Thursday, 30 December 2010

Total Flanker Awards 2010

Adverse weather conditions and an increasingly chaotic schedule mean that this year's Total Flanker Awards are taking place a little later, and in a slightly less organised fashion, than normal. Our usual sumptuous venue is unavailable owing to a double-booking, our guest speaker has disappeared on a skiing holiday and the caterers have run off with the deposit so it's down to the local pub where the carpet is almost red, the beer is half decent and the Pomagne is most definitely on ice as we say: "My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, it gives us great pleasure to welcome you all to the 4th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony."

Yes, it's time once again to pay homage to those who have contributed so much to our enjoyment of the game of rugby during the last 12 months.

Without further ado, our first award of 2010 is the Total Flanker Utter Muppet of the Year Award. Now, in most years there would only be one candidate for this honour as Saffa coach Peter de Villiers would usually have this one wrapped up and, to be fair to him, he did put up a decent show again this year, especially with his insinuations that the Tri Nations was fixed in favour of New Zealand. However even PdV must stand aside this year and doff his cap to the one and only Andy Powell, whose early morning jaunt down the M4 in a golf buggy in February not only secures this award but also assures him of legendary status.

Moving on, and now the much coveted Total Flanker You Don't Know What You're Doing Award. As England's Calcutta Cup match with Scotland at Murrayfield last March reached its conclusion there was a fair to middling chance that Martin Johnson would be putting his hand up for this one, but a subsequent significant improvement in England's prospects means that Johnson misses out. The aforementioned PdV might also have had a shot at this one but his team let him down badly with their powerful display at Twickenham in November. The winner, therefore, is none other than the IRB who, having somewhat astonishingly got something right with the new interpretations at the breakdown, have managed to secure the award with their instructions to referees to enforce the "Crouch, Touch, Pause, Pause, Put the kettle on, Have a cigarette, Pause and Collapse" edict at scrummage time.

Next up is the Total Flanker All Publicity is Good Publicity Award. Sad to say, but there are multitude of candidates for this one. Gareth "Have I mentioned that I'm Gay" Thomas has barely been out of the newspapers this year, while James "the Brand" Haskell continues to let his talking (as opposed to his rugby) do the, erm, talking. Danny Cipriani's on-off relationship with Kelly Brook continues to fill its fair share of column inches while his flirtations with various association football clubs has filled the rest, while Ben Foden has taken his first tentative steps into tabloid recognition (but only on a Saturday). However the king of the publicity hounds this year has to be the artist formerly known as Gavin Church. Celebrity relationship breakup, nude photo shoots, reality TV shows, ballroom dancing - you name it Gavin's been there, done it and bought the Tshirt and, furthermore, might just have talked himself into the Welsh squad on the basis of being able to walk on snow, cha cha cha and play less than 30 minutes of rugby. Well done, sir, the award is yours.

We're over half way through ladies and gentlemen and on the home straight. Time now for the Total Flanker Every Time I Speak I Get Into Trouble Award. Only one realistic candidate for this one - step forward Sarries coach Brendan Venter. Whether it was criticising referees, getting into scrapes with Leicester fans, upsetting RFU disciplinary panels by eating biscuits or providing Sky Sports with baffling comedy interviews, Venter spent most of 2010 pissing off those in authority and is truly deserving of this honour.

Our penultimate award tonight is the Total Flanker Lucky To Still Be In A Job Award. There are a number of candidates for this one. PdV is an obvious choice and many might argue that Australia's inability to find a scrummage once again this year puts Robbie Deans in the frame. In England you'd have to consider defence coach Mike Ford, while in France Marc Lièvremont's Grand Slam just about makes up for the rubbish his team have been serving up ever since. But, after careful consideration, the award must go across the Severn Bridge to Mr Warren Gatland. Another distinctly underwhelming 6 Nations from Wales was followed by a disastrous Autumn series - 4 wins in the last 16 matches speaks for itself - and it does look as if Gatland and his coaching team have run out of ideas (if the best they can come up with is the restoration of Britain's second worst ballroom dancer to the Welsh midfield).

And finally - and on a distinctly sentimental note - we reach the Total Flanker Farewell To A Legend Award. The word  "legend" is often bandied about but never was a man so deserving ... 24 caps for England between 1972 and 1976, British Lion in 1974, played first-class rugby until the age of 41, BBC Superstars champion, indoor rowing world record holder for his age group, competed for a place in the Cambridge Boat Race crew aged 50 and author of an award-winning book in which he chronicled his struggle with prostate cancer - Andrew George Ripley was a truly inspirational figure. In his own words: "Dare we hope? We dare. Can we hope? We can. Should we hope? We must. We must because to do otherwise is to waste the most precious of gifts, given freely by God to all of us. So, when we do die, it will be with hope and it will be easy and our hearts will not be broken . . ."

And so we reach the end of our annual ordeal and set out below, for the short of memory, a list of our Awards this evening:

Total Flanker Utter Muppet of the Year Award- Andy Powell
Total Flanker You Don't Know What You're Doing Award - the IRB
Total Flanker All Publicity is Good Publicity Award - Gavin Henson
Total Flanker Every Time I Speak I Get Into Trouble Award - Brendan Venter
Total Flanker Lucky To Still Be In A Job Award - Warren Gatland
Total Flanker Farewell to a Legend Award - Andy Ripley.

That's all folks. Happy New Year!!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Quickie

Just thought I'd take the opportunity to congratulate Prince Michael of Tindall on continuing to bat above his average with the announcment this week of his engagement to the Queen's grandaughter Zara Phillips.

Nice try too at sneaking under the radar in the light of a recent slightly more high profile announcement of a royal engagement.

Oh, and a Merry Christmas to one and all...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Catching up

The observant among you may have noticed a degree of radio silence on my part recently. Apologies - I've been extremely busy with (in no particular order, as Dermot O'Leary might say):
  1. Work - the timing of which couldn't be better - not;
  2. Illness - labarynthitis, heavy cold, vomiting bug, back spasms...you name it...;
  3. Being smug about how the Ashes series is progressing down under - until this weekend - will I ever learn?
  4. Various Christmas commitments, mostly involving the kids' school;
  5. Mrs F's birthday;
  6. The Varsity Match - decent piss-up, dreadful game, bad result;
  7. Fuming about Newcastle United's treatment of Chris Hughton;
  8. Being entirely unsurprised at FIFA's decision not to award the 2018 World Cup to England (thank heavens for the utterly transparent and non-corrupt IRB eh?)
  9. Being obsessed with the snow - the weather being a very British obsession;
  10. Giggling at Brendan Venter's "Mike Bassett - England Manager" interview (below):

Monday, 6 December 2010

Pointless

In an utterly pointless exercise on Saturday a Springbok 4th XV lost to an Anzac 2nd XV at Twickenham. My thoughts on such meaningless encounters have previously been made known so there's no point me banging on again...

