Bad Week for Sport

Well, that’s the IPL done for this year. It should have been easy. The Royals had one game left, against the bottom-of-the-table Kolkata Knight Riders. All they needed to do was win, and they would be in the semi-finals. They choked. Warnie was not happy. Neither am I. The Royals had a reputation for coming good in big games. I expected better of them.

Wellington Hurricanes, on the other hand, have a reputation of messing up big games. This year was no different. Despite a pretty good season, they once again failed to make the Super 14 final. The ‘Canes have one season left to make good, because as of 2011 I expect the Melbourne Rebels to finally take their place in Super Rugby and with a Victorian team to support I will have to bid farewell to New Zealand.

And to make matters worse, Somerset have just failed to defend a score of 285 in a 50-overs match.

Oh well, at least Jenson seems to be having a good weekend.

EdF Cup Final

Well, that was a good day at the office. It is, of course, a bit of a stretch to describe the Cardiff Blues as a “Welsh” side, stuffed as they are with star New Zealanders, but that’s the reality of modern club rugby, and the Blues to contain a several stars of the Welsh XV as well: Martyn Williams, Tom Shanklin, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Andy Powell, Gethin Jenkins. The short version is, “we stuffed them, 50-12”. There is no longer version because I only had audio and had to leave half way through the second half before it started raining tries. Besides, after a statement like that, who needs a long version?

Next stop, Heineken Cup.

Meanwhile, Back With The Rugby

The other two Heineken Cup semi-finals were played today. I am sorry to say that the Ospreys were totally out-matched. The 43-9 scoreline was entirely fair, and actually the 9 points the Ospreys scored all came from Munster mistakes.

Thankfully the Harlequins-Leinster game was an absolutely nail-biter right to the end. It ended 6-5 in favor of the Irish, and there were a whole pile of “might have been” situations. The Leinster try came from a single bit of O’Driscoll brilliance and a lucky bounce of that odd-shaped ball. Leinster will point to the ref blowing up for a penalty when Fitzgerald looked to have a clear advantage. Quins will rue their luck in losing three (yes three) fly halves to injury during the game. Any minor twitch of fate could have tipped the result the other way.

So Leinster will play Munster in the other semi-final, and as it is scheduled for Croke Park that’s a home game for them. I still fancy Munster though, they were awesome.

Heineken Cup

It is a great weekend for rugby, with the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup being played. And also, of course, a fabulous come-from-behind win in Perth by the Hurricanes who scored two tries in the last 10 minutes to steal a win. Go ‘Canes!

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Cardiff and Toulouse staged a rematch of the first ever Heineken Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium. Toulose won that game, and went on to win the trophy two more times, but this year are the only French side left at the knock-out of the competition. The game was a tense affair, which Cardiff eventually won 9-6. Not the prettiest rugby in the world, despite the presence of the famed Toulouse back line. Credit then to Cardiff for keeping such dangerous players quiet.

Next up was an equally tense and somewhat more exciting clash between Leicester and Bath. The game was tied 15-15 going into the last 10 minutes, and both sides had opportunities to scores. As it turned out, a brilliant break by Leicester’s French replacement scum half, Julien Dupuy, finally separated the two sides and won the game for the Tigers. Leicester now play Cardiff in the semi-finals.

Tomorrow the Ospreys travel to defending champions, Munster, with Lee Byrne and Gavin Henson both unavailable through injury. In addition BOD* leads the Leinster war band to The Stoop to take on Harlequins. I shall watch both games, and in the latter hope to spot Will in the crowd. He has promised me photos.

* That’s Brian O’Driscoll, to the uninitiated.

Wales 15-17 Ireland

Well, there’s no getting around this, we were beaten by the better side on the day. Wales very nearly won the game. They lost by a few feet, which is the distance by which Stephen Jones’s last minute penalty kick failed to get over the crossbar. The game was that close.

However, Ireland scored two good tries, while Wales never looked like scoring. They also wrecked the Welsh lineout. It was really only their own indiscipline that allowed the score to be so close.

As everyone else is pointing out, the last time Ireland won a Grand Slam was 61 years ago. Wales achieved that feat most recently in 2005 and 2008, so it would be churlish to deny Mr. O’Driscoll and his colleagues their moment of glory.

Next year, on the other hand…

Before that, however, there is the small matter of the Lions tour of South Africa.

