Eyes on: Aviva Premiership – Northampton v Gloucester

Eyes on: Aviva Premiership – Northampton v Gloucester

Northampton Saints got their first Premiership win since September at the weekend when Gloucester visited Franklin’s Gardens. Gloucester – in the top 4 and revitalised this season under Johan Ackermann – rested a couple of key players and never quite got hold of the game, but still went into half time 8-14 up, before John Afoa’s try extended the lead in the 53rd minute. Nick Groom scored within minutes, however and Saints grew into the game, eventually getting a last minute penalty try as their line-out drive was brought to ground illegally to win the game 22-19.

This will be looking at the game from a Gloucester perspective. Sorry Saints fans, but I’ve not been following Northampton’s season that much and I didn’t feel there was much really worth noting other than Luther Burrell’s injury and another poor performance (and early substitution) for Dylan Hartley.

 

Improving, but not the finished article

If someone had told me over the summer that Gloucester would be sitting in the top 4 at this stage of the season, I’d never have believed them. I had faith that Ackermann would have an impact, but thought it would take some time to see considering his late arrival after the Lions’ run to the Super Rugby final. However after an up-and-down start to the season, the cherry and whites went on a run of great results towards the end of 2017, despite not yet having put out their ideal XV courtesy of a number of injuries – British and Irish Lion Ross Moriarty has only played 62 minutes in the Anglo-Welsh Cup!

Ackermann used this game to rest some players who have been playing a lot of rugby recently, allowing some players like Ben Morgan to make their way back from time out.

lout
Gloucester were turned over going for a bonus point try and also lost a few line-outs against the throw in the final quarter

The impact of some of these selections could be seen on the performance – the back line did not appear to have the same chemistry with both Billy Burns and Billy Twelvetrees missing – but the performance on the whole was still good enough for the team to win. However this team are clearly not completely past the errors of previous systems and once again surrendered a promising lead in the latter quarter of the game, losing to a late try. This was probably not helped by a stomach bug that hit the team the night before (though credit to Ackermann not using this as an excuse) but it was an all-too-familiar sight for Gloucester fans.

The line-out which had functioned so well in the first half (including a 20m driving maul for a penalty try) fell apart after James Hanson was removed and allowed Northampton to get the territory to cause problems. A kickable late penalty was turned down in favour of a kick to the corner, but the maul was poorly controlled and turned over by Northampton. Nick Groom’s try also came from Gloucester not dealing with the restart following John Afoa’s try, while Owen Williams missed a couple of kicks at goal.

A couple of late decisions from Ian Tempest certainly didn’t help Gloucester – Jason Woodward’s fumble of a high ball clearly went backwards and I’m still to see an angle that convinces me Henry Trinder was offside for the penalty that led to Northampton’s winner – but I agree with Ackermann’s assessment that Gloucester’s indiscipline and mistakes lost them the game rather than Northampton winning it.

polledri
Polledri was probably lucky to avoid a card for an incident with Campese Ma’afu

Rising star

What a signing Jake Polledri has been for Gloucester this season! Last year, the young flanker was playing in National League 1 (the 3rd tier of English rugby) with Hartpury RFC, this year he has been tearing things up in the top flight. He has such strength, he always seems to make at least a couple of metres with every touch of the ball and it generally takes a couple of men to bring him down, creating space for others. He is still not the finished article, but has clearly taken advantage of Moriarty’s injury issues and become a vital cog in the back row alongside Ruan Ackermann and Lewis Ludlow.

He may have been a bit lucky to avoid stricter punishment for his reaction to Campese Ma’afu holding him beyond the ruck, but he will learn from experiences like this and be a better player for it. With his form at the moment, you have to imagine Conor O’Shea has a close eye on him and I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see him involved in the Italian squad for the 6 Nations.

