Archive for September, 2012

All mod cons

September 26, 2012 Leave a comment

A week ago a fairly sterile build-up to the Cornish Pirates versus Newcastle Falcons game was enlivened by the comments of a Tyneside-based journalist who in a preview article described the Pirates home, the Mennaye Field, as having “virtually ramshackle facilities”.

In his piece for the Newcastle Chronicle, which included an interview with the Falcons points machine Jimmy Gopperth, Mark Smith highlighted how different operating as a club is at Level 2 after several seasons in the Premiership big time. I thought his comments valid but knew full well that by placing the link on the Pirates Unofficial Fans Forum ( there would be a strong reaction way down west.

I have to admit that I didn`t quite expect the firestorm it quickly whipped up though however knowing some of the protagonists, I feel that Mr Smith might have been better served by not feeling the need to defend himself against every single criticism of his piece.

Gopperth for his part describes the Championship as “different” whilst just before the game Falcons lock James Hudson muttered that the Mennaye in the rain was “another world” as he walked past me by the players` tunnel.

The Ritz it ain`t ladies and gentlemen but for anyone out there new to rugby in this strange land outside of the pampered money-fuelled world of the Premiership with all its glitzy sponsorship and TV deals, the Championship is where many of your stars of tomorrow are being nurtured. And the Mennaye Field in Penzance is far from being the worst ground on the circuit. 

If the Falcons were taken aback by facilities in Cornwall then they will need their eyes wide open when they venture to places as extreme as Billesley Common and Clifton Lane, for this is the real world of English club rugby – the much derided coalface where fortunes are forged through sheer hard graft and persistence.

Nobody expects Newcastle Falcons to spend more than a season in our company on this strange unloved island where teams rarely know when they are beaten, and Sky Sports seldom tread. But looking at their squad from last weekend I wouldn`t mind betting several current incumbents find themselves re-inventing their careers at this level in just a few months from now.

The Falcons are too good to tarry longer than the one campaign in our midst but I assure you there are weaknesses of which Deano and his coaching team will be all too aware. 

Week 5 Predictions –

Bristol v Moseley – Liam Middleton`s boys took a hiding at Leeds last week and it had been coming. Moseley went down at home to Plymouth and are now in trouble at the wrong end of the table. Bristol are under as much pressure as the Midlanders going into this one but home advantage will decide the game. Bristol by 12.

Doncaster v Cornish Pirates – Two more teams in urgent need of a win; Doncaster because they haven`t had one yet and the Pirates after losing their last two. Other than last year when they were abject the Pirates tend to do well at Castle Park and I think they will edge this one. Pirates by 8.

Notingham v London Scottish – Chucking away victory at Bedford on the final play last weekend will have hurt Nottingham especially after being out-muscled at home by the Titans in the game before. London Scottish can score points but tend to leave the back door open when they go hunting downfield. Nottingham by 7.

Plymouth Albion v Rotherham Titans – The undisputed heavyweight contest of the weekend. Two in-form teams both scoring and conceding their fair share of points. Albion`s back-row are again crucial to their dominance and I expect a high-scoring game with Albion nudging it by 3.

Newcastle Falcons v Leeds – Bursting with confidence after dismantling Bristol the young guns of Leeds will go to Kingston Park on a high. But if the conditions are poor and the Falcons get their pick and drive game going again, there will only be one outcome. They do however have a weakness at fly-half in Joel Hodgson and Leeds may look to target that. Falcons by 14.

Jersey v Bedford Blues – Having scored 30-odd points at Rotherham last week in defeat the Jersey camp really believe that their first Championship win is getting close. That said Bedford should have far too much for them even if a surprise result should not be totally dismissed. Blues by 15.

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The Week of Four`s

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Week four of the RFU Championship began with four news stories dominating the headlines. The tragic death of young Ulster scrum-half Nevin Spence, The 2015 Rugby World Cup, The new TV deal for the Premiership with BT and England`s new kit.

The sad passing of the 22 year-old Spence in a farming accident should come as a timely reminder that success in life is only fleeting and can be snuffed out in an instant. Time is not a luxury afforded to all.