Shopping Report

Today I went to investigate the new Westfield Mall in Shepherd’s Bush. Bay Area folks will be used to such things, but it is a bit of a departure for London. It is, however, dead easy to get to by Tube, which is a very good thing. It is probably about the same size as Valley Fair, but with more open space inside it. Fortunately today it was pretty quiet.

I didn’t buy a Hugo dress. I did find a very nice dark blue one in Debenhams (just the color you suggested, Keri), but they had nothing between a 10 and a 20, and in any case it was £100 which seemed a bit painful after last year’s $22 bargain.

I almost bought a coat in Next. It looked great on the mannequin, but it was a bit padded and consequently made me look even more fat than I am, which is not good. But I did manage to find new stocks of Whittard’s mango tea at last. I’d been getting worried that they had stopped making it.

On the way back I stopped off at Oxford Circus to check out Hugo nominees in Borders. FAIL. Not one of the Best Novel nominees was available in the SF section. i did finally find one lost and lonely copy of The Graveyard Book in the YA section, but that was all. Tsk.

I did also check Liberty in case they had a Vivienne Westwood dress I wanted them to put aside in case I win the lottery, but no luck there either.

The other piece of news I got from the trip is that the Victoria Line will be closed all weekend. This has caused me to change my plans for tomorrow. Instead of going to find a pub for the Wales-Ireland I’m going to stay here and listen to the games on the radio instead. If we win I can watch the game on the iPlayer next week.

A Day Out

I spent much of today in London, much of it, in fact, in transit. The easy way to get from Farah’s house to central London is on the Victoria Line, but today it was closed for engineering work, so I had to take buses instead. Have I ever told you how much I hate buses? Especially in London. The Tube can be packed solid as well at times, but it runs on nice flat, straight rails. The buses are forever rolling over bumps, turning sharp corners, accelerating and braking. They go all around the houses, and get stuck in traffic. It is a horrible experience.

Not quite as horrible, however, as being a French supporter in London today. I saw the game from the comfort of a pub in Covent Garden, and a I have to say that if we hadn’t had the commentary (and known the players) we would all have assumed that the guys in blue were the leaden-footed, unimaginative English while the guys in white were the talented, creative French. There was no there there in the French side today, and England took full advantage of their good fortune.

Meanwhile I did some shopping. I have come back with a pile of books. The book porn posts are all on my Twitter feed if you want to know what I bought. Sadly it seems that Amberville won’t be out over here until August.

Due partly to my own slowness and partly to the slowness of the buses I didn’t have time to do any clothes shopping. I was also disappointed that Neal’s Yard Dairy isn’t open on Sundays. But of course I’m here for another week. I’m thinking of going to see Watchmen at the IMAX on Wednesday. Anyone else interested?

Italy 15-20 Wales

Well, that was not the desired result. Yes, we won, but it would have been good to win by a much wider margin, and in a much more convincing manner.

As I recall, Wales got into a good try scoring position three times in the match. Two of those they converted, fairly easily. The third might have ended in a try with a less observant referee (not that there was any deliberate foul play, just a question as to whether a ball went forward out of a tackle). Italy, in contrast, spent much of the match camped in the Wales half, but never once looked like scoring a try.

So why didn’t we win by a bigger margin? I think mainly because we were not taking the game to the Italians. Way too much possession was wasted by aimless kicking and silly penalties. The Italians, in contrast, were much more disciplined than usual. They didn’t give away penalties, they didn’t drop many high balls, and they kicked well from hand. They also did well at the breakdown and in the scrums, and kicked what penalty opportunities came their way.

Meanwhile Ireland won in Edinburgh, and continue to look favorites. But they do have to go to Cardiff next weekend, so the championship could well come down to points difference. It will be good to beat them anyway, because there is the matter of the Triple Crown at stake (a trophy for beating all three other “home” British/Irish countries). But to win the championship we have to end up with a bigger overall points difference than the Irish. They are currently on +46, and we are on +21. Fortunately, because we are playing each other, each +1 for us is also a -1 for them, so we need to win in Cardiff by a clear 13 points. That’s doable, but difficult.

Don’t rule out the French either. If they win at Twickenham tomorrow they will be well placed to challenge for the championship. Their points difference is only +5, but they can add to that tomorrow and have a final game against Italy. It should be a very interesting last weekend.

World Champions!

One of the things about Sevens rugby is that because the games are so short you can get lots of them in during a day. However, I wasn’t expecting the final to be played today. I was wrong. Here are the results.

Semi finals: Wales 19 – 12 Samoa; Argentina 12 – 0 Kenya.

Final: Wales 19 – 12 Argentina.

