Thursday 3rd August - 09:00
What a smashing BBC2 tribute to Sir Gareth Edwards to celebrate his 70th birthday. The wonder years of Welsh rugby. I have been lucky enough to have met him, albeit many, many years ago, and yes he is a really top bloke, and yes I was at THE Barbarians match all those years ago.
You have to ask yourself would Edwards, and players like Bennett and Duckham and Slattery be able to play in today's game. Of course they would. Talent is talent. Edwards of course is right up there, possibly the greatest rugby player of all time. When you talk greats you say Ali, Pele, Redgrave, Nicklaus, Botham. Sir Gareth sits at that top table without any doubt.
A lesser talent but still a top rugby player; Jonny May, is set to leave Gloucester for Leicester Tigers. Rugby transfers. Heaven help us. Leicester's Ed Slater would move in opposite direction as part of the deal.
The WRU confirm they are in contract talks with Leigh Halfpenny. Sorry, and it sounds awful, but for rugby I still harbour a desire for this to fall flat on its face.
Michael Hooper is the new Aussie captain. Good choice. Will lead from the front.
I understand from my sources, thanks Tim, that ex Crowborough boy Will Thorpe is the new Director of Rugby at Tunbridge Wells. Will played at Crowborough as a mini and into the juniors. Mrs Bleater also had dealings with him on the public school circuit. Top guy who we wish well with the new challenge. My mate Graham Withers is now focussing on his new role as head of Kent Youth Development. He is replaced by John Crees as Chairman at the St Marks outfit. It's a big step up into the London National league, and potentially an expensive one. John will have his hands full so I for one wish him all the very best and good luck for the coming season. For the record I think they'll do just fine.
Football has gone mad. Neymar will earn £775k A WEEK following his £198m transfer from Barcelona to Paris St Germain. That cannot be sustainable, and whilst I am not against people earning what they can when they can this seems obscene.
Let us emulate Phil the Greek and take our hats off to him. He is finally retiring from public life. The royals are much maligned at times but dear old Phil has never shirked his responsibilities. He has of course graced CRFC with his presence.
Donald Trump, what is he on? He signs a bill actioning sanctions against Russia and two minutes later takes to Twitter to diss the decision. The biggest Muppett since Gonzo.
The EU airport chaos. Get used to it. We voted out so why is it a surprise we Brits are treated with contempt and suspicion at the borders.
Finally, how much rugby is in the press right now? Virtually none, and this after an amazing Lions tour. I mention this to support my case about the women's funding. People are not going to follow the women's game on a day to day basis. Focus when then attention is at its highest.
No blog for a few days. Bridgnorth beckons.
Wednesday 2nd August - 08:30
There is only one story in town and that is the new Pro14 structure. It has been confirmed that the Cheetahs, and the Southern Kings will join the expanded league from September. As expected the league will be split into two conferences with two Welsh regions, two Irish regions, one Scottish team, one Italian team and one South African team in each. There will be 12 inter conference games home and away, then a game home OR away against each team in the other conference, then 2 additional derby games. 21 games in total.
Take my team, the Dragons. They will play the Scarlets home and away within the conference. They will then play Cardiff and the Ospreys in the cross conference game. Finally they will play each of Cardiff and Ospreys as the 2 additional derby games. Obviously this is to protect the very lucrative derby games in the fixture list and potentially allow the WRU to continue to put on at least one 'judgement day' at the Principality Stadium.
For the Scots, Italians and South Africans they will play each other three times in order to ensure an equal number of games across the conferences.
There will still be a play-off series, which is ridiculous quite frankly, with the top three teams from each conference qualifying. The top teams get a bye into the semi-finals with the other four teams shooting it out for the other two semi-final berths.
The top 3 teams in each conference qualify for the Champions Cup with the best other team making up the seventh participant. The South Africans are not included, which in my view gives them an advantage giving them lots of free weeks. The remaining five European sides go into the Challenge Cup.
Time is now of the essence as the fixture dates need to be agreed. VERY messy but lets see how it works.
Lots in the news to discuss..... but brevity is the order of the day.
British Gas........ villainy of the highest order. A 12.5% hike on electricity bills is daylight robbery. It's like the old Monty Python sketch....... rob from the poor, give to the rich.
EU airport queues. Another shambles, and in my view another shambles caused by meddling bureaucrats in Brussels. Security is KING, and never forget it, but adding layer after layer of paperwork is not going to solve the problem. Follow the Israeli example..... profile, profile and more profiling.
Tycoons owning 1,652 empty homes in the Grenfell Tower area. I like capitalism but this feels very wrong. I don't want to see a Soviet style property grab as proposed by Comrade Corbyn but something needs to be done.
Name a country that is in economic melt down and is about to implode due to debt and civil unrest. Mmmmmm let me think! ........Venezuela?..... Correct! This is the same model certain politicians have suggested we should follow. Yep, and the earth is flat and the moon is made of cheese.
Finally, went down to Eastbourne yesterday. The weather was beautiful and the stroll along the sea front was very theraputic. Felt invigorated and very young after it.
Tuesday 1st August - 09:00
Where does the time go? Here we are in August already. The football season just a couple of weeks away. Come on Leicester!!
Well done England cricket. A fine win, and for test cricket it was pretty entertaining stuff.
Well done England Women. A fine win over France in Euro 2017. It wasn't the best game of soccer I've ever watched....... by a very long way.
Well done Lewis Hamilton. Fourth but proving that under that arrogant exterior there is a team player just waiting to leap out. The same can't be said for Vettel or Verstappen.
