20 March 2011

Six Nations reality check

England's dream of a Grand Slam was smashed into little pieces by an Ireland side that dominated every element of the game.  Up to now, they'd ridden their luck with narrow wins in three of the four matches: 7 points in Cardiff,  8 against France, and 6 against Scotland.  Scotland had shown that it was perfectly possible to stop England from playing,  and that's exactly what Ireland did.  They were able to spoil England's scrum ball with a 45 degree wheel away from Flood on at least three occasions, and they competed ferociously at the breakdown.   

England were on the wrong side of the refereeing team throughout the first half.  They gave a first silly penalty - the backs advancing too quickly at the line out to make it 3-0.  About 12 minutes into the match, Ireland wheeled the scrum, stranding Reddan offside, but he was allowed to play on as the ball emerged. Ashton was penalised for a high tackle on an assistant referee's call (6-0).  Cueto seemed to take an identical high tackle just after the restart, but no call was made.  O'Driscoll had a try disallowed for a forward pass, but an AR call for not rolling away led to a penalty in front of the posts instead (9-0).  Flood missed a shot at goal, and England failed to regather the drop out.  Ireland hacked ahead, and Foden attempted to clear to touch under severe pressure.  No England player was more than 2 metres ahead of the 22m line when the ball was caught near half way, but England were penalised anyway, presumably under the 10 metre law (11.4).  Bowe went over for a try after Sexton's quick tap (14-0).   Another high tackle by Ireland, and D'Arcy lying in the back of an England ruck, also failed to interest the referee or his assistants, although he whistled for offside at the ruck shortly after to give Flood a second shot at goal (14-3). Youngs managed to earn himself a yellow card after he ran the ball into touch and then threw it into the crowd after some last ditch defence against Wallace.  Another AR call, and Sexton duly slotted the penalty for a 17-3 half time lead..  

O'Driscoll scored a good try to take the record for the most tries scored by an Irishman.  Sexton converted, and at 24-3, Ireland were out of sight of the struggling England team.  England's best move of the second half started by Cueto near his own line, carried on with Wood, Hape, Care, Foden, Care, Flood and ended with Ashton passing right to Gordon D'Arcy instead of left to Flood under the Irish posts.  

An interception try by Thompson couldn't make the overall result respectable.  A missed conversion and earlier missed penalties meant that 8 points were lost that would have made a big difference to the final score of 24-8.

Conclusions: Banahan wasn't the right replacement for Tindall at centre, England's kickers lost direction - even Wilkinson.  Easter wasn't able to play an effective part as captain and Hape was pretty much anonymous.  The pack was bullied in tight and loose by Ireland, giving Flood little ball to play with.  Youngs' sin-bin was symptomatic of the rout.  Only Wood and maybe Foden emerged with real credit.

Ireland may have done England a huge unintended favour by giving them this reality check and wake-up call before the summer break leading up to the World Cup.

12 March 2011

Andy Millar

from Andy's Facebook
Maybe it's a sign of the times, but I first got a hint that something was wrong through Facebook.  Then the tributes started rolling in, then the confirmation by e-mail.  Andy died on Friday night, 4th March 2011 and by early Saturday morning many of his Rugby friends knew the shocking news. 

He and Celia pitched up one Saturday afternoon (spring of 1984?)  at Petersfield and said they were planning to move to the area from Milton Keynes, and were looking for a friendly Rugby Club that offered Mini Rugby.  We didn't, but I told Andy that we were looking for someone to organise it.  Sure enough, they did move to Petersfield, and instantly got involved.  Andy played prop for the third XV, absolutely solid and the foundation of a tight-knit unit that included the colonel and me in the second row.  And the promise was honoured: he got the Mini and Junior section of the Club up and running.  It quickly became a huge success, with hundreds of boys and girls taking part in Rugby on Sunday mornings at Penn's Place.  Something soon became clear and has become increasingly important over the years: the parents of Mini and Junior players, with their greater life experience, were often much better organisers than the players, who formed the majority of the Club Committee at the time (I was Hon. Sec).  Many parents have gone on to help in the overall administration of the Club, which has made a huge contribution to its development over the years.

from Andy's Facebook

When the roof of the old Clubhouse was blown off in the Great Storm of 1987, Andy was one of the members of the Clubhouse Organising Committee (CHOC).  He insisted on the construction of the balcony for the new Clubhouse which opened in 1990.  He's pictured right as he could often be seen, offering advice to players and referees.

Andy made another huge contribution as match reporter and author of match programmes.  He made sure that the local press was supplied with high quality reports during the season, and even a trickle of stories during the summer months to keep the Club in the public eye.  When he didn't have the team list from the opposition, sometimes he'd substitute one based on his wide knowledge and wit.  I was delighted to see that Tostig, Godwin and Sweyn were still playing for Winchester.  A few years ago he was rumbled by a former sport sub-editor of the Petersfield Post - when 'Field played Old Paulines, he got a bollocking for Philip and Felix.  Eric Bloodaxe was pushing things a bit far too, and one week I only found through the Hazy Herald that Al Eric, Hunery and Geiser were representing Weybridge Vandals.   But normal service was soon resumed.  About a year ago he excelled himself, with Black, Gang, Chine, Ryde, Pier and Neadle all playing their part for Sandown and Shanklin. 

We'll all miss him, his humour and the passion for the game that he loved.  All our sympathy and thoughts are with Celia and their boys, Alasdair, Iain and Jimmy.

{Update 16/03/2011] Andy's funeral was at St Lawrence's Church, Petersfield, on Wednesday 16th March.  A tremendous number showed up to say goodbye to the big man, family, team mates, friends from far and near; I counted ten referees as well as friends from many other Hampshire Rugby clubs.  Stuart Barden gave a great tribute and the music included two of the great Rugby hymns: Bread of Heaven and Jerusalem.   The wake, back at the Rugby Club, was one of those meetings of old friends that unfortunately is only brought about by the saddest of events.  But it was one you'd be sorry to have missed.

01 March 2011

Another raid on my future pension

Much of the excitement around today's European Court of Justice ruling in insurance premiums has focused on the effects on motor insurance policies.  Young male drivers are dramatically more likely to kill or injure themselves or others than young women, and currently their premiums reflect this fact.  From December 2012, this will be illegal, and on the face of it, women will have to cross-subsidise less safe male drivers.

At the other end of the age range, pension annuities for men currently cost less for the same annual income than those for women, because men have a lower life expectancy.  This ruling will mean that they have to pay more. At the moment, the less well (impaired lives) or the older annuity buyers receive more for the same pot of money, but this could be judged discriminatory too.  We have a whole profession dedicated to this calculation - actuaries - and they could now become an endangered species.  Or they could be employed to find crafty ways and cunning proxies for age, sex and state of health, to circumvent the ruling.

 The Gordon Brown raid on pensions dividend income, poor investment returns, the financial crisis, and now this new ruling, all conspire to reduce my future pension further and further.  Those lucky enough to have a public sector pension won't be affected.  I bet that applies to the ECJ justices.