A Five Eighth and a Half.


It’s sad to hear that Michael Lynagh, the great Australian fly-half (or 5/8 in some circles) has suffered a stoke at the age of 48. Having suffered similar a year at go and at a similar age, my thoughts are with him and hope he gets as much luck as I did, enjoys the same amount of excellent care and attention I did, but put on only 1/2 the weight. Lynagh comes from that rare breed of tackling stand-off halves (no, nor have I) and played in, and though not captain, led an Australian side full of superstars such as Campo, Nobody and Willie Ofahengaue, who not only were a joy to watch and won the 1991 World Cup but also tackled, rucked and mauled like demons (yes, it was that long ago). Michael was a brilliant kicker, runner and tactical thinker and was a true great of the game. Horrible to think of him cooped up in a hospital ward, but one trusts he won’t have quite so many rows with the hospital staff as your correspondent did (I swear, it was the drugs talking).

Meanwhile, the Welsh RFU’s resident Kiwi, Warren Gatland has also been taken crook, suffering with that very common but nevertheless annoying injury: fractured heels. Apparently Wazza was up a ladder cleaning the windows of his Waihi Beach holiday house on the Bay of Plenty, when he stepped back to admire his work. This brings two questions to mind: since when did they start building two-storey buildings down in 1957land ? and; who forgets they are up a ladder ? The former Waikaito hooker (Aha ! there’s a clue immediately) is laid up with both legs in plaster while his summer duties for Wales are handed over to real Welshman Rob Howley.

It’s a pity Gatland isn’t English as not only would he be able to still coach the national side, but he’d be more effective than Dylan Hartley (unless there was a Dwarf Tossing competition approaching) even with the plaster casts. 3/4 of English fans think that if the incumbent English hooker would 1/2 as good at throwing a ball than he as at throwing midgets across bars, he’d deserve his 2/3 of each match he somehow gets every week. As it is he’s been banned for a 1/4 of the season for biting for attempting to chew off 1/3 of and Irishman’s finger. Not that Warren would need to be English to qualify. There’s only a tiny fraction of the team who are.

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Oh, That Fellow Davies


Long before I developed my typically English opinions of the Welsh (yes, yes I know it’s mutual), when I was merely a roly-poly soft centre waiting to happen, there was Mervyn Davies. Merve the Swerve Davies was one of those sensational players that, as a young boy, you couldn’t take your eyes off. He was a magnificent specimen, and was picked for both the victorious British Lions tour to New Zealand in 1971 and the infamous 1974 tour to South Africa (the ’99 Tour). When I first took an interest in the oval ball game in 1976 I quickly found two heroes to adore – JPR WIlliams and Mervyn Davies. Yes, they were both welsh and both were as hard as nails. Everything I wasn’t.

WHEN MEN WERE MEN, AND SIDEBURNS WERE ENORMOUS: Mervyn Davies, JPR Williams, Mike Roberts, Geoff Evans, Gerald Davies, John Dawes and John Taylor – London Welsh’s representatives on the 1971 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, 1971

Sadly Mervyn was to retire early due to a brain haemorrhage playing for Swansea in a Welsh Cup semi-final against Pontypool in 1977. It was a sad moment for Welsh, British and world rugby. Mervyn died today, and marks another piece of my childhood to slip away.
The 1970s was a time of welsh dominance and greatness, the reason everyone (me included) loved watching them play and the reason the unsuccessful Welsh teams of the ensuing years could never let go of, and for good reason. It wasn’t just the welsh who pined for the grace and skill of Mervyn, JPR, JJ, Gareth and the like – instead of the lame fair the WRU dealt up for the following 25 years. Little wonder they became bitter, twisted and unloveable. The boyos of the 1970s were a tough act to follow.

When the Welsh team pick up the Grand Slam tomorrow, which they look like they’re gonna do, their captain Sam Warburton will deserve the prize as he is next in a long line of great welsh back row players to ply his trade on the rugby field. When, as he surely will, he becomes the next British Lions Captain he will merely be taking the place of Mervyn who was odds-on to do the same had the brain injury not deprived him of it. Warburton could be truly great, and if Wales are lucky they may be able to find a few more like him and, who knows, rekindle the spirit of that great 1970s team.

Until then I look forward to the BBC digging out the footage of Merv and company thrilling the crowds around the world.

