Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Total Flanker Awards 2009

It's that time of year again, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, when we put on our glad rags, dust off our bling and crack open the Asti Spumante to honour and reward (well, sort of) those who have contributed to our enjoyment of the game in 2009.

Forget the farce that was BBC Sports Personality of the Year (Ryan Giggs? My arse!) and welcome instead to the 3rd annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony.

Yes, another year has passed since we handed out our last set of prestigious trinkets, a year in which has been very good for the likes of South Africa and Ireland but which has seen the game as a whole tainted by drugs scandals, fake blood, eye-gouging and an inordinate amount of aimless kicking.

First up in 2009 is the Total Flanker How Not to Run Your Sport Award. Only one candidate for this particular gong of course - yes, our perennial favourite the International Rugby Board. In the last 12 months the IRB has attempted and failed to railroad the world of rugby into accepting a new set of fiendish experimental laws which the majority obviously didn't want and, when faced with defeat, rather than withdraw gracefully chose to push through various of the so-called less controversial changes to create a compromised mish-mash and then compounded their incompetence by introducing a new interpretation at the breakdown (with no consultation that I am aware of) which massively favoured the defence and stifled attacking rugby. And don't get me started on the IRB's failure to tackle eye-gouging...

Moving swiftly along, it's time for the Total Flanker Tarnished Halo Award. This award is for the team or individual whose previously impeccable reputation has taken something of a kicking over the last 12 months. There are a few candidates - our favourite son of orange, Mr Gavin Church, for instance, has seen his star wane to the extent that it is now unclear whether he has a future in the game at all. And, despite a French renaissance of sorts, perhaps it is finally dawning on the world of rugby at large that SuperJonny's powers to influence the outcome of an international rugby match are not nearly as persuasive as they once were. Matt Stevens' reputation also went down the pan in 2009 alongside several Bath colleagues and Dean Richards managed to achieve pariah-status over Bloodgate. However, and it pains me to say this, this award must go to England manager Martin Johnson. An iconic player and captain, Johnno's tenure as manager has so far been riddled with conservatism, indecision and an uncharacteristic reluctance to be ruthless. I desperately hope that he proves his critics wrong and this award proves to be entirely unjustified but, until then, I'm afraid he's stuck with it.

Next up is the Total Flanker How to Make a Bad Situation Worse Award. The aforementioned Dean Richards (not to mention various other parties at Quins who somehow got away with it) comes very close to securing this one for his role in Bloodgate but he is pipped at the post by none other than "the Plank" aka Justin Harrison. Faced with a situation in which a club team mate, Matt Stevens, had tested positive for and received a 2 year ban for taking cocaine and with his club under fierce scrutiny, the Plank decided that it would be a fabulous idea to go on a bender at the end of season party, declaring that "Class A is OK" before being observed partaking of the said narcotic before getting in a fight with a Quins player outside a Fulham pub. The subsequent fallout involving the resignation and banning of 3 other Bath senior players is something that the club is still struggling to recover from. Well done Mr Harrison.

At this point it is obvious that, having just missed out in the last two categories, if there's any justice in this world then Dean Richards simply must win a coveted TF Award in 2009. By popular demand, therefore, I am delighted to announce that Deano is to receive the Total Flanker Scapegoat of the Year Award. It takes some doing to conclude that a conspiracy involving at least one player, the coaching staff, the medical staff and the executive committee of a rugby club was all the fault of one man and one man only - but that is exactly the conclusion that ERC reached, conveniently brushing its own manifest failings under the committee room carpet.

Turning now to the penultimate award tonight, the Total Flanker Coco the Clown Comedy Award. Harlequins' Tom Williams was for a while the front runner for this one after his ludicrously obvious attempt to convince match officials that he'd cut his mouth by spewing litres of ketchup whilst staggering around as if he'd been darted by a tranquiliser gun. Comedy genius. However, the performances of Peter de Villiers during the Lions tour this year were on another level. His defence of Schalk Burger's attempts to remove Luke Fitzgerald's eyeball were particularly worthy of nomination and the line "we might as well go to a ballet shop and all get tutus and get a great dancing show on for all to see that has no eye-gouging, no tackling, no nothing and we can all in enjoy it" is almost Pythonesque in its comic brilliance.

And finally - and on an upbeat note - we reach the Total Flanker Punch & Judy That's the Way to Do It Award. In this age of risk-averse conservatism and of endless squad sessions and over-coaching, one man was able to bring together 35 players from Britain and Ireland and, in next to no time, knit them into a cohesive unit playing effective and attractive rugby. That man is, of course, Ian McGeechan. Yes, the series was lost but only just and, in restoring credibility to the Lions concept, a concept that many were beginning to question, Geech has done the game a big favour. Shame it cost him his job at Wasps ultimately but I doubt he'll be short of offers.

And so, in summary:

Total Flanker How Not to Run Your Sport Award - IRB
Total Flanker Tarnished Halo Award - Martin Johnson
Total Flanker How to Make a Bad Situation Worse Award - Justin "Plank" Harrison
Total Flanker Scapegoat of the Year Award - Dean Richards
Total Flanker Coco the Clown Comedy Award - Peter de Villiers
Total Flanker Punch & Judy That's the Way to Do It Award - Ian McGeechan.

Merry Christmas...

Monday, 21 December 2009

What's it all about, Alfie?

The admission by Gareth Thomas at the weekend that he was a fan of musical theatre has barely caused a ripple outside the readership of the Daily Mail. Not, I suspect, because rugby is so very grown up and tolerant nowadays but more because Alfie's tastes have for a while been an "open secret" within the game.

Frankly this blog couldn't care less which way the chap leans - what is of more concern is the role Thomas played in the sacking of Mike Ruddock from the post of Wales head coach in 2006 - something that still hasn't been adequately explained.

Most commentators have declared that Alfie's admissions are "brave" - but you do have to wonder what prompted his decision to go public given that he'd long since come out to friends and family and that most of the rugby fraternity already knew his "secret." Nothing to do with the cash on offer from the Daily Mail?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Varsity Match refreshes the parts...

To many it is an irrelevant anachronism, but the Varsity Match on Thursday provided plenty of entertaining rugby, not to mention the right result.

Cambridge's victory over Oxford may not mean much to the neutral but nobody could fail to be impressed with the passion and commitment of both sides as well as, particularly in the case of the Light Blues, an admirable intent to attack space at every opportunity.

The fact that I was also involved in an excellent pre-match lunch courtesy of my old college, St. John's, and bore witness to the launch of the Paul Beard Sports Fund in memory of my old college mate who sadly passed away earlier this year aged just 43, made it a very special day.

That said, it did take me the best part of 2½ hours to find my way home and my liver still isn't speaking to me.

GDBO.

Friday, 11 December 2009

A Woman's Touch

A little while ago I highlighted the plight of Manchester RUFC this season, who were taking a fearful hammering every week in National Division 1, conceding well in excess of 100 points on three occasions in September.

