The Latest Saviour of English Rugby

So Eddie Jones is now officially the latest savour of English rugby.

Shortly before his appointment (and when he must have known he was one of, if not THE favourite for the post) he gave an illuminating interview to ESPN about how he thought England needed to change in order to be successful. Top of his list, the central contracting of players. Without that he argued, not for the first time, England do not have enough control over their players.

“How can you manage your players when they are controlled by other organizations? Jones asked. “In my opinion, that is the single greatest task ahead of whoever is going to be appointed as the next England coach.”

Jones neatly evaded the issue at his Twickenham unveiling, but it is one that will not go away. New Zealand are the best example of how central contracting can be beneficial. If Steve Hansen wants Beauden Barrett to play at full-back because he thinks he would like to use him there, the Hurricanes will play him at full-back. The indecision over Sam Burgess’s position summed up the problem that exists here in England. Bath saw him as a flanker, England wanted him to play centre; the result-both sides and the player suffered.

Ultimately it is a question of priority. England is somewhat unique in that it has a genuinely thriving, partisan club game. France is the only other country that has a club game with a similar level of support and influence and it is surely not a coincidence that these are the two nations that wildly underachieved at the World Cup.

Many would argue that central contracts is a price worth paying, and the international game should take precedent. But there are plenty of club supporters who pay good money to watch their club play and would argue the opposite.

So herein lies the unanswerable question: how does England balance the need to encourage a thriving club game, with an international side that needs greater control over its players if it is to keep up with the likes of New Zealand, Australia and even Argentina – all of whom have it?

Within the round-ball community the steady erosion of the F.A.’s control over the game could be dated from their decision to be complicit in the formation of the Premier League in 1992. With it came the removal of an international cap as the pinnacle of a player’s ambitions.

The more astute minds at Twickenham must have watched this sorry saga unfold, and determined it would not be allowed to happen with the egg-shaped ball game.

Eddie Jones may or may not carry on with the same opinion. But there must be a few club owners twitching uncomfortably in their seats.

Mike Miles

If Football is so bad,why is Rugby aping it?

Much was made of referee Nigel Owens’ put-down of Scotland’s Stuart Hogg, who had attempted to win a penalty by diving during his side’s Pool B defeat to South Africa at Newcastle United’s St. James’ Park. Owens reportedly said “If you want to dive like that again, come back here in two weeks and play.” My, how we laughed….

And on the eve of the rugby World Cup John Jeffrey, the chairman of the World Rugby match officials selection committee, reportedly told referees to crack down on what he called “football culture, of simulation, players appealing to the referee,” and horror of horrors, “diving.”

The phrase bandied about by the egg-shaped ball fraternity is usually “we mustn’t become like football.”  But if people are throwing themselves over and disrespecting referees in rugby union the blame can hardly be laid at football’s door. To think a player at Saracens or Wasps watches Manchester United’s Ashley Young impersonate a sniper victim and then copies the crime in the Premiership is just plain daft.

To quote Christian Day, chairman of the Rugby Players’ Association “The game is becoming more and more professional, and more and more competitive and professional people will always look for the edge.” Rugby is not copying football. It is reading from the script that says: the bigger the rewards, the lower people will stoop to grab them.

After their humiliation at the World Cup (something rugby and football have in common lest we forget) the RFU have finally got round to sacking their coach, and are apparently prepared to spend whatever it takes on the best man. This is what humiliating defeat does to governing bodies blowing in the gale –force of media and public opinion. And here rugby is aping their football counterparts at the F.A.

They have had a zig-zag approach to coach recruitment for years, careering this way and that, not just changing managers but disowning any philosophy in the bruising aftermath of tournament failure.When home-grown did not work millions were thrown at Fabio Capello.

English football has tried to buy itself out of a pickle and now it appears the RFU will send out their head hunters abroad for the first time, armed with a big cheque book. For the RFU, as it has been with the F.A. for years, it is an admission of defeat. Though as rugby looks at a foreign coach perhaps there is a bigger question, again for both sports. Why do other countries so rarely want our coaches, at club or international level? Anyone for the Stuart Lancaster/David Moyes dream team?

