Thursday, 28 February 2013

More bilge

More bilge in the press today, this time in the Grauniad where Paul Rees has echoed Lewis Moody's suggestion that England would better off not winning a Grand Slam this season.

The logic, if you can call it that, appears to be that somehow defeat would make the team more determined to win the 2015 World Cup, the argument being that England missed out on Grand Slams on the final day of the championship in 1999, 2000 and 2001, all of which, apparently, led to World Cup success in 2003.

It is, of course, utter bilge.

The opportunity to win a Grand Slam does not come along very often especially, it seems, for England and when it does come along it must be seized with both hands. If England did manage to beat Italy at home and then Wales in Cardiff (hardly a gimme) there's no arguing that it would be anything other than a huge achievement and, quite rightly, would set the standard by which the England team would be judged in the future - exactly is how it should be, of course.

As long as the RFU don't do anything stupid like pre-ordering Grand Slam t-shirts...

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Mockery

Cian Healy's successful appeal against his ban for stamping on Dan Cole's leg makes a mockery of the whole disciplinary process.

He has, effectively, received a one match international ban for a gratuitous stamp that could have broken a fellow player's ankle.

The original disciplinary panel attempted to ensure that Healy missed at least 2 Six Nations matches by extending Healy's 3 week ban over 4 weeks but their attempt to manipulate the regulations was in itself a breach of their powers - hence Healy's availability to play France next up.

It strikes me that there is a straightforward solution. If a chargeable offence is committed playing international rugby, then any ban should apply to only international rugby - 3 international matches would have, rightly, ruled Healy out the rest of the Six Nations but would have allowed him to play for his club/province (who arguably should not suffer from offences committed when not on their watch). Likewise any ban suffered playing club rugby should not necessarily apply to international rugby.

Simples.


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bilge

Bilge #1 - according to Lewis Moody, England winning a Grand Slam this year might not be a good thing as as it could see the team peak too soon.

“Part of me wants them not to win it because you have to maintain that level of high performance,” says the insane canine.

Utter bilge. If England aspire to be a top rugby team of course they have to set and maintain high standards. Ask the All Blacks.

Bilge #2 - the Torygraph's Mick Cleary argues that the petulance and niggle displayed by Owen Farrell against the French on Saturday are part of what makes him the player he is. According to Cleary it's absolutely fine to behave like a twat on the rugby field as long as you don't get carded or cited.

Utter, utter bilge. The pressure got to Farrell on Saturday, he reacted like a pillock and his game suffered. Remind you of anyone else hailing from Wigan?

Monday, 25 February 2013

Ear we go


I have to admit I'm usually not very easily impressed.

But playing 68 minutes of a brutal international rugby match with your left ear hanging off (and requiring 19 stitches to sew it back on afterwards)...now that's impressive.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The end?


Freddie Michalak must be feeling very much better this evening.  

Yesterday Michalak had the title of the most ineffective replacement in the history of international rugby in the bag. 

Today his achievement has been firmly relegated into second place by a cameo performance of stunning ineptitude by a certain vintage Irish fly half.

If I didn't know better I might think that ROG had a few euros placed on a Scottish victory.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Lessons learned?

Relief all round at HQ but a few home truths for Stuart Lancaster:

1. Not every opposition coach is going to be able bring on Freddie Michalak to help guide England to victory.

2. Almost 2 years ago to the day I was describing Chris Ashton as having transformed the way England play rugby. The brutal truth today is that he simply isn't good enough.

3. I'm full of admiration for Alex Goode's footballing intelligence, but if England are going to pose an attacking threat from fullback then Ben Foden needs to come back into the starting XV.

4. I originally thought that the decision to re-instate Dylan Hartley was the correct one. Tom Youngs proved otherwise.

5. Courtney Lawes, bless him, is not an international quality blind side flanker.

6. Mako Vunipola needs to start against Italy.

7. We need Ben Morgan back asap or, in Morgan's absence, Billy Vunipola.

8. I totally get the qualities that Brad Barritt brings to this Engand team but if we genuinely want to win things we need to pick Billy Twelvetrees at 12 to get the most out of  Manu Tuilagi - currently England's only genuinely credible attacking threat.

