Meet ITV’s Rachael Burford

Sport at its simplest is an expression of joy and competition, an arena where players and fans can unite in a common cause, sharing hope despair joy and heart breaking sadness.

Sport mirrors society, and yet in many ways sport can be a catalyst for social change, to create equality in gender, sexuality and in the way we treat our fellow human beings.

Rachael Burford is a rugby player, she is a brilliant rugby player, and when you discover that she is a thoroughly lovely, friendly down to earth, and modest, individual to boot,  you can see why she is hugely admired and respected by those in our game.

Women’s rugby is growing and growing, and it will be forever grateful to people like Burf for lighting the blue touch-paper, those that follow will find the path a lot smoother, thanks to Rachael and co having paved the way.

I’m not sure what magical properties lurk in depths of the River Medway in Kent, but the Garden of England has produced Red Roses by the bouquet load, along with the odd flower of Scotland.

Working tirelessly to promote foster and encourage the women’s game, the formation of the Burford Academy has given young girls a wonderful opportunity to learn and train  with the greats of the game, including Danielle Waterman, Rocky Clarke and Katy Daly McClean.

But it’s not just about rugby, the attitudes and confidence gained at the academy translate into life skills, transferable into society at large, which is perhaps the greatest legacy of all.

Rachael is a Red Rose legend but at Harlequins she is just one the gang, taking and giving the banter in her own humble way

When her playing days are over, which is hopefully a long way off,  I have no doubt she will become a brilliant coach, in fact she has already achieved her RFU level 2 coaching badge.

Her media skills are also superb, and she looks supremely assured in front of the camera,
Revealed as one of the top 50 most influential rugby people In Rugby World magazine, Rachael continues to set the standards on and off the field

Her playing career has been nothing short of incredible, 81 England caps, four world cups, two World Cup finals, two World Cup Sevens, a six nations grand slam and the RPA merit award in 2017 together with some bloke called Richie McCaw.

Burf’s floating passes are a thing of beauty, coach Gary Street compares them to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but for me they have an operatic quality more akin to a Puccini aria you know exactly what’s coming but it is still always a joy to behold.

Burf has straddled the bridge between old world rugby and the new order, managing to retain the old values, whilst embracing the hard edged professionalism that is an essential requirement at the top end of the game.

Those so important roots were established at Medway RFC which was virtually a family concern, Dad did everything from the bar to the books and the boots, whilst Rachael spent her formative years in the scarlet and gold shirt, the highlight being a season playing alongside mum Renata and sister Louise.

Everything that can be written about Rachael Burford has already been done so, and in many forms and guises, but for me it is her actions that separate her from the rest.

She has been a pioneer and pathfinder  for the women’s game, quite a weight to carry when you are trying to focus on your own game, but those strong shoulders, the ones that rotate to provide a pass worthy of Beethoven or Puccini, bear the load with grace, poise, and in a light humble manner that make it appear effortless.

Maybe the River Medway does have properties after all.


Roman Spoons And Kitchen Sinks Italy v Wales

Yes I’m afraid it has come to this, Wales the team that has in recent years been used to preparing for vital matches with Triple Crowns, Grand Slams and Championship deciders at stake, are now having to throw the kitchen sink at an emerging and exciting Italian side in order to avoid rugby’s ultimate booby prize.

In fact Wales at present look like they will need to throw the kitchen sink, the dishwasher and their George Foreman grill at the Azzuri or else another piece of kitchenware will be heading their way, the dreaded “wooden spoon”.

Wales last Wooden Spoon came under the leadership of Steve Hansen back in 2003, their defeat in Rome that year left them doomed to a Six Nations whitewash losing to at home England (26-9) and Ireland (25-24) along with away defeats to Italy, Scotland (30-22) and France (33-5).

The similarities to 2023 are striking, not just the fact that 2003 was also a Rugby World Cup year.

Italy won only their second ever Six Nations game ever when they defeated a dismal Wales side in the Rome sunshine on February 15th 2003. It set Wales on a downward spiral for the rest of the Championship.

The Italians, led by playmaker Diego Dominguez, destroyed the Welsh pack and starved Steve Hansen’s men of any possession.

Tries from Giampiero De Carli, Carlo Festuccia and Matthew Phillips were matched by touchdowns from Tom Shanklin, Steve Williams and Dwayne Peel but Wales were second best in every other area.

The teams that day make interesting reading:

Italy: P Vaccari (Calvisano); Mauro Bergamasco (Treviso), C Stoica (Castres/Fra), G Ranieri (Calvisano), D Dallan (Treviso); D Dominguez (Stade Francais/Fra), A Troncon (Treviso, capt); G De Carli (Calvisano), C Festuccia (Gran Parma), R Martinez (Treviso), C Bezzi (Viadana), M Bortolami (Padova), A De Rossi (Calvisano), A Persico (Viadana), M Phillips (Viadana).

