Instead of trekking deep into the woodlands of Southern Germany we headed to Ireland for a few days. The first stop from Dublin was the shortish drive into Northern Ireland and to Belfast. Rugby Union is one of the only sports where Northern Ireland and the Republic join together to represent Ireland as whole. The Pro 12 competition has been incredibly successful over there and Irish teams have won 9 out of 15 editions of the tournament. So it was no surprise we couldn’t get a ticket for this Kingspan Stadium clash between Ulster and Munster! All 18,000 tickets had been sold and we couldn’t even score a freebie from the club itself. Luckily for us we bumped into a couple of likely lads outside the ground and snapped up their surplus tickets. The game wasn’t a classic by any means and Ulster, who hadn’t lost at home since May 2014, were red hot favourites considering Munster had also lost 5 straight! We wont expect to be invited back anytime soon……. Munster won 9-7! #rugby #rugbyunion #pro12 #guinnesspro12 #ulster #munster #kingspanstadium #belfast #northernireland #ireland #ravenhill
If there is one team in world sport that manage to win games when all hope is lost, and even after the final buzzer has sounded, it is the Wallabies. Not since Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United teams dragging themselves out of the gutter in “Fergie Time” has there been a team been so dogged and determined to get over the line. I could mention others, Michael Jordan for one, but basketball is a game that lends itself to those situations; I’m sure there are numerous others but I challenge someone to prove me wrong! I myself have witnessed this live on SEVEN occasions now, four of which have come against Wales and countless more on TV. I just have to throw up Eales versus the All Blacks, Stephen Hoiles (who?) in the corner against Wales in Sydney, Mike Harris kicking a penalty against Wales in Melbourne, Kurtley Beale against Wales in Cardiff…. there does seem to be a pattern emerging….. The old adage of playing the game for the full 80 minutes has never been so truer! All of those I mentioned here were AFTER the game clock had expired.
I love Rugby Union. I am addicted to the International side of the game. I dislike the Wallabies; primarily for the reasons outlined above and very little else. Even when South Africa were 20-10 up with less than 10 minutes to go in this game I just knew that the Qantas team weren’t out of it – they rarely are. I do find it very strange that a country can disown it’s own identity to a corporate body and the paying public just accept it. At no stage during this game (and the previous 20 odd internationals I have attended in Australia) are the Qantas team referred to as “Australia”. They are known and announced as the Qantas Wallabies. I would love it if the crowd turned up wearing red adorned with Kangaroos as that is truly who they are supporting. There would be outcry in Wales if we were “re-branded” the Dove Care+Men Dragons…..
A very good mate of mine always proclaimed that if he won the lottery he would buy a Mr. Whippy van and pour the rest of the money into sponsoring the National team. Can you just imagine “And now entering the field it is YOUR MR. WHIPPY WALLABIES“…. Worth the expenditure alone. Would the away kit be pink and white too???
Suncorp Stadium is a great ground to watch rugby. The proximity to the many hospitality establishments on Caxton Street is a small scale rival to Cardiff but adds to the match day experience all the same. But in saying this the punters must have been all sported out in Brisbane as only 30 odd thousand showed up for their only Rugby Union of the year. The night before Liverpool played Brisbane Roar in a pre-season tour to a sold out stadium and the next day the Brisbane Broncos attracted nearly 40,000 to a top v bottom Rugby League match! Perhaps they managed to realise that in a World Cup year these games are not essentially meaningless, but very close to. It’s all about game time, fitness and combinations.
Qantas have been struggling of late and recalls for Matt Gateau (pretty on the outside, soft in the middle) and Drew Mitchell from their French clubs against previous Wallaby policy, highlighted the need for strength in depth and added quality. Genia, after a torrid Super XV season, was recalled to scrum half to partner Kiwi born, wannabe-boxer, charged-but-not-convicted burgler, Queensland team mate Quade Cooper at 10. They continued with a centre on the wing in Adam (2-dads) Ashley-Copper and a winger at the centre in the monstrous shape of Kuridrani – which speaks volumes about the bang-smash International game in its present form. Pocock was on the bench which surprised a few.
South Africa were near enough at full strength. The ever-green Victor Matfield winning his 131st cap and captaining the team from the second row. No matter really as all 23 players on both teams were set for decent game time, although Matfield and Malherbe went off injured within the first quarter of an hour for the Saffas. Schalk Burger stood out for the Bokke and seems to get better with age. South Africa were 13-7 up at half time with a try apiece. Genia went off at the break, but he had been incredibly poor – Phipps came on and at least got the back line moving. Pocock came on for Higginbotham and made such a marked difference all over the field. If there is one person that Wales will fear in RWC, it is David Pocock – a real game changer. I would go as far as even saying that without Pocock playing the whole second term then there would have be no way way South Africa would have lost this game!
For the first 72 minutes the atmosphere was pretty subdued. The Springboks had the ascendency all over the field. The Qantas scrum went backwards as normal until the Bokke made mass changes to its front five. Slipper & Kepu must be a worry. Skelton, who is 6’9″ and 148 kilos is visible and makes yards around the field, offers little in the set piece the way the Aussies get dominated. When captain Hooper barged over with less than 6 minutes remaining, you could sense the inevitable. This finally woke the crwod and when South Africa conceded a penalty with less than 30 seconds to go, Qantas made it count – or did they? Kuridrani made a dive for the line through a green wall. The Qantas players celebrated. The replays intimated that the ball more than likely didn’t reach the try line but it was enough for the TMO (a Kiwi before you ask!) to award the try and send the Qantas faithful into delirium. Quite an amazing scene as players, officials and fans alike all gravitated towards the big screens waiting for the decision.
Apparently, this is a try!!!!!
This was a game that should not have been as close as it was. We still had the few that left just before the end “to beat the rush!” A lad and his dad sitting next to us left with the score at 20-17 and about 2 minutes to go. A memory that will be forever lost to young boy!!!! But saying that, all in all the result will mean nothing come September and the World Cup. However in years to come, it may offer everything that the Wallabies will draw upon to win those close games where they will have to pull something out of the bag when it’s most needed. You never know you might be cheering on the Mr. Whippy Wallabies if those numbers come up!
