Thursday, 13 November 2008

Battle of the codes

This weekend sees the northern hemisphere take on the south in both codes of rugby.

In the Rugby World Cup down in Australia, England are looking to avenge last week's defeat to New Zealand. While back in Blighty the Union boys are taking on Australia at Twickenham in what is Martin Johnson's first big test as head coach.

Down under England have had a tough time of it, edging past PNG before getting hammered by the Aussies and then throwing away a healthy lead against the Kiwis. Luckily for them, the absurdity of the tournament allows for them to forget those matches and just concentrate on producing two top level performances which could yet see them lift the cup, unlikely though.

Flair at HQ

Johnson's men are fairing better, with a resounding victory against a hard-hitting Pacific Islands team last weekend they will be hoping they can continue there dominance over their antipodean rivals.

Last week the Wallabies could only sneak past Italy thanks to a late try from debutant Quade Cooper. This week he is replaced by the ignimous Matt Giteau who can blow both hot and cold. An exciting game is in prospect and going on last week's efforts, Australia should not just be worried about the power of England's front three but also the pace of their back three.

Meanwhile France take on the Islanders, Ireland face New Zealand, Italy host Argentina and Scotland have the chance to get one over world champions, South Africa.

And don't forget the Guinness Premiership gets back under way this weekend after what seems like and infact has been an eternity. The week's fixtures are as follows:

Sale v Worcester
Bath v Leicester
Bristol v Northampton,
Harlequins v Wasps,
Newcastle v London Irish,
Saracens v Gloucester,

Monday, 27 October 2008

A League of their own

The Rugby League World Cup kicked off in Australia at the weekend, and what a weird and pointless competition it is.

Four years in Leeds have given me an appreciation of the thirteen man game which was previously missing. The subtlety and skill required is often overlooked and although I feel Union is a superior game, League definitely has its merits.

The Super League is a great spectacle and the Grand Final is one of the sporting highlights of the year. Sadly a world cup in the sport fails to provide any interest for me.

The format is ridiculous. Three groups, one with Australia, England and New Zealand as well the unfortunate Papua New Guinea, and two further groups which include France, Scotland, Ireland and three Pacific nations.

The winners of the two small groups will fight it out for the chance to play the winner of group A while the second and third placed teams in the same group will lock horns for a place in the final.

So basically Australia will be in the final against either England or New Zealand. It is a bizarre set up and one that I don't feel benefits the sport. First of all, why are PNG given the short straw of being in the group of certain fatality?


The introduction of the Catalan Dragons and the Celtic Crusaders to the Super League has and should continue to develop the sport in Europe, but further progress must be made if the sport is to rival it's better looking brother, Union.

An annual five/six nations tournament should be established, or a Churchill Cup type affair, where England put out a second string team. Strides must be taken to push the game on, because a world cup should be the pinnacle of any sport, but in reality the NRL, Super League and the triangular series all rate higher than this farcical fortnight.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Guinness Round Five

Mid-week rugby is rare but due to the Lions Summer tour to South Africa, an extra round of games has been slipped in to make the season a week shorter.

Spread over three days all twelve teams played and the table now looks somewhat different after a couple of surprise results.

On Tuesday, Gloucester produced a delightful display of attacking rugby to dispatch a hard-working Newcastle 39-23. Ian Balshaw picked up a hat-trick in only his second game back after injury, while James Simpson-Daniel notched a brace.

The other big news of the night was that Jonny Wilkinson picked up yet another injury. Just when it looked like he was back and hitting top-form he has dislocated his knee and faces another lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Sharks bitten

Wednesday saw four games played. The least surprising result of the night was Saracens picking up a win at Bristol who still only have two losing bonus points.

Elsewhere, Leicester produced a spirited and trademark second-half comeback against east-midlands rivals Northampton. Trailing 16-9 at the break the Tigers came back to win 29-19 with Toby Flood scoring 19 of the home side's points.

The shock of the round saw league leaders, Sale, go down 28-6 at London Irish.Having not conceded a try all season, the Sharks let Irish cross their whitewash four times and with only two Charlie Hodgson penalties in reply they slip to third in the table.

Adams Park hosted the final game of the night, as Wasps welcomed back Danny Cipriani against Bath. A solid return for the young England starlet who was only denied a 100% kicking record by a dodgy referee. Sadly Cipriani's hour long cameo, watched by his new woman Kelly Brook, was not enough to see Wasps record their first home win of the season.

Bath held out for a tense 27-23 win to leave the London side still languising at the foot of the table with just seven points. Wasps will be hoping Cipriani's return can kick-start their season but with no Guinness rugby til November 14 now, they will have to hope some cup-success can give them some much needed respite.

With Wilkinson now out, Martin Johnson may now call up Cipriani to the senior squad, to complete what would be a remarkable recovery for the youngster.

Warriors wounded

Thursday saw the last game of the round played, and there were no surprises as Harlequins beat Worcester 30-23 with Ugo Monye scoring two tries for Quins.

Bath are now top of the league, three points clear of Sale, Tigers and Quins and a further point clear of Saracens and Irish. Bristol remain last with Warriors and Wasps just ahead with only one win to their names still.

As I said there is no league rugby till November 14 but there will be EDF and Heineken Cup to keep us entertained, and I will be sure to keep you updated.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Guinness Round-Up

This is the first Guinness Premiership Rugby round-up which I will now do every Monday, so look out for them, it saves watching Craig Doyle on ITV4.

There were three Friday night games this week, which may have caught some fans out, but if it did then they didn't miss much. Sale Sharks continued their excellent start to the season in beating Gloucester at home by 23 points to nine. Their dominant defence has now not conceded a try for four games (320 minutes), a Premiership record.

