Back To The Future with Harlequins Women

14 months ago I walked away from Surrey Sports Park in Guildford, having been match announcer at the Premier 15s match between Harlequins Women and the team formerly known as DMP Sharks.

Little did we know at the time what the world had in-store for everyone, so to be back there this afternoon after such a long gap, felt quite an emotional occasion.

So much has happened in the Quins camp since that sunny January Saturday in 2021.

Many members of Quins team that day have said goodbye to Surrey and headed off to various corners of the UK and Europe.

My dear friend Debs McCormack has retired, the delightful force of nature, Giada Franco has returned home to Italy, whilst the lovely down to earth Jade Konkel is about to start training with the London Fire Brigade

Another sad departure has been that of “The French Exocet” Khadi Camara who has gone back home across the channel.

Of course there were lots of comforting familiar sights today, particularly my “Fika” buddy Vic Petersson making a comeback.

After tearing her hamstring off the bone she had been out of action for 406 days, today she made her final appearance in a Quins shirt before she too heads back home, to Sweden.

Today’s opponents Gloucester-Hartbury arrived full of confidence with the number 6 prominent in their psyche. They were 6th in the table with 6 wins and 6 losses. 6×6=36, the number of points they scored against Bristol Bears the previous weekend in a 36-6 win.

It took them 17 seconds to get on the scoresheet with a try by Hunt, and a second try by Lund soon followed to give the visitors a 10-0 lead.

A Jess Breach try following a break by Abbie Ward, and Ellie Green’s touch line conversion, narrowed the gap to three points (7-10)

Amy Cockayne’s brilliant individual effort followed by another superb conversion from Green gave Quins a 14-10 lead at half time.

Early in the second half a quick tapped penalty saw Chloe Edwards charge over the line with Green’s deadly boot again adding the extras.

Gloucester-Hartbury responded with an Emma Sing try that meant only six points separated the two teams.

An outstanding defensive display in the final quarter as Gloucester-Hartbury pounded their 22, allowed Quins to apply the sucker punch when, in the 70th minute, a blistering run from Jess Breach left two defenders prostrate on the turf, before she touched down for the home side’s 4th and bonus point winning try.

There was a real winter chill at Surrey Sports Park this afternoon, as Spring decided to have a duvet day, but for Quins a tough heart warming victory hit the spot perfectly.

Doom And Gloom Following A Triple Crown With Van Morrison

When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this

When there’s no one complaining there’ll be days like this

When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch

Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this“.

The words of that great songsmith Van Morrison beautifully sum up Saturday at a sunny Principality Stadium, But only if you happen to be Welsh.

As is the way in Welsh rugby, hopes for the 2021 Guinness Six Nations were extremely low, based on a dismal Autumn Nations Cup.

We Welsh are wonderful exponents of doom and gloom, even in the most positive of circumstances, but on this occasion it was justified, as performances before Christmas allowed us to be nothing else.

Maybe this gloom is a Celtic thing, we feel very uncomfortable when things are going well, far better to err on the side of pessimism.

A writer once said “When a group of Welshman sit in a bar talking about their lives, the one who has had the worst thing happen to him most recently is elevated to the top of the social ladder”. There could well be some truth in that.

My weekly phone call to my late Mother used to be a roll call of the sick and deceased Welsh people, from her home town, none of whom I had ever even heard of.

So from the vain hopes of a couple of victories in this years championship, we find ourselves with a problem, we have a Triple Crown in the bag, and hopes of a Grand Slam, the challenge for us Welsh is to try and find some doom and gloom in all that, I guess we’ll just have to keep on trying.

So I leave you with the words of Van the man, and memories of a sunny Saturday when doom and gloom were off the agenda, at least for a short while.

Maybe just this once we can celebrate, and dare I say it, be optimistic.

“When no one steps on my dreams there’ll be days like this

When people understand what I mean there’ll be days like this

When you ring out the changes of how everything is

Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this”.

France Covid Chaos The Full Story

The old adage you never know which French team will turn up, takes on a whole new meaning this weekend when one will actually fail to turn up at all.