And, in another announcement totally without point, the RFU's CEO John Steele last week wrote to England players to inform them that that, after RWC 2011, they will only be selected for the national team if they are playing for English clubs. Except, apparently, in exceptional circumstances. Which means, of course, that if the best players bugger off to France they'll still end up playing for England.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Strictly Bonkers

I'm not sure what is more idiotic:

- the suggestion by Wasps and Wales coach Shaun Edwards that half a dozen games should be enough for the artist formerly known as Gavin Church to waltz his way back into the Wales team (did you see what I did there?) after what will be an absence from the game of the best part of 2 years; or

- the suggestion by former Wales skipper Michael Owen that Wales should consider selecting the UK's 2nd worst ballroom dancer at number 8.

Rough, tough number 8?
If the first idea is silly (as well as being a slap in the chops for the current members of the Welsh backline), the second is strictly bonkers. Or is it?

Owen's suggestion is based, it seems, on the changing nature of the role of the number 8 which these days requires pace and footballing abilities as well as the more prosaic attributes of forward play.

Owen points to the likes of Pierre Spies and Sergio Parisse as examples of modern number 8s who display these qualities and predicts that that the Number 8 role will become very similar to the loose-forward role in Rugby League where the number 13 often acts as an extra play-maker.

So far the logic is impeccable...I've written before about the role of the number 8 and how about how it has evolved in recent years and it's true that modern number 8s are fast and dynamic - Spies and Parisse are good examples as are Kieran Read and Imanol Harinordiquy.

And then then the argument falls apart...

“If you are asking your No.8 to do so many things that a back normally does, then why not play a back there?" asks Owen.

Because, dear Michael, those footballing skills you so rightly admire in Messrs Spies and Parisse are in addition to, and are no substitute for, the hard-nosed graft required of a number 8 at close quarters. How many backs do you know who would be prepared to put in the type of  brutal shift that Spies did, for instance, last week at Twickenham? Jamie Roberts? Possibly. Henson? Not a chance.

What next? Tell Martin Johnson to pick players with no handling skills in the centres to act as extra forwards?

Oh.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Not good enough

Earlier this year I highlighted the case of Clarence Harding, the Gravesend number 8 who has lost the sight in his right eye having been gouged during a match against rivals Maidstone in January this year.

A Maidstone player was subsequently charged by the RFU with making contact with the eye but, disappointingly for Harding, was cleared recently by an RFU disciplinary panel on the basis that the identity of the perpetrator could not be proven.

According to RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett, "The injury to Harding was caused by a finger or fingers inserted into the eye causing a laceration. The injury was caused by a deliberate act of a Maidstone player...we are unable to determine who that was."

Maidstone Rugby Club could therefore now face charges relating to the misconduct of its players. Quite right too. The club's statement that its "sympathies remain with Clarence Harding who will bear the scars of this accident for the remainder of his life," tells us all we need to know.

As I said previously, Clarence knows who did it. Gravesend Rugby Club know who did it. Maidstone Rugby Club know who did it. But will anyone have the balls to do something about it?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Whither England?

End of Term Report: December 2010

Selection: B+
A largely clean bill of health led to consistency of selection with obvious results. Not everyone will have agreed with every selection but Johnson & Co got selection mostly spot-on and no doubt that this group will form the bulk of the 2011 RWC squad.

Attacking Performance: A-
Performance against the Aussies was A+ and there were enough glimpses in the other 3 matches to suggest that England are at least headed in the right direction. A huge improvement since February.

Defensive Performance: B-
No lack of effort, but way too narrow early doors against the All Blacks and simply ran out of steam against the Springboks. 2 tries conceded in each game suggest there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Forwards: B
Much improved clearout rate at the breakdown and offloading game a revelation. However, set piece issues were evident with an inconsistent lineout and scrummage prone to conceding soft penalties and the pack was simply beasted by the Springboks in the final game.

Halfbacks: B+
Youngs and Flood largely ran the show for England until deprived of front foot ball by the Springboks.

Threequarters: B
Midfield doubts persist but back three were consistently good.

Overall: B+
For the first time in a while it was clear to see what England were trying to achieve and their execution was (mostly) very good. 2/3 of the team are not only now bedded in but can be regarded potentially as serious players on the world stage, if not yet quite world class. Doubts persist, however, over hooker, one lock position, openside and the centre combination, areas the England management will need to address during the 6 Nations, a tournament which will take on huge significance if England are to take any self-belief to New Zealand later in the year.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Exclusive extracts from the diary of Warren Gatland, aged nearly 47¼:

18th October 2010 - Stoked about signing new contract with WRU until 2015. The bastards 'll have to pay a fortune to get shot of me now. Confident ahead of next month's internationals. Lions boys upfront and heaps of talent behind. Watched Gav on 'Strictly' Saturday evening. Rumba. Voted for him 158 times and he survived. Take your time mate and we'll see you right for the 6 Nations.



3rd November 2010 - Aussies coming to Cardiff on Saturday. This is the big one. Not sure who to pick on the other wing to Little Shane. Might go for another shortarse. Doesn't really matter as we'll be keeping it in the scrum anyway with the Lions boys. You know I always say we should close the stadium roof? No chance. Hope it rains and we spend all afternoon scrumming those Aussie bastards into the turf. What could possibly go wrong? Watched Gav on 'Strictly'. Paso Doble. Voted for him 373 times. Survived again - well done mate.


10th November 2010 - Shocking. Aussies didn't read the script. Apparently you don't need a scrum. Shortarse Mark II didn't really work out on Saturday so going for big Pommy fella on the wing instead this week. Watched Gav on 'Strictly'. Cha Cha Cha. Voted for Felicity Kendall 562 times. Gav survived. Saffers pretty good upfront so reckon we'll open the roof on Saturday. Gameplan is to start quick and then hold on. What could possibly go wrong? This is the big one.


20th November 2010 - South Africa didn't read the script. Watched Gav on 'Strictly' Saturday evening. Quickstep. Voted for Patsy Kensit 783 times but Gav survived again. Shocking. Tonight we won't stuff up. This is the big one. Baby out with the bathwater time. Brought back Ryan, my inspirational Grand Slam skipper. Shortarse Mark I injured so giving that Brew fella a run. Plan is to tire Fiji out by running from side to side all night. Blue kit will confuse the hell out of 'em too. Might ask for roof to be half-open. What could possibly go wrong?


