Friday 15th June - 09:15
No surprise that Joe Launchbury goes straight back into the side to face South Africa on Saturday. His form and his consistently positive contributions to the England cause made that a certainty the minute he was announced as fit. It seems somewhat harsh that Chris Robshaw has bourne the brunt of the criticism following last week's defeat and finds himself in the stands tomorrow. His place is taken by Brad 'the silver fern' Shields. Let's move on and accept he is English (not necessarily to the core) and talk about his contribution thus far. I for one didn't think he made much of an impact last weekend so he has much to prove on Saturday.
Nick Isiekwe doesn't make the squad so the odds of him making RWC 2019 have lengthened.
Danny Cipriani is on the bench. I think he should have been given a start. Whilst Ford was good last week this tour should be about trying new things. Giving Cipriani another chance would have sent a positive message to those hoping to be on the plane to Japan.
The Boks make two changes with Pieter-Steph du Toit being the notable inclusion. Tendai Mtawarira earns his 100th cap. What a player, what a role model, what an achievement.
If the game was in Durban or Cape Town I'd go England. I think the rarified air will be an advantage for the home side so I go South Africa by one or two points.
Over in Argentina Gatland has been true to his word by making five changes for the second and final test against the Pumas. Hadleigh Parkes is out with a broken finger so Owen Watkin gets a gilt edged chance to shine. Aled Davies starts ahead of Gareth Davies who finds himself in the stand as Tomos Williams is given the bench spot. In a bold move Gatland has gone with both James Davies and Ellis Jenkins in the back row alongside Moriarty (Eddie, oh what it is to have an abundance of riches in the back row). Tomas Francis and Ryan Elias are the other changes. Francis has the most to lose, but equally the most to gain. He needs a big game. Patchell gets the nod ahead of Anscombe but I expect Anscombe to get decent game time from the bench.
I go Argentina. They won't be as lacklustre as they were last weekend.
Ronan O'Gara extends his stay at the Crusaders whilst Graham Rowntree (top, top bloke) leaves Quins.
The FIFA World Cup got off to a good start yesterday. Not sure about the quality of the game but five goals was impressive. Putin saying how warm and friendly Russia is made me smile.
Nothing tomorrow so back on Sunday with a full round up of the weekend's games.
I'm off to therapy now as my anger over the Brexit shambles is beginning to boil over. It is an unedifying mess. The more I think about it the more we should stay in Europe and fight like hell for change. The Hungarians, Dutch, Italians and even now the Germans and French are beginning to see the light so we could end up pushing at an ever widening open door.
Talking of the French. Good luck if you are flying soon. The French ATC are holding Europe to ransom AGAIN!!
Thursday 14th June - 08:30
Couple of club announcements to start.
Summer Ball tickets are still available but going fast. See website for details.
Don't forget the meeting tomorrow night where you will be updated on the latest progress with regard to CRFC having an AGP.
The team announcements have been coming through thick and fast. Nothing from Eddie Jones yet but contrary to what I said yesterday it does look as if Joe Launchbury will be fit. I would hope he goes straight back into the side.
I see that 'containing' Faf de Klerk is now key to England's success. Do that at your peril is what I say. Discipline is the key.
Nothing from the Welsh camp yet but I expect Gatland to be true to his word and make changes allowing the whole of the travelling squad to get a game.
It comes as no surprise that Joe Schmidt makes a raft of changes. Unsurprisingly Johnny Sexton returns to the starting line-up. As is the case for his first choice front row who also move off the bench to start. Try machine Jacob Stockdale doesn't feature in the 23. I am not surprised by this as he was one dimensional last Saturday. The giant Devin Toner also starts at the expense of Henderson. The superb Tadgh Beirne, superb at least for the Scarlets over the last two seasons, is in line for his first cap as he is named on the bench.
Michael Cheika has named an unchanged side. A nod to the excellent performance of last weekend. I think things will be different this time around and I can see an Ireland win in another closely fought affair.
