Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Twickenham loses the plot

It is a shame that the Rugby World Cup tournament will be held in England next year. Why? Because evidenced on the crowd at Twickenham on Saturday (8 November 2014, All Blacks V England*)  – the rugby supporting populace in the UK really don’t have the first clue about the game. 

The fans, dressed in their unfortunate tight English rugby shirts, looked en masse like a pile of bloated middle aged men on the way to a UKIP rally.  They carried on throughout the game by abusing, harassing and booing until their ruddy faces were positively purple.  What was meant to be an international test match at the (excuse me while I laugh) ‘home of rugby’, turned into a pantomime farce.

I’m sure many English supporters would say New Zealand crowds are no better, but there is one major difference here.  New Zealand crowds who are often criticised and lectured at by the British for being rude and not respecting the kicker etc blah blah blah don’t pretend to be anything different.  

Maybe the game on Saturday was particularly bad. It was my first time at an All Black match at Twickenham so maybe every test is like this.  It just seemed to me that maybe these hypocritical rugger buggers are a wee bit perturbed and jealous because their rugby team, no matter all the excuses and money poured into their union, is just a bit crap.  For me, I don’t care if the English sing an American spiritual during the haka (I don’t care how crowds respond to the haka either, truth be told I’m a sick of the overuse of the haka myself).

The problem is the hypocrisy and holier than thou attitudes, the gladiatorial like grilling and homophobic rants at the referee, and was the final scoreline influenced because of this? The fact that this loud borish crowd seem immune to the rules of the game, as well as the complete lack of good sportsmanship shown towards Richie McCaw when he was awarded Man of the Match after the game had finished. 

Maybe it is the whiff of superiority I sensed amongst the more vocal members too. They really are quite annoyed that this little ‘colonial’ nation (their word for us, not mine) has the audacity to be a more confident and skilled team. There is a feeling we need to be taken down a peg or two.  I guess if your team on the field can’t do it, you need to resort to desperate measures.

One thing is for sure. This is not about good old fashioned banter and ribbing. People are already talking. Twickenham needs to clean up its act by next year or the Rugby World Cup 2015 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

And it's not just me - here is today's Guardian's editorial:

*All Blacks won BTW

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

View from the North: 'How we beat the All Blacks mentally'

In an interview exclusive, Andy Farrell tells Stephen Jones from the Sunday Times of England's approach to the recent test series, how even though England lost, they still have come away from New Zealand with their heads held high and a new found confidence and psychological edge

“Well, obviously we were hamstrung. What with coming at the end of our long arduous English season which is patently more difficult, challenging and quite frankly, superior to any of this sugar puff super rugby you see in the south. I mean obviously, all those flimsy tries they score in the Rugby Championship. I scoff at those flimsy tries. Where is the forward domination? The manly men?

 "So what was I saying? Oh yes, that’s right, we were hamstrung. My main job in the first test was not to coach, but to highlight to any gullible hack of Wapping (you excluded of course Steve my main man), that we were playing our tenth string team against New Zealand. By explaining our disadvantages we managed to convey: 1) our general superiority -  English players also rule the European league; 3) our incredible strength in-depth if we did take those arrogant New Zealanders close; 2) a good excuse if it went tits up because we had sent our schoolboys on.

"But it didn’t go tits up in that first test in Auckland did it?  I mean we won! We won every phase of that game! Well, we should have won if there had been more time on the clock and we would have won too if it hadn’t have been for that pesky ref and Aaron Cruden.  Well, we deserved a draw at least.  We clearly got the better of this aging All Blacks side.  We had the edge.  We were superior in every facet of the game. Every facet! Except maybe the restarts.  Oh, and the lineouts. And general broken play. And the backline of course. And the final score.  But other than that – S. U. P. E. R. I. O. R.

"From here we laughed. And we talked.  Oh how we love to talk to each other in the dressing room.  We stand in a small huddle and use large Churchillian phrases straight from the trenches and we yell them at each other in loud booming voices. We talk of warfare. We talk of pride. We talk of the Black menace that is no more. Once more into the breeches!  England Expects!  We love to talk to anyone with a dictaphone really.  Joe Marler, a man that the Rugby Hall of Fame is no doubt warming a special plinth for in a few years’ time such is his memorable talent, did quite some talking to his mate Mick Cleary, ‘We have banished our inferiority complex! New Zealand are fallible! They are just 15 people on a field, running around, arms flailing, trying to understand the rules as much as the rest of us!’

