Archive for the ‘ Rugby ’ Category

RWC 2011: A Final Say on ITV: Steve Ryder Cares.

Given yesterday’s commentary from ITV you would have been forgiven for thinking that the British Isles had been the subject of some terrible natural disaster. A mood of misery overwhelmed the poor men in the ITV studios, as they were left with the heavy burden of having to relay the devastating news to a defeated nation. Brave, brave Steve Ryder was there to hold our hands though and nurse us through this difficult time.

Ryder wanted us all to know that they in the studio shared our pain, us poor viewers were not alone in that difficult time, that he would do his best to help us come to term with the grieving process, and that no matter how bad things seemed in the moment of that crushing defeat, we could take heart from the fact that the commentary team suffered the same agonies as those being endured by the television audience at home. But wait, what we were all supposed to be so sad about…?

In one final, epic effort of indulgence that firmly shoved two fingers up to the other home nations, anyone of an impartial nature, and certainly to any French fans unfortunate enough to be left relying on ITV for their World Cup coverage, ITV veritably vomited their disappointment that England, World Champions elect, had failed in their duty to the nation, to overwhelm all opposition with the most mundane of performances. Yet, many of those tuning in were Welsh and Irish, many of those tuning in were in no need of a comforting pat on the back from Steve Ryder, not in the slightest.

It would be interesting to garner the views of the English rugby community regarding ITV. Do they love it? Do they find every nonsensical reference to England regardless of their relevance to the subject matter, a moment for giddy joy? Do they wonder why, given the enthusiasm that ITV have for their beloved Red Rose, why on earth so many other non England fans have such an issue with them? After all, ITV kept telling us how good England were, they kept assuring everyone that England were certain to waltz into the final. Well, whatever they think, the rest of us hate it. We hate the constant talking up of a team that offered nothing, we hate the constant references to the English during games not involving them, we hate detailed analysis of their cliff jumping leisure pursuits while we should be talking about other rugby teams and other rugby matches.

You never know, we non English might have found the capacity for some sympathy for England’s demise, had we not had their faces forced into our living rooms during every single unit of World Cup coverage. Now, we are delighted that they are gone, we can revel in the fact that ITV have no legitimate reason to talk about the English at all from this point on (yet we know they will, again and again and again). We have no sympathy, because we never wanted them to win in the first place. Yet having been told by ITV week after week, game after game, that we should be backing England, that we should care about what they did on their days off, that we should give a damn about whether an aging flyhalf can kick a ball in a straight line or not – only served to reaffirm and consolidate our position, that we really don’t care about any of that, not one bit.

So thank you Steve Ryder, thank you for looking after us as you presumed our state of despair. I can assure you though that we were far from despairing, we were jumping, bounding out of our seats as France sealed victory, and laughing at your miserable face as you did your best to convince us that we should be sad.

Yet, we should be sad about one thing. Come the next World Cup, hosted, of course, by England, ITV will be there covering the whole thing once again. Nothing will have changed, and the four yearly cycle of having a whole host of new reasons to hate ITV will present themselves all over again.

Bugger off ITV.

RWC 2011: More Style as Bennett Danced to the Tune of Victory.

After the Halfpenny hat shuffle (http://eye-on-wales.com/2011/09/18/rwc-2011-a-try-of-fortune-and-style/), Wales added a touch more style to this years’ World Cup, as Huw Bennett brought a unique little shuffle to the celebrations, following victory over Ireland. Fist pumping and leaping is the usual path for post match celebration, but Bennett has clearly been in front of the mirror practising a brand new victory dance. Involving a bounce, and a lift knee lift, Bennett has created a dance move that, although unlikely to be seen in the South Wales valley clubs anytime soon, will hopefully be seen at least one or two more times as Wales continue their push for World Cup victory.

Who knows, a win or two more and maybe we will all be doing the Bennett shuffle…

RWC 2011: Wales Dispel the Irish Myth.

 Going into Saturday’s quarter finals, all the talk had come to focus on Ireland. Ireland were the side that would conquer the world, this being the time in which their legendary generation of players, at their final career hurdle, would rise to the occasion and achieve their predetermined destiny of World Cup greatness. We were told Irish experience would win the day, we were told the Irish front row would be too strong, the Irish second row would steal all the ball, that the Irish backrow, the best backrow in the world they said, would crush Welsh ambition, while the ability of BoD, RoG, Darcy and such would be too much for the youngsters of Wales, this is what we were told would bring the Irish glory at least.

