July 2018: A Rugby Ramble

July 2018: A Rugby Ramble

Change coming in Wales

The Warren Gatland era is nearing an end for Wales. We now know for certain that his tenure with the national team will come to an end after the 2019 Rugby World Cup. I may not be a fan of his and feel that some of Wales and the British and Irish Lions success over the last few years has been despite his presence, but his tenure has brought Wales 3 6 Nations titles, including 2 Grand Slams, and they were only 1 long-range penalty miss and a Sam Warburton red card away from making the final of the 2011 World Cup. The focus on fitness and solid defence int he early years, along with the adoption of “Warrenball” and a number of big ball carriers paved the way for competition for a number of years, but I don’t think he has done enough since then to adapt as the game has caught up and passed his tactics, often sticking with tried and tested players rather than give chances to people who many would argue should walk into the team.

There will be a big change coming at the end of next year though as he is replaced by countryman Wayne Pivac. Pivac has been a huge part of the development of the Scarlets, first as an assistant coach to Simon Easterby, then as Head Coach following Easterby’s move to Ireland. Over the last couple of years, the Scarlets have consistently thrilled fans with their tendency to play exciting attacking rugby and have tied this in with getting the results, becoming the last Pro12 Champions and making the final in the first season of the Pro14, while also bringing through an number of players into the national squads -not just for Wales, John Barclay has become a regular in the Scotland squad and Tadhg Beirne is surely set to do the same for Ireland now that he has moved to Munster. Personally, despite being an Englishman, I am so excited to see how the Welsh team plays once Pivac takes over and think rugby fans are in for a real treat.

One player who will not be involved moving forward, though, is Sam Warburton. The Cardiff Blues flanker announced his retirement from rugby aged 29 as he felt that his body was unable to allow him to play to the level he wanted. It is a sad way for his playing career to end as he has been sidelined since the final Lions Test, whereas a player of his quality deserved the chance to bow out on the big stage at the World Cup. Despite such an early retirement, he was still able to amass 74 Wales caps (49 as captain), captain 2 Lions Tours (a win in Australia and a draw in New Zealand) and play in 5 Lions Test matches. He learned from the best behind Martyn Williams but arguably surpassed his mentor and became a star. Much like Gatland, I have not always been a fan of him and think that he has been at his best in recent years playing at 6, allowing him to focus on his tireless tackling while nabbing the turnovers when the chance comes. However, I’m sure that he won’t be done with rugby as his knowledge of the game is so good I expect him to be a regular pundit if not going into coaching. The good news for Wales right now is that he has retired at a time when the national team in enviably deep at flanker. Ross Moriarty could feature at 6 but has so far been considered an 8, but that still leaves new Cardiff Blues captain Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Shingler and James Davies to name just a few. Hell, Thomas Young has been a star for Wasps and can’t even get near the squad! While it is a shame to see Warbuton’s career on the pitch come to a premature end, it will be great to see how the young Welsh back row develops ahead of the World Cup.


An American Tale

The inaugural season of Major League Rugby came to an end this month with Seattle Seawolves and Glendale Raptors meeting in the final. Despite coming out second best both times these teams met during the season, the Seawolves came away winners with a 19-23 victory.

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The Seawolves celebrate winning the inaugural MLR season – image from the MLR YouTube channel

I’d been really excited for the season and stupidly didn’t realise until just before the playoffs that the matches were all available to watch back on YouTube – needless to say I’m subscribed for the next year! From what I have seen though from watching match highlights and the full video of the final, things are looking very promising for the league and rugby in the USA in general. As much as I liked what I saw of PRO Rugby, when I compare to the MLR, the 2 competitions are poles apart. Despite being new, the teams feel established, probably helped by the kits from XBlades that blew the old Champion System kits out the water. The MLR also didn’t feel like it was relying on marquee names and instead focused on the teams as a whole, while teams still managed to bring in experienced players to help build the quality in the competition like 7s stars Osea Kolinisau and Mat Turner. The league season may have been short – 8 matches per team over 10 weeks, 2 semi-finals and the final – but that is in keeping with the American sporting formats and as Ben Foden pointed out recently, the players may actually benefit from a short season as they do not get burned out in the same way players might in the longer leagues that we are used to over here in Europe.

Will the league suffer a sophomore slump? I don’t think so. The league will surely grow in quality as the players get used to the competition, while Rugby United New York are set to join the league and boast a couple of experienced USA internationals, not to mention Foden! There are also plenty of other teams interested in joining over the coming seasons. It looks like this is a league and a sport that is set to take off and that is great news for USA rugby and the sport in general. I’m already looking forward to next season.


A step too far

Sponsors on kits… a difficult balance. Rugby obviously doesn’t have the money that football does and needs to get money wherever it can, but I must admit that some wonderful kits are brought down by the sheer number of sponsors. My own team, Gloucester, have arguably gone a bit sponsor-heavy at times to the detriment of some lovely kits, while the Scarlets’ new home kit reminds me of a Formula 1 driver’s overalls, there are that many sponsors on there!

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They may be more sponsors than I would ideally like, but at least Gloucester still have the (new) crest where it belongs

While sponsors are important and can be done right (full credit to Mitsubishi who allowed Gloucester to use a different version of their logo to improve the look of their kits after their first season as main sponsor) but some decisions on the kits are horribly wrong.

Enter Racing 92, who this season have tried to fit so many sponsors into visible spots, they have now relegated the club badge to just above the waistline. Nope, I’m not joking! Call me old fashioned, but I think that the club crest should always be somewhere on the chest in ride of place. Putting the badge down by the waist seems just 1 step away from taking it off the shirt altogether and not respecting the history of the club itself. I really hope the powers that be at Racing realise their mistake and put the badge back where it belongs next season, and I really hope that this idea doesn’t catch on with other teams.

Eyes On: Tour de France 2018

Eyes On: Tour de France 2018

The Tour de France is over for another year and for the 6th time in 7 years, Team Sky are emerging victorious in the General Classification – though maybe not with the rider everyone was expecting. The final standings in the various classifications were as follows:

  • General Classification:
  1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – 83h 17’ 13”
  2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) – + 1’ 51”
  3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) – + 2’ 24”
  • Points Classification:
  1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – 477
  2. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) – 246
  3. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) – 203
  • Mountains Classification:
  1. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) – 170
  2. Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) – 91
  3. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) – 76
  • Young Rider Classification:
  1. Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) 83h 39’ 26”
  2. Egan Bernal (Team Sky) – + 5’ 39”
  3. Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Goupe Gobert) – + 22’ 05”
  • Team Classification:
  1. Movistar Team – 250h 24’ 53”
  2. Bahrain-Merida – + 12’ 33”
  3. Team Sky – + 31’ 14”
  • Combativity Award: Dan Martin

History made, but not as expected

Though many likely expected a Team Sky rider to be standing on the top of the podium, I think most would admit that they would have been expecting to see Chris Froome there winning his 5th Tour de France title and 4th consecutive Grand Tour. Instead, it was his teammate and former super-domestique now co-leader Geraint Thomas who made history by becoming the first Welshman to win the Tour. With Froome having competed in the Giro d’Italia, it was unclear how fresh he would be for this race – and at one point it was unclear if he would be allowed to race while the investigation into his adverse test result from last year’s Vuelta continued – so Thomas was given the lead of the team in the 2018 Critérium du Dauphiné, which he won, and was given protected status as co-leader for this race.

20180730_193411.jpgAs is always the way in the Grand Tours, Team Sky brought a dominant roster to the race which certainly gave both Thomas and Froome every chance to compete, but whereas previously Thomas had struggled from poor days or poor fortune, this time he was able to keep himself where he needed every day and was able to avoid any bad luck, while many of his competitors in the General Classification lost time early on. Chris Froome lost 50 seconds on Stage 1 when he came off the road, while Richie Porte (who later retired injured on Stage 9) and Adam Yates also lost the same amount of time courtesy of another incident. Tom Dumoulin lost time after contact with Romain Bardet left him in need of a wheel change within 6km of the finish line and lost 53 seconds on the road with a further 20 seconds being added as a penalty for spending too much time drafting behind his team car to get back on. Romain Bardet had almost half a dozen bike/wheel changes on the cobbles of Stage 9 and expended so much energy to only finish 7 seconds down on the day, but struggled with a number of domestiques abandoning early, while Vincenzo Nibali crashed out on Stage 12 and Movistar could not decide which rider out of Mike Landa, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde to support.

