Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Stop Press

Breaking news from the West Country...

Gloucester have confirmed that they have no plans to win the Guinness Premiership for the foreseeable future. The West Country club announced today that hapless fullback Ian Ballsup has signed a contract extension with the Cherry & Whites until 2010.

Tindall in the dock

It's being reported today that Mike Tindall has been charged with drink driving after being arrested on the M4 in Berkshire in March. "Iron Mike" was stopped by police on his way to Twickenham - where he was due to be a radio pundit for the England v Ireland match - at 11.00 am, and found to be over the limit.

This followed a rather boozy day at Cheltenham races the previous day where various reports suggest that Tindall and girlfriend Zara Phillips were seriously on the lash - and let's face it, they must have been for him still to be over the limit when stopped by police the following morning.

And all this while recovering from a seriously lacerated liver (prompting various "I could have died" headlines) suffered in the opening 6 Nations match against Wales at the beginning of February.

Mind you, Tindall has, over the years, established a formidable drinking reputation, even having had a crack, when returning from the 2003 World Cup triumph, at David Boon's 1989 record of drinking 52 in-flight cans of lager en route from Sydney to London. “You can rest assured David Boon’s record is still standing,” Will Greenwood said afterwards (Tindall is reported to have only managed 50). “Tinds had a real go at it but we wanted to leave the Aussies with at least one title to hang on to.”

All of which hopefully puts paid to the daft idea doing the rounds among some rugby pundits that Tindall will be the next England captain. Well, that and his inability to take and give a pass.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Veterans Rugby - The Truth Revealed

Finally, the disturbing truth about being a Veterans Rugby player...

Currency Exchange

According to The Sun, the face of SuperJonny is set to adorn a new banknote - or rather a limited edition five pound voucher, known as the "T-Fiver", which can only be spent at shops within Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5, presumably during the several hours wait while you check in for your flight or during the several day search for your luggage.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, rumours abound that fly half rival Danny Cipriani is planning to bring out a twenty pound note redeemable only in Soho nightclubs, while Charlie Hodgson's face is due to appear on a special limited edition fifty pence piece which can only be spent at the chip shop near Edgeley Park on Hardcastle Road, Stockport.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Booze control

The rugby club annual dinner on Saturday night was hugely enjoyable...

I arrived looking somewhat beacon-like after having spent most of the day outside. In the morning I'd taken my son to his football practice (I know, I know, wrong shaped ball and all that but he's only 5, he does have fun and, the way I see it, there's plenty of time for him to grow out of it and see the light) and had miscalculated the strength of the April sun. Either that or I live directly below a gaping hole in the ozone layer - because by the end of the day my face and neck were bright pink, a look not helped by an afternoon hacking back the undergrowth in our garden and further football in the park with the kids.

Anyway, a couple of pints into the evening and my radio-active visage was forgotten. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that, as rugby clubs go, Chesham is one of the least pretentious I've ever come across. On Saturday there were no airs and graces and no long, self-indulgent speeches, just a simple format - couple of beers beforehand, then food, wine, raffle, a few deserved awards and then back to the bar for more beer and chat, the upshot of which was that several more players now want to play for the Vets team and we're determined to play a bit more regularly next season.

The crowd was, more or less, split into three camps: (i) young guns clearly determined to get shitfaced; (ii) the women's team in a similar frame of mind but dressed far more glamorously; and (iii) us old gits drinking at a slightly more considered pace. The presence of several wives/girlfriends/partners was also something of a civilising influence - or at least it remained civilised while I was there as, before I knew it, my taxi showed up as booked at midnight and I was whisked away with the party still going strong.

Call me a party-pooper but, ultimately, bailing out at midnight was probably a good thing as not only didn't I feel too dreadful yesterday, I also didn't turn into a pumpkin.

Hail Hilda

I felt very sorry for Saracens yesterday after their narrow defeat to Munster in the Heineken Cup. Not so much for the club itself - although they are my local professional team I can hardly call myself a passionate fan - no, the guy I feel sorry for is Richard Hill who retires at the end of the season having played most of this year on virtually one leg and who, I feel, really deserves to out with a bang.

There have been several entirely deserved tributes to Hilda in the press recently so I'll keep this short. What I would say, however is that, as a player, he's probably the best pound for pound forward England have ever produced.

I read his autobiography a year or so ago and was struck by how understated his view of himself was, how he appeared to be entirely lacking in ego. As a book it was hardly a bundle of laughs, dealing mostly with his recovery from two horrendous knee injuries, but there was the occasional lighter moment such as when he recalled being out on the town with two mates following the 1997 Lions tour...

In trying to get into a Salisbury nightclub his mates decided to try to blag their way in as famous rugby players.

"I'm Rob Howley," said one and was waved through.

"Martin Johnson" said the other and in he went too.

"Richard Hill" said Hilda, to which the doorman replied "Sorry mate, never heard of that name. Still, if you’re with Rob and Martin , I suppose you can go in."

And perhaps even more revealing of the man was his reaction to not being made England captain after the 2003 World Cup...

“I tried to sound disappointed...but, to be truthful, it took a weight off my shoulders. By nature, I am a foot soldier. You need foot soldiers, and that’s what I do best.”

Damned right you need foot soldiers, Hilda, and as foot soldiers go you were simply the best.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Virtual drinks are on me...

I've just discovered that, at some point this evening, this blog received its 20,000th visit.

What's more, not all of the visitors are my family.

So, amidst the hearty self-congratulation I must say a big thank you to all who continue to visit the blog and who put up with the tosh that's written here and thanks also to those who take the time to add their comments, even to ELV-loving Australians :).
A virtual drink for each and every one of you.

Speaking of drinks (did you see what I did there?), tomorrow evening is my rugby club annual dinner, so I expect the drinks to be a little less virtual and a little more actual. It's been a long, long time since I attended a rugby club dinner and I don't imagine for one minute that time will have rendered such occasions any more civilised - so by claiming now that I'm way out of practice (not to mention way out of my depth) I hereby offer my apologies for what may or may not happen...

