Sunday, 31 December 2017

Total Flanker Awards 2017

It's New Year's Eve and ahead of the evening's main event may I welcome you, one and all, to the 11th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony, held this year at the swankiest of swanky virtual venues...

Yes, another calendar year has rushed by with indecent haste, bringing us once again to the time of year when we recognise and celebrate the highs, the lows, the ups, the downs, the ins and the outs of rugby in 2017.

Without further ado, first up this evening is the Total Flanker OK I May Have Got That Wrong Award. It's not as if I've never made a mistake before, but on this occasion I am referring to the fact that I had originally believed that the appointment of Warren Gatland as head coach of the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand was as uninspiring as it was doomed to failure. How wrong I was. Under Gatland the Lions performed way beyond expectations to secure a series draw despite a ridiculous and brutal schedule and totally inadequate preparation. Well done Mr Gatland.

Next up is the the Total Flanker Is this Real or Yet Another Case of the Emperor's New Clothes? Award. I'm referring, in this instance, to the Scotland rugby team under new head coach Gregor Townsend. Two victories this year over Australia, home and away, plus running the All Blacks close at Murrayfield and scoring a bucketload of tries would suggest the Scots are on an upward curve. Set against that, of course, is a defeat in Fiji and conceding a whole shedload of points at home to Samoa. Will the real Scotland please stand up. I guess the Six Nations will tell us more.

Moving along, our next award is the Total Flanker How Impossibly Stupid Do You Have to Be? Award. Several candidates exist for this award, you might think, but one candidate stands head and shoulders above the rest. Step forward Ospreys' hooker Scott Baldwin who missed his his team's Pro14 fixture against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein because he had been BITTEN BY A LION WHILE TRYING TO PET IT. Words fail me.

And so the Total Flanker Now That's How You Do It Award. No hesitation here, there can only be one winner and that is the Women's Rugby World Cup 2017a hugely successful tournament with sell-out crowds and plentiful live TV coverage throughout, culminating in a cracking final full of fast, skilful, dynamic, competitive and compelling rugby and worthy winners in the Black Ferns.

The penultimate award this evening is the Total Flanker Time To Put A Lid On It Award. This one, I'm afraid, goes to England coach Eddie Jones. Now, as big a fan as I am of Eddie and the job he has done for England over the last two years, isn't it time now to stop banging on about wanting to be the World's number 1 team and winning the Rugby World Cup? If anything, all this talk of "greatness" just smacks of insecurity as if he's trying to convince himself and his team and I can't help thinking that less talking and more concentrating on the here and now would be so much more beneficial.

And finally, last but by no means least we have the Total Flanker This Is What Rugby Is All About Award. For this award we head back to the Lions Tour of New Zealand this summer and salute those many Kiwi rugby fans who opened up their homes for free to accommodate British and Irish visitors to New Zealand, thus encapsulating the unique nature of this great game of ours and providing a fitting finale to this awards ceremony.


Yes, sadly our whistle-stop tour through 2017 is now at an end - leaving me only to say a HUGE thank you once again for continuing to indulge this blog and the regular drivel contained herein.
I wish you all a fantastic 2018...

Friday, 15 December 2017

Ode to Joy

Best best of luck to Joy Neville who today becomes the first woman to referee a European professional club fixture, taking charge of Bordeaux-Begles vs Enisei-STM in Pool One of the Challenge Cup.
Big congrats to Joy from this blog 👍


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Queen of the Castle

Congrats to Raelene Castle on her appointment as CEO of Rugby Australia.

Castle is the former CEO of both NRL club Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Netball New Zealand - and therefore brings a wealth of sports administration experience to the role.

Well done also to the ARU for appointing someone who on the face of it appears to be eminently qualified. Whatever next?

Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Earth is not Flat - Proof

Members of the Flat Earth Society believe that we live on a disc, with the North Pole at its centre and a 150-ft high wall of ice, Antarctica, at the outer edge.

They are wrong...


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Whatever happened to: Amateurism?

Earlier today I read an article in the Telegraph by Mick Cleary calling for the RFU to declare rugby amateur again below a certain level and I must say I could not agree more.

