14 Oct

Here We Go Again – eyes down for the RWC
by Colin Johnston
14 Oct 2006

Well Tri-Nations is out the way, the Northern Hemisphere’s mini-tours to the South a distant memory and we now have the propspect of the Southern Hemisphere sides coming North for some Christmas shopping.

‘Quick aside, sitting watching the English Premiership this evening I think I can safely say that there will be many Christmas cards handed out, all yellow. One ref, Dave Pearson I think his name is, has justed binned 3 back rowers, all for minor misdemeanours but all within sight of the posts and thus, to his mind you go off. Can you imagine that in a test match? Course not, because someone with such a cavalier attitude to sin binning couldn’t possibly have a crack at being a test match ref. Er, not the case. The Wales v All Blacks match will be ref’d by this pillock. Something to look forward to.

Anyway, what are my predictions for the year ahead between now and France ’07?

Starting at the top, geographically, Scotland are looking a bit healthier than they have for many a year and there is a solid chance of three home wins in their 3 match Autumn series. Aussie will be the toughest one but they are there to be beaten. They look solid for the 6N and will lose gallantly in the last 8 of the World Cup.

England are looking hapless. Their coach is constantly undermined by the RFU, players past and present and the press. The players don’t play with any belief, selection policy is erratic and the Premiership’s obsession with signing tired old 3N players for a fortune, is starting to catch up with them. This is of course exacerbated by the fact that England still believe that the Vintage of ’03 is still the way to play the game. Can you believe that England were actually thinking of bringing Woodward back as overall supremo of all things rugby in England? Beggars belief but says it all. mediocre Autumn, and 6N, eventually becoming losing quarter finalists in RWC.

Of the others, Ireland arestanding still, Wales flatter to deceive and France remain the only credible threat to global supremacy from the North. France will have a solid Autumn, win the 6N and be in the RWC final. Can they win it? Only they can say.

For the tourists this Autumn, NZ will show us 3 of their 27 starting combination permutations. Constant tinkering could still backfire on them yet. Presumably the coaches actually have a strong suspicion of the starting line up, they just don’t like to give the rest of us a clue. Should make the final but they have self destructed time and again when it really mattered.

The Aussies? Well no one knows what there team is and I guess we wont find out until next September in France. Semi-finalists in France, maybe but if they don’t get their act together and get the dogged consistency they used to produce they could be a quarter final casualty.

South Africa? They look pretty poor, cynical, one dimensional and back to thuggery. I played golf with Kim Elgie last month, a 74 year old South African that played rugby for Scotland in the 50′s (played centre against Jardine’s touring ABs so he has seen classy backs up close), he couldn’t think of one redeeming feature of the Boks apart from the fact that they have a good skipper. Enough said. Losing quarter finalists.

This Autumn in the North starts the RWC countdown year, the rugby we see between now and the New Year will start to define what happens next year. Could be good, then again we could be snowed under with the yellow cards I mentioned above and wonder why we are bothering to pay for satellite TV to watch rugby at all. What a thought.

9 Jul

Not So Fond Farewell
by Colin Johnston
9 Jul 2005

Win, lose or draw tomorrow’s Test Clive Woodward leaves rugby behind and heads for soccer management. Good ridance.

Prior to, during and since RWC 03 he has been arrogant and unapproachable with an air of conceit about him that makes you want him to lose. His legacy to rugby is minimal. What he has proven on this tour with the 2005 Lions is that no matter how much money or how big a squad he is given he cannot coach a squad of rugby players even when they are desperate to deliver.

What does this say of the man. He is a crap man manager, he has coached the rugby out of some of the England “stars”, he only trusts those that he picks and knows: everyone else’s opinion is wrong. If you are new to the squad, even if you are English, forget about having a fair chance. More than anything else this tour has told me one thing:

Martin Johnson and a squad of like minded men won on the pitch RWC ’03. Woodward did not. With this in mind perhaps he should give back the knighthood and quitely slope of, after a fullsome apology to rugby players and followers everywhere and join Southampton FC. Afterall, he has already told us he doesn’t really love rugby, football is his real passion.

No surprises there then, having watched the way his teams have played!

Watch out for his next book “Losing” which will hit the shelves just before Christmas. Everyone except him will be expected to shoulder the blame.

