Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Springbok suicide watch

Been away for a few weeks and catching up on all the latest Tri-Nations developments. The All Blacks skunked the Boks in Cape Town two weeks ago, winning by an historic scoreline of 19-0; and last weekend the Wallabies did a similar job on the mighty Bokke, prevailing 27-15 at Durban for their first win in the Republic since 2000.

The "world champion" Springboks are well & truly out of the running for this years' Tri-Nations title, having won a solitary game out of five played, with one remaining home test against the Wallabies to try to salvage some pride and honour.

This years' title was supposed to belong to the Springboks, following the rebuilding phases of the All Blacks and Wallabies. Instead, those two teams will meet for the silverware and the South Africans, who returned home in the drivers seat, are left holding the wooden spoon.

The knives have been sharpened with the sole blame going to inexperienced Bok coach Peter de Villiers (pictured above) on multiple threads at Keo and a nice one at Rugby Planet ("PDV's nightmare run"). TSF has a running thread about the stupidest comments and excuses from the Springbok coach.

Here're some classic doozies:

"We are too rushed at the moment. We have to be more composed. When we click, somebody’s going to get a hiding."

"We are making progress, but I think some players are a bit flat because they play too much rugby in the Super 14. The public must give us time. Given the speed and power of our players, if we execute our new game play correctly, we will be awesome. We will be the envy of the world."

"We don’t go out there to lose games and we should have won all of those games."

"If you look at New Zealand and us and compare the players as a team, then you will see that we have much more talent than what they have."

"I'm not going to panic because, having watched the video again, I saw how great we played."

Hoo-boy. De Villiers is not exactly painting himself in glory here. If his players are superior to the competition, then surely de Villiers is conceeding responsibility here. He is cluelessly out of his depth at this level.


The Olympic Games just wrapped from Beijing. I was intrigued to hear NBC sports anchor Bob Costas interviewing IOC President Jacques Rogge and the Games dropping baseball and softball for the 2012 London Games, and the possibility of those sports being reintroduced for 2016. Rogge was non-commital, but did say the teams sports had to be put into a context that also sought inclusion of other sports, and Rogge cited rugby. I have always believed rugby should stay out of the Olympic Games. I suspect the version Rogge is thinking about is perhaps tournament rounds of Sevens, like the version competed at the Commonwealth Games, but that seems to me a foul way to muddy the waters about what the global audience thinks rugby is (e.g. mistakenly thinking it a 7s game, not a 15-man game).

If I had to see rugby in the Olympics, I would prefer to see a straight 8-team draw, playing knock-out tests on the three consecutive weeks of the Games. Do a QF round on the first Sat/Sun; a SF round the following Sat/Sun; and the Medal Finals on the concluding Sat/Sun. (And once league players saw an Olympic gold medal on the line, we might see the nail in the coffin to that code and rugby become one game -- a World in Union!)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Sonny Bill Williams - union convert

Updated --

Sensational Canterbury Bulldogs (Australian NRL) forward Sonny Bill Williams has controversially quit his team mid-season to sign a Union contract with Toulon in France. SBW has a laundary list of grievances against his former club, and is being accused by league fans and scribes as a greedy low-life scumbag. The NRL even wants the IRB to intervene, as if they'll find any sympathy there, har-har!

The 22 year old Kiwi was one of the brightest and most exciting stars in the League code, and could develop into a great Union player in the next few years. It is expected he'll play centre. Brad Thorn is one convert who believes Sonny Bill can do great things in his adopted code -- if he applies himself. The kid has an amazing skill set, with a remarkable ability to stay on his feet, commit multiple tacklers, and still get away offloads. But his legendary bit hits (read: shoulder barges) are illegal in Union, and he'll have to re-learn tackling technique if he is to be successful in the game. *

Australia's Channel NINE has the Sonny Bill Williams "Footy Show" interview with Danny Weidler from last night online:

August 7, 2008: Part 1 - Sonny Bill Williams comes clean on why he left the Bulldogs so abruptly and went to France.