What is unusual is that the cash-strapped club took the somewhat unique decision in mid-October to appoint a woman, former conditioning coach Elaine Vassie, as head coach.

I'd like to say that results have improved and, to the extent that there have been no further 100 point thrashings administered (although Otley, Cinderford, London Scottish, Stourbridge and Tynedale have all come within 1 try of doing so) they have. No victories as yet (or even close) but the scorelines are coming down with "only" an average of 85 points conceded in their last 7 games (it may not sound like much of an improvement but the average for the previous 7 games was 105 points, so an improvement of 20 points per game is a fairly dramatic result).

The circumstances in which Vassie is expected to work are a little challenging to say the least, only 4 of last season's squad having been retained in the wake of severe budget cuts following last season's relegation. So, almost certainly dead certs for another relegation but the players appear to be behind her and you have to admire her guts in even taking on the role.

Well done Elaine - and good luck for the rest of the season.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Spirit of '73

The Barbarians first victory over the All Blacks since 1973 yesterday is being hailed in the press as an example of how rugby can still be played with verve and excitement and a return to those halcyon days of Edwards, Bennett, Williams and Duckham.

On the former point I'd have to agree - the BaaBaas (and the All Blacks to be fair) showed that the current laws do not in fact require that the leather be booted off the ball at very opportunity.

On the latter point, however, I have to say that a bunch of Aussies and Saffas (with the occasional European guest) beating a second-string New Zealand XV has (at least for me) very little significance at all.

I've expressed a view on the Barbarians' place in the modern game previously and, although yesterday's match was fun to watch, I can't say I was hugely bothered about who would win given the lack of northern hemisphere involvement.

If these end of tour matches are to mean anything then agreement has to be reached to include the top players from the home nations. A victory for a British & Irish based BaaBaas team over the All Blacks would mean something to me that yesterday's win just didn't.

Just for the hell of it, and based on who is fit to play at the moment, here's a BaaBaas line up I'd relish watching:

15. Rob Kearney 14. Tommy Bowe 13. Brian O'Driscoll 12. Jamie Roberts 11. Maxime Medard 10. Danny Cipriani 9. Chris Cusiter 1. Gethin Jenkins 2. Dylan Hartley 3. Martin Castrogiovanni 4. Nathan Hines 5. Courtney Lawes 6. Stephen Ferris 7. Martyn Williams 8. Imanol Harinordoquy

Of course, it would never happen...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Coventry cling on

What a 1st season for the newly formed Championship - first London Welsh, then Birmingham Solihull and now 135 year old Coventry RFC going into administration.

And it could have been much worse for Coventry, the Inland Revenue having served a winding up order on the club through the High Court over a whopping outstanding debt of nearly £500k. Owner Andrew Green had ordered the club to close and cease trading but defiant club officials successfully challenged the decision on a legal technicality with the result that the club is now in administration and has a matter of weeks to attract new investment to save its bacon.

Not what the RFU and Premier Rugby envisaged, I'm sure, when the Championship was launched with great fanfare in August but possibly an apt demonstration of the folly of trying to launch a fully professional second tier league, especially in the depths of a recession.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

NOOOOooooooo!!!!!!!!

England Rugby Supporters - what on earth are you playing at????

You went out in your thousands in 2007 and bought the horrendous ketchup swish kit and now, according to the RFU, sales of England's new purple kit have outstripped all previous records.

41% of replica shirts sold during the autumn internationals were purple and, on the day of the abysmal showing against Argentina, nearly 70% of all shirt sales at Twickenham involved the purple kit.

"It's an all-time record," burbles CEO Francis Baron, and why shouldn't he - the gullible masses have once again fallen for the most blatently obvious marketing bollocks.

PLEASE STOP BUYING THIS KIT - all it does is encourage greed and avarice and yet more horrendous abominations masquerading as England rugby kit. Even if the team is hopeless, the national team's shirt must mean something, surely?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

And another thing...

Not only did New Zealand's pure white change kit put the English Purple and Welsh Yellow monstrosities to shame, I'm also mightily impressed that the All Blacks are still refusing to countenance splashing a sponsor's logo all over the front of their shirt.

Nice to see that some things are not for sale.

Monday, 30 November 2009

All in the mind

There's plenty of tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth going on, it seems, about the state of the game of rugby today.

It seems that far too much kicking, not enough tries, no entertainment and no excitement are just a few of the game's current ills, together with an "unsustainable" casualty rate.

Much attention has been focussed on the breakdown, with the latest refereeing 'interpretation' - which allows the tackler to play the ball with his hands from whatever position as long as he is back on his feet - favouring, it is claimed, defence at the expense of attack.

This, according to the perceived wisdom, causes more ball to be kicked, as teams are fearful of being caught in possession and either turning ball over or conceding kickable penalties.

I do have some sympathy with this viewpoint, but it strikes me that the solution that many in the game are calling for, namely yet more interferenece in the laws, should really be a last resort.

No, as far as I can see the responsibility for change must lie with the players and the coaches. Call me naive, but I would have thought that, by spending more time as a team on attacking space rather than seeking contact, on offloading to supporting players rather than dying in possession and on making the ball available in the tackle rather than holding on, the chances of conceding possession or a penalty would be vastly reduced. The consequence should be that teams confident in their contact skills would be more inclined to attack. Furthermore, by coaching players not to seek contact as a first resort the number of breakdowns will be reduced and, by logical extension, so will the number of injuries.

It's a simplistic view, granted, but if teams put less emphasis on time spent in the gym and on defensive drills and more emphasis on time spent on attacking and contact skills, not only would it produce more imaginative and exciting rugby, it also has to be more effective than the aimless hoof downfield which hands the ball back to the opposition.

Fanciful? It doesn't have to be. You only have to look at the Lions in South Africa this summer and both New Zealand and Australia this past weekend for evidence that a more enlightened approach can work.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Total Flanker Guide to: Refereeing

Ahah, this old chestnut - cynical, gnarled old forward pontificates on the appalling standard of refereeing these days and tells referees where they are going wrong and how to do their jobs...

Far from it.

Although I have done a little bit of refereeing in my time (student matches in the 80s being my limit) the prospect of taking up a whistle again has absolutely zero appeal.

No, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is that I have huge admiration for anyone mad and/or masochistic enough to want to be a rugby referee in this day and age, largely for the following reasons:

  • Shifting goalposts: is it just me or do the IRB appear to be making up the laws as they go along? It seems that every time there's a poor game of rugby we're confronted with calls for law changes, resulting in experimental laws, new directives and varying edicts on the scrum, the lineout, the breakdown, the colour of players' bootlaces etc. And if international refs are struggling to cope what chance has the poor sod refereeing the 5th XV at Old Gitonians?

  • R.E.S.P.E.C.T: what the hell happened to the day of calling the referee "sir" and accepting decisions with good grace (albeit through gritted teeth)? The level of backchat, dissent and overall whingeing these days, even at grassroots level, has reached epidemic proportions. I've no idea how or why referees put up with it.

