The Napoli Forza Natura Giada Franco

Naples is no stranger to seismic activity, Mount Vesuvius is the only volcano to have erupted on mainland Europe in the last one hundred years.

Situated on the breath-taking gulf of Naples, it has a majesty, beauty and power that showcases nature in all its terror and wonderment.

The last eruption came in 1944, although in 1996, another force of nature was about to enter the landscape, Giada Franco.

The family moved 54 kilometres south east, along the Amalfi coast, to settle in Salerno, a lively port with a relaxing Mediterranean ambiance, and an historic town full of tiny little passageways and hidden corners.

The twenty three year old Italian started playing rugby aged 13 at school, before starting senior rugby with Colerno, just north of Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna region.

Many have felt the aftershock of the dark haired flanker’s rib shattering tackles, and her eruptions, unlike Vesuvius, are now taking place on a weekly basis in the Tyrrells Premiership.

Giada joined Harlequins Women at the start of the season and made her club debut in the opening match of the campaign, which saw Quins romp home to a 101-0 victory over near neighbours Richmond, an instant success, she scored her first try for her new club in the 77th minute against Worcester Warriors on match day two.

She played in all seven of the clubs Tyrrells Premiership games so far this season scoring tries against Worcester Warriors, Gloucester-Hartbury, Loughbourough Lightning and Firwood Waterloo.

Away from rugby the young lady of Naples is a big fan of “Le vechia signora”(The old lady of Turin) which for the uninitiated,  is the nickname of Juventus football club, one of the giants of the game.

A firm fixture in the national side, Giada made her  international debut in the 2018 Six Nations in Dublin, a couple of weekends ago she gained her 13th cap against Japan, and has scored four tries in the process.

Giada is part of a truly international sisterhood at Harlequins, training playing and socialising with players who have donned the shirts of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Australia and Sweden, the cosmopolitan vibe at the club is a joy to behold.

One of her most memorable moments came at the Principality Stadium in the Six Nations double header against Wales in 2018, when the “Azzura Assasin” played a blinder, it was the first time I had seen her play, she made a huge impression and has been a permanent fixture in the national team ever since.

Settling into English life has been easy but she did admit to missing the sunshine and the gastronomical delights of home, particularly “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” which is a thick cut of porterhouse steak from an ancient breed of Tuscan cattle, instead of inches, these steaks are measured in fingers, and a good one will be 3-4 fingers thick, and Giada insists they don’t forget the fries.

Of course she misses her Mum, back home in Salerno, and their unbreakable bond is very evident from the loving and protective way she talks about her, fortunately her sister is nearby in London so “la dolce vita” is never far away.

This planet is a small place where the past and present are indelibly linked, sitting in the warmth of Surrey Sports Park, discussing the joys of rugby, and life, over a coffee, we discover that both our grandfathers saw active service in Salerno during the Second World War, it is a small world indeed, but one in which Giada Franco is making a big impact.

 

Wayne’s World And Wales New Dawn

Takapuna is a coastal town on North Shore Auckland, with a population of 5,000, it doesn’t hit the headlines very often, the filming of a Shania Twain video in 2003 remains one of its major claims to fame, however an ex policeman stationed in that neck of the woods is about to change all that.

Wayne Jeffrey Pivac was born in Takapuna in September 1962, from birth he had international options with Mum Joan coming from Scotland and Dad George a Croatian from Split.

Wayne’s rugby career ended abruptly at the age of 27 when he suffered a knee ligament injury playing soccer.

A coaching career that includes three years with the Fiji national team has given the former police constable an arresting CV.

So here we are three weeks after the Rugby global showpiece in the land of the rising sun, and a new dawn has arrived in Wales.

Wayne Pivac has taken over as Welsh coach from his fellow Kiwi Warren Gatland, to say he has a tough act to follow is an understatement of the highest order, but the man who made the Scarlets sparkle is intent on doing exactly the same job on his current red shirted squad.

