Who’s the Most Eligible then?
You’ll be surprised, no doubt, that this has nothing to do with my current status – despite the fact that George C is no longer in the running! It is, in fact about who is entitled to pull on which international shirt – you’d think this should be fairly straightforward wouldn’t you – well not according to the IRB or indeed, as we discovered recently, the Olympic rules on 7s! I’ve written a sort of serious bit on this subject and it is published here – http://lastwordonsports.com/2014/10/01/rugby-union-eligibility-for-international-selection/ .Well there, not here obviously, since very little I scribble on the blog is even remotely tongue outside wobbly cheek. What I wanted to do here (which is actually here) was to consider how the IRB might change the rules covering this thorny issue. The official IRB Regulations on eligibility run to 18 pages of which only the first 3 cover the actual rules and the other 15 are under the heading ‘Explanatory Guidelines’. If you’re looking for a laugh, they are about as funny as Graham Norton – so don’t say you weren’t warned. Anyone interested in 15 pages of mind numbing explanation is either fascinated by all the possible conjugation variations for Latin verbs or is destined to become the head of the Civil Service. If you want to plough through these you are either bored senseless (which is probably why you came here in the first place), in a coma or an international coach looking for a weasel way to get some big bastard Samoan winger in your team before the World Cup and before the rules change – again. Well – be my guest mate - http://www.irb.com/mm/document/lawsregs/regulations/04/23/28/120531gfirbhandbook2012freg8eng.pdf Seriously, there is more potential for circumventing the spirit of the law and dodging the rules in there than in Gary Barlow’s tax return. However, I have good news for the IRB – I have come up with a new set of rules or laws or regulations that I think will be much easier to understand and more helpful to the coaches.
From now on these will be the regulations for some international teams –
Scotland – to be eligible you have to know all the words to ‘Donald where’s your troosers?’ and to not mind people taking the piss when you turn up in a skirt (which will not be a problem for Samoans, Boers, Tongans etc. I imagine)
Irish – have to demonstrate the art of pouring Guinness – including the nice little shamrock thing on the top. Anyone with red hair and proof of time served in an asylum to be given priority
Wales – be able to spell Clanethly properly (I’ve used the phonetic so there can be no cheating). Players who can also demonstrate carnal knowledge of a sheep will be fast tracked
France – must be able to pronounce merde in several regional dialects (including Corsican) and to pass the audition for performing a passable dismissive Gallic shrug when penalised for shoeing.
Italy – must demonstrate sartorial elegance, a working knowledge of fashion and nice haircuts and be able to locate Rome on a map
New Zealand – can cap anyone who was born on an Island
Australia – have a criminal record from their place of birth is the only requirement
South Africa – players must have a 26 inch neck (34 inch if they want to play in the forwards)
Samoa, Fiji, Tonga – may cap anyone - providing, of course, they can prevent them from leaving the country
England – can have anyone capable of catching a ball (at least 3 out of 5 anyway – don’t want to limit our options).
The only shame is that I just missed out on England qualification as I only managed to hang onto the bastard thing twice!
In some breaking showbiz news Harry Enfield is going to expand his ‘I saw you coming’ franchise into wine bars! For those who haven’t yet seen his stores I think they’re probably a bit like Lidl and Aldi – but judge for yourselves in his promo video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQXJIi4oCGs The first bars will be in Essex, Chelsea and next to premiership football grounds and are also likely to do really well with bankers – although I have misspelt that. The Gigi (which for the Chelsea set is not a horsey) looks like a right fucking bargain at just under £9,000 and you get a free W(Ĵ) tie or scarf with every one you fork out for – result or what?
This glass of ‘how fucking much?’ costs more than my first house (no –really) and whilst our pad may not have exactly been a mansion it did have running water, built-in curtain rails and a serviceable cutlery drawer. Admittedly it was quite a lot short of gold leaf and a cherry on a stick but we did have a rather fetching cubby hole for a hoover (which was a pity as we couldn’t afford one).
Over the last 50 years or so and especially in my playing days I’m pretty sure I destroyed quite a large number of brain cells knocking back shedloads of lager, bitter, cider and any number of stupid forfeit drinks. Even so, I still have just about enough grey matter (and hair) to know that anyone who shells out for one of these has the smarts of a house plant – which is pretty harsh on aspidistras!
