My Sporting Preferences

My Sporting Preferences

Hi guys! Something a little different today as I realised that I’ve been writing on here for almost 3 years now (time flies!) and alluding to some of the teams I support but not actually really talked about the sport I like to watch and who I support in them, so I thought today it would be a great chance to get to know me a bit better.

Rugby Union

Rugby Union is unsurprisingly my favourite sport, both the 15 and 7-a-side variations of the game. I got into rugby when I started going to secondary school and quickly fell in love with the sport. Over the years I’ve played for my school, grassroots club (shout out to Longlevens RFC!) and also started my own social 7s team in my last year of uni, and played a number of positions: all the front row, lock, blindside flanker and one match I will never forget against our local rivals where I played at outside centre!

featrugby gloucester sale 4Being a Gloucester boy born and raised, there was only 1 club I was ever going to be following once I was into the sport and that is the Cherry & Whites – Gloucester Rugby – and by extension, Hartpury RFC and Gloucester-Hartpury Women.

I have started watching a lot more rugby around the world in recent years though and the Scarlets have beat out Munster become my second team, courtesy of one of my best mates being a Scarlets fan and their attacking mentality making me always want to watch their games . I’m also really excited by the growth of rugby in the USA, so I consider the Eagles my second international team (after England) and I have tried to pay attention to the MLR – I put my support behind the Seattle Seawolves last season but with the league still expanding and new teams forming I would not say that I have adopted them as my American team. I’ve also tried to pay more attention to Super Rugby in the last few years but would not say that I have adopted a team, although I found myself firmly behind the Western Force when they were put at risk of being axed.

Football

As with (I’d assume) most English kids, football was my initial sport. Just having a kick-around on lunchtimes of after school and with highlights of the Premier League still available on terrestrial TV, it is something that is relatively easy to follow.

football shirt chicharitoAs for my favourite team, I have to admit that I’m a fan of Manchester United. *Runs for cover* Granted, I’ve never been to Manchester, but my support from United came from a number of my closest friends at school being United fans, so I found that we would talk about them more and I found myself paying more attention to their matches. I do also have a soft spot for Cheltenham Town, my local team in the football leagues. As for internationals, I am an England supporter, but I have found in recent years a bit of an apathy towards internationals and I have rarely watched outside of the Euros and World Cups.

American Football

me12189588_10153126166241332_5035862288422859710_nI’ve got family in America and went to visit them a couple of times as a kid, so vaguely remember watching some NFL games on TV when I was out there, but not really understanding what was going on. Then during secondary school one of my friends let me borrow Madden 04 and in learning to play the game, I fell in love with the sport. This love continued as I went to university and started watching games more often and making friends with a number of the uni’s American football team.

From those times I used to go to America, I remember us rushing home one day to watch the Tennessee Titans play back in the days where the late Steve McNair was at QB, so once I finally got into the sport they were always going to be the team I picked. Ironically, when I next went to see my family in the USA, it turned out that they are Cowboys fans and hate the Titans… oops! Too late!

cyc20180730_193504Road Cycling

I’m not even sure how, but I’ve really started enjoying watching the Grand Tours in recent years and also by extension some of the other televised races like the Tour of Britain and the Critérium du Dauphiné. It is a great example of teamwork seeing the domestiques working on behalf of their leaders and then the combination of tactical nous and sheer determination among the lead riders to race each other up climbs that make me shudder just watching on TV. Team Sky are my team and I really love a number of their riders including 2018’s Grand Tour winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, while I also really enjoy the Yates brothers and Mark Cavendish – so 2018 was a pretty good year for me!

Rugby League

I just love rugby in general! While I prefer union, I do also enjoy watching rugby league as it is generally a more fast-paced game than union. I really got into watching the Super League a few years back but I’m so busy these days I struggle to find the time to watch anything beyond the England matches and the odd big club game. For this reason I wouldn’t say I fully support a team, but I would say I have a soft spot for Canadian team Toronto Wolfpack, who were founded around the same time I started paying more attention to the sport.

Formula 1

I used to watch Formula 1 religiously when it was on terrestrial TV and I didn’t have such good access to pay-TV sports channels, but these days with the way the sport has come to rely on tyre degradation and pit strategies in order to win, I’ve largely gone off the sport – though I will still watch on occasion. Back from his early days at Mclaren, I’ve been a big fan of Kimi Räikkönen, while I also cheered for Jenson Button when he was in the sport and have found myself supporting Fernando Alonso for a number of years as he has tried to do his best in cars that are nowhere near the quality he deserves.

