Friday, 29 March 2013

Little brother growing up...


Is the news that former Denver Broncos running back Maurice Clarett's switch to rugby union - in a bid to make the United States Olympic Sevens team for Rio in 2016 - a sign that the balance of power is beginning to shift towards the shortened form of the game?

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm not huge fan of Sevens. I hated playing it with a passion - too damned fast and nowhere to grab a breather - and as a spectator sport it leaves me somewhat cold. It's a great live event at which to catch up with old buddies over a few beers but, at least for me, as a sporting spectacle it's just a tad too simplistic, lacking the structure and tactical nuances of the fifteen-man game.

Of course it is this simplicity that makes Sevens so accessible, and it is this accessibility factor that threatens the longer form of the game. The likes of Fiji and Samoa eat regularly at the Sevens top table and have now been joined by Kenya, while at the recent Hong Kong Sevens Portugal finished top of a pool featuring Samoa, England and Scotland. As far as spreading the rugby gospel worldwide goes, Sevens is already streets ahead of its older sibling.

Currently the IRB's membership rules state that both forms must be played by its member countries but, with Sevens now an Olympic sport, for how much longer will the IRB continue to insist this is the case? The recruitment of 29 year old Clarett, following the impact already made by flier Carlin Isles, is  something of a statement of intent by the Americans who are clearly taking Olympic rugby very seriously indeed. How long before other Olympic superpowers, China and Russia for instance, follow suit?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The results are in...

A survey on the subject of the scrum, created by Welsh rugby fan Ian Price, has been doing the rounds online.

The results are informative. Of approximately 8,000 respondents to the survey:

  • 95% believe elite scrums are a priority problem for the game and need reform;
  • 47% believe the engagement sequence is the biggest factor in the failure of elite scrums, while 40% blame the referees;
  • 86% confirmed that the scrummaging issue detracted from their enjoyment of the game as a paying customer; and
  • 96% do not believe the IRB is doing enough to address elite level scrummaging issues.

The big question is: will the IRB listen?

Click here for more detail...

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Stranger than Fiction: The Curious Case of Jerry Collins

The recent arrest of former All Black Jerry Collins in Japan, for violating the country’s Swords and Firearms Control Law, is a bit of a weird one.

Collins has been in police custody since an incident nearly 2 weeks ago, accused of carrying a knife in a department store in the Japanese city of Hamamatsu. He has not yet been charged.

If that’s not strange enough for you, it is reported that the former New Zealand and Barnstaple 2nd XV flanker was being chased by a gang of Brazilian workers who hate foreign rugby players and was carrying the knife as protection.

Quite why Brazilian workers in Japan hate foreign rugby players has yet to be explained.

It was also appears that it took more than 30 Japanese police officers to take Collins into custody. Not that he resisted arrest or anything, it’s just that the first officer on the scene took one look at Collins, saw how big he was and immediately called for backup!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary


Just finished reading Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary by John Daniell.

I’d been meaning to read the book for some time but somehow never got round to it. A recent Kindle acquisition, however, changed all that and I’m delighted it did because Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary is a fascinating and enlightening read, far more interesting than your average rugby autobiography.

For the uninitiated, John Daniell is (or was) a “rugby mercenary” – a journeyman professional rugby player from Wellington, New Zealand who travelled to France to pursue a professional career for 10 years with the likes of Racing Club, Perpignan and Montpellier.

The book chronicles Daniell's final season with Montpellier and is a brilliant and witty insight into club rugby in France – the pressures to win at home, the battles against relegation, the ruthlessness of agents and club owners and the almost casually accepted on-field violence.

The descriptions of some of the violent acts witnessed, suffered and indeed committed by Daniell on the rugby fields of France brought back some of my own memories. In the 80s my college team went on tour to Toulouse, the climax of which was a fixture against the Toulouse 3rd XV. A few of their players had witnessed us play rather insipidly in a fixture earlier in the week so were a tad surprised at the intensity of our start to the game and how physically we approached rucking (remember that?) in particular. Of course there was no way any team representing the mighty Stade Toulousain were ever going to lose to a bunch of students and so, aided and abetted by the referee (who was also their coach) they punched, kicked, bit and gouged everything that moved for the rest of the game. I was on the bench and came on for the last 20 minutes - my nose was broken by a punch at the first lineout and from then until the final whistle it was a running battle, culminating in a 30+ man punch up in the final few minutes. I think we ended up losing by one point.

