Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Diplomatic immunity Kiwi style?

The citing hearing of Andrew Hore was met by many rugby fans with a cynical view due to an air of leniency surrounding the All Blacks. Sadly this cynical view became all to apparently true as his eight week ban for striking Bradley Davis from behind was reduced to five.

Hore originally was hit with the top end punishment for the cowardly crime of striking Davis, who was totally unaware of what was going on. The reduced ban was then handed out with three weeks deducted due to his- acceptance of guilt, genuine remorse, exemplary discipline record and his conduct during the hearing. There was also the fact of his daily contact with Davis taken into account.

The judicial official said "The act of foul play was inherently dangerous, being a deliberately swinging of the delivered with significant force, causing serious injury to victim who was unsighted." This was confusingly followed up by stating "the player had not intended to make contact with the players head". There is six inches difference in height with the two players so the question is- why was his hand near his head if there was no intention to strike him?

A five week ban would not be too dismissive if not for the menial matches that will be missed. Obviously the square up against England will be missed but the they go into closed season so the ban will follow onto the next domestic season. With this in mind Hore will also miss the three pre-season friendlies, so technically a meaningless ban, equating to a one match exclusion, being the England fixture. Ian Foster (New Zealand assistant coach), Hore and his legal representative stated the pre-season significances and meaningful consequences for the player in accordance with IRB regulation 17. So once again a NZ get out clause meaning they seem to be immune of a serious punishment.

So why is it we believe the All Blacks are deemed to be treated like almost untouchable gods? It is evident their playing prowess is spectacular when in full flow, yet creeping into their game seems to go past the normal brute force more to borderline thuggery. Before the Hore case the talk was of kiwi Thompson who originally received a two week suspension for raking his boot over Alasdair Stokosh's head, to see it reduced to only a week. Again that phrase they love to use was called into force 'exemplary discipline record' and there was the reduction in his punishment. Another example takes us back a few years to Keven Mealamu headbutted Lewis Moody, thus being administered with a four week ban. Mealamu and the All Blacks opted to challenge claiming he was 'clearing out a ruck'! This proceeded to a halving of the sentence to being only 2 weeks.

Earlier this season Gloucester flanker Andy Hazell unleashed a wrath of fury upon Mont-de-Marsan replacement prop Sebastien Ormaechea after he alleging he was gouging. Hazell was instantly red carded and pulled up in front of the citing committee. The punishment for Hazell was not just judged on the punches thrown but the intent by using his knee to land a blow to the head. Andy Hazell received an initial 18 week suspension reduced to 16, half a season out for punishment is a lengthy stint and a bit more of a justified ban.

Citing commissions are very sporadic on their decisions and seem very easily swayed and vote in favour of the player. A prime example of this can be shown through the Manu Tuilagi punch on Chris Ashton. The maximum ban Tuilugi could of faced from splitting Aston's eye was 52 weeks, but only received 10. There was further dispensation for Tuilagi due to his age, inexperience and those wonderful expressions 'remorse' and 'guilt'! So Tuilagi's 10 week suspension was reduced to a 5 week ban, with this calculating punishment it meant Tuilagi was free to travel to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup.

The viewing figures for these matches are in the millions, so these infringements are their for everyone to see. With the consequences been brushed to one side with lenient punishments what lesson is delivering to our children the future of the game. If anybody was to carry out any of these actions off of the field they'd be punished with a criminal record. With such large viewing figures surrounding rugby now children look up to players as if they are gods, but let's not actually give them that status or they'll become footballers.

A concern for me is the vast difference between amateur and professional standards in the punishments. For evidence of this look no further than a fixture between Keynsham RFC and Oldfield Old Boys RFC where a brawl broke out. During this scuffle a Keynsham player Jack Weston ran in and unleashed two blows to an Oldfield player Ben Staunton's jaw. Weston was awarded with a red card and Staunton received a yellow for his part in the fracas. An inspection of Staunton's and deemed to be OK so played on after his 10 minutes in the bin, later in hospital its was discovered his jaw was broken. The difference now becomes apparent between the amateur game and professional, as Jack Weston was arrested for the punches, following his arrest Weston was then sentenced for six months imprisonment. On sentencing the judge said 'It's important people realise the consequences of their violent actions'.

