Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Total Flanker Awards 2011

My Lords, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the 5th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony.

Yes, another year has passed by as if driven by Sebastian Vettel and here we are once again, deep into the festive season and poised to pay homage to the achievements of those who have caught our attention during the last 12 months.

It’s hardly been a year without incident, with political infighting, controversial refereeing, dwarf tossing and the very occasional outbreak of rugby to keep us entertained and so, without further ado, let’s gets straight to our first award of the evening, the Total Flanker Tales of the Unexpected Award.

One nominee for this award is the Welsh rugby team. Who’d have thought during Warren Gatland’s annus horribilis during 2010 that he’d be able to turn out such a competitive outfit at the World Cup? Another deserved nominee is the Saracens club. Who would have expected the South African-owned outfit to pack their backline with such exciting young English-qualified talent as Owen Farrell, Alex Goode, Ben Spencer, Brad Barritt and David Strettle (oh, and Charlie Hodgson)? Most unexpected. But no, the Award in fact goes to the entire nation of New Zealand. I hold up my hands to say that I believed that holding the RWC in New Zealand would be an error, that the infrastructure would struggle to cope and that the public’s obsession with the All Blacks would be to the detriment of the tournament as a whole. How wrong I was as the nation of New Zealand simply embraced the event and put on a superb tournament. I only wish I could have been there.

So, onwards and upwards to the Total Flanker Soap Opera Award. Only one possible winner here and, while the Lapasset v Beaumont spat at the IRB did its best to compete, the Rugby Football Union wins this award hands down. After a year which started so promisingly the RFU entered the last month of the year with no permanent CEO (Ian Ritchie having in fact been appointed earlier today), no Performance Director, no permanent Head Coach, an utterly discredited Management Board and more votes of no confidence and political infighting than you could shake a stick at. Eastenders and Coronation Street don’t even come close.

And now to the Total Flanker Utter Disgrace Award. And no, this is not another dig at the RFU, or an excuse for berating the England rugby squad, or a tirade against Prince Michael of Tindall. No, the much deserved recipients of this award are the honourable gentlemen of the British press corps whose rabid, moralising pursuit of scandal in New Zealand did them no credit whatsoever and the fact that they remain so smug after the fallout from England’s campaign is, in all honesty, a complete and utter disgrace. Never was an award so aptly named.

Moving swiftly along, our next award this evening is the much sought after Total Flanker Ascent into Sainthood Award. One illegal tackle in a World Cup semi final was all it took to start the process of beatification for Wales skipper Sam Warburton, whilst it seems that every time the Right Reverend Graham Henry now opens his mouth the media lap up his words as if they were at the Sermon on the Mount. But no, there is only one man this award could go to. Step forward St. Richie of McCaw whose one-legged, gravity-defying performance against Australia in the World Cup semi final simply beggared belief.

Next up is the Total Flanker How the Mighty Have Fallen Award. Nominees for this award are all, sadly, associated with England’s failed World Cup campaign. Martin Johnson – still a legend as a player but visibly diminished by events in New Zealand; Jonny Wilkinson – again, will always deservedly be a hero to English rugby fans but was reduced to blaming the balls for his kicking implosion at the World Cup; and the winner, Chris Ashton. I realise that this sounds more than a tad harsh, but I really did have high hopes for Ashton - half way through the 6 Nations he was flying (quite literally) but, when it mattered, when it really mattered, he simply did not deliver (hatfuls of tries against Georgia and Romania notwithstanding). I can’t help but think, though, that if he lost the swallow dive, lost the off-field antics and lost the onfield petulance he could be still be truly phenomenal.

Nearly there now – our final award is the Total Flanker Lucky Bastard Award. The clear winner of this gong is none other than Mr Warren Gatland. After another mostly underwhelming 6 Nations from Wales, Gatland looked to be pinning his hopes on the return of the prodigal son, Gavin Henson, to restore flagging Welsh hopes. Fortunately for Gatland, Henson injured his hand and was ruled out. Equally luckily, Stephen Jones was injured in the warm up before the friendly at Twickenham, allowing utility back Rhys Priestland to step in. And to cap it all, skipper Matthew Rees was ruled out with injury, the captaincy passing to the inspirational Sam Warburton. Not so much a meticulously planned campaign then, more like a series of extremely fortunate events.

And that’s it – all over for another year. For those with a short attention span here’s a list of our Awards this evening:

Total Flanker Tales of the Unexpected Award – the entire nation of New Zealand
Total Flanker Soap Opera Award – the RFU
Total Flanker Utter Disgrace Award - the British Press
Total Flanker Ascent into Sainthood Award – Richie McCaw
Total Flanker How the Mighty Have Fallen Award – Chris Ashton
Total Flanker Lucky Bastard Award – Warren Gatland

New Big Cheese at HQ

The Rugby Football Union has announced the appointment of former chief exec at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, Ian Ritchie, as its new CEO.

