Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Friends + Snow + Travel = Epic!

Made it!
I spoke to a random stranger last week about friendships and how they are not always a tangible thing. Sometimes they change and develop; sometimes they grow; sometimes they fall away. Like everything in life they are ever changing and ever challenging.

This weekend as a result of a trip to Paris top watch a rugby match, my friendships were tested, challenged, grown and above all enjoyed. In what became an epic journey we had a lot of fun looking back the sense of achievement in getting to the game just after kick off, was only bettered by the sense of achievement I felt at actually getting home. I say ‘sense of achievement.’ I actually have to thank the people I was travelling with. As I slipped into a state of incomprehension at what the next move was going to be; people were on the phone to UK and rounding up the resources to get us from Paris to the UK. I went along for the ride, I wish I could have bought more to the party but in a way with so many organisers it is sometimes better if some people don’t interfere! Well that my excuse.

Old friends
 After we actually got to the game we headed back to our base for the weekend cheered by our patients at an 11 hour flight delay. Unaware of the chaos that was growing overhead as more snow was falling. On the Saturday I met up with an old friend who I knew, long before I even was aware of the existence of the good friends I travelled to France with. Since we last met she has made a new home in Paris and become a mother to 2 little Parisians. I spent a lovely extended lunch sinking some wine and eating Roquefort on toast; my old friend battled with stroppy waiters and evil French people: devastated that two British people were taking up seats in their eating establishment. After a great couple of hours we parted company. The trip and the forthcoming chaos were all worth it, to catch up with such a good friend, with whom over the years I had shared some great experiences in the past.

After the fastest trip around Paris which involved arriving at great landmarks taking a quick photo before route marching to the next destination was hard graft! The snow was falling heavier as we decamped to a bar and found the most stereotypical French waiter on earth, as well as the black waistcoat and long black apron he was also in possession of a waxed moustache, a surly face and glasses just small enough to peer over with distain as we ordered a couple of bottles of vin rouge, in broken French. Despite a nice few drinks the fear of the trip home was not far from the back of our minds and as we made our way back to the hotel.

When we awoke we were under a few inches of snow and found out early our flight was cancelled and so began the long trip home. First a train, then a tube then a longer train from Paris to Calais all along the route the 13 that arrived slowly dwindled in number. 6 not leaving the hotel, 2 making their way to the airport and 5 of us taking the decision to head to Calais and on route organise ferry tickets and a mini bus at the other end. Ironically we got home in less time than the journey out to France. Along the way we had tantrums, mainly from me, we had moments where it looked like we wouldn’t make it, but above all we had fun, in a sick way, it felt like an achievement we would be proud of. My friends all of whom I had encountered through the brotherhood and sisterhood of rugby had made it home and we were better for it. I will say this though: I am never leaving Chesham again!


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

3 Teams.

In the last few weeks I have seen so much rugby, of such varying standard that I have found myself trying to look at the similarities they all have to each other. The various states of development all the teams I have seen are in and where they are all going in the future.

I have had the privilege of seeing England get squeezed by the All Blacks- at this point I want to bring up what I said about Hosea Gear in the summer. I knew he was good: on his trip over to the UK, I think he proved himself more than capable of holding onto his shirt for some time to come. My stand out performer of the tour- The same England produce a master class against Australia, battle past Samoa and then fall short against an aggressive and wounded Springbok team. Despite the last game I have never felt more positive about England. The six nations are going to be a tough tournament but I am predicting England to win it this year. So that’s England: a team in development.

That brings me to the Chesham men’s team. I have watched this team start to grow and find its feet and I have nothing but a positive feeling about where they are going. The youngsters continue to grow in confidence and that is what they need most. They have in the armoury, all the equipment to win games. They just need to start believing in themselves. The old heads have a role to play in that and something we are very bad at is providing positive encouragement. Stand on the sidelines and you can hear everyone telling people what they are doing wrong but struggle to hear people telling people what they are doing well. The coach is the one whose job it is to lay into people, the supporters have the job of doing exactly what the name suggests “supporting”.

Then my last but not least team the Chesham Women. I have after some resistance found myself involved in the team again in a small way assisting the coaching and going to the games and helping to get the women prepared and warmed up. To be honest it is pretty much suited to me, putting out a few cones then coming on and trotting out a few things at half time. The women have it sussed they have a few wise heads out there; who know more about what they need to do than me and they communicate it perfectly. All that said this weekend seeing the girls take to the field with 15 players was so good, it was just a joy to watch and I tell you something else they were good, very good. What I would give to be able to have that availability every week. With the addition of the players we were missing on Sunday you would have a league winning squad of players with no problems. Does that sound arrogant? Only if you don’t think it’s true.

Monday, 22 November 2010


Well another eighty minuets of rugby under my belt and I have to say it was far more enjoyable than the last eighty minutes. I still hate losing, but I have learnt to realise that in a team sport which involves games against teams of all manner of skills. You sometimes have to except you can’t change the world and you can only do your best. Individually I felt I did ok and offered a lot more by way of positive encouragement than I have done in the last few outings. I know I need to reign in my big mouth a bit but when I feel the need to say something I find it hard to stop myself. I made a couple of shocking errors, the biggest one that haunts me is the missed tackle on the centre who left me with more pain in my shoulder than any full on tackle ever could have. The second pushing out and calling a drift only to overrun my man I was left to tackle. I tend to at times beat myself up over these things and I have to say on this occasion I was right to. Silly mistakes and the first allowed in a try. Having to take pills after games which mean I can’t drink was harder than I thought possible. That said: no migraines so it seemed to work, however the thought of not being able to drink on the final autumn international weekend is too much. So it’s social over playing for me this weekend. As a result of Saturday’s game I really want another one. As I was stepping on the platform of retirement (again); I found that maybe there were still another couple of stops left on my journey and I have to thank a lot of the people who have been so positive and encouraging. It’s hard to pick someone up when they seem to keep falling down but people have been brilliant in doing that for me.

Some of the youngsters and some oldies who started the season.
The young lads again led the way around the field on Saturday. The 2 young flankers had real standout performances. I have developed an unbelievable respect for these young lads who have come through our club. Every one of them I take to the field with exceeds my expectations. They put in a work rate that is far and beyond what I can do and they also play with their heads up. They seem to be coming out of the woodwork at such a rate; each week I see another one with great potential and great skill. Even though they all love beating me up and smashing me around I can’t help but feel hugely protective of all of them. It’s not just in the men’s section that this is the case. I got to watch the junior girls play on Sunday and in amongst them, some players with great potential. The ones who have stepped up this year into our senior women’s side have already shown how quickly they can settle into the set up. Not only are these young rugby players filled with talent and capable individuals they are all genuinely nice lads and lasses too. They are entertaining and enjoyable company. I have socialised with a few of the guys who came into the adult section this year and although at times I feel like I have stepped into an episode of ‘the inbetweeners’ I can’t help but enjoy it. Managing them in a rugby sense and keeping them all keen is the real challenge facing the club.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Scrum Again

I love the scrum; I love it so much I could easily watch eighty minutes of it. At international level, you can have great trys and I appreciate the deft skill of these flighty ball handlers. They work their way through defences; unlocking them like a prison guard opening cell doors at slop out time but for me these are different games. The one that sees people: fleet of foot, dancing through a psychotic back row, intent on destruction, is beautiful. There is a huge part of me that wishes I had the ability to step and dance like that. However, like my golf swing, which resembles a man throwing a sack of spuds onto a lorry, my stepping ability looks like a man trying to put out his shoes after they have been set alight.

