Rugby World Cup Kicks Off

If I wasn’t busy in Finland I would be at home watching the Women’s Rugby World Cup on TV. The first round of matches started today in Ireland. Wales had the worst possible draw, beginning their campaign against the mighty Kiwis. Naturally we got thrashed. You’d think that the next game against Canada might be easier, but actually the Canadian women are very good. Thank goodness we have Hong Kong in our group. Canada utterly destroyed them.

Elsewhere the USA got off to a winning start against Italy and England thrashed Spain. Ireland-Australia and France-Japan are being played this evening. Scotland did not qualify for the finals.

World Champions

Picture from Cricinfo

There is a hashtag that is familiar to all fans of the San Francisco Giants. That hashtag is #torture, and it refers to the way in which the Giants, three times recent World Series Champions though they might be, have tended to strew their path to victory with agonizingly tight games. England’s journey to triumph in this year’s cricket World Cup has had strong elements of that too. There was the hard-fought defense against Australia, and the last-gasp run chase against South Africa. Would the final against India produce a similarly dramatic game? Neutral fans of cricket all over the world were hoping so. The rest of us were just hoping that we’d still be breathing by the end.

Lords, I’m pleased to say, was packed. Or at least it was save for the Members’ Pavilion. Tickets available to the public were sold out, but a large space of prime viewing area is reserved for members of the MCC. There is a massive waiting list for membership, and as a consequence the majority of members are old men. They didn’t seem interested in women’s cricket. More fool them.

It was clear from the start, when the first ball from Jhulan Goswami barely managed to limp its way into the waiting gloves of Sushma Verma, that the final was not going to be a run fest. It was overcast at Lords, and while the general agreement was that Heather Knight was correct to bat first on winning the toss, Ian Bishop’s pitch inspection held out hope of conditions that would favor bowlers.

England got off to a slightly rocky start, losing three wickets for just 63, but they bat deep. Sarah Taylor and Nat Sciver, both of whom have registered big scores in previous matches, began to build a partnership. There was a brief period of rain that had the Lords ground staff looking nervous, but the umpires commendably kept the players out having been told the shower would soon pass. Then, 83 runs into the partnership, disaster struck.

Or rather, Goswami did. Taylor aimed to flick a ball off her pads, but got only the lightest of touches and the ball dropped neatly into the waiting gloves of Verma, now standing much closer to the stumps. Fran Wilson had been the batting hero of England’s loss to India in the group stages of the tournament, but Goswami was determined that wasn’t going to happen again. First ball she send a swinging yorker in that rapped Wilson on the shins plum in front. Catherine Brunt produced a dramatically solid forward defensive to prevent a hat trick, but the damage was done. Brunt, Gunn and Marsh provided some useful runs, but England could only limp to the end of their innings rather than charge.

The team talks over lunch must have been fairly straightforward. England’s total of 228 was short of what was achievable on this pitch, and rain was forecast for later in the afternoon. They needed to take wickets. India had to make sure that they stayed ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis target just in case the game was cut short. For a long time both teams failed to do what was required. England got two early breakthroughs when Anya Shrubsole bowled the out of form Smriti Mandhana for 0, and Mithali Raj was needlessly run out, but Punam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur steadied the ship. The trouble was that they did it slowly, and the required run rate was beginning to climb. Jenny Gunn, who conceded just 4 off her first four overs, was a major factor in that.

Fortunately for India, Kaur is the most destructive batter in women’s cricket, as her 171 against Australia had shown. Eventually she felt confident enough to start to cut loose. But, as so often happens, a milestone undid her. Shortly after reaching 50 she smashed a ball from Alex Hartley straight into the waiting hands of Tammy Beaumont. It was a glimmer of hope for England. From then on the match was down to who had the most belief.

A strong partnership between Raut and Veda Krishnamurthy took India to within sight of victory. Heather Knight rotated her bowlers, hoping that one of them would have that spark of magic that could create another breakthrough. Eventually she found one in Shrubsole. The first two balls of her comeback over were dispatched effortlessly to the boundary by Krishnamurthy. Then there was a single. And then a ball that rapped Raut on the pads. The Indian batters took too long to decide to ask for a review, but it wouldn’t have mattered as the umpire’s decision to give Raut lbw was sound. India needed just 37 runs. They had plenty of time, and six wickets left, but England, or rather Shrubsole, sensed victory.

