Monday, 29 November 2010

Under Armour launch new ColdGear Range - get a free beenie!

In recent years Under Armour has become a feature of many a rugby players kit. Now for temperatures below 13 degrees and with a great sense of timing, the ColdGear range has been launched which features double-sided fabric that adds circulation and keeps moisture from the skin. As the UK is gripped by an icy blast from the North and East, this piece of kit might just persuade you to leave the warmth of home to join your mates for that all important training session. I can testify that after three sessions wearing the aforementioned "mock" it does what it says on the box!

To coincide with the launch Under Armour have also set up a facebook group and we have some pretty nice beenies from the company to give away on a first come first served basis. Just email us your details if you would like one!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

England 11 South Africa 21 - Beaten and Beaten Up

You have to say that England were well beaten this afternoon and despite some fine individual performances in the pack, South Africa provided the home team with a lesson in how to play with sustained physicality. A bruised and battered England team sadly let in a soft try late on, but both sides deserve credit for an excellent defensive performance. This must count as one of the most physical and at times legitimately brutal international games of the recent past.

There is no doubt that the loss of Crofts and Flood had a profound impact on England. The Leicester flanker had made an effective start to the game and he once again impressed with his fine breaks and ball carrying ability.  His line out skills were also missed on a day when South Africa ruled the air with a near faultless display of lineout mastery.

Without the tempo and quick ball of recent weeks, England struggled to establish any cutting edge and variation in attack. At times they look jaded after the demanding last month, with Youngs not offering any where near the threat of recent weeks. On the plus side it was another monumental performance full of athletism from Courtney Lawes who at the age of twenty one looks completely at home at test level. It has also been a successful month for Andrew Sheridan and it is good to report that his rehabilitation looks complete with his work rate being very encouraging. The stock of Mark Cueto has also been on the up and he must have cemented his place in a back three that will continue to threaten any opponents.

South Africa were highly impressive today delivering on all fronts after the inconsistency of recent weeks and it will be interesting to see whether this win provides Peter De Villiers with a little more security. His big guns certainly came up trumps for him today.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Crouch, Touch, Pause and Pause and Pause, Engage

While it has been great to see some high tempo flowing games recently at both international and club level there does seem to be an emerging crisis at the scrum. While we are starting to witness greater consistency of refereeing at the tackle, I would suggest that we are a long way from seeing such an approach at the scrum.

In recent weeks I have watched a number of games where hardly any scrums have been completed. My fellow blogger "Total Flanker" alludes to the situation in the recent England v Australia match where only two of the eight scrums were completed.  My frustration is with those referees who for some unfathomable reason have decided to change the timing on the crouch, touch, pause and engage. My pet hate at the moment has to be the refereeing of Dave Pearson who seems to take great delight in extending the pause period and even more delight when he gives a free kick as one side engages too early, probably because they have lost the will to live as holds the two packs in some strange suspended state. He frankly ruined for me the Saracens v Saints premiership game in late September with his fussy refereeing of the scrum. At least Saracens knew it was coming and had arranged for their forwards to listen to a tape of his scrum calls!! How utterly ridiculous. I note that from the highlights of the Exeter v Leeds game on Saturday that he was up to his old tricks again.

It was also interesting that the All Blacks first try against Scotland came from a All Blacks put in at the scrum, after Pearson had awarded a free kick for early engagement. There was nothing wrong with the engagement - it was flat and the props were stable and the scrum would have been completed. Of course the Scotland front row had not paused long enough for Dave's liking.

Just let us hope that someone is looking at the sitaution that is emerging with the scrummage and acts in a positive and sensible manner before this phase of the game just fades away.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Is anthracite the new black? - Hoorah for England

In preparation for yesterday's international at Twickenham, Martin Johnson spoke about his wish to establish HQ once again as a fortress which opposition feared entering in to. He must be delighted with the fact that a number of very large building blocks were laid down against Australia, as England produced their finest performance for a number of seasons.

It was great to see England play with pace, ambition, precision and great execution right from the start - qualities that have been sadly missing in the recent past. Splendidly steered and directed by Ben Youngs with a Man of the Match performance along with a composed and authoritative Toby Flood. England thoroughly deserved this fine victory. With such a fine team effort it is probably invidious to highlight individuals, but for me the performances of Ashton, Cueto, Crofts and Lawes must be worthy of mention and recognition. It was also heartening to see the quiet authority and solidity shown by Shontayne Hape in the centre which will surely go along way to silence some of his critics, including myself. Another big plus was to see Andrew Sheridan back to his normal belligerent self.

A dawn of a new era? Well the Men in Grey did enough to suggest that as a work in progress the piece is evolving nicely and while one game does not make a season, this performance signalled England's intent for the year ahead. It was a performance a long way removed from the normal Northern Hemisphere fare and this was the closest an England team has come to playing with the tempo and intensity of the All Blacks.

A big hoorah for England and maybe anthracite is just the new black!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Wake up Saracens and smell the plastic - shame about the pitch!