The scrum though. The scrum is more than beautiful. When those eight men are locked together like a giant 3 headed mythical beast and stop being eight individuals; when the focus of the one, becomes the focus of all for five seconds of furious battle. They share the same goal, a destructive aggressive aim to rip apart the threat that sits in front of it. When you get a scrum right; when all the shoulders shunt up; when all the feet move forward at the same time, there is little sensation capable of bettering that feeling in the world; When the opposition start to grip on to the turf in a desperate bid to hold their ground before finally letting go and retreating. The feeling is primitive; the feeling is all the things we are encouraged not to feel in our lives; dominance of someone else through sheer physical force.

To the outsider it all sounds a bit odd, a bit of a weird thing to do for pleasure. To those who do it and most importantly enjoy it, there is no better place to be. That is the key though; there are hundreds of front row players who dream of being a ten, or an outside centre. They don’t want to be in the scrum, they are just biding their time for that call to glory. “Prop we need a new fly half, we decided on you”, is how they dream it will happen; it never does. These players are worth their weight in gold. The pillars of the game; you can have your miss pass, dummy switch, back inside to the full back. Me I would rather see a push over try.

Monday, 1 November 2010

A Better Day. Weekend Part 2.

On the Charge.

You will see this is part 2 of the weekend. I don’t really wish to advertise part 1. So we will just leave it at that.

Now I woke up Sunday feeling pretty fed up. The thought of travelling across London in the rain to watch the women play wasn’t really top of my list but I really was pleased to see the Chesham team take to the field again.

I have said before that for rugby games to take place it involves an awful lot of work from the same very few people. The people who have fought and battled, to get a team together to play on Sunday, deserve all the respect that they can be given. They did not give up when they easily could have; they didn’t walk away when so many others did. They kept on, they battled and they pulled in every favour they could find to get the team back onto the field. As achievements go I don’t think they come much bigger. You could see in the face of the captain on the day and the players that have battled with her to make it happen how much it meant. That enthusiasm filtered all the way through the team.

I am not going to glamorise the game it was a very confusing thing to watch as Kilburn looked like team intent on smashing through Chesham. Chesham had other ideas and regularly sent them backwards. The truth is though the result, which was a resounding victory for Chesham was secondary to the attitude and effort the team put in. Players playing their first games were put in positions players in their first games don’t often have to play. Yet they did it without complaint, and they did it well. People were asked to hook who had never hooked and did it well. The scrum half played out of position and was quite brilliant. The team was lead well and in the right places you had some experience to guide people around the field.

The most exciting thing about the game is the young players coming in. Raw talent and pace was in abundance and really good players. Everything in life goes through cycles. The same thing stands for rugby clubs. Our men’s team is in a cycle of growth and development which is impressive. The women’s team also now has light at the end of the tunnel with youngsters coming in who can start to create a team of their own and take ownership of it and its responsibilities.

Actions Speak Louder than Words. Weekend Part 1.

Take everything I wrote last week and throw it away. I don’t think I have ever been as disappointed with myself as I was on Saturday. Not just the performance, but the behaviour was something I am mortally ashamed of.

I had so many high hopes for the game so much desire to make a difference and really I was left floundering. I basically walked my way from one scrap to another around the rugby field unable to provide any real impact on the game. There are one or two things I really need to sort out before I can carry on. All in all it was a very frustrating 80 minutes and as my good friend said to me after the game. I allowed myself to be “mindf****d” and you couldn’t sum it up with any more eloquent language. That was exactly what had happened.

In the past I would have sucked it up, but this guy was shouting all the things I was thinking in my head. Verbalising my own annoyances and I let it get to me. When I missed a tackle I heard my opposition prop shout “haha ha ha ha good work prop what a great tackle”, It’s worse when someone tells you something you are already screaming at yourself. I went the only way I knew how which was trying and punch him at every opportunity and choke the life out of him at the scrum. I actually wanted to physically hurt him. It was so bad; I am ashamed to admit I never even shook his hand at the end of the game. I didn’t want to, I didn’t like him and I didn’t want to pretend it was all harmless fun. It wasn’t, my pride was seriously hurt my ego smashed. That is all I want to say about it. Let’s call this an apology to all the people I played with on Saturday.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Fear Replaced by Fear.

I am hoping to channal my inner Castro.

My love of rugby is returning to its previously extreme state, for two reasons. One I am really, really ready to play. I don’t think I can remember a time when I felt more confident and more ready than I do now. I have sat back; I have watched; I have commented; I have opinionated. All that has done is made me want to take my place on the field. For the first time in an awful long time, my nagging doubts have been lifted and my confidence restored. I don’t want to beat around the bush, this isn’t a confidence based on a belief I am the best player in the world. It is however based on a realistic belief I can counter any of the challenges I am likely to face at the level I am intending to play.

In fact all my previous fears have been blown away. My fear of my knee is replaced with a belief in its strength. My trepidation around the scrum has been replaced with a belief that I can hold my own. The biggest problem, my fear of contact in the loose and a real desire to avoid it, has been replaced with a real passion to smash someone in a tackle. I don’t care how they come, head on, from the side, through the ruck or round the gate. I just want to knock someone backwards. Only one fear has replaced all these others, it is a new feeling it is one of letting down the people I am playing with. I never really thought about it much in the past. I just went out and did what I could do. Now I want to do what is best for the people I am taking to the field with. I have watched quality performances this season. Real performances of pride, and watched all the teams develop enormously. It feels like a privilege to play with them so I am going to relish it. I am under no illusions that it won’t hurt and I will be struggling like never before with match fitness but I hope when the final whistle blows I will have contributed something positive to the people around me.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Losing Lessons.


 Clive Woodward said, when you lose you go to the pub get drunk and forget about the game. Then you come back and examine it but try not to put too much emphasis on it. When you win he said, that was the time to break the game to pieces and see what it is you did right and what you did well.

Much as his record speaks for itself I am not sure I agree completely. I think from losses you find out how much heart and desire people have to go that extra mile to win. You don’t learn much from hammering teams week in week out. When you lose by a point here and there you can then ask the important questions. What did you do when you had the ball that was right, and what you did that was wrong. Mainly it comes down to two things at the level Chesham plays. Firstly decision making and the ability to see where the space or weakness is in the opposition. Then you need to find a method in which to take advantage of that weakness. Secondly, purely and simply it comes down to fitness. Many times I have played for Chesham and in the set parts of the game we have destroyed an opposition. However because they have had the fitness to keep going and to keep challenging us they have come out on top at the end of 80 minutes.

Many people might think I am over simplifying the game but it is a dead simple game; quick ball played into space, results in trys. To produce it for 80 minutes, you need to be fit or you need to be sensible and manage the game well. A combination of the two would be even better.

Losing a game in a league format this early in the season isn’t fatal. It gives you a chance to have another look at what you are doing during games. The key is people taking responsibility for their part in the failures. If it was because the team wasn’t fit enough, then if you want to win, get out to the gym and get fitter. Or go for a run and put the effort in. If it’s because of the decisions that the team made then ask yourself what you did when you had the ball and what you did when you didn’t. If you squandered a 3 on 1 overlap then you should learn the harsh lessons that go with that.

To win a rugby game you need to have 15 people who are better than the opposition 15, who make the right decisions when they have the ball, and reduce the opposition’s choices when they don’t. To win a league you need more than that. You need lots of people to be selfless, committed and above it all driven by a desire to put their all into it week in and week out for a long season. Losing helps to discover how much inner desire we have to be part of a winning team. It has many positive lessons and is essential for any team to develop. Don’t dwell on them, don’t replay them, just take from them the feelings you are not prepared to encounter the next time you tie your boots and step over the whitewash.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Another team, another photo.