You can find a report on the game, and pictures of happy Welsh players celebrating, on the official web site.

Update: Congratulations to the Aussie girls who beat New Zealand in extra time in the women’s final. And commiserations to the USA who lost narrowly to the Kiwis in the semi-finals.

Sport and Colonialism

Today’s Guardian has an interesting article (which from the byline appears to have been written by Pakistanis) on the different attitudes towards cricket in Pakistan. Imran Kahn explains how success at cricket helped the country feel proud of itself in the past:

“The colonial hangover was removed by the cricket team,” he said. “When I started we were the generation that couldn’t possibly think of beating England. Then we began beating England. Much more important than beating other teams was to beat England because they were considered the master, the ex-colonialists. It was a country regaining its honour and pride through cricket, getting that self-esteem that colonialism destroys.”

And yet earlier this week the unthinkable happened. Pakistani terrorists attacked a a visiting cricket team, clearly intending to kill them all. Why? Because the terrorists regard cricket as a colonial import:

Among militant groups, though, cricket is considered an imperial throwback. The banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, suspected of involvement in the recent Mumbai and Lahore attacks, called upon Pakistanis to give up the sport. “The British gave Muslims the bat, snatched the sword and said to them: ‘You take this bat and play cricket. Give us your sword. With its help we will kill you and rape your women,'” the LeT said in its magazine.

The situation is similar in the rest of the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean. Some of the greatest cricketers the world has ever known have come from India, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. What is more, the most high profile domestic cricket tournament in the world – the one with the most money involved, the one that players from all over the world want to be part of – is the Indian Premier League. Australia’s players might still be on top of the world, but when money and politics are taken into account it is India that runs the game. This infuriates stuck-up Englishmen.

Clearly I’m not a Pakistani, or indeed from anywhere in the former British Empire. I have no voice in their internal debate. Some of my ancestors, however, are from a part of Britain that was conquered by the English around a thousand years ago and was treated as a colonial possession for hundreds of years. Rugby is a game that was invented in an English public school, and is very much a creation of the upper classes (lower class English people are supposed to play soccer instead). And yet rugby is a game that the Welsh took to their hearts – particularly in the coal mining valleys of the south – and is now as much a part of our national psyche as cricket is of India’s. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than beating the English. And if a bunch of religious extremists were to tell us that we had to stop playing rugby because it is a colonial import I like to think we’d give them pretty short shrift.

Wales 15-14 All Blacks

OK, so it was only Sevens, but it was the Sevens World Cup, and how often do we beat the All Blacks anyway?

For the benefit of non-rugby folks, Sevens is a 7-a-side variant of the game played on a full-size pitch which values speed and quick thinking over strength. Rather like Twenty20 cricket, it is a fast and furious game that gives less talented sides a much better chance of an upset. The quarter-finals have been played today (the matches don’t last that long because the action is non-stop and exhausting) and all four games have provided surprises. In addition to the Welsh win, Samoa beat England, Argentina beat South Africa, both in really close games, and the reigning World Champions, Fiji, were destroyed 26-7 by Kenya.

Lots of other games are going on, including a women’s tournament. Official web site here.

6 Nations Update

Scotland and Italy managed to make each other look good this afternoon. By being more on the same level, they produced a competitive game that was most notable for the fact that the Scottish backline actually scored a try (and almost scored a couple more) for the first time in what seems like several millennia. (Yes, I know they have scored some recently, but they haven’t looked like they could, save for the odd bit of Evans brilliance.) The fate of the wooden spoon now appears to have been settled. The 26-6 win by Scotland will probably be their only win of the winter, and Italy still have to play Wales and France.

The Ireland – England match was no better. Having been installed as favorites for the championship thanks to the Welsh loss last night, Ireland developed an extreme case of deer-in-the-headlights syndrome. O’Gara in particular had a dreadful game, leading me to wonder whether he was down with flu or something.

Fortunately for the Irish, Brian O’Driscoll was not going to allow them to lose, despite various attempts by English players to send him to hospital. Furthermore, the English team appeared to be determined to throw the game away. I worry about poor Martin Johnson’s blood pressure. As it turned out, England actually woke up in the last 10 minutes and the final score was 14-13. If they had played like that the whole match they would have won. As it is, that narrow result will suit Wales and France very well as the championship may be decided on points difference.

There Goes the Grand Slam

Well, these things would not be winning if they were not hard to get. And boy was that a hard-fought game.

