Thinking Outside The Boks

Twelve months ago many people in Wales were in a state of despair, an opening autumn stuffing by Australia, and a notion felt by many that Wales, in rugby terms, were stagnant and going nowhere.

A last minute victory against Japan, and a win against one of the poorest Springbok sides of all time, did little to paper over the cracks.

What a difference a year makes, at the tail end of the 2018 6 Nations Wales beat Italy and France on consecutive weekends in Cardiff.

Summer arrived and South Africa were defeated in Washington, by a Wales squad en route to a two test victory over the Pumas in Argentina.

As Autumn arrived, Wales beat Scotland Australia and Tonga to extend their unbeaten run to eight games.

On Saturday the Springboks arrived for the final match of the Autumn series.

Wales had won five out their last six meetings with South Africa, the only blot on the copy book being the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter final, which Wales were leading 19-18 with 74:06 on the clock.

Now Welsh fans are not wholly comfortable with success, we find it in our melancholy way a pre curser to abject failure, we dare not celebrate it too vociferously for fear of tempting fate, in the same way as we dare not purchase sun cream on a hot summers day, as it will inevitable bring a deep depression sweeping in from the Atlantic the moment our bodies have absorbed that first smear of lotion.

But there is something different happening here, Wales strength in depth is surely the best it has ever been, and on Saturday they achieved an autumn clean sweep for the first time.

It is not that long ago that just a single injury to either Adam Jones, Alun-Wyn, Leigh Halfpenny or Rhys Webb would have the nation rubbing its collective hands in despair, with the almost inevitable certainty that any tournament success was dead and buried at that point.

But those days seem a distant memory, Wales have now learned how to close out matches against the big guns from down south, and such is the strength in depth it can be done in a variety of ways.

Wales win on Saturday was their fourth in a row against the Springboks, and the ninth consecutive victory overall, heady days indeed.

So after the most successful Autumn series on record we can look forward to the 2019 Six Nations, and dare I say it, even the Rugby World Cup with optimism.

Wales open the tournament in Paris, on Friday 1st February, and the poor Welsh fans who have justifiably complained about all the 8pm fixtures they have been dealt over the years, have at last been listened to, this one kicks off at 9pm.

The mem in red have eight further international matches before their opening Rugby World Cup match against Georgia on 23 September.

World Cup hopes have never looked better, but for now we can deservedly celebrate and bask in Wales Autumn successes, but like the sun cream application , dare we risk it ?

 Electric Quins Storm To Victory Over Lightning

The odds of being struck by lightning are one in 960,000, so pretty slim all things considered, whilst the odds of being struck twice by lightning are one in 9 million.

The old adage of Lightning never striking twice was put to the test at Surrey Sports Park today, and the theory was well and truly confirmed.

Loughborough lightning had already struck Harlequins Ladies earlier this season, when they beat them 41-17 in just the third match of the Tyrrells Premership.

However the team that visited Loughborough on September 22nd was a shadow of the current crop, and today it was Quins who provided a Storming start from which lightning never recovered.

Playing with a strong wind behind them Quins built up a first half lead of 19 points to nil.

After just 6 minutes Heather Cowell went over for a try brilliantly converted by Ellie Green, and just 7 minutes later scrum half Leanne Riley scored a try, once again superbly converted by the “Green Machine”

Quins third try came from Georgia Newman on 34 minutes, giving the home side a 19-0 lead which they took in to half time.

As the Dark clouds gathered overhead for a gusty second half, Harlequins, playing into the wind, continued where they left off before the interval, and a break from Leanne Riley, who played an absolute blinder, led to try on 50 minutes for Emily Scott, before the England scrum half broke from her own half and scored a wonderful individual try on 53 minutes.

Lighting pulled back a converted try on 57 minutes to bring the score to 31-7, but this was a temporary reprieve as ruthless Quins scored two further tries through Heather Cowell on 69 minutes, and replacement Chloe Edwards in the 78th minute. which Ellie Green converted.

