Posted in Sport & Fitness

Bring on the British and Irish Lions

All the talk this week has been about who will play for the British and Irish Lions and, as this is a debate I love, George and I will happily throw in our opinions without being asked. I have been amused but not surprised to see the majority of former players and pundits picking a very Welsh line up, which is to be expected after their excellent performance in Cardiff. Amongst all the excitement of thrashing England, the eight match losing streak that ended only a few weeks ago has been forgotten. I also remember watching ten of the current side tamely capitulating to Samoa the week after being outplayed by Argentina only a few months ago. Wales played well but let’s not pretend they are all world beaters.

The other punditry obsession of the week has been banging about the importance of Welsh experience. Once again this ignores the other area where Wales have a wealth of experience – losing to Australia. At the last count it was seven defeats in a row including four losses in 2012 alone. I can’t believe the Australia players are having sleepless nights. Wales in the Six Nations could be summarised as having two dreadful games, one average, one good and one excellent. If you reversed the chronology of these results they would still win the title but far more of the players could book their summer holidays with confidence. Momentum is very persuasive.

I’m not saying Welsh players should be ignored but some perspective is needed. There isn’t a glut of talent across the four squads and players need to be rated on more than one game.  Several players performed well in losing teams and others were poor but made to look good after being given an arm chair ride by a dominant pack *cough* Mike Phillips *cough*.

Before you read, judge and disagree with our selections there are few observations and caveats to state.

Caveats

  • I’m picking purely on form in the Six Nations 2013 not reputation.
  • I’m not considering players who were injured during the Six Nations 2013. This means no place for Corbisiero, O’Connell, Preistland or the excellent Dan Lydiate.
  • I’ve not included players who weren’t picked for a Six Nations side which leaves out Armitage, Wilkinson, Sheridan and Wade.
  • I am English so despite my good intentions this is inevitably biased.
Captain, my captain

Observations

  • Very hard to pick wingers because no-one stands out; most were poor in defence and in the case of Chris Ashton the double whammy of poor in defence and attack.
  • Very hard to pick the back row because so many players stand out. This is the only area of the team where there is genuine strength in depth and some excellent players won’t make the trip.
  • Chris Robshaw has to be captain and anyone that disagrees will be spammed with the photo of me touching his thighs lifting him in a manly rugby fashion. I think BOD is worth considering as he will always lead from the front. I wouldn’t consider Warburton as he wasn’t good enough to make the Welsh team as recently as two games ago, isn’t the best Welsh player in his position and his form has been patchy for most of the last year. Robshaw leads from the front, hasn’t let his standard drop once and that includes several MOM performances.

15 – Leigh Halfpenny. There are some very good full backs but this is an easy choice to make as Halfpenny was easily the player of the tournament. Assured in defence, dangerous in attack and tactical kicking provides a real edge. Reserves: Hogg & Brown (both selected for their ability to counter attack).

14 – Craig Gilroy. Shackled North with ease, looked dangerous even with poor service and doesn’t need much space to score. Reserves: Cuthbert (good finishing makes up for his appalling defence) & Maitland (but secretly praying that Tommy Bowe is fit).

13 – Brian O’Driscoll. Only one choice in this position, his pace may be gone but his vision, handling and determination still at its peak. Reserves: Manu Tualagi & Jonathon Davies (both able to make an impact from the bench and have real pace).

12 – Bily Twelvetrees. I realise that Jamie Roberts is a more logical pick but I went with Twelvetrees for two main reasons. Firstly, Roberts hasn’t set the pitch alight this season and is below his best. The main reason is a want to see the Lions play with the creativity and flair that 36 has in abundance.  Reserves: Jamie Roberts & James Hook (far better as a centre than as fly half).

11 – Simon Zebo. He didn’t play much due to injury but selected for the same reasons as Gilroy and provide a real cutting edge. Reserves: David Strettle (should have been given more of a chance for England) & Visser (wasn’t great but best of a poor bunch).

