Monday, July 30, 2012

IRB Changes the Game

Felix McCabe takes a look at the new laws we’ll be getting used to next season.

Welcome again rugger buggers for another installment of my egg-chasing banter. This week I’m going to be looking at some of the rule amendments that the IRB will trial this Autumn and we’ll look at how this might benefit or hinder the game.

The five amendments proposed are as follows:
1. Law 16.7 (Ruck): The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck with a warning from the referee to “use it”. Sanction – Scrum.
2. 19.2 (b) (Quick Throw-In) For a quick throw in, the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player’s goal line.
3. 19.4 (who throws in) When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touch line; or a scrum at the place of the knock-on. The non-offending team may exercise this option by taking a quick throw-in.
4. 21.4 Penalty and free kick options and requirements: Lineout alternative. A team awarded a penalty or a free kick at a lineout may choose a further lineout, they throw in. This is in addition to the scrum option.

5. A conversion kick must be completed within one minute 30 seconds from the time that a try has been awarded.

I can immediately see the first rule being one of the hardest to police. If we’re to see a scrum everytime the ball isn’t used at the back of a ruck we may have to endure a very stop-start game – that doesn’t make for good viewing. We can all remember the Rabo final this year. Obviously the IRB are trying to cut out that wearing down the clock, holding the ball at the back of the ruck, that does go on in the dying minute of many games but the rule is a little misguided. Perhaps changing the sanction to something else could help add some fluidity back into the game; a quick tap and go seems best to me.

The next three rules seem straight forward enough and should be a welcomed addition tot he game. Especially the knock-on rule – which just makes sense!

Limiting the amount of time kickers have to take their conversions shouldn’t impact the game too much. It’s not too often we see kickers spending ridiculous amounts of time on their kicking anymore. I can see this being set in stone soon enough.

The IRB Council have also approved three specific additional trials which should make for interesting viewing:
1. A trial to extend the jurisdiction of the TMO to incidents within the field of play that have led to the scoring of a try and foul play in the field of play.
2. A trial has been sanctioned for the November 2012 Test window permitting international teams to nominate up to eight replacements in the match day squad for Test matches. In line with current practice at domestic elite Rugby level, the additional player must be a qualified front row player.
3. An amendment to Law 3.4 (Sevens Variation) to enable Sevens teams to nominate up to five replacements/substitutes. Under the revision, which will operate from June 1 2012, a team may substitute or replace up to five players during a match. Approval has been granted on player welfare grounds to recognise the additional demands on players and squads owing to the expansion of the HSBC Sevens World Series where there are three blocks of three events on consecutive weekends.

The TMO expansion was always going to be topic for discussion. We have the technology, so why not use it? This would have come in very handy in the 2011 6 Nations game between Ireland and Wales when Mike Phillips used a different ball to score a try from a quick lineout (prohibited by Law 19.2).

The additional front-row forward on the subs bench is a great addition and should end the plague of uncontested scrums. Genuine injury has cost many teams their attacking force and put them on the back foot for the remainder of the game. An extra prop would see this problem almost completely eradicated.

 

The council have approved the referral by the Laws Representative Group of one potential Law amendment that was successfully trialled at Cambridge and Stellenbosch for further consideration by the specialist Scrum Steering Group. This relates to the engagement sequence and, under the new amendment, will see the referee call “crouch” then “touch”. When the props withdraw their arms, the referee will then call “set” and the front rows may then set the scrum. 

This may see the end of the “crouch, touch, pause...eeengage” renditions that have kept us entertained at home; mimicking our favourite referees whilst the ordeal of setting a scrum was underway.

Either way, we’ll move forward and find something else to mock (we always have Stade Francais jerseys, right?). Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the new rules and proposals. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Felix (@lightningrust): Blogger, eternal student of business & law, sunshine rugby player with a passion for music and fitness. Coffee is essential. Leinster fan and Irish proud.

Proper Disorder

Over-regulation, under-refereeing, over-coaching. Plenty of blame to go around, no sign of a solution.

Without a doubt the time I enjoyed playing rugby the most was for the school U15Cs.

Although the sport was virtually a religion at the place, the pressures associated with history and tradition didn't extend beyond the Bs so the teams below that level could simply enjoy the game for what it was without worrying too much about winning.

But that's the thing...our U15Cs that year WERE winning, week in, week out.

It was a great group of lads; we had the bare minimum of two training sessions a week plus a match at weekends. We even had a competition to look forward to after Christmas. And for the first weeks of the school term, we beat all before us and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

I was a loose head prop, and had been since I was old enough to be in a scrum. My instructions were simple...don't ever, ever so much as consider touching the ball. Should you see it, drive over it. If by some fluke it should end up in your hands, either pass it or go to ground and leave your teammates sort it out for you.

But when your team is so successful you start to get ideas above your station. I remember one match when I approached a maul that had formed around a player from opposite teams grappling for the ball. I knew I was supposed to just put my head down and drive the maul forward as best as I could. Yet instead I chose to get in on the grappling action.

After a bit of struggle I could tell the ball was coming loose. I looked around and there was my scrum half, probably wondering what the hell I thought I was doing.

My cry of “Come here, I have it! I have it!” was met with a look that clearly said “he doesn't have it” so once the ball was ripped free I saw no other option than to run around the maul and bring it as far as I could. Of course this was the last thing my team-mates would have expected me to do at that point so although I got to within a few yards of the try-line there was no support to speak of.

