Friday, 30 October 2015

Monday, 26 October 2015

Making plans for Nigel

It is absolutely fitting that the best two teams in the tournament have reached the Rugby World Cup Final and that they will be refereed by the world's best referee - Nigel Owens.




Death by Rugby

Another epic rugby weekend.

Firstly a reunion dinner on Friday night with a bunch of (mostly) Commonwealth reprobates with whom I played and toured in the early nineties. Thoroughly enjoyable evening of catching up and reminiscing, especially about a certain Dutch tour in 1991 that I had mostly erased from memory - all I can say is thank god it didn't happen in the internet age…

And then 2 utterly compelling RWC semi finals. New Zealand were most definitely rattled by the Springboks but rallied to close the game out with chilling efficiency at the end. A monumental effort from both teams. As for Argentina, they left nothing out there, although a little less freneticism and a little more composure may have seen them home. Having said that the Australians were excellent and the back row unbelievably good. It'll be some final on Saturday.

Sandwiched between the semi finals, on a smaller scale but no less significant from a personal perspective, young TF Jnr made his debut for Chess Valley Rugby Club Under 13s on Sunday morning. Playing out of position in the 2nd row (we've all been there) he put a serious shift in, making his tackles, hitting rucks and generally making a nuisance of himself, contributing fully to a 53-12 win. VERY proud Dad.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Running Man

All the angst this week over the treatment of referee Craig Joubert, following his performance in the second half of the Scotland v Australia semi final, somewhat misses the point.

There are many otherwise credible commentators who appear to be claiming that the criticism Joubert had received is somehow contrary to the “spirit of rugby” and that it will inevitably lead us into the depths of depravity currently reserved for the likes of association football.

What such comments infer, however, is that referees are effectively beyond reproach. This cannot be right.

No one is suggesting that referees should be treated with anything but respect by players, management and spectators on and off the pitch (and it is notable that the Scottish camp have been very, very restrained in their comments since Sunday’s defeat).

It is absolutely appropriate, however, that referees should be accountable for their performances – Joubert made a series of poor calls on Sunday from which he should not be able to hide (or indeed run away).

The fact that World Rugby (or, as I like to call them, the piss artists formerly known as the IRB) have hung Mr Joubert out to dry in public is not helpful at all, but objective and proper criticism is fair enough and – far from setting a dangerous precedent as some would have us believe – is the only way that standards will be raised.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A tale of four Ians (and a Ben)

The make up of the five-man panel to review England’s World Cup debacle, consisting of 4 Ians (Ritchie, McGeechan, Watmore, Metcalfe) and a token Ben (Kay), hardly inspires confidence that any review will be handled in a proper and impartial manner.

One Ian (Watmore) used to be Chief Executive of the not-at-all-dysfunctional Football Association. Another Ian (McGeechan) originally recommended that Stuart Lancaster be appointed as Head Coach and is a confirmed admirer of the Cumbrian. Another Ian (Ritchie) not so very long ago handed Lancaster a premature contract extension while the final Ian (Metcalfe) was involved in the appointment of Ian (Ritchie) as CEO of the RFU. Ben (Kay), meanwhile, as well as not being called Ian, is a former team-mate of England coaches Graham Rowntree, Mike Catt and Andy Farrell.

We don't need a panel to review England’s performance. All that is needed is for Stuart Lancaster to take a long, hard look at himself in the mirror, accept that he and his coaching team selected the wrong squad, got the preparations horribly wrong, adopted the wrong tactical approach, made some awful in-game decisions in the big games and overall failed to learn the lessons of the last 4 years.

He needs to do the honourable thing and resign - and save us all from the Ians (and Ben).


Tuesday, 20 October 2015

O juremos con gloria morir!

I call upon the spirit of Che Guevara and hereby invoke my long imagined Argentinean heritage.



 For the rest of the World Cup Total Flanker is supporting Argentina.

Mind the gap?

Not unexpectedly the absence of a northern hemisphere team in the RWC 2015 semi finals has led to an orgy of hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing amongst the nation’s media about the apparent skills chasm between the hemispheres.

