Saturday, 29 December 2007

All I wanted for Christmas...

Apologies for the radio silence over the last week or so - I've been caught up in a whirlwind of family Christmas celebrations, mainly consisting of over-eating, over-drinking and attempting to fix various malfunctioning electronic toys while trying to keep a lid on my kids' frustrations. It's such a joyful time of year isn't it?

Being immersed in children's Christmas presents for the last few days did get me thinking as to what some the various national team coaches might have wanted or indeed received from the fat bearded fella in the red outfit (and no, I don't mean Adam Jones).

Brian Ashton, for instance, largely got what he wanted in that his reward for taking England to the World Cup final was to be allowed to keep his job. Furthermore he's now been awarded an MBE for his efforts. However, I'll tell you what he wants (what he really really wants) and that's to have a bit more control over his own destiny. After all, he's still lumbered with the same coaching staff he has so far failed to bond with, will get no more time with his squad until the new deal with Premier Rugby kicks in in July and still doesn't have the "manager" he's asked for. Apparently he's been told he can "name his man" but the Guardian's interview with Simon Halliday suggests it's not quite that simple.

Across the Severn, Warren Gatland must be celebrating getting the WRU to part with vast sums of cash to tempt him away from Waikato and persuading Rob Howley to join his coaching staff. It's clear, however, that Shaun Edwards is number one on Gatland's wish list and his hopes of being the next Great Redeemer could hinge on whether Edwards chooses to join his old mate instead of taking up an offer from the RFU to coach the appallingly named England Saxons.

Meanwhile, over in Ireland I can only think that Eddie O'Sullivan is thanking his lucky stars that his employers at the IRFU saw fit to give him a new contract before the World Cup debacle. On the cards for 2008 simply must be a return to form, although it has to be said that it's only a matter of time before Ireland's lack of a credible front row is exposed Ă  l'Australie.

Speaking of our convict friends down under, new Wallabies' coach Robbie Deans has, no doubt, been marvelling at the generosity of the ARU whilst at the same time wondering where on earth he's going to find a couple of props who are at least half-reasonable. In the past Australia always seemed import their props from Argentina but, with the ARU budget tied up in Deans' salary, that avenue may well be closed, especially as many Argentinian props these days generally turn out also to be Italian.

And finally, your friend and mine the Right Reverend Graham Henry must be happy that Santa delivered, against the odds, a renewal of his contract to coach the All Blacks, but equally he must be wondering why the big bearded bloke (and no, not Carl Hayman in this instance) couldn't also have provided ready made replacements for Hayman, Chris Jack, Keith Robinson, Byron Kellaher, Aaron Mauger and Luke McAlister.

Meanwhile I'm more than happy with my Andy Ripley autobiography and my banjo - more on that later undoubtedly...

Friday, 21 December 2007

The Total Flanker Awards 2007

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the inaugural annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony where we reward those who have contributed to a feast of rugby in 2007.

I should mention before we start that the selection committee have chosen to discount the Super 14 and Tri Nations from its deliberations on the basis that the two tournaments were rendered meaningless, in the former’s case by Graham Henry’s decision to “rest” New Zealand’s top players from the first half of the competition, and in the latter’s case by Jake White choosing to send a second string squad to play Australia and New Zealand. Northern hemisphere teams are quite rightly derided for sending weakened squads down south on their spring tours, but would never dream of devaluing the Six Nations in the same way.

I should also mention that, being the world’s rugby showpiece, the Rugby World Cup does tend to dominate these proceedings. The committee acknowledges that there’s been plenty of quality rugby elsewhere but, in the majority of awards, I’m afraid all roads lead to France.

First up is the Total Flanker Achievement Against the Odds Award. The committee thought long and hard about this one before ignoring the claims of yours truly for making a comeback to the rugby pitches of Buckinghamshire after a 14 year absence from the game (I may have mentioned this before somewhere on this blog ;) ). Quite rightly Argentina were contenders for this award for reaching the World Cup semi finals (despite many – including myself – predicting they would lose out to France and Ireland in the pool stage) as were England for reaching the World Cup Final from pretty much an impossible position. However the clear winner was Graham Henry for managing to get re-appointed as the All Blacks’ coach despite the worst Rugby World Cup effort in New Zealand rugby history.