10 – Jonny Sexton. Able to replicate his club form at international level theses days and if the pack can give him a platform he is the best man to release the outside backs. Reserves: Own Farrell (lack of experience stops him from starting but a good man to have on the bench) & Toby Flood (most creative of remaining 10s).

9 – Greg Laidlaw. Played under pressure for the whole tournament but still managed to be creative in attack and strong in defence. Third kicker in my starting XV gives further flexibility. Reserves: Danny Care & Mike Phillips (only in the team cos of Irish injuries and Ben Youngs tendency to turn into a whinging liability under pressure).

1 – Gethin Jenkins: Hitting form at the right time and will provide leadership from the front. Reserves: Cian Healey & Ryan Grant.

2 – Rory Best. Has the best all round game and plenty of experience. Reserves: Tom Youngs (impact sub) & Richard Hibbard (to start if Best is injured).

3 – Adam Jones. Back to his best and has the potential to appear in Antipodean nightmares. Reserves: Dan Cole & Euan Murray.

4 – Jim Hamilton. Had a great tournament and fills the role of enforcer completely.   Reserves: Donnacha Ryan is the only other 2nd row with the same amount of snap so unless O’Connell makes a comeback this final place will probably go to Gray or Evans .

5 – AW Jones. Returned from injury with a bang and provides athleticism to match the brute force of Hamilton. – Reserves Joe Launchbury & Geoff Parling (two athletic line-out jumpers).

6 – Chris Robshaw (capatain). Equally good at 6 or 7, will lead from the front and never tire of doing the dirty work. Essential. Reserves: Ryan Jones & Tom Wood (both good enough to start but are sacrificed in the name of balance -take note Gatland and Lancaster).

7 – Justin Tipuric. Best genuine open side in the 6 nations who out shone his more famous team mate in every game. As happy hunting the ball as he is playing with the backs. Reserves: Warburton (starting to show some form) & Sean O’Brien (not really an open side but adds plenty of power).

8 – Johnnie Beattie. Impressive defence and adds ball carrying grunt to balance out the back row Reserves. Jamie Heaslip (getting back to top form and provides strong leadership) & Ben Morgan (great hands and a much better ball carrier than Faletau).

I’m sure there are some of you that are wondering why I haven’t picked George North and the reason is simple – I don’t think he is good enough. Since the World Cup he has only scored one more try than the widely derided Chris Ashton (3 in 19 games), has developed a habit of disappearing for long periods of time and his poor positional sense makes him defensively weak. Without the space to get a long run up he lacks penetration and has very little to his game apart from the obvious physicality. In short, the flat track bully has been found out.  If any Welsh fans would like to claim that North is international class please remember that the last Welsh winger to play for the Lions was Shane Williams. Remember him? He was quite good and I bet that even though he has retired he could walk into this team.

We have surprised ourselves by only picking two Englishmen in the starting XV but I think this is a well-balanced and genuinely threatening team. Enough from me and George for now as it is time for your opinions. Please put all thoughts and selections in the comment box below.

Posted in I'm the Daddy

A Day in the Life

I work compressed hours so that I can take every other Monday off to spend with George. I love this time with him and look forward to our days together. I take photos of him all the time mainly to show his Momma what we have been doing all day but also so I can look at them when we are apart and relive our day. This was our day.

Posted in Sport & Fitness

Final Six Nations Review

Future England Number 8
Future England Number 8

Despite all our excited preparation, Saturday turned into a big disappointment for me and George as England were crushed by Wales. It seems that Stuart Lancaster ignored my suggestions from last week and Wales were far stronger in every area I highlighted, even finding time to demolish the English scrum.  It was the sort of game where all you can do is stand back and applaud the Welsh for a job well done.  We aren’t too down hearted as my pre-tournament prediction was for England to finish second (albeit to France not Wales) and the squad is developing well. I enjoyed the four wins and George is even more determined to turn himself into the all action, ball carrying number 8 that England so badly lacked.

