France v Scotland in 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 smell of coffee hits your nostrils, 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.


The same is true when it comes to rugby

Sunday six nations games are the poisoned chalice  for travelling fans and indeed most home supporters.

Parisians however could not have been happier with the timing of Sunday’s clash at the Stade de France 

A 4pm kick off meant not only time for a leisurely morning coffee and croissant with L’equipe, but also time for a decent lunch before heading to Saint-Denis

Now 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.

There was no sign of the  auld alliance in Paris yesterday, the scots may have fought with Joan of arc at the battle of Orleans, but watching Guirado hit Josh Strauss underlined that friendships were on hold for at least eighty minutes.

Under grey sleety skies the anthem roared and France got off to a flying start, the French pack were brutal from first to last, the old boys in the bars of Beziers, Agen and Pau would have felt a warm glow as the huge French pack set about demolishing Scotland’s scrum, it was just like the old days.

A 16th minute try from Hogg gave Scotland belief,  but then after 30 minutes  a Gael blew in, Fickou to be precise but the floodgates never opened.

The second half began with the backdrop of blues skies ,the first glimpse of sunshine all week as Scotland scored a try through Swinson after 43 mins.

Picamoles, King Louis VIII,  reigned in his men and he and captain fantastic Guirado threw themselves at everything.

Injuries ravaged Scotland, but France were too powerful, the kilted warriors dug in and the score was 16-16 with ten minutes to go

In the end two Lopez penalties in the 71st and 76th minute were the difference and another magnificent 6 nations match was done and dusted 


This years tournament has been pretty special so far and it’s only the second weekend.

So as the auld alliance re constitutes this morning we take a weeks break before we go through all those emotions yet again.


As I say goodbye to Paris the sunshine and the blue skies at Gare du Nord have replaced the sleet and darkness which greeted my arrival.

See you soon Paris

The Alternative Six Nations Awards 2017

BEST GRAPHICS AWARD

Italy produced three beautiful and innovative posters to advertise their three home games against Wales,Ireland and France.

BEST NATIVITY SCENE

During the official tournament launch in January, there was obviously a bit of an advent hangover at the Hurlingham club, as the official photographs were taken in a stable.

BEST HAIR EXTENSION

England v France at Twickenham created a few hair-raising moments as the Red Roses demolished France.

BEST QUOTE OF THE OPENING WEEKEND

“Followers are for Twitter” by new Wales captain Alun-Wyn Jones was so good it was even translated into French.

MOST HEARTWARMING CELEBRATION

A last-minute win for Scotland Women, against Wales, created the most wonderful genuine joyous celebration, it was their first six nations win for seven years.

THE RUBIK PRIZE

England win this award for their utter bemusement at Italy’s “we don’t give a ruck” attitude when everyone expected them to roll over at Twickenham.

OUT OF THIS WORLD TELEVISION COVERAGE AWARD

How is it a man in the space station can get a better reception than me, only a stones throw from the crystal palace transmitter ? wonder if he hung on for “embarrassing bodies”

THE MOST UNUSER FRIENDLY TROPHY OF THE TOURNAMENT

This was a nailed on certainty, the Garibaldi trophy that is presented to the annual winners of the match between France and Italy.

Now I’m no Rodin, but to me it looks like a cross between a railway sleeper and smashed up scalextrix set.

 

THE LEAST INTERESTED VIEWER OF ITALY V FRANCE

My little boy 

THE RUDYARD KIPLING “IF” AWARD

George North going from zero to hero in the space of two six nations weekends

See Rome And Dai

See Rome and Die… A quote echoing the bloody history of the eternal city where your life expectancy was pretty  limited,unless of course you happened to be Russell Crowe, and where you literally had to fight for your life.

 The equivalent Welsh venue was probably the Top Rank night club in Swansea on a Saturday night, Caligula would have felt quite at home there.


But yesterday  it was the modern day gladiators that battled it out, the collaseum replaced by the stadio olympico, and it was Wales that got the thumbs up

I watched proceedings in Bette Midler style “From a distance” due to a severe case of man flu.

In the sort of weather more akin to Rhyader than Rome, Wales and Italy kicked off their six nations campaign on a soggy Sunday in conditions resembling those often encountered by earlier Roman sides at Hadrians wall.

They came in their legions, from Pontpool to Pisa, from Treforest to Treviso, even the Italian president visited rainy Rome to meet the teams before battle commenced.

