Monday, 26 February 2018

England - The Inquest

It comes as no surprise that the "bottom half of the internet" (as comedian Dave Gorman describes it) has, following England's defeat at Murrayfield on Saturday, featured various damning indictments of England's performance including, somewhat ludicrously, calls for the resignation of head coach Eddie Jones (the same Eddie Jones, remember, who has coached England to 25 victories out of the last 27 matches).

A defeat to an aggressive, accurate and clinical Scottish team does not make a England a bad team overnight, that much is clear. But it wasn't so much the defeat at Murrayfield, rather the manner of the defeat, that should be cause for concern.

I am not necessarily one of those who suggest that England performances have been getting progressively worse since reaching a peak with the 3-0 series whitewash in Australia in June 2016, but it certainly does feel like some time since we've seen a definitive and convincing performance from Eddie Jones' men (Scotland at Twickenham last year probably being the benchmark).

At the 2015 World Cup England were ponderous in the tight five, one-paced in the back row, slow to the breakdown, had little cutting edge in midfield and lacked a joined-up defence - all factors that led to England's premature departure from the tournament and all of which were on display again during an abject first 40 minutes in Edinburgh on Saturday.

England may now need unlikely bonus point wins over France and Ireland to claim a third consecutive Championship, but in reality the 2018 Six Nations is now Ireland's to lose. It therefore strikes me that Eddie Jones now has a unique opportunity to re-set expectations and move this England team forward - but to do so he needs to show that lessons have been learned from the defeat to Scotland.

For instance, will Eddie concede that playing Robshaw at 7 and Lawes at 6 is a case of putting square pegs in round holes which simply doesn't work at international level?

Will he finally realise that in reality he should only be picking three of his four international class locks for the match day squad?

When will he recognise that picking Danny Care at 9 and then expecting him to play like Ben Youngs (rather than like Danny Care) is unlikely to work?

Has he asked the question as to whether George Ford can operate successfully behind a non-dominant set of forwards?

And will he consider whether the likes of Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole and Mike Brown - all important players for him over the last two years - might now be holding England's progress back?

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Six Nations Round 3 Verdict

Woah. Hands up, I didn't see that coming.

But first, Friday night in Marseilles where watching France vs Italy was like watching two bald men fighting over a comb. When Mathieu Bastareaud is the best player on the pitch you know you've got problems. That said, a French victory sets things up nicely for Paris in a fortnight.

To Dublin, where the quality was a notch or several higher and where Wales very nearly pulled off an unlikely upset. Perhaps if Dan Biggar spent as much energy on his game as he does haranguing the referee...just saying. Ireland were largely impressive but will need to improve again against the Scots.

And finally, Murrayfield. Fair play to Scotland - aggressive, committed, inventive and clinical - all things that a ponderous and complacent England were not. The inquest into England's performance can wait until another day - suffice to say huge congratulations to Scotland for a well deserved victory.

TF team of the week:

15. Stuart Hogg 14. Sean Maitland 13. Chris Farrell 12. Huw Jones 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Finn Russell 9. Greg Laidlaw 1. Cian Healy 2. Stuart McInally 3. Simon Berghan 4. Johnny Gray 5. James Ryan 6. John Barclay 7. Josh Navidi 8. CJ Stander

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Six Nations 2018: Round 3 Predictions

Enough frippery.

Here are the TF Six Nations Round 3 predictions:

France v Italy

France's selection policy remains barking mad and I wouldn't have it any other way! Italy have a great chance here but, with the match being played in the hotbed of the Stade Velodrome on Friday night in Marseilles, I do see France shading this one by 3 to 6 points.

Ireland v Wales

Does the selection of Dan Biggar for Wales signal a return to Warrenball? Certainly the Welsh will need to improve their aerial game significantly to succeed in Dublin. This will either be very close indeed or a comfortable win for Ireland. I suspect that latter.

Scotland v England

Every 2 years we're told that Scotland will send the English homeward tae think again and very occasionally it does happen, but not to this English team. I expect England's tight five to impose themselves and the "finishers' to wrap this one up. England by 9-12.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Elementary, my dear Haskell...

