Three Becomes One

Gerry was predicting all three Irish provinces were going to progress this weekend, but in a potentially important weekend looking forward to the RCC, it’s moneybags Globo Gym and Toulon who join Munster and Clermont in the semi-finals – the same lineup as last year, and a real credit to Rob Penney to keeping Munster in such august (and far wealthier) company.

If Toulon beat Leinster in an awesome display of power, skill and depth; Saracens were blessed to defeat Ulster on Saturday night, almost letting a 76 minute man advantage slip.

The biggest pity about Jared Payne’s sending off on Saturday night was that it effectively decided what looked like a delicious contest after just four minutes – Saracens’ ineptitude on the game management and place-kicking front allowed Ulster to hang in there, and almost nick it, but it was a nigh-impossible task to win with 14 men for virtually the entire game. Add in injuries for Besty and Pienaar and it’s a minor miracle Ulster were even in search of a drop goal in the closing phases. For that they have to thank an oddly subdued Sarries – Owen Farrell again got the yips when the pressure was on (see Park, Thomond, tearful Saturday night edition, 2012), they seemed content to let Ulster have the ball despite the excellent ball retention on display, and the few times they used the full spaces on offer they scored tries – and the errant boots of their halfbacks.

Billy Vunipola and Schalk Brits were excellent and carried the team, but Farrell and Hodgson offered very little. We won’t talk about Chris Ashton again, but his bird-brained swan dive made Farrell’s first conversion more difficult than it needed to be – it would have been just reward if that proved the difference between winning and losing, but, sadly, the width of a post on Wee PJ’s first penalty determined that one.

Ulster’s remaining 14 men and substitutes were heroic (and arm-wavingly frustrating in one case – no wonder Pienaar remained on the pitch for so long despite an inability to pass the ball) and couldn’t have done much more, but since Payne’s card was the defining moment it is worth dwelling on it for some time. As per usual, the reaction ranged from the moronic (‘Sure Goode was walking around by half-time, clearly wasn’t badly injured, not even a penalty’) to the opportunistic (‘Sure the game had barely started and he didn’t intend Goode to fall on his head, so it’s a penalty and no more’) to the disciplinarian (‘All tackles on English yeoman should be punished by red – why, back in the day these colonials weren’t even allowed to pass a gentleman on the street without a cap-doff’). But it’s worth diving deeper into a few of the more common lines:

  • Both Ulster and Saracens coach and captain agreed it wasn’t a red. Well, Anscombe and Muller would say that wouldn’t they, so let’s leave it there. McCall agreed, but would he have been so magnanimous if Ulster had won? Or if Payne got a yellow and scored the winning try, would he have argued Garces was right? And Borthwick chided the interviewer for not asking if Goode was ok, and more or less said Garces had the right to make that decision.
  • Payne had his eyes on the ball the whole time. This was Muller’s argument to Garces when the incident happened, and it’s undeniable. But does this invalidate any contact? The reality is that Payne made no effort to contest the ball, which is the key point when discussing recklessness – even the lamest attempt to jump would likely have downgraded the dangerous factor in the referee’s eyes. Even if Payne was looking at the ball, he was utterly reckless when it came to the safety of Goode.  His body shape in enetering the contact zone was all wrong, and that was what put Goode at such great risk.
  • The severity of Goode’s injury influenced the decision. We thought this initially, but we aren’t so sure. Sure, the sight of a man being carried off on a stretcher definitely makes the referee feel under more pressure to do something, but think about this scenario. Goode is dazed but sitting up and needed treatment to continue. Garces shows Payne a yellow straight away, then sees the replay on the big screen and summons him back for a red. Far fetched? Not really, it’s exactly what he did to Stuart Hogg in the Six Nations. We’re not saying it would have happened, but it’s definitely a possibility. Garces is a referee who does not shirk these decisions, and he could well have shown a red anyway.  At the very least, it must be accepted that Garces’ decision was based on due consideration, and not a snap-reaction or emotion, because he and the officials took an age over it.
  • There was no intent to injure. There never is, though, is there? He’s not that kind of player, you hear commentators say (except about Dylan Hartley, because he clearly is). But reckless and dangerous play can lead to injuries, and that’s what needs to be stamped out. Player safety needs to be paramount, and outright intention to injure someone (also known as common assault) is rarely the key factor in these decision, nor should it be.  Payne was reckless and dangerous