Luckily their full back who tried to clear managed to kick the ball against one of his own players and by then the support had arrived and one of our backs was able to pounce on the ball for a try. It was your classic example of the forwards doing the grunt work and the backs taking the glory, but I didn't mind, in fact I was well chuffed.

Now...at this point my story will change slightly when I tell it to my grandchildren. Most likely they'll be told that particular incident was the start of my meteoric rise to the Junior Cup team and but for a constant recurring leg injury I could have played for Ireland one day.

Truth be told, the injury was true, but the meteoric-ness of the rise, not so much. Still, I was one of about half a dozen C team players who got the call-up to the Bs before Christmas, and this in itself was a pretty big deal for us at the time.

A big deal, that is, until we got a load of the training regime. Nowadays in the professional game it seems that naming your second team is all the rage. The Irish Wolfhounds, the England Saxons, the Ulster Ravens, and this season coming, the Connacht Eagles.

At schoolboy level, particularly at one with realistic chances of lifting the Cup, there was only one nickname required for the B's – The Whipping Boys.

I was told of my promotion on the Friday. This meant my first training session would be on the Monday. But not after school. At lunchtime. Yes, at my alma mater we took hour-long lunches, not for the sake of our digestive systems, rather for the sake of some extra rugby practise.

Back at the C's, we had just the one regular coach, who normally had another teacher with him giving him a hand without being totally up on the rules of the game. When we ran out on to the training pitch that first lunchtime, there were that many coaches it seemed as though the adults outnumbered the kids.

Then there followed about twenty minutes of running, running and more running. Nothing like the quick jog around the goalposts we were used to either. I was well bolloxed before we ever got near doing anything to do with rugby. And for a brief moment I felt a sense of relief that we were to break up into forwards and backs as the pack concentrated on scrummaging.

Up to that point, I probably thought the word “scrum” came from some ancient Indian word meaning “safe warm haven” since that's how they were to me at that level. On freezing cold muddy days they were the ideal way to both have a breather and lose the blueness of the skin. I have even known a team-mate or two to deliberately knock the ball on just to get into a scrum, though I of course would never consider doing such a thing myself (ahem).

All I had ever needed to do in those scrums was bind with the hooker, bind with the opposite tight-head and give a bit of a shove. So the first time I set to pack down against the A team scrum this is pretty much what I had in mind.

First thing different I noticed was the fact that a coach was in the ear of their front row before we set the scrum. They were all starters, and clearly we didn't warrant this kind of attention, but we would have expected that. It was when we actually came together that I totally realised that I was now playing with the big boys.

The second the two front rows came together I felt pressure coming from their tight-head's right shoulder. Before I knew what was what, my nose was pressed up against my right knee.

“All right, all right, let's try that again!” said one of the gazillion coaches.

Thank God for that, I thought. Something was seriously wrong there, what was your man the other prop thinking?

Scrum sets again, nose meets knee again. Ah here, clearly your man has to go, I reckoned. I was wrong.

“Pagano, you come out of there.” The guy who was normally the B's prop stood in, and this time, I could see what the A tight-head was doing, yet the scrum stayed up long enough for the ball to be put in.

As a 14-year old I remember feeling pretty stupid at the time. Now, I know I needn’t have done. Nobody ever prepared me for that. In fact, I don't remember ever being told what to do by a coach after the incident, as they were all there exclusively for the firsts. I do remember being better prepared the next time I went up against the A's scrum in training, positioning my legs and being ready to take a quick bind so that the boring in wouldn't affect me.

But I can’t help feeling a heads up for what was going to happen when my head went down wouldn't have hurt anyone. In fact, not getting it could have seriously hurt someone. Yet my point is not so much about the rights and wrongs of schoolboy coaching, since I'm sure this has improved over the years.

My point is that even in the early 80's, when professionalism in rugby union was nary a twinkle in the eye, the front row contact at the scrum was an issue all the way down to teenage level.

So that leads me to believe that for every law the powers that be come up with to “fix it”, there will be hundreds of coaches shouting ways to get around them into prop's ears all over the world. Now granted, the whole “Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage” thing was ludicrous, especially when the ref added an actual pause both before and after the word “pause”.

But unless you want to make scrums as meaningless as they are in rugby league, forwards have to be allowed to compete, and this includes the hit. Once it's merely a competition for position rather than actual early shoving, I see no reason to change it.

Of course there are other areas the scrums are being misused, and often it is simply a case of inconsistent refereeing. One day Nigel Owens sends opposing props to the bin, another Roman Poite shows just the one a yellow for the same offense (yeah maybe I am still a tad bitter from the Pro12 final, sue me!). Then just last Saturday at Newlands I saw the Stormers front row blatantly pop up to stop the Sharks shoving them any further yet the referee did nothing.

So this elephant in the room is only going to get bigger, and if the pros can't sort it, what hope the latest crop of 15-year-olds? Trust me, I have no idea what the answer is, but I do have some idea that merely saying “Crouch, Touch, Set” isn't going to cure all ills.

Much like the breakdown, it's enforcing the existing laws correctly that's required more than changing them. To give the refs a bit of slack, they can only ever be in one place at a time, but with the top level rugby being beamed all over the world it gets more frustrating every time to see matches won by key moments when obvious no-nos gained the advantage.