A Question of Captaincy

I received an email from Steve Novak today, asking the following question:

I have a question, and you're just the man to answer it. With everyone going ga-ga over Martin Johnson being appointed the head cheese, I really need to know just what the captain of the team does? Having only played at University and club level (in the U.S.), my concept of the captain is he's just the guy who talks to the ref during the game. Apparently, at pro and international level, the captain does much more than that. Please enlighten me.
Firstly Steve, I'm flattered that you should think that I'm the man to answer this question - although whether you'll still feel that way when you get to the end of this post is very doubtful. Secondly, my apologies for the public nature of the answer - I can assure you that, if I had any real clue as to what made a successful captain, I would have replied to you privately but the fact that my answer is more than likely to be utter drivel means that this blog is probably the most appropriate place for it to be located. I can also assure you that not very many people will read it!

I've captained a few teams in my time with varying levels of success. When I started, 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 - and to be fair my captaincy skills never really evolved much beyond that. Certainly my pre-match speeches hardly ever had the galvanising effect that I'd hoped for, one in particular - involving the phrase "'s a ploughed field out there boys, let's plant them in it..." reducing the entire changing room into a fit of hysterical giggling.

I guess that the answer to the question (and please excuse the fence-sitting here) depends on the team and the captain in question. As you say, Steve, it often involves little more than being the main channel of communication between the team and the referee - and that's probably also often the case at professional level.

It's also common to hear coaches spout the mantra that it's important to have leaders all over the pitch - not just the captain - and certainly that was Sir Clive's ethos with the 2003 England team. Given that England had the likes of Leonard, Dallaglio, Dawson and Greenwood in its ranks alongside the considerable presence of Martin Johnson, it's not something you can really argue against.

I'm sure that good captains are tactically adept and make the right calls at the right times, but equally there is something about certain players which simply marks them out as being born to lead. Johnno was one, John Eales (a very different character) was another, as were Sean Fitzpatrick and Tana Umaga. It's not so much what they do as what they represent to the team - they were all so respected, so highly thought of, so trusted by those that played under them that their teams were more or less cast in their image. In Johnno's case England developed into a team who simply would never back down, who would never shirk a challenge and who refused to be buggered about by anyone - this attitude may have brought Johnson into conflict with the RFU over disciplinary and payment issues, and with the Irish Rugby Union for the team's perceived slur on the Irish President at Lansdowne Road, but it also rubbed off on every single member of that England squad and it's what made them so damned difficult to beat.

I do apologise for the fact that this is such an unsatisfactory answer. Your question is, however, something to which I fully intend to give further thought and it could well form the subject of one of my incredibly insightful Total Flanker Guides before too long... :)

Watch this space!


Yesterday's Independent carried a truly shocking story about how Scott Leonard, brother of England legend Jason Leonard, sustained a quite horrific facial injury last year while playing for Clacton in the Essex leagues - an injury which ended his playing career.

The 34 year old former Royal Marine was extremely fortunate not to have been blinded after having been stamped on - deliberately, he maintains - by an opposition player. Not only that, but it turned out that the player who caused the injury should not have been on the field at all as he was already serving a suspension and was playing in the match as an unregistered "ringer".

Although the local disciplinary committee banned the player for a further twenty weeks for playing while suspended and the club in question was docked points for playing an unregistered player, no charge of violent conduct was ever brought against the player, despite Clacton citing him and despite the matter being reported to the police. Lack of evidence seems to have undermined the case, despite a number of Leonard's teammates having witnessed the incident.

Let down by the system, Leonard is left with his only remaining option and is taking legal advice with a view to bringing a civil action against the player. An overreaction to what the player in question insists was an accident? I don't think so - on a rugby field you tend to know when you've been caught accidentally and when it's a deliberate act of thuggery. There have been countless times when I've been caught at the bottom of rucks and have emerged with telltale stud marks on various parts of my anatomy - it pretty much goes with the territory - but I clearly recall one particular occasion when I knew for certain that I was the victim of a deliberate stamp - and I still bear that scar on my chin as a reminder.

Leonard knows he was the victim of a cowardly attack. As he says:"I feel very strongly about the fact that there are people playing rugby who think they can get away with anything."

Let's just hope that, by taking the thug in question to court, Leonard sends out a clear message that this is not the case.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Three cheers for the RFU! (seriously)

Say what you like about the RFU - incompetent duffers who couldn't organise a gang bang in a brothel, or dastardly conspirators determined to undermine the growth of rugby worldwide - but, whatever they are, they've certainly managed to get one thing right with the news yesterday that the RFU is to canvass grassroots opinion on the ELVs.

What's triggered this move is that the IRB are set hold a media briefing in London on Saturday ahead of a key meeting on 1st May at which the IRB plan to push through plans to introduce the ELVs into northern hemisphere rugby next season.

Fortunately, opposition from English rugby appears to be more or less unanimous, with the RFU expressing reservations and the Premiership clubs in particular being vocal in their disdain. Encouragingly, both the Welsh Rugby Union and the Irish Rugby Union have also voiced grave concerns and Serge Blanco, chief of the professional French clubs, is up in arms over claims that the French game is in favour of the proposed changes.

I've made my own views on the vast majority of the ELVs pretty clear. But the problem isn't that the ELVs are part of some Australian-led conspiracy to turn proper rugby into rugby league - they're not, although watching the Aussies react to that allegation never ceases to amuse. No, the real problem is that the ELVs were dreamt up by a totally unrepresentative bunch of blokes appointed by the IRB who think they've discovered a bunch of problems with the game and have come up with a bunch of ideas to solve them and now appear determined to drive through these solutions despite there being no evidence that they identified the correct problems in the first place or came up with the correct solutions. I'm sure that I could sit down with the guys at my rugby club and produce a list of different problems and different solutions which would be equally as valid.

Of course, when faced with opposition to the ELVs, the IRB's answer is to bombard us with a whole host of stats which "prove" that the game is better off under the ELVs because the ball's in play a bit longer. The stats which show that there are more stoppages in play due to the plethora of free kicks being awarded, meanwhile, are conveniently ignored. It's as if they feel that, because they've invested so much time and effort in coming up with and then trialling these new ideas, they simply have to make sure they become law whatever the consequences.

What no one has done, until now, is ask us - the great unwashed, the players, coaches, referees, administrators, volunteers, supporters and alickadoos at grassroots level - what we think of it all. Until now, that is. I have wondered previously whether anyone had given any thought to the effect of the ELVs on grassroots rugby and now, unbelievably, someone has done just that. The fact that it is the RFU that has come up with this radical idea just goes to show that life can still be full of surprises.

The RFU Survey

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Wrong about Forever Strong?

