Thursday Dec 13th: 09:00
Rugby at the grassroots level is in turmoil. There are not enough players to go round. Clubs are struggling to survive. It is a societal problem rather than a problem with the game itself as cricket, soccer and other team sports are in much the same place. One such casualty is Hellingly RFC. A real shame to come home yesterday to an email saying they have pulled out of the league as they cannot guarantee to get a side out each week. They will do their best to fulfil fixtures but as friendlies. What makes it such a shame is the club has worked so hard to get to a good place. Some years ago they were struggling but managed to pull themselves out of the mire to win Sussex 1 and gain promotion in some style. Without doubt they have struggled this season and with a couple of concessions already the news came as no real surprise.
What went wrong? I don't know but I guess youngsters went off to university, some of the older heads recognised the gap in standard between the leagues and retired, work maybe gets in the way for others, and some simply get no enjoyment out of the game by being well beaten each week and having to travel miles for the pleasure.
The league table has already been amended. There are no changes to league positions as Hellingly had no wins on the board. There are some adjustments in the points gap between clubs but they are minor. We remain seven points clear at the top thankfully.
I wish them good luck and hope they can get themselves out of this mess.
We travel to Lewes on Saturday. It will be tough. It always is there. The 2s are away at Crawley and the Crows host Eastbourne.
In Europe it is the return of last weeks fixtures.
Thanks go to my good friend Peter K (no not the comedian) for drawing my attention to the article in the Torygraph about HMRCs interest in rugby. It appears that the beloved tax man has been having great success in wheedling out miscreants in lower league soccer. Clubs who are paying players outside the books, paying staff outside the books and flouting several other tax laws including vat. They have decided to turn their attention to rugby and the clubs in the three national leagues (1, 2 North, 2 South) have been put on notice that the payment of players is being looked at very closely. They are also in tandem working with the immigration people to ensure overseas players are not being paid contrary to their visa conditions. "Hoorah!" is what I say. Not before time.
I say that not out of jealously but out of consideration for the game as a whole. Life is a competition and it is very much survival of the fittest but that is only right if people are playing by the rules. I am aware of clubs who are struggling in their league as neighbours have poached players with financial inducements and are known to be operating outside the tax regime and well beyond the RFU guidelines that come into force next season.
Some would argue "so what" and that is a fair point. The issue is many fold. New players arrive at the paying club, loyal players of long standing are sidelined. They don't go and find a new club they disappear from the game. The club where the mercenaries have left from struggle and fold or lose more players because being hammered each week is no pleasure. Where do these players go? Nowhere! They too are lost to the game and so the spiral continues.
That's my view which is why I shout "Go HMRC, GO!"
A couple of one-liners.
Sale sign a Russian prop to join their ranks. Yet another overseas player blocking the path for home grown talent.
Self styled kicking guru and arr............ (better not) Dave Aldred is joining Queensland Reds. I have heard many things about Aldred and saw him in action in New Zealand in 2011 with England. I wish the Reds good luck.
Do you think Nigel Melville's concerns about how the £230m is going to spent is falling on deaf ears. Saracens are rumoured to be "clearing the decks" to make room for Elliot Daly. Leicester are concerned that Manu Tuilagi is being looked at by other clubs as his contract comes up for renewal.
If you missed it there are some websites carrying a classic Nigel Owens moment from the varsity match. "Don't call me sir, I'm from West Wales". Well worth searching the interweb for.
What else is the news. Theresa Maybe survives the vote so what's next? I watched the news avidly last night and could have strangled several of the pompous, self-centred clowns.
Rhys-Mogg. What right does he have to speak for any of us. His impressive independent wealth means he will be untouched no matter how things go and what experience has he had of everyday life? ABSOLUTELY NONE! Does he understand the concerns of car workers from Sunderland or Swindon, or the concerns of a factory worker from the Rhondda. No he does not!
Anna Sourbry. What an arrogant obnoxious piece of work she appears to be. She's another who doesn't give two hoots about anything other than her own opinion. She is so entrenched in her view she's struck oil. Its ok for her she can return to being a highly paid barrister when it all goes belly up.
The Labour Party, or at least most them. They don't have an alternative and don't give a rats ass about the implications of Brexit. All they care about is getting into power so they can turn us into the next Venezuela.