Three years from now the World Cup will come to these shores and we will be able to thank ITV that this event is still freely available on a mainstream channel, although I feel that after the last tournament in New Zealand that is about all we will be able to thank them for. However this commentator is available for hire if they would like me to write/say nice things about them.

Quite how the TV deal with BT came to pass with Sky Sports effectively being sidelined and outbid for a change is another matter altogether and critics are suggesting that it is some kind of Anglo-French carve up of top domestic and European club rugby. Maybe it is, maybe it isn`t but I am growing increasingly uneasy with the big money being attracted to this sport because it never seems to permeate below the Premiership where only a small percentage of players, I would suggest, actually begin their careers.

Then came the new England kit and an away shirt looking like a butcher`s apron. Frankly, I`m as bored of this story now as I was in the beginning. Why do rugby teams need to keep changing their kits a la soccer clubs? Call me old fashioned but such cosmetic changes do nothing to alter how good or crap your team actually is. Bin it and concentrate on the rugby.

So to Week 4 of domestic action and this week, curiously enough, we have four games on Saturday. My predictions haven`t fared badly yet although Jersey let me down last weekend so here we go with the next instalment of crystal ball gazing….

Bedford v Nottingham – Mike Rayer has got his Blues ticking along nicely at the moment and especially at Goldington Road. They thumped the Scots last weekend here and although Nottingham will be disappointed to have lost at home to the Titans I would be surprised to see them come away from Bedford with anything more than another defeat. Blues to take this one by 17.

London Scottish v Doncaster – It is a big weekend at the bottom of the table and the Scots could do themselves a big favour here by winning after two straight defeats. They are scoring points at home but their defeance looks leaky although whether or not the Knights can hurt them reamins to be seen. Brett Davey may well have targeted this game as a chance for his team to end their barren run but I`ll stay with home advantage and say the Scots by 12.

Moseley v Plymouth Albion – Third-placed Plymouth (did I really just say that?!) are on a roll right now with a strong pack and some ammunition in the backs. Moseley will be buoyed up after winning in Jersey and are always a handful at home but if Sean-Michael Stephen can get his forward rolling from the start expect another Albion win. Plymouth by 7.

Rotherham Titans v Jersey – Jersey simply had to beat Moseley last weekend and blew it. With Bedford next up on the island they are looking at finishing the first month of the season pointless and rooted to the bottom of the table. Rotherham ground out a well-earned win last week at Meadow Lane and I see no shocks here. Titans by 13.

Leeds v Bristol – Two former Premiership sides go head to head at Headingley (sorry! cheap gag I know) with nothing much between them. I don`t expect pretty rugby here and think both teams are vulnerable to strong driving play and set piece work. That said I will go for Leeds by 2.

Cornish Pirates v Newcastle Falcons – If the Pirates can start quickly for once and the Mennaye is as wonderfully hostile as it can often be for these big games we could see an upset. But with a threadbare squad Ian Davies is having to work overtime right now to try an oversee the downing of the Falcons whilst the Kingston Park side are starting to rumble ominously. Heart says Pirates, head says Falcons by 14.


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The Inferno (In Kernow)

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The Inferno (In Kernow).

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The Inferno (In Kernow)

September 11, 2012 2 comments

Week two of the domestic rugby season passed not without its fair share of excitement and drama in Cornwall and I was lucky enough to be at the Recreation Ground on Saturday and the Mennaye Field on Sunday to commentate on both games for the Beeb.

Redruth versus the Cornish All Blacks was a cracker to get proceedings underway with as the Reds started on fire scoring three tries in the opening thirteen minutes on their way to a 46-24 victory.

It was a fitting send off for departing prop Peter Joyce in front of a decent National 2 crowd of around 1,100 and a performance good enough to warrant a challenge at the right end of the table this season. My only concern, and I`m sure one shared by Head Coach Adrian Edwards, was the fact that they conceded four tries with three of them certainly down to defensive inattention. But that is fixable.