Cricket

For years I had no interest in cricket whatsoever, however I have found myself paying a bit more attention to the shorter forms like one-day internationals and Twenty20 matches. I will say thought that I have no real interest in the game beyond England matches and would struggle to watch a Test match live for more than a couple of hours, though I would watch a condensed highlights show.

Tennis

Another sport that I find myself watching less now that I have access to extra sports channels. It’s rare for me to watch much beyond Wimbledon, and even then it has often just been Andy Murray or Laura Robson’s matches in recent years. Back in the day though, I was also a big fan of Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick and also found myself cheering for Maria Sharapova back when there were no highly rated Brits in the women’s events.

Snooker

Much like tennis, the amount of snooker I watch has dropped off drastically as my options have opened up. I think the BBC show “Big Break” went a long way to helping stoke an interest in the sport when I was a kid and I have been lucky enough to watch in the heyday of Ronnie O’Sullivan! If I’m at home writing, I may have it on in the background, but its very rare I find myself watching these days.

Baseball

Not something that I usually watch but I do enjoy going to a couple of matches when I’m in the US. Despite having been bought Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers branded goods over the year, there’s no Major League teams that I would say I pay attention to, however I do try to keep up with how the Memphis Redbirds are doing in the Minor Leagues.

 

and finally…

MTS Rocha v Reilly 3The Movie Trivia Schmoedown

I know what you’re probably saying: “How is movie trivia a sport?!”… But the Schmoedown has done a great job of making it one. Taking a movie trivia quiz and combining it with WWE-style entertainment has created a wonderful product that I have fallen in love with! The show has become such a big part of my life and I even write for their website (links to all my articles can be found here) and if you want to know a bit more about this, you can find a piece I wrote over a year ago here.

2019 Six Nations: 6 to Watch

2019 Six Nations: 6 to Watch

We are just weeks away from the 6 Nations kicking off for another year. With the World Cup starting in October, the tournament will take on extra significance as not only will players be trying to win the tournament but they will also be trying to prove to their coaches that they should be on the plane to Japan later this year.

With the squads now released for the opening rounds, I’ve taken a look at each team and selected a player to watch. These are generally players who have either only amassed a few caps or not been an obvious name to those who only watch international rugby. How will these players do this tournament and how many of them will we see at the World Cup?

England: Tom Curry

The injury to Sam Underhill has opened the door for Sale flanker Tom Curry to likely take the 7 shirt for the tournament. At 20 years old, Curry has been capped 5 times since making his debut on the 2017 tour to Argentina. England have struggled to find a real “jackal” at flanker for a number of years but Curry is a real danger at the breakdown and if the support men are not close enough then expect him to add another turnover to his tally.

France: Demba Bamba

It’s not very often these days that we see a player in the 6 Nations who is not playing in one of the top 3 domestic European leagues (Premiership, Pro 14, Top 14). That will be the case though if 20-year-old prop Demba Bamba comes off the bench. Currently playing in Pro D2 for Brive, Bamba was one of the stars of the French U20s and made his debut for the senior international team against Fiji in November. It’s often said that a prop doesn’t reach his best days until much later in his career, this 6 Nations will give us the chance to see the early days of what could end up being a great career… assuming the team around him turns up this season.

Ireland: Tadhg Beirne

One of the older players on this list, Beirne is a hell of a player who I have really enjoyed watching for the Scarlets and now Munster over recent seasons. Having moved back to Irelend, Beirne made his international debut in the Autumn Tests. With James Ryan, Devin Toner and Iain Henderson all more experienced in the Irish second row there is no guarantee that Beirne will get massive game time (so I feel even more sorry for Ultan Dillane who is also in the squad) but when he is on the pitch his threat at the breakdown and his ability in the loose will show why I picked him in my Uncapped XV last year.

Italy: Seb Negri

Negri has been in and around the Italian squad for a couple of year now, having earned 12 caps since his debut in June 2016 and was a regular in the Italian XV during last season’s 6 Nations. Part of the Hartpury squad that won promotion to the Championship, the Zimbabwean-born flanker is a strong runner that will help the team got on the front foot. Parisse may be nearing the end of his career, but Negri is one of the new generation of stars coming through for Conor O’Shea and Italy.

