• Will Carling Flood V Cipriani - Martin Johnson's dilemma written by Will Carling

     

    I know many of you will immediately think there is no way that Cipriani should be anywhere near the England team yet, that he has played only three games, not even full games and one of those started at full back. You may have a point, but just have a little read and see what you think.....

    Martin Johnson has had more criticism in the last few months than he had in his whole playing career, and how ever tough you are, and Johno is quite tough to be fair, no one enjoys it or is immune to it. You can not ignore it, however hard you try, because people always mention it to you even when you do not read it yourself. And Johno has to face the media on a regular basis, and they do tend to let you know what they are thinking.... the criticism has been centered around England's poor attack - to be polite - to the ultra conservative rugby they played in November and to the frightening lack of creativity. Jonny Wilkinson played so deep it was almost impossible to attack off his shoulder, and yet he tells us that was the game plan....!!!!!!!!! It has left many, myself included, unable to understand the thinking.

    So Johnson needs England to hit the Six Nations with some edge, real bite and intensity and his selection at number 10 will say everything about the thinking, the mindset of the coaches and I believe will give the clearest hint as to what we can expect from England during the campaign.

    The candidates are;

    Jonny Wilkinson

    Toby Flood

    Shane Geraghty

    Andy Goode

    Danny Cipriani

    Wilkinson is the incumbent and the points machine that Johnson relied on so successfully as Captain. His defence is still as brave, his passing as crisp, his goal kicking almost as reliable as ever - but there are flaws. His kicking out of hand is way off radar, his reading of a game is strangely naive and as I have said already he played far far too deep, hence England's attack was easily dealt with by the opposition defence. Geraghty would seem to be the answer to England's attacking line up - he plays flatter and is far more instinctive, and yet he stills seems unsure at Test level and as yet is unable to translate club form to the test arena. There are valid questions too regarding his game management as well as the obvious concerns about his defence. Surely Andy Goode, character that he is, has now been put out to stud (some thought!!)

    Toby Flood and Danny Cipriani are the two young guns that sum up England's current dilemma and highlight the most important question about this current England management. Toby Flood is the quiet, diligent player, he trains hard, he is popular with his team mates and coaches, he is reliable, he is a good kicker, his reading of a game is good and his defence is good. Toby Flood is good and he plays for Leicester. I do not mean that as a snide comment, it is a fact and it is also a fact that Martin Johnson is being accused of being to Leicester-centric by many rugby brains. So like it or not, it is a factor.

    Cipriani is a very different animal. he has attitude - good and bad. He has a high profile girlfriend, he is distant from many team mates, untrusting of many, he voices opinions to coaches and to team mates. And yet he can be brilliant. He is the most potent attacking option England have at 10, he reads a game instinctively and plays the same way so is far far harder to defend against. His kicking is good and his defence is improving. he plays for Wasps, is unpredictable but is the one player who could be special.

    What does Johnson do? Does he start with Wilkinson with the trusty understudy Flood on the bench who is in the same mould, but not quite as good as his mentor? That would be conservative, that would conform to the drive to reward players with the right work ethic, players who conform and do the 'right' thing. That would conform to the current environment and to the coaches mind set, and let's be honest it would make man management much, much easier...... BUT, is it the best option?

    i watched the Leicester V Wasps game yesterday, and there for all of us to see was the England dilemma. Flood was good behind as dominant pack as you could hope to see. Cipriani was at times brilliant, creating one try and creating what should have been another in the second half. He has real pace, anticipation and is dangerous. he was exciting to watch, even though he had very very little ball, whereas Flood was good. Flood plays to the Leicester game plan, and does it very well.

    Leicester does have a huge bearing on England at the moment, through ex coaches, ex and current players and through a similar work ethic. The glaring flaw is that England do not have a dominant pack of forwards, and Leicester rely very very heavily on that advantage. Without it, their game plan can be exposed and that is when you need something extra to break down Test defences. Is Flood that man?

    Yes Cipriani is a risk, yes he would require far more 'management' and yet the returns would be far far greater. Whether people like to admit it or not, he has a special talent, and at the moment England do not have too many players like that. The coaching team need to understand that a squad needs a blend of characters/ players, and that winners are difficult to deal with, but when you do the results are so much more rewarding.

    it is time for England to throw off the 'cautious' cloak and to start to play, to enjoy their rugby, to fulfill their talent and to start winning. The number 10 selection will tell us a huge amount about the coaches intent.....

     






    Written on Sunday, 10 January 2010 09:58 in Wills Blog
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  • Will Carling The Rugby Moment of 2009 written by Will Carling

     

    OK, so what was that one rugby moment from 2009, 'THE' photo, the expression, the try, the tackle, the kick, the commentary or even the player th at you will always remember from 2009?

