The RWC2019 Debrief: New Zealand

The RWC2019 Debrief: New Zealand

Welcome to the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.

As I continue down the list alphabetically, today I will be looking at New Zealand.

RWC2019 Qualification

As defending champions, New Zealand qualified automatically for the tournament.

2019 Form

It was a mixed year for New Zealand. They shockingly finished 3rd in the shortened Rugby Championship, with just the 1 win in Argentina, while they also drew 16-16 at home to South Africa and were stunned by a 47-26 loss to Australia in Perth.

They did however get their own back on the Wallabies with a 36-0 victory at home, before defeating Tonga 92-7 in a warm-up match that saw them willingly go down to 14 men for the final 15 minutes.

During the year, a number of regular starters began to find their places at risk, with Reiko Ioane and Ben Smith being replaced by George Bridge and Sevu Reece, while Damian McKenzie’s injury suffered representing the Chiefs in Super Rugby eventually saw Beauden Barrett moved to fullback, with Richie Mo’unga coming in at flyhalf.

The Debrief

  • Pool Stages (1st in Pool B)
    • New Zealand 23-13 South Africa
    • New Zealand 63-0 Canada
    • New Zealand 71-9 Namibia
    • New Zealand C-C Italy
  • Quarterfinal
    • New Zealand 46-14 Ireland
  • Semifinal
    • England 19-7 New Zealand
  • Bronze Final
    • New Zealand 40-17 Wales

To start the tournament facing off against one of their biggest rivals was always going to be a hard match, but the All Blacks got off to a perfect start with a victory that left them highly likely to finish top of the pool. The Mo’unga/Barrett 10/15 axis and the change of personnel on the wings really began to function well, with Reece especially causing real issues for the Springbok defence, while the team also looked to capitalise on their opponents errors and punish them with tries. Against Canada and Namibia, they controlled the game well and built a platform to excel off regardless of the personnel on the pitch – just look at TJ Perenara’s try while he played on the wing against Namibia – though they did take a while to get going against Namibia, with a number of penalties (including 2 first half yellow cards for high tackles) and inaccuracies. Though the cancellation of their match against Italy due to Typhoon Hagibis put them through at the expense of the Italians, who were still mathematically able to qualify for the knockouts, I think that on the form shown in the previous 3 matches, the All Blacks would have qualified regardless.

Against Ireland, the All Blacks put in a performance that was terrifying and probably made many people feel that they were set to complete the three-peat. New Zealand played Ireland off the park, with Mo’unga controlling the game, Aaron Smith having one of his best performances in a while and hugely impressive performances from Reece and Ardie Savea too. Against England, however, they found themselves on the receiving end of a dominant performance, with the team struggling to deal with England’s quick defensive line and a lineout that was out to steal as much ball as possible. The additions of Perenara and Sonny Bill Williams brought an improvement to the performance, but too late to turn the game around.

With the Bronze final being a match that neither team appeared fully committed to, New Zealand ran riot against the Welsh. Mo’unga controlling the game and scoring a try, while Ben Smith looked back on form while scoring 2 tries as they took advantage of a Welsh defence that was over-chasing.

Not the best tournament for the All Blacks, but only one match that they should really look back on as a missed opportunity.

Looking Ahead

Let’s be honest, this cycle’s All Blacks squad was not the same quality of the last couple, but there were signs this year that the next cycle will see another top quality team coming through.

For so long, they have stuck to just Beauden Barrett at 10, but I have felt for a while that Mo’unga gives more control at flyhalf, while moving Barrett to 15 allows him to be even more dangerous. If they want to stick to the 10/15 playmaking combo, then they will be spoiled for choice when McKenzie returns from injury, while young fly halves like Josh Ioane, Stephen Perofeta and Tiaan Falcon will also be looking to put in huge performances in Super Rugby to break into the squad. While Williams and Ryan Crotty have likely played their last games in the black jersey, in Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown and Ngani Laumape (who I will continue to argue should have been in the squad), they have 3 world class centres to build the squad around, while Reiko Ioane is also a potential option in the centre and may look to revitalise his All Blacks career there with the quality of wingers coming through.

In the pack, Kieran Read will clearly be a loss, but the decision to use Ardie Savea at any available back row position has brought a great new dimension to the pack, allowing a more specialist fetcher like Sam Cane and then another player who can vary depending on the tactics, for example Shannon Frizell, Dalton Papalii, Luke Jacobson, Vaea Fifita and Akira Ioane, while injuries and suspensions for New Zealand’s main second rows over recent years have also allowed players like Patrick Tuipulotu and Jackson Hemopo to get some time in the squad, while Fifita is also an option there. Finally, in the front row, the majority of players are in their mid-late twenties so likely have another World Cup in them, while there are already young talented players coming through who will be pushing into the squad with a couple of good seasons in Super Rugby.

This is not a squad that will suddenly drop in quality anytime soon. The only thing that needs sorting right now is a replacement for Steve Hansen. While results and performances may suggest that he stayed in the role a season or 2 too long, he is still a highly experienced coach that has been with the team for so long. It is vital that New Zealand Rugby get the right man in to replace him, otherwise the improvements of the other teams around them over the last few years could see them come under pressure to stay in the top 3 of the World Rankings.

The RWC2019 Debrief: Namibia

The RWC2019 Debrief: Namibia

Welcome to the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.

As I continue down the list alphabetically, today I will be looking at Namibia.

RWC2019 Qualification

Namibia qualified as Africa 1 by winning the 2018 Africa Gold Cup, winning all 5 games in the process.

2019 Form

Namibia finished bottom of the Nations Cup with losses to Argentina B and Russia, though they did manage to beat Uruguay. They won all 3 of their warm-up games, however these were not against internationals: facing a Sharks Invitational XV and the Southern Kings twice.

The Debrief

  • Pool Stages (4th in Pool B)
    • Italy 47-22 Namibia
    • South Africa 57-3 Namibia
    • New Zealand 71-9 Namibia
    • Namibia C-C Canada

With 2 of the tournament favourites and another Tier 1 nation in Italy all in this pool, things were never going to be easy for the Welwitschias. They put up a good fight against the Italians and scores a couple of good tries, but they tired as the game went on and it let Italy build up a scoreline that could have been even more damaging had their handling not been better. Moving onto their highly vaunted neighbours, they were unable to deal with the physicality of the Springboks pack and were dominated at the set piece, which made it easy for them to be manipulated by the back line. Despite this – and 2 yellow cards – though, the team again fought hard throughout to stop the scoreline getting too one-sided.

With the All Blacks next up, it was easy to imagine that we would be witnessing a rout from the first minute. However, Namibia shocked everyone by putting in a big performance that held New Zealand to just a 10-9 lead after 30 minutes. Though the All Blacks eventually ran away with the match to score more than in the same fixture in the 2015 tournament, the match statistics showed just how much Namibia had improved, with far better stats for possession and metres made.

