So we’re past the half way point now and I can’t figure out if the month is going slow or fast! I’ve genuinely got to the point now that I’ve got the Mo rather than the beard until I see myself in the mirror.
People who know me well will know that after rugby, my biggest love is Star Wars. I watch far too much Star Wars, not just the films & TV shows, but also videos on YouTube and one of my favourite Star Wars YouTubers is Star Wars Explained. A few days ago, we got a video from Star Wars Explained in honour of Movember looking at ‘Mustache Squadron‘, a fictional (yes, I know Star Wars is fictional, but this is fictional even by Star Wars standards) squadron made up of every Rebel pilot to sport a moustache. For those interested in Star Wars canon like myself it is an informative video giving us details about minor characters, but more importantly it is another great way to get the word out about Movember. Great work Alex!
Please visit my Mo-Space and donate whatever you can. It doesn’t have to be a big donation, every little helps! Together, we can help to change the face of men’s health!
Check out Star Wars Explained’s YouTube videos here.
Saturday gave us the next chapter in possibly one of the greatest rugby stories of the modern era: that of Ian McKinley. The fly half, who played for Ireland U20s was forced to retire from rugby in 2011 after a stray boot caused him to lose sight in his left eye. McKinley moved to Italy to help coach junior rugby, but over recent years has worked his way back into playing professional rugby through the Italian leagues wearing a pair of specially manufactured goggles. His performances with Viadana and then Zebre led to him earning a contract with Benetton ahead of the 2016/17 Pro12 season.
The 2017/18 season has seen McKinley’s incredible comeback continue, as he has was called into the Italian national team’s squad for the Summer Tests – though he did not make an appearance – and was called up again for the Autumn Internationals. On Saturday, McKinley earned his first senior cap for Italy coming off the bench to replace Carlo Canna and even slotted the final penalty in their 19-10 victory over Fiji.
I can understand why people do not like the residency rules – and when it comes to project players I completely agree – but this is one of those wonderful circumstances where it has really benefited a player and given them a second chance. It is also a real benefit to Italy, as fly half has for years been a weak spot for them but they are now getting a bit of depth at the position with Canna, McKinley and Tommy Allan. Italian rugby is on the up in the Pro14, hopefully the national team won’t be far behind.
Persistence pays off
Another rugby story that shows the importance of never giving up is that of Welsh back row Josh Navidi. The Cardiff Blues back row made his senior debut for Wales way back in June 2013, when Wales played in Japan, but did not gain another cap until this summer, when he started against Tonga and Samoa during the Summer Tests. On Saturday, over 4 years after his first start, Navidi finally made his home debut for Wales in their 21-29 loss to Australia. Navidi has been so consistent for the Blues over the years, it is great to see that he is finally getting the caps his performances have deserved.
Of course, it is the unavailability of other players that has given him this chance. His first 3 caps have all come when players have been away with the British & Irish Lions and this autumn the Welsh are missing Ross Moriarty, Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric. Against the Wallabies, both Navidi and fellow flanker Aaron Shingler put in solid (if not spectacular) performances that suggest they can at least hold their own on the international scene. Wales currently have incredible depth in the back row, and if everyone was available I would not want the job of picking the best out of Navidi, Shingler, Warburton, Moriarty, Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau, James Davies, Sam Cross, Dan Lydiate and James King. Just imagine if Sam Underhill or Ben Morgan had picked Wales over England too…
An unfortunate incident
If I was asked to pick the best outside centre in rugby at the moment, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick Jonathan Davies. It is a huge shame then that we will not see him in the 2018 6 Nations as he is expected to be out for 6 months following surgery for what looked to be an ankle injury but is being reported as a foot injury. The replays of the incident did not look nice as Davies twisted awkwardly as he was brought down by Marika Koroibete, but should he have even had the ball?
The restart from Australia was taken when the clock was already in the red beyond the 80 minute mark. It is great to see the new-look Welsh team willing to play from deep, but with the score at 21-29 there is no way they could win that game. The kickoff was taken by Dan Biggar who had enough time to kick the ball dead, however he immediately shipped it off to Davies. Trying to play the length on the field had no benefits in this circumstance, but has proved extremely costly for Wales.
On the plus side for Davies, at least he didn’t have a medic making things worse like South African prop Coenie Oosthuizen did!
Falling foul of the laws
There have been talks of a global season for a long time, but I appreciate that it is not easy to implement due to differing seasons. However even if there is no global season, I think World Rugby need to look at when they implement law changes.
