I haven’t had a chance to speak to George yet as according to his nursery schedule he will be busy filling containers with sand and water right now. However, I’m sure he will be disappointed that Warren Gatland has largely ignored our suggestions for his Lions touring party and failed to pick seven of our starting XV. I could ramble on for ages about why I would have picked a different squad but I know George would want me to keep it brief.
Most bizarre omissions: Chris Robshaw (should have been captain), Greg Laidlaw and Rory Best.
Most bizarre selections: Conor Murray (how on earth did he make it?), Toby Faletau (not good enough), Richie Gray (badly out of form).
I have other concerns about certain players who are coming back from injury and may not have much time to establish form and fitness (Lydiate & Bowe) but equally there are some players hitting top form at exactly the right time (J Davies, B Youngs & O’Connell). There is enough quality in this squad to make a formidable starting XV. This is the team I would pick based those selected for the trip.
15 – Leigh Halfpenny
14 – Tommy Bowe
13 – Brian O’Driscoll
12 – Jamie Roberts
11 – Stuart Hogg (not a winger but far better player than other wingers in the squad)
10 – Owen Farrell
9 – Ben Youngs
1 – Gethin Jenkins
2 – Richard Hibbard
3 – Adam Jones
4 – Paul O’Connell (captain)
5 – AW Jones
6 – Tom Croft
7 – Justin Tipuric
8 – Jamie Heaslip
You have probably noticed that I haven’t picked the official Lions captain but as even Warren Gatland doesn’t think Warburton is the best open side flanker in the Welsh team why would he start for the Lions? There are two specialist blind-side flankers in the squad (Croft and Lydiate) and they are both better than Warburton in that position so I see no reason to start him there either. He is a fine player but I would only play him if Tipuric is not playing well. O’Brien is a brilliant impact player and can cover all back row positions so he deserves a place on the bench.
I will need to check this selection with George when we get home but I doubt he will disagree. I think the Aussies will be terrified of that front five, the back row can dominate the breakdown and there is real pace and invention in the backs. Time to bring on the Lions!
The first featured New Zealand’s World Cup winning scrum half, Piri Weepu. The advert was part of anti-smoking campaign and featured the rugby star, bottle feeding his daughter Taylor. Anyone who has seen Piri leading the All Black haka knows what a fearsome and intimidating character he is so I loved seeing this paternal side to him. Sadly you can only see stills from this advert as it was pulled after pressure from the La Leche League who felt their agenda was more important.
The second advert I liked was from VW which surprised me as I normally hate car adverts. It manages to steer away from too many clichés and most importantly portrays a Dad who isn’t an idiot. The theme that links these two adverts is Dads and their daughters. The advertising world frequently struggles with complex concepts and has very little idea how to depict a father/daughter relationship.
I can’t find the advert now but recently I remember being infuriated by an advert for Disneyland Paris whose central premise was ‘Dads – You can’t possibly understand your daughter so buy their love with a trip to Disneyland Paris’. It made me want to drown Mickey and his mates. Money and taxi rides are the only thing a father can give his daughter in your average advert.
I think reality is somewhat different and as usual I look to my friends for inspiration. One friend has two daughters and I’ve always joked that he is the least important decision maker in the house but we both know he is central to lives of his little girls. Another friend has taught his daughter the words to ‘Flower of Scotland’ so they can sing the national anthem together before Scottish rugby games – it is beyond cute. The most broody I have ever been in my life was when I saw the man who taught me ‘where real men piss’ holding his 2 week old daughter with a look of total adoration in his eyes. His daughter is 8 years old and I have never seen that love waver.
If I can find inspiration this easily why do the people behind our adverts find it so hard? Maybe they don’t have kids. I have a Mad Men style image of sharp suited men trying to work out if babies like smoking and whiskey while tedious jazz plays in the background. I don’t know. You can probably see why I haven’t finished this post before as I have left myself with nowhere to go. I don’t know the answer and boycotting all products with a poor advert is virtually impossible. I hope things will change eventually and the odd marketing bod will realise that Dads are different now but we may have to wait some time.
I will leave you with what is neither an advert for milk or sippy cups but should be both.
Has anyone seen the film ‘Looper’? I won’t try to explain the whole plot as it does get quite complicated but there is one key element I would like to talk about as it has got me thinking. In the film, two actors – Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis – play the same character at different points in his life. Bruce Willis gets sent back in time and tries to change the future for the Joseph-Gordon Levitt version of himself. They are the same man but they are very different, time has mellowed Bruce and his experiences have left him a changed man.
Now I’m not one for giving out advice to other people but what if I could go back and talk to myself? What if I could back exactly one year to the day before my son was born? What would I say? If I could go back, I imagine the conversation would go something like this.
