Don’t Let Condensation Ruin The Six Nations


I heard last week that plans to condense the six nations are gathering momentum.

Condensation is a dreadful thing, just ask Craig Doyle of BT Rugby, maybe he can use contacts from his old job to double glaze the tournament and prevent this condensation from happening.

This is your Everest boys as Jim Telfer would say.

Ian Richie the CEO of England rugby supports plans to reduce the tournament’s length, and play it over five consecutive weekends

Unlike his namesake, Lionel, I’m not exactly dancing on the ceiling at the prospect


Richie says

We believe it is perfectly right to have a six-week competition as opposed to seven, it would narrow the off periods and help with the broader narrative, we think it would improve it”

I have to confess I have no idea what a broader narrative is, in this case, and even less of an idea as to whether or not it would be helped, but I do know that once again player welfare has been kicked into touch, and that is as broad a narrative as I need.

England with their strength in-depth may be the only home nation to benefit from such a reduction in recovery time, so maybe this is a factor in Richie’s stance.

Can you imagine  having to play the following weekend after the brutal Wales v Ireland encounter ?

Even more so in the case of the Scottish players, who suffered multiple injuries against England, having to return to action six days after the Twickenham clash would be a massive disadvantage.

The six nations board meet in April, and are expected to ratify plans to adopt a six-week tournament from 2020, with only a one week break between the third and fourth rounds

The old saying if it ain’t broken don’t fix it seems a very apt one in relation to the six nations tournament.

 

RUGBY WORLD MAGAZINE TWITTER POLL


Last week Rugby world posted a tweet asking “where was the furthest distance anyone had travelled to watch a rugby match”

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I didn’t feel remotely qualified to answer this question, as all my rugby life on and off the field has been spent in Europe.

 
Then it suddenly dawned on me that I must have travelled further than anyone, because following Wales for forty nine years has taken me to hell and back, and that is quite a distance.

France Find Their Bite In Six Nations Finale

The final weekend of the RBS 6 nations, the tournament that straddles the seasons turning  winter into spring.

As with age, this years tournament seems to have passed by even quicker than ever.

This weekend I let the train take the strain and headed to Paris for France v Wales, an encounter which in my youth, invariably decided the outcome of the 5 nations tournament as it was then named.

The title always seemed to go to which ever team had home advantage that year, and the titles transferred hands on an almost annual basis.

A lot of water has passed under the pont neuf since then, and on this super Saturday the encounter had moved down the billing, and was the mid table fixture sandwiched between the wooden spoon and title winners.

A grey blanket hung over the Stade de France with a light drizzle falling since early morning, it looked more Pontypridd than Paris.

An early try by France looked ominous, but Leigh Halfpenny’s boot kept Wales in touch


To cut a long story short, a pretty scrappy uneventful match came to life in the last twenty minutes, unbelievably these were twenty minutes of stoppage time, during which the controversy increased minute by minute.

The match finally ended on 99.55 minutes, (more injury time than a M*A*S*H box set), when Damien Chouly went over for a French try, following eight penalties, one free kick and twelve scrums for the home side.


George North who has now got his bark back, was bitten by a French player, who was unable to be identified by the TMO.


This disgraceful incident may go unpunished due to lack of television footage, but the mark on North’s arm leaves no doubt that it took place, and French comments that it was self-inflicted, if not so hideous, would be laughable.

To add insult to injury France manufactured a way, to get their first choice prop, Rabah Slimani, back on for the vital scrums, when the French doctor Philippe Turblin insisted Antonio go off for a head injury assessment, which he duly did, whilst limping and clutching his groin, thank goodness for the hippocratic oath.

Prior to the change,one of the French coaches could be seen leaving the technical area, to speak to the doctor who then ran on to the field to withdraw Antonio.

Rob Howley the most affable and mild-mannered man you could ever wish to meet had the eyes of a cheated and incensed man, at the press conference following the game, he accused France of bringing the integrity of the game in to disrepute.


In fairness Wales were poor, they hardly threatened the French line, and once again too many basic errors cost them dearly, along with a scrum that was like a blancmange in the face of the gargantuan French eight.

So Spring is here, but Wales left Paris with very little bounce in their step

Au Revoir mes amis

 

 

 

Parisian Walkways And The Magic Of France v Wales


I remember vividly my first France v Wales match in Paris, it was on 17 February 1979, three days after my nineteenth birthday.

