Calcutta Kibosh

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I remarked to a friend the other week that I didn’t think the Six Nations was any more exciting, or the day out at Twickenham any more enjoyable, than was the case twenty-five or thirty years ago in it’s previous guise of the Five Nations. We were all reminded of those days on Saturday when England turned out at Murrayfield for an old fashioned leathering the likes of which we had naively thought had been consigned to the past. In future years they won’t remember the shoeing that Scotland took at Twickenham last year. Saturday’s match though will be talked about in fifty years time as possibly one of the best, if not the best, Scottish performance ever on a rugby field.

The mantra I have always inculcated in the kids is that when a bad thing happens, it isn’t the bad thing that defines you; it is the way you react to it. So we shall see with England. In time we may see Saturday’s comprehensive defeat as the best possible thing to happen to this English team on the World Cup journey. For Scotland, who have always been hostage to high national expectation, the best outcome of these championships would be to see more youngsters flooding into their local clubs and increased sponsorship coming into the game there. The game in Scotland has been in the shadows for far too long and it is good for rugby that they are once again ascendant under Townsend's leadership.

Happy

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Jonah Lomu

Jonah during the 1999 Rugby World Cup Semi-final against France, scoring two incredible individual tries. The first try running straight at six to seven defenders, being unable to stop him and scoring the try. The second running past, fending and stepping french defenders and scoring his second try.

The word 'Legend,' is used liberally these days to describe sportsmen. Jonah was the real deal. Such was his talent he elevated himself beyond the All Blacks and became the property of every rugby loving fan across the world. 

The clip above, from the NZ v France semi final at Twickenham in 1999, is one I recall well. It remains the best live match I've ever seen. Who could forgot watching the man? Open mouthed astonishment is how I would describe my reaction. Bodies everywhere.

Remembered with respect and affection.

 

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.

Rosie Digs Deep

Time for another update from dear and brave friend Rosie who is currently knee deep in the trenches in her fight against breast cancer. Cue Rosie and action...................!

'Chemo is vile. I appreciate the fact it's supposed to suck the life out of cancer... but I wish it didn't have to suck the life out of me.  It’s like being drowned 1 week in every 3… or the medical equivalent of being wrapped in loft insulation material whilst simultaneously being hit over the head with a steel-plated breeze block.  This is the sad, mad week when I sleep a lot… cry a lot… and swear a lot.  The total antithesis of brave.  It has even spawned a new type of irritating telephone call; forget “Drink and Dial”, try the “Phone and Moan”…

A lot of moaning this cycle… I am now officially bald.  24 hours before our Silver Wedding Anniversary, my hair exited stage left (and right and centre).  Deeply distressing as plans for our Silver celebrations had already been seriously compromised and downgraded, so the prospect of having to commemorate 25 years of wedded bliss without any hair was the final insult.  I didn’t feel very pretty…. or as L’Oreal would have me believe: “Worth it”. 

Praise be for the ‘Guinea Wig’ as it is now affectionately known; together we sashayed into Godalming’s finest Italian and I think we just about got away with it… 

I have a few wispy strands left… my Mother (who does a fine sideline in hairdressing) came to my rescue and cut what is left very short. Amazingly, despite being shorn, what remains is still trying to curl - defiant to the last.  I look like a dandelion puff…  On the bright side - I can no longer have a “bad hair day” as the Guinea Wig is always perfect and I have definitely shaved my legs for the last time this side of Christmas.  Say what you like about side effects, there is no denying that chemotherapy offers the ultimate in chemical depilatory systems.  So much more efficient than Immac….

And what of the eponymous villain of the piece? Essentially "under surveillance" ...  I have had baseline MRI's, ultrasound and tiny titanium markers inserted to monitor every movement.  In my wild and vivid imagination, Alf is a rather hideous cartoon criminal lying on a deckchair sipping a cocktail thinking all is safe and sound on Costa del Breast.  Right now we have just got to the part where Alf realises the cocktail is spiked, has dropped the glass and is rolling around underneath said deckchair clutching its throat.... Keep choking Alf, keep choking...