    And let's be honest, it has been quite a year, both good and bad, with Ireland's first Grand Slam for 60 odd years, the British and Irish Lions tour, South Africa's domination of the Tri-Nations alongside Leinster's amazing Heineken Cup success (which reminds me that the Irish have had far too good a year - bastards!!! :-) ) and the Bulls emphatic victory in the Super 14 and to top it off Rugby Sevens is accepted into the Olympics. Some great highlights then and let's be honest some real low points, with Bloodgate, gouging, drug allegations and some pretty mediocre rugby dominated by kicking..

    Ireland staggered and limped to the Grand Slam and what a great celebration it was, and even as an Englishman how good it was to see a player of O'Driscoll's class lift the trophy. They have been promising for so long and at last they achieved, just when I for one thought that they had gone over the hill (finger on the pulse again!!)

    Ireland's Grand Slam

    The Lions tour was immense with so many rugby pundits privately predicting a white-wash and a non-competitive Lions team. The players and coaches managed to create a passionate, creative and threatening team within a matter of a few weeks - something that has eluded a number of International coaching teams for nearly a year......I for one thought the Test series was awesome, close, dramatic and brutal which is exactly as expected. The whingeing about the physicality of the Boks was way out of order - it is the way they play and it is what makes them a special opponent - so for me it added to the contest. It was a tragic end to the 2nd Test as a Lions supporter, but a great end for a Bok's supporter, but a proud last Test did bring a little relief back to the red shirts.

    South Africa dominated the Tri-Nations in what was to be honest a pretty bland procession of games and someone needs to think long and hard about the interest in playing sides three or even four times a season........it bored the tits off me, and I have quite a pair of tits I can tell you!

    The Heineken Cup was enthralling as ever and for me confirmed itself as the best club competition around. Leinster's run was historic, it encompassed 'Bloodgate', beating Munster or should I say stuffing Munster in the Semi-Finals and going on to a great and deserved victory. How bloody good was Rocky Elsom by the way, surely player of the Cup?

    And rugby sevens is accepted into the Olympics - wow! What an impact that could have on rugby and it's growth if harnessed properly by the IRB. The likes of China, USA and Russia can suddenly divert funds into the sport, and let's be honest they have far more chance of being successful quickly in the sevens arena than the fifteen aside - look at Kenya. I can see in a matter of years that a young rugby player will have a serious decision to make as to whether to be a sevsn player of a fifteen aside specialist, as both will have their own circuits, competitions and stars.

    Those would go down as the main contenders for the highlights in my mind, but then there is quite some competition from the dark side!!

    Bloodgate

     

    Bloodgate - sadly the realisation to many that in professional rugby there is cheating. The subsequent destruction of one man as a result is a bigger disgrace in my mind than the fact that he was cheating in the first place. The powers that be beat their cheats and tal ked about cleaning up the game, and then when they realised how widespread it was and how long it had been going on and the multitude of names that were implicated, they not surprisingly lost their nerve, were completely spineless and chose to dump all the blame on Dean Richards and walk away under the pretense that he was the only culprit - utter bollocks!

    Drugs - amazing to me, but then I am an old fart, that these were part of club culture in Bath. I for one do not believe that it is widespread in rugby and hopefully Matt Stevens will be one of very few found guilty of using recreational drugs.

    So to gouging and foul play in general - how confusing is it? Burger and Dupuy are both found guilty of eye-gouging but the disparity in their respective sentences leaves you open mouthed! can someone tell me why there is no consistency?? Is it really down to the strength of the gin and tonics consumed before sentencing......

    So what will it be for me, what is 'THE' memory? Tom Williams leaving the field with 'blood' pouring from his mouth and a wink will be hard to erase, but after ploughing through all the memories I think it is a picture of Rob Kearney sitting against the posts at the end of the Lions 2nd Test. Exhausted and gutted at the ending, and yet the memory for me will be of not only his great form but that of O'Driscoll and Roberts, of the passion shown by Philips, the impact of Shaw and the resurgence of pride and belief in the Lions shirt after the debacle of 2005. For me that is the abiding memory of 2009, a great series, some great performances, a great win for the Boks and some awesome memories for us fans.....

