Thursday 21st Feb: 13:00
King Eddie has announced his team and there are no surprises. Jack Nowell in for the injured Chris Ashton and Ben Moon in for Mako Vunipola. Onto the bench come Brad Shields and Joe Cokanasiga. It is a very strong looking starting XV but there are a few question-marks about the bench. Last time out against France the bench failed to add a great deal and that could be the case on Saturday. England quite rightly will start clear favourites and no amount of "Eddie Speak" will deflect punters away from that fact. England have been a revelation in the last two games and if they replicate that they will be very tough to beat indeed.
Whilst Wales will defend and defend and defend again England have the power to get through and beyond that red brick wall. The English pack looks mighty powerful but the white shirted back row have to bring their A game, and some, to Cardiff if the Welsh are to be denied at the breakdown.
Wales are also much as expected with the notable exception of Tomos Williams being absent from the squad altogether. The experienced Gareth Davies starts at #9 and he will be in the face of Ben Youngs from start to finish. Gareth Anscombe gets the nod at #10 with Biggarhead on the bench. No place for Thomas Young on the bench with young Aaron Wainwright getting Gatland's vote of confidence. The pack looks robust and will certainly stand up to the England onslaught. The front row challenge will be fascinating. At the set piece I give it to Wales. In the loose I think England have the edge.
At #10 you have a contrast in style and I am sure the Welsh back row will have their sights set on Owen Farrell and rest assured Moriarty won't be slow in winding the English captain up from the start. The game could be won at the breakdown and here the Welsh have the edge. If Tipuric, Moriarty and Navidi are at their best this could be a lever for Wales to use and produce a shock win. Ben Youngs has had a great opening to the tournament but in Gareth Davies he has a formidable opponent. A real pain in the ass.
Wales will be a much tougher opponent than France and hopefully less predictable than Ireland but sadly I can't see beyond an England win. I hope for a good game but fear there could be clear daylight between the two sides.
Elsewhere Scotland have selected Peter Horne to replace Finn Russell. Scotland have made a couple of changes due to injuries. It still looks a good squad but I go for France in a close game.
In the other game I can't see beyond a comfortable Irish win. Without Parisse the Italians will be up against it and with France and Wales still to come the Irish have much to prove.
A full Premiership program too. Saints v Bath looks good as does Gloucester v Saracens on Friday.
All the 6 Nations will be shown live at the club. Don't forget the Crows host Uckfield 2s in the cup on Saturday. I hope to be there for that. K.O. 14:30
I see the "splitters" wear blue as well as red. That Anna Soubry is a pain in the backside so I'm sure many will be pleased to see the back of her. It is sad that people can longer compromise and see another's point of view. There is too much "me, me, me". Soubry is not doing this for her constituents or the country she is doing for herself. Selfish .........
Back on Saturday morning with final thoughts on the big game.
Wednesday 20th Feb: 09:30
There is only one place to start and that is at the top. The RFU have announced that Bill Sweeney will take over as CEO of The RFU. He will replace interim head Nigel Melville and his immediate predecessor Steve Brown. Coming from the British Olympic Association he has an impressive sporting CV. Success in recent Olympics has been pretty impressive (thanks in part to Lottery funding). He also has a very impressive business CV including senior roles in number of top flight organisations such as Mars and Unilever. I am sure all in the game wish him well BUT sincerely ask that the grassroots roots of the game is not left behind in the pursuit of top flight success.
Ahead of the 6 Nations it is in, out, shake it all about. Definitely out are Maro Itoje, Chris Ashton and Mako Vunipola for England. Scotland suffer the loss of Finn Russell and Italy will be without Sergio Parisse. Iain Henderson is in for Ireland after avoiding a sanction for a high tackle in the Ulster v Ospreys match-up. It is shake it all about for Leigh Halfpenny. He is back in the Welsh squad and there is talk of him being included. Dan Cole and Mike Brown have been discarded from the 25 man squad that will travel to Wales. Ellis Genge is fit so Cole is booted into touch.
Luther Burrell is to switch codes and join Warrington Wolves. Now that is a surprise with all the money swirling around the Premiership.
Back to the 'Borough today. I will wait until tomorrow's team announcements before blogging tomorrow. That said France have rolled the dice with young Antoine Dupont and Romain N'tamack starting at half back. Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez have been sent back to their clubs. Jacques Brunel has been forced into ringing the changes as the wolves bay at his door. There are a number of positional changes but this looks a young side with an eye on the future. Whether that future is with Brunel could be decided on Saturday.
You can guess what dominates the front pages and it isn't how marvellous Bleater's Blog is.
Tuesday 19th Feb: 09:15
Let me start at Steel Cross this morning (despite me being in Salisbury). Over the last twelve months or so our Under 15s have been going through a difficult time, a time of rebuilding, re-organising, and some could say battling against the odds. Over the years Crowborough has been proud to supply players to county sides, juniors and seniors alike. We currently have three Colts in the Sussex side. It was therefore a real pleasure to hear that U/15 Caleb Ashworth, who has stuck with us through thick and thin supporting his teammates and his coach Jeremy Evans, has been selected to play against Berkshire in the coming weeks. Well done young man. Loyalty, commitment, pride and all the other great things about our great game on show.
The Crows will host Uckfield 2s in the Regional Cup Final at Steel Cross on Saturday. Kick off will be early enough for the teams and supporters alike to watch the Wales v England game. Come on Wales.
The hype around this game has started already: the mind games, the smoke and mirrors. Dan Biggar and VERY surprisingly Leigh Halfpenny have both returned to training. Biggar v Anscombe is one of Gatland's key selection dilemmas. I would start with Biggar and Gareth Davies. Go with experience I say.
Maro Itoje could make an equally surprising return to action as his injury recovery has gone exceptionally well.
There have been bigger games in the past and there will be bigger games in the future but right now this is huge. Both sides have much to gain from the win and equally much to lose from defeat in this World Cup year. England are by a long way the form team and will start clear favourites. Wales despite their winning streak have been a long way off their best and will need to raise their game substantially, especially in attack. In defence the men in red have been very good and will be against England. It is their lack of incisive running and creative thinking in mid-field that will be the problem. England on the other hand have mesmerised both Ireland and France with their creativity and unpredictability.