August 7, 2008: Part 2 - Sonny Bill drops a few bombshells in the second part of his interview with Danny Weidler.

In the interview(s) Sonny Bill comes across as quite defensive. He claims he's not a coward, not greedy, says his family has been vilified, and several times runs the risk of making himself to be a bit of a martyr.

But SBW makes some valid points without having to resort to notes on a slip of paper -- something that many well-known veteran politicians (yes, John McCain, I'm looking at you!) clearly seem incapable of doing. SBW wisely won't name ex-teammates he may have confided in, for fear of making them vulnerable. He makes reasonable comments about NRL salaries going down in a decade, asking what other comparable sports league in the world has seen such a slide. He asks whether GMs, CEOs and lawyers should have a salary cap. (Nice can o' worms he's opening there.) He talks about the club farking his teammates out of salary bonues. And he believes he has nothing to apologise for.

Whether one agrees with SBW's rationales or not, I reckon he comes across as a fairly reasonable, mature and intelligent young man who has clearly thought long-and-hard about his decision. And as a fan of Union, I wish him all the best!

Choice quotes:

SBW: "In my mindset right now I'm a rugby union player, and there's a lot of achievements and lot of goals I've set for myself. With an icon like Tana Umaga, who I really think I can learn a lot from, I want to play for the All Blacks one day, so that keeps me motivated. It's a whole new game, a whole new challenge. One day I want to be the best centre in the world."


DW: "Why do you want to play French rugby union?"

SBW: "Two words. Tana Umaga. Simple as that. Everything added up. Ex-rugby league player, union convert. All Black captain. Samoan heritage. Icon of the game. That sums it up really."

DW: "You've mentioned your ambition to be an All Black. Would you consider playing for France?"

SBW: "I'm a through-and-through Kiwi mate, I'm very proud where I come from, and I think playing for the All Blacks would be a great honour."



Sonny Bill Williams sinbinned for shoulder charge on debut

By David Murray in Hyeres
August 09, 2008

SONNY Bill Williams' rugby union career got off to an atrocious start when the former Bulldogs star was sinbinned on debut for French club Toulon.

Williams, who ignored a court order by playing, was sent from the field for 10 minutes after one of his trademark shoulder charges left his opposite number languishing injured for several minutes.

Williams is famous for his bruising shoulder charges on the rugby league field - where the dangerous tackling technique is legal.

However, shoulder charges are outlawed in rugby union.

In front of a packed house of 3,000 fans for the friendly against Carque-iranne-Hyeres, Williams started on the left wing. Although it was an away match for Toulon, a huge roar erupted when Williams took the field – confirming his fast rise to celebrity status in France since he walked out on his contract with the Bulldogs two weeks ago.

Mystery had earlier shrouded the former NRL star’s debut after he failed to show up on the team bus or warm up with his teammates.

The secrecy ensured Williams avoided being personally served with a NSW supreme court injunction banning him from playing for Toulon.

The court slapped the injunction on the 22-year-old yesterday and the Bulldogs were attempting to have it served on Williams before today's match. Manager Khoder Nasser and boxing friend Anthony Mundine supported Williams from front row seats.


Lucky talented Yankee young-uns

The Oympic Games are kicking-off, but these young American boys are living their own athletic dreams. Gotta love the work Viz is doing to develop the sport of rugby union in the United States. Great job, and congrats to the selected kids. The education will doubtlessly be an amazing learning experience and something they will never forget for the rest of their lives.

USRFF Names 2008 Developmental Grant Recipients

The United States Rugby Football Foundation is pleased to announce that Hanno Dirksen, Kevin Kimble and Cameron Dolan have been selected as this year's Developmental Grant recipients entitling them to participate in the Advanced Player's Course at the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand.