Must say, he looks good in a blazer.

He'll fit right in.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bye bye Jonny

91 England caps, 6 Lions caps, 1,246 points, 4 World Cups, 2 Lions tours.

The stats, however, only tell a fraction of the story.

Had Jonny Wilkinson not suffered such a succession of serious injuries after 2003 he would have undoubtedly set benchmarks in international rugby that would surely never have been matched.

And yet doubts persist (not least in his own mind) about whether he was/is a truly great player, doubts which should simply be dismissed.

From 1999 to 2003 no other fly half came close to Wilkinson on the rugby pitch. Forget talk of being manufactured or of being only a kicker and a tackler. Put simply, Jonny was a phenomenal rugby player.

And as for that drop goal...

Furthermore, his international retirement is a typically selfless act. How easy would it have been to hang on in there and win another 3 caps off the bench to take him to the magic 100? That Wilkinson instead chose to relieve the new management team of the pressure of having to decide whether to leave out England's favourite son is a mark of the man.

Enjoy the sun on your back in Toulon, Jonny...

Monday, 12 December 2011

Get Carter

Those wondering as to what might have happened to Sébastien Chabal need wonder no further.

Last Thursday Chabal (or, given his energetic contribution, a 2006 time-travelling version of Chabal, complete with posh home counties accent) turned up at Twickenham under the pseudonym “John Carter” where he led Oxford to victory over a far better looking (‘twas ever thus) Cambridge in this year’s Varsity Match.

So now you know.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Bye-bye Wally

Sad news about the re-retirement of Steve "Wally" Thompson, following another neck injury - not least because (unlike Ickle Shane) he departs the game with a whimper rather than a bang.

Although his second coming was nowhere near as impressive as his first, the game will still miss the man who (in my humble opinion) was the world's best hooker in 2003.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Sweet Revenge

Ah, Chris Ashton.

Having last season been punched into next week by Manu Tuilagi, on Saturday he exacted his revenge by pulling Manu's brother's hair. Sweet revenge indeed.

This time last year Ashton was being talked about by many as possibly the best winger in world rugby. And today? A swallow-diving, dwarf-wrestling, maid-abusing, hair-pulling show off. Time to grow up.


Belated congrats to the England Women’s rugby team who completed their series victory over world champions New Zealand Black Ferns on Saturday at Esher RFC.

That they were denied a clean sweep – Saturday’s 8-all draw sitting alongside their 10-0 victory at Twickenham the previous Saturday and their their 21-7 win on Tuesday – should take nothing away from their achievement.

The fact that both teams managed to play 3-match international series in the space of a week is also noteworthy and a testament to the players’ fitness.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Shane who?

And so, a fond farewell to Ickle Shane Williams.

Although personally never wholly convinced by the little maestro (which I realise sounds a tad churlish), there's no doubt that he was capable of moments of magic and, although not quite the fairy tale ending, there was still barely a dry eye in the Millenium Stadium when he crossed for the final try against Australia on Saturday.

Furthermore I doubt we'll see his like again now that behemoth wingers have become the norm.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

And so it continues...

I have to admit that I’m a tad fatigued by the ongoing farce at HQ to the extent that I can barely be arsed to comment.

The latest development appears to be that Prince Mike of Tindall, fined £25k and dropped from the England squad for going out and getting very pissed on a management-sanctioned and RFU-funded piss up, has now had his fine reduced to £15k and has been restored to the squad - largely, it appears, on the basis that he was too pissed to remember what happened and therefore could not possibly have misled the England management as to his actions.

The man coming to this conclusion was chief mischief maker Martyn Thomas in his last act as acting CEO, a man who, having escaped his own misconduct charge, might be described as having had nothing to lose.
Entirely coincidentally, when asked this morning by the BBC who he thought might have leaked the three confidential Rugby World Cup reviews to The Times last week, Brian Moore commented that the source might well have been someone with nothing to lose.
Just saying...

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


No, not leeks, LEAKS!
The revelations behind England's Rugby World Cup failure, contained in the three confidential reviews leaked to The Times, are shocking enough and, predictably, have spawned a plethora of “I told you so” articles from the holier-than-thou British press corps.

The fact that the three CONFIDENTIAL reports – by the RFU, by the players' union and by the professional clubs – were leaked in the first place is also utterly indicative of the current malaise at the top of the English game. The word ' disgrace' is overused but in this instance is entirely apt.

The only morsel of comfort is that, with this all now out in the open, England rugby might, just might, be able to (in the words of Edwyn Collins) rip it up and start again.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

100 Pigs

News today that the Samoan RWC team manager Mathew Vaea has been fined 100 pigs by his home village for alleged drunken behaviour in New Zealand.

Village leaders have apparently have ordered Vaea to pay 100 sows for bringing his chiefly title of "tuala" into disrepute.

