It has always been this way in Wales, in rugby we do not enjoy the mellow fruitfulness of Autumn, it is as if we descend into a semi hibernation, saving ourselves for winter, and the heralding of a new year that brings about a renewed vigour and an oval ball restoration, as a new Six Nations Championship appears on the horizon.
This year has been no different. Wales have struggled. As the leaves continue to fall, the players, like the dark brown leaves, have also fallen in significant numbers.
The injury list was extensive at the start of the campaign, and it has only increased week by week over the hectic bruising and exhausting month.
On Sunday night the Welsh casualty list had increased even further, the roll call of the wounded alarmingly high. Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, George North, Ken Owens, Ross Moriarty, Will Griff John, Leigh Halfpenny, Josh Navidi, James Botham, Dan Lydiate, Josh McLeod, Dewi Lake, Leon Brown, Will Rowlands, Rhodri Jones and potentially Louis Rees Zammit.
Autumn 2021 began with a heavy defeat against by the All Blacks. Wales battled and rattled the World Champions, South Africa, in the Cardiff rain, a week later, and fell agonisingly just short.
Fiji followed, now if there are two words that conjour up images of Welsh rugby anguish, they surely must be Autumn and Fiji, combine the two and you have the perfect storm, as was reflected on a sunny Remembrance Day in the capital, despite the flattering scoreline in Wales favour it was, as famously quoted by Yogi Berra “Deja Vu all over again”
Yesterday the last men standing took on the Wallabies in a match that incorporated just about every rugby thrill and spill possible, red card, yellow cards, a disputed try, and a last minute penalty that gave Wales victory by the narrowest of margins.
For a Wales a victory over Australia however ugly, will be rightly celebrated, and with the blooding of so many new faces, maybe for Wales this will bear fruit in future challenges that lie ahead.
The month of November is nearly over and thoughts will soon turn towards the Guinness Six Nations, there will be a spring in the step and pulses will race that little bit quicker, for Wales, winter is coming.
The rainbow that appeared above the Principality stadium yesterday evening had a notable omission at the end of it. Instead of a pot of gold it had a crock of something far less fragrant, at least as far as Wales were concerned.
In Welsh international sport the 1950’s are a permanent milestone, or should that be millstone ? around the National neck, and the efforts to overcome two particular sporting barriers seem to become more desperate and elusive as each year passes.
In the round ball game Wales heartbreaking efforts to qualify for a World Cup tournament have not been successful since 1958, the incidents and accidents are catalogued and replayed every four years, crossbars and hand balls fill our thoughts in the wee small hours.
When it comes to rugby, Wales wonderful recent history, and indeed a large part of its glorious past, has one notable date that we cannot shake off, December 19 1953, the last time Wales beat the New Zealand All Blacks.
The 2021 All Blacks were in town at the weekend, determined not to become the team henceforth known as the side that lost to Wales. Their fears, if indeed they had any, were very quickly dispelled.
It took barely three minutes for Beauden Barrett to race fifty metres and touchdown between the posts for the All Blacks opening try.
A Wales team missing 20 players battled bravely and were still in touch until the 64th minute when the All Black tsunami hit with three tries in seven minutes which ripped the heart out of Wales, and secured a 54-17 win for the men from the land of the long white cloud.
An awful lot has happened since Feb 2021 when 75.000 turned up to watch a new exciting young French side steered to victory by the equally young and exciting half backs Ntamack and Antoine DuPont
It had been Twenty months since Wales last played a competitive home game in front of a capacity crowd at the Principality Stadium
On Saturday It was just like old times, the streets were packed. The City Arms and the Owen Glyndwr bursting at the seams with Scarlet clad men clutching pint glasses, whilst at the Duke of Wellington, quite aptly, there were more Fern leaves than feathers, as the All Black supporters congregated for pre Haka hydration.
During the stresses and strains of lockdown, amidst the awful casualties and losses of a cruel pandemic, an evening like this was always in the back of our minds, a mental oasis filled with images of floodlit dewy emerald green grass, a national anthem being belted out, and those wonderful red shirts shining brightly in the Cardiff evening, and here it was, at last, for real.