"James Haskell went (several) steps further saying: ’We are special. We are competitive yet positive and extremely professional … yet humble.' James warmed the bench for two super rugby games in 2012 so he knows all about rugby down there.  He told me, 'I will debunk the ‘superhuman’ myth right here. Debunk it I tell you! They are mortal. Mortal! Armchair pundits would have you believe the All Blacks are doing something revolutionary.' Basically what James was saying is that All Blacks are actually really crap when you look closely at it all.

"So it was a slight glitch to lose the second test with our main calvary back. I must admit, I didn’t see that coming.  We were playing at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, a venue where we have tasted more success than this All Black team (and yes, beating Georgia and Romania there during the RWC of 2011 for us does count). That All Black backline.  We didn’t quite know what to make of them.  I mean, they look for overlaps! They run onto the ball at speed! Weird way to play rugby if you ask me. They may think they have flair and brilliance, but we have something greater than that in our very own secret weapon - our SplAshton - swan diving his way over any line he can, even in extra time when we’ve lost the game! Now that’s flair for your right there New Zealanders!  Make a note of the crazy way we roll!

"When we found ourselves 2-0 down in the series I won’t deny, we were flummoxed as we were clearly the better team.  But we claimed the psychological victory in the end, by drawing with the All Blacks in the last half of that third test.  We are on the up now well and truly.  As McCaw and co must know, you’re only as good as your last game. We have laid down a marker and the rest of the world are quaking. The tour has been a great sucess for us. We have asserted our credentials.  At Fortress Twix we are World Cup Favourites, heck, let's just start calling us World Champs right now shall we?! We’ll ride that chariot into town.  We will be there, ready to fight them in the battle. What is our aim? It is victory. Victory at all costs."

Friday, 13 June 2014

“It’s the putting right that counts”

It can't happen again, Can it? No. It can not, and will not.

Last week was a horrible glitch in our national matrix; an All Black abomination and Brainfart-a-thon of such totality that coach Steve Hansen was bang on when he said “If we turned around and said, ‘So and so shouldn't start because he played poorly,’ then we wouldn't have anyone on the park.”

So, let’s all get it off our chests and let the team go hard on the training pitch for a week. Every sane armchair fan will know that no one will have felt the pain of that performance harder than the players themselves - they came terribly close to a Looney Tunes-style banana skin last week, and almost limply handed over the Eden Park Hoodoo  to a ‘second string’ (Waa! Waaa! Media cliché klaxon!) England team.
We had our (limited) chances to bust out last week, but for inexplicable cases of the dropsies. The Yips seemed to follow the outside backs home from the driving range last week. It was the sort of performance we usually save for Rugby World Cup knock out matches.

“If we turned around and said, ‘So and so shouldn't start because he played poorly,’ then we wouldn't have anyone on the park.”

Yet, the reshuffle of starting lineups has come from the Red Rose team. Stuart Lancaster has performed surgery on his backline, and excised the very midfield that caused us so many issues last week - dropping Kyle Eastmond, and shifting Manu Tuilagi to the right wing. In comes a completely new 9-10-12-13 combo of Danny Care, Owen Farrell, Billy ‘36’ Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell. Gamble or sure thing?
Actually, I’m keen to see Manu on the wing. This guy loves his rugby, he was smiling at his opposites as they formed up across from each other before scrums last week. And having him face up to the returning Julian Savea is a juicy prospect. Go, The Bus!
The English pack pretty much remain though, and their impact last week was huge. They will not back down one iota, so our loosies are going to have to be more visible this week. Actually, I'm not talking about you, Jerome. [Bromance Alert]
So, wheel them out again, Shag. “It’s the putting right that counts” as legendary whiteware purveyor LV Martin used to say. I’m liking Ben Smith getting his chance at 15 now, so Cory Jane can return Gazelle-like to his natural plains out on the left. Let's see that fend, CJ! And I'm hoping that Aaron Cruden takes on the line more this week after not running it at all last week. Whether that was lack of confidence or a game plan (or combination of the two) I don't know - but a bit more front foot from him, and Savea or Ben Smith sharking off his shoulders and we’re back in business.
Off the pace? Complacency? Under prepared? Whatever it was, I think they will have awakened from that fever dream, their Steinlager hangover. This week under the roof at Forsyth Barr, conditions will provide the perfect stage for the All Blacks to unleash their preferred high tempo rugby - provided Jaco Peyper cuts down on the endless Glee-like English huddles before every set piece.
New Zealand by 12+ this week.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

View from the North- Bring Back Hayman!