  • The Awkward Pint: 'twas ever thus, but I've never been able to work out why referees hang about rugby clubhouses after the game on Saturday in the forlorn hope that someone will not only buy them a pint but will want to stick around for more than 30 seconds to discuss the finer points of some of the afternoon's decisions. The home captain feels obliged to make an effort, but it can't be enjoyable for the ref knowing that his companion in conversation would rather be anywhere else, can it?

So, a bunch of reasons why I could not be a referee - but since when has a distinct lack of direct and relevant experience ever prevented me from proffering advice?

Here, therefore, are my top tips for rugby refereeing survival in grassroots rugby:

  1. Consistency - realistically it barely matters what laws you apply, as long as the laws you do apply are applied fairly and consistently. Rugby players have simple needs - as long as they don't feel cheated they're fine;

  2. Confidence - Be assertive. If in doubt, guess - but make sure you guess with conviction;

  3. Take no crap - you've given up your afternoon to supervise 30 fat blokes rolling about in the mud fighting. You don't need to take any aggro. Keep marching the gobshites back 10 metres, all the way to the tryline if necessary;

  4. Empathy - the vast majority of the players are trying their best. Laws are often broken not through cheating, but because the players are too knackered, old, fat or just not very good. If you can understand what they're trying to achieve and referee accordingly there's a chance that both you and the players might actually enjoy the game.

And who knows, someone might actually want to buy you a pint in the clubhouse.

Hope that helps :)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Flatman for England!

It's official - this blog likes David Flatman.

Not only is he, in this blog's humble opinion, the best loosehead prop currently available to England, he is also the complete anecdote to the usual anodyne, cliché-ridden, ghost-written player columns regularly to be found in the national newspapers.

No platitudes, no banalities and no spin, Flatman's articles in The Independent are witty, insightful and bordering on Clarkson-esque.

Here are a couple of recent examples:

Having a baby beats facing the All Blacks

Scrumthings not right

Flatman for England!

Monday, 23 November 2009

November: the Verdict

I'm not sure what to make of England's November.

In an ideal world Martin Johnson would have wanted to build on the undoubted momentum created during the 6 Nations. With so many frontline players crocked, however, it was somewhat inevitable that any such momentum would stall. I know other countries have had injuries but if you consider that, from last season's England squad Andrew Sheridan, Lee Mears, Phil Vickery, Simon Shaw (until the NZ match), Joe Worsley (ditto), Nick Easter, Tom Rees, Harry Ellis, Toby Flood, Riki Flutey, Mike Tindall and Delon Armitage might all have expected to feature in the match day 22, it was always unlikey that England would make huge progress this Autumn.

That said, this campaign has been disappointing for a number of reasons:
  1. SELECTION - the fact that so many so-called established players were missing should have been a ready-made excuse for England to focus one eye on the World Cup and check out some up and coming talent. All Courtney Lawes did, however, was to get splinters in his arse whilst the "livid" Ben Foden and the perennially ignored Matthew Tait also saw little or no action. And where Johnson did choose to experiment, he got it badly wrong. It was obvious against Australia that Ugo Monye was no fullback (and personally I'm not that convinced about him as a winger) and that Matt Bahahan simply didn't have the skillset to play international rugby, for instance.

  2. COACHING - much has been said about the coaching set up, especially in relation to forwards coach John Wells. To be fair, England's set piece work has been up to scratch but our lack of nous at the breakdown is glaringly obvious and our inability to drive a maul - once our signature move - is just scary.

  3. TACTICS - it hasn't been at all obvious what the team has been trying to achieve. Playing a 2nd ⅝ in Shane Geraghty should have released England's strike runners but all we appeared to do was line up way behind the gain line and move the ball laterally. And then, against New Zealand, we pick an inside centre who can't pass? Clearly something is amiss. If Martin Johnson is team manager, who has the lead responsibility for coaching the team as a whole and setting the tactics? Wells? Brian Smith?

  4. CAPTAINCY - throughout the last 12 months I've staunchly defended Steve Borthwick and have thought that the criticism he has received from lazy journos has been excessive and largely unfair. Too often, I feel, he's carried the burden of the donkey work while played alongside more lightweight contributors such as Nick Kennedy and Louis Deacon. Packing down next to Simon Shaw, however, appears to have the effect of releasing him to be the influential player we often see in the Premiership - witness his performances against France, Scotland and New Zealand this year. That said, I'm beginning to come to the conclusion that, despite him being an all round honest, loyal and decent bloke (and a bloody good lock), the captaincy is beginning to weigh around his neck like a millstone and his reign is becoming too associated with failure. If I'm honest there isn't an obvious alternative candidate for the captaincy but perhaps now is nevertheless the time for a fresh approach and to let Borthwick just prove himself as a player.

All in all, although hampered by a ridiculous injury list, England's tendency to seek a short term fix is what has let the Johnson regime down this autumn. Had the short term solutions resulted in 2 or 3 victories, then they might have been justified, but where the quick fix has been an obvious failure then we have every right to wonder why the opportunity wasn't taken to assess the calibre of some of the talent coming through. Although it was nice to see Jonny back, the fact is that he created very little and the fly-half in form, Shane Geraghty, was marginalised at 12. Surely it would have worth a try (no pun intended) giving him a run at 10 and picking players like Tait and Foden and Wasps' Joe Simpson to have a go. And when you unearth a tyro like Courtney Lawes, what better way to find out if he's got what it takes than to let him loose on the Aussies and the Kiwis?

There are only 2 years until the World Cup. Next November will be too late to find out if these guys have what it takes. A chance has, I feel, been missed.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Well done England

England Women, that is.

Catherine Spencer's England team beat New Zealand 10-3 at Twickenham on Saturday, thus drawing the two-match series.

England's first win over the Black Ferns since 2001 sets things up very nicely for the 2010 women’s World Cup to be held in England.

Something, finally, to smile about.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Growing Pains

As a young man I was often to be seen sporting a lurid Hawaiian shirt. I liked to be different, I thought that somehow it gave me my own identity and separated me from the crowd.

The fact of the matter was, however, that I looked an utter tit.

Ultimately I grew up. Rugby, however, has yet to grow up. There are various clubs who somehow believe that they're being oh so clever, amusing and original by sporting truly appalling kit. Stade and Ospreys spring readily to mind. And now Edinburgh are at it.

Grow up, please.

Crossbar challenge

Saracens are £250,000 poorer after a 24 year old 5th XV hooker from Welwyn RFC won the "crossbar challenge" competition held by the club at Wembley this week.

Stuart Tinner hit the bar with a punt from 30 metres - wearing only his socks - as part of a competition held at half-time during Sarries' victory over South Africa this week. He was the first of three three supporters picked at random from the 46,000 crowd.

The pick of his comments afterwards was:

"This is the second best day of my life - the best was when I lost my virginity."