All we can do I suppose is see how the new scrum call affects the game. Or indeed see how the Adam Jones' and Cian Healys of this world get around them. One thing is for sure, they'll be well prepared for it when the new season starts after hours and hours of practise against their well-coached reserves.

By the way...to complete the story from my U15s season, I stayed with the Bs to the end of the campaign, and we won our cup though I was just a sub in the final at Donnybrook. I got on for the last ten minutes and didn't have a single scrum to worry about. The ball did fall into my arms once, but I dutifully shovelled a pass to the nearest back as I had been told. Meanwhile the C's, having had the guts of their team ripped out at mid-season, went out of their league at the semifinal stage. JLP

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Super Rugby semifinals

FINALS (all times Irish)

1ST ROUND

CRUSADERS 28-13 BULLS

REDS 17-30 SHARKS

SEMIFINALS

CHIEFS 20-17 CRUSADERS

After building a 17-6 first half lead thanks to tries from Taumalolo and Messam, the Chiefs defence fell asleep before the break letting in Crotty but woke up again right at the end to withstand 22 phases denying the Saders a chance for a tying drop goal. Not Dan Carter's finest hour, and Sonny Bill, Messam, Clarke & co made enough hay from their hard-earned home advantage to reach the final.


STORMERS 19-26 SHARKS

For the second week in a row the Sharks have shown how play smart when you have to travel. A no-nonsense territory game was rewarded with well-worked 5-pointers from Ludik and JP Pietersen. The Stormers' fightback via a Gio Aplon try wasn't enough and a late Michalak drop goal plus some stubborn defence clinched it. The Chiefs will be glad to host the final but sure won't have things easy.

FINAL

CHIEFS v SHARKS

Saturday, August 4   8:30am

Friday, July 27, 2012

Keego on Injuries & Inspiration

This week Keego examines the way rugby players take such pleasure in dealing with pain.

Welcome to blog 5. Packed tighter than Britney in her prime.

Thank you for reading and commenting to/with me on twitter (@nkeegan) about the previous blog about performance enhancing drugs. I enjoyed the banter. It is quite timely considering Steffen Armitage’s failure at Toulon. It will be interesting to see how they deal with it.

Now let’s kick off with a story about my worst rugby injury. Which may meander into some garbled mess as per usual.

So there I was, looking down at my left hand (the start of many a filthy story, but please stick with me-another bad turn of phrase). The little finger was bent 90 degrees over my ring finger and my thumb was bent down to my wrist. I have no idea what happened to cause this, it was a normal tackle on a normal training session on a normal day.

When things like this happen there are usually 2 reactions. 1 cry or 2 you just stare at it waiting for the pain to start… I chose to do a bit of both. During training, you can’t really cry. That is usually saved for the car journey home. But I had never seen a hand pointing the wrong way as mine was. So I made a fist and the whole thing cracked back together, not quite like new but good enough to continue. The swelling started (again, usually the start of a filthy story)

This is the worst injury I have suffered while playing rugby. And the interesting thing is how it was dealt with on the pitch and afterwards. The training session continued, there was no pause for injury. To be honest I didn’t expect it.

But this has me thinking now about the game and how injuries are dealt with. If we are being honest, rugby is a game of legal assaults. Yes I understand that there is a huge amount of skill and bravery involved, but there is also equal amount of stupidity. This is at every level. Whether it is the honour of stepping out for the @Thethirsty3rds (wink wink, pick me) or playing for the national side the variables are exactly the same. You have to put your head where most people wouldn’t put their feet. Watching from the stands is one thing, but there is nothing like trying to navigate past a 17 stone man intent on flattening you. So every person who plays the game (not tag, tag is for girls ;) ) is stupidly brave.

Going back to my injury for a second. In any other sport the game would stop. In any other training session there would be a pause to make sure I was ok. I never expected a pause and none was given. Is this a healthy mindset to have while playing sport? Especially on a very amateur level (wishing no disrespect to my team mates). To a rugby player (which is something I very rarely dare call myself) this is a normal way of thinking. ‘I will go on until I physically can’t’, but to a civilian this may sound like utter nonsense.

Let’s look at other sports. When Ronaldo breaks a nail or Rooney stubs his toe, the game stops, ambulances are called, hairdressers are flown in and they get a journey back to the changing room on the stretcher. To me this is nonsense. It is taking the honesty out of the game. The reason I watch rugby, the reason I am currently scrounging for the pennies for a Leinster season ticket and sometimes attempt to play it is the pure honesty of the game. When you get knocked down you have to get up and find another way through the opposition. It teaches character. This is hugely positive.

The other side of that coin is that it also teaches the player that no matter what, he/she has to remain on that pitch. Whether it is detrimental to your health or not. Go back and watch Ireland's Grand Slam from 2009, watch the England game where the English aimed at the notorious BO’D and smashed him repeatedly and illegally. He stayed on that pitch out of sheer ……………..well the only word is stupidity. It was awesome to see him rise up (like another icon, but Jesus never won a Slam) come back and score, but the repeated knocks could have cause some serious damage. The reason he stayed on was of course pride, but also that in all the years he has played, the mantra of ‘never give up’ has been instilled into him and others.

