Tuesday, January 22, 2019

MLR: Players, Twitter and the Final Four

The final part in our search for a Major League Rugby team brings it down to two things. Players and Social Media.

Social media can have a huge impact in the successful engagement with a team. So, points for this will be decided on the number of Twitter followers. 9 points for the most down to a single point for the team with the least.

Whilst it's easy to support a team with the best players, it's good to have at least a base knowledge of the players at the club. This round will see teams given points for recognisable and exciting players.

For the Houston Sabercats, Jason Harris-Wright has done the rounds in Britain and Ireland. The hooker came through Leinster's academy and played for Bristol in two separate spells either side of a decent spell at Connacht. The league's top scorer Sam Windsor had a short spell at Ulster and Diego Magno is a full on Marvel villain name. Osea Kolinisau is potentially the most exciting player in the team with bags of experience, a Sevens Olympic gold medal with Fiji and his face on a bank note... yes seriously!

Few big name players for Glendale, but they have built a good team ethos. Zach Fenoglio is important to the system and Hanco Germishuys is a superb signing from Austin to beef up an already good pack. Harley Davidson not only has a superb name, but is one hell of a try scorer on the wing.

The loss of Paul Lasike to Quins means a slip down the rankings for The Warriors. A lot of excitement around the Whippy brothers at Utah though, who have made the switch from college football very successfully. Tonata Lauti was lethal last season finishing top try scorer while Fetu'u Vainikolo is Tonga's top try scorer and has had spells at the Highlander, Connacht, Exeter and Oyannax.

RUNY's biggest name is name is without doubt Ben Foden. Prop Paddy Ryan has had spells at Viadana, London Welsh, Newcastle and Bath whilst Mike Petrie had short spells at Sale and Dragons and has appeared at three World Cups. Among the owners is former WWE/WWF star John Layfield.

In Texas, Austin Elite have cross code star Andrew Suniula. Spells at Taranaki, Cornish Pirates and Wasps flanked a brief flirtation with league at Manly Sea Eagles. Andres Vilaseca and Rodrigo Silva are highly experienced on the international stage with Uruguay. Canadian international Josh Larsen has ITM Cup experience. Meanwhile, Peni Tagive is a 6' 4" winger who can run 60 metres in under 7 seconds. With a career mostly in NRL for the Tigers, Dragons and Roosters, Tagive switched to college football before making the switch to union with Canberra Vikings. Qualifies for America under residency. Forwards coach Pedrie Wannenburg will be recognisable to many fans. 20 caps for the Springboks, over 100 appearances for the Bulls and successful spells at Ulster, Castres and Oyonnax as a player.

Champions Seattle Seahawks have hooker Stephen Coetzee with Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Pro 14 experience. Phil Mack is something of a Canadian rugby legend and had a short term deal with the Ospreys previously. Prop Djustice Sears-Duru will be recognisable to Glasgow Warriors and Ealing Trailfinder fans. Fijian capped lock Api Naikatini has played in Japan, France and in both Super Rugby and the Mitre 10 in New Zealand and is nicknamed Mr. T because of his distinctive hair. Mathew Turner was once a regular for England 7s and was nominated for World 7s player of the year in 2012. Centre Joey Iosefa has had spells in the Patriots NFL practice squads before switching to rugby. Flanker Vili Toluta'u was voted MVP in the final.

North of the border Toronto Arrows have Jamie MacKenzie at scrum half, who is younger brother of former player Phil. They have the fantastically named John Moonlight at flanker who has represented Canada at Sevens and XVs, playing in Commonwealth games and the 2015 World Cup. Sam Malcolm has played for Manawatu and at age grade for the Hurricanes and Baby Blacks. Uruguayan wingers Leandro Leivas and Gaston Mieres have decent try records on the international stage. Coach Aaron Carpenter is Canada's most capped player and has played for numerous English clubs league and Championship clubs.

In Louisiana, NOLA Gold Canadian international Hubert Buydens will be very well known to fans of impressive rugby beards. Also in the boiler house is Samoan international Kane Thompson who has played in Super Rugby for the Chiefs and Highlanders, Mitre Cup rugby, Dax in France, Canon Eagles in Japan and for the Newcastle Falcons. Packing down behind them is former Cardiff Blues and Northampton back row Cam Dolan. Australian scrum half Scott Gale has played for Queensland Reds with fellow country man Con Foley has an illustrious sevens careers. Tristan Blewitt has played in the ITM, Super Rugby and Pro 14. A former old boy and currently involved with the club is John Goodman... Yes! THAT John Goodman.

