SIX NATIONS 3RD ROUND SUMMARY

 

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WALES V FRANCE

Another dull game in a series of dull games so far this 6 Nations. There is no doubt that Wales continue to be a hard team to beat with their defence superbly organised, but I am not sure how well the alleged ‘new style’ of rugby is coming on. I still see the centres (particularly Roberts) and forwards trucking it up the midfield phase after phase and then……….what?

Gareth Davies at scrum half seems the only genuine threat with his sniping and incredible turn of speed. So why, in my opinion, are Wales failing to make the next step in evolving their game? In two words, Dan Biggar.

Don’t get me wrong, I think he is a class player and was instrumental in keeping the Welsh team in the World Cup with their battered, bruised and depleted team, but that was then and this is now. His brand of rugby is ‘safe’, he is not one to attack the gain line, leave his decision to the very last minute and put players into space. He WILL kick his goals, organise the midfield well and chase the high ball superbly. It is not a style of play that will change the way Wales can attack the game.

If Gatland is serious about having a genuine ‘plan B’ then he might look at Priestland or Patchell – it might mean taking a step back to move forwards, but it could be worth it.

France? Where to start? That might, in fact, be the question that Guy Noves has been asking himself since he took over the reins. Judging on what we have seen so far in the tournament, he must still be asking himself that very same question!

Yes there are glimpses of flair and imagination, but there is far too little of it and it is not enough to worry the most average of teams. There is, I am sure, a game plan…. I am just at a loss to see what it is. You go beyond one or two phases of play and there seems to be no shape to their attack and I suspect that if their defence is stretched, really stretched, that it will crack and crumble in the wide out spaces.

I have a huge amount of sympathy for Noves, who was, yet again, restricted to a handful of days with his players (most of whom were playing for their clubs last weekend) when most other teams had their full complement of players for two consecutive weeks. However…… there really seems to be little, if any, development noticeable since the first weekend when the stumbled over the line against Italy.

Wales were the clear winners in an often turgid game. A shame as the Friday night games at the Principality Stadium have so often sparked the weekends rugby into life. Not so on this occasion.

ITALY V SCOTLAND

Quite simply a must win game for both sides. Scotland, despite their heroics in the World Cup, had not won a six nations game since a last second drop goal by Weir at Stadio Olimpico two years ago – Their coach, Vern Cotter, had never one a Six Nations match – and Italy had not been much better themselves.

We all knew what we were going to get.

Scotland would come out of the blocks at 1000 kilometres an hour, show flair and great interaction between forwards and backs and play with width. Italy would win the battle at the set piece (dominating scrum and lineout) and attempt to use slow Scotland ball down until they could launch their own brand of attack.

One side succeeded, the other failed, miserably. I was stunned with how poor Italy were in the scrum. Normally the one area of the game where they could, at the very least, guarantee parity, was a disaster denying them the platform to strike from. Parisse has openly blamed the referee for his “poor” interpretation of the scum – I’m not sure he is totally right here, Italy were just outplayed in this phase of the game. Despite this set back, Italy were good enough to have 62% possession and 66% territory throughout the game. It should have been enough to control the match and win.

So where did it go wrong?

The loss of Carlo Canna, Italy’s fly half, during the week will certainly have affected their ability to create problems for Scotland – Haimona is certainly not as gifted a player – and it will have, no doubt, required a significant change in the game plan. That having been said, I never rated Haimona as a kicker yet he nailed all of his kicks off the tee and his kick offs to Parisse could not have been better. For me it was a serious lack of game management coupled with the amount of turnovers they gave away (13 v 8) that cost them dearly. If you add the fact that Italy’s bench is not strong you can see why they are always going to struggle to close games out. Most teams now talk about the match day 23 being composed of ‘starters’ and ‘finishers’. For Italy, I suspect, that they will make changes only when the starting XV have run out of steam rather than to put the opposition to the sword.

