Monday, July 02, 2012

Double trouble... (London Broncos v. Leeds Rhinos & London Skolars v. Barrow Raiders)

I was lucky enough to have two home games to watch this weekend: Broncos v. Leeds and Skolars v. Barrow. Both games seemed to illustrate the concept of the score not reflecting the match (Broncos were murdered 12-58, while Skolars managed a more creditable 17-30)). They also illustrate the fact that a terrible damage can be done to the score line in a very short time.

The first twenty five minutes of the Broncos match were scoreless: indeed, the London side were mostly camped out in the Leeds half, and the West Yorks team locked a shadow of the sides I've seen. Broncos' tackling was efficient and their rucking was tight. They just seemed to lack finishing, relying on dink kicks that were inevitably scooped up on the line. Leeds' first try was disallowed for a forward pass: but it did show how they could cut Broncos apart ion the wing. The visitors were ahead at half time, and despite London scoring first, began to build a steady lead.

Then came the last ten minutes. Leeds drove home try after try, and suddenly a close match became a drubbing. The worst thing was they were soft tries: not bulldozered over the line but gaps exploited mercilessly. The dreaded fifty mark loomed and was approached with terrible inevitability. Ten tries are hideous to be on the receiving end of. The Southern side just, almost literally, took their eye off the ball, and their spirit crumpled. The victor's coach, however (admittedly an ex-manager of the then Harlequins) said afterwards that the score didn't reflect the work and the quality of the contest for most of the match.

Much the same could be said for Skolars. They're mitigation is they were up against the top of the league side who only are slumming it in Championship One because of financial difficulties (tomorrow I'll have a rant about the Bulls, don't let me forget). They were 11-0 up at half time (including a cheeky drop goal). The match had been tight and scoring opportunities few. Then, second half, the league leaders remembered what they were there to do, they drove through three in succession (in the space of 9 minutes). From there on the struggle resumed, but Skolars had men sent off. The perennial strugglers clawed one back, before a final two tries finished them off. The bonus point slipped out of grasp. The thirteen point gap in no way represents the real gap between the teams: the difference was those nine minutes and the entirely preventable third try. At this rate, the occasional cries of Skolars' fans that their is the best team in London might just, terrifyingly, and for all the wrong reasons, be correct.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Go on, I'll bite

Britain's top sports make grassroots TV cash promise
The UK's leading governing bodies for sport have agreed to reinvest at least 30% of their domestic television revenues in grassroots projects...The nine organisations to sign up are: the All England Lawn Tennis Club/Lawn Tennis Association (joint signatories), the ECB, the PGA European Tour, the FA, the Premier League, the Royal & Ancient, the Rugby Football League and UK Athletics. In fact, the only member of the SRA's "major spectator sports division" not to sign up is the Rugby Football Union.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to the Rugby: Skolars v. Rams.

I didn't blog about the first match of the season I managed to attend, mainly because the composition in my head was a snarky demolition of the Skolars for their apparent inability to hold onto the ball and not give away soft penalties.

Their match with Dewsbury Rams, yesterday, was a transformation. Sure, they lost. That's what I expect. But I expect them to lose excellently, with passion, skill and energy, vibrantly fighting against men twice their size and speed with the skills and tactics of experienced players recently demoted from a higher division. That's what I saw against the West Yorkshire side.

OK, so the visitors scored a try on their first set. That's alright. That that team cut through the Skolars like a whatsits through summat, no problem. That the Londoners could make metres when they had the ball, and the whole game was practically fought in their own half, fine, fine.

15 minutes at the start of the second half, despite wave after wave of Dewsbury using their 900 stone No. 33 like a battering ram, they did not pass. that was worth the admission. To see Skolars breifly snatching the ball, and playing through the Rams' lines, that was worth the price of admission.

The score in the end was both truthful and a deceit, the Rams scored fairly and freely, but the Skolars' fight nearly, just nearly, might have been a better match, with some cannier play, maybe.

