Thursday, 26 March 2015

England Women: loss of a legacy?



I see that England, World Champions, finished a mediocre 4th in the Women's Six Nations, after losing 15-21 to France on the final weekend.

I realise that a large number of England's newly professional top players have been playing on the World Sevens Series circuit, but being beaten by Wales, Ireland and France is still pretty poor, no matter that it is now being dressed up as "development."

Awarding 20 professional contracts post World Cup appeared to be a progressive move, but sending those players around the world to play Sevens at the expense of the Six Nations means that a golden opportunity to build a lasting legacy on the back of England's World Cup success might be being missed (sound familiar?).

It also begs the question of whether it would have been allowed to happen under previous head coach Gary Street, whose abrupt departure some 2 weeks before the start of the tournament is looking increasingly iffy.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A question of acceptability

Comments by the RFU CEO, Ian Ritchie, this week that England “finishing second for the fourth time in as many years is not acceptable" are not only a tad harsh on the England team, they are also more than a little disrespectful to the championship as a whole.

England actually have an identical record over each of the last 5 Six Nations tournaments, in that each year they have played 5, won 4 and lost 1.

In the each of the last three tournaments England have only finished second on points difference, and let's not forget that in 2011 they were crowned Six Nations Champions (yes, during the so-called disastrous Martin Johnson years), albeit somewhat sheepishly having been denied a Grand Slam by a rampant Ireland in Dublin.

During the last 5 years there has only been one Grand Slam - Wales in 2012 - with points difference deciding the championship in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

All of which puts England's consistency over the last 5 years into perspective and is testament to the overall strength of the Sin Nations championship these days and the teams in it.



Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Six Nations 2015 - CHAMPS & CHUMPS


So that's another Six Nations done and dusted. Time then to reveal my entirely subjective Champs & Chumps of the tournament, those that impressed, excited, disappointed or frustrated over the last few weeks. Some are obvious, others less so

CHAMPS

15. Liam Williams – Wales a much better team with this guy at fullback.
14. Tommy Bowe - hardly put a foot wrong all tournament.
13. Jonathan Joseph – heir apparent to Jezza Guscott, finally an English centre with an outside break.
12. Maxime Mermoz – where the hell have France been hiding him? Brilliant against England. 
11 Jack Nowell – terrible barnet, but the boy can play. 
10. George Ford – look, we all know Sexton was excellent, but Ford completely transformed the English attack. 
9. Connor Murray – my MoM against England and ran the show for Ireland throughout. 
1. Jack McGrath – emerging young giant means there’s now some serious depth in the Ireland front row. 
2. Guilhem Guirado – fast, mobile, great hands, probably a better centre than Bastareaud. 
3. Mike Ross – unspectacularly solid, like granite, only less expressive. 
4. Luke Charteris – gives hope to tall skinny kids everywhere. 
5. Courtney Lawes – huge impact in every sense. 
6. Peter O’Mahony – perpetual motion, tough as old boots. 
7. Sean O'Brien – back to his best, which was very good indeed. 
8. Billy Vunipola – huge appetite for work, played every minute of every game.

CHUMPS

15. Alex Goode – still waiting for the penny to drop with the England management.
14. Alex Cuthbert – gave donkeys a bad name. 
13. Mathieu Bastareaud - the antithesis of French joie de vivre.
12. Luther Burrell – put the O in ordinary. World Cup place now under threat. 
11. Tim Visser -  about as mediocre as it gets.
10. Kelly Haimona – a 17 stone plus fly half. No...just...no. 
9. Rory Kockott - Le Petit General? More like Petit Filous. 
1. Gethin Jenkins – now looks completely confused.com after every scrum. 
2. Ross Ford – so anonymous I've forgotten what he looks like. 
3. Martin Castrogiavanni – bitten…on the nose…by a dog. 
4. Pascale Pape - put the thug into thuggery. 
5. Big Jim Hamilton – who starts a fight with the clock ticking down and your team still needing points? 
6. James Haskell - only the Hask could be tackled by a post. 
7. Mauro Bergamasco - once a warrior, now about as effective as a one legged man at an arse-kicking competition.
8. Damien Chouly – doubt he'll be joining the likes of Harinordiquy and Picamoles in the French number 8s Hall of Fame.


