Thursday, 20 September 2018

Pull the other one, Eddie

Eddie Jones' comment that Danny Cipriani has been left out of the 36 man England training squad announced today "100%" on rugby grounds is, at best, disingenuous.

Let's be honest, I've long been critical of Cipriani's off-field antics and, fair enough, I could comfortably get behind a decision to leave him out of the squad for behaving like a wazzock.

But for Jones to claim that Cipriani is currently only England's "third or fourth choice" fly-half is, quite frankly, utter nonsense given the Gloucester outside-half's spectacular early season form and the fact that he is (or was) England's incumbent no.10.

The decision, and the reasons given for it, does the credibility of Eddie Jones amongst England rugby followers (and, surely, amongst the squad) no favours whatsoever.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

England's Women going full time...

Delighted by the news this week that the RFU have finally seen sense and have decided to reintroduce professional contracts for the England Women's 15-a-side team from 1st January 2019.

Twenty-eight full-time deals will be awarded plus seven elite player squad agreements. 

Not before time.

The move represents something of a u-turn from the previous policy of only paying the 15-a-side team on a match by match basis, full time professional contracts having been cancelled following last year's Women's World Cup.

Now all the RFU need to do is prioritise the 15-a-side game (and use Sevens as a development pathway) for sense truly to be the winner...


The RFU has finally confirmed that the rumours are true - Phil  Mitchell has been appointed as England’s new defence coach until the end of Rugby World Cup 2019.

Mitchell will leave his role as general hard nut in Albert Square, Walford E20, to join Eddie Jones' squad ahead of England's November internationals. 

It's a joke that will never get old...

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Rugby? Gone soft? Don't be daft.

While I do have some sympathy with Leicester's Will Spencer's red card for a high tackle against Wasps on Sunday, the decision was ultimately the correct one.

There was no malice or intent in Spencer's tackle on Tommy Taylor - but it was a forceful shoulder-to-head tackle and the law is clear that such a challenge constitutes a red card offence.

To those whose knee-jerk reaction is that the game has "gone soft" - please - don't be daft.

Just take one look at the number of walking wounded at Premiership clubs after just 3 weeks of action.

Go on, ask Cornell du Preez (fractured larynx), Brad Shields (fractured cheekbone) or Olly Woodburn (broken jaw) whether the game has gone soft. Or ask former Leinster and Leicester flanker Dominic Ryan - forced to retire this month aged 28 after repeated concussions.

It is right and proper that World Rugby is attempting to address the increasing issue of head injuries by making players tackle lower - and if there are a few perceived injustices on the road to Damascus then so be it.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Rugby snippets from the weekend...

1. The All Blacks are human after all and still, it appears, reluctant to go for the drop goal.

2. No matter how crap the team you support are, hurling foul-mouthed abuse at players and pushing kids is never acceptable.

3. In Zach Mercer have England found the big, mobile ball carrying forward they so desperately need?

4. Joe Cokanasiga looks fairly handy on the left wing too.

5. And Henry Slade looks in fine fettle.

6. Another blooper from Ian Tempest - apparently a blatantly late tackle (Dan Cole) cannot be late if it occurs after a tapped penalty has been taken from the wrong place. Go figure.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

New inductees to the Hall of Wazzocks...

Congrats to Liza Burgess, Stephen Larkham, Ronan O’Gara, Bryan Williams and Pierre Villepreux - all of whom were inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame last week.

Congrats (kind of) also to the following characters who have been inducted into the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks:

For further details please click here...

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Twelve months to save international rugby?

This week’s warning from World Rugby’s vice-chairman Agustin Pichot that international rugby game is under threat should be taken seriously by all involved.

Pichot wants unions and clubs to agree a new 10 year global calendar before the 2019 World Cup in Japan – in other words, “Rugby I love you, but we only have 12 months left to save the game”. (Bonus points for spotting the movie reference there πŸ˜€).

The fact that Premiership clubs this week felt confident enough to turn down a £275 million takeover bid shows that the club game in the northern hemisphere is, at least on the face of it, in rude health.

Many international unions, however, are facing financial difficulty, and the steady drip, drip, drip of players from the southern hemisphere to the north is in danger of becoming a torrent – particularly if (as seems likely) further huge investments are made into the club game.

And let’s face it, any organisation investing vast sums into, say, the Premiership, is hardly going to be thrilled at the prospect of losing its key assets – the international players – for extended periods of the season.

It’s therefore easy to understand Pichot’s fears that the international game is in jeopardy. And yet, conversely, international rugby remains the game’s showpiece and the club owners must know that the interest generated by the international game is ultimately what drives domestic rugby, both in terms of TV coverage and bums on seats.

