Tuesday, 30 December 2008

England's New Backline Moves

As demonstrated by Austin Healy...





...or, as Len Goodman described him, "a Spanish waiter serving hors d'oeuvres."

Monday, 29 December 2008

Season's (hic) Greetings...

A belated Merry Christmas to my dedicated duo of regular readers and to anyone else who happens to stumble across this blog in error. I must say that I felt entirely unprepared this Christmas - the festive season appearing to have snuck up on me somewhat like an unexpected virus. Nevertheless Christmas Day passed without incident - the kids were satisfied with their annual haul from Santa Claus, the turkey put in a star performance and we were all left with full bellies and imbued with the festive spirit.

Perhaps it's because it's been the festive season, perhaps it's because my office-based job has led to an even more sedentary lifestyle, but the fact is that the past month or so as seen me become a stranger to the gym and a friend to large lunches and copious amounts of red wine. In short I'm feeling fat and unfit and if I had a set of bathroom scales I'm sure they'd be delivering extremely unwelcome news about my weight.

I turned down the chance to play in an Oldies v Youngsters game at Chesham at the weekend - partly because that really would have gone down like a lead balloon at home but also because, right now, I really am in no fit state to run out onto a rugby field. Not only would it have been distinctly embarrassing, it would also have been a tad dangerous - an injury waiting to happen. No, my target now has to be obtaining a degree of fitness before out next Vets match in just under 3 weeks time when we're due to take on Beaconsfield Vets at home. Clearly that will require a significant reduction in alcohol intake and a significant increase in physical activity between now and then - so it's fairly obvious what my New Year's resolutions have to be...

Of course, I won't be the only one making resolutions for 2009. England boss Martin Johnson, for instance, will be resolving to make the most of the time and patience granted to him by the English rugby public at large (who for the most part do realise what a shambolic set-up he has inherited). Hopefully he will have learnt the appropriate lessons from the autumn internationals and will have his forwards' coach John Wells working flat out at producing quick ball for what looks like, potentially, a reasonably exciting back division. He must also, of course, resolve not to pay any heed to the collection of bitter broadsheet hacks who seek to judge his regime after just 4 games in charge.

Across the Irish Sea, Declan Kidney will be resolving to imbue his Ireland team with whatever it is that makes Munster tick while in Scotland Frank Hadden will again plotting the downfall of the Italians - Scotland's only realistic chance, once again, of a victory in the 2009 Six Nations. Meanwhile, across the Severn, Messrs Gatland and Edwards will be resolving not to misplace the magic dust they were given last year. Edwards, in particular, must be praying that no one figures out that there are acres of space being left behind the Welsh blitz defence and that, no matter how brilliant he's been of late, Lee Byrne can't possibly defend it all by himself.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the Right Reverend Graham Henry will be resolving to keep pulling the wool over the eyes of the New Zealand public and press by continuing to produce yet another team that is almost unbeatable between World Cups. Peter de Villiers, meanwhile, will he hoping that the trashing of England at Twickenham will have bought him a little time and Robbie Deans will be resolving to keep making a decent fist of the Wallabies job as preparation for the inevitable day when he is appointed head coach of the All Blacks.

However, the man with perhaps the most significant resolution will be ARU chief John O'Gobshite O'Neill, who will be as determined as ever to force the rugby world to keep playing to the ELVs no matter how unpopular or discredited they become and, if he doesn't get his way, will no doubt threaten to take his ball home and merge Australian rugby with Strictly Come Dancing on Ice to create a more TV friendly product - Australia's favourite son, Austin Healy, being lined up as the first head coach of the national hybrid team.

Whatever your resolutions, have a very happy and prosperous 2009...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Total Flanker Awards 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the 2nd annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony where we honour (in the loosest sense of he word) and reward (ditto) those who have contributed to our enjoyment of the game in 2008. It's hard, I know, to believe that 12 months has passed since we gave out our last set of gongs, 12 months in which (and it pains me to say it) the Welsh have become the standard bearers for northern hemisphere rugby and we've all had to endure being guinea pigs in some fiendish IRB experiment.

I need to confess before we start handing out the prizes that the selection committee have once again chosen to discount the Super 14 and Tri Nations from its deliberations - this year on the basis that the two tournaments were played under a set of laws that, quite frankly, the committee fails to recognise. And we're not even sorry.

Moving on...our first award this evening is the Could You Have Cocked Things Up Any More If You'd Tried Award. More than a few contenders for this one, including the RFU for their shambolic treatment of Brian Ashton post 2007 Rugby World Cup and 2008 Six Nations. However (and I promise this the last time I'll mention it this evening), the clear winner is the IRB for the quite shocking way they have attempted to railroad the world of ruby into accepting the ELVs, with the chaotic consequence that rugby is now being played under differing sets of laws in different competitions in different parts of the world. Astonishing incompetence, even for an organisation for which incompetence is the watchword.

Our second award this evening is the Can Anyone Recommend a Good Book to Read During the Second Half Award, given to the team that has managed to bore the pants off every neutral spectator during the second half of a game this year. The popular view might be to give this award to England for years of perceived conservatism but I would argue somewhat vociferously that England this year have been mainly crap rather than boring. No the choice comes down to a choice between Wales for their interminable series of rucks in the last 15 minutes of the Grand Slam decider against France (admittedly effective but seriously tedious) and Munster, who started running down the clock almost immediately the whistle blew for the start of the second half of the Heineken Cup Final. I'd love to hand this one to Wales but it was quite possible, during that desperate second half aganst Toulouse, to go out for 10 minutes to make a cup of tea and then return to find the Munstermen still going through the phases about 15 metres away from where the move had originated. Munster therefore take this award with something to spare.

Next up is the Can it Possibly Get Any Worse Award, given to the team that have plumbed the depths of true appallingness in a performance this year. England are almost certainly shoe-ins for this one but not, as some of the broadsheet hacks would have us believe, for their performances during the November internationals. Despite the scorelines against the southern hemisphere big 3, there was the occasional glimmer of hope or the odd spark of individual talent shining through occasionally. No, the performance that really showed up England as being bereft of anything remotely approaching competence was the inept display against Scotland at Murrayfield in the Six Nations. Scotland played poorly in that match, remember, and still won at a canter. Brian Ashton may subsequently have been treated badly by his employers but anyone overseeing that level of performance cannot honestly have expected to keep his job.

We now move on to the Perhaps He's Not All He's Cracked Up to Be Award. For years I would have given this one to Ickle Shane Williams as, for all his side-stepping wizardry, I felt he was better defined by his non-existent defensive skills and a tendency to panic under pressure and cough up possession. Warren Gatland and Sean Edwards, however, appear to have entirely eradicated these flaws from his game - ok, he still isn't a great tackler but the rest of his game has been pure genius (a pity that we can't reward that here) this year. Who then will this prestigious title go to? Danny Cipriani perhaps? Hardly fair - the fact that he returned so quickly to the game after such an horrific injury being worthy of praise rather than vilification. That leaves, in the humble opinion of the committee, only one man. Step forward Andrew Sheridan. Not long ago the (mainly English) press were labelling him as the best loose head in world rugby and yet now he appears to be the lynchpin of an England pack that couldn't scrummage the skin off a rice pudding.

