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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

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Interviewpilez: Tom Croft February 20, 2011

Filed under: Interviewpilez,Leicester Tigers — Manpilez @ 3:53 pm
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As you can probably imagine, when we started up Manpilez just seven months ago, it was all about the glitz and glamour, the showbiz parties and jetsetting… Which is why we were a little confused when, on a drizzly Wednesday morning we found ourselves in a run down old football ground on the outskirts of Leicester. The posts were the wrong configuration, there were hoardings for the rental of a Pony and Plough while a small gaggle of Serious Journalists were standing on the other side of the room wondering what two ladies wearing what proved to be inappropriate footwear were doing there.

Thankfully, just as we were starting to worry, Leicester Tigers’ press officer appeared and took us away from all this and into the seventh circle of the Tigers’ lair to meet  flanker extraordinaire and all round nice bloke Tom Croft.  Though we clearly confused the man from the outset “Man…Piles?!”, he led us into the plusher part of the player’s social area while his team mates were having their lunch to have a chat about his imminent return for Tigers, his take on ‘Ash the Splash’ and his best pal Scampy…

Picture taken by our own fair hands

Tom Croft on a grey day

It’s been almost three months since Tom Croft had to duck out of England’s clash with South Africa at Twickenham due to a broken shoulder and on the day we interviewed him we had to be snuck past the Leicester Press “they’re all wanting to know where he is with his injury…” the press officer says as he leads us to where Tom is waiting to be the first person to receive a grilling from us. “Don’t worry” we say “we’re not as serious as all that…”

“So Tom, how’s the shoulder?” We ask, as soon as he’s out of earshot.  Thankfully, Tom is amiable enough to let us ask those difficult, hard hitting questions. Once  he’s crammed all Six foot 50 inches in to a bar style booth in the Tigers’ ‘snug’ he smiles, knowing full well there was no way he’d get away with it “ It’s going well; I’ve been saying for a few weeks that it’s nearly there. It’s just obviously little things at the end of an injury which hold you back. Touch wood it’s pretty much there now, it’s just a few little things you have to cross the Ts and dot the Is then hopefully be back soon for selection.”

Indeed, it’s looking increasingly likely that this weekend’s clash against troubled Wasps at Welford road could see Tom line up for action alongside returning team mates Martin Castrogiovanni and George Chuter who have been released for the off-week of the Six Nations.  It’s clear to see that the 87 times capped flanker is keen to get stuck back in, though he’s equally keen to play this down “It’s been quite frustrating so I’m looking forward to getting back. Obviously at the end of an injury it takes a while to get back in the swing of things, taking the contact and getting your fitness up”.

Leicester Tigers are currently sitting firmly at the top of the Aviva Premiership table with only four losses so far in this year’s competition, so there are few environments better for motivation to return than one that’s so successful. “We’re very inward looking, we look at ourselves and how our standings are affected on the pitch and what we can do to improve ourselves. Leicester historically have always been near the top of the table every single season, we’ve been in the last seven or eight finals in the premiership and we’ve won so many of them. It’s a good place to be, within the squad there’s a lot of competition for places but other teams within the premiership now are playing a lot better and it’s tougher and tougher games each year so we have to improve our skills you know, we can’t just remain stagnant and hope we win because we’re Leicester.”

It’s obvious from the off that Tigers mean a lot to Tom, and he quickly dismisses any hints that he and his pride could ever become complacent with a shrug and a laugh, past successes clearly failing to go to his head. When we turn our questioning to the possibility he’ll return for  the Six Nations, that loyalty comes out in waves “Priority is getting back playing for Leicester, Leicester’s your bread and butter, it’s where you learn your skills and where you play majority of your rugby in a season. So I just want to get back playing for Leicester really, try and regain a starting shirt. Obviously the boys are going well who are playing there so I’ve got to work hard off the pitch as well as on the pitch to try and get back in there.”

That’s not to say, however, that he’s not aware of the competition that has bubbled up in his absence, with Tom Wood impressing many in the shirt many had hoped Tom would return in time to occupy “Obviously it’s tough watching other players step into your place when you’re injured. I was there at the Italy game watching from the side line and it’s tough watching them perform exceedingly well as you don’t really see a place for yourself back in that team. But like I say I’m getting back playing for Leicester first, try and regain some form and I’ll go from there”.

