Friday, November 23, 2018

Ewan MacKenna or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Beating the All Blacks

“An individual crying? I think holding that up as some exemplar of our entire nation’s flakiness is really unfair.”
“I don’t.”

Since I was born, Wales have played New Zealand 23 times. Of those games, Wales have won… ZERO!

We have lost 23 games, in 10 different cities across 5 countries and 3 continents. I was 16 years old before we got into double figures in a game; Jamie Robinson and a penalty try, adding to 7 points from the boot of Stephen Jones and Scarlets cult figure Regan King scoring one of the All Blacks 4 tries.

Of those 23 games, Wales failed to score a try 9 times.

But, at 32 years old, I am far from the oldest person never to witness Wales defeat the mighty All Blacks. A man born on the day Wales last beat New Zealand at rugby will be eligible to claim state pension in March.

If you are looking for a Welshman alive for two wins you needed look at anyone under 85. In 1935, Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister, the board game Monopoly was invented, the Dust Bowl hit America, George Formby released “Fanlight Fanny” – different times – and Wales beat the All Blacks.

You can guarantee when we win next time; we will celebrate, we will drink and we will get carried away.

If you are Irish, you will not have even started school to have lived through two victories. A 111 year wait ended in Chicago in 2016 and - last weekend – Ireland added a double between World Cups to close the gap between the top two in the world. With less than 12 months to go before the Webb Ellis trophy goes up for grabs in Japan, Ireland didn’t just beat the All Blacks, they dominated them.


The Irish could be forgiven for getting carried away, for letting loose and for believing they might just be able to challenge anyone on the rugby world’s biggest stage. But, not if you are Ewan MacKenna.

With the hangovers barely worn off and the Berocca still fizzing in the glass, MacKenna had already had enough of this happiness nonsense. MacKenna stomped onto the Off the Ball podcast with all the euphoria of Morrissey with a head cold at a barbecue.

Having attempted to pre-emptively piss on Ireland’s parade on Friday with a two-bit article on why the second round repechage game between Germany and Canada was more important than what he describes as a game that’s “not QUITE a friendly” between the top two nations in World rugby; MacKenna started his post match festivity urination promptly after the historic victory  exhibiting the levels of fun that make Droopy D look like Mr Tumble.

Seemingly having used his Sunday to turn up at children’s birthday parties to pop balloons and tell kids that Santa isn’t real, MacKenna was quickly back to rugby and why beating the best team in the World – arguably in any sport – is not a reason to be excited.

MacKenna was unhappy that the fans and media should enjoy the win against the All Blacks – Ireland’s first on home soil, second in history and second in as many years – for fear it would take the team’s eye off the ball; as though Joe Schmidt and the team were the ones responsible for these articles themselves. The truth about the reaction from inside the Irish camp came from The Rugby Pod, where Leinster hooker Sean Cronin admitted they had a slight celebration after the game, but he didn’t even drink alcohol.

Nothing so sensible from MacKenna though, who took the opportunity to question the mentality of the entire nation based on previous World Cups and – most notably – the emotional reaction of Ian Madigan at the 2015 World Cup.


MacKenna used this as an example of Ireland’s “soft” and “fragile mind-set” and questioned whether the incident was “the sign of a strong mentality.” Unperturbed by the fact that Madigan hasn’t even played for Ireland since 2016 and Ireland themselves now look more than comfortable with that favourites tag – MacKenna sucked the fun out of Ireland with a level of absorbency usually reserved for adverts containing mysterious blue liquid and branded kitchen towels.

In a rant that grasped at straws more than a ham fisted McDonald’s worker restocking the drinks station, it became clear this was little more than a thinly veined attack on the sport as MacKenna rambled his way through subjects such as comparisons to football and GAA, Paddy Jackson’s morality and Bundee Aki’s nationality.

By the end of the 51 minute pod it would be easy to feel the life being sucked from the Irish like a dementor in Harry Potter. But the Irish spirit won’t be dampened by this. The optimism they will take to Japan is warranted, so for now, they can enjoy the ride.

And Ewan MacKenna… cheer up cheeky chops! This one’s for you…

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now – The Smiths

The Great Jonny Sexton Myth?

We often hear how Irish outside half Johnny Sexton plays less games than his compatriots, but is it entirely true?

If we look at the appearances of World Rugby player of the year nominees; the players at the very pinnacle of their game – minus Tadhg Furlong #JusticeForTadhg #PropGate – it paints a very different picture indeed.

Below are the total number of games played since the 1st January 2018 to date (23rd November 2018).

Appearances for 2018
Player
Total
Club
Country
Beauden Barrett
26
16
10
Malcolm Marx
25
16
9
Reiko Ioane
25
15
10
Faf De Klerk
25
15
10
Jonathan Sexton
21
12
9

Sexton has played 4/5 games less this calendar year. Not a lot in terms of a full season. Even that doesn’t paint the full picture though.

Three of the players will play one more game in 2018. Marx, Barrett and Ioane will play their last games of 2018 this weekend against Wales and Italy respectively. While Sexton and De Klerk will enjoy a much earned rest. However, whilst Super Rugby ended in August, the northern hemisphere season continues.

It’s not known whether Sale Sharks will play scrum half Faf this weekend against Northampton – but given the Premiership’s attitude toward player welfare it's likely they will – but Sexton definitely won’t appear for Leinster against the Ospreys.

However, you can, at very least, expect Sexton to play in  Leinster’s two Champions Cup pool games in December against Bath and the derby game against Munster at Thomond Park over the Christmas period.

Even if Sexton doesn’t turn out against Dragons at Rodney Parade – which I would suggest he probably won’t – or against Connacht at the RDS – which he very much could – that would still mean that Sexton would have played just two less games than Beauden Barrett and one less than Malcolm Marx and Reiko Ioane in the calendar year.

Perhaps more surprisingly, it would mean that the “protected” half back would have played the same number of club games as All Blacks try machine Reiko Ioane and just one less than Beauden “See I Told You I Could Drop Kick” Barrett and, the most beautiful hooker since Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Malcolm Marx.

Faf De Klerk, meanwhile, will continued to be flogged and fought over until his flowing mane of blonde locks become a matted, sweaty mess and premature baldness takes hold.

So, there we have it. Jonny Sexton plays just as many games – even at club level – as his counterparts. However, there is no evidence to suggest he isn’t a slightly overacting, penalty milking, over protected by referees, whinger.


Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry