October 2011 Archives

Zippos circus has just left Cardiff after a brief stint in the city centre. But as one circus leaves, another rolls into town - Gavin Henson has just signed for Cardiff Blues.

Henson has been the main attraction for the past 7 years, ever since 'that' game against England in 2005. However, in recent years Henson has been attracting crowds for all the wrong reasons. People are no longer queuing up to see Gavin 'the Strongman', they're lining up to see Gavin the freak-show. Roll Up. Roll Up. Come and see the man with two heads.

Henson's two heads are there for all to see. There's the one that has produced sensational rugby for both the Ospreys and Wales. The one that, as they say in basketball, is a triple threat. He can kick, run and pass to international standard. Triple threat players are very rare in rugby and the few that do exist, such as Dan Carter and Ma Nonu, are invariably some of the best players in the world. Even after several groin problems Henson's depth of line kicking is still enviable. Whilst he may not have the quickest stats over 40m, Henson possesses a crushed velvet step and change of direction that can outwit the most nimble of defenders, whilst his powerful physique and hand off also allow him to crash the ball when required. But his greatest asset lies in his passing. Henson has laser guided distribution off both hands. It is a skill that few outside halves possess, let alone inside centres, and it is this ability that sets him apart from any of the centres in Wales.

Then there's Henson's second head. The ugly one. The one that has the ability to implode at any point during the season, affecting not only his own form and career, but also that of those around him.

His issues are well documented. Just type Gavin Henson into Google and you have to scroll half way down the first page to even find a reference to rugby. He has alienated himself at every club and set up that he has been a part of. His negative presence on team morale is like dry rot and it can rip through a changing room in a matter of weeks. At a recent rugby dinner that I attended, a senior Welsh player even said that it was better to have 14 men on the field than play alongside Gavin Henson when he is in the wrong frame of mind.

Cardiff Blue's executives are fully aware of the Gavin Henson 'show' and all it brings. He puts bums on seats and that's why they have signed him. Whether they come out of this performance looking like clowns or ring masters is anyone's guess.

So New Zealand can breathe easy at last. After a 24 year wait the Webb Ellis is theirs again. It's richly deserved. They're one of the game's true rugby nations, and their performances over the last 4 years, coupled with their domination of the IRB's ranking, are truly deserving of the biggest prize in rugby - it's probably the only ranking in the IRB's laughable system that means anything.

But whilst the All Blacks rightfully claimed what was theirs and avoided the dreaded 'choke', a tag which they have been unfairly labelled with, the All Black performance wasn't without its hiccups.

Most of the hiccups were caused by the French, who proved to be a significant irritant for the full 80 minutes. The French dominated possession and territory, recording 55% for both. Their lineout was highly effective, losing just 3 from 15 and their scrum, as expected, operated at 100%.

The French back row was sensational. Harinordoquy dominated the air; and his performance in the lineout must surely rank as one of the finest by a back row forward at the World Cup. Dusautoir and Bonnaire more than held their own in the battle on the ground - despite some 'laissez-faire' refereeing at the breakdown.

Whilst the French back row performed well individually, it was their collective effort which was most marked. The French triumvirate carried the ball an impressive 51 metres compared to the 30 metres achieved by the much favoured All Black back row of Kaino, McCaw and Read.

Further hiccups were induced by Trinh-Duc whose scything line breaks surely showed the benefits of playing a recognized ten in such a vital position. He beat four men in total, more than any other player in the game.

The best known cure for hiccups is of course a big scare. That came in the 36th minute when Aaron Cruden hyper-extended his leg and was replaced by fourth choice first five eighth Steven Donald. Thankfully for New Zealand this was the last game in the World Cup otherwise they might have had to call up' bad boy' Luke Mcallister, or 'old boy' Tony Brown. As it transpired Steven Donald played well when you consider that he hasn't played any rugby of note since the completion of New Zealand's domestic rugby competition, the ITM Cup. Donald kicked tactically when required, carried the ball when necessary and slotted a vital penalty on the 45 minute mark.

The same thing cannot be said of Piri Weepu who put in a performance that many Kiwi fans will have found hard to swallow. Whilst the AB's collectively did not choke, Weepu did -- it resulted in him being replaced by Ellis after just 49 minutes. His three missed penalties and loose restarts didn't exactly induce a full-on choke, but it did require a Heimlich Maneuver from the rest of the team.

Weepu wasn't the only man on the field to choke under the enormity of the occasion. The other was Craig Joubert. In light of recent refereeing performances and the insistence on following rules to the letter with regards to player safety, Jouberts relaxed attitude towards high tackles was surprising to say the least.

So there were a few splutters and a couple of hiccups but who cares, because the sore throats and thick heads will last for a good few days yet.


So that's it for another 4 years. In my opinion it was fitting to see New Zealand to "finally get there hands on Ellis" as they put it. The All Blacks deserved it as the only un-deafeated team in the competition. The other good news for them is that New Zealand didn't just win on the pitch, the country and it's people have been huge winners off it as well.

The welcome that rugby supporters from around the world have received has been outstanding, I've even come to love the small old fashioned grounds that games have been played in. England in 4 years will be very different. There will be no Stadium Taranaki then, no Rotorua Internataional Stadium either (complete with it's own grass banking to watch the game from.) These humble rugby grounds are set to be replaced by the likes of Wembley Stadium, Old Trafford and perhaps most strangely of all Anfield. Much more oppurtunity to make money, much smaller chances of being charming.

Despite the obvious what if's of Wales' campaign we emerge with massive amounts of credit and a side that may be able to go on to rule in the world for the next 5 or 6 years. All of the other home nations will wish they could say the same. Scotland failed to make the knockout stages of the competition for the first time, Ireland backed their established stars against a young Welsh team and they came up short, England look set to start all over again with a shake up starting at the very top.

I hope Welsh rugby as a whole can build on the success of the Welsh team in New Zealand. Seeing more fans packed into the Milenium Stadium than in Eden Park for the semi final was a joy. Let's hope that these same fans can get behind the club game in Wales because as I say, the fun does not stop here...

Friday November the 4th The Dragons against the Cardiff Blues at Rodney Parade, Newport. I've gone on about the charm and atmosphere of the small rugby grounds in New Zealand. If you want to sample such atmosphere without flying half way around the globe then Rodney Parade is the place to be.

Saturday November the 12th. How about the Ospreys taken on the might of Biarritz Olympique in the Heineken Cup at the Libery Stadium, Swansea?

Still want to see rugby a little further away from home? How about following the Ospreys to Wembley where they take on the English champions Saracens on December the 10th?

The list goes on and on. The point is that while the World Cup is over there is still so much rugby to look forward to and enjoy.

I would just like to close with a couple of thank you's.

Thanks to the people of New Zealand for welcoming the entire rugby world to your lovely little country. Seeing as we couldn't win it I'm glad you did.

Thanks to all of the staff involved with looking after us photographers. You did a great job.

Thanks to every member of the Welsh squad and coaching staff for making us all fall in love with this wonderful game again.

Thanks to Huw Bennett for proving me completely wrong about a lack of Welsh depth at hooker. Outstanding.

Thanks to the entire team at Associated Sports Images.

Thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read this blog, please don't stop. I do plan on carrying on!

Extra special thanks to my beautiful wife Rhian. Your understanding and never ending support is what keeps me going.


Right. So this is it, Wales' swansong in RWC 2011 tomorrow morning. I think we've all (me included) lost a bit of perspective this week. Being in the Bronze Medal play-off is a tremendous honour and a massively big deal.

Wales have been stand out, and are being universally lauded for their heroic efforts. James Hook has come out this week and said the team are dedicating this game to Sam Warburton, who cannot play due to IRB sanctions (no further comment from me on this matter is necessary, i'm sure). Gethin Jenkins has been handed the captaincy for this historic match, and it certainly goes without saying that the whole of Wales (and most of Britain and Ireland) will be behind him come kick off on Friday.

Whether Wales secure third place or fourth, it is an absolutely incredible achievement, considering the poor results we've had in recent times. This team (of players, coaching and backroom staff) have put our little principality on the map, and secured our place among the rugby greats of the future. Come on Wales, do it for Sam.

*bring* *bring*  this is your wake up call Wales--

#1 Is anybody dead?  No
#2 Is anybody got a bone sticking out?  No
#3 Is anybody still unconcious? No.

Then suck it up people cause our RWC2011 isn't over yet and we got a LONG list of things to get done even after that!!

I have so much to say I don't know if this blog will hold it.  My fellow Welsh supporters have gone on and on with over analysis and blaming the ref and just all kinds of banter from the logical to analytical to even the emotionally unstable.  Guess what...it doesn't change that we lost.  

You can lay that loss at any number of feet. Wales made kicking errors and gave away three penalties, why weren't other players on the roster, blah blah what if this and what if that blah blah blah.  There's plenty of room for blame--so much so that I just don't see the point in blaming anyone or any ONE.  In fact, you know what...no...I'm not going into all of it...all that negative garbage--it's just garbage and I'll not draw it out. 

Now let's move on shall we?  I am nothing but proud of these boys...they have done more than any Welsh squad has ever done.  They are heroes win or lose.  So put them down, put the ref down I don't care...I can see nothing but my friends on the pitch doing the best they could under the circumstances of a bad situation.

I choose to see the positives.  Massive massive step up by Jamie Roberts to the scrum-that's not easy and he did extremely well.  And what an incredible defensive show did Wales put on out there!  Seriously!  France was up 15 men to 14 for almost an hour and they NEVER SCORED A TRY!  If you can't understand the positive awesomeness of that then you need to wake up!  France. did. not. score. a. try.  And do I dare mention Mike Phillips--mere months ago we thought his career was over, a low place personally could translate into career tragedy--yet here we are with a knight in try scoring underarmour.

I'll preview the game once I see the roster, but lets all remember a few other things.  We need to think forward--think to the next game, think to the next series.  This upcoming game is it for the world cup squad, but not for WRU in general and certainly the next squad for 6 nations will be deep with this kind of talent.  We've got the Aussies coming to our house later on this year...which will be an epic rematch of this bronze game.  And then 6Nations is just three months away....  These boys gotta recover and get back to their clubs as well in the meantime.  The Rabo Cup isn't just gonna jump in anyone's hands.

It's time to shake it off.  Gatland and the boys have done so and are shoulder deep into preparations for Friday...we should be too.  Rest your voices, prep your banners, get ready and for the Bronze final--COME ON WALES!!!!


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Lets put this into context, If you'd offered Gatland and the boys a place in the bronze position play off before the start of the world cup they would have probably snapped your hand off! Why then are we filled with this feeling of rage and total and utter disappointment? The answer to this has become quite clear over the course of the tournament.

Put simply the Team of the Tournament have been stripped of a place in their first World cup final by a little Frenchman who goes by the name of Monsieur Rolland. You could quote the IRB rule book all day long and it still wouldn't make Sam Warburton's tackle a red card offense in the context of the event. Play any big hit in today's modern game in slow motion and it magnifies it hugely and it was the same here. Unprofessionally Rolland seemed to be massively influenced by the French response, they erupt, he pulls out a red card, Game over.

Despite the card, the game was still there for the taking making it an even harder pill to swallow. I've tried to feel sympathy for the whole squad but I am disappointed by the performances at 10. Hook and Jones are both seasoned players who failed to nail the goals and in knock out rugby it's suicide.

We have to now look forward to Friday and lets hope we can give the Aussies a stuffing! And when we're searching for a silver lining we have to remember that the future's bright and there's rugby to come. What a journey it's been.

A nation mourns

By Harri Thomas on Oct 17, 11 05:46 PM in

We try to tell ourselves it's only a game. It isn't, of course. If it was, tears wouldn't have been stinging the eyes of Welsh fans the world over as their beloved side kissed the hopes of a first ever World Cup final farewell. We wouldn't have felt that wrenching feeling in the pits of our stomachs. Our performance against the French wasn't just a game.

Nor was it a tale of loveable losers. Wales looked genuine contenders from the moment the whistle was blown in their first pool match against the Springboks, to that moment of insanity against the French when we were effectively made to play with one arm behind our backs, but came within a whisker of winning. But it is the latter who look like the cats that got the cream, and now can't stop licking themselves.

I don't think I should dignify Alain Rolland's awarding of a red card to Sam Warburton with too many column inches. The damage has been done, and disgruntled fans in sundry Facebook groups have probably worded their feelings more effectively than I can.

For reasons beyond me, some factions have felt the need to jump on the bandwagon of quoting the IRB rules on dangerous tackling. As far as I'm concerned, Vincent Clerc never looked like he was in danger of being seriously harmed. He wasn't slammed or speared to the ground, and he certainly wasn't landing headfirst. The referee should have taken this into account, the way many referees let things slip in order to ensure a flowing game. It happens all the time. Why he didn't consult the touch judge, as Warren Gatland suggested, is also beyond me.

Still, to go on about this ruinous refereeing decision is to distract from the impeccable effort of our boys in red throughout these past two months in New Zealand. If ever there was a country to win over with your style of play, it is the Land of the Long White Cloud. Win over New Zealand, win over the world. Wales did just that.

It is only when the black dog of post-World Cup depression departs that we will fully understand how much of a turnaround in fortunes took place at RWC 2011 for the Welsh rugby team. We've gone from consistently being fourth place in the Six Nations since 2008's Grand Slam, to being considered a serious threat to the All Blacks' throne.

In that sense, you could say it's all been about the journey. We've started to show a consistency in play. The class of 2011 has engendered a new respect in Welsh rugby. They have made us proud every day in this tournament, and for the standout player of the tournament to be red carded at the final hurdle has only strengthened our affection for the team.

Us Welsh are fond of our legends. That term's spectrum ranges from the mate who's bought you a pint, to the fly-half who's just slotted the winning kick for Wales in the World Cup final, such is its inclusivity. In that spirit, 2011 might just have been the making of future legends, the opening chapter of a Welsh rugby fairytale. This team is no flash in the pan; not like the Pumas side that reached the semi-finals in 2007, for example.

We tend to praise players in victory and criticise coaches in defeat, but I don't imagine there are many coaches in international rugby who are held in the same esteem as their players. Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards are different. Being a 'straight talker' these days is basically another word for being rude, but these two have made a fine art of it. Fans appreciate their honesty, integrity and frankness. One is a former schoolteacher from Hamilton, the other a man who's known professional rugby in both codes since he was a teenager. Together, they've made the Welsh rugby team a force once more.

Mind you, Edwards was always going to go down well in Wales: while playing rugby league in 1984, the then 17-year-old wore a badge on his Wigan jersey supporting the miners' strike. Both Gatland and Edwards understand the Welsh public, and we respond to that in kind.

Success in the 2005 Six Nations, and the player rebellion that followed, showed what can go wrong when players are given too much power. It's said that Gatland has discovered that this team likes to be told what to do, which is how rugby at this level should be.

Edwards, in a recent interview, praised his boss's selection policy: "[Warren] followed his gut instinct in picking the youngsters. It is good working with them: they just want to be taught. If you tell them to jump over a wall, they will. If it is an experienced player, you have to tell him why you want him to jump over the wall."

The older players still in the squad are there because they have adapted to the modern need to keep in perfect physical condition. George North and Sam Warburton have had the benefit of coming into the game at a time when training smart is a no-brainer. They don't need to be told when not to drink, and when to train: it is hard-wired into their systems.

Only in Wales could we make a stadium the size of the Millennium seem full when there's not even a match taking place inside it. For what it's worth, this World Cup isn't quite over for Wales.

There is still much to play for. We want to be number one, and beating Australia is a step in that direction. The IRB have added insult to injury by banning Warburton for three weeks, but when you take into account how we played with fourteen men, I imagine we have every right to be optimistic with fifteen, even sans 'Uncle Sam'.

I for one will be at the Millennium Stadium early on a cold Friday morning to cheer on our Welsh heroes. I also plan to be at the proposed civic reception to be held upon their homecoming. Those who have declared such a welcome overblown because we didn't win the competition should get a grip on reality, and in no small way feel ashamed of themselves.

Let's not cry because it's over, as they say. Let's smile because it happened, and stock up on the beers for the good times to come. While we're at it, let's crack one open now...

Crazy times

By Jamie Powell on Oct 16, 11 06:21 PM in

Blimey where do I start! Difficult to quite know what to say after that! I will start by congratulating Wales on their sportsmanship, especially Sam when he was sent off- totally professional. Just imagine the same in a football match, the ref probably wouldn't have got of their alive! That's what makes me love the game of rugby!
My point of view on the sending off was it was wrong and things need to change before the next world cup- use the technology that is available, especially for the bigger games.

On a positive note, the future is exciting, if there were a lions team picked now we would/or should (in case Woodward was coach) have the majority and I can't see that changing by 2013.

Finally, IRB do the gracious thing and not give that Rolland the final, he doesn't deserve it!!!

What if..?

By Lauren Murphy on Oct 16, 11 10:10 AM in

Wales are out of contention for the World Cup. By one lousy point.

Among all the controversy and heartache there is one question that is resurfacing time and time again, which is 'What if?'

What if Sam Warburton had never tackled Vincent Clerc?
What if the ref had been Kinder?
What if Adam Jones had remained fit?
What if James Hook's kicks had been true?
What if Stephen Jones' conversion hadn't hit the posts?
What if Leigh Halfpenny's kick had gained a smidge more momentum?

Though it would be nice to blame Alain Rolland's decision to send Sam Warburton to warm the bench for an hour, neither that, nor any of the above factors lost Wales the match alone, it was all of them plus one factor more important than any other: They lost hope.