London Skolars 14 - 42 Dewsbury Rams

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Hull FC v. St. Helens

So, the Challenge Cup final. Webley.

never been to Wembley before, so i must record just how impressed I was. Massive, with a capital Massive. the crowd control measures funnel you in, and funnel you out, public order by design. Very clever. I came out of Wembley Park tube station to see the crowd flowing down the concrete causeway from the station to the Stadium (this is a stadium). I went with the flow. I'd chosen to wear a black and white shirt to show sympathy with the Yorkshire team. I remained unmoletsted, save for a crack about "Why don't you shave, what are you, Taleban?" from a Merseysider.

Once I got in, bizzarrely, I was asked to remove the cap from my water bottle, which meant I threw it away, coz I couldn't leave it in my bag open. I then mounted the ten flights of stairs to the fifth level, and my seat in block 550, row 32. That is a long way up.

In the heat and the height and the noise, the stadium was amazing. A crowd of what turned out to be around eighty two thousand made a continual roar, simply by breathing, it seemed. the weather, which I had expected to be gloomy and muggy, was bright and warm. perfect for playing.

the match itself looked like it was going to be one sided. teh guy next to me thought Hull looked disorganised. I thought it was just that Saint's werebloody brilliant. or, rather, that they got the basics right, and thus forced the Humbersiders into trying riskier, fancier play - that they never quite pulled off. Like the Quinns' game, Saints sped the play along terrically. They scored back to back tries, unanswered.

I knew when Hull scored their fans (who seemed to edge the majority) would errupt, as indeed, they did, as Hull bravely fought back, with some amazing tries, run in from great distance.

Saints, though, showed mettle, running in opportunistic tries with extra zeal. No quarter was given, every advantage taken. Both teams turned in an excellent technical game, and Saint's continued their fair play league habit - which is a good one - of giving away very few technical panalties (the rest of Rugbydom should learn a lesson from this, penalties are bad, avoiding them makes your game so much better).

The worthy winners, then, after a second half fightb ack from Hull proved not to be enough (and a very temporary lead to boot).

Hull 16-28 St Helens

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London Skolars v. Keighly Cougars

Well, Friday night lights for the last Co-op Division Two match of Skolars' season. Kick off in the falling dusk, a capacity attendance, 1,427, from visiting rugby fans down in the smoke for the Challenge cup next day (So that'll have been about £130K in the bank for the club).

The match itself was excellent - Skolar's pulled their socks up and really played beter than I've seen them all season. But, the omens were not good: their line was fast, they defended like demons but they had to do it again and again and again. Keighly struck through the centre, taking every advantage - Skolars were driven out to the wings to make their tries.

A sin binning was the most disappointing moment of the match for for the Londoners, but they're play remaine resolute even down one man. Although behind in points and play, they kept on catching up, and kept the game competetive to the end, even holding the lead for somewhile.

When the end came, it was a scrappy chase, which Skolars could have won with a touch more skill. Throughout loose hands let them down, and giving away unnecessary technical penalties.

In many ways, it summed up Skolar's season.

On my way out I ehard some of the Yorkshire fans complaining that this was the worst stadium they'd ever visited, other than Saints'. I don't think I've ever described the New River Stadium. First, the New River isn't new, nor is it a river - it's an old canal. The stadium isn't really a stadium, it's one stand. it looks out over an athletics track and to an attractive park beyond, on a warm summer's day it can be highly pleasant to sit there. Off to the left (when sitting in the stand) Alxandra Palace can be seen rising over the trees. It isn't the greatest ground in the world, but it will do for now.

The worst problem was the lights. they lit themselves, but not the ground. The clue was, the players on the pitch weren't casting shadows.

Skolars have officially come second from bottom, they had every chance of coming a little higher, and may do so next year. But, at the end, Friday's match was:

London Skolars 14-18 Keighley

Finally, a little note, Skolars has a group of fans, henceforth to bne known as the ironic singers. Their chants of "The referee is Elvis" and other such surreal offerings normally make up most of the crowd noise, but with a bigger crowd cowed them tonight. Lets hope their in full voice next year. On the stairs though, I heard them, ever hopeful chanting "We got a bonus point!"

