Greatest Sporting Moment

It's over and what a finish. Won by possibly the most complete team ever to play. It didn't catch the popular imagination as we might have hoped but nonetheless was a great success in rugby terms. For England, and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, a new beginning beckons. For many in the rugby world the morning after the final of an epic tournament feels somewhat empty and desolate. We have some terrific rugby to enjoy in the Premiership though where at least we can watch English teams winning, albeit against other English teams. 

This though, has made it for me. The greatest sporting moment I think I've ever seen and a moment that defines rugby. Sonny Bill Williams; kind spirited and generous sportsman and gentleman. He just made a bigger statement about rugby with one gesture than an army of PR dollies could ever conjure up and immediately gets inducted into the Good Guy Club. I think the BBC just found their Overseas Sports Personality winner for 2015, he's definitely mine. Obviously the security guard had been watching the whole rugby world cup bored out of his mind and then wide eyed with excitement; his big adrenaline pumping moment came. That kid was going down big time in his mind, nothing was going to stop him............. except sportsmanship. Probably feels a bit of a wally this morning.

 

Man of the Match

Craig Joubert; Australia's Man of the Match

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for the Northern Hemispere..........along came Mr Joubert to leave us confounded and confused. Twickenham was quite a special place yesterday. Aussie supporters easily outnumbered the Scots but the neutrals piled in behind them and the support was fantastic. Despite the calamitous result, Scottish Rugby has regained it's self respect, dignity and pride. Congratulations to them and for doing all those hard yards in the fallow years.

Bugger....

Bugger. Bang goes the knighthood then. It was grim, just grim. We all knew that getting through the group would be challenging. The manner of England's exit though has left us numb. Outplayed in every single facet of the game against Australia there is no mitigation, no redemption, no 'close fought battle but the best team won on the day,' piece of wreckage to cling to. They didn't even listen to Crumble's advice from March.

I’m reminded of that great quote from JPR Williams after Wales were thumped by the Aussies in 1984, “No leadership, no ideas. Not even enough imagination to thump someone in the line-up when the ref wasn’t looking.” (which is exactly what I posted on our exit from the last World Cup).

Rugby fans are a realistic, knowledgeable, philosophical and fair minded bunch. The bottom line though is that England supporters deserved so much more. From the young lads who play in the driving rain and sleet throughout the winter at clubs and schools, their coaches, the  Mum's who make the bacon butties in the clubhouses to the Twickenham faithful who have been paying through the nose to watch little collective improvement over twelve years, they have all been badly let down by a team that choked on the day when it mattered most. This is the generation of players who should have been inspired by the schoolboy heroes in 2003 they grew up watching to emulate them. The boost that English rugby received after that win was formidable. Such was the surge in enthusiasm for the game, individual age groups at clubs had north of 50 players per age group turning out on Sunday mornings. Something has gone very badly wrong if we can't cobble together a team that can give Australia a decent match with those kind of resources.

Australia looked a complete team of old with none of their perceived weaknesses evident, especially up front. When everyone is thinking the same though, nobody is thinking. Except Michael Cheika. He has done an outstanding job in just twelve months in reenergising and inspiring Australian rugby which wasn't in great shape prior to his appointment. Its easy to forget the limited pool of player resource available to the Wallabies given union isn't played in much more than 12 schools and the allure of other sports increases every year. Despite that, the sight of the England pack being shunted around the park was embarrassing and left the rugby die-hards I was with subdued  into silence.