Promising words, all told, especially as from that side line, he is rating England’s chances for a long awaited Six Nations win, or even better a Grand Slam with or without him “This is one of our best chances we’ve had in a number of years. We’ve started very, very well. It’s a team that’s been brought up over a number of years but we just haven’t had the success in the Six Nations.  I think the team’s come together very well, there are a few new faces and it’s a team that likes to attack, the first two games have shown that, especially the Italian game. Although it was not the best performance by Italy but [they were] still finishing tries and you know the French game coming up will possibly be the decider of the tournament, we could see who goes on to win, so England can’t get complacent with two wins from two. France will offer something completely different; it’ll be a much bigger test”.

As talk turned to England, we took the opportunity to ask who has impressed him so far and it didn’t take long for the man of the moment to come up “Obviously Chris Ashton, scoring as many tries as he has so far is really encouraging”.

A lot has been said about the Northampton Winger over the last two weeks both in terms of his incredible run of points and that signature move, which has sparked many a debate even within the Manpilez Team but Croft takes it on the chin “I don’t see the problem. You know, back in the day Ben Cohen used to do them all the time, nothing was said then. Scoring for England’s a great thing, if that’s how he wants to celebrate then until he drops one… It’s happened in the past in the premiership games, you know, players have dropped the ball but I think as a player you know when the ball’s secure and until he does drop it I’m sure he’ll keep on doing it!”

Picture COurtesy of Leicster Tigers

However, he’s clearly too modest to get into such showmanship himself “I’m pretty renowned at the club for having one of the worst dives. I tend to knee slide or just dot it down, I’m too wary of dropping the ball, I don’t think I’d play again if I dropped it. Just put it down, two hands, that’s it.”

Of the rest of the England squad, he’s even more enthusiastic “Mark Cueto has always been a bit of an unsung hero he hadn’t scored for a while so scoring against Italy you saw the reaction of the team, how much it meant. He makes those hard yards all the time” but naturally, has a special place in his praise for his Leicester team mates, especially the half back pairing that’s impressing anyone with eyes, of Toby Flood:  “The way Toby Flood’s controlling the team at the moment is very good, he’s starting to make breaks, open holes for players to go through” and flatmate Ben Youngs “Ben Youngs is Ben Youngs, he does the same as he does every single game; he creates those chances. I think the way Floody and Youngs are working together well as they do for Leicester week in week out”.

“Obviously you want your team mates to do well in the squad. I mean Ben Youngs has risen dramatically over the past year in the ranks and Toby Food has continued his form,  so has Dan Cole and Lou Deacs so it’s good to see them doing well but it’ll be good to have them back at the club.”

With the serious bit out of the way, we got onto more…. Manpilez business. Apart from his obvious skills on the pitch, one of the reasons we chose Tom as our first victim was the sheer amount of love he gets from you, our dear readers. We weren’t quite sure how to broach this subject, however, but we can confirm that our timing absolutely sucked as a throng of Tigers drifted over just as we uttered words to the effect of ‘How does it feel to know that all our readers wanted to know if you’re single?’ and discovered that yes, it is definitely possible to make someone that tough blush. And look a bit frightened. “ Uh, yeah, it’s nice but my girlfriend might have something to say about that!”  Sorry ladies.

Thankfully, we were able to reassure Tom that neither we nor our readers were just dirty pervs by letting him know just why he was one of the winners of a Manpilez Award. Though his team mates had, by then, boarded the banter bus by chiming in to find out if the award was for ‘Sexiest Man in Leicester’ it was clear to see that Tom was relieved to discover it was the ‘Workhorse award’ for all round performances and though he clearly struggles with an attack of the modest,  he was keen to wax lyrical on the kind of players that had inspired that sort of work rate.

“Someone like Lewis Moody I think. Obviously he’s the England captain, and he’s recently moved down to Bath but the way he’s played throughout his career he puts his body on the line, he takes every single call as to whether it’s hopeless or not. The reason why he’s injured a lot of the time is because he does put his body to the extreme and you know that’s the sort of player I’ve tried to take inspiration from. Historically, Someone like [Peter]Winterbottom, who was again, renowned for being… well, a sort of Lewis Moody figure back in the day. I keep referring back to Moods because he is one of those players… [George Chuter happens by] obviously George Chuter’s a bit of a workhorse as well!”

So, with us hoping that inspiration doesn’t extend in to further layoffs for him, we hit tom with the Manpilez Quickfire (read: daft) questions:

With the World Cup approaching, are you already preparing yourself?