When I looked at the new law changes back in July, I was looking at all the laws being brought into Northern Hemisphere rugby at the start of this season. However half of the laws had already been in place in the Southern Hemisphere since the New Year and the other half are not coming in until the coming New Year. This does not make it easy for referees or players who are suddenly having to play different laws than what they are used to, while knowing that they will be back to their usual laws in just a couple of weeks. We saw South African flanker Siya Kolisi fall foul of the law variations as he was penalised for kicking a ball out of a ruck – still legal for now in the South, but illegal in the North – and I’m sure this won’t be the last time someone gets caught out during the Autumn Internationals.
If World Rugby do not feel that a global calendar in feasible I can understand that, but I think that they need to ensure any law variations take effect at the same time worldwide and need to find a date when they can do so without changing the laws part way through a competition.
Hey guys! So the 5 days since my last update have really helped the Mo-gression and the Mo is much more noticeable now.
I wouldn’t usually bore you by telling you about my day, but I think today it feels right to given the circumstances today. I had the pleasure of a visit from an old uni friend and fellow Pistol Shrimp today, as he came down to watch his beloved London Irish take on Gloucester in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. The result was a 47-7 win for the cherry and whites, but while it was a good game to watch, what really made this game special – besides the obvious observation of the 2 minute silence for Armistice Day – was the way both teams got behind London Irish hooker Darren Dawidiuk.
For those who don’t know, Dawidiuk played for Gloucester from 2009-2017 before moving to the Madejski this summer. However he is yet to play competitively for the Exiles this season as he was diagnosed with testicular cancer during the preseason and is currently undergoing chemotherapy following an operation to remove a tumour in his right testicle.
With this being the first meeting of the 2 teams since his diagnosis, it was lovely to see them unite to support him by wearing shirts and bobble hats with the message ‘Dukey 2’ provided by OddBalls, a clothing manufacturer who have set up the OddBalls Foundation to raise awareness of testicular cancer. OddBalls appears to be a brand growing in popularity, especially in rugby circles, and it was great so see how many fans turned up in OddBalls clothing or sporting a moustache in support.
Please visit my Movember page and donate whatever you can. Together, we can help to change the face of men’s health!
For more information on OddBalls and the OddBalls Foundation, visit their site here.
The 2017 NFL trade deadline certainly threw up a few shocks this year, one of the biggest of which was Jay Ajayi’s move from the Miami Dolphins to the Philadelphia Eagles. Ajayi was having an up-and-down season in Miami as Jay Cutler’s limited success throwing the ball was giving defences the chance to stack the box against the rush, so a move to the Eagles – who boast a contender for League MVP in Carson Wentz and a number of offensive weapons – will certainly open things up for him. In his first game for the Eagles against Denver he may have only had 8 carries as he shared snaps with Corey Clement and LeGarrette Blount, but he took those carries for 77 yards including a 46-yard touchdown.
This addition will also be great for the Eagles, as the competition for snaps should hopefully bring out the best in all the running backs, while it also allows them to always have a fresh runner available to come in… and also decent cover if someone goes down injured. The Eagles were already looking good value for a Super Bowl appearance, this trade could make them favourites! Blount is out of contract after this season so bringing in Ajayi, who is only in his 3rd year of his rookie contract, also gives Philly some more young talent next season to blend around Carson Wentz. If they continue how they are, this could be the start of a new dynasty!
The Jay Train wasn’t the only big-name trade this year, as the San Francisco 49ers also acquired Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots for a second-round draft pick. This could be the ultimate boom-or-bust acquisition for the Niners, as Garoppolo has a grand total of 95 passes to his name over 3 and a half seasons in the league. The Patriots under Bill Belichick have a knack of getting the best out of average quarterbacks – they went 11-5 with Matt Cassel under center – so there is a chance Garoppolo may struggle in the Bay, but with the difficulties of finding a franchise quarterback, he has certainly looked a better option than some current starters in the league.
What I really like about this move is that the 49ers now have almost half a season to evaluate Garoppolo and decide if he is the player they want to rely on moving forward. This is a franchise undergoing a massive rebuild, so to be able to pick the best players available in the Draft, rather than looking at a specific position, will be a huge benefit to them. I also really like how Kyle Shanahan is not committing to playing Garoppolo in 2017. The San Francisco pass protection has not been great to put it nicely, so to throw a player in at the deep end when they are learning new system could end horribly for both the team and Garoppolo, much as it did when Blaine Gabbert was elevated to starter for the Jaguars after just a few weeks of the 2011 season.