Anyway, more on this as the week develops.
I watched the Premiership highlights last night. Weren't there some magnificent tries on show. Saints in particular put on a masterclass of support play. That said Sales 34 missed tackles was appalling. Sarries went top but in part due to Leicester's late generosity. Watching Bristol is great but having no defensive structure will hurt them in the end. Newcastle, what has happened? Last years surprise package, this years dogs. Quins and Worcester appeared to be great fun. Obviously with 480 minutes of rugby squeezed in to 45 minutes means you will only get the cream from the top but that cream was really tasty stuff.
Yesterday was like watching a remake of one of the best films ever: The Life of Brian. The focus being on the scene in the coliseum where the place was full of "splitters". "Splitters" to the right, "splitters" to the left. Love it. Can't wait for the scene when they discuss "what did the EU ever do for us?" Gripping drama.
Maybe I shouldn't and this could be the moment the club say "Bleater, enough is enough" but I think The Sun has captured the mood of many regarding a certain 19 year old.
Finally as the grandchildren are baying for attention, actually just baying, can the RFU really be eyeing up Warren Gatland to replace Eddie Jones. The Torygraph think so.
Monday 18th Feb:09:00
The clock is ticking down towards promotion and relegation.
In our league we took another step closer to promotion with a fine 24-40 away win at Old Dunstonians. They are a very good side with a fantastic back line so this must be seen as an excellent performance and a great result for the Steel Cross boys. Bromley inched closer to safety with a fine 19-15 win over Vigo. This result puts us 16 points clear at the top with Vigo still in 2nd spot. Folkestone's fine run of form continues and their 26-33 win at Park House puts them in 3rd. They are 20 points behind us but with a game in hand. Also still in the chase for promotion are Beccehamian after a solid 36-7 win over Old Willies. Beccs also have a game in hand and are our next opponent. It is at the bottom where it has got interesting. Hastings & Bexhill beating Pulborough 15-5 puts them up into 9th, still very much in the danger zone but better 9th than 11th. Lewes have that unenvious pleasure by virtue of having a bye week. Park House are in 10th but like Lewes have a game in hand over H&B RFC. As I have said this is a very competitive league and nothing can be taken for granted. We have a bye next time round so there is much for us to keep an eye on.
In Sussex 1 Uckfield are just one win away from securing promotion after beating Eastbourne. Crawley are also close to confirming the play-off spot after their win at Burgess Hill. Crawley host Uckfield next time around. In the B league it is East Grinstead who are clear but this a league where only pride is at stake.
Up in London 2 South East Beckenham are looking more and more likely to win promotion after beating bottom placed Aylesford Bulls. Horsham are in the chase for the play-off spot after a fine win at Deal & Betteshanger. Our friends at Charlton Park are still in the hunt too. They beat Gravesend. The Greenies continue to struggle after another loss, this time at home to Thanet Wanderers. H&W RFC are now 15 points adrift of Deal. Haywards Heath on the other hand are comfortable in mid table despite losing to Old Colfeians.
Up in London 1 South Brighton beat Westcombe Park. This result keeps them in 3rd as Medway beat Cobham and Sevenoaks won away at Tottonians. The Oaks stay top. Chichester lost at home to Thurrock. Hove are not yet been relegated despite losing away at Camberley. Mathematically they could still survive but being 29 points behind Dartfordians with only 30 points available to them is a challenge.
In the top flight of the London leagues Tunbridge Wells came home from Tring with a loss to their name. Still not safe but it would be a horrendous run for them to be in the relegation mix. Shelford have looked doomed for some time and losing to table topping Sutton & Epsom leaves them one defeat away from the drop.
In the national league Worthing drew away at Old Albanians 34-34. TJs kept up their excellent form and remain in 3rd spot after coming home from bottom placed Guernsey with a 17-35 win.
It wouldn't be Monday without knowing that Bridgnorth beat Lichfield and Salisbury lost away at Wimborne.
No Premiership games yesterday so I watched Racing 92 v Toulouse. Quite a game with Toulouse running out the winners. Racing have announced Dan Carter is set to return after a stint in Japan and they are chasing Manu Tuilagi in reported £2.5m deal. Finn Russell was taken off in this game. An injury worry for Scotland no doubt.
Chris Ashton is out of the match against Wales. He has a calf injury. Jack Nowell will start me thinks.
Plenty of build up to the games as the week develops.
Elsewhere the Shamima Begum case is prominent. The headlines shout "I deserve sympathy". Oh no you don't!!!!!! We need to see a scintilla of remorse and that is totally absent from your self centred rhetoric me thinks.
Brexit. I .................... splat!!!!!!!
Sunday 17th Feb: 09:30
After yesterday's 24-40 win away at Old Dunstonians we are now 16 points clear at the top of the table. Full round-up tomorrow. There are some with their calculators, abacus, spreadsheets and fag packets trying to work out what we need to secure the title and therefore promotion. Too early for that I say. We are not going to be relegated. That is one thing we can say with certainty.
For me it was very much a curate's egg of a performance. Some of it was excellent. Some of it was poor. Let's do the poor bit first. There were moments in the game when our tackling left much to be desired. Some of our decision making was suspect. Some of the passing and off-loading sloppy. We allowed ODs back into the game when early on they were on the rack. Late on when we could have put the game to bed we spurned kickable penalties going for the corner instead. That's fine if you find the corner and win the resulting lineout. Somewhat disappointing and a little frustrating. That said it is an easy game from the side.
Thankfully the positives were bountiful and won the day. The opening quarter was all Crowborough with some outstanding forward play. All eight forwards played their part and ODs simply had no answer. As the game developed we let our hosts back into the game and whilst the points gap narrowed there was always another gear we could move up into. When the forwards put the hammer down the backs delivered with some excellent passages of play. The back three of Lloyd Smith, Angus Weir and Bertie Boast stayed calm under some terrific kicking by the excellent ODs outside half. Our set piece worked well with us dominating the scrum and our rolling maul was a source of possession and points. When we needed too defensively we were very good. Some crunching tackles kept the opposition at bay at crucial moments in the game. Gus Weir scored the crowds favourite try and overall he was excellent but it was the usual magnificent performance from Matt Botternam, Josh Croocock, Callum Main and Alex Purnell that caught the eye.