And, as Mervyn was playing No.8 in the 1973 Barbarians vrs New Zealand match, I see no reason for not showing the greatest try of all time again. And again. And in full

(normal English service will be resumed as soon as possible)

Fair Play and Fablass


For those unlucky enough to be watching NZTV coverage of the rugby let me tell you what happened. The welsh flanker and captain Sam Warburton picked up an opponent in a tackle, turned him over in the air and spear-tackled him, head-first, into the ground. A sending-off offence. So Irish referee Alain Rolland sent him off. The tv coverage missed half of this. TV in 1957land isn’t interested in anything that doesn’t involve some part of Dan Carter’s body, but you’d have thought at least ITV, who took the tv feed here in Blighty might have spotted a) the serious foul and b) the red card. They didn’t.

The first the pundits and commentators knew of it all was when they saw pictures of Warburton on the bench. They assumed he had been given a yellow card. This was Warbuton’s Rooney moment. A week after Wayne had been hounded out of town for kicking a player in the leg, Sam was given legal aid for trying to break a bloke’s neck. “Our little Sammy didn’t mean that”. “He’s not like that.” Well, Mr and Mrs Warburton, he did and he is. Sorry.

For the next 80-odd minutes (it’s still going on as I speak) the bleating from various welsh former players and their collaborators whinged and whined about the decision: Referee Rolland had administered a “huge injustice”. No he didn’t. Steve Ryder – the ITV anchorman – even said the welsh were “cheated” by the referee. No they weren’t. I happen to know that Mr Ryder is a Charlton Athletic supporter, so he can be forgiven for not having seen a lot of real sport. Fit professional men running around at pace must be very confusing to old Steve. Luckily he had former Rugby stars to help him out.

Francois Pienaar, the Matt Damon impersonator,  said the tackle was excusable in the cauldron that is a world cup semi-final. No, Matt.  Semi-final or no semi-final, you can’t pick a bloke up and spike him into the ground. When the kiwis do it to Brian O’Driscoll during a British Lions tour there’s a national outcry. If it were a Frenchman doing it to Lee Sixpence Ha’panney, Gareth Thomas would have been screaming blue murder. Not just screaming.

Next to Francois was Larry Dallaglio, looking lost without big Johnno to stick the boot into. Larry manfully joined in with Steve, Frank and welshman Martyn Williams in vilifying the ref. Oddly none of them lambasted the welsh for not taking advantage of drop-goal situations. Nor was the boot of Stephen Jones (surely now, the winner of Club Foot of the Year Award) blamed for the fact that they lost by one point. I lost count of how many kicks he missed.

The refs have been woeful this tournament and here at The Sharp Single we may have pointed out a few of the culprits. Rolland was never on our hit-list and certainly won’t be because of this performance. Though he nearly snuck in there when, with five minutes to go, he awarded a penalty to the Welsh in front of the posts. A shocking decision. Even Gareth in the comm box admitted it. Fortunately, Lee TwoBob missed the kick for the three points. If he’d have kicked that one the Taffs would have won the game due to a rank decision.

Didn’t hear Ryder and friends moan about that one.

The French were a poor rugby side all match. The Welsh looked up for it and none could have begrudged them the win. But they didn’t. Until the Australians change the rules, the side with more points wins the match. That’s how it works. Sorry. The English were shite all competition and are already back home paying their fines (those of them who aren’t still in Kiwi gaols). Good riddance to them. The Scotch never even bothered to send a team. So please, Wales, take it in good grace, shut up and fuck off home. Oh, and pick up those chips from your shoulders before you leave. Thanks.

Tomorrow Rugby Union meets Rugby League in the second semi-final. A game one side wants to play without forwards. After all, they beat the SAffers without any so why not the ABs ? If they win this cup it will be the death of Rugby Union. The Death of Rugby Union.

I pause here to allow my Aussie mates to pick up the keyboard and tap away furiously (cue the phrases “whingeing poms”; “spectator sport”;”jonny fucking wilkinson” etc etc  ad nauseum).

It won’t of course come down to the forwards. It’ll all be decided by a moment of genius or stupidity by Quade Cooper. By not changing his name from Quade, you’d have thought he’d been stupid enough for several lifetimes. Sadly not. This bloke makes Campo look like a solid and safe pair of hands. He was born a Kiwi but plays for Aussie. How to make friends and influence people. Quade (my spellchecker still doesn’t like that)  has the chance tomorrow to make a lot of friends, on one side of the Tasman or other.

