Tag Archives: sunshine

Lawrence of Anomaly

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It’s tough at the top, or so they say. The reality is that actually it is tougher in the middle. The expectations placed on referees is growing at all levels of the game, and none more so than those lucky (?!) few who make the international grade.

Tomorrow England face Argentina in their opening World Cup clash in Dunedin. The most significant name on the team sheet is that of one Bryce Lawrence, the New Zealand referee charged with the arbitration of the match.

Normally the choice of referee is simply a matter of curiosity as a rugby fan, but this selection has some serious significance. England have NEVER won a game with Lawrence in charge. Coincidence? Maybe.

But then consider that the recent shock (but deserved) win of Italy over France in this year’s Six Nations had signore Lawrence at the helm. In matches with southern hemisphere versus northern hemisphere teams the south have always prevailed. Bias? Maybe.

Worst of all, Lawrence had the most significant impact on the 2009 British Lions tour to South Africa.

He officiated the first test so badly that most international press had a field day in criticising his quality and pedigree – he is after all the only New Zealand international referee (Steve Walsh in now Australian) and his dad was also an international referee.

He came into his own special league less than 60 seconds into the second British Lions test when he made the recommendation to yellow card Schalk Burger for eye gouging! Any under 9 player could tell you that contact with the eyes is a simple and straight red – a concept seemingly way beyond Lawrence. Incompetence? Maybe.

So tomorrow promises to be a tough day at the office for England. Even if a competent display is forthcoming will Lawrence favour the south over the north, the underdog over the favourite, as appears to have been is form for the last 3 years at International level. Anomaly? Maybe…..

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!

It started with a kick…

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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….

Let slip the dogs of war…

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With what seems like a blink of the eye, the new season has swung round already and Saturday will see the first outing for me to see battle joined for 2011/12.

Training has intensified, but it still feels less like Rocky Balboa and more like too many Rocky Roads in the off season! The key focus for me this season will be to improve my lineout work – which I discovered I clearly have an issue with at the end of the season when we were all asked to submit a review of our seasons assessments. How I had not picked up that lineouts were my Achilles heel is beyond me – but at least I know I can fix it.

My first two fixtures are National League sides – my first are playing a National League touring side from Scotland. Both should prove to be stern tests and provide the right warm up ahead of a hard schedule for the opening two months of the season – which includes five exchanges in the first six weeks!

Its an exciting start to the season too, as shortly after the first whistles are blown the Rugby World Cup will start in earnest in New Zealand. The All Blacks continued to underline their favourite tags with a significant thrashing of the Springboks in a bizarrely half empty stadium in Wellington.

They also unveiled their new look kit – including their new away kit. Which is all white. This after some huffing and puffing from Jonah Lomu about Englands new all black kit! This also followed on from Eddie Jones’ odd outburst about England’s chances at the World Cup (still bitter after 2003 perhaps?!) or perhaps just a lack of recent press/needs a job – this surely means David Campese will be next to come up with some utter bollocks. Given the current up and down form of the Aussies, and the fact we thumped them last time we played them, you think they’d wind their convict necks in!

For now I need to focus on the task in hand and hope I can get through my first match on Saturday.

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…

The Seven Ages of Rugby

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In 1599 Shakespeare quilled As you like it and its indelible ink has stained our consciousnesses ever thus. However, on closer inspection I think the Bard could have been describing the Seven Ages of Rugby:

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.
Translation: All the world is one great big rugby pitch and we are all players. You can be substituted or sent off! There are seven stages of evolution (except for the Welsh!).

At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Translation: Mini rugby first – with parents wailing like banshees: “snot him Jonny” they scream!

Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel, And shining morning face, creeping like snail, Unwillingly to school.
Translation: Learning rugby at school, with the disenchanted, the dangerous and the smelly kid that needs to be disinfected.

And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad, Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.
Translation: Got pissed on first rugby tour, caught something dodgy, burns like a furnace when you pee, need to see the nurse.

Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation, Even in the cannon’s mouth.

Translation: The little Jack Russell of a Scrum-Half, too slow, too fat, too lazy. Keen to fight the world, and curse and yell. Too many punches to the head have taken their toll and he can no longer see straight. Or put in straight.

And then the justice, In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d, With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws, and modern instances, And so he plays his part.

Translation: Wisdom comes late. The “darkside” whispers in your ear and draws you close. You think you know it all. You become a Referee!

The sixth age shifts, Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side, His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide, For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again towards childish treble, pipes, And whistles in his sound.
Translation: Age begins to catch up with you. Your trousers come up to your nipples. Pipe smoke and a pint of Old Mild. The whistle is hung up. You are now a Referee’s Coach .

Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Translation: Dementia kicks in like an abused Blackpool donkey. You become clueless, brainless and downright dangerous. You think cognition is onomatopoeia for the sound your car makes when you start the engine, rather than the sound the hamster wheel makes in your head . You are now the Referee Assessor.

It puts Macbeth into a new light – the first Coach of Scotland!