Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Credit where it's due...

The announcement last week that Rob Andrew is stepping down from his role as the RFU's Professional Rugby Director at the end of the season has been welcomed by those who have, over the years, jumped on the bandwagon at every opportunity to stick the boot in to the former England and Lions fly half.

Not me. The criticism that Andrew habitually receives is just ridiculous. I know I have previously declared my interest when it comes to Andrew, but I am genuinely often bemused at the amount of flak he has to take.

Those that like to lambast Andrew point to the the so-called "fact" that he was a dull, limited, kicking fly half.

Firstly, it's not true. Whilst it can be said that England did, for a period, play a more limited (albeit highly successful) game with Andrew at 10, it is equally true that England’s record try scorer – Rory Underwood – scored most of his 49 international tries with Andrew at fly half – as did Jeremy Guscott, 4th on the all time England try-scoring list. Andrew won 71 England caps, 5 Lions caps and 3 Grand Slams and appeared in a World Cup final. Not bad for a so-called limited player.

And secondly, why would that have anything to do with Andrew's role at the RFU?

Throughout his 10 year tenure at the RFU, it appears the main criticism levelled at Andrew is that, he has survived various coaching, management and board regime changes at the RFU over that period. In other words, people simply seem to be a bit pissed off that he hasn’t been sacked, a phenomenon that might just be explained by the fact that over the years he has done a rather good job.

Andrew’s primary role at the RFU over the last 10 years has been the negotiation and management of the agreement between the RFU and England's professional clubs. A complex and difficult task, often conducted against the backdrop of what, to the outside world at least, has appeared to be a toxic political maelstrom at TW1, Andrew has, quite simply, delivered. Put simply it is no accident that there is now a conveyor belt of young English-qualified talent coming through the system from the clubs to the national team.

I’m sure he would be the first to admit that mistakes have been made along the way but, please, let’s give credit where its due - in a fair world Rob Andrew would walk away from the RFU with his head held high and with our thanks.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Whatever Happened to: the 10 metre rule?

Another in a long line of reminiscences about aspects of rugby that appear to have achieved "endangered species" status in recent times…

Whatever happened to the 10 metre rule (or, for those of a certain vintage, the 10 yard rule)?

Once upon a time the merest squeak of dissent, the slightest murmur of protest or even the faintest flicker of disapproval at a refereeing decision would incur not only a penalty against your team but also the immediate sanction of your team being marched back a further 10 metres, much to the disgust of the rest of the team whose withering looks in the direction of the perpetrator was always enough to ensure that it didn't happen again.

I can't think of the last time I saw this applied by a referee in a professional game. What's more, each week in Under 13 rugby I witness a combination of gripes, whinges and other assorted dissenting sounds more or less every time the referee's whistle is blown. It's not direct dissent, as such, more an expression of "life is so unfair" that comes with the territory of being a teenage boy - but that kind of thing certainly used to be more than enough to incur the referee's wrath and more often than not involved being made to retreat 10 metres. You soon learned to keep your mouth firmly shut.

Referees do tend to be a little more communicative with players in this day and age and, certainly at junior level, appear to want to explain each decision, almost as if they are seeking the players' approval. I can see that clarity is important and there is an element of educating the players but I have to say I much preferred the "back ten" approach which, if employed more often, I can't help feeling would radically reduce the level of incessant chatter aimed in the direction of the referee in today's game.

Call me old fashioned and all that...

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A family affair

I'm not quite sure why Racing 92 are so upset with Martin Castrogiovanni after pictures emerged on Twitter at the weekend of him partying with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Castro missed Racing's  Champions Cup semi-final clash with Leicester on Sunday as he had "a family matter to attend to in Argentina".

And I'm 99% certain that's his sister in the picture… :)

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Trophée brûlée

A few red faces, I imagine, among the players of French amateur club Chamalieres, winners of the Auvergne regional title with victory over Cisternes in the final at the weekend.

Unfortunately Chamalieres' victory is where the good news ends, judging by this picture of the wooden championship trophy which, it transpires, ended being barbecued during the post-match festivities.

No doubt it was one of those seemingly hilarious-at-the-time moments that…erm…well...turned out not to be very funny at all.

 I'm no detective, but I suspect alcohol may have been involved...

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Passing of the Torch

I, DYLAN MICHAEL HARTLEY, of Franklin's Gardens, Weedon Road, Northampton NN5 5BG, with full title guarantee hereby irrevocably assign the benefit (subject to the burden) of all rights in and to the title: 


to JOSEPH WILLIAM G. MARLER of The Twickenham Stoop, 
Langhorn Drive
, Twickenham
, Middlesex
 TW2 7SX to hold absolutely throughout the universe in perpetuity.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Total Flanker Guide to: Coaching Youth Rugby

Some might say that just over half a season of being involved on the periphery of coaching my son’s Under 13 team is no qualification for me to begin proffering my advice on coaching youth rugby.

To which I say: why should knowing next to nothing about a subject prevent me from publishing a guide about said subject for anyone who is willing (or silly) enough to read it? (It never has before).

So, with that preamble out of the way, why get involved in coaching youth rugby at all?

I could trot out the somewhat trite reply that it is an honour and a privilege to be involved in bringing through talent for the future. Which is true, I suppose, but far from the completely honest answer, which has more to do with the fact that if I’m expected to turn up with my son to training on a regular basis I may as well at least pull on a pair of boots and run around a bit.

What I have found, though, is that any pre-conceptions I had about coaching kids have gone right out of the window.

I had assumed, for instance, that having been a reasonable player in my time, passing on rugby knowledge to the boys would be relatively straightforward. Wrong.

I had assumed that the boys would listen to what I had to say. Wrong.

I had assumed that once I’d showed the boys what it was that I wanted them to do, they would then do it. Wrong.

I had assumed that once they had succeeded in doing something in training, they would then replicate it the next time they played. Wrong.

What I failed to realise is that, much like for a 17 year old learning to drive, there is one hell of a lot to take in for for kids learning to play rugby.

So, what are the answers?

Buggered if I know, if I’m honest, but here is what appears to have worked so far:

- Keep the boys that want to mess about apart so that they are in separate groups with players who are keen to work hard and learn - peer pressure can be a wonderful thing;

- KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) - work at one thing at a time with plenty of repetition until it becomes second nature;

- Sign up for a coaching course. I haven't (yet) but it must help to have some idea what you're talking about, surely? and

- Dust off your sense of humour and have fun – if you’re enjoying it then, more than likely, so are the boys.

It’s hardly ground breaking advice, I know, but what I would say is that, despite my own pretty negligible contribution, I have been astonished at the ridiculous and disproportionate pride I have felt when the team comes together and plays well.

It’s natural enough for me to be proud of my son (who, to be fair to him, has enjoyed a cracking season) – but the vicarious sense of achievement generated by a bunch of 13 year olds - most of whom I hadn’t even met a few short months ago - is, quite frankly, ludicrous.