The Rugby Forum

The Rugby Forum

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Prove it

Proving a negative is a pretty arduous task let me tell you. I work in IT so the impetus is on me to test my stuff until I can be sure that there isn't any problems...this is fiendishly tricky. In this case it's the way it has to be. The same applies to criminal cases. The prosecution has to prove that there isn't any doubt that a defendant did the crime whilst the defence merely has to prove that it's possible that he/she didn't do it. Again this is the way it has to be.

Should proving a negative be applied to more areas of life...for example should I have to prove I'm telling the truth whenever I say everything or should things be taken at face value. Taken further if when claiming a lottery win should I have to prove that at the last moment before handing over my ticket I didn't suddenly rip the ticket up thus invalidating it.....okay I'm being facetious now however it struck me that that was what Northampton were having to do in Saturday's crunch match against Bristol.

Saints had clearly breached the Bristol line and flopped on top of the ball...the video replay couldn't see whether the grounding was true and so denied the try. I know that's the rule but is it correct? In going to ground in the try area with the ball under control haven't Saints done as much as is humanly possible to score a try. Should the fact that the camera angles couldn't prove that there wasn't a Bristol arm underneath the ball be enough to chalk off their efforts. It's just counter-intuitive. The try has been scored, the only thing that should chalk it off is evidence of a brilliant bit of defending....the brilliant bit of defending shouldn't be assumed just 'cause it can't be disproved surely.

I mean if the ball is squirming about or it mightn't actually be over the line then fine go for the replay but don't just do it 'cause you can and then disallow the try 'cause you can't prove a negative. The phrase "benefit of the doubt" needs to be looked the point the replay was asked for there is no quesiton whatsoever that the ball was over the line and under a Saint...the only doubt was if Bristol had held it up or not. I know there's never going to be a 100% method on getting this right but surely given where there is doubt you need to err on the side of the team that's basically done it's job.

Am I just naive on this or in this case is the ref and the video ref bottling it 'cause they don't want to court controversy.

Comments welcome.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A day down in the heartland

Ah, the south…where us northerners like to go for a good old moan…and with just cause too. It seemed like we were barely south of Catthorpe when beer suddenly became £3 a pint, huge BMW off-roaders were driving 3 millimetres from our bumper and some bilious old hag called Jane from the Bede Close branch of the Higham Ferrers Self-appointed Landscape-gardening Authorities was ranting and berating us for parking our car one the side of the road…perhaps we’d caught the place on a bad day.

You see the reason we were down here was that this was rugby country. Yes, an actual place where people are rugby fans and walk around wearing rugby tops and everything. Franklins Gardens was just to the south and we’d driven past a place called Welford so presumably Welford Road could not be far away. Yep, Everton’s tame exit from the FA Cup spelt, for us, one thing…Beer & Rugby.

Saints and Tigers would have to do without us for today, however, ‘cause we were headed to Goldington Road for Bedford V Waterloo. This would be an interesting one as it was my first ever Waterloo away game. Visitors to Blundellsands all seem to love it ‘cause it’s a “proper old fashioned rugby club”. Small, friendly little ground, lovely old clubhouse with it’s internationals board and hallowed war memorials, all the old memorabilia along with an open fire and as much real ale as you could ever want.

How would a visit to a fairly big club in rugby’s heartland stack up? Well in truth it stacked up fairly well. For a start there was people there…not millions of them but certainly about 2,000 compared to little Waterloo pulling in 750 - 1,000 on a good day. This didn’t mean that it had that faceless footy ground feeling, a nice clubhouse beckoned and the fans still mill round & mix sociably on the sidelines and the pitch, though oddly sloping was better than you’d see in many Premiership grounds (Guinness & Barclays)…Yep, Bedford is a lovely place to watch a game of rugby.

The home fans seemed a good bunch, we ensconced ourselves in with a couple of group of blues and chatted, drank and enjoyed the game together. It was all very welcoming. Indeed the one loudmouth who spent the game jeering the opposition, shouting at us to get back up the M6 and making lazy, lame “robbing Scouser” jokes about our Scottish number 8 (“Get a haircut you car thief” * pause for laughter *) seemed to be irritating home and away fan in equal amounts. So basically a case of a proper National Division One team being bigger but just a good.

Now onto the game…In that department teams like Bedford are certainly bigger but “just as good” would be a massive understatement. People talk about the gap between the Nationals and the Premiership but for a group of part-timers stepping up against teams like Bedford, Exeter, Pirates, Rotherham etc is just as big-a chasm.

