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Up Close & Personal




















Rochey's Rant

By Tony Roche

MEMORIES of the 2009 Lions tour of South Africa are dominated by two subjects, acquiring the wholly inconvenient ailment known as pulmonary embolisms towards the end of the campaign, and enduring the unspeakably bovine dirge blown out the top end of the locals armed with vuvuzelas.
The embolisms - blood clots on the lung - were caused by taking a total of 11 separate flights in about six weeks, repeatedly switching from sea level to altitude.

Vuvuzela BlowerThe endless vuvuzela migraine, new to all of us, was caused by people who appear to have the collective IQ of a trouser press.
I note with some sympathy for football in general that these tedious trumpets appear to have trebled for the current World Cup. Given that they drove the rugby players and followers round the proverbial last summer, the massive increase in South Africa right now will end in tears.
There's only so much of this din you can tolerate before all veneers of civilised behaviour are stripped away.
"Where may I purchase a match prog..." PAAAAAAARP.
"Does this establishment have toile....." PAAAAAAARP.
"Madam you possess a magnificent personality, may I buy you a.... " PAAAAAARP.
"Officer, may I borrow your pump-action rifl......" PAAAAAARP.

It's never-ending, as if a community of zombies have climbed from their coffins en masse to stand around a pitch and make bloody noise in one numbing key hour after hour. The din can be heard during the night, hours after the final whistle.
I trust something will be done about this because the nation is a fabulous one for major sports events, but even those enjoying proceedings on televisions have begun turning down the sound, so irritating is the endless drone that eventually reaches your oldest dental fillings.
I look forward to raising a glass to the hero who snaps first, followed by an even more arresting noise as a local requires a proctologist to recover his vuvuzela.

Otherwise, may I suggest raising a glass or 10 anyway. It won't stop the morons blowing, but if the wine is red enough and good enough, the noise will eventually resemble the dawn chorus.

* * * * * *

My local hospital were a lot more effective getting shot of the pesky blood clots.
If you've never been put on Warfarin (rat poison) for six months, don't volunteer. There's also the fun of self-injecting a serious blood-thinner called Clexane into your stomach and sides.
Needless to say I began by making their lives a misery. "What do you mean alcohol is forbidden ? ... This isn't food, it's commonly used for wallpapering... When I stipulate no visitors, that includes all relatives..."
Wine & grapes for the patient!And being surrounded by ill people is so off-putting. I was just getting to the interesting part of great scrums I have witnessed when the old codger I was addressing in the bed opposite had a sheet drawn over his head and was wheeled away. Bloody rude if you ask me.
No alcohol! Longest few hours of my life! A persistent relative insisted on visiting, so permission was granted as long as two bottles of decent red came too. Don't bring me grapes unless you've given them a good treading first.
Hiding the bottles was a challenge, but even more tricky was getting rid of the empties later, what with all the blasted CCTV cameras leering down from every wall. In the end, wrapped carefully in towels, they found their way into the large bins designated for all manner of glass recycling.
All this fun took one's mind off one's health. When you ask for a second opinion, you don't want a bloke in a black cowl and a scythe appearing at the foot of your bed.
And it takes no time at all to become very grateful to, and impressed by, the nurses and doctors whose work-load defies description, often working all hours to preserve the lives of obnoxious, intolerant twats like me.
Sink me, they're so busy they don't have time to blow a vuvuzela.