Despite all these issues for his competitors though, “G” was fully deserving of the victory as he was able to deal with all of his rivals attacks and was often stuck on Dumoulin’s wheel when he attacked almost as if the Dutchman was another super-domestique, before attacking himself in the final kilometres to win Stage 11 (where he took yellow) and Stage 12 – where he became the first yellow jersey to win on Alpe d’Huez. I’ve noted previously that to win on GC, you have to be strong all-round. Thomas can climb with the best of them and also has a good sprint at the end of mountain stages, while also being an above-average time trialist – good enough to limit Dumoulin and Froome’s gains on the final day to less than 20 seconds. Watching G in interviews, he is just so likeable and after seeing his reaction to winning on Alpe d’Huez and seeing him break down after the time trial, not to mention his off the cuff speech on the podium in front of the Arc de Triomphe where he tried to thank everyone and promptly forgot the names of his teammates and only remembered his wife at the last minute, it was impossible not to be rooting for him.

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7 Grand Tours, 4 Olympic medals & 3 Commonwealth Games medals in 1 photo

Speaking of Froome, do not expect this to be the end of an era. Very few team leaders would ride 4 consecutive Grand Tours and it seems that this was just 1 race too far for him. He was still competitive throughout but in the last couple of days just did not have the legs to hold on against Thomas and Dumoulin, but responded well and became a willing domestique for Thomas in the final days. It will be interesting to see how Team Sky structure their rosters moving forward with both of these riders on their books. Will they use them in separate races to each get the benefit of a full team? Or will they work as co-leaders until the leader is clear and the other becomes a domestique? Do not rule out either option and a continued run of Team Sky dominance in the Grand Tours.

A new star

That dominance in the GC may not even have to come from Froome or Thomas, though, as young Colombian Egan Bernal announced himself on the Grand Tour scene with a wonderful race! The youngest rider in the race did not seem phased and was often one of the last remaining domestiques on the mountain stages and – much like Froome in 2012 – I occasionally got the feeling that he was holding back to protect his leaders. So many times we saw the big names in the GC try to attack on the final climbs only to be drawn back in by a group led by Bernal and his impact on the race only seemed to grow as the race went on, when he could have easily faded due to inexperience and extra workload due to Gianni Moscon being removed from the race. It may not happen this year or next year, but it surely won’t be long until we see Bernal leading a team at a Grand Tour and to be honest, when he gets that chance I’d expect him to be pushing for at least a podium position.

Survival of the fittest

The Points Classification started so well with a couple of early stage victories for Fernando Gaviria, however the excitement soon came to a premature end. Last year’s green jersey winner Michael Matthews was out early following a crash. Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw all missed the cut-off time on Stage 11, while Gaviria, André Greipel and Dylan Groenewegen all abandoned on Stage 12. With Arnaud Démare having had issues on the early sprint stages, the Points Classification was over as a competition Alexander Kristoff failing to win the intermediate sprint on Stage 16 meant that Peter Sagan was mathematically assured of the victory provided he made it to the end. The only excitement came after he fell the next day, though he was able to continue racing without having to worry about competing at the sprints.

Granted, crashes and injuries are difficult to predict, but too often in the Tour de France, the race for the green jersey is more about who can make it over the mountains in decent shape, something that currently too few specialist sprinters are able to do.

Not good enough

A crash for Thomas during the 2017 Giro d’Italia prompted me to write a piece about how outside influences can heavily affect the result of the Grand Tours. Well 14 months later and things haven’t really changed judging by this race.

Froome and Team Sky’s dominance over the years – and Froome’s adverse drug test – have made them very unpopular in France but where most people will g as far as booing, too many people decide to take it further. Team Sky riders, especially Froome, were repeatedly spat at and had liquids thrown at them throughout the race, while one spectator tried to push Froome off his bike on Stage 12 and was actually able to make contact with him (thankfully not enough to make him fall) and another tried to grab Thomas towards the end of one of the recent stages. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Froome actually found himself pushed off of his bike on the way down to the team bus from the finish line of Stage 17 after not recognising him. Not a great look.

It wasn’t just Team Sky who came into problems during the race as a combination of a flare from the crowd, a motorbike too close to the riders and a crowd too enclosed resulted in Vincenzo Nibali crashing on Stage 12 and abandoning the race with a fractured vertebra. Not only that but a protest by farmers on Stage 16 saw them try to block the road with hay bales, while the response of the policy to pepper spray the protesters caused the race to be stopped for 11 minutes after the pepper spray blew back into the eyes of the peloton.

If a professional event like the World Cup or the Super Bowl had even half these issues, there would be hell to pay! The tournament organisers have a lot of work to do to ensure the safety of the riders and the safety of the race result.

KOrruption Innergeekdom Tournament: Round 2

KOrruption Innergeekdom Tournament: Round 2

After Jason Inman defeated Mark Donica in their Innergeekdom Title Match back in April, the defending champion spoke about how he wanted his next title defence to be a worthy competitor who had got there by defeating some of the best competitors in the division. It looked like he may get his wish as it was announced that there would be 5 1v1 matches leading to a Fatal Fiveway Number 1 Contender Match for the chance to face him.

“The Killer”, fresh from his split with The League, approached Commissioner Thadd Williams and through questionable methods arranged a new format for the next run for a title shot: a tournament containing 16 competitors. Round 1 gave us some wonderful matches, with a mix of experienced competitors and new fan favourites making their way through to Round 2.

As I did in the last round, I will take a look back over each match and give my thoughts for what’s next for each competitor.

 

Rachel “The Crusher” Cushing 19-14 Eric “Super Zip” Zipper

Anyone wondering if Cushing could put in another dominant performance soon got their answer as she followed up getting the Innergeekdom Division’s first Perfect Round 1 (including the bonus question) against McCarty by doing it again here, while Zipper could only muster a respectable 7 points.

The Crusher spun Marvel in Round 2 and worked her way through the category to go 4/4 for 5 points, while Zipper chose to spin away from Star Wars and landed on Star Trek, which he struggled on for 2 points while giving Cushing 3 points from 2 steals.

19-9 down going into Round 3, Zipper knew he had to go 3/3 in order to avoid the TKO and while he started well, Lord of the Rings proved his undoing on the 5-point question and The Crusher had the victory without having to answer in the final round again.

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Rachel has her mind set on a match against Kalinowski, could this be the final of the tournament?

It’s hard to imagine someone stopping Rachel winning the tournament right now as she is clearly on a roll, she was 15/15 on her questions and 2/2 on steals today and with consecutive Perfect Round 1s, even Jason Inman must be getting nervous. She has such a breadth of knowledge but also enough depth in her knowledge too. Speaking on the Schmoedown Rundown following Collision, she stated that she is confident she can work her way through any Innergeekdom wheel slice and it’s hard to argue with that, while she also stated that she has been watching all the Innergeekdom matches so she will have picked up on any areas of weakness in her opposition. As for Zipper, he has some work to do in order to join the top echelon of Innergeekdom competitors. His reaction to spinning Star Wars showed he has no confidence in that category, and this match has also exposed Star Trek as a weakness, both of which will be capitalised on should he spin Opponent’s Choice in the future. More than that he needs to improve at the game, having burned 2 repeats in Round 1 and used the final one in Round 2 – all for questions that he still got wrong. His depth in some categories will help him stay competitive against some of the top competitors should he get questions in those categories, but he cannot afford to rely on luck moving forward.

Mike “Killer” Kalinowski 20-7 Mark “The Enforcer” Donica

Anyone who says Kalinowski was giving himself an easy route to the title by avoiding Rachel Cushing in Round 2 is crazy as I would consider Donica a top 5 talent in the Innergeekdom Division and this was the one match that I was not comfortable in predicting ahead of time, though I did give Kalinowski the slight advantage following his impressive defeat of Jared Haibon.

mikevmarkThe Knights of Ken got their first run-out in the league, but things did not go to plan for them as Donica was made to enter first despite being the favourite and things got even worse once the match started. Donica is usually so reliable in Round 1 but could only pull 5/10 in this match, while the spelling of “Frigia” rather than “Frigga” was the only thing that stopped Kalinowski from having a Perfect Round. What must have been even more galling for Donica was that on the final question of the round, he used a JTE rule but was unable to pull the correct answer, while the repeat allowed Kalinowski to realise that he had misheard the question and change his answer to the correct one.

