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Newspilez: The State of Stade June 10, 2011

Resident Stade enthusiast Anna takes a look back on an eventful week for Max Guazzini’s boys in pink in a Newspilez special…

James Haskell topped the bill of big name players who were officially released by Stade Francais this week and while this comes as no huge surprise following ongoing reports of financial struggles and structural shake ups, the future for Uncle Gigi’s boys looks a little hazy. However, never one to miss a marketing opportunity, ol’ Max used the announcement of these departures to simultaneously silence the naysayers and to launch a fetching “Pink is Not Dead” t-shirt. You’ve got to admire that sass.

Stade Francais in unusually subtle colour scheme shocker

So what happens now?

Well, no one is going to dispute that Stade had a miserable season in 2010/11 and it’s safe to assume that losing out on their last gasp attempt with the Amlin Challenge Cup may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for many. Furthermore, the club’s money woes have been evident for a while, not least of all when Mirco Bergamasco was released from his contract a year early to join Parisien rivals Racing Metro last Spring. But the t-shirt makes a good case.

Out with the old…

A big overhaul is one of the best parts of a new season. New players, new start, new kit (abundantly important around Gigi’s way), new attitude and new aspirations. While Stade are of course losing some talent, it’s also clear that some players have run their course with the club.

Haskell is a prime example. He’s a young player with a lot of hype surrounding him. He made a good showing in this year’s Six Nations and will undoubtedly want to be making a similar mark at club level. If my memory serves me correctly, there was a conversation at Manpilez HQ last summer about where Hask would go if he left Stade. Given the non-events at Adams Park since, there’s not quite so much confidence now that he’d defect to his dear old Wasps. In fact, if we’re to believe the rumblings from Haskell’s camp, every team in the world is currently dropping their car keys in a bowl on his coffee table. My suspicions are that he may take a jaunt south of the equator, but will he be willing to risk fitting the “exceptional circumstances” bill post-World Cup to jeopardize his England career? When the decision is made, expect to hear about it. A lot. With sponsorship.

Another departure that hasn’t surprised us is that of Mauro Bergamasco, who has been with the club since 2004. While he and younger brother and former team mate Mirco celebrated a championship win both then and in 2007, the past few years have been more about the graft than the glory. Mirco seems to be going from strength to strength since leaving Stade, having had a great debut season with Racing Metro and of course, with his heroic performance in Italy’s win over France in the Six Nations. Mauro, meanwhile, spent most of last season out of action following an injury and subsequent surgery on his shoulder. It’s safe to assume the older Bergamasco will have his sights set on a trip to New Zealand come the autumn, which may very well be his last RWC and we’re hedging our bets that club-wise, a return to the homeland may be on the cards, with Treviso being a likely prospect.

… in with the new

Other players avoiding an acid-hued brain-vomit of a kit next season include Juan Leguizamon, Hugo Southwell and Ollie Phillips, but what of the newcomers? Paul Sackey announced his arrival by sporting a very unsubtle neon pink sock alongside his Barbarians kit in the game against England on 29 May and with a wealth of experience in French rugby behind him, will be a welcome addition to the squad alongside Toulon team mate Felipe Contempi. Having a former All Black in the shape of Byron Kelleher and Wallabies centers Morgan Turinui and Paul Warick thrown into the mix isn’t going to do any harm, either.

Stick or twist…

Then there are those players who will remain, including lock Tom Palmer, arguably the stand out performer for England in this year’s Six Nations. Consider his poor wife, Helen, however, who faces at least another year of  non-French speaking misery in a Paris suburb  without even the light relief of baking cock-adorned cakes for Haskell and Phillips.

Current captain Sergio Parisse has made no noises about moving as of yet and although he’ll be absent for the World Cup in the early part of next season, his apparently God-like presence (calm down, Stuart Barnes) will boost the squad if he’s still on the scene.

The biggest question mark, however, currently hangs over Matthieu Bastareaud. While Stade Francais are insisting he’ll remain for the duration of his contract, Mourad Boudjellal, chairman of Bastareaud’s desired destination of Toulon, has taken the oh so subtle Marc Lievremont approach to courting the media by claiming the center is depressed to the point that he is pyschologically unable to stay chez Guazzini.

