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Buster Gonad?

July 9, 2013 3 comments

The man with the biggest balls in British sport was not on Centre Court at Wimbledon on Sunday. He was on the other side of the planet no doubt enjoying a glass of red and a cigar after an epic success in Sydney. His name is Warren Gatland.

Back here in the United Kingdom the main media attention was always going to switch to Andy Murray`s quest to finally win the trophy for Britain (or was it Scotland?), and with no tyre blow-outs of note at the Nurburgring over the weekend the F1 Grand Prix quickly became a sideshow. But back in Sydney a squad of tired players, their coaches and all the support staff partied hard and deservedly so.

Gatland had taken some real stick in the build-up to Saturday`s deciding Test Match after a narrow defeat seven days before had allowed the Australians to level the series. Some of the more vociferous pro-English critics had never taken to his supposed Welsh selection bias, and when he then had the temerity to drop Ireland centre Brian O`Driscoll for the Sydney showdown the gloves were well and truly taken off.

Keith Wood, a former team mate of O`Driscoll`s turned media pundit, labelled the decision a “terrible mistake” warning that the team selected possessed “very little guile”. Wales legend Phil Bennett aimed a broadside of his own at the 49 year-old Kiwi claiming that “everything had gone to pieces” with the squad selected for the final game of the tour.

Another Lions great, former skipper Willie John McBride, blasted that he was “absolutely gutted” whilst Daily Telegraph columnist Oliver Brown weighed in with arguably the most ill-advised pile of anti-Welsh drivel many, including a lot of seasoned rugby journos, have possibly ever read.

In fairness to the Telegraph, they worked hard to balance the argument subsequently but Brown`s piece should never have seen the light of day.

Gatland, according to The Sun, came close to quitting the Lions altogether in the face of what German Chancellor Andrea Merkel would call a “shitstorm”. But he stuck to his guns, stayed in office and by lunchtime on Saturday (UK time) had been completely and utterly vindicated as any divisions in the Lions camp were put to one side.

The Wallabies were never good enough to win this series and their weaknesses were laid bare on Saturday as Gatland`s men took them apart piece by painful piece.

The hosts apparently wanted to take the Lions out of their comfort zone but by playing Super 15 rugby in a full-on Test Match showed themselves to be utterly naive. If you cannot compete at all at the scrum, contest effectively your opponents lineout, or cause problems at the breakdown – where it was a blessed relief to have a Northern Hemisphere Referee – you are finished.

Kicking easy three pointers to the corner confident in your ability to turn them into seven is all well and good until the plan starts to unravel. Australia did not have a Plan B.

Gatland`s warriors did though and after surviving a rocky spell either side of half-time cleared their heads and kicked on.

Three second half tries and a masterclass in game management from full-back Leigh Halfpenny left the Australians in tatters after 50 minutes of softening-up from the Lions pack.

O`Driscoll was not needed, he never was, and I would have got the controversy out of the way nice and early by not selecting him for the tour in the first place. A great player undoubtedly but Warren Gatland knew who he could rely on to do the job his way in Sydney and he got what he asked for.

It was a timely reminder to us all that Coaches pick teams and live or die by their selection. Sport has winners and losers, nothing inbetween, and here Warren Gatland was a winner. His opposite number Robbie Deans has quietly fallen on his sword.

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That`s All Folks!

May 30, 2013 1 comment

A little before ten o`clock last night the RFU Championship season finally reached the buffers after nine long hard months as Newcastle Falcons secured the promotion we all knew they would win before a single player took the field back in September.

They were pushed hard by a Bedford Blues side who remain amongst the bridesmaids of Level 2 club rugby in England over the two-leg final, but ultimately had a bit more quality and a lot more money to ensure that Dean Richards` troops got what they came for.

A year ago I drove back from Reading after the Cornish Pirates had lost in the final against London Welsh never having felt so tired in all my life after a long season on the road covering the fortunes of the club. This time they very thoughtfully concluded their affairs in late April to give everyone a proper break but with the start of pre-season for most Championship clubs coming around on June 10th, don`t be surprised if Bedford are a little off the pace come the start of the new season.

