Saturday 29 June 2013

Australia 16 v British & Irish Lions 15

Another desperately close and nail-biting Test today in Melbourne. This time it was the Lions turn to fail with a last ditch penalty although Leigh Halfpenny wasn't expected to land it from 53m out.

It was a fascinating, forward dominated game in which power in the scrum swung both ways as each side took turns to exploit weaknesses in their opponents game or to dominate where they were strong. The Lions were on top in the loose and their early rolling maul and drives caused panic in the Aussie ranks. The line-out wasn't functioning too well for the Lions, especially at the tail and the scrummaging from both sides was all over the place. Mako Vunipola was targeted in the first-half and conceded several penalties in succession before he decided to avoid the advances of his counterpart and instead turn his power inside. He was fortunate not to be replaced at the break and got away with angled scrummaging a couple of times before being penalised in the second-half for the same thing.

The backs of both sides didn't get much to play with and when they did, finding an overlap proved elusive. Will Genia threatened with every touch but he had a mis-firing Kurtley Beale alongside him and they struggled to bring Israel Folau into the game enough although he made distance with every play he got. 

At 15-9 to the Lions, all of the points had come from the boot before the Aussies finally got the reward their possession deserved when Ashley-Cooper crashed over. 

George North's personal battle with Israel Folau has been simmering but George took a major lead in one inspiring moment towards the end when Israel Folau attempted to tackle him and was put up over North's shoulder and carried five yards before being brought down with a thump. It was passionate stuff and it sets the decider up perfectly in Sydney next Saturday. 

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Another SE7 watering hole to close?

Hot on the heels of news that the lease on the Royal Oak won't be renewed by the current Leaseholder, I was told this morning that the Conservative Association will shortly be putting their not-very Conservate Club in Charlton Church Lane up for sale.

Given restrictions on business use and an asking fee of £750,000, it looks inevitable that it will close as a drinking club and it's hard to see who would be interested in acquiring it, especially given the significant maintenance requirements, let alone remodernisation costs.

It's another nail in Matchday drinking although there are precious few who will miss it other than when Charlton are at home. I have never been a fan of clubs and the "Cons" has few redeeming factors, although I have always had a soft spot for hosts Tommy and Max. It might give the Liberal a much-needed shot in the arm but it could join a long list of disappearing Addick boozers including The Royal Oak (The Watermans Arms, The Thames Barrier, The Victoria, The Valley and The Horse & Groom).

Monday 24 June 2013

Nethergong Hill

As we all know, the purpose of the close season is to spend quality time with our families, so we can justify indulging ourselves during the actual season. OK, so perhaps it's to give the players a rest and to allow us to miss it just long enough to re-stoke our passion for another campaign and so continue the cycle of life. Whatever it is, I did my bit this weekend by agreeing to do something I haven't done since 1979 - we went camping.

Hailing from the far north of Scotland where tents are invariably pitched wherever people find a flat enough spot, I had a view that we would find a suitable place and simply camp. However, my preparations for the expedition began weeks ago and I was surprised to find that 'wild camping' is not the thing down here and it is, actually, illegal! So my research took me to official sites where I discovered that there are more potential barriers than I had thought possible. Not all sites allow dogs and my sister-in-law was not leaving hers at home. Not all sites allow camp-fires - what's the point of camping if you can't drink alcohol and toast marshmallows by an open fire? Most sites are actually hosted at caravan parks and I didn't want to be camping in what might appear to be someone else's garden.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I found Nethergong Hill, a "traditional" camping ground in deepest Kent. I always take on-line reviews with a pinch of salt but like everyone else I guess, was lured into reading what others had to say and there were some mixed views although most were positive. So we set off with a little trepidation at 4pm on Friday and by 6pm I had the first tent up and the weekend was underway in a stunningly attractive 26 acres of flat woodland and meadow. We were free to pitch our tents wherever we liked and we found a secluded spot by a large frog-filled pond in a clearing in some woods. The site is enclosed by a stream and natural boundaries, so kids are free to roam and associate which is just what they did. Friday evening was glorious as the sun went down and a full moon appeared over the trees. 

The only downside was that despite a three mile route march on Saturday morning, we couldn't find an Inn that could run to Sky Sports, so I was forced to listen to the Lions overcome the Wallabies in a close encounter from the cockpit of my car. We returned home yesterday afternoon like born-again campers. Nethergong has been booked for four nights in August and we are trying another site in a fortnight (Nethergong fully booked). Oh and yesterday I couldn't resist buying a new tent now that I am an experienced camper.

Wednesday 19 June 2013


So, the fixtures duly landed this morning and I find I will be missing Bournemouth away and Middlesborough at home. Bournemouth on a Saturday in August is good enough almost to make a week of, let alone a weekend. Pete is already winding me up by offering to do the match report.