San Diego Legion have a fair few players that will be known to rugby fans around the world. Dean Muir has played for Stormers and Western Province. Ryan Matyas' unusual journey to the MLR includes a spell with Tondu. Australian prop Paddy Ryan has over 100 appearances for the Waratahs and Australia caps. Joe Pietersen has a career path that includes Western Province, Stormers, Cheetahs, Sharks, Bayonne and Biarritz and fellow South African JP du Plessis has played elite level rugby in South Africa, Australia and France. American flyer Takudzwa Ngwenya has been released, but Olympic gold medalist Jasa Veremalua has signed.

Final Standings
So, that leaves us with our final four teams.

  • Rugby United New York
  • Toronto Arrows
  • Houston SaberCats
  • NOLA Gold

Get voting for your favourites.

MLR: Cities and Stadia

The penultimate part of our MLR club selection.

So, whilst 12 miles of M4 is too far for some rugby fans to travel to watch their region, being an MLR fan in Britain means clocking up some serious air miles to watch a game. That means the trip needs more than 80 minutes of rugby.

Salt Lake City, Utah
Almost treble the national average of violent crimes is bad enough, but when that nation is America, it's even worse. Worse still... MORMONS!

Glendale, Colorado
The entertainment and night life centre of Houston... in the 70s. Hopes of restoration seemingly revolve around a strip club called Shotgun Willie's which holds "White Trash Parties."

Houston, Texas
"Houston hums with an energy and independent spirit all its own"... it's also ridiculously humid, has an higher than average unemployment rate and... 23 children were killed by firearms in 2018.

Austin, Texas
A city built on music and food with over 250 live music venues, sounds brilliant. However, it's stupidly hot, crammed with hipsters and it's still in Texas.

Seattle, Washington
A modern city surrounded by the beauty of great lakes and snow capped mountains. But, which is unfortunately doused in rain and filled with yuppies.

New Orleans, Louisiana 
Plenty of music, Latin flair, creole food and plenty of alcohol. But also, hot and hurricanes.

San Diego, California
Laid back, beach, surfer type place and... Anchorman. Cannonball!!!

New York, New York
The city that doesn't sleep, if you can make it there... etc etc. One of the most famous cities on earth with plenty to do and see and where everyone should visit at least once. It would be number one... if it wasn't for the rats and the smell and Trump.

Toronto, Ontario
Like New York, but clean and friendly. 

The spiritual homes of the teams, ranked from worst to best.

Eagle Athletic Facility

San Diego Legion

Torero Stadium

Austin Elite 

Dell Diamond

Toronto Arrows

York Lions Stadium

Seattle Seawolves
Starfire Stadium

Houston Sabercats
Aveva Stadium

Glendale Raptors
Infinity Park

Utah Warriors

Zions Bank Stadium

Rugby United New York
MCU Park

... And that leaves just two more categories to go before we have out final four in out hunt for an MLR team.

Kim Wilde - Kids in America

MLR: Positions and Badges

Last season rugby in America took a major leap forward. After the collapse of the somewhat shambolic PRO Rugby competition, Major League Rugby (MLR) rose from the ashes.

After a successful first season the league has expanded to include two extra teams and the season extending from a meager 10 weeks to a much more satisfying 19 and with each team playing 16 games before the playoffs.

So, that leaves one thing left unanswered... who to support?

With no affiliation, all teams will be scored in different categories until we determine the 4 highest scoring teams and a Twitter vote decides who becomes the Ruck 'n' Roll MLR team.

A simple one to start. Nobody likes a glory supporter and there's something to be said for a true underdog story. 

So, teams will be assigned points equal to their league positions last season.

The exceptions are Seattle Seawolves and Glendale Raptors. Although Glendale finished top of the conference the Seawolves beat them in the playoff final in San Diego to take the inaugural crown. So, Seattle take one point and the Raptors two.

With Rugby United New York and Toronto Arrows joining the league they will take the bottom two spots. RUNY remained unbeaten in their exhibition season so they take 8 points and Toronto Arrows the full 9.

In sport, a badge is more than just a logo. It's the embodiment of the club and - to some - akin to religious iconography; why else would fat, shirtless football fans wear nothing above the waist save for some expensive ink?