How is it that a soap opera about French rugby hasn’t been written yet?

A brave new world…

If there’s one massive positive to take from all this, it’s that Stade Francais are well versed in phoenix-from-the-ashes tactics. In fact, typically controversial news that a peculiarly random financial saviour from Montreal has dragged them out of the red means that they have avoided administrative relegation and there are also hopes that the recent return of Bernard Laporte may see him turn the tide for Stade as he did so dramatically in the 1990s. While coaching duties remain with Michael Cheika, there will be a lot of expectation on Laporte in the role of administrator to perform a similar, if not more impressive overhaul and set Stade Francais back on track. It would seem that, for the time being, pink is not dead.

Words by Anna

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Belated Newspilez: Here’s our Graham (or Lauren) With a Quick Recap… April 8, 2011

Hey, look  we didn’t die of anti-climax from the last weekend of the Six Nations! An anti climax so severe it managed to leave everyone but Ireland lower in the table than they’d seemed to be heading and lead to the silverware being dished out in what looked like a cupboard.

With every one of the Six Nations returning to base camp with their tails between their legs, there seems to have been something of a resurgence in the domestic game. Though the Magners League and Aviva Premierships rattled on really rather nicely during the competition, the wounded internationals appear to have returned purely to prove their mettle and so the race to the respective playoffs has become mightily interesting over the last few weeks.

In particular, the Aviva Premiership felt like a cup final weekend last week, and that was no more felt than at The Stoop, where visitor Leicester Tigers beat Harlequins in one of the most closely and fiercely fought clashes we’ve seen all year. Punches, failed scrums, contentious tries, yellow & red cards and at one point, boots, were flying all over the place. It was messy, but boy was it exciting as both teams played their skins off.

The Citing commissioner had a mightily busy weekend all of his own and as well as Quins’ Joe Marler and Tigers’ Marcos Ayerzer’s bans for their fisticuffs towards the end of the match, Mark Cueto found himself in trouble after getting a little too far up in the grill of Northampton Second Rower Christian Day. The wait till Cuets’ hearing will be a particularly long one for England fans, as ‘contact with the eye or eye area’ can attract a ban of as much as two years.

In the Magners league, things weren’t quite so fraught but that’s not to say they were any less exciting. With the leaderboard painfully close and just three weekends left to go, the competition is massively hotting up and Munster v Leinster in particular had supporters in fever pitch, only for Munster to scrape past their visitors with a 24-23 victory. Meanwhile, the South Wales Derby of Ospreys v Blues ended in a draw after both teams defended their actual bottoms off to end 21-21 without a single try being scored.

Both leagues are having an off-week this week to allow for the excitement that is Heineken and Amlin Quarter Finals which means the madness has descended. ..

  • Saracens, now without the media whirlwinds of Brendan Ventner and Gavin Henson have caused a stir this week by spending their week off training with the Miami Dolphins and taunting members of rival teams via social networks. Expect a lot of forward passes at Vicarage Road in the coming weeks as they try and secure their place in the Home Playoff zone
  • Ben Youngs, fresh from thrown-out-ball-gate, has become Leicester’s Karl Pilkington after a mystery member of the Tigers squad has started a twitter account @stuffbensaid. So far it has featured such gems as : “ME: I heard you’re doing a session with Kyren Bracken Every Fortnight Lendrid: I am, but not every fortnight, he’s only up twice a month”. Tom Croft has also managed to convince Ben that they could breed salmon ready stuffed with cream cheese.  No, really.
  • The Ospreys have sadly had to lose two players to enforced retirement on medical grounds in the space of a week. Firstly Ben Lewis was taken away from the Liberty Stadium by a nasty neck injury sustained early in the season, and young lock Conor McInerny has succumbed to a persistent knee injury. We wish them both all the best of luck for the future.
  • Gavin Henson scored his first try for Toulon. The media have dubbed him The Best Player In The Universe again. We’re going to give him a few weeks before we pass judgement.

Closer to home, you’ll hopefully be pleased to hear that during our absence we’ve been away plotting for more great stuff for the next few weeks, and you know what, you’re going to love it. Not that we’re blowing our own trumpet or owt. We’ve lined up some cracking interviews  over the next few weeks to fuel your excitement as the season comes to a head.

