All you need is love


The stadium DJ at the Hurricanes game last night had a sense of humour. After a couple of minor handbags sessions, tempers got a bit frayed, with Mr Marler, Mr Haskell and Mr Cole fronting up to a few of the Hurricanes pack. The faces appeared on the big screen and the DJ set off with a few bars of the Beatles – “All you need is love….” The crowd sang along and even the players had smiles on their faces, although a few threats were still being made for those with the lip reading skills to follow. 

The game looked to be ours, right up until the yellow card, and even then we thought we might just steal it at the end with a drop goal. Players were again out on their feet at the end, and I’m sure the debate about using/not using the bench players will be discussed back at home as it is here! The pundits here this morning are saying Lawes and Henderson should be in the test squad, but Lawes looked like he’d taken a knock. Of the others, North came out for the second half with his leg heavily strapped around the hamstring. He did a sound job at centre, and looked to be getting involved more than he did when on the wing in earlier games. We only found out Halfpenny was playing when we reached the stadium, and he had another sound game, with some lovely attacking runs. Let’s not mention the dropped high ball – it was only the one. 

Delivering the match ball – by helicopter

It’s a wonderful stadium – called the ‘cake tin’ by the locals, and the support for the Hurricanes was some of the most passionate we have seen. Loads of kids in the crowd, thousands of flags and lots of singing and chanting. It’s a passionate rugby city, as we found out on a visit to Wellington Football Club – nothing to do with soccer, all to do with rugby. They’re called The Axemen, and their clubhouse was stuffed with memorabilia, photos, and plaques, now with a Rotherham Rugby one added to their collection. We are bringing one of their shields home to go in our clubhouse, and maybe some of their players and supporters might find their way across one day. 


The city, like everywhere we have been so far, has been warm and welcoming, with glorious sunshine every day so far. The locals tell us it won’t last! The forecast for the 2nd Test on Saturday is for rain. I can’t even begin to figure out if that is a good or bad thing as whatever we throw at the ABs, they seem to have an answer for it. We have a morning match to attend first though, up at the Jerry Collins Stadium, in Poruira, where the North Ladies team is playing against local rivals. We met several of the team at the dinner on Tuesday and can’t wait to see them play. 


As for the rest of the sightseeing in Windy Welly, their Te Papa museum really is one of the best I have ever been to, sitting on the waterfront and full of Maori treasures and fascinating stuff about volcanoes and earthquakes. I’m trying not to think about the huge fault line running just underneath the city! 
Up in the hills Zealandia is a conservation area, a huge valley they are taking back to wilderness, and it feels just like stepping into a Jurassic Park film set. We only explored a tiny part of the valley, but is is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Weird Rotherham connections happened again there too; chatting to a Wellington resident as we watched the Kaka parrots figure out how to raid a bird feeder designed to keep them out, we discovered her son was a rugby coach at Clontarf, in Ireland. He arrived soon after, having been off hiking way up the valley, only to tell us he was a mate of Phil Werahiko, and had been to Rotherham and remembered Craig West as being a great bloke! Another conversation, with a guy in the car park as we were leaving, and we find out that the 88 year old hiker (he looked much younger than that) was also connected to Rotherham, as he worked at Templeborough Steelworks before emigrating in the late 1970’s. Strange connections everywhere! 
Today we’re a heading off to the wine country outside the city, and if the weather stays clear tonight, up to the observatory on the top of the big hill to, do a bit of star gazing. I can recognise the Southern Cross but that’s about it, so hoping to learn a bit more through a proper telescope. 
This really is the trip of a lifetime, and if you can ever get the cash and time together to do it, then all I can say is that you will be blown away by the landscape, the wildlife, and especially the people. 2 Test matches left for us, a lot more travelling and I wonder how many more people we will meet with connections back to home! 

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A Night Out at The Chiefs, Redwood Trees and the prospect of torrential rain! 

 

I have to start with The Hask – I’ve always had a soft spot for the big lunk, and to watch him play last night, to put his body on the line time and time again, until he could hardly walk from the pitch, well, I still think he’s awesome. It’s his attitude as well – he didn’t think he’d be on tour, and when Billy V got taken out, his attitude was ‘I’ll carry the bags, help in training, do whatever it takes to make the team successful’. He was out on the pitch for the Maori game, tackling, working as part of an opposing scrum, anything to be involved. Not for him sitting in the stand in a suit. Love it.

