Tuesday, 30 December 2008
Monday, 29 December 2008
Perhaps it's because it's been the festive season, perhaps it's because my office-based job has led to an even more sedentary lifestyle, but the fact is that the past month or so as seen me become a stranger to the gym and a friend to large lunches and copious amounts of red wine. In short I'm feeling fat and unfit and if I had a set of bathroom scales I'm sure they'd be delivering extremely unwelcome news about my weight.
I turned down the chance to play in an Oldies v Youngsters game at Chesham at the weekend - partly because that really would have gone down like a lead balloon at home but also because, right now, I really am in no fit state to run out onto a rugby field. Not only would it have been distinctly embarrassing, it would also have been a tad dangerous - an injury waiting to happen. No, my target now has to be obtaining a degree of fitness before out next Vets match in just under 3 weeks time when we're due to take on Beaconsfield Vets at home. Clearly that will require a significant reduction in alcohol intake and a significant increase in physical activity between now and then - so it's fairly obvious what my New Year's resolutions have to be...Of course, I won't be the only one making resolutions for 2009. England boss Martin Johnson, for instance, will be resolving to make the most of the time and patience granted to him by the English rugby public at large (who for the most part do realise what a shambolic set-up he has inherited). Hopefully he will have learnt the appropriate lessons from the autumn internationals and will have his forwards' coach John Wells working flat out at producing quick ball for what looks like, potentially, a reasonably exciting back division. He must also, of course, resolve not to pay any heed to the collection of bitter broadsheet hacks who seek to judge his regime after just 4 games in charge.
Across the Irish Sea, Declan Kidney will be resolving to imbue his Ireland team with whatever it is that makes Munster tick while in Scotland Frank Hadden will again plotting the downfall of the Italians - Scotland's only realistic chance, once again, of a victory in the 2009 Six Nations. Meanwhile, across the Severn, Messrs Gatland and Edwards will be resolving not to misplace the magic dust they were given last year. Edwards, in particular, must be praying that no one figures out that there are acres of space being left behind the Welsh blitz defence and that, no matter how brilliant he's been of late, Lee Byrne can't possibly defend it all by himself.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the Right Reverend Graham Henry will be resolving to keep pulling the wool over the eyes of the New Zealand public and press by continuing to produce yet another team that is almost unbeatable between World Cups. Peter de Villiers, meanwhile, will he hoping that the trashing of England at Twickenham will have bought him a little time and Robbie Deans will be resolving to keep making a decent fist of the Wallabies job as preparation for the inevitable day when he is appointed head coach of the All Blacks.
However, the man with perhaps the most significant resolution will be ARU chief John
Whatever your resolutions, have a very happy and prosperous 2009...
Sunday, 21 December 2008
I need to confess before we start handing out the prizes that the selection committee have once again chosen to discount the Super 14 and Tri Nations from its deliberations - this year on the basis that the two tournaments were played under a set of laws that, quite frankly, the committee fails to recognise. And we're not even sorry.
Moving on...our first award this evening is the Could You Have Cocked Things Up Any More If You'd Tried Award. More than a few contenders for this one, including the RFU for their shambolic treatment of Brian Ashton post 2007 Rugby World Cup and 2008 Six Nations. However (and I promise this the last time I'll mention it this evening), the clear winner is the IRB for the quite shocking way they have attempted to railroad the world of ruby into accepting the ELVs, with the chaotic consequence that rugby is now being played under differing sets of laws in different competitions in different parts of the world. Astonishing incompetence, even for an organisation for which incompetence is the watchword.
Our second award this evening is the Can Anyone Recommend a Good Book to Read During the Second Half Award, given to the team that has managed to bore the pants off every neutral spectator during the second half of a game this year. The popular view might be to give this award to England for years of perceived conservatism but I would argue somewhat vociferously that England this year have been mainly crap rather than boring. No the choice comes down to a choice between Wales for their interminable series of rucks in the last 15 minutes of the Grand Slam decider against France (admittedly effective but seriously tedious) and Munster, who started running down the clock almost immediately the whistle blew for the start of the second half of the Heineken Cup Final. I'd love to hand this one to Wales but it was quite possible, during that desperate second half aganst Toulouse, to go out for 10 minutes to make a cup of tea and then return to find the Munstermen still going through the phases about 15 metres away from where the move had originated. Munster therefore take this award with something to spare.