In the middle of this, of course, are the players – pulled from pillar to post and flogged both physically and mentally by the game’s stakeholders pulling in opposite directions.

Pichot is right. It needs sorting out, and sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The sad, sad case of Marc Cecillon

Former French captain Marc Cecillon - perhaps best known in England for being smashed in a tackle by Mickey Skinner in the 1991 World Cup Quarter Final - is apparently back in prison.

In 2004 Cecillon, who suffered problems with alcohol and depression following his retirement from the game, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murdering his wife, having shot her 5 times in front of guests while drunk at a barbecue. He was released on parole in 2011.

Sadly it seems as if the demons are very much still there for the former "Quiet Man" of French rugby, having now been found guilty by a Perpignan court of assault, theft of a vehicle and drunk driving during a night of violence at a vineyard last month. 

Cecillon is subsequently serving 12 month jail sentence (with six months suspended).

We can only hope he now gets the treatment he so obviously needs...

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

By jove, I think he's got it

Although not a massive fan of meddling with the laws of the game, sometimes someone comes up with a proposed change in the laws that makes eminent sense.

On this occasion it is Ospreys head coach, Allen Clarke, who has put forward a clever idea to help create space amidst rugby's increasingly congested defensive lines.

Clarke suggests that if a player kicks the ball from inside his own half and the ball bounces into touch in the opposition's 22, the kicking side should be awarded the throw-in at the subsequent line out

To defend against this and prevent conceding a dangerous set-piece in its own 22, the defending team would therefore need to position its wingers deeper, thus reducing the numbers in the front-line defence, ergo creating more space for the attacking team.

Of course, a defence may still choose to push up to deny space, in which case the defending team may be vulnerable to the kick in behind and then having to defend a line out deep in its own territory.

The beauty of the proposal is its simplicity. And who knows, it might even work!

Monday, 10 September 2018

Wazzock of the week

Mathieu Bastareaud's disgraceful forearm smash on the prone Christophe Samson - in the weekend's clash between Toulon and Castres - was nothing short of assault and battery.

A lengthy ban must follow and in my humble opinion Bastareaud will be lucky if he escapes police action.

And following his ban earlier this year for on-field homophobic abuse, the current French captain's candidacy for the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks is now firmly established.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Premiership Rugby in the money?

The reported £275m bid, by former owners of Formula 1 – private equity firm CVC Capital Partners – for a controlling stake in Premiership Rugby, is an interesting one.

Effectively the bid values Premiership Rugby at £550m – not peanuts, certainly, but actually only between 2½ and 3 times the value of serial-diver Neymar. 😏

With PRL members due to meet next week and with unanimity required for the bid to be accepted, it seems unlikely to succeed.

It is, however, a stake in the ground and may well be the beginning of a process which could see significant financial investment in the English domestic game.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The times they are a-changin' ... PART 2

Hot on the heels of the sacking of Matt O’Connor by Leicester Tigers comes news that the Championship’s Ealing Trailfinders (one of my almae matres back in the day) have decided to part ways with head coach James Buckland - again after just ONE game in charge.

According to the club, the dismissal of Buckland is the “right time to make a change in the best interest of the club” despite the fact that Buckland was only appointed in JUNE OF THIS YEAR!

Clearly patience does not feature as part of Ealing's ambitions to reach the Premiership...

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Goneva's innovation should be applauded

Much has been made of the denial of Vereniki Goneva’s try for Newcastle against Sarries at the weekend for a “game value offence” (whatever the hell that is).

To recap, Goneva fielded a missed drop goal attempt behind his own line and feinted to touch down, touching the ball against his boot before running the length of the field to score.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, however, referee Ian Tempest had already blown up for a 22-metre drop out and the try was not given (and, in any event, the Saracens players had stopped when the whistle was blown).

So that – really – should have been that. In my view the referee clearly thought the ball had been touched down and erroneously blew his whistle. Mistakes happen, get over it.

Except in this instance Tempest, rather than admit his mistake, chose to shoot himself in the foot by saying that he had seen the non-grounding of the ball but decided that Goneva’s subterfuge amounted to a “game value offence”.

Which – clearly – is nonsense as Tempest should, if that were the case, have penalised the Fijiian rather than award the 22 metre drop out.

My view on this is quite simple. Goneva’s innovative and creative trickery is to be applauded and encouraged. In attempting to label it an offence in order to cover up a (perfectly understandable) refereeing error, Ian Tempest is simply being disingenuous.

The only way to dig yourself out of this hole, Mr Tempest, is to admit your mistake.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The times they are a-changin' ...


The sacking of Matt O'Connor as head coach of Leicester Tigers after ONE game of the new Premiership season shows just how much rugby has changed.