Steve Hanson also names an unchanged side. Again no surprise there. Complacency his is his biggest challenge. Jacques Brunel makes five changes to his squad, one being forced by the absence of Remy Grosso, the fallout from which still rumbles on. A couple of players; Kelian Galletier and Mathieu Babillot, missing last week due to the Top 14 final have been rushed into the side. JPR Williams look-a-like Maxine Medard is dropped to the bench to be replaced by Ben Fall.
I expect another clinical performance by the All Blacks. I can't see the French winning this one.
Gregor Townsend has made a number of changes for what will be a tougher clash against the USA. Stuart Hogg captains the side. Interestingly, and possibly one of the reasons Scotland are on the up, is only one player in the 23 is from outside the Glasgow or Edinburgh Pro 14 set-ups.
Chris Ashton has asked Toulon to release him in a last ditch effort to make RWC 2019 with England. There is no guarantee that England selection will happen so I would advise him, and his leech of an agent, to stay put. Take the money at Toulon and keep performing with them. The risks associated with a return to the Premiership are high.
Back with news of England and Wales tomorrow.
Wednesday 13th June - 08:00
"Encroyable", "clueless", "unacceptable". Some of the words used to describe the baffling decision by World Rugby's citing commissioner's verdict on the Sam Cane's and Ofa Tu'ungafasi's double tackle on Remy Grosso last weekend. It wasn't exactly the "blind-eye" I predicted but pretty close. Now, you have to accept that the seriousness of Grosso's injuries; a double skull fracture, may be impacting on people's opinions but that said with the numerous camera angles and the extensive technology at the disposal of World Rugby you have to believe they have got this badly wrong.
In real time it looked wrong. Sam Cane, not necessarily with any malice came into the tackle with a high swinging arm that made contact with the head. Not acceptable. At the same time Tu'ungafasi game into the tackle leading with his shoulder and minimal, if any at all, use of his arms and also made contact with Grosso's head. One or both was worthy of a red card.
The All Blacks would have cried "foul" but as World Rugby have had head injuries and protecting players at the top of their agenda for a long time this seems like a missed opportunity to reinforce the message. There will be counter claims to this of course but when Mick Cleary and legends such as Jonathan Davies say World Rugby are wrong then you should sit up and take note.
As a byline to this I was amazed that Sam Cane, clearly not all there after clashing heads with his teammate was allowed to say on the field for ten minutes before being removed for a HIA. Luke Pearce, the TMO and the All Black management should be ashamed of themselves for allowing that to happen. Even to the very untrained eye Cane was clearly not all there. Things have to improve, afterall if the French can take a player off for an HIA after banging his knee (6 Nations cheats) surely others can get it right when it is clearly an injury worthy of an HIA.
When was the last time you saw any New Zealand rugby team of any type comprehensivley beaten? Never. That was where I was until last night. Except for a last ditch nine minutes of rugby France Under 20s dominated the game at every phase. The Baby Blacks simply were not at the races. The French scrum was excellent, their lineout fizzed and their open play was excellent. Defensively they were rock solid. The French number eight, Jordan, was immense. A breathtaking, brutal encounter with the New Zealanders brought down to earth with a bang.
Well done England for making the final. Hanging on by their finger nails they made it to the end of another good quality game against a very good South African side. The men in green came back fiercly in the second half but the damage done in the first half proved just, one point, too much to overturn. The final on Sunday should be well worth watching. ITV 4 at 18:00.
Now, as a byline to this Mrs Bleater did think that Jill Douglas's skirt was just a tad too short for her. I couldn't possibly comment for fear of incurring the wrath of the fem...... let's leave that debate there shall we.
Joe Launchbury is unlikely to make the second test so the saviour of the nation Brad Shields is tipped to win his second cap at lock on Saturday. Time will tell.
With stunning foresight Jonny May says England must work on their discipline. Jonny you are a genius to come up with that thought.
England have been in the gym pumping enough iron to keep Donald Trump's America supplied with the stuff for months to come. Shame they weren't on the high veld getting more accustomed to the rarified atmosphere or better still working on their off load skills or even better working on their offload skills after improving their breakdown win percentage. Hey ho. I guess Eddie and team know what they are doing.