And so to the soap opera that is Leigh Halfpenny. The reports indicate he is poised to join Scarlets on a dual contract; 40% funded by Scarlets, 60% funded by WRU. As a Welshman this is good news. A top flight player playing in Wales and eligible for international duty. Hoorah. As a rugby fan it is somewhat less gratifying based on the sums of money involved. The WRU and the Welsh regions are not exactly flush with cash and to be spending enormous sums on one player, a player whose agent seems to be hawking him around like a slave, doesn't sit well with me. Leaving him on the side lines would have sent a message. As it is the message is now; 'the WRU is open to being held to ransom by mercenaries'. By the way Scarlets are probably the best fit for him, especially with Liam Williams now at Sarries.
It doesn't matter what the sport, to be hit by injury on the eve of the biggest tournament of your career must hurt, and hurt a lot. So is the case for Niamh Briggs, Ireland Women's captain. An Achilles injury has ruled her out of the world cup. Shame.
I see Jaco Peyper has been awarded the Super Rugby final. Whilst I was very comfortable with the decision for him to referee the semi-final handing him the final seems a little odd. It definitely gives the Lions an advantage. Not because he will be biased but because they will have experienced his interpretations of law just seven days previously. Angus Gardener would have been my choice.
The crowd will be even more one sided than normal due to visa issues faced by the Crusader fans. Visa free travel between South Africa and New Zealand has recently ended and getteing a visa at short notice to enter South Africa is virtually impossible. Stay at home and watch on TV. Yes it will be late on Saturday night, into the early hours of Sunday but hey the beer will still be cold and snacks plentiful. For us of course it is an afternoon kick off.
Donald Trump obviously still thinks he is presiding over the latest episode of The Apprentice; 'You're fired'. Yet another press secretary hits the revolving door. It is well know the American spooks monitor communications all around the world so here is one just for them; 'your boss is a jerk!'.
Arrogance. We all have it. Some to a greater degree than others. Pop stars have it in spades and because of their wealth think they are above the law. Alexander Burke, whoever she is, had a run in with British Airways staff about hand luggage. Now I know this is a contentious issue for many travellers but the rules are the rules regardless of who you are. This women reckons she was treated like dirt. Well I'll have a wild guess that she was pretty obnoxious too and taking to Twitter was yet another attempt at publicity, which these overhyped divas so enjoy. Anyway I thought one BA tweet was great; 'we at BA have hand luggage rules for a reason and they apply to all our valued passengers, even those who may have a good singing voice'. Basically 'up yours!'.
By the way thanks for the feedback on this drivel. Much appreciated. Also my hands are sore this morning after the exertions at the club. Rick 'the Bard' Howe, myself and the lovely Simon Davies erected seven plastic confier panels below the club balcony. It makes a huge difference hiding all the unused mats and other crap we need to store. We are four panels short and looking for sponsors. £40 a panel. I'll leave that thought with you.
Monday 31st July - 09:00
We loved him, and I think he loved us. Our very own Billy Ropiha is on the move again. He has been on the edges of the New Zealand 7s squad for a while but is now off to France to play for Dax in the French equvalent of the Championship. Having played for Hawkes Bay in the Mitre 10 cup his next challenge is to help Dax back into the Top 14. It is alleged he is on euro 150k per annum with a two year contract. At just 26 he still has a bright future ahead of him.
As an aside, and obviously Billy is going to take the money but 150k euros..... wow! The money in french rugby is madness. Surely it cannot be sustainable. It is another example of buying talent in rather than growing your own fruit. C'est la vie je pense!!!
Talking of madness the Scottish RFU are looking at having a six team semi professional league as a feeder to the two fully professional regional sides. I say 'madness!'. There is not enough talent in Scotland for this to be viable. That sounds insulting but look at it factually and ask yourself is there enough talent that is capable of developing into elite level players. I'm not sure there is. Rather than going semi-pro why not invest some of that money from the SRFU into schools rugby and the infrastructure of the game. Invest in the clubs to develop the game as a whole rather than fill the pockets of a few. Corbyn, eat your heart out!!
On that subject it was great to see Rick Bruin and Mal Chumbley of the RFU at CRFC on Friday. These two guys have been great supporters of what we are trying to achieve. It gets harder and harder on the field as avaricious ambitious clubs with large pots of cash keep calling at our door and luring away players but off the field with the way we operate and the mini and junior setup they obviously see something in us that is good for the game. Thanks guys.
I see the All Blacks are whingeing about Sonny Bill Williams not being available for Bledisloe Cup 1. Mr Hansen et al: IT IS NOT A MEANINGFUL GAME!!!! Get on with it. If World Rugby relent it sets a dangerous precedent with clubs and unions rushing around to set up dubious games just to get bans out of the way. For the record I think SBW was lucky not to get more. It was deliberate and very, very dangerous.
The cutting of women's contracts by the RFU is a Marmite topic with no middle ground. You either agree with it or disagree. I agree with it. When I was working I recall the many, many arguments I had with marketing teams around the globe about how they spent their budgets. My view was always 'show me where you are likely to have the most impact and that is your focus'. Forget all the nice things to do and the sexy things that might help you get noticed. It is about the consumer buying our products. It is true of the women's game too. Over the next few weeks interest will be high. Focus on that. Once the WRWC is over interest will wane big time, bearing in mind it is the audience you need to keep interested not the players if you are to grow the game. So what do you do? You invest in the next big opportunity for audience involvement. The Commonwealth Games 7s. That is why it makes sense.
Must go. Work awaits at the club. Sadly no euro150k for me. Just sore hands and dirty knees.