     

    Rob Kearney

     






    Written on Friday, 01 January 2010 12:34 in Wills Blog
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  • Will Carling England - Six Nations prospects written by Will Carling

    So the dust has settled on the November Internationals, and we have all had time to have a little think and a deep breath - or two!
    So where are England, and realistically where can they expect to end up in the Six Nations?
    England are not as far down the progress path as many would like, but then again maybe some of those expectations are just unrealistic. England can not fall back on a dominant pack of forwards as they have been able to for the last twenty years, a pack that was capable of sucking the life out of the opposition pack and grinding them into the dirt. Egged on in the past by two effeminate centres! So without that safety net, England have needed to develop a more fluid, expansive game, and this has been the major area of concern for me.
    The England attack has been far too predictable, far too easily contained and after three games it is hard to see where progress has been made. The limit seems to be 'one out' rugby, but 'one out' rugby without even introducing any decoy runners or varying running lines - how easy to England want to make it for the opposing defence?? Many critics, myself included, have pointed out that Jonny Wilkinson has been playing far too deep and made it almost impossible to attack off. We then hear from Jonny himself that he is just obeying orders and sticking to the agreed game plan..................???? Name me another backline that attempts to attack from a 10 that stands that deep? Watching the likes of Giteau and Carter, it is immediately obvious that when they hit the ball flat and at pace, options open up for their centres and outside backs. It is basic common sense. So how frightening is it that England's attack is planned around a number ten that sits 10 metres behind the game plan? Martin Johnson has failed to explain it, Brian Smith does not appear in print to explain and it does leave you with huge doubts about the thinking within the England camp.
    Having watched the performances, we were then treated to a 'political' press conference by Rob Andrew, which left me seething. I remember Clive Woodward installing that Labour spin King Alastair Campbell on the British and Irish Lions tour in 2005 and thinking that rugby had lost track of what it was and what it was trying to be. The only up side to Campbell's presence on that tour was to provide the players with light relief when they pinched his Blackberry and read the emails still coming in from Tony Blair!! Oh to have had the chance to write some choice replies!!!
    Rob Andrew tried to convince us through statistics and spin that our eyes had deceived us and that contrary to common belief England had made progress in the Autumn Test series and closed the gap on the Southern Hemisphere. I am not a fan of politicians, and it was one of the saddest days when the men in charge of the England team turned a review of England rugby matches into what was akin to politician’s bullshitting about the Iraq war or the success they had made of the NHS. Rugby in my sad old mind was played by a certain type of guy, pretty trustworthy, hard, and direct and not one that is into bullshit! I played alongside Rob goodness knows how many times for England and grew to trust him implicitly and we became great mates. I would like to think we are still mates, but at some point when I next see him I will have to let him know that press conference was one of the low points of my time as an England rugby fan.
    But strangely all is not doom and gloom in my view, and I do think England could be a dramatically different prospect in the Six Nations with only minor changes. Those changes would have to include the return of Sheridan, if he is in a nasty and uncompromising mood, the inclusion of Shaw and Lawes in the second row, Easter to return at number 8 with his club scrum half running the show behind him. Flutey to add experience and creativity at twelve with either Geraghty or Cipriani at 10, whoever is showing the best form in late January. The over-riding premise would be that the England coaches start to look at how to attack, and not defend with the ball in hand, and that players need to be allowed to express themselves and their talent as they do at club level - Care, Geraghty, Cipriani etc etc. If that mind set can be changed within the coaching set up, and if the players can take on that responsibility, then England will be a very different, far more potent animal in the Six Nations, not the stuttering and blind hippopotamus that we saw in the Autumn.






    Written on Friday, 18 December 2009 14:37 in Wills Blog
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  • Will Carling England V Argentina - looking back written by Will Carling

    I think it is very easy to get hysterical and believe that the sky is falling in on the world after watching England struggle to beat Argentina - if you are an English rugby fan. BUT I think it is important to remember a few key points;
    England's injury list is extensive, and the likes of Vickery, Easter, Shaw, Flutey, and Armitage would have been bloody useful for these games. Let's be honest if you took 3-4 key guys out of the Bok side, or All Blacks side they would be a very different proposition.
    Also the Argies are now a bloody hard side to beat, their pack is massively powerful and technically probably the best in the world (although I have no bloody idea it is just what I have been told by those who know!!) They have the experience and ability to slow a game down to their pace, having played in a few bloody frustrating games against them myself, and so the prospect of England coming out and playing fast, fluid and effective rugby was asking a hell of a lot.
    No I am not being soft on England here; I just think it is important to get it all in perspective.
    That having been said I do have serious concerns about how England played, and how they have played too often now.
    England were overly conservative in the first half and persisted with a kicking strategy that had obviously been mapped out in the week, but did not take into account that both principle kickers were badly off form. Plan B.....? The chasing of the kicks was also nearly as poor as the kicks themselves.
    Why do England persist with not using decoy runners, change of angle, pace and attack when they are trying to break a defence down? Passing to one guy and asking him to 'run hard' is not going to succeed at Test level and does not really fill me with a warm feeling that we are using our talent to the full. I have yet to witness, in two games, an attack by England that involved subtlety, options and pace. Sadly there is no excuse for that.
    My concern is also around the strategy England are creating, or not, as it seems to be far too predictable as well as stopping too many players from producing their natural game. The two opposition captain's have both commented on how predictable England were and how they produced no surprises. How sad is that.
    On that point, we pick Hodgson - a live wire - he likes to play at pace. And what happens.... he is told to play a box kicking game..........WHY ??!!!
    What the hell have we done to one of the Lions star's in Croft??? He was awesome in SA, using his pace, athleticism etc to huge effect, and in two games with England................. Exactly.
    Rob Andrew must be looking long and very hard at the coaching team. John Wells has been around for three years now and in my view should be delivering a better pack of England forwards.
    Martin Johnson needs some wise and experienced heads around him on his coaching team, not friends or ex-team mates. Someone needs to tell him.......

