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

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.