Toffee-nosed bastards at the RFU have had their fill of “swarthy ex-miners with a penchant for close harmony singing”, according to official minutes released in relation to the London Welsh points-docking disciplinary debacle.
Insiders report that this week’s appeal hearing started badly when London Welsh CEO Tony Copsey regaled the committee with his Richard Burton impersonation before leading well wishers in a lusty rendition of ‘You Can Stick Your F—king Chariots Up Your Arse (Aye Aye Yippy Yippy Aye)’. Conflicting reports still surround the subsequent spilling of Brains, and its impact on Welsh’s relegation plight.
“They’ve all had it in for us since the first game,” snarled Copsey. “We wondered how Leicester Tigers managed to ban our half-time Motorcycle Sheep Display Team from performing when it was actually held at our own ground, not theirs. Now we know it was them stinkin’ Saes.”
“The French have had their worst international season on record, and it’s no surprise with all the leek-munchers plying their trade over there,” guffawed Miles Rathbone-Squib, Presiding Tosser of the RFU Disciplinary Board. “The cultural impact of having a team full of them can’t be underestimated, as anyone who’s ever attended a London Welsh post-match buffet will testify. A table-full of exclusively beige sweet and savoury sundries might be de rigeur in Pontypandy, but we don’t want that sort of thing in our league.”
“Don’t get me wrong; some of my best friends are Welsh coloured.”
This week’s rugby press has been dominated by discussions regarding the personnel for this summer’s British Lions tour to Australia. I must say I’ve not been in total agreement with anyone’s picks so far, so I decided to pick my own squad and Test XV.
Before I start my rundown, there are a few ground rules we need to observe, and a few false assumptions which require correction. Firstly, let’s bust a couple of myths:
1. Australia have a weak scrum, so there’s no point in taking strong scrummagers.
This is patent nonsense. Australia’s scrum has improved immensely over the past decade. They wouldn’t be one of the top 3 ranked teams in the world if they didn’t have a decent scrum. The Lions will need to dominate this facet of play in order to win the Test series. With the rules and referees’ interpretations the way they are now, the team with the dominant scrum wins the game. It’s as simple as that. Furthermore, a prop’s number one job is to scrummage well. You may be “deadly in the loose”, but that is not your main job, so you’re not getting picked. Sorry.
2. Australia’s rugby pitches are “hard and fast.”
Not in the winter they’re not. Australian cricket pitches are hard and fast in the summer. Don’t get these two things mixed up, and don’t pick players on the basis of whether the grass is green and long, or brown and short.
3. Play to their strengths
Finally, before I move on to my selections, a word about picking people out of position. I’m not going to do this. OK, I am. But only once. Usually I’d avoid it, but circumstances dictate. In general I don’t think it’s a good idea to force someone to play somewhere other than their natural position. But if they want to, and they’re very good at it, then that’s OK.
4. The Gatland game plan
Warren Gatland is the Lions Head Coach, and he will dictate the team strategy and we need to consider this when selecting our squad. There is no point in picking players who can’t play Gatlandball. That means big three-quarters to bash the gain line, a blitz defence and a monstrous scrum. It’s crude, simple but effective.
Now we’ve laid the ground rules, let’s cut to the chase. After last weekend’s events at the Millennium Stadium, the selection of a Lions squad is always going to have a distinctly red hue. It is an inescapable fact that Wales blew England apart on Saturday. In a game that was being billed as a “Lions Trial”, there were some casualties from the ranks of the men in white. So I’m not going to apologise for the fact that there are a lot of Welshmen in my squad. They say form is temporary and class is permanent, so if you’ve just won back-to-back Six Nations Championships then it’s fair to say that class and form are both catered for.
Leigh Halfpenny (Test XV)
Leigh Halfpenny has been peerless throughout Wales’ last two winning championship seasons. He is the complete package in attack and defence. Kearney has been playing in an Irish team decimated by injury, but he cannot match Halfpenny’s defensive qualities and lacks a few yards of pace. Hogg has impressed in the championship but he came off a distant second when he faced Halfpenny at Murrayfield.
