Jonny Retires: A Thank You

13 12 2011

Writing a blog is a curious thing and much like going to the gym. You get all fired up over the initial honeymoon period – sometimes writing multiple articles a day – before sliding slowly backward through one article a day, two 3 or 4  a week until before you know it you are ‘occasional’ at best. A fate,  regular readers and anyone who followed our gym analogy, will be more than aware of the Compulsive Hooker’s fate.

It takes a serious piece of news to move us from this blogging stupor but, last night, with the news that the Great Man of English Rugby, Mr. Jonny Wilkinson, is retiring from international rugby we felt compelled to write a small homage to him.

Jonny, it must be said was past his best and truth be told had not been the player we grew up with for some time. You could tell the mind was willing but limitations imposed upon him by a frequently ailing body and team mates who for the last 7  or 8 years couldn’t even aspire, let alone play, to the level of the Great Man meant that to some his record has been tarnished. To us Jonny remains comfortably the best English fly half of the professional era and not too far behind Dan Carter as the second best world wide during that period.

We will of course remember his drop goal to win the world cup in 2003 as one of those unforgettable, spine tingling and hair raising moments of sport that come round every so often – yet our favourite memories are his play during the Autumn Internationals from 2002 and the Six Nations Grand Slam of 2003. Surrounded as he was by some of the finest England players ever to play for their country, Jonny stood out and marshaled them superbly.

We could go further and talk about his record in depth but we did that before (click here for that) and others will do it again. Instead I would like to point you in the direction of a couple of videos which if you watch in full are notable for his fantastic distribution, his ability to put others into gaps, phenomenal tackling and a dynamic edge that even we had forgotten he’d possessed.

Firstly, England beating the All Blacks at Twickenham in 2002 – Jonny’s involvement is obvious through out but his try at 21 minutes (of the Youtube vide0) and the his involvement at 18 minutes are two examples of simple things done brilliantly.

The second example is the deciding game against Ireland in the 2003 Grand Slam. In our view this was the game where Jonny put in a more or less perfect performance and England played at the peak of their powers. Some of the play is simply breathtaking.

Well played Jonny and thanks for all the pleasure you have given us.


Wasps vs Harlequins: In Abu Dhabi

31 01 2011

Wasps 13-38 Harlequins

A more precise and experienced Harlequins side comfortably beat a messy and young Wasps team at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi last night. Due to a lack of organization by your correspondent, we are sadly unable to offer any photos of what was surely a unique and certainly a stunning visual occasion – the majestic Emirates Palace Hotel rising up behind the grand stand.

This though was the only majestic thing about the game as the rugby itself left a great deal to be desired with Wasps in particular showcasing some sloppy and careless play. With the rugby rarely hitting the heights, the crowd failed to get into it and the whole affair had the feeling of a training run or trial match.

There was always a suspicion that holding the rugby match in the Middle East (and this probably goes for most other non UK locations too) wouldn’t work in any other way than a financial point of view. Unfortunately for the organizers this fear was born out as a non partisan crowd watched the game with little few cheers or singing that you would normally expect, thereby ensuring that although it was fun, the atmosphere failed to be excite.

By removing a game from the clubs diehard supporters and presenting it to a lower number of relatively neutral supporters, inevitably the atmosphere suffered and it is likely that this apathy possibly even infected the players.

To be fair to both sides however the intent was clearly there and some of the tackling ferocious. When you are watching on TV or even high up in the stands of Twickenham the sound from the collisions of body on body can be lost, yet, down by the side of the pitch as we were, it was only too apparent. There were some enormous hits coming in from both sides back rows and in the centres, with the Wasps number 8 particularly standing out in this regard.

Quins were the better side throughout and scored two excellently worked tries along with a couple of soft ones although they too were affected by the handling malaise in the second half. These succession of errors from both sides ensured what had been a reasonably fluid game in the first forty minutes turned into an error fest in the second period with the Wasp’s backline particularly guilty.

