Sunday, 27 February 2011

England Rugby: Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3

In 1979, Ian Dury and the Blockheads released "Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3" and one of the verses starts with the lyrics "A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it". Over recent years as an England supporter there has probably been rather too much "grin and bear it" as England have laboured along with the occasional false hope of a new dawn.

In the context of the performances this season I might venture to suggest that a new dawn is fast becoming a fledgling era and that we have more than a few reasons to be cheerful as England's Grand Slam aspirations continue on track. Yesterday's performance against a determined French side was a good old slug fest which ultimately went the full fifteen rounds but once again, there were many positives to reflect upon.

In no particular order my "Reasons to be Cheerful" with three matches played include:

  1. High Tempo: England have shown over this season that they can play a high tempo ambitious game which has to be the blueprint for success in the modern game. There have been times when England have played with the necessary pace and precision to suggest that they can live with, and potentially out perform their Southern Hemisphere counterparts.
  2. Plan B: Yesterday also showed that England do have another type of game in their locker and the tactical changes made at half time ensured that they could control the game and apply the necessary sustained pressure. There is no doubt that England tried to play too much rugby in the first half and came unstuck against the very aggressive defence of the French. The second half saw England commit players to the break down, with the intensity and work rate in this area being outstanding.
  3. Set Piece: The set piece has been secure and in particular it has been good to see the line out going so well. The loss of Tom Crofts and to an extent Courtney Lawes was a potential nightmare in terms of securing top quality ball form the line out, but England have proved to be very secure in this area. I have been disappointed in recent years with how passive England have been on the opposition ball but this has now been rectified and Tom Woods has been a real threat in this area.
  4. Tom Woods: This leads very nicely in to the excellent performance of Woods. He has looked very much at home at this level and has contributed a great deal to the England forward effort. He has an outstanding work rate not least at the breakdown and any doubts about the balance of a back row of Woods, Haskell and Easter have long been forgotten. It is going to be almighty scrap for the number 6 and 7 jersey when Moody and Crofts are back to full fitness.
  5. Second Rows: One of England's top performers so far has been Tom Palmer and yesterday he thoroughly deserved his man of the match award. While Deacon had done a great job alongside Palmer, the return of Courtney Lawes to partner the 31 year old Stade Francais man is a mouth watering prospect for the World Cup. Bring on Matfield et al.
  6. Young Front Row: My last mention of the forwards has to include Alex Corbisiero. He is another player who just seems very much at home at test level and his hour on the pitch after Sheridan's injury was once again very successful. The front row competed strongly in the scrum and their all-round contribution was significant. You get the sense that this trio could feature for England for a good number of years.
  7. The Oldies: Yesterday also showed that the stalwarts from the 2003 World Cup team still have a huge role to play for England. In particular the form of the 32 year old Mike Tindall  has been excellent, and yesterday he had another impressive all action game. His running has been strong and straight while in defence he seems as robust as ever. It was also a day when Jonny Wilkinson reaffirmed why he continues to be a vital element of the squad. He introduced himself with a 46 metre penalty to move onto 1,190 points, one ahead of New Zealand's Dan Carter, and in doing so  regained his position as the leading Test points-scorer. The  leadership and experience of Tindall and Wilkinson along with Thompson will be invaluable come the World Cup.
  8. Half backs: Although it was a little more of a challenging day for Ben Youngs and Toby Flood, as a partnership they are really starting to look the real deal at Test level. Youngs struggled under the attention of the French forwards but still turned in a good performance, while Flood who has been a revelation recently, had little chance to show his skills, he never shirked from his defensive responsibilities. England can now surely build their team round the Leicester duo for the foreseeable future.
  9. Potent Attacking Force: It is not always been possible to combine the phrase "potent attacking force" and England in the same sentence, but we do seem to be getting there. Through their high tempo game, off loading and outstanding support running, England are genuinely looking a real threat and creating try scoring opportunities in every game. The "Ashton Factor" is significant and along with Cueto and Foden there is so much potential to exploit.  
So I would suggest that there are many "Reasons to be Cheerful" as an England supporter and in the words of Ian Dury:

Summer, Buddy Holly, the working folly
Good golly Miss Molly and boats
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet
Jump back in the alley and nanny goats

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Ashton Diagnosed With Compulsive Diving Syndrome (CDS)

News is filtering out of the England Camp that Chris Ashton has been diagnosed with Compulsive Diving Syndrome. It is not yet known whether the syndrome was identified during the recent testing of the squad undertaken by the team pyschologist. During the testing the players completed detailed questionnaires after which each individual was assigned an identity comprising a colour and a bird. Ashton has been identified as yellow and a peacock and therefore displays sociable tendencies while being dynamic and enthusiastic. He courts popularity, is keen to be the centre of attention and feeds off fame and applause.