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

London Skolars v. Blackpool Panthers

Well, what a game, this was what National League Two looks like.

For the first quarter the teams tussled without crossing the line, and honours were pretty much even. Skolars looked a touch ropey, and gave a couple of unnecessary holding down penalties. Technical faults were to be their undoing.

The Lancastrians ran in the first couple of tries, but Skolars clawed a couple back, to basically end up playing catch up for the hole match.

As the game went on, the Londoners faults began to show through, with an excess of fumbles and knock-ons. The score belies their performance, because unless the try was under the posts, Blackpool seemed incapable of converting.

Towards the end the home side scored an improbably try on the fifth tackle of their set - a ball was thrown back loose into space, picked up, passed on, and then run through - I suspect incredulity stunned the visitors momentarilly. They had used forward kicking before the end of their sets to great effect throughout the game.

There was some poor referreeing, particularly grievous was an icnident in which a Blackpool player swung his opponent around by the head, and didn't get sent off. That was ruddy dangerous.

Skolars lost, but seem set to come above Hunslett in the table - result!

Anyway, all aside:

London Skolars 28-36 Blackpool

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Harlequins RL v. St. Helens

This is what Super League looks like.

Two teams with everything to play for - Quins a shot at the playo-offs - Saints, keeping the lead in the League.

the Londoners certainly stepped up their game, fast, rolling play - the ball being flipped, tapped and shot about - no sign of brute force and ignorance. Clearly they were trying to match the style of the league leaders.

And it worked, half time they were 16-10 up, after two quick tries early on. In such a situation, the key is to score the first try of the second half - keep the pressure on and put them under the cosh.

They didn't, the Mersysiders rebounded scoring a try minutes into the second half. there then followed a twenty minute drought, back and forth play end to end sets.

Quins broke. Under relentless pounding from the likes of Pryce and Talau, try after try thundered over the line.

The signs had been there - Quins gave away a few too many holding down penalties. Too many of their sets ended with a player losing the ball to loose ands. Although towards the end both sides engaged in scrappy scrambling for the loose ball, it was Saints who held it together. A champions performance - but the score doesn't do Quins justice.

Harlequins RL 16 - St. Helens 32

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Monday, July 28, 2008

London Skolars v. Gateshead Thunder

A desultry match - I could see the players wilting in the heat, and lethargically joining the scrum (as they often did due to the highly activist ref. who gave some, erm, odd decisions from time to time).

To be fair, the score belies the nature of the match - hard fought, with completed sets each way - but Skolars were bedevilled by indiscipline and gave aweay many early penalties - and Thunder were able to manage a few streaky breaks.

Even when London had repeated sets on the Tynesiders try line they couldn't punch their way through in the same manner that the visitors could manage.

The North eastern crowd was, of course, boisterous and loud - their chants of "We are top of the league" were, boastful, true and it turned out, justified.

But, hell, Skolars are off the bottom of the table, for a while at least.

London Skolars 18-44 Gateshead Thunder

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Harlequins RL v. Leeds Rhinos






So, a glorious evening kick off. The Quins had come close to defeating The Best Rugby League Team in the World during their challenge cup play-off. Nearly, but not quite.

I had come along expecting to see The Best Rugby League Team in the World hand the London side their arses on a plate. Could I have been more wrong?

To start, though, the Leeds pack were massive, I mean, enormous, eight foot tall, in their stockings, each! And broad as a Yorkshire accent an'all.

The game opened with quick play, end-to-end completed sets. Leeds scored first, but Quins recovered. They did that again. As per previous discussions, the underdogs took the opportunity of a take-two from a panalty to gain an edge in this try swapping match - the psychological edge definitely proved useful.

By the start of the second half Harlequins had a lead to defend - and defend it they did with blood and guts. The West Yorks' side should have overturned that lead, but failed to convert their tries from the wing. This much, then, can be said, the Southerners prevented them from scoring through the posts.