George North (Test XV)
Alex Cuthbert (Test XV)
Over the past two seasons Alex Cuthbert has proved to be one of the world’s most clinical finishers. He may only get 2 or 3 chances per game, but he rarely fluffs them. George North can bust tackles and hand off at will. Add that to an ice-cold temperament and heroic defensive capabilities and you have the complete modern back-three player. Big things were expected of Visser but he hasn’t set the world alight over the past couple of months. I’ve included a wild card in the form of Ireland’s Zebo. He was injured for most of the championship but his dazzling display of footballing ability against Wales on the opening weekend makes him an outside chance of coming through on the rails over the course of the tour.
Brian O’Driscoll (Test XV)
Jamie Roberts (Test XV)
In Roberts and O’Driscoll we re-unite the centre combination from the last Lions tour where the Springboks were pushed so close. If O’Driscoll can make it to the first Test unscathed then he should start. Roberts has grown in confidence over the Six Nations and looks to have hit top form. He is a defensive leader and this is often overlooked by those who think a modern centre’s job is merely to run the right attacking lines. Gatland’s game is all about defence, and Roberts fits the bill perfectly. Jonathan Davies has the ability to break the line and would prove a more than able substitute should O’Driscoll fail to make it. Tuilagi appears to have the ability to play Gatland’s way, although his handling skills seem to let him down more often than they should.
Jonny Wilkinson (Test XV)
Another surprise selection here in the form of multiple Lion and World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson. OK, so maybe not such a surprise. A couple of months ago Sexton was in the box seat for the Test starting position, but injury has robbed him of his chance to secure his place. Dan Biggar’s performances have improved over the tournament, culminating in his masterful display against England. It’s Biggar’s dominance of his rival Owen Farrell which has cost the young Englishman his place on the tour. Wilkinson has been outstanding for Toulon again this season and has exactly the kind of composure needed to manage a game against the Australians.
Mike Phillips (Test XV)
Phillips is peerless in his position at the moment. He is the best scrum-half in the world and there is no need to say any more.
Adam Jones (Test XV)
Gethin Jenkins (Test XV)
Adam Jones has been the best tight head prop in world rugby for several years now, but it seems some pundits have only just worked this out. England threw two props at him on Saturday and he ate them both and spat them out. Wales had the luxury of choosing between the raw scrummaging power of Paul James and the super-human Gethin Jenkins. With Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins means that you have five back row players instead of three. His work rate and experience are unrivalled. Dan Cole will be glad to be on the same side as him for a change.
Richard Hibbard (Test XV)
This is a position where a number of contenders have ruled themselves out due to their propensity for giving away penalties. Hibbard has transformed himself in the past few years and we hope that Gatland has been as impressed with his progress as everyone else has. Rory Best is still a favourite of many pundits but he lacks the bulk and scrummaging prowess to force his way into the Test XV.
Alun-Wyn Jones (Test XV, Captain)
Richie Gray (Test XV)
Jones has stormed back from injury and is in the form of his career. He’s my choice as captain because he has the experience needed to secure his position in the side, he’s a winner, and he’s a leader. Evans, Gray and Launchbury have all worked their socks off in the championship and I expect they will run each other very close for the other second row Test spot.
Robshaw is considered in his natural position and is a strong candidate for the captaincy of the midweek side. Ryan Jones’ ability to play at lock, blindside and number eight means he often gets put on the bench or has to cover for an injured colleague. He remains one of the best back row forwards in world rugby and it seems a shame to leave him out of the Test XV. He has forced his way into contention on a Lions tour before, however. Lydiate has missed most of the season with a broken ankle, but he may yet force his way back into contention for a starting place in the first Test.
Sam Warburton (Test XV)
Justin Tipuric (Test XV)
Tipuric and Warburton starting a game together in the back row was a mouth-watering prospect, and what a sumptuous feast it proved. A perfect combination to give the aggressive Australian back row a run for their money. Warburton’s guts with Tipuric’s guile. I can’t wait.
Toby Faletau (Test XV)
Heaslip is another player who was talked up as a potential Lions captain before the Six Nations. Now he is lucky to be on the plane. Ireland have suffered a string of injuries and this has not helped his chances. Faletau’s fortunes have moved in the opposite direction: upwards. A big ball carrier and heroic in defence.
It has come to our attention that Gwlad may have recently given the wrong impression about how much we rated 6 Nations Championship coach, Rob Howley.
