Friday, 6 January 2012

National Pride or Personal Glory?

The questions of allegiance, patriotism and national pride are never more evident than in international sporting contests and the fervour of those that follow them. But professional sports people are exactly that, professional. In order to become a pro you have to have a certain level of selfishness, or you just won't get there, you won't make the sacrifices. And in the end, choosing to represent one country or another will come down to a career choice, as recent history shows.

 To start things off, lets consider the position of Ben Morgan, the Scarlets number 8, who has finally chosen to (try and) play for England at the age of 22. There had been much media debate about his possible selection for Wales after qualifying for selection on residency - Morgan added fuel to this fire by declining an invitation to play for the Saxons, England's 'A' side.

 This is how I see it, Morgan finds himself in a situation where the country of his birth are in need of a player of his age and ability, in his position. Easter isn't getting any younger, and thanks to James Haskell's rather flippant nature, there is no heir-apparent. Toby Faletau, born in Tonga but moved to Wales at aged 3 is the bright young thing at No 8 for Wales and is (undoubtedly to my mind) an even greater talent. So whilst Morgan's decision may be the most "patriotic" option - it also seems to be the best personal opportunity.

Meanwhile in soccer, Gareth Bale, Adam Matthews and Wales captain Aaron Ramsey all wish to represent Team GB at the London Olympics. All are under 23. This has been seen as many in Wales as some sort of treachery.

 The sad truth is that Bale, Matthews and Ramsey may never get the chance to play in another international football tournament as long as they live, and lets not forget that they are young players of substantial talent. It makes sense for them to test themselves against the best in the business (all be it in an age-restricted tournament). Who would deny them that?

 In a more extreme example, Lesley Vainakolo chose to swap sports and countries at 28 and at 32 has decided to move to France to see out his playing days in La Rochelle. Vainakolo wa a fantastic RL winger, quick, powerful and brutal in defence. He scored try after try for Bradford Bulls and represented New Zealand with real distinction.

 What cannot be ignored however is the financial disparity between RL and RU in the UK, Vainakolo was arguably just passed his best and looking for a payday when the RFU came calling. Would he have displaced Rico Gear, Rokococo or Sivivatu for the All Blacks even at his scintillating best? Doubtful. Would any of the super 12 sides at the time have taken a punt on him? Unlikely. So LV made the best choice for himself just as he did recently when he chose to leave Gloucester and England for France.

 Personally I don't blame any sportsman or woman for making the representative choices they have to make in professional sports, it is a short career and the chances for personal glory are thin on the ground. Professional sport is only able to be professional because it's primary goal is to entertain the fans, it is an interesting contrast therefore between the cold choices of a pro and the raucous support of a sporting patriot. That's all very well during a match, but how petty and small minded do you have to be to try and deny someone a professional opportunity that anyone would be foolish not to take?

 - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad, what a brilliant App!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Gary Speed - A Sad Loss

It's not everyday that the sudden death of a 42 year old family man makes the UK national news as the leading headline.  It's not everyday that professional footballers and managers past and present queue up to speak so emotionally about one of there own.  It's not everyday that a man with the reputation of Gary Speed (apparently) chooses to end his own life.

As a young boy, born and bred in Cardiff, I committed myself emotionally to the Welsh football team of which Gary Speed was an important part in the early 90's.  This commitment left me raw and hurting when that side failed to reach the 1994 World Cup, so much so that my subsequent interest in Wales has never since risen much beyond indifference.

Despite the intense disappointment that must've been felt within the Wales camp after that failure, Gary Speed's commitment to Wales - through thick and thin - never wavered.  He went on to represent his country 85 times, an incredible 44 occasions as captain.  Despite my own interest in Wales being diminished, I followed the Premier League very closely throughout Speed's career and I can honestly say that I do not recall him making a single mistake.  Not one.

Now of course, I never had the pleasure of meeting the man but I know he played 500 Premiership games quicker than anyone else, scored in every Premier League season up to 2007 and recently managed Wales to rise 40 places in the FIFA world rankings. He was a solid, dependable winner and never gave less than 100%.