4 Jul

The Sins of Spin
by Colin Johnston
4 Jul 2005

A quick digression before my collected thoughts regarding Woodward, Campbell, truth, justice and the Lions way.

Firstly congratualtions must go to Messrs Kelleher and Carter for their joint brilliance. I have previously stated Kelleher wasn’t up to filling Marshall’s boots when Marshall heads for these shores in 10 days time. Having seen the performance Kelleher put in on Saturday, epitomised by the accuracy and speed of service that allowed Daniel Carter to do pretty much whatever he liked, when he liked, I shall not scribe such nonsense again. The fact is, over and above the Rolls Royce service, Kelleher made breaks and put in strong defense when he had to and generally would easily have been man of the match if Carter hadn’t put in the performance of the year!

Carter’s own performance was sublime. He ran, passed, tackled, kick, scored and generally played his way into the history. Thirty three points against the Lions in a series is good, in one Test match it is a phenomenal feat. His ascendency was in stark contrast to Wilco who made a poor showing. Jonny then got hurt again and probably should recognise that it is time to hang up his international aspirations and settle for 5 years of club rugby, make a few more quid then retire into sporting history. It isn’t because Wilco isn’t good enough, he is still a fine player, he is just too brittle having taken a pasting for 8 years on the International scene. Carter’s style of play is the future, Jonny’s game ended in 2003 with a drop goal.

So, well played to Carter and Kelleher plus all of the NZ squad for their great displays of rugby in the last two weeks. Series secure, job done and a fifty point drubbing looming in Auckland.

Okay, digression over. Onto Clive and the Sins of Spin. It sounds like a title for a kids book and frankly that is where it should reside in the library referenced “Fantasy”. Mad Emperor Nero fiddled whilst Rome burnt, mad coach Woodward spins sol called news stories. History will show that neither ploy was in any way succesful and neither individual will be fondly remembered. Rather than having the whole press corps of the rugby World constantly re-examining the footage of Umaga and Meallamu up ending BOD they should have been concentrating on the reason they are in NZ in the first place: to play rugby and win a Test series. Watch the rest of the video not just the first minute, pick up the opposition’s strengths, work hard on your own weaknesses and then go out and give it one hell of a shot.

Unfortunately for the Lions followers in NZ and throughout the World we have seen precious little of the playing rugby and the Lions have lost the Test series – irrespective of the way SCW talks it up. Alaistair and Clive are the new Derek and Clyde. They are the newest “alternative” comedy double act to take to the small screen. Answers such as “I don’t think we got a hammering” and “I don’t think the gulf between the teams is anything like the score line suggests..” are complete lunacy sound lke the deluded fantasy of a deranged megalomaniac. Interestingly, both answers included “I don’t think”. Perhaps that is the problem? Has Sir Clive stopped thinking now he has the arch puppeteer with him? No need to think, Clive, Alaistair will merely shove his hand up your backside and work your mouth whenever a few lines of utter nonsense are required.

It would be almost comprehensible if Campbell was an expert or even interested in rugby. He isn’t. He supports Burnley FC a mickey mouse soccer team from the arse-end of Lancashire. SCW has clearly taken leave of his senses and is now merely spewing up everything that Campbell says. I had severe doubts about the necessity, worth or wisdom of Campbell being on this tour. Having listened to the pish that has spouted forth since the first Test I am now convinced that taking Campbell is the second biggest blunder SCW has made. The biggest cock up to date still being the selection of the first Test team prior to April 2005.

Perhaps SCW was watching a different Test Series? Perhaps he is on medication or is merely so close to a breakdown that nobody dare remind him of the Emperor and his New Clothes. Well if that is the case let’s push him over the edge. Clive, you have failed, you have let the British Isles down. You are an embarrassment to rugby and have turned into parody of a sporting coach. The sooner you clear off to Southampton FC the better it will be for rugby.

Contrary to what Clive and Alaistair say here is how it was in Test 2: The Lions were out thought by Kelleher and Carter – fact. The All Blacks were quicker, slicker and more cohesive in everything thing they did – fact. The passing that was strung together for Umaga’s and Sivivatu’s tries was brilliant. The pace at which it was executed, astonishing. The back play in NZ is years ahead of what we have seen in the UK and frankly, the system that England played from 1999 to date, and unfortunately the Lions have tried to adopt on this tour, looks so old fashioned the games should be in black and white and run at x2 speed. All facts.

