Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Shirt porn...beware

I had a whinge about Nike just the other day. I used the Nike Run app to map and time my jog and as I passed the 2.5km of 5km mark on my second run in three weeks (prop bod still firmly intact) when the voice of professional comedic screecher Kevin Hart interrupted the nosebleed techno I was blasting out of my headphones. He was there to reassure me I was doing 'really well'. But like Mr Hart's film career, this assertion was a load of bollocks. I was hanging out of my arse and seriously considering hailing an uber. Annoying inaccuracy, it could have been a White House press briefing. 

Nike, all is forgiven. Bravo. Just bravo. Where can I buy these please? Argentina get all the best kits.  

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Sunwolves 2017 kit launch video

Well at least this is Canterbury stash because it aint the promotional video that's gonna get Sunwolves kits sold this season.

Game gone soft...apparently

How many times have we heard this over the past couple of weeks form ex pro 'pundits'.

'Games got soft...they'll be banning tackling next' (or words to that effect).

Beale, Haylett-Petty, Brookes. All players that rightly or wrongly may have felt aggrieved by their marching orders in recent weeks.

Firstly, if you throw accusations like 'games gone soft' around, it instantly smacks of rose-tinted nostalgia of your own career, when kicking people in the head and punching people at the bottom of a ruck when the ref wasn't looking was seen as the height of alpha-masculinty. The world has moved on guys, so should the sport. No one is debating a bit of measured violence isn't sometimes a bit of a shot in the arm for a game, but long gone are the days of Dooley, Ackford and Richards strolling around the pitch smacking people to assert their authority because taking your warrant card on the pitch was frowned upon.

Secondly, the game very clearly hasn't gone soft. The rules have changed, not the players. They still love smashing people, its just become harder to judge how high you can get away with.

Thirdly, I agree that some of the yellows being chucked out are ludicrous, but World Rugby and the constituent unions have a huge PR problem at the moment with parents reluctant to let their kids play a sport that you can so clearly draw a direct line between repeated head trauma and later life health problems. They have to take action for the sake of participation in the game and the image of the game. I am not usually one to defend World Rugby, but on this front they are just adjusting to a changing sports market, with the most noble of concerns at the core of it, player safety.

So please just calm down. World Rugby doesn't want traditional fans turned off the game, so will probably look at the laws and adjust accordingly when necessary. They also don't want kids and parents scared of early onset dementia if they go near a rugby ball, so the game has to change. Lets just all take a deep breath.

Hartley was definitely a red card though. Naughty.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Howley? Ok...

It's not just Howley that worries me, and to be fair to him he was head of attack in 2013. However, 2013 Australia were a team clearly all over the place (James O'Connor at 10 anyone?) and to be brutally honest, the game has moved on significantly, beyond one out runners and limited backline movement. It's not Howley that worries me essentially, but the lack of support he will have. Gatland will offer a little in attack, perhaps even Farrell, but Borthwick won't be interested and by all accounts it could be Mike Friday helping him out, with a bit of skills coaching thrown in for good measure. I love Friday, but he's been away from the 15 man game for years and the Lions is so intense, so precise, so delicate in its execution that it just feels too risky. No one is doubting his coaching ability, but it seems a little left-field, even for the Lions which is not necessarily scared of making odd but sometimes genius selections.

Farrell is a great shout, having really redeemed his credentials since taking over defence in Ireland. Some of the contact in the New Zealand games was outright scary and Ireland showed another level of physicality we all knew was probably there, but Faz seems to have unlocked. People forget he was a key cog in the new age Saracens setup and presided over a very stingy defence in the Lions tour of 2013 (with above caveat in mind).

Borthwick. The man is the best forwards coach in the world. That's all I have to say.

In short, set-piece and defence seem pretty solid. Attack I am officially worried about. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Demise of London Welsh - Game Over

London Welsh is a club which has long lived in the rugby public consciousness, in the amateur era for mainly positive reasons, in the pro era, mostly for negative.

Players have been told to find new jobs, three weeks leading up to Christmas. They need a quarter of a million pounds to stay afloat it seems all options have dried up. A winding up order by HMRC now seems inevitable.

The fact this club has been allowed into this state is an incredibly sad thing. I played at the ground on a number occasions and was genuinely excited to play on the same pitches as so many welsh legends. I had a Wales U16 trial there, played for Nottingham there as well as loads of age group and minis fixtures. I hope to god they can keep hold of their iconic ground. You can almost hear the property developers in the area smacking their lips.

London Welsh, Plymouth Albion and Jersey, all teams that sit just below the Premiership but the gulf couldn't seem bigger in terms of support, finance and management. The RFU and Premier Rugby need to sort this out sharpish. It's not as if they haven't got the bleedin' money.