Anther photo where the addtion of two cameras gives us a distant look. 
For the second week in a row, I ended up in a team photo. This time however I actually played for 40 minutes. I say played for 40 minutes, I actually probably achieved 20 mins of play. The rest was a futile search for any sort of fitness that would just enable me to ride out the remaining 20. I don’t think I have ever been as pumped up coming onto the field as I was on Saturday. My head was spinning with self doubt and fear and my legs were like jelly. I think, as a result, I had shot my bolt after 20 minutes. By then the adrenalin that had got me off out of the starting blocks was starting to subside. I was left with the realisation that no matter how hard you train nothing compares to that first game of rugby for making you realise what it takes to play the sport.

We were uncontested in the scrums on Saturday in the 3rd 15 and that was a bit of a shock. I didn’t actually tell anyone I was going to play. I thought in that way it would be a choice I could make if I wanted to play. That said as soon as I entered the changing room and taped up and got ready there was no doubt I would be playing if given the chance.

So what happened? Well I came on at half time fuelled by much red bull and fear and decided to get the ball as much as I could. Maybe too much for some of my teammates liking, but to be honest, for the first time in a game, I really needed to be selfish so I could test myself out. I wanted to take a tackle with the ball, I wanted to get hit at a ruck to make myself realise it wasn’t as bad as I thought. In fact like the old days it was good fun. So I made a few carries and hit a few rucks and generally got into the game and enjoyed myself. I even managed to put in a tackle which used all the techniques we had been learning at training pushing up on the inside shoulder of the attacker and coming forward dropping and hitting with the shoulder. Some people have suggested I didn’t wrap my arms around the guy. I will state for the record I did but he shot out of my arm so fast I couldn’t hold onto him. Anyway the ref saw nothing wrong with it so I don’t care. For me I had achieved the Holy Grail I had been looking for my whole rugby career, a really big hit on someone. I tell you what it felt so good I could have easily walked off the pitch there and then.

What of the newly formed 3rd 15? Well they are a work in progress, they have some great talented young players and with the right people in the right positions on Saturday I do think they would have won against Beaconsfield. Hopefully that will come because it is a great place to come back from an injury or a knock or like me to get some confidence under your belt. At the same time developing and introducing young guys into adult rugby.

The club gained a win for the first team in a tough game at the prison and the 2nd team smashed another team, and with a 3rd team out for the second week in a row, things are good. How long players in the seconds can keep smashing teams before they start taking first team spots is now the question. Competition for places at Chesham........who would have thought it!??

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Vicarious Living.

1 day we will get a well posed photo.
This Saturday I had the joy of travelling away with a second team to our old foes Fullarians. Over the years we have received a few thumping’s at their hands, and on the odd occasion we have gained a victory they have complained about the ref, moaned about us cheating or just generally felt we never deserved it. Saturday, and I really want to make this emphatic, they got well and truly stuffed. The score line was 43 points to nil and in truth they were lucky it wasn’t 70+ points. Which it easily could have been, add in missed conversions and 3 disallowed trys. The score line does not really go far enough in giving the full effect of the dominance those witnessing this game can attest to.

I am going to put my hands up now and say I really didn’t see a victory of this quality, coming from the team that stood in front of me during the warm up. Please accept my apologies for that statement. They all looked a little bit delicate with the exception of our behemoth front row that I can only be grateful I have never had to face. They looked like they would be bullied around the field a bit. How wrong I was, if anything in the end I actually thought our team were going to take the dinner money off their opposite numbers, considering the nature of their dominant performance.

Not only did the team dominate in the forwards, the backs were simply outstanding. The ten pulled forward defenders and sent his inside centre into acres of space. When there wasn’t acres of space the inside centre created it with footwork that Kevin Bacon would be proud of. At one point I thought he was going to go over the line, then come back and do it again, just for shits and giggles before touching down. The key thing is though not just the attacking flair. Defensively their attitude caused the Fullarians attack so many problems they could find no way out of their half. When they did it was with a badly aimed kick that would then fall to another Chesham player who would continue the dance of death on any hopes Fullarians had of scoring points.

I don’t know who coached these young lads through their Chesham careers but whoever it was deserves an awful lot of thanks. They have created a group of lads for whom the sky is the limit. For now I am going to put this performance down to one simple thing..............the warm up............No in all honesty it was a joy to watch. I would happily fill the role of water boy to watch performances like that every week. In fact vicarious living has it's benifits, no sweating or neck ache! The question is can this standard of performance continue? Well winning builds confidence and on this performance this is going to be present in abundance next time around so watch this space.

Friday, 24 September 2010


How I feel following shuttle runs.  
The reality of the opportunities facing the men’s playing section and the club as a whole hit me last night like the pain in my hamstring. Sharply and with a bang.

Having had various discussions with people, it is clear there is an incredible buzz about the club at the moment. Coupled with a real desire to put into action the things we are looking at on a Tuesday and a Thursday. In no way is this meant to disrespect the people who have gone before, and probably they have been effected as much by timing as anything. However the challenges being set down by the coaching that is currently being promoted are something I have never had to face.

Up until last night my ideas as a forward in the back line were to stand behind the ten and shout “inside ball!” or finding myself on the wing as a result of being to unfit to get from the previous phase of play that found me there in the first place. Now we are looking at people being able to perform rangies, slices and diamonds. I am sure these are very basic moves in the rugby world but for me last night it was like I was trying to perform a mathematical equation using the my feet. The fact that now, it’s not just backs but also forwards in the back line, which are being asked to perform these moves. This in turn means should they find themselves in the position to fulfil one of these roles; they can do so with confidence.

I won’t lie, for me these moves were incredibly difficult to get to grips with but I am sure we will, in time, get them right. This goes back to what I have said previously in other blogs, success and failure come down to one simple thing, hard work. You can be an ordinary player and perform if you are willing to put the effort in, and you can be a great player and consistently fail to achieve if you fail to put the required effort in. There is nothing in life that can’t be taught and honed by even the most ordinary player if they are willing to commit themselves to that task.

The most exciting thing for me now is with the clubs new set up is that this commitment is coming through. At the end of the last two sessions we have taken part in shuttle runs, I know personally I would probably have found an excuse not to perform these or maybe even given up half way. Now however no one gives up, they all put in the effort and it is a joy to be part of.......did I just say that about shuttle runs!?

I have for many years had a love hate relationship with Chesham Rugby Club. It has bought me some of the best moments in my life and at some points left me at my lowest. For now I don’t know when I will be back on the field but just being part of these moments we are going through makes me realise how much I love it.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010



This week, as I struggle more and more with the required confidence to play rugby; I was thinking back over games I had played in and what they had meant to me. I think it was put into perspective by the fact I was kindly invited to the Wasps season launch dinner last night by my boss, but due to my commitment to training (I gave up after 40 mins). I decided not to go. It turns out I missed a chance to be at a table shared with Phil Vickery the Wasps and England prop. The fact that this is a man who has played a key part in some of the best days I have ever had in my life. My most amazing shared rugby experiences as a fan have involved this man. No he wasn’t there when I had sex, but in rugby terms, as a tight head prop, he was ever present. To me he was an example of what I wanted to emulate. World cup finals, Lions tours, premierships. He has been there and achieved at the highest level. Yet I wonder how you put the careers of someone who has achieved so much into perspective alongside my own playing career.