Reps: A Moretti (Calvisano), S Perugini (Calvisano), M Giacheri (Rotherham/Eng), S Palmer (Treviso), J Manuel Queirolo (Dax/Fra), R Pez (Rotherham/Eng), Mirco Bergamasco (Padova).

Wales: R Williams (Cardiff); M Jones (Llanelli), T Shanklin (Saracens), L Davies (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bridgend); I Harris (Cardiff), D Peel (Llanelli); I Thomas (Llanelli), M Davies (Pontypridd), B Evans (Swansea), R Sidoli (Pontypridd), S Williams (Northampton), M Owen (Pontypridd), M Williams (Cardiff), C Charvis (Swansea, capt).

Reps: G Williams (Bridgend), G Jenkins (Pontypridd), D Jones (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bath), G Cooper (Bath), C Sweeney (Pontypridd), M Watkins (Llanelli).

For the record Scotland and Ireland have recorded the most 5/6 Nations wooden spoons with 23 each.

Italy have 17, England 13, Wales 10 and France bringing up the rear with 9.

When it comes to championship whitewashes Scotland and Italy have the most with 11 each. Ireland and France have 7 each.

Then come Wales with 3 and England with 2.

Welsh fans will be hoping their team’s statistics in this department do not alter during the next few weeks.

The Auld Alliance France v Scotland

There is a small bakery tucked away down a quiet side street just a stones throw from Stade de France, due to its discreet location it remains relatively uninhabited on international match days.

I discovered it in 2016 when France played Italy in the Six Nations, and it has remained my first port of call on arrival in Saint-Denis ever since.

That Six Nations fixture match in 2016 was the first major sporting event to be held in Paris following the terrorist attacks at the Bataclan, and indeed at the stadium itself.

That day my espresso was delivered to me at my table via a machine gun totting member of the French military, It was the strangest atmosphere I have ever encountered at a rugby international.

Happily eight years later the clientele at Boulangerie Patisserie Lagneb in Rue Jesse Owens were unarmed and looking much more relaxed, and indeed much more kilted.

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 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.

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.

Sunday Guinness Six Nations fixtures can sometimes feel a little bit flat, but yesterday there was a real buzz of expectation and nervous anticipation in the air.

France after 14 successive wins were defeated in Dublin two weeks ago, the public of the republic were expecting a blue backlash and they got one but not quite the one they expected or indeed hoping for.

In fact it turned out to be a “white backlash” as the home team wearing white shirts to avoid a colour clash with the visitors, managed a bonus point win in a pulsating contest.

Both sides received red cards in the first 10 minutes, Gilchrist after just seven minutes and Haouas four minutes later.

Scotland trailed 19-0 after twenty minutes but scored three tries before to trail by only four points with less than a minute remaining.

However, Gael Fickou with 79.34 on the clock glided between Price and Bhatti to dive over and score the try that gave France a bonus point win.

At café du Nord there was a feeling of quiet satisfaction as over a glass of red and a plate of steak frites, the whispers returned about the possibility of World Cup glory in a few months time, a feat rarer than the piece of beef looking up at me from my plate, but this French team with their beauty and power are well and truly capable of grasping their oval Holy Grail.

Bon appetite

Wales v England Home Thoughts From Abroad

Situated 438 miles away from Cardiff in a bar down the road from Gare du Nord station, it felt very strange watching Wales face England on the multi screens of a Parisian watering-hole, rather than from the press box of the Principality Stadium.

In many ways it was quite a relief to take some distance from the depressing events that occupied the recent weeks news in my homeland.

Yet I felt the Hiraeth, the longing to be with my rugby brothers and sisters in the cauldron of Cardiff, but hey Paris is a pretty good alternative.

The million dollar question was how would the players respond to the overwhelming distractions that must surely have disrupted preparations for this massive game.

Owen Williams finally got the rugby underway after a week of turmoil that put the match in doubt until as late as Thursday evening.

A collective oo la la greeted a Tomos Williams tapped penalty but the very best was reserved for referee Mathieu Raynal, the man from Perpignan, who got a very loud “Merde” and a massive Gallic shoulder shrug at regular whistle blowing intervals.

The bar fell silent as half time approached and thoughts turned to vital rehydration. Trays of beer, bottles of claret and the odd Kir raced passed the television screens in a frantic effort to get everyone prepared for the second half.