It was only after the game I realised England were staying in Durban and not in Jo'Burg or Pretoria. Yes Durban is beautiful and more relaxing than the other two cities but it is at sea level. If you have ever been to South Africa you will know how debilitating it can be high up in Jo'burg. I was amazed how much you noticed the difference.
Two hookers make the news. Jack Singleton gets the call from Eddie the Wise as cover for Luke Cowan-Dickie. In an amazing twist the retired Schalk Brits gets dragged off a beach in Ibiza, has his tequilla snatched away from him as he is called into the Boks squad as emergency cover.
Team selections for the weekend will start rolling in today. More as they arrive.
In a shock move Cardiff's former coach was until yesterday en route to join Wasps. He has in fact driven straight past Coventry as it is announced he will join Gregor Townsend's Scotland coaching team. Wow! Hope he has a good lawyer. By the way it is alleged that Wasps finances are not all they should be.
The soccer in Russia starts tomorrow. Wall to wall hype coverage. Yes of course I will end up watching it.
So the dictator finally capitulates and meets....... Kim. Yes Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un finally meet in what could be one of the most significant meetings of a lifetime. That is of course until Trump tweets he was only joking and that he only wanted to see how fat Jong-un really was. I find it fascinating that Trump praised the North Korean beaches and suggested they could turn their country into a holiday paradise. Mmmmm Mr Trump angling for a post presidency development opportunity??
Brexit. What a FFFFFNNNNNN shambles. Many will be blaming Thersa Maybe for the mess. Yes she is making a Horlicks of it but what are the alternatives? There aren't any. Corbyn has no idea other than for Britain to be like Kalingrad and Belorussia, a satellite state of Russia. As for Vince Cable.... Vince who? I blame David Cameron. He is the clown who got us into this mess, and a fine Eton Mess it is too.
Monday 11th June - 09:30
What have we learnt from Saturday's games?
For England the number one lesson is ill-discipline hurts and must be eradicated. The high penalty count put the men in white on the back foot and whilst Andre Pollard's boot was somewhat off target the kicks at goal kept England under pressure.
Their second lesson is to find a proper open-side flanker who leads the charge at the tackle area. On this point I cannot understand why Brad Shields was picked ahead of Steffon Armitage.
Thirdly, and too late for this tour, Jones should look at Alex Goode again. Why the best full back in the Premiership isn't selected beggars belief. Daly on the wing instead of Brown and Goode at full-back?
England's main challenge is the style of the Premiership which is now ingrained in the players is out of step with how the international game has developed elsewhere. Jones has a major challenge to get the players to adapt to new patterns of play. That said the first twenty minutes was superb.
Warren Gatland has learnt that perhaps strength in depth in Wales is not as bad as many portray. The young inexperienced forwards stepped up to the plate and fringe players like Josh Adams certainly proved they have what it takes on the big stage.
By his own admission Gatland has learnt the value of Shaun Edwards to the squad. Only today Gatland has expressed his hope that Edwards stays with Wales until post RWC 2019.
Gatland also has a major selection headache ahead of him with a plethora of world class back row forwards at his disposal. Eat your heart out Eddie.
Finally the story could have been different on Saturday with Wales conceding fourteen penalties in the match.
Ireland have to look at the missed chances. On several occasions Ireland failed to take the simple option thus giving up try scoring opportunities.
The men in green have to keep their feet and egos on the ground. Yes they are dominant in Europe but that doesn't give them the automatic right to success. They must also respect the officials. I was disappointed by Conor Murray and late on Sexton's sniping at the referee.
I didn't see the Scotland game but I guess Gregor Townsend must be delighted at how his very inexperienced young side performed. It was only Canada but nevertheless he will take heart from the result.
What else did we learn. Firstly Australia are not a busted flush and you write them off at your peril. They played with assurity against Ireland and their defence was excellent.