I thought Parisse was, yet again, monumental and Campagnaro showed that he is developing into a centre that any team would be glad to have in their side. It was Laidlaw, however, with his 21 point haul, that put the nail in the coffin that buried Italy.

 

ENGLAND V IRELAND

This was the first real test for Eddie Jones, having eased past Scotland and seen off Italy in the last 20 minutes in Rome. The situation, for Ireland, was significantly different; their problem being a team bereft – again – of a number of key players. Something that a small nation can hardly afford.

This game, for the first time in the championship, lived up to its billing. It was fast and furious, exciting and the game ebbed and flowed – first in Ireland’s favour and then back to England. I think, despite the fact that the statistics say that it was a close game – with Ireland edging the possession and territory, that England should have, in all honesty won more convincingly. The lack of precission in the Irish 22 and their penalty count (including two yellow cards) let them down badly. The fact that Danny Care, barely on the pitch, missed the last 10 minutes of the game as he was on the naughty step, severely dented England’s abilit to pull away. Farrell also needs a good talking to – he has always been an aggressive player, but he is beginning to rack up the penalty count and for all his place kicking points he could soon be a costly liability to England.

Ireland threatened on numerous occasions and it was only Jack Nowell’s lung busting run and cover tackle to prevent Henshaw scoring in the corner that kept England ahead with 15 minutes to go. If that had been a 7 pointer, then the rest of the game would have been on a knife edge.

Another notable point is how well Itoje played. This was his first start (having played a handfull of minutes in Rome) and he looked as if he was a seasoned international. If he can stay fit, there is no doubt that he is going to be a world class player.

So, the Championship winners for the last two years are effectively out of the running this year and the Jones era is 3/3. The game against Wales in two weeks will be another step up in intensity and quality, but this England team (still pretty much consisting of players from the Lancaster era – only 4 of the match day 23 being new) seem to have banished the demons from the World Cup and are in a good place. Ireland could do with a visit to Lourdes – we might then see their real potential.

As a general comment- none of the teams with superior possession and territory stats won a game! Who says that stats don’t lie?

ONE WORD DESCRIPTIONS:-

Wales – Uncompromising

France – Chaotic

Italy –  Disconnected

Scotland – Vibrant

England – Frustrating

Ireland – Gutsy

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PARISSE BLOWS IT IN PARIS

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This was as good a performance by Italy as I can remember – yes, better even than the other occasions that they have won Six Nations matches.

They played for a full 80 minutes (something they have seemed incapable of for many a year), they played with patience, they played with pace, they played with width and they played with penetration. They had a half back pairing that worked well together and, in Canna, they seem to have found a 10 that can do pretty much everything that an international 10 should be able to do. Pretty much…… he still has work to do on his place kicking though.

I have to admit to having been a detractor of Italian rugby for some time, even when others have – wrongly in my opinion – said that they have been playing a better brand of rugby under Brunel. My dismay with them has led to a degree of cynisism; so much so that when they began their very first attacking ‘set’ I muttered out loud “how long will they just shift the ball from left to right and then back again”. How wrong was I? A slight change of angle to attack the defenders inside shoulder and ‘Bang’ penetration. A clean break and France were on the back foot.

That is pretty much where France stayed for the majority of the match. Yes, there were glimpses of the free flowing, off the cuff rugby that the very best French teams have all been capable of – particularly the close quarter support work that other teams should take note of- but there was too little of it and the rest of their play was, lets be honest, poor. Their saviour was Plisson with solid kicking – when he took over from the wayward Bezy (as an aside, what is it with French teams and their obsession with Scrum Halves kicking?) and a monster 54 metre strike to take France into the lead with 5 minutes left on the clock, but for me the real, one might say only, shining light was their wing Vakatawa – a 7’s specialist who had not played a game of XV’s for over a year. He was explosive in attack and performed his defensive duties well. Despite this, Guy Noves will not have slept soundly last night.

