As the new rugby season kicks off – “Find us a freak – and cheap”

“Fears and revelations of a top rugby agent”

“It’s definitely a game of how big can we get them, how quickly, and let’s see if they can cope – otherwise, we’ll move them on.”

‘Find us a freak – and cheap”

‘Almost every player is not 100%’

Sean Longstaff was a winger who played for Scotland, retired through injury and now works as an agent. This article highlights a lot (but by no means all) that is bad with the modern game of rugby union.

Growing up in Wales my sporting heroes were the men who turned out at Cardiff Arms Park, Wales of course for a handful of games a year and Cardiff RFC. Half backs were all less than 6 foot, Gareth Edwards was 5’8” and 13st 4lbs, Phil Bennett 5’7″ and 11st 4lbs even the “big backs” weren’t, centre Ray Gravell was the same height and weight as I am now. The tallest forwards were 6’3″ to 6’5″ and weighed in at a maximum of 16st.

Professionalism and generational changes mean that people are bigger and can become bigger still.

Then came Murdoch.

More than a decade ago Barnes and the rest of the Sky TV boys started to worship at the altar of “hard yards and big hits”. I was secretly glad that my son, at that time a tall but very light teenager who had been “clothes lined”, or tackled around the head and neck (an injury from which he still has symptoms), in a school game said that he was giving up the game.

Apologists will say that it’s a man’s game – it clearly isn’t only as the growing standards of women’s rugby will testify – or that if you can’t stand the heat etc. Old rugby farts will tell you that it never did them any harm – meet some burned out, punch drunk, front row forwards who clearly have taken a dozen blows too many and they are clearly wrong.

The incidences and consequences of concussion are only just starting to be seen. These are sportsmen not gladiators, yes the ones at the top get paid very well for what is a short career but does a free market benefit the game? Will we move to a situation like the NFL where the game is only played at pro and college level? I do hope not.

If you’re rugby fan this is worth a read.

BBC website here.

how to get bigger for rugbyi

Dewi Sant…

893a1cab-ae3b-4838-a1b4-ce13f17ee017March 1st is the feast day of St. David, Dewi Sant, patron saint of Wales. He was born in 500 and died in 589. His mother is reputed to have been a niece of King Arthur who was seduced or raped by his father and later became a nun. During David’s birth, by the sea near St David’s, her fingers left marks where she grasped the rocks and as David was born a bolt of lightning from heaven struck the rock and split it in two.

It is known that he was baptised Saint Elvis of Munster, no doubt a great influencer of the boys from Craggy Island.

It is said that St David’s last words were, “Be joyful, keep your faith and do the little things in life”.

He was buried in St David’s but in 1284, following Edward I’s conquest of Wales, the English king took David’s head and arms and displayed them in London.

…and every two years, or more, his followers come seeking revenge.

 

Jonah Lomu – R.I.P.

Jonah Lomu has died at the age of 40. Blessed with an amazing physique, great hands, balance and speed, he was a one-off a man who changed the parameters of the game of rugby union. A rare kidney illness, which had been diagnosed before his entry on the world stage in 1995, and reduced his performance in 1999, forced his retirement at the age of 27. As shy and quiet a man off the field as he was ruthless on it, he said that he didn’t perform at any more than 80% because of his illness.

I saw him play against Scotland in the 1999 World Cup when he lit up a miserable, wet, October night in Edinburgh. Much was made of his size but he was the real all round deal, a great rugby player with all the skills that I have listed above and more. Judge for yourself, here are all his international tries (none against Wales).

His last appearances in public were during the recent World Cup in England where he was an ambassador for rugby even whilst undergoing 4-6 hours of dialysis every day.

Rest in peace big man.

Here he is in a flash mob Haka in Covent Garden:

How To Win The Rugby World Cup.

RUGBY WORLD CUP & BALLWorth re-visiting Graham Henry’s article from The Guardian on how to change from losers to winners. Lessons here for anybody involved in selecting, guiding and leading teams. It’s all about the preparation.