In the eternal soap opera that is French rugby, the last ten days have been dramatic even by their high standards.

Here’s how things unfolded.

Tuesday February 16

The first announcement came from the FFR revealing a positive case of Covid-19 within the staff, the victim has remained anonymous ever since. There was also the suspicious case of Fabien Galthié who passed his test on Monday evening, the day after the victory in Ireland (13-15 ). The head coach was retested on Tuesday morning and tested positive in the afternoon.

Wednesday February 17

Another positive case announced, scrum coach of William Servat, bringing the number of cases within the staff to three. No positive case among the players who were are all authorized to return home with instructions maintain isolation.

Friday February 19

Star scrum half Antoine Dupont, became the first player officially to be infected with Covid-19. The eleven other players results announced that day were negative.

Saturday February 20

Prop Mohamed Haouas and wing Gabin Villière test positive, bringing the number of players affected to three. Assistant coach Karim Ghezal also tests positive.

Sunday February 21

Hooker Julien Marchand and centre Arthur Vincent to be test positive.

Monday February 22

Following the tests carried out the day before in Marcoussis, the list grows to five new players: captain Charles Ollivon, Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Romain Taofifenua and Brice Dulin.

Baptiste Pesenti tested positive on Monday morning before his arrival at the training base so he could not join the France group. That brought the total to 11 infected players.

Two “suspicious cases” within management were also mentioned. According to my sources, one of the two has since tested positive.

Tuesday February 23

No new cases reported.

Wednesday February 24

No new positive Covid cases, collective contact training resumes and the France v Scotland match get the go ahead.

Thursday February 25

A positive player case is revealed, the twelfth, despite the player not being named it is common knows that the victim was Uini Antonio, making him the seventeenth person in the France group to test positive

The entire France group is once again placed in isolation. The game against Scotland is postponed indefinitely.

The Fall Out

The Ministry of Sport has asked the FFR to conduct an internal investigation and requires answers by next week.

At a Press conference, Prime Minister Jean Castex was asked if sanctions could be taken against France rugby’s management.

“Before we talk about sanctions, we still need to know exactly what happened. I think the players themselves are already being penalised for not being able to play against Scotland on Sunday, and I think they are very unhappy about that”.

A phone call on Monday from Roxana Maracineanu, Minister Delegate in charge of Sports, to Bernard Laporte, President of the FFR, was followed by a formal letter on Wednesday evening to ask him to return within eight days an internal investigation into the implementation and compliance of the Covid protocol validated before the Tournament.

Bernard Laporte declared “The first one who will conduct an investigation and who wants to know the truth, it is indeed me! ”

“As far as I know, there is no fault in the team,

It is unclear how this investigation will proceed and whether the findings be made public or reserved for the ministry.

With the French Federation likely to be judge and jury how credible can it be ?

Infectious disease specialist Éric Caumes claimed to know the origin of the infection: “The Blues applied the procedure exactly as it should but, unfortunately, there is a player who slipped between the cracks that is to say a guy who had a negative PCR test but who was in the incubation period he is a rugby sevens player.

“What was decided is that people only fit in bubbles if they have tested negative, but the problem is, if they are in incubation, they can test negative and be positive 48 hours later. This is what happened and this is how the virus entered the bubble. ”

However there is also a suspicion that the source of Fabien Galthié himself. L’Equipe reported that the coach has, violated the Covid protocols before the match in Ireland .

Bernard Laporte has dismissed this theory defending his friend and coach tooth and nail without waiting for the conclusions of the investigation: “Fabien told me that he respected the protocol and I believe it. For me, there is no fault. If the report says people have failed, sanctions will have to be taken, for sure. Which ones? Could Fabien Galthié’s post be threatened? ” Of course not ! ”

France Sports Minister

The Minister for Sports, Roxana Maracineanu, has increased the pressure stating who Bernard Laporte himself came to see us before the Tournament to present the protocol to us and tell us that everything was going to be fine, that the bubble was going to be strictly respected with entries and controlled exits. Now that we see that this is not the case, I am waiting for him to come and explain to us what it has been,”the minister said.

