Bath and Wigan - a match made in heaven?
by Tom Roberts
On the face of it there are few similarities between the city of Bath in the South West of England and the Greater Manchester town of Wigan 200 miles north. Bath, famed for its Georgian architecture and hot springs, and Wigan, a gritty working-class town made famous by George Orwell, may appear to share little in common but their shared love of Rugby Union and Rugby League respectively has seen an unlikely bond form.
With Bath preparing for the start of the new Aviva Premiership season and Wigan enjoying a week off as Castleford and Leeds contested the Rugby League challenge cup final the two clubs came together for a joint training camp earlier this week. Feedback from both camps was positive and the two coaches, Mike Ford (Bath) and Shaun Wane (Wigan), former teammates at Wigan, have both shown an interest in extending the relationship. With the rivalry between Rugby Union and Rugby League as intense as ever, however, what can both sides hope to get out of working with each other?
Video: Jason Robinson talks Sam Burgess' union switch
The Burgess talk has been quiet for a little while, so here's St Jason Of Sidestep to kick off the discussion again. Let the conjecture based disagreements begin afresh!
Which referee will be built into this new rugby ball exactly?
According to reports, boffins in the US have invented a rugby ball that has a referee built into it, in that it can tell you whether it is grounded even if it cannot be seen under a pile of bodies. This is possible due to a combination of magnetic fields, dolphins and magic, I think.
Given this is all technological, do we get the chance to choose which ref is in the ball, like on some Xbox fantasy game?
You could have refs from the past in it and everything. Imagine Tony Spreadbury's west country brogue coming from under a pile of players saying, "Oi've jest been held up!", or Stuart Dickinson demanding to see the replay 485 times before telling himself he was in touch all along.
Alain Rolland could be brought back, a wittering Irish voice talking in French from under the pile-on leading to everyone standing and the ball looking clueless on telly, again.
Which refs do you want to see in the new ball? There's a question I never saw myself typing when I started this blog in 2007..
Video: Fiji international legends on Fiji's qualification for Rugby World Cup 2015
Video courtesy of Land Rover
European Rugby Champions Cup
by David Jones
The European Rugby Champions Cup is an exciting new rugby union club competition which gets underway in October of this year. This tournament is open to the top six nations in European rugby and will replace the long standing Heineken Cup.
Bookmaker Betfair are always quick to price up any rugby events, and they already have a market available for this Champions Cup. Betfair make the French side Toulon their 3/1 market leaders and they are one of six teams who are taking part and representing that nation. Toulon had been captained by England's Jonny Wilkinson until his recent retirement and they have been victorious in the Heineken Cup for the past two seasons. With that kind of track record, it's not hard to see why Betfair have put them in as favourites for this upcoming trophy, and it will be interesting to see if the French side can pull off an impressive hat trick of wins.
A total of 20 teams from around Europe will take part in this European Rugby Champions Cup and it begins with a round robin format, which will be followed by a knockout stage later in the competition. England will be represented by seven sides, with the top six teams in the Aviva Premiership as well as the London Wasps who won the 7th place playoff, all taking part. France will have six teams in the Champions Cup, whose participation will be based upon their performance in their Top 14. Finally, Ireland, Italy, Scotland & Wales will have seven sides in the event and they will qualify based on how they performed in the Pro12.
The twenty sides are seeded and then split into four different tiers, with the seeding based upon their most recent domestic rugby records. Teams that are representing the same nations are kept apart where at all possible, but there will be pools with more than one English and French side due to the number of teams involved from those countries. There are set to be five pools, each containing four teams, who will have to play each other both home and away. The winners of each pool plus the best three second placed sides will advance to the quarter final stage of the tournament.
While Toulon are the 3/1 outright favourites for the European Rugby Champions Cup, Betfair make Irish champions Leinster their biggest threat. The Boys in Blue as they are also known can be backed at two points bigger than Toulon, with odds of 5/1 available at betfair.com. Leinster are definitely one of the very best Rugby Union sides in the world and their record in European competition rivals that of Toulon. In 2012, Leinster won a record third European Cup in four years thanks to a 42-14 win over Ulster Rugby. This was the first final in the competition's history to feature two sides from Ireland and goes to show just how strong Irish rugby has become in recent years. As far as the English teams are concerned, Betfair have the Northampton Saints in at odds of 7/1, and they could well be England's best hope of winning this prestigious trophy. The Saints topped off a fantastic 2013-14 season by winning the Aviva Premiership following a 24-20 victory over Saracens in the final at Twickenham.
The 2014-15 European Rugby Champions Cup looks set to be a fantastic replacement for the long standing Heineken Cup. There are a number of top quality sides from all over Europe due to take part, and it will be a real achievement for whoever comes through this gruelling competition as champions.
Video: #33 "Dirty Knee" and whatever else rugby would make of bingo
Costa Bingo are educating the internet about the lingo used in bingo calls. Whatever your exposure the game of bingo, whether it be as a regular, walking past the bingo hall, or like this blog sat in the games room on your nan and grandad's static caravan site for hours years ago sipping Rola Cola while being asphysiated by cigarette smoke - we all know the big calls. "Legs eleven", "two little ducks", "kelly's eyes" are standards.