Bottom Three:

By far the worst badge is New York. While major sports teams based in the Big Apple have used the instant global recognition of the NY initials, RUNY have managed to some how screw it up. The Yankees have built a brand out of it and the Giants, Islanders and New York F.C. have all used it to great success. That's why it's unfathomable that Rugby United would reduce it an indecipherable squiggle that even Prince would think a bad idea.

Then we have the Seawolves, who despite being called Seawolves appear to have an anime Free Willy as their badge.

Austin Elite come in next with a badge, that while incorporating the longhorn imagery of Texas, looks like it belongs on a cheap American steakhouse menu.

Middle Tier:

Bold, distinctive and clear from San Diego Legion. A simple design that would have worked wonders for New York. The font somehow just makes it feel decidedly boring.

In the blue and white colours synonymous with the city, the Toronto Arrows have opted for a crisp badge with plenty of straight lines in an enduring design.

The Utah Warriors have fully embraced the Polynesian community in the region on which the success of the team could rest. The design resembles that of NRL's New Zealand Warrior's in rugby league.

Top Three:

It's difficult to separate the top three badges.

The Glendale Raptors design is befitting of prestige. Looking like a badge steeped in history rather than one for a team less than a year into competition, the design would be the finest... if it didn't remind me of Barclays bank.

A modern design befitting an NFL or Super Rugby team, the Sabercats have managed to incorporate a fitting animal (in your faces Seawolves) with a rugby related image and the black and yellow work perfectly.

The finest is New Orleans' badge, a modern update of a traditional design. An air of regality with the gold colouring and crown which also buys into the tradition of New Orleans as per NFL's New Orleans Saints. Full points to NOLA.

Monday, January 21, 2019

MLR: Kits and Names

Our journey to find a team ahead of the new Major League Rugby season continues and this time we look at the kits of the nine teams in this year's competition and the teams' nicknames.

As Blues and Scarlets - and fans of any other team using Macron will know - kit is important. MLR doesn't have to worry about the differences in kit quality as all the kits are made by the same supplier - Australian based XBlade - but the designs vary massively. 

So, here are the kits ranked from worst to best and given 1-9 points.

Austin Elite 
The worst kind of retro. A late 90s / early 80s style abomination that looks like a bad stream buffering mid game.

Seattle Seawolves
Whilst plenty of people seem to be fans of the kit, it's just not nice. Plus the away kit looks like the ink has run on a the Seattle skyline drawing.

Glendale Raptors
Whilst the colours work perfectly well, those wings aren't a good look and the pinstripe bird on the away shirt makes it look like the ink was running out in the printer when the design was being printed off.

San Diego Legion
Last year's home kit was somewhat Saracens-esque and I preferred it. The much less complex away kit is a HUGE improvement though, with the weird black and white broken prints out and a simple white kit with red trim in.

The gold on the home jersey is subtle and beautiful. The all gold away is far less subtle... but surprisingly still beautiful.

Houston Sabercats
The yellow trim on the otherwise plain black home kit is exquisite. The reverse - including black band - is a bit more bumblebee. Unfortunately, the flying insect rather than the 80s song singing Transformer.

Toronto Arrows
A classic design in white and blue that are synonymous with the cities sport teams - the Maple Leafs and Bluejays - is far from anything original, but is stunning. The badge and sponsor only serve to enhance the look.

Utah Warriors
There's something exquisite about black rugby jerseys and the red stripes only further amplify that. The change strip of reversed colours and tonal reds is also among the MLR's finest.

Rugby United New York
Magnificent! In the colour of the New York flag both of RUNY's kits are delicious. The blue and orange is reminiscent of Netherlands football away shirt - fittingly the Dutch flag is where the NY colours were born from - whilst the navy and white stripes are timeless.

As well as the kits and badges, the team name goes a huge way to building the brand that can be hit or miss; for every Natal Sharks there's a Amherst College Lord Jeffs.

The worst of which is Rugby United New York. While the name itself is boring, the acronym RUNY is just terrible.

On the surface, San Diego Legion doesn't sound like a bad name, but Legion will forever conjure images of old clubs from my childhood smelling of cigarette smoke, stale booze and cheap aftershave; I don't want my rugby teams to remind me of totes and grab a granny nights.

Toronto Arrows is a let down of a name when you consider the other rugby team in the city is named Wolfpack.