We spent the day before the Chiefs game walking in the redwood forests, marvelling at the size of these giants and learning about forestry in NZ. Obviously, like most settlers do, the early people cut down the forests for houses, to build their towns, and for fuel. As the forests disappeared, a bit too rapidly, they decided to investigate the best way to replace them, and planted trees from all around the world, to see what did best. Weirdly the redwoods in California are equi distant from the equator to those in NZ but they have found they grow differently due to the thermal heat and lots more rain, so the NZ redwoods grow faster and their wood is softer. Got very geeky about trees yesterday!

Haskell is the solid, tree-like heart of this Lions team – he knows he’s unlikely to start a Test, or even be on the bench, but his attitude last night shows me why we might, just might, sneak a win against the All Blacks.

We watched the Chiefs game in Hamilton from half way up the temporary stand they’d built at one end, surrounded by men in kilts who, I have to say, were the most miserable, silent, unhappy lot we have yet encountered on this trip. They didn’t cheer, or shout, or even stand up when things got exciting, just drank their ‘stubbies’ and muttered to each other. No idea what their problem was as there were Scottish players out on the pitch! The after-party in Biddy Mulligan’s bar was a lot more fun and the Guinness was, apparently, very drinkable.

Just as an idea of the quantities of beer being supped: 8000 pints of beer, 4000 stubbies, plus whatever incidentals like wine etc, were consumed in ONE bar during opening hours, in Rotorua, on the day of the Maori All Blacks game. There were a lot of bars in that town and the local paper reckoned NZ$3.5m was spent on food and drink alone that weekend.

As the Test gets closer, the hordes of red increase. Accommodation for last night’s game was a bit hard to find, as Hamilton isn’t huge, and we left our Sheffield Tigers friends trying to persuade a taxi driver to take them 30 mins out of town to a farmhouse they were staying at. We had a nice steady walk back to our hotel – booked over 12 months ago. Being geeky has its advantages sometimes.

The discussions on who to pick for the first Test dominate every conversation out here today. I’ve written down our sections and will see how close we both get to the final team. We will soon find out what Gatland has in store – but with the weather turning increasingly wet and windy over the next few days, it looks like a forwards orientated game, with the ball firmly up the jumper, that could be what is needed to get a win.

Onwards to Auckland for us, following a convoy of camper vans and singing happy songs, and hoping to meet fans of a similar frame of mind, not more miserable ones in kilts!

(Apologies for no images – very dodgy wifi means technology is temperamental tonight!)

Mud, Maori and alternative use of a beer can

imageWe are World Record Holders; me, Al, and 3 friends we met up with from Sheffield Tigers. Along with 7,700 others we danced a Haka on the Village Green in Rotorua yesterday lunchtime. The sun shone, the eggy steam that is so much part of the city wafted across the crowd and 5 slightly embarrassed English people attempted to follow the instructions of the school kids from Rotorua. We did OK, hiding in the middle, but we certainly weren’t as scary as the team of Maori All Blacks in the match later on. That was one scary Haka.

I love Rotorua. It has a feel of the Happy Days set, and I keep expecting The Fonz to appear in the amazing local Ice Cream Parlour. We spotted several of the team wandering about on Friday, getting their hair cut, looking in shops and cafes, and generally just being tourists. ‘Would never happen in football’ was the comment I heard most! The city put on a fabulous firework display that night as part of the Maori New Year celebrations, and just like with the Haka, the Village Green was immaculate a few hours later, all litter gone and ready for the next communal event. Awesome.

In front of our apartment the mud and steam pools bubble and hiss all day long, and the Maori culture and language echo all around the city. We’ve listened to their music stars, both traditional and modern, tried to pronounce their language, and are planning to explore their culture and this weird landscape more, if it ever stops raining today!

