Coming forth to carry me home (empty handed)

Before yesterday’s rugby world cup final I was supporting England. I thought it would be good for a northern hemisphere team to win and I do live in England after all. However, my support was reluctant because, as is common, my social media feeds were full of English fans disparaging the Welsh with pictures such as this:

Here’s the thing. Wales punch miles above their weight when it comes to rugby considering their size, population, and mediocre clubs (none seriously competes in the Heineken Cup). Finishing 4th for the second time in 8 years is a pretty decent achievement. Realistically, Wales are never going to win a world cup. It would take them having a freakishly good team and everyone else to be unusually crap, and it would be an upset not quite on the scale of Greece winning the 2004 European Championship but something close to it. The best Wales can do is win the Grand Slam fairly frequently, get to the semis of a world cup, and claim a southern hemisphere scalp every now and then.

England, by contrast, are massive underachievers when it comes to rugby. They’re a large nation with well-funded infrastructure and teams which regularly compete and win the Heineken Cup. By rights they should be winning the Six Nations most years, Grand Slams several times a decade, and thinking they’ve had a poor tournament if they finish second. They should be finalists or semi-finalists in every world cup, and should have won more than one by now. For the English to mock the Welsh for having not having won a rugby world cup is like France mocking Belgium’s inability to win a world cup at football. I’ve often thought that England’s solitary RWC win 16 years ago has had the same effect as their FIFA one in 1966: they dine out on it for decades, kid themselves they’re genuine contenders every year, but somehow never add to the trophy cabinet.

And so it proved yesterday, when England got taken apart by a South African side who were better in every department on the day. The two most comprehensive beatings of the tournament between top tier sides was England’s defeat of New Zealand and South Africa’s thrashing England. The problem England have had for a long time is they’re invincible when their game plan works as it did against New Zealand, but if it doesn’t they have to wait for half time so the coach can tell them what to do instead. They’re a team seriously lacking in leadership. They’ve got strength, skill, and guts in abundance but nobody with the rugby brain of a Kieran Read, Beauden Barrett, or Faf de Klerk. A couple of seasons back in the Six Nations the Italians decided to throw a spanner in the works by refusing to form rucks, meaning they could defend from positions which would otherwise be offside. The England team, seemingly lacking anyone who knew the rules, had no idea what was even happening let alone how to deal with it.

So yesterday when they found their scrum going backwards at 30mph in the first few minutes they lost their heads. Ben Youngs threw a ball over the head of the winger and out of play, George Ford hoofed it into touch on the full, passes went astray, and balls were knocked on. Manu Tuilagi, the hero against New Zealand, didn’t trouble the commentators until a quarter of the match had been played. A lot of people are blaming the referee, but sloppy play is hardly his fault. England were unlucky to lose Kyle Sinckler so early on, but I doubt that made much difference. South Africa simply wanted it more, and played as though they were in a final. This maul appearing from nowhere in open play is one of the best moves I’ve seen in a rugby match:

As the match wore on I found my support for England waning on the grounds that I didn’t think they deserved it. As someone on Twitter said, New Zealand played their final against Ireland, and England played theirs against New Zealand. South Africa played theirs in the actual final, and deservedly won. England, having won one final out of four, are starting to look like chokers. My advice is they worry more about their consistent underachieving rather than spending time mocking smaller nations. After all, we were ravaged by injuries yet came within one penalty kick of stopping South Africa reaching the final, and we put a try past them. Maybe they should swap Eddie Jones for Warren Gatland?

Share

All Cracks

Talk about hysterical:

Scott Robertson looks the man to step in and resuscitate these ailing All Blacks

Ailing? They lost one game!

Any hope Steve Hansen’s assistant, Ian Foster, had of stepping into the top role almost certainly went down the gurgler with the All Blacks’ threepeat prospects at Yokohama’s International Stadium on Saturday night.

I wondered who the Kiwis would use as a scapegoat. They couldn’t very well turn on Steve Hansen, who had delivered them everything (except for a series win over the British & Irish Lions, hehehe). None of the individual players had done much wrong, except maybe Sam Whitelock who gave away a couple of silly penalties and they’re not going to turn on him. So it falls to Hansen’s assistant who, of course, is suddenly unsuited to work in rugby ever again.

New Zealand Rugby must learn too. It must understand that all good things come to an end and it is time for some freshness in these All Blacks.

