Both feet in the rugby camp

Like the third round of the FA Cup and the Ashes test series, the Six Nation’s Rugby is one of those marquee sporting events that I have to mark on the sporting calendar.

But only because I want to avoid it.

I have a curious aversion to the game – and that is not fair on the game itself. As a sport, rugby can be intense, exciting and dramatic. It’s the fans I don’t like.

Perhaps that is harsh because the majority of fans are great – especially the Irish, the Welsh and Scots . It’s just the England supporters that boil my blood.

But it’s not all of them. Like the England football fans, where a minority are unbearable, there is a small group of national rugby fans who are so cringeworthy that I can only look at them through the cracks of my fingers.

And what it boils down to is whether you are in the rugby or the ‘ruggers’ camp. I know where I stand.

It’s the Toff Tofington crowd that I can’t abide, the fans who proudly sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot without knowing its roots in slavery and cling to the Calcutta Cup oblivious to its nod to the dark days of imperlaism.

Every rugby fan knows at least one supporter who fits the indetikit.

They are the fans who go to the pub in their replica shirts with upturned collars and loafers and loathe football for its “common” roots.

They pedal the myth that rugby is for thugs but played by gentleman, despite the spear tackling, the eye gouging and the arse poking in the scrum.

They treat rugby like a mark of class. A badge of exclusivity that separates the middle class wheat from the working class chaff.

At least you can watch football down the local, away from the hooray Henrys and Henriettas who are trying to seize the game for themselves.

I will be watching the weekend games but purely from the safety of my own home.

Then I’ll hold my breath before I have to go through it all again next year.


Selfish Beckham not a loss to World Cup squad

Sadly – almost solely on a personal note – David Beckham’s achilles tendon has ruled him out of the World Cup squad.

But while it would be wrong to welcome an injury to a player, even if grossly overrated, Beckham’s injury is likely to solve more problems than it creates.

With Beckham no longer available for selection the door has been opened for a number of other more talented but less media-hungry players such as Joe Cole, James Milner and Theo Walcott to stake a meaningful claim for a place in the England midfield.

It may sound harsh but hopefully, the injury will end the career of an England international who once an inspirational performer and captain (the memories of the Greece game at Old Trafford will continue to linger) but has now become an unwelcome sideshow.

Like Beckham off the field, Beckham on the field has become an increasingly about the brand and not about the team both for club and country.

His quest to become England’s most capped player, by playing five minutes of meaningless friendlies, has made a mockery of the honour of representing one’s country and is unquestionably about feeding his ego.

Even while playing for AC Milan, Beckham, in spite of his side’s horrendous loss against Manchester United in the Champions League still managed to make the back pages by draping himself in an anti-Glazer scarf.

Like a boxer who doesn’t know when to retire Beckham has simply kept on going, not for the good of the team but for personal glory and a will to be seen on the world’s biggest stage.

But finally – and thankfully – it looks as if his mind has been made up for him.

Terry, tough tackling and the two finger salute

Terry’s armband gestures aimed at Fabio?

It is hard to convey the precise meaning of Terry’s celebrations during Sunday’s FA Cup clash with Stoke but they could be interpreted as message to England manager Fabio Capello.

Following his goal, the deposed England captain rolled up his sleeve and furiously pointed to the captain’s armband on his bare forearm. He then sat in the post-match conference shirtless, still sporting the same armband.

In typical 5Live fashion DJ Spoony and Gab Marcotti lambasted a 606 caller who suggested that Terry‘s mysterious actions could be interpreted as dissent of Capello’s decision to strip him of the captaincy.

Funnily enough the same Marcotti, was strangely silent when the same point was raised by his Times colleague Allyson Rudd on The Game podcast yesterday.

Terry has clearly been affected by the Wayne Bridge incident, his form has dipped noticeably in the past few matches and his recent behaviour has only raised further questions.

Terry said that the celebration was for the fans but the fact that his Chelsea captaincy has never been in question makes his actions all the more baffling.

The only thing this latest incident proves is that Capello was right.

Ryan Shawcross: That sort of player?

Aaron Ramsey’s horrific leg break against Stoke earlier this month has led to another round of stinging criticism for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Following the game, Wenger accused teams of singling his side out for rough treatment, citing previous injuries to Eduardo and Abou Diaby as examples.

Ryan Shawcross who is “not that sort of player” was then roundly comforted by pundits, bloggers and journalists alike as if he were the victim of the tackle.

However, the issue is wider than the Shawcross, Wenger, Stoke and Arsenal but more of a problem of excess aggression which strikes at the roots of the English game.

The overly-muscular, hard tackling approach has been endemic in English football for many years, with the mantra of many old school managers to “go in hard” demanding “reducer” tackles as standard.

Maybe this is why we get more career threatening tackles in the Premier League than any other top European league. In Italy the well-timed sliding tackle is an art form that often results in a ball-winning challenge without even touching the opponent.

Ramsay will recover in time but whether the English game will learn its lesson is a different matter.

Gerrard and the two-finger salute

Is it just me or has Steven Gerrard’s body language been different this season?

The often mentioned summer sale of Xabi Alonso has meant that Gerrard has been forced to play deeper than the support striker role which brought Liverpool success last season.

However, it seems that this id not Gerrard’s only problem. I had the pleasure to watch him first hand at the Emirates during Liverpool’s 1-0 reverse against Arsenal and he looked dejected for large chunks of the game.

In seasons gone by Gerrard has pulled his team out of the mire by the bootstraps but on the evidence of this season he doesn’t have the will to do it. And his two-finger salute to the referee last night summed up his ultimate frustration.

If Liverpool fail to make the Champions League this season they might have to do the unthinkable and cut their losses on the star.