Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Anticipation...

And so the November internationals are almost upon us and the scribes are out in force, telling Stuart Lancaster who he should pick, insisting that England win every game and proclaiming that Twickenham must be turned into a fortress, or some such guff.

As usual there is clamour from certain circles, notably the offices of the Sunday Times, that England become bigger, meaner and nastier and revert to attempting to bully the opposition off the park. After all, that worked a treat between 2003 and 2011. Oh, wait...

I suspect that, unlike the great and the good of the broadsheet newspapers, most sensible England fans would wish only that the England team continues to improve year on year which, by and large, is what we've had so far under Stuart Lancaster.

Thankfully I get the feeling that Lancaster will rise above all the hype. I'm sure he knows full well that England weren't good enough in Cardiff in March but equally, unlike some I could mention, recognises that it isn't strictly necessary (in the words of Edwyn Collins) to  rip it up and start again.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Congrats

The best wishes of this blog are extended to Mr and Mrs Jonny Wilkinson.

It's being reported that our Jonny has married his long-term girlfriend Shelley in a typically understated private ceremony in the French resort of Bandol.

Wilkinson and his bride obviously decided not to invite either of OK! or Hello magazines to cover the wedding, a decision I can certainly identify with, Mrs F and I having made the same decision for our nuptials many moons ago.
 
 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Treason at the Last Chance Saloon


The Last Chance Saloon is getting a tad full.

The latest customer would appear to be Mike Phillips, sacked by Bayonne for turning up to a video analysis session under the influence of alcohol, an act described as "treason" by club chairman, Alain Affelou.

Phillips' latest misdemeanour is one of an increasing number of alcohol-related incidents involving the Welsh no 9 and follows his suspension by Wales in 2011 after an altercation with a McDonald's bouncer in Cardiff and his suspension and fine imposed by Bayonne a year ago after a series of alcohol-related off field incidents.

That Phillips is reportedly considering legal action against Bayonne only serves to demonstrate that he really hasn't learned his lesson, while Warren Gatland's refusal to confront the issue ultimately does the player no favours.

It also looks as if Phillips will be joined at the bar of the Last Chance Saloon by Justin Bieber lookalike James O'Connor. Dumped by Australia after a series of indiscretions, the latest of which being his removal from Perth airport for drunken behaviour by Australian Federal Police, O'Connor's place at the bar looks as if it will be sponsored by London Irish.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

9021Over (see what I did there?)

Back to the heights of cutting edge rugby journalism ...

The red tops have been very busy this week with reports that Thom Evans, former Scottish international wing, Kelly Brook-ex and aspiring actor, has split from his American actress girlfriend Jessica Lowndes.

Momentous news, I'm sure you'll agree and if, like me, you'd never heard of Jessica Lowndes, here’s an unapologetically gratuitous picture…
Lowndes
...which is not a whole lot different to...
Brook

Total Flanker: Investigative reporting at its shuddering best.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Spygate?

Warren Gatland has apparently confirmed that he took England defence coach defence coach Andy Farrell on the Lions tour (ahead of Wales' Shaun Edwards) partly in order to get insight into how England prepare, especially with the 2015 Rugby World Cup in mind.

A throwaway line in an interview? Maybe, but it again reinforces the feeling I had in the summer (dismissed by many as sour grapes) that Gatland had an agenda that was as much about preparing Wales for 2015 as it was about winning the series against Australia.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Carry on Captain


The decision to re-appoint Chris Robshaw as England skipper for the November tests is the right one.
 
Utterly unnecessary, however, is Stuart Lancaster feeling the need to defend his decision publicly.
 
“He’s fit, he’s in good form and he’s our first choice 7 and captain,” is all the endorsement Robshaw should need.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Matthew Rees - get well soon




This blog's best wishes for a speedy recovery are hereby extended to former Welsh skipper Matthew Rees who is currently taking time out form the game in order to recuperate from testicular cancer surgery.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Total Flanker Guide to: Goalkicking

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a land not too far away from here, I kicked a penalty goal in a schoolboy game of rugby football.

My team was, as  often was the case, 30+ points down at the time and on our way to a comprehensive thumping. I was utterly fed-up and, as captain, decided that we'd feel that much better about ourselves with 3 points on the board and, more importantly, I'd feel that much better about myself if it was me who scored them.

It was dead in front of goal, not very far out and I hit it with my hardly-ever-practised toe-punt technique, sending the ball sailing (well, wobbling) through the middle of the uprights.

All of which makes me justifiably qualified to offer advice to all and sundry on the art of goalkicking...