This is written as if the All Blacks were made up of a bunch of ageing has-beens resting on their laurels from earlier victories. Players like Jack Goodhue (aged 24), Jordie Barrett (22), George Bridge (24), Richie Mo’unga (25), Scott Barrett (25), and Anton Lienert-Brown (24). Yes, a right team of unfresh veterans, that one. Whereas the team which won in 2015 had Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Dan Carter, and Kevin Mealamu who were all over 33. Whatever the problem was with the All Blacks yesterday – and if we’re being honest it was a brilliantly trained and prepared England not letting them play – it wasn’t a lack of freshness.

Robertson, the charismatic, hugely successful former All Black and Crusaders coach, appeals as the logical successor. He is a modern thinker, an innovator and a motivator, and he has the midas touch. His franchise has won everything from the minute he toolk over.

The Kiwis have lost one game and they’re already in full-on panic and looking for a saviour. They should try being Welsh for a while. We get to a RWC semi-final with a brilliant coach and play as if it’s a dead rubber against a side which looks equally uninterested.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden fights back tears of grief as Steve Hanson explains why he started Scott Barrett at 6. A month of national mourning has been declared, and new laws have been introduced making sharing of the match footage on social media punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Share

La Tournette

The reason I didn’t post anything today was because I hiked up La Tournette, a 2,351m mountain which is the highest in the area around Annecy. It took me 3 hours and 50 minutes to get to the top from the village of Montmin, and another 2 hours and 30 minutes to get back down. According to the guidebook, it represents an altitude gain of 1,024m and it felt like it. Two hours in and I was on a grassy slope looking up at this towering wall of rock and I felt like turning back. If I’d known what was to come I would have, but if you live in Annecy and you tell people you go hiking then you pretty much have to go up La Tournette. Also, I didn’t want to be looking at it in future thinking “yeah, I almost got up there but wrapped my tits in”, so I kept going. I’m reasonably fit thanks to going to the gym and skiing, but I wasn’t hiking fit: the last serious hike I did was up Le Parmelan 3 years ago. By the time I got back to the car I could barely stand up. It didn’t help matters than an hour from the end half the sole came off my walking boot, and I did the rest with it flapping about underneath. They were very good boots, made by the Italian company Zamberlan, but in fairness I bought them in 1997 and have battered them since, so I probably shouldn’t ring them up and complain.

Anyway, here’s me at the top.

I’ve posted some other pictures here.

Share

Unfinished Izzyness

Staying on the topic of Australian labour laws and following on from this story, Israel Folau is back in the news:

Sacked former rugby international Israel Folau has launched legal proceedings with the Fair Work Commission against Rugby Australia (RA) and NSW Rugby for breach of contract.

Folau’s lawyers said under Section 772 of the Fair Work Act, it was unlawful to terminate employment on the basis of religion.

I had a feeling he might do this. Folau got into trouble for expressing views which form the basis of several mainstream religions, including his own, on his private Instagram feed. I don’t have much faith in any Australian judge not just ruling however progressives demand, but on the face of it I think he has a case. How can an organisation claim it does not discriminate on the grounds of religion – which is a set of beliefs – and then fire someone for expressing those beliefs outside the organisation?

RA and NSW Rugby released a statement confirming they would maintain their ground following Folau’s decision to launch legal action.

The organisations stated they “did not choose” to be in this position but they were committed to upholding the values of “inclusion, passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork”.

Inclusion? That’s the word you’re going to go with here? And I notice you didn’t include tolerance.

“We will defend those values and the right for all people to feel safe and welcome in our game regardless of their gender, race, background, religion or sexuality,” the statement said.

We welcome people regardless of their religion provided they don’t express its underlying beliefs, even in a private capacity. This article does a good job of explaining the Gordian Knot identity politics has tied for itself:

Sport is to be commended for striving to uphold the best values of a modern society, but what happens when those values clash — the human right of sexual orientation versus the human right to freedom of religion?

Does quoting from the Bible constitute hate speech? Was Folau inciting violence?

There is little to no distinction between the “public face” of a sport and the “individual” who may want to express his or her own views or religious beliefs — as they are entitled to under the charter of Human Rights.

His Instagram account doesn’t describe him as a Wallaby or mention rugby at all. It says, “Israel Folau. Living for Jesus Christ. #TeamJesus.”

All eyes will be on the outcome of this court case. I hope Folau wins, but I won’t be holding my breath. Ultimately, it will come down to who sits higher in the victim hierarchy and we already know that gays outrank Christians by a mile and a half. But the courts are going to have to tread carefully because gays don’t outrank certain other religions, and unfortunately for progressives discrimination laws lump all religions in the same basket. The head honchos at world rugby must be praying Sonny Bill Williams doesn’t tweet anything similar before the world cup starts.