It really should come as no surprise, however, that New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, consistently the top three teams in the world over the last 12 years, all reached the semi finals. Argentina, meanwhile, are clearly now showing the benefits of playing all 3 of those teams on a regular basis in the Rugby Championship – 9 times each since 2011.
 
The ritual self-flagellation by northern hemisphere hacks ignores the fact that Ireland played some highly skillful, pacey rugby for most of this tournament, while both Wales and Scotland took their respective quarter-final southern hemisphere opponents right to the wire, matching them for resourceful and inventive rugby in the process, with South Africa and Australia only just squeezing through to the semi finals by the skin of their collective teeth.

And even poor old England, much castigated for their failure to get out of their Pool, were playing with plenty of skill, pace and innovation as little as 7 months ago, before Lancaster and co suffered a catastrophic loss of nerve and inexplicable change of tack.

Time, perhaps, to get a little perspective?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Immense weekend of rugby...

What a weekend. Rugby is so much more enjoyable when viewed as a neutral! :)

First, TF Jnr and I attended the Wales v South Africa epic at Twickenham. Great game and even better atmosphere. There was always the feeling that the Welsh hadn't done quite enough and so it proved once the Boks started to dominate possession and territory in the 2nd half.

Unbelievable defensive effort from Wales and disappointing that all that effort from the Welsh was not rewarded, but in the end it really was a matter of last man standing.

An inspired decision to park and ride from Kempton Park meant that we were back home in time to see the New Zealand procession against the French. The All Blacks were pretty spectacular last night, although at times it did look as if they were having a training run against a bunch of blokes who had just met for the first time in the car park before the match.

And so to today - I've had a feeling all week that Argentina would be too strong for an Ireland team missing the likes of O'Connell, Sexton and O'Brien and so it proved. This Argentina team are a bit special and you can't rule out them making the final.



As for Scotland v Australia, another epic and Scotland certainly didn't deserve that outcome. Awful, just awful decisions from Craig Joubert, both in sending Maitland to the bin and then the penalty at the death. Australia can count themselves extremely fortunate.


Friday, 16 October 2015

The French are revolting





Yes, again.

According to reports in France, Les Bleus have "overthrown" their coach Phillipe Saint Andre and are effectively coaching themselves.

Well, it worked last time.

Allez Les Bleus...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Shambles, what shambles?

I don't know what the fuss is all about.

Some would say that there is an unjust disparity in some of the disciplinary verdicts being meted out at this RWC.

Some would say that for Sean O'Brien to receive a one match ban for a blatant punch against France was way too lenient. Ditto Michael Hooper only getting a one match ban for a shoulder charge to the unprotected head of Mike Brown a couple of weeks ago.

Compare that to the 3 match ban handed down to Ross Ford and Johnny Gray for a relatively innocuous looking tip tackle on Samoa's Jack Lam, and some might conclude that the disciplinary process is riddled with inconsistencies.

Those that criticise, however, are not in full possession of the facts. For example it is a little known fact that that Hooper is very kind to animals while O'Brien has been known to help old ladies cross the road. Ford, on the other hand, was once mean to another boy at school while Gray hardly ever calls his mother.

And as for Alessana Tuilagi, originally handed a 5 week ban for the offence of lifting his knee in the act of running, the disciplinary committee almost certainly took into account the fact that he gave the judicial officer "a funny look".

Boris Johnson: shit at rugby

The video of London mayor Boris Johnson bowling over a 10 year Japanese boy while playing rugby is, quite rightly, doing the rounds.



No wonder, the mayor displays truly terrible technique, carrying the ball nonchalantly in his right hand, thus making it easy for the would-be tackler coming from his right to dislodge the ball.

No, clearly Johnson should have been carrying the ball in two hands before tucking it under his left arm  to free his right hand for the fend.



Johnson's inability to execute basic skills cost his team a try and is indicative of the current malaise in the English game.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

And now for something completely different...

Shane Williams at 6000 feet:



Monday, 12 October 2015

Whither England (2015)?


I doubt anyone who knows anything much about rugby would, hand on heart, say that they expected England to win this World Cup. I certainly didn't.

