Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Total Flanker Awards 2014

The live broadcasting rights having been sold off at exorbitant rates to a major media corporation, welcome one and all to edited highlights of the 8th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony.

Yes time, once again, to rejoice in the achievements of those that have impressed, offended or otherwise come to our attention during the past 12 months.

And so, without further ado…

The first award tonight is the The Total Flanker Might This Be A Game Changer? Award. And the winner is the England Women's Rugby team. World Champions this year, 20 players awarded professional contracts, BBC TV's Sport's Team of the Year and now Sarah Hunter and (Chesham RFC coach) Rocky Clark awarded MBEs - 2014 could prove to be a game changing year not only for women's rugby but also women's team sport in Britain.

Moving along, our second award of the evening is the Total Flanker Miracle Man of the Year Award. Step forward the CEO of the RFU, Mr Ian Ritchie. In pulling the stakeholders in the basket case that is European club rugby back from the brink of mutually assured destruction and in doing so  safeguarding the future of a European club competition, Mr Ritchie truly performed miracles.

Next up, the Total Flanker Riddle Wrapped Up In A Mystery Inside An Enigma Award. And this gong goes this year to the England midfield which has been baffling pundits and national coaches alike for over 10 years and is still no nearer to being decided, settled or effective. One of these days...

And so to our next award, the  Total Flanker Why Don't We Just Stick Our Heads In The Sand? Award. The winners this year are difficult to identify precisely, so let's just call them The Powers That Be. The reason? Well, let's just take as an example the arranging of England's 1st Test against New Zealand, one week after the climax of the English domestic season. Top players around the world are being flogged into the ground as commercial interests ride roughshod over player welfare. Something has to change…

The end is in sight now as we move swiftly on to the Total Flanker Biggest Anti Climax of the Year Award. This is an award very personal to me and goes to Rugby World Cup 2015, entirely because all  I was eventually successful in applying for were 2 tickets to see Japan v Samoa at Milton Keynes. Underwhelmed doesn't even begin to describe it.

Our final and probably most prestigious award is the Total Flanker Rant of the Century Award. Only one contender for this award. And I quote:
"I never want to speak with Cockers any more. I am the kind of guy that if I hate you, if you are not clear with me or if you have been a cunt, how you say in English, I never want to speak to you any more. That’s it. That’s how I am. I am not fake. If I hate you, I say in your face and I will never speak to you again. Love me or hate me. I don’t hate anyone. Peace and love. I just don’t like cunts."
Outstanding work, Martin Castrogiovanni.

And finally just a quick word to thank those of you who continue to read the garbage that I continue to produce. For various reasons the volume of my output has been a tad disappointing in 2014. A reduction in quantity often leads to increased quality but not, sadly, in this case. Thank you for your forbearance and I will endeavour to improve in 2015.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Play it again Sam

Only a superhuman effort by Sam Burgess will see him picked for the England RWC 2015 squad.

Then again, there are those who would have us believe that he is, indeed, superhuman.

Although sceptical of his chances, I would be delighted to be proved wrong and there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Burgess should be included in the England training squad for the forthcoming 2015 Six Nations. Stuart Lancaster has an obligation to leave no stone unturned in his efforts to produce as strong a team as possible for next autumn - and the best way for Lancaster and his coaches to assess the progress of Sam Burgess is to see him first hand.

The same goes for Steffon Armitage. I remain unconvinced by Armitage's claims to an England shirt and am fully behind the principle of excluding players from England duty if they are based abroad. Principles, however, can and should be set to one side for the next 12 months. Get him into the squad, have look and see if he's good enough...

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bit of a muddle

So, the verdict on England's November campaign? A bit of a mixed bag.

And what did we learn?

That England can push New Zealand and South Africa close(ish)? Nothing new there.

That England can bully the Aussie pack? Ditto.

That George Ford is an international quality outside half? Yes, certainly.

That England haven't a clue what their centre combination should be? Without a doubt.

Not only do England not know who they should be picking, they also appear not to know what type of player they are looking for:

- against the All Blacks and the Boks an out of form kicking 10 (Farrell) played with a running 12 (Eastmond) and a defensive 12 (Barritt) at 13;
- against Samoa an in-form playmaker 10 (Ford) was teamed with the out of form kicking 10 at 12 who partnered the defensive 12 at 13;
- and against the Aussies the in-form playmaker 10 was partnered with another (not so in-form) playmaker at 12 (Twelvetrees) and, again, the defensive 12 at 13.