Share

Israeli Thought Crimes

This isn’t surprising:

Israel Folau’s contract has been terminated by Rugby Australia after he said “hell awaits” gay people in a social media post.

The Waratahs full-back, 30, was sacked in April but requested a hearing, which was heard by a three-person panel.

They found him guilty of a “high level breach” of RA’s player code of conduct and have upheld the dismissal.

It’s not the first time Folau has got into trouble for expressing views consistent with his unapproved and unprotected religion.

The fundamentalist Christian posted a banner on his Instagram account in April that read: “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you.”

This is another example of tolerance and diversity only extending as far as government-approved opinions. Note that Folau is not demanding homosexuals be punished, nor is he refusing to play with them. Instead, he is expressing his religious views that homosexuality is a sin for which they will ultimately pay in the afterlife. A charitable interpretation is he’s not even being malicious, he genuinely fears for such people and wants to save them. His opinions on the fate of homosexuals are derived directly from his religion, which in theory he has the freedom to practice. But as far as Rugby Australia are concerned, he’s free to practice Christianity provided he doesn’t pass remarks on what that entails. This doesn’t sound like an organisation which embraces diversity or practices tolerance.

The other daft thing is Heaven and Hell are religious concepts, and Folau is clearly using the term “hell” in it’s religious context here. So unless you’re religious like Folau, the whole idea of Hell ought to be meaningless. In which case what’s the problem? Homosexuals seem to be taking offence that Folau is condemning them to a fate in an afterlife they don’t themselves believe in. They might as well fret about stepping on cracks in the pavement.

Rugby Australia is a foundation member of Pride in Sport Index (PSI), which is a sporting inclusion programme in Australia set up to help sporting organisations with the inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

And to the exclusion of practicing Christians whose views have brought no problems whatsoever to the game (unless you count Michael Jones refusing to play on Sundays).

“We commend Rugby Australia, as well as New South Wales Rugby Union, for their leadership and courage throughout this process,” said PSI co-founder Andrew Purchas.

Chucking outspoken Christians under the bus to appease the gay lobby is hardly courageous. What would have been really courageous is for Rugby Australia to state that Folau is entitled to practice his religion and express the views derived from it on his social media platforms.

“Their swift and decisive actions shows that homophobic and transphobic discrimination is not acceptable in sport and individuals – irrespective of their social or professional stature – will be held accountable for their words and actions.”

Held accountable for their actions, eh? Funny, these are the precise sentiments which have just got Folau fired. What we’re seeing here is new quasi-religious dogma pushing out the old. Only Christian societies had a 2,000 year run. How long do you think modern society will last in its current guise?

Share

Ascension Day

On Sunday I binge-watched two documentaries about “big wall” climbing in the Yosemite Valley. One appeared on my Netflix feed and I wondered if it was the one discussed on a recent Joe Rogan podcast; when I looked and it wasn’t, I decided I’d just watch them both.

The first was The Dawn Wall, which concerns the first free-climbing ascent of the so-named face of El Capitan which is basically 3,000 feet of smooth granite with almost nothing to hold on to. The reason nobody had done this before is because many thought it impossible, but a phenomenally gifted climber by the name of Tommy Caldwell and his partner Kevin Jorgeson attempted it in 2015, inadvertently becoming a media sensation in the process. There are certain elements which make the story great. One section of the ascent involves a lateral climb over a stretch of rock which is particularly barren in terms of places to stand and things to hold on to. At first glance it just looks like a smooth slab of rock the size of a city block but on closer inspection there are tiny protrusions about half a centimetre in size, which Caldwell shows is quite enough to hang off in a pinch. When he completes the section, veteran climbers can scarcely believe it. What makes it even more amazing is Caldwell is missing the index finger on his left hand thanks to a circular saw accident, something everyone thought would end his career as a professional climber. The trouble is, Jorgeson needs to complete the section as well and try as he might, he can’t. Caldwell waits but after several days – the two lived on the cliff for 19 days  – he decides his own quest is in jeopardy and so continues alone. He makes considerable progress and is only a few days from the top when he decides he doesn’t want to leave his partner, so goes back down and tells Jorgeson he’ll wait as long as he has to. I’ve got to say, when Jorgeson finally completes the section I was punching the air and yelling. Happily, the two reach the top and enter climbing folklore.