Expanding your skills

prem tab
Gloucester remain in the top 4 but will consider this a missed opportunity to push for a playoff spot – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

Ben Vellacott is a fantastic young scrum half and I can’t speak highly enough of him and the impact he has had on the senior team. A former Scotland U20s player, he qualifies for England on residency and is believed to have caught the eyes on the England selectors. He brings such quick ball to the game and is always a danger at the back of a ruck or looking for a quick-tap penalty.

The one big area he needs to work on is his kicking game. In the first half against Saints, Willi Heinz was doing a great job of kicking Gloucester into the right areas of the field, but as Gloucester came under pressure in the final quarter, this territorial game was missing as this is not a strength of Vellacott’s game at the moment. While I love the impact that Vellacott can have on a game, there will be times when what is needed is a calm head and a mind-set of playing for territory. I’m not saying he needs to have a kicking game to rival Conor Murray or Richard Wigglesworth, but if he can learn from Heinz and expand that aspect of the game, he could arguably develop into one of the best 9s in the Premiership.

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 22

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 22

Round 22 is in the books (and the leftovers from Round 20) and the battles for position continue throughout the league. Manchester United’s win at Everton put them back into second ahead of Chelsea, who drew 2-2 at the Emirates. Liverpool currently hold a 3 point lead over Spurs for the final Champions League spot after their Ragnar Klavan’s late winner against Burnley, who are going through a hard spell of games and now sit 5 points behind 6th placed Arsenal. Towards the bottom of the table, West Ham’s win over West Brom lifts them out of the relegation zone to 16th, while Stoke, West Brom and Swansea currently occupy the bottom 3 with Southampton just ahead of stoke courtesy of goal difference.

On the hot seat

Mark Hughes took a gamble by fielding a heavily weakened side against Chelsea in Round 21 with a view to starting his top players against Newcastle, a game that looked much more winnable. However his Stoke team were routed 5-0 at Stamford Bridge and lost to the Magpies 1-0. His team selections made this a must-win game and as defiant as he was in interviews afterwards, I can’t help but think that his time with the Potters is coming to an end. He may not have had the best of luck with injuries at the back this season, but Stoke’s 47 goals conceded is the most in the league despite having a prospective England international goalkeeper in Jack Butland. With the sale of Marko Arnautovic, they are struggling to put the ball in the net at the other end, leaving them in the bottom 3 by way of goal difference.

pltab
The Premier League table after 22 rounds – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

The team directly above them, Southampton, are likely also considering a change of leadership at the moment. For so many seasons, the Saints have continued to impress in the league despite selling the vast majority of their players to Liverpool other clubs and also losing a couple of successful managers to bigger and better things. Claude Puel was unpopular last year and got the sack after just one season despite an 8th place finish, yet his replacement Mauricio Pellegrino has not lived up to his predecessors and their loss at home to Crystal Palace leaves them flirting with the relegation zone. There was always going to come a time when Southampton’s heavy turnover would catch up with them, but under Pellegrino they look a shadow of their former selves. It wouldn’t surprise me if the board are considering alternatives.

The long-awaited debut

Leicester fans finally got to see Adrien Silva on the field after months of training with the club due to him having not been available for selection until January. The Portugal midfielder was signed from Sporting CP on transfer deadline day in August, however the documentation did not reach FIFA until 14 seconds after the deadline, so he remained ineligible to play until he could be registered once the next transfer window opened.

I’ve heard many people comment on the ridiculousness of Leicester being penalised for the sake of 14 seconds, but deadlines are in place for a reason. If you let it go this time, then you open up a can of worms where you can ask how long after the deadline is still acceptable: 30 seconds? A minute? The deadline should have been known by everybody in the business, so the club should not have been leaving things to the last minute. Get your business done early in the window and there is no need to panic or risk missing a deadline.

If anything, the delay has probably helped him, as it meant he was not involved in the poor start to the season and was also able to spend months acclimatising to the team tactics and building chemistry with his teammates, rather than being thrown straight in at the deep end as most deadline day transfers would be.

