Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Whatever happened to: Respect?

OK, so hot on the heels of the last one, here's another in a somewhat sporadic series of observations about "stuff" that appears to have disappeared from the game since I started playing rugby back in the Jurassic era.

And this time, just to keep things topical, my attention is focused on an area I have touched upon previously...

...whatever happened to respect?

I am referring, of course, to respect for referees.

'Woah,' I hear you say, 'the one thing you can say about rugby is that the referee's decision is sacrosanct - we even call him 'Sir' for heaven's sake - we're not like those oik footballers with their cheating and their dissent and their intimidation of officials.'

Once upon a time I would have agreed with a statement along those lines. Once upon a time it was unthinkable to voice disapproval at a decision given against your team. Once upon a time the merest squeak of an objection would be met with your team being marched back 10 metres accompanied by murderous glances from your front row. Once upon a time only the politest of enquiries from the captain as to the reason behind a decision would be permitted.

It's all very different in today's game which at the elite level is accompanied by what appears to be a barrage of dialogue between the players and the referee with much of the language used being somewhat industrial to say the least. It was only a matter of time before someone went too far. Dylan Hartley obliged last weekend at Twickenham and paid a heavy price. 

In addition we have Head Coaches publicly voicing their concerns about referees before matches, berating officials during matches and openly criticising refereeing performances in post-match media interviews.

We even have the appointment of the captain for the British & Irish Lions justified on the basis of his ability to manage and influence referees on the field which, when you think about it, is a terribly sad state of affairs.

The problem is that all of this also filters down to the grassroots level. There was a marked difference in attitudes towards referees between the mid 90s when I first hung up my boots and 2007 when I re-emerged (briefly) from retirement. Rugby in the 80s and 90s was largely a one-way dialogue - "peep"..."offside number 7"..."penalty blue"..."back 10" - with the occasional "sorry, sir" in response. Nowadays pretty much every decision appears to be preceded by a constant flow of 'advice' from both sides and followed by a cacophony of moans, whinges and objections from the penalised players. I found this quite shocking on my return to the game and, frankly, playing rugby was nowhere near as enjoyable as a consequence.

Kids are still taught that respect for referees is paramount but, ultimately, what example is being set? Whilst it's true that things aren't anywhere near as bad as in the round ball game, rugby stands at the top of a slippery slope. It's something the powers that be need to clamp down on.

At least one thing positive did emerge from the weekend - I suspect the penny has now dropped that calling a referee a "fucking cheat" is never a good idea.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Danny Cipriani turns over another new leaf?

So Danny Cipriani finally admits that he has been spoilt and arrogant and that, belatedly, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee.

The fact that Cipriani felt compelled to don this particular hair shirt in an exclusive interview with a national tabloid newspaper, however, tells us all we need to know.

Cipriani still appears to harbour ambitions to play for England in the 2015 World Cup. The reality is, however, that he is currently (at best) England’s 5th choice no 10 behind Messrs Farrell, Flood, Burns and Myler and no amount of talking to the media is going to change that.

I’d love to be proved wrong but I suspect that Cipriani’s bus has already departed.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Whatever happened to: Try celebrations?

When I was a lad, back in the mists of time, I remember my primary school headmaster berating a member of the school's football team during assembly. The boy's offence? In a match the previous day he'd raised his arm and punched the air after scoring a goal.

Admittedly the headmaster in question was a somewhat eccentric individual who regularly paraded in front of school assembly waving a huge St George's flag whilst belting out the words to Land of Hope and Glory (I'm not kidding), but his point was that to over-celebrate a goal was to show a lack of respect for oneself and the opposition and that the dignified response to scoring was to jog back to half-way and get ready to resume the game.

All of which brings me to the matter of try celebrations - a subject which is particularly pertinent in the wake of a certain former England fullback's antics at the weekend.

Whatever happened, I ask, to try celebrations?

There was a time, even during my playing career, when all a try merited was a handshake or, if it was a particularly good try, maybe a pat on the back. However, not only do we now have the ubiquitous mass man-hug every time someone crosses the whitewash, try scorers are now regularly seen swallow-diving, somersaulting, breakdancing and body-popping in celebration. And now we have a player openly mocking his opposition whilst in the act of scoring.

Call me a killjoy, but rugby is, has always been and hopefully always will be a tough game based on mutual respect. All this kind of behaviour does, I'm afraid, is display an utter lack of respect, lack of dignity and lack of class. Frankly, players who indulge in it deserve a slap.

Ask yourself this. What did Gareth Edwards do after scoring arguably the greatest try of all time for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973? A somersault? An elaborate and contrived dance move? Did he mockingly ruffle Sid Going's comb-over? The answer: none of the above. He merely trotted back to half-way.

Bring back dignity. You know it makes sense.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Not impressed

A leopard never changes its spots.

Delon Armitage’s taunting of Brock James as he ran clear for Toulon’s Heineken Cup-winning try on Saturday shouldn’t have come as any great surprise given his track record and neither should his abusive response to criticism of his actions from Brian Moore on Twitter.

Arrogant? Obnoxious? Immature? Take your pick.

Armitage now admits his actions were “stupid” but we’ve heard the apologies before. At 29 he is rapidly running out of time to grow up.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

This is not a wind up...

The Torygraph has reported today that the search for a new lion mascot for this summer's Lions tour of Australia is finally over.

A team of 12 people apparently took more than 18 months to find 'Bill' - eventually tracking him down to a toy shop in Geneva airport.

The reason the search proved so difficult? None of the other potential candidates were "suitably fierce."

All's well that ends well, however. Bill is "a lion that no-one is going to mess with" and is a "ferocious representative" for the Lions. So there.