At no point did the selectors see fit to pair George Ford with a bona fide strike runner in the midfield. OK, so Manu Tuilagi was injured, but at various times both Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph were available but ignored.

Consequently England's back play, much improved during the 2014 Six Nations, is now once more all a bit of a muddle.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

England expects…but so does Mrs Attwood

England remain hopeful that lock Dave Attwood will be available to face the All Blacks on Saturday, with the birth of his first child imminent.

It appears that England are pinning their hopes on Mrs Attwood producing Attwood Jnr prior to Saturday's match, with several commentators suggesting that, if push came to shove (so to speak), the England forward should choose to play against New Zealand rather than attend the birth.


To me there's only one choice. Whilst admittedly the chances of me ever facing the All Blacks are a tad  remote, I would not have missed the birth of my kids for the world.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Tickety-boo

Well, I received an email yesterday informing me of how successful my official application for Rugby World Cup tickets had been.

The result?

Nothing, nada, zilch, nul points.

Admittedly I had focussed on England group matches at Twickenham, New Zealand at Wembley and the Final itself - all of which unsurprisingly were massively over-subscribed - but to get nothing at all is still pretty galling.

Apparently, however, all is not lost as, to show their appreciation for my support of the tournament, the ticketing committee are inviting me to be part of a priority sale when unsold tickets go on sale again in November. So I can look forward to bidding again for tickets to Tonga v Namibia at Sandy Park, Exeter. Whoopee-do.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

50 not out

It's taken something pretty extreme to wake me out of my recent bout of blogging lethargy and that something is I'm afraid to say, turning 50.

Yes, today I rack up my half century. I feel quite ill. No, seriously, I feel crap - no doubt partly to do with slightly over-indulging last night as well as the beginnings of a flu bug that's doing the rounds. Welcome to the rest of my life.

My hypochondriac tendencies aside, time to catch up on a few bits and pieces going on in the world of rugby…

I see that yet another England kit is on the market - the major innovation being to move the rose to the centre of the shirt (genius) as well as the crassly unauthorised use of the Victoria Cross emblem. A red (sorry, crimson) change kit will also make an appearance this autumn. It seems that a new England kit launch is now to be an annual event. How nice.



Meanwhile I also see that there's been further discussion recently about "plastic Englishmen" with the talk being that Sarries' Australian prop, Kieran Longbottom, has declared availability for England on the grounds that his granny is English. Whether or not he is legitimately qualified, however, is hardly the question. The words Australian and prop ought to be enough to decide his fate.

Clearly further thought does need to be given to international eligibility criteria though, with England's Steffon Armitage having been named in an initial 74 man French squad on grounds that I utterly fail to understand but which involve, I think, a loophole in the regulations which have something to with Sevens and the possession of a French passport.

Finally, somewhat belated congratulations must go to the England Women's team, not only for their victory in the Women's Rugby World Cup but also for the award of professional contracts to a number of them. It is a significant step forward, although the fact that professionalism is limited to Sevens players is slightly perturbing. No only is it a slap in the face for certain stalwarts of the England team who perhaps aren't of the quick and nimble persuasion, it also sends out entirely the wrong the message to youngsters coming through - i.e. if you're a big strong lass who likes scrummaging then forget it.

That's all from me for now. Time for a lie down.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Sevens and hell

I thought South Africa were good value for their victory over New Zealand in the final of the Commonwealth Games Sevens last week.

It's just possible that I may have previously mentioned this, but it must be said that I'm not exactly Sevens' biggest fan. Don't get me wrong, it's often a bloody good day out (as the attendances would verify), but as a game I'm afraid it leaves me cold.

I absolutely HATED playing it - way too much running about with nowhere to hide - and would always re-discover that annual mystery ankle ailment and make myself scarce as Sevens season approached.

Not only that, but I've never really enjoyed watching Sevens either. Yes, watching it live with a couple of beers can be good fun but as a TV spectacle it simply does nothing for me. Frankly the netball was more exciting.


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Women's World Cup...

Time to break radio silence (has it really been THAT long?) to wish England's women all the best in the Women's Rugby World Cup in France, especially Chesham coaches Rocky Clark and Kat Merchant.

Great start by England on Friday last week against Samoa and here's hoping they can one better than the last 3 World Cups where they have finished second to the New Zealand Black Ferns.


Sunday, 29 June 2014

Once bitten...

The four month ban received by Luis Suarez for biting the shoulder of Italian Giorgio Chiellini at the FIFA World Cup is, although unprecedented, still fairly lenient when compared to rugby's most notorious biting incidents.

