Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Barbarians: Not Over Yet

After England’s hammering of the Barbarian FC it is inevitable that many people will again be questioning the existence of the invitational team in the modern game. However, the death of the Baabaas, much like that of Mark Twain, will be greatly exaggerated.
So, before the death knell tolls or the funeral march plays, let’s realise that there is a place for the Barbarians in the professional era. They represent all that rugby should hold dear; its traditions, idealisms and morals all live on through the men in black and white.
Rugby is the least likely of sports in which a team such as the Barbarians should exist. It's a game where lineout calls would challenge even Bletchley Park's finest and where trust in the man by your side is must surpass even that in your spouse. Short preparation times and limited training sessions does not bode well with Union at the highest level, but the Barbarians continue to defy logic and get results.
In 2011 they overcame lack of game time, minimal training and excessive drinking to claim last gasp victories over England at Twickenham and Wales in Cardiff. It is results, we are told, that define a modern rugby team.
The Baabaas transcend that notion though. Victory is important, but not always paramount. Success should come through discipline, through enjoyment, through entertainment.
The Barbarians invite players with those ideals in mind and rarely do they leave the field having not provided the entertainment and flair the tradition demands. It unites players, clubs and nations on the same pitch, with the same badge, in the same shirts and different coloured socks.
It is that flair that inevitably leads to comparisons to the Harlem Globetrotters in a manner that is almost demeaning. The comparison to basketball’s biggest entertainers will always rear its ugly head, but make no doubt this is a different beast entirely. You'll find no confetti and no unchallenged ball juggling to 'Sweet Georgia Brown.’ This is not exhibition, this is competition and the only theatrics are the ones of genuine nail biting tension.
Any obituary that may be written for the Barbarians would be as awe inspiring as it would premature. Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams running in two of the greatest tries in the history of the game against New Zealand in 1973. Andy Ripley leading them to Hong Kong 7s success in 1981. Breyton Paulse’s hat trick followed by a high flying celebration against Australia in 2001 being just a few of many highlights along the long and exciting journey of rugby, at times heavenly enough to have graced a pitch of soft, white clouds on another celestial plane.

Should the Barbarians ever reach the end of their fantastical journey at some point in the far off future the inscription on the headstone that marks the rugby grave has surely already been written…
"Rugby Football is a game for gentlemen in all classes, but for no bad sportsman in any class." - W.J. Carey

Not Over Yet - The Klaxons

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: This Is What We Are by Jack Fenwick

In terms of repeated misquotations it's up there with "Play it again Sam" or "Beam me up Scotty," but that doesn't stop football fans continually attributing Welsh football legend Ian Rush with the description of Italy as being "like a foreign country."

Well, as a Welsh rugby fan, Italian rugby is just as foreign to me. I know little of their clubs, their fans, their traditions. I know of our neighbours' on the wrong side of Offah's Dyke, of those on the other side of the Irish Sea and the English Channel, even those on the other side of the planet and in a different hemisphere. The Italians however, despite some of their teams sharing a league with us, remain a mystery.
With that in mind, reading 'This Is What We Are' unlocked enigmas and helped me stumble across a few secrets as Jack Fenwick takes us through Italian rugby's metamorphosis of 2010.

That change however, is little more than backdrop. It is the plate on which the meal is served and Fenwick's veritable feast is the supporters. 'This Is What We Are' looks at the passion, the love, the pure emotion and what happens when the object of the affection is ripped away.

The novel follows Fenwick and his fellow fans of Parma rugby prior to their disbanding in 2010 that left them with the difficult decision of where they place their undying love and support.

With Rugby Parma making up part of the new Aironi franchise yet also becoming part of the Crociati team with Rugby Noceto, their opinions are split. Things are further confused when Rugby Parma are reformed as an amateur team. What follows is a heart felt and touching journey in an attempt to restore those emotions that once stirred within them. It is a journey from Parma through France, Britain, Portugal and even inside football stadia and onto the stands of American Football games.
It could almost be rom com as our characters lose their first love and pursue potential suitors in an attempt to rekindle what they have lost, but it's far too intelligent and original for that.

The style is different, unique even. It's a hundred perfectly formed novellas that when brought together make one extraordinary tale, much like Fenwick's much-loved Barbarians.

At times Fenwick writes with a lyrical verbosity that even the finest writers may never grasp, at other times with lilting simplicity. Neither ever feel out of place, like a fleet-footed half back finding space from the work of a marauding pack both are a joy to behold and demand appreciation. Even before I reached the introduction I was smiling at the gentle humour and knowing familiarity, a feeling that prevailed until the novel's end.

This is where Fenwick excels. He rarely tries to explain why he or his 'brothers and sisters' of Rugby Parma do the things they do and those things cannot be explained. You either understand or you do not. If you don't, this book is not for you.
Real supporters of sports teams will understand though. Those who have travelled to watch unwinnable games, those who have sat in the cold and the wet to see their team, those who have stalked the touch line knowing their voice is as important as an extra man on the pitch. That is who this book is dedicated to.

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who loves, or has ever loved a sport, rugby or otherwise. However, if you are not one of those people you may be left behind before the introduction concludes.

This Is What We Are by Jack Fenwick is available to buy or download here;

The song, as chosen by the author himself..Blondie - Union City Blue

Thursday, May 16, 2013

British Lions Celtic Warrior

Brian O'Driscoll is a Celtic warrior. Born centuries earlier, there can be no doubt, the Leinster centre would have been at ease on the battle ground and fighting at close quarters. On the field, O'Driscoll is every bit the Irish kern and he isn't ready for the pyre yet, signing a one year extension with Leinster and Ireland.