* * * * * *

When England lost 16-3 to Wales in the 1987 World Cup quarter-final in Brisbane, a candidate for the worst game of Test rugby ever reported upon, the message from the beaten camp was that lessons had been learned.
Geoff Cooke, Tom McNab & Roger UttleyThey had. Canny Cumbrian Geoff Cooke was appointed England manager, athletics fitness expert Tom McNab brought on board to change the shape of the players, former England skipper Roger Uttley arrived to sort out the forwards, young Will Carling appointed long-term captain.
It all smacked of organisation, belief and improvement. An era unfolded upon which subsequent greatness was built.
Then - like a world struggling to carry on after a nuclear war - England's international regime staggered from one crisis to another from the original height of becoming 2003 world champions.
We've had poor appointments, badly-handled sackings, crap selections and shocking results.
Martin JohnsonIt all came to a head in Perth on Saturday when an England team very few supporters would have selected revealed they could scrummage very well against a Wallaby side minus NINE regulars and still stumble to yet another defeat - their 11th consecutive stuffing in the southern hemisphere since that World Cup final triumph.
Manager Martin Johnson, whose record now stands at 14 defeats from 22 Tests, admitted he'd never been angrier with his players. That means he took a flame-thrower into the changing room, but fortunately for his squad, severed the cable when he slammed the door on it.
Nick EasterFar, far better were the words of candid reason from Nick Easter, Harlequin FC No.8, all-round bright bloke, a man unwilling to tow the party line.
Easter said:"We've reached breaking point. I am sick and tired of being on the wrong end of results. We keep talking about learning lessons, but you don't want to keep learning forever.
"We have got to start executing properly and winning. We practise and practise, but we have got to deliver on the pitch."
The World Cup in New Zealand (still reckon that's a stitch-up and a bloody disgrace, holding an ever-expanding tournament in a country that required the use of second-hand ships to house supporters on a Lions tour, let alone accommodate the followers of a whole tournament) is a year down the line.
What's really scary is that, based on recent evidence, if asked to qualify for it, England would really struggle.




rocheyWATCHED Danny Cipriani excel for Wasps against Gloucester in an Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final. Ball in hand, the young fly-half was outstanding, his vision, pace and creativity helping his club score five tries in a rousing 42-26 win.
In addition, Cipriani kicked 17 points. If his defence leaves something to be desired, it's also something that can be improved. The natural talent he was born with, and no amount of coaching, brain-washing or structure-waffle can arm a player with what this kid was given by God from day one.
So why the hell is this gifted 22 year-old leaving English rugby this summer for two years corked-hattery in Melbourne ?
Why is the England team losing a rarity these oh so structured days, a free spirit with wicked pace and the capacity to spread joy through his sheer delight in playing?
Danny CiprianiCipriani was asked these questions recently, and a summation of his response involved a brick wall connecting with his head. He is utterly frustrated trying and failing to change perceptions of him born of rumour and envy.
When he told England manager Martin Johnson of his plans to spend two years with a new Super something-or-other franchise called Melbourne Rebels, the opportunity was perfect for Johnson to reply:"We'd rather you stayed here, matured as a footballer and fulfilled your destiny as an England star."
Instead, Cipriani was wished good luck and advised he was probably making a good move. Oh, and by the way, you won't be eligible for England selection.

Rugby union in Melbourne is about as popular as snow-boarding in Egypt. In Melbourne, they play Aussie' Rules, a mishmash of rugby without laws and Gaelic football without nets. When he gets there he'll be a young 'Pom', well worth kicking, particulary when his Rebels find themselves struggling in New Zealand and South Africa.
Danny Cipriani, Tom Varndell & Alexandra BurkeCipriani feels he has acquired an image that simply isn't him. He feels nothing he tries makes any difference. He's handsome and partnered by one stunning girlfriend. Now and again they go to the cinema. The swines. He has opinions, how dare he, and sometimes he considers advice being barked his way in training as crap.
Here's a lad who spends his own money getting extra spring training from the hugely rated  specialist Margot Wells, a player who has suffered two separate and serious leg fractures, but who had the cheek to lose his rag during training at an England training camp in Portugal.
That was before the 2009 Six Nations, and he hasn't worn his nation's jersey since. Seven caps and out.
It's beyond belief that such a talent hasn't been handcuffed to Twickenham's gates until he enjoys a change of heart. Just hope he reminds England of what they are missing when he plays AGAINST them for the Barbarians at Twickenham on May 30, before departing English rugby for two years while using the requisite number of fingers to remind everyone of his proposed length of absence.

* * * * *

THE night France impersonated England to beat England impersonating France silenced, once and for all, the critics of head coach Marc Lievremont.
Marc LievremontHaving been given a mandate to clear house, to rebuild the French national squad following the disappointment of losing to the English in the 2007 France-based World Cup, Lievremont went about his task with a gleeful and merciless swinging arm, at the end of which was clutched a machette.
He 'blooded' some 70 players, ended a stack of moribund careers and backed his judgement on some young starlets when the clamour for his head became deafening.
To complete the transformation, he sent France out with an English gameplan - kick, contain, defend - and beat an unusually attractive England 12-10. For France there could be no sweeter Grand Slam.