Headlines such as “Why the Long Face?”, “Sod off back to Bridgend, you Cardiffian!” and “Worst Coach at Anything in History of Mankind” may have pointed to a lack of belief in the new Welsh Messiah. We’d like to take this opportunity to apologise that the irony with which we made the above comments may have passed everyone by and that Mr Howley is the best super-soaraway Welsh coach since the last one we harped on about.
You’re blocking me on Twitter so I’m writing you a letter here in the hope that someone might draw your attention to it. You know all about attention-seeking, don’t you?
Last week you offered to bet the entire Welsh nation that England would win the Grand Slam by beating Wales yesterday. Thousands of us took you up on your generous offer.
It was therefore disappointing to discover today that you’ve weasled out of your obligation to honour the bet. This seems ungracious and suggests that you’re not as willing to take it as you are to dish it out.
I’m offering you a chance to redeem yourself in the eyes of thousands of your Welsh admirers. Make a modest but appropriate donation to my London Marathon Appeal, in aid of Whizz-Kidz, and we’ll say no more about it. Until the next time you open your gob and firmly plant your foot in it. For Welsh rugby fans, Austin, you are simply the gift that keeps on giving. Don’t go changing.
Every branch of Waitrose west of the M25 has been cleaned out of vol au vents, Pimm’s and prawn sandwiches, as panic buying Cardiff-centric hoteliers, restaurateurs and chip vans stock up in readiness for the arrival of beloved rugby brethren from the other side of Offa’s Dyke.
“Fortnum & Mason hampers have been selling like Welsh cakes, and we’re down to our last pound and a half of fruit tea,” claimed Rupert Bear, head ponce at the Howells Food Hall on St Mary’s Street. “It’s going to be carnage, especially if England win. For God’s sake keep your children safe at home: the streets could be running pink with Prosecco Blush 2011.”
Police attention has turned to opportunistic spicy carbohydrate suppliers active in the capital city’s famous Chip Alley district, as reports surface about meat products of unknown provenance. “We’ve been offered some right funny shit,” burped a well-known kebab magnate who wished to remain anonymous. “What we thought was lard turned out to be liver from an overweight goose. There’s no way we’re offering customers that, even if they are English.”
Meanwhile, as the two teams complete their pre-match preparations, uncertainty surrounds the selection of Owen Farrell at fly-half for England ahead of a potential ‘kicker-takes-all’ contest with Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny.
“If he does play, whoever comes out on top could be taking kicks for the Lions in the summer,” gushed the impartial John Inverdale, while rhythmically rubbing his hands up and down his legs. “The way Halfpenny looks up at the posts before he strikes the ball, presumably recalling the hardships of his Welsh upbringing in a cave; it’s so touching – literally. And then there’s Owen – it’s all in those gorgeous eyes with Owen – a majestic presence with his clenched buttocks, chiselled hair and designer bloodstain. He can slot my conversion any time he likes.”
Rob Howley’s enduring mission to find a coat that actually fits him enters a new chapter this weekend with the revelation that Millett’s on Princes Street has got a sale on.
“Kick off at Murrayfield is at 2:30pm so I should be able to fit a quick browse in between the pre-match meal and the anthems, though I doubt I’ll find anything,” lamented the ace Wales coach, who’s remarkable physique features shorter-than-average arms and a hernia the size of watermelon. “I’ve done the three-quarter length waterproof look to death, but the sleeves keep coming past my hands and I can’t see over the collar when it’s turned up. I might go for a big knit if they’ve got a 2 for 1 and the queue isn’t too long.”
In a special exclusive for tomorrow’s Western Mail 17-page international weekend special, Howley also discloses the team bus seating plan, providing revealing insights into squad dynamics.
“Adam Jones is the first on, and always sits right at the back – in the middle. That’s for practical reasons you understand, else we’d have to have the two physios and all the balls come in a separate car. Then you’ve got George North and Toby Falateu who I’ve got notes from their mams saying if they sit backwards then they’ll get a bit too queasy. James Hook is another interesting one. He always stands in the vestibule next to the steps and the chemical toilet to keep his legs fresh for sitting on the bench for the first 75 minutes of every match.”