If Carlsberg did National Anthems then there is no doubt that Hen Wlad Fy nhadau would be available in bottles, cans and on draught, on this memorable evening it had an extra dimension, Gwlad, Gwlad released an awful lot of bottled up emotion for those who have suffered in human and sporting terms.
For the 75,000 that were there to witness it, this was a night that warmed the heart, despite the result, as sporting normality returned to this magical patch of green in the centre of the nation’s capital city.
As the sea of red streamed out of the stadium, it parted down Quay Street and syphoned off into the City Arms, the Owen Glyndwr and down the Hayes to the Duke of Wellington, sorrows had to be drowned before attentions turn to next Saturday when the World Champions arrive in town, when hopefully the beverages imbibed will be of a celebratory nature.
The Back-to-School Talk organized on Monday, August 30, by the National Rugby League (LNR) kicked off the 2021/2022 season.
TOP 14 players representing their clubs were present alongside the leaders of French professional rugby for a presentation of the highlights of the coming season. A season marked by the return of the fans to the stadiums.
Cameron Woki, Brice Dulin, Maxime Médard, Arthur Vincent and Damian Penaud were gathered alongside the President of the LNR René Bouscatel to take stock of the past season and discuss the challenges of the season to come.
The 2020/2021 season was a successful season with the domination of French clubs in European competitions (3 finalists out of 4 clubs) and a reinforced attractiveness of professional rugby marked by the allocation of TV rights to the TOP 14 2023-2027 on the rise. by 17% and the arrival of 4 new partners for the NRL.
The 2021/2022 season has already started very strongly with the summer stages of the IN EXTENSO SUPERSEVENS which saw the rugby festival unfold in Aix en Provence, Toulouse and La Rochelle, and the first day of PRO D2 which attracted many supporters at the stadiums.
This season, the clubs will reunite with their supporters and the exposure of the TOP 14 and the PRO D2 will be reinforced with 4 evenings television coverage per week on the channels of the CANAL + group.
This weekend, the TOP 14 will resume with all 7 matches on Saturday including La Rochelle v Toulouse, a re-run of the TOP 14 and Heineken Champions Cup finals.
The Parisian derby, Stade Français Paris v Racing 92.
Toulon v Montpellier
Lyon v Clermont
Casters v Pau
Brive v Perpignan
Biarritz v Bordeaux
Saturday November 13th, Paris La Défense Arena will see the 8 best rugby sevens teams compete for the title of French club rugby sevens champion while Boxing Day will be played on Sunday December 26th in TOP 14.
The weekend of April 2, 2022, supporters will be in the spotlight throughout France during the Fan Days announcing a weekend of derbies.
Then it’s time for the final phases of TOP 14 and PRO D2: it is the weekend of June 4 that we will know the name of the French champion of PRO D2 2021/2022 and the weekend of June 18 that the 4 best teams of The TOP 14 season will compete in Nice for the right to play a final at the Stade France to raise the shield of Brennus on the weekend of June 25.
Opening day of TOP 14: Friday September 3, 2021
Boxing Day TOP 14: Sunday December 26, 2021 (7 matches on the same day)
IN EXTENSO SUPERSEVENS final: Saturday, November 13, 2021 at Paris La Défense Arena
PRO D2 final: weekend of June 4, 2022 TOP 14 semi-finals: weekend of June 18, 2022 in Nice TOP 14 final: weekend of June 25, 2022 at the Stade de France
Maybe it’s a senior male thing, a bit like throwing away the assembly instructions for flat pack furniture, because “how just how difficult can it really be”? a fact that is rudely discovered eight hours later when the stark truth hits you whilst lying prone on the bedroom floor, surrounded by broken bits of wood, and the threat of divorce.
My introduction to walking football was preceded by a similar form of hubris. A bunch of old men walking around kicking a football, how difficult can it be ? I wonder if I’ll even work up a sweat.
Two hours later having lost half of my considerable body weight in perspiration, and hurting in places where I didn’t even know I had places, my anatomical furniture was in bits, and even B&Q couldn’t provide a replacement instruction leaflet to put this messy shambles back together again.