The Killer deferred his spin going into Round 2 and Donica came away with Star Wars, a definite strength, on his first spin. Unfortunately for The Enforcer, he continued to struggle, checking to multiple choice on 4 questions to go 2/5 for 2 points, while Kalinowski came away with 3 points from 2 steals, including one where Donica did not take the time to fully think through his answer and make sure he was right before saying. Things looked like they may finally be looking up for the Knights of Ken though as Kalinowski spun away from Heroes only to land on Opponent’s Choice. Donica had clearly done some homework on his rival and having picked up on some visual tells from the Haibon match, he assigned Kalinowski Harry Potter, a category that he was 2/6 in going into this match (stat courtesy of Frank Janisch!). Kalinowski has clearly been studying though as he backed up his successful Round 1 answer in the category by going 5/5 for 8 points to seal consecutive KO victories.

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Kalinowski continues to make former weaknesses into unexpected strengths

Much like Rachel Cushing, Kalinowski is putting the Innergeekdom Division on notice with these performances, as his only misses in the match were the “Frigga” question that he clearly knew but couldn’t quite pull and 1 multiple choice steal attempt that was looking for a specific word from a quote. With the studying he has done in all the categories and the research he does on his opponents, I would confidently name The Killer in the Top 3 Innergeekdom competitors and will be shocked if he doesn’t make the final. As for Donica, well something seemed off throughout the match with his performance and once the 24-hour spoiler ban elapsed he posted on the Schmoedown’s Facebook group about how he struggled in his prep the days building up to the match and then during the match itself, before realising that he had been having an extended panic attack. Thankfully, he has since sought help and now has medication to help in the future, so I think while it is a disappointment, this match is one that he can write off as a bad day and look to come back stronger than ever. Massive respect to Donica for being so open about this, the more people that can be open about mental health, the better!

maremm“Amazing” Mara Knopic 17-9 “The Golden Mic” Emma Fyffe

A 1-0 record made Mara Knopic the favourite against Emma Fyffe (2-1) despite the lack of Schmoedown experience, but she didn’t have the best of starts in this match as she found herself up against it in Round 1, using repeats on the first 2 questions on the way to a 5-6 deficit by the end of the round.

Going into Round 2, she got herself back on track, answering 4/5 in the category of MCU for 7 points, while the one steal chance she game Emma was missed. Coming to the Wheel herself, Fyffe originally spun DCEU, but clearly did not feel confident enough in the category and spun again, landing on Marvel. At this point, things went horribly wrong for the manager of the Fyffe Club as she only managed to earn 1 point in the category, while Knopic was able to steal 3 of the 4 opportunities that came her way for 5 points, leaving the score 17-7 in favour of the Brown Dwarf Star.

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The Brown Dwarf Star could become the next superstar

Fyffe went into Round 3 knowing that she needed to hit all 3 of her questions and while she started well by getting 2 points in the category of Weapons, Tech, Vehicles & Magical Objects, she was unable to get her 3 point question in Back to the Future – possibly making an enemy of Schmoedown Rundown host Brad Gilmore in the process – to give Knopic the TKO victory.

Knopic’s Round 2 performance in both Marvel categories will be a good reminder to her rivals that she is a dangerous competitor, but we probably need to wait for her semi-final match to get a more accurate idea of her breadth of knowledge as 5 points this time certainly didn’t match up to her 8 points against Coy Jandreau. If I was to group the Innergeekdom competitors into 3 levels right now she would be in the middle group, but a good showing in her next match could push her into the top category. As for Fyffe, she again showed that while she is strong in a couple of categories, she does not have the breadth of knowledge to compete at the top of the division. In her post-match interview, she was saying about how many of her questions in Round 2 were about films that she chooses not to think about. That is not going to get you wins against the high-level competitors and I think the recent performances of Kalinowski and Cushing in Innergeekdom and other competitors like Ben Batemen and Andrew Ghai in the Singles and Teams Division shows the importance of studying ahead of your matches, especially in the Innergeekdom Division where there is a much shorter list of films to watch and research.

Adam “The Haymaker” Hlavac 18-4 Keetin “Magic” Marchi

hlavmarHaving both made their Innergeekdom debuts in the Fatal Fiveway won by Mark Donica, Marchi and Hlavac were up against each other again for the final spot in the semi-finals.

Ahead of the match, I would have picked Adam as the favourite provided he could stay away from questions about Middle Earth and while he did miss on the question in that category, he took the lead on Question 3 and never looked back, building up a 8-1 lead by the end of Round 1.

Going into Round 2 and Keetin initially spun Middle Earth but did not seem sure if she should stick with it or spin again. I was yelling at the screen to stick and in hindsight she also said that she should have stuck when speaking to Jenn Sterger after the match, but she chose to spin again and ended up with DCEU. This category clearly isn’t one of her strengths and despite checking down to multiple choice 4 times, she answered 2/5 correct for 2 points, while giving away 3 points from 2 steals. She did manage to steal 1 point back on Adam’s first question in the category of Villains, but following that he correctly answered his remaining 4 questions for 7 points to confirm the win via KO – the tenth consecutive Innergeekdom match to finish with a KO or TKO!

adwinAdam once again showed that he is a dangerous competitor due to his breadth of knowledge, especially considering Villains again covers any franchise. However he did miss what was a relatively easy Lord of the Rings question which leads me to think Middle Earth remains a danger for him. As for Keetin, this was a bad match and really didn’t do her justice. As she mentioned, she had been prepping to face Emma Fyffe before Kalinowski decided to change things up. While I don’t know how Keetin preps, I imagine that she has focused on categories like Harry Potter that she knows Fyffe will be strong in to ensure she does not give possible steal opportunities. Had she prepped to face Hlavac, I feel that she would have done more studying in comic book categories like DCEU. I think more than this though, she got in her own head early in the match. She appeared to struggle under the lights on her debut but was under less pressure against Knight as she was not playing form behind. Missing on Middle Earth and Harry Potter in the first 4 questions to go 3-1 down against a dangerous competitor possibly flustered her and once that happens it’s very easy to fall apart under the pressure. Sadly, I made the mistake of scrolling down to the comments on the video and the number of people saying she has no place in in the league was disgusting. Not everyone can be a title contender, but she brings a lot to the division and much like Coy Jandreau brings a fun personality to matches. I would love to see her make a return soon to get over this disappointment with a match against a competitor like Fyffe or Coy.

 

The semis

After Mara’s victory, KOmmissioner Kalinowski entered her post-match interview to announce that she would be playing Rachel Cushing, which in turn means that he will be facing Hlavac.

These will be 2 good matches and while I think any competitor could win on the day, I’m predicting a Cushing v Kalinowski final as they just don’t seem to have holes in their game at the moment.

 

What did you think of these matches? Who caught your eye this round? Who do you think will make the final? Let me know your thoughts below

7 to Watch in Premiership Rugby 2018/19

7 to Watch in Premiership Rugby 2018/19

The weeks since the Summer Tours finished may have dragged but get ready to celebrate rugby fans – the Premiership’s return is just weeks away! With the season-opener between Bristol and Bath on 31st August, there is just over a month until the new season starts, but before that we have the fun of the Premiership 7s at Franklins Gardens on Friday and Saturdaythough I still feel that the old format for the 7s was better.

As I have the last couple of years, I’ve taken a look at the new signings for each team in order to select 7 players to watch. As previously, I have continued to only pick 1 player from each club, otherwise Gloucester and Bristol could have taken the majority of these positions.

If you want a reminder of my selections for previous seasons, have a look here:

Charles Piutau – Bristol Bears

Speaking of Bristol, the list starts with former All Black Piutau. The fact that he was unable to make the All Blacks squad on a regular basis shows just how strong the All Blacks are as the former 7s star has been wonderful for Wasps and Ulster over recent seasons. Bristol will be hoping to have a better run in the league than last time they were promoted and have bought in a number of talented individuals who could have made this list like John Afoa and Harry Randall, they need to hope that the new players can gel quickly, but with this guy in the back 3, they will always be a danger with ball in hand.

Alex Cuthbert – Exeter Chiefs

Exeter have not had much of a turnover in players this season and that consistency will likely help them in their quest to win the Premiership title back. One player they have brought in though is Cardiff Blues’ Alex Cuthbert. With only 47 Wales caps to his name, Cuthbert has effectively ruled himself out of selection for the national team so will be focussed on making this move a success. Over recent years, the Chiefs have done a great job of making unwanted wingers like James Short and Olly Woodburn into try-scoring machines. Now with a former Lion available, who was at his best during the peak of the Warrenball era, they could have a deadly finisher out wide to push for the record of most tries in a season.