Make no mistake, this was a comprehensive victory for Quins against one of the best teams in the league, Lightning barely had a sniff, such was Harlequins dominance and accuracy in all phases of the game.

The home team’ seven tries gave them their third bonus win in a row, and Heather Cowell’s brace makes her Quins top try scorer with ten from eleven matches.

Harlequins win moves them up to second in the table.

As the game ended the wind dropped, and the rain came, but the threat of lightning had been extinguished.

Scoring sequence 5-0, 7-0, 12-0, 14-0, 19-0 Half Time 24-0, 26-0, 31-0, 31-5, 31-7, 36-7, 41-7, 43-7.

 

Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Wales v Australia

From Sydney to Swansea, or Canberra to Cardiff, Wales and Australia are not just at opposite ends of the planet geographically, they appear to be at opposite ends of so many things.

Australia wear gold shirts epitomising a bright warm climate, a young country full of hope, optimism and derring-do.

Wales inhabit the scarlet blood-red garb, a dark hue reflecting historic struggles and bloodshed, a country that has had to withstand invaders, battle for recognition from its near neighbour, and indeed the world at large.

Next Saturday in Cardiff Gold meets Red on the field of dreams.

Wales will be dreaming of a first victory over the Wallabies since 2008, having lost the last thirteen matches against them.

As history reminds us, Wales have gone oh so close, in 2012 Wales and Australia met three times, the Aussies won all three, two tests were lost by a two point margin, and one by a solitary point.

To make matters worse, Wales were leading in all three games until a Mike Harris penalty (8omins) a Kurtley Beale try (80+1 mins) and a Berrick Barnes penalty (75mins) decided the outcomes.

It remains to be seen whether Warren Gatland’s men can turn dreams into reality in a fixture that was once so rare, but had now become as regular an autumn event as Beaujolais nouveau day and Bonfire night.

The mystery of thirteen successive defeats against the green and gold, would baffle even the great Sherlock Holmes, but maybe the key lies with his arch-enemy.

When Wales defeated Australia at the Arms Park in 1981 (18-13) one of the try scorers was named Moriarty (Richard), incidentally Wales scrum half that day was Holmes (Terry).

At the 1987 Rugby World Cup, when Wales beat Australia 22-21 in the third place play off, one of the try scorers that day was also named Moriarty (Paul).

It must therefore seems elementary to suggest that all Wales have to do is pick yet another Moriarty (Ross), to face the Wallabies on Saturday.

If the case was that simple, but sadly Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will not be writing the script for this one.

As appears to be the case at virtually every Rugby World Cup, Wales are in the same Pool as Australia in  Japan 2019, there is no doubt a win for the men in the blood-red shirts would be a huge psychological boost.

As Sherlock Holmes once said “There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you “, after thirteen straight defeats Wales will be hoping that “A study in Scarlet” will prove to be the perfect bed time reading come Saturday night.

Quins Swat Team See Off Wasps

There was a real buzz at the Stoop yesterday, and with the visit of Wasps you would expect nothing less.

Wasps started lively but it was Quins who took an early lead with an Ellie Green penalty after 5 minutes.

Lizzie Goulding equalised for Wasps with a 19th minute penalty.

There is an old rugby adage, that states forwards win matches, and the backs decide by how much.

A quote that sums up this match in a nutshell.

The Quins pack began to dominate proceedings with bullocking runs from Shaunagh Brown along with line out dominance from Abbie Scott and Zoe Sayner.

On 25 minutes that dominance bore fruit as Davina Catlin crashed over at the back of a rolling maul for a try which the “Green Machine” converted.

With the score at 10-3 to the home side Catlin crashed over in the 38th minute, with a carbon copy of her first try, which Ellie Green converted.

A half time lead of 17-3 was no more than Quins deserved.

In the 53rd minute the dominant Quins scrum went over from five metres, and Fiona Fletcher touched down for a try once again converted by error free Ellie.