In closing I think we need to take care of the players a bit more. The pros have the management program, looking at the injuries you can see how well that is working. But on the amateur level too. The coaches need to keep a closer eye on the players, team mates need to look out for each other. The game will remain the same, but the injuries should lower if we just look out for each other…

The Heineken cup fixtures came out this week. Anyone want to bring me to the away matches?

You will get a free t-shirt and ……. Eh……..Jamie Heaslip…..(one of these things is not true)

keego (@nkeegan): Newbie blogger, former professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Irish Heineken Cup fixtures 2012/13

LEINSTER

Sat Oct 13 Exeter h 3:40pm

Sat Oct 20 Scarlets a 1:35pm

Sun Dec 9 Clermont a 3pm

Sat Dec 15 Clermont h 3:40pm

Jan 11/12/13 Scarlets h

Jan 18/19/20 Exeter a

CONNACHT

Sat Oct 13 Zebre a 1:35pm

Sat Oct 20 Harlequins h 6pm

Fri Dec 7 Biarritz h 8pm

Fri Dec 14 Biarritz a 8pm

Jan 11/12/13 Harlequins a

Jan 18/19/20 Zebre h

MUNSTER

Sat Oct 13 Racing a 1:35pm

Sun Oct 21 Edinburgh h 12:45pm

Sat Dec 8 Saracens h 6pm

Sun Dec 16 Saracens a 3pm

Jan 11/12/13 Edinburgh a

Jan 18/19/20 Racing h

ULSTER

Fri Oct 12 Castres h 8pm

Fri Oct 19 Glasgow a 8pm

Fri Dec 7 Northampton a 8pm

Sat Dec 15 Northampton h 6pm

Jan 11/12/13 Glasgow h

Jan 18/19/20 Castres a

NB = all times Irish

BOX-KIX Jul 26–Aug 2

box-kix 

[feature to be updated every Thursday and is for Irish TV only]

Times refer to start of broadcast not kickoff

Union in yellow, League in red

THURSDAY JULY 26

BATH, EXETER, GLOUCESTER & WORCESTER – JP MORGAN 7s

ESPN – 7:15PM

DONCASTER V WORKINGTON – RL CHAMPIONSHIP

SETANTA SPORTS 1 – 7:15PM

FRIDAY JULY 27

CHIEFS V CRUSADERS – SUPER RUGBY

SKY SPORTS 2 – 8AM

DRAGONS V STORM - NRL

SETANTA SPORTS 1 – 10:30AM

SATURDAY JULY 28

STORMERS V SHARKS – SUPER RUGBY

SKY SPORTS 2 – 3:30PM

SUNDAY JULY 29

NO ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING

MONDAY JULY 30

BRONCOS V EELS – NRL

SETANTA SPORTS 1 – 10AM

WAKEFIELD V LEEDS RHINOS – SUPER LEAGUE

SKY SPORTS 2 – 7:30PM

TUESDAY JULY 31

THE SUPER LEAGUE SHOW

BBC2NI – 11:30PM

WEDNESDAY AUG 1

TOTAL RUGBY

SKY SPORTS 2 – 9PM

THURSDAY AUG 2

TEAMS TO BE CONFIRMED - RL CHAMPIONSHIP

SETANTA SPORTS 1 – 7:15PM

NB – This weekly feature needs your help...if you know of any other rugby on telly in the above timeframe please email me! Cheers, JLP

JP Morgan 7s - Group C

Exeter and Worcester started their evenings brightly but weren't good enough which meant old rivals Bath and Gloucester progress to next Friday's final and they met each other at the end for bragging rights. Bath's youngster Richard Lane's 2 tries were bettered by Ian Clark's hat-trick but it was Irishman Shane Monahan who got the decisive score and sent the Kingsholm crowd home happy.

GROUP C FIXTURES
Exeter Chiefs 7s 7-36  Gloucester Rugby 7s (7:30pm)
Bath Rugby 7s 35-12  Worcester Warriors 7s (7:55pm)
Bath Rugby 7s 19-12 Exeter Chiefs 7s (8:25pm)
Gloucester Rugby 7s 33-24 Worcester Warriors 7s (8:50pm)
Exeter Chiefs 7s 26-24 Worcester Warriors 7s (9:20pm)
Bath Rugby 7s 17-24 Gloucester Rugby 7s (9:45pm)
Finals 3 August

Pool ‘A’
Saracens, Sale Sharks, Gloucester

Pool ‘B’
London Irish, London Welsh, Bath

© JL Pagano 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The personal touch from Connacht Rugby

from the Connacht Rugby press office :

Last night Johnny O'Connor, John Muldoon, Gavin Duffy, Brett Wilkinson, Mike McCarthy, Michael Swift, Frank Murphy and Adrian Flavin, along with members of the Connacht Clan, picked up the phones to speak with some of last years' season ticket holders.

The players, staff and clan members were calling to offer their thanks to fans for their support last year and inviting them to avail of the remaining tickets in the Clan Stand and Main Stand.

The initiative proved extremely popular with fans taking the opportunity to gain a bit of insight into pre-season training and have a chat with senior squad members. Over 500 supporters were contacted with many renewing their tickets on the evening, whilst those that weren't in a position to do so pledged their on-going support from further afield. Speaking about the Phonathon Head of Marketing Alex Saul said:

"We wanted to reconnect with those supporters who had yet to renew their season tickets. It was a really insightful evening for everyone and the players really enjoyed the experience of chatting with the fans. We had one or two surprised people who weren't sure if it was a prank! The main thing is that everyone had fun and there wasn't one person who didn't appreciate the call even if they weren't in a position to renew. Everyone at the club appreciates how important our supporters are to us and we want to retain and recruit the best of fans, the same as we do with players."