Friday, 22 February 2013

5 key questions ahead of England v France


http://thespicetagblog.blogspot.co.uk/
1. Will we see 15 singes capitulards et mangeurs de fromage or 15 Eric Cantonas?

2. At what point will the French realise that Chris Ashton can't (or won't) tackle?

3. Will Messrs Hartley & Lawes increase England's forward potency or just England's penalty count?

4. Will we ever see a Twelvetrees-Tuilagi midfield combo?

5. When Bastareaud hits Tuilagi (and vice versa), what score will register on the Richter Scale?

I think we should be told.

Quote of the Week #2


"With Barritt you know you will get 95 per cent but never more than 100 per cent"

(Dave Ellis, former defence guru for France, shows why mathematics was never his forte).

Quote of the Week


“My tackling technique is never that low anyway – just below the forehead."

(Manu Overboard, when asked whether he would be tackling Mathieu Bastareaud low).

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Beginning of the end?


The writing is very much on the wall for Ronan O'Gara with the news that, despite Ireland being decimated by injuries and suspensions, even the ultra-conservative Munsterman Declan Kidney has decided to give Ulster rookie Paddy Jackson his first cap against the Scots this weekend rather than risk selecting the ever so slightly over-the-hill and woefully out-of-form ROG.

I don't know about you, but my money's on Ireland at the weekend.


What's the point?


QUESTION: Given the fact that this morning the national press appear to know Stuart Lancaster's starting XV against France on Saturday, what exactly is the point of him officially announcing the team tomorrow?

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Dunderhead of the Week

It's time, after a seemingly endless hiatus, to re-introduce the coveted title of Dunderhead of the Week.

And the deserving receipient is, of course, Sig. Sergio Parisse.

The Italian skipper denies that he used insulting language towards referee Laurent Cardona in Saturday's match between Stade Francais and Bordeaux-Begles. Whatevever he did say, however, was sufficient to persuade Monsieur Cardona to send him off, a decision the official is unlikley to have taken lightly.

It appears that Sig. Parisse will now, at the very least, miss Italy's encounter with Wales in Rome. For all his undoubted talent and quality, he does sometimes come across as a bit of a knob.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Farewell & good luck

Sorry to hear the news last week that former England hooker Lee Mears had been forced to retire from all rugby after tests revealed a heart condition caused by strenuous exercise.

I’ve always liked Mears as a player – perhaps a tad too small to be a top-draw international scrummager but still highly skilled and dynamic around the pitch and England could and should have made more of his talents over the years.

By all accounts he was also one of the good guys and I did like his comment that "…I broke it to the rest of the boys. They were fine, until I mentioned that it had come about through being an elite athlete. I’m a little fattie and they just couldn’t equate those two statements.”

I guess he can console himself with the fact that this happened towards the end of a long and successful career and I wish him all the best for the future…

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The story thus far...

I must say, I do find the “fallow” weekends during the Six Nations intensely frustrating. When you’ve just enjoyed 2 weekends of adrenalin-fuelled hysteria there’s nothing worse than the prospect of a momentum-killing free weekend during which various long-ignored DIY projects and other domestic obligations re-appear on the radar.

Time, then, to ignore the pleas of Mrs F and console myself with an update of where we are in this most fascinating and unpredictable of tournaments…

Italy: down to earth with a thud in Edinburgh after their day in the sun in Rome against the French, summed up by the fate of little Luciano Orquera – everything he touched in Rome turned to gold, whereas at Murrayfield everything he touched turned to…well, you know where I’m going with this. Another 2 games at home - I wouldn’t bet against Italy winning one of those.

Scotland: the earth stopped spinning on its axis on Saturday as the Sweaties scored four tries. Four tries. Scotland. Must now fancy their chances at home to Wales and Ireland.

Wales: a win, a win, my kingdom for a win but no one should pretend that victory in Paris was anywhere near good enough a performance. Wales are big and powerful but so far lack last season's light and shade. Tough trips to Rome and Murrayfield are followed by a mouth-watering Cardiff finale against the English. It won’t be dull.

