Monday, 28 December 2015

The Total Flanker Awards 2015

Blimey, is it that time of year already?

I'm referring of course to the time of year when we look back at the calendar year and reward both the worthy and not so worthy at the most prestigious of awards ceremonies.

So, without further ado, I bid you all welcome to the 9th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony.

As you settle in your seats and begin to crack open the Lambrusco Rosso (it's a classy occasion, after all) let's move straight into the first award of the evening - The Total Flanker Wow, That Really was Surprisingly Brilliant Award - which I am delighted to award to Rugby World Cup 2015. Despite the ticket prices, despite (perhaps, because of) England's premature exit) it was a brilliant tournament. Fantastic rugby, great drama, super atmosphere and worthy winners. Well done to all concerned.

Moving along swiftly, we now have the The Total Flanker Time to Move On Award. And the winner  is those members of the English Rugby Media who, at the first sign of a poor England performance, call for Steffon Armitage and/or Nick Abendanon to be recalled to the team. This, despite knowing full well that the RFU policy is not to select players playing outside of the English Premiership. Whether it's the right rule or the wrong rule is irrelevant. Players who sign contracts with French clubs do do in the knowledge that they will not be selected for England and are richly rewarded for doing so. It's their choice.

And so to our next award, The Total Flanker About as Transparent as a Concrete Block Award which, of course, goes to Premiership Rugby who presided over the biggest cop out since the last episode of "Lost" when deciding not to name and shame those clubs guilty of breaching the salary cap, instead allowing a behind-closed-doors financial settlement to take place away from the prying eyes of those people who loyally turn up week in, week out, to spend their hard earned cash at the turnstiles. Shame on you.

Next up, The Total Flanker You See, It Can Be Done Award. This award is presented jointly to the rugby teams of England, Ireland and Wales who on the final day of the 2015 Six Nations discovered that, when faced with a Championship to be decided on points difference, it was actually possible to win rugby matches simply by scoring lots and lots of tries. Who'd have thought? The fact that, come the World Cup, this dangerous experiment was for the most part abandoned, is one of life's little mysteries that may never be solved.

The penultimate award tonight is The Total Flanker Greatest Ever Result in the History of International Rugby…Ever Award. I refer of course to Japan's last gasp victory over the mighty South Africa in their opening World Cup match in October on Day 2 of the competition  It was not just the fact that Japan won a seemingly impossible victory - it was the manner of that victory - playing exhilarating, fast, running rugby throughout and then bravely eschewing a last minute penalty kick to go for the winning try - that secures the Japanese this award. It was also a match that kick-started RWC 2015 into life, a position from where the tournament never looked back.

Finally we have The Total Flanker You Will Be Missed Award. This award goes jointly to two giants of the game - Jerry Collins and Jonah Lomu. You both gave so much to the game of rugby and and in different ways both transcended the sport. Rugby needs people like you and you will be sorely missed. RIP both.

Well, that's all for this year folks - I thank you for your patience and support throughout 2015 and may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Prosperous 2016. See you on the other side.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes?

For rugby nerds (and I include myself in that definition), new laws being trialled in New Zealand's NPC next season look interesting.

The proposed changes include moving the offside line to one metre behind the rear foot, abandoning the ‘through the gate’ law at the tackle and ruck and insisting the tackler comes from an onside position (i.e. one metre behind the rear foot) before attacking the ball.

It strikes me that the effect of all this will be to favour the team in possession and nullify the effect of the jackal at the tackle, which is perfect timing just as England finally decide that a "true 7" is what they need.

There is also the more the headline-grabbling change that there will now be two referees on the field with - it is thought - one of them being responsible for policing the new 1 metre offside line.

If that is the case - if it does take an extra official just to police one law - then there's little prospect of the changes working, if only because it will be impossible to implement at any level other than in the elite professional game.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Who's the Daddy?

While it is never good to see someone lose their job, the decision of Eddie Jones last week to let Messrs Farrell, Rowntree and Catt go is the correct one.

Of the departing coaches it was always Farrell who provoked the biggest debate. While I have no reason to believe that Andy Farrell behaved with anything other than 100% professionalism and integrity when it came to selection, with his son Owen in the mix the accusations of nepotism were always likely to surface, especially during periods where Farrell Jnr was struggling for form and/or the team struggling for fluency. It's a question of perception, both externally and within the squad.

My son, to my delight, has started to play for the local club Under 13s - a team coached by a dedicated group of Dads (of which I have become a recent albeit peripheral member). Parental involvement is expected and indeed necessary for the team to exist.

The England national team, however, should not be run like the local Under 13s. Whilst Farrell Jnr was involved, Farrell Snr should have been nowhere near the England coaching set up.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mental

Alex Corbisiero’s decision to take a year’s sabbatical from the game is proof, if ever it were needed, that rugby just isn’t what it used to be.

