Ping pong pinball


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!


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?


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…..

It started with a kick…


Well the season proper has kicked off and the World Cup is on the cusp of monopolising the next six weeks. The Aussies have announced their pedigree to lift the Webb Ellis again and send the All Blacks into another four years of therapy. England finished off Ireland’s hopes and left them in a record low of eighth on the IRB Rankings – their lowest ever position.

The Wallabies victory was memorable for the role reversal in approach – with Australia running the ball and looking to counter attack at every opportunity. The blew New Zealand off the park in the first 40 mins before taking the foot of the pedal after the break. The main talking point was the innocuous knee to the head of Richie McCaw by Quade Cooper.

The attempt was pretty lame, but deliberate and Cooper was lucky (and relived) to be cleared by the citiing committee post match. The Aussies now enter the World Cup as growing favourites to win a third title.

Whilst the players and spectators prepare for the tournament to start, the rest of us have started a new season at grass roots. Following on from three good warm-up matches, the weekend saw the first round of the county cup competition. I took charge of a good local derby which turned out to be a tense affair in which the tumultuous weather played second fiddle to a bizarre incident late in the match.

After a break from their own line, the away team galloped up field before their dashing winger was tackled heavily into touch. This tackle was taken in poor spirit by the other players and the obligatory derby handbags were waved. During the episode their was an attempt to re-enact the ‘karate kid’ by one of the home team, leading to stunned silence from all present and an early bath. It was an odd moment in a brilliant match, which the home side managed to pinch at the death, playing out of their skins with a player short.

This week sees the obligatory RFU fitness (frustration!) test and then a trip down the M62 for another local derby. Hopefully they will stick to just kicking the ball and not each other….

Do or do not. There is no TRY!


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!

Abstain for the game!


Lent is traditionally the time when we all consider giving up our guilty pleasures for a short period. An abstinence to purge the mind, body and soul. Sometimes too, as the hallowed clock strikes the strokes of midnight to usher in the New Year, we slur some drunken resolution to kick a bad habit. It seems the Kiwi’s have gone a step further…

In order to get the country behind the All Blacks in their bid to win the World Cup (now just 21 sleeps away!) New Zealand Telecom are promoting “Abstain for the game”… In effect, give up the sheep shagging for the entire duration of the competition and help the ABs lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.

You have got to ask yourself – what the hell does refraining from sex have anything to do with the team winning? You could understand the players getting a ban – but the whole country? Is this a subtle but not very effective teenage pregnancy decoy – or was there a massive baby boom 27 years ago that they dont wish to repeat in the current economic climate.

It’ll make the post Try celebrations a little more interesting, the ABs pile on top of one another like footballers, this could be considered a bit of dry humping and surely lead to a ban?! Perhaps all the opposition need to do is bring in some hot, nubile ladies (and sheep for the front row) to distract the under-sexed ABs?!

Rocky Elsom already seems to have got in on the act as he has given up the captaincy of the Wallabies (or had it stripped from him) – which seems staggering given how close the start of the tournament is, and does not bode well for their camp.

Meanwhile, whilst BlackKitGate cools down, the Kiwis are now focusing their shirt wearing wrath at Addidas as a price war has broken out over the cost of replica All Black shirts.

Its probably cheaper to buy the England or Wales away kit instead!

The Jackson 10


Whilst the All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup with a convincing win over the Wallabies, the real talking point was the appointment of Glen Jackson as Assistant Referee for his first international outing.

Jackson hung up his boots in 2010 after playing 130 matches for Saracens, and having played for Bay of Plenty and Chiefs before the North London side. He was a fantastic player, and whilst he represented New Zealand Maori, he was unfortunate not to get higher international honours. Well it appears that the NZRFU and IRB might make that dream come true – as a referee.

The game needs referees who have played at the highest levels, as they bring a greater understanding and empathy for the game – understanding the pressures the players and teams face on the biggest stage.

Also making a rapid return to international rugby was Kiwi bad boy Steve Walsh. Walsh who became notorious for his on and off field antics, which led to a ban during the 2003 World Cup and then led to him being effectively fired by the NZRFU and IRB after allegedly turning up to a conference intoxicated. Since then he has reformed and now represents Australia as a ref – and has been appointed to the 2011 World Cup, the rugby equivalent of Lazarus returned from the dead!

And whilst the international boys were warming up for the coming season, I also strapped on my boots for the first time. Conditions were perfect as two National League sides blew out the summer cobwebs in a cracking, fast paced encounter.

The home side, who had the sharper edge in the three quarters, squandered four gilt edge changes, mostly through a lack of clinical finishing and rustiness. However, they kept creating and testing, and eventually they overran the visiting Scottish side with seven top drawer tries – whilst the Scots managed three scrappy tries through there dominant pack.

What was pleasing was that, whilst I too was rusty (and made one real clanger!) I quickly found my rhythm and felt comfortable with the pace and level of the game. Next up is another National league warm up where I hope to move through the gears a bit quicker.