Because of my injury the World Cup seems a long way off yet so I’m looking forward to getting my fitness and my form back and I’ll think about that later on!

We’ve heard you were a bit of a mover in the past, would you ever consider getting the sequins out for Strictly or…

[very quickly and definitely] No.  I would get far too much abuse being at this sort of camp

Worst roommate?

Worst room mate… dunno. The one that used to be worst was Seru Rabini who’s left the club now but he used to snore like… I’ve never heard snoring as bad and you’d get no sleep.

Best Roomate(s)?

Matt Smith, Ben Youngs, someone who’s entertaining.

Have you got any favourite incidents that have happened while you’ve been away?

TC: not that I can really repeat so we’ll skirt over that one!

We don’t really censor at Manpilez…

Probably best leave that there then!

Do you have like a pre match ritual?

Night before always have a carbonara, before a game, Jelly Babies.  It’s not really a superstition, just something I’ve got into a routine of doing.

On the subject of Carbonara, we see that you’ve got a dish on the menu at Castro’s restaurant, how did that come about?

Obviously  it’s a new restaurant owned by Castro and Geordan,  so they just tried to get a few players onto the menu with their favourite dishes, it’s a restaurant owned by rugby players so why not have a bit of Rugby influence?

Are you famous for your carbonara then?

Well… I cook it for a couple of the boys. Geordy’s usually over, obviously Ben Youngs who I live with, a couple of boys come over before a game so it goes down alright

Favourite book?

I don’t do a lot of reading I really enjoyed the Da Vinci Code.  I like War stories, those sort of things. Currently reading Bill Bryson’s History of Absolutely Everything so that sort of thing. And obviously Harry Potter, how could I forget!?

Film?

Shawshank Redemption

Song?

Either Status Quo, Rockin’ All Over the World or Flogging Molly ‘If I Ever Leave This World Alive’ it’s on the film P.S. I Love You, but it’s a really good song. Really gets the boys going anyway!

What’s been your best tour moment?

Lions.

Is that something you’d always dreamed of or was it out of the blue?

It’s something you’re always aware of but never expect yourself to go on it. I was 23 at the time so I perceived it as something an older player did, maybe towards the end of their career so I never thought I’d go on it and play three tests. You know, it was just a great experience. It was six weeks of hard work but you were excited all the time and it was a real honour to go play there.

How did you react when you got the call?

It was literally three days before the Heineken Cup final so I didn’t really have much chance to take it in. I was very much focusing on the game against Leinster then I left the next day so it didn’t actually sink in till I was on the flight going over.

Do you keep in touch with the other Lions that were on your tour?

Yeah, obviously Harry Ellis, he’s recently retired but he’s in Leicester and a few of the Irish boys. You end up playing against a few of the players you played with so you catch up with them after games and it’s quite nice have friendships across rugby.

Did you find it quite strange playing alongside you’re used to playing against?

At the start it was weird but everyone was in the same boat it was all ‘My God I’m playing for The Lions!’ There was a great buzz and excitement around the camp so that went to the wayside as the boys were all just happy to be there.

And finally…We’ve been reading up on past interviews and we realised there was no way we could get away with not asking you how your dog is…

I think he actually gets more column inches than I do.  Scampy’s very well, he’s sitting in the back of the car at the moment so he seems to pop up in quite a few articles so he’s quite a famous dog now!

Has he been getting involved today?

No, I’ll have my dinner then I’ll take him out on the pitch later, he’ll run around and chase some balls and, yeah, he’s quite a cool little dog. He’s not the biggest dog, he’s quite…  a runt really, but he’s good fun doesn’t take too much looking after. He’s going alright!

With that, after a brief expedition onto the rather slippy training pitch to take some pictures, we left Tom alone to deal with lunch, Scampy, the fallout from his team mates from having two girls pitching up to grill him and a small matter of getting back in action…

Tom was grilled by Lauren and snapped by the Manpilez camera & Leicester Tigers.
With thanks to Andy Mann for letting us loose in Leicester.

 

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

 

Six Nations Countdown part 3: The Manpilez Songbook February 2, 2011

When the day finally arrives you might have lucky pants, your nation’s kit or simply a colour based homage, but outfit is key: you want to be comfortable, you may be getting in and out of your chair rather a lot with luck and you don’t want to be having to rearrange your look every time a point is scored.

Now, one of the most important things you’re going to need, whether in the stadium, the pub or your living room is your voice. Before the games start, you might want to try out some of these voice exercises to limber up.