With the weight of the Connacht Rugby Supporters Club behind them the players made short work contacting the supporters and, with some very reasonable packages still on offer, the 2012/13 season tickets proved very popular, so popular in fact that certain sections of the ground have already sold out.

John Muldoon had a particularly successful evening, he added:

"It was great to speak with supporters and get their view. A lot of them didn't realise that we had some extra Clan Terrace tickets for sale so they were delighted to hear that. It's easy for us to promote the season tickets, because as players we certainly appreciate the difference a packed home stadium can make on the pitch. I managed to ring a few buddies too and they were all keen to sign up. Last year the crowds were exceptional and this year's season ticket sales are higher again so that's really exciting for the players to know our fan base is growing."

Gavin Duffy paid particular attention to the support of the Clan members on the evening:

"Tonight was important for the club and it's great that we have members of the Clan taking the time out of their schedules to help us with the drive. We're very lucky in that regard. Pre-season is going really well and the whole squad is looking forward to getting stuck into the first game of the campaign."

Supporters are urged to purchase their tickets early to avoid disappointment. Connacht Rugby season tickets can be bought from www.connachtrugby.ie or by calling the ticket hotline on 091 561568

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why I love the Pro12 by @Kristian7Ross

During the upcoming season Kristian Ross will be writing about his beloved Ulster but today he looks at the league in general.

The Celtic League, The Magners League, it's been known by a few names over the last few years, but the RaboPRO12 as we now know it for me is the best league in Europe.

As I'm writing this plenty of people will be disagreeing. But the PRO12 has so much variety, one of the reasons why I like it so much. For instance the fact that it comprises teams from four different countries. It's superb that a Irish team can take on an Welsh team, then the week after end up playing away in Italy.

There is so many rival matches in the PRO12, I love watching the four provinces of Ireland take on each other, which for me is somewhat special and I'm sure that when the four teams of Wales take on each other, the Welsh feel the occasion too , as well as Zebre fans this season when they take on Treviso and Edinburgh fans when they take on Glasgow.

Also, in my opinion PRO12 teams have proven that they are some of the best teams in Europe; in the last seven Heineken Cup finals, six PRO 12 teams have appeared, with of course the all Irish final last season, and Leinster's dominance overall over the last few years.

Player quality in the PRO12 is staggeringly brilliant as well, this years ERC Player of the Year competition saw Rob Kearney take the prize a year after his fellow teammate Sean O'Brien won it, but other contenders on the final list of five included Stevie Ferris, Ruan Pienaar, and Jonathan Sexton, the only none PRO12 player on the list of final candidates being Johnny Wilkinson.

People may think I'm biased due to me supporting Ulster and you may dislike my opinion, followers of the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 may say that I'm wrong, but I believe without a shadow of a doubt, the PRO12 is the best league in Europe and will be for some years to come. Only time will tell....

I'm Kristian. 18. And my mind is filled with rugby shaped thoughts. Supporting Ulster Rugby, Newcastle Falcons and of course the mighty Ireland. Tommy Bowe is the MAN !!!! SUFTUM.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Quins Exorcise Past Demons with Bloody Success

In his second column on the Premiership, HoR2 contributor Felix McCabe looks at the fall and rise of Harlequins over the past few seasons

In just a few seasons Harlequins have gone from this… (see video below)

With Harlequins set to embark on their first Premiership season as defending champions, I take a look back at their colourful past. Speaking of course of a nice shade of red; blood red to be specific.

April 12th is remembered for many things throughout history: from Harry Truman being sworn in as the 33rd President of the United States to Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man to orbit the earth. For rugby fans, April 12th 2009, will be remembered as the day Quins rugby lost their integrity.

It was the Heineken Cup quarter-final and Quins were trailing Leinster 6-5 with five minutes left to play. Winger Tom Williams, seemingly suffering a blood injury, was to make way for goalkicker Nick Evans; who had been taken off earlier in the game due to injury.

An investigation by the RFU and ERC showed that Williams faked the blood injury, using a blood capsule, to facilitate the tactical substitution of Evans. This could have proved the deciding factor of the match had the goalkicker landed a last minute dropgoal attempt as he had done in the group stages against Stade Français.

The RFU acted immediately to punish those who threatened to bring the sport into disrepute. Tom Williams was banned from the game for 12 months for his part, but an appeal reduced his sentence to 4 months.

Director of Rugby, Dean Richards was found to have orchestrated the whole thing and was banned for three years; a ruling that the IRB applied across rugby union worldwide.

The club doctor, Wendy Chapman, was suspended by the General Medical Council for cutting Williams lip to hide the use of the blood capsule.

The club was also fined £260,000 and narrowly avoided being banned from future ERC competitions.

With Conor O'Shea at the helm, Harlequins regrouped and in three years have become a force to be reckoned with in, both the English and, European game. This past season they lifted the Aviva Premiership trophy for the first time after a tremendous performance all year.

O'Shea paid homage to his captain, Chris Robshaw, for the work him and his boys had put in all year. Putting all the critics in their place and finally burying the Bloodgate scandal of 2009.

