Rugby World Cup: Things we learned from the groups stages about the quarter-final teams
1. Ireland have a very good bunch of forwards now, the transformation in their front-row in particular has been nothing short of lazarusesque.
2. Dan Carter is out. Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden are not exactly mugs, but they're not Dan Carter either (who is?), and no matter how much spin they want to put out in press conferences this loss will hurt NZ both on the field and in their heads. They should still win comfortably against Los Puma, and then the whole thing. But we've been there before haven't we?
3. Wales are improving game by game since the Samoa outing. The reason they were so stilted in that game was due to nothing but pure psycholigical terror and fear of failure against their bogey-nation again. Once that was out of the way they settled into a rhythm that could see them go far. Just a simple glance at the SportGuru predictions give you an idea of just how impossible to pick their game vs Ireland is.
4. England are playing very badly and have not looked fluent, confident or proficient at any time so far in the tournament, and they can count themselves extremely lucky they had that group to play in. This malaise of form will not right itself in the next week. History books may eventually show that they reached the semis, but someone will have to include the caveat "Struggled past Scotland, then beat a divided and demoralised France, lost to someone decent"
5. Australia will go a lot better if Berrick Barnes is more involved.
6. Argentina have provided some great moments and are a team that we all admire and like to watch, but this is the end of the road come Sunday. However, if they can do this well now, what will they be like next time around after four years of TriNations games?
7. France make it very hard for sports writers and bloggers to be original by living up to every single cliche ever written about them. But, despite the disgraceful performance against Tonga it's still very hard to say they will definitely lose against England.
8. After New Zealand, South Africa are the team looking the most likely. However, the gap between NZ and the rest is pretty damn big.
Rugby World Cup: 10 things we learned from week two
1. Ireland proved that form can sometimes mean very little. The Irish looked in worse nick that Dolly Parton without her wig and make up until Saturday, when a combination of a world class scrummaging performace in the tight and and back-row performance in the loose did for Australia.
2. Speaking of Australia, it seems that talk of the revival of ther scrum has been premature. While the Ireland scrum is far better than it was, it's still the Ireland scrum, and the Wallabies were puched about like bewildered tourist staniding on the left of Tube escalator. The fact is, as a friend of mine pointed out, Australia have not had a consistently decent scrum since about 2003, that eight years without developing scrummagers. Unforgivable.
3. England campaign is looking more and more like 2007 every day. The poor form and the limited gameplan were already there, but now there is a player speaking out about the players having no idea what is going on. Sound familiar?
4. Because of 2. abover, one half of the knockout draw is now very likely to not feature any southern hemisphere sides; leaving the big Tri-nations three to duke it out in the bottom half of the draw while the top half hold an RBS Six Nations Lite.
5. Chris Ashton is still doing that dive thing, despite him jumping the shark with it about the third time he did it.
6. Wales have shaken off the Samoa shaped World Cup monkey from their backs. Unfortunately, Samoa shook the fitness out of both Hook and Lydiate for the rest of the group stage, and Fiji and their Jedi mind tricks still lurk in the near distance.
7. Scotland are impervious to weather. They look as bad in the rain as they do in the dry.
8. New Zealand are hitting their stride slowly. Not that us Europeans care, we won't see them until the final, and they we can just poison them an win by a drop-goal like someone else did once. Allegedly.
9. South Africa keep winning and with increasing certainty, which is annoying for us all. It's even irritating for South Africans, because deep down none of them want history to reflect that P Divvy did well at a Rugby World Cup.
10. Russia are everyone's new favourite team.
What have you gleaned from a week of sleep deprivation of excessive Sky plussing?
Rugby World Cup: What we learned from the first weekend
1. We might all be a bit more fed up of the sound of the ref's whistle than usual by the end of the tournament.
2. None of the leading nations look particularly outstanding
3. Some of the so-called lesser, "minnow" nations do, however
4. Wales have a scrum
5. England have no chance, and don't bother giving me any of that nonsense about solidity and "tournament rugby" either.
6. Scotland may not get out of their group
7. Pieter De Villiers's latest tactical masterstroke is playing a scrum-half on the wing, horrifyingly it worked.
8. The only thing more certain than a Namibia loss this weekend was the use of an eyewatering number of cliches . "A win's a win", "the new ball and the swirling wind", "you never know which France will turn up", "tournament rugby" have, among others, been served up ad nauseam.
9. Phil Vickery is a nice fella, but as a commentator he's about as engaging and insightful as Gaving Hastings talking at length about steam engines.
10. Ireland are still continuing along their interesting new direction of not bothering to be any good at rugby.
What did you learn?
Five things Saracens can expect to learn from training with Miami Dolphins
Everyone's favourite dignityphobic club is off to spend next week amongst the helmeted American pantomime in order to help win the Aviva Premiership. Coach Al Pacino Mark McCall thinks winning is mainly about a unit of imperial measurement: “At this stage of the season, the difference between winning and losing games can literally be a matter of inches and if a trip to Miami is what we need to gain those extra inches, then that is what we have to do.” But other than being given a Helix shatterproof ruler by the Dolphins, what else can they expect to learn from the NFL?