Where he has the World Cup final of 2003 and a winner’s medal; I have a victory over Old Verulamian’s third team at home in the league. Where he has his runners up medal in the 2007 World Cup Final; I tasted bitter defeat at a merit league plate final we had received a bye to get into. Where he has Lions tours to New Zealand, South Africa and Australia; I have Breda in Holland, Prague and the infamous Leret De Mar. Now joking aside the achievements, or lack of them, are incomparable none of it makes them any less memorable.

If we take the first game I listed, this sits as a game for me that I will always remember. Not just for the game itself but the away fixture which preceded it. It was at the start of this season and I became captain of the second team and my first game was against Old Verulamian’s. I was nervous of fulfilling the new role of a captain and as the game started off the opposition scored straight away. This continued for the whole of the first half. It was an absolute rampage and as the half time whistle blew, we had already conceded half a century of points. I don’t think I have ever been so upset, I knew we were better than that and I think I told people that. I may have even thrown a few swear words into the mix too. In the second half we didn’t concede another point and even scored two trys. I think for me this was more upsetting than losing by 100 points. Yet it wasn’t that, that spikes this game in my memory; it was the actions of the opposition flanker. I picked up a loose ball and as I passed it away he hit me with a really good tackle. As I got up he shoved his hand in my face and sneered “why did you come here, you lot are shit” That stung more than any score line or any tackle. Those words rang in my ears at the final whistle and I am not afraid to admit it, the whole thing bought me to tears in the shower. My first game as captain was a heavy loss and I found myself saying “why did we go there, we were undoubtedly shit”.

When they returned to our club at the end of the season we had put together a very good team and some very good players. We were mixed with experience and exuberance and I also like to think motivation. I don’t remember any words I say before a game I try to say what I feel from the heart and hope people trust my honesty but this game is different, I related the story of what had happened at the end of that game, I told the players how it made me feel and I just said “we do not lose this game today, whatever it takes” The next 80 mins are a blur for me. I have never played in a side so motivated, so driven to do well. Every player that day put in their best performance. There were players who were always on the periphery, who played fundamentally important parts in that game and scored trys. Hell I even scored my first ever one. It wasn’t the try I remember most though it was towards the end of the game when we were camped on our line and they were pushing and pushing for the winning score when we got possession of the ball and our centre kicked it as hard as he could and the ball travelled in the air passed halfway and nearly into the opposition 22. That was the moment that broke them, that was the moment we knew it was our day. It had been a long time coming.

There were no trophies at the end of it, no bus ride through London or tea with the queen, it was just a sweet moment which is a memory I will treasure for a long, long time. It was my world cup final moment.

Monday, 13 September 2010


I have just come home from the rugby club event of the year which was the first Chesham Sports Festival. As an event it was very well executed. It seemed to me that all the people who were involved in it enjoyed it and the range of sports on show benefited the rugby club in building some partnerships. There are some aspects that I am sure the organisers would change but all of them minor and just with regards to space available. I don’t think it can be denied that this 1st outing was a great success.

This leads to the reality of small clubs and raising their profiles and the work involved. At this event we managed to attract a Sky sports team and the England Women’s Legend Maggie Alphonsi. Now to put that into perspective it is a bit like getting Lawrence Dallaglio to attend a week after the England team played a world cup final. The major disappointment was the lack of women at the event. If I had the chance to meet one of rugby’s real heroes, I don’t think there is much aside from family weddings or funerals that would have kept me away. For a club like Chesham whose women’s team face major hurdles this year to even field a side this was without doubt a major disappointment. I did get a chance to speak to Maggie (I can call her that now) about the situation in the women’s game and she was actually quite candid in her view which was that the women’s game faces some huge hurdles. Like anything at the lowest levels of sport. To even get the basics right involves a lot of sacrifices and usually from the same very few people.

To put on an event like the Sports festival involves an incredible amount of work, this work is usually carried out by the same people, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Before a ball is kicked each season the club needs to find somewhere in the region of £20,000. That’s probably a conservative estimate. As someone that has fulfilled a couple of these minor rolls behind the scenes, as a second team captain and a coach of the women’s section. Involving yourself in the committee is a bit like being the first man over the top during the First World War. Chances are you are going to end up dead and the people behind you will be running right over your corpse. You won’t get any thanks and 95% of the people who you commit your time too will either not have a clue what is involved or simply won’t care. They will have no qualms about complaining about what is wrong but will put very little effort into helping put it right. This is the dilemma facing small clubs. When do you say enough is enough? If you have a team and more than 50% of its players don’t care if it fails, do you say at some point we can’t do any more? If you provide that team with an international standard coach and match day assistance and still many of its players and members don’t feel they want to be involved. You have to make some tough decisions based on what more you can do.

I said earlier in the piece rugby clubs and teams survive because of a handful of people who are willing to make huge personal sacrifice. To just simply keep things ticking over is an effort; more than that, it is relentless and time consuming. In life as well as sport there are those who do and those who don’t. This is thanks to those who do.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Big Weekend Part 2- Womens World Cup Final.

So it was back to Twickenham on Sunday to watch the Women’s World cup final, with the hosts England taking on the Black Ferns of New Zealand. I have to say the atmosphere at the ground was amazing and as we walked towards the stadium from the flats behind the ground we were being heckled by a group of Kiwis dressed as wrestlers. To be honest they showed up in huge numbers and it made for a cracking feeling in the stadium.

The Haka is a very different thing in the women’s game I am led to believe they need special permission to perform it and I am glad they receive it unlike the men’s game it doesn’t seem as blood curdling and threatening but it is still a fantastic sight and at the end as they stepped towards each other and faced off it set out the format for the next 80 mins.

I am not going to go into every aspect of the game but the standard of rugby New Zealand produced was up there with the best, only matched really by the immense defensive performance that England put in. Immense does not do them justice. For huge portions of this game New Zealand hammered and hammered on the door of the England try line, and time and time again England kept them out. Jo McGilchrist, the second rowers, tackle on the flying Kiwi winger was just an incredible effort and an example of the bloody minded determination England showed all game. It is hard to criticize England really, there were one or two errors of judgement but the truth is when you are starved of the ball as much as England were; you are going to face problems in doing positive things with it when it comes your way.

What makes New Zealand so good? I talked about the funding reduction the women have faced but they just seem to have a glut of natural talent. Maybe this comes from a national rugby obsession but oddly enough I realised today New Zealand are World cup holders in Men’s League, Women’s League and women’s Union. How odd they can’t transfer that to the ultimate New Zealand team, the All Blacks. In reality, it’s tough for a country to justify, a reduction in funding, for a team that wins successive world cups for 4 tournaments in a row. A team whose players are unpaid and make huge sacrifices to play, yet throws money at a team that has, with the exception of the inaugural tournament, failed to bring home the trophy. If I were a New Zealand woman I would probably be kicking up a hell of a fuss over that…….obviously I am neither so maybe I should just butt out…..

For England I don’t know how you get over a defeat like that. I cried for a day when Chesham 2nd IV lost a plate final of a merit league trophy we got a bye into. So to lose a final of that magnitude would probably require years of intensive therapy. I am sure they will come to terms with it and hopefully look back with pride at just what they did manage to do against a team so advanced in terms of skill’s and game play. There is talk that this result may see a reduction in their budget for the next few years. I hope that doesn’t happen. I think all that need’s to happen is to simply look at the way the foundations are laid and stick huge resources into bringing women into the game and find ways to do it with urgency. Our own club faces a real crisis in terms of its women’s section in the coming year, simply because there is a huge gap in who has gone and who is coming in. I wish I could find a way to solve that issue. They are a team I have a huge amount of affection for and have been lucky enough to play a small part in their history, all be it one of the most unsuccessful parts but all the same it was a good learning curve and something I will always be very proud to have been involved with.