I’ve long thought that professionalism in English rugby is simply financially unsustainable below the elite level – and I’ve floated the idea previously that the game cannot really afford to support more than, say, 16 fully professional clubs in England.

Whatever the merits if that particular argument, there’s no doubt that many clubs below the elite level find life incredibly difficult once they decide to start paying players.

It was once (and for some clubs still is) the case that clubs were run by and for the members who all contributed membership fees and all had the interests of the club and the local community at heart.

The advent of the league system in the eighties, followed by the introduction of payments to players in the nineties, then changed all that for many clubs whose misplaced ambition to progress through the system has led to inflated playing budgets and an over-reliance on sponsors or benefactors, fundamentally changing the nature of such clubs.

In many cases professionalism has proved to have been horribly divisive. Clubs once fielding 5 or 6 XVs in the amateur era have found that paying players in the 1st XV has led to alienation of players lower down the club with a disastrous effect on playing numbers, as well as a dwindling in support from the lifeblood of these clubs – the amateur volunteers who man the bars, cook the food, do the laundry etc. Effectively the “soul” of such clubs has been lost.

And all for what? A couple of promotions to a slightly higher standard of rugby?

Enough is enough. It is time for those rugby clubs to rediscover the joys of amateurism – of being self-funding, community based organisations run purely for the love of the game.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Baxter for England?

Assuming that Eddie Jones does decide to step down as England coach after the World Cup in 2019 (a stance he has consistently maintained), the temptation will be I’m sure, to try to replace him with another “proven” international coach.
I’m a fan of Eddie Jones – but just because he has been successful with England it doesn’t mean that the next England coach has to be from overseas.
If the RFU are genuinely after the best man for the job, for me the answer is simple - Exeter’s Rob Baxter.

And if the RFU could secure Baxter’s services to allow him to work with Eddie Jones through to the World Cup, all the better…

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Germans on strike...

I don’t want to fall back on hackneyed old stereotypes, but right now German rugby is hardly the paragon of efficiency that one might normally associate with that country.

I am referring of course to the fact that the German national team decided to go on strike prior to last week’s match against Chile, forcing the German Rugby Union (DRV) to field a scratch team and resulting in a 32-10 defeat.

Chaos is the word which probably best describes the current situation, with the players unhappy following the ending of funding arrangements between the DRV and Stade Francais owner Dr Hans-Peter Wild, meaning that the national squad’s full-time, high-performance training programme has had to be cut.

It’s such a shame as the fortunes of the German team were most definitely on an upward trajectory, with qualification for the 2019 World Cup by no means an impossibility and with the likes of Toby Flood and former Saints scrum half Lee Dickson expressing an interest in joining the German ranks.

One can only hope that common sense prevails and this all gets sorted out soon – as long as England never have to face the Germans in a penalty shoot-out. 😆

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Breach birth

Twenty year old Harlequins winger Jess Breach must think this international rugby lark is a bit of a breeze.

Six tries on her debut vs Canada at Allianz Park were followed by a mere five further tries in the third and final encounter of the series at Twickenham on Saturday (she missed the second test through injury).

 As introductions to international rugby go that's pretty damned spectacular...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Six Nations 2018: Appetite Whetted

It looks likely from this Autumn's internationals (and I appreciate that Wales and South Africa still have to slug it out again this coming weekend), that we are in for one humdinger of a Six Nations next year.

England and Ireland will go into the tournament as favourites - with England chasing a "three-peat" - but, for the first time in quite a considerable while, Scotland also find themselves in contention.

Runners and riders:

England - one narrow defeat (to Ireland in Dublin last year) in 2 years speaks volumes for a squad that Eddie Jones has made far more resourceful and resilient than in recent times. It's not always pretty, but they are damned difficult to play against and will probably start narrow favourites.

Ireland - dismantled South Africa earlier this month and are another mightily solid, if a tad unspectacular, group. If they can find the consistency lacking last year the Irish will be serious contenders for the title in 2018.

Scotland - the Scottish resurgence was started by Vern Cotter and is certainly gaining pace under Gregor Townsend. Fabulous in attack, doubts do remain over their defensive prowess which they will need to improve if they are to challenge England and Ireland.