A few years later I played a tour match in Paris and my abiding memory is of being held down by a veteran hooker with no fingers on his right hand who then proceeded to punch me repeatedly in the face with his finger stumps. Ah, the good old days!

Anyway, back to the book - it really is very well written indeed (unsurprising, perhaps, from an English Lit graduate) and if you haven't read it I suggest you do so immediately.

John Daniell is also a three times Oxford Blue - but we won't hold that against him.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Lazarus


Guess which one
is the Vets prop...?
Best story to emerge this week is that of Paignton Vets prop Adam Wyatt.

In January the 51 year old prop suffered a heart attack on the pitch in a match against Withycombe and “died” for 22 minutes.

Fortunately amongst the opposition ranks was medical student Luke McLennan who was able to keep Adam alive with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until paramedics arrived. His heart was then re-started with a defibrillator 22 minutes after he had collapsed unconscious.

Well done to Luke - splendid effort.

And good luck to Adam who apparently has now decided to hang up his playing boots. No shit. :)

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Whingeing Pom?

I see England forwards coach Graham Rowntree agrees with my initial impression of the performance of ref Steve Walsh on Saturday. 

Rowntree is to seek clarification from the IRB on some of Walsh’s less than even-handed officiating at the scrum and at the breakdown.

He is perfectly entitled to do so, of course. I only wish he hadn’t made it so public. 

This isn't football.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Aftermath

Predictably enough there has, in the aftermath of the Cardiff massacre, been much hysterical speculation about England’s need to rebuild.

That’s right – rebuild. After one defeat.  

And who is calling for Stuart Lancaster to rip it up and start again? Why, the very journalists who a few short weeks ago were telling the world that England were near certainties for the 2015 World Cup.

The other favourite topic for journos right now is the potential make up of the Lions squad to tour Oz this summer. Of course the perceived wisdom on the strength of Saturday's game is that the squad will now be dominated by Welshmen. After all, that’s always worked so well in the past and Wales do have such a magnificent track record down under.

From England’s perspective I can still see the likes of Cole, Hartley, Parling, Robshaw, Wood, Youngs, Farrell and Tuilagi all making the plane to Oz but, and I know this will sound like sour grapes, right now I must admit I really couldn’t give a rat’s arse about who goes on the Lions trip and it could actually work in England’s favour if the core of the team were available for the Argentina trip instead.

A tough trip to Argentina is probably the best thing for England this summer, offering Stuart Lancaster the chance to shuffle the deck a little, bed the likes of Alex Corbisiero and Tom Croft (maybe as a lock) back into the team and try out out a few fresh combinations. For me at least a productive tour for England holds more significance than the money-spinning exercise down under being undertaken by Gatland & Co.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Champs & Chumps - 6N 2013

And so, another year passes and another 6 Nations ends. Joy for Wales, disappointment for England, encouraging signs for Italy and for Scotland, back to the drawing board for Ireland and another appointment with the psychiatrist for France.

But, as the dust settles, here's the moment you've all been waiting for...time to announce this year's TF Six Nations Champs & Chumps:

CHAMPS

1. Thomas Domingo - only Monsieur Saint-Andre knows why he wasn't selected from the outset.
2. Leonardo Ghiraldini - dynamic in eveything he did.
3. Adam Jones - not sure what else he does, but peerless as a scrummager.
4. Alun Wyn Jones - his arrival in the tournament coincided with the Welsh pack asserting its presence.
5. Geoff Parling - beat George Clooney to world's sexiest beard and central to everything that England's pack did well.
6. Alessandro Zanni - Parisse's first lieutenant in the Italian pack. Superb.
7. Chris Robshaw - Captain Immense, even in defeat in Cardiff.
8. Sergio Parisse - right now he's arguably the best rugby player on the planet.
9. Greg Laidlaw - barely put a foot wrong.
10. A.N.Other - briefly selected for Ireland to play France and probably the pick of an average bunch.
11. Simon Zebo - one flick with the heel was all it took.
12. Wesley Fofana - shone once restored to his proper position.
13. Manu Tuilagi - disappointing finish but 68 minutes against France with his ear hanging off. Wow.
14. Alex Cuthbert - just gets better and better. Gutted that he was never on England's radar.
15. Leigh Ha'penny - all round game edges out the seriously exciting Stuart Hogg.

