Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A bad week for the Welsh Rugby Union

Just a short post today, supposed to be working, but a quickie word on the events of the last week or so around Warren Gatland’s new contract. Announced last monday, the headlines told us it would keep him in Wales until 2015.
I wrote about it the day it was announced. I made the point that while the contract was not worth the paper it was written on it served as a big vote of confidence from the WRU to Gatland, a clever tactic in a world cup year.  
The Problem is this ‘vote of confidence’ has totally dissolved in the revelations about the details of the contract. It started the day of the announcement when the WRU chief executive admitted there were ‘safeguards’ for both sides in the contract. Then it came out that there was a clause allowing Gatland 5 months leave to take the Lions job. Now, it has come out that there is a clause allowing the WRU to sack him if Wales have a poor World Cup.
It makes a bit of a mockery of the smiley-faced handshakes of last week.  And it has certainly ruined any message of confidence that the WRU would want to portray in a World Cup year. Instead it piles the pressure on Gatland and his team by reminding him and everyone that his job is gone if he screws up.
Add this to news that Lee Byrne, Ryan Jones and Leigh Halfpenny are alll out of the Australia test, I think it's fair to say it has not been a great week for the WRU.

Wales coach Warren Gatland
Gatland: Under pressure

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Hong Kong? Really?

The Lions have announced they will be playing a game in Hong Kong before heading to Australia for the 2013 tour. Listen, I have absolutely no problem with unions trying to make a bit of money. Healthy balance sheets make for a healthy sport. But not the Lions, please not the Lions.
Before I hear any of you making the ‘but its spreading the gospel of rugby’ argument let me remind you a bit about Hong kong. Thats Hong Kong the former british colony with a huge ex-pat community. Thats Hong Kong home of the Hong Kong sevens, only the biggest and most established sevens event on the planet. So don’t tell me that anyone is spreading any gospel, coz if thats the goal they are already preaching to the choir.
So obviously it’s about money. But does it have to be? I cannot believe that the TV money, the sponsorships and the shirt sales don’t pay for the trip several times over. So what’s wrong with making a bit of cash on the side? It’s the Lions, it’s pure, it’s a beautiful remnant of an amateur era where money didn’t matter. Most players would still pay to go on a Lions tour, it means that much.
The strength of the Lions is its ability to harness the amateur spirit in professional surroundings. Clive Woodward’s failure to grasp this was his downfall as Lions coach. My question is this, Why not Tokyo? When the Bledisloe cup was played there they packed out a 50,000 stadium. The Lions could make a few quid while actually spreading the word of rugby to a country that is developing into a real rugby nation.
Playing in Hong Kong isn’t the worst thing to ever happen, but it strikes me as both mercenary and a missed opportunity. If the Lions management are amongst my readers, I beg you to move the game to Tokyo. But something tells me my plea won’t be heard.

A packed rugby stadium in Tokyo, truly great for the game.

Monday, 18 October 2010

WRU play clever confidence game

Warren Gatland has signed a new contract that keeps him in charge of Wales beyond the 2015 World Cup. This in itself is a good thing for rugby. Great faith has been shown in a man who has a mixed record in the Wales job. Rugby has slipped too close to its football cousins in the lack of patience shown to head coaches. 3 of the bottom 4 Guinness premiership clubs sacked their managers at the end of last season.
The key to sacking coaches is knowing when you’ve got the right man and when you’ve just got it wrong. Take the example of Kingsley Jones, who was sacked from the Sale Sharks after one season in the job. Getting rid of Jones was absolutely the right thing to do; he just never truly gained the belief of the players. Similarly Wales are doing the right thing backing Gatland. The results are irrelevant, it’s clear that the players have bought into his approach, and with that the results will come.  
This is why the deal with Gatland is so clever, it’s about belief. The WRU Chief executive has admitted that the contract has 'safeguards' in place. These will protect the Union and Gatland from being put in the situation that the English FA are in with Fabio Capello, where they cannot afford to break his contract. The truth is sporting contracts are barely worth the paper they are written on. This deal doesn’t keep Gatland with Wales till 2015 any more than ‘I’ll be there before midday’ actually meant that the lazy fucking electrician would come before midday (he came at 5, if your interested).
The contract is a headline, a vote of confidence (and not the kind of vote confidence that usually come two days before a football manager gets sacked). It says to the press, the Welsh public and most importantly to the players that Gatland is the man to believe in. In a World Cup year belief and confidence are more important than anything else. Momentum is such an important factor in sport. The WRU understand that a strong Autumn will lead to good Six Nations and a successful World Cup.
This is why they have sorted out Gatland’s contract just before he announced squad for the November tests. But I’m willing to bet any money that he won’t be living in Wales in 2015.
Roger Lewis and Warren Gatland
A resounding vote of confidence