From a Cornish perspective the Championship Final was however largely forgotten amidst an outpouring of fervour for the Black & Gold as the rugby public fell in love with the County Championship again.

The tournament, or Bill Beaumont Cup as it is properly known, has been parked in a remote siding for several years now with the RFU apparently unsure what to do with it whilst most County Unions in England have paid it little attention doing little more than fulfilling their end of season fixtures. Last Sunday at Twickenham might have just changed all that though.

As in English football the main focus of English rugby is on little other than the national team and the Premier League. The RFU and elements of the national media should be repeatedly kicked in the shins until this tunnel vision abates because there is a whole world of quality rugby out there rather unflatteringly called “grass roots”.

Just four days ago in the sunshine at HQ some 20,000 (yes, twenty thousand) people watched a belter of a County Final at HQ as the Red Rose of Lancashire proved just a bit too good for the gutsy Cornishmen. Much of that crowd was there to support Cornwall but many had stayed on after a largely dull England win over a truly awful Barbarians side. If any neutrals were contemplating penning letters of complaint to the RFU demanding refunds following that game they probably forgot all about them during what happened next.

There are few teams whose supporters can generate the kind of atmosphere the Cornish did inside Twickenham and as their side fought back to within two points of Lancashire in a frenetic final quarter the electricity generated by the crowd swept even the most steadfast neutral with it and could be clearly felt high up in my commentary position. That the northerners ultimately won was a disappointment to Cornwall but there were no complaints.

What those 80 minutes of wonderful rugby have done is to give the RFU a huge opportunity to redeem themselves next season after years of ignoring this competition. Some really focused PR in the build-up to next May will do wonders but the final again has to be a mid-afternoon affair at Twickenham on the back of a big showpiece game.

I would also suggest that no players from clubs above of the national leagues be allowed to participate in the competition to help ensure a more level playing field. As there is still no national domestic cup competition for these tiers of the game that should be a pre-requisite. It might upset the likes of Hertfordshire who rely heavily on Saracens youngsters to bulk up their squad but there are winners and losers in everything. I would also close the loop hole of dual-registration as a ploy to out-manoeuvre my proposal.

From Cornwall`s point of view they now need to seize the moment and work together to to ensure that they reach the final in 2014. Their pack is top drawer but backs with more pace, guile, and trickery need to be sourced because Lancashire showed only too well how much damage those weapons can do.

There must be no more stupidly damaging parochialism in Cornish rugby. Rivalry, yes, but bickering and needless spats largely brought about by a refusal to change and modernise need to be eliminated.

Cornwall and Cornish rugby wants a club in the Premiership. It wants and desperately needs a new Stadium and in an ideal world would have Redruth and Launceston back in National One, with the likes of Camborne, Wadebridge and St.Austell all knocking on the door of the senior league set-up. Cornwall can be the County Champions again but the only way we will find out if all this can be done is to pull together.

On Sunday at Twickenham Cornwall and the Cornish people came together and did just that. By crikey didn`t it feel great!

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Fifty Shades of Beige – A 6 Nations Reprise Part 2

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A week on from the Battle of Cardiff and the 6 Nations decider and the dust still has not quite settled. Many commentators and critics have though adjusted their guns and lined them up on England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster rather than match referee Steve Walsh.

I suppose it was inevitable that Lancaster would have to take the flak eventually after a record defeat to the Welsh, and the ill-advised comments from his Coach Graham Rowntree regarding his “forensic analysis” of the scrum. His team selection has been pored over ad nauseam by the national rugby media and whilst Lancaster does need to keep his systems and selections flexible only a fool would conclude that Engalnd have become a lesser team in this Championship.

The autumn win against a knackered All Blacks side raised the bar of expectation a little too high in the evolution of Lancaster`s squad. Wales came along and adjusted it and now we all know where we stand.

He will have to make changes and he will have to discard some of the current crop of talent he has before the RWC of 2015 gets near. Like all athletes rugby professionals at the very top level of the game only, by and large, have a relatively short peak to their careers before the physical demands of the sport dull some of their edges. That is why succession planning is key and why somebody with the resources Stuart Lancaster clearly possesses must use this summer`s tour to Argentina to the full.