I have a feeling that this week we shall here about the one scrum the Lions took against the head. The positive side of learning from new cultures and new playing methods and how much it means to the plyers. Oh yes and of course making new friends (that’ll be Campbell again) and saying that the third test victory is within our grasp….

It is now time for SCW to pay for the Sins of Spin. Phone the looney bin, prepare the padded cell and send for the nice men with the sedatives, needles and strait jackets: Sir Clive Woodward is on his way!

26 Jun

Not a Day For Dinosaurs
by Colin Johnston
26 Jun 2005

For those that thought lumbering dinosaurs, with brains the size of walnuts, died out many millions of years ago, it must have come as quite a shock to see such creatures plod out on to Jade Stadium tonight. Woodward’s class of ’03 huffed and puffed towards extinction – a fate that is long over due. Woodward standing in the coaches box wringing his hands like the owner of Jurassic Park.

The rest of the rugby World has known for the past 2 seasons that this semi-fossilised relic from 2003 has survived on artificial life support and DNA transplants for too long. Unfortunately, the mad professor that created them is blinkered by his previous successes, he is blind to the evolution that has been going on since long before his dinosaurs ruled the World but still he rambles on. He cannot see that this farewell tour for relics from a bygone age is an abomination and runs contrary to natural selection and all that Darwin held dear. Indeed rumour has it that he, the mad professor, shall have Martin Johnson, Jason Leonard and Co. removed from the cryogenic state they have been suspended in and shipped down to NZ for the second test.

Graham Henry is today the designer of a new species of team that eschews the old values of bump, grind, kick – rugby has evolved into a thing that can only be described as “entertaining”. Players are able to run and catch the ball at the same time. Some can even run, catch and pass again, all in one movement – amazing!

Through this evolution New Zealand extinguished any lingering doubts about themselves and the merit of this leviathan Lions touring party. In achieving today’s win Henry has already secured his hatrick of victories over the Tourists. Today was the one chance the visitors had to snatch an away victory and breed some discontent and uncertainty in the All Blacks camp. From there they would have hoped to go on to a series win. On today’s performances this Series will be a 3-0 whitewash. Well done.

Tonight the weather conditions should have favoured the lumbering Lions’ tactics: a style that Woodward opted for back in April when he picked his prehistoric squad. Unfortunately, the New Zealand pack didn’t believe the Lions hype and the Lions got turned over by the All Blacks in the forwards and not the backs. For Woodward this must represent as much of a humiliation as the 2 drubbings his England XV took last year in New Zealand. The mystifying interview after the match speaks volumes either for the man’s self control, the onset of his premature senility or his boundless ability for self dillusion. Presumably the spin off book that he will write as the sequel to his RWC 03 tome, “Winning!” will be entitled “Losing!”. I think even the best marketing executive will have severe problems shifting that one off the bookshop shelves.

Unfortunately, it is impossible for these Lions to go back to the drawing board. Sir Clive and Mr Larder smashed it, chopped it up and used what was left as fuel for their pre-selection BBQ for their 2003 dinosaurs.

In this first Test Clive’s old faithfuls of Hill and Back were hopeless, Hill got injured, which is the position he has played for the past 12 months, so no surprises there and Back was invisible. Again a role he has adapted to well since the RWC. Corry couldn’t go it alone against a rampant McCaw and Collins so any 40:60, never mind 50:50 ball went to New Zealand.

The Lions line out was hung out to dry, their scrum was poor and there was not one area where the Lions exerted any telling pressure for the rain lashed 80 minutes. From the whole sorry episode there are three moments that stick in the mind:

1. Umanga’s sublime scoring pass out to the Flying Fijian Sivivatu on the wing;
2. A fresh Steve Thomson, using his microscopic bronto brain, elects to bring his “prescence” to bear on proceedings and a tiring opposition by throwing in a feeble side step, rather than blasting into the tacklers, slips and turns the ball over; and, wait for it….
3. Woodward, for it is he, saying he would have to check the videotape to see if there had been any mistakes in selection!