I’m not going into too much detail about how each player performed at the weekend but this wouldn’t be a blog post without a little amateur analysis. In most of the news reports I have read there has been too much emphasis placed on the victory being down to how experienced the Welsh players are compared with their English counterparts. While there is some truth in this I feel the biggest factor is that Wales had a better strategy and tactics to attack England and delivered it well. The responsibility for not producing a plan to counter this lies with Stuart Lancaster and his management team. For no extra charge I am offering them the benefit of my wisdom for the road ahead.

Work on Plan B – England started strongly but as the tournament progressed each side they faced found new ways to target their weaknesses and counter their strengths.  At half time in Cardiff they were still in the game and could have changed their tactics to turn the tide for the second half but were out of options. Tournament rugby requires you to be adaptable and to have more than one way of winning a game. This could mean changes in selection for key games or merely being able to change the point of attack to keep the opposition guessing.

Balance – Moving swiftly on to my bugbear of selecting players out of their preferred position, a crime Lancaster committed far too often. The back row and back three were the most obvious places where this imbalance created a weakness but there were others. In the second row, Parling and Launchbury are great athletes but both lack the snarling, dogged element to their game that players like Jim Hamilton and AW Jones possess.   Perhaps pairing an athlete with an enforcer in the second row would add depth and variation to the pack. And as most people are pointing out the centre combination needs work as well.

Emphasis on Attack – I don’t think England should throw caution to the wind and destroy all the good work they have done in defence over the last year but tweaks need to be made. It is time to end the ‘Brad Barritt’ experiment and select a more attacking inside centre to bring the runners outside him into play. Wales kicked to Alex Goode all afternoon knowing he posed the attacking threat of a sofa cushion on the counter attack. I’d like to see more dangerous broken field runners like Strettle, Wade or Sharples on the wing with Brown or Foden at full back. Most importantly we need varied and innovative tactics to bring these offensive weapons into play.

Continuity – I’m all in favour of building experience and showing faith in players but sometimes it isn’t the right thing to do. Chris Ashton wasn’t done any favours by being continually picked when he was so painfully out of form. Some time back at his club may have helped in this situation.

This is the end of my sermon for now but when I get a minute I will be picking my British Lions team to take on Australia. Comments in the usual place.

Posted in Sport & Fitness

Swing Low – Six Nations Preview

I’m afraid that fans of George’s expert rugby analysis are going to be disappointed this week. We didn’t watch any rugby on Saturday and during the first half of the England game he gave me a look that said ‘this is rubbish Daddy, I’m having a nap’. He made the right choice and slept right through until his dinner. England forgot about everything I have praised them for in previous posts and were lucky to scrape through with a win. The decision making was particularly poor and for the first time the bench failed to make an impact. This is not a performance that would win the Grand Slam and I hope it was a slap in the face for the England players and coaching team.

George and I may have missed the rugby this weekend but we are both excited about Grand Slam decider on Saturday. We have made this post into a preview and to celebrate we decided to start swinging low early in preparation for the big game.

For a while there has been an inevitability about Wales recovering their form to pip England to the Six Nations title but the momentum has shifted so far that Wales should start as favourites. If England are to win then these are the areas I would like to see them target.

The Breakdown – Obvious as this is where most modern rugby games are won and lost but it will take even more prominence on Saturday. England generated quick ball and retained possession well against Scotland but have gradually lost their way. If Warburton is returning to form then the whole team needs to be clearing out quickly and precisely to stop the threat he poses. I would also like to see a greater ball carrying threat from England as only Mako Vunipola and Tom Youngs had an impact against Italy. In the absence of the injured Morgan I would bring in Billy Vunipola, move Woods to the blind and Haskell to the bench to balance out the back row. Get the ball carriers over the gain line and ruck over.