Danny Cipriani – Gloucester Rugby

I wanted so much to include Matt Banahan or Jaco Kriel on this list, but if I was being honest there was only going to be one Gloucester player getting the attention here: Cipriani. Since returning to England, Cips has improved almost every season at Sale and Wasps and even worked his way back into the England fold, starting the 3rd Test this summer and setting up Jonny May for the match-winning try. Gloucester appear to be a team on the up under Johan Ackermann and I’m expecting Cipriani to thrive behind a pack that should be dominant against many teams. On top of that, he has a number of talented backs outside him, the perfect recipe for him to be at his best. Gloucester certainly feel confident judging by the fact they let Billy Burns move to Ulster, could Cipriani be the player to fire Gloucester back into the playoffs? I have my fingers crossed!

David Denton – Leicester Tigers

Tigers may again look a bit threadbare in the back line if Manu Tuilagi can’t stay fit, but Denton is a signing in line with the usual Tigers ethos of creating a strong pack to bully opposition. Sione Kalamafoni was one of the stars for Leicester last season with his tackling and carrying and Denton will do more of the same. A physically strong player, the back row will look to give the Tigers a physical edge and will probably be relied on in the loose even more now that Ellis Genge has been ruled out for the foreseeable future, but judging by recent appearances for Worcester and Scotland, he appears to be getting back to his best.

Dan Biggar – Northampton Saints

Saints really struggled last season and I think a big part of that was a lack of control at fly half. Piers Francis missed time through injury leaving Harry Mallinder and James Grayson – both relatively experienced at this level – to steer the ship. Bringing in Biggar could be a huge move for the club. He may not be the flashiest of fly halves on this list, but he is a supremely talented game manager and an accurate goal-kicker, which will be vital in lose games. With the recent form of his Welsh rivals Rhys Patchell and Gareth Anscombe, the British and Irish Lion will need to be on top form if he wants to add to his 62 Wales caps and make it to the World Cup. Personally, I’m just hoping we less more of the Biggarena and less of the throwing his hands up appealing every decision this season.

Chris Ashton – Sale Sharks

Of course Ashton was going to make the list, how could I not include him?! The former Northampton & Saracens winger has returned from a year at Toulon citing family reasons. Despite only being there a year, he enhanced his reputation by breaking the single-season try record in the Top 14, while spending much of his time at fullback rather than his customary wing position. He then backed those exploits up with a hat-trick against England for the Barbarians. There are very few players who run better support lines than Ashton and I expect him to thrive in a Sale back line that has really improved over the last couple of seasons. If he can carry on his form from Toulon, it will be impossible for Eddie Jones to ignore him.

Alex Lewington – Saracens

Sarries may have lost Nathan Earle and Chris Wyles but they have brought in more than capable replacements in David Strettle and Alex Lewington. Such is Lewington’s quality that I have picked him over the man many consider unlucky to have not earned more England caps. Despite being in an often-struggling London Irish team, Lewington has repeatedly shone in the Premiership for the Exiles and I was honestly surprised that he remained with them the last time they went down. Now at 26 and with a lot of young competition at wing for spaces in the national team, Lewington has got the move that could take him to the next level. We have seen Ashton, Maitland, Wyles, Strettle and many others shine on the wing with the quality they get from their teammates, I expect Lewington to be no different, but he will have a fight on his hand to hold down a place against Strettle, Maitland and Williams.

Who are your ones to watch in the league this season? Let me know in the contents. Let the countdown to the new season commence!

Collider Collision II: Beyond the Matches

Collider Collision II: Beyond the Matches

We’ve reached the midpoint of the Schmoedown season and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for Collider Collision. The second annual Collision treated us to 5 matches in total: 2 title matches, A Triple Threat match to set up the next Number 1 Contender match in the Singles Division, the opening match in Round 2 of the ongoing Innergeekdom tournament and the return of the GOAT “Dangerous” Dan Murrell.

As with all the big PPV-style events in the Schmoedown, the matches were only half of the story as we also had a number of reveals and storyline progressions over the 2 videos, so much though that if I tried to do it all justice in one article you’d be reading for hours! Therefore I’ve decided to split my report into 2 pieces, 1 looking at the matches and now this piece looking at some of the other events that happened at Collision II and in Tuesday’s special.

Obviously it goes without saying, but this is going to contain spoilers for the event, if you do not want to be spoiled, go watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the event first, also Tuesday’s post-Collision special – you have been warned!

ATLend
This time last year, Above The Line didn’t exist and Samm looked far from being considered by many as the GOAT

Farewell to a legend

We’ll start the look back by talking about Samm Levine’s announcement on Tuesday’s special. Following Above The Line’s title defence against The Patriots, “The Inglorious One” said that he would have an announcement on Tuesday’s show. My immediate thoughts were that we were seeing the end of Samm at least in the Singles Division and my worst fears were confirmed as he announced to Kristian Harloff that he will be vacating both the Singles and Teams titles and walking away from competition.

While it’s sad to see, I can understand his decision. Since losing to Dan Murrell at Collider Collision, Samm has only lost 1 match in Singles and Teams – Above The Line’s first title shot at Schmoedown Spectacular II against The Patriots – and he has achieved pretty much everything possible for him in the League over the last season and a half. He won the inaugural Free 4 All, was the first competitor to 10 wins in the Singles Division, became only the second competitor (after Mark Ellis) to win the Ultimate Schmoedown Tournament in both Singles and Teams (but the first to do it in the same year) and was also only the third competitor to have held both the Singles and Teams title belts (Rocha and Harloff being the others), but again being the first to hold both belts at the same time. He’s been such a big part of the Schmoedown especially over the last 12 months, I think he is fully deserving of the chance to walk away on his own terms and take a break. It does not have to be permanent and I hope that we will see him back in competition next season, while in the meantime, he plans to stay around the Schmoedown similar to how Reilly did during his retirement, so I’m sure we will see him at the desk and also his knowledge of the game will be invaluable in helping the running of the league.

vacant beltsNow we need to look at the belts and what happens to them. William “The Beast” Bibbiani has already earned a title shot, while Marc Andreyko’s win at Collision earned him a Number 1 Contender match against Ethan Erwin. Kristian has already announced that the next Singles Title match will be between Bibbiani and the winner of Erwin v Andreyko so – barring any surprises from the KOmmissioner – we are guaranteed a new Singles Champion in the near future. Things are less simple in the Teams Division. Currently, the next Number 1 Contender match is between World’s Finest and The Shirewolves, who are both currently 2-0. The easy decision would be for this match to become a title match, but – and no offence to either team – I am not sure that either of them has done enough to earn a title yet. Granted, the Patriots earned a title match after victories over Megapowers and Heroes, but the Division is so much deeper now and I feel 2-0 is too early for a title match, yet the winner of this match would be deserving of a title shot. The option I’ve seen discussed most over the last couple of days is for the winner of World’s Finest v The Shirewolves to face the winner of the Ultimate Schmoedown Team Tournament (more on that later) for the title, however Thadd has already announced that the winner of the tournament would play their title match at Schmoedown Spectacular III, which seems an awful long time to go without a champion in one of the 2 main divisions. There is one other option available though: Brianne Chandler. Miss Movies still has the option of a title shot in a division of her choosing at any point courtesy of her win at Free 4 All II, and with the Teams Division in such a state this could be the perfect time to use it. If she were to come out and announce that she has given her title shot to a team – or even found a teammate to challenge for it herself, then they could compete against the winners of World’s Finest v The Shirewolves and make the match at Spectacular III their first title defence.

I’ll be interested to see how the league reacts to the opportunities available over the next couple of weeks.

Canine conundrum

The grand return of The Horsemen to competition was dealt a blow as Mark “Yodi” Reilly was forced to miss Collision in order to find his dog Kal, who had gone missing. Now Kal the Schmoe Dog is not just any ordinary dog and certainly wouldn’t just go missing at such a vital time and John Rocha quickly realised that something fishy was going on.

find that dog“Now I don’t know what sort of Mickey Mouse Schmoedown league you’re running with you as the Commissioner, but I’ve been around this league a long time and shit like this doesn’t happen!”

Luckily, Thadd found Kal in Ben Bateman’s car and was quick to ban “The Boss” from the event, leaving Andrew Ghai to take on Dan Murrell without his main supporter present, though Reilly was also unable to return, having to look after Kal.

Kal going missing certainly played into Ghai’s hands with Murrell’s former teammate not able to be there to cheer him on, but I’m not so certain Team Action are guilty. As Ghai said, he may be a “disgusting piece of shit, bad human garbage person” but he and Batemen are generally quick to take credit for their nefarious deeds and also some they haven’t done – such as killing Dan Murrell – so to hear them both deny their involvement makes me think Bateman was set up, a thought reinforced by the coincidence that Thadd received the picture of Kal in Ben’s car as he was with them.

