Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


I am off on my hols today so no blog posts for a couple of weeks! Off to the gorgeous Cape Cod for some R&R with the family - feel like a child on Christmas Eve! Although the downside is, it may well scupper all the good work we've done in pre season. I am taking my skipping rope, trainers and a stretchy band to make sure I'm doing all I can.
The beautiful Cape Cod

I'll try and steer clear of those enourmous burgers and corn dogs but I'm not promising anything! We're hoping to get to a Boston Red Sox game as well so I'll try get some pictures and will feedback on the American sports experience.

Ciou for now...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Pre-season giddiness

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin

Yes, the Rangers are up and running. We've had our Pilates preamble, now for the good stuff! 5 July was the first official session and was met with a confused mix of dread and excitement.

Pre-season is an interesting time for any club. There is not only the unpleasant inevitability of the impending 'beasting' - there is also a level of renewed possibilities and hopeful expectation of the year ahead.

The transfer rumour-mill is in full operation. Admittedly it’s not exactly Sky Sports news on deadline day but there is still a level of excitement generated by new signing speculations. Who has left? Who has come back? Are there any new faces? If so, what position are they? Are they big?! And this year has been no exception. As we look to build on our strong finish to the season and push on up the table, we really need a bit more depth.

The word on the street is William Mateai will be joining us this year. The Winger has played for New Zealand Under17s and comes fresh from the Under20s World Cup where he played for Samoa. A few of the boys suspected that he’d seen our shirts and thought we were Wasps but we’re certainly looking forward to welcoming him.
William Mateia. A Ranger from 16 August.
There is more speculation doing the rounds about Australian Props, Scottish Second Rows and suspicions about a turncoat shower-dodger but I’m sure all will be revealed over the next few weeks!

The training so far has been strangely enjoyable. There has been more focus on Rugby specific fitness - sprint and power work combined with handling skills. Much better than the standard 'run 'til you vom' style...but I don't want to count my chickens!

Fortunately, I haven’t suffered too much because I have been doing bits and pieces in the off-season. Those 7s tournaments have stood me in good stead! I even managed the dreaded Saturday morning hill sprints at the weekend, which I was very happy with.

We have a packed schedule of friendlies to look forward to as well. I will be on holiday for the Maidenhead game but return in time for a game against Oxford Harlequins and the much-anticipated tournament and team building weekend down in Exmouth.

Which all leads up to the Tring vs Chinnor grudge match! This will be the first time I have played against the Oxfordshire side and I'm definitely looking forward to it.

There is a certain history between Tring and Chinnor. Not content with stealing our old coach Jason Bowers, the club has also poached a number of our key players over the past few seasons. Add to that the local bragging rights and should make for a tasty game!

The game has an added personal significance. My Wife and I lived just a stone’s throw from the Chinnor ground for two long years and my Wife grew up there. She has played for Chinnor Chicks in the past, her Dad has also donned the black and white hoops and a number of her friends will be playing. I will be determind to show that I made the right decision to stay with Tring...not that I was ever asked or anything!

So, as the season fast approaches, I am feeling in good shape and psychologically preparing myself for an epic year! 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Cross Code Conundrum

The debate between Rugby Union and League has raged for decades. With two such partisan sets of followers, I don’t think it will ever be resolved. However, now that professionalism has firmly set down its roots, an increasing numbers of players are leaving League to sample the richer fruits of Union…although with varying success.

I had a discussion on Twitter about one such convert, Sonny Bill Williams – the incumbent All Black Inside Centre and former NRL prodigy. 

SBW shocked the League world when he turned his back on an already glittering League career to chance his hand at Union. By the relatively tender age of 24, SBW had notched up seven League test appearances for New Zealand but ditched it all for the deeper pockets of Toulon and Union.

It was a huge risk but one which certainly seems to be paying off. He has been one of the stand out players for the Crusaders as they battled to the final of the SuperXV competition this year. He has also had an immediate impact on the international scene as well – almost single-handedly redefining his position.

He is one of a succession of League to Union converts; Lote Tuquiri, Lesley Vainikolo, Chris Ashton, Shontayne Hape, Brad Thorn, Stephen Myler. But for every Jason Robinson there is an Andy Farrell, a Chev Walker, a Darren Pryce, and Iestyn Harris – high profile cross code failures which have added fuel to the sceptics fire.

So why have some succeeded where others have failed? What makes a successful convert? In my opinion it depends entirely on the position and the stage of the player’s career when he switches.

Rugby League is a punishing game of brute force, power and physicality. Tackling plays such an important role in League and players are renowned for their upper body strength. But what is really interesting about League players – and what makes them such a hotly desired commodity – is their skill level and ability to make decisions under pressure.