Speed had a young family with his wife in Cheshire; and according to the floods of tributes from so many involved in football was genuinely loved by almost everyone he ever met.

So here we have a young, healthy, wealthy and successful man, whose burgeoning managerial career was beginning to show real promise, immensely popular among his peers and beloved and respected by tribes of opposition supporters who should normally despise him.  Yet it appears that on Sunday morning he took his own life. Why?

Gary Speed was a cracking footballer; not a world beater or game changer - but a workhorse.  I don't think anyone would be offended or slighted by that statement.  He was not the type of player whose death would normally spark such a media furore, this is more about the type of man he was.  The spotlight shines so brightly on him at this time, I think, because he was so loved by those who knew him and his example shows us that no-one is safe from the perils of depression, that life is a precious and fragile thing and that we should all cherish every single moment.

Thank you for not giving up on Wales when so many did Gary Speed.  Thank you for giving all you had in everything you did.  Perhaps you just had nothing left to give, but whatever the reason - Rest In Peace.

Friday, 21 October 2011

If they tried to kick themselves.....

Add up the sum scores of Wales's lost matches in this World Cup and the aggregate loss is by just 5 points. 5 points across 3 games. James Hook missed kicks equal to 5 points in today's game alone.

Heroic losses, moral victories, unjust decisions, bad luck - call it what you will. The naked truth is that Wales had the opportunities to win each and every game in which they took part during this World Cup and failed to take them when it truly mattered. That is not the sign of a great team.

Today's match was a bit different to the agnosing defeats at the hands of South Africa and France because at no point did Wales look in control. Australia looked sharper with the ball and more aggressive without it. Warburton was in the stands, Roberts was smothered, Phillips was mostly snaffled and the scrum was weak even against a much maligned Australian front row. And for the second game in succession James Hook was preferred to Stephen Jones. Only Gatland and God know why. The three point margin flattered Wales who, for all their efforts in the tournament as a whole, ultimately flattered to deceive in RWC2011.

It's not that that Wales didn't knuckle down against Robbie Deans' men, in fact they competed very well at the breakdown even without their leader and lead jackler Sam Warburton, and were full of bluster and effort. As Michael Owen said in commentary, they just kept trying to go through Australia. Australia were having none of it. It was the hitherto ignored Berrick Barnes that did the damage, tackling above his weight, hitting the game line effectively for his try, handling superbly and pinning Wales back with some great punts, dribbles and grubbers. How things may have been different for the green and golds if Barnes had played in their other matches in place of the silky but fragile Quade Cooper. Sadly for Cooper his world cup ended as he suffered a serious cruciate ligament injury as he seemed to catch his studs in the turf.

What next for Wales? Well as fate would have it, Australia on December 3rd at the Millennium Stadium. By which time the Welsh players will have numerous Pro 12 and Heineken Cup matches under their belts and the Aussies will have had a short off-season. Wales will need Priestland and Warburton back to tidy up possession and run the show if they are to get revenge for today's defeat.

The Welsh first XV are young, and there is further talent coming through behind it. Can they overcome the mental fragility that has always tempered Welsh ambitions in the professional era? Time will tell, but on the evidence of this World Cup campaign, there's work to be done - let's hope it is kick started with a win on December 3rd.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad, what a brilliant App!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Wales beaten by the better team

Legs above ahead = Spear

It seems that my crystal ball is broken, either that or it is linked to a parralell universe where just one of the following things didn't happen today in Auckland.

1. Stephen Jones was selected ahead of James Hook
2. Captain Sam wasn't sent off/didn't make 'that' tackle
3. James Hook had worn studs
4. It hadn't poured down before kick-off
5. Mike Phillips had managed to get under the posts
6. Wales's lineout had functioned
6. Leigh Halfpenny managed to sneak it over
7. Stephen Jones ever so slightly sliced his conversion

Because if any of those things had just gone the other way then Wales would be in the World Cup final next week. Alas, they are not.

The game ebbed and flowed for a short time, even if it was peppered with too much (poor) kicking.  Then Hook nailed a penalty from the touchline, as he so often does, and set about to miss 3 more kickable chances and continue to kick Wales out of the game from hand.  The nerves had not settled.

