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How Cardiff City’s relegation this time is different

One thing about championship teams is that they’re resilient. No matter what is thrown at them, no matter how deep the hole, they find a way to bounce back and overcome adversity.

— Nick Saban

Relegation really is a kick in the teeth. To be sent packing from the Premier League to the Championship is never fun, for lack of a better term, it sucks. This is the fate my team, Cardiff City, face after relegation from the Premier League with a battle that went right down to the wire and as a result get to enjoy a season in the Championship, oh what fun I cannot wait *holds back the tears*. The Championship however is far from a walk in the park with many quality teams competing in a packed fixture schedule with 46 games in a season with the ever exciting race for automatic promotion, the playoffs and relegation battles full of drama. The difficulty of the league is obvious with only 16 different teams managing to bounce straight back the season after relegation. The last time Cardiff were relegated we weren’t so lucky finishing 11th in our first season after relegation, 28 points behind champions, Bournemouth. However this time it feels a lot different, there’s optimism among fans and players that we can give the league a serious go this upcoming season gaining promotion again first time of asking. The odds are in our favour too with oddschecker currently having us third favourites overall to go up as champions. This post will outline some key differences to relegation last time around and how City fans can look forward to the upcoming season.

One of the key differences is the better quality of players we have. Players all over the pitch such as Neil Etheridge, Josh Murphy, Junior Hoilett, Bobby Decordova–Reid, Sean Morrison, Nathaniel Mendez–Laing and so on have already performed at a high level in the Championship (as well as last season) and no doubt in my mind they will do so again. Obviously the main thing will be keeping everyone at the club. Last time around saw a mass exodus of players such as captain Steven Caulker, Gary Medel and Craig Noone which damaged us badly. However if we manage to keep the majority of our stars then next season everything could be coming up Milhouse. Arguably one of our weaker areas on the pitch is midfield following some key exits at the end of last season however that’s being attended to. Signing Will Vaulks from Rotherham to bolster our midfield after the loans of Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa ended and Aron Gunnarsson joining Qatari team Al-Arabi (still not completely over that one 😞) it is an area that needs depth and improvement. Another midfielder or two through the door to go with the likes of Joe Ralls, Leandro Bacuna and Callum Paterson (who can play just about anywhere mind, don’t be too surprised if he plays a few games in goal before the end of the season) to partner a strong attack, a sturdy defence and quality keeper in Etheridge then we’ve got all we need for a promotion push.

Another key difference is the man in charge, Neil Warnock. Warnock is a veteran of the English Football League and is far more experienced than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was in charge last time around with relegation. Ole was trusted with the job following the sacking of Malky Mackay starting the punderful #RevOLEution. Less than nine months, a relegation and some very questionable signings later, Solskjaer left City and the supposed revolution was over. Magnus Wolff Eikrem anyone? How about Jo Inge Berget? What about everybody’s favourite Federico Macheda? Jokes aside Solskjaer was there at completely the wrong time. He was hugely inexperienced and was his first time managing in the English Football League where he was given a seriously difficult task of trying to keep Cardiff up then the job of kick starting a promotion push, it just wasn’t meant to be. Neil Warnock however is the polar opposite. He has experience of the championship and English football overall, knows how it feels to be relegated and certainly knows how to push for promotion. Warnock holds the record of most promotions in English football with eight. Warnock has hinted that Cardiff could be his last job in football management and with this being the last year on his contract at City this could well be his retirement year. If so then he’ll want to go out with a bang, and no bang would be bigger than a ninth promotion.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, there’s much more of a feeling of unity within the club compared to 5 years ago. There’s a closer fans/players relationship and a strong bond between fans and the manager. Fans are optimistic for the upcoming season and there is a belief among many that we can have a positive season and the players will believe it too. Last time there was divide between some of the board and fans as we were rebranded and playing in a red instead of the famous city blue. I still wake up in cold sweats at night thinking of the 0-2 loss at home to Brighton in the first promotion year when red scarves were given out to fans for free, dark times. However that is all in the past with the board and fans now on the same side looking forward to what the new season brings. There’s a strong feeling of togetherness and spirit at the club and it will show on the pitch. There’s a saying in boxing that ‘a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter’ meaning that a young fighter who’s happy and their morale is high is more proficient and dangerous in the ring, and Cardiff are definitely a happy fighter. Keeping morale and spirits high from the team and the fans will make City a force to be reckoned with in the Championship.

How the season will pan out nobody actually has a clue, unsurprisingly I can’t see into the future. I could read this back in six months’ time and cringe at how wrong I’ve got this or surprise myself of how accurate my predictions have been. Regardless it will be an exciting season filled with hopefully many ups, probably some downs and definitely a lot of questionable refereeing.

Home Nations Gameweek 1 Recap: The Good, the not too bad, and the lob from 50 yards

I’ll keep it honest with you guys, I’ve been a bit under the weather the last few weeks. My symptoms have included a weird feeling of excitement and nerves in my gut, the sudden urge to get myself to the closest pub, and a strong sense of national pride that I don’t always have. I spoke to NHS direct and my fears were confirmed, I’ve come down with a strong case of Euro fever with no cure in sight! Yep, last week Euro 2020 got underway after a year of waiting which felt like forever. This is a particularly exciting one as for the first time ever Wales, Scotland, and England all qualified for an international tournament (sorry Northern Ireland, there’s always Qatar for the 4 of us to get to). Better yet, Scotland and England have been drawn in the same group with Wales having a tasty matchup in gameweek 3 with world beaters Italy. So I decided I’d do gameweek recaps for the home nations throughout the group stage then general recaps for the knockout rounds whether any of the home nations are there or not. Got it? Smashing. Whether you think football’s coming home, fitbaw’s coming hame, mae pêl droed yn dod gartref, or what’s most likely to happen in my opinion la football rentre à la maison (I hope Google translate hasn’t let me down there, my French isn’t what it used to be), there’s plenty to get excited about. Without any further ado, let’s get into it!

Wales

Jeez Louise, another 2 group games like that will see me off. This was a weird one, the first 5/10 minutes we looked great. Dangerous whenever we attacked and were winning the ball back well. For whatever reason then we decided that it was going a bit too well and completely switched off for the next 65 minutes. The passing was incredibly lazy, Switzerland saw far too much of the ball and were happy enough to keep possession of it, and any sense of urgency was gone. Unsurprisingly, Switzerland take advantage of this and Breel Embolo (that’s a name familiar to Football Manager players) fired the Swiss into the lead just after half time. Wales woke up a bit after this deciding to attack a bit more before the best footballer (and human being) alive today, Kieffer Moore, used his massive head of his to draw us level. General Page then decided to take off Dan James in his infinite wisdom and the game finished 1-1. This isn’t a terrible result given how Wales played for most of the game, and the fact that Switzerland are a solid team. Whenever Wales attack they’re at their best, it showed in periods of this game and it showed in the first half of the France friendly before Neco Williams got sent off. Why they don’t do it more I don’t know, and they’ll have to adopt this attacking style of play against Turkey in what is a massive game on Wednesday. I’d make some changes to the side for Turkey. I’d swap Neco Williams for Connor Roberts, Ben Cabango for Chris Mepham, and Ethan Ampadu for Joe Morrell whilst keeping the rest the same. All in all, a good result against a very good team after not the best performance.

England

IT’S COMING HOOOMEEEE!!!! England supporters sing in jubilation after beating a geriatric Croatia side 1-0 in their opening game (oh come on I’m allowed one little dig, don’t tell anyone but three lions is a banger). The ghost of World Cup Semi Finals past was put behind the three lions as Raheem Sterling was on target for England to win their Group B opener. Wasn’t a bad game really. I thought England played pretty well in what wasn’t a bad performance at all. Phil Foden nearly set England off to the best possible start after his shot hit the post in the opening 5 minutes in what was the best chance and highlight of the first 45. Kalvin Phillips turned into prime Andrea Pirlo creating some incredible changes and setting up Sterling’s goal in the second half. I’m not too surprised Gareth Southgate opted for Declan Rice and Phillips, he’s a big fan of more conservative possession/defensive football in big games so this was always going to be a given. In the end it paid off and props to him. I’m also not too surprised that Jack Grealish didn’t feature, he’s played a lot of football in the last month for Aston Villa and England in the warmups. I think he will end up featuring at some point for the Scotland game in what will be a mostly unchanged side. It would be massively harsh to drop Sterling after his performance and Foden is Foden so I imagine Grealish will end up coming on as a substitute at some point. The best possible start for a tournament with a lot of hype and expectation surrounding England, but then again when isn’t there a tournament with a lot of hype and expectation for England. Good performance, and one that should beat Scotland with relative ease.

