Pro12 Five Rounds In

If we’ve learned anything over the years following club rugby, is that you should never write a team off, especially not in the first two weeks of the season. Look to the English media and their dismissal of London Welsh. The Exiles had been written off after two heavy defeats, yet turned the tables on their senior opposition to suddenly look like contenders: a season of rugby is a very long time.

The ProRabo, or Pro12 has illustrated this point just as effectively in the first month of competition. For many commentators, the Ospreys, after several shock results, were a spent force, unable to cope with the loss of Shane Williams and company. Yet against the Scarlets and Munster, they suddenly woke up and turned into professional bullies, battering their supposedly on form opponents into the ground. With newcomers Zebre coming close to shocking Glasgow away from home, and the demolition job pulled off on Leinster by Connacht, it should be clear to all that this is no longer a competition where ‘easy’ matches will be frequently available.

Of course all the results of the last month were put into tragic perspective with the loss of the hugely promising talent of Nevin Spence. Only just arriving on the international scene, Spence seemed destined to make a regular home of an Irish center berth for the foreseeable future, and the rugby landscape is much poorer for his loss. His Ulster teammates have however responded in the best way possible, raising their game to brush aside the Cardiff Blues and stand undefeated and top of the table. If form and motivation are anything to go by after a month of the regional season, Ulster are one team who you would be brave to bet against being in the thick of the business end of the season.

From a Welsh perceptive, it would appear that the regions are settling into a predictable pattern. The Ospreys, while embarrassing early on,  have suddenly found a pack that can disintegrate the very best put in front of them, and will surely be a force if their scrum continues to damage the likes of Munster. The Scarlets, having started so well, now find themselves back in the mix of the impossible to predict. With such attacking talent, the tries keep coming in with ease, but the new combinations in the front 5 are taking their time to gell. Once the front row spends some time getting to know each other, you would expect them to be contenders as well.

As for the Dragons and the Blues, we are somewhat in the unknown. For the Dragons, every game should be a struggle, yet their festival of goal kicking against Edinburgh went some way to suggesting that there will be plenty of teams who will be caught out on the trip to Rodney Parade (though few will fear hosting them). The Blues though face probably the longest season. They have the tools to win, but not the experience. Too many youngsters in the mix seems likely to leave the Blues walking the path of the Scarlets in recent seasons. It will be painful, but the rewards of bringing through the young regional talent will pay off. Once the likes of Rhys Patchell grow into their new senior roles, the Blues will be a force once more, but it will take more than a season to get that club firing again.

For Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh have again shown their ability in fits and bursts, but while Glasgow struggle at home to Zebre, and Edinburgh fail to match away wins in Cardiff with away wins in Newport, they are unlikely to generate enough consistent success to last the season. But then, five rounds in, there are few results you would have predicted so far!

And at this early point, the promising pack would have to comprise Ulster, Scarlets, Ospreys and Leinster. Even with Leinster’s shortcomings against Connacht, they should still have too much firepower for the likes of Glasgow and Munster, who, if they don’t find a scrum again soon, could be facing an exceptionally difficult season.

We’ll see how things stand at the close of round 10.


Usk Show: Crafts.

So we’ve had plenty of rants of late on footballers and gogwatch on these pages, so perhaps it’s time for a return to something a little more relaxing! These are the remaining photographic highlights taken from this years Usk show. There was a highly impressive range of artwork on display this year, with arrangements leading the way (customary fare for an agricultural show)  with a fair share of surprisingly comical entries as well.


The chick is probably our favourite!

Foul Mouthed Adulterer Captures BBC Hearts.

The sad news that John Terry has quit his occasional role as English international footballing pariah was greeted with a great outpouring of grief from the BBC this morning. Okay, perhaps that is not quite how they told the story, but their obsession with this oaf of a celebrity is as galling as it ever has been. On a day when storms wreak havoc across the island, politicians embarrass themselves and school children are kidnapped, the good ol’ Beeb can’t help itself but flap wildly in the direction of football’s least honorable of individuals.

It does not seem so long ago that there was much talk about Olympic heroes, sports personalities people could be proud of, a break from the interminable necessity to scrabble for the crumbs of attention brushed off of the table of Premiership football. Yet here we are again, the least respectable element of that footballing fraternity is showered in the limelight once more.

While the courts of law might have dismissed any allegations regarding any alleged racial abuse, it is still quite clear that foul mouthed obscenities tumble out of Terry’s mouth with ease, while no court room injunction can disguise his adulterous past. There is little commendable about this individual, little to aspire to. Those who might go on to cite his qualities as a player would do well to remember that ‘playing ‘ is his job, the fact his job is playing football does not mean that his societal responsibilities are any lesser than those of the mere mortals who don’t have to concentrate on an inflated ball to bring in their weekly income.

Why this person was ever of any national interest is a staggeringly bleak reflection on our collective interests (and yes, we even detest the fact that we are typing these words, we detest the man and still can’t escape writing about him). Perhaps though the BBC can calm themselves and finally leave this wretched angry little man to wither away to the back pages of the newspapers. However, what is far more likely is that in a few years time when this rat fully retires, the BBC will be back once more, no doubt fawning over his inspired leadership in the face of adversity.

Once more BBC, where is the off switch?


The Ringland Ninja.

