Friday, January 30, 2015

Ruck 'n' Roll Awards 2014: Part Two

In part one England's Women, Samson Lee and Duane Vermeulen were among the award winners. Part Two looks at the lighter side and the humbling Warrior Award.

Best Cameo of the Year
Scott Quinnell's reoccurring cameo on Stella is nothing short of fantastic, but David Moffett's cameo in the big Welsh rugby debate certainly had the biggest impact. Moff rode into town, stirred everything up with his 'Moffesto,' forced an EGM and rode off into the sunset.

Old Dog, New Tricks
As players get older they have to learn to adapt and diversify. To improve all their skills and keep themselves in the race for starting places with the young bucks. How else to you explain Adam Jones' drop goal?
Funniest Typo of the Year 

One Sided Fight of the YearWith video technology and referees running the line, there is little opportunity to throw a punch in modern rugby. When two players square up it usually results in little more than a shoving contest. However, when Tom Youngs squared up to Salesi Ma'afu in the semi finals of the Aviva Premiership it led to a swift one-two from the Wallaby. That put Youngs on his backside and the Aussie in the changing room. Then they showed the spirit of rugby isn't dead when on Twitter after the game by offering to buy each other a pint.

Twitter Spat of the Year
After Mike Phillips steamed into a handbags display as Wales took on Ireland, One Direction's Niall Horan took to Twitter to call Phillips an "arrogant idiot."
Phillips sent one of the greatest replies in the history of sport on Twitter, "Come down to training in the week big boy. And bring the rest of the Beatles with you." Horan declined but the pair had a photo taken together squaring up outside Madison Square Garden in December.

Lord Lucan Award for Going Missing
Plenty of players are accused of going missing in the big games, but the Blues players watching from a corporate box
took it literally.

Banner of the Year
Rant of the Year
Richard Cockerill spends a lot of his time ranting about other people, but Martin Castrogiovanni aimed one back at Cockers in spectacular fashion. See the transcript

Luke Charteris Award for Most Column Inches
Gareth Anscombe's move to the Blues from Chiefs was meticulously scrutinised on a seemingly daily basis. Epic on field performances between Wilfred Bony dress ups and 78th minute shoulder charges kept Liam Williams in the headlines. Whilst performances, transfer speculation and booing fans kept Rhys Priestland in the back pages.
However, it was the incredible volume of articles regarding Sam Burgess' code switch, his World Cup prospects and debate into which position he should play that sees Slammin' Sam take the award.

Warrior 2014
There are no end of warriors on the rugby pitch, but some times that spills over into life. Richard Parks continues to amaze with his incredible feats of courage and determination; meanwhile Joost van der Westhuizen, Matt Hampson and Henry Fraser continue to fight all life can throw at them.
However, Warrior of the year must go to Owen Williams. Ows was playing some pretty fine rugby until the freak accident in Singapore. The Blues man continues to make progress after the horrific spinal injury and it was great to see him at the Millennium Stadium in November.

Support Owen Williams with your #StayStrongForOws wristbands.
Manics - Faster (Live at Glastonbury 1994)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ruck 'n' Roll Awards 2014: Part One

The first games of 2015 have been played and the year promises to be an action packed one. As well as the usual league, cup and regular international action, we have the joy of another World Cup on British soil to revel in. However, before we indulge in a glut of top class rugby, it's award season. Lets celebrate with our own Oscars; the Ruck ‘n’ Roll Awards 2014.

Team of the Year
Ireland had a fantastic year. Pipping England at the post to lift the Six Nations trophy, defeating Southern Hemisphere big boys and moving up to third in the IRB World rankings. However, England's Women will no doubt push the female form of the game to the next level in this country. Their World Cup win has led to some earning central contracts ahead of the Olympics in Rio and will surely increase interest in the women's game.

Player of the Year
It was a close call with All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, but Duane Vermeulen is the Ruck 'n' Roll player of the year. The Springboks would have been a much lesser side without him. A big ball carrier, comprehensive jackaler and a tackle like a runaway freight train. Vermeulen has earned the nickname Thor and he is every bit as powerful as the Marvel character, even without a hammer.

