Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

I wish you all Merry Christmas and happy New Year. I hope you will enjoy rugby even more, and will take part in many fantastic games!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Heineken Cup saga continues


The dispute over the future of European club rugby is turning into a soap opera. Initially, the French and English clubs withdrew from the tournament. Parties involed have changed their minds a number of times during negotiations but the split seemed inevitable. The Welsh, Scottish,  Irish and Italian clubs issued a statement declaring that they want to remain on ERC side. The English and French clubs decided to create a new tournament and call it the Rugby Champions Cup. English and French agreement intended to attract other Heineken Cup participants to join them.

Now, the situation has changed completely. The French Federation has offered a high financial bonus to Top 14 clubs if they agree to remain in the Heineken Cup. The incentive was so serious that it convinced the French to change sides and leave their English allies. The English clubs which started the rebellion and were sure of Top 14's backing now have beenleft out in the cloud. The official statement is not yet known but it seems highly unlikely that the  English will return to the old format.... At least this is what the experts say but it's quite difficult to be sure of anything in this story. Are we going to see European Cup without English Clubs as it happened back in 1998/1999?
We shall soon find out.

Friday, 22 November 2013

RWC 2003 - Jonny Wilkinson kicks drop goal


It's been 10 years since England won Rugby World Cup. 83 000 spectators attended a very exciting final in Sydney. At full time, the scoreboard showed a draw 14:14. In extra-time both Australia and England scored 3 points from the tee and when everybody thought the winner wouldn't be decided at that point,  only 26 seconds before the final whistle, Jonny Wilkinson, the hero of the match, nailed a drop goal. England beat Australia 20:17. The Red Rose players became heroes.  A few hundred thousand people celebrated the victory on the streets of London. The players were welcomed by the crowds singing 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'. The key point of celebrations was meeting the Queen who congratulated the team.


10 years later, Jonny Wilkinson is  one of very few from the 2003 starting XV who continues playing for the top level teams. The other player is Mike Tindall who is a playing coach in Gloucester.  Wilkinson became the icon of rugby and one of the most popular players in sports history. His professional attitude, modesty and hard work make him a great example to follow for many generations of rugby players. In spite of injuries, which he did not escape, Wilkinson has been in great shape for years. Apart from winning the World Cup he also has achieved other remarkable successes, such as, winning Premiership, Anglo-Welsh Cup (twice), Heineken Cup and Six Nations (4 times). He also played for British and Irish Lions  and another title he seems to be aiming at is the winning of French Top 14.

Asked about how he recalls the Rugby World Cup 2003, Wilkinson responded with his usual modesty, that he has never watched the historic game in Sydney as he'd like to preserve the memories of that day - the smell, atmosphere and emotions, and watching it could taint the memory. When he talks about the drop goal which he kicked with his "wrong" right leg, he only considers it a culmination of all preparations which his team had started months before the finals. In the key moments the most important was that everyone did what they were supposed to do.

I hope that Jonny Wilkinson will put off his decision about ending the career for at least a few seasons so his fans can admire his great talent.

Do you think England has a chance to repeat success from 2003 RWC? I think they are on the right way to do so but the aim still seems quite remote.

Monday, 18 November 2013

dumpTackle First XV – 15% off

I am pleased to inform you that I have been chosen to the dumpTackle.com First XV! DumpTackle is a popular rugby clothing company which is well-known for its creative designs. To celebrate the success and beginning of cooperation all blog followers can use a 15% discount code ROCKY15.

Below you will find some of dumpTackle bestselling products. For more go to dumpTackle.com






Friday, 1 November 2013

Movember - grow your tash

1st of November means one thing... It's time to start growing your mustache for Movember. Millions of men around the world will clean shave their faces today and start growing mo for 30 days. The aim of Movember is to increase awarness and support world class men’s health programmes that combat prostate and testicular cancer and mental health challenges. The event became truly global and attracts more and more participants every year. Rugby players have been involved since the beginning. During the November Internationals many players will proudly show their moustache. They are gladly followed by other players from the lower levels. Members of many clubs compete with each other for the most ridiculous moustache. I've also joined Movember. You can sponsor me here http://mobro.co/ROCKYFLANKER I invite you all to join and become one of the mo brothers.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sale Sharks open night

Last Wednesday, I took part in a fan open night event organized by Sale Sharks. The club invited its loyal fans and gave them a unique opportunity to chat with Sale Sharks players, coaches and members of staff as well as to be shown around stadium facilities. 

The event was held at the AJ Bell Stadium. Guests were welcomed with hot snacks and drinks. You could have a tour around changing rooms, do some shopping and have your items signed by players. New stadium facilities are truly impressive. Home and away changing rooms are both good size. Home team can also use an extra room for stretching and warm-up. 

The fans could also take a look around the press room and walk down the corridor leading to the pitch. The team members talked them through the usual Aviva Premiership match day preparations.