Mike Teague; Anglo Saxon Menace

The 'thanks for coming,' epitaph and being reduced to being the caterers, waiters and barmen for the rest of the competition is pretty upsetting and while we'll enjoy the games the spirit will be sagging. There are unanswered questions, about selection especially. The Ford, Burgess, Armitage, Burrell, Hartley debates will continue for quite a while but if I was to highlight one thing which has troubled me about the team it would be the lack of street smart menace. Great English teams have always had a few edgy players. Apart from Brown its not clear who else exudes the kind of match cunning, fighting spirit and threatening behaviour that dominates and intimidates other teams physically and psychologically. Instead we have two muppets in Farrell and Burgess with simultaneous dangerous infractions in front of the referee in the last quarter of a losing game. Farrell was binned, Burgess should have been red carded but escaped. That isn't the kind of match cunning to which I allude. In short, the Lancaster regime is too nice, too decent and too naive. They've managed to make the shambolic 'Mike Tindall's stag weekend,' squad we sent to the last World Cup look pretty competent. We're putting boys out against men, soldiers against warriors, individuals against teams. 

I'm not sure where that leaves the coaching team and if they should be tinned or not. Perhaps it just a fact of life that everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence. Instinctively it feels like they should go, so complete has been the failure to do, well anything to an acceptable standard. Australia's second try was a simple demonstration of how we are being out thought before the team ever steps onto the pitch. We're not good enough for this competition and frankly, there are some second tier teams out there who could rattle England's cage on their day.  It seems obvious that we need some Southern Hemisphere input into the set up at some level. One thing is for sure, inaction is not acceptable. England are going backwards but the worry is we seem to have more gears in reverse than we do forward.

So, what is the Crumble view? I've had quite enough of contrition and humility which has been too fashionable under this regime. We are a great rugby nation but one which has lost its winning GPS, (actually, it was trashed in Cardiff in 2013 and we've never really recovered).  To be good at something, you need a touch of arrogance and that comes with self belief. Compare the wild eyed look in the Scots in their recent matches with what you saw in our players eyes in the first five minutes last night. 

A good start, would be to exert pressure from supporters, players, (amateur and professional from schoolboys up), and their coaches on Sir Clive Woodward and the RFU to stop acting like spoilt children, to sit down and figure out how they can work together for the benefit of English rugby. If Lancaster is to stay then most of us would agree he needs a mentor to assist with a hand on the tiller here and there. If he is to be replaced then Woodward should be involved at some level; it's simply barking that he's not. And Wilko? Seems pretty obvious doesn't it? We missed the opportunity to lift Sir Ian McGeechan five years ago; lets not muck it up again. 

 

Wilko; I'm Full Of Confidence!

One of the disappointments of the World Cup to date has been the generally weak and insipid match commentary. The studio analysis meanwhile has pretty much nailed it although it seems too abbreviated because of excessive advertising. One of the highlights though, has been Wilko's articulate and measured view of the games. I think we just found the Richie Benaud of rugby.

Anyway, here is the man exuding quiet confidence in an understated English kind of way. 

It's Not The Despair....................

Three days after The Match and I've just about recovered from the hangover resulting from the long match inquest I went through with an old chum while enjoying a rib of beef at a long lunch on Sunday. 

I had thought that leaving it for a few days might give some comments a perspective they would otherwise have missed but I don't think that's going to happen. It was a devastating loss which has probably left the players as bewildered as it did the crowd and the millions at home who spent the last ten minutes choking on their beer, shouting at the television and reaching for their old boots willing to pop down to Twickenham to give the lads a hand. 

I'm one of the few who thought the call to go for a line out rather than a penalty was ballsy but justified. Why, having stepped up and made that call they then failed to have the courage of their convictions and then threw a short line out ball is however, mystifying. If you are taking the fight to the opposition you have to follow it through with single minded determination and aggression. If it had worked, of course the team would be feted as heroes. It didn't and their judgement is in question. We had though, lost the game well before then during a quite incredible Welsh second half fight back. Having suffered multiple casualties, (I think that Polish cryotherapy nonsense has made their bodies brittle),  they threw away the spreadsheets and playbooks and played the kind of rugby that is hard coded in their DNA. It was a wonder to behold for anyone except the  English fans left open mouthed with incredulity. 