Wales managed, skipperless and with a hole in their blindside for over an hour without conceding a try, such was the strength of their defence and the weakness of France's attack. They proved, turn after turn that they had the skills and the power to win not only this, but the final. But for all their cool, calm defence, they just didn't back themselves to go on the attack. Almost every bit of possession was kicked away, like they were scared of losing it so took the problem out of their hands.

Twice, they fully turned on the attack, twice they headed into France's 22 with purpose. The first time, Mike Phillips scored, but the second, in the dying minutes of the game both proved why they should win and why it's probably better for Welsh nerves that they didn't.

Twenty-six heartstopping phases were worked through, and at least twenty of those were passed to a forward. The ball was kept low, kept slow and never did they try to breach rather than batter the blue line before them. They didn't back themselves to take that chance and tried to play the cynical game, forcing an error from France that backfired spectacularly when they knocked on themselves once the clock turned red.

Talk, for a long time, will be about the Ref's decision to send off Capten Sam, but his subsequent three week ban backs that decision to the hilt. Others may have got away with it and Warburton may have meant no malice but it happened. Sam may regret that tackle for the rest of his life but he led the other 14 men well enough that they were able to steer the ship without him. Sadly, they just missed that spark of confidence that he instilled that could put their upper hand on the scoreboard.

This particular merry band of Welshmen can still hold their head high. They will return to Wales at worst 4th in the competition of 20 teams. Going into this competition, there was hope rather than true belief they would come out of the pool stage so that achievement cannot be undermined by them missing out so narrowly on taking it all the way.

France carry Northern Hemisphere hopes to the final, we'll be behind them all the way, but even the most impartial observer (including their own coach in fact) will be watching the game feeling that it should have been Wales. And if it had been, what if...

(Originally posted at www.manpilez.com)

A World Of Hurt

By Jon North on Oct 16, 11 08:01 AM in

Hoped it would feel better this morning but it doesn't.

Yesterday Wales lost a match they should have won, with 14 men for over an hour, and without their captain. There will be no end of discussion over the decision to send off Sam Warburton. Whatever your opinion however it has to be said that in doing so Alain Rolland did more to secure France a place in the final than any French player did.

All we can do now is try to take what positives we can out of this and when you look there are so very many.

No one at this competiton has outplayed Wales. Yes, we have lost two games, but we should have beaten South Africa all those weeks ago in Wellington and then of course there was France.

Also, we have to remember the age of this side. Modern rugby is a tough and physical game so there can be no gurantees, but if properly looked after this team will get better. Cardiff can once again become a place where even the World's finest teams fear to tread.

Anouther silver lining. We still have one more match to play. It's not the match that we wanted to play in or deserve to be playing in but Argentina showed in the last World Cup that you can emerge from the bronze final with additional credit and pride. Wales have to follow their example and give next weeks game everything.

The title of this blog entry is taken from a favourite song of mine. I think it offers some advice that this wonderful Welsh side can take into next week and beyond.

So if what you have is working for you or you think that it can stand a resaonable chance and whatever's broken seems fixable and nothing's beyond repair.
If you still think about each other and smile before you remember how screwed up it's gotten or maybe dream of a time less rotten. Remember, it ain't to late to take a deep breath and throw yourself into it with everything you got.

(Patterson Hood)

Let's get this out of the way. Alain Rolland should never have been refereeing this game. Could it possibly get more biased than an Irish-French referee? Not only that, but one who has consistently made huge errors of magnificent proportions for the last 4 years? It's the most bizarre, ridiculous and unbelievable decision by the IRB to appoint this joker to the game. It was a decision compounded by the fact that the man chosen obviously has no grip on reality, clearly lacks the ability to think under pressure and who ruined the entire tournament by rashly brandishing a red card.

In saying that, I'm not going to give any more acknowledgement to that. Wales were fantastic. They are quite obviously the best team in the world. Forget whoever wins next week, they are not the champions. Wales overcame losing their primary captain Matthew Rees. They overcame losing the brilliant Morgan Stoddart. They overcame a ridiculous decision by yet another referee that robbed them of a result against the reigning World Cup champions. They overcame losing their first-line fly half for the semi-final. They are truly the greatest team in the world, and the respect for them must surely overshadow that for either of the two teams that will contest the final.

Sam Warburton is destined to be the greatest player of his generation. Of all the players to be sent off, he was probably the last one Wales would have wanted. He's been an utter inspiration not only to his team-mates and fellow players, but to rugby fans and young players the world over. It is unforgiveable that his record will be tarnished by Alain Rolland's mistake.

Every one of the players in Wales' squad deserves a winner medal. The main plus point for all of us is that this team is so very young. They haven't reached anywhere near their prime yet, and I cannot wait for Wales to take vengeance at England 2015.

It will be difficult to shake the feeling of utter and total devastation, but Wales fans have to. Coming into this tournament, most people would have been pretty happy with a Third-Place Play-Off. Granted, from the first five minutes of their campaign, we knew they deserved more. But it wasn't to be. There are a million positives to take out of this performance. Not least the players that have forged careers out of just 7 weeks. I'm talking about Toby Faletau, Rhys Priestland, George North, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton et al. The Welsh coaching staff have implemented a solid base for many many years for the WRU. The future is well and truly bright for Welsh rugby. They may have been robbed of a place in the final of New Zealand 2011, but you can be sure they will get there next time. And many more times. They are the future.

It's been a very long day here in Los Angeles....and will prove to be a very long evening.  I'm off now to fight the traffic to get to the pub as quickly as possible and get seats for a game that doesn't begin for another 7 hours!  But it will be jam packed at the KH tonight. 

And sitting or standing for 7 hours doesn't matter!  It's about Wales, tradition! respect! fair play! hard work!  leadership by everyone!  That's what's gotten us to the semi-finals and what will carry us through to the finals next week. 

The worst thing we can do is lay everything at the feet of one player or another. Several of my fellow Welsh have already decided that our game will be won or lost today based on Hook's performance at #10.  Or whether Shane Williams can stand up to France's Clerc.  Or whether Sam Warburton can go the distance as Captain.  Well I say bollocks!  It will not be decided by one player!  We are here as a team and we will go forward or go home as a team!

James Hook can perform at 10 better than Jones...disagree if you must, plenty do.  But I've seen it and in my heart the French are in trouble with him there.  Clerc stands no chance against Williams and Warburton can lead us to the finals without blinking.  He's a MacGyver on the field.

Where are we weak? Well, we are tired and physically we are wearing ourselves down a bit.  But France is in the same position. 

Something to watch...Rougerie v Roberts--I think we'll see a center's game out there and those two both have the heartstopping drive to make things happen.   Also, Halfpenny at 15 again....the scrappy dentist once had Blues players thinking he was a kid looking for autographs a few years ago when he showed up at camp, is now poised to make his name in the back row become legend.

Now, bring on the LA traffic cause it's countdown time!!  COME ON WALES!!!!! The Rugby World Cup is YOURS!!!!


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There's been quite a bit made in the press in the last few days about various England fans who are apparently jumping ship (no, I'm not referencing you, Manu Tuilagi...) and coming over to the light.

There have been a few in depth interviews and people have been pondering this question as to why on earth England fans should suddenly start supporting Wales. It's unnatural. It's bizarre. It's inexplicable... until you look at the Welsh team.

Now, I know a lot has been said about the English players' off-field antics during this tournament. I'm also aware that there are those who believe too much has been made of them, and that it's irrelevant to the rugby playing aspect of the team. Blah. I am not one who wholly subscribes to this view. There's no denying it, and pretty much all of my friends who support England have agreed, the players have roundly disgraced themselves. Start with the fact England's rugby has been woefully sub-par for the entirety of the World Cup. Then there was Tindall-gate, then the apparent sexual harassment of a hotel worker by three further players, and then to top it all off Tuilagi decided to jump off a boat... I mean, I would too in his position, but that's irrelevant.

Contrast this with Wales. Yeah yeah, there's a clamp down on drinking. Yes, they've been having choir practice and generally acting like actual grown-ups off the field. But the most important factor in the sudden mass of new found support for them is the sheer class of rugby they've played. This of course owes in no small part to the obvious team spirit, cameraderie and dedication that's clear whenever the squad takes the field.

It's been firmly established by the world's media that Wales are the form team of the whole lot. They've played the most attractive rugby, they've given a brilliant account of themselves both on and off the pitch, and what's more (England management take heed) they're doing it without badmouthing opposing teams, causing national scandal and harassing public service workers. Pretty good work, really.

So, all in all, do I think it's a huge shock that there are England fans who are supporting Wales this weekend? No, I don't, it's not a matter of nationality, pride or history. It simply means these are England fans with common sense. Which is the altogether more shocking thing...