Any mistakes in selection? Bloody Hell, a blind man on a galloping horse can see that there were mistakes in selection! The partnership of Jones and Wilkinson never worked. With BOD dumped and taken out of the game injured in the first minute the options left for Sir Clive were limited in the extreme. All of a sudden there were no line breakers in the midfield just 2 fly halfs and another dino from the distant past, Greenwood. If Henson had at least been on the bench there would have an alternative from the hopelessly failing Plan A; no Plan B was just the same but with evenless likelihood of success.

Lets talk about the mini, motor mouth that is Neil Back. Lucky to make the tour due to foul play in his last domestic match and the fact that he can’t hold down a regular game for his club side, he was on from the start and was anonimous. Just when I thought he had sneaked off at half time and nobody had noticed, he sneaked back on and gave away a needless penalty. Fortunately for the Lions Carter missed with this attempt and a couple of others or the score would have more accurately reflected the gulf in the teams.

For New Zealand, Jack and Williams fronted up and played storming matches. The front row, which should have been severely targetted were given an easy ride by the total exclusion of Sheridan. I couldn’t believe that selection either. After trashing Hayman in the first half against the Maori he vanishes from the scene, dropped into oblivion by the potty professor. Did I miss something? Was the point not to target New Zealand’s perceived weaknesses and exploit them? If that was the ploy it may have been better to have picked players capable of doing it. Just a thought.

There is always next week and we can only hope for some changes in selection, at least 2 will be enforced, the others that have to come are tactical. Bulloch in for Thomson, Williams/Moody/Anybody in for Back and Shaw in for Ben Kay (another nonentity from Sydney 2003). Jason Robinson can go home on the next flight, he didn’t want to be there anyway: Horgan or Shane Williams to start and Henson in the midfield…. or all three and drop Wilko? Might not work but at least it is a step forward from guaranteed, tried and tested abject failure.

22 Jun

Another One Bites The Dust
by Colin Johnston
22 Jun 2005

Well 5 out of 6 wins and another stuttering performance. The continuity wasn’t there, the passing was okay but the Lions appear to struggle to get a pattern and maintain it. Scrummaging wasn’t at its best, the handling in the backs looked ropey and I go back to what I said previously, every one the NZ teams the Lions have played look more intent and more able to run the ball than the Lions are.

Some will point to the fact that the Lions had another win. Some will say Henson laid down markers for the next Test because he won’t feature in the first one. But for me I am struggling to see how the pre Test games are leading to test match.

I won’t dwell on the match today. Again a fired up local team were beaten by seasoned internationalists. Again the Lions, when spreading the ball, looked clueless. On Saturday Murphy couldn’t catch the ball today Ollie Smith blew a classic 4 on 2 overlap by dropping a perfect pass from O’Gara. Out of curiosity, if these guys are professional and their basic skills are as ropey as this, what would they have been like in the amateur era? Anyway, enough of this.

Tomorrow Woodward will reveal the grand strategy that he has been planning for a year. He and his massive management team will lay before the rugby world the best the British Isles can produce. What will this rugby revelation be? A new era of total rugby? An inspiration for school boys around the World to latch on to and plan their days and weekends by? Or a dreadful reversion to old fashioned grind and bump rugby using the pack as a sledge hammer with the backs, whenever they get the ball kicking into touch so the forwards can go again? Unfortunately, I know where my money lies.

Woodward has studied this All Black outfit. He has come down here and beaten largely the same set of players with 13 men before and knows he can do it again. He sees a group of talented players that can be divided and conquered. He will sees Super 12 as the weakening link in the All Black’s build up and will target it. If he has got it wrong the Lions will be hammered. If he has got it right the Lions will prevail. I can see the All Blacks scoring at least 3 tries possibly 4. It is just a question as to how the AB front 5 hang together and for how long and then how many scores are given away.

Anyway, Saturday is coming, the All Blacks have named their team and Marshall is in. Henry still has time to work his appaulling man management skills in the home ranks and total chaos, he did it on the last Lion’s tour why not this one?

12 Jun

Wounded Pride ? Stuffed Lions More Like
by Colin Johnston
12 Jun 2005

Wounded, pride, Lions Mauled call it what you will. The peons in the press box will have a field day with this beating.

Congratualtions to the Maori for their commitment to the cause. They never gave up and if the ref, the wonderful Mr Walsh helped them by forgetting that two teams can come in from the side and that a liberal interpretion of a forward pass isn’t actually okay, then so what?

