Saturday, 31 January 2015

That's ma boy!

Today was my first match as a proper, fully fledged rugby dad as I watched my son, TF Jnr, make his rugby debut for his school Year 7 (Under 12) team.

Along with several of his team mates this was TF Jnr's first proper, full contact match (previous experience having been limited to tag rugby), and the first match of the season for the team (rugby being played only in the 2nd term) - the weather having put paid to the last couple of weekends.

Selected as number 8 (YES!), he played the whole of what at times was a chaotic and shambolic affair (with the occasional outbreak of rugby) against bigger and more organised opposition, capping his performance by running three-quarters of the length of the pitch to touch down under the posts for his debut try. Proud doesn't even begin to describe how his old Dad felt…

Quality Street

I must say that Gary Street's recent decision to step down as head coach of the England Women's team was a bit of a surprise.

Having last year led England to a first World Cup title since 1994, it seems odd that Street would call it quits a couple of weeks before the Six Nations, especially given that he'd previously talked of trying to retain the world title in 2017.

If Street did just decide that he'd served his time and that it was time to go then fair enough - and I'm sure he leaves with the eternal gratitude of all fans of the women's game in England.

According to the RFU, however, the decision was mutual. Perhaps it's just me, but doesn't that just smell a little?

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Total Flanker Awards 2014

The live broadcasting rights having been sold off at exorbitant rates to a major media corporation, welcome one and all to edited highlights of the 8th Annual Total Flanker Awards ceremony.

Yes time, once again, to rejoice in the achievements of those that have impressed, offended or otherwise come to our attention during the past 12 months.

And so, without further ado…

The first award tonight is the The Total Flanker Might This Be A Game Changer? Award. And the winner is the England Women's Rugby team. World Champions this year, 20 players awarded professional contracts, BBC TV's Sport's Team of the Year and now Sarah Hunter and (Chesham RFC coach) Rocky Clark awarded MBEs - 2014 could prove to be a game changing year not only for women's rugby but also women's team sport in Britain.

Moving along, our second award of the evening is the Total Flanker Miracle Man of the Year Award. Step forward the CEO of the RFU, Mr Ian Ritchie. In pulling the stakeholders in the basket case that is European club rugby back from the brink of mutually assured destruction and in doing so  safeguarding the future of a European club competition, Mr Ritchie truly performed miracles.

Next up, the Total Flanker Riddle Wrapped Up In A Mystery Inside An Enigma Award. And this gong goes this year to the England midfield which has been baffling pundits and national coaches alike for over 10 years and is still no nearer to being decided, settled or effective. One of these days...

And so to our next award, the  Total Flanker Why Don't We Just Stick Our Heads In The Sand? Award. The winners this year are difficult to identify precisely, so let's just call them The Powers That Be. The reason? Well, let's just take as an example the arranging of England's 1st Test against New Zealand, one week after the climax of the English domestic season. Top players around the world are being flogged into the ground as commercial interests ride roughshod over player welfare. Something has to change…

The end is in sight now as we move swiftly on to the Total Flanker Biggest Anti Climax of the Year Award. This is an award very personal to me and goes to Rugby World Cup 2015, entirely because all  I was eventually successful in applying for were 2 tickets to see Japan v Samoa at Milton Keynes. Underwhelmed doesn't even begin to describe it.

Our final and probably most prestigious award is the Total Flanker Rant of the Century Award. Only one contender for this award. And I quote:
"I never want to speak with Cockers any more. I am the kind of guy that if I hate you, if you are not clear with me or if you have been a cunt, how you say in English, I never want to speak to you any more. That’s it. That’s how I am. I am not fake. If I hate you, I say in your face and I will never speak to you again. Love me or hate me. I don’t hate anyone. Peace and love. I just don’t like cunts."
Outstanding work, Martin Castrogiovanni.

And finally just a quick word to thank those of you who continue to read the garbage that I continue to produce. For various reasons the volume of my output has been a tad disappointing in 2014. A reduction in quantity often leads to increased quality but not, sadly, in this case. Thank you for your forbearance and I will endeavour to improve in 2015.

Happy New Year.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Play it again Sam

Only a superhuman effort by Sam Burgess will see him picked for the England RWC 2015 squad.

Then again, there are those who would have us believe that he is, indeed, superhuman.

Although sceptical of his chances, I would be delighted to be proved wrong and there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Burgess should be included in the England training squad for the forthcoming 2015 Six Nations. Stuart Lancaster has an obligation to leave no stone unturned in his efforts to produce as strong a team as possible for next autumn - and the best way for Lancaster and his coaches to assess the progress of Sam Burgess is to see him first hand.

The same goes for Steffon Armitage. I remain unconvinced by Armitage's claims to an England shirt and am fully behind the principle of excluding players from England duty if they are based abroad. Principles, however, can and should be set to one side for the next 12 months. Get him into the squad, have look and see if he's good enough...

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bit of a muddle

So, the verdict on England's November campaign? A bit of a mixed bag.

And what did we learn?

