So the Olympic Games have finally hit London, and how did we start things off? With an incredible spectacle leaving the world in awe? No, we managed to offend the less-than-friendly North Koreans by showing the flag of their bitter neighbours, the South Koreans during the build up to their women’s football match. In response, here are some other Olympic sized logistical cock-ups in sport:
The introduction of the England vs. The Exiles match last season seemed an exciting prospect to many. So after this year’s series it’s time to ask, has it worked?
The main idea of this was to provide England with a much tougher opposition for the mid-season international than France. In that sense this has been a great success. Last year’s match was won with a try in the dying seconds and this year’s saw a tie in the series. Evidently, at the moment, the two sides seem to be on an even keel so big thumbs up to the RFL for coming up with an idea which could well help to develop the English international scene.
However, whilst it is good that they now have a fixture worth fulfilling, is the fact it is so close not actually worrying? Only Thomas Leuleuai out of the last two squads actually turns out for his country, yet our full squad minus just a handful struggled or failed to beat this team. It does not seem to be a case of a lack of ambition that our main international aim is to beat this team of NRL rejects, but simply the fact that Australia and New Zealand are of a completely different class. The idea is a novelty rather than a rivalry that compares to the Australian State of Origin and this shines through with a lack of passion. This just goes to show just how much of a joke international rugby league is, and whilst it is obvious to everyone that this is the most beneficial mid-season match available, given the fact that the Roses matches never built up an England squad, we can not get carried away by our moderate success against The Exiles.
For the RFL though, this is more than just for the benefit of the England squad. This concept is completely unique in sport with the closest thing being the rugby union Barbarians team, therefore the commercial success is also vital to the showcasing of rugby league. I have already mentioned the lack of rivalry which makes it no more than a glorified training session. There is nothing for the fans to believe in as some of their club heroes are playing for the supposed enemy who we are also encouraged to support to an extent. What’s more, if you take into account the booing of Sam Tomkins at the inaugural outing, it is possible to see how this game holds little meaning and will therefore struggle in selling the sport to outsiders. Perhaps it may be a slightly unfair comparison given how established the Australian version is, but round two of State of Origin was seen by 83,110 as well as by millions of television viewers across the globe. In contrast, an aggregate of 18,948 saw the English version which was broadcast in just this country. Commercial success? I think not.
So, what can be done? The future of our dismal international game does seem to rather rely on this fixture to aid development, so it must be made to work properly at least. Perhaps the only way to increase the rivalry is to give it time. As people get more used to the concept the Exiles will appear more and more to be the enemy although this could be helped by the RFL not showing them in the same light as our beloved national team, in turn, fans dislike will only provide encouragement for the players to turn this into a heated series, dare I say it, in line with the State of Origin. Assuming the playing side of things will come; the other issue is the commercial value. Whilst it is obvious that the Galpharm is one of few stadiums in rugby league fit to stage an international, it’s no use it being three-quarters empty. I recently read a fan’s view questioning the selection of locations and promoting the use of an equally good KC stadium citing the fact that the fans of both Hull sides, a city where the passion for rugby league and rivalry is clear to see, would easily fill it. Given how Huddersfield are hardly known for their record attendances this certainly seems logical. The final issue is that it was such a washout in the end. A one-all series draw because it was only played as a two match series is a serious dampener on the matter. Add in the fact that selection was limited due to club duties and perhaps club performance seems a better priority and the final game became utterly disappointing.
The verdict: This is a great concept; however it remains only a concept in its current form. In order to grow, it would seem far more logical, particularly given calls for a smaller Super League and the lack of international programme this year, to play a three match series at the end of the season in stadiums which can attract decent crowds in Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Humberside, which gives far better preparation time. It is frustrating seeing such a brilliant idea being mishandled in such a way, particularly given the global success of its Australian counterpart, therefore we can only hope that the RFL learn to make the most of it, as for once they have actually come up with a good idea.
Two things have caught the eye in recent weeks about Rugby League; neither of them positive. Firstly the shambolic state of the licensing system which has been highlighted not only by the catastrophe at Odsal, but the results in the Challenge Cup. Secondly the inconsistency within the disciplinary system is yet another kick in the teeth for our potentially great sport. Therefore the real question is why the RFL continues to be the laughing stock of the game, yet is allowed to continue to make a mess of their affairs just as the board at Bradford has.
