Sunday, 22 December 2013

Flood warning

Toby Flood's apparent decision to play his rugby in France next season - probably with Toulouse - is a strange one.

Yes, he'll get paid shedloads of money. And yes, living in the south of France may have its advantages over living in Leicestershire. But with a World Cup in England less than 2 years away it seems bizarre that Flood would effectively rule himself out of England contention given Stuart Lancaster's stated policy on overseas-based players.

Flood's decision also puts his spot in England's 6 Nations squad in jeopardy. After all, why would Lancaster include someone who will be unavailable to him for the next two years?

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Death of a schoolboy



The tragic story of schoolboy Ben Robinson who died of Second Impact Syndrome having taken several blows to the head in a school game.

Click here for the full story





Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Total Flanker Awards 2013

It's that time of year and time, once again, to celebrate, castigate and mock those that have delighted, disgusted or otherwise passed across our radar during the past 12 months.

 Welcome one and all to the 7th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony.

As I'm sure you've all got much better things to do, let's crack on with our first award of the evening...

The Total Flanker Massive Over-reaction Award. Never let it be said that us rugby folk are timid when it comes to reacting to what goes on in the game. Whether it's the result of a match (step forward Welsh fans after thrashing the English in Cardiff in March), or a refereeing decision (reference any decision made by Wayne Barnes in a match featuring New Zealand) or, most particularly, the question of the selection or otherwise of certain players (England fans and Chris Ashton being a pertinent case in point). However the biggest over-reaction in 2013 was, by far, in response to the non-selection of Brian O'Driscoll for the final Lions test against Australia this summer. One player (albeit a player on the verge of deity) being dropped was all it took to shake the entire Irish population into a seething mass of apoplectic outrage. Congratulations.

Moving along, the second award of the evening is the Total Flanker Blatant Profiteering Award.  With international tickets in general being priced at ridiculously unaffordable levels, it might be argued that most international unions could be prime candidates for this award. There is, however, one clear winner - that being the organising committee of Rugby World Cup 2015. Yes, there are will be few cheaper seats available at some venues, but the cheapest adult seats at Twickenham for the pool matches will be £75, while around three-quarters of the stadium’s 82,000 seats will be sold for £160, £215 and £315 and ticket prices for the Final will range from £150 to an eye-watering £715. Ouch.

And...relax. Our next award this evening is the Total Flanker Has The Penny Finally Dropped? Award It's a question that has often been asked of its recipient – a man once seen as the future of English rugby, a man blessed with huge natural talent but who more often than not has graced the front pages of the tabloids rather than the back pages of the broadsheets. Step forward Danny Cipriani whose form  for Sale this season appears to be getting better and better and whose commitment to the previously unedifying job of tackling seems to reaching unprecedented levels. I've been hugely critical of Cipriani on this blog over the years but I genuinely do hope that he's turned a corner.

We're now half way through our awards, so let's move swiftly on to the Total Flanker Where's Your Backbone? Award. This, of course, is awarded to the clubs of the Ligue Nationale de Rugby. Having given, along with Premiership Rugby, 2 years notice to quit the Heineken Cup and having planned, with their English counterparts, a rival Rugby Champions Cup to begin in 2014-2015, the French clubs have now caved into pressure from the French Rugby Union and performed a perfidious volte-face, in doing so showing all the backbone of an amoeba. Shame on you.

In the home stretch now and the penultimate award of the evening - the Total Flanker Reputation Plummeting Like a Stone Award. It gives me no pleasure whatsoever in making this award - it goes to a man who burst on to the England scene in 2010/2011 with an exciting and innovative style of wing play that, stupid swan dive aside, had the English rugby public on its feet. His subsequent fall from grace was, I hoped, merely a blip - a second season syndrome, if you will - but it's looking increasingly likely that the faults in his game might just be permanent. Injuries to his rivals have so far kept him in the England reckoning, but even with an injury list as long as the Thames, Chris Ashton may still struggle to make the England 6 Nations squad.

And so, at last, to our final award. Let's end on an optimistic note as we present - the Total Flanker You Never Know, That Might Just Work Award. I couldn't let the evening pass without an award for our perennial winners - the International Rugby Board - but this year it is all for positive reasons. I am referring to the way in which referees are now being asked to referee the previously anarchistic scrummage. A combination of the 'Crouch, Bind, Set' protocol and the instruction to penalise the crooked feed might just be doing the trick. It's not perfect, not by any means, but I've seen more ball emerge from the back of the scrum in recent months than I have done in years and, all in all, I'd say the portents are good.