Sergio Parisse was to the fore of most noteworthy events as far as the Azzuri were concerned – the good and the bad! He scored a try, was held up on the line on another occasion leading to Canna’s, he made multiple line breaks and he was magnificent in the line out and at the back of the scrum. He was immense and, the standout player on the pitch. All things we have become used to. Parisse has been the best player to grace the Italian national team for a very long time and is, no doubt, a world class N°8 – he was again on Saturday.

He is, however, flawed. He has always been a little petulant and I am convinced that it was his anger at being penalised for playing the ball off the ground (leading to Plisson’s kick on 75 minutes) that was still bubbling over when he made the fatal, rash, decision to take a drop for goal at the death. I can just imagine him thinking that he would right the wrong and win the match for his team. In fact, had Castrogiovanni not pulled him away from the referee – as he was back chatting- there is a chance that he might have been warming his backside on the naughty step for the remainder of the game.

We all know that he can kick – there isn’t much he can’t do – but it was simply the wrong decision and, potentially, cost Italy an historic win in Paris. At the stage that he decided to kick, the only thing that was correct was the position on the pitch – just utside the 22m line and central. All Italy had to do was complete one more phase and ensure that one of their kickers – Haimona or Mclean – was in the pocket and ready to pull the trigger. Then maybe, just maybe, we would all be eating humble pie and celebrating a great Italian victory!

match stats France v Italy 2016

SCOTLAND V ENGLAND

It’s All In The Mind

Rugby Union - RBS 6 Nations Championship 2013 - England v Scotland - Twickenham

England’s Owen Farrell in challenged by Scotland’s Richie Gray (left) during the RBS 6 Nations match at Twickenham, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday February 2, 2013. See PA story RUGBYU England. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

I would love to know how many column inches have been written ahead of today’s Calcutta Cup encounter at Murrayfield.

It seems that the fact that England have a new Head Coach and Scotland were within a whisker of making the Rugby World Cup semi final have prompted every sports journalist and ex rugby international to comment – add the armchair commenators and blog writers, like myself, and you have an avalanche of information to plough your way through.

Some of it is interesting, some of it is, frankly, banal and most of it seems to have focused on what isn’t going to happen rather than what is – the fact that Itoje and Daly have not made the match day 23 seems to be the big one.

To me the really interesting thing is that, having picked a match day 23 consisting of 20 players who regularly featured under Stuart Lancaster, the thing that we will learn is whether both Jones and Lancaster got their selection completely wrong – chosing players who are not capable of performing on the international stage- or, if it was the tactical, environmental and psychological approach that Stuart Lancaster et al got wrong. Something significant changed between the end of the Six Nations and RWC2015.

Jones has said that he has picked a team to do ‘a job’ and win against Scotland in what will be an intimidating environment against a team that has a point to prove having felt they should have progressed in the World Cup. Lancaster did the same, with succes, with the same group of players!

I can’t wait until this afternoon to sit down and see if Mr Jones has managed, in the short period of time available, to create a new environment, a new mind set and galvanise a team that was shell-shocked when the final whistle went against Australia in their penultimate pool game in RWC2015.

By the time todays final whistle goes, we will have a clearer idea if it is the players who are not capable of performing at this level or if the England coaching team contrived to turn a team of potential world beaters into a a group bereft of snarl, grunt and tactical nouse.

Game on!

MY THOUGHTS ON JACQUES BRUNEL

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Photograph taken during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between Italy and Romania at Sandy Park on October 11, 2015 in Exeter, United Kingdom.

From my post at Last Word On Sport article. Click on the link here:- http://lastwordonsports.com/2015/12/15/italian-rugby-end-of-term-report-on-jacques-brunel/

DYLAN HARTLEY – SHOULD HE HAVE BEEN PICKED IN THE EPS?