CHUMPS

1. Cian Healy - red mist and lucky not to see a red card.
2. Rory Best - what the hell happened to his game?
3. Vincent Debaty - his wobbly jelly-belly gives hope to us all.
4. Mike McCarthy - Mr Teflon.
5. Donnacha Ryan  - Mr Angry.
6. Courtney Lawes - never an international blindside.
7. Sean O'Brien - blinkered and unconvincing on the openside.
8. Sergio Parisse - one part superstar, one part utter wassock - a Champ but also a Chump.
9. Morgan Parra - play-acting theatrics have no place in the game.
10. ROG - achieved the remarkable feat of making Freddie Michalak look good.
11. Chris Ashton - turnstyle defender, petulant child.
12. Jamie Roberts - now has fewer dimensions than one of Chris Ashton's paintings of the sky.
13. BOD - the great man looked diminished by age and frustrated with his lot.
14. Gio Venditti - I doubt AC Milan will be calling anytime soon.
15. Alex Goode - all the pace of a tectonic shift.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Another one bites the dust

Ah well, that's that then, another Grand Slam has eluded England.

Let's get one thing out of the way. Wales were better than England today and fully deserved their victory. England have been getting steadily worse as the tournament has progressed whilst Wales have been getting better and better.

However, and it's a big however, what was shaping up to be a fantastic match was ruined by a man who decided the game wasn't about the players on the pitch but instead was all about him.

Step forward Steve Walsh who decided that he was only going to referee one of the teams at scrum time and at the breakdown.

I still think Wales would have won. But it would have been nice to see the match unfold as it should have done.

Just saying.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Wales v England: Prediction

What the hell am I doing, trying to predict the outcome of THE BIG ONE tomorrow in Cardiff?

I NEVER do predictions. Well, hardly ever, as predictions do have the nasty habit of coming back to bite you on the arse, much like an old college mate of mine (but that's another story).

One thing I will predict - it’ll be BRUTAL.

Anyone expecting a festival of running rugby is likely to be disappointed. After the Italy game England will, if anything, rein in what little attacking instincts they possess and play an aerial game, and I expect Wales will do likewise. IT WON'T BE PRETTY, but it’ll still be edge of the seat, squeaky bum stuff.

It’s going to be as tight as a gnat's chuff and last time I looked that was very, very tight. I can see either side winning, but not by very much. My biggest fear is that ref Steve Walsh will ruin everything by awarding a series of scrum penalties. In a game so tight he'd better be BLOODY SURE OF HIMSELF before putting whistle to lips. It might help if he watched the scrum rather than himself on the big telly screen.

OK, here goes. If pushed I’m going to say ENGLAND by 3 to 6 points, but it could just as easily be Wales by a similar margin. Fence sitter? Me? HOW VERY DARE YOU!

(Apologies, I'm so wound up I keep USING CAPITAL LETTERS).

Things that make me feel old #2

Five of England's matchday squad tomorrow were born in the NINETIES... :(

Launchbury, Tuilagi, Farrell, Marler, Vunipola

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

England call up duo

With doubts growing over the fitness of locks Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury, England call up duo as injury cover ahead of Saturday's Grand Slam decider in Cardiff...

Monday, 11 March 2013

Crouch..touch...set...whistle

If this year’s 6 Nations is anything to go by, scrummaging at the elite level - under this year’s “crouch, touch, set” protocol - is now even more of a farce than under the previous discredited “crouch, touch, pause…wait for it…wait for it… ennnnnnngage” sequence.

Referees seem overly keen to penalise any early engagement and yet appear to have no problem whatsoever with allowing a team to get the shove on way before the ball is fed into the scrum.

So, engaging a split second before the “set” command is penalised and yet driving immediately on impact, with the ball still in the scrum half’s hands, is ignored. Scotland, in particular were stitched up like a kipper by Mr Joubert on Saturday - damned if they shoved and damned if they didn’t.

Here’s a radical idea. Why don’t the IRB form a working party of international front row forwards from both hemispheres and lock them in a room with no access to food until they come up with a solution. I reckon it’d take about 5 minutes.

Or, better still, just apply the existing laws...

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Phew!