I am sure that the sentiments expressed in a posting on the Total Flanker blog on Wednesday reflect the thoughts of many of the supporters who have followed Saracens since their move to Watford in 1997. The post titled "Artificial" not only comments on some of the ramifications for the supporters and a host of associated clubs but on also on how the decision to play on an artificial pitch links nicely with the club's decision to sign Gav the dancer as a new fly half!!

While there is no doubting the club's ambition the decsion to incorporate a state of the art 3G artificial pitch at the cost of £500,000 is a big step. You also get the impression that the rugby authorities have just been waiting in the wings for such a development and there was no stopping the immediate endoresment of the idea from Premiership Rugby, The RFU and the IRB. Pretty worrying stuff really.

International Rugby Board chief executive Mike Miller insisted that Saracens' plans for a plastic pitch are "good for the game".  Miller said: "We have been working for a number of years with FIFA to come to a standard for artificial surfaces around the world so you can play rugby and football on them."

He added: "Unfortunately here people have the image of QPR in the 1980s. It is a totally different thing now. It looks like a grass pitch now and it plays as well as a grass pitch, if not better. I think it is good for the game. There is an argument that the southern hemisphere play more attractive, attacking rugby because they can keep their footing and throw the ball around."

Is is really the future of rugby? Well actually I think mud is good - slower play is good - grunt and grind is good. Let us just hope that not everyone starts to jump on the bandwagon and a sense of proportion prevails.

We have problems with flying balls and now we could get bouncy balls. Just to remind what it was like in those days in the eighties at Loftus Road I bring you a trip down memory lane below:

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

10 out of 10 for Loughborough Students RFC

Loughborough Students came so close at the end of last season to pulling off the much cherished double by winning the BUCS title and securing promotion to National League 1. Ultimately the demands of trying to achieve both objectives proved to be too much. Loughborough's league form dipped in the latter part of the campaign with Maccelsfield securing the title with the student side left to face Rossyln Park in the National 2 play off game. Just three days after defeating Bath University in the "Real" Varsity match, Loughborough were out gunned by a determined Park side 43-21. Consolation was found in a BUCS title after a barren patch with Loughborough coming from behind in an outstanding second half performance to emerge as 35-27 victors over UWIC.

Now two months in to the new season it looks like business as usual as Loughborough remain unbeaten on all fronts with an impressive top of the table position in National League 2 North with ten wins on the trot along with five wins in the BUCS competition including a 45-24 win over Northumbria University today. It looks like the main challenge this year will come from a resurgant Fylde side who continue to impress with or without Jason Robinson with their only defeat at the hands of  Leicester Lions who currently sit in third place. The big top of the table clash is in two weeks time when Loughborough travel to Fylde.

In the BUCS Premier Northern, the main competition is likely to come from Durham while Bristol have made a good start in the Southern League. Head Coach Dave Morris will be looking to use his squad wisely while you have to admire the self belief that his teams are showing as they continue to play with great flair and attacking potency. Loughborough also have adapted well to the loss of last season's Captain and No.8, Phil Burgess now with Cornish Pirates and scrum half, Henry Pyrgos in his first season with Glasgow Warriors. In their place, Zimbabwean full back Dante Mama, No.8 Mike Macfarlane and  George Duke at fly half have more than stepped up to the mark.

Friday, 5 November 2010

New England Rugby Performance Scale introduced - the Hoorah - Horrible Scale

This week a lifelong and avid England supporter launched in readiness for the forthcoming internationals a new and sophisticated scale for measuring England's performance in the lead up to the World Cup. Based on a lifetime study of difeerent performance models from a variety of sports, the Hoorah - Horrible scale is designed to give an unbiased and fair assessment of England's performance in each international. using the definition of Hoorah  as an expression of excitement; to shout an expression of excitement and approval and Horrible as causing or tending to cause horror; shockingly dreadful: a horrible sight. The scale can be seen as spectrum to judge performance.

From watching England beat Australia 20-3 at Twickenham in 1973, the creator of the scale has been seeking a method to reflect the good and bad times as an England supporter. From the play of Duckham and Pullin, through Cooper and Lampkowski, to Beaumont and Woodward and on to Guscott and Winterbottom, through Johnson and Wilkinson and now to Lawes and Youngs it has been an intresting journey

The scale has had a number of false starts with the crap and even crappier version being produced at a particular low point in the mid to late seventies. the new scale is also a refinement on the Good - Shit scale. It is now felt that it is time of professional rugby and the emphasis on peak performance and conditioning that the Hoorah-Horrible Scale should be launched to add to our understanding of our national team's performance.

Let us just hope that it is an Hoorah day tomorrow!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Great chance to meet the All Blacks - Twickenham on Friday

There is a great chance for rugby fans to meet the All Blacks tomorrow at Twickenham ahead of the test match on Saturday courtesy of Adidas.

Key members of the All Blacks including Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu, Sam Whitelock, Conrad Smith and newcomer Sonny Bill Williams will be attending the adidas signing session at the RFU Store at Twickenham Stadium from 11.30am to 12.30pm on Friday 5th November.