Saturday 29th July - 17:00
As I watched the Crusaders v Hurricanes game I couldn't but help think back to the days when Passy and I were coaching. Whether it was the 1st XV or the Colts one of our mantras was 'the game will be won in defence'. Never a truer word based on this morning's game. The Crusaders on the back foot for long periods with the Chiefs attacking from all angles. The Canterbury outfit were not going to succumb to the pressure as their resolute defence stood firm. The Chiefs were fantastic except for the most important aspect of the game; getting over the whitewash for a try. The Crusaders on the other hand were clinical when they got the ball and showed the Chiefs how to finish. Damien McKenzie was immense for the Chiefs but sadly versus the collective power of the Crusaders it was not to be. Cracking game to watch and very well refereed by the ex Chief; Glen Jackson.
As the kick off in Jo'Burg coincided with lunch I didn't feel guilty about watching my second game of the day. A game of two halves. The Hurricanes simply blew away the Lions in the first half with some amazing rugby. Those Barrett boys at the forefornt again. The second half saw the Lions come roaring back with some brilliant rugby of their own. The pressure was too much, and along with the extensive travel the Kiwis had had to endure, plus the game being at altitude the Hurricanes ran out of steam. A couple of contentious refereeing decisions but overall I thought Peyper did great. This was a cracking game of rugby and a great advert for the game.
The final next weekend should be a cracker. Thank goodness my mum has SKY, as yes Bridgnorth beckons again. The Lions look in good nick and with the game being in Jo'Burg they will start as favourites. I don't see the Crusaders collapsing so decisively as the Hurricanes but an away win will be a big ask.
What was quite interesting, and reinforces the issue about money talking is the number of players, and at least one coach; Dave Rennie, who are heading to the Northern Hemisphere to ply their trade now the Super Rugby season is coming to its finale. Yet more home grown talent to be pushed down the pecking order for selection?
In other sport I knew as soon as I said the test between England and South Africa was pretty turgid stuff it would come alive, and so it proved.
Advantage Vettell after today's qualifying. During the coverage there was a comment about the end of season bun fight to retain drivers and/or recruit drivers. Basically in F1 it is too expensive and takes too long to bring a driver through the teams ranks which is why buying in talent is at the forefront of teams' minds. What struck me is this is equally true of rugby and soccer which is why we are seeing more and more overseas players in those sports.
Moving off sport I was seriously annoyed by the comment made by Jason Osamede Okundaye, head of Cambridge University's equality group that all white people are racist. Why am I annoyed? In part because it is simply not true. Britain is generally a tolerant and open society to all regardless of colour, race or creed. The annoyance is probably more driven by the fact that if I had written something so hateful about black people I would have been in front of the 'beak' before the blink of an eye. It is simply wrong that we as a society continue to pussy foot around allowing these things to be said for fear of being accused of exactly what this pillock is saying about white people.
Can I also ask why it is acceptable to say the anger expressed by rioting is 'understandable'. It is not understandable and it is not acceptable. The police are being investigated, as they always are under these circumstances so why can't the law be allowed to take its course. There is so much more I want to say on this subject but that would take me over a white line in this blog that at this moment I'm not willing to cross. All I will say is as tragic as Rashan Charles death is you have to ask why were the police arresting him, and I bet it wasn't a fruit pastille he was swallowing. Let's move on.
Friday 28th July - 08:00
Not much to write about this morning but there is one big 'hoorah' moment. World Rugby are not to be conned by New Zealand. They have spotted Steve Hansen's ruse to get Sonny Bill Williams in a position to play in Bledisloe Cup 1. The blazers have ruled that one of the Counties-Manukau matches in which Williams was due to play in is not 'meaningful' and therefore doesn't count towards his suspension. There are other examples where this hasn't been the case sadly. In Sussex I am pleased to say this is one aspect of discipline management that the county is hot on. Suspensions have to be meaningful.
Not sure, unless the weather is bad, that I'll get to watch both Super semi-finals tomorrow but I will definitely watch the first. Will it be a classic or will it be an arm wrestle between the two heaviest of heavyweight Kiwi regions. The Crusaders, packed with All Blacks and home advantage, must start as favourites but as has been said on more than one occasion; 'never write off any Kiwi side in any sport'.
In the afternoon encounter I think the Lions will edge it. At altitude, at home, surely the South African outfit will be too strong. Although the Hurricanes will be pretty exhausted from the travel alone you; 'never write off a Kiwi side'.
Friday Club beckons but what a joy to drive there without running the gauntlet of the school run.
Scaletrix is from Hungary this weekend. A pivotal weekend with Hamilton looking to close the gap on Mr Miserable Sebastian Vettel.
Watched some of the test yesterday. An excellent cure for insomnia. Watched some of the T20 Blast last night. An excellent advert for modern cricket. During the rain delay at the Oval I was fascinated by an interview about the state of junior and local cricket. Everytime the word cricket was used you could have substituted it for rugby.......
'Kids have so many alternatives it is hard to get them into.....'
'Once you have them it is hard to keep them motivated to stay playing....'
'School and parent pressure is an issue for ......'
'Getting them to transition into the adult game is getting harder.....'
'There are many more demands on young adults today stopping them commiting wholeheartedly to ......'
I have paraphrased and there was a raft of similar comments. The one thing Michael Atherton said that resonated and I have said this over and over again and that was kids should only start to get into real competitive cricket from about 15. Before that it should be about fun and inclusion.
Hypocrisy is killing politics. There are too many career politicians now and too few who have experienced the 'real' world. Coming from the priveleged background of the shires and straight from Oxbridge into parliament allows you to speak on behalf of whom? It is true of all parties not just the Tories by the way. As being an MP is a career the modern MP will do and say what his or her bosses want them to say and will blow in the wind with the latest fad and idea to curry favour. A bit like the corporate world. They are all to frequently unwilling to put their heads above the parapet and stick to their principles. Rosie Duffield is a perfect example. The Labour MP for Canterbury who slags off the Tory idea of extending grammar schools yet did everything she could to ensure her two kids are in, yes you guessed it, grammar school.