First to get a grilling will be winner of your favourite nudey picture, Harlequins scrum half Danny Care, then we’ll be  heading west to bother Bath prop David Flatman and finally over the border to annoy Ospreys prop Cai Griffiths and referee Nigel Owens. And we’ve even got lovely lady rugbyist Jemma Cooper from Quins’ Ladies giving us her twopenneth. Blimey.  As ever, because we’re lovely,  if there’s anything you’re dying to know, get in touch with us in the usual ways.

This week we’ll be down at the Stoop for the Amlin Cup Quarter final clash between Quins and Wasps, so if you see us, say hello!

Words by Lauren

 

Newspilez 12th March 2011: The State of The Nations March 12, 2011

As we head into the penultimate weekend of Six Nations action now with that last rest week already fees like a distant memory for players and fans alike due to the ramping up of the excitement for the deciding two weeks of the competition, we take stock of how each nation’s campaign has been rattling on so far…

It’s been a strange tournament so far, with teams we had high hopes for falling apart while teams who looked down and out pulling themselves back up from their bootstraps. Granted, it’s not been as heartstopping as we’d have liked, barring a few shining moments, things are now building up towards crunch time for all six of our nations.

England

At the start of the tournament, England were bookies favourites by a hair’s breadth, but after a hard fought victory to Wales on the first night England have stormed on, gaining momentum while all  around are losing theirs. Now it’s getting harder and harder to imagine anyone but England emerging victorious from this competition. The team appear to be coming together, with the talismanic Toby Flood grounding all around him and leaving even his rival for the 10 shirt Johnny Wilkinson mildly in awe and a cohesion seeming to radiate from him. This is a team that seem to have a hyperawareness of what each other are doing that leaves them able to close down most attacks.

They have, however, yet to be challenged too fiercely, Wales were extremely shaky on their first outing and still gave them quite the battle, they faced an already shaken Italy and France were… insane. However the hype surrounding them at the moment is clearly something they want to live up to and with Chris Ashton able to sniff out a try like a beagle at an airport and the return of Messrs Croft and Lawes, the juggernaught looks unstoppable

Ireland

Here at Manpilez, we’re getting a little suspicious that someone’s spiking the Ireland squad’s powerade with clumsy juice. Between a seemingly complete lack of precision or discipline and a feeling that they’ve lost a bit of the passion that saw them win the grand slam two years ago, Ireland’s campaign so far has been woeful at best.

In their defence, they have had some moments of hope, against France they spent a lot of time as The Better Team and though they beat both Italy and Scotland, both matches were close enough that every soft penalty given away pushed them further down the table, meaning that they are languishing at fourth in the table and looking unlikely to claw their way up much higher.

Scotland

Oh, how wrong we were. At the beginning of the tournament we had high hopes for Scotland, their victory against South Africa having gone to our head and made us think that the wooden spoon contest would be different this year. Sadly, things don’t seem to have clicked into place for Alastair Kellock and his men and despite some almost-convincing performances against France and Wales, they haven’t yet been able to gain that extra something that converts the tenacity they have shown into a win.

With age old rivalries being stirred up in this weekend’s Calcutta Cup, it is possible that the Scots may finally find that alchemical difference between a good performance and a winning one, but sadly we’re not holding out much hope.

Wales

In this case, we are extremely happy to have been wrong at the beginning of the tournament, when we had little to no hope of Cymru even being in the top half of the table by the end of the tournament. Now we’re over the half way point and Wales sit proudly at second position and they have an air of building momentum around them.

Despite losing to arch rivals England on the opening night, the men in red had a relatively good start, with a decent performance keeping the losing margin close. Clearly they took confidence from this and have since gone on to beat both Italy and Scotland well. Though there are still some issues visible (especially around discipline) they have the air at the moment of a side who are starting to believe in themselves again, despite some rather insane positional switching.

This weekend’s must-win game against Ireland could be decisive for both sides, who seem to be struggling in the same way, only with one team on the ascendancy and the other heading into deterioration. We reckon the smart money is in £ not € this time.