Scotland: Adam Hastings

The son of Gavin and nephew of Scott, Hastings has the rugby pedigree. I was not overly impressed with the fly half at Bath but he has flourished since moving to Glasgow. He is likely second to Finn Russell on the depth chart but they did start together in November with Russell moving to 12 and Gregor Townsend may try this again during the tournament. A very exiting player, the 22-year-old’s chemistry with a number of his Glasgow teammates could see him be the breakout star of this year’s tournament.

Wales: Gareth Anscombe

With 20 caps to his name, 27-year-old Gareth Anscombe is probably the most well-known player on this list to the casual fan. Outside of the back row – which has been hit by injuries – I can’t see there being too many inexperienced players in the Wales XV, however Anscombe has only recently started to look like the starter at 10. Anscombe started the final of the 2011 Junior World Championship at fly half for New Zealand, with Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga at 15 and 12 respectively, which shows the quality he has. He has a good enough kicking game to control the match but also has that attacking ability that takes Wales to a new level. Even if Dan Biggar starts at 10, with Leigh Halfpenny still to recover from concussion symptoms after Samu Kerevi’s late hit in the Autumn Tests, there is always a chance that Anscombe could line up at 15.

NFL Bold Predictions: How Did We Do?

NFL Bold Predictions: How Did We Do?

Back in September and with the NFL regular season about to get underway, 3 friends and I decided to put our necks on the line and show our knowledge of the NFL by predicting the 8 Divisional Champions and the teams that would make it to the Super Bowl.

Now that the regular season is over and the playoffs are underway, it’s time to see how we did on our predictions…

Teams who made it into the playoffs are marked with a *

NFC North

How it ended: Bears*, Vikings, Packers, Lions

The shock addition of Khalil Mack took the Bears’ defense to another level, while the offense was able to do enough to get the victories and win the division. The Vikings fell back this year despite a great start to the season from Adam Thielen and you can’t help but wonder if spending big money on Kirk Cousins was the right decision. An early Aaron Rodgers injury stopped him from performing to the level we expect and with him not at 100%, the team’s deficiencies were all too clear, while the Lions were anything but the king of the jungle.

Our predictions: Me – Vikings, Rob – Vikings, Matt – Bears, Ed – Vikings

Not a great start for 3 of us who were all expecting the Vikings to push on with a franchise QB at the helm, but Matt’s trust in Trubisky paid off for him.

NFC East

How it ended: Cowboys*, Eagles*, Redskins, Giants

In a division that was struggling for quality, the Redskins looked on course to crawl into the playoffs until an injury to Alex Smith derailed their season. The Cowboys got it together down the stretch with an improving defense and an offense that looked much more dangerous once Amari Cooper was added. The Eagles struggled initially with Nick Foles under center but did not drastically improve when Carson Wentz returned from injury and eventually turned back to Foles to scrape into the final Wildcard spot at the Vikings’ expense. The Giants stuck with Eli Manning but it is hard to imagine them doing so for much longer as a 1-5 record against their divisional opponents killed any chance of the playoffs.

Our predictions: Me – Eagles, Rob – Eagles, Matt – Eagles, Ed – Eagles

All of us fell into the Minnesota trap of expecting a franchise QB to lead one of last season’s strongest teams to the playoffs, though Matt’s pick may have also been driven by his Eagles bias.

NFC South

How it ended: Saints*, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers

The Bucs spent most of the season switching between Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick in an attempt to get a string of wins together, with generally poor results. The Panthers started 6-2 before a run of 7 defeats ruined their season, while the Falcons lost to all 4 teams from the AFC North to put them out of playoff contention despite a 4-2 record against their divisional rivals. The Saints ran riot this season with the attacking trifecta of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Micheal Thomas almost impossible to stop.

Our predictions: Me – Saints, Rob – Saints, Matt – Saints, Ed – Saints

The first time that all 4 of us were all correct, the balance that New Orleans had in their offense was too strong to ignore and we all had enough faith in their defense to hold strong enough to concede less than the offense scored.

NFC West

How it ended: Rams*, Seahawks *, 49ers, Cardinals

The 49ers’ season was over before it had barely begun after losing Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 3 after having already lost RB Jerick McKinnon before the season even started – with Pierre Garçon also missing half the season, it’s impressive that they even got to 4 wins! The Cardinals season was a disaster as they finished 3-13 with a franchise-worst 1-7 home record. The Seahawks were meant to be in a rebuilding phase but recovered from an 0-2 start to make double-digit wins earn a wildcard spot, while the Rams burst out the gate to be the early leaders, only for a 35-45 loss in a shootout at the Superdome and 2 disappointing losses in December to strip them of 1st seed in the NFC.