So, that's that for another year. For the those with a short attention span, a quick reminder of this year's Awards:

Total Flanker Massive Over-reaction Award - the entire Irish population

Total Flanker Blatant Profiteering Award – RWC 2015

Total Flanker Has The Penny Finally Dropped? Award – Danny Cipriani

Total Flanker Where's Your Backbone? Award - Ligue Nationale de Rugby

Total Flanker Reputation Plummeting Like a Stone Award - Chris Ashton

Total Flanker You Never Know, That Might Just Work Award - IRB

Saturday, 7 December 2013

World spins off its axis as Austin Healy talks sense

Unexpected words of wisdom from former England gobshite scrum-half/wing Austin Healy this week.

Healy is suggesting that one of the reasons rugby has become so brutal (as I highlighted last month) is that the game is now simply too slow.

He rightly points out that the length of time taken to form scrums and lineouts and to kick penalties (whether at the posts or into touch) means precious little time is left to, well, run around.

The consequence? Players are conditioned to be bigger. As Healy says, a  lock who makes 25 big impacts but only runs 2½ miles per game will train accordingly.

Healy even goes so far as to suggest a solution - speed up the game, make it more aerobic, force players to prepare accordingly and shrink in bulk and reduce the high impact brutality.

It all makes an astonishing amount of sense.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The difference between the French clubs and the English clubs...


Top Gat

So, Warren Gatland has been named UK coach of the year at the 2013 UK Coaching Awards.

For what, exactly?

Apparently for "masterminding" the Lions' series win in Australia this summer over a poor Wallabies team whose coach was sacked immediately thereafter.

And for coaching Wales to their magnificent victories over South Africa and Australia this autumn. Oh, wait...

Monday, 2 December 2013

Another Welsh star defects to France

News today that Cardiff bouncer Bleddyn-Wyn Griffiths is set for a lucrative move to Paris.

The 22 stone father of three, who currently works on the door at McDonald’s in Cardiff’s city centre, is set to be unveiled as the new head of security at the McDonald’s restaurant on the Rue de Bournard, Colombes.

Griffiths’ promotion coincides with news of the imminent arrival at Racing Métro 92 of former Bayonne carouser Mike Phillips, news which has been greeted with delight by bar owners in the vicinity of Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir.

5 things we learned from the November internationals

I’ve seen this sort of thing done by real journalists on proper websites so thought I’d give it a go – how hard can it be…?

1.       New Zealand are the best team in the history of the universe between World Cups. It’s undeniable. The facts speak for themselves. 

2.       England are better than any country in the World at keeping their powder dry. Why reveal your attacking strategy 2 years out from the World Cup when you can keep everyone guessing? J 

3.       South Africa are the team that everyone will want to avoid in the 2015 World Cup knockout stages. 

4.       It’s not a mental thing preventing Wales from taking a southern hemisphere scalp. It’s just that, in the absence of one tight-head prop and two centres, they’re really not that good. 

5.       Quade Cooper is a genius and Australia will win the World Cup in 2015. You heard it here first.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

bAck 2 sKooL

News today that Saracens and England winger Chris Ashton has teamed up with Virtual Learning UK to launch a two-year rugby union and education scholarship for 16 to 18-year-olds.

The Chris Ashton Academy will run two-year courses combining top-level rugby coaching and a BTEC National Extended Diploma in Sport.

Included on the curriculum are lessons in swallow-diving, try-butchering and generally acting like a bit of a twat.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Nine South Africans. Eight Kiwis. Five Argentinians. One Samoan.

Barbarians v Fiji Scarf


It is right and proper that we should be celebrating 100 years of Fijian rugby and it's great that Twickenham and the Barbarians are supporting the celebrations.

But a Barbarians side without a single player from a northern hemisphere nation?
 
The days of Carmichael, Slattery, Edwards and Duckham are long gone and, with the match falling outside the international window, it is simply no longer feasible for the BaaBaas to field the equivalent of a Lions XV at home.
 
But is turning this occasion into a southern hemisphere exhibition match really the answer?



Monday, 25 November 2013

Sick as an Irish parrot

It was a monumental effort by Ireland against the All Blacks at the weekend - heartbreaking stuff for the Irish players – and the likes of BOD and POC especially. Chances to beat New Zealand don’t come around too often for anyone, let alone the Irish. 