Next up is the Can it Possibly Get Any Worse Award, given to the team that have plumbed the depths of true appallingness in a performance this year. England are almost certainly shoe-ins for this one but not, as some of the broadsheet hacks would have us believe, for their performances during the November internationals. Despite the scorelines against the southern hemisphere big 3, there was the occasional glimmer of hope or the odd spark of individual talent shining through occasionally. No, the performance that really showed up England as being bereft of anything remotely approaching competence was the inept display against Scotland at Murrayfield in the Six Nations. Scotland played poorly in that match, remember, and still won at a canter. Brian Ashton may subsequently have been treated badly by his employers but anyone overseeing that level of performance cannot honestly have expected to keep his job.
We now move on to the Perhaps He's Not All He's Cracked Up to Be Award. For years I would have given this one to Ickle Shane Williams as, for all his side-stepping wizardry, I felt he was better defined by his non-existent defensive skills and a tendency to panic under pressure and cough up possession. Warren Gatland and Sean Edwards, however, appear to have entirely eradicated these flaws from his game - ok, he still isn't a great tackler but the rest of his game has been pure genius (a pity that we can't reward that here) this year. Who then will this prestigious title go to? Danny Cipriani perhaps? Hardly fair - the fact that he returned so quickly to the game after such an horrific injury being worthy of praise rather than vilification. That leaves, in the humble opinion of the committee, only one man. Step forward Andrew Sheridan. Not long ago the (mainly English) press were labelling him as the best loose head in world rugby and yet now he appears to be the lynchpin of an England pack that couldn't scrummage the skin off a rice pudding.
Our penultimate award tonight is the Pinch Me, I Must be Dreaming Award, given for the most improbable action by any rugby club or organisation this year. I can't believe I'm doing this but I must say that the RFU, in its reaction to the global imposition of the ELVs (I know I said I wouldn't mention them again, but given their domination of the headlines this year, it's a little difficult to avoid them). In its wisdom the RFU, rather than just pontificating on the merits or otherwise of the new laws, did something quite radical instead - it asked me what I thought. Not just me , of course (they can't possibly be expected to get everything right first time) but everyone involved in grassroots rugby - players, coaches, referees, volunteers and supporters - across the land. They may well ignore what we have to say ultimately but at least they have made the pretence of listening to us, unlike the self-serving buffoons at the IRB.
Finally we move on to the last award of the night - the Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land Award - a special award given to a particular rugby scribe whose refusal to move on from 2003 continues to infuriate and amuse in equal measure. Yes, step forward Mr Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times, a Welshman obsessed with the England rugby team whose brilliant solution to the woes currently being endured by Martin Johnson's men is that they find bigger, older and better players. Well, duh! And the names of those players who would turn England back into a force in the game? Well here are a few he's mentioned who weren't playing in the recent New Zealand game: Josh Lewsey (who has played like a drain for Wasps this season); Dan Hipkiss (who was on the bench for the NZ game); Ollie Barkley (working his way back from injury); Mike Tindall (barely a decent performance in an England shirt since 2003); Danny Cipriani (rested against NZ but obviously mightily effective against the Aussies and the Boks); Harry Ellis (bench), Andrew Sheridan (injured, but alarmingly ineffective anyway against the Aussies); Dylan Hartley (bench, and a citing waiting to happen); Julian White (a proven underachiever at international level and about 56 years old isn't he?); Simon Shaw (bench, and even older than White); and Lewis Moody (just back from long-term injury and mad as a box of frogs). Mr Jones even suggested bringing back Danny Grewcock for the All Blacks game. Nuff said.
And so, a brief summary of the 2008 Total Flanker Awards:
Total Flanker Could You Have Cocked Things Up Any More If You'd Tried Award: - IRB
Total Flanker Can Anyone Recommend a Good Book to Read During the Second Half Award: - Munster
Total Flanker Can it Possibly Get Any Worse Award: - England
Total Flanker Perhaps He's Not All He's Cracked Up to Be Award: - Andrew Sheridan
Total Flanker Pinch Me, I Must be Dreaming Award: - RFU
Total Flanker Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land Award: - Stephen Jones
Saturday, 20 December 2008
According to a report in the Telegraph this week, researchers are claiming that Pope Benedict XVI has an approximately 45 per cent chance of kicking the bucket by the end of 2008 thanks to Wales winning a Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year.