Scotland

Ah lads what went wrong. Wait 23 years to feature at a tournament, have your first game on home soil, and Marshall gets lobbed from 50 yards. I thought the Scots got off to a decent start. Up until the first goal Hampden was rocking and Scotland were playing alright. Andy Robertson had a good effort saved by Tomas Vaclik before and absolutely stunning cross from West Ham’s Vladimir Coufal was met by the head of Patrik Schik to put the Czechs 1 up just before half time. Scotland started the second half pretty well but Hendry’s blocked shot fell perfectly for Schik again who lobbed Marshall from the halfway line to put the nail in the coffin. Stuart Armstrong and Lyndon Dykes had some decent opportunities but Vaclik saved both well. This was a disappointing result for Scotland. Arguably their most winnable game in the group (I personally disagree, the Czech Republic are one of my dark horses and I’m not convinced Croatia are all that) but it wasn’t to be. No doubt they’ll be fired up for England where they’ll be hoping Kieran Tierney will be fit to play. I’m not saying at all they would’ve won if Tierney was fit but he offers more than Liam Cooper in a back 3. There’s still a kinda slim chance of making the last 16, especially with the format of the third place teams but we’ll see. England will be full of confidence and Croatia are still strong, although I think they’re definitely in with a shout against Croatia. It’ll have to be a better performance against England because if not then it could be quite grim reading at Wembley this Friday.

YouTube star Logan Paul vs all-time great Floyd Mayweather: Yep, you read that right

I was hoping that I’d be done talking about this kind of thing. I made the post many moons ago before the pandemic and masks were a thing and the words “social distancing” didn’t exist (god those were the days) about the big YouTube fellas, KSI and Logan Paul, fighting each other at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles and assumed that it would be the end of it all. They’d get their bit of time in the spotlight on Sky Sports Box Office, along with a handsome pay day and YouTube boxing would ride off peacefully into the sunset with somewhat of a reputation in tact. In reality, couldn’t be further from the truth. What came next was Logan’s younger and somehow more obnoxious brother, Jake, deciding he wanted a go.* Jake then took on some of the most prestigious names in the sport in the form of fellow YouTuber AnesonGib, ex-NBA basketball star Nate Robinson, and retired MMA fighter Ben Askren. Huge names on the record which should surely set up a mega-fight with somebody like a bouncer from any Wetherspoons in South Wales, or Coronation Street’s Roy Cropper, but instead opting for another retired MMA fighter in the form of Tyron Woodley. All the while, Logan went a bit quiet after his sole loss before setting up an exhibition match with (and I wish I was joking) undefeated former five weight world champion Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather. Eight three-minute rounds with no official winner, there will be no judges scoring, it won’t go to a decision, knockouts and stoppages are allowed and the referee can stop the fight at any time. It’s essentially a sparring session without headguards, fun.

*Kinda harsh from me here, Logan actually isn’t that bad a bloke. He’s been on a bit of a road to redemption in the last few years and comes across like a nice guy. He used his social media platforms well during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 and has challenged toxic masculinity on his podcast before. Seems like the type of guy you’d like to have a beer with.

The fight was originally supposed to happen in early 2021 but has since been rearranged for the 6th of June at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The fight will be shown live on Sky Sports Box Office with an undercard that’s interesting to say the least. Sweden’s Badou Jack was supposed to rematch Jean Pascal for the WBA light-heavyweight title however that fight is off due to Pascal failing a drug test. Instead, Jack faces undefeated Venezuelan star Dervin Colina instead. The card also sees former unified light-middleweight champion Jarret Hurd take on Luis Arias, and former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver and NFL legend Chad Johnson making his debut in an exhibition bout. There’s some big names and tasty fights on the undercard but it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, the KSI-Logan undercard featured the likes of Devin Haney and Billy Joe Saunders.

People can laugh and joke (and have, quite a lot) but this seriously needs to be talked about. Despite what I’ve written I’m not necessarily against the YouTube boxing scene. Sure it’s a bit gimmicky and sometimes a bit cringey but it’s a bit of fun for some internet peeps who have wanted to do this kind of thing and it brings more eyes to the sport. When it goes this far is when serious red flags are raised and alarm bells start to ring for me. This isn’t somebody with a few years training fighting another internet star, athlete from another sport or even a journeyman (which I still wouldn’t be 100% comfortable with), this is going against a pound for pound king and one of the greatest fighters of this generation.  Even though Floyd didn’t have a reputation as the biggest knockout artist by the end of his career, this could end in a really nasty way. Look at the McGregor fight and how beat up Conor got, or even the exhibition Floyd had with Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa. Both were unbelievably one sided even though they had backgrounds in combat sport.

I’m not a fan of this at all, and I’m pretty worried Logan could end up badly hurt. As grim as it sounds, and I’m praying he doesn’t, it’s a very real possibility. If the whole YouTube fighting thing carries on, put them against each other or other celebrities. It’s all well and good seeing Logan fight Mayweather or Jake Paul call out Tommy Fury and Conor McGregor but it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets seriously injured and all of a sudden boxing is the bad guy again for letting it happen. Jake saying how he’s an elite level fighter after fighting three nobodies in the world of boxing is not only wrong but again, downright dangerous. It’s led to him to be called out by the IBF and Ring Cruiserweight champion Mairis Briedis, which I doubt he would turn down because he believes his own hype so much (good luck finding a governing body on the planet that would be happy to sanction that fight) and he’d end up badly hurt, same way he would if he ended up fighting McGregor or Tommy Fury. The furthest I’d be begrudgingly happy to see it go would be a fight with somebody like Sonny Bill Williams or Paul Gallen, former sportsmen who have some background in boxing. But even still I’d probably have to watch from behind the sofa for a Sonny Bill Williams – Jake Paul fight.

My main hope for all this is that it’s the beginning of the end. YouTube stars boxing can do what they want so long as it doesn’t get stupider than this. Calling out ex and current professionals is not a path I want to see this go down and in the long run it’s just going to end in tears. Hopefully the Logan Paul-Floyd Mayweather fight is decent enough for the fans in attendance sake (and the nutcases over the world who stay up for it), ends fairly quickly and nobody gets seriously hurt. Then for the love of god and all that’s holy can this nonsense about fighting actual boxers or MMA fighters who can actually punch PLEASE stop before one of them (I’m looking at you Jake Paul) takes an unwinnable fight against a professional at the top of their game because that will not be pretty. Do I like the idea of Jake Paul fighting nobodies and parading himself around like he’s the best thing since sliced bread? No, it’s annoying. But I like the idea of him fighting somebody like Conor McGregor, Tommy Fury, Mairis Briedis, or Kamaru Usman a hell of a lot less.

My personal prediction for the fight is Floyd starts off jabbing and testing the water like he did against McGregor, Logan goes in swinging like a mad man in the hope of landing something before Floyd sees red and throws a mental combo which comes out of nowhere and the fight gets stopped. All within the first two minutes as well, I really don’t see this going more than one round. But hey, what do I know.

Six Nations Week 5 Recap: Super(ish) Saturday and a Decider in Paris

So I was hoping this would be able to be a reflection piece. A look back at the Super Saturday that was and the tournament as a whole as a winner would’ve been decided, England would’ve played down to their competition again and Italy would’ve had a fairly grim showing again. The latter two happened, but the winner is still well up in the air. It was a bit of a weird one. The first two games didn’t really mean much and the final could’ve been a championship decider, but we have to wait until the conclusion of Scotland-France before we know about that. So what better way than to cover all this than splitting this post into two. The first (and main bulk) will be the bog standard gradings that I’ve done all the way through but keeping a bit at the end until after the Scotland-France game is concluded. I might even do a reflection grading every team’s tournament after all is said and done, but I’m still undecided on that front. Anyhow, I’ve rambled enough. Let’s get into the ratings!

Italy

As certain as I am that the sun will rise in the East and set in the West, Italy will look impressive against a good team for 5 whole minutes before completely going off the rails. I said last week that it would take some doing for Italy to do worse than they did against Wales, but they somehow managed it. Every week since the opener they’ve got progressively worse, and this was the bland icing on top of the disappointment cake. Just a really bad performance, it kind of summed up their tournament. The little sparks of creativity were completely non-existent and the second half was the worst they’ve looked all tournament. Discipline went out the window completely by the end, I think it was down to frustration on Italy’s part. Ioane I thought was quite lucky as well not to get sent off, red cards have been given for tackles like that. They looked weak in their phase play as if (yet again) they had no idea what to do after the third phase each time, add to this getting battered at set pieces then it made for a very poor afternoon. A grim match which Italy were glad to see the back of, and a grim tournament I imagine they’d be happy to see the end of.

Grade: F-. Very poor, and have been progressively the whole last few weeks. Be careful somebody doesn’t sneak into your place with the rest of the class, Georgia has been making a lot of noise and turned some heads recently.

Scotland

B-E-A-uitiful! Yes Italy were poor, but lets not take anything away from Scotland. The first five minutes were an absolute disaster but the Scots bounced back more than impressively. They were brutal going forward yet again and were sound in defence. I was really impressed with Hamish Watson and thought David Cherry was quality. I saw a piece with Stuart Hogg before the game where he said he was nervous about playing at no. 10 but it didn’t show at all, I thought his kicking was tremendous. This has been a really solid tournament for Scotland, and they really could’ve done even better. With 15 men I think they would’ve beaten Wales and the Ireland game was just crazy. The journey of improvement they’ve come on in the last 4 years or so has been brilliant, and long may it continue. A lot of Scottish players had a very solid tournament, and don’t be surprised if we see a lot of Scottish players in the Lions squad for this summer.