Ireland's performance showed again that the so-called chasm between the North and South (hemispheres, not Ireland) isn’t as gaping as many think, especially when the matches are played in Europe. Rugby World Cup 2015 will be played in the autumn in the northern hemisphere and Ireland, England, France and Wales have all, to a greater or lesser extent, made a statement of intent this November. If a southern hemisphere team is to win the World Cup they’ll be made to work bloody hard for it. 

That said, what  other team in the world could have pulled themselves back from the brink the way this excellent New Zealand team did?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Thought for the day

Can you imagine the flak Stuart Lancaster would be taking had England performed as poorly as Wales did against Tonga last night?

The Total Flanker Guide to: Interviews

And now for something completely different...



10 years...10 LONG years

Blimey. Just watched the re-un of the 2003 RWC Final.



How good were England? By a huge margin the better team - hadn't quite realised how easily we should have won that match. Yes, Australia hung in and kicked their points but they should never have been in with a shout.

Despite it being 10 years on and me knowing the result, I was pretty much shitting myself as the game progressed and extra time was almost as unbearable as it was back in 2003.

Thank heavens for Saint Jonny at the death. Absolutely bloody brilliant. How can anyone possibly deal with that kind of pressure?


A couple of mentions:

- Hats off big time to Elton Flatley - balls of steel.

- Andre Watson's performance gets no better with the passage of time.

And finally - surely that must be it? Believe me, 2003 was utterly fantastic but, as I've mentioned before, surely now it's done and dusted. Of course it isn't. The only way to forget the past is to win the bloody thing again.

2015. Game on.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Elvis lives




I'm all shook up by the announcement that anyone who turns up dressed as Elvis to watch Saracens play Sale Sharks at Allianz Park on Saturday 30th November will be admitted free of charge.

Apparently (and somewhat bizarrely) the marketing initiative is designed to celebrate the 37th anniversary of Elvis’ concert at Anaheim, California in 1976. Why now? No idea. I guess it's now or never.
 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Has modern rugby become too brutal?

Consider this...

  • In 2 games this November Wales have lost 3 centres - Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams and Cory Allen - to injury.

  • Scotland apparently suffered ELEVEN injuries against the Springboks on Sunday.

  • Dylan Hartley is recovering from a bruised lung suffered against the All Blacks.

  • Italian centre Luca Morisi has had to have his  SPLEEN removed after a heavy tackle against Fiji.

Rugby has always been a tough game but has it, at the top level at least, just become too brutal?

Just asking...

Monday, 18 November 2013

What goes on tour...

News today that 15 of the Australian squad have been disciplined for going out on the lash during the week leading up to last weekend's match with Ireland.

How must the Irish players be feeling? As if getting thumped 32-15 at home to Australia wasn't bad enough...

Sunday, 17 November 2013

November internationals 2013 - weekend verdict on 'home' nations

ENGLAND - close but no cigar. Still, progress made and arguably a sprinkling of stardust away from being a very good team indeed. Still a way to go though.

WALES - lauded for scoring 4 tries against Argentina. England were castigated for doing the same last week. Go figure.

SCOTLAND - seriously, how can you expect to beat anyone when you're dressed like a badminton team?

IRELAND - oh dear.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Total Flanker Guide to: Beating the All Blacks

Everyone else seems to be doing it so here they are, my top 5 tips to guarantee England victory over the All Blacks this weekend:

1. Score more points than they do;

2, 3, 4 & 5. See above.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Incredible

Sorry, I know I really shouldn't, but I just couldn't let this one pass.

Some very high quality 'newspapers' have reported that our favourite publicity-seeking former England fly half, Danny Chipolata, has been dumped by underwear model and former Miss Great Britain, Sophie Gradon (no, I'd never heard of her either).

According to one of Ms Gradon's friends: "Sophie's very intelligent and felt Danny was a bit dull," while the model herself has confirmed:  "I got bored of Danny and have now swapped him for someone incredible."

Keith 'Beefy' Roberts and Sophie Gradon
The very intelligent Sophie Gradon and someone incredible

There's just no pleasing some people

A comfortable win against Argentina following a not so comfortable but still well deserved victory over the Aussies last week clearly just isn't enough for some people.

To put things in context, a year ago England were losing to Australia while Argentina were beating Wales, so the last 2 weeks' results are nothing to be sniffed at.

