Monday, 25 September 2017

Everybody out?

Billy Vunipola has said that he would take a pay cut to play fewer games and avoid burning out.

Good for him.

The 24 year old faces 4 months on the sidelines as he recuperates from his second major surgery of the year.

Given the intensity of professional rugby and the number of games top players are required to play these days, scarily it is now considered normal for players to have to go under the knife by the age of 25.

Certainly in England player discontent at the sheer volume of rugby required is on the rise, with neither the RFU nor Premier Rugby seemingly willing to pay anything other than lip service to the concept of player welfare.

Unless someone starts taking this seriously we may be closer than we think to players deciding enough is enough and withdrawing their labour.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Lion amongst the pigeons

Sean O'Brien, for no apparent reason, appears to have set a rather large cat loose amongst the pigeons by publicly criticising the British & Irish Lions attack coach, Rob Howley.

What prompted his comment is unclear, but apparently it was poor coaching and a lack of an attack gameplan that prevented the Lions from securing an historic 3-0 series victory in New Zealand this summer.

According to SOB, Howley struggled to "get stuff across," leaving the likes of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell to run the Lions attack.

Lord knows I'm no particular fan of Rob Howley as a coach (fabulous player that he was) but for SOB to single him out as the reason the Lions did not win a series in which (a) they were always massive underdogs and which (b) they led for a grand total of three minutes is, simply, as ludicrous as it is disloyal.

I hope, for SOB's sake, that this was a comment taken entirely out of context as, frankly, it does him no favours at all...

Monday, 18 September 2017

The mystery of the exploding dumpling

I was a little alarmed by reports that Australia's coach Michael Cheika had revealed a small cut on his nose caused by an "exploding dumpling" on the eve of his team's test match against Argentina.

For one horrible moment I thought that Matt Dunning might be making a comeback...


Thursday, 7 September 2017

Hall of Wazzocks: New Inductees



Roll up, roll up, get your tickets to the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks here.

Yes, folks, three brand new inductees to this prestigious and exclusive club, one as a result of a relatively recent act and two for their historic commitment to the cause of wazzockry.

That takes our current membership to eight and remember, the Hall of Wazzocks admissions committee is always open to your nominations, suggestions and bribes when it comes to other potential inductees.

CLICK HERE FOR THE HALL OF WAZZOCKS...

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Last Orders please!

So it appears that Eddie Jones might be prepared to forgive and forget the misdemeanours of Manu Tuilagi and Denny Solomona, who last month were sent home from an England training camp for "team-culture issues".

Jones has said he will consider recalling the pair if their attitude is right.

For Tuilagi in particular, who at 26 now has a rather impressive rap sheet, it may be be said that he is drinking in the Last Chance Saloon. One can only hope that he is choosing to drink mineral water.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Steve who?

It appears that the RFU has itself a new CEO and it is…..(drum roll)….

…STEVE BROWN. TaaDaaahh!!

Err, sorry, who?

You know, Steve Brown - currently the RFU’s Chief Officer of Business Operations and formerly MD of England Rugby 2015 – THAT Steve Brown.

Oh.

Underwhelming as it may seem, could it be that the RFU is breaking with the habits of a lifetime by appointing somebody eminently qualified for the job and seemingly competent?

Time, no doubt, will tell.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Whatever happened to: the Laws of the Game?

As another new season approaches and my son's team (now Under 15s) drifts back to training, I and the team's other coaches are once again faced with having to understand, and then explain, various changes to the laws of the game that have been introduced by World Rugby ahead of the new season.

It seems that every season there is a tweak or several, here or there, to the laws in aid of something or other that no one ever really bothers to explain, it being more a case of "it's a new season, let's make life as difficult as possible for players, coaches and spectators."

Twasn't always thus.

My recollection (and this may be case of the rose-tinted specs being worn again) is that seasons would come and seasons would go with very little intervention from the powers-that-be. I do recall being somewhat indifferent when the value of a try was changed from 4 to 5 points and I remember being a little confused by the idea that the team driving a maul forward were no longer awarded the subsequent put-in at the scrum. I also recollect being entirely bemused by the concept of a team kicking a penalty into touch and being awarded the throw-in. 

But that's it. Only three law changes in god knows how many years of me playing rugby through the eighties and into the nineties have actually stuck in my brain. There may well have been more, but they clearly weren't significant enough for me to remember (with the absurd idea of allowing lifting in the lineout being introduced subsequent to my first "retirement").