Our penultimate award tonight is the Pinch Me, I Must be Dreaming Award, given for the most improbable action by any rugby club or organisation this year. I can't believe I'm doing this but I must say that the RFU, in its reaction to the global imposition of the ELVs (I know I said I wouldn't mention them again, but given their domination of the headlines this year, it's a little difficult to avoid them). In its wisdom the RFU, rather than just pontificating on the merits or otherwise of the new laws, did something quite radical instead - it asked me what I thought. Not just me , of course (they can't possibly be expected to get everything right first time) but everyone involved in grassroots rugby - players, coaches, referees, volunteers and supporters - across the land. They may well ignore what we have to say ultimately but at least they have made the pretence of listening to us, unlike the self-serving buffoons at the IRB.

Finally we move on to the last award of the night - the Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land Award - a special award given to a particular rugby scribe whose refusal to move on from 2003 continues to infuriate and amuse in equal measure. Yes, step forward Mr Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, a Welshman obsessed with the England rugby team whose brilliant solution to the woes currently being endured by Martin Johnson's men is that they find bigger, older and better players. Well, duh! And the names of those players who would turn England back into a force in the game? Well here are a few he's mentioned who weren't playing in the recent New Zealand game: Josh Lewsey (who has played like a drain for Wasps this season); Dan Hipkiss (who was on the bench for the NZ game); Ollie Barkley (working his way back from injury); Mike Tindall (barely a decent performance in an England shirt since 2003); Danny Cipriani (rested against NZ but obviously mightily effective against the Aussies and the Boks); Harry Ellis (bench), Andrew Sheridan (injured, but alarmingly ineffective anyway against the Aussies); Dylan Hartley (bench, and a citing waiting to happen); Julian White (a proven underachiever at international level and about 56 years old isn't he?); Simon Shaw (bench, and even older than White); and Lewis Moody (just back from long-term injury and mad as a box of frogs). Mr Jones even suggested bringing back Danny Grewcock for the All Blacks game. Nuff said.

And so, a brief summary of the 2008 Total Flanker Awards:

Total Flanker Could You Have Cocked Things Up Any More If You'd Tried Award: - IRB
Total Flanker Can Anyone Recommend a Good Book to Read During the Second Half Award: - Munster
Total Flanker Can it Possibly Get Any Worse Award: - England
Total Flanker Perhaps He's Not All He's Cracked Up to Be Award: - Andrew Sheridan
Total Flanker Pinch Me, I Must be Dreaming Award: - RFU
Total Flanker Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land Award: - Stephen Jones

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Welsh to kill Pope

For the gamblers amongst you here's a tip: get yourself down to the bookies and put a few quid on the Pope popping his clogs before the year's end.

According to a report in the Telegraph this week, researchers are claiming that Pope Benedict XVI has an approximately 45 per cent chance of kicking the bucket by the end of 2008 thanks to Wales winning a Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year.

Apparently five of the eight Pontiffs who have died since 1883 have done so in Grand Slam years. Three deaths have occurred when Wales won the Grand Slam and two others when Wales won the tournament but not the Grand Slam.

Faced with this overwhelming evidence, Dr Gareth Payne of University Hospital Wales, Cardiff (whose findings have been published online by the British Medical Journal, no less) asserts that the Vatican "cannot fully relax until the new year arrives."

Unless, of course, Wales win it again in 2009, heaven forbid...

Sunday, 14 December 2008

That was the week that was...

A quick(ish) trawl through a few rugby bits and bites that caught my eye this week...
  • It was only a matter of time before prima donna ref Steve Walsh hit the headlines again. The exhibitionist whistle-blower has, allegedly, been accused of being drunk at a morning session of the SANZAR conference for coaches and refs early this month in Sydney. Apparently the matter is now an employment issue between Walsh and the NZRFU. It's hardly the first time that Walsh has been in hot water - at the 2003 World Cup he was suspended after squirting a water bottle at English fitness trainer Dave Reddin during an argument during the England v Samoa pool game, while in 2005 he was suspended by the IRB after verbally abusing British Lions winger Shane Horgan during the Taranaki tour match. A case of three strikes?

  • Some very sad news from New Zealand with the sudden death of former All Blacks John Drake at the age of 49. Drake was member of the New Zealand team who won the 1987 World Cup and reports suggest that he collapsed and died of a heart attack while cleaning his swimming pool. 49 is way too young an age to go and is a stark reminder of our mortality. My thoughts are very much with his family.

  • On a lighter and somewhat bizarre note, new Glasgow rugby "sensation" Ruaridh Jackson has revealed how his "fury" at a verdict on the TV talent show the X Factor prompted him to produce the best performance of his life last week in the Heineken Cup group match against Bath. The 20 year old rookie has admitted it was the decision to evict his X Factor favourite Diana Vickers (who, as it happens, was also my favourite) on last week's show that fired him up to produce his best rugby. For the return fixture today Bath are praying that Jackson is not suitably outraged by the decision of the BBC to allow all three couples through to the final of Strictly Come Dancing.

  • Could Dean Richards be the first head coach to win the Heineken Cup with 2 different clubs? After his successes with Leicester, it looks very much like he's putting together a more than half decent outfit at Harlequins. After their battling back-to-back wins over Stade Francais, which leave Quins unbeaten in four Heineken Cup games this season and only one win away from the quarter-finals, I'd certainly give them a fighting chance of going all the way to the Final this season.

  • And finally... your roving reporter found himself at a booze-filled Twickenham this week for the Varsity Match. With the wine flowing shortly after 11.00 am before a hearty lunch, there then followed a surprisingly entertaining match - made exciting largely by the decision by the Cambridge right winger to make tackling optional, especially when faced with his opposite number who helped himself to 3 first half tries. The problem was solved in the second half by the Cambridge pack who evidently decided that the best method of defence was to keep the ball. The tactic worked as the beer flowed and the Light Blues hauled themselves back into contention before just coming up short, going down 29-33. For many this game remains an anachronism but to the players (unless you happen to be an All Black hooker) it is THE most important game of their lives and for me it's a chance to catch up with some old (and getting older) faces and drink myself silly.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The old ones are always the best #2437

A team of mammals is playing rugby against a team of bugs.

Mammals are leading 10-0 at half time.

The bugs bring on a centipede as a half time replacement.

Immediately a lion runs up the middle and is stopped dead by a crunching tackle from the centipede.

Minutes later a greyhound is hurtling for the try line when the centipede pole-axes him with a spectacular cover tackle.

A hat-trick of tries follows from the centipede and the bugs are victorious.

"Flippin' heck" says the lion says after the final whistle, "why weren't you playing in the first half ?"

"I was getting my boots on," replies the centipede.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

JOHNNO EXCLUSIVE!

Yes, I managed to catch up with Martin Johnson over a couple of beers following the conclusion of this year’s Autumn internationals. No, of course it wasn’t THE Martin Johnson – don’t be ridiculous – but it was nevertheless a Martin Johnson, a passionate England rugby fan and regular at my local with quite a few things to contribute about the state of English rugby.

The conversation took the following course:

TF: So, Martin, what did you think of England's efforts during the autumn series?

MJ: Not good enough - we're not big enough, fit enough, powerful enough, nasty enough, clever enough or skillful enough. Unlike most of the national press, however, I'm really not that surprised. We've been pants for some time now, two matches in the World Cup notwithstanding.

TF: Didn't any England players impress?

MJ: Yes, Delon Armitage played well throughout the series - he could finally be the long-awaited solution at fullback. Tom Rees battled well and I suppose Nick Easter was half-decent at times but (and it pains me to say this) I wouldn't have a single Englishman in a Lions 22 based on current form. How sad is that?