When asked about possible sanctions, she was very explicit: “If nothing ever happens, if we don’t look for this chain of contamination and we don’t explain how it could have happened, then the authorisation that has been given to play the Six Nations Tournament may be withdrawn.

The Ministry of Sports, after having requested additional guarantees from the FFR in January, gave the green light it, on February 2, to participate in the Six Nations Tournament, and in particular to travel abroad to Italy, Ireland, England.

Maracineanu a former top swimmer was surprised at some of the France squad behaviors: “I don’t think it was marked in the protocol that players could go out to eat waffles (as happened in Rome after the Italy v France match on February 6, or else, if they go out to eat waffles, they had to be retested when they re-entered the bubble in contact with others. We want to know if it has been done because it is the conditions of entry and exit in the bubble that make it a bubble, by definition. ”

The source “Patient zero” has changed three times, quipped Minster Roxana Maracineanu, and I await the full report with interest from the person who presented the health protocol to me before the Tournament (Laporte).

So this coming week could be an interesting one for the French national team and everyone involved, Bernard Laporte has not earned the nickname “Teflon” for nothing but Roxana Maracineanu is no pushover, watch this space.

For The Record Wales Triple Triumph 1965

As a child, my media entertainment was somewhat limited. Television only had two channels, BBC and ITV, and both were broadcasting in black and white, or grey depending on how old your television was.

The other great form of entertainment was the radiogram, a record player and radio built into a wooden cabinet to disguise these decadent items as a piece of furniture. It was this wooden wonder that provided me with my first experience of this wonderful mystical rugby entity, the Triple Crown.

I was six years old in 1965 when Wales won my first Triple Triumph, and to mark the event my parents bought a long playing gramophone record that celebrated this achievement, with excerpts of match commentary and male voice choirs.

This LP was played to death by me, hearing the dulcet tones of commentator Alun Williams describing Terry Price’s drop goal against Ireland lives with me to this day, “The ball comes to Price who will drop at goal, it’s a good one, it’s a very good one, and it’s over !”.

For the record, if you’ll pardon the pun, Wales won the Triple Crown by scoring the same number of points against all three teams. England (14-3) Scotland (14-12) and Ireland (14-8). Only defeat in Paris prevented a Grand Slam as Wales were beaten at Stade Colombes (22-13)

Clive Rowlands captained the side with the mercurial David Watkins at fly half, with a back three of Terry Price, Stuart Watkins and Dewi Bebb.

One of Clive’s proudest moments was winning the Triple Crown in 1965. He says: “We missed out on the Grand Slam but won the Triple Crown. It was the first time for 13 years. It’s something very special.”

Denzil Williams from Ebbw Vale one of Wales greatest ever props accompanied a second row of Brian Price and Keith Rowlands, with gnarly Llanelli hooker Norman Gale adding to a pack that didn’t take any prisoners.

Wales next won the Triple Crown in 1969, the start of a golden era that saw them repeat the feat in 1969, 1971 and a record four consecutive years in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979.

Should Wales beat England on Saturday it will be their 22nd, leaving them 4 behind England’s total of 26.

France And Scotland In Deserted Paris The Auld Alliance

There is something special about Paris in the winter, the moment you step off the train at Gare du Nord, the aroma of coffee engulfs your senses as you hit the dark misty grey gloom, lit up by the neon lights of the cafes and bars in rue dunkerque.

Paris does the cold dark miserable season like no other city, with its inimitable style and class.

But Paris is different this year, the pavement cafes are shuttered and deserted, the tartan army sipping their cafe cremes with an insouciance and panache, is just a distant memory.

Historically France and Scotland have a very special bond, in 1942 Charles DeGaulle described it as the oldest alliance in the world.

“In every combat for five centuries when the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight by the side of the men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous with its friendship”.

The auld alliance with France was first agreed in 1295 built on France’ need to curtail English expansion.

The canny Scots were given the pick of the best French wines as a result of this accord.

The Auld Alliance will be put on hold next Sunday when the battle of the blues takes place at Stade de France.

