Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Monday, 29 October 2007
The modern number eight has the physical strength of a tight forward along with the mobility of other loose forwards. The number eight packs down at the rear of the scrum, controlling the movement of the ball to the scrum-half with his feet. The number 8 is the position where the ball enters the backline from the scrum and, hence, both fly half and inside centre take their role from the number 8 who as the hindmost player in the scrum can elect to pick and run with the ball like a back...They are normally tall and athletic and used as an option to win the ball from the back of the lineout... [and] need to be quick to cover opposition half-backs. A number eight should be a key ball winner in broken play, and occasionally a 'battering ram' at the front of rucks.
Sunday, 28 October 2007
Friday, 26 October 2007
Quotes such as:
"We desperately needed Brian Ashton to step in and sort it out but it was like he was frozen – a rabbit in the headlights – watching all this chaos take place..."and
"The training sessions were shambolic – they were like run-arounds, not properly targeted World Cup training sessions, there was no feedback from the coaches, none of us knew what we were supposed to be doing and Brian seemed happy to think that Jonny Wilkinson would sort it all out on the pitch..."
are all attributed to these "four senior players" who all, conveniently, remain anonymous.
"The players told Ashton: 'Grab this f***ing tournament by the scruff of the
neck or we're all going home'..."
Wednesday, 24 October 2007
- The Final: Apologies to Stuart Dickinson - it appears that there is a single frame of the video which appears to show Mark Cueto's left little toenail possibly brushing the line for a nano-second. Technically therefore you are vindicated retrospectively - although you didn't have the benefit of freeze-framing and still couldn't possibly have made that call accurately with the evidence you had available to you. Oh well, I dare say that South Africa would have won anyway - certainly there's no way Victor Matfield could possibly deserve to end up on a losing side after a performance like that. The photo doesn't say much for Cueto's finishing technique either.
- The Final#2: Did anybody else think it entirely inappropriate that Gordon Brown and Thabo Mbeki were involved in the presentations ceremony? In Mbeki's case anyone would think he'd been an integral part of the Bok team the way he cynically celebrated with the squad.
- Argentina: How good were they in the 3rd/4th play off? Shame in many ways that they choked in the semi-final because I thought they were quite brilliant at times this tournament. No doubt they'll now be ignored again by the IRB until 2011. Ditto the Pacific Island teams. Samoa were disappointing, but Tonga and Fiji were inspired at times and certainly deserve greater recognition in the international calendar.
- Try of the tournament:- Some great tries but the Japan length of the field try against Wales was pretty special.
- Game of the tournament: Georgia nearly beating Ireland was superb to watch, as was Tonga's fightback against South Africa. However for me the only winner can be the England v Australia quarter final, simply because the England performance that day came not so much from out of the blue as from out of the indigo and the violet, taking everybody by surprise (including, I suspect, the England players and management - although there's no way they'll admit it).
- The Lazarus Award: England again, for somehow restoring credibility from a seemingly impossible position. So, well done to the players and the management but let's not forget just how bad it nearly was. In fact, in analysing where England go from here the motivating factor really should be the memories of the inept performances against the USA and South Africa in the first two pool matches (easily the worst displays from an English team in a World Cup since 1987) and it's good to see that the RFU aren't rushing into prematurely awarding new contracts to management.
- Player of the tournament: Sorry Mr Habana, but I thought Gus Pichot was the standout performer this RWC, a superb player and inspirational leader.
- Hair of the tournament: Finau Maka for a quite superb barnet - shame the killjoys at the IRB wouldn't let him dye it green. Sea Bass Chabal was obviously a contender but has to make do with Beard of the tournament, narrowly edging out George Chuter (Carl Hayman's lack of beard was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the All Blacks' demise).
- The Good Sportsmanship award - Now this is going to cause a few surprises, not least to myself as I've always thought him to be a bit of a sanctimonious git, but I read yesterday that Graham Henry went into the French dressing room after New Zealand's crushing quarter final defeat to congratulate the French and wish them well in the semi finals. Good on you Mr. Henry, you've conducted yourself with a dignity absent in a number of your country's journalists and supporters and have leapt up in my estimation (which no doubt you'd been losing sleep over!)
- And finally, the Total Flanker Dunderhead of the Tournament Award: Several candidates here, including several of the ITV commentary team, a few of the national coaches, one or two players and more than one match official (and, if I was a Kiwi, the award would be a done deal) but the award can only really go to the IRB for turning a blind eye the corrupt horse-trading which resulted in several matches, including a quarter-final, taking place on Welsh and Scottish soil. The self-interest of member unions must never again be allowed to prevail when deciding these matters - although given the proposal to reduce the 2011 RWC to 16 teams that is now under consideration, I won't be holding my breath on this one.
