Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Exceptional Circumstance

Reports that Premiership clubs may attempt to block a potential England call up for Ospreys' Sam Underhill are a tad concerning.

I've no idea whether Eddie Jones is considering selecting the former England U18 captain, who currently plays for the Ospreys while he completes his degree at Cardiff University.

However, if Jones does decide to implement the RFU’s ‘exceptional circumstances’ rule to select Underhill then surely it should be left to Jones and the RFU to determine precisely what constitutes an 'exceptional circumstance' and it should not be for the Premiership clubs to decide who Jones should or should not select for England.

Witch Hunt

And so the Joe Marler saga rumbles on, with a World Rugby hearing - for an incident that was put to bed privately by those involved in a mature and grown up fashion - now set for 5 April.

I agree with Damien Hopley on this one. Marler is being hung out to dry as a result of a media led frenzy fuelled by those desperate to sustain a narrative which suits their agenda.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Absolute Nonsense

Sarries chairman Nigel Wray has this weekend described the current European rugby calendar - where Premiership teams lose their international players to the Six Nations for three months every season - as an “absolute nonsense”.

He is right. Much as we all love the Six Nations, the fact that it remains set in stone slap bang in the middle of the European domestic season is somewhat ridiculous.

"If it ain't broke don't fix it" appears to be the attitude of the change-resistant authorities, supported by a compliant rugby press.

Such an attitude is, however, another example of amateur administration values being applied to a professional sport and completely ignores the fact that fans of club rugby who pay good money to attend games are, for a significant chunk of the season, deprived of seeing the best players.

As Wray points out, the Southern Hemisphere has successfully organised its calendar so that the Super Rugby season does not compete with international rugby.

It's about time that the Northern Hemisphere followed suit.

It really shouldn't be that difficult.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Dope

It’s being reported that an Italian rugby player - Davide Vasta of Serie B club Amatori Catania - has tested positive for no less than ELEVEN different banned substances – which must be some kind of doping record.

Although most of the banned substances discovered were of an anabolic nature, apparently one of the substances in Vasta’s system is designed to “resize the mammary glands”.

All of which goes to prove, really, that Davide Vasta is a bit of a tit.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Interesting report in the Telegraph this week regarding abusive behaviour towards referees.

In a survey of over 100 rugby referees, 67% said that they had been subjected to verbal or physical abuse with 74% of those saying that the abuse was increasing and affecting their enjoyment of the game and 86% believing that there had been an erosion of respect and sportsmanship against the values of rugby.

No matter how you spin the figures it doesn't look good. I've commented previously on the increasing lack of respect shown to referees in the game at grassroots level and it doesn't appear to be getting any better.

Respect for the officials is something we continually drum into my son's Under 13 team, and it is absolutely necessary given what they see and hear on the TV in relation to both football and rugby.

I am not for one minute suggesting the problem is anywhere near the levels experienced in football, but it's evident from the Telegraph report that we cannot afford to be at all complacent.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

How Scrum?

Apparently the total amount of time lost to scrums during the Six Nations this year was a remarkable 241 minutes - i.e. over 4 hours of our lives that we'll never get back.

That equates to 20% of the total game time in the whole championship being taken up by (largely inconclusive) scrummaging.

No one wants to lose the scrummage from the game, but the powers that be have to prioritise this if the game is to prosper.

If anything the engage protocols hinder rather than help the process. Stopping the clock until the scrum is complete, ensuring that there is no early shove, insisting that the ball is put in straight and judicious use of the yellow card to punish offenders would, I'd hope, sort it out.

One thing's for sure - doing nothing is not an option.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Pick up and go

England’s third try in the win over France at the Stade de France on Saturday was remarkable insofar as it came from a pick up and break from a scrum by Billy Vunipola.

How often these days do you see tries scored in this way at the top level? Hardly ever.

I’ve previously bemoaned the demise of the back row move, but equally the number 8 attacking pick up and go has become more or less an extinct art in elite rugby. So much so, that when at the start of this season I encouraged my son to pick up and go from the base of the scrum for his Under 13 team, he wasn’t aware it was allowed as he’d never seen it done on TV!

