Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A right pair of Charlies...


It doesn’t look great for ex-All Black Ali Williams and former Aussie international James O’Connor after the pair were arrested in Paris last week after allegedly trying to buy cocaine outside a nightclub.

Williams, who now plays for Racing 92, has apparently accepted a charge of buying cocaine while Toulon’s O'Connor faces possession charges.

Whatever the outcome of the judicial process it is unlikely that their respective careers will exactly flourish as a consequence.

They are of course by no means the only high profile rugby players to have fallen foul of cocaine use:
  • Former Australian winger Wendell Sailor tested positive for cocaine in 2006 while at the Waratahs and received a two-year ban from the game;
  •  Former England prop Matt Stevens received a two-year suspension after testing positive in 2009 while playing for Bath; and
  • Two unnamed English premiership players tested positive for cocaine last year and were fined and ordered to undergo rehabilitation.

Monday, 27 February 2017

But is it rugby?


I have to say I’m really not sure what to make of yesterday’s England v Italy game at Twickenham.

On the one hand I want to say well done to Italy for implementing an innovative and effective defensive strategy by refusing to engage in rucks and rendering the offside-line obsolete.

On the other hand it did turn the game into a shapeless shambles in which referee Romain Poite appeared to be complicit. It looked to me like he was enjoying just a little too much the fact that England were for the most part bamboozled by the Italian tactics.

Poite may well just be “a referee, not a coach” but it did feel for much of the game that he was an enthusiastic and active participant in the Italian gameplan. I know it is common for coaches to speak to referees beforehand to seek clarification on how the game will be refereed, but I think it’s now clear that such briefings do need to involve both teams to avoid the perception of referee collusion. Monsieur Poite also, in my view, made several calls wrongly, allowing Italian players to disengage from the ruck before making the call “tackle only”.

That said, England’s failure to cope with the Italian tactics and their failure to adapt to the referee was extremely poor and their overall performance level, especially in the first half, was shockingly bad.

Eddie Jones may be decrying the Italian approach in public, but in private he must be more than a little miffed that England were comprehensively out-thought by Italy for much of the game and will be furious with his players’ inability to deal with the unexpected as well as some of the performances of individual players.

Owen Farrell had a shocker on the occasion of his 50th cap, George Ford was again defensively frail, Danny Care looked bewildered for 40 minutes, James Haskell and (worryingly) Dylan Hartley looked clueless, Nathan Hughes and Dan Cole gave away a succession of mindless penalties and the whole team looked rudderless for long periods. Only Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell emerged with much credit from the debacle.

It will be interesting to see what the fallout will be in terms of selection for the Scotland game in a fortnight. I suspect Jones’ patience with some players in running a little thin.

Anyway, rant over. I’m not going to comment on the other 2 games - my team of the week below reflects my overall view of the weekend’s action:

SIX NATIONS TEAM OF THE WEEK: 

15. Stuart Hogg 14. Jack Nowell 13. Michele Campagnaro 12. Robbie Henshaw 11. Tim Visser 
10. Finn Russell 9. Conor Murray 1. Cyril Baille  2. Rory Best 3. Rabah Slimani  4. Joe Launchbury    
5. Sebastien Vahaamahina 6. John Barclay 7. Hamish Watson 8. Ryan Wilson

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Denny for England?

Sale Sharks winger Denny Solomona has apparently decided that he would like to play rugby for England.
Solomona has scored 8 tries in 5 games for Sale since controversially switching codes from Castleford Tigers in December.
The New Zealand-born winger has represented Samoa at rugby league but will soon be qualified to play union for England under the 3 year residency rule.
Should he be selected?
There is no problem with his eligibility. Under the current regulations he would clearly be eligible for selection.
Morally and ethically, though, it is less clear cut. He is not English, has no connection with England, has previously expressed no desire to play for England and only now qualifies to play for England owing to a period of time spent playing a different sport in this country and a switch to rugby union in circumstances which were highly controversial and which currently remain the subject of a legal dispute.
If he does turn out to be good enough to play international rugby and it is decided that he is better than the wingers England currently has, then I guess that Eddie Jones would be foolish not to select him.
It would be a decision, however, that for all sorts of reasons would not sit very easily with me.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Georgia on my mind (again)


The case for Georgia’s inclusion in the Six Nations, whether via a play-off against the bottom team or as part of an extended championship, is becoming increasingly difficult to refute.

Currently ranked 12 in the World Rugby standings (2 places above Italy and only 4 behind Scotland), Georgia have won every Six Nations 'B' tournament since 2011 and lead this year’s championship with 2 wins from 2.

The Six Nations remains an anachronistic closed shop, however, leaving Georgia starved of regular fixtures against Tier 1 nations.

To international rugby’s shame, it took years before Argentina were allowed to eat from the top table. The same fate should not be allowed to befall the Georgians.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dan Vickerman RIP



Shocked and saddened by the tragic death of former Aussie lock Dan Vickerman.

37 is no age at all...