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

D.I.S.R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

It's heartwarming to see that it's not just the Kiwis that get hot under the collar about their traditions being "disrespected" - now the Saffas are at it.

The SARU are up in arms about the fact that South Africa's national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, was murdered by Durban-born reggae singer Ras Dumisani prior to Friday's defeat to France in Toulouse.

"I must convey that we are annoyed by the fact that the French disrespected our anthem," blathered Bok coach Peter de Villiers after the game, conveniently ignoring the fact that Mr Dumisani is South African and neatly sidestepping the fact that his forwards had just been beasted by the French pack.

Since then the words "shocked and horrified" have been used by the SARU to describe Mr Dumisani's efforts and a letter of complaint has been written to the FFR (although why it would be their responsibility is beyond me). Even the Young Communist League of South Africa (in a most blatent example of bandwgon jumping) labelled Dumisani as a "disgrace to our country".

"Hilarious" might be a more appropriate word ...

Monday, 16 November 2009

Lessons II

Lessons from England's desperate victory against Argentina: Please refer to Lessons from defeat to Australia.

Lessons obviously learned - not.

Here's the XV that Johnno should (but won't) pick to try to salvage something against the All Blacks:

1. Flatman 2. Hartley 3. Bell 4. Shaw 5. Croft 6. Haskell 7. Moody 8. Ward-Smith 9. Simpson 10. Wilkinson 11. Cueto 12. Hipkiss 13. Tait 14. Sackey 15. Foden

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Purple Haze

Well, all I can say is thank heavens I missed most of the England effort at Twickenham yesterday. Fortunately I spent the majority of the afternoon soaked to the skin in the face of a gale watching Chesham Vets take on High Wycombe 4ths and therefore only had to endure the last 20 minutes at Twickenham back in the clubhouse.

My ongoing battle with sciatica was the reason I was on the touchline rather than on the pitch. Given the appalling conditions, in theory the warm clubhouse with a pint is where I should have been but I decided to stay loyal to my team and braved the lashing rain and gusty wind and, as things turned out, was far better entertained than I would have been had I chosen the soft option.

Playing into the gale, Chesham were on the defensive for most of the first half but were noticebaly quicker to, and more aggressive at, the breakdown. So, despite spending large periods stuck in their own half they were able to retain possession and, by keeping the ball in hand, nullified the advantage that the conditions had afforded our opponents.

Half time was therfore a somewhat surreal 0-0 and, with the wind and rain at our backs, we were able to take full advantage in the 2nd half. A catch and drive from a lineout (remember them?) led to the first try and two further tries followed as Chesham ran out 17-0 winners.

They obviously missed me.

So then it was back to the clubhouse to discover that England were level at 9-9 with Argentina and, by all accounts, had been bloody awful. In the last 20 minutes all I saw was England shuffling from side to side with no decoys, no disguise, no subtlety and no one, absolutely no one, coming fast and from deep to give them any momentum. Their try showed good continuity but really should have been snuffed out by the Argentinian defence. Lord knows what might have happened if Lewis Moody wasn't playing - England's best player by a mile for the second week running. The All Blacks must be licking their lips.

And the purple kit looked bloody ridiculous. Shame on you RFU.

Invictus?

I clearly haven't been paying attention. Last I heard this movie was called The Human Factor. It's now called Invictus and, given the subject matter and the fact that Morgan Freeman is in it, has Oscar nomination written all over it. This despite the wholly unconvincing prospect of Matt Damon playing Francois Pienaar with a decidedly dodgy Saffa accent.

Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Paul Doran-Who?

I like to think that I have my finger on the pulse when it comes to what's happening in English rugby. Imagine my surprise therefore to learn that England had called up Paul Doran-Jones into their squad because, hand on heart, I can honestly say that I'd never heard of him.

A swift search on Google, however, reveals that Mr Doran - Jones' claim to fame is that, together with James Haskell, he was suspended from Wellington College a few years ago after the pair had set up a hidden video camera to film PDJ engaging in a "sex romp" with his girlfriend before showing the resulting video to their class mates.
Which at least goes to show that England's 10th choice (at best) prop is a big believer in teamwork.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Lessons

1. Ugo Monye is in no way, shape or form an international fullback. Time for Johnno to trust Ben Foden in the 15 shirt.

2. Matt Banahan is not the answer. What was the question?

3. One day we may learn that kicking the ball to the opposition ad infinitum isn't necessarily the cleverest of tactics.

4. Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball, Quick ball............

Saturday, 7 November 2009

At it again

Yes, it's time once again for the good folks of Wales to be told how they must react to that traditional piece of rugby pantomime, the Haka.

All-Black centre Ma'a Nonu is this year's nominated holier-than-thou lecturer:

"Last year a lot of people back home thought Wales were disrespectful.

"But it really wound up our boys and made us even more determined to win. If I was facing the Haka I'd respect it...

"If if Wales do it again, they'll get the same response."

So here we go again. Respect. And this from a bloke who wears mascara ...

Those were the days


Thursday, 5 November 2009

Chip off the old block


Martin Johnson on Courtney Lawes:



"Someone sent me a text saying he's a bit like I used to be, except more athletic, funnier and better looking..."

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Would you let your kid play rugby?

In an article in the Telegraph last week, rugby journalist Mark Reason says that he doesn't want his 10 year old son to take up rugby because "the rugby field has become a far too dangerous place."

His argument is that, because the "big hit" is now king in rugby, injuries are now pretty much inevitable. Whereas the tackle used to be about putting someone on the ground, it is now all about taking him out physically. The tackle has, in reality, been replaced by the collision. Rugby, he says, was always a hard game, but it was never this violent.

To a degree I can see his point. When I started out I was always taught to tackle low, around the legs and, to a large extent, I still utilise this somewhat antiquated practice. There's no doubt, however, that over the years tackles have become higher and higher and now it is perfectly acceptable to smash your shoulder into the opposition player's chest, aided and abetted by the prevalence of padding and protection that was outlawed back in my day.

Mr Reason concedes that rugby is relatively safe up to the age of 15 but beyond that he asks a very pertinent question: "How do you tell a lad who thinks he is immortal that rugby is just not worth getting smashed up for?"

With a 6 year old son who is currently mad about football and Doctor Who (although not necessarily in that order), it isn't a question I have yet had to face. And, if and when I do face it, I can't honestly tell you what my response will be.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Purple

Those attending the England vs Argentina match at Twickenham next month will witness the debut of England's new change kit.

And it's PURPLE!

Setting aside the need for England to wear a change kit against Argentina (they haven't previously, to my knowledge), the RFU would now have us believe that purple is traditional to English rugby, largely because England rugby players were issued with purple tracksuits during that period of uber-cool fashion - the eighties. Nothing at all to do with the fact that the colour might appeal to the ladies then?

The RFU this week also announced record profits of £8.6 million and the old cynic in me queries whether the two stories might somehow be related?

