Referee By Royal Appointment

It has been a right Royal month for one of the world’s top referees Alhambra Nievas.

She refereed the Copa del Rey Final (The Kings Cup) in front of  a passionate 21,000 crowd in Vallodolid, where UE Santaboian beat Silver storm El Salavador 16-6 in a match where the rain in Spain fell not mainly on the plain, but mainly and by the bucket load on Estadio Jose Zorrilla.

There was virtually no mention of Alhambra’s refereeing performance in any of the newspaper reports of the match, which is just the way she likes it.

“No news good news” she often tells me, meaning if she does not get a mention in match reports, then done her job has gone well, and as an ex international player she knows  that the players are the main protagonists in our great game.

Media coverage inevitably focuses on the fact that she is a woman, and we both share a  common and fervent hope that the day will soon come day when referee announcements will no longer require a gender prefix.

After the kings cup, the only thing could top that experience was to have lunch with the King of Spain himself, which Alhambra duly did.

It seemed entirely appropriate that our own queen of hearts was invited to the royal palace, I just hope she didn’t shout out a crouch, bind, set instruction to His Majesty  when it was time to eat.

Alhambra’s schedule is non stop and with airports awaiting and rugby matters to attend to, after a brief period of family time, she will be off to Canada and France to referee in the final two legs of the womens world series sevens.

Then it’s back home prepare for this summers big event, the Womens rugby world cup taking place in Ireland throughout August.

There will be world cup warm up games to officiate, followed by a month in Ireland for the tournament itself, where she has promised to buy me a guinness somwhere along the way.

This humble friendly and personable young woman will go about her business in her usual modest and charming manner, leaving the limelight to others whilst spreading the gospel of our great game and its values.

No news good news” ?  When Alhambra is refereeing your match it is definately good news.

Now where’s that Guinness ?






Sevens Heaven The Party In Paris

As the rugby world focused on Edinburgh this weekend, the 16th arondissment that leafy Parisian suburb around Porte de Saint Cloud, played host to the penultimate leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series.

Paris needs no excuse to party, and at the home of European challenge cup winners Stade Francais, Stade Jean Bouin witnessed two days of music, food,drink and top class rugby that ticked all the boxes of a great sporting and social weekend.

The thumping kenyan drum band just came out on top against my rather feeble paracetamol intake, but the headaches were worthwhile.

What the opposing French band lacked in volume they more than made up for in tempo their dubious choice of music underlined as a Gary Glitter hit rocked the stadium at various intervals.

Of course sevens is about more than rugby, and in the capital of fashion the fancy dress, that is now part and parcel of the sevens circuit,  if not exactly Christian Dior was certainly worthy of Christian Califano.

When told that my 70s costume was brilliant it was somewhat embarrassing to state that I hadn’t in fact come in fancy dress, and that I worked for the media Zut Alors !

A largely partisan French crowd came to life when les Bleus took the field, and if their team did not really gel at the weekend one sumptuous offload from Vakatawa was worth the admission fee alone.

The photo in Sunday’s L’equipe does not do justice to the beauty of that one act, it would need a painting by one of the French impressionists to truly convey the sheer uplifting joy of the pass, which Vakatawa followed up himself to score a try that created such a roar causing  the coffee cups to rattle as far away as the Gare du Nord.

My Monday roar was almost hijacked by a lovely bottle of Merlot last night but ever the proffesional I managed to assume some self control  just in the nick of time.

The nuts and bolts of this tournament are that South Africa won it and won the trophy, but the cold statistics are somewhat secondary.

Having  been a bit sniffy about sevens, I will never forget the sheer joy  and comraderery of the fans ,the smiles On the children’s faces as they clutched their freebies from the sponsors,  the rugby themed games in the tournament village and the  local coaches playing with the kids, and showing how much fun can be had in this great game.

It was more like a recruitment and open day for the sport of rugby, and I promise I will sniff no more, because the joy on show was genuine and overwhelming and I left that leafy Parisian suburb uplifted and desperately wanting to go for a kick about in the parc.

I was in sevens heaven

Paris 7s Winners South Africa

A Fistful Of (NZ) Dollars 

New Zealand sports minister Jonathan Coleman, and other government ministers, were rubbing their hands with glee recently, when they announced that they are expecting significant economic gains from the visit of the 2017 Lions.

One NZ journalist told me “The Lions just defecate cash, it’s like Santa arriving with a bag of money which virtually trebles the income of the governing body overnight

20,000 Lions supporters travelled to the land of the long white cloud in 2005, which resulted in 431,000 international visitor bed nights, of the 360,000 match tickets available on tour, 355,000 were sold.

