This is England Women’s Rugby, on a Saturday?

englandI’ve just read the 32 pages of ‘This is England Women’s Rugby’ (you can read it too by clicking the image), the RFU/England Rugby’s (not sure which I’m supposed to call them now) strategy for getting more women and girls playing rugby. Overall I don’t think it says much that I haven’t heard before. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it could mean the right direction was being headed in before, just with loftier expectations now. But there were two bits that caught my eye:

“With a high number of females wanting to play some Saturday rugby supported by the majority of their clubs, we need to reflect on where female rugby really sits in the hearts of our clubs and challenge any negative perceptions. (p.10)”

“A competition structure, capable of expansion with the growth of the game and increasing the number of women’s matches on Saturdays. (p.14)”

 

The rumours, suggestions and speculation of ladies playing on Saturdays has been loudly audible over the last 18 months, but this is the first time I’ve seen it written down as an official objective. And like I’ve said every time it’s come up before, I don’t see how it’s going to work.

I appreciate that sometimes ‘just do it’ is the best way to make something happen, rather than discussing and planning until everyone has lost interest. And I completely understand the desire to play on a Saturday; to do have a day to recover (from the game, or the drinking, as you prefer); to be around the clubhouse when it’s full of fans rather than parents; other good reasons I can’t think of right now. But for a change of this magnitude I think it needs more than just ‘wanting’.

I’d like to think that Eccles RFC is about as supportive of ladies and girls rugby as it’s possible to be (I’m not going to go on a tangent here with why, but I think you’d get the same response if you asked anybody in the know). We also have four pitches and eight (okay, six) changing rooms so we feel able to cope with most things. But ladies playing on a Saturday would cause problems because the men play on a Saturday, at the prime time kick off slot dictated by the RFU, 15:00 or 14:15 (depending on time of year). That means the ladies would have to play alongside, or at a less attractive time. So:

  • If the ladies play at the same time as the men they’re not going to have first choice of pitch (as they currently enjoy on a Sunday) so would end up on one of the ‘back pitches’.
  • If the ladies play at the same time as the men the supporters that regularly turn up for both would have to choose one or the other, and the majority are going to choose the men (the players would also be unable to support each other, as is the case now).
  • If the ladies played after the men they would need to play on a floodlit pitch. We have a floodlit pitch, but it is used for training on. It’s not the lush turf of the ‘first team pitch’. Plus not all clubs have a floodlit pitch.
  • If the ladies played before the men, say a 12:00 kick off during the winter, they’d need to set off at 07:30 for the three hour trips to some of our opponents. Admittedly the strategy talks about facilitating ladies clubs playing closer opponents but that isn’t the case right now, and at the higher levels won’t be for some time.
  • Regardless of any of the above options, I’d no longer be able to coach the ladies as I’d be playing on a Saturday, and I don’t intend hanging up my boots for a few years yet. I’m sure I’m not the only person who plays Saturdays, coaches Sundays (in fact I know I’m not as three or four of my team-mates do the same).

Obviously these are just the issues that we and I would experience. I’m sure that there are some clubs where none of these would apply. But I’m also pretty sure there are other clubs in similar boats, or would have different problems. Can we really say that “the majority of (their) clubs” think the positives of Sundays off and busier clubhouses outweigh the negatives of playing on worse pitches, with fewer spectators, without the involvement/support of male players?

As I often say to my players, “assess the situation and make a decision; don’t just guess.” So what do you think?

Why does the Lions work?

Have you seen The Avengers (or the clunky ‘Marvel Avengers Assemble’ if you want the official UK title)? It’s about an assembly of superheroes called together to challenge big bad guys when the Earth is in need. I really enjoyed it, as did much of the rest of the planet as it’s currently the third highest grossing movie of all time. You’d think that so much success would instantly mean ‘sequel’, and I’m sure it will at some point. But the problem with The Avengers, as is often levelled at Superman too (though I’m hopeful Man of Steel can fix that, but I digress), is how do you create a situation where they’re actually in peril? The individual superheroes, most of which have starred (or continue to star) in their own film franchises, are pretty tough on their own. So you need a pretty substantial bad guy to create any type of threat or tension.

Back in the real world we have the Lions. A collection of rugby powers brought together when the Earth is in need (which seems to be about every four years). They’re about to embark on their 31st ‘sequel’ so they must be doing something right. That must mean they have some remarkable bad guys. And they do in the three big southern hemisphere nations. There’s no way that one of the individual home nations could ever challenge one of those heavyweights…

Except that clearly isn’t true. Over the last couple of years England have beat New Zealand, Scotland and Ireland have beat Australia, and Wales have beat… Well they’ve been in some close games. When the individual countries are so competitive there’s no need to create a super team otherwise they’d just be too strong and we lose the peril again.