For the All Blacks from Launceston the problems seem greater having now played two and lost both. Without Ben Hilton in the second row to anchor the set piece they seemed rudderless and with the pack constantly on the back foot, the backs lived off scraps. Yes, they scored four tries and at least earned a bonus point in defeat but such disarray so early in the season is worrying.

Sunday brought us an act of grand larceny as the Cornish Pirates somehow beat Plymouth Albion 19-17 after not being in the game for the first 72 minutes.

Albion gave us a masterclass in losing a match by not taking their chances whilst the Pirates did what so many good teams do by managing to stay in the game on the scoreboard even though nothing was going right for them. When the time came to take their chances they pounced and Albion folded.

I don`t expect the Cornish side to play this badly too often this season but the big question is how Plymouth will react. They looked devastated at the end and psychologically could be a bit fragile going into their next game.

One passionate Pirates fan suggested to me after the final whistle that it was time to sack the coaching team because such poor form would damage the chances of ever getting a Stadium built in Cornwall. He claimed that Head Coach Ian Davies` record of played five, won one at the end of last season wasn`t good enough (even though they got to the Championship final courtesy of that win over Bristol), and change was needed now.

I didn`t agree then and I don`t agree now. Last season was last season and Davies, with his own men now at his disposal, has a 100% win record at this early stage of the season. They were poor last Sunday admittedly but a week earlier in Jersey did well to side-step a real banana skin and come home with the “W”.

One year ago the Pirates started poorly again drawing a game at Moseley they should have won comfortably, struggling past Doncaster at home, and then needing an 80th minute try from Blair Cowan to nick a win at London Scottish.

Along with my match summariser, Steve Tomlin, that day I was castigated my certain senior members of the club`s hierarchy for daring to point out that the performance had been below par and that there was an obvious problem in the 10, 12 and 13 positions. On both counts we were right as history has since proven and Davies has recruited to duly strengthen those areas not because of anything I said, but because he could see the problem too.

As for the Stadium, well that is a matter for the people in the boardroom. They formulate the strategies, draw up the business plans and make the decisions relating to that venture, not the boys on the field of play.

Now, with passions hopefully calming slightly after the weekend we move on to the Memorial Ground where the Cornish Pirates play Bristol on Sunday (not Friday) in a televised game.

Bristol boss Liam Middleton has been taliking about an injury “epidemic” at the Memorial Ground with up to 16 players out at the moment. Really? Here speaks a man famous for his team sheets and actual selections not bearing too many similarities so is there a bit of kidology going on here?

After being dumped out of the promotion running by the Pirates last season Bristol will kill themselves to win this one and I would expect some Lazarus-style recoveries in their sick bay between now and then. The Pirates should have the likes of Chris Morgan and Alan Paver back in the team and they will need them at the ground where they have not tasted success in 7 years. But I expect Bristol to edge it by 5.

So what of the others…..

Bedford v London Scottish – The Blues scored a lot of points last week and conceded a lot too in a high score draw at Rotherham. The Scots also bagged a hatful in a heavy defeat by Newcastle. Fine weather and hard pitches normally suit the Blues at home so expect another high scoring affair with Bedford winning by 12.

Jersey v Moseley – Two winless teams meet at St.Peter`s and the Islanders will never have a better opportunity to gain their first success at Level Two. It will be a huge scrap up front and Jersey need to match the physicality of the Midlanders and get Nick Griffiths and Ross Broadfoot working together effectively to play percentage rugby. The crowd need to make more noise too. I`m going for Jersey by 3.

Plymouth Albion v Leeds – If Albion`s pack play like they did against the Pirates they will win. Period. But if they are still shaken by their trip to Cornwall and lose flanker Herbie Stupple to the injury sustained on Sunday it could be very different. Albion by 7.

Newcastle Falcons v Doncaster – Falcons supremo Dean Richards has told the press that he doesn`t much care for Championship standard refereeing. Hey, Deano! You have only got to put up with it for one season! Falcons are unbeaten so far and the Knights are playing poorly. I don`t expect any shocks here. Falcons by 40.