It's all very different today. World Rugby probably think they are helping to improve the game - and they probably have a department whose raison d'être is simply to keep on churning out these "improvements" - but in reality all this does is to confuse. And if the players and coaches are struggling to keep up, then what chance the general public?

Rugby is complex enough without complicating things further. Enough is enough - I say to World Rugby that it is time to stop tinkering, to focus on ensuring existing laws are properly policed and to give the public time and opportunity to understand the game.

And to give us poor beleaguered coaches a break!

Here endeth the lesson.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

WRWC 2017: Carpe Diem

Well done to the Black Ferns, 2017 World Champions!



Great game of rugby from both teams and an excellent advert for the women's game.

So, what happens next? A live UK TV audience of 2.6m suggests that the opportunity now certainly exists - for World Rugby, for the RFU and other national unions, and for TV broadcasting companies - to make significant growth in women's rugby, both in terms of participation numbers and in the game's global audience.

I guess the question now is whether anyone will seize the day?

Thursday, 24 August 2017

WRWC 2017: unmitigated success


It's only right and proper that it will be the best 2 teams - England and New Zealand - who will contest the Women's Rugby World Cup Final on Saturday, following the Red Roses' tense semi-final victory over the French on Tuesday and the Black Ferns' slightly more comfortable win against the USA.

Whatever the outcome - and for me the 2 finalists look very evenly matched - there's no doubt it has been a hugely successful tournament with sell-out crowds, plentiful live TV coverage via ITV4 and, following England's progress to the final, belated acknowledgement by the national news media. And with the Final being televised live on ITV's main channel on Saturday night there is now a fantastic opportunity for the women's game to reach out to new audiences.

Inevitably there have been some naysayers who, in forums and on social media, have been quick to point out the difference in standards between the men's and women's games but in my view such comparisons - between a game which has been fully professional for over 20 years and a game in which professionalism is very much in its infancy - are all rather pointless.

I just wish that people would simply enjoy international women's rugby for what it is - fast, skilful, dynamic, competitive and hugely compelling to watch.

And of course good luck to the Red Roses for the final 👍

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Ticked off

Shocked by the news this week that former England no.9 Matt Dawson has been suffering from Lyme Disease.

Dawson was apparently bitten by a tick in a London park, causing a bacterial infection to spread throughout his body. 

Following a severe fever he he went to hospital where he was diagnosed with Lyme Disease which, if not treated promptly, can cause issues such as inflammatory arthritis, heart problems, problems with the nervous system and meningitis.

After multiple heart operations (what?) and 18 months of treatment, apparently Dawson is now on the mend but is still on medication and it will take time for his heart to recover fully.

Sounds utterly horrific.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Toby for Deutschland?

Ja, it’s true apparently.

One of the more bizarre stories of the week is that Toby Flood has said he would consider switching his international allegiance to Germany, the land of his grandfather.

Flood, a German passport holder, already has 60 England caps and would therefore (I think) need to take advantage of a World Rugby loophole under which he would first have to play Sevens for Germany in an Olympic qualifying event.

Whilst all of this is highly unlikely, it's one of those stories I'd quite like to be true...

Sir Colin Meads RIP


There’s no doubt that the game has lost another of its true legends.

Belated RIP Pinetree.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Rubbish


There's not much that Saracens get wrong these days but, simply put,

THIS...IS...

RUBBISH.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Aussie crisis deepens


According to the Grauniad, Australia have named Kurtley Beale in their starting XI for the weekend's Bledisloe Cup encounter against the All Blacks.

Starting XI?

I know the Aussies are having a few issues at the moment, but surely they have enough players to name a starting XV? 😀

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

WRWC 2017: a bit of a let down


The Women’s Rugby World Cup has so far been a tad disappointing.

Not the rugby. That’s been great.

No, what’s disappointing is the total and utter lack of scandal.

No tales of excessive drinking, no breaches of curfew, no drugs, no gambling, no dwarf tossing, no ferry diving, no arrests, no players sent home in disgrace, nothing.

Come on ladies. Amid all this talk of equality and discrimination you need to be playing your part…😉

Monday, 14 August 2017

Western Farce

I admit I’m not particularly up to speed with the workings of rugby in Australia, but it strikes me that the ARU have made a right old horlicks of things lately.