We're constantly told by the great and the good of rugby journalism that, for England, the result is everything and that heroic defeat is no longer enough. So why moan when the result is delivered?

Yes it might be said that Australia and Argentina were poor this November. And yet the Aussies still stuck 50 on Italy and it remains to be seen what we'll see from Argentina in the coming weeks.

It might also be claimed that England have so far lacked fluency. Face it - it happens. The trick is to find a way to win when all is not going to plan. England have done precisely that.

England are clearly not the finished article, nor are they the All Blacks - but when, I ask, have they ever claimed to be?

And so to the ultimate challenge next week as the apparently unbeatable New Zealanders come to town. England start as rank outsiders, it seems.

Game on.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Scrum - a question.


Even with a beefed up front row I expect England to come under some pressure from the Pumas' 'bajada' at Twickenham on Saturday.

Here's a question, however - could someone please explain why referees always feel the need to penalise a retreating scrum?

You've just been propelled backwards at a rate of knots, the opposition no 8 has the ball nicely under control, the whistle blows and, having extracted your head from your arse, you look up to find that the referee has rubbed salt in the wound by awarding a penalty against you.

It happened on several occasions last week with the Australians penalised with the ball still at Billy Vunipola's feet, and is now a staple part of every professional rugby match I watch. The ball is put in, the scrum is driven (not necessarily in that order) and the back-peddling scrum penalised.

For most offences referees will allow the game to continue for an eternity while they wait for an advantage to occur but never, it seems, at scrum time. With one pack splintered and in disarray you would have thought, wouldn't you, that the other pack might at least be given the opportunity to use the possession they have worked so hard for?

The problem with such an argument is that, for many teams, the scrum is no longer a means of gaining possession of the ball - it is simply a way of generating a penalty.

The consequence of this approach, which appears to be aided and abetted by compliant refereeing, is that the game becomes somewhat skewed. The team with the stronger scrum can take risks, knowing that a dropped pass will result in a scrum and, in all likelihood, a penalty, whilst the team with the weaker scrum simply can't afford to make a mistake and has very little chance of establishing any kind of foothold in the game.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Not punishing offending players could (and probably would) create a cheat's charter. At its essence, however, the scrum is supposed to be about restarting the game and, whilst I do believe that it should be a contest, I'm not sure that losing such a contest should automatically incur a penalty - after all, if you are losing the scrum contest the initiative is in the hands of your opponents and you are already firmly on the back foot.

Might punishing offences at the scrum with a free kick be the answer?

Answers on the back of a postcard...

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

BOD snubbed again

Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll is said to be “gutted” after having been left out of the Welsh team to play South Africa in Cardiff this weekend by Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

Universally regarded as the best player of his generation on the planet and widely expected to have been named Welsh captain this weekend, O’Driscoll will now have to make do with a place in the Ireland squad to face Samoa.

“ It was such a tight call,” admitted Gatland, “probably the toughest decision of my career, but I had to take into account the form of Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams and the fact that Brian is Irish”.

O’Driscoll’s supporters in Ireland have reacted furiously with former Ireland and Lions hooker Keith Wood describing Gatland as a "feckin eejit" and labelling the decision as "a terrible, awful, dreadful, woeful, diabolical mistake."

"There's definitely a pro-Welsh bias in selection. There are far too many Welsh players in this Wales team."

Monday, 4 November 2013

Ramblings of a mad man

"gabble, babble, gibber, jabber"
Amidst the not very helpful criticism being directed towards the England team by former coach Sir Clive Woodward, is a declaration that he is not in favour of England players wearing "high-visibility, multi-coloured boots."

If Sir Clive were still in charge all players would wear black footwear ... (I’m with you so far Clive)…except the back three who, apparently, should wear white (huh?)

Whereas my own reasons for banning coloured boots centre around the fact that they make the players look like dicks (FACT), Sir Clive believes that there is a scientific basis for his argument, namely that luminous boots are far more likely to be spotted in an offside position by the referee.

Furthermore, wingers and fullbacks should wear while boots, he says, so that the officials can’t spot them putting a foot on the touchline. Apparently the white detail on Mike Brown’s boots were a decisive factor against the Aussies at the weekend.

Taking things one stage further, Sir Clive also claims in his regular column in the Daily Fail that England should switch kit manufacturers to Madam Malkin's of Diagon Alley who can provide the England players with shirts made of the same material as previously used for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

What the hell do I know?