It’s fair to say that this blog has somewhat taken the piss out of James Haskell from time to time – and the fact that he has been more than happy over the years to put his “Brand Haskell” head above the parapet does make him something of an easy target.

As his career has progressed, however, and with his renaissance as an international rugby player under Eddie Jones, there is little doubt that both this blog and the English rugby public in general have warmed to The Hask and I fear he’s right when he states that the game is beginning to run out of characters like him.

As if to emphasize the point, Haskell’s girlfriend, Chloe Madeley, has apparently recently let slip that the England flanker is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and has written a novel which he plans to publish when he retires.

Which, however improbable, must be the truth…

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Toon, Toon, Black & White Army!

Long time readers of this blog will know that I am no fan of the new-fangled, tight-fitting, multi-coloured, sponsor-laden monstrosities which purport to be rugby shirts these days and yearn for  the thick, heavy cotton, warm and comforting garments of bygone days.

That said, may I express my 100% support for the decision of Newcastle Falcons to wear a special edition black and white striped shirt when they play Northampton in 'The Big One' at St James' Park on Saturday 24th March in aid of the My Name'5 Doddie Foundation.

Not only will profits from the game and sales of the shirts go to a fantastic cause - research into Motor Neurone Disease (MND) (with which Newcastle and Scottish legend Doddie Weir was diagnosed last year) – as a long time (and long-suffering) follower of Newcastle United, how could I possibly object to the Falcons sporting the iconic black and white stripes at the “Cathedral on the Hill?”

I mean, what’s not to like?

(Please click here for for more information on the My Name'5 Doddie Foundation).

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Sad news

Very sad to hear the news this week that Graham Mead, who coached me as a member of the Peterborough Colts team from 1980-83, has passed away after a short illness.

A softly-spoken, humble and thoroughly decent man, Graham gave up huge amounts of his time to coach us. He also asked me to captain the team in the 1982-83 season, so clearly was also a man with impeccable judgement :)
Peterborough RUFC Colts 1980-81
RIP Graham.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Six Nations 2018 - Belated Round 2 Verdict

Quite a weekend of 6 Nations rugby to reflect upon...

Sergio Parisse (who was uncharacteristically crap in Dublin on Saturday) claims that Ireland are better than England. That may be so, but the Italians still managed to score 3 tries against Ireland who, although impressive in parts, are not without their issues. Still, a predictable rout and bonus point for the Irish.

To Twickenham where, according to some, Wales were robbed. This despite being comfortably outplayed for at least three quarters of the game by an English team that really should have been out of sight by the hour mark. The fact that they weren't probably explains Eddie's irritability.

And finally Murrayfield, where Scotland eventually discovered that there is no substitute for doing the basics well and where French indiscipline proved costly. And where Finn Russell was replaced at fly half by a scrum half, which tells you all you need to know about his performance.

TF Team of the week:

15. Mike Brown 14. Teddy Thomas 13. Huw Jones 12. Owen Farrell 11. Johnny May 10. Gareth Anscombe 9. Greg Laidlaw 1. Mako Vunipola 2. Rory Best 3. Simon Berghan 4. Joe Launchbury 5. Johnny Gray 6. Peter O'Mahon 7. Sam Underhill  8. Ross Moriarty

Friday, 9 February 2018

What the hell, Eddie?

On the face of it, yesterday's rant by Eddie Jones was, at best, ill-advised.

Questioning the "bottle" of young Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell is one thing, but to then cast doubt on the integrity of Welsh skipper, legend and all round good guy Alun Wyn Jones is another thing entirely and must surely fire up the Wales team even further for tomorrow's encounter at Twickenham.

Unless, of course, that's what Eddie wants...?

Une Certitude Bleue - Part Deux

You have to hand it to France coach Jacques Brunel - he has fully bought in to the methodology of the chaos theory with his latest team selection.

Having selected a 19 year old rookie at 10 to face Ireland last week, this week he recalls 32 year old Lionel Beauxis to play fly half against Scotland, a player who last played for France in the 2012 Six Nations (when he featured prominently in this blog's Six Nations Chumps XV).