It wasn't all Crowborough. ODs played some excellent rugby too. Their back line was pacey, inventive and positively unpredictable. Out wide they had gas and scored some excellent tries. In the end it was fitness and forward power that was the difference. Their open play tackling was superb and kept us at bay for long periods. They were unfortunate not to put us under more pressure but knock-ons and forward passes at crucial moments plagued them throughout.
Overall it was a very good day at the office for the Steel Cross men but they must remain focussed as they are not yet the finished article.
Two special mentions.
Firstly the man in the middle. This was a very enjoyable game in part thanks to his excellent refereeing. Unfussy, consistent and generally accurate. His management of the players was calm yet firm. Well done sir.
The second mention must go to the Crowborough faithful who yet again travelled in force. Win, lose or draw regardless of league position or the weather they are there to cheer on the boys. They are a demanding punch and expect nothing less than perfection but they are there. Thank you to them too.
Our 2s travelled to Rye with less than a full compliment and got well beaten as a result. They should be applauded for not crying off and Rye should be thanked for supplying players to make up the numbers. We remain top of that league too despite the reversal.
Can't quite believe the Saints v Sale scoreline. Bath, Quins and Saracens all enjoyed home wins. Scarlets lost away at Benneton!!!! Cardiff Blues came second to Glasgow Warriors in what was described as a "cracking match"
I understand that three Barking U/17s, a parent and a sibling were involved in a serious RTC last week on the way to their game at Thurrock. The injuries are serious so on behalf of CRFC we send them our best wishes and hopes for a full and speedy recovery.
Well done the County. A great performance despite the result. Rodney Parade packed to the rafters. The pitch a quagmire. Great stuff indeed.
Finally as a lifelong Leicester City fan a special mention for Gordon Banks. Arguably England's best ever goalkeeper. As a kid I remember watching him at Filbert Street before he moved on from The Foxes to Stoke. A great player, a great man.
Saturday 16th Feb: 10:15
Sadly there is no rugby at Steel Cross today. The Crows and Eastbourne have agreed to postpone today's match. It is half term and player availability is somewhat problematical. By the way, for the same reason, the Colts v Pulbourough has been postponed from tomorrow to early March
The Super Rugby started yesterday and as I type the Warratah's are hosting the Hurricanes. The Higthlanders and the Rebels were the opening day winners.
In the Pro 14 Dragons put up a solid performance against Edinburgh only to fade late on. Heaven only knows what Ospreys 0 Ulster 8 was like. A dirge I bet. What has happened to the Ospreys. They have all that talent yet underperform week in week out.
After an opening 5 minutes of complete dross I quite enjoyed the Gloucester v Exeter encounter. Gloucester running out worthy winners. Do you think Exeter have been found out with teams now able to counter their driving maul? Two England cast-offs Cipriani and Ben Morgan stood out for the home side.
Bristol and Wasps sounds as if it was a good game marred by a serious injury to young Billy Searle. Thomas Young according to the papers stood out which is good news for Wales. He won't start but could make the bench??
Leigh Halfpenny will be absent from the Wales squad as he was pulled from Scarlets trip to Italy where they face Benneton today. Is it the end of his career?
Saints v Sale and Sarries v Tigers are the standout fixtures for today in the Premiership. I'll be at Old Dunstonians watching the boys. My crystal ball of pessimism has been twitching away so I fear a banana skin. We have selected a strong side but..........
England have "eased off" the intensity of their training. This in the light of injuries to Ellis Genge and the need for some R&R.
All Blacks favourite Owen Franks will be taking his 105 test cap experience to Northampton next season where he will hook up with brother Ben. Money, money, money. How these clubs can afford to keep shelling out the big bucks when they are already up to their necks in debt is beyond my comprehension. Even Exeter are at it with the big money signing of Stuart Hogg.
There is only one big game today: Newport County v Manchester City. What money a shock? A gazillion to one I think. Mind you that is shorter odds than Theresa Maybe getting a Brexit deal through Parliament.
You can guess what the other headline is in the papers. Whilst The Friday Club had a clear view on the subject I will steer clear and keep my opinion on this to myself. No way Jose!!!
Anyway, have you read Stuart Barnes new book yet? No I haven't either but apparently there is a reference to certain very talented sporting family mentioned very early on. Mmmm I wonder who they are? Mind you one of my FC colleagues was heard to mutter "yeah I can believe the talented sportsman bit but his politics stink".
Catch you later.
Thursday 14th Feb: 16:30
I am not sure whether I am late for today or early for tomorrow. Either way it is great to be back in my own home with the internet at my fingertips. Whilst Bridgnorth library is great it can be a pain in the ass to have to walk there just to get connected. Hey Ho, by comparison to the problems of many others I should be grateful I guess.
England are back in training and King Eddie has decided not to call anyone up to the squad to replace Mako Vunipola. A number of players have been released to play for their clubs this weekend. Robson, Cole, Brown and Big Joe Cokanasiga amongst them. I guess Eddie might be sweating on further injuries but those who didn't start against France need game time.
It is very unlikely that Leigh Halfpenny will start against England as he has been released to play for Scarlets against Benetton. Scott Williams and Taulupe Faletau are long term absentees for Wales meaning their RWC 2019 chances could be receding
Scotland suffer a double blow with Stuart Hogg and Huw Jones absent for the rest of the tournament due to injury.
Plenty of time to preview the 6 Nations including discussing King Eddie's bullshit comment that the current Welsh team is the best ever. They are not by a long, long way but the comment might come back to bite Jones on the bum next weekend.
Gloucester v Exeter looks the pick of the Premiership this weekend with Ospreys v Ulster being the pick of the Pro14.
The Super rugby kicks off tomorrow morning too so plenty of rugby to choose from if you decide ODs or Steel Cross is not for you on Saturday.
Go on line and read about the Friday Club in February's edition of Touchline. www.englandrugby.com
Prince Philip is not to be prosecuted. Well that is a surprise.
Love is in the air as our beloved MPs are likely to screw this country once and for all tonight when they vote on yet another aspect of the Brexit fiasco.
I love Aircrash Investigation. Morbid yes, curious yes, fascinating yes, reassuring yes. Out of all of this I believe there is a sure fire way of being safe. Fly with Chris Grayling. No matter how crap the aeroplane, the airline, the turbulence or any other aspect of your journey with Grayling on board you are bound to survive, even in the most catastrophic scenario!!!!