Ashton who has been the star of the show in this year's Six Nations is understood to be receiving considerable support from his team mates and coaching staff in coming to terms with the diagnosis.

England's support play has been of the highest order recently and the squad have been working hard all week on developing their lines of running to ensure that there is a phalanx of team mates available to carry Ashton over the tryline if he gets close to scoring.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

England stars take on the Land Rover Experience

The England squad recently took a break from their preparation for Saturday's showdown with France to take part in the Land Rover Experience at Longcross. As you will see in the video they got behind the wheel of various vehicles and  took on various tasks such as the ice mat and blindfold driving.
The day had a competitive edge, with the final event being the train line challenge. A team featuring Ben Youngs and Toby Flood took on another side that featured Chris Ashton, Martin Johnson and James Haskell.

So who finished first? Or was driving the real winner? Watch the video to find out.

Monday, 21 February 2011

England v France Competition: Win a Trion:Z Dual Loop Bracelet

In association with Trion:Z we are running a correct score competition for the forthcoming England v France encounter at Twickenham this Saturday. Let us know your score prediction for what is quite rightly being billed as the Grand Slam decider.

Entries should be sent to to by kick off time which is 5.00 p.m. Winners will receive a Trion:Z dual loop bracelet of their choice.

To celebrate this year's Six Nations, Trion:Z have designed a range of 4 bracelets in support of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The bracelets which are great to wear are part of a range of award winning negative ion releasing bracelets (patented magnetic ionic technology), designed to improve sporting performance and proven to be 50-100 times more powerful than similar products.

Trion:Z launched its award winning range of products in 1997 and is now a leader in providing magnetic ionic gear to the global health and fitness arena, with a presence in over 60 countries worldwide.Trion:Z combines the therapeutic properties of magnets and negative ions, bringing you the most powerful complementary health product on the market today. 89% of consumers reported that they felt a noticeable difference from Trion:Z products.

Rory Mcllroy and James Anderson are two advocates of the bracelet and you will have also seen a number of the England team wearing the bracelet in their recent successful Ashes campaign.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

This was not in the script for Danny Boy - Rebels 0 - Waratahs 43

This could have not been a less auspicious Super Rugby debut for Danny Cipriani and his Melbourne Rebels team mates as in front of a crowd of 25,500 the much vaunted home team ended up coming a very distant second to a rampant Waratahs.

With Michael Lipman and Gareth Delve starting in the back row, the Rebels were also forced into an unplanned substitution when Danny Cipriani came on for James Hilgendorf after only 8 minutes. Although this clearly upset the Rebels in some respects, their lack of variation and cutting edge in attack was clearly visible for all to see.

There has been a good deal of talk about the Rebels adopting a hybrid style of play and reports suggest that the squad have been working with Rugby League and AFL coaches in an attempt to fine tune this style. In reality this style amounted to little more than a series of one up forward runners attempting to break the defence around the fringes of the ruck. Against a well organised and highly committed Waratahs' defence, the Rebels made little ground and increasingly they looked disorganised and lacking in any alternative game plan. You had to feel sorry for Cipriani who spent the game with very few options available to him as most of the potential forward runners were close to the ruck.

With the Brumbies next on the agenda, Rod Macqueen, the Rebels coach will need to be taking a good hard look at his team and how they can start to be competitive at this level. Easy victories over Tonga, 43-13 and 54-0 along with a victory over Fiji 42-27 would seem have done little to prepare the Rebels for the intensity and pace of Super Rugby.

Macqueen also has to deal with a number of injury problems. Hilgendorf is out for possibly six weeks and flanker Hoani Macdonald may require surgery after breaking three bones in his hand. Centre Cooper Vuna also suffered a should injury late in the match and will undergo scans. Another worry for the Rebels camp must be the performance of Stirling Mortlock. He looked very much under par and his influence on the game was minimal. In contrast, the Waratahs can take a great deal from this opening encounter. Luke Burgess and Barrick Barnes were influential at half back and old war horse, Phil Waugh was very much at his best. They look to have real cutting edge with Drew Mitchell and Kurtley Beale to the fore.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Aviva Premiership Stats That No Team Wants

In my previous post on the Aviva Premiership statistics I focused on the huge influence that Thomas Waldrom has had on the campaign so far this season. Now as we move inextricably towards the business end of the season I focus on the less flattering stats for both individual players and teams.

For all the statto fraternity out there, including myself, I highlight below the stats that nobody wants to have by the end of the season. They make for interesting reading!

