Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Ready to Perform?

The fixtures are out, pre-season training has started and clubs are snapping up the finishing touches to their squads.

Yes, that's right - the new Guinness Premiership season is approaching fast.

In one of the biggest stories of the off-season, today it was revealed that Sir Ian McGeechan will be joining Bath Rugby as a "Performance Director".  No, he's not going to be treading the boards and auditioning the squad for a burly version of "Romeo and Juliet".  Or is he?  After all, what does a performance director actually do?

According to Bath coach Steve Meehan, apparently Geech's job is to cover all the support systems behind the first team and academy and look at all the things needed to recognise talent, develop it, and then use it at the very highest level.

OK then.  So that's clear.  But will there not be an overlap between Meehan's coaching and McGeechan's performance directing jazz-hands?

Meehan also stressed there would be no clashes between himself and McGeechan as they share the same philosophy.  Now, is it just me or does that immediately make you suspect there will be the odd 'disagreement' at the Rec?
And isn't a head coach/performance director pretty much the same thing?  It will be interesting to see how this off-pitch relationship develops and if Geech's aim of taking Bath back to the success of their 1980s glory days will materialise.  It will be great if it does.  I respect Lions legend Sir Ian more than any other coach and I would love to see him succeed in whatever he does.

Roll on the 4 September and the start of the new season.  And who are Bath playing first up?  Why, my boys, Leeds Carnegie. 

With their new performance director hoping for some all singing and all dancing performances, I'm sure Bath will break a leg.  Not literally, mind...

Friday, 25 June 2010

All Quiet on the Blogging Front...

First of all I would like to apologise.  I've been pretty quiet on this blog for couple of weeks and haven't been giving the summer rugby tours the attention they deserve.


Well, I'm spending most of my free time trying to organise a big rugby event for charity.  There is so much to do and as a consequence my blogging has given way.  I will let you know the details of the fundraiser as soon as I can...

However, I would like to say a big, belated congratulations to England for beating Australia, in Australia, for the first time since the 2003 World Cup final.  Brilliant game boys and a very well deserved win.

Here are my predictions for this weekend's games:

Australia v Ireland

Australia will be looking to lick their wounds after failing to put England to the sword in last weekend's 21-20 defeat.  Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom looked like he'd been presented with a kangaroo poo last Saturday, and rightly so.  Meanwhile, Ireland will be looking to bounce back after being hammered 66-28 by the All Blacks before suffering narrow 31-28 loss to New Zealand Maoris last Friday.

My prediction:  Australia to win by 15

Argentina v France

Argentina are getting better, but two home defeats by Scotland does not bode well ahead of their clash with Grand Slam champions France.  However, there is still the chance that Marc Lievremont's men will flounce off on strike in homage to their footballing counterparts.  Probably not though.

My prediction:  France to win by 9

New Zealand v Wales

New Zealand will be buoyant after demolishing Warren Gatland's Wales last weekend and humiliating Ireland the week before.  Dan Carter showed the world's media why they should stop focusing on a certain Mr Wilkinson with a sublime performance at 10 last Saturday.  Wales, on the other hand, will want to forget all about the 42-9 drubbing in Dunedin.  Apparently therapy helps, boys.

My prediction:  New Zealand to win by 30

South Africa v Italy

Finally, South Africa will be wanting a much tighter rematch against Italy, who they beat 29-13 last Saturday.  I expect more of the same from the Springboks who chalk up yet another win.

My prediction: South Africa to win by 18

But what do you think?

Friday, 18 June 2010

The Axis of Power: Weekend Predictions

Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Matt Giteau.

Is this the new axis of power in international rugby?

Australia scrum-half Genia is back to face England in Saturday's clash at Sydney's ANZ Stadium after recovering from a knee ligament strain.  He will link up with club mate Quade Cooper to form a Queensland Reds half-back pairing with Matt Giteau returning at inside centre in place of Berrick Barnes.

It's not a bad 9, 10, 12 combination is it?

Genia burst onto the international scene last year with some sniping performances and has already been hailed as world class.  Cooper is a constant threat with the ball in hand, and Giteau is the running fly-half/centre that England fans could only dream Danny Cipriani would be.

Genia's opposite number is Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs who makes his first start for England.  No pressure then, Ben.

It's great that Youngs has been given the chance to shine and show off his undoubted talent against the top scrum-half in world rugby.

Courtney Lawes also makes the XV, pushing veteran second-row Simon Shaw to the bench.

Other than that, England have made no changes to the side which crashed to a 27-17 defeat by the Wallabies in the first Test in Perth last week.

The positive from that game was England's domination at the scrum which reaped two penalty tries.  However, England's backline failed to fire and looked limp in attack against the green and gold wall.  I wonder how coach Martin Johnson has tried to remedy this in training this week?

My prediction:  More of the same.  Australia to win by 12.

Elsewhere, Wales take on New Zealand in Dunedin in their tour opener.

Wales have not beaten the All Blacks since 1953 and have never won on New Zealand soil - something Warren Gatland, Wales' Kiwi coach, wants to fix.