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So, with three weeks left before England Play Scotland in the 6 Nations, Dylan Hartley, Eddie Jones’ choice as captain – if you believe the press, is still only capable of playing 50 minutes! His lineout throwing might have been alright, but his contribution around the pitch was underwhelming. even his coach said “It was tough for Dylan”.
Meanwhile, Tom Youngs (perhaps the most controversial omission from the squad) had yet another more than solid game for Leicester Tigers before the demolition of Treviso was complete. Even his much maligned lineout throwing was good!
I agree with pretty much all of the selections made in the EPS squad – some very exciting talent selected, but still find it hard to fathom why Youngs was not included and that Hartley not only was, but has widely been touted as the next England captain.
The promise was that the squad would be chosen entirely on what Jones has seen and the players who were not selected would know that they had not provided Jones with enough evidence to choose them. If that is the case, then Hartley shouldn’t even be in the squad, never mind being thought of as being the leader!
Many of Hartley’s detractors site his disciplinary record as being a reason not to have him in the team. Personally, it would be his lack of game time and more importantly, his lack of form – when fit he has struggled to be first pick in his position at Northampton. If you then add the ‘credit in the bank’ argument to help his selection, then the situation worsens for him.
The England captain should be the first name on the team sheet, not someone shoehorned in because he has abrasive leadership qualities that the coach likes. It’s not as if there aren’t other options.
I do hope that Eddie Jones has some sort of mystic insight into this selection and that I am proved wrong, but I still feel that whilst Hartley might not let the team down, i don’t think he will add the X Factor to this young and potentially dynamic England team.

COULD WE HAVE PREDICTED THE ALL BLACKS WIN AT THE WORLD CUP BY STATISTICS ALONE?

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A few weeks have now passed since the All Blacks completed the first successful defence of the Webb Ellis Trophy, but could certain key statistics have made it seem like a fait a complis before the tournament even started?

Yes it is true that New Zealand were almost everyones ‘safe bet’ to win and the bookies, who are seldom wrong, also had them as clear favourites – odds going from 11-8 to 8-13 by the end of the tournament. But they also had England as second favourites and Australia langushing 5th in line to raise the trophy aloft on 31 October.

Most of us that had New Zealand to win were basing our selection on what we had seen in the last few year’s and the fact that they are…. well, The All Blacks. Surely their inability to win the tournament out of their own country must change sooner rather than later?

What if we had just looked at certain stats, never watched a game that they had played in 2014/15 and didn’t even know the result of the games that they had played? Could we and would we have all come to the same conclusion?

I will offer up stats based on a number of key criteria:-

  • Try scoring
  • Passing
  • Kicking
  • Lineout – on opposition throw
  • Scrum

TRY SCORING

So, its clear that tries in World Cup finals win games. Is it really as simple as that?

Up to and including the 2015 final only one team has scored more than two tries in a final -New Zealand (1987 x 3 and 2015 x 3 out of interest) and in the other 6 finals a total of only 7 tries were scored in total whilst 37 penalty goals were kicked. You could be forgiven for thinking that actually you just need to kick your kicks and that will be enough. Well no. It may surprise you to know that, despite the previous numbers, no losing finalist has cored more tries than the eventual winner in the final and that out of 281 previous RWC matches only 11 (or 4%) were won by a team scoring the fewest tries.

Turn that specifically to the All Blacks and the stats show that they scored 61% of all of their points from tries in the 2014 November Test window (NB all stats in this atricle are taken from that particular period). The closest other team was South Africa with 56%. Interestingly, Scotland was the ONLY Northern Hemisphere team to score more than 50% of their points by scoring tries! The free flowing French only 36% and Italy 0% – not a single try in their autumn internationals!!!!

Of further interest might be that the 4 Southern Hemisphere teams scored a total of 33 tries by comparison to only 25 for the 6 Tier 1 Northern Hemisphere teams!