I would like to start out by apologising to Weepu for Matt Dawson’s gracelessness at the end of the match. Rather than offering a hand and congratulations Dawson elected to barge him with his shoulder. What a cock. This is not the first time that Dawson has behaved so poorly in defeat. When Scotland denied England the Grand Slam in 2000 he refused to bring his team back out onto the park to pick up the 6 Nations trophy from the sponsors and Princess Anne. Clealry just a bad loser and a spoilt bratt.

Onto the match. Out muscled, out tackled and out sprinted. Holah and Gibbes beat the Lions back row hands down and won the game for the Maori. Every 50/50 went there way because Hill and Co were miles off the pace. Martin Williams, openside loose forward, was the player of the tournament at the 6 Nations. When you are out played as much as he was today, perhaps that says something about the quality of current Northern Hemisphere backrows? One thing is for sure, Neil Back would have been even further off the pace and thus his inclusion in Sir Clive’s squad, still under a ban for foul play, looks like even greater folly than I predicted in April.

The Maori were more physical in attack and defence and clearly wanted it more. The scrum was a shambles with both packs being penalised, the line outs weren’t a whole lot better and maybe, just maybe the Lions shaded it there. If they did it was the only thing they won all day.

Good defence kept the score down and if you were a born optimist, or a downright liar (read politician) you would claim the game a draw as there was only one try scored each! Sir Clive tinkered while Rome burned. He made no good changes through the match. Leaving Sheridan on the bench, he was I thought harshly sin binned (the punch never even connected) and bringing on Jenkins (always good for 6 points to the opposition) appears to have been a blunder. As usual with Sir Clive’s teams, when things are going wrong he appears unable to change things round, come up with new tactics or target the problem. He prefers to rely on the “leaders on the pitch” to do this. Hang on, what are we paying him for? Surely half time or throughout the course of the game is when these coaches and managers earn their corn! The Maori coach, haven’t a clue what he is called, played his cards well. David Hill playing a controlling game for the first hour and then Carlos on to find some holes for the midfield to assault. Full marks.

Anyway, Lions lost fair and square. I did get two positive things from the match : firstly, there were 2 Macdonalds, 1 Macallister and 1 Braid on the field. All Scots names, therefore all clearly eligible for Scotland (hey – if it works with the All Blacks and the Islanders why not for us?) and secondly – I can’t think what two is, can you?

9 Jun

Naki Knackered
by Colin Johnston
9 Jun 2005

Out on their feet by the end of the game another set of plucky, provincial pugilists fought their way to a hard earned defeat against this 2005 Lions prior to heading off to doing their nighshift as bounces at New Plymouth’s only night club.

Yes, the Naki were helped by some pretty shoddy refereeing, apparently the offside line has moved to the back foot of the oppostions ruck or maul not your own. Frankly, when you are knackered, well beaten and 30 points down even those 3 yards ain’t going to help you. Sorry lads the ref did his bit and should get his fee for it.

On to the game! What a top contender Tito is. He can trade sly punches and outright slugs with the best of them. From the video replay I don’t think either he or Grewcock managed to dislodge the other ones’ lonely braincell but they had a good try. Players like Tito manage to go through the game reminding everyone why the Tourists play these types of sides. It is to allow the also rans to try and injure as many players as possible and thus ensure a home test series win. Neck high tacles, late shoulder charges and anything else you think you can get away with is all perfectly acceptable if you are the local Captain.

Onto the game. Poor tackling from the Lions in the middle of the park during the first minutes confirmed that the “best prepared Lions squd ever” was barely acquainted with each other. That said Horgan and Murphy linked well as did Cusiter and Hodgson. Corry had a steady game and Michael Owen looked okay. The front row however was utterly crap. What was going on there? They started off okay and went down hill dramatically. Fortunately the hammer throwers the Naki had put in the centre hadn’t a clue or this could have been difficult.

The long and the short of it is that after an hour of softening each other up the Lions scored three tries and said thanks for the game. Like Saturday past, another training run out under pressure. Nothing more.

This Saturday will ramp up the pressure a bit more. Ostensibly there are 9 All Blacks coming out to play for the Maori. They will be charged up and playing with passion. If ever the Lions need to remember the thin red line, no backward steps and the fearlessness and ruthlessness that it took to build the World’s biggest Empire and staunch any mindless enthusiasm from locals then Saturday is as good a place to start as any.