As for the rugby, at the Rotorua International Stadium, I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but it was one crazy, crazy night. The free buses from the city, packed full of supporters, dropped us in what looked like the car park of an ordinary rugby club. We set off along a gravel path, past lots of rugby pitches, towards a pool of light in the distance. As we came over the ridge, below us was a huge bowl, with one stand, about the size of the one at Doncaster. Everywhere else was grass, sloping down to some concrete steps along the sides, and despite it being a couple of hours before kick off, the place was packed with people better prepared than us! They brought waterproof mats or rugs to sit on, or even a bin bag, and the stadium had organised possibly the biggest collection of portaloos I have ever seen. Loos were easy to find, food less so, but perhaps the priorities were correct? I don’t know what it looked like on tv, but it felt like a local ground, designed for a few thousand people, desperately trying to cope. Great atmosphere though, like a proper rugby club ground, not some corporate concrete stadium, where you never feel close to the action.

We never found our seats – we think we were supposed to be behind the goal on some temporary seating, but we couldn’t get round to the entrance to that area and standing down near the try line at the side seemed a better bet. Well, it was until the match started and everyone on the concrete terraces and on the grass sat down! And they stayed siting down, with pointed comments to the 2 tall Lions supporters to get out of the way, sit down, or move. We moved. Up to a walkway that was supposed to be kept clear but the stewards had given up on that. The official attendance was 28,000 I think, but since many were climbing over fences and security was a bit slack, to say the least, I reckon there were a few extra bodies in there.

And the rain started, the ‘fine soft rain’ that the Irish around us seemed to enjoy, and the match flew by at a speed that was scary. It was all a bit of a blur, but Halfpenny looked awesome under high balls, his tackling was solid, apart from the mess up with North down near us that led to the Maori try, and his kicking was a masterclass. Think he is nailed on for the test. The pack look solid, and any 10 would enjoy playing behind them, whoever gets picked, but I hope Farrell really is ready to start as Gatland says. It never felt that we were safe as the Maori just didn’t give up and always looked dangerous, and the slippery conditions meant that almost anyone could mis-time a tackle and end up with a card.

The rain was tipping down by the end of the game – anyone who had tried to put up a brolly found a beer can bouncing off it, or against them, from those behind further up the slope who simply couldn’t see. They have perfected the beer can lob – locals says that’s why people stay sitting down as they don’t appreciate the beer shampoo or the abuse. I’m glad we moved at the start before they used us as targets!

The rain, beer and thousands of feet made getting back up the grass slope quite a challenge and there were some muddy backsides around as people slid their way back to the bus queue. Well, it wasn’t really a queue, more like a general attack on any empty bus by a horde of marauding fans. Half a dozen students in day glo vests didn’t have a hope of controlling it!

Back in town, in Eat Street, an obvious name but at least you know what’s on offer, one topic has been the flak Gatland is getting over the replacements. I think that in some of his thinking he’s right, in that their job is to win the Tests, and everything else fits round that. The schedule is punishing, and the intensity of the games means that playing Tuesday and Saturday is almost impossible, either as a starter or off the bench. We’ve been here less than a week, and the jet lag is still doing weird stuff to my brain and body. How anyone can fly in and play a top level rugby game a couple of days later, I have no idea.

Picking some replacements from guys already in Australia and NZ means they can go straight into a midweek game. They know they aren’t first choice players, but looking at Haskell out on the pitch last night, not on the bench, but out there running as an extra tackler, ball carrier, water boy, sums up for me the attitude on the tour – all in together, do what it takes to win something epic.

So after 3 days in NZ, I can see the difference already to Australia in 2013. This whole country is so rugby nuts, it’s awesome. Everyone talks rugby, from the security guys at Auckland who passed our bags with the comment, ‘Good luck, you’re gonna need it’, to the lady cleaning our flat who thinks the best back row player is Faletau, to anyone in any bar or cafe. Oh, apart from guy in the mini-mart late at night who ended up in a discussion with Al on the ICC final, India v Pakistan. But he was Indian so that’s understandable.

The sun is now shining so it’s off to look at geysers and Kiwi birds – an interlude before the next battle over in Hamilton. No idea what the stadium there is like, but I will remember the Rotorua experience – brilliant, especially since we avoided the beer can bounce, and sliding on our backsides in the mud, full of spine tingling moments as well as the legacy of soggy, mud covered trainers!

