14 September 2013

CBSY9 - Quins v Saints

My experience of the new scrum sequence - Crouch, Bind, Set, Yes 9 - has been totally positive.  As a referee, it gives me control over the process, removes the high intensity hit, allows me to see the positioning of the front row players and has the outcome of a tiny number of collapsed scrums, less than one a match.  I've not changed my policy of insisting that the throw-in to the scrum must be made properly along the centre line of the scrum (I referee at the community Rugby level), and so there has been a real contest at the scrum in most matches.

My big worry is that this great improvement - as shown by the firm refereeing of Craig Joubert in the first of this year's NZ v Wallabies matches - could be undermined.  If the professional game is allowed to continue with the bent throw-in to the scrum, then there won't be a contest and hookers won't need to hook. The lawmakers could ditch the contested scrum altogether if the CBSY9 trial fails.  Here are the scrums from Friday night's Aviva Premiership match (13/09/2013), in foul conditions, between Quins and Saints:

1st half

07:54 - Saints scrum 5 - first attempt, both front rows fail to crouch
08:32 - goes down on Quins LH side, Marler underneath TH prop
09:20 - third attempt, ref comes round to far (Quins LH) side; Marler has bound long (on TH shorts?), penalty for 'hingeing': 0-3
13:50 Quins Rob Buchanan on for Joe Gray (hooker)
17:45 Saints scrum, goes down on throw-in side, referee talks to captains
18:05 Scrum reset, Quins penalised for popping up (penalty missed)
24:11 - scuffle, captains warned
24:35 - scrum to Quins, Marler long bind, goes down
25:05 - scrum reset, Care feed ball between LH and hooker's feet - successful scrum
28:00 - Quins given FK for numbers at line out, but opt for scrum...
28:40 - scrum collapses on set, still moving as Care throws in, Saints LH penalised for angle (3-3)
36:20 - diagonal feed by Care, never near middle line - succesful scrum
40:00 - another feed by Care, standing a foot to the right of middle line - successful scrum

2nd half

44:20 - penalty to Quins, taking man in the air (6-3)
48:40 - scrum to Quins went down
49:12 - reset, ref on far side, ball at least visible in tunnel - successful scrum
52:50 - line out penalty to Saints (6-6)
58:20 - Marler subbed by Lambert
62:15 - Great Saints maul, but then turned over. Couldn't see Quins throw in, didn't look good; scrum had gone low on far side, before ref allowed scrum to start - successful scrum but messy result for Quins.  Saints charged down kick at subsequent ruck and scored a try from there, converted by Myler (6-13)
65:10 - Care dropped Ball at LH prop's foot but it rebounded and Saints won scrum against head - successful scrum
66:15 - dubious feed by Dickson, scrum moving but no way Quins hooker could challenge - successful scrum
67:50 - early engage by Saints, FK
70:55 - went down on far side from Quins throw-in, reset
71:30 - Ref starts on far side from Quins throw-in but in a great position; he moved off the middle line, but ball visible in tunnel - successful scrum
74:10 - Nick Easter YC
76:30 - Myler YC


Six scrum awards in each half.   In the first half, three awards ended successfully: two at first attempt, one after one reset.  Three other awards ended in penalties, one after two resets, one after one reset, and one at the first attempt.  In the second half, five ended successully: three at the first attempt and two after one reset.  The other award ended in a FK to Quins. 

Saints were awarded three of the twelve but managed to finish only one of them successfully, the two others resulting in penalties.  Quins had six successful outcomes, plus one lost against the head, one FK and one PK. The ball was visible in the tunnel in only two of the successful outcomes, and from the viewpoint of television, the opposing hooker would not have been able to reach the ball if he'd bothered striking for it in either case.  

14 August 2013

Stoupa 2013

Another wonderful holiday in Stoupa - places we'd recommend include:

  • Stoupa Restaurant - we went four times, each better than the preceding.  The last time we were early enough to order the pot-roast goat. Fantastic.  As was the bifteki stuffed with feta.
  • Akrogiali -  went three times for dinner and twice for lunch.  The view from the restaurant at night is pretty but in daylight, it's awesome.  Really liked their saganaki prawns, totally delicious with great fresh tomato sauce, and will try and recreate this at home.  Mixed grill, moussaka and bifteki were highlights here too.
  • Ta Pende Adelphia (also known as The White Trees) - great for lunch (five times) or dinner (three). Rabbit stifado, calamari, stuffed peppers, excellent souvlakia and moussaka.
  • To Steki - lunch and late drinks. Sometimes very late drinks, with a Stekiburger or two to sustain us.
  • The Butcher - this seemed to be a more expensive evening than most, but that's probably because we stayed more than two hours after we'd finished our food. The reason: rembetiki music every night, with Andonis Ainitis starring on bouzouki, a girl with a lovely voice who sang and played the guitar, and some really good dancing. A good night out.  

