Mils Muliaina out of position being just two examples).

The comments are clearly designed to ensure that the biography sells like hot cakes but, whilst match referee Wayne Barnes and his team may have made errors on the day, so did New Zealand and for Henry to seek to impugn the integrity of the match officials in such a way to deflect attention away from his own failings is nothing short of disgraceful.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Faster, higher, stronger

After a stunning opening ceremony on Friday night, the London Olympics is now underway and on Saturday the Olympic Park was graced with the presence of the Flanker family.

We witnessed two women’s basketball games – Turkey winning comfortably against Angola and then the USA overcoming an excellent Croatian team in the final quarter after an incredibly entertaining and competitive match. And it was certainly the place to be if you’re into tall women!

The atmosphere inside and outside the arena was fantastic, the Olympic Park was stunning, the weather was kind and the transport to and from the park was completely hassle-free. We spent over 8 hours in the park and it’s safe to say that we were firmly gripped by Olympic fever – can’t wait to return in a couple of weeks for athletics and volleyball.

Although missing from these games, rugby (in the form of Sevens) will return to the Olympics in 2016 in Brazil. I must say that I’m somewhat ambivalent about the introduction of Sevens to the Games. It’s a form of the game I never enjoyed playing and – although admittedly attending a Sevens event is always a cracking day out socially – from a spectating point of view it’s a game I always find somewhat unsatisfying, lacking the structure, rhythm and momentum of the 15-man game.

That said, there’s no doubt that Sevens is already on the rise across the world and the prospect of an Olympic medal is likely to accelerate interest in rugby globally as well as prompting serious interest in Sevens from the Olympic superpowers – I can't imagine that it will be long before the the likes of the USA, Russia and China start to produce medal-winning teams.

The impact on the 15-a-side game remains to be seen. Whilst interest in rugby as a whole will undoubtedly increase, so far the world’s star rugby union players have focused on the longer form of the game. With Olympic glory at stake, however, and – perhaps more pertinently – the commercial opportunities that Olympic success can bring – how long will it be before the 4 year Olympic cycle becomes more attractive to players than the current 4 year RWC equivalent?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

What's in a name?

News this week that Saracens have secured an £8m deal with Allianz to re-name their new stadium for the next 6 years.

The Barnet Copthall Stadium, into which Sarries are expected to move next February, will now be called Allianz Park.

Perhaps more interesting, though, is the fact that the stadium will feature an artificial pitch, meaning that “springtime rugby” could be played all year round. Admittedly this would involve something of a sea-change in the Sarries style of play but it does beg the question – could artificial pitches be the long-term answer to the skills gap between the northern and southern hemispheres?

Answers on the back of a postcard...

Monday, 23 July 2012

Next in line...

It appears that Rob Howley is set to continue as the Wales interim head coach while Warren Gatland is on Lions duty next season (assuming, as we all do, that Wazza gets the Lions job).

This despite Wales losing all 3 of Howley's 3 games in charge in Australia this summer and despite the fact that many, including yours truly, assumed that Shaun Edwards was heir apparent to Gatland.

Let's face it, aside from the appallingly-treated Mike Ruddock, Wales' record with a Welshman at the helm in recent years hasn't exactly been stellar and it remains to be seen whether Howley can buck the trend.

And you do have to wonder how committed Edwards will be to the Welsh cause without his old mucka Gatland in charge.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Mind the gap

Following his excursion to La-La-land last month, the recent statement by Scottish Rugby Union CEO Mark Dodson that he would like to bring in more non-Scottish “project players” to plug gaps in the Scottish team ought to set alarm bells ringing for so-called ‘Tier 2’ nations.

Dodson’s comments follow the successful introduction of Dutch winger Tim Visser into the Scotland team. McVisser, who has made an excellent start to his international rugby career, qualified to play for Scotland under the current 3 year residency rule and turned down the chance to play for his native Holland in order to represent his adopted country.

The ramifications of this are obvious. What is to prevent Tier 1 nations from simply recruiting the best available young talent from “lesser” nations by offering young players development contracts in excess of the current 3 year eligibility period? It’s one thing to offer international rugby to southern hemisphere journeymen – it’s quite another to plunder the Tier 2 talent pool.

I have previously suggested that the IRB reviews the eligibility rules and considers adopting 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).