Casualties arose early ,Alun Wyn Jones temporarily went off after only four minutes to be patched up.

Then things became really Gory.. Well actually it was Edoardo Gori who scored a try for Italy after 28 minutes, their lead stretched to 7-0 before the scarred and bloodstained Leigh Halfpenny struck a penalty for Wales to make it 7-3 at the interval.



More warriors fell, Dan Biggar after a blow to the ribs to be replaced, and Jake Ball had to have his ears put back on, but that proved to be the moment that the warriors in red took control.

Match referee Sergio Parisse final decided to hand over the whistle, after much persuasion, to JP Doyle, resulting in a yellow card for Andrea Lovotti.

During the sin binning Italy conceeded fourteen points, and the battle was effectively over.

The “Turks” took control with tries from Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams before a noble Saint George (North) made sure the Dragons were the slayers on this occasion.

All three tries were converted by Leigh Halfpenny

The  Roman victory was assured, now just a chariot to deal with next Saturday, (Ben Hur’s never swung low).

Ciao tutti !

The Monday Roar With Rob Howley


At the RBS 6 nations launch last week, I spent some time in the company of the Wales coach Robert Howley.

One of the most gifted scrum halves ever to wear the Wales and Lions jersey, he now finds himself facing another 6 Nations campaign as caretaker manager, whilst Warrren Gatland organises yet another British & Irish lions summer tour.

The last time Rob was in charge of Wales in the six nations was in 2003, when England were demolished 30-3 in the final game of the championship, in Cardiff, to give the men in red the title.

After an Autumn that was good in terms of results, but frustrating in terms of performance, we are all unsure what to expect in 2017.

On Wales seven new uncapped squad members Rob said,

“The new players helped bring a freshness and a new competitive edge to the squad when they assembled last week”

“There was a different feel, there was a lot of energy but maybe the players who have been in our environment for a period of  time have said something to themselves that they haven’t been good enough”

Every member of the Welsh entourage I spoke to, emphasised what an impact new captain  Alun Wyn Jones had already made on the squad.

Rob spoke about a new dynamic in the Wales camp,

“Alun Wyn has certainly put his footprint on his captain’s style over the past few days and he will flourish in the role”


Regarding Wales chances in the tournament he is well aware that a big improvement is required if the men in red are to offer a challenge to the title.

“We’ve got over the line in the autumn three times so I think the players will take pride in that, but we all accept that we need to go up to another level, and another level started last Monday”

“It’s a big year as everyone knows, but that standard has to be set in a Welsh jersey, and in the last few six nations we’ve come up short, and that hurts”

Whilst happy that Wales are coming in “under the radar” in this years tournament, Howley is expecting big things, and the first seven days of Wales involvement in the six nations will be make or break, as following the opener in Rome, Wales have a six day turnaround before they face England in Cardiff.

“They (Italy) have a new coaching team and that’s going to be a huge motivation, it will probably be at their highest”

As Rob was whisked away to face the cameras, he smiled and shook hands, ever the gentleman, I hope that he will be smiling come March 19th.


RBS 6 Nations Launch 2017

There was a sign by the lake at the Hurlingham club in London yesterday, the venue for the 2017 RBS Six nations launch.


 Profetic words perhaps, as come the middle of March one or two international coaches could well be “skating” on such a substance.

As I headed across the spacious grounds, the frozen icy mist swirled, and out of the gloom rose a giant figure in red, no supernatural entity this,but rather Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones emerging from the ethereal darkness with accompanying film crew.



The players and coaches undertook the annual event with incredible good grace at at a time when their final preparations for the tournament are in full swing.

Eddie Jones arrived sporting a black eye to which he gave several explanations as to the cause, in the end we were all none the wiser.

This years captains photo call feature the men and women together, a welcome sign of the times and of the development of the women’s game, the fact that it took place in a bike shed is something we will gloss over.


The dry witted and mild mannered Andrew Cotter compared the launch in his customary fashion and once again the hypersensitive Dylan Hartley took exception to a benign and inoffensive question.

The consummate Mr Cotter took it in his stride, as he did last year.


All the other captains , both men and women espoused the usual virtues of taking one game at a time, but there was no doubting their enthusiasm and excitement at being part of the greatest  rugby tournament in the world.