That England can push New Zealand and South Africa close(ish)? Nothing new there.

That England can bully the Aussie pack? Ditto.

That George Ford is an international quality outside half? Yes, certainly.

That England haven't a clue what their centre combination should be? Without a doubt.

Not only do England not know who they should be picking, they also appear not to know what type of player they are looking for:

- against the All Blacks and the Boks an out of form kicking 10 (Farrell) played with a running 12 (Eastmond) and a defensive 12 (Barritt) at 13;
- against Samoa an in-form playmaker 10 (Ford) was teamed with the out of form kicking 10 at 12 who partnered the defensive 12 at 13;
- and against the Aussies the in-form playmaker 10 was partnered with another (not so in-form) playmaker at 12 (Twelvetrees) and, again, the defensive 12 at 13.

At no point did the selectors see fit to pair George Ford with a bona fide strike runner in the midfield. OK, so Manu Tuilagi was injured, but at various times both Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph were available but ignored.

Consequently England's back play, much improved during the 2014 Six Nations, is now once more all a bit of a muddle.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

England expects…but so does Mrs Attwood

England remain hopeful that lock Dave Attwood will be available to face the All Blacks on Saturday, with the birth of his first child imminent.

It appears that England are pinning their hopes on Mrs Attwood producing Attwood Jnr prior to Saturday's match, with several commentators suggesting that, if push came to shove (so to speak), the England forward should choose to play against New Zealand rather than attend the birth.

To me there's only one choice. Whilst admittedly the chances of me ever facing the All Blacks are a tad  remote, I would not have missed the birth of my kids for the world.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Well, I received an email yesterday informing me of how successful my official application for Rugby World Cup tickets had been.

The result?

Nothing, nada, zilch, nul points.

Admittedly I had focussed on England group matches at Twickenham, New Zealand at Wembley and the Final itself - all of which unsurprisingly were massively over-subscribed - but to get nothing at all is still pretty galling.

Apparently, however, all is not lost as, to show their appreciation for my support of the tournament, the ticketing committee are inviting me to be part of a priority sale when unsold tickets go on sale again in November. So I can look forward to bidding again for tickets to Tonga v Namibia at Sandy Park, Exeter. Whoopee-do.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

50 not out

It's taken something pretty extreme to wake me out of my recent bout of blogging lethargy and that something is I'm afraid to say, turning 50.

Yes, today I rack up my half century. I feel quite ill. No, seriously, I feel crap - no doubt partly to do with slightly over-indulging last night as well as the beginnings of a flu bug that's doing the rounds. Welcome to the rest of my life.

My hypochondriac tendencies aside, time to catch up on a few bits and pieces going on in the world of rugby…

I see that yet another England kit is on the market - the major innovation being to move the rose to the centre of the shirt (genius) as well as the crassly unauthorised use of the Victoria Cross emblem. A red (sorry, crimson) change kit will also make an appearance this autumn. It seems that a new England kit launch is now to be an annual event. How nice.

Meanwhile I also see that there's been further discussion recently about "plastic Englishmen" with the talk being that Sarries' Australian prop, Kieran Longbottom, has declared availability for England on the grounds that his granny is English. Whether or not he is legitimately qualified, however, is hardly the question. The words Australian and prop ought to be enough to decide his fate.

Clearly further thought does need to be given to international eligibility criteria though, with England's Steffon Armitage having been named in an initial 74 man French squad on grounds that I utterly fail to understand but which involve, I think, a loophole in the regulations which have something to with Sevens and the possession of a French passport.

Finally, somewhat belated congratulations must go to the England Women's team, not only for their victory in the Women's Rugby World Cup but also for the award of professional contracts to a number of them. It is a significant step forward, although the fact that professionalism is limited to Sevens players is slightly perturbing. No only is it a slap in the face for certain stalwarts of the England team who perhaps aren't of the quick and nimble persuasion, it also sends out entirely the wrong the message to youngsters coming through - i.e. if you're a big strong lass who likes scrummaging then forget it.

That's all from me for now. Time for a lie down.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Sevens and hell

I thought South Africa were good value for their victory over New Zealand in the final of the Commonwealth Games Sevens last week.

It's just possible that I may have previously mentioned this, but it must be said that I'm not exactly Sevens' biggest fan. Don't get me wrong, it's often a bloody good day out (as the attendances would verify), but as a game I'm afraid it leaves me cold.

I absolutely HATED playing it - way too much running about with nowhere to hide - and would always re-discover that annual mystery ankle ailment and make myself scarce as Sevens season approached.

Not only that, but I've never really enjoyed watching Sevens either. Yes, watching it live with a couple of beers can be good fun but as a TV spectacle it simply does nothing for me. Frankly the netball was more exciting.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Women's World Cup...

Time to break radio silence (has it really been THAT long?) to wish England's women all the best in the Women's Rugby World Cup in France, especially Chesham coaches Rocky Clark and Kat Merchant.

Great start by England on Friday last week against Samoa and here's hoping they can one better than the last 3 World Cups where they have finished second to the New Zealand Black Ferns.