Last July I wrote, a little disapprovingly it must be said, about the fact that Hollywood was making a rugby-based movie called Forever Strong.

Well, the film is now finished and scheduled for release in the autumn and it's possible, just possible, that I may have misjudged the movie which, from the below clips at least, looks as if it might not be that bad after all...

Happy St. George's Day!

It seems that today is St. George's Day - that's right, the day when we English are supposed to celebrate being English in the same way that the Irish go Guinness-crazy on St. Patrick's Day, the Scots have a few wee drams on St. Andrew's Day and the daffodils and boil up some leaks (?) on St. David's Day.

The trouble is that the English really don't do the national pride thing very well. Whereas it's all fine and dandy to feel proud to be Irish, Scottish or Welsh, English national pride has become associated more with far right politics than with having a party - and perhaps it's for this reason that St. George's Day is, by and large, treated with a large dose of apathy. Is it embarrassment, perhaps, at our colonial past that triggers this reaction, or perhaps it's a sense that "Englishness" has in fact been diluted by hundreds of years of immigration into England from other parts of the British Isles? How many English people these days refer to themselves as "half-Welsh" or "quarter-Scottish" for instance?

As an example, I was born and bred in England but have Welsh parents. By and large, I suppose I consider myself English but am more likely to refer to myself as "British" if asked about my nationality - although there's no doubt whatsoever that, in a sporting context, I'm a passionate Englishman. I'm more than happy to sing from the rooftops when England win at rugby and can feel thoroughly depressed when they lose - but I doubt I'd ever fly an English flag outside my home to declare my nationality.

It seems I'm not alone in this - a recent survey by English Heritage revealed that fewer than one in five people celebrate St. George's Day and found that almost half the respondents believed St. George was one of the mythical knights of King Arthur’s Round Table!

So, in an attempt to do my bit, here are a few facts about St. George, as revealed by English Heritage:
  • St. George was actually born in Israel and probably never visited here;
  • St George is also the patron saint of Canada, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia and Catalonia as well as many charities and cities including Moscow;
  • St. George was a worthy solider in the Roman army and earned himself a position of nobility;
  • St. George was born in 270 AD, that’s over 1700 years ago. He died aged just 33;
  • St. George was given his sainthood because he refused to carry out the persecution of the Christians which was demanded of him by his leader in the Roman army, and was then tortured and killed himself;
  • St. George’s Day is celebrated in England on the 23rd April. This is said to be the date he died (or the date of his martyrdom);
  • The banner of St. George (white flag with a red cross) used to encourage bravery before soldiers went into battle;
  • William Shakespeare was born and died on April 23rd, St. George's Day.

No mention of him slaying a dragon then?

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

They’re out to get you

"Just because I'm paranoid it doesn't mean they're not out to get me"...or so the saying goes.

If uninformed rants and outlandish conspiracy theories are what floats your boat then you need look no further than Rugbycan – a blog, of sorts, that rages against rugby officialdom in general and against the English in particular, with an impressive display of vitriol and venom.

The lead protagonist on Rugbycan is a character - possibly real, possibly fictional - called Karl Miffentoff, who for some reason appears to detest all things English and who reserves a particular brand of bilious hatred for the RFU and its “lesbian partner” (!) the IRB.

When I first looked at Rugbycan I assumed that it was all just a bit of a giggle but (and I admit that I may be missing something here) the bile and the vitriol is so sustained and so consistent that I’m beginning to think that this guy might just be serious. I hope I’m wrong on this score but must admit that it arguably makes the blog even funnier than if it was intended as a joke.

Rugbycan’s basic premise is that the RFU and IRB are, essentially, one and the same organisation and that they are involved in a conspiracy to undermine the rest of the rugby world by nefarious means. Some of the more recent claims include:
  • that the RFU have instructed English Premiership clubs to attract as many All Blacks to England as soon as possible in order to weaken the All Blacks;
  • that the RFU have neutralised the threat from Argentina by giving Marcelo Loffreda a job at Leicester and that the Argentinians have been further undermined by having their rugby directed by “Englishman bastard” Les Cusworth;
  • that the RFU have swindled the USA by putting an Australian in charge as coach and “another English bastard” as director of rugby;
  • that the RFU have dictated terms to the Canadians by sticking a New Zealander in charge there; and
  • that, amongst all these dastardly deeds, the French Rugby Federation is somehow the sole bastion of decency in the world of rugby, and should break away from the RFU/IRB to form a new world governing body but has been undermined by its former President Bernard Lapasset turning traitor by joining the IRB.

As I say, these are just some of the ridiculously hilarious claims made on Rugbycan which conveniently ignore certain facts such as:

  • that far from being one and the same, the RFU and the IRB are more often than not at loggerheads (the current dispute being over the proposed introduction of the ELVs);
  • that the English clubs would soon tell the RFU where to go pretty damned quickly if they dared to try to dictate which players the clubs should recruit;
  • that Leicester look likely to fire Loffreda on the basis that he really hasn't been very good; and
  • that for the RFU to be involved in a conspiracy so far reaching that it could insert its chosen people (including Australian and New Zealanders) into positions of influence in the USA, Canada and Argentina, suggests a level of competence within the corridors of Twickenham that, as the Brian Ashton fiasco has demonstrated, has yet to manifest itself in any other of its dealings.

Of course, I can be dismissed by any true conspiracy theorist as merely a pawn of the establishment, spouting out propaganda in an attempt to brainwash the masses and discredit those who have seen the light.

I am, of course, nothing of the sort - I am in fact a member of “The Iluminati” a sinister reptilian group who control both the RFU and the IRB and who are dedicated to the control of all aspects of society.

Mwahaha, Muwhahaha!!!!!!!

A former ex-player...I think

The observant among my two regular readers (not you, Mum) will certainly have noticed the subtle shift in the header of this blog.

"Of course," you say, "the header used to refer to Total Flanker as an 'over-the-hill ex(?) rugby player' - and now it says that he's an 'over-the-hill former ex-rugby player.' How very fascinating."

Calm down dear, the reason is obvious. When I started this blog nearly a year ago I really wasn't sure whether or not I'd ever play a game of full contact rugby again - after all, I hadn't played for over 13 years at that point and, although I'd thoroughly enjoyed playing Touch Rugby, I had absolutely no idea whether my body would stand up to the rigours of playing properly again. However, the idea of putting myself through the pain again was just beginning to germinate, as my second ever post entitled "So am I retired or what?" revealed, and for this reason my status as an ex-player was in doubt.

