Posted in Sport & Fitness

Six Nations Review –Week Three

Rugby GeorgeGeorge and I didn’t really get to watch much rugby together this weekend so these are mainly my views. He slept through the Italy v Wales game, I was working for England v France and we missed the first half of Scotland v Ireland because he was at a birthday party. We did settle down with a beer to watch Ireland implode in the second half and I’m sure he gave me a look at one point that said ‘Daddy, even I can kick better than that’. He was right.

These are my talking points for the week.

Don’t Assume the Position

Anyone who has had the misfortune to talk to me about rugby down the pub will know I have a real problem with players playing out of position. In my eyes, if your first choice flanker isn’t fit, you play the second best flanker not another good player out of position. England took to the field with two of the back row playing out of position and it showed. They struggled at the breakdown in the first half and lacked a ball carrying number 8 to break the gainline. In contrast, France finally played Fofana in the centre and we all saw what he can do in the right position.

Plus ca change . . . .

Time for me to start repeating points I made in my previous post as once again the bench was vital at Twickenham.  Haskell added balance to the back row, Youngs and Vanipola carried the ball well against a tiring French defence and Care kept the pressure on. The cheer from England fans that greeted Freddie Michalak is all you need to know about French substitutions. England stuck to the basics well and made fewer mistakes than France to end up winning comfortably.

On the Up

Leigh Halfpenny – although that should be ‘still’ on the up as I can’t remember the last time he had a bad game. It’s always nice to see full-backs on the gallop but there is much more to his game than that. He is defensively secure to the point of invulnerability and is able to kick with intelligence as well as ferocious power.

Scotland – After dominating the first half, Ireland were mugged in the second. Clearly spending 80% of the game in your own half without the ball gives you confidence as there was no panic from Scotland as they dragged their way back into the game. Meanwhile, Ireland caught a collective dose of the jitters and fell apart. I once delivered a kick very similar to the one O’Gara produced to detonate the Irish implosion whilst playing for the mighty Heaton Moor. After the game I was roundly mocked, nominated ‘dick of the week’ and made to down a pint whilst stood on a bar stool. I hope Ronan suffered the same fate.

Welsh Front Row – In round one I was going to write a paragraph about how annoying it is when Welsh pundits bang on about their ‘Lions front row’ when they are clearly passed their best. I’m glad I didn’t now, as although Rees has been rightly dropped, Jenkins and Jones dominated their Italian counterparts and set the tone for an impressive Welsh victory.

On the way down

England Back Three – Ashton is out of form, defensively suspect and prone to giving away penalties; Goode is solid but lacks explosive pace on the counter attack; Brown is looking increasingly out of place on the wing and yearning for wide open spaces. Something has to change.

Italy – It all should have been so beautiful but the Italian charge is crumbling. Any side would miss Sergio Parisse but Italy have also lost the flair in their attacking back line and even the fearsome front row crumbled under sustained Welsh pressure. It isn’t looking good.

As my prediction rate is in danger of dropping below the 50% mark they should probably be ignored. For what is worth I think there will be wins for England, Ireland and Wales in the next round.

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Posted in I'm the Daddy

It’s a Dads, Dads, Dads, Dads World . . . .

George in the ball poolOver Christmas I spent a wonderful day with two of my oldest friends and as we all have families now the day was full of fun. As I sat and watched the grin burst across George’s face when one of my friends dropped him into a ball pool, I started thinking about what great Dads all my friends are. I am at the age now where all of my friends have at least one child and some have been Dads for a number of years. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that every one of them has something that makes them stand out as a great Dad. Then I started to think why this is true.

There is little doubt that I am part of a generation of Dads who are more involved in raising their children than ever before. I have also accumulated a set of friends who can summon their inner child so readily they have no problems relating to their own sons and daughters. Who would have thought being so immature could ever be useful? They are there for the difficult stuff too and share the sleepless nights, nappy changes and child care with their partners as equally as they can.

I have read several blog posts claiming that the modern Dad has a big barrier holding them back and attempting to exclude them from the world of parenting. I am talking about sexism. I find myself agreeing with many of the points raised by excellent bloggers like John Adams on Dad Blog UK except for this central point that we are victims of sexism. Although sometimes I have been treated differently for being a Dad in situations usually dominated by Mothers, I have always put this down to inexperience.  Most of the time this negative treatment comes from well-meaning people who have just got it wrong.  In short, I don’t feel there are any barriers to being a more involved Dad and I have never felt restricted. There are massive opportunities for us to get involved and it is up to us to go and grab it with both hands.