TF: So you were impressed by the Welsh then?

MJ: Not hugely, but they're currently miles better than England.

TF: So, is your namesake the right man for the job?

MJ: I bloody well hope so as the last thing we need right now is another change at the top. Let's face it though, things were never going to be easy. If he was under any illusions beforehand, he now knows what a nightmare job he's taken on. I hope he has the bottle to make the really tough decisions and that the RFU have the gumption to support him by getting in whoever he needs to improve things. A new forward's coach and defence coach would be a decent start but Johnno seems to be saying that no changes are necessary which doesn't bode too well.

TF: Why do you think things have deteriorated so badly?

MJ: I'd say we're paying for an utter failure for anyone to plan beyond 2003. We lost some key players to retirement and the back up players, although fairly experienced - and I'm talking about men like Worsley, Corry, Regan, Gomarsall, Hodgson etc - simply weren't up to it. We may have managed to produce a couple of decent performances in the World Cup last year but really since 2003 the coaches have been firefighting, papering over the cracks, shuffling deckchairs - whatever you want to call it - rather than building a team. Johnno's having to start from scratch really. Clive Woodward came back from Australia claiming that 2003 was the beginning of a golden age for English rugby. Golden age my arse.

TF: Thank you Martin.

MJ: You're welcome. Mine's a pint of IPA, cheers.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Long arm of the law

Following the scandal surrounding the arrest of Conservative MP Damian Green for receiving leaked government documents, I can exclusively reveal that this weekend I was also arrested and questioned for 24 hours straight with no food, water or toilet breaks. My alleged offence was the receipt of top secret documents revealing the Wikio Top 20 UK Sports Blogs. You will be delighted to learn, however, that I held firm under severe psycholgical torture and can now exclusively reveal December's Wikio rankings...

After all that I'm highly unimpressed with dropping 2 places down the chart - next time I'm hauled in for interrogation I promise I'll squeal like a pig!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

England 21 New Zealand 19

Fantastic result for England today , a wonderful triumph in the face of adversity and one in the eye for all that talk of southern hemisphere supremacy...

Sorry......what?

Dubai Sevens?

You mean that wasn't the score from Twickenham?

What?

Lost 32-6?

Bugger.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The story so far...

Nearly 3 months into the so-called brave new world of the ELVs but are we any the wiser?

The RFU, bless 'em, continue to listen (check out the RFU Survey) but what happens after they've gathered, sorted and lost our opinions is anyone's guess.

So far this season the ELVs haven't exactly covered themselves in glory at the elite level and various high profile coaches in this neck of the woods have expressed their severe misgivings. But what of us, the mere mortals of the grassroots game, what do we think of the story so far?

Over on Confessions of a Rugby Referee, Big Dai gives a very eloquent verdict on the ELVs from the point of view of a grassroots rugby referee. One of the stated aims of the ELVs was to make the game easier to referee but, from reading Dai's analysis, the new laws appear to have, for the most part, achieved the precise opposite.

Anyway, for those of you have never listened to what a referee has to say and aren't about to start now, here's my entirely objective take on the ELVs from the point of view of an old and lardy grassroots forward...

ELV 1 - Assistant Referee - Assistant Referees to provide additional information to the referee to assist in decision making. What assistant referee? Great idea but totally irrelevant to the vast majority of matches played up and down the land every weekend.

ELV 2 – Maul -Remove reference in Law to head and shoulders not to be lower than hips. Sounds like a bad idea but, to be honest, I don't think I've ever seen someone penalised in a maul for his body position.

ELV 3 – Maul - A defending team may pull the Maul to the ground. The world and his wife agrees that this is a crap idea and potentially very dangerous. That said, although in my first game the driving maul appeared to have become extinct as a result of this law, in subsequent games it has been resurrected and, given that it really isn't so easy to drag down, the driving maul can, if used judiciously, still be a weapon.

ELV 4 - Lineout and Throw When a defending player receives the ball outside the 22 metre line and passes, puts or takes the ball back inside the 22 by any means, there no gain in ground. In my three games this season this has been picked up a grand total of once. No noticeable increase in attacking from the 22 either.

ELV 5 - Lineout and Throw- A quick throw may be thrown in straight or towards the throwing team’s own goal line. Great in theory but totally impractical in Vets rugby where no one has the energy to counter-attack and we're all glad of the breather.

ELV6 - Lineout and Throw There is no restriction in the number of players who can participate in the lineout from either side (minimum of 2). Harmless - no impact whatsoever.

ELV 7 - Lineout and Throw The receiver in a lineout must stand 2 metres back from the lineout. Why? Does anyone pay attention to this law, let alone the scrum half or, indeed, the referee?

ELV 8 - Lineout and Throw The team not throwing into the lineout MUST have a player in the 5 metre channel who must be 2 metres away from the front of the lineout. This player cannot join the lineout until the ball has left the hands of the player throwing in. Yawn, although apparently Dai has picked this one up once (obviously in a moment of sheer pedantry).

ELV 9 - Lineout and Throw Lineout players may pre-grip a jumper before the ball is thrown in. Has been happening for years and is irrelevant in a Vets lineout where no one really leaves the ground.

ELV 10 - Lineout and Throw- The lifting of lineout players is permitted. And has been since 1995 if I'm not mistaken.

ELV 11 – Scrum - The offside line for a player who is not in the scrum and is not one of the scrum halves is 5 metres behind the hindmost foot of the scrum. I had great hopes for this one but it's virtually impossible for refs to pick up encroachment without help and any space gained seems to be used as extra time to get a kick away more often than not.

ELV 12 – Scrum - The defending scrum half must stand next to his opponent when the ball is put into the scrum. Once the ball is in the scrum the scrum halves may then either (1) follow the ball ensuring that they remain behind the ball (2) retreat behind the hindmost foot of their players in the scrum or (3) retreat behind their side's 5 metre offside line, but if they do so they may not come forward again until the scrum is over. But has anyone actually noticed?

ELV 13 - Posts and Flags around the Field - The corner posts, and posts at corner of touch , in goal and dead ball line, are no longer considered to be in touch in goal except when a ball is grounded against the post. Great news as I was always hitting those damned posts when diving over for tries in the corner...not!

All in all then I'd venture that the ELVs' impact on the game I play has been negligible (although to be fair the game I play tends to be under the laws that were last in operation in 1994). Of bigger impact has been the directive to referees to police the breakdown with zero tolerance which, as I've alluded to before, has turned most rucks into a lottery.

So, the ELVs aren't as bad as I feared but I guess the question is that, if the ELVs are making such little impact, why bother?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Walking tall

Congratulations to Shane Williams who the other evening was named the International Rugby Board Player of the Year for 2008.

Perhaps even Ben ("Shane who?") Cohen will remember his name now after Ickle Shane picked up his award at the IRB Awards ceremony at the weekend.

Some will say that it's been a fairly mediocre year for rugby whilst other less charitable souls than myself may point to the fact that the overall standard of this year's 2008 Six Nations was rubbish.

I, on the other hand, prefer to say "not bad for a little bloke who can't tackle."

Perhaps all is not lost for Charlie Hodgson.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tring-a-ling-a-ling

While England were receiving a thrashing at the hands of the Boks (or the Proteas, or whatever it's politically correct to call them these days) I and my fellow Veterans from Chesham were attempting to roll back the years on the decidedly chilly playing fields of Tring.

