Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Nick Abendanon, the past, present and the future!

So much has been said and so many tributes have been payed about Nick Abendanon recently, and they are all completely deserved. After nine years as a Bath player he has decided to up sticks and move across the channel to France and play for Clermont Auvergne.......but Does he have any regrets?

The Amlin Challenge Cup final will be Abendanon's final flurry in the Blue, Black and White of Bath and he wants to sign off in style!

Sat in a garden and basked in sunshine at Farliegh I managed to catch up with him and have a quick chat about the past, present and his future in France.



After nine years playing for Bath your career here is ending and you're moving on to Clermont , how hard a decision was that to make?

It was very hard, probably one of the hardest decisions I'm going to have to make in my rugby career. There's not too many hard decisions as players we have to make, the clubs been good to me, it's been my home for the last ten years, all of my family are based in the area so I'm very comfortable here and have a great life and I've played some of my best rugby here. It was tough, very tough, especially considering the team is doing really well and will continue to do well easily for the next four or five years so it's disappointing that I won't be a involved in that. But I'm going to one of the biggest clubs in Europe and it's a chance of something new, I've always wanted to play in France and there isn't many better clubs to go to than Clermont.

When you made the decision and signed for Clermont you weren't getting as much game time as Anthony Watson did that influence your decision to move?

I'd be lying if I said it didn't, it definitely had an influence on it. Anthony was playing some fantastic rugby at full back and they said they were looking to develop him. It was a decision I had to make there and then, carry on and fight for my place, which I know I would of always done or do I let the young players coming through have their time and leave on a high. I've had a great time at bath but felt they might of seen my time coming to an end so thought I'd try something new. 

You have always been on the cusp of the England team, injuries and selections have stopped you from gaining more caps. You have been in some of your best form this season but due to the RFU's stance on only players playing in England can play for England does that leave you frustrated?

Yes, yes it does! But at the same time I can't do anything about that, I hope they do change that especially in the World Cup year. If I'm playing fantastically well for Clermont  week in week out and there could be a few injuries, I hope then I could still get a call. I've stuck around in England for the last three or four seasons possibly waiting for someone to get injured, waiting for an opportunity to come but it just hasn't. When I made my decision England wasn't in the forefront of my mind it was more on the personal side of things. If I had to make the decision now having been playing so well towards the end of the year and the possibility of getting back in the England mix it would of been a lot harder choice to make.

You've featured in some big games over your time at Bath and quite a few derby matches, does the latest game against Gloucester rate as one of the hardest?

Without doubt! That's the hardest derby I've ever played in. There was everything in that game, aside from some decent rugby (laughs), But that's how derby games pan out, there's so much testosterone floating around and so much a question it's the team who fronts up the most who comes out on top. Probaly did help Gloucester only havin 13 men on the pitch with five minutes to go, so we could drive them over for the penalty try.
It's definitely going to stick in my mind as possibly one of the best derby games I played it while I was here.

You celebrated your 200th appearance against Sale in the big scrum fiasco game, a disappointing game all round as a spectacle and the loss, how frustrating was it for the players on the pitch?

I don't know the first thing about scrums so I can't comment on the forwards frustrations. I don't know if any of the were penalties or not, but from what I've seen in the past standing out at the back, after three or so scrums the ref is generally under the sticks awarding a penalty try. We had nine scrums on the line and the ref didn't budge, we don't know the reasoning behind it but we did feel harshly done by it. We still put ourselves in the position to win it and unfortunately Fordy's drop goal just slid wide. Pretty disappointing for that to be my 200th game but still really proud to have got to 200.

Friday will be your last game for Bath how are you going to deal with the emotions of the occasion?

You can't really let emotion get in the way of your game, otherwise when you start thinking with your emotions you start to do silly things, you've got to keep a clean head, a clear mind and play the same sort of rugby you've been playing the whole season, if that's the same way we've been playing all season then we can turn them over in the final.

You've had some great moments on the pitch for Bath, but what would you say have been your best and worst moments?

The worst has probably got to be a home game against Leicester, where both the Tuilagi's gave me a little bit of rough and tumble for the majority of the game, I felt like I'd been through about five car crashes after that game.
The best has to be the eleven game streak we went unbeaten with Claasens and James as the half backs. We hadn't won any games up until Christmas and then we just went on an amazing winning streak. Or the challenge cup final in 2008, just the big bit of silverware I've won.

You've scored the occasional special try, which would you say out of all of them in your opinion is you best?