Fast-forward nearly 12 months and the situation is very different - having made a glorious comeback to the game (well, perhaps 'glorious' isn't the word - perhaps 'adequate' would be more appropriate), I can safely say that my days as an ex-player are now behind me, at least for now. Having only muddled through four games this season, however, I can hardly refer to myself as a current rugby player - I think it's only right and proper that such a title carries the responsibility of a certain level of commitment and of a week-on-week devotion to the cause. No, I think the most accurate way to describe myself now is that I used to be an an ex-player - in other words I'm now a 'former ex-rugby player'.

On a different note (and I've no idea how he'd describe himself), it seems that our friend Nursedude has come through another game with yet another victory as the Metropolis "Killer Bs" triumphed over their Green Bay equivalents at the weekend. Click here for the full story.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Are we Olde yet?

There's been an interesting discussion over on the World Masters Rugby Group recently.

It started with a report, penned by one Ray Karenas of the Chicago Grey Lions, of a recent encounter between his team and local rivals the Chicago Griffins Old Boys.

Ray starts his report with a comment that I too been forced to make after each of my performances this season, to the effect that the opposition's team "were younger and fitter than ours." Does every veteran rugby player feel like this I wonder?

Ray goes on to describe how he then injured his shoulder in attempting a tackle...

"That’s right, a tackle, in an old boy game. Typically, the Mexican Bullfighter Defense is the standard mode of play, you know, “OlĂ©” is called out as the opposite back is running by you. But these are the Griffins, so when a good hit is made available you take it...

"...after three steps Simon launches a kick to touch! The ball falls short of the line but bounces high up in the air! This is not so bad as the opposite wing is now waiting for the rock to drop into his waiting grasp. Karenas times his hit just as the ball is tucked and the wing turns his hip to run upfield. The combined grunt and snap, crackle, pop of his shoulder dropped both players immediately, with only the opposite winger getting back up.

"Prognosis, rotator cuff possible muscle damage which will be identified by a further MRI. X-Rays did not show any broken bones or fracture up in the shoulder which may have been a better result. He knew it was serious when he could not lift the beer up to his lips, but remarked, 'I do have another one I can use'."

Ouch. Sounds painful - but rather than elicit outpourings of sympathy, Ray's report appears to have set off a chain of messages, under the heading "Are we Olde yet?" detailing how long various members of the group have been playing and the various injuries that have been picked picked up along the way.

The bottom line is that there are some seriously old buggers still playing the game! The two oldest contributors who still turn out regularly appear to be a certain Joe Wilson, who at 63 has just played his 41st alumni match against his old university, and Alan Frener, who first played in 1957 and is still playing every week for Salisbury RFC at the age of 62. As he says , "Everyone keeps asking how much longer can I keep going. My stock answer is until something falls off!"

The litany of injuries is pretty impressive too. For the record, my own injury history includes a broken hand, broken thumb, broken collar bone and torn ankle ligaments, but is nowhere near as impressive a collection as that owned by "Dr. D" of the Pelidactyls team in Tampa, Florida:

"I've had two knee operations, 2 teeth knocked out (yes -you dentists, that's with a mouthpiece in place), and 2 shoulders separated.

"I tell folks that as soon as I suffer a major injury, I'll quit playing rugby.

"When's kick-off?"

Whatever happened to: the Rolling Maul?

Sad old fart that I am, here's the first of what I anticipate being a series of ramblings about odds and sods that appear to have gone missing from the game of rugby since I started playing back in the middle ages. These may involve skills, tactics, or personalities, or off-field activities - anything really that has become an endangered species in this day and age of super-fit, teetotal, professional athletes.

What I do promise is that this won't merely turn into an excuse for a rant against modern day trends, Australians or the dreaded ELVs. Not today at any rate.

First up on the extinct list is the rolling maul.

"What?" I hear you say, "surely today's rugby is blighted by the sight of every lineout turning into a catch and drive by the forwards which is nigh on impossible to defend against. That's why we want collapsing the maul to be allowed." (Ooops, nearly mentioned the ELVs there - must refrain, must refrain).

Well, no - what we see on the modern rugby field is not, in fact a rolling maul. It's a driving maul - and the difference isn't particularly subtle. The modern driving maul involves all forwards involved facing forwards and pumping their legs, driving the maul on with the ball safely tucked away at the back out of harm's way. The maul can be driven straight or at an angle but there's no sense of rolling whatsoever.

The rolling maul, on the other hand - as learned by yours truly as a young man - does exactly what it says on the tin. It involves (or involved - as I haven't seen one executed on a rugby field for some considerable time) the pack working in groups of 2 and 3 to literally roll around the side of the maul, protecting the ball and committing the opposition forwards, releasing the ball on the scrum half's command (or, more often than not, just continuing to roll as it was great fun!).

It is/was slower than the driving maul and probably less dynamic, but it was usually used more as a means to an end (i.e. getting on the front foot) than as an end in itself which, to a certain extent, is what the driving maul has become.

From memory, the first time I witnessed the driving maul was when Buck Shelford's All Black pack put it to great effect during the 1987 World Cup - that New Zealand team did pretty much everything more dynamically than the rest of the world at the time and their mauling technique was clearly the beginning of the end for the traditional rolling maul - and I vividly remember an Otago pack driving a maul from over 30 metres to score against a hapless Lions pack (featuring several players who had, according to reports, gone "off-tour") in 1993.

Whilst still a fan of the driving maul (which, given the current climate, can consider itself to be officially "endangered"), I do mourn the extinction of the old rolling maul, mainly because it was an incredibly satisfying skill to get right and was a particularly forward-specific skill in a game in which specialist skills are fast disappearing as we move towards some kind of homogenised hybrid.

And, before this really does turn into a rant, I think I'd better end it there ;)

Friday, 18 April 2008

All Blacks on Report

"Gentlemen, your mission - should you choose to accept it - is to prove to the world that you are even more incompetent than the English RFU. This message will self-destruct after approximately 6 months..."

This may as well have been the message delivered to the New Zealand Rugby Union after the Rugby World Cup because, in a week when the RFU has been universally ridiculed for its handling of the Ashton-Johnson affair, the NZRU has finally managed to deliver its Review of the All Blacks performance at the Rugby World Cup - yes, remember, the tournament that finished back in October.