“The aim is to achieve consistency and continuity by giving clubs the chance to make long-term decisions in an effort to raise standards of the game in this country. The criteria for licences will be based on stadium facilities, finance and business performance, commercial and marketing and playing strength, including junior production and development.”
These words were the main points made by the RFL in the unveiling of the license system back in 2008 and as usual, most fans foolishly believed in them. Only twice since the introduction of this system have we seen a non-Super League side beat the elite. Whilst this does in fact show the system to have improved the quality of Super League teams, indeed within the league various teams have improved dramatically as a result of this security, it has greatly damaged those clubs outside Super League who now only have a need to achieve any set targets in the year franchises are given out (although there seems little point in trying given the survival of Wakefield last year.)
The proof of the damage done to lesser teams comes in the form of 2012’s addition to Super League; the Widnes Vikings. By giving them three years to improve, there is a strong their so-far dreadful record may well be resolved, but then, if all 14 teams meet the criteria to a better level than the best Championship side there is no opportunity of those outside the elite progressing. What’s more, it is clear from some of the pastings Widnes have taken just how big the gap now is between the top and the bottom sides, in particular as 19 of last season’s squad were released after being considered inadequate for Super League. Evidently, while the franchise system benefits teams while they are in Super League, for the majority – the teams outside of Super League, there are no obvious pluses.
For the second point, read closely the section where finances are mentioned. From what I can work out this means a strong financial setup is required, not a business model such as Bradford’s, which is now on the brink of destruction. As much as I, like any true rugby fan, do not want to see the Bulls fall, there has to be some questions as to how on earth this went through what you would hope is a highly thorough process. The sale of their stadium shows there to have been some signs of this before it all blew up, particularly with the Iestyn Harris saga which cost them a cool couple of million; something that must have been blatantly ignored. There have been suggestions that the governing body should take more control, however this is disputable, as just like any other business, they should be able to look after their own affairs.
Evidently, these questions should be addressed in the future, but the main focus right now should be saving the Bulls. As far as the RFL is concerned though, there should be some serious questioning regarding the awarding of a new licence to Bradford, who have reached this stage within ten games of the new season, and to a lesser extent, Wakefield given their fall into administration during the last set of franchises. Such issues bring the game into disrepute and people are now starting to question whether the the licensing system should be either scrapped or actually properly applied without any lenience. Bare in mind Bradford were awarded a grade B licence after being described as having a “good operating structure/governance in place”.
To move onto the other matter in question, it seems disciplinary issues are yet another matter that are not dealt with properly, regardless of the opinions of more highly regarded, yet perhaps more moronic writers, such as Phil Clarke. Recently, Ryan Bailey was banned for three matches simply for pushing an official out of his way. Whether this action was necessary or not is irrelevant, however this was a measly offence which has been treated ridiculously harshly. Obviously the officials demand a certain degree of respect and have an incredibly difficult job to do, yet this just seems incomprehensible. It is far from the first time Super League players and coaches have received astonishingly strong punishments for their criticism of referees, namely Richard Agar and Keith Senior. This matter of RFL officials being literally untouchable has gone too far.
Although some would point to the ban received by Thierry Alibert as contradictory to this, as far as I’m concerned, it simply rubs salt into the wound. He was dropped for just one game for allowing tries on the seventh tackle, of which, the first time was a game winning moment. What’s more, the fact this wasn’t revealed until after the game, and presumably because some on-the-ball fans had noticed his absence, adds to the absurdity of this. It is highly debatable as to whether this is a far lesser offence than a small shove which caused no harm to the person involved. The RFL can defend referees for being unable to be spot on every time, however the same can be said for players, although Bailey’s disciplinary record is hardly desirable. Surely they should therefore be judged to at least similar standards, particularly as this is from the first dreadful mistake made by Thierry Alibert, let alone referees.