A fascinating episode of Caldwell’s life occurred in August 2000 when he was just 16. He was climbing in Kyrgyzstan with some other American youngsters (one of whom he would later marry) when they got kidnapped by Islamic militants at war with the government. They were marched aimlessly through the mountains for 6 days until their captors either dropped out or were killed in skirmishes by government troops, leaving just one left. They hatched a plan and when a chance came up, Caldwell crept up behind him and sent him headlong over a cliff. They then found their way to an army base and were rescued. This had a profound effect on Caldwell (as you’d expect) and his personality changed, driving him even harder towards climbing. Surprisingly, the bloke he shoved off the cliff survived. I’d never heard this story before, being wholly uninterested in Central Asia when it occurred, so found it intriguing.

The second documentary was called Free Solo, about the ascent of El Capitan by an astonishing young climber called Alex Honnold. Free solo climbing is when you climb with no ropes for protection, just you, a pair of shoes, and a chalk bag. Nobody had ever solo climbed El Capitan before because most people thought any attempt suicidal, but Honnold mans up and does it accompanied by an exceptionally talented film crew led by one Jimmy Chin. There are moments in the film which had me covering my eyes with my forearm and shouting “Get down off there man, get down!” I guarantee you’ll have sweaty palms right up until Honnold pops over the final ledge and walks up to the crowd waiting on top. The storyline of Free Solo isn’t as good as The Dawn Wall, but it’s probably a better spectacle.

If you’re into climbing, or like me you just like watching people doing extreme stuff in mountains, you should watch them both. I’ll never be a rock climber or a mountaineer but I do like hiking, and when I finally hauled myself off the sofa I looked out my window at La Tournette and thought it was high time I trudged up it. So that’s the plan once the snow melts. I doubt they’ll make a documentary about it, though.

Share

He giveth, but cannot taketh

Thin-skinned cricket cheat David Warner is back in the news again:

Former Australia vice-captain David Warner walked off the field in protest while batting in a grade cricket match, in what Cricket Australia has described as a “sledging incident”.

The batsman was playing for club side Randwick-Petersham and decided to leave the field when he was unbeaten on 35.

Opponents Western Suburbs allowed him to return and he went on to score 157.

What’s interesting is who the spat was with:

Cricket Australia says it understands the player involved was Jason Hughes, brother of former Australia Test player Phillip Hughes, but has not given any details of the sledging, other that it turned “personal” and “nasty”.

In the immediate aftermath of Hughes’ death, Warner was seen as one of his closest friends and, along with Michael Clarke, architect of what became Australia’s Diana moment. It would be interesting to see whether this latest incident is just some on-field stuff or whether there’s a bit more to it.

Now last time Warner was on the back foot he hid behind his wife, and here she is again taking up the cudgels on his behalf:

Candice Warner would not reveal the nature of the remarks allegedly made by Jason Hughes, the brother of the late Phillip Hughes, but said they had crossed the line from sledging to abuse.

Ah yes, the infamous line, which only Australian players are qualified to see.

Warner is known in the international arena as one of the biggest sledgers in the game but Candice Warner defended her husband’s reaction.

“Everyone has their own opinion but I think there’s a difference between sledging and abuse,” she said.

Yes, the difference being when high-profile Australians do it it’s sledging, for everyone else it’s abuse.

“I’m not going to go into what was said yesterday but yesterday went too far.”

But it’s all part of the game, innit? He should learn to tuffen up, hey?

“It was hurtful, it was very hurtful.

Bless. I hope Jonathan Trott was at the ground.

Share

Transworld Sport

This story amused me:

A biological male who identifies as a transgender woman won a women’s world championship cycling event on Sunday.

Rachel McKinnon, a professor at the College of Charleston, won the women’s sprint 35-39 age bracket at the 2018 UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Los Angeles.

McKinnon, representing Canada, bested Carolien Van Herrikhuyzen of the Netherlands and American cyclist Jennifer Wagner to take home the gold.

Here’s a pic:

Bit of a difference in physiques, eh? Now we’ve seen similar madness before: a male weightlifter from New Zealand competed in the women’s categories and unsurprisingly cleaned up:

The 39-year-old lifted 123kg in the snatch discipline, and then produced a clean-and-jerk lift of 145kg for a 268kg total – 19kg better than the second-placed competitor.

And we also had Fallon Fox, a biological male fighting in the female category of mixed martial arts, inflicting serious damage on his opponents, some of whom were not aware their opponent was a man. There’s also the

Now we’re obviously down the rabbit hold of gender insanity here, but let’s step back a minute and look at this:

Rachel McKinnon, a professor at the College of Charleston, won the women’s sprint 35-39 age bracket…

Okay, nobody gives a damn about women’s sprint cycling in the 35-39 age bracket, relatively speaking. It’s a shame for the real women who trained hard only to be beaten by a man, but cycling at this level is at best a hobby. I expect outside family members and a few die-hard cyclists who were there for other events, nobody even watched this race. Weighlifting is no more popular than cycling, but the Kiwi bloke who won was at least participating in a top-tier event. Similarly, Fallon Fox’s last professional MMA fight was in 2014, before the sport was as popular as it is now.

