Friday, 27 November 2015

Off the scale?

Claims this week that steroid abuse is "off-the-scale" in Welsh grassroots and semi-professional rugby seem a tad sensationalist.

UK Anti-Doping figures reveal that 10 of the 16 rugby union players banned from the sport across the UK are from Wales.

That’s 10 out of around 50,000 players registered in Wales - 0.02%.

I'm not saying that there isn't a problem that needs tackling but “off-the-scale?”


Wednesday, 25 November 2015


As the fallout from England’s failed RWC campaign continues, I have to admit that, being British, I am a tad uncomfortable when big, roughty-toughty rugby players feel the need to bear their souls in public.

First we had Danny Care publicly bemoaning the fact that he had been dropped as first choice scrum half last year: 
“I didn’t really understand the decision behind it and it did hurt (sniff, sob).”
We then had Mike Brown declaring a lack of trust in his England team mates: 
“I think the trust has been, as you can imagine, completely shot now (sob, sniff).”
And now we have Luther Burrell declaring his devastation at his (admittedly undeserved) non-selection for the squad by Stuart Lancaster: 
"He let me down…that is how I feel about him (sniff, sob, sniff).”
When did rugby players ever feel the need to talk about their feelings?

Whatever happened to stoicism?

Whatever happened to just rolling up your metaphorical sleeves and just getting on with it? 

Whatever happened to the good old British stiff upper lip?

Friday, 20 November 2015

Relief all round as Fast Eddie signs up…

It is with a huge sigh of relief that it has been confirmed that Eddie Jones has accepted the role of England Head Coach, not least because this blog has discovered the RFU's contingency plan should the search for a permanent Head Coach have proved fruitless.

I can now exclusively reveal that Andy Farrell had been lined up to lead England into the 2016 Six Nations as Interim Head Coach and that he had recommended an interim management team involving several other players' parents.

Apparently former Tongan hooker Fe'ao Vunipola had agreed to come in as as scrummaging coach, while the Youngs brothers' father and former England scrum half, Nick, was considering an offer to come on board as attack coach.

The Vunipola brothers' mum, Rev. Iesinga Vunipola, was believed to have accepted role of Interm Spiritual Health Coach while Mrs Sarah Goode was set to take charge of nutrition, tea and biscuits.

Apparently Farrell had convinced the RFU that parental input would be vital in restoring the team’s shattered morale with the added bonus that the parents would also be able to provide free lifts to and from training and to difficult away games.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Richie McCaw = Legend

Just a few words about Richie McCaw on the occasion of his retirement.

For me, McCaw is simply the best number 7 ever to have played the game.

Ill-informed gripes about him living offside and so-called “cheating” are so far wide of the mark it’s not funny. The role of an openside flanker is to get away with whatever he can at the breakdown and McCaw was simply the master at it. 

He also happened to be a supreme athlete and a quite phenomenal all-round rugby player.

One would like to think that his retirement will leave New Zealand severely depleted and give the rest of a chance to catch up, but the performances of Sam Cane during this year’s World Cup suggest that the All Black number 7 production line is still in fine working order.

Enjoy your retirement Mr. McCaw – it is richly deserved.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Poisoned chalice?

So Stuart Lancaster has done the decent thing and stepped down as England Head Coach ("by mutual consent" - whatever the hell that means).

Good man. He has taken responsibility for England's failings, as he said he would, and deserves respect for that.

Now that there is a vacancy, however, I’ve noticed several comments to the effect that the Head Coach role is something of a poisoned chalice, that no serious coach in his right mind would want to coach England in its current state and that the problems for English rugby lie far deeper than the coaching.

All of which, quite frankly, is bollocks.

In my humble opinion there are several reasons why a top coach might want to coach the England squad - plenty of English talent around the Premiership, a hugely promising next generation of players coming through, huge resources at his disposal and a not insubstantial salary, for a start.