At the conference room the players were chatting to the fans, signing calendars and posing for the pictures. Danny Cipriani was the most popular but other players were also quite busy. It was very interesting to chat with Hugh Jenner who is responsible for computer analysis and reports on players’ performance. At the highest level the margin between losing and winning is very narrow and details can be crucial. High tech plays here a massive role. Each player GPS data are constantly analysed which helps the coach to make decisions on the spot.

The last part of the event was Q & A session. Below, I have summarized the discussion with Danny Cipriani, Steve Dimond and Dan Braid. 

What do you think about the start of the season?
Steve Diamond: We started well, we’re reasonably pleased with where we are at the moment (3 wins in Aviva Premiership, 2 wins in Amlin Challenge Cup). After disappointing last season, we chatted together and tried to think about things we could do better. Competition in Aviva Premiership is very tough and we don’t want to add any pressure out of the field. What we want from the players is them to turn up on the training, do what they are asked for and deliver on a match day. Everybody respects each other.

Does the AJ Bell Stadium feel more like home now?
Steve Diamond: We think it is our home. We moved to three different venues over past 10 years and hopefully this will be our last place. It feels like home, the noise is great. Roads system will be improved in the next 12 months. We want to be highly competitive and this will get more people to attend to our games. 

How important is team’s identity?
Steve Diamond: A lot of players in our squad are from the North-West, we live in a huge region similar to Exeter. We need to get into the communities and get the people to come to the games; we want them to feel that Sale Sharks is their club. We play fair, we do stick to salary cap. We could be a real force but the rugby needs to do the talking. We are still Sale Sharks, just a small town in Cheshire. Manchester is a football city, it’s divided between red and blue. We are a small enclave, we give people a chance to see something different. Tradition is very important to us.  

When you came to the club you had to think what a mess. 
Dan Braid: I turned up at a club and straight away noticed there’s a good batch of players and good trainers.

What are the differences between playing in New Zealand and England?
Dan Braid: Playing in England is very much different to New Zealand where rugby is number one and coming to the games is something natural. In England, people have a choice of different sports. Those who come to the games are really enjoying it. 8-9k fans in Manchester can make more noise than 25k in New Zealand. 

You are an experienced player. Do you feel responsible for helping younger players in the squad?
Dan Braid: Yes, we all know how important it is to get their confidence levels up. 


Danny, you’ve been here 2 years now. How are you finding the club?
Danny Cipriani: I am a London boy but I’m close to the lads in the club. I am still catching up with the lingo. I always try to be the part of the team. Since the night out in Leeds, I changed my attitude to training, changed my lifestyle, diet and it is more beneficial. I stopped drinking. I’ve been working on my fitness. We are going to be a team which is very tough to get points against. We really want to win. 

When is the new numer 8 coming?
Steve Diamond: I can’t give you the information about who it is but he’s going to join the team after autumn internationals.

What is your main focus?
Steve Diamond: Bread and butter is Aviva Premiership closely followed by Amlin Challenge Cup. We want to be in the top 6. The league is most important. LV cup is the third. 

What tips would you give to young players?
Steve Diamond: Respect comes with playing the game. It’s just about repetition. You probably need 10k hours of practice to be pro. The most important is practice, coming focused on training, and enjoying it. 

Danny Cipriani: Watch a lot of rugby and try to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Polish rugby players singing national anthem with passion

In the era of professional sport financial calculations are sometimes more important than a true fair play spirit. Some of the best athletes, who are role models for children and youth, whether they want it or not, forget about respect to their rivals. Playing in the National Team is sometimes just a low pay necessity. 

Fortunately, this kind of behavior is very rare in rugby. The highest honour rugby player can achieve is a possibility to play in the national team. When you put on a national jersey you become a warrior and leave sweat and blood on the pitch to help your team as much as possible. This spirit is common to all rugby nations.

Below you will find a short footage of an anthem singing by the Polish National Rugby Team before their game against Czech Republic. Can you feel this passion?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Sale - Bath


On Friday, I had an opportunity to attend Aviva Premiership game and watch Sale Sharks – the team which I have been supporting for many years. Sale Sharks faced a great rugby club from Bath. This time, apart from following the game with other fans, I took on an extra task of reporting on the game to RugbyPolska.pl.

The new Sale Sharks’ stadium, purpose-built for rugby, is well impressive. Works on its infrastructure continue – these involve expanding parking space and facilitating access by adding an extra motorway exit. A lot has been done so far to eliminate the difficulties and the journey to and from is much easier comparing to the last season. AJ Bell Stadium is not as renown as Edgeley Park where visitors found it really hard to win. But the atmosphere is getting better and better, particularly at the south stand, where the cheering is the loudest. Supporters have a choice of a few beer makes, including real ale. You can get 1 pint of beer or a “bigger” 2-pint glass – very handy for those with greater thirst.