When England are defending there is arguably even more work to do. In the autumn internationals, Wales forgot how took look after the ball, getting turned over easily and I still think this is an area of weakness. Delivery from Phillips has been slow and if he can be successfully targeted it is unlikely that Wales will ever get on the front foot. I would also retain Danny Care at scrum half to snipe around the rucks and create opportunities from turnover ball.

Counter Attack – I would like to see Lancaster pick a back three that is more adept at counter attacking and able to cause havoc in broken play. Ashton doesn’t seem to be running the support lines he used to find so naturally and I don’t think I have seen Goode beat a man yet. I would move Brown to his more natural position of full back and bring in Foden and Strettle on the wings to provide the cutting edge. Neither Cuthbert nor North are great in defence and can be turned inside out by nimble runners.

Tactical Kicking – If England spend the game kicking to Leigh Halfpenny then they are going to have a bad time. He counter- attacks well, is cool under pressure and can kick like a rocket. There needs to be variation and direction to the kicking game and if they can turn the wingers around or force forwards to retrieve the ball it will keep the pressure on Wales.

Is History Repeating Itself?

I can’t blog about Wales snatching the grand slam from England without talking about that try by Scott Gibbs at Wembley. If you can remember it like it was yesterday then you may be shocked to find out it was 14 years ago. I can now watch this clip without pain and marvel at what a fantastic player Scott Gibbs was. He wasn’t the only superb player on the pitch that day; Wales boasted the talents of Gareth Thomas, Neil Jenkins, Rob Howley with the sublime Scott Quinnell at number 8. England weren’t short of talent either and took to the field with the ultimate back row of Dallagio, Back and Hill packing down with Leonard and Johnson plus a young Jonny Wilkinson at inside centre.

If you look at the team sheets for Saturday there aren’t many players you would rank alongside those players from ‘99. Most of them still have time to burn their way into the hearts and minds of the rugby faithful but realistically most of them won’t. We are watching an inexperienced English side that is still finding its feet taking on a flawed Welsh side, lacking any strength in depth. Their position at the top of the table has as much to do with the failings of the other side in the Six Nations as it has to their collective abilities. We haven’t seen a classic tournament and I doubt many Southern hemisphere sides will be feeling threatened.

I don’t want end on a low note as George and I will be very excited come Saturday afternoon and looking forward to a tense game of rugby. I hope both sides play to their potential and this time someone remembers to tackle Scott Gibbs.

Who do think will win? Can England raise their game? Will home support be a decisive factor? Do you still have flash backs about being pinned to the wall by a drunken Welshman in 1999? Comments in the box below.

Posted in Sport & Fitness

Run Harris, Run – 2013 Challenge Update

I’m now two months into my 2013 Challenge and I thought it was about time I posted an update on my progress. If this was a school report it would probably have ‘could do better’ written on the bottom but it is early days and I’m quite pleased with what I have achieved so far.

Cycling

Year to date = 148.3km                  KM remaining = 1,954.7 km

Running

Year to date = 28.6km                    KM remaining = 172.7 km

StravaI am about a month behind schedule on my cycling and a week behind on the running but I always knew the winter months would be difficult. A combination of bad weather, illness and injury has blown a hole in my training and stopped me from getting out as much as I wanted. However, I am getting gradually fitter and I know I will feel the benefit of some of these cold, hard rides when summer comes. As you can see from the picture I have managed a few consecutive weeks of good rides and I know as soon as it is light enough I will be able to ride in the evening as well.

The biggest failure has been my weight loss. I’m not shifting the lard and I have given up weighing myself for now as I know how badly I’m doing. I wouldn’t normally be bothered by this but I know that cycling up the French Alps is going to be easier if I am lighter so I need to get my eating under control. I know what makes me fat so I have no excuses for failing to cut out the crap eating.

This month I will be concentrating on the running as I have a 10k at the start of April that I want to do well in. By the time I report again I should be ahead on my running total and lighter than I am now. The twin mantras for this month are ‘Run Harris, Run’ and ‘Step Away From the Cake’. Please keep encouraging me.