Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Southern Discomfort

Forgive me if I fail to get excited by the Tri-Nations.

Not only does the format of the competition - New Zealand v Australia, South Africa v News Zealand, South Africa v New Zealand again, South African v infinitum - make me want to enter a self-induced coma, so far the standard of rugby hasn't been up to much either - surprising, given that we're constantly reminded of the superior standard of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere.

Who knows, the tournament may finally take off this weekend. The South Africans may even fill a stadium.

I won't hold my breath.

It's coming home, it's coming...

Delighted (from an entirely selfish point of view) that England will host the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Although I've been firmly in the Japanese camp - not only were they royally stitched up during the 2011 bid, it's high time the IRB took seriously its obligations to spread the game beyond the traditional backyards - the fact that the 2019 event has been handed to Japan is some consolation, albeit 8 years late.

So, rugby's coming home - roll on 4th September, the date England will begin their defence of the Rugby World Cup ...

Saturday, 25 July 2009


A post lifted unashamedly from World Masters Rugby Group...

...I really want to add my thanks to a rugby community in Canada that has been far, far more than a family to me.

I came to Vancouver, Canada in 1982, from Rhodesia via Britain. I had played rugby since I was 9 but had no plans to play here until I had established myself in my new country.

I hadn't been here 3 months before my phone rang at work and a voice with a marked Rdesian accent said, "Is that Fenner from Salisbury?" "Yes," I replied, "Who's this?" "Oh, you don't know me, but get your a*se down to the Rowing Club for practice on Thursday".

So much for a break from rugby!I played for a couple of years, then blew my knee apart skiing on Whistler. I tried to watch the game I love so much, and failed. I simply couldn't stand not being on the pitch. I walked away and didn't even watch a match for nearly 9 years.

Then a friend who helped me get employed suggested I come and drink with his Over-40's club on training nights ("good for business/social contacts, what?"). I did, and after a couple of months (one had to be invited to join this particular club at the time), the president said "You've been hanging around here for long enough, Fenner - pay your dues!"

A month later, gammy knee and all, I could no longer sit and watch so dug out my now 20-yr-old boots. I ran at practice for a while, then started playing. Within a year I was up to playing a complete 60-min game in the backs.

I built a company and we had an IPO fully subscribed when Bre-X hit and wiped my backers out overnight. With them gone, I lost literally everything - except my rugby friends. They took me in and looked after me - for three years! Thank you, Tom, Dawn and Len. Words cannot express.....

It was a real struggle to get back on my feet but another buddy, whom I had brought back into rugby, finally gave me "not a hand-out, but a hand up". Thanks to him restoring my self-esteem, I was soon back creating my own opportunities. Thank you, John. Without you I wouldn't have made it. I finally joined a company training Mounties as a junior partner, and we built an enviable reputation in 5 years before the inevitable partnership squabbles scotched the deal.

I left the company and had just formed a new partnership with - you guessed it - another rugby friend from San Diego. He is an ex-Brit Marine, and we were perfectly placed in my specialist field of police training. We booked and paid for a business trip to Australia and NZ, where we knew there was huge business to be had. An old police buddy from Rhodesia (Welsh, rugby man!) had lined up a $1M contract in Kuwait with his employers. We were all set to rock 'n

I left my Kerrisdale apartment with a definite life path ahead of me and the world at my feet, riding my beloved motorcycle on a glorious sunny August Friday afternoon. I decided to go the long way to avoid traffic, give my rugby buddies at "The Billy" the good news, and enjoy a celebratory pint.

I woke up five days later in ICU. A woman in a panel van had run a stop sign while I was shoulder-checking and I re-decorated her B-pillar with my head. I broke C1/C2 (multiple Jefferson fracture), pelvis (multiple fractures), rt. arm (plated), compressed C4/5/6 so that my left arm is partially numb, smashed my front teeth out and had 3rd, 2nd and 1st degree
burns to both legs (skin grafts required).

When I woke up, the Kiwi nurse asked "Who are you? Are you famous?" "No," I said, "Why?" She said "We've had to turn so many people away in the last 4 days, I just wondered."It was my Legends Rugby Club teammates.

I spent 3+ months in a halo brace and won't bore you with the rest of that story. Suffice to say that the pelvis and arm still haven't mended properly, and the last three years has been a medical and legal nightmare. The point is I AVERAGED 4 sets of visitors a day for OVER THREE MONTHS - most of them my rugby buddies, supported by pals from the RCMP and VPD. Cards, emails and phone calls poured in from military and BSAP (Rhodesian Police) buddies from all over the world - some of whom I had never met while serving and knew only from the internet.

One of my teammates (bless you, Dai bach!) brought me dinner every night for 2 months. My best buddy Chris was there EVERY night, looked after all my affairs, everything. I have no words that come close to expressing my humility and gratitude.

I was one millimetre from being dead or a non-functioning quadraplegic, but I'm back walking, telling lies and drinking fine single malt. I'll never run or play again but how can a man be more blessed? With the rugby community's help, one day at a time......