Clearing out slower than the Welsh forwards at the rucks the bar staff managed to just about be back on side as Louis Rees-Zammit streaked away for a try that gave Wales hope.

Sadly hope turned into blind faith as Wales toothless attack failed to trouble the English defence, and we were reminded just exactly where Wales are in the pecking order of world rugby.

79 minutes on the clock and an exhausted waiter dropped a profiterole with the table at his mercy it was that kind of day.

Time Is Ticking For Wales Old Guard

Time catches up with us all. I have now reached the age where every bending motion is a challenge and even rising from a seat cannot be achieved without an accompanying groan.

When at your peak it is difficult to imagine life in any other way, but time passes all too quickly and some of Wales wonderful players are now reaching the bending and groaning stage in rugby terms.

Bodies battered by years of brutal attrition are beginning to weaken even minor niggles now take longer to shake off, timing is out by a hundredth of a second, and at the elite international level that split second really matters.

Warren Gatland says Wales are in a hole, well it feels more like the Grand Canyon after the opening two weeks of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.

Ideally rebuilding a team is a gradual process blending the old and the new in the hope of a seamless transition, but somehow Wales have left it far too late and found themselves caught between two very small stools, and in a Rugby World Cup year.

In Wales the problem goes far deeper, the whole structure and organisation of the game and it’s values have been deeply eroded, and we have finally got to the stage where there is nowhere to hide both on and off the field.

France found themselves in the same situation five years ago and look at them now.

As Welsh Rugby hopefully sorts itself out off the field, Warren Gatland’s unenviable task is to make Wales competitive whilst undertaking a massive changing of the guard.

I fear there will be a lot of bending and groaning over the next few years, but there is some serious young talent in Wales on the field and in the boardroom, who in time can take us out of the current darkness and into rugby daylight.

As Bob Dylan said

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Wales are currently in the shallow end of the rugby pool shivering and wearing armbands, in less than two weeks time they face England in Cardiff, barring strike action from the players, it’s time to sink or swim.

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.


The New Italian Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance period was a revival of the ideals and culture lost during previous years of war, as well as a resurgence in the various social and political differences within Europe during the Medieval age. This revival led to a complete shift in perspectives – quite literally and figuratively – in Italian art and culture. Overall, it was a new time for Europe, and it became a period of history that would live on for ages to come.

Italy’s rugby renaissance has been slow in coming, but over the last twelve months the Azzuri artists are beginning to display their considerable talents.

If Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni known as Michelangelo was the Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance, then Ange Capuozzo must surely be his rugby equivalent.

In a game obsessed with size and big hits this 5ft 10 inch 12 stone full back/Wing is a wonderful breath of fresh air.

Ange Capuozzo was born on 30 April 1999 in Le Pont-de-Claix on the outskirts of Grenoble to French parents. His father is of Italian descent with paternal grandparents from the Naples area where they settled after the Second World War as Children. Capuozzo’s maternal grandfather is from Madagascar and his maternal grandmother is French. So he had multiple options when it came to representative honours.

With a face as angelic as one of Raphael’s cherubs, Cappuozzo tried to bring his light artistic brushstrokes to Twickenham, but it was a day when the emulsion and heavy roller boys in white took centre stage and his masterpieces were kept under wraps.

England with a new coaching team are starting with a blank canvas and very much went back to basics, Italy were starved of ball and physically dominated by the English pack.

Three first half tries all from England forwards gave them a 19-0 lead which they never looked like relinquishing.

The visitors did supply some bright blue moments under the damp murky grey skies with two second half tries but England’s power kept them at arms length.

This victory will provide the undercoat for England’s tasty visit to the Principality Stadium in a couple of weeks time where Wales will be hoping and praying for a victory, whoever wins that one will certainly paint the town red.

But for now as the Sunday congregation filed out of their sporting cathedral alongside the A316 it was time to cherish a victory, which unless you are Irish or Scottish is something that is extremely hard to come by in this brutal Guinness Six Nations Championship.

Fabien Galthie Creating A Spectacle

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

His coolness turned many a head when he took over as France coach at the 2019 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. “

Galthie has always done things in his own way, in November 2019, 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”.

Fabian could have been forgiven for swapping his current frames for rose tinted spectacles with France unbeaten in their last 14 matches but he is not getting carried away.

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, with Wales on the horizon he is making sure his charges keep their focus with as much accuracy as his striking optical attachments

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

When Irish eyes are smiling, Sure it’s like a morn in Spring, In the lilt of Irish laughter, You can hear the angels sing.

When Irish hearts are happy, All the world seems bright and gay, And when Irish eyes are smiling, Sure, they steal your heart away.