24th November 2010 - Fiji didn't read the script, the ungrateful bastards. Shocking. Told Ryan after the game that he'd played like a c*nt then publicly stripped him of the captaincy. Picked him anyway for this Saturday. I know how to man-manage. Watched Gav on 'Strictly'. Amercian Smooth. Voted for Anne Widdicombe 917 times but Gav still survived. Mate, it has to be a conspiracy. All Blacks this Saturday. Bringing back that big stroppy bastard Tom James on the wing as apparently he's learned how to catch. Plan is to front up big time. For the Haka at least. Not sure what to do with the roof. This is the big one.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Play On

Blimey - after Forever Strong and Invictus comes yet another rugby movie.

Play On is due to be released next month and tells the story of "wayward Scottish rugby star" Keir Kilgour who flees his rugby background in a delusional pursuit of greater stardom in the high-profile world of professional American football. When is quest inevitably fails he stumbles upon the Kansas City Wanderers, a failing second division rugby club...

Now, given that my last 3 trips to the cinema involved sitting through Shrek 4, Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me, I'm hardly Barry Norman when it comes to film reviews but clearly the use of the words "Scottish", "rugby" and "star" in the same sentence mean that Play On requires a willing suspension of disbelief. I also suppose a movie wouldn't be a movie (especially one made in the US) without there being some kind of  moral dilemma for the 'hero' to resolve somewhere along the way and from the trailer it does look as if the usual rugby stereotypes put in an appearance.

Still, the fact that the movie has been made at all has to be encouraging for the sport and any movie with Gavin Hastings making a cameo appearance has to be worth a giggle.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Scrummage: a theory

Hot (well, relatively warm) on the heels of my recent musings about the demise of scrummaging as an art form at the elite level comes my latest offering as to why this particular part of the game is now such an unholy mess.

Long time readers of this blog (both of you) might recall my general objection to the introduction of the Evil Law Variations a couple of seasons ago. It’s fair to say that an aversion to unnecessary change was behind much of my opposition with me very much belonging to the “if it ain’t broke…” school of thought. The one ELV that did appear to be reasonably sensible, however, was the moving back of the offside line at scrum-time to 5 metres behind the back foot. This would, so the theory went, create more space for the team in possession to attack and there was no arguing with such impeccable logic.

Sadly, however, things haven’t quite worked out as expected and here’s my theory as to why. A 5 metre offside line should give the attacking team a huge advantage, all the more so if the attacking team manages to wheel the scrum slightly anti-clockwise as this, with the opposition back row forced to stay bound, opens up acres of space to attack. It has therefore become absolutely imperative for the defending team to prevent this from happening and for them to cut down the space by disrupting the scrum by hook or by crook, ideally by wheeling the scrum clockwise. The result? Chaos and a plethora of collapses, re-sets, penalties and free-kicks.

The scrum ELV has meant that the scrummage has perhaps now become too important, especially for the defending team. It may therefore be that the only way to safeguard the future of the scrummage is to reduce its significance by reinstating the back foot as the offside line, thus making defending easier and reducing the need to disrupt the set-piece.

As Alanis Morissette might say: “Isn’t it ironic?”

Just a theory…

Monday, 22 November 2010

Shorts

A round-up of the weekend's international action in 4 headlines:

1. Mighty Fiji held to draw by Wales (more here);

2. Another new dawn as Scotland win in the rain;

3. England discover Samoa can tackle (who'd have thought?)

4. Ireland force All Blacks to engage 2nd gear (occasionally).

Friday, 19 November 2010

Whatever happened to: the Scrummage?

scrums - remember these?
Another in an increasingly sporadic series of ramblings about elements of the game that have changed beyond recognition since I first played the game way back in the mists of time...

Whatever happened to the scrummage?

You remember the scrummage don't you? You know, that bit in the game when your eight forwards pack down against their eight forwards and compete for the ball fed in between them?

Perhaps it's just me, but I distinctly remember that used to happen - quite regularly in fact - and, if I'm honest, I acknowledge that in the grassroots game the lost art of scrummaging does break out from time to time.

At the elite level, however, it's a different story and at international level the genuine scrummage has become a seriously endangered species. Whilst in the professional game destructive scrummaging props, and tightheads in particular, still appear to be highly valued, their natural habitat - the scrummage - is fast disappearing.

How often, for instance, do you see two sets of forwards pack down, the ball fed into the middle, a clean strike by the hooker and the ball appearing as if by magic at the number 8's feet? Once in a blue moon, that's how often. It is far more likely that you'll see the scrum collapse, re-set, collapse, re-set and collapse again to the sound of the referee's whistle and the award of a free kick or penalty to one team or the other, seemingly at random. And it seems that many refs, understandably perhaps, now can't even be bothered to go through the charade and just award the free kick or penalty at first contact (whereupon particularly sadistic captains elect to subject the paying public to the farce of another scrum).

In last weekend's England v Australia match there were only 8 scrummages, 6 of which resulted in a free kick or penalty and only one of which ended up with the ball emerging at the back. That's ONE scrum in the whole match in which clean possession was secured.

I've no idea what the solution is - the IRB's Crouch, Touch, Pause & Engage directive doesn't appear to be doing the trick, despite their assertions to the contrary. I'm pretty sure that props wearing tight lycra shirts, as well as it not being particularly aesthetically pleasing, is hardly helpful to successful scrum binding so perhaps a few sensible regulations in that direction might help but, as always, I suspect that non-interference is probably the best policy.

Ditch the directions, make the referees take a back seat and let the players sort it out.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Cooking with Ben Kay

And now for something completely different...

Following on from former England lock Ben Kay's testimonial year in 2009/10 comes "Cooking with Balls" - the Ben Kay cookbook, featuring collaborations from various of Kay's old rugby muckas such as Matt Dawson, Martin Johnson and Martin Corry with famous chefs such as Alain Roux, Pierre Koffmann and Marcus Wareing.

According to the official blurb, the result is a uniquely diverse collection of 95 recipes in which players’ favourite dishes sit alongside chefs’ signature choices. For rugby fans and foodies it looks like a must for this year's Christmas list and, being a bit of an amateur dabbler in the kitchen department myself, some heavy hints may have to be fired in the direction of Mrs F.


That said, I am a little concerned as to what to expect in bookshops next:

Hoovering with Gavin Henson?

Ironing with Austin Healy?

Dusting with Matt Stevens?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Can someone please help?

I need help.

I can't decide whether the selection of Bath beanpole Matt Banahan at outside centre for England's encounter with Samoa on Saturday is:

(a) an inventive and innovative act of genius; or

(b) one of the stupidest selectorial decisions ever made.

Answers on the back of a postcard to the usual address...

Monday, 15 November 2010

The big question

I was once again confined to quarters for Saturday's internationals, having fallen victim to a vomiting bug that visited the entire Flanker family at the weekend. Furthermore, not being a Sky subscriber I had to make do, somewhat unsatisfactorily, with the BBC's highlights of Saturday's epic England performance at Twickenham (having first watched Wales blow a healthy lead against South Africa and endured Scotland's capitulation to Sonny Bill Williams).