I never dreamed, not for one instant, that I had been blessed to touch so many lives. I am so stunned and humbled that, every time I think of this, tears just spring to my eyes. I'm also lucky to have a good friend in the Clan, (Morning, Brigadier!) and Kris di Scossa, you Tanganyikan Terror: Wena pumbavu, shamwari. I still have your chair in the back of my car. Come and fetch it....and bring single malt!

The Canadian rugby community has not only been the backbone of my existence since I arrived in Canada 27 years ago, but has supported the heck out of me since the accident. As a former copper and military man from a tough country that no longer exists, I thought I knew what true camaraderie meant. I now know that nothing, repeat nothing, can surpass the rugby community for character, generosity, and just pure kindness.

Bless you all...

Richard Fenner
Proud Member
Legends Rugby Club
Vancouver, B.C.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Bloody mess

The news that Harlequins and Tom Williams have been found guilty by ERC of faking a blood injury in this year's Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster raises more questions than it answers:
  1. What exactly was the evidence? There's been talk of a fake blood capsule hidden in a sock but what evidence did they have...hopefully more than just a wink to the bench?
  2. Are we honestly expected to believe that Williams, on his own initiative, smuggled a blood capsule into the game and that he was a "lone gunman"? ERC fined Harlequins a substantial sum but exonerated Dean Richards and the Quins medical team. On what evidence?
  3. If the ERC found that Harlequins were culpable, why is it that Williams was banned and yet Quins may play in Europe again next season?
  4. Is the going rate for suspensions now as follows:
  • sticking your fingers into someone's eye socket with the possibility of causing blindness: 8 weeks
  • taking an illegal Class A drug: 8 months
  • pretending to be hurt: 1 year?

Monday, 20 July 2009

Walking the plank

Justin "the Plank" Harrison, the Aussie lock, has been banned for eight months by the RFU after admitting taking cocaine when out on the lash with colleagues from Bath Rugby Club at the club's end-of-season party bash in London.

During the night in question Harrison also managed to get punched to the floor in a scuffle with un-named Quins players.

According to Harrison it was an isolated incident that did not involve any other Bath player - he took the cocaine on his own and he had never taken the drug during any rugby season in the past.

All of which sounds somewhat far fetched, given the Matt Stevens cocaine scandal and the investigation into the cases of Michael Lipman, Alex Crockett and Andrew Higgins which will be heard next week...

So, eight months for Harrison and two years for Stevens?

Go figure.

Welsh reprieved

Well done to all concerned at London Welsh RFC for averting disaster and dragging the stricken club out of administration and back from the brink.

The acquisition of the London Welsh by Red Dragon Rugby Limited has satisfied the RFU so the club is, at least for now, once again solvent and so will continue to play in the Championship in the upcoming 2009/10 season and not suffer the indignity of having to start again in the lower tiers of the league system.

Having gone into administration, London Welsh will, however, begin the season with a five-point penalty so the likes of John Dawes, JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and John Taylor can continue spinning in their graves to an extent (if they were dead, which they're not - obviously).

Sunday, 19 July 2009


Just to prove that I'm entirely unbiased when it comes to slagging off Welsh rugby players, it appears that Wales and Lions star Mike Phillips has now managed to get himself into a spot of bother, having been arrested over an alleged assault on a taxi driver in a dispute over a fare in Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan.

Phillips joins other sporting luminaries such as Dennis Wise and Joey Barton in having run-ins with cabbies - hardly a club you'd be desperate to join.

Of course, I must stress that no charges have yet been brought and Mr Phillips' agent has said that there was "nothing at all" in the allegation.

Then again, his agent is none other than Mike Burton, the first Englishman ever to be sent off in a rugby international (Battle of Brisbane, 1975)...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The future's bright?

So, it seems that rumours of the demise of our favourite smooth-legged orange one, Mr Gavin Church, were premature.

Tangoman is not, after all, planning to quit the game to spend more time with his family and his new-found passion for sailing.

The question that many have been asking is "would he have been missed?"

A seriously talented athlete, Mr Church's undoubted vast potential has been somewhat overwhelmed by a succession of injuries, a penchant for living his life between the covers of OK Magazine and an obvious inability to hold his ale. When you chuck in the fact that he appeared to have nothing but contempt for his peers and team mates (as evidenced by his 2005 autobiography), I doubt too many in the game would have been saddened by his his retirement - certainly not this side of the Severn.

So now I suppose we wait until the next lurid headline.

Mr Cipriani please take note...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Le Hask

James "Le Hask" Haskell appears determined not to let his move across the Channel to Paris keep him out of the limelight.

Having been the proud owner of his very own personal website well before actually establishing himself in the Wasps 1st team squad, Le Hask's omission from both England squads (Elite and Saxons) this week was greeted within minutes of the announcement by a "tweet" on his Twitter page in which he declared that he was "gutted."

Not content with that, up popped Le Hask again, this time in an interview with tabloid rag "The Mirror" in which he claimed he would "let my rugby do the talking" (thereby letting his mouth do the talking).

You would have thought that by now Le Hask might have twigged that it's precisely this sort of bollocks that gets right up Johnno's nose (if you'll forgive the rather disturbing image that such a phrase conjours up).