They also managed to triple their try count for the season as stand-in skipper, Sebastien 'The Caveman' Chabal crossed the white-wash along with former Wasps and Leeds flyer, David Doherty.

Although it may not be the most exciting rugby being played in the world, it is getting results for Sale and this win put them top of the league as the only remaining undefeated team.

Mr Reliable

Up in the North-East Jonny Wilkinson kicked Newcastle to their second win of the season, a mark some thought they wouldn't reach by Christmas. But the pre-season relegation favourites have proved the doubters wrong, tries from John Rudd and Adam Balding capped off a good win against Bristol.

Wilkinson has a 100% kicking record so far this season and his two conversions and penalty took him back ahead of Andy Goode as the all time leading Premiership points scorer.

For Bristol, the season couldn't have started any worse, rooted to the foot of the table with just one losing bonus point. They must beat Saracens at home on Wednesday if they want to avoid being left behind.

Stung Again

The last game on Friday night was a repeat of last year's Play-Off final and it produced the same result although by markedly different means.

London Wasps had suffered a dreadful early season, losing their first three, but this dogged win over unbeaten Leicester at Welford Road will give the whole club a real lift.

Jeremy Staunton was the hero for the London team as he didn't miss a kick, slotting five penalties, two drop-goals and the conversion of Damien Varley's try.The win lifts them to 10th and most importantly keeps them in touch with those ahead, another loss could have made the gap too big even at this early stage.

Leicester will soon have a complex when facing Wasps, after a Heineken Cup loss, a Premiership Final loss and back-to-back losses at the once impenetrable Welford Road.

They drop to third in the table and face Northampton mid-week. Wasps face Bath and could welcome back Danny Cipriani for the first time since his ball-breakingly nasty injury against the same opponents back in May.

We now finally come to some weekend fixtures which weren't played under the floodlights. And it seemed to make a vast difference to the quality of rugby.

Champagne Bath

Bath took apart Worcester with a dynamic and reckless performance at The Rec. The final score was 37-19 with the home side scoring five tries to record only the third winning bonus point in the league so far.

Bath coach Steve Meehan made a point of playing attacking rugby in an attempt to side-step the pitfalls of the ELVs.

"We must not be scared of going out and playing. We can't go into our shells, even if the ELVs can put you under a lot of pressure. The rewards of such an approach will outweigh the risks." He said.

Bath are now second and Worcester are languishing at the other end of the table with only Bristol between them and the prospect of League One rugby next year.


In the game of the round, London Irish came from 20-8 behind to beat Quins 28-27 at the Stoop. Two Delon Armitage tries and a faultless display from Chris Hewat was enough for Irish to snatch a win from Dean Richard's grasp.

Both teams now sit mid-table, and the rugby they have played so far has made them two of the most exciting sides to watch.

Irish now have the task of taking on the Sale defence, while Quins face Worcester in mid-week.

Sarries march on

The final game saw Saracens beat new-boys Northampton 26-12 at Vicarage Road. Three penalties and a superb drop-goal from the half way line by Stephen Myler were not enough for Northampton as their discipline let them down in the second half.

Ben Foden's nightmare move to the Saints continued as the long-haired renegade who left Sale to get more time in a no.9 shirt was sin-binned only minutes after coming on as replacement. This ended any hopes of a comeback and they now face a tough trip away to Leicester.

Saracens look like they might challenge this year, and should have no problems overcoming Bristol on Wednesday.

Come back on Friday when I will review all the mid-week games, and look ahead to the weekend. This Monday slot is now regular though, so see you then.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Davis Cup relegation

Once again the dire state of British tennis was highlighted at the weekend, as the Davis Cup team went down meekly to a poor Austrian team, forcing their relegation to the Euro/Africa Zone.There is no need to say that Andy Murray is one of the world's best tennis players, ranked fourth in the world and a recent grand slam finalist he had little trouble winning his two rubbers.

But beyond that the men's game in this country is embarrassing. Alex Bogdanovic has always looked 'promising' but he is now 24 and has still not got past the first round of a grand slam, won a live Davis Cup game or broken into the top 100.

Andy's brother Jamie is a useful doubles player but by no means a world beater, a permanent teaming-up with Ross Hutchins could help though and give both players some top level practice and exposure.

Other than that there really is nothing, no-one, not even a glimmer of hope. And to make matters worse, the LTA refuse to admit the problem.

All about the kids

Crowds at the home-tie at Wimbledon at the weekend were extremely poor. Andy Murray is an amazing talent and the event should have been sold out, and if not, tickets for kids should have been issued, in fact an allocation should have been given anyway.

The team spirit in the camp was dreadful, every time there was a break the camera man had to go to the Austrian team as they were the only people in the stadium making any noise.

And as Murray pointed out Bogdanovic failed to get the crowd involved at all: "In both my matches I showed a lot of emotion and got the crowd involved.

"You have to take advantage of home support. It should be a huge advantage. That's why home teams win 82% of Davis Cup matches.

"The crowd in my match was very good. In Alex's match it looked as if a lot of people left and the atmosphere was not very good."

ATP Rankings

Basically it is a disaster all round, and it was not unexpected, the state of the game in this country has been awful for at least a decade with the strength in depth non existent.

Spain have five top 20 players (15 top 100), France have five top 30 (15 top 100) and Russia five top 40. GB have one player in the top 162, not quite the same.

Something needs to be done, and with most problems the first thing to do is admit there is a problem, something the LTA are having difficulty with.