Match of the Year
That unbelievable second Wales-South Africa summer test. The Welshmen turned up at Nelspruit aiming to do what not even the greats had done. A Welsh win in South Africa was mythical and seven days before the 'Boks showed why, hammering Wales in Durban.
Amazingly, Wales led 17-0 - and later 30-17 - before yellow cards and a penalty try eventually saw them go behind with 2 minutes on the clock and break Welsh hearts again.
TV Show of the Year
Jonathan's 10 Year Specials were great and Rugby Tonight is a breath of fresh air in rugby programming. However, School of Hard Knocks is the best programme around. Funny, shocking and uplifting, SoHKs is great viewing. If you didn't like the programme itself you can always watch for the ever excitable Scott Quinnell and more serene Will Greenwood. The pair are so fantastic, they even make Sky's rugby coverage bearable.
Tit of the Year
Australian fullback Kurtley Beale and the picture of an overweight woman with hers out that he sent to business manager Di Patston.
Twits of the Year
Andy Powell has had his fair share of bad press in the past, but when his own wife Natasha Gascoigne took to Twitter to reveal all it was a new low for the backrower. Affairs, gambling, alcohol problems; the allegations kept coming as the world watched with morbid curiosity. However, when the pet names for their genitals was tweeted it was a step too far. Now the couple have patched up their differences and are back together.

Twats of the Year
Sorry ruck 'n' rollers, this year it's the fans. Not all fans I hasten to add, but there have been a number of incidents this year that have sullied the good name of the sport. Booing kicks has slowly crept in at far too many stadiums. Wales fans lowered the tone further by booing their own player in an act of idiocy so incredible it made Joey Essex look like Stephen Hawking.
However, not to be outdone, a group of fans hurled "nasty, foul-mouthed, racist, homophobic abuse" at referee Nigel Owens. The RFU responded with a two year ban.
Tweeter of the Year
It was the year that Wales Online journalist Simon Thomas signed a dual contract with Facebook, but Thomas stayed true to Twitter. Informative, knowledgeable and willing to engage with fans - even when they aren't too accommodating themselves - Thomas is a credit to his profession, employers and himself.
Biggest Rise
At the end of 2013 Samson Lee had only made a handful of international appearances and lay behind Adam and Rhodri Jones in the tighthead stakes. Now Samson Lee is first in line for the number three jersey. In the autumn internationals Lee spent more time on the field than any other prop and didn't give away a single penalty. Who says the scrums are a lottery?

Biggest Fall
At the start of 2014 Kelly Brown was Scotland's talisman. An imposing backrow with the captain's armband. However, something went awry. He was dropped for the Calcutta Cup game despite being fully fit before being reinstated one game later. The Saracens man was then overlooked for the summer tours and Autumn Internationals leaving his Scotland career in the balance.

Emotional Farewells
Two of the greatest players of the professional era hung up their boots. Both Jonny Wilkinson and Brian O'Driscoll retired from the game, both with fully deserved 'rugby legend' status.

Keep an eye out for part two of the awards where we hand out awards for Twitter spats, The Lord Lucan Award and the awe inspiring Warrior Award.
Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars - Uptown Funk

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Transcript of Martin Castrogiovanni's Rant

"I never had the opportunity to defend myself when I left because people talked about this shit and money and Cockers talks about the money, but the real thing when I left this club is because you have Cole and you have me."

"Cole gets paid half the money from the RFU and I am foreign. What the f*ck do you want? You have a good f*cking tighthead prop playing for England and a hairy f*cking Italian.

"The thing is that they made it look like I went for the money, but I paid £100,000 from my pocket to leave this club because I want to play rugby. That's it.

"I always love this club and I wanted to clarify and talk face to face, which is something Cockers never does. I think in the last few years people are getting sacked and this club was not like that before. They used to respect people, now they act like nothing is going on. That is not from the club, that is from the guys in charge.

"Everything you do in your life – good or bad – will come back to you and they sack people who have been at this club for 17 years. When I get to this club it was all about the shirt and the badge. It is easy not to talk about the money when you don’t really follow the club. I loved this club and I didn't leave for the money.

"Fair enough they deserved to win today. They played really well and we didn't play our standard. They should play their game of lives. I never want to speak with Cockers any more.

"I am the kind of guy that if I hate you, if you are not clear with me or if you have been a c*nt - how you say in English - I never want to speak to you any more. That's it. That's how I am. I am not fake.

"If I hate you, I say in your face and I will never speak to you again. Love me or hate me. I don't hate anyone. Peace and love. I just don't like c*nts.

"I thought f*cking Leicester were a f*cking amateur team. What about that? If they lost another game at home he was going to get the sack. Everyone wants to win games against us because we are the best and it’s normal.

"They played quite a good game, they were physical but they've just won a game. All they've done is win a f*cking game. Now they need to come to our home and we'll see. We'll see next week what's going on.

"I just wanted to say that Cockers is talking too much. He's just won a game and there is still a lot of f*cking games to play in this tournament. He was saying that people go for the money but he has a lot of f*cking squad players who get paid well.