“I will be doing my best to protect the legacy which Warren Gatland, with the help of the players, has left behind. It will be an almighty challenge, but one that I’m more than ready for”.

“Having lived in the country for four years, I don’t see myself as an outsider, but as a Welsh coach, I would not have put myself through the process if I did not feel it was something I could do, and be passionate about”.

A four year contract that officially began in July 2019 makes Pivac the fourth New Zealand born coach to take charge of Wales  and he is not fazed with the prospect of following Gats. 

“I grew up in a pretty hostile environment where winning was everything”

“We will be doing everything we can to emulate what Warren has done in terms of results and evolve our game at the same time”

“It’s a process that works towards the Rugby World Cup in 2023 bearing in mind we have to be as successful was we can along the way”

It’s been a pretty momentous year for Wayne Pivac, as Wales clinched a Grand Slam in the pouring rain in Cardiff last March, he was marrying Mikaela back home on Takapuna beach.

Eight months on Wales men face the Baa-Baas as part of a double header with Wales women and Pivac has selected a squad that includes 22 players who featured for Wales in the 2019 RWC and five uncapped players.

Just to make things a little tastier Warren Gatland will coach the Barbarians squad for this match.

On announcing his first Wales squad, Pivac said:

“It is great to get the squad announced and get the ball rolling on our first meet-up and first fixture next week”.

“This Barbarians game is a great chance for us as a new squad and management to get together and to set the scene for what we are looking to do. Having this opportunity ahead of tournament rugby in the Six Nations is ideal for us”.

“It is also a great chance for some players to really put their hand up and show what they are about and take to the field in front of a big crowd at home”.

“We will be bringing a few additional players in to train with the squad during the week, just to see them in the environment and will also be bringing some of the injured players in for some of the scene setting style sessions.”

 

Following Warren Gatland is a tall order but all of us with red blood in our veins hope that this particular policeman’s lot will be a happy one.

 

 

 

Tragedy And Triumph Makazole The Barbarian

It is the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, 65:43 on the clock and South Africa lead England 18-12, from a South African scrum near half way, Faff Du Klerk feeds Lukhanyo Am, who passes left to Malcolm Marx……… Makazole Mapimpi takes up the story from here.

“I got the ball from Malcolm Marx 50 meters out near the left touchline, I saw that Lukhanyo Am was on my inside, I chipped the ball ahead, he gathered it, I chased up and he gave me the ball to score”. 

The understatement does not do justice to a wonderful try, South Africa’s first in a Rugby World Cup final, and bearing in mind they won the damn thing in 1995 and 2007 that’s quite a statistic.

The try scorer Makazole Mapimpi is a person more familiar with tragedy than success, his life story is filled with heart breaking sadness, yet the softly spoken wing from Tsholomnqa, in the Eastern Cape, inspired and comforted by his faith, has nothing but gratitude for how things are.

As a back story to the glory and triumph of the Springboks cup final win, there could not be a more earth shattering contrast.

His mother Eunice who ran a sewing machine business was killed in a car accident, his brother Zolani lost a leg after being electrocuted whilst stealing cables, he then died from his injuries, and his sister Zukiswa died from a illness affecting the brain.

On Saturday Makazole swapped Johannesburg for Twickenham and a temperature drop of eighteen degrees, he is part of the Springbok contingent in the Barbarians squad that faced Fiji on Saturday, and will face Brazil and Wales in the coming weeks.

Celebrations back home in South Africa will be going on for quite some time yet, but the official trophy tour ended last Monday.

 Makazole walks in looking relaxed with a warm sunny smile that takes the edge off a chilly Twickenham day, his rugby rise has been dramatic, three years ago he was playing first division rugby for Border Bulldogs, he joined Southern Kings before working his way through the animal kingdom with the Sharks and the cheetahs, where he has torn opposition defences to shreds.

Running is the name of the game, he says when he first started playing the coaches in rural areas would remove you from the field if you kicked the ball, there are a few opposition defences that have suffered as a result of that strategy.