You could go out with a few mates and have a bloody good night for about £1,800 – and not even have to do a ‘runner’. Then waste the other seven grand on - oh I don’t know – cancer research or terminally ill kids – still, you know best dear you probably really need yet another stupidly over-priced handbag I’m sure.
Regular readers of this rubbish will know that I’m knocking out surprisingly decent predictions for the Premiership but also in competition with Rich from #RugbyUnited to predict scores for ten different matches picked at random each week. You’ll also know I made a right Horlicks of the actual scores game in week one – week two was only marginally better and it’s starting to look like I’m going to pick up ‘twat of the week’ award on a fairly regular basis. Anyway this week I’ve been told to be a bit more savvy - which I am assured is not the same as having rough sex with a sailor or brickie. If it was I’d probably not bother, or at least charge them a bit above my normal rate. In weeks 1 and 2 I punched in my guesses first, so I was unable to fix my score differences to give me an advantage against the other two competitors (Rich and the guest – Ollie this week). Apparently there is a statistical benefit in being able to get the spread to work in your favour if you know what the others have already picked. It’s something to do with having a standard deviation so I’m informed – which isn’t anywhere near as exciting as it sounds. Unfortunately I also have no fucking idea what it means. However, whilst I can’t get any benefit from this, I can, at least, stop the others getting the advantage by going last. So I sneakily haven’t yet told them what my guesses are! Clever eh? – well possibly - but probably not. My lot for week 3 with #RugbyUnited are –
1 La Rochelle 13 vs 31
2 Toulouse 26 vs 31Stade
3 Castres 30 vs 20 Grenoble
4 Leinster 31 vs 19 Munster
5 Ulster 39 vs 26 Edinburgh
6 Scarlets 26 vs 21 Dragons
7 Bath 26 vs 21 Saracens
8 London Irish 21 vs 39 Northampton
9 Gloucester 19 vs 26 Leicester
10 Sale 21 vs 26 Wasps
I’m not going to reveal here what the others have put down as I don’t want you taking the piss because I haven’t got the spread right.
Onto the stuff where I do appear to know a bit more what I’m doing -
Almost but not Quite
Somewhat surprisingly I had another pretty good week with my Premiership predictions - I would have snatched your hands off if you’d offered me 5 out of 6 on Friday lunchtime – especially if it involved something like that in pasties or Heineken! Cumulatively I’m now 19 from 24 after the first four rounds which is over 79%. If I’d ever scored that in a test at school the teacher would have been staggered and convinced that I’d cheated (he’d have been right too!). I still haven’t scored a full house this season but I live in hope (which is a suburb of Turnip Town). Friday night was a banker although not the sort you’d like to kick up the arse. However that’s just what Gloucester did to London Welsh, putting another shedload of points on the Premiership new boys. Welsh have now shipped an average of just short of 50 points a game and if it goes down to the wire the points difference may just save the Falcons. The Welsh stayed in touch for well into the 65th minute and you wonder if their capitulation in the last quarter didn’t have as much to do with fitness as skill. Maybe they’ll surprise us all as the season develops but it seems unlikely and losing can become a habit. After a good, albeit predictable start I was then let down by the Tigers who went down at home to the other exile team London Irish. Shane Geraghty, who is getting some good reviews, kicked the winning points on 78 minutes when it looked like Leicester had just about settled for the draw. The Tigers have a long injury list but still fielded some big names and Richard Cockerill was incandescent about a couple of refereeing decisions. In the past Tigers never had to worry too much about dodgy calls at Welford Road – as they were mostly well in control and well ahead– how times have changed change. From then on the weekend was plain sailing (sorry for the mixed metaphor) and all the other games went my way. Saracens thumped Sale at home with Charlie Hodgson giving a master class at number 10. The Sharks did get three tries (to Saracens 4) but they were outmuscled up front and never really gave the London team much trouble. There was a hell of a game at Franklin’s Gardens where two heavyweights went head to head. Saints looked to be strolling home after they lead 31 – 10 on 54 minutes, but Bath stormed back with two converted tries to give the home side a nervous last ten minutes before their full complement of 5 points was finally confirmed. This included a referral to the TMO which went against Bath and prevented them drawing level. A great game from two sides who will almost certainly be in the play-offs (expect that to come back and bite me!). Both Sunday games were comfortable for me in the end – Harlequins looked anything but the side they have been for the last couple of seasons – off loads went astray and they struggled to put together much fluid play. In contrast the Chiefs looked like a team that is comfortable with all aspects of the game – scrummaging strongly and handling like it was a practice game (as in very competently, not that they couldn’t be bothered). Henry Slade looks every inch a future international and may well be in line for a call up to the elite squad if he continues to play as he did yesterday. In a Telegraph article on Saturday, Will Greenwood suggested he should be called up now – and he knows a thing or two about playing in the centre. Finally Wasps welcomed Falcons to Adams park – but only until the kick-of, after that they put them away with efficiency despite a bright start from the visitors. The five pointer moves Wasps up to 5th in the table. Falcons have now lost 20 Premiership games on the bounce and it looks like it could well be a dogfight with London Welsh at the death. It will be interesting when they meet in a couple of weeks’ time
The Results for R4 –
London Welsh 10 – 46 Gloucester
Tigers 19 – 22 London Irish
Saracens 40 – 19 Sharks
Saints 31 – 24 Bath
Chiefs 36 – 13 Harlequins
Wasps 35 – 18 Flacons
Aviva Premiership Rugby
After 4 rounds you’d think there might be a pattern starting to emerge and that predictions may get easier – no doubt I will prove that wrong in the coming weeks!