* * * * *

Munster vs NorthamptonAS Northampton took on former Heineken Cup winners Munster in Limerick last week, it was very interesting to compare the mood within French club rugby this time last year given it was almost identical to the mood surrounding their national team - sullen, resentful and very dark.
Back then, Toulouse were the only French club to make the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, and their 9-6 defeat in Cardiff meant the massive pride of the French game was in receipt of a massive dent - sans involvement in the business-end of the tournament.
But this season it's England facing shame, with Northampton the only Guinness Premiership club to make the quarters and sunk at Thomond Park. There are no Guinness Premiership teams in the semi-finals, the worst return in any season during which English clubs participated.
Given the immense atmosphere generated at Thomond Park, and Munster's astonishing Heineken Cup record on their home patch, Northampton faced an enormous challenge. In the end, with Ronan O'Gara in masterclass form, Munster proved too tough.
This year French clubs have been superior when it mattered, and the draw means there could be an all-French final at Stade de France on May 22.
Toulouse vs Stade FrancaisAlso interesting is the fact that France had not had so many clubs in the quarter-finals since Toulouse, Perpignan, Stade Français and Colomiers in 1999.
Frankly, the English clubs have no excuses. Because while Welsh, Irish and Scottish sides qualify for the Heineken Cup by doing little more than getting out of bed, the French and English clubs have to slog their guts out in their fierce and unforgiving respective leagues to earn the right to compete.
Which means the French competition has overtaken its English counterpart 12 months down the line.
We had seven clubs under starter's orders, but only Saints are still in the race with two fences to go. Why ?
Northampton were only in the running because they tottered from the stalls as one of the two best pool runners-up.
Heinken Cup Pool 3Leicester were in a tough group with Ospreys and Clermont Auvergne. But they were held 32-32 at home by the Welsh outfit, lost to them in Swansea, failed to manage even a losing bonus point away to Clermont, then gifted them one at Welford Road right at the death by conceding a stupid penalty when leading 20-12.
Gloucester began life in Pool Two reasonably soundly by beating Newport 19-17, but later collapsed 42-15 in Biarritz and 33-11 in Glasgow. A decent finish meant they stepped down into the Amlin Cup (formerly European Challenge Cup) in which they meet Wasps in a quarter-final at Adams Park on Sunday.
Sale had their collars felt by Toulouse 36-17 in France first-up, and the French side also beat them in the final Pool Five game at Edgeley Park. Add a hefty beating in Cardiff, and Sale's triumphs over Harlequins proved irrelevant.

Heinken Cup Pool 6London Irish made a wonderful start, beating holders Leinster 12-9 in Dublin on October 9. So imagine their sense of frustration when they let things slip badly at The Madejski in the second round, losing 25-27 to Llanelli.
Irish were even more impressive in their second away game of Pool Six, stuffing Brive 36-3, and virtually repeating the medicine at home in round four. But Llanelli returned to wreck their dreams, winning 31-22 down in West Wales, and Leinster drew 11-11 in Reading.
Bath and Harlequins won't want any reminding of their Heineken Cup campaigns, achieving just one win between from 12 ties.
Both clubs endured wretched summers of discontent in the shape of drugs problems and fake blood capsules, suspensions, sackings and wholesale gnashing of gumshields.
Quins lost every game, a woeful performance by any standards. Bath beat Edinburgh and put up a tremendous battle before losing narrowly 27-29 to Stade Français.

Perhaps the Guinness Premiership is not as powerful an institution as it believes itself to be. Or maybe the sheer volume of games is impacting on the English game.

Heineken Cup

Whatever the core truth, the stats' from the past decade of Heineken Cup campaigns suggests this season is not one of which our clubs can be proud.




HAIL the RBS Six Nations, which grabs us by the throat the first weekend of February and won't let go until March 21, the date following the final round of internationals when we all retire to our favourite watering-hole and dissect the Championship.