I'm not entirely sure what has happened in the Chesham area recently - it's possible that there's been something introduced into the local drinking water supply, but when I arrived for the match 30 minutes before kick off as usual I found almost a full compliment of Chesham players in the changing room already changed. We even had 2 replacements. I admit it took me a few minutes for the brain to compute what was happening but then something occurred that had me totally flummoxed and ready to be persuaded that the world was, indeed, flat...

...We indulged in a team warm-up.

Even more amazingly, none of our number injured themselves during the said warm up and we approached the kick off against the Tring 4th XV almost ready to play - although with a certain amount of trepidation as a glance at our opposition revealed them to be a somewhat youthful outfit with barely a grey hair to be seen.

The world may be flat, but the pitch we played on was certainly not, a slope running across the pitch meaning that play tended to be concentrated along a 20 metre strip - conditions which probably favoured us on the whole and certainly upfront we were able to get amongst the opposition and prevent them getting much ball out to their backs. Our set pieces were solid - the scrum was very steady and we won a surprising amount of ball at the lineout - even yours truly leaping salmon-like (well, minnow-like) in the middle to claim a few.

The referee this week was a Kiwi and, despite that, did a pretty good job (other than one bizarre moment in the second half) adopting a refreshingly pragmatic (rather than dogmatic) approach to the breakdowns.

When Tring did get the ball they looked dangerous when moving it wide and they scored an early try under the posts to take a 7-0 lead. What was strange though was that whenever they were awarded a penalty (and there were more than a few) they kicked for touch (where we were strong) instead of running wide (where we were not). Conversely we tapped and ran almost everything, even from our own 22 (much to my consternation), in the mistaken belief that we could run the length of the field - all of which added to the surreal nature of the afternoon.

The Twilight Zone continued to exert its influence in the second half. Tring had crossed for their second try via the simple tactic of giving the ball to their youngest, quickest player and making us chase him up the hill. Thereafter we pretty much dominated territory and possession and, at one stage, were camped in the Tring 22 battering away under the posts when a Tring player kicked the ball out from the back of a ruck. The referee blew his whistle and raised his hand and I immediately took up a position on the left flank (bottom of the hill) waving my arms frantically to indicate that I was ready to receive a pass or a kick - a certain try assuming I could catch the ball (!). The next thing I knew the ref had uttered the words "penalty try" - much to everyone's surprise - and it looked as if all our hard work had been rewarded, only for him to change his mind and award a penalty again - but this time to Tring! He didn't actually reverse his decision, just decided to change his mind, and we still haven't a clue what the supposed infringement was.

Anyway, just as it was looking as if we might suffer an undeserved shutout, Tring decided to spread the ball wide down the hill (much easier to chase) and Tim, our centre, intercepted to sprint most of the way to the line before offloading to his fellow centre Eric to score under the posts.

So, a 14-7 defeat but, unlike England, nothing to be ashamed of. With a bit of luck we may even have won and, from a personal perspective it was certainly the most productive and enjoyable of the games so far this season. Next up is Beaconsfield Vets on 17th January - so plenty of time to eat and drink myself fit.

The Unlikely Scrum

Great article from the New York Times about how rugby can break down barriers...

The rugby practice field at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School bears little resemblance to the manicured lawns of the English boarding school where the sport was born... more

42-6

There's not much I can say about the scoreline at Twickenham yesterday. I wasn't expecting a win, but a thrashing of that magnitude simply wasn't on the cards either. It's all very well for Johnno to claim that we created more scoring opportunities this week, but to ship 42 points at Twickenham is, in anyone's language, a disaster. Taxi for Mike Ford?

Only 2 positives, as far as I can see:
  1. I didn't watch it (having my own little encounter to deal with - more of that later) and decided against putting myself through watching the highlights after I had heard the score on the radio; and
  2. It can't get any worse...can it?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Strictly Scrum Dancing

In a remarkable case of real life mirroring reality TV, veteran rugby player Total Flanker looks set to quit playing for Chesham Vets because he fears there is a real risk that he could score a try.

After a two games this season in which he was denied tries, firstly by a last gasp tackle and then by a myopic referee - incidents which prompted a national debate on the injustice of it all - TF has indicated to vague acquaintances that that he is ready to call it quits after analysing the balance of probabilities.

"It all started off as a bit of of a laugh," the overweight backrower said today. "But there's a real chance that I might actually score a try soon and that we might win a game, both of which would be a joke too far."

The nation's online message boards lit up with complaints after today's news as the public voiced their suspicions that TF has fallen victim to people taking rugby far too seriously.

"I am very angry about this," said one poster. "Watching TF huffing and puffing around the field and messing up try-scoring opportunities is simply hilarious."

Fans of the portly 44 year old breakaway need not despair, however, as he is committed to giving a "farewell performance" away against Tring 4ths this weekend.

"It's the least I could do to give my many fans one last giggle," he admitted.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Thought for the day...

Unearthed by the Telegraph's Kevin Garside...

Apparently more than half of England's team today passed through the state school system and the team is managed by a comprehensive school kid who attended the same school where his father worked as a caretaker.

I wonder if Australia can claim the same?

Bench press

I must say I'm not hugely optimistic about England's chances against the Aussies this afternoon.

It's not that I disagree with the way Martin Johnson is running the show or, indeed, his selections - broadly he's got it right (although the selection of Jamie Noon continues to baffle). It's just that I don't think that England are quite ready enough to take a Southern Hemisphere scalp just yet, even at Twickenham. Pundits like the Sunday Times' Stephen Jones have declared that it would be a "disaster" to lose to Australia today, that England simply must win. Not only does this attitude seriously underestimate this Aussie squad, it also largely ignores just how poor we've been in recent years. It's going to take some time before the heights reached in the early part of this decade can be achieved again - don't forget just how long it took for Clive Woodard's England to start winning matches regularly against the big 3.

One thing I do like about the way Johnno's going about his business is his obvious desire to have impact players on the bench - Stevens, Hartley, Shaw, Haskell, Lipman, Ellis and Flood are all players who can come on and make a difference (as opposed to the previous regime's "making up the numbers" approach). I'm a little disconcerted about the imbalance between forwards and backs - a couple of injuries to our back division and we could really struggle - but just imagine how demoralising it could be for a tiring Aussie pack to have to face up the rampaging quartet of Stevens. Hartley, Shaw and Haskell in the last quarter...

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Looking forward, looking back

Just returned from another circuit training session at the gym. I say "another" as if it's a regular occurrence but in fact it's only the second time I've been - and the first occasion was 4 weeks ago.

Hardly regular then, but with my next game looming large on the 22nd November I felt that desperate measures were called for - and, yes, I realise that fitness doesn't really work that way but I subscribe to the theory that something has to be better than nothing, no matter how painful.

It will come as no surprise to learn that I struggled, but what I couldn't get over is how some people simply don't appear to have sweat glands. There was I, totally and utterly drenched in sweat, whilst several others demonstrated no more than a healthy glow and some looked more or less exactly as the same as when they'd started (I console myself, of course, with the misguided notion that they couldn't have been working as hard as me).

So, with my thoughts turning to the next chapter in my great rugby odyssey, it turns out that, according to the Fullerians RFC website, in our last match their Vets team only beat us 38-5, a far better result than I had remembered (I lost count as we shipped tries late in the game, and what's more so, apparently, did the referee). Furthermore, it turns out that my opposite number in that game was a former Aussie international.

