Wednesday, February 27, 2008

IRB World Series?

Via Rugby Planet:

Clash of hemisphere champions on the cards

The International Rugby Board (IRB) will discuss plans to stage a one-off match between the Six Nations and Tri-Nations champions when the governing body meets with rugby union's leading nations in Hong Kong on Sunday.

The idea will be the main focus of talks between IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset, deputy Bill Beaumont and the four home unions, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand at the Tier One CEOs meeting.

The possibility of a global tournament to run in between World Cups is also expected to be explored.

Hong Kong, set to host a Test match between Australia and New Zealand in the November, has already indicated they would be extremely interested in staging any 'best of the best' clash.

"We believe Hong Kong would be an excellent venue for such a game," Allan Payne, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union executive director, told the South China Morning Post.

"Part of our strategic plan is to look at hosting international matches and it would be a tremendous honour if we were asked to host this match."

Officials from both the Wallabies and the Kiwis will arrive in Hong Kong this week to look into facilities available for what would be the first encounter between the two sides on neutral ground outside of a World Cup.

Although the match is yet to officially be confirmed, Payne is confident there will be no obstacles preventing the IRB-sanctioned clash from going ahead.

"While nothing's been finalised yet, all parties, including the government, have welcomed the idea with great enthusiasm," added Payne.

"This support should give rugby officials a big boost as they make a play to host the touted global championship."


UPDATE: "Hong Kong? Phooey!" say the old heads:

[Brian] Moore, who won 64 caps for England, expressed concern that any such a project would not necessarily be a good thing for the game.

"I'm sure it will make a lot of money but I'm not really sure if it is of particular benefit to rugby," Moore said.

"The game will be a sell-out wherever it's played so it will be a good way of making money from a one-off match, but do we really need another game? ... We're already talking about player burn-out from too much rugby so to add another a game, and all the travelling which is associated with that, seems a bit unnecessary."

Former Wales captain Gareth Edwards was also sceptical of the idea, and echoed Moore's fears about the impact on players, but could see the benefits of such a match.

"We all want to see the best play the best so I can definitely see the attraction in having a game like this," Edwards told PA Sport.

"From a commercial point of view I can see how it is appealing to those who run the game but we have to worry about how many games the players will play and the timing of when you have such a match.


Hong Kong Rugby Football Union executive director Allan Payne has already indicated they would be extremely interested in staging any clash.


Let me see if I can keep all of this straight:

a) British rugby journos, players and fans moaned and gnashed teeth when the 2011 RWC was awarded to New Zealand instead of Japan.

b) The tournament must be held in Asia, the Brits insisted! We must grow the game globally!!

c) Hong Kong RFU exec director Allan Payne wants a 6N vs. 3N championship to grow the game in Asia -- same region of the world as Japan -- and presumably, "globally."

d) British rugby journos, players and fans re-load, moan and gnash teeth, this time angered about IRB actually doing something to promote and develop the game in Asia and interest across the world.

I scratch my head, wondering how it is that perennial no-hopers Italy were ever added to the Six Nations championship; how it is that Brits regularly demand Argentina be added to the Sanzar Tri-Nations schedule; and yet how it is that we're supposed to believe ONE single extra game to determine a 6N vs. 3N "Superbowl"-type championship to be contested in the heart of Asia is a really bad scary doomsday boogeyman scenario that will burn out rugby players and add meaningless games to schedules, etc. IMO if there's a big trophy and the trophy is promoted properly, then the championship won't be meaningless, at all.

I'm not so old that I can't recall a great many vocal British rugby experts pooh-poohing and tut-tutting the concept of the Rugby World Cup back in the mid-1980s with the same pessimistic excuses. Somehow, Gareth Edwards got it exactly right the first time:

"We all want to see the best play the best."

Period. Stop. Bingo! Amen.

...still housekeeping...

I've barely a spare minute to watch rugby these days, let alone blog about it, but I did manage to catch all three Six Nations matches on tape from Setanta, and saw the Crusaders demolish the defending S14 champion Bulls at Loftus live on Friday on same network. Again, as often as I say negative things about Setanta, I do appreciate getting to see these matches at all. Sadly, the Blues vs. Lions match from Ellis Park this past weekend is not anywhere on Setanta's schedule, and that's the one I was most looking forward to watching... *sigh*

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rugby housekeeping

After bitching about Setanta's programmers the past couple weeks, it's time the balance sheets were tipped in their favour with a small compliment. Last Saturday was a smorgasbord for the rugby fan, as Setanta televised Super 14, Guiness Premiership and Magner's League matches most of the day. (Of course, the fact that EPL schedule was shut down for the day due to F.A. Cup fixtures, might have had something to do with the blessing, but I'll not look a gift horse in the mouth, not this week).