Conor O'Shea also congratulated Tom Williams, who's first half try saw Quins take an early lead in the final. Just desserts to his own critics after the scandal.

Dean Richards has since served his time (almost) and will return to the game in August with the newly relegated Newcastle Falcons. Speaking about his move to Newcastle, Richards said

I had agreed to join Harlequins before they got relegated seven years ago, and on the night they went down their chief executive Mark Evans rang me up and asked if I was still interested. I said of course I was – I had signed a contract and always intended to honour that – and it is the same at Newcastle. The whole relegation thing didn't really faze me too much

Richards must use this year in the Championship as preparation for the promotion to the Premiership. It's a time to try new things with the Falcons, blood some young players and come back to the Premiership stronger than ever.

Both gone their separate ways, Harlequins and Dean Richards have left the past behind them. Now onto bigger and better things, they will be looking for greater success and a future filled with cheat-free, top flight rugby.

…to this.

Felix (@lightningrust): Blogger, eternal student of business & law, sunshine rugby player with a passion for music and fitness. Coffee is essential. Leinster fan and Irish proud.

Drawing Your Attention

The only people who benefit from a draw in rugby union right now are the punters who backed it.

Every Monday morning during rugby season I post an article with my take on either Leinster or Ireland's match from the previous weekend. Since it's offseason now, I'm trying to do rants at this time instead to keep my hand in.

For the past two weeks I have covered major topics from the game...like challenging the transition to professionalism and comparing Super Rugby to the Heineken Cup.

This week, I want to go to the other extreme and discuss something extremely trivial – so much so that it may never actually be important...my point is that one day it could be and it's something that is very easily fixed.

One of the best innovations in the game of rugby union over the past couple of decades has been the introduction of the bonus points. Most of the game's biggest competitions involve a round-robin format, and soccer's system of a fixed amount of points for wins and draws just didn't cut it.

And so the system of 4 points for a win, 2 for a draw, 1 for four tries and 1 for losing by seven or less spread throughout the game, and it has definitely had an impact on the way teams play. Going into a final quarter a team could be ahead by more than two converted tries having only scored three themselves...this gives an incentive to both sides to keep playing to the end and this can only be good for the spectators.

The system, however, is not without its critics. I recently read one article on a South African fan site which described one of the bonus points as a “reward for losing”. That's a crass way of putting it in my book, but technically it is correct.

Then there's the notion that a team can win all their matches in a competition yet still not finish first. This, I feel, is why they don't introduce the system to the Six Nations. In a tournament that puts so much stock in the “Grand Slam”, it's mathematically possible, if extremely unlikely, to achieve those five successive wins while still finishing second on the table under the bonus point system.

But imagine the effects of this over the course of a 22-game season in the Pro12 and Premiership or in the case of the Top14, 26. It doesn't only affect the top of the league…a team that loses four matches in a row can technically get enough points as if they had actually won one of those games, and with things like playoff places and Heineken Cup qualification on the line, this can prove crucial.

On the subject of the try bonus, I think the little tweak they did in France deserves a mention. It's not enough to score 4 tries in the Top14, you must score three more tries than your opponents. I really like this idea, because this means the try bonus is something that can be taken away from you. So rather than running in four tries and shutting up shop as often happens, you need to be mindful of what's going on at the other end of the pitch as well, plus it means losing teams can only ever score one point which I reckon is enough of a “reward”.

So having spelled out how the format works and what its implications are, do I think it needs changing? Perhaps. I have two suggestions, one is extremely radical, the other is incredibly simple.

While I'm mostly in favour of bonus points, I'm not so sure they should carry as much weight as they do. Sports fans generally come to watch a contest where two individuals or teams are trying to win first and foremost.

So why not just rank the teams on the table first and foremost by number of wins?

The bonus points as they stand now (or as I would prefer, the Top14 method) could remain as a factor, but I would re-brand them “tie-breaking points” (or TBP as it could read on the table) and they would do exactly what they say on the tin...if two teams are level on wins, we can then check their TBPs to see who finishes higher (with one extra criterion in between that I will mention later).

This would mean no amount of bonus points could ever be as valuable as a win, but if your team is trying to climb the league, since you can only advance one win at a time, you'll need some TBPs in the bag should you ever catch the teams ahead of you.

Then if teams are still level we can move on to the more traditional things like results between the teams in question, tries scored or points difference.

One argument against this method is that we’d go back to the possibility of a team winning all its matches by 3-0.  I put it to you that in the modern game if a team has a defence good enough to keep that many clean sheets it may just deserve first place; besides, I’m not sure coaches under any system would take the risk setting themselves up to go for 3-0 victories throughout a season-long campaign.

I believe it's this kind of “outside the box” thinking that the game needs. We're used to seeing standings presented in the format “P W D L F A Pts” - why? Because that's how soccer does it. Why should it be that way? How about we structure ourselves in a way that suits our own game?

Now I KNOW that's quite a dramatic change that is more than likely never going to even be considered let alone introduced. So instead let me suggest something a lot more do-able.

The way things stand now in most competitions, the first tie-breaker after points is the number of wins. This is designed to solve the very problem I mention above, though I don't believe it does enough.

