Thursday, 21 March 2019

England Rugby's Flowerpot Men

So, according to the media, Billy Vunipola and Ben Te'o have had to make a "grovelling apology" to team mates after returning to the team hotel late and the worse for wear for drink following a night out after the 38-38 draw with Scotland on Sunday.

That's two grown men going out, letting off some steam and getting a bit pissed AFTER the conclusion of the Six Nations tournament.

No one was hurt, no damage was caused, no laws were broken, no one was arrested.

How times have changed. I mean, it's hardly Dean Richards and John Jeffrey and a severely dented Calcutta Cup it it?

Move along ladies and gentlemen, nothing to see here.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Whither England 2019?

Ok, a few days has passed since the most ridiculous game of rugby I have ever witnessed, so time to reflect a little more calmly on England's performance during the 2019 Six Nations.

Not that I have calmed down that much, and the news today that spoon-bending publicity junkie, Uri Geller, is urging Eddie Jones to take him to the World Cup as the answer to England’s psychological problems tells us just how ludicrous Saturday's implosion was.

First of all let's be honest - England's second half performance against Scotland at Twickenham was the stuff of nightmares as a 31-0 lead somehow became an unbearable burden to the extent that it was squandered by a team that panicked at the first hint of a Scottish revival. We are talking about hardened professional rugby players who lost all semblance of shape, control or discipline. It was truly, truly shocking and no amount of positivity about how well England attacked at times during this competition can disguise that.

That there is an underlying mental frailty - also demonstrated in Cardiff - cannot be in doubt. But for Eddie Jones to lay this at the door of England's premature exit from the 2015 World Cup is simply disingenuous. Jones has had four Six Nations competitions (and indeed won his first two) to iron out any World Cup hangovers and this team is very different from the one that failed in 2015, so the only conclusion to draw is that Jones is just trying to pass the buck. Next thing you know he'll be blaming Sam Burgess.

On the plus side, the England squad as a whole looks stronger than it has done for a while.

England now have some great front row options with the emergence of Ben Moon to cover Mako Vunipola at loosehead and with Kyle Sinckler establishing himself a potentially world class number 3. There are plenty of quality locks - with Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes to return - and the backrow now has proper balance with Curry and Wilson, although I do have my concerns about Billy Vunipola's diminishing returns. What the pack does lack is someone to take control and get hold of the game. Dylan Hartley? Perhaps, but I'd be surprised if his form could merit a return. 

In the backs England look to be in fine fettle with the exception that Manu Tuilagi still looks decidedly uncomfortable at 12 and Elliot Daly remains unconvincing as a fullback. There are, however, classy wings in abundance (including the now superb Jonny May) and Henry Slade now looks to the manor born. The main issue appears to be at half-back. Ben Youngs, despite his 85 caps, seems incapable of properly shaping a game at scrum half while Owen Farrell - good player that he is - has worryingly lost the plot tactically on the two occasions that England have been put under real pressure.

Unfortunately it is almost certainly too late for Eddie Jones to change tack now. I'm sure he has most of his 31 man World Cup squad pencilled in (barring injuries). All he can say is that he will bring in someone to fix England's psychological issues - as if it's that easy.

Let's just hope that someone is not Uri Geller!

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

England Women's Grand Slam - congrats and a warning...

Many congrats to England's women on their Six Nations Grand Slam which was never really in doubt.

With a points difference of 233 and an average score per match of 55-9 this really was as straightforward as it gets, not massively surprising given that England were the only fully professional team in the competition.

It's great that England's women are being rewarded, but given their utter dominance it is incumbent on the powers that be to ensure that standards are raised across the board - a title sponsor for the Women's Six Nations would be a good start.

After all, while the England women can, in the short term, bask in their much deserved success, without meaningful competition the women's game will simply atrophy in the longer term.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Six Nations 2019: Champs & Chumps

Here it is, the moment you've been waiting for, the Champs and Chumps of the 2019 Six Nations...


15. Liam Williams - faultless.
14. Josh Adams - outshone his more illustrious wing partner.
13. Henry Slade - now a fully fledged international centre.
12. Hadleigh Parkes - colossus in the Welsh centres
11. Jonny May - now world class.
10. Finn Russell - touch of genius.
9. Antoine Dupont - a chink of light amidst French darkness .
1. Cian Healy - a warrior for Ireland
2. Jamie George - Dylan who?.
3. Kyle Sinckler - getting better and better.
4. Alun Wyn Jones - currently the world's best lock.
5. George Kruis - back to his best.
6. Josh Navidi - superb.
7. Tom Curry - England finally have a proper openside.
8. Ross Moriarty - now undroppable.