However the double standards don’t just exist for our referees, as shown by comparing Bailey’s ‘offence’ to that of Heath L’Estrange and Rangi Chase in recent weeks. L’Estrange’s horror spear tackle is best summed up by his victim Jamie Peacock’s twitter rant: “I just want to get this into perspective…Bails (Ryan Bailey) gets 3 match’s for pushing a ref so he can make a tackle, I nearly break my neck and a 2 match ban is adequate..” Anyone playing the sport will have seen their fair share of bad challenges, but most people recognise that the spear tackle is by far the most dangerous. I do not believe for one second any damage was intended on L’Estrange’s part, but the potentially serious nature of this challenge deserves a hefty punishment, certainly more than one received for a minor push. Although these things can be overlooked during the run of play, referees seem unwilling to punish even the most cynical offences on the pitch these days, or in this case, just send off the wrong man.
As the saying goes ‘once is an accident, twice is just careless.’ To see Rangi Chase receive the same length of ban as Bailey for breaking an opponent’s jaw (a crime which would see him go to jail if it wasn’t on the rugby pitch) was therefore rather astounding. The RFL are always going to protect their own which at least makes Bailey’s ban explainable, however Chase’s ban is little more than an inconvenience – apart from the fact Cas have few other players capable of doing anything with the ball. While Phil Clarke keeps his blinkers on and believes everything is rosy in the sport largely funded by his employers, this does not seem the case, as inconsistency appears rife in the very core of the game.
Nothing is ever perfect in life and to some extent this fact has to be accepted in Rugby League, yet this doesn’t make these bitter pills any easier to swallow; just ask any Bradford fan who had to shell out by pledging. However the RFL seems about as willing to resolve such matters as Steve Menzies is to retire, therefore we can only hope with a new CEO, the RFL may perhaps take a good hard look at itself. Or is that too much to hope for?
In a year’s time, everyone will be picking up their pens and making their own minds up who should be on the plane to Australia to represent that old rugby tradition. The British Lions. Despite suffering a 2-1 series defeat to South Africa back to 2009, that tour helped the public fall back in love with a concept that had some serious doubters after Clive Woodward led a disastrous tour to New Zealand four years before that. Without a win since 1997, the Lions could really do with someone to pull a result out of the bag and prove the Northern Hemisphere can still mix it with the best.
It seems the Lions bosses have already decided who to entrust with the task of beating the Aussies and have subsequently offered the position out. Warren Gatland, Wales coach since 2007, having picked up his second Grand Slam during that period, is the selected man and an official approach has been made to the WRU. The 48-year-old is the obvious choice, considering his coaching credentials and achievements, not just with Wales but also a trophy-packed spell with London Wasps. Although Ireland boss Declan Kidney and Scotland coach Andy Robinson were apparently interviewed for the position, Gatland is the overwhelming favourite, not just with the public, but the players as well as it seems. So what’s the problem then?
Well the WRU are in fact, being very co-operative over the situation. They are willing to allow Gatland to step aside for the 2013 Six Nations, which would ensure he fulfils his duties as Lions coach. The Lions bosses though, are keen for a man to be appointed for the entire year. This makes the situation slightly trickier, as Wales would prefer Gatland to remain in charge for the autumn internationals, before handing over the reigns to assistants Rob Howley and Robin McBride to defend their Six Nations crown. Given the WRU are making a fairly big sacrifice in allowing their main man miss part of an international season, it is only reasonable that the Lions bosses let common sense prevail and allow Gatland to continue in his position until the end of the autumn tests. Hopefully, some sort of compromise can be reached so Gatland can be appointed and get on with his task of reviewing who he wants on his plane toAustralia.
What about Gatland as a coach though? The New Zealander would become only the second overseas coach to lead the Lions into battle, and the last man that attempted this didn’t exactly do a great job. Graham Henry was everyone’s number one choice last time the touring party visited Down Under, but clashes over his management style and team selection ensured the tour was a dismal failure, and much worse than the 2-1 series defeat suggested. Scores of players complained about his coaching style, including England stars Matt Dawson and Austin Healey in controversial newspaper columns, while it was suggested certain Welsh players were disgruntled having been left out of the test team.
