Tuesday, 31 July 2007
Somehow, and I'm not entirely sure how this happened, when speaking to the bloke who is running the Vets team this year I found myself uttering three words that I'll probably live to regret:
"Count me in."
As I say, I don't know how that happened. Perhaps I was under the influence of the massive 71% of readers of this blog who have voted that I should play Vets rugby this season in the poll in the left-hand column. OK, so that's only 5 of you and it's not like I've made an irrevocable commitment, but nevertheless the people have spoken.
Actually I reckon it was more to do with the fact that I was coping reasonably well with this evening's session. Hell, it even bordered on the enjoyable. After the inaugural session two weeks ago, which I felt was way too much too soon, I was really dreading turning up this evening. Don't get me wrong, it was still bloody hard and there was still plenty of contact work with tackle bags and pads, but I worked hard at it and my new gumshield and I survived relatively intact. We even finished with 20 minutes or so of semi-contact rugby league and, although I was definitely in the weaker of the two teams, I felt I acquitted myself reasonably well, certainly better than I'd expected.
I'm still going to suffer in the morning though - I can already feel parts of me seizing up even as I write this - but I'm far more encouraged than I thought I could possibly be.
Monday, 30 July 2007
"You're in the team for Saturday."
Thursday, 26 July 2007
This does, of course, ignore the fact that professional club rugby in England has gone from strength to strength over the past few years and the fact that Rugby League barely has an international scene but, setting the details aside, what is it with these League fans that they constantly have to perpetuate some sort of war with Rugby Union?
I realise that generalisations are dangerous, and I’m sure that there must be plenty of League followers out there who adopt a “live and let live” approach and, frankly, couldn’t care less about the Union code (which, by and large, is my attitude to League). But go to any Rugby League web forum and you will find that there as many posts which are attacking Union as there are those that are pro-League.
Now, historically, I can appreciate that Rugby Union did itself no favours. In the early 1890s there was certainly an economic North-South divide with rugby in Yorkshire and Lancashire being a working man’s game, whilst clubs in the South of England were largely middle class. With the England team of the era being dominated by players from the north who were finding it increasingly difficult to take time off from work to play the game, it all came to a head when the RFU refused to allow “broken time” payments, leading to 22 clubs breaking away from the RFU to form the “Northern Rugby Football Union” (later to become the Rugby Football League) in 1895.
That, during the next 100 years, the RFU behaved appallingly, banning anyone connected with Rugby League from playing or being associated with Union (even by the 1990s, having a trial with a Rugby League club was strictly forbidden), is not in doubt. Nor is it disputed that the Vichy government in war-time France banned Rugby League and seized its assets.
However, for historical events like these to form the basis for a hatred of an entire sport is not only irrational but is also seriously unhealthy if these people want to see their own sport grow and develop. To categorise Rugby Union as a sport only played by public school toffs is as wide of the mark as saying that League is only for the flat cap and whippet brigade and the fact that many English Rugby League fans actually want the England Rugby Union team to fail is just incredibly sad.
Since Union turned professional in 1995, Rugby League supporters have, if anything, become even more defensive. Any League player crossing codes is either “past his best” or “wouldn’t have made the grade in League” and then, on the rare occasion that he is successful in Union (and, of the English players, I can only mean Jason Robinson), it only goes to prove how inferior Union is as a challenge. And when, last November in Sportingo, Donna Gee suggested that the two sports should seek compromise and find a way in which to merge, the reaction from League fans was nothing short of apoplectic.
Like those League fans, I have no desire at all to see a merger. I believe that Rugby Union has gone far enough in trying to dumb itself down and make itself TV friendly and is in danger of stripping out the ingredients that provide its unique character. But my objections have nothing to do with the hatred, insecurity and paranoia that appear to grip these people.
Both Rugby Union and Rugby League can survive, thrive and even co-exist. For League, however, it’s unlikely to happen unless and until its supporters can learn to ignore Union and get on with growing and developing their own sport.
Here endeth the lesson… :)
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
Tuesday, 24 July 2007
A professional referee for 5 years, Owens, who will be the only openly Welsh referee at the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, confessed that he had struggled to come out in a sport dominated by Southern Hemisphere nationalities.
"It's such a taboo being Welsh in my line of work. Not only am I not an Aussie or a Kiwi, I'm not even English. I had to think long and hard about coming out as Welsh because I didn't want to jeopardise my career, " he said.