English rugby has a well trodden path to the senior international squad though the age-grades and Saxons set ups, but that must never become an exclusive members club whereby anyone who suddenly bursts into the kind of form worthy of a senior white jersey later in their careers is ignored.

The game in Cardiff highlighted some key areas where Lancaster and his team need to re-assess the weaponry at their disposal – front row, flanker, wing and full-back. I would then add to that centre.

The flanker issue is a problem for England but it should not be. Welsh rugby is in disarray if you believe everything you read in the papers but in Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton they have two of the best flankers currently in world rugby. And then they have Dan Lydiate. Very nearly the best. Get your scouting hat on Stuart, the answer to your problems is out there.

At centre Manu Tuilagi is still the darling of the English press because he is big, smashes holes and plays for Leicester Tigers. But Wales have wrapped him up pretty well in recent meetings as I suspect the Aussies will do when he turns up in a Lions shirt this summer. In Cardiff his limitations were laid bare and his lack of creativity and guile were a concern. If only you could transplant the rugby brain of Gloucester`s Drew Locke into the body of Tuilagi.

And speaking of Gloucester therein lies the answer to the full-back problem. England need a 15 who can kick, is confident under the high ball, can run superb lines of counter-attack and will run and tackle all day. Rob Cook is the man. Capped only at England Counties level up to now and currently in his first season in the Premiership, Cook was not expected to become the first choice full-back at Kingsholm so soon. The fact that he has is the mark of the man, so get him on your roster Stuart and take him to Buenos Aires.

On the wing it is time to blood a man who would run rings around Chris Ashton all day on current form – Exeter Chiefs` Jack Nowell. He has already been tagged for senior international honours, just won the LV= Breakthough Player of the Year Award, and lifted the 6 Nations crown with the England Under-20 squad. It is rumoured that he will be in the Saxons set up next season but why wait? why delay? why ignore the fact that the lad is ready? Dont waste time picking Charlie Sharples again – he has had his chance – let Nowell in the door this summer and nobody will be disappointed.

Up front I would stick with Vunipola but one prop I would mention as a wildcard is Carl Rimmer, also of the Chiefs. The former Coventry and Cornish Pirates man has really flourished in the last two seasons and easily taken to the Premiership. A strong scrummager who carries well he would go well against the Argentineans.

So in summary I just want Stuart Lancaster to think outside the box a little more. Once you start change you cannot suddenly stop it and if the England coaching team stick to rigid thinking and inflexible systems they will end up no better than the Martin Johnson regime.

Out of adversity comes opportunity and this summer`s tour should be seen as a massive chance for everyone.

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Fifty Shades of Beige – A 6 Nations Reprise Part 1

March 20, 2013 2 comments

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Prior to the earth-shattering drama in Cardiff on Saturday evening there had been no real media hysteria about a 6 Nations tournament which had produced little out of the ordinary. That was until England turned up at the Millenium Stadium with the tournament virtually in the bag and the whole of the Welsh nation stood and laughed in their faces.

For Wales, who began the defence of their title so awfully with 40 minutes of clueless rugby against the Irish, this was not only their biggest win against the English but a performance of World Class stature. It is such a pity that when the big three from the Southern Hemisphere face up to them, Wales go back into their shells and bottle it.

England may have lost 30-3 and are still clearly hurting badly after seeing first a Grand Slam and then a 6 Nations Crown snatched from their grasp in a breathtaking game in the Welsh capital. The sheer intensity of the game coupled with an almost manic fervour  spilling over from the crowd in the packed arena made this Test Match Rugby at its best. Stuart Lancaster`s England will learn and they will come again.

I don`t buy the notion in certain media reports that Referee Steve Walsh had a big part to play in the demolition of England`s front row because he is somehow “anti-English”. The scrum is a mess period, the IRB really must act to let everyone involved where they stand again at the set piece, and the Welsh front row tore England to pieces. It doesn`t matter that Graham Rowntree has argued that his forwards had the better technique because the Welsh front five tuned in very quickly to what Walsh wanted and what they could get away with. New Zealand are brilliant at that. England need to watch them.