It was not a typical start of the game. The hosts ran out wearing their away outfits. The reason for this were visitors’ jerseys which resembled Sale Sharks stripy white and blue kit. Bookmakers’ favourite was Bath but Manchester fans were convinced that their team can cope with the task.

Sale began very well as Jonathan Mills seized the ball after a hard hit on one of the opponents. After long attack, the efforts paid off and a penalty kick was awarded to Sharks. Danny Cipriani missed it slightly, though.  Shortly after, George Ford had a chance to score a penalty for Bath but his kick was wide of the mark. 10 minutes later Danny Cipriani scored a drop goal, Sale Sharks were leading 3:0. The joy did not last long. Peter Stringer – one of the most talented scrum half – started and a massive winger from Fihji Rokodoguni completed the move which cost Sale Sharks 5 points. Ford converted and Bath took the lead 3:7. Bath carried on attacking and made Sale Sharks life really difficult. A very worrying thing was Sale’s inability to defend 1 on 1. Bath was close to scoring another try following  Fa’osiliva’s interception, thankfully the touch line saved the hosts. Cipriani helped to move the game onto the rival’s part of the pitch and the danger was overcome.

Sale forwards dominated their rivals but the team had difficulties in breaking through the solid defense. A number of kick – pass moves by Cipriani and Cueto, although imprecise, were loudly applauded at the stands.

In the 20th minute, Mark Cueto collided into Rob Miller as they tried to catch a difficult ball and both players ended up with head injuries. Sam Tuitupou, fan’s favourite, and Joe Ford replaced the injured. Tuitupou made an impact straight away as he engaged a few defenders which ended up with penalty kick for Sale. Cipriani added extras from the tee...

30 minutes into the game, Mark Cueto, with his head stitched, returned to the game and a few minutes later made a final pass to Andy Forsyth who scored a try in the far corner, and excellent Cipriani kicked 3 points. Bandaged Rob Miller came back to the pitch and Sam Tuitupou returned to the bench. Just before the half-time George Ford lowered the deficit to only 3 points. The first half finished 16:13.

The defense in the second 40 minutes was more effective. Any attempt to kick on the posts was extremely important as it might have a great impact on the final result. The author of the first kick was Cipriani and in the 48h minute he scored points from 50 meters. A well-measured kick made the ball fly between the posts and it touched the ground only a few centimeters behind the posts. In the 53rd minute, the visitors stood a similar chance to score but they missed. Not long later George Ford got the second chance, this time it was a successful kick which closed the gap to 6 points.

It is worth mentioning that the atmosphere at the stands was fantastic. Although everyone knew that points from the tee may be decisive, the fans were behaving impeccably. Total silence at the stands during penalty kicks helped the kickers from both teams to concentrate.

60 minutes into the game, Steve Diamond replaced some players, and among others the team was joined by Henry Thomas and Vadim Cobilas. Bath took control over the game and it looked that they could steal the victory from the hosts. Micheal Paterson was sin binned and the visitors had the advantage. They were awarded a penalty but decided to kick at the posts and missed the target. Sale showed a real character and defended very well on own 5m line. Sam Tuitupou was applauded as he smashed the hooker. In the last few minutes Sale won the penalty. Joe Ford replaced Danny Cipriani and was really close to taking away Baths’ bonus points. Regrettably, the ball hit the pole and the score remained unchanged. Sale Sharks beat Bath after a very good and exciting game 19:13.

It was a great pleasure to see the game. The atmosphere was amazing. Sale supporters are known for good manners and have a good knowledge about rugby. They show great respect to their rivals  for example, by keeping quiet during penalty kicks. Another example is the standing ovation given to an icon of Irish rugby Peter Stringer. The player had a very good game and contributed to scoring points by Bath. The entire stadium applauded as he was leaving the pitch replaced by Martin Roberts.

Congratulations to Sale Sharks and well done to Bath for good and ambitious performance.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The best play fair


All Backs is the best rugby team in the world. You don’t need to convince anyone about it. Supporters of other teams must admit that New Zealand is a real power. It’s impossible to count all successes they have achieved. Since its creation, the team belongs to the world rugby elite and defines the standards of rugby. 

The world champions scored the most points in official test games and are the only team to beat all their opponents. Since All Blacks debut in 1903, only 5 teams have managed to defeat them. New Zealand has been on the top of IRB ranking for most of the time since 2003 when the ranking was created. That does not surprise if you think they won over 75 % off all games. 


Rugby fans know more or less about these impressive achievements. There is, however, another record, which might have escaped their attention and which I find worth mentioning. New Zealand is one of the “cleanest playing” teams in the world. In 110 years they have only had 2 red cards. On the 3rd of January 1925, at Twickenham, during the game with England, the referee Albert Freethy sent off one of the All Blacks. It was the first red card in the history of test matches. In 1967, Colin Meads was given the red card, too. Since then, none of the players have been sent off. 