We saw the same thing after Sam Warburton dumped Vinny Clark on his head in the World Cup – amid the hot air eminating from Gatty and the compliant UK press, Elaine was accused of being “half-French” by Barnesy, and Frankie accused him of ruining the semi-final for the fans. Warbs didn’t intend to paralyse Clerc, nor did he, but his conduct is the type of dangerous play that can leave players in wheelchairs, and for that Rolland sent him off.

The Sky studio were split down the middle, with Quinnell and Greenwood arguing for red and the Irish pair going yellow – and that 50-50 split is about fair. Some referees would show red, some yellow. Garces tends to be strict and he showed red. Even if you think it should have been a yellow card, the red card outcome was definitely in play, and within reason.  We tend to see player safety as the key variable and think, on balance, a red card was just about the right call. When we first saw it, our thoughts were ‘He might just get sent off here’.  Payne will be the most devastated by the turn of events – he effectively cost his team a place in the semi-finals – and one wonders if Ulster were a little too wound up early on. It’s a terrible pity that a team of such potential, full of young Irishmen, won’t get to play for a chance of another final – their display certainly warranted it, and, given a period of transition is on its way with the departure of Court, Afoa and Muller, who knows when they will have as good an opportunity.

When you are climbing a mountain of the type Ulster needed to on Saturday everything must go right, and if Ulster put themselves in a position to win the game, they will regret four missed kicks. When we saw Pienaar, broken wing and all, lining up the first kick at goal, we were screaming at the TV – it was pretty obvious he wasn’ t lasting the 80, so why not give PJ the duties from the start? Pienaar didn’t kick well, and Jackson was left with a sighter in the second half – which hit the post. Them is the margins. Not much went right for Ulster on the night, and Payne’s stupidity was only one part of it. Some day my friends .. some day.

PS. Worry not, Munster fans, we’ll be talking about your team’s awesomeness next.  And sorry, Leinster fans, but we may have to have a chat about events on the south coast of France later in the week, too.

Way Off The Ball

Last night’s episode of Wednesday Night Rugby on Off The Ball was a dispiriting affair.  The outstanding sports show has the best interviewer in Irish sport – Eoin McDevitt – in the chair, and answering the questions was the genteel, insightful and always balanced Keith Wood.  And, eh, Gerry Thornley.

Gerry’s performance hit a new low ebb last night.  There had been flickers of his old self during the summer tour, but last night stamped out any dying embers.  He appeared positively affronted when McDevitt put it to him that the IRFU should be looking at lining up replacements now, rather than leaving it to nine months time.  He is only capable of seeing an upturn in Ireland’s fortunes, in spite of all evidence in front of him.  When Brian O’Driscoll’s eye-opening quotation about not really knowing who’s in charge of Ireland’s attack was put to him, he simply ummed and aahed, leaving Keith Wood to point out that this was a proper criticism, indeed a shot across the bough.

Then the hand-picked, selective statistics came out.  Ireland were top try scorers in the Six Nations!  Our attack is fine!  Yes, they were, but nine of the thirteen tries came in home games against Scotland and Italy.  The more pertinent statistic is that Ireland won two out of five games and remain maddeningly inconsistent and reactive.

The lowest point came when Keith Wood suggested Ireland should bring in Joe Schmidt to offer a different voice and bring something new to Ireland’s attack.  Thornley’s extraordinary response was that this would cut across Les Kiss.  Apparently we should be more concerned about upsetting the ego of Ireland’s already overworked defence coach than getting the best possible coaches to work with.  It’s hugely depressing that the leading rugby journalist in Ireland’s predominant rugby paper should be pussy-footing around the obvious issues like this.  Nobody wants our journalists to become a ‘head-on-a-plate’ raging mob, but asking the pertinent questions is the least we should expect.

WoC recalls a time when any Six Nations or Heineken Cup day began with reading Thornley’s previews in that day’s Times, be it on the couch or on the way to the ground.  It’s a sad decline from a once great writer.

