On Welsh rugby

I’m intrigued by Wales. Although they’ve won a grand slam, and that gives the pundits the chance to talk their game up, all their games were close – just one score against England, Ireland & France, a struggle against Italy, and Scotland just rolled over.

Thinking back to the 70s team, and even their previous two grand slams (which as a Welsh supporter I regard as flashes in the pan) there were games in which they really cut loose. I’m thinking of the 2005 matches against Scotland and Ireland, where, IIRC, Wales were completely out of sight by half-time in both matches but lost the second half of each. In 2008 they conceded only one try in the whole championship and, in the final game,¬†against France, ground them down to the extent that they had the last 20 minutes to themselves – very much as England did to Ireland today. Well done to England!

There was one interesting set of statistics read out at the start of the match. Before today, Wales and France had met 89 times with 43 wins a piece and three draws. Wales had scored 1305 points, France 1304.

Possibly the highlight of today’s game was the tackle by Dan Lydiate in which the crunch was picked up by the ref’s microphone.

Six Nations Rugby

England v Wales should be very interesting – but England v Wales is always very interesting!

I thought Scotland, had they taken their chances and not hit the self-destruct button when they did, had it within them to have won either match. Against England, their generous errors were sprinkled liberally throughout the match. Against Wales, they concentrated them all into a 15-minute spell that proved decisive. If you take out that 15-minute spell, Scotland won the rest of the game.

Wales had massive pressure against Ireland for much of the first half, but were behind for almost the entire match. I think, before the days of the referee’s action-replay comfort blanket, Wales would have been awarded a try when they crossed the line with ball in hand, but no-one could see whether it was grounded because it was entirely obscured by bodies.

So, both teams are on 2/2 but both teams could just as easily have been on 0/2. I think the difference between them has been style. Wales have been very exciting to watch and England haven’t – not necessarily their fault of course. Murrayfield and Rome were both numbingly cold quagmires, whereas Dublin and Cardiff-with-the-roof-closed were much more conducive to entertaining rugby.

Traditionally when England and Wales meet for what might be a Championship decider, the press go into fever mode and that, I think, has hyped the players up and occasionally led to a dirty game. So much publicity has been given to foul play over the past few months, what with tip-tackles, red & yellow cards for all sorts of stuff, that I’m sure the coaches will stress the importance of keeping on the right side of the referee. There’s a fine line between imposing yourself physically in a hard-but-fair game and going ott and it becoming a bad-tempered punch-up.

There’s also the unknown quantity of the fitness of the Welsh players. So far they’ve managed wins when many of their key men have been injured. How will they do when they are all fit? And will they be in time for the England match?

I’d say it’s too close to call. However, if it’s a flowing. entertaining game, I’d expect Wales to win, and by a reasonable margin. If it’s not, England may well win but it will be close.

Wales v England rugby

I saw very little of the rugby at the weekend because we were out on the tandem for most of it.

However, I can think of numerous occasions on which England, going to Cardiff for the last game of the season and with a chance of a championship, have come badly unstuck. Keith Jarrett’s game of 1966 was the first of these. I remember well Kim Novak (yes, honestly) scoring a try for England in 1970 and the score being 13-0 to England at half time, but Wales won 17-13 (Gareth Edwards was injured and replaced by Chico Hopkins at half time). Robert Norster and Robert Jones between them gave the English a salutory lesson in in line-out play in (I think ) 1988 which was the occasion that England were supposed to end a run of 26 years without a win in Cardiff and the BBC had assembled in the studio the entire 1962 team, all kitted out, to celebrate the fact; and of course there was the lovely occasion that an effigy of Will Carling’s head was impaled on a spike on the ramparts of Cardiff Castle. And didn’t Wales do it again when Scott Gibbs’ try and Neil Jenkins’ conversion did for them with the last kick of the match, this time at Wembley before the millenium stadium was opened?

So although Wales have been very disappointing this season, and particularly dire against Scotland, the other three matches have been reasonably close. Saturday’s game will be a close affair and the bookies, and, most importantly, the media, will make England favourites. That’s just how I like it…

My first visit to Lords

The first time I went to Lords was for the 1979 B & H Final, Essex v Surrey. It was a fantastic match, lots of runs, a great century by Gooch, and the first trophy that Essex ever won. I went with my dad along and a pal and his wife.

During the lunch break, we had a stroll around the ground, and as we were behind the pavilion, who should drive up in his swish 3.5 litre Rover (the hatchback version, which was very new then) but Mr. Brearley himself. He was surrounded by small boys demanding autographs.

“Not today, lads, I’m on holiday and I haven’t had my lunch yet” came the reply, and the England Captain disappeared into the Middlesex Club HQ hut. A few minutes later the Great Man emerged again and was again surrounded by small boys. More persistently, he stated “Not today, lads, I’m on holiday and I haven’t had my lunch yet” and started to climb the open staircase at the back of the pavilion.

I didn’t catch what one of the autograph hunters said to him, but he turned around as though stung, leaned over the rail and boomed in his cultured Harrovian tones over the heads of many hundreds of ordinary cricket goers just mooching about,

“You’re rude little buggers! Sod Off!”

On Wives and Cricket

Mrs.  Wow came to some cricket matches.

There was one famous occasion, at Southchurch Park, when Essex played Middlesex, whose captain at the time was Mike Brearley (1977?). We were in the Old Westcliffian’s tent, which is where local piss-heads go if they want to mix beer and cricket. Twice, during this 40-over Sunday league match, Keith Pont skied the ball to Graham Barlow, who was fielding right in front of us. Each time the ball went high enough to gather ice crystals and came right out of the sun at poor Graham, who was actually a world-class fielder and played quite a few times for England. Twice, the entire throng in our tent said helpful things like “Graham, you’re going to drop it, Graham…” and twice Graham dropped it and it went for 4, right at our feet.

During all this excitement, Mrs. Wow failed to look up from her wool.

Essex won by 1 run.

I gave up taking my wife to cricket matches.

On Football

I think that this world cup merely served to illustrate football’s infinite capacity to disappoint.

Examples abounded of cheating players (Rooney’s stamp, head butts from Figo & Zidane, Henry’s face-holding, Ronaldo’s entire approach to the game).

There was a disgraceful brawl after the Germany – Argentina game.

There were two games with massive violence (Italy – USA and Portugal – Holland).

The refereeing was generally poor. “Unfashionable” sides seldom received the support they deserved. Ghana should have had two penalties against Italy, Italy should never have had one against Australia, Graham Poll completely lost control of the game in which he booked the same player three times, the refereeing was very inconsisent (Figo’s head butt was only worth a yellow card, Zidane’s a red) and the 4th official only seemed to intervene when he felt like it (again, Graham Poll’s debacle, Figo’s & Zidane’s head butts).

England were, predictably, second-rate, but our media hype seemed to raise public expectation way beyond the reasonable.

The BBC continues to employ John Motson as their main commentator when the man is a complete buffoon who repeatedly displays that he has no capacity to learn from his mistakes. It seems to me that every other sport that the BBC covers has commentators who know their game inside out: Jonathan Davies on rugby, MacEnroe on tennis, (don’t know about golf – never watch it), Dennis taylor on snooker, but football is stuck with Motson.

Every so often we see a game played in the right spirit by sporting players. This year’s FA Cup Final was one such but that is a rarity, and at the highest level it’s the cheating which sticks in the mind.