Grade: A+. Star of the week! Same again against France would be lovely.

England

I knew after week 1 this was going to be a rough tournament, but never in my wildest dreams did I see this team performing as bad as they did against Ireland. That was England’s worst game in years. The defence was all over the shop, absolutely nothing came flowing in terms of attack and the discipline was laughable. You cannot give away that many penalties at this level of rugby. Too many silly mistakes were made in the back and it cost them dearly. Granted they did their homework at the lineout, but at the total expense of everything else. I thought the Sarries lads were back to their (near) best after the France game but they were way off it this week. The most frustrating thing is that we all know how good this team can be. The world cup wasn’t a million years ago, yet this side is a million miles away from that semi final performance. I was really hoping this would be an opportunity to see the quality in depth there was considering there was so little to play for but alas Eddie Jones stuck with who he knew and we ended up with whatever that performance was. Do I think the big names still go on the Lions tour? Yes. They can still play well, but those who don’t need to be rested for the North America tour. Take them by all means but that tour needs to be about some new blood and the younger lads. Poor game.

Grade: D-. Very poor showing, back to the drawing board and think about where we go from here.

Ireland

I’ve cracked it. So first off, well done on a big win. Did I think Ireland were world beating? No. But they were very clever in what they did. I’ve come to the conclusion Ireland and Burnley are annoyingly similar in their game plans. They have the quality players there, but they’re even better at getting teams to play down to their level if they’re having an off day. Their defence slaughtered England forcing them to make mistakes and thus use the penalties well. They had quality going forward and made the most of opportunities they had. This kind of performance can work wonders against bigger teams, and does it sound similar to a previously mentioned football club from the Lancashire that play in claret and blue? So you could call Ireland the Burnley of international rugby, or vice versa. I don’t know the analogy makes sense to me. In terms of individual performances, Furlong is proving to be even better than I thought and alongside very few other players has basically solidified his place in the Lions starting XV (for what it’s worth I think only Furlong, Stuart Hogg, Josh Adams and Tom Curry have solidified their starting places, the rest is massively up for debate). Sexton was okay and Keith Earls impressed. I’ll be honest I stopped watching before full time, I’d had enough of England being bad and opted for the South Wales Derby instead (needless to say I made the right choice).

Grade: B. Well done! Good work all and I’d like to wish CJ all the best of luck for his future endeavours!

France

The mad lads actually did it, they made Super Saturday a bit of a dud (ooohhh the salt is strong in this one, I’ve been working overtime this week at the South Wales Sodium mine). All in all, fair play France, that was a great last effort in the last 20 minutes to come back. The start was pretty mental, we saw much of the France that we did against England in the just attack and hope for the best. Was a bit like an entertaining football match to start, you have a go we have a go and just not care about defending (how un-Shaun Edwards like of them). Once they went down to 14 I thought that was more or less game over, but they pushed on and got the harshest of heart-breaking overtime wins (I’m still not bitter). Wales should’ve done better at the scrum, they had the ball with 90 seconds left in a winning position for a Grad Slam how do you not win from that? But alas, the French fought on and ended up stopping a Welsh Grand Slam setting up a huge decider against Scotland. All eyes on the decider in Paris at 8PM GMT Friday for the second week running.

Grade: B. Did well to come back, please don’t poke other classmates in the eye.

Wales

Hello darkness my old friend, how you’ve come to haunt me with Welsh rugby again. Yeah, this hurt. Thank god Cardiff won the South Wales Derby and something went right (this is where I’d usually say “sorry Swansea fans” but I’m not really sorry lolz). I think Wales had the right idea, fight fire with fire from the off like England did the week before and it worked for a bit. The front and second row had a decent showing again and with 10 minutes left everything was coming up roses and then, well and then. Once Camille Chat overthrew the lineout I thought that would be it more or less done, man advantage with not much time left is always nice, but the rugby gods had other ideas. Too many penalties conceded will always lead to yellow cards and France nick it with two late tries.

*On that note, the abuse Liam Williams got was nothing short of an absolute disgrace. Much like the “fans” who sent abuse to Sonja McLaughlan for her interview with Farrell and death threats to Ellis Genge for not clapping after the Wales-England game, you’re disgusting and not wanted in the sport*

I can’t be angry at Wales, they didn’t get slaughtered, it just wasn’t to be. To have two less than convincing performances to start to be within touching distance of a Grand Slam is pretty special and I don’t think anyone saw it. There won’t be an appearance from Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ this time around, he’s spent his time since the final whistle rapidly searching Ancestry for any kind of Scottish heritage and trying to find the best deals on Scotland shirts. On to Friday we go to see where the title ends up!

Grade: C. Not bad, just lost discipline and tripped at the final hurdle. You’ve done well, dust yourself off while some of you can look forward to a summer trip to South Africa.

So like I said, we’re splitting this into two parts. I leave you now, and I’ll finish it after the Scotland-France game because oh lord that just got massive. In a bit! (or in a now because the game will already have happened)

*Spongebob Squarepants transition voice* One Week Later

France

Hmm, weird one (drinking game: take a shot every time I say those three words to open a grading). For a team that had to win by 20 and get a bonus point, France really didn’t look up for it. They weren’t as free flowing as they have been all tournament and considering they’re known for their quality in attack this tournament it wasn’t really on show. I thought Virimi Vakatawa was a bit quiet, he almost looked a bit hesitant at times. They still looked dangerous whenever they went forward, but they were met by a strong Scottish defence (there’s a Hadrian’s Wall joke to be made there). They should’ve done more with the penalties they were gifted in the run up to halftime and definitely should’ve done more with the man advantage in the 9 or so minutes after but no dice. When another man advantage came with Finn Russell’s red card they shot themselves in the foot three minutes later with Serin’s yellow. Discipline started to drop when it came to the mid point of the second half, they basically did what Scotland were doing just before half time. Then comes the finish, maybe they were desperate for a bigger win but for god’s sake lads just kick it out and save some face when you’re in a winning position. Ah well, I’m not complaining considering it won Wales the championship. Just wasn’t to be for Les Bleus, again.

Grade: C+. Okay at times but fell at the last hurdle. You’re obviously very talented, just try again next year.

Scotland

“OOOOHHHHHH FLOWER OF SCOOOOOOOOOOOOOTLAAAAAAANDDDDD WHEN WILL WE SEE YOUR LIKE AGGGGAIIIINNNNNNN” thank you gents, much appreciated. Scotland went into this with a solid game plan from the word go and it worked. Discipline dropped before half time, they were lucky to get away with conceding so many penalties with only the one yellow card. Their attack was strong when it needed to be and the defence remained solid, even in the times they were playing with 14. Stuart Hogg had a good game solidifying his place as a Lions starter even more, Hamish Watson and Finn Russell (despite his red card) have basically confirmed themselves to be in the squad, and some of the lesser talked about potentials such as Huw Jones, Ali Price, Dave Cherry and Duhan van der Merwe just to name a few made solid cases for squad selection. Scotland needed this win. It had been a long time coming and wins in Paris and Twickenham makes it a solid tournament. This squad is definitely going places, the improvement they’ve shown in the last 4 years or so has been incredible. Don’t be surprised if this time in twelve months we’re looking at a Scotland championship, I think they can do it. On their day they beat anyone in the Six Nations and honestly I think next year might be their year, who knows.

Grade: B+. Very impressed! I know the Welsh contingent of the class were watching closely and are very grateful. Discipline needs working on a bit but we’ll let future Scotland worry about that

Class Clown of the Week(s): Ellis Genge. Not necessarily for anything he did on the pitch but his response to Tendai Mtawarira calling him out on twitter was legendary stuff, a level of unbothered I aspire to have. Well played Gengey.

And that was that! I did have a thing I wanted to write out properly planned but I’m tired. So thanks for sticking around and all the shares, likes and reads. This has been a lot of fun, maybe I’ll do something like this for the Lions but that’s ages away yet. So yeah, cheers peeps!

*Two weeks later, again* Tom here, yeah sorry I kept you waiting. In all honesty, I completely forgot I hadn’t posted this. I’ve had it written for ages and dissertation writing has kept me busy for a few weeks. With so much writing I just assumed it had already been posted until I realised about an hour or so ago that I hadn’t. Soz x

Six Nations Week 4 Recap: Championship Rounds

Ooh it’s getting awfully close now!! To put it into boxing terminology, we are very much into the championship rounds. Another week down and the table is taking shape big time. Wales are a step closer to the jammiest Grand Slam in history, France met an English shaped fork stuck in the road, and Ireland and Scotland gave us pure chaos. It’s shaping up for a somewhat interesting Super Saturday, with all eyes on Paris come 8 o’clock GMT. Am I nervous yet? Not in the slightest. I know come the big day I will be, especially with the South Wales Derby being the same day (mind you with the rugby, the derby and Lawrence Okolie squaring off in the squared circle against Krzysztof Glowacki for the WBO Cruiserweight Championship later on in the evening it will be a helluva day of sport). But we can’t look too far ahead yet, as teacher has still got some tedious bit of admin to do. So without further ado, let’s get into the grading!