Next up is the Total Flanker Biggest Disappointment Award. The committee acknowledges that this award is particularly subjective and depends entirely on ones perspective. New Zealanders, in particular, will be convinced that the All Blacks' failure to progress beyond the World Cup quarter finals should make the recipient of this award a no-brainer and the Welsh will insist that failure to beat Fiji to progress beyond the group stages should place them amongst the leading contenders. However, being as objective as possible, the committee considered that the biggest disappointment was that of Ireland. Given the expectations before the World Cup and given the claims that this was the most experienced and best prepared squad ever to leave the shores of Ireland, their underperformance at the tournament must have just been bewildering for Irish fans. Even accepting that progress from the “pool of death” was far from assured given the strength of France and Argentina, nothing can quite explain Ireland’s lacklustre effort against Namibia or the near disaster against Georgia.

So, now to the Total Flanker Best Decision of the Year Award. Only two nominations for this one and both of them are Jake White! His decision to bring Aussie Eddie Jones onto the South African coaching staff was inspired, creating the illusion that the Springboks had switched emphasis to a more open running style. This was, of course, nonsense as in all of South Africa’s big games in the World Cup it was the traditional virtues of an immense lineout effort and awesome defence that won through. No, the award goes to White for having the common sense not to re-apply for the post of Springbok coach ensuring that, unlike Woodward post-2003, White’s reputation and legacy as a World Cup winning coach remain intact.

Moving on to the Total Flanker Worst Decision of the Year Award. “Wayne Barnes!” I hear the Kiwis shout, but which referee hasn’t missed a forward pass in his career? No, amidst several poor decisions, including Brian Ashton choosing Lawrence Dallaglio for his World Cup squad and the decision by the TMO to award Jonny Wilkinson a try in this year’s Calcutta Cup encounter, one still stands out above all – the IRFU’s decision to hand Eddie O’Sullivan a four year contract extension BEFORE the Rugby World Cup. Pure genius!

Nearing the end now, and it’s the Total Flanker Pull the Other One Award. The Ospreys recent claim that Gavin Henson broke his hand during the recent Anglo-Welsh clash with Harlequins (and not during the subsequent drunken punching game on the train home), is a credible late entry for the honour of this award, but it’s not enough to unseat Lawrence Dallaglio, whose attempt to persuade us that he was still an international rugby player during the England v USA pool match sees him win this one hands down.

And finally… the Total Flanker Should We Be Worried? Award. Only one contender for this one, I’m afraid, and that’s the IRB who seem to be intent on pushing through the ELVs which, it appears, are now to be trialled in the 2008 Super 14. I’ve expressed my disquiet about these previously, and nothing I’ve seen or read since convinces me that they are either necessary or helpful. The fact that there weren’t too many tries come the latter stages of the World Cup lends credibility to those clamouring for change, but this ignores the fact that there were plenty of fantastic games of rugby at the World Cup, and the quality of some of the games being played in the Heineken Cup in the last few weeks has just been superb. Seriously, the game ain’t broke…

Summary:

Total Flanker Achievement Against the Odds Award – Graham Henry
Total Flanker Biggest Disappointment Award – Ireland
Total Flanker Best Decision of the Year Award – Jake White
Total Flanker Worst Decision of the Year Award – IRFU
Total Flanker Pull the Other One Award – Lawrence Dallaglio
Total Flanker Should We Be Worried? Award – IRB.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

IRFU Statement

I have today received the full text of the Irish Rugby Football Union statement of Monday 17th December 2007:

The Committee of the IRFU today received a presentation from dinosaur soft rock group Genesis on their key findings from their review of the Irish Rugby Team's performance at RWC 2007.

The objective of the process was to consider all aspects of the Rugby World Cup campaign so that steps can be taken to make sure we don’t do it all arseways again next time.

The findings confirm that Management, Players and the IRFU alike accept that individually and collectively we fecked the World Cup up.