Krishnamurthy tried to go deep against Shrubsole, but only found Nat Sciver on the mid wicket boundary. Verma lasted just two balls before being bowled by Hartley. Shrubsole took revenge for her Western Storm teammate, Wilson, by bowling Goswami first ball. Shikha Pandey’s run out showed that panic was setting in among the Indian batters. Their one ray of hope was 19-year-old Deepti Sharma. She looked calm and collected amidst the chaos. When she refused an easy single to keep the strike next over it looked like the act of a mature batter taking responsibility. Shrubsole, however, has way more experience and knew what to expect. A slower ball fooled Sharma who was early on the shot. Nat Sciver gratefully pouched the catch.

Even then the drama wasn’t over. India needed just 11 runs to win. They still had 11 balls in which to do it. Poonam Yadav blocked the next ball. The one after she chipped to mid off and Gunn, unbelievably, spilled a simple catch.

Shrubsole remained calm. Rajeshwari Gayakwad doesn’t bat 11 for nothing. All it needed was one good ball, and by now Anya was in the groove. The ball was delivered, Gayakwad’s stumps went flying, and the stadium erupted.

Figures of 6 for 46 easily earned Shrubsole the Player of the Match award. I may have noted that she was born in Bath and plays for Somerset and Western Storm. Tammy Beaumont, having the biggest run haul, was voted Player of the Tournament. Heather Knight, in her first major tournament as captain, got to lift the trophy.

For India it was a case of so near and yet so far. They have twice got to the World Cup final, and lost both times. For them the key moment was their heroic demolition of Australia. That got the attention of the media back home, and was a major reason why the TV audience for the final was 50 million. Here’s hoping that the BCCI now invests in the younger members of the squad (Raj and Goswami will both be retiring soon) to ensure that they are even better prepared next time.

If you would like a far better report than mine of the day, I warmly recommend Melinda Farrell’s piece for Cricinfo.

So there we have it. Women’s cricket has proved conclusively that it can deliver top class entertainment and superb skill. The Kia T20 league will be starting soon, though sadly I will be in Finland for much of it. Here’s hoping that the media continues to take interest.

Of course in all such things we have to remain vigilant. England’s women rugby players are also world champions. Doubtless they too expected life to be onwards an upwards from then on. But today the news broke that the RFU has cancelled all of their contracts. Apparently they think they don’t need to pay their players between now and the next world cup. For all the glory that women on the pitch might garner, it can mean nothing if that doesn’t result in more women in management.

Update: I am reliably informed by someone who was at the match that the Members Pavilion at Lords is inhabited primarily by the older (mostly over 60) MCC members. There is also a Members area in the New Warner Stand, and this is inhabited by the younger (mostly in their 50s) MCC members; the sort who might take their families to a game. This area was very well populated, so clearly there is hope for MCC in the future.

Olympic Rugby Catch Up

Well that was a pretty good start to rugby’s place in the Olympics.

Congratulations are due to the Canadian women for getting a surprise bronze medal. I didn’t see the game, but apparently it was an inept performance by GB. Congratulations also to the Aussies for grabbing the gold off New Zealand.

The past few days have been taken up with the men’s tournament. The Americans ended up 9th, having narrowly lost to both Argentina and Fiji, and missing making the quarter finals by just a single point. Still, they have no one but themselves to blame after a dreadful error in the last minute lost them the game against Argentina. No shame losing to Fiji, of course. In fact running them so close is heroic.

The quarter finals produced some of the best Sevens rugby I have seen in a long time. Fiji held off a spirited second half fight back from New Zealand. Japan scored in the last minute to beat France (having previously beaten New Zealand in the group stage). GB beat Argentina in extra time after an epic defensive duel that ended 0-0 at full time. Only South Africa’s demolition of Australia was dull.

The semi-finals saw GB involved in another titanic struggle, finally beating South Africa 7-5. Fiji crushed brave Japan and went on the cruise through the final as well. It was expected, but no less delightful for all that. Rugby is Fiji’s national sport, and that gold was the first Olympic medal the country has ever won.

