Sunday, 23 October 2011

Je Ne Peux Pas Parler Parce Ce Que Je Mange Mon Chapeau

With humble pie to follow please waiter
Or words to that effect. RWC 2011 (in truth a middling renewal which has never got beyond the spluttering into life stage) has finished with a final in which the goal-kicking was again unprofessionally poor, a factor which allowed the game to be rather gripping. The damned bookies were right and I was wrong. New Zealand are not as good as everyone thought they were - well not quite everyone. I harboured doubts and I think that yet again they peaked between tournaments but this time they were sufficiently better than the competition to get away with it. Good luck to them. England's 2003 team was also past its peak so no crime there. Home advantage also helped, as did some uncharacteristically sloppy refereeing from Craig Joubert in the final. Q: when is a high tackle not a high tackle? A: when it is committed by an All Black.

Anyhoo, here are a few conclusions to be drawn from RWC 2011:
  • South Africa and France - both these countries came into the tournament with a clown for a coach yet might still have won it. It is in the interests of the rest of the world that these two nations remain dysfunctional because if either or both gets its act together then the rest can go whistle.
  • England were dreadful and will remain so for the foreseeable future. There is no will in the professional game in England to prioritise international success. Come to think of it, this is much the same in South Africa and France but they at least have several outstanding players, a luxury not afforded to England.
  • Daniel Carter is a truly great player and without him New Zealand become beatable. That they emerged victorious is testament to their spirit and granite application. I love their attitude to rugby, if not their occasional unsmiling hubris. More than that I applaud their method. For a period they had dabbled with fannying about (let us call these the Carlos Spencer years) but recently they have reinserted steel into their game and competition at the breakdown has become fashionable. They can even scrummage - though not as well as the French.
  • The lawmakers need to do something about the unedifying spectacle (more precisely non-spectacle) of the ball sitting interminably stationary at the base of a ruck. How about a law similar to that applied to the stationary maul - use it or lose it.
  • I'm a big Wayne Barnes fan but how on earth did he and his touch judge not spot the forward pass for Shane Williams' try in the third place play-of? Some things are marginal but this was just blatant.
  • Why do we have the third place match at all? For television's benefit? Ditch it.
That's all folks. I'm off to get some dipping sauce to make my hat taste a little nicer as I resume eating it.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Back From The Brink

Read this and be grateful that sense and decency can still prevail - Rugby player ordered to repay compensation

What was this bloke thinking of when he sued the club in the first place? Or more exactly what were the people advising him thinking of, for he is young and clearly unready to handle the intellectual nuance of God's own game.

And what did the damned court of first instance think they were doing when they made the award now overturned? Apart from pushing my beloved game to the brink. So a small bright light today shines in a dark world of prissy stupidity. I have seen the future and it's horrible but maybe this will postpone it long enough to sustain me.The two most important words in the language are - SHIT HAPPENS.They should be taught (in several languages preferrably) to all law students. And judges should have to attend a refresher course of two days' duration at which they are constantly yelled at them before they ever grace the bench. And don't tell me that because all of this is underwritten by insurance it doesn't matter, because that is assinine.

Finally, remember that France will lose heavily on Sunday, possibly embarrassingly so. The Tote are betting 10/11 each side with a fifteen point spread which strikes me as giving it away. I've been wrong before, but this time?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Final Word On That Tackle

This, as you would expect, will be the final and definitive expression of opinion on the Warburton/Roland apocalypse which unbalanced Saturday's RWC semi-final. But before I prove just why Alain Roland was wrong I will apply my forensic eye to some other facts which have gone under-reported in the aftermath:
  • Genuinely great sides have great goal kickers. Wales lacked even a vaguely competent one on Saturday - this cost them a victory over a lamentable French side.
  • Secure tight-head props are gold dust and when Adam Jones limped off it served to highlight quite cruelly how good he is. France can do very little else but their set-pieces are awesome and facing them with an unbalanced front-row was a piece of rotten luck just as horrid as the banishment of Warburton. But, and here Warren Gatland gets off lightly for a former front-row man, the bench should have been better equipped to meet this problem.
  • Lineouts matter and the Welsh went awol in that department. In a piss-poor French side, take a bow Lionel Nallet and the annoyingly great Imanol Harinordoquy.
  • I've girded my loins and ventured into some rugby chat rooms to 'listen' to the vitriol and general garbage. Shame on those who suggest Roland is a cheat and should never have been appointed because his dad is French and he himself has the effrontery to be able to speak French. Grow up you fuckwits. This is rugby football. He's a good referee, though this was an incorrect decision - as I will demonstrate. 
Next ladies and gentlemen of the jury the facts of the case:
  • My client Mr Warburton pleads guilty to having made a tackle which contravened Law 10.4(j) which states, 
  •  (j) Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player's feet are still off the ground such that the player's head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.
  • The referee Mr Roland correctly penalised my client but then applied the disproportionate sanction of dismissing him from the field of play.
  • The referee's employers (IRB) have justified his decision to send-off Mr Warburton by reference to their own directive on the particular isssue of dangerous tackles. It merits quotation in full,
To summarise, the possible scenarios when a tackler horizontally lifts a player off the ground:
The player is lifted and then forced or “speared” into the ground. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle. 
The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player’s safety. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.
For all other types of dangerous lifting tackles, it may be considered a penalty or yellow card is sufficient.