The end quarter was marred by a fight on pitch between a newly returned from injury Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Leeds' Senior. they were both, rightly, sent to the sin bin.

There were questions about the ref. - though, I suppose they did their job right, but because the cameras were there, we had a video ref. and maybe he was consulted unnecessarilly. To be frank, I found the tedium of waiting for a result not worth it, I suspect the ref. could have made his mind up for good or ill, and let the game get on. I don't think video reffing is an improvement in RL.

Harlequins RL 28 - 24 Leeds Rhinos

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Harlequins RL v. Warrington Wolves

A great match on a gloriously hot summer's day - the planes taking off from Heathrow cast sharp shadows on the pitch as the zoomed over the very packed stadium - the kids from Warrington were out in force and having fun - the East Stand was practically full - even the Lexus stand looked well attended, but there were plenty of Quins' supporters in the cheap seats, where I was.

Wolves had the better of the first half. Their first two tries were run in starting from their half - but neither was easy. Although by half time Quins had levelled to 12 all, their tries had been harder worked - and relied on finger tip chucking of the ball as they swirled through the Merseysiders' lines.

The second half was all Warrington - their pack was bigger, better, and they frequently found the spaces on the wing to smash through for successive tries to give them a massive lead. Although Quins rallied, the north western side began to waste time and take it slowly, and proved to be insurmountable.

The final score was one worthy of the match - despite the gripings of a few London fans that the ref had been unduly harsh - both teams were roughly equal in the table before the match, and Quins had narrowly won their away match of this pairing:

Harlequins RL 24 - 40 Warrington Wolves

Absolute smasher of a match.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

London Skolars v. Workington Town

Listening to the commentary on the Bradford Bulls v. Hull FC Challange cup quarter final, I overheard the commentators discussing whether both teams had been wise to opt to kick for goal when awarded panalties in the opponent's half, rather than taking the set to push for a try.

The near certainty of 2 points, versus the possibility of 6 is a tough call.

Workington gave a master class answer to that question at Skolars' on Saturday.

Skolatrs scored first in a tit-for-tat run of tries in the first half; but Town stole the advantage before half time, and went into the second half ahead by one try. Early in that next half, they chose to kick for 2, and got it. That meant Skolars' needed and additional score to make back the deficit - and taking two would cost them a re-start kick and more time. It was an excellent call to add pressure on the home side - a neat way of consolidating a lead.

The London side put on a spirited show, clawing their way back to near the Cumbria side's score, when they opted to knock in a cheeky drop kick for a point to retain their edge.

The tries were too easy on both sides, running through their opponents line, and often through or next to the posts. Workington clearly had the edge on that, and exposed Skolars' tackling on occaision. Towards the end, the Skolars' were let down by a couple of dropped passes.

Once sad point, a fight broke out on the pitch, during the tense closing part of the match, leading to one player from each team being sent off, after an unecessarilly rough tackle.

Skolars kept the score close enough to gain the point for a near loss, and to gain on Hunslet in the division - further, they proved that at least they belong in the same divison as their victors.

London Skolars 38 - 45 Workington Town

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Monday, April 28, 2008

London Skolars v. Hunslet Hawks

Where the Hell is Hunslet? Well, apparently, it's near Leeds - dirty, dirty, dirty, Leeds, Leeds, Leeds - as David Peace would have it (I don't see a novel about the Hawks being forthcoming).

Their fans were a disgrace, non-stop abuse of the ref (including end of game chants accusing him of being a cheating bastard - now, I ask, at barely professional level, what possible incentive is there for any ref. to be crooked? Further, as some fo their fans acknowledge on their forum, they shouldn't have been in the position where a few referee decisions could even decide the match. As it was, as far as I could see, although he was a botehrsome and busy ref, be blew up for both sides, and both sides had tries disallowed. So, eitehr he's really cunning, or just a ref. trying to make split second decisions in what was a frantic and busy game.

Hunslet and London are the bottom two of the Second Dvision (Skolars were below hawks before Saturday). Their play seemed matched, and their deserve their relative (and probably also their absolute) positions in the table.