Apparently five of the eight Pontiffs who have died since 1883 have done so in Grand Slam years. Three deaths have occurred when Wales won the Grand Slam and two others when Wales won the tournament but not the Grand Slam.
Faced with this overwhelming evidence, Dr Gareth Payne of University Hospital Wales, Cardiff (whose findings have been published online by the British Medical Journal, no less) asserts that the Vatican "cannot fully relax until the new year arrives."
Unless, of course, Wales win it again in 2009, heaven forbid...
Sunday, 14 December 2008
- It was only a matter of time before prima donna ref Steve Walsh hit the headlines again. The exhibitionist whistle-blower has, allegedly, been accused of being drunk at a morning session of the SANZAR conference for coaches and refs early this month in Sydney. Apparently the matter is now an employment issue between Walsh and the NZRFU. It's hardly the first time that Walsh has been in hot water - at the 2003 World Cup he was suspended after squirting a water bottle at English fitness trainer Dave Reddin during an argument during the England v Samoa pool game, while in 2005 he was suspended by the IRB after verbally abusing British Lions winger Shane Horgan during the Taranaki tour match. A case of three strikes?
- Some very sad news from New Zealand with the sudden death of former All Blacks John Drake at the age of 49. Drake was member of the New Zealand team who won the 1987 World Cup and reports suggest that he collapsed and died of a heart attack while cleaning his swimming pool. 49 is way too young an age to go and is a stark reminder of our mortality. My thoughts are very much with his family.
- On a lighter and somewhat bizarre note, new Glasgow rugby "sensation" Ruaridh Jackson has revealed how his "fury" at a verdict on the TV talent show the X Factor prompted him to produce the best performance of his life last week in the Heineken Cup group match against Bath. The 20 year old rookie has admitted it was the decision to evict his X Factor favourite Diana Vickers (who, as it happens, was also my favourite) on last week's show that fired him up to produce his best rugby. For the return fixture today Bath are praying that Jackson is not suitably outraged by the decision of the BBC to allow all three couples through to the final of Strictly Come Dancing.
- Could Dean Richards be the first head coach to win the Heineken Cup with 2 different clubs? After his successes with Leicester, it looks very much like he's putting together a more than half decent outfit at Harlequins. After their battling back-to-back wins over Stade Francais, which leave Quins unbeaten in four Heineken Cup games this season and only one win away from the quarter-finals, I'd certainly give them a fighting chance of going all the way to the Final this season.
- And finally... your roving reporter found himself at a booze-filled Twickenham this week for the Varsity Match. With the wine flowing shortly after 11.00 am before a hearty lunch, there then followed a surprisingly entertaining match - made exciting largely by the decision by the Cambridge right winger to make tackling optional, especially when faced with his opposite number who helped himself to 3 first half tries. The problem was solved in the second half by the Cambridge pack who evidently decided that the best method of defence was to keep the ball. The tactic worked as the beer flowed and the Light Blues hauled themselves back into contention before just coming up short, going down 29-33. For many this game remains an anachronism but to the players (unless you happen to be an All Black hooker) it is THE most important game of their lives and for me it's a chance to catch up with some old (and getting older) faces and drink myself silly.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
The conversation took the following course:
TF: So, Martin, what did you think of England's efforts during the autumn series?
MJ: Not good enough - we're not big enough, fit enough, powerful enough, nasty enough, clever enough or skillful enough. Unlike most of the national press, however, I'm really not that surprised. We've been pants for some time now, two matches in the World Cup notwithstanding.
TF: Didn't any England players impress?
MJ: Yes, Delon Armitage played well throughout the series - he could finally be the long-awaited solution at fullback. Tom Rees battled well and I suppose Nick Easter was half-decent at times but (and it pains me to say this) I wouldn't have a single Englishman in a Lions 22 based on current form. How sad is that?
TF: So you were impressed by the Welsh then?
MJ: Not hugely, but they're currently miles better than England.
TF: So, is your namesake the right man for the job?