He also drops Kevin Gourdon, probably France's best forward over the past 12 months, and recalls Louis Picamoles, France's most effective ball carrier for the last 10 years, to take up a place on the bench.

If such eccentricity wasn't enough, rumours that Brunel plans to call up Serge Blanco (59), Jean-Pierre Rives (65) and 74 year old Walter Spanghero have yet to be denied by the FFR.

Vive la France!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Six Nations 2018 - Round 2 Predictions

Here are the Total Flanker predictions for week 2 of the 2018 Six Nations with the proviso that, the author having proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is no Nostradamus, no liability whatsoever will be accepted for any losses suffered by any eejit stupid enough to rely on what is about to follow...

Ireland v Italy

Conventional wisdom suggests that Italy have two hopes in Dublin - Bob Hope and No Hope. And Bob Hope is dead. Ireland weren't great against France but should win comfortably enough here. The question is whether they have enough firepower to secure the bonus point and I think the answer is probably, yes.

England v Wales

So a confident Wales, deservedly buoyed by their victory over Scotland, cross the Severn and come to Twickenham "not scared" - much like going on a bear hunt. I suspect that this is where the Welsh rookies will discover what Six Nations rugby is all about. England by 15+.

Scotland v France

Ah, Scotland, back wrapped up in their Murrayfield comfort blanket and with their psychologist's words fresh in their minds, I'm guessing they fancy their chances against the chaotic French. I'm not so sure, however, that chaos won't prevail. France by 6. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Boredom responsible for wonder drop goal

It turns out that sheer boredom was responsible for Johnny Sexton letting fly with his winning drop goal attempt from 40-odd metres in the dying seconds against France on Saturday.

After 41 phases of watching forwards run into each other the Irish fly half was said to be "bored shitless" with the constant recycling of the ball in the face of the the passive French defence.

"Frankly we could have kept the ball comfortably for another 50 phases or so" said a source close to the Irish camp. 

"But we were never going to score a try in month of Sundays so eventually Johnny said "Feck it" and went for the drop goal.

"He was cold and wet and fancied a shower and a pint. Frankly he couldn't give a monkeys where the ball ended up".

Monday, 5 February 2018

Six Nations 2018: Round 1 verdict (aka WTF do I know?)

Well, that's my career as a soothsayer dead in the water.

Wales confounded just about everyone on Saturday in Cardiff with the nature of their victory over the Scots. The injury crisis which forced Warren Gatland to select Scarlets en bloc was probably the best thing that could have happened for Wales. They do say that it's better to be a lucky coach than a good coach...

Scotland, meanwhile, were (how do I put this?) pants.

And then to Paris for 70 minutes of turgidity, then a French try out of nowhere and cojones of steel from Johnny Sexton at the death. And since when did knee injuries require HIA?

Finally, Rome on Sunday and a fantastic first and last ten minutes from England, bookending a middle hour of relative mediocrity. The Italians played well, but Eddie Jones will be looking for significant improvements next week...

The TF team of the week:

15. Leigh ½p 14. Anthony Watson 13. Hadleigh Parkes 12. Owen Farrell 11. Stef Evans 10. Johnny Sexton 9. Gareth Davies 1. Mako Vunipola 2. Guilhem Guirado 3. Dan Cole 4. Cory Hill 5. James Ryan 6. Aaron Shingler 7. Josh Navidi 8. Sam Simmonds

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Six Nations 2018: Round 1 Predictions


Ahead of the opening weekend of the 2018 Six Nations I have gazed into my crystal ball and found nothing but clouds.

So here are my predictions anyway...

Wales v Scotland

Big test for the Scots. If they can't beat Wales in Cardiff then, despite all the deserved optimism currently surrounding Scottish rugby, their campaign will look doomed. I suspect this will be a cracking game with Scotland winning by 7.

France v Ireland

Realistically there should only be one winner here. Common sense says that a rookie French team has zero chance against the wily and experienced Irish. Nevertheless I'm predicting chaos to prevail and France to win by less than 6.

Italy v England

Despite a lengthy injury list England look like fielding a nearly full-strength starting XV which should be enough to steer them to victory. Expect a tough first half with England eventually stretching away to win by 18+.