Mike Miles

United in mediocrity

I suppose it could be seen as a case of “After the feast of the Lord Mayor’s banquet…”, but that would be unfair. After the six-week rugby world cup jamboree has come to an end, and given way to the infinitely more modest fair of the Aviva Premiership, it was the turn of the rugby league boys to show us what they can do on the international stage.

Today’s game was the second of the three-match ding- dong between England and New Zealand, who unlike their union compatriots may not be the current world champions (they lost to Australia in the 2013 Final) but nevertheless are also ranked first in the world. England had won the first game a week ago, but the second confrontation had been moved out of its northern heartlands to the Olympic Stadium.

On a wet and miserable London afternoon 43,393 souls turned up. Judging by the accents and the parade of club shirts many had travelled south for the game.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I was among a crowd of 67,545 at Wembley who witnessed England, 20 seconds from the World Cup final, crumble to the floor after  the cruellest of defeats, snatched from the jaws of victory. Leading 18-14 with the match entering its final minute, England conceded a late penalty. As the black wave neared the England line, Shawn Johnson shimmied and breached the barricades with 20 seconds remaining. He converted his own try to send New Zealand to Manchester’s final and England to ponder what might have been.

There may have been much less at stake today, but still New Zealand defeated an under-par England  9-2, as they managed to edge what was for large periods an attritional, defence-dominated game. It was tied 2-2 at the break, after a penalty apiece which accurately summed up the fare on offer. Apparently one TV pundit described it as “gorilla v gorilla”

Shortly after the restart Shaun Kenny-Dowall touched down in the corner for the visitors, and after the video referee had ruled out a try for both teams, Jordan Kahu slotted a decisive late drop-goal to seal victory for his team.

It was the first rugby league match at the Olympic Stadium, and there was a strange atmosphere inside it, almost as though many here were new to the game and waiting for something to happen. It was a chance to win over some Southern converts, but it was hardly the sort of England performance to inspire a new generation.

Perhaps one of the problems is the infrequency of international rugby league. It is after all two years since the world cup ,and that is a long time to wait for an international to come along if the RFL is wanting to build on whatever legacy remains from back then.

And in a week when the rugby section of the sports pages have been dominated by Sam Burgess’s return to rugby league, two of his brothers were on the field today. though they could not raise this England side above the general level of mediocrity.

Mike Miles

Is there still a World Cup on?

As someone who has probably watched more of the Rugby World Cup than is good for me I suppose I have rather taken it for granted that the majority of the British public, if not actually glued to their TV sets, are at least aware that the competition is taking place. After all, did not more than 11 million people watch England’s dramatic defeat by Wales on television?

So in order to see how much the UK population actually knew about the sport and competition a research agency decided to commission a UK wide survey to find out. Admittedly this was carried out a week prior to the competition kicking off, and surely some of those professing ignorance cannot have failed to pick up that maybe something was going on.
Nevertheless, though much has been written about the legacy from this World Cup, the results from the survey give an indicator as to just how far rugby has to go before it can evenly begin to rival the round-ball game in popularity.

To begin with, 32% of respondents had no idea that the competition was about to start, and 42.7% of the UK had no idea that the World Cup was actually been hosted in England.
More than half surveyed were unable to guess the correct number of points for a try, and 44% didn’t know that a game lasts 80 minutes.
Apparently a third of Londoners thought that Billy Twelvetrees had to be a fake name and not a current rugby player.
My favourite is that half the UK were unable to pick out Chris Robshaw as the England captain. 22% believed it was still Jonny Wilkinson, and 13.2% guessed that it was the television chef James Martin!
After the debacle against Wales Chris Robshaw probably wishes they were right……..
Mike Miles

The World Cup Legacy?

Across the land’s rugby clubs, pubs, bars and front rooms, more than 11 million people watched England’s dramatic defeat by Wales on television. Virtually the same number tuned in for the decisive loss to Australia a week later.