With long jet black hair and a face full of acne I felt like I was heading to another planet.

Thirty eight years later as I prepare to head to the city of lights, the acne has gone, but sadly so has all the jet black hair.

In mid February 1979 the whole of Northern Europe was engulfed in sub-zero temperatures, and snow was on the ground as I headed to Heathrow to catch a Gulf Air flight to Paris.

In fact the match itself was in doubt earlier that week, due to a piece of the roof falling off at Parc Des Princes attributed to the Siberian weather that had hit the French capital.

These were the days when airport security was unnecessary and virtually non-existent, the great Wales prop Denzil Williams walked through the boarding gates swigging from a large bottle of brandy, and no one batted an eyelid.

Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport was like entering another world, it was the first time I had seen a policeman with a gun, in fact the entire staff of the airport appeared to be armed, including the cleaners.

But, the biggest shock of my life was about to occur, my first visit to a French toilet.
Now I had never been outside the UK, and nothing had prepared for the experience of “using” a urinal, whilst a French woman sang and polished the one next to me.

I was from West Wales, where even making eye contact with someone in a lavatory was deemed to be depraved behaviour, and then to cap it all, there was another woman sat at the exit of the establishment, with a saucer full of francs to which I embarrassingly had to make a contribution.

All weekend Paris was engulfed in a freezing cold, misty blanket, which didn’t help my main problem, dog mess !

Now I have never seen, before or since, so much dog mess in one city, as I did in Paris that weekend, I never saw any of the sights as I was too busy looking down at the pavement, leaping around like Rafa Nadal to avoid slipping on either canine excretion or ice.

The epicentre of this problem was right outside the Port de Saint Cloud metro station, the nearest station to the Parc Des Princes, where France played in those days, as did the football team Paris St Germain.

The Parc Des Princes was like a bear-pit inside, but lacked in asthetic beauty and resembled NCP car park from the outside.

The atmosphere in the ground was very hostile, unlike the sanitized Stade de France of today. 

The Wales time were roundly booed when they entered the fray, but the French saved their ire for the Gendarmerie brass band who were heckled so loudly that it was impossible to hear a note they played.

Having a ticket was somewhat superfluous , as every row of ten seats contained at least twenty people in situ, I had a burly Basque farmer on my lap for most of the first half, and in fact it was so cold, I was glad of the warmth.

He had a leather satchel draped around his neck filled with home-made Pyrenean brandy, which made him look like a Gallic St Bernard.

The bearded, beret clad St Bernard insisted every time Wales, or France, were awarded a penalty,that we both take a swig from his attachment, in the interests of Cymric/Gallic relations I felt it only polite to comply.

Wales were coming to the end of their golden era in 1979, JPR Williams was still around, and captained the team, and a new young star was emerging at scrum half in the shape of Terry Holmes.

For the record France won 14-13, with the scores at half time level at 7-7
Jean Francois Gourdon scored two tries for France, and Aguirre kicked two penalties.
For Wales, Terry Holmes scored a try, and Steve Fenwick kicked three penalties.

The wonderment of that first trip has gone, but the magic of Paris and a French home rugby international is something I never tire in experiencing .

Welsh Wails As Bread Of Heaven Goes Stale

We Welsh are an emotionally complicated people, prone to melancholy certainly, appearing to be perpetually sat on an emotional see-saw.

Roller coasters do not even come close to giving us the ride that following our national rugby team provide.

My great gran always had a hankie in hand to wipe away the tears from her eyes, tears created by sadness or laughter, there never seemed to be a halfway house of emotion.

Nothing embodies these characteristics more than being a Wales supporter.

There is a school of thought that being an All Blacks fan must be the most boring sporting role on earth, they hardly ever play badly and defeat is even more of a rarity.

There are some of us Welsh, who wouldn’t mind a few years of “boredom”

So why the melancholy ? Ok the weather doesn’t help, west maybe best, but sadly it also nearer the Atlantic, those beautiful green hills of Carmarthenshire don’t get to be that shade of green without the assistance of the weather systems brewed up in the bay of biscay.

At the moment a deep depression has settled in the west and has spread eastwards covering the whole country.

The long range forecast does not look promising, with the potential for a group of death even further east in 2019, at the rugby World Cup in Japan, although in the land of the rising sun maybe the weather will improve.