Bath prop Kevin Yates was handed a six monts ban in 1998 after being found guilty of biting the ear of Simon Fenn of London Scottish, a sentence considered far too light by many. Meanwhile South African prop Johan Le Roux copped an 18 month ban after biting New Zealand hooker Sean Fitzpatrick's ear during a scrum during a test match in 1994, after which he declared "For an 18-month suspension, I feel I probably should have torn it off". 

Rather than complain of injustice Suarez should consider himself quite fortunate...


Owen Williams


This blog's thoughts are with Cardiff Blues' centre Owen Williams who is in hospital in Singapore having suffered a "significant injury" to his cervical vertebrae and spinal cord at the World Club 10s last week

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The future's bright...

…the future's English?

England's senior team  may have lost yesterday but the boys in the Under 20s team continue to go from strength to strength, storming into the Junior World Cup Final with a 42-15 win over Ireland. They now face South Africa in the Final on 20th June at Eden Park, Auckland.

There now appears to be a healthy production line through the junior ranks into the England senior XV - with the likes of Owen Farrell, the Vuniploa brothers, Joe Marler, George Ford and Jack Nowell all having graduated via the Under 20s.

The future's bright...


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Still no cigar

Another close run thing for England. Lots of its, buts and maybes but perhaps, just perhaps if the cavalry (in the form of Messrs Lawes, Hartley and Vunipola) had arrived a little earlier things may have turned out differently?

Or perhaps England have just approached this tour in the wrong way. Perhaps they should have taken heed of new research by scientists at the School of Sport and Exercise at Massey University in New Zealand which shows that an 11-pint binge the night before a game does not affect performance.

19 eager volunteer club rugby players were tested for jumping, sprinting, hydration and strength before a heavy drinking session and after a match played the following day.

Apart from jumping (and that's what line out lifters are for, right?) every aspect of performance was unaffected.

I don't know about you, but 11 pints these days would probably kill me.

At least, however, we now know the All Blacks secret.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

#RugbyAid

With SoccerAid having raised over £4m the other night, support appears to be building for a rugby equivalent.

For the uninitiated, SoccerAid involves retired footballers combining with celebrities to play a game of football in front of a capacity crowd at Old Trafford to raise a shedload of funds for UNICEF. Sunday evening saw the Rest of the World triumph 4-2 over an England team with a hat rick from Clarence Seedorf and a goal from Westlife's Nicky Byrne. Yep, surreal or what?

And now momentum is gathering on certain social media sites for #RugbyAid.

I'm sure that getting a few retired internationals out for a run around won't be an issue. But what of the celebrities? I'm sure we could all think of one or two we'd like to see at the bottom of a ruck...

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Getting excuses in early...

Magnificent effort from the English boys today. Very close but alas no cigar.

Here's the thing. The scheduling of this match was, frankly, a disgrace.

It's difficult enough travelling to New Zealand with a full strength squad but to be expected to play a test without so many first choice players was utterly ludicrous.

The fact that England made such a good fist of it is a credit to the players and the coaching staff - no thanks at all to the numpties at the RFU who agreed to the tour schedule and the hawks at the NZRU who insisted on it.

The All Blacks remain favourites for a 3-0 series win, but it should now get very interesting.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Long time no blog...

Apologies for recent radio silence. A new job has been taking up most of my focus – well, that and the fact that I’ve also been buying a new house.  New job, new house, but you’ll be relieved to hear that I’ve kept the same wife (although Mrs F might not agree).

I know what you’re thinking: “I wonder how TF’s touch rugby season is going?” The simple answer is that it hasn’t – sciatica cutting me down in my prime during the first league match 3 weeks ago. My team – enigmatically entitled Dave’s Dad’s Dog’s Dead – have really missed me. They remain unbeaten.

Meanwhile it is beginning to look like anyone who fancies a game for England in New Zealand in a couple of weeks merely needs to turn up with their boots. With Farrell, Myler and now (probably) Ford all missing from the first Test we may yet see the return of the prodigal Danny Cipriani. Who’d a thunk it?

Speaking of prodigal sons, even Gavin Henson has been making the headlines recently for rugby reasons, being selected for the Welsh trial match. Whether his form for the Bath 2nd XV strictly merited his selection or whether Warren Gatland picked him purely so that he could have a fight with Premier Rugby is a moot point, but Bath duly obliged by refusing to release Henson for the fixture – precisely what Gatland knew would happen.