Still...the Reds recently took advantage of this to win Super Rugby's Australia Conference title – they may have gone on to lose to the Sharks in the playoffs, but I'd say the Brumbies would have traded places for that result to have happened in Canberra Stadium rather than SunCorp, and it was all because Queensland had 11 wins to ACT's 10.

I see one flaw in this method. It's not a major one exactly, but it's still a flaw. If teams are level on wins as well as league points, the next tie-breaker in Super Rugby is points difference. The same applies in the Pro12 and Premiership.

But hang on a second...if you're placing so much stock on wins, what about draws? Are we saying that a team with, for example, 67pts, 14 wins, 3 draws and 5 losses could finish behind a team with 67pts, 14 wins, 1 draw and 7 losses, all because of points difference?

The above scenario has never happened, but could have last season in the Pro 12 if the Glasgow Warriors had turned just one of their league-record four draws into a victory. Would have been the difference in 3rd and 4th between themselves an Munster – not exactly crucial the way the league panned out, but it could as easily have been a contest between 4th and 5th which certainly WOULD have been significant.

This is my point – I know it has never happened, but one day it could. So maybe the leagues should stick another criterion in there after “most wins”, namely “most draws”. Not exactly the most attractive way to decide a ranking I know, but a draw is definitely better than a loss and should be treated as such in my book.

And of course in the radical proposal I mentioned earlier of placing wins as most important, draws should be next on the list, followed by the TBPs.

Hey...I told you it was a mostly trivial matter I was covering this time! But don't come running to me if your team misses out one day because nothing was done about it! I promise to have a sexier topic next week. Officiating at scrums anyone? JLP

Sunday, July 22, 2012

HoR highlights July 15-21

Some links to show what rugby we’ve been harpin on about the past week…

Sadly on Saturday my laptop started to act funny.  It’s working right now but I’ll need it checked out during the week, so I have decided to take something of an “off season break”.  I will still have articles from contributors coming in so stay tuned for them, but the “full service” won’t be restored until next Sunday.

Friday, July 20, 2012

JP Morgan 7s - Group B

It's to be a not-to-be-missed evening at Edgeley Park tonight, especially since you'll be able to see Tom Cruise and a hooker!!!

OK wait a minute...it seems that I may have misheard initial reports...in actual fact you'll be able to see 23-year old Tom Cruse, who plays at hooker and joined up with the Sharks over the summer.

Still, it's a big occasion as the club are moving into Salford City Stadium for the 2012/13 campaign, so this will be their last night at EP, which no doubt will make for some emotional scenes.

Hopefully there won't be any tennis overlapping tonight's 7s rugby on ESPN like there was last week (bad call by the network...I get that it was a British player in action but they could have at least shifted the live rugby they had bee advertising for weeks over to ESPN Classic).

Another interesting feature of tonight's action will be the presence of London Welsh - sadly they didn't see the need to include The Orange One  in their squad (maybe he felt he couldn't compete with Mr. Cruise?) but still it counts as an historic night for the club as they mix it up with Premiership clubs for the first time.

Here's the schedule & squads for tonight's action (broadcast starts 6:45pm) :

GROUP B FIXTURES
London Welsh 7s  31-19   Sale Sharks 7s (7:30pm)
Northampton Saints 7s  26-24 Leicester Tigers 7s (7:55pm)
Northampton Saints 7s   7-34   London Welsh 7s (8:25pm)
Sale Sharks 7s   50-5   Leicester Tigers 7s (8:50pm)
London Welsh 7s   52-5   Leicester Tigers 7s (9:20pm)
Northampton Saints 7s   14-36   Sale Sharks 7s (9:45pm)
REPORT :

London Welsh and Sale kicked off the night but the PremIiership new-boys and their squad of 7s ringers prevailed. Saints then edged Leicester who can't seem to buy a win in this format and went on to be fed a pair of 50burgers. The last matchup Sale v Saints was a decider but a brace of successive tries off kickoffs from the Sharks' Will Hafu means they join LW in the finals. Super night of 7s action.
© JL Pagano 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

#rugbyunited Irish charity event

The founder of #rugbyunited @trevorlarge outlines his plan to hold a charity rugby match here in Ireland – can you help?
rugbyunited
We had our first game on the 7th July in Gloucester (see pic/follow link), we’re close to announcing a game in the North West of England and with Ireland firmly in my sights. After Ireland, I’m hoping to take a game to London in September and then to South Africa in October when the Super Rugby season finishes.
All will follow this format below – with everything done and handled by local people.
Where?
Firstly, we need to find a local club to host the event. This can be any club, anywhere in Ireland. We’ll need to use their facilities, pitch, changing rooms etc, however, the incentive for them to get involved is of course they keep the bar takings and its great publicity to get their club on the map!
Who?
Whoever hosts the event, we would look to them to provide the “home” team. The format of the day is entirely up to the organisers, you can arrange a touch game, full contact, 7’s – this can be one game, several games, men’s, ladies, whatever you like. (Probably not juniors because of insurance).
When?
Again, whenever suits the host club. Saturday 18th may be a good target date, although it may be too soon. We ideally want this to happen before mid September.
How?
Once we have a host, a venue, a home team, then we will need an Event Manager to organise and run the day and act as main liaison with me and the rest of the RugbyUnited team (known as RUTeam) and we’ll need a Rugby Manager to recruit a RugbyUnited team. We ideally want this team made up of different individuals from the local area, and further afield across Ireland, who want to play for RugbyUnited. Think of an amateur Barbarians side, you’ll get the idea.
We will provide the RugbyUnited team with shirts for the event.
We would also hope to run this day as a charitable event, arranging a raffle of signed rugby memorabilia (which we would all be involved in collecting), getting some spectators along on the day.
The day can be as big or as small as you like, you can have side stalls (rugby clothing/gear companies, cake stalls, other food stalls, tea/coffee etc), bouncy castles and other family attractions to really make a day of it!
If you are interested in taking on one of the above roles, please let me know and we can then arrange to talk in more detail and go through the finer points of how to do the above with no budget!  Its hard work, but a great day which in the last event in Gloucester, was really enjoyed by all!!
Hopefully you can help Trevor and the #rugbyunited lads; contact him at info@rugbyunited.info for more details!