Boorish, Self-Serving, Sychophantic and Biased: It’s the Irish Rugby Meeja

What is it with the Irish rugby media? For every Matty and Franno dishing out insightful comment and insider info, there is a Frankie getting paid by the Irish taxpayer to praise his clients. Every time Quinny gives us genuinely interesting comment from an ex-pro’s perspective, Tom McGurk informs us in turn that he is the link between the Irish rugby team and the public. The good and the awful co-exist in an uneasy compromise between treating the viewer/reader like a fool and like an intelligent consumer.

The empty rhetoric and pointless warblings of some of our esteemed scribes after the Welsh game were especially rank. Let’s take three examples in detail


Own Agendas / Provincial Bias

When Farmer Farrelly opined that Rory Best has become a key player for Ireland, we nodded in agreement – we wanted him to be the new captain after all, and he is Paulie’s second in command – no mean feat in a pack of big personalities.

The problem was the preceding paragraphs. Farrelly had started off by saying Deccie had too much loyalty to certain players. We couldn’t agree more. But to see that he was tiresomely referring only to Leinster players (and Tommy Bowe, who had just refused to join Munster), we sighed. Again. The funniest was saying Jonny Sexton needed to return Deccie’s loyalty – after all, he had started just one game in a row, and note the following series of events, starting with Sexton’s debut against Fiji in November 2009, after which he retained the shirt against the Boks the next week

  • DROPPED 1 – for the 2010 Six Nations, Rog took over for the first 2 games, then Sexton came back in for the final 3
  • DROPPED 2 – for the All Black game in June Rog had the shirt, then Sexton came back in against Australia. That November, Sexton retained the shirt for all the big games, but…
  • DROPPED 3 – he lost it again in the following years 6N after the defeat to France. Sexton came back into the side for the final game against England, and held the shirt for the France games in August
  • DROPPED 4 – Rog took over for the England game. In the RWC, Sexton started against Australia
  • DROPPED 5 – then Rog came back into the side against Italy and Wales

Hardly the type of loyalty that needs urgent repaying, whatever you opinions on who should wear the 10 shirt. This parochialism is a huge issue in Irish rugby, but you would think our journalists would know better.


Give The Proles the Message

In case our Anonymous friend thinks we are unfairly targetting the Farmer, let’s move on to his polar opposite, suave sunglasses-donning D4 bon viveur Gerry Thornley. Thornley is our inspiration, and a thoroughly great read when on form. Form is scratchy these days however, and when he isn’t moaning about Pearson penalizing the Munster forwards in Toulon, or France getting to the World Cup final, he is worshipping at the altar of Deccie.

Last season, in return for uncannily getting the starting XV right for every match in the Six Nations, Gerry helpfully explained the logic behind each selection. Sometimes he even went beyond the call of duty in his enthusiasm to get Pope Benedeccie’s message across, assuring us that Paddy Wallace was on the bench to cover fullback, and as such was a better choice than, say, Gavin Duffy or Felix Jones. Equally, Ireland, as well as having the correct selection at all times, had no disciplinary issues. Au contraire:

“Messrs Poite, Pearson, Owen and Kaplan (with the, em, help of Allan) gave them a raw deal.”

So of the 5 referees, 4 were biased. As they say, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

Gerry lost his place to Fangio for the RWC, and contented himself with maintaining that Ireland’s attacking game was in great shape and anyone who suggested to the contrary was as blind as Dave Pearson.

And so, back to the Six Nations, and Gerry was again the blue-eyed boy, getting the team selection bang on. We’re not suggesting that there was any relation to his supine review of the game, but safe to say gameplan, selection and coaching did not get any mention. Pulitzer’s all round!


The Lunatics Take Over the Asylum

To be fair to Gerry, he may have pedalled the official line, but at least he did it in a considered and well-spoken fashion. Another well-known pundit opted for the aimless ridiculous ranting ploy – the one and only George Hook. Hooky had an immediate diagnosis for Ireland’s problems after the Welsh game – the back row. So far, so ok. What the plan then George? Well, said our hero, Jamie Heaslip spends too much time in the papers, so time to ditch him and bring in a proper openside. Ok, don’t like the personal attack bit, but go on … who should come in? Harrison Brewer. Harrison Brewer, everyone in Ireland asked? That would be Harrison Brewer, who is still in school, and starred for Terenure in last years Junior Cup. Oh dear. And who is apparently a centre. Dear oh dear.