In contrast I think Mums have to put up with far more than I ever have to as a Dad. I have never been made to feel guilty about what sort of milk my baby drinks, never been questioned about if I am planning to lose weight or had my career choices questioned. I have blogged before about how my wife is only asked about George’s weight when I’m not there, as if I don’t exist. I saw this in action last week when she actually had to point to me to illustrate the sort of size George is likely to grow to. It’s sad to see that most of these questions come from other women seemingly lacking in a little empathy.

I’m not going to feel held back as a parent by my gender and I plan to correct anyone who makes assumptions about me based on my lack of ovaries. Likewise, I don’t expect my wife to have justify her decisions when I don’t have to.

Do you think that Dads are victims of sexism? Do you think my experiences represent the men in your life? How long can I continue to butcher song titles for my blog posts? Comments in the box below.

Posted in Sport & Fitness

Six Nations Review – Week Two

George plays rugbyAfter the excitement of week one, George and I were hoping for more of the same. Sadly the rugby couldn’t hold his attention and he even fell asleep during the England v Ireland match. This didn’t stop me from watching all three games and this is what I thought.

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Italy enjoyed 62% possession and territory and had enough of the ball to force Scotland to make 146 tackles but were still well beaten. The speed and aggression of the Scottish defence was undoubtedly a huge factor in their victory but I thought the biggest improvement has come in their decision making. Last season they couldn’t have found a support runner if they played all night but on Saturday the willing runners were rewarded with simple, intelligent passes. This new attitude was exemplified with the try scored by the irrepressible Stuart Hogg.  As the last man before a wave of Italian attackers he could have chosen the easy option and tackled the man with the ball. Instead he read the play, intercepted and calmly accelerated past the rest of the Italian team.

Crisis? What Crisis?

I wasn’t going to write about the Welsh but after reading Eddie Butler’s column in the Guardian I couldn’t help myself. I can see why there is cause for optimism as beating France in Paris is a very important win and Wales do have some talented players who have the capacity to improve their current form dramatically. However, some perspective is needed as that wasn’t a great French team they beat and you don’t lose eight games in a row then suddenly become world beaters. Wales have lost the ability to look after the ball at the breakdown – rarely getting quick ball and frequently getting turned over. When they do get the ball, the ponderous Mike Phillips is unable to add any spark or direction but this doesn’t make him stand out in a back line bereft of form and penetration.  Critical decision making has vanished as anyone listening to Jonathon Davies’ commentary will know; the more he desperately implored the players to attack the space, the more they did the opposite. There is no strength in depth and with no Welsh clubs left in European competition and too many talented players stagnating in France this is unlikely to change.  Maybe Wales can turn their form around but if the management agree with Eddie Butler and his rose tinted rubbish the less likely it will be.

Ou est les Bleus?

I tipped France to win the six nations and even after the loss to Italy I was expecting a return to form in Paris. Instead I witnessed a shockingly bad display that only left a series of questions. What has happened to their basics skills especially in handling the ball? How can you leave Trinh-Duc and Parra on the bench? Why push the skillful Fofana on to the wing in favour of that big lump Basteraud? What happened to the flair? Will the real French please stand up? I need answers.

Back to basics

The back to basics approach that Stuart Lancaster implemented last season is paying off. While Ireland were engaging in a collective buttering of the fingers, England managed to keep the error count low and the pressure on the opposition. Even the silly penalty count was restricted to one flick of the leg by Haskell. It is still premature to be talking about a grand slam and there is a certain inevitability about losing the unbeaten record when England visit Cardiff on the last weekend but Lancaster has much to be pleased with.

Player of the week

I could have easily nominated Stuart Hogg again but instead I am reserving my praise for two back row players.  First up is Ryan Jones who has not let being shifted from back row, to second row, to the bench and back again get him down by putting in another solid performance. In the autumn internationals the majority of his more vaunted team mates went missing but he always put up a fight, never taking a backward step. In my opinion this is type of player who Wales need to cherish not players who grab the headlines for one sharp finish amongst 80 minutes of anonymity (yes I’m looking at you George North).