Going into the tournament, I imagine that Namibia were targeting their final match against Canada as their best chance of a win. Sadly, the impact of Typhoon Hagibis resulted in the match being cancelled, though earlier results meant that they finished above the North Americans courtesy of points difference.

Looking Ahead

This is a good time for Namibia. While there are some players in their 30s who have likely played their last World Cup, the majority of the squad are young enough to have a good chance of representing their country again in France in 2023, while key players like halfbacks Damian Stevens and Cliven Loubser, who have a combined age of 46. In Johan Deysel, JC Greyling and Johann Tromp, they have some fantastic players who will bring great experience to any side – the kind of star players that a team of Namibia’s level needs.

While Namibia look set to continue pushing for that Africa 1 spot, they are a long way from pulling off a result against Tier 1 opposition. Only a couple of the squad are playing in the top flight European leagues, with the majority of the players part of the Welwitschias Currie Cup squad. If Namibia are to continue improving, they need to have more representation in Super Rugby and other top flight competition. With the lack of success the Southern Kings have been having (and the relative lack of focus on them compared to the Super Rugby franchises), I can’t help but feel that the Welwitschias would find more benefit from competing in the Pro14, though I feel that Georgia (at least) should be ahead of them in the list of possible Pro14 franchises.

Schmoedown Spectacular IV Predictions

Schmoedown Spectacular IV Predictions

It’s hard to believe that we are reaching the end of Season 6 of the Movie Trivia Schmoedown. It feels like only a couple of months ago that Jeannine “The Machine” and Chance Ellison were opening the season live in New York. It has certainly lived up to the name “The Magic Season”, but it’s not over yet. On December 7th, Schmoedown Spectacular – the Wrestlemania of the Movie Trivia Schmoedown – will take place in front of a live audience, with thousands around the world likely to be live streaming the event. And what a card we have to look forward to: The final of the Ultimate Schmeoedown Singles Tournament and a Championship Match in all 4 Divisions of the League.

Who will be ending the season on a high? And who will be spending the offseason thinking what might have been?

Warning: This will contain spoilers for the Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament, so proceed with caution if you have not yet watched the full tournament


Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament Final

Originally meant to be part of the Orlando Live Event, Ben “The Boss” Bateman’s back injury caused the match to be moved to the opener at Spectacular. Bateman has had an incredible season, going 4-1 in Singles and 6-4 overall and is arguably the best Schmeodown Pro in the Singles & Teams Divisions to have never won a belt, so he will be driven to win this. William “The Beast” Bibbiani is a former Singles Champion and clearly one of the most knowledgeable competitors in the league, with his marathon run in the Free 4 All a highlight of not just 2019 but the entirety of Schmoedown history.

Recent months have seen a bit of a heel-ish edge return to Bateman’s play and it will be interesting to see how Bibbiani, performing in his first 1v1 live event, copes with that. While I have really come to respect Bibbs’ knowledge of the Schmoedown over the years – helped greatly by his time as my boss at TriviaSD.com – I think that Bateman’s preparation and calculating strategy within the game is second to none right now, so I see him pulling out the victory, assuming he gets a favourable category in Round 2.

Star Wars Title Match

Laura “The Luminess” Kelly may not have won the Fatal Fiveway at Star Wars Celebration this year, but she certainly put the Division on notice with a strong performance. Working with manager Alyce, she has clearly worked on her knowledge of the game, making her an even more formidable opponent.

Speaking of formidable though, defending champion Alex “The Demon” Damon is probably one of the toughest competitors in the entire league. Running a YouTube channel called Star Wars Explained means you need to know your stuff and he certainly does. He even started the channel as a way of training for a trivia contest at Dragon Con in Atlanta – a contest he finally won this year! There’s very little he doesn’t seem to know, while he also has experience of a full Schmoedown live event production from his #1 Contenders match against Ken Napzok and Joseph Scrimshaw last season.

While I think Laura will put up a strong fight, I just can’t see anyone beating Alex at the moment!

Teams Title Match

Two former rivals who became partners, “The Outlaw” John Rocha and “Dangerous” Dan Murrell are 2 of the biggest names in the league and from the moment the Founding Fathers were formed in Anarchy last year, it always looked a matter of time before they won the Teams Championship. They have a 4-2 record, with those only losses coming to KOrruption, who they went on to beat in Orlando for the title. John Rocha comes alive at a live event while Dan Murrell appears to get better with each live event appearance. A curious stat: Rocha has never successfully defended a title, losing on his first defences to Mark Reilly, Ethan Erwin and The Patriots; Murrell however has never failed to defend a title at least once in any of the 3 times he has held the Singles Title… One of these records will be coming to an end at Spectacular, but which one?

Their opponents Shazam! are on a great run of form, having defeated The Odd Couple, The Family and surprise package Loony Bin on their way to winning the Ultimate Schmoedown. I’ve already stated that “The Beast” is one of the most knowledgeable players in the game, and Brendan “The Kid” Meyer is a wonderful talent who I wouldn’t be shocked to see challenge for the Singles Title in the future.

What will be interesting is seeing how they cope with the live environment. As an actor, “The Kid” should be comfortable in front of a live crowd, and the pair were 2 of the biggest stars during Free 4 All 3, however that is the only live event that they have competed in so far. Meanwhile, Rocha and Murrell have thrived in live events since their introduction last season; they know what the atmosphere will be like firsthand. Add to that the difficulty Bibbiani will have 1 match to get over the agony of losing to Bateman (or alternatively, have to try and keep the momentum from beating Bateman during the Star Wars match) and it is highly possible that he comes into this match a little over/under-cooked.

I give the advantage to the Founding Fathers, but it’s gonna be close!

Innergeekdom Title Match

While it understandably isn’t the main event, this is the match that I am most excited for right now. With the retirement of Rachel Cushing, Mike “The Killer” Kalinowski and Kevin “The Smasher” Smets are arguably the top 2 competitors in the Innergeekdom Division. When the pair faced off at Collision in a #1 Contender match, Kalinowski came out the victor in a thrilling match, with Smets left to rue saying the wrong name on an answer he clearly knew.

When it comes to preparation, these are 2 of the best in the league, to the point that it is hard to consider any Innergeekdom category a weakness for them, just slightly less of a strength. At one point, Kalinowski had a shot to become Mikey 3-Belts, but that opportunity was gone in a flash and following his loss in Orlando he could conceivably finish the season with no belts, so he’ll be keen to hold onto the title. Meanwhile, Smets has had Kalinowski in his sights all season and as the only loss on his record, he will be up for revenge.

This is going to be a close match and I would not be at all shocked to see this go to Sudden Death, but I’m going to give the slightest of edges to Kalinowski.

Singles Title Match

Ben Bateman’s prize for beating Bibbiani will be a match against “Primetime” Paul Oyama. Part of the 2019 rookie crop after graduating from the fan leagues, Oyama has had an incredible season, going 6-0 in Singles, including winning the title off Dan Murrell and defending against Jeff Sneider in New York. This guy knows more about movies than someone his age should, while he also knows the game inside out.