So if not Team Action, who could have stolen Kal? The obvious answer would be Mike Kalinowski, who has certainly been causing waves since he left The League. Given Team Action’s part in his split from The League, anything that would compromise them would certainly make sense, however there appears to be a degree of respect between Kalinowski and the Horsemen so far, so why would he want to jeopardise the Horsemen’s grand return to competing? But there is someone else who has featured fleetingly so far this season but has beef with the Horsemen: Finstock. The masked enigma returned from his year-long ban at Free 4 All II but has not been seen since. As a founding member of The Lion’s Den, the original 4 Horsemen were his main rivals, while Murrell was a former member of his faction but left after losing the Singles belt to Rocha as he got no support from the faction. With everything happening in the league, this could be the perfect time for such an agent of chaos to return.

Lion’s Done?

Kalinowski has certainly been busy since splitting with The League. As well as creating the KOrruption Innergeekdom tournament and arranging for Stacy Howard and Jeannine “The Machine” to face each other and Andreyko at Collision, we have also seen a number of competitors receiving KOrruption letters.

Ken Napzok received one a couple of weeks ago, leading to many – including myself – to think Ken’s time with the Lion’s Den may be coming to an end. With both Mark Donica and Tom Dagnino also receiving KOrruption letters during Collision, it looked like something was set to happen and boy did it happen! Following The Patriots’ loss to Above The Line, “The Pitboss” went on a rant blaming Dagnino for the faction’s recent failings and announcing to the Patriots that Dagnino was trying to trade Jeff Sneider to the Viper Squad and bring in new competitors for the Star Wars and Innergeekdom Divisions.

knights of ken

“I have proof, it’s on video”

“It’s Photoshop”

“It’s on audio”

“It’s Audioshop, then”

“I have a written letter—”

“It’s Everyshop!”

Ken went on to announce that his time in the Den as over and that he was leaving to form his own faction, the Knights of Ken, while Sneider also left to focus on his singles career after telling the assembled group that he had his own sources in the league that had told him the same information Ken had just divulged. As for Donica? He wasn’t even appearing with the rest of the faction during Collision and with Ken having been the one who often accompanied him, I would imagine that “The Enforcer” will be the first to join the Knights of Ken, leaving just Dagnino and his former B.O.B. teammate JTE as part of the Den.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the Lion’s Den from here. Sara Stretton was expected to join the Innergeekdom Division this year and Ken even mentioned her by name, so I imagine we will be seeing her join the faction. JTE has the ability to make a play for the Singles Division again, though with his current record he may struggle to make it into this year’s Ultimate Schmoedown. As for the Teams Division, JTE and Dagnino could very easily compete together again either as the Lion’s Den or perhaps even taking on the new Box Office Breakdown to win back the name, or they could take advantage of the shakeup to this year’s Ultimate Schmoedown Team tournament to find a new teammate for JTE. The Den may be down, but they’re far from out.

Vipers v Killer

The Viper Squad’s feud with Mike Kalinowski is leaving them in a dangerous situation. “The Killer” got his puppet Commissioner Thadd to put both their Singles competitors Stacy Howard and Jeannine the Machine against each other and Marc Andreyko for the chance of a Number 1 Contender match against Ethan Erwin. This appeared to be a move to cause dissension in the ranks of the Viper Squad and break them up, but the 4 of them appeared to still be together by the end of Collision.

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Kalinowski was involved in setting up the Howard v Machine v Andreyko Triple Threat match at Collision

Things may not be wholly rosy though as both Stacy and Jeannine appeared to feel they deserved to be the winner ahead of the match, Stacy calling herself the bigger sister, Jeannine pointing out she is the undefeated one, not Stacy. Curiously, though he and Markeia came out in support of both competitors for their entrances, Jay Washington only appeared alongside Jeannine during the promos. Stacy was also the only member of the faction not getting involved in blaming Emma Fyffe’s magic powers for Andreyko’s win. Add to that Jay receiving a KOrruption letter during Collision and the revelation that Dagnino was trying to trade Sneider to the Vipers – though we don’t know who for – and I can’t help but wonder if Stacy Howard is regretting her decision to not leave along with former teammate Brianne Chandler.

We don’t know if the Vipers are aware of the trade discussions yet and if it turns out that Stacy was the one being discussed for a trade, that could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. She could conceivably leave to join the Den if they were expressing interest in trading Sneider for her, or she could rejoin Miss Movies just in time for 6 Degrees to use Brianne’s title shot in the Teams Division.

featanarchyKOrruption leads to Anarchy

What a way to end the event! After 5 wonderful matches, Thadd interrupted Kristian and Mark’s wrap-up to announce that this year’s Ultimate Schmoedown Teams tournament would feature 16 teams. The catch? This year would have the theme of Anarchy. No current teams would be taking part, with names picked out of a hat to decide the makeup of the teams.

This could be an incredibly fun opportunity to see competitors teamed with people you wouldn’t usually expect to see them with, leading to some teams containing rivals and some teams also being an opportunity for factions to scout new members.

While I am looking forward to it, the competitors at Collision did not seem so impressed, swarming the table to protest Thadd’s announcement. I hope he survived the rush to the table…

Commissioner’s woes

Assuming he did get away from the crush following the Anarchy announcement, things aren’t going to get any easier for Thadd.

It’s clear now that though he is still the Commissioner, many of the competitors now know that it is Kalinowski pulling the strings in the league. On top of that, there are a number of competitors that will now have reason to be disgruntled with Thadd’s running of the league.

Kal going missing clearly left Rocha annoyed with Thadd and the fact that Ghai beat Murrell will have only intensified his anger. On top of that, Thadd had promised Murrell ahead of the event that there would be no shenanigans to affect him at Collision… well that didn’t last! And to top it all off, Jason Inman was there to witness Thadd throwing Jonny Loquasto off the desk for Cushing v Zipper to replace him with Kalinowski and did not look impressed. I don’t think Thadd will be getting much support from the Horsemen in the near future.

killerjonny
Neither the crowd nor his fellow announcers appeared impressed with Thadd replacing Jonny with Kalinowski

Jonny Loquasto must be fuming at the way that he was mistreated by Thadd! The League’s mouthpiece was invited to Collision by the Commissioner to be at the desk for the Innergeekdom match, something that he was clearly excited about and even dressed up for, only to be embarrassingly replaced after a matter of minutes in favour of Mike Kalinowski. To have been replaced by such a bitter rival will have been a huge disappointment for Loquasto and I doubt he will be forgiving Thadd anytime soon.

 

Emma Fyffe won’t have been impressed with the manner that Sam Witwer was stripped of his singles title. After Sam had to pull out of Collision due to getting a new role, Thadd initially said that the title match would be on hold until he could compete, but then changed his mind at Kalinowski’s insistence and told Fyffe that if Witwer couldn’t be there he would lose the title. Add to that, if the Shirewolves fail to beat World’s Finest then their bid for the Teams Title will be over for the season at least as they will be split up as part of the Anarchy tournament. Things have been going so well for the Fyffe Club but some of “Thadd’s” recent decisions will not have been what their manager wanted.

Drew McWeeny has already had some issues with Thadd having to rearrange his matches on his route to the Singles Title and after McWeeny lost to Erwin, he was to be found banging on Thadd’s office window while the Commissioner hid under his desk. “The Godfather” may have been placated somewhat by winning the Teams Title with Samm Levine, but now that he has had to vacate his title it wouldn’t surprise me to see him back on the warpath against Thadd.

AnarchyKiller
What will be the KOmmissioner’s next move?

Who knows who else could join the list of people with beef against Thadd as Kalinowski’s machinations continue? How much longer can Thadd hold onto the title of Commissioner before the outcry from the league is too loud to ignore and Kristian Harloff is able to take back the role he was cheated out of.

 

As I sign off for today, let me just give a big thank you to Kristian and Mark, Jenn and all the competitors, crew and fans for making Collision yet another wonderful event!

What did you think of all the goings on at Collision? What should happen to the Singles and Teams Titles? Who do you think will join the Lion’s Den and the Knights of Ken? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Collider Collision II: The Matches

Collider Collision II: The Matches

We’ve reached the midpoint of the Schmoedown season and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for Collider Collision. The second annual Collision treated us to 5 matches in total: 2 title matches, A Triple Threat match to set up the next Number 1 Contender match in the Singles Division, the opening match in Round 2 of the ongoing Innergeekdom tournament and the return of the GOAT “Dangerous” Dan Murrell.