If Wales were caught between two stools in the autumn then they now find themselves caught between three stools, a kitchen table and a fridge freezer.

Young exciting rugby talents riddled with splinters, from sitting on the bench since last autumn, anxiously await a call up to national service, as many of the the old guard, both players and management, perform below par in an ever changing game in which Wales appear to be falling further and further behind.      

The 2017 six nations is lost, but there is an added ingredient this year, as the 2019 rugby World Cup draw is due to take place in May, based on team rankings at the the end of the tournament.

Wales are currently seventh in the world rugby rankings, and if they beat either Ireland or France in the coming weeks they will maintain that ranking.

If Wales lose both their remaining matches against Ireland and France, they will drop out of the top eight, and will get a tougher World Cup pool, with two top eight teams in their group, as happened in 2015.

By all accounts the Welsh camp is not a happy place, that Welsh melancholia has taken hold, there appears to be very little joy on the field, the fear of failure suffocating every move, every decision every waking moment.

As spectators and fans you feel for them, no Welsh team has worked harder or been braver.

For the next three weeks the pressure will be even greater to get that important win, but after that Wales really need to sort things out, sadly with Gatland and Howley on Lions duty, there will be a considerable delay in the much needed reformation.

So for the foreseeable future I suggest you hold on to your hankie.

 

Bernard Laporte’s Grand Plans For Les Bleus

French Federation president Bernard Laporte has spoken passionately in favour of his plan to introduce federal contracts and reform the approach to player development in France.

Les Bleus sit fifth in the RBS 6 Nations table after three matches, having beaten Scotland and lost away to England and then Ireland this weekend.

While France claimed the Grand Slam in 2010, they have not finished in the top half of the Championship in five seasons, and finished bottom of the table for the very first time in 2013.

As a result Laporte, who was elected president in December, has vowed to bring in strong measures to reverse this trend, introducing contracts with the FFR as well as working hard on the development of young players.

On Sunday, speaking on the programme Stade 2 on France 2, he went into depth about his plans for the national team, using the examples of Ireland and Scotland to illustrate his vision for the future.

Laporte explained that the players had already signed an initial commitment to the new reforms, with hopes to have federal contracts in place within two to three weeks.

“The first thing is to protect the French national team,” said Laporte, who coached France for eight seasons, winning four RBS 6 Nations titles including two Grand Slams, while he also coached Toulon to three European Cup titles.

“Other teams have reformed, I’m not talking about the southern hemisphere, I’m talking about the north, Ireland and Scotland. Protecting means that a player is available for France a lot more than they are today.

“There have been improvements but we realise that even the current convention isn’t enough.”

A new convention was signed in July 2016 for four years under previous FFR president Pierre Camou, giving France coach Guy Novès greater access to his players.

In this year’s Championship, the France coach has been able to keep an extended group of players with him over rest weekends thanks to a new elite list, rather than having to release them back to their clubs.

However Laporte wants to go further, giving Novès more time with the squad in the short-term, while working on development in the longer term.

He added: “There are two main axes, one is development. That I care about, there are too many positions where we lack players because our development isn’t ideal. So we will put people on the ground to train the coaches of young players and that’s a long-term project that we’re trying to put in place. And in the short term we want to protect the French team.

“On Monday we signed contracts with the players, individually, on a new convention, which we will go back over, but which is above all a commitment to say they are in favour of our project and the creation of federal contracts. So that players have a contract with their club and with the federation is the most important.

“When I say (the players will be contracted for) six months, that’s approximate, but for me if the French team is to be strong, the players have to have more preparation and recovery time than they have right now. The French team has to become our priority once again, like Ireland or Scotland.”

The next step for Laporte will be to negotiate with the LNR and the clubs to get them to agree to a new convention.

Midi Olympique Read All About It

One of the many joys of covering rugby in France is ordering an early morning coffee and croissant , whilst watching the world go by with a copy the sports daily, L’equipe.

The pleasure is even more enhanced on a Monday and a Friday thanks to that wonderful golden periodical MIDI Olympique.

To the uninitiated MIDI Olympique is a newspaper devoted solely to rugby, and is nicknamed “le Jaune” (the yellow) due to the colour of its pages.

In 1929,when it was first published, all sports newspapers were printed on coloured paper, and on September 2 of that year, when the first edition was published, the only colour available was yellow the pages of the paper have remained golden to this very day.

