Ruck and Maul: An island of fanatics who could leave Ireland green with envy
Sunday 24 April 2011
Ulster's sevens players will be unable to turn out for Team GB – more properly known as Great Britain & Northern Ireland, of course – when rugby returns to the Olympic Games in 2016.
The Irish RFU anticipate the GB squad will comprise players from England, Scotland and Wales, with the IRFU laying claim to any Ulster players, as is normal in XVs. The problem is that Ireland do not currently compete on the world sevens circuit, though they say they might have a go in 2013 or 2014 to qualify for Rio.
They may have to get past Sri Lanka, who according to a report commissioned by Mastercard have risen to seventh in the world, as ranked by the number of registered players, with 103,325.
Really? That is higher than Argentina, Australia or the USA – though way behind the global leaders England on 2,549,196.
Dragonhood to feel the heat?
England's 1,900 clubs have received a flyer flogging tickets for the 6 August match against Wales. It shows Jonny Wilkinson, Shontayne Hape and James Haskell running up the Twickenham tunnel into a smoking furnace with the slogan "This is no warm up".
What is it then? With no trophy at stake, and players chosen from World Cup training squads more than two weeks before England name their party for New Zealand, it looks like a warm-up to Ruck and Maul. Or, at best, a trial.
It was hardly even that to Wales in the equivalent match in 2007, when they capitulated 62-5 and Nick Easter scored four tries.
Powell fans the football flames
The Leeds head coach, Neil Back, was always recognised as a hard competitor.
In amateur days he set "professional" standards of fitness and dedication. When reminded that his old Leicester and England team-mate Dean Richards once used the Calcutta Cup as a football on a night out in Edinburgh, he reflected on the drink-related disciplinary trouble involving Gavin Henson, Danny Cipriani, Ben Foden and Andy Powell: "These things always go on and I don't believe it's a massive problem. Athletes are hot-blooded, they are high on testosterone, they like to enjoy themselves and celebrate success. [But] you've got to appreciate where you are and who's watching you."
This wasn't in Powell's mind when he went to a well-known football pub in west London last Monday and allegedly sang Cardiff City songs in the presence of QPR fans whose team are vying with Cardiff for promotion. Last week's observation in this column that rugby's supporters have a different reputation to football's rang horribly true as he was beaten up.
But Saracens fans' "Gathering" on "private land adjacent to the Exeter Chiefs official car park" last weekend was well received by the hosts. The only annoyance was a youth team from London who blew horns every time the Chiefs supporters struck up their 'Tomahawk Chop' song.
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