Round 5 – Predictions of the Weak
I said in my review of last week’s matches (R4) that it should get easier to pick winners now that we’ve seen the form from all the clubs. I was wrong (no change there then) – looking at the line-ups for week 5 there are some very close calls (at least it seems that way to me – so probably not then).
Friday night is a monster bash with top of the table Saracens looking to knock over Bath at the Rec. Despite the form of ‘Charlie and the Wolf Pack factory’ I think the visitors will have to make do with a losing bonus point. Putting the old chap on the block once more then, I predict that Bath will be just ahead of Sarries on points’ difference in the table after the final whistle. Connor O’Shea was livid at the end of last week at Sandy Park, he’ll be much happier in the Stoop bar by 5 pm on Saturday. Harlequins will dispose of London Welsh, gain a much needed 5 points and move the Welsh average points conceded back above 50 per game. London Irish have hit some form and, after last week’s great win at Welford Road, will not be intimidated by the visit of Saints to the Madejski. But Saints aren’t champions for nothing and, despite losing Corbs to injury until the New Year, they will seize the opportunity from Saracens stumbling to head to the top of the table at the end of this round. The Irish should get another bonus point however. Tigers travelling to Kingsholm is intriguing – last week, Gloucester won well (eventually) against Welsh and Tigers lost at home to Irish. Tigers continue to have big injury problems and this one may be down to who Tigers can put on the field. It will be very close but I think Tigers may well scrape home in front of a disappointed shed. Wasps are becoming a handful and whilst the trip to take on the Sharks won’t be easy, I think they’ll get all four points. Having said that, we might see the first draw of the season in this match - whoever loses should at least get a bonus point. Finally the Chiefs make the longest journey of the Premiership when they travel up to Newcastle Falcons – but it will be worth the trip as they’ll pick up 4 valuable points and stay in the top four.
Bath hand Saracens their first defeat (BT Sport)
Harlequins the latest to monster the Welsh
Irish go down fighting against the visiting Saints
Gloucester to just lose out to Tigers (BT Sport)
Sale run Wasps close (BT Sport)
Falcons scalped by Chiefs.
A huge call of four away wins this week – almost unheard of in the Premiership and not for the feint hearted. I could easily bugger up my running total as once more there are some very close matches in prospect.
The Jury will Disregard
Rugby referees are under more pressure than ever before from supporters, TMO controversies, media mischief and not least coaches and players comments before matches even kick –off. Serves the bastards right too – especially Roger B (Askean ref) who disallowed one of the few tries I scored (or didn’t, according to him) in my long and rather undistinguished career trying to catch an oval ball. I was never off-side – in fact I was rarely quick enough to be anywhere near the action and if Rodge hadn’t actually been slower than me he would have allowed me to swagger back to glory in the inevitable hoots of derision from my team mates! Not that it still aggravates me or keeps me awake – well, not often anyway.