Although the injury-hit Northampton, England and Lions loosehead prop has only played sporadically over the last 2-3 years, Corbisiero is, apparently, “mentally drained.” 

Traditionally, for your average loosehead prop, the only thing that should be drained is his pint.

Jason Leonard would be turning in his grave. If he was dead. Which he isn't.


Thursday, 10 December 2015

England miss out on the full set

I admit to being a tad disappointed to hear that Shaun Edwards has committed himself to Wales for the next 4 years.

Nothing to do with his qualities as a coach - I just thought it might be fun to have England coached by Jones and Edwards.

Then all the RFU would need to do is employ Jim Williams and Nigel Davies and we'd have the full set J

Monday, 7 December 2015

Bend it like...

Rugby has received a somewhat unexpected endorsement from none other than Saint David of Beckham, who has admitted that he prefers watching rugby to watching football.
“I love rugby,” he said. “I love watching it and I love the whole thing. I have enjoyed going to Twickenham more than I have enjoyed watching football.”
                               

Mind you, he also said that we all ought to get behind the football World Cups in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, whether or not allegations of FIFA corruption are proven – so actually what the hell does he know?

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Sticky start for Jones era

It appears that Eddie Jones is stuck in Tokyo awaiting the arrival of a UK work visa so that he can take up his new role in TW1.

It is also reported that negotiations to appoint Steve Borthwick as Jones’ assistant have hit the buffers as the RFU has been unable to find anyone at HQ who can translate the Bristolian accent.

Meanwhile, rumours abound that attempts to terminate the employment of Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt are unlikely to succeed until they can be persuaded to emerge from the disused World War 2 bunker under the West Car Park at Twickenham, where the trio are said to have been holed up since the end of the World Cup.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Off the scale?

Claims this week that steroid abuse is "off-the-scale" in Welsh grassroots and semi-professional rugby seem a tad sensationalist.

UK Anti-Doping figures reveal that 10 of the 16 rugby union players banned from the sport across the UK are from Wales.

That’s 10 out of around 50,000 players registered in Wales - 0.02%.

I'm not saying that there isn't a problem that needs tackling but “off-the-scale?”

Hardly.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Feelings...

As the fallout from England’s failed RWC campaign continues, I have to admit that, being British, I am a tad uncomfortable when big, roughty-toughty rugby players feel the need to bear their souls in public.

First we had Danny Care publicly bemoaning the fact that he had been dropped as first choice scrum half last year: 
“I didn’t really understand the decision behind it and it did hurt (sniff, sob).”
We then had Mike Brown declaring a lack of trust in his England team mates: 
“I think the trust has been, as you can imagine, completely shot now (sob, sniff).”
And now we have Luther Burrell declaring his devastation at his (admittedly undeserved) non-selection for the squad by Stuart Lancaster: 
"He let me down…that is how I feel about him (sniff, sob, sniff).”
When did rugby players ever feel the need to talk about their feelings?

Whatever happened to stoicism?

Whatever happened to just rolling up your metaphorical sleeves and just getting on with it? 

Whatever happened to the good old British stiff upper lip?


Friday, 20 November 2015

Relief all round as Fast Eddie signs up…

It is with a huge sigh of relief that it has been confirmed that Eddie Jones has accepted the role of England Head Coach, not least because this blog has discovered the RFU's contingency plan should the search for a permanent Head Coach have proved fruitless.

I can now exclusively reveal that Andy Farrell had been lined up to lead England into the 2016 Six Nations as Interim Head Coach and that he had recommended an interim management team involving several other players' parents.

Apparently former Tongan hooker Fe'ao Vunipola had agreed to come in as as scrummaging coach, while the Youngs brothers' father and former England scrum half, Nick, was considering an offer to come on board as attack coach.

The Vunipola brothers' mum, Rev. Iesinga Vunipola, was believed to have accepted role of Interm Spiritual Health Coach while Mrs Sarah Goode was set to take charge of nutrition, tea and biscuits.

Apparently Farrell had convinced the RFU that parental input would be vital in restoring the team’s shattered morale with the added bonus that the parents would also be able to provide free lifts to and from training and to difficult away games.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Richie McCaw = Legend

Just a few words about Richie McCaw on the occasion of his retirement.

For me, McCaw is simply the best number 7 ever to have played the game.

Ill-informed gripes about him living offside and so-called “cheating” are so far wide of the mark it’s not funny. The role of an openside flanker is to get away with whatever he can at the breakdown and McCaw was simply the master at it. 

He also happened to be a supreme athlete and a quite phenomenal all-round rugby player.

One would like to think that his retirement will leave New Zealand severely depleted and give the rest of a chance to catch up, but the performances of Sam Cane during this year’s World Cup suggest that the All Black number 7 production line is still in fine working order.


Enjoy your retirement Mr. McCaw – it is richly deserved.