A large percentage of these millions will have been uninitiated in rugby union, but in search of a new sport to enjoy and fresh heroes to follow. But how many will come back? How many will find themselves hooked on the domestic game? The Aviva Premiership kicked off last weekend but unless you were already a rugby aficionado you could be excused for not noticing, such was the volume of media coverage still being given to the England-less World Cup.

Much has been written about the legacy from this World Cup, but “legacy” is a slippery word. And how do you deliver a “legacy” from the worst ever tournament by a host country? “What’s a legacy?” asked Leicester Tigers director of rugby, Richard Cockerill. “The game’s growing all the time and the Premiership’s a great competition. I don’t think it’s going to damage the game. Will it have grown a bit bigger if we’d got to a semi-final or a final and left as heroes instead of having those disappointing performances? Of course.”

Even so, it would take a brave person to argue that the 2015 World Cup will be a success for English rugby, but Steve Grainger, the RFU rugby development officer, is that man. He could point up to the 2,000 people signed up in fan zones to become referees or coaches, a quarter of those at the Manchester fan zone during the England-Uruguay dead rubber. This level of enthusiasm could also point to the untapped enthusiasm for rugby union outside the game’s southern heartlands, and the need to take England “on the road” away from Twickenham.

And since October 2012 the RFU has trained 2,915 new level-two coaches through the QBE Coaching Club, recruited 1,200 young rugby ambassadors and introduced rugby to 400 state secondary schools. But the test must be whether those who have picked up a rugby ball or entered a clubhouse for the first time because of this World Cup are still involved in the game by the time Japan 2019 rolls round.

Putting England’s failure to one side, any kid watching New Zealand or Australia or Japan could not wish for a better illustration of how rugby union, at its best, should be played. But across the mini-rugby pitches of the British Isles will seven year-olds be practising their Nehe Milner-Skudder sidesteps  and asking for posters of Juan Imhoff for their bedroom walls? Probably not. But what they do need is more encouragement to run and pass, rather than thud and smash and blunder.

Australia booked their place in the semi-finals in the most dramatic fashion but a thrilling contest was overshadowed  by a controversial finale and a debate that highlighted one of the sport’s problems, and the immense barrier preventing rugby union from becoming a truly global sport. The Laws are just too damm complicated! The Laws surely need to be simplified to avoid such confusion and allow the casual “legacy” supporter to engage fully with the sport rather than alienate them.

Rugby’s rules can be impenetrable even for the initiated but understanding the difference between “offside” and “going in from the side”, and even why these are offences is certain to bamboozle those trying to make sense of a game with a plethora of arcane rules and practices.

Mike Miles


Japan 26 Samoa 6

France had played Canada in an earlier World Cup game at Stadium MK. The report in The Times included a verdict on the venue. Heritage was “non-existent”, atmosphere was “manufactured but manic, with the full house determined to enjoy a big night out.” Crowd knowledge was “good enough, with a mixture of polite applause and the inevitable Mexican Waves.”Perhaps the prejudice against MK Dons,aka Franchise FC extends beyond the confines of SW9!

The Guardian also had a reporter snooping around the crowd. She pointed out that “if the rugby didn’t hold their attention, they could always cross the road to the multiplex, and there was plenty of shopping nearby.”

She considered Milton Keynes “the perfect locale for witness protection, if the number of people who admit to living there is anything to go by”

Sorry to disappoint her, but we have friends who have lived in Milton Keynes for years, and who were kind enough to offer my wife and I a lift to and from the stadium, so that we forsook the pleasure of the fan-buses or forking out £15 for a park-and-ride site.

And once you get into the stadium it is a delight. Chatting with other fans, most of whom were attending their first game at the ground, they were equally impressed, commenting on the comfort and legroom in the seating. The seats were high-backed and padded, similar to those at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. We were seated in the South Stand, behind one set of posts, where the biggest danger came from flying balls. There was even praise for the toilets, offering wide entrances, space, and hot running water. Such luxuries at a football ground!

