Friday, 28 February 2020

Wasps Academy prospect opens up on Mental Health struggles

Well done to Will Wilson, the Wasps Academy forward who has opened up about the struggles that he  has had with mental health issues which a year ago left him on the verge of suicide.

Wilson, who has an Oxford rugby blue and England 7s caps, is currently on loan at Championship club Cornish Pirates. 

The article, written in his own words, is a powerful, eloquent and enlightening account of how mental health issues can affect anyone and is well worth a read.

Wilson hopes that, by opening up in this way, he will help others as well as himself. I'm sure he's right.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Six Nations going viral?

I'm quite surprised at the news that Ireland’s Six Nations match against Italy in Dublin on 7th March has been postponed due to the outbreak of coronavirus in the north of Italy.

Obviously public health is more important than a mere rugby match – but is postponing the match really the right answer? 

Finding an alternative date is likely to prove problematic given the packed rugby calendar, so there is a very real chance that the fixture will never be played.

Surely - if the concern is that the Irish public will be at risk of contracting coronavirus owing to thousands of Italians travelling to Dublin - one answer would have been to play the fixture behind closed doors?

Not ideal, I grant you, but at least the match would be played. Or do economic considerations take precedence?

And what implications might there be for Italy's final fixture against England in Rome on 14th March?

Monday, 24 February 2020

Six Nations 2020 - Round 3 Verdict

And so Round 3 of the 2020 Six Nations is done and dusted and what did we learn?

We started in Rome where it appeared to be very much a case of two bald fellas fighting over a comb. Italy found multiple ways in which not to score and Scotland did just enough to come out on top. A rare game without a Stuart Hogg howler.

Later in Cardiff the French discovered that they could, indeed, play rugby away from home and, despite the bleating of Messrs Jones and Biggar, were deserved winners. They still have to go to Murrayfield and beat Ireland in Paris but a Grand Slam beckons.

And finally to Twickenham where England re-discovered their mojo to an extent, aided and abetted by an abject performance from the Irish half backs. The late flurry of substitutions, however, did nothing for continuity and possibly cost England a valuable try bonus point.

TF Team of the Week:

15. Stuart Hogg 14. Gael Fickou 13. Manu Tuilagi 12. Hadley Parkes 11. Jonathan Joseph 10. Romain Ntamack 9. John Cooney 1. Rory Sutherland 2. Camile Chat 2. Kyle Sinckler 4. Maro Itoje 5. Will Rowlands 6. Courtney Lawes 7. Hamish Watson 8. Gregory Alldritt

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Bravo Danny Cipriani

As per my post earlier this week, Danny Cipriani has received plenty of stick from this blog over the years - some of it, possibly, deserved - some of it certainly less so.

But my cap is duly doffed to him for having the bravery to post a video on his instagram account in which he opens up about his own mental health issues as well as his feelings about the death of former girlfriend, Caroline Flack.

It's raw, it's emotional and it's brave, and the underlying message - the need to tell people when you are vulnerable and the need to  #bekind - is one from which we can all learn.

Chapeau Mr Cipriani, Chapeau.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Six Nations 2020 - Round 3 Predictions

Prediction time again.

I've fed all the relevant data into my computer-like brain and the printout reads as follows:

Italy v Scotland

I've heard it said that this is could be the most important game in Italian rugby history as they have to win to retain any credible claim to remain in the Six Nations. I'm not sure that's quite the case but for all sorts of reasons I'd like them to succeed. Sadly I'm afraid just can't see it happening. Italy will be better at home but still not good enough. Scotland by 12.

Wales v France

The wheels almost came off for France last time out against Italy when they started to believe they were better than they actually were. They'll be very competitive in Cardiff, no doubt, but I'm not convinced that they have the maturity yet to win a big game on the road. Wales to win by 9.

England v Ireland

Despite the fact that Ireland are showing some very decent form, I had England down to win narrowly on the the basis that the return to Twickenham would galvanise this England team and they should come flying out of the blocks. And then I saw the team selected by Eddie Jones, who appears to be taking a perverse pleasure in picking players out of position to make a point that no one quite gets. Sad to admit it, but Ireland by 9.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Mental Health: Time to take responsibility

The social media abuse suffered by Danny Cipriani following the recent suicide of his former girlfriend Caroline Flack is totally and utterly unacceptable.

Do people not stop to think what effect such abuse might have on someone who is feeling vulnerable? Do they not see the correlation between their actions and how they might impact their "victim's" mental health? Can they not grasp the fact that their behaviour could (and in Ms Flack's probably did) contribute to someone taking their own life?