Right now, I think that Bateman has a good chance against Oyama, providing the right categories come up, as he is so used to mind games from opponents like Andrew Ghai (and from playing his own mind games), while I am confident that he will have developed specific strategies for dealing with not just Bibbiani, but Oyama too.

I expect it to be a close one, but I can see “The Boss” shedding the Dan Marino comparisons and finishing the season as the Singles Champion.


The Tenth Manager

As well as 5 amazing matches, Spectacular will also give us the reveal of the tenth and final manager. With one spot still to fill, we know that next year’s managers are:

  • Roxy
  • Dagnino
  • RMB
  • Kaiser
  • Jay
  • Emma
  • Grace
  • Winston
  • Coy

So who will the last manager be? A while back, I suggested that a loss to KOrruption would see Rocha retire and become the tenth manager. From the way that Kristian was speaking earlier this week on SEN Live, it sounds as if the manager is already confirmed, which makes me think that it will not be Rocha, regardless of who wins against Shazam! Kristian also went on to say that at this moment, he thinks the unnamed manager has the potential to be one of the top prospects for winning in Season 7, something which leads me to believe that it is someone who knows the game inside out. Rachel Cushing and Clarke Wolfe have both ruled themselves out of the role, but I think the aftermath of the Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament Final gave us our answer: Andrew Ghai.

feat mts Movie-Trivia-Schmoedown-Drew-Ghai-Free-For-All-3

The dastardly one shocked everyone by announcing his retirement “from competitive play” following The Family’s loss to Shazam! “Competitive play” is an interesting choice of words. It suggests that he’s still intending to be a big part of the league, just not competing in matches. He is one of the best tactical minds in the game and has had a huge impact on Drew McWeeny during their matches together this season, and I think that he understands the role that a manager will have moving forwards better than most.

 

What are your predictions for Spectacular?

Premier League: November 2019

Premier League: November 2019

The title race took a strong swing in the direction of Liverpool in November, as Liverpool beat defending champions Manchester City 3-1 at Anfield, before a 2-2 draw for City at St James’ Park extended Jürgen Klopp’s side’s lead to 11 points going into December.

Tottenham’s struggles continued for the first half of the month, before Mauricio Pochettino was replaced with José Mourinho, which appears to have changed their fortunes in the following weeks. Pochettino was quickly followed into unemployment by Arsenal manager Unai Emery given his marching orders following a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton, while Quique Sánchez Flores made it to the end of the month but no further after a 2-1 loss at Southampton on the last day of the month marked the end of his time at Watford, his sacking being announced on December 1st.

Watford end the month bottom of the table, with Norwich and Southampton joining them in the relegation zone, though Everton, Brighton and Aston Villa are all within 3 points of the bottom 3, though all with better goal differences.


Premier League Round-up


Crime and punishment

Nobody ever wants to see a player get injured, so my thoughts went out to André Gomes as I watched him suffer a serious ankle injury against Tottenham at the start of the month.

A clumsy challenge from Son Heung-min brought the Portuguese midfielder down, but as he went down his foot got caught beneath him, resulting in a fractured and dislocated ankle. Son was clearly distraught at the injury his tackle had caused, but was then given a red card for the tackle – despite referee Martin Atkinson having appeared ready to produce a yellow card until noticing the injury. It was later confirmed that the severity of Gomes’ injury was taken into account, with the red card being given for endangering a player.

As much as I sympathise with Gomes, a red card for Son was an absolute joke. The challenge was clumsy and deserving of a yellow, but by no means dangerous, and the injury was simply the result of an unfortunate accident. In my opinion, a n injury to a player should not be accounted for when deciding on a punishment in these kinds of situation. A simple nudge in the back that is deserving of no more than a free kick could otherwise become a red card if the fouled player fell awkwardly and hurt themselves, meanwhile a much more cynical and dangerous challenge could only receive a yellow as it didn’t cause injury.

Thankfully, the red card was later overturned by the FA, while Gomes is expected to make a full recovery. Hopefully lessons will have been learned when a similar situation inevitably occurs again in the future.

And your winners… and new Premier League Champions…

It’s not even Christmas yet, but the title race looks all-but over. A 3-1 victory over the defending champions at Anfield was a big result in the title fight, but following Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Brighton and Manchester City’s 2-2 draw at Newcastle, the Reds have now opened up an 11-point lead after just 14 games.

While Liverpool have a history of letting a lead slip (sometimes literally, sorry Steven Gerrard!), I find it hard to imagine that it’s going to happen again this year. Liverpool are yet to lose a Premier League match this season and have only dropped points on one occasion, so even if City were to win every remaining game, it’s questionable if Liverpool would drop enough points to lose the lead.

The thing is, I don’t see City going the rest of the season without dropping more points. Leroy Sané has been a big loss to the attack despite the strength in depth there, while Gabriel Jesus doesn’t appear to adequately replace Sergio Aguero whenever the Argentina is missing. Worse though is at the back, where the failure to replace the outgoing Vincent Kompany has left them short at the back following Aymeric Laporte’s injury. Fernandinho is a quality player, but he isn’t a centreback, which teams are able to take advantage of, while he is then missed in the holding role, putting even more pressure on a questionable defence. Whether they wait for Laporte to return, or look to bring in another centreback in January, it could be that it is already too late.

I’m not a betting man, but if I was, then my money would be going the way of Liverpool.

Getting ridiculous

Southampton’s 2-1 win over Watford at the end of the month is a match that is going to stick in my mind for a while. While it was the match I watched during a long-overdue catch-up with an old friend, what I will remember it for is 2 of the worst decisions that I have seen all season.

I’ve thought for years that goalkeepers get too much protection and that was proved after Ben Foster tried to flick the ball past Danny Ings and, realising that Ings had the turn on him, pulled him down in the box. Instead of a penalty for Southampton, a free kick was given against Ings for leaning into Foster. Anywhere else on the pitch and against any other player, that would never go against Ings, so to see it here is ridiculous – thankfully it didn’t impact the result at the end.

That said, the only reason it didn’t impact the result was for a goal from Ings that should never have stood. As Moussa Djenepo rounded José Holebas, he appeared to stumble and stretch out an arm, with replays clearly showing him flicking the ball goalwards, allowing him to regain control of the ball and cut it back for Ings to score the equaliser. Under the new handball rules, it does not matter if Djenepo deliberately handled or not – any contact with the hand/arm by an attacking player in the build-up to a goal is considered a handball, so this should have been clearly ruled out. Unfortunately, VAR apparently didn’t pick up on this as they did not have all angles available to spot the offence. I don’t understand what the point of VAR is if they don’t have access to all available angles. I remain a firm supporter of VAR, but so far this season it’s been a shambles! With the nature of the business, every decision is important, as shown by Flores’ sacking the day after this loss. A “sorry, we got it wrong” after the fact is not good enough.