So I shall remove my beret and don the Silver Fern in the hope that a team still using the scrum and lineout to secure good ball can prevail over the 13-man, tap-thru-the-legs tactics of the Wallabies. I wonder if, as the teams come out, they’ll be a bloke pretending to make noise by blowing into a conch shell, jumping up and down and sticking his tongue out ? I do hope so, it’s so frightfully exciting. Not at all boring.

I worry that referee Craig Joubert is officiating this one. Clearly the better of the refs on show, he should be doing the final not the semi. One can only surmise what that means. Bryce Laurence or Wayne Barnes anyone ? Now THAT would be a final worth watching.

Coming for to Carry Me Home. Please.


A mere 17 months after the Rugby World Cup commenced and we have already arrived at the Quarter Final Stage. Well we will do soon anyway. I’ve had marriages which didn’t last as long as this tournament.  The competition, like World War I and my nuptials, will all be over by Christmas.

So the minnows of Namibia, America and Scotland have returned home, leaving the heavyweights of world rugby to slug it out over the next 76 weeks (plus extra time) to see who are the kings of the joint 14th most popular sport in the world. The usual suspects are still in the mix, the usual favourites are ready and waiting, just a flankers jockstrap away from choking again and going home themselves. Whatever happens the final will be contested by one team from the northern hemisphere and one from the south. That’s just how the draw worked out. Honest.

Next Saturday, sometime around when the sparrows are emitting gas over your lawn, England will play France in a match-up that has all the appeal of a maggot-infested sore on your nan’s back. France, the headless cockerels of world rugby, have exceeded themselves in their ineptitude this year. Just when you think they have hit rock-bottom, Les Bleus produce a performance of such sparkling awfulness that only one team left in the competition could hope to match it. Step forward the English.

England are playing as if they’ve all been out on the piss the night before, kissing dwarfs and abusing young women as they go about their nocturnal beano. But, of course, no professional outfit would behave like that, especially when the team are playing like Avon Rugby Club 5th team, not the only team from the north to win the bloody trophy. This match promises very little indeed. Never will the phrase “like two bald drunk men fighting over a comb” be more aptly applied.

To complete the Keystone Cops feel of this particular England squad, we have the all-singing and all-dancing Matt Stevens, star of the X-Factor, but fuck all else, and Matt Banahan – a huge Sunday-morning-lummox-of-a-man who apparently plays on the wing. Retired props from all over the kingdom are lining up to pit their arthritic knees and prolapsed backs against Stevens, a prop picked for his speed and work ethic around the park. Pity the selectors didn’t choose a prop who could actually…er…prop. As for Banahan, this tattooed titan who stands solid like a particularly immobile wind-break, I have no idea why he was picked. Perhaps he hold Stevens’ mic during gigs. Maybe Matt S. and Matt B. could swap positions ? It couldn’t get any worse.

If both teams could lose and both go home it would do the tournament and the fans a big, big favour. Although, of course if England were to make the final it would mean legendary Wayne Barnes (being English too) would not be permitted to referee the game. Most rugby fans would be happy with that. Barnes, the North’s answer to the shocking Steve Walsh (or Bryce Lawrence, depending where in the world you’re reading this) is the only bloke in the competition who thinks Matt Stevens is playing well. He has missed forward passes, punches and offsides galore. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s missed a few scrums too – he looks in the wrong direction so often. If only he’d miss a half-dozen games of so over the next month-or-so.

So if England go home, Barnes stays. Which would you prefer ?

Barnes awards 3 leg byes to Canada

A couple of hours before the Franglais débâcle (see what I did there?) the Irish meet Wales in the battle of the only two European sides who have demonstrated an understanding of both the rules and purpose of the sport of Rugby Union. The lads in green run around frenetically, in the way that all Irish sides play rugby, football, chess and guerilla actions against an occupying force. There always seem to be more of them than you and, after they’ve practised a bit of fenian footwork all the way up the back of your head, there usually are.

The Welsh haven’t had a team like this one since we went decimal. Not since JJ, JPR or Mervyn has the Principality produced a XV which didn’t make you wanna curl up and giggle your sphincter off. For years my mate in Paris (forget his name) has been losing his shirt on every game these European Shoulder Chip-Wearing Champions have played. Now this year we may finally see a side from the west Offa’s Dyke get close to winning the Cup, and my mate (…nope, still can’t remember it) will be able to, not only recoup his Francs but also to wear that red Welsh replica shirt in the cafes and bars of some arrondissement or other without looking a complete berk. He’ll be safe in the knowledge that for the first time in living memory Frenchmen will walk past him without pointing and giggling. Well, not about him being Welsh anyway.