“When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” is a lighthearted song in tribute to Ireland. Its lyrics were written by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr, set to music composed by Ernest Ball. It was first published in 1912, at a time when songs in tribute to a romanticised Ireland were very numerous and popular both in Britain and the United States. During the First World War the famous tenor John McCormack recorded the song. The song continued to be a familiar standard for generations. The song has been recorded on over 200 singles and albums and by many famous singers, including Bing Crosby, Connie Francis, and Roger Whittaker.

Ireland and Wales Celtic neighbours separated by the Irish Sea, So how close exactly are we? well the Llyn Peninsula and the Wicklow mountains are only just over 31 miles apart.

Eryri (Snowdonia) to Howth is some 85 miles so the closeness is very real. With that closeness comes comes a fierce rivalry that goes back many decades.

That rivalry was reconvened yesterday in Cardiff in the opening match of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship.

With Warren Gatland back as Wales coach there were hopes for an upset against the Emerald Islanders who are currently number one in the World Rugby rankings.

The hope lasted for just under two minutes before the Irish unleashed a storm that their country’s Wild West coat would have been proud of. Tries for Doris and Ryan and the home side were 14 points adrift after just 10 minutes.

Wales were all at sea, leaking tries and longing for the safe haven of half time. A further James Lowe interception try and the boot of Sexton gave Ireland a 27-3 lead at the interval.

The men in red steadied the ship at the start of the second half with a Liam Williams try 5 minutes after the restart, but their continued indiscipline and line out inaccuracy scuppered the many chances they created.

Ireland had the last word with a Josh Van Der Flier try in the 73rd minute to give all those smiling eyes a bonus point win.

Welsh eyes will be red and baggy this morning as they find their team caught in a generation gap, the old guard are sadly nearing the end and the few bright lights that shone for Wales yesterday were the emerging youngsters. Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer and Louis Rees Zammit, when fit, are exciting backs to light up the current gloom.

Murrayfield beckons and a Scottish side that will have their tails up. These are difficult days for Welsh rugby on and off the field.

As the audience of 73,931 filtered out of the Principality Stadium there was a eerie quiet in Westgate Street, a stark realisation that there is a lot of rebuilding to be done, and that the prospect of being sent a home tae think again next weekend may well be on the cards.

Price’s Punch And The Prince Of Wales

image Brian Price

The South Wales Echo headlined “A right royal punch up” in its report of the Wales v Ireland match at Cardiff Arms Park, on 8 March 1969, a match attended by HRH the Prince of Wales.

image The Prince Of Newport & The Prince Of Wales

This match was seen as the key to the championship, that year, Ireland and Wales were both unbeaten, and the match was played at a Cardiff Arms Park, resembling a giant airfix kit, as the new North Stand was in the process of being rebuilt, and as a result, the crowd capacity was reduced from 52,000 to 29,000

The pitch appeared to be devoid of even a single blade of grass on it, and was so poor, I think that even the Horse of The Year show organisers would have deemed it unsuitable for their needs.

Ireland had received some criticism from the press as a result of their “robust” play in earlier matches, and Wales were determined to face up to their aggression.

The match began sensationally, within three minutes of introducing his team to the Prince, Brian Price floored Irish flanker, Noel Murphy with a punch that Henry Cooper would have been proud of.

image Noel Murphy takes it on the chin

Brian Price said later that he felt a pair of hands heading towards his eyes, and so he “Let him have it

Later in the first half Irish hooker Ken Kennedy was also floored, resulting in captain Tom Kiernan threatening to take his team off the field, Gareth Edwards spoke to fellow “Lion” Kiernan, but the content of that particular conversation is not suitable for print.

Kiernan then kicked Ireland into an early lead, which Barry John levelled with a drop goal.

The game was brutal, Brian Thomas was led from the field with blood pouring from his face, to be stitched on the touch-line whilst the game went on around him.

In the eighth minute of first half injury time, Wales were awarded a penalty on the Irish 25 yard line, the Irish team turned their backs, expecting an inevitable Keith Jarrett place kick, by the time they looked around, Jarrett had tapped, and fed a trundling Denzil Williams, the Ebbw Vale prop, who ran over unopposed in the corner.

Jarrett converted the try, which gave Wales an 8-6 half time lead.

After the interval Wales stepped up a gear with Newport wing Stuart Watkins, Dai Morris and John Taylor all scoring tries for the men in red.

Mike Gibson scored a consolation late length of the field try for Ireland, but which time the match was well and truly over as a contest.

Wales won 24-11, but the match will always be remembered for Brian Price’s pugalistic efforts in front of HRH.