Next, you need to know the tunes. We’re not all trained sopranos, and not all tenors know the descants but as long as you know the basic tune you can hum along even if you don’t know the words. Here’s each nation broken down into song:

Wales

The Welsh pretty much have the monopoly on the singing, with a repertoire spanning generations and only a few which are abusive or morbid. Here are the main ones to look out for.

One of the least bloody and random of the anthems, Land of my Fathers is all about the ‘Hiraeth’, feeling the pull of your land no matter how far over seas you may be. Though you get the odd mumbler (Gav), one man has become so famous for his almost fevered singing during the anthem moment that the cameramen pan around him so they can pull him out at just the right moment. See if you can guess who we mean…

Here’s those words for you as it’s sung for Rugby:

How It’s Sung What they’re on about
Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mâd,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed.Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad. Tra môr yn fur i’r bur hoff bau,

O bydded i’r hen iaith barhau. (Repeat)

The old land of my fathers is dear to me,
Land of poets and singers, famous men of renown;
Her brave warriors, very splendid patriots,
For freedom shed their blood.Land, land, I am faithful to my land. While the sea; a wall to the pure, most loved land,

O may the old language endure. (repeat)

Of course it’s not all faith to one’s land and the enduring power of language and poetry at Wales matches, sometimes it’s about adultery and chest wigs  (Delilah)  Cookery and Cat death (Sosban Fach), having a pure heart  (Calon Lan) or a salubrious trip to Twickenham (Hymns and Arias). There is one song, however, above all others, that seems to increase in volume the more tense the atmosphere gets and that is good old Cwm Rhondda, aka Bread of Heaven. It goes like this:

Guide me through oh great Jehovah
Pilgrim through this barren land
I am weak, but though art mighty
Hold me with thy powerful hand
Bread of heaven
Bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more
Feed me till I want no more

There are a few more verses, but those are for the pub afterwards…

England

For some reason, England sing about queen rather than country in one of the dreariest anthems known to mankind (and we’re 50% English, so we can say that…). If you want to be patriotic while having a nap, here’s a clip of the men in white singing God Save The Queen last year:

If you don’t already know it goes like this:

God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

Don’t sing this one or Eddie Izzard’s version, for that matter, or you’ll get kicked out of Twickers. You have been warned.

However, once the anthems are over, there are still plenty of decent tunes to get behind, from the really rather deluded Jerusalem to the bombastic pomp and patriotism of Land of Hope and Glory but the melody that will turn fortress Twickenham from a big lump of concrete to a place where special things happen is not a song of patriotism, but, bizarrely, a slave spiritual. It does sound lovely though, so here’s how to sing it:

Swing low, Sweet Chariot,
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, Sweet Chariot
Coming for to carry me home

As with most of the songs here, it does go on a bit more, but nobody can be bothered with the rest when there’s too much going on before them and a bar full of IPA to put a dent into.

Ireland

There’s many traits people associate with the Irish but greed isn’t usually one of them. When it comes to anthems, however, they gorge and gorge till even the team look visibly fed up. However, the unity (or rather lack of) of Northern and Southern Ireland in the team does necessitate a multi anthem performance as you can see here

We’re just waiting for them to wake up and realise a mashup is the way to go. Until then, here’s the words to both the IRFU commissioned Ireland’s Call, and the traditional Soldier’s Song to be getting on with.

Ireland’s Call

Come the day and come the hour
Come the power and the glory
We have come to answer
Our Country’s call
From the four proud provinces of Ireland

Ireland, Ireland
Together standing tall
Shoulder to shoulder
We’ll answer Ireland’s call

The Soldier’s Song

How It’s Sung What they’re on about
Amhrán na bhFiann   Sinne Fianna Fáil,
atá faoi gheall ag Éirinn,
Buíon dár slua
thar toinn do ráinig chughainn,
Faoi mhóid bheith saor
Seantír ár sinsear feasta,
Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoin tráill.
Anocht a théam sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil, chun báis nó saoil,
Le gunna scréach faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh canaig amhrán na bhFiann
The Soldier’s Song Soldiers are we,
whose lives are pledged to Ireland,
Some have come
from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free,
no more our ancient sireland,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the “bearna baoil”
In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal,
’Mid cannon’s roar and rifles’ peal,
We’ll chant a soldier’s song

Once the choir have gone to their seats, there are a number of melodies that ring down Landsdowne Road, most people will proudly sing Fields of Athenry, and they have joint custody of Danny Boy with Scotland but our favourite is Molly Malone. Alive, Alive-o indeed.