New Zealand also top the chart on the frequency that they scored a try in the same 2014 period – one every 5 minutes and 56 seconds. The next best team, England, were taking over a minute more to score each try. Where this statistic starts to make even more sense is that NZ were also one of the meanest teams as well, conceding a try on average every 12 minutes and 5 seconds (South Africa were marginally better) and England one every 6 minutes and 36 seconds. So, whilst England might have scored relatively frequently, they were also prone to concede more frequently than they scored!

What I haven’t touched on is that Southern Hemesphere teams are also far more likely to score tries from open play by comparison to their Northern opposition (20:8) and are also more likely to score tries from their own half (12:4).

So, New Zealand are likely to score tries faster than any other Tier 1 team, they score more of their points (61%) by scoring tries than any other Tier 1 team, and, along with the SH teams in general are more likely to score from open play and even from their own half. One category down and it is already stacking up neatly………

PASSING

The heading might be passing, but it could, equally have been ‘continuity’. In other words how likely are New Zealand to try and ‘keep the ball alive’ rather than take the ball into contact?  -I will specifically look at kicking under a separate heading.

At a general level the All Blacks like to pass the ball (an average of 192 passes per match or one pass every 6 seconds – very similar to Australia). What is of particular interest is that their forwards are almost as likely to pass the ball as their backs (Forwards 1 pass every 2.5 possessions, Backs 1 every 1.8 possessions). When you look at Australia and South Africa these figures drop to 1: 4.2 for Australia and 1:4.4 for SA for their forwards. In fact New Zealand top the charts for both forwards and backs passing ratios whilst all others are quite mixed with the exception of Ireland who langush in bottom place for both forwards and backs (1:5.1 and 1:2.9).

So what are we able to deduce from this information alone? New Zealand player’s, from 1-15, are all pre disposed to pass the ball, keep the game flowing and by implication play the game at pace. Ireland are far more likely to take the ball into contact with their forwards and, as we will see later, use kicking as a pro active strategy.

KICKING

It used to be that New Zealand kicked more than any other team- certainly in the lead up to the 2011 RWC this was true. What is clear now is that, whilst they still use kicking as a tactical weapon, they do it far less frequently. You might think that kicking the ball out of hand an average of 24 times in match is high- it actually sits very much in the middle of the statistics collected, with Ireland (31) and Australia (15) topping and tailing the table. Add that to the passing information, above, you will start to see a correlation between the propensity to pass tha ball and the likelyhood to kick the ball – a clear strategic philosophy slowly being teased out.

Where the kicking stats really start to add colour to the above is how frequently the kicks are made in relation to possession. New Zealand’s     N°10 kicked the ball once every 4.5 possessions compared to Irelands 2.5 and their centres once every 28.3 possessions – Ireland once every 8.5. The back 3 once every 11.6 by comparison to a Southern Hemesphere average of c. 4.5.

Add to that the fact that New Zealand kick restarts were 100% contestable (next best were Italy with 62% and bottom Ireland 22%) and we now have a clear picture that New Zealand like to keep the ball alive, they will kick, but not as an overriding strategy and will always try to make the ball recoverable if they do. They will use a kick restart as a third set piece and one that they want to win possession with.

If you are not convinced that the statistics are leading us inexorably to one conclusion then adding the Lineout and Scrum information to the above will, I believe, be the clincher.

LINEOUT – on oppositions throw

New Zealand (66%), along with South Africa (68%) are more likely to contest an opposition throw than any other Tier 1 team with only Italy (and for that read Parisse) getting close at 60% with Scotland, France, England, Wales, Ireland and Argentina not even getting above 50%. The result is that they are both stealing more ball than any other teams (6 and 9 respectively) which they will then use to attack the opposition with.