In the changing rooms after the game I heard someone mention that the opposition had an ex-international in their back row but, as I was unable to hang around after the game that day, I was unable to verify the rumour. It turns out, however, that the player in question was none other than Bill Calcraft who played in the Australian back row in the mid-eighties before captaining Oxford University in the Varsity Match. In our match I must admit he was pretty solid in the tackle and difficult to put down, and was also fairly sprightly around the park - certainly more so than yours truly although, admittedly, that's not saying much. Given that he's also a good 5 years or so older than me, hats off to him.

No doubt the match against Chesham Vets will probably go down as a career highlight for him and he'll be recounting for many a year how I was unjustly denied my try by a myopic referee...

Friday, 7 November 2008

Back in black

It's been a momentous week.

A black man has been elected President of the United States.

A black man has won the Formula 1 World Championship.

And three black players occupied the back three positions for England against the Pacific Islanders yesterday.

Whilst the first two events were (rightly) hailed internationally, the selection of Paul Sackey, Delon Armitage and Ugo Monye had, in a small way, its very own significance. Setting aside the fact that all three had excellent games for England yesterday (and it's possible, just possible, that in Armitage we may finally have found someone to occupy the fullback birth for some considerable time), the fact that we now have 3 black players in the England team, with the likes of Danny Cipriani also having a West Indian father, a Maori playing at inside centre (a concept that I'm not wholly comfortable with if I'm honest) and the likes of Tom Varndell, Topsy Ojo and Steffon Armitage not too far away, demonstrates that English rugby is becoming far more representative of the diverse nature of the country as a whole.

And it certainly gives lie to the theory popularised by followers of Rugby League that Union remains the preserve of the white middle-classes.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

View from (near) the top...

Continuing the somewhat vulgar and distasteful self-congratulatory theme, I should probably give myself a rather large slap on the back for the fact that this blog has jumped a massive 7 places up the Wikio UK Sports Blog charts to number 6.
Of course, I've still no idea what this actually means , how accurate the Wikio system is or whether anybody takes any notice of it but, as I've said before, a league table is a league table...

Seriously, continued thanks to all who persist in reading this nonsense and to those that see fit to link to it.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Fame game

I was delighted to discover that a link to this blog has recently been added to the rugby pages of the Daily Telegraph website and I'm beginning to see a steady trickle of traffic coming through.

Lord knows what serious Telegraph-reading rugby folk make of the drivel posted on here but, although the paper's political stance is often somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan, in a spirit of co-operation and fraternity I am more than happy to reciprocate by wholeheartedly endorsing the rugby scribes of the Telegraph as being more than half-decent.

I'll bet they're ecstatic.

Tag Rugby Development Trust

Just a note to highlight the remarkable work of the Tag Rugby Development Trust (TRDT), a unique charity that introduces primary school children in developing Countries to Tag Rugby through volunteer tours that build a positive legacy through local involvement and UK support.

Since their first trip back in 2002, the Tag Rugby Development Trust has organised nine tours, taking in Uganda, Zambia and India . On these tours the coaches are all volunteers and the target is the grass roots level, not to mention leaving behind the skills so they can continue playing.

“I think sport is an area where you can give an opportunity on a very equal level,” says founder Martin Hansford. “The children have a great time, they learn something, we leave their teachers with some new skills they can use and keep training the kids even when we’re not around.”

As well as learning a new sport, there’s also an added incentive for the children to stay in school – to be able to take part in the end of week tournament.

So, not only do TRDT spread the rugby gospel, they also leave behind a lasting legacy, a fact highlighted on the current tour to India. In 2006 TRDT took a Tag Rugby Tour to Bhubaneswar, Orissa. Two years later the Kalinga Institute for Social Sciences (KISS), a school for tribal children, is producing Tag Rugby teams that are winning tournaments in the UK and Australia.

Furthermore the skills and enthusiasm the charity's volunteers gave children back in 2006 is being passed onwards to other children in the school and has caught the attention of the highest level of authority on Rugby in India - the Indian RFU will be hosting the first ever U-16 tournament at KISS and on 2nd August this year the foundation stone for the KISS Rugby Academy was laid.

The TRDT would really appreciate any support that you can give either in the UK, professionally, financially or with your time but especially by touring with the charity to share your rugby skills and experiences. Click here to get involved.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Whatever happened to: Trevor Leota?

You remember, don't you, the former Wasps and Samoa hooker, famed for his big hits and even bigger girth?

Well, here he is, being given his marching orders playing for Stade Montois recently. Late tackle? I'd argue that he got there as soon as he could.

On the upside I guess the sending off would have given him some extra time to seek out the nearest KFC...

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Here come the girls...

With Women's Rugby Review having succumbed to pressures on time, I thought that maybe it would be acceptable (to followers of women's rugby) for me to feature the occasional women's rugby feature here on Total Flanker. Women's rugby gets a fairly raw deal in the national press in the UK but there's no doubt that's it's a rapidly growing sport both at home and worldwide. For instance, in England alone there were 567 affiliated clubs (senior and youth) and 12,302 women and girls playing the game in the 2007/2008 season, according to the RFUW's stats.

As I've previously mentioned, from the little I have seen of women's rugby (and it's almost never featured on the TV as far as I can recall) the levels of athleticism, fitness and technical skills are very impressive - and the levels of enthusiasm and dedication are equally so. The women's game is, in a strange sort of way, reminiscent of men's rugby back in the 70s/80s before the top male players effectively became full-time rugby players. And I don't mean that in a derogatory way. Top female players have to juggle their careers with their chosen sport and the fact that they manage to do so effectively and still maintain the amateur ethos that still courses through the veins of women's rugby is, for me, one of women's rugby's attractions. That grassroots players, both male and female, can more readily identify with a member of the England women's team than with her professional, gym-cultured male counterpart, is a racing certainty.

The biggest story in the women's game in recent weeks has been the announcement that England will host the 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup. The tournament, last held in Edmonton, Canada in 2006, will be staged across West London and will showcase the top 12 international teams in world rugby. Hosts England, triple 6 Nations Grand Slam winners and holders of the European Championship and Nations Cup and New Zealand, winners of the last three World Cups and recent conquerors of Australia, will no doubt start as favourites.

Apparently the RFUW and RFU fought off stiff competition from Germany, South Africa and Kazakhstan to host the 2010 event. And here's the thing. I'm sure that England will stage a good tournament - it will be organised well and be well supported and may even attract some media coverage. But, as with their failure to give the 2011 men's Rugby World Cup to Japan, I can't help feeling that the IRB have missed a trick here. By giving the tournament to one of the "big guns," have they missed the opportunity to spread the gospel (both of women's rugby and rugby in general) to less traditional strongholds of the game? Admittedly, having not seen the details of the rival bids I'm not really in a position to criticise, but I would have thought that, with some financial and organisational support, taking the tournament to Africa or Asia in particular would have been a far more enlightened and visionary approach?

Anyway, seeing as we're on a women's rugby theme, here's a picture I found on Wes Clark's Rugby Readers Review that I find amusing (caption added by yours truly and the sentiment just as easily applies to the men's game...)



For some excellent blogging on women's rugby please check out the following blogs:



Friday, 24 October 2008

70 not out

From the the Oxford Mail, earlier this month:

Last week's article on Witney prop Mark Serle prompted reader Tony Verdin to get in touch.

Serle wondered, at 49, if he was the oldest first-team player Oxfordshire.