Four yellow cards in 14 minutes disrupted the flow of the game.

Quins Ellie Green got the first on 55 mins, before Wasps Lizzie Goulden and Quins Emily Scott were dismissed, after attempting to exchange jerseys rather earlier than is the usual custom, Wasps Claudia MacDonald also saw yellow in the 69th minute.

Wasps looked livelier when Danielle Waterman switched to scrum half, and they were rewarded with a try on 79 minutes from Garnet Mackinder

As Twickenham’s finest launched their Waitrose fireworks, providing a colourful backdrop to proceedings, Quins pushed for a fourth, and bonus point gaining, try but it was not to be.

Quins will be delighted to go into the autumn break with a fifth consecutive win, they are improving game by game and have a mean old pack that will be a huge asset when winter truly arrives.

Quins Win Warms The Heart

What a difference a week makes, last weekend at the Stoop we basked in warm sunshine, this afternoon it felt like Siberia at Richmond Athletic Ground as icy rain gave way to a northerly wind that cut you in half.

One thing that didn’t change from last week however was the fact that Quins earned another win, this time with a try scoring bonus point,

I’m not sure what Shaunagh Brown has been eating this week but she was like a runaway buffalo stampeding over Richmond defenders at regular intervals indeed at one point she left two opposition players lying prostrate on the ground as she rampaged into the opposition twenty-two.

Chloe Edwards also had some barnstorming runs taking the ball as first receiver and breaking the gain line time and time again.

Leanne Riley sniped and made some superb breaks whilst being the team metronome and constantly attempting to up the tempo with quick tap penalties.

Richmond starter the better scoring a try after 5 minutes when Libby Povey went over for the hosts.

On 12 minutes Shaunagh Brown steamrolled over for a try converted by the points machine Ellie Green.

Fiona Fletcher rounded off some great handling with a try on 20mins which the Green Machine converted to give Quins a 14-5 lead.

Emily Scott scores a try three minutes later before a sublime pass from Rachael Burford put Beth Dainton over in the left hand corner.

Richmond responded in the 40th minute with a try from Anna Caplice which made the half time score 26-10 to Quins.

The second half was a much less entertaining affair dominated by the referee’s whistle.

Quins had a penalty try on the 63rd minute following a scrum. The Quins scrum totally dominated constantly marching Richmond backwards even on their own put in.

At one point it looked like they might end up in Starbucks in the High had the referees whistle not intervened.

The Queensland born super sub Chloe Butler stormed over for try in the 80th minute converted by Emily Scott to make the final score 40-10 to Harlequins, a bonus point win which takes them to third in the table.

Quins Sizzle In The Stoop Sunshine

The origin of name Saracens comes from the Latin “Saraceni” “to steal, Rob, plunder” and also from the Arabic noun “Sariq” which means “Thief, marauder, plunderer.

But the 21st century Saracens found fortress Stoop impenetrable on a warm sunny autumn Saturday afternoon, and on this wonderful colourful occasion it was Harlequins who did the plundering.

Roared on by a crowd of 1,254 the home side appeared to feed off the mostly home support that applauded and cheered every thing that moved in a Quins shirt.

This was the performance Quins have been looking for, they never took a backward step and showed a cutting edge in attack against one of the best defences in the league.

Marlie Packer the Saracens flanker is a plumber by trade but it was the Quins boiler room of Abbie Scott and Zoe Saynor that proved too hot to handle.

Sarries found Quins cooking on gas as they turned up the rugby thermostat with a gutsy high tempo performance that was too much for last seasons champions.

A sun-baked crowd cheered Quins to victory as heroic first half defence gave way to some searing second half breaks from Shaunagh Brown, and scrum half Leanne Riley, who was back to her very best barking orders and keeping up the high tempo game that Quins thrive on with quick tap penalties.

Ellie Green kicked Quins into a 3-0 lead with a penalty in the 13th minute.

Saracens responded with two tries in two minutes from Botterman and Wardle to lead 12-3 after 28mins.