So while this may seem an overly critical piece – it was after all great fun and we are very pleased they did come out to the Middle East – from a rugby point of view it wasn’t a great exhibition – either of the reasoning behind the event or the rugby in it.

Finally, we can confirm, Lawrence Dallaglio has a very firm handshake and despite being disturbed in a meeting, is a thoroughly polite chap!

An Exclusive! (And A Defence)

30 01 2011

We have an exclusive.

Albeit not much of an exclusive.

We have just seen Lawrence Dallaglio walk past us in the Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi where, in our day job, we are attending an investment conference… It has certainly enlivened what up until now had been a fairly soporific affair and has given us a purpose – that of achieving conversation with the great man – or if not him perhaps simply another professional rugby player.

The reason Dallaglio is out in the Middle East of course is because of this evenings LV= Cup fixture between Wasps and Harlequins which is to be staged in the grounds of the aforementioned Emirates Palace hotel. In the UK and in the media generally, this decision to move the fixture was received with real derision and the inevitable ‘it’s all about the money’ being bandied freely.

The reason given by Wasps, for whom it is a nominal home game, was that they are committed to raising the profile of the sport around the world and this is a platform on which they can do this. Obviously these are merely platitudes at best as they would not have considered it were it not financially lucrative, yet still reasonable enough arguments for a rugby club that needs to stay in profit.

It was the reasons why not given by some of the rugby writers in the UK – notably the Daily Telegraph’s blogger, Eric Janssen – that really irritated though. According to the Janssen, a South African rugby writer, the UAE is home to rugby philistines meaning that there is little point in staging it there. This (as you can possibly tell!) did make the blood boil somewhat as this is far from the case.

Living in Dubai we have to deal with some fairly extreme views and assumptions of what life is like in this part of the world – not least the idea that any expat living in Dubai is a mercenary out to make money and has no real knowledge of anything cultural or sporting. Clearly this is rubbish and we can vouch for the fact there is a very strong and active rugby scene here so, on that level at least, this game will not be wasted.

We sympathise with the supporters angered by the decision to move the game as that at least is a genuine reason yet at the same time are very grateful for the opportunity to watch some high quality and, importantly, competitive rugby. We agree with the consensus that too much of this sort of thing would be a bad idea but the odd game like this surely wouldn’t do too much harm.

We are attending the game and will let you know how it went… Come on Wasps!

Some Predictions For 2011

9 01 2011

Predicting anything, let alone a wide ranging selection of sports events months before they happen, is often a fool hardy business. However, as usual, we are going to have a stab at prophesying what might happen in the international cricket and rugby worlds. After all, and at the very least, when we are casting around for something to write in December 2011 it will be a readymade article reveling in how prescient or, more likely, how far wrong we were…

Let’s start with cricket…

ICC Cricket World Cup (50 Overs): England

We haven’t looked at the draw so we aren’t sure exactly what the various permutations can be, yet the final we would like to see is an India vs England match up. There are probably four or five sides who could win this competition but, with the Ashes win under their belt, we believe that finally England might have the quality and consistency to go all the way. Otherwise India (as mentioned), Sri Lanka and South Africa will be the hot favourites.

Test Cricket

2011 is a year of prime opportunity for England to begin their assault on the world number one slot. Home series against Sri Lanka and India to be followed by a proposed tour of India and then Pakistan, possibly in the UAE, offer an opportunity to show that the recently concluded 3-1 Ashes win is no fluke. In the early season conditions against Sri Lanka we believe that England should comfortably prevail to be followed by a close but victorious series win over India. Honours will be reversed though should the trip to India be confirmed.

Elsewhere, Australia travel to South Africa and Sri Lanka; both of whom should have too much for the down in the dumps Aussies. The rest of the test nations will be fighting for position in the lower rungs of the table with New Zealand possibly relishing the prospect of getting one over Australia later in the year.

Zimbabwe too will make their return to test cricket on the back of some improved ODI showings in 2010. However they will be comfortably outclassed leading to lots of stats quoted with the caution they are ‘without games featuring Zimbabwe’.