This presentation identified that there was a complex mix of factors involved in why Ireland's Rugby World Cup 2007 campaign was totally banjanxed.

Firstly, it was found that the squad did not participate in a sufficient number of high intensity warm-up matches and thus lacked the level of match hardness required to take on the might of Namibia and Georgia.

Secondly, the report clearly found that personal issues or rifts did not exist or play any role in how shite the team played. Specifically:

  • It is not true that several members of the squad had to be removed at gunpoint from a taxi heading to the airport before the Georgia game nor that they claimed that they had to fly home to attend the funeral of Jerry Flannery's pet hamster and anyone who says otherwise is a feckin eejit;
  • Neither is it true that Peter Stringer was dropped from the team to face France after refusing to wear the leprechaun suit that Eddie O’Sullivan had bought him. The real reason he was dropped was that Eddie needed a scapegoat and Stringer was the smallest member of the squad;
  • Andrew Trimble was not a token Ulster selection and none of the other lads thought that. No way. Certainly not. Jaysus, no;
  • Isaac Boss was not left out of the starting line up for looking like an extra from a Mad Max movie;
  • Ronan O'Gara was not distracted nor upset by allegations of gambling debts or marital problems in the French press. Honestly, he wasn’t in tears – he just suffers from hay fever, so he does;
  • Nor were there any issues with Brian O'Driscoll's captaincy. To say that the Munster players were hostile to him simply isn't true. How could they be hostile to him when they didn't actually speak to any of the Leinster boys?

In response to the presentation the IRFU has agreed a number of key actions which include:

  • The appointment of someone with the first clue about rugby to the position of team manager. This in no way undermines the position of Eddie O’Sullivan who we all agree is a grand fella and who fully deserves the lucrative four year contract we gave him before the World Cup;
  • The appointment of a dedicated backs coach to teach the players how to pass the ball. Again this is no reflection on Eddie, fair play to him;
  • The retention of a professional to provide ongoing psychological support for the team and management. Bejaysus they need it; and
  • The development of more effective lines of communication between all those involved in the squad, the first step being a polite request to the Munster contingent that they talk to the Leinster players without the use of the words “feck” or “gobshite”.

We acknowledge that it will not be practicable to implement a number of these recommendations prior to the upcoming Six Nations Championship, and so fully expect Eddie and his team to nearly but not quite win it again.

Cheers!

I'm very pleased to announce that this morning this blog received its 10,000th visitor.

Thanks to all of you for your continued support and forbearance. The virtual drinks are on me!


Cheers...:)

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Eggs in one basket?

Hot on the tail of the appointment of kiwi Robbie Deans as the new Australian coach comes the news that the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has decided to scrap its national domestic competition after just one year because it racked up millions of dollars in losses.

According to the ARU continuing the competition "would be fiscally irresponsible."

When launched only last year the eight-team competition was touted as a way to revitalise rugby union in Australia, being seen as a bridge between club rugby and the Super 14.

The ARU has said that the championship ran two million dollars over budget in its first year and financial predictions showed it was set to lose 3.3 million dollars in its second season, which would of course mean that the ARU would be unable to pay Robbie Deans his rumoured salary of 1 million dollars per year.

One thing you have to ask is how the competition lost so much money - presumably someone at the ARU had responsibility for the budget?

It also begs the question - is the ARU putting all its eggs in one basket by employing Robbie Deans to coach the national team at the expense of developing a broader playing base?

Monday, 17 December 2007

Foreign Affairs

Forget the English Football Association appointing Fabio Capello as the new England football manager - we've been down that particular road before (i.e. of having a foreign coach) and are pretty much resigned to the fact that there are no suitable home-grown candidates.

No, the more controversial appointment made last week was that of kiwi Robbie Deans to the post of head coach of the Australian rugby team.

Not that you'd know it from looking at the Australian press. In fact the Sydney Morning Herald was particularly effusive in its praise for Deans, who it claims is "the No. 1 available coach" and who "doesn't come with any baggage. He doesn't owe anyone favours and is not aligned to any of the factions which have so often disrupted Australian rugby."