Here we have number 33, or "Dirty Knee" as it's alternatively known, which we'd never heard.
Rugby knows a lot about dirty knees, and plenty of other dirty parts of the body, apart from where your pants have been, because they always stays clean as a whistle, even on the muddiest days on the field.
This got us to thinking: what other related calls could be used in bingo? "two fat props" for 88, "Billy Twelvetrees" for 36, "back of the pack" number 8, "gobby little sod" number 9, "what goes on four, stays on four".
Kyle Eastmond's substitution was a cowardly disgrace
Let's get this out of the way early: substituting Kyle Eastmond at half-time at in the third test versus New Zealand was a disgrace.
The act of making Eastmond the only casualty after forty minutes suggested to everyone - fans, team and worst of all Kyle himself that the tries and the score at half time were his fault alone. It was in fact due to a number of things, but primarily due to perhaps the best 30 mins of attacking rugby seen from a team in a long time.
The subbing was particularly disappointing as it had echoes of when Andy Robinson did something similar to Henry Paul, it was wrong then and it's wrong now. England were never going to win the game, everyone missed tackles in the face of that Kiwi onslaught so surely it would be better to give Eastmond the chance to play his way back into the match, along with the rest of the three-quarter line which looked all at sea both with and without the ball.
Moreover, replacing him not only made no difference to the result, it made very little difference to the performance in the 12 channel. In his time on the field Eastmond ran 5 metres with the ball, made 5 tackles and missed 3. Burrell, in his forty minutes managed 3 metres with 3 tackles and missing 1.
Most galling is that this act is contrary to what Lancaster has regularly wished to project as his "brand": decency, reason, consistency and loyalty. He displayed none of these in what was a cowardly act that reflects more on the coach than the player. Let's hope they both learn form this, but the England coach is one who needs to do the most studying.
Preview: New Zealand vs England, 2nd Test
After a first Test that saw England surprise everyone by being competitive then surprise no-one by losing, can the second installment see either of those things change? England will hope to change the latter, while the All Black want to stamp all over the former.
England make a number of changes, most of which were expected and it is indicative of Lancaster's ethos that he sticks with what he sees as his first team unless there's a very good reason not to. Manu on the wing raises eyebrows so high that they form mini floating toupees above the heads of most fans, but Burns being selected last week did the same and we have to accept that Stu seems to know what he's doing most of the time.
Twelvetrees is a worry solely due to his lack of game time, but if he's fit this is the centre partnership that created a great number of tries in the Six Nations and you have to conclude that had Manu been fit, he may have been on the wing for that tournament also.
However, the biggest boost for the tourists comes with Danny Care being fit again; had he been fit last week he could've made the difference that he ponderous Youngs could not. Haskell can count himself unlucky to be completely out of the squad, then you remember it's Haskell and he should could himself lucky to not be in an institution for the ego-maniacally insane, so sod him.
For New Zealand, Israel Dagg is out with a bad case of Broken Mojo and knockonitis, meaning that Ben Smith is back in his preferred position at full-back and Julian Savea comes flying in on the wing. Other than that it's as you were, except they will definitely not be as poor as they were last week, when, lest we forget, they still won.
B&M Prediction: New Zealand by 10.
Spotter's Badge: Owen Farrell's face of rage-filled befuddlement and impotence when McCaw gets away with it for the fourth time in the match.
New Zealand: Ben Smith; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Patrick Tuipulotu, Victor Vito, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.
England: Mike Brown, Manu Tuilagi, Luther Burrell , Billy Twelvetrees , Marland Yarde, Owen Farrell, Danny Care ; Joe Marler, Rob Webber , David Wilson, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw, Ben Morgan
Replacements: Dylan Hartley, Matt Mullan, Kieran Brookes, Courtney Lawes, Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs , Freddie Burns , Chris Ashton
SHIT/GOOD™ Ratings: New Zealand 20 - 15 England
On Saturday morning England rugby fans stirred to the sounds of soft summer rain gently kissing the window, a booze headache nimbly and repeatedly punching the inside of their skulls and the full horror of the cataclysmic beating that awaited them humming through their bones like an tremor of impending doom. However, it didn't quite turn out that way, and this is what the computer made of it.
Israel Dagg - He wasn't just bad by his exceptional, standards, he was bad by the standards of a one-armed, one-legged sedated fat bloke attempting to do keepy-uppies with a spacehopper.
Ben Youngs - The plateauing of the Leicester man's development and talent has been one of the saddest things to see as an England fan. Sure he's still in an England shirt and a decent player, but he was once touted by the this blog as a potential heir to Matt Dawson; instead he has become something more like Shaun Perry - ponderous in distribution, a bit dodgy in defence and appears uncomfortable at this level. He's not bald though, which is something I suppose.
SHIT/GOOD™ Ratings: Heineken Cup Final
Ah, The Big Cup, the last ever Big Cup before we move onto a different version of the Big Cup which we are promised by those who had a year long argument about will be an even Bigger Cup. A Cup of such magnitude even Bastareaud would struggle to eat all the whipped cream you could fit in it.
But enough of the future, what did the computer make of the performances on Saturday?