France having lit up our dark Covid infested year with flair and panache, showed they can also win ugly, victory in Dublin in the rain could be a watershed moment for this team, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Scotland are hoping they can go the whole hog and win in Paris, especially with the whole Stuart Hogg in such fine form, and of course the boy from down the road at La Defense, Racing 92’s Finn Russell.

Scotland’s championship chances are over if they lose, whilst a France win will see them heading to meet their Waterloo, this time the station not the battle, and a mouthwatering encounter with England at Twickenham.

Ecosse will be hoping that they can bounce back after a heartbreaking defeat to Wales, and do not succumb to a case of the Bleus, thereby sent homeward to think again.

Fabien Galthie Creating A Spectacle In Rome

Fabian Galthie is probably the only national coach who can get away with wearing white trainers with a suit.

His coolness turned many a head when he took over as France coach at last years Six Nations tournament.

One of the main talking points ever since has been his glasses. When we met at the 2019 launch I assumed he had just been doing a spot of welding, but I should have known better.

Those spectacles were a topic of conversation among supporters, journalists and players. At press briefings and post-match interviews, those bulky dark frames stood out whilst resting upon that noble French proboscis.

Those who know me realise all too well that I am no male fashion icon so in a vain attempt to appear trendy I asked the man from Cahors all about them.

“These are plastic sports glasses that allow you to run, and to fall because I broke all my glasses before,” he explained, needing glasses once he reached his forties. “My eyesight deteriorated around 46-47 years old. I had to put on stronger glasses, but above all I had to stop breaking them”

They are in fact a model frequently worn by basketball players, and not welders.

The former scrum-half, who does not save himself during training for the Blues, often putting words into action, found his sturdy specs “with an optician friend in Toulon”, where he coached the RCT in 2017-2018. “They do not move, I can play squash, golf, I can run with the ball in training”, as for the futuristic look provided by the frames, everything is a matter of taste, my mum doesn’t like it and my kids don’t say anything, they’re nice to their daddy. “

Fabien Galthié offered to lend Antoine Dupont his famous glasses after the France scrum-half kicked the ball out of play a minute early in last seasons Guinness Six Nations 24-17 victory against England.

With France camped on their own line, Dupont dug the ball out of the ruck and kicked it dead in-goal, thinking that time was up on the clock.

Unfortunately for him, the match clock had just ticked past 79 minutes rather than 80, and he gave England a five-metre scrum.

That proved crucial as England secured a losing bonus point from their defeat, and while there was a little frustration for Dupont, he took it in good humour.

It was probably the only error the Toulouse number 9 made throughout the entire tournament

Galthie has always done things in his own way, in November 2919, he chose to hold his first official press conference as France head coach in Montgesty, a village of 335 people of which his father is mayor. Galthie grew up in the village in the south-west of France and it was there “I discovered the sport that changed my life”.

On the opening weekend of this years Six Nations France and their coach oozed style on the pitch as well as on it.

Under the Roman blue skies Les Bleus, France demolished Italy 50-10.

Fabian could have been forgiven for swapping his current frames for rose tinted spectacles, but he was not getting carried away with the big win.

We have the feeling of having prepared well. It’s always special to prepare for a match under these conditions.

“We will continue to play for those who cannot do it at the moment, the children… Thanks to all these supporters, we are trying to do beautiful things and bring them joy.

“We scored seven tries, we were efficient. Now we’re going to have a good week to prepare for the game against Ireland. It’s good that we were able to bring on all of our finishers.

“It was our 10th game together as a group, an important game for us away from home. We have a good dynamic and we continue to build it it. Now we’re going to Marcoussis and it’s a good transition for Dublin.”

Even with those fabulous spectacles Fabien Galthie refuses to look too far ahead and it’s a case of one game at a time for Les Bleus, but with England losing to Scotland maybe his vision of coaching France to a championship title is coming into focus.

A Drop Of The Red Stuff

One of the many joys of visiting Dublin for a rugby international is sitting watching the sun set over Dublin Bay with a cold pint of Guinness for company, a drop of the black stuff always seems to taste that little bit better in the emerald isle.