Wales - Warren Gatland's conversion on the road to Damascus appears to have come 2 years too late. I can't decide whether the all-new attacking approach is merely a case of the Emperor's new clothes or whether it is genuinely likely to lead to a new era for Welsh rugby. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

France - who knows? There's plenty of noise about good young French players coming through, but there's been nothing in November to suggest that a French renaissance is imminent. Still, it's a post-Lions championship so France will probably confound us all by winning the damned thing.

Italy -I can't say I've followed Italy very closely in November, but results hardly suggest that they will be challenging for anything other than the Wooden Spoon. Again. The calls for the inclusion  of Georgia - who were unlucky to lose narrowly against Wales this month - grow louder.


Friday, 24 November 2017

Time to relax?

With both Fiji and Tonga making it through to the semi finals of the Rugby League World Cup, it is being suggested in various circles that perhaps Rugby Union should follow Rugby League's example in relaxing international eligibility rules.

A recent change to the eligibility rules in League has meant that players who were not selected by a tier-one team can now switch allegiances to another team for whom they qualify, resulting in a number of top quality NRL players now turning out for Pacific Island teams.

Clearly this policy has worked for League but then again it desperately needed to find ways of evening out the competition for the Rugby League World Cup to make the tournament credible.

Union doesn't face quite the same credibility issue, but there's little doubt that, as a short-term measure, for the Rugby World Cup a similar eligibility policy would make the tournament more competitive than it currently is.

Whether it could work in general, however, is more debatable. To ensure fairness across the board the new rules would need to be open to everyone and would no doubt be open to abuse - with economic factors playing a prominent part.

Opening up eligibility also flies in the face of recent measures introduced to tighten international eligibility rules. If you think that national teams picking foreign-born players is controversial now, imagine the furore when a player decides to switch international allegiance purely for a better pay packet.

No, for me the "Rugby League solution" is merely the equivalent of putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Tinkering with eligibility rules will not solve international rugby's widening inequality gap - which can only be settled by World Rugby and the so-called "Tier One" nations addressing how the game's wealth can be more equitably distributed.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Money, money, money

While I can understand why England's players decided against donating part of their match fees to their Samoan counterparts ahead of Saturday's clash at Twickenham, I still think it's a bit of a shame.

Yes, there is definitely something more than a little ethically questionable and unedifying about paying your opposition to play against you, and the issue of the funding of so-called tier 2 nations is something that needs addressing urgently by World Rugby rather than be left to the consciences of individual players.

And yet think of the impact that a more robust stance by the England's players would have made...

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Tom Crofted

I was sorry to read last week that Leicester's Tom Croft has retired from professional rugby on medical advice at the tender age of just 32.

Always a favourite of mine, Croft is a phenomenal athlete with serious pace but arguably it was only really Ian McGeechan, on the 2009 Lions tour, that ever properly extracted Croft's full potential as a ball-carrying blindside flanker (although I always thought that he would make a very decent number 8 in the mould of Kieran Read).

Enjoy your retirement Mr Croft.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

North Shields

I am intrigued by the news that Hurricanes captain Brad Shields will be joining Wasps next season.
Shields qualifies for England through his parents and his availability for England will no doubt fuel further debate about foreign-born players.
Not being a Super Rugby aficionado, the question I have is this:
If he's that good, why hasn't he been picked for New Zealand?

Monday, 20 November 2017

Cheik mate

So Michael Cheika appears to be in a spot of bother over his behaviour at Twickenham on Saturday. I understand that he felt/feels hard done by the fact that the Aussies hardly got the rub of the green against England - but is childish petulance really the answer?

Cheika's ire appeared to be directed towards referee Ben O'Keefe who denied Australia a couple of tries having consulted with the TMO. Much has been said about the possible emasculation of referees by over-use of the TMO and, while I do have some sympathy with that view (and, indeed, have expressed something similar myself previously), what Saturday showed is that the most important thing is that ultimately the correct decisions are made.

Imagine the controversy had Ben O'Keefe not checked the video replays and made the wrong calls...

Friday, 17 November 2017

If not now, when?