In a separate report it is revealed that the tour will cost around £14 million - the most expensive in  the Lions' 125-year history.

Far be it for me to suggest that the two stories might be related.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Don't cry for me...

I must say I'm quite excited by the England squad to tour Argentina next month (far more so than by a certain other squad travelling down under this summer).

With Freddie Burns, Billy Twelvetrees, Kyle Eastmond, Johnny May, Marland Yarde and Christian Wade all on the plane to Buenos Aries next month, what's not to like?

Just a shame that the squad announcement was somewhat overshadowed in the national media by the abdication of King Fergie of Manchester.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

IRB shuffles the deckchairs

The IRB has announced a global trial of a new “crouch, bind, set” scrummage engagement sequence.

Under the new sequence, which will start next season, when the ref calls "bind" the props will bind with their outside arm and maintain the bind until the referee calls “set”. At that point, the two packs engage.

The new sequence is hardly a radical departure from the shambolic "crouch, touch, set" we currently have to endure and completely misses the point. The issue is not what happens before the scrum is set. The problem is how the scrum is refereed once it is set.

Insist the scrum is steady before the put-in, penalise the early shove (or 'hit') and insist on a straight feed and we may be back in business.

Until then we are merely tinkering around the edges.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

We’re dooooomed…

It’s coming. Mark my words.

The announcement of a new worldwide club sevens tournament at Twickenham on 17 and 18 August involving teams from around the world should begin to sound the alarm bells for the 15-man game.

Four English Premiership clubs will be joined by the likes of the Blues, the Stormers and the Brumbies as well as teams from New York, Los Angeles, Moscow and Buenos Aires in a tournament format that is expected to grow year on year.

Nothing to worry about? Sevens surely can’t compete with the 15-man game – a sport with a 150 year history, with a World Cup and an established international calendar and with money pouring in from investors around the world?

To which I say one word: the Olympics. (OK, 2 words).

The inclusion of Sevens in the 2016 Olympics is something of a game-changer. The IRB World Sevens circuit has already demonstrated a globalisation of rugby that the 15-man game can only dream of with countries like Kenya and Portugal now featuring in the later stages of major tournaments. The Olympics will undoubtedly exacerbate this further as Unions decide that channelling funds into the shorter form of the game will prove far more beneficial than trying to break in to the traditional international rugby cabal.

Furthermore, the August tournament will be televised by BT Sport. Once broadcasters start to get involved all bets are off. After all, if you are trying to attract new audiences what would you broadcast – a colourful, fast-paced, exciting game with bucketloads of tries or endless scrummage resets whilst the referee glances admiringly at himself on the stadium big screen?

We need to wake up and smell the coffee.

It’s just like watching Brazil

And so the Chesham Touch Rugby league is once again underway as the defending champions from last year took to the field last night against my alma mater, the Chairman’s Choice.

Decked out in fetching Brazil-style yellow t-shirts with green trim, the team was missing 3 key ingredients from last year’s team – Tommy (travelling in Cambodia), Rich (University) and Billy (jumped ship to a younger, fitter team).

Nevertheless the team, re-christened “Billy Who?” fielded able replacements in the form of Tom, Ben and young Ollie, all of whom were instrumental in getting the season off to a winning start despite the best efforts of yours truly whose form, frankly, was about as impressive as his fitness.

A 14-6 winning scoreline masked a sloppiness in performance not helped by some of the most bizarrely pedantic refereeing ever witnessed on any touch rugby field in Christendom – including us being penalised for having too many players on the pitch whilst 2 of us were walking off having been subbed. I kid you not.

Nevertheless a winning start accompanied by the usual aches and pains the following morning. Onwards and upwards.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Roll up, roll up...

© onEdition 2013
Much is being made of the lack of "traditional" rugby grounds selected for use at the 2015 World Cup.

It seems that proponents of these grounds would prefer England to host one of the world's biggest sporting spectacles in tired old drafty stadia with poor visibility and jurassic toilet facilities.

Instead we are to attend the world's biggest rugby festival at the likes of Twickenham, Wembley, the Olympic Stadium, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Etihad Stadium in Manchester and, of course, the 'Cathedral on the Hill' - St. James' Park, Newcastle.

Modern, world class stadia for a world class sporting event.

Unfortunately the price of tickets is also likely to be world class.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Lions selectors "ageist" ?

Lions forwards coach Graham Rowntree admitted today that the toughest call made by Warren Gatland and his selection team was to leave burly backrow forward, Total Flanker, out of the British & Irish Lions squad to tour Australia this summer.

"It was a close run thing," admitted Rowntree, "but we just felt that TF's lack of game time in recent years counted against him.
"He's gutted and rightly so. Frankly I'd have taken a punt but for some reason Jamie Heaslip was preferred.

From his Hertforshire home the 48½ year old backrower admitted that he was "devastated". After missing out on the 1983, 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2009 Lions tours (the latter by the skin of his teeth), the portly no. 8 had set his sights on making the 2013 squad.

"Having reached a peak of fitness in 2009 and having scored a hat-trick of tries against Datchworth 4th XV I was still cruelly overlooked" he said.

"This time I have made sure that I have no form and no fitness and still they won't pick me. And yet they have the temerity to select Dan Lydiate.

"I even wrote to Mr Gatland to point out that my parents hail from North Wales and that I can say
'Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch' but frankly what a waste of ink that was.

"Bottom line is that Gatland's clearly ageist."

And, despite Graham Rowntree's assurances, TF doesn't even believe that it's likely he'll be called up for duty in the event of injury.

"Apparently there's some bloke called Robshaw ahead of me in the pecking order," he commented "and he doesn't even know a word of Welsh."