“Graham Henry looks down at the grass of Eden Park. So many matches, so many memories. One wells up above the others. 23 October, 2011, the World Cup final, New Zealand 8, France 7. The culmination of a 37-year career that started when Henry took charge of Auckland Grammar’s under-15 team. “When I was coaching the All Blacks I was probably the most experienced coach in the world,” Henry says. “That’s not an arrogant statement, it’s a fact.”

Henry moved from school coach to province coach to Super Rugby coach. Then there was Wales. They lost in the World Cup quarter-finals in 1999. That was followed by a poor tour with the British & Irish Lions in 2001 that ended in a 2-1 defeat by Australia. Another spell with Auckland, in rugby rehab. Then, at last, the top job. Head coach of the All Blacks. In 2007, came the hardest defeat of all, another quarter-final defeat, by France in Cardiff. For Henry, it was a long road to the 2011 final. These are the pick of the many lessons he learned along the way.

Culture comes first
Henry took on the All Blacks job in December 2003, but he did not really take charge for another 12 months. After New Zealand’s defeat by South Africa at Ellis Park in August 2004, the team held a mock court session. Two senior players, Justin Marshall and Carlos Spencer, passed down the punishments. Mostly they involved downing alcohol. Almost everyone ended up blind drunk. Henry realised then the squad had become dysfunctional. Back in New Zealand, Henry and his assistants, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, met two senior players. It was the most important meeting Henry had in his eight years in charge. “We agreed we had to move away from that macho culture.”

The next paragraphs are headed:

  • Check your ego
  • Empower your players
  • Be smart, be secretive
  • Confront your weaknesses
  • Expect the unexpected

Continues here

Cliff Morgan – RIP

Cliff Morgan has died at the age of 83. His career from Rhondda Valley to Broadcasting House and Television Centre has been fully documented elsewhere but I would like to remember the man who my father spoke about with respect and enthusiasm.

As a player he embodied everything that was great in a Welsh outside half; speed, anticipation, courage and above all the flair to do the unexpected and to bring the best out of everyone around him. Never better than when pulling the strings (and conducting the choir) on the Lions tour to South Africa in 1955 to let the talents of others like Tony O’Reilly, Jeff Butterfield and Arthur Smith shine. He played for Cardiff RFC (the club I followed as a boy) whilst studying at Cardiff University, the first of his family to go to university. He won a Grand Slam with Wales in 1952 and played in two teams (Cardiff and Wales) that beat the All Blacks in just over a fortnight in 1953 where his play was described, “…the memory of Cliff Morgan’s darting and swooping across the turf and skimming past every obstacle like a swift at play..”  I consider myself lucky to have seen him play once. It was in a charity match at Cardiff Arms Park and must have been in the mid to late 60s nearly a decade after he had “hung his boots up”. What I remember was his reading of the game so that he could contribute the most whilst exerting himself the least.

As a broadcast executive his career says it all, from Sports Organiser with BBC in Cardiff, a spell at This Week with ITV, a producer of Grandstand and Sportsnight and eventually from 1976 to 1987 as head of outside broadcast for BBC TV.

He recovered from a stroke that might have killed lesser men when only 42 and (like my father) had a great relationship with Ireland (including an Irish wife).

On the screen he was one of the team captains on A Question of Sport and on radio my Saturday mornings have never been the same since he stopped presenting Sport on Four. That voice told stories beautifully, held you with its tone and timbre until the very last word. Sadly and with one of life’s dreadful ironies that since his treatment for cancer of the vocal cords he lost his ability to speak.

It was his voice as a commentator that has led him to be remembered most, when Bill McLaren was afflicted by ‘flu and had to withdraw from the coverage of the New Zealand v Barbarians match in 1973 Morgan stepped in. The try that started it, scored by a legend but the coverage was by a legend too. Rest in peace Cliff.