Monday, 23 July 2007
A team of Gingerbread men, who were filmed performing their version of the haka, have been widely condemned across New Zealand.
A Maori spokesman and expert in kapa haka confirmed that he thought the Gingerbread men's haka was, on the face of it, an affront to Maori culture.
"The Gingerbread men have sacred kitchen rituals but we Maori wouldn't go out and intentionally denigrate their culture - this tramples ours."
A furious right Reverend Graham Henry, speaking to anyone who would listen, said:
"Speaking on behalf of the whole of New Zealand, the Maori culture, and the world of rugby, I am shocked and appalled at the Gingerbread men's blatant lack of respect."
Gerald Gingerbread, media liaison officer for the Gingerbread men's team, said that he was surprised that his team's haka had provoked such an adverse reaction, especially after having removed the provocative 'slit-throat' gesture from the haka's finale.
"We tried to make our haka as authentic as possible and certainly don't mean to cause offence" he said.
Moreover it transpires that the Gingerbread players themselves were upset by the insistence of the Toast Soldiers team that the Toast Anthem would be played after the Gingerbread men's haka at last Saturday's test match, so much so that the Gingerbread men elected to perform the haka indoors.
In a prepared statement, Gingerbread captain Richie McGingerbread said: "The tradition needs to be honoured properly if we're going to do it. If the other team wants to mess around, we'll just do the haka in the kitchen.
"At the end of the day, the Gingerbread haka is about culinary preparation and we do it for ourselves. Traditionally fans can taste the experience too and it's sad that they couldn't do it on Saturday."
Sunday, 22 July 2007
I guess the message is that, as well as being the focal point of the Rugby World Cup this autumn, Paris is also still the capital city of romance, but perhaps you need to be French to really "get" the message or the humour.
Saturday, 21 July 2007
Here's another example of a butchered try, only this time its is arguably far more important (being a match between London Irish and Wasps at the business end of last season's Guinness Premiership):
I can't say I've ever felt the need to swallow-dive across the line and it obviously has its hazards. The only incident I can remember that comes close was when, as a conscientious 17 year old backrow forward, I tracked a move across the pitch and received a scoring pass to go over in the corner. For some reason I lost my bearings at that point and was convinced that I'd crossed the dead ball line, and so threw the ball away in disgust, only to find that the line I'd crossed was the try line and I'd blown a perfectly good try!
Friday, 20 July 2007
Playing lock forward is something I can at least pretend I know a smidgen about. When I was first asked (well, when I say “asked” I really mean “told”) to play rugby, I envisaged turning out as a swashbuckling, socks-rolled-down, attacking fullback in the JPR Williams mould. Being a gangly 6 foot plus 14 year old, however, I was immediately consigned to the second row. After a short apprenticeship I did manage to graduate to the back row, but the irony is that my rapidly declining pace will probably mean that, if I do play again, there’ll be pressure on me to move back into what is affectionately known as the boiler room.
Back when I last played rugby, a lock forward had two primary functions:
- push in the scrums (which I was lousy at); and
- jump in the lineout (which I wasn’t bad at).
These days, locks are still required to do a bit of pushing at scrum time but the latter skill has been rendered entirely redundant by the fact that lineout jumpers are now lovingly hoisted into position by their props and back row.
So, is being a big bloke who can shove a bit in a scrum all that’s now required to play second row?
Well, yes it is, but for anyone thinking “that sounds easy enough”, there are a few additional things you might want to consider:
- you must have no moral or ethical objection to spending large parts of your season with your head stuck between the thighs of your prop and your hooker. It always helps if they have generously upholstered rear ends but the chances are that at least one of them will have an unfeasibly bony hip resulting in you having severe facial chaffing and at least one mangled ear. Set up a standing order with Boots the Chemist so that you’re kept well stocked with gallons of vaseline and yards of sticky tape (or invest in one of those new fangled expensive scrum caps);
- height still appears to be an advantage (or at least long arms) to reach lineout ball, but I’m afraid all that bulk you’ve acquired to anchor the scrum isn’t going to be any help in the lineout. Your props, who never need much of an excuse to grumble, aren’t going to be happy lifting you if you’re too heavy, poor lambs;
- when you’re not shoving in a scrum or being given an armchair ride in the lineout, you must be prepared to spend the afternoon seeking out rucks and mauls and charging into them blindly. Don’t expect to see the ball. The only exception to this, of course, is if you play for England in which case you’re expected to loiter about in the centres and clog up the backline.