It will be interesting to see how things work out for the 49ers over the next few seasons. In my opinion the NFL needs franchises like them being competitive, hopefully Garoppolo is the next piece in the puzzle to get them back where they should be.
Only the Browns…
There was one other story that caught my attention on deadline day: the Cleveland Browns made an attempt to trade for the Bengal’s AJ McCarron. Both teams agreed the trade, only for the trade to be disallowed by the League as the Browns missed the deadline to notify the league. This was an absolute nightmare and could only happen to the Cleveland Browns, who unfortunately can be seen as the laughing stock of the league at times – especially when you’re watching the BBC highlights show!
The Browns clearly aren’t sold on DeShone Kizer as their QB moving forwards and McCarron has looked decent when given a chance for the Bengals. But he could consider himself lucky as there are very few offensive weapons for him to rely on in Cleveland and even with Josh Gordon being reinstated, there is no guarantee that he will be as good as he was before his suspension. It will be interesting to see if the Browns look to more for a veteran QB in the offseason or go into the Draft again. Who knows, they may even shock us all and actually stick with one of their current options and try to develop them…
Going through the motions
When I saw the shot Kiko Alonso landed on Joe Flacco recently, my initial thought was that this was a cheap shot. Flacco had clearly gone for the give-up slide and Alonso had plenty of time to pull out of the hit, but instead connected and knocked Flacco out of the game. However the comments were not as unanimously in favour of Flacco as I expected, and having watched him face the Titans in Week 9, I have lost some sympathy for him.
Against the Titans, Flacco went for a similar slide, but it was pointed out by the commentators that when he slides he keeps his body upright. Having had this pointed out, I went back to watch that hit. Sure enough, Flacco slides, but again leaves his torso relatively vertical rather than getting low to the ground. By sliding like this he is creating a bigger target for a hit – whether accidental or deliberate. Watch most QBs slide, they will minimise the target by getting their body as low to the ground as possible, Flacco needs to seriously work on this move to protect himself.
But is it that he does know to do this and instead feels that he doesn’t have to? As many people were saying in the comments section of the video, Quarterbacks are heavily protected, but once they become a runner many of these protections are no longer applicable. If a QB wants to ensure he is not his during a slide, then he needs to make sure he is sliding well before the opposition. The slide is a way of giving up to avoid contact, not to try gaining yards without being hit. Maybe players need to go back and remember that there is only so much protection they can receive and just choose to play it safe.
I still feel that it was a late enough hit by Alonso to be penalised, but if Flacco continues to slide like he does, it will be interesting to see the reaction if he gets hit again.
Week 11 threw up some tantalising clashes towards the top of the table. Chelsea look to have got through their bad patch and picked up the win hat home to Manchester United, Tottenham backed up their amazing midweek win over Real Madrid with a 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace – despite missing a number of regulars and being down to their third-choice keeper – and Manchester City continued with their dominance by beating Arsenal 3-1.
At the other end of the table, Everton and Bournemouth got much-needed victories at home to Watford and away at Newcastle respectively, while West Ham’s 1-4 loss at home to Liverpool marked the end of Slaven Bilic’s tenure.
Changing of the guard
I wasn’t going to write about West Ham this week as I said everything last week, however with the news that has broken over the last 24 hours, I felt it right to give mention to this. Slaven Bilic has been sacked and, while it is a shame to see such a good manager shown the door, I don’t think recent results and performances left the owners any choice. During his interview after the Liverpool game my overriding thought was that we were listening to a man who knew his time was up. With the speed that David Moyes was named as his replacement, I can’t help but wonder if he had already been told that he would be gone once they had his replacement sorted. But is Moyes the right person for the job? While Moyes is clearly an experienced manager who was known for his sound defence at Everton, it could be argued that they improved after he left, while his stints at United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland have been less than successful (sacked twice and a resignation following Sunderland’s relegation). Moyes looks like he could be a boom or bust decision, for West Ham’s sake, I hope it is the former.
Meanwhile, the gossip columns have Sam Allardyce being linked with the vacant Everton role. Though, like West Ham, they need someone good at shoring up what has been a woeful defence, I do not feel that Allardyce suits the style of play that the Everton owners and fans will want. However, I also feel that interim manager would be right for the job on a permanent basis as he still does not seem to have settled on a team that will work for him – trying Gylfi Sigurdsson as a false 9 was a horrible idea – and lacks the experience that a team like Everton truly needs to make a run back up the table and draw in the required talent in January. I don’t know who would be right for them right now as I think Sean Dyche has too much of a good thing going on at Burnley, but they need to move fast in order to find the right man.