Having agreed to axe one of it’s Super Rugby franchises, last week the ARU announced – following 4 months of dithering discussions – that it was to be the Perth-based Western Force who would be cut.

Predictably enough the Western Force aren’t exactly chuffed with the decision and have gained an injunction order against the ARU's decision and lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court.

All of which rather nicely sets up a costly legal battle between the cash-strapped ARU and the Force, backed by billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest. I wonder who has the deeper pockets?

In other news it is reported that the ARU’s annual piss-up in a brewery has had to be cancelled due to unforeseen cicumstances.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Whole Wide World



When I was a young boy
My mama said to me
"There's only one girl in the world for you
And she probably lives in Tahiti."

Delighted to have the opportunity to post the opening lyrics from one of my favourite songs from the seventies - Whole Wide World by Wreckless Eric.

The opportunity has somewhat improbably arisen courtesy of the Tahiti rugby team who last weekend pulled off a huge shock to keep their 2019 Rugby World Cup aspirations alive by beating the Cook Islands, 43 places above them in World Rugby's rankings, to win the Oceania Rugby Cup.

Tahiti (ranked 91) defeated the Cook Islands (ranked 48) 13-9 in Rarotonga and will now face either Hong Kong, Malaysia or South Korea in 2018 in a home and away play-off for a place in the four-team global repechage tournament to determine the final qualifier for RWC 2019.

Tahiti also now leapfrog the Bahamas, Cameroon and Swaziland to occupy 88th place in the rankings.


I'd go the whole wide world, 
I'd go the whole wide world just to find her
I'd go the whole wide world,
I'd go the whole wide world to find out where they hide her.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Woman's World


Good luck to all involved with the Women's Rugby World Cup which kicks off in Dublin later today and especially to the Red Roses, the defending champions.

It's also great to see that much of the tournament will be able to be viewed live on ITV, giving much needed exposure to the women's game.

Now, about those professional contracts...




Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Here we go again...

It's August and you know what that means.

Yes, time once again for the RFU to attempt to extract yet more cash from the pockets of English rugby supporters with another shameless launch of another unnecessary new England rugby kit.

This time there's some marketing guff about a so-called unique commemorative plaque forming part of Canterbury’s new ‘Unbreakable Bond’ campaign. I'd explain further, but honestly can't be arsed to delve any deeper.

No doubt there's a suitably awful change kit also in the pipeline...

Monday, 7 August 2017

Homeward Bound...

News today that both Manu Tuilagi and Denny Solomona have been sent home from England's training camp following “team culture issues.”

What this actually means is anyone’s guess, but the clever money has to be on alcohol-related behaviour.

If this is the case, if these two couldn’t manage to stay off the sauce while attending a 3 day national training camp, then no doubt I shall shortly be reviewing their applications for entry into the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks.

Monday, 31 July 2017

A question of discrimination

Back from my hols this weekend and slap bang into the row over the proposed culling of England Women's professional contracts by the RFU after the World Cup.

Look, the RFU can quite rightly point to the fact that they have led the way internationally with professional contracts for England's elite female players, that they have invested considerable sums in the women's domestic game of late, that the nature of the women's international game is cyclical - alternating between emphasis on the World Cup XVs and the Olympic VIIs - and that England's Women have been fully informed for some time of the RFU's plans.

The bottom line, however, is that the RFU would never contemplate treating England's elite male players in a similar way.

By its very nature the RFU's position on female professional contracts is therefore discriminatory.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Finishing Touch (2017)

And so another Touch summer season is at an end, with the finale played out yesterday evening in atrocious conditions.

In a winner-takes-all encounter, sadly Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead came off second best against my alter mater, Chairman's Choice - a shockingly poor first half against a fast and skilful team meaning we had way too much to do in a much improved second half.

So, runners-up it had to be - which we would probably have taken after our two defeats in the first two weeks in the competition - and, for a team with a fair sprinkling of old men and women more often than not up against against fit, young twenty-something men, I think we can be quite proud of our collective efforts.

Personally my contribution felt somewhat negligible. I wasn't terrible, but neither did I feel that I brought much to the party this year, a basic lack of fitness (and speed) being my main downfall. Fitness is something I can fix but, at 52, my pace is but a distant memory.