Will it be Brian O'Driscoll's Grand Slam winning men in green again, or can Wales make it three titles in six years?

Who will win the annual wooden spoon tournament, between Scotland and Italy? And can England finally stop poncing around and actually deliver the title the nation's vast rugby resources demands?

This could actually develop into a belting tournament, games so tight as to be separated by a Rizla fag-paper between the cheeks of very highly-talented butts. Protests from the anti-smoking lobby have two choices, light-up or grow-up. Hate the things myself, but allow people the right to inhale themselves to oblivion.

Which is where England are heading if this Six Nations campaign does not finally reveal signs that Martin Johnson's boys are moulding into something resembling a challenging force for the 2011 World Cup.

The most important aspect of the 2010 Six Nations is not so much the outcome as the style of rugby played to deliver that outcome. Are we doomed to a marathon of fear-ridden ball-booting and defence-dominated dreary dross, or a series where the nations of Europe cut loose and strut their stuff?

At the moment, the evidence is not encouraging. The autumn Test series was dominated by problems at the breakdown, with defences handed destructive powers of advantage that deter instinctive attacking flair.

Players and coaches both express honest fears that confusion among referees at the breakdown, and the licence given to defenders at the bottom of rucks, make any form of sustained attack dangerous — for the attacking side.

Hello everybody! How the hell can this nonsensensical 'logic' benefit our game? Is there any wonder that we have an increase in tactical kicking, most of it bovine booting ball as far away from creativity as possible.

Football can bore you to death by passing the ball sideways and backwards.

Cricket jangles the nerves when batsmen elect to put up the shutters and bowlers think banging down bouncers that sail above their enemy's head are actually intimidating.

Tennis gets on your tits when pix of Andy Murray show his quite absurd, and increasingly hippo' like mouth, inviting a whole loaf of bread from a zoo visitor after every decent shot he delivers.

But, aside from synchronised drowning, is there any sporting exercise more boring than a slow-ruck ball, inserted at snail-pace into another mini-ruck laterally across the field?

When the ball does emerge, everyone is back on their feet. Odds are they are vertical again just in time to join another descent into tedium, and so it goes on and on, and fans turn off.

The most enraging aspect is the sheer arrogance of the International Rugby Board whose meddling created the problems in the first place. So far, they insist their fiddling with the laws is actually a jolly fine idea and that, if anything, the fault lies with English rugby.

Interesting. Then why are tries down globally? Why have so many games in both hemispheres been disappointing?

The passion rugby appears to know no limits. Crowds are on the increase. Leicester attracts 24,000 at Welford Road, Saracens have already been seen winning at Wembley twice by crowds of around 45,000, London Irish v Leinster drew 33,000 at Twickenham while Harlequins v Wasps was enjoyed by a staggering 72,000 at the same venue.

The Six Nations will sell out, it always does. There is no substitute for quality, history and class...

But IRB beware. Should this Championship disappoint the way so many recent games have at a variety of levels, if the punters come away muttering about the spectacle, the rise and rise of rugby attendances could slow to a trickle.

We all know what happens when you peak at anything. The only way next is down. So let's pray that the 2010 Six Nations delivers the type of rugby we saw when Quins beat Gloucester, when Saracens beat South Africa, when Northampton beat Munster, all proof that the turgid law-changes can be overcome - by bold coaches and brave players.

Has anything been hyped beyond all common-sense more than the accidental appearance of Lee Byrne on the field of play for Ospreys against Leicester before his replacement had actually left the fray?

It was a communications cock-up, guaranteed to happen when you have so many pointless twats cluttering up the sidelines.

Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill, while bitterly disappointed with his team's uncharacteristic average performance, was quick to hail Ospreys as the better side on the day, and wanted nothing to do with any other aspects of the match.

Byrne was on the field for about 60 seconds and did not touch the ball or an opponent. But Leicester's suits decided they deserved the game to be replayed because his presence forced one of their lads to hoof the ball away instead of inspiring a glorious match-winning try, etc. etc.

They protested to ERC who promptly charged club and player with treason, heresy and speaking to rugby league people.