Secondly France are France. You have to accept whoever turns up.
Thirdly New Zealand will be odds on favourites to lift the world cup for the third consecutive time. They are simply head and shoulders above all others.
Finally the officials are human and we must not castigate them for the odd slip. They will make mistakes but rest assured it will be far, far fewer than the players in their charge. I ask a question here: is it time to review the role of the TMO. A discussion for later me thinks.
Before moving on I personally still find it irritating that the off-side line at ruck and maul is not a pace behind the back foot. Likewise I get hacked off when I see the subs who are warming up in the dead ball area rushing onto the pitch when a try is scored. Hey ho! Move on.
Well done South Africa for lifting the HSBC series crown. A very impressive achievement.
F1. Yawn. Except for the opening laps when there are inevitably a crash or two it is soooooo dull!
England's ODI side lose to Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon will be happy!
In the news Donald Trump is acting like a spoilt petulant child. I genuinely think he has mental issues which for a man with his finger on the trigger of the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world is a tad worrying.
I don't care if people don't like my political views. They are mine afterall. I hope however people will agree with me that it is scandalous that the Met Police are investigating the role of the London Fire Brigade in the Grenfell tragedy. Mrs Bleater who is a H&S professional and won praise from Sussex Fire & Rescue for her work says the policy of the day of keeping people where they are behind fire doors and away from dangerous and narrow stairwells in time of fire in high rise buildings was correct. What the police should be investigating is how the renovation was allowed to go ahead with substandard doors, substandard cladding and very shoddy installation of the same. It stinks of corruption, incompetence and mal-practice. The fire brigade should be lauded not hounded.
Back on Wednesday.
Sunday 10th June - 09:30
OK so I didn't blog yesterday but I did get to watch all four games with the blessing of, and in the company of Mrs Bleater.
Let's therefore start at Ellis Park. For the first twenty minutes I thought I was watching the All Blacks except they were playing in white. Backs and forwards intertwined seamlessly. The ball was taken into contact with a purpose and moved away from contact at speed. The ball zipped around the park creating space for scoring chances, chances that were taken decisively. The back line purred with confidence and the forwards strutted their stuff with aplomb. "Wow! Eddie Jones really has got his ducks in a row at last and has taken on board all the recent criticism".
Then, gradually, it all fell apart and we awoke from the pleasant dream and found ourselves back in the recurring nightmare. England conceding silly penalties to put themselves under pressure. Take note Jamie George and Maro Itoje. The men in white found themselves second best at the contact area with the Boks quicker and more decisive at the breakdown. Players fell off tackles or found themselves isolated in defensive positions. The accuracy of passing fell away. All this came about as a little sprite darted around the field in his green shirt causing mayhem. Faf de Klerk set the South Africans on the road to victory with his try quickly followed by a more fortuitous effort from Nkosi out on the wing. Momentum was now clearly with the hosts, a momentum that would take them to victory.
England can take heart from the fact that despite a paucity of possession in the second half they kept the Boks at bay allowing just one further try. They can also look to the late scores from Itoje and May as a sign of their resilience and their ability to cope with the rarified air of the high veld.
Nick Isiekwe got the shepherd's crook early which must have been disappointing but the saviour that was to be Brad Shields failed to make any sort of impact. On the other side of the coin alongside de Klerk, Willie Le Roux and Duane Vermeulen were the standout men.
Eddie Jones was naturally disappointed and seems to have had another spat with a fan coming off the field and then pointed the finger at the referee who he says was intimidated by the crowd. Mmmmm! I'm not sure Eddie. Ill-discipline my friend. That is the number one problem.
Talking of "wow!" I honestly expected Wales to come off second best against Argentina. Fellow Welshman and Friday Club stalwart Ken and I had been of one mind on Friday and that was the Argentinian scrum and powerful forwards would dominate and Wales would have a very difficult time of it in San Juan. Oh how wrong were we? Wales scrum, in the main held its own. The red lineout worked well. The contact areas were contested fiercely by the Welsh and when they had the ball they looked decisive and delivered at crucial moments. Gareth Davies, George North and Rhys Patchell stood up to the test. Scott Williams and Hadleigh Parkes were great going forward and in defence and Hallom Amos showed his true potential. Cory Hill led from the front with Ross Moriarty doing what a good number eight should do. The man of the match in my opinion was James Davies, not for his trademark work in the tackle area but his all round defensive effort and his tireless contribution from start to finish.