More on this matter later, but I can't help but be utterly depressed by yet another huge name in rugby fall by the wayside. It took neighbours Richmond and London Scottish the better part of fifteen years to get back to somewhere near their former glory. Fans must be praying that after being mucked around for the last few years, stronger foundations are put in place for sustainability at the club in the future, if it even has one. 

Monday, 5 December 2016

RGN Autumn International Awards - Forwards

The Patronising Award for Most Improved Player - Tom Wood
I never really got it with Tom Wood during the Lancaster era. He seemed to be loved by pundits, loved by the Franklins Gardens faithful, but seemed to not do much, playing for England at least. I then thought he was maybe one of those Richard Hill types, you know the ones who do a lot of the donkey stuff but little of the flashy stuff. I then made a point of watching him for a whole game and seeing what he did and coming out the other end non the wiser.

When I saw he'd been called back up to the squad it raised an eyebrow or two from fans and pundits alike, especially as Eddie Jones had called him lazy and average in the public domain on a couple of occasions. This reverse psychology obviously worked and Wood made a big impact, especially in the final match where he seemed to be making the most of an opportunity he probably thought he wasn't going to get near this season. Do I think he's an England star, or a starter, no. However, his presence in the team and seamless integration into the squad is evidence of a squad and incentive based selection system which is clearly working.

The John Bentley Award for surprise bolter for Lions Selection - Tadhg Furlong
No other reason than the below video. If it takes this many All Blacks to take down one mad irishman, then surely he's got to win. The Irish front row has come a long way in a short space of time, with Cronin and Healy on the bench, there is genuine depth in this team and some of them could find themselves in front of the more established England front row for Lions spots.

The Jonah Lomu Award for being 'Quick for a big lad' - Josh Van der Flier
This guy has been on the radar for a while, World Cup U20s watchers will know he's been turning heads for a some time. But my word, this kid is an athlete. Now he was a wing in a past life so he, despite being a charlatan, has made it into the list on the technicality that he wears a number seven on his back. To his credit, his tackle count is nearly as impressive as his running, and his running is off the chain.

The Yoann Huget Moment of Madness Award - Enrique Pieretto
Yes Marler had hold of his foot, but there is no excuse for this. Maybe he thought the off-season wasn't quite long enough for Southern Hemisphere players and he fancied a few more weeks off. Maybe he was mates with Samson Lee. Whatever the reason, he got seven weeks for it.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

England vs Australia - The Debrief

A whole year undefeated. The resources of the richest union in the rugby world combined with the most experienced coach in in the game today. This feels like when the white power ranger joined the original power rangers to make a brand new megazord. Sort of.

I don't want to get all drunk on the RFU kool-aid but there does seem to be something quite special going on. Follow the current squads tweets for a couple of days, as well as Haskell's behind the scenes coverage, this is a squad enjoying playing and enjoying winning.

I listened to the first twenty minutes on the radio and was obviously horrified, but even still I wasn't panicked. Once the clear anxiety some players were feeling, being overly pumped some of them (Mike Brown) they realised that their defence had managed to keep out most of what one of the the most dangerous backlines in world rugby could throw at them. They came back into the game by force of will, brutal defence and some of the most clinical attacking I've seen from this team since 2002/03. This has led to England having a better win % than the All Blacks, although admittedly not having played them
Angry. Passionate. Hard as f...

Then there are the players who stepped in during the injuries England suffered after the Australia tour. Even with Launchbury suspended, will still had Kruis and Lawes to fill the second row, with Itoje, Attwood, Ewels still in reserve at some point in the future. Sinckler came off the bench and made a huge impact. Hartley, the captain for crying out loud, came off for Jamie George and the team barely broke stride. Tom Wood, a player who I have been overtly critical of to my mates for years, was nothing short of heroic all afternoon. Yarde has looked dangerous, if not always assured. Joseph appears to have a lot more in the tank than just a lethal step and the Ford/Farrell axis could be the cornerstone for the team for years to come. I cannot wait until the Six Nations and the match versus Ireland, it is going to be massive.

The event that summed up the afternoon had to be Jonny May's kick-off chase. Hard running, hard tackle, from a player who wasn't exactly known for his physicality in the contact. He has been given license by Jones and Gustard to use his biggest asset, his electric speed, as a defensive tool. I went to a conference once when Gustard laid out his defensive mindset, in the early days of the Saracens revolution. He said Saracens don't see defence and attack as two different things. They are interchangeable and tackling, counter-rucking and attempts at turnovers are just the start of an attack, and what better place to attack from than ten metres behind the attacking teams line. Check 1:26:30 below to remind yourselves what that looks like.

So much to be excited about. Eddie Jones is wary of waxing lyrical about his team, and with good reason, saying they are still not as good as the 2003 side. The carrot and stick of the regime has brought incredible results in a very short space of time, so why on earth would you stop now.