Big Weekend Part 1- Saturday

Twickenham from the Gods 

A weekend of incredible rugby action has just passed; involving a tri nation’s classic, the new boys of the premiership turning over Gloucester with a cracking result, a Twickenham double header and the women’s world cup final. I am going to post separately about the women’s game as I feel it deserves a bit of attention.

The Australia victory over South Africa in Bloemfontein, the first in 47 years was an example of how far the Aussies have come. Let’s be honest when I say how far they have come, even at their worst they have never been far off perfect. The quality of their back division has always made them an incredibly dangerous outfit. Certainly for stodgy great lumps who want to power through the game. Australia sits in a position where with one or two tweaks they could be the main threat to the hosts in New Zealand 2011. I wonder if South Africa has not peaked now and are on a downward slide. Whether they are an aging team in need of an overhaul or just simply a team out of sorts is up to the coaches and managers to decide and I suppose we will see the answers at the next fixture.

Now the Premiership and the big noise of the weekend were coming from the West Country....At Last!! The real South West of England has for so long been underrepresented at the top flight that you would not believe as an outsider it is such a rugby dominated area of England. A Welsh like ferocity and attitude to the game, is all around and the Cornwall v Devon rivalry is up there with the biggest in sport. Personally I desperately want to see a Cornish side in the premiership but we will have to wait a few more years yet I think. All that aside, for the new boys to turn over one of the dominant teams of the south west must feel great. They are very quick to talk down the win and they are right to do that, they have a long and tough road ahead, but what a start.

I was at Twickenham for the double header on Saturday and got to see some good rugby. The physicality of the premiership has gone up another level and the hits going in, in the early stages of the Saracens game were bone crunching and unforgiving. Schalk Britz played a sublime first half and his offloading game was the best I have seen for years. However I am guessing Saracens are going to face some tough challenges this year, their players are now known and as a result analysed. They will struggle to maintain the impact they made last year and as the second half showed when Irish put numbers and pressure onto the likes of Britz their impact was nullified. I still think they are going to be there at the end but it will be a harder test this season. Steffen Armatige was out of this world for Irish a real powerhouse performance from the little barrel of a flanker. I really hope England persevere with him in some capacity. He looked fitter than ever and stronger; a result of some hard work in the off season and an example of his desire to work on his game. Wasps v Harlequins was another battle really even contest a début for the Welsh bad boy Andy Powell saw him score with some great support work and to be honest the game sort of fizzled out towards the end. Now that is a bit of an excuse to be honest for the fact my attention fizzled out and the tray chucking Mexican wave was far more fun!! I have to add a few beers also affected my capacity for reasoned analysis at this point. However all in all a good day, and a good scoring weekend in the premiership. If the opening scores are anything to go by the title and the relegation are not certainties......Though much as I hate to say it, I am tipping Leeds for the drop.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Personal Questions.

So the season is as good as here and the clubs pre-season has seen large numbers taking part. I am not sure if that translates to quality but it does encourage talk of 3 teams....This works right up to the point that you have 3 games and only 28 people. As our pre season interclub game proved in the amateur game lots of people training does not equal lots of people playing. “When Saturday comes” is no longer a phrase you can associate with sports most religious followers’ holy day of the week. Now “when Saturday comes” means kids need to be entertained, wife wants a shelf put up, I have to work or any other manner of necessary distractions from taking part in the sports we love.

Do I have enough tape for another season?   

So personally where do I see the season going? To be honest as much as it hurts to say it I really don’t think I am good enough, fit enough or committed enough to offer much this season. I know the argument could be put forward that I never have been. The big difference though is I always imagined I was that mental aspect of my game is what I loved and thrived on. I am currently frozen with fear when involved in any of the physical aspects of the game to the point I can’t offer anything positive on the field. I started with a lot of enthusiasm for the season with the thought of honest selection processes and quality coaching but having seen the effect on my body and the fact that I just simply can’t sustain any consistency has left me racked with questions. The standing joke about my retirement is funny but I really don’t have a love for playing at the moment which I always did. That really hurts. I still love the game, with passion. Just not enough to want to go through the potential pit falls of another season playing. I hope my mindset changes at some point I really do as it stands, I am going to wait a little longer and see what happens.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A game for all.

The Women’s world cup began on Friday and the hope is high for an English victory at the end of the tournament. The hurdle of the New Zealand “Black Ferns” is a potentially slippery one. This is a team that has played 53 games and won 50 of them. Then there are the knockout stages of the competition where form and consistency can sometimes be overturned by bloody-mindedness and a bit of heart and passion. Ask countless favourites who fail at the final hurdle when the pressure comes on and there is nowhere to go.

This is a real problem for the England side. People on the whole are talking about who will win; England or New Zealand. If anything motivates teams to perform, it is the suggestion they do not exist in any other entity than as a stepping stone to the forgone conclusion. As Ireland showed in their tough defence this is not as easy as many are suggesting.

There is a bigger picture here and that is the health of the women’s game. If you look first at New Zealand the land of rugby. This year they pulled its women’s version of the NPC completion in a search to make budget cuts. Major figures from the women’s game in New Zealand see this decision as potentially fatal for the women’s game in New Zealand, League and other sports may become more attractive to the disappointed players. The decision to provide them no competitive rugby in a World cup year is a major handicap for success. Such is the depth of talent they will still sit as the team to beat, however the long term effects of this decision may mean an end to their dominance. England sits astride the world with a massive playing budget which really should see their investment sit well. Yet the women’s game in England is not a healthy one in my opinion. From my own experience the numbers are not growing and when you take away the elite level and the premiership, where even there some teams struggle to field sides, below them is league after league of mismatched teams and threadbare administration.

I am of the opinion that the women’s game needs a complete overhaul of its structure from the top down. With the teams so spread around the need for county teams is vital and some tough decisions on bringing clubs together to raise the quality of the game is essential. I am not an expert but if you take Buckinghamshire with its clubs all whom struggle to produce decent numbers for games. Why not create two county teams one north and one south combining the clubs in the area and in that way raising the numbers for training and matches and therefore improving the consitancy. These are tough decisions and some clubs would suffer but the long term health of the women’s game is in dire need of proper restructuring and nurturing. Competitions like the national 7s have been in rapid decline when only 8 years ago they were big events that drew people in and represented all that was best about the game. You cannot say that 7’s is in decline because the growth of weekends like the Bournemouth 7’s proving this is not the case.

Where do the answers for these problems lie? Well I can assure you I don’t have them but I don’t think it can be denied they exist. The solutions lie in the hands of the women who play week in week out. Whether on the back of the women’s world cup they can raise not only the profile but the issues they face in the game is up to those who wish to see it continue.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

So it begins..........

This is how long I will last.

We are currently into week 3 of our pre-season, so that is six sessions. I have managed to attend 5 and as a result my ankles now barely function and my knee’s feel like they have been hit with hammers for about 3 days. The only thing getting me through it is work is quite so not too much heavy lifting and lots of ice. So what have I noticed this year that is different to the previous? Well to start with our opening session was hosted by a current England international and a woman well to be fair it was two current internationals who were both women! To be honest, I feel this is an exceptionally good thing for us as a club and in a selfish way the fact she is a prop means I am hoping to get some considerable tips to take into the season.