Yes, Tigers we're thrashed by Exeter, but I'm certain they won't be the only team to suffer a tonking at Sandy Park this season.

Such a knee-jerk reaction by the Leicester hierarchy smacks of pure panic and is unworthy of this historic club which has prided itself on its traditional rugby values over the years.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Anthony Watson - not ready for his close up

Not a huge amount has been going well for Eddie Jones and England in 2018 and it looks as if the annus horriblis is set to continue with news that Anthony Watson's second Achilles tear - effectively ruling him out of most of the forthcoming season - occurred during a photo shoot with NFL players six weeks ago.
Watson was in the process of recovering from the original rupture to his Achilles sustained against Ireland in March. What he was doing at a photoshoot is anyone's guess.
Meanwhile the talent drain from Twickenham continues with the imminent departure of England fitness coach Dean Benton. 
At the time of writing this leaves Eddie Jones without an attack coach, defence coach or fitness coach. 
Apparently the England squad's preparation for the international against South Africa on 3rd November will now consist of a swift half in The Cabbage Patch pub, a jog to the stadium and a couple of lineouts in the West Car Park.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

John Mitchell - the case for the defence?

According to rumours a deal is all but in place for the third Mitchell brother, John, to be appointed as England’s new defence coach.

Mitchell – the former England forwards coach and New Zealand and USA head coach (amongst other roles) – is currently the head coach of the Bulls in South Africa, but if the reports are to be believed he will soon be leaving Pretoria for TW1.

Experienced as he is, Mitchell has never previously been a specialist defence coach and his record with the Bulls – who finished bottom of this season’s South African conference in Super Rugby, conceding 66 tries in 16 games (i.e. over 4 tries per game) – hardly inspires confidence.

An odd choice, then, assuming it's true…

Monday, 20 August 2018

Once a wazzock? (Revisited)

Only the likes of Chris Ashton could - having returned to blighty from Toulon in a bid to win back his England place - get himself sent off for punching in a pre-season friendly.

Ashton, who managed to stay out of trouble perfectly well whilst playing in the south of France, seemingly can't avoid running into disciplinary problems as soon as the prospect of an England shirt beckons.

Like with Danny Cipriani's off-field shenanigans, Eddie Jones must be asking himself whether Ashton can be trusted.

Postscript: As it turns out Ashton was sent off for a tip tackle rather than punching. A minimum 6 week ban awaits...

Friday, 17 August 2018

Once a wazzock?

I'm currently on my hols so will keep this short and sweet.

After pleading guilty to assault outside a Jersey nightclub this week, Danny Cipriani will only have himself to blame if he never plays for England again.

It's really not that difficult to stay out of trouble and by his behaviour off the field he is constantly asking the question of whether he should be trusted on it.

On that question the jury is still out...

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

What's going on in TW1?

Something is not quite right at HQ.

Despite making a jobbing great profit from the 2015 World Cup the RFU are currently engaged in a cost-cutting programme that will result in over 60 members of staff losing their jobs.

CEO Steve Brown, whose job - incidentally -  does not appear to be under threat, insists that the RFU finances remain in good shape and that the redundancies merely reflect tough market conditions.

While any redundancies are unfortunate and a nightmare for those involved, reports that apparently over 40 of the job losses are coming from the community game suggest an incredibly ill advised short-term approach by the RFU that can only lead to the detriment of grassroots rugby and the game as a whole in this country.

And rumours that the RFU Council, in approving the cuts, rejected a proposal that members pay out of their own pockets for their partners’ match tickets and lunches for the four November internationals this year, do nothing for the credibility of the whole process.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

England Rugby Legend retires

Question: who is England's most capped rugby player of all time?
Answer: England Women's prop Rochelle "Rocky" Clark, who has announced her retirement from the international game having won 137 caps.
Clark, who will continue to play for Wasps in the Premier 15s next season as well as coach Chesham Stags, also retires as the most capped female international player of all time.
Legend is a word often bandied about indiscriminately, but in this case it is wholly deserved.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Cheating on a Saturday

It’s been a little while since former Saints and England fullback Ben Foden made the news.

And, while we should be talking about the player’s impending move to Major League Rugby team Rugby United New York, unfortunately Foden is instead hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

It’s not often that rugby players are featured in the red tops, but Foden has managed it with the revelations in The Sun that his marriage to former Saturdays singer, Una Healy, is over following the former Saint’s affair with a “26 year old PR girl”.

The Sun has, in its own inimitable way, branded Foden a “love-rat.”

I have a better word.


Friday, 27 July 2018

England Women disappoint at Rugby World Cup Sevens

Another talking point from the Rugby World Cup Sevens last weekend was the failure of the (professional) England Women's team to progress beyond the first round of the competition after losing their opening match to (part-time) Ireland.