QANTAS 24 – 20 SOUTH AFRICA
The 6 Nations final day had been christened “Super Saturday” as any one of 4 out of the 6 teams could theoretically win the Championship. All 3 games were going to be played consecutively too, which could see more swings and roundabouts than in quite a lot of playgrounds, if you added them all together.
So, Wales were up against it and so it seemed were the Italian authorities. Italy’s national airline, Alitalia went on strike on Friday, as did the air traffic controllers which meant many people’s flights were either cancelled or rescheduled. The people we were supposed to meet rescheduled their own flights to leave Stansted at 945, which all being well, would see them with 40 minutes to get from the airport to make kick-off in time. They strolled in during the anthems……. complete with their carrier bag luggage!!!
The announcement of the teams was quite comical. I’ve never know a 2 syllable name turn into 4 – Rob Evans became Rob-bah Evan-sa – as did most of the Welsh team As the stadium filled up it was quite clear that many, many Welshmen (and women) had made the trip to Rome. Out of the near 66,000 there, it really was a close split in the stands in terms of support. You can normally tell during the anthems quite how many there really is, but the Italian band got “Mae hen wlad fy nhadau” (yes, I had to look up how to spell/write it) so badly out of time, everyone in the stands were all over the shop!!! But the Italian anthem boomed out loud and proud – the band were basically irrelevant. You can’t help but kind of dance and chant along with the Italian anthem – it is one of my favourites – especially the “Sí, Sí, Sí” at the end!
The first half went by in a blur. There was a try to both teams, a key injury to both teams and Italy were showing huge authority up front dominating the Welsh front five. When the Italians get on top, the Italian crowd roars “I-tal-ia, I-tal-ia” and it really is deafening. Who said the Italians didn’t understand their rugby? That fine Italian Samuel Vunisa was plundering the Welsh defences and it was one of his breakout runs that forced Leigh Halfpenny to try and tackle him, copping a knee to the side of the head which effectively ended his participation. Quite possibly the best player and kicker in the game right now, Halfpenny’s absence could have shifted Wales’ thoughts from win big to just win. A late penalty saw Wales go into half time only a point up.
The boys that moved heaven and earth to get to the game were starting to question whether it was going to be the biggest disaster of all time, but after a cloudy start to the day, the sun was beginning to break through…….
The next 35 minutes were perhaps the most exhilarating and possibly the best Wales have played since, well, since who knows when. After Rhys Webb took a quick tap penalty, only Liam (or Lee-amma) Williams reacted quickly enough to support, and duly accepted the gift to score untouched under the sticks. A minute later, Italy attacked by kicking ahead, Lee-amma Williams takes the ball in the air coming forward breaking free and kick starting the George North show. Williams released North 40metres out for an outstanding try; 5 minutes later North powered around the cover defence from 10 metres out on the left wing; another 5 minutes later, North pops up in the centre of the field, barges over two defenders and then sidesteps a third to ghost in between the posts. A 10 minute hat-trick has turned this tight game into an avalanche.
Wales had scored 28 points in the first 20 minutes of the second half and now the abacuses (or should that be abaci?) were out in force. Wales were plus 12, and now add 29 which makes us 4 ahead of England and 8 ahead of Ireland…… The dream was still on, especially as Italy seemed to be folding quicker than the World Origami Championships. When that other fine Italian Quentin Geldenhuys was sent to the naughty chair you could sense a meteoric rise in pressure at Murrayfield and Twickenham.
Rhys Webb went over and then quite possibly the try of the tournament followed. Scott Williams (or Scot-tah Wiliam-sah) fielded a kick 25 metres out from his own line. After cutting across the field and sidestepping inside to the halfway line, offloading to Tipuric who then offloaded to Super Sam Warburton who galloped home in his best Usain Bolt impersonation from fully 40 metres out to dive over untouched. I thought I had seen it all then!
There is nothing more exciting than a BIG man in full steam…..
Like many before in the heart of the Gladiator, Wales were possessed. Italy won an attacking line out on the Wales 5metre line, but Wales somehow turn it over – as quick as a flash and from behind their own line, with quick hands and direct running, 100 metres later Scott Williams crashes over to make the score 61-13. Abaci are out again and now England have to win by 24 and Ireland 28…… could this really happen. Have I traveled halfway around the world to witness quite possibly the biggest comeback since Lazarus?
With only a couple of minutes left, it was very nearly 31 and 35 respectively when replacement half Gareth Davies muffed an interception with only the ball boy to beat. Unfortunately the Azzuri’s Leonardo Sarto managed to break clear from the resultant scrum and score a memorable solo try from 80 odd metres out. Orquera slots the ugliest looking conversion from the touchline to make it a 14 point swing in terms of the title and bring to a close this phenomenal, somewhat bemusing 6 Nations rollercoaster.
This truly was a great game of rugby. It had some of the best tries you will ever be fortunate to witness on an International field. The Stadio Olimpico provided a great stage for the spectacle in front of the most passionate fans you are likely to encounter. The Italians do love their rugby!! If they ever get good – just watch out, it will be a tough place to come and get a result!
The drinking went long into the early evening…. Well it was a 130pm kick off. There was lots of singing; there was masses of celebrations as the 2015 International season came to a head. Thoughts and conversations moved towards the September World Cup’s “Group of Death” which features England, Wales and Australia together where only 2 can qualify for the quarter finals. Jubilant supporters funneled their way back to centre of Rome to enjoy what was left of their Super Saturday; although some of them, whose day started at 3am to try and and make that elusive kick-off were flagging and didn’t make it past 9.30pm.
And then to top off a great, almost magical day, I got hit on in the pub by a 51 year old medium from Morecombe who tried to “read” me. She was convinced that I was really good person inside, and that I was pining for the love of my life who was either Angelina or Angela. To all the Angelinas and Angelas in my life, and in my future life, be ready, I’m coming for you (or I may already have……..)
RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP
ITALY 20 – 61 WALES
After the game, Ireland walloped Scotland, leaving England needing to beat France by 26 points to claim a Championship they barely deserved (ooh, controversial…) They eventually played out a 90 point basketball-esque end to end thriller, overcoming the French Cosmos 55-35; a try short of where they needed to get to – even worse though was the fact that they were camped on the French line for the final couple of minutes when Welsh ref Nigel Owens found a penalty from nowhere to finish the game off, breaking English hearts (sob, sob…). I guess in the end the best team won the Championship – but remind me again, who did they lose to…….