Italy

I’ve had enough. I called this team a sleeping giant, a statement that has aged like a fine milk. This was comfortably the worst Italy have looked yet, and unless they pull something hilarious out of the bag against Scotland then this will end up being their worst performance this championship. This was really bad. The decision to take Ioane off for the first yellow card was baffling. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you’ve read these posts then I’m a big fan of Montanna Ioane and in my opinion has been Italy’s player of the tournament and easily their most creative player, which makes the decision to take him off even weirder, beats me. They were poor at set pieces and gave away far too many silly penalties. Their rucking wasn’t much to shout home about, and yet again like against Ireland once it came to the end of a few phases that didn’t amount to much they looked lost. They’ll need to massively turn it around against Scotland, but I don’t see that going particularly well. I’m beginning to think that they are not the sleeping giant I thought they were. All in all, absolutely grim day at the office.

Grade: F-. No where near good enough. Just try and improve somewhat next week.

Wales

“WAAAAYYYYULLLLSSSZZZZZ WAAAAYYYYULLLLSSSZZZZZ WE’RE WINNING THE GRAAAAND SLAA….” No, go away, come on, off my keyboard and let me do my writing, leave me alone Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™. We’re not there yet, but four down and only one to go. What world are we living in where Wales could very possibly win the Grand Slam? Granted, it’s going to be tough going to Paris, but we’re to talk about Italy. What a performance. As I always say you have to take games against Italy with a pinch of salt, but this was the type of performance that was needed, especially before France. Everything was perfect from the first whistle to the last. The intensity was high from the get go and looked strong in every area of the pitch. Italy couldn’t keep up with the strength of the Welsh drive and the wing duo of LRZ and Adams once again looks to be deadly. I was super impressed with Ken Owens yet again (he’s had a blinder of a Six Nations) and Faletau and Navidi had strong showings again, all the more important with Lions places up for grabs. No complaints this end this week which is rare, I know maybe I’m harshest the most on Wales but that’s only because I know that they really are this good. On to Paris where whoooooooaaaahhh Nelly the stakes couldn’t be higher, but this kind of performance was vital for a confidence boost. Da iawn lads.

Grade: A. Star of the week! More the same next week please.

England

Another week, another game where England do their best to see me off. I didn’t see this result coming, like at all. When France scored after 2 minutes I thought it was going to be a long afternoon, yet the men in white fought fire with fire and attacked back at the French blue wall. England’s attacking game was strong, but on the defensive side I think they played very well too. Itoje and Farrell looked much better this week, more so like the Itoje and Farrell of old. Farrell’s decision to kick for the corner late when there were still four points in it was a masterstroke, and it’s that kind of leadership will put him back into contention for Lions captaincy. Anthony Watson played really well and was rightfully given the man of the match. This kind of result will be big for confidence ahead of Ireland. I’m really looking forward to that one, I think that will be an absolute belter of a game. Plus the result puts Wales in a stronger position for the championship, so can’t complain. All in all, good result for England.

Grade: B-. Very solid performance, well done. Happy to see Owen and Maro performing well again, keep it up lads!

France

Hmm, weird one. So France weren’t bad, like at all, they were just second best on the day. The defence held up strong again, but the attack wasn’t quite as free flowing as we’ve seen from them so far this tournament. This reminded me a bit of the Ireland game, but there just wasn’t quite enough there to take Les Bleus over the line. Both of the tries were fantastic, Dupont’s showed how deadly their kicking game can be and Penaud oh LAWD that was beautiful. I thought Jalibert had a good game, his kicking was very consistent but it won’t be enough alone to beat England. I thought the attack wasn’t as strong in the second half and even though the defence still played well, it wasn’t enough. England were too physical with a touch of brilliance from Anthony Watson now and again to see them over the line. So the dream of a Grand Slam is dead but the chase for the championship is still very much alive, which should make for a nail-biting affair in Paris come eight o’clock Saturday.

Grade: C. Not awful but not amazing. More than possible for you to bounce back.

Scotland

Chaos, utter chaos. No real attack or defence plan, just pure vibes. This was super entertaining for the neutral, and probably very frustrating for Irish and Scottish fans. Scotland gave away far too many silly penalties, and their line out game was absolutely woeful. They did however make up for it in their scrummaging. I thought they looked strong defensively apart from the first Ireland try, but giving away stupid penalties became their Achilles’ heel. When they played ball in hand I thought they played very well as they have all tournament. Hamish Watson was outstanding in my opinion, the strength he possesses is scary and in my opinion definitely needs to be in the Lions squad, maybe even a starter (but it would be hard to justify him starting over Curry or Tipuric). Some sparks of cute flicky rugby worked, but it wasn’t enough. Said cute flicky spells were seen in motion with Huw Jones’s try, but ultimately they couldn’t muster up enough of a challenge. All in all, weird game and even weirder performance. It was essentially the kind of performance you expect in the last 15 minutes but for the full 80.

Grade: D. Feel a bit harsh doing this but you need to be more disciplined. Silly mistakes cost you valuable points and marks, want to see better next week please.

Ireland

Chaos, utter chaos. No real attack or defence plan, just pure vibes. In all seriousness, not terrible but nothing ground-breaking. Their rucking was fantastic and were really clever in causing Scotland to continuously make mistakes. I fully expected them to kick more as that’s what most team’s game-plan is when it comes to Scotland but keeping ball in hand was definitely the right call. The first try was very cleverly worked, even if benefiting from a Scottish defensive brain fart. But that’s where Ireland were at their strongest, capitalising from Scotland mistakes and turning penalties into points. I thought they tried to be a little bit too cute and clever at times leading to conceding some silly knock on’s but in the end it didn’t mean too much. I struggled with this one, I really didn’t know what to put. It was such a weird game that it was quite difficult to find anything to say about it. Had Ireland lost it would’ve looked awful and probably be put down to lack of game plan, but their quality ball in hand and capitalising on Scotland making too many silly mistakes definitely helped. I thought discipline dropped a little bit towards the end, conceding a few penalties they really didn’t need to and nearly let Scotland back into it, but they held firm. England next and in all honesty I have no idea which way that goes. I think it’ll be one of those games where I have no idea what the result will be but after it’s finished it will be painfully obvious it was always going to go that way, rugby eh?

Grade: C. Don’t think I can’t see you there making your classmates make mistakes for your own benefit! Very clever, but don’t make too many yourself like you did towards the end of the day.

Class Clown of the Week: Maro Itoje. Much like LRZ against England I don’t think he was expecting his try to be awarded. The look of surprise on his face after it was given has strong meme potential. Along with a very solid performance I liked this from him, well played Maro.

Six Nations Week 3 Recap: Trouncing’s and Controversies Galore

I’m back! So… did you miss me? Yeah, thought not. We’re at the midway point now, three games down for most and two to go and things are starting to get pretty interesting. The table is starting to take some shape and it was nice to get rugby back albeit for a day. This week’s post is a tad shorter, unfortunately France-Scotland was postponed due to a covid outbreak in the French squad which isn’t nice. I can only wish them the best and hope everyone makes a speedy and healthy recovery. But we still managed to get two entertaining games, one absolute annihilation and the other wooohhhhooooaaaahhhhh doctor we’ll get to that. I was feeling a little bit under the weather when watching the games and I have watched highlights back so my analytic cap may not have been as sharp as I hoped but I’ve done the best I can. This is shaping up to be a very interesting and possibly even more unexpected tournament than most would’ve thought. Imagine 5 years ago saying the most likely winners going in on paper would’ve been Scotland or France, and suggesting Wales would do the Grand Slam would get you funny looks, crazy. Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. Without any further ado, let’s get into the grading!

Disclaimer: I make more jokes than usual this week with the nonsense in the Wales-England game. I only do them to try make light of the games, not to rustle any jimmies. Nothing is personal or made to annoy anyone, I’m just trying to be clever and have a laugh in good spirit

Italy

Good god. This is the worst Italy have looked all tournament. I never thought they’d win, I didn’t think Ireland were ever *that* bad, but I expected better than that. From the first whistle they really struggled with the Irish drive. The creativity that was there for the opening two games was non-existent. It’s as if whenever they got to their fourth or fifth phase, they had absolutely no idea what to do next. They conceded far too many silly penalties, and when it came to the set piece they got absolutely battered. As the game went on they lost discipline a bit too easy for my liking. Some heads started to drop and they were visibly frustrated during the last 15 minutes, this was shown in the two yellow cards. I’m not angry or ashamed, I’m just disappointed. I’ve talked up this Italy team a lot and I really do think they have potential to be great, but it wasn’t shown against Ireland. Overall, a grim day for the Azzurri.

Grade: F. Very disappointed, you’re better than this. Stay behind so we can properly see what went wrong and where.