Now owned by the newspaper group La Depeche, Jean Jacques Pouch was the man who launched that first edition.

The fact that France was deprived of any international rugby, followed by the outbreak of war,made life difficult for a newspaper which was originally sold only in the Toulouse area.

The Monday edition carries a red nameplate, and Friday’s a green, hence they are known colloquially as le Rouge, and le vert.

MIDI Olympique was published on Mondays only until spring 2006, when a Friday issue arose .

Now one of the oldest weekly French newspapers in existence, the figures for 2005 stated that 140,000 copies were printed on Mondays and 120,000 on Fridays.

Midol’s in depth coverage is second to none and gives the French Womens international team a quality coverage that other countries can only dream of receiving.

So here’s to another cafe creme and happy reading.

 

Guilhem Guirado The Rock Of The Pyrenees


Arles Sur Tech is a tiny village, set in a scenic forested valley, in the eastern foothills of the pyrenees, where catalan and French are spoken.

It is less than one hours drive from the Spanish border, a journey which has a major relevance to one of its inhabitants, France captain Guilhem Guirado.

In stature and appearance, he is exactly how you would imagine a French hooker to look like.

At 5ft 11ins and 15 stone 8lbs, he is as tough and solid as the local Pyrenean Boulders on the field, and as calm and gentle as the meandering river tech off it.


A private man who puts his love of his family above all else, his grandparents were part of the 500,000 Spanish exodus, that fled the violence of the Spanish Civil War, and crossed the Pyrenees with the one sole aim of finding refuge in France.

His parents were born in Granada, and were only five years old when they arrived in France with almost nothing to their name.

“Until I was 15 all I knew was this village where my grandparents had arrived, my favourite memories are from here, I loved being that age, it is here everything really started for me and I found a passion for rugby”

Guilhem is a man who knows where he is, and more importantly  where he has come from.
I first met him at the RBS 6 nations launch in 2016, after he had just been revealed as the new France captain, he stood out as a man at peace with himself taking everything in his stride in a calm and measured manner.


“To know where you want to go you need to know about where you came from and the determination that went before” he says philosophically, and when you delve into his family history you get a sense of where that inner strength has come from.

“What I like about rugby is the direct confrontation with an opponent a physical contest and collisions tackles”

But when he gets home he puts his bag down and rugby is finished

“The most important thing for me is my family and the people who are around me, whether my parents, grandparents wife or daughter”.

“It’s my stability it’s something that allows me to put things into perspective, to be able to relax and see life in a different way, I’m not only thinking about rugby and that allows me to perform well on the field”

CAPTAINCY


“I don’t have a specific style it is mainly a feeling, a lot of conversations and a lot of questioning, and the captain is nothing without the players around him”

“It is a great pride, a huge honour for all that it means for me and for France”

WEARING THE FRENCH JERSEY


“I think it’s always an honour to play for and represent France, everything goes more quickly and it is a bit stressful because of the fear of not being up to the mark, you want your family to be proud of you”
“I like to know what has happened in the past and immerse myself in it because I also have to represent all the former players, there have been some huge players, and great hookers who have gone before me”

“For me this shirt really represents the welcome given to the Spanish exiles, I am French I grew up in France, it is a country that was ready to welcome to my grandparents so of course I think of them”

PLAYING CAREER


“My first memory is the first time I played rugby, it was with all my friends in Arles sur tech, and the most beautiful thing is we all got to know each other on the rugby field, and today we are still sharing our lives and great moments together”

“I have been lucky to be able to play for my club that made me dream when I was a kid, the Perpignan team USAP, and finally to be able to play with France a few years later, and now to play with RC Toulon with the best players in the oval world” 

He won his first cap on 9 March 2008 , coming off the bench against Italy at the stade de france in a 25-13 victory “I remember my first cap, a special taste, I remember it like it was yesterday”

His first start for France came in the 2010 autumn international against Fiji.

Currently standing on forty-eight caps, and with four tries for his country, injuries apart, he looks set for a long run as captain of France, indeed Guy Noves has spoken publically of his desire to keep the “Toulon Talonneur”as skipper for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Whatever happens you sense that Guilhem Guirado will take it all in his stride, his mother says “He must never forget where he is from, it is his strength” and as we all know, mothers are usually right.