MJ: I bloody well hope so as the last thing we need right now is another change at the top. Let's face it though, things were never going to be easy. If he was under any illusions beforehand, he now knows what a nightmare job he's taken on. I hope he has the bottle to make the really tough decisions and that the RFU have the gumption to support him by getting in whoever he needs to improve things. A new forward's coach and defence coach would be a decent start but Johnno seems to be saying that no changes are necessary which doesn't bode too well.
TF: Why do you think things have deteriorated so badly?
MJ: I'd say we're paying for an utter failure for anyone to plan beyond 2003. We lost some key players to retirement and the back up players, although fairly experienced - and I'm talking about men like Worsley, Corry, Regan, Gomarsall, Hodgson etc - simply weren't up to it. We may have managed to produce a couple of decent performances in the World Cup last year but really since 2003 the coaches have been firefighting, papering over the cracks, shuffling deckchairs - whatever you want to call it - rather than building a team. Johnno's having to start from scratch really. Clive Woodward came back from Australia claiming that 2003 was the beginning of a golden age for English rugby. Golden age my arse.
TF: Thank you Martin.
MJ: You're welcome. Mine's a pint of IPA, cheers.
Monday, 1 December 2008
Following the scandal surrounding the arrest of Conservative MP Damian Green for receiving leaked government documents, I can exclusively reveal that this weekend I was also arrested and questioned for 24 hours straight with no food, water or toilet breaks. My alleged offence was the receipt of top secret documents revealing the Wikio Top 20 UK Sports Blogs. You will be delighted to learn, however, that I held firm under severe psycholgical torture and can now exclusively reveal December's Wikio rankings...
After all that I'm highly unimpressed with dropping 2 places down the chart - next time I'm hauled in for interrogation I promise I'll squeal like a pig!
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
The RFU, bless 'em, continue to listen (check out the RFU Survey) but what happens after they've gathered, sorted and lost our opinions is anyone's guess.
So far this season the ELVs haven't exactly covered themselves in glory at the elite level and various high profile coaches in this neck of the woods have expressed their severe misgivings. But what of us, the mere mortals of the grassroots game, what do we think of the story so far?
Over on Confessions of a Rugby Referee, Big Dai gives a very eloquent verdict on the ELVs from the point of view of a grassroots rugby referee. One of the stated aims of the ELVs was to make the game easier to referee but, from reading Dai's analysis, the new laws appear to have, for the most part, achieved the precise opposite.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Sunday, 23 November 2008
The rugby practice field at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School bears little resemblance to the manicured lawns of the English boarding school where the sport was born... more
Only 2 positives, as far as I can see:
- I didn't watch it (having my own little encounter to deal with - more of that later) and decided against putting myself through watching the highlights after I had heard the score on the radio; and
- It can't get any worse...can it?
Thursday, 20 November 2008
After a two games this season in which he was denied tries, firstly by a last gasp tackle and then by a myopic referee - incidents which prompted a national debate on the injustice of it all - TF has indicated to vague acquaintances that that he is ready to call it quits after analysing the balance of probabilities.
"It all started off as a bit of of a laugh," the overweight backrower said today. "But there's a real chance that I might actually score a try soon and that we might win a game, both of which would be a joke too far."
The nation's online message boards lit up with complaints after today's news as the public voiced their suspicions that TF has fallen victim to people taking rugby far too seriously.
"I am very angry about this," said one poster. "Watching TF huffing and puffing around the field and messing up try-scoring opportunities is simply hilarious."
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Apparently more than half of England's team today passed through the state school system and the team is managed by a comprehensive school kid who attended the same school where his father worked as a caretaker.
I wonder if Australia can claim the same?
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Hardly regular then, but with my next game looming large on the 22nd November I felt that desperate measures were called for - and, yes, I realise that fitness doesn't really work that way but I subscribe to the theory that something has to be better than nothing, no matter how painful.
In the changing rooms after the game I heard someone mention that the opposition had an ex-international in their back row but, as I was unable to hang around after the game that day, I was unable to verify the rumour. It turns out, however, that the player in question was none other than Bill Calcraft who played in the Australian back row in the mid-eighties before captaining Oxford University in the Varsity Match. In our match I must admit he was pretty solid in the tackle and difficult to put down, and was also fairly sprightly around the park - certainly more so than yours truly although, admittedly, that's not saying much. Given that he's also a good 5 years or so older than me, hats off to him.
