Friday, 21 September 2012
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
We’ve never been a ‘great’ club but the run of results that the boys had put together meant the small town side were in the worst position they’d been in for many seasons as they sat on the very bottom of the league.
This Saturday the boys kicked off their 2011/12 campaign down at the Fred Dunn Athletic Ground, buoyed by a good pre-season and with more youth in their ranks than they’ve had for some time, they lined up against unfamiliar foe in the form of Hirwaun.
…80 minutes later and the boys were in possession of the big ‘W’ with an astonishing 45-11 victory. Hopefully this will spur the boys on to a successful season and a new dawn for Cowbridge RFC, anything is possible.
Anything IS possible…
On last Thursday’s Rugby Club, Stuart Barnes stated that, Wales are the ‘in form’ home nation going into this month’s world cup. Momentum counts for everything in knock out competitions and Wales’ first match against South Africa will no doubt be the sides most important game of the tournament, no matter how far they progress.
I’ve said before that as a proud Welsh patriot I suffer from the most extreme optimism in the lead up to any competition. The World Cup it would appear is no exception. Just a month ago I had lost all faith in the national side but, a couple of encouraging performances and a win over England may have changed my mind.
OK, so I’m not saying we’re world beaters but if we can get passed the current world champions in our first game then anything can happen. The Boks are hardly a walkover, after looking lacklustre and immensely disorganised over the southern hemisphere winter, last game out, in the final round of the Tri-Nations they sprang a surprise on the hosts and beat them.
There are jokes a plenty about New Zealand and their ‘choker’ status, after all, they’re planning on performing the Heimlich maneuver instead of the Haka in their opening game against Tonga on Friday night…
With the exception of the defending champions we do not have the hardest of groups. I mean no disprespect to the Pacific Island nations, but Wales have beaten England and Argentina in the past month, they can deal with physicality and their conditioning and fitness has set them aside this summer and they enter the competition with renewed vigour.
To England and the Manu show as it’s surely becoming, the 2003 winners meet Argentina in their opener. Next year 3 become 4 in the tri-nations competition as the South Americans join in the Southern Hemisphere’s annual international tournament.
Their inclusion surely shows the progress they’ve made as a rugby nation and that’s without considering that they finished higher than both Australia and the All Blacks in 2007’s RWC, when they claimed 3rd place.
But this will just be the beginning for England, with fellow home nation Scotland also occupying the same group. Whilst the Scots haven’t exactly put on inspiring performances they’ve done enough to record all important wins in their warm ups, just like England, they beat Ireland in their warm ups.
Ireland the last home nation to secure a 6 Nations Grand Slam may be standing tall and shoulder to shoulder but also worried and bemused. An awful RWC run in, a serious knee injury to back row stalwart David Wallace will only stoke the flames of doubt and depression that must run through the competition.
Psychology has a massive place in sport and USA Rugby may not have looked like the worst opener when the fixtures were released but now, the Irish will worry. They kick off their campaign on September 11th, the most poignant day there is for Americans, they have something very emotive to play for.
Rory Best has said that the first 10 minutes and containing the eagles side will be most important come Sunday because of this.
Pool C is also home to my danger team. The Wallabies are enjoying a spell of great form for their top players off the back of winning the tri-nations and an Australian franchise, Queensland Reds, winning the SuperRugby competition too.
A supremely talented team with a young spine, the creative players of Australia are to be feared ...even if many have the capacity to have mixed performances, with Quade Cooper especially prone to a fluctuation of world class displays at 10 mixed in with games filled with errors and poor decision making.
Genia however steadies the ship often when Cooper struggles, a great play-maker, he's definitely up there with SBW as one of my favourites set to star at this RWC.
So now all that's left is to set our alarm clocks, early kick offs mean that I'll be consuming cider with breakfast on both Saturday and Sunday, the things we do for the sport we love.
My excitement levels are astronomically high as I count down to round 1 of the group games, we can do this, Wales CAN beat SA, anything is possible...
Thursday, 11 August 2011
The WRU’s barn at the Vale and England’s base Pennyhill Park are not unlike the judges houses as players do their best to impress and leap that last hurdle to the live shows; or in this case the string of pre-RWC friendlies currently in progress.
And last week the first wave of those battling for a world cup place performed in front of a packed Twickenham audience.
For the lads lining up for both England and Wales there were those who knew only their best performance would do and others who knew a solid showing would be enough. There were also players of course, who very sadly, won’t get any closer to the world cup than that first friendly.