As with all the big PPV-style events in the Schmoedown, the matches were only half of the story as we also had a number of reveals and storyline progressions over the 2 videos, so much though that if I tried to do it all justice in one article you’d be reading for hours! Therefore I’ve decided to split my report into 2 pieces, 1 looking at the matches and one the other events. Today I will be taking a look through each of the matches , while a look back at the other events will hopefully be up later in the week following Tuesday’s Post-Collision Special.

Obviously it goes without saying, but this is going to contain spoilers for the event, if you do not want to be spoiled, go watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the event first – you have been warned!

Singles Division, Triple Threat:- Jeannine “The Machine” v “Sassy” Stacy Howard v Marc “The Android” Andreyko: 13-11-14

3wayFollowing her victory against Emma Fyffe, The Machine continued the Viper Squad’s feud with the Fyffe Club by challenging The Android to a match. She got her wish – along with manager Jay Washington’s to have the Viper Squad feature in a main event – when Commissioner Thadd Williams announced that they would face each other at Collision. A fly was thrown in the ointment though as their previous goading of Mike Kalinowski caused him to make Thadd include Jeannine’s fellow Viper Squad member Stacy Howard in the match as part of a Triple Threat.

Going into the match, I had Andreyko as the favourite to win despite Stacy’s higher ranking courtesy of the calibre opposition he had faced compared to the Vipers, but I certainly started getting nervous as we went through Round 1. He got off to a bad start, missing the first 2 questions, but eventually got going to end on 4 points, while luckily for him both Stacy and Jeannine could only manage 5 points. A critical moment in Round 1 came on Question 5, where Jeannine attempted to use one of her 3 repeats, but left it too late and did not start asking until as Kristian Harloff started to say “pens down”. She clearly knew the answer but did not have time to write it all out and was rightly not allowed the points. I know Jay and Jeannine were not happy about the decision but the call to not allow with only half the answer on the board is in line with recent calls, while I vaguely remember another match recently where use of a JTE rule was not allowed as the request came after the 1 second count, but if anything slightly earlier than Jeannine’s attempt. Though I can’t begin to imagine the pressure of being under the lights, this is where a competitor must be aware of what is going on around them.

Going into Round 2, Andreyko turned down Disney to spin Fantasy/Sci-Fi. He got 2 points on his first question but missed the second and was lucky that neither Viper could pull the answer, before successfully checking down to multiple choice for his last 2 questions. Stacy Howard was up next and after turning down Comic Book Movies, she had mixed results in Directors, scoring 4 points but allowing both Jeannine and Andreyko a 1-point steal. The Machine finally made her way to The Wheel and spun Opponent’s Choice on her first attempt, choosing Romcoms. She had by far the most successful run in Round 2, going 4/4 for 7 points to leave her 4 points ahead at 13-9-9.

androidwinsInto Round 3 and The Android was up first courtesy of his lower ranking compared to Howard. The two of them were both successful on their 2-pointers, but after Andreyko correctly answered his 3-point question to bring his total to 14 points, Howard missed on both her remaining questions to be the first eliminated. Jeannine was finally up, but she missed her 2 and 3-pointers. And this is where that missed repeat in Round 1 proved vital. at 13-14 down, Jeannine now had to answer her 5-pointer correctly, whereas had she got the repeat through in time she a miss would have taken her to Sudden Death if Andreyko also missed. Though she got Romcoms again, she was unable to pull the correct answer and the Android had the win without having to answer his 5-pointer.

Up next for Andreyko is a Number 1 Contender match against Ethan “Big Time” Erwin and while I would be stupid to rule out the Android, Erwin has looked incredible in his 3 Singles victories and Free 4 All II and I find it hard to predict anything other than a win for the potential Rookie of the Year. As for Jeannine and Stacy, they both put in good showings but I think they need to try and go against higher calibre opposition than they have been facing this year. Witney Seibold has been teasing an entrance to the Singles Division and I would love to see him debut against one of these competitors, while Andrew Ghai (more on him later) and Ben Batemen (if he loses his next match against John Rocha) would also make good opposition for the Vipers.

alexbruceStar Wars Division, Title Match:- Alex “The Demon” Damon v Bruce Greene: 25-3

While this was still a good match to watch, it was unfortunately never going to live up to they hype following Damon’s Triple Threat victory at the last live event. Initially due to challenge Sam Witwer for the title, things changed last minute as “The Warrior” had to withdraw from Collision due to landing some work, which led to him being stripped of the title (more on that in a few days). Having already flown out from Atlanta, Alex was not willing to merely accept the gorgeous new belt and instead asked Thadd to find him an opponent. An open call was put out and it was answered by Bruce Greene, but he only had a couple of days to prepare and it’s safe to say it showed in this match.

new belt
Alex decided that he needed to earn the swanky new belt by winning a match rather than by default

Greene was already in deep trouble by the end of Round 1, having only amassed 3 points while the number of Porgs Chewbacca cooked in The Last Jedi was the only thing that denied Alex a Perfect Round. Things didn’t get any closer in Round 2 as Greene spun The Empire Strikes Back and went 2/5 for 3 points, while Alex was successful on all 3 steal opportunities for 4 points, before spinning Return of the Jedi and going 5/5 for 9 points. Being a title match, Round 3 was the betting round and after Alex spun Movie Quotes, both competitors chose to risk 3 points. Unfortunately for Greene he was unable to pull the correct answer (he clearly knew the character just not the name) while Alex answered correctly to take a 25-3 lead and, with only a possible 15 points remaining, the victory by KO.

I do feel for Bruce Greene here as he clearly didn’t have the prep time that Alex did due to filling in at the eleventh hour and I hope that we get to see him compete in the division again in the future. That said, I don’t think he would have beat Alex anyway as he was in fantastic form and only missed 1 question to go 54/60 over his 3 matches. This guy makes his living explaining Star Wars so the knowledge is never going to be a problem, just the confidence and the ability to play the game. He was already a fan of the Schmoedown before competing so he knows the game, while it is clear from his promos and entrances that he is growing in confidence from match to match.

newchamp
Congratulations Alex!

While it was a shame Witwer was stripped of the title, I completely understand the decision as it sounds like he will be unavailable for a considerable period of time. I’ve seen some people suggest that as a former champion, Ken should have been given the chance to face Alex, but I like the decision to bring in someone other than Ken or Joseph Scrimshaw considering Alex has only recently defeated them.

Looking at the questions asked as well and we are clearly starting to get to the deeper cuts, especially on the less recent films. I can generally hold my own when playing along at home in the Star Wars Division, but I only managed to answer 12/21 on the day and would have scored 14 points on either Alex or Bruce’s questions. I noticed as well that Question 6 of Round 1 asked for the name of a creature that featured in a sequence from A New Hope that was added as part of the 1997 Special Edition rather than the Theatrical cut. While I would expect anyone competing in the Division has seen the more recent additions, it could potentially catch someone out. The depth of some questions also makes me wonder how long the Star Wars Division can continue before spreading to the wider canon, especially as many of the character names are not expressly stated in the movies.

danghaiSingles Division:- “Dangerous” Dan Murrell v “Dastardly” Andrew Ghai: 14-16

What the actual ****?! Ever since Dan Murrell returned at the live event and challenged Ghai to a match, all the talk has been about how far Ghai would be able to go before Murrell won. Now we’re left in a reality where the Andrew really has become “The Ghai that beat the GOAT”… Unless Bibbiani’s entrance for his match v Jeff Sneider is longer and more elaborate than any of us thought!

If you look back at Team Action’s recent matches, Ben Batemen has not been carrying Ghai so much and Murrell clearly wasn’t underestimating him pre-match, stating to Jenn Sterger that Ghai must feel he had a chance of victory to call him out in the first place. Despite that, it was clear that everyone in the studio was expecting the GOAT to win on his return, which suited Ghai just fine.