     

     






    Written on Monday, 16 November 2009 12:34 in Wills Blog
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  • Will Carling England V Australia my view written by Will Carling

    First up, congratulations to Aussie and their new captain Rocky Elsom - great guy and one hell of a player. They deserved the win, no doubt and they have been under some severe pressure lately, so a great effort by them.

    As for England, I thought Jonny Wilkinson and Lewis Moody were outstanding, both were immense in defense and their combined work rates should have allowed England to win the game - if they had any team mates who had been delivering too !

    The England pack are a major concern. Set piece was OK, but that sadly is a far as it went. Around the field the forwards were one paced, they only recycled painfully slow ball and there was no where near enough bite and edge to their defense around the fringes - Moody excepted. It begs the question is John Wells up to it? he picked a heavily Leicester focused pack, and yet again it did not deliver. He has been England forward coach for 3 years now and I am yet to remember a commanding performance from the pack.

    Yes the Aussies have just played 7 Tests and hence have a hard edge and an understanding, and yes we have a long list of injuries, BUT i still expect the coaches to be able to deliver a more coherent team. 

    The backs look way too predictable, there is precious little variety, in running lines, in pace, no decoy runners or subtlety in set plays, hence the Aussies were never stretched in defence, as their captain stated in his press conference. With all the possession that the forwards did win - set piece granted - surely the coaches and players are capable of delivering more threat around the pitch?

    We had enough pace in the backline, enough talent, but it seems very little idea and ability to breakdown a defence.

    Maybe it is time for Martin Johnson to move away from good club players - Deacon, Borthwick, Crane, Banahan and go for younger players who have real talent - Lawes, Foden, Cipriani, Kennedy, Haskell, Hartley. 

    I have always held the belief that a player either has the ability to deliver at Test level or he doesn't. (rocket science there!!) A player either has the ability to react at that speed, to move at that speed, to deal with the intensity of the game and the build up, or he does not. And 100 club games is not going to change that. If the man has the ability 100 games at club level will not sharpen that edge and if he does not have that ability one hundred club games is not going to give him that edge. In Giteau and Genia Australia show us two classic examples of guys who have the talent, but just a little time on the Test pitch in order to deliver - and deliver they do.

    Too many of our players are good honest club players, who work bloody hard, try as much as they can, but just do not have that edge / ability to make an impact at Test level. maybe we have now got to the stage where even the conservative Wells / Johnson and Smith need to look to some of the youngsters.

    One classic example. Whether you like him or not - Cipriani. I know he is injured, but even if he was not Goode would still be on the bench. Please explain?? It is not as though we have an abundance of talent, as yesterday showed, and yet there is one young player who has it. What do we do, we boot him out of the squad ! Now I am sure he needs his arse kicking every now and then, and more than most, but he is young, he is strong willed - surprisingly!! But Wasps make it work, so why can't England?? We need to look after all the talent we have, not kick it out, and we need to be mature enough as a management tea, to deal with difficult characters. Sadly and much as I hate to say it, i do not see the Aussies making the same mistake.......enough said...






    Written on Friday, 13 November 2009 16:41 in Wills Blog
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  • Will Carling England Squad V Australia written by Will Carling

    Hats off to Martin Johnson, at least he has found enough fit players to piece together a powerful squad. There will always be debate about England selection, thank goodness, especially in the early stages of a team’s development, as players have yet to cement places and supporters have yet to trust them. Not since 2003 have England had a squad / team that evoked little debate due to it’s success and consistency.

     

    So it is against this background that Johnson has to pick and against this background that there is therefore bound to be strong debate. There are only a few player selections that I would raise an eye brow over, my main concern is more along the lines of squad environment and squad chemistry, but more of that in a minute.

     

    The glaring omission for me has to be Kennedy, especially due to his current supreme line out form. What can Johnson, or his forward’s coach Jon Wells have against the man, because form and ability can not be the issue. So is he thought of as soft? England need some steel, some edge and ruthlessness in the 2nd row, but his replacements  Kay and Deacon hardly scare you into soiling your pants do they….

    It certainly has me at a loss and as a result will continue to lay Johnson open to Leicester bias.

     

    Simpson-Daniel is one of the most gifted players that I know, and he must wonder what he has to do to force his way into the squad, although maybe Johnson feels his form is not the best at the moment?? Mind you, that could be applied to Goode as one of a few…..