Best wishes go out to Morgan Stoddart who will now miss the tournament after badly breaking his leg. Morgan came through his operation at London’s Charing Cross Hospital well but won’t play any part in Wales’ plans for some months; no date has been put on his return to rugby.
Anxious times lay ahead for England also, as captain Lewis Moody picked up a knee strain which could rule him out of not just the Wales and Ireland games this month but the RWC altogether. Martin Johnson’s camp have been cagey yet realistic in their statements about Moody, taking nothing for granted yet backing the skipper to recover from the injury in time to lead the team in New Zealand.
If ‘Mad-Dog’ Moody is to miss out though, which players will this give hope to? A spot in the back row now opens up. The England management would have the difficult task of selecting a player with age and experience or youth and promise, with Tom Wood, Hendre Fourie and Chris Robshaw all putting their hands up for the spot.
…and that’s not to mention the question of captaincy and who would fill the breech; should it become available.
The injuries to Stoddart and Moody go some way to highlighting what a bruising encounter the match last Saturday was. Undeniably, some of the biggest hits came in from the centres, probably most notably from debut cap Manu Tuilagi.
The youngest brother from the great Samoan rugby stable, Manu looked perfectly undeterred by the pressure of HQ. A mature performance from the 20 year old gave plenty of food for thought and should result in another stamp in the 6 foot 1, 16 stone 7lb, centre’s passport.
Questions still exist however over Johnno’s backs division and who exactly the former world champion will take. Armitage made a good account of himself at full-back but Ben Foden will look to impress this Saturday in Cardiff.
Foden’s last visit saw a try-scoring yet ultimately losing performance in the Heineken Cup final. The Northampton star will be looking to excise his demons on his return to the Welsh capital whilst cementing his place in the number 15 jersey.
Rotation also played a key part in England’s strategies last Saturday as Banahan was tried both out on the wing and at centre, with competent displays in both positions. The Bath-man’s switch to the midfield also made way for speedy Gloucester winger Sharples, who did well but ultimately, will be lucky to secure a place in the final squad.
But what of Wales? The winning margin could’ve been greater; and whilst England were arguably happy to practice their defense for large swathes of the second half, Wales still put on a good attacking show and will have much to build on in the return fixture.
Tavis Knoyle, however short his appearance, did well to speed up the ball, something Phillips’ service had lacked at vital points in the first half. Many corners are hoping to see Warren Gatland trial the other scrum halves in these testing games.
In the back-row a return for former captain Ryan Jones. The Ospreys man did well to stabilise the scrum, which highlighted the inexperience for replaced Toby Faletau.
Another replacement who showed his worth was Luke Charteris, height like that can make all the difference in a line-out as he showed from the moment he came on.
Behind the scrum, Priestland impressed as he stepped up to the 10 berth only hours before the game. He marshaled the game well and whilst the veteran Stephen Jones might have made the difference and helped Wales secure the confidence boosting win, the fly half put in a sound performance.
Jamie Roberts also looks to be hitting the kind of form that saw him earn the player of the series crown for the Lions back in 2009; and on Saturday there’s every chance he’ll be paired with Gavin Henson.
Contentious Henson divides opinion off the field but there is no denying he is a great player when fit and in form, if he plays well on Saturday partnered with fans favourite Roberts, the nation’s confidence and expectation will grow further.
The teams will be announced imminently, though many can guess the changes that will be made. Expect a fiery encounter at the home of the dragon as Wales v England kicks off live from Cardiff on Sky Sports from 2pm, as players continue on their journey to prove they have the rugby ‘X Factor’, on the way to the World cup… not Christmas number 1!
Thursday, 20 January 2011
Monday, 15 November 2010
With so many stand out performances over the weekend, I really didn’t think I’d be sitting down this Monday evening ready to write about an international doping scandal.
No sport is immune from cheating and the use of performance enhancers; but rugby has done well over the past few seasons to remove it from the upper echelons of the game. The South African rugby union has sent a clear message that they will not condone cheating by sending Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson who have both tested positive for an illegal stimulant straight home.
More details will filter through over the next few days and as a rugby community we can only hope that this deception does not spread further throughout the team who are of course, current world champions.
England v. Australia
More comfortable with the neutral tag and delighted by the feast of talent in front of me I was excited at kick off on Saturday. My prediction was for the Aussie backs to be rampant, "James O'Connor will set the stadium alight" I promised. But I was wrong. The gulf between northern and hemisphere rugby that I talked about last week was closed and YOUNG English talent came to the fore.
Chris Ashton's sublime talent is no secret to Northampton fans, after taking the Premiership player of the season for 2009/10 it was inevitable that his try count for England would start to climb imminently and on Saturday he lived up to expectation.
