Thursday, 26 January 2012

A cite for sore eyes

It has emerged today that Scotland coach Andy Robinson has plans to cite an England player after the Calcutta Cup match on 4th February.

This follows this week's admission by Robinson that Delon Armitage had been cited owing to his “arrogance” following England’s World Cup victory over Scotland in October.

Robinson confirmed that had Lewis Moody, rather than Armitage, committed the late tackle on Chris Paterson during the World Cup encounter, then no citing would have occurred. It was Armitage’s perceived attitude that caused Robinson to bring the incident to the attention of the citing officer.

And this blog can now exclusively reveal that England fullback Ben Foden will also be cited following the clash at Murrayfield next month . Foden is said to have once looked at Robinson “a bit funny”.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Dear Mr Odgers

Dear Mr Odgers

I understand that you have been retained by the RFU to recruit a Head Coach for the England team. I therefore respectfully submit my application for the role.

Firstly I would like to say that that am happy to report directly to the CEO of the RFU, or indeed to anyone else once the CEO’s position has been undermined by those chaps in blazers at Twickenham. I think it is fair to say that for bucketloads of cash and a lucrative severance package I would be prepared to report to the head of catering if necessary.

Looking at the list of “key attributes” published in your advert I should point out that, although I don’t strictly have a background of demonstrable high-level achievement in a senior coaching role, I do regularly attend my son’s Under 9s football matches in the West Herts Youth League, where my role is that of unofficial Shouty Dad. The boys take very little notice of me and are currently second in their division, so you might say that my track record speaks for itself. To be fair, that’s about as much “high-level achievement in a senior coaching role” as the last bloke had.

You also say that the role requires an influential personality who is highly self-motivated, an instigator and driver of progress, with a commitment to delivering success and with a high level of integrity and credibility within the game. I need only to point you towards the magnificently successful touch rugby team (runners up 2 years in succession in the Chesham Touch Rugby Championship) of which I am an integral part (insofar as I always turn up). How much more integrity and credibility can you get?

As to the specific aspects of the role:

1. Develop and implement an agreed playing & coaching strategy – easy – quick ball, quick hands, quick feet. Rocket science it ain’t.

2. Lead and develop a culture of success and shared values – sorry, not sure what that means. If it means “try to win matches” I’ll do my best.

3. Lead the people and processes required to create a successful team – please could you speak English. Oh, I get it – be the boss. No problemo.

4. Relationship management – married for 17½ years. Need I say more?

5. Media and commercial focus – I have a blog, Total Flanker, you may have heard of it.
When I am appointed one of my first tasks will be to re-connect the England team with the public by selecting the Elite Player Squad mainly from the 3rd XVs of England’s junior clubs. It’s like I always say, there’s no “I” in “Elite”.

I would be grateful if you could pass my application to the powers that be in TW1.

Yours most sincerely

Mr T. F. Lanker

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Ash Cash

News that England winger Chris Ashton is moving from the Saints to Saracens for mega-bucks is hardly a surprise. Nor, quite frankly, is the news of his omission from this weekend’s Heineken Cup match against Munster and apparent bust-up with Saints' coach Jim Mallinder.

It may just be a public perception thing, but once again Ashton, not that long ago English rugby’s next big thing, is doing his reputation no favours.

In Ashton’s Twitter announcement he claims that the rest of the season is “all about Saints.” I do wonder whether it has ever been about Saints. The impression Ashton gives is that it’s always been about Ashton.

Jim Mallinder has clearly had enough. The question is, has Stuart Lancaster?

Whatever happened to: Rucking?

Whatever happened to rucking?

I've touched on this before, but nowadays the ruck is a curious sight. A player is tackled then rolls around for a bit adjusting his body position in an attempt to place the ball back advantageously for his teammates. Meanwhile the tackler pops back up to his feet and squats over the tacklee trying to rip the ball from the tacklee's grasp or, at the very least, to stop its release. In the meantime everyone else in the vicinity either dives to the ground to seal off the ball, launches themselves like a human torpedo at the developing pile-up or stands to one side of the melee with arm raised to signal that they know what they're doing even if no one else does. Everyone else fans out across the pitch in a leisurely fashion secure in the knowledge that the ball is not going to emerge anytime soon, while the referee scratches his head at the pointlessness of it all.

