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...?

Monday, 21 May 2018

Give James Haskell a Break

The flak copped by James Haskell for attending Prince Harry's wedding on Saturday - rather than watching his Wasps teammates play Saracens for a place in the Premiership final - does seem a little harsh.

Lord knows I am no royalist and frankly, given the choice, would have preferred to be at Allianz Park, but given that Haskell was (a) injured, (b) invited and (c) given permission to attend the wedding by Wasps DoR Dai Young, I really don't see what the problem is. It's not like his presence in the stands would've made any difference to the result.

In any event, let's be reasonable - it was a media opportunity that The Hask could in no way be expected to turn down. And what kind of wedding would it have been without the presence of the Archbishop of Banterbury? πŸ˜‰

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Gloucester Lions?

Gloucester's announcement of a new club logo as part of a re-branding exercise strikes me as another example of a marketing agency making money for old rope. 

Unusually Gloucester have also said that the club will pay for fans who have a tattoo of the old club badge to get the new logo tattooed on their body.

Admittedly that's a nice, if a little quirky, touch and there is nothing particularly wrong with the new logo per se.

What price, however, on a change of name to Gloucester Lions in the not too distant future?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification: the Farce that Keeps on Giving

Somewhat improbably it seems that Russia will play at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

This follows the fall-out from the Belgium v Spain qualifier in March, won by Belgium thanks in no small part to the refereeing performance of Romanian referee Vlad Iordachescu, a result which conveniently meant that Romania qualified for the World Cup finals.

Whilst an independent enquiry somewhat incredibly ruled that the result of the Belgium v Spain match should stand, a separate emergency enquiry was launched into the alleged fielding of ineligible players in qualifying matches.

The outcome – with Romania, Spain and Belgium all sanctioned by World Rugby for breaching the eligibility rules – means that Russia, who finished in third place in the qualification table, now qualify and will contest the opening match of the 2019 World Cup against Japan. Meanwhile Germany, who finished fifth, will now play off against Portugal for the dubious pleasure of facing Samoa to qualify. 

All subject to appeal, naturally.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Incredibly sad news...

Very sad to hear news of the two amateur rugby players who have died while on tour in Sri Lanka.

Thomas Howard (25) and Tom Baty (26) were admitted to hospital in Colombo with respiratory problems on Sunday morning and tragically have subsequently passed away.

They were on tour in Sri Lanka with Clems Pirates, a touring team based at Durham City RFC which regularly raises money for charity.

Rugby tours are generally the best of times but this must be just horrendous for all involved.

Our thoughts and sympathies are very much with their families, friends and teammates.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Is Eddie Jones losing the plot?

I am beginning to wonder about Eddie Jones.

His comments last week of there being an inherent selfishness in English sport smack of a man trying to deflect attention from his own failings.

There were various reasons for England's difficult Six Nations this year, which included injuries to key players, vast improvements by the opposition (especially Scotland and Ireland) and post-Lions fatigue, exacerbated by the players then being over-played by their clubs and then flogged to death in training by Jones.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Jones then selected poorly and prepared the team inadequately, with England being outthought and outfought for much of the championship, particularly around the breakdown.

And let's just say that Jones is correct and that a culture of selfishness has begun to develop within the England ranks. Whose fault, exactly, is that? Surely it's Eddie's job to fix the team's culture if there's a problem, and mouthing off in public - rather than dealing with it behind closed doors - hardly seems the best way to go about it.

When Jones was appointed various Aussies predicted that early success would give way to cracks appearing as the players grew tired of his methods.

I am beginning to wonder if they were right.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Return of the Prodigal Son for England

The big news today is the not wholly unexpected return, after a 3 year absence, of Danny Cipriani to the England rugby squad.

I only say "not wholly unexpected" as the likelihood of Cipriani's selection for the squad for next month's tests against South Africa has been mooted in the press all week. However, when you think about it, the selection of the Wasps playmaker does remain somewhat left-field given that:

(a) he is leaving Wasps at the end of the season and (unless there's something we don't know) will most likely end up playing abroad - thus ruling himself out of future selection; and

(b) at best Danny-Boy is still likely to play second (or maybe third) fiddle at fly-half to either George Ford or tour skipper Owen Farrell.

Equally intriguing to Cipriani's selection is the announcement of Scott Wisemantel as England's attack coach for the tour, although I have to admit that my initial reaction is "Scott who?"

Whoever Mr Wisemantel might be, he is sure to have his work cut out restoring credibility to England's stodgy offence.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The World's Worst Rugby Club...

...or my new favourite rugby club.