I thought picking Mike Brown ahead of Ben Foden was the wrong call by Stuart Lancaster ahead of Saturday's game against Oz. I was wrong.

I thought Billy Twlevetrees was certainly the answer to England's problem position at inside centre. Not on Saturday's evidence.

Lee Dickson? Definitely the form no 9, or so I thought, but Ben Youngs was way more assured when he replaced Dickson.

And I reckoned Tom Youngs was clearly the right choice ahead of Dylan Hartley - except that he clearly wasn't.

What the hell do I know?

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Get a grip

Amidst the hype and guff surrounding the England team there appears to be much pulling out of hair and gnashing of teeth about the fact that, 2 years out from the World Cup, Stuart Lancaster has yet to nail down his preferred starting XV.

“Who’s the first choice number 9?” they ask.

“What about the centre partnership?” they wail.

“Who starts at hooker?”

To which I say: CALM DOWN (dears).

I know I said we should consign 2003 to history (do as I say, not as I do) but, just for a minute, let’s take a quick gander at the England team that faced Australia at Twickenham on 10th November 2001, 2 years prior to the 2003 World Cup:

Trevor Woodman had yet to find his way into the team, Steve Thompson wasn’t yet on the radar, whilst Ben Kay was still a newbie. The jury was out on which of Matt Dawson or Kyran Bracken was the starting no 9, while Ben Cohen was fighting it out with Dan Luger and Austin Healy for the wing positions. Meanwhile Jason Robinson had only just secured a starting berth and Josh Lewsey didn’t force his way back into the team until the 2003 6 Nations. Yes, the captain, back row and midfield were pretty much established but places were generally still up for grabs.

Stuart Lancaster has so far been in charge for two 6 Nations and one November series during which time he has identified a core of players on which he will rely for 2015 and around which he will build his World Cup squad.  

Whatever the results over the next three weeks he has earned the right to be allowed to get on with it.

Friday, 1 November 2013

2003 and all that...

You may have noticed that certain sections of the media are trying to hype up the England v Oz match at HQ tomorrow as being some sort of 10th anniversary rematch of the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final.

And therein lies the problem with the English rugby psyche. Quite aside from historical inaccuracy (22nd November being the actual 10th anniversary), isn’t it about time to, well, you know, let 2003 go?

Don’t get me wrong…even today the memories of that superb day send a shiver down my spine and cause the hairs on the back of my neck (which are many and grey) to stand up.  Great, great times but, come on, shouldn’t they now be consigned firmly to history?

Since winning the World Cup, English rugby appears to have been locked in a cycle of perennial underachievement and until we move on I suspect it will only continue. Forget the past - it’s time to create a new history. Not just the players and coaches, but also the English rugby public and, especially, the media.

Forget 2003, lest it becomes the equivalent of English football’s 1966.

Here endeth the lesson…

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Anticipation...

And so the November internationals are almost upon us and the scribes are out in force, telling Stuart Lancaster who he should pick, insisting that England win every game and proclaiming that Twickenham must be turned into a fortress, or some such guff.

As usual there is clamour from certain circles, notably the offices of the Sunday Times, that England become bigger, meaner and nastier and revert to attempting to bully the opposition off the park. After all, that worked a treat between 2003 and 2011. Oh, wait...

I suspect that, unlike the great and the good of the broadsheet newspapers, most sensible England fans would wish only that the England team continues to improve year on year which, by and large, is what we've had so far under Stuart Lancaster.

Thankfully I get the feeling that Lancaster will rise above all the hype. I'm sure he knows full well that England weren't good enough in Cardiff in March but equally, unlike some I could mention, recognises that it isn't strictly necessary (in the words of Edwyn Collins) to  rip it up and start again.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Congrats

The best wishes of this blog are extended to Mr and Mrs Jonny Wilkinson.

It's being reported that our Jonny has married his long-term girlfriend Shelley in a typically understated private ceremony in the French resort of Bandol.

Wilkinson and his bride obviously decided not to invite either of OK! or Hello magazines to cover the wedding, a decision I can certainly identify with, Mrs F and I having made the same decision for our nuptials many moons ago.
 
 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Treason at the Last Chance Saloon


The Last Chance Saloon is getting a tad full.

The latest customer would appear to be Mike Phillips, sacked by Bayonne for turning up to a video analysis session under the influence of alcohol, an act described as "treason" by club chairman, Alain Affelou.