I’m not sure I can take any more of these “honourable defeats”. As Max Boyce (and the rest of the Welsh population like to exclaim) “I was there” when we lost to France at Cardiff 1987 (10-9), Australia in Sydney 2007 (29-23; Australia scored a try after the siren), Australia (again) in Melbourne 2012 (25-23; Australia kicked a penalty after the siren) and now South Africa in Nelspruit 2014 (31-30; South Africa awarded a penalty try with 2 minutes to go). I’m sure there are a couple more, but these are the ones that are forever etched in my brain and deeper still, tattooed with a knife through my heart.
Rugby Union, especially where it concerns the Welsh team, has a habit of breaking your heart – well really it’s more like ripping it out. All of those games I mentioned are the ones where I’ve left as a broken man. I’ve had the sweats; I’ve had the palpitations; I’ve shed the tears! The truth is that, because no one gave Wales a chance (see the video!!!!) it goes some way to describing just how close Wales were to creating history in Nelspruit. Myself, I saw some hope in the last 20 minutes in Durban and the fact that the management only made 2 changes to that side suggests they did too.
I’m not sure how to put the game into words. Wales lead for all but 2 minutes – they started impressively and were in total control of the game, going 17-0 up after half an hour. The Boks were not playing anywhere near as good as they did in Durban, but that was a sign of the pressure they were under from the Welsh onslaught. It was a totally different mindset/gameplan from Wales. I’m still not sure now whether they just froze in Durban and didn’t follow orders or simply just got it wrong (or executed inadequately).
Anyway, enter the world’s favourite referee to ruin a perfectly good game; Steve Walsh decided to get in on the act. After an attacking driving maul, Walsh sinbinned Luke Charteris for bringing it down; and from the resulting penalty awarded a penalty try AND THEN somehow inexplicably decided to bin Dan Biggar as well. This was AFTER awarding the penalty try (double jeopardy??) leaving Wales with 13 men. From the kickoff, the Saffas ran the ball from deep and went the length of the field. With a 2 man overlap and pace to burn it wasn’t surprising they had men over!
But still, like our predecessors at Rorke’s Drift we kept coming and with 14 minutes to play we were still 13 points up! I’ve seen enough of Wales by now to know that if it is possible to stuff up a winning position, we’ll most likely give it a good go, especially against Southern Hemisphere heavyweights.
The difference between winning and losing turned out to be a token outstretched arm – or lack of it. Rod Hull, for those that remember of Emu fame, would have been perfect with his “extension” to just be stuck out there in the stratosphere. The split second decision that Liam Williams made to shoulder charge instead of tackle will probably haunt him for a long long time. Saying that, even after the gift of the game by Walsh and the TMO, Wales still had a couple of chances to win. Biggar snatched at 2 drop goal attempts and there was a deliberate knock on by Steenkamp that was unfortunately missed by Walsh (surprise?) that should have resulted in a kickable penalty.
The Bokke fans knew they got out jail. In test match rugby, there’s no such thing as deserving to win. There is a quantitative aspect to sports and generally whoever scores the most points wins. Yes, there can be honour in defeat but you don’t put honour in record books. However, experience is something that can’t be bought. If there is anything positive to come from this game is the hope that the Welsh team can learn how to close out games they are in control of. A hope that we can compete with the Southern Hemisphere big boys; a hope that games aren’t lost before a ball has been kicked; hope that over 80 minutes games aren’t decided by mistakes; and hope that running rugby, inner belief and hwyl are second nature and not last resort. This performance has me believing in what we can achieve, no doubt it has in the other 3 million of us on the planet!
I don’t usually name names here, but I must point out that Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones, Toby (sorry Taulupe) Falatau and Dan Lydiate were simply outstanding. Falatau’s turnaround from last week was nothing sort of miraculous. Wales missed the hardness of Richard Hibbard as well as Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton immensely, but any team would as those two are truly world class players. The Boks are old up front, but in Willie Le Roux, Bryan Habana and Cornall Hendricks they have the paciest and incisive back three in world rugby.
I managed to talk to Warren Gatland and Rob Howley on Sunday morning and they were still reeling from the events of the game.
When you’re 17-0 up, you shouldn’t lose test matches, no matter what goes on from there – Warren Gatland
I asked Howley whether this one felt worse than Melbourne in 2012 when we lost to penalty after the final hooter (Howley was the stand in coach for that tour) and straight out said this was much worse. Gatland chipped in with “10 times worse”. I caught with Alun Wyn Jones too and to be fair he didn’t want to talk about the game. Safe to say that he said it was one of the hardest, most physical and mentally taxing games he had played in.
It was an absolute pleasure to tour South Africa. We were made very welcome by the dignitaries of Castle Lager, as well as near enough everyone else we met throughout the trip. The host’s hospitality was second to none and even in defeat the Welsh contingent held our heads up high; despite everyone knowing that unfortunately the better team didn’t come out on top on the day. I cannot recommend a rugby tour to South Africa enough. The Saffas are a true rugby (and drinking) loving nation – much like the Welsh! I can’t wait to do it again…….
CASTLE LAGER INTERNATIONAL SERIES SECOND TEST
SOUTH AFRICA 31 – 30 WALES
After the one way traffic of last week’s Australia v France game, I decided I needed some excitement in my life, so I trekked across to Durban via Singapore, Dubai and Cairo. But after nearly doubling the 6,100 miles to try and get to the Test match, I nearly didn’t make it at all. The short 45 minute cityhop from Johannesburg to Durban was cancelled literally 5 minutes from boarding time. The airport was full of Bokke fans going to the game and it sent the place into a frenzy. There were no other suitable flights in the end. So I pallied up with a few of them and 10 minutes later I found myself in their car racing down the freeway ready for a 6 hour drive with 3 Afrikaans who’s only common bond was our love of rugby. Luckily just a few miles down the road one of them had a call from his wife telling him the flight had now been rescheduled to 1250!!!! Perfect, crisis avoided…….
The other passion that the South African and Welsh male share is their love of drinking. So we cruised back to the airport and have a few local brews before our rescheduled flight. There were a lot of relieved faces in the departures lounge I can tell you. Even when the plane left 45 minutes after its rescheduled time it still didn’t matter as we were going to get to the game.