Hats off to Pontycynon RFC aka #TheWorldsWorstRugbyClub who have kept us royally entertained all season with tales of incompetence,  drunkenness and record defeats.

No matter that Pontycynon RFC may only exist on Twitter, to all intents and purposes this is a proper coarse rugby club to which we should all aspire to belong. Even more so should I be doing Pontycynon a great disservice and it all turns out to be real!

Below are just a few of the inspirational tweets that have kept me chuckling all season...

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Rugby Headline of the Week (possibly the Year):

Australian rugby star apologises for urinating on bar while dressed as cow

Step forward, Nick Phipps.

Nothing more to be said...

Friday, 4 May 2018

More Congratulations ...

...this time to my son's Under 15 team who on Sunday completed a magnificent season by winning the County Plate, triumphing 31-22 in a tense and hugely physical final which could easily have gone the other way.

In mid-March I commented on the boys' incredible unbeaten run which had stretched to 21 matches from midway through last season. Unfortunately a combination of the Easter holidays, appalling weather and sod's law then intervened and the team lost its very next game, letting the league title (although, fortunately, not promotion) slip from its grasp.

That was two weeks ago, and so Sunday's match was all the more important if the boys were to have their fantastic season rewarded with something tangible. And, although by no means their best performance of the season, the team really dug deep to see off determined and feisty opposition who at one point came from 17 points down to close the gap to just 2.

My son ended up bruised and battered but happy. And I couldn't have been prouder.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Jackson and Olding not for Sale?

Rumours that Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are on their way to Manchester next season have been dismissed by Sale Sharks.

According to reports, Sale Sharks had agreed a deal to sign Jackson and were also close to agreeing terms with Olding, the players having had their contracts terminated by Ulster last month following their enormously high-profile rape trial.

Although acquitted, the trial did reveal some pretty unpleasant and offensive behaviour by the pair which ultimately led to their dismissal by Ulster and inevitably means that there will be a certain toxicity about what they do next.

Sale Sharks have decided, it seems, not to take the risk and, while I am not saying that the players are incapable of redemption or that they should not be allowed to rebuild their careers and reputations, any club signing the players as a pair risk being accused of condoning the culture of misogyny that landed the players in court in the first place.

Monday, 30 April 2018


Big congrats to Saracens Women on winning the inaugural Premier 15s title, beating Harlequins Ladies 24-20 in the final at Ealing Trailfinders ground yesterday.

There's little doubt that England’s new elite domestic rugby competition for women has been a huge success, elevating the women's club game in the rugby public's consciousness.

The message now needs to spread wider. Mainstream media really do need to get their act together on this, whilst the RFU could help themselves enormously by ensuring that all of the country's elite players - many of whom are gadding about the world playing sevens - are made available more often to play for their respective clubs.

Onwards and upwards...

Friday, 27 April 2018

An Open Letter to the British & Irish Lions

Dear Sirs

I write to express my delight that, to mark the 130 year anniversary of the first British & Irish Lions game against Otago in Dunedin on 28 April 1888, you have decided to award a hand-stitched ceremonial cap to 419 living Lions players and the relatives of 416 deceased Lions. 

Whilst I have to confess that I have never played for the Lions and am not the next of kin for any deceased Lion, I would nevertheless like to register my interest in receiving such a cap having narrowly, and often controversially, missed out on selection for each of the 1983, 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017 Lions tours.

Missing out on the last three tours in particular has been quite galling, especially given my return to the game after a 13 year hiatus in 2007 and my hat-trick of tries against Datchworth 4th XV two years later, not to mention my frankly stunning form in Touch Rugby for the past 12 seasons. 

At no point has Ian McGeechan, Warren Gatland or anyone else associated with the British & Irish Lions contacted me to explain exactly why I have been omitted from the squads which, you have to admit, is more than a tad rude. If only for this reason I feel I deserve one of your lovely caps.

If it helps I am willing to send you a cheque or postal order to cover the cost of postage and packaging - just let me know how much.

Yours expectantly,

Total Flanker

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Happy Retirement Mr Habana

This blog's best wishes go to Bryan Habana who has announced that he will retire at the end of the season.

The 35 year old Habana, who has struggled to make it back following knee surgery, can look back with fond memories on 124 caps for South Africa, 67 international tries and a World Cup winner's medal in 2017.

One word: Legend.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Blessing in disguise?

So, Dylan Hartley is ruled out of England's summer tour of South Africa, having failed to recover from the concussion sustained during last month's Six Nations defeat to Ireland.

Whilst wishing him a speedy recovery, perhaps this a blessing in disguise for England given Hartley's indifferent form for some time now, although his injury does mean that he now joins a long list of the walking wounded who will not make the tour, a list which includes the likes of Nathan Hughes, Courtney Lawes, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson.

