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.