Don't get me started on Wee Jimmie Crankie. That said the Scots voted massively in favour of remaining in the EU and the SNP is the largest party in Scotland so she has the right to argue against Brexit.
Finally all those other opinionated self-serving MPs who have gone straight from university into politics and have no experience of the life of the "common man (generic so don't take offence)". Get out and try the real world.
Must go I'm in need of something calming.
Wednesday Dec 12th: 09:00
As someone who has followed Newport rugby in its many guises over many years and proud to have two brothers who have starred for the Black & Ambers in years gone by it comes as no surprise that Bernard Jackman has been given his marching orders from the Dragons. The WRU rescued the region last year and have enabled the recruitment of some quality names. The results simply have not been good enough, in fact an embarrassment at times. You can't argue it is a weak squad as they have a plethora of internationals to call on and some quality youngsters coming through the system. A new man, or woman at the coaching helm will hopefully bring some New Year cheer for the those who fill the terraces at Rodney Parade. By the way I am wearing my Newport shirt as I type.
The Dragons have faced another challenge and that is Newport County. Once the laughing stock of the town but now doing very well in the football league and also playing at Rodney Parade. Their success is a worry for the Dragons as they strive to keep bums on seats and feet on the terraces. (By the way "bums" can be translated as you see fit). This will be further exacerbated as County will now face the Mighty Foxes in the FA Cup in January after they beat Wrexham last night. No divided loyalty there...... come on you Foxes.
The French money certainly hasn't dried up with the announcement that New Zealand's Ben Smith will join Pau after the 2019 World Cup. I am sure he won't be the last big name signing from the Southern Hemisphere to come north for the cash.
Has anyone else noticed the striking resemblance between Saracens prop Vincent Koch and Mr Incredible?
Much in the papers about the CVC deal. My homework has been marked and I get a D-. £200m split 13 ways is of course £15.4m per club and not £10.5m as I said yesterday...... and I've got an A Level in maths, and physics and economics.
Injuries again are in the news. Maro Itoje, Joe Cokanasiga to name but two. Mako is back though and back with a bang.
Lots in the paper about King Eddie's successor. Sir Knowitall is right! Stop focussing on this, start focussing on England bringing home the World Cup. I always knew he was deluded. Liked Richard Cockerill's comment about it being a very short list if he is on it. Strangely not a bad shout. He is English after all........ but he won't get it.
Bath ban Leinster supporters flags on the grounds of health & safety. Isn't watching Bath a H&S risk in itself? If you are going to ban flags you ban them all, not just the visitors.
Some things to ponder. Soccer. If your kit is say yellow with black shorts and you are playing away at a team who plays in blue with white shorts why do you need to change into an all green kit?
Another thing to ponder. Space. If laid on your back and you fire an infinity laser beam into the sky and it didn't hit anything on its travels where does it go? Is there a boundary? What is space?
Another thing to ponder. The great depression of 1929 into the 30s. In the coming weeks as Theresa Maybe is ousted as PM tonight and we enter the twighlight zone (I refer back to comment on space) will we be experiencing what it was like for ourselves?
Yes, it appears the 48 mutinous, self serving, power crazed Tory rebels who don't give a rat's ass for you or me are about to get rid of Maybe. Some may jump with joy but I type with despair. Not because I am a fan of hers but because with regard to Europe that door will slam shut in our face and the oeuf will be all over nos visages, but worse, I genuinely fear that a Marxist government will now be more like and worry what that will do to this great country of ours.
Don't like my view on the world? That's ok. You can always believe Donald Trump's. Anyway it won't matter soon because if what I predict comes to past we will all need to have our thoughts approved by the politburo before they are published.
Now where is my copy of 1984.
Tuesday Dec 11th: 10:30
I am going to start in the home town of my father, and the town where many of my relatives still live. That town is Neath. A town with a great rugby history having provided many Welsh internationals of yesteryear and a ground synonymous with "pain"; The Gnoll. Neath are about to go out of existence. There are many factors for the demise but at the heart are two; the regional set-up with the Ospreys and money. As with many clubs in South Wales the regional sides, originally five now four took the best players from the clubs and there followed the fans. As the regions grew so the money drifted that way too leaving clubs like Neath and Maesteg floundering in their wake. Whilst there is the Premiership, and some of the rugby is pretty good and most of the big name clubs of times gone by are still there, it was never going to be possible to keep it as a fully professional league.