As things transpired, the exact opposite happened. Wales were the ones to look ripe with experience, the Welsh front row consumed their opponents, the second row competed, while the backrow, whether the best in the world or not, certainly showed that the much vaunted Irish equivalents have, at the very least, work to do to be able to boast such a title. Then there were the backs. For Wales, the pre match talk had obsessed about North, yet this would be one of his quietest games of the cup so far. Instead, the game turned out to be one of redemption for Mike Phillips. The scrum half has been pressurised from all sides, inside and outside of the squad, for some time, yet managed to produce his finest performance in a red jersey since he spearheaded a second half recovery in Twickenham in 2008. His efforts, completed with a magnificent dive for Wales’ second score, were symbolic of the changed attitude which has brought Wales to this point in the tournament.

Wales looked good, very good, and had the boot of Priestland been less hampered by wind and post, the scoreline would have better reflected just how dominate Wales had been over their much vaunted opposition. Looking ahead, France come next, and while they always remain a potent threat, England knocked so many lumps out of the resurgent men in blue, that Wales, with their fitness continuing to be a 16th man on the field, should once again find themselves free of fear. A position in the final is possible, Wales can go further than they have ever been before, but contemplation on this must be left for another time. For now the nation must celebrate, celebrate a victory hard earned, and totally deserved. World Cup semi final appearances are very rare things for Welsh teams, and our mere presence there is reason enough to wake up tomorrow with a smile.

Well done boys, you continue to do us proud.

RWC 2011: Wales need feel no fear in knock out stages.

 For many, the rugby world cup in New Zealand has been one of redemption for Wales. Increasingly impressive results over Samoa and Fiji have put to bed any lingering concerns regarding the mental fragility of this squad, and broken a hoodoo to have held back Welsh rugby teams at the highest level for nearly two decades. In their comprehensive route of Fiji, Wales managed to produce, not a perfect performances, but something verging on a complete performances. Attack and defence, ruck and maul, scrum and lineout, Wales controlled it all, and did so for 80 minutes. Unlike certain teams though, Wales this time were not waiting for their opponents to tire as the game went on to put away the points, the job was down in the first forty, yet with the result in the bag, the points kept coming, as the so called ‘tier 1’, mentality came into the Welsh game.

Next up is Ireland, and if you take the pundits views, it would seem Wales need not bother turning up, Irish experience is going to win the day. ITV’s dreadful world cup coverage has been covered in detail elsewhere (http://oneeyeonwales.blogspot.com/2011/09/hating-itv-at-rwc2011.html), but according to that particular commentary team, Ireland will ease to victory, while England will prove too much for both the French and Irish, and ease into the final. What these assessments is based on is hard to determine.

It should not be ignored that this will be Wales’ toughest fixture, knockout rugby brings more pressure, Ireland come in with their much vaunted experience and a squad with a track record in such stages of tournaments and of course, on paper, Ireland hold the better recent run of results over stronger opponents and a higher world ranking. But there is very little for Wales to fear. Ireland come into the quarter finals with a pack that is remembering how to play tight, one channel rugby, with backs that are slowly reminding themselves how to finish, and a truly world class back row, against Italy much of this came together to finish off the Azzuri with some style. But Wales are not Italy.

This column has been amongst the first, and repeatedly so, to mock the constant talk of team fitness coming out of the Wales camp. Fitness this, Polish training camp that, they went on, a first match warm up defeat to England did little to espouse the value of such merits. Yet as this tournament has progressed, that fitness has shone through game by game. Wales are finishing teams off, and by 80 minutes, look like they could go for another 40 minutes. Others in this tournament have been blowing, and hard, by the final whistle. There is much for Wales to cite as a strength going into the knock out stages, a strong pack, backed up by a lineout dominating Charteris, who behind him has three of the most exciting backrow players to enter the world stage since, well, since the respective Irish trio. Yet, as devastating as the Welsh forwards, led by Warburton, they need only find parity for the Welsh backline to open up Ireland, with a strength and speed not seen in many other teams. Roberts, North, Halfpenny and Williams (Shane that is), have now been joined by Scott Williams, the latest of a prodigious backline of Welsh attacking talent. If the names listed here do not give Ireland cause for concern, then they have not been doing their homework. As stressed at the start of this tournament, Wales will see the true potential of this backline in the 2015 world cup, but their ability at the moment, to break open defences, be it from first phase, broken play, or on the back foot, should be frightening. But put all of this to one side, it is the fitness that should really concern Ireland. Wales will be hitting them for 80 minutes like no team has done so in New Zealand so far. That goes for Australia as well, who suffered without the presence of David Pocock. Wales have no injury concerns, and a wealth of talent at their disposal that simply won’t tire.