Wales 30 England 3

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I do wish I’d said that..#3 – How dare Premiership Rugby criticise London Welsh and deny them right to play in top flight?

How dare Premiership Rugby criticise London Welsh and deny them right to play in top flight? It is gross hypocrisy.

Brendan Gallagher, Daily Telegraph

Right, time for a few painful home truths about clubs I otherwise admire and love but who now stand accused of gross hypocrisy over the London Welsh promotion issue.

Make no mistake, it is Premiership Rugby, and the clubs therein, that are making life nigh on impossible for those clubs wishing to better themselves. The compliant RFU are in effect the policemen, but Premiership Rugby have laid down the ridiculous regulations.

How dare Premiership Rugby get all precious over London Welsh, and indeed Cornish Pirates. They have had 17 years to sort themselves out and are still, in many cases, a complete mess groundwise. Up to this point I have judged them purely on their rugby, but they started this nonsense so here goes.

For years now I have sat in what amounts to a bomb site in the “press area” in the condemned stand at Vicarage Road. You can see 50 per cent of the game at best because your sightlines are ruined by huge pillars – most of the time you have to train your binoculars on the TV screen over 100 yards away.

For the best part of a decade Sarries have been telling us they will be moving to another ground, but nothing happens. Match day at Saracens Road in the middle of winter is among the most depressing sporting experiences of all time, but we stick with it because they are a fine club and an excellent team, populated by individuals we admire and respect. The Kassam Stadium would be absolute Rugby heaven in comparison.

Sarries, remember, were born of the parkfield that was Bramley Road, where players and spectators alike had to pick their way through dog excretia or worse. They are a product of the system that they are now helping to destroy.

It goes on. Edgley Park was right up there with Vicarage Road in the horror of its facilities, while Bath have got away with murder ever since professionalism started because we love the Recreation Ground.

Ahh, the Recreation Ground. Yes I do have a soft spot for the place but our patience is running very thin, it doesn’t meet Premiership Rugby’s own ground criteria, there is no parking worth mentioning, the majority of spectators are housed on a curious ad hoc structure in the middle of the cricket pitch and, unless you can bag a seat in the front row of their suspended press box, you have no chance of viewing the game.

How dare they criticise London Welsh. Who do Premiership Rugby think they are? Have they completely forgotten recent history? At various times Harlequins and Northampton have rightly been relegated to Division One but prospered massively from the experience and bounced back as model teams.

How dare Premiership Rugby, via the RFU, attempt to deny that to other equally ambitious rugby clubs. How dare they be judge and jury when the only people benefitting is their self-appointed elite. It is so against everything Rugby Union stands for as to be laughable, which they will quickly discover if this London Welsh situation is allowed to go any further.

A natural process of promotion and relegation should always decide who the elite are. Two years ago, Exeter’s promotion was greeted with guffaws around the League, and predictions of their instant relegation and humiliation. Well how wrong were Premiership Rugby on that.

Exeter are a model club in all respects, full of Championship Rugby virtues, and have raised the standards in the Premiership. We need more like Exeter, not less. We need a more dynamic self-satisfied League structure and we need much less of this nonsense.

It’s the creeping duplicity I dislike. If Premiership Rugby want a self-enclosed, self-perpetuating elite like the Super 15, the NBA, the NFL then they should come clean, put their proposal on the table and the game will vote Yes or No. But this big, bullying approach is going to lose them a lot of friends – as they will discover in the weeks ahead if it continues.

The glory of English rugby, so we are always told, is the numbers game, the million-plus people who play. If that is ever going to be translated into a consistently successful national team the way forward has to be via two top professional leagues, with free passage between the two via promotion and relegation. Make the numbers work for you.

It’s quite evident, however, that such a scenario is the last thing Premiership Rugby want while the RFU’s mystifying failure to find a sponsor for the Championship sends out the same message.