     

    So by and large, the squad looks as strong as the injury list allows and in my view is a fair reflection of talent at the moment, with just a hint of Leicester bias hanging in the air! The area of concern for me is the frame of mind, the attitude, the environment that is being created in and around the England squad. Is it just a little too Johnson??

     

    Let me explain; The reason Martin Johnson was so successful was his single minded approach to rugby, not only physically but also mentally. He was a great student of the game, he watched, studied players, both past and present to squeeze out any useful information. He set the example at every training session, during every game and his example was exemplary. He was one seriously focused player and one intensely serious player, and that worked for Martin Johnson, and how.

     

    BUT, is it the best policy to create this current England team in the image of their manager? Johnson was ultimately successful down to his approach, and the approach of those very talented players in his team, some of whom were more light hearted, more interested in life away from rugby, the likes of Dawson and Dallaglio spring to mind. And a squad, a team needs a blend of characters surely, it is what creates the chemistry, the tension that drives a team to success. In the hours of training and the hours of tension, humour and banter are crucial to the sanity of those players.

     

    My concern is that the current England set up is a little dour, a little too serious without the hint of some humour, some light relief. Characters are not encouraged, players with an opinion, a view are frowned upon, all in the name of ‘work ethic’. Now I am a huge believer in work ethic, but I am also a believer in the need for variety in a squad, and a maturity that allows for players who are not clones of their manager. If a player delivers, that is the key goal, and if in his life he likes the odd party, the odd drink, then so be it, he delivers when it is needed and hence should be allowed to live his life as he wishes away from the pitch. The management might just need to take a deep breath and realize that in their highly admirable drive to deliver a successful England rugby squad, there can still be a place for laughter, for fun, and for characters. A furrowed brow is perfect for work times, but surely it should not be compulsory 24 hours a day……






    Written on Friday, 13 November 2009 16:39 in Wills Blog
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  • Will Carling THe New Zealand All Blacks - Memories and thoughts.... written by Will Carling

    As the All Blacks prepare to tour again, the inevitable question comes around as to how they will do, how good or bad are they and will they win the next World Cup?

     I don't bloody know!!!

    But, I do have strong views on the All Blacks, probably more so than any other team apart from England of course! Why? For many reasons actually, and I shall try to explain;

    When I was much younger the rugby book that made the most impact on me was Graham Mourie's book, firstly because in those days there was a mystique and aura that surrounded the All Black's, more than any other side and secondly I was fascinated at some of his comments on captaincy and his fights with those in charge (I was only a school captain at the time but was desperately trying to get better!!) The aura etc was due to the infrequency that we ever saw the All Blacks and down to the basic colour of the playing kit - it all induced that reputation of tough, uncompromising warriors.

    I remember watching the likes of Shelford, Jones, Kirwan and Stanley and being very in awe as well as bloody terrified!

    My own career stumbled along and somehow I managed to get picked for England - desperation makes selectors do very strange things! And during my early years I was actually fit enough for the Barbarians to pick me to play in the Hong Kong 7's. Here I met my first All Blacks, and what a contrast they were. Eric Rush and Zinzan Brooke! Eric constantly played a crazy game, based on making stupid noises and raising eye brows - he was world class at it, but over three days bloody drove me crazy! Zinny was just this class act on the pitch, we lost to them in the semi-final, and some  demi-god off it! We happened to bump into the All Black's on the Sunday lunch time,  a few hours before flying home that night, as we were all drinking in the same bar. Towards the end of the session, I was standing at the bar, avoiding buying my round no doubt, when Zinny stood next to me and grabbed my shirt! Quite forward in my book, especially when he is just not my type (he has black hair for starters!!) Anyway I put up with his grip for a few minutes, because he is quite a big guy and then slowly prised his fingers off me, at which point he just collapsed! He has since claimed that his drinks were spiked, but having been drinking with him far too many times I now know that he is just a light weight!!

    It made quite an impression on me, watching the All Blacks, sensing their pride in the shirt, watching a Haka, and witnessing their skill level etc. The next time I encountered them, they beat us in the opening game of the 1991 World Cup. Craig Innes and Schuster in the middle. I toured New Zealand only once, with the British and Irish Lions, and I say 'toured' in the loosest possible sense of the word, as I was so bloody useless that I spent most of the tour on holiday with the dirt trackers- quite rightly. Although in true English style, it really got to me and when the All Blacks toured the UK in 1993, we were wound up enough to beat them.

    But enough of my boring playing career against them.

