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A bit of a hullabaloo has broken out at Chelsea over a potential move by Diego Costa to China. According to reports circulating in the media (see e.g. here), the Chelsea striker has been offered some £30 million a year (about 34 million euros) to go and play for Tianjin Quanjian (no, I’ve never heard of them either). Already, the highest paid footballer in the World, Carlos Tevez, is playing in China. Clearly, China want to attract some of the World’s best football talent by paying them huge sums of money.

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Rumours are circulating that Diego Costa has been offered £30 million a year to move to play in China, leading to his falling out with Chelsea coach Antonio Conte.

Despite whatever problems are going on between Costa and Conti (it sounds like a double-act), Chelsea are still continuing to play sublimely under Conti. They beat Leicester City, the defending champions, 3-0 on Saturday, and are now sitting 7 points clear at the top of the Premier League. Manchester City continue their bad run of form; on Sunday they fell apart and were thrashed 4-0 by Everton. Liverpool and Manchester United both did Chelsea a favour by battling to a 1-1 draw. So, one has to ask, do Chelsea even need Costa to stay? If Conti feels not, he’ll be on his way to China sooner rather than later. 

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Yesterday (Sunday 8th January), the Green Bay Packers (the Packers) beat the New York Giants 38-13 in the National Football Conference (NFC) wild-card playoffs. They will now play the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoff in Dallas. Why am I blogging about this, when I barely (if ever) mention American Football on my blog? It is because I lived in Wisconsin for 6 years (1995-2001) and am a big fan of not just the Packers but, in particular, their ownership model.

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The Packers beat the New York Giants 38-13 in yesterday’s (Sunday 8th January 2017) game at Lambeau Field. In American sports the away team is listed first, which is strange but that is the way it is.

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The Packers beat the Giants 38-13 yesterday (8th January 2017) at Lambeau Field.

Lambeau Field

I have been to Green Bay, it is a city of just over 100,000 people at the southern tip of Door Peninsula, which sticks out into Lake Michigan.Its population is the third largest in Wisconsin, after Milwaukee and Madison. I went to Green Bay in the summer of 1996 on my way to spend a week visiting the beautiful Door Peninsula. However, I have sadly never been to see a Packers’ game, nor have I even seen Lambeau Field in real life.

For the 6 years that I lived in Wisconsin I was based in Williams Bay, home of the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory. This is quite a way away from Green Bay, as you can see from the map below. Sadly, this one trip to Door Peninsula was the only time I made it up to the northern parts of Wisconsin. My plans to visit Lake Superior never materialised, but hopefully one day I will get there.

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Green Bay is at the southern end of the Door Peninsula, which sticks out into Lake Michigan. The city has a population of just over 100,000 people. Williams Bay, home of Yerkes Observatory, is marked by the red circle.

The Packers use Lambeau Field to their advantage, or I should say that they use the weather at Lambeau Field to their advantage. In December and January it can often be -10C or colder during a game at Lambeau Field, which for teams from southern parts of the US presents a significant challenge. I am not sure what the temperature was during yesterday’s game against the New York Giants, but playing at Lambeau Field presents more or an advantage to the Packers than just playing in front of a home crowd. Packers fans pray for cold weather, particularly if they are up against a team from the balmier southern states.

Go Pack(ers) Go

Living in Williams Bay, I found that the local population seemed to be split 50/50 between Packers fans and Chicago Bears fans. I don’t think this had anything to do with the University of Chicago’s observatory being in Williams Bay, but more to do with Williams Bay being geographically slightly closer to Chicago than it is to Green Bay. So, why did I decide to support the Packers, and not the Bears?

One reason was that I was living in Wisconsin, so gravitated towards the only Wisconsin-based American Football team. But, the main reason was the Packers’ unique business model. It is the only franchise in the NFL (American football league) which is owned by the community and is run as a non-profit organisation. Yes, you read that correctly, the Packers is owned by the community, not by some rich individual or conglomerate. With so much money in professional sport these days, and so many owners only buying a team or franchise to make money, it is refreshing to see a successful professional sports team like the Packers thrive using an entirely different model.

Individuals can buy shares in the Packers, but those shares are sold for the same money for which they are bought. No individual can make a profit from owning Packers shares. You can read more about this refreshing business model here.