Neath's main benefactor Mike Cuddy saw his business slide into administration along with his health. This at a time when Neath were struggling on the field and crowd numbers were dwindling. Outcome: bills couldn't be paid, players became unsettled, coaches start to worry and all of a sudden there is no team to put out, no coaches and no medical staff. It is likely in the next few days Neath will no longer survive.
I write this as I believe Neath's demise will not be the last, in fact I fear not just in Wales but across the UK clubs for various reasons will implode, and those who rely solely on the largesse of benefactors are most at risk, especially at this time of economic uncertainty.
By the way my great grandfather was a stalwart and former captain of Neath RFC. The Gnoll, based on it is location in the town it is perfect for a nice housing development.
Keeping it Welsh the WRU have finally got agreement on the "new start", Project Reset, with the regions. It is a very complex agreement but in essence it is about having fewer highly paid professionals thus reducing the wage bill of the regions. It rewards those at the top very nicely thus keeping them in Wales but stops fringe players and journey men taking limited funds out of the system. There are risks that the lure of cash from England could make the deal backfire but it seems like a good plan. Overlaying this is an agreement that the better the regions perform in the Pro 14 and Europe the more money they get. The more Welsh internationals they provide the more money they get. The balance sheets of the regions have been "cleaned" up so debts are much more manageable. This along with the reduction in the Premiership means the WRU is able to spread its funds more evenly at the top of the game, and free up cash to invest in the grassroots where it is much needed.
Both stories can be read in WalesOnline.
The interim CEO of the RFU Nigel Melville has voiced his concern about the £200m deal about to be agreed with CVC and Premiership Rugby. He quite rightly sees that amount of money being injected into the game as a positive thing. However, he is 100% right to suggest the money should be used wisely by the clubs to either reduce their indebtedness, to invest in improved facilities for spectators and players alike, or into developing home grown talent for the future. His fear is that the clubs will fritter the money away by buying in more marquee players, who fall outside the salary cap which Melville and possibly the clubs want to keep as is. It means the £10.5m or so each club will receive will benefit just a few and not the many (sound familiar) and do nothing to reduce the risk the high levels of debt pose. Time will tell. By the way I am led to believe this might turn out to be a deal with the devil. The strings attached and the expectations of CVC are very high and they are not investing for fun, they are investing for a return. Watch this space.
Melville has also mooted the idea of two eight team top flight leagues. This is an interesting proposition. The idea would be to have a proper geographical spread of teams and to have a proper reason for a play-off with each league going into a NFL style end of season with a reason for a final; the Premierships "Super Bowl". It isn't going to happen anytime soon but by increasing the number of top flight clubs then splitting them into two leagues then getting rid of mickey mouse tournaments like the A league and Premiership Cup you reduce the number of professional players and reduce the number of games played. There are MANY reasons why this would take a long time to get off the ground but there is some sense in it. SKY Sports for the full article.
Stuart Lancaster is more likely to work for Andy Farrell and Ireland than return to the England job. That is my view. Much in the papers about this. He could also consider the Aussie job if Michael Cheika gets axed in the coming weeks. I say stick with him but what do I know.
Talking of the axe, Theresa Maybe dodged it by cancelling today's crucial Brexit vote. She has stepped back from the abyss but in my mind the abyss is still there and it has suddenly become deeper, wider and more horrifying. There are 600 plus MPs who have our futures in their hands and right now top of their minds is their own self interest. That is not right. We have got ourselves into a situation where common sense has gone out of the window and self-preservation is the order of the day. The problem with that approach is the 600 plus might end up sitting pretty as the remaining 68m or so of us find ourselves in an economic wasteland run by................. I dread to think. Perhaps Harry Redknapp could come to our rescue.
Whilst we are beating ourselves with birch twigs President Macron has not only played his fiddle while Paris burnt, not only done a U-turn on tax reforms, but he has now caved in completely by increasing the minimum wage. He has given in to the hostage takers. It is no wonder the French economy struggles. Still can't work out why all those migrants don't want to stay in France, or maybe I can.