It looks that New Zealand is not only the best team in the world but also the fairest playing. Outside the pitch, the players represent high standards as well. They show respect to their rivals and hardly ever cause scandals. 

I think their attitude is a great example to follow for all young rugby players who look up to the world elite. It’s worth following the best example as it turns out that the real winners play fair and avoid unsporting behaviour. They understand the privilege and responsibility playing in a team jersey and especially national one.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Two years to the Rugby World Cup


The biggets rugby spectacle is due in two years' time. Preparations are going according to the schedule. Some interesting events were organized last week to celebrate two years' milestone.

New Zealand’s and UK Prime Ministers exchanged balls. John Key presented a rugby ball signed by the 2011 champions. David Cameron returned the gesture with a specially designed Gilbert two years to go Rugby World Cup 2015 match ball. Lawrence Dallaglio coached youth groups at „Posts in the Park” event to help promoting rugby.


Expectations about the World Cup are high especially after the big success of London Olympics. So far everything goes smoothly, and the only setback is a withdrawal of  Old Trafford. England is trying to develop grassroots rugby and get more people involved in this sport. The idea is to introduce our sport to as many people as possible so RWC can become a whole-nation event, as it happened with the Olympics. Apart from investing in grassroots, rugby is becoming more and more visible on billboards and adverts. Touch rugby is becoming quite popular. Every month more and more people have a chance to try an oval ball sport and fall in love with it.


Two years ahead of the tournament is a good time to think about taking part in the biggest rugby event in the world. Those who had a chance to attend previous ones will surely agree that the atmosphere is unforgettable. Tickets will go to public sale at the beginning of  next year. The cheapest ones will cost only £7. There is also a possibility to become a volunteer and help with the organization of the tournament. The first step is to register with the “Front Row” program.  I think that RWC 2015 is the best opportunity for the European fans to watch the tournament not only in front of TV sets but also live at the stands. If you are still uncertain I would strongly recommend to make up your mind and do everything to take part in this tournament. Remember, it will be much harder to go to Japan.

Below you will find some statistics which should help visualize the scale of preparations.
RWC needs 1400 balls, 200 kicking tees, 100 spin bikes, 200 tackle bags, 20 scrum machines. 920 players and team officials as well as 60+ citing, judicial & match officials and 2,000 journalists photographers are coming. 20 teams need 740 hotel bedrooms, 1100 members of team personnel are staying with them. There will be 151 000 meals served in hotels. Tournament needs 11 km of optic fibre cable and 42 km of copper data cable. There will be 4 billion viewers on TV in 207 countries. Organizers expect 400 000 visitors to travel to UK, and estimated economic impact can be at the level of £2billion.

As you can see the tournament already looks impressive, it will be a real shame not to take part in it. See you at the stadiums.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Rocky writes for RugbyPolska.pl

I am pleased to inform you that Rocky writes about rugby blog has been invited to contribute to the best and biggest rugby website in Poland - RugbyPolska.pl. I will be writing mainly about English rugby and, to the best of my ability, I will attempt to bring this topic closer to Polish readers. I think that those who read my blog in English will also benefit from my new challange as you will now cover more topics on countries outside the first 20 of the IRB ranking, incuding Poland, of course.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The start of Greene King IPA Championship

English club rugby is well known mainly because of strong Aviva Premiership. However, the other professional league is also worth looking at. I’m thinking about RFU Championship which has been rebranded to Greene King IPA Championship this season. The league itself was formed in 1987 and is one level below the Aviva Premiership. The first round kicks off this Saturday (14.09.2013).

The level and prestige of Championship is increasing year by year. Clubs treat it very seriously and employ top players and coaches, which attracts more fans. The new season starts with three Double Headers. Ealing Trailfinders v London Scottish and London Welsh v Bedford Blues at Allianz Park (Saracens’ stadium); Moseley v Rotherham Titans and Nottingham Rugby v Leeds Carnegie at Castle Park at and Plymouth Albion v Jersey RFC, Cornish Pirates v Bristol Rugby at Sandy Park (Exeter Chiefs’ stadium). Below, I’d like to give you a short overview of teams which fight for the promotion to the elite competition.




Bedford Blues

Established in 1886. Last season finished 3rd. Since 2006 club has been cooperating with Leicester Tigers and has given young, prospecting players a chance to get a game time in competitive league. Coach Mark Rayer is well known for his eye to finding real diamonds and helping them develop their careers. Mark Atkinson who scored a hat-trick in the pre-season game against Northampton Saints is definitely one to watch for.