15. Robbie Henshaw - totally exposed by England's kicking game.
14. Angelo Esposito - apparently "esposito" is Italian for turnstile.
13. Mathieu Bastareaud - France will never progress until they stop picking a prop at 13.
12. Bundee Aki - opposition now appear to have him worked out.
11. Yoann Huget - defensive liability with horrible attitude.
10. Camile Lopez - Sexton and Farrell were disappointing, but Lopez was truly awful.
9. Morgan Parra - AWOL at Twickenham and French career seemingly over. Ben Youngs a close second.
1. Andrea Lovotti - whatever happened to fantastic Italian scrummaging?
2.  Leonardo Ghiraldini - only contribution now is stroppiness.
3. Dan Cole - not quite sure what he's doing back in the England fold.
4. Jonny Gray - just making tackles is no longer enough.
5. SĂ©bastien Vahaamahina - briefly French captain without knowing it!! 
6. Arthur Iturria - general loose cannon.
7. Sean O'Brien - nowhere near the levels he's previously achieved.
8. Sergio Parisse - sadly the light has faded. Tight call with Picamoles.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Six Nations 2019 - Final Round Verdict

So, here I am, feeling quite bereft after another Six Nations comes to an end. In many ways it was a championship  full of surprises. In others it was all too predictable. One inescapable conclusion though is that the best all round team finished top and thoroughly deserved their Grand Slam.

A few thoughts and observations:


Calm, ruthless, efficient and brilliantly competent - Wales utterly dominated the final match against Ireland to seal the Grand Slam. This is not the most exciting Wales team there has ever been - and I suspect they will need to add a few more strings to their bow to make an impact at the World Cup - but I don't think I've seen a more effective Welsh line up who think so clearly under pressure. The coaching staff can take huge credit for this but ultimately it is the players who take to the field and make the decisions. Hats off to them - their success is well deserved.


I guess 2nd place is a big improvement on 2018's showing, but I can honestly say that the second half against Scotland on Saturday was the worst I've known an England team play for many a year, a total and utter embarrassing shambles. For periods during this Six Nations England looked the best team in the competition - compelling and overwhelming attack combined with ferocious defence - but clearly there is an underlying fragility when the pressure comes on. Worrying.


What the hell happened to Ireland? Defeat to England in the opening fixture appeared to dent confidence to such an extent that they never really rediscovered their mojo and against Wales in Cardiff they were utterly outfought and out-thought. It was all looking so good for the Irish in November but there will have to be a great deal of soul-searching for this squad now. Time for Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell to really start earning their corn...


France - a total basket-case - somehow managed to finish 4th in the championship despite the players at times looking like they had barely met. Their performances at Twickenham and in Dublin were simply an embarrassment and, despite the injection of some exciting young talent into the team, I feel more major surgery is needed - probably at the top - before France can become a force again. 


Although Scotland's comeback from 0-31 down at Twickenham was remarkable in many ways, it does somewhat mask Scotland's failings in this year's championship. Yes, the Scots suffered horribly with injuries, but a fifth place finish is still a disappointment and mistake-ridden performances against  Ireland, Wales and France, plus abject defending in the first half at Twickenham, should still be causes for concern.


There comes a point when you just have to say enough is enough. Italy have some decent players,  played well in patches and probably did enough to beat France in the final game, but there was never any realistic belief that Italy could muster a win in this year's competition and if there is no prospect of victory then what's the point?

Team of the week:

15. Liam Williams 14. Darcy Graham 13. Henry Slade 12. Hadleigh Parkes 11. Josh Adams 10. Finn Russell 9. Antoine Dupont 1. Rob Evans 2. Ken Owens 3. Tomas Francis 4. Alun-Wyn Jones 5. Adam Beard 6. Josh Navidi 7. Justin Tipuric 8. Ross Moriarty

Champs & Chumps to follow later...

Friday, 15 March 2019

Six Nations 2019: Final Round Predictions

So, here we are, a preview of the final weekend of the Six Nations of 2019, a time of anticipation and excitement tinged with sadness and the realisation that it will all be over for another year. I guess we'll have to make do with the Rugby World Cup later this year 😉

Anyway, here we go - my predictions for the weekend

Italy v France
Bragging rights are up for grabs at the bottom of the table. If Italy can produce the rugby they showed  the last time they played in Rome (v Ireland) and France produce the utter pap they have displayed away from home so far in the championship, then victory awaits for the Italians. I have a sneaky feeling, however, (and I hope I'm wrong) that the French, seeking to redeem themselves yet again, will do enough to win this one. France by 9-12.

Wales v Ireland
I have tipped against Wales throughout this championship and they keep proving me wrong (this obviously being their primary motivation). There's little doubt in my mind that the Ireland team of November 2018 is better than this Wales team, but so far the Irish have failed to hit those heights in this Six Nations. It will be tighter than a gnat's chuff but Wales - I feel - could very well sneak this by 3-6 points. Or maybe even a draw?