And to cap a week of RFU money-grabbing it has emerged that the chaps at HQ are vehemently opposed to Ofcom's plans to force Sky into sharing out some its premium sports content with other operators because it would affect revenues and prevent the RFU from being able to fund grassroots rugby (yeah, right).

Far be it for me to suggest that, if all rugby ends up on pay-TV, there is unlikely to be any grassroots rugby to support.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Calendar Boys

According to recently sacked Ewen McKenzie, his lack of success at Stade Francais was nothing at all to do with the fact that he is a crap coach, but instead was all the fault of owner Max Guazzini who recruited good-looking players for the club's popular 'Dieux du Stade' calendar rather than for their rugby ability.

All of which will be music to the ears of the motley crew below...


Saturday, 24 October 2009

A letter from Graham

Confused about the new All Black coaching structure? Read on to discover the rationale behind the changes...

Dear Steve & Wayne,
I’ve just had a brilliant idea. Seriously.
You know we’ve been a bit below par this season? You may have noticed, eh? If it carries on like this it might get a bit embarrassing when we head to Europe. Well, no worries boys, I’ve got a plan.
Steve – you’ve had 6 years to sort the forwards out, mate. If you look at your contract of employment with the NZRU you’ll see that clause 8.3.2 (c) (vii) requires that you must regularly “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” What happened? Without Hayman we’re just shocking upfront bro. The lineout in particular is stuffed. How hard can it be to chuck the football at the tall bloke in the air?
That’s why I’ve taken the decision to move you to attack coach. There’s heaps of talent still in our backline – I suggest you don’t interfere and just let them get on with it. Don’t stuff it up.
Wayne, mate, for some reason the tries have dried up this season – possibly because you’ve been telling the players to kick the football all over the paddock every time they get it. I know those Northern bastards refuse to play by our rules but can’t we hang on to the ball occasionally? That’s why I’m handing Hansen the job of attack coach. Yes, that’s right, a forwards coach is taking over, that’s how bad it is – his knowledge of kicking is about as extensive as his lineout coaching prowess. Hopefully he can’t do too much damage.
Our defence, on the other hand, is still awesome – no surprises there as that’s my bit. No need to change anything there. Hang on a sec though, with Hansen in charge of attack there’s no one to coach the forwards. I guess I could do that – I mean, how hard can it be? Jump in the lineout, push in the scrum – hardly rocket science. I’m perfect for it.
That leaves defence. I guess you’d better do that Wayne old chum. Try not to stuff it up. Just to tell the boys to keep doing what Uncle Graham’s been telling them and she’ll be right.
Well, there you have it. A masterplan for our assault on Europe this November.
I’m stoked, what could possibly go wrong?
Kind regards,
The Right Reverend Graham Henry


Sunday, 18 October 2009

Not my finest hour and a bit

First game of the season yesterday and I played like a drain.

It all looked very promising when I turned up at the clubhouse to learn that Ruislip Vets had cried off and that, instead, we were facing Hammersmith & Fulham VI. I mean, how good could a 6th team be?

We found out soon enough as the opposition sliced through our midfield defence like a red hot knife through liquidised butter to score with the first move of the match. Bugger.

Our cause was not helped by the fact that the opposition had showed up with no front row, leading to uncontested scrums. Picture the scene - 8 gnarled old, large and slow forwards against 8 young fit flankers with no set piece to slow them down. No contest.

Despite the occasional decent passage of play, including a couple of false dawn first half tries, ultimately we were spanked harder than Max Moseley in a dungeon, ending up on the wrong end of a 60-12 hiding.

My own performance was, in a word, pants. I knew it wasn't going to be my day when my old friend sciatica flared up during the warm up and I seriously considered not starting. Further proof, if proof be needed, that warm ups are bad for you.

Against my better judgement, perhaps, I decided to "run it off" but struggled throughout to get up a head of steam. Now I'd be the first to admit that, at my age, I'm hardly the quickest of players, but yesterday I managed to display all the pace of a tectonic shift. I was tempted on more than one occasion to call it a day, but the fact that we were down to 13 men shortly after half time convinced me that I should somehow soldier on. Big mistake as, over 24 hours later, I'm still in agony.

Whereas chronic lower back pain might excuse a certain lack of mobility, nothing can really explain the paucity of the rest of my performance which included some important missed tackles, failing to hang on to possession in contact and one really poor pass that was easily intercepted (although fortunately didn't result in any points against and, equally fortunately, wasn't recorded on video). No, the explanation really is quite simple - I've had no pre-season, I'm not fit enough and I'm bloody rusty. Whisper it quietly but I just might be too old.

On the plus side, that's the first of the season out of the way and surely I can't play as badly again...can I?

Friday, 16 October 2009

A question of judgement

I see that Times' journo Stephen Jones still isn't convinced about the qualities of England skipper Steve Borthwick, claiming this week that the Sarries player wouldn't make his top 6 locks in England.

England manager Martin Johnson, meanwhile, still appears to rate Borthwick highly, both as a player and as a captain.

So the question one has to ask is: Who is the best judge of the qualities required to be an international lock forward?

(a) an opinionated Welsh rugby hack; or

(b) one of the world's best (if not the best) 2nd row forwards and captains ever to play the game?

Simples.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Missing a trick

So, Rugby (at least the shortened version of the game) is to become an Olympic Sport in 2016, along with Golf.

I must admit that I've never really been a huge fan of Sevens. I hated playing it as there was nowhere to hide and, for me, watching Sevens has always been more about the beer than what happens on the pitch. On balance, however, I suppose that Olympic status is good news for the game at large.

As for Golf, I really can't fathom how it can be an Olympic sport. Olympic gold is hardly going to be the pinnacle for the likes of Tiger Woods and the proposed format - 72-hole individual stroke play and a field of 60 players with the top 15 world-ranked players automatically eligible (whatever their nationality) - hardly seems to fit the Olympic ideal.

I can't help feeling that the IOC may have missed a trick here. If Golf must be included, why not seize the moment and include Pub Golf instead, providing hope and opportunity for dedicated beer drinkers of all nationalities to come together and compete in quaffing pints (or litres if the Eurpoeans have their way) of ale over an 18-pub course for Olympic glory.

Pub Golf would make for spectacular TV viewing and might even be an event in which Great Britain would excel. And as an exhibition sport at London 2012, it could well turn out to be the focal point for the Games.

Or, failing that, why not Spoof?

Thursday, 8 October 2009

36

No, sadly not my age (I wish).

36 is, it turns out, the nickname given by Leicester Tigers' skipper Geordan Murphy to new recruit Billy Twelvetrees.

Why 36?

Because, if you say it in Murphy's Irish accent, "twelve t'rees" = 36.

Genius! Up there with John "Nobody" Eales (as in "Nobody's Perfect")

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Rolling, rolling, rolling...