Yes, they went on to lift the Challenge Trophy, but finishing the tournament in 9th place overall was arguably a poor return on the investment made by the RFU in the sevens squad and must surely call into question  RFU's decision to prioritise the resourcing of the sevens programme at the expense of the 15-a-side game?

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Rugby World Cup Sevens overshadowed by Samoan's arrest

Being somewhat engrossed by the European Touch Rugby Championships on BBC iPlayer, last weekend's Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco somewhat passed me by.

It seems, however, that New Zealand's victories (male and female) in San Francisco have been largely overshadowed by the alleged off-field assault by Samoa's Gordon Langkilde on three Welsh players which left all three with facial injuries and forced Tom Williams out of the competition with "broken facial bones".

Unsurprisingly the Samoan has been suspended by World Rugby pending investigation but that could be the least of his problems having also been arrested by San Francisco Police and charged with one count of aggravated assault and three counts of battery causing serious bodily injury.

Langkilde, who has pleaded not guilty, faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

We await developments. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

RFU trialling new tackle law

The RFU should be applauded for the introduction of a trial to lower the height of a legal tackle in rugby next season as part of efforts to make the game safer. 
The height of a legal tackle will now need to be below the armpits rather than the line of the shoulders as is currently the case.
Admittedly the the trial will be  limited to the Championship Cup competition, but at least it's a start and gives the powers that be the opportunity to assess the impact of lowering the height of the tackle on brain injuries and concussion.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Sam Warburton Forced to Retire

I was sorry to hear the news that injury has forced Wales and Lions skipper Sam Warburton to retire from rugby at the tender age of 29.

Fabulous player, inspirational leader and all round good egg - only shame is that he decided to be Welsh (despite English parentage). Just think how good England would have been with him at 7.

What ever he decides to do next I am sure he will be successful and wish him all the best...

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

European Touch Rugby Champs on BBC

As we're on the subject of Touch Rugby, the European Touch Rugby Championships is currently live on the BBC iPlayer.


Touch and Gone (2018)

Come on, admit it, you're just dying to know how my touch rugby season has been progressing, haven't you?


Well, here it is anyway, a quick summary of the exploits of Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead in the Chesham Touch Premiership of 2018...

Last night saw the culmination of our season in a game in which unfortunately DDDD slumped to a comprehensive thumping at the hands of the Chiltern Barbarians, meaning that we finished in 3rd (or, as I like to call it, joint 2nd) place in the league.

The result was a bit of shame as, until last night, we had remained competitive in all of our games despite a campaign fragmented by a recent football tournament in Russia, an injury to our skipper and by the demands (on some) of pre-season rugby training, which meant that the team was rarely at full strength during the second half of the season and at times even struggled to raise a quorum.

There was also a realisation at last night's post-match inquest - over beer and pizza - that the collective age of our squad, with several of us now in our 50s, was maybe beginning to take its toll, especially when faced - as was more often the case - with teams stacked with young, fit, speedy men.

Hardly a level playing field then, but on the upside we still finished with a record of won 7 and lost 3,  on occasion we played some great touch and we made sure that we always (or, nearly always) enjoyed ourselves. And we always had a beer after the game. And the pizza was delicious.

As for yours truly, I did have my moments, albeit perhaps they were fewer and farther between than I would have liked . At the bar after the game last night there was talk of maybe cutting our youngsters free next summer to play competitively while we oldies play purely for fun in the more social Championship division. I suspect that in reality, however, by next summer the competitive juices will be flowing again and our egos will begin attempting once more to persuade our bodies to perform feats well beyond their capabilities.

I'm missing it already.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Wayne's World

I’m sure Welsh rugby fans will have been delighted at the announcement that Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac will succeed Warren Gatland as head coach of Wales after the 2019 World Cup.

Actually, given the attractive, attacking style in which the Scarlets play, I’m pretty confident that there will be many in Wales who wish that Pivac could start immediately.

In theory succession planning is a good thing, of course, but it will also be interesting to observe the effect on the Welsh players – how will the knowledge that both Warren Gatland and Rob Howley will not be continuing beyond the World Cup affect attitude and performances?

Watch this space.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Rugby in the USA - a Giant awakens?

Big congrats to the Seattle Seawolves, winners of the inaugural Major League Rugby title in the United States, beating the Glendale Raptors in the final in San Diego this weekend.

Rugby appears to be on the up in the USA, what with the national team’s victory over Scotland last month, another top six finish in the World Sevens Series and now a successful first MLR season featuring teams from Austin, Houston, New Orleans, San Diego and Salt Lake City as well as the 2 finalists. And with teams from New York and Los Angeles set to join in 2019, professional/semi-professional rugby appears finally to be getting a foothold in the States.