“Some of it’s luck, some of it’s skill, some of it’s destiny” – Dan Murrell

ghaiwins
The Horsemen’s worst nightmare came true

Ghai came out with his usual bluster and trash talk throughout the match and though Murrell would respond to it, I would not say that he was overly affected. However, while Murrell went a respectable 6/8 in Round 1, Ghai shocked everyone by getting 7 points! Then, going into Round 2, everything went crazy! After spinning Pixar, Murrell chose to spin again but landed on Opponent’s Choice. Ghai has clearly joined Ben Bateman in studying past matches, deciding against giving Murrell Sports in case he had studied that category since struggling there against Harloff and instead giving him Romance. Murrell went 1/4 for 2 points but Ghai managed to get 3 points in steals before going to the wheel himself and spinning Comedy, going 3/4 for 6 points, while Dan stole 1 point on the final question to make it 16-9 to Ghai. After all the speculation of Murrell getting a KO or TKO, he now had to answer all 3 of his Round 3 questions in order to avoid a TKO! Murrell was successful on his first 2 questions, but was unable to pull the right answer for his final question and a a shocked Kristian Harloff announced Ghai as the winner by TKO.

theshock
I think their faces sum up how pretty much everyone outside the Action Army was feeling

This was a stunning result for Ghai and proof that studying the game and your opponent are equally as important as studying movie trivia. Having defeated the GOAT, it will be interesting to see if Ghai is given another big name in his next match – Reilly’s return, maybe? – or if he will be given a competitor with a more similar record. As for Murrell, let’s not look into this too much. He came up against a Ghai playing the game of his life and was ultimately undone by a bad spin in Round 2. Will he feature again before the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles tournament? I would imagine he would try to get at least 1 more match in, but perhaps he will instead use the Teams tournament as his practice.

KOrruption Innergeekdom Tournament, Round 2:- Rachel “The Crusher” Cushing v Eric “Super Zip” Zipper: 19-14

crushzipThe Innergeekdom Tournament entered its second round at the Collision with a match between Rachel Cushing, who was coming in off the back of a crushing (sorry!) KO victory over Markeia McCarty, and Eric Zipper, who TKO’d Mike Carlson.

Anyone wondering if Cushing could put in another dominant performance soon got their answer as she followed up getting the Innergeekdom Division’s first Perfect Round 1 (including the bonus question) against McCarty by doing it again here, while Zipper could only muster a respectable 7 points. The Crusher spun Marvel in Round 2 and worked her way through the category to go 4/4 for 5 points, while Zipper chose to spin away from Star Wars and landed on Star Trek, which he struggled on for 2 points while giving Cushing 3 points from 2 steals. 19-9 down going into Round 3, Zipper knew he had to go 3/3 in order to avoid the TKO and while he started well, Lord of the Rings proved his undoing on the 5-point question and The Crusher had the victory without having to answer in the final round again.

comingformike
Rachel has her mind set on a match against Kalinowski, could this be the final of the tournament?

It’s hard to imagine someone stopping Rachel winning the tournament right now as she is clearly on a roll, she was 15/15 on her questions and 2/2 on steals today and with consecutive Perfect Round 1s, even Jason Inman must be getting nervous. She has such a breadth of knowledge but also enough depth in her knowledge too. Speaking on the Schmoedown Rundown following Collision, she stated that she is confident she can work her way through any Innergeekdom wheel slice and it’s hard to argue with that, while she also stated that she has been watching all the Innergeekdom matches so she will have picked up on any areas of weakness in her opposition. As for Zipper, he has some work to do in order to join the top echelon of Innergeekdom competitors. His reaction to spinning Star Wars showed he has no confidence in that category, and this match has also exposed Star Trek as a weakness, both of which will be capitalised on should he spin Opponent’s Choice in the future. More than that he needs to improve at the game, having burned 2 repeats in Round 1 and used the final one in Round 2 – all for questions that he still got wrong. His depth in some categories will help him stay competitive against some of the top competitors should he get questions in those categories, but he cannot afford to rely on luck moving forward.

Teams Division, Title Match:- Above The Line v The Patriots: 57-48

atlpats3The ATL v Patriots trilogy came to an end in spectacular fashion as Collision ended with an Iron Man match. With both the first and second title matches between these 2 having gone down to the last question, and the only previous Iron Man match in the league – Witwer’s victory over Napzok at Schmoedown Spectacular II – being voted the 2017 Match of the Year, we were expecting a thrilling match… and boy was it!

I had been expecting each competitor to be answering the questions like it usually is in Round 1 of a match, but instead it was one whiteboard per team and this definitely seemed to work to Above the Line’s advantage as they have often commented on how they cover for each other. Of a possible 64 points on offer in the whiteboard section, ATL scored 50 points to the Patriots’ 45. Given Samm Levine’s recent successes in the speed round of title matches, it was fair to assume that the Patriots needed to enter the final 2 minutes with a lead in order to stand a chance of winning. However, “The Inglorious One” was far from the MVP of the final 2 minutes as he was first to the buzzer on only 2 occasions (answering both right). The real MVP on the buzzer was his teammate “The Godfather” Drew McWeeny, who was the first to buzz in 5 times and went 5/5. By comparison, JTE was first in on 5 occasions but went 4/5 for 3 points, which could have been worse had Harloff not ruled that he managed to say “Juno, umm… Ellen Page” in the allotted 2 seconds, while Sneider was the first in twice but went 1/2 for a net total of 0 points, giving the defending Champions a 57-48 victory.

drewgoeswild
For once, McWeeny wasn’t a minute behind everybody else realising ATL had won

It is currently frightening just how good Above the Line are and if McWeeny can continue to dominate the speed rounds along with Levine, they are going to be almost impossible to beat! Next up should be a title defence against either the Shirewolves or World’s Finest, but I don’t want to look too far ahead right now until we find out what Samm’s announcement is on Tuesday’s show. When he stated this, my initial thoughts went to retirement or taking a hiatus from competing, so I am hoping it is nothing of the sort, but I will make sure I cover this in my second piece on Collision. And in terms of what’s next for the Patriots… well see what happens on Tuesday, but it looks like the most successful team in Schmoedown history are done!

 

Which was your favourite match? Who surprised you most (besides Ghai)? Let me know in the comments below.

As I sign off for today, let me just give a big thank you to Kristian and Mark, Jenn and all the competitors, crew and fans for making Collision yet another wonderful event!

KOrruption Innergeekdom Tournament: Round 1

KOrruption Innergeekdom Tournament: Round 1

After Jason Inman defeated Mark Donica in their Innergeekdom Title Match back in April, the defending champion spoke about how he wanted his next title defence to be a worthy competitor who had got there by defeating some of the best competitors in the division. It looked like he may get his wish as it was announced that there would be 5 1v1 matches leading to a Fatal Fiveway Number 1 Contender Match for the chance to face him.

KOrruptionAnd then Kalinowski got involved.

“The Killer”, fresh from his split with The League, approached Commissioner Thadd Williams and through questionable methods arranged a new format for the next run for a title shot: a tournament containing 16 competitors. It’s a good job Thadd was able to find a way to fit everything in because Round 1 has thrown up some lovely matches.

In this piece, I will take a quick glance back over each match and have a look to what’s next for the competitors.

 

navarro&hlavacHector “The Nightmare” Navarro 15-16 Adam “The Haymaker” Hlavac

The tournament opened with a match between former Superhero News teammates Navarro and Hlavac. Round 2 could not separate them but Round 2 put the ball in Hlavac’s court as he showed his knowledge ofMovie Release Dates, while Navarro landed on Opponent’s Choice and was forced to toil through Middle Earth, giving “The Haymaker” a 3-point lead heading into the final round. The former champion successfully answered his 2 and 3 point questions and though Hlavac missed his 2 pointer, he successfully answered his 3 point question to make Navarro answer his final 5 pointer to stay in the game. Scores & Soundtracks proved to be his undoing but you could see that he knew the answer and just couldn’t pull it under pressure, while Hlavac goes on to the next round.

Hlavac clearly has good knowledge across most categories and his performance on Movie Release Dates will have certainly made his opponents take notice, however he has shown in both this and his last Fatal Fiveway that Middle Earth is a weakness and he will need to sort this quick in order to make the final. Navarro is another well-rounded competitor and as a former champion I’m sure we’ll see him continue to compete somewhat regularly in the division, but he does have areas of weakness – notably again Middle Earth – and also does not seem to be as strategic as some of the other top competitors in the division. He can certainly pull off results against top competitors, but I don’t know if he has the consistency to make another run for the title.

washington&fyffe“The Urban Gladiator” Jay Washington 16-18 “The Golden Mic” Emma Fyffe

The first of 2 Round 1 matches between The Viper Squad and the Fyffe Club saw a meeting of the managers. Both competitors traded blows in Round 1, with Fyffe taking a 1 point lead, but again Round 2 caused the killer as Jay got a respectable 4 points but Fyffe managed to steal 2 points before spinning Spinner’s Choice and selecting her wheelhouse, Harry Potter, which gave her an 8-15 lead that Jay could not overcome despite his best efforts.