Well, that may be the case, but consider this - a few weeks ago Deans didn't want to coach Australia. Being a proud kiwi he, quite rightly, wanted to coach the All Blacks and, also quite rightly, was considered by many to be favourite to get that job. For reasons only known to the duffers in the NZRU Deans was overlooked and, with indecent haste, was then installed as the Aussie coach by the ARU.

In doing so the ARU effectively tore up its own selection process, having previously interviewed David Nucifora, Alan Jones, Ewen McKenzie, Laurie Fisher and John Muggleton, all of whom (unlike Deans) had applied for the position and all of whom are entitled to feel a tad miffed at the way they've been treated by the ARU.

So not only do Australia, a nation with a huge history of sporting success and who have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup on two occasions, end up with a kiwi who didn't really want the job as their head coach, they've done so having decided that none of their own coaches are good enough for the role (and I'd have thought that at least three of the applicants would have been suitable appointments).

That there has been barely a whimper of protest from the Australian press or public about the appointment or about the way in which the selection process was abused is also a concern - effectively what this suggests is that Australians are now buying into the theory that New Zealand rugby is superior, something that would previously have been an anathema to to all Aussie rugby players, coaches, administrators and fans. It is also entirely misplaced - Australia have for a few years now been two good props away from being a very strong international outfit. Heck, they even made the 2003 Rugby World Cup final with two of the worst props the international game has seen and would arguably have been at least semi-finalists this time around had Stepehen Larkham been fit.

Who knows...Deans might turn out to be a hugely successful appointment and no doubt his appointment will add even more spice to the Bledisloe Cup encounters in 2008 but, whatever the outcome, for me a kiwi being in charge of an Australian sports team simply doesn't look right.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

If it ain't broke...

In banging on about the Gavin Henson drunk-on-a-train incident I somehow missed the announcement by the Ospreys that Henson has been ruled out of action for up to six weeks after breaking a bone in his hand, an injury which occurred (according to the Ospreys) in the EDF Energy Cup tie against Harlequins - the very game from which Henson was returning by train when he and his mates got into trouble.

Not only is the injury alleged to have occurred during the Quins game, but the Opsreys have gone to extraordinary lengths to explain exactly how and when it happened.

“Gavin suffered the injury at around the 63rd-64th minute of Sunday’s game after driving into a ruck,” said Ospreys’ doctor Rhydian Lewis.

“From reviewing the match video, it appears an opposition boot accidentally came into contact with his hand and Gavin can clearly be seen holding his left hand as he gets back to his feet.”

Henson was nevertheless able to complete the game, score the match winning try with no obvious signs of discomfort and, despite apparently being diagnosed with a suspected fracture of the fourth metacarpal in his left hand by the Ospreys medical team, was allowed to make his own way back to Wales with an appointment set for him to undergo an x-ray the following day.

Hmmm...so your star player is apparently hurt in the latter stages of a game, possibly with a semi-serious injury, and yet not only is he allowed to play on, when the game's over it's decided that an x-ray can wait until the following morning?

The Ospreys story is, frankly, implausible and is not helped by the fact that BBC footage of the incident in which Henson's injury is supposed to have happened has been described as "inconclusive" or that Henson was witnessed later that evening playing drinking games on a train which involved him punching his mates rather hard.

I know this all sounds as if I've got it in for Gavin Henson. I haven't. I admit I'm not a big fan of his pseudo-celebrity lifestyle but I do think he's an immensely talented rugby player.

The Ospreys may think that the statements they have made on the matter serve to support their player. I happen to think that if, in fact, this all turns out to be a smokescreen for what really happened, then they are ultimately letting Henson down by not confronting the issue properly.

Hope for us all?

And there I was, feeling so smug and impressed with myself for having started playing rugby again at the age of 43, when along comes a story about someone making his international debut at the ripe old age of 45.