And was anything Walsh decided upon at scrum time any worse than what we see week-in week-out in club games up and down the country? If anyone truly thinks Steve Walsh was so badly wrong in his handling of the game then get out and watch more of it. I`m no fan of this particular whistler but it is the system which needs fixing by the IRB, not one man.

Wales will now move on having blooded some new faces during this 6 Nations and re-affirmed their claim for a big share of the British Lions touring party. England will reflect and those not going to Australia with the Lions can look forward to a gruelling tour to Argentina. Stuart Lancaster is building a squad to win the 2015 World Cup. It was simply just not their time for glory when they went down the M4 to Cardiff on March 16th 2013.

 

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Battle at the Bottom – The Real Drama

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This weekend I will be heading north to the delightful old ground at Cross Green, Otley and the potential RFU Championship play-off decider between Leeds and the Cornish Pirates.

In another madcap adventure combining juggling jobs and hours of motorway driving I will rock up on Sunday morning as probably the only travelling journo from the far south west. Quite who will be there from the local press remains to be seen with BBC Leeds deciding not to cover the game so if it is a match commentary you want then you will be stuck with me, Steve Tomlin, and BBC Cornwall.

This game is important in its own right as clubs battle to be involved in the second stage of the Championship contest and earn a bit of extra cash from one additional home fixture at least. But with Newcastle Falcons in absolutely irresistible form last weekend against the Pirates it is virtually (but not totally) impossible to see any shocks at the top end of the table now.

Down at the other end things are a little bit different. It looks like a three-way scrap to avoid relegation between Doncaster Knights, Jersey and Moseley. With 6 games to play Plymouth Albion are probably safe whilst just three points separate bottom club Doncaster (18) and Moseley (21). They along with Jersey (19) both have games in hand at home against Bristol and Nottingham respectively and with those clubs in turn scrapping to be in the top four the plot thickens again.

For Moseley five of their remaining games, starting with the massive clash against the Knights at Billesley Common tomorrow, are at home. If they can`t make that count then they don`t deserve to stay up.

Jersey have a tricky run-in facing four games on the road away from the Island. They have brought in a couple of signings this week in Mark Foster (Exeter Chiefs) and Mark McCrea (Connacht), along with talented but sadly injury prone Charlie Walker-Blair to bolster their back row. Fresh legs and fresh faces at such a key time could make a massive difference.

Doncaster simply have to get something at Moseley tomorrow. If they do and they can battle their way to a win over Rotherham at Castle Park next week then their survival bid is on.

Unless Bedford have an off day they can forget sharing the spoils at Goldington Road but Nottingham at home is an interesting proposition. I tip the Green & Whites to blow up before the end of the season just as Bristol did last year, for this play-off scenario is new territory for Martin Haag`s men.

That then leaves the Knights with Jersey at St.Peter`s and Plymouth Albion at home. Whatever happens at the bottom it will go right to the wire.

Moving in the opposite direction at the end of April looks likely to be Ealing Trailfinders as they complete their escape from the bear-pit of fierce competition that is National League One.

Barring any unexpected implosion in their form they should seal top spot if they can beat second-place Blaydon at home on March 23rd.

Championship Predictions:-

London Scottish v Jersey – Scots by 7

Bedford Blues v Bristol – Blues by 9

Leeds Carnegie v Cornish Pirates – Leeds by 3

Moseley v Doncaster – Moseley by 5

Rotherham Titans v Newcastle Falcons – Falcons by 22

Nottingham v Plymouth Albion – Nottingham by 12

 

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Dollars Will Do It

February 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Dollars Will Do It.

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Dollars Will Do It

February 13, 2013 1 comment

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I read an interesting article this week written by Canadian journalist Jeff Hull in the Bleacher Report where he considered the possible future involvement of European pro rugby on the North American scene.

Rugby Union in Canada and the States is desperate to grow and looking at all the possibilities right now ahead of the next major Rugby World Cup showcase. In his article Hull suggested the possibilities of a link with the RaboDirect Pro 12 League, otherwise known as the Celtic League, which has already extended beyond its traditional boundaries to include the Italians.