Amongst the news recently has been:
  1. the suspended sentence handed down by the FFR to Mathieu Bastareaud for telling porky pies about his "assault" in Wellington in June. An eminently sensible decision by the FFR. Yes, Bastareaud was stupid, but there was nothing malicious in his actions and ultimately no one got hurt apart from a few very sensitive Wellingtonians;

  2. the dropping of the case by the Crown Prosecution Service against Lesley Vainikolo after the jury had failed to return a verdict. It now seems that there's a new defence to charges of assault that goes along the lines of "I'm famous, I was shitfaced and I thought that I was going to be attacked so got my retaliation in first and punched the crap out of him" - as patented by Scouse footballer Stevie Gerrard;
  3. the RFU Task Force report that concluded that "there is no substantiation whatsoever for allegations that cheating is widespread and systemic in the game either at international or domestic level." This, despite the fact that 12% of players questioned admitting that they knew of injuries being feigned in international matches and 41% saying the same thing in the context of domestic or European rugby. How much evidence do the RFU need to conclude that just there might be a bit of cheating going on?

Another issue to come out of the Task Force report is the issue of rolling substitutions. Now I know that there are many who believe that rolling substitutions will lead to the advent of specialist kickers being brought on just to take kicks and behemoth props being developed to bring on tactically at opportune moments, but to be honest I can't see much of an alternative for the professional game. As things stand the rules surrounding blood replacements are way too complex and, despite the efforts of the authorities, are still open to abuse. Removing the temptation to cheat by allowing rolling substitutions - albeit with certain safeguards such as limiting the number of substitutions allowed in a game - therefore has a certain logic.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

If at first...

Good luck to Manchester RFC when they take on Otley in National Div 1 this Saturday.

Why? Well, take a look at their last 4 league results:

vs Wharfedale, lost 124 -5

vs Blaydon, lost 145-12

vs Nuneaton, lost 95-0

vs Esher, lost 148-0

Restricting Otley to anything below 90 points might be regarded as a moral victory.

Scrum Queens


A new women’s rugby website covering the international game has been launched.

The site – http://www.scrumqueens.com/ - will cover the international women’s game at both 15 and 7 aside level. The launch comes during a pivotal year for the sport with a final decision on whether to make rugby 7s an Olympic sport, which would include women, due in October. The Women’s Rugby World Cup will also take place next summer in London.

The site features international rugby tournament news and information from leading competitions such as the Women’s 6 Nations, Nations Cup, and Women’s Rugby World Cup, real-time results, a world fixtures calendar and an interactive gallery for the women’s community.

ScrumQueens.com, which will include both professional and user-generated content, is to host a wide range of blogs from well known names in the women’s sport including current Irish rugby international Fiona Coghlan and international rugby referee Clare Daniels. It will also feature regular guest bloggers from the world of rugby and sport looking at issues facing both the men’s and women’s game.

As rugby continues to grow internationally the site will also provide coverage of the game in emerging nations with the ultimate aim of improving the profile of the sport globally and in the short-term increasing the promotion of the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010.

The site launches with features on the impact Olympic 7s could have on the women’s game and interviews with South Africa coach Denvar Waanies, and England captain Catherine Spencer as well as with dedicated news from around the globe with specific countries catered for in various site sections.

ScrumQueens.com also aims to interact with supporters and fans in a number of ways including encouraging readers to upload their own international match pictures and inviting them to contribute to blog posts.

Behind the site are a group of women’s rugby players with strong links to the game. Website editor, Alison Donnelly is the former PRO for the Irish women’s rugby team and she’s also worked on major international rugby tournaments for various international rugby bodies. Website designer and developer Sarah Edwards, who also plays rugby, has invested in the site through her London-based creative agency Make It Clear and she will continue to provide support throughout the site’s development.

Alison Donnelly said: “It’s been a fantastic year for the women’s game with the IRB Rugby World Cup 7s featuring women for the first time and next month the England women’s team will take on the world champion Black Ferns at Twickenham as part of a men’s double header in what should offer some major exposure for the game. We feel there’s a real need for a strong online portal for the game and we’re delighted with the look and feel of the site.” The site was designed by creative agency Make it Clear.

For more information contact: Alison Donnelly, Alison@scrumqueens.com or 0044 7516797560

Monday, 28 September 2009

45

Happy Birthday to me...

Forty-five years old today and utterly underwhelmed. Perhaps it's because of my age, perhaps it's because 2 friends of a similar age have sadly passed away this year and it's a reminder of my own mortality, or perhaps it's just because it's a Monday.

Actually I think my melancholy is largely down to the fact that I've been struggling with various aches and pains of late, I'm nowhere near as fit as I should be, I'm not leading a particularly healthy lifestyle at the moment and right now I can feel a head cold coming on. In other words, bah humbug!

Shoulder problems meant that I was unable to play the first Vets game of the season on Saturday which may also have something to do with my mood. Having said that, it was a scorching hot afternoon and the ground was bone hard, so playing with a dodgy shoulder and very little fitness would have been foolhardy.

I did turn up to watch. Well, when I say "turn up" - what I actually did was arrive at Fullerians whose Vets we were supposed be be playing only to find no sign of anyone in Chesham colours. On checking my voice mail (and yes, I realise it might have been sensible to do so before I left for the game) I discovered that the fixture had been switched to High Wycombe where we were playing their 3rd XV. I therefore managed to arrive with about 20 minutes left to play, only to witness Chesham's defences finally collapsing as a 7-19 deficit quickly became 7-47 by the final whistle, the opposition's evident youth and fitness proving decisive.

Chatting to the shattered Chesham players after the game I felt both pleased not to have endured the heat, pain and exhaustion and somewhat guilty for not having done so. There's certainly some truth in the statement that an after-match beer doesn't taste anywhere near as good when you haven't earned it.

Anyway, enough of feeling sorry for myself. Time to knuckle down, get fit, get some weight off and be ready (well, ready-ish) for our next fixture in 3 weeks.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The world according to Graham

The Right Reverend Graham Henry.

Don'tcha just love him?

According to him the reason New Zealand have been rubbish so far this season is all down to the laws, specifically the fact that the ELVs were not embraced en bloc this season.

"Because of the rules, sides don't take risks and don't pass the ball very often," Henry said.

"I do think the rulemakers have got to re-visit this. The game under the ELVs last year was much more enjoyable to play and much better to watch."

Henry conveniently ignores the fact that aerial ping-pong was as much a part of the game last season as this. And, as the Lions showed this summer, it is perfectly possible to play running rugby under the current laws.

Perhaps he should focus on the fact that New Zealand's lineout has in general been utter pants this season and that there appears to be an alarming lack of depth at fly half, lock and openside flanker?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Money for old rope...

According to the RFU's newly launched 'This is Rugby' campaign, the sport's core values are:

Teamwork

Respect

Enjoyment

Discipline

Sportsmanship

Apparently this "ground-breaking initiative" was two years in the making.

TWO YEARS!