Skolars have certainly picked up their game, their passing was crisper, but they didn't lay off enough in attack - but they certainly showed guts in attack and defense.

They ran over some early tries, which the Hawks more or less had clawed back to lead at half time. the second half was a close affair, with the first try not coming until the end of the first quarter. Skolars squeaked a narrow lead, which last almost until the very end. A bit of nouse in this situation was lacking, they passed up a penalty that could have given them two points, and in the end ended up having a drop goal charged down.

The last try was something of a distraction, a clean break when the game was almost over anyway. the real score should have been a win by one point, that would have been justice. As it was, London Skolars 31 Hunslet Hawks 24,

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Monday, April 14, 2008

The cap fits?

I didn't watch any matches over the weekend, you can find your own results.

Anyway, what I was going to talk about was this: the Super League Table.

Note how the bulk of teams just over half of games are victories, and even the run away leaders are only a couple of games ahead of their next rivals (though look at the astounding points difference, Leeds have scored 326 while only conceding 116 - thats about giving away only 10 points a game).

Part of the closeness of the Super League is the Salary Cap (PDF):
There are 2 principal purposes of The Super League Salary Cap. The first is to restrict clubs’ main item of expenditure, players’ costs, to try and ensure, as far as possible, the long-term financial survival of rugby league clubs.

The second purpose is to improve the competitiveness of the League by restricting to a finite level of how much one club can spend on its playing staff.
Now, obviously, the former is anti-competetive since it has the stated aim of controlling players salaries, but note, the £1.6 million cap does not restrict the actual individual salary, but only the total. In doing so, it means that clubs faxce a choice between building a broad side, or paying for a very expensive star.

The effect is to impose a rough equality on the entrants to the game, much in the same way as if a formula 1 team were to be given the same mopdel car as their rivals - you can tweak it, and the game becomes who can tweak the car the best.

Obviously, Rugby is and remains a business, but at least this element of the sport keeps the focus on the sport, and by dint of mitigating against massive investments in a few clubs is tendentially anti-capitalist (although decidedly not pro-socialist) in as much as it moves rewards in the game away from the capacity to invest capital. the soccer premiership, by way of contradistinction, is all about which club can most effectively deploy the most capital into the market, and allocates rewards accordingly.

Of course, the owners of the clubs, like all business folk who enjoy protectionist measures, might one day find such protections a hinderence to their profitability, but for now, we can enjoy a league in which the action is determined by events on the field, and in which skill with a bloody ball is what matters most.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Harlequins RL v. Hull Kingston Rovers

Sorry for lack of political blogging of late, I've been busy on the campaign blog though (we've just released our election address).

Anyway, for the time being, Rugby!

Saturday was a doozy. I got to the stoop to find the East Stand had been turned into a beechhead for the invading Hull Army. I wondered whether I should just stay quiet for the match, but it turned out there were still some Quins supporters in the stand, and so the game had plenty of noise throughout.

Rovers dominated the first quarters, but around 20 minutes in, Quins ran a penetrating attack over the line, and from thereon in the Humberside team barely managed to finish even one set outside their own half. The London team continued to play their fluent passing game, as against the Yorkshire squad, who relied, for the first half on their two massive players Vella and Cooke (the later had a hell of a boot on him, and he kicked one conversion clear of the south Stand), but they were met by three men tackling squads every time they ran the ball.

I should add that throughout Quins' tackling was tight and effective, a strong part of their play.

The second half Rovers started to pass the ball out to the wing, and they succesfully managed to run through a couople of tries, and made the play tight. It wasn't enough, however, and in the final quarter, Quins ran through two more tries (one in injury time) to put a seal on the game.

A dazzling display of football all round.

Harlequins RL 35 - 16 Hull KR

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Monday, March 31, 2008

London Skolars v. Barrow Raiders

Maybe I'm a jinx. I think I'm yet to see Skolars win, I tend to miss those golden moments.