His Springbok debut came against Wales last year in Washington, a home game that Wales decided to shift to the USA.

Since then he has scored ten tries for South Africa including six at the recent World Cup.

On Saturday he scored two tries for the Barbarians who narrowly lost to a youthful Fiji side in front of a crowd of just over 51,000, both of them were walk ins from five metres out, but that will not bother Makazole, as he rightly says, every one counts.

The 6ft 1inch wing gives the impression of a man at peace with himself, and not much can phase him, after all the he has gone through that is quite some achievement.

Hamlet And Harlequins Tartan Trio


The last three Scottish ladies I saw performing together on the same stage were appearing courtesy of the wit and wisdom of the great William Shakespeare.

Yes the great bard knew a thing or two about Tartan trios, and whilst this writer cannot claim to be in his league, I reckon I know a little bit more about rugby than the bearded wonder.

One of  Shakespeare’s greatest works, Macbeth, could perhaps also be considered relevant to three more benevolent Scots, Debs McCormack, Jade Konkel and Chloe Rollie of Harlequins Women.

ACT 1 Scene 1:  “Where shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?  when the hurlyburly ‘s done, when the battle ‘s lost and won”

Well these three have been through quite a few battles together, in the thistled jersey of Scotland as well as the Jestered apparel of Harlequins, I don’t think the great writer was referring to Loughborough Lightning , in act one, scene one, but you never know.

The three ladies have much in common, all three are affable modest and self effacing individuals, Chloe Rollie could side step you in a phone box, whilst Jade Konkel, who to use a quote of the late great Bill McLaren, “tackles like the crack of doom”, would just smash the phone box into tiny pieces, Debs McCormack would probably do both disciplines and with a smile on her face.

All three hail from entirely different backgrounds Edinburgh, Inverness and Gillingham, but apart from the geographical variations there are many rugby similarities, Debs has 31 caps, Jade 36 and Chloe 30.

During their rugby journey all three have also plied their trade overseas, Jade and Chloe having played for Lille Metropole in France, whilst Debs played in Australia for the Sydney outfit Eastern Suburbs, where in one match she had the Temerity to score a hat trick of tries, a feat that nearly got her drummed out of the second row union for showing far too much pace and flair.

ACT 5 Scene 3:  The mind I sway by and the heart I bear shall never sag with doubt   nor shake with fear”

On the injury front the two forwards have suffered the mental and physical effects of lengthy lay offs and gruelling rehab, indeed Debs is still dealing with the legacy of a neck/shoulder injury sustained 14 months ago, her stoicism and patience, without a hint of self pity, have been amazing to witness, a comeback is hopefully due very soon, Jade missed a huge chunk of last season after shoulder surgery, I don’t know what they put in during that operation but it appears to have made those famous “Rhino” charges even more destructive.

Chloe joined Quins this season and has lit up the Premiership with her silken running, the intrusions into the line have been surgically precise scoring and setting up tries in equal measure, her blistering speed is breathtaking and there are rumours that when she plays at the Stoop she sets off all the speed cameras on the A316.

ACT 4 Scene 1:   “Be bloody bold and resolute laugh to scorn”

Whilst Jade and Chloe are both professionals, Debs has to balance university and a job along with all the demands of top class rugby, needless to say she does not enjoy an awful lot of downtime, her dedication is mind boggling.

Scotland will be gearing up for Women’s Rugby World Cup qualification matches next autumn and this tartan trio will surely play a big part in that challenge, Debs is out of the international equation at the moment due to her injury battle but I feel sure if she can get just get a decent run of games for Quins that outlook will change, class is permanent as the saying goes.

As the Tyrrells Premiership takes an international break, this triumvirate  will be giving it their all on the field of play, in the gym, on the training ground, and in gruelling rehab. Their names are already justifiably immortalised in Harlequins and Scottish rugby history, a feat achieved whilst maintaining the values of our great game, and I cannot pay them a greater tribute than that, on a personal note to count them as my friends is an even greater privilege.