I want from from three! Give me three from three!

8 Jun

And We're Off
by Colin Johnston
8 Jun 2005

Okay, one down a few to go. Much good and some indifferent stuff from the Lions. Forget the plucky Bay sticking it to them for 30 minutes they were comfortably beaten and as Paul said, they are amateur and their status showed. The Naki will pose a different combination of puzzles as will the Maori. Both will be summarily dealt with by the Thin Red Line.

Personally, for me, Saturday’s run out was a worthwhile exercise of semi opposed. Some played well, O’Gara kicked okay from hand and Lewsey did his thing on the wing. Front row was poor and Bulloch made Thomson look good which is saying something given form over the last two seasons.

Dallaglio is on the plane coming home. He will be missed from the mid-week games but frankly was never a real Test match starter – bench maybe but wouldn’t last the pace of McCaw, Collins and Co. I think a bigger loss to the Lions is the loss of the Irish lock Malcolm O’Kelly. He would have been a good shout for a Test start and would have given a shaky (at best) ABs second row a really good run for their money. Chris Jack trying to mark O’Kelly and O’Connell? I don’t think so. The replacement, Simon Shaw, is a top lock and exceptional athlete. Why England do not play him I do not know. As said previously, he was unlucky not to go to RWC 03 but he is streets ahead of the other left in the UK.

Big Andy Sheridan came on and stuffed the Bay pack. He could just about play himself into the Test fixtures. He looks the part and has size, and muscle where it counts. I hope so as I don’t think the All Blacks front five is anywhere like the World class of their back row.

Taking a positive view of the ABs side for the Lions, the ABs have Graham Henry as coach. If anyone can disrupt his own team, he is the man. Carlos wouldn’t play for him if he was paid a ransom to do so. Marshall, without doubt the half back of the Super 12, is no more than a nodding acquaintence with the man and his cronies. All good stuff. All is not right in the Land of the Long White Cloud and your coaches can do to you what Mitch and C did in Oz in 2003. We can only hope that McCaw, Umanga and Carter fall out with him and game over. Marvellous. Let Marshall jump on the plane to Leeds; Does Tana know how much he can get in Europe playing proper rugby and not Super 12? Daniel Carter? He could make more than David Beckam! Get on the palne man, what are you waitingfor ? I’d rather see them there than playing the Lions. And lets be honest, these three are the main threats to the Lions. Nonu needs to stop for a photo opportunity and to check his make up, Chris Jack, first class lock though he is, will be on his own and isolated AND the front row aren’t at the races when it comes to test scrummaging. No point the back row winning the ball on the deck if their support is out muscled and blown away in the tight. Did I mention the line out? Get real…. Game on, Gentlemen?

2:1 to the Lions, my money’s safe!

13 Apr

Its An April Fool or Off With His Head!
by Colin Johnston
13 Apr 2005

Off With His Head!

Can history repeat itself? Can Clive Woodward take his England 2003 World Cup winning squad to the Southern Hemisphere and win with the 2005 English, whoops sorry, British Lions?

No of course not. Sir Clive doesn’t have Johnny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson. Instead, he opted for his security blanket of 20 England internationalists in his Lions squad. Some of these are retired from international duty and some, that saw the way the wind was blowing, jumped before they were pushed. Other have failed to play since then and some have been persistently injured. But, make no mistake, this Lions squad is England ’03 revisited and Woodward has taken his chums for one last ‘Huzzah!’. The Lions’ selection smacks of arrogance, xenophobia and a level of myopia that hasn’t been witnessed since Mr McGoo to took the screens in his comical bubble car. This England outfit has stuttered, farted, wheezed, bleated moaned and bitched its way to two successive crap 6 Nations and a Southern Hemisphere white wash since the heady days of Wilco’s injury time drop goal. Clearly, Sir Clive wasn’t watching those matches.

Lets look at some of the personalities that Sir Clive has taken along. If you start anywhere it has to be the most over rated, underperforming internationalist in the Northern Hemisphere. Step forward Steve Thompson, hooker. In the 6 Nations this year he added a new dimension to every other teams line out stats by regularly missing his man but unerringly finding the opposition. He gifted France and Ireland penalties and generally took England’s lineout to a record low. Impartial viewers thought he would struggle to get on the plane, but not Sir Clive. Thompson is not a patch on the player he was in 2003 and the hype of being an RWC winner and what that is all about clearly has gone to his head.

