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Posts Tagged ‘Rugby’

Tomorrow morning (Disunited Kingdom and Namibian time) the British & Irish Lions will play the 1st Test of their 2017 tour against New Zealand’s All Blacks. It is a much anticipated match, one of the most important in which most of the players will take part. 

My first rugby memory is of the 1971 Lions tour of NZ, the only time that the Lions have won a Test series there. Of course, as a 7-year old I did not realise that the 1971 tour was, and would remain, so historic. 

I didn’t say that I was witnessing history, as live TV of sporting events occurring on the other side of the world did not exist in 1971. At least, not for rugby. So we listened live on the radio, at 4am (as matches were played mid-afternoon local time). Later in the day, highlights would be shown on TV, which we also watched even though we knew the score. 

The “we” were myself, my two sisters and my parents. My father gave us no choice in whether we were woken up to listen to the Test matches in 1971; refusal was not an option. 

The 1971 tour remains burned in the minds of so many rugby fans, and not just supportes of the Lions but those of the All Blacks too. Many Kiwis of my age will tell you that their rugby heroes were Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies or J.P.R. Williams, not the men who represented New Zealand at that time. 

This 2017 tour is not only a chance to get that second series win, It is also a chance for Kiwi Warren Gatland to put one over on his native country and put himself at the head of the list to succeed Steve Hansen as the next All Blacks’ coach. Here is the team chosen for the 1st Test. 


To many people’s surprise, Leigh Halfpenny and George North have not been included. Gatland and his coaching team have, instead, gone with a far more attacking back three. The other major talking point is Allan Wyn Jones’ inclusion ahead of Maro Itoje, but I’m not surprised by this. Although Itoje has been in great form, Alun Wyn is one of the most experienced and best locks in World rugby. Tour captain Sam Warburton had pretty much declared himself out of contention to start the 1st Test, feeling that he’s not yet fit enough. 

If the Lions can win the 1st Test then it will be a huge result. Not only will it make winning the 3-Test series a real possibility, but it will also be the first time that the All Blacks have lost at Eden Park since 1994! A loss by the All Blacks would send shockwaves through New Zealand rugby. The Lions need no greater motivation to play the game of their lives. 

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On Monday (6th February) the sad news was announced that the great South African scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen (JVD) had died at the age of 45. In 2011 JVD was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Over the next few years he did much to raise awareness of and money to conduct research into this cruel disease; showing the same fighting spirit which led to his being one of the true greats of rugby of any era.

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Joost van der Westhuizen was one of the greats of world rugby. In 2011 he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He died on Monday (6th February) at the age of 45.

 

I heard it said this week that JVD was the first muscular scrum  half and the first large scrum half (a position traditionally played by smaller men). I would disagree with both of these statements. I grew up watching Gareth Edwards, often considered the greatest Welsh rugby player, who was a strong, muscular and dynamic scrum half. The only thing he lacked was height, but in the early 1980s Terry Holmes played for Wales, and he was 1m87, the same height as JVD. So, I would not agree that JVD was the first muscular scrum half or the first scrum half who was as large as a back-row forward.

It is sometimes easy when someone has died far too early to overstate their greatness. But, JVD was a great scrum half, there is no denying that. He was an inspiration to his team, and someone that other teams feared. In the 1995 World Cup, he was the first player to successfully tackle Jona Lomu, who had run rampant through every team against which the All Blacks had played.

But, JVD showed his true greatness in the way with which he dealt with his motor neurone disease (MND). He took it as an another challenge, and spent the rest of his life raising awareness of MND and raising money for researching in to it. In the video below is an excerpt from an interview which JVD did with the BBC in late 2014 or early 2015. It was replayed on Monday evening, the day of his death. Listen to his final words, when he is asked whether his MND may be considered a “blessing”

In a way I am glad I had MND. I now know what life is about

RIP Joost van der Westhuizen.

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Not surprisingly, Wales went down to another defeat against New Zealand in the 2nd Test of their summer tour. This time the score was 36-22. Not only have Wales not beaten New Zealand since 1953, but we have never won against them in New Zealand. This defeat by 14 points is actually our best result against them in New Zealand!