Italy

Poor Italy. Though it can still be said that the Azzuri have fronted up a lot better than in previous years, there has still been a sense that other than a few stand out players, this is a team completely out of it’s depth. There is a sense that even they thought they had a chance right up until the moment Ronan O’Gara took the field in their really rather close game against Ireland. Pretty much since that moment Italy have looked like a rabbit in headlights, and their game against England was such a massacre as to look almost cruel by the end.

We’d like to say we thought there was a chance of a comeback but with a wounded France in their future this weekend, it’s looking unlikely.

France

There were many jokes bandying around before the tournament that the changeable lineup of France over the last year meant it depended which side turned up each day how well France would do. Bizarrely, despite a relatively stable roster, they’ve still somehow managed to be completely different teams in each game. Ferocious and clinical against Scotland, Arrogant and lazy against Ireland and seemingly a bit lost against England, it’s a wonder they are in third position and so close to Wales in Second.

However, Italy are going to prove far less of a challenge this week so it will be interesting to see if they capitalise on this or allow themselves to get complacent even after being stopped in their tracks last time out.

We’ll be back in the week to cover this weekend’s action and cover some of the dafter elements of the campaigns so far that we’ve missed over the last few weeks of life getting in the way. Enjoy folks!

Words by Lauren

 

Newspilez: Six Nations round 2 preview February 10, 2011

With most of the teams announced, the unlucky sent home to make themselves useful and the injured strapped up a little tighter in hope for next week, we take a look at this week’s clashes.

England V Italy, Saturday, 2.30, Twickenham

It’s very hard to see how this one is going to go from our point of view. Last week’s win for England came amid a flurry of mistakes from both sides that left us slightly unsure what they were actually capable of. One thing was for sure, however, and that is tenacity, with the forwards seemingly trying to grind the opposition into dust while the backs waited patiently for the slightest mistake, this version of England, unchanged from last week (barring Hendre Fourie on the bench) has the power to sap every scrap of energy from the azzuri and capitalise where it matters.

However, Italy’s heartbreaking defeat to Ireland last week left us saying almost exactly the same thing. With Italy’s pack possibly one of the strongest we saw all weekend and relentless defence work that left even BOD Almighty looking like he was having a coronary by the end, England are going to have a serious fight on their hands and must underestimate Nick Mallet’s boys, who are clearly going to be out to prove a point, at their peril.

Predicted Result : We think Italy might just edge down to sheer determination – 16-21?
One to watch: Sergio Parisse. He was on fire last week, and that was before Ronan O’Gara made him angry, expect boiling this week…

Scotland v Wales, Saturday, 5pm, Murrayfield

Hmm. This could go one of two ways.

Ailing Wales will be travelling to Edinburgh under what must be a massive cloud and eight defeats out of Eleven is going to be an albatross around even the necks of the most stoic that the boys in red will be desperate to shake off. With very few changes, this is a war wounded side that are out to smell some serious blood. With Just two changes to the side that opened the competition last week it could mean the same problems occur, but with one under their belts and a week of uniting in the face of defeat, they may have finally found the cohesion they were so dearly missing against England.

Scotland meanwhile left Paris last week under a different kind of cloud having lost well (if you can call it that) at the Stade de France. With a side this strong at the outset, the wounds will weal quickly and the positives from last week galvanised into pushing out what faults were still present.

We’re either going to see two sides desperate to get a deserved win on the board in each other’s faces right till the end, or, and it pains us to say this, a whitewash for good old Cymru.

Predicted Result: Scotland by 6
One to watch: Bradley Davies – last week it took at least 2 Englishmen to take him out, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he fares against the 12 foot mass of Richie Grey.

Ireland V France, Sunday, 3pm, Aviva Stadium

With Jamie Heaslip’s clean bill of health a much needed boost to the side who managed to scrape victory from the jaws of defeat in Rome last week, Brian O’Driscoll’s merry band will be out to prove a point on home soil this weekend.

Marc Livremont’s almost unchanged side now looks rather more terrifying than the inconsistent wildcard we had them pegged as just a week ago and this is bound to be a physical and intense game that pops the new Landsdowne Road’s Six Nations cherry. If Ireland are to win this they need to take confidence in their experience and the fact that no matter how hairy it looked last week they *did* come back for a win. It’s easy to believe that Declan Kidney and his men underestimated Italy last week, so hopefully they will have taken on board just how fierce ferocious France were against Scotland last week so come out fighting and embrace that experience that took them past the Azzurri.