Saturday, 20 October 2007
Secondly, Stuart Dickinson - as the TMO you got at least half a dozen opportunities to look at Cueto's try. To the naked eye it was 50/50 but, to my eye, the replays showed it was a try and how you didn't give it is just astonishing. I'm not saying England would have gone on to win, but it would have been interesting to see how South Africa coped with the pressure that the correct decision would have brought.
Thirdly, well done Matthew Tait - tonight you really came of age as an international player. Given the last four years it would be rash to make predictions, but with the likes of Tait, Flood and Hipkiss around for the next few years, English backplay looks in rude health.
Fourthly, thank you France for hosting a superb tournament. Shame about the pathetic Cardiff and Edinburgh sideshows, but the rest of the competition on French soil was totally compelling from beginning to end.
Finally, on to 2011 and New Zealand - you've an incredibly tough act to follow but don't you dare try to reduce the format to 16 teams.
Friday, 19 October 2007
So, here we are, less than 24 hours before the 2007 Rugby World Cup final and totally gobsmacked that England are there to contest it with South Africa.
Four weeks ago there was clearly some kind of rift which opened in the space-time continuum somewhere over France, casting the Rugby World Cup into some kind of parallel universe in which players, who could barely put a phase of play together without knocking on or conceding a penalty, are now lauded as "Gods" by the English tabloids.
In this spookily surreal environment I guess I could launch into an in depth analysis of the relative merits of each team contesting the Final, the strengths and weaknesses of each player, the tactics that each coach is likely to employ etc but what would be the point? Other than in the front row, logic dictates that the Boks hold all the aces (although do they know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em etc?). Logic, however, has been defied on more than one occasion during this tournament, so I'll pass on that one.
Equally I could mount a detailed and passionate defence against the ridiculous tirade of abuse heading England's way about their "style" of play, pointing out that they can only play as the opposition allows and that, at a World Cup, the only style that counts is a winning style (believe me, Jake White and the whole of South Africa would be delighted with a 3-0 victory). But, on the basis that such criticisms are either borne out of bitterness and envy or are the product of unbelievably unrealistic naivety, and given that events are now way beyond reasoning, I'll also rein myself in on that one.
No, my Rugby World Cup Final preview will, instead be short, sweet and pithy:
Based on the two semi-finals and tonight's 3rd/4th place play off, whoever dominates possession is doomed.Not impressed by my earth-shattering insight? Try this for size - only in this weird never-never land can someone like Nelson Mandela record a video message of support for the South African team and then find himself up against county & western legend Kenny Rogers who once again has sent a video message to the England squad (see below).
Mandela vs Rogers? No contest you'd have thought, but Rogers' career, after years in the doldrums, appears to be going through some kind of improbable renaissance, much like a certain nation's rugby team who are contesting tomorrow's final.
Am I reading too much into it? Almost certainly. Is it any weirder than what's already happened at this World Cup? Hell no, and the fact that I heard a report on the radio earlier today stating that the UK's chart-topping girl band, the Sugarbabes, has given its support to the national rugby team, merely serves to underpin the feeling that maybe, just maybe, England's name is already on the Webb Ellis Trophy this year.
Thursday, 18 October 2007
I'm delighted to report that my humble little rugby blog has now received a tad over 4000 visits since I began pouring forth my views on the game back in May.
That 2000 of those visits have occurred during the last month and 1000 during the last 12 days might, just might, have something to do with a little tournament currently heading towards its conclusion across the Channel, but I have very few doubts that the blog's overwhelming popularity (?!) is mainly down to my innovative, insightful and modest writing ;). Whatever the reason, I'm happy to buy you all a virtual pint in celebration.