Yet more interaction with the NHS this week and still not a single thing to complain about. Strangely, despite the myth, 90% of the people I have come into contact with have been British to their very core.
Finally do you have tickets for the 6 Nations games? If yes it is crucial no matter which club you are affiliated to you abide by the rules and regulations. A number of clubs are currently suffering due to the appalling behaviour of some of their members by reselling tickets on the open market.
Back on Saturday morning.
Wednesday 13th Feb: 10:30
I find it quite amazing that my right wing, bigoted and fascist opinions on the homeless and those claiming poverty gets no response whereas the minute I question the Saracens and their squad size or the fact Bath are rubbish or Wasps are in disarray I get a barrage of abuse.
The Saracens question received a response so mathematically complicated it would need PWC or KPMG to verify the facts. Having said that I wouldn’t get PWC or KPMG to check my shopping bill let alone something as complex as Saracens wage bill.
The complainant, let’s call him Paddy, stated that Sarries wage bill was no different to all the others, except Sale who work on a smaller squad. Fair comment. He also points out that Sarries of late have more home grown academy players coming through the system into their first team squad than any other Premiership club. Fair comment. The truth of the matter though is that Saracens alongside all the other Premiership clubs and many, many below are significantly overspending (beyond their means) in that department and it is one of the main drivers why all bar Exeter are deep in debt. No matter what the clubs say, or their often one-eyed supporters, the clubs are using smoke and mirrors to overspend on wages and at some point the bubble is going to burst. If the Premiership breaks away and they decide on their own wage structure you will find clubs will go out of business rather than prosper….. in my humble opinion.
The Premiership returns next weekend and as the relegation battle hots up so will the debate about ring-fencing. Can you see Newcastle accepting relegation with that CVC windfall on the horizon?
Closer to home CRFC travel to Old Dunstonians on Saturday. Not a happy hunting ground for us. In fact last season we were well beaten by a very good side indeed. The 2s travel to Rye and The Crows host Eastbourne 2s. All games kick off at 14:30.
I understand as I am yet to read it that The Friday Club feature in this month’s edition of Touchline. Go to englandrugby.com for a good laugh about the aging fat blokes that cut a lot of grass and burn a lot of cardboard.
Interesting piece in the Daily Express, another paper full of politically bias rubbish (a bit like this drivel), about how poor France were. Nothing sensational about that news as it is a matter of fact that they really are in disarray and have been for some time. What was interesting was the notion that when Jacques Brunel gets the sack, sooner rather than later, Joe Schmidt might be enticed into the role. A classy coach who has coached in France and speaks the language would be an ideal replacement for the inept Brunel. Speaking French is not that important with all the overseas imports both in the domestic and international sides.
Much also written about Jonny May. Yeah, yeah! A couple of good games and he is world class. Move on.
Danny Cipriani is off to France next season to secure his pension for the post rugby era. Bit of a kick in the teeth for Gloucester but what price loyalty in today’s environment. I did chuckle when someone said Elliot Daly is not going to Saracens for the money. What tosh. Ultimately it is all about the money: the win bonuses, the image rights, the securing of his England place and the salary that goes with that. Going to Sarries is all about the money. For Sarries keeping everyone happy is the challenge.
England suffer a big blow ahead of the Wales clash as it is announced Mako Vunipola is out for at least ten weeks. Eddie will be upset whilst Mark McCall will be spitting chips. He hates the international game.
Wales will be buoyed by the news Leigh Halfpenny is back in training. Ousting Liam Williams, George North and the excellent Josh Adams will be tough though.
What a shambles in the Houses of Parliament yesterday. Up until recently the big bloke who leads the SNP in Westminster has been a voice of reason and pretty impressive. Of late however he has been bang out of order, his comments about The Good Friday Agreement last week were outrageous and calling the PM a liar yesterday was totally unacceptable. When are these clowns going to accept it is, as stated yesterday, Maybe’s deal, No Deal or a complete U Turn and “remaining”. There is no other middle ground. When is the EU going to realise a simple compromise on the backstop and a determination to find a workable alternative would see Maybe’s deal through.
Today’s exam question centres around Venezuela. What justification is there for any of our politicians to claim Maduro is doing a good job?
You might prefer to answer these questions……….
How many time zones span Russia?
Which is the lowest ranked country in RWC 2019?
Where or what is Nunavut?
Who succeeded Winston Churchill as PM in the immediate post WWII era?
Where will you find Timbuctoo?
Heading back to the ‘Borough tomorrow so any blog will be in the afternoon ready for Friday morning.
Tuesday Feb 12th: 12:00
Another day, another NHS department. The bubble will burst soon, or will it? Yet again the staff and service were both excellent. Thank you the NHS.
Had a quick look at the results again so just a couple of additional comments.
In no order…...
Sevenoaks are top of London 1 South ahead of Medway and Brighton. All three teams are on 80 points. In terms of knife edges and the promotion race this could be the league to watch. Sadly despite their excellent showing at home against Medway Hove languish at the foot of the table and relegation is looking more and more likely. This is sad as Hove are team who play by the rules and unlike many above them are not paying their players. In some cases those who are must be way beyond the new RFU “guidelines”.
Shelford look doomed to drop out of the Premier London league. Above them are a cluster of teams with only 10 points separating them. The guys from St Marks are in that group but based on recent form and how they have performed against promotion chasers I think they’ll be absolutely fine.
Our very good friends The Greenies are deep in the relegation zone. Only Aylesford Bulls are below them and there is quite a gap to the 10th placed side Thanet Wanderers. Both Aylesford and Thanet were promoted last season. Food for thought? Beckenham are topping the table with Horsham on their heels. Haywards Heath are nicely upper mid table.
In our league I feel for Hastings & Bexhill, at the foot of the table but a very good side. If you look at their results no-one has given them a spanking. Sadly for Sussex rugby Lewes are down there in the mix too. With another three teams possibly for the drop the fight is on. Slightly biased but there are no easy games in this league as it is incredibly competitive.
Glancing through the sports pages I was pleased to read that many were of a similar opinion to me about England’s performance. They were mightily impressive again but down a notch from Dublin. It was also noted this was a very poor French side and despite that England took their foot off the gas and allowed them to play in the second half.