Issues have arisen over the problem of favouritism, with people in some quarters suggesting Gatland might favour those who have helped his Welsh side to two Grand Slams during his time in charge. Players have been quick to speak out against those claims though, with Welsh prop Adam Jones telling the BBC: “In fairness to Gats he would pick who he thinks would be the best players. Knowing him, he’s not going to be one of these guys who will pick you if you play for Wales or on past form. If you’re on form and playing well for your club or country, you’re going to go on tour regardless of which country you’re from.”
Aside from the obvious fact that if a test team was picked today, a high proportion of Welsh names would feature anyway, Gatland knows the value of the Lions and what it means to Britain in general. Having toured with Sir Ian McGeechan’s party in 2009, Gatland understands the ethos and team spirit needed to build a successful tour, and this should stand him in good stead when the trip comes around next summer.
The choice is obvious, Gatland is the best man for the job and should be able to assemble a decent set of backroom staff to assist him. It seems his Welsh defence coach Shaun Edwards would also join the team, while most people would expect England’s Graham Rowntree to coach the forwards given the positive reviews he has received in helping Stuart Lancaster revive England’s fortunes. Gatland’s appointment is just the beginning of the excitement though, as rugby awaits one of the highlights of the international calendar. Bring on 2013.
For rugby fans, the countdown till 15:30 at the Stade de France began a long time ago. Although the Rugby World Cup ended just over 3 months ago, everyone is eager for Six Nations action, indeed the tournament always produces a set of games full of passion and intensity that other fixtures just cannot match. The clashes between such fierce rivals really gets the blood boiling and therefore the first whistle that will start the tournament’s first match up between France and Italy is eagerly anticipated. There is something about this year that sets it apart from other seasons. Performances at the World Cup have raised Welsh and French ambitions to previously unknown levels, while England and Scotland fans will be eager to avoid a repeat of the autumn’s performances. Here is the lowdown on the 2012 Six Nations:
Coach: Stuart Lancaster
One to Watch: Owen Farrell
The 2011 Champions probably have the most to prove this year, both on and off the field. A woeful World Cup display was tarred even further by player antics and Head Coach Martin Johnson paid the ultimate price. Stuart Lancaster has taken over and has already rallied the country with his no-nonsense approach to management, not to mention the youthful squad he has picked. Lancaster has axed most of the experienced heads that didn’t do the business in October, while others, most notably Jonny Wilkinson have retired. The country is eager for a raft of new stars to show what they can do, with Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt, the Saracens three-quarter pairing, the pick of the bunch likely to make their debuts at Murrayfield. Fans are hoping to see England move away from the dogmatic approach of the World Cup and instead move the ball out wide into the hands of the electric back three. Lancaster though, is inexperienced at international level, as are the majority of his selected players and when the going gets tough, England could find themselves in a tricky situation. Injuries haven’t been kind either, with Toby Flood, Manu Tuilagi and potential skipper Tom Wood all ruled out of the opening game. It could well be a slow building process for the new boys of English rugby and a tough tournament could follow.
Coach: Philippe Saint-Andre
Captain: Thierry Dusautoir
One to Watch: Wesley Fofana
What can you say about the French. Defeat to the All Blacks and Tonga left their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread and the players turned on coach Marc Lievremont in a fit of mutinous rage. Then from nowhere, they produced a stunning victory over England, ground out a win against Wales, before giving New Zealand an almighty scare in the final, coming perilously close to lifting the Webb Ellis trophy. This has created a mood of buoyed optimism around the country, especially considering Philippe Saint-Andre has now replaced Lievremont as coach, ensuring that playing and coaching staff will be on the same wavelength for the first time in years. France as usual, possess an extremely talented squad, led by IRB Player of the Year Thierry Dusautoir and backed up by a gnarled set of forwards, galvanised by classy No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy. The back line selection is always a lottery, with so many talented footballers to choose from, but uncapped centre Wesley Fofana has lit up the Top 14 this season with a series of dazzling displays for club Clermont Auvergne. Although it is never good to make predictions with the French, the current squad of players united under a coach who knows what he’s doing should have too much for the rest of the sides to handle, especially with three games in Paris.