The whims of the television producer often mean that it's difficult to know whether a highlights package accurately reflects the actual game but, from what I witnessed, England were very, very good. Scarily so in fact.

Much has been written elsewhere about England's display and there's been much talk of the team "coming of age". There's not much I can add but it does look as if there might, just might, now be a core of young English players who could be around for years to come.

The big question now is whether the performance was a one-off, or whether it will become the benchmark for this team?

Only the players can provide the answer.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Element of Surprise

I really like Will Greenwood's suggestion about how England should approach today's game against the Aussies.

He proposes that, as soon as England have a restart, the forwards should form a scrum on the halfway line behind Toby Flood who should then kick the ball straight into touch. Then, as it dawns on the Australian pack what is about to happen, one of the England players might say: "Hello chaps, I know you are keen to run around today but first of all you will have to scrum and then remove your head from your backsides."

In fairness it might be England's best chance today. And it could all go horribly wrong if the Australian scrum holds up.

More here.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Grey Day

As the Grey Day for England rugby approaches, RFU commercial man Paul Vaughan has been attempting to defend the decision to send England out to face Australia on Saturday in a grey (sorry, anthracite) kit.

Vaughan insists that all the RFU is doing is responding to public demand, that they have to meet what the public want, that the fan-base is changing and that England must adapt to meet that fan-base.

My arse.

What Vaughan suggests is that the England "brand" is no more than the red rose, which means effectively that you could stick the red rose on pretty much any garment and the brand would remain unaffected. Bollocks. If a "new" audience is what the RFU are after why not brand up a range of hoodies, Burberry baseball caps and low-slung jeans and be done with it.

What Vaughan and the rest of those charged with marketing England rugby don't appear to get is that all the England rugby public want is a team to be proud of, a well-selected and well-coached team playing to its maximum potential. Part of the equation is that it also needs to look like an England rugby team. The value of an instantly recognisable brand image cannot be underestimated. For evidence one need only look at the All Blacks - the most instantly recognisable brand in rugby. I'm also convinced that a simple clean white shirt with a red rose would sell in its millions.

"I accept there is some feeling out there that marketing is overtaking the game but actually I don't think it is true at all," says Vaughan.

Rumours that the RFU are also planning to introduce yet another new England kit for next year's Rugby World Cup suggest otherwise.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Artificial

I admit I'm disappointed by the news that Saracens have confirmed they plan to leave Watford's Vicarage Road and move into the Barnet Copthall Stadium by the beginning of next season.

It is, I confess, a somewhat selfish reaction on my part and I've no genuine right to be disappointed, having only been to watch Sarries a handful of times since they began playing at Vicarage Road in the 1997-1998 season.

Nevertheless, the decision seems to indicate a shift in emphasis. One thing Sarries have been brilliant at is building community links with schools and rugby clubs in the Herts/Bucks area. My own club, for instance is a "Tier 1" partner club which provides various benefits including visits from Saracens players, training for our kids by Saracens academy and community coaches, the involvement of our mini rugby players on match days at Vicarage Road and discounted tickets for Saracens home games with the club able to make money on tickets sold through the club. Although this type of relationship is common now among professional rugby clubs it was Saracens who were the pioneers soon after professionalism took hold in the 90s and it strikes me that a move away from the area puts much of this work in jeopardy.

Saracens say that they plan to spend up to £10m on the Barnet Copthall Stadium and, and if plans are approved, plan to install a state-of-the-art artificial pitch.

The merits of such a pitch will no doubt be debated elsewhere. My only comment is that the pitch will no doubt suit their equally artificial new fly half.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Mr Clean

Mealamu: Butter wouldn't melt...
Despite being cited for his devious headbutt on Lewis Moody on Saturday, Kevin Mealamu is not a dirty player, oh no.

"I'm not like that," says he.

"He's probably the cleanest player in the world, isn't he?" says the Right Reverend Graham Henry.

I wonder what Brian O'Driscoll thinks?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Dizzy

Having been confined to quarters for a few days with an inner ear infection and extreme vertigo (possibly one of the most unpleasant conditions I've ever had to endure), I found myself prostrate on my sofa yesterday taking in the first round of this autumn's internationals. Brief conclusions:
  1. The Welsh had nothing to offer but their scrummage. The Australians had everything to offer but their scrummage. What on earth happened to the Australian scrummaging renaissance?
  2. Ireland simply weren't in the game until Peter de Villiers made yet another round of prematurely rash substitutions. Will that clown ever learn?
  3. If England are unable to execute simple overlaps they will never beat anyone of note.
I told you I'd be brief. Time for another lie down...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

This is just madness

A word of warning: I'm about to bang on about there being yet another new England rugby kit. Those uninterested in my fumings should look away now...

As excitement builds towards the next few weeks of international rugby (and I do have genuine - although probably misplaced - excitement and expectation about England's chances this autumn) comes a rather disappointing announcement.

Earlier today the RFU announced the launch of a new England team kit - a full 14 months after the launch of the last one.

FOURTEEN MONTHS! Jeez, talk about ripping off the long-suffering England rugby supporter. No sooner has he splashed out on a pristine white new England shirt (and its monstrous purple counterpart) in 2009 and a cream coloured limited edition commemorative jersey for the 2010 Six Nations, than he's being asked to fork out another fifty-odd quid on yet another new replica. How long will this one last? Until next year's World Cup perhaps? Sooner?

The new CEO at the RFU, John Steele, had previously said that he wanted to put rugby - and not commerce - back to the top of the RFU agenda. Well, way to go John.

As to the kit itself, despite the grey trimmings I don't have any major issue with it (it is certainly not in the same league as the 2007 horrendous ketchup swoosh effort) but, whatever my thoughts on the kit's sartorial qualities, the point is that it is totally and utterly unnecessary.

Furthermore, and somewhat unbelievably, the England team will also be sporting a new 'anthracite' (that's dark grey to you and me) kit when they play Australia at Twickers on 13th November (as obviously we've been missing the fact that there's a colour clash between the English and Australian colours). Despite the advantage that a nearly black kit might piss off a few kiwis (never a bad thing),  the decision shows nothing but contempt for the English rugby paying public and no regard whatsoever for English rugby history (the colour is apparently "inspired by the thorns of the English rose" - seriously), no matter what Latin nonsense is embroidered on the collar.

I read something somewhere recently that suggested that part of the aura of the All Blacks was their all black kit (the clue is in the name). As far as I can remember (and that's quite far, I assure you) there has only been one obvious change to the All Black's shirt design - the removal of the white collar some time in the 90s - in all the time I have watched the team play. Yes, materials change and new technologies are used but the basic design - an all black kit - has remained and over the years the shirt has come to symbolise something special, and the fact that they don't emblazon the shirt with a sponsor's logo only adds to the mystique. If only other countries, and England in particular, would follow suit.