That said though, whoever decided to give Silva the number 14 shirt at Leicester deserves a bonus!

Transfer watch

Over recent weeks I’ve noticed a few selection decisions that could be pointing to the intention of some teams in the transfer market this month.

Luke Shaw has not had the best of relationships with Mourinho this season, but in recent weeks has been getting more game time, helped by injury to Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young’s suspension. These appearances are great news for United as I always felt that before his injuries he was destined to become the first choice left back for the national team. These appearances give him a chance to prove he still deserves a spot at United and could help him revitalise his career at Old Trafford, while if he is considered surplus to requirements it is a chance to put him in the shop window and try to recoup more of the £31m the paid Southampton to sign him in 2014.

plres
All the results from the latest round of matches, plus Round 20’s postponed fixture between Spurs and West Ham – From http://www.premierleague.com

Yaya Touré has also come off the bench for Manchester City a couple of times recently. I’d completely forgotten the Ivorian was still even at the club and he seems very much on the periphery of Guardiola’s plans. At 34, he is past his prime but could still have a couple of seasons in him, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him move on by the end of the month.

If Chelsea don’t look to sign a striker this month then I will be shocked. Michy Batshuayi on paper looks to be second fiddle to Alvaro Morata, but in actuality Antonio Conte has preferred playing Eden Hazard as a false 9 when the Spaniard is unavailable. With Chelsea currently still playing in 4 competitions, they need to have another striker they can rely on and will surely look to bring in some reinforcements. If they do get someone, I would expect Batshuayi to leave Stamford Bridge in search of more regular football.

Outside of Liverpool’s ‘Fab 4’, Dominic Solanke appears to have become Jürgen Klopp’s favoured alternative at the striker position, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one of Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings leaving Anfield this month. Sturridge is a talented player when on form (though I often feel he is a little too selfish) but he is too much of an injury liability for a club that wants to be winning multiple trophies and I can see Liverpool looking to cash in on him. Ings is the harder one to judge. His last couple of seasons have been blighted by injury, but I am a fan of him and think that at 25 all it may take is a successful loan spell to get him back in Herr Klopp’s plans. If I was Klopp, I would look at loaning him out until the summer in order to get him regular first team football, then make a decision on his future after the season. That said, many teams need a reliable goal scorer this season, so if the offer is good enough I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ings move on a permanent deal sooner rather than later.

 

Round 23 predictions:

Chelsea v Leicester City – Chelsea win

Crystal Palace v Burnley – Burnley win

Huddersfield Town v West Ham United – Draw

Newcastle United v Swansea City – Newcastle win

Watford v Southampton – Draw

West Bromwich Albion v Brighton & Hove Albion – Draw

Tottenham Hotspur v Everton – Spurs win

AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Liverpool v Manchester City – City win

Manchester United v Stoke City – United win

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Movie Trivia Schmoedown

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Movie Trivia Schmoedown

So with the New Year I’ve decided to branch out a little bit from just my usual posts about sports. I tried it a little bit with Movember and now I am also going to bring in one of my other great loves: the Movie Trivia Schmoedown.

 

The Movie Trivia Schmoedown was created by the Schmoes Kristian Harloff and Mark Ellis in 2014 on the Schmoes Know YouTube channel. After Schmoes Know merged with Collider Videos, the Schmoedown expanded and turned into the show it is today. As with any trivia show, the important thing is to find the thing that will make you unique – UK viewers may think of shows like Tipping Point or The Chase – well the Schmoedown found theirs by combining movie trivia with WWE style entertainment. Watch a match and you’ll know what I mean, you can’t really miss the trash talk or the wrestling-style entrances complete with nicknames, theme music and in many cases costumes. But watch regularly and you will begin to pick up even more similarities: the factions players join, such as the Four Horsemen (formerly) or the Lions Den; the skits and storylines around some matches, complete with kayfabe – fake personas for real people to create rivalries and storylines. What the Schmoedown does well is that they let the results dictate the storylines, as opposed to wrestling where the entire event is planned out.