Verdin said: "I cannot match Mark Serle's achievement as I have never, apart from some tour games for Henley and Miami, played first team rugby.

"I have, however, kept going, and at 70 played 80 minutes for Henley Wanderers 3rd against High Wycombe – we won.

"Earlier, with my late friend, Hedley Roberts, we had a claim to be the oldest second row in international rugby.

"With a combined age of 132 years, we played for Henley 5th, much the same team then as Henley Wanderers 3rd later, in 1997 against Stavanger with a snow-covered pitch.

"It's the world's best game."

Impressive stuff...only another 26 years of rugby to go...

Just in time for Christmas?

Children's Guide to Rugby is, I'm told, the second rugby book by Dan Bair, scrum half for Washington Irish in the United States.

His first book, Rugby Match for the Homeside, apparently chronicled the events of the Ruggamals being kicked out of their forest due to construction and having to compete in a rugby match to be allowed to live in a new forest. His new book, however, focuses on teaching children how to play the game using the Ruggamals as main characters.

A Christmas present for the poor chap who refereed me last week, perhaps?


(Thanks to World Masters Rugby for the heads up.)

Thought for the day

What did the inventor of the the drawing board go back to when his first design didn't work?

Just a thought.

She's back!

After a seven month sabbatical, Blondie is back with her Saturday's a Rugby Day blog.

Lord knows what she's been up to in the interim but it's great to see her back. Reading her blog was certainly one of the inspirations behind me starting Total Flanker, so if you want to blame anyone for the inane banter and crass opinions expressed in this blog then blame Blondie!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Robbed!

Oh, the injustice of it all!

After being hauled down inches short of the line after running the whole length of the field in my last match (I did say the distance would get further as time went on), I was once again denied a try yesterday, this time by a hapless referee who erroneously blew up for a forward pass by our scrum half, Steve. As I was the recipient of the "scoring" pass I am 100% certain that the pass went backwards, and I must say the opposition looked as mystified as I did when a scrum was awarded.

We were playing at home to a strong Fullerians Vets team who we matched upfront all game but who certainly had the better of us when the ball was spun out to their suspiciously speedy back division. My non-try happened early in the second half when we were 19-5 down. We had conceded 3 fairly sloppy 1st half tries tries (one of which, ironically, featuring a blatantly forward pass which pretty much everyone except the referee acknowledged), whilst we had crossed for a try ourselves, our lock Harvey having taken time out from whingeing at the referee to drive over from close range.

In many ways I felt sorry for the referee. Not only was he expected to apply new laws that obviously neither he nor the 30 participants on the field agreed with, he was also clearly under instructions to apply the letter of the law at the breakdown, with the inevitable result that there was a penalty awarded at nearly every other ruck. It's all very well being strict at the elite level to prevent the likes of Munster running down of the clock by keeping possession via an elongated series of rucks, but at grassroots level a certain amount of common sense and leeway is required - we don't fall over in rucks to kill the ball, we fall over because we're knackered.

The game therefore descended into a stop-start affair which was pretty unsatisfactory for all concerned, but I was still pretty shocked by the level of whingeing at the referee from both teams. He didn't cover himself in glory by any means but he didn't have an easy job and the constant moaning really did nothing to help. Lord knows from where the culprits found the energy to talk so much. For me it certainly made the game less enjoyable - not only isn't it how I was taught to play the game, it's also totally pointless - as Ulster coach Matt Williams remarked this weekend, talking to the referee is like complaining to your mother-in-law about your wife - it gets you nowhere.

In terms of my own form I'd say I had a so-so game. I felt in much better shape than 3 weeks ago so the recent painful forays to circuit training must have helped and I made a number of half-breaks and offloads, but my work at the breakdown is still way too tentative and my tackling too passive - so plenty to work on next time.

Final score? Well according the ref it was Chesham 5 Fullerians "quite a lot" - and it's true we fell apart somewhat in the last 15 minutes when they must have crossed for at least 4 tries - very disappointing really as we'd been pretty competitive until that point.

Next up is a trip to Tring on 22nd November and, who knows, maybe even a first win?

Another voice of reason...

It seems that even Australians are starting to see sense when it comes to the ELVs.

The Sunday Times reports that a review of the ELVs, written by former Wallaby centre and Australian national coaching director Dick Marks, heavily criticises both the ELVs themselves and the strong-arm tactics employed by the IRB to ensure that they are implemented.

A link to the full report can be found below but the best line for me is:

“Even if the ball is marginally more in play, that's not much use when it's 50 meters up in the air.”

Friday, 17 October 2008

Whatever happened to: half-time orange slices?

Another of a series of ramblings about odds and sods that appear to have gone missing from the game of rugby since I started playing back in the middle ages - and this time I reckon I've stumbled upon the most significant change to the game during my 14 year sabbatical...

No, it's not the fact that you can lift in the lineout, or that you have to stay bound in the scrum, or the frankly weird phenomenon of uncontested scrummages or even the introduction of the (mostly) insane ELVs. At the end of the day laws change and players ignore them for the most part - they're irritating in the extreme but have little significant long-lasting effect.

No, it's got nothing to do with the laws of the game - the biggest change is, in fact - and without a shadow of a doubt - the demise of the half-time orange slice.

Back in the good old days, come half-time it just didn't matter how hot it was, how hard you'd worked, how thirsty you were - no, the best you could hope for (and this quite often only applied to 1st XV matches - the other teams being simply not worthy enough) was a fairly unappetising slice of orange.

Forget isotonic sports drinks, forget even the the restorative effects of a sip of H2O - you were expected to revive flagging limbs and sagging spirits simply by sucking on a withered piece of citrus fruit for about 5 seconds. Furthermore, more often than not some bright spark had miscalculated and had divided the said fruit into 14 pieces, meaning that someone (guess who?) had to miss out. Believe me, as unappetising as it sounds, being the one player not to get to suck on a piece of orange was desperately demoralising.

As I often have cause to mutter - players today don't know they're born.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Peas in a pod

It hasn't exactly been a great week for the glamour boys of English and Welsh rugby respectively.

First Danny Cipriani gets himself knocked cold by a Josh Lewsey punch and then Gavin Henson gets handed a two game ban by the Opsreys for going walkabout when he should have been training.

Both incidents, it appears, were caused by the players in question not responding at all well to criticism, Cipriani reacting badly to jibes from Lewsey about missed tackles in training and Henson storming off to sulk after his performance against Harlequins was criticised by his coaches.

The consequences of each player's actions should, I hope, be enough to bring each of them crashing back down to earth (in Cipriani's case literally so) but there's obviously a tendency for both Cipriani and Henson to act the diva.

Although both players are often described by friends and colleagues as 100% committed to rugby and uninterested in celebrity, there have already been too many incidents captured by the tabloid press to believe entirely that this is so. Let's face it, if Cipriani wasn't interested in a celebrity lifestyle he wouldn't have hooked up with Kelly Brook (although, honestly, who can really blame him) as his latest girlfriend - and likewise Henson wouldn't have ended up as Mr Church.

Sadly I've a feeling that these two particular soap operas will continue to run and run.

Friday, 10 October 2008

...eye of the beholder

The new Stade Francais rugby shirt has caused a bit of a stir this week, even featuring on tonight's Jonathan Ross TV chat show on the BBC.