A first half try and second half run in that will go down in Twickenham legend should've been enough to earn the 23 year old the man of the match award.
...but alas a huge performance that ended with injury just before the hour mark landed Tigers scrum half Ben Youngs the end of game bottle of champagne.
England are finally putting faith in the younger players coming through and are reaping rewards for that.
My only criticism of the side though is of Courtney Lawes. The boy is probably one of the biggest second rows in the world at the moment but just doesn't seem to have the confidence to back himself. When the Northampton player finally does realise his strength and capabilities no one will stand in his way.
(Let's hope this doesn't happen before the next 2 rounds of Heineken Cup action when my Blues boys face the Saints in back to back matches!)
Wales v. South Africa
Frequent score updates flew through on the text from my dad whilst I was at work on Saturday. I watched the first half of the England game from the gantry and the second half in the 3D production truck, but the majority of my time was spent with my eyes firmly transfixed on my phone...
It means nothing now when I say it in retrospect, but I had predicted a big performance from double try scorer George North. Wales wingers were starting to look processed, like they'd all come from the same mould; a short, nimble, Shane Williams shaped, mould.
North's tremendous physicality served him well on Saturday, combine that with his great step and natural flair and he really is a prospect for the future... specifically next year's world cup!
The world cup is less than a year away and as a nation we have faith in Gatland that, whilst we're losing matches, he is building for next year's competition. Which begs the question, why is Stephen Jones still our starting stand off when there are so many 10s waiting in the wings.
And is Gatland's decision to persevere with Phillips the right one? There is no denying his abilities but a change at scrum half earlier in the game on Saturday would've made the world of difference. Ben Youngs showed for England last weekend that good, speedy service is key, we have world class backs and quick ball could make all the difference for us.
When you look at Wales as a team there are many top class individuals but unfortunately it's small margins that mean we're losing games.
...and terrible refereeing. I don't want to blame Steve Walsh for Saturday's loss and I don't want to dwell on his negative impact on the match. However it's worth a mention that a vote of no confidence meant he lost his refereeing position in New Zealand and he now works under the flag of Australia. There are many marks on Walsh's record with many arguing he has no place in international rugby, it is unfair that it was a Wales game that was his first game back on the international stage. Let's hope it's his last.
LV= Anglo Welsh Cup
Finally, a quick mention of the LV= cup and with the exception of the Dragons a good weekend for Welsh teams. The Ospreys 8 tries in Bridgend and the Blues draw against a strong Exeter side were great spectacles on Friday night, not to mention the Scarlets victory over London Irish on Sunday.
If the Anglo-Welsh offers nothing else as a competition, the glimpse of the young talent that Wales has to offer was unbelievably exciting. Let's hope these young stars get further chances to shine this season.
Monday, 8 November 2010
So after building up Sonny Bill Williams’ debut on Saturday, there was no way I was going to be anything but disappointed. But to be fair to the boxing, rugby league convert, whilst he didn’t score any tries or break any bones, he brought moments of ‘special’ to the game that only certain players can.
His previous life in rugby’s other code is evident in his effortless one-handed off-loads and his boxing hobby is visible in his incredible physique. So whilst SBW didn’t thrill me on Saturday, I don’t think he’ll miss out on selection against my boys in Cardiff, and who knows, if he doesn’t light up this Autumn series maybe he’ll do a Lomu a la RWC 1995 when the world cup visits his home nation next year.
It did feel slightly wrong being at Twickers as Wales faced the Wallabies back home in Cardiff and it felt even worse when I watched the highlights and saw how close the boys had come to beating them.
There's no question that Wales had an almighty task ahead of them with Australia coming off the back of a great win against their neighbours in Hong Kong a week before, and with the kind of quality they have from 1 to 15, it's no surprise an injury ravaged Wales were written off by many... including myself.
When you have a player like Martyn Williams in your squad, but select a young pretender like Sam Warburton ahead of him there will always be raised eyebrows, but the Cardiff youngster rose to the challenge and proved any doubters wrong and that he truly is a name for the future.
Despite his try, Pockock failed to live up to his billing as one of Australia's biggest threats in the pack; and the world-class back line that many feared would pile the points onto the home side were contained meaning the score line was tight until the finish.
There are calls for Richie Rees, try scoring hero, to start the next few matches especially the 'big one' against the All Blacks at the end of the month. However his impact off the bench was undeniable and if Wales can keep the scoreboard ticking over, whilst putting in another strong defensive effort, rejuvenated by the return of injured players, a win against New Zealand is not out of the question... Not so 'un-Welsh' now!