From all of the players at Caldy we wish Tony Atherton a restful retirement and pass him our thanks for his service at the club. I am sure Cald'y's rise through the leagues and his appointment as Director of Rugby was no coincidence. He will be missed as we turn our attention back to the future.
And on that note, with a hiccup against Preston away, behind us and with the more recent victory against Huddersfield at home fresh in our memories, we prepare for the long trip down to Leicester Lions. I am still yet to grace the field of play since breaking a bone in my hand and dislocating my thumb thanks to another postponement on the weekend. This year's somewhat unusual weather has seen games being put off all over the country and much more regularly than I have ever seen before. Be it an omen to us all for the condition of the planet or simply a freakish year where the weather has turned on our game we all hope that it departs soon so that the leagues can be completed before the summer months take full hold.
Fingers crossed I will get to play this weekend for one of our teams.
The 6 nations started with the first round of games this weekend and even though England picked up their first win against Italy, the performance was less than convincing. Once again it is not the personnel that are called into question but the lack of direction in their play. Perhaps this comes from the leaders on the pitch or form the touchline but once we were multiple tries ahead of the Italians, rather than attempt to finish off the game we sat back and aimlessly kicked away possession allowing them the chance to run back at us again and again. Tactics that will see us undone against the more dangerous French. The obvious and overwhelming strength of the Irish and Welsh will be another kettle of fish, can our more traditional forwards compete with better hands and a less structured game? Time will tell.
I will leave you with Sir Winston Churchill's view of tradition which perhaps somebody should relay to Johnno," A love of tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril; but the new view must come, the world must roll forward."
Global warming kicks in and the pitches have been frozen for weeks, several games have been postponed and I couldn't be happier. Four weeks ago we endured the disastrous Macclesfield game that we lost after our starting back row were injured. Jake Lyon our 6 was crushed at the bottom of a ruck whilst bridging and his knee gave way to the pressure tearing his medial ligaments, a lengthy break for rehabilitation was required. John Sewell our number 7 was second to leave the field of play with a broken forearm after a clash with an elbow during a tackle which required an operation to put in a plate to keep it together and 8-10 weeks was the predicted break from the game. I went on to survive until 70 minutes before dislocating my thumb and breaking a bone in my hand. I have since had an operation to pin my thumb in place and a pin to hold the broken bone. The pins came out on Tuesday and I am now working to be fit to play.
So far I have missed only one league game thanks to the unusual weather but have had the chance to watch my younger brother play for the first team in several 1st XV games. He more than impressed stepping up for the first time and I am sure he has a bright future ahead...however, he thought I would be lonely on my return trips to the hospital for check up so thought he would join me by almost breaking his leg whilst playing against Kendal just before Christmas. An ambulance was needed as the visiting doctor also thought he had broken it, but what was thought to be a break turned out to be severe ligament damage and he is on his way through rehab with the rest of us.
A dark winter was made worse by injury but the games going un-missed thanks to the weather makes me smile a little and confirms Christmas as my favourite time of year. Another year has rolled around and Caldy are in a solid position having lost top spot to Nuneaton due to the games missed, I for one hope that we don't just return to the top spot but fulfil some of the potential we have shown glimmers of over the last year. We have beaten teams playing poorly, we have lost to teams playing awfully, we have stepped up when it has been a big game but we run the risk of being caught out in games that must be won but are not billed as 'league winners'. If our potential is realised and we hit our top form, nobody will stop us, if we do not then we will be just another team playing in National 3.
Eric Burns once wrote, "Greatness is more than potential. It is the execution of that potential. Beyond the raw talent. You need the appropriate training. You need the discipline. You need the inspiration. You need the drive."
Depending on how high up the bank you were stood watching the game on Saturday would dictate how much of the game you could see. The thick fog that hung over Paton Field was there at kick off and remained until the referee decided to call the game off 6 minutes before the result would have stood.
The players let their frustrations be known to each other, the Harrogate RUFC captain and team, to their credit, all wanted to play on and finish the game even though we were ahead and the result would have stood if the game had been called after the 60 minute mark.
It is not just the relatively unchanged conditions that makes the referees decision suspicious, but also the proximity to the 60-minute cut-off point that would allow the result to stand. Yes, the referee was within his rights to have called the game if it had become unsafe but should the game have been started as the conditions had remained the same? My personal opinion is that the players wished to continue, regardless of what the touch judges had claimed, both touch lines were visible on the pitch, the captains both wanted to finish the game, so why not continue? At least 6 more minutes could have been played until the result could have stood and the expense incurred by both clubs for staging the league game would have been worthwhile.