I bid you adieu…

November 2019 was a dark month for Premier League managers at top clubs. Mauricio Pochettino was shown the door at Tottenham and José Mourinho brought in to replace him, while Unai Emery was also shown the door at Arsenal, with Freddie Ljungberg taking over as interim head coach. Quique Sánchez Flores managed his last match in his 2nd spell at Watford this month as well, with his sacking being announced on December 1st. Meanwhile in Manchester, Ole Gunnar Solskjær remains on the precipice and I currently feel that it will be very difficult for him to make it to the end of the year still in charge at Old Trafford.

I understand why Pochettino was removed given the results this season, but I think that he has been in a similar situation to Solskjær, in that he has not received the support he needed from his club’s chairman. Emery however was not getting results despite bringing in expensive players like Nicolas Pépé, while the apparent lack of leadership, the incident with Granit Xhaka and the consistent failures to create a solid defence meant that his days were going to be numbered. Flores as well was no shock, given that Watford – a club already known for frequently changing their managers – were rooted to the bottom of the table. A 2-2 draw at Arsenal was a high point, but that was eclipsed by a 8-0 loss to Manchester City. With the way results were going, it was too big of a risk to stick with him if they wanted to avoid relegation.

José felt like a bit of a gamble, but things have started well for him at Spurs. Dele Alli has hit form again and results are going their way, even if 2 Premier League games in a row saw them almost throw away a 3-goal lead. United tonight will be a big test, but I’m sure that he will want to get one over on his former team, and I’m sure his players will be up for it too.

Who will be next: Solskjær, Marco Silva or someone else?


Finally, today is a first for my Premier League recaps as I have some content to include that I can take no credit for. Football has been a big part of me keeping in contact with my friend Chris since we stopped working together. A Spurs fan (he has provided all the pictures this site has used from White Hart Lane and the Tottenham Hotspur Staudium), I was very interested to hear his thoughts on Pochettino’s sacking and it was safe to say he had plenty. I joked to him that if he wanted to write something, I’d publish it for him, and within no time, I had an email waiting for me with what I’m about to show you.

Bear in mind that this was written on the evening after his sacking was announced, so José’s early success may have helped, but I think that we still stand by what he has written as the switch in managers looks to be a band-aid on a deeper wound.

Take it away Chris:

‘The Game is About Profit, Not Glory’ – why Tottenham’s issues lie at the top

In 2001, ENIC decided to purchase a controlling stake in Tottenham Hotspur F.C. from Lord Alan Sugar and Daniel Levy became chairman of the club. In these 18 years Tottenham have had 12 managers, an average net spend of £5.4 million per window and 1 league cup win.

As of writing, a quick search tells us that Tottenham Hotspur is the 9th most valuable football club in the world at an estimated $1.6 billion (Forbes; May ’19). ENIC paid an initial £21.9 million for the controlling stake (Telegraph; Dec ’00).

The Spurs way, ever since the ‘glory days’ headed by club legend Nicholson, has been ‘The Game is About Glory’ – in his great words, ‘It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory’. Should you ask any footballing fan what their definition of success is for their team, or any team, the last word that would come to their lips is ‘profit’.

On 27th May 2014, Tottenham appointed Mauricio Pochettino as Head Coach on an initial 5-year contract which started, what most football fans across the globe believed to be, the new era of Tottenham Hotspur. With the plans in full swing for a new, world class stadium, a strong, young and promising spine throughout the starting XI, the club needed rejuvenation and Pochettino seemed to be the answer.

In 5½ years, Pochettino has taken Tottenham to a new level. Leaving the club with the most wins by a Spurs manager in the post-war era (159), 4 consecutive top-four PL finishes and their first ever Champions League final, have ENIC, Daniel Levy and Tottenham Hotspur F.C. made a grave mistake? Tottenham have gone from being a club known for their inadequacy, ‘lack of guts’ and on the wrong end of the infamous ‘St Totteringham’s Day’ for so long, too long. There is one man responsible for changing that mindset, that gut, that desire and putting Tottenham on the global stage.

Not even 6 months after taking the club to their first ever Champions League final, the board of Spurs have taken the ‘brave’ and ‘difficult’ decision to part ways with their finest manager in many of our fans’ lifetimes. The first period of Pochettino’s tenure where he has faced criticism has been matched with rash, baffling dismissal instead of being matched with the support, investment and trust he has earned.

The performance of the team cannot be ignored in the recent past. The incredible Champions League run has eclipsed the Premier League performance of the club and, as of October 2019, Tottenham hat the joint most Premier League losses of 16, joint only with relegation-candidates Brighton & Hove Albion. This, however, was pre-warned by Pochettino who, within a press conference, was clear that having not signed any players from 31st January 2018 to 2nd July 2019, having significantly under-paid and important players not being offered suitable new contracts would result in ‘a painful re-build’. I have no doubt that this has been an expectation for Pochettino for some time who has had to work with limited investment deserving of his achievements over the course of his employment by Levy.

As of writing the shortest candidate for the job is Jose Mourinho. A natural winner when surrounded by money and a lot of it to pay the best players the best money for the biggest transfer fees. Is he, the fans (and Daniel Levy) naive to think that anyone is able to do a better job for the club than the man just fired? Only time will tell but, unless Levy and ENIC decide the game is about glory, rather than profit, it’s going to be a long road.

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The RWC2019 Debrief: Japan

The RWC2019 Debrief: Japan

Welcome to the RWC2019 Debriefs. The World Cup is now over and a new 4 year cycle begins, but the first stage of any cycle should be looking back at how things went – what went wrong and what went right – before looking on to how things go for the next cycle to ensure qualification to RWC2023 (if they haven’t automatically qualified) and to make sure they enter that tournament in peak form.

As I continue down the list alphabetically, today I will be looking at Japan.

RWC2019 Qualification

As hosts, Japan automatically qualified for the tournament, however they would have also qualified through finishing 3rd in Pool B during the 2015 campaign.

2019 Form

Wins over Fiji, Tonga and the USA saw Japan finish top of the Pacific Nations Cup, but they came into the World Cup on the back of a 7-41 loss to South Africa.

The Debrief

  • Pool Stages (1st in Pool A)
    • Japan 30-10 Russia
    • Japan 19-12 Ireland
    • Japan 38-19 Samoa
    • Japan 28-21 Scotland
  • Quarterfinal
    • Japan 3-26 South Africa

Japanese rugby is far from my strength, so when I was predicting the pool standings, I did not expect them to make the top 2, largely based on the lack of success the Sunwolves (who were playing a lot of non-Japanese players). So imagine my surprise watching them in the pools.