England were shocking in the second half. I've often thought that Stuart Lancaster should be nailed to his seat at half time and not allowed anywhere near the team dressing room. This is far from the first time that England have trotted out looking shapeless and unfocused compared to their first half performance. The World Cup was always going to be a mountain to climb for England given team selection has never really settled in a way that previously successful teams have enjoyed. Playing Burgess, who up until Saturday had played less than 120 minutes of Test rugby, and never looks quite comfortable, is questionable but I guess its a gamble that had England won would have been fully justified with fans up and down the country saying,'I always knew the lad would come good.' I hope he still will. England can of course still progress and all is very far from lost. As an Aussie friend said to me afterward, 'the thing about England is one win and you're on the march but one loss and the worlds coming to an end.' 

It's only a game love..................

For the Welsh, it was an epic win and one that we'll reminded of for the rest of our lives. That is an uncomfortable prospect but  only the most small minded would deny them their moment of joy; they earned it.

Saturday has become the sort of day that World Cups are all about. We'll be expecting to dominate with pragmatic forward play and the Aussies will chuck the ball around with all the abandon usually seen at a prep school sevens tournament. Or will they? It's a mouthwatering prospect and I absolutely can not wait.

As for Stuart Lancaster, if I were him I'd forget about all the Agincourt / St George stuff and start my pre-match talk with, 'right lads, we've got them right where we want them...............'

(Thanks Tim)

Resting Heart Rate Lower

A couple of days for reflection then and a chance to get the resting heart rate back down after the weekends World Cup action. Liz Hurley bouncing onto the stage in that award ceremony didn't do to me what the Japan match did. 

I also watched the Eagles play Samoa yesterday and although beaten, I share a fatalism that others feel that one day, an American billionaire will trip along and say in Trumpesque tones, 'I've had it with our boys being beaten. Whadda I have to buy to make it happen?' Rugby has of course been played in the States for just as long as its been played here; it just never caught the public imagination in the same way and actually, lets not pretend that its everyone's cup of tea over here either. One day though, they'll get some of those huge defensive Linebacker fellows, or whatever they call them and then look out. It'll be Jono on steroids. 

Carlin Isles; don't think he's in the US squad but he's only been playing for 3 years.

We've already seen a window on their enormous pool of sporting talent with recruit from track & field Carlin Isles, a 10:13 100m sprinter who goes like greased weasel shit. If they get some more blokes with his speed but with a rugby brain then we'll see something new.

 I can think of more than one team who would welcome his skills as hooker; just remarkable

Obviously, were the Septics to get enthused about the game on a broader basis it would be electrifying for the games future. Mr Isles though, will be the very least of our worries. Let me introduce you to Master Titus Ashby. If you've stood on the touchline of any sport and had one of those proud father moments and wistfully thought, 'my boy / girl could actually make it!' then watch and weep.

Rugby World Cup; Diet on Hold

Tip from the Top with Boris Johnson demonstrating the perfect low rugby tackle against a German. Unfortunately, he was playing in a football match at the time.

In a crushing blow to my already failing latest attempt to shed some pounds the 2015 Rugby World Cup kicks off on Friday evening with England taking on Fiji at Twickenham. Hot dogs and Guinness are not a basis for slim and healthy living. They are though, the basis of the best six weeks in the calendar............ well, next to the Lions tours and the Six Nations.

Carey Mulligan & Natalie Portman; These are very busy people

Shedding some pounds has taken on renewed urgency since my last visit to the Knee Guy. 'Crumble,' he said, 'your marathon days are over.' I didn't interject at this point to highlight that they hadn't yet started but they are of course on my bucket list, some way though, below dinner with Natalie Portman and Carey Mulligan.  As it happens, some years ago, ( before it became fashionably dull), I had the Crumble Kids write out their bucket lists. Two of the kids are systematically working their way through theirs with alarming success. The third has yet to smash a large flat screen television or dive into a pool of custard but then he was six at the time when he wrote it. I'm not making much progress at all but then I'm led to believe that Natalie Portman and Carey Mulligan are very busy people.