Reports remain unconfirmed that Mike Tindall will, at his RFU appeal on Thursday, offer to pay his £25k fine in livestock.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

All aboard the bandwagon

The sport of Rob Andrew-bashing appears to be the latest craze sweeping the nation’s media in the wake of Martin Johnson’s resignation.

For reasons previously hinted at, it is not a bandwagon upon which this blog will be jumping.

It seems to me that certain journalists and commentators simply resent the fact that Andrew has somehow been able to survive amidst the political maelstrom that habitually engulfs the committee rooms and corridors at HQ.

By virtue of the fact that he is last man standing, Rob Andrew is a convenient target for what can only be described as a media witch hunt. And that, I'm afraid, is more than a tad pathetic.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The King is dead. Long live the King?

So, Martin Johnson has fallen on his sword. Frankly I don’t blame him. Who in their right mind would wish to continue working for such a dysfunctional bunch of muppets? He deserved better.

The priority now is for the RFU to get its shit together. Don't hold your breath but then, and only then, will England be able to begin the Long March towards 2015.

What England players need to feel when they enter the international environment is that it is a marked step up from their clubs. It’s somewhat fanciful, but here’s an elite coaching team who could drag the England team, kicking and screaming, along the track to the next World Cup:

Head Coach/ Manager: Nick Mallet – available, experienced, successful and a strong enough character to deal with the egos in the squad, coaching team and, more importantly, the RFU.

Forwards Coach: Dorian West or Dean Ryan or anyone who might finally persuade English forwards to produce quick ball.

Scrum Coach: Phil Keith-Roach or Mike Cron – why settle for someone still learning his job when you can employ one of the top 2 scrummaging gurus in world rugby?

Attack Coach: Brian Ashton – or if not him the closest thing we have to Brian Ashton – Mike Catt.

Defence Coach: Dave Ellis - available, experienced, successful…

Kicking Coach: Dave Alred – has his issues, but is still arguably the best kicking guru out there.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


The shocking news earlier this week that 32 year old former Springbok flanker Solly Tyibilika had been shot dead in a Cape Town bar should put all the petty shenanigans at the RFU into sharp perspective.

It should do but it won't.

On the slate

What's in the bottle Mike?
It turns out it's all been one giant misunderstanding.

Not only did the RFU sanction the England players' now infamous night out in Queenstown, the RFU also agreed to pick up the tab and re-invoice Mike Tindall £25k.

A source close to Mrs Tindall confirms that she fully understands that, as stand-in skipper, it was Mike's shout. It is believed that she is planning to auction off a couple of tiaras to cover the cost.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


Following Delon Armitage's suspension from rugby this week for a fourth time in 11 months, his rap sheet for 2011 now reads as follows:

-         8 weeks for pushing a doping control officer;

-         3 weeks for punching Northampton’s Stephen Myler;

-         1 week for high tackle on Scotland's Chris Paterson;

-         5 weeks for dangerous tackle on Bath wing Tom Biggs and 3 weeks (to run concurrently) for kneeing lock Dave Attwood.

Armitage is fast becoming something of a recidivist and clearly suspensions have little effect as a deterrent. Perhaps it’s time to start hitting him where it hurts – in the pocket.

Friday, 11 November 2011

On the wings of a Dove

Welsh fans can now rest easy. Although the Ospreys have turned their backs on years of Welsh rugby tradition by not allowing their players to spray tan, the WRU has ridden to the rescue of the Welsh metrosexual by announcing that it has signed a deal with Dove Men+Care for the title sponsorship of the Wales v Australia game in December.

Audible sighs of relief all round, no doubt, as Messrs Hook, Phillips, Henson & Co retain access to their essential skincare products.

"As a brand which combines powerful technology and care, Dove Men+Care makes a natural partner for rugby” said a spokesperson.

Or some such bollocks.

Where's the soap?



Mike Tindall’s removal from the England squad is utterly pointless given that his England career was almost certainly over in any event and, given that the night out in Queenstown was authorised by management, the £25k fine is just barmy. Talk about an expensive night out. I’d be straight on the blower to my solicitor.

Meanwhile the suspended £5k fine levied against each of Chris Ashton and James Haskell for inappropriate banter with a hotel maid in Dunedin is somewhat bizarre given that the RFU inquest concluded that the allegations of serious wrong-doing were “entirely false”. Go figure.

I'm sure, however, that it will be of great comfort to the players that they have the right to appeal to the recently-ousted RFU acting chief executive, Martyn Thomas. Or maybe not.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

My Life as a Basket Case

Published today, Jonny Wilkinson's stunning autobiography, My Life as a Basket Case:

"I...lower myself into the water until I'm completely submerged, and then I let out a scream of total frustration. I come up for air and then submerge myself again and scream again. No words, just pure desperation. I carry on screaming as long and as loud as I can and I don't stop until I am hoarse. I cannot find any other way of dealing with this non-stop barrage of thoughts and negativity."