"I paid my own f*cking money to leave this club. I don't need the money to play rugby. I love this game and I used to love this club – I still love this club, but when people are up to here in water, they talk this talk but don't walk the walk"I left half of my heart here and I still love this place. It as a little bit strange to go into a different changing room but this is life as a professional rugby player. It felt like my first game for Italy against Argentina; there was a lot of emotion going around but soon you forget everything when you start playing.

"It was quite beautiful and I really enjoyed it. You never want to hate a player being in another shirt. A club is a club and life keeps going but when you get a lot of love from people like that they understand that you are a good person and you give the heart for this club.

"That is what made me happy because I think they understand that and I think they realise that. A player never wants to be bigger than this club."

See what award this landed in the Ruck 'n' Roll Awards 2014.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Eight Players for Warren to Consider

*These video may not appear for some smartphone users. To watch, press the title of each to open them in a new window in your browser.

On Tuesday Warren Gatland names his squad for the Six Nations and most would expect the usual names and faces to be involved. However, with injuries ravaging the Ospreys and Scarlets, some Pro 12 players have taken their opportunities to hit a rich vein of form.

So, where could Gatland look for inspiration away from the usual suspects? Here are eight Wales based players that Gatland should be considering.

Josh Navidi
What a star Navidi has been for the Blues this season. Able to fill any of the backrow positions with little fuss, Navidi must join Scott Williams as the most in form regional players. Navidi has rarely failed to make metres with ball hand; such devastation has not been reeked by a dreadlocked beast since Predator 2. With Dan Baker missing, Wales don't have huge depth in ball carrying number 8s and Navidi may go in as Faletau's deputy. The prospect must be an exciting one for Navidi considering the similar manner in which Faletau earned his spot so close to the World Cup four years ago.

Ashley Beck
Centre Ashley Beck missed the start of the season through injury, but has continually improved since returning to the field and is once again integral to the Ospreys' backs division. It's a claim that is even more impressive when you consider just how good the Ospreys look behind the scrum.
Beck will, however, face perhaps the stiffest competition for places. Jamie Roberts proved his worth to Wales in the autumn, while Jonathan Davies proved how much Gatland thinks of him with his controversial inclusion of the third Lions test against Australia. Aside from the starting Wales duo, Beck will have to fight off the challenge of Scott Williams. Williams has been in fine fettle for the Scarlets and is arguably THE in form centre of any Six Nations country. He has also cemented himself into Welsh rugby history with that try at "Twickers."
It's probably too soon for Dragons' Tyler Morgan but his signing of a dual contract shows the regard in which he is held and Blues' Cory Allen has proven himself more than capable when called upon.

Phil Price
This season Phil Price has been an inspiration. His performances landed him Rob Howley's "Possibles" squad in the summer, but this season the prop has pushed those performances a step further to an astounding level. Whilst Price is solid at the scrum, his displays around the park have been Gethin Jenkins-esque with over 60 tackles made in three Welsh derby games over Christmas and New Year.

Elliot Dee
Before this season, Dee was best known for his Haka performance at the Junior World Championships, but soon that could all change. Dee has stepped out to the plate for the Dragons and shown he has the vital skills for a hooker; namely scrummaging and throwing. However, Dee possesses more than that with his excellent ball carrying and sheer determination. He has received extra coaching from Kingsley Jones and may have it in him to hold off Kristian Dacey and fill the slots left by the injuries to Ken Owen and Emyr Phillips.
Hallam Amos
Another young Dragon who has signed a dual contract. He and Tyler Morgan put Newcastle to the sword in the European Challenge Cup this weekend. Wales have lacked a little depth on the wings of late, with Liam Williams being played out of position as cover for George North and Alex Cuthbert. However, Amos' stock is rising rapidly and scoring two and providing the assist for captain Rynard Landman against the Newcastle would have done him no harm.

Adam Jones
Ok, maybe it's a bit cheeky to not consider Adam Jones as a regular, but he was omitted from the Autumn Internationals for Samson Lee and Rhodri Jones. This time around both are injured and face a race against time to be fit for the England game on 6th February, but whether they make it or not Adam Jones should be returned to the squad.
His move to the Blues, coupled with not making the Wales squad has given him the size 9 up the proverbial he needed and he has answered the call. If fit Samson Lee should start, but to have the ability and experience of Adam Jones on the bench could be invaluable.
If not he could always play 10.