Sadly, we think France may be just too strong for them, but it would be very exciting to be proved wrong…

Predicted result: France by 15
One to watch: Francois Trinh-Duc, we reckon he might actually be magic.

And finally, in what we hope will become a series we’re heading off up to Leicester next week to interview the man who was your winner of our ’Workhorse Award for Best All Round Performance‘ award, Mr Tom Croft. Now we’ve got quite a few things we want to bend his ear about but we want to throw it out and let you lovely lot have your say. If you’ve got any burning questions you’d like us to put to his Croftyness, contact us in the usual ways and we’ll gather all the clean ones before we head up the East coast mainline…

Words by Lauren

 

Newspilez 6th February 2011: Six Nations Round One February 6, 2011

Though the LV= rumbled on this week, lack of televisation and downsized stadia was never going to allow it to compete with The Main Event so we’re not even going to attempt to distract you and cut straight to the chase.

The Six Nations bus finally rolled into town and the first weekend has been mighty interesting. We had another call in ‘James Hook Shirt Bingo’ (We’re only waiting on Tighthead prop before we win a jar of chutney), Italy brought the goods but had their hearts broken, France got a quite frightening amount of mojo back even against a fierce Scotland and Chris Cusiter and Tommy Bowe distracted crowds and armchair supporters alike by using their downtime to practice their punditry.

Now the hangovers have finally been banished, Lauren and Anna have taken some time out to give their thoughts on what occured, what didn’t, and who we should be running away from.

Wales v England, Friday 4th February

 

Photo courtesy of Zimbio
The Storm before the Storm

 

Three weeks ago, I was sat in the Liberty Stadium watching the Ospreys take on Toulon, fingers crossed every time James Hook put ball to boot, cheering Alun Wyn Jones at each line out and genuinely thrilled when Shane Williams came on in the second half.  I was willing Jonny Wilkinson to miss a kick. Just one, just for once.

How quickly things change. Being an English Ospreys supporter is hard (and stupid, some might say) and means that Friday was some kind of sick torment for me. There was a lot of hype in the English press about Johnno’s boys being the tournament favourites and endless harking back to 2003, with glib predictions about a repeat Grand Slam to pave the way for World Cup glory.

Forget all of that, because this was about one game and overall, it wasn’t really that impressive. Both teams made their fair share of mistakes and for all their calm demeanours in post-match interviews, you know that Gats and Johnno will be dealing out the “rollockings” which the latter promised once the dust has settled.

Ultimately, it was England who managed to capitalise on those mistakes. Not many will be surprised that Chris Ashton was the man to give England their first try of the campaign and although it might not have had the same build up as THAT try against Australia, it was by no means any less theatrical as Ashy adopted what’s fast becoming his signature move, arm aloft as he went over the line with a dive. Should he have celebrated before touching down? Maybe not, but I’ll be the first to admit that I was already out of my seat and shouting at the telly before he’d launched into the air. The try was set up brilliantly by Toby Flood, who later went on to quite rightly be named man of the match. He was nothing short of superb.  Another try followed for Chris Ashton in the second half after a tidy little pass from Mark Cueto and it seemed then that England might have sealed the deal.

But we’ve seen Wales turn a game around in the dying minutes before and I stayed on the edge of my seat until the bitter end, having a small heart attack any time the ball got near Shane Williams or Jamie Roberts’ hands. It was Morgan Stoddart, though, who eventually clawed back a try for Wales, a deserved reward for the solid game he played. Kudos also to Bradley Davies, a man so tough that it seemed it to always take at least two England players to take him down and even then he was still fighting. There were shining moments of the Wales we have known, but it just didn’t come together for them on the night.

As for England, yes they won and yes it was a big deal, but was this a team ready to win the World Cup? There’s still a ways to go yet, boys.

Manpilez Man Of The Match: Morgan Stoddart, because he tried, bless him.