"I am so desperate to get it right, so driven by the annoyance and fear of not getting it perfect, that the anger I feel inside begins to express itself physically. I don't know what it is, but my frustration is so intense I start shouting at the walls, screaming obscenities."

"When my left foot lets me down, I stamp down hard on it. At one stage, I am so livid that, before I know it, I am sinking my teeth into my hand, trying to bite right through the skin between my thumb and index finger."

"I have visualised perfect outcomes of every kick, but when my practice doesn't match that, I have to take it out on something, so I start tearing my T-shirt apart. This becomes habitual; I start getting through way too many T-shirts."

Available at all good book shops and psychiatric clinics.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Making plans for Nigel...

According to Llanelli Scarlets coach Nigel Davies, some games are being ruined by players cheating in scrums.

In other news, Davies also claims that the earth is round, the Pope is a Catholic and that Dolly Parton sleeps on her back.

Monday, 7 November 2011

England - a 5 point plan

Yep, me again, still banging on about England.

Here it is, the Total Flanker solution to all of England's woes - a brief 5 point plan to ensure that England conquer the rugby world in 2015...

1.      Sort out HQ – the internal bickering and political manoeuvring has to stop. Get it sorted and start giving proper support to the team management.

2.      Out with the old and in with the new- no pussy-footing around and no talk of transitional periods. Any player considered unlikely to be around for selection in 2015 should not be picked for England again. Experience wins World Cups. Ergo, young English talent needs to be given opportunities sooner rather than later to build a wealth of international experience come 2015. George Ford, Owen Farrell et al should be fast-tracked into the elite squad. And, while we're at it, appoint a young captain for the long term.

3.      Bring in the best - use the RFU's considerable financial muscle to bring in best of breed as head coach and allow him to go out and cherry pick his coaching team. And forget the idea of making Martin Johnson into some kind of disenfranchised figurehead - either he's the big cheese who runs the show or he moves on.

4.      Get tough - no stupid haircuts, no stupid swallow-dives, no stupid extra-curricular stuff. Get the squad to buy into a code of conduct and enforce it rigorously. If they have any pride in themselves at all the players themselves should insist on this.

5.      Sign Sam Tomkins - however it's done just make it happen.

Not exactly rocket science...

(Someone sign this man now - POSTSCRIPT)

News today that Saracens have signed Sam's brother, Joel Tomkins, from Wigan for £250,000. Do you think that anyone at Sarries realises that they've signed the wrong Tomkins?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Someone sign this man now

Spent yesterday afternoon in front of the telly watching the England v Australia Rugby League Test at Wembley.

Aside from being reassured by the fact that the refereeing performance was even worse than any witnessed at the World Cup, what stood out for me was the performance of English fullback Sam Tomkins.

With Premiership clubs allowed make one marquee signing outside of the salary cap as from the 2012-13 season, someone really should should move heaven and earth to get this guy signed up.

Blessed with pace, acceleration, a superb step and dexterous hands, Tomkins would be a sensational Union player and would make an impact on the England team not seen since Jason Robinson.

You know it makes sense.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Not before time

Reports are coming in of an outbreak of common sense in TW1 of pandemic proportions.

First came news that the machiavellian Martyn Thomas is being forced to step down from his highly paid role as acting CEO of the RFU as well as his role as as chairman of Rugby World Cup 2015.

Then came confirmation that the so-called independent review of England's World Cup campaign, commissioned by Thomas and led by his opinionated ally Fran Cotton, is to be abandoned.

What next? The removal of the discredited Management Board? The appointment of a competent CEO who is left to get on with his job? The appointment of an England head coach who is allowed to bring in his chosen coaching team? Has the world gone mad?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Off colour

Seismic changes across the Severn, as perennial underachievers the Ospreys ban fake tans and coloured boots.
As attempted re-brands go, the declaration that players are now not allowed to have a spray tan is pretty radical, and may go some way to explaining the absence of preening prima donnas Mike Phillips, James Hook and Gavin Henson from the Liberty Stadium this season.

Just to prove, however, that the Ospreys’ priorities may still be a little off-kilter, a player’s status at the club will now be judged by the colour of his boots, with players only allowed to wear coloured boots once they have played over 50 times for the Ospreys or over 15 times for their country.  

Coming up next: Ospreys announce that only the club captain may shave or wax his legs.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Should he stay or should he go now?

...if he goes there will be trouble, and if he stays there will be double.

Rumours suggest that the powers-that-be at Twickenham now want Martin Johnson to stay as England manager on the condition that he will have to agree to a cull of his coaching team.
Who those powers-that-be are remains unclear. The dead-man-walking Martyn Thomas? The totally discredited Management Board? The “independent” Fran Cotton? Rob Andrew?
Whoever they may be, history shows that any such plan is just plain idiotic. I seem to recall the RFU tried something similar when Andy Robinson was in charge, sacking his coaching staff and foisting John Wells, Brian Ashton and Mike Ford upon him. We all remember how successful that was.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Whither England 2011

Four years ago, after the 2007 World Cup, I wrote an optimistic post entitled “Whither England”, such optimism being based on the presumption that England would move forward with a degree of stability.