Monday Dec 10th: 09:30
Thankfully it is forecast to be a little drier in the week ahead than it was last. Whilst the weather was pretty dire and the pitch very heavy Crowborough and Folkestone served up a game that kept you out in the rain. The result, which we had to battle extremely hard for keep us atop the table. Folkestone are in eighth but just a point behind Lewes who were beaten at home by Old Willies 6-22. There are just four points separating Beccehamians in second and Old Dunstonians in sixth. Beccehamians came away from Hastings & Bexhill with a 10-15 win. Vigo are now in third after beating Park House 27-8. Pulborough remain comfortably in the hunt after their 20-12 win over ODs. It was sad to see a HWO against the Bromley v Hellingly fixture. For Bromley it gives them some breathing space from the three teams below. It is even sadder to say as we go into the second half of the season that Hellingly 19 points adrift at the bottom are looking dead certs to return to Sussex 1.
I am going to assume league leaders Uckfield in Sussex 1 had their game called off due to the weather as there is no result showing. Plumpton v Crawley was an AWO. East Grinstead beat Seaford and Eastbourne lost at home to Burgess Hill. With three / four games still to be played there remains much to play for before the league splits into the two mini leagues. (I got that info wrong last week...... sorry!).
In London 2 South East some relief for our friends The Greenies as they claw themselves off the bottom beating Aylesford Bulls 6-5. They are still a little adrift of Maidstone who were well beaten by table topping Beckenham. Horsham came second at home to Old Colfeians 7-10. This a surprise result for me. Charlton Park go second after an easy win over Dover. Gravesend beat Deal & Betteshanger and in the other game our Sussex friends Haywards Heath travelled home from Thanet Wanderers (no easy journey that) with a 15-15 draw. Horsham remain the best placed Sussex side in third.
Up in London 1 South Brighton continue their charge for promotion with a fine home win over Chobham. Sevenoaks are now in second spot after beating Chichester fairly comfortably. Medway are in third after their away win at Camberley. Hove remain rooted to the bottom of the table after what can only be described as 83-10 mauling away at London Cornish. Still 13 games to go in this league so don't write anybody in or out of the promotion or relegation races.
Upwards into the London & SE Premier league. A losing bonus point for Tunbridge Wells after their 9-8 defeat at Sidcup. Wimbledon remain top after beating Hertford. Shelford remain bottom after another heavy defeat at Dorking. TWells are in 9th but only four points clear of Chingford in 13th.
In the national leagues Worthing came away from Old Redcliffians having suffered a 33-22 defeat. Better day for Tonbridge Juddians as they beat Redruth 22-7. (Another crazy journey home). TJs are now 5th. Worthing 10th.
No Monday would be complete without the Bridgnorth and Salisbury results. The former drew 21-21 with Scunthorpe. The latter came away from Newbury having been beaten 51-17.
I watched Saracens blow away Cardiff Blues yesterday. Let us not kid ourselves Sarries are one hell of a side. Cardiff are not playing well at the moment but I don't think anyone could have competed against the men in black in that second half. I then settled down to Racing 92 v Leicester. That is one fantastic stadium. What an atmosphere, what a build up. You expected U2 to come and perform not two teams of enormous rugby players. It was a cracking game. The best I've watched for some time. Lots of tries. A high degree of skill. Some outrageous passages of play. Tremendous stuff.
Then it was time for the NFL. Go Saints. Divisional Champions for the second season running. Hoorah. There were some excellent games and some amazing last minute wins. That Miami touchdown against the Patriots was something else. By the way watching a single game can be painful so if you have SKY use the red button and find Red Zone. All the action as it happens from all the games and not a single break for an advert in three plus hours.
More rugby news tomorrow. Make a note of where you are tomorrow as in years to come you'll be asked where you were when the United Kingdom fell over the cliff and into the abyss of despair. It could be the date that signals the start of the country becoming a Marxist wasteland. It could be the day that blood is spilt across the Commons floor. It could be the day that sees the biggest U-turn since ..................... yesterday when Macron conceded defeat to anarchy and said he would reverse his countries tax increases.