SCRUM

Here a clear difference in philosophy between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere teams becomes hugely evident. The Southern Hemisphere will use the scrum as a launchpad for an attack and The Northern as a vehicle for winning a penalty. From the statistics gathered NZ, Aus and SA, combined, had a total of 49 scrums, in the November 2014 window, where the ball came out 37 or 78% of the time. Italy, England, France, Wales, Ireland and Scotaland combined had 79 scrums where the ball came out 46 times or 58%  – and please note that these figures were skewed by Ireland who had the ball available 90% of the time (9 out of 10 scrums). New Zealand specifically had 17 scrums and had the ball out 12 times or 70.5% of the time with only South Africa (15/18) being more likely to use the ball.

CONCLUSION

Yes it is possible to make statistics say anything you want, but even the biggest sceptic can see where these are leading us.

New Zealand are amongst the top teams, or the very top team in all of the areas we have looked at. They are more likely to have backs and forwards interacting with a free flowing passing game than any other team. They are less likely to kick the ball away in open play than most and will always try to make their re starts contestable. They also contest the opposition lineout more than not and gain turnover ball as a consequence and, they will use the scrum as an attacking weapon more than any other team bar South Africa. Is it any wonder then that they score most of their points by scoring tries, that their try scoring rate is faster than other Tier 1 team (and are mean in defence with only South Africa conceding at a slower rate) and that, along with their Southern Hemisphere counterparts, are more capable of scoring tries in open play from anywhere on the pitch.

New Zealand are kings of world rugby of that there is no doubt. The statistics more than back up what we have all seen and read about. What is made even clearer is that they do it by playing a certain style of game. What is left for all of the other teams in world rugby to ask themselves is should they try and copy the All Blacks and if so, are they capable of using this blueprint for victory successfully?

NB:- All statistics produced by Corris Thomas A former chartered accountant with a law degree from Exeter University, he was also a Welsh international panel rugby referee, who took charge of a number of international matches while refereeing the national teams of 12 countries. One of those matches was the defeat of the All Blacks by Munster in 1978.
He is Game Analysis consultant who works extensively with the International Rugby Board and other rugby bodies. His work includes tracking in detail how rugby is being played at the highest international levels, which involves producing detailed reports on all major tournaments, identifying trends, and undertaking targeted investigations into specific areas of the game.

“THE BEST RUGBY WORLD CUP EVER” / What was it like from a volunteer driver’s perspective

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Ready to go – Glouceter Depot

“I can assure you that you have set a new standard for the RWC – Jason Leonard” 

“Thank you @RWC2015ThePack, the 6,000 volunteers who helped make the biggest and best @rugbyworldcup ever – Boris Johnson”

“Tournament owners World Rugby and tournament organisers England Rugby 2015, have hailed the success of the biggest Rugby World Cup ever which saw records broken on and off the pitch – RWC2015”

World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “Rugby World Cup 2015 will be remembered as the biggest tournament to date, but I also believe that it will be remembered as the best. England 2015 has been the most competitive, best-attended, most-watched, most socially-engaged, most commercially-successful RWC”

So the Rugby World Cup is over and the pre tournament favourites New Zealand were duly crowned World Champions on 31 October. England failed to get out of their group, Japan set the tournament alight in the first week, Argentina played with the flair of a matador in full pomp and spectator records were broken on a daily basis.

As you can see from the quotes above, praise for the World Cup has been wide-ranging and fulsome. There is no doubt that from the ‘end user’ perspective that it was a wonderful tournament. World Rugby were happy, the RFU were happy, All tournament VIP’s were happy, Sponsors were happy and spectators were happy too.

But what was it like from the perspective of a volunteer driver?

As any of you that have read my previous blog will know, my circumstances are different to the normal volunteer in that I left home in Italy to start my RWC journey on 31 August and returned home some 74 days later! Obviously, this has had a huge impact on my experience by comparison to many other volunteers.