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Will Cipriani resurrect his England career?

This morning Jonny Wilkinson tipped Danny Cipriani for a huge England future. It got me thinking, just how talented is Danny Cipriani?
I’ve raided the old Youtube archives and one thing is clear, we all got carried with his talent for a good reason. Do not forget his spectacular performance Vs Clermont in the Heineken Cup or his outstanding Six Nations debut.
These were by no means complete performances, but they confirm that he’s a bit special. These performances told us that he has more than the Ryan Lambs and Olly Barkleys of this world.
But it went wrong. That’s beyond debate. We will never know whether it was the injuries, the pressure or the partying but the fact is Wasp’s backline was  devoid of ideas for most of last season. They finished in the bottom half of the table in points scored, tries scored and try bonus points gained.
So will Melbourne and Super Rugby be the tonic Danny needs to get his career back on track? There are several problems with trying to answer that question. Apart from Michalak and Goode there is little precedence of Europeans at that level. And no one has a clue how the rebels are going to fare. This is a huge risk for Cipriani, perhaps this is a reckless move. Maybe he's playing Russian roulette with his career.
What we do know is that Australia is a great choice of country for him. Rugby union is far from the top of the Aussie sporting agenda, especially in Aussie rules dominated Melbourne. Cipriani is only one of a host of high profile signings. All of this, added to the fact that the Rebels are a brand new franchise, means that he will get the kind of patience that he needs to settle down and establish himself, whether it’s at 10 or 15.
Then there’s the super 15. A league with a skill level that makes the premiership look amateur. A league of hard and dry pitches where running rugby is always encouraged. And a league with no relegation and therefore lower stakes.
 Sounds to me like a perfect place to get your confidence back, get your love of the game back and eventually get your form back. I’m going to agree with Wilkinson here. I expect Danny Cipriani to start at 10 for England in the 2015 world Cup. of course all this is assuming he can get a bloody visa.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Revolution Has Begun!!

Let me assure you from the start that this blog is not only purely an ego based exercise. I am a huge sports fan, I live and breathe rugby and I regularly sacrifice relationships and grades following the game at all levels all over the globe.
Let me be honest with you... I really rate my own opinions (and with good reason, I am rarely wrong) but this is not why this blog exists. I promise with all my being that this blog will serve a greater purpose than a mere pulpit for my ego.
I want a higher quality of rugby Journalism in Britain. I want to see proper analysis of club rugby, I want the Aviva, Magners, Heineken and top 14 to get the exposure they deserve. Anyone who watches these competitions will tell you that they offer a more entertaining brand of the game than the pressure cooker six nation.
 The BBC is undoubtedly the biggest culprit here. Its rugby site can go for days without updating and   the blogging is low quality at best. All too often you get the feeling that the comments in the forum make more sense than the articles.
So welcome to my revolution!! (of sorts. You gotta think big) Please get involved, tell me I’m wrong, but do it with knowledge,
And if you question the title ‘The Truly Beautiful Game’ watch the Rhys Priestlands vs Perpignan try last weekend. It should convince you.