After their exploits against South Africa there was no doubt that Japan were the crowd favourites. And this time they had had sufficient recovery time after their loss to Scotland. And once again they showed they are no longer fodder for the big guns, but a team who can bring legitimacy to rugby union’s claim to be a world sport. This match was all about their skill and endeavour.

The match was settled in a first half in which Japan produced a near-flawless performance to lead by 20 points. That left the second half as essentially an exercise in holding their gains, which they did comfortably.

As for Samoa, they were second best throughout, often losing discipline. Three men were yellow-carded.

Incidentally, the attendance of 29,019 was a record for the stadium for any sport.

Japan host the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, and after what was to befall the current hosts later that evening, should hopefully put up a better fight.

Current coach Eddie Jones is leaving after this World Cup. Just so long as they don’t employ Stuart Lancaster in his stead. Though Japan’s forwards coach, one ex-England captain Steve Borthwick, must be a candidate for any future England set-up.

One whinge. The match programme cost £10. A fair amount of editorial, but given that this was Match No 24, it contained not a jot about the previous 23 matches. No results, no table of points or try scorers and no tables for the four pools. It’s called information and in that respect the customer forking out his £10 is being short-changed.

It can be done. Wimbledon charges a similar amount for its programme, but it manages to contain a full statistical coverage up to the previous day’s play.

Mike Miles

The Rugby World Cup – 10 Days on

Sitting in our seats in Wembley Stadium with a beer in hand is a somewhat unusual experience for me.  Ninety five percent of my previous visits here have been for football, where fans are considered far too irresponsible to handle a beer AND watch a game at the same time.  The fact that the stadium hadn’t seen a crowd of this size, ever didn’t cause an issue.  Have you actually seen England play recently? You need some sustenance to numb some of the dullness.  But swap your Engerland chant for a  verse of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and you gain a level of social acceptability and responsibility.  Four beers sir? Do you need a hand carrying them to your seats?

21574136478_0ac713e43f_kThis was game three for me in the Rugby World Cup.  Ireland taking on “plucky” Romania as they had been rechristened by ITV Sport after their opening game defeat to France in the White Elephant in Stratford.  I’d seen that game as well as France’s first game at Twickenham against Italy.  The atmosphere here at Wembley was different, far more partisan.  Twickenham and the Olympic Stadium had been mainly full of fans of the game, some of whom felt the need to show their neutrality by having face paint of each country on their cheeks to go along with their half ‘n’ half scarves. Here though the stadium was awash of green.  There would little in the way of cheer for a similar quarter performance as Romania gave on Wednesday against France.

21050901204_2e91adcfc3_kThe tournament was only 9 days old but had already thrown up a few surprises and talking points on and off the field.  Japan’s defeat of South Africa was a major shock – although if the Springboks would have lost to say Argentina, who in turn would have lost to Japan it may have raised a Roger Moore eyebrow. Shocks in international rugby are few and far between.  The stronger teams are just that – stronger. Power and pace go along way in rugby.  Japan’s players played the game on their lives, matching South Africa in every push, scrum, maul and ruck.  The longer the game went on, the more belief the Japanese had and the more doubt crept into the Springboks.  They could play that game 50 more times and I doubt the Japanese would find the same resolve and spirit.

The result that the organisers probably didn’t want came last night when Wales beat England by 3 points, meaning the hosts have to beat Australia next Saturday to have any chance of progressing to the knock out phases.  Defeat in that game and the final match against Uruguay could be for the wooden spoon in group A.  With tickets still on sale for that match at The City of Manchester Stadium at a bargain £250, it will be interesting to see how many fans put their seats up for resale rather than go through the misery of trying to get to the game by a hopelessly I’ll-prepared train network.