No doubt the new England shirts will sell in their tens of thousands to fans with more money than sense and who really should know better. I'd love to think otherwise, that the whole thing could backfire on the RFU and teach them a commercial lesson but, given the numbers who bought the 2007 red swoosh abomination and the 2009 purple monstrosity, I won't hold my breath.

In my book the only upsides of the new kit launch are that the purple kit appears to have been consigned to history and that the new change kit hasn't followed the example of the Sevens squad (pictured). Small mercies and all that.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu,

Adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu...

Well, adieu anyway to Philip John Vickery OBE, who today announced that yet another neck injury has forced his retirement from the game.

A quick glance at his CV makes for impressive reading:
  • 73 England caps;
  • 5 x British Lion;
  • World Cup Winner;
  • England captain;
  • oriental tattoo which translates as 'I'll fight you to the death';
  • his own "Raging Bull" clothing range; and (last but not least)
  • a qualified cattle inseminator.
Not bad for the son of a Cornish dairy farmer. He's apparently a thoroughly decent bloke too.

Good luck to you sir.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Above the law

It would appear that All Blacks coach, the Right Reverend Graham Henry, is above the law.

A report by 3News in New Zealand suggests that our favourite preacher was pulled over by police on Auckland's waterfront last Friday evening after being clocked travelling at 81kph in a 50kph area. That's 50mph in a 30mph area in real money.

Henry was, however, allegedly let off the speeding charge, what with him being the coach of the All Blacks and a man of the cloth and all that.

We are suitably outraged.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Groundbreakers (again)

News this week that my club, Chesham, has in its own small and yet significant way taken another step on the journey towards a fully integrated men's and women’s game in England by recruiting England Women's winger Kat Merchant as its backs coach.

Kat joins fellow England Women's international "Rocky" Clarke on the Chesham coaching staff and the fact that my first reaction was "Backs coach? How extravagent" rather than "What, another woman?" speaks volumes for how successful the club's innovative recruitment campaign has been.

One thing the club does have is shedloads of talented young threequarters, so the new backs coach will have plenty of raw material with which to work. Today Berks Bucks & Oxon 1 North, tomorrow the world!

Saracens - new signing imminent

Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter today announced that he was about to make a sensational new signing.
The new face at Vicarage Road will not, however, be Gavin Henson, despite the Welshman training with the squad this week.

“Gav had a fantastic session with us and was well-received by the squad,” said Venter. “I would be happy to sign him but we've been unable to reach agreement with the Ospreys and negotiations with the BBC have proved particularly complex.

"So instead, and on Gav's recommendation, we've decided to sign Peter Andre. He has the pecs, the abs, the fake tan and a famous ex-WAG, pretty much everything that Gav would have brought to the table really. We're delighted to welcome him to the Sarries squad." 

Although ostensibly Venter was hoping to sign Henson as fly-half cover for the injured Derick Hougaard, it is understood that Andre will initially be expected cover for pop duo Right Said Fred by performing the club's anthem "Stand Up for the Saracens" prior to home matches.

Despite the contractual difficulties and the requirement to get dispensation from Premier Rugby to exceed the salary cap, it is believed that Venter has not given up hope of pairing Andre and Henson together for a 'dream team' Paso Doble ahead of his team's encounter with London Wasps at Wembley in December.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

At the request of GazP...

Did I hear correctly?

Did my ears deceive me or did the artist formerly known as Gavin Church actually utter the following words on last night's Strictly Come Dancing show?

"My biggest fear on Saturday was being voted off in front of my idol Peter Andre."


I would like to think that the above line was delivered with a large slice of irony. Sadly, however, I fear that irony does not feature in his repertoire.

Seriously, Gavin, get a grip.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Suits you sir

It's what England rugby fans have been waiting for...for the England rugby team to discover a little bit of French flair.

While we continue to wait for it to materialise on the pitch, the RFU this week announced a commercial deal with French fashion brand Eden Park at London’s swanky Kensington Roof Gardens, a contract which sees  all of England’s squads from under-18 level upwards kitted out in bespoke formalwear designed to make them look like the mutt's nuts.

It was interesting to see that Ugo Monye was chosen to model the outfits. I suspect that being available and local were the main criteria.

The brand was launched in 1987 by Racing Club de France players Franck Mesnel, Jean-Baptiste Lafond, Eric Blanc, Yvon Rousset and Philippe Guillard who all regularly used to wear berets and pink bow-ties during matches. Known as "Le Showbizz," they also used to, on occasion, sip champagne on the field at half-time. Perhaps this is the vital ingredient the English backline has been missing?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Game Sense 2

There were some interesting comments on my little piece about proposals to remove contact from Under9s rugby.

One school of thought appears to be that removing contact will force bigger, slower kids out of the game. Another is that what is needed is for kids to be properly coached.

The problem is that one assumes that the only role for bigger, slower kids is to smash through opposition, while the other assumes (I think) that showing or telling kids what to do is the answer.

The whole purpose of 'Game Sense', as I understand it, is that you provide kids with an environment in which they solve problems for themselves and the idea of removing contact is designed only to encourage kids to work out another way of playing.

Now, admittedly, I'm no coach so I could well be talking out of my arse (it has been known) but here's an example of what I mean...

My 7 year old son plays football (and I have yet to disown him). Generally speaking, 7 year old footballers like to run with the ball, tackle and shoot, so in an inspired move earlier this year their coach introduced a practice match in which dribbling, tackling and shooting were not allowed. The result was that the boys passed, moved, passed, moved, passed...you get the picture. The great thing was that they weren't told to do it, they just worked it out. So, my son's team may not have fantastic individual players who can beat half a team on their own but they all now pass the ball bloody well.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Boo hoo

Poor Warren Gatland.

Premier Rugby's decision to comply with IRB guidelines by not releasing Premiership players until August 4th 2011 means that Gatland (and other national coaches whose players earn their living in the Premiership) will only have 35 days to prepare his squad before the start of the tournament. Only 35 days, Disgraceful. After all what could he possibly get done in 35 days? It's barely enough time to learn one another's names for god's sake.

An alternative view might be that Premier Rugby might actually (albeit inadvertently) be doing Wales et al a favour, allowing already knackered players to re-charge their batteries whilst sparing them from interminably dull training camps for a few weeks. Far be it for me to suggest that there is often a direct correlation between the length of time a coach has access to players and how abysmally they go on to perform on the pitch.

Naturally Gatland, being a coach, doesn't see it like that. Buoyed by his recent contract extension (and his track record of 4 wins out of the last 12 matches during the past year obviously speaks for itself) he has branded Premier Rugby's stance as being "completely ridiculous", instead taking the entirely conciliatory step of warning the likes of Dwayne Peel and Andy Powell that their Rugby World Cup places are consequently in doubt.