There a few myths about this wonderful creation, firstly it is not made with water from the nearby River Liffey, that flows alongside the St James’s gate brewery in the heart of Dublin, the water actually comes from the beautiful Wicklow mountains further south.

Also, I hate to tell you, Guinness is not actually black, but rather a dark shade of red, a colour the brewers attribute to the roasting of malted barley during the preparation process.

As sponsors of the Six Nations Tournament Guinness have provided a slick and stylish addition to the brand, added to that is there delightful sense of humour which echoes through their media advertisements.

When Ireland lost to the All Blacks at RWC 2019 they even suggested their followers have a pint of Carlsberg, as shown below.

Another surprising fact to the uninitiated is the news that a pint comprises of only 210 calories a a relatively low alcohol content. On average, beer contains 5% ABV, while Guinness clocks in at just 4.2%.

Its creamy texture is not associated with increased calories because it comes from using nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide in the carbonation process. Nitrogen bubbles are much smaller than their carbon alternatives, creating a smooth, creamy and less fizzy finish.

Guinness may help to boost iron levels, It was once given to post-operative patients and pregnant or nursing women in an attempt to fortify iron and until 2009 blood donors in Ireland used to get a free pint of Guinness after they gave blood.

I have to confess that my intake of the Six Nations sponsors product over the last 12 months has been consistent, but arguably not excessive, and until I can stroll once again to my favourite watering hole in Dun Laoghaire overlooking Dublin Bay, I shall Maintain my consistency from afar and the comfort of my own fridge.

Sláinte

Yellow Cards Wayne’s World And Valentines Day

International rugby on Valentine’s Day, is a feature that pops up every now and then due to the seasonal location of the Six Nations calendar.

This year the French, surely one of the most romantic rugby nations, both on and off the field, face Ireland in Dublin.

Now Valentine’s Day holds a special significance for Phillipe Sella and myself, we were both born on this romantic day of days. Sadly that is where all my similarities with the legendary French centre end.

Cards of course are an essential part of the Valentine occasion, and it provides me with a very tenuous link to those of the yellow variety.

The referees selected for the 2021 Guinness Six Nations tournament have differing degrees of generosity with the brandishing of the yellow peril, but top of the charts is Wayne Barnes, who has given Clintons a run for their money with regard to dishing out cards.

Valentine’s Day in the Barnes household could be an interesting one, as Wayne’s wife Polly awaits a romantic missive from her husband, hoping for an elegant card with a lovely verse, she may well end up with just plain yellow one for hinging at the coffee machine, or coming into the garden from the side, rather than through the gate.

The World’s top referee has issued more yellow cards in the Guinness Six Nations than any other official, this of course is mainly due to his longevity having refereed 22 championship matches over a period of 15 years.

He will however be in the Emerald Isle this Valentine’s Day, as an assistant referee at the Aviva, his 24th as an AR in the Six Nations, and the French connection will continue when he takes charge of France v Scotland in Paris on Feb 28.

Wayne’s yellow pages directory includes some of the greats of the game:

Only 4 Six Nations red cards have been issued by the class of 2021, two by the South African whistle blower Jaco Peyper, when he dismissed Rabah Slimani and Michele Rizzo in the 71st minute of the France v Italy match in Paris in 2014.

The third red was issued last Sunday, by none other than Wayne himself, in Cardiff, when Peter O’Mahoney was given his marching orders in the 14th minute of Wales victory over Ireland.

And then yesterday just as I had finished this article Matt Carley produced a red out of his pocket for Zander Fagerson of Scotland, in the second half of the match against Wales, which the men in red won by the narrowest of margins 25-24.

Allan Lewis of Ireland, former international referee, holds the record for the most yellow cards issued in a match, when he handed out 5 during the France v Italy match in 2002. He almost repeated the feat in 2002 when he issued 4 in Rome during Italy v England.

Yellow is the most luminous of all the colors of the spectrum. It’s the color that captures our attention more than any other color.