Scotland

Sadly, though their try celebrations may try to hint, Scotland have yet to adopt The Proclaimers’ 1000 Miles as their national song. Instead they sing proudly of their horticulture with Flower of Scotland

Here’s How it goes:

O flower of Scotland
When will we see
Your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen
And stood against him
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again
The hills are bare now
And autumn leaves lie thick and still
O’er land that is lost now
Which those so dearly held
And stood against him
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again
Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again
And stood against him
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

Well that told us. For evening games, Murrayfield is a fantastic place to be with darkness, mist and pipers, but nothing will make you feel like you’ve walked into a bizarre version of Brigadoon like second-in-command anthem Scotland the Brave

France

Probably the anthem that has the most pomp, ceremony and frankly danceability is La Marseillaise, it’s also the most bloodthirsty by a country mile. Check it out:

How It’s Sung What they’re on about
Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé.
Contre nous, de la tyrannie,
L’étandard sanglant est levé,
l’étandard sanglant est levé,
Entendez-vous, dans la compagnes.
Mugir ces farouches soldats
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger vos fils,
vos compagnes.Aux armes citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons
Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consortsTo arms citizens
Form your battalions

March, march
Let impure blood
Water our furrows

The Les bleus faithful, bizarrely, occasionally whip out a bit of the olde Edith Piaf with a rousing chorus of Je Ne Regrette De Rien. Oddly, they don’t sing that when they’re losing… other than that you can expect many calls of ‘ALLEZ!!’ as if people’s lives depend on it. Come on guys, put your lungs in it!

Italy

We’ll be honest, the lyrics to The Song of the Italians scare the bejeesus out of us and once we found out what they were singing about we understood why a lot of the Azzurri look like they’re about to cry as they line up like here (which also features the dulcet tones of friends of the site Eschoir):

How It’s Sung What they’re on about
Fratelli d’Italia,l’Italia s’è desta, dell’elmo di Scipio

s’è cinta la testa.

Dov’è la Vittoria?

Le porga la chioma,

ché schiava di Roma

Iddio la creò.

CORO:

Stringiamci a coorte,

siam pronti alla morte.

Siam pronti alla morte,

l’Italia chiamò.

Stringiamci a coorte,

siam pronti alla morte.

Siam pronti alla morte,

l’Italia chiamò!

Brothers of Italy,Italy has awoken, with Scipio‘s helmet

binding her head.

Where is victory?

Let her bow down,

For God has made her

Rome’s slave.

CHORUS:

Let us join in a cohort,

We are ready to die

We are ready to die,

Italy has called.

Let us join in a cohort,

We are ready to die.

We are ready to die,

Italy has called!

Ready to die they may be, but as soon as that emotional moment is over they get on with it and… keep the pipes closed we’re afraid. We’ve tried getting inside information from Genuine Italian People but the consensus was, as soon as the anthem’s over, cheering’s the best you’re going to get.

We’re going to have to try and sort that. In the meantime, we’ll join the Bergamascos for a singsong of this:

Words by Lauren, except where they were ancient and/or anthemic

 

Six Nations Countdown Part 2: Watching the Six Nations the Manpilez Way… February 1, 2011

Filed under: England,France,Ireland,Italy,Random,Scotland,Six Nations,Wales — Manpilez @ 12:35 am
Tags: ,

The Six nations is one of those rare times in rugby when it’s actually better to watch it on the telly, purely so you don’t miss  anything that happens elsewhere. So pull up a sofa cushion and sit back for your guide to enjoying every bit of Six Nations Action.

What is a Saturday afternoon of top flight rugby without refreshments? Of course, you could go with the standard beer and crisps option, but that’s for dilettantes. Team with the theme and add an extra level of spice to proceedings, go on! Below are a snack and beverage from each nation perfect for fuelling your cheering muscles.

Treat this as your shopping list or be parched, hungry and unpatriotic.

Wales:


Welsh Cakes (picau ar maen): This delightful little delicacy is like a spicey, flat and if cooked right, slightly gooey scone. You can buy them from most branches of Marks and Spencer or you can make them yourself quite easily. Our favourite recipe is by Her majesty Cerys Matthews.