The flying Swede, Tove Viksten, crashed over in the 31st minute and Ellie Green converted to bring Quins back to within two points 10-12 a score that remained unchanged up to half time.

Saracens started the second half with all guns blazing and a Marlie Packer try extended Sarries lead to 17-10.

In the 60th munute, Kay Searcey was yellow carded for taking out Abbie Scott in the air, Quins responded with verve and panache to take full advantage an Ellie Green penalty brought Quins back to 13-17, and on 67 mins Heather Cowell finished off a wonderful back line move with a glorious try , Quins 30th of the season, superbly converted by Green taking Quins in front 20-17

Quins defence held firm and they ended the match firmly ensconced in the Saracens half.

The final whistle was greeted with a Roar from a knowledgeable home support that fully appreciated how significant a win this was

As the sun dipped behind the east stand, the players were still on the pitch signing autographs taking part in selfies, revelling in the wonderful warm glow that a memorable victory and such an occasion brings.

There was an accuracy and precision at training last week which was transferred into the matchday performance on Saturday, all credit to the coaches and players, and who knows maybe even my welsh cakes may have played a tiny part

As the ground slowly emptied a group of young girls in the crowd  began singing “We love you Gary”, on this occasion it was not for Mr Barlow but for Mr Street, and after a tough few weeks off the field for the likeable Quins coach it was a song we’d all like to join in with.

Scoring sequence 3-0 3-5 3-7 3-12 8-12 10-12 Half Time 10-17 13-17 18-17 20-17

Friends United Harlequins Ladies

Imagine a mild damp Autumn evening in Guildford, the car headlights from the busy A3 dual carriageway, high above the floodlit pitches, reflect through the leafless trees, and shimmer off the illuminated bright green turf at a misty Surrey Sports Park.

Amidst the distant whining engine noise, cascading down from the vehicles of weary commuters heading home, Harlequins ladies start their Thursday night training session, warming up under the watchful eye of head coaches Gary Street and Karen Findlay.

The chemistry teacher, the office worker all arrive straight from their day jobs, something many of us forget when we watch their relatively pampered male counterparts go about their business.

It was here twelve months ago where a cynical old rugby hack discovered a rugby paradise.

I arrived to interview Quins and Scottish international lock Debs McCormack, after a wonderful hour with “The Flower of Scotland”  I stayed behind to watch training, and what hit me straight away about this group of players, and coaches, was their togetherness, their amazing friendliness and the total absence of any cliques in the squad.

I later found those humble and thoroughly decent qualities were matched by a steeliness and determination on and off the field by players, coaches, support staff and everyone involved with the team.

I only had one written assignment with Quins Ladies, but something kept calling me back, I found myself hooked, and before long I found myself at training sessions, the players and coaches who were once strangers, became friends, especially when I started bringing Welsh cakes for everyone.

The Welsh cakes have now become almost a weekly ritual, and in some cases an addiction especially for a red-headed winger and one particular strength and fitness coach, who shall rename nameless, for now.

The fact is, I found myself refreshed by the true rugby values that were on display from this incredible bunch, it gave me a journalistic lease of life, and wonderful contrast to the ever decreasing openness between press and players and coaches in the mens game,

When I lost both my parents, suddenly, this year, as you might expect they were there for me offering support, compassion and comfort in equal measure.

The women’s game has moved on in leaps and bounds since the Womens Rugby World Cup of 2017, Harlequins have been at the cutting edge of development and improvement, and indeed “professionalism” whilst maintaining the “old” values, which is not always an easy balance to strike.

So, as the Autumn light fades into winter darkness, there will be some huge battles ahead, times of joy and times of having to dig deep in an effort to ensure that when the days lengthen in early spring Quins are in a position to compete in the knock out stages of the Tyrells Premiership.

All that is a long way off, and the rugby road is a long one with many twists and turns, and I for one am delighted and privileged to join Quins on their journey.