The Brave Blossoms won fans in 2015 with their miraculous win over South Africa, and those fans were multiplying exponentially as this year’s tournament went on, courtesy of the way that they played the attractive high-tempo rugby that we all love to see, but also did it well enough to not just be competitive, but to win their games. Kotaru Matsushima made himself an instant celebrity with a hattrick in the tournament opener against Japan and carried on with his strong performances to finish the tournament with 5 tries, the bounce of a ball narrowly denying him a couple as well.

The back row were also sensational through the pools – despite my pick of players to watch, Amanaki Mafi missing most of the tournament through injury – with Michael Leitch, Lappies Labuschagné and Kazuki Himeno being some of their biggest stars with their incredible engines, hard carrying, endless tackling and numerous turnovers, while hooker Shota Horie threw his hat in the mix for being one of the best in the world at his position.

With each match, the Japanese tactics appeared to be all-but impossible for their opponents to deal with. Not even defensively solid Ireland could find a way to stop them, and but for the bounce of the ball, Japan’s winning margin could have been considerably more. And it wasn’t just the attack that caused problems, as they played a high-pressing defence that limited their opposition’s time on the ball and helped Japan stay on the front foot to win turnovers. Their pool victory – and subsequent first ever qualification for the knockout stages – was fully deserved.

Things were always going to get tougher entering the quarterfinals, as they faced South Africa. The match ahead of the tournament had already suggested that a repeat of “the Miracle of Brighton” was unlikely, and that soon proved the case as they were unable to cope with the incredible physicality of the Springboks. Credit to Japan: they held in it as long as they could, and their stars didn’t perform badly, they just had no answer for a Springbok pack that was putting heavy pressure on their lineout and powering through them at every opportunity. A disappointing end, but a tournament with so much to praise for Japan.

Looking Ahead

This is a very interesting time for Japan. The team is clearly on the up, and the World Cup will have created so many more rugby fans, but now Japan need to build off this. Key to that is what I discussed with Georgia: finding a way to get regular Test matches against Tier 1 opposition. Beating Scotland and Ireland was no fluke, but if the Brave Blossoms are to continue growing, they need to be added to one of the Tier 1 international tournaments – for geographical reasons I would say the Rugby Championship.

Beyond that, though, they need to keep developing the talent. While stars like Timothy Lafaele, Matsushima and Himeno should have another World Cup in them, there will be question marks surrounding a number of the other big names from this squad. Horie, Leitch, Labuschagné, fly half Yu Tamura, and winger Lomano Lemeki are already in their 30s, while star winger Kenki Fukuoka is stepping away from rugby to become a doctor. After the hard work Japan have put in to get international recognition, they need to make sure they have the quality coming through to avoid a massive drop-off the moment their aging stars disappear, as arguably happened with Italy. And herein lies the issue as the Sunwolves have arguably not been used right, with so many foreign players filling the squad instead of Japanese players, and now they are entering their last season before being cut from Super Rugby. Meanwhile the Top League is seeing an influx of former internationals from other countries coming in for one last big paycheck before they retire, which may be bringing some extra quality to the league to learn off, but is also blocking off spaces for homegrown talent to come through.

Japan needs to look at its domestic game to ensure the talent is able to make its way up to the national team, while the national team needs to build on their success with regular Tier 1 matches. If this can happen, Japan are in a great spot to remain competitive for the coming years.

CRUSHIN’ IT: The Complete Schmoedown History of Rachel Cushing!

CRUSHIN’ IT: The Complete Schmoedown History of Rachel Cushing!

Back in 2018, I made a decision to expand my focus to include the Movie Trivia Schmoedown – a combination of movie trivia and WWE entertainment. As the brand grew, my writing on here came to an end in November 2018 as I was given the chance to write for their new website, TriviaSD.com along with a number of other Schmoedown bloggers. Recently it was announced that as the crew’s focus is needed elsewhere, it was announced that the site will be coming to an end. This means that the Schmoedown will be making a return to this site!

First of all, I want to give a big thank yous:

  • To Schmoedown creator and Chairman of the league Kristian Harloff and TriviaSD.com Managing Editor William Bibbiani for giving me the chance to write for the site
  • To the cast and crew, who continue to create an amazing product that is just going from strength to strength
  • To the fans, who have helped to create such an amazing community

Over the last few months, I have been posting my articles from the site onto here, and today we reach the final one. As some of these are almost a year old, some of them are somewhat outdated and may have proved to be completely off the mark.

Posted to TriviaSD.com 4/9/2019


Rachel Cushing has made a habit out of making history ever since she made her debut in the Schmoedown, way back in Season 4. As one half of The Shirewolves, she became one of the first female champions in the league, while her recent Innergeekdom victory over Mike Kalinowski has made her only the second competitor (and the first female) to become double-belted.

One of the league’s strongest triple-threat competitors (she’s dangerous in Singles, Teams and Innergeekdom), there is a great argument to be made that despite having only just two years in the league, she should be on the Mount Rushmore of competitors.

An editor who does not actively seek the limelight, she has become a fan favourite for so many people, so I’m sure there were plenty around the world who were heartbroken when it was announced that she and teammate Clarke Wolfe would be stepping away from competition following their Championship match against KOrruption. So as part of our farewell to the Shirewolves and in honour of “The Crusher”, I have taken a look back through her history in the league.

The Debuts

The Crusher made her Schmoedown debut on March 7, 2017 as one half of The Nerd’s Watch, alongside “The Pitboss” Ken Napzok. Their first match together was against Tuff Beats (Perri Nemiroff and Jonathan Voytko) and despite not having competed together before, The Nerd’s Watch came away with a 20-18 TKO victory over their more experienced opponents.

Cushing impressed with her debut and it was not long until she was shooting out on her own in an Innergeekdom Fatal Fiveway against Michelle Boyd, Hal Rudnick, Jason Inman and Jeremy Jahns. The Fatal Fiveway format was different in those days, with one competitor being eliminated in each round, but Cushing beat out Rudnick, Boyd and future champion Inman to make it to the final round, and was the top scorer in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. However, with the final round being on the buzzer and best of five, Jahns managed to hit the first three questions and get the victory.

Just a few weeks later she was the 17th entrant in the inaugural Free 4 All, where she lasted two rounds before being eliminated. Soon after this, she was back in action with Napzok, taking on Team Action. Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai had been jerks in their debut but for this match they came out with their mothers and acted like respectable gentlemen. If The Nerd’s Watch were put off by this, then they didn’t show it. They went on to beat Action in Sudden Death, 25-24. Cushing then made her Singles Division debut in June against Nick Scarpino and while “The Producer/Seducer” pushed her hard, she came out with the 19-18 victory.

Making a Name

Ken and Rachel’s success saw them playing at Collider Collision in a #1 Contender Match against Rotten Tomatoes (Grae Drake and Matt Atchity). While the pair fought hard, they could not pull out the victory and Rotten Tomatoes won 25-23 to set up a title shot against The Patriots.