First things first, I am sure that Eddie Jones knows a lot more about selecting an international rugby team than I do.

And yet picking Maro Itoje to sit on the bench for the majority of tomorrow's game against the Aussies does make me wonder.

Simply put:

If Maro Itoje genuinely needs a rest then he should be on a beach in the Bahamas.

If Maro Itoje is fit enough to be in England's match day squad then he has to be in the starting XV.

And if Maro Itoje is in the starting XV then he should be England captain.

C'mon Eddie, you know it makes sense.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Kerching!!!

Great news that England's women have landed a new pay deal.



Under the terms of the new deal the RFU will pay the players match fees and training fees when on England duty and it is believed that players involved in all 3 Tests against Canada this November will make between £4,000 and £5,000.

While still somewhat shy of what the chaps are paid, this nevertheless represents a significant step forward following the controversial cancellation of the XV-a-side contracts post World Cup.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Quelle Surprise - France 2023

So, at the end of what was supposed to be a fair and transparent process, it was France who was today announced as the “surprise” host of Rugby World Cup 2023.

This, despite World Rugby having made public an independent technical evaluation report last month which recommended South Africa as host.

Unfortunately for South Africa the report, commissioned by World Rugby in the interests of transparency, was not binding on members of World Rugby’s council and so ultimately failed to prevail in today's (not so transparent) secret ballot, instead succumbing to intense lobbying (particularly by the French and the other contenders, Ireland) and the customary horse-trading amongst members. 

The biggest surprise, however, is that anyone is surprised by the outcome. Plus ça change etc...

Monday, 13 November 2017

How F****** Stupid are we?

Ok, so on Saturday England were a bit lacklustre against Argentina, who rather inconveniently didn’t just roll over and allow England to run through their playbook.

It wasn’t great, but neither was it the disaster being painted by many commentators. Take young Sam Underhill for instance. Twenty-odd tackles on his Twickenham debut in an immense defensive effort and yet apparently he doesn’t get involved enough in the attack!

Put in context, 2 months ago New Zealand beat Argentina by 39-22 and by 36-10. So an England win by 21-8, although in many ways underwhelming, was still a decent victory against difficult and obdurate opponents who, although they’ve struggled for results recently, are always ultra-competitive.

Expectations that England were somehow going to run up a cricket score were as disrespectful as they were unrealistic.

I suggest we all get a grip.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Whatever happened to: the Rugby Song?

Following an initiation ceremony at Howe of Fife RFC during which a player suffered internal injuries (having reportedly had a bottle inserted into his anus), the Scottish Rugby Union recently handed out a record 347 weeks of suspensions to 14 players, a coach and a club official.

Now, while I’m sure that, back in the day, behaviour was nowhere near whiter than white, I honestly don’t recall it ever crossing the line to anywhere near the extent outlined above.

Prevalent throughout my playing days, however, was the almost compulsory post-match singing of songs in the clubhouse bar deep into the evening. Which begs the question: Whatever happened to the Rugby Song?

I have to say that, no longer being a regular at clubhouse bars late into the evening, this is a question to which I genuinely do not know the answer.

What I do remember, certainly from the eighties, is that the lyrics to most of the songs sung were – when analysed in the cold light of day – fundamentally offensive. No offence was intended of course (to the drunken juvenile rugby mind it was all just harmless frivolity) but there’s little doubt when I look back that there must have been people who would have been awfully offended at song lyrics which were basically either sexist, racist, homophobic, misogynistic or, indeed, all of the above.

Certainly having grown up a (tiny) little bit I have come to realise (although I’m sure the “political correctness gone mad” brigade will disagree) that whether something is offensive or not can only really be decided by the person it affects and I do cringe with a certain amount of shame at some of the words used in songs I used to sing with gusto.

Hand on heart, I would certainly apologise to anyone I offended at the time and can only hope that in these more enlightened times such songs have been consigned to history.

That said, I’m convinced that, at its essence, the clubhouse sing-song can be an extremely valuable and enjoyable team experience, helping to forge bonds and cement friendships between clubmates. There is no reason, however, why songs need to be so offensive or distasteful and I remember, during the nineties for instance, happily belting out various classics from the likes of Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Don Mclean and John Denver, amongst others. Whilst my taste in music and vocal quality may not have been everyone's cup of tea, at least I can be confident that no one would have been overly upset.