Here's Andonis Ainitis on YouTube:

13 July 2013


This repulsive product could be lurking on a supermarket shelf near you, waiting to trap you on your next shopping trip into buying a mixture of butter, water, vegetable oils, buttermilk and salt (1.1% according to the label).  

It masquerades as butter, using the respected Anchor branding, but it doesn't behave like butter when you spread it on toast.  You might as well pour water over hot toast as use this stuff.  Instead of Bovril 'soldiers' with my boiled eggs this morning, they were a soggy limp mess that was just about unfit to eat. A nasty experience.

It looks similar to the normal Anchor spreadable package - which doesn't have the blue scroll below the logo. You have been warned.

11 July 2013

MPs' Pay

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was created by Parliament in 2009 to act as an independent regulator and has now proposed a reform of MPs' pay, allowances and pensions.

The BBC, with Nick Robinson leading the charge, seems to be trying to drum up public opinion to oppose the package of proposals; it's focusing on the salary which is recommended to increase from under £64,000 a year to £74,000 in 2015.  Yes, that's way above current increases in the public sector, but MPs' pay has been held down for years.  There's a good deal of rebalancing through the other changes - a change to the pension basis, reduced expenses allowances, and reduction of the 'golden goodbyes' available to retiring MPs.

Personally, I'd like our MPs to be drawn from that pool of people that would be employed at salaries of at least £74,000 a year in middle-to-senior management roles outside Westminster.  If they're not, maybe we should replace them with people that are worth that much.  

When Parliament delegates its decisions about terms and conditions to an independent regulator, the regulator's decisions should be respected.  Instead, we're seeing politicians  posturing about it being an honour to be an MP, or saying that they won't accept an increase.  This just feels like bullshit.  If we pay MPs properly, we have reason to demand better performance from our MPs.  I think we should.  After all, when you pay peanuts, you know what sort of primate will take the job.

04 July 2013

Sky TV Customer Survey - 4th July

7. Please use this space to provide any other feedback you may have:

I feel ripped off by Sky because you will no longer be carrying Aviva Premiership Rugby, substituting in its stead the RaboDirect Rugby that has been free on BBC and/or S4C for several seasons.  Even in the last two seasons you failed to show some key Aviva Premiership matches such as semifinals which were only available on ESPN.

I hate paying you silly amounts every month so that you can pay ever more millions to line the pockets of football players, and I'm frustrated by the fact that I can't tailor my subscription in any way that's meaningful to me. It's no good offering Sky 1 Sports and Sky 2 Sports as separate products when what I want is split across them.

If you wanted to, you have the capabilities to offer a Rugby subsscription, a Cricket subscription, a Golf subscription, etc. You exploit your monopolistic position and show these sports across a mixture of your channels, instead of as discrete products. So if I want all of the Rugby and none of the football I still have to buy Sky Sports 1 & 2 at disproportionate cost.

You are cross-subsidising football's grossly excessive wages from subscriptions of people like me that don't want it.  I hope one day the Competition Commission will take you to the cleaners for abuse of your market position, which I think has been going on for years.

So when the new BT Sports offering comes on line, Sky Sports will be distinctly optional.  I can live without Super Rugby and I can visit at least two places within 500 metres' walk to see any interesting matches that you still manage to show.  

When you treat your customers like that, don't be surprised when they desert you, no matter how good your customer service agents are. This one was fine, but I'd received the letter telling me of yet another inflation-smashing increase in monthly payments just that morning.

19 April 2013

Deliberate Knock-on?

You sometimes see Rugby laws being invented on the fly.  Some sort of herd instinct amongst crowds, television commentators and players can communicate itself to the referees, and then suddenly a new norm is established.