35,000 lions supporters are expected to arrive in 2017, and everyone is attempting to cash in.

Virtually all accommodation at every venue is sold out, although some basic accommodation is available for £670 a night, in Wellington, on the night of the second test, and they have even thrown Lenny Henry out of the Premier Inn to make a few more dollars more.

in 2005 the NZ national economy benefited by 115 million dollars in foreign exchange gains, and 250 million dollars in tourism receipts.

Whilst some these figures are open to interpretation, what cannot be argued is the fact that New Zealand rugby banked 20.4 million dollars from the 2005 Lions tour.

Last week New Zealand rugby published its annual report for 2016, which showed a loss of six million dollars.

It seems that a visiting Lions tour is the only way to ensure that NZ rugby achieves a  profit.

New Zealand is not the only country to benefit, after the last Lions tour in 2013, the Australian rugby Union made £40m enabling them to wipe out their £12.2m debt.

So it makes it even more galling when the Lions are handicapped by a ridiculous schedule and a total lack of preparation time.

In a five-week period the tour includes matches against all five Kiwi Super Rugby franchises, as well as the New Zealand Maori, and a three Test series against the All Blacks.

The Home Unions committee agreement, drawn up to cover Lions tours from 2001 to 2017, was detrimental to the touring side from the outset, and subsequent coaches have advocated strongly that no tour should depart after 2017 without all the players having at least two weeks preparation time together.

The leverage the Lions financial clout gives them should also have been a major factor in negotiations with New Zealand Rugby this time around.

Many players will leave for New Zealand only 48-hours after playing in the Premiership and Pro12 finals, to face the most brutal schedule the host nation has been able to put together, this should never have been agreed

But it is not just New Zealand that are responsible, lack of cooperation closer to home, in fact at home, has added insult to injury.

A Lions request that the tour should start a week later, to enable the squad to have seven days of preparation before the opening match against a Provincial Union XV, and so that the final test could be played on July 15 rather than July 8, was refused by Premiership Rugby.

Premier rugby said that the decision to oppose any changes to the tour dates was taken in the interests of player welfare, and that the end of the tour would be too close to the start of the new season.

The same body that now propose an eleven month domestic season in England, and support a condensed six nations tournament.

Strange days indeed.


















£21 For a Pair Of Socks The Cost Of Lions Commercialism

At the British & Irish Lions squad announcent last Wednesday, the ever increasing list of associated sponsors were announced, not once, but twice and no doubt there were subtle references throughout the day that I missed due to a great buffet and an even greater coffee machine.

The financial side of a Lions tour throws up some staggering statistics, not least the cost of a replica shirt at £120, Which is small fry compared to The Thomas Pink range, an official Sponsor, where you can buy a Lions scarf for £150 or a blazer based on the official Lions range for £495.

At the lower end of their range you can get a pair of socks for £21, which as a man who gets 50 pairs for a fiver in Primark I find absolutely staggering.

But even I weakened last week when I found in my goodie bag, from the launch, a Gillette (another official sponsor) razor and extra blades which as any man knows costs a weeks  wages these days.

I felt like a lottery winner as after three hours of effort I managed to break into the reinforced plastic pack with a bread knife, and perform the complicated locking procedure between the arm of the razor and the blade.

Another gift in the goody bag was a pair of flight pyjamas from the official airline Quantas, to help make the flight down under more comfortable.

My Lions travel schedule will involve an early morning walk downstairs negotiating two cats and a Labrador puppy to get to the television, but it’s the thought that counts.

Warren Gatland has stated that he has spent more time pleasing sponsors than he has watching rugby, the price a head coach has to pay in exchange for the millions of pounds the eleven major sponsors are ploughing in.

The Lions pay each of the home unions a fee of £70,000 per player selected,as compensation for their unavailability to under their nations summer tour.

Insurance cover for the players,on the tour to New  Zealand,will exceed the one million pound mark, and the players wage bill will exceed £3.5 million, so there is a lot of money involved.

The players themselves will receive a basic £70k tour fee plus a lucrative bonus should they win the test series

So it’s time for me to try out my official Lions razor I just hope the test series will be a close shave .

Next week I will be looking at the effect a Lions tour has on New Zealand’s national economy. 

Some very interesting figures emerged from my investigation.

The Hoof Under The Roof Judgement Day V

It has always been said that rugby is a religion in Wales, so on Easter Saturday a Guinness Pro 12 double-header at the cathedral of Welsh rugby seemed entirely appropriate.

The pilgrimage to the principality stadium resulted in a congregation of 60,642 worshippers from all parts of the country and beyond.