Tournament director David Jordan thinks this is unlikely at present for logistical reasons within the constraints of the current domestic season but I would argue that the Rabo isn`t a league of sufficient quality from which to showcase the best of the game in Europe.

With no promotion or relegation and the Irish provinces of Ulster, Munster and Leinster by and large dominant every season it is going nowehere fast as a product. The Welsh regions exist in a continual state of loggerheads with the WRU whilst in Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow have huge potential but like their national squad never manage any effective levels of consistency. The Italians need time and money before they can be a real force in the game.

How you would weave American and Canadian teams into this already confused set-up I don`t know, although I have argued many times before that the league and cup competitions in Europe need re-vamping and streamlining. One possible avenue for experimentation might be with a restructuring of Europe`s second tier cup competition – the Amlin Cup – to allow the cream of North America to compete from European bases.

I spoke to Jeff Hull earlier in the season when I met him at London Scottish and he sold me completely on the passion of the Americans and Canadians for the game. Their domestic set-up has improved greatly over the years but the club scene is still largely amateur with the best players having to move to Europe or Japan to earn a living. That is not going to change overnight but the market for untapped potential appears massive. It just needs somebody brave enough to take the plunge on this side of the pond.

Saracens have already courted South Africa as a venue for one-off Heineken Cup games whilst London Wasps and Harlequins hooked up in Abu Dhabi for an LV= Cup tie. If that wasn`t about promoting their respective brands then what were they doing there?

The NFL have succesfully brought Gridiron to London for several years now and are now openly talking about starting a new European League on the basis of the resurgent interest in the game especially in the UK. Whilst in the world of soccer many of our Premiership teams in England play pre-season warm-ups in the USA to sell-out crowds. Big oak trees grow from small acorns so why not try it with rugby union.

Whilst Europe continually dithers over the subject of developing the so-called emerging nations the North Americans have a mighty weapon in their armoury which given time could well force the issue. It is called money. Financially viable leagues with lucrative TV coverage would soon turn the heads of the game`s top movers and shakers on the eastern shores of the Atlantic.

It hasn`t happened yet but if it does who will win the race to link-up and cash in on the dollars on offer – Europe or the Southern Hemisphere gang of four? It could be quite a bitter tussle with rugby itself no doubt coming second again.

*Jeff Hull`s feature – “Could European Pro Rugby Come to North America?” can be read here http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1520013-exclusive-could-european-pro-rugby-come-to-north-america

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A Little Bit of Spice…..

January 30, 2013 1 comment

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Jim Telfer certainly whipped up a storm with his pre-6 Nations swipe at the English and the Welsh in branding the former “arrogant” and the latter “lazy”.

The former Scotland international and British Lion has always had a reputation as an uncompromising individual and having coached his country to a Grand Slam in 1984 and then repeated it as Ian McGeechan`s assistant in 1990, is qualified to make such observations.

The 72 year-old has been criticised out of hand by many for his remarks whilst England coach Andy Farrell has dismissed the thinking of the Scot. Wales wing Alex Cuthbert has rounded on the assertion that his team mates don`t work hard enough and attack coach Mark Jones has openly backed up his player. So who says that the 6 Nations doesn`t matter any more?

I read Telfer`s newspaper comments with interest and to a degree agree with him but what he has done is fire the first salvo from a Scottish camp with nothing to lose in this year`s tournament. And what a salvo it has been. England have missed a trick by not returning it with interest. I mean, Scotland have offered little on the international scene for some time now and were dreadful in the autumn internationals.

Having a big pack is one thing but they lacked direction well before Tonga humbled them at Pittodrie. Fast backs are always an asset but so often Scotland`s threequarters play like they only met for the first time on the bus to the game. They have a new interim coach now in Scott Johnson but on the surface at least not much else has changed. The men in blue are there for the taking, aren`t they?

England are building nicely under Stuart Lancaster and I suspect are timing their run at the 2015 World Cup. Lancaster has created a culture whereby your name alone does not guarantee you a jersey and through the structure of the Under-20`s and Saxons, talented youngsters have real hope of gaining full international honours. Telfer acknowledges that instead directing his fire on the perception that England are more than just a “good” team.