By the end of the year we would expect England to have usurped South Africa’s second spot in the rankings with India holding on by a slender margin at the top.

We would be entirely unsurprised should match fixing, spot fixing or any other sort of illegal fixing rear its ugly head once more.


Moving on now to rugby…

Six Nations Rugby: England

There is little doubt following the Autumn campaigns of the northern hemisphere sides that England are going to be considered favourites. Italy are no hopers, Scotland lack fire power, Wales and Ireland lack consistency whereas France are mired in infighting and seeming self doubt. England showed signs that their game is progressing and whilst not in the same class yet as the Southern Hemisphere giants week in week out, they should have enough to top the table with one loss along the way.

Tri Nations: New Zealand

Only one conceivable winner here as Australia’s young and South Africa’s ageing side fail to get to grips with the juggernaut that is All Black rugby. Tantalising glimpses of All Black fallibility will begin to emerge as the tournament wears on however culminating in a defeat or two in the last couple of matches. The already enormous expectations will then become almost unbearable as the New Zealand public turn ugly and hyper critical leading to….

Rugby World Cup: Australia

…Australia winning the world cup in extra time. Australia are a side who can rarely be discounted in any sport and in rugby they have more than enough talent to match the All Black’s given a little bit of luck or perhaps faltering opposition. The ensuing backlash by the New Zealand public causes Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Mils Muliaina to move to Europe on big money deals and Sonny Bill Williams to move to rugby league.

England grind their way to the semi finals before being out classed but all other northern hemisphere sides disappoint with France in particular blowing up in spectacular fashion in the semi finals.

2010: International Rugby Review

5 01 2011

This is obviously a far from comprehensive review (being as it is based on our own personal ideas) so please feel free to let us know your own thoughts about the year just past.

First of all some Highlights…

New Zealand’s Tri Nations Performances

New Zealand have been brilliant all year but none more so than in the opening two fixtures of the Tri Nations.  Playing probably the most exciting high precision rugby we have ever had the pleasure to witness, the All Blacks destroyed  South Africa twice on consecutive weekends before going on to be unbeaten in this years competition. After a middling year in 2009 they showed once more they are the team to beat and with the World Cup coming in October of this year it would take a fairly imaginative piece of reasoning to suggest that they will not break their one remaining hoodoo.

Led by the evergreen and ever excellent Richie McCaw, marshaled by the incomparable and newly crowned leading point scorer in world rugby, Dan Carter, and sporting other such once in a generation talents as Mils Muliaina they are a side to be treasured as one perhaps verging on rugby perfection.

Despite this, Kiwi’s are a bunch who are particularly hard to please when it comes to rugby – the curse of being a side who win 75% or more of their games is that people do expect error free performances played in style – and won’t be happy with anything less than being world cup champions later in 2011. Yet, we do feel, admirable as it is to strive for more and coming as we do from a less richly talented rugby nation, that they should simply appreciate the AB’s a little more for what they are…

Scotland’s Win Against South Africa

At the other end of the rugby playing spectrum of quality, precision, pace and guile are Scotland. It is true they have improved beyond recognition under the intelligent coaching of Andy Robinson and have a pretty good set of loose forwards, yet even their most ardent supporters would admit they are a side of limited means. Brushed aside in the most dismissive of fashions by a New Zealand team who barely got out of second gear, they came up against the Springboks the following week.

In a performance filled with all those traditional Scottish attributes that the rugby media in the Northern Hemisphere love to wax lyrical about, Scotland defended brilliantly while taking all their available scoring opportunities. Dan Parks, in years gone by a derided and flakey figure, led the way and like the year before, Scotland had a famous victory to savour.

England Dominate Australia at Twickenham

From an English point of view there were one or two major highlights over the course of the year including the away win over the Aussies back in June. Yet the one that stood out for most fans would have been the 35-18 home win at Twickenham where England simply played Australia off the park in a style most would normally equate with southern hemisphere sides. Dominant in all aspects of the game and capped off by a remarkable long range try from Chris Ashton, this was one of the finest days to be an England fan, certainly over the last 8 years if not ever.