Speaking of out of control egos, I have to say that those promoting the return of Chris Ashton to national colours (you know who you are) need to have a serious word with themselves. Not only is that stupid swallow dive still in evidence, but shouting at Nick Evans to try to put him off while taking a kick at goal during last week’s Premiership semi final was beyond contempt. Twonk.


Finally, congrats go out to Jonny Wilkinson on his display in his last ever game on British soil. Another immaculate kicking performance from Jonny in the Heineken Cup final saw him lead Toulon to victory once again and leave Sarries knowing just how far short they are.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Nice trip

I'm a bit tardy on this one, but below is the moment a disgruntled parent lost the plot when his son's team were on the end of a hammering…



The incident happened 10 minutes from the end of a Hertfordshire Under 16s Cup match with Fullerians being well beaten by their Royston counterparts. The parent in question, who had obviously had enough, stepped onto the field and tripped the Royston winger to prevent the player inflicting further misery on his son's team.

Unsurprisngly the offender was sent off by the referee, has since been banned by the Fullerians club and in time honoured fashion the Fullerians President has confirmed:

"We have had a committee meeting since and will have further meetings."

So that's all right then.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Tricky...

The clamour for Stuart Lancaster to select Toulon’s Steffon Armitage for his England squad grows ever louder. Even the normally sensible Will Greenwood appears to agree.

The RFU’s established policy is not to select players who play their domestic rugby overseas except in “exceptional circumstances.” Such circumstances, so the current argument goes, might include the fact that Armitage has been playing rather well for his club.

The fact that Armitage has had a superb few seasons in the south of France and that his qualities would be of benefit to England is not in doubt, but this rather misses the point.

If selected by England for the New Zealand tour this summer, Armitage will arrive late, assuming Toulon reach the Top 14 final, which will mean precious few opportunities to make an impact on the tour.

Furthermore, for the November internationals Armitage would have to join up with the squad a week later than everyone else and probably miss the final game of the autumn series against Australia, which falls outside the international window. England would also have reduced access to his services during next year’s Six Nations.

If Armitage was already an established and experienced international then this might not be an insurmountable issue. For a relative international rookie, however, it creates an unnecessary headache for Stuart Lancaster and potentially damages the close-knit unity of the England squad that he has built so carefully.

And the fact remains that Armitage knew the ramifications when he recently extended his Toulon contract for a further three years. If he was truly dedicated to the England cause he could and should have negotiated a deal with a Premiership club, or insisted on the requisite release clauses in his Toulon contract. He did neither.

While I can’t blame him for wanting to earn shedloads of cash in the French sunshine, allowing him to have his cake and eat it is more likely to create an unwelcome distraction that I suspect Stuart Lancaster could do without.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

T(ouch)

Woke up this morning feeling like I'd been beaten up by an angry mob of pugilistic rhinos.

The cause of my discomfort? The beginning of yet another touch rugby 'season' last night.

I had half-expected (secretly hoped?) that my usual team, all being that little bit older, might have taken the decision to retain a modicum of dignity this year by retiring gracefully. But alas no, it seems as if the band is being put back together for at least one more tour.

And so there I was yesterday evening, desperately trying to keep up with kids more than half my age whilst also attempting to keep the heart and lungs functioning at the same time. Multi-tasking has never been one of my strengths, it must be said.

For heaven's sake, I hear you're thinking, it's only touch rugby, how bad can it be? Well, in my case pretty bad. It was tough enough having to deal with the sight of the avatar that Wii Fit created for me at the weekend (much to young Master F's amusement) - I really didn't need this reminder of how badly out of shape I am.

Still, it was only a practice session and the serious stuff doesn't kick off for a couple of weeks - time I can put to good use by having a good, long lie down.

Friday, 11 April 2014

In the Pink

It's not often that I find myself agreeing with Austin Healy, but the former England scrum-half and general rugby rentagob has come up with an interesting suggestion to assist rugby's beleaguered TMOs.

Healy's suggestion is that rugby balls should be luminous pink or green rather than white, giving the officials a better chance of seeing the ball and making the correct decision when it is hidden among a  collection of bodies over the line following a driving maul.
It's not such a terrible idea provided, of course, that bright pink or green shirts are outlawed.
Better decision making and the end of crap rugby shirts - as far as I'm concerned that's a win, win.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Good luck, Dude

All the very best of luck goes out to Monbeg Dude in today's Grand National at Aintree.

The winner of Welsh National in January 2013, 'The Dude' is co-owned by Gloucester's Mike Tindall and James Simpson-Daniel and Bristol's Nicky Robinson.