Bristol

Although last season the club finished 5th it’s still one of the main contenders to the title. Andy Robinson, a great coach who used to work with Bath, Edinburgh, England and Scotland national teams, wants the team to come back to the Premiership, which would be nice present for the clubs’ 125 years anniversary. The biggest achievement so far was the 3rd place in the Aviva Premiership in the season 2006/2007. The key player will be probably Welsh Fly half Nicky Robinson, who played for his country.



Cornish Pirates

Pirates are the mid table team. The club was pretty active in the transfer market, but new players are not big profile. The most recognisable person will probably be back row skipper Aaron Carpenter who is well known for his fantastic performance in Canadian National Team. His experience and leadership can be crucial for the team.




Ealing Trailfinders

The newcomers, who won National One with lots of confidence gaining 20 points advantage over the next team in the table will have a difficult task this season. They target is to stay in the Championship and strengthen the squad with 18 new players. Among them are the former Harlequins and London Wasps’ players. Ed Siggery – a dynamic flanker, who played in Scarlets and London Irish Academies, is expected to have a big impact this season.



Jersey

The islanders lost first six games and finished on the 11th place last season. This team will definitely aim to improve their performance. Several important players are injured but they are expected to be fit soon. One of the key figures is certainly Niall O’Connor who spent his last five seasons playing for Ulster.



Leeds Carnegie

The club managed to keep most of its playing squad which is a good change as traditionally the best players were leaving for the Aviva Premiership teams. The coach James Lowes is an interesting person. He used to coach rugby league for many years and decided to convert to union. If he can transfer his huge experience onto a different code, Leeds could be a real threat this season.


London Scottish

The team was lacking consistency last season. They had some very good games, particularly against Newcastle and Bedford, but the defence was the issue. Rivals scored 610 points against them which was the worst result in the league. They spent part of the pre-season preparation in Hong Kong. Will it prove beneficial? We will soon find out.





London Welsh

The club didn’t stay in Premiership for long. Rivals were too powerful and deducting points proved to be a real setback. Getting back to Premiership will not be easy. Most of the best players took their chances and signed new contracts with Premiership clubs. Winning the league again will be achallenging task.



Moseley

Moseley’s records in the Championship are not too impressive. The club always finishes in the bottom part of the table, and never gets better than the 10th place. This situation doesn’t look any better this season, either. The most interesting player in the team is probably Andy Robinson’s son Olly. Some say he has a bright future in the national team, but for now he only took part in England’s U18.



Nottingham

Last season was quite successful for the club. Nottingham finished second. This time, however, it will be much harder to stay in the top part of the table. Financial problems forced the club to make some radical cuts in the playing squad. They have only got 23 players, so high hopes are rather unrealistic.





Plymouth Albion

The club is in the transition period. It can’t yet compete financially with the best, but situation is steadily improving. The interesting fact is that the team’s coach is also a player. James Shanahan had excellent results in the lower leagues and tries to carry on his coaching and playing adventure. This is quite uncommon at this level.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The end of Heineken Cup!

After months of negotiations about the future of Heineken Cup, the talks have now finished. Premiership rugby released the statement informing that discussions have been unsuccessful and English clubs are leaving the tournament. Same statement is expected to be be soon released by the French.

England and France have proposed the formation on new, stronger competition.  What was the reason behind such drastic decision which means the end of the most prestigious and exciting club tournament in the world?

The official Anglo-French standpoint blames unjust qualification criteria. Both countries insist that teams playing in RaboDirect Pro12 were privileged. Scottish and Italian sides had guaranteed places regardless of their league position at the end of the season. Furthermore, Welsh and Irish always had 3 out of 4 teams taking part in the tournament. The English and French clubs wanted to see Heineken Cup reduced from 24 to 20 team format and also change of qualification criteria so it could be based on position in tables.

The case is however much deeper. Premiership clubs have recently signed a record £152 million deal with new broadcaster BT Sport. They sell rights not only to the Aviva Premiership but also to European games. European Rugby Cup ltd. The organizer of both Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions have a long-term broadcast partnership with Sky Sports, though.

It looks like the real reason of breakaway was not the qualification system but a dispute about money – a huge amount of money. England and France used their powerful position and left other countries in a difficult situation. Will they decide to join the new tournaments on the “rebels’” terms or will they try to somehow save Heineken Cup (i.e. by changing the structure and inviting clubs from other countries)?

The decisions will have to be made very soon, but one thing is certain – potential profit won with rugby traditions. Perhaps the new tournament will be better than Heineken Cup, but the way of finishing such an important piece of European rugby leaves a bad taste. Although I’m aware that since rugby become a professional sport, the main target for the clubs is generating profit, it always makes me sad when rugby spirit loses its battle to business calculations.

