Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The end of an era...?

Reports from the south of France suggest that Jonny Wilkinson is planning to hang up his playing boots at the end of the season.

If true then it is certainly the end of an era. It is typical of Wilkinson that there’s been no public announcement or fanfare or planned farewell tour. If he had his way I’m sure he would just play his final game, make his tackles, kick his points and then shuffle off into the background hoping that no one noticed.

Fat chance. Whether he wants it or not Jonny Wilkinson will receive huge accolades for what he has achieved.

Naysayers might claim that he is a limited player. Great kicker, great defence but no flair. They would be wrong.

Between 1999 and 2003 Wilkinson was simply the best 10 out there – an integral part of an excellent England team that scored tries for fun. While not blessed with great speed, he was still an elusive runner who created space and time for his fellow backs to thrive.

And then there was THAT drop goal…

In many ways, however, it is the Wilkinson post-2003 that impressed the most. Stricken by injury time after time and at times apparently engulfed by self doubt, it would have been easy for him to walk away. Instead he kept coming back and coming back from setback after setback – and to have featured in 4 Rugby World Cups is testament to his determination and longevity against the odds. At times he struggled for international form and at times it appeared he was selected for England on reputation rather than form, ahead of perhaps more deserving players. But that was hardly his fault and no one should doubt his courage, dedication or professionalism.

Spending the twilight of his career in international retirement in the sunny south of France – where the Heineken Cup has been added to his list of honours - is no more than he has deserved. Ironically, after a difficult end to his international career in 2011, I suspect that he would have flourished in Stuart Lancaster’s England set-up (although the rigours of the Premiership might yet have done for him). 

This week I received an email from a well known online betting exchange suggesting odds for what Jonny might do next. Appearances on Strictly Come Dancing (15/8), I'm A Celebrity (33/1) and Celebrity Big Brother (50/1) were included. Not a chance – my guess is that we’ll see JW doing something low key or worthy or both. The last thing he needs or craves is celebrity.

Enjoy your retirement Jonny – you deserve it.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Scrum down, Russia Put in...

Last week’s referendum in Crimea may have been described as a farce, but surely no more so than the rugby match 24 hours earlier between Russia and Crimea in Simferopol. 

Somewhat improbably Crimea – not even a national team and with therefore no IRB ranking – managed to stage a remarkable comeback from being 17-40 down at half time to secure a 59-59 draw with the 19th world ranked Russians.

Move along now, nothing to see here…

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Whatever happened to: the Forward Pass?

What is, and what is not, a forward pass?

To me the answer is simple. If a pass looks forward then, in all likelihood, it is forward. That certainly used to be the case.

After all, rugby's Law 12 seems simple enough. “"A throw forward occurs when a player throws or passes the ball forward."

How naive am I?

Apparently it is no longer enough to see that a pass is forward - the naked eye is no longer to be trusted. No, these days we appear to require a degree in physics before we can make such a complex call.

Newton's law of motion, I am reliably informed, says that “an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force." In other words, to put Newton into some sort of rugby context, when deciding if a pass is forward we now need to take into account the momentum of the passing player.

So it’s no longer enough just to see that a pass is forward. These days it is necessary to refer the matter “upstairs” (don't get me started) where the overworked TMO will review seemingly endless hours of footage in order to determine eventually that a pass, caught several metres ahead of where it was thrown, is “not obviously forward.”

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team is all very well, but even those who know next to nothing about rugby tend to be aware that a fundamental part of the game is that the ball cannot be passed forward. How ludicrous does it look, then, when you, I and millions watching on TV can see that a pass is blatantly forward only for the officials to decide otherwise, even after reviewing several replays which appear to confirm what we all saw in the first place?

Sadly for England rugby fans, even the officials at the Stade de France last week had to agree that Pascal Pape's last gasp pass last Saturday evening was so far forward that Damien Chouly caught the ball on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Six Nations 2014 Champs & Chumps...

Now that the dust has settled on another Six Nations, here are the TF Six Nations 2014 Champs & Chumps:


15. Mike Brown - or 'Superman' as he shall now be known
14. Yoann Huget - stroppy beggar, but one of very few bright sparks for the French this year
13. BOD - well, it kind of had to be, didn't it?
12. Luther Burrell - played 13 but naturally a 12 and was superb throughout.
11. Andrew Trimble - always a threat.
10. Jonny Sexton - edges out Owen Farrell but only just.
9. Danny Care - ran Mike Brown close as player of the tournament
1. Cian Healy - can someone please check what's in his porridge?
2. Dylan Hartley- a second career in darts awaits.
3. Alberto de Marchi - side-stepping Italian prop who plays both sides of the scrum.
4. Joe Launchbury- getting very, very close to world class.
5. Courtney Lawes - line-out prowess, impeccable tackling and prominent in the loose.
6. Tom Wood - the new Richard Hill.
7. Chris Robshaw - fitting that his final contribution was a much deserved try.
8. Toby Faletau - although it would have been cousin Billy if he'd stayed fit.