The pain and problems they have caused at virtually every game so far it’s something that the organisers want as a legacy but so far fans who have tried to travel by train have been met with delays, cancellations and ill-preparation.  On the opening weekend of the tournament as fans tried to travel to Cardiff for the Wales and Ireland games will have been dismayed to read First Great Western admit they had underestimated demand for services.  They’ve only had four years to plan for this.  Over at Twickenham last Saturday tens of thousand of fans on their way back to London after the game were forced to ‘tap in’ with their Oyster cards via 2 machines.  Last night’s game at Twickenham finished after the last train had departed Paddington for Wales – either poor planning from the organisers or FWG again for not thinking of putting on extra services.

21560445961_617be24bf4_kIt’s never a good thing for a host nation to be eliminated early from a major tournament, but with such high expectations on England it could be a major blow for ITV as well as the commercial partners.  The curious rugby fans sitting on their sofa may now channel surf instead of tuning in for England’s games.  That’s not taking anything away from Wales – they’ve shown in recent years they are a major force in World rugby and few English fans will admit they didn’t want them to win four years ago in the Rugby World Cup semi-final in New Zealand against France.

Talking on ITV, they have got the coverage so far spot on – a huge improvement on their football coverage.  Co-commentators who deliver insight rather than simply saying what we see. Studio guests who can be considered to be legends of the game, with presenters who realise their role is to not try to be the star of the show.  Andy Townsend or Jonny Wilkinson? Glenn Hoddle or Sir Clive Woodward? Lee Dixon or Lawrence Dallaglio? Need I go on?

On the field we’ve seen the advantages and disadvantages of the use of video evidence.  In the England v Fiji and France v Italy games tries were disallowed after the referee had awarded them and the conversation was about to take place thanks to use of the Television Match Official (TMO) who found a new angle to review the incident.  They break up the flow of the game, although English referee Wayne Barnes showed how to use it to great effect by asking for reviews of events he didn’t see whilst play continued in the New Zealand v Argentina game, then punishing the guilty parties.  There can be no argument that the way technology is used in rugby is far better than football. Referees with microphones so the crowd can hear conversations, video replays and even having equally-qualified as the referee touch judges who advise on decisions rather than stand powerless on the touchline.

21573993340_17915cb76b_kUnlike football, rugby is a game that all of the Fuller family enjoy.  Littlest Fuller (in age not height anymore!) can’t stand football but things nothing of watching grown men falling on top of each other.  So we parked at Stanmore and headed down to Wembley early doors to savour the atmosphere.  Despite arriving two hours before kick off, the fan zone was full.  Only open to ticket holders you’d think that they may have thought people might want to go in there.  Surely the organisers spoke to organisers of other events?  At the Olympics, the fan zones were open to everyone, ditto any major football tournament.  In both cases they certainly didn’t kick people out thirty minutes before kick off.  So much for an all-inclusive tournament.  Once again, little thought had gone into the demand for these aspects.

Once inside the stadium everything worked.  Wembley handles crowds very well and we were in our seats twenty minutes before the teams emerged.  We’d been promised a brilliant atmosphere – it was certainly loud but there was only a few chorus’s of Fields of Athenry as pockets of the Irish faithful were spread across the whole stadium rather than one concentrated area of dedicated support that you would see in the respective football tournament(s).  The biggest cheers were saved for the Mexican Wave, which at least didn’t appear until the hour mark.

Ireland showed no mercy from the first second.  The first passage of play lasted 3 minutes and seemed destined to end in a try but for a handling error.  Two TMO decisions proved the majority of the crowd wrong with Simon Zebo’s skip down the touchline showing in super-slow motion that his twinkle-toes had just touched the white line on his way to scoring a great solo effort, whilst Tommy Bowe’s collision with the touch flag proving to be after he’d touched the ball down rather than before for the first of his two tries.  Further tries from Earls (2), Kearney and Henry saw the Irish quickly rack up their bonus point on their way to 44 points, although Ovidiu Toniti’s late consolation try for Romania bringing a decent response from the majority of the crowd still in the stadium.

Despite the issues at other venues, the benefit of experience in handling big crowds was in evident as the tens of thousands of fans headed to Wembley Park tube station, being back in the car at Stanmore less than 30 minutes of the final whistle.