Stability? What was I thinking? Four years on and here we are after another World Cup with an England squad in crisis, a coaching team on the verge of being disbanded and a governing body not fit for purpose and awash with internal investigations and reviews.      

The good news is that the news isn’t all bad. A poor World Cup aside, the following players can all still be said to have had a decent last 12-18 months in an England shirt and should form the basis of the England squad in 2012:

Alex Corbisiero, Matt Stevens, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Tom Palmer, Courtney Lawes, Tom Croft, Tom Wood, James Haskell, Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Manu Overboard, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden.

That’s not a bad core group and, if you also consider the success of the England Under 20s last season and the fact that Tigers fly half George Ford has just been named IRB young player of the year, there is every reason to think that the bare ingredients are there for England to be successful.

Unfortunately it's not just going to be about the playing personnel as we come back to that word again – stability. For England to prosper we will need a stable and supportive RFU as well as a senior coaching team willing to embrace whatever it takes to produce a winning team.

Put simply, what is needed is a leaner, fitter, more technically accomplished and utterly professional England squad, doing the simple things well.

I won’t be holding my breath.

Tindall's Pants

Mike Tindall as you've never seen him before (unless you're reading this Mrs T):

The cause, Rugby for Heroes, is a noble one.

The timing, however, might have been a tad more judicious. And as for the caption...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Reasons to be cheerful, 1 2 3

  1. George Ford – IRB Junior Player of the Year.
  2. Courtney Lawes – named in a composite team of the Rugby World Cup. OK, so it was a team voted for by Facebook Group Queer Eye for the Rugby Guy but, hey, right now we’ll take what we can get.
  3. Err, that's all.
[For those interested the full Queer Eye for the Rugby Guy team reads: 1. Cian Healy, 2. Ross Ford, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Courtney Lawes, 5. Victor Matfield, 6. Inaki Basauri, 7. David Pocock, 8. Sergio Parisse, 9. Mike Phillips, 10. Francois Trinh-Duc, 11. James O'Connor, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Maxime Mermoz, 14. Richard Kahui, 15. Frans Steyn.]

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Four more years

And so it is over. Another Rugby World Cup has come and gone - another 7 weeks of my life that I'll never reclaim.

For what it's worth, a few reflections:
  1. The Final: Congratulations again to New Zealand. Much deserved and the 24 year old monkey is finally off the back. But, amidst the understandable euphoria down under, there really does need to be an acknowledgement of the French contribution to a fabulous match. Written off by everyone (me included), they were just magnificent. Perhaps Marc Le Fou is a genius after all.
  2. The Final#2: The referee had half of a very good game. Mr Joubert did a particularly good job refereeing France. It would have been nice if he'd also refereed New Zealand. Just saying.
  3. The Final#3: The IRB have fined France for advancing towards the Haka on Sunday, an act which added hugely to the drama and theatre of the occasion but which was in defiance of IRB regulations which stipulate that the opposition team should stay on or behind their own 10 metre line. It's about time someone told the IRB where to shove this particular piece of politically correct bureaucratic bollocks and I hope the French simply refuse to pay.
  4. England: that the Rugby World Cup was very nearly won by a team that England beat comfortably back in February should be a sobering thought.
  5. Game of the tournament: the Final. For sheer drama it really had everything.
  6. Try of the tournament:- Didn't see it live owing to the ungodly hour, but the dummying, side-stepping effort from Welsh prop Gethin Jenkins against Namibia takes some beating, even allowing for the opposition.
  7. Player of the tournament: Mike Tindall. Just kidding. No, my vote goes to newly crowned IRB player of the year, Thierry Dusautoir, who was immense throughout despite the chaos of the French campaign and who produced one of the greatest performances of all time on Sunday. McCaw, Kaino, Warburton and Harinordiquy were also contenders. And yes, I realise that all the aforementioned are backrowers. So sue me.
  8. Hair of the tournament: Without his marvellous barnet, Radike Samo is only 5 foot 7.
  9. Special mention: to France, for allowing the All Blacks to play in black in the Final, despite winning the toss to decide choice of kit.
  10. And finally, the Total Flanker Dunderhead of the Tournament Award - for all the reasons previously mentioned on this blog, the British Press. Disgraceful performance.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Phil Vickery: Masterchef

Putting the World Cup firmly to one side, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to congratulate former England skipper Phil Vickery on his victory in Celebrity Masterchef this weekend.

He may not have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2007, but surely winning the coveted Masterchef trophy is compensation enough.

The Raging  Bull saw off the challenge of broadcaster Kirsty Wark and actor Nick Pickard in the competition's final.