I leave the final word to the great bard himself.

“Come the three corners of the world in arms, and we shall shock them”

 

Previous articles and interviews with Debs and Jade are available on the website http://www.thesportsdragon.com

 

 

 

 

Lest We Forget

I hope this roll call will continue to keep the names of those heroes alive, and remind us  that when all is said and done, there are much more important things in life than rugby, and although at times this is something we all tend to forget, one thing is for certain, we should always remember those brave men listed below.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

THE 13 WELSH INTERNATIONALS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR

Richard Thomas

Born: Ferndale, 14 October 1883.

Killed in action : Mametz Wood 7 July 1916.
Wales: Four caps, 1906-1909.

John Lewis Williams
Born: Whitchurch, Cardiff, 3 January 1882.
Died of wounds: Corbie 12 July 1916.
Wales: 17 caps, 1906-1911.

David Westacott
Born: Cardiff, 10 October 1882.
Killed in action: Wieltje, 28 August 1917.
Wales: One cap, 1906.

Horace Wyndham Thomas
Born: Pentyrch, 28 July 1890.
Killed in action: Ancre, 3 September 1916.
Wales : Two caps, 1912-1913.

Richard Davies Garnons Williams
Born: Llowes, Radnorshire, 15 June, 1856.
Killed in Action: 25 September 1915 while leading his battalion at the Battle of Loos.
Wales: One cap, 1881.

Charles Gerald Taylor
Born: Ruabon, North Wales, 8 May 1863.
Killed in action: 24 January, 1915 at the Battle of Dogger Bank when his ship HMS Tiger was hit by fire from German cruiser SMS Blucher.
Wales: Nine caps, 1884-1887.

Louis “Lou” Augustus Phillips
Born: Newport, Monmouthsire, 24 February 1878.
Killed in action: Cambrai, on 14 March 1916.
Wales: Four caps, 1900-1901.

Charles Mayrick Pritchard
Born: Newport, Monmouthshire, 30 September 1882
Died of wounds: 14 August, casualty clearing station, Western Front.
Wales: 14 caps, 1904-1910.

Phillip Dudley Waller
Born: Bath, Somerset, 28 January 1889.
Killed in action: Hit by shellfire, 14 December 1917, Arras.
Wales: Six caps, 1908-1910.

Brinley Richard Lewis
Born: 4, January 1891, Pontardawe.
Killed in action: 2 April, 1917 Ypres, France, hit by shellfire.
Wales: Two caps, 1912-193.

William “Billy” Purdon Geen
Born: 14 March 1891, Newport, Monmouthshire.
Killed in action: Hooge, Flanders, 31 July, 1915.
Wales: Three caps, 1912-1913.

Fred Leonard Perrett
Born: Briton Ferry, 9 May 1891.
Died of wounds: 1 December 1918, in a clearing station weeks after the armistice.
Wales: Five caps, 1912-1913

David Watts
Born: Maesteg 14 March 1886.
Killed in action : 14 July 1916 at Bazentin Ridge, France.
Wales: Four caps, 1914.

THE THREE WELSH INTERNATIONALS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN WORLD WAR II

Cecil Rhys Davies  (1 Cap)

John R Evans   (1 Cap)

Maurice J.L. Turnbull   (2 Caps)

Sayonara Japan Bonjour France

There is a Peculiar feeling when World Cup tournaments come to an end, an emptiness, a void that is difficult to fill, weeks and months even years of hope and expectation suddenly evaporate, and we are left with the vagaries of so called normal life.

The land of the rising sun finally reached dusk last Saturday, as South Africa lifted the trophy in Yokohama.

Cheslin Kolbe’s feet had barely touched the ground before the rugby circus had packed up its tent, and the mass migration to Hanenda airport had commenced.

But as the sun sets in the east, a new dawn has already risen in the west, as France take over the RWC torch for 2023.

