Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Curious Case of the Geography Six

I may be mis-judging him, but Warren Gatland doesn't strike me as an overly sensitive soul.

And yet Gats has confessed to having kept the "Geography Six" - Kristian Dacey, Allan Dell, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Gareth Davies and Finn Russell - on the bench against the Hurricanes this week for fear of the public reaction to any of them actually playing for the Lions.

Of the six - who were somewhat controversially added to the squad as cover based on geographical convenience rather than merit - only Alan Dell and Finn Russell have made it onto the field as brief HIA replacements.

Not only did Gatland's reluctance to use his replacements result in a seriously fatigued team throwing away a winning position against the Hurricanes, it also means that very few, if any, of Tuesday's starting XV will physically be in shape to contend for a place in Saturday's Test 23.

It seems a curious and uncharacteristic call for Gatland to have made, and the Geography Six will now fly home with next to no Lions playing experience but, no doubt, with suitcases full of Lions stash.

Every cloud.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Lions now really do have their work cut out (as if they didn't already)...

Warren Gatland's criticism that the All Blacks were cynically targeting Conor Murray in Saturday's 1st Test (which, incidentally, I agree with) is, ultimately, nothing more than a sideshow.

Gatland has far more to worry about if the Test series is to be squared. Put simply the Lions need to up their game massively at the breakdown and retain possession for far longer if they are to have any hope of winning the the 2nd Test. Kicking possession away and allowing the All Blacks to dictate the pace is what ultimately cost them the game on Saturday.

Whoever is selected it's going to take a monumental effort to wrest momentum back in the Lions favour...

Friday, 23 June 2017

Lions: Well done Wazza

I think it's fair to say that I have not always been Warren Gatland's biggest fan (about which I am sure he has sleepless nights ๐Ÿ˜€ ).

Credit where it is due, however. The Lions squad selection for the 1st Test with New Zealand tomorrow is as bold as it is surprising.

Of course a case might be made for starting Maro Itoje instead of Alan Wyn Jones (although I can understand the logic of bringing the young English tyro on as an impact player) and I'd probably have Jonathan Joseph on the bench ahead of Leigh ½p, but all in all it's a brave and exciting selection which is, crucially, based on form.

That's not to say the Lions will win tomorrow - but it's at least it's a team that we can be confident will be competitive.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Good luck Doddie Weir

This blog's heartfelt best wishes go out to former Scottish and Lions lock Doddle Weir who has revealed he has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.

Today - 21st June - is Global MND Day and the 46 year old Weir has bravely decided to go public to help raise awareness of the condition.

Good luck Doddie in your fight against such a debilitating illness.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Another player added to Lions squad

News today that Warren Gatland has taken a late decision to rest Sam Warburton for tomorrow's fixture against the Chiefs and has called up 44 year old pub team player Dafydd Watkins as bench cover.

Watkins is currently touring New Zealand in a camper van with mates and will now provide back row cover against the Chiefs.

"Dai is Welsh, he's based locally, he's purchased his own shirt and he's brought his boots with him so it makes sense to bring him in" says Gatland.

"I know some people may suggest that this somehow devalues the shirt but the important thing is to protect the Test team.

"We're here to win the series."

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Into Touch

Forget the Lions, forget Scotland's triumph in Sydney, forget England in Argentina, forget the Under 20s World Championship, forget England's women in New Zealand, I'm sure what you are all actually waiting for is an update on the progress of Dave's Dad's Dog's Dead in the 2017 Chesham Touch Premiership.

Well, you've come to the right place ๐Ÿ˜€.

DDDD have now played 6 out of 10 fixtures and, after a slow start in which we lost our first 2 games, are beginning to get into a rhythm, having won our last 4 encounters (albeit 3 of them by a single try), in the process defeating the league leaders last week.

What's more we're doing it properly, that is to say we remain a mixed team, a few of us in our 50s, a few in their 20s, 3 women (although admittedly one of them is an England Under 20s international) and a couple of teenagers, although each week we face teams of fit young men in their 20s. By rights we really shouldn't win a game but we've largely been together as a team since 2010 and, in our 8th season, there's a structure and cohesion that generally pulls us through.

The likelihood of us winning the league this year remains pretty slim but the important thing is that Touch remains hugely enjoyable and, as the weeks have gone by, I feel my performances are definitely becoming a tad less embarrassing.

Such is my enjoyment I am seriously considering, once the 'season' concludes in a few weeks, trying to find somewhere where Touch is played all year round. So watch this space...