English Pride

Being an English fan has been hard for the last few years. Ever since the euphoria of that glorious night in Sydney back in 2003 died away and the cold reality hit of a changed regime and lesser players, it has been one disappointment after another. Coupled with an apparent desire to play the most unattractive rugby possible, frustrating selection decisions (Steve Borthwick anyone?!) and repeated obfuscation by the men in charge of England rugby, it has not been a happy period.

With Martin Johnson appearing to have finally found his feet in the coaching world and England now at least having a discernable sense of direction as well as a couple of good wins over southern hemisphere opposition under their belts, we have felt our pride returning. With many people offering England up as favourites for the Six Nations and a possible semi final place in New Zealand, we hope that our nascent confidence is not dashed immediately after this upwelling of national fervour.

And Now For Some Low Lights…

Southern Hemisphere Dominance

Despite one or two positive results in the Autumn along with a few close calls, it is fair to say that there is still a sizeable gap in quality. All the Celtic nations flattered to deceive with a distinctly average South Africa and young Australia side getting away with three out of four wins whilst France were frankly appalling. It is unlikely that on current evidence it will be a northern side lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in October and, quite frankly, it is business as usual.

France’s Failures

France entered the Summer internationals and the Autumn Internationals as Six Nations champions and the most likely team to upset the southern hemispheres hegemony. A dreadful tour of South Africa followed by a distinctly poor home series in the Autumn means that once again they find themselves in a very French form of disarray. Probably the most talented northern side on paper, Lievremont is now being left with an enormous amount to do if they are going to challenge down under come October.

Most Entertaining Player

Dan Carter. Probably the best ten ever, worlds record point scorer and a player whom we could watch all day long. Only other player we considered for this honour was his New Zealand team mate, Sonny Bill Williams whose off loading game was a joy to behold on the Blacks’ northern tour.

Heroes of the Year

Mils Muliaina. As key to the All Blacks as his captain and fly half, he goes on and on whilst never letting his standards drop.
Ben Youngs. Young, exciting and brilliant, this has been a breakthrough year for the Leicester scrum half. Long may it continue.

Villain of the Year

Pieter De Villiers. Singlehandedly does more to bring the South African rugby team’s name into the mud than anyone in the history of the game. A poor coach and a ridiculous man.

Any thoughts?

A Quick Thank You

20 12 2010

Today, remarkably, the Compulsive Hooker is one year old! I would like to thank, in our best Oscar acceptance speech style, everyone who has read, commented or contributed on the website as without you (sniff, sniff, wipes away tears) the Hooker would be nothing. Actually, technically, there would in all likelihood still be a website – just one with not a great deal of point behind it…

One unforeseen consequence of calling yourself the ‘Compulsive Hooker’ has been the interesting search terms people use to find us. ‘Pakistani Hooker’, ‘Indian Hooker’ all popping up now and again. Special thanks though must go to the chaps (we presume) who reach this website by searching for ‘Bangladeshi Hooker’ – one of you at least keeps coming back so we have obviously found a cricket fan by an alternative route there…

Another popular but random search term that regularly refers us traffic has been ‘Ben Young’s Girlfriend’. We don’t know who she is or what she looks like but we conclude that she must be of interest as this given us a not insignificant number of hits this year.

Thanks to the ever amusing Jrod at Cricket With Balls and, on the rugby side of things, to that excellent blog Total Flanker for the consistent  referral traffic. Thanks are also due to all of the friends of the Compulsive Hooker who come to the site through Facebook or Twitter. We will soon be setting up a page on Facebook so please join that as and when…

So with far more people visiting the site than we ever imagined possible back in January when we had just over 500 people in our first month – most of whom were our direct relatives – we will say thank you again and please keep coming back!

Of False Dawns and Team England

25 06 2010

False Dawns?

England completed another easy win over Australia yesterday at Cardiff, knocking off the required 240 runs with four wickets in hand and the best part of five overs to spare giving them a 2-0 lead in the five match series. Similarly to the first game there were few wobbles and, truth be told, England never looked like losing. Only some fine fast bowling towards the end from Doug Bollinger ensured England did not complete the win by a larger margin.

