Tag Archives: antagonism

Twickenham crowd must match Welsh noise makers – Chris Foy

Crowd at HQ must roar to silence wails of the Welsh



23:22 GMT, 6 December 2012

It must be some kind of record. Almost three years before England v Wales at the next World Cup and the mutual antagonism is already evident.

When the draw was made on Monday for the
2015 tournament, Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis caught
the host nation on the hop by offering to stage the Pool A clash between
the old foes in Cardiff. England’s stunned response was of the ‘thanks,
but no thanks’ variety.

Let’s cut through the sabre-rattling here. The game will not take place in Cardiff. That scenario is unthinkable. It is England’s event and although much is made of the organisers being independent of the RFU, conceding home advantage to their near neighbours is a non-starter.

Turn it up: Twickenham Stadium needs to bring the noise against Wales

Turn it up: Twickenham Stadium needs to bring the noise against Wales

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The Millennium Stadium will be used as a World Cup venue on the simple basis that it suits English requirements. It satisfies the need for a geographical spread of matches. The West Country has a passion for rugby but lacks big stadiums, so taking games to Cardiff ticks a strategic box.

While there is no realistic prospect of England v Wales taking place there, Lewis will lobby strongly for the Millennium Stadium to host Wales v Australia. He will press his point on the basis that the home of Welsh rugby is ‘the best rugby stadium in the world’. He’s right. It is.

Located in the heart of Cardiff, on matchdays it is the heart of Cardiff, with a loud pulse all of its own. Twickenham is bigger, but the Millennium’s stands are steeper and closer, creating an intensity of atmosphere which is enhanced when the roof is shut.

So much is about the people. In Cardiff, there is fervent support, in London it is more passive.

Many Twickenham patrons turn up to be entertained, as if at the opera, while their Welsh counterparts embrace an interactive experience. There are contrasting demographics and they create a contrasting backdrop.

England’s players talk dutifully of wonderful support, but in truth they largely have to perform for their crowd, rather than feed off vocal backing.

Even when the hordes responded to the Haka last Saturday by singing Swing Low, there was one full-throttle rendition, then an almost apologetic second take which petered out into murmuring near-silence.

Ultimately, the England v Wales pool game at the World Cup won’t be staged at the Millennium, but perhaps the away players from the ‘host’ nation would be more inspired by the commotion if it was.

Commotion: There is normally a great atmosphere in the Millenium Stadium

Commotion: There is normally a great atmosphere in the Millenium Stadium

How are the Lions looking

Now that the dust has settled on the autumn Tests, it’s another opportune moment to predict how the Lions might line up for their first Test against Australia in June.

Based partly on form and partly on long-standing personal preference, a possible matchday 23 is listed below. One striking factor is the physical power of what would surely be the most imposing threequarter line the Lions have ever mustered, plus a bench role for that great wasted Welsh talent, James Hook.

Chris Foy’s latest Lions matchday Test squad: Halfpenny; Visser, Tuilagi, Roberts, North; Sexton, B Youngs; Healy, Hartley, Cole; Parling, Gray; Wood, Heaslip, Warburton (capt). Replacements: Best, Corbisiero, A Jones, Lawes, Robshaw, Phillips, Hook, Foden.

Wasted talent: Chris Foy would include James Hook on the bench

Wasted talent: Chris Foy would include James Hook on the bench

Captain Chris tackles his critics

Among modern sporting cliches, ‘he does his talking on the pitch’ is particularly well-worn, but it was a fitting summary of Chris Robshaw’s defiant work last weekend.

He had been lambasted for a close call at the end of England’s defeat against South Africa, but the national captain presented a stoic face and responded with stirring deeds in the epic win over New Zealand.

Once again, his leadership was confirmed by the raft of post-match data, which showed he was England’s leading carrier and second in the tackle count, with 19, missing none. What was most illuminating was that Robshaw hit 27 rucks, while blindside flanker Tom Wood led that list with 39.

This indicates that the back-row balance was right. Put these two together and they cover all bases required of a 6-7 combination, with a blurring of the demarcation lines, which works well.

This may present problems for Tom Croft when he is fit to press for a recall, as the rangy Tiger is a different beast entirely and his lesser impact at the breakdown means he may struggle to break up the Wood-Robshaw axis.

Stepping up: Chris Robshaw showed his worth against the All Blacks

Stepping up: Chris Robshaw showed his worth against the All Blacks

The Last Word

One of the most daunting challenges for World Cup organisers will be to sell out large stadiums in the north, but it appears the RFU aren’t rushing to assist. There have been suggestions that, prior to the tournament, a major Test could be relocated to a northern venue such as Old Trafford, but that concept now appears to be on ice. The reason is — shock, horror — money.

RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie said: ‘There are financial imperatives. If Xmillion doesn’t come in because we don’t play at Twickenham, how many regional development officers is that worth I don’t think we would be dashing to do it (play in the north).