At around 20-1 he might also be worth a punt...?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Ritchie quits RFU


It has emerged overnight that the RFU’s Chief Executive, Ian Ritchie, is set to quit Twickenham to take up a role at the Foreign Office.

Fresh from his recent triumph in pulling all the stakeholders in European rugby back from the brink of mutually assured destruction, it appears that Ritchie has been headhunted by David Cameron’s government to lead discussions with Russia in establishing a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Ritchie is due to hold talks with Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry in the next few days before flying out to Kiev for discussions with Ukraine's interim president Olexander Turchynov. He is then expected to lead high level negotiations with Moscow.

According to government sources, if Ritchie “could persuade the idiots at the WRU to fall into line then dealing with Putin’s Russia will be a doddle.”

If, as anticipated, Ritchie’s efforts in Ukraine are successful, he is then expected to head up talks to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, end the war in Syria and re-unite North and South Korea.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The end of an era...?


Reports from the south of France suggest that Jonny Wilkinson is planning to hang up his playing boots at the end of the season.

If true then it is certainly the end of an era. It is typical of Wilkinson that there’s been no public announcement or fanfare or planned farewell tour. If he had his way I’m sure he would just play his final game, make his tackles, kick his points and then shuffle off into the background hoping that no one noticed.

Fat chance. Whether he wants it or not Jonny Wilkinson will receive huge accolades for what he has achieved.

Naysayers might claim that he is a limited player. Great kicker, great defence but no flair. They would be wrong.

Between 1999 and 2003 Wilkinson was simply the best 10 out there – an integral part of an excellent England team that scored tries for fun. While not blessed with great speed, he was still an elusive runner who created space and time for his fellow backs to thrive.

And then there was THAT drop goal…

In many ways, however, it is the Wilkinson post-2003 that impressed the most. Stricken by injury time after time and at times apparently engulfed by self doubt, it would have been easy for him to walk away. Instead he kept coming back and coming back from setback after setback – and to have featured in 4 Rugby World Cups is testament to his determination and longevity against the odds. At times he struggled for international form and at times it appeared he was selected for England on reputation rather than form, ahead of perhaps more deserving players. But that was hardly his fault and no one should doubt his courage, dedication or professionalism.

Spending the twilight of his career in international retirement in the sunny south of France – where the Heineken Cup has been added to his list of honours - is no more than he has deserved. Ironically, after a difficult end to his international career in 2011, I suspect that he would have flourished in Stuart Lancaster’s England set-up (although the rigours of the Premiership might yet have done for him). 

This week I received an email from a well known online betting exchange suggesting odds for what Jonny might do next. Appearances on Strictly Come Dancing (15/8), I'm A Celebrity (33/1) and Celebrity Big Brother (50/1) were included. Not a chance – my guess is that we’ll see JW doing something low key or worthy or both. The last thing he needs or craves is celebrity.

Enjoy your retirement Jonny – you deserve it.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Scrum down, Russia Put in...


Last week’s referendum in Crimea may have been described as a farce, but surely no more so than the rugby match 24 hours earlier between Russia and Crimea in Simferopol. 

Somewhat improbably Crimea – not even a national team and with therefore no IRB ranking – managed to stage a remarkable comeback from being 17-40 down at half time to secure a 59-59 draw with the 19th world ranked Russians.

Move along now, nothing to see here…

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Whatever happened to: the Forward Pass?


What is, and what is not, a forward pass?

To me the answer is simple. If a pass looks forward then, in all likelihood, it is forward. That certainly used to be the case.

After all, rugby's Law 12 seems simple enough. “"A throw forward occurs when a player throws or passes the ball forward."

How naive am I?

Apparently it is no longer enough to see that a pass is forward - the naked eye is no longer to be trusted. No, these days we appear to require a degree in physics before we can make such a complex call.

Newton's law of motion, I am reliably informed, says that “an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force." In other words, to put Newton into some sort of rugby context, when deciding if a pass is forward we now need to take into account the momentum of the passing player.

So it’s no longer enough just to see that a pass is forward. These days it is necessary to refer the matter “upstairs” (don't get me started) where the overworked TMO will review seemingly endless hours of footage in order to determine eventually that a pass, caught several metres ahead of where it was thrown, is “not obviously forward.”

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team is all very well, but even those who know next to nothing about rugby tend to be aware that a fundamental part of the game is that the ball cannot be passed forward. How ludicrous does it look, then, when you, I and millions watching on TV can see that a pass is blatantly forward only for the officials to decide otherwise, even after reviewing several replays which appear to confirm what we all saw in the first place?