Unfortunately I did not see or hear the match. I travelled overnight from Dakar (Senegal) to Istanbul, and although I was in my hotel before kick-off time, I was not able to find the match on any of the many cable channels on the TV in my hotel room. The BBC Radio coverage via the internet was blocked (which sporting events often are abroad), so the most I could do was follow the score on the BBC webpage. But, having not slept on the aeroplane from Dakar, in fact I fell asleep!

Unlike the 1st Test, when Wales were ahead with 15-minutes to go, it seems that New Zealand opened up a good lead in the 2nd half of this match. But, Wales finished the stronger, running in two tries to bring the score back to one which implies that we were not thrashed. Whether these two late tries were because New Zealand had taken their foot off the gas, or because Wales finished the stronger, I do not know.

All I do know is that Wales will go to Dunedin next Saturday for the 3rd Test, and it is difficult to see anything but a third defeat. Do Wales gain anything from going to New Zealand and losing 3-0 in a test series? I believe that we do; it is important to play the best and to see where we are deficient.

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Wales lost the 2nd Test against New Zealand 36-22. The points difference was less than in the first Test, which we lost 39-21. Is this progress?

I was still asleep when the 2nd Test between Australia and England kicked off, but I caught the end of that match. England won 23-7, and so claim their first ever series win in Australia, with one match to spare. England are 8 from 8 since Eddie Jones took over, and have now moved to second in the world rankings. 

I heard Eddie Jones being interviewed on the BBC this morning, he said they were not satisfied with second and want to overhaul New Zealand. It’s certainly a challenge, but not impossible. England rugby has more resources than any other country, by a long way. If they get the right structures in place there is no reason why they can’t dominate world rugby. I believe that, in Eddie Jones, their first ever foreign coach, they may have found the person to do just that. 

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This afternoon, Wales will take on Scotland in their final match of the 2014 6 Nations. After the successes of 2012 (Grand Slam) and 2013 (beating England in the final game to win the Championships with 4 wins out of 5), this year has been a big disappointment for Welsh rugby fans. With four matches played we’ve won two and lost two. The only half-decent performance so far was against a hapless French side, but a complete thrashing by Ireland in Dublin and a loss to England in Twickenham has left Welsh rugby reeling.

Gwyn Jones, who captained Wales before suffering a career ending back injury (he was paralysed for several months) writes on Welsh rugby in The Western Mail, Wales’ national newspaper. Just before the announcement of Gatland’s team to play Scotland, he wrote this very interesting article about how it was time for “Warrenball” to be revised.



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Jones knows a lot more about rugby than I do. The tackle law has changed so many times in the last 10 or so years that I don’t even pretend to understand it anymore. I barely understood it when I played rugby (poorly) as a teenager in school, and I have long since given up trying to understand the subtleties of the tackle and scrummaging laws in modern rugby. But, what he says in this article makes a lot of sense to me.

Gatland has made six changes from the side who lost to England in Twickenham. One change was forced, as Leigh Halfpenny dislocated his shoulder in the match against England. But, the other changes are tactical. I really really hope that Gatland and his coaching team use this match today to start trying a few different things. I do not agree with some of the players (for example Jamie Roberts) who have been saying that Wales are not predictable. Yes, we are! Totally predictable. We’ve been playing the same way now since the Rugby World Cup in 2011, and it is time to develop our game because everyone knows how we are going to play, and the better teams just nullify it as Ireland and England have done this last few weeks.

I would prefer to see Wales lose today to Scotland but try some different tactics than just to stick to the same game plan and get the win, but learn nothing from it. We are almost certain to finish 4th in the table anyway, so what difference does it make if we beat Scotland? It is more important to work on developing our game so that we are soon back to winning ways. We have a June tour of South Africa, and then four Autumn tests in November which includes matches against South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Then, of course, next February the 2015 6 Nations will come around. We can use today’s match to start the process of change, so that maybe by November we are playing an adapted style of rugby which works better with the law changes that Gwyn Jones talks about in his article.

Who will win the overall championships?

The winner of the 2014 6 Nations championship is still up in the air. Mathematically, England, Ireland and France could all win it. It will come down to points difference, as it did last year. Going into today’s games, Ireland have the best points difference with +81 points, then England with +32, and finally France with +3.