The punishments seem so inconsistent and almost indicate a professional player is borderline immunity for their actions, yes its a physical and powerful game but administer punishments that will deter and make players think more of their actions.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Will Lancaster re-discover his faith?

Has the day finally dawned where Bath's pocket rocket Tom Biggs gets to don the white of England and sport the Red Rose for his country?

The avid fans at Bath have been championing Biggs to take a role on the wing for England, and now with his call up to Pennyhill could see this finally come true. When Biggs joined from Falcons the Bath supporters realised Bath had signed a very talented player and have been wondering when his full English call up would come. This season especially has seen a huge turn in form from Biggs, not just his pace but showing there's more to his game than just a speedster. The best way to describe him is a well rounded wingers who punches well above his weight, no matter the shape or size he will hit a tackle with a force that would stop majority of players, many of which have been try savers.

It was Lancaster who initially spotted the talents of Biggs taking him into the academy at Leeds, and sending him on the road to the player he is now. So does he still see enough in him to release him on the international stage, and what a baptism of fire squaring up against the All blacks.

For myself and many believe he could well be a breath of fresh air in the England squad, going back to having a rugby brain not just bulk. I'm hoping Lancaster doesn't release him back to Bath and allows him the crack of the whip he deserves, although I'm still dubious that Lancaster will continue with the same personnel. When looking at the big picture and not wishing to isolate a player (but I am) what really is Ashton at the moment bringing to the table other than a reputation?

Lancaster had faith once let's hope he has it again!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Is the Blue, Black and White Fortress back??

Back in Bath's hay day the Rec was seen as a fortress, all clubs feared to play the mighty Blue Black and White as it was nearly impossible to gain a win.

Under the control of Gary Gold's regime it would seem it's once again gaining that prowess. The spirit and passion displayed by Bath including the United boys has been empowering this season. The only loss conceded under Gold at the Rec has been against Saints, and let's be honest the game was there for the taking on that occasion.

Against Quins they defended and chased down every kick administering and absorbing pressure. The likening to a fortress was even more apparent as due to the flooding it even had its own moat! It was a scrappy yet dogged performance and Bath were the worthy victors. From every home game this season the majority of supports have felt hope and belief back in their hearts that Bath will soon be back amongst the big boys and deemed as a force in the premiership.

Positivity is rife on a home fixture and we now hope That Gary Gold can transpire that into the away matches. For some reason at the moment Bath have a slight Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde about them. The spark seen at the Rec seems to be absent when on the road. From watching the home games it is evident the move forward in which Gold is taking Bath and that will surly soon filter through to all games as opposed to just at home.

I have personally been quite negative in Bath's away losses, but this leads from the frustration of the heart shown at home. Performances such as Agen, Exeter and Quins shows the type of performances they can potentially play, this is why so many pull their hair out after games like London Welsh.

By turning the Rec back to the fortress it once was shows we must stick by Mr Gold and take the occasional loss and revel in the victories, hoping the later becomes more prevalent.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Does size really matter?

Now I know where most of you may of thought I was going with the title but minds out of the gutter now, the question is about the English rugby team!

Aswell as an avid Bath fan I'm also a passionate Englishman and the general rule that to play for England you must be 6'+,built like a brick outhouse and run like Usain Bolt worries me we're becoming a one directional team.

Where has the little jinky runs to find space gone? Its all crash ball running straight trying to puncture the opponent's defence. English rugby is almost starting to resemble a glorified variant of rugby league, take the tackle recycle and continue, only you get more than five tackles but eventually kick the ball away!