This, my friends, is known as a "ruck" and is characterised largely by the fact that if the ball ever does emerge it only does so after the scrum half has had time to pop the kettle on and phone his mother before arriving at its base.

'Twas not ever thus.

I realise that this will make me sound like the oldest of old gimmers, but back in my day things were different. From what I recall, when tackled the tacklee would, if he valued his hands, release the ball pretty much immediately. Those forwards arriving at the ruck (for the backs would never have dreamt of getting involved) would link up and endeavour to drive over the tackler and tacklee, both of whom would either try to roll away or cover head, face and other parts sensitive to being trodden on. The odd bruise or scrape would inevitably ensue or, if you were foolish enough to try to prevent the ball coming out, you would deservedly receive a "good shoeing".

Very occasionally those rucking over the ball would go too far but there's a big difference between being trodden on and being stamped on and I think both players and refs were perfectly aware of the distinction.

A boot to the head was wholly unacceptable and punished accordingly but I know of no one who had any objection to the use of the boot to the body in the act of rucking someone out of the way of the ball on the ground.

The key advantage of "traditional" rucking was that it produced quick ball. It also occupied forwards who might otherwise loiter in midfield clogging up the pitch.

With slow ball currently the bane of the modern game the answer, to me, is obvious: bring back the ruck.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Really? #2

Looks like England's Six Nations campaign has been undermined before it has begun by the RFU’s decision to use a City headhunting firm to help choose the next England head coach.

Despite comforting words to the contrary from the RFU, caretaker coach Gordon Brittas doesn’t appear to warrant serious consideration given that:

(a) the RFU intend to announce a permanent head coach before the end of the Six Nations; and

(b) the liklihood that the headhunters will recommend anyone but the incumbent coach in an attempt to justify their no doubt exorbitant fee (call me a cynical old goat, but there you go).


Monday, 16 January 2012


Following news that rugby league internationals Jamie Peacock and Kevin Sinfield will be addressing the England rugby union squad when it gets together at it’s Oop North training camp next week (along with England cricket managing director Hugh Morris, British Cycling's performance director Dave Brailsford and Simon Brown, a former army corporal who was shot in the face during service in Iraq) comes the revelation that the squad will also be addressed by that most eloquent of motivational speakers…Gary Neville.

Apparently Neville will tell the assembled players what it means to play for your country. Really.

All well and good and no doubt all this motivational chat will have the lads raring to go, but it does makes me wonder whether the squad will have time to engage in something as trivial and mundane as training?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Good grief, not this again...

Never ones to let sleeping dogs lie, the good old British Press have this week been blaming Mike Tindall and fellow attendees at the Altitude bar in Queenstown, New Zealand in September for an assault on a chap with dwarfism outside a Somerset pub a month later.
Several rags (including one or two that really should know better) report that the attack, by a “hooded thug” was a “copycat of the shamed England rugby star Mike Tindall's behaviour in the summer.” This, despite there being absolutely no evidence that Tindall (or any other England player for that matter) did anything other than get pissed on the night in question nor any evidence that the alleged perpetrator of the attack (who has not been found) was trying to re-create something that didn’t actually happen.

Still, why let something as trivial as the facts get in the way of a good story?

And why, we may ask, is this being reported now, some 3 months after the event? This might sound somewhat churlish of me, but could it be that the alleged victim – who supposedly has a “promising acting career” – might be indulging in a spot of cheap PR?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Last of the Mohicans?

Rumours that Quins prop and new addition to the England squad, Joe Marler, has been told to lose his distinctive Mohican hairstyle by the new England management are, apparently, wide of the mark.

Nevertheless, a haircut might not be a bad idea in order to, you know, demonstrate a smidgen of respect for the England shirt and show that he is taking this whole international rugby lark at least a little bit seriously.

It’s also going to look a bit silly when his Mohican head disappears up his own arse courtesy of Sig. Castrogiovanni.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Out with the old...

The new England 6 Nations squad was announced today by caretaker head coach Arnold Rimmer, former holographic second technician of the mining spaceship Red Dwarf.

