The Young Guns

England. Every major tournament, we watch in frustration at the men’s senior team’s inability to succeed. We fly through qualification – usually – against small teams from Eastern Europe who have only been countries for a few decades then when we’re met with quality opposition, we’re stuck. When the summer rolls by and England head off to the World Cup in Russia, will it be a repeat of previous competitions where the spectators throw away 90 minutes of their lives watching the dullest football possible? Possibly. But we’ll get to that in a few months time.

2017 has been a success for English football. The men’s senior team did qualify for the World Cup, and although it is generally expected, it’s still an achievement. The U20s team won their respective world cup with a 1-0 win over Venezuela then the U17s won their world cup in India with a stunning 5-2 win over Spain.

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A new golden generation. That’s a lot of pressure to be piled on so early in advance, don’t you think, Gary? England are notorious for failing to live up to expectations. The senior team have only won one major trophy and that was fifty years ago!

There are many reasons why the senior team fails to perform; lack of cohesion is a key factor and the effect of strong cohesion can be seen within the German teams from 2010 and 2014, as well as the Spanish World Cup winning team in 2010. Many of these players had played together every week in their clubs; Barcelona and Real Madrid made the core of the Spanish side, Bayern Munich and Dortmund formed the bulk of the German squad. We can argue that in England there’s a few from Liverpool, few from Manchester United, a couple from Leicester, but it’s not enough. They’re footballers – surely they can play no matter who they’re on a team with.

Before they get to that point, these young players need to mature. What is important now is that these “golden” youth teams are provided with a chance to grow – to make mistakes – and develop. They need time to move up through the youth ranks and have the opportunity to represent their senior side. Too often, young players are not given the space to learn in a senior side for fear of losing league points – and in the Premier League, every point matters (unless you’re Manchester City who are running away with the league this season).

Many will argue that bringing in foreign players, removes the opportunity for home grown talent – and whilst I don’t completely agree with that statement, I believe club managers do need to let talented young players into the senior squad, even if it is at the risk of them making a mistake. If we do not make mistakes, we do not learn.

If nobody took a chance on the class of ’92, we wouldn’t have Beckham, the Nevilles, Butt, Scholes, and Giggs.

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A Rugby Primer

Rugby is played worldwide but perhaps doesn’t garner the same level of coverage as other sports. It’s from my hometown so I feel responsible to spread the word about the one sport England always dominates…

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Rugby School and the pitch the game was invented on 

A quick primer about rugby

Legend has it that William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran during a game of football at Rugby School. Rules were established at Rugby School, Cambridge, and Eton (hence the idea that it is a gentleman’s game). rugbyA few variations of rugby now exist, including union, league, touch, and sevens. When rugby is spoken of, it is usually in reference to rugby union – the most popular form. Rugby union is a contact team sport played between two teams of 15 players, divided into eight forwards and seven backs. The pitch is 144m x 70m and goal posts are 5.6m apart with a crossbar 3m above ground. The game lasts 80 minutes, split into two halves.

Scoring
A try: grounding the ball in the in-goal area and is worth five points then a conversion kick can give an additional two points.
A drop goal: kicking the ball through the H shaped goal post wins three points.
– A penalty kick gives three points too.

Rules
Rugby is unique in that forward passing is not allowed. The ball must only be passed laterally or behind therefore to move the ball forwards, it can be kicked, ran, or moved within a scrum or maul. Tackles are used to gain possession: tacklers cannot tackle above the shoulder and must attempt to wrap their arms around the player to complete the tackle. It’s illegal to push, trip, or shoulder charge.

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England during a line out

There are two specific set pieces. A line out occurs when the ball leaves the side of the field and a ‘throw in’ is awarded against the team that last touched the ball. Fowards line up a metre apart slightly away from the touch line and players can be lifted by team mates to catch the ball. A scrum restarts the game after an infringement such as passing forward or offside. If a team is granted a penalty, they can choose to take a scrum. The eight forwards of each team line up into a 3-4-1 formation and the ball is rolled between them; the hooker will try to hook the ball backwards with their feet whilst the pack tries to push the other team backwards to gain possession.

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The Scrum

It can be a rough and bloody game, and some players choose to wear headguards to avoid cauliflower ears, and the majority wear mouth guards – but that’s basically it in terms of protective equipment. Most players at a national level are built like tanks.

 

 

THE SIX NATIONS

The competition began in 1883 – and was once known as the home nations. Originally, it featured England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. France joined in 1910 making it the five nations, however, during 1931-1939, France did not compete. Italy wanted in on the fun in 2000 and thus the six nations was born. The competition is held every year for five weeks in February/March. England is the current title holder and are currently top of the table with two games left to play. england-celebrate-six-nations-trophy_3435642.jpg

Not only can one country win the six nations, but they can also complete a grandslam victory where they beat the other five teams. A grandslam is also known as caithréim mhór, y gamp lawn, or le grand chelem in Irish, Welsh, and French, respectively. This has actually happened thirty seven times – thirteen of those by England, eleven by Wales.

They love trophies…

  • The Triple Crown – awarded to one of the home nations if they beat the other three. England achieved this feat in 2016 and have completed it 25 times.
  • The Calcutta Cup – awarded to victor of England vs Scotland
  • The Millennium Trophy – awarded to victor of England vs Ireland
  • The Centenary Quaich – awarded to victor of Ireland vs Scotland
  • The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy – awarded to victor of Italy vs France
  • The Wooden Spoon – also known as my favourite – is awarded to the loser of the six nations (savage) and if a team loses every single match then it’s a white wash. Italy have won it eleven times since 2000. That’s the one ‘trophy’ that England and Ireland have not won.

RUGBY WORLD CUP

There is also a rugby world cup held every four years (next one coming in 2019 hosted by Japan) and the current holders are New Zealand. The trophy is named after the founder, Webb Ellis. This competition only actually began in 1987 – and the inaugural world cup was also won by New Zealand. The All Blacks have a third world cup win, giving them the honour of the most titles. Before their games, they also perform a haka, which is fantastic to watch (the one linked is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen!). South Africa and Australia have won twice, and England once with the sweetest drop goal from our hero, Jonny Wilkinson, in extra time to win the game. (One of the English world cup winners is also the grandson in law of Queen Elizabeth, neato).

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This haka performed at Jonah Lomu’s funeral is spine tingling too. Jonah was the youngest ever All Black and a true superstar player, but died aged 40 of a heart attack relating to a serious kidney disorder that had ended his career and resulted in a kidney transplant.