Any misplaced notions of swagger and pride I arrived with dissipated immediately when I discovered the bloke who nutmegged me is 83 years old, he is not called Granite Bob for nothing.
I’m introduced to our Iranian striker who goes under the nickname of The Assassin. I decided not to delve too deeply into the origin of this. Everyone here has a nickname, it took the lads about twenty minutes to assign me the illustrious title of “Touchline Mike”
Our goalkeeper’s nickname, “The Cat” may be stretching the definition of feline grace and agility to its extremes, but with gloves the size of satellite dishes, and the ability to dive like a Tom Daley on steroids, he keeps more clean sheets than the Hastings Travelodge.
This eclectic squad consists of, amongst others, Ken The Bass, Posh Richard, El Jay, Legendary Rog, and Magic Wond, but surely the best nickname is reserved for the local plumber and defensive hard man Marco Van Gasman.
I’ve discovered one thing age does not impinge upon is the sheer joy of kicking a football with a group of like minded people. My muscle memory is almost as forgetful as my actual one, but I am now at the stage where I can just about recover in time for the next game.
To those that inhabit our own little sporting arenas the Stade Geriatrica on Mondays, and the cage of dreams on a Saturday, I thank you from the bottom of my palpatacious heart for giving me a new lease of life.
The Nelson Mandela Bay stadium lies on the Eastern Cape in the city of Gqeberha once known “in old money” as Port Elizabeth.
Gqeberha is the Xhosa name for the Baakens River, which flows through the city.
Xhosa is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages and one of the few in the world that has a “click” sound, which can be difficult for non-Xhosa speakers to master. when the city changed its name on 23 February 2021, many South Africans had to obtain assistance in learning how to master the pronunciation of the country’s sixth most populated city.
Facing the Indian Ocean the city’s warm climate provides it with a wonderful all year round outdoor vibe, it is also the birthplace of Springbok captain Siyamthanda Kolisi.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was purpose-built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, a year later, the Springboks made their debut at the 46,000-seat stadium, against the All Blacks, when Morne Steyn kicked five penalty goals and a drop to score all the Boks’ points in their 18-5 victory.
In 2017 Argentina played their first match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium losing to the Boks 37-15 win in front of a capacity crowd, a not dissimilar score line to the Boks 32-12 victory last in the first test.
This week the Boks were back to full strength an ominous sign for the Argentinians, who also rotated their squad .
Despite optimistic overtures of a free flowing game, 13 first half penalties conceded by the Pumas added to a turgid first 40 minutes.
5 penalties from Pollard gave the Boks a 15-3 half time lead. The second half at least had three tries to lift it from the paint drying visual comparison, Mapimpi and Marx for South Africa, and after several butchered opportunities the Pumas touched down in the 80th minute via Montera.
All in all a pretty drab affair which has been the hallmark of all the Sprinbok matches this summer, but I guess with 5 wins out of 6 they won’t care too much about artistic merit.
Another big cat lay in wait for the Springboks on Saturday.
Having dispatched the British & Irish Lion, (russellushopeus) with its tail firmly between its legs, the next feline on the block was the Puma.
The Springbok (erasmuscheatus) can reach speeds of up to 88km per hour but needs water every 30 seconds, whilst the Puma is only slightly lagging behind at a maximum of 80.
Both teams paid very little homage to their animal namesakes in the running department, but the Boks out muscled a Pumas outfit that could not gain any momentum and consistently infringed.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber deflected all credit onto the players for the Springboks’ 32-12 Castle Lager Rugby Championship victory over Argentina in Nelson Mandela Bay on Saturday.
The starting XV showed 10 changes to the team that had secured a series victory over the Lions seven days earlier but still overcame a strong Pumas team.
“The work the players put in was awesome,” he said.
“We had a couple of beers on Saturday after the Series win, but we knew we were going straight into the Rugby Championship, and on Monday when I started the first session, I could see the guys were really clued up and ready to go”.