Next up, the best stand up comic on British gameshow TV, yes its Matt Dawson. Matt was voted this accolade by my 12 year old son,s mini rugby team on their tour bus recently. He was so pleased with the honour, when they told him,he gifted them his rugby mits, nice one, Matt. For those that don’t know, Matt ‘I’m not available for England training because of my TV commitments’ Dawson places a greater priority on TV appearances than training duty with his country. He declared himself unavailable to train but okay to play. The biggest irony here is the Woodward ostensibly resigned as England coach because he couldn’t get the players for training as much as he wanted due to their club commitments. Hypocricy? Contradiction? Come on Clive ‘Give Us a Clue’ (Oops that’s another gameshow – cue for Matt!) No, Matt was in RWC ’03 so it doesn’t count – my mistake. Harry Ellis, England’s starting half back and Andy Gomersal, England’s other RWC halfback don’t even get a mention. I feel sorry for them as they are the best in their country. Maybe Dawson has some dirty photos of Woodward, who knows?

Then we move to the main event. The selection that redefines arrogance and misplaced loyalty. Yep, its Dallaglio, Hill and Back. They had an excellent RWC but now 2 have retired from international duty and one is constantly on the injured list. Everyone has been singing big Lawrence’s praises this year at club level. No surprises there though is there? He isn’t playing internationalist backrows every week and he is playing 30% less games as he isn’t on international duty. Oh, did we mention his club, the former holders got an early exit from Europe this season so even less games to play?

Neil Back, who ignominiously got the Order of the Boot from Woodward last year and retired from England in the huff, complete with recriminations and name calling, is straight into the Lions squad. This is amazing as the last time he played in NZ he was 2 yards off the pace and that was 2 years ago. McCaw and Co must be relishing seeing him trotting out on to the paddock. This year Back hasn’t held his club place, never mind getting a shout from the Lions. Lewis Moody, his replacement at Leicester, is yards faster and on the plane anyway, so why take Neil Back? An apology for last year’s England exit, a final pay day – can’t be more dirty photos, surely? We shall never know.

Richard Hill, exemplary player that he is, had approximately 120 minutes of rugby to prove to Woodward that he can tour with the Lions. The likes of Jason White, Johnny O’Conner et al that have had an outstanding season at club and international level must be gutted.

Is it me or do you think Sir Clive is trying to say sorry and give his old chums one last pay day before they are forced to call time on their professional careers? This is the British Lions not some benefit tour for semi-retired warhorses, for Christ’s sake, Clive.

In all honesty, Graham Henry was a crap Lions coach in 2001, absolutely no doubt about it. We in the UK can only hope Henry is as divisive to the All Blacks as he was the Lions but somehow I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on it. He split the Lions squad and eliminated any chance they might have had to build team spirit. Matt Dawson (he of TV gameshow fame) and others were reduced to reporting the squads discontent in the papers back in the UK and the whole thing degenerated into a shambles.

Woodward has however gone with another tactic. He has gone for polarisation, them and us Celts and Poms. Winning the Grand Slam or the Triple Crown doesn’t count. Being English is the precursor to getting on Sir Clive squad. Undoubtedly, we shall have the most polarised squad ever with cliques established before we even start that will not be easy to break down. We will have the England ’03 troops with their toadying acolytes that have come into the frame since then. We shall have the Welsh, nursing a grievance that they won the Grand Slam and have been largely ignored and we will have the Irish and the 3 Scots that Woodward has taken along to hold the tackle pads. Advantage NZ? I would say so. It will be so easy for the NZ media and coaching staff to start driving wedges into the very framework and spirit that is the British Lions. Result? Three test wins to the All Blacks.

What then do we do with the omnipotent Woodward on his return to Britain? In days gone by the fate of treasonous knights was a short time in the Tower and then they got the chop. Now, in the 21st Century apparently this is a wee bit extreme for the bleeding heart liberals amongst us. Personally, I say it depends how bad the results are. So what is a just punishment for a treacherous knave these days? Woodward should, as a minimum, get his knighthood revoked and then spend the rest of his life coaching soccer at a girls school. Joking apart, his next job is coaching an also ran soccer team in England’s Premiership. God help them when Dallaglio, Back and Hill pitch up for preseason training!