I then jump to the 6 Nations clashes and find that, for the first time ever, all three games I am committed to coincide with home matches against Birmingham, QPR and Watford. So, I am missing four home matches this season as things stand and am guessing there may be one or two others before the season's through (if it gets any worse I might be better off upping sticks and heading for the sun and changing the name of this blog). 

My first home match will be Doncaster Rovers on 24th August! If we get off to a good start at Dean Court and against Boro, I might need to satisfy my craving  by once again going to Barnsley the week before we entertain Rovers.  Huddersfield and Doncaster away on Tuesday nights will be sparsely attended affairs and you have to believe that more considered match selection would see clubs maximise gate revenues. If we have to play midweek fixtures, at least pick clubs within reasonable travelling time. I am pleased we have two home games over Christmas and two decent ones at that with Brighton on Boxing Day and then the Massives on Saturday 29th. Both Millwall games are Saturday again and will hopefully pass off without all the pre-match hype from last season and no repeat of the after-match organisational chaos at both venues. Finally, Blackpool away last game? Got to be an omen that I reckon?

You can probably tell that the gloom from last season has lifted. My pupils are slightly more dilated and anticipation levels are rising.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Fixture news

The draw for the noddy round of the League Cup has been made and we will, presumably, be losing money on a home tie against Oxford United, probably on Tuesday 6th August. The good news is that I will miss this one due to holiday.

The main fixtures are due out this week. Usually it's a Thursday with the first game leaked a day before. This year it would appear we have stepped forward a day and we should know how our season will unfold shortly after 9am tomorrow. Perhaps they will leak the opening fixture today? I am guessing we will be away on 3rd, maybe to the likes of Yeovil Town or Doncaster Rovers.

The new home shirt was revealed yesterday. It's red with a Nike logo on the right great and a Charlton badge on the left. Sounds great at that point but they have buggered it up with a pointless white line that drops from the neck line a dribble of spit. Still, it will fly off the shelves and cover the wage bill for August.

Saturday 15 June 2013

New South Wales Waratahs 17 v British & Irish Lions 47

Another excellent Saturday rugby match down under as the Lions went through the gears to see off a feisty and capable Waratah's side. The "Tah's" were actually 9 players short (Wallabies and injuries) of full strength but at times it was hard to tell. Like Queensland before, the opposition were not awed by the Lions and they scored a couple of fine tries as they made a game of it.

The Lions, though, were simply too hot to handle. They dominated up front and their passing in the backs was brilliant at times. The Welsh mainstays appear to have cemented their starting positions for Brisbane. Halfpenny scored 30 points himself and he was ably supported by countrymen Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and Mike Phillips. Simon Zebo looked like a man on a mission for the first hour as popped up everywhere and made attack after attack in the gaps in the Tah's line. Jonathan Sexton had a decent game despite being targeted by the Tah's from the off. The only disappointment for me in the backs was Sean Maitland who missed key contacts for the Tah's tries and didn't finish anything himself. 

Up front we saw some driving mauls for the first time on tour although we appeared to break far to early when there was plenty of distance left in the tank. O'Connell played his usual leading role alongside the imperious Wyn-Jones who tore lumps out of the Tah's pack and is a dead cert for me. Adam Jones trundles on and Jamie Heaslip will also be pleased with his performance. Mako Vunipola has  played a predominate role in the tour so far but he looked a little tired today. Alex Corbisiero joined the fray towards the end and made an impression, although it would have hard not to against a tired Tah's.

Friday 14 June 2013

Caley at the Valley

First the good news. Wigan Athletic have appointed Owen Coyle as their new manager (Kevin, you know nothing).

Secondly, having been spitting feathers for a few weeks following the news that the season will kick-off on 3rd August instead of the 10th, I learn today that we will be playing our first home friendly for a few years on 27th July and Inverness Caledonian Thistle will be the opposition. I will be flying off to the Canaries that day so will miss the lot. Davie would have loved this one too.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Powell to Wigan?

I have been trying to ignore this as mere speculation but there are signs that there may be real legs to this. Sir Chris's odds on replacing Roberto Martinez in the grim wastes of Pieland were shortened drastically by various Bookmakers yesterday and I believe one has even stopped taking bets.

Someone I have known for 30 years who has always had decent contacts at the Club is sure SCP is on his way. I am hearing Powell's Summer budget is tiny and the wage cap will limit loanee ambitions. Let's hope these are just unfounded rumours on all counts.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Queensland Reds 12 v British & Irish Lions 22

Cracking stuff in Brisbane this morning. The Queensland Reds gave the Lions a real match and tore into them from the off. It was a classic northern v southern hemisphere clash with the Reds looking to run the ball at every opportunity and the Lions seeking sanctuary in set pieces and forward play where they held a significant advantage. 

It was a hard but fair game and the Queenslanders lost four players during the contest, two to gaping head wounds from clashes and two stretchered off semi-conscious from thundering tackles. It wasn't a game for the faint hearted and heads and bodies were put on the line. The Lions didn't go unscathed with Tommy Bowe breaking a bone in his hand which will end his tour and they will all be carrying knocks and bruises this evening. 