England v Scotland
Complacency could be England's biggest enemy on Saturday, especially if Wales seal the deal in Cardiff. On paper there is no way this depleted Scottish squad, whose recent form has been indifferent, should get anywhere near this England team (even accounting for Eddie Jones' perverse selections) who have so far been imperious at home. Although Scotland's winless streak at Twickenham (dating back to 1983) must end at some point I honestly can't see this squad beating England and ultimately this should be a comfortable home win. England by 15+.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

England Rugby: No go for Big Joe

Sorry, I just don't get it.

Following a much deserved Man of the Match performance against Italy, Joe Cokanasiga now finds himself out of the match day squad entirely for the final fixture against Scotland on Saturday, replaced by Jack Nowell.

I am a big fan of Nowell - his industry, workrate, defence and aerial game are excellent - but you have to ask yourself, if you were a Scottish winger, who would you rather face?

Eddie Jones knows all he needs to know about Nowell who, barring injury, will no doubt be on the plane to Japan later this year. Big Joe, however, still needs meaningful game time to demonstrate that his rich talent can and should play a significant part in the World Cup.

This selection suggests to me that Eddie, bizarrely, is far from convinced that Cokanasiga should go to Japan - either that or it's a case of Jones just being perverse -  irritated by Cokanasiga being compared to the great Jonah Lomu last weekend - and  has decided to give the fans and the media the middle finger.

It also suggests a return to the kicking game for England, despite the recall of Henry Slade in the centres.

For crying out loud, he's even included Ben Teo ahead of Cokanasiga on the bench - which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

As I say, I just don't get it.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Manu Tuilagi: I take it all back...

News just in this morning that Manu Tuilagi has in fact rejected Racing 92's lucrative offer and has signed a new deal with Leicester Tigers.

I therefore hereby take back my previous comments.

A question I have previously posed is: whatever happened to loyalty?

 I think we now have our answer.

A petition to expel Mr Tuilagi from the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks will be considered in due course.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Six Nations 2019: Eddie Jones should tone it down

I can’t say I’m particularly impressed by comments from Eddie Jones ahead of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham.

Jones appears to be calling for ‘hostility’ when the Scots come to visit, saying that “we would certainly like to reciprocate the welcome we got up there last year” – referring to the abuse he and some of his players received before, during and after last year’s game at Murrayfield.

In light of some of the issues with fan behaviour currently being experienced by the round ball game, and given how last year Jones attributed some of the abuse he suffered – in particular by Scotland supporters at a Manchester railway station the following day – to inflammatory pre-match comments from the likes of Gavin Hastings, I’m surprised that Jones has chosen to stir things up in this way.

Although Jones has sought to limit his call to action to “on-field hostility”, the tone of his comments appears very much directed towards exacting revenge for the way he perceives he and his team were treated in Scotland a year ago.

It's all so unnecessary and I can only hope that Jones’ poor choice of language does not therefore lead to unintended consequences…

Monday, 11 March 2019

Six Nations 2019: a Grand Slam for Wales?

Warren Gatland is a wily old bird. Prior to this year's Six Nations he claimed that a Welsh win in Paris on the opening weekend set his team on the way to a Grand Slam and so it has proved, with Wales set to attempt to seal the deal against Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.

Throughout this Six Nations I've been tipping Wales to lose (other than against Italy). I believed that France would prevail in the opening fixture (not banking on a French second half implosion), that England would prove to be too strong in Cardiff (not anticipating the English tactical howler that followed) and that the Scots would get it right against Wales at Murrayfield (not taking into account the current Scottish propensity for making costly errors). Wrong on all counts.

What Wales have done so far is to stay in games and not concede too many points when under the cosh - and then, when opportunities have arisen, they have taken them. There is much to be admired about this - the ability to win tight matches in which the tide is against you for long periods is not to be underestimated and is borne from the confidence that a 14 match unbeaten brings.

What Wales haven't done, however, at any point in this Six Nations so far is to cut loose and set the championship alight. Nine tries (the same as France and Italy) and no bonus points from 4 games is a pretty meagre return. It's almost as if Wales have taken the concept of "Warrenball" and made it even more functional, more efficient, more error-free and more hard-nosed. It's nothing special to watch, but it's difficult to knock given how effective it has been.

And so to the Grand Slam decider against Ireland. I'd like to be able to predict a more expansive Welsh performance but my expectations are that this will be another tight, tough, bruising encounter. Ireland, seemingly having played their way back into form, will provide one hell of a final hurdle for the Welsh but I am expecting more of the same from Wales and certainly wouldn't bet against them completing the clean sweep.