In the natural world, yellow is the color of sunflowers and daffodils, egg yolks and lemons, canaries and bees. In our contemporary human-made world, yellow is the color of Sponge Bob, the Tour de France winner’s jersey, happy faces, post its, and signs that alert us to danger or caution.

As for cards, yellow is quite appropriate, whilst it is the color of happiness, and optimism, enlightenment, creativity and sunshine, there is also the dark side of yellow, which portrays cowardice, betrayal, egoism, and madness.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Guinness Six Nations Launch A Mute Point

Many of us of a certain age find technology quite bewildering, coming from a time when Zoom was an ice lolly, and tik tok was the sound that a grandfather clock made on a Sunday afternoon when the whole family was cocooned in front of the telly for Rugby Special, these are dark times for a Luddite like myself.

The Six Nations is a huge challenge for everyone involved, but no one in any national squad will have to cope with the pressure I had to endure last Wednesday, when due to COVID-19 the annual tournament launch took place, on line, in a virtual capacity.

For someone who is just about fully competent in texting this was my Everest.

Earlier this season I spent around half an hour happily chatting away on a radio interview with the mute button on, so I do have some form with regard to technology ineptitude, and the prospect of incurring the wrath of Eddie Jones or Fabian Galthie in a chat room was appearing to be a realistic prospect, presuming of course I could even get passed the dizzy heights of logging on to the session correctly, which I have to admit was not a given.

As I logged on to the Six Nations site at 0900hrs things did not look good, Puccini blasted out of my iPad, not the best of starts.

One of the catchphrases of this dreadful pandemic is “The new normal”, in my case the new abnormal would be more apt. Pressing every button on my keyboard in a frantic manner I magically managed to locate the virtual area I was meant to be in.

Despite giving Alun Wyn Jones a birds eye view of my nostrils due to poor iPad camera technique the launch went fairly well.

However one piece of technology I am very comfortable with is the TV remote, in fact I would humbly regard myself as world class in this department, with the ability to flick between BBC One and Netflix in the blink of an eye.

The next few weeks give me the perfect opportunity to showcase those skills, happy viewing everyone.

Masking Our Feelings The 2021 Guinness Six Nations

The winters are dark and cold in this part of the world, the daylight is in short supply during the days following Christmas, it is a bleak time for everyone, everyone that is apart from rugby fans.

For us it is the rebirth of the sporting year, and the start of the weekly countdown to the first weekend in February when the 6 Nations tournament begins.

The tournament starts in the depths of winter, and takes us through to the weak sunshine and gentle warmth of early spring, when the tournament concludes in the middle of March.

But the 6 nations is about far more than just rugby, it’s about making and renewing friendships, it’s about the history, it’s about the fans, the wonderful memories of 6 nations weekends past, and those wonderful ones yet to come.

Memories of matches and weekends shared with family, loved ones, and friends, some of whom are sadly no longer with us, come flooding back, and their spirits are with us this at time of year, as we prepare to enjoy a winter sporting festival like no other.

The 6 nations weekend has a heartbeat, a soul, it is a living entity, that has been enjoyed and handed down from generation to generation.

Uncles, fathers, grandparents cousins, have all taken pride in guiding their offspring on their first 6 nations weekend, and those youngsters who have taken over the baton, keep the traditions alive, and when the time comes, they will take their young on a similar rite of passage, and that is why the 5 Nations, as it was, and the 6 nations as it is now, is so unique.

Each wonderful host city has its own unique atmosphere, sight, sounds and smells.

Sadly this year it will all be very much different, and yet despite the lack of crowds and the dreadful situation we all find ourselves in, there is no doubt that the tournament has an important role to play.

The wonderful distraction of sport can be a great comfort in these difficult times.

As the 2021 tournament approaches, many of us, in the middle of a cold dark winters night will lie awake, and as the wind and rain beat against the window, we will feel a cosy warmth, as we remember with fondness, the matches, the weekends, the laughter, the tears, but most of all we will remember the people we have shared the matches with, and those friends we have met, because it is they that make the six nations tournament so very special, and we will hope and pray that next year those precious reunions will taste all the sweeter.