Now, I realise that I need to be careful here - after all, I have given Danny Cipriani, amongst others, plenty of stick on this blog over the years. I would argue that such content was meant to be funny and irreverent rather than malicious - but I can see more and more how fine a line that distinction might be.

While I'm not egotistical enough to suppose that any rugby player of any note reads any of the drivel that I post, that's not really the point is it?

And so, time for a new leaf - whilst still prepared to call out iffy behaviour on and off the rugby pitch and, where appropriate, take the piss (because where would we be without it?), I will take care to ensure there will be no more personal stuff. 

And the first thing to go is the Total Flanker Hall of Wazzocks, which is gratuitous and unnecessary and is hereby deleted, along with any accompanying posts.

Just a start, but hopefully a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile kudos to Gloucester for looking after Cipriani and for making their next home game against Sale an event in support of mental health issues.

Monday, 17 February 2020

6N 2020 - England Half-Term Report

So here it is, nearly half way through this year's Six Nations and time for England's half term report.

Except that it is really quite difficult to begin passing judgement. Abject in Paris, there is no evidence whatsoever to draw on from the victory at Murrayfield given the appalling conditions, other than England won a game they really couldn't have afforded to lose and that, with backs to the wall, the players were gutsy, defiant and belligerent, with the back row all over the breakdown like a rash. So perhaps after all there is an inner steel to the team that was not particularly visible a week earlier in Paris.

Questions remain, however.

The jury is firmly out on England's attack. Hugely disjointed in Paris and (through necessity) non-existent in Edinburgh, one would hope that the extra week's training before the Ireland match at Twickenham will afford new attack coach Simon Amor the time to bed in his attacking philosophy. So I guess we'll have to wait and see whether England can again produce the type of attacking fluency shown against New Zealand in Japan.

And selection also remains something of an enigma, not least the well trodden arguments about not selecting a recognised No.8 and the lack of depth at scrum half which need no further airing here.

Which brings me to Eddie Jones.

It's been a strange and erratic performance from the England Head Coach so far this year. For me his actions do not suggest a man who is necessarily committed for the next four year cycle. If, as he said after the World Cup in Japan, he really wanted to build new team, he's going about it a very odd way. 

Having recently read Jones' autobiography, it is clear that he seriously regretted staying on as Australia's head coach following defeat in the 2003 World Cup Final. Which makes me wonder as to his current state of mind and whether he has any desire to stay beyond 2021.

Or, perhaps, this is all just a symptom of an inevitable post-RWC hangover?

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

RFU dish out dose of reality

I do understand why Championship clubs are upset at the decision by the RFU to slash its funding to the Championship by some 50%. It must have come as a shock for many.

It is being suggested by some that the RFU are showing contempt for the Championship, that as a result of the funding cuts the league could be reduced to amateur status in two or three years and that effectively what this does is hand the Premiership ring-fencing by default.

I don’t disagree with any of that – but in reality something like this had to happen.

The Championship has for some years been something of a basket-case, with players being underpaid and inadequately insured by clubs on the brink of financial collapse.

Simply, and as I have said often enough, there has never been enough money in English rugby to sustain 2 fully professional leagues of 12 teams.

This day was therefore always going to come and all it really amounts to is a huge slice of reality – both for clubs who have been struggling to make ends meet and for players who were never really being paid enough to make a proper living anyway. There is no shame in having to revert to amateur status.

And for those few clubs who are, in fact, adequately and properly funded – I would hope that a place at the top table remains a possibility – and it is incumbent on the RFU and Premiership Rugby to make it so.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Six Nations 2020 - Round 2 Verdict

A mixed bag from round 2 of this year's Six Nations where the star of the show was undoubtedly Storm Ciara and where the TF predictions went slightly awry to say the least.

We started the weekend in Dublin where Wales - and Nick Tompkins in particular - gained a much better understanding of how they rank in international rugby terms than afforded to them by Italy last week. Ireland were much improved from their efforts against Scotland and now must test their mettle away from Landsdowne Road with an intriguing trip to Twickenham up next.

Storm Ciara was in full swing by the time we reached Murrayfield, with conditions virtually unplayable. Ultimately England won simply by making fewer mistakes than the Scots, although in the second half, when 4 kicks in succession sailed straight out, I did begin to wonder whether Eddie had a tenner on a Scotland victory. Nevertheless, a win is a win, but why so angry afterwards?