Next up for the Packers is an away match against the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Playoff, which will not be an easy game. I will be following the game, and should they win they will go on to compete in the Conference Championship. Win that, and they will be in the Super Bowl, which they have won four times, including the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967 under legendary coach Vince Lombardi. GO PACK GO!!

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Later today, at 17:30 GMT, Wales will take on South Africa in their fourth and final autumn test. Ironically, if we win today this 2016 autumn series will h ave been our most successful yet. And yet, few people have been impressed so far with Wales’ performances. We were thrashed by Australia in the opening test, in one of the worst displays I have seen by Welsh side in many years. Although we then beat Argentina and Japan, both were poor performances by Wales in my opinion. We only just won each of them. So, how well Wales play today will determine whether this 4-test campaign can be deemed a success or not.

South Africa are coming of two back-to-back defeats, to England a fortnight ago and to Italy last weekend. They have never lost to Italy before, and most experts are labelling this South African team as one of the worst ever. This, together with Wales’ stuttering performances, means the pressure is really on Rob Howley’s team to win, and to win well.

Although it is a loss to not have Sam Warburton leading the team, it is an area where we have a more than able replacement in Justin Tipuric. I am pleased to see that Holley is starting with Scott Williams at inside centre and not Jamie Roberts. I have never been a fan of Jamie Roberts, and if Wales are going to develop their attacking play beyond the “send a big man up the middle” approach I think we have to look beyond Jamie Roberts to someone like Scott Williams, who is more creative.

Whatever the outcome of today’s match, we then have a wait of just over two months before the 2017 6 Nations. I will blog more about the 6 Nations in the week before it starts, but Wales’ fixture list is

  • Sunday 5 February – Italy v Wales
  • Saturday 11 February – Wales v England
  • Saturday 25 February – Scotland v Wales
  • Saturday 11 March – Wales v Ireland
  • Saturday 18 March – France v Wales

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It was another rather unimpressive display from Wales; we beat Japan thanks to a last minute drop goal by replacement fly half Sam Davies. Japan are a much improved side, and the days of thrashing them are over I think, but really Wales should have won this game by more. It was another stuttering performance, and we failed to take many of our chances.

It did seem that Jamie Roberts, who was dropped for the game against Argentina, was out to prove a point, as he had a very good game. But, I am not a fan of Jamie Roberts. What he does, he does very well, as good as anyone in world rugby. But, for me, he is far too one-dimensional. There is little variety to his game; he is a world class tackler and a world class battering ram, but beyond that I don’t see what else he does. I would much prefer that Wales go with the more varied and skilful play of Scott Williams, I think this can add variety to our attacking game in a way which having Jamie Roberts at inside centre cannot.

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Wales beat Japan 33-30, thanks to a last minute drop goal by replacement fly half

It will be interesting to see which combinations Rob Howley picks for our match against South Africa next Saturday. Luckily for Wales, this South African team seem to be amongst the worst in their history. On Saturday they lost for the first time to Italy, going down 20-18. This puts England’s thumping of them into some kind of perspective, but Wales cannot afford to lose next week to such a poor South African team. Not only do we need to win, but we need to win with a convincing performance, something we are yet to show this autumn despite two wins out of three.

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Wales beat Argentina on Saturday (12 November) 24-20, but it was an error strewn and unimpressive performance in my opinion. Yes, it was a significant improvement on the woeful display against Australia the previous week, but with all the territory and possession Wales had in this game we should have won comfortably. Too may moves broke down due to poor passing or poor decision making. We still have a long way to go to get back to any kind of form, which we need to do before we face South Africa in two weeks.

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Wales beat Argentina 24-20 on Saturday (12 November), but it was a scrappy win and Wales are still way short of their best.

Wales scored two tries, with one being converted, and three penalties from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny. But, Argentina also scored two tries and were in the game right up until the end. Each time it looked like Wales had the game in their control, Argentina would come back with a score. Their playing in the Rugby Championship has certainly lifted their level of play, they are now far more consistent than they used to be thanks to the discipline of taking part in this annual tournament.