Despite King Eddie’s quips post match England will go into the game against Wales as clear favourites. Wales have not played well and during their record equalling run they have had more than their fair share of luck along the way. It is too early to tell but injuries will affect that assessment. Mako Vunipola is doubtful and that alone would be a blow for Jones. Wales of course will have all their big guns back and well rested. Wales defensively will be much more robust than France. The Shaun Edwards factor cannot be ignored. At the break down man for man the Welsh back row is much the stronger but as a unit England’s pack could be dominant. The line-out is an area of concern for both sides. All that is for the next few days however.
Watched the highlights of Northampton v Newcastle last night. What a try fest that was. Some great handling by both sides. The game as you want it to be played. The Saints now take on Saracens in the final.
By the way I again ask how can Saracens afford such a big squad of stars when there is a salary cap in place?
Brexit, Brexit and more bloody Brexit. U2 will turn it into a song soon. Can someone explain to me how staying in the customs union and therefore having to accept all the rules such as free movement of people that goes with that is “leaving” the EU. We have Maybe’s deal with the dreaded backstop or we have staying in in totality and fighting from within or we have leave with no deal. Some of the proposals are fanciful at best. I wish these clowns would wake up and grasp the reality of the situation. There is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant and therefore as far as the EU is concern my view is we are either in or we are out. Accept that concept and bite the bullet. Make a fffffnnnnnn decision one way or another.
As I sit here in Bridgnorth, a very middle class, middle England, sometimes middle earth town I have had time to ponder. There have been many news reports of poverty and homelessness on TV and in the press. Can someone explain to me how a woman pleading poverty appeared to have a TV bigger than mine, a house full of the latest gadgets and kids who appeared not to be without too much, and of course the obligatory big dog.
Secondly am I being a cynical and a completely insensitive clown by thinking that the drop in recorded homeless on the streets was notably lower during the recent cold snap. When you add the numbers taken into shelters and other warm places provided by charities and organisations to the numbers that stayed out in the freezing conditions and compare that to the numbers when the weather wasn’t so cold there is quite a gap. Does this mean that those beggars who are not homeless but bone idle scroungers decided to slink off home and stay warm before venturing back out.
There is a point to this and that is unfortunately the very people genuinely deserving our help and support and guidance are being tainted by those who simply want to milk the system for all it is worth. That cannot be right.
Monday Feb 11th: 11:00
Let’s start at Twickenham and another impressive win for England. In my mind however it comes with a number of caveats. I don’t think they were as good as they were against Ireland despite the scoreline. They started brilliantly. A score within 90 seconds was exactly what the crowd had wanted and what they got. The early momentum was top draw with the ball moving around the field at pace. The decision making was very good and the cohesion between backs and forwards was excellent. In defence England were very good. The tackling fierce and the alignment spot on.
Here is my first caveat. France were very poor. They lacked any sort of structure and seemed aimless when in possession and naïve when in defence. Their ball retention was appalling at times and after that first try they looked and acted as if they had shell shock.
My second caveat is the score flatters to deceive. In my opinion, and it is difficult to say this, Nigel Owens got two key try scoring decisions wrong. The Chris Ashton penalty try should never have been awarded. The penalty and yellow card for cynical play by Fickou was right but Ashton was never going to catch that ball and have a clear run to the line. The Owen Farrell try should have been pulled back because May was offside from the kick ahead and then he tackled the Frenchman without the ball thus preventing him from touching down before Farrell. The record book says otherwise but please take off the red rose eye patch and look at both again.
My third caveat is England’s discipline was poor. Still too many penalties and when the French finally got their act together in the second half England let things slide. On another day Kyle Sinckler could have seen yellow for that petulant slap to the head.
England have rediscovered some of their mojo and like last week have thrown away the “rugby by numbers” play-book. The back line looks exciting and well balanced and the forwards have a robust skill set. Tom Curry makes up for a loss of bulk with dynamism at the breakdown and good hands around the park. Jamie George makes up for his poor lineout accuracy with a fantastic work ethic in all other phases of play. Again Ben Youngs was the unsung hero doing everything right. England looked mightily impressive.
Against Wales however they won’t get away with the over reliance on kicking and Shaun Edwards’ defensive structures won’t be as poor as those of the French. It should be a cracker in two weeks time.
One final thing about yesterday. Wasn’t it an unedifying sight to see huge swathes of the East Stand empty as the second half kicked off. Too many of the Hooray Henry set more interested in quaffing champagne and munching on canapes than watching the rugby. A disappointing sight for me at least.
With limited access to the interweb my league round-up is somewhat short. In our league Folkestone beating Beccehamian means Vigo are now in the box seat behind us at the top of the table. Vigo 8 Hastings & Bexhill 5 doesn’t sound like a cracker but I’ll reserve judgement until I have read the normally erudite, witty and very fair Vigo match report before making further comment. Lewes losing to Old Dunstonians at home keeps them in the danger zone and Park House losing away at Pulborough keeps them watching the trap door carefully. We are 12 points clear of Vigo. H&B RFC prop up the table.
Elsewhere, in the local Sussex derby Horsham cruised past The Greenies by a lot to not many. Haywards Heath won away. Above them in London 1 South Sevenoaks now top the table as Brighton lost away at Chichester . Medway go second after a very narrow win away at Hove. In Sussex 1 Uckfield extend their lead at the top and are looking certain for promotion. Tunbridge Wells went down by a single point to table topping Sutton & Epsom. This was an impressive result for the men from St Marks. Worthing lost to Henley but TJs beat table topping Rams. Another very impressive result.
Tomorrow I should have some interweb access so I’ll have another look at the results and the tables without having to resort to my very shaky memory.
That’ll do for now other than to say I think Bridgnorth lost away and Salisbury won at home.
Sunday 10th Feb: 08:30
It feels a little like self aggrandisement but the fact the games were on yesterday was something of a miracle. It was a testament to the work put in over many months by Drew Pratt, John 'Damper' Sayer and the Friday Club but more importantly the work done this week, and to be fair thanks to the favourable weather overnight and into yesterday.
It was also another cracking day as a whole. Lunch was excellent: good food, good company and a good laugh. Thanks go to all who made is so.