France: it would be easy to fall back on the lazy old cliché that you never know which French team will turn up, but this lot simply put the ‘m’ into mysterious, the ‘e’ into enigmatic and the ‘c’ into crap. Next stop: Twickenham. And the thing is, you just never know – if Morgan Parra is restored to the team and the French forwards actually fancy it, you just never know…

Ireland: it will be interesting to see how the Irish line up at Murrayfield next time out. Will they stick with the tried and tested or will Declan Kidney shed his conservatism and introduce some of the youngsters we saw in November against Fiji? Injuries and suspensions (ahem, Mr Healy) may force his hand.

England: let's not get carried away but Chris Robshaw & Co are developing into a half-decent outfit and now go forward as tournament favourites. They need to kick on now and iron out a few wrinkles, including adding a sprinkling of pace to the back three. If all goes to plan we'll head to to the Millennium Stadium with the Grand Slam still up for grabs and, simply put, from a Welsh perspective England winning a Grand Slam in Cardiff is unthinkable.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Move along, nothing to see here...

QUESTION: How long will it be and what will it take before the nation's so-called rugby journalists stop referring to the phrase “dwarf tossing” when writing about England’s rugby team?

A belated Valentine's message...

Roses are red

Violets are glorious

Never creep up

On Oscar Pistorius

:)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Shush!

Warren Gatland is deservedly copping flak for his comments about how too many Englishmen in the Lions squad might turn this summer's tour to Oz into a media circus (or words to that effect).

There’s not much wrong with what he said as such – what irritates me is how Wazza feels compelled to shoot his mouth off at every given opportunity with seemingly no thought as to the consequences.

Equally irritating are the endless speculative press articles we're being subjected to about who should and who should not be selected for the Lions. Give it a rest - the tour is 3½ months away for crying out loud.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

That's m' boy!

It turns out that the bloke who ran on to the pitch at the Stade de France on Saturday following Wales' late try was none other than try-scorer George North’s father.

You can choose your friends…

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Interconnectedness of All Things

So Ireland lose to England in Dublin and the following day Pope Benedict XVI resigns?

Connected?

I think we should be told.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Wet Chariot

Not exactly a classic this afternoon in Dublin, but given the conditions it was never going to be.

It seems a long, long time since England came out on top in a tactical kicking game but they did today, although the appearance of ROG did cause me palpitations for a while. Still, I thought my performance held up pretty well, I kept my discipline, made all my tackles and was still going strong at the final whistle.

The biggest mystery today was how collective myopia appeared to consume the match officials, all of whom appeared not to see Cian Healy's brutal stamp on an England forward's leg in the first half, nor his follow up flurry of punches at almost the next ruck. I trust the eyesight of the citing officer will be a touch keener.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Highlights, lowlights

A verdict of sorts on today's events...

Difficult to know what to make of today's Scotland v Italy encounter. For a start, what on earth were the Scots wearing and who gave the go ahead for the teams to wear virtually identical kits? I actually thought that the Italians played very, very well, undone only by critical mistakes at critical times and by a clinical Scottish performance. And the words 'clinical' and 'Scottish' have never previously appeared in the same sentence.

Highlight of the match? Signor Venditti's airshot when attempting to hack the ball clear - an effort which made me look like Pele.

And on to Paris. Now, I watched the game from beginning to end and heard what the BBC pundits, Clive Woodward included, had to say about how well Wales played, but for the life of me I'm not sure I can recall a worse Six Nations game. Ever. Wales were abjectly terrible. And France were worse.

Highlights? None. Seriously, none. It was that bad.

The only things of vague interest were the hookers' hairstyles.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Worried

I think it’s safe to say that I’m beginning to cack myself about England’s chances in Dublin on Sunday.

I was feeling quite bullish earlier in the week, what with the prospect of Manu Tuilagi’s return to a winning team. But, with Tuilagi getting splinters in his arse on bench duty and with Ben Morgan crocked, I do now wonder who is going to get England over the gainline, especially given that out wide we appear to have all the pace of a tectonic shift.

And the Irish must really be quaking at the prospect of Thomas the Tank Engine emerging from the bench.

I have a horrible feeling in my waters...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Pants on fire

The entire Welsh rugby public were born yesterday.