One fly in the ointment is that MLR remains unsanctioned by USA Rugby, perhaps understandably cautious following the relatively recent collapse of PRO Rugby – its first venture into the professional game - and the subsequent financial fallout.

Neverthless there’s little doubt that there remains a huge amount of untapped rugby potential, both playing and commercial, in the US. Could the giant be beginning to stir?

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

He's coming home...

Football isn’t the only thing coming home following the announcement that Chris Ashton will be playing his rugby for Sale Sharks next season.

According to Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal the French club released Ashton from his contract for family reasons – but all the indications are that his move to the North West is an attempt to resurrect his England career in time for the World Cup.

Given his try-scoring prowess and the improvements to his game at Toulon, he will be an undoubted asset to Sale, but whether he can leapfrog the likes of Day, May, Nowell, Watson or Brown in the England pecking order remains to be seen.

Whether he can leave behind his history of wazzockry will also be interesting to see. A start would be to ditch the ridiculous swallow dive.

I won’t be holding my breath…

Monday, 2 July 2018

Respect - rugby still leads the way

Some of you may have noticed that there's a minor sporting event going on in Russia at the moment which appears largely to consist of young men theatrically throwing themselves to the floor as their team mates brandish imaginary cards, excruciatingly painful injuries clearing up in a matter of seconds, and a television replay decision system (VAR, What is it good for? Absolutely Nothing) which appears unable to spot blatant cases of assault and battery in the penalty area.

Furthermore, this little tournament - which has already deprived my Touch Rugby team of players for tomorrow evening's match (I despair of the youth of today) - has also provided us with several fine examples of how to show the utmost respect to match officials, culminating in this edifying little scene where Cristiano Ronaldo (so-called Greatest of All Time, ahem) was observed screaming obscenities into the face of the poor referee - an offence which earned CR7 a paltry yellow card.

As the so-called (or is that self-proclaimed) G.O.A.T, Ronaldo obviously has no concept of setting a proper example to the next generation or how difficult it now might be for the already beleaguered referees of grassroots football.

I know that I have raised concerns in the past about the lack of respect creeping into rugby and the last thing I wish to do is come across as all holier than thou, but at least we are not plagued by behaviour quite so appalling as this.

Nor, it is to be hoped, will we ever be.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The Stag

Loving this pic of Owen Farrell setting off on his stag do. Looks happy, doesn't he?

Apparently the rest of the party were there dressed as outfield players - would love to see photos of that! πŸ˜ƒ

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

England need to master eight

England's back row, or the balance thereof, has been the subject of debate for many a year, with the combination reaching its nadir in this year's Six Nations when it featured a second row (Lawes) at blindside flanker, a blindside flanker (Robshaw) at openside, and a Billy Vunipola-lite option (Hughes) at number 8.

In Eddie Jones' first year in charge Billy Vunipola's power game, ably supported by two 6½s (Robshaw and Haskell) was instrumental in getting England on the front foot and affording space to the half backs.

Clearly Plan A for Eddie Jones.

Unfortunately, in Billy's frequent injury absences since 2016, there does not appear to have been a Plan B other than to ask the inferior Hughes to do the same job but not as well or to give the seriously rapid Sam Simmonds a go but not alter the gameplan accordingly.

What Jones and his coaches must surely understand is that - in the continued absence of the overlooked Ben Morgan - there is no suitable like-for-like candidate to replace Billy.

Ergo, the gamelan must change.

It is perfectly possible to play international rugby without a big bruising number 8 making the hard yards. After all, Kieran Read, for instance, plays a much more fluid game for New Zealand, as does Toby Faletau for Wales - just two examples.

And given that England can field a back three including the the likes of May, Watson and Daly, it's not exactly rocket science to suggest that a faster back row, including a seriously mobile number 8, might be the way to go?

As for candidates for the role - I'd look at Zach Mercer, or Sam Simmonds, or perhaps Don Armand, or maybe Brad Shields, all of whom could bring something a little different to the position. Partnered with one or both of the Curry twins, or Sam Underhill perhaps, England might then just be able to play at the tempo required for international rugby.

Monday, 25 June 2018

10 things we've learned from the June Rugby Internationals

1. Let's not try to pretend that England are anything other than in crisis, notwithstanding ending their losing streak in a dead rubber, in wet conditions, on a slow track, against an understrength Springbok side in Cape Town.

2. Jonny May, however, is now a fully-fledged international class winger.

3. Jury is out on the Springboks. The core of a very good team is there but the Rugby Championship will tell us more.

4. Wales will be very happy with a 2-0 series win, having rested several senior players, albeit against a poor Argentina team.