As I made my way to the my hotel, I had to drive past the stadium and even with a couple of hours to go before the game, it looked like it was going to be a decent crowd. I’ll be honest and up front and say that I genuinely thought Wales had a chance, and I was getting more excited by this prospect. South Africa had chosen an “old” team and if there ever a chance to build on that solitary win Wales have over the Saffas, it was today.
I got to the stadium about 20 minutes before kick-off and did my usual lap around the park to sample the atmosphere and see how many Taffs were going to cheer on the boyos. It felt remarkably like being dressed as a Frenchman in Stadium full of Aussies the previous Saturday; as there weren’t more than a hundred of us dotted around. The one group of Welsh fans that stole the show were these lads that constantly were on the big screen and as it turns out all over the internet too. In one report I read it also claimed they were at the World Cup in Brazil!!!!
So with very little fellow support to have a sneaky drink with, I decided to find my seat. Oh my word – I got a front row seat on the 10m line – all for the grand price of $AUS 15!!!
I’m still amazed at my good fortune with the seat and with the people around me, and what happened just 30 seconds in? A lineout right in front of me!
Very early on in the game, you could tell Wales weren’t quite at the races. Even when we took the lead with a Biggar drop goal, it wasn’t long before we were split open and conceding tries…. Before the 20 minute mark we were 21-3 down. We missed Leigh Halfpenny big time – like you miss any world class player, but more noticeably so at full back. 3 out of the 4 first half tries came from kicks. Mind you, two came when Wales were down to 14 men after the good doctor Jamie Roberts decided to tackle Willie Le Roux whilst he was in mid-air catching a kick.
The Springboks have pace throughout the backline whereas we only have it out wide. When you are down to 14 and the chips and kicks constantly turned the centre pairing of Roberts and Davies and put them on their heels. These two would stop a tank from breaking through the gain line, but if you can stop them rushing up to get in your face and hit you hard then its a problem. Le Roux was exceptional throughout. He created 3 of the 5 tries as well as scoring another one himself! That’s what a world class player can offer you!
The last 20 minutes showed great promise. Samson Lee came on and looked solid, as did Ian Evans and James Hook. Phillips was ponderous at best and his replacement, Gareth Davies, sparked Wales into life and at last they started to play rugby. Then this happened (scroll through to 3m20s – I will snip it later) ….
I met some great people in the ground. All too happy to show me a good time and enjoy a load of banter. My beer cup was never empty, unlike the Welsh promises of a contest! I think they were more than happy to accommodate a losing supporter too. I wonder what that would have been like if Wales had pulled off an upset? It always helps when you wear your heart on your sleeve and are out to enjoy yourself. The one great thing too was the amount of women there, and not just there for the day out. They are very knowledgeable and love their rugby.
Kings Park is a great ground – its quite steep sided and fantastic for rugby. They built a brand new ground next door for the Football World Cup which looks absolutely phenomenal – not entirely sure why as Durban isn’t exactly bursting at the seams. It was only 2/3rds full, but the locals tried hard to get some atmosphere going. Difficult when only one team was ready to play I suppose!
So, did the Springboks shut off after going 38-9 up? Did Wales just not turn up for the first 50 minutes? Did the raft of changes that were made during the game really reflect what Wales could do? Will there be a revamp to the starting line-up for the 2nd Test? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m off to Swaziland and onto Kruger National Park to have a look at some lions and stuff.
CASTLE LAGER INTERNATIONAL SERIES FIRST TEST
SOUTH AFRICA 38 – 16 WALES
I watched the highlights on one of the channels next day to find some of the most extraordinary commentary team of all time. One commentator spoke in English (who was a black South African); another spoke exclusively in Afrikaans (who I imagined was a big burly Boer type); and the third switched between Afrikaans and English at will, even in mid sentence!!! It was quite surreal. If I can find this content online, I will post it up here. It is amazing to behold.
June is always a funny month for Rugby Internationals. It’s the tail end of an ever expanding, arduous European season and it’s a complete mid-season break for the Southerners. You sometimes have to feel sorry for those SANZAR players that don’t make it into International squads as they go from the super intense Super XVs into what are essentially, backyard club matches.
The Europeans start their fixturing in August. Their clubs continue through the November Internationals Series there, so their only time off for the elite players is between late June and the start of August! Rugby Union is one of the tougher sports to make a professional career out of and so going hammer and tongs for the best part of 10 months can be a tad exhausting and hard on the body! Thus, it is no wonder why players end up staying home for little niggles and knocks and why France were 4 or 5 players short to at least be competitive on Australian soil this time around.
Brisbane is one of the better venues for International rugby (sport in general for that matter) in Australia. The proximity to the “Caxton Street Entertainment Complex” – if that’s what they want to call 20 odd bars in the strip leading to Suncorp Stadium, then so be it! Come the end of the evening, I guess lots of pissed up rugby goers is entertainment in itself! This year was no different as there was a visiting horde of rugby enthusiasts up from Melbourne on their annual jaunt to the First Test.
The fact that a group of Welshmen, Englishmen, Irish and Kiwis would turn up in full French regalia – complete with baguettes – was somewhat lost on the locals.
Out of the alleged 33,000 at the game there would have been around 1% genuine French support, so they needed all the help we could give them. Unfortunately the atmosphere at the game was as flat as my breadstick after I had sat on it at one of the proceeding pubs. International Day is one of my favourite things in the world. I grew up on a diet of Cardiff Arms Park and Welsh sing-alongs and copious amounts of celebrations throughout the city pubs, no matter if Wales won or lost. During the majority of the time during the late 80s & early 90s it was the latter, which funnily enough made the victories even more of a special occasion. One of the best nights I ever had in Cardiff was when we got done over by Samoa in the 1999 World Cup.
None of us really expected the French to pull a rabbit out of hat here. When Freddie Michalek pulls on the Number 10 jersey for Les Blues, anything can happen. The one benefit of having Michalek in the side is at least they get to park really close to the stadium and the rest of the team have an ample supply of Werthers Originals on hand. Despite having the best “club” rugby competition around, the French still struggle with genuine depth hence why Michalek keeps getting wheeled out at any opportunity in the hope he may be able to find the form of 8-10 years ago.