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Rugby Championship – round 3


Two teams remain undefeated after three rounds of the Rugby Championship. New Zealand beat Argentina 28:13. The game was played in very difficult weather conditions and both teams made many errors. Argentinians deserve a special mention for their ambitious performance. All Blacks, however, played a bit below their usual high standards. They didn’t adjust tactic to the weather and many dangerous attacks ended up with handling errors. Kieran Read, once again, had a fantastic game, but All Blacks’ fans are worried because Richie McCaw will miss the next game due to knee injury.


South Africa defeated Australia away 12:38 and stays on top of the table. Springboks’ forwards dominated their rivals which provided a platform for successful attacks. South Africa scored four tries and didn’t let opponents cross the try line even once.

Next Saturday (14.09.13) looks very interesting. New Zealand will host South Africa in a game which may determine the winner of the tournament. In the second match Australia will play Argentina. Both teams are seeking for the first win. Who is your favourite to win?


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Aviva Premiership 2013/2014 predictions


Aviva Premiership starts this Friday (06.09.2013)! The upcoming season looks incredibly interesting. Year by year, Premiership is becoming more competitive with lots of exciting games. The average win margin is just 11 points which makes it one of the lowest in professional rugby. This year, fans have a chance to follow the league closer than ever. BT Sport will broadcast 69 live games! Another good news is that TMO will be present at all 135 matches.  

Just like in the last season I would like to share my predictions with you about how I think the standings in May will look like. I must admit that this year it was much harder to make up my mind on the final table. Next to the clubs' names you can see my predictions and in brackets positions from last season.


Northampton Saints
1 (4)

Northampton reached the final last year, but eventually lost to Leicester Tigers. Dylan Hartley’s red card cost him the place in the British and Irish Lions squad and also made beating the rivals impossible. I’m sure that the team and its captain learnt a lot from this experience. Saints strengthened their team with very talented players. They attracted a fantastic prop Alex Corbisiero and one of the biggest stars of Welsh rugby George North. Samoan international Kahn Fotuali will also strengthen the backs. I think that Northampton will be able to win with every opponent and aim for the highest laurels if only new players fit into the squad quick enough. The most challenging may be the time when the team will have to cope without international players.


Saracens 
2 (1)

Saracens are one of the favourites to the title. The club can select 22 international players. Their desires are high and last year’s defeat in the semi-final will only make them hungrier for success. The club focused on the brand making and attracting new fans. They played home games on many different stadiums, also at Wembley. Saracens' new home Allianz Park is the only stadium with the modern, artificial grass. A few new players already joined the strong team. James Johnston and back row Billy Vunipola deserve a special mention. Saracens will be very dangerous; they will target both Premiership and Heineken Cup.



Leicester Tigers 
3 (2)

Leicester Tigers is one of the best and most famous English clubs. Tigers have stayed at the top level for several years and every year they aim for the highest trophies. The team is very experienced and has a winning mentality. This season they will try to achieve a difficult task of defending the title. Although some good players left the club, among them were Martin Castrogiovani and George Ford, the squad is still incredibly strong and Gonzalo Camacho as well as Ryan Lamb will make it even stronger. Similar as Saracens, Leicester is full of international stars among them there are six British and Irish Lions. Injuries and Six Nations period may be the only worry for Tigers – skipper Tomy Flood will probably miss at least first game. I think that that Leicester Tigers will reach the final, but they may not be on the first place before the play-offs.


Gloucester  
4 (5)

If anyone could change the look of the first four it would be Gloucester. The team has a very good and balanced squad with plenty of talent on every position. Last season they played in effective and spectacular style. Players such as Matt Kvesic, Freddie Burns or Billy Twelvetrees may soon become England’s first choice. To make it happen they have to prove their quality by performing well in the cherry and white stripes. I think that Gloucester will be a real threat this season and has a big chance to qualify to the play-offs.


Harlequins
5 (3)

Last few seasons were very successful for Harlequins. The core of the team is pretty much the same. There were no spectacular transfers. The club prefers to rely on its own academy products. Although I love this attitude I’m afraid that in some games they may miss a “star” who would do some magic to secure the win in the crucial moment. The team will definitely be in the top part of the table but may struggle to reach the play-offs.






Bath 
6 (7)

I expect Bath to make a few surprises this season. Although I put this club on the seventh place Bath will definitely aim for the first four. The team has been strengthened by some quality players. To name just a few: David Sisi, Gavin Henson or IRB young player of the year George Ford. Huge lock Dave Attwood is the one to look for as well as Irish and Munster legend, one of the most experienced fly-halves Peter Stringer. Inconsistent form was the issue last season, but if they manage to get rid of this problem they may join the fight for the first four.


