Category Archives: Analysis

Bye Bye Bryce..?

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International condemnation for Bryce Lawrence has continued to gather momentum and he has now been overlooked for the semi-finals, and seemingly the final, by the IRB. Pressure from rugby fans has also led to a Facebook campaign for action to be taken and Bryce Lawrence himself is reported to be considering quitting the game.

It says something about the way sport and media (and social media) has changed and referees are under far more scrutiny than ever before.

The fundamental difference between Bryce Lawrence’s performances and other refereeing mistakes (Wayne Barnes for example) is that on the whole other mistakes are just that – a blip in the game – and players/coaches/fans are mature enough to realise that their team made more mistakes that cost them the game than a refereeing blemish.

Bryce Lawrence has just looked out of his depth for the entire tournament (and in reality before it) and the IRB need to realise they made a mistake in appointing him.

Given the catalouge of issues that have gone before in his performances, from the Lions in 2009 to the recent Australia v Ireland World Cup pool match, it is no wonder that the pressure is beginning to take its toll.

Refereeing is more about the mental fitness than the physical – and Bryce has sadly demonstrated that his current approach is wrong – particularly compared to some of his contemporaries – Nigel Owens, Alain Rolland and Craig Joubert (who has been fantastic and could be a good bet to ref the final).

It would be sad if Bryce Lawrence quits all forms of the game – but it is probably right that the IRB take a view and reconsider his involvement at the highest level.

All referees have car crash games, where everything goes wrong, but Bryce is a metaphorical regular pile-up! You wouldn’t allow such incompetent drivers on the road and the IRB shouldn’t encourage the same from their elite.

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Ping pong pinball

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A weekend of cracking rugby in which the conditions had a significant role to play. On Saturday I ventured to deepest, darkest Lancashire to take charge of Rochdale v Carlisle in North West One.

The Rochdale clubs set up is first class, with a state-of-the-art club house and changing facilities and a maximum size pitch – big enough for 30 a-side! Situated on the top of a hill, the club commands views across the stunning Lancashire countryside…or at least it does when the rain isnt pelting down like a tropical monsoon, with thick low lying cloud, dark and brooding and promising plentiful rain.

The game was played at a good pace, with both teams combating the elements as much as each other. The ruck and tackle was evenly contested and the scrums, of which there were plentiful, were brilliantly competed with no issues at all. Event the scrum-halves put the ball in with spirit level straightness! A well worked try from a driving maul gave the home side an early 5-0 lead, with the conversion inexplicably missed, in what was about to become the routine for the whole weekend.

Carlisle gritted teeth and used the wind and rain at their backs as an attritional 16th man, and brought themselves back into the game with two well struck kicks from rare penalties. The match was on a knife edge: 5-6 at half time and the score remained the same as the last 10 minutes began to count down on the clock.

An audacious and somewhat speculative grubber kick through the defence saw the Rochdale winger sear through two defenders and timed his dive to collect the bouncing ball as it reached the try line to break Carlisle hearts. The conversion ricochaid of the right hand post and onto the crossbar before flopping over for the two points.

Carlisle gathered themselves to score a good try of their own from a line out, but again the conversion attempt smashed into the sticks, this time flying back into play. From the restart Rochdale gathered and moved the ball wide and with pace, finally playing some rugby and scoring by the posts. The conversion hit the crossbar and bounced back at the kicker. Two more tries were run in during the last two minutes, both conversions missed – both in front of the posts!

And so to Sunday. Caldy U19 v Manchester U19 played under blue skies and mid-20s temperatures. A much faster tempo to the game with both teams eager to run from everywhere (including two tries that started under their own posts). Manchester were by far the fitter, bigger and quicker team and scored six top drawer tries, all from distance and all after going through several phases and numerous hands.

However, they had clearly not practiced any kicking, as all six conversions, all in front of the posts, were missed. And not marginally missed. One attempt hit the corner flag!