The coach is now away with England carrying out international duty and will be until September so coaching has continued under all manner of different people. I even did a bit myself one Thursday. I only have one issue at the moment and that is SAQ (speed, agility, quickness). My reason being, as someone carrying an excess baggage of around 5st hopping and jumping over hurdles is the main reason for my now non-functioning legs. I am not one to duck out but I think to save my joints for the coming season, I am going to have to avoid the hurdles. I have never encountered the pain I am getting and that is the only thing that has changed. That and very hard ground do not combine well for my 37 year old joints. Also, I don’t think I have done as many press ups in my life as we have done in the last 3 weeks, and boy am I crap at press ups!!!

So what am I seeing at the moment as the main issues? Well on the whole our handling is terrible and our vision can only be compared to that of Stevie wonder. I think fitness plays a major role in both of these things but the basic skills really need to be honed. At our level you don’t need to have fancy lineout options and 10 attacking moves simple basic rugby executed well will bring about scoring opportunities. Create 4 phases of quick ball at this level and you should score. That said we need to find in us some patience, a lot of our handling errors come from trying to score of every pass we make. The truth is we need to get used to stretching people and teams from one part of the field to the other in order to create the chances. These may not happen first time, but with good crisp clean passing and depth they will come, in our haste to do something magical we are missing the continuity required to open teams up.
push over try from last season. I am wearing 3. 

What am I hoping for from the coming season; really I just want to play a bit. I want to enjoy some games with the young talent coming through the club. The last few games I played last year were some of the most enjoyable I have played. Getting a chance to be part of some of these young guys introduction to adult rugby is an honour and a privilege. I can’t teach them anything but I think seeing how important the work of the second team captains and regulars is to these young players is vital as they move through the club.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Tri Again

We are on the eve of the first Tri nation’s match of the tournament. The All Blacks hosting the reigning champions and world cup winner of South Africa. This really is a mouth-watering clash. I think Australia will test both teams in defence but with the weak point of their scrum being a target for both teams I think they are going to struggle.

However New Zealand too got a bit of a shunting in the early stages of the second test against Wales, Adam Jones turning the screw on Tony Woodcock. I am sure the Boks will have looked at this and will certainly be looking to target the young tighthead Owen Franks; I imagine he is in for a rough day at the office. The Boks are tried and tested forward dominated rugby players. Yes they have talent in the backs and they have a world class distributer in Morne Steyne but I really don’t think even with a dominant scrum they can contain this All Blacks side. I think the second row partnership of Botha and Maitfield may well have peaked and this does not bode well. South Africa are an aging team now, whether they can cope with the pace at which New Zealand are currently playing I really don’t know.

The All Blacks have the ultimate problem the two best rugby players in the world McCaw and Carter are so far ahead of the field that no one else can fill their shoes when they are absent. This is the test facing them; they have depth everywhere except 7 and 10. So will they try some options in this tournament? Yes but I doubt it will be tomorrow. Expect fire and brimstone from the kick off and somewhere in the game Bakkies Botha to get into a scrap…….. I know that hardly makes me mystic Meg but I love that great big lumbering fool!

It will be a test for my patience tomorrow as I am watching via sky player due to moving. If it works then excellent, if it doesn’t this may be the last ever blog!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

It's Over.

The final tour game for England took place today, while the country obsessed over the football, my only real interest was in this game against this historic team. The Maori team represent more than just a rugby symbol; they are a proud and significant part of New Zealand as a country. Brand “All Blacks” may be the ultimate rugby team but the Maori are the basis on which rugby in New Zealand was built. I would say in many ways they are the front line of attack, a team of test quality. They are often talked about as the All Blacks second team but I think that does them a great disservice. Yes the names may be the same at times but this is a team based on its own principles and ancestry. If anything the All Blacks are the offspring.

England had in its team it’s very own Maori in the form of Dan Ward-Smith only on the bench but hailing from New Zealand and with Maori heritage, I am sure he made his team aware of the importance of the fixture to the opposition. Moving to the game, England carried on where they left off and opened up their rugby based on a solid forward foundation, scrum and lineout functioned well and let’s face it these are the parts of the England team that rarely fail to do that. It’s just everything else that lets us down and lets other teams in. Let’s not be under any illusion the rugby played by the Southern hemisphere is instinctive rugby, it is based on a solid game plan; don’t get me wrong, but when things happen outside of that game plan. The Players of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and of course the Maori react 2 or 3 seconds quicker all the time. They hit rucks quicker, they run quicker, their brains seem to be tuned to a different frequency than those in the North; A rugby frequency that we have to find in order to beat these teams. The Maori today were on the ropes, but always looked dangerous if that makes sense? When they break they flood the opposition with attacking opportunities that stand defences up. Indecision in defence kills. Today Brad Barrit the South African born Saracens centre was clearly caught out by the defensive system and never put trust in his outside men to make the tackles. This can be forgiven because he was new in the set up. What we must do is persevere with him and ease the likes of Tindal onto pastures new. This was a great game and the Maori were well deserved winners, it could have swung on one or two important moments but it was rugby at its best. It was commitment and passion from both teams and Credit to Chris Robshaw who must be knocking on the door for a test spot. I have to also say, Hosea Gear has to be doing something wrong not to be being picked for the All Blacks. This guy was a force of nature and everywhere. It was one of the stand out performances of the summer tests in my opinion, I hope for his sake Graham Henry in the crowd thought the same.
Hosea Gear

I have put the Maori on a pedestal in my opening paragraph but I want to make it clear that England should have beaten them. The most heavily financed and resourced team in the world game should be able to beat an invitational side. I am not going to pretend otherwise. But the outlook from this tour is good. We have seen many players come into their own and stand up. The future is bright and it is exciting but we walk towards it with trepidation, how far off reverting to the way we played the first Aussie test are we? England has always been pragmatic “winning ugly” was the motto. I think that has to change. We have a solid foundation in out forwards. We still need to shuffle the back row a little I think. But the foundation is there to play some great rugby and rugby that will not only entertain the crowds but challenge the oppositions.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Wales Fails, England Changes and Scotland Grow.

(Carter put in a Phenomenal  performance) 

Here we go. Well I have to say it’s been an exciting rugby day. My alarm was set for 7.30am so I was ready for the big game, Wales V New Zealand. If you want proof of the high intensity that rugby is played at in the South, this was the game. Wales it has to be said were on fire in the first half, even though they went in 15 – 9 down, they had produced some great pressure. Also creating opportunities for themselves to get points, however if you can only do it for 40 minutes then the second half battering they took is all that will happen. The second half of rugby the All Blacks produced was devastating, clinical and soul destroying if you happen to be Welsh. Carter, Rokocoko and McCaw were rampant and the Welsh were reduced to a shambles they didn’t help with shocking tackling, or lack of it, for 2 of the try’s. This was a statement of intent from New Zealand and I am not sure how many teams can stand up to it. It would be wrong of me to dismiss Wales here; they did do some great stuff. Ryan Jones looked like the player we saw on the Lions in 2005 and all round they were filled with endeavour. The truth is though pride and endeavour simply are not enough at the top level it has to be more than that. Wales simply did not look fit enough for 80 mins of top flight rugby a t this tempo and I don’t know how you cure that.

Right here we go……..England. I have to start with a Private Eye type apology. Contrary to what you may have read on this blog about England being a shower of incompetent buffoons they are actually a well-coached and well drilled team brimming with talent……Ok humble pie over.