The quality of all the rugby was petty good, especially the defenses across the board. It's fascinating watching the Northern Hemisphere version, which has always looked tighter and slower than SH rugby, and comparing it to the vastly swifter Super 14 matches featuring the new ELVs (Experimental Law Variations). The jury is still out on those new laws, and we'll be paying close attention over the following weeks. Still early days yet to be rushing to judgment.

There were too many matches I saw this past week, and a fair few I didn't see, for me to comment on them all. As always, good wrap-ups and previews can always be found in the link box at the upper-right of my page. They have been vetted and approved and are here for a very good reason -- use them!

One comment I will make is the loss of the Hurricanes to the Waratahs in Sydney. Inky reckons the 20-3 scoreline flattered the losing visitors (strange, his latest post isn't online yet; I read his e-mailout), but what I saw was a very gritty and determined Hurricanes team that controlled much of the match but let it get away with the worst case of dropsies and butterfingers I have seen in a long time. (Almost as icky a sight as Jerry Collins down on his knees sucking air after getting shouldered in his exposed lower-back while fielding a high up-and-under.) Perhaps the Hurricanes fan(s) at TSF (see below) knew something the rest of us didn't (preview is still missing). Hopefully they'll turn it around in short order, because they are an exciting, thrilling team.

Strong first-up victories for the Crusaders and Blues, who have tough days ahead in South Africa next up, which might tell us a lot about the 2008 competition.

If you want to see rugby on TV or broadband online, live or taped, make sure to check out the Setanta and Mediazone Rugby Channel links.

Rugby Channel - Super 14 Event

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Super 14 season fixtures & previews

The new Super 14 season kicks off Friday with a heavyweight contest between perannial powerhouses Canterbury Crusaders hosting the ACT Brumbies at Christchurch.

Riugby Planet has a preview of Week One action, click here.

The Silver Fern website has their team previews (mostly) up -- but still awaiting the Hurricane and Western Force previews. Will add as they come.

2008 Super 14 Fixture Schedule

2008 Super 14 Preview: Bulls (South Africa)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Lions (South Africa)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Cheetahs (South Africa)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Sharks (South Africa)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Stormers (South Africa)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Western Force (Australia)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Queensland Reds (Australia)

2008 Super 14 Preview: NSW Waratahs (Australia)

2008 Super 14 Preview: ACT Brumbies (Australia)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Auckland Blues (New Zealand)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Waikato Chiefs (New Zealand)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Wellington Hurricanes (New Zealand)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Canterbury Crusaders (New Zealand)

2008 Super 14 Preview: Otago Highlanders (New Zealand)

Rugby Channel - Super 14 Event

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tough bastards

Former Springbok coach and new Italian coach Nick Mallett explains the difference between North and South:

"The intensity of New Zealand v South Africa is not yet matched by a test match in the Six Nations. They don't put their bodies on the line with the same ferocity as a South African or New Zealander defending his turf. The Afrikaner is very physical; he loves tackling and is very brave. It's the same for the players of island origin in New Zealand sides. They get huge pleasure out of a big hit.

"So for me, it's the absolute intensity that is the difference. The Southern Hemisphere teams hit harder in the contact situations, with or without the ball. In terms of muscularity, speed and size, the Northern Hemisphere teams are up there. It's just the mental side of it that is different. You don't see a Schalk Burger-type player here with absolutely no fear. Schalk is like a threshing machine. Players here will make the tackle but in the Southern Hemisphere it is almost an intense hatred of the opposition.

"When they clear you out of a ruck in New Zealand or South Africa, they are doing it so hard to hurt you and saying in effect: 'Don't ever come here again.'

"It is that kind of intensity I'm talking about. South Africa understood their skill levels weren't as good as New Zealand's in retaining possession. But their main weapon was to be as destructive as possible when the opposition had the ball. And I think that will always be the case. It stems from the differing cultures. There is more a sense of preservation among French, Italian and Northern Hemisphere teams.

"There seems to be a lack of thought going into contact in the Southern Hemisphere. They are just incredibly courageous."