My point is I reckon this nonsense will be stopped dead in its tracks as soon as trans women start trying to compete in women’s sports in events which draw reasonable crowds of serious fans and there is money at stake. There is no way the MMA is going to put a man in to fight a woman on the undercard of a fight like McGregor v Nurmagomedov, for example. Similarly, if a trans woman tried playing tennis at Wimbledon, they’d be told to sod off in no uncertain terms. The paying public simply wouldn’t tolerate seeing a bad male tennis player thrash the top female stars into 6-0 6-0 losses.

The closest we’ve come to allowing trans women to participate in popular events (and I use that term loosely) is in Australia’s AFL, and they’re approaching it gingerly indeed. In August this year, after much humming and hawing, they came out with this:

The AFL has put forward an AFL transgender policy proposal at a meeting on Wednesday between the AFL and transgender athletes that would see potential AFLW footballers required to have blood testosterone levels maintained below five nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) for 24 months.

Which is a fudge, because other attributes like muscle mass, height, and lung capacity will remain very much male, but at least they’re applying some criteria. So my guess is this topic will provide amusing stories every now and again, and it really does suck for the genuine females who deserve gold medals in fringe sports which will now be denied them, but it won’t go any further than that.

Share

Geraint Thomas

Now I knew that Gareth Bale and Sam Warburton went to school together, but I didn’t know this:

In pride of place on a corridor wall at Whitchurch High School in Cardiff can be found the most extraordinary collection of sporting memorabilia. There are medals, trophies and awards won by former pupils in everything from football, rugby, cricket and hockey to lawn bowls. There is a framed shirt worn by the captain of the British and Irish Lions, another by a serial winner of the Champions League, another by a Commonwealth Games gold medallist.

But even among such a jostling display of excellence, prominent space will be found should Geraint Thomas, another old boy, this weekend be awarded the most illustrious of all sporting outfits: the winner’s top from the Tour de France.

Not in the same year, though:

Thirteen pupils in one year group alone achieved international sporting recognition.

“It was crazy when you think about it,” says Kear of Whitchurch’s output. “I was in the same year as Sam Warburton and Gareth Bale. And Sam and I played in the same rugby team as Tom Maynard [the England Lions cricketer who died in tragic circumstances in 2012]. That was the team that won the Welsh Schools Cup.”

Thomas was in the year ahead of that group, already earmarked while at school as a cycling prodigy.

With luck, Geraint Thomas will finish today’s stage having retained the yellow jersey, with tomorrow’s procession into Paris a mere formality. I think I might have to wander up to the Arc de Triomphe and wave my Welsh flag as he goes by, don’t you?

Share

France Champions!

Well the French might not be able to organise the colours of their flag on a fly past, but they can win a world cup final. Croatia started brightly and put considerable pressure on France, but their defence held up and they never looked like losing control; they simply remained patient and took their chances. Sure they had some luck, but it’s hard to argue with 4-2. For all those who think France may not have deserved it, consider that they were also the beaten finalists of the Euro 2016 tournament. Consistency is a big factor in winning trophies, and France seems to have mastered it.

It was nice to see Didier Deschamps join Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer in the small club of men who have won the FIFA World Cup both as a player and a coach. I still remember Deschamps lifting the trophy in 1998, having captained the side throughout the tournament. Good for him.

It wasn’t so nice to wake up this morning to discover the good-natured celebrations which took place in Paris after the game had turned into full-on riots with widespread looting. It made me glad I wasn’t there. Whereas it might be tempting to blame it all on African or North African minorities, I suspect there were others involved too. Like many European cities these days, Paris seems to have a lot of people who seek to destroy it given the slightest opportunity – and that includes those who have allowed the situation to get so bad.

There is much of this sort of sentiment going around Twitter this morning:

People made similar remarks when France won in 1998, although few attribute the footballing success of Italy, Spain, or Portugal to their teams’ relative homogeneity. The point they’re trying to make is immigration is good, but it ought to be noted that these players or their forebears came to France solely because that’s who colonised them a century or two ago. The French team is therefore as much an advert for colonisation as immigration; I’d prefer it if we just called them French and didn’t concern ourselves with their skin colour. As someone has noted:

Indeed. Well done France, I’m happy for you all. It’s just a shame about the rioting.

Share