It was, nevertheless, a hugely enjoyable couple of months and it's only a shame that we must now wait another 10 months before the 2018 Chesham Touch season clicks into gear. My mission (should I choose to accept it) is therefore to find a way to play the game all year round somehow.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Lions 2017: Postscript



Well, well, well.

Any sane British/Irish rugby fan who had been offered a drawn series against the All Blacks two months ago would have taken it without hesitation.

Given how utterly impossible the task looked on the back of an entirely inadequate preparation period and a seemingly brutal playing schedule, what this group of players and coaches (and yes, I’m admitting I was wrong about Warren Gatland) has achieved is nothing short of remarkable.

And yet, and yet…

What is bleedingly obvious is that for the Lions concept to continue to flourish (and it’s been obvious from the legions of fans travelling down under and the way the Kiwis embraced the tour that it is a concept treasured by the rugby public), the decision to reduce future Lions tours to only 8 matches needs to be reversed.

In New Zealand the Lions achieved the impossible with one arm tied firmly behind their backs. To further handicap future tours is not only unfair, it also puts the whole concept at risk. After all, who will want to play for or coach a team that is recklessly being set up to fail?

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Oh, Maro Itoje!


This man received a 4/10 (!!) rating from the New Zealand Herald for his immense performance in today's 2nd Test victory in Wellington.

Perhaps the NZ press and public could learn a thing or two from the humility and good grace showed by All Blacks skipper Kieran Read - a class act both on and off the field of play.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Curious Case of the Geography Six


I may be mis-judging him, but Warren Gatland doesn't strike me as an overly sensitive soul.

And yet Gats has confessed to having kept the "Geography Six" - Kristian Dacey, Allan Dell, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Gareth Davies and Finn Russell - on the bench against the Hurricanes this week for fear of the public reaction to any of them actually playing for the Lions.

Of the six - who were somewhat controversially added to the squad as cover based on geographical convenience rather than merit - only Alan Dell and Finn Russell have made it onto the field as brief HIA replacements.

Not only did Gatland's reluctance to use his replacements result in a seriously fatigued team throwing away a winning position against the Hurricanes, it also means that very few, if any, of Tuesday's starting XV will physically be in shape to contend for a place in Saturday's Test 23.

It seems a curious and uncharacteristic call for Gatland to have made, and the Geography Six will now fly home with next to no Lions playing experience but, no doubt, with suitcases full of Lions stash.

Every cloud.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Lions now really do have their work cut out (as if they didn't already)...

Warren Gatland's criticism that the All Blacks were cynically targeting Conor Murray in Saturday's 1st Test (which, incidentally, I agree with) is, ultimately, nothing more than a sideshow.

Gatland has far more to worry about if the Test series is to be squared. Put simply the Lions need to up their game massively at the breakdown and retain possession for far longer if they are to have any hope of winning the the 2nd Test. Kicking possession away and allowing the All Blacks to dictate the pace is what ultimately cost them the game on Saturday.

Whoever is selected it's going to take a monumental effort to wrest momentum back in the Lions favour...

Friday, 23 June 2017

Lions: Well done Wazza

I think it's fair to say that I have not always been Warren Gatland's biggest fan (about which I am sure he has sleepless nights 😀 ).

Credit where it is due, however. The Lions squad selection for the 1st Test with New Zealand tomorrow is as bold as it is surprising.

Of course a case might be made for starting Maro Itoje instead of Alan Wyn Jones (although I can understand the logic of bringing the young English tyro on as an impact player) and I'd probably have Jonathan Joseph on the bench ahead of Leigh ½p, but all in all it's a brave and exciting selection which is, crucially, based on form.

That's not to say the Lions will win tomorrow - but it's at least it's a team that we can be confident will be competitive.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Good luck Doddie Weir

This blog's heartfelt best wishes go out to former Scottish and Lions lock Doddle Weir who has revealed he has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.

Today - 21st June - is Global MND Day and the 46 year old Weir has bravely decided to go public to help raise awareness of the condition.

Good luck Doddie in your fight against such a debilitating illness.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Another player added to Lions squad

News today that Warren Gatland has taken a late decision to rest Sam Warburton for tomorrow's fixture against the Chiefs and has called up 44 year old pub team player Dafydd Watkins as bench cover.

Watkins is currently touring New Zealand in a camper van with mates and will now provide back row cover against the Chiefs.

"Dai is Welsh, he's based locally, he's purchased his own shirt and he's brought his boots with him so it makes sense to bring him in" says Gatland.