- you must accept that, you being a hulking great nuisance charging around and crashing into people, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb and it’s more than likely that a referee will decide for no reason whatsoever to send you to the sin bin at least once every other game. The upside, of course, is that it’s 10 minutes respite from hitting those rucks.
- if the plan goes hideously wrong and you find yourself in open space with the ball in hand, you'll need to remember to treat it like a proverbial hot potato and get rid of it quickly. It doesn’t matter how or to whom. Alternatively, seek out the nearest player (it doesn’t matter whose team he’s on) and run into him.
That’s about it I think – hope that helps.
Thursday, 19 July 2007
That a gumshield/mouthguard is necessary was highlighted this week by the story of a Rugby League player in Australia who played for 15 weeks without knowing an opponent's tooth was buried in his forehead after a clash of heads. He'd had the wound stitched up but afterward suffered an eye infection and complained of shooting pains in his head and of feeling lethargic, and a visit to his doctor revealed the tooth still imbedded in his head.
My question is this: Didn't the opponent miss his tooth?
So, unless I'm prepared to have my teeth embedded in someone's scalp, the Shock Doctor is necessary to get me through pre-season. If I do manage to survive, I'll then make a decision as to whether my body's up to actually playing, but if you wish to influence my decision by telling me to stop being so pathetic or to warn me of my inevitable doom then please vote in the poll I've set up in the left-hand column.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
According to the joke, two members of the South African team claim to be more important than the other 13 whom they imprison between the posts whilst they claim the rest of the pitch for themselves. However, in reality, Springbok coach Jake White has apparently proposed something equally as silly.
Yes, silly season is upon us. White, it seems, has asked the rugby authorities about reviving a dance that was last used more than 80 years ago in order to psyche up his players.
If this ever comes to pass the RFU should absolutely insist on the England team performing a medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs before each game. Either that or get Matt Dawson back for a ballroom dancing demonstration.
The good news (debatably) was that I trained for 90 minutes (although why anyone would want to do that when a game only lasts for 80 minutes is a mystery). I admit that I didn’t quite make it to the end as my ancient lower back began to seize up at that point and I felt it was probably wise to quit whilst I was marginally ahead. However, the combination of softer ground, better boots and a more sensible approach meant that I easily eclipsed the 20 minutes that I managed at the equivalent time last year.
The bad news is that this morning I ache in places I’d long forgotten I had, and what’s more I’m sure I ache on top of those aches. Every single one of my toes hurts for instance - how weird is that?
It was all far more physical than I thought it would be. My expectation was that the early sessions would be about working with the ball in hand (well, actually I'd expected to be playing touch). Certainly that’s the way I’d have done it – let players get to a certain level of fitness before introducing contact-based work. My lower back problem flaring up wasn’t exactly unpredictable given that I’m such an old crock, but there were others who limped out before me this evening which suggests they were pushed too hard too soon.
With contact work obviously on the agenda I’ll have to sort myself out with a gum shield at the very least if I’m going to continue (and the way I’m feeling today the jury’s most definitely out on that one).
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
The NZ Herald reports that the captain of Thames Valley, Steven Hill, offerered the following explanation for his side's first half collapse against North Harbour in the Ranfurly Shield challenge match earlier this month, a half in which they shipped eight tries and fifty points.
Apparently is was the 5.35pm Saturday kick-off, Hill suggested, that hadn't really suited his side.
"We're normally pissed by then," he admitted!
And if you thought that was bad, take a look at their unique view of the French:
And let's not forget the Canadians:
In many ways it's a shame all rugby commentators can't be as honest!
- I’m not a woman. I’m a bloke. Anything that follows therefore comes from a male perspective;
- The pictures accompanying this post are not reflective of my attitude towards the women’s game. I just find them amusing in a very post-ironic sort of way - they are of their time and are not to be taken very seriously; and
- I may slip up from time to time and commit the crime of using the terms “girls” and “ladies” to describe women. I know that this sort of thing gets up some people’s noses but if I do indeed commit such a heinous act please rest assured that I'm not seeking to offend or patronise – and I hope the fact that many women’s rugby teams refer to themselves as “Ladies” will get me out of hot water on this one.