Maybe it’s the other way round? Maybe the southern hemisphere countries are the super groups (literally brought together from individual Super Rugby teams) and the Lions are the otherworldly invaders; a supreme challenge for teams that have got so strong that no ‘mere mortals’ provide a contest…

Except that isn’t true either. The Lions have won only two of the last nine tours. So any sense of being untouchable, as may have been true briefly in the early 70s, is fading fast. The hosts expect a stern test, but to be defeated is something of an upset.

So why does it work? I think it works because it makes no sense at all. You don’t know whether a Lions team will produce some of the greatest rugby ever seen or fail spectacularly, and that’s fascinating. Plus before we find that out we have to deal with an endless list of sub-plots in the form of injuries, team bonding, strength of opponents etc. It’s a spectator spectacle unlike anything else in the rugby world with a captive audience of at least five nations, and probably more besides. I love it and can’t wait to experience first hand.

lions

 

Also making no sense, why Adam Jones is Black Widow. Sorry about that.

My (completely out-of-date) guess at the 2013 Lions squad

After watching most of the Six Nations Championships, and reading numerous reviews from various experts, I decided to sit down and pick the 37 men I would take to Australia as the 2013 British and Irish Lions. I had planned to write it up online (as I am doing now) to perhaps inspire some discussion, or at least have an easily locatable record of my predictions to point out how wrong I was. For reasons I can’t really explain I never got round to it. Now much time has passed and I haven’t kept up with whether these players are still in form or even uninjured, so it has less chance of being right than ever. But nevertheless I will post it then compare and contrast following the official squad announcement tomorrow.

Props

Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Cian Healy (Ireland), Adam Jones (Wales), Euan Murray (Scotland), Dan Cole (England)

Cole gets in for his work at the breakdown, Healy for his tackle count (23 in one 6N game? Ridiculous), Jones for his scrummaging, Jenkins for his running. Murray has a bit of everything so is a solid back up (and none of the games are on a Sunday).

Hookers

Rory Best (Ireland), Richard Hibbard (Wales), Tom Youngs (England)

Thought Best lived up to his name at this position during the 6N even in a faltering Ireland team. Not sure how much Hibbard has been tested in a dominant Welsh pack but he seems solid. Youngs gets in because I think you need a third hooker and I can’t think of anyone else.

Locks

Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Ian Evans (Wales), Donnacha Ryan (Ireland), Geoff Parling (England),  Jim Hamilton (Scotland)

Arguably our strongest position in the squad as there are a few other names I jotted down and then scratched off. All the Welsh forwards seem nailed on, certainly no exception here. Ryan stepped into Paul O’Connell shoes during the 6N and was one of their few performers for me (though I hear O’Connell has been excellent since his return from injury and could force his way in). I love watching Parling play; his rugby brain is excellent, despite his caveman looks. Hamilton is a grafter who deserves a spot more than a more obvious pick like Richie “One Yard” Gray.

Back row

Chris Robshaw (England), Sam Warburton (Wales), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Tom Wood (England), Toby Faletau (England), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)

Another position of strength. Again the Welsh contingent could very well be the Lions back row, not to mention the returning Dan Lydiate. Robshaw the Lionheart and Wood were excellent for England as well. O’Brien offers something different as primarily a ball carrier rather than a dogger. Heaslip probably gets in more on reputation than recent performance so it could very well be someone else.

Scrum halfs

Mike Phillips (Wales), Greig Laidlaw (Scotland), Conor Murray (Ireland)

Don’t think any of these options is a stand out like Will Genia is for Australia but all seem more reliable than any of the other options like Ben Youngs and Danny Care.

Fly halfs

Owen Farrell (England), Jonny Wilkinson (England, kind of), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)

From 6N performance certainly our weakest area. I thought Farrell was the pick of the tournament without doing much. All the experts keep saying Sexton is brilliant even though he just seems to bottle it on the big stage for me. But because everyone is saying it I assume he’ll make the squad. The experts also seem to be pouring praise on Wilkinson, which is something I can agree with, so would love to see him as the wild card inclusion.

Centres

Jamie Roberts (Wales), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England), Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)

Why would you want to split up a partnership like Roberts and Davies? The answer is you wouldn’t. Tuilagi is doubtless a weapon if you use him properly (which is something I think England struggle with). O’Driscoll can still get the job done and will presumably get in as a swan song if nothing else.

Wingers

George North (Wales), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Simon Zebo (Ireland), Tim Visser (Scotland)

Again you can’t look past the Welsh pair but Zebo’s flair and pace push them close. Visser seems to know his way to the line which is more than can be said for the likes of Chris Ashton and Mike Brown recently.

Full backs

Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Referring to the experts again, everyone thinks Halfpenny is nailed on to be the starting full back. I have no problem with that, but I really like Hogg’s maverick nature that could just add something different when it’s required.

The keen-eyed and mathematically gifted amongst you may have noticed that’s only 36 people. The 37th should probably be an extra back as we look a little bare across the outside. But looking through the names that played in the 6N I don’t really see anyone I want to pick. Perhaps it will be someone who missed out like Tommy Bowe.