There was hope, borne out of an encouraging 6 Nations campaign and the premise that home advantage would prove more an inspiration than a burden, but certainly not expectation.

What was expected, not unreasonably, was that England would progress from their Pool, despite the fact that somehow it was loaded with 4 out of the world's top 10 teams. Of course England had no divine right to escape the Pool stages - and they lost out to 2 very good teams - but nevertheless on balance they should have done so.

That they failed may be put down to a combination of factors that have been well documented elsewhere. Inexperience - both of coaches and players, poor squad selection, bizarre matchday team selection, poor decision making on and off the field, inconsistent and naïve tactical approach, the possible undue influence of certain characters within the coaching set up, the list goes on...

The ridiculous hype surrounding the England team was also unhelpful - to some extent it was inevitable but much of it was self-generated by the RFU and the excesses could and should have been avoided - with the overblown send-off party with Take That at the O2 Arena and the whole 'Make Them Giants' thing particularly cringeworthy.

So what happens now?

Coaches - if Stuart Lancaster is the honourable man that he would have us believe, he will resign as Head Coach, even if he has indicated that this may yet take couple of weeks. A new Head Coach, whoever that may be, should have the power to bring in his own staff, so the rest of Lancaster's coaching team should also go. The emphasis, given the RFU's resources, should be on finding "best of breed" in all instances. So, for example, if the breakdown is an issue (as it has been for some considerable time), who is the best breakdown coach out there?

Players -  England should have a far more experienced squad going into the next World Cup. There is a core there now that can take the team forward, together with others not included in the RWC squad and players coming through the age groups. Various players will have much to prove to a new coaching set up while others will need to be jettisoned or phased out over the coming few years...I think we all know who they are.

Conditioning - England looked off the pace in the last 15 minutes of both the Wales and Australia matches. Many of the forwards, in particular, appear to be carrying too much timber. England need to start producing packs that can last 80 minutes plus.

Tactics - given there is talent in the back three and, if correctly selected, in the midfield, England need to move away from their traditional set piece obsession. Yes, build as big, mean and nasty pack of forwards as you can muster and by all means be the best that you can possibly be in the tight phases. But if they start to treat the scrum as an attacking opportunity, rather than exclusively as a possible generator of 3 points, then England will be on the right path. See New Zealand, Australia, Japan as examples.

Captain - Chris Robshaw has taken way too much flak, most of it unfair. He strikes me as a decent, honest captain who leads by example and works his socks off for the team. Sadly his tenure is now irreparably holed beneath the waterline by the team's failure when it has really mattered, both in the 6 Nations and now the World Cup. A new Head Coach will want a new skipper. Personally I think Joe Launchbury fits the bill.

Selection Policy - possibly the most contentious issue facing England. Do they change their current policy and select players from outside the Premiership? The whole Steffon Armitage debate has overshadowed much of Lancaster's reign, but this should never be about individuals or exemptions or "exceptional circumstances". Either it is the right policy or it is the wrong policy and if it is the wrong policy it should be abandoned.

So, that's all sorted then...

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Aussies accused of cheating

The Rugby World Cup was embroiled in controversy yesterday as the Australian team were accused of cheating.



It has emerged that in the last 12 months the Australian pack has been practising scrummaging under the tutelage of scrum coach Mario Ledesma.

"It’s an established and accepted part of international rugby that Australia are hopeless at scrummaging and should have to rely on the brilliance of their threequarters,” said a Rugby World Cup insider.

"It’s clear to everyone from their dominant scrummaging performances against both England and Wales that they must have been practising.

"This is a flagrant breach of the spirit of the game, gives the Australians a massively unfair advantage and is tantamount to cheating.

"The likes of Matt Dunning and Bill Young will be turning in their graves – if they were dead – which they’re not, obviously.”


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau



I call upon the spirit of Owain Glyndŵr and hereby invoke my long suppressed Welsh heritage.

For the rest of the World Cup Total Flanker is supporting Wales.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Slammed

Everyone else has chipped in with their tuppence ha’penny worth on the subject of Sam Burgess, so why not me…?

Burgess has copped plenty of flak for his performances in this World Cup from people who really should know better.