Cycle 3 looms tomorrow ... but in the meantime with breast cancer all over the media this cycle, I leave you with : -

The Good : -  More people today are beating cancer than ever before.....

The Bad : - but RIP Jackie Collins - glamorous to the last....and

The Ugly : - ....However fabulous the performances, I don't think "Missing You Already" is a film the we need to see any time soon....'

As a complete aside, (this is me now not Rosie), on the memorable 2011 'Ken & Barbie' Haslemere Rugby Club under 16's tour to Gloucestershire we stopped off at a service station on the M4. When we were walking back to the coach an old dear stepped forward and said, 'It's so nice all your boys are wearing pink and supporting breast cancer.' Absolutely Madam, absolutely.

 

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. 

What a Weekend!

The end of a memorable weekend, (who wouldn't want to be at Kingsholm on Wednesday?). The Rugby World Cup is off to a ripping start and lets polish off the weekend with a quick fire clip.

If I have a dream....... this is pretty much where it's at

Some lost souls may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Rest easy, I'm here to help. The instructional video dug out from the last World Cup above will teach you all you need to know to enjoy the games. Do try and concentrate, please.

Happy Days!

Remind me again, why is everyone whinging about French rugby.......... looks in great nick to me.

Happy Friday and it's off to Headquarters tomorrow for the France match. I'm so excited I could scream like a little girl with her fingers trapped in a car door. Bit pathetic really for a middle aged man but there we have it. The recurring joy of three pints of Guinness before and after a game shared with 82,000 like minded souls is a joy to cherish and one that remains undimmed, unlike most other things in my life.

Of course the odd stick is thrown into the spokes but we never quite fall off. Twickenham itself doesn't help with its ridiculous DJ prompting, ersatz piped singing and fireworks before kick off which is all as banal as it is unnecessary. Just leave the crowd be and the rugby will take care of the atmosphere. The growing "Engurland," element in the crowd is contemptible and so far resisting all attempts at retraining but we'll get there. Other gripes include the £1 deposit for a beer glass which effectively has just increased the queues and people who hold up queues even more when they pay for a beer with cards, "no, go away unwashed student person.... we don't use cards for a beer," and the loud mouthed Welshman that I always seem to have sitting behind me, wherever I am in the stadium, giving me a running commentary. 

I was going to add to this some negative comments about the "kicking" game which is in vogue this year. I find it as irritating now as I did when Jonathan Webb used to hoof the ball down the park in the late eighties / early nineties in a two man game of aerial ping pong. I was going to say these things come in cycles. Actually, having taken a cursory look at the stats, I would have been talking drivel which, is not at all unusual. 

With thanks to rugbyworld.com, we discover that in the England game, Ireland kicked the ball 38 times. Since 2009, a sample of 99 matches, we also see that a total of 38 kicks is the 21st highest in that period and the same number that England recorded against Wales last year. While there has been more talk on the subject the actual number of kicks in the games is pretty consistent. You can read more about the geeky stats at rugby world, (games catching up with American Football in the statistician department). I wanted though, to make a very simple point. Much sports media attention, and after match pub chat has focused throughout the tournament on the use of kicks from both an attacking and defensive perspective. There is just one wee, incy, wincy flaw in this Northern Hemisphere introspection.

Luke Morahan against the Lions in 2013; "they keep giving me the ball boss"

That would be the Southern Hemisphere currently licking their lips at the prospect of all these high balls raining down on them, gifting possession. 

Philippe Saint-Andre - taking it all on the chin at the moment but for years had us on the edge of our seats.... for all the wrong reasons!

I also wanted to just mention the French who have been in a world of pain and confusion in recent years. Some of the best and most memorable rugby I've ever watched has been with Les Bleus as it has for us all, (France v NZ 1999 at Twickenham, best match I've ever witnessed). Obviously, England fans know all about pain and confusion so I wanted to tip my hat to Philippe Saint-Andre who, rightly or wrongly, is enduring the worst of it and his 1991 try against England, voted in England's centenary year, 2009, the best try ever scored against us at Twickenham.