Our predictions: Me – Rams, Rob – Rams, Matt – Rams, Ed – Rams

No shocks here with so many teams coming into this season part-way through a rebuild, whereas the Ram’s additions suggested that they are very much in win-now mode.

AFC North

How it ended: Ravens*, Steelers, Browns, Bengals

The Browns are competitive again! With young stars Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, and with Hue Jackson and Todd Haley fired after Week 8, the Browns put together an impressive run that hints at things to come, while a narrow loss to the Ravens in Week 17 clinched Baltimore the spot in the playoffs at the expense of Pittsburgh. The Ravens also had a midseason change of fortunes after Lamar Jackson was given the nod at QB, while the Steelers were left without Le’Veon Bell – who sat out the entire season – and may be set to lose Antonio Brown after relations appeared to sour during the season. The Bengals started well, getting to 5-3, but only managed 1 win in the second half of the season, with Tyler Eifert, Andy Dalton and A. J. Green all missing significant time.

Our predictions: Me – Steelers, Rob – Ravens, Matt – Steelers, Ed – Steelers

Rob can feel smug here as the Ravens defense saw him be the only person to correctly guess this division’s champion, though I’m sure more of us would have made that pick if we’d realised Bell would sit out the entire season and not just a portion of it.

AFC East

How it ended: Patriots*, Dolphins, Bills, Jets

A 3-0 start soon went wrong for the Dolphins, who promptly lost 7-38 at Gillette Stadium and only picked up 4 more wins all season – though they did manage a remarkable walk-off victory against New England at home. 4-12 was the best that the Jets could do this season but there are positive signs for the development of Sam Darnold. The Bills managed shock victories over the Vikings and Titans when they were both looking strong, but were unable to get enough consistency. The Patriots 2-1 start and poor performances got some people wondering if their dominance was over, but despite maybe not looking as strong as in some seasons, they still finished 11-5 to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Our predictions: Me – Patriots, Rob – Patriots, Matt – Patriots, Ed – Patriots

Given that the Patriots have won the AFC East in 15 of the previous 17 seasons, is it any shock that we all went for them here?

AFC South

How it ended: Texans*, Colts*, Titans, Jaguars

The Jaguars defense couldn’t live up to last season’s performances and Blake Bortles was back to being Blake Bortles. The Titans’ season was ended in Week 1 in hindsight, with Delanie Walker picking up and injury that saw him out for the season and Mariota also going down with an injury that he struggled with on and off the season. Despite this, they kept going and were only denied a playoff appearance with a loss in a winner-takes-all match against the Colts who recovered from a 5-1 start to finish 10-6. The Texans also had a poor start, going 0-3, but a 4-0 divisional record helped them on their way to 11-5 and the top spot in the AFC South.

Our predictions: Me – Texans, Rob – Jaguars, Matt – Texans, Ed – Texans

With questions around a number of these teams, Houston appeared the safe choice assuming everyone could stay fit. I imagine Rob is regretting picking the Jags about now…

AFC West

How it ended: Chiefs*, Chargers*, Broncos, Raiders

The Raiders were a shambles, trading away 2 of their best players in WR Amari Cooper and OLB Khalil Mack. Case Keenum was unable to replicate his form from last season with the Vikings. The Chiefs ran out to 9-1 as Patrick Mahomes wowed fans and pundits alike with his play, however they did lose a couple of matches following the release of Kareem Hunt for off-field issues. Despite a late win in a shootout at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chargers’ loss to Denver in Week 11 saw them finish the season as the 5th seed in the AFC despite having a 12-4 record that only the Chiefs could match – the Chiefs earning the 1st seed by virtue of their record in the division.

Our predictions: Me – Chiefs, Rob – Chiefs, Matt – Chargers, Ed – Chargers

How fitting that in the closest of divisions, this was also the one with the greatest variety in the predicted winner (2:2 rather than 3:1). For this to have come down to record in division games shows just how hard a decision this was to make.

The Final Tally

In what was a very close affair, Rob, Matt and I all finished on 5/8 correct, but Ed finished on 4/8

Super Bowl Prediction

  • Me: Vikings v Patriots
  • Rob: Jaguars v Saints
  • Matt: Eagles v Texans
  • Ed: Chargers v Packers

So it’s safe to say that these predictions were awful! Of the 4 of us, only Matt managed to predict a match-up that included 2 teams to qualify for the playoffs, however even that came to a quick end as the Texans are now out after losing to the Colts in the Wildcard Round.