“We knew that playing five tests in a row was a big ask and we made a couple of changes, but you could see the freshness of the players who had come in, after not playing for a few weeks some of them”
“We had a defence session on Wednesday and you could see that some of the guys that had played on Saturday were a bit iffy, but the new guys were climbing into the session and were raring to go.”
South Africa scored three tries to nil to complete a bonus point win before the second meeting between the teams at the same venue next Saturday.
“We knew that cohesion would be an issue with so many changes, but the guys got really stuck in. Argentina are a tough nut to crack but hats off to the players – I thought their analysis they did was spot on and the plans they put in place were great.”
Nienaber revealed that captain Siya Kolisi had been a doubtful starter after suffering from a stomach bug during the morning, but had decided, in conjunction with the medical team, that he was fit enough to play.
Kolisi said that he had had every confidence in the team’s ability to cope with the changed line-up.
“The one thing that I love about this team is that there are no ‘senior’ players or anything like that, and everyone had their own job,” he said. “If something goes wrong in the maul, at the breakdown or in the scrum we know who to look to to fix it.
“We were never in a panic today; we were in control a lot of the time.”
The Springboks scored tries through Cobus Reinach, Aphelele Fassi and debutant Jaden Hendrikse with Elton Jantjies landing six out of seven kicks at goal with one conversion and five penalties.
The Pumas failed to cross the whitewash and all their points came from the boot of Nico Sanchez.
The win puts the Boks second to New Zealand in the Rugby Championship after the first round on points difference’ the Boks 20-point advantage over Argentina, edged by New Zealand’s 35-point difference from their 57-22 win over Australia.
Nienaber said the coaching staff would consider the medical feedback before considering the line-up for the second test.
“There’s a lot of thigs we have to take into consideration, but player welfare will be a big factor,” he said.
In France they call it “Le petite morte,” the moment when that unwanted visitor, sporting retirement, arrives at your doorstep. The English translation, “The little death”, may sound like a gross exaggeration, but to all those who have experienced it, a little death it most definitely what it feels like.
Retirement, and knowing when the time is right to retire, is undoubtedly one the hardest moments of anyone’s sporting career, even when it is decided on one’s own terms.
Harlequins and Scotland lock Debs McCormack did everything on her own terms during a long club and international career, so it comes as no surprise that when it came to the agonising moment of dealing with sporting retirement, she had the strength of character, and the wisdom, to make that difficult decision.
I have been extremely fortunate to have seen and meet some of the greats of the game from Gareth Edwards to Dan Carter, and with my hand on my heart I can honestly say I have never come across a greater team player than Debs.
As I write this piece I can almost see Debs squirm, compliments and praise, even when they are justified and worthy, do not sit easily on her sore and modest shoulders.
I don’t think Debs will ever realise just how good a player she was, or indeed how popular she was with team mates, fans, and journalists alike, only because that does not fit in with the humble way in which she operates.
I could list so many examples that I have witnessed first hand of her modesty and selflessness, but I’m afraid it would necessitate me writing another book just to get close to listing them all.
Once “Le petite morte” has had a decent mourning period, I really hope that Debs will allow herself the time to look back with pride, and a great deal of pleasure, at what she has achieved in the game.
Rugby, and in particular the women’s game, will be all the better for her legacy, those following in her wake will find the path that little bit smoother, thanks to her and others.
Debs epitomised and displayed everything that is good about our wonderful game, she respected and demonstrated its values with honour, and there is no greater compliment I can pay her than that.
I count myself fortunate that I was able to witness at close hand the latter part of her rugby playing journey, including her 30th Scottish cap, which at one stage we both believed was cursed. But come it did, eventually, against France in Lille, in the 80th minute, a moment I witnessed in a Parisian hotel on French television. I’m pretty sure my shouting at the TV was the catalyst for Scotland coach, Shade Munro, to bring Debs off the bench.
How she balanced university, a job and elite rugby I have absolutely no idea, but she did so with apolomb, and despite the huge demands on her, Debs always still found time for everyone who needed a chat, an encouraging word, or just a smile.