I daresay some marketing "guru" somewhere is laughing all the way to the bank.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Are we there yet?

Is it really over?

Has "the 3 teams playing amongst themselves for an eternity" tournament finally finished?

I confess I've seen very little of this year's Tri Nations but that in no way prevents me from having an opinion i.e.

- South Africa: well done on becoming 3N champions. You found the Lions far more of a handful than Australia and New Zealand and I have a sneaking suspicion that you might now have just peaked;

- Australia: it looks very much like you might just about have found yourselves a scrummage at last, and in doing so the rest of your game appears to have gone to pot. Nevertheless I have a horrible irrational feeling that you might be the team to beat in 2011;

- New Zealand: if you're going to have a major crisis of confidence then 2 years before the World Cup is as good a time as any. Find a lineout from somewhere and wrap McCaw and Carter in cotton cool for the next 2 years and you'll be fine.

See you all in November...

Keith Floyd RIP

Farewell to Keith Floyd, TV chef, bon viveur and passionate rugby man who died earlier this week.

Floyd quaffed his way through his TV programmes in the eighties and I have to say that his "Escalope de veau à la moutard" (or "Veal Hiroshima" as it became known in my kitchen) and "Poulet rôti à l'ail" (stuffed with a whopping 2lbs of garlic) - both from his Floyd on France series - are still regularly served up by yours truly, while his Thai Fish Cakes (from Floyd on Oz) have yet to be bettered at any restaurant I've been to.

The fact that he died hours after a massive lunch to celebrate him defeating bowel cancer only adds to his legend. The lunch, which apparently included champagne with a cherry soaked in apple eau de vie, a glass of Pouilly Vinzelles 2006 Burgundy, oysters with potted shrimp and toast, two glasses of Fils Cotes de Rhône 2007, red legged partridge with bread sauce and pear cider made into jelly, has now been added to the menu of the restaurant in question as “Floyd’s Last Supper”.

Floyd was also, it appears, a rugby zealot and regularly cooked for rugby players on his TV programmes. Here are a few examples:











Friday, 18 September 2009

The Waka

It has emerged today that, following a reprimand for making inappropriate gestures against Bath last weekend, Wasps' David Lemi has been commissioned by the club to develop a Wasps-centric version of the Haka for the team to perform before Guinness Premiership matches at Adams Park this season.

The Samoan international will, we understand, develop "the Waka" (as it is tentatively being called) with choreographer Arlene Phillips, former judge on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.

The ritual dance is said to involve considerable amounts of buzzing and is set to conclude with a middle-fingered salute, representing a 'sting in the tail' finale.

Kiwi Tony Hanks, Wasps Director of Rugby commented: "we're confident that the Waka will give the club a competitive edge, and it'll give David something to do while he recovers from his wrist injury."

A Maori spokesman and expert in kapa haka confirmed that although he hadn't seen or heard anything about the Waka, it was nevertheless almost certainly an affront to Maori culture. "This never-ending exploitation of the Haka denigrates our culture," he commented, "and we'll be studying the Waka closely to make sure that our intellectual property rights are not infringed. You never know, we could make a few dollars out of it."

Top 20

It was with some astonishment that I learned today that my humble little blog has been included in Telegraph Sport's Top 20 Rugby Union websites.

It's utter nonsense of course and totally subjective - there are several sites I can think of, not to mention some very fine blogs, that are somewhat superior to my banal offerings.

What those owners of such sites and writers of such blogs lack, however, is my collection of compromising photographs featuring the sports editor of the Telegraph.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

HALLELUJAH!

It's gone, it's finally gone. The RFU has launched the new England rugby kit today and that unmitigated design disaster - the horrendous red swoosh of ketchup - has been consigned to history.

The new kit, almost virginally white, is a vast improvement on the previous abomination.

Minor quibbles:

  • Whatever happened to proper collars?

  • On the neck of the shirt is the motto 'RUGBEIA FLOREAT UBIQUE' which is, apparently, Latin for 'RUGBY FLOURISHES EVERYWHERE.' Pretentious twaddle and SO middle class.

  • A retail price of a smidgen under £90. Ouch.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Fit for Rugby?

There are a bewildering number of highly scientific and specifically tailored fitness programmes out there for would-be rugby players, but I must admit that I find myself agreeing with The Times' Stephen Jones (and THAT doesn't happen very often) in his Rolling Maul column this week.

"To get endurance fit for rugby," he says, "you have to run a long way till you are very tired, and to get sharp and faster for rugby you have to run a short way lots of times, and that there is no way round it."

Genius!

Sadly the state of my fitness currently is that I can run a short way not very often and get very tired very quickly!

In fact running is pretty much about all I can do at the moment (and even that's difficult with an increasingly sore right hip) as I've been struggling over the summer with a succession of neck and shoulder problems, the latest of which involves a debilitating pain in my right shoulder which is restricting movement of the joint somewhat. I've had it about 10 days and rest is making absolutely no difference, so a trip to the physio is now looking all but inevitable.

What is also looking almost certain is that, without dramatic improvement, there's going to be little chance of me making the first Vets fixture of the season against Fullerians on 26th September (although given the beatings we've suffered at their hands over the past couple of seasons, maybe that's no bad thing!)

Friday, 11 September 2009

Of Volcanos, Camels and Wolves

Just when we thought we might be able to focus on the rugby again after a summer of scandal, up pops Lesley Vainikolo in the dock at Bristol Crown Court charged with inflicting GBH.

The 17½ stone behemoth, taking a leaf out of the book of Liverpool's Stevie Gerrard, has adopted the failsafe "get your retaliation in first" defence, claiming that he was acting in self defence when, during a night out in downtown Bath, he punched the passive Jake Alicker so hard that he fractured his skull.

The fact, however, that Big Les has confessed to being tanked up on...wait for it...Courvoisier and Coke (ye gods!) probably won't count in his favour, and nor will the fact that he later gave a false name to police, claiming to be Shontayne Hape - his "best friend."

Some friend.

Meanwhile, turning to more serious matters, I'm somewhat gutted that Saracens' plans to stage a camel race as part of the entertainment at Saturday's Premiership Big Day Out against Northampton at Wembley have been vetoed by stadium authorities. The Grauniad confirms that damage to the pitch would have been minimal as, and I quote, "camels are cushion-footed quadrupeds", but Wembley's jobsworths have nevertheless refused permission for "a whole host of reasons" including, it seems, health and safety.

Shame. I was thinking of going but I shan't now.

Speaking of ridiculous races, it's heartwarming to see that no sooner is former England wing Ben Cohen back in the country than he's partaking in in some ludicrous publicity stunt. Now Cohen is no Brian Habana, so racing a cheetah is out of the question, but apparently the lumbering ex-international fancies his chances against a Canadian wolf.

The Canadian wolf in question looks suitably fascinated by the prospect, but my money's on him.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Small beer

It was revealed this week that the reason that the ARU sacked Lote Tuqiri last year was because he broke strict team rules by taking a woman to his Wallabies hotel room.