The Wallabies had a few injuries and form issues of their own. Cooper and Genia were not selected based on their Queensland form, which allegedly upset the local supporters – the excuse trotted out in the press when only 20,000 tickets had be sold on the Thursday before the game. After the British Lions series dominated the Australian winter last year, a half strength French team wasn’t exactly going to inspire the masses – especially with ticket prices starting at $ 59 and a half decent seat setting you back $ 80!
“Offside/Lazy runner” Stephen Moore was appointed captain for this match and 45 seconds after kickoff his game was over, after injuring a knee which may have also ended his season! He wasn’t really missed as the Australian forwards were dominant and provided solid ball for the backs to press and press. They scored after 18 minutes and went in at half time 29-9 up. At this stage, they should have racked up 60 or 70 and they did add another 21 to go 50-9 up. Then either the Wallabies decided enough was enough or France finally woke up and they were rewarded with a couple of late tries to minimize the damage and give them something to build on for the rest of the 3 match series.
To be honest, the Wallabies coasted through and never looked in any danger of slipping up. The French didn’t really threaten until late on and spent much of the time in possession moving sideways instead of forwards. The victorious supporters leaving at the end passed on their commiserations to us battled hardened traveling supporters in their own inimitable way. When the response came back “We don’t really care about it” they skulked off minus the normal smugness reserved for wallopings against teams that don’t really want to be there.
This was my 70th International match. The majority of which have been watching Australia. I still don’t like them and probably never will – forget the probably. No doubt the major contributing factor is that whenever they play Wales, they always manage somehow to sneak a win. Next year sees Australia, Wales and England in the “group of death” at the World Cup. Only two will survive. As long as it’s us and the other two (or four for that matter) beat the living suitcase out of each other, I will be a very happy camper – along with the other 3 million of us on the planet. 2015 looms ever so close now – its going to be the longest 15 months of my life!
Vive Le France and all that sail in her. You have two more chances to inflict pain and terror into this Australian team. The All Blacks, Spingboks, English and Welsh teams will thank you for it in the long run.
The Honey Badger was in good form. He scored a couple of tries and then entertained in the post match in his own inimitable style:
The evening shenanigans were as entertaining as always. The 2012 tour star performer made a triumphant return to the stage before 1030.
Brains SA appeared as if by magic and the novelty of being an honourary Breton survived until the small hours.
I for one can’t wait for next year! Bring on the Irish/Scots/Pacific Islanders…. Fire up the karaoke
CASTROL EDGE INTERNATIONAL SERIES FIRST TEST
AUSTRALIA 50 – 23 FRANCE
The tale of two, last gasp, missed penalty kicks had lead us to this deciding game. It was 2001 all over again and I for one did not want to go through the pain and anguish of what I experienced near enough 12 years ago to the day! When Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty fell short in Melbourne, I started having flashbacks all over again, but the one thing I could predict with the unnerving accuracy of an Olympic archer, was the pounding my liver was going to take in the lead-up to the game. After another week closer to cirrhosis, the final leg of the Lions tour was not going to be a celebratory lap of honour, but hopefully a solid preparation for the glory that could possibly be “the Saturday night to remember”.
However, the Test team announcement on the Tuesday saw some huge surprises. It seemed that Coach Gatland had got his own way at the selection table when 10 Welshmen (just not enough in my opinion!) were chosen in the starting line-up which was beefed up like an East German shotputter. But daggers were thrust through Irish hearts, when the elder statesman of the touring party, and the former “best centre in the world”, Brian O’Driscoll, was dropped completely from the match day squad. I actually went for a “swift half” with an Irish native the day after the team was announced only to be told that “she shouldn’t even be talking to me”!!!! Emotions were certainly running strong.
There is no room for sentimentality in sport any more, especially where the prize, the pressure and the intensity is so great. O’Driscoll has epitomized the spirit of rugby for so long. He is a legend of the game – a moniker I rarely bestow on anyone. But his omission sent shockwaves amongst both the British and Aussie press:
BRIAN O’Driscoll should not only be in the Lions side for Saturday night’s decider, he should be leading the team onto the field as captain.- Tim Horan
A number of decisions on this summer’s tour suggests that the “concept and ethos of the Lions has been forgotten. Nobody can tell me that Jamie Roberts is a better player than Brian O’Driscoll. Robbie Deans must be laughing all the way to Saturday.- Willie John McBride
You just wonder if they got a lucky bag and picked some names out. I was convinced Brian O’Driscoll should have been named as captain. It’s catastrophic leaving him out. He’s still one of the top centres in world rugby. He’s a fantastic guy and has been on four tours and knows it all inside out. It’s a massive mistake.- Ian Robertson
It is a terrible mistake. O’Driscoll has been quiet. But he has been the clarion call once Paul O’Connell got injured. I am totally at a loss.- Keith Wood
Warren Gatland may have made a mistake by axing veteran centre Brian O’Driscoll. I would have paired him with Jamie Roberts for the third Test in Sydney. For me, they are the best centre partnership in world rugby.- Sir Ian McGeechan
For the life of me, I cannot fathom why he [Gatland] has done it. He has never toed the line traditionally. He has had some amazing results, he’s a fantastic coach and rightly the Lions coach, but is he just making a statement that he can do this? – Shane Byrne
It wouldn’t be a genuine Lions tour without some abrasiveness between the 4 Nations. There is always going to be issues with the makeup of any Lions team – there’s never enough Welshmen, Irishmen, Englishmen or Sco…. no, don’t think we will ever have that issue!!!
When a close friend of mine that really only has a passing interest in sport made an impassioned plea to secure a ticket to the game and then drive from Melbourne on the morning of the match, it truly shows the cult appeal that a Lions series can bring. Obviously it’s never just about the rugby, but once you become part of the whole experience it’s a high like no other.
Around Sydney in the lead-up to the game, the highly publicised “Sea of Red” was out in force. Everywhere you went, there were red jerseys – unless you were Irish, then the green version was the colour of choice as symbolic support for the ousted BO’D! Every pub you passed saw Brits of all ages camped out sampling the local amber nectar. What amazed me this time round was the sheer number of the “more mature” tourist – it seems that rugby tour folklore remains in high regard – is 70 the new 40?