Ireland

That’s the Ireland everyone knows! That was desperately needed for the Boys in Green. At times they looked like the Ireland of three/four years ago. The tempo was high from the first whistle and it got them the result. Their game plan was executed to perfection. The attack was free flowing and a very disciplined defence kept Italy at bay forcing them into mistakes. The front and second row played incredible, they completely dominated the scrum. I was very impressed with their rucking forcing turnovers and keeping onto the ball well. This is how good Ireland can be. I know you should take games against Italy with a pinch of salt but they were very impressive. Ireland haven’t been awful this tournament in my opinion. I was never sold on the “Ireland are finished” train because they had to play Wales with 14 men and the best French team we’ve seen in well over a decade. This could kick start their tournament, not to win it but definitely for a strong finish. Well done Ireland, I knew you had this in you.

Grade: A-. Star of the week! Brilliant comeback from the last two weeks, well done!

England

Jeez this was a controversial one, I think talking about Brexit would cause less arguments. Let’s try anyway, in for a penny in for a pound. To address the Elephant in the room early, I think Owen Farrell was absolutely right to contest the referee’s decision for the first try. Fellow Welshies, hear me out a second. If Pascal Gaüzère said to Alun Wyn Jones time was paused so he could get the squad together pre-penalty, just as Alun Wyn arrives at the huddle Gaüzère tells Farrell he can play on who kicks it cross field to a mostly unmarked Jonny May while the water teams were still on the pitch and Wales were mostly huddled for May to score, you’d be understandably angry. You’d also love Alun Wyn if he stuck up for his team and contested it, so I don’t blame Farrell in the slightest. In a game where the referee’s word is so important you’d only want it to be fair. Apart from that and the second try (which I’ll get to), weird performance. England did very well to get back to tie the game and I thought looked very dangerous ball in hand. There were aspects of creativity and I was worried every time Daly, Watson, Slade, or May had the ball in the 22. But to let up 16 unanswered after tying the match isn’t good enough. You need to use that momentum in your favour, not let it slip and blow it. I’m in two minds about Itoje’s performance. Sure he conceded too many penalties but a lot of it was either poor timing or just trying a bit too hard. Someone probably should’ve stepped in and just told him to calm down a bit and to stop trying to do so much, because when he did things right I thought he did very well. Overall, okay in parts but not great at kick starting a genuine push.

Grade: D+. Did well in parts but let slip massively at the end. Need to see out games better and keep your cool.

Pascal Gaüzère… Sorry! I mean Wales

Oh come on! Of course I was going to joke about it! I know self deprecation isn’t for everyone but if you can’t laugh at yourself then who can you laugh at? I’m trying to hear the screams of Grand Slam from our weekly reoccurring friend Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ but I can’t seem to find them. Where you at? Oh… you’re hungover. Still? The game was quite a while back now. Nope, still nursing it? Fair enough. I’m not going to be a bad winner but this was huge, for the first time this tournament Wales have genuinely impressed me. The first try was a bit naughty and calls for it being rough on England are fair and everyone’s made their minds up about the second (for what it’s worth, I thought it was a knock on). But the game wasn’t won there. Defensively sound and not afraid to go forward meant Wales were able to keep their foot on the gas. They showed great spirit to come back from level terms to score 16 more points and that was where the game was won. The Wales that played Ireland and Scotland would’ve probably let England even more back into it and possibly win but they showed great character to stop it from happening. Faletau played really well and Callum Sheedy looks to be one hell of a player. The boys in red looked threatening every time they were in the 22 and Adams and LRZ on the wing excites me not only now but in the years to come. If I’m allowed to be a teeny bit pessimistic still (because that’s what I do) I still think Wales gave away too many penalties and looked a bit meh at times at set pieces but overall, much better. The jammiest Triple Crown winners in history? Maybe. And I can’t believe we’re genuinely looking at a Wales Grand Slam (like… how?).

Grade: B+. Much better but not without a few wobbles throughout.

Class Clown of the Week: Brian Moore. His “The Super Bowl was last week” comment when the TMO was looking at a possible Wales forward pass just before half time was absolute gold (even if technically wrong because it was 3 weeks before the game, I won’t let facts get in the way of a funny). Well played, Brian.

Six Nations Week 2 Recap: The Good, the Somewhat Unconvincing, and the Defensive Masterclass

Told ya! I said this would be weekly and I’d stick at it. Another week of Six Nations fixtures down, no more wiser or have any clue how this tournament will end up going. There were more moments of beautiful rugby, questionable officiating, unconvincing performances from the big boys and shoulder charges. Kind of a weird one this weekend, we were treated to real Jekyll and Hyde games. A really close nail-biter in the form of Scotland-Wales, a high scoring yet still scrappy affair between England and Italy and I’m still yet to make my mind up about Ireland-France. My Dad messaged me after that last one saying he didn’t know if it was brilliant or terrible and I’m with him, kind of a weird game overall. Nobody played particularly awful but nobody was really too convincing. This made it an absolute nightmare to grade, hence why some scores might be a bit generous this week. Teacher was a bit tired at the time of marking so he wanted to get it done. But still, the final whistles have been blown, another game-week down, and a week off gives teams the chance to potentially go back to the drawing board and re-assess where they go from here. Although the rugby’s stopped for the time being, the show goes on at the Sport Addict Corner and without further ado it’s time for the grading!

England

Why must this team be the way that they are. I didn’t think an international rugby union team could annoy me as much as these guys do, but they find a way to get on every last nerve. Those opening five minutes were downright awful. When Ioane scored after 3 minutes I thought it would be a very long afternoon, before quickly remembering the opponents were Italy. Conceding stupid penalties continues to be an issue and there were far too many loose balls, but the game got better. Once Jonny Hill scored we all knew it was only going one way. Credit where it’s due, that was a good win. Sure the performance wasn’t fantastic, far from it, but you can’t criticise a team that won with a bonus point too much. I was far more impressed with England’s work in the 22 this week, in that they actually got there and didn’t kick for 80 minutes. It showed that when England have the ball in hand and play a bit of possession rugby, they’re not bad at all! Who would ever have guessed that a team with a back 3 of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, and Jonny May were actually really decent when attacking the 22 ball in hand? Speaking of May, that try was *chef’s kiss*. Majestic jump with the elegance of a gazelle. I was really impressed with Maro Itoje, I think he played a very good game and is looking more like the Maro of old. However the other Sarries lads aren’t there yet, their lack of minutes at a top level is starting to show. Farrell looked meh again (I really need to stop putting him as captain in my fantasy rugby team, but the second I take him out I know he’ll turn into prime Jonny Wilkinson) and Vunipola didn’t look fully fit. Taking a more serious tone however, I really do wish Jack Willis a speedy recovery. Rolling players in the ruck really needs to be outlawed because it can leave players seriously hurt. The scream he let out and the look of pure horror Ellis Genge had on his face proves how nasty it was (which I think contributed to Genge’s performance dipping a bit towards the end, seeing your friend get injured like that will leave an impact). All the best, Jack. Hope you get well soon. Overall, not too convincing but the result was badly needed.

Grade: B. Better than last week, even if I am being slightly generous, but there’s areas that need improvement. I would like to see Owen and Billy after class please for a chat about their recent performances!

Italy

What can I say but yikes, again. Italy started really strong. The Ioane try was fantastic and I thought they looked dangerous every time they got into the final third. But, as always, Italy gonna Italy. It was better than last week, but that’s not too much to aim from. Yet again, they gave away far too many silly penalties and struggled with England’s strength at set pieces. There were some decent showings. I thought the front row played fairly well and the Tommasso Allan try showed how good this team really can be, but it’s not there yet. This is a long term team and they were always going to struggle this tournament. The talent is undoubtedly there and I think they can end up being a sleeping giant, but not now. This week they were less punching bags and maybe more punching pads, bit more resistance but still got hit fairly badly without too much response. I don’t know what much else there really is to say. I think most entries for Italy will end up like this unfortunately, but me making any prediction on sport as a matter of public record tend to backfire pretty badly (just look at what I posted about the Pittsburgh Steelers last November) so maybe they’ll turn the tournament around. Who knows?

Grade: D-. Again, sorry to be so harsh on you guys as you did try. Granted it was better but you can’t let up another BP loss and expect a decent grade, speak to me after class where we can discuss some extra hours for a bit more help.

Scotland

Remember what I said earlier about Jekyll and Hyde? Without trying to sound too much like giving an answer to the press on Football Manager, this really was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from Scotland (I’m going to stop saying Jekyll and Hyde, saying it 4 times in one post is surely the limit). This team is still very good and plays fantastic rugby. The first try was incredibly worked with a very clever use of the chip kick. The kicks killed Wales’s rush defence, because believe it or not if you rush everyone forward when Darcy Graham is on the wing with space to run into, the attacking team might have a bit of success. On the defensive side I was really impressed. They bullied Wales into their own territory and made it near impossible to muster up any kind of attack. And then the second half comes and… yeah. Unfortunately for the Scots the ghost of shoulder charge past decided to pop in for a quick cuppa and nasty challenge, this time in the form of Zander Faegerson. Again, it was an unfortunate red card. Like O’Mahoney I don’t think it was deliberate at all however you can’t keep a player on when they commit a foul like that. Much like Ireland, this changed the game. It was never comfortable for Wales in the slightest and Scotland may feel a bit hard done by but in the end just switching off for one second swung the game in Wales’s favour, again.