Inevitably the pitch was heavy making handling conditions difficult. That said both sides played well under the circumstances with both showing ambition and skill. As is often the case we started slowly with Bromley coming out of the blocks much the faster. Their league position belies the quality they have and with a large pack and a decent back line they put us under pressure early on and kept us at bay when we had the ball. They scrum half was my pick of their team. He was abrasive, skillful, quick thinking and the oil that kept the Bromley cogs turning.
Yet again it was our forwards who set the platform for victory. The "go forward" was very good with Matt Botterman and Josh Groocok in the vanguard. Alex Purnell was also prominent but the unsung heroes were Mark Rosier, Sam Edwards and Richard Tasker in the front row. With some big beasts as their opposition they stuck to their task and contributed well in the loose.
When we had the ball we made positive yards and some of the rugby was very good. Connor Hands used the ball well and kept his outside backs moving. Some of the kicking was not up to scratch but the conditions had much to do with that. I liked the way we defended: a good rush defence and just a few missed tackles.
It was our forward power that got the score board moving and the pick of the first half tries came from Mark Rosier, not because of its quality (or lack of it) but because it was the old pantomime hero himself that scored.
Bertie Boasts try in the second half was one for the backs with Hands spotting Bromley rushing up leaving acres of space behind. His deft cross field chip was perfect, skidding of the mud into Boasts hands for him to gallop over from 45 metres out. I think it is fair to say except for one defensive slip allowing Bromley to get behind us and score a well taken try at pace with good support we dominated the half. Sadly we again got on the wrong side of the referee conceding penalty after penalty thus relinquishing possession and territory. In my mind we failed to get to grips with the referees interpretations and and when our frustration resulted in back chat we were punished further.
All that said a late Groocock try on the final whistle sealed it for us and I think the final scoreline of 29-14 was a fair reflection of the game. Bromley's two tries were well deserved and well taken and was a reflectionof their contribution to a pretty enjoyable game.
Very well done to our 2s who comfortably went past East Grinstead, and commiserations to The Crows who came second to Mid Sussex Barbarians both on pitches which went from not great to swamps in the space of the 80 minutes.
By virtue of Vigo failing to get the try bonus point in their 8-5 win over Hastings & Bexhill we go 12 points clear at the top. With Park House in 9th spot and now only able to amass 55 points we can say we are safe from relegation.
Have only seen the highlights of the Scotland v Ireland game. It sounds as if Ireland were deserved winners with Scotland being out muscled and out thought. The Irish seemed to have Lady Luck on their side.
Wales beat Italy but far from comfortably. The first half was pretty dire stuff, so much so I nodded off just before half time. The second half was better with Wales finally getting into gear. Italy played well but it was against an almost second string XV. Thomas Young made a positive impression, as did Aaron Wainwright but overall Gatland will be pleased with the record equalling win rather than the performance. Josh Adams played well as did Liam Williams. I did smile when I read that Matt Dawson had criticised Gatland for selecting a weakened side. What does he know about anything. It is about results and planning ahead. Planning to face England in two weeks time and looking forward to Japan. Gatland has taken Wales further in the last two World Cups than England and who was second in the 6 Nations last year ahead of England in 5th. I say Gatland might just know what he is doing.
Off to have some breakfast now before hitting the road. Good luck to England who should win by a fair margin. I plan to do a league round-up tomorrow but it won't be first thing.
Saturday 9th Feb: 11:30
Apologies for the absence of the blog. Busy, busy, busy. In part at the club. The guys have worked miracles and all three games are ON!
See you there perhaps.
England have made several changes for tomorrow, Ashton starts , Nowell on the bench. Dan Cole amongst others return. Brad Shields and Launchbury also make the bench. It is a very strong looking side. France make a number of changes. The big Bastereaud is back. It is still an enormous side but I can't see them getting past England.
The games will be on at the club today so even if you don't watch the matches outside then you can watch the 6 Nations in a great atmosphere.
Match review tomorrow.
Must go. I need a shower after the exertions of this morning.
Thursday 7th Feb: 15:00
An exhausting morning at the club doing everything possible to get the grounds playable for Saturday. Waterlogged areas to clear, pitches to mark and changing rooms to sort. On top of that some heavy duty car park repairs were required. I bet the guys are pretty knackered and enjoying a well deserved afternoon nap.
King Eddie will announce his squad tomorrow but Wales, Ireland and Scotland have all announced theirs today.
Lots of changes for Wales but this was to be expected. Jonathan Davies will captain a much changed side with just four other players from Friday night being included. Josh Navidi moves to number 8 with young Aaron Wainwright and Thomas Young being given a chance to stake a claim for RWC 2019 places. The Leicester wing Jonah Holmes comes in on the wing and hopes to build on his positive performace in the Autumn series. Aled Davies starts at #9 with Gareth Davies on the bench. Biggarhead is outside him at #10. The return of Jake Ball in the second row is good news. It is a young, relatively inexperienced side but there is a huge amount of talent just waiting to be unleashed. I for one am excited to see what they can do.
Italy by contrast have made just two changes to the side that lost against Scotland. They have much to prove and much to offer. I think this could be cracker with Wales needing a four try win if their title chances are to remain alive.
After his man of the match performance last weekend Blair Kinghorn has been rewarded by being dropped to the bench. Sean Maitland returns to the Scottish line up in place of Kinghorn. Jonny Gray is another who returns following injury. Gergor Townsend has been forced into a number of other changes due to injury but thanks to Scotland's renewed strength in depth it is still a strong looking side, with the possible exception of the back row where they look a little light.
Joe Schmidt has also been forced to ring the changes, five in all. Chris Farrell replacing Garry Ringrose being the headline news. Rob Kearney returns instead of the injured Robbie Henshaw. That's no bad thing. Sean O'Brien returns and the abrasive Jack Conan replaces CJ Stander. With Peter O'Mahony completing the back row it is a mighty impressive line-up at 6, 7, and 8. The bench appears less experienced than we have been used to but I still see the squad being too strong for Scotland.
It seems as if Dylan could make an England return later in the tournament. His rehabilitation is going well. Time will tell.