South Wales has been abuzz over the weekend with news breaking of a masked crusader protecting the people of Newport. Well, that was the intention at least. The shadowy figure had in fact been caught, unmasked and prosecuted before a single criminal had been brought to book with a colourful ‘POW’ or ‘BAM’. Yet while the Ringland Ninja may have had only the briefest of periods in the limelight, rumours abound that the caped crusader (though sadly, reports indicate that this particular protector of the night had failed to incorporate an almost prerequisite cape into his costume) has already stimulated local copycats, with the Wales on Sunday today reporting accounts of at least two new vigilantes keeping a watch over leisure centre roof tops.

Of course the authorities have been quick to dismiss the Ringland Ninja as someone confusing fiction and reality, a danger to himself more than anyone else. And yet, are the actions of this lone individual something to be discouraged, laughed at, or perhaps praised? After all, how many people can we cite in the Newport area who are willing to protect their community in such a direct fashion? We have no shortages of thieves, drug dealers and thugs with a general disposition towards random acts of violence, all of whom through their actions are committing to undermining and ultimately destroying their communities, when people stand up to struggle against this tide of societal degradation, perhaps we might think for a moment as to who are the real criminals.

Put simply, everyone in and around the Newport area knows of the no-go areas, those places where, once the witching hour strikes, you would only be amongst the fool hardy, reckless, plain stupid or those in search of trouble, to enter. These are the corners where the police presence is, well, not present, they have more sense than that. Okay, from time to time some of the less intelligent of the criminal factions will be brought to rights, but in the main, the police force in this region serve to maintain a healthy balance. A balance in this part of the world which is concentrated on monitoring exactly where the criminal fraternity conflate, and do bugger all about them. So when local citizens decide that the appointed law keepers have resolved to turn their back on their responsibilities, perhaps because of a paper work backlog, we might not be so quick to dismiss their actions. You need to wear the most magenta of rose tinted spectacles to think that all is well on our streets, the reality is far removed. The Ringland Ninja might have been comical in his failings, but the template for community led action is there in the national newspapers of Wales today.

While we are of course in no way advocating such activities, we would at least suggest that the law enforcement agencies might consider approaching the vigilante question in a different manner in the future. After all, we have no real bounty hunting equivalent in our justice legislation, perhaps recent events suggest that the market is out there. We do however look forward to flipping through the pages of the local and national rags, eager to hear of any other masked figures tiptoeing through the midnight fog, and hope that those sticking two fingers up to society in the back alleys of our neighbourhoods might yet be encouraged to think twice before acting, should they hear a creek high above them emanating from the darkness.

BBC Royal Watch: Unharmed and Time to Panic!

Frantic activity in the halls of the BBC this morning as dramatic news regarding occasional Nazi impersonator Prince Harry broke, as it emerged that he was caught in a savage firefight while serving his country abroad. Although details were initially sketchy, it became apparent during the course of the morning that the Prince, arguably the most important member of the royal family* was unharmed. While based at a camp in Violentistan, the Prince was reported as having possibly defended his comrades from a savage attack. Although it cannot at this stage, or at any point in the future, be confirmed that the Prince, having run out of ammunition, picked up a stick and waved it with gusto in the face of his aggressors, it seems almost certain that the young hero did indeed defend the camp, while others cowered around him, possibly praying to the Queen for deliverance in their time of need.

Hero Harry Spits in the Face of the Taliban!

The BBC was quick to repeat that none of these details could be verified, but wanted to make sure that the loyal subjects of the British Empire could sip their Earl Grey tea at breakfast, safe in the knowledge that their Prince was unharmed, and that possible nothing at all had happened to him, certainly news worthy of topping every bulletin throughout the course of the day.

In other news, two US soldiers died in the same attack, but this is really not the sort of thing that the good people of Britain want to hear about over breakfast…so say the good ol’ BBC. God save the Prince and whatnot.

*located in a war-torn region where he can’t embarrass anyone.

Legal Clarification Released on Photographing Members of the Royal Family.

In light of scandalous news coming out of seedy, depraved and morally corrupt France, that one of those bottom feeding rags has dared to intrude upon the sanctity of the Royal inner sanctum, the most relevant and seemingly all pervasive Royal family has today moved quickly to release new guidance as to when it is acceptable and when it is certainly not, to publish images of the Royal Family in a state of nudity.

It is not acceptable when:

1. we have invested all our eggs in one basket.

2. our desire to remain relevant to society after all those summer parties we threw (or received, depends on your perspective) are forgotten, hinges on the public’s love of the target.

3. we would really rather not have to go through all that business again that we had with the last Princess we brought in.

It is acceptable when:

1. the targeted Royal has a history of mischief making

2. boys will be boys

3. the targeted Royal has in the past shown a propensity for disguising themselves as a Nazi

4. the targeted Royal has no shot at the throne anyway, so, you know, who cares

5. we can ship off the shamed Royal posthaste to a foreign war zone and hope for the best.

6. we’ve got a better one.

Usk Show: Horses Galore

First of a few photo blogs to work through from recent weeks. The Usk agricultural show really stood out this year, not just for the excellent weather and impressive attendance, but largely for the organisers getting the show going at all this year. Severe rainfall in the build up to the show had put it at risk, but such is the value of this cultural contribution to the local economy, that 24 hour a day efforts were undertaken to make certain that the show went ahead.

A regular staple of the show, and always a crowd favorite, are the wealth of prize equines on display, and here are just a small sample of those to compete this year.

Hounds and Horses

Certainly a subject for debate, as it was on the show ground.

Lining up for competition.

The large one to the left of shot was the star of the show.

The jumping went ahead despite concerns on conditions.

Several quick, clear rounds went in.

Clear efforts all round this time.

And something very different.

The heavyweight workers.

Probably the highlights of the day – such giant creatures working in perfect harmony.