Must go those Bran Flakes are not going to eat themselves.
Just read drinking wine can ward off diabetes. Roll on 6pm is what I say and break out that Merlot.
Thursday 27th July - 09:15
It is sad that two young men with the world at their feet are at risk of throwing it away through a moment of madness. Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding of Ulster have been charged over an accusation of rape. It is not a great advert for rugby but sadly is indicative of where the top of our game is going. Young, fit men full of testosterone with lots of money in their pockets and lots of time on their hands will fill it somehow, and not always in a sensible manner. You only have to look at soccer where the situation is much worse and read about the stupidity of some of their players. Now it might be the case, and lets hope so, the allegations are unfounded but the challenge for these top flight players is there. It is not helped I'm sure by the fact there will be 'gold diggers' out there looking for the chance to make a few bucks for themselves by leading these young men astray. This isn't the first story of its kind and certainly won't be the last.
All Black Ben Smith is taking a sabbatical from the game after the upcoming Bedilsoe Cup games. It was written into his contract and he is exercising that right. After the injuries he's had and the opportunity for a money spinning tilt at a third RWC in 2019 by resting and getting back to full fitness it makes sense. For me the back story is the interview was with his agent. Another example of how these weasels are taking control of the players and using them to further their own careers (wealth).
Proud servant of Australian rugby Stephen Moore is retiring from the game at the end of the year. Great player and he seems like a top bloke. With Fox Sports Rod Kafer taking up a role with the ARU Moore would be a shoe in to replace him me thinks.
The other Australian story that caught my eye was about 23 year old Sean McMahon leaving Australia to play in Japan. The article was on SKY Sports. There is a lot of mealy mouthed words about why he is going but let us not kid ourselves it is about one thing and one thing only...... THE MONEY. You can't blame him but the game as we know it is being ruined by it.
There are clubs only a few leagues above us and not many miles from us who are spending in excess of £50k a year on players. They are doing it openly and within the rules. Let me be absolutely clear about that. The question is whether it is sustainable for them, and that is a matter for them, and what is the impact on the many smaller clubs around them. Whilst they will argue that isn't their problem. I think it is. The pool of available talent is getting smaller and smaller which in the long term will kill the game in many areas but for them it will potentially make it even more expensive to compete. A point to ponder.
The other talking point that keeps raising its head is concussion. The RFU have been in discussion with the NFL, RFL, and others. It comes at a time when a worrying report has been produced that shows 99% of NFL players tested in a study had a disease associated with head injuries. The concern here is that it is not the immediate issues highlighted by HIA that should worry us, it is the long term implications. The RFU; TAKE NOTE!!
Only electric cars from 2040. A bit like the promise of scrapping tuition fees....... it ain't going to happen.
Wednesday 26th July - 11:00
It is with great sadness I advise, that after a difficult battle with illness, the death of one of our Patrons; David Haslam. David was the architect who worked with the builders and the club's executive team to make the dream of the new clubhouse a reality.
Richard Lambert, our former Finance Director best sums up David's contribution; 'his involvement in the building of the new clubhouse was invaluable and without him on the team I doubt that it would have happened. The clubhouse will be a lasting tribute to him.'
It was only fitting that on the day the sad news broke the club was hosting the Harlequins Summer camp with close to a hundred children enjoying the facilities, whilst at the same time a number of The Friday Club were doing jobs around the place to keep it in the condition David would have expected us to do so.
Many of the club's members have already passed on their condolences and that is echoed here. We have David's family and friends in our thoughts right now. May he rest in peace in the knowledge the CRFC clubhouse is a lasting legacy of his work.
Tuesday 25th July - 08:30
It's not with rugby that I'll start today's drivel but with cricket. Women's cricket to be exact. What an excellent advert for sport. What an excellent advert for women's sport. Outside of the T20 cricket has become pretty dull but the efforts of both India and the victorious English women put that final into a different league. Skillfull and gripping from start to finish.
I mention this as in only a couple of days time the women's rugby world cup kicks off. Whilst some of the games will not generate the 'wow' factor, I am sure many will. England have a great chance to emulate their cricketing partners, but never write off any Kiwi side.
Why do I mention all this? Simply because women's sport has become more and more popular with a much broader audience than ever before. Why? In my mind it has become more skillfull, more entertaining and with many more evenly contested matches. Women's rugby has the collisions and the contact but it is nowhere near as high intensity as the men's game and the game flows better as the women look to move the ball around rather than constantly picking and driving into the opposition. Kicking from hand is less frequent as their game is about running at the opposition rather than getting them to run at you and force mistakes. I for one am looking forward to the tournament. By the way I believe the Canadian scrum-half is the daughter of the new county President; our very own Gavin Ross.
I read with interest that the minute the tournament is over the England women's squad are not having their central contracts renewed. England intend to switch the funding to the 7s game ahead of the Commonwealth Games. The BBC website carries two good articles on this topic. I think it makes sense albeit it is controversial. If the women's game as a whole is to grow it has to be successful. Alternating your investment into specific tournaments to enhance the chance of that success does seem to be the right thing to do.
Of course it is about the money. I am like an old 78 record going round and round on this subject. Rugby is not soccer and cannot sustain the level of investment currently going on in the game. I am therefore not surprised that Jersey Reds have dramatically cut their player budget for next season. They cite the plight of London Welsh and with the issues they faced last season, they would have folded if it wasn't for a rescue package involving the sale of their ground, and state that is not going to happen to them. I say 'hoorah' for a victory for common sense.