Go Eagles!

As some of you may have noticed, there is an important sporting event going in Brazil on at the moment. Yes, it is an international rugby sevens tournament. There may be some other sports going on too, but we don’t care about them, do we?

Anyway, the ladies’ tournament has been happening over the past few days. Most of the usual suspects have got through the semi-finals, but I want to focus on the USA team.

The Eagles (USA uses the same team name for all genders) were unlucky to be drawn in a pool with Australia and Fiji. Bearing in mind that Fiji are past world champions and one of the favorites for the men’s title, that’s a tough group. Nevertheless, the Eagles managed to hold Australia to a 12-12 draw, which earned them a place in the quarter finals as one of the best 3rd place teams. There they faced New Zealand, and only lost 5-0. The Kiwis had destroyed all of their previous opponents (including France), so that was a really great performance by the Americans.

Kudos also to Canada who beat Fiji in their quarter-final and go forward to a semi-final against Australia. Britain are in the other semi-final, but I expect an Australia-New Zealand final.

The men’s tournament begins tomorrow, and the US team has drawn Fiji, Argentina and Brazil in their group. Given their performances on the sevens circuit of late, they should go through to the quarter-finals from that group.

Some Sportsball Congratulations

Or, in the first case, sportspuck. Huge congratulations to the San José Sharks for making it to the Stanley Cup final. It has been a long time since I have been to the Shark Tank, but I haven’t forgotten. Go get ’em, boys!

Also congratulations to Bristol Rugby on finally making it back to the Premiership. Of course this means that you will be up against the Mighty Bath, but that’s only two games a year you’ll lose, right?

A Rugby Legend #RIPJonah

Not Welsh, but absolutely one of the greatest players ever to grace a rugby field. Lomu had great speed for a big man, but he also didn’t believe much in skipping around defenders. He ran through them, ran over them, and in some cases kept on running with tacklers hanging onto him. We won’t see his like again for many a year.

International reaction and tributes seem to be being best done by the Telegraph.

Thanks to Jon Courtney Grimwood for finding the great YouTube posting I used above.

Hardcore Rugby

Welsh flag
Today saw the latest round of Six Nations matches, headlined by the Wales-Ireland game. Having foolishly lost their opening game to England, Wales needed to beat the undefeated Irish in order to stay in with a chance of winning the championship. Short version, they did it, but it was a magnificent game.

Defense rarely gets the respect it deserves, but I think it is fair to say that defense won the match for Wales today. US readers may need reminding that in rugby the clock doesn’t stop when the ball-carrier is tackled. Your linemen have to get up there, secure the ball, and start a new down with no rest. Equally the opposition has to be ready for the next play, and above all not commit a penalty because is rugby that results in a turnover.

Well today the Wales defense withstood 28 consecutive downs inside their own red zone, before Ireland made a mistake. It was titanic.

So going into the final weekend we have England, Ireland and Wales all on three wins. None of them play each other. In the event of more than one team finishing on the same number of wins, the tie-breaker is points difference (points scored – points conceded). The current status is Eng 37, Ire 33, Wal 12. Ireland are the favorites because they play bottom-of-the-table Scotland. However, Wales have a chance of running up a big score against Italy. England have to play France, but they are the only one of the three with a home game. It should be a great weekend.

A Brush With Celebrity

The Bath event was for a biography with Gareth Thomas, who is one of the UK’s most famous gay men. Obviously he’s not in the same league as Elton John and Ian McKellen, but for reasons that should become obvious he has a huge impact.

Gareth’s story is pretty much the same as any other LGBT person’s. It involves being lonely and desperate as a kid, being afraid to tell your friends and family the truth, and being afraid of what will happen if they find out. It involves suicide attempts. And eventually there is a coming out tale. What make’s Gareth’s story unique is that he had been captain of the Welsh national rugby team, and was still playing professionally when he came out to the public.

Well so what? Probably only my Kiwi friends an understand what this meant in Wales. For the rest of you, imagine if it has been Brett Farve (USA), Wayne Gretsky (Canada) or Adam Gilchrist (Australia). Thomas isn’t an actor or a pop star — the sort of career that gay men are supposed to have. He’s not an ice dancer, or even into something fairly non-contact like baseball. Yes, he was a top sportsman, but he was also an acknowledged leader, a national icon, and a player in a sport that is well known for the physical contact and bravery required of its players.