Now the only question left to answer is if any of us will even have 1 of our selected teams make it to the big game…

December 2018 in the Premier League

December 2018 in the Premier League

Happy New Year all!

It may seem odd to say that a league spanning from August to May can be decided in one month, but with 7 rounds of football in December and some huge results, the Premier League title may have been all-but wrapped up the title for Liverpool by the end of the festive period.

Elsewhere, two managers followed Slaviša Jokanović into unemployment with Mark Hughes being replaced at Southampton by Ralph Hasenhüttl and Ole Gunnar Solskjær replacing José Mourinho at Manchester United.


Pushing forward

I have some real sympathy for Sean Dyche. His Burnley side have not been awarded a penalty in the Premier League since 15th April 2017 against Everton, despite a number of incidents since that looked like they should have resulted in the referee pointing to the spot. The latest incident came in their 3-1 loss to Arsenal, where Kevin Long was bundled over by Sead Kolašinac in the Arsenal box. Soft? Maybe, but by the letter of the law it should be a foul, and by extension in this case, a penalty.

What will be even more galling for Dyche is that in the same round of fixtures, Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a goal disallowed for Everton for a push on Davinson Sánchez during their 2-6 loss to Tottenham – a push that was arguably a softer foul than Kolašinac’s. Then, just 2 matches later, Kolašinac did concede a penalty in the 5-1 loss to Liverpool by pushing over Dejan Lovren. 3 pushes, 2 fouls… the maths just doesn’t add up.

One of my real bugbears in football is the amount of pushing and pulling that goes unpunished. The powers that be need to decide that either any push or pull is legal or every push or pull is a foul, and the officials then need to enforce this. Otherwise we see games ruined by players being penalised one week and not another for the exact same act.


A crazy few minutes

Brighton’s 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace gave us one of the craziest moments of the season, and unfortunately not many people come out of it looking good.

Glenn Murray went down in the box under pressure from James Tomkins – perhaps a little easy, but that’s another debate altogether – but referee Kevin Friend did not award a penalty. Murray stayed down with an injury and in the afters, Shane Duffy inexplicably thrust his head into Patrick van Aanholt, earning himself a deserved red card. Having lost a defender, manager Chris Hughton replaced Pascal Groß with the more defensive Leon Balogun. Things didn’t end there as Friend had awarded a corner, thinking the ball had been played by Tomkins rather than Murray and the corner resulted in Balogun scoring a stunning volley with his first touch of the ball!

While I would hope the officials would be able to get the decisions between a corner and a goal kick correct at this level, this incident to me really highlighted one of the differences between football and rugby. In rugby, an offence like Duffy’s headbutt would cause a reversal in the referee’s original decision as well as any necessary cards. This way, the aggressor is punished with a dismissal and his team are also punished. Had that been the case here, Duffy’s indiscretion would have seen the corner (that they already shouldn’t have) be reversed to a Palace free kick, which could have made a huge difference given the 1-0 scoreline at the time.


Great month for Liverpool

December couldn’t have really gone much better for Liverpool. They continued their unbeaten campaign with 7 wins from 7, including victories over Manchester United, Arsenal and local rivals Everton. Meanwhile, title rivals Manchester City dropped points with losses to Chelsea (2-0), Crystal Palace (2-3) and Leicester (2-1); Tottenham lost to Arsenal (4-2) and Wolves (1-3); Arsenal lost at Southampton (3-2) and drew at Manchester United (2-2) and Brighton (1-1) and Chelsea lost 1-0 to Leicester.

8 of the last 9 league leaders on Christmas Day have gone on to win the title, while Liverpool’s leade on New Year’s Day would be the biggest margin overcome in Premier League history were they to lose the title, so the signs are very good for the Reds. Mohamed Salah may not be scoring with the same regularity as last season, they look much more secure at the back with Virgil van Dijk looking one of the best centrebacks in the league and Alisson currently sits top of the league in terms of clean sheets.

I don’t expect them to go unbeaten this season, but barring a slew of injuries to key players, I find it hard to imagine they will drop enough points to allow anyone else to overtake them, especially as I expect their rivals to also drop more points in such a hotly contested league this season.