20180103_120526I’m still a relatively new fan, as a massive nerd and Star Wars addict, I came across the first themed Schmoedown match – a Star Wars team match between The Council and the Force Bros – and absolutely loved it. When I then heard that they were doing another Star Wars Schmoedown – this time a Fatal Five-Way – at Star Wars Celebration, I made sure I watched as soon as I could. If anything, this match was even better and in May 2017 I decided to give a regular Schmoedown match – Nerd’s Watch v Team Action – a watch. To say I was hooked immediately is an understatement and I am glad that the Schmoedown has been going from strength to strength as the year goes on.

Why am I posting about it on a sports blog? Well A) because it’s my blog and I can do what I want; B) there may be others out there who would enjoy watching this, so hopefully I can get the word out to potential new fans; C) though it may be a trivia show, the WWE style format and the way it has hit off has a lot of similarities to sports.

The league is run by a commissioner – usually Harloff, but currently Thadd Williams – which is a role we see in many American sports. The questions are asked by a pair or trio of hosts, who also act as commentators for the event. With the exception of the odd surprise match, we know the upcoming match schedule ahead of time, including getting brackets for tournaments like the Ultimate Schmoedown, allowing us fans to make sure we can keep track of when our favourite contestants will be competing again. There are currently 3 different divisions – Singles, Teams and InnerGeekdom (think Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel etc) – and competitors have records for each individual division so that it is easy to see who is in contention for a shot at the title – a belt similar to those worn by title holders in many combat sports. Like many combat sports, each Schmoedown match is generally split into a predetermined number of rounds (usually 3, 5 in title matches, each with a different format) and the competitor with the most points at the end wins, though if one competitor is dominant enough in a match it is possible for them to win by knockout (KO) or technical knockout (TKO) – again pulling very much from combat sports. At the start of the season-ending Schmoedown Spectacular II we even got the classic American sporting tradition of the Star Spangled Banner being sung before the event started (bravo Sinead de Vries!), a welcome surprise that I would be happy to see return ahead of big Schmoedown events in the future.

Due to the matches being on YouTube, there is a worldwide following, with many fans having joined the Movie Trivia Schmoedown fan group on Facebook (almost 16.5k members at time of writing), where they can interact with other fans and also the competitors. 20180103_120424To go along with this, many of the competitors now have their own fan groups such as the Outlaw Nation, the Wolfe Pack and the Action Army. Fans can also show their support in public with a selection of apparel on TeePublic, the Schmoedown equivalent of replica kit. To say I’ve already bought more than I should is an understatement! The pictures on this page are a selection of my current shirts. Fans also join together to form fantasy leagues, which are becoming ever more common in popular sports. As well as the actual matches themselves (usually 2 a week), Collider also puts out a weekly ‘Inside Schmoedown’ episode to look back over the latest matches and ahead to the next one while usually interviewing a contestant, while the Schmoedown Rundown podcast can also be found on the SK Plus YouTube channel discussing recent events. The Rundown’s very own Frank Janisch is our very own Opta stats and this was incorporated into he end of Schmoedown matches in recent months, while also having its own twitter page @SDRundownStats. There is also a great blog looking at the Schmoedown that has really impressed me since I found it a few months back.

The success of the Schmoedown and its continued growth are also allowing the league and Schmoedown brand to branch out further. 2017 has seen stars of IT and Power Rangers compete in celebrity Schmoedowns and the occasional Star Wars Schmoedown has evolved into its own distinct division (though matches are much less frequent than the other divisions) with many new competitors entering the league due to their specialist knowledge. For those who want to feel a part of the action, the Schmoedown has also created an app (currently just on iOS though there are plans to expand onto Android). If this growth continues, who knows where the Schmoedown will be this time next year!