How very, very mature.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

I am not worthy

Another fantastic piece of satire over on The East Terrace - this time dealing with how the IRB have decided to embrace a new 1980s Rugby Retro campaign.

Of particular enjoyment for me is the suggestion that special 'Retro Law' weekends will be introduced in which referees will govern matches according to rugby laws of the 1980s, to include no lifting in the lineouts and allowing proper rucking.

If I'm honest, on the very rare occasions I venture forth onto the field of play these days, the only laws I do adhere to are those I learned in the 80s. It still irks me to this day, for instance, that if a penalty is kicked into touch the kicking side get the throw in and don't get me started on having to stay bound on the scrum.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Mission Statement

From time to time when I've nothing better to do (or, more accurately, when I should be doing something far more productive) I have a tendency to indulge in a spot of navel gazing as I try to decide what this blogging lark is all about.

Somewhat surprisingly this blog has now been going since May 2007, starting as merely something to satisfy idle curiosity before developing into a regular gig. I still don't fully understand what it's for or why I do it and, more pertinently, I haven't a clue why anyone would read what I write. I guess that, ultimately, it's a chance for me to let flow what little creative juices I have and an opportunity to voice my opinions on rugby without having watch Mrs Flanker's eyes glaze over as I do so.

I know that it's fashionable for organisations these days to come up with a "mission statement" that goes to the very essence of what they're all about. Despite my contemplations, I'm not sure I'm quite in a position to go that far but, as an exercise in pure unadulterated self-indulgence, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts about what Total Flanker is, and what it is not. So, not even close to a mission statement, but here goes:
  1. Total Flanker is about opinion, i.e. my utterly biased, often unfair and mostly uninteresting rugby opinion. If you don't agree with it, great - I am more than happy for you to say so.
  2. Total Flanker is not about rugby news, not unless it involves something a bit left-field, or something a little weird, or something that just captures my imagination.
  3. Total Flanker will continue to chronicle my increasingly sporadic (some might say pathetic) attempts to continue to play the game - although it came as quite a shock when I realised that I hadn't actually laced my boots in anger since October 2009.
  4. Total Flanker is not about making money and carries no advertising for the very good reason that there's very little money to be made (and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or knows something I don't).
That's it. Utterly pointless, I know. My apologies if you've read this far expecting enlightenment (hardly likely).

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Game Sense?

There was an interesting article in the Grauniad last week by Robert Kitson examining why, generally speaking, when compared to our antipodean friends down under, England tends to produce players with a tendency to seek contact rather than space.

One answer appears to be the fact that traditionally we in this country tend to introduce full contact into mini-rugby at Under 9 level and the solution, it is suggested, is to adopt a different approach championed by a certain Gary Townsend, who also happens to be the RFU's player-development manager.

Townsend is running a  pilot scheme in Hampshire, Warwickshire and Durham, which he believes will not only improve standards but will also address the drop-off in participation levels within the community game. The idea is that contact should be minimised in a player's early years to encourage players to seek space rather than contact. It's also recommended that Under 9s matches are played seven-a-side and on a smaller pitch.

Intrigued by this approach I decided to do a bit of research (almost like a proper writer!) and discovered a paper written by Gary Townsend for the RFU in 2007 entitled "Game Sense" in which he suggests that we are in danger of overcoaching our youngsters and wonders what would happen, for instance, if we didn’t allow children to participate in any ‘organised’ sport but instead allowed them to just play and to discover for themselves skills of evasion, team work, rules and spatial awareness.

Prescriptive, drill-based coaching, he argues, leads to players who have the skills but don't always know when or how to best use them and that the “I have been coached this way, therefore this is how I will coach,” approach simply doesn't work.

His argument is that children are brighter than we give them credit for and that they are capable of discovering what works and what doesn't with minimal obvious intervention from grown ups. Although a 'Game Sense' approach still requires careful thought and planning by coaches, the emphasis is very much on encouraging players to find solutions for themselves rather than spoon-feeding answers from a coaching manual.

Predictably enough, the introduction of the pilot scheme has prompted an outcry from parents and the reaction of many Grauniad readers to the article was quite illuminating. Most were of the opinion that 8 and 9 year olds loved the contact stuff and relished tackling and that all that was required was to teach them proper technique.

This misses the point. Yes, kids (and boys in particular) like the rough and tumble of contact rugby but to an extent they need protecting from themselves. If they can smash through a tackle, when are they ever going to learn how to sidestep, or how create space for another runner. At some point they are going to be stopped by a tackle - what then? Yes, technique still needs to be taught, but if we really want to develop players for the future who are capable of thinking under pressure and making the correct decisions on the field of play, surely they need to be encouraged to solve such problems rather than hide behind their physique.

Southern hemisphere rugby players are brought up playing touch rugby, and it shows. Even playing touch rugby myself in the summer, for instance, I've observed perfectly competent rugby players who haven't the first idea about how to attack space. Removing contact from the equation at a young age is, in my view, a step in the right direction and I wish Mr Townsend the best of luck with his pilot scheme.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

March for Honour

Lance Corporal Ram Patten with players from London Wasps

I've been asked to give a mention to the following fund raising initiative and am delighted to do so.

As a part of this year’s Poppy Appeal, the Royal British Legion is running a new initiative called March For Honour, which involves 4 teams of Armed Forces marching one mile for every British fatality in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 – about 1000 miles in total!

The March will take place between the 4th and 11th of November, and the aim is to raise £1m as well as awareness for the “Afghan generation” of our Armed Forces – the problems facing the modern day boys and girls serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Teams from the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines will set off from four locations across the country, converging on Wootton Bassett, to collect the Book of Remembrance before marching to London for the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall.

"Having served in Afghanistan I appreciate the support the Legion provides to returning troops with physical and mental injuries and the families of the bereaved," says March for Honour creator Lance Corporal Ram Patten.

"The March provides an opportunity to thank the Royal British Legion, raise vital funds and make the public aware of the brilliant work they do."

For donations, the webpage is http://www.uk.virginmoneygiving.com/marchforhonour and the text shortcode is: text MARCH to 70222. £3+one message @ standard network rate (bill payers permission required!).

For more info the March For Honour website is http://www.marchforhonour.com/ and all of the rugby photos are on the Facebook fan page, which can be found at www.facebook.com/marchforhonour.

Balls

Another example, perhaps, of truth being stranger than fiction.

A little while back I wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek post about the launch of the new adidas "Jabulani" rugby ball for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when last week I received an email from someone (who obviously does not read this blog) at an agency on behalf of adidas asking me to promote the new adidas "Torpedo Respect" - apparently the new official match ball for the Heineken Cup.