While it would seem that everyone has settled on Ireland to simply turn up, use some of that much relied upon experience, and ease away, judging teams on form and ability, there is at the very least no reason for Wales to fear the Irish challenge, and plenty of reason to think that it will be a red and white semi final, rather than a green and white one.

(That is to suggest England will come through their quarter final. However, France are always due one stellar performance, they give one, and only one in every world cup – it hasn’t happened yet, and as things stand, they only have one chance to do it now, so who knows…)

RWC 2011: Wales in record win, but fail to impress?

Wales served up yet another frustrating performance, yet managed to establish a number of records in dispatching a wearying Namibian team. What Gatland will make of his team’s efforts will be very difficult to gauge, after all, it is not every day you dispatch a team by some eighty points and record twelve tries in the process. Indeed, South Africa managed almost the exact same score line and were generally applauded for their efforts, so why is there margin for grumbles for the Wales camp today?

Simply, and without wanting to indulge in clichés, Wales offered a game of two halves. The first was uncertain, rushed, lacking in polish, a disjointed affair that helped to make Namibia look a much better team than they were on the day. The second half, an enjoyable romp, as first team players arrived on the scene and stretched their legs against a shattered Namibian team who had taken more tackles than they will face again in their next three games combined.

With the numbers of changes made to the starting line up, Wales might have been forgiven for the odd lapse in concentration, the odd ball not reaching its man, but this was not at the heart of Wales’ early struggles. Indeed, there were no early struggles as Wales played a fast game, forcing Namibia into mistakes which returned three convincing early scores. Yet with those early breakthroughs, the Welsh mentality turned to one of complacency. ‘If we take it up the middle, we’ll probably score’. The mental side of Wales’ game went missing, and with it went the scoring opportunities.

Come the second half, and what one hopes was a stern dressing down in the changing rooms, Wales restarted the game with for more direction and urgency, and it did not take long for the Namibian defence to wilt. Some sixty second half points is an achievement in its own right, and Wales will take heart that, as other tier 1 nations have slowed their scoring towards the end of matches, the Welsh fitness came through again, to leave the Namibian try line chequered with divots from try scorer after try scorer.  

In the end, it was largely the score line that everyone in Wales wanted, even if the scoring had to come predominantly in one half of the game. In terms of performances, well, players like Scott Williams will have done their reputation no harm at all with the running in of three tries, but others failed to set the world alight. The front row failed to cause the damage that would have been expected from the scrum in the first half, Charteris was notable through his absence in the lineout, regardless of how tall the Namibian second row might have been, while the backline, as a creative unit, simply didn’t have the spark required to breakdown the Namibians  from first phase play. Now, with players such as Stephen Jones, Tavis Knoyle and Lee Bryne, we might argue that this was their first game of the tournament and rustiness might be expected, on the other hand, this was their best chance to shine before final selection against Fiji. On the evidence of the first half at least, few players have put their hand up for selection next week (Scott Williams aside). During the second half, figures like Gethin Jenkins came into their own, and the front row replacements, technically Wales’ third choice front row, exploded with energy and rampaged across the field. George North and Lloyd Williams coming off of the bench excelled as well, and in the case of Williams, may well have done enough to become another ‘on paper’ third choice player, to find himself on the bench next week as well.

Perhaps it was the changes made that caused the first half to stutter, perhaps it was the simple reality that, try as they might, players like Aled Brew and Lloyd Burns just are not up to the test of international rugby, whatever the case might be, and however enjoyable the second half turned out to be, apart from enforced changes, it seems unlikely that the team who faced South Africa and Samoa, will be losing much sleep over their positions in the starting line up for Fiji.