One definition of judgement day is “The time of the last judgement, the end of the world”, and as the Ospreys trudged off the field after their defeat in the opening game,the end of the world appeared to be an extremely apt description of their collective mood.

As for Cardiff Blues, well the book of revelation would not have done justice to their  incredible 35-17 victory, scoring five tries in the process, and from the moment the Ospreys defence parted like the Red Sea, in the 6th minute, there was only one team in it.

Blues led 21-3 at half time and after 46 minutes were 35-3 ahead to the disbelief of everyone present.

Two late tries from the Ospreys gave the scoreboard a less embarrassing look, but this was a good old-fashioned thrashing make no mistake.
Sadly we went from feast to famine in the second game of the day , a Scarlets v Newport Gwent Dragons encounter that made watching paint dry seem like a white knuckle ride in comparison.

Two penalties apiece made it  6-6 at the interval, the most exciting break in a dire first half came from a pitch invader, who even ten minutes into the second half , was still favourite for the man of the match award.

Fortunately after a Jon Davies try on the hour mark, Liam Williams woke us from our slumber with a try and a place kicking display that revealed his ability to hit goalposts from a variety of angles and distances.

In the 79th minute a sweeping move from the Dragons ended with a superb try from Hughes which was without doubt the highlight of this turgid affair

A win for Scarlets that cements their play off hopes, but a huge disappointment for the crowd that was expecting much more in the way of excitement from such a talented back division.

Making his 150th Pro 12 refereeing appearance in the match was Wales’ national treasure Nigel Owens, a remarkable statistic from a remarkable man.

An afternoon under the closed roof of the principality stadium drew to a close, and as the masses exited the dark bowl, blinking into the bright blinding low evening sunlight, the talk of Dragons becoming extinct was on everyone’s lips, a proud rugby land without Dragons ? Blasphemy surely.

Lions In Syon The Mane Event

In the space of two days this week we have witnessed the best and worst kept secrets of 2017 thus far.

On Tuesday Teresa May announced a general election, to everyone’s surprise, whilst on Wednesday morning Sam Warburton was officially revealed as captain of the 2017 British & Irish lions, hours after the head of world rugby had congratulated him, on Twitter on, his appointment, and various photos were posted showing Sam with the Lions management at the Syon Park hotel in his full Lions kit.

Despite this major leak, there was still a huge sense of anticipation on a sunny spring morning at the Syon Park Hilton in south-west London, as Warren Gatland  unveiled the 41 man squad for the 2017 British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand.

A huge media presence gathered to watch the announcement made by tour manager John Spencer, who revealed one by one the names of the 16 English, 12 Welsh, 11 Irish and two Scots that will carry the hopes and dreams of thousands of fans in the land of the long white cloud this summer.

The squad consists of 22 forwards and 19 backs, with Maro Itoje the youngest player at the age of 22.

On his choice of Warburton as captain Gatland had this to say:

“Sam is a great player, an outstanding leader and a winning Lions captain”.

“We believe that Sam’s experience and leadership qualities make him an obvious choice as captain. He has earned the respect of his peers and coaches through his resilience, tenacity and hard work.”

On the eve of the announcement Warburton attended a private dinner with all the living Lions captains in the Hilton Syon Park.

The modest and delightful young man had this to say  ”

“Being in the same room as so many Lions legends was an amazing experience. I feel humbled and extremely proud to be given the opportunity to captain the Lions for a second Tour and look forward to playing the world champions on their own turf with the best players of the UK and Ireland at my side.”

Sam is such a humble character he may not realise he is actually a Lions legend himself.

Having spoken to Warren, Graham Rowntree and Rob Howley it is evident that the selection of the tour party was a difficult and demanding process and they all felt the weight of responsibility on their shoulders, people may disagree with some of their choices,  but it would be very difficult to question the integrity of the process.

So there we have it, after months of speculation the Lions are raring, or should that be roaring to go.