 

Italy v Ireland, Saturday 5th February

 

picture courtesy of Zimbio

Even Paul O'Connell was wrong footed by the Azzurri ascendency

 

The defeat suffered by Italy in their opening game of the tournament was simply heartbreaking. Having never beaten Ireland in the 6 Nations, this was their chance. Not only were Ireland missing a glut of key players due to injuries, but it was apparent in the first quarter of the game that this was an Italian squad who simply would not be bossed, with fresh faced scrum half Edoardo Gori paying for his efforts with a dislocated shoulder. The defensive tactics that the Azzurri exhibited throughout the game were staunch and fervent, with fullback Luke McLean throwing himself into tackles with wild abandon and flanker Alessandro Zanni making a real impact.

Looking at the game from the opposing side, it was somewhat of a shocker for Ireland. Were they ready for Italy? Brian O’Driscoll had said in the press this week that they weren’t going to be complacent and expected a tough, physical game, but the sheer level of mistakes that they made beggared belief at times, especially from experienced players like BOD Almighty himself. Was the ball greased up? It would certainly explain the amount of times it slipped from Irish fingers.

Mirco Bergamasco started the day well, landing two penalty kicks in the first half which put Italy ahead at the break. The inevitable finally came in the second half, however, as O’Driscoll touched down in the 44th minute. From there, the game went back and forth until the final ten minutes, when Ireland’s Denis Leamy ended up in the sin bin and Italy gave a mighty push which saw Luke McLean finally make it over the line for a hard fought try. To say the Italian supporters in the Stadio Flaminio lost their shit at this point would be fair. Victory was so absolutely close, but unfortunately our beloved Mirco wavered and missed the conversion, which would prove to be fatal.

What followed was a hideously tense four minutes in which Ronan O’Gara took to the pitch and landed a perfect drop goal to edge Ireland ahead by two points. Despite Kristopher Burton’s attempt to counter, his own kick fell well short of the sticks and the Azzurri saw the win snatched away from them. Look up the word “dejected” in the dictionary, and you’d probably find a picture of those boys.

The positives? Italy made a fierce impression regardless of the final score. Their defence was fantastic and there is no doubting their passion. They have so much to prove and their standing on the international field has been steadily improving. They’re almost there. As for Ireland, they’ll no doubt be calling their own faults into question ahead of next weekend’s game against France, who showed a return to form against Scotland that bordered on terrifying…

Manpilez Man of the Match: The Big Man, Sergo Parisse, for leading Italy, so close to victory, from the front.

 

France V Scotland, Saturday 5th February

The captain leads the charge

With Scotland going into the tournament as the ‘In form’ team and France veering between fierce and foul, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, with this game but what we got was most definitely the stand out game of the first round.

France came out of the traps like a runaway train and within the first three minutes they’d turned over what had been looking like some promising Scottish possession and turned it into a stonking Maxime Medard try which Morgan Parra converted with barely a flinch. From then on in it was clear that France were taking no prisoners with pretty much every single Scottish mistake being turned into points, meaning Les Bleus were 10-0 up within 10 minutes after Francois Trinh-Duc almost casually pitched in a drop goal.

That’s not to say that Scotland were not giving them a serious run for their money, their defence in particular were exemplary, with Richie Grey and Nikki Walker in particular extinguishing a lot of French fires.  Their set pieces at the beginning of the first half were almost flawless, but with them failing to convert that into territory or opportunities it felt like all they were doing was exhausting themselves so that by the end of the first half, the scrums were collapsing like houses of cards, meaning the security they had built up from Captain Alistair Kellock’s try was soon broken down by giving away a penalty try before the break, leaving the score 17-7.

The second half had a completely different texture altogether. Though both teams were still playing open, expansive rugby, it felt like both sides were now out for blood which lead to scrappier, pacier action. However, that 10 points separating the teams at the break was never far away and there was a feeling of Try-ping pong around the hour mark as a quite frankly remarkable pass from Francois Trinh-Duc set Imanol Harinordoquy up for a try that was promptly countered by Kelly Brown, creating the feeling that Scotland had upped their attack.

France, meanwhile were clinical and ruthless, which meant that once again, each slip from Scotland turned into points for Les Bleus but with some hard work from Scotland, that 10 point gap was maintained all the way into the closing minutes to keep the hope alive right up until a penalty from Yachvilli broke every Scottish heart.

Could we be seeing back to back slams from France?  It’s too early to tell but they have definitely chosen the exact right moment to get their mojo back and Scotland, well, they currently look ‘nearly ready’ a few tweaks and a bit more confidence and they could well be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the competition.