Brains. No, we’re not zombies, we just love Cardiff’s favourite brew. There are many types of Brains brew, from the light and refreshing SA Gold to the thick and stouty Brains Dark but for this time of year there must only be one: the  Six Nations special brew, Bread Of Heaven. Avaliable all over Wales and some branches of Morrison’s if you’re at the wrong end of the M4.

England


Victoria Sponge. There’s little more English than a good afternoon tea, and this is the archetypal afternoon tea treat. You could make like a WI member and get competitive with your friends about the lightness, crumb and moistness of your sponge, or you can be lazy and go down the shops, either way, it must be jam, buttercream and a light dusting of icing.

Gin. Mix it with tonic, ginger ale or some traditional lemonade to cleanse your palate before the boys eat their opponents alive. It may seem gentle but it is fierce!

France


Macarons. This is an especially good one for when Les Bleus play against England as you can keep the afternoon theme running with these almondy delicacies. In truth, these are a bugger to make, so you’re best buying them from your local patisserie (Paul and Maison Blanc are particularly good). If you really want to open a can of baking genius, however, Last Year’s Great British Bakeoff Runner Up Ruth Clemens, aka The Pink Whisk has a fantastic guide on how to make the shells which you can fill with whatever takes your fancy. Or if you haven’t got a sweet tooth, baguette, garlic butter, oven, bosh.

Sauvignon Blanc.  I was nearly going to go for a nice red here but Sauvignon Blanc is the king of the grapes at Manpilez HQ.

Scotland


Chips. The scots are renowned for deep frying anything vaguely edible so why not go back to basics, get a nice bag of chips to soak up all the alcohol from the other nations.

Irn Bru. We could have gone with a nice single malt here but to us nothing quite says Scotland than the cloyingly sweet, indescribable and yet infinitely tempting smell of Irn Bru. Other countries have whiskeys, nobody else has the gall to make something ‘from girders’ and claim it drinkable.

Italy


Pizza. Let’s be honest, we’ve all dialled a dominoes on a supersaturday when we can’t bear to move from the action long enough to make anything edible, so let’s make it official. For authenticity go for thin crust with some olives or parma ham.

Prosecco. Whoever wins, you need bubbles and prosecco is, in our opinion, far more of a treat than champagne.  Yum.

Ireland

 

Potato Cakes. Yes, we know, it’s a bit of a cliché choosing a potato based snack for Ireland but they’re just so nice. Toasted with butter they’ll be the perfect comfort food if your team is doing badly in or against the emerald shirts.

Baileys. Because we’re girls, Guinness is manky and frankly, if you’ve followed all of these recommendations, by the time you get to this point you’ll need to dilute it in an Irish coffee before the world starts spinning.

Stay tuned tomorrow when we’ll be limbering up our voices. No, stay, we can carry a tune, honest….!

Words by Lauren

 

Six Nations Countdown Part One: The Teams, Their Chances, and The Key Players January 31, 2011

With just a few days to go before our favourite time of year begins, all the best rugby sites are turning their eyes to picks and predictions for the next 2 months and we… are going to have a go as well.

Our countdown starts today with a look at what actually might happen, and who might cause it, but over the next few days you can expect our guides to what to eat, drink and sing as well as anything else we can think of to help your Six Nations go with a swing no matter what goes on on the grass….

Over the last few years we’ve had something of a glut of Grand Slams, to the point where it was almost getting boring, with the clear favourites each year eventually trying to get the silverware back through customs once the champagne wears off the critic’s job has been an easy one.

This year, however, all bets are off. All Six of our fair Nations are either in a distinct state of flux or could make a Grand Slam winning team out of their injuries list alone so here’s our guide to each nation’s chances…

France

 

picture courtesy of Ladbrokes, Les bleus

Last year's winners, Les bleus

 

2010’s Grand Slam winners France are not, as last year, coming into the competition with the trophy practically in the bag as they did then. The prime example of a team in flux, Les Bleus have had a very odd 12 months with a form so mixed that at times it looked like they were trying to make a marble cake. With a team that changes more often than the trends in the Champs-Élysées, whoever turns up on the day can make all the difference between Grand Slam and Wooden Spoon and to be honest, nobody can really tell what the pants they’re going to do.

Crucial Injuries List: In a squad as fluid as France at the moment… we can’t keep up 😉

Ones to Watch: Chabal, as ever.

One to perv on: Morgan Parra, Scrummy Scrum Half.

England

 

A sweeeeet chariot, yesterday.