Friday, 16 June 2017

Lions: a whinge

News today that Warren Gatland is planning to call up five or six replacements to join the New Zealand tour as cover for the remaining midweek fixtures.

Frankly if I was one of the players being shipped in merely to sit on the bench in a midweek game I'd be tempted to tell Gatland to shove it, but I think what this news does demonstrate is just how impossible a Lions tour is in its present format.

Attempting to combine players from 4 nations to form a squad to tour one of the southern hemisphere’s giants is very much a Corinthian concept forged in the days of amateur rugby and, while the Lions ideal still captures the imagination of rugby fans worldwide, it is becoming increasingly obvious that in its current guise the Lions is a notion that no longer works within the harsh reality of the professional rugby calendar.

Touring New Zealand is difficult enough. To take on such a brutal and relentless schedule having had next to no preparation is, however, just insane. And the results and performances so far – against teams one might expect any of the individual national teams to beat – would appear to bear this out.

Who knows, the Lions may surprise us all and be ultra-competitive against the All Blacks. They may even win a Test. What I do expect, however, is for a stream of battered players returning to Blighty nursing a variety of injuries – with player welfare once more taking a back seat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for one minute advocating scrapping the Lions, but it is clear to me that the whole idea needs a rethink. It’s a fantastic brand and a major money-spinner within the international rugby calendar, but if it is to survive long term the team has to be given time to prepare properly and future touring schedules need to be designed with the players' interests at front of mind.

There, whinge over. Back to the rugby…

Thursday, 15 June 2017

England Under 20s march on...

Fantastic achievement by England Under 20s in making the World Championship final following a last gasp 24-22 victory over South Africa in Tuesday's semi-final.

The achievement is all the more remarkable given the number of injuries the squad have suffered and the fact that the Curry twins, Nick Isiekwe, Jack Maunder and Joe Cokanasiga are all with the senior squad in Argentina.

The team face a daunting task against New Zealand in Sunday's final, but with fly half Max Malins and skipper Zach Mercer both in superb form, they still have a fighting chance of winning their fourth world title in five years.

Good luck boys.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Contract, what Contract? Part Deux

Confirmation today from Gloucester that former Bath player Carl Fearns will be staying with Lyon despite having put pen to paper to join Gloucester from 2017/18 onwards.

Funnily enough an offer of significantly increased personal terms from Lyon has been enough to persuade Fearns to change his mind, and Gloucester have had to accept that, in reality, Sanctity of Contract is now meaningless.

Yes Lyon have had to pay compensation to Gloucester, but again that’s not really the point. Neither Lyon nor Fearns emerge well from this as yet again those with the deepest pockets appear to be able to induce breach of contract with impunity.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Moment of the weekend...

Amidst a seriously good weekend of rugby for British & Irish teams - a morale-boosting Lions win against the Crusaders, plus victories for England, Scotland and Ireland - one moment in particular caused me to jump up from my seat and punch the air.

In the 45th minute of what was a pulsating game in San Juan, three Argentinian defenders were so bamboozled by a sublime 'show and go' from Henry Slade (straight out of the Total Flanker handbook, I'd like to think), that the England centre was able to stroll through the gap subsequently created and casually roll a grubber kick into the corner where Mike Brown and Jonny May had time for an "after you, sir," "no, after you, I insist" conversation before May dabbed down to claim the try.

This blog has made no secret of its admiration for the skills of young Mr Slade and hopes that moments like this - a superb piece of skill to grace what was a fantastic game of rugby - will have persuaded Eddie Jones that Slade has to be a part of Jones' plans going forward to Japan in 2019.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Double vision for England?

I’m looking forward to watching a very young England team take on the Pumas this evening.

Of particular fascination will be how Eddie Jones handles the Curry twins.

So watch out for openside Tom Curry leaving the field for an HIA in the second half only to emerge a few minutes later looking as fresh as a daisy having been surreptitiously replaced by identical twin brother Ben ๐Ÿ˜€.

 Eddie Jones = Master of Innovation.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Time to embrace Warrenball?

I am surprised at how sensitive Warren Gatland appears to be of criticism of “Warrenball” by the NZ media.

Heaven knows I’m no particular fan of Gatland or the style adopted by his Wales teams of recent years, but you have to acknowledge that it can be hugely effective and there is absolutely no reason he should be defensive about it, especially in the context of trying to mould together a playing style to unite a disparate squad.

Maybe it’s something to do with being overly-sensitive to criticism by his fellow Kiwis but, rather than deny his playing style, I’d much prefer to hear him state that “we’ll play the way we’ll play and if you don’t like it, tough shit.”

It would be far more worrying if the NZ media were being nice.