I could see the effect of that at work last night. We often talk about how out LGBT folks should stand up and be counted so as to be an example to others. I try to do that myself, but I’m not convinced that it makes much difference to the world. I rather suspect that a lot of people think it is just more shameless self-promotion on my part. It is also true that I’m too old, too ugly and too weird (science fiction, ewwww!) to be of any use in the mainstream media. For Gareth Thomas it is a very different matter. There wasn’t a huge crowd (though this was apparently his second event in Bath that day), but afterwards just about everyone who came to get his book signed wanted to talk to him about how much he had meant to them. I imagine that he gets that everywhere he goes. That’s amazing.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the book. Also, having heard Gareth tell his story, I am even more proud of those teammate such as Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams who stood by him so loyally through a very difficult time. Welsh rugby: it is awesome.

Unleash The Dragons!

Welsh flag Yes, it is Six Nations time of year again. I said on the BCFM Sports Show last weekend that I’m backing Wales to win, and on paper they should. They won the last two years, and a threepeat is something even the great Welsh side of the 1970s failed to achieve. But I worry. There is a huge amount of behind-the-scenes nonsense going on in Welsh rugby at the moment — basically stupid old men in blazers arguing over money and chest-puffing rights — and I can’t help thinking it will affect the players. Fortunately we have a fairly easy start with a home game against Italy, but it gets hard very soon after that.

By far the most interesting game of the weekend is France v England. The French were hopeless last year, and can’t afford to be that bad again. That, of course, means major changes in the side, which would be bad if the English side wasn’t even less experienced, even more experimental. Both nations probably see the tournament as the first step in their campaign for the 2015 World Cup. It could be a bumpy season for both sides, or their young guns could rise to the occasion.

Every year people say there is hope for Scotland and Italy, and most years they are wrong. They have a few class players such as Stuart Hogg and Sergio Parisse, but I don’t think either country has enough strength in depth to mount a serious challenge.

And so to Ireland, who last year came so close to defeating the mighty All Blacks. It is Brian O’Driscoll’s last year, and they’ll want to give him a good send-off. They have a very experienced squad. I expect them to steamroller Scotland in Dublin on Sunday. If they can follow that up with a home win over Wales next weekend they will be very well placed to secure the title.

In Which I Invent A Game

Yesterday was pretty miserable for sport. Wales threw away a very good half time lead to lose the Junior Rugby World Cup Final to England, and after a great deal of faffing around with the weather England contrived to lose the Champions’ Trophy Final to India. Thanks to the rain, however, and a bit of prompting from Dru Marland, I managed to invent a new game. It is called Edgbaston, and it goes like this.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the famous game of Mornington Crescent, based on the London Underground system. Well Edgbaston works a bit like that. The players take it in turns to name an English cricket ground. The first one to name a ground where it is not raining wins. As I am sure you can see, this can be very difficult.

Union Cup – The Audio

As with most local radio stations, BCFM has a “listen again” feature that allows you to listen to their shows after they have been broadcast. Consequently everything we did on Saturday is online. However, the process is automated, which means no show notes, and because we didn’t follow the usual Saturday schedule the titles of the shows are a bit of a mess.

The live coverage of the finals are in the Saturday Sports Show, which my co-commentator, Paul Davis, usually hosts. You can find the two hours of that show here. As the two games lasted a bit longer than 2 hours our commentary continues into the slot normally shared with Nia’s Chart Show from Ujima. After the 15s final finished we are in the studio interviewing people.

During the morning various interviews of mine got played. I haven’t had a chance to listen to everything yet, but I know I’m in the studio of the second hour of Clane’s Saturday Breakfast, reviewing Friday’s matches and looking forward to the day’s play. I’m also interviewing Mark Sampson of the Vixens, and later in the studio, during the second hour of Fin’s 100% Best of Bristol.

During the day we got email from someone in the south of France, presumably a Montpelier fan, thanking us for the coverage. I see that there is now a comment on the Sports Show page from an Emerald Warriors player who was in South Africa during the tournament. I’m delighted that we were able to give the Union Cup such good international coverage.