Following this loss, Rachel went back to the Innergeekdom Division, which she considered her home, for a match against Mike Kalinowski. By this point, she was beginning to get a reputation for her entrances, and her Galadriel entrance for this match went on to win Singles Entrance of the Year at the 2017 Schmoedown Awards. In the match itself, she went 11/12 in the 1st round to set her on her way to a 20-18 victory.

The next time we saw Rachel Cushing was in the opening round of the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament, where The Nerd’s Watch were taking on the newly-formed Above The Line. In a close match, Above The Line emerged 26-25 victors and began a run that catapulted Samm Levine into the GOAT conversation.

In the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament, her first opponent was Marc Andreyko, who she defeated 16-15, missing a perfect Round 1 by just a single point. She finally hit the Perfect Round in her quarterfinal against Stacy Howard, nailing the bonus question as well. In Round 2, she missed on her first question, but hit her remaining 3 for 5 points, before hitting both 1-point steal opportunities that came her way on Howard’s spin to win by KO, 16-3, with only 1 question wrong and 3 possible points dropped. This set up a semifinal against Samm Levine but, like in the Teams tournament, she was unable to get the victory, losing 20-19 as “The Inglorious One” made his way towards the first of his titles.

While her run in the Ultimate Schmoedown tournaments had come to an end, her season was not over. Just a few weeks later she took on Jason Inman, Jay Washinton and Coy Jandreau in an Innergeekdom #1 Contender Fatal Fourway. A score of 7/10 in Round 1 left her behind Jason Inman, who had managed a perfect round but missed the bonus question. However she scored eight points in Round 2 to take the lead, eventually coming second to Inman, who went on to win the title from Hector Navarro at Schmoedown Spectacular 2.

Betrayal

Following Sam Witwer’s victory in a #1 Contender Match for the Star Wars Division, Tom Dagnino crashed his post-match celebrations to announce that he had the best competitor in the division. The Schmoedown world was rocked to the core when this competitor was revealed to be none other than Ken Napzok, who had turned heel and joined the Lion’s Den. Rachel went after him in an attempt to turn him back to the light and while she agreed that The Patriots were too strong, she convinced him to take on the Lion’s Den’s second team, Blofeld’s Cat (Marc Andreyko and Robert Meyer Burnett).

Contracts were signed and the day of the match came around, but only three competitors came out to the table. Ken Napzok was nowhere to be seen and The Crusher was given the choice of forfeiting the match or playing a 2v1 handicap match. She chose the latter and while she put in a strong performance, two heads proved better than one and Blofeld’s Cat won by TKO, 19-18. As their victory was confirmed, Napzok finally arrived but rather than apologising to Rachel for not being there for her, he instead joined the Lion’s Den’s celebrations.

Despite what she may have considered a poor end to 2017, she was rewarded at the 2017 Schmoedown awards, winning Singles Entrance of the Year along with Babyface of the Year and Rookie of the Year!

Rise of The Shirewolves

Ken’s betrayal clearly hit Rachel hard in the moment, but she was soon out for payback. During Schmoedown Spectacular 2, Rachel challenged Ken to a match: she would find a new partner and take on him and Tom Dagnino in the Teams Division.

Season 5 opened with Rachel facing off against another member of the Lion’s Den, JTE, as well as Mike Kalinowski in a Triple Threat #1 Contender Match in the Singles Division. After hitting a perfect Round 1 including the bonus question, she went 4/4 for seven points on her spin of Comic Book Movies and hit both steal opportunities that came her way for another four points, leaving her with 20 points, a high enough score to KO Kalinowski and TKO JTE. The Crusher had hit 100% accuracy in a match for the first time in her career and only missed 1 potential point, due to checking down to multiple choice once in Round 2.

Following this match, she and 2016 Rookie of the Year Clarke Wolfe announced that they had joined together to form The Shirewolves. Emma Fyffe invited them to join her new faction, the Fyffe Club, once they had won their match, but following World’s Finest’s victory over The Kingsmen the pair met with Fyffe and told her that they did not want to wait and wanted to join the faction immediately.

Now with a faction behind her, Rachel Cushing took on Samm Levine in a match for the Singles Title. There was no separating them in the first two rounds, with both getting six points in Round 1 and eight points in Round 2. Round 3 saw Levine take a 1-point lead as he bet the maximum three points while Cushing went safe with two points. Then it came to the buzzer round and once more, The Crusher found herself beaten for speed as Levine went 5-0 in the round to open up a 6 point lead. Rachel hit her two- and three-pointers but could not hit her five-pointer, leaving Samm Levine to defend his title with a 22-21 TKO victory.

With her run in the Singles Division over (for now), it was time for The Shirewolves to take on the Lion’s Den. Clarke and Rachel worked well together and though the Lion’s Den put up more points than many expected, The Shirewolves came away with a 25-22 victory. Rachel was the 26th competitor to enter the 2018 Free 4 All and while she again only lasted two rounds, she managed an impressive 8/10 points, proving the quality of the opposition she was against.

The Shirewolves were back in action at the second LA Live Event, taking on Team Action. In a close affair, Ben Bateman’s untimely mind-blank that saw him confuse actor Giancarlo Esposito and baseball player Giancarlo Stanton, and Action’s miss on their second 5-pointer following a successful challenge, saw The Shirewolves win 23-24.

Going for the Belts

With The Shirewolves going strong at 2-0, Cushing had her eyes set not just on the Teams belt, but also the Innergeekdom belt. Mike Kalinowski coerced Thadd into arranging a 16-competitor tournament in the Innergeekdom Division for the chance to challenge Jason Inman.

Rachel’s first opponent was debutante Markeia McCarty, a member of the Viper Squad who at the time were pushing a feud with the Fyffe Club. A perfect Round 1 including the bonus gave her an early 11-3 lead and she added a further six points after spinning Star Trek in Round 2, though she did allow two steals for two points. At 17-5 down, Markeia spun DC Movies but missed her first two questions. The Crusher hit both steal opportunities for three points, completing a 20-5 KO victory.

This victory set her up for a match at Collision II against Eric Zipper. The Crusher hit the perfect Round 1 and bonus in consecutive matches and went 4/4 in the category of Marvel Movies for five points. Zipper went 2/4 for four points in Star Trek, but two steals for three points set Cushing up for the 19-14 TKO victory – her second 100% accuracy match and first in Innergeekdom!

Cushing’s next match was back in the Teams Division, taking on World’s Finest. A strong combined performance saw Clarke and Rachel achieve their first TKO victory as a team, by a score of 23-19. Following this match, Brianne Chandler chose to cash in her Free 4 All victory and announced that she would be finding a teammate in order to challenge The Shirewolves for the vacant Teams Title.