In my excitement earlier this week I entirely forgot to award last weekend's Dunderhead of the Week. Very remiss of me I realise but, in true award ceremony style, I can announce that the the nominees are:
- The 12 year old who reffed our Vets' match at the weekend. I say 12 because, like policemen and teachers these days, he looked very, very young (although I'll concede he may have been as old as 19 or so). Actually he didn't do too badly considering pretty much every player was old enough to be his father - he was a bit clueless at the breakdown (probably to my advantage), was way too conscientious when it came to time-keeping and did butcher one decision that cost us a try, calling a forward pass that no one else, not even a single member of our opposition, had spotted. However, despite feeling very uncomfortable in calling a child "sir" all afternoon I admit that really we should be encouraging youngsters to take up the whistle and for that reason cannot give the award to him;
- Will Greenwoood for his somewhat jingoistic commentary during the weekend's Rugby World Cup semi-finals. Various message boards are very critical of Shaggy's efforts and I must admit that he was guilty of unnecessarily banging on about England's win during the South Africa v Argentina match. However, what I would say in his defence is that, not only does he usually provide entertaining and informative insights into international rugby, he's still very much one of the boys and many of his comments need to be taken as "banter" rather than be taken too seriously. Not to traditionalists' taste perhaps, but I did think his "Francois Mitterend, Michel Platini...your boys took one hell of a beating" parody was hilarious. So, no award for Mr. Greenwood;
- That leaves Professeur "Mad Bernie" Laporte as this week's winner, for crimes against French rugby. Not only has Laporte slowly sucked all the traditional "joie de vivre" from the way in which the French now play the game, he sent potential game-breaker Freddie Michalak into the action in the second half against England, apparently with instructions to play in the same joyless way that is now the French hallmark. If the gameplan is to kick, then stick with a kicking fly half, don't send on a mercurial runner and tell him play against his natural instincts. Never has there been a clearer case of a square peg for a round hole. From an English perspective I'm delighted that he did so, but if I was French I would be busy dusting off my revolutionary fancy-dress and sharpening the guillotine. Congratulations Bernie, you are undoubtedly Dunderhead of the Week.
Wednesday, 17 October 2007
Here endeth the lesson :)
PS - I see that All Blacks 2007 Rugby World Cup replica shirts are now more or less half price (ooops...I know, I know, I promised to stop gloating!)
Monday, 15 October 2007
"I've been offered corporate hospitality to travel to Paris on Sat 20th Oct to watch the Rugby WC final all expenses paid. I can take 2 mates and was wondering if you're not doing anything could you put my bin out on the Monday?"
That South Africa are there is no great surprise - their demolition of England in the group stages, combined with other results that ensured that France, Australia and New Zealand were all sent off into the other half of the quarter-final draw alongside the hapless English, meant that the Boks' route to the final was more or less assured (notwithstanding that they still had to see off a flamboyant challenge from Fiji and survive a physical examination from Argentina).
That England are in the final, however, is just bizarre given where we were only four weeks ago. After that first encounter with South Africa, where England looked utterly clueless, I (and just about everybody else I'm sure) couldn't possibly see how we could even think about getting beyond the quarter-finals and, to be frank, the prospect of not making it out of our group looked a distinct possibility.
But now here we are in the final and I have to say that, as the semi-final unfolded and began to get towards the business end of the match I was, in a surreal kind of way, the most relaxed I think I've ever been watching England play rugby. There were two reasons for this:
- Having played my first game of rugby in almost 14 years on Saturday afternoon I was completely exhausted. Way too tired to hang on drinking at the rugby club, I decided to drive home while I still could and watched the match from the comfort of my sofa, too knackered to get too worked up and in too much pain to be on the edge of my seat; and
- Martin Johnson.
Before the game Johnno had emphasised the importance of England staying in the game, that if the scores were close after an hour then all the pressure would be on France and he was absolutely spot on. You see, he knows what he's talking about does Johnno and I trust in his opinion as implicitly as I trusted in his leadership when he was at the helm of the 2003 Sweet Chariot. So, as the game approached the hour mark with only a point in it and Mad Bernie sent on Michalak with France camped in the English twenty-two, I pretty much decided there and then that England would win it.
Why? Well, the fact is that France's much maligned ultra-conservative approach had, up to that point, been a success - they were winning the battle for possession, were winning the battle for territory, they were ahead on the scoreboard and had the white shirts pinned back in the English twenty-two. Another score for France and it was probably game over and in Lionel Beauxis they had the man to strangle the life out of the English challenge, so when Freddie Michalak emerged and almost immediately butchered a relatively straightforward drop goal chance that Beauxis would have nailed, England were off the hook and back in the game. The rest, as they say, is history.
England's style (or lack of style) has attracted so much flak from pundits and so-called experts south of the equator but such criticisms miss the point somewhat. It was France who dictated the tempo of Saturday's semi-final - it was they who had the majority of the ball and it was up to them to break down the English defence. That France chose to kick deep more often than not was a tactical decision for them - England didn't make that decision for them. Did the so-called experts expect England to just grant the opposition time and space to play? Whilst I'd agree that England's use of the ball wasn't the most imaginative, again much of that was down to the stifling nature of the French defence. What were England to do - throw long cut-out passes into a crowded midfield a la Contempomi?
