Posts Tagged ‘ Italy ’

A Return to the Stadio Olimpico

Just when I think we’ve got the Rome backlog of images broken, out leaps another set. The Stadio Olympico is covered in many places, but pondering the fact that such a massive amount of fascist material still survives, and is maintained here, is staggering, and a fascinating subject for discussion. It might appal many, but the rights and wrongs of its preservation, or destruction, are far from clear-cut.

Wales beat Italy, Crowds Call for More.

Time is a funny thing, with it the views and expectations of a nation can rise and fall, to the extent of becoming unrecognisable from one year to the next. Yesterday in Cardiff, Wales won for the fourth successive time, and find themselves on the precipice of a championship and elusive Grand Slam, yet the Cardiff crowd walked away from yesterdays entertainment with a shrug of the shoulders and a despondent sigh – where once a Welsh crowd would craw greedily at the coat tails of any form of triumph, now the most comfortable of victories can barely turn a smile.

Wales and Italy lineup.

Does this stem from heightened levels of expectation? Is the Welsh fan becoming akin to the New Zealander, expectant of only the highest quality of wins, where nothing less will suffice? It’s hard to say, but certainly the atmosphere following the game was a mixture of begrudging satisfaction and (somewhat perplexingly) relief – no singing in the trains back home following this fixture (as accompanied return journeys out of Cardiff following the Triple Crown game).

And yet – where does the despondency come from? There are a number of schools of thought which could pass over this game, but let’s take the more obvious whinging option out of the equation early on – the referring of George Clancy. We should not dwell too long here, because interpretation of refereeing performances are usually far too subjective affairs, yet even the most one eyed critique could see that Clancy came to Cardiff with the sole intention of killing the game, for both Wales and Italy. If home fans were frustrated with the level of Welsh play, much of their ire can be directed towards the man in the middle, for whom the notion of an open flowing game, if something he must have heard of, but dismissed as some form of myth.

If Welsh fans were unhappy with the win, spare a thought for those backing the losing side.

Refereeing excuses aside, there are two ways of looking at things, and let’s get the negative out of the way first – Wales failed to put Italy to the sword, and disappointment steps from this pre-game expectation. Hard to argue with – everyone in Wales seemed ready to demolish Italy by 30-40 points and never be phased by the game. Yet, should we be critical of Wales for this, or positive about Italy? Certainly Italian defensive efforts were beyond committed, and the number of last ditch defences from quality Welsh line breaks was impressive. Last week England were hailed for stopping Wales, this week no word of encouragement for Italy’s endeavours – a touch of post match hypocrisy from some corners perhaps.

Wales attack once again - with below par results.

Yet what of the positives – were there any? Well, while Italy came to Cardiff to defend, they did not come to Cardiff to win. The Italians locked the game down well, but never was the intent on display to do anything other than contain Wales – the result from a Welsh perspective was never once threatened. On top of that assertion, perhaps it’s worth noting that for the second game running the Welsh try line held firm – a home win that was never in danger, and a suffocating defensive effort, can we really complain?

The Italian team head for home, knowing they defended well, while having no intention of trying to win.

Okay, the Welsh performance was a long way from World Class, and of course, a step up will (probably) be required for France in a week’s time (though on current form, the French need to find a gear or two as well). But for all the negativity that can be found in the game, perhaps Welsh fans should sit back and think of the bigger picture. It is a rare thing that any defence can hold out over multiple games – for this championship, only Wales can make such claims so far. It is even rarer that a team will win four games in a row. For all the disappointments from Cardiff, Wales still won, their line was never broken, and their victory was never in doubt – we might want more in Wales, but perhaps we might take some time to enjoy and be grateful for the success that we do have, rather than brace ourselves for possible, even hypothetical disappointments to come.

And then the Six Nations Came…

One thing after another these days, World Cups, one off internationals, club games, European games, LV Cup games, and to cap it all, the Six Nations starts just as winter decides, having been distracted by rugby for so long, to finally make an appearance, just in time to make all those away day train trips a little bit more unbearable. Suffice to say, it’s been a long season (officially this is still part of the 2010-11 season for anyone keeping track – with an IRB directive issued earlier in the year indicating that the 2011-12 season will happen between April and May before going straight into the pre 2013-14 season build up), and one which is taking its toll. No shortage of teams are already patching up their squads, with at least two of the nations involved bringing some giant squads to the party in preparation for the inevitable whittling down of those capable of walking.

So, excited much for the imminent tournament? If you are the BBC then you know already that England won the tournament several weeks ago, and a number of journeymen Europeans are going to be scrapping it out for the crumbs under their table. Then, you never know. The nice thing about a post world cup Six Nations is that predictions tend to go out of the window. Those who underperformed are ringing the changes, those who over performed are often paying the price for their success in a body count. Certainly for two of the three games this weekend, you would be hard pressed to call either fixture.