League demands strong and reliable ball skills throughout the team but also needs highly creative minds to unlock defences. This is true of Union as well but more so in League as you are faced with a flat wall of defenders for each of your six tackles – there are no breakdowns to suck in defenders, no driving mauls. This means backlines need to be inventive and cunning with their patterns.

The successful League-to-Union converts in recent years have all been at the peak of their careers and physical condition. Jason Robinson was able to make such an impact because he still had his searing pace and quickly picked up the tactical awareness. Andy Farrell, however, came to Union in the twilight of his career and no longer had the physical edge to become the player England had hoped…although the signs are looking good for Owen!

Positions are also important to a triumphant conversion. Chris Ashton has made a huge impact since he crossed over to Union – arguably because his position is very similar in both codes. When Andy Farrell crossed over, there was no real idea where he would play. Perhaps Saracens wasted the opportunity by trying to play him in the back row? I suspect Toulon will have a similar issue with Willie Mason this year.

So where does that leave us? Big spending Union clubs will always be tempted by top League players to bolster any backline. There are headaches around coaching the strategic differences but the pace, power and skills of League backs will always turn heads and flutter chequebooks.

The same can’t be said of forwards though. I think there are far too many intricacies of technique in the set plays and cheats learnt through experience for a player to succeed in the pack.

I am looking forward to seeing how Kyle Eastmond gets on at Bath. From what I have seen, he has the full package and is an extremely exciting prospect. Oh…and if Billy Slater and Benji Marshall ever fancy a go at Union, they’ll be warmly received at Cow Lane!!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Touch Rugby World Cup 2011

Last weekend saw the exciting climax of the 7thTouch Rugby World Cup in Edinburgh. The event, held at the University of Edinburgh’s Peffermill playing fields, hosted some 1,400 participants from 28 countries over an exhausting five days. My Father-in-law and I made the journey to Edinburgh to watch the wife play for England in the Mixed Open category.

Touch is an interesting sport. It was first invented in Australia in the late 1960s as a way of sharpening Rugby League techniques and soon took off due to the social nature of the game. It is a well-established institution in the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia, New Zealand and with South Africa not too far behind.
Zoe in action for the England Mixed Open team
Now…we’ve all played Touch at some point, whether it’s as a warm up before training or just in pre-season to keep the hands going. But to see it played at the very top level was not only breath taking but also showed just how different this game is from the Rugby we all know.

Firstly, the pace and skill levels required are nothing short of awe-inspiring.  Rather than a '7s-style', off the cuff reliance on pace and footwork, Touch employs a complicated mix of explosive set piece patterns. But there is plenty room for flare – I watched open mouthed at gravity defying sidesteps and saw things I didn’t think were possible with a Rugby ball!

The game itself is all-inclusive. It is billed as the ‘sport for all’, which was certainly reflected in Edinburgh. There were seven different categories in competition; Men’s Open, Women’s Open, Mixed Open, Men’s Over 30s, Men’s Over 35s, Men’s Over 35s and Senior Mixed. How many sports do you know where Men and Women can compete equally at the top level?

The interesting side to touch is the discipline it requires. The dummy-half (scrum-half figure who starts each play) cannot score or be touched. Any handling errors, even if it goes backwards, result in a turnover so passing has to be precise.

Touch is centred around a social ethos and the spirit of the game is integral to the laws – if you don’t give the ball to the opposition at a turnover or after a touchdown then it is a penalty. If your touch is deemed too hard then you can be penalised or even ‘force subbed’. All this to think about whilst playing at a frenetic pace with a constant stream of rolling subs can make it something of a whirlwind!
The action took place at the foot of Arthur's Seat
The tournament panned out across ten pitches in the shadow of the iconic Arthur’s Seat. The bright and colourful array of kits, countries, accents and flags was more reminiscent of a Quidditch World Cup rather than any Rugby tournament I have ever been to!

There was a genuine cultural exchange with the Pacific Island teams performing Hakas, the Welsh singing songs from the Valleys and the Italians in a particularly stylish kit. The Cook Islands’ warm up was more akin to a Zumba class but was still entertaining. 

The action itself ended in disappointment for England. Australia dominated proceedings, winning five of the seven categories and played New Zealand in four of those.

Zoe’s team were robbed by a physical Niue side…and some suspect refereeing decisions! They finished fifth out of 19 teams in their category – but it could have been so different if they had played South Africa in the 1/4 final instead of the formidable Australia.

However, it was not all doom and gloom – Touch is definitely a growing sport in Europe and encouraging performances from the likes of Japan and Singapore shows the sport’s global appeal. The next stop is Italy for the European Championships in 2012.