The men in red's last victory over one of the Tri-Nations superpowers in the southern hemisphere was in New Zealand, when they beat Australia 22-21 in Rotorua in the third-place play-off for the 1987 World Cup.

The last match between Wales and the All Blacks in New Zealand was in Hamilton in 2003, when the home side won by a record 55-3 score, one of 22 Test victories for the Kiwis in 25 matches between the sides.

History does not give Wales reasons to be cheerful then - especially as the All Blacks demolished Ireland 66-28 last weekend.

Ospreys lock Alun Wun Jones is back to face off with Brad Thorn at line-out time and the performance of Wales' tight five will go a long way to determining the result of this match.  Wales' line-out has been an area of weakness which was again exposed by Victor Matfield in the 34-31 defeat by a second string South Africa earlier this month.  Add to that a sub-par back row, and Wales will have their work cut out for them as they face off against the All Blacks.

My prediction:  New Zealand by 26.

Meanwhile, Scotland have made one change for their second and final Test against Argentina following their 24-26 win last weekend.

Wing Simon Danielli replaces Nick de Luca in a move that sees Max Evans switch from wing to centre for Saturday's game in Mar del Plata.

The inclusion of Danielli is an obvious bid by coach Andy Robinson to get some tries on the board.  The Scotland boss hopes Danielli's try-scoring form will break down Argentina's defence after all Scotland's points in the first Test came from the boot of in-form fly-half Dan Parks.

My prediction:  Scotland to win by 6.

Finally, the other game to be played tomorrow sees South Africa take on the ever improving Italy.  Despite the Azzurris' stronger performances in this year's Six Nations, I can't see the result of this game being anything other than a cricket score in the Springboks' favour.

My prediction:  South Africa to win by at least 50.

News just in:  Ireland lost 31-28 to the New Zealand Maoris at Rotorua.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Flying the Flag: Weekend Predictions

There's a small tournament starting in South Africa this Friday.  Something to do with a round ball and Wayne Rooney...

David "Call me Dave" Cameron, the botox-faced British Prime Minister, is flying the St George's cross above 10 Downing Street for a few weeks.  Apparently it's something to do with the sporting shenanigans in the Rainbow Nation, but don't believe that for a second.  Johnno and the boys: it's all for you.

This does however, suck if you are Welsh or Scottish.  Apparently, Dave doesn't care what happens in New Zealand and Argentina this month.

Anyway, as we all know, the summer rugby tours are where it's at, and as usual I'm going to have a go at predicting the results.

I'm off on holiday tomorrow, so sadly I won't be able to watch any of the games.  This also means that I've not had much time to write this post, so apologies as it's only a quickie.

However, I do have time to say that I am thrilled Phil Dowson, Northampton Saints' back-row forward, has been promoted to the senior England squad.  Sadly this was due to an injury to Hendre Fourie, as the Leeds Carnegie flanker picked up a calf strain in the 28-28 draw against the Australian Barbarians yesterday.

Speaking of the Baa-Baas game, from all reports it sounded like England's second string side were lucky to grab a draw.  I'm not sure how much we can take from this result, as the teams that run out on Saturday will be vastly different.

Well, maybe with the exception of Australia's 19-year old points scoring machine, James O'Connor.  An individual points haul of three tries, two penalties and two conversions isn't too shabby - especially when Berrick Barnes was the only other person to get on the scoreboard for Australia with one successful penalty.

The South Africa v France games looks set to be a clash of the titans.  France are the best team in the northern hemisphere right now, and they will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing a Springboks side who nearly came up short against Wales.

So without further ado, here are my predictions:

Argentina v Scotland - Scotland to win by 6
Australia v England - Australia by 12
New Zealand v Ireland - New Zealand by 9
South Africa v France - South Africa by 6

What do you think?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Warren Gatland's Sh*t Sandwich

Warren Gatland must be furious.

The Wales coach was forced to watch his side sandwich an error-strewn, poor performance between a strong start and a grandstand finish,


Wales raced to a 16-3 lead over a weakened Springboks side at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday, only to see their lead eroded to 16-14 at half time.

A poor lineout teamed with defensive errors and missed tackles saw South Africa run out 34-31 winners, despite Wales' now famous Lazarus-style comeback in the last 10 minutes.

A frustrated Warren Gatland said:  "Ill-discipline let them back in and we gave them the game on a plate."

And what a tasty dish it was too. 

I kind of wish I had used my Formula 1 viewing technique for this match as it would have made it much more enjoyable:
Watch the start and the first few laps (generally quite exciting as the potential of someone rear-ending Lewis Hamilton is quite high), doze off through the middle of the race and then wake up to see final lap.

All the action, none of the boredom and a refreshing nap thrown in for good measure.

Still, at least Gatland is staying positive ahead of his team's two test match trip to his native New Zealand this month.

He said: "We played the world champions today. Guys who played in the Super 14 final last week, and the Stormers and the Bulls are two of the best teams in the world.

"The thing from today is you feel like you are not too far away and you are not turning up thinking we hope to have a good day and they have a bad day and we can cause an upset.

"We know if we are more clinical we are capable of beating anyone. Today was an opportunity we didn't take."