 

 

Travelling to #LionsTour2017 – and Dave is with us in spirit again

imageFour years ago I started this blog, before we went off to watch the B&I Lions beat Australia. Part of the reason for writing about our travels was because, sadly, we weren’t travelling with Dave Haswell. We’d been friends, and Rotherham supporters, for many years, wandering the countryside, watching them climb the leagues, and come straight back down again! Dave died before that Tour started but, at every game, I could hear his comments in my mind, especially whenever I was hurling abuse at the referee. I did this a lot and will probably do it all over again in New Zealand, unless they learn how to referee a scrum properly.

You see Dave was a referee, and he always had a good word to say about the man in the middle, as he knew how hard it could be. Faced with conniving front row forwards, out and out lunatics and the helpful advice from the supporters of mainly Yorkshire teams in the leagues he worked in, he tried hard to convince us that the man in the middle was usually right. He refereed some of the Rotherham legends, like Bunny and John Dudley, complete with interesting stories about keeping them playing correctly! When he finally hung up his whistle, he kept up his work in rugby, as part of the Reading Schemes in schools for Rotherham, usually accompanied by Louis McGowan, and as a match day announcer.

I know his son, Chris, will be following every game from Japan, with the benefit of the NZ commentary. Wish we could get that in the UK and lose Stuart Barnes! We will discuss the finer points of every game on line, and see if we can agree on the team Gatland should put out. Not much hope of that as he would fill it with English players, and I obviously have a soft spot for the Welsh. Apparently the commentators in NZ were shocked, in the Crusaders game, at the line speed and defensive work done by what looked very much like the Test team. Let’s hope we can continue that next week in Auckland.

Another Rotherham supporter, Josh, is also on board, in spirit, all the way up there in Kazakhstan. As a geographer, he’s envious of our trip for geographical reasons as well as for the rugby, although I’ve yet to figure out the time differences there, to see if he’s able to watch it live.

Back home we’ve left the Scottish supporter we travel to games with these days. Fee is house and cat sitting, with full access to Sky and hopefully enjoying the stocked freezer! I don’t think the Scottish contingent are going to play a huge role in the Tests but I might be wrong. Thanks Fee – makes for a less stressful trip!

So here at Heathrow, we’ve already met up with half a dozen others travelling out today, and arranged to meet a Sheffield Tigers supporter in Rotorua on Friday night for a beer, if the jet lag allows. I know we will make many new friends on our travels, and this time I hope more of them will be from the country we are travelling to! Australia was fun, with some crazy events (I will never forget the Wild Wombat Tour bus out of Melbourne) and, of course, a win. However the people of Oz didn’t seem that fussed about rugby, except at the games. Already I’ve had emails from all the places we are staying, not just confirming arrangements, but discussing the teams, and even celebrating the fact that Billy Vunipola isn’t on the trip! Different attitude already.

We’ve been invited to a rugby club in Wellington, to meet their supporters and discuss the future of rugby, and how you keep the young players in the game. One answer – get rid of Academies! Should be a fun night.

Anyway, our flight is being called – 30 hours is going to be a long trip – and I can’t wait to see what the next 4 weeks will bring.

Dave will be with us, every step of the way, supporting the man in the middle, in his Specsavers jersey! I will try, in his honour, to remember it’s a tough job, before I call the ref names, but if it comes down to a wrong penalty in the last minute, then I think Dave might have to forgive me for yet again abusing the referee. From where we will be sitting (cheap seats) I doubt the ref will hear, but it will make me feel better.

Here’s to a fun Tour, and possibly a Lions win!

 

 

Not the best season, but we still need to say ‘Thank You’

Fozzy & Louis.jpg

Fozzy and Big Louis McGowan – and yes, Fozzy is standing on a box!

We met up with some old friends in Jersey. One was Louis McGowan, one of the Rotherham greats, long since moved on, but fondly remembered, not just for rugby but for his dedication to projects like the reading scheme in schools. As a club, we keep an eye out for our ‘old boys’; we enjoy meeting up with people like Tamps and McKinney in Jersey, and lots of others this year, around most of the Championship. If they get the chance to move on to higher leagues, we take pride in that too. For me, a great joy this year is to see Buzza off to Newcastle. He’s probably played longer for Leeds than he ever did for us, but he’s still a Rotherham lad, and not just because he comes from the town. Rotherham ‘own’ their players; take pride in them long after they move on. 