The build up to big games heaps the pressure on – especially from media coverage designed primarily to sell newspapers but also to inflame passions on and off the pitch – much of this involves direct claims that the other side ‘cheats’. There is a phrase in judicial proceedings ‘the jury will disregard’ when the judge tells the ‘undirty dozen’ that they shouldn’t take any notice of what one of the barristers has sneakily dropped in by accident. The barrister immediately apologises for his unintentional ‘mistake’ (yeah right). You’re not supposed to mention the accused’s previous record apparently, so hearing that he ‘ strangled, dismembered, barbecued and ate his four previous wives may be a tad difficult to ‘disregard’ if his fifth wife is no longer with us (apart from the odd chewy bit, obviously.) Today’s game in Newlands where the Springboks try to stop the Wallabies from leap-frogging them in the World rankings is a case in point. Unless Nigel Owens and his assistants Wayne Barnes and Mathieu Raynal have been guests of Josef Fritzl for the last two weeks they will certainly have seen and read some of the verbal sparring (before the real thing starts) in the press. The Wallabies have been quick and verbose in accusing the Boks of nefarious activity whenever their forwards are anywhere near (or looking at) the ball. This is no surprise as the Wallabies’ ‘Achilles Can’t Heel’ inevitably surrounds all their players with low numbers on their backs. From the Boks’ point of view they equally stand accused with Australia’s forwards’ coach Andrew Blades taking aim at Springbok lock Victor Matfield for trying to manipulate the bloke with the whistle and his mates. So - the build-up to the Rugby Championship Test has been dominated with talks of set-piece trickery, with the Boks making much of Australia's gamesmanship at scrum time. Meanwhile the Wallabies have been highlighting Matfield’s 'management' of the referee.
“Victor is very good at manipulating that situation and trying to create something in the back of peoples’ heads” Andrew innocently claimed.
But Nigel should think himself lucky that he isn’t facing Chunky or Bush this afternoon - two of the skippers I played for and who were more scary when questioning a ref’s decision than if you need to fart when you’ve got diarrhoea. Admittedly we did sometimes have blokes who could have played ‘Tommy, the Pinball Wizard’ in charge but I sometimes felt sorry for them (no – not really – especially Rodge!).
Being in the middle of a game in South Africa can be very intimidating – the guy who handled the last Lions’ game on the ’74 tour admitted he should have given Fergus Slattery’s try but explained to Willie John “It’s alright for you, but I have to live here!” I also suggest that Nigel doesn’t look at this clip - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cugWIM6E39g Although there’s not too much danger of that – I understand he only reads this blog now and then.
Track to the Future
TV and film have given us ‘The 6 Million $ Man’ and ‘Robocop’ neither of which seemed very plausible to me to be honest. With all the new technology now being developed I was starting to wonder just what was ultimately possible and whether the innovations weren’t making sport more and more like a computer game. I’ve taken the rise out of many of the techie things being used in rugby before and so I have previous for this sort of piss taking. But I’m starting to change my mind as there is some stuff that I now think could be quite useful. Take GPS for example – I used to wonder why the fuck the coach needed this stitched into the players’ shirts when they were on the pitch – I mean he could see them all presumably as the top bods tend to get quite good seats - even for away games. He’s likely to be still pretty much in touch even when he nips off for a quiet fag or a waz. It shouldn’t need NASA to tell him that his blokes are either shoeing their opposite numbers, sin binned or in the changing room getting stitched up, either. I guess he might also be able to track them to the showers if they pick up a red card. However, what if Aaron had been fitted with a GPS when he was off knocking back a few on the night before he was supposed to fly out to Argentina? The ABs could have picked up some cheap electronic ankle monitors from that G4S lot I imagine. They don’t seem to like to use them for some reason and seem quite content to let blokes wander off from our prisons without bothering to ask if they might be popping back anytime soon - or checking if they mind having a bracelet fitted. Steve Hansen could have tracked Aaron from bar to bar and maybe even checked how many Steinlagers he was chugging. The whizzo computer programmes they have these days could presumably have told him when Aaron reached his limit based on bodyweight, the speed of guzzling, number of trips to pee and how many stupid faces he’d pulled for selfies with other pissed idiots. It would have been a simple thing to find another AB who was still roughly compos mentis and get him to collect Aaron's passport as well as Aaron and carry him to check-in. Simples - as long as he didn’t expect Beauden Barrett to do it anyway! You think I’m taking the piss don’t you (well I am obviously) but take a look at some of these real innovations detailed in this chart. Muscle activity shorts for fucks sake? Listen if I got a stiffy when I was playing the last thing I would want is it being transmitted to all the smartphones on the touchline – imagine the throngs of Doris’ who would be invading the pitch – okay back to the world of dreams. I exaggerated there to make a point – I rarely got excited when playing – very few of our opposition or own players were even halfway decent looking – so they rarely got me going (even in the showers if I’m being honest!). The mouthguard sensor would be pretty useful though – it detects fluid loss – so no more spilling your pint – unless it was throwing bitter, of course. Also there are boots that are apparently self-lacing – why tie your boots when you can be lacing the front rows’ drinks? The opportunities for using all these whizzy things is endless – well not endless, obviously but quite a lot – okay maybe one or two aren’t completely stupid.