Rob Evans
Evans was looking good for a place in Gatland's squad before Friday night; now, if he isn't included, there should be an inquest. Evans was the stand out performance of an injury ravaged Scarlets outfit against very hungry Tigers. In conjunction with Samson Lee, Evans has given front rows hell this season when it comes to the set piece. On Friday Evans showed he is more than a one trick pony with a cacophony of tricks he pulled from up his sleeve. Offloading, one handed passes, incredible catches and a try that is the prop's equivalent of a thirty yard run-in.

Dan Evans
It was only a little over a year ago Leigh Halfpenny narrowly missed out on World Player of the Year and won BBC Welsh Sports Personality of the Year. He was Player of the Series on the Lions tour, but some now have him third in line for the Wales 15 jersey.
That's mostly due to the outstanding form of Liam Williams and Dan Evans. Williams has forced his way into the Wales setup, but now Evans has put himself on the radar with his performances. His counter attacking and positioning makes Evans hot property and his stats are arguably the best for a fullback in the Northern Hemisphere. His transition into the Ospreys from the Dragons has been a huge success and though he says he isn't thinking about it, he must be a hoping that he gets a shot before the World Cup.

Will any of them make the cut into Gatland's initial Six Nations squad? They'll find out on Tuesday if Warren calls or just leaves them hanging on the telephone.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Welsh Derbies: Part Two

New Year is a funny time. We enter it with hopes, dreams, ambitions and aspirations; a feeling that this year will be different. It didn't take long for the Dragons' bubble to burst in 2015.

2014 ended on a high; an unbeaten run culminating in victory over their nearest rivals at the Cardiff Arms Park. Less than a week later they locked horns again with the Blues.

Whilst some spent their New Year's Day splashing about in the freezing waters around the country, some eight and a half thousand fans turned out at Rodney Parade despite limited or non-existent train and bus services. Some would have been better served taking the plunge than sitting through the game though.

Both teams marched on to the pitch behind pipers and drummers as the flames from the obligatory pyrotechnics warmed up those in the first few rows. The players were greeted with two blasts from a cannon and the awaiting guard of honour from the children of Oakdale RFC and New Tredegar RFC mini rugby.

When the game finally got underway it struggled to get off the ground, often bogged down by misfiring scrums that damaged the game's flow and frustrated the fans at Rodney Parade and those watching at home. 

It's an understatement to say Tau Filise hasn't been the best scrummager rugby has ever seen, but it's a miracle he even managed to stay on the field on New Year's Day. Phil Price had the Tongan's number throughout the first half, however it was a number referee Ian Davies failed to put in his book.

Cory Allen grabbed the game's only try, but the Blues could easily have added a second if they had set away Filo Paulo who found himself in more space than Buzz Aldrin inside the Dragons’ twenty-two. At the other end the Dragons’ saw a try chalked off for crossing, but all this talk of potential tries makes the game sound more exciting than it was.

Two days later, the West Wales derby provided a much more entertaining affair. A week before Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb had guided Ospreys to victory over their nearest and fiercest rivals. However, this night would belong to an opposing halfback. Rhys Priestland had his highs and lows in 2014, but he started this year in fine fettle. His man of the match display was vital to what may have been the Scarlets’ best performance this season.

Those who have taken time to watch the Pro 12 will know just how well Priestland has been playing for sometime now. He has played on the gain line; looking sharp, creative and, most of all, confident. Most criticism levelled at him has been unfounded, but those who have made up their minds need not bother with things such as proof. It's not just the Turks of Llanelli that can be a little cycloptic.

Scott Williams continued in his role of Captain Fantastic with another inspired performance worthy of international rugby should, Jamie Roberts drop his guard. If his teammate Halfpenny should drop his guard then both Liam Williams and Dan Evans have showed they are ready, willing and able to fill the gap.

In the pack, where the Ospreys once looked immovable, they looked impotent. Rob Evans and Samson Lee tore up ground come scrum time, in some cases literally.

Both regions are seriously depleted with injuries, but could make a serious run at the higher echelons of the table with players fit and playing. However, the Ospreys will look for no excuses in injuries and if they apologised after victory a week earlier, one wonders how they felt in defeat.

Sunday's game against the Dragons gave the Ospreys a shot at atonement. Before hand, Steve Tandy called on his players after succumbing at Parc Y Scarlets. They needed to send their rivals a message that their defeat had been a "blip."

The Dragons themselves wanted to send out a message; they aren't done yet and they certainly aren't rolling over. They tackled and fought with intensity usually reserved for fighting wild animals. 

In the end, whilst players like Dmitri Arhip again struggled at the set piece, the Ospreys class shone through. Justin Tipuric, Ashley Beck and the much underrated Tyler Ardron gave the Ospreys the edge and the latter two combined to give them their try. 