An independent panel was formed, sat in judgement in Dublin, fined Ospreys in a currency we don't use in Britain, and forced Byrne to miss the Wales game against England by banning him for two weeks.

What ludicrous cobblers.

The player was let down by the system and should receive no punishment whatsoever... Leicester made themselves look small and petty, and end up with nothing to show for their moaning expect enough egg on face to make an omelette.

People make mistakes. Not deliberately, usually carelessly and never to cheat. You remember when you have made a mistake because of the flak it generates from the ever-present sanctimonious majority who so enjoy a good whinge.

Referee Lewis made a mistake when he failed to award Leicester a penalty once he realised the situation.

And Aaron Mauger made a mistake when presented with the opportunity to score a try - against 15 Ospreys this time - and promptly dropped the ball.

Personally, I'd have the cad up before the Spanish Inquisition.




FESTIVE fumblings to one and all at the end of quite a year, one, it would appear, destined to cause the death of one of our oldest and fondest cliches - "Rugby's a game for hooligans played by gentlemen blah, blah."
Been a few too many unpleasant incidents in recent months for us to cling on to the moral high-ground any longer.
Tom WilliamsThe ludicrous fake blood twottery at Harlequins left many in the City with faces as red as their braces. Who can forget Tom 'Laurence Olivier' Williams, pretending to stagger and, look dazed while spurting suspiciously dark-looking 'blood' from his chops during Quins Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster ?
He then acknowledged his own cleverness with a facial gesture to his bench which earned the glorious headline "What a little winker". Changing just one vowel in that headline would increase its accuracy 100 fold.   

For those who enjoy wholly original labels, this became known as "Bloodgate".
Then we had the coke-sniffing antics at Bath that saw Matt Stevens banned for two years, Justin Harrison hot-footing it back to Australia and a further three players refusing to submit to testing. Such a glorious example to subsequent generations.
Can't swear to it, but this may be referred to as "Snortgate".
Schalk BurgerThe potentially horrific result of eye-gouging didn't deter South Africa flanker Schalk Burger during the Lions series, nor Stade Français scrum-half Julien Dupuy against Ulster from employing arguably rugby's most disgusting and cowardly tactics.
How's about "Blindgate" ?
Chuck in the growing rumbles of discontent from certain senior players voicing privately their concern over perceived soccer-style 'divers' - players attempting to maximise late or clumsy challenges - (just has to be "Tartgate") and we lurch into the New Year burdened by a hefty dollop of enforced humility.
Yet rugby union has always contained one condoned cowardly practice that persists to this very day, despite the micro-analysis of television and its endless parade of gibbering pundit-heads.
Watching the Varsity match on December 10, one incident sparked a succession of memories dating all the way back to schooldays.
Varsity Match 2009Cambridge conceded a penalty to prevent a try, but just as referee Dean Richards was declaring advantage, an Oxford forward perpetrated a bovine, gratuitous and totally pointless late dive onto the back of the player who had already secured possession and slid into touch. The touch judge signalled and Richards immediately reversed the penalty.
What passes for my mind clicked back to Harlequins v Llanelli earlier this season, and a similar incident, this time a cynical knee driven into the back of David Strettle after he had scored a try.
Rocket backwards to 1966, deepest winter and Summers Lane, home of Finchley RFC. A school game afforded a venue way above its station for reasons eroded by the mists of time.
But nothing will ever erode the memory of pain, inflicted by one of rugby football's most common and cheapest of shots.
Having scored a try wide out on the left, the brief sense of elation turned to fury as an elbow was driven down hard into the middle of my back.
It was not a tackle, nor was it anything to do with the fullback's inability to stop himself because he had already plunged to make a legitimate challenge. He hadn't.
It was a foul challenge made on a player in the process of getting up after scoring and not facing his assailant. The result of this 'tackle' was a form of whiplash that required wearing a daft looking plastic collar for a few weeks.
This form of thuggery has never been eradicated from the game, be it in matches between Old Rubberduckians v Cravats Are Us XV or England v Scotland.
In fact the latter provided a classic example of something the authorities simply must address and punish before someone ends up far worse off than stuck in a surgical collar for a brief period of inconvenience.
It's Twickenham, 1993 and a fine Calcutta Cup clash is under way. England fly-half Stuart Barnes sparks a wonderful score, clutching a decidedly dodgy high pass, executing a superb side-step on the edge of his 22 before releasing Jeremy Guscott on a searing break up the left of midfield.
Rory UnderwoodRory Underwood finishes the move by scorching around behind Scotland's posts and scores a try with a precise dive. The referee's arm shoots towards heaven, the England support roar in delight. But wait, there's still time for the cowardly cheap shot.
In flies a Scotland 'challenger' to land so heavily, and unnecessarily, on Underwood's back that the RAF flyer, at first astonished, trots away after giving him a look that would wither a Triffid.
What should have happened that day - and every such day- is that once the conversion was completed, successfully or otherwise, the scorer's team should have then been awarded a penalty from half-way, creating the possibility of a 10-point score, or if kicked deep into touch, the chance of one try leading to another.
We no longer operate in an era where rugby balls grow heavier during a game having absorbed water off the surface and therefore become more difficult to propel towards goal from distance.
Modern rugby is armed with many powerful kickers, some - Springbok Francois Steyn, Ireland's Jeremy Staunton and Bruce Reihana of New Zealand - decent examples, who appear to have the capacity to hammer the ball between the sticks from the stadium car park.
Imagine the unpopularity of a cheap-shop boy in the dressing room after costing his team anything from a 10 points to a 14-point score.
Some of the most courageous tackles in rugby union have been made to prevent tries, marvellous, selfless challenges putting body on the line for the team.
But waiting until a try-scorer's back is turned after scoring, then delivering the spiteful, gutless late hit, is despicable and continues to scar our game.
"Tossergate" perhaps ?top