Union Cup – Some Photos

I managed to find the time to take a few photos during the Union Cup festivities. Sadly most of those from the awards ceremony didn’t come out to well (which was partly my fault for trying to avoid getting showered in champagne), but hopefully you’ll get a sense of the event.

I should add here my thanks to the Vixens for the use of their Pavilion, particular the community liaison office in which we built our studio.

[shashin type=”album” id=”57″ size=”medium”]

Those are my pictures. I’d like to add one more that turned up on Facebook. This is me with my new best mates, the Dark Horses of Lisbon.

Lisbon Dark Horses

Union Cup – Day 2

Saturday began early for me with an appearance on Clane’s Breakfast Show. The BCFM studio was up and running at the ground and we were broadcasting live all day. Show’s such as Clane’s needed sports experts to bring in to talk about the tournament, and that meant Paul Davis and myself. We contributed a review of the previous day’s play, and looked forward to an exciting final day.

After grabbing some breakfast myself, I was faced by a terrible choice. I very much wanted to see my Portuguese friends play. I wanted to cheer on Cardiff Lions in their Plate semifinal against London Steelers 2nds. But what I had to do was watch what I expected to be one of the best matches of the day, the Cup semi final between Dublin and Manchester.

These were two of the top teams in the tournament. The Emerald Warriors had got maximum points from their league play, but had never beaten the Spartans before. It should have been close, but it wasn’t. Dublin won 27-0, and that margin of victory was to a large extent due to the quality of their goal kicker, Dave Matthews. Dublin is the only side that I saw in the tournament happy to take pots at goal after a penalty rather than run the ball or go for the touchline. Matthews put one over from almost on the half way line. He was going to be a serious threat in the final.

After the game I rushed over to pitch 2 to check on the score from the Plate semi final. I was delighted to find that the Cardiff boys had got the job done, defeating the Steelers 2nds by a score of 10-5. In the final they would play Amsterdam Lowlanders who had put an end to the fine run of Northampton Outlaws in their debut tournament.

Meanwhile the Bristol Academy Ladies had arrived at the ground for a final training session prior to leaving for Doncaster and their FA Cup Final against Arsenal. I managed to get an interview with their manager, Mark Sampson, once they were done.

Let me say that again. I got to interview the manager of the local soccer team prior to their leaving to play in the FA Cup Final. Yes, it was a ladies team, but wow.

Paul was still busy checking out the potential finalists. Newcastle Ravens had had a good run, but in their semi final they got to see a very serious team in action. London Steelers put 45 points past the hapless Ravens, and affirmed their status as tournament favorites.

Having got my interview filed with the studio, I headed over to pitch two where I provided Twitter commentary on the Spoon final between Bristol and Berlin. It was a close fought affair. The Bisons scored two tries, made an amazing conversion from wide on the right, and had plenty of possession in good attacking positions. Unfortunately they kept spilling the ball at vital moments. The final score was 19-12 to the Germans.

I don’t think that the Bisons should be too disheartened. Though they lost all of their games, none of them were blowouts, and all but the Berlin game were to teams who placed in the Plate or Cup finals. They scored five tries, and clearly have an excellent kicker. I really like their scrum half too, though the rest of the team sometimes struggle to keep up with him. Besides, they have an trophy from the weekend. And it is not an actual wooden spoon.

On pitch one Paul had been watching the Bowl Final, in which Edinburgh Thebans defeated the Rebelyons from Lyons by a score of 34-7. The Scots boys, having a trophy in the bag, proceeded to stock up on beer and copies of the Bisons calendar, and camp by the side of the pitch underneath our commentary position. They got steadily louder through the afternoon.

I got to make a brief studio appearance to report on the morning’s events, then it was off to the commentary position for the first live game: the 10s Final between Dublin Emerald Warriors 10s and Los Valents of Montpelier. The French side had been the best team in the 10s field all weekend, but with the sun on their backs they turned on the afterburners. What Paul and I had hoped would be a close game turned into a 50-0 blowout. Still, it was good practice for us, and the French were very good indeed.

My colleagues on the ShoutOut team kept me supplied with regular score updates from pitch two where the Plate Final, between Cardiff and Amsterdam, was underway. Much to my delight, the Welsh boys had the game well under control, running in four tries for a 20-0 win. Go Lions!