Here are a couple of statements - see if you can tell which statement is fictional:

(1) ...manufactured using a new design consisting of 16 thermally bonded 3-dimensional panels molded from ethylene-vinyl acetate and thermo-plastic polyurethanes; or

(2) ...is 100% hand stitched and crafted from natural rubber, the interior is composed of a mixture of latex and butyl to offer exceptional quality and durability.

No? OK, I'll make it a little easier:

(1)...through positioning the valve in the seam and not in the middle of a panel, there is an enhanced sweet spot area ideal for kicking; or

(2)... adopting a ball with similar properties will discourage kicking to touch and long-range penalty attempts.

So, Torpedo Respect or Jabulani?

Admittedly some people might be very excited by the launch of the new ball but, frankly, I'm not one of them. A ball is a ball is a ball. Both regular readers of this blog will know that I'm not in the habit of endorsing products - not unless it's a product I genuinely believe in or unless I am showered with free samples. Suffice to say I'm not expecting the postman to be calling anytime soon and perhaps the most salient point about the new adidas ball is that it retails at 50 quid.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Maurice Ignatius Keane RIP

Very sad news this week that former Ireland and Lions legend Moss Keane has died of bowel cancer aged 62.

Keane made his Ireland debut in 1974, just 4 years after taking up rugby in his early twenties following the lifting of the Gaelic Athletic Association ban on playing "foreign" sports.  He decided he "did not need to be a rocket scientist to be a second row."

During an 11 year international career he was never dropped by his country, a remarkable stat. I caught the tail end of Keane's international career as my interest in the sport blossomed in the early eighties and remember him as a larger than life character and hugely committed forward. His playing prowess was matched by his camaraderie, fondness for a few pints and ready wit, with several examples emerging in the various obituaries being penned about him this week. Here are just a few:

  • On the 1977 Lions Tour to New Zealand, when asked for his comments after a game, Keane replied "The first half was even. The second half was even worse."
  • During the famous Munster victory over the All Blacks in 1978, following the lineout code being called at a Munster lineout, Keane was heard to exclaim "Oh Christ, not me again."
  • Former England skipper Bill Beaumont approached Keane in the tunnel prior to an Ireland v England game and said "May the best team win," to which Keane replied “I hope they don’t.”
  • In a teamtalk he was reported to have coined the phrase, "Spread out and stick together."
  • And finally, former England hooker Peter Wheeler was invited to stay with Keane in Kerry and, on arrival at Keane's house late at night he asked if Moss Keane lived there, to which the woman who opened the door replied "Yes, bring him in."

This has to stop

My thoughts go out to Gavin Quinnell, brother of former Wales forwards Scott and Craig and son of former Wales and Lions legend Derek, following reports that he has permanently lost the sight in his left eye following an incident during Llanelli's Welsh Premiership game against Cross Keys last weekend.

At any age that's a pretty horrific thing to happen and at only 26 years old it looks as if that's his professional rugby career over.

The fact that the Scarlets and Llanelli RFC have lodged a formal citing complaint with the WRU and that Gwent Police are also investigating an allegation of assault, suggests that the injury may have been the result of a deliberate act.

If that is the case I can only hope that the perpetrator is dealt with in the strongest possible manner - this kind of cowardly attack simply must be eradicated from the game and if it takes a life ban and/or a prison sentence to achieve that then so be it. If I was Gavin I'd also be instructing solicitors to sue.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Good Evans

Reports in the New Zealand press this week suggest that a man allegedly posing as a member of the 1977 British Lions team has been enjoying VIP treatment in Rotorua.

Gareth Evans, a Rotorua-based tool maker who claims to have emigrated to New Zealand from Wales in 1983, has apparently been passing himself off as the former Welsh international winger Gareth Evans who played three Tests for the Lions on the 1977 Tour of New Zealand.

On on the strength of his false claims Mr Evans has been wined and dined by the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce, met with civic leaders and was a recent guest of the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union for their match against Otago.

As scams go, this one was harmlessly small-scale and really quite clever, obviously working on the premise that the real Gareth Evans is hardly a household name and that no one, least of all Rotorua's alickadoos, would be any the wiser. Sadly, however, the ruse was rumbled when the Rotorua Review's top investigative journalist obviously smelt a rat and contacted the real Gareth Evans who, it turns out, has never lived outside Wales.

Meanwhile in South West France an Englishman by the name of Iain Balshaw continues to insist that he used to play rugby for England.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Prop Idol

Good grief. England loosehead prop Andrew Sheridan, master bricklayer and chief layer-to-waste of Australian scrummages, has just released an album.

No, not a photo album, a genuine album of music - 16 songs in total - entitled "Where We Go From Here."

Listen to brief extracts here. It seems to be a collection of folky, country & western influenced guitar-strummed ditties - not my cup of tea really but not unpleasant on the ear and probably tailor-made made for Radio 2. Hardly reaching the heights of Kevin Keegan or Waddle & Hoddle, but maybe that's a good thing.

So, with Matt "X Factor" Stevens due to resume hostilities on the field of play in January, England could at least field the most musical front row at next year's World Cup. For those unsure what on earth I'm on about, here's a reminder of Stevens' talents:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In absentia II

They seek him here, they seek him there
Those Rebels seek him everywhere
Where has he gone, where can be be?
That damned elusive Danny C
A visa problem, so they say
Is keeping Danny-boy away
The real reason, I'd have thought
Perhaps involves a different sport
Or maybe just the fact that he's
Addicted to celebrity
And Melbourne, being so far away
It rarely features in OK!
They seek him here, they seek him there
Those Rebels seek him everywhere.

In absentia

Saturday, 2 October 2010

46 not out

In a week when I turned 46 to no fanfare whatsoever (too busy at work for starters), a few rugby stories caught my eye...

According to Paul Rees in the Grauniad, the IRB is investigating claims that Australian players were wired up to their coaches during the 2003 World Cup.

Although I believe that it is common practice in the NFL, for instance, that players are wired for sound (for example via miniature electronic earpieces stitched into headgear), it is strictly verboten in rugby. If true, however, this nefarious practice might explain the absurd phenomenon of backs wearing scrumcaps, something on which my views have previously been made known.

That said, a fat lot of good it did the Aussies in the final minute of the 2003 World Cup Final as "DROP GOAL, DROP GOAL, DROP GOAL, OH F**K" was screamed into the players' earpieces.

The other story of note was the scandalous decision by Saracens to send Steve Borthwick to the Munich Oktoberfest with the rest of the squad rather than requiring him to attend the launch of this season's Heineken Cup.

When I say 'scandalous' what I mean of course is 'brilliant'. Utterly unprofessional no doubt, but it's good to see that there are those that still appreciate the value of a few beers together and are not entirely in thrall to the corporate dollar (or, in this case, euro).