Throwback to the past

The inevitable finally happened this season as United’s loss to Liverpool saw the end of José Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford, with the Special One being replaced by former fan-favourite player Ole Gunnar Solskjær until the end of the season. The move has had instant results, with the team playing a much more attack-focused gameplan with the players looking much freer than before. They may not have played table-topping teams, but 4 wins from 4 has made Solskjær only the second manager in the history of the club to win his first 4 league games in charge, the first being Sir Matt Busby.

It has been wonderful watching their recent performances and with Solskjær in charge and Mike Phelan on his staff, this is probably the closest feeling we have had to the classic United since Fergie retired.

However, I do not want to get carried away. United are still struggling to keep clean sheets and are in desperate need of a top-quality centre back, but the rumours have been that United will be limited to loan signings with Solskjær currently only on loan from Molde until the end of the season. That will not be enough to keep up with the top teams and if players like Pogba begin to act up again (I cannot believe that his new form is down purely to him being given more freedom on the pitch as opposed to him now actively putting in effort) then things could turn horribly again.

Personally, I really hope things work out for the rest of the season and would love to see the Baby-faced Assassin get the role on a permanent basis.


Top 6 prediction

  1. Liverpool
  2. Manchester City
  3. Tottenham Hotspur
  4. Arsenal
  5. Chelsea
  6. Manchester United

 

Designing a League: Getting the Right Format

Designing a League: Getting the Right Format

If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed that I watch a lot of sport (probably more than is healthy) and in some cases – most notably rugby – follow a number of different domestic leagues within a sport. As a result of this, I have come to see that most sports leagues will follow one of 2 formats:

The first is what I would call a League Format, where every team will play home and away against every other team in the league, as seen in the Premier League, Top 14 and the Gallagher Premiership.

The second is what I would call a Conference Format, where the league is split into a number of conferences and teams play a schedule that does not feature matches against every opposition, these league will then have a playoff at the end to determine the champion. Leagues that follow this format would include the Pro14, Super Rugby and the NFL, which takes things even further by splitting its 2 16-team conferences into 4-team divisions.

Now, imagine you were able to create and organise a professional league of your own, what format would you pick?

League Format

The big draw of the league format is that it has a balanced schedule. Each team plays everybody else both home and away so – beyond the changes in form through a season – every team is on an even playing field by playing the same fixtures.

While this is great in principle, it does have its drawbacks. It is harder to have a large number of teams in a league of this format as for each team that is added, that is a further 2 matches that must be added to the schedule. Just look at the Premier League, which contains 20 teams and runs from August to May (there will be some international breaks, but there will also be some midweek games to make up for this).

Tying into the long season is the lack of a rest for players as this means that there is very little time between the end of one season and the beginning of the next preseason – something made even worse in rugby by the international Test matches being straight after the European seasons finish. This means that players get very little time to rest and recuperate away from the sport itself, and may lead to more frequent injuries if they are not recovering fully.

This format is also beneficial in a tiered league structure that includes promotion and relegation, as it is very clear from the standings which teams should go up or down as the balanced schedule makes it clear which teams have been strongest and weakest throughout the season.

This format also allows the league organisers to decide if they want any playoffs to determine the overall winner (as in the Gallagher Premiership) or name the team that tops the table as the winner (as in the Premier League).

Conference Format

The big benefit of this format is that as teams don’t have to play home and away against everybody else in the league, which allows for a much larger number of teams but also a shorter season (the NFL has 32 teams play up to a maximum of 20 matches over 22 weeks, 16 matches in 17 weeks if they don’t make the playoffs). This means that there is much more time for players to recover and recuperate between the end of the season and the beginning of the next preseason.

However, this shorter schedule may not be ideal as it will not be balanced. Teams may play home and away against some teams, but there will also be a number of teams that they will not play every season, leading to an unbalanced schedule where one team may play a higher proportion of weaker teams that some of the opponents they are directly competing against in the standings. Just take a moment to look at the Pro14 this season, where Conference B contains Leinster (10 wins, 1 loss at time of writing) but Conference A’s strongest team is Glasgow (8 wins, 3 losses). However, Conference A has 4 teams with more points than Conference B’s 3rd-placed team (Scarlets) and their spread of points (41-16 – 25 points) is less than in Conference B (49-12 – 37 points). Considering every team will have the same number of matches in the regular season, a stronger schedule will immediately put some teams at a disadvantage, so this type of format is not necessarily as fair.

Along with the strength of schedule, the teams that qualify for the playoffs will usually also be decided within each conference, so if we keep with the Pro14 example, Connacht are currently set to miss out on the playoffs as they are 4th in their Conference, despite having 2 points more than Scarlets, who would qualify for the playoffs as 3rd place in their Conference.