George Ferguson, Bristol’s Elected Mayor, turned up in the afternoon to watch the finals, and did an interview with our team, before heading off to another civic event.

And so we came to the main event of the day, the 15s final between the Kings Cross Steelers of London and the Emerald Warriors of Dublin . The Irish boys got off to a quick start and were soon presented with a scoring chance when the Steelers’ defense was penalized. Dave Matthews stepped up to take the kick, but just missed.

The Londoners then took control of the ball and spent much of the first half camped in their opponents’ 22. Time after time they launched attacks against the Irish line, but the defense held firm. After a series of failed back moves, the Steelers tried a pick-and-go strategy instead. They charged around the base of the ruck, alternating left and right, and finally, just before half time, they crashed in for a score. That was converted so at half time they held a slender 7-0 lead.

The second half proceeded much as the first had done. The Steelers dominated possession and territory, and while they were out of the Irish half they didn’t need to worry about Matthews’ boot. Penalties did get conceded but the London forwards were adept at spoiling Irish lineouts (as they had wrecked the Lions lineout when they played them in the group stage). Without the ball, the Emerald Warriors could not score, and eventually the Steelers managed to breach their defense for a well-taken try. It was a very close game, but the Steelers certainly deserved their 12-0 win.

The second half was interrupted by a serious injury to one of the Steelers players. We actually had an ambulance on the pitch for several minutes. There was no word from the hospital by the end of the day, but our best wishes go to Giles Gale for a speedy recovery.

After the game I dragged the Steelers’ captain, Chris Buckmaster, into the studio for an interview, and Mary found a couple of Frenchmen for us to talk to. We also spoke to Kevin Bartlett, a veteran of gay rugby who played in the first ever all-gay game between Manchester Spartans and London Steelers in 1995. Kevin refereed the final this year, and I’m pleased to report that our players were much better behaved than those in another rugby final taking place that day.

The feedback we got from the rest of the crew was very positive. Paul admits he’s not a rugby expert, but he’s a sports expert and can pick games up quickly. He’s also very good at radio. I was in awe of the way he always had some smooth patter available when there was a lull in the action. I’m sure we made some mistakes. The biggest one I know of is that we were so busy finding things to talk about during the injury break that we missed poor Giles being put into the ambulance.

I also note that commentating on rugby is so much easier when you have a TV screen in front of you. It is really hard to know what is going on in ruck when it is 70m away.

With the games over, the only thing left in the day was the closing ceremony. The Bisons kindly offered to let us present one of the trophies. Most of the team weren’t that much interested in rugby, and we were all very tired, so I volunteered. The ceremony took place in The Vault, a night club in Old Market, Bristol’s gay quarter. Rugby players, it seems, are not big on night clubs. What they wanted was beer. The Bear Bar was doing a roaring trade, and we only moved on when it was time for speeches.

As with the rest of the tournament, things went very smoothly. The ceremony was hosted by Miss Demeanour, a local drag queen (who also played for the Bisons – even our drag queens are tough in Bristol). Special thanks were given to Michallis “Mike” Sanidas, the Bisons’s chair, and David Aird, the tournament director. The best speech came from Ian Boulton, who looks like he ought to have been a good rugby player in his youth. He talked about avoiding the game as a boy because of the lack of role models. Here he had hundreds of them to pick from.

Because they are lovely folks, Mike and David allowed me to present the 15s Plate trophy to the Cardiff Lions. This won’t mean much to you folks, but given the amount of time I have spent screaming myself hoarse at the TV during Wales rugby matches, I hope you’ll understand how much it meant to me to be able to present a rugby trophy to a Welsh club. It was a special moment.