Sadly for England rugby fans, even the officials at the Stade de France last week had to agree that Pascal Pape's last gasp pass last Saturday evening was so far forward that Damien Chouly caught the ball on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Six Nations 2014 Champs & Chumps...

Now that the dust has settled on another Six Nations, here are the TF Six Nations 2014 Champs & Chumps:



CHAMPS


15. Mike Brown - or 'Superman' as he shall now be known
14. Yoann Huget - stroppy beggar, but one of very few bright sparks for the French this year
13. BOD - well, it kind of had to be, didn't it?
12. Luther Burrell - played 13 but naturally a 12 and was superb throughout.
11. Andrew Trimble - always a threat.
10. Jonny Sexton - edges out Owen Farrell but only just.
9. Danny Care - ran Mike Brown close as player of the tournament
1. Cian Healy - can someone please check what's in his porridge?
2. Dylan Hartley- a second career in darts awaits.
3. Alberto de Marchi - side-stepping Italian prop who plays both sides of the scrum.
4. Joe Launchbury- getting very, very close to world class.
5. Courtney Lawes - line-out prowess, impeccable tackling and prominent in the loose.
6. Tom Wood - the new Richard Hill.
7. Chris Robshaw - fitting that his final contribution was a much deserved try.
8. Toby Faletau - although it would have been cousin Billy if he'd stayed fit.



CHUMPS

15. Stuart Hogg - red card against Wales left his team with no chance.
14. Liam Williams - post-try late hit on Paddy Jackson was a disgrace.
13. Mathieu Bastareaud - predictable, dull and ineffective. May have a future at tight head prop.
12. Jamie Roberts - flat track bully, found wanting in the pressure games.
11. Jonny May -  admittedly this is a tad harsh, but his unwillingness to back his pace was hugely frustrating.
10. Rhys Priestland - to call him a rabbit in the headlights would be an insult to rabbits.
9. Greg Laidlaw - Greg who? Utterly anonymous.
1. Gethin Jenkins - to continually repeat an offence you've constantly been warned about is just plain dumb.
2. Ross Ford - cow's arse, banjo, you do the rest.
3. Adam Jones - new scrum protocol appears to leave him utterly bemused.
4. Richie Gray- again, perhaps a bit harsh, but he's nowhere near the player he was 24 months ago.
5. Big Jim Hamilton - now little more than a pantomime villain.
6. Dan Lydiate - a pale shadow of what we've seen in previous seasons.
7. Chris Fusaro - looked like a boy against men.
8. Louis Picamoles - sarcastic clapper of the tournament.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Six Nations 2014 - It's a wrap

And so the 6 Nations is over for another year. Congratulations Ireland, it may have taken a Pascal Pape forward pass but you got over the line and were deserved winners.

Wales played the part of flat-track bullies this year, unable to step up when it mattered whilst neither Italy nor Scotland can take much from the tournament . At least the Scots have Vern Cotter's arrival to look forward to, although it remains to be seen whether he will be able do anything other than put lipstick on a pig. France, meanwhile, were their usual basket-case selves.

As for England, another year of close yet no cigar. Progress, certainly, although with no tangible reward other than the meagre consolation of a Triple Crown.

Stuart Lancaster's thoughts will undoubtedly now turn to the 3 tests in New Zealand in June. Much is being made of the timing of the first test and the fact that England will be denied the services of those participating in the Premiership final the previous Saturday.

While it's true that the scheduling makes no sense at all, the fact that there's a good spread of clubs in this England squad means that the impact of the Premiership final on the starting XV may not be entirely catastrophic - assuming, of course, that further injuries do not play a part.

Say, for example, the final is contested by the current top two - Northampton and Sarries  - the starting XV could still be:

Marler, Youngs, Cole/Wilson, Launchbury, Parling/Attwood, Johnson, Morgan, Robshaw, Care, Ford, May/Yarde, Twelvetrees, Tuilagi, Nowell/Wade, Brown.

Arguably the team we don't want anywhere near the final is Quins as Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Mike Brown are probably England's most influential players currently.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Men against boyos?



Bittkduigaaxgnn

No, of course not - but a headline is a headline and Warren Gatland really should know by now that making inflammatory comments before an England v Wales game does his team no favours at all.

England were very good yesterday and Wales were poor. That Wales even managed to score the points they did was probably more down to English errors than Welsh pressure - that, and the unerring accuracy of the consistently excellent Mr ½p of course.