The winning menu:
  • Scallops with black pudding, pea shoots, crispy Parma ham and apple puree
  • Fillet of lamb with baby carrots, asparagus wrapped in mint and Parma ham and fondant potatoes
  • Orange and chocolate bread and butter pudding served with clotted cream.
Bang goes the diet...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

RWC Final 2011 - Initial thoughts

Many congratulations to the All Blacks - much deserved winners over the course of the tournament but boy did you ride your luck today.

In a cracking match only heroic defence and some debatable decisions kept les Bleus at bay today. Against all expectations I thought the French were just excellent and were unlucky not to get a result - but I guess they used up all their luck in the semi-final.

And it would have been nice for Messrs Henry and McCaw to have acknowledged the French effort during the post-match TV love-in.

Just saying...

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Total Flanker Guide to: the Rugby World Cup Final 2011

How does one preview a foregone conclusion?

Because a foregone conclusion is surely what Sunday’s Rugby World Cup Final is. The impression I get from what I read and from what I hear is that the world expects New Zealand to stroll to victory on Sunday. And quite right too, based on what has gone before.

There is always the possibility that France might be able to dredge up a performance from somewhere. But from where? In the pool games they summoned up 10 minutes against Japan, maybe 15 minutes against each of New Zealand and Canada and nothing at all against Tonga. They then impressed for 20 minutes in the quarter final against England but followed that by more or less refusing to play any rugby against Wales in the semi final. So that’s a total of around 60 minutes half-decent rugby at this tournament which, even were they to reproduce this on Sunday, would still  be nowhere near enough.

There is also the possibility of an All Black choke, but I wouldn’t count on it. If the choke was going to happen anywhere it would have occurred against Australia last week when the tension dial was turned up to 11. I sense that reaching the final has considerably eased the pressure on the New Zealand team. Might this be counter-productive and lead to complacency? I suspect not.

From a neutral’s perspective I hope that France produce that elusive performance out of nowhere and make a real game of it. There have only been 2 finals in Rugby World Cup history where the result has not been close – 1987 and 1999 – and both times it was the French who finished as heavily beaten runners-up. Who knows whether or not this French team can reverse that trend? I hope so. If New Zealand are to be crowned champions, as we all expect, let’s hope at least that they are made to work for it.

Diolch a nos da

So Wales will go home having finished fourth at this World Cup, a prize they would probably have taken before the tournament began.

Apologies if this sounds as if I'm pissing on Welsh fireworks but, despite being praised to the rafters by the media and the hysteria generated by the quarter final victory over the Irish, the bare facts show that Wales ultimately came up short at this tournament.

That Wales have some talented young players is not in doubt but, having lost to South Africa, France and Australia, the jury is still out on the question of whether this so-called “Golden Generation” can deliver in tight games against the top teams.

Just saying…

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

'The Match'

No, not THAT match.

I've been contacted by photographer David Matches who has spent the last 5 years taking a series of life-sized portraits of amateur and international rugby players in New Zealand, resulting in an exhibition - ‘The Match’ - currently being shown in the NZ Portrait Gallery in Wellington, closing on 1st November.

The portraits, photographed between 2006 and 2011, are designed to capture the essence of rugby with players being photographed as they left the field of play before the effects of the match could evaporate, stood against a white paper backdrop taped to the clubhouse, with only a single photograph of each player being taken.

Great concept - I admit I'm a bit of a sucker for this kind of thing and am delighted to give David a bit of a plug. And if the photos are ever turned into a book...

For more info please visit or

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

To cheat or not to cheat...

Warren Gatland has admitted that he considered cheating on Saturday by faking an injury to one of his team's props to take a game to uncontested scrums but decided not to do so because it was "morally wrong" (well, duh).

And, in a somewhat bizarre application of logic, he also suggested that because he decided not to cheat, the referee should not have sent off Sam Warburton. Go figure.

I can only imagine the hellfire and damnation that would have descended upon Martin Johnson had he, rather than Warren Gatland, made the same admission...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Seeing Red

As the debate about Sam Warburton’s red card rages on I must admit that my initial reaction of astonishment and outrage has given way to a more considered view.

Given the IRB directive on the tip tackle, Alain Rolland really had no choice other than to send the Welsh skipper off. That other refs in the RWC have not applied the law correctly in the tournament is irrelevant. Regrettably he had to go.

However, despite playing for most of the match with a man down, a dysfunctional lineout and a scrummage in retreat (which probaby should have been penalised or more than one occasion), Wales still had more than enough possession and field position to win the game. Poor decision making in the absence of Rhys Priestland cost them dearly and the fact the rookie fly half was missed so badly doesn't reflect at all well on either of James Hook or Stephen Jones.

All that said, my initial view that this was an immense Welsh performance in the face of adversity remains undiminished. In particular Jamie Roberts, Toby Faletau, Leigh ½ p and McDonalds Phillips were all absolutely top drawer and the team can be rightly proud of its efforts. Crikey, even Luke Charteris is now beginning to look like a rugby player.

