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


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.