It seems to me that goalkickers fall into 2 categories:

1. high percentage kickers and
2. hit and hopers.

No doubt at the elite level of the game high percentage kickers are what most directors of rugby dream about. If your kicker is landing 80% or more of his kicks then there's a very good chance that your team will be in the mix come the end of the season. As far as grassroots rugby goes, however, a high percentage goalkicker is about as much use as tits on a fish.

Let me explain. In my experience, the reason high percentage goalkickers at grassroots level have such a high percentage is that they rarely, if ever, attempt any kick on goal which is not dead centre and 25 metres out. Anything slightly further away or a tad left or right of centre and it's "slightly outside my range, skipper" and "let's be positive and go for the corner and take the lineout."

Of course, in the unlikely event that, having made such a decision, your pack wins the lineout and drives over for a try out wide, the high percentage kicker will discover a hitherto un-mentioned groin twinge preventing him from attempting the conversion - a twinge which will miraculously vanish next time you're awarded a kick in front of the sticks.

No, for grassroots rugby what is required is your enthusiastic but limited hit and hoper. You know the one - the bloke who claims to have a "siege gun boot" but who is about as accurate as projectile vomiting. Not only will he attempt all the kicks that your high percentage kicker might eschew and more besides, there's a small percentage (based on the law of averages) that occasionally a kick might just go over, meaning that your team might just score a few more points than it might otherwise have done and might just win a few more games than it might otherwise have won.

And here's the thing. Having a ready and willing hit and hoper means more time standing around, hands on head, sucking in oxygen while yet another improbable attempt at goal is lined up. More time stood still, less time running around.

Which, in my experience, can only be a good thing.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Whatever happened to: Rugby Football?

OK, it's just possible that I may have bitten of a little more than I can chew here, but here's a question: Whatever happened to Rugby?


Let's face it, rugby (to paraphrase Jimmy Greaves) is a funny old game. How many other sports are there,  for instance, where the laws of the game either change more or less every season or are subject to a mystifying plethora of refereeing interpretations which seem to depend on where the game is being played, where the referee was born or whether there's an R in the month?

Was it always thus? I seem to recall a time when very little seemed to change in the game. Back in my playing heyday (uh-oh, here we go) I admit to remembering very few changes taking place - the try being amended from 4 to 5 points, for instance, or the team driving a maul forward being denied the subsequent scrum put-in, or the team kicking a penalty into touch being awarded the throw-in. The point is, however, that such changes were few and far between - so much so that they stick in the memory, as opposed to the myriad of largely forgettable experimental law tweaks that players, referees and spectators are confronted with today. Crouch, Bind, Set? Just bloody get on with it, man!

And another thing. Once upon a time props propped, locks jumped and a tackling fly half was something of a collectors item. Nowadays not only is everyone is expected to tackle like dervishes, they even count the number of tackles you make in a game, for heaven's sake.

Not only that, I also seem to recall that the object of tackling used to be to bring your opposition to ground, not to knock him into the middle of next week. Rugby has always been a tough game, but the head-on collisions these days are just brutal - no wonder concussion is such a big topic of debate in the game right now.

Look, I'm not a complete Luddite. I do recognise that the game is faster and more dynamic than in yesteryear and that players are bigger, stronger, fitter and quicker. But is the game really any better? With scrums remaining largely shambolic, with the lineout often nothing more than over-choreographed nonsense, with rucks largely involving a static morass of prostrate bodies and with space on the field being at an absolute premium, I do often find myself asking: Whatever happened to Rugby?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Strictly Big Ben



Good luck to former England wing Ben Cohen in week 4 of this year's Strictly Come Dancing tomorrow night.

Cohen has been hard in training# it seems...

"I had a moment in training the other week...where I was dry humping my dance partner in a kind of dance move and as we were rehearsing my wife walked in."

In a kind of dance move?

Which dance move is that and where do I sign up?

(# pun intended)

Thursday, 17 October 2013

New kit for Wales...and it's red!

Just to prove that I am impartial, fair and balanced...

THIS LOOKS BLOODY AWFUL:



(or "Mae'n ofnadwy" as 19% of the population of Wales might say)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Eddie Jones - get well soon



Apparently ex-Aussie coach Eddie Jones, currently coaching the Japanese national team, is in intensive care in a Tokyo hospital after suffering a stroke

Thoughts are with him and his family - I'm sure we all wish him a full and speedy recovery.


 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hooorah!


It’s official. Stuart Lancaster = good egg.

Despite pressure from the RFU bean counters and the recent unveiling of a red and white striped “Battle of the Roses” change kit, Lancaster has vowed that, for this season at least, England will wear white.