Not only did it take the NZRU (or whichever bright spark they hired) 6 months to deliver the report, and not only did they go ahead and re-appoint Graham Henry months ago before they even had the first inkling of the report's contents, but the report itself somehow manages to break new ground in terms of pure gobbledegook.

Apparently, for instance, Graham Henry didn't rotate the All Blacks selection prior to the World Cup quarter final - he obviously just changed his mind quite a lot about who his first choice players were and is probably why NZ ended up with a fullback playing centre for the third successive World Cup - anyone see a pattern emerging there?

Equally, while Henry's controversial conditioning programme is quite rightly criticised (although Henry himself appears to escape censure for some reason), there seems to be no mention of the selection of a half-fit Dan Carter, a fullback at centre (did I mention that?) and a palpably unfit Keith Robinson (to give him game time and build up his match fitness for the next round) for the quarter final - although apparently the All Blacks didn't underestimate the French - much.

The report also seems to justify the on-field decision not to go for a drop goal in the last 10 minutes of the quarter-final by commenting that the players decided to continue with the tactic of attempting to score a try or to get a penalty because they were unaware that the All Blacks had not been given a penalty in the entire second half. In other words, it's still that dastardly English referee's fault and nothing to do with crap leadership on the field.

I've no idea what the NZRU paid for such a report and I'm sure they all feel it's money well spent - but what shocked me most was the failure to mention the primary reason for New Zealand's exit - i.e. the clandestine IRB conspiracy that permitted the French to change their kit from their traditional blue to a despicable dark navy, a decision which forced the New Zealand team to wear those horrible grey shirts for the quarter final.

Implausible? No more so than much of the rest of the report...

P.S. Don't just take my word for it - check out Sportsfreak's 720 degree holistic review of the review.

Don't blink, you'll miss it

Sutton & Epsom RFC are claiming a world record for the fastest try ever after their Surrey Cup match against Richmond last month.

Steve Munford, their 19-year-old scrum half, reportedly charged down an attempted Richmond clearance and crossed the whitewash 7.5 seconds after the game kicked off - a try which helped his team to a surprise 16-13 victory. If confirmed, the try would apparently beat the 8 seconds credited to Andrew Brown for his try for Widden Old Boys against Old Ashtonians in 1990.

I must admit it normally takes at least 8 seconds for the message to be relayed from my brain to my legs that they need to start moving...

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Surprise, surprise...

So the machiavellian machinations of the RFU finally came to a head today when the worst-kept secret in world rugby was revealed by a RFU statement that confirmed that an MBE and an OBE have decided to appoint a CBE to the position of England Team Manager whilst removing an MBE from his role as head coach.

Setting aside the ridiculous nature of the British honours system (since when did we have a British Empire?), this particular EeeBeeGeeBee has the following observations:

  • Brian Ashton (MBE) has been treated very shoddily, there's no doubt about that. The way the RFU have acted looks, as Brian Moore puts it, as clear a case as you're likely to get for constructive dismissal and Ashton must be tempted to dig in for a mega payout.

  • That said, those Ashton-apologists who appear to be impressed with England's record under Ashton (runners-up at the Rugby World Cup and 2nd place in the Six Nations) are missing the point. Ashton's overall record is poor, not just in terms of results but also in terms of performance. Under Ashton England have played 22, won 12 and lost 10. But of those 22 performances I'd say we played really well on only 2 occasions - against France in the 2007 Six Nations and against Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter final. I'd rate a further 8 performances as being no more than adequate, 9 performances as being really quite poor and 3 performances (against Ireland at Croke Park last year, in the pool match against South Africa in France and last but not least during this year's pathetic effort against the Scots) as being downright diabolical.

  • Those who somehow think that a lack of experience or coaching qualifications will mean that Martin Johnson (CBE) will not be hugely successful in this role are severely underestimating the man. Johnno is a winner, plain and simple, and provided he is allowed by the blazers at Twickenham to get on with the job without unnecessary interference, I for one would not bet against him being a major success.
  • 2007-2008 Season Review

    The news about one of my former clubs (highlighted below) got me thinking about what kind of season my former and current clubs have had and, despite the fact that the season has not quite finished yet, it seemed an opportune moment to review what's been happening over the past 8 months.

    Back in October Peterborough RUFC (where I played Colts rugby and a handful of senior games from 1980-83), were lying 8th in Midlands 1 and, following a 21-7 victory over Kenilworth last weekend and with one match to go - away to Longton on Saturday - 8th is exactly where they remain. With 10 wins, 11 defeats and 20 points, I'd describe their season as "solid" . Being my first club, where I learned not only how to play the game but how to survive in the bar afterwards, I've always has a soft spot for Boro' and it's great to see them safely ensconced at that level.

    Guildford RFC (previously "Guildford & Goldalming"), for whom I played in 1986-87, were riding high in London 2 South back in October with 3 wins from 4 games. Since then, however, they've slumped to second from bottom, having only won one more match and having lost 16 times. Last weekend's 10-51 defeat to Jersey won't have helped their cause and, having been relegated from London 1 last season, a second successive relegation looks on the cards whatever the outcome of Saturday's fixture away to Beckenham.

    Ealing, awash with referees, have had an altogether more successful time of it. Promoted at the end of last season to National 3 South, Ealing currently lie 3rd which, to my knowledge, certainly represents their most successful season ever. A record of 17 wins, 1 draw and 7 defeats at this level is a fantastic return on the season and, despite facing a tough away fixture against 2nd placed Cinderford this weekend, they must be more than chuffed with their efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed the couple of seasons or so I played there as a 20-something, single bloke with no mortgage, no commitments and a disposable income which I wasted largely on beer in the Ealing clubhouse!

    Meanwhile, one rung down on the league ladder, Barnes RFC have had another very solid season in London 1. If consolidation is the aim then Barnes have certainly achieved it, being 5th in the table (the same as the past 2 seasons I believe). It's a notoriously difficult league to escape from (upwards) - just ask Richmond who have finally managed it this season at the 3rd attempt. Barnes thrashed Thanet Wanderers 67-5 last weekend and face an away trip to Bishop Stortford on Saturday, a match they should win to complete another good season. It's great to see Barnes going well having been there at the start of their climb up the leagues from Surrey 2 - it's also the club where I was first introduced, back in 1992, to the lovely girl who went on to become Mrs Flanker!