A couple more results were announced. Amsterdam won the Fair Play Award, and Brussels won the right to stage the 2015 tournament (in a process remarkably reminiscent of Worldcon site selection). Although the 10s competition only had 4 teams, they still awarded Plate, Cup and Spoon trophies. That meant that Birmingham Bulls went home with something, which is great because they are a new club and had skipped their local Pride weekend to come and play. Here are winners:

  • 15s Cup – Kings Cross Steelers (England)
  • 15s Plate – Cardiff Lions (Wales)
  • 15s Bowl – Calendonian Thebans (Scotland)
  • 15s Spoon – Bristol Bisons (England)
  • 10s Cup – Los Valents Montpelier (France)
  • 10s Plate – Dublin Emerald Warriors (Ireland)
  • 10s Bowl – Lisbon Dark Horses (Portugal)
  • 10s Spoon – Birmingham Bulls (England)
  • Fair Play Award – Amsterdam Lowlanders (The Netherlands)

My thanks again to Mike, David and the rest of the Bisons for letting us cover their fabulous tournament. Thanks also to Mary, Andy and the crew from ShoutOut, and to Paul for letting me commentate with him. Finally thanks to the Cardiff Lions for giving me something to cheer about.

Union Cup – Day 1

Last night I attended the launch party for the Union Cup, which was held at Bristol’s science museum, @Bristol, an extraordinary venue which I must visit again and report on in detail. The party was a fascinating experience. There were around 500 people present, of whom only 4 were women. Almost all of the men were gay, and very few looked anything like the mincing stereotype that the national media still trots out whenever gay issues get mentioned. Kudos is due to Peter Williams, the Chair of Gloucestershire Rugby Football Union, who made the opening speech, stressing rugby’s support of the tournament and its commitment to inclusivity.

The tournament got underway today with a ceremonial first kick by Ian Boulton, the Chair of South Gloucestershire Council, and the equivalent of the mayor for the region in which the Stoke Gifford sports campus is located. WISE Campus is home to Bristol Academy and boasts the only purpose-built ladies’ soccer stadium in the country. There’s even a little statue of a vixen with a football at the entrance to the ground. It also has three rugby pitches, and we used them all.

As might be expected, the standard of rugby varied enormously. Some teams were very professional, while others had never played a competitive match before. All of the teams, however, were out to do their best, and there was no shortage of aggression. In the very first game a Newcastle Ravens player left the field with a dislocated shoulder (rough lot, those Bisons). I saw several other shoulder injuries during the day; a Bisons player limped off with an ankle injury, and I heard rumor of a broken arm. Pride of place in the tough guy stakes goes to Matt, the fly half for Manchester Village Spartans, who took a boot to the face in his first game. After a quick trip to hospital for some stitches just above his eyebrows, he was back in action for game two.

There was plenty of needle too. In the first five minutes of their game against Cardiff Lions, the London Steelers were twice penalized for foul play, including a vicious clothesline tackle that left the Welsh player flat out on the field for a couple of minutes. Later on the referee stopped the game for five minutes while he gave the teams a good talking to and got them to calm down.

The conditions made play difficult at times. The wind was very strong and several times I saw players kick the ball only to see it blown back over their heads. Although there were some competent kickers, not once did I see a penalty attempt at goal. Everyone tried to keep the ball in hand, but the cold temperatures and occasional fierce rain squalls made that difficult too. We are all hoping for better weather tomorrow.

There was, of course, plenty of excellent rugby, and a nail-biting finish to the day. The teams in the 15-a-side tournament had been divided into four groups. Each team played three matches, mostly in-group, with points being scored according to a system of 4 for a win, 2 for a draw, plus bonus points for 4 tries and losing by 7 or less. At the end of the day all of the teams were combined into a single table. London, Dublin and Manchester qualified for the final being unbeaten in their groups, but there was a three-way tie for fourth place and a tense wait while Dave Aird, the tournament director, counted up points scored for and against in matches. In the end Newcastle Ravens just pipped Cardiff Lions, with Northampton Outlaws, in their first ever competition, finishing a very creditable sixth.

In the 10-a-side content Dublin and Montpelier were clearly the form teams. The French team is unbeaten, and will be expecting to vanquish the Irish again tomorrow. My new best friends, the Lisbon Dark Horses, will be delighted with a win over Birmingham Bulls.

As with rugby sevens, the tournament will feature additional playoff games for lesser trophies. Cardiff and Northampton will be joined in the Plate contest by the London 2nd XV and the Amsterdam Lowlanders. The Bowl will be fought over by Stockholm Berserkers, Brussels Straffe Ketten, Edinburgh Thebans and Lyons Rebelyons. The Spoon match will be between Berlin Bruisers and Bristol Bisons.