Exeter Chiefs 
7 (6)

Although Exeter Chiefs don’t have a massive experience in Aviva Premiership they have a very good, well deserved reputation. Every newcomer would like to copy their success in the league, but it’s not an easy task. Similar to the previous season Exeter will target maintaining mid table position and further progress in the Heineken Cup. The club is well known for the “one for all, all for one” ethos and keeps producing talented young players. Some quality foreign players are in the squad too. The one to look for is definitely Dean Mumm, who previously played for Waratahs, the other one is a formidable centre Sireli Naqelevuki. I think that Chiefs will once again be a strong mid-table team, but this time they may just miss the first six.


Sale Sharks 
8 (10)

Season 2012/2013 was very unfortunate for Sale. The club which was expected to join the battle for first four lost seven games in a row and ended up on the last place in the table. Their fight for survival was tough but successful. A mess in coaching structure and not always positive media attention did not help the team. The end of the season was however much better than the start. Sharks were the LV cup runners-up, and their form in the league improved. They showed a big ambition as they fought and defeated some higher rank opponents. Although Richie Vernon, Richie Gray and Andy Powell all left the club, getting the best London Welsh players on the board can come in as a very smart move. I think that Sale Sharks will not be involved in the relegation battle, they should place somewhere in the mid-table but I’m afraid that the club my miss the first six.


London Wasps 
9 (8)

London Wasps are in the process of metamorphosis. Same as in the last season, also this time they were very busy on the transfers’ market. One of the latest big signings is Andy Goode who joined from Worcester. The team has lots of talented players like Joe Launchbury, Sam Jones or Christian Wade, who can certainly be on the front-page this season. The loss of Billy Vunipola may be noticeable but if the team gels quickly enough they may join a fight for the first six. For now though, I don’t expect them to be a real threat to the big boys.




Worcester Warriors
10 (11)

Worcester is another team with lots of changes. Warriors have 13 new players, some of them with experience on the international area. But the most important change is probably the new coach Dean Ryan, who said he will target first four. The task is very ambitious but in my opinion not quite possible yet. Perhaps when the team spends more time together, it will be able to join the top fight, but for now the club is in the transition period. I think Worcester will not be in real danger of relegation but they probably finish at the bottom the table.





Newcastle Falcons
11 (recently promoted)

Newcastle came back to the Aviva Premiership and the task for this season will certainly be staying in the elite.  A very good coach Dean Richards, whose bloodgate ban has just finished, will definitely want to make up for the lost time and prove that he deserves to be in the Aviva Premiership. I think that Falcons will have to fight hard to survive but the outcome will be positive for them. Although the squad is not the most impressive it should be just enough to stay on the safe eleventh position. The one whose form will have a massive impact will probably be the experienced Mike Blair.



London Irish
12 (9)

London Irish is the team which, in my opinion, is most likely to be relegated. Lots of good players left the club in the previous season and the team struggled. This season even more players decided to try their luck in different clubs (among them Alex Corbisiero and Jonathan Joseph) so the situation is not looking better. No impressive names were added to the squad so I think that this time surviving relegation battle may be much more challenging.





How accurate my predictions are we will find out in May. I’d like to encourage all Aviva Premiership fans to try their luck in the predicting games on the superbru.com.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Rugby Championship - round 2


Same teams as last week triumphed in the second round of Rugby Championship. New Zealand beat Australia 27:16 and won Bledisloe Cup eleventh time in a row. South Africa had to work really hard to defeat Argentina 22:17. 8 minutes before the final whistle the hosts were leading and it was very close for Pumas to achieve a historic victory. Argentinians deserve a lot of respect for recovering from big defeat last week. They proved you can’t underestimate them especially when they play at home. 

Next games are due on the 7th of September. New Zealand will then face Argentina and Australia will play with South Africa.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Rugby Championship – round 1


One of the most interesting rugby tournaments started last weekend. Supporters saw 18 tries in the first round of Rugby Championship! New Zealand defeated Australia  47:29. The All Blacks’ skipper Richie McCaw returned to the squad. Although he made some minor mistakes his comeback was very successful. One of the best flankers  in the world once again proved that he is second to none in the breakdowns. New Zealand’s winger Ben Smith who scored three tries and Will Genia – one of the best Wallabies’ players deserve a special mention as well.


In the second  match South Africa outclassed Argentina 73:13! Springboks scored 9 tries. After last year’s good debut few supporters expected such a big scoreline. Pumas will have a chance to regain the lost honour very soon. This will not be easy though.

Next round will take place this Saturday. This time New Zealand and Argentina have home advantage.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

My club Trafford MV

I have covered a lot of rugby topics in the past 18 months of blogging. It is impossible to comment on every rugby event so I try to focus on the ones which are most interesting to me. There is, however, one topic which I hardly touched on at my blog although it is very close to my heart. I’m thinking about grassroots rugby. There are many amateur rugby clubs in UK, most of them with great tradition and history. These clubs are the essence of rugby as they continue to produce players with great rugby ethic and often have strong roots in communities involving whole families to participate in local rugby events. Today I’m going to introduce you to one of the friendliest amateur clubs, which I’m lucky to play for – Trafford MV.