Super Rugby Finals Week 1

FINALS (all times Irish)



1ST ROUND



CRUSADERS 28-13 BULLS



REDS 17-30 SHARKS



SEMIFINALS



CHIEFS (2) v CRUSADERS (4)
Fri July 27 8:35am



STORMERS (1) v SHARKS (6)
Sat July 28 4:05pm



FINAL



SEMIFINAL WINNERS


Sat August 4 Time TBA



© JL Pagano 2012

Keego on Statutes & Steroids

With the Olympics & Tour de France bringing drug-taking back to the headlines, is rugby doing enough? asks @nkeegan7...

Welcome to blog number 4, it’s got twice the amount of number 2 in it.

I thought in this one I would look at performance enhancing drugs and just asking questions about whether they are or are not used in rugby.

Before we kick off, I am not accusing anyone of taking anything. I am only asking questions and hopefully providing some banter for the pub when you are using your own performance enhancing drug – Guinness.

According to Wikipedia a p.e.d is determined as: Performance-enhancing drugs are substances used by people to improve their performance in the sports in which they engage. The term may also refer to drugs used by military personnel to enhance combat performance

Steroids are probably the most commonly used p.e.d. When bodybuilders take steroids it is for aesthetic purposes. It overloads the muscle, making it look like an inflated balloon. In sports this is not why steroids and other p.e.d’s are taken. It is taken for recovery purposes. When the fibres in the muscle are torn during training or a heavy gym session, it takes time for these fibres to repair themselves. Steroids speeds this process up so the person can get back on the pitch or back into the gym. The side effects are numerous. Aside from the health issues, it makes you Bigger, Stronger, Faster (also the name of a great documentary on the subject).

The above is certainly open to correction but I think it is fairly close without getting into diagrams of the cell, which just reminds me of an X-Men film.

Professional rugby is a tested sport, and there are very few cases of people being caught taking banned substances. That is on the professional level. The cost to test every club player on the amateur level is too high, so it is not done. Let’s concentrate on the professionals first.

The IRB has a handbook dealing with this topic, how often they test and what they test for. This is all well thought out and I assume (although you know the old saying) well carried out. There are ways of getting out of some of these tests, for example, if you are asked to provide a sample you can delay giving the sample to fulfil media commitments, team meetings, take an ice bath and a few others which take place behind closed doors. Plenty of time to put something else in your system. This does not sit right with me, the possibility of tampering with a sample if far too high. Every professional sportsperson in every sport is looking for the edge. When it is drilled into you from an early age that winning is the only thing, you may do anything to win.

Another alarming aspect of the IRB handbook is that they have a TUE (therapeutic use exemption) clause which means (quoted from the handbook)

A TUE provides a Player with authorization to use a Prohibited Substance or Method to treat a legitimate medical condition/illness whilst continuing to play Rugby. Players with a documented medical condition requiring the use of a Prohibited Substance or Method are required to obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). Without a TUE, Players risk committing an Anti-Doping Rule Violation, an offence that may result in a sanction regardless of the medical Circumstances.

In mixed martial arts and boxing this is ruining the sport. Athletes go to their doctors saying their testosterone levels are low, the doc then gives them a shot of testosterone with the intention to bring them to the normal levels, and this is sometimes abused for an advantage. Also, one of the main reasons levels are low at a young age, is abuse in formative years of development.

Again I am not saying this is a routine amongst rugby players, I am saying that they have a way of taking steroids allowed by the IRB.

On the amateur club level, I have played against people who are on steroids. And a lot of them! I have been around the drug in my formative years as a professional wrestler. There is a lot of it in that ‘sport’. I understand that rugby attracts a certain genetic type, thick bones / neck etc. When the player is taking the drug you can see it in their waterlogged faces and other tell tale signs. The professional players have all the care and attention they need to recover and be healthy. The amateur player has limited knowledge and could be doing some serious harm to themselves. When we see the big tackles the players make, we want to make the same tackles. We have to go to work in the morning, the pros don’t.

Back to the pros, the IRB handbook leaves far too many gaps for my liking. Here is a link; have a quick read through it and see for yourselves. The sport has to be 100% clean and transparent.

Look, let’s not be naïve here. The human body, no matter how well trained, cannot do what some of the players have been expected to do for the last 51 weeks. All I am pointing out is that when you put a few factors together, the long season, the repeated injuries to heavily muscled areas and just look at some of the heads on the lads, is that we should just ask some questions of our players.

Until next week, if there is a next week!


keego (@nkeegan): Newbie blogger, former professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

© JL Pagano 2012

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