Here are some stats based on my particular journey:-

  • I have covered over 8500 miles of which over 5,500 were getting to the tournament and then getting to ‘work’ every day and about 3,500 driving tournament guests.
  • I worked 32 shifts as a driver, some lasting over 12 hours – not planned like that I must add
  • I worked just over 300 hours or 12.5 complete days
  • I was the very last volunteer driver to finish at the RWC on 4th November
  • I worked in both Gloucester and London / Kneller Hall depots
  • I moved beds 33 times at 18 different locations in 74 days
  • I managed to get to 9 of the 13 match venues on journeys with tournament guests
  • I saw one match – 1st Semi-Final
Full Car Park - 60+ Land Rover Discovery's

Full Car Park Kneller Hall – 60+ Land Rover Discovery’s

The last day - where have all the cars gone

The last day Kneller Hall – where have all the cars gone

Let me deal with the negative elements of the role as a driver as they have impacted on my time at the tournament.

It was always going to be inevitable that there was going to be quite a bit of waiting around. What perhaps wasn’t clear was just how much there would be!

On occasions I know that certain volunteers spent entire 8/10 hour shifts with nothing to do – not a single ‘job’! I was lucky enough that this only happened to me on one occasion. What a waste of people’s time there must have been throughout the RWC. I have a large degree of sympathy for the Fleet Management and Depot Management staff whose jobs it was to ensure that certain service level agreements were met (minimum numbers on each shift etc) to guarantee that not a single tournament guest was left without the ability to have a car available for them regardless of how little notice might be given. What was completely inexcusable was that ALL of those being paid to run the transport elements at England2015 had experience at the Olympics in 2012 and most at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as well as other global sporting events. Given this experience, I would have thought that they would have been able to better anticipate the workload on a daily basis (bearing in mind the differing requirements based on whether it was a match day or mid-week). It was only after we were beyond mid way through the tournament that the managers started contacting volunteers if it was going to be a quiet day and giving them the opportunity to not come in that day. Surely that could have been done MUCH earlier in the tournament.

I had to speak to one of the managers early on in the tournament to say that I really couldn’t justify being away from my family and work if I wasn’t going to be busy. Whilst I wasn’t given any assurances I think, perhaps, that it helped ensure that I got a job nearly every day that I was on ‘shift’ – that, added to the fact that I always arrived a couple of hours early for my shift to ensure that I was available for anything that came in and couldn’t be done by others. Learning to ‘play the game was important and those of us who did I am sure benefitted.

The second negative element was how the volunteer drivers were treated from a personnel management perspective at a direct report level.

I am certain that if we were actually being paid to be there, we would all have been treated differently – better. I think that the way that our shifts were managed (as above) would have been done in a much more pro active manner and I am sure that the managers would not have shouted at some drivers as much as I witnessed (never at me I have to confess) and I am sure that, given just how much waiting around there was, our Waiting/ Breakout room might have been a more convivial place to be.

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God’s Waiting Room. The Breakout room at Kneller Hall

It was described to me by a fellow volunteer as “God’s Waiting Room”. It was soulless (depite the bunting and odd poster here and there), uncomfortable, freezing cold, particularly at night and – as you can just about see from the photograph above – the TV was miniscule. During Twickenham match days there were often 40+ people all sat trying to watch a game that they couldn’t hear and could barely see unless you were at the very front. The fact that the control room, a much smaller portacabin with up to 6 people in it, had a bigger television was somewhat of a surprise! Again, from managing people throughout my working life, I am well aware that if you make it too comfortable it will be harder to get people out in time to do their allocated job…… But this was several steps too far to the other end of the spectrum. We were all there, after all, as we had volunteered to be there. The implication being that we could easily have not come in if we did not intend to do whatever jobs required doing.