DRIVING to a Guinness Premiership game last week involved negotiating traffic, cones and temporary lights on suburban roads followed by the inevitable "Road Works" sign on the motorway, which looks far more like a mentally deficient jay-walker struggling to open an umbrella.
It goes without saying that this sign represents one the greatest lies told to us all on a daily basis. Whatever else the road does, it most certainly does NOT work.
The idea used to be that you moved along such avenues of adventure at a speed greater than that permitted in your high street.
Now, we are all being converted into trainee hearse drivers, crawling behind someone else's exhaust fumes while workers in fluorescent jackets create a fourth lane into which more traffic will jam seconds after it's opened.
By the time I actually reached Bath - where the roads remain suitable only for the Roman chariots that used to whizz round the city - there was only one conclusion to be drawn, England will be a wonderful country... when it is finished.
roadworksSeems the damn place is never actually completed. Go anywhere and you'll find someone or something designed to slow, impede or simply prevent your journey, an army of two legged moles fumbling about in holes that punctuate every road.
Heading back to Herts later that night, more delays provided time to wonder why this should be the case when driving in Europe usually presents no such chest-pain inducing cones-cobblers ?
Why does Government permit a situation that forces tax-payers to waste fuel, pollute the atmosphere and damage their collective health daily via impotent rage ?
Stumped struggling to answer that one, the old mind wandered onto comparable bafflers, questions that have tormented me for years.
What was Captain Hook's name before he lost his hand ?
How do snow-plough drivers get to work ?
Why the hell is there only one Monopolies Commission ?
Think about it, we are surrounded by the nonsensical, yet accept it just as passively as we do the cones and the clowns.