The women’s tournament is breaking new ground, with all matches being broadcast this year.

With the Women’s rugby World Cup being held in Ireland, in August, these matches will take on an even greater significance.

There is no doubt that the women’s international game is on the verge of something big.

 A poignant  step that went almost unnoticed at the launch, was the captains photo call which this year featured the men and women captains together.


As the frost and ice slowly melted in the week morning sunshine the tournament that guides us from the depths of winter to the warmth and colour of Spring was well and truly launched.

Monday’s roar features Rob Howley’s thoughts on Wales and the six Nations

Don’t miss it

2017 Another Big Year For Alhambra Nievas

As years go, 2016 couldn’t have gone much better for the “Andalusian Arbitro”

Big matches, big awards, a host of television and radio appearances you name it Alhambra did it in 2016.

Never one to say to no any opportunity to promote the game and it’s values she must have been close to exhaustion by the end of the year.

A family holiday to Cuba has recharged her batteries and she is raring to go in a 2017 that brings a host of domestic and international events.

2017 started with a photo shoot for her sponsors  Canterbury, as they launched their new six nations clothing range 

The Canterbury 6 Nations Clothing Launch

I caught up with her the day before she was due to fly to Japan.

Already her diary is full of interviews, she is providing expert analysis for Moviestar’s television coverage of the six nations, and more awards are coming her way on an almost weekly basis.

Still unspoilt by all the adulation and recognition she has received, the same modest and friendly Andalusian continues to champion the cause of women’s rugby of rugby values, and proves that nice decent people can get to the very top without upsetting or walking all over others to get there.


Alhambra is in danger of becoming an Irish citizen by the end of the year due to the amount of time she will be spending in the Emerald Isle.

On March 17, St Patrick’s day, she will referee the final women’s 6 nations match of this years tournament, between Ireland and England, potentially the tournament decider.

Then in August the Women’s rugby World Cup takes place in Dublin and Belfast.

Such is her modesty that she will not even consider the tournament until she has been officially selected by World rugby.

The final takes place at the Kingspan stadium in Belfast, on Saturday 26 August, and Alhambra will be one of the contenders to officiate unless of course Spain get to the final.

Kingspan Stadium Belfast

Most of her awards now reside at her family home in Granada, her friends tease her that her mother and father will need a bigger house to keep them all in, but whilst Alhambra is deeply grateful for the recognition, it is memories, momentos, family, friends and the love and values of rugby that matter to her. (and of course a siesta which are few and far between theses days).

Wales Women Reign In Spain 


La Villajoyosa, known to the locals as La Vila, lies thirty-five kilometres north of Alicante.

In the 16th century, when it was  a small sleepy fishing village, the locals built a watchtower to repel Berber pirates.

On Saturday it was a band of marauding dragons that invaded this beautiful sun drenched part of Spain.

La Vila, a Costa Blanca town with a population of around 20,000 inhabitants, is famed for its chocolate production, however Wales showed they had no “soft centres” as they kept Spain scoreless, during an emphatic seven try victorious performance.

Referee Joaquín Santoro & The Two Captains

The Lionesses, playing in yellow and facing a strong headwind, roared and tested the Welsh defence in the opening exchanges, but after four minutes Kerin Lake showed her creative ability and strength, to score a try in the corner to give Wales a 5-0 lead.

With seventeen minutes on the clock, an overthrown Spanish line out, on the five metre line was snaffled up by Lowri Harries, who went over for Wales second try , Wilkins converted for a 12-0 lead.

Wales third try was scored after twenty-seven minutes by Jessica Kavanagh Williams, the right-wing, after precise and patient phase play.

Robyn Wilkins kicked a difficult conversion to give Wales a 19-0 lead, which they maintained until half time.


Spain’s defence was much improved at the start of the second half, but Wales continued to threaten, and  in the forty-sixth minute Lowri Harris went over for her second try, after a great assist from Sioned Harris.

The conversion was missed but Wales were 24-0 up.

To Spain’s credit they never gave up as Wales continued to attack relentlessly, resulting in a try from Kerin Lake (62mins) followed by a blistering brace of touchdowns from replacement Jasmine Joyce (74 & 77 mins) using her devastating speed and footwork to seal a win for Wales with a final scoreline of 39-0

Wales travel to Dublin next weekend full of confidence for the second of their Women’s Six Nations warm-up matches.