It's actually came from this season to be honest, the try against Chiefs down at Sandy Park, I'm not quite sure how I did that one. I just managed to get it down and that will definitely stick in my mind. 

The 16th man is always so important to the team, with the ticket allocation so small for the two clubs are  worried about the lack of atmosphere?

The difficult thing for the ERC is they don't know who is going to be in the final and they put the tickets on sale at the start of the year. It's difficult to predict, if they'd known it was going to be a Bath v Northampton final they would of probably put it in somewhere like Twickenham or the Millennium stadium, they would of been able to half fill or even fill both of them with the travelling supporters that both teams get. It's a little disappointing that the fans that have been there the whole year supporting us weren't able to get any tickets, but we know they'll be there watching us on the television and be there in spirit, we'll just have to do the best for them and win! 

A big thanks to Nick for taking the time to chat to me, hopefully he'll get the send off he deserves and Bath to win the Amlin cup. It would seem only fitting for a stalwart of the club to sign offin such style.
Although Nick I do agree with Flats the beard does need to go!! 
Good luck in France you'll be missed at Bath.

Monday, 12 May 2014

The eligibility of playing for your country

A debate that keeps rumbling on is English players playing abroad and their ability to be picked for England. Since 2011 England have adopted the stance that to qualify to play for England you need to play in England. There is an "exceptional circumstances' clause but the RFU have yet to use it.

The call for Steffon Armitage to be called up even though he plays in France, being classed as one of the best open side flankers in the game could this be an exceptional circumstance?
Before moving to Toulon Armitage was aware of the RFU's stance yet still took the big money move across the channel, in blunt terms he chose cash over country. 
Picking the strongest team available is what you would want from your national coach and just because Armitage is in France he is still an available English player, so should he and possibly the country be penalised for him accepting a great opportunity when it's presented to him? 
If Lancaster uses the "exceptional circumstances" call for Armitage would this then open the flood gates for other English players to take the chance of helping their retirement fund and taking a bigger pay check and reaping some €uros and still be allowed to represent England. 

The Top14 is loaded with big names after the teams have spent big, so it would be beneficial for players to play and learn from the players who are amongst the best in the world. Knowledge is a powerful thing to have and if you can take some of that from someone it will only improve you, so playing with the best can teach you so much. Allowing players from your country to feature in this league and still play for their respective country could also benefit the national team as well, bringing a wealth of knowledge into the squad and passing that down the line.
I see the concern of the RFU which is they would like to see England's best playing in the Premiership, protecting the league and ensuring the league still remains as exciting as it is. On the flip side of that with the "big boys" playing elsewhere we could see another batch of players coming through the ranks encouraging competition for the positions in the England shirt.
Or could it go down the route of Welsh rugby with a mass exodus and almost leaving the cupboard bare? .

There is an air of hypocrisy in all of this, as the RFU won't pick from English players playing abroad but will pick players from foreign climes who qualify on the 'eligibility' ruling to play for them.
It seems slightly hypocritical that a player who is born, raised and originally played in England won't be picked yet a player who has lived here for 3 or more years, played elsewhere (not internationally) but now lives here is ok to play for England?

Good examples of this hypocrisy are Hendre Fourie and one of the biggest stars in English rugby at the moment Manu Tuilagi. Both players faced deportation, Tuilagi coming to the UK at 13 on a holiday visa and Fourie on a working holiday visa.
Fourie came to the UK to train to be a teacher, he then worked through the ranks of visa's through the clubs he joined. He represented England eight times and he got to a tier 1 highly skilled work permit. Injury saw Fourie miss out on a 2011 England place and moved to Sale, unfortunately injury then forced him to retire just six months before he could gain citizenship. Due to not working as a professional rugby player, but wishing to follow up on his teaching, the UKBA informed him he had to return to SA. Amazingly an ex-English international wasn't allowed to stay in the UK, eventually his deportation was rebutted but he still returned to SA with his wife and British born son.
Tuilagi was slightly different, it wasn't until he was embarking on his professional career following in the footsteps of his brothers playing at Leicester Tigers they discovered he was still here on his holiday visa from six years before. Five out of his six brothers had all played for Samoa so they were allowed a working permit, as Manu wished to play for England his now adopted country he needed to get endorsement from the rugby governing body and the home office to be allowed to play here, the panel agreed but the home office denied him. Protest, pleas and petitions eventually saw the home office overturn the decision, and now a huge part of the English set up.