No doubt the match against Chesham Vets will probably go down as a career highlight for him and he'll be recounting for many a year how I was unjustly denied my try by a myopic referee...
Friday, 7 November 2008
A black man has been elected President of the United States.
A black man has won the Formula 1 World Championship.
And three black players occupied the back three positions for England against the Pacific Islanders yesterday.
Whilst the first two events were (rightly) hailed internationally, the selection of Paul Sackey, Delon Armitage and Ugo Monye had, in a small way, its very own significance. Setting aside the fact that all three had excellent games for England yesterday (and it's possible, just possible, that in Armitage we may finally have found someone to occupy the fullback birth for some considerable time), the fact that we now have 3 black players in the England team, with the likes of Danny Cipriani also having a West Indian father, a Maori playing at inside centre (a concept that I'm not wholly comfortable with if I'm honest) and the likes of Tom Varndell, Topsy Ojo and Steffon Armitage not too far away, demonstrates that English rugby is becoming far more representative of the diverse nature of the country as a whole.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Sunday, 2 November 2008
I'll bet they're ecstatic.
Since their first trip back in 2002, the Tag Rugby Development Trust has organised nine tours, taking in Uganda, Zambia and India . On these tours the coaches are all volunteers and the target is the grass roots level, not to mention leaving behind the skills so they can continue playing.
“I think sport is an area where you can give an opportunity on a very equal level,” says founder Martin Hansford. “The children have a great time, they learn something, we leave their teachers with some new skills they can use and keep training the kids even when we’re not around.”
As well as learning a new sport, there’s also an added incentive for the children to stay in school – to be able to take part in the end of week tournament.
So, not only do TRDT spread the rugby gospel, they also leave behind a lasting legacy, a fact highlighted on the current tour to India. In 2006 TRDT took a Tag Rugby Tour to Bhubaneswar, Orissa. Two years later the Kalinga Institute for Social Sciences (KISS), a school for tribal children, is producing Tag Rugby teams that are winning tournaments in the UK and Australia.
Furthermore the skills and enthusiasm the charity's volunteers gave children back in 2006 is being passed onwards to other children in the school and has caught the attention of the highest level of authority on Rugby in India - the Indian RFU will be hosting the first ever U-16 tournament at KISS and on 2nd August this year the foundation stone for the KISS Rugby Academy was laid.
The TRDT would really appreciate any support that you can give either in the UK, professionally, financially or with your time but especially by touring with the charity to share your rugby skills and experiences. Click here to get involved.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
Well, here he is, being given his marching orders playing for Stade Montois recently. Late tackle? I'd argue that he got there as soon as he could.
On the upside I guess the sending off would have given him some extra time to seek out the nearest KFC...
Sunday, 26 October 2008
As I've previously mentioned, from the little I have seen of women's rugby (and it's almost never featured on the TV as far as I can recall) the levels of athleticism, fitness and technical skills are very impressive - and the levels of enthusiasm and dedication are equally so. The women's game is, in a strange sort of way, reminiscent of men's rugby back in the 70s/80s before the top male players effectively became full-time rugby players. And I don't mean that in a derogatory way. Top female players have to juggle their careers with their chosen sport and the fact that they manage to do so effectively and still maintain the amateur ethos that still courses through the veins of women's rugby is, for me, one of women's rugby's attractions. That grassroots players, both male and female, can more readily identify with a member of the England women's team than with her professional, gym-cultured male counterpart, is a racing certainty.
The biggest story in the women's game in recent weeks has been the announcement that England will host the 2010 Women's Rugby World Cup. The tournament, last held in Edmonton, Canada in 2006, will be staged across West London and will showcase the top 12 international teams in world rugby. Hosts England, triple 6 Nations Grand Slam winners and holders of the European Championship and Nations Cup and New Zealand, winners of the last three World Cups and recent conquerors of Australia, will no doubt start as favourites.
Friday, 24 October 2008
Last week's article on Witney prop Mark Serle prompted reader Tony Verdin to get in touch.
Serle wondered, at 49, if he was the oldest first-team player Oxfordshire.