Star Turns: Scott Williams and George North gave exhibitions in attacking and finishing.

Damp squibs: Aled Brew’s handling let him down, Lloyd Burns seemed off the pace against Namibia even, while Andy Powell continues to make poor decisions and throw passes wherever his sprit takes – which more often than not is not towards Welsh hands.

RWC2011: Save the bagpipes!

So, those malevolent Scots and their evil brain washing bagpipes have finally been given the boot from the Rugby World Cup. Such is the power of the bagpipe, with its ability to unnerve, distract, confused and intimidate the on-field opposition, that the organisers of the tournament have thrown out the windy instrument. It is also said that a Scots rugby player, upon hearing the loud whine of a bagpipe, can produce performance levels upwards of 12% higher than usual match day efforts. All of which is of course a nonsense, apart from the bagpipe ban that is, which, although being a nonsensical decision, is still actually happening.

RWC have stressed that the ban actually covers all musical instruments, and is therefore not an effort to single out the bagpipe, however, anyone watching Russia vs Italy today, will have been hard pressed to not notice the French horn blast out after every single restart. Now should a blanket ban to instruments be applied, surely the French horn should have been snaffled up by an eager steward? Sneaking it in is one thing, but seeing as it was played on no less than 10 occasions (minimum) it could easily have been found and thrown out, yet it was not. Perhaps constructing some manner of pocket sized bagpipe is the answer?

Now, I should clarify something here, I can’t stand bagpipes, never had and never will. The noise produced by those dreadful sacks of pipes is a horror on my audio centres. Yet, even with my deep seated dread at the noise of a bagpipe, I can still acknowledge, that at a match including a Scottish team at the very least, pipes should be heard. It is part and parcel of the rugby atmosphere, and should not be compromised. So horns, hooters and those ridiculous vuvuzelas should indeed be pounded out of the grounds, they are not required and do more to cripple the atmosphere of a stadium than raise it. But the bagpipe, just as with the French horn, should certainly be made welcome. Their absence, indeed, their enforced absence, strikes as an administrative aberration. If you want to help spectators, ban booing, ban people going to the toilet and from getting a beer during the eighty minutes of play, ban crap referees from crippling games with their terrible officiating, but done ban the music, don’t ban the instruments that have helped raise the spirit and atmosphere of rugby crowds for generations.

There can be only one logical resolution to this – raise the ban on bagpipes, raise it on all musical instruments that are not made out of plastic. Let the rugby crowds be rugby crowds, and don’t try and turn the act of watching rugby into some manner of passive act akin to shuffling quietly through a library.

Save the pipes, however dreadful they might sound!

RWC 2011: A Try of Fortune and Style…

Despite a report on Wales victory over Samoa already having been produced, special attention is required for Wales’ only try, scored by Shane Williams, not so much for the finish, executed in perfect manner by Williams, but by the contributions by the two players in the  build up to the crucial score.

First up, Leigh Halfpenny, a wonderful Welsh wing who has a huge future in the starting line-up, once Shane does finally decide to pack it all in. Out for much of the last season with injury, and possibly fortunate to be at the World Cup with limited game time behind him, Halfpenny looked assured in defence and dangerous going forward against Samoa. But as he broke through three Samoan tackles to launch the surge up field that secured victory for Wales, there was one wonderful moment which highlighted just how fast Halfpenny is. With Samoans bearing down on him from all corners, Halfpenny still had time to slow down and adjust his scrumcap. While likely done as an aid to his line of sight, one hopes just a little bit that this was a spilt-second fashion based adjustment, making sure that everything looked good in-front of the cameras before making headway downfield.

Secondly, Jon Davies. Brilliant support running to back Halfpenny up, and great running to commit the remaining defenders, but then that pass. Davies had a look on his face, as if to say ‘there’s probably going to be somebody out there, let’s chuck it’. There was no obvious need to throw a blind pass, the Samoan was going to tackle him, after all, the defender was a Samoan, he was going to hit the nearest red shirt to him, the two Welsh men outside were safe. Still he threw blind, and could so easily have cost Wales their one and only try scoring chance.