The craziness is not limited to Hooky, the froth on the message boards is far more voluminous (and stupid) than on HEC weekends, and its generally of Farmer Farrelly standard: play _________ because he has the pishun/schooling/soundness plus he is from the same province as me. But Hook stokes this crap – people recycle his every moronic utterance and claim it as their own, adding to the general atmosphere of stupidity following any Irish defeat. RTÉ have clearly (as is their right) decided on ditching sensible rugby commentary in favour of entertainment.

So Frankie, any thoughts on your man of the match?

 “Thanks Miles/Mark/Ryle/Conor. I certainly do. David Wallace may have been fairly quiet by his own high standards and was substituted after 50 minutes, but the clincher for me is that he is my client, and therefore man of the match.”

The above is paraphrased, but happened in January last year. Wally is a hero of ours and he had the grace to look bemused when presented with his magnum of Magners. Frankie was on the ether again a few weeks ago, labelling Peter O’Mahony (another client) the player of the HEC group stages. His logic – well, didn’t he get two man of the match awards? He did indeed. Guess who he got them from?


A Few Bad Apples

So between personal agendas, prostrating to all, engaging the vocal chords before the brain and enriching oneself, are all Irish meeja types the same? Thankfully not. It would be remiss of us to wrap this article up without mentioning those who we enjoy reading and listening to, those whose considered opinions deserve a (much) higher billing than they currently get. Take it away:

  • Quinny. His new column in the Irish Times is a revelation, giving you a proper insight into the life of a pro, the inner thoughts, the nagging doubts, and the drivers of success. He’ll get better the further removed he is from the playing sphere
  • Keith Wood. Talks and thinks like he plays – rarely putting a foot wrong. You can see why he captained every team he played in, the man oozes intelligence and ambition. And he scored a drop goal for Ireland! From hooker!!
  • Shaggy. When we saw his name down as an RTE pundit, we groaned. Current player, platitudes, bland. But he is much more than that. He is smart enough to know he needs to offer something more, and his random stories from the playing field always make you think
  • Emmett Byrne. Byrne can be hard to understand and talks too fast, but he is the only pundit who has ever led us to think we would have half a chance of understanding the technical dynamics of forward play (both of us are willowy backs at heart)
  • Matty and Franno. What can we say? Guided us through the RWC with proper analysis of matches, as opposed to rants about Deccie/Rog/Drico/losing the will to live. The contrast between RTE’s “isn’t it great for the people of Christchurch” and Setanta’s “Craig Joubert’s display was a disgrace to rugby” post-final analysis was stark
  • Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob Casey. Ok, so his first 20 columns were about his mates who worked in the City, but he finally ended up giving really rounded pieces about the life of a run of the mill 9-5 pro. He appears on Sky from time to timew, but they give him a children’s table to make everyone laugh. Eschew the City, Bob, come back to our screens!
  • Conor O’Shea. O’Shea has an impressive depth of rugby knowledge and his thoughtful leadership has really shone through at Quins. Frequently looks bemused by the tantrums and abuse from McGurk and Hook, he is a rare bright spot at RTÉ.
  • Brendan Fanning. Fangio might hail from the Sindo, but he does some real writing too – for the Grauniad and for his excellent blog. He was Deccie’s pet during the RWC, but he wasn’t peddling the right lines, so now contents himself with writing perceptive and intelligent critiques.

French need to learn Culture and Passion From Irish

Gerry Thornley’s been warming to his theme of IRFU-bashing lately – he’s been awoken from his autopilot by the new NIE laws and is using his weekly column as a platform from which to berate the [Insert number Here] Old Farts.  Which we approve.  And, of course, he’s only too delighted to see three Irish provinces in the HEC quarter finals.  After all, who isn’t?