Forwards - Botha (Saracens), Clark (Northampton), Corbisiero (L.Irish), Cole (Leicester), Croft (Leicester), Deacon (Leicester), Dowson (Northampton), Hartley (Northampton), Lawes (Northampton), Marler (Harlequins), Mears (Bath), Morgan (Scarlets), Palmer (Stade Francais), Robshaw (Harlequins), Stevens (Saracens), Webber (Wasps), Wilson (Bath), Wood (Northampton).

Backs - Ashton (Northampton), Barritt (Saracens), Brown (Harlequins), Dickson (Northampton), Farrell (Saracens), Flood (Leicesters), Foden (Northampton), Hodgson (Saracens), Simpson (Wasps), Sharples (Gloucester), Strettle (Saracens), Tuilagi (Leicester), Turner-Hall (Harlequins), Youngs (Leicester).

As England squad announcements go, this one was about as predictable as a honey badger on speed, with several England regulars of recent vintage jettisoned in favour of young, eager upstarts from the Premiership.

So, progress of sorts but, never satisfied, for me the selection still does not go far enough.

Principal concerns include:
  • absence of a midfield cutting edge (what on earth does Billy 36 need to do?)
  • lack of backrow balance - no out-and-out openside
  • relatively lightweight second row
  • retention of a few fairly ordinary players who will not be around in 2015 and will contribute little in the interim.
The question is, if I was the head coach of one of England's 6 Nations rivals, would I be worried?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Rules is Rules

A handy guide for any bloggers contemplating commenting upon England’s imminent 2012 Six Nations squad selection, taken directly from the 2012 edition of the Rugby Union Writers' Club's Rule Book:

 Rule 25.1

Concerning the selection of the 2012 England Six Nations squad, in delivering your words of wisdom to the unwashed masses thou shalt:

25.1.1 at every opportunity make reference to England's failed 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign, which reference must include a minimum of 3 of the following phrases: dwarf-tossing; Tindall-gate; drinking culture; irresponsible; unprofessional; arrogant; not like Wales;

25.1.2 refer to the exclusion of Danny Care from the squad, making spurious comparisons between the disciplinary regimes of Stuart Lancaster and Martin Johnson;

25.1.3 use the following phrases: ‘exciting’, ‘youthful’, ‘fresh’ and ‘unburdened’ or, alternatively, ‘inexperienced’, ‘callow’ and ‘unproven’ or use all preceding phrases in morass of confusing mixed messages;

25.1.4 continuing the theme, emphasise the importance of England building towards the 2015 World Cup whilst simultaneously insisting that England win every match in the Six Nations;

25.1.5 pick a Premiership player at random and label him as the answer to England’s prayers with a view to calling for him to be publicly flogged when it all goes pear-shaped; and

25.1.6 if all else fails, dust off your annual "Bring Back Danny Cipriani and make him captain" article for publication at the first sign of whoever is chosen to play no.10 failing to walk on water.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

England Carefree

Sometimes you just have to wonder.

Given the controversy (deserved or otherwise) surrounding the off-field behaviour of England players at the RWC and the fact that only three weeks earlier he had been arrested and fined for being drunk and disorderly, what on earth was Danny Care thinking when he decided to get behind the wheel on New Year’s Eve when twice over the legal limit?

Care's subsequent exclusion from the England squad by Stuart Lancaster is what might also be used to describe the player himself...

...a no-brainer.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year

...and welcome to 2012.

Never one to mess with tradition, here are a bunch of rash predictions for the year ahead.

Six Nations – Wide open. Wales are nowhere as good as they think they are, nor are England anywhere near as bad as many so-called experts would have us believe. France will be their usual puzzle wrapped in a mystery enveloped by an enigma, Ireland will have to cope with the absence of midfield deity and Scotland and Italy will once again strive to avoid the wooden spoon. France to shade it.

Super 14 – Seriously no idea and, if I’m brutally honest, no interest.

Four Nations – introduction of Argentina, at last, should spice this up a little but I’m going for Australia to prosper from All Blacks RWC hangover.

Premiership – final in May to see a repeat of the recent Quins v Sarries match at Twickenham with a similar result. Newcastle Falcons to be relegated at long last.

Heineken Cup – difficult to see past Toulouse or one of Leinster or Munster.

England – Stuart Lancaster to introduce fresh young talent to the squad only for England to lose 6 Nations opener at Murrayfield, prompting the return of Borthwick, Tindall, Easter et al for the rest of the tournament. And I’m only half-joking.