For those claiming that Wales are well set for RWC 2015, however, a note of caution. Yes, Wales currently have a good young squad with loads of promise but, as Francois Piennaar said on Saturday, the World Cup is all about the here and now. Wales were superbly prepared for this particular tournament. Arguably, therefore, 2011 was their one chance to land the biggest of prizes and, for whatever reason, they failed to take it. Who knows whether the same opportunity will present itself in four years time?

Sunday, 16 October 2011


A ruthlessly physical performance today full of skill, intensity, athleticism and brutality. And that was just St. Richie of McCaw. I have to admit I have never before witnessed a man strip the ball from the grasp of another while upside down mid-somersault. Truly extraordinary.

The rest of the All Blacks weren't half bad either.

On the basis of today's performance we may as well just hand over the Webb Ellis trophy to New Zealand right now and save everyone the bother of turning up next Sunday. France simply haven't a prayer.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Glorious Failure

Hats off to Wales - a hugely brave, immensley committed and utterly  disciplined performance from the men in red today in the face of adversity and a series of unfortunate events - the loss of Adam Jones, the ridiculous sending off of their captain (red, Monsiueur Rolland, are you serious?), a conversion hitting the post and a last gasp penalty missing by inches.

With 14 men for over 60 minutes the performance was nothing short of heroic - and Toby Faletau in particular came of age as an international player of serious quality.

Wales have achieved much in this tournament, not least keeping the likes of Mike Phillips and Andy Powell off the front pages of the newspapers. Ultimately, however, for whatever reason, the Welsh campiagn has ended in failure - glorious failure undoubtedly - but failure nevertheless.

How very, very British.

This blog is now officially French.

Sour Grapes

South African rugby fans appear to have taken their team's exit in the RWC quarter final last week very badly indeed, blaming referee Bryce Lawrence for costing them the game.

And, despite plenty of evidence that Lawrence is merely an incompetent fool as opposed to a biased cheat, the head the University of Cape Town's Sports Science Department, Tim Noakes, has now waded into the debate, effectively accusing Lawrence of match fixing.

"When science is manipulated to produce a predetermined outcome, it's called bent science," says Noakes, very scientifically.

"When the outcome of a sporting event is predetermined, we call it match fixing."

"There was something wrong with that game. It seems it was predetermined."

Sounds conclusive enough to me but, in an added twist, Noakes has called on the IRB to prove that South Africa's exit from the World Cup was not fixed and, by asking them to prove a negative, has ensured that his theory cannot be disproved.

Clever chaps, these scientists.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fear factor

I must admit I’m looking forward to watching a bit of rugby this weekend without having to wake up in the morning feeling sick with anticipation and fear. Well done England.

So, far from feeling envious, I in fact pity the French, the Welsh, the Aussies and the Kiwis.

Especially the Kiwis, as New Zealand’s semi-final against Australia on Sunday has taken on a national significance way beyond the imagination of mere mortals.

The New Zealand nation has had, let’s face it, a disastrous year. After the devastating earthquakes in Christchurch and the mining disaster at Pike River, now comes an oil tanker aground in the Bay of Plenty on the North Island, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean and polluting kilometres of otherwise pristine coastline – and this in a country that justifiably takes massive pride in its natural beauty.

And so to the rugby – a chance for New Zealanders to put their annus horribilis year behind them – a  chance for the All Blacks to progress to the World Cup Final – a chance to compete for a prize that, despite consistently being ranked #1 in world rugby, the All Blacks have failed to land for 24 years – a chance that they must take without their poster-boy talisman – a chance that they must take with their captain playing on one leg – a chance that they must take against their old foe Australia, a team that has beaten them twice in the last 12 months – a chance that they simply must take.

Put simply the All Blacks have a chance to lift the hopes and spirits of a nation. Or to leave them damaged beyond repair.

Melodramatic as it sounds, defeat to Australia could be one disaster too far.

Quote of the day

Tom Shanklin on Twitter:

The last time I was this nervous about a semi I was watching Brokeback Mountain.


Welsh don't cry

According to a report in the Telegraph, the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal heard yesterday that a Welsh solicitor's law firm collapsed after he became so ill he could not bear to open his post.

Counsel for the defence said the solicitor could not bare his soul because of his ancestry, adding: "Welshmen do not cry in front of people - unless they lose at rugby."

With the Welsh nation (ably supported by the British press) talking up their team's chances to unprecedented levels (and that's saying something), let's just hope that the solicitor in question has no need of his handkerchief tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Independence Day

The RFU's independent review of England’s failed World Cup campaign is to be led by none other than Fran Cotton.

That's the same Fran Cotton who called for the resignation of the then CEO John Steele back in May this year, who has declared himself to be a "massive fan" of Sir Clive Woodward and who has more or less already pre-judged the issue by publicly declaring Mike Tindall's behaviour in New Zealand as "unforgivable."

That's the same Fran Cotton presumably appointed by the discredited Management Board and self-appointed acting CEO Martyn Thomas, currently out in New Zealand with his RFU cronies on an all-expenses paid freebie.