But the final paragraph in today’s piece set off the alarm bells:

But, for all its wealth, foreign imports and benefactors, the Top 14 remains, a la the Premier League in England, something of a circus act which works against its national team. Nor do they have the same sense of culture and identity between fans and players who truly represent their regions.
What’s that Gerry?  The French club sides don’t have a sense of culture and identity between fans and players?  Really?  Tell that to the Clermont Auvergne fans whose ground is the most intimidating in Europe, and make their mark on every city to which they travel.  Or the Toulousains who pour into the streets donned in rouge-et-noir whenever they land silverware.  Anyone who was there two years ago for the Leinster-Clermont quarter final will regard it as the greatest atmosphere ever to grace the RDS.

There’s no need to go on, because we all know this.  We’ve all seen the French support, and we all know how much the fans value the Bouclier, and how attached they are to their club teams.  The idea that Perpignan could learn a thing or two from the Irish pishun is ludicrous.  Maybe we could teach them to cook, make wine and dress stylishly while we’re at it? 

We’re entitled to be pleased with the state of Irish rugby, but this sort of smugness has no place.  The Bouclier de Brennus has been contested since 1892, quickly took on the character of village against village, providing an outlet for the denizens of Albi, Dax, Carcassonne and Aix similar to that which soccer provides in the north of England. Domestic Fench rugby has a tribal ferocity to this day.

Perhaps Gerry should watch the video of Pere Harinordoquy taking to the pitch to fight some Bayonnais forwards in the recently contested Basque derby.  Speaking of which, the bi-annual match-up between Bayonne and Biarritz is considered the single most intense rivalry in European rugger. It’s a longstanding one too – while we can’t be entirely sure, we think it might even pre-date the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2006.

Stop Press! (Except the Online Ones)

It seems unfair to concentrate on the players, what with so many others putting their heart and soul into this World Cup. There’s been demand for Maori chiefs to welcome competitors at airports, astronauts to retrieve Morne Steyn’s kickoffs and Bayonne butchers wondering why Shontayne Hape is wearing their products on his hands.

Spare a thought also for the scribes and TV pundits covering the tournament – they have been forced to undergo an all-expenses-paid trip away from the Trouble and Strife for a month to watch rugby and drink Marlborough Savugnon Blanc. To cheer them up, we have put together a RWC preview of our favourite hacks and Stephen Jones.
 

Matt Williams (Setanta)

Style: Tends to start with a rabbit-on-the-headlights never-been-on-TV look, but then relaxes into matey banter with Franno. His perfect teeth and healthy tan cover a razor-sharp rugby mind, and his snippets of insider knowledge gleaned from his time in D4 and Ravenhill are always interesting.

Likely to say: Paddy Wallace is an amaaaaaaaaaaaaazing playah, reaaaaaaaaaaaaaally underaaaaaaaaaated
Unlikely to say: Let’s refer to New Zealand as the All Blacks

Jeremy Guscott (BBC)
Style: Self-satisfied, smug, paunch-bearing know-it-all. His judgement can best be summed up by his pre Six Nations verdict on Richie Gray – “He looks like he is running through treacle”. Errrr. Egg Chaser and his brother used to e-mail his BBC column with praise of rubbish players to see if he’d agree – our bigging up of Ayoola Erinle was a notable success.

Likely to say: Brian O’Driscoll isn’t a patch on the outside centre the 1997 Lions had
Unlikely to say: Interesting opinion Inverdale, I’ll take that on board

Ryle Nugent (RTE)
Style: Excited, excitable and exciting, roysh. Ryle has the refined voice and fur-lined coat of a man who has never left South Dublin in his life. His vocal range is huge, and one can generally tell how Ireland are doing merely by listening to the tone of his voice – anything mezzosoprano and above is good.

Likely to say: You beauty!!
Unlikely to say: Bring rugby back to the Northside 

Frankie Sheahan (RTE)
Style: Fiercely neutral and fair in his commentary, he rarely allws the origins of a player to dictate his opinion of them. No matter what you think of Frankie, you can’t argue that players from Cork and Limerick don’t get treated equally in his eyes. His day job is acting as agent for, among others, David Wallace and Tomas O’Leary – expect many references to how much they are being missed (truthful ones in Wally’s case).