Also, is a single match really going to transform things’

First of all, it is outrageously simplistic to say moving a Test up north = less revenue = reduction in grass-roots funding. The RFU spend a lot of money on a lot of things, not just development officers. Old Trafford’s capacity is only 6,000 below Twickenham’s and it has ample corporate facilities, so why not take a modest monetary ‘hit’ for the good of the game The answer is tied up in considerations such as the debenture scheme at HQ, which discourages an ‘away-day’ Test.

Ritchie cannot dismiss that concept, then argue — as he did — that taking the Saxons up north is a viable solution. Only the senior team against ‘A’-list rivals will have the desired effect.

Patrice Evra set to face Liverpool – Mike Phelan

Evra set to face Kop as Phelan confirms defender won't get preferential treatment

Manchester United assistant boss Mike Phelan has confirmed Patrice Evra will not be spared the trial of playing at Anfield on Saturday.

United's FA Cup fourth-round tie with Liverpool will be the first time they have faced their old rivals since Evra levelled racism allegations at Luis Suarez that ended with the Uruguay forward landing an eight-match ban.

Suarez will still be suspended this weekend, a fact that is only likely to heighten the normal antagonism for United from the Kop.

In the firing line: Evra is set to face Liverpool for the first time since the race row

In the firing line: Evra is set to face Liverpool for the first time since the race row

Earlier this season, Sir Alex Ferguson left Wayne Rooney out of his starting line-up to face Liverpool due to the adverse reaction the striker receives in his home city, whilst last season, the United boss did not even take his star forward to former club Everton.

However, it seems Evra, likely to continue as captain in the absence of Nemanja Vidic with a season-ending injury, will be involved.

'It wouldn't be a consideration,' said Phelan, when asked by BBC Radio Manchester whether United had thought about leaving Evra out.

Banned: Suarez is serving a nine-game suspension

Banned: Suarez is serving a nine-game suspension

'Patrice Evra is a football player who plays for Manchester United.

'If he is fit, he is considered to play like any other player.

'What has happened has happened. What has been said has been said.

'You are talking about a football match now and I think it will be a very good FA Cup tie.'

United will head to Liverpool fresh from wins at Manchester City and Arsenal in their last two away games, but beset by injury.

In addition to Vidic, Darren Fletcher and long-term absentees Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young and Michael Owen, Nani is likely to miss out with a foot problem, whilst Rio Ferdinand is not expected to recover from a back complaint.

Of Phil Jones there is better news, with the teenager making a rapid recovery from an ankle problem Ferguson said on Sunday would keep him out for a number of weeks. It is not certain Jones will be fit for Saturday.

However, it would be a major bonus for United given the form he has shown since a 17million summer arrival from Blackburn.

'We are quietly surprised with what Phil has contributed so far this season,' said Phelan.

'What we intended to do was blood him in nicely and bring him through bit by bit. But he has hit the ground running.'

Steve Kean winning over Blackburn Rovers boo-boys

Lambasted Kean slowly but surely winning over Blackburn boo-boys

He has yet to be asked for a wave or serenaded as one of a kind, but Steve Kean may not be far away from quelling the uprising among Blackburn followers and finally winning them over.

It seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago, when antagonism towards the Blackburn manager was so personal and extreme that visiting Everton boss David Moyes abandoned an Ewood Park scouting mission at half-time and headed home in disgust.

As Moyes was able to testify, after admitting his Everton side were ‘lucky’ to escape with a point against rejuvenated Blackburn at Goodison Park on Saturday, the public perception of Kean is at last taking a turn for the better.

Rival Scots: Moyes (left) and Kean (right) came up against each other at the weekend

Rival Scots: Moyes (left) and Kean (right) came up against each other at the weekend

Owners Venky’s may still be facing the wrath of disgruntled fans, but there has been a gradual change in attitude towards Kean that has not gone unnoticed in the Blackburn dressing room.

‘I can sense there has been a shift in the mood over the last couple of games,’ said former England midfielder David Dunn. ‘The fans have kept everything out of the ground and have seen a bit of a reward in the results. Through that, the players are getting more confidence back.

‘I’m a big believer that if you’re playing with confidence you can perform as you want to. That was evident against Everton. It was probably the best we have played all season. We played as a team, looked very solid, created chances and looked strong.

‘Sometimes it is difficult to keep your spirit up, certainly with what’s going on off the pitch, so credit to the lads. Let’s be honest, we’re not talking of experienced players, in the main, here. Barring a couple of us, we’re talking young men who haven’t played too many games.

‘But everything they’re being told, they’re taking in, and it looks as if we have some good young lads in there.

Spirited: Blackburn have improved over the last couple of weeks

Spirited: Blackburn have improved over the last couple of weeks

‘Some of the performances recently have been really good. The manager, the players, the owners and even the fans have had their share of criticism, but it’s important we all stay strong and stick together. Blackburn is renowned for being a family club, and we need to keep hold of that.’

