Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Lions go to Australia

British and Irish Lions Australia tournée - one of the most interesting rugby events - starts shortly. The one and only team which consists of the best players from England Wales Scotland and Ireland attracts the attention of rugby fans all over the world. Some players consider the event to be almost as important as the World Cup due to its long 125 year old history, the prestige of playing with the best as well the fact that the games take place only once every four years.

Playing in the team is a privilege which can be granted to only a few. The opponents treat the event as something special, too. No wonder, most of them can stand the chance to play only once in 12 years. Therefore, the Lions always have to face extra motivated rivals. The players know it’s once in a life time chance to get the precious scalp. Short period of preparation and team building before the games is an Achilles' heel for British and Irish Lions but this year they are the favourites. Australians have been less effective recently so the Europeans have a chance to succeed. Surely, they will not lack support as there are over 40000 fans going to Australia and hundreds of thousands will watch the battle in front of the TV. 

The clash starts on the 1st of June in Hong-Kong where Lions will face Barbarians - the team I wrote about in one of my previous posts. Afterwards, they will play with the best Australian clubs. On the 5th of June Lions with meet Western Force, on the 8th Queensland Reds, on the 11th the combined teams of NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds. On the 15th of June NSW Waratahs, 18th - ACT Brumbies, 22nd - first test match with Australia, 25th Melbourne Rebels, 29th second test match with Australia, 6th of July - third test match with Australia. So it is going to be a month of very entertaining games. Before the tournee starts, it may be worth to get familiar with interesting history of British and Irish Lions and watch Living with the Lions dvd from the 1997 tour.

Below are a few facts from the team’s history:

*First Australia and New Zealand tournee took place in 1888 and lasted 8 months. 21 players took part in it. 

*The name “Lions” was first used by South African journalists in 1924 and derived from the lion emblem on the players’ ties. 

*”Lions” became the official name of the team and replaced “British Isles” in 1950.

*In 2001 the name changed to British and Irish Lions.

*The team does not have an anthem.
*The teams’ outfit has remained almost unchanged for over 60 years.

*The crest was officially introduced in 1924.

*In 1927 Lions tournee in Argentina finished with 9 wins out of 9 games. In 1936 they won all 10 games losing only 9 points in all matches. 

*In 1950 the Lions won 22, drew 1 and lost 6 games during Australia and New Zealand tournee.

*1955 brought 19 won out of 25 played matches during the South Africa tournee.

*In 1974 the team won all 22 tournee games and all 3 test matches against South Africa.

* The famous "call 99". The games with South Africa were very aggressive and often full of cheap shots. The teams’ captain Willie John McBride agreed with the team that if one of the Lions wanted to take revenge, all other players will join the brawl so referees would have to send off everyone or no one. The idea was successful and none of the players was sin binned. 

*The first tournée in the professional era took place in 2001. The Lions lost to Australia 2:1.

* In the past, during the tournee, the team used to play with the neighbour countries such as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1910, 1924, 1938, 1955, 1962, 1968 and 1974, Fiji in 1977, Namibia in 1955, 1962, 1968 and 1974.

*Games were also played on the way back to Europe – with Canada in 1959 and 1966, East Africa (Kenia, Nairobi) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). 

*Other interesting opponents are Barbarian FC (in 1973) and the Rest of the World (1986).

*In Australia 2013, the British and Irish Lions’ team consists of 15 players from Wales, 10 from England, 9 Irish and 3 Scottish players.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

RC Toulon wins Heineken Cup!

Toulon won Heineken Cup for the first time ever. They beat French rivals Clermont Auvergne 16:15. Both teams are full of superstars, and managed to come with the starting XVs which entirely consisted of players who had starts in the national teams under their belts. Fans who expected an entertaining game couldn't complain. Although it was only 3:3 at the half-time, the battle was tough and tense. 

Clermont dominated the first part of the match, and managed to go in front 15:6 at one point. Although after-match statistics confirmed that dominance (possession 68%, territory 75%) it was Toulon's day. The key figure who led the team to the victory was Jonny Wilkinson. Not only did he score 11 points and charge down a drop-goal attempt 2 minutes before the end of the game, but he also didn't miss a kick in the entire knock-out stages. No wonder that he has been named European Player of the Year! The prestigious award which he fully deserves. 

In my opinion it was the best of four all French finals so far. Incredible defensive effort was crucial for the result (66 tackles made by Clermont, 176 by Toulon). It's quite possible that same teams will meet again in the French Top 14 final.

Congratulations to RC Toulon and good luck in claiming double crown.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Aviva Premiership - short summary

Aviva Premiership regular season is over. It is a good time for a short summary. Same four teams as last year have reached the knock-out stages: Saracens, Leicester Tigers, Harlequins and Northampton Saints are all in the Semis. There were no big surprises as favourites did not disappoint. Premiership newcomers London Welsh have been relegated which isn't a huge surprise either. The biggest disappointment was probably Sale Sharks' poor performance. The club had big ambitions, and was targeting the first four, but unexpectedly ended up at the other side of the table and had to fight in the relegation battle.

Exeter Chiefs' good performance deserves a special mention. Team from Devon has once again proved to be a very demanding opponent and took some prestigious scalps. The last year champions - Harlequins had to swallow a bitter pill twice as they were beaten on both occasions. 

In my preseason predictions I have correctly predicted positions of five teams and also three out of four semi-finalists. Although the season was a bit more foreseeable than usual, it did not lack excitement. Most games were interesting and played at decent level. More than a half of all matches ended within seven points margin! As I mentioned in my previous posts, Aviva Premiership is my favorite European league. Although the weather conditions are not always favourable for the high tempo and spectacular games, English clubs' rivalry provides lots of excitement. Atmosphere on the stands is fantastic, too.

Semi-finals take place this weekend: Leicester Tigers will play with Harlequins and Saracens clash with Northampton Saints. The big final is on the 26th of May on the Twickenham Stadium. 

Who will triumph this year? We will soon find out.