England's first half against Australia showed that, when the time is right England can play with the ball in hand but the lesson to be learned from the quarter-finals and semi-finals of this Rugby World Cup is that, rather than go out and play to some pre-conceived idea about how the game must be played, teams must play what's in front of them and, truly amazingly, England appear to have stumbled across the formula for doing just that. Will it be enough against South Africa? I've no idea...I'll just have to wait and see what Johnno says :)
Friday, 12 October 2007
Thursday, 11 October 2007
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
Nevertheless, I did find this quite funny (thanks to Matt at greenandgoldrugby):
Monday, 8 October 2007
- That Barnes gave Luke McAlister a yellow card for deliberately blocking the run of Jauzion when the latter was attemptng to reach a chip ahead and, perhaps, score a try. Last time I looked it was illegal to block, especially so blatently, athough admittedly the likes of Jerry Collins has been doing it for years without sanction so perhaps the All Blacks thought it was now allowed;
- That Barnes missed a forward pass from Traille to Michalak in the build up to France's second try. I admit the pass looked forward but then again so did the pass from Carter to McAlister for New Zealand's first try and, in any event, I was under the impression that forward passes in the Super 14 and Tri-Nations were pretty much endemnic and that Southern Hemispere referees no longer concerned themselves with such trifles; and
- That Barnes had the temerity to penalise Richie McCaw on more than one occasion for playing the ball while off his feet at the breakdown. Hmmm, let's face it, it's probably about time. Don't get me wrong, McCaw is a fantastic player who usually gets away with murder at the breakdown, something for which I admire him greatly. On this occasion however he was spotted and pinged - them's the breaks!
Even if Barnes did get these decisions wrong (and, from where I was sitting, only the forward pass argument is valid), that's what happens in knockout rugby and it's up to the players to deal with it. I'm with IRB referee supremo Paddy O'Brien who says his fellow New Zealanders should stop blaming the referee and should "grow up".
Good to see then that certain Kiwis have, amidst the mourning and recriminations, managed to retain a sense of humour, the following appearing on New Zealand auction site Trade Me:
Saturday, 6 October 2007
Farrell's in and then out, the Aussies hate England, the Kiwis don't want to play in grey, France don't want to play in Cardiff, the Scots are playing up their chances against Argentina and nobody gives Fiji a snowball's chance in hell against the Saffies.
I realise of course that there'll be plenty to blog about this weekend with the four games coming thick and fast, but there's only so much dissecting of English failure a chap can do and I really don't think I can bring myself to fall to my knees and begin worshipping the supremacy of Southern Hemisphere rugby (they're perfectly adept at doing that themselves).
Peterborough RUFC, where I played Colts rugby and a handful of senior games from 1980-83, currently play in Midlands 1 and are 8th in the division after four games. They started the season strongly, winning 27-0 at home to Newport before slipping to defeats against Scunthorpe (23-34), Dunstablians (19-20) and Bedford Athletic (12-41). Today they take on Shaun Perry's old club Dudley Kingswinford at home.
Back in my day Guildford RFC was known as Guildford & Goldalming, and I played there in the 1986-87 season, mainly in the lower teams before making the 1st XV in the second half of the season (although I did manage to break my collar bone on my 1st team debut, which wasn't very clever). This season Guildford are in London 2 South (having been relegated from London 1 last season), and lie 3rd after 4 games, with wins against Sidcup (32-17), Dorking (22-13) and Old Colfeians (27-26) and one defeat against Tunbridge Wells (14-21). Today they face a home match against Wimbledon.
I joined Ealing in 1988, having moved to West London, and played a couple of seasons there, mainly for the 2nds with a few games for the 1sts. Back then Ealing had just made National League 4 South (as it was then) and faced away trips to the likes of Camborne and Redruth. This season the club are celebrating a return to the National Leagues, having been promoted from London 1 last season, and have started solidly in National 3 South with a draw against Barking (13-13), wins over Bridgewater & Albion (34-10) and Dings Crusaders (37-7) and two defeats against Havant (21-19) and Cinderford (31-52), all of which leaves them 6th in the table. Today's match is away to Rosslyn Park.