     They remain the best brand in World rugby, they have marketed the shirt brilliantly, it is still clean, and the aura is still almost as strong. The tag of World Cup chokers is amusing for en Englishman ( with the rain and the clouds we have to find our amusement in small ways, and trust me I find my amusement in some very small things...) but it is also not accurate in my view. In 1991 the Aussies were the best side in the World, In 1995 the All Blacks were and the defeat in SA was a shock, in 1999 it was the Aussies again and in 2003 it was England, so no issue with those results. The 2007 defeat was quite easily the most shocking, and the mistakes made just far too blatant and avoidable. Rotation does not work, you have to have a settled side, look at all the winners and see the consistency of selection. It is romantic to think that you win rugby matches by scoring tries, but reality means that in knock out games, you just have to bloody win and you must win! All the hot air about the referee in the Quarter Final is all well and good, but the game was still there to be won, and should still have been one despite the ref's decisions with the territory and possession that the All Blacks had - no excuses. If we are going to talk about interesting referees, I still think Andre Watson’s interpretation of scrummaging in the 2003 final was horrific and yet Johnson’s men managed to still find a way to win. A lesson that I think the All Blacks have now absorbed.

    I am biased as I am an All Black fan bizarrely, but then I have been privileged to have got to know a few of the current players. A couple of years ago my company organised some corporate work for Tana, Richie and Jerry and I spent a week with these guys and was hugely impressed with how they conducted themselves, with their very down to earth approach, their humility and the impact that they had on clients. They were a class act on and off the pitch and I have got to know Dan in a similar way. So yes, I am biased, but at the same time intrigued to watch the unfolding build up to the next World Cup from a dispassionate view point.

    The Boks dominated the Tri-Nations, it was comfortable for them, and for once the All Blacks looked disjointed, vulnerable and at times confused. The return of Carter made a difference, but the Boks are still without doubt the dominant force.

    Despite all the PR and wailing by some former All Blacks about having to win every game and the results are just not good enough, I for one think that the last six months might just be the making of New Zealand’s attack for the 2011 World Cup. The defeats will hurt, big time, the criticism burns inside, I know, and it will forge a resolve possibly missing in 2007. It will make coaches and players ask questions that might have been left un-asked on the back of victory, and in the frustration of defeat a team will learn more about the individuals and the team than in the glory of victory, I am not advocating it by the way, far from it, and I am not doing the usual English stiff upper lip approach to losing, I hate that view, but I also do not agree with the view that the All Blacks can dominate World rugby without ever being challenged successfully by other teams. At the moment the South Africans have the upper hand, but the players that give them that edge might well have lost theirs in two years time….

    So time for realism and maturity from All Black supporters, and time to ditch the macho view that the All Blacks are and always will be the best side in the world. For the majority of rugby’s history that is undoubtedly true, but in the professional era, the playing field is shifting and it will be harder and harder for New Zealand to dominate to such an extent. Sport is cyclical, and the test for the current squad is how they go about regaining the top spot, in time for the 2011 World Cup!

    So who will stand up to command the midfield alongside Carter, who will stand up to dominate the line out and who will cement the back row slots alongside McCaw? Will Henry be able to inject enough enthusiasm and difference to safe guard his next few years, or will this tour highlight cracks in the coaching team that can not be ignored? It is the toughest tour that the All Blacks have looked at for a while, due to form and confidence and suddenly even doubt in the coaching set up. So many questions for such a short tour, but I for one believe by the end of this tour we will see whether the All Blacks have the playing quality, leadership on and off the pitch and steel needed to win the World Cup






    Written on Friday, 13 November 2009 16:38 in Wills Blog
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  • Will Carling Bloodgate written by Will Carling

    I know Bloodgate is very boring now, but I am amazed how many people keep talking to me about cheating in sport, Deano and F1, and whether money has changed sport completely, etc etc.

    Having thought about it for a nano second - my usual attention span, I am not sure sport has really changed that much in recent times, and I do believe the animal that partakes in sport is still pretty similar. Of all the players that I have spoken to, rugby, football, athletes etc, not one has ever said that money has been a factor in the heat of a game - it is all about the winning. (there are some things money can not buy!)

    I do not want to go down the road of blaming the media - too simplistic, but it has to be accepted that they have highlighted cheating to a far greater audience and in far more detail. But, fundamentally I believe that sport and sports men and women are as prone to cheating now as they have ever been and are as guilty of cheating now as they have ever been. Not a huge change.

    What I detest is the moralistic tripe that has spewed out of so many mouths and pens on the subject, from model and perfect citizens in the guise of journalists. Is it really such a shock that with the smell of a Heineken Cup semi-final in his nostrils, Dean over-stepped the mark. Anyone who has been in the last minutes of a big match, the adrenaline pumping and the overriding desire to win driving your every bloody move, will understand how easy it is to step over the line. Don't get me wrong I am not agreeing with it and never have, BUT I understand it completely. I have over stepped the mark in the heat of a game, many times ( I know that is a big surprise!!) but on a serious note it was all about winning and at times that over rode every other sense and thinking.