Considering the Argentinians play week in week out together in the hothouse known as Super Rugby they were somewhat disappointing. They seemed sluggish and indecisive. The scrum creaked and the back play lacked any cutting edge. Don't let that take anything away from an outstanding Welsh performance.
From San Juan to Brisbane where Ireland failed to take their chances against an Australian side that rediscovered its mojo. The men in green played well at times but the patience they showed in the 6 Nations was matched by an equally patient and powerful defensive show from the men in gold. Wrong decisions such as CJ Stander going it alone only to be held up when he had men outside him. Going into contact with five men screaming for the ball and the line begging was another missed opportunity. Australia on the other hand took their chances well and played with spirit. Their line speed in defence was a telling factor and their go forward was equally impressive.
What wasn't impressive was Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton allowing their frustration with the referee Marius van der Westhuizen to spill over into a verbal tirade at the referee. To be fair I thought the South African was the poorest of the four officials on the day. His interpretation of the breakdown was inconsistent. I also found it frustrating that the TMO intervened at the death chalking off the Irish try with a knock-on only he was able to see. This TMO Ben Skeen strikes me as being a show pony.
Finally to Eden Park. This was a closely contested encounter with the French taking the game to the All Blacks for long periods in the first half. Some of the play was sublime but some was fraught with errors. It was a pretty even contest until Paul Gabrillagues was given a yellow card for what looked in real time a high and dangerous tackle on Ryan Crotty. With the benefit of sl-mo the tackle was fine and Crotty milked it for all it was worth. I will defend Luke Pearce here in that my immediate reaction was not yellow but red so please let's not castigate the man in the middle too much. It did change the game however as the All Black machine went into overdrive with the Barrett boys putting on a real show. Whilst they still made a lot of uncharacteristic errors they played with amazing skill and took the French apart.
It was very disappointing that George Ayoub, another TMO show pony, didn't refer the Sam Cane hit on Remy Grosso back to Pearce for a second look. It looked dangerous with a degree of malice in it. Grosso spent the night in hospital so the citing commissioner might have a second look, but being the All Blacks a blind eye might be the outcome.
Well done Japan for beating Italy, and Scotland for cruising past Canada.
I watched four excellent games, the best of which despite the result was South Africa v England. The result of the day was Wales beating Argentina. The player of the day; Faf de Klerk. The try of the day; mmmmm too many to choose from. Can't wait until next Saturday for round two.
Thursday 7th June - addendum
Dearest Eddie has rolled the dice and announced his side to face the Bokke on Saturday. The headline news is the inclusion of Hemel Hempstead born rising Saracens star Nick Isiekwe. My source, one Paddy O'Fez, informs me he has being making a very positive impression for the Barnet crew and his selection ahead of George Kruis is more than justified. Obviously it comes as a result of Joe Launchbury failing a late injury test. He joins Maro Itoje in the second row engine room.
The other story is of course the sad news that Brad Shields is on the bench and therefore certain to make his England debut.
Elliot Daly plays at 15 ahead of Mike Brown who is on the wing. The inclusion of Henry Slade alongside Farrell would indicate Jones is expecting England to play with width and flair.
Despite his recent injury troubles Big Billy Vunipola starts and with Tom Curry alongside him there is a little more energy in the back row, which has been so sadly lacking of late.
Stuart Barnes believes England will play an expansive game and take the play to South Africa. He also believes Owen Farrell will lead from the front and bring a breath of fresh air to England's captaincy. Only time will tell.
England Under 20s were cruising into the semi-finals before I switched over. Wales blew their chances of a last four spot with a pathetic showing against a very good Japanese outfit.