Two other things worth mentioning:
- I’ve never actually watched a game of women’s rugby; and yet
- when I’m not blogging here or attempting to scratch out a living, I manage the Women’s Rugby Review, a blog designed to pull together women’s rugby news stories from around the world.
Why, I hear you ask, would a bloke with no prior knowledge or interest in women’s rugby be putting time and effort into producing a blog dealing with women’s rugby news?
The answer’s fairly simple. Back in February I was looking for information about the Women’s Six Nations and there was precious little being reported and what was being reported was scattered around the official sites of the applicable governing bodies. It seemed to me that there was nowhere where I could go and keep up to date with what was happening with the game as a whole – hence the need for the Women’s Rugby Review.
Once I’d started pulling together stories from around the world I discovered some excellent blogs dedicated to the women’s game. Saturday’s A Rugby Day appears to be the gospel as far as the US game is concerned and, together with Your Scrumhalf Connection, provides an interesting insight into the life of female rugby players in the States. Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, John Birch’s excellent Herts Women’s and Girl’s Rugby site and his award-winning Letchworth Girls’ blog appear to set the standard.
As to the level of play in the women’s game, I’m hardly in a position to judge. From the little I have seen however, and in particular regarding the international game, the levels of athleticism, fitness and technical skills are impressive. That the game is underpowered when compared to the men’s game is obvious and inevitable, but does not necessarily detract from the spectacle.
However, what has really struck me about women’s rugby is the passion and enthusiasm that it engenders. I’ve touched on this in another posting, but I’m certainly of the opinion that the fact that women are (or to date have been) relatively late starters when it comes to taking up the game means that they absolutely pour their hearts and souls into it – a feeling (in my first draft of this I used the word “vibe” but couldn’t bring myself to go with it) I’ve picked up, both from what I’ve seen and read on the web and from the women I see who turn up each week to play touch rugby.
All in all I’d say women’s rugby has a very healthy future and my goal next season is to get along to watch and see for myself. I’d certainly have no hesitation is taking my 6 year old daughter along if that’s what she wants.
There, and barely a mention of “ladies” or “girls” throughout...
Monday, 16 July 2007
Once you look past the professional elite game and down towards the grassroots of the sport you are faced with the image of a large, beer- swilling, foul-mouthed, well-educated, former public schoolboy performing some lewd act or another while thinking he’s the funniest man on the planet.
Sorry, but it’s true. Obviously the stereotype is not universal – there are plenty of more than reasonably behaved rugby players in the world – but it is often this image that the public associate with the sport and lends fuel to the myth perpetuated by chippy Rugby League followers who convince themselves that Union is the reserve of middle-class “rah-rahs”.
In Richard Beard’s excellent book “Muddied Oafs – the last days of Rugger” he describes his horror at the reputation of your typical "Rugger Bugger". According to Beard the "dark side of rugger the man-maker was the recidivist, the dreaded English rugger-bugger" and he goes on to describe typical rugger buggers as being… "…marauding Old Boys in the south-east of England, a beer swilling, guffawing circle of hell well-stuffed with solicitors, surveyors and desperately small businessmen…unreflectively masculine and unthinkingly prejudiced…pissed young conservatives with muscles…”
One problem I have with Richard Beard is that he is right. The other problem I have is that, in the past, I have been as guilty as the next man of fulfilling this grotesque stereotype.
It’s difficult to avoid. One minute you’re an impressionable sixteen year old turning out for the club’s Under 19s and the next thing you know you’re drinking a yard of ale, getting your kit off to “Singing In the Rain” and bawling out a bunch of songs that, under any other circumstances, would get you arrested (or, at the very least, a good slapping) for all sorts of derogatory and prejudicial lyrics. What’s more, it’s not only considered normal behaviour within rugby circles (and in particular amongst the supposedly more enlightened university rugby scene) but it’s more or less compulsory.
That’s not to say I was forced into anything. On the contrary, as a student I embraced rugger buggerism with the naivety and ignorance of youth, although the one thing I would say in my defence is that the real excesses, often involving rather obscene bodily functions which appeared to be a natural bi-product of an English public school education, were something I managed to avoid.
