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


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…