I was intrigued to read Thomas Castaignede's attack on the French selection policy. He was scathing of the policy of simply selecting players on their size, compounded by a serious frustration that foreigners were being picked ahead of Frenchmen as a consequence. When you look through the team sheet you will always see players born in another country. The rules allow for that as any grandparent of the right nationality can mean you qualify. I think where Castaignede is upset is the players in the French team have become eligible on the pathetic residency rule and for them to oust home grown young talent seems wrong. I agree wholeheartedly, especially as in the French case their Under 20s are magnificent. Current Wolrd Champions.
All countries are guilty of exploiting the residency rules but it is good to hear someone else other than myself bleat on about it.
What is going on at Wasps? Joe Simpson joins the growing list of players "jumping ship". Answers on a postcard to www.itsallaboutthemoney.co.yuk.
Lots of Under 20s and women's 6 Nation match ups this weekend too.
Hopefully I'll comment on England's selection tomorrow afternoon and give you an indication on the state of the pitches at Steel Cross.
Don't forget Sunday carvery at the club before the England v France game. I'll be enjoying the motorway network.
Must go I haven't done my Japanese lesson yet.
Wednesday 6th Feb: 08:45
A couple of quick comments ahead of the 6 Nations team announcements tomorrow.
Ireland receive some good news in that Keith Earls should be fit for Saturday's clash with Scotland at Murrayfield. That news is more than offset with the fact both Devin Toner and Gary Ringrose will be missing due to injury.
France will be without Wesley Fofana when they arrive in London for their clash with England at Twickenham. He is stardust and will be sorely missed.
Wales have no injury worries and have the luxury of having Alun Wyn Jones on the bench with Jonathan Davies set to lead the side. It is rumoured Thomas Young might be given a start and therefore an opportunity to stake a claim for a seat on the plane to Japan in September.
Having looked through the various back pages and leafed through the various website articles the views on last weekend are very consistent. England were outstanding but it is this weekend that counts. Can they replicate that form or was it a flash in the pan. Wales were very lucky but that is the sign of a quality side. Winning when playing badly. Scotland are an enigma. Are they or aren't they a very good team. This weekend will tell. Ireland, are they a busted flush or was that well below par showing a one off. The key concern expressed is can Johnny Sexton and Connor Murray get out of the third gear they seemed to be in last weekend and hit top gear this. Will France sacrifice pack weight for versatility and can they bounce back. Can Italy exploit Wales desire to give fringe players a run-out. More on this tomorrow afternoon / Friday morning after the team announcements.
As said yesterday check out this website for the all the information on the club's activities around the 6 Nations.
Much work will be going on from today until Saturday afternoon to get the Steel Cross games on. The weather has not be kind to us hence the extra effort required.
The Premiership clubs left their meeting yesterday demanding an urgent follow-up with the RFU to discuss the promotion/relegation issue. No surprise there. I feel there is going to be a huge row coming out of this, a row that could see the Premiership sides plus London Irish breaking away.
In other sport what about Newport County. Not only did they beat Championship Middlesborough they beat them comfortably. The black and ambers were by far and away the better side. Manchester City up next!!
How the mighty have fallen. Jose Mourihno face planting at the ceremonial face off of a Russian ice hockey match. Brilliant. Getting a suspended prison sentence and a huge fine for tax evasion in Spain. Priceless. For everything else there is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Trump made his state of the nation address yesterday. I haven't studied it fully but the walls between the US and North Korea might come down as the wall between Mexico and the US is going up.
I was going to mention the backstop but I have been advised not to use expletives in this blog..... by Mrs Bleater.
I have been told not to mention Liam Neeson....... so I won't.
Finally I have received a complaint about my comment on downtrodden men. I fully accept the criticism and in future I will add "meat eating" to the description. Must go before the bacon gets overly crispy.
Tuesday 5th Feb: 09:30
What a very miserable day in Crowborough yesterday and what a very miserable start to today. Not my demeanour or mood, both of those were and are fine, but the weather. Drizzle, drizzle and more drizzle. On top of the thawing snow this has left Steel Cross somewhat waterlogged. Why is this top of mind? Well, we are due to host three games on Saturday with plenty of mini and junior activity on Sunday.
I have long advocated the 1s and 2s playing at the same venue each and every week thus building a stronger bond between the two sides making movement between the sides easier. On top of this The Crows, our social side, are at home. A great bunch of guys who just want to play rugby with their mates and have a few beers afterwards. The old way!!!. To have all three sides at home would be fantastic. A logistical challenge but with three pitches that is no issue. The opportunity for the guys to bond would be brilliant.
So, you have now realised my concern about the weather. All of the above is dependent on the pitches being playable. Only time will tell but in the meantime clear your diary and put "Sat, 14:00, Steel Cross, Rugby" in your diary.
I don't know what the atmosphere was like at the club on Saturday afternoon but hopefully it was buoyant and noisy and a good craic. The club will be showing all the 6 Nations games so why not pop along. In fact this Sunday when England host France Jacqui is laying on a Sunday carvery. See the website for details. Sadly you know where I'll be!!
Injuries are now the lead story ahead of the upcoming round of matches. Maro Itoje is definitely out for the next few weeks. If that is England's only concern then no big deal. Ireland have CJ Stander and Keith Earls in the doctors waiting room and the prognosis for both is not good. Scotland have brought in a couple of players: Fraser Brown and Murray McCallum to bolster their injury ravaged squad. Wales, well Wales have no new injury concerns.
Elliot Daly's departure from Wasps has been confirmed, but this is old news. Is big Joe L next? Wasps continue to feature in the papers for all the wrong reasons. It is alleged that the finances are not in great shape. Players are leaving for a range of reasons, in part because of broken promises about training facilities and it is alleged the non-payment of image rights. On top of this they seem to be warring with Coventry City FC and Coventry City Council about who owns the Ricoh Arena. Coventry City FC might be evicted soon and could be kicked out of the football league as a result.
More talk about ring-fencing the Premiership. The owner of Bristol is leading the charge and will be centre stage at the meeting of the 13 clubs today. The interesting dynamic is the role of London Irish. There was an interview with the DoR of Ealing Trailfinders yesterday where he stated they would fight through the courts any change to the promotion and relegation status. I love what Ealing have done and I admire their ambition but they seriously have their heads up their backsides if they don't recognise the gulf between the Championship and Premiership has got so large it would be, in my humble opinion, impossible for anyone other than London Irish to survive. As it is clubs are only keeping their heads above water thanks to the largesse of benefactors.