So a touch of style, and a touch of luck, not forgetting of course a touch of class in Shane’s finish.

Well done Wales.

RWC 2011: Wales battle to cheer the Nation.

Finally, finally Wales produce the victory over a South Seas Nation in a World Cup that Welsh rugby supporters have longed for. It has been a very long time in the making, and so nearly failed to materialise again today, as Samoa did exactly what was expected of them, and came within a whisker of battering their way at close quarters to a third World Cup victory over Wales on the bounce. Yet Wales, with the finishing touch put on an unlikely breakaway try by Shane Williams, managed to hold on to their dream of progressing to the knockout stages once more.

It was not though the same Wales that dominated the World Champions last week, no longer do the men in red fly the European flag, an honour now held aloft by the Irish after they rediscovered their grand slam form from a couple of years back. It was a nervous, edge and unconfident Welsh team who were bullied in the contact area. It cannot be overstressed though that losing Dan Lydiate was huge for Wales. His physicality and work on the floor helped keep Samoa in check early on, when he left, Samoa were given an almost free ride at the breakdown. Andy Powell. The name is almost a question in Wales following his squad selection, and none of his contributions today indicated that his positions in the squad is anything other than a mistake.

In general though, Wales were outplayed for much of the first half, and Samoa were unlucky to have claimed scores on two occasions before the line was finally broken. Fortunately for Wales, brains and the bench played their part. The game plan changed, and the ball saw more trips to the sidelines, both in kicks to touch and passes to the wings, as Wales tried to keep the ball away from the contact zone that so troubled Wales for the majority of the game. The try that secured the win was one that had its share of luck, as Halfpenny broke from surprisingly weak tackles, and Jon Davies escaped with a pass to no one, which somehow ended up in the hands of an eager Shane Williams, who looked hungry throughout.

But where Wales ignored the bench last week, it was used to good effect today. While losing Hook is a concern, Wales immediately had more penetration from deep with Halfpenny. The scrum looked good with Gethin Jenkins making a welcome return, while Lloyd Burns put in what must be his best performance in a Welsh jersey, and unlike Powell, has done a lot to justify his squad selection. Fitness told as well, and certainly the legs that came on for Wales, joined a starting lineup that certainly had more gas than Samoa. Not once did the Samoan team change their tactics, which continued to work, but with increasingly limited success. It was this combination of factors that saw Wales sneak to victory, which overall, they just about deserved.

It is though with some good fortune that Wales face Namibia first before Fiji, who will be knocking lumps out of Samoa in their next encounter. The fall of matches may well have provided the perfect platform for Wales to progress, though that being said, a very similar match up was provided four years ago, much to the detriment of Welsh hopes. Here’s hoping that just as with Samoa, Wales will be able to put to bed their next World Cup hoodoo team, here’s hoping…

RWC 2011: Week 1.5. Wales lead home nations, with nothing to show for it.

With Georgia doing their best to spook the life out of Scottish fans, all the nations competing in this year’s rugby world cup have now entered the fray and tasted a bit of the action. With the first week and a bit out of the way, all of the home nations are in a position to reflect on their current progress, and most spectators will probably settle for the fact that, by some distance, Wales have looked the best of the bunch. In reality Wales, in their narrow defeat to the Springboks, looked head and shoulders over the other offerings of the northern hemisphere, who have so far either disappointed or embarrassed in their on-field efforts. Whatever happens against Samoa on the weekend, there must be a sense in the Welsh camp that runs a little along the lines of ‘why oh why could we not get one of the other groups?!’

Punishment for poor performances in previous years have left Wales in their unenviable group, yet on current showing, Wales would probably be the only home nation to stand a chance of getting out of it, certainly of having a chance of winning the pool. As Scotland labour past another minnow, as England brush off a shambolic display over Argentina, and as Ireland kneel to the gods and offer thanks for being granted the lightest pool in world cup memory at a time when they have no sense of a world class performance in them, Wales and Welsh fans must be gripped by pangs of pain, knowing full well that they could easily exit the pool stages of this tournament as being the best European nation to compete.