I guess the test, however, is how quickly this "rugger bugger" skin is shed. For many, leaving college and entering the real world involves taking life seriously, giving up rugby and leaving behind such youthful folly. I have to admit that I was never afflicted by such an immediate transformation but as I continued to play rugby into adulthood it became far more about the game and the camaraderie and far less about living up to the stereotype.
Perhaps it was a rite of passage that I needed to go through, but looking back I can see how it must have appeared to onlookers, those in the college bar for instance who just wanted a quiet drink and didn’t need to see a bunch of half naked, beer soaked, vomiting idiots yelling out songs about bestiality. Sadly this is the image many people now have of rugby and its participants and that won’t change unless and until the culture changes. Even the top end of the game has not been immune – for instance Matt Dawson recounts in his autobiography his horror at being whipped with a spiky cactus leaf in a Barbarians tour court session back in 1994, something which convinced him never to play for the Baa-baas again.
I now can’t help feeling that rugby could do itself an enormous favour by clamping down on the antics of the rugger bugger. A few beers with your mates after the game is one thing. Anti-social behaviour being passed off as high jinks is quite another.
Here endeth the lesson :)
Saturday, 14 July 2007
Friday, 13 July 2007
One such lunatic is Wes Clark, who not only didn’t begin playing until he was 42, but also embraced the game with such passion that he is the author of the excellent eclectic website The Rugby Reader’s Review and well as being the webmaster for his club’s (Western Suburbs RFC) website.
Inspired by a Five Nations match between Wales and Ireland in March 1998 (really?!) having stumbled across it when TV channel surfing, by July that year he was attending players’ meetings at Western Suburbs and in August found himself at pre-season training:
“We ran around. We ran some more. We sprinted. We sprinted and touched the ground. We passed the ball around in that stylish underhanded lofting throw so characteristic of the game and ran while we did it. Then we ran some more. I haven't done any running in the last five years and the lack of it was apparent to me. Not only was I thoroughly knackered, but that big dinner I ate kept trying to make its way up my throat to exit. Sore? I should say. A whole new world of sore. Great expanding vistas of sore. My upper legs felt like lead after about an hour of this fare. Not a high grade of lead, either, but a wobbly sort of organic lead.”
You’d think that after that Wes might have been put off but no, in September he was still there, making his debut for the Western Suburbs Old Boys (or Veterans as we call them this side of the pond) in the second row. And that’s where he’s remained, turning out regularly for the SOBs and the B-side and becoming an indispensable club stalwart while contributing a huge amount of rugby content on the web. Even more remarkable is that Wes didn’t like, and so didn’t play, sport as a kid.
Another example, possibly even more inspirational, was highlighted by Blondie over at Saturday’s A Rugby Day yesterday. A 44 year old nurse from Minnesota with a heart condition and sleep apnoea, who was discharged from the Army Reserves on medical grounds, tells of how he decided to take up rugby in middle age:
“One night in February of 2006, I came across the Metropolis Rugby Football Club web site. It said that they had a group called "The Old Boys" and that players of all skill levels-even new people-were welcome. When I talked with my son Ian about this, he said ‘Dad, why don't you try it? You still work out and you have ALWAYS wanted to play. You really should try it.’... My wife told me ‘If you don't stop whining and just go and try playing, I'll beat you up myself!’ ”
His conclusion that “rugby took a middle aged guy who was on the fast track to depression, and it gave me my smile back” is pretty poignant and a reminder about what a great sport we have.
There are other examples – for instance the Boston Globe tells the story of how Dr. Thomas Durant was introduced to rugby at the age of 47 by his son, Steven, and how he then continued to play for the Boston Irish Wolfhounds club until he was 70, eventually playing in the same team as his son and his 15 year old grandson.
And as for comebacks, Rugby Readers Review features the account of Dan Holden who decided to make a comeback aged 45 after a 23 year absence from the game, despite the reaction from his 13 year old daughter. “You’ll get killed,” she said.
Dan describes his debut for ORSU Jesters against Oregon State University:
“I had been promised at least 20 minutes of playing time, but ended up playing the entire game. Eighty...very...long...minutes. Part way into the second half, I had asked the Jesters coach if there were any subs available. He smiled broadly, looked at the sidelines, and said with a laugh, ‘You don’t see anyone waiting to come in do you?!’ So I gutted out the rest of the game...and had a ball.”