"I know some people may suggest that this somehow devalues the shirt but the important thing is to protect the Test team.

"We're here to win the series."

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Into Touch

Forget the Lions, forget Scotland's triumph in Sydney, forget England in Argentina, forget the Under 20s World Championship, forget England's women in New Zealand, I'm sure what you are all actually waiting for is an update on the progress of Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead in the 2017 Chesham Touch Premiership.

Well, you've come to the right place 😀.

DDDD have now played 6 out of 10 fixtures and, after a slow start in which we lost our first 2 games, are beginning to get into a rhythm, having won our last 4 encounters (albeit 3 of them by a single try), in the process defeating the league leaders last week.

What's more we're doing it properly, that is to say we remain a mixed team, a few of us in our 50s, a few in their 20s, 3 women (although admittedly one of them is an England Under 20s international) and a couple of teenagers, although each week we face teams of fit young men in their 20s. By rights we really shouldn't win a game but we've largely been together as a team since 2010 and, in our 8th season, there's a structure and cohesion that generally pulls us through.

The likelihood of us winning the league this year remains pretty slim but the important thing is that Touch remains hugely enjoyable and, as the weeks have gone by, I feel my performances are definitely becoming a tad less embarrassing.

Such is my enjoyment I am seriously considering, once the 'season' concludes in a few weeks, trying to find somewhere where Touch is played all year round. So watch this space...

Friday, 16 June 2017

Lions: a whinge

News today that Warren Gatland is planning to call up five or six replacements to join the New Zealand tour as cover for the remaining midweek fixtures.

Frankly if I was one of the players being shipped in merely to sit on the bench in a midweek game I'd be tempted to tell Gatland to shove it, but I think what this news does demonstrate is just how impossible a Lions tour is in its present format.

Attempting to combine players from 4 nations to form a squad to tour one of the southern hemisphere’s giants is very much a Corinthian concept forged in the days of amateur rugby and, while the Lions ideal still captures the imagination of rugby fans worldwide, it is becoming increasingly obvious that in its current guise the Lions is a notion that no longer works within the harsh reality of the professional rugby calendar.

Touring New Zealand is difficult enough. To take on such a brutal and relentless schedule having had next to no preparation is, however, just insane. And the results and performances so far – against teams one might expect any of the individual national teams to beat – would appear to bear this out.

Who knows, the Lions may surprise us all and be ultra-competitive against the All Blacks. They may even win a Test. What I do expect, however, is for a stream of battered players returning to Blighty nursing a variety of injuries – with player welfare once more taking a back seat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for one minute advocating scrapping the Lions, but it is clear to me that the whole idea needs a rethink. It’s a fantastic brand and a major money-spinner within the international rugby calendar, but if it is to survive long term the team has to be given time to prepare properly and future touring schedules need to be designed with the players' interests at front of mind.

There, whinge over. Back to the rugby…

Thursday, 15 June 2017

England Under 20s march on...

Fantastic achievement by England Under 20s in making the World Championship final following a last gasp 24-22 victory over South Africa in Tuesday's semi-final.

The achievement is all the more remarkable given the number of injuries the squad have suffered and the fact that the Curry twins, Nick Isiekwe, Jack Maunder and Joe Cokanasiga are all with the senior squad in Argentina.

The team face a daunting task against New Zealand in Sunday's final, but with fly half Max Malins and skipper Zach Mercer both in superb form, they still have a fighting chance of winning their fourth world title in five years.

Good luck boys.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Contract, what Contract? Part Deux

Confirmation today from Gloucester that former Bath player Carl Fearns will be staying with Lyon despite having put pen to paper to join Gloucester from 2017/18 onwards.

Funnily enough an offer of significantly increased personal terms from Lyon has been enough to persuade Fearns to change his mind, and Gloucester have had to accept that, in reality, Sanctity of Contract is now meaningless.

Yes Lyon have had to pay compensation to Gloucester, but again that’s not really the point. Neither Lyon nor Fearns emerge well from this as yet again those with the deepest pockets appear to be able to induce breach of contract with impunity.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Moment of the weekend...


Amidst a seriously good weekend of rugby for British & Irish teams - a morale-boosting Lions win against the Crusaders, plus victories for England, Scotland and Ireland - one moment in particular caused me to jump up from my seat and punch the air.