  • My task is a simple one - to show that my client's tackle did not fall into either of the first two categories but rather into the third and that a yellow card at most would suffice.
  • It has been asserted (not least by the minions of the IRB jumping to the defence of their man) that the player's intent in the matter is not relevant. Indeed such wording has appeared in various of their contradictory directives to what they fashionably label 'stakeholders' in our great game. However this assertion flies in the face of the plain meaning of the specific directive quoted above.
  • I think we can all agree that my client's tackle did not fall into the first and most heinous category, what is colloquially termed a 'spear tackle.'
  • Mr Roland's position and that of his employers seems to be that the tackle was in category 2 - the species of tackle where the player is 'dropped to the ground from a height with no regard for the player's safety.' Were this the case then the red card would indeed be the correct decision. It is however manifestly not the case.
  • There are two elements to a category 2 tackle: i) dropping to the ground; and ii) a disregard for the player's safety. Both elements must be present - the word 'with' in the directive can only be conjunctive. No other interpretation is possible.
  • Mr Roland should have exercised his judgement as to whether or not my client disregarded the safety of his victim. I do not believe Sam did so, nor in truth do any objective spectators - from this category I of course exclude Marc Lievremont, the nominal French coach, last seen wandering round Auckland trying to find not only his team (out on the piss comme les rosbifs) but also his marbles. 
So there we have it. Sam Warburton is not innocent. He is guilty but he has been dispropotionately punished. Alain Roland derogated from his duty as a referee if he felt bound by a directive which in truth admits of some discretion. If he did in fact use that discretion and still thought a red card appropriate then this is a lesser crime - all he did was get it wrong and we all do that every time we take the field. Perhaps the greatest sadness is to find the great Paddy O'Brien (arguably the best referee of the lot and now the IRB refereeing head honcho) feeling compelled to defend an attitude which takes judgement away from the man or woman best placed to exercise it ie. the one brave enough to get out there with a whistle.  

Quod erat demonstrandum. 

But it is only a game after all -a game which France will lose by a record margin on Sunday. Bet on it. 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Another Sad Little Tale

Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Defence felt compelled to resign this afternoon. Fox Resignation Letters

I pondered this one as I drove home from work. You see what troubles me is that the reason certain elements of our ghastly media were so keen to hound him had nothing to do with his politics and rather more to do with their unlovely desire to whisper very loudly, 'he might be a poof you know.' To which the only proper answer is, so bloody what. But I'm afraid that we have to ignore the ignoble motives of the scum of Wapping and reluctantly concur that he had no choice but to resign. This is the world we have made for ourselves and by its rules he has to go. We have designed a system in which politicians are mandated to be 'professionals', distinct mark you from the wretched amateur, that is to say someone who does the thing for the love of it - someone like, say, a medical GP who abandons his practice to give his soul to public office. Rather like Dr Liam Fox perhaps. A world in which the politicking is the sole preserve of a self-perpetuating expertocracy. A world in which a minister must listen only to those on the state's payroll. A world unfit for any latter-day Michael Heseltine (who always paid his own way in politics) or Dave Nellist (bonkers but utterly admirable trot). A world which finds a serious and dedicated man like Fox unpalatable.

We have been here before. Remember when a bloke called Mandelson got chased out of the government because he had been astute enough to persuade a rich bloke called Robinson to lend him a shed-load of money to buy a property in a rising market. As it happens I was glad when Mandy got the old heave-ho (I was glad each time he got booted) but only because he was so consistently and egregiously wrong on pretty much every issue. It never bothered me where the slimeball raised his money so long as he didn't nick it. But Mandelson should have known the rules of the game, actually he's one of the bastards who wrote them. And so should Fox. And what we should all learn from this is that we should change those rules pretty damned smartish because very soon there will be no interesting or challenging people left in politics. If you want to learn what I mean, find a copy of Richard Crossman's diaries and compare it to the self-serving drivel of the unelected and dreadful Alastair Campbell.