But my money’s on the Irish to see them off. It has to be. I am not well enough for Wales to win anything, and one funny turn-per-year is enough for me.  I’m nearly out of blood-pressure pills as it is, and fearing the Taffs will prevail may well send me reaching for the super-strength Ramipril.

In the other (Southern) half of the draw, I can’t see past the Boks to make the final. The Kiwis, as we know, are prone to choking on their own smugness-cake if they get within a maori vuvuzela of a final appearance. Their talisman, the perennial show-pony Dan Carter has exited, stage left, and the AB’s are already drawing up a list of excuses to call upon when they succumb to the inevitable. (the English have knicked our shirts being the more laughable) and, just in case that doesn’t work this year, they have started thinking about the 2015 competition.  They should be good enough to trounce the Argies (if they don’t it’ll really kickoff down there in 1957land) but I suspect the SAffers will be too strong for them, having dealt with the non-tackling, non-scrummaging, smarm-fest that is the Wallaby XV. The loss of the siege-gun kicker Frans Steyn to injury will not stop the Bokke Juggernaut rolling on (funny how there are not endless stories and whines on how boring the Steyn sisters’ kicks are? They are clearly much more exciting than Johnny Wilkinson’s boring kicking tactics.)

So I look forward to an Ireland vrs S.Africa final, with NZ running circles around a hapless and helpless English team in the 3rd place play-off.  I won’t predict the score of the Final ’til I see who’s refereeing. It’ll apparently be either Bryce Lawrence or a traffic cone, depending on who is judged to know more of the rules. The Jury’s still out.

Abide with Me


Let me tell you where I am.

I am becoming a little tired of what the Anzacs are trying to do to my game of Rugby Union. We know they cannot scrummage, ruck or maul, but trying to rid the game of all three scenarios really gives me the ache. Union is in danger of becoming a bastardized (and very boring) form of Rugby League. Two long strings of uniform-sized men spread across the pitch, two men diving into secure the ball while the test of the team hang off in readiness for the next surge. It’s like watching Hull Kingston Rovers verus Wigan. In 1978.

It won’t be long before someone from Sydney or Auckland suggests tapping the ball back through the legs after the tackle (to speed up the game, of course). We won’t have to have scrums at all then. Yes, since that horror of horrors in 2003 when everyone’s Auld Enemy won the bloody thing by pummeling everyone into the ground, forces down under under have been hard at work trying to think of a way to rid the game of a front-eight confrontation. Tune into the Tri-Nations and you could be excused for thinking you were watching an expanded Middlesex Sevens, or your tv set’s on the fritz.

The game’s been played in pretty much in the same way since a bloke called Webb Ellis picked up the ball when a game of soccer was getting too boring (imagine that!). For 180 years the game’s been pretty much the same until Johnny Wilkinson tapped the ball between the posts to win the cup. In the name of speeding up the game, or the ever-popular ‘health and safety’ someone came up with a plan which doesn’t involve those horrid displays of of brute strength after knock-ons and forward passes.

(Please don’t think I’m living in the past, hate change or tinkering with originals. As I pointed out to a pal when having this argument earlier, Godfather III was no improvement on what went before. Leave what’s good well alone, I say.)

Only the South Africans seem to be playing the same guy as you, me, and my sister Julie (now Dennis) used to play all those years ago. Thank Allah for the Boks (and the Argies, while we’re at it- who recently beat up, and should have beaten a very poor England side) for still playing the game how it was meant to be. I even found myself cheering for the SAffers the other day – a first for me – though, in my defence, they were playing against Wales. Who knows, I may find myself shouting for the Taffies one day, if they end up playing Australia or New Zealand. As I say, who knows ?

The English and some of the northern hemisphere nations are branded by the southerners as dull and neanderthal. Their matches are slow and boring, too consumed with the set plays and the loose mauls. Rugby cannot be attractive to new audiences if dirty great lumps of men push and rip against an opposing dirty great lump of men. The game should be about speed of hand, fleet of foot and tries, TRIES, TRIES !!!