The Welsh rugby community in the USA has always been loud and proud; never more so than now!  And those of us who gathered to watch the Pool matches from RWC2011 sweated out not only the Wales games, but the USA matches as well.  We spent most of our time watching the experienced Center-Paul Emerick.  He's a rugby star away from home for us Welsh fans who fondly recall his days in Wales with the Dragons.   The USA Eagles may not be in New Zealand in these closing weeks, but Emerick is already geared up for the challenge of his career.   I had the chance to talk with Paul recently and he had a lot to say about coaching, his teammates, and who's walking away with the RWC trophy in a couple of weeks.

(R) You started your rugby career at college in Iowa?
(P) Its University of Northern Iowa.  I went to school to play football originally, then after my freshman year quit. And I kind of missed playing in a competitive sport and flag football wasn't cutting for me so I learned to play rugby.

(R) You ended up in Italy playing for Italy.   How did you end up there?  
(P) When I'd started I didn't even know there was a national team through rugby till after my first year and into my second year.  I graduated in '03, went to the RWC and actually I stayed in Chicago and played a year of club rugby and signed my first contract in Sicily in the Italian competition.
[Writer's Note: Emerick played for Amatori Catania and then Overmach Parma]

(R) A lot of fans on twitter were quick to tell me you are fluent in Italian.  Is that correct?
(P) *laughs*  I'm not gonna solve any international incidents but I can get through my day without speaking any English and  you know watch TV with relative competence. 

(R) Is that something you just started learning there or have you always loved learning languages?
(P) Well there's no Italian classes in Iowa *laughs* I'd taken a little bit of French in high school and college and when I moved to ?? I bought a self-teach book and I wanted to get assimilated with the culture.  Part of that was having to learn the language and being able to speak and learning all the day to day things. [Sicily] is pretty old school Italian and not a lot of English speakers down there, so it was good.  It made my time overseas more enjoyable.  I could sit down with my team mates and have a bit of banter in a language that everyone can understand.  

(R) You spent a few seasons with the Dragons in Wales, what was your experience there like?
(P) I enjoyed it a ton actually, it's just nice to be in a country where rugby is such an important part of the culture.  My team mates and the club there were fantastic and I love the fans down there in Newport.  I was sad to leave.

(R) Would you want to play in Wales again?
I would love to go back there for another season or two.  I left to chase another contract in France and that didn't work out and I ended up back in Italy.  Hindsight is 20/20, looking back now I should have stayed for my last year of my contract, but I'd love to get back over there.  I enjoyed living in Cardiff, I enjoyed the culture--it was nice.
[Writer's Note:  Blues, Ospreys, Dragons, and Scarlets--I've got his number and I'm willing to pass it along....I know at least one of you needs it]

(R) You're at Life University in Georgia now as a player/coach.  Is it hard wearing both hats?
(P) I'm only coaching the undergraduate team here and then I'm playing with the graduate team.  It's good to have that separation.  I enjoy coaching and the kids are eager to learn and take stuff on board.   I think in the years down the road I'll be involved in rugby and the coaching part of it.  It's definitely different trying to be able to relay your vision and your point across to the kids. I can relate a lot to them, a lot of them are still 2-3 years into rugby.  I know what it's like being that American who started the game late.  Hopefully, I do a good job coaching.  It's still a learning experience with me; I'm still learning how to be a coach.  It's very different.

(R) What was your favorite moment on the pitch at the World Cup and why?
(P) I think my favorite moment on the pitch was the try I set up for my teammate Chris Wyles  against Italy.  That was my favorite moment, probably the highlight of my tournament there.

(R) What was your favorite moment off the pitch at RWC?
(P) We were down in New Plymouth with a day off, and James Paterson had organized a day out in Taranaki.  We went out and sheared sheep, shot some clay pigeons,  went on a jet boat ride and had a big barbeque.  It was a good day out, just spending time with the boys in a non-rugby setting.  That was one of the best days off.

(R) In general everyone has said that USA played serious rugby in NZL, was this the same thing you heard from other teams? 
(P) I think our defense really improved leading up to the world cup and during the world cup.  Other teams definitely knew they walked away from a physical match so we got the general consensus we got from our games

(R) What was the reception like from your fellow Pool teams?
(P) Everyone was very amicable, I've played with four or five of the Irish guys when I was up in Belfast and against some of the Irish in my time with the Dragons.  After the games we didn't do any after match functions, it just didn't work out.  We had to travel the next day or the other team did.  Even though we didn't have any sit down stuff we did go to each other's locker rooms, trade jerseys and just had a cool accord.  One of the great things about rugby, after the game is done everyone is quick to congratulate you and wish you luck for the next game.

(R) Who's your money on to take it all in the RWC?
(P) I picked South Africa and Wales in the finals.  I picked Wales for a revenge win after the pool play.  But now I think Wales will come out of the top bracket there to go to the finals and probably pick New Zealand to make it to the finals.  I think probably New Zealand to win it.  They're at home and if they can't win the world cup in New Zealand, then I don't think they can win it.   There are no clear favorites anymore and that's what makes for exciting games.


There's a whole lot more to this interview....but I can't put it all here...at least not now.  So you can read the full interview over at manpilez.com  And I'll tell you what....if our Welsh boys make it to the final--I'll post the rest of the interview here too.

For more info on UNI Rugby or Life University Rugby, check out their web pages....and help us spread the word that USA Rugby is growing!!!

Paul Emerick and I in the "Welsh Corner" at Vegas 7's leg of HSBC World Cup 2011.Reneandpaul.jpg


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Wales vs France

By Jon North on Oct 14, 11 07:52 AM in

The last time Wales played in a World Cup semi final match I was two years old.

Since then Wales' efforts at the biggest competition in the game have been generally dissapointing. I dearly hope that all of that will change tomorrow.

It seems a long time ago that I started writing this blog ahead of the first World Cup warm up game against England. My very first blog was about the eye catching selection of Lydiate, Warburton and Faletau in the back row and to be honest I have found it difficult to talk about much else since. Yet again these three young players carry huge responsibility against France tomorrow. If they can match their collective level of performance from the Ireland game then I think they can lay the platform for the most famous of Welsh victories.

Whatever should happen tomorrow as Welsh rugby fans we can all be very proud of this group of players. The respect they have won both on and off the field in New Zealand is quite incredible. The key factor now is belief. Does this Welsh side believe that they are good enough to reach the final of the World Cup. Do they believe that they can win it?

We are about to find out.

Just in case any of you are in need of a bit of faith ahead of tomorrow how about this selection of my photographs from the Ireland match.

Believe? We've never stopped.

Wales Ireland 1.jpg

Wales Ireland 2.jpg

Wales Ireland 3.jpg

Wales vs Ireland 4.jpg


By Jamie Powell on Oct 13, 11 04:30 PM in

Wow, that was some result again last weekend!

Personally I am chuffed to bits that Wales are in the semis of the world cup! They have set a great example of how to behave on and off the pitch, with not a sign of the arrogance that a certain home nation seem to have plenty of! Living in England, I am used to getting grief off the England supporters, how quiet they have become!!

Wales should carry on playing the game they've been playing. France will be tough, no doubt about it, but if they stay positive, it can just be done! But one game at a time!!

I really hope new Zealand win the other semi, albeit with their injury issues.

Sad to see preistland out, but what a replacement- James hook!

The nerves are setting in, can't wait, and you never know what may happen!

Come on Wales!!!

So  who would have thought it? Really. I was hoping that we'd win but I didn't think we'd actually manage it. Perhaps I'd been reading too much of the media writers claiming that the experience of the Irish would overcome the youthful Welsh.

I have to say that it was one of the best Welsh performances that I've seen in a long, long time. From the first whisle, we looked like we meant business, and for me Jamie Roberts set the tone early on when he clattered into O'Callaghan before we scored the first try.

We didn't panick even when Ireland scored early in the second half, and each one of our XV looked confident of the man next to him's ability. We never looked like loosing the game, and congratulations to the awesome Welsh back row once again on winning their battle with the Irish.

I wasn't at all suprised to see the English being knocked out by the French. The English never looked like they wanted to be at the world cup, and for some reason they won't change their style of play - so cheerio!

New Zealand were challenged by the Argentinians, and that's exactly the type of game that they needed before taking on the Aussies in the semi's.

Now we face the French. It was unfortunate to lose Priestland, but we are very fortunate to have an able deputy in James Hook, I believe that if we start the same way we started against Ireland, we have every chance of beating France. We cannot let the French get early points on the board like they did against England.

Once again we are going to require a monumental effort from the back row, Harinordoquy has been one of my favourite northern hemisphere players for a few years now, and he always seems to play well against us, but I've no doubt that Gatland and Edwards will have done their homework and will have ideas to nulify Harinordoquy as well as Bonnaire and Dusautoire.