Rugby gave her a lot, but in return she also gave rugby everything she had, Harlequins and Scotland were the lucky recipients of her unconditional loyalty. Debs was never one to make a fuss, even during a long injury spell, when diagnosis of the problem proved elusive, in fact her shoulder still isn’t right, and was one of the factors in her announcing her retirement. She sometimes felt a fraud, even though she was in constant pain, questioning inwardly whether people believed her, imagining she was letting folks down, and whether or not the whole thing was in her head, but of course we all knew nothing could be further from the truth, it always took something major to keep Debs off the field of play.
Her career and statistics have been written about by those more eloquent than myself, following news of her retirement, released by Harlequins Women on Saturday 8 August.
31 caps for Scotland, 23 competitive appearances for Harlequins Women, including two Tyrrells Premiership finals, reveal the impressive bare facts but her rugby career was about far more than that.
A try for Scotland against Spain in a World Cup qualifier, and tries in the semi final and final of the 2017 Tyrrells Premiership for Harlequins are wonderful memorable moments, as was her hat trick of tries down under for Sydney outfit Eastern Suburbs against Wollongong, a performance that earned her a place in the Shute Shield team of the week.
Jade Konkel has been behind Debs, quite literally, as number 8 for Harlequins and Scotland, and she summed things up perfectly.
Debs’ Motherwell Gran made it possible for this flower of Scotland to bloom in the thistled shirt, and I feel certain she will be looking down with pride at what her girl has achieved, and in the impressive and dignified manner with which she has achieved it.
Debs we salute you and thank you, for enriching our lives on and off the field. Those playing days are passed now, I’m not sure we will we ever see your like again, but as flowers of Scotland go, you were without doubt the pick of the bunch.
It seems an age since the Lions played Japan at Murrayfield on that muggy June Saturday afternoon, and yet here we are six weeks later with the 2021 tour finally at an end.
In the jungle, the mighty jungle of international rugby,the lions were just a win away, rather than aweem away, from an historic series victory against the Springboks.
So much has happened during that time dislocated shoulders, the inevitable Covid issues, and of course Rassie Erasmus who has gone from watergate to a social media viewing audience only the bloke with a dog called “Fenton” could match.
On Saturday the third and deciding test was won by the Springboks by a three point margin in a match that the Lions could and should have won.
It has been a tough time for all those involved in ensuring this series went ahead, and whilst the quality of the rugby may not have been vintage, a lot of people have worked tirelessly, and made a lot of sacrifices to get the job done.
If nothing else happens as a result of this series, please can we start clearing the playing area of the hoardes of individuals cluttering it up. From squad members warming up and celebrating tries in the in-goal area, to water carriers and medics passing on coaching advice during every break in the game.
Speaking to fans a real bug bear is the fact that those folks who have bought expensive tickets at international matches and are situated behind the posts in the front rows, get eighty minutes plus viewing of players warming up, and in some cases discreetly urinating, in their eye line, of course if South Africa are involved this can extend for up to three hours.
The anticipated Lions tour to Australia in 2025 will surely be a much more joyous affair in so many ways, particularly with a decent rugby man, Dave Rennie in charge of the Wallabies.
My boyhood wonderment and admiration of the Boks has been soured during the test series, and not by the players, I’m angry and saddened that it has been taken from me those who have no right to do so.
But for now we can all take a deep breath and return to more worldly and pressing matters.
So as the exhausted touring party stretch out on the 11 hour 40 minute flight from Cape Town to Heathrow, we can safely say the Lion sleeps tonight.
Cape of Good Hope, the most southerly point of the African continent is 70 kilometres miles from Cape Town, the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, where the warm Arguilhas and the colder Benguela Currents merge.
This mixing of two currents, and sea temperatures, results in the aquatic turbulence that gave the point its original name, the Cape of Storms.
The name was changed by John II of Portugal to reflect the optimism of it becoming a shorter route from Europe to India by sea. “The Cape” has been and still is a global landmark for sailors rounding the African coast, as it marked a significant waypoint in the Cape Route and Clipper Route for ships operating between Europe, the Far East and Australia.
There has been a storm brewing all week in the area, and on Saturday it hit the Cape Town Stadium.
Lions fans had plenty of good hope of their own after a first test victory sevens days earlier, but with the Springboks fighting for their rugby lives, the visitors knew they had to batten down the hatches and weather an onslaught.
