Monday, 22 January 2018

Why we play the game

Stumbled across this on Facebook...

WHY WE PLAY THE GAME by RUPERT McCALL

When the battle scars have faded
And the truth becomes a lie
When the weekend smell of liniment,
Could almost make you cry
When the last rucks well behind you,
And the man who ran now walks,
It doesn't matter who you are
The mirror sometimes talks.
Have a good hard look son
That melon's not so great
The snoz that takes a sharp turn sideways
Used to be dead straight.
You're an advert for arthritis
You're a thorough bred gone lame
And you ask yourself the question
Why the hell you played the game?

Was there logic in the head knocks
In the corks and in the cuts
Or did common sense get pushed aside
For manliness and guts
And do you sometimes sit and wonder
How your time would often pass
In a tangled mess of bodies
With your head up someone's arse
With a thumb hooked up your nostril
Scratching gently on your brain
With an overgrown Neanderthal
Rejoicing in your pain
Mate, you must recall the jersey
That was shredded into rags
Then the soothing sting of dettol
On a back engraved with tags
Now it's almost worth admitting
Although with some degree of shame,
That your wife was right in asking
Why the hell you played the game.

But then, how you'd always rock home legless
Like a cow on roller-skates
After drinking at the club house
With your low down rugby mates
Then you'd wake up, check your wallet
Not a solitary coin,
Drink Berocca by the bucket
Throw an icepack on your groin.
Copping Sunday morning sermons about
Boozers being losers
As you limped like Quasimodo
With half a thousand bruises
The urge to hug the porcelain
And curse Zambookas name
And you'd often pose the question
Why the hell you play the game

But then with every wound reopened
As you grimly reminisce it
Comes the most compelling feeling yet
Christ, you bloody miss it
You see, from the first time that you lace a boot
And tighten every stud
That virus known as rugby
Has been living in our blood
When you dreamt it
When you played it
All the rest took second fiddle
And now your standing on the sideline
But your hearts still in the middle
And no matter where you travel
You can take it as expected
There will always, always be a breed of people
Hopelessly infected
If there's a team mate
Then you'll find him
Like a gravitational force
With a common understanding
And a beer or three of course.
And as you stand there telling lies
Like it was yesterday old friend
You know that if you had the chance
You'd do it all again
You see, that's the thing with rugby
It will always be the same
And that my friends I guarantee you
Is why the hell we play the game.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Keeping Jones

Today's announcement from the RFU that it has agreed to extend Eddie Jones' contract as England head coach until 2021 makes perfect sense. 

Jones had previously maintained he would step down after the 2019 World Cup, but the contract extension will help provide an element of continuity into the next World Cup cycle, rather than require the RFU to adopt the “rip it up and start again” approach needed after the last two tournaments in 2011 and 2015. 

And the fact that the RFU has said that it intends to appoint Eddie's successor in 2020 to work alongside the Australian for a year is as innovative as it is surprising. What price on that man being Exeter's Rob Baxter?

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

An Ode to Tommy Bowe...

After Ulster and Ireland wing Tommy Bowe announced, by way of an extremely iffy limerick, that he will be retiring from rugby at the end of the season...



...it is only fitting that I respond as follows:


There once was a fella called Bowe
Played rugby for Ireland, you know
Though he is, don’t you know it
A terrible poet
We'll wish him the best when he goes...

Friday, 12 January 2018

Outlaw the Jackal - a Solution to the Breakdown?

As Austin Healy points out in today's Telegraph, the breakdown is "an unholy mess".

Actually, as far as I can recall, the word "breakdown" is, in itself, a relatively modern thing. Back in the day (here he goes again) we simply had the maul and the ruck.

The maul was quite straightforward - either you won the ball or you didn't and if the ball failed to emerge the team deemed to be moving forward were awarded the put in at the ensuing scrum. Not only did this mean that the defending team had to try to win the ball rather than just hold the man up, they also had to commit men to the maul to try to win the put in, freeing up space elsewhere.