Coach: Declan Kidney
Captain: Paul O’Connell
One to Watch: Sean O’Brien
While Ireland will be disappointed they didn’t make it beyond the quarter-finals in the World Cup, they can acknowledge the quality of their opponents that day. They were beaten by a superb Welsh side and after dismantling Australia in the pool stages, they can count themselves unlucky not to have gone further. This has been reflected in Kidney’s squad selection for this tournament, there are no real surprises, with an experienced core 24 players making up the training squad, whilst six uncapped youngsters will join up for experience. The absence of Brian O’Driscoll through injury could be telling though, so often the inspirational skipper is the difference in tight games and it remains to be seen how Ireland will cope without him. It could be a good test though for life after BOD and in Paul O’Connell, they have a skipper ready-made to lead the side. They boast the best back row around, in Ferris, O’Brien and Heaslip, whilst Jonathan Sexton has really come of age recently at stand-off. The performance of their domestic sides in the Heineken Cup is a sure sign that the national side will go well, but trips to Twickenham and Paris could prove to be their undoing. It could well be that 2012 is the last hurrah of a golden generation that is almost ready to step aside for new blood.
Coach: Jacques Brunel
Captain: Sergio Parisse
One to Watch: Tommaso Benvenuti
Nick Mallett could consider himself a little unfortunate to be out of a job this Spring after he led Italy to a famous victory over France last year. However, the side couldn’t build on that, producing yet another disappointing World Cup campaign where they crashed out at the first hurdle. It is difficult to see how new coach Jacques Brunel can improve on last year’s performance, indeed the ex-Perpignan man can realistically only be targeting the home game against Scotland as their only possible chance of victory. His first squad selection has raised a few eyebrows, as although he has retained the majority of Mallett’s World Cup team, with 22 survivors, there are some surprising omissions. Regulars Salvatore Perugini, Carlos Del Fava, Mirco Bergamasco and Gonzalo Garcia have all been axed, leaving the squad with some new additions that make Italy an unknown force. Any side with Sergio Parisse leading the way will be difficult to beat though, and watch out for exciting backs Tommaso Benvenuti and uncapped 18-year-old Angelo Esposito, who could finally provide Italy with some much needed cutting edge. The problem will of course, lie at Number 10, where the formidable shadow of Diego Dominguez still looms over the Stadio Flaminio. Kris Burton or Luciano Orquera will be the men entrusted with the 10 shirt, but both have been tried there before with little success. It could a long tournament for the new coach.
Coach: Andy Robinson
Captain: Ross Ford
One to Watch: Duncan Weir
Andy Robinson must count himself a little lucky to still be in the hot seat at Murrayfield after a disastrous World Cup. Aside from the dismal defeats to England and Argentina, the Scots turned in a dour display against Georgia and only just edged past Romania thanks to two tries in the last 10 minutes. As per usual, tries is the problem, despite Robinson’s promise to solve the lack of thrust out wide. During the last Six Nations, Scotland were indeed more lively, throwing the ball around with an attacking verve at times, but there is still no real threat to the opposition defences. The pack can mix it with the best of them though and although losing Kelly Brown through injury is a blow, new skipper Ross Ford and highly regarded second row Richie Gray will lead the charge. Veterans Nathan Hines and Chris Paterson have now gone and Robinson has introduced an element of new blood to his squad, though the call-up announcement was dominated by the Steve Shingler saga, which ended in the player being ruled ineligible for Scotland duty. Robinson must take the brave option and introduce young Duncan Weir into the mix at fly-half, given his impressive form for club side Edinburgh. Dan Parks is in the squad, but needs to be cut adrift, while Phil Godman and Ruaridh Jackson have had their chances to set Scotland’s backs moving and both failed. A lot depends on the opening clash with England, as victory could set them on the way to their most successful tournament in years.