Of course it is about the money. Rugby is not soccer which is why I am delighted to see Leigh Halfpenny half way up 'shit creek' without a paddle. Actually a team. He went to Toulon for the money and when a new ridiculously lucrative deal was put on the table he wanted that, and wanted to be released for Internationals. Msr Boudjellal said 'sod that pal', in French of course, and withdrew the offer. Wasps Dai Young then came riding over the hill dressed as a white knight in shining armour. Halfpenny was offered another pretty good deal. He 'dillied and dallied' until Young also said 'sod that pal' in a Welsh accent of course, and withdrew the offer. The four Welsh regions have spent all their budgets and regardless of that wouldn't want to meet Halfpenny's demands. He is now in limbo. Is it all Halfpenny's fault? No! he has a slimeball agent so I am doubly delighted this has gone belly up for both of them. Let us hope common sense prevails and clubs start to see the madness of buying in mercernaries sold like slaves by gangmaster agents.
Super Rugby and World Rugby have come in for some criticism for appointing Jaco Peyper and Glen Jackson to referee the Super semis. Peyper, a South African, takes charge of Lions v Huricanes. Based on current showing Peyper is right up there with the best so why shouldn't he referee this game. He will not be biased, afterall it isn't an under 12s game where the home scrum halfs dad is refereeing. This is a story about nothing. It happens succesfully in the Pro12, the Anglo Welsh and other tournaments. Why the fuss about Jackson I don't know. He is a rising star and deserves this one. There is one thought, and it is about money. You could fly Barnes and Owens in but think about the cost. That doesn't make sense either.
Has there ever been a sports superstar winning the biggest of his or her sports on four occasions and being completely overlooked in the media, getting less coverage than someone diving off a 15m board and not even getting on the podium. That superstar being Chris Froome. Yes he has the best funded team around him. Yes he is not exactly a bundle of laughs. Yes not winning a single stage but winning the whole thing seems strange. He is however a fantastic sportsman and I for one applaud him.
Have you been following the Brexit stuff. We are in a ffffnnnnn mess and I blame my fellow countrymen, and women, and transgender for voting 'out'. They are currently the biggest beneficiaries so have the most to lose. They are now whingeing about the negotiations and how the outcome could be unfair to Wales. Well my fellow countrymen living in Wales you reap what you sow...... as Mr Halfpenny is finding out to his cost.
Sunday 23rd July - 09:30
Please don't say I'm a couch potato and need to get off my fat, lazy backside because I watched three Super Rugby games yesterday. Actually for a few days now I have been under the weather. According to Mrs Bleater I'm still running a temperature right now and my very sore throat and a very snotty nose and mucus laden chest are only improving slowly......
So yes it was fine to sit in front of the TV. The Lions were given a shock by the Sharks in a thrilling game of rugby. Who said the game in South Africa is on its knees. This was a splendid match to watch and the Lions, starting clear favourites, were lucky to win. The Sharks took the game to their hosts and kept them on the back foot with fast, open rugby played with a high degree of skill. The Lions fought back in the second half with that excellent three try burst but the Sharks still kept coming and looked to have sealed the game as the clock ticked down. They hadn't counted on a 58 metre kick at the death to snatch victory however. The Lions now host the Hurricanes next Saturday.
The Stormers v Chiefs game lacked the openness of the earlier game and was more of a battle of attrition. Lots of errors and lots of high intensity collisions. The Stormers looked the more accomplished side but as with the national team you never write a Kiwi side off before that final whistle has been blown. Not one to rerun on 'catch-up' TV so the Chiefs will hope for better when they travel to Canterbury for that all New Zealand clash with the Crusaders.
Much talk in the Welsh press, Wales Online is great by the way, about a possible mass exodus of Welsh rugby talent at the end of the coming season. Many of the dual contracts come up for renewal and with money being tight at the WRU versus the bottomless pits of cash the English and French have this could be more than just paper talk. Dan Biggar, Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies are prominent in the list of names being talked about. With RWC 2019 getting ever closer it would be a shame to see these guys leave Wales and possibly bring their international careers to an end, but money talks.
There is much in the news to talk about but I will leave that to another day for a very sad reason. When I arrived at Crowborough in '86 and started playing at the club there were a number of teams who you looked out for; Tunbridge Wells, Uckfield and of course Heathfield & Waldron. After my playing days as a coach, and more latterly a simple spectator any game against The Greenies was eagerly awaited. As a referee it was always a place you were happy to go to. It was with great sadness to hear from my good friend 'Liberty' of the death of Paul Wilson. Paul was one of the driving forces and financial backers behind the setting up of H&WRFC in 1979. Many at CRFC will know Paul and be saddened by this news. There is a touching tribute on the H&WRFC website to which I add my own condolences and I am sure those of many of us at CRFC. R.I.P. Paul. Your legacy will live on.
Saturday 22nd July - 11:30
Two down, two to go. The Brumbies v Hurricanes game was thoroughly enjoyable. A great start by the men from Canberra but they simply couldn't hold back the yellow tide. The Hurricanes were ruthless once they got into their stride. The Barrett boys pulled the strings again but it was a solid team performance that got them over the line, and of course that lucky 'header'. The skill levels from both sides were excellent proving to me that possibly only Saracens from the Northern Hemisphere could compete against the top Super Rugby franchises. As a footnote to this one it was brilliant to see Christian Lealiifano return.
This morning's game was more a battle of attrition thanks to the dreadful weather conditions. The Crusaders took charge and never looked like conceding their half time lead. The Highlanders, hampered by their lack of pre-match preparation, battled manfully but the red wall remained solid. The talent at the Crusaders disposal allowed them to control the game, especially in the tight, which was the right game plan for the conditions. Even so there were glimpses of brilliance. This was an enjoyable game but from a rugby purists perspective.