So in summary that’s 14 Welshies, 10 Irish, 8 English and 5 Scots. I’m surprised more Irish than English made it in, though perhaps that’s because I’m more critical of my own nation’s performances. The rest feels about right with only Dan Biggar not making it from Wales starting XV (which I think is harsh but fair). I’ll close by guessing at the XV to start the first test:

1. Jenkins
2. Best
3. Jones
4. Jones
5. Parling
6. Robshaw (c)
7. Tipuric
8. Wood
9. Phillips
10. Wilkinson
11. North
12. Roberts
13. Davies
14. Cuthbert
15. Halfpenny

I have a dream… (about the Lions 2013 Tour)

Allegedly 25,000 Lions fans travelled to Australia for the last tour in 2001. I assume that the idea hasn’t got less popular since then. By my maths, if only 1% of those travelling fans were still physically able and willing to play we could assemble an excellent supporters team. What could be more fun or better ‘banter’ than playing a game of rugby and then having a few (or many) pints after to discuss who’s going to win the next test?

I’m travelling to Australia with my friend and team-mate, so that’s a prop and back row already sorted. 13 more interested parties and we have a team. After that, finding some opposition and a kit should be easy. Anyone interested?

Alternatively, if something like this already exists, please point me in the right direction.

Championship Manager

If you were ever in any doubt of my geekish tendencies prepare to be converted.

As a child teen adult Throughout my life I have spent an incalculable amount of time playing Championship/Football Manager. I played the original, without a number or year on the end, when all the player names were made up. I was ecstatic when the licensed version came out with real names (even if some of the teams were mysteriously missing). I’m probably one of the few people who recalls the joy of the “end of season data” disk being invented to correct who was playing for who. I ‘completed’ Championship Manager 2 by playing through 30 seasons and being told I had to start again to continue. Great times.

Although I didn’t become a coach to fill the void of a decent ‘Rugby Manager’ game, since becoming one I find the game can’t compare with doing it for real. The method of surveying your squad list trying to pick the right team to get the most out of your troops is pretty similar, but actually knowing those players and seeing them run around after you’ve done your small part is something that can’t be simulated. And is probably one of the reasons that I’m so addicted to coaching now; as I’ve said many times before, I’d quit playing before I stopped coaching now, and I can’t imagine myself ever not playing.

When I first started coaching “selection” was something of a misnomer, it was more like herding cats. Getting 15 bodies on to the field was the top priority. We worried about turning four props, eight back-rowers and three wingers into a team after that. As things on the field got better so did the selection process. You can start thinking about whether someone will work in a particular position, or which way round the second and back row will work best etc. Now I look forward to the Thursday evening meetings and the ubiquitous yes/no sheet. The decisions sometimes aren’t easy, and the discussion is sometimes heated, but exploring all of the ‘what if’s is always interesting.

Today I made my first selection for Lancashire Ladies. This was an amazing experience that takes the real-life bit from what I do on a weekly basis but puts it into an almost fantastical setting due to my limited knowledge and experience with these individuals, and also the wealth of talent and numbers to draw from. The sense of power is almost overwhelming. I only hope, following Spider-Man’s advice, that I’ve shown the right amount of responsibility in trying to make the right decision.

The only vaguely similar experience of being spoilt for choice like this I can think of is being the England boss on Championship Manager. I’m not sure what that says about me. But let’s hope I’m more Alf Ramsey than Steve McLaren (unless we’re talking about accents, because then we know Stevey Mac’s the winner).

So I finally did it

With my new found obsession with blogging still bubbling over I made myself a personal space. No theme, no affiliation, just a space for me to air my views (that won’t fit in a tweet) in the vain hope that someone might read them. You probably won’t (although if you’re reading this then you obviously are, so that can’t possibly be true. Hmmm. Perhaps I’m overthinking this). but I’ll share them anyway. One of the first things is I need is a better title. If you come up with anything feel free to send it this way.

In keeping with the title of this post (though a little delayed), I finally quit the job I’ve hated for six months. Seven years service will end on November 2nd (followed by a two-week long grey area where I’ll still be employed but won’t be in the office anymore). The plan is to look for a short-term contract; six months would be ideal, ending just before I go to Australia for a month next year. With contract work they normally want you to start almost immediately, rather than after a six week notice period, which is why I gave my notice in without definitely having something to go to. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a risk. Because of this anticipated time line I wasn’t planning to look for anything until next week, but boredom and curiosity overtook me today and I had a look at a few things. Two of the first I come across sound absolutely perfect so the application went in and I’ll worry about the start date if it comes that far. Fingers crossed. It should at least give me something else to blog about in the coming weeks.

Oh, and I stole the cake. Sorry about that, I thought you’d gone. Ta-ra for now!