Owen Farrell kicked the Lions in front but the Reds landed the first try when the impressive Luke Morahan shimmed his way through the Lions rearguard before kicking and out-running Stuart Hogg to touchdown under the posts for a superb individual try. Farrell's boot and a fortunate Ben Youngs score which ran well for him from a ruck gave the Lions a 16-7 lead which looked like it would be good enough.

Queensland Reds battled on and Nick Frisby ran in to reduce the arrears but an easy conversion was squandered. Farrell landed two more penalties to secure the victory. The Lions kicking was booed at every attempt by the Queenslanders in the 50,000 crowd who had come to see running rugby.

As well as Morahan, Quade Gooper looked the Wallaby he is but he has fallen out with the Aussie management after critical comments and looks unlikely to get another chance on this tour. Ben Lucas looked incredibly quick and dangerous in the opening half and Beau Robinson looked like a wrecking ball on the field until he collided head on with Mako Vunipola and was knocked out cold before he hit the turf.

The game was played in a great spirit and the players were genuine in their congratulations, hugs and handshakes at the finish. Farrell looked to have scored an excellent try at one point but as the referee called for the replay, Farrell could clearly be seen telling him that he lost control before touching down that I thought was an entirely appropriate gesture for this match. 

Three more warm-ups before the first Test and it's Combined New South Wales on Tuesday next. If Gatland picks the right 15 it could be Wales v New South Wales, something I suppose the early settlers could never have imagined.

Monday 3 June 2013

Gower joins Hughes

End-of-season loanee Mark Gower has today signed on a one year term. I am slightly surprised by this following the extension of Andy Hughes' contract but not disappointed.

Hughes at 35 is probably in his last full year as a professional at this level but he has kept himself in tip-top condition so could well go on beyond that although he has coaching ambitions.

As one of the natural talkers on the pitch, Hughes will earn his dough. Gower, meanwhile is actually only a year younger and was slow to start with us. He claimed not to have regained full fitness until the Boro game and he was notably better towards the end. I missed the Bristol City match by understand Gower had his best match for us then and did very well in creating two of the goals. I trust Chris Powell's judgement and am satisfied with Gower and Hughes. 

All eyes now turn towards who our first new faces might be. I think we could do with another left sided midfielder, preferably someone who could back Harriott and then we focus on getting a couple of goalscorer's capable of firing a promotion bid. Please let's not leave it to the last minute. It would be good to get them in for a proper pre-season so we can start on all cylinders on 3rd August.

Saturday 1 June 2013

British & Irish Lions 59 , Barbarians 8

The curtain raiser to the tour Down Under took place late evening in Hong Kong today in sweltering heat. The players were soaked to the skin within minutes and you could see the sweat dripping off them as the Lions despatched the Baa-Baa's with plenty to spare.

I was surprised by the starting 15. Warren Gatland was perceived by many to have shown a Welsh, if not anti-English (or Irish) bias in his squad selection but he obviously wasn't concerned at all about the opinions of others with his pre-match selection of 9 Welsh, 3 Scots, 2 English and a solitary Irish starter. He did at least hand the captaincy to Paul O'Connell.

Gatland will have few detractors for his team selection after a powerful showing in trying circumstances. Owen Farrell visibly struggled with the conditions most, fumbling contact and passing low on a number of occasions which slowed the game. The very strong Lions pack dominated the Baa-Baa's and a more picky referee could have penalised them even more as they continued to bind illegally and collapse the scrum at every opportunity to avoid being marched backwards. 

Richie Gray held his own alongside O'Connell and then Wyn-Jones when O'Connell went off for running repairs. He flagged towards the end but will be pleased with his debut. They were actually 11 debutants for the Lions including the other two Scots in the squad, Stuart Hogg (youngest player at 21) and Sean Maitland. Hogg worked a couple of great positions but poor passes prevented him from bursting clear. Maitland saw less of the ball and will probably feel a tad disappointed, although he will be a prized target for the Aussies when he does feature.

The rest of the game was pretty much dominated by Welshman which will have afforded Gatland a knowing smile. Jamie Roberts and Mike Phillips looked different class as they bristled around the game line and did damage with every play. Phillips is a big Scrum Half with a lightning change of direction and should give the Aussies all sorts of problems. Alex Cuthbert sprinted down the line for two tries and even Wyn-Jones manage to be on the end of the line for a try.

The Lions continued to rack up the points in spite of a flurry of late substitutions but by then the Ba-Ba's looked done in. Eyes down on Wednesday for the first warm-up match on Aussie soil when Western Force provide the opposition in Perth. It's a match which should see the physicality increased as the Aussies try to soften us up and create some needle ahead of the first Test five matches later in Brisbane on Saturday 22nd June. My time on a Lions Tour will come, but for now I will have to make-do with television.