Coach: Warren Gatland
Captain: Sam Warburton
One to Watch: Gavin Henson
So much has been written about Welsh rugby in recent months and the possible return to the glory days after a fine showing at the World Cup. We don’t need to go into Warburton’s red card again, but there will always be a sense of what could have been for the Welsh dragons. Warburton is back though, leading the side again with a host of young stars that will fancy their chances of repeating the 2005 and 2008 Grand Slam success. Coach Warren Gatland has done a fantastic job of introducing the young brigade and players like Toby Faletau and Rhys Priestland can now showcase their skills during the Six Nations. Shane Williams may have retired, but there are more talented youngsters waiting in the wings, with uncapped Cardiff wingers Alex Cuthbert and Harry Robinson looking to emulate established superstar George North in nailing down regular wing slots. The French based players have been selected, which is important for Wales who need Hook, Phillips and Byrne firing on all cylinders. Injuries are a worry though, as Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris will both miss out, whilst Gethin Jenkins and Jamie Roberts are both struggling. Roberts’s absence potentially reopens the door for Gavin Henson, who could set the stage alight once more with his refocused attitude. Anything is possible for this set of young Welsh charges and the game on March 17 against the French at Cardiff could well be a Grand Slam decider.
So England took the decision to appoint an interim coaching team for the time being. Despite waiting a couple of months after the debacle of the World Cup, the hapless RFU still couldn’t make an official appointment to give the side the settling influence it needed. If they are waiting for Nick Mallett or Wayne Smith who have both said they are interested in the job (but not until the summer) then why don’t they just announce this and let them put their own plans in place? Instead, they’ve thrown together a patchwork coaching team who apparently have a chance to ‘make the position their own.’
The men charged with attempting to defend England’s Six Nations crown are Stuart Lancaster, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell. Rowntree was a sure bet for any setup and indeed any future one having been the only member of Martin Johnson’s regime to come out unscathed. Giving him a chance to work closely with England’s forwards can only be a good thing, indeed the scrum was one of the only positives to come out of the tournament. Andy Farrell is a different case. One of Rugby League’s greatest sons joined the game late on, featuring just 8 times for England after his disappointing big money move to Saracens. He is proving his worth in the coaching department though, providing Mark McCall with assistance in leading Sarries to their first Premiership title last year. Reluctant at first due to his club commitments, Saracens rather pushed him into the role, believing it to be good experience for him. England supporters should be pleased with the appointment of these two assistants, both are young and fresh with new ideas, and more importantly, respected by those they are in charge of. Farrell has played down fears that his son Owen will be fast-tracked into the side, but many in England believe he could well be in contention anyway. Never mind temporary appointments, these two could well be involved with the Red Rose for years to come.
Stuart Lancaster is a different kettle of fish. The former Leeds PE teacher has been thrust into the spotlight following his appointment as interim head coach. Not many know too much about him, but those that do will tell you what an excellent job he has done with the England Saxons. Everyone who knows him also mentions what a personable bloke he is, capable of managing all types of people (a skill he’ll definitely with this bunch of over-inflated egos.) Lancaster has been making all the right noises as well, vowing to change the culture within the England side that ruined the World Cup campaign, a statement that will no doubt pacify the people that Will Carling once described as ’57 old farts.’ He has also provided something for fans to savour as well, stating “We want to look at new players and give them a chance in the Six Nations, no doubt about it.” This opens the door to not only the youngsters that Stuart knows so well from his Saxon days, but players out in the wilderness that Johnson had cast aside, most notably Danny Cipriani. It has been made clear this is purely a transitional period for the England side and that the new coaching line-up is purely a temporary solution. But Lancaster will get the feeling that success in the Six Nations could put him well in the frame for the permanent position.
It’s not been smiles and champagne for everyone though. Numerous critics have said their piece on this new look England setup with Stuart Barnes predictably leading the attack. The obvious area of weakness lies in the experience of the new coach, the only club job Lancaster has held before was at Leeds. Despite achieving promotion during his first season in charge there, the side went straight back down the year after, before Lancaster ended his stewardship to join the RFU. His CV is therefore not as detailed as one would like and you have to wonder whether the new boss can make the right call under the extreme pressures of international rugby. Many have suggested more distinguished names could have held the fort for the time being, with John Kirwan available following a successful stint in Japan. Barnes is also concerned with the authority that Lancaster will hold, suggesting that when “working for the RFU at Twickenham, there is a degree of apparatchik to the appointment. I wonder about his independence.” The decision has been made however and the RFU are not obliged to appoint Stuart full-time if all goes wrong.