A word on the two referees. I thought Glen Jackson was spot on yesterday. A very, very professional and controlled performance. As good as he was Angus Gardener eclipsed him this morning. In such conditions it is easy for a referee to be affected, but he wasn't. Well done gentlemen. I did smile though when Gardener was poleaxed late on.
From August 1st World rugby is trialling new laws. Anyone in the front row can now hook for the ball. The number eight can pick up from under the second rows feet. The scrum half can stand at an angle to the scrum when putting the ball in. This later law change, in my view, means even more crooked feeds. There are a couple of changes to the ruck, the best of which is that is now illegal to kick the ball out of a ruck.
39 year old Peter Stringer signs a short term contract with Worcester. Highlanders Malakai Fekitoa signs for Toulon.
Elsewhere the big question is; 'will Chris Froome win Le Tour'. It seems strange that he could be crowned in Paris tomorrow without winning a single stage. Of course Team Sky are the Man City of cycling with a £35m budget. Wow!
Chris Grayling has met the rail unions. Let's hope for progress. It doesn't end there though as he must meet with the management and get those stubborn headed tossers to see sense too.
The story that caught my eye in the papers was Sean Spicer quitting his role as White House Press Secretary. One less clown in the circus but the biggest clown of all, him with the straw hair and orange face is still there.
Theresa Maybe is back on the walking trail contemplating her future no doubt. I bet she'll never forget the mantra; 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. What a shambles she's left us all in.
Having worked out in Russia and loved the place and the people I like to look at Russian history. The Stalinist era, despite the terribe, terrible atrocities, is fascinating. It appears the Labour party with their purges and intimidation are following the lessons of that period quite closely. Hey ho!
Thursday July 20th - 08:40
It might have surprised a few people but not those who know him. Dylan Hartley has signed a new deal at Saints which will should take him through to retirement. It would have been in the mind of others to wait until the contract had expired and look for a money-spinning deal in France in order to fill the retirement pot. Dylan has decided on loyalty to those who have stuck by him. It is no surprise that he has also been nominated as captain for next season. I can't get my head around the fact he is 31 and has 86 England caps to his name. The challenge ahead is keeping his England starting place ahead of Jamie George, one of the real winners from the Lions tour.
The Pro12 have agreed that the two South African franchises will join the set up in September. It hasn't yet to be confirmed whether the two conference structure will go ahead or not. That seems favourite but is causing ripples amongst supporters as they could lose out on the local derbies. If I was managing it, which clearly I am not, I would go for a straight home and away league and scrap the pathetic play-offs. The other big debate is European qualification. What happens to the SA sides if they top the standings? The European governing body hasn't been overly involved to date so I expect both the English and French clubs to be obstructive about this and try and strengthen their control of the two European cups. Money, money, money. Whatever happens the powers that be at Pro12 HQ will need to pull their fingers out. September is not far away.
Two good news rugby stories. Former Dragons player Ed Jackson has walked for the first time since breaking his neck in a swimming pool accident. Christian Lealiifano makes his comeback for the Brumbies less than a year after being diagnosed with leukaemia. Good luck to both.
Steve Hansen has forgiven Sonny Bill-Williams for his red card against the Lions as he includes him in the upcoming Rugby Championship squad. It is a typical stitch up though in that the NZRFU have accepted that Counties Manukau pre-season games where Williams is also registered will count towards his ban. Nonsense really. I remain convinced bans should be for 'meaningful' games only. Quade Cooper on the other hand has been overlooked by Michael Cheika. Shame! I am a fan of the maverick Cooper.
If you ever disagreed with me about the mercenary overseas players plying their trade for money in the UK then think of Curtley Beale. Yes he was a Wasps favourite but where is he now? Back in Australia playing for the Wallabies hoping to secure his spot in the Australian RWC2019 sqaud. So, whilst in England he deprived an English player a chance to make a name for himself. Mmmm! Brilliant!!!
Now the question you are all eagerly awaiting the answer to is; 'how was Friday Club breakfast'. Breakfast was great. I have to say the Wetherspoons breakfast is great value and quality. The Supreme Leader of the Friday Club; Damper Sayer, was in the chair. As always very well prepared and a full agenda, including an attempt to punish yours truly for calling the Friday club unfit and unable. I did of course retract that later in the week but here I am now restating it. How can a group of old men who dribble when eating and think dementia is some form of German motor car possibly vote for me to be punished. Well, it seems quite easily. When Kim Jong-sayer gets his anti aircraft gun out they will of course agree with whatever he says. Thankfully the lovely Sandra and Jacqui and the youngster; Dave Bristow saved my bacon with their erudite support. Thankfully my nether regions are not dangling from a scaffolding pole but remain firmly attached to my body.
Being serious for a minute the guys have put together a very comprehensive pre-season work plan with much to do between now and September. Thanks go to Damper, but also Ken and Max for their work on H&S and good working practices going forward, not that we've had bad working practices as where old people are concerned, and boy they are old, 'common sense' is king.
Last day of term today so we can all drive safely around Crowborough for at least five weeks. It is probably me but have driving standards declined in recent years, and do those with 4x4s with personal number plates have special exemption to be dickheads on the road.
Chris Grayling is meeting the unions to try and resolve the Southern Rail dispute. Unless he is willing to sell his soul to the unions there is no solution. Forget their mantra about safety, which is tosh, this is about union power, bringing Southern and the Government to its knees and saying 'sod the many'. PLEASE let me be wrong on this one but........
Tuesday July 18th - 09:30
It's a Tuesday and at a loose end. No grandparenting today as the little chap has tonsilitis. Get well soon Matthew.......... not that he is reading this drivel yet.......... he's got too many volumes of Dickens to get through first.
