Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Uruguay make history


Just WOW.

Fiji 27 Uruguay 30.

Safe to say that no one, but no one, saw that coming. One of the most incredible results in World Cup history.

I'm certainly now regretting my decision not to get up at the crack of dawn (I only caught the last 20 mins or so) for this one.

Watch out Wales and Australia!

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Rugby World Cup - referees' tolerance of dangerous tackles cannot continue

What on earth does it take to get sent off at this Rugby World Cup?

Today two blatant and brutal first-half head shots in two minutes on Russian skipper Vasily Artemyev, by Samoa's Rey Lee-Lo and Motu Matu’u respectively, were somehow only deemed yellow card offences by referee Romain Poite who bizarrely decided that there were "mitigating circumstances".

The only mitigating circumstance in each case as far as I could see was that Artemyev's head somehow remained on his shoulders.

Lee-Lo then returned to the field later to rub salt into Russian wounds by scoring one of Samoa's six tries.

There's little doubt that, had the correct decisions been made and red cards issued, Russia - leading 6-5 at the time - would have had a great chance of a famous World Cup upset.

More important, however, is the precedent that this sets. 

Whilst supportive of referees' desire not to unduly influence games by issuing unnecessary red cards, players simply have to be protected from such dangerous, reckless and illegal tackles before something catastrophic happens.

World Rugby has to get much tougher on this issue. And lengthy suspensions for Lee-Lo and Motu Matu’u, and for Australia's Reece Hodge, would be a start.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Rugby World Cup - opening salvo

A few brief thoughts from the opening weekend of Rugby World Cup games:

🏉Japan - overly anxious and frenetic opener against Russia but I still fancy them to turn over one of Scotland or Ireland.

🏉Rees Hodge - given the (justifiable) fuss made by World Rugby in relation to high tackles prior to the tournament, how wasn't that a red card? Yes he's been cited, but how does that help Fiji?

🏉France remain impossibly schizophrenic.

🏉Ireland were, well, Ireland. Scotland were Scotland. Result inevitable.

🏉England - on the strength of that performance no other contender will be having sleepless nights.

🏉New Zealand v South Africa - odds on that we've seen the dress rehearsal for the final.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019 - Pool Predictions

With the Rugby World Cup 2019 very nearly upon us, here is my attempt at predicting what might unfold in the coming weeks during the pool stages in Japan.

Believe me, I do appreciate that a few of the predictions below are somewhat left-field in their nature and that some of you may think I’ve lost the plot entirely.

It would have been easy, however, for me just to have gone down the predictable route, but this would have ignored the fact that this World Cup is somewhat unprecedented, both in terms of its location in a second-tier rugby nation and the conditions, both meteorological and cultural, that the teams will face. Rightly or wrongly I am therefore convinced there will be more than one upset along the way. 

And so…

Pool A - Ireland/ Scotland/ Japan/ Samoa/ Russia 

A year ago this would have been dead easy to call with Ireland the world’s in-form team. This year nothing is certain. I have a gut feeling that hosts Japan will shock the world and make the quarters, so one of Ireland or Scotland will miss out. From what I’ve seen over the last month or so, shockingly I think it might just be Ireland. Samoa to finish 4th and Russia a very distant 5th.

Pool B - New Zealand/ South Africa/ Italy/ Canada/ Namibia 

The easiest to call in terms of the top two – New Zealand and South Africa – and there’s a very good chance these two will meet again in the final. It will be tight but I fancy the Springboks to shade the pool game vs the All Blacks and top the pool. And I can't see past Italy for 3rd, Canada 4th, Namibia 5th.

Pool C – England/ France/ Argentina/ USA/ Tonga 

England really should top Pool C but could feasibly slip up against France and/or Argentina. Tonga will have one big surprise in them whilst the USA are ever-improving and could also cause an upset against one of the big boys. And so, with not much confidence at all, England and Argentina to go through, France 3rd, USA 4th, Tonga 5th.

Pool D – Wales/ Australia/ Fiji/ Georgia/ Uruguay 

Again, from the evidence of the last few weeks I can see Australia beating Wales in their pool game, leaving the Welsh to try to avoid a banana-skin in the shape of Fiji to ensure they go through to the quarter finals. It couldn’t happen, could it? What the heck – in for a penny - I’m going for Australia and Fiji to go through, with Wales 3rd, Georgia 4th and Uruguay 5th.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Howley Heads Home

Welsh World Cup preparations have been thrown into turmoil with news breaking today that assistant coach Rob Howley has been sent home for allegedly breaching World Rugby betting rules.

We don't yet know the details - and 'innocent until proven guilty' obviously applies - but clearly the alleged offence is sufficiently serious for Howley to have been sent home.

Although hardly likely to affect Welsh chances against Georgia in six days time, I'm sure that this is a more than  unwelcome distraction for the squad and something Warren Gatland needed like a hole in the head.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Gareth Thomas - Total Respect

Revelations by former Wales and Lions winger Gareth Thomas, that he has been living with HIV for a number of years, are as brave as they are shocking.

When Thomas came out as gay nearly ten long years ago I have to admit I was a tad cynical about his motivations for doing so.