5. Whether Wales are now (according to an overly smug Warren Gatland) "poles apart" from England remains to be seen. Don't forget Eddie Jones was in exactly the same position 12 months ago.

6. Scotland remain an enigma - spectacular on occasion but still horribly inconsistent.

7. The significance of the USA's first victory against a tier one nation (Scotland) should not be under-estimated.

8. Ireland are now an admirably efficient and ruthless outfit. Can they maintain their form through to the World Cup and will efficiency and ruthlessness, in the absence of a splash of inspiration, be enough?

9. Australia don't look that far away from being a more than decent team - and again I guess the Rugby Championship will reveal more.

10. After a routine and relatively comfortable series win for New Zealand (albeit with some generous officiating at times) against a competitive but limited France, the All Blacks remain the benchmark...

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Whatever happened to: Diversity?

I look at rugby today and wonder when it all changed.

When, exactly, did everyone become so massive? Whatever happened to diversity?

Once upon a time rugby was a sport for all – whatever your shape, size or personality there was a place for you in the team.

Short and gobby? Scrum half.

Like a pie and a pint? Why not try propping? 

Nuggety psycho? Hooker’s your position, old chap.

Lanky with no co-ordination? Try the second row mate.

Barely ten stone wringing wet? Let’s keep you out of harm’s way on the wing, son.

This principle even applied at the elite level where all that was required was the addition of a generous splash of talent and a modicum of fitness and dedication to make it to the top (ok, so I’m exaggerating here for dramatic effect, but you know what I mean). Think Gareth Chilcott or Mike Slemen, for instance, for examples of players at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Nowadays everyone – certainly in the professional game – is a finely tuned athletic specimen of muscle and sinew, able to squat and bench press obscene amounts of weight and, when required, run through brick walls. Scarily it is becoming increasingly common for backs at the top level to be bigger and stronger than the forwards that played internationally when I was a lad. That’s just not right and proper.

Even at grassroots level, at any amateur junior club with any ambition whatsoever physical conditioning is beginning to play a major part, with abs replacing flab at an alarming rate.

The only refuge from this unrelenting spiral into physical perfection appears to be the category of the game known as “coarse rugby” – the basement levels of the game, the bottom of the league structure and the equivalent 3rd or 4th XVs, where shape, size, age and proclivity are irrelevant so long as you turn up approximately on time for kick off and make sure you buy a round in the clubhouse afterwards.

It is the continued existence of this level of the game that gives hope to this overweight former backrower in his fifties, with the turning circle of an ocean liner and all the pace of a tectonic shift, that he may one day take to the rugby field again to play a match with his much younger, fitter, faster and way more talented son.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Welcome Jacob Vunipola - a star is born?

Congratulations to Mako Vunipola and his partner Alex Johns on the arrival of their son, Jacob.

I wonder what the odds are of Jacob Fe'ao-moe-Lotu Vunipola starring in the 2043 Rugby World Cup?

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

High time Eddie Jones rediscovered the plot

Apologies for droning on about England and Eddie Jones (I do realise that there are other teams in the world currently playing rugby) but England's head coach does have a way of capturing one's attention.

His latest offerings:

- that he is "absolutely loving" the situation in which he finds himself;

- that England's chances at next year's World Cup are somehow enhanced by the fact that the team has just lost five test matches on the bounce; and

- that it is when things are not going well that you find "which players in your team can really stand up to pressure” 

are arguably the most bizarre yet, especially as:

no one else remotely connected with English rugby is enjoying this one little bit, Eddie;

- no one with the remotest grip on reality now gives England any chance in Japan next year; and

- on the evidence of the last few weeks Jones can therefore rely upon a maximum 3 or 4 players. 

Time to find the plot, Eddie, and quickly.

Monday, 18 June 2018

England Rugby - If not Eddie, then who?

Oh dear.

Enough has been written elsewhere about where the England rugby team finds itself after a sixth consecutive defeat.

When the team was winning it was easy to ignore the selection foibles, the training methods, the injuries in camp and the brash utterances of the Head Coach. After all, Eddie knew best.

Now that England are unable to buy a victory all of these issues bubble to the surface and Jones and his team find themselves in an incredibly uncomfortable place.

The ridiculous talk of “greatness”, of being no.1 in the world, of winning the World Cup are all now a distant memory and discord appears rampant throughout the set up.

Win or lose, the third test in Cape Town is almost an irrelevance – England will return to these shores in crisis, there is no other way to describe it.

The problem facing the RFU is that they have little choice but to stick rather than twist. After all, with the World Cup on the near horizon, if not Eddie then who?