Yes to fleet of foot, yes to tries (yes to the trees!), but some of the greatest games ever witness have involved both speed and brute strength (and ever so occasionally a nasty confrontation up front. Remember them ?). The donkeys up front grunt and groan, push and pull and secure the ball for the girls in the backs to tip-toe their way towards the opposition’s try line. I am watching a game at this very moment and it has all of those elements and is very very enjoyable indeed. The USA are playing Russia (no potential for a punch-up here, then ?) A bunch of WWF rejects, bedecked in gaudy stars’n’stripes scrum-caps are competing against  a group of chaps who’s names sound like a collection of weapons, missiles and helicopters (“Sikorsky….passes to Molotov who links with Kalashnikov”). The standard isn’t great but it’s fast, furious, passionate and thoroughly engrossing.There even seem to be locals in within the stadium, watching and enjoying the game too. Perhaps that’s because neither team is managed by Martin Johnson. (Their latest gripe is that England have taken black kit with them. And we’re whingeing poms!).

So let’s hope that during the next match-up between the Blacks and the Wallabies  a game of Rugby Union breaks out. Both are very capable of winning the tournament and one probably will. But I’ve watched more interesting episodes of The Sky at Night than the match I watched between those two recently.

 

Disgusted of Dartford
God’s County
Blighty

This Story Has Legs


I think it was Arthur Daley who, when his minder, Terry, said to him ” ‘ere, Arfur, lend us a tenner, I’m a bit short” replied:
“Well if you’re short, I’m a dwarf “.

Aren’t short people fascinating ? And there’re a lot of em about. Hitler and Napoleon (Boneparte, not Solo) to name two – not that I’m suggesting they’re still around. Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, Charlie Drake, Diego Maradona never excelled at the High Jump at school. Guy Fawkes too was a tiddler, though admittedly that wasn’t until he had his legs sawn off for being naughty underneath Parliament.

There appear to be no records of Fawkes height either before he was caught or indeed post hoct te proc, but suffice to say I doubt if he was a happy little Guido after becoming deficient in the leg department to the tune of two. Then again he wasn’t alone: short people are invariably a miserable bunch- especially the male of the species. Short Man Syndrome is well documented and we all know at least one snappy little git, intent on making amends lack of stature.

So many of them become leaders of (taller) men too. The aforementioned Adolf, and Boney had reasonable success in their chosen careers (mass genocide and continent-conquering), Maradonna captained his country, before he started eating it and the French are currently led by a bloke who carries a box under his arm in case he has to reach a microphone (or kiss the missus). I’m unsure how tall Gaddafi is.

I was traumatised by an early Ginsters Pies ad campaign which seem to depict their factory entirely manned by midgets (“Ginsters Pies: Made By Dwarves”. Remember that next time you’re in a service station).

Then there’s Ian Hislop and Ricky Ponting, who may-or-may-not be one and the same person. Hislop edits a satirical magazine (the name of which escapes me) and Ponting leads the Australian Cricket team. Ok,  at 5’10” Ricky isn’t technically a midget but for the purposes of this rubbish he could be considered the world’s tallest short bloke. He certainly scowls and chunters around the pitch like he’s short. A tragic victim of Short Bloke’s Disease.


Ricky hasn’t had a very good winter. He and his team lost The Ashes (again) during which Ricky hurt his finger. He hurt it so much it makes him grumpy. All winter long he’s been even more grumpy than usual. He’s been throwing his tinnies out of his dunnie, screaming at his hapless bowlers and arguing with the umpires even more than usual. Poor old Punter. He’s not gonna be that chuffed tonight after his mob lost to Pakistan. Perhaps the Aussies didn’t have enough dollars to have a whip-round for the Pak bowlers, but just when Ricky needed to see the sight of a dodgy bookie in the oppo’s changing room, there came none.

Hislop;Ponting: Never seen in the same room together.

The recent weeks have seen a lot of funny old results. Ireland vrs England (cricket); Ireland vrs England (rugby); Bangladesh vrs England (cricket again – are you beginning to see a pattern here?); then there’s the hilarious Italy vrs France (rugby again); not forgetting Gaddafi’s Loyalist Troops XI making a spectacular comeback in extra time against The Rebels U18 XI, just before the Rest of The World XV threw in a couple of subs (and strikers).

Tonight’s rugby match between England and Ireland was just the latest in odd results.  Maybe it’s the Supermoon ? It looks pretty super to me. All I know is tonight’s ref (a nasty little Kiwi I think) had little legs. QED.