Much was made beforehand of the 12 Lions in the Welsh team but this ignored the fact that they were all Lions selected by the then incumbent Welsh coach. What most commentators appeared to miss was that, aside from one super-charged performance in Cardiff last year, this Welsh team has rarely added up to the sum of its parts for some time now.

And so to England - still not the finished article, perhaps, but the signs are positive. The forwards work their socks off, the halfbacks are making the right calls at the right time, the midfield is finally beginning to gel and the back three are covering acres of ground. The scrummage hasn't yet, perhaps, been entirely convincing and the wingers aren't yet posing enough of a try-scoring threat, but I guess we can look at that as work-in-progress.

As for the final weekend, Ireland remain in the box seat for the Championship - it would take a remarkable turnaround for the shambolic French to beat them in Paris. What does irk me somewhat, though, are the staggered kick off times. Yes, it's great for the armchair viewer, but should we really have a situation where the teams in the latest scheduled match have a clear advantage over teams kicking off earlier in the day? 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Seconds out, round 4

A few meandering thoughts heading into round 4 of this year's Six Nations:

- With Sergio Parisse missing for Italy it's difficult to see anything other than a resounding victory for the Irish in Dublin, putting them firmly in the box seat for the Championship.

- France, meanwhile, look to have lost the plot entirely. Not sure what Monsieur Saint Andre is up to exactly, but his continued use of a tight head prop in the centre is looking more and more perverse as the competition progresses. Scotland are in with a great shout on Saturday.

- For a team that haven't exactly scaled the heights recently, Wales are being remarkably bullish.

- Proof that the Six Nations reaches parts other tournaments don't reach - England fullback Mike Brown's new number one fan is none other than ex Man Utd keeper Peter Schmeichel…


- And the final word goes to TF reader Mark, who kindly emailed me to point out that former butler to Princess Diana, Paul Burrell, has done a remarkable job of reinventing himself as an international centre...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Secret Diary of Jack Nowell’s Barnet #3

Hi, me again, Jack Nowell's barnet.

Young Jack's been spouting of this week about those pesky Welshies. They hate us English, he says, and we don't care.

Stuff and nonsense, of course. It's not hatred, I keep telling him, they're just all insanely jealous of my beautiful magnificence.

After all, just look at the Wales team. Barely a hairstyle amongst the lot of 'em. And no, I don't count the Adam Jones bubble perm as a bona fide hairstyle and nor do I acknowledge that looking like a fat Robbie Savage counts either. Yes, I'm looking at you Hibbard.

No, there's no hairstyle in in the Welsh line up that comes close to my lavish munificence, so no wonder they're green with envy.

All I ask is that once, just this once, I be set free from my sweaty imprisonment within that stinking hell hole of a scrum cap.

Set me free, Jack, and allow the world to feast on my glorious lustre...

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Six Nations: Burning Issue of the Week #3

Time (as Mrs Merton used to say) for a heated debate...

This week the Burning Issue of the Week is this:

Philippe Saint Andre's decision to drop Louis Picamoles for displaying a lack of respect to referee Allain Rolland is:

(a) a fine display of principle from a coach prepared to stand up for the true values of rugby; or

(b) a cynical ploy designed to draw attention away from his own failings whilst resting his key forward for the final weekend showdown with the Irish?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Vunipolaxed

Sorry to hear that Billy Vunipola is out of the rest of the 6N. Best number 8 in the tournament so far in my humble opinion, ahead of such stellar names as Parisse, Picamoles, Heaslip and Faletau.

Still, with Big Ben Morgan coming into the team England won't lose out too much in terms of rumbustious ball-carrying.

What is strange, though, is the implication by Stuart Lancaster that either Tom Johnson or Matt Kvesic will now come onto the bench. Big Ben rarely lasts more than 60 minutes or so in an international, so where will England's oompf be during the last quarter of the Wales match or, heaven forbid, should Morgan depart the field of play any earlier?

Dave Ewers or Sam Dickinson for the bench please, Mr Lancaster.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Six Nations 2014: Round 3 Observations


1. It was inevitable George North would score a try against France on Friday as soon as I dropped him from my Fantasy XV.

2. Given how poor France were, England must be kicking themselves that they didn't seal the deal in Paris on the first weekend.

3. Scotland - where the hell did that second half come from?

4. Forget "Fortress Twickenham" and all associated gimmicks. Just give us rugby like that every time and the "mood" will look after itself.

5. On the basis of what I saw at Twickenham I can't see France troubling an excellent Irish team in the last round - and with Italy at home next up Ireland must be considered favourites for the title at this stage.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Win some, lose some

Cute Cartoon Rugby or Rugger Player in Blue Kit Cut Outs

Now that we're on a Six Nations mini-break perhaps we can, at least temporarily, put tribalism to one side and consider the changes, widely reported in recent weeks, being implemented in kids’ rugby by Surrey RFU.