The highlight comedy moment was the Manchester wing who, with more hubris than humour, celebrated his “try” 20 meters from the line and then gave a huge Chris Ashton style dive – only to drop the ball over the line!

So from a weekend were even those with broken legs can kick, to a week were everyone had two left feet… Off to Gloucester for next weekend so god only knows what that will hold!

Snap, Crackle, Pop!

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Sporting heroes and legends are born out of a combination of extreme talent that is put into extraordinary circumstances, putting the need of others before themselves. Whilst this is term is perhaps overused, a local legend was created last weekend.

During an intense local derby, where the lead changed hands several times, one player stood out and orchestrated a deserved victory with an outstanding individual performance. The fly-half kicked three penalties and set up their only try, as well as marshaling his team as they overcame their rivals by a solitary point.

However, with just 10 minutes gone in the second half, an innocuous tackle led to an extraordinary act. As the fly-half made a break into the opposition 22m he was hauled down, and a loud *POP* rang out. Fearing a serious injury I stopped play and medical treatment was called for – but the fly-half shrugged it off and was happy to play on. However, he has broken his tibia in his lower leg.

Not only did he play on, he kicked the winning penalty in the dying moments of the game! The player concerned has played at the highest level, representing his country and being instrumental in winning the Heineken Cup in 2001, but this was an incredible effort for anyone.

With echos of legends past, like the 1956 FA Cup Final where Manchester City goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann, continued playing despite breaking his neck in a collision with Birmingham’s Peter Murphy.

Or Colin Cowdry coming out to bat for England in a test against the fearsome West Indies with a broken wrist, barely able to hold the bat in 1963. Or Paul Terry who repeated a similar feat in 1984 to allow Allan Lamb reach 100 and to help England reach the follow on.

Or Sale Shark legend Steve Hanley, who remains the youngest player to ever score on their international debut (and the highest try scorer in Premiership history), who broke his arm early in the match and played on in 1999 in the famous loss to Wales at Wembley.

To get to the top you’ve got to have the X-Factor. Clearly the inability to register pain is one of them…

Dr Heimlich, I Presume?

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In only a few days’ time the first whistle will be blown (by George Clancy of Ireland) to start the first of forty-eight games in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The pressure is mounting on the hosts. They have suffered two consecutive defeats in the Tri-Nations, including the humiliating loss to Australia in the final round to see the trophy ripped from their seemingly firm grasp.

They are also attempting to secure the Web Ellis Trophy for only the second time, despite being favourites for practically every World Cup to date. They are also hosting the event in their own back yard so failure is not an option. With all this pressure the All Blacks must be feeling a little nervy.

With new injury concerns in the back row – with cover being provided by second row Sam Whitelock – and a nation out of love with Sonny Bill Williams they are already creating the platform from which to launch their excuses.

In a desperate attempt to boost morale (of club and country) and to avoid the ritual (and habitual) dismissal from the competition they have called in specialist medical cover from the famed Dr Heimlich.

Dr Heimlich, despite his age of 91, is not to be underestimated as a valuable asset to the aspiring 2011 All Blacks Squad. Whilst he may not be called upon until the knock out stages (although he may appear on 24 Sept in the All Blacks v France match) his intimate and expert knowledge of his ‘maneuverer’ may prevent them from choking this year. Only time will tell if this gamble by Graham Henry will pay dividends or simply another round of P45’s…..

Do or do not. There is no TRY!

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The All Blacks were well beaten in an old fashion tussle in their Tri-Nations match against the Boks in Port Elizabeth. It was their first loss of the season, but the ABs looked over confident and somewhat arrogant in their approach, resting several key players. However, there is a lack of depth to this side on this showing, which will worry the home faithful – with New Zealand favourites to win the World Cup next month.

However, the biggest talking point of the game came when Jimmy Cowan appreared to have scored a dodgy try. Israel Dagg had been hauled down just short after a scintillating break, and popped the ball up (and three meters forward) to Cowan to dive over the line.

First thing first. Its staggering how many elite players cannot pass the ball backwards. These are internationals, they know what they are doing. Its unbelievable the poor level of skill they demonstrate at times.

