Archive for the ‘ Rugby ’ Category

RWC 2011: The Beard

Wales has long celebrated its hairbear duo, even if only one of them has made it to this World Cup, but Canada have stolen a march on their opponents when it comes to  facial hair. It’s fair to say that Canada wont be expecting to defeat France or New Zealand in this tournament, but can anyone out there in the tournament rival these beards? :

Already Adam Kleeberger should be able to walk away from this years cup as a legend, and rightly so!

Early Osprey Promise.

Well, this was never intended as an up to the minute sports blog, but given that BBC Wales are showing the first Welsh fixture of the new rugby season, it seems as appropriate to write about the Ospreys – Leinster match as much as anything else. First things first though, we are no longer dealing with a Magners League, but a RaboDirect league, whatever a RaboDirect is? Not sure that you can drink it, or were it to be a drink, that you would want to consume it with a name like that anyway – some toxic energy drink perhaps? Then again, Magners tastes dreadful anyway, so in terms of sponsors it’s no real difference, apart from sounding a little sillier.

Anyway, enough about sponsors, and more about rugby, and all in all, the Ospreys will be fairly satisfied with their performance this evening. All the clubs in this competition, not just the Welsh ones, will be suffering in terms of quality, with so many starters away for the world cup, but the Ospreys look amongst those best equipped to deal with the player losses. This is due to a combination of both a positive home grown youth development policy that seems to have been developed, but also thanks to the large number of Wales rejects who have been left behind in Osprelia. Gough, (J) Thomas, Mefin Davies and company are certainly no spring chickens, even the likes of Ian Evans are not overly sprightly, and so the Ospreys have plenty of international experience left in their ranks.

That being said, in the first half, it was the new generation of Ospreys who led the way. Rhys Webb, Ashley Beck, Tupiric and company, all offered a sense of hunger and urgency which has been very noticeably absent in recent years. While the second half of this game was frankly dreadful, the first half saw a sense of intent and enjoyment from the Ospreys, probably not seen for about three seasons. Leinster were far from good, and that must be acknowledged, the strength in depth that this club used to have does not seem to be on display anymore, especially in a directionless backline, one too many in New Zealand seems to be the case here. Yet, the Ospreys in the first half were very good, and could they manage that for 80 minutes, they could well be the team to beat during the world cup months.

However, without wanting to be overly critical, certain players still seem to be shadows of who they would like to be, notably Dan Biggar. Left behind by most other regional outside halves, Biggar continues to do well going forward, but much of his defence continues to look poor and unpredictable. Developing the ball/arm ripping tackle so loved by Hook these days, Biggar ended up letting more people through, than dislodging any balls. Playing like this, without the complete game he so longs to produce, he will remains down the pecking order, and short of any further international caps. Jonathan Thomas remains an awkward player to watch as well. Certainly not an international second row, certainly not an international No8, the only two positions he appears to be playing these days, and with far too many players ahead of him at 6, it’s difficult to see how he will come back into a regular Wales starting role as well.

That being said, there is a very long season ahead of us, and many things will change over the coming months. Certainly though, and despite failing to secure their bonus point, the Ospreys will leave the game with a sense of confidence and a degree of satisfaction following their first 40 minutes. Continue to produce what was on display in the first half of rugby, and you would imagine the Ospreys will be very well placed by the time their Welsh squad members come home.

Wales serve up a defensive feast.

Well, what a strange game of rugby that was! Having followed international rugby for the better part of three decades now, it can honestly be said, that the memory banks cannot recall quite such a defensive performance as that which Wales produced against England in Cardiff, during the second of three World Cup warm-up matches. Even going back to the Grand Slam efforts of 2008, where defence underpinned everything good that came from Wales, couldn’t compare to what happened yesterday, especially in the first 40 minutes. For with something in the region of 70% possession and territory to boot, England failed to make any impression on the Welsh defence. They came close, plenty of times, but there are no points for coming close, especially if you choose to spurn so many shots at goal. People will rightly question the English attack as much as they will praise the Welsh defence, for without figures like Tuilagi, Ashton and Armitage, England looked lost going forward, but equally little can be taken away from a Welsh defensive effort, which will few will rival, in a red shirt or otherwise, in the coming years.

As the defensive efforts took their toll, one team wilted, but it was the much vaunted Welsh energy levels that stood up to the rigours, and the English forwards in particular who seemed to be drained from their successive efforts attacking the line. A Welsh win was sparked by the sort of magic that only Hook can produce, but few would doubt that from the 50th minute or so onwards, that Wales had the game won. It was remarkable really how, apart from the occasional sloppy turnover, Wales locked England out of the game so earlier in the contest. The score line in the end was only separated by 10 points, but the performance was worth much more. As Gatland described it, this was a performance to be proud of above all things.

And pride perhaps is the opportunists point to dwell on, because a good performance, defence aside, it was not. In some respects this might have turned out to be the perfect game for Gatland, as a win came while the performance was far from perfect, and questions have been answered about certain players. Of those found wanting, some members of the pack certainly should be wary of enjoying the result for too long. Charteris in particular was a huge disappointment. We all know he is a great club player, but repeated experiments have shown that he just not have the mental fortitude to deliver on the international field. Shorter, less experienced line jumpers produced better results than Charteris could on the day, and were he to travel to New Zealand now, surely his trip would warrant a game against Namibia and little more. Lloyd Burns and Craig Mitchell are two who will probably benefit from injury concerns in the squad, but both performances highlighted that these were backup reserve players, and far from world beaters.

In the backs, all eyes fell on Henson, and while he did little wrong, his opportunity to shine was limited through an unlucky arm injury. What we did see indicated that his fitness levels were up there with the rest of the squad, his intent was clear as he argued his way back on to the field of play despite clearly carrying a limp arm into battle, and his defence stood up well, battering a number of white shirts backwards. However, in attack the backline was clearly stuttering, and Henson must be seen as a problem there. The fluidity of the backline seems to vanish with his presence, and it must be said that Wales are probably better off with Henson injured, than with trying to find a way to fit him into the Welsh attacking line.

Yet, good news abounds for other members of the squad, with the Welsh backrow developing into a formidable unit. Toby at No8 might have some wobbly handling at times, but more than makes up for it with his damaging runs, yet it is Warburton and Lydiate who are the real shining stars. These two figures did as much to secure Wales victory with their work on the ground as any other player did in attack. That being said, Priestland and Hook glimmered as well, showing that there is no shortage of possibilities at 10 and 15, with these two firing any concerns about injuries to Stephen Jones and Lee Byrne will fast be forgotten. Shane Williams even showed that there is further strength in depth at fullback, while his own defensive work indicates that the Polish training camp may well have added a new dimension to the tiny wingers game, as he ably took down the monstrous Banahan.

There can be little doubt that sitting back and taking a pummelling in order to tire out an opponent Rocky style, will only work for so long, and it will be important for Wales, not only to beat Argentina, but also to recapture some of the attacking fluidity on display in the Twickenham encounter. Samoa and Fiji might tire, but they have backlines far more capable of creating scores than the English were yesterday. Wales do not need to be chasing games, but forcing opponents to try and chase down a Welsh lead, then we will really see the benefits of the fitness training. Beat an underprepared Argentinean team next week by a comfortable margin, and this World Cup warm-up period can be ticked off as a successful endeavour. So far we have seen Wales lose despite exciting attack, and win through deadly defence, put them together, and who knows, a browbeaten South Africa might look more vulnerable by the day.