 

The picture above, of Fozzy, one of the club stalwarts, who deals with the dirty kit, the messy end of the game, made me think about how many people need our thanks this year, and not just those on the pitch.

 

First though, thank you to all the players; injured, battered, bruised, more so than ever this season; thank you for putting in the hours of training, going out on the pitch and trying to keep this team going. It has been one of the toughest seasons I can remember (even more than in the Premiership years), but for each and every one of you who has put on a Rotherham shirt, you will always be part of the Titans Family.

 

They’ve kept going when all around them players were falling to injury, getting battered and bruised but not giving up. This spirit was summed up for me on Saturday in Jersey, when Millar came off with blood pouring from his nose. He’s a young lad who hasn’t been with us for very long, but his attitude was typically Rotherham. It took Doc a good while to stop the bleeding, assess it (probably broken) and yet he went back on and played most of the rest of the game. Seriously tough, serious respect to him. 

 

I have also loved seeing the boys adapt to the problems this season; Charlie Maddison, still learning his trade as hooker, also standing in admirably in the back row, tackling, scavenging, making breaks. Never happy losing either! Players having to cover other positions, but not complaining. The attitude summed up by tough nut Toby Williams – his interview after the Pirates game was a classic, seriously grumpy face, brief, basic answers, and the attitude that we lost, so what is there to say that’s positive! A great player to put up in front of the media – and I’m reliably informed he wasn’t happy about it! 

 

The list of injuries this season has been quite remarkable – we have never had a season like it. Even when they came back, the gremlins struck again and many didn’t spend long on the pitch. The record surely goes to Charlie Foley. Out for months then 30 minutes on the pitch and off again. Difficult as it is for fans, for the players it must have been devastating. 

 

Finally thanks must go to Dave Swift and his team; I have no idea how they have coped this year. The queue for treatment must have seemed never ending, but they have managed to put out a team each week, to battle it out against the odds.

 

To those who are leaving us this year, we wish you all the best. To those staying with us, here is hoping that next year isn’t quite the same as this one!

 

Thank you from all the fans. #TitansFamily. 

 

This piece first appeared in the match day programme for Rotherham Titans v Nottingham on Saturday 25th March 2017, our last home game of the 2016-17 season. 

A weekend away in Cornwall

 

Down in Cornwall, Spring is just arriving. The trees aren’t quite turning green, but in the lanes, the first primroses and camellias are out and, despite the ankle turning mud down by Looe Bar, the snowdrops in the woods are beautiful. My family have lived down in Helston for the last 15 years, so the trip to Cornish Pirates is always one I put in the calendar as soon as the fixtures are published.

Driving down on Friday the sun was shining, the sea at Penzance was many shades of blue, and St Michael’s Mount looked wonderful in evening light. Started really well, our weekend in Cornwall.

The wifi connection let us watch young Mr Umaga kicking his points for England U20’s, on Friday night. My brother’s daft dog loved his treats, the niece and nephew liked their presents too; all was set fair for a good weekend.

Saturday was spent at the Leisure Centre in Penzance (after the very muddy dog walk) and we watched hundreds of kids, from tiny to giant, thrashing up and down the pool in the second weekend of the County Championships. Good job we were indoors, as the weather turned nasty. Was Cornwall trying to tell us something? We managed to find a tv to watch Scotland v Wales. Not a good day for the Welsh. My Scottish friends made sure I understood the significance of the result! Weekend not going so well.

Sport in Cornwall looked to be thriving due to the efforts of volunteers and parents prepared to spend ages sorting stuff for kids. I loved the fact that people brought knitting, crochet, films on iPads, big, thick novels, and even a tapestry, to while away the hours between races. And enormous amounts of food! The nephew did ok, not brilliant, but ok. He wasn’t happy with just ok, so after an enormous curry to replenish the lost energy, he retired to bed ready for a second day of competition up in Bodmin on Sunday.

The hope was there that Sunday was going to be the best day of the weekend – for the nephew and for Rotherham!