There were again some notable positives to come out of this game with Strauss scoring fifty at a good rate, Collingwood playing himself back into form and then, after Morgan had all but guided them home, some clever cricket from Bresnan and Swann. With 32 left to win and these two at the crease they showed admirable nous and not a little skill in their ability to drop the ball and run before Swann relieved what little pressure there was with a couple of driven boundaries. The England of old may have folded at 211-6 but not this current team – which brings us nicely to the question – is this yet another false dawn or actually a genuinely talented limited overs side which could conceivably challenge for the world cup next year?

England teams across the various sports competed in by our national teams have a habit of raising the sporting public’s hopes only to dash them again somewhere down the line. In cricket we witnessed this after the Ashes of 2005 with England subsequently beaten 5-0 away from home. In Rugby (it must be said only since 2003) after any victory, or sometimes not even a victory, but a simply a more positive performance you start thinking ‘perhaps from today we’ll be good’ only to then play diabolically against Italy or some such team. Even in Football, where we are supposed to be witnessing a ‘golden generation’ of English players, a great qualifying campaign is then dragged down in some ordinary performances at the world cup itself bringing what had previously been hopeful fans down with a bump.

Perhaps it is as much the fans fault as the English players in that there is too much expectation heaped upon the players of these games? This means that, perhaps, unless whichever national team we are supporting become a side similarly dominant to the Aussie cricketers of the last 15 years or the West Indies before that we will never be happy? For our part at the Compulsive Hooker we would like to see; the English rugby team regularly beat southern hemisphere opposition, the footballers live up to their superstar status by reaching the semi finals of the world cup (at the very least) and the cricketers beat Australia away from home in a test series… Not much to ask then!

Whilst it is possible that we are witnessing another false dawn with this one day side, we feel that finally England have a side capable of regularly scoring enough runs and a bowling attack clever and varied enough to limit most teams to an inferior total. Broad is one who typifies this, yesterday living up to Michael Vaughan’s billing of him as a ‘clever cricketer’, by reining in the Australians after a profligate start by Jimmy Anderson. There are still one or two in this side who are a little short of the highest quality – Bresnan, Yardy, Wright – yet until a better replacement comes along this lot are unlikely to let anyone down. Indeed Wright has played crucial parts in both games so far with a good innings in the first match and some important wickets in both.

The other factor that has probably been overlooked up until now (certainly by us at the Compulsive Hooker) is that a winning one day side is only ever going to assist your test team in becoming dominant in their own right but a losing one will certainly drag the test team down. For so long England have regarded ODI cricket as the poor neighbour of tests and, whilst this in our opinion remains true to a certain extent, it is probably impossible to become the dominant team in world cricket whilst only half (or a third these days with the inclusion of 20/20) of your national set up is firing. Winning habits in one form helps breed winning habits in the others in spite of the various changes of personnel.

Therefore, and in short, we are going to go on record and suggest that this isn’t a false dawn and, providing England build on this, there is a rosy future ahead for England’s limited overs teams!


KP Signs for Team England?

News came out a few days ago that Kevin Pietersen is looking for a new county after claiming that the commute from Chelsea to Hampshire simply doesn’t work for him. We would normally have some sympathy for this although clearly it is his choice to live in Chelsea and his commute has probably only be necessary maybe 20 times over the past five years! Clearly he is looking to join one of the London counties in Surrey or Middlesex but the natural question is then; what could these counties realistically expect to get out of this? He is likely to be away with England for the best part of the year and we would bet that his record for Hampshire when he has played has been no more than mediocre. It is possible that, with the majority of his wages paid for by the ECB, one of these two counties may take him on as a commercial proposition – i.e. to sell as many shirts as possible and make some much needed cash – but we’re not sure this would work.

Therefore the question is; does KP even need a county? There is so much international cricket these days that it is perhaps not totally inconceivable… What does everyone think?

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