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Age is only a number

With no international rugby on which to focus this weekend, my attention is drawn to comments from Andrew Walker, former Australian dual rugby international, who has volunteered his services to the Brumbies at the ripe old age of 43.
According to Walker "the fire is still blazing" and although he may have "lost about 10 per cent of speed” he “makes up for that with experience”.
You have to love this guy’s optimism and enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, 52 year old Total Flanker has once again made himself available for British & Irish Lions selection.
I still have a few smouldering embers” said the rotund veteran, “and while I may have lost more than 70 per cent of my pace, I more than make up for it with cunning, dishonesty and treachery.”

Friday, 17 February 2017

The story so far…


As a fallow 6 Nations weekend approaches, time perhaps to reflect on what we have seen so far:

- Cracking rugby;

- Five of the six teams have achieved at least one victory in their opening two matches;

- England’s late, late shows are doing my heart no good at all;

- Two-thirds of all games have been edge of the seat affairs decided by one score;

- Attacking intent is evident even if, to date, defences have largely prevailed;

- Italy’s progress has at best stalled – and calls for Georgia to replace the Azurri in the competition are, whilst probably unrealistic, no longer without merit;

- The number of injuries gives lie to any suggestion that the Six Nations should in future be cut from 7 weeks to 5 – yes it’s frustrating but the fallow weekends are important to allow teams to rest and recuperate.

Can’t wait for next weekend…

Monday, 13 February 2017

Six Nations 2017 - Round 2 Verdict


ITALY - poor. Conor O'Shea now has the near impossible task of unearthing a new generation of Italian players who won't be utterly reliant on Sergio Parisse and will be able to sustain intensity beyond 50 minutes. The case for Georgia's promotion to the Six Nations grows week by week.

IRELAND - ruthless, efficient and mostly error-free against the Italians, but it will only be possible to judge this team when under sustained pressure - something that they simply did not experience in Rome.

WALES - monumental effort in Cardiff but the Welsh performance again raises the perennial question: if Wales can rouse themselves to these levels against England then why not on a regular basis?

ENGLAND - true grit. England's rookie back row were always going to be up against it but the collective will and effort of the pack and the cool heads outside them saw them home in a pulsating finale.

FRANCE - kicked on after a promising start at Twickenham last week and ultimately had too much power for Scotland in Paris. If they can add a bit of finesse to the midfield France could be a force to be reckoned with.

SCOTLAND - little doubt now that the Scottish revival is something of substance, although their second string props were taught a lesson in Paris and the Scots' scrummaging will need to improve if the revival is to be sustained.

TEAM OF THE WEEK:

15. Scott Spedding 14. Craig Gilroy 13. Gary Ringrose 12. Owen Farrell 11. Elliot Daly 10. Dan Biggar  9. Connor Murray  1. Joe Marler 2. Guilhem Guirado 3. Rabah Slimani 4. Joe Launchbury 5. Courtney Lawes 6. CJ Stander 7. Kevin Gourdon 8. Josh Strauss


Friday, 10 February 2017

And now for something completely...

Plenty of noise around this weekend’s forthcoming Six Nations fixtures, particularly in relation to the match in Cardiff and mostly generated by Eddie Jones.

Amid all the claims of dirty tricks and projectile daffodils and the debate over the stadium roof are, however, a couple of wider rugby stories – both somewhat bizarre – which have almost passed unnoticed.

The first of these concerns the charging of a man over the planting of a listening device found in the All Blacks’ Sydney hotel room in the build up to last August’s Bledisloe Cup, a story that is all the more strange given that the alleged perpetrator is understood to be a security consultant working for the New Zealand team.

Meanwhile, serial tabloid fodder Danny Cipriani has also made the papers this week after 2 strippers received suspended jail sentences having admitted blackmailing the Wasps fly half after one of them aborted his child. His mother must be so proud.

Total Flanker – bringing you the stories that matter 😀

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Six Nations 2017 - Round 1 Verdict (belatedly)


SCOTLAND - at last, a performance backed up with a result. A win in Paris this weekend could really set the chat parmi les pigeons.

IRELAND - sluggish start, but not a huge amount to fix. Will be there or thereabouts in the title shake up.

ENGLAND - outmuscled and very, very subdued for first 40 minutes against France and needed the bench to scrape home. Must do better.

FRANCE - big, very big, direct and confident. Had chances to put England away but ran out of steam a bit at the end.

ITALY - plus ca change. Competitive for 50 minutes or so before exit of composure. Unlucky with a couple of decisions but need to be more resilient.

WALES - decent, competent performance in general and the arrival of Sam Davies suggests more creative times ahead.

TEAM OF THE WEEK:

15. Stuart Hogg 14. Noa Nakaitaci 13. Scott Williams 12. Alex Dunbar 11. Elliot Daly 10. Sam Davies 9. Baptiste Serin 1. Jack McGrath 2. Fraser Brown 3. Tadgh Furlong 4. Johnny Gray 5. Richie Gray 6. CJ Stander 7. Kevin Gourdon 8. Louis Picamoles

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Joy of Six

Are the Scots really as good as everyone thinks they could be?

Can the Irish live up to the hype generated by their November heroics?

Can England absorb the loss of the Vunipola boys, Robshaw, Kruis and Jack Nowell's Barnet?

To milk that hackneyed old cliche, which French team will turn up tomorrow?

What sort of performance will Conor O'Shea drag out if the Italians?

And can Wales finally bid farewell to Warrenball.

All will be revealed this weekend.

Can't wait...