We woke to howling winds, spitting rain and the fear that it wasn’t going to be our day after all. My niece sensibly decided that a walk in the rain was not a good way to spend a Sunday, stayed in bed, and missed out on the 10’ waves off Sennen Cove, and wind that took your breath away. Bracing was the word; not even the craziest surfers were risking their necks in that sea. The hope was that the wind would die down before kick off at 3. No chance – Cornwall seemed out to get us!

The teams ran out into a gale; Rotherham had to fight against it all through the first half, and when they came out for the second half, the rain started as well. Torrential rain, blasting across the ground. We lost the match – check out the reports in the ‘Tizer for the detail as Mr Ricketts also enjoyed a weekend away in Cornwall.

Cornwall 2

The nephew returned from Bodmin with some PB times, qualification for Regional Finals, so we all headed for the pub. Not much to celebrate really, but overall the weekend felt positive. The team played much better than they did against Bedford – rolling maul tries still a nightmare for us to defend – there didn’t seem to be any more serious injuries and I got to spend time with my family. Spring really is just around the corner, and hopefully we can build on what was a much better performance in a soggy, windy, but very beautiful, Cornwall. Can’t wait to come back next year.

This piece was first published in the matchday programme for Rotherham Titans v Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday 4th March 2017

Championship Top 4?

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At the start of the season, this is exactly what Justin and the boys were aiming for. He was quite open about it at the meetings with supporters, and in the press, despite having had to rebuild a team, from scratch, with boys coming in from mainly lower leagues. With just 3 home games to go, it is beginning to look like this isn’t going to happen. We sit closer to the bottom of the table than the top, and the run in to the end of the season isn’t exactly easy!

 

It wasn’t just Rotherham who were optimistic; in the press and in the discussions with fans from many clubs, it was acknowledged that this was one of the most closely contested Championships we had ever seen. At the start, at Richmond, their fans were simply looking for survival, based on their part-time squad and their lack of experience at this level. Their results lately seem to show they are learning quickly and could easily upset a few more teams before we finish. For almost everyone else, the dream was Top 4.

 

The arguments about the advantages for the relegated Premiership club would take up much more space than available, so we will leave it with the belief that London Irish would go straight back up. It doesn’t stop all the other teams wanting to beat them, and the play off system gives others in the Top 4 a chance to upset the plans for a swift return. Just ask Bristol – or possibly not, as it seems they may be back with us next year!

 

We have now played all of the current Top 4, and although it has seemed that one win this season can shoot you up the table, and a loss drag you back down, what do these teams have that we don’t? Well, a team of fit players for one! It is an attritional league, especially for a small squad like ours.

Looking at Irish, Doncaster, Leeds and Ealing – yes I know that Pirates, Scottish, Jersey would argue they could be in there too – they all have one or more standout players, who consistently rack up the points or hold things together.

 

With Irish, we didn’t see Topsy Ojo, they brought Cokanasiga instead! 6’4’’, 17st of class. And Tommy Bell, who can kick stuff from anywhere.

 

At Leeds, our old friend Buzza marshals them superbly from the back of the scrum, Ford can kick from anywhere and Elder, at full back, ripped us apart.

 

At Doncaster, wily Mr Quigley still manages to keep playing mind games in the scrum, Flockhart kicks from anywhere, and they have Latu Makaafi and Jack Ram to smash teams apart from the back row.

 

Ealing have their plastic pitch; yes I do think it makes a difference, but others will argue it doesn’t. They also have the wily Mark Bright at the back of the scrum and Penberthy to kick from anywhere.

 

What do we have at Rotherham to match? We don’t know if we have the players of class and influence as hardly anyone has had a full season playing! As for kickers, well there have been so many different ones that again, no one has had the opportunity to cement their place, despite doing a great job for a few games.

 

What we do have is a team that plays for each other, doesn’t give in when their backs are to the wall, and a real desire to get better and succeed. Maybe next season, they will get the chance to show what they can do, for 80 minutes each game, and for a full season, without injuries.

 

My hopes for the rest of this season; to end with some good rugby being played, for Justin to find us some more gems from the lower leagues for next year, and Mr Swift and his team to have some quiet days!

This was first published in the match day programme for Rotherham Titans v Bedford Blues on Saturday 18th February 2017  – so I guess I got the top 4 correct!