On reflection this still may not be enough. What is clear, however, is that if the IRB truly wants a global game then Tier 2 nations will need better protection against their players being poached by the big boys – otherwise the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ will simply continue to grow.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Where am I?


There is one law amendment being trialled next season that has slipped under the radar somewhat ...

Alongside the slightly patronising ruling that women players may wear cotton blend long tights under their shorts and socks (cue the various stockings and suspenders jokes), comes the equally baffling news (courtesy of the excellent John Birch) that players may be fitted with GPS monitors.

Mr Birch poses some very pertinent questions: 
- Is this so that concussed props know which way to face in the second half?
- Or is it so that games can continue in thick fog?
- Or is it so that coaches can direct players via some sort of player-nav - or just by simple remote control? 
Personally I believe the answer is obvious – it’s the only way of making sure that Richie McCaw remains onside - cheap shot, but well worth it! :) 
P.S. I would like to point out that while John Birch drew my attention to the the GPS story he is in no way liable for the puerile comment about stockings and suspenders – that is, I’m afraid, all my own work.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Whatever happened to: Rugby Boots?

Back in the mists of time life was very simple for rugby players, especially when it came to choice of footwear.

If you were a forward you bought a pair of solid, ankle-high boots with a hard toe-cap. If you were a girl back you wore lower-cut footie-style boots. And, whatever your positional disposition, your boots were unashamedly black.

These days, of course, all has changed. White boots, red boots, silver boots, luminous yellow boots…the choice is endless. Even the All Blacks are at it (although I suppose they can be excused on the basis that if you are going to wear coloured boots then you’d better be bloody good).

It is, perhaps, a sign of the times – i.e. a need to draw attention to oneself as part of the cult of the individual rather than as part of the collective (a symptom often associated with Haskell’s Disease). If so it is somewhat ironic as, such is the plethora of coloured boots on display these days that, as a strategy, it is doomed to failure.

And, sadly, I have to admit that, had coloured boots been available when I was in my twenties, I almost certainly would have worn a pair :(

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Wet, wet, wet


News from down under where an Aussie rugby player has been cleared of deliberately weeing in his shorts during a game.

Apparently the Illawarra District Rugby Union was asked to investigate allegations by the Wollongong Vikings that an Avondale player urinated in his shorts to put off opponents from tackling him. The Vikings even sent  the IDRU a photo showing the player with a big stain around his groin area (see picture).

Despite the same player reportedly being accused of the same offence last season, the IDRU has dismissed the allegation, stating:
‘‘He had wet shorts, but there’s no evidence to back up claims the wetness was urine. If someone had made a statement saying they tackled the bloke and he stunk of urine then we’d look at it..."
...which, when all is said and done, is surely taking the piss.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Finishing Touch (2012)

And so another touch season comes to an end. Warm, balmy summer evenings only ever materialised in our imaginations as the Bridesmaids, perennial runners-up, shook loose the shackles of underachievement and emerged as champions of the Chesham Touch Premiership.

A 10-5 second victory over our main rivals – those infernal BaaBaas – 3 weeks ago meant that the title was very much ours to lose. A 10-3 victory over the Chairman’s Choice followed and then last night a 13-4 win against the Leprechauns (with even yours truly contributing a couple of close range tries) sealed the deal.

I have to say that once more it’s been an absolute pleasure and the fact that a team that comprised a bunch of 40-somethings and teenagers was able to triumph shows what a great game Touch is.

Sadly it appears that this victorious year will be no more than a blip. Our two 18 year olds disappear next year – to university and travelling respectively – which potentially leaves us bereft of strike runners. I see a winter of recruitment ahead!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Meanwhile, in Cloud Cuckoo Land...

... Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson has apparently unveiled ambitious plans at the weekend's AGM to secure a 6 Nations Grand Slam by 2016 and to win the World Cup.

Dodson also revealed that he planned to bring peace to the Middle East, cross the Gobi Desert by unicycle and grow an extra head.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Justice

The decision by the RFU appeals panel on Friday to promote London Welsh to the Premiership (at the expense of Newcastle) is being hailed as a victory for common sense - in many ways rightly so.

There's no doubt that justice has belatedly been done, but a note of caution - having been in administration only 3 short years years ago, London Welsh now face challenging times financially as they seek to survive in a hugely competitive league.

And rumours that they may be interested in recruiting The Artist Formerly Known As Gavin Church hardly fills this writer with huge confidence.