Hanno Dirksen plays his rugby in Atlanta for the U19 Trojans. The 17 year old back has represented the US at the U17 and U18 levels. Hanno showed his versatility at last week's North America 4 competition with outstanding performances at wing, flyhalf and center. He was so impressive that he was called into the USA National Team assembly in Charleston, SC for the upcoming Clermont-Auvergne match. Read more about Hanno.

Kevin Kimble is an exceptional athlete from New Rochelle, NY who will be attending Penn State in the fall. Kevin played for the US U17s and U18s and was player of the tour for the U18s when they toured England playing Bedford, Northampton, and Doncaster last year. "Kevin is a backrow player with an enormous workrate and unlimited potential," said USA U18s coach Mike Diamantopoulos. Read more about Kevin.

Cam Dolan is from Florida where he excelled playing not only high school rugby but senior men’s rugby this past year. Cam also spent time playing rugby in England in 2007 and was a member of the USA U17 and U18 national squads. "Cameron is big, strong and athletic second rower with a bright future in the sport," said USA Rugby High Performance Director Matt Sherman. Cam has been offered a scholarship to attend Life University in the fall. Read more about Cam.

This is the fourth year that the USRFF has sent promising high school players to New Zealand to participate at the IRANZ's Advanced Student Course. Four of the six who've received Developmental Grants, Scott LaValla, Taylor Mokate, Hamish Roberts and Shawn Pittman, represented the US at this year's U20 World Championships. LaValla and Pittman also played for the Falcons at the recently completed NA4 competition.

"We are pleased to continue sending some of the country's promising young players abroad to help develop their game," said USRFF Executive Director Brian Vizard. "Hanno, Cam and Kevin were all highly recommended and I'm sure they'll do themselves and the U.S. rugby community proud."

The USRFF would like to thank David and Eileen Hovey for their generous contribution in making this year's Developmental Grants possible; TravelCorp for providing the domestic airfare; and USA National Team coach Scott Johnson for allowing Hanno to take time off from the National Team assembly to attend IRANZ. The player's leave today and will return on August 15.

To learn more about the United States Rugby Football Foundation or to make a contribution, go to www.usrugbyfoundation.org or call Executive Director Brian Vizard at 619-233-0765.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Big Bounceback

The Red Terror has returned from three weeks in the wilderness. Normal blogging will resume shortly, but only then after I've caught up with the rest of my hectic schedule, y'know -- the stuff we call "life."

And it was a life & death desperation bounceback for the All Blacks this past weekend, as they smashed the Wallabies 39-10 at Fortress Eden on Saturday -- an extraordinary 44-point turnaround after their humiliating 34-17 loss in Sydney a week earlier. The enthralling victory -- and in particular the performance of a All Blacks ruthless forward pack on the front foot, and a coming-of-age performance by blond-mullet-on-the-wagon scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan -- should have warmed the hearts of every fan of New Zealand rugby.

The Tri-Nations resumes in two weeks at Cape Town when the resurgent Blacks will try to take the new "standard they have set for themselves," as skipper Richie McCaw declared it in his post-test wash-up, against the world champ Springboks. The ABs will almost certainly have to win both of their remaining two matches, both away against the Boks and Wallabies, for any possibility to claim the title. The Wallabies were looking good until the Eden Park trip-up, but I don't rate them much a chance to win any of their two tests in South Africa. They simply do not turn up to play with anything close to the same intenstity they do at home, when mommy isn't there to fluff their pillows and tuck them into their beds at night. I hope Robbie Deans fires 'em up to pull a boilover, but just don't see it happening. Which means the Boks sit comfortably in the drivers' seat to hoist the silverware.

Check the multiple links at the right top box for all the details.

And speaking of the Garden of Eden, where I spent many Saturday afternoons of my youth, the All Black vs. Wallaby test on Saturday was the last game before the wrecking ball comes to smash the south-stand and overhaul the bricks 'n mortar for the "New" Eden Park that will host the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Thye New Zealand Herald has a nice computer graphic animation for viewing the new stadium. Click here to view.