At least that's what Rob Howley appears to believe having asked them to swallow today's announcement that their out-of-sorts, out-of -form captain (and former dead cert to lead the Lions this summer), Sam Warburton, will miss Saturday's match against the French in Paris with...wait for it...a shoulder injury.

The debate all week has been whether Wales' struggling skipper would be replaced by the in-form Justin Tipuric, with Warburton perhaps moving to the blindside to accomodate the Ospreys openside.

Dropping the Auckland Martyr enitirely would surely be unthinkable but now, as if by magic and out of nowhere, comes news of a previously un-mentioned stinger injury. How very, very convenient.

This has got Warren Gatland written all over it.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Good headaches...

OK, so I am a down-to-earth northerner with a crew cut and a more than a passing resemblance to Arnold Rimmer and I’m charged with selecting the England XV to start against Ireland in Dublin on Sunday. What do I do?

Fullback: Although Alex Goode was rather excellent in the November internationals, against Scotland on Saturday he was unusually hesitant, indecisive and off-the-pace. Mike Brown’s quality is far better served at fullback than on the wing so he gets the shirt, with Goode going back to Sarries to get match fit.

Wings: Chris Ashton played well enough to keep the 14 shirt, but with Brown moving to fullback there’s a vacancy at 11. If David’s Strettle’s the answer then I don't know what the question is. Manu Tuilagi is an option but with the expectation of it raining Garryowen’s in Dublin a second fullback might be handy so in comes Ben Foden.

Centres: this is the biggest call of all. A fit Tuilagi is our biggest ball-in-hand threat, but Billy Twelvetrees was excellence personified at Twickenham. The question is do we go with the best attacking option - a Twelvetrees-Tuilagi combo - or do we focus on the vital defensive organisation that Brad Barritt brings? So…deep breath…forget pragmatism, it's time for a statement of intent - let’s be relentlessly positive and start with Billy Twelvetrees and Manu Tuilagi.

Fly half: Owen Farrell, the most obvious of no-brainers, at least this week.

Scrum half: another easy one - Ben Youngs, with Danny Care providing back up.

Props: Dan Cole’s a shoe-in, with Joe Marler doing just enough to hold off Mako Vunipola.

Hooker: Tom Youngs has taken to international rugby brilliantly, but it’s time to bring back Dylan Hartley for his nous and aggressive scrummaging.

Locks: a Launchbury-Lawes combo is undoubtedly the future, but for now Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling will do just fine.

Flankers: in Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw we are blessed with two Richard Hills – and praise doesn’t come much higher than that. When Tom Croft gets back up to speed he may have to consider switching to lock or number 8 just to get a look in.

Number 8: With Ben Morgan looking unlikely to recover from his ankle injury this is another huge call. Tom Wood switched to 8 against Scotland with James Haskell coming onto the blindside, but I don’t want to start against Ireland without a specialist 8. So, Thomas the Tank Engine? No, I don’t think so. Let’s be bold again here and give Billy Vunipola his debut.

And the bench? Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, David Wilson, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Danny Care, Toby Flood, Brad Barritt.

Woah!

Sorry, no time to do justice to a superb opening round of the 2013 Six Nations so here's a tardy, brief and inadequate reaction to the weekend's events:

WALES - predictable, predictable, predictable.
IRELAND - in BOD Ireland still trusts.
ENGLAND - fast & loose, too loose at times.
SCOTLAND - ordinary (Messrs Beattie and Hogg excepted).
ITALY - Luciano Orquera wins MoM? Twilight Zone.
FRANCE - predictably unpredictable or unpredictably predictable?

Friday, 1 February 2013

First blood to England!

The morale of the Scottish rugby team has been dealt a devastating blow ahead of the weekend's Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenhan by the news that former Scots winger Thom Evans has split with model and (ahem) actress, Kelly Brook.

According to that bastion of truth, The Sun, Evans was forced to call it a day with the buxom star of Piranha 3D following Ms Brook’s refusal to stop seeing her former beau, ex-England no. 10 Danny Cipriani.

Cipriani, for whom little has gone right since his relocation to Sale Sharks this season, is said to be hopeful that this episode will catapult him back into Staurt Lancaster's Six Nations plans...