France at home seems to be a certainty to defeat Italy. The Italians rarely cope well in the early days of a new coaching regime, and to produce a result in Paris on day one of the new era seems far too much to ask. Scotland hosting England though is another kettle of fish. Not a great deal of change from a Scots perspective, other than a need to banish a sense of underachievement from the summer, when for want of conviction they really should have topped their group, yet fell by the wayside at stage 1. England come to the tournament having, for many in the international community, taken to putting every English qualified player’s name into a hat, and drawn them at random to produce their current squad. Of course there was a little more logic to it than that, but certainly new names are the theme of the squad. It’s almost impossible to say what England will do, their new coach was still part of the wider coaching structure that oversaw the World Cup shortcomings, yet the desperation in England to banish the ghost of New Zealand will surely force them to play a more expansive game. Yet, with so many new faces, and a frozen Edinburgh awaiting them, is it too much to expect them to revert to type once more?

For Wales and Ireland, it’s familiar territory. More will follow on this game during the week, but for now, it’s worth noting that there are more familiar faces in this fixture than in many of the other line-ups to be had in the tournament. Old battles, one on ones replayed, heck, there is still a change that O’Gara at the grand old age of 74 will get a starting birth, there is little ‘new’ to be found in this fixture. On paper the Irish should have it, with the regions in dominant form in Europe and a home advantage, there can be no obvious excuse for why the Irish should fall short in their first fixture. Yet historically Ireland have failed to hit the ground running in the Six Nations, and more than once in recent years they have opened the tournament at home, with fixtures that should have been won, only for the game to trickle away. And yet, even with all the talent in Ireland, so often the solution has been to put the ball in the hands of O’Driscoll and leave it to him to save the day, one thing that certainly won’t be happening this year. Wales though, while the form team from the World Cup, have the air of a team that is running on empty, with walking wounded being the tale of yet another Six Nations opening weekend. But then there is Poland, and how Poland transformed an underachieving team into near World beaters – will the ice baths do it for Wales again?

The way the fixtures fall, Wales and England look to have the most favourable draw for any slam ambitions, but for a winner, well, let’s see what happens this weekend, as six teams, unrecognisable in some cases, unpredictable in others, show us what has been happening in those training camps this weekend.

The Eurozone Crises – So, to War then?

Ever since this Greek financial debacle got underway, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to prevent Sharpe style dreams infiltrating my sleep, as visions of a Napoleonic Europe seem to get closer and closer. It’s a vision not helped by a seemingly unhinged, unnervingly short Frenchman, merrily declares that if things aren’t sorted with the Eurozone, then Europe will explode. This is not long after a stern authoritarian German, who seems to have the whole of Europe bending at the knee to her fiscal power, came out with very similar sentiments. With the powers in play, and the stakes so high, is it time to have some real concerns about what is actually meant by the phrase ‘Europe will Explode’?

Now, this may be letting my imagination run away with things, but I would like to suggest that the phrase ‘Europe Will Explode’ can, and indeed does, mean only one thing – war. France and Germany seem to be spoiling for it, after all, Germany is so close to the total victory it has craved over Europe for so long, that the slow grind of absolute financial dominance might just be proving a fractionally too slow a process for their ambition to cope with. Of course the new Boney won’t stand for that and will have to meet the German challenge with usual French posturing. Italy has her issues, but Berlusconi has essentially modelled much of his political approach on that of Mussolini’s already, and given that he is close to exhausting all legal routes to holding onto power, as well as all legal loopholes, a full scale war would be the ideal tool for him to make use of to remain in the seat of power.

The UK is of course doing what it does best in preparation, staying behind the sea defences and pointing lots of fingers. ‘Don’t do that with the Euro’, ‘please don’t do that to it’, and when all falls on deaf ears the same sentiments will be backed up with a firmly worded letter.

Of course, we need something to fight over, hating the fact that we all have to work together as ‘Europeans’, while being a reason, is probably not quite reason enough to trigger a war (but not by much), so why not over Greece. Greece, in terms of the amount of money that has been directed into its coffers, must be one of the most on-paper affluent nations in the world by now. Even if it squandered all of the billions dropped on its doorstep, it has assets enough to go around, I’m sure for instance that the British Museum would like to finish off its collection to classical Greek friezes, and what better opportunity to go and pick up what Elgin left behind than a war.

So there we have it, the big players all have reason enough, the respective world leaders are generally barmy or desperate enough to get on board, and of course, nothing artificially stimulates an economy better than a good ol’ fashioned war. It’s how we solved these problems back in the day, and let’s face it, diplomacy and fiscal measures just aren’t cutting the mustard. So get your muskets ready, and don the caps, Europe is about to blow, and it’s going to blow Napoleonic style!   

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!