Wednesday, 23 October 2019

South Leicester RFC - a cautionary tale

Away from the build up to the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, I am sorry to learn about the plight of South Leicester RFC who have endured an awful start to life in the Midlands Premier league having last season been relegated from the national leagues.

Having already conceded over 100 points on 5 occasions this season, South Leicester's season reached rock bottom last weekend as they went down 240-0 to Bromsgrove, conceding 36 tries (at a rate of nearly 2 tries per minute) in the process.

Relegation last season led to a loss of sponsors, meaning the club could no longer pay players, with over 30 players subsequently departing a club who now struggle to put together a team.

Remarkably South Leicester are not, at the time of writing, bottom of Midlands Premier - that honour goes to Peterborough Lions (also relegated from the national leagues last season) by virtue of the fact that they have been docked points for failing to fulfil a fixture. A third relegated team, Birmingham and Solihull, has been forced to drop out of the league entirely and now play in the Birmingham Merit Leagues.

All of which highlights the ultimate folly - as I have previously mentioned - of clubs below the elite level paying their players, something which inevitably leads an over-reliance on sponsors.

South Leicester, to their credit, are attempting to re-build the club on a sustainable model and you have to admire those players who continue to turn up week after week despite taking hammering after hammering. At some point in the not too distant future hopefully the club can find its proper level, rediscover the joys of amateurism, and thrive as a self-funding, community-based organisation.

I wish them all the luck in the world...

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Sayonara Vahaamahina

Interesting to see that French lock, Sebastien Vahaamahina - following the most idiotic red card in Rugby World Cup history - has decided to retire from international rugby.

Vahaamahina, who thought it might a splendid idea to swing an elbow viciously into the face of Welshman Aaron Wainwright - with France ahead and in control in the second half against Wales in Sunday's quarter final and with a driving maul edging forward in the opposition's 22 -  has obviously taken the decision to jump before being pushed.

I said at the time of the incident that Vahaamahina should never play for France again and it looks as if that may well happen.

That said, I must congratulate Vahaamahina in being the first from this year's Rugby World Cup to make it into the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks.

Vahaamahina was almost joined, however, by match referee Jaco Peyper who, having sent the Frenchman off and then awarded a decidedly dodgy try to decide the game in Wales' favour, posed for this picture - mocking Vahaamahina's actions - with Welsh fans afterwards.

One of those that may have seemed funny at the time but on reflection...

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Eddie blinks first

It is just possible that, by dropping George Ford and breaking up the Ford-Farrell midfield axis, Eddie Jones has made his first mistake of this World Cup.

I hope I'm wrong, but it smacks of uncertainty and is reminiscent of Stuart Lancaster's decision to omit Ford from the 2015 Pool game against Wales, throwing Sam Burgess into the fray at inside centre (and the rest is history).

It also leaves Manu Tuilagi to fill the 12 shirt this time around and, while a huge fan of Henry Slade at 13, I'm not convinced that Tuilagi is entirely comfortable in the inside centre channel, particularly in defence.

Jones may have been saved, however, by Michael Cheika's decision to hand 19 year old Jordan Petaia the 13 shirt for Australia. Petaia is a huge talent, no doubt, but to expect him to play outside centre internationally for the first time in a World Cup quarter final is a huge ask.

I guess we'll wait and see...

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019 - Quarter Final predictions

So my Pool predictions didn't quite work out to plan, although at least my call on Japan making the final eight was bang on the money.

Now it is time to look ahead to the weekend's quarter finals:

England v Australia
Hmmm. This one concerns me. There's nothing I've seen from Australia so far that should worry England on Saturday but, equally, the English have been somewhat flat in their serene progress so far. If England can go up through the gears they certainly have enough to beat this Australian team. I have a horrible feeling however that this could be the Aussies' day. I really hope I'm wrong, but Australia by 9.

New Zealand v Ireland
There's little doubt that the Irish, bit by bit, are closing in on the form that saw them beat the All Blacks in 2016 and 2018 and New Zealand will be wary of a repeat. Since then, however, both England and Wales have demonstrated that if you deny the Irish go-forward ball there appears to be no Plan B and the lesson will not have been lost on Steve Hansen. Improved as Ireland may be I can only see an AllBlack win here - by 12 to 16 points.

Wales v France
The simplest of predictions. If Wales have any ambitions to be World Champions they must see off the French team comfortably. While France do have some talented individuals, as a team they remain shambolic. Wales, on the other hand, lack individual spark but are organised, ruthless and tactically very smart. Wales should have this one wrapped up by half time and eventually win by 20+.

Japan v South Africa
For anyone who isn't Scottish, it is truly fantastic to see the Japanese in the last eight - richly deserved after a series of high-octane, eye-catching performances, culminating in a wonderful final Pool victory over the Scots. And now for South Africa - perceived wisdom is that this will be one game too far for the Brave Blossoms, with the Springboks just too big, too powerful and too experienced. Hmm, I'm not so sure. There is a certain momentum behind the Japanese now - with the entire nation behind them - and I'm not sure that even the mighty Boks will be able to derail that. Against the odds I'm going for a narrow Japan victory by 4 points.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Rugby World Cup: That was the weekend that was

Firstly, sincere sympathies and condolences to all those in Japan who have suffered loss during the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Hagibis. 