In the other autumn tests, England hammered South Africa 37-21, Scotland lost by a solitary 1 point 23-22 to Australia, Ireland beat Canada 52-21, France beat Samoa 52-8, and New Zealand beat Italy 68-10. England are now on a 11-match winning streak, with all 10 of their matches under Eddie Jones having been won.

Next up for Wales are Japan, with a 14:30 kick-off next Saturday (19 November) at the Millennium Stadium. On paper, it should be the easiest match of the four autumn tests, but we mustn’t forget the shock that Japan inflicted upon South Africa in last year’s World Cup. I  hope that Rob Howley and his coaching team do not make too many changes to the team for Japan. We need to be a settled 15, working as a unit and at our best to take on South Africa the following Saturday.

 

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I vaguely remember writing a similar title a few months ago, but with “England” instead of “Ireland” in the title. Well, this time it is our Celtic cousins who have impressed me, and Wales who have continued to disappoint and frustrate. On Saturday (5 November), we played Australia in the first of our 4-match autumn test series. I blogged about the series here. To say that we got off to a bad start would be an understatement, Wales were woeful and lost the match 32-8. We were 20-3 down at half time, totally outplayed in the first half by a better, faster, more creative Australia. Things improved very slightly in the second half, but not by much really. It is one of the worst performances by Wales of the last 5-6 years.

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Wales slumped to a 32-8 defeat to Australia in the first of their 4-match autumn test series. We were woeful in the first half, but not really that much better in the second.

Later on Saturday, Ireland played world champions New Zealand in the first test of their autumn series. But, not in Dublin as one might have expected, but instead in Chicago! As part of the International Rugby Board’s attempts to broaden the interest in rugby, the match was played at Solider Field, home of the Chicago Bears. When I worked at the University of Chicago I drove past Soldier Field on dozens of occasions. I wonder what odds I would have got on a bet that it would be where Ireland would get their first ever victory over the mighty All Blacks! I am thrilled for Ireland, and as they play New Zealand a second time, in Dublin, in a few weeks’ time I hope that they can repeat it in front of their home fans.

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Ireland beat New Zealand for the first time in 111 years of trying. The game was played at Soldier Field in Chicago, part of the attempt to increase the popularity of rugby in the USA.

But, back to Wales. Where on earth do we go from  here after such an abject performance? It is just because it is the first match of the series, and we will get better as the series progresses? Is it because interim coach Rob Howley needs to get his players to buy into his way of doing things? It is because Australia are a very very good side, and we just were outclassed? Our next match is against Argentina, who thrashed Ireland in the quarter finals of last year’s world cup. I await to see how we get on against them, Japan and South Africa before I come to any conclusions, but we could not have had a worse start to the series 😦

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This next Saturday (5 November), Wales will begin their 4-match autumn series of test matches. Saturday’s match is against Australia, and it will be our first test match since being beaten 46-6 in June by a rampant New Zealand to lose our tour there 3-0. In contrast, Australia have been involved in the Rugby Championship since their 3-0 series loss to England in June.

Australia won 3 of their 6 matches in the Rugby Championship, beating Argentina both home and away and beating South Africa at home. Since the last match of the Rugby Championship on 1 October, Australia have played New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland, losing 37-10 to notch up their third loss of 2016 to the All Blacks.

The four matches we will play are

  • Wales v Australia – Saturday 5 November, kick off 14:30 GMT
  • Wales v Argentina – Saturday 12 November, kick off 17:30 GMT
  • Wales v Japan – Saturday 19 November, kick off 14:30 GMT
  • Wales v South Africa – Saturday 26 November, kick off 17:30 GMT
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Wales start their 4-match autumn series against Australia on Saturday 5 November, followed by Argentina on Saturday 12 November.

Wales are currently ranked 5th in the world, with Australia ranked 3rd, South Africa ranked 4th, Argentina ranked 9th and Japan ranked 12th. So, on paper, our easiest match will be against Japan, our third match. It is a pity our first match is against possibly the strongest team of the series, as Wales notoriously start off each autumn test series poorly and we tend to improve as the series progresses. We are without Warren Gatland, who is on sabbatical to prepare for the Lions tour of New Zealand next summer, so in his place Robert Howley is head coach. Let us hope, with Australia coming off a loss against New Zealand, that Wales can notch up a long overdue win against the Wallabies.

 

 

 

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