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Brad Shields ≠ Lock

I truly hope that the rumours that flanker Brad Shields is due to start in the second row for England in Bloemfontein on Saturday, are just that - rumours.

If true I'm not sure what it says about England's selection policy.

Eddie Jones has selected four locks for the tour, one of whom (Joe Launchbury) has been injured. So that leaves three locks, two of whom should start and the other used as a bench option. It's not rocket science.

From shoehorning three second rowers into the starting XV for the Six Nations to just picking one specialist lock to face South Africa would just be perverse.

If Shields does play he should replace the pedestrian Chris Robshaw.

Selecting players out of position, however, appears increasingly to be a Jones habit.

And it's worked so well so far, hasn't it?

[UPDATE: It appears that Joe Launchbury is fit for selection for the 2nd Test after all. Move along now, nothing to see here...]

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Springboks thinking outside the box

Rassie Erasmus is already showing signs of being a very clever international coach.

The two players who triggered South Africa's comeback from 3-24 down on Saturday were both from the Premiership - Sale Sharks' Faf de Klerk and Wasps' Willie Le Roux.

So it make perfect sense to add to the Springbok squad another clever operator from the Premiership - the recently retired Schalk Brits.

Brits is a fabulous player, ideally suited to South Africa's high octane game and armed with vast knowledge of the English players via his many years at Sarries.

If ever there was a perfect example of thinking outside the box, this is it.

Monday, 11 June 2018

England at Ellis Park - the Verdict is in...

Two days later and I'm still not at all sure what to make of the most bizarre of rugby games at Ellis Park on Saturday.

A stunning start by England, with plenty of front foot possession for George Ford to orchestrate the attack.

Then, 24-3 up, mistake after mistake after mistake - Billy Vunipola drops the re-start, Ben Youngs misses touch, Maro Itoje misses a tackle on the excellent Faf de Klerk, Elliot Daly fails to ground a kick and South Africa have 2 tries and are right back in the game and it's panic stations all round.

Did playing at altitude play a part? It seems likely, but it's still difficult to explain how a game that England were comfortably controlling could so quickly slip from their grasp.

The Springboks played some great stuff, but what is clear is that England's defence is being opened up way too easily. Query whether the departing Paul Gustard should even be on the trip, but when the main defensive strategy appeared to be to try to decapitate de Klerk, something is clearly not right.

Eddie's attempt to stem the flow by, before half time, sending on flanker Brad Shields in place of a lock, the unfortunate Nick Isiekwe, was also very odd, serving only to de-power the England forwards. If anything it was the back row that were struggling, with Robshaw and Vunipola conspicuously off the pace.

And then subsequently to blame defeat on the players' collective mentality was very poor from Jones. What happened to the coach taking full responsibility?

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Kolisi appointment pivotal for Springboks?

Whatever the outcome of England's forthcoming three test series in South Africa (and, while hopeful of English success, I do fear it could get quite messy), the significance of Siya Kolisi becoming South Africa’s first black captain should not be underestimated.

Much has been written about the controversial quota system in South African sport but what does not appear to be in any dispute is that Kolisi fully merits his appointment.

There is the very real possibility that this could turn out to be a pivotal moment for Springbok rugby and only adds to my uneasiness about England's chances...

Friday, 8 June 2018

Back in Touch (2018)

Regular readers of this blog - all 3 of you - will recall that usually at this time of year I am to be observed frolicking around the playing fields of Chesham playing Touch Rugby.

This year is no exception.

Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead are now four games into the 2018 Chesham Premiership 'season' and, with a record of played 4, won 3 and lost 1 (by one try at that), we are relatively happy. As usual we are fielding a combination of young pacey talent and several old gimmers such as yours truly and are managing to hold our own against much younger, fitter teams who really should be be wiping the floor with us.

My personal contribution to the cause is, it has to be admitted, fairly limited although I do find that cunning and treachery still have a place in the game - my sole try coming when the opposition stopped marking me after I'd signalled that I was ready to be subbed! I almost asked the ref not to award the score but I am ashamed to admit that the realisation that this may be my only try of the campaign took precedence πŸ˜‰.

For those not familiar with Touch Rugby I would heartily recommend it - either as a way back into playing rugby, or for the fitness, or just because it's bloody good fun. This is my 13th season and, although I'm not getting any younger (I was an old twat when I started at the age of 41), my decrepit old body, despite creaking alarmingly at times, is still just about holding together.

Stayed tuned, if you can bear it, for the next instalment...

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Rugby headline of the week

All Black denies alcohol was to blame for entering stranger's apartment at 5 a.m. and eating McDonalds

Step forward Jordie Barrett...

Monday, 4 June 2018

Who is the real Donald Trump of rugby?