The person urinating on my fireworks is none other than Derby RFC Veterans' Felix Frixou. Not only did he make his debut in March this year in the first ever Cyprus rugby international - a 39-3 victory over Greece - he has recently returned from the FIRA AER Division 3D Tournament held in Cyprus, where the host nation recorded wins over Slovakia (38-8), Monaco (19-10) and Azerbaijan (29-0).

What's more, not content with merely representing his country, Felix was awarded the "Flying Ninja" trophy by his Cyprus Moufflons team mates following a try saving tackle in the Monaco game after defending a 2 on 1 situation just yards from his own line by tackling both players!

Well done Felix...now, what's Brian Ashton's phone number?

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

17th Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival

A promo for next year's Golden Oldies rugby festival in Edinburgh...




All very plausible until Andy Irvine says "...the weather's guaranteed to be pleasant and warm..." ;)

Code of Conduct - part 2

So, our favourite bearded orange one will appear in court next month, charged with behaving in a disorderly manner following reports of unruly behaviour on a train last week.

Despite this, it appears that the Ospreys are sticking by their man and have decided that Gavin Henson will not be facing disciplinary action from the club.

Eh? How does that work? The police obviously feel there's enough evidence to charge Henson with a criminal offence and yet the Ospreys have already made a decision not to take any action. Surely it would have made more sense to wait until after the magistrates' hearing next month before deciding?

Meanwhile, further evidence of the deteriorating off-field behaviour of professional rugby players emerged over the weekend when Wales prop Rhys Thomas and his Newport Gwent Dragons team-mate Rhodri Gomer Davies were reprimanded and cautioned by Italian police after they were involved in a fracas outside a nightclub in Treviso, having been detained for two nights by the police following the incident.

To many in Wales these incidents add fuel to the fire of the notion that the drinking culture in Welsh professional rugby is spiralling out of control. I'll admit that I don't know enough about that to comment, but to me it is certainly further evidence that many young professional rugby players don't appear to realise where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie and that we're heading down the path well trodden by young professional footballers.

It will be informative to witness what disciplinary action is taken by the Dragons over the Italian incident as it is time that a clear message was delivered to the players as to what the consequences are if they fall beneath the threshold of acceptable professional behaviour. If the players can't sort it out themselves and the clubs choose to bury their collective heads in the sand it will be left to the courts to decide, and all eyes will no doubt be on the magistrates' court in Cardiff on 14th January 2008.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Team of the Year?

The winning of the BBC Sport Team of the Year award by the England rugby team at last night's event just goes to show what a poor year in general it has been for British sport, and in particular for the team sports.

Don't get me wrong, England's progress to the Rugby World Cup final was, when set in the context of what went before, somewhat miraculous - but to to give them an award for Team of the Year for, effectively, two performances (against Australia in the quarter final and against France in the semi final) is just plain wrong and Martin Corry and the rest of the players looked suitably embarrassed when receiving the trophy.

No arguments from me, though, about boxer Joe Calzaghe taking the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

Luckiest man alive - part 2

It appears that someone does, after all, share my incredulity at the reappointment of Graham Henry as the All Blacks coach. What's more, that someone is a Kiwi with both eyes wide open...

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Damp squib

Here's what I should have looked like yesterday.

Instead I remained warm and dry indoors after picking up a voicemail at 1.15 pm, just as I was about to leave the house, informing me that Chiltern had called the match off owing to a "very wet pitch". Now, call me old fashioned, but since when have rugby matches been called off because it's wet and muddy?

I appreciate that it was a Vets game and us oldies don't really need to be slithering around in the mud when there are better things (well, better according to our other halves, at least) we could be doing, but intrinsically it seems a bit lame to cancel a game just because it's wet. Yes, there was a part of me that was relieved not to be out there in the rain but by the time I received the message I'd psyched myself up sufficiently to be disappointed to be told that I wouldn't be able to spend the afternoon freezing my nuts off.

After all, surely it could not have been as bad as this...


Friday, 7 December 2007

Luckiest man alive

Congratulations to Graham Henry for achieving his greatest ever victory - his reappointment as All Blacks head coach.