Least number of defenders beaten - Newcastle Falcons 66  Bath Rugby 85  Leeds Carnegie 92

Least number of clean breaks - Newcastle Falcons 29  Leeds Carnegie 34  Bath Rugby 38

Scrums lost - Bath Rugby 21  Gloucester 21  Leeds Carnegie 19

Line Outs lost - London Wasps 32  Sale Sharks 27 Exeter Chiefs 26

Rucks lost - London Wasps 60  Harlequins 57  Leicester Tigers 52

Most missed tackles - Leicester Tigers 120  London Wasps 117  Exeter Chiefs 116

Most turnovers conceded - Harlequins 177  London Wasps 176   Leicester Tigers 171

Most missed tackles by a player - Dave Walder 16  Mark Foster 12  Jimmy Gopperth 12

Most turnovers conceded by a player - Mike Brown 21  Geordan Murphy 21 Nick Abendanon 18 (full back territory)

Most defensive penalties conceded - Paul Doran Jones 8  Tim Payne 8  Ben Broster 7 (the domain of the front row!)

Most offensive penalties conceded - Ally Hogg 15  Tim Payne 13  Danny Grewcock 9

Of the eleven categories, Wasps feature in seven and special mention must go to Tim Payne for his services to penalty giving. Only Northampton Saints and London Irish fail to appear in the stats of shame.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Battle of the Skills Video

It what might be best described as a bit of "Video Banter" the Waratahs have now joined in the battle for supremacy of the skills video by releasing their own parody or what might be best described as piss-take of the All Blacks' latest offering. In their latest "Summer Edition", Cory Jane, Israel dagg and Ma'a Nonu kick balls into barbeques, pass watermelons into targets and catch sausages in a sandwich as they hang out in the backyard and promote Sky New Zealand's Rugby Channel ahead of the Super Rugby season.

In the Waratahs' video Kurtley Beale, Drew Mitchell and Benn Robinson with some assistance from Tatafu Polota-Nau try in their own way to emulate their near neighbours skill set!

In the ratings war, The All Blacks have clocked up 335,715 views in a week, while the Waratahs after two days are on 119,237.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Daily Mail RBS Under 18 Cup - Whitgift march on to the Semi Finals

It certainly has been a special week for Elliot Daly. Between two excellent performances for England Under 20 against Wales and Italy, the Wasps youngster helped Whitgift to navigate through a tricky quarter final away tie at previously unbeaten Plymouth College in the Daily Mail RBS Cup to set up a semi final tie against last year's Under 15 Champions, Wilmslow High School,

Daly who scored four tries against Italy last Friday evening opened the scoring against Plymouth with a  a 55m penalty in the first two minutes and two more long-range shots gave Whitgift some degree of comfort in the tense opening stages.  England U18 fly half Henry Slade put Plymouth on the board with a penalty and for the remainder of the first half it was the home side that had the lion's share of possession. After being very much on the back foot Whitgift took one of the few chances on offer and flanker Butler broke out to set up full back Crane for the try that established a 14-3 half time lead.

The game was really in the balance until the last five minutes when Butler capped a great individual performance by scoring a try. Winger George Harding then concluded the scoring with a fine individual effort after re-gathering his kick ahead.

In front of a crowd of 400, Wilmslow produced a marvellous second half performance to secure a 32-12 win over QEGS Wakefield. The Yorkshire side made their intentions very clear from the start as they dominated possession playing a very tight mauling game. Against the run of play, Wilmslow scored first and although Wakefield actually crossed the line three times, just one try was forthcoming.

The second half was a very different affair with Wilmslow breaking loose and producing some splendid high tempo rugby. Four unanswered tries each scored out wide with replacement flanker Jimmy Walker securing a brace saw off a QEGS Wakefield side who never stopped battling. A late try for the visitors was well deserved at the end of an exciting match. For Wilmslow, fly half, McCall impressed along with the powerful centre James.

While QEGS have proved to be a surprise package this year, the same can be said for Old Swinford Hospital who secured a semi final place with a tremendous fight back against St Peter's from Gloucester. The Stourbridge side have shown incredible resilience in first defeating Warwick 24-15  in the 7th round and then coming back from a 21-13 defeicit at half time to secure an unlikely 35-28 victory this time round. St Peter's had powered in to a 21-0 lead after15 minutes and it took tries from Hill and Taylor and a Stelling penalty to steady a stunned Old Swinford Hospital.

The comeback continued early in the second half with a converted try from Goodman and then a penalty saw Old Swinford take the lead. The sin binning of the St Peter's hooker for a dangerous tackle proved to be costly, with Old Swinford extending their lead with two tries from Stelling. Thirty five unanswered points finally brought some response from St Peter's and a close range effort brought them back within seven points with ten minutes to go.