Back to Bradley then,  (well, Mister Bradley to you and I and the best Knee Guy in the South of England), 'you see,' he went on, 'the old rusty truck is still rumbling down the road but there are too many bricks in the back. Lose some bricks Crumble and the knees will thank you. You're paying for the fun you had in younger days.' Message received Mr Bradley and of course, this just has to improve the delta on dinner with Natalie Portman and Carey Mulligan.

One chum of mine swears by his so far successful diet he calls 'The Beige Diet.' Bob is not a follower of fashion. Keeping things simple, like any good military man, Bob has opted for his own bespoke colour coded diet plan. Bob does things his way and Beige is o-u-t out. That means beer, chips, (well, anything fried), bread, pasta, coffee, biscuits, crisps and other such snacky instruments of the devil, rice and .... well, you get the idea. Unsurprisingly it works. I can see it catching on, 'Bob's Beige Diet takes the Diet Industry By Storm,' the headlines will scream.

Back to the subject in question, the glorious festival that is the RWC and the clever coves at Macquarie Wealth Management have produced their traditional Quant Guide to the competition. In it they conclude that the All Blacks are pre ordained finalists and will meet England on the 31st of October at Twickenham. Thing is, and as will be debated in every pub and rugby club bar across the world, anything can happen. Which is why it is such a beguiling and beautiful game. The diet will have to wait.

Wales v France

 

 

"They're so unsporting. They don't do things for the sake of doing them like the English. We play the game for the sake of the game. Other nations play the game for the sake of winning it."

Captain Paul Waggot, Whisky Galore

 

After last Sayurday's debacle, the two Crumble boys played rugby at school. One had an easy win, slicing through the oppo and had a "job jobbed," feeling at the end of it. The other boy's team was squarely beaten but he was upbeat given he had a good match, played in a new position and put some useful tackles in. The boy who lost had a better and more rewarding game. Call me old fashioned but having read the press this week most of the England team, management and the RFU still don't get it, (and this is the last I'll say about England). 

It wasn't leaving the tournament early that has made people up and down the country in the clubs and schools angry; it's the manner of the defeat. Play, play as hard as you can and if you're going down don't make it easy for them. On that basis, supporters from inumerable other countries enjoyed a more fulfilling tournament, Russia, Japan and Canada are just a few worth throwing out there.

Anyway, over to the Welsh. I'll be joined by a few friends to enjoy some sausages, (formerly known as the pigs Mac & Mabel), an ale and will do my best to be big hearted and support Wales. Not much of a choice emotionally is there, Wales or France but not for me the churlish attitude of the Andy Murrays of the world, (support anyone playing England), so for 80 mins I'll be a boyo. Good luck to them.

In the highly unlikely event that any passing Welshman doesn't know the rules then heres a refresher. Have a great weekend!

Rugby World Cup; Bugger.

 

 

I got up early on Saturday, lit the fire and watched the Welsh play with skill, verve and passion. What a starter for the big match I thought. Note to myself -  Stop thinking so much on Saturday mornings. Rarely have I been so deflated after a match. The shower who played on Saturday, who worked so hard to cheerfully emulate their wendy-ball contemporaries, were a disgrace and stain on the inalienable hard won birthright of every Englishman to bury French ambition.

I’m reminded of that great quote from JPR Williams after Wales were thumped by the Aussies in 1984, No leadership, no ideas. Not even enough imagination to thump someone in the line-up when the ref wasn’t looking.”

Johnson has failed, partly due to some trendy modern thinking which means he’s no longer allowed to beat the living daylights out of his underperforming players but mostly, because he’s not very good. Not only is Johnson deluded in his assessment of the team’s performance but so I’m afraid were the rest of us who allowed ourselves to think that it would all be all right on the day despite the damming evidence that has been in front of us since the group matches began, and if the truth be told, for some considerable time before.

The only consolation is that since 1995 every winning RWC team exited in the previous RWC quarters.