Talking of drivel, the Friday Club are threatening to excommunicate me from their ranks after my disparaging remarks of this week. Of course it was light hearted and obviously didn't reflect the truth, as much of the garbage I write doesn't. The fence is amazing considering the materials were scavenged and yes the teamwork was excellent. Seriously these guys do an amazing amount of work to a very high standard that saves the club a fortune.
Tomorrow is Friday Club breakfast at The Cross, 08:30 if you're interested where health & saftey is a key topic. Our guide and mentor 'Damper' has drawn up a list of work that each person is qualified to do. Most people have very many tasks such as tractor driving and mowing, using the sickle mower, using power tools and so on. Me, I'm down for litter picking. Is this what it's come down to? Thankfully they won't let me near a paint brush which gets Mrs Bleater off my back.
Bumped into our old friend Huw Jenkins on Saturday. He's just back from the Lions tour. As you would expect he was bubbling over with enthusiasm. If you are thinking of going to RWC2019 then Venatours or Gullivers Sports are the tour operators to consider.
Fiji qualify for RWC2019 in Wales group.
There is a rumour flying around that Saracens are about to offer Maro Itoje a £1m a year deal. I haven't seen anything to substantiate this but if there is a scintilla of truth in it then it is madness. It is rugby sliding into the abyss, and I bet he has a slimeball agent slithering away in the background. The Leigh Halfpenny situation should be a lesson to all. As an aside here is another reason why clubs don't want international rugby. When you are shelling out crazy money then you want that asset available for you 100% of the time.
No blog tomorrow. Back on Thursday.
Monday July 17th - 09:45
The Super Rugby quarter-finals is the only rugby story right now. The Lions, who topped the overall rankings, will host the Sharks. The Stormers will host the Chiefs. The Brumbies will take on the Hurricanes who made the draw by virtue of their fine with over the Crusaders on Saturday. Finally the clash of the round is the Crusaders at home in Canterbury against the Highlanders. There is one game on Friday morning, with the others spread over Saturday.
Tonga have qualified for RWC 2019 and will be in England's group.
Rob Baxter has signed a new deal with Exeter Chiefs. Good news for both me thinks. I remain firm in the opinion that Baxter will be a front runner to replace Eddie Jones after RWC 2019.
The Welsh Lions believe the results in New Zealand will be a confidence boost for the men from the Principality when they take on the All Blacks in November. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Dream on!
Federer strolled through the Wimbledon final...... as expected, and Hamilton did a 51 laps of honour to win the British Scaletrix...... as expected, and Chris Frome and Team SKY continue to lead the Tour de France...... as expected, and England continue to struggle in the test against South Africa....... as expected.
Wimbledon wasn't a classic this year. Too many one-sided matches and too many injuries. The bright spot was the controversy. Turning up injured, playing a set and then saying 'that's enough I'll take my £35,000 right now thank you'. That can't be right. The major talking point was the Aussie Bernard Tomic turning up just for the money. In his post match press conference he admitted to just going through the motions to pick up the entrance fee. He was bored apparantly. What a pathetic advert for young people today. His attitude is sadly indicative of many youngsters in as much they as only ask 'what is in it for me' and they get bored with everything so quickly. There is no sense of commitment, no sense of loyalty and gratification has to be instant. Perhaps Tomic on his return to Australia should be forced to work on a farm in the outback and scratch out a living for a few months. He might suddenly see how priveleged he is and might just become a decent human being. I doubt it though.
Broadening the debate it is sad that sport is driven by money. You watch some of the rugby, soccer, cricket, tennis and so on. To play any sport you really must have a competitive streak in you but all too often you can see players going through the motions because the pay cheque is guaranteed regardless of result. Soccer stars earning £500,000 a week is obscene.
The other topic of interest is injury. In rugby it is easy enough to identify a cause; the speed of the game and the size of the players. In soccer you might argue that the number of games, the intensity of the training and strangely the quailty of the pitches all contribute. In other sports it is harder to pinpoint the rise in injuries. In tennis I guess they never seem to stop but it is an interesting topic to look at.
Changing tack it has been said that sport and politics don't mix and perhaps I should stick to the former. Sod that! I read this week that Tony Blair is stirring things up with his comments on Brexit. That lying, devious weasel should be in jail as far as I am concerned. Weapons of mass destruction my backside.
There is much wrong with Southern Rail. It's leadership and ownership are wrong, wrong, wrong. That said the fact ASLEF are going on strike over their refusal to accept a 27% pay rise taking average earnings to £60k highlights the unions are hell bent on destroying the franchise, bringing the South East to its knees and not giving a damn about the 'many', their only interest is the 'few'. Hypocrisy at its finest.
Sunday July 16th - 10:15
Yes, yes, yes.... I know the scrum-half is part of the attack and not part of the defensive line. What I was getting at and put it badly was there needs to be a space equivalent to a body width at ruck and maul between the hindmost foot and the defensive line. Keep defenders clearly onside and stop the attacking side putting blockers in place. Open up the game is what I'm after. When a scrum actually happens properly it is beneficial to the match to have players 5 metres back from the back foot. Q.E.D. me thinks.
Anyone who has been at the clubhouse lately will have seen how good the pitches are looking. Great party last night by the way. Happy Birthday Mike Norman. 50 today. He doesn't look a day over .......... 50!Dave Bristow, with the help of the Friday Club, has been treating, seeding, watering and cutting the pitches on a regular basis. The hard work has paid dividends. Thanks also to the Exec for releasing the funds for this work to be undertaken. Over the previous five years the pitches have taken a hammering due to lack of serious investment. Thanks to the amazing job Peter J is doing the money from the club plus the NatWest award have made a huge difference.