Verdin said: "I cannot match Mark Serle's achievement as I have never, apart from some tour games for Henley and Miami, played first team rugby.
"I have, however, kept going, and at 70 played 80 minutes for Henley Wanderers 3rd against High Wycombe – we won.
"Earlier, with my late friend, Hedley Roberts, we had a claim to be the oldest second row in international rugby.
"With a combined age of 132 years, we played for Henley 5th, much the same team then as Henley Wanderers 3rd later, in 1997 against Stavanger with a snow-covered pitch.
"It's the world's best game."
Impressive stuff...only another 26 years of rugby to go...
His first book, Rugby Match for the Homeside, apparently chronicled the events of the Ruggamals being kicked out of their forest due to construction and having to compete in a rugby match to be allowed to live in a new forest. His new book, however, focuses on teaching children how to play the game using the Ruggamals as main characters.
A Christmas present for the poor chap who refereed me last week, perhaps?
(Thanks to World Masters Rugby for the heads up.)
Sunday, 19 October 2008
After being hauled down inches short of the line after running the whole length of the field in my last match (I did say the distance would get further as time went on), I was once again denied a try yesterday, this time by a hapless referee who erroneously blew up for a forward pass by our scrum half, Steve. As I was the recipient of the "scoring" pass I am 100% certain that the pass went backwards, and I must say the opposition looked as mystified as I did when a scrum was awarded.
We were playing at home to a strong Fullerians Vets team who we matched upfront all game but who certainly had the better of us when the ball was spun out to their suspiciously speedy back division. My non-try happened early in the second half when we were 19-5 down. We had conceded 3 fairly sloppy 1st half tries tries (one of which, ironically, featuring a blatantly forward pass which pretty much everyone except the referee acknowledged), whilst we had crossed for a try ourselves, our lock Harvey having taken time out from whingeing at the referee to drive over from close range.
In many ways I felt sorry for the referee. Not only was he expected to apply new laws that obviously neither he nor the 30 participants on the field agreed with, he was also clearly under instructions to apply the letter of the law at the breakdown, with the inevitable result that there was a penalty awarded at nearly every other ruck. It's all very well being strict at the elite level to prevent the likes of Munster running down of the clock by keeping possession via an elongated series of rucks, but at grassroots level a certain amount of common sense and leeway is required - we don't fall over in rucks to kill the ball, we fall over because we're knackered.
The game therefore descended into a stop-start affair which was pretty unsatisfactory for all concerned, but I was still pretty shocked by the level of whingeing at the referee from both teams. He didn't cover himself in glory by any means but he didn't have an easy job and the constant moaning really did nothing to help. Lord knows from where the culprits found the energy to talk so much. For me it certainly made the game less enjoyable - not only isn't it how I was taught to play the game, it's also totally pointless - as Ulster coach Matt Williams remarked this weekend, talking to the referee is like complaining to your mother-in-law about your wife - it gets you nowhere.
In terms of my own form I'd say I had a so-so game. I felt in much better shape than 3 weeks ago so the recent painful forays to circuit training must have helped and I made a number of half-breaks and offloads, but my work at the breakdown is still way too tentative and my tackling too passive - so plenty to work on next time.
Final score? Well according the ref it was Chesham 5 Fullerians "quite a lot" - and it's true we fell apart somewhat in the last 15 minutes when they must have crossed for at least 4 tries - very disappointing really as we'd been pretty competitive until that point.
Next up is a trip to Tring on 22nd November and, who knows, maybe even a first win?
Friday, 17 October 2008
No, it's not the fact that you can lift in the lineout, or that you have to stay bound in the scrum, or the frankly weird phenomenon of uncontested scrummages or even the introduction of the (mostly) insane ELVs. At the end of the day laws change and players ignore them for the most part - they're irritating in the extreme but have little significant long-lasting effect.
No, it's got nothing to do with the laws of the game - the biggest change is, in fact - and without a shadow of a doubt - the demise of the half-time orange slice.
Back in the good old days, come half-time it just didn't matter how hot it was, how hard you'd worked, how thirsty you were - no, the best you could hope for (and this quite often only applied to 1st XV matches - the other teams being simply not worthy enough) was a fairly unappetising slice of orange.