For the same reasons, promotion and relegation would be harder in this format as it would be harsh to relegate a team that had a point less if they have had a much harder schedule than the next team, so a playoff would likely be required for this. This also requires playoffs to establish a winner, unless teams were at the end of the season grouped into a combined table, but again this gives a benefit to a team with a weaker schedule.

My preference

For me, the balanced schedule is a huge draw and it makes the playing field fair, therefore if I was developing a new league, I would want to run a League Format however to avoid overly long seasons and too many games I would limit the league to probably no more than 10 teams and just increase the number of tiers in the sporting structure, with one or 2 teams being promoted and relegated each year, depending on the size of the league and the quality of the leagues below. I would personally not see the need to include a playoff at the end of the season, however if it was required – I can see the benefits both to the money coming in and the guarantee of when the title will be confirmed – then I would have no more than 4 teams competing in the playoffs, most likely just 3 in a smaller tournament.

So that would be my preference, but what tournament format do you prefer?

Struggling Scarlets: What’s gone wrong?

Struggling Scarlets: What’s gone wrong?

In recent years, the Scarlets have become the team to watch in European rugby. Under the leadership of Wales-bound Wayne Pivac, the Scarlets have attacked from deep and spread the ball wide, leading to them winning the 2016/17 Pro12 and reaching the 2017/18 Pro14 final and Champions Cup semi-final.

However, things aren’t going as well this season as they are still without a win in the Champions Cup with just 2 bonus points from 4 games, while in the Pro14 they may be 2nd in their conference (on level points with Ulster) but their 6 wins and 4 losses with just 5 bonus points laves them 15 points behind leaders Leinster. It’s far from a disaster, but for a team that were so impressive last season it is a big drop. But what has caused it?

They’ve been found out

Scarlets have been playing the same style of rugby for a couple of seasons now and with that comes the chance for teams to pick up on their tactics and find ways to exploit them. It may not be easy to defend effectively against Scarlets’ expansive style but if it can be done, then it makes it very hard for them to score big points. In defence, they can be vulnerable as many of their back 3 are better attacking with ball in hand than competing for the aerial ball. Leinster’s kicking game gave them victory over the Scarlets in last season’s Pro14 final and Champions Cup semi-final, which will have given other teams a blueprint to follow in order to get victory.

Players leaving

Tadhg Beirne joined from Leinster ahead of the 2016/17 season and was one of the stars of the team in his 2 seasons at Parc y Scarlets. Capable of playing in the back row but at his best when playing lock, the Irishman was always a threat at the breakdown and had the range of skills to prove dangerous in the loose too – just ask Anthony Watson, who fell foul of his sidestep when they faced bath in last season’s Champions Cup. Beirne returned to Ireland this summer with a move to Munster, making him eligible for selection to the national team.

While Beirne is in my opinion the biggest loss, they also lost 2 great players with bags of experience in John Barclay (Edinburgh) and Scott Williams (Ospreys). To lose 3 such important players is always going to hit a team hard.

International call-ups

With the team’s success, there has big a large increase in the number of Scarlets being selected for the national team over recent years. Rhys Webb’s injuries and subsequent move to France have seen Gareth Davies become the first choice 9 for Wales, while Ken Owens, Rob Evans, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, Hadleigh Parkes and Rhys Patchell are just a few of the Scarlets to have spent significant time away with Wales recently.

While this is a deserved reward for the players’ performances, this does mean that the Scarlets will frequently be without top players. Losing them for a couple of matches while Wales are playing is bad enough, but they will also miss a number of training sessions, reducing their chemistry with the team – especially new arrivals – and they will also miss time while they recuperate from their international exertions.

Injuries

The Scarlets have had some horrible luck with injuries this season. Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, James Davies, Blade Thomson, Aaron Shingler and Rhys Patchell have all missed significant time this season with injuries, while an injury to Angus O’Brien has left the region short of depth at fly half. That is an entire international quality back row missing at the same time, bad enough at the best of times but worse when you remember they have just waved goodbye to Beirne and Barclay. Even when the players come back from injury, it will generally take a couple of matches at least for a player to get back up to the speed of the game.

Money

When injuries and internationals mount up, you need to have a deep squad to be able to cope. Unfortunately for Scarlets, the funding isn’t there to have the depth of squad that teams in England and France can boast, which then leads to the same players having to play regularly in the Pro14 and then take on much stronger squads in Europe the next week.