Swinford Hospital had to wait a few days before they knew their semi-final opponents with St Joseph's hosting Oakham on Saturday. The Ipswich based school have had an incredible season with an unbeaten record of 29 games including a highly successful tour to South Africa and victory in the their own prestigious tournament in October.  They were pushed right down to the wire by an outstanding defensive performance by Hampton in the last round, and on Saturday they came up against a hugely resilient Oakham side looking to reach their first semi-final since they were champions in 2002 and 2003. Oakham have had a strong season with only one defeat away at the hands of Bedford and their key man has been the England Under 18 centre, Charlie Walker.  On Saturday his performance was once again decisive in helping Oakham secure a titantic 16-14 win.

In an all-action performance, Walker set up Oakham's two tries, scored by No 8 Tressider and full back Spiers and made the tackle of the match in stopping St Joseph's flanker Meyers from scoring in the corner. In contrast to the difficult afternoon experienced by Trotter, the St Joseph's kicker, Walker also secured his kicks at goal when it mattered.

St Joseph's had secured a 14-13 lead half way through the second half with a Lord try, but then a dump tackle by Tarrant was penalised and the ubiquitous Walker landed the penalty to secure a two point margin. Tarrant was then left with two penalty opportunities in the last five minutes only to see both kicks from on the 22 drifting wide. In a totally absorbing game, Alex Day, the St Joseph's captain produced another fine individual performance and along with coach Graham Richards, he must be wondering how they managed to lose a game that should have been secured by half time.

The semi finals are to be played at Broadstreet RFC on Saturday 5 March with the final at Twickenham on Wednesday 6 April.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Richie Gray: Taller and better than your average second row

One of the stand out performances of the first round of Six Nations matches has to be that of Richie Gray, the 22 year old, 6ft 10in Second Row who was making only his fourth starting appearance. In an encouraging Scottish performance, Gray was the outstanding Scottish player with his prodigious work rate being exemplary. He seemed to just eat up the ground and was still looking strong at the end of a very fast paced game. There was sense that this was the day that an individual emerged around whom Scotland could certainly build their pack for the next decade.

His athleticism was evident in both attack and defence with some outstanding ball carrying being combined with two wonderful try saving tackles. In the first half the Glasgow Warriors man saved two certain tries, once when he caught hold of Aurelien Rougerie's shirt tail with the French centre in full flight and secondly when he collared Yoann Huget when nothing stood between the flying winger and the Scottish try line.

At this rate of progress Gray must be already a serious contender for Lions tour to Australia in 2013 and another influential game on Saturday will see his stock rise even further. Everything points at his stage to Gray following in the footsteps of Martin Bayfield, another 6ft 10in lighthouse in the second row who played all three tests in the 1993 British Lions tour to Australia.

Many Scottish supporters will also remember a second row of days gone by of similar stature to Gray, in the form of Peter Stagg. Although there was always some debate about his height, it was recognised that Stagg stood at 6ft 10 in and often towered over his fellow Second Row. Stagg was easily the tallest man to play international rugby in his era and the French were sufficiently impressed to call him Monsieur Tour Eiffel.

Twice an Oxford Blue, Stagg played his club rugby for Sale and went on to win 28 Scottish caps from 1965-70. He also toured South Africa in 1968 with the British Lions, playing in the first test alongside Willie John McBride and in all, played nine times for the Lions on the tour. Stagg also had the honour of playing in Zambia's first ever rugby international in 1975 when he was resident in the country.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Advert Breaks Introduced During the " Pause" Stage of Scrums

With the level of disquiet over the future of the scrum increasing, the IRB have done little to dispel rumours that they are now considering selling advertising time during the  "pause" phase of a scrum engagement.

With many referees now adopting the Crouch -Touch - Pause - Pause - Goodness me you can hold that position for along time - Shall we put the kettle on - Still pausing - Engage call, the IRB see this phase of the game as a potential income stream with scope for an advert break. A spokesman from the commercial arm of the IRB who did not want to be named, indicated that serious consideration was being given to how new revenue opportunities could be expolited during the game. The "Pause Break" as he called it might be introduced shortly on a trial basis in certain competitions. Another option under consideration is to introduce adverts just before the hooker throws the ball in to the lineout. It is felt that most hookers at the top level now have the ability to hold the cocked position ready to throw the ball for about 30 seconds - ideal time for an advert!