FTSE 100 14 October 2011
But hey look, the markets have recovered again today which must mean I'm wrong about the fate of the Euro. Am I bollocks.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Variation On A Theme

Union over League for me but that should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the best try on television last weekend was the one scored by Rob Burrow in the RL Grand Final at Old Trafford. Catch it at Grand Final Highlights

The old black dog made a bit of a comeback on Sunday, hopefully a mere blip on the road to Wellville, but my old friend Culcha came to the rescue last night. It was 'Make An Aria' night at the Barber Institute and one of the four student writing teams included that promising juvenile librettist known as The Overgraduate. Our aria 'Y Gollyngdod' seemed to get a good reception at its first (last?) public outing so that made me feel pretty damned good. Time to 'fess up now though. Operatic writing may be a collaborative art but take it from this participant, it is the composer who does the bulk of the work. Big respect to Jeremy Clay who took my verbal meanderings and gave them a musical direction that even my tin ear could follow. Because I can't read music much less produce it, the first time I heard the music rendered was as I fraudulently sat on stage with Jeremy for yesterday's rehearsals. As soon as I heard the clamour he gave to my second stanza I could have hugged him. He got it. He got my words and he made them sing. Thank you. Sample some of Jeremy's earlier efforts at his website - and watch that space, the boy has talent. Jeremy Clay

So that's me then - lawyer, librettist, bon viveur,wit. Available for weddings and bar mitzvahs. Reasonable rates. What have you got to lose - aparts from money and any standing in society. I had thought the commissions for an entire new opera would have flooded in today but only silence thus far. Perhaps the answering machine's on the fritz. Yes that must be it. Or possibly wicked tory cuts. Must go, my public awaits.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Overgraduate Changes Nationality

This announcement is selfish and unjustifiable. It contradicts my criticisms of the behaviour of others (see in particular my entry on this year's Heineken Cup Final) and smacks of the kind of inconstancy I find unendurable in others.

For the remainder of Rugby World Cup 2011 I am reverting two generations and will henceforth be regarded as Welsh. My paternal grandfather was a fully fledged Welshman and I now claim my celtic inheritance.

The boy can play
Had yesterday's results gone differently, I might by now be adopting my wife's Irishness or sticking to my unenthused Englishness. As it turns out neither of these outcomes was ever on the cards. A superannuated Irish team was blown away by the Welsh and England were obdurately pedestrian in the face of a French side who don't even talk to their coach but who were in possession of the best player on the field (by a country mile) that proudly unreconstructed git, Imanol Harinordoquy. Reprehensible (exemplar of the fact that being racist about the English is somehow alright - see also Alex Salmond - though he, one imagines, would be a shit No 8 so what's his excuse?) but a magnificent beast of a player. When Imanol gets old I invite him to come and play a season for AOE (he can stay in our spare room) because he'll find we're not all arrogant tossers.

Talking of tossers, it occurs to me that Stuart Barnes is always banging on about international teams having to be developed over the four year RWC cycle blah blah blah. Nothing is ever that simple. As an Englishman I want the representatives of my country to be the best available on the day in question. International sport should be specifically massive at each renewal. Now this general rule is inherently as unreliable as Barnes' but mine has romance in its soul. Which makes it better. In any event the greatest ally of any coach in any sport is luck. Sheer bloody luck. Wales are playing magnificently but is anyone seriously telling me that Warren Gatland's masterplan included finding his fly-half and his No 8 only during the summer warm-up games and that he knew all along that his best side excluded footballers as gifted as Hook, Byrne and Stephen Jones. Luck, sheer bloody luck - but that doesn't mean there isn't a gift in taking advantage of it. Oh and the oldest trick in the coaching manual - fitness, fitness, fitness. The Welsh side have that sheen of ultra-fitness common to champions. They have never had it before, not as a unit. Finally two very good players have rediscovered themselves - Jamie Roberts (who seems a thoroughly good egg) and Mike Phillips (who comes across as a bit of a pikey but no matter). Anyone got a red shirt I can borrow next weekend? Cymru am bloody byth.

And finally the wretched English. Leaderless on the field I'm afraid. Arrogant and unpleasant off it? Mostly not, but Ashton, Hartley and Haskell could do with some PR guidance. Of these three by the way, only Haskell is the full real deal as a player - he has something of the Harinordoquy about him, good and bad. The truth is this - England do not have enough excellent players at present and they have too many good ones to choose from. This same perverse dilemma can afflict French rugby.

Whoever thought up this advert
knew his rugby
Almost certainly farewell to an English sporting great, Jonny Wilkinson. Efficient, dignified, brilliant. Jeff Probyn was fond of saying that you don't retire from international sport, it retires you. Very few disprove this (Barry John, Martin Johnson?) and Wilkinson's humility in the face of his descent will I'm sure be as uplifting as his pomp. The revisionists are no doubt already consigning Wilkinson to mediocrity - this is the English way. Compare how the Irish will treat Ronan O'Gara, a very, very fine player but far lesser figure. Which in a roundabout way brings us to the indiputably great Brian O'Driscoll. Mike Gibson, Tim Horan, Phillipe Sella. I've thought about it and I think O'Driscoll just might be better than all of them, which is quite something. I hope O'Driscoll carries on. Not for his sake but for mine. I like watching him