No blog on Friday, back on Saturday with a final view of the games ahead.
Thursday 7th June - 09:30
Wall to wall rugby on Saturday for those who can get away with it. New Zealand v France is the opener. This should be a game worth watching if the French are not too knackered after their gruelling season, and they decide to play with some of that old Gallic flair we saw glimpses of in the 6 Nations. The All Blacks make history with the three Barrett boys all starting. Scott Barrett gets the nod with Brodie Retallick sidelined. Despite old smiler himself saying the All Blacks have an injury crisis this looks a very strong side.
Next up comes what could be the game of the day; Australia v Ireland. Australia's Mr Grumpy; Michael Cheika, introduces two new caps whilst Joe Schmidt fields a very strong looking side but a side with the magician Sexton only on the bench. Joey Carbery starts. One can only assume after the exertions of two big cup finals and a number of heavy knocks JS is not quite ready for another full on battle.
A quick bite to eat, some fresh air and maybe a few jobs around the house to keep those 'who must be obeyed' on side then it is South Africa v England. I think England have the most to lose but also the most to gain so this will be fascinating. A series defeat playing with the same old mundane approach is not going to put the Red Rose in a favourable position with the fans or with any hope of lifting RWC 2019. A series defeat but plenty of youngsters blooded and a different playing style explored then happy days. Even better the latter and a series win and Eddie Jones can climb back onto his pedestal of arrogance, until the Autumn at least. Selection later today.
As an aside a number of papers have used the word 'brutal' to describe Jones' pre-match training out in South Africa. Anything to build a story hey?
Others have focussed on the Boks captain Siya Kolisi. There is a deep and genuine hope that this will move the inclusion of black players from being seen as quota fillers to serious and justified selections. I hope that proves to be the case as the quota system is not right.... in my view.
Another quick break, some more fresh air and perhaps a quick curry before Argentina v Wales. This will be a proper test, a test which Argentina will start clear favourites. Wales don't have much to lose and a lot to gain. A win with this very much a second string side would put Wales in a good place ahead of the Autumn. Like England a defeat would be no bad thing as long as the youngsters come through the tests better players and players pushing for RWC 2019 slots. Ellis Jenkins can feel aggrieved after captaining the side last weekend and not even on the bench despite a sound performance. Cory Hill leads a stronger looking side with Rhys Patchell looking to recover his mojo and others trying to make that final leap into regular selection. James Davies is one such player.
If you haven't fallen out of love with rugby by then you can prop your eyes open with matchsticks and watch Canada v Scotland. Gregor Townsend has deliberately taken a young inexperienced side to North America with one vision in mind; preparing for RWC 2019.
In terms of results I go New Zealand, Ireland, England, Argentina, Scotland.
Now, before all that there is Under 20s today. World Rugby online and S4C for the Wales clash with Japan. England v Scotland kicks off at 20:00.
Much in the news about the Wild West (End of London). Lawless is a perfect word describe the current state of affairs. Not enough police on the streets. Those who are are hamstrung by bureaucracy and paperwork. Something has to be done. Whilst we need an Upper House as a check and balance against parliament we don't need all those old duffers. In fact we need a fraction of them. Let's use the savings for increased police numbers and reverse the cuts. Let us also go after Starbucks, Google, Neros and all those other tax dodging companies and put that into policing.
I did laugh when I saw Heathrow got the green light for expansion. Chris Grayling is to be in charge. That's that idea screwed then. For the life of me I cannot understand why they have gone for LHR when LGW seems a much easier, cheaper, more enviromentally sound proposition. Hey ho what do I know.
Finally Brexit. Armageddon, a disaster waiting to happen. Unless all sides of the political divide wake up to the fact the good ship Great Britain is heading for the precipice this great country of ours could well be plunged into an unending darkness. Stop trying to score political points and use common sense. I remain convinced, and sorry for the use of this phrase, that pissing from the inside and trying to get change is far better than pissing from the outside and getting unpleasantly wet.
England selection comments as soon as it is known.