Rachel couldn’t focus on their Championship Match just yet as she still had to take on rookie sensation and surprise contender Mara Knopic, who had won both her previous matches by TKO. Unfortunately, neither competitor was in good health on the day of the match, Knopic having recently been in a car accident and Cushing being clearly ill. Nevertheless, like the warriors in Middle Earth, the two continued with their match and could not be separated over 3 rounds. What followed was one of the most incredible moments in the history of the division as it took 11 rounds of Sudden Death to separate the two, Rachel finally missing on a Captain America quote to give Mara the 24-23 victory.

While neither competitor was anywhere near their best accuracy, the fact these two managed to keep going despite being in such poor health showed the desire of both competitors and the 11-question overtime (the longest in Schmoedown history) saw this match named Match of the Year at the 2018 Awards.

With her challenge for the Innergeekdom belt over, it was time to take on Brianne and her mystery partner – revealed to be Bryan Bishop – for the Teams Title. After a wonderful Thor: Ragnarok-inspired entrance that saw Cushing come out as Hela, they opened a 13-9 lead in Round 1, which they extended to 24-17 by the end of Round 2. The betting round saw the lead grow even more as The Shirewolves gained two points but Sick in the Head lost one, then after each competitor earned a point in the buzzer round, Clarke Wolfe hit the final question of the round to seal a 29-18 KO victory and make The Shirewolves the first ever female Champions in the League.

While Clarke chose to enter the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament, Rachel chose instead to focus on the Teams Division, where her next match would be a title defence against Who’s The Boss at Spectacular 3. In one of the best matches of the year, The Shirewolves entered with most of the women in the league in a tribute to the ladies of the Schmoedown. Ben Bateman and Mark Reilly held a narrow lead for the first two rounds but both teams missed in Round 3 to draw level, before The Shirewolves dominated the buzzer round to take a three point lead. Who’s The Boss earned the full ten points in the final round but The Shirewolves did the same, defending their title with a 34-31 victory.

Unsurprisingly, given how her season had gone, Rachel was a multiple winner during the 2018 Schmoedown Awards, winning Match of the Year for her match against Mara Knopic and four awards as part of The Shirewolves: Team Entrance of the Year for their Thor: Ragnarok entrance, Babyface Team of the Year, New Team of the Year and Team of the Year, spending almost as much time on the Comedy Store stage as Baby Carrots himself!

Innergeekdom Champion

With the Teams Title secured, it was time for another run at the Innergeekdom belt, now held by the face of KOrruption, Mike Kalinowski. Before she could face “The Killer” though, she had to take down Adam Hlavac. Cushing took an 8-6 lead in Round 1 and managed a two-point steal from Hlavac’s Round 2 spin of Star Wars, which he earned five points in. Rachel spun Opponent’s Choice and was given Movie Release Dates, but it did not help Hlavac at all as she went 4/5 for seven points to set up a 17-13 TKO victory.

And so, almost 2 years after she made her Innergeekdom debut, Rachel Cushing found herself competing for the title in the main event of the inaugural Schmoedown Throwdown. A perfect Round 1 with the bonus helped her pull out a 8-point lead by the end of Round 2, but a 5-point swing in the betting round and Kalinowski’s dominance on the buzzer saw him level the scores going into Round 5. Both competitors earned the full 10 points in Round 5 and the title came down to Sudden Death.

On the first question, Kalinowski missed by one letter, writing “Ninko”, while Rachel was able to hit the correct vowel with “Ninka,” in response to a Last Jedi question, and with that, the match was over with a score of 31-30. Rachel Cushing was finally left holding the belt she had always wanted, following in Samm Levine’s footsteps to become only the second ever double-champion.

Cementing the Legacy

With the Innergeekdom Belt finally hers, it was back to the Teams Division to defend the title against Critically Acclaimed. After a great entrance throwing shade at the internet trolls, Clarke and Rachel came out fighting, with Rachel and Bibbiani both earning a Perfect Round (including the bonus) in Round 1. Round 2 saw them go from 14-16 down to 26-20 ahead, which increased to 30-23 by the end of Round 4 following some controversy in the buzzer round. Bibbs and Witney scored 7 points in the final round, Rachel hit her 2-pointer, Clarke hit her 3-pointer and the title remained with The Shirewolves.

Their next defence was against The Odd Couple. Marc Andreyko had been their ally in the Fyffe Club for a season but now they found themselves on opposite sides of the contest. The Shirewolves came out in Game of Thrones themed costumes and their fans must have felt like they were watching the Red Wedding again as The Odd Couple held with Clarke and Rachel through the first 4rounds before going on to win the match 22-25, handing the Shirewolves their first loss as a team and earning the Teams Title from them.

The Shirewolves’ previous successful defences had earned them a rematch against The Odd Couple, which was scheduled for Collision. Following on from their loss, Clarke and Rachel went back to basics with a full focus on the match and though they found themselves behind for much of the bout, they pulled level going into the last round before going on to win 33-30, becoming the first team to ever win the title and then later reclaim it.

A Rivalry for the Ages

While The Shirewolves regaining the title was one of the big stories of Collision, the other was Mike Kalinowski’s victory over Kevin Smets, which earned him the chance to challenge Rachel for the title. The venue: San Diego. The time: Comic-Con. With a crowd of geeks cheering them on, the greatest of rivals went head-to-head once again. Much like the last time they met, Rachel took an early lead and a bad start to Round 2 for “The Killer” saw her ahead by 3. Things changed in Round 3 as the betting round saw the score shift from 18-15 in her favour to 15-18 behind, which stretched to 15-21 by the end of Round 4. While Rachel managed to answer all her Round 5 questions correctly, the deficit was too much to overcome as Kalinowski hit his 2- and 3-pointers to win back the title in yet another contender for Match of the Year.

And so, we reached the end. In a special episode, Clarke and Rachel announced that they will both be stepping away from competition, with their upcoming Championship match against KOrruption set to be their last match regardless of the result.

And what a way to go out, with the match having been announced as a Schmoedown Throwdown. Having faced each other four times over Singles and Innergeekdom, it seemed somewhat fitting that Rachel’s last hurrah would see her face Mike Kalinowski once again.

For one night only the Fyffe Club reformed, with Emma Fyffe and Marc Andreyko escorting Clarke and Rachel out. The Shirewolves put in a strong Round 1 performance but found themselves behind as Chance Ellison produced a perfect round and hit the bonus for a 13-15 scoreline.

Round 2 saw KOrruption hit Kalinowski’s ideal category of James Bond, while the Shirewolves stuck with Dramas and held their own, finding themselves only 3 points behind. Both teams scored 2 points in Round 3 and then it came to the buzzer round. Rachel has often found this round to be a weakness, but she was first to buzz in on the opening 2 questions, before Chance took over to get the last 3 points and extend the lead to 4 points. After Clarke hit the 2-pointer, Rachel put the Shirewolves ahead with the 3-pointer.