The game will now have to be replayed and Harrogate will have to make the trip down to us again. Will that result be decided only by the players on the pitch? We will see.
This incident should not detract form the dominant display by Caldy beating, second in the league, Harrogate, convincingly given conditions and time played. The back row was dominant, the half backs were superior and the pack bossed the scrum. Caldy will not fear the re-match and if anything will have gained confidence from this almost victory.
Next up is Macclesfield this Saturday, another very big game away from home. We only won the home fixture to Mac last year, but we played poorly at their place and with a weakened team. The story at our place was very different, they found no holes in our defence, we knocked them back time and time again until they ran out of ideas. Well this year we still have the best defence in the league, long may it continue!
The autumn is here and into November we go, the international squad selections have now overtaken the hype about the ELVs (Experimental Law Variations). Johnno has taken the reigns of England and it hasn't been since the Woodward era that I have really felt any anticipation or excitement towards the possibilities of an England team.
15. Delon Armitage* (London Irish)
14. Paul Sackey (London Wasps)
13. Jamie Noon (Newcastle Falcons)
12. Riki Flutey* (London Wasps)
11. Ugo Monye* (Harlequins)
10. Danny Cipriani (London Wasps)
9. Danny Care (Harlequins)
1. Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks)
2. Lee Mears (Bath Rugby)
3. Matt Stevens (Bath Rugby)
4. Steve Borthwick (Saracens, captain)
5. Nick Kennedy* (London Irish)
6. Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers)
7. Tom Rees (London Wasps)
8. Nick Easter (Harlequins)
16. Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)
17. Phil Vickery (London Wasps)
18. Tom Palmer (London Wasps)
19. James Haskell (London Wasps)
20. Michael Lipman (Bath Rugby)
21. Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers)
22. Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers)
Four new caps in the first international under Johnson's full control and everyone is hoping they will bring with them the new brand of rugby that England have been craving since we won the world cup.
The pack oozes experience and heavy guns in the front five and 8 and in Rees and Croft there are two very quick wing forwards. On paper, the backs dare you to think of the possibilities with Cipriani at ten, the pace of Sackey and Monye out wide. Flutey and Noon will provide strength and creativity outside Cipriani but both have the speed and power to beat their men.
Armitage at fullback is perfectly capable and has shown glimmers of what he is capable of but wouldn't have been my first choice at fifteen. Morgan and Abendanon of Gloucester and Bath respectively have both shown more in attack and Morgan would be the safer choice under the high ball. But, we shall see how he steps up on the day.
Put simply, Johnno says, "It's not a risk, they are good players and they can play." What kind of game they will be playing he is keeping close to his chest.
My hope is that this is another step towards a new English brand of rugby. It has felt since we won the world cup that England have been somewhat left behind in the evolution of the game since it turned professional. Our domestic competitions are second to none, but when it comes to the internationals that can define the direction the clubs will take, when we have faced big packs capable of dealing with us we have become stuck for ideas, when our structured game breaks down our backs have looked lost.
Hopefully with a new and inspirational coach and with the selection of new and exciting players we can forge not only a winning team but also a new kind of rugby.
Matt Holt, our head coach at Caldy, has often said how much potential he has seen in the squad, but has insisted that we have not performed yet this season. A view shared by many of the players. Saturday afternoon showed the players respond to criticism from a broad range of sources, including themselves. Game plans were executed near perfectly by our half backs in the first half of the game and the physicality brought by all players shut all doors for the opposition. The 2nd half brought the wind to our faces and changed the way we had to play, some points were scored against us, but again our defence held out and with the addition of a well constructed running try there were a lot of smiles at full time!
The team of coaches at Caldy have been drilling moves, patterns of play and techniques into our heads, week in week out, and we have only been implementing them half-heartedly and individually. Glimpses of our potential were let loose on Saturday by a well-motivated team using these tools in the correct circumstances and as one unit.
Motivation has always been a sticking point in the world of sport. Surely a semi-professional/professional should always be motivated, but then why do performances have their peaks and troughs? I am sure sport psychologists have spent many hours working on this dilemma. In a game where the dog work is as, if not more important, than being on the receiving end of a scoring pass, a whole range of factors can affect the team. Each player could be playing with all the effort they can muster, but should they not be doing the right things at the right time then their individual effort can go wanting. The big man himself once said, "It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required." Sir Winston Churchill.