The fact that any rugby was played at all was a remarkable achievement by all concerned. And what fantastic rugby we all witnessed as the weekend came to a climax with a quite astounding clash between Scotland and Japan. 

Any suggestion beforehand that the Japanese would have been happy to have the game cancelled in order to progress serenely to the quarter-finals was laid to rest as Japan tore into Scotland with a simply magnificent first half performance. That Scotland stayed in the game and made a fight of it was a credit to them, but Japan were just superb and proved once and for all to the world of rugby that they deserve a place at the top table. Brilliant.

Earlier in the day Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll had suggested, following Bundee Aki's red card against Samoa, that "the big hit is gone" from the game as a consequence of World Rugby's continued crackdown on high tackles.

I don't think that's strictly true - witness Semi Radrada's perfectly timed hit on Liam Williams in the Wales v Fiji clash - but what is correct is that players do now have to re-model their technique and not risk any tackle which might be reckless or dangerous which, in my humble opinion, can only be a good thing and has been a long time coming.

Back to Hagibis, and chapeau to the Canadian rugby squad who, having had their match against Namibia cancelled owing to the devastation caused by the storm, decided to roll up their sleeves and assist with recovery efforts in Kamaishi.

Good to see that the spirit of rugby remains alive and kicking.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Scotland lack perspective

There was something more than a little distasteful about the fuss made by Scotland when faced with the prospect of having their pool match with Japan cancelled owing to the effects Super Typhoon Hagibis.

As things turn out, the game is going ahead, but for the Scots to be threatening legal action had the game been cancelled showed an alarming lack of perspective.

Hagibis has killed at least 18 with many more injured and lives ruined.

Yes, going out of the World Cup owing to the weather would have been unfair. Sometimes, however, that's just the way life works out.

At the end of the day it is just rugby.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Super Typhoon Hagibis impacts Rugby World Cup

If Super Typhoon Hagibis hits Tokyo on Saturday - as it is scheduled to do - then the decision to cancel the the England v France and New Zealand v Italy matches on safety grounds is, surely, the right call.

Clearly you can't play rugby in a super typhoon, although whether the organisers ought to have had contingency plans to play the fixtures elsewhere is another matter.

As things stand, the cancelled fixtures do not have a significant bearing on the tournament with qualification from pools B and C already settled (more or less).

Pool A, however, is a different story.

If Japan v Scotland on Sunday is cancelled then Japan go through as pool winners and Scotland go home.

Scotland would, effectively, be knocked out of the World Cup by the weather.

Which would be as unfair as it would be extraordinary.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

England: Focus on France

The school of thought that suggests that it might be a good idea for England to lose to France this Saturday, thus coming 2nd in their Pool and avoiding a possible semi-final against New Zealand, is a school that deserves to fail any OFSTED inspection miserably.

If England have any realistic ambitions to be World Champions they simply have to aim to win all of their matches, no matter the opposition. 

Plotting a more strategic route to the final, while all very clever in theory, would still mean getting past (probably) Wales and South Africa. Hardly easy, especially once that elusive winning momentum has been sacrificed.

No, England's sole focus for now has to be on beating France any which way they can. Then, and only then, should they turn their attention to their next opponents, whoever they may be. 

Eddie - pick the strongest team available to you to play the French - you know it makes sense.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Lavanini red card 100% correct

I was surprised to read various below-the-fold comments over the weekend suggesting that Tomas Lavanini's head shot on Owen Farrell on Saturday was deserving of anything other than the red card he received.

The comments appeared to suggest that Farrell was somehow complicit in nearly having his head removed from his shoulders and that Lavanini's actions were somehow accidental.

Nonsense. When we coach players how to tackle one of the things we tell them is to look at the target. Watching the footage of Lavanini's tackle it is clear that he looked Farrell straight in the eye before launching his shoulder at Farrell's head. There was nothing accidental about it whatsoever.

Yes, the incident spoiled the game as a spectacle and pretty much ended Argentina's chances of victory there and then.

But World Rugby's stance on such dangerous, reckless and illegal tackles is absolutely 100% correct.

Players simply have to change their behaviours and coaches have to stop making irresponsible comments defending players who transgress (yes, I'm talking to you, Mr Cheika).

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Total Flanker: the Rugby Clairvoyant strikes again

All Black flanker Ardie Savea will become the first player to wear goggles in a Rugby World Cup game when he runs out against Canada on Wednesday.

Savea apparently has poor vision in his left eye and says that a fear of sustaining damage to his other eye, and risking blindness, is the reason he will now wear the specially designed goggles.

Which is fair enough, but what is not generally known is that I, in my own facetious way, saw this coming years ago…