Saturday's kick off was scheduled slightly late, 1630hrs, and was delayed due to mysterious reasons. The pitch was like the Somme - leading to ironic chants of "Come on you browns" from the fans towards the end.

My end of game cry was "Keep them below fifty, please." After having watched Rochdale annihilate the Skolars 5-54 on bank holiday monday(*) I didn't want to see a similar score line.

Overall, this was a disappointing performance, although they occasionally applied pressure, in reality the game was all one way, and the maority of the Raiders tries came through finding gaping holes in the London team's defence. The latter also gave away too many penalties, and cleary seemed to drop the (albeit sodden) ball too often.

Raiders were better at powering through the Skolars' lines, passing the ball and running with it.

Still, at least it wasn't a three figure score, lets look on the bright side.

Skolars 4 - Raiders 54.

(*) I saw two matches over the Easter weekend, and couldn't get round to blogging them, but it was two defeats, Skolars v. Hornets 4-54 (sounds familiar) and Quins v. Dragons 22-24

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Monday, March 17, 2008

London Skolars v. Sheffield Eagles

Fresh from two away wins, one against Sheffield, Skolars must have been confident walking into this match. Sadly, such confidence wasn't rewarded.

In a brave, but sometimes tetchy, match (the Sheffield 15, a big brute of a bloke, certainly needed a few words from the ref from time to time) Skolars managed to struggle to stay in the game. Although they scored first, their try was a sneaky one, won off a kick - deserved, but all the same, not a sign of powering through the oppositions ranks.

Sheffield did power through, though, they bulldozed, and although scores were level by the third quarter of the match, the reality was that most of the play, and repeat sets, had belonged to Eagles in the Skolars' half.

That well known sign in sport of being outmatched happened in the fourth quarter, the collapse, as the Eagles repeatedly ran over the line - their final try, symbollic of a weary opposition, came from a failed tackle where the Sheffield man bounced his tackler off, and stomped on to score a try.

In a pathetic fallacy, the skies turned to grey, and began to weap a little for the London team.
Skolars 14 - Eagles 34

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Harlequins RL v. Huddersfield Giants

BBC version here.

So, the Twickenham Stoop. On a cold grey day. Planes heading to Heathrow with landing gears down seemed to hang in the mist behind the far goal posts. The cheerleader lassies were allowed to wear trackie bottoms against the cold (I did wonder to myself if their cropped top outfits were some sort of slave driving technique - "dance, or freeze!").

Quins broke through early, with a converted try. For much of the first half, though, they stonewalled the Giants, proving their defences to be impregnable. They scored once more in that half, and twice in the second. Ending with a penalty kicked goal for good measure.

The giants only crossed the line once, in a disallowed try due to an earlier knock-on. Other than that, it was grind most of the way. The pure skill of the big time players showed through, with nifty dummies, tackling, crossing moves and impeccable catching.

3,284 attended in the crowd, and the Quins go second in the league, slightly unusual for a London club...

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Monday, February 11, 2008

London Skolars v. Celtic Crusaders

So, I popped along to the New River stadium to watch a bit of rugby league on Sunday. A very enjoyable day I had, I'm sure it will be lovely through the summer to sit in that nice shady grandstand, watching big buggers running into each other on the pitch of Rugby League. I mean, not that I'm a chippy northerner who chose to watch league rather than the Six Nations on the telly, but, I am a chippy northerner who chose to watch league rather than the Six Nations on the telly.

The crowd wasn't huge, but the welsh folk certainly chanted loudly, and there was a bit of banter with the handful of Skolars fans there.

The play bodes well - there were clear differences between the sides. Skolars ground out their two tries, the Crusaders tended to score on the break. Mid-way through the second half a move that epitomised the Crusaders fleet passing play came to naught, blocked by the dogged defending of the Skolars (who must have been a touch sick of standing on their own try line).

10-26 to the Crusaders in the end, but by no means a walk over, especially given the gap between the two teams in the leagues.

There, rugby commentary, an occasional break in normal service, just to give me more time to digest Gordon Brown's fascinating insight into his vision in yesterday's Observer...

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