His first squad will be announced in January, a selection that will be awaited with baited breath. Many feel Johnson should have unleashed the obviously talented youngsters England have earlier and Lancaster could now be the man to do that in preparation for the 2015 World Cup on home soil. A new captain will be top of his agenda, with no obvious candidate leaping out of the hat. One thing is certain, this temporary appointment has removed any pressure from the new England coaches, since they know their tenure will probably be ended by the summer anyway. This will hopefully lead to a recurrence of the exuberant, free-spirited England side that destroyed Australia at Twickenham almost a year ago and not that drab and limited one that appeared in the World Cup, hopefully leading to exciting times ahead for England’s new look setup.
England Team for the Six Nations:
15. Ben Foden
14. Chris Ashton
13. Manu Tuilagi
12. Owen Farrell
11. Charlie Sharples
10. Toby Flood
9. Ben Youngs
8. Tom Croft (Captain)
7. Tom Wood
6. Chris Robshaw
5. Tom Palmer
4. Courtney Lawes
3. Dan Cole
2. Dylan Hartley
1. Andrew Sheridan
16. Alex Corbisiero
17. Joe Gray
18. James Gaskell
19. Luke Narroway
20. Danny Care
21. Danny Cipriani
22. Delon Armitage
The FA have announced rule changes regarding the awarding of red cards to Premiership players. Any fouls made within your own half will now result in a sending off, as highlighted by Gary Cahill’s challenge against Tottenham. A spokesman said “any challenge made inside your own half represents the prevention of a valid goal-scoring opportunity and thus must be punished accordingly.” Unfortunately Mike Dean missed the memo from his employers, therefore explaining why he failed to send off David Luiz in Chelsea’s clash with Newcastle.
Nike are to stop handing out their match balls after players score a hat-trick given the weekends’ events. The reason for this was explained by the Nike Headquarters yesterday: “We believe the image of our company is damaged by handing out match balls to players that score hat tricks. When a player as terrible as Yakubu can bag three goals, it’s time to stop rewarding this feat. Nobody wants Nike’s name tarred by having such useless players take home their balls, and if someone like Yakubu can score three goals, we really think the Premiership should consider increasing the number of goals it takes to get a hat-trick.”
Footballers are to wear shoulder pads with immediate effect. Following Mario Balotelli’s goal against Norwich, it is predicted there will be a vast rise in players using their shoulder to score a goal. Gary Lineker said on Match of the Day: ‘Everyone saw how cool Balotelli looked when he knocked the ball in using his shoulder and they will now try and copy it.” Physios are concerned such activity could cause injury to the offending limb and the shoulder pads are therefore designed like American Football clothing to prevent such happenings. Experts say this fashion trend will prove as popular as last year’s snood.
David Haye has announced he will come out of retirement to secure a fight against Vitali Klitschko. He admitted the decision was not to down to personal ambition, but more financial desires. Haye said on national TV: “I may as well admit the reasons for wanting to fight Vitali. I need more money. I’m not even one of boxing’s richest men. I have only have 1 Siberian Tiger whereas even Mike Tyson had 2 and he’s ancient. He also got a part in the Hangover. Having this fight will definitely massage my giant ego and I get to talk a load of rubbish about a fighter whose clearly better than me for six months again so people will buy my fight. Plus, I surely can’t be as bad as I was against his brother. Not sure if you noticed, but I was shit beyond belief.”
Shane Williams has revealed the real reason behind his decision to retire from rugby. Although he believes he is still good enough to play for Wales on a regular basis, he has been enthused by other opportunities. Shane said after his final match against Australia: “To be honest with you, I’ve been really inspired by Warwick Davis’ programme ‘Life’s Too Short.’ As most of you know, I’m only 5ft 7in, so I believe there could be a career out there for me as a professional dwarf. If Warwick is watching, I advise him to get in contact. I also do an awesome somersault as displayed on Saturday.” It is thought Shane will now become an ambassador for dwarves playing Rugby much in the same way Gareth Thomas does for the gays.