Arsenal’s 3-1 loss at the Etihad was not just costly in terms of league position (they are now 12 points behind City) but also a big blot on Arsene Wenger. Over the summer, the Gunners paid a club record £46.5m to sign striker Alexandre Lacazette, yet Wenger decided to start him on the bench against one of the best clubs in England. If he had started Olivier Giroud up front it may have made sense, but Giroud was also on the bench and we were left with Alexis Sanchez leading the line. Not only is Sanchez more of a supporting striker/winger, he also spent the entire transfer window being linked with a move to City! I have said before that I am not sold on City’s defence (though Ederson is a clear upgrade on Claudio Bravo last season) so I think not starting an out-and-out striker was a missed opportunity for Arsenal. When he finally came on, Lacazette’s goal was his sixth in this league campaign. If he continues to be benched for the big games, there will be some awkward questions coming Wenger’s way.
Meanwhile, I think Manchester United can probably consider themselves lucky to come away from Stamford Bridge with just a 1-0 loss. Take nothing away from Alvaro Morata’s goal – that was a beautiful header and gave David de Gea no chance – but he was given a free header, despite United playing with 3 centrebacks. Smalling seemed to struggle with Morata all day and on another day could have conceded 2 penalties for holding and pulling back the Spaniard. They may still have the best defensive record in the league – 5 goals conceded, 2 less than Spurs or City – but the danger Chelsea posed in the final third will be of interest to other teams. In the meantime, United now need to pick up 8 points from somewhere to catch up with their intercity rivals… With City’s form, that will be no easy feat!
Week 12 predictions:
Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win
AFC Bournemouth v Huddersfield Town – Draw
Burnley v Swansea City – Burnley win
Crystal Palace v Everton – Everton win
Leicester City v Manchester City – Man City win
Liverpool v Southampton – Liverpool win
West Bromwich Albion v Chelsea – Chelsea win
Manchester United v Newcastle United – Man United win
Hi guys, so Day 6 has some exciting news: the Mo is now shaped! I got it all sorted last night and now I am locked in for the rest of the month.
It may not be the easiest to see on camera yet, but give it a few more days and it will be pretty visible. For those who want an idea of what it will look like, the second image was the last time I did style this back in 2011. My plan is to shave every couple of days to ensure that it is as visible as possible.
I really don’t like the clean shaven look, especially now that I have nothing on top either, so at the end of the month I will be growing this out into a beard rather than shaving it off, so not only will I be looking ridiculous for November, but also a decent chunk of December too! And for those of you who don’t know, I don’t drive so rely on public transport.
Keep coming back for updates on the Mo-gression!
Please donate to my Movember page and help me to change the face of men’s health.
The 2017/18 edition of the Anglo-Welsh Cup kicked off this weekend with a number of high scoring matches. On Saturday the defending champions Leicester welcomed Gloucester to Welford Road for a match that eventually finished 26-24 in favour of the Tigers after a late missed penalty from Gloucester fly half Lloyd Evans.
As is the way with the Anglo-Welsh Cup these days, both teams put out a number of youngsters and academy players, with a smattering of more experience players who have had limited time on the pitch so far this season, either due to competition at their position or due to injury. For Leicester, Joe Ford got his first meaningful game time since his move from Yorkshire Carnegie, whilst Gloucester welcomed back flanker Ross Moriarty for his first game since picking up an injury against the Provincial Barbarians in the first match of the Lions Tour.
The vast majority of Gloucester’s experience in their starting XV was to be found in their pack, where Moriarty – who is himself only 23 – was joined by Gareth Evans, Paddy McAllister, Gareth Denman and James Hanson. In the backs only centre Andy Symons would be considered an experienced player, though Ben Vellacott is quickly gaining experience and looks like he will be a regular in the squad this season. Unfortunately for the cherry and whites, this lack of experience behind the forwards probably cost them the game.
Gloucester have frequently this season been willing to play the ball from anywhere on the pitch, including inside their own 22. This same mindset was very evident once again at Welford Road. Unfortunately, while the willingness to play rugby is great to see, the execution was nowhere near the level required and Tigers were frequently able to benefit from winning the ball back in great field position, allowing them to keep the scoreboard turning over.