But it’s not just the top clubs that have gone down the techie route either – Askeans have an artificial pitch, which means that no matter how bad the weather they can always play – more importantly - us supporters can stand on the touchline without getting our shoes muddy. I used to have to use Terry’s toothbrush to get all the muck out of the grooves but not anymore – surprisingly she’s not as chuffed as I thought she’d be for some reason. Wives eh? There’s no pleasing them sometimes!
Walking with a Sleight Chimp
Last week I took the piss out of the peeps who were responsible for the stupid designs on England rugby shirts (‘Getting Shirty’) and mentioned that I had been involved in some pretty stupid ads and promotions over the years. Some of these involved the Brooke Bond Chimps - working with them was mostly better than trying to have a sensible discussion with primates from the front row – but not always. We won a lot of awards for the ads – one of which was when I was very junior in the marketing department. This particular prize was to be handed out during a black tie dinner at the Dorchester. I was the only poor sod not invited and I took a lot of stick from my colleagues who decided that this was bloody hilarious, telling me they’d save me the odd vol au vent (not even a bleeding pasty then, unsophisticated bastards). Naturally, I took all this in good part simply suggesting that they should “go fuck themselves”. Imagine my delight when I was summoned to the managing director’s office on the morning of the dinner to be asked if I possessed a dinner jacket. “Don’t be a twat I’m a kid from Catford” – luckily I didn’t say this out loud and grinning stupidly said that I could probably hire one. I was ever so chuffed – right up to the moment when he explained that some fucking idiot had suggested that we should get one of the chimps to go up to collect the award. I managed to stifle a guffaw thinking that this would be a fun evening culminating in tossing bread rolls around – I was sadly mistaken. My important role, as it turned out, was to take the little bastard up ahead of the marketing director and then walk him back through the crowded tables. Even worse both the chimp and me were to be in monkey jackets (as in DJs - not as extras from ‘Planet of the Apes’). No doubt everybody would be jeering at me rather than the simian git! Meanwhile the marketing director would probably be being about as eloquent into the mike as my mate holding onto my paw would have been. To further add to my humiliation I wasn’t even going to get a starter and a drop of bubbly – I was to be with the trainer in a back room learning how not to get bitten and contract rabies during my stroll with ‘Cyril the fucking Cyclist’! It didn’t end there – as soon as we walked out together I was to drive my new mate in a van down to Southend so that he could open a new Tesco supermarket the next morning. Seriously I am not making this up – we often had to organise this sort of stupidity – I even got a letter once asking if the chimp could say a few words – god I wish I’d kept that! Surprisingly it didn’t go too badly although I’m pretty sure both Bush and Hickey were in the audience having the most enormous fun. However, both Cyril and I were fairly well behaved – both of us managing not to poo ourselves on stage in all the excitement. After a bit of shoving into the back of the heated van – the chimp, not the trainer or myself - I headed off to the Essex coast. The little bastard screamed and threw himself about the whole journey – possibly not in favour of the tunes on Radio Caroline that I turned up to drown him out (which is actually what I felt like doing). The MD had graciously allowed me to stay in a (cheap) hotel overnight and after a huge breakfast ( my expenses claim would have impressed an MP) I got the train back to Croydon. One redeeming feature was that the blokes and Doris’ in the department were too hung over from all the free booze to take the piss – well not until the next day anyway. I have loads more stupid stories – some of them I can put here without being sued too. These are when I had what Terry called ‘a proper job’ – i.e. not working for Chunky. Some of those are definitely not printable
More Shute originals (including the Askeans match report) can be found here - www.rugbyoldbloke.wordpress.com
Or follow him on Twitter here – @rugbyoldbloke!