In a follow up piece he also describes how much tougher things became:
"The Irish believe that to see a Banshee is to be forewarned of certain doom and destruction. In rugby, seeing a team that’s chalked full of large South Pacific Islanders will create the same feeling of dread. You know pain and death are coming, and there’s nothing you can do. And that’s exactly what happened. They proceeded to beat the stuffing out of us… On more than one occasion that afternoon I thought to myself, ‘Oh my, this was a very bad idea’.”
Dan describes however that the post match camaraderie between “two teams who loved the game and who just wanted to sit around and have a few beers” was what it was all about, and concludes “on those Sunday mornings when I can barely get out of bed – and I think I can’t possibly do this any longer, I remember my friends, the Jesters and the Tongans, and perhaps, just maybe, I can make it to one more game.”
He’s right. That’s what’s pulling me towards a decision to play again. It’s a heart over head thing I guess (obviously the rational thing to do would be to remain welded to the sidelines with beer in hand). Strangely, all of the above examples feature Americans and I must admit I haven’t heard of a Brit taking the game up in middle age. Perhaps we do our mid-life crises a bit differently over here, but I suspect that the reason is that by and large rugby isn’t (or hasn’t been) something that American kids play and so is taken up mostly when people get to college or later in life. Americans therefore choose to play rugby rather than get pushed into it as kids and are therefore that much more enthusiastic and passionate about the game (much like women who take up rugby over here).
And it’s my level of passion for the game that will eventually swing me one way or the other when I finally get off the fence and make a decision…
Thursday, 12 July 2007
Ah well, another glass of virtual shampoo ...
The boy has a history of being beaten by his parents and the judge awarded custody to his aunt. The boy confirmed that his aunt beat him more than his parents and refused to live there.
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
The advantage of that was that they had a couple of kiwis in their line up who clearly knew what they were doing – great going forward and excellent communication – with the result that I really enjoyed myself out there. For once the conditions were absolutely perfect – sunny, warm and firm underfoot, with the result that the quality of play was much improved.
I grabbed a few tries by getting on the end of others' hard work and even supplied a couple of comedy moments. Put away on halfway, my fifteen metre burst of pace predictably failed to shake off the pursuit of a very quick (honestly, he was greased lightning) teen who then completely failed to fall for my slow down and speed up routine and caught me easily as I collapsed in a heap. Then, minutes later, I intercepted the ball more or less on our line and set off on what should have been a stroll to the try line except that the self same stupidly determined kid once more set off in pursuit and soon narrowed the gap. My only recourse was to employ evasion tactics with the result that I ran round in a complete circle before my team mates belatedly realised that I could do with some support and I was able to offload to someone quicker to score the try.
While even the elite game struggles to entirely rid itself of its violent image, anyone who plays regularly at lower levels knows that part of the skillset of being a rugby player is knowing how to “look after yourself” – whether that’s knowing how to avoid trouble or knowing how to deal with it.
What we can take some comfort from is that, as yet, violence hasn’t spilled over into the ever-increasing crowds that attend rugby matches. Each season the Guinness Premiership announces that crowds are on the up, and yet opposing spectators remain unsegregated, drinking together and exchanging what is, for the most part, good natured banter.
So, can we sit back and give ourselves a hearty pat on the back for the fact that the malignant tribal hatred that permeates through supporters of professional football clubs has not crossed over into rugby? Well, frankly, no we can’t. We really can’t afford to be complacent, and one look at what’s been happening in Rugby League recently shows why.
The pitch invasion and subsequent fighting between fans of Hull FC and Hull KR at the weekend following the local derby should serve as warning to us all. With Hull FC’s Kirk Yeaman allegedly head-butted and Lee Radford spat upon in flashpoints with Hull KR supporters it’s a worrying sign, and neither is this incident the one-off picture that officials are trying to paint.
Despite officialdom's attempts to depict Rugby League as a family friendly sport, earlier this year police made several arrests when violence broke out amongst rival fans at Northern Rail Cup Rugby League match between Workington Town and Whitehaven and, back in 2000, Hull fans were again involved when they invaded the pitch and uprooted goalposts following a Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Leeds. The Rugby Football League pledged to take tough action at the time but, seven years on, there’s clearly still a problem.