Eddie Jones has commented that the old England “would never have considered a number 8 pick up and break” – which is hardly surprising as the old England rarely even got the ball to the number 8’s feet.

Jones’ insistence on his hooker actually hooking the ball means that the ball is now available at the back of the scrum and gives England attacking options.

To which I say HALLELUJAH!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Six Nations 2016 - Champs & Chumps

So here we are again. Another year, another Six Nations done and dusted. Not a vintage year by any means, and our friends in the Southern Hemisphere will hardly be quaking in their boots as a result of the rugby on show. Nevertheless, a Grand Slam is a Grand Slam and, given what happened last Autumn, the England players can quite rightly feel moderately pleased with themselves.



So here are the TF Champs & Chumps of the 2016 Six Nations:

CHAMPS

15. STUART HOGG – getting better and better each season.
14. ANTHONY WATSON - increasingly dangerous with ball in hand and flawless under the high ball.
13. MICHELE CAMPAGNARO – if the rest of the Italian backs could reach this guy's standard they might be in business.
12. OWEN FARRELL - I said he'd be rubbish at 12. What the hell do I know?
11. GEORGE NORTH - back to his best.
10. JOHNNY SEXTON – classiest 10 on view by some distance.
9. CONNOR MURRAY - consistent excellence.
1. JACK McGRATH – cemented his reputation as a fine loosehead and looks a shoe-in for the Lions next year.
2. GUILHEM GUIRADO – France's best player by a country mile.
3. WP NEL – without him Scotland simply don't have a scrummage, he's that good.
4. MARO ITOJE– wow, what a start to an international career. A star is born.
5. GEORGE KRUIS – quietly but mightily effective in the England engine room.
6. CHRIS ROBSHAW – redemption on the blindside for England's former skipper.
7. CJ STAMPER – a major force in the Irish back row.
8. BILLY VUNIPOLA – huge impact, huge work rate, player of the tournament.

CHUMPS

15. LUKE McLEAN - barely looked interested.
14. ALEX CUTHBERT - on current form he'd struggle to make my son's Under 13 team.
13. JONATHAN DANTY - a poor man's Bastareaud?
12. KELLY HAIMONA - makes Luke McLean look keen.
11. SEAN LAMONT - one paced and ineffective.
10. JULES PLISSON - comic genius - must have had a tenner on George North to score the first try against France in Cardiff.
9. SEBASTIEN BEZY - all the organisation and control of a headless chicken.
1. JOE MARLER – almost missed a Grand Slam decider through pure idiocy and likely to face further sanctions.
2. ROSS FORD - minimal impact for such a big man.
3. TOMAS FRANCIS – tried to defend his assault on Dan Cole's face on the basis that he had his eyes closed. Muppet.
4. COURTNEY LAWES - lacking impact and now a few rungs down the England 2nd row ladder.
5. YOANN MAESTRI - got away with a thuggish attack on Sexton and has taken over the mantle of 6N Pantomime Villain from Big Jim Hamilton.
6. SAM WARBURTON- poor on both sides of the scrum this 6N until knocked out against England.
7. ALESSANDRO ZANNI - career appears to be on a downward trajectory.
8. DAVID DENTON - makes headless chickens look as if they are all part of a cunning masterplan.


Thursday, 17 March 2016

No offence?

Much has been made of Joe Marler’s “Gypsy Boy” comment aimed at Samson Lee at Twickenham last Saturday.

Was it an offensive comment? Yes, undoubtedly, but the next question is this: when the comment was made who actually took offence? The answer is simple – when Marler uttered the words “Gypsy Boy” the only person who heard them and who might have been offended was Samson Lee, who subsequently accepted Marler’s apology at half time.

All those who have since come out of the woodwork claiming to have been offended have done so on the basis of media reports of what happened. They did not hear the comments. Ergo they could not have been offended by them.

Marler's comments were idiotic, offensive and unpalatable but he has accepted that what he said was unacceptable, has apologised and has been reprimanded, while Samson Lee has behaved with great dignity and grace in accepting Marler’s apology.