He is right. The fact that England thrashed an out of sorts All Blacks before Christmas is a notable feat but hardly one to get carried away by. Would they beat the All Blacks if they met again on Saturday? Probably not. Telfer is targetting what he perceives as mental weakness in some of England`s more fragile stars here and also taking a broad swipe at the press. It`s all good theatre.

Structure and wins against the All Blacks are not things which are synonymous with Welsh rugby and their much publicised chronic injury list ruling out a multitude of first choice players has meant that they got their 6 Nations excuses in really early. I don`t think the Welsh are “lazy” per se but the structure of club rugby in Wales still isn`t right and the Celtic League is a poor affair. Wales do not have sufficient strength in depth and outside of the international arena few of their players are tested hard enough for long enough.

They won`t win the title this year but they have a perfect opportunity to throw the next generation in at the deep end. If they are lazy in a Test Match they will soon be found out.

Ireland, France and Italy all escape the ire of Telfer and the Azzuri will no doubt again find themselves battling at the wrong end of the table although more then capable of springing a surprise on home soil. Ireland are in transition with talented youngsters progressing through the ranks whilst meandering towards the end of Declan Kidney`s tenure as head coach.

France however remain my bet for the title, a feat they haven`t achieved since 2010. Their club rugby is in a good place right now and they can mix physicality and magic with anyone anytime. They just need their heads in the right place individually and collectively.

So that is the 6 Nations fire stoked and those who feel that the tournament is out-dated in its concept or played at the wrong time of the season have been silenced thanks to Jim Telfer. What does need changing are the autumn internationals because they never generate the same passion and fervour which we will witness between now and March 16th in rugby stadiums across Europe. But that is another story for another day.

Until then keep an eye on those crazy Scots. Telfer might just know something we don`t.

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Snow Joke!

January 23, 2013 2 comments

For the second week running I have my bags packed, travel plans made, and am hoping that I will be able to head out of Cornwall to cover a rugby match.

Last weekend the Red Zone (Met Office speak for snow in January) which descended on South Wales scuppered my plans at the 11th hour to trek to Carmarthen Quins and a British & Irish Cup tie with the Cornish Pirates. Knowing what I do now about that game I`m actually glad I stayed at home but providing different copy to a variety of newspapers on an event you haven`t actually witnessed first hand does require a certain amount of skill, ingenuity and reliable contacts!

This weekend I am going for broke and aiming to make it from West Cornwall to Kingston Park, the home of Newcastle Falcons, for a Friday night tussle with the Cornish Pirates in the RFU Championship. The pitch is currently being cleared of snow with an inspection scheduled for later today so by the time you read this I may either be on the road or twiddling my thumbs again.

In fairness to the RFU, and I don`t say that too often, they did have the foresight to schedule several blank weekends this season to make re-scheduling postponed games more easy. If the Pirates are forced to sit this weekend out then we will presumably try again at the end of next month and my hoped for day out at Twickenham watching England play France will go for a burton.

Since the advent of climate change and our increasingly unpredictable seasons in the UK we have fundamentally forgotten that January and February are cold months typified by snow and ice. Right now in Norway, where rugby isn`t too prominent in the sporting calendar, they are more concerned about a lorry carrying 27 tons of cheese having caught fire in a tunnel than any sub-zero temperatures or blizzards. It`s a case of priorities and what you are used to I suppose.

Cheese burning on Britain`s roads isn`t common either along with playing rugby on frozen pitches but it can be done.

Several seasons ago, again on a Friday night, I commentated on a game at Coventry RFC for the BBC where with windchill factored in the local journos reckoned it was -15 degrees Celsius. The pitch was bone hard 4 hours before kick-off but Coventry were skint and couldn`t afford a postponement. Their opponents,the Cornish Pirates once again, didn`t fancy re-arranging the game so both teams got on with it. The worst injury all night was a twisted ankle on the frozen surface and the referee ended it all after 70 minutes. Nobody complained and the result stood.