    My big issue with Dean is the treatment of the guy - however bizarre that might sound after what he has done. He was wrong, he cheated and he was involved in the cover up - all wrong. He should have been punished for what he did, but after a deep breathe does he really deserve to have his career finished? Is it right after all he did as a player, for club and country that all of that stands for nothing, counts for nothing and can be discarded in the blink of a gin swilled eye? Do we really believe that by heaping as much vitriol on one man, by building up his crime to epic proportions, by holding him up as the epitome of cheating / evil in the game and then 'burning' him on a stake - do we really believe that will 'cleanse' the game, and after publicly humiliating and vilifying the man, we can then all peacefully walk away satisfied that the game has been purified and that we can sleep easy in the belief that the game is once again virginal !

    Bollocks!

    He is far from the only cheat in the game as all those involved in the game know, and many with half a brain who watch know. It does not excuse him that others were doing the same, but I thought it might at least make those who punished him take stock of him as a man, player and coach, and make a rational thought out decision rather than some knee jerk over-reaction in the desperate hope that if they rub this man from the game and the records they have done a good job.

    Maybe because I have experienced an unpleasant character assasination by the media myself I am more sensitive to what they have done to Dean, I am sure a psycholgist would have a field day with me! And maybe because he was one of the players who changed England's fortunes around and never got the credit for the impact he had - they gave all that to some posturing centre!! Maybe for those simple reasons I am still seething at what has happened and maybe because I know a little more than most about what has been going on and also what really happened at the Quins in the days following that ridiculous moment. Dean was not the conductor of the club as has been portrayed, there are others who have managed to stay in the shadows, remarkably that have as much responsibility as the man who gave the club back it's respect.

    That is life I know, but I does not mean to say that I like it






    Written on Friday, 13 November 2009 16:33 in Wills Blog
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  • WillC Cipriani, England and team selection written by WillC

     

    Will Greenwood made comments on TV that the reason Danny Cipriani is not being picked for England are not rugby related! Apparently he is not popular and as a result he is not being picked. I heard the same reasons applied to Josh Lewsey at the end of his England rugby career. Now if that is the case, in either situation, then my attitude would be to sit the squad down and tell them to bloody grow up!! How shockingly immature and pathetic.

     

    Do we really believe that all team mates are best mates? Surely we are all a little too mature to think that? It is no surprise that in my time as Captain I was not universally popular! Not a surprise at all really! I would never have said that I was best mates with Jeff Probyn, or even Brian Moore, but I had huge respect for them as players and the job that they did within the squad and the role they played in making the team successful on the pitch. And that is what it is all about, quite simply, winning on the pitch and putting the most effective team out there to do that job. Bizarrely I would like to think that Jeff, Brian and I have become mates since the time we spent as players, but that still does not hide the fact that there were definite tensions when we were players.

    Tension, disagreements, and strong debates are all part of being in a team. The England team should be full of strong characters, and strong characters have strong view points and do not take too kindly to having to conform. Leadership and management are what moulds there men into an effective unit.

    In Martin Johnson’s time Josh Lewsey played brilliantly for England, and he was one of the few that carried on performing after the World Cup. To hear that at the end of his career he was viewed as too strong willed, opinionated and hence was not picked makes me think that the rest of the squad must have been pathetic spoilt prima donnas. Not too strong a view point is it??!!

    If Cipriani is not being picked now because some of his team mates are jealous of his profile, girlfriend looks… then what the hell has happened to English rugby? I for one can not believe that someone as strong as Martin Johnson would not pick a man because of non-rugby related issues. If he is a good enough player, then pick him, and tell the other little babies in the squad to grow up or go away, in slightly stronger language.

    These players need to focus on being rugby players, successful England rugby players, not minor celebrities who get invited to such exciting events as film premiers!! Oh gosh!!! Win International rugby matches, consistently, and then you might become of interest to the rugby public and then the wider public, but get that focus right and forget all the meaningless distractions that are mostly incredibly boring anyway.

    So we shall find out in the coming weeks and months what the truth is about Cipriani, it will certainly be fascinating to see if his club coach Ian McGeechan will pick him for the British and Irish Lions. If that happens and he has been omitted from the England squad for the whole season, what will that say about the maturity of the England selectors and England players??

    I hope that England pick the best squad, and as a result of that, I hope that we will see a winning team. The players, squad, need to be mature enough to realise that they will not all be mates, but being succesful team mates is what it is all about






    Written on Friday, 13 November 2009 01:00 in Wills Blog
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Will Carling - blogging about all things rugby - and balls of all shapes

The Rugby Moment of 2009

 

OK, so what was that one rugby moment from 2009, 'THE' photo, the expression, the try, the tackle, the kick, the commentary or even the player that you will always remember from 2009?