All Blacks 20 – England 15. Eden Park. 7 June 2014

Well! That certainly made for a nail chewingly, blood pressure pumpingly high morning.  A brilliant game played by two teams who were trying their hardest but not quite executing. But gawd dang - who cares?! It was a great game.

Well done England too, although I wasn’t surprised that they had Eden Park gaping in silence for large parts of the match.  Unlike the acolytes who blindly follow the great rugby trolls of the British media – Cleary, Kitson and Woodward, I didn’t believe for  a moment that this so called ‘sixth string’ side would be rolled over.  The main cavalry coming next week eh Sky UK?  We’ll just see about that.

Highlights in white for me were Tuilagi who to my blind one eye sadly seems to have Conrad Smith’s number . Also Robshaw and I thought that Freddie Burns was better than Farrell and less pig headed. In fact what I like about this England team is that they didn’t throw their toys out of the pram everytime a decision went against them (and to be fair, they copped a couple of unlucky calls).  The Fodens (yes, I know he’s not playing) and the Youngs of the past would be stomping their feet petulantly and it’s not a good look. As well as playing attractive rugby, I think Lancaster really is getting them to man up in other areas too. Love ya Lancaster! *

For us, and some might say that without Savea, Reid and Dan we too were looking distinctively second stringey - Richie was his lionhearted usual and Kaino and Aaron Smith were also everywhere. I loved the audacious tap and kick run from Cruden at the end. And it paid off - so in your face Cruden knockers! Why not do that? No other team would dare. That’s why we love the Blackness!

But otherwise we lacked and it was earl grey splutteringly frustrating. Why did we kick away so much possession?  Why did Hansen play Barrett out of position at fullback? Why did Izzy continue to ‘drop the ball’?.  And harshly, why are we now persevering with some of these old All Blacks who have seen better days. Surely it’s time to start making the way for the new, as England are doing.

Our scrum has been creaking for years. It’s time that Steve Tew brought himself a ticket to Toulon with cap in hand and a large suitcase of money.  We need Carl Hayman back if we want to have any chance of winning next years’ tournament.  Because when you’re relying on Mealamu, a man who has played over 100 tests as hooker and Wyatt Crockett to pick up the pieces of our messy scrums in the final quarter of a test match, something is just not right.

Right. Rant over. Can I just say a vote of thanks and admiration to Lu who has designed the most incredible rugby app I have ever seen! It’s beautiful and should be made into a hard cover coffee table book sold in museums, art galleries and reputable bookshops! Rugby’s very own Wisden!  Lu, you are one talented guy.

 If you haven’t already downloaded yet, please get to Itunes promptly, support ruggerblogger and look up Ruggerblogger –it’s free!

*But not as much as Steve.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Making of Ruggerblogger’s iPad Digital Magazine

Nearly 3 years ago exactly I started to provide infographic style sheets to summarise game stats from All Black matches. It was becoming more common for media (both print & TV) to talk about the stats, and they seemed to be freely available, but not that digestable.

Displaying statistics and data in this way had become very trendy in recent times, and a big part of what I was doing at work in the real world, so it was only fair I try this with something that really interested me. In some ways I loathe the word ‘infographic’ because it is so bloody overused, and most ‘graphics’ that claim to ‘inform’ can actually be ghastly and fail to communicate anything at all. It is a very fine line.
What I wanted was something fans could look at on screen and understand instantly because it was colourful, almost pictorial. It was also important it could be ‘kept’ by fans and redistributed by them (on blogs & Twitter), and maybe saved to their desktop computers (and latterly their smartphones or tablets). It all started with the All Blacks v Fiji game in July 2011, using a pretty basic format done with scrounged iconography - this format survived through that years’ Tri-Nations before I started tweaking madly again. As RWC2011 hit, I had settled on a pretty clear horizontal & symmetrical layout. The resulting game sheets for all 48 RWC matches went down a treat judging by our blog’s traffic over that month.

After the World Cup I compiled them all in one PDF and made that available via Google Drive… but as many of you will know, PDF is a limited format and is a pig on hand-held devices.