The tournament so far has thrown up a few surprises that may lead to one or two of the expected sides not reaching the knockout stages.  But that’s exactly what we want from a major tournament, even if it is the hosts who are the casualties.


RWC – France v Romania

Like most people my last visit to the Olympic Stadium had been to watch athletics at the 2012 Olympics. So when it was announced that a number of matches in this year’s Rugby World Cup would be played in “The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park”, to give it its full moniker, that had to be a venue worth going to. Factor in that I am a West Ham United supporter, and that in less than 12 twelve months they will be strutting around that same arena, well you had to see what it promises!

At a test event at the end of August featuring the Barbarians and Samoa the game descended into farce when the sprinklers came on and soaked the players during a break in play-more soggy Saturday than Super Saturday. And my infrequent visits to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium I was left with the impression of a magnificent ground but a misery to get to and an even bigger misery to get away from unless you are prepared to miss the last 20 minutes…something Arsenal supporters look willing to do.

The game kicked off at 8.00 so the tubes and Stratford Station were a mix of rugby fans, commuters and shoppers. The tournament organisers had copied the Olympic idea of “helpers” to direct fans but these were keeping a pretty low profile around the station and Westfields shopping centre in favour of massing around the stadium precincts, when it was pretty bloody obvious where you were going. So I adopted the time-honoured principle of following other fans. This route took me past the West Ham office selling the move, but was devoid of customers. Perhaps potential punters were checking out the stadium for real.

21050901204_2e91adcfc3_kAvoid the inevitable late rush and entry is easy, the concourses are spacious, and finding your seat straightforward enough. I had paid £35 for a Category C seat, in the corner but high enough to follow all the action. The stadium also has two large screens at either end, and I hope these are retained when West Ham move in.

Rather like after the Olympics, there has been much talk of the legacy from this tournament, and it had been marketed to the non-rugby following fan as somewhere to bring the family. In front of me was a family with two young boys who clearly found the games on their i-pad a bigger attraction to what was happening on the pitch. If I’m honest I couldn’t blame them. The match took a long time to get going. I timed the first Mexican wave at 12 mins 30 sec.

The organisers are already boasting of how virtually every game has sold out. Certainly, the touts were out in force this evening. But you do wonder if much as the British like to attend such high profile sporting events (and this World Cup has been billed as the world’s 3rd largest sports event after the Olympics and its football equivalent) that is as far as their commitment will go.

My wife came with me. Paradoxically she hates crowds, and would only come on condition we left early. So as we walked back to Stratford Station 20 minutes before full-time, along a completely different route to that which we’d been directed before.

I hope West Ham attract 54,000 people on a regular basis. But if that means an hour afterwards being funnelled into Stratford station a lot of the gloss will disappear.

The referee was Jaco Peyper, who took charge of England’s opening game against Fiji, when one of the main talking points afterwards was the number of times he went to the TMO, and how long it took for a decision.

21662164952_671f44788d_kIt was only 3-3 after 30 minutes, and by then, the TMO had ruled out a Romania try. Thankfully, the TMO could take the rest of the night off. Then it all unravelled for the Romanians.Paulica Ion was sent to the sin bin, and in his absence the French scored two tries. Both were converted by Parra from the touchline, and suddenly the French were 17-3 up and free from the burden of possible humiliation.

Romania kept France out for 25 minutes of the second half, before they let in three more tries. But by then I was already on the way home. Those who stayed were clearly treated to an enjoyably harum-scarum final quarter.

The papers had their own verdicts on The Olympic Stadium: According to The Times it was:

-Noisy at times, cathedral-like at others

-Fair to say this was not a West Ham United Crowd (?)

The Guardian had even sent a reporter to report on the stadium. According to Owen Gibson “At last it was possible to get a tingling sense of how it might crackle on a big Premier League night or, in Karren Brady’s dreams, for big European matches.”

“Those expensive retractable seats-which Brady had pushed so hard for-had been rolled forward on three sides, creating odd platforms behind the lower tier. It remains a vast bowl, in many ways the polar opposite of Upton Park.”