As Bak-San scrubs off the last vestiges of body paint, despite the sadness our lives all feel that little bit richer for our holiday romance with Japan.

Six weeks ago many of us knew very little about Vasily Artemyev, or Kotaro Matsushima, but they are now firmly etched into our rugby memory banks, along with the sights sounds and screams of flying Fijians, sinking Scots and wounded Welshmen.

A new rugby cycle is about to begin, after a whole host of international farewells including Warren Gatland, Steve Hansen, Guilhem Guirado, Louis Picamoles and Wayne Barnes and many more.

This time next year the draw for RWC 2023 takes place in Paris.

The 10th Rugby World Cup begins in the French capital on September 8 2023, and ends on October 21.

Forty five days of gum ulcerating baguettes, only soothed by a decent chateauneuf du Pape but boy the French do these tournaments so well, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean it will be a feast both on and off the field, the nine host stadiums span the length and breadth of country from the mountains to the seas.


So as the bullet train prepares to make way for the TGV, it’s time to take a deep breath, let us all hope we are spared to do it all again in four years time, and who knows maybe even Brexit will be sorted by then.

Easy Like A Sunday Mourning


Despite what Lionel Ritchie says Sunday mornings have been anything but easy for Wales fans this last month.

In fact the day of rest has become, in ascending, order the day of pride, the day of relief, and the day of heartbreak after matches against Australia France and South Africa, all of which have taken place on Sunday mornings during this Rugby World Cup.

Spending Sunday afternoons in a mentally exhausted haze had become the norm, and yesterday was the last and ultimately the hardest to deal with.

South Africa proved to be a step too far for Warren Gatland and his men, and whilst Sunday morning became a Sunday mourning, the gut wrenching disappointment is masked with huge pride for what Wales have acheived.

As in 2011 we dared to dream of making the final, and at half time yesterday Wales were only three points adrift their injury toll lengthened, but the dream was still alive and with five minutes to go with the scores level at 16-16.

Alun Wyn cracked at the post match interview and as his eyes welled up the whole nations bottom lip quivered, the bond between the national team and its fans has never been stronger, and that collective spirit will be a huge comfort in the days weeks and months ahead.

For Wales this is not end, the future looks bright, but at the moment the immediate past is proving rather difficult to process and accept.

To add insult to injuries Wales have to face New Zealand in four days time in a meaningless 3rd/4th place play off match, with the casualties the men in red have incurred the team that takes the field will be nowhere near full or even half strength, surely it would be far better to leave the tournament following a brutal physical encounter with pride at the semi final stage.

By this time next week we will know the winners of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and if anyone cares, who indeed who has come third and fourth.

Sunday mornings will now change dramatically, they are going be an awful lot more relaxing from now on, we won’t be emotionally wrung out by noon, and may even able to hold a coherent conversation by mid afternoon, but you know what, in a strange and sadistic way we ain’t half going to miss them.

Waking Up To A Semi

Monday mornings are hell on earth, especially at this time of year when they can be awfully tough to deal with.

A wet cold dark start to the working week is hard going at anytime, but the day after a Rugby World Cup quarter final feelings and emotions are accentuated to the maximum.

This morning when the Welsh nation awakes, the wind and the rain will not sting quite so badly, and the early hours darkness will not blacken this ancient land as much as usual.

Wales have reached the Rugby World Cup semi finals, quite how they managed it none of us are really sure, I denied my country three times yesterday as a France victory was looking more and more inevitable, but Wales did win 20-19, in a match that surely holds the world record for the number of people watching a game from behind the sofa.

Upholstery repairers will be doing a roaring trade this week to get the three piece suites back to prime condition in time for Sundays semi final against South Africa.

Many Welsh fans are still awaiting the return of their furniture after the Australia game, which produced an awful lot of living room casualties.

France yesterday lived up to every rugby cliché that has ever been thrown at them, which France team would turn up ? well it turned out to be an awfully good one, but their indiscipline and composure cost them big time, resulting in them losing their cliché battle 2-1.