So, whatever happened to the Rugby Song?

In it’s traditional unpleasant and objectionable form I sincerely hope that the Rugby Song is dead and buried. But equally I trust that communal clubhouse singing to accompany the quaffing of beer will remain a staple ingredient of rugby clubs throughout the land for many years to come.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Yarde Sale?

It looks like Marland Yarde may be on the move from Harlequins to Sale Sharks this week.

The news follows reports that Yarde has failed to turn up for Quins training on three separate occasions, including him missing a pre-season training camp in Germany (having apparently "overslept") and not showing up for the captain’s run prior to Quins’ Champions Cup tie against Wasps earlier this month. 

Quins have clearly had enough, while Sale – who have a history of taking on players with slightly iffy reputations – must be hoping that Yarde can be reformed.

This blog – and in particular the Hall of Wazzocks – will be watching this space...

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Hands across the Severn


So the England and Wales forward packs plan to train against one another before the November internationals in a no holds barred set piece session in Bristol?

What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, 23 October 2017

Rugby Shorts

A few snippets from the weekend:

  • Australia 23 New Zealand 18. Wow, didn’t see that coming. Well done Oz, now proud holders once more of the Raeburn Shield. 
  • Is it me, or is Joe Marler fast becoming English rugby’s pantomime villain? I can’t imagine that Eddie Jones is amused. 
  • Great result from Exeter away at Montpellier but sorry, there's no excuse whatsoever for that horrendous kit.
  • Women’s Premier 15s - Darlington Mowden Park 0 Firwood Waterloo 0. A result which, I’m guessing, tells its own story.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Tangled Webb

Sorry, I’m afraid I just don’t buy the fact that Welsh no.9 Rhys Webb did not understand that joining Toulon next season would jeopardise his prospects of playing for Wales.

Days after Webb signed a pre-agreement with Toulon the WRU announced a change in their selection criteria to the effect that players signing a new contract with a team outside Wales must have 60 caps to their name to remain eligible for national selection.

Webb is, apparently,"heartbroken". So heartbroken, in fact, that he refuses to contemplate trying to opt out of his move to southern France.

Then again, a reported salary of £750,000 a year might just help to soften the blow.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Whatever Happened to: Tackling (part 3)

These days much is made about certain players and their respective tackle counts, with 15-20 tackles per match often cited as being very impressive indeed.

But is it though?

20 tackles in a game means, in effect, one tackle every 4 minutes - and if I think back to my heyday as a young, tearaway, openside flanker, that target would appear to have been eminently achievable. After all, tackling was more or less all I did, right?

When you think about it, however, during a game of rugby there's a heck of a lot of time spent not tackling. There are scrummages (in my day probably around 25 per game at roughly 1 minute each), line outs (let's say 20, at 30 seconds each), attempts at goal (say 15, at perhaps 1 minute each) plus time spent rucking (or in my case lying at the bottom of a ruck being stamped on) and mauling, running around aimlessly and standing with hands on hips desperately trying to draw breath (conservatively, 20 minutes in all?).

So that's approximately 70 minutes of the 80 spent doing various things, useful or otherwise, in which I probably wasn't making tackles.

And don't forget, there are two teams in a game of rugby. So for roughly 50% of the game my team had the ball - ergo no need to tackle.

So by my reckoning that would have left a meagre 5 minutes game time in which to achieve my tackle count.

20 tackles is now beginning to look like a something of a superhuman effort while Thierry Dusuatoir's record of 38 tackles in the 2011 World Cup Final is simply beyond comprehension.

My mind is now officially blown.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Gats is Done

So, Warren Gatland is “done” with the British and Irish Lions, having confirmed that he won't be taking charge of the South Africa tour in 2021.

Lord knows I’m no Gatland fan, but the chap deserves plenty of credit for leading two successful tours (one series victory, one drawn) to Oz and UnZid respectively.

I’m not surprised, however, that Gats has decided that enough is enough.