1. Proficiency in standing around whooping and high-fiving after every tackle while the opposition run off with the ball and score
2. Boba Fett Diploma in Protective Clothing
3. Compiling vast numbers of increasingly complicated set moves into a giant book, with additional session for head coaches on how to earnestly stare into it when the cameras are on them
4. Power baseball-cap wearing
5. New names for positions. For example, Blind-side flanker to be renamed Near Side Safety Tackle; wingers to be called Wide Outside Corner Running Receivers; Props to be called Offensive Grips
What else do you think they might learn?
7 things we've learned from the Tri-nations thus far
1. South Africa are the only major team that doesn't appear to have any discernable period of development and seem to operate in binary. They are either 0 or 1; with 0 being SHIT and 1 being GOOD. They are currently very much in a 0 phase. Which probably means they will be enter a 1 phase about a week before RWC 2011.
2. Continuing the theme above, New Zealand are in a 1 phase. In fact, it is more like a 1+ phase. This will of course become a 00000000000000000 phase in the semi-final against France or Australia in a year or so.
3. Australia are definitely in a transition phase. Trouble is the transition appears to be between tactically confused and tactically naive.
4. The competition is all but over.
5. Joe Rokocoko is perhaps the jammiest player on earth to still be getting caps at his age/form.
6. South African rugby players are always one poor performance away from attempting to kill someone; or in Bakkies Botha's case, half a performance.
7. Israel Dagg looks like the new Glen Osborne, without the shite haircut.
10 things we learned from the RBS 6 Nations 2010
We've had nearly a week to think about, so let's get all retrospective.
1. Shaun Edwards seems to have jumped the shark.
2. Declan Kidney seems to handling phase one of Ireland's tricky transition pretty well
3. Marc Lievremont was not clinically insane, it was all part of a well thought out plan to win a Grand Slam a year later. Who knew?.
4. Nothing in the tournament has offered England fans comfort, apart from perhaps Ben Foden .
5. Scotland have a springboard to move forward and improve
6. But they probably won't
7. It might be worth putting a few quid on France for next year's World Cup
8. Keith Earls is looking increasingly like BOD's successor, so it's a shame for the Munsterman that his captain will never age and never die.
9. Wales' decline is as alarming as the situation in England. England have, after all, been consistently SHIT for about five years; Wales have gone from Grand Slam winners to all over the shop in less time.
10. Following games where loads of action was missed, stupid camera angles were used to the benefit of no-one apart from the people who sold them, and replays were either wrongly shown or from poor vantage points; the director in charge of match coverage at the BBC needs to be sacked.
What did you lot learn?
5 Things We Learned... From Guinness Premiership, Round 4
1. In rugby draws are life buses. No, not full of nutters and people who smell of wee, but come along all at once when you don't really need them. Particularly for Newcastle, who chalked up their third tie in the four opening games against Quins.
2. Leeds are going to be lucky to get a win this year or even a modicum of dignity this year
3. Coach David Carradine has finally made Sarries hard to beat
4. Gloucester should perhaps bring back Dean Ryan, at least he had them near the top of the table most of the time
5. Shane Geraghty may have finally, FINALLY not only realised his potential, but also simultaneously stepped out of Danny Cipriani's after-shave reeking shadow.
10 Things We Learned from the Golden Lions game
2. Tommy Bowe seems to be the bastard son of David Campese
3. Lee Mears is perhaps better than we've previously given him credit for.
4. Judging by the crowd, the SA public are still not exactly enthralled
5. Golden Lions are not very good without their big players
6. Clever is pronounced Cleever.
7. With a name like Dusty Noble, Golden Lions seemed to have a Victorian circus impresario on the wing.
8. Graham Rowntree seems to be growing uglier with age, a feat no-one believed possible
9. Lee Byrne has nothing to worry about
10. The second row is plenty to worry about.
10 Things We Learned... from the RBS 6 Nations
2. Gavin Henson remains some form of curiously orange antichrist
3. The tournament wasn't of great quality - of 30 halves of rugby, only about 5 were memorable.
4. Warren Gatland needs to shut his mouth in future
5. Eddie O'Sullivan wasted five years of Ireland's talent
6. Martin Johnson looks like he might have some clue what he is doing
7. Scotland cannot possibly get any worse, then again it doesn't look like they can get any better either. Time for the fans to accept what they are: a minority interest sport in a nation with a small population
8. France are no nearer to being something resembling a team than the were two years ago when Marc Lievremont was let out of the asylum to manage them. I bet Laporte is giggling his arse off in his new plush government office.
9. Italy are going backwards at an alarming rate, and their only hope appears to be the new academy, whose first attendees are just about to graduate.
10. It has taken about four days for people and media to start quietly rubbishing Ireland's Grand Slam as being won in a year when everyone else was either inconsistent or garbage.
10 Things We Learned... from the first two rounds of the RBS 6 Nations
2. Gethin Jenkins is a lot less stupid than he looks and sounds - in rugby terms at least
3. Brian O'Driscoll is good again
4. Ireland look like they may finally fulfil their destiny
5. But they probably won't
6. Nick Easter's international career could be over
7. Scotland are neither as good nor as bad as people would like to believe
8. Lievremont is still barking mad; but France look better than they have done for a while, without looking great either, mind
9. BBC Six Nations punditry is getting worse.
10. Andy Goode is neither the solution nor the problem