In a match that latest slightly longer than a Rassie Erasmus video, but was equally as unwholesome at times, the Lions after riding the waves in the first half were hit by a green tsunami in the second period.
The officials looked in need of a lifeguard in the early stages as their decisions were nervously and uncertainly delivered, maybe they could see the Boks water carrier was blocking their eye line.
So we head to a decider next Saturday, in Cape Town.
Once the citings and videos are done and dusted the focus will rightly turn to those that really matter the players and officials.
Around the Cape of good hope the deep depression that settled in late Saturday night is looking to give way to brighter skies for the Lions by next weekend, although Rassie’s meteorological midweek video may cloud the issue.
The climate in the Western Cape is perfect for wine production, with the ideal combination of cool, wet winters and warm dry summers.
The breezes from the mountains, and the Atlantic and Indian oceans, help to cool the vineyards, and slow the ripening process to create intense fruit flavours.
There are many kinds of red grape grown in Cape Town, Pinotage though has a special place in local hearts because it is the only grape that is unique to South Africa. It was invented at Stellenbosch University in 1925. A hybrid of pinot noir and cinsault, Pinotage is a bold and complex wine with a deep red colour. Depending on the age of the wine, you may taste notes of red berries, spice, and chocolate or coffee.
On Saturday there was a different red in town, a British and Irish blend, this one may not have been vintage, but boy did it have kick, and a delicious aftertaste.
The old cliché, a game of two halves, describes the first test between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa perfectly.
South Africa were 12-3 up at half-time thanks to four Handré Pollard penalties, with Dan Biggar kicking one of his own to make sure the Lions were on the board at the interval.
However, an immense second-half comeback saw the Lions overcome the nine-point deficit to win 22-17 and put Warren Gatland’s men one win away from claiming their first series win in South Africa for 24 years.
Having not played at their best in the opening 40 minutes, a change in tactics was the reason for the remarkable turnaround.
In the opening 40 minutes the Lions didn’t have control, looking unsure tactically, they started the second half with a kick and chase, and after being awarded a penalty, captain Alun Wyn Jones decision to go for a kick to touch, and a line out catch and drive resulting in a try for Cowan-Dickie set the tone for the rest of the game.
The Lions looked really comfortable and composed in their own half, and they played possession and territory well in the second half.
In a 10 minute period South Africa conceded five penalties, and then began to look fatigued, unable to find answers to the questions posed by the men in red, who grew in stature the longer the game went on.
Wales and Lions 2017 captain legend Sam Warburton was full of praise post match
“The belief has just shot through the roof,” he said.
“Ali Price continued to box kick well, Van de Merwe performed well. Conor Murray came on and Owen Farrell did well. The kicking game was so much better in the second half and that was the biggest difference”.
“I do think the one moment in the match which was pivotal was when Alun Wyn Jones chose to kick to the corner and not go for the three points. We look back at that now and that’s a massive call.”
One player who received particular praise for his performance was player of the match Maro Itoje, who was a permanent nuisance for the Springboks throughout, his timely turnovers, and his physicality around the pitch went a long way to earning him the man of the match award.
“I think the Lions were smart and excellent for 40 minutes and that will give them huge confidence to go from 12-3 down and turn it around and win. I think they’re in the driving seat now.”
“He really showed what an incredible player he is, and he has the work rate of an engine. At the end of the game he was on his back. When you have a player like him in the side it’s not about what he says, you look over at the side and think if Maro’s still doing it, I better still be doing it.
“One key moment for me was when Maro Itoje ran into [Eben] Etzebeth and got absolutely battered. I thought that wasn’t a good sign, but that seemed to wake him. It was like he thought maybe this was going to be an easy game and just got kicked into gear. He was brilliant.”
So we look forward to the Second test on Saturday, a match where the Springboks will throw the kitchen sink, and the washing machine, at the Lions.
The Lions glass, with or without Pinotage, is half full, but they will have to show an awful lot of bottle next weekend in the face of a wounded Springbok. Another win and they will be surely be painting the town red.