I think that this is happening with the 'Deliberate Knock-on'.  Law 12.1e specifies that:
A player may not make an intentional knock-on or throw forward.  Sanction: Penalty Kick.  A penalty try must be awarded if the offence prevents a try that would probably have been scored. 
This is all quite clear, and has existed for at least the last 40+ years that I've been playing and refereeing the game.

We're now being faced - and not only in the professional game - with an assumption that a (failed) one-handed attempt to intercept a pass is automatically a deliberate knock-on.  Every deliberate knock-on is a then taken to be professional foul (negative play) which is therefore held to be a yellow card offence.

The original assumption isn't justified in every case; often the pass that leads to the deliberate knock on is a 'miracle' pass that may not succeed anyway.  The Laws of the game don't refer to professional fouls, and they clearly define the sanction for a tactic which can be used to cut out a sloppy pass.  We should stop rewarding sloppy play - which is what a yellow card does in some of these cases. 

I just watched the highlights of last weekend's Leicester Tigers v London Wasps match.  Tommy Bell of Wasps attempted to pick off, one-handed a bad pass by Tigers that would have hit the intended receiver on the shoulder, admittedly, in the five metre zone, but the pass was terrible - it wouldn't have stuck anyway.   Bell just failed to grab the ball with one hand - not a slap down.  If the knock-on  hadn't touched the intended receiver of the pass, it's quite possible that Bell would have regathered the ball and made a successful interception and counter-attacked.  Instead, he received a yellow card.

At the Community Rugby level, I refereed a match recently where the passing by the home side was terrible, but each knock-on when attempting interception of a sloppy pass was called by them as deliberate.  "Yellow card" was muttered in my hearing twice.  After the third time, I had to have a word with their captain, and the appealing stopped.  But it's quite clear that they thought that they could gain an easy advantage this way.

I think we need to get a grip and stop this nonsense.  The Law is quite clear, and we need to make a proper judgment, for each occurrence, about whether an offence has been committed.  Using one hand to try and reach a bad pass or a ball lobbed overhead is not prima facie evidence of intention to knock on.  If the pass may well not have reached the intended receiver, it's also quite possibly difficult to intercept.

A Penalty Kick should only be given when it's absolutely clear and obvious that an intentional offence has been committed.  A Yellow Card isn't specified by the Law and should only be given if there are additional aggravating circumstances not sufficiently satisfied by the award of a PK or a Penalty Try.

If the lawmakers decide that there is a shortcoming, let's go through the formal process to consider a change. But please, let's not invent new law on the fly and reward a failed 'miracle pass' with the sanction of a yellow card against the defender that gets in the way.

14 February 2013

Horse feathers

I'm delighted by the way that the social media and the newspapers have been full of gags about the horse meat scandal.  Tesco's bologneighs, My Lidl pony and Findus Deep Fill Horse Lasagne are already well known on the comedy circuit.

Two things bother me: one is that I don't get the scientific thing about a lasagne being 100% horse meat - what about the pasta, bechamel sauce and all the other ingredients? Does it mean that all of the meat came from horses or that all of the meat tested positive for a trace of horse DNA?  One is substitution, the other contamination - not the same thing. 

The other and bigger concern is that all this furore about cheap meat is obscuring the big scandal of the year so far - the disastrous story of Mid-Staffordshire NHS.  This has been driven off the front pages by hysteria about meat which admittedly should not be where it was found, but is not diseased and so far is not shown to have contained bute, a treatment for horse ailments that is harmful to humans. Without wanting to rush off to Belgium for a mouth-watering steak at a traiteur chevaline, I do think we've lost sight of the priorities.  We should be calling for heads to roll in the NHS management instead.

14 January 2013

Good job

The New Year's Honours List is always a topic for controversy, and the 2013 edition was just the same. Some people argued that Paralympians weren't honoured to the same degree as Olympians, some people who should have had honours didn't. I wish Danny Boyle had accepted a knighthood as the nation's thanks for a fantastic opening to London 2012 - it was richly deserved.

Nearer to home, it was great to see the front page of the Haslemere Herald report three local honours.
Colin Wagstaff founded the King's World Trust for Children, an educational charity that's doing fantastic work in India, and receives an OBE.
Hamish Donaldson is chairman of the Haslemere Festival, and receives an MBE.
Carl Tantum has given years of service to local charities including Bordon Liphook Haslemere Charity which runs the Care charity shops.  He also receives an MBE.