Quite how the NZRU arrived at this decision is a tad baffling. With the likes of Robbie Deans chomping at the bit to have a go it's not like there was a shortage of quality candidates. But no, it seems that producing the worst All Blacks Rugby World Cup campaign in history (after having been given carte blanche to do things his way) was deemed sufficiently impressive to give Henry another crack at the job.

A few things to note:

  • with New Zealand hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the pressure on Henry will now be relentless;

  • I suspect that the New Zealand Media will not give Henry an easy ride over the next few months, let alone the next few years; and

  • I can't imagine that the NZRU will allow Henry quite the freedom he has enjoyed in the past

It's also worth mentioning that, after presiding over an unsuccessful Lions tour to Australia in 2001 Henry buckled under the pressure of the Wales job - it will be interesting to see how he'll cope with the additional scrutiny that his failings this year will bring. One thing I do hope is that his 2007 experiences will mean that Henry won't be quite so sanctimonious in his preachings to the rugby world at large.

Varsity blooze

Attended the Varsity Match yesterday for the first time in a few years - excellent day out, entertaining game and the right result (22-16 win for Cambridge). The new 4pm kick-off also meant that there was plenty of time beforehand for a long boozy lunch at Twickenham hosted by my old college so, with a couple of additional beers during the game and a couple more afterwards, I admit that I wasn't feeling too clever this morning.

As preparation for another Vets game tomorrow I'm not sure it was ideal and I may need to go out for a jog later or do a gym session just to try and sweat out some of the alcohol. I've had to be careful during the last few weeks not to aggravate a groin strain I've been carrying since the last match 3 weeks ago, which is why I haven't been to club training recently and have just tried to ease myself through training at the gym. It's weird in that I wake up some mornings and it feels fine and yet other mornings it's bloody agony. At the gym it can be painful, for instance, when I start jogging on the treadmill but then is ok after a few minutes when warmed up. I'm certainly planning to start the game tomorrow - against local rivals Amersham & Chiltern - after a decent warm up and some stretching, but I'm not convinced I'll last the whole match.

Or perhaps a couple of drinks beforehand will help numb the pain?

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Code of conduct

Welcome to the 200th post on Total Flanker. Time for a rant...

Further to the news that the unfortunate Danny Cipriani has been making headlines as much for his antics off the pitch as for his excellent performances for Wasps, it seems that the weekend also provided us with a couple more unsavoury off-field incidents involving high profile rugby players...

On Sunday a very drunk Gavin Henson and three friends are reported to have subjected a train carriage to two hours of abuse and anti-social behaviour. Henson and his pals were allegedly vomiting, spitting, swearing, intimidating others and punching each other on a train home from London to Cardiff following the Ospreys victory over Harlequins.

Henson was described by a 44-year-old primary school teacher as "an animal". Henson and his three friends, "smelt of vomit and alcohol. They were getting more and more abusive and there were children on the carriage." British Transport Police were alerted and met the train at Cardiff and now Henson at the very least faces an Ospreys disciplinary hearing.

No doubt apologists for Henson will say that the incident has been blown out of all proportion owing to his high profile. But I seriously doubt it. Henson has a history of loutish conduct when drunk and if there's an ounce of truth in the story the Ospreys should throw the book at him.

Meanwhile, Gloucester fly half Ryan Lamb spent around 12 hours in police cells after a city centre disturbance in the early hours of Saturday morning and he was later charged with using words or behaviour that could cause fear of unlawful violence.

You have to ask what a professional rugby player is doing out on the streets of Gloucester at 2 am on a Saturday morning. That he wasn't playing for his club at the weekend is irrelevant, and I simply don't buy into the argument that he was simply letting his hair down like all 21 year-olds do. He has to accept that he is a professional rugby player and has a duty to his club and to himself to behave accordingly and, in any event, common sense should tell him that, as a high profile figure in Gloucester, he is likely to be the target of unwanted attention when out on the town locally. The same goes for Cipriani - his choice of "women" has been a tad unfortunate, but it's his lifestyle that exposes him to these situations and makes him easy prey for unscrupulous journos.