Now, back to the try. Referee George Clancy was clearly unsure and Kiwi/English Assistant Ref Andrew Small – who was in perfect position, was of no help (as usual) and so Clancy went to the TMO Johan Meuwesen.

After telling Clancy that there was no problem with the grounding he then offered some further advice: “Do you need any other information before the goal line?”. “ummmm. Sure!” said Clancy. The TMO informed the Ref there was a forward pass. Clancy ruled the forward pass without hesitation.

Now this was the right thing to do. It was a forward pass. Had the try stood it would have been a travesty. The Kiwi press were mixed – but most lambasted the officials for going outside agreed protocols. Paddy O’Brien, IRB Head of Referees was furious and said the matter will be reviewed.

Paddy is himself a Kiwi, a once great referee, but he may be a little more partisan than he should – particularly when you consider he was one of the driving forces behind promoting fellow Kiwis Andrew Small and Bryce Lawrenson to International status – both still totally out of their depth.

Graham Henry was gracious in defeat, stating that if it was a forward pass then it shouldn’t have been a try. The IRB need to get to grips and help referees further. If it is clear that something has occurred in the act of scoring the try then they should be allowed to intervene.

Given that the majority of referees will never have the benefit of other officials or TMOs, we have to use our initiative, and as often as possible, we have to use the Force!

Big in Brazil

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There’s a new buzzword in the rugby fraternity of late, and that word is ‘Brazil’! From the land of endless sand, sea and sun comes a new boundless optimism that makes the Energiser Bunny look lame.

The Brazilian rugby team recently wowed the Twickenham crowds at the Middlesex Sevens, providing a flavour of what is to come in the next few years. The demonstrated that their footballing skills are just as sharp on a rugby pitch as they are on football pitch, scoring some outstanding tries that dazzled players and spectators alike.

But their national statistics fail to tell the real story. They are currently 28th in the World Rankings, nestled between Hong Kong and Moldova, but rising slowly and surely. Considering there are only 230 registered clubs and just over 10,000 players (out of a population of over 190 million) that’s pretty good going. They have a 100% record so far against their biggest rivals Argentina and Chile; although there is no doubt that one day they will finally win to dent this unbeaten streak.

But they have a secret weapon on their side. The 2016 Olympics, and more importantly, the inclusion of Rugby 7’s as an Olympic sport for the first time and they see this as an important stepping stone to developing this sport in the country and climbing the IRB ladder in the process.

They are a shrewd lot the Brazilians and they know it’s going to be extremely tough and that some of the disappointing results within the 15-a-side game recently speak for themselves. But I doubt that will stop them…

England looking All Black…

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After the end of the hectic season, which seemed to stretch on forever (my last competitive match was 11 June!) I took a well earned break, from both the rugby and work!

So after a stint in Italy, a week on the beach in Croatia and an adventure to Morocco (where I went to try my hand at a new sport – Kite-Surfing) I am back in the UK and already thoughts are turning to the next season.

However, I am utterly dismayed, like many people, at the never ending crisis that seems to be ubiquitous for the RFU in 2011. First we had the ‘job description‘ debacle that ultimately led to the demise of John Steele exactly one year and one day after he took up position as Chief Executive. The amateur handling and inbred infighting by the RFU management makes FIFA’s problems look average in comparison.

Next in the firing line was the RFU chairman, Martyn Thomas, who lasted only a month longer than Steele, and who was undone by the review by Judge Jeff Blackett that he himself had ordered. The report, yet to be publicly released, pretty much damned the whole RFU Board to hell, with the sole exception of Bill Beaumont. Effectively the RFU are now rudderless, hopeless and their reputation is in tatters.

So with only 54 days before the World Cup in New Zealand, England are in serious trouble, so much so the marketing team have come up with the initiative to give them a new, all black, kit! Presumably to pretend that they have nothing to do with the once proud Red Rose.

Lets hope the Board are kicked to touch before the new season kicks off….