Up steps Captain Sam, Wales's hero throughout the tournament and does something that I beleive showed just how pumped up he was, a moment of emotion peeking out behind his otherwise professional demeanour that has served him and Wales so well in this fabulous World Cup.  He picked up little Vincert Clerc, legs above the winger's head, lifted his left elbow and made the body movement of a spear tackle.  Luckily for Clerc he did not follow through with the spear and the damage was far less dramatic than the Frenchmen - who lay prone for a few minutes - would have us believe   Unluckily for Warburton (and the whole of Wales) the tackle was illegal under the rules of the game and was right under Alain Rolland's nose.  Despite the protestations elsewhere the ex-Ireland scrum half had little choice but to go for the red card.  Two years ago it might have been a yellow; 10 or 15 years ago it would have been a good tackle.

At this point France won the game.  Perhaps Wales should have won anyway, due to the other mistakes and missed opportunities listed above, but the psychological lift that the French received from the extra man was evident in their fervent defence, improved scrum and destructive line out.  Otherwise they offered nothing.

Onwards Wales charged, Lydiate, Wyn Jones and Charteris working themselves to a standstill, and 2/3rds of them not even finishing the game.  Faletau had his best game in a Welsh shirt.  Phillips was at his very best in scoring his try but Hook was the weak link. Lievremont's reverse psychology may just have paid off.  Stephen Jones's introduction should have come sooner.

Many of the close calls and missed chances were within Wales's control and so I must conclude that Wales were beaten by the better team today; themselves.  France were little more than a line of blue sponges, all willing the game to end with them in front.  And, despite over 20 phases of trundling possession for the dead-on-their-feet 14 of Wales, it did.

What next for France? A thorough stuffing by either Australia or New Zealand some would suppose.  What next for Wales?  Considering the mental strength and capacity for good, swift, incisive rugby - and ignoring the seemingly meaningless play-off to come - I would hope a win against the Aussies in December and - with 3 games at home - a Six Nations championship.  Either that or this was the very best of false dawns in living memory.

Either way I am thankful for what the Welsh team have given the rugby world in this World Cup.  Heart, hope, determination, passion and skill.  Hold your heads high boys, you've done us proud.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Wales Forever

So my prediction came to pass and Wales did indeed face Ireland in a 2011 RWC quarter final. Hardly a sage-like premonition from me after Ireland's outstanding win against the Aussies. I knew that Wales were a good side, built on a base of talented youngsters, and that Ireland were also a quality side, but 10 years older - no crystal ball required.

What I did not foresee was just how good Wales would be. Like many 'proper' pundits I saw this game as a close fought thing, perhaps decided by 1-4 points either way. Ireland played well, well enough to dispatch any Wales side since perhaps the 2005 vintage, but Wales played better, 12 points better according to the scoreboard. Ireland threw the kitchen sink, the fridge, the Aga and the oak table at Wales and all were rebuffed. At no point did I ever feel like Wales would lose; that is a truly alien feeling to any Welsh rugby fan. Even when we win we like to dice with defeat, but not today.

Despite all that, just what were Ireland up to in the first 10 mins? Wales score early and Ireland get three penalties in quick succession in the Welsh half. They have Ronan O'Gara to kick the goals. They chose to kick for touch. The got nothing for their trouble. Cup rugby is about building a score and keeping pressure on opponents; plus, as IBM keep telling us, only 10% of lines out result in tries. So what were they thinking?

Whatever was going through Irish minds Wales were having none of it, Sean O'Brien broke very few tackles, BOD made little impression with ball in hand and Ronan got out kicked (from hand) by the uber-cool Priestland. After Shane squeezed in at the corner to quash any opening Welsh nerves, then the strength of body and mind that this young Welsh side forged in the cryogenic chambers of Poland came to the fore.