And these are not just isolated occurrences. Last year England's Olly Barkley was arrested in Newquay by police using CS spray after a fight in which a man suffered a broken jaw, Doug Howlett's drunken rampage recently caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to vehicles outside a Heathrow hotel and Australian rugby has suffered several incidents of drunken behaviour in the last 12 months, the most recent involving Scott Fava and a small marsupial.

Of course, drunken conduct by rugby players is hardly a new phenomenon - drinking has always been (and will always be, thank heavens) part of the amateur rugby culture, and while the game remained amateur the sight of intoxicated international rugby players wasn't at all uncommon if you knew where to look. The difference was that it was largely kept out of the public domain. Professionalism has changed all that. Expected standards of behaviour are, quite rightly, higher. Not only that, but a player's public profile is also that much higher, bringing with it increased responsibility.

Furthermore, we're coming very near to the point where no top player will have played in both the amateur and professional eras, so kids now leave school and, instead of heading off to university to drink themselves silly for three years, join a club's academy where they train, train and train some more before being left to their own devices. It's incumbent on the clubs, and on the senior players at those clubs, I think, to mentor young players both on and off the pitch to make sure that their approach to life is more balanced and more responsible. Otherwise one only has to look at football to see where all this might end.

Cipriani and Lamb are arguably two of the finest fly half prospects England have produced for years and it would be a travesty if they were allowed to waste their obvious talents. As for Henson, I wonder whether it's already too late?

Here endeth the lesson :)

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Cipriani misses conversion

It's not often that rugby makes the scandal pages of the News of the World, but young Wasp Danny Cipriani managed it this weekend with revelations that, not only did he cheat on his Cheeky Girl girlfriend, Monica Irimia, but that the "curvy model" in question was, in fact, born a bloke.

I'll resist the temptation to reel off various puns on the word "tackle," but, according to the esteemed Sunday paper, it appears that model Larissa Summers was once a boy called Darren Pratt.

I'm confident that Cipriani's Wasps' colleagues and opposition players and supporters won't be reminding him of this folly at all over the coming weeks but I'm not sure what's worse - the fact that he's unwittingly bedded a bloke or the fact that he was dating a Cheeky Girl.

Home is where the Heartland is

It appears that the NZRU have come up with a unique way of ensuring that at least one of its representative teams remains unbeaten - by selecting a team and then not organising anyone to play against.

Yesterday the NZRU unveiled 22 players selected for the national Heartland squad (consisting of players competing in the amateur Heartland Championship) but then admitted that there was no opposition for the grassroots elite to pit their wits against.

Last year the Heartland side was flown to Argentina for three games and also played a warm-up against the All Blacks. This year those who have made the squad will be flown to Wellington to shake each other's hands, receive their jerseys and then have lunch.

According to NZRU deputy chief executive Steve Tew, selecting the team "provides an extra motivation for the Heartland players to perform in the Heartland Championship."

Of course it does. It's not often they'll be given a free lunch after all.

For the record, the 22 who will be chomping down on the free tucker are:

1 Mike Thompson (Wanganui), 2 Joe Harwood (Wairarapa Bush), 3 Colin Hovell (Poverty Bay), 4 Taua Tahaafe (North Otago), 5 James Cullimore (South Canterbury), 6 Aarin Dunster (King Country), 7 Peter Rowe (Wanganui), 8 Jon Dampney (Mid Canterbury); 9 Kilifi Fangupo (North Otago), 10 Scott Leighton (Poverty Bay), 11 Scott Mayhew (North Otago), 12 Steelie Koro (Wanganui), 13 Fa'aitu Tuamoheloa (North Otago), 14 Brenton Connell (Mid Canterbury), 15 Kahu Tamatea (Poverty Bay). Reserves: 16 Tobias Sekona (North Otago), 17 Malasia Lokeni (Horowhenua Kapiti), 18 Jason Gill (Mid Canterbury), 19 Ross Hay (North Otago), 20 Hamish McKenzie (Wairarapa Bush), 21 Mark Tutton (South Canterbury), 22 Jared McClutchie (Poverty Bay).