Our surplus of back rows and apparent deficit of 2nd rows allowed me the opportunity to step up into the engine room this weekend. I was happy to be included in the squad and happier to be starting but I find that playing 2nd row cuts down on the freedoms you have playing at 8 in both defence and attack, but as Charles Darwin was first to point out, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."
We travelled down to Earlsdon near Coventry for the 1st round of the EDF National Trophy. Earlsdon are from 3 levels below Caldy but certainly turned up to make a win as challenging as possible. The first half was riddled with our own mistakes and good defence and turnovers from the home side but with superior fitness strength and enterprise we eventually built to a strong finish and came away with a convincing win.
In most rugby clubs, league games always take priority over cup games as survival or promotion is the premier concern. When teams have several wins under their belts and perhaps the final is in sight they may be taken more seriously and more effort and finances are put in. But I think there will always be a place in rugby for competitions like the EDF trophy. This weekend passed allowed a David and Goliath situation to occur, and whilst the larger more professional opponent won the game, I find myself feeling that Earlsdon more than convincingly won the moral battle of the day.
I think a lot of Caldy players could look back to Saturday and should they ask themselves who wanted to win the game more, the truthful answer would be the opposition.
In a game where the winter months can throw panache and skill clean out of the window, and in the knowledge that whilst we sit at the top of the league table, everyone we play will think of themselves as underdogs, perhaps it is time to wake up and realise that we are not invincible and that in some games the team with the greatest desire to win will do just that.
The view from the back row is not always a pretty one, but playing for Caldy RUFC has always made it an exciting one. I have been at Caldy since I turned up a fresh faced 16 year old looking for somewhere to play, knowing very little about the game of rugby let alone what position I should be playing.
I was very warmly welcomed by Ken " The Gnome" Smith who was then in charge of the junior colts and immediately introduced me to three of what became my closest friends. That was 7 years ago and now every boxing day we, plus several others we picked up along the way , we still collect at the same house and think up several different ways to consume the most festive drinks possible.
I learned my trade at Caldy playing number 8 for the colts and then being recommended by Ken to the Director of Rugby Tony Atherton when there was an injury to a 1st team back rower. I was in and out of the team to start with as the younger, much lighter and less experienced option, but eventually I made it my own and I still play there 6 years later, a bit older and more experienced and a lot heavier!
I am still only a relatively in-experienced 23 and as Oscar Wilde once wrote,"I am not young enough to know everything." anymore. I have plenty left to learn in the game, but I have played behind many packs at Caldy and in front of many backs. None have been more exciting than those I am playing with this year.
We are 6 games into the season this year and are sat on top of the National 3 North league table.
Caldy, as many teams do in a newly reached semi-professional environment, have fought (so far successfully) to keep a balance in the senior squad of home-grown talent from our mini and junior sections and the inevitable influence of outside players. All of whom have been as warmly welcomed as I was many years ago.
We have started the season strongly, and our performances appear to be building week after week. The start for me personally could not have been a more frustrating one. A pre-season game and victory at Blaydon saw me tear my hamstring as a dove to tackle a winger that put me out for a month. I am sure as any injured or banned player will tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than having to watch your team play, especially loose without you being able to help. The move from security and excitement when playing with your teammates one week to the frustration and almost isolation you feel sat on the touchline having to watch them compete without you the next is almost surreal.
On a lighter note, myself and my little brother will be in the same 1st XV squad for the first time tomorrow evening for a floodlit cup game at New Brighton RUFC against Birkenhead Park. He is 5 years my junior also plays 8 and is larger than I was at his age, some, and only some might also say he has a step of pace on me also....but not many!! I look forward to sharing some game time with him as I take over the leadership of the team temporarily from our Captain Shaun Woof.
If you want to read the match reports, the most recent was beating Huddersfield away 37-9, and follow how Caldy are doing you can do so by going to the following: www caldyrugby.co.uk
My girlfriend who is relatively new to the game often asks me questions about the laws and terms of the game, but when asked what is a forward? I struggle to come up with a more eloquent answer than as described by Peter Fitzsimmons, "Forwards are the gnarled and scarred creatures who have a propensity for running into and bleeding all over each other."