2 Dec

They Think It's All Over – It Is Now!
by Colin Johnston
2 Dec 2003

The above eight words are repeated ad nauseum by the TV as the long suffering British viewing public is treated to the spectacle of England winning the World Cup with the last kick of the game, in extra time, against an old foe. Only it is not the Webb Ellis Trophy but the soccer version that this refers to. This is even though this Earth shattering event happened 37 years ago. And now what’s happened? The Aussies and All Blacks have conspired to hand England the RWC. The rest of the UK will now have to smile and nod, for two such video replays that were almost identical in their final execution.

In absolute fairness, England deserved the win in Sydney. They have without doubt, been the best test match playing rugby team in the World for the past two years. Indeed, this is probably the first team ever to win the World Cup that deserves the title of ‘World Champions’ even though winning the World Cup doesn’t bestow this title on the winners. Okay, it has taken me over a week to actually put fingers to keyboard and admit it, but there you go. I’ve done it and I am now out of denial and on the road to recovery.

So, what lessons can we learn from this?

The first one is simple. Large helpings of humble pie are to be eaten by all those that said the English forwards are too old and that they would wilt in the heat (I think I maybe said something along those lines, as I have been receiving quotes to that effect for the past week). Anyway, the forwards didn’t wilt and they didn’t take a step back, get sent off or anything else that I perhaps ill advisedly suggested they would. They were absolutely magnificent for long periods of the final and they choked the life out of the opposition for even longer stretches of the match. It is a credit to the Aussies that they never got completely swamped under the white tide. By the way, I have found through personal use that large quantities of humble pie are best washed down with some of the Aussie’s latest whine made from Australia’s best and purest sour grapes.

Second thing is yes, even when the Aussie’s have brought their own ref to hand out penalties in the very last minute thereby giving the Aussies what is normally a thoroughly undeserved win, they can still lose a test match. How many times have the Aussies kicked the winner with the siren about to go and stolen the game? This time England refused to buckle and they took the game back up field and kept it there until Wilco killed the Aussie’s off.

Thirdly and this one is aimed at Merry Mitch and his crew of eternal optimists, always, always pick a blend of battle hardened test match winners and youth. Pick a goal kicker, have more than one game plan, do not do the inevitable and even if you personally don’t like the alternative, leave the developing kids at home and bring along the match breakers that are sitting in the lounge watching the game with their mates. Forward domination wins matches. Goal kickers win world cups. Chant this mantra for 5 minutes every night before you go to bed.

Fourth, oh yes there’s more where this came from, fourth is that Super 12 and Test Match rugby have the same number of players on the park and use the same shaped ball. That is all they have in common. What we have seen over the past 2 months is that Test rugby requires a mental fortitude and playing style that Super 12 doesn’t recognise. The other thing the RWC has brought to light is how bad some of the refs are that have cut their teeth in Super 12. Steve Walsh, for a variety of reasons including his outburst at the England officials and his abysmal performance in the Oz v Scotland match should never and I mean never, be given an international assignment as a ref again. At best he could be the video ref, but only if supervised and I certainly wouldn’t let him near the remote control. He typifies Super 12. Looks flashy, shorts and shirt are suitably fashionable and he is wired for sound. Zero substance or delivery but he is wired for sound. Super 12 is one thing and one thing only – entertainment for the masses. It is the media companies way of trying to recoup the investment they make along with the sponsors, such as Nike, and frankly they don’t care what happens to the game along the way so long as they get the ratings. They don’t care about the game, honest. If you think they do, I’ve got a second hand car you may wish to buy!

Fifth and finally, if New Zealand wants to win the Webb Ellis trophy and have their opportunity to be called ‘World Champions’ then they must rebuild from the bottom up. Start by strengthening and not threatening the NPC, make it the pre-eminent tournament that a Kiwi can play in without actually pulling on the Black shirt. Allow proper tours to and from the Northern Hemisphere. Offer the Lions a minimum of a ten match Tour in 2005 with at least three tests plus a host of games against the NPC sides (definitely not the Super 12 ones!) and then watch your own game grow.

It’s your call, fast and loose or fronted up and in the final.