Likely to say: Mick O’Driscoll is very unfortunate not to be here

Unlikely to say: What a performance from Jonny Sexton!

Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports)
Style: Surprisingly for a Sky commentator, over-enthusiastic and a strong backer of whatever Sky have the rights for at the time. When you push through the bluster, he’s actually a very shrewd and interesting analyst. Provided Whiff of Cordite with their favourite commentary moment last year in the Leicester-Perpignan game, as they discussed the collective noun for Tuilagi’s (winner: a terror of Tuilagi’s). While they talked, both Henry and Alesana took the ball directly into contact and got turned over.

Likely to say: I know Matt Banahan knocked on, but what power!
Unlikely to say: I know Matt Banahan is powerful, but what’s the point if you have hands like soap!

George Hook (RTE)

Style: Committed to saying the first thing that comes into his head, unless that happens to be a criticism of Munster. Specialises in popping some of the over-exuberant balloons inflated by the Irish press, but has morphed into a cynical parody of himself. Struggles to admit when his far-flung predictions turn out entirely incorrect.  The Irish players despise him.

Likely to say: We’ll get destroyed up front and lose
Unlikely to say: Keep the faith Tom

Stephen Jones (Sunday Times)
Style: Pointless curmudgeon who persists in his outrageously biased nonsense. To be fair, he makes great copy, and we don’t know if it’s us getting older or him getting more mellow, but we have found ourselves in agreement more than is healthy of late.

Likely to say: McCaw is running scared of the intensity of Edgely Park and Sixways by staying with the Crusaders
Unlikely to say: James Hook needs to improve his decision-making on the field

Gerry Thornley (Irish Times)

Style: Torn between Southside chic and Indie cool (Ms Ovale admits to a minor crush), Gerry can often be seen puffing on a Marlboro Light outside O’Donoghues. Favours the stubble, sunglasses and scarf look. Used to be Head Boy at St Deccie’s but has been usurped in favour of Fanning, despite fervent support for the regime. In fact, fervent support of pretty much everything Irish can be guaranteed.

Likely to say: I had to restrain Dave Pearson from licking Wilkinson’s boots roysh
Unlikely to say: Rugby is now a 22 man game, and Deccie needs to learn that

Lets hope the poor dears survive their tourism – Palla will be keeping a beedy eye out for photo ops, especially with Barnesy.

Needless to say, this blog also has a deep connection to Gerry, and we will watch with interest the reaction to his demotion – will he knuckle down and praise the junta more than ever, or actually begin to call the Great Leader out on his mistakes?

Cordite Awards 2010-11

So, with Toulouse winning the Bouclier de Brennus, the Northern Hemisphere season proper ground to a halt on Saturday night.  However, we’ll still be busy in the off-season, so stay with us over the coming weeks.  We’ll be having a look at Ireland’s World Cup squad options, taking a very long view of the Lions Tour in 2013, and later in the summer, looking at the other teams involved in the World Cup, all the while keeping an eye on goings on down under in the none-too-straightforward Super 15.

But to cap off a memorable season, here are the inaugural Cordite Awards.  Take it away, boys:
Davy Tweed award for International Diplomacy: Chris Ashton. After the November series, it seemed like England had put together a team and a style which was likeable to the neutral. Luckily, Chris Ashton’s increasingly tiresome series of swallow dives against second rate teams restored the status quo of bitterness and resentment from the Celts.
Jason Robinson award for inter-code relations: Shontayne Hape. Never again will right-thinking union fans consider it a good thing that a rugby league player is considering a code switch. Shontayne’s selfless work to denigrate the lesser code is appreciated by all.
Captain Cook award for appreciation of Pacific culture: Stuart Barnes. Barnesy has numerous entries here, mostly for his uncontainable excitement at Manu Tuilagi’s tackling technique but this reached his apogee when Manu unleashed his frustration at not winning the Davy Tweed award on the likeable young scamp Chris Ashton in the AP playoffs.
Jules Winfield award for nutritious snacks: Paddy Wallace. Belfast man Paddy sat on the Ireland bench for around 397 minutes of the 6 Nations, spending the other 3 as a blood sub for Dorce. The word is he makes a seriously mean half-time orange. I mean, why else would he be there, its not like the incumbent Ireland 12 was playing like a drain or anything.