Nic Cudd and Phil Price tried their damnedest to keep the Dragons battle. Price completed 22 tackles against the Ospreys, to add to his incredible 40 tackles over two games against the Blues. 

Before the game Lyn Jones said the similar form of the regions going into the game proves they "don't have to be supermen to beat the Ospreys."

That didn't stop Phil Price from trying.
REM - Superman

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Derby Day: Part One

Should I ever commit a crime so heinous that I am put to death, I hope the Scarlets are given the job of carrying out the sentence. Over Christmas their execution was simply terrible.
Against the Blues, opportunities were created and squandered with regularity. On Saturday they seemed not to even bother creating them; instead relying on the boots of Priestland and Shingler to drag them within contention. It’s been 10 months since Scarlets could boast an away win and if they can’t start converting chances into tries, that dismal record may continue for sometime.
Rugby in Llanelli has a history of flair and talent in the backs division, but things are different down West now. Where once the Ospreys would rule the roost come scrum time, Samson Lee and Rob Evans grunted and shoved their way around the Liberty Stadium pitch like seasoned pros. The duo grew into the game against the Blues and continued from there on Saturday.
Behind the scrum Ospreys dominated, created and controlled. Half backs Biggar and Webb ran the first half to international standard (a standard to which they should become accustomed soon). Webb took the man of the match award – largely due to his first half display – but Tylor Ardron, Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones have the right to feel hard done by.
Were it not for Liam Williams, the Ospreys’ scoreline would have been larger. His try saving heroics, his relentless work rate, Williams shone in a Scarlets back division that would have otherwise barely produced a flicker. Kiwi centre Hadleigh Parkes was solid on his debut alongside his fellow countryman Regan King.
Williams’ opposite number, Dan Evans, also showcased his ability at fullback with sublime counter attacking rugby. Evans has been somewhat over looked by Mr Gatland and co. in the Wales setup, but his successful switch to the Ospreys surely means he cannot be overlooked for long.
The Welsh derbies are about more than just local bragging rights. Each of these all Welsh games are proving to be important to Pro 12 standings and are a shop window for players to display their wares ahead of the final Six Nations before the World Cup. Evans will certainly be putting pressure on both Williams and Leigh Halfpenny if he continues displays as fine as this.
In the second half the Ospreys lost flow and attacking intent, but for the Scarlets it was the same story for the second time in a little over a week. Too little in attack and too many errors. The game, the momentum and the atmosphere drifted away – with a little help from a referee who appeared out of his depth.
The Ospreys held on for their 17th straight win against a fellow region and moved back to being the star on top of the Pro 12 tree.
At the other end of the Pro 12, the Dragons are fighting not to finish at the base and a win against Treviso had helped their cause. The Blues were coming into the Boxing Day derby with the wind in their sails having seen off the Scarlets 7 days before, but Mark Hammett made six changes to that side.
Josh Navidi twice crossed the whitewash against Scarlets, in an impressive display of strength and guile. However, it wasn’t just his try scoring exploits that caught the eye; Navidi dominated the game, the Blues’ dreadlocked superhero alongside Sam Warburton and Josh Turnbull. Navidi’s only error was a tip tackle with the game seemingly already in the bag. However, it was the complete back row performance. Ability and power coupled with pace and desire topped off with tremendous breakdown nous.
Against the Dragons, even Superman himself would have struggled to help the Blues’ cause. In the driving rain, the Dragons employed the driving maul and reaped the reward twice. Elliot Dee was only on the field due to a late injury to Rhys Thomas, but twice the hooker “drove the bus” at the back of the maul to cross the Blues line.
The Blues looked like they had eaten too many mince pies, too much cheese and port. The Dragons meanwhile were feasting on the Blues. An incredible 20 tackles from prop Phil Price and 25 from Nic Cudd were surpassed by a valiant 26 tackles from young blindside James Thomas.
With ball in hand Jason Tovey has looked rejuvenated and that didn’t change against the Blues. Outside him Tyler Morgan and Hallam Amos showed the talent that has earned them dual contracts, whilst Jack Dixon bounced back from injury to prove that he is still one to be considered for Wales.
It was a Springbok in Dragon clothing that stole the show however, with giant lock Rynard Landman leading by example as skipper.

The Blues utilised their bench to get back into the game, but it proved to be too little too late as the Dragons held on for only their first win at the Cardiff Arms Park since the regions debut season.
So, the first blood has been drawn by the Ospreys and the Dragons and the there is some work to be done if their rivals are to avenge those defeats this week.