England are the first to play, and if they were to run up a massive score against Italy then they could win the Championships irrespective of who wins between France and Ireland this evening (assuming neither France nor Ireland runs up a cricket score too, which is less likely). If I were Stuart Lancaster I would go for broke against Italy, and try to put up a massive score rather than play safe and just try to win.

In all likelihood Ireland should win the Championships this year. I cannot see them losing to France, who have looked woeful in all of their games. Quite how France have actually won three matches almost belies belief. And, England will be kicking themselves for letting France score a last minute try in their match in Paris. If it were not for that, England would be going for the Grand Slam in Italy today.

If Ireland do win in Paris and win the Championship I will be delighted, and not just because they are fellow Celts. It will be Brian O’Driscoll’s final game, and what better way to finish the international career of one of the best players the world of rugby has seen than for him to go out with his second 6 Nations championship win? COME ON IRELAND!!!!

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The poem “Invictus”, written by William Ernest Henley, first came to my attention through the movie of the same name. The movie, made in 2009, is about South Africa’s attempt to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, shortly after Nelson Mandela had become President. Rugby had always been seen as an Afrikaaner game in South Africa, so much so that the majority South African blacks would often support the opposition rather than support what they saw as a game played almost exclusively by their white racist masters.



William Ernest Henley

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) wrote Invictus in 1875, it was published in 1888.



Mandela sees an opportunity to unite South Africa by embracing this white-dominated sport, and show his willingness to let the past be the past. In the movie, Mandela is played by Morgan Freeman, and the Springboks’ captain François Pienaar is played by Matt Damon. If you haven’t see the film, then I highly recommend it.





The poem was used by Mandela to boost his spirits during his long incarceration in prison on Robben Island, and he shares it with Pienaar in the hope of inspiring the Springboks to victory. Here is the poem in its entirety.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.


The best known lines in the poem are the last two lines. Recently they have cropped up in a TV commercial for the Irish stout Guinness. The commercial features a group of men in Brazzaville in the Congo who belong to “La Sape”, which stands for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society for the Advancement of Elegant People). A member of this Society is known as a “sapeur”.





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The 2nd weekend of the 2014 6 Nations weekend is one that most Welsh rugby fans would prefer to forget. Wales got thrashed by Ireland in Dublin, going down 26-3 in what Andy Howell of The Western Mail described as

…the worst Welsh performance the paucity and ineptitude of which left you almost lost for words.

Ireland v Wales

Everybody was expecting this to be a close game, but nothing could be further from the truth. Wales were routed by a rampant Ireland. Wales’ coach Warren Gatland described it as one of the worst displays by his team since he became coach in December 2007. Certainly I cannot think of a worse display under his tenure. Wales did nothing, we were completely outplayed in every aspect of the game, and it is difficult to believe that this is the same group of players who thrashed England 30-3 in Cardiff last March.



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Ireland, for their part, were everything Wales were not. They completely negated Wales’ game plan, and their forwards squeezed the life out of the Welsh pack. They dominated every aspect of play, including crucially the breakdown where Ireland’s flanker Peter O’Mahoney and his fellow back row forwards Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip did a number on Wales and Lions’ backrow Dan Lydiate, Taulupe Faletau and Sam Warburton.

Ireland didn’t try to create anything in the backs, they didn’t need to. Jonathan Sexton just kicked for the corners, and the dominant Irish lineout caught it and mauled their way towards the Welsh tryline. Either Wales infringed, resulting in an Irish penalty and 3 points, or they got to the try line (which they did twice).

Scotland v England

England beat Scotland 20-0 in Edinburgh in one of the most boring games of rugby I have seen in a long time. It was so bad I fell asleep. Scotland never looked like stopping England, and England never looked like doing anything interesting, but were certainly impressive in what they did do. It puts their 6 Nations campaign back on track after their defeat to France in Paris last week.



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I was tipping England to be the most likely 2014 Championships winners before the start of the tournament, and I am currently sticking to that prediction. Fascinatingly, England’s next game is in a fortnight at home to Ireland, a game which could become the Title decider.