Although the Bisons lost all three matches, they can count themselves somewhat unlucky. They were not expected to beat Newcastle, but the Northampton Outlaws were very much the surprise team of the tournament. They had never played a competitive game before, and came within a whisker of making the finals. Bristol’s third game was against an experienced Amsterdam side that had only narrowly lost to Brussels.

Much as it pains me to admit it, I am fairly sure that London will come away with the cup again tomorrow. However, Dublin and Manchester are both fine sides. The Irish have come to Bristol with the firm intention of winning both tournaments, and have a group play record as good as London’s, but Manchester had to play a game against Newcastle. The Spartans have a proud tradition in gay rugby, having hosted the world’s first ever such match in 1995. They’ll be determined to make the final again.

Whatever happens, we can be guaranteed a lot of exciting rugby. Bristol’s Mayor, George Ferguson, will be joining us at the ground for the finals. I’ll be doing live commentary, alongside my new friend, Paul Davis, who runs BCFM’s sports show. We’ll also be doing the sports show live from the ground, covering all the day’s action (including the test cricket and the Monaco Grand Prix), and previewing Sunday’s Woman’s FA Cup Final. You can follow all of the action over the Internet via the BCFM website.

Yesterday On Ujima

Yesterday’s radio show was a lot of fun. I spent the first half hour of the show talking to the very talented Jack Wolf about his amazing new novel, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones. The book is full of fascinating 18th Century history, and some rather nasty faeries. Have a listen to learn more, including how Britain has been changing to fit in with Europe for hundreds of years. And if you happen to be part of the Crawford Award advisory group, I’ll be bugging you about this one.

The second half of the show opens up with a discussion of the forthcoming Union Cup gay rugby tournament. After that I chat to Annie Heatherson of Bristol Academy about the team’s forthcoming FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Go Vixens! It was a great half hour, with much silliness. Listen here.

Of course now you will be wondering about that team song. Here is the full version of the video, which includes the Mayor doing the shoes off thing in front of City Hall, and a guest appearance from Michu.

So, Monaco Grand Prix and Bristol in the FA Cup Final. Sunday is going to be mad.

Here Come The Aggressive Homosexuals

Union CupThis week the UK media is full of stories about how aggressive gays will be sneaking into your bedroom at night to wreck your marriage, corrupt your kids, turn your wife into a feminist, force you to marry your dog, and otherwise promote their evil agenda, at the behest of the masters in Brussels. Will no one think of the rich, white, cis, straight Englishmen? Surely they are the most put upon minority in the country.

On the bright side, Norman Tebbit has clearly been watching too much Doctor Who.

All of this, however, pales into insignificance to what will be going on in Bristol over the next few days. If you want to see aggressive homosexuals, we have hundreds of them. The city will be playing host to the 2013 Union Cup, the European Gay Rugby championships.

Let me say that again. European. Gay. Rugby. Championships.

So yes, this weekend around 500 gay rugby players and their fans will descend upon Bristol from all over Europe. There’s a grand opening ceremony on Thursday evening, and two full days of competition on Friday and Saturday. The official broadcast partners of the event are Shout Out, and guess who is helping cover the event for them?

OK, I know they are all gay. But that just means I get to spend the weekend with a bunch of super-fit guys without Kevin having to worry. It’s perfect. I will, of course, be cheering for our local heroes, the Bristol Bisons, though I may also find time to encourage the Cardiff Lions. My parents always wanted me to play rugby for Wales, and I am a serious disappointment to them in that regard, but this weekend I get to make my debut as a rugby commentator. I’m pretty happy about that.

Sorry, what was that, boys? Yes, of course there is a calendar.

The Patrick Ness Interview & Union Cup

Last night’s edition of Shout Out is now available online. You can find their Listen Again service here. There are no direct links to shows, so make sure you look for April 11th. Alternatively, here’s the mp3.

The interview starts around 33 minutes in. If you are a rugby fan and want to learn more about the European Gay Rugby tournament that Bristol will be hosting in May, listen to the whole thing.

Oh, why yes, Shout Out is the official broadcast partner of the Union Cup. And they do happen to have a rugby expert on the team. Thank you for noticing. 🙂