Sydney was abuzz with rugby fever. There was little other interest around the city. The day was gloroius – god had turned it on for the game they play in heaven. The stadium itself is a 20 minute train ride from the centre of town. Trains were leaving every 10 minutes and were packed to the point where there were disappointed punters left on the platform – mainly because of those vital 10 minutes of lost drinking time, having to wait for the next train. Upon arrival at Olympic Park, we finally found where the Aussies had been hiding all day. We all adjourned to the monstrous beer tent that had perhaps the longest bar in the world – and it was still 10 deep throughout. Bulk purchases were necessary just to keep hydrated.
The atmosphere in Olympic Park was pumping. The flood of the 83,702 fans into the ground created log jams everywhere. After trekking up the 6 levels and then another 50 odd rows of seats later I said goodbye to my sherpa guide, and my arrival at the summit was greeted by a good number of Lions fans in the manner I have now been accustomed to.
The view from the roof was spectacular, but watching ants play for one of the biggest prizes in rugby is not my cup of tea. At least I was on the half way line – right!!! From the kick-off, the roar of the Lions fans was ear shattering. It got even louder when Will Genia dropped the opening kickoff! A minute later the Lions had scored their first try when Corbisiero bobbed up and bounced over the line. As the game started to take shape the Lions forward strength began to assert itself. When Richard Hibbard, the hooker from Ty Bach, who had been brought in to add some much needed steel, used his face/head to stop evergreen Aussie George Smith. It was Smith who came off second best and had to spend 10 minutes off the field just to check he still had all his faculties in tact!
When the Wallabies prop Alexander was sin-binned for essentially being crap, there was air of inevitability about the result. When the Lions jumped to 19-3, the Wallabies then sparked into action. A twinkle-toed solo try from O’Connor after the siren and two penalties in 5 minutes after the break saw the deficit reduced to only 3 points. When Hibbard was replaced early in the second half, he had put his body on the line so many times the physios had no idea which part of his body needed ice the most!
With just over a half hour to go, mine and many others’ moods feared the worst. The Aussies were on top and had all the momentum. The carnage was immense. On 55 minutes there was a comical moment when 4 players were down and all needed treatment for bleeding injuries. At one stage I think they were even trying to ask qualified doctor Jamie Roberts, playing in the centre for the Lions, to help out with the stitches! This may well have been the turning point though, as straight after this mini-break, the Lions scored a well worked try down the left, after a half break through Davies and then Halfpenny, who sent Sexton through under the posts. If you thought the roar at opening try was loud, the decibels this time were immeasurable.
Just minutes later, this happened:
Halfpenny again made the break from nothing to kill any thought of a comeback. When the Flying Doctor Roberts bust through a weak Aussie defence less than 2 minutes later it was all over. The Gatland masterplan had been executed to a tee and beef and brawn had won the day. The Sydney party had only just begun and the celebrations on the pitch were only a precursor as to what was soon to be occurring throughout Sydney over the next 5 or 6 hours (make that 25 or 26 hours!). The Lions players and officials stayed on the field for the next 40 minutes soaking it all in. This was the first series win since 1997 and we just hope that it’s not another 16 years between drinks – well not between drinks as we all know that they will keep flowing no matter the result!
DHL Rugby Series Third Test
AUSTRALIA 16 – 41 BRITISH LIONS
(Lions win the series 2-1)
And the drinks did flow until the wee hours of the morning. So much so that it was reported that some Sydney establishments ran out of beer (2001 all over again)! It still amazes me that some places are not prepared for what is possibly their biggest drinking day for 12 years! The pub we were in was dreadfully understaffed, but I guess there are only so many backpackers to go round that actually wanted to work today!
The third installment of Mic-watch saw yet another world-class effort from the Brummie.
Another tour has come and gone. The series itself was as engrossing as it could get. The end result could not have been sweeter and the craic will again be lauded over for years to come. New Zealand in 2017 has already been discussed and I have no doubt that as that time draws closer, the stories, the pictures, the memories from the past 12 years will grow into the stuff legends are made of. Let’s hope all our livers recover in time!!!! See you across the ditch in 4 years time.
If you flew into Melbourne this week – on a clear day, which is pretty rare right now – you would have been greeted with this image in a neighbouring field:
Apparently some people have taken this ad as offensive; I’m not sure to whom, but to someone. Certainly not the Brits – definitely not the Irish!
So, the mind games had begun in earnest. Beware an Australian scorned. That has been ringing in my ears all week. Like Shane McGowan, they just keep surviving and hanging in there, no matter what. The Australians are even better at it when their backs are against the wall. They have a siege mentality and after last week’s result, the motivational propaganda was out in force. In 2001, after the “Sea of Red” episode at the Gabba which continues to haunt every international sporting code in Australia, Melbourne was flooded with adverts on billboards, on trucks, in newspapers and on TV urging fans to “Be bold, wear gold.” In 2013 the message had evolved to “It’s on for green and gold – Your country needs you more than ever before!”
The home crowd were implored to “Rise Up, Grab the person next to you and stand shoulder to shoulder for the National Anthem”, like a herd of disillusioned sheep (in their sheepish, canary yellow, Qantas sponsored styrofoam Diggers’ hats – now I do find them offensive!!!). These hats are now the subject of taunts from the Lions fans, who take every opportunity to sing at their counterparts “You’re only wearing yellow ‘cos it’s free…..”, and repeated ad nauseum, until a bite…..
I was perturbed when I saw a number of British & Irish Lions supporters belt out the Australian National Anthem with more fervour than the locals, but I guess that the one downside of not having an anthem to sing at the game, is that you might want to join in with the opposition’s!
56,771 fans crammed into every available space in Etihad Stadium. The official capacity is only 53,359, but with standing and the comically titled “half view” tickets sold to accommodate the ARU’s desire to bleed every last dollar out of the tourist’s phenomenal appeal, 3,412 additional bodies were able to experience what turned out to be a pretty dour and turgid game. The Lions had surprisingly made 5 changes to the winning team from last week – 2 of the forward changes were forced through injury, the other forward & back changes were partly form, partly tactical and the final one at scrum half remains a closely guarded secret…….