It's wrong to compare the two but I'm going to anyway but amateur and professional rugby are almost two different sports. The brilliance of rugby was regardless of your shape and size there was a place on the park for you. Slightly rotund you were a prop, small guy punchy slight mental disposition your a hooker (Brian Moore), big old lofty one second row, short a*** who can run through others legs was a scrum half and so on but you get the point. Whereas now normally lining up in the White shirt bearing the proud Red Rose the only one prominently still with that prowess is the scrum half.

Yes having big ball carriers is good a two man tackle draws space, if the ball is quick, but somebody with quick feet to back that up surely is a bonus. Different varieties of players makes it harder to defend against. Looking at this as a size comparative exercise would the likes of Jason Robinson, Jeremy Guscott, Phil DeGlanville or even the Underwoods get into the current line up. Yes OK different era's but they are huge English stars and to many hero's. They had talent in abundance, so why in this day and age do we depict you have to be a big lad over talent to get picked? What is this teaching our future players in minis and juniors rugby?

Sharples was possibly the only squad member who went with the Michael Flatley dancing feet but has now been released back to his club. A baffling thought I've struggled with, and I've mentioned it before, why isn't somebody of Tom Biggs ilk in the squad? Somebody with pace to burn, can turn and track back but also tackle anything that moves. Biggs is a guy who punches way above his weight and plays with passion, can we say the same about Chris Ashton? But due to Biggs size he is again and again overlooked.

For my own worry that talented children will look at the English team (hopefully not in purple) and think 'I'm not big enough to represent my country' and lose interest in taking the game to the next level. We could lose a generation of talent and see rugby turn into an elitist sport rather than the welcoming game it is.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Are we losing the respect in rugby?

Over the last few months of rugby I have started noticing a change in the atmosphere surrounding rugby, my personal view is I don't like it.

As a child I was introduced to a fantastic sport which I grew to love and adore........Rugby. A sport in which I was always told "Football is a gentleman's game played by ruffians, and rugby is a ruffian's game played by gentlemen." Obviously a little exaggerated but the general ethos is there. A game in which respect was imperative amongst players and spectators.
For players they adhere to the referees word, do not argue with him and call him sir. They clap each other from the field of play and regardless of what occurs in the game itself you'll sit and chew the fat over a pint with your opponent.
Whereas supporters would applaud players from both sides on and off the field. When a team would have a kick at the posts silence would be observed as a respect for the kicker. Applause was also granted even when the opposition scored a try or performed a well executed tackle.

Are these un-written rules of rugby still observed.......sadly No!!

A bold statement may be other than integrating of supporters the crowd is now leaning towards a footballesque audience. A prime example was displayed in the Scotland v New Zealand fixture where Dan Carter wad berated with boo's every time he had a kick at goal. It becoming an all to present occurrence in many fixtures now, including a vocal presence of trying to influence the referees decision. I would love to say even Bath are exempt from such behaviour but even the rec faithful have displayed such animosity. Andy Powell received a yellow card for a high tackle and received a torrent if boo's then released a hand gesture directed to the Bath fans earning himself a ban, I'm not justifying his behaviour but players are only human after all and can only take a certain amount of abuse. And I believe with the crowds continuing to react in the manner they are we may see more slip up from players.

Creeping into to the game now is more disagreement of the referees decision from the players, with the trial of the new TMO system earlier this season there were many players asking the ref to go up stairs and check with the video ref. It has always been that the captain and player who is being addressed by the referee are the only one to be able to talk to him.
I did see a tweet over the weekend where somebody was  watching a u13's fixture being refereed by a female ref, one of the boys apparently was not very happy by her decisions and called her a 'cheating f***ing b*tch'! Are we allowing our youth to confuse a footballers respect for a ref as opposed to the traditional respect demanded in rugby.