Phillips' latest misdemeanour is one of an increasing number of alcohol-related incidents involving the Welsh no 9 and follows his suspension by Wales in 2011 after an altercation with a McDonald's bouncer in Cardiff and his suspension and fine imposed by Bayonne a year ago after a series of alcohol-related off field incidents.

That Phillips is reportedly considering legal action against Bayonne only serves to demonstrate that he really hasn't learned his lesson, while Warren Gatland's refusal to confront the issue ultimately does the player no favours.

It also looks as if Phillips will be joined at the bar of the Last Chance Saloon by Justin Bieber lookalike James O'Connor. Dumped by Australia after a series of indiscretions, the latest of which being his removal from Perth airport for drunken behaviour by Australian Federal Police, O'Connor's place at the bar looks as if it will be sponsored by London Irish.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

9021Over (see what I did there?)

Back to the heights of cutting edge rugby journalism ...

The red tops have been very busy this week with reports that Thom Evans, former Scottish international wing, Kelly Brook-ex and aspiring actor, has split from his American actress girlfriend Jessica Lowndes.

Momentous news, I'm sure you'll agree and if, like me, you'd never heard of Jessica Lowndes, here’s an unapologetically gratuitous picture…
Lowndes
...which is not a whole lot different to...
Brook

Total Flanker: Investigative reporting at its shuddering best.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Spygate?

Warren Gatland has apparently confirmed that he took England defence coach defence coach Andy Farrell on the Lions tour (ahead of Wales' Shaun Edwards) partly in order to get insight into how England prepare, especially with the 2015 Rugby World Cup in mind.

A throwaway line in an interview? Maybe, but it again reinforces the feeling I had in the summer (dismissed by many as sour grapes) that Gatland had an agenda that was as much about preparing Wales for 2015 as it was about winning the series against Australia.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Carry on Captain


The decision to re-appoint Chris Robshaw as England skipper for the November tests is the right one.
 
Utterly unnecessary, however, is Stuart Lancaster feeling the need to defend his decision publicly.
 
“He’s fit, he’s in good form and he’s our first choice 7 and captain,” is all the endorsement Robshaw should need.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Matthew Rees - get well soon




This blog's best wishes for a speedy recovery are hereby extended to former Welsh skipper Matthew Rees who is currently taking time out form the game in order to recuperate from testicular cancer surgery.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Total Flanker Guide to: Goalkicking

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a land not too far away from here, I kicked a penalty goal in a schoolboy game of rugby football.

My team was, as  often was the case, 30+ points down at the time and on our way to a comprehensive thumping. I was utterly fed-up and, as captain, decided that we'd feel that much better about ourselves with 3 points on the board and, more importantly, I'd feel that much better about myself if it was me who scored them.

It was dead in front of goal, not very far out and I hit it with my hardly-ever-practised toe-punt technique, sending the ball sailing (well, wobbling) through the middle of the uprights.

All of which makes me justifiably qualified to offer advice to all and sundry on the art of goalkicking...

It seems to me that goalkickers fall into 2 categories:

1. high percentage kickers and
2. hit and hopers.

No doubt at the elite level of the game high percentage kickers are what most directors of rugby dream about. If your kicker is landing 80% or more of his kicks then there's a very good chance that your team will be in the mix come the end of the season. As far as grassroots rugby goes, however, a high percentage goalkicker is about as much use as tits on a fish.

Let me explain. In my experience, the reason high percentage goalkickers at grassroots level have such a high percentage is that they rarely, if ever, attempt any kick on goal which is not dead centre and 25 metres out. Anything slightly further away or a tad left or right of centre and it's "slightly outside my range, skipper" and "let's be positive and go for the corner and take the lineout."

Of course, in the unlikely event that, having made such a decision, your pack wins the lineout and drives over for a try out wide, the high percentage kicker will discover a hitherto un-mentioned groin twinge preventing him from attempting the conversion - a twinge which will miraculously vanish next time you're awarded a kick in front of the sticks.

No, for grassroots rugby what is required is your enthusiastic but limited hit and hoper. You know the one - the bloke who claims to have a "siege gun boot" but who is about as accurate as projectile vomiting. Not only will he attempt all the kicks that your high percentage kicker might eschew and more besides, there's a small percentage (based on the law of averages) that occasionally a kick might just go over, meaning that your team might just score a few more points than it might otherwise have done and might just win a few more games than it might otherwise have won.