As well as continuing the theme of the cities colours, Seattle have stuck on a similar path when it comes to the name. After NFL's Seahawks, Seattle have adopted Seawolves. It lacks the cool feeling though and they are basically just named after a fuck ugly fish.

NOLA Gold falls somewhere between a great name with heritage and the name of a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race.

Anything named after a carnivorous, prehistoric creature with gnarly teeth is usually going to be a winner. Even more so if the name of the animal includes the name of a weapon and actually existed in your area. Houston Sabercats also rolls off the tongue a little easier than Houston Sabre-toothed Tigers.

Austin Elite. No point being coy when it comes to nicknames. Does what it says on the tin. 

Almost tempting to refer two paragraphs above for the Raptors, but Glendale's iconography is all aimed at raptors of the feathered kind. For some reason it feels a little classier and more personal than if it had been the mini-armed,scavenger misrepresented in film.

Ironically, a utahraptor is an actual species of dinosaur, but Utah chose to acknowledge the large Polynesian community of the area with the Warrior name and badge. It's classic, simple and majorly effective for such a physical and often brutal sport.

At the midway stage the table looks like this.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ruck 'n' Roll Awards 2018: Part Two

After handing out plenty of awards in part one, we dive straight back into dishing out the least prestigious awards in rugby.

Lord Lucan Award for Going Missing 
Plenty of players have been accused of going missing in the big games, some fans seemed to have disappeared from the stands, some common sense seemed sadly lacking in disciplinary panels, but nothing vanished more noticeably than Owen Farrell’s arms during the autumn. Much like Nessy we've all seen the photos of their existence, but nobody has witnessed them when they count.

Shithouse of the Year Award
Whilst Maro Itoje proves to still be as annoying as a mosquito on cocaine, his shithousery level remains entry level compared to the disgusting level of thuggery displayed by buffet worrying centre Mathieu Bastareaud. A swinging forearm to the unprotected head of a floored Christophe Samson followed on from an homophobic slur earlier in the year. Built like a brick shithouse and with the attitude of an actual shithouse, Basta is run away winner.

The WWF Award for the Biggest Risk to an Endangered Species 
Not since the Japanese decided to declare a genocide on sea mammals has an assault on something that needs protection been as obvious since the English Premiership clubs decided to launch an attack on the British and Irish Lions this year and endangered more lion's futures than fat American tourists in Africa.

Spirit of Rugby Award presented by @PhillTheBull
"Neath RFC squad Vs Bargoed Nov 16th 2018... Boys that hadn't been paid for a month, over half the squad walked, permit players all over the shop. Won 30-12. Tears."

The Fred Elliott Award for Butchered Opportunities
Cai Devine's hard work prevented a sure try for Jonathan Laugel, Jamie Farndale's moment of madness, Alamanda Motuga's brain failure for Samoa were all captivating viewing, but it's hard to look past Freddie Burns' "he's behind you" moment with Maxime Medard in the Champions Cup.

Best Video of the Year
Despite SquidgeRugby putting out some excellent content this year, nothing will beat the sheer trolling joy of Rassie Erasmus and Andre Esterhuizen's tackling drills video post Twickenham.

Luke Charteris Award for Most Column Inches 
Whilst concussion has dominated the news, it is completely justified with the impact it has on players and how it will shape the future of the game. The continued furore that rumbled for over a week after "Flaggate" descended from funny to farcical.

Biggest Fun Sponge Award
Imagine beating the most successful team in sport... for only the second time in your very long history... the first time ever at home... and focusing on the negatives. It takes a special kind of mentality, that Ewan MacKenna has mastered. 

Overreaction of the Year
After a dreadful spell that saw them finish 5th in the Six Nations, lose a tour to South Africa and concede 63 points in a defeat to the Barbarians; the English media's embarrassing response to a close game against the All Blacks and a win against the Wallabies was to instantly declare Uncle Eddie's men as World Cup contenders and some of their players as the best in the world.

Worst Lid Award
Brodie Retallick and Elton Jantjies have haircuts that should embarrass their barbers, but Tomas Francis has a worse lid than second hand Tupperware.

Emotional Farewell 
It barely feels like yesterday that Sam Warburton burst onto the scene and tore up the breakdown, challenging the finest flankers the world had to offer. The 2011 World Cup will almost be exclusively Sam's to some Welsh fans and after Six Nations titles, Grand Slams and Lions tours, to see Sam hang up his boots for good has been emotional to say the least.