Rugby fans and All Blacks supporters are invited to come down to meet the players and get their autographs ahead of the match against England.

Ahead of the day, Dan Carter said “As a team we always look forward to the opportunity to get out and meet our fans and thank them for their ongoing support. Hopefully this Friday will be no different and they’ll be plenty of black jerseys out there ahead of Saturday’s match!”

More details of the event and coverage of the planned Q&A session can be found on the Adidas rugby UK Twitter Page

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Crowd Trouble - Where are the fans for the Magners League?

I make no claim to be fully conversant with the financial structures of the teams in the Magners League but if I was a director or senior officer in one of the clubs particularly in Scotland and to a lesser extent in Wales I would be seriously worried about the attendance figures for the season so far. Not only are there short term concerns about the levels of income flow, but there is also a longer term issue relating to the limited development of an adequate fan base which surely must undermine the likely success and viability of the league.

The attendances for last weekend make interesting reading and reflect the issues raised above  - the average attendance was 7,900 with the smallest crowd of 2,900 in Aironi and the largest for the Leinster v Edinburgh encounter at RDS Showground attracting 16,786.   Last weekend might have been affected by the the upcoming Autumn Internationals and the reduced draw of watching depleted squads, but the picture has been the same since the start of the season.

Probably the biggest concern relates to Edinburgh with an average home crowd of 3,200 this season. I still find hard to understand that in a relatively large city with a good rugby tradition that not more supporters are attracted to Murryfield to see Edinburgh play. In the Heineken Cup it is not much better with just under 5,000 watching the highly entertaining recent match against Northampton Saints. It most be the strangest experience to not only to play but also to watch a game in a stadium with a 67,000 capacity. It has also not been much better over at Firhill where a crowd of 2,554 saw the Glasgow Warriors beat the Ospreys last Sunday.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are strongly promoting "The Big Bash" when the two district sides play for the 1872 Cup (the first year of the fixture) in back to back fixtures on the 27 December and 2 January. Both fixtures count toward the Magners League and ticket prices have been reduced with an Adult ticket at £10. It will also be very interesting to see whether Murrayfield will be anywhere near capacity for not only the forthcoming Autumn Internationals but also for the Six Nations.

I am sure that the Welsh regions would also like to see larger crowds for the regular derby matches that occur throughout the season. So far the largest crowd in Wales was at the Cardiff City Stadium for the Blues match against the Scarlets when 14,026  came through the turnstilles - a step in the right direction and certainly Cardiff Blues are starting to see crowds comparable with the level of support that Northampton Saints receive on a regular basis at Franklin Gardens. The Scarlets with an average crowd of around 7-8,000, attracted 13,707 for their derby game against the Ospreys.

While Connacht struggle along with small crowds (1,371 for their opening game of the season against the Dragons) both Munster and Leinster are seeing good crowds on a regular basis. Just over 50,000 saw the teams play at the Aviva Stadium and an impressive crowd of 17,140 saw Munster defeat Treviso at Thomand Park.

The Aviva Premiership is also not immune from a decline in attendances so far this season and in overall terms crowds are down by 10-12%.  This leaves Premiership Rugby some way short of their goal of attracting higher average gates than football's Championship by 2015 (an average of just under 18,000 for the 2009/10 season). Even Leicester Tigers with their large and loyal fan base have seen a dip in support and Wasps and Saracens have had smaller crowds than might have been expected. In contrast, Northampton Saints and to some extent Harlequins have seen comparable attendances to last season.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Good on you Exeter!

Do not believe that Saracens shock defeat yesterday at the hands of Exeter had anything to do with the "Hensen factor" and all that has being going on at Saracens over the last week. The Chiefs excellent victory was very much founded on an outstanding team performance. With incredible resilience and organisation being shown in defence, Exeter displayed total commitment and great self belief in their highly effective game plan which basically wore down Saracens. The home side certainly had their chances but too often their final exceution was poor. They were also once again very lateral in attack and were easing pickings for the clamp-like defence of Exeter. In some ways a performance like this by Exeter has been on the cards for some time and apart from the defeat at Harlequins they have performed well and have been highly competitive in every game. I am sure that this will not be the last of the surprises caused by Exeter in what is developing in to an intriguing Aviva Premiership season.

I learnt after my prediction of 12 home wins from that a accumulator of 178-1 was available for such an outcome. I did think it was a reasonable call with a young and experienced Cardiff Blues side travelling to Aironi and Leeds at home against a fragile Wasps side. In the end I was way off beam again and with Ospreys, Ulster, Saracens losing at home and Harlequins drawing with Bath I ended up with a 50% success rate! I will be remembering in the future that Aironi are basically the whipping boys of the Magners League while Leeds are truely now in a big hole with seemingly little in their locker to change the direction of the season. Their lack of cutting edge continues to plague them but also yesterday they started to creak up front. It is also going to be an interesting month for the Ospreys as they try to retain their interest in the Magners with a heavily depleted squad.