The Tour Party


Dan Biggar – Ospreys, Wales

Elliot Daly – Wasps, England

Jonathan Davies – Scarlets, Wales, Lions #778

Owen Farrell – Saracens, England, Lions #780

Leigh Halfpenny – Toulon, Wales, Lions #775

Robbie Henshaw – Leinster Rugby, Ireland

Stuart Hogg – Glasgow Warriors, Scotland, Lions #783

Jonathan Joseph – Bath Rugby, England

Conor Murray – Munster Rugby, Ireland, Lions #790

George North – Northampton Saints, Wales, Lions #792

Jack Nowell – Exeter Chiefs, England

Jared Payne – Ulster Rugby, Ireland

Jonathan Sexton – Leinster Rugby, Ireland, Lions #791

Tommy Seymour – Glasgow Warriors, Scotland

Ben Te’o – Worcester Warriors, England

Anthony Watson – Bath Rugby, England

Rhys Webb – Ospreys, Wales

Liam Williams – Scarlets, Wales

Ben Youngs – Leicester Tigers, England, Lions #799



Rory Best – Ulster Rugby, Ireland, Lions #793

Dan Cole – Leicester Tigers, England, Lions #794

Taulupe Faletau – Bath Rugby, Wales, Lions #779

Tadhg Furlong – Leinster Rugby, Ireland

Jamie George – Saracens, England

Iain Henderson – Ulster Rugby, Ireland

Maro Itoje – Saracens, England

Alun Wyn Jones – Ospreys, Wales, Lions #761

George Kruis – Saracens, England

Courtney Lawes – Northampton Saints, England

Joe Marler – Harlequins, England

Jack McGrath – Leinster Rugby, Ireland

Ross Moriarty – Gloucester Rugby, Wales

Sean O’Brien – Leinster Rugby, Ireland, Lions #796

Peter O’Mahony – Munster Rugby, Ireland

Ken Owens – Scarlets, Wales

Kyle Sinckler – Harlequins, England

CJ Stander – Munster Rugby, Ireland

Justin Tipuric – Ospreys, Wales, Lions #786

Mako Vunipola – Saracens, England, Lions #787

Billy Vunipola – Saracens, England

Sam Warburton (Captain) – Cardiff Blues, Wales, Lions #800

Wednesday’s Rugby World Cup Pool Draw Explained

World Rugby and the Japan 2019 organising committee will host the Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw on Wednesday in Kyoto’s State Guest House.

The iconic venue is a national symbol in Japan and has played host to globally important meetings, including hosting world leaders at the 2016 G7 summit.

Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan comprises of 20 teams allocated into four pools of five teams.

The 12 directly qualified teams from Rugby World Cup 2015 will be seeded based on the World Rugby World Rankings on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 and positioned into three bands of four teams.

The 12 directly qualified teams are those that finished in the top three of each RWC 2015 pool and are:

1. New Zealand – Rugby World Cup 2015 champions
2. Australia – Rugby World Cup 2015 runners-up
3. South Africa – Rugby World Cup 2015 semi-finalist
4. Argentina – Rugby World Cup 2015 semi-finalist
5. Wales – Rugby World Cup 2015 quarter-finalist
6. Scotland – Rugby World Cup 2015 quarter-finalist
7. Ireland – Rugby World Cup 2015 quarter-finalist
8. France – Rugby World Cup 2015 quarter-finalist
9. England – Rugby World Cup 2015 third in Pool A
10. Japan – Rugby World Cup 2015 third in Pool B
11. Georgia – Rugby World Cup 2015 third in Pool C
12. Italy – Rugby World Cup 2015 third in Pool D

The remaining eight teams for RWC 2019 will come through the global qualification process, which kicked off in 2016, and will be known as:

1. Oceania 1

2. Europe 1

3. Americas 1

4. Oceania 2

5. Africa 1

6. Americas 2

7. Play-off winner

8. Repechage winner

As with previous RWC tournaments, there will be four pools of five teams. Each team will be banded according to strength to try and ensure evenly matched pools. The teams in each band will be randomly drawn to determine the pools they go into.

The 12 directly qualified teams will be allocated into the top three bands as follows:

Band 1 The four highest ranked directly qualified teams

Band 2 The next four highest ranked directly qualified teams

Band 3 The final four directly qualified teams

The eight qualifying place will be allocated to the other two bands, Band 4 & 5.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “The pool draw is an important milestone on the road to Rugby World Cup 2019 as it really drives excitement and momentum both in the host nation and throughout the global rugby family – it is the moment when teams and fans really start to plan for their Rugby World Cup 2019 experience.

The timing of the draw two and a half years out from Rugby World Cup 2019 enables RWCL and Japan Rugby 2019 to develop the match schedule in association with Rights Holding broadcasters, confirm venues and base camps and provide teams with an appropriate lead-in time to maximise planning and preparation.”

Japan Rugby 2019 organising committee Chief Executive Akira Shimazu said: “It is the first time that the pool draw has been hosted outside of the UK or Ireland and we are determined to make the most of this opportunity to showcase the very best of Japan to the world, and the best of rugby to Japan. It is very exciting.”

The draw will be broadcast live via World Rugbys suite of digital and social media platforms, starting at 17.00 (Japan time, 09.00 BST).

Kyoto State Guest House