A woefully inadequate preparation time and a brutal schedule - which is only going to get worse with future tours limited to 8 games - means that now is a good time to get out.

I can envisage one or two problems, perhaps, in finding someone to drink from the poisoned chalice in four years time - after all, as I've previously said, who would want to coach a team that is recklessly being set up to fail?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Barbarians Women: Ewe know it makes sense.

Another major step forward for women's rugby today as the Barbarians launch its first-ever women’s team who will make their debut in Ireland next month against Munster.

I know I've expressed my doubts in the past about the role of the Barbarians in the (men's) professional era, but I can completely see how the BaaBaas concept fits perfectly into the current women's rugby development cycle.

With the success of the Women's Rugby World Cup and the Women's Sevens World Series, plus the launch of the Premier 15s in England, there couldn't be a better time to introduce the idea of an international invitational team.

Next step: British & Irish Lionesses?

Good luck to all involved...

Monday, 9 October 2017

Quiet Please

Here's something to get your blood boiling...

Torbay Council has recently changed its mind about allowing Paignton Rugby Club Under 9s and Under 10s to play rugby at Torbay Park in Paignton.

Apparently the pitches had been marked out and the Council had accepted payment before making an abrupt U-turn following complaints from the certain members of the public about increased noise.

That would be noise...of CHILDREN...PLAYING...IN A PARK.

Quite rightly there is a Change.org petition in place to get the Council to reverse this idiotic decision, currently running at 6,000+ signatures.

Go on, you know it makes sense...

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Invisible?

From time to time I've been known to get on my high horse about the RFU launching yet another England rugby kit and expecting the great English rugby public to swallow a load of old marketing bollocks about the kit's historic significance and/or astonishing technical capabilities.

And so, as we head towards the November 2017 Internationals, I'm sure we are all delighted by the launch of England's new alternative dark grey combo which will be worn against Argentina next month and by the women’s team against Canada.


NOTHING TO SEE HERE
The problem is, sadly, that you won't be able to see the kit in the above picture because, apparently, it uses state-of-the-art camouflage technology.

Yes, according to a RFU press release: “Inspired by distraction principles, the red fade feature [on the kit] is designed to make it harder to distinguish aspects of the body during the tackle.”

Seriously, you couldn't make it up.

Or maybe you could - and in fact I did - here and again here.

Once again, however, truth proves stranger than fiction. Unless it's all my fault?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Three minutes


I think we're supposed to be impressed by the fact that World Rugby has agreed that Premiership and Championship clubs will, for the rest of this season, have an extra 3 minutes to undertake head injury assessments during games.

From this weekend the HIA period has, on a trial basis, been extended from 10 to 13 minutes to allow teams to collect saliva and urine ­samples to try to create an objective pitchside concussion test.

The idea is this could lead to developing a hand-held device that would instantly be able to diagnose concussions, which is all very laudable but kind of misses the point.

 The bottom line is that medics should be allowed to take as long as they need to make an HIA and players should be allowed to return to the field if given the all clear, even if it takes an hour or so to make an accurate assessment.

Three minutes extra is nowhere near enough.



Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Guilty

I see Kyle Sinckler was last night found guilty of gouging by an RFU disciplinary panel and will now deservedly serve a 7 week ban (for which he can count himself lucky), ruling him out of England's November internationals.

This, in addition to Sinckler's arrest by New Zealand police in Auckland in July, suggests that the young Quins prop is beginning to establish something of a bad rep for himself, an issue he's going to have to get to grips with fairly quickly if he expects to retain the support of Eddie Jones and, perhaps more importantly, avoid nomination for the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks.

Meanwhile, Wasps Ladies' Liz Crake may have just struck a decisive blow for gender equality by being cited for allegedly biting Gloucester-Hartpury outside-half Ceri Large in Gloucester-Hartpury's recent 26-22 win over Wasps. If found guilty she could face a ban of 12+ weeks.

I have yet to find how her disciplinary hearing went*, but could the Hall of Wazzocks possibly have found its first female member?