France v Italy

France beat Italy comfortably 30-10. The first half was quite close, with France going into the break 9-3, but in the 2nd half they scored three good tries and eventually won comfortably. It leaves France with 2 wins from 2, the same as Ireland, and England and Wales both with 1 win from 2.



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Next up

The 6 Nations now takes a break with the next round of matches in two weeks rather than next weekend. Wales play France in Cardiff on Friday night in a match which will determine the fate of Wales’ 2014 campaign. If they lose they will be facing mid-table mediocrity and leave France on course for a Grand Slam. But, should they manage to turn things around from their drubbing in Dublin, then they will still be in with a slim chance of retaining their 6 Nations crown.

Italy against Scotland is the second match of the weekend, and this will be a scrap to avoid the wooden spoon. But the most fascinating match of the 3rd round will be the showdown in Twickenham between England and Ireland later on Saturday. As I said above, this may well be the title decider. After Ireland’s impressive demolition of Wales, I think they will go into this game full of confidence, but I am tipping England to win this game, just.

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The opening weekend of the 2013 6 Nations rugby championships is over, and it was quite a weekend of matches.

Wales v Ireland

Wales opened their defence of their 2012 Grand Slam with a home game against Ireland. Ireland came out of the blocks with all cylinders firing, and by the 11th minute had scored a try. Wales repeatedly lost possession at the breakdown, and Ireland went into half-time with the scoreline at 3-23.

Within a few minutes of the start of the second half Ireland had extended their lead to 3-30 through a try by Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland’s 3rd try of the match. Wales looked like they were not only going to lose, but lose by a large margin. Then, as often happens in sport, Wales started to go into the ascendancy and the game turned around. Over the next 35 minutes, Wales completely dominated, and scored 3 tries to bring the score back to 22-30. However, Ireland must be commended for the resoluteness of their defence. With Wales camped for long periods just metres from the Irish tryline, the Irish defence withstood wave after wave of assaults and managed to keep Wales’ try tally down to 3 tries, when it could have been several more.


In the opening match of the 2013 6 Nations, Wales lost at home to Ireland 22-30.

In the opening match of the 2013 6 Nations, Wales lost at home to Ireland 22-30.


Cardiff has become a happy hunting ground for Ireland, their win on Saturday marks their 11th win in the last 14 visits to Cardiff. Wales’ chances of a back-to-back Grand Slam are now gone, and in fact based on Saturday’s display I would be surprised if Wales finish the 2013 Championships with more than 1 or 2 wins.

Wales have the difficult task next Saturday of going to Paris, a place where they have not won since 2005. Ireland welcome England in Dublin in game which will almost certainly decide who (in anyone) wins the Triple Crown this year, and may well decide who wins the 2013 6 Nations Championships.

England v Scotland

England came into the 2013 6 Nations Championships on the back of a stunning win against the All Blacks in early December. It was no surprise to see them running out comfortable winners against Scotland.


In the 2nd match of the weekend, England ran out easy winners against Scotland 38-18.

In the 2nd match of the weekend, England ran out easy winners against Scotland 38-18.


The half-time score was 19-11 to England, and to be honest they never looked in danger of losing this match. Remarkably it is now 30 years since Scotland last won at Twickenham, in 1983. England go into their next match against Ireland in Dublin with confidence high, and that match should be the pick of next weekend’s fixtures.

Italy v France

Since Italy joined the 5 Nations in 2000 to make it the 6 Nations, they have been the whipping boys of the Championships. In the 13 previous Championships in which they have played they have only registered a few wins, over Scotland, Wales and in 2011 over France. Much to most people’s surprise, Italy pulled off another win against France on Sunday, deservedly winning by 23 to 18. This is their second win in a row over France at home, having beaten them for the first time ever in 2011.


The final match of the weekend provided the biggest upset, Italy at home beating France 23-18.

The final match of the weekend provided the biggest upset, Italy at home beating France 23-18.


Next up for Italy is a trip to Murrayfield to play Scotland. They will be surely be hoping to register only their second away win in their history in the 6 Nations, and if they play like they did against France they have every chance of of doing so.

Which was your favourite moment of this weekend’s 6 Nations matches?

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