Barnes RFC is where I probably had my most enjoyable period, playing from 1990-94 in Surrey Divisons 1 & 2. Since I stopped playing the club has enjoyed a rapid rise through the league structure (they've clearly missed me) and are now in their 3rd season I believe in the heady heights of London 1. This season has seen a steady start, being 6th in the table after two wins over Portsmouth (13-3) and Worthing (19-18) and two defeats to Basingstoke (16-23) and Sutton & Epsom (24-38). Barnes take on Shelford today at Barn Elms.
So now finally to Chesham, who I've yet to play for but whose Vets' team is scheduled to provide me with my long-awaited comeback game next weekend. Chesham currently play in the pithily-named Berks/Bucks & Oxon 1 North and lie 7th after 3 games, beating Gosford All Blacks 53-0, before losing to Buckingham 3rds (24-29) and Amersham & Chiltern 2nds (10-27). Good luck to Chesham today as they face Beaconsfield 2nds away.
Oh, and while I'm at it and for what it's worth, good luck to England today against the Aussies - they sorely need it.
Thursday, 4 October 2007
The debate about whether the English domestic season and, in particular, the Guinness Premiership should run concurrently with the World Cup isn't something I want to get into, at least not right now. What does interest me, however, is the number of quality youngsters - all qualified for England - who are being given their chance in the Premiership in the absence of the so-called "star" players who are or have been representing their nation(s) at the World Cup.
The charge is often levelled at the Premiership clubs that they recruit too many foreign players and do not develop enough English talent, but cast your eye around the clubs right now and you'll see that the scene isn't quite so bleak. For instance, here's a possible team made up from English-qualified players in the Premiership who are not currently on World Cup duty, all of whom will still be around in 2011:
15. Danny Cipriani - Wasps
14. Topsy Ojo - London Irish
13. Jordan Turner-Hall - Quins
12. Anthony Allen - Gloucester
11. Lesley Vainakolo - Gloucester (sorry, couldn't resist that one!)
10. Shane Geraghty - London Irish
9. Danny Care - Quins
1. Tom French - Wasps
2. David Paice - London Irish
3. Nick Woods - Gloucester
4. Richard Blaze - Leicester
5. Tom Palmer - Wasps
6. James Haskell - Wasps
7. Magnus Lund - Sale
8. Phil Dowson - Newcastle
Not too shoddy a team eh? Here's another one, equally as talented:
15. Nick Abendanon - Bath
14. David Doherty - Quins
13. Jack Adams - Gloucester
12. Dominic Waldouck - Wasps
11. Tom Varndell - Leicester
10. Ryan Lamb - Gloucester
9. Ben Foden - Sale
1. David Wilson (Newcastle)
2. Dylan Hartley - Northampton (OK, not strictly the Premiership but England qualified nevertheless)
3. Michael Holford - Wasps
4. Louis Deacon - Leicester
5. Tom Ryder - Saracens
6. Tom Croft - Leicester
7. David Seymour - Saracens
8. Jordan Crane - Leicester
When you add the likes of Andrew Sheridan, Matt Stevens, Lee Mears, Steve Borthwick, Lewis Moody, Tom Rees, Dan Ward-Smith, Nick Easter, David Strettle, Toby Flood, Olly Barkley, Paul Sackey, Olly Morgan, Danny Hipkiss and Matthew Tait to the mix, none of whom should be too old in 2011, it's appears that England do have a core of young players to work with over the next four years, many of whom already have international experience. Heck, even Jonny Wilkinson might still be available, if he hasn't had a complete body reconstruction by then.
All that's required to give a group of players of this quality a fighting chance at international level and at the next World Cup is a domestic system that doesn't knacker the players and pull their loyalty from pillar to post and a national coaching regime where the players are properly looked after and valued and which is a big step-up in quality from what they are already used to at their clubs.
Now, that's not much to ask is it?
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Monday, 1 October 2007
His latest comments are: "No one likes England. If they want further proof, how do they think France won the right to host this World Cup? It’s simple. No one would vote for England and they were the only other country in the running. The only votes England could be assured of back then were their own. Sadly, this is all a by-product of their born-to-rule mentality. It’s been there for a long time now and nothing has changed."
So, rather than consider a bid to host the World Cup on its merits, O'Neill is saying that he and the other IRB delegates voted against the English bid on the basis of anti-English prejudice. I'm not for one minute suggesting that this World Cup should have been awarded to England - France deserved to host the tournament and (the farming out of games to the Celts aside) has done a fantastic job. However, if what O'Neill has said is even remotely true then not only does it reflect very poorly on O'Neill and his fitness to do the job he's very well paid for, it also exposes the IRB committee for the amateurish bunch of freeloaders we already know they are and calls into question yet again the process for selecting World Cup venues.