At first glance the shirt is pretty diabolical although, to be fair, I have been known to wear worse attire in the clubhouse. The design is described as an Andy Warhol-inspired image of the ex queen of France "Blanche de Castille" (1188 - 1252) who was known for her beauty and wisdom and who gave birth to 12 children - and it follows in a tradition of garish Stade Francais shirt designs which are often floral and/or pink in nature.

For some reason I really can't hate this shirt, partly because I could see myself wearing it (particularly on tour) and partly because there's something quite admirable in the way that Stade's shirt strategy clearly forsakes the dull and boring continuity of recognisable club colours.

You also have to ask whether having such a ludicrous design is any worse than the commercially-driven practice of English professional clubs who adorn virtually every spare space on their kit with a sponsor's logo. Saracens, for instance have sponsors for the front of the shirt, back of shirt, the badge, the collar, the sleeve, the shorts and the socks.

Give me Blanche de Castille any day.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Heads, shoulders, knees and toes

Or perhaps I should say... shoulder, shoulder, shoulder, bicep, knee, knee , shoulder, appendix, groin, abductor muscle, knee, kidney, ankle, shoulder and kneecap.

I am, of course, referring to the litany of injuries that has befallen Jonny Wilkinson since the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final. Much has been written in the press about his latest injury - a dislocated kneecap - which will keep him out of the November internationals.

BBC Five Live's Ian Robertson has even suggested that playing for the habitually underachieving Newcastle Falcons has meant that Jonny has been more exposed to the possibility of injury than if he was playing regularly in a more successful team with better players around him but I'm not one who subscribes to that particular theory.

No, in my view Wilkinson's injuries involve about 20% bad luck and 80% bad judgement. His latest injury occurred after he had launched himself into a ruck - a ruck he almost certainly could have and should have avoided. Wilkinson tends to play like a man possessed and always has done. I remember the 2003 World Cup quarter final against Wales when, to most observers, he had a poor game - except that, according to Clive Woodward, Wilkinson's tackling and rucking stats were some of the best in the team.

Put simply, tackling and rucking are not something a fly half should be seeking to do. Of course a fly half needs to defend his channel (we don't want Hodgson-esque defending after all) but Wilkinson seems to go out of his way to look for contact, and often against much bigger men - so it's hardly a surprise when he gets crocked. Playing in the colours of Leicester or Wasps or Toulouse would, I'm sure, make no difference.

What I'd like to see Jonny do is, where possible, avoid the heavy traffic and concentrate on managing the game from fly half. I've often had the somewhat sacrilegious thought that perhaps, by getting involved in the physical side of the game, Wilkinson is subconsciously abdicating his responsibilities as playmaker?

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Reflections on a new era...

Further thoughts on my first game under the ELVs last week...

As previously mentioned, the ref handed out an A4 sheet of paper before the game containing a summary of the new laws which almost no one read. From a personal perspective I took the view that there was little point working out what the new laws were seeing as the laws I played by last season were those last in force in 1994.

As to the game itself, as far as I could make out the new laws had no major impact. The facts show that we lost by 2 tries to 1 (although we won't get into why we didn't score 2), compared with 4 tries to 2 in the corresponding fixture last season - but, as ever, bare statistics don't tell the whole story.

The extra five metres at the scrum proved useless to us as inevitably we were in reverse gear at this phase and, despite their control at the scrum, the opposition didn't really ever get to exploit the apparent extra space - so the jury's still out on that one. And, although we did benefit from one kick straight into touch from the oppo's 22, the new law preventing the pass back into the 22 didn't seem to have much of an impact either - although it's impossible to say whether a punt straight down the middle was part of a tactical masterplan or just the usual case of a hopelessly inept and wayward attempt to kick for touch.

So, no major impact but - and I can't quite put my finger on why - the game did feel different somehow...there was just something just not quite right.

There was only one lineout drive for instance (immediately collapsed) which meant that the neither side established any control from this phase and that possession was flung out all too readily. That suited us - our lineout usually being a shambles - and defence from the lineout was therefore easy as we knew that the catch and drive wasn't an option for the opposition.

There was also total confusion at the breakdown where the referee found something different to penalise on almost every occasion. I know they've been told to clamp down but as a result the game rarely had any continuity (although given my state of exhaustion this might have been a good thing). I'd hate to think, however, what might have happened had he had the cop-out option of a free kick to award - the game would almost certainly have descended into an orgy of tap-and-go after each and every breakdown.

At the elite level it's widely reported that the quality of games in the English Premiership has fallen from the highs of last season with fewer try-scoring opportunities being created and more tactical kicking resulting in lower scoring games and less excitement which, some say, is reflected in lower attendances across the board.

It's too early to make such sweeping judgements in my view and I can't really comment having not seen a Premiership game live but, from a grassroots level, I'd say the signs aren't good - the game is looser and has a more hectic and chaotic feel to it, no doubt, but as to any improvement in standards or simplicity of understanding, I'd say the ELVs were a long way off achieving what they set out to.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

44

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, etc...etc...etc...

Forty four years old today and, after a physical battering yesterday, I'm feeling every single last one of them.

As predicted yesterday afternoon was gloriously warm, ideal weather for standing on the sidelines with a beer - not so ideal, however, for 80 minutes' (give or take) slog on a rugby field. I can honestly say that I didn't stop sweating until late into the evening - showering made absolutely no difference.

As ever our team assembled in the traditional Chesham Vets way. I arrived at High Wycombe Rugby Club to find two other players there, already changed and, as I nervously began getting my kit on I received a call from our skipper for the day wondering where I was - he was waiting for me back at Chesham. The referee then arrived with a sheet of A4 paper summarising the laws he'd be applying which we (and he, as it later transpired) dutifully ignored.

Whereas the opposition were out warming up en masse, our boys eventually began to arrive in dribs and drabs, including a few who had turned up late at Chesham thinking we had a home game. The referee was getting visibly irritated as he counted 13 players and then 11 (as 2 had wandered off back to the clubhouse for a 'comfort break'). But, by not very long after the due kick off time, we'd managed to assemble 16 bodies and were ready (well, readyish) to go.

The game started and it soon became obvious that (a) it was bloody hot; (b) I had very little energy; and (c) we were in for a tough time at the scrum.

The latter point was illustrated when, at a scrum on our line after about 5 minutes, we hurtled backwards with such velocity that the ball squirted out of the back for their slightly unbelieving flanker to flop on it for their first try - 0-5. As blindside flanker rather than number 8 I hereby absolve myself of any responsibility for the score.

About the same time Rick, our second row, limped off (afterwards he was reminded that it was possibly the best 5 minutes he'd ever played, of course) so our replacement, Ben, made an early appearance.

However, rather than capitulate we responded with some determination and dominated territory and possession for the rest of the half, surprising the opposition, the ref and, mostly, ourselves. Very few clear cut try-scoring chances were created but we scrapped and competed at the breakdown and hung on grimly in the set piece. How I survived through to half time I'll never know as my lungs were burning and my legs simply not working but, by judicious selection in when and where I ran, I managed to somehow ease myself through.

Still 5 points down at half time we came out strongly in the second half, pressuring the oppo's half backs into mistakes and camping in their 22. It soon paid off. A quick tapped penalty (one of the few we were awarded) by scrum half Steve close to their line followed by quick ball from the ruck saw inside centre Phil crash over to the left of the posts for the equalising try. A fluffed conversion attempt, however, left the scores even at 5-5.