In the 45th minute of what was a pulsating game in San Juan, three Argentinian defenders were so bamboozled by a sublime 'show and go' from Henry Slade (straight out of the Total Flanker handbook, I'd like to think), that the England centre was able to stroll through the gap subsequently created and casually roll a grubber kick into the corner where Mike Brown and Jonny May had time for an "after you, sir," "no, after you, I insist" conversation before May dabbed down to claim the try.

This blog has made no secret of its admiration for the skills of young Mr Slade and hopes that moments like this - a superb piece of skill to grace what was a fantastic game of rugby - will have persuaded Eddie Jones that Slade has to be a part of Jones' plans going forward to Japan in 2019.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Double vision for England?

I’m looking forward to watching a very young England team take on the Pumas this evening.

Of particular fascination will be how Eddie Jones handles the Curry twins.

So watch out for openside Tom Curry leaving the field for an HIA in the second half only to emerge a few minutes later looking as fresh as a daisy having been surreptitiously replaced by identical twin brother Ben 😀.

 Eddie Jones = Master of Innovation.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Time to embrace Warrenball?

I am surprised at how sensitive Warren Gatland appears to be of criticism of “Warrenball” by the NZ media.

Heaven knows I’m no particular fan of Gatland or the style adopted by his Wales teams of recent years, but you have to acknowledge that it can be hugely effective and there is absolutely no reason he should be defensive about it, especially in the context of trying to mould together a playing style to unite a disparate squad.

Maybe it’s something to do with being overly-sensitive to criticism by his fellow Kiwis but, rather than deny his playing style, I’d much prefer to hear him state that “we’ll play the way we’ll play and if you don’t like it, tough shit.”

It would be far more worrying if the NZ media were being nice. 

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Reflections...

Last week was a tough week.

Events in Manchester affected me far more than I’d ever have anticipated, probably because I have 2 kids who are a similar age to many of those killed or injured by the bombing. 

My usual cynical exterior was well and truly pierced last week and I was particularly moved by the reaction of the people of Manchester who pulled together quite magnificently in truly appalling circumstances.

Rugby, frankly, became irrelevant.

And yet life, as the people of Manchester so ably demonstrated, goes on and on Saturday we were treated to a quite magnificent game of rugby between Exeter and Wasps, with Exeter emerging as deserving winners, their sheer collective will dragging them over the line after 100 intense and dramatic minutes.

Twickenham then saw a young England team overcome a wily, experienced Barbarians outfit on Sunday - with the performances of the likes of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Nick Isiekwe, Charlie Ewels and Nathan Earle catching the eye and showing that the England talent cupboard is looking well stocked for the future.

And so, to a degree, life returns to normal for many of us. Let's not forget, however, that for many involved in events in Manchester this is not the case and my thoughts remain very much with the families and friends of the victims and others directly affected by last Monday's events.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Oi, Gatland - NO!

On the issue of player welfare, Warren Gatland’s comments about Billy Vunipola pulling out of the Lions Tour are pretty despicable:

“I spoke to Billy and he just felt he couldn’t give us 100 per cent.

“It [Vunipola’s shoulder] was popping out during games and being strapped.

“I did try to persuade him to come over and be assessed and look at managing him but he was adamant that he was not right. If someone is not 100 per cent right in terms of their commitment, I fully understand and respect that decision.”

So what Gatland is saying is that a player should put his long term health and fitness at risk if he is asked to do so, and the fact that Billy wasn’t prepared to do that is a sign of lack of commitment?

Wazzock.

Back to the well...

Unsurprisingly the Rugby Players' Association has unanimously rejected a proposal for an extended 10 month domestic season.

In March Premiership Rugby had confirmed that the 2019/20 season would start at the beginning of September and finish at the end of June.

Watching the Premiership semi-finals this weekend it was evident just how physically brutal our sport has become. It's brilliantly entertaining and gladiatorial but, scarily, after a long and hard season our top players are still expected to put themselves through the physical and mental challenge of a tough summer tour. He probably won't agree, but the shoulder injury to Billy Vunipola, for instance, is probably a blessing in disguise in the longer term.

We need to ask ourselves just how often we can expect these players to go back to the well...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Cool Hand Henry

Two fantastic Premiership semi finals at the weekend, the highlight of which for me was not in fact Exeter’s dramatic last gasp winning try against Saracens, nor that of Wasps against the Tigers in Coventry.