Let us pray

The news that the Right Reverend Graham Henry will be leading his flock of Kiwis right through to RWC 2011 has received a somewhat underwhelming response in general.

But consider this:
  • given that the NZRU re-employed Henry after the 2007 RWC debacle, they were hardly going to sack him now, were they?

  • since the departure of Robbie Deans, who else is there, really?

  • despite predictions that the All Blacks' could finish bottom of the Tri-Nations this year and given their distinctly dodgy form of late, this might actually be viewed in a positive light in the long term. No danger of them peaking between World Cups this time!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Verdict II

So, with the Lions now back from South Africa, what have we learned? Try this for starters...

  1. The Lions brand is alive and kicking. Yes, there are issues with preparation time, length of tours, standard of provincial opposition and ticket prices but this group have restored the one thing that went AWOL in 2005 - credibility.

  2. BOD is, without a shadow of a doubt, GOD. Player of the tour by miles.

  3. Peter de Villiers is, without a shadow of a doubt, a clown. And not a very funny one at that.

  4. The players return to Britain and Ireland knowing that they so very nearly won a series in the Southern Hemisphere. Coulda, woulda, shoulda? Maybe, but don't underestimate the effect that winning that 3rd Test could have - for many it was their first ever victory over a 3N team.

  5. For the Irish boys, the form of Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe - along with the excellent BOD - bodes well, although there may well be concerns about the tight 5 going forward. And the less said about ROG the better.

  6. For Wales, the fact that they ultimately provided the Lions first choice front row must be a cause for optimism, and they can safely claim to now have 2 genuine world class operators in Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips. If they can forget about Gavin Henson and keep Martyn Williams going they should go from strength to strength.

  7. The Scots will have learned precious little, other than they have some way to go to catch up with the others. In reality none of the Scots was anywhere near the Test team but you never know - Messrs Blair, Ford, Hines and Murray may well have derived something from the trip that they can take back into the Scottish camp.

  8. As for England, it should not go unnoticed that they had 8 players involved in that 3rd Test victory. Upfront England are looking in good shape - Sheridan, Croft and Worsley all had excellent tours, while Simon Shaw was simply immense. And even Lee Mears and Phil Vickery were in good form until the 1st test scrummaging shambles. Behind the scrum Riki Flutey can now be considered a fully fledged international 12 - a problem position ever since the retirement of Will Greenwood - and Ugo Monye also had his moments, adding to the talent already to Martin Johnson in the back three. Now if they could just squeeze another 2 years out of Shaw and keep a certain Mr Wilkinson fit...

Monday, 6 July 2009

Pain in the neck

Pre-season training begins tomorrow at Chesham.

Sadly I won't be participating as I have a sore neck having pulled a muscle between my shoulder blades. I picked up the injury this weekend whilst MOWING THE LAWN.

This, following a calf injury last weekend after I joined in a kids' tug of war at the school summer fĂȘte (without first warming up).

Yet more proof - if proof were needed - that I'm old and past it.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Lions tackle gouging

Breaking news from South Africa...

Seemingly determined to restore pride with a consolation victory in the 3rd Test in Johannesburg, it has emerged that all 22 of the British and Irish Lions playing squad will be issued with revolutionary new "anti-gouging" safety goggles ahead of the game.

A prototype of the goggles, manufactured by Lions kit supplier Adidas, was given the green light at an emergency session of the IRB Safety Committee in Pretoria late last night and a consignment of the approved goggles is, we understand, due to be delivered to the Lions training camp on Saturday morning.

"It's all a bit last-minute," admitted Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree, "but we believe that being able to see what's going on without a Springbok finger in our eyes will be a distinct advantage."

Meanwhile, back in the South African camp, coach Peter de Villiers expressed his dismay at the latest developments. Having been forced to offer his insincere apologies for his recent comments following the 2nd Test, de Villiers claimed that the measures taken by the Lions to prevent gouging were "inappropriate and disproportionate."

"This is a wholly unnecessary step," he claimed, "especially after I have this week paid out of my own pocket for each member of the South African squad to have a deluxe manicure."

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The curious case of Monsieur Bastareaud

Yet another twist to the Bastardo saga...

First there was the alleged assault by up to 5 thugs in Wellington.

Then it transpired that there had been no assault and that in fact M. Bastardo had consumed a few too many sherbets and fallen in his hotel room, cutting his face in the process.

Then reports surfaced in French newspaper Le Parisien at the weekend that his injuries may have been caused by a punch from a team-mate in order to "calm him down" (claims denied by said team-mates Louis Picamoles and Fulgence Ouedraogo who were named in the reports).

And now, according to Stade Francais President Max Guazzini, Bastardo has been admitted to a Paris psychiatric hospital for "severe psychological problems."

Furthermore Guazzini blames it all on the "the relentlessness of the press against a boy of 20".

Tune in tomorrow for an entirely different version of events, no doubt.

(PS - in an earlier post I may have implied that New Zealand, and Wellington in particular, has a problem with thuggery. I hereby apologise for any inference drawn from my post and am happy to state for the record that there are no thugs in New Zealand and that all Kiwis are lovely fluffy bunnies.)