    So now finally to Chesham, the club responsible for resurrecting this creaking old has-been and providing him with a new lease of life and a whole host of new niggly injuries. Chesham's certainly the smallest club I've been involved with and has a distinct community feel to it - its junior section in particular being extremely well run. The 1st XV have had a mixed time of it this season but ultimately has managed to survive reasonably comfortably in Berks/Bucks & Oxon 1 North, currently lying in 7th place with 7 wins and 12 defeats. Chesham took the decision this season to try to integrate as many of the youngsters coming through the juniors system into the senior ranks, with the result that several 17 year olds have made their 1st team debuts this season - something that can only bode well for the future. A tough away fixture against Banbury 2nds will bring the season to a close on Saturday.

    As for me, with no fixture likely to be scheduled for this weekend, it looks like that's my season done and dusted and I guess I should look back on the season with some satisfaction. After all, taking up the game again after a 14 year gap is no mean feat, and I've come through it with no major injuries and some performances which bordered on the half-decent. Granted, we failed to win any of the 4 matches in which I played (and I've not long finished a phone conversation with Colin, the Vets' captain, who confirmed that Saturday's match against Ruislip - which I missed - was a familiar tale of getting off to a slow start, then rallying in the second half but ultimately succumbing to a better organised team), but it's been fun to be involved with, the camaraderie has been first rate and I did manage to score my first try this century! My only gripes are that my body didn't allow me to play the way I used to 14 years ago (perhaps understandably) and that I only got to play 4 games thanks to the cancellation of two fixtures by the same club (you know who you are!). To paraphrase former England hooker John Pullin - Chesham Vets may not be any good, but at least we turn up!

    Tuesday, 15 April 2008

    West London in referee outbreak

    One of my former clubs, Ealing, has received a pat on the back from the RFU for their innovative programme to develop referees, hailed as “a model for other clubs to follow”.

    The Ealing club referees section is believed to be the first of its kind in England and has won the RFU President’s XV award for More Referees (no, I wasn't aware that award existed either).

    The section was set up three years ago to provide referees for matches and festivals in the mini, midi and youth sections, and to give aspiring referees help and support if they wished to progress to the London Society and higher levels. The result: 61 club members of all ages now qualified as RFU referees, 11 of which are also members of the London Society.

    Apparently top English ref Wayne Barnes has been among those giving coaching to the Ealing section. The number of forward passes missed in games featuring Ealing's teams and the lack of penalties awarded to teams featuring forwards from New Zealand is, apparently, just a coincidence.

    That Peter Dawson sidestep video...

    Rugby Sidestep One-on-None Championship Highlights
    Uploaded by pecandaily

    Introducing Peter Dawson - Rugby Nobody

    I received an interesting email today from self-confessed "rugby nobody" Peter Dawson. Part-grovelling, part-insulting but all-entertaining, Peter's email was basically a request for me to mention his new website - which, as you can see, I'm more than happy to do.

    Peter, it seems, is somewhat evangelical about the sidestep and his website is a celebration of the art of the step as well as an instructional guide. Driven by the inspiration of watching former Welsh international and League legend David Watkins, the art of Cossack dancing and the need to push an old Ford Anglia up a hill (I kid you not), Peter taught himself to master the sidestep and maintains that anyone can do the same. So, if this takes off, then before you know it we'll have hoards of twinkle-toed props stepping their way through the opposition massed ranks instead of perhaps taking the more prosaic traditional routes.

    Peter has also made a promo video, in which he demonstrates his art like a geriatric Shane Williams on acid - sadly I can't embed the video in this blog but it's very entertaining and can be found here.

    I should warn you, however, that the sidestep comes with it's own health warning - just look at the change that it caused in Peter's appearance for a start!

    From a personal perspective, I have a rather sparingly used step off my left foot in my armoury which gets dusted off for touch rugby but rarely makes an appearance in a full match - largely because it's difficult to step while buried in a ruck.

    It just leaves me to say good luck with the website Peter and with your sidestep crusade :).

    Monday, 14 April 2008

    Santa's Secret

    I've often been asked by my kids what Father Christmas does for the 364 days in the year that he is not delivering presents to children.

    My answers, to date, have been less than convincing but, next time the question is raised, I can now produce photographic evidence to show that in fact Saint Nick spends at least part of his spare time cavorting around a rugby field...

    Friday, 11 April 2008

    Hee hee!

    Via Robert Kitson's column in today's Grauniad...

    Three men are stranded on a desert island in shark-infested waters. The first decides to risk the half-mile swim to land, but fails to make it. The second also meets a grim and bloody end. The third dives into the water and, without being touched, makes it to the mainland where he strolls into the nearest beach bar and orders a beer. "How come you made it and the others didn't?" asks the barman. "That's easy," replies the dripping stranger. "I wore a T-shirt saying 'Francis Baron is a genius' and even the sharks wouldn't swallow that."

    Thursday, 10 April 2008

    Boris for England?

    So who will form part of the new England coaching set up when Martin Johnson is finally crowned new rugby supremo, or head coach, or manager, or tea boy, or whatever the hell it is that the RFU have in mind?

    Names that have been liberally sprinkled around the popular and not-so-popular press include Shaun Edwards, Austin Healy, Mike Catt, Pat Howard, Neil Back and Will Greenwood. One name that has not been mentioned so far is Tory London Mayoral candidate and David Strettle-lookalike, Boris Johnson.

    Not only is Boris the spitting image of the blonde mop-headed England winger, he also has a rock solid defensive game and would be ideal to instill the blitz defence into the England team. Just look at how he tackled the German winger in the England v Germany Legends match a couple of years ago. OK, admittedly he was playing football and not rugby, but you can't fault his commitment.

    "There was no malice in my actions. I was going for the ball with my head, which I understand is a legitimate move," Boris reportedly said afterwards.


    Confused? You soon will be...

    So, according to the RFU's Chief Executive Francis Baron, the proposed new England management structure will strengthen the team - i.e. a structure containing a team manager and an additional specialist coach, with the existing coaching team all retaining their positions (unless they choose not to).

    No mention of Martin Johnson by name and certainly no prospect, it appears, of Johnno coming in as head coach with the right to hire and fire his own coaching team, as advocated by Sir Clive at the weekend.