Grade: C. WHAT DID I TELL IRELAND LAST WEEK ABOUT SHOULDER CHARGING FELLOW CLASSMATES?!?!?!?! Aside from that, unlucky. The performance was good again but I can’t really grade you any higher.

Wales

I really do get the worst of it when it comes to sport and my dual-nationality (makes it sound far more exotic than it is). This team are trying their best to see me off in their inability to comfortably win games with this week being no exception. From the first whistle Wales were clearly absolutely terrified of making mistakes. I thought it would resort to a similar game plan to England’s but thankfully it didn’t. I’m not a fan in the slightest of rush defence and it should be binned off immediately. Shaun Edwards would be saddened watching this display, sat in a chateau with a glass of Merlot seeing what has become of his slow and steady defensive strategy. It’s not Leigh Halfpenny’s job to defend as much as he did and that’s where some errors came from. This won’t work against England. The defence struggled against the Scottish back three, how will it cope against Daly and co.? And the less thought about France’s gorgeous offload play the better. That being said (you’d think Wales lost with the way I’m speaking), there were strong points. The front row impressed me again, I thought Ken Owens and Wyn Jones played very well. But the player of the match (and the weekend) was that boy again, Louis Rees-Zammit. I knew this lad was special, but sweet mother of god I didn’t know he was that special. I’m calling it, once he starts to improve his defence a bit then Wales has their next Shane Williams. See now this is part of the irritating and goading side I wanted to come out last week, and it still isn’t coming out, but Louis looks the real deal. In the faint distance you may hear the irritating Welsh rugby fan scream at the top of their lungs to the high heavens how Wales are winning the Grand Slam, but let’s take it one step at a time. Nice to win? Yes. Convincing? Anything but. Improvement still needed? Absolutely. Hotel? Trivago.

Grade: C+. Similar performance to last week, would like to see some improvement. And PLEASE will you stop relying on your classmates shortcomings and brain farts to wake you up.

Ireland

I don’t know where I stand on this team, I really don’t. Losing Sexton was far from ideal, but I’m not convinced they would’ve won had he played. They were nervous at the beginning, it was quite a cagey opening. Billy Burns was clearly quite anxious at the start, I’m not sure he was fully over last week. A strong point for this team is the lineout for sure, as is the scrum, but it won’t win them the game alone. I felt they tried to beat France at their own game but it didn’t go as they hoped. They tried to be a little bit too cute in their passing and a bit flicky at times but it didn’t pay off. The defence struggled with the French back three, but then any defence would’ve. That being said however, I can’t help but think that performance would’ve beaten Wales. They took France right to the death and came close to winning, but it wasn’t to be. The clash of heads between Healey and Henderson was absolutely sickening and I hope they’re both okay. Overall, quite a strange game from the boys in green. Looked very good at times but just wasn’t enough.

Grade: C-. Not a terrible effort but still not really great. Please see me after class so we can talk about realistically where we can go from here.

France

Hmm, this was odd. I’m really not sure where I stand on this performance. Three years ago I think they would’ve lost this pretty comfortably, leading to “just goes to show you never know which France will show up” comments which have been done to death and have lost any and all meaning by this point. I think this team were scared of making mistakes, and that showed with how much they kept it in the air at the start and were willing to let Ireland have possession throughout the game. The trip from Le Roux was stupid, no other way of putting it, but I thought it was a good bit of officiating from the referee and linesman to spot it. There were sparks of how this team can just switch on showing in Ollivon’s try, it was a great bit of offloading. And France win the first class clown of the week going to Paul Willemse, I found the ball bonk off his head at the try line far funnier than I should’ve. All in all, kind of weird but disciplined. They did what they needed to do in what was a real Shaun Edwards gutsy defensive masterclass. Credit as well to Antoine Dupont, that lad really is something else and in my opinion the best scrum half in the world today.

Grade: A-. Star of the week again but less convincingly. Try not to lose that spark that makes you a bit different and special, and as funny as it was try not to make Paul the class clown too much.

Six Nations Week 1 Recap: The Show Rolls On

It’s that time of year again! Albeit in very different circumstances, the Six Nations is back. There’ll be no bootcut jeans with brown leather shoes, no pints of Guinness poured, no pubs packed, no whatever those absolutely horrendous daffodil and pink sparkly cowboy hats are, seriously, they are absolutely awful, and no red chinos at HQ (even typing that makes me sick). It’s a very scary and weird world out there at the moment but this will bring some kind of escape. Sure, it’s not quite the same. But with the rate of vaccine distribution hopefully this time next year the stands and pubs will be packed again, better days are coming friends. Until then we still have tins and listening to Eddie Butler, Jonathan Davies, Sir Clive, Martin Johnson, and the whole gang to see us through. This will become a weekly thing, I know consistency isn’t really my strong point (just look at how many times I’ve posted in the last 12 months) but I’m fully committed to this one. I’ll look at teams week by week and give them a grade, as if we were back at school, or home-school in this case. That’ll be the last reference to covid, I promise. So all that’s left is to get into the grading!

France

Va va voom! Les Bleus that was some beautiful rugby! For me, the performance of the round by a team. They were silky, quick, and their ball in hand and possession rugby was a sight to behold. This team has really strong potential to go far. We saw many glimpses of it in last year’s Six Nations and not only were they quality going forward their defence looked strong too. Shaun Edwards has transformed this French team to become the quality side we all knew they could be. But being the slight cynic I am, there are some grey areas still. One is the fact that they played Italy, no disrespect but top tier European rugby’s punching bag (sorry lads). It was always expected that they would win and probably quite comfortably. The second is the fact that, well… it’s France. “Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, you never know which France will turn up.” Not to go back to it, but it’s true. It was proven against Scotland last year that their inconsistency is still a bit iffy. That performance in particular showed that they can have the most well planned and balanced team with quality in every area, it’s still France and they still have the ability to self implode. Maybe this year is different, maybe this is the start they needed to kick off their chase for a first Six Nations title (and maybe even Grand Slam) since 2010 and end the British-Irish domination of the last decade because that performance proved they have the ability to. But never count them out to do something stupid or hilarious to bottle it.

Grade: A+. Top of the class! Star of the week

Italy

Yikes, that was harsh on you guys. Despite the score line I honestly think Italy weren’t that awful. There were glimpses of quality, I thought Montanna Ioane had a solid game, but it just wasn’t to be. Their passing at times was a bit meh and they in turn cost them points. The French tries were either quality French rugby or Italy having brain farts in the first half and they were completely tired out by the second. This is a young core, losing Sergio Parisse was always going to be rough and it’s kind of showing. That being said, this team can go far. Once they gel I think they have the potential to go quite far, but this isn’t the year for it. Georgia will be watching that result and licking their lips as they do but I think they’ll improve. Will they win a game based on this weeks performances, at the moment possibly not. Not because they’re particularly awful, more so because the other teams are just better. However, this unit can definitely go far. It’ll be an interesting tournament for the Azzurri with a lot of learning, and possibly an interesting few years. They’ll be one to keep an eye on.

Grade: F. Sorry, it’s not nice to give you this as I saw you try but that score just isn’t good enough. See me after class

Scotland

Well done Scotland, you really earned this. It’s been a very long time coming but you know what? Hats off. They played a very disciplined style of rugby enjoying a lot of ball possession. It might not be too easy on the eye but it works. It gets results, and what a result this was. They played incredibly well at the lineout and were strong in possession. This team can go places. Don’t be any under illusion, this is absolutely massive for morale. To win against England at Twickenham will give them a massive confidence boost. I’ll go out on a limb, Scotland are my dark horses this year. With how some of the other bigger teams played I can see them doing really well and having a strong Six Nations. I’m not saying they’ll go all the way and win it, but I think based on this weekend they’ll finish top 3. The quality’s definitely there, it’s just whether they can put the performances together. I’ve got my eye on you Scotland, and I really like what I see. Dare I say, triple crown winners this year? Maybe it’s too early to say, but I think they were the best performing British-Irish team this week.

Grade: A. Very impressed! Keep up the good work

England

Oh England… England, England, England. What will we do with you? I have a really weird relationship with this team. Being half English, whenever they’re not playing Wales I support them (something punishable by trial at the Hague where I’m from but meh, I don’t care). I had high hopes for this team, I really thought after the Autumn Nations Cup and last year’s Six Nations we’d see much the same, but again I was wrong. That performance was pathetic. Scotland did play well but good lord it was poor from the men in white. They kind of need to get it into their heads that kicking to my starting Lions full back really isn’t the one. The tactics were awful. When they played with ball in hand there were glimpses of quality, it’s something they really need to do more. But alas, we get 80 minutes of kicking it to a team who are happy with ball possession. It’s painfully obvious that the Sarries lads haven’t played enough at a top level recently, that needs sorting asap. In all, they have to be better. It’s Italy next who’s probably ideal, because this team desperately needs a confidence boost.

