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.
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." T.E. Lawrence; Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Back in the day, television offered less choice but more spice. Sitting down on the sofa watching Pans People on TOTP was an unspoken father and son bonding rite of passage that happened up and down the country in millions of households. Of course, in every household father and son would be too repressed and embarrassed to pass comment except perhaps for Dad to say, 'can't see what all the fuss is about myself.' Right, Dad. Legs & Co, who followed Pans People in 1976, and Hot Gossip on the Kenny Everett Show, pushed the temperature even higher and blew more than a few valves in television sets across the land. All that's gone now in our new and shiny PC world. Still, as the Autumn days become shorter and grey the odd ray of sunshine peeks through to brighten our lives, as happened on Friday when my HD flat screen suddenly went super nova.
I was channel surfing after watching the All Blacks game and came across a talk show hosted by Graham Norton. I thought for a moment that someone had sprinkled fairy dust on the television, (with Mr Norton there, a man who carries the torch for the British tradition of camp comedy, that was in fact probably the case), for on the sofa, in one delicious 'I've died and gone to heaven,' line up, we had Nigella, Nicole and Carey. Merryll Streep joined the guests which was a bit like your big sister turning up at a teenage party to tell you, 'Mum sent me to keep an eye on you.' Actually, she exudes charm, grace and poise; what is there not to love about her? Finally, a pretty wee thing, Gabrielle Aplan, glided onto the stage to sing. Now she can throw out a fair old catchy, foot tapping number I can tell you.
I strongly suspect that only a camp talk show host could get away with inviting five pretty girls on the same show and for this we must thank Mr Norton for pushing the boundaries of modern post watershed viewing. In fact, I may become a regular viewer. As for Nigella, Nicole and Carey; girls, I've got 2 tickets for the Australia v Scotland quarter final next Sunday at Twickenham. Only one of you can come and it's strictly first come first served. Graham, you're not invited.
So, for old times sake lets have a Sunday afternoon nostalgia hit and revisit the seventies with a PP clip. After all, they were about the only good and happy thing that happened in that utterly forgettable decade,
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.
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.
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.'
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...............'
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.
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.
I said in the earlier post, 'Rugby World Cup; Diet on Hold,' that '...............anything can happen. Which is why it is such a beguiling and beautiful game.'
It just did
Japan beat South Africa 34-32. It was like watching 15 mesmeric Mike Brown's play 15 steam powered, rusty Transformers in what will become an all-time classic game.
Congratulations to Japan. The Boks and the whole of South Africa will be feeling pretty beaten up tonight but actually, it is the best and most inspirational thing that could have happened not just for the tournament, but for the game across the world.
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.
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.
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.
That would be the Southern Hemisphere currently licking their lips at the prospect of all these high balls raining down on them, gifting possession.
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.
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.
Every four years a good thing happens to brighten our days, the Rugby World Cup; food for the soul and something we're actually rather good at.................... I can't bloody wait. Get your wake up app here.