Sunday, 22 March 2015

If only...

Well done Ireland. Consistently strong throughout the Six Nations and deserved champions.

Chapeau, also, to Wales for setting the scene for a roller coaster of an afternoon - the most bizarre climax to a Six Nations in…well…ever.

England, perennial bridesmaids, can reflect on a series of 'if onlys':

If only they'd scored that late consolation try in Dublin;

If only they'd taken one more of the multiple try scoring chances they created against Scotland;

If only Stuart Hogg hadn't lost control of the ball in the act of trying to touch down against Ireland;

If only Scotland hadn't folded like a cheap suit at Murrayfield;

If only England could attack AND defend.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

“Breathtaking” eclipse expected in SW London

More than 80,000 people are expected to glimpse a spectacular solar eclipse in Twickenham, SW London, later today.

It is expected that a great swathe of the Earth's surface will be plunged into darkness as French rugby player Mathieu Bastareaud passes in front of the sun.

The European Space Agency predict the Bastareaud-
eclipse will look something like this
People keen to catch a glimpse of the rare phenomenon are advised not to look directly at it and special Bastareaud-eclipse glasses are being issued free to all ticket holders.

"We’ll have a pretty spectacular view," says England coach Stuart Lancaster. "This will be extraordinary."


School children try out their special
Bastareaud-eclipse glasses

Thursday, 19 March 2015

100 up

 
Many congrats to England Women's prop (and Chesham Stags coach) Rochelle 'Rocky' Clarke, who on Saturday wins her 100th cap for England when they take on France at Twickenham.
 
Superb achievement.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Neil Francis disrespects margarine

Former Irish lock Neil Francis has caused outrage with his claims that Wales coach Warren Gatland “has the intellectual capacity of a tub of Flora”.

A spokesman for the Society for Margarine and other Oil-based Spreads (SMOOBS) commented:
“Rugby is all about opinions, but we don't need comments like that which I regard as unfair, insulting and entirely disrespectful to Flora and to other margarine-type spreads."

Things that make me feel old #3


Not one of England’s squad against Scotland was born the last time the Scots won at Twickenham in 1983.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Boring?

Steve Hansen's comment that rugby is becoming “very boring” and a lack of tries is “turning fans away” is a point well made.

Don't get me wrong. I'm an advocate of winning rugby, however it is achieved and I am as big a fan as the next man of a victory eked out by attritional forward play.

The issue is not about styles of play. Traditionally what I love about rugby is that there are a plethora of styles of play, any one of which might be effective against another.

No, what appears to have changed recently is that, at the elite level, the laws of the game and, more importantly, how they are applied by officials, means that increasingly only one style of rugby is effective.

Kicking the leather off the ball, competing in the air and suffocating defence is the way that international rugby matches are won these days. Pioneered by Warren Gatland and turned into an art form by Joe Schmidt, another advocate is - if you watch the All Blacks play - Steve Hansen.

The answer? Police the offside line vigorously and give the attacking side the benefit of doubt at the breakdown. I'd also go as far as to consider allowing a mark to be called anywhere on the field of play to deter the over-use of the Garryowen.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Meanwhile…at HQ...

Meanwhile, at Twickenham, it is rumoured that the RFU has commissioned Canterbury to produce an ingenious new kit for the fixtures against Scotland and France.

The new kit will be designed to mimic the properties of the pictured dress.

Is the dress (as is obvious to this blogger) white and gold, or is it in fact (as many might tell you) blue and black?

It's a question that has been debated long and hard on social media in the past week and it seems as if some bright spark at the RFU has decided to put it to England's advantage.

"With the penalty count against us in Dublin being unacceptable, we're hoping the new kit might help," an RFU insider confided.

"We think that the colour perception issue will create confusion among the opposition and the referee, with a number of them, including hopefully the referee, confusing white kit with blue kit with the result that England's transgressions at the breakdown will go entirely unnoticed."

When it was pointed out that the new kit might also cause similar confusion in the England team our RFU source admitted that he hadn't thought of that, but confirmed that it couldn't be any worse than it was in Dublin.