And as for the ruck. I have previously described it thus:
"A player is tackled then rolls around for a bit adjusting his body position in an attempt to place the ball back advantageously for his teammates. Meanwhile the tackler pops back up to his feet and squats over the tacklee trying to rip the ball from the tacklee's grasp or, at the very least, to stop its release. In the meantime everyone else in the vicinity either dives to the ground to seal off the ball, launches themselves like a human torpedo at the developing pile-up or stands to one side of the melee with arm raised to signal that they know what they're doing even if no one else does. Everyone else fans out across the pitch in a leisurely fashion secure in the knowledge that the ball is not going to emerge anytime soon, while the referee scratches his head at the pointlessness of it all."
My previous solution (and a solution that Mr Healy appears to agree with in his article) was to "bring back rucking" - with players on their feet driving over the ball and using the feet to clear out anyone on the wrong side, producing quicker ball and, again, occupying forwards who might otherwise loiter in midfield clogging up the pitch.

The argument against rucking players on the floor is that it is dangerous, but to me it is far, far safer than trying to smash into or judo roll players attempting to "jackal" over the ball, for instance.

And that's why I'd go one step further.

So many injuries these days are caused by attempts to clear out the jackal, who is clamped over the ball with head and neck exposed, supposedly (but never actually) supporting his own bodyweight. The opposition's remit is to remove him by any and all means necessary and the subsequent collisions  are essentially an injury waiting to happen.

It is time, therefore, to outlaw the jackal. There, I've said it.

When a tackle is made players must simply stay on their feet and attempt to drive over the ball. Not only will this result in fewer collisions ergo fewer serious injuries, I'm convinced it will also produce quicker ball, more space and a faster game.

Yes, it might mean winning turnovers is a bit more difficult, but teams will simply have to develop counter-rucking strategies to compensate.

The Day of the Jackal is over.

You know it makes sense.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

I am Rugby Ready


It's official - I am delighted to announce that I am finally Rugby Ready.

What I mean is that earlier this week I completed the RFU's Rugby Ready course for mini and youth rugby coaches.

Whilst predominantly concerned with safely introducing younger age groups to contact rugby (as opposed to coaching Under 15s who apparently already know absolutely everything there is to know about everything), it was nevertheless an interesting evening and a pertinent reminder about the importance of coaching good technique.

And my application to the British & Irish Lions for the 2021 Tour is now in the post...


Monday, 8 January 2018

Hey Joe

I like Joe Marler. He's a far better player than he's often given credit for and off the field he comes across as a decent, thoughtful and witty human being.

There's a fair to middling chance, however, that Marler will deservedly be suspended for at least part of this year's Six Nations following his idiotic and thuggish shoulder barge to the head of Sale flanker TJ Ioane on Saturday which earned him a red card.

The fact that there was no need to make any contact with Ioane, who was in the act of rolling away after a tackle, only serves to highlight the stupidity of Marler's actions. That Ioane has also been cited for striking the Quins loosehead a few minutes before the red card suggests that Marler's act was simply one of retribution.

Having also missed two of England's autumn international through suspension, you have to question how much more of Marler's "red mist" Eddie Jones will be prepared to tolerate.

Meanwhile the membership committee of the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks will be carefully considering Mr Marler's membership application...

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Une Certitude Bleue

France will win the 2018 Six Nations.

Conventional wisdom might suggest that the more likely winners would be one of England or Ireland but, mark my words, it will be France.

Why? Well, setting aside the fact that France always seem to do well in the Six Nations the season after a Lions tour, you only have to take one look at how their preparations are going.

One word: chaos.

With head coach Guy Noves and his coaching staff sacked by the FFR over the holiday period and now the subject of serious misconduct claims as the FFR attempt to avoid compensation payments in the region of £3 million – and with former Italy coach Jacques Brunel (whose tenure between 2012 and 2016 saw Italy plummet to 15th in World Rugby's rankings) now in charge, what could possibly go wrong?

And yet remember the last time the French rugby team were in utter chaos? Rugby World Cup 2011 – France were all over the place with players in open rebellion against coach Marc ‘Le Fou’ Lievremont and the team losing to Tonga in the pool stages, but not only did the French make it to the final, they very, very nearly won the damned thing.

Simply, France do chaos better than anyone. They will win the 2018 Six Nations.

You read it here first.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Blind Faith?