“When the anthems rang out before kick-off, or when the French supporters tried to urge their players over the try-line, the noise had a tendency to drift into the night air. I was left with the impression that West Ham fans will have to go some to create an atmosphere opposing teams will find intimidating”.

But at least we Hammers fans can hope our team will deliver a better spectacle than this match.

Mike Miles

Oh to live in Twickenham, now that the World Cup is coming

Local estate agents no doubt market the south-west London suburb of Twickenham as a desirable (and expensive!) place to live. It’s a fair bet that they do not dwell on the downside from the presence of the local national rugby stadium.

It could be every resident’s nightmare: inebriated rugby fans vomiting or urinating on the streets or into your front garden after the match. Yet this is what lies in store for Twickenham residents when the Rugby World Cup gets underway in a month’s time, with 10 of the 48 matches taking place in TW1.

Richmond council had a stab at sorting out the problem when England beat France in a warmup match on August 15. Pubs were effectively encouraged to close early, at 10pm, but the decision pleased neither publicans nor long-suffering residents who already have to put up with road diversions and rubbish-strewn streets on match days.

Now imagine you wanted to create the nation’s biggest traffic jam – apart from the M25 in rush hour. First of all you would pick a Friday evening in London during term-time and then shut one of the main arterial routes out of the capital. Say by shutting the main A316 dual carriageway linking central London with the M3 and M25 from 5pm to midnight. Then you would schedule a globally significant sporting fixture to be played in that same postcode. Then you would sit back and await the inevitable transport carnage.

So when it was announced that England would kick-off the tournament at 8pm on a Friday night at Twickenham it was not only the already put-upon local residents who took a deep breath.

If there is gridlock from south-west London to the M25 and beyond, any feel good factor surrounding rugby union’s showpiece event will soon evaporate. It could be a few long nights for anyone idly driving up to town for a quiet meal.

And if transport and ill-mannered fans weren’t posing enough problems, the home of English rugby is apparently encased in a “stinking cloud” from a nearly sewage works-prompting locals to rename Twickenham Stadium as “Stinkehham.”The sewage plant is just 0.3 miles from the stadium, and there were reports during the England-France game of a “bit of a whiff”

So the moral for anyone with a ticket for a game at Twickenham must be leave very early for the stadium and hold your nose-and hope the rugby makes it all worth it……

Mike Miles


Will Europe suffer World Cup hangover?

Among all the coverage of the forthcoming World Cup it would have been easy to miss the announcement last week of the fixtures for next season’s Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

Because of the World Cup the competition doesn’t start until mid-November, but there are some exciting matches in prospect. There is the inevitable “Group of Death”, Pool 5, involving a previous Heineken Cup winning quartet of Leinster, Wasps, Toulon and Bath.

But there must be a question mark over how big the World Cup hangover will be, and which of the European Champions Cup contenders will be hit hardest. The answer to this will play a huge part in determining which of Toulon’s rivals will stand the best chance of prising their hands off the trophy.

Saracens are easily the Premiership’s leading lights after reaching a final and two semi-finals in the last three years. They start their hoped-for route to Lyon with a tie against fading French giants Toulouse at Allianz Park.

Their rugby director Mark McCall reflected on the competition. “ The different slant to this season is that the World Cup final will be played two weeks before the first game, and we don’t know who will be in the final – but if England were to get into the final we don’t know how our players will be coming back into the club with Toulouse just two weeks away.”

The reality is that if England, France, Ireland, Wales or Scotland reach the World Cup last four, or even the quarter finals, the sizeable international contingents of clubs like Saracens, Bath, Toulouse and Leinster could be severely compromised. Injuries, fatigue, as well as factors like loss of form all come into the post-World Cup equation.

It suggests that clubs with strong squads which are not heavily hit by international calls could thrive in the coming campaign, because, ironically, the revised format introduced a year ago, means any side that does not hit the ground running puts its quarter-final prospects in danger.

Mike Miles