For those who hanker after days gone by when the ref had nothing to do with the engagement of the scrum. The ref would vaguely mark where it was to take place and the packs would just get on and engage. It really did not matter if the ball was over the other side of the pitch, whether the ref was nearby or whether the scrum had to be reset, the two packs sorted themselves out.

Take a look at the video clip below of England v Wales in 1972 to see how two packs should engage.. (about 50 seconds in to the clip)

Saturday, 5 February 2011

New Zealand Dominate Wellington Sevens Final

Declan O'Donnell was the star of the show as New Zealand beat England 29-14 to secure their fifth Wellington Sevens title last night. The teenager from Waikato who made his debut during the Dubai Sevens in December, finished the tournament with ten tries including a hat trick in the final.

Bedecked in fluorescent red boots, O Donnell showed great strength and serious pace to overcome an England side who had narrowly beaten Samoa 7-5 earlier in a very tense semi final. The youngster had earlier scored  a brace of tries in the other semi final encounter with Australia with the hosts securing a 17-0 victory.

England had opened the scoring in the final with a try from Isoa Damudamu, but New Zealand fought back strongly even after losing DJ Forbes with only two minutes on the clock and despite conceding ten penalties. Tries from Toby Arnold, Tomasi Cama along with the hat trick from O'Donnell saw New Zealand surge ahead and the result was very much beyond doubt before Simon Hunt's late consolation try.

The tournamentt was once again a great success with the final played out against a backdrop 34,000 costumed party-goers including the Mayor of Wellington who fittingly presented the trophy to the home team. New Zealand's strength of depth was again clearly seen with seven of the squad experiencing the Wellington tournament for the first time.

New Zealand and England now share the lead in the Series on 64 points, with Samoa third on 52 and Fiji who won the plate competition on 44. The show moves on next week to Las Vegas with the tournament starting on Saturday at the Sam Boyd Stadium.

Declan O'Donnell Hat-Trick vs England

More Poetry from Gavin the Francophile

When I a speculated recently that Gavin Henson may turn to writing Cantona-esque inspired poetry while injured, I had no idea that he would actually end up playing in France. This puts a whole new dimension on the potential for further prose from the "l'homme orange".

I am very pleased to announce that a second verse has been added to the one written two weeks ago:
I thought I was in but now I am out.
I just wanted to be inside,
But they put me outside.
Will I ever be in and inside.

I was on this side but I am now going to the otherside.
The otherside is better because I can be inside.
Inside is where I want to be.
You never know I might even be inside of inside and in.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Six Nations - I hope it is better than last year!

In recent years the Six Nations has been for me very much second best to the Heineken Cup in terms of passion, excitement, drama and certainly quality at times. The fact that a pretty average French team secured the Grand Slam says a great deal about last year's tournament. It was a poor affair with some dull games played out in front of many seemingly unengaged and disappointed fans.

I watched in despair the first twenty minutes of the England - Ireland game at Twickenham last February as a game of kick tennis unfolded which bore little resemblance to the passion fuelled encounters of yesteryear. Where was the early argy-bargy, the fierce initial encounters at the ruck and the huge tackles. Although the game improved there was about as much tension in the early stages as watching the Blue Peter Tortoise eating a piece of lettuce.

So on to this year and all the signs suggest that we should expect much more this year. The Autumn Internationals produced some cracking rugby and I  just hope that we continue to see some real ambition in how each side approaches the tournament. Pace, power, precision combined with the aforementioned ambition may just provide the necessary mix for a special tournament to develop over the next few months. Hopefully tomorrow's encounter in Cardiff will set the tone and we can only hope that the shackles are loosened and both sides really go for it. We might then remember the game for the right reasons rather than just as a result of it being the first and possibly last ever Friday night match in the Six Nations.

There of course should also be the added buzz of being in a World Cup year and there are some major psychological gains and losses to be had both from a team and individual perspective. Form and performance levels through the Six Nations will have a major bearing on the World Cup with progression and development being very much on the agenda. Added interest will surely come from the fact that this year it is extremely difficult to predict who will emerge as likely winners of the tournament. While I think a Grand Slam is unlikely this year, it is not out of the question that the Ireland v England game in Dublin on the final weekend might just be a decider for the Slam. England have been installed as favourites for the tournament with France and Ireland at 5-2 and 3-1 respectively.

With the commercial value of the tournament very much on the up it is interesting to note the financial incentives now in place. With around £10m prize money available, the RFU are offering a £500,000 bonus to the England Squad if they can secure a Grand Slam and £250,000 if they secure the title.

If as an England supporter things do not go well tomorrow you can always watch Chris Ashton's IRPA International Try of the Year against Australia and remember the heady days of what we all thought was an England revival!