Grade: D-. Really must try harder, stay after class with Italy for quite a serious chat

Wales

I want to goad. I want to be irritating, I really do. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. That was lucky, a bit too lucky. It was… okay. Look a win’s a win but that wasn’t very convincing. It was quite tight, a bit scrappy and aided a lot by Peter O’Mahony’s sending off. There’s no way I thought that was deliberate by the way, I think the intention to make a tackle was there but you can’t not send somebody off for a challenge like that. There were definite positives however. Ken Owens really impressed me, I think he was really strong in the scrum and played well at the lineout. However my player of the match was definitely Louis Rees-Zammit. It was always going to be big boots to fill replacing Josh Adams, but he more than stepped up to the task at hand. I’d love to see him start more. The winger situation really excites me. Adams, LRZ and Liam Williams are quality players and I can’t wait to see what will happen in Rees-Zammit’s very bright future.

Grade: C+. Not bad but I know you can do better, would like to see improvement next week please

Ireland

Last but not least, Ireland. I don’t want to go in too heavy on them, they weren’t good but neither team were. The red card killed it in my opinion. They looked fairly steady up until that point and they had to play a long time against 15 men. If they didn’t have O’Mahony sent off then maybe they would’ve won, but it was that kind of game it’s quite hard to tell. Fairly scrappy, possibly just a bad day at the office, and ended up tiring themselves out quite a bit. If there was anything that summed it up for me then it was the kick for the corner going dead after 80 minutes were up. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a very strong team. This could be the making of them for a strong tournament, but they need to improve. If I’m being completely honest, based off what I saw I don’t see them finishing top 3. They still have time to turn this around and come March it could have just been a bad dream, but they need to step up to the plate a bit more if that’s the case.

Grade: D+. Disappointing. Improvement needed, and please refrain from shoulder charging fellow classmates

How the Awful Year that was 2020 Brought out the Best in Sportspeople

Rejoice! Tis the 31st of December, the absolute living hell that is 2020 is only a few hours away from being over. Before absolutely anything, I just want to say well done. The last twelve months have been absolutely horrible from the first month to the last. Wildfires, flooding, coronavirus, the death of George Floyd, seemingly never-ending lockdowns, uncertainty around employment, separation from loved ones for months on end, one of the most divisive elections in recent memory, the health service being stretched to the absolute maximum, and yet you made it through it all to put two fingers up to the last 12 months, I’m so proud of you. As millions of Facebook mums have said, this year has put so much into perspective and sport is no different. There were still big moments, Kansas finally had a winning team as did Liverpool, the Lakers won the NBA Championship for Kobe Bryant, and the Exeter Chiefs look to have started a rugby dynasty to name just a few. The hardship of this year can’t be overlooked, however it did bring out the best in many.

At the same time, it proved how little but how much our passion matters. Whilst the cancellation of more or less all sport back in March was completely needed, it left a massive hole in so many people’s lives. Seasons were stopped, Euro 2020 and the Olympics were postponed, jeopardy as to when sport would start up again, just nothing fun was happening in the world of sport. Sure there were reruns of old classics such as the 1966 World Cup Final, classic British Lions Tests and the always incredible third 2019 Ashes Test, but it still didn’t quite feel right. That’s why I spent my Saturdays in May watching 3 different Bundesliga games at the same time on various devices and the morning of VE-Day watching Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors against Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the restart of the K-1 League. We just missed it. As weird as it sounds, the return of sport was a real morale booster. I kind of doubted it when people said early on that it would be but they were 100 percent spot on. Credit has to be given to Nascar, a sport I’ve never watched but they played such an important role. The return of Nascar stateside proved to be a pivotal moment in showing how sporting bubbles work, a tactic that ensured cricket, basketball, baseball, and boxing were able to come back later in the year and that the NFL season could start on time.

Sportsmen and women contributed in many different ways in the fight against coronavirus. In the UK, footballers used their platform and financial ability to be able to help those who needed it most. Marcus Rashford will always be remembered as a hero for all the work he’s done to feed kids in poverty who rely on free school meals when the Government wouldn’t and voted against the motion of free school dinners during the Easter, Summer and half term holidays. Jordan Henderson started a fund for NHS workers, Wilfried Zaha offering NHS workers free accommodation, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs doing the same with their hotels. And Matt Hancock had the nerve to say Premiership footballers needed to do more to help others, how about your government does its job and looks after its people instead of the public having to rely on Premier League footballers and ex-pros helping out. Just a thought. Outside of the UK, Charlotte Hornets star Bismack Biyombo pledged $1 million worth of PPE to health workers of the Democratic Republic of Congo in their fight against the virus. Houston Texans Defensive End JJ Watt donated $350,000 to the Houston Food Bank in order to keep families in poverty fed. Joyce Sombroek, gold and silver medal winner in London 2012 and Rio 2016 and regarded one of the best women’s hockey goalkeepers of all time, completed her training as a GP in March and has been on the front lines in the Netherlands in their efforts to battle the disease. These are all just a select few of the countless heroes who have helped fight this virus, your actions aren’t going unnoticed and we can’t thank you enough.

Away from the world of covid-19 we saw more examples of sporting heroes. The Australian Open tennis tournament took place whilst wildfires were ravaging the Australian outback which led to Maria Sharapova, Nick Kyrgios, and Ashleigh Barty just to name a few donating portions of (or in Barty’s case, her whole) purses to the relief fund. Much closer to home, the South Wales Valleys were devastated by floods after Storm Dennis however the aftermath saw an incredible sense of community with the people of RCT helping each other out. Merthyr Town FC offered a free Sunday Dinner to emergency service workers while Taffs Well RFC players helped in the clear out of debris from houses. This kind of community spirit and togetherness proves how close knit people from this part of the world are. Although it may not have made major headlines, the actions of Merthyr Town, Taffs Well and countless volunteers in the aftermath of the storm and floods will be remembered for a long time in South Wales. Following the murder of George Floyd an outpouring of support came from sportspeople for black people around the world. Michael Jordan pledged $100 million over the next decade for racial equality groups and charities. Anthony Joshua spoke at a Black Lives Matter protest in London calling out racial inequality in the UK proving that it isn’t only an American issue. Lewis Hamilton wore BLM shirts throughout the remainder of the F1 season and wore one in the first week back demanding the arrest of the police that murdered Breonna Taylor. Sportspeople using their platform like this is so important and will inspire more to challenge racial inequality. Leeds Rhinos legend Rob Burrow won the hearts and support of the nation for the incredible job he’s done in raising awareness of motor neurone disease, an absolutely devastating condition that has no known cure. Burrow’s former team mate and friend Kevin Sinfield helped with running 7 marathons in 7 days raising £2.6 million for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in a display of kind heartedness and friendship, god bless you Mr. Sinfield.

All in all, 2020’s been grim. Uncertainty about so much for so long was really heavy on all of us, but it looks like there’s some light at the end of a long, wet, nasty, dark, disgusting tunnel. 3 vaccines have been found to be at least 95 percent effective and 2 already approved by the UK government. Sportspeople showed how kind hearted they can be putting a definite end to the annoying stereotype that they only care about money and themselves because that just isn’t true. Here’s to 2021 where we’ll hopefully see crowds back at full capacity and a hell of a summer to look forward to with the postponed Olympics and Euros and the scheduled Lions Tour of South Africa. Because 2021, for the love of god and all that’s holy, you need to try harder than whatever the hell those last 12 months were.

The Steelers: On Track To Be The NFL’s First 19-0 Team?

As I try and do absolutely anything to take my mind off the US Election*, I thought to myself why not write about something equally as horrible and nerve wracking in the very real possibility of the Pittsburgh Steelers being the first NFL team to go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl. (For any non-American football fans, that means they win all 16 games in the regular season, and all of their post season games thus winning the Super Bowl. A bit like winning every game in the World Cup but they wouldn’t have to play in the last 16 instead qualifying straight for the quarter finals because they did so well in the group stages… yeah it’s weird, better not to question it). As an Eagles fan the only positive thought I can muster up to this very possible situation is “well, at least it’s not Dallas!”, and that’s where the positive thoughts end. But the sooner everyone’s at peace with it the better.

*I don’t put my political opinions in here as it’s a sports blog but a quick trip to my twitter would show how I feel about the election… and this is from a Brit. I’d hate to think of the wreck I’d right now be if I lived stateside

I’m basically accepting the Steelers are winning the Super Bowl this year, I’m at peace with it and it’s time we all were. Let the Steeler Nation have their moment of fun because the last few years have been anything but, congratulations Pittsburgh! I say anything but fun it’s not as if they went full Bengals or Browns and ended up with a 0-16 season, or even have a losing season under Mike Tomlin, but what do I know. Pettiness aside and credit where it’s due, this is a really exciting time for the Steelers. Everything’s just started to fall into place, they’ve had the quality to do this for years but now it’s just working, and as hard as it may be it’s not impossible that they go all the way and lift the Lombardi Trophy this season.