Mike Phillips also needs a big game in order to disrupt the silky skills of Yachvili - who tends to either be very good or very poor, Phillips will need to use his physicality to get in the Frenchmans face at rattle him as much as possible, as he always seems to have time on his hands to pick a variety of options and confuse the defence.

I'm not too worried about the French centre's as the defensive efforts from Roberts & Davies have been outstanding, we just need to be careful when the game breaks up as this is when the French backs are at their most dangerous.

Maxine Medard also looks a real threat so the back three need to be on the their guard by ensuring that he is brought down before he gets into his stride.


I think we can do it! I hope I'm write....i'm now very, very nervous

Wales nail the harmony.

By Paul Williams on Oct 13, 11 01:51 PM in

This isn't an article praising the Welsh squad's choral abilities. Whilst Craig Mitchell, the tight head prop, has done a sterling job tuning-up the Welsh players for their public singing performances in New Zealand, 'Only Men Aloud' they certainly are not.

But what they lack in harmony vocally, they have made up for with their togetherness both on and off the field.

The Welsh team have conducted themselves superbly over the past few weeks and we should be very proud as a nation. The Rugby World Cup attracts the glare of the world's media, and it is very easy to slide from the back page, through the classifieds, and onto the front page - as Wales have found out to their cost in the past. Andy Powell and Mike Phillips are no strangers to controversy, but both have behaved like choir boys over the past few weeks, off the field at least.

Whilst Wales have hit all the right notes since the start of the tournament, other nations have gone a little off key.

England have lobbed a few consenting dwarfs. Manu Tuilagi inadvertently threw himself into hot water. And whilst the whole squad has obviously been playing away from home by travelling to New Zealand, some are alleged to have gone a little further.

The French have predictably started another internal revolution. They chose foreign soil to launch their tirade this time, but the outcome has been much the same, with a gang of Frenchmen attempting to behead their King in public.

The Samoans, who are usually renowned for not using their arms, ironically started tweeting uncontrollably. In light of recent events, I bet the Samoan Rugby Union wish they'd issued Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu with a Blackberry.

Even the All Blacks, who are usually whiter than white, have had to reprimand both Corey Jane and Zac Guildford for excessive drinking.

The Welsh team are finally in harmony. And unbelievably, we could be just two weeks away from our first number 1.

It was one of the sweetest victories in recent memory. Wales did everything their coach and country asked of them - and then some. Ireland could seriously have put a spanner in the Welsh works, so the game will live long in the memory for the manner in which we put to bed a contest that never looked like slipping our grasp.

Post-match, a morose Irish friend of mine said his nation would be holding a National Drink For Two Days Day - and I don't doubt they've lived up to that. In fact, I think he might still be drinking somewhere, somehow.

Sean O'Brien, the current darling of rugby pundits, was kept quiet all game. His widespread acclaim is deserved -he is, after all, a magnificent player- but his muted appearance said more about the work of the Welsh back five than any hyperbole about his talent. Despite what critics said after the game of Ronan O'Gara, that he should have been replaced by Jonny Sexton, or not started at all, I don't recall them saying that before the game. Wales's gameplan restricted the Irish one.

Luke Charteris has become the embodiment of the newfound Welsh spirit, taking his chance to shine when it seemed he might have all but resigned himself to being a bit-part player in this squad. Many second-rows are content to just win lineout ball, but not Charteris. He tackled himself to a standstill in that first half, and looks set to have nailed his name to the World Cup XV.

Shane Williams (still the most exciting player in the game, in my opinion) scored a try that won't be among his favourites, but just might be his most important so far. Jonathan Davies probably can't believe how he managed to score his wonderfully taken try, leaving would-be Irish defenders waltzing with ghosts. Mike Phillips, aka Young Blue Eyes, showed that it's not only fools that rush in when he scored the daring try that made him public enemy number one in the Emerald Isle once more.

One of the least desirable circumstances in a game of rugby is having to track back to make a tackle. In the same way your legs seem incapable of walking up an escalator that has stopped moving, sprinting back towards your own posts seems unnatural. So when fullback Rob Kearney looked certain to score after an Irish break, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was a sure thing.

It wasn't. Not one, not two, but three players were breathing down his neck. No sooner could Kearney smell the tryline than he was hauled down by Messrs Phillips, Faletau and Halfpenny. Wins are made up of little moments such as these.

One moment that won't seem so little to the man in question was Jamie Roberts's collision with Donncha O'Callaghan in the opening stage of the game, which sent the Munsterman into a crumpled heap. Similarly, Mike Phillips palming O'Brien down to earth sent out a big message: we're the Daddies now! There's going to be a lot of scores to settle come the next Six Nations.

I believe the Irish are a better side than the French. This doesn't guarantee a win for Wales on Saturday, but do I expect one? Yes. These aren't simply the words of a cocky fan whose side has made it to the semi-finals, against all apparent odds. The proof is in the pudding, after all, so let us eat cake (to blend my sayings).

In terms of personnel, France are in many ways a similar side to Ireland: a backbone of veterans, along with a sprinkling of youth. They too have a plethora of Heineken Cup winners in their midst (something the Irish made much noise about before coming unstuck against us). Grand Slams haven't been alien to them in recent years either.

The world seems to be in agreement that Wales are playing the better rugby of the two sides. Admittedly, this accolade counts for nothing if we don't beat the French on the weekend, but in all honesty, I've never felt such confidence in a Welsh side. Ask yourself if you have.

The past tells us that France are dangerous. Only slightly more impressive than Napoleon's victory in the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 was Jean Claude-Skrela's team's defeat of the All Blacks in the 1999 World Cup. Here's hoping Saturday will bear more resemblance to France's involvement in the First Indochina War: surrender to a marauding red army.

The rate at which broadsheet pundits have turned on Martin Johnson -one of many under-fire coaches at this World Cup- has been staggering. We would do well to remember that while the going is now good for Wales, it hasn't always been this cosy. People who were clamouring for Gatland to resign not so long ago will presumably be feeling pangs of shame (and just a tinge of amnesia) about such rash emotions.

Teams need time to build. This Welsh side isn't the finished article, but it's for this very reason that the next four years hold such heady anticipation for rugby fans. We've won other countries' supporters over with our style of play. It has been that way before, of course, except this time we are winning games.

We must also savour these good feelings, because there might be rocky roads to come - rugby, by its very nature, is erratic. And speaking of which, I don't think you can discuss France without talking about their on-field fickleness. It's a tired description, but they keep on justifying it. The thing that will cut most England fans deep is that the French lost to Tonga before convincingly turning the tables on Martin Johnson's side.

It takes a lot to feel pity for England, but emotions almost tipped over to, if not sympathy, then understanding, when Manu Tuilagi decided he didn't have the time or inclination to wait for his ferry to dock. When it rains, it pours. Ironically, it used to be that, when it rained, England could beat France at the World Cup. Times change.

Wales don't need to rely on anything as tangible as the weather to defeat the French. To ironically use a Gallic description, they possess an esprit de corps. They honour the side by performing immaculately on and off the field. France, after dismal displays throughout the pool stage, went on to beat the English because that's what they love to do more than anything. It just so happened that England played slightly worse than their opposition on the day; the amount of dropped balls signalling a team that wouldn't make the final in a month of Sundays.

Both Wales and France are staying in the same hotel. I wonder if Gatland and Lievremont have had a comedy moment when they got onto the same lift? Except, in this scenario, the awkwardness isn't down to any romantic confusion, but because of the caterpillar that seems to be trying to escape the French coach's upper lip...

It's more likely that their meeting might have been more akin to 'Heat', when De Niro (Gatland), the master thief, and Pacino (Lievremont), the grizzled cop, finally meet face-to-face at a cafe. "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner," says De Niro (or Warren).

Lievremont's actions during the latter stages of his tenure as coach of one of the most talented sides in world rugby portray a man who's ready to walk out on his players when his side feels the heat. Of all the Lievremont-related quotes to have emerged from a near-mutinous French side during this campaign, the most memorable for me comes from Imanol Harinordoquy (evidently as much a poet off the field as he is on it): "If you stir s**t, you end up having to walk through it."

Which brings me to the difference between this Welsh side and the one they will be facing on Saturday morning. Our view of the word 'team' is all-encompassing. At the risk of going all Obi Wan, we can feel the positive influence of Gatland, Edwards et al on the field. If rumours are to be believed, the French beat England in spite of their coach's behaviour.

It always interests me to see what sports writers over in France make of the affairs of world rugby, and Wales in particular. After an eternity of documenting the persistent rise and fall of Les Bleus, these journalists' aversion to confidently predicting victory for their compatriots is palpable. This World Cup, it goes without saying, is no different.

Something tells me Google Translate hasn't quite gotten to the ominous stage where it can interpret the finer nuances of the French language, but here's some of the humorous musings it regurgitated from a recent L'Equipe article entitled 'Welsh Insanity': "Opposed to the XV Leek semi-finals, the Blues will have to contain the fury of the Welsh. Since the start of the championships, players Warren Gatland offer the most complete game and unpredictable."