Talking of the Friday Club it should be noted that the latest episode in the series Last of The Summer Wine Waiting for God involved erecting a fence between us and the farm where the goats are kept. For twelve unfit and unable men manhandling fencing and tools down a steep embankment and then trying to work together as unit there is the Friday Club. For everything else there is Mastercard proper trades people.
The Pro12, the poor relation of European rugby, or so they say, is looking to expand, and / or change. It has been well trailed that South African sides the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs will join in September. If the Italian sides remain in the league, which is in some doubt, the format will be two conferences of seven teams. Twelve conference games in total. To supplement the fixture list each of the 14 sides will play each other at least once. Let's say Munster and Ospreys are in Conference A and the Dragons in Conference 1. Munster will play the Ospreys home and away within the conference and then play the Dragons either home or away depending on how the draw was worked out. I make it 19 games in total before any sort of title play-off. Complicated? You bet.
Financially the Pro12 clubs are definitely the poor relations to the Aviva and Top14 sides. In terms of quality of players on show you don't get to see the plethora of international stars bought in by the English and French but you do get to see your home grown heroes. In terms of play it could be argued the Pro12 is a poorer standard but to counter this view is the excellent showing of the Pro12 sides in the European Cups. Based on this I don't see the Pro12 as a bad product and see no need for such a dramatic change. Add to this the limited funds available to the Pro12, so stretching said funds for long and expensive trips to South Africa doesn't make much sense either. Time will tell but I think if it does happen the big losers will be the Italian sides and the winners, well I'm not sure anybody will be.
I read with interest that clubless Leigh Halfpenny has been left out in the cold. Toulon released him and no-one in Wales has the funds to take him on board. Sad but yet another example of how money, and the spiralling player wage bill is going to ruin our game.
Must go, two lots of 'follow my leader' to prepare for. The British leg of the Scaletrix and Stage 15 of Le Tour. Probably give the tennis a miss. It will be all too easy for Federer and watching South Africa level the test series against England is all to depressing.
Saturday July 15th - 10:15
The Lions are home, proud of their achievements, and now donning their club kit as pre-season training gets underway. It was sad that the final Lions' story was actually a non-story and that was the 'ticking off' of Kyle Sinckler for being over-exuberant in the final day in Auckland.
Having feasted on the Lions we are now back into Super Rugby with some cracking match ups to enjoy. Yesterday's Highlanders v Reds was thoroughly enjoyable. Right now I have the Hurricanes v Crusaders on TV as I type. The same annoying factors can be witnessed as we saw over recent weeks, and in fact throughout last season. The scrum half putting the ball into the scrum under the second rows feet for one. I guess this means the ball is more readily available and the scrum less likely to collapse and have to be reset. The resetting of the scrum is another frustration. It eats into the game time and frustrates. I know you can't have it both ways but surely there has to be a way to reduce the number of collapsed/reset scrums and still maintain it as a FAIR contest with the hookers having to hook the ball.
The defences during the Lions tour were generally magnificent. This in part was due to the discipline of defensive set-ups, the quality of the tackling and the speed of movement. However on many occasions it was aided by the defenders being off-side at ruck and maul. Being behind the hindmost foot was not refereed vigourously enough. Here I do have a solution and it is simple: the off-side line is not the hindmost foot of the person in the ruck/maul it is behind the player acting as scrum-half, or a (nominal) body width between the hindmost foot of the player in ruck/maul.
There has been much said about the future of Lions tours so I find it interesting that Nigel Wray, the benefactor of Sarries, has suggested the Lions should play a home series against the All Blacks. Of course he has, and it is no surprise it is about the money. Here we find ourselves yet again in the situation that coaches and owners scream 'player welfare' but only until the pound signs scream 'make money, make money'. The aura of the Lions is built on the fact they don't play at home, and it is only every four years. You can imagine the scenario can't you...... the Scots up in arms because one of the proposed tests 'at home' is not in Scotland. This is a bullshit suggestion from a man whose only priority is the success of his club (and by the way that is how it should be before anyone criticises this comment). Leave the Lions as is.
The second suggestion is for the Autumn Barbarians v New Zealand game be turned into an unofficial Lions 4th and deciding test. Of course England RFU have said no because they won't release their players. It is a stupid idea, in my very humble opinion, and totally misses the point of the Lions. It would yet again undermine the whole premise of the Lions, and maybe, just maybe, this is exactly what the people suggesting these ideas want to achieve. The more you undermine the concept the easier it will be to finally do away with the Lions altogether. Move on.
I have been accused of being negative towards the Saracens. I don't think that is fair. I admire what they have achieved and where they stand in the rankings within the game. I do think they have benefitted from a bottomless well of cash and have an unacceptably high level of debt however. I have also been accused of always using Saracens as an example of the negatives of the acadamy system. Sadly the person who criticises me is very 'one-eyed' when it comes to the Sarries and has an eye patch over the other eye!!!! He does make a VERY fair point that Sarries academy has produced 'significantly' more talent than any other club in the Premiership. Of course there are lies, damned lies and statistics. I haven't read the exact detail of the analysis but whatever the number the fact remains, and it is therefore worse for all other clubs, that the number of players coming through the academies is woefully low versus the number of overseas players bought into the system. I would very much like to see how many players between 16 and 18 have gone through the Premiership academies and then see as a percentage how many have actually made the grade. Of those who didn't I'd also like to see how many subsequently walked away from the game altogether. Yes I FULLY accept, mainly because those who like to wear the Fez are easily baited, that I have all too often unfairly criticised the Saracens but looking at the bigger picture the academies potentially do more harm than good, in MY opinion.
I see the Pro 12 is about to expand and include two South African franchises. More on this tomorrow.
Finally and again I'll touch on this tomorrow. When you see Dave Bristow, our groundsman, as a minimum, pat him on the back. Our pitches are looking magnificent right now.