Finally to Paris on Sunday and much better conditions. France were sensational for the first quarter, then less than ordinary for most of the remainder of the game. Italy showed so much more than last week against Wales but still couldn't nail the important moments and the result was never really in doubt. France travel to Cardiff next and will need to improve dramatically.

TF Team of the week:

15. Jordan Larmour 14. Andrew Conway 13. Robbie Henshaw 12. Hadleigh Parkes 11. Matteo Minnozzi 10. Jonathan Sexton 9. Antoine Dupont 1. Ellis Genge 2. Julien Marchand 3. Tadgh Furlong 4. Dean Budd 5. George Kruis 6. CJ Stander 7. Sam Underhill 8. Gregory Alldritt

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Six Nations 2020 - Round 2 Predictions

The big question this week is whether Total Flanker can continue his hot prediction streak after a storming performance in Round 1.

Seriously, I doubt it.


Ireland v Wales
Really tough one to call -  Ireland had to hang on a bit against the Scots whilst Wales barely broke stride against Italy. Conditions are likely to be awful and I'm tempted to go for a draw but I think Wales might just have the nous to nick this by 3-6 points.

Scotland v England
Again, weather conditions are likely to be terrible but it's hard to know who this favours. Perceived wisdom is that this is the Scottish backs against the English pack but I wouldn't be so sure. I'm going for a narrow English win, but I say that with no confidence whatsoever.

France v Italy
I fear for Italy. France will have bags of confidence after last week's win and this could turn out to be a massacre. France by 30+

Friday, 7 February 2020

Nice touch from Joe Marler

I've decided, for the most part, to reserve judgement on England's start to this year's Six Nations until after Saturday's encounter at Murrayfield. Suffice to say that the team selected by Eddie Jones to play the Scots, whilst an improvement on the side he fielded in Paris, still doesn't fill me with huge confidence.

One man unlucky to lose his place in the team (being one of England's better performers against the French) is Joe Marler who, it is reported, sought out his opposition prop - debutante Mohamed Haouas - after the game to give him his England shirt, refusing to accept the offer of a swap from Haouas, telling him: “It’s the jersey from your first cap, you shouldn’t swap it or give it to anyone.”

Nice touch, Joe - very classy.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Six Nations 2020 - Round 1 Verdict

So, let's get one thing out of the way - other than me overestimating the capabilities of the Italians, my predictions for the first weekend of the Six Nations 2020 were pretty much spot on. Bully for me!

Not that I'm happy - particularly following England's abject performance in Paris. Best rugby team of all time? My arse.

The French were pretty good - Antoine Dupont in particular - and they defended in the way you'd expect a Shaun Edwards-coached team to defend, but they didn't really have to be all that good given England's extraordinarily high error count. England were, well, brutal.

And whatever justification Eddie Jones comes out with for his selections, it's bullshit. He got it badly wrong, will never admit it and is likely to rinse and repeat at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Turning to Dublin, it is clear that Andy Farrell is encouraging the Irish team to play in a less restricted manner, but they were quite fortunate to escape with a narrow win against a Scotland side that ,for the most part, were very good but lacked the composure and, crucially, the pace to take their opportunities. Plus ca change.

And finally to Cardiff, where Wales just efficiently got on with the Gatland to Pivac transition with little fuss and with no noticeable opposition from Italy, who looked solid in the scrum, had a few nice moments, but were unable to go more than a few phases without committing a howler and/or giving away possession. And in Josh Adams and Nick Tompkins the Welsh now have two seriously good finishers.

TF Team of the Week:
15. Anthony Bouthier 14. Jonny May 13. Nick Tompkins 12. Gael Fickou 11. Josh Adams 10. Dan Biggar 9. Antoine Dupont 1. Rory Sutherland 2. Ken Owens 3. Giosue Zilocchi 4. Iain Henderson 5.  Johnny Gray 6. CJ Stander 7. Charles Ollivon 8. Gregory Alldritt

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Six Nations 2020 - Round 1 Predictions

It's that time of year again as I gaze into my Six Nations crystal ball ahead of the weekend's action and make a complete and utter horlicks of predicting the results:

Wales v Italy

If I was Franco Smith I would be targeting this one as a possible upset. I can see the Italians giving it a right go but coming up just short. Wales by 6.

Ireland v Scotland

Ireland start favourites, no doubt, but Scotland surely can't be as bad as they were in the equivalent fixture in the World Cup pool stage. Ireland to edge this one but not by many.

France v England

Unconvinced by England's preparations and selections for this one and fear they'll be a million miles from the form showed against New Zealand in Japan. A young French side to win this by 5-10 points.