It looked like they may take the victory when Mike and Chance assigned themselves to the wrong 2- and 3-point questions, but KOrruption took the lead with their 5-pointer. And so it came down to the last question in the Shirewolves’ career: a 5-pointer to in the game. Sadly, there was to be no fairy tale ending for the pair, as they were unable to get the correct answer and in yet another iconic moment that will go down in Schmoedown history, Rachel was left to congratulate Mike Kalinowski on becoming the 3rd double-belted champion and – after an emotional farewell, Rachel and Clarke stepped away to leave us all broken hearted.

Farewell and Thank You!

Regardless of the result, to have gone from not feeling comfortable in front of a camera to becoming an Innergeekdom Champion and 2-time Teams Champion, not to mention only the second competitor to have been double-belted, Rachel has shown herself to be one of the greatest Schmoedown Pros in the league’s history.

Thank you, Rachel. We hope to see you back in the future!

SCHMOEDOWN MASTERPIECES: John Rocha vs. Mark Reilly III (w/ Reilly Commentary!)

SCHMOEDOWN MASTERPIECES: John Rocha vs. Mark Reilly III (w/ Reilly Commentary!)

Back in 2018, I made a decision to expand my focus to include the Movie Trivia Schmoedown – a combination of movie trivia and WWE entertainment. As the brand grew, my writing on here came to an end in November 2018 as I was given the chance to write for their new website, TriviaSD.com along with a number of other Schmoedown bloggers. Recently it was announced that as the crew’s focus is needed elsewhere, it was announced that the site will be coming to an end. This means that the Schmoedown will be making a return to this site!

First of all, I want to give a big thank yous:

  • To Schmoedown creator and Chairman of the league Kristian Harloff and TriviaSD.com Managing Editor William Bibbiani for giving me the chance to write for the site
  • To the cast and crew, who continue to create an amazing product that is just going from strength to strength
  • To the fans, who have helped to create such an amazing community

Over the space of a couple of weeks, I am posting my articles from the site onto here. As some of these are almost a year old, some of them are somewhat outdated and may have proved to be completely off the mark.

Posted to TriviaSD.com 4/9/2019


Season 4 of the Schmoedown was full of memorable matches as the show began to ramp up into the extravaganza that it is today. Just one look at the contenders for Match of the Year at the end of season awards gives an idea of how great the season was: Witwer vs. Napzok, McWeeny vs. JTE, Patriots vs. Above The Line, Rocha vs. Murrell, Harloff vs. Sneider, Murrell vs. Reilly vs. Rocha… the list goes on!

There is one match, though, that didn’t make the shortlist for the award and I think gets underappreciated when we look back at older matches: John Rocha vs. Mark Reilly III.

As I was looking back at this match to write this piece, I reached out to Reilly to ask if he had any memories from this match, which I will include his thoughts as we go through.

In April of 2017 John Rocha was firmly in his heel persona that gave the heels of today a platform from which to build. Reilly was the hero… the original champion. Having defeated Dan Murrell, Rocha had finally won the Singles Belt and his first defence would come against his old rival, who had defeated Samm Levine and Clarke Wolfe to earn a shot to win his title back. These were two titans of the game, who would be facing off for a 4th time, Rocha holding a 2-0 record in Singles and a 1-0 record in Teams from when Top 10 defeated Team Champs in Season 2.

“Rocha was on fire after beating Murrell and I wanted my title back. But I realized the only way to do that was to have fun. Embrace the game and put some faith in the Schmoedown Gods that I would know the answers needed to win.” ~ Mark Reilly

After two great promos that heightened the hero versus villain aspect and the rivalry between the two, it came down to the entrances, and it looked like the match may be over before it even began as word went out that Mark Reilly had been hurt and would be unable to compete, which would lead to Rocha defending his title by default. Just as the situation seemed darkest, Reilly’s Wolves of Steel teammate Clarke Wolfe ran out to the desk with an announcement that instantly perked up the crowd: “Mark Reilly’s gonna fight!”

Yodi emerged with a limp and wearing a Karate Gi and as the music began, it became clear that he was paying homage to The Karate Kid as he channelled his inner Daniel LaRusso with the “Crane” stance and front kick. From Reilly’s entrance we went to the champion and “The Outlaw” was on form. Suited up for the occasion and with his trademark cowboy hat and mask, with the Singles Belt over his shoulder. Such was the importance of this match, he even requested his Horsemen not escort him out for the match, this was just about him and Reilly.

“I loosened up. I decided to have fun and let the match play out naturally. Win or lose, I was going to go in there and play my best, have fun, and answer one question at a time.” ~ Mark Reilly

The match began and it lived up to the hype that came before. Round 1 saw the pair each go 7/8, with the crowd going wild as Rocha became the first to drop a point and remaining much quieter when he immediately drew level – it was clear who they were supporting in this match!

Round 2 saw Rocha defer to Reilly and things looked to be going in The Outlaw’s favour as Reilly’s first spin landed on Opponent’s Choice. While this could have been devastating, in a decision that may have in hindsight lost Rocha the match, he gave Reilly the category Scores & Soundtracks, something that most would look to avoid, but Reilly counts among his strengths. While Rocha did get a point through steals, Reilly still managed a respectable 5 points. Rocha’s luck with the Wheel in this match continued as he spun Spinner’s Choice and selected his specialty of Westerns, going 4/4 for 7 points.

“Then I hit Opponents Choice. I could have let that bad luck beat me. But I kept going and had fun. Then I had the Sandlot moment – and kept going. Who cares. Answer the questions as they come. There were no nerves, just trivia. I kept smiling and knowing that if it was meant to be, it was meant to be.” ~ Mark Reilly

While Rounds 3 and 4 saw neither competitor able to change the points difference, the buzzer round gave a wonderful moment that Reilly still brings up to this day as one of the biggest brain-farts of his Schmoedown career as he guessed “The Sandlot” instead of “Scream,” despite Ghostface being among the characters named in the question!

Rocha went into the final round with a 3-point lead and after both missed their 2-pointers but hit their 3-pointers, Reilly took advantage of the JTE Rule on his 5-pointer to take a 16-18 lead. In a mirror to Rocha’s win over Murrell, the champion was left having to answer their final question correctly to defend their title, but like Murrell before him, Rocha was unable to answer correctly, and the title passed back to Mark Reilly.

“When Rocha missed his five pointer and I was champ again, I knew I would never doubt myself again – win or lose.” ~ Mark Reilly

What is there to love about this match? So much! This was a perfect balance of trivia and kayfabe and really showed the best of what the Schmoedown had to offer. It was this match’s appearance on Collider’s Behind the Scenes & Bloopers series that helped convince me to give the main competition a look and not just the occasional Star Wars matches. This was also a historic match, as Reilly became the first two-time champion.

Not only that, but it added more fuel to the rivalry between Rocha and Reilly – who would have thought that within 18 months the pair would be in the same faction?! – while Rocha losing the title and his insistence on a rematch helped set up the Battle of the Champions as Reilly, Rocha and Murrell all faced off in a Triple Threat at Collision.