While I kept doing the sheets through 2012 and 2013, the look slowly evolved through a vertical format, and I enjoyed doing Six Nations and last year’s Lions Tour of Australia to get more practice, but I was always keen for more bells and whistles… which is hard for a code-ignorant Mac monkey like me.

However, last year I started playing about with Adobe Digital Publishing System (DPS) at work. And kept playing. So although I was creating All Black game sheets last season, I was not publishing them because I was building in the interactivity and researching how I could put everything together for users to download and keep.

There are more in-depth sources for game stats than Ruggerblogger; there always will be because I do not script and code my own raw data. However, what I wanted was something ‘spunky’ you could keep and quickly refer to on your smartphone or tablet, and I think I finally achieved it.

I have to point out that I it would not have been possible to do any of this without and who I use as my sources. They are both more in-depth and definitive, especially Rucking Good Stats who is quite literally ‘The Man’. 
Hopefully my sheets still act as a concise summary; or an entrée. I guess I deal in Stats Lite, the gateway drug of the sports statistics world.

Yes, limitations exists with the format in that the app is a retrospective: the free license I can use via Adobe won’t really allow me to update the Ruggerblogger app constantly, after each game or series. Also, I can only produce it for iPad, not the iPhone or Android devices. That requires the next level of publishing licence on DPS and that costs over $6,000. Oh, how I am scheming to somehow get that into swing for RWC2015. Investors get in touch ;-)
My intention is to add all the English Tour, Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup and Northern Hemisphere Tour matches from 2014, so please stay in touch and look for a new version with all those games added into it before Xmas this year. If you download this first version (Ruggerblogger 1.0) when this is done iTunes should notify you of an update you can download.

Above all, enjoy it. Its free and it is for you, the fans of international rugby. I hope it adds something to all the banter we have enjoy with our followers on here, but mainly on Twitter in the last few years. Seriously, if this wasn’t fun I would not be doing it, no matter how mad it seems late at night.

Above all, remember that sports statistics can be addictive. Use them responsibly.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Ruggerblogger is now a FREE app for your iPad!

As kick-off for the 2014 international season is almost upon us, Ruggerblogger can now announce that we have an FREE IPAD APP for you to download from the Apple iTunes store. Search iTunes for Ruggerblogger, and get it now!

The product is a digital magazine that compiles all our All Black stat sheets from the Rugby World Cup in 2011 through to the end of the unbeaten 2013 season. It was built using Adobe's new Digital Publishing platform that allows interactivity to be introduced to traditional print-based documents. This is a new area in design & print that I am having to come to grips with in my day job, so it seemed a perfect 'real world' scenario in which to put this to the test… or, if you like, Tests.

All 14 Test Matches from last season against France, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Japan, England and Ireland are interactive, and feature:

- an interactive global map showing all games, from which you can navigate your way to individual matches
- scrollable team lists showing the starting XVs and the full reserve bench
- interactive charts that show possession %, territory % and zonal territory % for for the first half, second half and  full time
- interactive bar charts showing comparisons of crucial game performance measures including scrum & line out wins, tackle success, ruck clearances, and the first-five eight/fly half options taken
- a linear timeline showing all scoring by time and player
- charts showing the flow of possession and territory can be toggled on and off under the score flow to show who was dominating play at any stage
- a breakdown of crucial performance game stats from all 14 Tests graphed next to each other for comparison
- tables of player data for each match, each tour, and end of season for every All Blacks player who took the field
- tables of player stats that show the top tacklers, top scorers, top carries… and more.

But wait, there's more!

All Test matches from the 2012 season are also presented as non-interactive infographics:
- all 14 Test Matches from 2012 against Ireland, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, Scotland, Italy, Wales and England
- an interactive global map showing all games, from which you can navigate your way to individual matches.

All 48 matches from the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand are presented as non-interactive infographic slideshows:
- every Pool match, grouped in slideshows based on Pools A, B, C and D
- all quarterfinals, semi-finals, bronze play-off, and the Rugby World Cup final.

Please download and explore the app. Spread the word. Provide feedback. I would very much like to hear what users think of it, and what you would like to see in future versions.

It will be updated with all the 2014 Tests at the end of the November Tour, so please stay in touch and look for the new version before Xmas this year. When this is done, iTunes should notify you of the update you can download.