Arsene Wenger award for false hope: Danny Cipriani. After bursting on to the scene for the Melbourne Rebels with a series of eye-catching performances, and one fantastic individual try, Danny Cipriani’s season descended into disciplinary issues, conflict with management, and ultimate disappointment. WoC is a huge fan, but maybe Johnno was right all along.
Brendan Venter award for Whinging about the Ref: Gerry Thornley.  It didn’t matter who was reffing or playing this year, if an Irish team lost, the erstwhile Gerry found a way to blame the ref. Pearson and Poite got the worst of it, usually for daring to penalise the Munster forwards in a European game. WoC contacted Gerry once this season, and got the frenzied response that Pearson had asked Wilko for his autograph at full-time. Hmmmmmmm.

Niccolo Machiavelli award for political scheming: Frankie Sheahan. Commentating on RTE on a nondescript ML game just before the 6 Nations, Frankie awarded the MotM to his client (and WoC favourite), David Wallace. Wally himself was clearly bemused during the presentation, probably because he did not break sweat and came off after 50 minutes. WoC is sure it had nothing to do with the fact that Wally was fighting with Sean O’Brien for the Ireland 7 shirt the following week.

Frankie Sheahan award for neutrality: Stephen Jones. We were going to give the entire Irish press corps this award for confidently predicting Ireland would easily dispatch the Springboks without breaking sweat in November, but then we saw the Stephen Jones 2013 Lions team. A Henson-Roberts centre partnership might be more convincing if either of them 1. had played recently, or 2. were actually any good.
Warren Gatland award for trash-talking: Neil Best. The Worcester Warrior wasn’t Deccie-bashing on his own behalf, but for Roger Wilson and James Downey, who were no doubt delighted that such a renowned statesman as Besty was batting on their behalf. Wilson must have particularly appreciated this gem from Neil: “I look at the Ireland back-row and think you need to be world-class to get in there”

The Tana Umaga Award for Failing to Ground the Ball: Graham Kitchener.  Toulouse’s Caucau being too fat to bend over and ground the ball properly was one thing, but it wasn’t that important in the end. So the prize goes to Worcester’s Graham Kitchener who ran in for a try 5 minutes from time in the playoff semi-final, with Worcester still needing the conversion to take the lead, celebrated, and then knocked-on.  He looked a broken man afterwards.

The Stephen Jones Award for Bizarre Punditry: Jeremy Guscott.  At the Sunday Times’ chummy roundtable discussion before the Six Nations the subject of young Scottish lock Richie Gray came up.  All were agreed that he looked a prospect.  All, that is, except for Jeremy Guscott, who said ‘he looks like he’s running through quicksand’.  It made little sense then, and absolutely none after the tournament finished, and Gray was pencilled in by most as the 2013 Lions Test 2nd row.

The George H W Bush ‘No More Taxes’ Award for About Face: George Hook.  Serial winner of this award George Hook triumphs again on several counts, chief among them his assertion after the Scotland game that Jonny Sexton shouldn’t play for Ireland until after the World Cup.  Post-HEC Final, Hooky is calling for Sexton to be captain.  He’s not prone to hysteria, is our George.

Caption Competition

We’ll start:


“I’ll throw in my medal if you give me the sunglasses AND the scarf”



Spence’s timing spot on

Our hero and inspiration Gerry Thornley was in fine form on Newsnight’s Off The Ball on Wednesday night. Like so many of us, it seems he is a big fan of Ulster’s exciting new centre Nevin Spence. Indeed, Spence has had a breakthrough season this year, and his performances have seen him pencilled onto our World Cup Bolter list.

But what Gerry was most impressed with was Spence’s timing. No, not in running onto the ball, but of his birth. ‘He’s timed his career perfectly’, Gerry told us.

So, we here at Whiff of Cordite would like to give a shout-out to Mr and Mrs Spence for having the canny foresight to give birth to the next great Irish centre just as Drico and Dorce’s careers are coming to an end. Kudos!