Jay’s 16 points despite a hit-and-miss first 2 rounds shows that he can be competitive at this level, but to compete against the top contenders in the future he probably needs to improve his general knowledge and get a couple more categories that he can run convincingly. Emma once again got lucky and if she can get Harry Potter in Round 2 or in the later stages of Round 3 then she can be competitive, but I don’t know if she has the depth of knowledge across the board to match up against most of the contenders in the next round. She also need to be very careful not to answer too quickly as a couple of times she has given a wrong answer and then tried to change her answer afterwards.

cushing&mccartyRachel “The Crusher” Cushing 20-5 “Marvellous” Markeia McCarty

The second matchup between the Fyffe Club and the Viper Squad saw Markeia McCarty make her Schmoedown debut against arguably one of the most dangerous competitors in the division. While Markeia did not have the best of starts, scoring just 3 points in Round 1, The Crusher crushed it with a perfect round and the bonus to take an 11 point lead. Cushing then took advantage of the score to try out Star Trek in Round 2 to take her lead to 17-5. McCarty did not have such success on DC Movies and the match was over with a wrong answer on the 3rd question – A KO victory for Rachel Cushing.

Rachel sent out a message to the rest of the division and Jason Inman with this performance, the perfect round showing her breadth of knowledge and the good performance of Star Trek – a weakness for many competitors – suggests that she is going to be very hard to beat moving forward. As for Markeia, a debut is always going to be difficult as you get used to being at the table and under the lights, so to come up against one of the strongest competitors in the league was always going to be difficult. Hopefully we see more of her this year, but with the pace the league is moving at we may not get a chance if she remains solely in Innergeekdom.

carlson&zipperMike “The Answer Man” Carlson 11-14 Eric “Super Zip” Zipper

“The Answer Man says”: this was not the most high-scoring of matches. Both competitors went 5/10 in Round 1, but Zipper got a strength in Round 2 with the category MCU, scoring 8 points, while Carlson spun Star Trek and only managed 6 points, whilst also allowing Zipper a 1-point steal. In Round 3, the Answer Man couldn’t catch a break and missed on all 3 questions to give Zipper a TKO victory.

At 0-2 in the division and with more talent coming in recently, I think Carlson will struggle to have any regular success in Innergeekdom anytime soon as he doesn’t appear to have the depth of knowledge across the board to compete at the top. He did suggest that he may go into “the main thing” though and I would be very interested to see how he does either in Singles or Teams. As for Super Zip, we may have uncovered a new danger in the division. He clearly has some knowledge gaps as suggested by a 50% success rate in Round 1, but if he can blitz a category like MCU which is getting deeper by the month then he could be a danger. It will be hard to judge him fully until he is forced to answer in Round 3, but until then Zipper looks on course to be a contender in both the Innergeekdom and Teams Division as part of The World’s Finest.

kalinowski&haibonMike “Killer” Kalinowski 20-9 Jared “Too Smooth” Haibon

Probably the match I was most looking forward to this round, Kalinowski had already made clear his disdain for celebrities in the league but rather than have someone like Rachel deal with Haibon, he took on the job himself. He came out of Round 1 with an 8-6 lead and I got the feeling that he’d been putting in some study on Middle Earth. Unfortunately for Haibon, he did not appear so comfortable in the category and paid the price when he spun Opponent’s Choice in Round 2, scoring 3 points but also giving Kalinowski 3 points. Kalinowski came up to the wheel and landed on Spinner’s Choice, picking DCEU. The man formerly known as “KO” checked to multiple choice for the first question but after that he was well and truly going for the kill, picking up 2 points on every remaining question to seal the KO victory with his final question in the round.

After starting the season 0-3 across Singles and Teams, the win was a huge result for Kalinowski, made even greater by it being a KO over a competitor who had previously looked strong in this division. Having seen him in interviews, he clearly studies not just the movies he could be asked questions about, but also his opponents to know how to take advantage of their weaknesses. As for Haibon, he has mentioned going into Singles and Teams which I would enjoy seeing, but I hope he continues to compete in Innergeekdom as he clearly has the general knowledge but has been unfortunate to get categories that he is weak in for Round 2 in his last 2 matches. But before anything, he has a new adventure to begin: engagement! Congratulations to both him and Ashley!

jandreau&knopic“Crazy” Coy Jandreau 9-14 “Amazing” Mara Knopic

Coy won his first ever Innergeekdom match in a Fatal Fiveway that saw him beat Kalinowski with the infamous “Pudding” debacle, but had gone winless in his 2 matches since. He started this tournament against everyone’s favourite Brown Dwarf Star – Mara Knopic. Mara sarted an amazing debut (pun fully intended) by going 8/10 in Round 1, while Coy could only manage 3 correct answers. After spinning DC Movies in Round 2, Coy could only score 2 points but also gave 2 to Mara, while she extended her lead after spinning Star Trek to make the score 6-14 going into Round 3. Coy hit his 3-point question but missed on his 2 and 5-pointers to give Knopic the win by TKO.

I’m looking forward to seeing where Mara goes from here as though she did not have the best Round 2, I don’t feel that it was one of her strengths, whereas Round 1 suggested she has a very good general breadth of knowledge within the division. She also seemed very relaxed compared to most debutantes and I can’t help but wonder if she has picked up some tips from Dan Murrell ahead of competing. It was interesting too to see Kalinowski taking the chance to talk to her and try to get some gratitude for bringing her into the tournament, especially as he never did this for any of the other 5 players who got a chance because of the expanded tournament. Does he think that he can get Mara on his side down the line? As for Coy, he clearly has some areas of great strength but not enough to regularly be competitive in the division. He is a very fun competitor though and I still can’t help but enjoy watching him be involved in something he clearly enjoys. As the division grows I would love Coy to become one of the early opponents for players looking to make their debut. Oh and Coy: that moustache is a thing of beauty!

donica&gerberMark “The Enforcer” Donica 16-11 Sean Gerber

Originally meant to be a match between the old and new members of the Lion’s Den, scheduling issues meant that former champion Robert Meyer Burnett had to pull out at the eleventh hour and Sean Gerber of Superhero News came in to replace him. Donica took an early 7-5 lead in Round 1 and his victory was all-but guaranteed as Gerber struggled through Star Trek in Round 2, before The Enforcer earned 7 points on MCU. With an 8 point deficit going into Round 3, Gerber guessed his way to his 3-point answer but was unable to correctly answer his 2 or 5-point questions and he became the next competitor in the tournament to lose via TKO.

This is an important win for Donica as he looks to get over his loss to Jason Inman in his last match. He has showed once again that he has a good breadth of knowledge and I would safely name him one of the top 5 competitors in the division. With Kalinowski and Cushing still in the tournament though, I don’t know if he will be able to feature in back-to-back title shots. As for Gerber, I think this result should be taken with a pinch of salt. Outside of the Free 4 All, this was his solo debut and it came at short notice, limiting his chance to prepare. He appears to have a decent breadth of knowledge and was just unfortunate to land on Star Trek in Round 2, a category that has been the undoing of so many competitors. Hopefully we’ll see him get another shot soon.

marchi&knightKeetin “Magic” Marchi 13-10 “The Dark Knight” Rosie Knight

Marchi made her return to the league against debutante Rosie Knight in the final match of the round. Both competitors put in good showings in Round 1, answering 7/10. Being a regular recently on Jedi Council, when Knight spun Star Wars in Round 2 I thought it was game over for Marchi, but Knight had a horror show and only scored 2 points while Marchi stole 2 points to keep it level. Marchi spun Opponent’s Choice and was given DCEU, scoring 4 points while allowing Knight a 1-point steal. The Dark Knight went 0/3 in the final round and Marchi got the win via TKO.

I’m happy to see Marchi get the win here as I felt that she had a good showing in her debut match but was caught out a bit under the lights and also suffered from being in by far the stronger of the two Fatal Fiveways. She is another competitor with a wide range of knowledge, which will always give her a chance. Interestingly, Marchi mentioned post-match that she has been getting some coaching from “The Outlaw” John Rocha. We may have been getting hyped about the 5 Horsemen, but maybe Rocha is looking to expand the stable further. As for Rosie, I must admit I was disappointed. She fell apart after a strong start and what was meant to be her wheelhouse turned into a Round 2 nightmare that didn’t even appear to be down to nerves. She made a big point about how the league was letting anyone in and inadvertently proved her point before calling the game a fix. It looks like she could be involved in a historic moment for the league though as she was called out by Matt Cruz, who has become the first Patron to successfully audition for a place in the Schmoedown. I can’t wait to see how that goes down.

 

What did you think of these matches? Who caught your eye in the First Round? Who do you think will earn the chance to take on Jason Inman at the next Live Event? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.