Looking at these scenarios the RFU's stance on players playing abroad seems a little baffling as they are happy to support players of other nations to become English players. The rugby world has bemoaned New Zealand for their apparent pillaging of the South Pacific Islands and in truth we are just as bad with countries like South Africa and Samoa being prime examples, yet there is this firm stance on players playing abroad.

I am all for wanting the strongest team eligible to play for your country, but I do feel using double standards to get that is wrong. Is forcing a player to choose between cash or country a fair thing to do?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Grab on tight it's going to be a bumpy ride!


At 3.15 on the 10th of May the whistle will blow on the start of the final tense 80 minutes of premiership rugby. Everyone will be on the edge of their seat waiting for the fat lady to sing, but they'll have to wait through a full opera before she sings her final note.

This weekends fixtures are a form of heaven for number crunchers and stato's with so many if buts and maybes surrounding the play off positions, In fact the only team who is guaranteed to finish in their current position in the top 5 is Saracens. From 2nd place to 5th place there is 10 points separating the teams, Saints in second leading Tigers by 4 points looks the safest place to retain. 


The main event his weekend is, what is being billed as the 'winner takes all' fixture between Harelequins and Bath Rugby at the Twickenham Stoop. A sell out crowd will pack the Stoop in anticipation of wanting and hoping their team will win and grab the final play off spot. 
Bath have occupied a top four position all season but a loss to Quins on Saturday will see them lose out. 
Quins last ditch bonus point win against Chiefs in round 21 is what helped set up this galactic battle and increase the pressure on Bath. Tom Guest scoring their bonus point try with five minutes to go, with Chiefs leading throughout the game it was a great fight back from Quins. The Chiefs vs Quins could be very reminiscent of Quins season, chasing all season then pipping the win at the last minute. 
Baths draw with Saints also helped to squeeze the teams together, a win would of more than certainly had Bath secure 4th, the two games could of almost been scripted to take it down to the wire in the last fixture. 
The game has become a must win for both sides as there is no other possible outcome from the game, whoever wins is in the play offs. The potential was there even if Bath lost but got a losing bonus point and try scoring bonus they could sneak the 4th place, but it comes down to games won so Quins would leapfrog Bath. With the points the same and Bath's points difference being better, the 2 draws for Bath could undo their top 4 finish. Quins being the home team the advantage definitely is in their favour, although Bath have yet to lose an away premiership game in 2014 and only 2 all season.
There is also one more scenario which would also be a miraculous one if it happened, here goes Bath score 4 tries, lose by less than 7=2 bonus points then Quins win but don't score 4 tries, winning with kicks and only taking 4 points from the game, Bath would finish on 68 and Quins on 67. What a finale to the end of season! 


There are also other movers and shakers that can happen within the top five, it's not all about the Quins vs Bath game. 
Tigers against Saracens could throw out a change of positions, obviously Sarries are safe up at the top of the tree, but Leicester have the chance to go above Saints or drop below Bath. For Tigers to raise above Northampton they must get a try bonus win against Sarries and hope that Saints lose to Wasps and take nothing from it. On the flip side of the game if Tigers do lose they need to make sure they get something from the game in the way of Bonus points, because Bath being 3 points behind there is a possibility Bath could jump above and grab the 3rd spot. 
- Bath 5 points win & Tigers lose with no points = Bath 71 Tigers 69
- Bath 5 points win & Tigers lose with LB point =  Bath 71 Tigers 70
- Bath 4 points win & Tigers lose with LB point =  Bath 70 Tigers 70 and with the teams drawn on points it would be again done on matches won in which that would see Bath take the 3rd spot. So many potential twists and turns there is still so much to play for! 

With only one guaranteed team knowing when/if they are playing in the semi-final, so much hinges on one round of rugby. Will we be looking at the same positions at the end of Saturday or will it be all change? It going to be a bumpy ride and if you're of a nervous disposition brace yourself, strap yourself in and enjoy the ride! 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

TMO~ Is it detrimental to the Ref?

The match officials are becoming more and more prominent in the game, wth a growing amount of controversy surrounding them and scrutiny on their performances. So are they having poorer games officiating or are there other contributing factors? 