We were gratified to find that the Blues hadn’t snuck any highly rated internationals into their side as they’d done with Tom Varndell back in October. Even so there was only ever going to be one winner. The Blues forced themselves into possession for most of first 40 minutes and Waterloo, it has to be said, defended tremendously. Time and time again the Blues went into contact hard through the middle, recycled professionally and worked it out wide to the quick lads. It sounds patronising but the fact that at half time the score was kept to 13-3 really was a credit to the Merseysiders but inevitably you can’t hold them off for a full 80 minutes. Almost from the off in the second half the gaps began to appear and the Blues class, professionalism and fitness told….it was only when Bedford had their bonus point safely tucked away that Waterloo had a real sustained spell of pressure. The locals were pretty unanimous in praising & applauding the visitors efforts (aside from our loudmouth friend who smugly urged the part-timers to kick for goal in order to double our score) but ultimately we all agreed that on FA Cup forth round day there was never, ever going to be a shock on the cards.

In fairness to our boys this isn’t the sort of game we are targeting but you have to concede that Waterloo will almost certainly go down now. Moseley, our fellow National Division 2 promotion buddies, are making a slightly better fist of it and may stay up but it’s been ultra-tough for both teams. The demands of stepping up into a full-time game and the standards it requires are merciless…Neither Mose or ‘loo are bad sides. They walked to promotion last season and their nearest rivals that year, Esher are strolling the division in their absence.

Fairytales do happen…a post match glance at Bristol scraping a victory against Saints proves that but you get the feeling that for a small, traditional amateur club mixing it with the professionals is going to get tougher and tougher.

It’s not nearly as scary as facing the Bede Close branch of the Higham Ferrers Self-appointed Landscape-gardening Authorities though.

Liverpool Daily Post - Match Report

Bedford Today - Match Report

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rugby Pubs

Why are there so few pubs in English towns and cities willing to show rugby?

Being cast headfirst into the real world for the first time is certainly an eye-opening experience. My example revolves around the final group matches of the Heineken Cup. The last, potentially most exciting, weekend of Europe’s premier club competition before the knockout stages. It is at this point of the tournament than the fate of many of the Northern Hemisphere’s premier sides will be sealed. Dreams forged, season’s ambitions shattered.

Unfortunately, this happened to coincide with what would be widely regarded as one of the English Premiership’s most anticipated round of matches. Liverpool versus Chelsea at Anfield on the Saturday, closely followed by Arsenal against Manchester United the next day.

For rugby followers in England without their own access to Sky Sports on a 24/7 basis, this spells trouble. A mouth-watering platter has been set down before them. 2004 European Champions Wasps travelling to France, only a victory ensuring qualification; injury ravaged Sale going head to head with the exciting Ospreys, a side chasing one of two elusive runners up spots; heavyweights of English rugby, Leicester, looking to storm the previously impenetrable fortress of Thomond Park and snatch group 4 from the men of Munster; the free-running Scarlets looking to round off in style against attack-minded London Irish; and finally, league strugglers Northampton looking to give their supporters something to cheer about in a pool 6 showdown with Biarritz.

To have this feast denied would border on torture. Try finding an establishment not overrun by Burberry clad Gooners, Bluskis, Scousers or Muppets though. It’s a task not lightly undertaken.

The television room in my University hall of residence had been swamped by roundyball (or ‘fagball’, as my associate in my quest for rugby insisted on calling it) enthusiasts, all discussing the finer points of Mourinho’s downfall and how large Peter Crouch’s boots really are. Once the annoyance that I hadn’t come in earlier and irritated them all by refusing to change channels wore off, desperation began to take hold. Striding out with the resolve of finding a pub to spend my afternoon watching rugby in (because surely one of the many close by must be showing something other than the football) I found an ally in a long haired third year (the aforementioned user of the term ‘fagball’) I had spoken to while watching previous matches. In revealing my plan of action to him, I discovered a startling fact. Apparently in all of Reading – a growing town housing a top-flight rugby side – there was only one pub (count ‘em!) willing to put on the oval game.

Wasps began their Frog bashing in 5 minutes. The pub in question was in the centre of town, at least 30 minutes away. We would have to hop to it.