In short is there a shift of the polite Ethos of rugby now were well into the professional era, I for one hope we can make it back to the good old days or am I becoming slightly deluded and need to accept the new dimension of the sport.?

Friday, 9 November 2012

Bold Gold for LV

An intriguing and possibly an exciting line up announced for Bath's fixture against Newport and Gwent Dragons in the LV cup.
A bold eclectic mix of youth, experience, new and returning personnel will line up against the Dragons, and I for one really like the look of the team.

After the united fixture on bonfire night a lot of fans were hoping to see some of them feature in the LV, and Gary Gold did not disappoint. LV cup is predominantly seen as a good tournament to aid the experience of young players and help them prove their worth as a future rugbying star.

The decision to mix seasoned players is a good decision, to allow youth and enthusiasm to be steered in the direction of victory. To see Banahan and Hipkiss lining up in a centre partnering shows Bath aim to run hard and hit attacking rugby. The hype for Roko getting his first top flight start has arrived with the pairing up of Woodburn on the opposing wing, joining Heathcote, Devoto and McMillan in quite a dynamic back line.

An inclusion of one name upon the team sheet that has helped raise hopes of so many Bath fans is the return of Ryan Caldwell. Such a tenacious player and never prepared to take a backward step, a player who's presence has been a miss this campaign. Let's hope to see him get back out on the park and do what he does best and drive Bath on.

The pack is a mix of some young but already seasoned players accompanied by some Blue, Black and White stalwart. Captain Hopper and Taylor to control, direct and lead by example.

Throughout the squad I must admit to being a little excited to see if they can carry the dogged attitude to the LV campaign!!

15 Ollie Devoto
14 Olly Woodburn
13 Dan Hipkiss
12 Matt Banahan
11 Semesa Rokoduguni
10 Tom Heathcote
9 Mark McMillan
1 Charlie Beech
2 Brett Sharman
3 Anthony Perenise
4 Stuart Hooper (c)
5 Will Spencer
6 Josh Ovens
7 Guy Mercer
8 Simon Taylor
16 Will Tanner
17 Ken Dowding
18 Kane Palma-Newport
19 Ryan Caldwell
20 Will Skuse
21 Chris Cook
22 Luke Adamson
23 Richard Lane

Monday, 5 November 2012

The indifferent Bath.

It's safe to say the positivity amongst the Bath fans took a huge knock from the London Welsh game.

Off the back of chiefs and Agen games the Blue, Black and White faithful shared a belief that there was a strong passion and determination within the team. So what went wrong against Welsh? Bath had some good attacking phases but just seemed to lack some of the clinical prowess they had displayed of recent times. Just as they looked like scoring on several occasions an infringement would occur or Welsh would win a turnover.

For me it appeared that Bath went out with an intent to defend heavily, draw the exiles forward then kick down field to catch them on the break. An intriguing game plan, perhaps not having total faith in the team due to injury absentees. A noticeable missing link was Louw whose driven the pack on in recent fixtures, but one man should not make such a difference. For the first time this season the forwards just seemed under powered and below par.

Missing more than anything in the exchange with Welsh was the character, pride and passion that had been displayed against Chiefs. Perhaps its slightly wrong of me to carry on comparing the two games but the diverse change in beyond blatant for anybody to see. For the United fixture against Quins we were treated to some more of that dogged determination we'd been tempted with against Agen and chiefs. I had it pointed out to me by Mr Gary Gold himself they are one squad and one team, the will to win flows from the top to bottom. So the question still lends itself to what went wrong against Welsh.......complacency, Injuries, wrong game plan or it was just one of those days??? Either way It's safe to say consistency seems to be a sight miss at the moment.

Whatever didn't happen against London Welsh we've seen the light still burns bright in the heart of Bath rugby and regardless of the disappointment the belief will still be rife amongst the supporters. Bring on The LV cup and Newport and Gwent Dragons to show the rugbying world how Bath can bounce back and shed the disappointment.