Warrior of the Year
Sometimes one player or incident transcends the game. 2018 has been the year of Doddie Weir. An incredible personality that can't even be dampened by a debilitating illness and maintaining an happiness that even a goth Ewan MacKenna on a downer couldn't bring down. An all round incredible human being and not just Warrior, but human of the year.

As a tribute, the song to play us out is one of the big man's favourites. Here's to you Doddie...

...and help support Doddie's cause here: https://www.myname5doddie.co.uk/donate

Dr Hook - Sylvia's Mother

Ruck 'n' Roll Awards 2018: Part One

It's award season again, but we swap out red carpets, fake Freddie's and Fiji Water girls for crap puns, deep sarcasm and Izzy Folau jokes.

Without further ado, let's hand out some awards.

Team of the Year
Whilst I have absolutely no qualms with World Rugby awarding Ireland their Team of the Year there is one team whose year has been one of glorious, unprecedented success. A ground breaking 12 months that completely changed the game... there is no team better than Bristol Bears Social Media Team.

Worst Team of the Year
Easily the Northampton Saints Social Media Team. From the terrible announcement of The Hask signing, the Baby Shark video and the god awful GIFs. Cringing until it hurts.

Player of the Year
From the moment he dropped the goal against France, it was clear that this year was going to be a special one for a certain Mr Jonathan Sexton, whilst both club and country showed just how vital Faf de Klerk is to their cause. There is no front row bias here though and the importance of a world class prop is duly recognised. Tadgh Furlong is the 2018 Ruck 'n' Roll Player of the Year.

Match of the Year
There is one stand out game that shaped the landscape of rugby's elite on the international stage. A game that proved just how important the season before the World Cup can be and how in 80 minutes everything can change. I'm of course talking about Germany v Canada in Marseille. Also, Ireland and Springboks beat All Blacks in some lesser games apparently.

Worst Match of the Year
A game more dour than Eastenders at Christmas or Coldplay's Greatest Hits, Bath v Sale was the kind of game that could climb into your soul and replace it with blackness and despair. No YOU'RE being dramatic.

Tackle of the Year
Cian Kelleher

Tit of the Year
Awarded to the rugby personality whose extra marital activities have been somewhat questionable to say the least. An unusually quiet year on that front, but former England fullback and future MLR star Ben Foden's dalliances cost him his marriage to former Saturday Una Healy.

Twit of the Year
While there are an abundance of social media "personalities" who could stake a claim for being the worst Tweeter of the year - you know who they are - this has be another award to grace the already bulging trophy cabinet of Stephen Jones. Trolling, serial blocking and victim playing throughout his timeline. Whilst being far from the only one, he continues to set the bar for others.

Twat of the Year
Izzy Folau. No further justification needed.

Best Shirt of the Year
A huge fan of the simplistic, clean and simple kit design so obviously the winner is a madcap beauty from South America. The Jaguares home shirt is to be marveled at, admired and adored. The orange on black, the new badge and the thought of Jaguardo rocking it. Marvelous. 

Worst Shirt of the Year
Not just the worst shirt, but one of the most offensive things in rugby ever. Aimed firmly at the Harold Bishop market, Australia's fishing and Hawaiian shirts are the worst things committed to polyester.

Pod of the Year

There was a time when a good rugby podcast was difficult to come by, but that's no longer the case. Flats and Shanks, Scrum V and House of Rugby have all put out excellent content this year. However, it's Blood and Mud that week on week continue to produce the best most laid back pod that mixes the hilarity of its weekly episodes with the in depth informative and interesting history of rugby episodes; Josh and Lee are THE best rugby podcast currently available.

Forcefield Award for Best Defence of the Year
Leo Varadkar is Ireland's head of the Department of Defence. Ireland's true An tAire Cosanta is Andy Farrell. Ireland's green wall that keep the All Blacks at bay - including Peter O'Mahoney proving to be the best sweeper since Franz Beckenbauer.

Best Hand Off Award
Jon "Foxy" Davies' pneumatic armed double off load was something magnificent and Matthew Morgan's hand of Wigglesworth on his way to a breath taking try against Saracens were joys to behold, but both pale in comparison to Hamish Watson manhandling Ross Moriarty.

Keep an eye out for part 2 of the awards. At Cardiff Arms Park the half time music would  probably be DJ Otzi, but we are much better than that. Our half time music is my favourite song of 2018.

Dylan and Caitlyn - Manic Street Preachers and The Anchoress