I have to say I’m beginning to find the public utterances of Eddie Jones a little tiresome.

His latest, labelling Bath owner Bruce Craig the “Donald Trump of rugby,” is just plain rude.

Craig had questioned Jones’ training methods after Bath prop Beno Obano was ruled out for up to 12 months after suffering "multiple ligament and hamstring tendon damage" while training with the England squad.

Given that Obano was the 15th player to pick up a training ground injury while on England duty under Jones’ stewardship – including a career-ending injury for Wasps’ Sam Jones – I really don’t think it is unreasonable to question whether Eddie’s methods are appropriate.

The England boss may not value the input of the Bath owner but he could simply have ignored it or dismissed it as irrelevant.

Instead he chose to resort to crass, playground insults. Which, when you think about it, is all a bit Trump-esque.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Sarries and Chiefs the remedy to England's ailments?

Belated congratulations to Saracens on a superb performance on Saturday against Exeter to take the Premiership title.

The Chiefs, who truly have been excellent all season, should really take it as a compliment that Sarries had to play so well to win.

What was so heartening was that, for both teams, so much English-qualified talent was in evidence. 

Farrell, the Vunipola brothers, Itoje, Wray and Alex Goode led the way for Saracens while Ewers, Hill and Sam Simmonds were all pretty prominent for Exeter.

And, judging by the powder puff efforts of the English XV against the Barbarians the following day, Eddie Jones could certainly do worse than injecting his team with a dose of Saracens and Exeter medicine.

Yes England were nowhere near full strength, but the meek nature of the display against a scratch team who had been on the lash all week (in what was England's fourth defeat in a row) hints at deeper issues.

Success on the forthcoming tour to South Africa is now beginning to look more and more critical for Eddie Jones.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

New "nipple-line" law for rugby?

The introduction of a new trial law at next week's Under-20 World Championship to lower the height of the tackle to “below the nipple line” is attracting plenty of attention.

Anything designed to improve plater safety has to be applauded, although how the law is implemented by officials will be key.

Apparently a high tackle warning will be issued if the tackler does not bend at the waist when tackling and there is clear head contact. Two high-tackle warnings for the same player will lead to a one-match ban.

No doubt referees will be uber-vigilant at first and players will struggle. The problem is that, over time (as happened the last time the high tackle was the subject of referees' focus) officials are likely to become a bit more laissez-faire about enforcement.

I'm therefore not sure that a "nipple line" law is required - instead all that is really actually needed is for the current high tackle laws to be properly refereed.

And what happens when the law filters down to grassroots? Believe me, I've seen some nipple lines pretty close to waist level! πŸ˜‚

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Ashton back at Twickenham

Like moths to a flame, the English rugby media can't resist a good story about Chris Ashton, and his appearance in Barbarians colours against England this weekend has proved impossible to ignore.

Much of the coverage refers to his supposed "unfinished business" with England and how, perhaps, Ashton ought to be turning out in an England shirt.

All stuff and nonsense, of course. Yes, Ashton has been scoring tries for fun for Toulon but, let's be honest, scoring tries has never really been an issue for him.

I commented back in 2016 that Ashton was struggling under the high ball, had poor defensive positioning and tackling technique, a rudimentary kicking game and was getting turned over far too easily. 

Add to that a sketchy disciplinary record and his refusal to tour South Africa with the Saxons that year and it's not difficult to see why Ashton fell out of favour.

And rather than stick around to address his issues don't forget that, like others before him, he chose to skidaddle to the Top 14 in the full knowledge that it would render him ineligible for England. Funny how a player's absence from the domestic game tends to imbue him with previously undiscovered mythical super powers, isn't it?

Of course, he'll probably score a hat-trick for the BaaBaas on Sunday. So what? Nothing changes. 

It's easy imply that you should be playing for England when there's no chance of it happening. If Chris Ashton truly wants to play for England again the answer is simple - he should come back to the Premiership, knuckle down and make the case for inclusion irresistible. Much like a certain Mr Cipriani has done...

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

England Rugby - Is something rotten in TW1?

The appointment of England defence coach Paul Gustard as Head Coach of Harlequins appears to highlight a major problem in the way elite rugby works (or doesn't work) in England.

In most countries, notably New Zealand and Ireland, there is a clear coaching pathway to the national set up and the national team is the undeniable priority.

In England, however, it seems as if being part of the national coaching team is now just becoming a pathway to a Head Coach position elsewhere - the loss of Gustard following on from the departure last year of skills coach Rory Teague to Bordeaux-Begles.

According to Gustard the move to Quins is an opportunity he couldn't turn down but what does that say about the RFU and England? Is something rotten in TW1?

To lose one coach from the England set up might be considered careless, but to lose two...?