Ireland came out firing in the 2nd half and earned their try through the diminutive and busy Keith Earls. Then Halfpenny absorbed the aerial attacks and Wales drove through the middle of Ireland where Alyn Wyn Jones made some real ground, allowing Mike Phillips to finish with an exquisite, and necessary, dive (Chris Ashton take note). All that was left was for Jonathan Davies to score the kind of try he often produces in regional matches, showing strength and acceleration that he has not often produced at international level with ball in hand. Ireland continued to bludgeon away and showed some slick handling but they lacked the Welsh incision and were repelled time and time again.

"We deserved it" said the ever-humble Mike Phillips, he was right. The question is, can they sustain the same defensive efforts for two more matches and continue to be ruthless in attack? We'll go some way to finding out when Wales play France next week for a place in the World Cup Final. Surely the rudderless French have used up their best game in dispatching England today?

With that in mind this prophet foretells a Welsh win. Cymru Am Byth!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad, what a brilliant App!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

An Irish Quarter Final?

It was my duty as a Welshman to awake this morning at 4.15am to catch Wales play Samoa in New Zealand's Rugby World Cup. There are a number of drawbacks to this: Wales have a terrible record against the Samoans in World Cups with embarrassing losses in both '91 and '99, the Samoans had a nice easy match to open their RWC account against Namibia whereas Wales had a gruelling encounter with current champions South Africa but more importantly I had to get out of bed in the pitch black of 4.15am and watch the 'coverage' supplied by ITV Wales which is almost as flat and impotent as the Welsh team proved to be today.

Samoa deserved to win today, even more so than Wales deserved the win against South Africa last week. Where Wales were slow to the ball and the breakdown the Samoans were dynamic and sharp. Wales struggled to put more than 4 phases together where Samoa regularly held the ball for more than 10. The Welsh Scrums and lines out, which were so strong against the Saffers, were creaky and at times woeful against the general accuracy and gusto shown by Samoa.

Still, the match ended 17-10 to Wales. Wales landed more kicks and matched the 1 Samoan try courtesy of a fantastic break by the speedy Gonzalez legs of Leigh Halfpenny who came on for the ineffectual (and injured?) James Hook. The greater loss, in this writer's opinion, was of Dan Lydiate, Andy Powell huffed and puffed as he so often does but did little to impose himself on the game. Lydiate is the antithesis of Powell, he gets about his word quietly and patiently, turning ball over regularly and often dominating his opposite number around the field and making 'hard yards' around the fringes.

Special mentions go to the Samoan back row, Stowers worked tirelessly at 8 and Faasavalu at 7 outshone Wales captain Sam Warburton, though he was helped by a lack of control of and respect for the ball at the breakdown by Wales. Samoa, in contrast carried dynamically and strongly deserving more than the solitary try by Anthony Perenise.

In the end Halfpenny's scintillating pace up the line, the support of Jon Davies, his best effort to butcher the try and Shane's incredible anticipation to pick up the lose ball and dot down were the difference. A win is a win as they say and another couple in the group and Wales will surely face Ireland in the quarter-final. On this performance however, both Fiji and Ireland will be licking their lips.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Franchises that pay

"Develop as many income streams as you can" - Anonymous

I don't know who said it, but it seems common sense to ensure as many streams of income as possible if only to spread the risk. Another reason is to spread your interests and therefore, for me anyway, keep motivated.

"Don't put all your eggs in one basket" - Anonymous

It's the same maxim, only in the negative context.

The new year has seen a major development at Norman Environmental Ltd; we are committing to two separate franchise schemes. One is the sale of cut price, cash discounted utilities to home and business property owners, the other is the sale of environmentally friendly promotional branded products. Both these ideas dovetail nicely with the slogan of Norman Environmental - "Reducing your energy bills and waste". To successfully integrate these products and services I must take charge of building and maintaining a robust database of current, potential and past clients.

How will we find the time? Good question, and it's one I intend to begin to answer at the office tomorrow, one thing I do know is that I'm excited and exhilarated by the challenges ahead. It is imperative however, that we do not lose sight of our core business; that is assessing the energy use and habits of our clients and successfully helping them to minimise their environmental impact via a selection of energy saving and generating devices and products that we install at their property.

Time to roll up our sleeves then...