Forget isotonic sports drinks, forget even the the restorative effects of a sip of H2O - you were expected to revive flagging limbs and sagging spirits simply by sucking on a withered piece of citrus fruit for about 5 seconds. Furthermore, more often than not some bright spark had miscalculated and had divided the said fruit into 14 pieces, meaning that someone (guess who?) had to miss out. Believe me, as unappetising as it sounds, being the one player not to get to suck on a piece of orange was desperately demoralising.
As I often have cause to mutter - players today don't know they're born.
Saturday, 11 October 2008
First Danny Cipriani gets himself knocked cold by a Josh Lewsey punch and then Gavin Henson gets handed a two game ban by the Opsreys for going walkabout when he should have been training.
Both incidents, it appears, were caused by the players in question not responding at all well to criticism, Cipriani reacting badly to jibes from Lewsey about missed tackles in training and Henson storming off to sulk after his performance against Harlequins was criticised by his coaches.
The consequences of each player's actions should, I hope, be enough to bring each of them crashing back down to earth (in Cipriani's case literally so) but there's obviously a tendency for both Cipriani and Henson to act the diva.
Although both players are often described by friends and colleagues as 100% committed to rugby and uninterested in celebrity, there have already been too many incidents captured by the tabloid press to believe entirely that this is so. Let's face it, if Cipriani wasn't interested in a celebrity lifestyle he wouldn't have hooked up with Kelly Brook (although, honestly, who can really blame him) as his latest girlfriend - and likewise Henson wouldn't have ended up as Mr Church.
Sadly I've a feeling that these two particular soap operas will continue to run and run.
Friday, 10 October 2008
Give me Blanche de Castille any day.
Thursday, 9 October 2008
I am, of course, referring to the litany of injuries that has befallen Jonny Wilkinson since the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final. Much has been written in the press about his latest injury - a dislocated kneecap - which will keep him out of the November internationals.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
As previously mentioned, the ref handed out an A4 sheet of paper before the game containing a summary of the new laws which almost no one read. From a personal perspective I took the view that there was little point working out what the new laws were seeing as the laws I played by last season were those last in force in 1994.
As to the game itself, as far as I could make out the new laws had no major impact. The facts show that we lost by 2 tries to 1 (although we won't get into why we didn't score 2), compared with 4 tries to 2 in the corresponding fixture last season - but, as ever, bare statistics don't tell the whole story.
The extra five metres at the scrum proved useless to us as inevitably we were in reverse gear at this phase and, despite their control at the scrum, the opposition didn't really ever get to exploit the apparent extra space - so the jury's still out on that one. And, although we did benefit from one kick straight into touch from the oppo's 22, the new law preventing the pass back into the 22 didn't seem to have much of an impact either - although it's impossible to say whether a punt straight down the middle was part of a tactical masterplan or just the usual case of a hopelessly inept and wayward attempt to kick for touch.
So, no major impact but - and I can't quite put my finger on why - the game did feel different somehow...there was just something just not quite right.
There was only one lineout drive for instance (immediately collapsed) which meant that the neither side established any control from this phase and that possession was flung out all too readily. That suited us - our lineout usually being a shambles - and defence from the lineout was therefore easy as we knew that the catch and drive wasn't an option for the opposition.
There was also total confusion at the breakdown where the referee found something different to penalise on almost every occasion. I know they've been told to clamp down but as a result the game rarely had any continuity (although given my state of exhaustion this might have been a good thing). I'd hate to think, however, what might have happened had he had the cop-out option of a free kick to award - the game would almost certainly have descended into an orgy of tap-and-go after each and every breakdown.
At the elite level it's widely reported that the quality of games in the English Premiership has fallen from the highs of last season with fewer try-scoring opportunities being created and more tactical kicking resulting in lower scoring games and less excitement which, some say, is reflected in lower attendances across the board.
It's too early to make such sweeping judgements in my view and I can't really comment having not seen a Premiership game live but, from a grassroots level, I'd say the signs aren't good - the game is looser and has a more hectic and chaotic feel to it, no doubt, but as to any improvement in standards or simplicity of understanding, I'd say the ELVs were a long way off achieving what they set out to.