Manpilez Man of the Match: Francois Trinh-Duc, because that pass really was extrordinary.

Words by Lauren and Anna

 

Newspilez – Week Ending 30th January 2011 February 1, 2011

Amid the madness of the Manpilez Awards and the building hype of the Six Nations, this week’s Newspilez is set to be a whistlestop tour through a weekend of Anglo Welsh showdowns as we recap the happenings in the LV= Cup.

 
Being the time of year that it is, every team is subject to losing their finest and brightest to national selection for the aforementioned 6 Nations. The difference between now and when this happened for the autumn internationals is that approximately 86.7% of players have done gone got themselves busted up in recent weeks, meaning that pickings which were already slim are now veering dangerously close to size zero. So it was that clubs from the north of England to, er, the Middle East found themselves sending out some of their fledglings with misty eyes and fond hair ruffling. Seems like only yesterday that they were in their “Born to play for…” babygrows, doesn’t it?
 
I digress. The attention grabber of the weekend was of course the London Abu Dherbi (this pun has gone through various reworkings, but we’re going with this one), which saw “London” Wasps stretch their definition of location just a little bit further by setting up a specially built stadium in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Like you do. Sadly for the High Wycombe wanderers (arf), a repeat of their recent H-Cup thrashing at the hands of Harlequins was on the cards. The baby Quins put on an impressive show and added insult to injury when Sam Smith crossed over to well and truly seal the deal 13-38. Harlequins are now enjoying the view from the top of pool four as a result.
 
In less exotic climes, a handful of obscure Ospreys stepped up to the plate to take on some nondescript Cardiff Blues. Again, it was only a few weeks back that the two sides last clashed, but the differences couldn’t have been more marked with all of the familiar faces squirreled away practising trust exercises in Warren Gatland’s back garden. Probably. Sloppy in some places and downright wince-inducing at times, some promise still shone through with a solid Ospreys pack still domineering the scrum even when two yellow cards reduced them to six men. Ospreys fly half Matthew Morgan deserves a shout out, too, simply for being the Anti-Biggar.
 
Leicester Tigers had another upset following their round two trouncing by the Ospreys. This time it was the season’s shockers, Exeter Chiefs, who did the bossing. Having lost out to the Tigers twice this season in Aviva Premiership fixtures, the Chiefs made sure Leciester hadn’t even got a score on the board by half time before going on to a 35-10 win. The Aviva’s other big boys, Northampton Saints, also came a cropper at the Madejski Stadium as London Irish kept their completely random form flowing and dealt the Saints their biggest defeat of the season.
 
Our beloved Barks had a literal hit and miss day at the Rec, but it was his boot that kept Bath’s LV hopes alive after they took an 11-6 victory over Newcastle Falcons. Elsewhere, Saracens saved all their effort for the second half of their showdown with the Scarlets to go home with a solid 34-7 win, while Sale had a 20-28 upset on home soil courtesy of Newport Dragons and Gloucester redeemed themselves after their last clash with Leeds Carnegie with by securing a 30-16 victory. Next weekend will see the final matches in the pools stages, though you’ll be forgiven if that slips by you…
 
… which leads me nicely into my little addendum to this week’s Newspilez. My esteemed colleague Lauren has been posting her Six Nations previews, but I can’t let her have all the fun. So, my thoughts in three bullet points: 
 
– As an Ospreys supporter who is in no way Welsh, Friday’s Wales v England match may cause me to have a nervous breakdown. Don’t tell Lauren, but there’s a red rose over my heart that won’t wilt despite the sea of daffodils that have grown around it.
 
– I’ve joked about Italy being my neutral go-to in the tournament, but I am genuinely excited to see if and how the Azzurri will attempt to capitalise on the injury-strewn squads they face. And hey, I’ll add Luke McLean and Alessandro Zanni to the “One to Perv Over” category while I’m at it.
 