The unwavering loyalty shown by Eddie Jones to England captain Dylan Hartley is, while in many ways admirable, still quite difficult to fathom.

I’ve nothing particularly against Hartley. Vastly experienced, he’s been a decent enough player over the years and it’s difficult to criticise his leadership record in an England shirt – but even at his best I would say that he is an inferior player to his main rivals at hooker and is currently so palpably struggling for form as to make his continued selection a tad baffling.

Ask yourself this – if Hartley wasn’t captain, could he justify his place in the squad?

Jones knows the answer to this, Hartley knows the answer to this, and so do the other players in the squad.

It seems churlish to question a Head Coach who has presided over 22 wins in his last 23 games in charge and I’m tempted just to say “Eddie knows best”.

But, as Jones keeps saying, the next 12 months will be critical to England’s chances at the 2019 World Cup, so he does need start making the difficult decisions which will enable the team to move on to the next level.

And replacing Hartley as hooker and captain should be first on the list.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Half and half

Is just it me, or is Owen Farrell only passing half a rugby ball during England's training camp at Brighton?


The question is - who has the other half?

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Total Flanker Awards 2017

It's New Year's Eve and ahead of the evening's main event may I welcome you, one and all, to the 11th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony, held this year at the swankiest of swanky virtual venues...

Yes, another calendar year has rushed by with indecent haste, bringing us once again to the time of year when we recognise and celebrate the highs, the lows, the ups, the downs, the ins and the outs of rugby in 2017.

Without further ado, first up this evening is the Total Flanker OK I May Have Got That Wrong Award. It's not as if I've never made a mistake before, but on this occasion I am referring to the fact that I had originally believed that the appointment of Warren Gatland as head coach of the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand was as uninspiring as it was doomed to failure. How wrong I was. Under Gatland the Lions performed way beyond expectations to secure a series draw despite a ridiculous and brutal schedule and totally inadequate preparation. Well done Mr Gatland.

Next up is the the Total Flanker Is this Real or Yet Another Case of the Emperor's New Clothes? Award. I'm referring, in this instance, to the Scotland rugby team under new head coach Gregor Townsend. Two victories this year over Australia, home and away, plus running the All Blacks close at Murrayfield and scoring a bucketload of tries would suggest the Scots are on an upward curve. Set against that, of course, is a defeat in Fiji and conceding a whole shedload of points at home to Samoa. Will the real Scotland please stand up. I guess the Six Nations will tell us more.

Moving along, our next award is the Total Flanker How Impossibly Stupid Do You Have to Be? Award. Several candidates exist for this award, you might think, but one candidate stands head and shoulders above the rest. Step forward Ospreys' hooker Scott Baldwin who missed his his team's Pro14 fixture against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein because he had been BITTEN BY A LION WHILE TRYING TO PET IT. Words fail me.

And so the Total Flanker Now That's How You Do It Award. No hesitation here, there can only be one winner and that is the Women's Rugby World Cup 2017a hugely successful tournament with sell-out crowds and plentiful live TV coverage throughout, culminating in a cracking final full of fast, skilful, dynamic, competitive and compelling rugby and worthy winners in the Black Ferns.

The penultimate award this evening is the Total Flanker Time To Put A Lid On It Award. This one, I'm afraid, goes to England coach Eddie Jones. Now, as big a fan as I am of Eddie and the job he has done for England over the last two years, isn't it time now to stop banging on about wanting to be the World's number 1 team and winning the Rugby World Cup? If anything, all this talk of "greatness" just smacks of insecurity as if he's trying to convince himself and his team and I can't help thinking that less talking and more concentrating on the here and now would be so much more beneficial.

And finally, last but by no means least we have the Total Flanker This Is What Rugby Is All About Award. For this award we head back to the Lions Tour of New Zealand this summer and salute those many Kiwi rugby fans who opened up their homes for free to accommodate British and Irish visitors to New Zealand, thus encapsulating the unique nature of this great game of ours and providing a fitting finale to this awards ceremony.


Yes, sadly our whistle-stop tour through 2017 is now at an end - leaving me only to say a HUGE thank you once again for continuing to indulge this blog and the regular drivel contained herein.
I wish you all a fantastic 2018...