Heartrate just about back to normal, enough to make the following observations:
  • this England team are clearly uncomfortable with being favourites - which is a good thing because after today there's no chance of them travelling to Cardiff carrying that burden.
  • with Manu Tuilagi shackled by the devious tactic of tackling low, England have precious few ball carrying options. If Ben Morgan isn't fit Billy Vunipola needs to be handed his debut.
  • fine footballer that he is, Alex Goode is simply not quick enough nor strong enough in the tackle to be an international fullback. Mike Brown to fullback please, with Ben Foden onto the left wing.
  • seriously, today has to have been Chris Ashton's last chance, doesn't it?
My 23 for Cardiff (which will of course never happen):

M. Vunipola, T.Youngs, Cole, Launchbury, Parling, Wood, Robshaw, B.Vunipola
B.Youngs, O.Farrell, B.Foden, B.Twelvetrees, M.Tuilagi, D.Strettle, M.Brown

Bench: Marler, Wilson, Hartley, Lawes, Croft, Care, Burns, Barritt

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Raeburn Shield on the line

When England take on Italy at Twickenham, not only will they be attempting to win their 4th match en route to what they hope will be a Six Nations Grand Slam, they will also, of course, be defending the Raeburn Shield.

It is something I have blogged about previously and now seems as good a time as any to remind you that the Raeburn Shield is a hypothetical international rugby trophy that you win by beating the current holders and keep until you are next beaten.

Scotland were the first holders of the Shield after beating England in the the very first game of international rugby union at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh in 1871, while England are the current holders by virtue of their victory against the All Blacks in December 2012.

Sadly there's still no physical trophy to hand out to the holders which is a tad ironic seeing as more or less every international match these days features some meaningless sponsor-led piece of tat handed to the winning captain.

Friday, 8 March 2013

The curious case of Tyson Keats


The folk at London Welsh are apparently “hugely disappointed and shocked” after receiving a five-point deduction and a £15k fine for fielding an ineligible player, Tyson Keats, for 10 games this season.
I reckon they got off lightly, given that New Zealand-born Keats was fraudulently registered as a UK born player with the RFU by Welsh’s former team manager Mike Scott who, in an attempt to cover his tracks, provided the RFU with falsified documents over a period of time including a forged copy of a UK passport.
Welsh claim that they were “unknowingly the victim of one individual’s fraudulent conduct” but when that individual happens to be an employee, and a relatively senior employee at that, I’m afraid that they’re bang to rights.
At least a 5 point deduction (with a further 5 points deferred to next season) gives them a fighting chance of avoiding relegation.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

NEW SERIES: Things that make me feel old #1



...Mako and Billy Vunipola's FATHER is 4 years younger than me...

:(

Right Said Fred

With Freddie Michalak restored to the France starting XV to play Ireland on Saturday, one does have to wonder what compromising photos of Philippe Saint Andre may be in Freddie's possession?

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

It ain't over...

Apparently all is not well at Sarries new home Allianz Park where folk are unhappy at the latest gimmick – an opera singer in drag posing as the Saracens Fat Lady and singing during the closing minutes of matches to signal a Sarries win.



“Arrogant”, “disrespectful” and “in poor taste” are just some of the comments from both home and away fans.

Personally I find it quite amusing, although perhaps repeating the stunt against London Welsh, the Fat Lady having first made 'her' debut against Exeter last month, was perhaps a joke too far, a bit like:

“You know…fat lady…singing…game over…you know…ain’t over til the fat lady sings…hee hee…geddit…geddit…geddit?"


Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Edge

The England rugby team is fit.

As fit, in fact, as a butcher’s dog playing a fiddle on a treadmill. They are that fit. It’s official.

James Haskell
Everyone says so, the national press, the tv commentators, the players, the coaches. They are so fit that they expect to outlast any opposition they play, especially the French whose training obviously consists of 10 minutes touch rugby before retiring to a café for pastis and gauloises.

Not so our English lads who could run, tackle and ruck all day and all night if necessary, thanks to the brilliant work being done by former British Cycling sports science guru Matt Parker who clearly gives the England players the edge.

Last year England didn’t have the edge. Last year, and the year before that at the World Cup, Wales had the edge. Wales discovered the edge whilst freezing their collective bollocks off in a cryotherapy chamber in Poland. This year Wales didn’t go to Poland, so have lost the edge, although it might be argued that they mislaid the edge when they went to Poland before last year’s November internationals, when they clearly didn’t have the edge.

England didn’t go to Poland to find the edge. They found it Surrey.