POSTSCRIPT: just learned that Ms Crake has been suspended for six weeks after accepting the charge,remorse and previously clean disciplinary record being taken into account.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The curious case of Lichfield Ladies

I see Wasps Ladies recently signed England internationals Amy Cokayne, Harriet Millar Mills and Justine Lucas, all of whom previously turned out for Lichfield Ladies.

What seems to be forgotten amidst all the justified hype and excitement surrounding the heady opening weeks of the Premier 15s – England’s new elite domestic rugby competition for women – is the fate of Lichfield Ladies.

A seemingly permanent fixture in the Women’s Premiership in England for several years (finishing in 3rd place last season), Lichfield have over the years developed many international players, including the three women mentioned above as well as current England skipper Sarah Hunter, Emily Scarratt, Natasha Hunt and Vicky Fleetwood.

Lichfield, however, failed to be included in the Premier 15s following an RFU tender process that effectively replaced them with Loughborough Lightning (Loughborough University) who, prior to this process, had never had a team in women's league rugby.

As a result Lichfield has lost around 30 players, many of whom have had to move to top-flight clubs in order to be considered for international selection and several of whom have joined Loughborough.

I have read the judgment of the panel that dismissed Lichfield's appeal against the RFU decision. Suffice it to say that the process was not exactly transparent and the judgment brushes over the fact that Nicky Ponsford, the RFU’s Head of Women’s Performance, was part of the decision making process.

Nicky Ponsford is an alumna and former coach of Loughborough University.

Just saying.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Dunderhead of the Week

Time to revive the long forgotten Dunderhead of the Week award in recognition of the spectacular stupidity of Ospreys' hooker, Scott Baldwin.

The 29-year-old Baldwin missed his team's latest Pro14 fixture against the Cheetahs because he had been BITTEN BY A LION WHILE TRYING TO PET IT.

The incident happened during a team trip to Weltevrede Game Lodge on the outskirts of Bloemfontein, where everyone was - appropriately enough - warned not to put their hands into the lion's den.

As Ospreys' coach Steve Tandy points out, "You can't pat a lion on the head as if it's a kitten."

And yet that's exactly what Baldwin did. One word:Dunderhead.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Rugby World Cup 2023: A bugger's muddle

This week has seen London play host to the bids of France, South Africa and Ireland to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with the respective bidding teams displaying their respective wares in front of World Rugby.

With France's president, Emmanuel Macron, deciding that he couldn't be arsed to attend the presentation or endorse the French bid, France's bidding team turned to an ingenious (although somewhat bizarre) Plan B by choosing to parade the young sons of New Zealand rugby legend, Jonah Lomu as part of the bid. Jonah quite liked France, apparently. Which is nice.

South Africa's strategy, meanwhile, appeared to be based on the fact that they once hosted the Rugby World Cup well over 20 years ago when that very nice, smiley man Nelson Mandela was President. No mention, surprisingly, that for financial reasons South Africa had recently decided against bidding to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

And as for the Irish, apparently if Ireland wins the bid to host the World Cup in 2023 it will somehow (and I kid you not) make rugby incredibly popular in the United States of America. Call me naive, but wouldn't hosting the event in the USA be more likely to do that?

Go figure, and while you’re doing that please bear in mind that the Irish bid has also won the backing of UK Prime Minister Theresa May. What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

To tackle or not to tackle?


Fresh calls this week in the British Medical Journal to “ban harmful contact” in schools rugby to reduce the risk of injury, particularly to the head and neck, with researchers calling for the UK government to “put the interests of the child before those of corporate professional rugby unions."

I’m all for trying to make sure that kids are as protected as possible on the rugby field, but I'm far from convinced that a ban on tackling in schools is the answer. As long as good tackling technique is taught and teachers are well-trained in dealing with injuries then there is little doubt that the benefits of playing rugby – fitness, teamwork, discipline etc - far outweigh the risks.

And there lies the possible issue. In many state schools in particular the sports staff are simply not skilled or experienced enough to teach good tackling technique and in those instances I would agree that the kids playing contact rugby may not be safe.

I also have some sympathy with the argument that perhaps full contact rugby should not be compulsory in schools – it’s not for everyone, after all.

I can’t help feeling, however, that imposing a blanket ban would be a classic case of using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.