Nottingham v Rotherham Titans – This will not be one for the purist but the Green Machine seem rejuvenated under Martin Haag. At the Titans Andre Bester needs pitches to turn into winter bogs before his team come into their own but they need a win and consequently this game is a tough one to call. I`m taking a punt on Rotherham by 5.

That`s all for now. I`ll be at Bristol v Cornish Pirates on Sunday with full match commentary on BBC Cornwall 103.9 & 95.2FM plus Online at

There is no unique web link for the game. Just log on to the website and click the Listen Live tag.

You can also read my match reports in the Western Morning News and the Cornishman/West Briton/Cornish Guardian titls during the following week –

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Off and Running…..

September 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Off and Running…...

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Off and Running…..

September 6, 2012 1 comment

Last weekend the fourth RFU Championship season got underway largely in the shadow of the start of the Aviva Premiership season and a feast of press releases regarding Warren Gatland and his British Lions who tour Australia next year.

I travelled to the Channel Islands to cover newly promoted Jersey taking on the Cornish Pirates and it must be said had a good, albeit busy, weekend.

It was my first time in that part of the world and what little I actually saw of Jersey and St.Helier itself made me want to go back for more. The Island`s tourism bosses are no doubt hoping for more of the same attitude from travelling fans and should Jersey stay up this season I think it will become one of the must-visit destinations on the circuit.

The club is both friendly and ambitious, even if they need to become more ruthless and develop and effective Plan B on the field, and the civic leaders on the island seem to appreciate the need to build a stadium as well as financially supporting the team in order for it to reach its true potential.

Needless to say that can-do attitude has still not permeated many granite-headed local politicians in Cornwall whose continuing failure to invest in the infrastructure of the Duchy means that you have to drive for 2 hours, beyond our own perfectly adequate Newquay airport, to reach Exeter en route to Jersey and then take a 25 minute flight. Crazy.

We are still waiting for the RFU hierarchy to make a real effort to find a sponsor for the Championship too but the real scandal is that the issues of promotion and relegation have still yet to be clarified following the legal argument brought about by London Welsh last season.

It looks at the moment as if Newcastle will be promoted in May back to the top flight with the Welsh favourites to pass them in the opposite direction. I have to admit that I can`t see past the Falcons going back up but what if Sale Sharks, for instance, turn out to be even worse than the Welsh over the coming months? Yet more protracted and costly legal arguments behind locked doors? Don`t bet against it.

And remember we are talking here about a ruling body which is responsible for organising the next major world sporting event to hit these shores after the Olympics and Paralympics. The Rugby World Cup of 2015 isn`t far away and judging by some early press on the subject a number of debenture holders at Twickenham have already fallen out of love with the RFU.

But none of us can exert any influence over what goes on at that level of the sport unless we all stop watching it en masse and lets face it, that isn`t going to happen. The product is just way too good.

This weekend I`m staying firmly in Cornwall for the massive local derby between Redruth and Launceston in Division 2, followed by the Pirates at home to Plymouth Albion on Sunday.

Albion are a better team under Nat Saumi than their results have so far suggested but I can`t see them ending their six-year wait to win again on Cornish soil, and I think the streetwise Pirates could win by fifteen scoring four tries along the way.

As for the rest, I see a potential upset at Castle Park where Bristol really should have far too much for Doncaster. It`s just that once in a while the Knights click and turn it on so I`m going to ignore the formbook completely and say Doncaster by 2.

Leeds could put a hatful of points on Jersey who are still learning their craft at Level 2 but if the Islanders can keep it tight and make it a battle of the packs and nothing else, then they are in with a chance. That said, I`m going for Leeds by 20.

Moseley and Nottingham will fight each other to a standstill at Billesley Common but the Green and Whites will take this one by 10.

London Scots versus Newcastle has the potential to be a high-scoring try-fest and I expect the Falcons to win by 30 despite the strong summer recruitment by Simon Amor.

And as for the Titans against the Blues? Well, Bedford rattled up a lot of points a week ago against Moseley whilst Andre Bester will not want an early surrender at Clifton Lane. It will be a brutal affair and Rotherham will win by 7.

So wherever you are watching this weekend enjoy it. And remember, its what happens on the field that really matters.


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