However, O'Driscoll is becoming battle weary, worn down and worn out having pushed his every fibre to breaking point and then further still over a 14 year career that isn't yet at the end. BOD is in exceptional shape for a player of 34 in a high impact, gruelling sport that causes some bodies to age in ways that only dogs can sympathise with.
Now though, on the eve of the Challenge Cup Final and so close the start of the Lions tour, another injury has struck like the weapon of a foe. O'Driscoll will treat it as little more than a flesh wound, missing the Cup final will hurt, but Australia for his fourth Lions trip will be the real victory.

Warren Gatland will want BOD in that red shirt come June, not just for his talent, but for his character, for his grit, for his determination.
Replacements will be lining up as I type, hopeful the Gods of opportunity should shine upon them should injury finally fell him ahead of the tour.

And of potential replacements there is no shortage and of their skills there can be no questions. The problem is, few in the world are comparable to the mercurial Irishman and absolutely none are Brian O'Driscoll for as a player and as a man, he is unique.

Adh mor Brian. See you in Hong Kong.

Disturbed - Warrior

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Rugby players come in all shapes and sizes, so too do their facial features. For every beautiful face there are hundreds of crooked noses, broken teeth and cauliflower ears.
For every Mike Phillips there is a Steve Borthwick. For every Dan Carter there is a Leo Cullin.
However, for every ugly mug that has (dis)graced the Millennium Stadium they would be hard pressed to beat the portrait of the Queen painted by Welsh artist Dan Llewellyn Hall and was revealed last week.
The painting may need a little work from the Fresco restoration "artist." They say, "a picture paints a thousand words." With that in mind, I'll stop now and leave you to take that picture in.

God Save the Queen - Sex Pistols

Chris Who?

The career of a rugby player is a short one, filled with ups and downs. Spare a thought then for Chris Robshaw.
Not too long ago Robshaw had long England to an emphatic victory over the All Blacks, his Harlequins team were impressing in the Aviva Premiership, England were 6 Nations favourites and he was among the front runners for the Lions captain role.
Then, the Quins crashed out of the playoffs, England capitulated under Welsh pressure and Robshaw failed to make the Lions squad, let alone lead it.
Now, to add insult to injury, an ESPN email about Chris RODSHAW suggests people can't even remember his name.
How quickly they forget.
Who Are You - The Who

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Feeling the Force

Jonnie Wilkinson is a tough guy. He may not be one of the hard men of professional rugby, but his physical and especially his mental strength is not to be underestimated. Wilkinson is as reliable in defence as he is with ball in hand or on the tee.
It's little wonder that Lions coach Warren Gatland wanted Wilko to travel to Australia as part of his squad this summer, but Wilkinson shocked most of the rugby world by declaring himself out of contention. The World Cup winner laid blame on his battered body after a long and brutal Top 14 season. Many were sceptical and felt Wilkinson could still have toured.
Enter stage right, Opeti Fonua. 6' 6" and 22 stone, a Tongan international, Agen number 8 and a current Scarlets transfer target.
On May 4th, as people celebrated 'Star Wars Day,' Wilkinson certainly felt the force (of a 22 stone Tongan forward). With hits like this, it's no wonder Jonnie needs a break.


British Lions Got Talent

Rugby players are a musical bunch. Forget about huddling around a microphone to shout the words to a naff team song before the cup final like in hoofball, I'm talking about real music.
Matt Stevens' singing talent is well documented since his appearance on a celebrity singing contest. Former Scotland centre and Kelly Brooke's ex, Thom Evans toured as part of a support act for Peter Andre, Westlife and McFly. World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio's skills don't end with pasta sauces and talking bollocks to John Inverdale, he was part of the choir that sang backing vocals on Tina Turner's 'We Don't Need Another Hero.'
Now two more Lion's players add their talents to the list. Jamie Roberts has been invited by James Dean Bradfield to join the Manic Street Preachers on stage between Lions test in Australia this summer. Manics' front man Bradfield sent newly qualified doctor, Roberts a guitar when the Welsh centre was injured.
Roberts in turn revealed the secret talent of Ospreys psycho-lock Alun Wyn Jones who, apparently, plays a mean ukelele solo.
A busy fixture list means it's unlikely a collaboration will take place, but if they join the Blackwood based rockers on stage surely there can only be one song they play…

Australia - Manic Street Preachers

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Change Is Gonna Scrum

In recent months the IRB and the scrum engagement process have taking more of a hammering than Danny Cipriani crossing a bus route. The scrum was becoming a terrible dirge on the game, instead of the technical centrepiece it was meant to be.

The issue came to a head in this year's Six Nations decider in Cardiff. Some of the England camp were unhappy with Steve Walsh's interpretation believing the New Zealander had it incorrect with his engagement sequence; crouch, touch, set, collapse, blow whistle loudly and check hair on big screen.
However, I believe Mr Walsh is merely suffering a backlash from jealous coaches due to his amazing good looks and flowing locks, often referred to as Samantha Brick Syndrome.
Pressure was put on the IRB to review the scrum, even more pressure than Adam Jones had put on Joe Marler that afternoon. Ex-England hooker and pitbull with a thesaurus Brian Moore encouraged fans feed back and presented a radio show investigating the set piece. Now the IRB have announced the new engagement sequence and, I must admit, it's pretty damn good.
The new sequence has done one simple thing, it has put the bind before the engagement. This elementary move should make the scrum easier to police for officials by removing the split second decision of the bind and more chance to check other vital elements, like the feed.
The sequence also keeps the hit, which is meaningful, but removes the huge impact and emphasises the importance of scrummaging technique. 

A change was always needed and I am a big fan of these new scrummaging rules if they are properly implemented and can't wait to see them in action.

Sam Cooke - A Change Is Gonna Come