In the Australian NRL the problem is even worse with a string of violent incidents over the last few seasons involving people attending NRL matches leading to much unwanted bad press, causing the NRL and any clubs involved any number of headaches and with fans of the Canterbury Bulldogs in particular being singled out.
For us Rugby Union types it would be very easy to dismiss such incidents and claim that the traditional rugby supporter would never indulge in such behaviour, but any such complacency would be misplaced. We are not immune from unsavoury incidents, as the Trevor Brennan episode in Toulouse recently clearly shows, and some of the verbal abuse of players and officials at Guinness Premiership games is borderline enough to suggest that we’re not a million miles away from this escalating into something serious. You see, whilst growing the game and expanding the audience is good for the coffers of both club and country, the problem is that many who will now come to rugby matches will not be “traditional” supporters but will have been schooled in how to behave by going to football matches.
So my message here is simple. Set an example, be vigilant and make sure that the idiots do not take over. The atmosphere at a rugby match is unique and is too important to lose - one need only look to the superb example set by the Irish at Croke Park in March for evidence of that.
Here endeth the lesson :)
Monday, 9 July 2007
Last week a court heard how Burn, who had been forced to retire following a road accident, had missed the excitement of big games to such an extent that he decided to try his hand at burglary, and got away with cigarettes worth over £4,000 after breaking into a Spar supermarket in Blaenavon and, 3 months later, an off-licence in Worcester.
Sadly for Dale, his new career crashed and burned after he managed to cut his hand at both crime scenes , leaving traces of his DNA (I've seen CSI, I know how it works!).
Apparently he didn't turn to a life of crime for financial gain, having been paid over £100,000 in compensation for his injuries, but instead did it for the "buzz". Burn is now awaiting sentencing by a judge at Newport Crown Court.
So, a word of warning to anyone out there who is thinking of retiring - you might find that you miss the adrenaline more than you think. You should therefore consider taking up bungee-jumping, or para-gliding or, if you really want to live dangerously, become a referee.
Sunday, 8 July 2007
To all those who are offended by this clip, I most humbly apologise. I realise how sensitive you must be to any disrespect shown to such an iconic cultural symbol. The last thing I want to do is upset you in the same way that those naughty women from Canterbury Rugby Club did when they performed a haka topless for their 2007 calendar. How dare they do something genuinely amusing while attempting to raise money for breast cancer charity.
Likewise I would rather not incur the wrath of those who objected to the Australian TV advert that depicted the All Blacks performing the haka whilst sporting some rather fetching handbags. Heaven forbid that I should be accused of being insensitive to Maori culture or disrespectful of All Black history.
Next thing you know, someone will be accusing me of not having a sense of humour...
Friday, 6 July 2007
Thursday, 5 July 2007
Rugby, it seems, is a sport which encourages and develops leadership, or at the very least attracts people with leadership qualities to its ranks. It came as some surprise to me to learn that Britain’s new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was a keen schoolboy rugby player until an eye injury forced him to quit the game and subsequently take up a political career. So was he a natural leader, who then channelled his ambition into another sector, or did rugby give him the leadership qualities he was then able to use in later life? I’d very much like to think the latter, but I guess we’ll have to wait for the autobiography to find out (and what a riveting read that’s likely to be).
Brown, however, is not the only renowned political leader to have a rugby past. Across the pond in the United States it appears that several of their political luminaries enjoyed a rugby career of sorts. For instance, Bill Clinton apparently played while a student at Oxford between 1968-1970. According to Clinton himself, "Being an American, I didn't know any of the rules but I was the biggest guy on the team, so the coach just said to me: 'Clinton, go out there and get in someone's way.' So that's what I did, just got in people's way." I’d guess it’s probably also where he learned how to smoke a cigar.
Clinton’s successor as US President, George Dubya Bush, was also, it appears, a rugby player (sorry, I really can’t bring myself to use the Americanism “rugger”) turning out for Yale University between 1964 and 1968. A fullback and winger (undoubtedly on the right), from the infamous picture shown here it’s obvious that his tackling technique was perhaps a little raw.
Further back in time and playing in the centres (I imagine) were the Kennedys – JFK is rumoured to have played rugby at Harvard and his younger brother Ted apparently managed to get himself sent off for fighting in one Harvard rugby match in 1954.
