Friday, March 29, 2013

Turning Japanese

In the world of our round ball chasing cousins the MLS in America has signed some huge stars over the years. Peter Beardsley, Lothar Matthiaus, George Best even Pele have plied their trade on the other side of the pond. More recently, Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry and, perhaps the most famous star of modern football, David Beckham have gone transatlantic in an attempt boost the popularity of the game states side with some, if limited success.

With the Rugby World Cup due to touch down in 2019, Japan has taken to similar tactics to raise the profile of the game. Many an international player have made appearances in the Japanese Super League including Jaque Fourie and Brad Thorn, but the real coups came with the signings of serial retiree Shane Williams and his, part time pugilist, namesake Sonny Bill.

The latest linked to the land of the rising is Irish back row Stephen Ferris.

Ferris' career has been blighted by injury and that is the driving force behind this move, with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) understandably reluctant to offer any large sums to a player soon to turn 28 and who has missed more games than he has played. Instead, the IRFU are reported to want a pay as play for Ferris. Ulster will, no doubt, want to cling on arguably the best Ulsterman of the professional era. However, it is unlikely to be their decision with the Irish centrally contracted player system.

Many will see the move as the bottom of a very fast decline. Ferris was one of the stars of 2011 in New Zealand, a back row enforcer and master of the 'choke tackle.' He continued his form into the regular season, eventually be crowned the European Player of the Year and helping propel Ulster to the Heineken Cup final against Irish rivals Leinster.

However, a career in rugby is a short one and the affluence of Japanese teams is a difficult dangling carrot to resist and short duration of their season could suit Ferris' rehabilitation perfectly.

Ferris' sharp downward drop is similar to that of Aussie number 8 Rocky Elsom, but should Ferris overcome his injury, he could become Japan's the best signing yet as he clearly still has a lot offer and Japan has a lot to offer him.

Turning Japanese - The Vapors

Judgement Day: The Teams

Newport-Gwent Dragons v Scarlets
Kick off: 14:30
Live on BBC2 Wales
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Jon Mason (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Ray Wilton (WRU)
TMO: Tony Rowlands (WRU)

Dragons: Tom Prydie; Will Harries, Pat Leach, Jack Dixon, Ross Wardle; Dan Evans, Jonathan Evans; Aaron Coundley, Hugh Gustafson, Dan Way, Andrew Coombs (capt),
Rob Sidoli, Dan Lydiate, Toby Faletau, Nic Cudd.
Replacements: Sam Parry, Owen Evans, Nathan Buck, Jevon Groves, Ieuan Jones, Wayne Evans, Steffan Jones, Adam Hughes.

Scarlets: Gareth Owen; George North, Jonathan Davies, Scott Williams, Liam Williams; Owen Williams, Aled Davies; Phil John, Matthew Rees, Samson Lee, George Earle, Johan Synman, Aaron Shingler, Rob McCusker (capt), Johnathan Edwards.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Rhodri Jones, Deacon Manu, Sione Timani, Josh Turnbull, Rhodri Williams, Aled Thomas, Gareth Maule.

Cardiff Blues v Ospreys
Kick off: 17:15
Live on S4C
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies, Sean Brickell (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Denis Jones (WRU)
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (WRU)
Blues: Leigh Halfpenny; Owen Williams, Gavin Evans (c), Dafydd Hewitt, Harry Robinson; Rhys Patchell, Lloyd Williams; Sam Hobbs, Marc Breeze, Scott Andrews, Filo Paulo, Lou Reed, Michael Paterson, Luke Hamilton, Sam Warburton.
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, Thomas Davies, Taufa'ao Filise, Robin Copeland, Rory Watts-Jones, Lewis Jones, Ceri Sweeney, Gareth Davies.

Ospreys: Richard Fussell; Tom Habberfield, Jonathan Spratt, Ashley Beck, Tom Isaacs; Dan Biggar, Kahn Fotuali'i; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Ian Evans, James King, Jonathan Thomas Justin Tipuric.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Duncan Jones, Dmitri Arhip, Lloyd Peers, Joe Bearman, Rhys Webb, Matthew Morgan, Ben John.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Judgement Day

The fireworks have fizzled out, the champagne drunk, morning after aspirins taken and it's everything back to normal for Welsh rugby. At least until Saturday, when Judgement Day descends on Cardiff and thrusts the Millennium Stadium back into the spotlight it so justly deserves.

Judgement Day sees all four Welsh regions disembark at the capital for two East v West derbies in one action packed day of rugby. With Newport-Gwent Dragons kicking things off against the Scarlets before Cardiff Blues take on the Ospreys. The stage is set and repercussions are huge.

The Dragons go into the weekend 10 points adrift of the Blues with hopes of a Heineken Cup place on their minds.

Meanwhile, the bitterest of West Wales rivals, Scarlets and Ospreys, can hardly be separated. Both teams sit on 54 points with the Swansea based Ospreys' superior points difference placing them in a playoff spot whilst their Llanelli based rivals sit only one place outside.

The WRU should be roundly applauded for an excellent concept, following the lead of the Aviva Premiership, not to mention the Super League in the 13 man code who used the same stadium for their Millennium Magic weekend.

The event is not without flaws. With many feeling the pinch of an ever tightening belt, the £25 ticket is a little steep when trying to bring 'new' fans through the gate.

The WRU also seem to have missed the obvious when choosing the date of the event. With almost 80,000 registered players in Wales, moving the games to Easter Sunday would surely have allowed a greater access to rugby fans with only approximately 30,000 of the 74,500 available sold.

However, the much lauded London Double Header has only breached 70,000 once in an 82,000 seater stadium and has seen as many 30,000 attendances as 60,000 ones.

Come This weekend all flaws, perceived errors or worries should be put aside for what will hopefully become a permanent highlight of the Welsh rugby calendar and an important day in the future of the Welsh regions.

If the rugby is half as entertaining as the setup then we may be in for one hell of a show, maybe even enough to reignite those fireworks.

Whitesnake - Judgement Day