2008 Churchill Cup

Apparently the boils and anal cysts on the bottoms of English and Irish rugby players have sufficiently healed that they can once again board an airplane and puddle-jump the Atlantic to play in the Churchill Cup, the international rugby tournament that was ostensibly established to promote and develop the sport in North America. (Last years' version was hosted in the U.K for any number of lameass excuses and essentially wiped rugby off the map on this continent as the sport went underground for the entire year, up-to-and-including last November's World Cup.)

This years' version will take place in June 2008, with matches played in Kingston, Ottawa, Toronto (all Ontario, Canada), and Chicago.

2008 Barclays Churchill Cup ticket information:

It's the new year and the 2008 Barclays Churchill Cup is now only four months off. Pre-sales of the Barclays Churchill Cup have started, with fans able to buy any combination of tickets for the three double header games to be played in Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto and finals day in Chicago.

Ottawa, Ontario - Twin Elm Rugby Park
Saturday June 7th, 2008, Doubleheader
Kick off times 2:05pm and 4:35pm
Game 1: England Saxons vs. USA (2:05pm)
Game 2: Canada vs. Scotland A (4:35pm)
Adult General Admission $35.00
Youth General Admission $15.00 ( Under 18 )
VIP tickets- $ 60 which is reserved seating can be purchased through the stadium at Twin Elm Rugby Park 613 838 2029.
For Tickets online for the Ottawa - Twin Elm date go to

Kingston, Ontario - Richardson Stadium
Wednesday June 11th, 2008 Doubleheader
Kick off times 4:35pm and 7:05pm
Game 1: TBD vs. Scotland A (4:35pm)
Game 2: Ireland vs. USA (7:05pm)
East Side- $15 general admission
Under 14- $5 general admission
The following tickets will be available directly through the stadium by contacting Queen's University is 613.533.2500:
West Gold- $30 includes reserved seating, pre/post game party invite, Beer/ food tents, free game mug.
West Other- $20 includes reserved seating, Beer/food tents
For online ticket sales for the Kingston - Richardson Stadium venue go to

Markham, Ontario (Toronto) - Fletcher’s Field
Saturday June 14h, 2008 Doubleheader
Kick of times 2:05pm and 4:35pm
Game 1: England Saxons vs. Ireland A (2:05pm)
Game 2: Canada vs. TBD (4:35pm)
VIP $60 - this will include preferred seating, a program and 4 beers
Adult General Admission $35
Youth General Admission $15 (Under 19)
Or visit

Chicago - Toyota Park
Tickets will go on-sale to the public on February 8th.
Ticketmaster: (312) 559-1212
Group Ticket discounts (15 or More) available through Toyota Park. Download a form for group ticket sales click here.
Please call (708) 594-7700 to order group tickets.
All three matches for one price! Ticket Prices from $20 - $75

A trio of curiosities:

1. The Ireland team announced for Kingston is surely the same Ireland "A" announced for Markham (Toronto).

2. One team has been announced as "TBD" (To Be Determined). Will this be the NZ Maori?

3. The Chicago leg includes no teams or scheduled dates.

Keep your eye on the official Churchill Cup website for more information and details. There are also contests at that website where you can win free tickets, so give it a look!

Monday, February 04, 2008

England against the All Blacks in New York?

Paul Ackford, in yesterdays' Telegraph:

England against the All Blacks in New York? That's the ambition of former England captain Nigel Melville, now chief executive of USA Rugby, a desire given substance this week following an agreement between the New Zealand Rugby Union and USA Rugby to promote the game in North America. "The rugby world wants to see the game grow in the United States and we're taking concrete steps to help USA Rugby," said NZRU chief executive Steve Tew.

Read the rest.

Earlier; NZRU and USA Rugby forge deeper ties.

France downs Scotland

France defeated Scotland yesterday in first-round Six Nations play, winning 27-6 at Murrayfield.

I'd like to say I watched the game, but only saw it in bits & pieces.

Once again, the mental midgets at Setanta, in their infinite wisdom, scheduled the match to broadcast on tape-delay in North America directly opposite the 2nd-half of the live NFL Superbowl. That meant I caught bite-sized chunks of the game during Superbowl commercials.

I am beginning to think the monthly $14.99 fee for Setanta service is a colossal joke for rugby fans, despite Setanta banner adverts running atop my blog advertising "live international rugby fixtures." Yeah, right. Setanta is not only doing the rugby viewer an enormous disservice -- call me paranoid, paint me persecuted -- but I am beginning to believe Setanta is deliberately screwing us to twist our arms and make us buy their prohibitively expensive PPV fees to watch the games live.