Does it all have to be doom and gloom? Not necessarily. Despite their struggles, they are still in currently in a playoff position and an early exit from the Champions Cup will give them extra rest weeks to recuperate, while some of their players are returning or close to returning form injury. There is still every chance that they could make the playoffs but if I’m honest, with the behemoth that is Leinster in their conference, I cannot see them getting further than the semi-finals.

November 2018 in the Premier League

November 2018 in the Premier League

3 more rounds of Premier League football were crossed off the list in November. Manchester City and Liverpool both remain unbeaten in the league this season after City won 3/3 (including a 3-1 humbling of derby rivals United at the Etihad), while Liverpool drew at Arsenal but got back to winning ways against Fulham and Watford.

Meanwhile it was announced this month that VAR will come to the Premier League next season so in celebration, I will avoid moaning about the slew of poor decisions this month and instead leave that to Charlie Austin… Park Life!


A star in sky blue

Sergio Agüero netted his 150th Premier League goal in their 5-1 thrashing of Southampton to cement himself as one of the greatest strikers to have played in the league. The Argentine was always going to be remembered by scoring 23 goals in 34 matches in his debut season (including that goal in the eleventh hour to win the league), but his exploits over the years since have left it in no doubt and his 151st goal in the match against United has moved him to 8th in the Premier League goals chart, ahead of Michael Owen. What makes it even more impressive is that his goal:game ratio is so much higher than the players around him, with a ratio of 0.69 (151:219) comparable to only Thierry Henry (0.68) and Harry Kane in the top 20!

Granted, he has benefited from being in a great team, but he has also missed substantial time with a number of injuries over the years, while he has often had competition from a number of strikers and yet kept his place as the top dog through 3 managers and one caretaker manager. At 30, he still has a couple of good years in him and does not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down, while the quality around him to supply him with the ball is improving. Alan Shearer’s record of 260 goals is likely beyond him, but I would not bet against him beating Wayne Rooney’s 208 goals before the end of his career.


A mixed start

It’s safe to say that Tottenham’s young centre-back Juan Foyth has had a mixed start to his Premier League career. Signed in the summer of 2017, the 20-year-old made his league debut at the start of the month at Wolves, where he almost cost Spurs the win by giving away 2 penalties, which were both converted to turn a comfortable 0-3 into a close 2-3 that should have actually been 3-3 had the officials not wrongly disallowed a goal at 0-2 for what they adjudged to be an offside by Matt Doherty.

Credit to Mauricio Pochettino, though, as he kept Foyth in the starting XI the next week away to Crystal Palace. He had a shaky start again, conceding a cheap corner after playing an errant pass in the vague direction of Hugo Lloris, but he popped up in the right place at the right time to score the only goal of the game after Harry Kane’s shot was blocked.

After the game, Pochettino described him as a “potential top player” and it is really great to see him doing this as the manager’s faith will help Foyth’s morale and motivation so much. He does need to be careful though as he was lucky not to concede a 3rd penalty in 3 matches when he came through the back of Eden Hazard in the box with Spurs ahead 1-0, only for the referee to wave play on.

Spurs have had a number of talented centre-backs play for them in recent seasons. With the right management, has Pochettino found another gem?


First one down

Slaviša Jokanović became the first managerial casualty of the year following the 2-0 loss at Liverpool with former Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri coming in as his replacement. It’s never nice to see a manager given the boot, but in this case it’s hard to argue that there was any option. After 12 matches, they found themselves with just 5 points from a win and 2 draws. They were scoring goals, but not consistently enough, while they were shipping far too many goals and could not settle on a consistent set of personnel at the back. The Premier League is a huge step up from the Championship and while they signed a number of players with experience in the league (including the loan signing of World Cup winner André Schürrle) the quality of performances has not been good enough. Fulham need to strengthen their squad if they want to stay up, but if things are going poor then it is understandable to want to change manager ahead of the January transfer window so that he has time to settle in and decide what personnel he needs. The change has certainly appeared to have a positive impact on the team as they won their first game under Ranieri 3-2 at home to Southampton and have also drawn against Leicester, almost doubling their points in the 3 games he has been in charge for, which has left them just a point (and 5 goals) away from safety.

Jokanović is clearly a good manager. Unfortunately for him, this was just one step too far this time around.


Top 6 prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Arsenal
  4. Tottenham Hotspur
  5. Chelsea
  6. Manchester United