Old school rugby always had the code of "respect the referee" and "his word is final", slowly I feel this ethos is being lost in the modern game. The amateur and professional era's are always so heavily compared, but many of those values that were installed fans and players are no longer being honoured. 
- As teams come onto the pitch it was always the done thing to cheer for your team and applaud the opposing side, you never boo them on.
- when a kicker in lined up for a penalty you are silent, again you do not boo, you show them respect and again clap regardless when the kick is successful showing appreciation of a well taken kick. 
- everyone listens to the referee and accepts his decision, he is only human and can not see everything, once again you do not boo. 
I'm aware that this is the Idealistic way of looking at the game and with the professionalism of the sport and money involved intensity has been be increased. A referees decision could cost a game, a cup match, a play off position, a trophy and most important for clubs potential revenue. 

Pressure is now laid heavily at the officials door, so rightly changes have been implemented to help and support them. The TMO should be a helpful tool to aid referees on important things they miss or their touch judges are unable to help them with. A referee can't see every angle on a possible try, a try that may win or lose a match, the TMO helps clarify the grounding thus the try may or may not be awarded.  The powers, ability and use of the TMO has been increased it's not just the initial "is it a try" being reviewed as before, now it means any decision can be referred upstairs. With every decision under such scrutiny some referees appear to be losing faith in their own ability to make a correct call and TMO referrals are become a far too frequent occurrence in the game, slowing up the game, adding to frustration of players, coaches and the fans. The relentless use of TMO has now become an incredibly frustrating part of the game and is taking the flow out of the game.

* Referrals can now go back to the previous restart, penalty, free-kick, lineout, scrum, kick-off.
* If it is not clear, the TMO is to advise there is no clear evidence and the referee will need to make a decision.
* TMO to advise on the type of infringement, the recommended sanction and where play is to restart.
* TMOs can be advised on infringements by the team that scored or touched down, as well as if a try has been prevented from being scored.
* If there is doubt as to whether the try would have been scored the TMO must then advise the appropriate sanction.
* If foul play is referred, the TMO is to make recommendations as to the appropriate sanctions, as an assistant referee can currently do.

An issue that has arisen from the TMO rules is they can track back to the last restart, from 1,2,3,4...... or an endless amount of phases, rather than just the last phase played. This could lead to what could seem an eternity waiting as the TMO review the possible infringement.
A referee can also question the TMO on possible dangerous tackle, if they feel foul play happened rather than leaving it for the citing committee, another delay in play may happen as it too will be reviewed. All of these delays are just encouraging frustrations amongst the players and supporters, sadly leading to supporters beginning to voice their angst in the form of boos and jeers. 
The intensified increase of the TMO and it's use is basically starting to hamper the age old "respect the ref" aspect of the game, and will it lead to the football view of haranguing of an official and to a certain extent verbal abuse?

With the way things are going could it end up going down the route of American football? A multitude of officials and a non free flowing game where a game that is an hour long game can go on for an excess of 2 hours. American football has seven officials in the game -These are the referee, umpire, head linesman, field judge, line judge, side judge, and back judge. This covers almost all angles of the game, they to have an option of video evidence where the referee goes pitch side to watch a screen and judges for himself rather than using yet another official. Do we want to see as many officials in the game of rugby, to ensure there are no calls missed?


There is one point in American football I do believe could be beneficial in rugby, the microphone on the referee where he can announce to the fans and everyone in the stadium what his ruling is. With all little tweet and changes to the rules in rugby being aware of every little detail is hard to do. When an official makes a call which seems obscure to the supporters they become restless, an explanation would benefit many, if everyone is aware of a call then pressure could be eased on the officials as some decisions can be difficult to understand, even some commentators are unaware of what is happening. 

An option is to change to a last phase TMO review on a try and possibility of a white card or signal for an offence if the referee or assistants aren't sure of a tackle or the perpetrator involved, rather than another TMO time out sending it to the citing committee. Super Rugby brought in the white card in 2012 but due to the increased TMO options the white card wasn't even used once in the 2013 season, an opportunity to have a more free flowing game lost. 

To TMO foul play with the potential of a yellow or even red card decision does mean that the opposing team does gain the advantage of the foul play, as opposed to other teams if the player then serves a ban. If a player deliberately causes an offence then it is surely acceptable for that player to be sin binned or sent off, giving the advantage to the side who has been perpetrated against. 

A fear of loss of respect for the ref is becoming more apparent and they are talked about as much as the teams theirselves, a review of the current TMO system is desperately needed. With such huge media attention on games now the hardest job on the pitch is getting harder, the man with the whistle is the most important man on the pitch. Referees need to be respected and allowed to control a game without controversy but with (T)oo (M)any (O)ptions this is damaging the respect and integrity of the referee.