I had no expectation here, yet I did feel England could win. They did everything that we wanted them to do. They put the ball through the hands; Hape and Tindal combined well and pressured the Aussies. Ben Foden ran some great ball in. Most importantly when they kicked it was accurate. The pack worked its socks off and the gem of a player, Ben Young’s, announced himself on the international stage with a bang. He out shone the much vaunted Will Genia giving England the quick ball they have failed to produce for a long time. There was edge to this game and credit has to go to Australia’s forwards for the work they must have done last week, because the pack that got shunted around last week held itself up to great effect. They stood their ground against the bullying England scrum and it was a joy to see. Now before we get carried away by this win let’s put some perspective on it. Australia could easily have won this game had Giteau not been so inaccurate with the boot. It’s hard on the man who scores all 20 of Australia’s points, including 2 trys, to be the man who misses the ones to win, but that is rugby I’m afraid. England may have started something here. I hope they have but the hard work has to continue as we saw in the wales game this is a tough place to play and England have to keep improving. They face the Māori next week and they will need no motivation to turn over an England team. Boyed by a great performance over Ireland they are a real threat. I don’t think you can underestimate the positives of a win against the Maori next week. It will be seen as the most successful summer tour for 8 years. For now let’s celebrate the win because boy did we need it.

PS. An interesting observation I have of this fixture, England has only won 3 times in Australia and in each occasion Nathan Sharpe has played.

Italy contested the Springboks very well down in South Africa and they could easily have rolled over to this powerful side. Parisse again showed his world class and people really do have to take Italy seriously. England always gets criticized for stuttering against Italy but they are a tough side who grind it out in the forwards and make every game tough.

In closing I have to mention Scotland. Again I couldn’t watch the game which I think is a shambles, but two wins in Argentina against a nearly full strength Pumas side cannot be underestimated. This was a team possessing Gonzalo Tiesi, Felipe Contepomi, Rodrigo Roncero,Mario Ledesma, Martin Scelzo, Patricio Albacete,Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe

and replacements like Leicester Ayerza. This was without doubt a world class pack and some great backs, playing at home. This was a win that sees the end of a long season and one I should imagine sets Scotland on a good footing for the next season. I hope things to continue to improve for Scotland because this series should not be a one off. Maybe next year someone will broadcast it!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Looking forward!

By the time this is posted we will know the result of the first game of the weekend, which is New Zealand Maori v Ireland. I really don’t envy Ireland with this game the Maori are a force which takes its place very seriously. Anyone who saw their victory over the British and Irish Lions in 2005 will know the power of this team. The pride of playing for this historic team for many New Zealanders is as important as playing for the All Blacks themselves. They are steeped in historical significance. ‘Pride in the jersey’ is more than kissing the badge after scoring. This is about the great names that have gone before, the Maori pride in its ancestry and not forgetting its tough as teak players. If Ireland succeed against them, it will be a significant victory, this is no weak Barbarians team this has in its midst Luke McAllister, Hosea Gear, Stephen Brett, Liam Messam and Cory Flynn this is not a team short of options or talent. Set piece will be key for Ireland, because I think this is the only place they will contain this side.

What am I looking forward to most this weekend is seeing Wales in action against New Zealand. One of my personal, all time, favourite games of rugby; was the encounter between these two in the Rugby World Cup in 2003. This week’s hosts won with a massive score line of 53-37 with 12 trys between them. Though the final score doesn’t do them justice, the Welsh really turned the screw on the All Blacks and were in the lead 37-33 just after half time. That Welsh team then ran out of puff and the All Blacks were jolted into action. I actually think the Welsh team that won the Grand Slam in 2008 would possibly have taken that game, but it did see the resurgence of the Welsh and only 2 years later they lifted their 1st Grand Slam in 27 years. So what of this weekend’s contest? I am not sure if Wales can pull it off. This New Zealand team is smart. They will have done their homework on the threat that Jamie Roberts possess and they will be all too aware of the giant half back Mike Phillips. He, if anyone, has the potential to upset the All Blacks, physical, niggling and sharp, on form he could spark this team. The only thing is when you wind the All Blacks up, they always seem to end up getting angry and scoring even more freely. Some teams punch and kick people, the All Blacks take thier aggresion out on the scoreboard. Stephen Jones we know is as dependable as they come, with good ball he can put Wales in the right place to play rugby. ‘With good ball’ is the key here, anytime Ireland looked like getting that it was quickly destroyed by the All Blacks last week. That will be the problem facing Wales. For them to win their forwards have to play their best rugby faultlessly for 80 minutes I am not sure if they can do that. Lee Halfpenny and Byrne at the back give them an attacking threat, missing the little wizard feet of Shane Williams is a tough one though. The biggest problem Wales face is the turnover threat of the All Blacks. To overcome it is simple, all you have to do is, not knock on, make any errors or lose possession...........easy.
(Will they be on their knees this week?)

Ok now onto England......Do I have to?? Well ok, after slating the treatment of Lawes and Barrit this week, Lawes starts on Saturday and Barrit is being flown in. I would like to claim Martin read my blog and saw the error of his ways. Joking aside, I am very pleased to see Lawes in the team but he has been given some hype. We are supposed to expect a smash tackling machine, that runs like wrecking ball through opposition. I don’t think we will see this but I am looking forward to seeing him in action. Ben Young’s also comes in to replace the ponderously slow ball merchant of Danny Care. His little cameo last week gave England some go forward and they looked good. No change in the centre where the white wall of Tindall and Hape will be in action. I am hoping the wall stays up this week and doesn’t fall over so easily. Maybe it would be nice if the wall did a bit of ball carrying itself...........actually this is ridiculous imagery, so I am going to stop now. In short I really want to see Hape and Tindall do more than defend. Let’s see them put this Aussie midfield under some pressure. I really believe England can win, but to do it they have to pass the ball about and put some pace on it. 1 out rugby and pick and go stuff, is not going to challenge any defence anywhere. Quick ball is all that matters. I really want to see how Quiad Copper copes under pressure to, I don’t know why but he looks to me like he has the potential to blow up when things are not going well. I may be wrong.

I can’t work out why Scotland is not on TV maybe the BBC is showing them and I am showing my clear ignorance. Every year I see the Scots as a threat and against England they usually are, it’s the rest they seem to struggle to motivate themselves to beat. Good luck to them on Saturday two wins in Argentina would make their tour the most successful of all the home nations........

Edit: New Zealand Maori 31 Ireland 28

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Andy Ripley

“Dare we hope? We dare. Can we hope? We can. Should we hope? We must, because to do otherwise is to waste the most precious of gifts, given so freely by God to all of us. So when we do die, it will be with hope and it will be easy and our hearts will not be broken.” These are the words of Andy Ripley in the forward to his book ‘Ripley’s World’

Great man and will be sadley missed.

What Goes on Tour?