At the time, Tuqiri was on his "last warning'' for previous misdemeanors which included an incident in a Cape Town nightclub in 2005 and turning up pissed to a Wallabies training session in 2007.

All of which strikes me as being small beer compared to the recent scandals engulfing northern hemisphere rugby. Our rugby may not be as good, but we do scandal SO much better!


Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Isn't it ironic #3

I was tickled pink by the news that Harlequins' first match of the season against Wasps at Twickenham on Saturday will be refereed by none other than................wait for it................. Dean Richards!

40-year-old Richards has apparently been refereeing since 1995 and this will be his 22nd senior appointment.

You really couldn't make this stuff up...

Monday, 31 August 2009

Big Bad Deano?

One of the most ridiculous things to emerge from the whole Bloodgate saga so far is the ongoing demonisation of Dean Richards.

It would appear that, despite evidence of widespread skullduggery, all of rugby's ills are the fault of one man and one man only - Big Bad Deano.

Tom Williams was of course an innocent victim in the whole affair, weighed down by a "climate of fear" created by Richards - so innocent in fact that he gave the game away by his pantomime acting and a wink to a team mate and then attempted to blackmail the club in return for his silence. And such was the climate of fear that reportedly 12 Quins players (all forwards apparently) joined Big Bad Deano for a quiet pint last week.

Quins' chairman Charles Jillings, meanwhile, has resigned and apologised - not for attempting to coerce Williams into accepting his 12 month ban, but for the fact the club "failed to control" Dean Richards - the implication being that Big Bad Deano was out of control. This would again suggest that it was Richards and Richards alone who came up with the bold scam and that no one on the management, coaching or support staff either knew about it or was prepared to stand up and say "er, no - that's cheating isn't it?"

We do have the new RFU Task Force, of course, but I won't hold my breath and meanwhile it is ultimately one man (a man who, remember, at least had the guts to resign and take responsibility once the game was up) who is being made to carry the can for the travails of the game as a whole.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Isn't it ironic...

Is it just me, or is there a delicious irony in a certain Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio being named in the 13-man RFU "Image of Game Task Group" charged with restoring the game's reputation in England?

This is the same LBND, of course, who 10 years ago was found guilty by the RFU of bringing the game into disrepute following his admissions (subsequently denied) to undercover News of the World reporters that he had dealt in drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy.
Short memories, and all that...

Here come the girls...


Being on the ball as ever I missed the fact that last week marked the one year countdown to the kick-off of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in England.

Hosts England are ranked second after losing narrowly to the reigning world champions New Zealand in the 2006 Final in Canada. The two sides haven't played each other since then but are about to put things right when the Black Ferns arrive here on tour this November, playing 3 Tests against England on November 14th, 17th (England A) and 21st (the final game being played at Twickenham).

Venues, kick-off times and ticket information for the 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup have yet to be finalised but the RFUW are busy preparing, recruiting hundreds of volunteers to ensure the event runs smoothly and successfully.

The RFUW are looking for everything from medical assistance to spectator services to liaison officers - anyone interested in helping can find out more and register their interest here.

And I'll wager that their won't be a single fake blood capsule in sight...



Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The scandal that refuses to die...

The Quins "Bloodgate" saga refuses to go away, and if the latest revelations from the transcript of Tom Williams' evidence to the ERC appeal committee are close to being accurate then the positions of Charles Jillings and Mark Evans, Quins' Chairman and CEO respectively, look to be untenable.

According to Williams he was subjected to inordinate pressure and coercion by Messrs Jillings ands Evans not to reveal the full facts to the appeal committee which, if true, must surely result in their resignations/dismissals. There's even talk of Quins being chucked out of the RFU and the possibility of the club being kicked out of the Heineken Cup this season has re-surfaced.

As things stand it is only big bad Deano that has so far fallen on his sword and I wonder how many other Directors of Rugby in the Premiership are praying that the dust settles quickly.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Raking over the Ashes


Quick couple of words off-topic regarding the recently concluded Ashes series. Obviously delighted with an English victory but more impressed in fact with the muted celebrations and what seems like a determination by the England hierarchy to treat the series win as a beginning rather than as an end - very un-English if recent history is anything to go by.

The fact remains however that I didn't see any of the series live thanks to none of the action being shown live on terrestrial TV - a decision (alongside the frankly vulgar flirtation with Sir Allen Stanford's millions) which I suspect has cost the ECB a golden opportunity to publicise cricket to the nation and which shows them up to be at least as incompetent as the RFU, if not more so.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Pre-Season training?

Good to see that Gavin Henson is taking pre-season training seriously!

It looks very much like he's adopting the Total Flanker "Drink Yourself Fit" approach, which is more or less how July and August have progressed for me so far. I have had the excuse of having had a trapped nerve in my neck/shoulder (which no amount of quaffing has shifted) but if I'm honest I have to admit that I've been a complete and utter lazy bar steward.

Still, I now have just over one month until our first fixture (Fullerians away) this season so getting my finger out has to be a priority now...

Monday, 17 August 2009

Blimey

It seems I can't leave you alone for two weeks without all hell breaking loose.

All I wanted was a quiet couple of weeks away with the family but as soon as my back's turned the world of rugby is rocked by scandal.

I'm referring, of course, to the shenanigans at Harlequins and Bath. For the record, here's my tuppence ha'penny's worth...

For Quins the biggest problem is twofold:

(a) they were caught; and

(b) they attempted to hang Tom Williams out to dry and let him take the rap.

Feigning injury is wrong, without doubt, but it's hardly a new phenomenon in the professional game (witness the number of games that dubiously end up with uncontested scrums, for instance) - fact is though that Quins' attempts were almost comically poor and the person who paid the price should perhaps have been the drama coach rather than Dean Richards who has now been well and truly (and perhaps deservedly) scapegoated.

As for Bath, despite each receiving 9 month bans it seems as if Messrs Lipman, Crockett and Higgins believe that they've been cleared of taking cocaine. Who are they trying to kid? There may have been no direct evidence with which to find them guilty of drug taking but their failure to provide hair samples is damning evidence enough that Matt Stevens and Justin Harrison were by no means alone at the club when it came to indulging in Class A drugs. Frankly they got off lightly.

Meanwhile they're still playing some little tournament down under...

Saturday, 1 August 2009

De Vacaciones

You'll be deighted to note that my drivel will be offline for a couple of weeks as tomorrow I head off on holiday with my family to the island of Lanzarote (aka, somewhat unfairly, Lanzagrotty).

No laptop, no blackberry, no strawberry nor any other soft fruit (I may have used that line before).

I will, however, be taking my kit with me in the hope that I can put in a bit of physical work while out there as so far I have been conspicuous by my absence at pre-season training. I went for a 20 minute run last weekend and it wasn't pretty - desperate times call for desperate measures...


Bye...back online in 2 weeks...