And here's the thing. Having a ready and willing hit and hoper means more time standing around, hands on head, sucking in oxygen while yet another improbable attempt at goal is lined up. More time stood still, less time running around.

Which, in my experience, can only be a good thing.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Whatever happened to: Rugby Football?

OK, it's just possible that I may have bitten of a little more than I can chew here, but here's a question: Whatever happened to Rugby?


Let's face it, rugby (to paraphrase Jimmy Greaves) is a funny old game. How many other sports are there,  for instance, where the laws of the game either change more or less every season or are subject to a mystifying plethora of refereeing interpretations which seem to depend on where the game is being played, where the referee was born or whether there's an R in the month?

Was it always thus? I seem to recall a time when very little seemed to change in the game. Back in my playing heyday (uh-oh, here we go) I admit to remembering very few changes taking place - the try being amended from 4 to 5 points, for instance, or the team driving a maul forward being denied the subsequent scrum put-in, or the team kicking a penalty into touch being awarded the throw-in. The point is, however, that such changes were few and far between - so much so that they stick in the memory, as opposed to the myriad of largely forgettable experimental law tweaks that players, referees and spectators are confronted with today. Crouch, Bind, Set? Just bloody get on with it, man!

And another thing. Once upon a time props propped, locks jumped and a tackling fly half was something of a collectors item. Nowadays not only is everyone is expected to tackle like dervishes, they even count the number of tackles you make in a game, for heaven's sake.

Not only that, I also seem to recall that the object of tackling used to be to bring your opposition to ground, not to knock him into the middle of next week. Rugby has always been a tough game, but the head-on collisions these days are just brutal - no wonder concussion is such a big topic of debate in the game right now.

Look, I'm not a complete Luddite. I do recognise that the game is faster and more dynamic than in yesteryear and that players are bigger, stronger, fitter and quicker. But is the game really any better? With scrums remaining largely shambolic, with the lineout often nothing more than over-choreographed nonsense, with rucks largely involving a static morass of prostrate bodies and with space on the field being at an absolute premium, I do often find myself asking: Whatever happened to Rugby?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Strictly Big Ben



Good luck to former England wing Ben Cohen in week 4 of this year's Strictly Come Dancing tomorrow night.

Cohen has been hard in training# it seems...

"I had a moment in training the other week...where I was dry humping my dance partner in a kind of dance move and as we were rehearsing my wife walked in."

In a kind of dance move?

Which dance move is that and where do I sign up?

(# pun intended)

Thursday, 17 October 2013

New kit for Wales...and it's red!

Just to prove that I am impartial, fair and balanced...

THIS LOOKS BLOODY AWFUL:



(or "Mae'n ofnadwy" as 19% of the population of Wales might say)

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Eddie Jones - get well soon



Apparently ex-Aussie coach Eddie Jones, currently coaching the Japanese national team, is in intensive care in a Tokyo hospital after suffering a stroke

Thoughts are with him and his family - I'm sure we all wish him a full and speedy recovery.


 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hooorah!


It’s official. Stuart Lancaster = good egg.

Despite pressure from the RFU bean counters and the recent unveiling of a red and white striped “Battle of the Roses” change kit, Lancaster has vowed that, for this season at least, England will wear white.

“...for this year when we are trying to build an identity, it pays to play in white,” says Lancaster.

Quite right. And it should not only be for this year.

Lancaster gets it. When do the All Blacks ever wear anything other than black? Only when they are forced to. The result is that the black shirt has become iconic in its own right, with minimal design changes down the years reinforcing its status as a commercial asset.

Contrast that with the myriad of designs undergone by the England kit during the Nike era. The latest Canterbury version, with minimal tinkering, is a step in the right direction.

All we need now is to lose the bloody O2 logo.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The ego has landed

The Total Flanker Selfish Bastard of the Week Award (whaddya mean you’ve never heard of it?) goes this week to New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams.

Williams graciously decided this week that he would help out his “brothers” by declaring his availability to play for New Zealand in the forthcoming Rugby League World Cup.

No problem there, you would think, if it were not for the fact that he announced his decision once the squad had already been selected, Sonny Bill having previously publicly declared his unavailability.

Already a rugby union World Cup winner with the All Blacks and currently New Zealand’s heavyweight boxing champion, there’s no doubt that Williams is a prodigiously talented athlete, but I doubt that 21 year old Tohu Harris, unceremoniously dumped from the NZ squad within 24 hours of celebrating his call up, is feeling too much brotherly love for Sonny Bill right now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Getting shirty (again)

I should have known.