For 75 minutes both teams essentially cancelled each other out. It was scrappy affair throughout, there were many handling errors and big tackles, and it was far from the Brisbane spectacle that that had got us more excited than Wayne Rooney at the Early Learning Centre . The one clear chance either team had, Australia took with aplomb. After sustained possession, Adam Ashley-Cooper pounced from 5 metres out through a misaligned defence, to score and cut the Lions lead to a solitary point. Christian Lealiifano, whose debut last week ended after a mere 52 seconds, stepped up and popped over the conversion to reverse that 1 point deficit with only minutes to go. In yet another twist, as the final siren sounded, Australia conceded a penalty on the half way line to give the Lions a chance of victory. Halfpenny’s attempt fell short which sent the home team and crowd into rapture.
The sour point from the night was the injury to the Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton, who may well be missing from the final Test. Although, both captains may well be missing, as James Horwill’s stamping/trampling case is being re-heard in order to further disect evidence to determine his fate. He was moved to tears at the final whistle; perhaps he knows that he will be missing from the 3rd Test…….
The biggest and most extraordinary moment of the game came when this happened:
All the more astonishing is the fact that Folau weighs 106 kgs (234 lbs) and he got picked up and carried like he was a naughty schoolboy (primary school, obviously!)….
The atmosphere reflected the game. It was tense, but electric. The Australians were quiet, but the Brits lacked cohesion. The “LIONS, LIONS. LIONS” chants were regular and loud but lacked variety, and it wasn’t quite enough to get the boys over the line. However, it is the passion on the field that counts and the Aussies had this in spades. The final whistle sparked emotions that you rarely see from this set of players. As long as O’Connor and Beale didn’t celebrate this win like they did the loss last week, they should be in good shape for the third Test.
They were photographed with a Lions fan at Hungry Jacks (Burger King) on Tuesday night at 4am. This after Beale had just spent the previous 2 weeks in a rehab clinic!! They were cleared of any wrongdoing by the ARU though…. Lucky they’re not members of the Aussie cricket team, otherwise there may have been an incident!!!!!
AUSTRALIA 16 – 15 BRITISH LIONS
The second test saw our follow-up installment of Mic-watch. Another solid performance from the big lad.
So, we all head up to Sydney for the deciding Test Match next weekend. The deja-vu of the 2001 series is astonishing. I just hope that result can be reversed, otherwise it’ll be another 12 years of ifs, buts, maybes and what the hell happeneds – aaaaarrrrgggghhhhhh!!!!!!!
There are many reasons why you go to watch sport. There’s the atmosphere generated by the crowd, the pure theatre generated by the match and then there’s the social aspect. International rugby is the pinnacle of this combination, and it is safe to say, that after witnessing my first International Test match at the age of 13 I have been hooked. That afternoon, Wales lost to France by a point in the Grand Slam decider. I stood on an overly packed West Lower stand in the “old” National Stadium (more commonly referred to, incorrectly, as Cardiff Arms Park) where I could hardly see any of the game itself, but that didn’t matter. The banter, the singing, the roar of the crowd when Ieuan Evans scored the try that nearly got us the Grand Slam all live long in my memory. That feeling of pure euphoria I experienced that day I have carried with me ever since; 26 years and 62 International Matches later I am in Brisbane for the first Test of a 3 match series.
The British & Irish Lions games are unbelievably special. Prior to 1997, it was quite rare to have met anyone that had actually seen the Lions play in the flesh. For many British sports fans it was a bucket list item that featured very prominently. The 2001 Australian tour was an eye opener for me. It confirmed that a Lions trip is the ultimate supporter’s tour. With our ever shrinking world, it has certainly become more accessible and more affordable to be able to achieve this once unassailable dream. In 2001, it was estimated that over 40,000 people descended on Australia for the tour itself. With the Australian dollar being so strong, coupled with an extended period of recession in the UK, those numbers are unlikely to be bettered, but it still says something about the draw of the Lions when you have to waver at “unlikely”!
Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium is as close to recreating the Cardiff experience, as you could get. The stadium is close to the city centre, and you get to the ground via Caxton Street – a 400 yard strip full of pubs and restaurants, not that there is much interest in eating on days like this!!! Even at 3pm – 5 hours until kickoff – the area is packed full of Lions fans, and it grows steadily until every pub is full to bursting, until that last hour before kickoff, when everyone files out to the ground down the hill.
As you get into the stadium, the magnitude of the event hits you. The stadium officially holds 52,500. The crowd was announced as 52,499!!!! In 2001 the Aussies were blown away when their home stadiums turned red under the deluge of Lions fans. The gold was in better shape this time round, courtesy of 20,000 silly hats provided by a sponsor, but still the prevalence of the red of the Lions fans marginally outweighed the home supporters, mainly in the cheap seats though!
The game itself took a while to get going, as the players felt their way out. Australia scored a length of the field try, when triple sport sensation Folau finished off a length of the field move for the first of his two sensational tries on his International debut. The Lions kicked a penalty soon after to reduce the deficit, but minutes later, this……
I think the best image is at 1:11 of this clip. When the Aussie that misses the tackle looks up to realise that North is going to score and the head drops. North is a fine specimen of a man. If there ever was a prototype rugby union back, it is this man. Only 21, 6ft 4, 110kgs (230lbs), great pace and agility with quick feet – an awesome combination. I’m just glad he’s Welsh!!! Not long after North was in again in the corner.
However, this time it was adjudged that he was in touch so it was disallowed. Half time saw the teams only separated by a point. The second half seemed to fly by. The Welsh winger Cuthbert scored a cracker of a try early in the second half, but after that, all the subsequent points scored were kicks.
Down by 2 points late on, Australia were awarded a penalty with only around 100 seconds to go, I feared the worst. I have suffered for years watching them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on a number of occasions – more often than not against Wales. You just know that the Aussies will somehow find a way to win, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. And this time was no different.
You cant quite see what happened when he kicked it on that video….. but you can here!!!!
It was a brutal match. The Aussies were unlucky with injuries and it would have been a remarkable win considering. Lealiifano was stretchered off after only 48 seconds of his debut match. His replacement (McCabe) was also injured and replaced. McCabe’s replacement also got injured and Australia ended up with a scrum half on the wing, as the winger (Ioane) had to play in the centre paired up with a forward as they were out of resources – and guess what – Ioane ended up injured as well!!! The Wallabies missed a number of crucial kicks at goal which in the end proved costly. The Lions were more clinical, but all in all there was less than fag paper between them. All I can say is roll on Melbourne!