Congratulations to all, and remember not to overdo it on the bread rolls.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Strictly X-Factor for Wales

So a scratch Barbarians team won comfortably against the World Champions Springboks at the weekend, which suggests a couple of things to me:

  1. Just how much did this game matter to South Africa? I don't want to bang on about it too much (I know, I already have), but the decision to schedule these games so soon after the World Cup is looking more and more ludicrous. Only five of the World Cup Final starting XV played at the weekend and it was clearly at least one game too far.
  2. Given the nature of the South African performance, how must Wales feel? That they were uncompetitive a week ago against a team who were clearly there for the taking must be of some concern to incoming head coach Warren Gatland.

All is not lost for Mr. Gatland, however, as a root and branch review of Welsh rugby talent will reveal that there are two hugely talented individuals who have, to date, been lost to the Welsh game but who are currently pulling in telephone votes from UK television audiences.

I'm talking, of course, about the X-Factor's Rhyddian Roberts and Strictly Come Dancing's Gethin Jones.

Roberts, looking like a cross between Liberace and a peroxide poodle, is down to the final four contestants in the X-Factor but was, once upon a time, in the "elite rugby squad” at that fine Welsh rugby nursery Llandovery College, where, despite the fact that he now looks as as camp as a row of tents, he was described as a “big powerful centre” and a "tough cookie at rugby, huge and physical." According to his father he once had ambitions to play for Wales and, despite the fact that his aim is now merely to sing the National Anthem at the Millennium Stadium, Gatland could conceivably pair him in the centres with Gavin Henson to form a partnership as comfortable on the red carpet as they would be on the field.

Meanwhile, Blue Peter presenter Gethin Jones, through to the Strictly Come Dancing semi-finals, was part of a talented generation of schoolboy players at Cardiff’s Ysgol Gyfun Glantaf where Welsh centre Jamie Robinson was among his contemporaries. As a scrum-half, he not only captained Manchester Metropolitan University to the semi-finals of the British University Sport Association Championships, he also represented Lancashire at Under 21 level and had trials with Sale. Gatland need only watch the tapes of the snake-hipped Jones' Samba performance on Saturday to convince himself that Gethin will be the man to dance rings around the English at Twickenham in February.

Comedy hour

While discussing the various coaching vacancies that he's being linked with after his final game in charge of the Springboks, Jake White has demonstrated that a career in stand-up comedy may be on the cards .

"There was one from Wales," he said. "It was a fourth division club called Llantwit Major - a mate of mine is there and he thinks he can get me the job.

"He's a bit worried, though, that Graham Henry has also applied."

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Dastardly Deeds Down Under

News in from Australia, where a Western Force disciplinary committee heard last week that players Scott Fava and Richard Brown were seen drunk in public and were witnessed inappropriately man-handling quokkas.

What on earth, you may ask, is a quokka? That was certainly my initial reaction but, as ever, Wikipedia came to my rescue.

The Quokka (Setonix brachyurus), it says, is a small macropod, about the size of a large domestic cat. Like other marsupials in the macropod family (such as the kangaroos and wallabies), the Quokka is herbivorous and mainly nocturnal.
So, with that established the next question has to be how exactly were these two miscreants "inappropriately man-handling" these small furry creatures?

Well, according to eye-witnesses on Rottnest Island, 12 miles off the coast of Perth, one player was seen slam-dunking milk crates to trap the protected species, while the other player was observed swinging one quokka by the tail and releasing it like a hammer-throw.

Comical as this mental picture may first appear, the players were quite rightly punished, Fava being fined 11,000 AUD and Brown 5,000 AUD, both payable to the Rottnest Island Conservation Foundation, and both were ordered to undertake seven days of community service.

Manhandling of a wholly different nature, meanwhile, has been alleged in South Africa against SA Rugby CEO, Johan Prinsloo, who is being accused of fondling a former male employee’s buttocks.

IT consultant Lindsey Williams, 29, has apparently filed the claim at the Cape High Court after Prinsloo was cleared of the charges at an internal disciplinary hearing. Prinsloo and SA Rugby are being sued for 400,000 Rand.

And we thought a referee dropping his shorts was a problem!