Arriving a disappointing 35 minutes into the match, thoughts of dwelling on the missed action were quickly swept aside. It was like entering Aladdin’s Cave; a wondrous tardis of rugby paraphernalia and atmosphere. Nothing to look at from the outside, passed by in seconds by swarms of people emerging from Reading’s busy station, upon entry the rugby supporter will feel a wave of calm sweep over them. Tens, maybe even a hundred, rugby shirts of clubs both professional and amateur hang suspended from the rafters. Signed balls and photos appear to hold the weight of the ceiling by themselves. Men (and women) of all ages and shapes (assuming ‘round’ is still considered a shape) are seated facing an enormous television screen mounted into the far wall, or lean at the bar gazing at any one of 3 other sets positioned around the interior. One bearded veteran dozes in the corner, lazily puffing on his pipe filled with who-knows-what. His presence doesn’t intrude on my enjoyment in the slightest, but I will save anti-smoking law rants for another time.

Half time swiftly descends and drinks are purchased, along with snacks to replenish us from our long journey and sustain us as the action draws in our attention. Cider and crisps. Proper pub food. The next 40 minutes comes and goes, Wasps defending for all they are worth to cling on for victory. No one leaves at the final whistle. More drinks are bought. More people enter for the start of the day’s first Anglo-Celtic clash. As a spectacle, the match is somewhat cagey, but absorbed by one and all. The final whistle blows. No one leaves. More drinks are bought. More people arrive and settle down for the showpiece in the Emerald Isle.

A thoroughly good-humoured time is had by one and all. By the closing minutes, even die-hard Tiger haters such as myself must grudgingly admit they have done a good job. At this time I decided I am definitely going to spend another 4 hours in here tomorrow.

Wandering back home in a happy, if slightly inebriated state, I begin to ponder the business acumen of Reading’s pub-owning landlords. Not just those in Berkshire’s largest town in fact, but across the whole country.

How many pubs across the country must have shown the football on their screens? I would take a wild stab at the vast majority. I would also guess that most of them ended up with the football on. Very few of those buildings can possibly have been full. All it would take was one or two bright sparks to change the channel and they would suddenly attract a whole new audience. Those rugby fans sitting at home, depressed at the inadequacy of the canned beer in their hand while watching the match, may suddenly decide to pop down to the local for a swift few pints of entertainment. If they know the option is open to them. Some may see placing the gentleman’s game ahead on the schedule as a risk – but it works! I have seen it with my own eyes. Rugby pubs in England’s major towns and cities are the way forward.

Epilogue – I returned the next day for my second hit, entering to find groups of London Irish fans huddled around their beer. My decision not to wear my Saints shirt suddenly seemed all the more pertinent. Of course I need not have worried. In two days of intense sporting action, with alcohol flowing from the taps like water, I saw not one bit of trouble or animosity. Fans chatted liberally about the sate of the game in England, Europe and the World, but not once it even threaten to turn into anything more heated than a steak pie and chips. The owner even appeased some football following customers that day by putting their big match on the even bigger screen. Luckily he then showed them who was in charge by turning the sound down. Imagine not being able to hear the commentary from Franklins Gardens on the other monitor!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Beautiful Game

The whistle blows on another brilliant night of rugby union, and 30 men of varying height, weight, race, and nationality walk off the pitch. After a fast, ferocious, and intense rugby match, the players show the upmost respect for the opposition with handshakes, trading of shirts, or even clapping the visiting team off the pitch.

But, what is the beautiful game? Certainly not a sport in which diving, cheating, bribing, and dirty tactics are widely accepted as part of the game. Certainly not a sport in which sportsmanship seems to only influence a few players and is only carried out by managers as a source of good media. Certainly not a sport in which a team is made up of 11 individuals. Certainly not football.

The beautiful game is rugby football, whether it be rugby union or rugby league. Where it is purely a gentlemans sport both on and off the pitch. Sure there will be a few odd punchups when the physicality reaches a climax, but even when situtations like this do happen they are quickly dispersed and quickly disciplined, and after the game the guys involved will most likely share a beer.. or two.. or three.

Rugby Football a sport where 13 (league) and 15 (union) men have one heartbeat, one dream, one goal. A fantastic spectacle where each player plays for the person standing next to him and vise versa. Putting their body on the line so that the person next to them could score a try, or so that their team can reach that one goal, and that one dream. Rugby emphasizes what teamwork is all about, it is making that one sacrifice to spring another player, or putting ones safety on the line as to see his club win that crucial match.

Is the beautiful game a game in which a player puts himself above his teammates and his club or is it a game in which one player is a piece to a puzzle and without the rest of his teammates nothing will get accomplished. Which is the beautiful game?

I know which one I'd pick any day. Rugby Football.