So why do I think this could be Pittsburgh’s year and why do all roads lead to 19-0? In short, what’s stopping them? Their offense looks the best it has done in years and shows no real signs of anything going wrong anytime soon. Sure, there’s no Antonio Brown anymore but in all honesty, it’s for the best. To say Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger didn’t see eye to eye is like saying Joe Biden and Donald Trump aren’t exactly best friends (last election reference, I promise). Without the infighting between the two it looks like the offense has somewhat clicked and both men are happy that they don’t have to play on the same team anymore. (This isn’t me saying that Big Ben is the saint he thinks he is because I am far from his biggest fan, I can appreciate what he has achieved in football but good lord he’s not the nicest bloke.) The offense has been scarily good this season. Roethlisberger has had an incredible start managing to turn rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool into a breakout star with Juju Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron and James Conner being in the form of their lives. I think the time off with the injury helped Big Ben in a weird way. He’s so much quicker now, not staying in the pocket as long throwing insanely long passes that didn’t always pay off. With a strong o-line it’s been hard for any defenses to get anywhere near him. Considering there were talks of retirement only a few years ago, time off with some r&r has clearly helped him turning him into the Leader of Men he’s always claimed to be.

Every good championship team needs a strong defense, and the Steelers definitely have one. When the offense looked a bit off against their toughest tests in the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens, the defense essentially won them the games. They made Ryan Tannerhill and Derrick Henry look average and Lamar Jackson look human which is far from an easy feat. If any team wants to even consider a sniff of a Super Bowl, they need quality on defense which they have. Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have all made strong early cases for Defensive Player of the Year and Robert Spillane has been perfect to fill in for the injured Devin Bush. If their defense manages to keep as strong as they’ve started then they’ll be completely unstoppable. I think they’ll be the key part in the quest for 19-0.

Aside from the quality of their side, who actually stops them? I can’t see them losing any of their remaining fixtures barring something going horrendously wrong and who would stop them in the postseason? The obvious choices in the AFC bracket are the Chiefs or the Bills but I think the Steelers just have a better side and both of them are beatable. The Raiders showed a great defense can stop the Chiefs and what did I spend my time saying in the last paragraph? In terms of the Super Bowl itself, the NFC have a few teams who could make it this year. The Seahawks, Bucs, Saints or Packers look most likely as the NFC East is a lost cause. But even then, I don’t think any of those sides end up beating the Steelers.

In terms of whether they actually go 19-0 or not I don’t know, it’s far easier said than done. All it takes is a few unfortunate injuries or suspensions for things to wrong. Plus with this season having the threat of covid postponements a few weeks off due to game delays can prove to be a nightmare for team routines and form, as shown by the Titans. In terms of what happens for the Steelers this season, they’ll probably quite comfortably make the AFC Championship Game with the Super Bowl being either the Chiefs or Steelers against the Buccaneers or Packers, and I wouldn’t bet against Pittsburgh winning against the NFC teams. Maybe this is the year Mike Tomlin gets his second Lombardi Trophy, Big Ben gets the MVP season confirming himself as the almighty Leader of Men and Pittsburgh get a perfect 19-0 season.

Hashtag United: How the YouTube Outfit are Changing Non-League Football

Love them, loathe them, don’t particularly care about them, if you’re interested in football then the chances are you come across Hashtag United FC. The brainchild of British YouTube star Spencer Owen (Spencer FC on YouTube), “The Tags” have seen their popularity skyrocket since their creation. They’ve gained a sizeable following in the last few weeks following their early success in the FA Cup qualifying rounds, with many social media stars attending games and continuing to tweet their support and admiration for what the club are doing. *As they play in the 9th tier of English football (or step 5 of the National League), they are able to have supporters at their ground as per Government guidelines*. Some of them included Jack Dean (better known as JaackMaate on YouTube), David Vujanic, Ellis Platten (who I am a massive fan of, just saying), Thogden, Elliot Hackney and many more. They’re changing the way non-league football is viewed by the neutral or supporters of bigger teams, be it for better or worse. Today, I’ll be taking a look at the short history of the team, why I think they’re changing non-league football and whether some of the criticism they’ve received is fair or not.

Picture the scene, it’s March 2016. Donald Trump is about to win the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 US Election, David Cameron hasn’t long announced the UK will have a referendum on its EU membership, Jamie Vardy was having one hell of a party with Leicester getting closer and closer to a Premier League title and for Welsh football fans a summer of a lifetime was just around the corner (reminiscing over it whilst sat in my room in a very rainy Swansea is making me sad, I can’t begin to stress how much I wish it was Euro 2016 again), but it’s also the time Hashtag United were founded. They were a bit of a gimmick to start, playing friendlies against all different kinds of teams with their highlights being uploaded to YouTube. It was a bit of harmless fun with what was essentially Sunday league games with bits put on the internet for fans of Spencer FC to watch. But after a while support grew for it and continued to grow. Spencer took a bit of a gamble to see how far it would go, and the gamble more than paid off. Before the 2018-19 season, it was announced that The ‘Tags would be playing in the tenth tier of English football in the form of the Eastern Counties League Division One South. They won promotion to the Essex Senior Football League after their first season and find themselves there today, currently in second place 3 points behind league leaders Cockfosters. From what started as a Sunday League YouTube highlights compilation has turned into a team playing in the English Football pyramid, it’s been quite the 4 and a half years for them.

So why does any of this matter? In short, they’re completely changing the way non-league football is being viewed and followed. Bold statement, I know, but hear me out. Their YouTube channel currently has 523k subscribers, 472k followers on Instagram and 214.6k followers on Twitter. No non-league club, let alone in the 9th tier, comes remotely close to those numbers. To put it into context, that’s more followers on Twitter than Swindon Town, more Instagram followers than Swansea City, and more YouTube subscribers than Everton’s official account. There are personalities on YouTube who make Hashtag exclusive content and there’s many in the British YouTube scene who have a soft spot/admiration for them. All this support will get the attention of people and that’s being shown with fairly decent, consistent crowds showing up. This will bring more eyes to non-league football and more fans, and more importantly families, showing up to lower league games. Kind of a domino effect in a way, but a positive one. More fans means more eyes on lower league football which should mean more interest is taken in it, everyone wins. Non-league has never seen this kind of platform before. I’m not at all saying that Hashtag United are the biggest or most supported club in non-league, teams such as Wrexham, Hartlepool, Yeovil Town, Eastleigh and many others are much bigger clubs. But if Hashtag continue to succeed in the years to come then I honestly believe it will be fantastic in terms of the support for non-league football.

But like with absolutely anything you do in life, there is criticism for the club. Some of the most vocal critics say how what Hashtag are doing are “cringe”, be it the name, how they were founded or the excitement supporters/those associated with the club have the dreaded 6 letter word always finds a way to show up. But in today’s day and age, what even in cringe anymore? Is following your dreams through building your own team and living the dreams of millions of people around the world considered cringe? Is it to follow and have a passion for a team even though they may have not been founded in a traditional way? Could cringe be filming yourself at a game for the purpose of uploading it to YouTube? It seems the word is thrown around so much nowadays somebody’s hobby within football or life in general which dares go against a social norm is considered cringe. And to be honest, I hate it. As a society we preach being kind to one another but are quick to use somebody’s interest as a way to goad or insult them, and although it may be harmless in intent or just a little bit of banter it can make people feel bad and really unhappy. Just let people have interests and hobbies and leave them to it.

I’m not saying that Hashtag are immune to criticism because nobody is. If you have an issue with the way they became the name that they are and building on an already large audience, then that’s okay. I know some people will feel a bit uneasy about it which is fine. But hurling abuse at them online without an argument or insulting fans just because it’s Hashtag United won’t get you anywhere. It’s a bit like shouting at the moon, it’s not achieving anything and will eventually just end up annoying people around you. Rightfully, criticism came in their FA Cup games with the lack of social distancing from fans. I did voice my criticism for that on twitter, but made sure I said how it wasn’t anything personal and acknowledged it was a problem with many non league clubs. If it becomes too much of an issue that continues to happen then it won’t be long before all football is played behind closed doors, which would be absolutely catastrophic for so many teams. But don’t attack them because they’re a bit different to your traditional non-league team. Let people have their own interests and hobbies, if it’s legal then who are they hurting? It’s not cool, nor does it make you look big and clever, to belittle somebody or make them feel bad for having a hobby, it just makes you look a bit mean.

As I opened with, love them, loathe them, don’t particularly care about them, they’re not going away anytime soon. At the time of writing they’ve just been knocked out of the FA Cup Second qualifying round by Braintree Town losing on penalties, which isn’t a bad run for a team making their FA Cup debut. Only time will tell how far they’ll go, but FA Cup runs like this and their league performances will get people aboard the hype train. As a result more eyes are on non-league, it gets more of a following, and who knows how bright the future could be for many clubs.

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