The reality is that he should never been considered as a centre by England once Bath had abandoned that particular experiment half way through last season. He should only have been considered in the position he ended up playing for Bath last season – blindside flanker – although actual selection in that position would still have been a massive and unjustifiable leap of faith given his inexperience.

Having been selected as a centre and then inexplicably thrust into action as the starting 12 against Wales, he made as good a fist of it as he could – but the bottom line is that his selection in that position was simply unfair on him, unfair on the rest of the squad and unfair on those who missed out on selection.

Mike Ford at Bath believes Burgess will stay in Rugby Union and play at 6 next season. I hope that is true, that over time he develops into an international standard blindside flanker and that, whoever ends up as England’s next Head Coach, Burgess makes the England squad in the next couple of years on merit.


Given the nasty and vindictive attitude of much of the British media towards Burgess, however, I would not blame him at all if he jumped on the first bus back to Rugby League.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Dunderhead of the Week

Dunderhead of the Week goes to World Rugby judicial officer Antony Davies who has handed down a ban of 5 weeks to Alesana Tuilagi, effectively for raising his knee in the act of running. 

Japan centre Harumichi Tatekawa was clattered by said knee whilst attempting to tackle the giant Samoan on Saturday. 

The attempted tackle took place pretty much directly in front of me at Stadium MK on Saturday. The Japanese fella got his  body in a poor position and Tuialigi ran straight through and over him.

That the 'incident' (such as it was) was even deemed worthy of a second glance is astonishing.

That "having conducted a detailed review of all the available evidence, including all camera angles, medical evidence, evidence from the player and submissions from his legal representatives, the judicial officer Antony Davies upheld the citing on the basis that the player had committed the act of foul play" is just utterly ridiculous.

Rumours that Tuilagi asked for 1,263 other similar offices to be taken into consideration remain unconfirmed.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Spooked


Ahead of their RWC Pool A decider against Australia at Twickenham this weekend, it is being reported that some members of the Welsh rugby team may have spotted the ghost of Henry VIII at their hotel in Weybridge...

Monday, 5 October 2015

Get a grip

Regarding England's exit from the World Cup, I mentioned in my post yesterday that the inquest could wait.

How naive.

The ridiculously hysterical reaction of the good old British media and various has-beens and hangers-on is nothing if not predictable.

FFS, get a grip.

Yes, it's a shame. Yes, it's disappointing. Yes, there are various criticisms that can be levelled at the England camp.

But please let's try to get things in perspective. England have lost 2 games of rugby to 2 very good teams. We probably should have beaten Wales, but Wales still had to win that game and did so magnificently. As for Australia, they were very, very good on Saturday - certainly too good for England - and must be a contender for the title.

A smidgeon of dignity in defeat wouldn't go amiss.


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Turning Japanese

Prior to the nightmare that unfolded at Twickenham yesterday evening I spent the afternoon with TF Jnr at Milton Keynes watching Japan v Samoa. A few observations:

- excellent game from Japan, especially the first half - great enterprise and their discipline was incredible - only 4 penalties conceded all match;

- quite the opposite from Samoa;

- very impressive stadium - neat, compact, comfortable seats, easy access to food and drink and to cap it all a record attendance;

- great atmosphere (mostly - see below), plenty of wildly enthusiastic Japanese fans with most neutrals also supporting Japan;

- several irritating attempts to get a Mexican wave going - even during kicks. Show a bit of respect;

- ditto the idiots singing "Swing Low";

- finally disappointed that Japan didn't get their bonus point. On yesterday's evidence the Scots should ease past Samoa so Japan won't make the quarters - a huge shame given the way they have played.

Broken Chariot


Ah well, it's all over for England, well beaten by a far superior Australian team at Twickenham last night and now out of the tournament.

The inquest can wait. I now plan to sit back and enjoy the rest of the tournament...


Friday, 2 October 2015

Wishful thinking?

England are closer to winning the World Cup than they were last week.

How so? Well, now England only need to win the next 5 games.

Beat Australia tomorrow night and then Uruguay with a bonus point and England will qualify from Pool A.

Then win the following 3 matches and England are World Champs.

Easy peasy.