Those were exceptional (financial) circumstances that night driving the event on and common sense always has to take precedence even over pernickety health and safety rules and regulations. But matches should never be called off because somebody might fall over in a road outside (primarily a soccer thing I grant you). That is just plain stupid. Supporters are all blessed with varying degrees of intelligence to clubs must allow them to make their own calls regarding personal safety going to and from the event.

So we will hope for a full round of games in Round 14 of a Championship which is starting to move up through the gears of excitement and this is what I reckon will happen (if the games get played)…..

Falcons v Pirates – Formbook says Falcons comfortably but the Pirates have history in games like this. Somebody will beat Deano`s side this season and the Pirates need to react after their poor showing last weekend. I`m going to take a punt. Pirates by 3.

Doncaster v London Scottish – A big game for both teams and the Yokshire side need to find some form fast. The Scots scared Newcastle and downed Bedford but this will be a different type of game. Knights by 2.

Bristol v Leeds – Two play-off hopefuls going head to head with Bristol desperate to avaenge their 50-31 defeat at Headingley and home advantage key against a Leeds side who struggle for consistency on the road. This could be the game of the weekend if the weather allows it. Bristol by 9

Jersey v Rotherham – The Islanders have to maximise their home games in the run-in to the end of the season and need to keep winning them to put pressure on those teams around them in the table. The Titans have been a disappointment this year but if they are allowed to play Route One rugby will win. Jersey by 5

Plymouth v Moseley – Another high pressure game for both teams and Albion`s good start to the season now seems a distant memory. Moseley took an unexpected duffing up at Llanelli last week but I think they could sneak this one on a heavy Brickfields pitch. Moseley by 6

Nottingham v Bedford – 2nd versus 3rd with everything to play for. There really is very little to choose between these two and they both had an extra week off after losing their cup games 7 days ago. Meadow Lane on Sunday should be good for a game given the forecast and I`m going Green. Nottingham by 7

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Nearly 2013 And Still It Bloody Rains!

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

The last time I covered a rugby match without rain and mud featuring prominently seems so much longer ago than early November, but as we edge towards the start of 2013 the skies above Cornwall are still slate grey as it hoses down relentlessly.

Hopefully the big game between the Cornish Pirates and Bristol tomorrow will get the go-ahead and we can start to focus on the business end of the RFU Championship season and the thing which strikes fear into the hearts of the vulnerable – the Play-Offs.

We still don`t know if we have a straight promotion and relegation between the Premiership and Level 2 at the end of the season because of the woeful and laughable fudging of the issue which both the RFU and Premier Rugby Ltd continue to indulge in. I`m bored of the whole thing now so I hope Newcastle Falcons don`t win the league and the whole mess is again ruthlessly exposed by top legal brains in the field of sport.

Falcons supremo Dean Richards seems happy now to chunter to any willing journo about how unfair and unjust he perceives the system to be, which is simply him getting his excuses in early, and clearly has little time for the league or the teams in it. To be honest I expected a bit more dignity from Deano.

If Newcastle fail to get promoted the blame lies within the Falcons camp and not the Championship promotion and relegation system. Likewise the same assertion can be levelled at Sale Sharks who look like another car crash in progress as they prop up the Premiership.

So as I peer out of my window watching the lines of water trickle down the pane in these closing hours of 2013 I hope for a few simple things in the coming year.

I would like Bedford Blues to win the Championship and stick a big fat middle digit up at everyone who derides club rugby outside of the top flight. I hope that Redruth and Launceston finally find a solution to their financial woes and become truly competitive in the National Leagues, and would love to see Cornwall get to Twickenham and be crowned County Champions.

Perhaps we can also have a wide open 6 Nations for once and it is also high time that the Lions returned triumphant from a summer tour.

I really want to see Aaron Penberthy, Chris Morgan and Jonny Bentley at the Pirates get over their bad injuries and get back to their best but most of all I wish for a year in which all of you, whether you be players, fans, or journos, achieve your dreams and continue to enjoy this great sport of ours.

And in the meantime I forsee wins in Round 13 of the RFU Championship for the Cornish Pirates, Newcastle Falcons, Rotherham Titans, Bedford Blues, Moseley and Leeds.

Happy New Year!

 

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