Sunday, 28 September 2008
Forty four years old today and, after a physical battering yesterday, I'm feeling every single last one of them.
Friday, 26 September 2008
Sunday, 21 September 2008
Saturday, 20 September 2008
According to The Times, Jonny has experienced an epiphany while reading about quantum physics, in particular the experiment known as "Schrödinger’s Cat".
The experiment, it is said, demonstrates a conundrum at the heart of quantum physics i.e. that a sub-atomic particle exists in two states but the act of measuring it effectively forces it into one state. It goes something like this - imagine a cat in a sealed box with a jar of cyanide and a piece of radioactive material. According to quantum physics there is a 50% chance that, at any given time, the material has decayed to trigger the release of the poison. At that time the cat is both alive and dead but as soon as the box is opened the cat is either alive or dead - because observing it has made it so.
“It had a huge effect on me,” says our ever-so-slightly eccentric number 10. “The idea that an observer can change the world just by looking at it, the idea that the mind and reality are somehow interconnected . . . it hit me like a steam train.
"Quantum physics helped me to realise that I was creating this destructive reality and that all I needed to do to change it was to change the way I chose to perceive the world.
"Failing at something is one thing, but Buddhism tells us that it is up to us how we interpret that failure.
"I couldn’t figure out how to avoid death: it was like a game I could not win. The closer I got to family and friends and the better things got, the more I had to lose.
"I have accepted my career will finish one day and I am in a place that will enable me to make that transition comfortably. I will not have to reinvent myself to cope with life after rugby."
Boy, if there was anyone who really needed to go out and get shitfaced...
Saturday, 13 September 2008
The latest press release from the tournament's organisers tells me that ex Springbok captain Corné Krige has this week thrown his weight behind the tournament.
* My abiding memory of Krige's so-called "bone-crunching tackling" is, I'm afraid, his performance at Twickenham in November 2002. From my position in the North Stand it was pretty obvious that he was out to maim anything in a white shirt by fair means or foul and the TV replays later showed that he also managed to lay out one of his own players with an uppercut that just missed Matt Dawson's chin. Not his greatest 80 minutes and I somehow doubt his endorsement will tempt too many British teams to the tournament.
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
My response was quite unsatisfactory, with words like 'trust' and 'presence' and 'respect' scattered throughout, as if there was some kind of mystical recipe that just made a great captain.
Utter nonsense of course but I must say, after plenty of time to think about it, I doubt I can come up with anything else to describe what is required to be a great captain at the elite level.
At grassroots level, however, it's a different story.
I mentioned in my previous response that at school I took captaincy to mean that I had to call heads or tails before the game, choose which end to play and shout quite a lot during the game. When all is said and done, that really is about the long and the short of it - although if you want to be a really successful captain there are a few character traits that will undoubtedly help, namely:
- Ego-mania. There's no point being captain unless you are a control freak who revels in the power and just loves being in charge. Absolute certainty that every decision you make (on or off the field) is the correct one is a must, as is the requirement that you love the sound of your own voice - important because pretty much no one else will (if they can be bothered to listen). You may think that you are imparting words of wisdom before the match or rousing the troops with inspired rhetoric but, honestly, all they hear is "blah, blah, blah."
- Workaholism. There's no getting around this - if you are in employment when you start the season as captain there's a very good chance that you won't be by the time the season's finished. If you have a great relationship with your family at the start of your tenure, expect bitterness and acrimony by the end of it. Pretty much all of your time will need to be devoted to your club. Well run rugby clubs have Chairmen, Secretaries, Social Secretaries, Coaches, Fixtures Secretaries etc etc etc. Others tend to rely on the captain to do pretty much everything and, without exception, no one is grateful for what you do. You have been warned.
- An incredibly thick skin. When elected you may well be one of the most popular members of your club. This will last until after the first selection meeting when the whispering campaign will be started by a disgruntled few who failed to make the team. Before long this campaign will have spread like wildfire throughout the club and people will be openly questioning your competence, character and parentage, especially if results don't go your way. The best way to deal with this is to be totally oblivious to it - and your ego-mania will certainly help in this regard. The other thing you should remember is that it's highly unlikely that your club will seek to remove you from your position or even allow you to resign as this would then involve other club members getting off their arses and doing some work.
That's it - hope it helps.