Instead the moment of the weekend was the 60 metre plus kick to touch by Henry Slade to set up the winning position for the Chiefs at the death. I’ve long been a fan of Slade’s impressive skillset, but that kick also demonstrated that the boy has ice in his veins and I hope he now gets the chance to lay down a marker with England in Argentina.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Contract, what contract?

Louis Picamoles – undoubtedly one of the best signings of last season – is now one year into a 3 year deal with Northampton and yet has this week reportedly signed a “pre-contract” to join Montpellier next season.
No doubt Saints will end up receiving a substantial transfer fee, but that’s not really the point.
Picamole’s move to Montpellier is effectively being presented as a fait accompli with Northampton the unwilling victim and, if successful, sets a precedent in which the principle of Sanctity of Contract can be ignored by those with the deepest pockets.
If we're not careful I'm sure we can all see where this is headed...

Friday, 19 May 2017

Fit for rugby

I’m intrigued by RFU plans to roll out a new specific 20-minute exercise programme across all levels of the community game in England in time for next season.

As a youth team coach (well, I do put out the cones and hold the tackle bags) I will be directly affected by the plans, so I should probably pay attention.

The programme – which apparently focuses on balance, strength and agility to prepare players for the physical challenges of rugby – is designed to reduce overall injuries and is based on recent research which found that injuries fell by 72% when players completed the programme three times a week  before a match or training.

Looks like I’ll have some homework to do over the coming weeks…

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A farewell to Mr Ritchie

Ian Ritchie’s decision to retire as RFU Chief Executive this summer came as a bit of a surprise.

Although his reign hasn’t been an unqualified success – his managing of Stuart Lancaster’s time in charge of the national team springs to mind and he can hardly be described as any kind of visionary – there’s little doubt that the plusses of his time in office do far outweigh the minuses.  

The RFU is a far more stable environment than when Ritchie took over in 2011, he helped deliver a hugely successful World Cup (from a financial standpoint) and the England set up is now incredibly strong with the England men, women and age group teams all flying relatively high.

He has also enjoyed diplomatic success – brokering the deal that ensured English participation in the Champions Cup, overseeing the 8 year Professional Game Agreement with Premiership Rugby and, of course, he was instrumental in bringing Eddie Jones aboad as England’s Head Coach.

Apparently the RFU plans to announce Ritchie’s successor later this summer. Whoever he or she may be, they will inherit an organisation in rude health, although with a very tough act to follow…

Monday, 15 May 2017

From strength to strength

Huge congrats to Saracens for their Champions Cup victory over Clermont this weekend.

Winning the competition for the second year running is nothing to be sniffed at - and to be unbeaten in Europe in 18 games is quite remarkable.

I have to declare that Sarries are, to all extents and purposes, the club I tend to follow (insofar as I follow anyone), being the most local to me and being heavily involved in rugby development in the local area (young Master TF having attended a number of their county developing player training sessions).

I have previously described Saracens as a "difficult team to love" - partly I think owing to their history of importing foreign (mainly South African) players en bloc, partly due to a suspicion that only lip service was ever being paid to the salary cap and partly thanks to what was, which even the most committed fez-head would admit, a somewhat perfunctory playing style.

It can safely be said, however, that the modern Saracens set up is very different. I can't really comment on the salary cap, other than to say that the club does not tend to sign big-money marquee superstars. Instead they tend to develop from within and recruit where necessary based on character as much as ability. What is telling is that Saracens started Saturday's Champions Cup Final with 11 English-qualified players in their starting XV - with none of the four non-English players exactly being household names outside of Barnet.

They also played vibrant and attacking rugby from the outset, showing just how far their game as developed over the years.



There's clearly a huge collective bond between the players at Saracens these days for which Mark McCall (to whom the RFU should already be talking with a view to 2020) and the rest of the staff at the club can take huge credit.

They now move on to Sandy Park for the Premiership Semi-Final, but whether or not they succeed in defending their domestic title this season (and I wouldn't bet against them), it is clear that as a club they are now setting the standards not only for other clubs but also for England...

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Auntie in Argentina

I was very pleased to hear that the Beeb will be broadcasting England's two tests in Argentina next month.
Being somewhat reluctant to line the pockets of Rupert Murdoch, I am always happy to see rugby appearing on terrestrial TV and, having no social life to speak of, I can confirm that I will be tuning in to BBC2 on the evenings of 10th and 17th June...