– Finally – and most importantly – I would just like to make it absolutely clear that, despite claims that the Manpilez ladies would opt for Baileys over Guinness, mine is a pint of the black stuff every time.
Words by Anna
 

Newspilez – week ending 9th January 2011 January 10, 2011

Happy New Year and welcome to the first Newspilez of 2011. With thoughts of tinsel and turkey already distant in our minds, it’s time to meet January head on. With the ongoing drama of the Aviva Premiership, H-Cup and Magners League to keep us busy, plus the Six Nations and a small grassroots tournament which we believe is known as the Rugby World Cup lined up, we’re going to do our best to keep bringing you our quirked-eyebrow, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes slightly capslocky and hysterical brand of rugby coverage over the next year. To that end…

Aironi put Cardiff Blues through their paces on Friday night at the Cardiff City Stadium, though they’re still sitting at the bottom of the Magner’s League having failed to land a victory so far this season. Leigh Halfpenny made a triumphant return from injury with a try which helped Blues to their eventual 24-13 win.

The Ospreys continued in their quest to make Lauren and Anna pull all their hair out by the end of the season during their clash with Leinster. There were bursts of promise which had us on the edges of our seats, with first-time Ospreys captain Justin Tipuric landing himself a try, but it just wasn’t Dan Biggar’s night. Leinster took a 15-10 victory and we heaved heavy sighs.

The Scottish press is up in arms concerning Munster’s 22-20 win over Glasgow on Saturday, questioning the try awarded to David Wallace (The Herald has made some implications about video ref Dermot Moloney being from Munster…) and the sin binning of Glasgow fullback Bernardo Stortoni which led to Ronan O’Gara’s winning penalty kick. Expect the resultant debate about the need for neutral officials in the league to go on for some time…

Elsewhere in the Magner’s League, Ulster pulled their socks firmly up and saw off Treviso 32-13, Dragons slipped past Connacht 17-16 and Scarlets were doubtlessly making snow angels in delight after beating Edinburgh by 21 points to 16 at Murrayfield.

Saturday was derby day in London, as Quins took on Wasps at the packed out Stoop. Quins went in fighting and put on a great team show in the first half, setting up well deserved tries for Joe Marler and Mike Brown. Wasps put up a tough fight and even though Andy Powell was slogging it out all over the pitch, Nick Easter edged over for a third try and Quins went into the break 17-7 up. Wasps dominated possession in the second half, but only managed to put 3 more points on the board and while Quins took the win 17-10, Chris Robshaw admitted that his squad were “a little flat” in the second half.

Of course the real derby took place in the east Midlands on Saturday evening as Aviva Premiership table leaders Leicester Tigers took on second place rivals Northampton Saints. As far as exciting starts to games go, you’re going to be hard pressed to beat Ben Foden touching down just 53 seconds into this tough, injury-strewn head to head.

Both Courtney Lawes and Chris Ashton went off early in the game with a knackered knee and quad muscle respectively, but it was Geordan Murphy who came off worse, stretchered off in the last quarter.

Despite the early show and a great fight from Saints, Leicester went into the game at an advantage as they were six points clear in the league and had a five game winning streak and the roar of the Welford Road faithful in their ears. Tries from Craig Newby and Marcos Ayerza and seventeen points courtesy of Toby Flood’s boot secured Tigers a 27-16 victory.

Other premiership matches saw Bath scrape past Leeds 16-13 thanks to Barks and Bendy and London Irish reaching double figure doom with their tenth consecutive loss as Saracens beat them 12-6. Exeter’s smashing season opener against Gloucester was a distant memory with a 37-23 defeat in the re-match and Sale drew with Newcastle 19 points apiece.

Over in France, Toulouse are still the heavy hitters in the Top 14 despite a monster 31-3 defeat at the hands of Stade Francais on Saturday. Racing Metro edged out Toulon on Sunday night in a 15-12 home victory which has put them in second place on the league table, just two points behind Toulouse.

Two small matters to finish with: if you haven’t already seen the posts and the social media barrage, voting for the 2010/11 Manpilez Awards is now open! The blog had its busiest ever day on Saturday after a number of your lovely nominees were kind enough to promote us in the hopes of getting their hands on the coveted (and we hasten to add metaphorical) awards. If you haven’t already casted your vote, you have until Saturday 15 January!

And finally, if you only follow one new Twitter account this week, why not make it @sebchabal_eng. Yes, that’s right, Seabass himself, translated into English. Where else will you get gems like “Yes, mushrooms are scrumptious. That’s a fact”?

Words by Anna