Such changes, we are told, will now include tournaments with no overall winner being declared and will also feature "mixed ability" teams which must be weakened if winning too easily.

Predictably enough such moves have caused outrage in Daily Mail reading middle-England, with the likes of Esher RFC, for instance, threatening to boycott future tournaments. Political correctness gone mad and all that.

It hardly helps matters that RFU Development Director Steve Grainger justifies the changes by use of gobbledegook such as “presenting a format that suits" and “delivering to our customers.” At its core, however, the thinking behind such change is not as barking as it first appears..

Let’s face it, if you’re a small child being asked to tackle a bunch of big-boned early developers who just steam-roller over the top of you on a freezing Sunday morning somewhere in deepest Surrey, what exactly are you getting out of the game? Come to think of it, what are the bigger kids learning if they’re finding it all so easy?

However, whilst the intentions behind the changes are fundamentally sound, the answer, clearly, is not to attempt to remove competition from the equation. Anyone who has kids who play sport will know that they play it to win. Give a bunch of kids a ball  and ask them to make up some rules and they won't devise a game which doesn't involve keeping the score, so not to declare a winner is simply nonsensical. After all, whether you’re told the score or not, you know when you’ve just suffered a drubbing and no amount of “the score doesn’t matter” is going to make you feel any better. More importantly, learning how to win and lose with a modicum of good grace is an important lesson in life.

If enjoyment is the goal, far better that rugby continues to be promoted as a game for all shapes and sizes by perhaps limiting full contact until kids are older, thus encouraging the development of skills and spacial awareness rather than just rewarding brute force and good genetics. And surely it cannot be beyond the wit of the powers that be to ensure that tournaments are graded so that teams are only pitted against other teams of similar ability?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Secret Diary of Jack Nowell’s Barnet #2


Hi there. Jack Nowell’s hair here again.

Have to say I really enjoyed my day out in Edinburgh.
For once I was quite pleased to hide inside Jack’s horrible yellow scrumcap - otherwise I’d have ended up all wet and muddy and smelling of garlic and my glorious magnificence would have been utterly ruined. And no one wants that, do they, especially my legions of adoring fans.

As things turned out I managed to stay dry and my radiant splendour was there for all to see at the end. Some say the crowd were cheering at the sight of the Calcutta Cup being raised. You and I know otherwise, don’t we?

Next up those pesky Irish and my long awaited meeting with Gordon D’Arcy’s beard…

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Six Nations: Burning Issue of the Week #2

This week’s Burning Issue:
SCOTT JOHNSON:
International rugby coach? Court jester? Incompetent buffoon? Fiendishly clever con-artist?

You decide.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Twickenham, we have a problem

Encouraging win for England at Murrayfield. But if England are going to beat Ireland at HQ in a fortnight then Stuart Lancaster is going to have to tinker with his bench...


  • Rob Webber in for Tom Youngs
  • Davy Wilson (if fit) in for Henry Thomas
  • George Ford in for Brad Barritt
  • Anthony Watson in for Alex Goode

Friday, 7 February 2014

Six Nations 2014: Behind the Scenes at England Rugby #3

More guff and nonsense during the build up to another Six Nations weekend.


England enter The Matrix
It appears that the RFU and O2 are launching a “Wear the Rose” 360-degree virtual reality headset that recreates England rugby squad training experience.

According to the blurb the headset allows the wearer to participate in drills directed by Mike Catt and team talks from Chris Robshaw, as well feel what it is like to be tackled by Tom Youngs or receive a pass from Mike Brown.

Unfortunately the technology is unable to replicate what it feels like to be tackled by Alex Goode owing to a shortage of data.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Six Nations: SRU claim criticism of Murrayfield pitch is unfounded


Conversion?


 It is being widely reported that England Rugby League star Sam Burgess is "on the verge" of making a switch to Ruby Union with a view to playing for England in the 2015 World Cup.
There’s no doubt that the South Sydney Rabbitohs loose forward is a fine rugby player. The question is, where on earth would England play him?
Expecting him to pick up sufficient skills and nous to play in the England pack in such a short timeframe is surely a non-starter.
However, if (as is being rumoured) he is expected to occupy the number 12 shirt, we need only to look at the phenomenal success of the last English Rugby League forward who was selected to play inside centre for England – Andy Farrell.
Oh wait…