I got this sent to me by an Australian mate of mine (yes I do have them!) who seemed to point to a selection issue as the Wallabies failure:
Who are the four players that let the Wallabies Down:
3) JOC (James O’Connor)
4) Kurtly Beale
1) Barnes hardly played any rugby and was half injured, yet selected.
2) McCabe hardly played any rugby and was half injured, yet selected.
3) JOC hardly played any rugby and was half injured, yet selected.
4) Kurtly Beale hardly played any rugby and was half drunk, yet selected.
The only blight on the game was the despicable action of the Australian captain, who less than 3 minutes into the game, managed to get away with this….
It’s a weak act to “trample” on a defenseless person’s face, so close to the eyes. He got off as the judiciary could not prove the act was deliberate. In the end no real harm was done, but that is besides the point. I just hope the Lions do not go out to seek retribution of their own next time round.
AUSTRALIA 21 – 23 BRITISH LIONS
Outside of the match; when you have a full day of drinking and merriment, and you forget to eat, there are inevitably some casualties. As the night progressed……
At 2.00am, we were left to get one of our own back to base camp. Luckily the only bodily function he had control of was his legs, so off we trekked, Weekend at Bernie’s style…… 45 minutes and 500 metres later, we ended up at McDonalds!!!!
It’s okay, he was fine next day, well, next evening…….
Guess what though? – no doubt we will do it all again next week in Melbourne…. and then the week after that in Sydney too!!! I love the Lions tours……
It’s a long way to come for a glorified “pre-season friendly”, but Hong Kong is one of the great rugby stopover destinations. Its home to the most famous rugby 7s tournament in the world and the legendary South Stand has a, let’s call it, unique atmosphere, that’s revered in rugby circles throughout.
The weather however is insane. It is 33C/90F from 8am to midnight and the humidity is over 85%. Even just sitting there you are drenched in sweat. After 2 days on the island, my eyes had salt burn! How the hell this pride of Lions supporters survived the heat, I can only guess. Actually, no guessing required – it was 10 litres of Carlsberg each!
Hong Kong Stadium sells its beer in 2 litre pitchers. The idea is that you are supposed to share – but in the end you are so damn heat ridden you drink it all yourself. But 10 minutes after you finish it, you still want more! Not since I was a student have I necked lager so quickly, not on purpose. I did the 3 pints in a minute challenge once and they didn’t taste very nice on the return leg…… At one stage I went to the toilet and I’m sure all that came out was steam!!!! If I was sitting down, I’m sure I would have blanched my arse!!!
The South Stand is not for the faint hearted. It is raucous, it is drunken and more often than not, raucously drunken. The rugby action plays second fiddle to beer skulling, and the skulling gradually gets more adventurous – first there’s the pints, then there’s the litres, then comes the full 2 litre pitcher and then there’s the straight arm skull.
Protagonists obviously wear more than they consume but when they are at that stage of proceedings, they don’t actually care too much!!!
The Lions playing matches “at home” are rarer than America’s grasp on irony – only 4 times out of 609 games have the team played on home soil. I guess the fact that between all the home nations, they don’t know where that exactly may be so they don’t bother??? The Barbarians meanwhile do not actually have a home, so to play this game in Hong Kong to “spread the word” makes it doubly refreshing. It was quite a novelty in times gone by for supporters to have actually seen the Lions play live, seeing as their tours are 4 years apart and always in far flung reaches of the southern hemisphere. The Baa-Baas are unique in world sport in the fact that players are invited to play in each game and not, as such, selected. Even in this game, there were club-mates playing against each other.
The players selected are seen to be upstanding citizens that uphold the traditional values of rugby union – so no Dylan Hartleys on show here. The fact that the Barbarians concept has survived the professional era of the sport is strength in itself, but this thrashing and a similar one just 7 days earlier surely questions the future viability of games of this nature.
So it does come as a bit of a surprise when, 10 minutes into the game, the Barbarians hooker, a South African coincidentally named Brits, throws a left roundhouse elbow into the side of the head of the Lions fly-half Farrell (who was holding him illegally, so it wasn’t entirely unprovoked) and was promptly sin-binned. What is even a bigger surprise is the fact they play for the same cub side in England! In any other game he would have been sent off, and in all fairness if that had happened it would have rendered the game totally redundant for both teams.
As it was, the Lions ran out 59-8 winners with Welshmen scoring the bulk of the points for the Lions. Seven out of the eight tries scored were by Welsh players, which bodes well for the Test team! There were “official” water breaks for the players sensibly. It was amazing to see close ups of the players on the screen, drenched in sweat even after only short stints on the field. I don’t think Adidas quite had this in mind when they designed their “clima-cool” system!!! Bikram Yoga with balls springs to mind!!!!
4 sets of supporters coming together once every 4 years to cheer on one team – in this case it will 5, possibly 6 sets of supporters. No doubt every Kiwi and most South Africans are desperate to see a Lions whitewash of the Aussies!!! I have now experienced 3 of these tours, and the majority of traveling fans are Welsh. We like to watch rugby; we like to drink and most of all, we like to drink at the rugby and sing a few songs. But when your group is made up of 4 certifiably different cultures, what songs do you sing? Bread of Heaven gets a workout, as does Hymns and Arias. Flower of Scotland gets most joining in. It always cheers me up when I see English supporters singing along celebrating their own defeat! Jerusalem is a rugby classic, but it has kind of been adopted by England (& Wales) cricket fans. What did bring the house down though was Oasis’ Wonderwall! I can just see the teams lining up now for their respective anthems…. All together now….. “Today is gonna be a day that they’re gonna throw it back to you……” At least the crowd would sing along!
The game was really a sideshow for the supporters. It was all about enjoying the occasion. The occasion made the crowd and most certainly the crowd made the occasion. It really did feel like an International Day used to feel like. In the build up to the game, much alcohol was consumed by the majority, and the majority had a bloody great time. There was no trouble that I saw, and the partying continued long into the night in the bars and clubs of Wan Chai. Will a fixture like this happen again? I’m not so sure, and in which case I am grateful that I made the effort to go and see it, even if the game itself was a damp squib.
BRITISH LIONS 59 – 8 BARBARIANS