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Five years and a Pool of Death...

World Rugby’s decision at its meeting this week in Kyoto to scrap the 3 year residency qualification period, replacing it with a more stringent 5 year period, has to be seen as a good thing.

Hopefully it will end (or at least reduce) the practice  of "Project Players" being brought in by certain countries and will help protect lower tier nations who habitually lose players to other national teams purely for economic reasons.


Having said that, I understand that the new rule is not due to come into force until 31st December 2020 which, by my calculations (and call me an old cynic), gives countries until the end of this year to ship in as many Project Players as they can. 


Of course Kyoto also hosted the draw for the 2019 World Cup this week and there was a certain inevitability that Eddie Jones and England would be being drawn in another Pool of Death, having to face both France and Argentina in Pool C to progress to the quarter finals. Scant reward, it seems, for the team's recent 18 match unbeaten run...

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Re-Touched and an Anniversary...

It’s that time of year again as yesterday evening yours truly, despite legs that barely move and a heart and lungs in serious need of counselling, embarked on a 12th summer season of Touch rugby.

As it turned out a couple of weeks of light practice had done very little to prepare this knackered old carcass for the pace and intensity of our first fixture of the season against a very fit and young (pretty much exclusively young men in their 20s) Chiltern Barbarians.

A mixed (gender and age) and slightly understrength Dave’s Dad’s Dog’s Dead team were unfortunately no match for our fast and skilful opponents, although we did hang in there as best we could to limit our defeat to 11-14 – not too shabby all things considered.

My personal contribution involved much scrambling in defence, a few carries in attack, a fair bit of ineffectual hanging about on the wing and an awful lot of gasping for breath and wondering if anyone had remembered to bring the defibrillator.

By pure coincidence yesterday was also the 10th anniversary of the very first post on this blog. Yes, a few of you (and you know who you are) have been putting up with this drivel for 10 long, long years.  

Ten years ago I was beginning my 2nd season of Touch and was nursing various aches and pains after a narrow defeat in the first game of the season.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Family ties

Awful news this week that Tom Youngs’ wife is suffering from terminal cancer – news which prompted the withdrawal of brother Ben from the Lions touring squad to New Zealand.
Ben’s decision to support his brother and sister-in-law,  foregoing an opportunity which may not come around again, is as admirable as it is understandable. 
Family is, and always should be, paramount and my best wishes go out to the Youngs family at what must be a hugely difficult and emotional time.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Rugby on Five

I’m delighted by the news that Premiership Rugby has signed a deal with Channel 5 for next season which will see Premiership matches broadcast live on UK terrestrial TV for the first time.

OK, so it’s only for 5 matches, but at least it’s a start and the package will also include a weekly highlights programme to be broadcast at 8pm on a Sunday.

It’s about time that rugby looked beyond the Pay TV model which, while bringing revenues into the game, fails to expose the sport to a wider audience and which (at least in my humble opinion) does the development of rugby at grassroots level no good at all. I hope the RFU take note and begin to re-think their TV strategy on England home internationals.

And yes, it will also fit in with my personal viewing habits perfectly.

I trust that the new arrangement, with the new Channel 5 highlights show replacing the current show on ITV, continues to recognise the genius of ex-prop-turned-pundit David Flatman.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Very proud...

The weekend saw my son's Under 14 team round off a great season with a hard-fought 28-20 victory away at Tring.

Sunday's win was the culmination of a hugely successful season for the boys, not just in terms of results (and yet the overall record of played 16, won thirteen, lost 3 - and victory at the Harrow 10s Festival - is not be sniffed at) but also in terms of just how well the boys have developed as players.

This time last year I posted my guide to coaching youth rugby and at the start of this season being involved in the coaching of the team was still very much akin to trying to herd cats, but as the season has progressed there has been a noticeable shift in attitude, with several of the boys now displaying an impressive mental maturity that was previously absent.

What is great to see is that often it is the boys themselves who are now working out what to do during a game rather than relying on instructions from the touchline, and on several occasions this season their sheer determination to defend their line has been a joy to behold.

There is also a fantastic camaraderie developing amongst the boys which is wonderful to see and which, as I keep harping on about to TF Jnr, is really what this game of ours is all about.

Quite honestly this season has been a pleasure to be involved with...