Maybe there is such a thing as rugby karma after all, in RWC 2011 France beat Wales by a single point and Wales received a red card.

In RWC 2019 Wales beat France by a single point and France received a red card.

So as you await the repair of your DFS triple seater,spare a thought for the poor French fans “Chaise Lounge” that have probably been well and truly wrecked and beyond repair.

 

 

 

 

The French Quarter

I wonder how many times you have heard the phrase “Which French team will turn up” this week ? Probably as many times as you’ve seen Sam Warburton’s red card revisited on every media platform known to mankind. 

Wales face France on Sunday in the Rugby World Cup quarter finals, it’s hard to believe that eight years have elapsed that rainy night in Auckland when a nation wept after losing a semi final to France 9-8 whilst playing with fourteen men for 63 minutes.

Many thought the chance of World Cup glory might never come again but here Wales are 240 minutes away from potential glory the like  of which the country has never witnessed before.

France are just being France at a World Cup, strife in the camp with captain falling out with coach, a full back returning home injured only to turn out for his club a few days later in the Top 14, and who knows what else has been going on behind the scenes, but Wales beware this is when les Bleus are at their most dangerous.

There appears to be a quiet calm in the Welsh camp, a settled side that have overcome the Cymric rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs that were a trademark of the national team and its followers, they don’t panic when they fall behind  anymore,they know how to close out games and they appear to be able to get up for the really big occasions.

Despite France dismal record under Noves and Brunel they still have the ability to produce moments of genius, in this tournament they have tended to have produced them in the opening quarter of their matches before gradually unravelling into a shambles by the time the final whistle had blown.

Wales will hope that this vein of form will continue until Sunday at least,

In this years Six Nations encounter in Paris France dominated the first half racing into a 16-0 in the rain and icy sleet of Saint Denis before imploding into a soggy mess in the second half.

In 2011 the Welsh nation wept with sadness and pride some of us are hoping that rugby karma will take us and Wales into a blissful week where we can continue to dream.

Sunday’s Teams

 

Vasily The Moscow Express

Vasily Grigorievch Artemyev was one of the surprise stars of RWC 2019, the “Moscow Express” charmed and delighted everyone with his post match interviews conducted in a Russian/Irish hybrid drawl, that had listeners bemused and fascinated in equal measure.

Zelenograd is a city that was built in the environs of Moscow in 1958, under the old Soviet Union regime, it has developed as a centre of electronics and computer industry, known as Russia’s Silicon Valley, the emblem of the city is a squirrel, it was here that Vasily Artemyev was born.

A rugby star could have been lost to the arts, as Artemyev learned  ballet at the age of six, his grandad’s sister was a ballerina with the world reknowned Bolshoi, so instead of a rip roaring full back there could well have been an alternative Billy Elliotski.

Aged 15 his parents wanted him to learn English so he went to Blackrock College in that delightful town on the edge of Dublin Bay, why Ireland ? well the story goes that it was cheaper than either England or New Zealand.

He was due to spend a year in Ireland but ended up staying for seven playing in the Leinster schools final at Lansdowne Road in 2006.

After graduating from Blackrock, he entered University College Dublin to study Law, a return to Russia in 2009 was followed by a move to England on 2011 when Vasily joined Northampton Saints, scoring a hat trick of tries on his debut against Saracens in the LV Cup.

In 2011 he left England, and joined Krasny Yar where he has played ever since.

Having played for Ireland age at youth level his Russian international debut came on February 7 2009 in an 18-14 win against Portugal in Lisbon, 89 caps and 29 tries later he is still going strong.

After losing to Ireland in Japan coach Lyn Jones gave his verdict on Vasily at the post match press conference.

” May I apologise for his moustache what a great character he is, a great captain, great person and an example to any captain in world rugby”

As Russia headed home after exiting the 2019 Rugby World Cup at the pool stage, there is no doubt that the man from Zelenograd had been one of the characters of RWC 2019.