Independent? My arse.

Meanwhile Martin Johnson has been given 2 weeks by Thomas to decide whether or not he wishes to be considered for re-appointment when his contract expires in December.

I wouldn't blame Johnson at all if he decided to walk away from this shambolic excuse for a governing body.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


There it goes again...

Another sharp intake of breath by the entire population of New Zealand as speculation grows about the extent of St Richie of McCaw's foot injury, speculation not dampened by the appearance of Crusaders flanker Matt Todd at training.

Not that Todd is actually training with the All Blacks of course, as IRB regulations state that players not in the official 30-man World Cup squads cannot train with the team. He's merely been there to help provide opposition and promises that he hasn't been listening to any of the calls, honest-to-god, cross his heart and hopes to die.

After all, the All Blacks wouldn't cheat. Only England do that.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A fascinating fact for you...

Since the inaugural World Cup in 1987 the defending champions have, apparently, always been beaten by the team that goes on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

So, Australia for the World Cup?

I’ve had a sneaky, nagging feeling about the Aussies for some time now, a feeling that refuses to go away following their heroic effort against the Springboks on Saturday.

So, what happens next?

It appears that Martin Johnson’s future as England’s manager will be decided by the RFU Management Board based on the recommendation by Rob Andrew who, it appears, now has a new job as the RFU’s professional rugby director.

Firstly, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that Johnno will decide to put himself through the wringer again. I’m sure he’s no quitter, but after the events of the last 5-6 weeks I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he decided that enough was enough.

Secondly, the decision will made by the RFU Management Board, a body utterly discredited by the Blackett Report earlier this year and several of whom are under investigation relating to possible misconduct charges.

Farcical doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Twenty Four Hours Later

And so to the inquest... 

I’ve seen much written about England’s defeat to France yesterday, much of it very negative. The common sentiment is that England have had a dreadful World Cup, that the team is uninspired and one-dimensional and that this is mostly because it is made in the image of its head coach, Martin Johnson.

I'm afraid I don't buy that argument. England simply weren't as bad in this World Cup as everyone likes to make out - you only have to look at how Argentina troubled the All Blacks today to put England's performance against them in context, for instance. So England aren't as good as the All Blacks. Who knew?

No, the frustrating thing for me was not that England were poor but that they could and should have been so much better. The irony of ironies is that, for me, yesterday was actually England’s best performance of the Rugby World Cup. The ambition was there and in patches there was a good attacking shape and the odd flash of excellence. That these moments were few and far between and more often than not came to nothing owing to a lack of precision was England’s undoing. That and the fact that the personnel selected were incapable of delivering the gameplan.

With the gift of hindsight, the writing was on the wall back in the summer when Johnno restored Jonny to the starting line up at the expense of Toby Flood. Yes, the same Toby Flood who (the Ireland match aside) had deftly steered England to a 6 Nations Championship earlier this year. The thinking seemed to be that World Cups are different and are won by big packs and a metronomic goalkicker. Thus the progress made since the win in Sydney in June 2010 was jettisoned for a more prosaic  approach, an approach that falls down immediately if your forwards are outplayed and your kicker ceases to be metronomic, as proved to be the case.
And that’s the sad thing for me. After struggling to find his feet as a coach, Johnson appeared to be getting things mostly right through last autumn and the 6 Nations. There was an issue with the balance of the backrow and a conundrum in midfield, but neither was unsurmountable. The discovery of Manu Tuilagi really should have solved the midfield problem and, although England lacked a true international standard fetcher, the emergence and progress of Tom Wood during the 6 Nations should have signalled the way ahead.

The great shame is that Johnson appeared not to trust the evidence of his own eyes and turned back to what was familiar, leading to some very muddled thinking and some very questionable decisions. Restoring Wilkinson to the 10 shirt, selecting an unfit Lewis Moody ahead of Tom Wood, picking Matt Stevens out of position when Andrew Sheridan was injured rather than trusting in Alex Corbisiero, thinking that Mike Tindall could ever be an international 12, not calling up Riki Flutey when the opportunity arose, adding Thomas Waldrom to the squad after Nick Easter had recovered from injury, recalling Easter at the expense of James Haskell, preferring Steve Thompson to the previous first choice Dylan Hartley, relying on the prosaic talents of Louis Deacon ahead of far more dynamic locks in the squad - when you add that lot up it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out why England's challenge came up short.
The real disappointment is that England were, for the majority of the last 12 months, on the right road. For some reason known only to the management team, however, they appeared to lose faith in the direction they were heading and turned off that particular road. The performances of the team were no way near as bad as made out by sections of the media – but it is true to say that the team did not come anywhere near to achieving its potential, and that is the saddest indictment of England’s World Cup campaign.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Merde Deux

To France - bravo, félicitations, magnifique.

For England the inquest can wait.

This blog is now officially Welsh.