15. Stuart Hogg - red card against Wales left his team with no chance.
14. Liam Williams - post-try late hit on Paddy Jackson was a disgrace.
13. Mathieu Bastareaud - predictable, dull and ineffective. May have a future at tight head prop.
12. Jamie Roberts - flat track bully, found wanting in the pressure games.
11. Jonny May -  admittedly this is a tad harsh, but his unwillingness to back his pace was hugely frustrating.
10. Rhys Priestland - to call him a rabbit in the headlights would be an insult to rabbits.
9. Greg Laidlaw - Greg who? Utterly anonymous.
1. Gethin Jenkins - to continually repeat an offence you've constantly been warned about is just plain dumb.
2. Ross Ford - cow's arse, banjo, you do the rest.
3. Adam Jones - new scrum protocol appears to leave him utterly bemused.
4. Richie Gray- again, perhaps a bit harsh, but he's nowhere near the player he was 24 months ago.
5. Big Jim Hamilton - now little more than a pantomime villain.
6. Dan Lydiate - a pale shadow of what we've seen in previous seasons.
7. Chris Fusaro - looked like a boy against men.
8. Louis Picamoles - sarcastic clapper of the tournament.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Six Nations 2014 - It's a wrap

And so the 6 Nations is over for another year. Congratulations Ireland, it may have taken a Pascal Pape forward pass but you got over the line and were deserved winners.

Wales played the part of flat-track bullies this year, unable to step up when it mattered whilst neither Italy nor Scotland can take much from the tournament . At least the Scots have Vern Cotter's arrival to look forward to, although it remains to be seen whether he will be able do anything other than put lipstick on a pig. France, meanwhile, were their usual basket-case selves.

As for England, another year of close yet no cigar. Progress, certainly, although with no tangible reward other than the meagre consolation of a Triple Crown.

Stuart Lancaster's thoughts will undoubtedly now turn to the 3 tests in New Zealand in June. Much is being made of the timing of the first test and the fact that England will be denied the services of those participating in the Premiership final the previous Saturday.

While it's true that the scheduling makes no sense at all, the fact that there's a good spread of clubs in this England squad means that the impact of the Premiership final on the starting XV may not be entirely catastrophic - assuming, of course, that further injuries do not play a part.

Say, for example, the final is contested by the current top two - Northampton and Sarries  - the starting XV could still be:

Marler, Youngs, Cole/Wilson, Launchbury, Parling/Attwood, Johnson, Morgan, Robshaw, Care, Ford, May/Yarde, Twelvetrees, Tuilagi, Nowell/Wade, Brown.

Arguably the team we don't want anywhere near the final is Quins as Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Mike Brown are probably England's most influential players currently.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Men against boyos?


No, of course not - but a headline is a headline and Warren Gatland really should know by now that making inflammatory comments before an England v Wales game does his team no favours at all.

England were very good yesterday and Wales were poor. That Wales even managed to score the points they did was probably more down to English errors than Welsh pressure - that, and the unerring accuracy of the consistently excellent Mr ½p of course.

Much was made beforehand of the 12 Lions in the Welsh team but this ignored the fact that they were all Lions selected by the then incumbent Welsh coach. What most commentators appeared to miss was that, aside from one super-charged performance in Cardiff last year, this Welsh team has rarely added up to the sum of its parts for some time now.

And so to England - still not the finished article, perhaps, but the signs are positive. The forwards work their socks off, the halfbacks are making the right calls at the right time, the midfield is finally beginning to gel and the back three are covering acres of ground. The scrummage hasn't yet, perhaps, been entirely convincing and the wingers aren't yet posing enough of a try-scoring threat, but I guess we can look at that as work-in-progress.

As for the final weekend, Ireland remain in the box seat for the Championship - it would take a remarkable turnaround for the shambolic French to beat them in Paris. What does irk me somewhat, though, are the staggered kick off times. Yes, it's great for the armchair viewer, but should we really have a situation where the teams in the latest scheduled match have a clear advantage over teams kicking off earlier in the day? 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Seconds out, round 4

A few meandering thoughts heading into round 4 of this year's Six Nations:

- With Sergio Parisse missing for Italy it's difficult to see anything other than a resounding victory for the Irish in Dublin, putting them firmly in the box seat for the Championship.

- France, meanwhile, look to have lost the plot entirely. Not sure what Monsieur Saint Andre is up to exactly, but his continued use of a tight head prop in the centre is looking more and more perverse as the competition progresses. Scotland are in with a great shout on Saturday.

- For a team that haven't exactly scaled the heights recently, Wales are being remarkably bullish.

- Proof that the Six Nations reaches parts other tournaments don't reach - England fullback Mike Brown's new number one fan is none other than ex Man Utd keeper Peter Schmeichel…

- And the final word goes to TF reader Mark, who kindly emailed me to point out that former butler to Princess Diana, Paul Burrell, has done a remarkable job of reinventing himself as an international centre...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Secret Diary of Jack Nowell’s Barnet #3

Hi, me again, Jack Nowell's barnet.

Young Jack's been spouting of this week about those pesky Welshies. They hate us English, he says, and we don't care.

Stuff and nonsense, of course. It's not hatred, I keep telling him, they're just all insanely jealous of my beautiful magnificence.

After all, just look at the Wales team. Barely a hairstyle amongst the lot of 'em. And no, I don't count the Adam Jones bubble perm as a bona fide hairstyle and nor do I acknowledge that looking like a fat Robbie Savage counts either. Yes, I'm looking at you Hibbard.

No, there's no hairstyle in in the Welsh line up that comes close to my lavish munificence, so no wonder they're green with envy.

All I ask is that once, just this once, I be set free from my sweaty imprisonment within that stinking hell hole of a scrum cap.

Set me free, Jack, and allow the world to feast on my glorious lustre...