Have you never wondered why the word 'phonetic' is not spelled the way it sounds ?
And what merciless moron created the word 'dyslexia' to describe people who find it difficult to read words such as hat and cat ?
Probably the same sadist who decided 'stutter' and 'lisp' were just the words those who struggle with these problems want to try to utter.
Why in God's name is the word 'abbreviation' so long ? And why is 'palindrome' not spelled the same backwards ?
Then we have those tried and tested expressions that do not bear too much analysis. Where, for example, do 90 per cent of the homeless go to have their accidents ?
To what did the inventor of the drawing board go back when his first version proved a failure ?
Who answered the phone when Alexander Bell made that historic first-ever phone-call ?
What the hell do gardeners do when they retire ? And why is the second hand on my watch always the third hand ?
Oh look, a flashing sign over the motorway informing us to "Expect delays - accident ahead" followed by a sign insisting we go no faster than 40mph, and if we do, well, the Stasi cameras peering down from the roadside will ensure men in leather coats come-a-tapping one night, seeking money for no discernible reason. What's worse, we always pay up.
So, have you ever wondered what happens when a synchronised swimmer drowns ? Do the rest of her team have to drown as well ? You would hope so, going down still wearing those enraging dental-fixed smiles.
If you ring a psychic, and he doesn't pick up the phone before it rings, he's a fraud.
Did you know 'incorrectly' is the word in the English language most often spelled incorrectly.
At last, cones negotiated and close to home. Time to focus back on reality which, at this moment, comprises a group of youths scuttling around outside the off-licence from which I plan purchasing the heavenly nectar known as red wine.
How annoying,  the youths are partially blocking the door. "Excuse me chaps." is met with bovine stares of resentment.
Feral leader points then speaks."Why are you so bloody fat ?"
"That, my boy, is very simple. Every time I humped your mother, she gave me a biscuit."
There's no answer to that.top



rocheyI remember with increasing fondness a time when a game of rugby union lasted 85 minutes, five of which were spent in a huddle on the pitch, sucking on a slice of orange, while listening to the pearls of obscenity which constituted your skipper's half-time address.

On Saturday, a game of doggedly underwhelming mediocrity between Harlequins and Bath was transformed into what will be remembered as "a gripper" - because the second half lasted a ludicrous 55 minutes.

The dross that passed for Premiership fare seemed suitable assessed by a 6-6 scoreline. But referee Wayne Barnes is part of the new age breed, all coaching tips to the players and sound advice about what they should and shouldn't be doing. Funny that, when I strayed offside, it usually led to a penalty, not a coaching seminar.

His added-time gave rise to an exciting finale, but there's a genuine argument for claiming this increasing obsession with stopping clocks to scratch your shorts, chat with a touch-judge or just extend your time in front of the cameras is changing the game's DNA.

Add up all the stoppages for chats with players, herds of water-carrying extras invading the pitch at the slightest excuse, endless scrum resets, etc. and you end up homing in on the two-hour game. It's got to come soon.

We have to endure 15 minute half-times - excellent for players warmed up bodies to begin cooling down again - followed by ever-increasing doses of "added time".

Chris White found 20 minutes of it at Bath this season, that's a rugby match totalling 115 minutes. On Sunday, Dean Richards added 13 minutes to the Wasps v Northampton game, half of which was totally justified because Lachlan Mitchell suffered a neck injury that required a surgical collar.

But you again found yourselves torn between watching two clocks, one telling you the game is in its 93rd minute, another, the ref's clock, ticking backwards towards 00.00 having stopped and started more often than a 1950s Lada.

We are not, of course, helped by the now mandatory charge from the respective benches of nearly every available replacement during the last quarter of a game, more time swallowed at the expense of the punter.

For every supporter who enjoys this on the grounds that we are getting full value for money and more action, there are those who prefer their rugby game to last 80 minutes, unless time is required for an injury.

For every fan who buys into the circus-like processions of buffoons wearing headsets for coaching purposes while handing out water to players drowning under rain, there are those who would like to see the sidelines cleared, one clock telling the time of day and an official with a whistle, but no coaching duties.

Note, please, the awful countdowns trilled out by supporters as they watch the ref's clock, the same clock that allows teams to now wind it down themselves with tedious mauls because, knowing exactly how much time remains, they no longer have to play until the referee blows for no side.

There appears to be a relentless trudge towards the TV dominated structure that turned American Football, a 60 minute game of four quarters, into a three-hour marathon, punctuated by singers, dancers, pop groups and endless ad' breaks.

How long before we are subjected to rugby union games of four 20-minute quarters - plus added time, of course - three intervals suitably long to accommodate TV commercials, the middle one of 20 minutes "half-time" for further intrusive on-screen garbage ?

Memories of sucking on that slice of orange during a five-minute respite grow fonder by the  endless weekend.