For the purposes of this blog post I will be played by Bruce Willis and me from a year ago will be played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt.
Bruce Willis (BW): Hi Andy, I’m you but from the future.
Joseph-Gordon Levitt (JGL): Really? You look like Bruce Willis.
BW: Yeah I know. I would have cast someone else but what can you do? Anyway, I’m sure you’ve guessed by now it is all about to kick off.
JGL: I’m really nervous, I could do with some advice. Have I done enough to prepare for childbirth? Will I be able to help?
BW: Well kind of. Nothing you’ve done will be any use but . . . um .
JGL: But it’s going to alright isn’t it?
BW: Not really. It’s going to be awful. None of that ‘best day of your life’ crap. You’ll get through but that’s the best I can say about it.
JGL: But once the baby is born, then it will be alright?
BW: Sorry mate, not really. It is going to be hard especially in that first week. I don’t want to say too much as you have got to find out for yourself. It will get better but not for a while.
BW: Anyway, this isn’t why I came back to talk to you. I came to warn you that things are going to change, you’re going to change.
JGL: Change how?
BW: It’s difficult to explain. Everything you feel, everything you see, everything you do will be different. You won’t be able to separate the different strands of your life, everything will come back to the little life you helped bring into the world. Things that used feel important won’t anymore. Clearing your head will become one of the hardest things you do. Don’t underestimate the emotional impact this will have on you, there is no going back.
JGL: I don’t understand. How do I prepare?
BW: You can’t, you just need to know it is going to happen. Changing a nappy is easy and you will get used to waking up in the middle of the night but no one tells you about the emotional changes, even though it is the hardest part. The highs will take your breath away, you will not believe me if I tell you how many happy tears you will shed in the next year. The smallest gesture, smile or noise will make your heart swell with unconditional love. All these feelings come wrapped up in one and you have no control over any of it.
JGL: I’m still not sure I understand.
BW: Let me think of an analogy. Have you seen the film ‘Looper’?
JGL: If you are really me from the future you know that I haven’t.
BW: Oh yeah, never thought of that. That’s a shame, I had a really good idea where you could be played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt.
JGL: Oh I like him. Look I’d better go. Have you got any advice for the next 24 hours?
BW: One thing. If you get asked to wear some shoes that pinch a little, don’t make a big deal about it. There is going to be someone else in the room in much more pain and you may come across as a bit of a princess.
‘And we’ll die in the class we were born, well that’s a class of our own my love.’
Time for Heroes, The Libertines
Last week I filled out the class survey on the BBC website to see which of the new class brackets I now fall in. Turns out I’m part of the ‘Established Middle Class’. Not really that surprising as I went to University, live in the home counties and listen to Classic FM in the car cos it seems to make George sleepy. So far, so predictable. It was when I started to read more of the description of what it meant to be in this ‘class’ that it started to make less sense. I do have a nice life but the description of wealth and in particular the word ‘established’ suggested an element of immovability from my current position that I don’t feel. I am very aware that redundancy or long term ill health could bring this crashing down and I can never feel 100% secure.
This led me to think about the number of friends and family members who have been made redundant, had pay cuts or been forced to re-apply for their own job in the last few years. All of them worked hard and were guilty of nothing more than working in the wrong industry at the wrong time. I have only ever been unemployed for a short period of time but what sticks in my memory was how long it took to recover from this experience. I took a job I didn’t like as I needed the money and ended getting side lined into dead end roles. It took me years to get to a point where I felt I finally had a career.
This train of thought neatly brings me on the raft of welfare cuts the government brought in over the last week. Knowing how easy it can be to fall I am a firm believer in the need for the state to provide assistance for those who need it. Very few people are so secure that they know they will never need help at any point in their life. I am well aware that there are some who abuse the system but I don’t see why the majority should be punished for their actions. More importantly I cannot demand a safety net for my own life and then deny others the same basic rights.
In my opinion the new changes are a crude and remorseless attack on the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our society. I’m not alone from feeling this way but I sometimes need to remind myself that as I select who I follow on twitter and only read certain newspapers I frequently only get an echo chamber for views similar to my own. Not everyone agrees with me, according to a ComRes poll last year, 40% of us think that at least half of all benefit recipients are “scroungers”. Even more frightening is that this rises to 50% when you only ask 18-30 year olds. It seems that compassion is thin on the ground amongst the next generation.
All of this brings me back to where I started. Some of the more hysterical editorial in our national newspapers have spoken about a divide being created through our society; not ‘scroungers vs. strivers’ but those who support paying benefits to the unemployed, old and disabled against those who only see cheats, idleness and murderous intention. Is this the real class divide? Does caring about what happens to those around you set you apart from your peers? I really hope not.
Please put your comments, views and opinions in the box below.
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.
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.
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 thighslifting 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.
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.
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.
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.