The joys (or not) of the B & I Cup

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So the B&I Cup is over for Rotherham for another year. Perhaps over forever if the RFU go through with some of the changes they are proposing? After what was in effect a ‘dead rubber’ against Doncaster last week, social media was full of the negatives of this competition.

 

Certainly the pool that Rotherham found themselves in this year has done nobody any favours. We’ve had 2 expensive away trips, to London Welsh, and then to the back of beyond in Ireland for the game against Munster A. The cost of the London game, a bus for a day, was nothing compared to the costs involved for the Munster A game – bus, ferry and hotel bills for the squad and coaches. The #ShedOnTour apparently had a fantastic weekend; I would think the players had a different view, arriving back in Rotherham in the early hours of Monday morning after hours on bus and ferry, after a battering by Munster. The glamour of being a professional rugby player!

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For Rotherham, the first B&I game in London eventually meant nothing, in more ways than one. With the removal of London Welsh from the competition, there are unseen costs to add to the account; the missing home game against them that should have happened in January. Gate receipts, bar takings, hospitality; nothing coming in at all until the end of the month, and yet wages and bills have to be paid.

 

While Welsh have to pay back their creditors, according to the RFU ruling for them to reform as a new club, this doesn’t include anything for the clubs who have lost money through B&I fixtures being cancelled. Doncaster lost possibly one of their best weekends for hospitality, just before Christmas, where they would have had full bars, and plenty of people through the gates. No extra cash for them from Welsh or from the RFU. 

 

By the time we finally got to the last B&I pool game, against Doncaster last weekend, neither team could progress any further. Truly a dead match.

 

For anyone who went, it certainly didn’t come across as that. Both teams fielded good squads, with a couple of youngsters on the bench, and it was certainly played as if it mattered. A couple of eyeball to eyeball moments, the best with George Tressider squaring up to Latu Makaafi! We even out scored them with the tries, and if the maul hadn’t collapsed towards the end of the first half, then Charlie might have got his hat trick.  

 

So, what about the B&I, should it stay or go? 

 

It certainly hasn’t done us any favours this year, in our pool, but on the day, last Saturday, we just wanted a game. A win would have made it a better day, but after nearly 3 weeks with no rugby, then the B&I was OK. As for next season – who knows. 

This article first appeared in the programme for Rotherham Titans v Richmond on Saturday 28th January 2017. It was written before the RFU suspended London Welsh from the Championship and ended their involvement in all competitions this season. 

#TitansFamily

We use this hashtag a lot; it means we always support the team we have, but more than that, we also support players who have been part of the Rotherham story.

Rotherham is a family club, running everything from mini-juniors, age level rugby, Colts, Vets, Ladies, and the amateur side, Rotherham Phoenix, with ex players involved at every level. It makes our club part of the community, part of the town, and helps it survive, especially at the bad times!

For this Christmas programme piece, I wanted to focus on the family story, especially one family, who have been part of Rotherham history, and show just far how the #TitansFamily tag goes.

mike-umaga

Back in January 1998, Mike Umaga joined our club. He played his last game for us in May 2004, when we lost to Newcastle and were relegated from the Premiership; he managed to score a try (his 38th for the club) in that last match. Throughout his time with us, he was respected both on and off the field. Despite many rumours that he would persuade his brother Tana to come and join him at Rotherham, it never happened!

mike-and-jacob

As a club, we don’t forget our ‘old boys’, and when another Umaga began to hit the rugby headlines, the Rotherham faithful started to take an interest, as many of us remembered the small boy running round Clifton Lane while his dad was on the pitch.

The New Zealand Herald, in April this year, seemed a bit put out that he was actually playing for England! I know the All-Blacks like to hoover up players from all over the South Pacific, but Jacob was born here and England needs players with his kind of talent. In June he moved from Leicester Academy up the M69 to Wasps, where another Rotherham ‘old boy’ was settling in. Did Lee Blackett have anything to do with this move? Who knows. Lee and Mike certainly were together at Rotherham. It is another little link with the #TitansFamily.