I am a fairly new member of the club and it will be my third season in black and white stripes. The club itself has long and interesting history. Trafford MV is based in Sale, Cheshire, and has rugby, cricket and touch rugby teams for adults and children of every age group and level of ability. There are currently three senior teams playing in North-West leagues. This, combined with a friendly, welcoming environment makes the club an excellent place to train, play and socialise. 

Beginnings - Metrovicks
The club was originally formed on the 2nd of May 1923 by a group of 17 apprentices at a heavy electrical engineering company called Metropolitan Vickers also known as Metrovick or Metrovicks. Their factory in Trafford Park, Manchester, was for most of the 20th century one of the biggest and most important heavy engineering facilities in Britain and the world. 

Within four years of forming, the club was fielding four rugby XV's. Originally wearing an all black strip, in the 1927/28 season, the club changed its colours to the black and white hoops and white shorts which remained unchanged up till now. During these early years, the club was based in Chorlton cum Hardy but in 1934 it purchased land off Glebeland’s Road in Sale next to banks of River Mersey and never moved again.

War
During the War Years and the cancellation of all pre-arranged fixtures, Metrovick found itself to be a Mecca for Servicemen on leave, along with the many people engaged in engineering work in Trafford Park, and its playing numbers were increasing week on week. 

In 1945 club chairman R.D.B. Lauder retired after 22 years in which he had overseen the club's development, which was now going from strength to strength. A great debt is owed to the club's first chairman for the hard work that he put in which laid the solid foundations that today's club is built on.

Development after the war 
Over the years, with regular help from the company, the club upgraded its playing facilities to 4 full size rugby pitches and 2 cricket squares. The playing side of the club continued to develop after the war, with players staying loyal to the club. Whilst the rugby section continued to play in friendly matches and gained an excellent reputation.

There are other significant years in MV's history. In 1980, the club ground was renamed MacPherson Park, in respect to one of its long serving members, Jim MacPherson who had passed away earlier in the year. 
In 1985, with the onset of professionalism in the game and the promotion of structured rugby leagues, the rugby section joined the Girobank League, and was immediately successful in claiming the championship.

Name change
The final most important development in MV's history happened when the club changed its name. As the decline in the engineering function at the company (now GEC Ltd) became more and more significant, the close ties of the early days between club and company were becoming less and less. In 1993, as the club had no further ties with Metrovick, and along with the desire to promote the club within its more regional surroundings, it changed its name to Trafford MV RFCC. This was the end of a long association with Metrovicks, and as a mark of our past history, the MV was kept in the name.

Famous players, coaches and Sale Sharks
The club has continued develop year on year, and it boasts a fine tradition of sporting excellence. The club is proud to state that Dylan O'Grady who played for Sale and Ireland and Steve Diamond former Sale Sharks player and currently Director of Rugby at Sale Sharks, were previous members of junior section and senior teams. This is not where club’s association with Sale ends. In 1997, Sale have moved their training centre to the club and MV have also hosted the All Blacks national side for training sessions prior to the rugby internationals, as well as hosting Pau Rugby Club from France prior to European Cup games at Sale.

Facilities
Club’s playing surface is now one of the best in the area, which has been proved by the levels of rugby teams that continue to use facilities. The club also has a fully floodlight rugby pitch and training area, which ensures that players can train deep into the late hours if they so desire, or dependant on how bad they performed on the Saturday. Lancashire RFU regularly use the Club as a coaching centre for South Lancs clubs.

Future
The club is massively proud of its mini/junior section, which is the envy of all clubs in the area and caters for circa 300 youngsters and boasts over 50 CRB checked coaches. It’s from the junior section that the core of the current rugby 1st XV comes – this season newly appointed Captain Patrick Eccles is a prime example having been at the Club since he was 4 years old. MV’s hopes for the new season are high. Promotion is the target with a longer term aim of being firmly established at the higher level with the club becoming an attraction for the stronger amateur Rugby players from in and around Greater Manchester.

The Club continues to evolve having earned RFU/ECB/Sport England support to build new changing/shower/gym facilities – recent clubhouse refurbishments make socialising more fun. Recent funding of £50k to upgrade pitch drainage and grass cover has been approved and further plans are in the pipeline to build a Community Room extension which will provide better facilities for mini/junior players, catering, functions as well as allowing the Club to offer better amenities to the neighbouring community. 

Nowadays, I don’t have as much time for rugby as I would like, but I am proud to be part of Trafford MV. Playing for this club and wearing a jersey which represents great tradition is an honour and privilege. For those who look for a friendly club with fantastic atmosphere I highly recommend joining Trafford Metrovick RFCC – you won’t be disappointed!

Please take a minute to look at club's website at www.traffordmv.com - and even become one of our supporters – or better still one of our players!