English hearts are broken again

The faces said it all.England,20 seconds from a  Rugby League World Cup final appearance,crumbled to the floor. Wembley fell silent. New Zealand danced. This was the cruelest of defeats,snatched from the jaws of victory. Leading 18-14 with the match entering its final minute,England conceded a late penalty. As the black wave neared the English line, Shawn Johnson shimmied and breached the barricades with 20 seconds remaining. He converted his own try to send New Zealand to an Old Trafford final and England to ponder what might have been.

Then on Sunday I watched the TV , transfixed, as rugby union’s All Blacks prevented Ireland inflicting their first defeat of 2013, and what would have been Ireland’s first ever victory over New Zealand. It all hung on a last minute New Zealand try emanating from an Irish penalty offense.

Watching the Irish players strewn across the pitch, to say I encountered a tremendous sense of deja vu would be a massive understatement.


Since when did a game of rugby last 100 minutes

I needed to leave the house by 4.15 last Saturday. So I reckoned I could watch the England match with New Zealand and  be off in plenty of time. But come 4.15 and I was still waiting for the final whistle. Among the many comments on the match was one which caught my eye…a supposedly 80 minute game had lasted 110 minutes!

Then I remembered that for Lee Dickson’s potential try in the first half  the video referee was shown eight separate slow-motion replays.After a delay so long that Dan Cole could shave off his beard and grow it back again , there finally came a verdict…..inconclusive,so no try.

Then near the end of Scotland’s match with South Africa on Sunday there was a farcical discussion between the ref and the TMO  that caused a three minute delay thus allowing a review  turn into a mini-series.

So if the technology exists to allow the USA know what the German Chancellor has ordered for supper on her mobile phone, surely it must be possible for the man in the middle to communicate with the man in the stand somewhat quicker…?


Stuart Lancaster: “I’d like a Newscastle v Sale Final”

England head coach Stuart Lancaster was recently quoted  as saying his best-case scenario for the Premiership Final next May was a Newcastle v Sale contest.

The home nations and France are facing the prospect of having to travel to their summer tours in 2014 shorn of their best players. With domestic finals the weekend before the first tests , players involved  would not be available in time for the first game on tour.

So imagine if last year’s Premiership finalists ,Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints, make it to the showpiece event at Twickenham on May 31. On current selection, over a dozen players could be missing.

England play three matches against world champions New Zealand,with the first on June 7,but with the Premiership Final on May 31, and players not able to fly out until the next day,anyone involved in it will not be available in time for the first test. England will therefore be forced to field a severely weakened side against the All Blacks. after the IRB ruled that the series could not be delayed by a week.Wales and Ireland face similar situations,if their teams are involved in the  RaboDirect PRO12 Final,while any French players involved in the Top 14 will also miss their first test against Australia.

Stuart Lancaster is understood to be deeply frustrated with this situation. With test game time rapidly running out in the lead up to RWC2015, he would have wanted his group of players together for the whole series.

Lancaster himself has been diplomatic about the whole situation publicly, but its time for Newcastle and Sale to step up to the plate…..

When the Barbour brigade’s biggest cheer is for an ex-footballer, things are not going well

A survey of English supermarkets once labelled the standard-issue Waitrose couple as “Rupert and Felicity” and their Lidl counterparts as “Wayne and Leanne”. The average Twickenham crowd at an England game tends to lend itself to the same brutally succinct social profiling. “Twickenham Man” might conveniently be caricatured by his fondness for waxed Barbour, his gently braying mother-country superiority , and his imperviousness to anything so vulgar as myopic tribalism.

But the accusation this autumn is that when it comes to public displays of raw emotion he is just a little sedate. For 40 minutes of England’s match against Australia he observed the disjointed spectacle with lethargy. The drubbing of Argentina seemed,briefly, to leave him more pleasantly soothed.Still the atmosphere was not exactly what you would call febrile. The greatest cheer of a turgid second half was reserved for the sight on the giant screen of David Beckham and his three sons. At least he had the grace to look self-conscious about drawing a lustier reception than England’s players, but there were few on-pitch marvels .

An afternoon at Twickenham for those other than Beckham can be a near-prohibitive expense when even modest seats are priced at £80.but then the Twickenham experience has also become alienatingly corporate in places. Even the message “Great Kick” imparted to Owen Farrell came courtesy of O2.

Somewhere in rugby’s recent revolution the suits have acquired primacy over the true supporters.

The Shedheads weren’t happy

“The Shed” at Gloucester Rugby’s Kingsholm Stadium was once known as the “Popular Enclosure”. But then,so the story goes, a London reporter referred to Gloucester’s facilities as being “no better than a shed”-and the name stuck. Chelsea Football Club had the infamous “Shed End,”which housed their hooligan element, and Peter Ford, a Gloucester legend,and one-time club President,is said to have gone bananas at the connotation.

Brian Moore tells a story about the Shed from his days as a Nottingham player. During one game,whenever he threw in from the lineout in front of the notorious terrace of Gloucester fans,a voices amid the standing masses would shout:”Moore,you’re a wanker.” Moore stewed over this abuse on the bus journey home and,indeed, for much of the year that separated him from his next visit to Kingsholm. On this occasion, the abuse resumed much as before. But this time Moore was ready. Turning to his accused he replied:”Yes, but at least I have to hold mine in both hands.” The response was allegedly so cutting and offensive that suffice to say Moore was left speechless once again, and his misery was complete.

On my visit last Saturday, London Wasps were the opponents. In days gone by their captain Lawrence Dallaglio would take his men to warm up in front of The Shed to feed off the hostility. It wasn’t unknown for him to give the Shedheads the V-sign. Perhaps today it was the awful weather. Perhaps it was simply that the glory days of Dallaglio’s Wasps are firmly in the past. But from the relative comfort of the JS Stand the Shed noise levels appeared subdued. What anger there was was directed at their own team who let a late, narrow lead disappear due to their own mistakes.



A question of Symmetry?

After my visit to Cardiff Arms Park a few weeks ago I wrote of the strange way part of it and the adjacent Millennium Stadium are conjoined at the hip – or at least the South Stand. When the Millennium Stadium  was constructed at the end of the 1990’s the W.R.U. and Cardiff Athletic Club were barely on speaking terms, and the club refused permission for its South Stand to be demolished.

Now it transpires that talks are on-going between the WRU and Cardiff Athletic Club, and the former have offered to build Cardiff a new stand.The deal depends on Cardiff Athletic Club, which is a federation of sports, agreeing not just a price but how much money should go to its tenants, Cardiff Blues.

However time is running out for the work to be completed by the start of the 2015 World Cup,part of which will be staged in Cardiff.