I think they're complimenting the 'XV Leek' in there somewhere, because they go on to quote Dimitri Yachvili as saying, somewhat mysteriously, "[The Welsh] feel really confident, even in their heads."

The journalist, Vincent Father-Lahaille, details the need for Les Bleus to "escape" Wales's "madness". Pot-kettle-black, Vincent! Then again, it might say more about my need to learn French and rely less on Google Translate than any hypocrisy on his part.

Now, if only we can get a harder title than the Leek XV.

WOOO HOOO!!!! Wales are through to the semi finals against France!  Now I wish that I could give a great commentary about how awesome it was to watch Shane William's try as it happened and the tears of joy as "Land Of Our Fathers" played...but the truth is....I can't.  I had to watch mostly highlights as the satellite went wonky and kept going in and out for the entire game.  In general, we all got the gist of it....Wales played well and took some hard hits; We kept control of the game and held off mega-drives by Ireland....and of course....a win!

But what I really wanna talk about is a short blog about why England lost....because it's simple...they hired a head coach to deliver them the World Cup. 

That's just not good rugby....and it doesn't win world cups.

The coach/manager you want to hire isn't there to win you a cup.A winning coach knows how to find and train the best young men coming up through the club ranks.  He has to be everything from talent scout to disciplinarian to juggler.  There is a delicate balance between coaching the present and looking to the future of the club.  You've got to hire a coach who knows what it takes to pull the best out of every player on the field every time they hit the pitch.  It is only then that you will see a team move forward and achieve greatness. 

The best coaches don't always win on every game day.  But their players ALWAYS give their best.  This is why Wales, France, Australia and New Zealand are in the SemiFinals.  Every player, trainer, medic, coach, assistant, volunteer, and supporter is giving their all in Wales' climb to the top of the RWC. 

We are led by few, but none of us is "only" a follower!



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Pretty much all the build up to Quarter Final 1 was about that elusive quality, the proverbial 'experience'. Much was made of Ireland's perceived dominance over Wales purely because six of the starting XV for Wales on Saturday hadn't been born when the inaugural World Cup took place, whereas Brian O'Driscoll et al were apparently alive when dinosaurs walked the earth.

However, all this preoccupation with age proved to be about as useful as having Bryce Lawrence officiating. Wales' supposedly 'inexperienced' team dominated their Celtic rivals for the best part of 80 minutes. As has been said many a time in the media in the past 5 weeks, the back-row battle is crucial - and there aren't many back-rows I can think of who could put together as comprehensive a performance as Warburton, Faletau and Lydiate gave in the QF, and have given throughout the tournament thus far.

There can be no doubting that Wales are the in-form team going into the semi finals. Wales have consistently played the best rugby and arguably have played the most exciting games. There are many who still think the All Blacks are destined to win, but even these must admit that Wales have displayed a far better calibre of rugby than them consistently.

The young average age of Wales' squad has clearly worked to their advantage. True, it could have gone either way. But it ended up being a masterstroke by Gatland, implementing the likes of Priestland, Faletau and North. It's a well known cliché that size doesn't matter when playing rugby. It should be a similar logic when applying age to the game. Sam Warburton has all the attributes necessary to be a hugely succesful captain - he's at the top of his game, widely lauded as one of the best 7s in the world; he's got a commendable attitude when it comes to committment to the game rather than alcohol; he's clearly got the loyalty of his players... so why is the fact he's a 'young and inexperienced' 23-year-old the first thing on people's lips when discussing him? Probably not the best topical example to use here, but Fernando Torres was just 19 when he was made Atlético Madrid's captain, and went on to be pretty darn successful at the massive football club too. It's an irritating addage, but age is just a number.

Warren Gatland's seemingly bizarre pre-tournament selection policy/interview responses/general behaviour... has been more than vindicated. In fact, I expect the bronze statue of him to be erected outside the Millennium Stadium any day now. In all seriousness, he's pulled off a masterstroke with this team, with all and sundry calling it 'the best Wales side' for some time, which is a plaudit and a half when you consider who's not in it (I'm talking Martyn Williams, Dwayne Peel, Tom Shanklin, Stephen Jones to some extent).

The performance against Ireland showed how far from boys the Welsh players have come. The Poland training camps have been a hot topic of conversation since their announcement, many calling them 'controversial' and 'over the top'. But let's not get ahead of ourselves - it was no Kamp Staaldraad; as far as I'm aware Mr Gatland didn't wield a gun, it was pretty much voluntary stuff that led to Warburton's side being hailed as the fittest and best-prepared in the tournament. Ireland's veterans O'Driscoll, O'Callaghan and O'Gara etc. were shown up against a superior side on Saturday.

In saying all this about going on about age, I'm doing it myself. It has to be said (even by those of us in the Tavis Knoyle Fan Club) that Mike Phillips was outstanding. It was a near perfect performance from the scrum-half, epitomised by the unbelievable dive for Wales' second try. Shane Williams set the ball rolling with his 58th try for Wales and Jonathon Davies silenced the handful of doubters with a superb performance at centre, rounded off with a well-taken try to close the game out completely.

In essence, I wouldn't say Warren Gatland has picked a young team. I'd say he's picked an outstanding team who have shown this every step of the way in RWC 2011. The quarter final victory against Ireland merely demonstrated that the talented bunch can perform under pressure. Wales go into Saturday's clash with the fluid French brimming with well-earned confidence. Every one of those youngsters have come of age.

Pretty much all the build up to Quarter Final 1 was about that elusive quality, the proverbial 'experience'. Much was made of Ireland's perceived dominance over Wales purely because six of the starting XV for Wales on Saturday hadn't been born when the inaugural World Cup took place, whereas Brian O'Driscoll et al were apparently alive when dinosaurs walked the earth.

However, all this preoccupation with age proved to be about as useful as having Bryce Lawrence officiating. Wales' supposedly 'inexperienced' team dominated their Celtic rivals for the best part of 80 minutes. As has been said many a time in the media in the past 5 weeks, the back-row battle is crucial - and there aren't many back-rows I can think of who could put together as comprehensive a performance as Warburton, Faletau and Lydiate gave in the QF, and have given throughout the tournament thus far.

There can be no doubting that Wales are the in-form team going into the semi finals. Wales have consistently played the best rugby and arguably have played the most exciting games. There are many who still think the All Blacks are destined to win, but even these must admit that Wales have displayed a far better calibre of rugby than them consistently.

The young average age of Wales' squad has clearly worked to their advantage. True, it could have gone either way. But it ended up being a masterstroke by Gatland, implementing the likes of Priestland, Faletau and North. It's a well known cliché that size doesn't matter when playing rugby. It should be a similar logic when applying age to the game. Sam Warburton has all the attributes necessary to be a hugely succesful captain - he's at the top of his game, widely lauded as one of the best 7s in the world; he's got a commendable attitude when it comes to committment to the game rather than alcohol; he's clearly got the loyalty of his players... so why is the fact he's a 'young and inexperienced' 23-year-old the first thing on people's lips when discussing him? Probably not the best topical example to use here, but Fernando Torres was just 19 when he was made Atlético Madrid's captain, and went on to be pretty darn successful at the massive football club too. It's an irritating addage, but age is just a number.

Warren Gatland's seemingly bizarre pre-tournament selection policy/interview responses/general behaviour... has been more than vindicated. In fact, I expect the bronze statue of him to be erected outside the Millennium Stadium any day now. In all seriousness, he's pulled off a masterstroke with this team, with all and sundry calling it 'the best Wales side' for some time, which is a plaudit and a half when you consider who's not in it (I'm talking Martyn Williams, Dwayne Peel, Tom Shanklin, Stephen Jones to some extent).

The performance against Ireland showed how far from boys the Welsh players have come. The Poland training camps have been a hot topic of conversation since their announcement, many calling them 'controversial' and 'over the top'. But let's not get ahead of ourselves - it was no Kamp Staaldraad; as far as I'm aware Mr Gatland didn't wield a gun, it was pretty much voluntary stuff that led to Warburton's side being hailed as the fittest and best-prepared in the tournament. Ireland's veterans O'Driscoll, O'Callaghan and O'Gara etc. were shown up against a superior side on Saturday.

In saying all this about going on about age, I'm doing it myself. It has to be said (even by those of us in the Tavis Knoyle Fan Club) that Mike Phillips was outstanding. It was a near perfect performance from the scrum-half, epitomised by the unbelievable dive for Wales' second try. Shane Williams set the ball rolling with his 58th try for Wales and Jonathon Davies silenced the handful of doubters with a superb performance at centre, rounded off with a well-taken try to close the game out completely.