    This, apparently, is news to Johnno. According to the esteemed Daily Mail (who surely wouldn't make anything up, would they?), Johnno believes that he has agreed a deal to take complete charge of the national squad as head coach, a deal giving him him carte blanche over selecting his own team of specialist coaches. It even suggests that Johnno has had discussions with Shaun Edwards about a role with England.

    Who knows what the truth may be, but the fact that Mr. Baron has also stated that Brian Ashton has been kept appraised of all ongoing discussions, despite the fact that it's been widely reported that Ashton is both bemused and angry about the lack of meaningful communication from the RFU, adds fuel to the thought that perhaps Mr. Baron is struggling to tell the difference between his gluteus maximus and his humeroulnar joint, as demonstrated by my highly useful diagram.

    Give the white card the red card

    It's official. The lunatics have taken over the asylum (with apologies to all genuine lunatics).

    It's emerged that Australia are considering trialling a tennis-style "white card" system that gives teams one opportunity each half to challenge a referee's decision, allowing a TMO to rule on any challenged incident.

    The frankly insane system was trialled for the first time this week in South Africa during the Varsity Cup final between the Cape Town and Stellenbosch university teams and was rated an overwhelming success by 2003 World Cup final referee Andre Watson - which should be enough in itself to make sure that this ludicrous idea never sees the light of day.

    Nevertheless, this lunacy appears to be gathering support following Aussie referee Paul Marks' decision not to refer an 80th-minute incident to the TMO in the recent Hurricanes v Sharks match, instead deciding (incorrectly as it turns out) to rule out a last minute Hurricanes try for a knock on with the scores tied at 13-all.

    Setting aside the fact that the Hurricanes would almost certainly have already used up their white card challenge long before the 80th minute, it's pretty obvious that any such a system would seriously undermine the referee's authority. The cynic in me also suggests that captains will find ways of using the white card tactically to slow the game down at crucial times - the Aussie Referee's Chief Peter Marshall has suggested introducing some kind of penalty to prevent such frivolous challenges but there lies the way to madness - introducing a stupid law and then trying to find ways to penalise its misuse.

    Notwithstanding that nobody has explained exactly where on a captain's person the white card is supposed to be kept (!), it's about time rugby administrators remembered what rugby is all about - referees, like players, make mistakes. It happens, it has always happened and will continue to happen. Rugby, however, has always prided itself on the respect shown to officials by players, respect which is already eroding with the amount of backchat in the game today and which will be further undermined by allowing this ridiculous proposal to gain any further currency.

    So please...a heartfelt message to those intent on ruining our game...STOP MEDDLING!

    Wednesday, 9 April 2008

    The Total Flanker Guide to playing: Fullback

    Back in the middle ages, when I was first asked/told to play rugby, my initial thought was that I would make a great fullback.

    The star fullback of that era was the Welsh legend JPR Williams and I was deluded enough to believe that I was capable of emulating him - after all, I thought I could catch a high kick, was reasonably quick (ah, those were the days!) was happy to tackle all day and preferred my socks rolled down around my ankles. Sadly, I was handed the number 4 shirt (metaphorically speaking, of course, as we didn't actually have numbers on our shirts) and was never able to realise that particular dream.

    Nevertheless, I do feel uniquely qualified to talk about the fullback position with some authority on the basis that I just might have been fantastic there. Don't mock, anything's possible, and my delusion is supported by the fact that, aside from a few notable exceptions like Blanco, Hastings, Cullen and Latham, no player in the world game has really nailed the position down since the days of JPR. The English, in particular, have over the years inflicted upon us the likes of Bob Hiller, Dusty Hare, Marcus Rose, Jonathan Webb and (heaven help us) Iain Balshaw - all with their own qualities I'm sure but none of whom have exactly inspired confidence. So, on that very tenuous basis, I'm very secure in my own little fantasy world, thank you very much.

    All of which begs the question - what makes a good fullback?

    The simple answer is that the fullback must be an absolutely solid last line of defence, must have a complete disregard for his own safety, must tackle like a dervish, must have faultless positional sense, must confidently catch all "Garryowens" launched by the opposition, must have a siege-gun boot for returning kicks, must have fantastic spatial awareness and an eye for the counterattack and must be blessed with great pace and split-second timing when joining the three-quarter line. Not much to ask really, is it?

    The reality of course is that if you have any one of these skills then you have a great shout at being picked at fullback. Without any of these skills you are likely to be a forward.

    Alternatively, you might just get picked at fullback in the following scenario:

    Chairman of Selectors: "OK chaps, we've picked the pack, now let's look at the backline. We've a short aggressive little Welshman at scrum-half, a deluded ego-maniac at fly-half, two impeccably well-dressed centres, a speedster who can't catch on one wing and a big lump of a bloke on the other wing. That's it I think."

    4th XV captain: "What about Dave?"

    Chairman of Selectors: "Oh bugger, Dave, yes, hmmmm, well he can't catch, pass or run very quickly and he's a hopeless tackler. Sod it, stick him at fullback and hope no one notices. That's all gentlemen, mine's a gin and tonic..."
    Hope that helps :)

    Ref wit

    From The Times via Confessions of a Rugby Referee ... from where I unashamedly stole it! (Thanks David).

    Tuesday, 8 April 2008

    Roy's keen on All Blacks

    Sunderland's footy manager and former Manchester United and Ireland legend, Roy Keane, is reportedly going to New Zealand this summer to study the All Blacks as part of his coaching education.

    According to reports, Keane will spend about three days with New Zealand during their build-up their match against Ireland in Wellington on 7th June.

    The idea, I guess, is that Keane will be able to obseve an elite sporting set up in action - something he's hardly likely to have witnessed during his time at Sunderland (as a Newcastle fan I would, of course, say that!).

    It strikes me that New Zealand might just learn something from Keane's legendary aggression and I'm hoping that Keane will bring back to Sunderland a certain propensity for choking in big matches, preferably in the Tyne-Wear derbies.

    I'd also hate to think what a Mackem haka might look like...

    Monday, 7 April 2008


    This is just brilliant:

    The imposter is none other than Frenchman Remi Gaillard, (in)famous for his many star turns at sporting events (including joining in the French soccer cup final celebrations and being congratulated on his game by the French President!)

    I just love the way he swaggers onto the field in true scrumhalf fashion for this Montpellier v Bourgoin clash last April and even has the balls to shake the referee's hand.