And let's be honest, it has been quite a year, both good and bad, with Ireland's first Grand Slam for 60 odd years, the British and Irish Lions tour, South Africa's domination of the Tri-Nations alongside Leinster's amazing Heineken Cup success (which reminds me that the Irish have had far too good a year - bastards!!! :-) ) and the Bulls emphatic victory in the Super 14 and to top it off Rugby Sevens is accepted into the Olympics. Some great highlights then and let's be honest some real low points, with Bloodgate, gouging, drug allegations and some pretty mediocre rugby dominated by kicking..

Ireland staggered and limped to the Grand Slam and what a great celebration it was, and even as an Englishman how good it was to see a player of O'Driscoll's class lift the trophy. They have been promising for so long and at last they achieved, just when I for one thought that they had gone over the hill (finger on the pulse again!!)

The Lions tour was immense with so many rugby pundits privately predicting a white-wash and a non-competitive Lions team. The players and coaches managed to create a passionate, creative and threatening team within a matter of a few weeks - something that has eluded a number of International coaching teams for nearly a year......I for one thought the Test series was awesome, close, dramatic and brutal which is exactly as expected. The whingeing about the physicality of the Boks was way out of order - it is the way they play and it is what makes them a special opponent - so for me it added to the contest. It was a tragic end to the 2nd Test as a Lions supporter, but a great end for a Bok's supporter, but a proud last Test did bring a little relief back to the red shirts.

South Africa dominated the Tri-Nations in what was to be honest a pretty bland procession of games and someone needs to think long and hard about the interest in playing sides three or even four times a season........it bored the tits off me, and I have quite a pair of tits I can tell you!

The Heineken Cup was enthralling as ever and for me confirmed itself as the best club competition around. Leinster's run was historic, it encompassed 'Bloodgate', beating Munster or should I say stuffing Munster in the Semi-Finals and going on to a great and deserved victory. How bloody good was Rocky Elsom by the way, surely player of the Cup?

And rugby sevens is accepted into the Olympics - wow! What an impact that could have on rugby and it's growth if harnessed properly by the IRB. The likes of China, USA and Russia can suddenly divert funds into the sport, and let's be honest they have far more chance of being successful quickly in the sevens arena than the fifteen aside - look at Kenya. I can see in a matter of years that a young rugby player will have a serious decision to make as to whether to be a sevsn player of a fifteen aside specialist, as both will have their own circuits, competitions and stars.

Those would go down as the main contenders for the highlights in my mind, but then there is quite some competition from the dark side!!

Bloodgate - sadly the realisation to many that in professional rugby there is cheating. The subsequent destruction of one man as a result is a bigger disgrace in my mind than the fact that he was cheating in the first place. The powers that be beat their chests and talked about cleaning up the game, and then when they realised how widespread it was and how long it had been going on and the multitude of names that were implicated, they not surprisingly lost their nerve, were completely spineless and chose to dump all the blame on Dean Richards and walk away under the pretense that he was the only culprit - utter bollocks!

Drugs - amazing to me, but then I am an old fart, that these were part of club culture in Bath. I for one do not believe that it is widespread in rugby and hopefully Matt Stevens will be one of very few found guilty of using recreational drugs.

So to gouging and foul play in general - how confusing is it? Burger and Dupuy are both found guilty of eye-gouging but the disparity in their respective sentences leaves you open mouthed! can someone tell me why there is no consistency?? Is it really down to the strength of the gin and tonics consumed before sentencing......

So what will it be for me, what is 'THE' memory? Tom Williams leaving the field with 'blood' pouring from his mouth and a wink will be hard to erase, but after ploughing through all the memories I think it is a picture of Rob Kearney sitting against the posts at the end of the Lions 2nd Test. Exhausted and gutted at the ending, and yet the memory for me will be of not only his great form but that of O'Driscoll and Roberts, of the passion shown by Philips, the impact of Shaw and the resurgence of pride and belief in the Lions shirt after the debacle of 2005. For me that is the abiding memory of 2009, a great series, some great performances, a great win for the Boks and some awesome memories for us fans.....

 

 

Its All About Me

I am an old and useless ex-England rugby captain, who has just set up a blog, a twitter account and also a virtual Rugby clubhouse!

I was Captain of England Rugby team between 1988 and 1996, which makes me around 42 years old’ish!

If you are a Rugby fan, love a bit of banter and are online, come join Rucku, a virtual clubhouse we created.

You can read an excellent review of it here, thanks Mike.

I also am known to ramble and talk shite on Twitter, add me as a friend if you like that sort of thing, warning it is bloody addictive.

Finally, contacting me, I do as you might imagine get a fair few requests and emails.  I do try to answer all and really welcome any feedback on a) RuckU and b) The videos of me talking shite.  Please either leave a comment on this blog, send me an @ message on Twitter.

I look forward to what looks set to be a great 2009.

Will

   


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