Quite true.  But if Wales don't sort out their basic game and set piece, Richie McCaw and chums will take the plate containing Gatland's sh*t sandwich and hand it back to him with his arse on it.

Tuck in, boyos!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Wales v South Africa: Preview and Prediction

Saturday 5 June, k.o. 2:30pm, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

The start to Wales' summer of rugby has been overshadowed by the club v country row over Butch James.

Bath centre James, included in the Springboks side after a two year absence, was forced to return to his club when Premier Rugby insisted the game does not fall within the international playing window.

The South African Rugby Union had hoped to secure James' release by virtue of clauses in his contract, but their request was rejected by Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation for England's Premiership clubs

James' absence sees uncapped Juan de Jongh start, Victor Matfield comes into the team to replace injured Andries Bekker, and Zane Kirchner has also been called up as a replacement.

Both Matfield and Kirchner played in the Bulls Super 14 final win over the Stormers last weekend.

Elsewhere, Andy Powell, Wales' golf-buggy loving satsuma-skinned back row forward, has seen his return to the international fold scuppered by a torn thigh muscle.

Powell was axed from the Wales squad in February following his drunken antics in a golf buggy after a boozy post-match celebration.

He was recalled to the bench but injury has put his return on hold, and he will now also miss the summer tour to New Zealand.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has shocked Wales fans by picking James Hook at outside centre.  Hook is not touring with the squad, instead going under the knife for a shoulder op.

Ospreys scrum-half Mike Phillips partners Stephen Jones at half-back, and with Jamie Roberts at 12 and Hook outside him, the Wales backline looks strong.  Leigh Halfpenny and Tom Prydie start on the wings with Lee Byrne at fullback.  With a backline like this, Wales have got to run in a hatful of tries, right?

Phillips will play opposite Ricky Januarie, who spent three months at the Ospreys this season when Phillips was sidelined by injury.

My prediction:  This is as good a time as any for Wales to beat the Springboks.  Wales were the kings of high drama in this year's Six Nations but they will need to stop the 'Boks from getting a head start of 20 points.  Warren Gatland's men can't afford to give South Africa such a luxury.  Wales to win by 6.

Wales: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), James Hook (Ospreys), Jamie Roberts (Blues), Tom Prydie (Ospreys); Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Paul James (Ospreys), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Blues), Deiniol Jones (Blues), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Blues), Ryan Jones (capt, Ospreys).

Replacements: Huw Bennett (Ospreys), John Yapp (Blues), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Rob McCusker (Scarlets), Richie Rees (Blues), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Andrew Bishop (Ospreys).

South Africa: Frans Steyn (Racing Metro); Gio Aplon (Stormers), Jaque Fourie (Stormers), Juan de Jongh (Stormers), Odwa Ndungane (Sharks); Ruan Pienaar (Sharks), Ricky Januarie (Stormers); CJ van der Linde (Leinster), John Smit (Sharks, capt), BJ Botha (Ulster), Danie Rossouw (Bulls), Victor Matfield (Bulls), Francois Louw (Stormers), Dewald Potgieter (Bulls), Joe van Niekerk (Toulon).

Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Alistair Hargreaves (Sharks), Ryan Kankowski (Sharks), Meyer Bosman (Cheetahs), Zane Kirchner (Bulls), Bjorn Basson (Cheetahs).

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


First we had 'Bloodgate', then we had 'Biscuitgate'.

Now, in the newest rugby farce, we have 'Butchgate'.

Butch James, Bath centre, is being wrapped up in a ridiculous amount of red tape to stop him from playing for South Africa against Wales this Saturday.

James, who hopes to reignite his international career ahead of next year's World Cup, was named in the Springboks team to face Wales at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

But Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation for English Premiership clubs, ordered Bath to recall their player as the match does not fall within the International Rugby Board playing window.

And to make matters worse, there is no fuss about Saracens' Schalk Brits playing for the Baa-Baas against Ireland this Friday.

What a double standard.

Sure, rules are rules, but what are Premier Rugby playing at?

Fans are fighting against the ruling and a Twitter campaign has been launched to back Butch's bid to play. 
If you search for #letbutchplay you will find hundreds of tweets calling for Premier Rugby to back down.

The fans have a point.  Bath's season ended over two weeks ago and the only other thing on James' agenda at the moment is probably enjoying a cocktail or two on a sun-drenched beach.

Will this move force James to leave Bath in order to keep his World Cup dreams alive?

That is the fear of supporters.

Let's hope this farce doesn't come to that.  Please let Butch play!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Man of the Month: June

June's Man of the Month is Players' Player of the year and all round nice guy, the ever smiling Schalk Brits.

Along with this award, voted by his peers, the Saracens hooker was also named player of the year on this humble blog, polling more than a third of all votes.

During only his first season in the Guinness Premiership, Brits scooped countless man of the match awards and was also named in the Opta Team of the Year.  He made more than twice as many metres as any other hooker and also beat more defenders than any other forward in the top flight. Brits was also successful with  more line out throws than any other player in the league.

I like Schalk Brits.  Not only is he an explosive forward with the pace and step of a centre, but Brits always plays the game with a big smile on his face.

A worthy winner.

With one of many Man of the Match awards

In training for Saracens