With a new change kit only announced weeks ago it was only a matter of time before England also launched a new home kit, a full 12 months after the last one.

I know the bean counters at the RFU approve, but do we really need a new kit every season?

Thankfully, it only being 5 minutes or so since they designed the last one, the designers at Canterbury have barely managed to do anything other than sew a navy (sorry, midnight blue) strip onto the end of each sleeve.

Meanwhile, there appears to have been a massive breakdown in communication between the RFU and England Rugby’s official ambassador for children's rugby, Ruckley the bulldog.

Ruckley may have "boundless energy, bucketloads of enthusiasm and an endless love of rugby" but he is distinctly off-message in the kit department.

Has he refused to wear the new kit? In times of austerity is he standing up for the little people who simply cannot afford to contribute a penny more to the ruthless RFU merchandising machine? Or is he just a bit thick?

I think we should be told.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Naughty

Just heard that former England skipper and coach Martin Johnson has received a 49 day ban for speeding on the M5. Not known as a speedster in his playing days, Johnno was apparently clocked at 103 mph.

The ban beats Johnno's previous record - a 35 day ban for stamping, dropping a knee onto a prone player and punching Julian White, all in the same match against Saracens in December 2000. An impressive afternoon's work by anyone's standards.

In covering Johnno's driving ban the Daily Fail helpfully reports that he earns £60k a year and lives in a £500k house. Which is nice.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Whatever happened to James Haskell?

It occurs to me that we haven’t heard very much from James “The Hask” Haskell recently.

Apart from recent scurrilous rumours linking him with Kelly Brook, former squeeze of Thom Evans and Danny Chippolata (I should SO write for OK Magazine, I really should), a visit to the shrine aka the official James Haskell website reveals that the most recent public appearance of The Hask was to promote the RNLI “Respect the Water” safety campaign this summer.

"As a rugby player, I train to be as strong as I can be, but I know from experience that even I'm no match for the strength of the water."

Brilliant.

COMING SOON:
"As a rugby player, I try to turn the heat up on my opposition whenever I’m on the pitch, but even I’m no match for how hot fire is.”
"As a rugby player, I try to put in an electrifying performance every time I play,  but I know from experience that even I’m no match for being struck by lightning.”
“As a rugby player, I train hard to smash into my opposition, but I know from experience that even I’m no match for being hit by a double decker bus. Danny Cipriani, on the other hand…”

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

EXCLUSIVE - Shaun the Sheep Safety Fears

A representative of children's television star Shaun the Sheep has today revealed concerns over the safety of his client, who has been signed up to promote the 2015 World Cup to younger audiences.

Shaun’s participation in various promotional activities related to the World Cup has been cast into doubt by the involvement of Ruckley – England Rugby’s official ambassador for children's rugby.
 

Described by the RFU as “an English bulldog with boundless energy, bucketloads of enthusiasm and an endless love of rugby,” Ruckley also comes with a reputation of being a notorious sheep-botherer, a fact not lost on Sean the Sheep’s representative, Bitzer the sheep dog.
“The bottom line is that we can’t risk Shaun’s health and we’ll be seeking reassurances from both the IRB and the RFU,” said Bitzer when questioned by this blog.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

49


Forty-nine years young today.
Bugger. How on earth did that happen?
Five minutes ago I was cavorting around in my early twenties, a picture of fitness, working hard, drinking hard, and playing a shitload of rugby with barely a care in the world. And now this – one year away from the big FIVE-O, having almost certainly left life's half way point in my wake and suffering on any given day with one or other of sciatica, a frozen shoulder, muscular back spasms, dodgy achilles and sore knees.
Excuse me while I settle down with a small sherry and my pipe and slippers...

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Karma

Forget the torn pec, the President of the David Cameron Fan Club exacts revenge...

 


Monday, 23 September 2013

Evening all...

Having recently acquired a BT Vision box and having signed up for BT Sport I actually got to watch some Premiership rugby at the weekend, the Gloucester v Saints game probably being the pick of the bunch.

The highlight of the weekend was, however, finding out the name of London Irish and England winger Marland Yarde’s Dad. Unless this is an elaborate hoax (in which case my cap is duly doffed) it would appear that Mr Yarde Senior’s first name is…yes, you guessed it…

…SCOTLAND.

I kid you not.