I haven’t seen much of Lloyd Evans before this match, but I have heard a lot of good things about him. Sadly, I wasn’t impressed by him on this showing. We have already seen this season that Ben Vellacott is not a scrum half that will regularly be playing the territory game, instead choosing to look for quick ball away from the breakdown and quick tap-and-go penalties. This is fine, providing your 10 is then willing and able to control where the game is played, but Evans seemed too focused on trying to play rugby. A Freddie Burns-esque chip over the defence is great to see but it is a risky play and not something that should be attempted inside your own 22. The Leicester line-out was anything but reliable this weekend and if Gloucester had piled the pressure on them by kicking to touch and playing for territory, I’m fairly certain that they would have come away with he victory. To compound his bad day, Evans also missed a pair of penalties – not easy, but definitely kickable – which would have sent Glaws home with the win.
I don’t want this to sound like I’m blaming Evans for the loss, everybody is going to have a bad game at some point, but it showed how important it can be for a young fly half to have an experienced back with him to help control the game. A lot of the Gloucester backs ave been playing regular rugby due to injury issues so far this season, but it may benefit Evans to bring in Billy Twelvetrees for the next match in place of Andy Symons in order to help control the game.
Depth in the back row
In my opinion, Gloucester’s best player on Saturday was flanker Jake Polledri. The former Italian U20s player signed from Hartpury RFC in the summer and has really taken his chances well when called upon so far this season. With Moriarty returning to fitness and Gareth Evans also looking OK in his first start of the season before going off following a collision with Fred Tuilagi, Gloucester are full of depth in the back row, despite Matt Kvesic and Sione Kalamafoni both leaving in the summer.
While there is nobody standing out as a proper ‘jackal’ style 7 so far, Lewis Ludlow has been huge in defence and currently tops Opta’s Premiership Rugby stats with 114 tackles – 16 more than his closest competitor – so if I was asked to pick my ideal Gloucester 23 assuming everyone was fit, he would be joining Moriarty and Ruan Ackermann in my starting back row. This then leaves Jacob Rowan, Ben Morgan, Polledri, Evans and Freddie Clarke (who showed on Saturday that he can also cover second row) all competing for the back row cover on the bench… which Tom Savage could also theoretically cover if Jeremy Thrush and Ed Slater start at lock. What makes this depth even better is that many of these players are still relatively early in their careers, so can hopefully continue to grow and improve at Kingsholm over the next few years… though Moriarty will likely be heading back to Wales due to the new eligibility criteria for the national team.
Taking the chance given
The Anglo-Welsh Cup is not about putting out your strongest lineup in order to win some silverware, this is a competition about letting the youth gain some first team experience and letting some players put their hand up for selection in league or European matches.
I’ve already mentioned Polledri, but I continue to be impressed by the quick ball and quicker thinking of Vellacott and think it’s surely just a matter of time before the Scottish national team come calling. Tom Hudson did not get many chances to impress in this game, but he seemed much more comfortable than when I watched him in Europe a few weeks back and he ran a superb line for his try – even if the pass from Vellacott was probably forward!
For Leicester, Joe Ford surely knows that he will find his opportunities limited behind younger brother George, but he has shown that he can control a game well and will surely get more game time in the league as the season progresses and they decide to rest some of their internationals. Jonah Holmes also signed from Carnegie over the summer but has struggled to break into the first team with the form of Jonny May and Nick Malouf on the wings, but looked good in this game and took his chance when it came to show why he was the top try scorer in the Championship last season. Adam Thompstone and full back Afa Pakalani will also hope their form in this game makes Matt O’Connor consider rotating his back 3. Looking to the younger lads, the latest Tuilagi to play at Welford Road, Fred – son of Freddie – was well dealt with by Gloucester but showed a few flashes of the talent that he will be as he continues to develop and will surely live up to the family name, while Charlie Thacker – younger brother of hooker Harry – impressed with some good handling and took his try very well in the first half as 3 Gloucester players failed to complete the tackle on him.
Meanwhile, on a similar note, Johan Ackermann and Matt O’Connor both stepped back for this tournament and allowed Head of Academy Richard Whiffin and Assistant Coach Geordan Murphy respectively to take charge. This is a great chance for both coaches to further their own development in the game and both look to be talented in this area. Whether they move on to other clubs in the next few years or eventually take over from the current bosses, I think the future is as bright for these 2 coaches as for some of the young players on the pitch.