It’s also not as if any new Head Coach would be starting from Ground Zero. After all, in each of the last 5 Six Nations tournaments, an "unsuccessful" England have played 5, won 4 and lost 1, finishing 2nd in each of the last three tournaments only on points difference, and don’t forget over the same period England have beaten both of this year’s Word Cup finalists (which not too many other teams can claim). It's not a fantastic record, but it's not a bad base to start from.

Poisoned chalice? My arse.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Driven to distraction – The Total Flanker Guide to the Driving Maul

Ok, after my recent forays into the emotional minefields of optimism and enthusiasm, it’s back to what I do best – being a miserable old killjoy.

My gripe today is that old favourite – the "truck and trailer" driving maul.

Don’t get me wrong – I'm as big a fan as the next man of up-the-jumper rugby and a well-executed driving maul, with the ball smuggled to the player at the back of a pack all properly bound and driving forward can (to me at least) be a thing of beauty. 

My problem is that virtually every driving maul I see these days is not being properly policed by the referee.

Watch any driving maul from a lineout. The ball is caught and moved to a supporting player with a number of players joining the maul in front of that player (offside) while others join adjacent to or behind. The player in question then releases or loosens his bind and manoeuvres himself (rather than the ball) to the rear of the maul, ball in hand – effectively using the (offside) players in front as a screen as the whole edifice rumbles forward. 

A proper, legal driving maul is difficult to perfect (as it should be) but, by choosing to ignore certain laws of the game, referees are making the driving maul all too easy for the team in possession and more or less impossible to defend against without infringing, the result being that scoring tries from driving mauls has become way too straightforward (well, not for England, perhaps, but let’s not go there).

Until the referees and/or World Rugby get their collective acts together and sort this out, I'm afraid illegally formed truck and trailer mauls must now sit alongside crooked scrum feeds in the Total Flanker Room 101…

Saturday, 7 November 2015

RWC 2015 - Verdict

Rugby World Cup 2015 – the biggest and the best ever, without a doubt.

All involved in the organisation of the tournament should be rightly proud of what they achieved. Pats on the back all round.

Yes, there may be gripes about ticket prices, the TMO, the disciplinary procedures and the match schedule. And the less said about the England debacle the better (although when has that ever stopped me?)

It's time, however, to set aside my usual curmudgeonly approach to life and to celebrate the highlights of what was a fabulous rugby tournament:

The Rugby – France v Italy aside (I know, I was there!) there was barely a dud game all tournament.

Japan – the Brave Blossoms' unbelievable opening victory over South Africa kick-started the competition and they never looked back. There’s pressure now on the Japanese Rugby Union to sustain that momentum through to their own RWC in 2019. I, for one, hope they succeed.

Argentina – hugely deserving semi-finalists and now indisputably eating at the top table. Their mission to find the wide open spaces showed the way forward for less ambitious teams.

The Venues – I only experienced Twickenham and Milton Keynes at first hand, but the user experience and carnival atmosphere at both was first rate. Clearly much has been learned from the 2012 Olympics and the challenge for Twickenham going forward is to reproduce the same once we return to the corporate jolly-fest otherwise known as the 6 Nations.

The Fans – despite the ticket prices virtually every game was a sell out and the stadia were packed out with fans from all four corners of the globe. And, the occasional inappropriate rendition of “Swing Low” aside, local fans embraced the tournament in its entirety despite the failings of the host team. Special, very special.

The Final – best two teams, best referee and best quality final ever.

The Winners – the word “awesome” is much overused, but not in the case of the All Blacks.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The End of the Affair

The confirmation that Sam Burgess has left Bath with immediate effect having agreed a deal to move back to League with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, brings an unsatisfactory end to this whole sorry saga.

It can be argued that, to an extent, he can hardly be blamed given the undeserved flak he has taken from all and sundry in relation to England’s Rugby World Cup debacle.

That said, the timing of his departure does make me wonder whether certain promises of a place in the England RWC squad were made to Burgess to entice him to Rugby Union in the first place and whether it was always his intention to cut and run following the tournament? Just saying.