“...for this year when we are trying to build an identity, it pays to play in white,” says Lancaster.

Quite right. And it should not only be for this year.

Lancaster gets it. When do the All Blacks ever wear anything other than black? Only when they are forced to. The result is that the black shirt has become iconic in its own right, with minimal design changes down the years reinforcing its status as a commercial asset.

Contrast that with the myriad of designs undergone by the England kit during the Nike era. The latest Canterbury version, with minimal tinkering, is a step in the right direction.

All we need now is to lose the bloody O2 logo.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The ego has landed

The Total Flanker Selfish Bastard of the Week Award (whaddya mean you’ve never heard of it?) goes this week to New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams.

Williams graciously decided this week that he would help out his “brothers” by declaring his availability to play for New Zealand in the forthcoming Rugby League World Cup.

No problem there, you would think, if it were not for the fact that he announced his decision once the squad had already been selected, Sonny Bill having previously publicly declared his unavailability.

Already a rugby union World Cup winner with the All Blacks and currently New Zealand’s heavyweight boxing champion, there’s no doubt that Williams is a prodigiously talented athlete, but I doubt that 21 year old Tohu Harris, unceremoniously dumped from the NZ squad within 24 hours of celebrating his call up, is feeling too much brotherly love for Sonny Bill right now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Getting shirty (again)

I should have known.

With a new change kit only announced weeks ago it was only a matter of time before England also launched a new home kit, a full 12 months after the last one.

I know the bean counters at the RFU approve, but do we really need a new kit every season?

Thankfully, it only being 5 minutes or so since they designed the last one, the designers at Canterbury have barely managed to do anything other than sew a navy (sorry, midnight blue) strip onto the end of each sleeve.

Meanwhile, there appears to have been a massive breakdown in communication between the RFU and England Rugby’s official ambassador for children's rugby, Ruckley the bulldog.

Ruckley may have "boundless energy, bucketloads of enthusiasm and an endless love of rugby" but he is distinctly off-message in the kit department.

Has he refused to wear the new kit? In times of austerity is he standing up for the little people who simply cannot afford to contribute a penny more to the ruthless RFU merchandising machine? Or is he just a bit thick?

I think we should be told.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Naughty

Just heard that former England skipper and coach Martin Johnson has received a 49 day ban for speeding on the M5. Not known as a speedster in his playing days, Johnno was apparently clocked at 103 mph.

The ban beats Johnno's previous record - a 35 day ban for stamping, dropping a knee onto a prone player and punching Julian White, all in the same match against Saracens in December 2000. An impressive afternoon's work by anyone's standards.

In covering Johnno's driving ban the Daily Fail helpfully reports that he earns £60k a year and lives in a £500k house. Which is nice.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Whatever happened to James Haskell?

It occurs to me that we haven’t heard very much from James “The Hask” Haskell recently.

Apart from recent scurrilous rumours linking him with Kelly Brook, former squeeze of Thom Evans and Danny Chippolata (I should SO write for OK Magazine, I really should), a visit to the shrine aka the official James Haskell website reveals that the most recent public appearance of The Hask was to promote the RNLI “Respect the Water” safety campaign this summer.

"As a rugby player, I train to be as strong as I can be, but I know from experience that even I'm no match for the strength of the water."

Brilliant.

COMING SOON:
"As a rugby player, I try to turn the heat up on my opposition whenever I’m on the pitch, but even I’m no match for how hot fire is.”
"As a rugby player, I try to put in an electrifying performance every time I play,  but I know from experience that even I’m no match for being struck by lightning.”
“As a rugby player, I train hard to smash into my opposition, but I know from experience that even I’m no match for being hit by a double decker bus. Danny Cipriani, on the other hand…”

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

EXCLUSIVE - Shaun the Sheep Safety Fears

A representative of children's television star Shaun the Sheep has today revealed concerns over the safety of his client, who has been signed up to promote the 2015 World Cup to younger audiences.

Shaun’s participation in various promotional activities related to the World Cup has been cast into doubt by the involvement of Ruckley – England Rugby’s official ambassador for children's rugby.
 

Described by the RFU as “an English bulldog with boundless energy, bucketloads of enthusiasm and an endless love of rugby,” Ruckley also comes with a reputation of being a notorious sheep-botherer, a fact not lost on Sean the Sheep’s representative, Bitzer the sheep dog.
“The bottom line is that we can’t risk Shaun’s health and we’ll be seeking reassurances from both the IRB and the RFU,” said Bitzer when questioned by this blog.