Kean has grown used to jeers and catcalls raining down on him but appears to have turned the tables after taking points from Anfield, Old Trafford and now Goodison Park. Each results was met with derision from the sidelines, but it was all aimed at Blackburn’s opponents.

There are still issues to be dealt with, though, not least QPR and Tottenham target Chris Samba’s reluctance to accept he will not be allowed to leave during the current transfer window.

Samba was deemed unfit mentally to play on Saturday, and Kean is about to find out whether the unhappy defender’s suitors have heeded last week’s warning to back off.

Wantaway: Chris Samba

Wantaway: Chris Samba

‘I told the directors I didn’t want to know, leading up to the game, if there had been any more bids for him,’ said Kean. ‘But at the start of next week, I’ll sit down with them and ask where we are at on that front.

‘We’re not selling him. It’s as simple as that. He just needs to get his head together now, and he’ll be back on the training ground next week. There has been interest in previous windows, but once they have closed, he has been excellent and got back to his work. Hopefully, he will react the same way this time.’

With Louis Saha struggling up front and receiving little support from midfield or the flanks, Everton desperately need an attacking spark from somewhere before the transfer window shuts.

‘We needed players to make things happen for us, but no-one seemed able to,’ said manager David Moyes. ‘I thought young Shane Duffy was our best player. He did ever so well, and it will give him confidence and a lot of belief that he can come in and play at this level.'

Everton matchbox.jpg

Harlequins 10 Toulouse 21: French power surge bursts Quins bubble

Harlequins 10 Toulouse 21: French power surge bursts Quins bubble

Harlequins” record-breaking winning run was brought to a shuddering halt at The Stoop last night as a day ofAnglo-French antagonism ended with Toulouse reminding the rest of Europe about their peerless Heineken Cup pedigree.

Conor O’Shea’s young side had carriedall before them prior to this Pool Six fixture, winning all 14 of theirgames, but this was always going to be a giant step up.

On the run: Vincent Clerc breaks through the Harlequins defence

On the run: Vincent Clerc breaks through the Harlequins defence

England’s new caretaker coach, Stuart Lancaster, was there to watch a number of Six Nations candidates, but he was subjected to the grim sight of the runaway leaders of the Aviva Premiership being emphatically outplayed.

During the first half, Toulouse out-muscled the hosts to a staggering extent, from the scrum to just about every isolated contact point. It was more balanced after the break, but the damage had been done and Fijian wing Timoci Matanavou’s second try put the contest beyond doubt.

For O’Shea, this was a timely pointer about where his team are in the evolutionary process and they must go to the south of France next Sunday and conjure an upset in the daunting return fixture.

For home captain Chris Robshaw and all those hoping to enhance their England claims, this was not the scenario they would have hoped for. A few bright bursts from Danny Care and some powerful carrying by Nick Easter were overshadowed by the collective disappointment. Young prop Joe Marler shone in open play but suffered a taxing night in the scrum and eventually went off on a stretcher.

‘The right side won,’ said O’Shea, Harlequins’ director of rugby. ‘They were incredibly physical and won the battle of the gainline, but we have to get used to playing at this level. We will be completely written off next week but we’re not a bad side after losing tonight, just as we weren’t a great side when we were winning games.

Getting his kicks: Luke McAlister in action for Toulouse

Getting his kicks: Luke McAlister in action for Toulouse

‘The players are down, they are battered and bruised, but give it a couple of days and they will be ready for the next job.’

After a penalty apiece from Luke McAlister and Nick Evans for Quins, Toulouse surged clear with a swagger in the 17th minute.

Robshaw appeared to have won turnover possession at a ruck outside his 22 but Maxime Medard came away with the ball and nearly ran clear.

Still, the French side had numbers in the right place and a long pass from McAlister found Louis Picamoles. The No 8 showed perfect timing to release Thierry Dusautoir and the France captain off-loaded to send Matanavou hurtling away to the line.

On the move: Danny Care in action for Harlequins

On the move: Danny Care in action for Harlequins

McAlister added another penalty and Toulouse kept pressing. Florian Fritz and Dusautoir were just about kept out shortly before half-time asGuy Noves’ side went in 11-3 ahead. After the break, Quins rallied and rookie centre Matt Hopper’s outstanding break out of defence laid the platform for a home try. A solid scrum led to an attacking penalty, Caretook a quick tap and Marler acted as the link-man to put Mike Brown over.

Evans converted to reduce the gap to a point but McAlister’s third penalty gave his side breathing space again and, with 15 minutes to go,Vincent Clerc’s blistering burst through midfield created the opening for Matanavou to touch down in the left corner.

McAlister’s conversion sealed a convincing win on the road which announced Toulouse as prime challengers once more and gave O’Shea and his men plenty to ponder in the next week.