In essence, I wouldn't say Warren Gatland has picked a young team. I'd say he's picked an outstanding team who have shown this every step of the way in RWC 2011. The quarter final victory against Ireland merely demonstrated that the talented bunch can perform under pressure. Wales go into Saturday's clash with the fluid French brimming with well-earned confidence. Every one of those youngsters have come of age.

Wales's quarter final against Ireland had been billed as the fixture that pitted experience against youth. The implication from the media, pundits and bookmakers being that experience should win the day.

Ireland had by far the most experienced squad. Their team sheet was filled with individuals who have won multiple European Cups and Domestic Championships. O'Gara, O'Driscoll, O' Connell, O'Callaghan and D'Arcy have an incredible 451 international caps between them and are rightly referred to as experienced players.

The trouble is, being labelled as an 'experienced player' isn't necessarily a good thing; it comes with a bit of a stigma. You're only referred to as an 'experienced player' when the rest of your skill set has depleted to the point where 'experience' becomes your key attribute. You are no longer described as electric, destructive, devastating or jinky; you just become 'experienced'. The 'experienced player' is no longer selected for what he brings to the game today, but for what they brought to the game 3 years ago.

It is worth mentioning that there is a difference between a player having experience and being labelled an 'experienced player'. Ritchie McCaw has vast amounts of experience and still performs at the highest level. Shane Williams is 34 years old and has 84 caps for Wales, yet he is still known for his mesmeric feet rather than his experience. Whereas Jonny Wilkinson and Felipe Contepomi have sadly lost the skills that once made them great and have now joined the pedestrian ranks of the 'experienced player'.

Sadly for Ireland, Saturday's starting fifteen had too many 'experienced players'.

In the build-up to the game, Ronan O' Gara had managed to convince many people that he had stopped being Ronan O'Gara and had actually become Jonathan Sexton. It was reported that his limited game had been expanded in recent weeks and that he was now playing a more expansive passing game. As it turned out Ronan O'Gara didn't even turn up as himself and at times failed to execute the simplest of kicking games. Conor Murray also suffered from his association with O'Gara's performance with both being yanked after just 55 minutes.

Talking of impersonating Ronan O'Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan did of a pretty good job when he attempted to tackle Jamie Roberts 5 yards short of the Irish try line. The collision was spectacular, particularly in slow motion, and resulted in O'Callaghan's gum shield spiralling through the air - let's just hope it was an official Rugby World Cup endorsed gum shield.

D'Arcy looks as though he may have played his final game for Ireland on Saturday. He was found wanting defensively and offensively and was particularly naive in affording Mike Phillips so much room on the blindside in which to score his try.

But the biggest disappointment was Brian O'Driscoll. His defensive ability and work ethic remains unquestionable. Sadly the same cannot be said of his decision to squander three early, kickable penalties. It's hard to believe that Irelands most capped player could look so in inexperienced, in one of the few situations in which an 'experienced player' really should come to the fore.

I'm not excluding Wales from the 'experienced players' club either. We have a few individuals who are about to apply for membership, namely Ryan and Steven Jones. But their role is now limited to the bench, or in the case of Steven Jones, a seat in the hotel - who would have predicted that?

Wales's starting fifteen is becoming known for everything but its experience, and that's the way it should be.

Sam Warburton's impact on this World Cup has been nothing short of sensational. He seems to have this ability to step over any ruck, pour quick setting concrete over his boots and then apply araldite to both hands. But whilst much has been made of his work at the break down, it is the speed at which he arrived there that was most evident on Saturday - almost always arriving before O'Brien, Ferris and Heaslip.

Dan Lydiate made 24 tackles on Saturday. The whole Welsh team only made 150, which means Lydiate was responsible for one in 6 hits. But it's not just the number of hits that's so incredible; it's his technical ability in the tackle area that's so devastating. The 'Amputater' tackles very low and seems to just cut people off at the knee. It proved to be a clever ploy against the Irish as it prevented their players from staying on their feet and setting up any effective mauls.

Mike Phillips was also back to his best yesterday. Not only did he demonstrate his abrasive ball carrying and sniping blindside runs, but he also executed a balletic dive for his try. The leap may have scored top points for artistic interpretation, but it also scored 10 for its rugby intelligence. Keeping your feet and legs high in corner flag contact situations is a highly effective way to avoid the touchline.

Jamie Roberts and Jon Davies dominated the Irish midfield. They both seem to have become a little bored with the standard interpretation of where the gain line is and have decided to move it forward 5 yards, if only to give themselves more of a challenge.

A special mention must also go to the Welsh front row. Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones perfectly illustrate the difference between a player with experience and an 'experienced player'. Both have over 70 caps, but are still renowned for what they do best. The Lions props dominated an Irish front row that has performed very well in this World Cup and Adam Jones's destruction of the impressive Cian Healy made genuinely uncomfortable viewing. At one point Jones exerted so more force on the Irish loosehead that Healy's back buckled like a suspension bridge in an earthquake.

Saturday's game against Ireland really did prove that experience isn't the be all and end all, in fact quite the opposite. Having said that, if Wales can beat France, they would reach their first ever World Cup Final, and that really is an experience worth having.

Well, well well....the moment we all knew was coming is about to arrive. 

We can try to be excited about France v England--but really it seems blaze'   Martin Johnson has made a few slips in his picking but eh.  White or Blue--one will win one will lose.  THen Aussies v RSA--won't be an easy win, but Habana is playing with injury and Botha is out....Look for little O'Connor to score some tries and a win for Aussies.  I"m not even gonna go into All Blacks v Argentina--again, not easy but come on.  It's next week's semifinal between the Aussies and All Blacks that's got my engine purring!

So let's face it, this IS the match of the weekend. 

Our team looks good--Jenkins, Bennett, A. Jones, Charteris, AWJones, Lydiate, Warburton, Faletau, Phillips, Priestland, Williams, Roberts, Davies, North, and Halfpenny....did I say that YES I DID!  FINALLY!  Halfpenny at 15!  This is gonna be fun.  (I just wish my fantasy team was set up to put HP in that position....whomever does it, will be pleased.)

Saturday is the culmination of two teams epic road through the Pool stages of Rugby World Cup 2011.  The Celtic region hasn't been buzzing this much since well possibly St. David's Day.  The pubs will be the land of red and green tonight in LA (tomorrow morning to many of you).  

Alot of pressure is put on the two captains...Warburton and O'Driscoll, but I think there's more to these teams than that.  There are spots of weakness on both sides....HP at 15, is it too soon?  too green there?  and Ireland..Is Best's shoulder ready for the Welsh front row?  All in all Wales look good, physically we are at 100% and as long as we keep our heads we'll see a repeat of the 6Nations match.  Ireland has alot of confidence bolstering behind them.   And we are 8 months past the 2011 Welsh defeat of the men in green.

But our biggest problem as Welsh fans is to put the burden of a win or loss on one or two key players...and that's just it, they are key players not the only players.  It is as a team that Wales will win or lose this game.  One spectacular try dive won't.  Neither will one scrum, one drive, one ruck, one lineout or one anything else.  Ireland don't play that kind of rugby.  if they slip up, it will be the only time they slip up and they bounce like basketballs back to form. 

We cannot wait for mistakes, we must attack and defend with equal measure.  Take advantage of what we can, but strike when we see a window.  That will be how we win this game.


(PS regarding my comments about Eng v France--please note, I have a bet with a non-bicycle helmet wearing English bloke.  The bet is that Wales will get at least as far as England in the RWC.  So forgive me now, but just in case the impossible happens, I may have to cheer on France.  you see that's the other reason that Wales will win--God can't allow me to cheer for France... *smiles*) 

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By Harri Thomas on Oct 7, 11 09:24 PM in

After spending the evening in Caerphilly rugby club I can't say I'm in short supply of verdicts when it comes to tomorrows quarter final clash against the Paddy's!

Obviously a welsh rugby club isn't the ideal place to gain a neutral opinion on a World cup quarter final between Wales and Ireland. Predictably most views went along the lines of "walk in the park" or "50 points, no worries". I did however find sense WITHIN the Friday night chaos in lets say, some of the wiser members of the rugby community that can be found sitting quietly in the corners of the clubhouse. After asking around my own verdict came down to this, small errors will make the difference. Never in a million years is this going to be a walk over!

When you look at the sides, some say you see old and young others say you see experienced and not! Contrasts can be found all over the field. The back row has it very own battle between the bull dozing, European player of the year and the youngest captain Wales has ever seen at a World cup. This is definitely an area where we expect to see fireworks!

From the way Gatland has moved players around the field it seems apparent that he doesn't want Hook at 10. But has he put all his eggs in one basket by excluding our centurion Stephen Jones entirely. If Priestland picks up a five minute injury then he'll have no option but to move Hook to the outside half position but lets be honest it wouldn't be a bad option.

At the end of the day Ireland have a great side but is it enough to challenge the side of the Tournament so far! I'm not so sure-Our boys are on fire, COME ON WALES!!!