I have to admit to having had a massive sense of humour failure on one occasion (the night of the Final as it happens) and I took it out on the Depot Manager that night. It was the day of my 30th shift and I had asked if there might be the possibility of a ‘good job’. Given that the job board consisted of tasks such as driving Boris Johnson, Lord Coe, CEO of Australia Rugby, Nigel Owens etc etc there were a large number of interesting ones to go around. I got turfed out of the waiting room at the final whistle – 18:00 – by an officious manager (one I had not seen before) for a scheduled pick up at the stadium at 21:00! – a five-minute drive away. I was due to take a World Rugby employee back to their accommodation – so a 30 minute drive or so. He arrived at 21:45 and changed his drop off to a pub in Twickenham! (something he was obviously entitled to do) a 1.5 mile, 5 minute journey. Not the way I had envisaged my one and only job on a 9 hour shift! I shouldn’t have lost my temper (not with the client I hasten to add) and I regret doing so, but my level of frustration was off the Richter Scale!

The Good parts significantly outweigh those above though.

My reason for taking part in the Tournament was to give something back to the sport that I love and I am so glad that I did get involved and that I had a role from before the first game to after the last. There is no doubt that the service we provided as drivers was a huge success (you could argue that  this vindicates the negative points above….. I’m not sure it does) and comments made would confirm that – It was great to be associated with something so positively received.

The majority of the volunteer drivers were incredibly dedicated to doing ‘their bit’ for the tournament A whole raft of us volunteered to take on aditional shifts and often at the most absurd of times of the day. Some starting at the depot at 02:30! I think that shows the level of commitment that was shown by so many and the desire to help in any way possible.

I met some fascinating people in my ‘taxi’ – Too many to list, but included Referees, TMO’s, Anti Doping Officers, Citing Officers, Participating Nations Board Members, Ex International Players, World Rugby staff, England2015 Staff and others that don’t fit into any neat category. All, with one exception; were very chatty, friendly and interested in the role of a volunteer.

A couple of people/Jobs stand out though.

The CEO of Australia Rugby, Bill Pulver was one. I had to pick him up from the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge (along with two Sky TV directors and the Australia team Lawyer) and take him to Dulwich College where the team were conducting their training. I was privileged enough to be invited in to watch a closed training session just before their critical match against Wales. I met the Head coach and a number of players as well – Fascinating and exciting! A huge honour. Despite being a Pom through and through I secretly supported the Wallabies from then on!

Another was taking Joanna Manning-Cooper, the Director of Communications and Marketing for England2015, to and from her house on a few occasions. She was not only fascinating – having previously been Head of PR and Media for London 2012 – and friendly, but her kindness was also responsible for me being able to watch one of the Semi Finals. Something that I will forever be grateful to her for.

More than this though was the fact that I got to know a number of volunteers well.

Gloucester was a much friendlier place than London. It was smaller and more intimate and getting to know people was much easier (I met some people at the London wrap party that I had never met before and I was working at the depot more than most!) so the friendships made there were greater in number and stronger. There were noteable exceptions in London of course! I hope that some of these friendships endure…. I am sure they will.

Would I do what I did again?

No. I was away from home for a long time that’s true, but the real killer was living out of a small backpack -the back seat of my car resembling that of a vagrant piled high with all my other kit. Swapping beds every few days – often spending no more than one night in a place before moving on (possibly to return again at a later stage). It was exhausting – on one occasion I moved location on 9 consecutive days! Given one place to stay then the answer would become an unequivocal yes!

I am so glad that I did it and all of the comments made by the great and the good were spot on. It was the best Rugby World Cup there has ever been without any doubt and whilst it could not have happened without all those paid by England2015 to ensure its delivery, I am certain that the real stars of the show (from a delivery perspective) were the 6000 volunteers. Normal people who gave up their holidays, spent time away from home and threw themselves into making it work. It was an honour to be one and to have been part of such a fantastic tournament.

The Wrap Party

The Wrap Party

Waiting for VIP's after the final - Cardinal Vaughan

Waiting for VIP’s after the final – Cardinal Vaughan

I want to thank everyone that I met for making it a truly memorable experience and in particular huge thank you has to go to the large number of people who gave me a bed for a night (or several). Without your generosity I could not have even contemplated participating. Roll on Japan2019!!!! Sayonara.