 

Hopefully at least a few of you who read this are interested in looking into things further. If so I would recommend watching couple of matches to see if it’s something you enjoy. All the matches since the Collider merger can be found on this playlist, just be aware that it will start you on the most recent video (Part 3 of Schmoedown Spectacular II at time of writing) so you may want to go through a bit to find a match you want to watch. I would personally recommend an event like the Free 4 All, Collider Collision or the aforementioned Spectacular if you want to be introduced to a number of competitors at once, though this will bring you in part way through a number of storylines.

Personally, I can’t wait for the 2018 season to start!

Let’s get ready to Schmoedown!

20180103_120258

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 21

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 21

The final round of Premier League games in 2017 gave us one of the shock results of the season as Manchester City’s winning run came to an end with a goalless draw at Crystal Palace, which the home team could have won with a couple of late chances. Elsewhere around the country Chelsea put 5 past a weakened Stoke lineup to leapfrog Manchester United – who drew their third consecutive game – into second place, while Swansea City’s first match under new manager Carlos Carvalhal ended in a 2-1 victory away at Watford.

 

Screenshot_2018-01-01-16-47-20
I spent far too much time trying to find the Spurs match for my Round 21 predictions

The long wait

Can someone please explain to my why the match between Tottenham and West Ham was not played along with the rest of the Round 21 matches?!

I’m sure the Spurs players will have appreciated the longer break over the festive period, but this means that they are now playing on Tuesday (at Swansea), Thursday (West Ham) and Saturday (Everton), with just 1 rest day between each of these games. This hardly seems fair on the squad as they will likely have to rotate heavily against 3 teams whose performances are all improving over recent rounds.

I have mentioned before that Spurs do not have the same strength in depth as most of their rivals at the top of the table, so this first week of 2018 could prove critical in their chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season.

A costly trip?

While the 2 points dropped at Selhurst Park have little impact on Manchester City’s lead, I’m sure there were some fans watching the game thinking that this could be the moment the title could become a competition again. Impressive young star Gabriel Jesus was in tears after a knee injury forced him off midway through the first half and the best midfielder in the league Kevin de Bruyne was stretchered off following a heavy challenge in stoppage time.

Luckily for City fans the injuries look like they may not be as bad as initially thought, as de Bruyne was seen hobbling post-game, but Jesus looks to be out for at least a month. As of now, this injury leaves Sergio Aguero as the only striker available to Guardiola – and there have been plenty of stories linking him with a move back to Spain in this transfer window.

plres
The final results of 2017 – From http://www.premierleague.com

Personally, I already thought City would be stupid to allow such a quality player to leave even before this injury, so it will be interesting to see if they decide to hold onto him until the end of the season or get another starting-quality striker in… or perhaps both to ensure they have sufficient cover following any further injury.

Timely returns

Sam Allardyce has revitalised Everton since he was hired to replace Ronald Koeman! Despite having the same personnel, this weekend’s loss at Bournemouth was their first league defeat under Big Sam, and even that was caused by an individual error and an unfortunate deflection. As if this wasn’t good news enough for Everton fans, two quality players have returned from long-term injury layoffs at just the right time to help their team.

Winger Yannick Bolasie returned against West Brom on Boxing Day after over a year out with a cruciate knee ligament injury, while midfielder James McCarthy made his first start of the season following a hamstring injury that prematurely ended his 2016/17 season.

To get such experienced and talented individuals back after so long will be like having 2 new signings, but with the added benefit of them having already been part of the club so being aware of the direction Allardyce is looking to take the team. It can take a new signing time to gel at a new club, whereas these returning players will be hoping to make a more immediate impact and secure their places in the gaffer’s long-term plans.

 

Due to the quick turnaround between Round 21 & 22, combined with a bit more New Year’s celebrating than planned, I won’t be predicting Round 22’s results as most of the New Years Day games will be over by the time this is up, but I will be back with my Round 23 predictions in my next Ramble.

In the meantime, Happy New Year to you all, I hope 2018 brings you happiness and good health.