I also hope I have made it clear by now how much of a fan I am of Chris Robshaw. He may not grab the attention like McCaw or Pocock but he will top the tackle and carry count every week. If there is something hard to be done he will always do it himself – stepping up to take a drive off slow ball in his own 22 and hitting ruck after ruck. It was no surprise that when all England had to do to win was secure one last line out that he called the ball to himself. As the forwards closed around him he was still giving instructions to Ben Youngs to kick into touch. Great player, great captain.

Predictions for week three: Wins for Italy, England and Ireland.

Posted in Sport & Fitness

Six Nations Review – Week One

St George of EnglandGeorge and I enjoyed the opening weekend of the Six Nations so much I have decided to pretend I am a journalist this week and list what I think were the five main talking points. If you would prefer some more informed commentary I suggest you read Nick Morris’ excellent blog, ‘Breaking the Gainline’. Here goes.

Italian Stallions

I have to confess that I didn’t watch the Italy v France game live as I wrongly assumed it would be a walk over for the French. From the highlights I can see how wrong I was. The win is made all the more remarkable by the manner of victory; finally the much maligned Italian backs show they can produce high quality attacking rugby and this time in a match that counts. Forza Italia!

Wingers who can’t defend

In the build up to the opening game much was made of the attacking threat carried by the giant Welsh wingers over their much smaller Irish opponents. In the end the massively over-hyped George North went missing for the entire first half and only popped up to be cut down with ease by Craig Gilroy.  On the opposite wing, Alex Cuthbert was giving a master class in how not defend by failing to mark the winger then turning his back on O’Driscoll as he delivered a scoring pass.  Scotland also boasted bulk on the wing but the game was less than a minute old before Tim Visser missed his first tackle. Maitland took his try well but was nowhere to be seen when Parling was romping down the wing to score. In all three games the winning side had wingers who could defend and the losers didn’t.

Big names go missing

Wales carried on where they left off in the autumn with a truly abject first half where the players with the biggest reputations let them down the most. Warburton was anonymous throughout and didn’t offer the leadership needed; how he can keep his place in the side while Tipuric is playing so well is beyond me. Gethin Jenkins showed how sharp you get sitting on the bench all season, Mike Phillips has slowed his pass down even more and Jamie Roberts was incapable of breaking the line. It took the new cap, Andrew Coombs, to show his more illustrious teammates how it is done and force his way into the game.

Power of the Bench

The key turning point for Wales came when Alex Cuthbert finally broke the Irish defensive line to score a try. His ease of passage to the line was helped by the powder puff tackling of Keith Earls who had just come on as a substitute. He isn’t a centre and was a weak point in the line for the remainder of the game. When Wales emptied the bench to try and win the match they could call on the excellent Tipuric and the solid Olly Kohn but beyond that it was only a third rate front row and James Hook running in ever decreasing circles again. In contrast, England added controlled aggression and greater momentum when they called on Haskell, Lawes and Hartley with added attacking menace coming from Care and Strettle. It is a cliché but rugby really is a 23 man game.

Player(s) of the week

Although Parisse and Orquera clearly had great games I can’t really pick them as I didn’t see them play. Billy Twelvetrees impressed me throughout particularly with the way he holds the ball – always with two hands, out in front of him so that you never know what he is going to do. I really hope he plays against Ireland with Tuilagi outside him. O’Driscoll was brilliant and Gilroy also impressed me but the player that really stood out was Stuart Hogg. His counter attacking breaks were a joy to watch and he always looked dangerous with the ball. In recent years, too few Scottish backs have had this much pace and skill and he has the ability to get behind any defence.

Predictions

George and I are really looking forward to this weekend’s matches, there is so much to play for and the results are really difficult to predict.

Scotland v Italy – Should have been the wooden spoon match but there is no guarantee either side will finish bottom. Scotland look strong despite losing their opening match and have home advantage, whereas Italy having discovered enough attacking flair to beat the tournament favourites.  No idea who will win this.

France v Wales – Both teams will want to bounce back after humiliating defeats. Which teams will turn up? Who can turn round their performance the quickest? I’ve no idea.

Ireland v England – England were the most consistent team and top the table so far but their record against Ireland in the last ten years is appalling (just ask my wife). It could go either way.

What are your views? Can you make better predictions than me? Do you think I should hide George’s Ireland shirt before the weekend? Comments in the box below.