    The end quote "C'est un faisant n'importe quoi qu'on devient n'importe qui" from Gaillard's website roughly translates as "By doing anything you become anyone."


    Irish Tongan in hot water...again

    Tongan headcase Epi Taione (aka "Paddy Power" during the Tongan team's World Cup campaign) was in trouble again at the weekend - receiving a straight red card for headbutting the Hurricanes' Jeremy Thrush while playing for the (Natal) Sharks in the Super 14.

    Followers of Taione's career will know that this isn't the first time that the red mist has descended for him - as Munster's Dennis Leamy, who was infamously bitten by the Irish Tongan during a 2006 Munster v (Sale) Sharks Heineken Cup tie, will testify.

    Taione received a six month for the biting incident and can expect little leniency for his latest indiscretion. His time with the Natal Sharks could prove to be even shorter than his stay with their South Manchester equivalents.

    Attack of the "Killer Bs"

    Given my lack of rugby action at the moment I'm having to get my fix vicariously through the efforts of fellow 40-something rugby blogger Nursedude from Minneapolis who played his second game in successive weeks at the weekend (an impressive feat in itself!)

    Not only that, this time he played a full 80 minutes at prop for the Metropolis B team ("The Killer B's") and once again finished on the winning team (I'm turning green with envy as I write this). For Nursedude's full account of the game please click here.

    Saturday, 5 April 2008

    Cover tackle outlawed!

    Regular readers of this blog (both of you!) will know that I never, ever bang on about my opposition to the Experimental Variation Laws (ELVs) currently being trialled in the Super 14. Well, hardly ever.

    It has come to my attention, however, that not only do the ELVs ruin the art of forward play and create a cheat's charter, they also appear (inadvertently I suspect) to make the cover tackle illegal!

    This has come to light following a Super 14 mach between the Stormers and the Chiefs (what is it with these Super 14 franchise names? Would it kill them to give us a clue as to where they are based?) when a fantastic cover tackle by Lelia Masaga of the Chiefs (from somewhere in New Zealand) on Schalk Burger resulted in a penalty try being awarded to the Stormers (from somewhere in South Africa) because Masaga was behind play when the ball was offloaded to Burger from a tackle. The tackle can be seen below (last try in the highlights sequence):

    Because the new law creates an offside line at the tackle rather than when a ruck or maul forms, any defender behind the play when a grounded player makes an offload is now offside. If the tackler happens to be the last line of defence, all of his teammates will be offside. Those defenders can then either let an attacker who receives the offload run away and score or infringe and, if they infringe close to the line, a penalty try will almost certainly result.

    So what looked like a brilliant piece of defending by Masaga in fact turned out to be illegal and cost his team a seven-pointer.

    Surely this cannot be what the lawmakers intended? Super 14 rugby is often subject to unjust northern hemisphere jibes that it is a form of glorified basketball - but ultimately if this law is applied to the letter then that is exactly what rugby will become - a game in which each side takes turns to score and where a try is almost guaranteed once a line break is made - something so far removed from rugby as we currently know it as to make it unrecognisable.

    I can only hope that the powers that be are looking at the ELVs very much as the name intends - as an "experiment" - and, where such an experiment is shown clearly to produce a result that is neither intended nor desirable, that the law in question will be abandoned with indecent haste.

    Friday, 4 April 2008

    Sciatica dramatica

    Just returned yesterday from a few days away with the kids - to my mother-in-law's oop north. All fairly uneventful really - other than a recurrence of the back problem that originally contributed to me giving up rugby some 14 years ago.

    It was all fairly innocuous really. On Wednesday morning I woke up with a slightly sore right hip, something I put down to a 3 hour drive the previous day and sleeping in a different bed. I got up - no problem, went downstairs - no problem, made cups of tea - no problem, came back up - no problem and then, just as I was getting back into bed to drink my tea - POW! - an excruciating shooting pain just above my right buttock.

    Bloody painful it was and I knew exactly what had happened as the sciatic nerve compressed and left me prostrate on the floor. Fortunately I do know a few exercises that bring a little relief and was able at least to get mobile again but, despite dosing up on ibruprofen, I struggled badly for the rest of the day. It left me physically unable to do very much with the kids and also in a really grumpy mood which didn't endear me to them at all and which later prompted my daughter to write a note to to herself which read "I hate Daddy most of the time." (!)

    I'm afraid that this compression of the sciatic nerve just happens from time to time and there's no predicting what might trigger it. The original injury happened back in September 1993 when I got myself twisted at the bottom of a ruck and every now and again it re-occurs, the last time being about 3 years or so ago when I was helping to lift my then 2 year old son onto the toilet! That time I required weeks of physio to sort it out but, the pain having has eased off a little over the last 48 hours, I'm hoping that physio won't be required this time and am planning to get myself to the gym later today to work on some exercises to strengthen the lower back area and release some of the nerve compression.

    Ironically I spoke to one of the guys at the rugby club earlier in the week who thought there was a good chance that I'd get a game for the 2nds before the season finishes, but I'll have to wait and see whether my back settles down before I can contemplate playing.

    Of course, I'll also have to rebuild my relationship with my children!

    Tuesday, 1 April 2008

    England Street's ahead

    It emerged late last night that Rob Andrew's discussions with Martin Johnson have broken down irretrievably and that the former England skipper has decided he wants nothing more to do with the RFU. The sticking point appears to have been Johnson's insistence that he be allowed to manage the England team without interference from the blazers at Twickenham.

    Instead, a senior source at the RFU indicated that a deal was now more or less in place to install the England's women's team head coach Gary Street as the new supremo of the England's men's team and that a statement to that effect was "imminent".

    It had been thought that, if the talks with Johnson had not borne fruit, then the RFU would turn to South African World Cup-winning coach Jake White, but the RFU source confirmed that "we will not be turning to a foreigner - this isn't football."

    So, with Johnson ruling himself out and with White ruled out on the grounds of nationality, it appears that the RFU have decided on appointing the 39 year old Street, who masterminded the England women's Six Nations Grand Slam this year and who has a 100% record with the women's team since taking over in 2007.

    Whether Street and Brian Ashton can work together remains to be seen, but the chances of Ashton remaining in charge now appear to be increasingly slim after Chairman of the RFU Management Board, Martyn Thomas, was seen stalking the corridors of Twickenham wearing the pictured T-shirt.