Still, it’s early days, and Wales could yet exit the tournament as having been the worst of the European offerings. For that to happen, Wales would need to buckle under some serious Samoan heat on the weekend. We must hope that that does not happen. Playing tight and through a pack that has shown a degree of steel missing for several seasons, there is no reason why Wales cannot go through the rest of the pool without defeat. Really, with the attacking capabilities of the Welsh backline, each game should still produce a bonus point, but in order to do so, lessons must be learnt.

Wales let South Africa off in two key areas. As the second half moved on, and the South Africans tired, increasing amount of the ball was kicked. A fine strategy usually, but South Africa were weak and tired in the middle and that is where the ball should have been shoved. Samoa will tire in exactly the same position, but punt the ball away for their backs to counter attack with quick line outs, and Wales will lose. In addition, fail to use the bench, and Wales will lose. Gatland’s confidence in the fitness of the first XV is admirable, but the likes of Powell and Halfpenny would have been deadly in the last twenty minutes against a tired South African defence. The failure to use them was an oversight then, and will be again against Samoa. Do everything that we did to South Africa, plus correcting these two areas, and a Welsh win will come, but it must be done, otherwise Samoa will be too good to simply role over as the opposition has done for the other home nations, those other lucky lucky home nations! (And indeed, that is said with seething jealousy!)

Hating ITV at RWC2011.

Well, it can’t be said that I didn’t try. I knew from the moment it was announced that ITV would yet again be poised to cover this Rugby World Cup (and the next one to boot) that it would be awful. Yet, as the opening ceremony geared up to its spectacular opening, number 3 was pressed on the remote, and we found ourselves sitting in front of ITV’s coverage. Granted, this was done out of an act of kindness for my non-Welsh speaking partner who was struggling with the commentary on S4C, but for whatever reason, I found myself giving ITV a chance. It did not take long for the hate to bubble to the surface.

Opening ceremony – you don’t get many of them, because you don’t get many Rugby World Cups, yet ITV took this as an opportunity to cut back to inane babble in the studio. Tune in for the opening ceremony, and get four blokes sitting down blowing smoke up each others’ arses. Off to S4C then for the rest of the ceremony. My partner may not have understood everything that was going on, but then again, despite being fully furnished with the Welsh language, it was a struggle to really explain what was going on anyway, opening ceremonies being as bizarrely devoid of logic as they always are.

For the start of the game, we were back with ITV, and it only took 13 minutes for the most irritating trait of ITV commentary to creep out. That was the time marker for the first random England reference, as Phil Vickery became a brief talking point. I challenge viewers of this tournament to find a game when ITV will not mention England during the coverage. Go on, I dare you, put yourself through the whole tournament and see if ITV can hold its tongue about the only nation it gives two craps about!

The commentary team generally though were as hopeless as we expected. Forget the irrelevant England reference, explain the tennis reference. Richard Krajicek? Richard bloody Krajicek? Tennis fans don’t talk about about Richard Krajicek anymore, so why the hell does he deserve a place in the Rugby World Cup lexicon? Andy Gomarsall as second pundit was just headache inducing. The most flat, pointless self referential gibber based nonsense heard from the commentary box since, well, since the last World Cup. ‘Go forward’, ‘great offload’, ‘thought that was harsh’ ‘guff’, ‘guff’, ‘guff’. If there was only an option to switch the commentary off and just enjoy the crowd noise…if only. He couldn’t resist chattering in the second half about England’s world cup final defeat when a TMO call came…shut up Gomarsall you irrelevant little bastard, just shut up, You were a terribly overrated scrum half during your career, and it is clear ITV has made the same mistake regarding your commentary skills.

I know I’ve started this tournament biased, I hate ITV rugby commentary, I hate ITV sports commentary generally (I gave up following Formula 1 for around 3 years thanks to them). But that is their fault, they are the one who are consistently awful, and two thirds into their coverage on day one, nothing has changed. Fortunately, my partner has stepped out, so back to S4C we go. Insightful commentary, a general knowledge of the game, even a general knowledge of the players that goes beyond the match programme blurbs shoved in front of the ITV team. Just such a standard that goes above and beyond anything that the goons of the No.3 channel has to offer. Thank you S4C, and sorry that you can only show us a few games – certainly everyone you do show will have an audience in this house – and we’ll just have to endure ITV for the rest of it.

Just to summarise, if good reader you hadn’t got it already – I bloody hate ITV!