As with many young players on Premiership squads, he was sent out in October to Hinckley Rugby Club. Lucky Hinckley! He’s scored 30 points in 10 appearances, including 5 tries, up to the start of December. One of our ex players, up against him in a game, told me he’s fast, strong and very difficult to catch!

jacob-1

So at 18 years of age, he’s played U18, U19, and has been selected for the U20 for England in the 6 Nations, and the U20 Championship in Georgia in 2017.

jacob-eng-kit

I know from Twitter that his family are immensely proud of what he has achieved so far. Perhaps the fact that he has a set of Rugby followers up the M1 in Rotherham hasn’t filtered through to him yet, but we are there, looking at the results and smiling to see the name ‘Umaga’ listed yet again. We will follow his progress with interest, and if he ever finds Hinckley too easy, I’m sure he’d be welcomed back to Clifton Lane with open arms. Just have a word with Mr Blackett.

First published in the programme for the game Rotherham v Doncaster Knights 26th December 2016. Thanks to the Umaga family for their photo of Mike and Jacob.

Rotherham’s Irish connections

Last weekend we witnessed some classy finishing from London Irish, as they continued  their campaign to return to the Premiership; 11 games and 11 wins, with lots of bonus points along the way. One of our ex players was also back with Irish; Fergus Mulchrone who, along with brother Charlie, is fondly remembered by the supporters. I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t see London Irish winning the league, and the playoffs; then they will probably swap places with Bristol, and start next season trying to survive in the Premiership.

irish-logo

They have some excellent players already on the pitch; Tommy Bell gave a master class in how to take advantage of errors, with pace and skill. On the wing, the young Joe Cokanasinga was really enjoying bouncing into our players, and showing his ability to beat defenders. You could see why this Fijian-born youngster has already worn an England shirt for the U18s. There were international players throughout the Irish team, but they will still have the problem of recruiting late in the season, if/when they win the playoffs, and start their Premiership campaign on the back foot.

In Sunday’s Rugby Paper, it was reported that Chris Booy, Chairman of Bristol, was urging Premiership clubs to compensate the Championship for agreeing to return to whoever wins the league gets promotion. His argument is that the late preparation created by the playoffs unfairly penalises the club coming up.

The Premiership clubs debate this on Tuesday (13th Dec) and although the playoffs would remain this season, it would mean that in 2017/18, Bristol would hope to be bouncing straight back up again. We will have to see where this goes, and also keep an eye open for who succeeds Andy Robinson, as the Rugby paper speculates it will be Pat Lam joining as Head Coach, with Stuart Lancaster as Chief Operating Officer. Be good to welcome them to Clifton Lane next season.

So back to Rotherham’s Irish connections, on the day we welcome Munster to Clifton Lane in the B & I Cup.

Rotherham have always had a long standing connection with Ireland, with some great names coming through the club over the years, often sponsored by Tony Clabby, probably to keep his Irish family happy! Kevin Maggs is fondly remembered by many supporters, and it is a shame we won’t be catching up with him at Moseley this year. Hopefully they can find a way to overcome Hartpury College and back to the Championship before too long.

kevin-maggs

 

Gareth Steenson continues to be a phenomenal kicking machine for Exeter Chiefs, and I could never really understand why he never played for Ireland at senior level. He might only have been with us for a season, but he is remembered for his kicking skills, which later enabled Exeter to beat Bristol back in 2010, and helped them move steadily up the Premiership ladder. He has an exceptional record, recognised with the Golden Boot Award last season.

steenson

So to Munster; their first team often includes another Rotherham fans’ favourite, Robin Copeland. I know I wasn’t the only person from Rotherham who was delighted to see him get a full Irish cap in 2014. I hope he can keep injury free and challenge for another run out for Ireland as well as for Munster.

copeland

In the B&I Cup, Munster have done better than Rotherham, winning in 2012, runners up in 2010 and losing semi finalists in 2013 and 2015. We can’t match their record, but they did lose to London Welsh in the first round, over in Ireland, so perhaps this year we can do better?

As for the other, more recent, Irish boys, we keep meeting up with them as we travel around Championship grounds; Willie Ryan, Sean Scanlon, James McKinney, and for any I have missed, I am sure supporters with better memories will tell me before the end of the game! The #TitansFamily has always had a soft spot for Irish lads, but we really could do with a win against them a couple of times this season!

First published in the programme for the B&I Cup game Rotherham v Munster A on 10th December 2016