In the amateur game, rugby tours are about drinking alcohol and avoiding drinking bodily fluids belonging to someone else. You arrive at your destination battered from a long journey and an awful lot of drinking put on your one clean shirt and head to the town’s hotspots. Then for a long weekend you proceed to get pissed, argue, split into warring factions and then wish you had never come away. In the midst of it you probably have to play some form of rugby which no one is really in the mood for and certainly not in any condition for. Then on the journey home you wish you could do it again. You get home and a little piece of you misses those irritating idiots you have shared a long weekend with.
(the kids with dad)

I have no idea if anything like that goes on in the professional era. They face many different challenges, though I am sure they have the warring factions and the arguments. They also find themselves in a place where people know them and probably want to see them lose. They travel around the world on the back of a 13 month season in the case of the Northern Hemisphere following Lions tours. Then they have to talk up their chances of beating people they have either never beaten in 60 years and if they have it was once in 148 meetings. We the fans think “yes, this is the year” blinded by our love of the teams. In truth, we here in England, just have not found a way to consistently perform at the top level, well not since 2003. I think it comes down to one thing........ Youth, and the different attitudes each hemisphere has to it. I am having a hard job justifying this when I think of the aging South African team but bear with me. Australia in particular has the attitude in which they blood their young players on the international stage and let them grow there. Look at Matt Giteau, this man who at 28 is the old head of the Wallaby team was “on debut” in 2002 at Twickenham. He had a nightmare, Jonny Wilkinson smashed him about he kicked badly I think he made more errors in that game than the much pilloried Ian Balshaw did in his whole career. The Aussies though never gave up, they saw a talent, and pursued it. In doing so they have created a true rugby 28! Compare that to the treatment of Danny Cipriani, Matthew Tait, and Courtney Lawes. Now Australia is also bringing in players like Will Genia, Berrick Barnes, James O’Conner, and Quiad Cooper. Guys so young they don’t just need coaches they need nannies to. Australia though is prepared to take risks all these guys have the potential to be better than Giteau and they will flourish under him. Maybe in the long run this attitude will help the much maligned Danny Cipriani in his growth as a player, but would he want to come back to the stifled English approach to rugby?? The All Blacks have a similar attitude; look how they deal with their legends when they find someone to replace them. In England Sean Fitzpatrick would have got his 100 caps because we would have though he deserved them. In New Zealand, they thanked him, shock his hand and sent him to the All Blacks graveyard, or Europe as it is known. They did the same with Tana Umaga and Jerry Collins. Still great players, but they had younger ones in the wings who could carry the mantel, so they forged on, no ceremony just goodbye. Not us, the only thing that keeps Mike Tindall out of England is if his zimmerframe breaks on the way to the ground.

The problem seems to be that we take every game as a must win game and as a result play with a safe, defensive must not lose attitude. Rather than use these tours as a chance to blood people in games where we can see how they perform. In the end they end drafted into important games due to injury and as a result get binned on the back of them. “The tour of Hell” in 1998 saw young players forced to sink or swim as a result of this we found some players who would go on and bring home a world cup. Matt Dawson, Jonny Wilkinson, Josh Lewsey and Phil Vickery all came through this experience better and stronger both physically and mentally.

So whether these tours show us anything I don’t know. Already I am seeing all the attacking flair of Ben Foden being stripped and replaced with kicking machine, assimilated into Borg like English pragmatism. I know one thing I would love to see them go away and do a bit more of what we do in the amateur game, without the accusations of sexual assault obviously, but just enjoy yourselves. We had a kicking ban one year during a game on tour. Maybe that would be the answer. Oh yes and the site of Martin Johnson in the stand with a pink swimming cap on would go down a treat. His great craggy face stretched back like a Californian woman’s following a face lift.........Tour I hate it, where we going next year?

Monday, 14 June 2010

Death of the North......

Ok so the ritual annual humiliation of the Northern Hemispheres best rugby teams started with the poor Irish trying to beat the All Blacks. The Irish decided it was unfair on the All Blacks to play with 15 men so Jamie Heaslip did the honourable thing and tried to knee the head off of Richie McCaw. Now before I add to his humiliation let’s just say anyone who has played the game knows the frustration of try scoring opportunities being squashed by a cynical hand or body. When that same cynical hand belongs to a cynical body and is attached to the cynical head of the most effective cheat in world rugby. The temptation to knee the aforementioned head off of its shoulders is very hard to reign in. However when your actions, could potentially, cost your team an international victory over the one team you have never beaten in you history best to keep your knees to yourself. Now the reality is the All Blacks looked like a team that was never going to be beaten even if Ireland had 17 players on the field. Their pace and power across the park is scary and the list of talent that arrives from nowhere and reduces experienced opposition to shadow chasers is on-going. Graham Henry was bemoaning the disappearance of Kiwi talent abroad for the big buck this week. All I can ask is if this crop of All Blacks is what they are left with then I don’t think they can claim to be scrapping the barrel in fact I am not sure the lid of the barrel has even been removed yet.

We move to the red rose of England, as always the main focus was what happened in Australia in November the 22nd 2003 when Martin Johnson led the most talented group of England players for a decade to a world cup victory. Martin is back but this team is woefully lacking in talent and most importantly direction. Lack of talent might be a strong description, there is talent in England. I am just not sure it is in Australia. So dire was the attacking options of this team they were reduced to keeping the ball in the scrum and waiting for penalties in a way I have never seen before. We are talking about a team being totally in fear of passing the ball out of the scrum because no one knew what to do with it. Well other than kick it away. The England team treated the ball like a dirty bomb and were so desperate to get rid of it at any opportunity I doubt it went through 3 sets of hands twice in the 80 mins. I can’t recall a team looking so uncomfortable in possession in any time in the past. England were devoid of any attacking initiative and more to the point attacking players. Matthew Tait the only England player with an eye for a break and the pace to make it happen continues his benchwarming role. Replaced by the monoliths of Tindall and Hape..........we all know defending is more important than attacking............well there is an argument that defence is vital, but when it doesn’t work which is clearly the case for England then you have to find a way of scoring tries. Compare England’s attitude to turnover ball with that of the Kiwis and you will see where our problems lie. New Zealand turnover ball came from a mistake by the Ireland hooker their instinct and attitude is to move the ball through the hands quickly away from the point of the turnover. They know the defence will not be in place and this will give them an attacking, if not, try scoring opportunity. England turnover ball is passed back to a terrified number 10 who quickly kicks it back to the opposition as if it is unfair to try something so audacious! It is this simple attitude to the ball that suggests something is deeply flawed in the England set up. So afraid of making mistakes the English seem intent on never being in a position to do so. What is most disappointing is that when you have a scrum that is in such a dominant position, which is unusual at international level. What danger is there in putting the ball through the hands and trying to stretch the opposition? If you knock on, you then have the potential for a turnover or a penalty. Too much talking is done by England and not enough seems to actually be happening. It has to change or people have to be made accountable.

Finally I want to talk about France. This was the great blue hope of the northern hemisphere. This was a team with all the potential to take South Africa apart and show the world the New France disciplined, direct and smart. A 42-17 loss at the end suggested maybe it was just the rest of Europe being so bad that was the reason this French team had looked so good in the last year. On the back of a long Lions tour were France in possession of the emperor’s new clothes? To suggest it was all Frances poor play does not give enough credit to the Boks. Every game I am convinced this time someone will tame the green machine. That their try’s are more bad defence than good attack and I am finally forced to admit this Springbok team is everything its results have suggested and more. Filled with physicality and pace once they start to go forward a line of Sherman tanks would struggle to hold them back. Their back row options are phenomenal, if the exceptionally quick Spies is not there they can replace him with the exceptionally quick Konkowski failing in the absence of the sublime John smith they have the power house of François Louw. Then the ongoing Brussow and Burger admittedly the former is currently out with a long term injury but I am sure there are at least 6 capable replacements currently the incredible talent of Dewald Potgieter is filling in. Even Bakkies Botha is no longer missed in this team; then again there are no shortages of 6ft 6”+ aggressive South Africans to fill that role. Whether they can find a replacement for his long term partner in crime Victor Mayfield is another question. On the weekend form the Boks seem to be the only team with the ability to withstand the All Blacks all court game. Australia as good as they are in attack are fundamentally flawed in the forwards. Against the powerhouses of Black and Green I can’t see them being able to contain these two who certainly won’t be as paralysed by the sight of the ball as England were.

I should mention Scotland’s commendable win against Argentina however I was unable to see this game but any victory against Argentina on their home soil should not be underestimated.