I have no complaints. The French side were magnificent throughout. They coped well with playing part of the match with a make-shift fly half, and all of the match with a make-shift goal kicker. Their energy and commitment were faultless. Wales also played very well, and in the last 10 minutes of the match I counted four line-outs inside the French red zone. Any one of those could have resulted in a match-winning try. As it was, we lost by 5 points, and the Grand Slam dream is over for another year.

The championship, on the other hand, is still wide open. Every team except Ireland has now lost a game, but they still have to play England and Wales, each of which have lost only once. England still have to play France. There is still everything to play for, and if the rest of the championship produces games that are as bruising as this one we’ll be in for a lot of entertainment.

A Little More Rugby

It took Ireland a while to get going in Rome, but eventually they ran out easy winners 38-9. Despite the scoreline, Italy actually looked a lot better this week. Having an experienced scrum half, in the eccentrically side-burned Paul Griffen, made a world of difference. In two weeks time we have France-Wales, Ireland-England and Scotland-Italy. I think those might actually be three very close games.

6 Nations – Week 2

Today was something of a repeat of last Saturday – one joke game and one excellent one.

Scotland were a little better today than they were against Wales, thanks in no small part to the selection of the Evans brothers, but their pack is still getting beaten up a lot. Going in a game with only one specialist second row in your squad can’t be good. France, on the other hand, were largely incapable of capitalizing on their up front dominance, and the one try that they scored could have been ruled out for any number of reasons. Their 22-13 win was deserved, but only just.

England made a significant improvement on last week, and when they can get the ball to the likes of Flutie and Sackey they look a really good team. They were also superb in defense, snuffing out Welsh attacks in the red zone on a number of occasions. Joe Worsley really earned his man of the match award. And of course they scored two tries to the Welsh one.

And yet they lost, 23-15. They lost in part because the Welsh side is confident and disciplined; they lost in part because they were indisciplined; and they lost in part because they telegraphed their game plan. Some England fans will doubtless be complaining that Jonathan Kaplan favored the Welsh. I have no sympathy, and I think this should be a lesson for Martin Johnson. If you go into a game saying that you intend to bully the other team off the park, and prevent them from attacking by slowing the ball down, then the referee will be primed to look for infringements at the ruck, and will have his hand on the yellow card before the game has even started.

Next weekend there are no games, which will give you folks a bit of a break from my rugby fanaticism, and Shane Williams a chance to get his ankle right before the big game in Paris. I don’t expect the French to be as bad again. Here’s looking forward to a good game.

Mission Accomplished

For 60 minutes at Murrayfield Wales were totally dominant and playing some of the best rugby I have seen from them in ages. The fact that the scoreline was only 13-26 is due partly to some woeful place kicking from the Welsh, and partly due to wholesale substitutions on 60 minutes that caused the team to take their eye off the ball rather, and let the Scots back into the game. It could easily have been a massacre. More analysis follows..
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In Which I Am Brave and Adventurous

As per the Twitter comments, I have been outside. And returned safely with all of my limbs intact. There are parts of the sidewalks that are really treacherous underfoot, but for the most part I was able to avoid them (sometimes by walking in the road). There’s still a lot of snow on grassy areas such as the cricket ground, but otherwise it is clearing up nicely. I’m starting to feel a bit more confident about next week.

Meanwhile, I have rugby to watch. It is time to dig out the inflatable sheep leek and settle in to cheer on Ryan and the boys. Here’s hoping that they manage to avoid slipping up too.

Six Nations Kick-Off

Yes, it is that time of year again. And that means that those of you who are allergic to sports are going to have to put up with me wittering on about Wales for a few weeks. Sorry about that, but this is a personal blog. So as not to pollute too much of your screen real estate I’ll try to put the longer posts behind cuts. Here’s a preview of the first round of matches that take place today and tomorrow.
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Heineken Cup: All Sorted

After a fine weekend of rugby (albeit a wet and muddy one in many places) we finally have a quarter-final line-up for the Heineken Cup. Here it is:

  • Cardiff v Toulouse
  • Munster v Ospreys
  • Harlequins v Leinster
  • Leicester v Bath

That’s a juicy set of matches: Wales v France, Ireland v Wales, England v Ireland and one all-English clash. The Leicester-Bath game looks the most enticing, as you’d expect as the games are seeded and that’s the 4 v 5 match. Those matches, however, won’t be played until April. First there is the small matter of the Six Nations Championship to be decided.

Will: if the camera is still in good form I’d like some pin-up pictures of Mr. O’Driscoll if you please.