I watched the highlights of the Premiership Cup last night. The supporters of the clubs obviously have a different view to me about this competition. The grounds were pretty full and some of the tries fantastic. I still feel this cup is inconsistent with the clubs continued moan about player burnout etc, etc.
From those highlights one serious question came to mind: "when is offside NOT offside?" Answer: "all the time". At ruck after ruck after ruck players were persistently in front of the back foot thus were offside. At kick ahead after kick ahead after kick ahead players were persistently in front of the kicker. Assistant referees!! More like chocolate teapots. Not very useful. It drives me nuts when this basic law is so badly mis-managed thus stifling open running rugby. Move on.
You can read about Brexit for yourself but has the time come for Mrs T Maybe to say "f*** it" and tell the EU to go whistle and the £39bn is now off the table.
Some papers carry the story about carers leaving the job due to the pressure. I have had two weeks of looking after my mum and she is in good mental health, reasonably mobile and is only requiring help because of a broke wrist (to her dominant side). It is hard work. How people cope when the health issues are way more severe I don't know. They are true saints.
Finally a fuss is being made about a notice being defaced at one of our universities. The notice stated that the swimming session was for "women and non binary" people only. Someone changed it to read that the session was open to "everyone". I have a couple of questions. What the heck is "non-binary"? Is it not against the law to discriminate thus by barring men isn't that discrimination? The world is going mad and if you are a middle aged, heterosexual white male then you are becoming a downtrodden minority is this world of political bullshit!!.................. In MY humble opinion.
Monday 4th Feb: 09:15
As the dust settles on the weekends 6 Nations we have time to reflect on each sides performance and what lies ahead.
For all of the nations there is much to ponder and with the brutality of the game as it is the first question is who has picked up an injury and who hasn't. The headline absentee is likely to be Maro Itoje who limped off with what now seems an knee ligament problem. Today and tomorrow we will know more but sides will be lucky if their injury list doesn't get any longer.
England were the big winners, the headline grabbers, and quite rightly so. They collectively put in an almost perfect performance. Defensively they were excellent. The discipline of their defensive alignment was great, the speed off the line impressive, and each man knew his responsibility and delivered against it. What caught the eye very early on and then throughout the game was the variety of England's play. It took me by surprise and certainly caught Ireland on the back foot. The other factor was the low error count. Plagued by mistakes under the high ball previously this was an almost flawless performance. Finally the linkage between backs and forwards was seamless. King Eddie has the luxury of Joe Launchbury to come into the squad if Itoje is missing but otherwise he must go with the same starting XV and bench.
Where do Ireland go from here? Joe Schmidt has much to ponder. Whilst their success and the accolades that goes with it has been richly deserved there is a risk they have now become predictable and dare I say it ponderous. The mantra of keeping possession and waiting for the opportunity to present itself has produced results to date, as has a reliance on an excellent kicking game. As we saw on Saturday if both those can be thwarted then Ireland seem to lack a Plan B. The answer lies in using the undeniable talent in the back line a little more. Move to a front foot offensive weapon rather than a counter-attacking strike option. Keep the opposition guessing. Against Scotland I would do what for many is the unthinkable: I would put Johnny Sexton on the bench and start with Joey Carbury. Time will tell.
Scotland oh Scotland. I for one remain convinced that with a fully fit squad the Scots could be a real force in the global game. Right now they have talent in abundance with gas and flair. They have technically astute forwards and in Gregor Townsend have a coach who is imaginative in game planning and as passionate as they come about his nationality and the desire to deliver for his country. Where the Scots need to improve is to up the arrogance quotient and have a greater belief in their abilities and allied to this develop a killer instinct. Italy should have been put to the sword on Saturday whereas the Scots allowed them back into the match scoring late tries with relative ease. They will be up against it next week as there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal looking for retribution.
Italy have something to offer and I for one believe they remain the best of the rest. There is an argument that Georgia should be given a tilt as an alternative but would they be any better? Under Connor O'Shea and Mike Catt there has been a marked improvement but their biggest weakness is their biggest asset, one Sergio Parisse. All they can do is more of the same and hope Parisse stays fit. Without him they would be lost.
From what I saw on Friday evening France are a work in progress. I am not sure picking the biggest pack of forwards ever is healthy or sensible. It will certainly secure you ball in the set piece and cause problems for the opposition in the contact areas but it is not a panacea for France's apparent issues. Sides will aim to keep the game fluid to keep the leviathan's moving around thus tiring their bodies and their minds. There are signs of great things to come however and that centres around the mercurial French flair being given its head. The ball needs to move wide at pace and the decision making needs to be unpredictable as was the case in the first half against Wales. The French players need to really want to play for their country. There are times when I feel they lack passion for the international game and in part that is due to the fact that a number of them aren't French. If they are to avoid further losses heads must remain high and the desire to win remain at the forefront even in the face of adversity.
Finally we have Wales. The men from the Principality were lucky on Friday evening. They played their "get out of jail" card in the second half and it paid off. They cannot allow sides to roll them over by virtue of their own silly mistakes. Wales have to be precise from the start. They have to come out of the blocks fast and get the opposition onto the back foot. Whilst purely hypothetical if Wales had played as they did but were facing England playing as they did the men in red would have been humiliated. Not beaten but thrashed. Gatland and his charges must reflect on that and do what Scotland didn't do and put Italy to the sword. Patience will be important but Wales must come away from Rome having ticked more boxes than they did coming home from Paris. Gatland could experiment with selection but Gareth Anscombe should start. Young Aaron Wainwright could be given a start too. To Wales I say "cut out the basic errors and play with width".
The overall summary of the three matches was positive. Something for everyone. Bring on next week.
Elsewhere more difficult viewing as Leicester City go down again. Well done the New England Patriots: Superbowl champions again. England crash and burn in the West Indies again.
By the way, how did Dry January go? I did ok. I stuck rigidly to dry sherry, dry white wine and dry cider. Definitely the way forward.
Finally did you spot the male cheerleaders at the Superbowl. It was only a matter time before political correctness took hold. The world is going mad...... in my very HUMBLE opinion.