Outside American shores, various other world leaders have been connected to rugby. It was believed for some time that Karol Józef Wojtyła (aka Pope John Paul II) used to play rugby for Poland although this has been since been dismissed as an urban myth (although I still prefer to believe it).
What is not in doubt, however, is the rugby career of former Ugandan despot Idi Amin. Amin, who brutally ruled Uganda from 1971-79, was (in a classic case of poor character judgement) described as a "splendid type and good rugby player," by a 1964 British Dominions Office report and, in one of Amin’s speeches he said: “As you know I am a rugby player. I am second row, so I know how to push. I am very big. You don't want to push against me. And I also play wing three-quarter and I am very fast. I can run one hundred meters in nine point five seconds. If you tackle me, you will try, and you will hurt only yourself. So to everyone who is a boxer, I say this, do what you have to do to knock out your opponent." Make sense of that if you can.
Also not in doubt is the fact that Marxist guerrilla icon Ernesto "Che'' Guevara (pictured below, apparently, although you don't see this image on too many t-shirts) played rugby in Argentina, playing for Estudiantes in Cordoba and when at medical school in Buenos Aires. Despite suffering from asthma he apparently earned the nickname "Fuser", a contraction of "El Furibundo Serna" - "The Furious Serna" - (his real name was Ernesto Guevara de la Serna) for his aggressive style of play.
So, did the game of rugby attract and appeal to the natural leadership qualities of these men from across the political and ethical spectrum or, in fact, did rugby somehow help to shape their characters and turn them into the men they were to become? In one or two cases the thought of the latter case applying is certainly a scary one.
Answers on the back of a postcard please…
As the Pope watched in horror, a speedboat pulled up with three men wearing Welsh, Irish and Scottish rugby jerseys. One quickly fired a harpoon into the shark's side while the other two reached out and pulled the hapless English fan from the water. Then, using long clubs, the three beat the shark to death and hauled it into the boat.
Immediately the Pope shouted and summoned them to him. "I give you my blessing for your brave actions. I heard that there were some bitter hatred between the Celts and England rugby fans, but now I have seen with my own eyes that this is not true."
As the Pope drove off, the harpooner asked his buddies: "Who was that?"
"It was the Pope," one replied. "He is in direct contact with God and has access to all of God's wisdom."
"Well" the harpooner said, "he may have access to God and his wisdom, but he doesn't know anything about shark fishing. Is the bait holding up OK or do we need to get another one?"
Wednesday, 4 July 2007
In all probability scrum half is the most difficult position to play on the pitch. I’ve played it once, many moons ago in an old boys match when we had a surfeit of forwards and no scrum half. Needless to say we played with nine forwards that day and any ball that the backs received from me was accompanied by an ambulance.
At scrum half not only do you have to be incredibly fit, you also have to possess a long and fast pass, be able to break both from set pieces and loose play, be able to kick for position, be able and willing to tackle players twice your weight and, on top of all that, maintain a clear head and make key tactical decisions on behalf of the team. Being able to ballroom dance and cook cordon bleu food also helps.
Little wonder then that in reality, beneath the very top levels of the game, a scrum half (or half back for the benefit of any antipodean readers) rarely possesses any or all of the qualities listed above, but instead displays the following attributes:
- a shortness of stature. “Napoleonic” is a word often used to describe scrum halves, both in terms of their height and character. I have played with and against tall scrum halves, of course, but they just don’t look right;
- a masters’ degree in stroppiness, a nasty streak and an ability to wind up opposition forwards until a fight breaks out, which his own forwards invariably have to deal with;
- the ability to talk and offer non-stop advice for 80 plus minutes, even when running at full speed and often when buried at the bottom of a ruck;
- a belief that he has x-ray vision, enabling him to see through the forest of forwards surrounding him and make sound tactical decisions without listening to advice from anyone else, which he can’t hear anyway as he’s deaf;
- absolute certainty that whatever tactical decision he makes is the correct one, even when it obviously isn’t;
- an incredibly thick skin to deal with the abuse he gets from the majority of the team who think he should have done something different;
- a Welsh accent. I don’t know why, but the majority of scrum halves I’ve played with have been Welsh, although given the attributes I’ve described above perhaps that’s not so surprising.
There, I think that covers it. Hope that helps…
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Monday, 2 July 2007
So I'm particularly ignorant as to training techniques to perfect this particular skill and assume that the below video demonstrates a standard training drill?