This seemed to wake the Wycombe lads up and, to be fair, they put us under pressure for the rest of the half, a half punctuated by lengthy (but nevertheless welcome) stoppages in play as various players from both sides went down injured or simply wilted in the heat. One such injury removed Harvey, another of our locks, from the fray and resulted in me moving across to number 8, where my first task was to secure ball from a rapidly retreating scrum close to our line. Eventually the pressure told, a series of strength-sapping scrums and pick and drives from a couple of their bigger forwards saw them crash over from short range to secure a 10-5 lead.

And that, it seemed, was that as we struggled to get out of our half until, late in the game, we ran a kick back from inside our 22. I was admiring the ambition of it all until I realised that play was heading my way and, as our fullback Tim burst across half way I, miraculously and running on empty, appeared on his shoulder to take the pass. More miraculously, with the opposing fullback lining me up, I threw a dummy. Even more miraculously, he bought it and I found myself in the clear with about 40 metres to go (NB - this distance will get longer the more I tell this story). The first 15 metres were covered with no difficulty and I looked over my shoulder to see their fullback giving chase and our fly half, Geoff, pointing and shouting "Posts!" The next 15 metres, however, were less impressively covered and, with 10 metres to go I was running in treacle.

With the smell of the white line in my nostrils I was hauled down an agonising 2 metres short and, my attempt to offload having failed, the ref compounded my agony by blowing the final whistle. So near and yet...

Of course, everyone was very kind afterwards - no one mentioned that my lack of speed and failure to pass had cost us the game. Not much they didn't and apparently there were several players all up in support and calling for the ball when I made the break - although funnily enough, when I looked round for support, I recall them all being rather conspicuous by their absence.

Ah, well - the story would be far less interesting if I'd actually scored and helped secure my first victory since returning to the game.

Glorious failure. That's what it's all about. Happy Birthday to me...

Friday, 26 September 2008

Wish me luck

Bugger.

Four weeks ago I was thinking, "No worries, I've got four weeks to do some training, get myself fit and be ready for the first Vets game of the season."

That was four weeks ago. And now it's little more than 15 hours before I'm due on a rugby pitch somewhere in Buckinghamshire to face the High Wycombe Vets' team. That's the same High Wycombe team that stuffed us twice last season. That's the same High Wycombe team against whom I made my long-awaited comeback appearance last October, after a summer of intense training to get myself in shape and against whom I still struggled horribly. That's the same High Wycombe team I now face on Saturday after six weeks of relative inactivity.

And, to make matters worse, the weather forecast is for a dry, warm and sunny afternoon. Ideal for running rugby. Bugger.

Bottom line is that I'm nowhere near ready. There are plenty of excuses. Both of the avid readers of this blog will no doubt recall that when, over 4 weeks ago, I last ventured out to a club training session, I damaged the knuckle on my left little finger. That sounds somewhat inconsequential, you may think, but believe me it was bloody painful at the time and I still can't grip with my left hand without considerable discomfort. I suspect a fracture.

Of course, a damaged hand does not prevent you from exercising entirely and, admittedly, I have done a little road running but deep down I know that it's nowhere near enough. The new job hasn't helped - although the hours haven't been particularly taxing as yet I've nevertheless sunk into the familiar evening routine of seeking the comfort of a cold beer and the telly rather than the harsh realities of the gym.

So, all in all, I'm nowhere near ready to play on Saturday. Adrenalin, plenty of judiciously placed strapping and a couple of ibruprofen tablets before kick off will have to see me through, I guess.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Telly addict


Not being a subscriber to Sky Sports, there's precious little opportunity to watch Guinness Premiership rugby on the telly.

As a supporter of the "I Want a Match of the Day for Rugby" campaign, I was therefore surprised and delighted when the news broke in the summer that ITV would be putting on an hour-long Premiership highlights show on Sunday evenings. Here's chance, I thought, for a quality rugby show with a knowledgeable studio presenter and expert analysis from some seriously respected rugby names - an opportunity for an in depth look at the teams and players involved and who might be in the international frame and a chance to learn from people on the front line about the impact or otherwise of the ELVs.

Sadly, ITV's budget clearly only stretching to £34.17 per show, what we're left with is an Irish former travel show presenter, some unnecessary opening title sequences and a disjointed bunch of highlights edited together by someone who I doubt has ever passed a rugby ball in anger in his sad little life.

I guess the idea is that we should all just be grateful that they're bothering to show rugby at all - but if this is the best that ITV can come up with then I doubt very much that very many rugby fans will continue to watch. And if the viewing figures are poor then there's little chance of the show continuing - talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy...

Saturday, 20 September 2008

...as a box of frogs

Proof positive that SuperJonny Wilkinson is as mad as mad Jack McMad, the maddest madman in Madsville...

According to The Times, Jonny has experienced an epiphany while reading about quantum physics, in particular the experiment known as "Schrödinger’s Cat".

The experiment, it is said, demonstrates a conundrum at the heart of quantum physics i.e. that a sub-atomic particle exists in two states but the act of measuring it effectively forces it into one state. It goes something like this - imagine a cat in a sealed box with a jar of cyanide and a piece of radioactive material. According to quantum physics there is a 50% chance that, at any given time, the material has decayed to trigger the release of the poison. At that time the cat is both alive and dead but as soon as the box is opened the cat is either alive or dead - because observing it has made it so.

“It had a huge effect on me,” says our ever-so-slightly eccentric number 10. “The idea that an observer can change the world just by looking at it, the idea that the mind and reality are somehow interconnected . . . it hit me like a steam train.

"Quantum physics helped me to realise that I was creating this destructive reality and that all I needed to do to change it was to change the way I chose to perceive the world.

"Failing at something is one thing, but Buddhism tells us that it is up to us how we interpret that failure.

"I couldn’t figure out how to avoid death: it was like a game I could not win. The closer I got to family and friends and the better things got, the more I had to lose.

"I have accepted my career will finish one day and I am in a place that will enable me to make that transition comfortably. I will not have to reinvent myself to cope with life after rugby."


Boy, if there was anyone who really needed to go out and get shitfaced...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Social work

I note that there are still no British entries in the Social Rugby World Championship, destined to take place next June in Cape Town to coincide with the Lions Tour - a shame, as there must be plenty of social rugby teams out there just itching to get on tour.

The latest press release from the tournament's organisers tells me that ex Springbok captain Corné Krige has this week thrown his weight behind the tournament.

Known for his "bone-crunching tackling and straight talk"* Krige said, “Stunning idea. Wish I’d thought of it!

“I think the Social Rugby World Championship 2009 is a great way to honour social rugby players. The majority of rugby isn’t played at first team or provincial level. For these guys rugby isn’t a job, it’s a passion. Every weekend – for no payment or stadiums filled with 40 000 cheering fans – these blokes go out there and give it their all, just because they love the game, in all kinds of weather, on all kinds of fields. They love playing rugby, the camaraderie that comes with it and, I’ve been told, a good few beers after the game.”

* My abiding memory of Krige's so-called "bone-crunching tackling" is, I'm afraid, his performance at Twickenham in November 2002. From my position in the North Stand it was pretty obvious that he was out to maim anything in a white shirt by fair means or foul and the TV replays later showed that he also managed to lay out one of his own players with an uppercut that just missed Matt Dawson's chin. Not his greatest 80 minutes and I somehow doubt his endorsement will tempt too many British teams to the tournament.

However, anyone who would like to fiind out more about taking a team out to what sounds like a cracking tournament should contact Rolf - rolf@bigfishsportsproductions.co.za .