Added to that is another list of players - which includes Hartley's obvious replacement at hooker, Jamie George and leadership candidates such as Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje - who are frankly knackered and need a rest having been on the international rugby treadmill for the past couple of years.

All of which means that Eddie Jones will have his work cut out this summer - time to start earning his not insubstantial salary, methinks. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

Lancaster redeemed

Leinster's dismantling of the Scarlets this weekend in the Champions Cup semi final was mightily impressive. 

And at the heart of what is turning into one of the best ever Leinster squads is senior coach Stuart Lancaster.

Yes, that Stuart Lancaster, the chap who was pilloried from all quarters following his England team's elimination from its home World Cup group stages in 2015.

The fact is that Lancaster was and still is a fine coach and a thoroughly decent bloke.

Where he failed with England was ultimately with selection and with getting the preparation for the World Cup badly wrong.

And even then he did the decent thing by accepting responsibility and stepping down.

With Leinster in the Champions Cup final his redemption is almost complete.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

North Shields or South Shields?

In a possible tug of war between England and the NZRU over the services of Hurricanes backrower Brad Shields this summer, there is only one likely winner.

Shields is eligible for England via parentage and has signed to play for Wasps next season, enough for the RFU to give Eddie Jones the go ahead to select him for England's tour of South Africa in June.
Jones wants to select the player and Shields, given that he appears to have requested to be released for the tour, wants to go.

As World Rugby regulations require the release of selected players during any international window it therefore seems that, despite their protestations to the contrary, the NZRU have little choice but to comply.

My only question is why the rush? Shields arrives in the Premiership in September. Why not see how he gets on and then (call me old fashioned) select him if he demonstrates that he's good enough?

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Taxi for Folau?

The fallout from Israel Folau's public declaration of his views on homosexuality refuses to go away, despite Rugby's Australia's somewhat pathetic attempts so far.

Folau's comments on social media - that gay people were destined to a life in hell unless they repented for their "sins" - have so far been met with condemnation from all quarters other than from Rugby Australia who, desperate to cling on to their prized asset, have even commented that they "accepted Israel's position".

Does Folau have the right to express his views publicly, no matter how abhorrent? 


Does he have the right to do so without consequence or sanction?

Absolutely not, especially where such views are so clearly at odds with his employer's public commitment to inclusiveness and the universal values of rugby.

Folau has, more or less, threatened to quit the sport if sanctioned.

Rugby Australia needs to grow some bollocks and call him out on this one.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Bear Necessities

Some 16 days late for April Fools’ Day, Bristol Rugby has announced that, having allegedly spent the best part of the last 18 months carefully considering “how best to shape its long-term future”,  the answer is, apparently, for the the club to become known as the Bristol Bears with effect from 1st June 2018.

Owner Steve Lansdown says that he wants to “shake up the status quo”, although what he has against the masters of the three-chord boogie is anyone’s guess.

In being so innovative, Bristol Bears will join Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors and Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership as clubs whose names have no bearing whatsoever to their location, traditions or history. 

Meanwhile there is an account director at a marketing agency somewhere laughing all the way to the bank...

Monday, 16 April 2018

Back to the well...again

Mako Vunipola was impressive again for Saracens against Bath yesterday but really should have been sitting in the stands with his feet up. 

Under the terms of the agreement between the RFU and Premiership Rugby, Sarries should have rested Vunipola for one of the four weekends after the Six Nations, something they chose not to do.

Yes, Saracens have next week off anyway, but why have an agreement if clubs can choose to ignore it without sanction?

Another example of the powers-that-be merely paying lip service to the concept of player welfare, methinks.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Cardiff Booze Ban not WRU's best idea

Apparently the WRU are planning to ban alcohol on a trial basis, creating a "dry" section in the Principality Stadium for the November autumn internationals.

The booze ban follows various reports of drunken fan behaviour including supporters in the stadium being showered with beer and, in one instance, "a tirade of foul language" being directed at disabled man.

The WRU are dressing the ban up as “customer choice” – but what about those fans who are perfectly capable to going to a match, having a few beers and behaving perfectly responsibly?

Surely the obvious response to the misbehaviour would be to adopt a zero tolerance approach to the idiots who behave so obnoxiously and boorishly…?

Or are the WRU effectively saying that, other than in a small section of the stadium, getting utterly shitfaced and acting like an total twat is now deemed acceptable?

And what's to stop someone getting tanked up at the pub before the game and then behaving like a complete wazzock in the sober section of the stadium?