Tomorrow morning I'll be sitting in front of the TV with a cup of tea, heart racing like a mad hare and trembling uncontrollably with nerves. This will probably be too much information but I also seem to develop an nervous twitch in an uncomfortable place when Wales are in close games and seeings as tomorrow's is probably the biggest game Wales have played since I can remember I'm a bit scared it's going to go into overdrive.

I'm sure you're all glad to hear about that - now back to the actual game. It's gonna be tight one. Ireland have picked up a bit of form since they surprised Australia (and pretty much the rest of the rugby world) by beating them to claim top spot in their pool. At the time I was glad that it meant we would more than likely face the Irish in the quarters instead of the Wallabies but now I'm not so sure!

The Irish team is strong across the whole park from 1-15 with the backrow probably one of the best in world rugby. The same could be said about the welsh team though and for once I'm glad that, in most parts, Gatland has gone for form and fitness over experience.

Up front we're as strong as we could be. The return of Melon has come at just the right time and he'll be like an extra back-row forward around the park. Alongside Jones and Bennett (who has completely changed my view of him with some impressive performances this tournament) it's a pretty solid front row.

In the boiler room we've opted for AWJ and Charteris. I think Davies is unlucky to miss out but AWJ has been in superb form - tackling like a madman and popping up all over the park - while Charteris has played the best international rugby of his career and will offer more in the lineout. Davies will still provide a great impact from the bench later in the game with his more physical approach.

The back-row is back to it's strongest with Lydiate recovering to take his place alongside Faletau and Captain Warbs. Our loose forward trio are potentially a world-class unit and how well we do in this game will depend on how they deal with the Irish trio. They're all strong defensively and quick around the park which should help them match the agility of Ferris, O'Brien and Heaslip. The clash of the two opensides is a mouthwatering prospect with neither willing to take a backward step.

Phillips is finally rediscovering some of his best form and I'm delighted that Priestland has retained his place as the starting fly-half. I'm in no doubt that his selection there has been one of the catalysts for the resurgence of Jamie Roberts. He provides the intelligence, consistency and variety in the pivot position which has been lacking over the last couple of years for Wales and has really set the rest of our backline alight.

Roberts was always a shoe-in for the 12 spot as he's absolutely vital to the way Wales play these days - making the hard yards and getting over the gain line consistently . He's also added a few more offloads and sleight of hand to his game recently to compliment the physical aspect. The other centre position is the only selection where I feel we've played too safe. I like JD2 but I don't think he works well enough with Roberts and doesn't get involved enough when the two play together. I would have gone for Scott Williams as I think he's got more of the attributes required of a 13. He's capable of making the hard yards but he also has good pace and much better distribution skills that JD2. I expect him to make an impact off the bench later though.

The back three are as I expected. I think Shane is a bit lucky to keep his spot as he hasn't played that well so far in the tournament but I understand that his knack of popping up in the right place at the right time could be vital in what could be a tight game. George North has been a revelation so far and if he continues to develop certain aspects of his game he's going to be a frightening prospect for any team to face with his pace and power. It's great to see Halfpenny back in the starting 15 too - his form since coming back fom injury has been excellent and although he may not have scored many tries lately his work-rate and consistency are the reason he's won the full-back berth ahead of specialist Byrne and Hook. I do still have slight reservations about his ability under the high-ball but I'm confident he'll be solid for us - plus he gives us the added bonus of a long range goalkicker if needed.

The bench is pretty strong too. Burns, James and Davies have all done well in previous games and won't let the team down if called upon. Ryan Jones was fantastic at blindside in Lydiate's absence - and unlucky not to retain his place - and provides great cover across the back-row. Lloyd Williams seems to have played his way onto the bench ahead of Knoyle and it's great to have the likes of Hook and Scott Williams - both versatile and talented players - available to make an impact.

It's going to be a close one - I can't call it but my heart says Wales by 3-5. I could well suffer a heart-attack tomorrow morning if it's too close for comfort. COME ON WALES!!

p.s. I'll be live tweeting all the games from @dodgykneesblog if anyone would like to join me! Always nice to have some company to talk about the game with :)

So it's the big one tomorrow. Wales vs Ireland at the Wellington Regional Stadium. I'm all set, press pass is secured and can't wait for the match to get started.

For me the game is too close to call. The sides are very closely matched and any small advantage you can see for a side in one area (Irelands powerful ball carrying back row) is canceled out elsewhere (Wales' powerful ball carrying backs.)

Both packs will fancy getting an edge up front and this as always will be a crucial area. Will Paul O' Connell be able to get at the Welsh lineout? Will Adam Jones or Gethin Jenkins get the Irish scrum moving backward? These are the questions that will ultimatly shape the result of tomorrows match.

I'm not the only one who thinks it will be tight, looking at the latest odds the bookies seem to have Ireland as slight favourites (you can back Wales at even money with a 3 point head start.) Perhaps more remarkable however is that Wales are now only 3/1 to make it to the Rugby World Cup final. Who would have thought that a few weeks back?

Whatever happens I'm sure that the Welsh side will put a performance in to be proud of and that they will throw everything they have at Ireland. If on the day that is not good enough then so be it. This young Welsh side will have it's day sooner or later.

Just for the record tomorrow both my heart and my head say's Wales by 5 points.

Serious stuff

By Jamie Powell on Oct 6, 11 07:06 PM in

Well can't believe how quick the last few weeks have gone! Wales against ireland, what a game this could be! The fact the winner then plays England or France has turned it into a mini four nations, great stuff!

The team look confident and the display against Fiji was a great confidence boost. When a team is debating whether shane should be starting, you know it's good times! Personally I would have started with gethin Jenkins on the wing but perhaps centre is the way forward!

Anyway, all the best Wales, keep doing what you've been doing and just make sure you believe you can win!!

Come on Wales!!!

So Gatland has named the team, the only shock as far as I'm concerned is that James Hook is on the bench, Hook is unlucky in the fact that he can play many positions, even though we all know that he prefers to play at outside half. The fact is that Rhys Priestland has done nothing wrong and therefore does not deserve to be dropped. As an Ospreys fan I think it all boils down to their preference to pick Dan Biggar at outside half, Hook wasn't given a fair  crack (which I think is shocking considering he's a proven world class player) there which is ultimately why he'll be playing in France post world cup.

There can be no arguments about the rest of the selection in the backs, though Jonathan Davies has a lot to prove once more as Scott Williams is putting lots of pressure on his scarlet colleague.

It was clear that a fit Dan Lydiate would replace Ryan Jones in the back-row as his work rate around the breakdown and defensively will be key to nulifying O'Brien. I see the key battle as being the back row, and Faletau will have up his effort once more in order to combat the experience of Heaslip.

I believe that we will target the O'Gara chanel in order to make line break, but O'Gara will probably test Williams & Halfpenny under the high ball! So there's interesting contests all over the park.

I can't wait now , it's going the be nerve wrecking!

With Wales facing Ireland in next Saturday's World Cup quarter finals, there will be a lot of talk about Ireland's 'golden generation' over the next few days. Ireland believed that they had struck gold in the early 2000's when they uncovered a rich seam of talent which included Brian O' Driscoll, Paul O'Connell, Ronan O' Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan and Gordon D'Arcy.

Whilst many of these players have had glittering individual careers, to refer to their collective international achievements as 'golden' seems foolish; they are bronze or silver at best.

Ireland's provinces may have had an 18 carat decade in domestic and European competitions, but the test side has a record that is more reminiscent of the sort of bling you find under the display cases in Argos.

Panning Ireland may seem controversial, but since the inception of the Six Nations, Ireland have only won a single Grand Slam, whilst Wales have lifted two. To their credit, the Irish have taken a few Southern Hemisphere scalps over the past decade, most recently a superb win over Australia in this year's Rugby World Cup, yet this is the same squad that also matched Wales in failing to get out of their pool in 2007.

Even if you buy the golden generation tag, their value has decreased significantly over the past few years. Despite retaining good distribution skills and a flanker-like ability to 'tackle and jackal', 'Waltzing' O'Driscoll no longer dances. Ronan O'Gara, who has always chosen to play a limited game, no longer has the option to do anything else. And D'Arcy, ironically, now moves at the same pace as an English period drama. The one exception to the rule is Paul O'Connell, who since losing a stone and a half in weight, is playing some of the best rugby of his career.

Whether or not you doubt the authenticity of the original golden generation, Ireland have recently blasted out some more sizable nuggets. Sean O'Brien, Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip form a sensational ball carrying back row, with O'Brien providing real metal, particularly when he runs an angle back through the 12/13 channel.

With many of the golden generation expected to retire after this year's RWC, Saturday's quarter final against Wales could be their last opportunity to sparkle.

But I believe Wales will take the shine off the Irish. They may have discovered gold all those years ago, but with the current crop of Welsh players, Gatland has discovered platinum.


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