 

After last Autumn’s valliant efforts against the Southern Hemisphere tourists, this year the sweet chariot is rolling into the tournament as marginal bookies favourites,  with the fans and players whispering about a New English Resurgence. We can’t help but wonder if these rumblings might be right, but one thing is for sure their injuries list at the moment tells a sorry tale as many of those who shone brightest in the autumn are in rehab while we await the arrival of spring so while it’s likely we’ll see the boys in white go top three,  we’re not-so-secretly think they’re holding off their big hits until they get to New Zealand in September.

Crucial Injuries List: Tom Croft, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Moody

Ones to Watch: Ben Youngs, who has been putting in some spectacular performances, Chris Ashton, in case he pulls another bit of magic out of the bag.

One to perv on: Simon Shaw, because if I say anyone else Anna will hit me.

Wales

 

picture from the ledge that is Huw Evans

Happier times...

 

Oh, Wales, what happened love? Grand Slam glory to abject misery in the space of two years was never the plan. Do you need some hot sweet tea?

Seven Losses in the last ten games and apparent unrest behind the scenes has left the bread of heaven far from risen and even the other six nations are hoping they’re going to get their mojo back soon, as a misfiring Wales is like a disturbance in the Force. That’s not to say, however, that there haven’t been some fantastic moments of genius flowing around, it’s just that somehow it’s not being converted to the points board as clumsyness and a lack of focus seem to hit at all the wrong moments.

It’s been argued in the past that they lack strength in depth but that’s not strictly true, in certain positions there are young guns emerging that may be the key to not only creating some drama, but providing some much needed security that was lacking last year and unfray those edges that needed tidying.

With talismanic winger Shane Williams back just in time to dance past the opposition, green shoots of hope are starting to peek through the snow and with the back five of the pack in particular looking fierce whatever combination takes the field, we’re quietly confident that Wales can raise their game in time to get some pre-world cup momentum going.  We hope.

Crucial Injuries List: Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones with rising question marks over Leigh Halfpenny.  Also missing Richie Rees due to Dylan Hartleygate

Ones to Watch: Bradley Davies, Ryan Jones, two great players in particularly fine form at present.

One to perv on: Alun Wyn Jones, Strong, fierce, lovely.

Ireland

 

The Duck Wrangler's certainly excited...

 

Ireland, like France and Wales are in a bit of a flux phase at the moment. We’d hope that it’s about priming for the World cup but on the evidence so far it’s hard to say. After their grand slam in 2009 they’ve continued to play expansive, clinical rugby but that x factor we saw two years ago seems to come and go with the direction of the wind. With two of their biggest influencing players on the injury list, it’s hard to see Ireland lifting the trophy, but with the right conditions, it’s hard to see them doing anything less.

Crucial Injuries List: Tommy Bowe, Jamie Heaslip

Ones to Watch: Jonny Sexton, who’s rapidly becoming the go-to 10

One to perv on: Brian O’Driscoll, legend, point scorer, fox.

Italy

They are ready to die. Well, Mirco is, Mauro says 'BRB'...

Italy, who seem to come out of the traps fighting every year then spend the rest of the time scrabbling around in the dust to avoid the wooden spoon, are actually one of the more stable squads this year. With few noteable casualties and the increased influence on home growing new talent in the two new Magners League sides, we could well be faced with an Italy very much on the ascendancy.

However, after just five months  those two new sides have yet to mature, so though we may come to see vast improvements this tournament, next year we may all be watching our backs, the Azzurri are coming.

Crucial Injuries List: Mauro Bergamasco, Craig Gower

Ones to Watch: The Big Man Parisse. He’s back, baby.

One to perv on: Mirco Bergamasco, though you may have trouble recognising him fully clothed.

Scotland

 

Pic  courtesy of the Telegraph

Richie Gray and Max Evans warm up

 

Let’s be honest, Scotland have had an abysmal few years in this competition, seemingly battling it out with Italy over the wooden spoon year in year out but this year it all feels a little different. With no noteable injuries, some fantastic results in the autumn internationals and the sheer power of Dan Parks’ boot, the Scotland going into the competition this year are something new, something dark, something exciting. I’m going out on a limb and putting Scotland in the top two come the end. I may be wrong, I may be right but I think it’s going to be very interesting finding out.

Ones to Watch: Richie Gray, if only because he’s so massive you can’t see past him

One to perv on: Max Evans, well he’s lovely isn’t he?

Words by Lauren