I absolutely realise now that I was wrong.

For a professional sportsman to have had the courage to come out as gay so publicly was really quite remarkable and Thomas has since gone on to be a passionate and eloquent advocate for LGBT rights and campaigner against homophobia.

To admit to having HIV, however, and to challenge the stigma and taboos around the illness, takes his bravery to a new level.

Well done, sir.


Monday, 9 September 2019

Ireland Rugby: World No.1

So, after Ireland's victory over Wales on Saturday, it's the men in green who head to Japan as World Rugby's number 1 ranked team.

Arguments about whether they deserve to be ranked number 1 are fatuous. Yes, the World Rugby ranking system - whereby a team can be comfortably beaten three times in a calendar year and still be elevated to number one status three weeks after suffering a 15-57 thrashing - does appear to be a tad dysfunctional.

But the system is the system - and it's the same one that has seen New Zealand at the top of the rankings for the last several years.

Ireland are, for now, world number 1.

We should all just get over it.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Chester Williams RIP

Sad to hear of the passing of Chester Williams.

An iconic figure in the 1995 World Cup winning Springbok team.

And by all accounts a thoroughly decent human being.

49 is no age at all.


Friday, 6 September 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019: Are 31 players enough?

With injury concerns hanging over a number of his England squad, Eddie Jones has been forced to include 3 players (Joe Marchant, Matt Kvesic, Charlie Ewels) in his 23 for tonight's warm-up against Italy who are not amongst the 31 names selected to play in the World Cup in Japan.

Which begs the question: is 31 the right number of players for a World Cup squad?

Given the length of the tournament, the number of games and the attritional nature of the modern game, I think the answer is probably a resounding NO.

None of the major playing nations would embark on an overseas tour - featuring a maximum of 3 or 4 games - with only a 31-man squad. Any yet they are expected to go to a World Cup limited in this way.

England, like other teams, have decided to go to Japan with only 2 scrum halves and 2 specialist tight head props. Both decisions carry obvious risks - and yet we must acknowledge that, given the 31-player limit, sacrifices have to be made and risks have to be taken somewhere within the squad.

This hardly chimes with World Rugby's efforts to make the game safer for players as inevitably teams will be forced on occasion to send out players to play who are not fully fit, thus putting their health and welfare at risk. I have no doubt that players will suffer injuries as a consequence.

It's too late for Japan, but if World Rugby are serious about player welfare they will consider allowing teams to increase the squad size to, say, 35 players for future tournaments.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

(Some) Women to go pro

Another leap forward for Women's Rugby in England with news breaking this week that some Premier 15s clubs will be paying their players during the coming season.

Both Saracens and Worcester will be paying players from this season, the Saracens' package apparently consisting of a combination of retainers and match fees, whilst Worcester, who have finished bottom of the Premier 15s for the last two seasons, will pay just match fees.

Payments will be on top of the money earned by England players under their RFU contracts - thus allowing certain players to be, effectively, fully professional.

The clubs involved are to be applauded for their enlightened approach to taking the women's game to the next level.

A note of caution, however - just as there is a danger of an unlevel playing field at international level, with England the only professional team in the Six Nations, so the club game needs to guard against the gap widening between perceived haves and have nots.

Saracens are already double Premier15s champions and the decision to pay players will hardly reduce their status as odds-on favourites to repeat the trick this coming season. If the ultimate goal is to create a vibrant, competitive and successful domestic women's league in this country then serious thought does need to be given as to how such ambition can be funded across the board.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Jack Nowell does it the hard way

Meanwhile, if England's Jack Nowell actually makes it to the World Cup in Japan, it's safe to say that he will have done it the hard way.

Not only has he been fighting all summer to recover from an ankle injury sustained at the PremiershipFinal on 1st June, he has now had to have his appendix removed at a hospital near England’s training camp in Treviso.

Clearly Nowell will not be involved in any of England's World Cup warm-up games, so fingers crossed that his rehabilitation goes well enough for him too make the plane to Japan as his absence would definitely leave England weaker.

Ireland ditch Devin Toner - surely some mistake?

You have to feel for Devin Toner. For the 67-capped Leinster lock to miss out on World Cup selection to a freshly qualified South African must sting more than a little.

It’s not Jean Kleyn's fault - he didn't make the eligibility rules. But the rules remain an ass and I have to say that, in ditching such a stalwart player and key figure in Ireland's lineout in favour of someone utterly unproven at international level, I think Joe Schmidt has lost the plot.

I suspect this decision will do little for squad unity and will ultimately come back to bite Ireland on the arse.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Look who it is!

I often find myself asking the question: Whatever happened to Gavin Henson? 

Well, now I know.

Having been released by the Dragons at the end of last season, our Gavin has, it seems, bought himself a pub, the Fox and Hounds in St Brides Major in the Vale of Glamorgan, and has even started a Sunday League football team.

Super Fox United – in a nod to the pub - has been set up with a collection of Henson's mates from the area although it’s safe to say the inaugral season hasn’t started too well with the results so far (0-6, 1-6) looking more like a very one-sided tennis match!

Still, as long as he’s having fun...