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 d├ębut 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.