Mid-day yesterday ET was a perfectly acceptable block of time to schedule the England vs. Wales test, but instead Setanta ran a block of self-promotion and then a repeat of the same *tape-delayed* Liverpool vs. Sunderland EPL match that viewers got to see *live* less than 24 hours earlier. Surely that match could have played opposite the Superbowl, instead of the Six Nations test matches. Nope, not in the Setanta brain, it won't.

To compound matters, when Setanta did televise the *tape-delayed* England vs. Wales test, they ran it without the pre-game, minus all the halftime analysis and highlights, and missing the post-match. So, you're not merely getting the matches late; you're not merely getting them scheduled opposite the Superbowl; to top it off they are getting out the scalpel and giving you less of the actual match broadcast. Puh-farking-thetic.

For the service we're getting, and at the cost they are asking, it might be high time to get back on the bit-torrent bandwagon. Setanta, you are failing us.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Braindead Setanta

Every month I am reminded how thoroughly clueless and ignorant Setanta Sports North America programmers are about their own product and subscribers.

Latest example:

The huge Six Nations England vs. Wales test match played Saturday (see post below) was not available live on Setanta's regular North American TV service. (Over-priced PPV was another matter).

I understand that soccer -- more explicitly, English EPL -- is the bread & butter of Setanta. So, we see wall-to-wall coverage of live and taped soccer matches all day Saturday. I "get" that.

What I cannot fathom is why Setanta chooses to televise the tape-delay of the big test match, not merely more than a day afterwards, but directly opposite the live NFL SuperBowl.

Setanta is broadcasting the match at 7:15 PM ET Sunday Feb. 03 in Canada -- taped kickoff should occur sometime in the 2nd quarter of the Superbowl.

If rugby is ever to get a foothold in Canada (and North America) with a generation of potential new players and viewers, then the ideal market for newbies and old fans alike is to entice football (NFL, CFL) fans, not turn them away. The connection between the two sports is both historical and obvious. (If you need catching up, google "Harvard" + "McGill" + "1872".)

Presumably, "touchdowns" means NFL fans and rugby fans have a LOT more in common with each other than NFL fans and soccer fans. Presumably, Setanta should either know this, or needs a richly deserved kick to the testicles to wake them up.

UPDATE: I see that wikipedia's main-page feature profile Sunday morning is "History of American Football." The introduction to the wiki entry, clearly spelled out for the benefit of people like Setanta Sports' programming department, reads:

The history of American football, the most popular spectator sport in the United States, can be traced to early versions of rugby football.

For much of the past few months, Setanta has televised Heineken Cup and Celtic League rugby games -- again, tape delayed -- directly opposite *live* NFL regular season games.

The Superbowl conflict is merely the icing on the cake.


UPDATE: I just found in my inbox a Setanta email blast (see pic below) promoting their Six Nations schedule. I see that the advertised schedule has already been proved wrong - on the 2nd match! I also see that NONE of the test matches will be televised to TV subscribers live -- all will be tape-delayed -- so when you see that Setanta google banner ad running atop my blog that advertises "LIVE Rugby on TV: International Rugby Live in your HOME," caveat emptor, don't hold your breath.

PS. It's getting tedious, but see my other posting.

Six Nations rugby: England Swing Low

Wales have just upset England at Twickenham 26-19 in first-round action of this years' Six Nations.

England gagged.

Unbelievably, Wales trailed 19-6 at the half -- were actually down 19-3 earlier in the first spell -- and after three-quarters England looked home-and-hosed up by a comfortable ten points, and playing at Fortress Twickenham -- where Wales had not won in twenty years.

What a collapse!

What a plucky comeback!!

Total disbelief.

Paul Ackford, in the Telegraph:

An aberration for England, completely unacceptable as well as entirely incomprehensible. [...]

The inquest will be long and cruel for England. How, with all their experience and power, did they lose a match they were comfortably in command of?

Even a stunned Mustache could barely string a coherent sentence together, sputtering in The Times:

"[T]here is no excuse for the lack of composure shown by Englandthe home side towards the end or andthe lack of leadership as Wales came steaming back."

Nice start for coach Warren Gatland's career as Welsh coach.

Ackford, again:

It was a magnificent result for Wales and their new coaching team of Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards. Some coaches are "lucky" and this pair seems destined to be especially lucky for Wales. I've no idea what was said at half-time to turn around a game which was fast becoming a nightmare for them but, whatever it was, it will surely attract legendary status in the weeks to come.

More here.

Earlier, Ireland struggled past Italy to win 16-11 at famous Croke Park.