All very grown up and, dare I say it, common sense appears to have prevailed.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Six Nations 2016 Round 4 - Verdict

This just in… the Total Flanker verdict on this weekend's Six Nations action:



Ireland - Joe Schmidt cast off the tactical shackles and the Irish cut loose - albeit against a poor Italian effort. I've said all championship that this is a decent Ireland team and I expect good things from them in the next few years.

Italy - really the less said the better. Conor O'Shea must be wondering what he's let himself in for.

France - in patches France are finally beginning to look the part and almost by accident they finished the game against Scotland with the mouth-watering centre partnership of Fickou and Fofana - England beware.

Scotland - a big step forward for the Scots who at one point looked as if they were going to let it slip away. Final match against Ireland should be a cracker.

Wales - sorry, I don't buy the narrative that they "didn't turn up" for the 1st half. Just like at Cardiff last year and, to a lesser extent, at Twickenham in the RWC, they were dominated by a very, very good England pack and made to play on the back foot - until England's intensity dropped late on. Last 10 minutes very bad for my heart, however.

England - much improved in terms of discipline and for 60-70 mins England's intensity was right on the money. The next step for this team is to work out how to be clinical when try-scoring opportunities are created. I also worry about George Ford's apparent fragile confidence.

Team of the week:

15. Hogg (Sco)  14 Watson (Eng). 13. Taylor (Sco) 12. Fickou (Fra) 11. North (Wal) 10. Sexton (Ire) 9. Murray (Ire) 1. McGrath (Ire) 2. Hartley (Eng) 3. Nel (Sco)  4. Itoje (Eng) 5. Kruis (Eng) 6. Robshaw (Eng) 7. Hardie (Sco) 8. Heaslip (Ire)

Sunday, 13 March 2016

England - Six Nations Champions (at last)

So, well done England - 2016 Six Nations champions with a  game still left to go.

The first 65 to 70 minutes from England at Twickenham yesterday were pretty special - pats on the back all round, with young Mr Itoje deserving of most.

If I was Eddie Jones, however, I'd be more than a little concerned with the final 10 minute implosion. Hopefully England learned more from that final 10 minutes than they did from the rest of the tournament.

They'll need to have done so if they are to complete the final leg of the Grand Slam in Paris and better the W4 L1 record of the team in the last five 6N championships.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Time gentlemen please


I read somewhere this week that in last Saturday’s Six Nations clash between England and Ireland the ball was in play for a grand total of 37 minutes, less half the game.

If true that’s a fairly damning statistic and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the ball was in play for an even shorter duration during the Wales v France game on Friday evening, given Wayne Barnes’ endless attempts to reset the scrum.

Not only does this make for dull viewing, with the ball in play so little there is no incentive for players to become leaner and aerobically fitter, instead encouraging players to bulk up to play a power-based game in shorter bursts.

Regular readers of this blog (all 2 of you) will be familiar with my previous rants relating to the need to speed the game up.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Nice Tackle

There's been quite some reaction to this week's open letter to ministers, signed by more than 70 doctors and academics, which calls for a ban on tackling in rugby matches played in schools.


As a father of a 13 year old who is now playing regular contact rugby (and pretty well, I must say) there are a few points worth making here:

1.) There's no doubt in my mind that there ARE issues in general with tackling in rugby that do need addressing. See:

- Whatever Happened to Tackling and

- Whatever Happened to Tackling (Part 2)

2.) My perception is that kids playing rugby at school are probably more at risk than kids playing rugby at a club. My experience is that school coaching in general is not as advanced and, of course, playing club rugby is entirely voluntary whereas at school it is often compulsory - and contact rugby clearly isn't for everyone.

3.) There's no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the benefits of playing rugby - fitness, discipline, teamwork, leadership, camaraderie etc - far outweigh the risks.

4.) I do wonder whether any of the doctors and academics who have signed up to the letter have actually ever played the game?

5.) If we are going to ban kids from tackling in rugby then there's an equally compelling argument to ban them from tackling in football, playing hockey with a stick, riding a horse, skiing, cycling, taking part in gymnastics, crossing a road or getting out of bed.

6.) I remain fully supportive of a ban on kids tackling Boris Johnson.