Finally, there was the astounding hold-the-front-page announcement by Chesham Rugby Club that it will be running a 3rd XV this season. With very few Vets fixtures planned this season the 3rd Xv may well turn out to be my only opportunity for rugby action this year. That said, my current state of fitness leaves something to be desired and, given the reported numbers at club training (which I have not yet experienced first hand, it must be said), there's a very real possibility that I wouldn't get a game anyway. C'est la vie.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Baa Baas go orange

The Artist Formerly Known As Gavin Church is reportedly set to make his return to rugby union after accepting an invitation to play for the Barbarians against South Africa at Twickenham in December.

Having not played since March 2009 our favourite son of  the valleys is undergoing intensive preparation for the pantomime match by perfecting his foxtrot, paso doble and viennese waltz on Strictly Come Dancing while trying not to become too aroused by partner Katya Virshilas.

"Obviously our invitation to Gavin will attract a lot of attention. He is conscious of the need for match fitness but we're confident that the Springbok midfield will be bamboozled by his quickstep (see what I did there?)" said the Barbarians contracts manager Mike Burton.

The 28-year-old former Osprey will be joined in the Baa-Baas squad by Ireland's Willie John McBride (70), fellow Welshman Cliff Morgan (80) and former England captain Wavell Wakefield (1898-1983), all of whom are thought to have a better chance of reviving their international playing careers.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Unintended Consequences

Rotund former England fly half Stuart Barnes made an interesting observation on Sky Sports Rugby Club last week.

Although widely credited for the creation of more tries per match, the new interpretation at the breakdown does appear to have one or two unintended consequences.

One such consequence is that canny coaches, knowing that the attacking team will be favoured, are instructing their defenders not to commit to the ruck and instead fan out across the pitch. Another is that teams in attack, knowing that they will be treated leniently at the breakdown, are committing all sorts of offences which are largely going unpunished by referees.

The picture, from Sky Sports, is a great example of this. While no London Irish player is committed to the ruck, at least 3 Gloucester players have gone to ground over the ball to seal it off. And what is the referee doing? Warning the London Irish players about the offside line rather than penalising the Gloucester attackers (if I was a London Irish player I would be tempted to walk round and pick up the ball as, technically, no ruck exists).
Taken to the extreme the game may end up becoming a series of uncontested mini-rucks with defences spread across the field to reduce space and contain the attack until an offence is committed, with more games decided on penalties, the opposite of what was intended. And with no defenders in the ruck, what we are left with looks suspiciously like Rugby League.
Solution? Leave the game well alone. The biggest problem with rugby over the last four years has been the constant meddling of the IRB. First the ELVs, then a series of conflicting directions to referees on how they should interpret the laws.

Bottom line is that the laws are fine and that referees should be allowed just to get on with it without interference. Then we might actually get a game of rugby.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Andy Ripley Memorial Race

This Sunday (26th) the East Grinstead Athletic Club is hosting a cross-country trail race organised in memory of rugby legend and all round good egg Andy Ripley.

The inspirational Ripley, who sadly died of prostate cancer earlier this year aged 62, was a keen supporter of the Club and often presented the prizes at club events.

The race starts at 10:30am at Imberhorne School, East Grinstead and the 10k course will, allegedly, “take you along the lovely Worth Way”.

Entries will, apparently, be accepted on the day and runners are encouraged to support the Prostate Cancer Charity, for whom Ripley was an ambassador.

Good luck to all involved.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Best wishes

May I extend the best wishes of this blog to Tuui Radrava, the York Railway Institute backrow forward who was hospitalised with a “serious brain injury” following an incident in his team’s Yorkshire Division 3 match with Thornensians at the weekend.

Although the Fijian, a British Army soldier, is no longer on the critical list, his condition remains serious and the fact that 3 Thornensians players have since been been arrested and bailed by North Yorkshire Police suggests that this is not the last we’ll hear of this matter…

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Speaking of shameless publicity junkies...

Clearly hacked off with the number of column inches being devoted to other rugby playing narcissistic self-publicists, it was only a matter of time before Brand Haskell re-emerged in the pages of Britain's tabloids and, lo and behold, an 'exclusive' interview with Le Hask appeared last week in that bastion of all things good and true, the Daily Mail.

The interview is obviously a fascinating insight into the life of an Englishman playing professional rugby in France. Or maybe not.

We are, however, left enthralled by such snippets as his nickname at Stade being "La Machine," the fact that he quite enjoys being a gay icon and that he is "deadly serious" about reclaiming the England No 6 shirt for the Autumn internationals.

All of which will, no doubt, really impress Martin Johnson.

Monday, 20 September 2010

As you sow, so shall you reap...

Nice quote from Mike Tindall in the Torygraph:

"...if you don't do stuff to invite the press in, they don't come. If you don't look for media attention, you don't get it. With us, Zara gets on with the riding and I get on with my rugby, and we stick to that and it seems to work for us. We're quite simple."

Perhaps certain shameless publicity junkies (who shall, in the interests of not feeding their fame cravings any further, remain nameless) could take note?

Stranger than fiction?

There appears to be a certain amount of confusion at large about what teams are now allowed to do, or not do, in response to the Haka – something that once upon a time used to be a great piece of sporting theatre but what has in recent years turned into some sort of nonsensical politically correct hot potato.

I have previously made known my views on the Haka and in particular the ludicrous idea that the rugby world is expected to pay it some kind of awe-inspired respect, especially when virtually every response is in some way regarded as disrespectful and an affront to Maori culture.

For some reason, however, the IRB appears to have stuck its nose in where it is not wanted by fining the Wallaroos, Australia's women's rugby team, £1000 for advancing on the Black Ferns’ Haka before their World Cup pool match last month.

IRB tournament rules apparently now dictate that teams must face the Haka and remain motionless 10 metres on their own side of the halfway line, a protocol which would be laughable were it not so tragic.

The whole issue has been thrown into glorious confusion by a typically irreverent piece by our friends over at The East Terrace, the only problem being that the words used in the spoof article were then quoted verbatim as a genuine IRB statement by TVNZ who had somehow failed to get the joke.

Joking aside, it’s clear that the IRB have got this one badly wrong. I’d encourage every international team facing the All Blacks this season to breach this ludicrous protocol and take whatever fine is coming, so long as the message hits home that this stage-managed nonsense has gone far enough.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Hensonwatch

Critical update on T.A.F.K.A.G.C. (the artist formerly known as Gavin Church):

He doesn't want to play for the Hairsprays as he's worried about changing room banter;

He's trying to be the best father he can be;

He may have been naive in agreeing to promote the new Welsh kit;

He may be joining London Irish;

He...no, sorry, I really can't be arsed...