Does rugby need mud?

What’s more important in sport, innovation or tradition? Progress or sentiment?

Today Saracens took on Exeter Chiefs in the first rugby premiership game to be played on their new plastic pitch. The Allianz arena contains a 4G surface that is designed to stand up to 30 toothless men simultaneously driving each other into the ground, as well as the British weather that has a history of turning grass pitches into abysmal quagmires.

Last weekend England travelled to Dublin to play Ireland in the 6 Nations. It rained. It rained before kick-off, it poured during the first half, it bucketed during half time and it lashed during the second half. Needless to say, this affected the pitch and therefore the standard of rugby on display (it ended 6-12 with all points coming from penalties).

David Flatman, former prop for England and Bath described the Aviva stadium in his column in Sport magazine, as “more farmland than fairway”. Yet he went on to praise the wondrous mud-lashed winter rugby for all its squelchy glory,

“Rugby at this time of year is grim. The ball is sopping wet and covered in sludge, therefore wide passes are ill-advised, the ground is ploughed up by the gorillas up front, so those who once skated across the pitch are reduced to a plod; and any aesthetically pleasing footwork or snazzy sidesteps are washed away with the rain”

“So why do we need this stodgy, rugby-by-darkness in our lives? Because it’s totally wonderful, that’s why….I am also convinced that no bloke can call himself a bloke until he’s had a good scrap in the mud”.

Designers can make plastic look like grass but they can’t recreate the mud that Flatman speaks of. Is the joy of of sliding over the line for a try, or tackling your teammate because you can’t distinguish the kits or digging molehills out of your ears for hours afterwards resigned to the good old days? Will mock pitches improve the game as the ball sound be easier to handle and ground less slippery under foot? Or will a lack of grass-stained shirts make the line-up of super toned players mean a trip to the rugby looks more like watching a crowded athletics meet? This doesn’t conjuror up images akin to man versus man were adjectivessuch as dogfight, battlefield or trenches appropriately tell the story of the game. Ex-pro Flatman is adamant, “we need mud in our game”.

Dear God, if you are listening, can we please have more hours in the day for sport?

As already mentioned I was at the Investec London Cup last week with the final being held on Sunday. It is fairly unusual that someone who plays or supports one sport, will not like another sport too. A lot of fans enjoy sport but focus in on one or two for special attention. The ‘problem’ recently is that there is so much going on that it’s hard to keep up! In an ideal world I wouldn’t go to work at all, I’d spend my time watching sport, preferably live but I’d settle for the TV or radio. Since hockey is considered a minority sport the organisers of the London Cup were up against it to get publicity out there and let people know what was happening. Unfortunately the competition was England Test match cricket, Formula One grand prix, Test match rugby involving Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, Roland Garros final, and the Euro 2012 football championship. That’s tough.

This week is no better – the Euros continue, US Open golf, more rugby union, ODIs, MotoGP, while Royal Ascot begins on Tuesday.

And all this before you look across the pond to the land of stats, whoopass, smashing, hussling and ‘oh no he did innt!’ of the NBA. Game 3 of the Finals between LeBrons Miami Heat and the threatening Thunder OKC driven by Kevin Durant is on Sunday night with the series tied at 1 apiece. Sport back to back, all day all night – now that’s what I’m talkin about!

What would Benjamin Franklin say about referees?

U.S Presidents make a lot of speeches and say a lot of words, sometimes wise, sometimes they are George W. Bush. Many quotes filter down through history to be applied by generations far removed from the original orator. Benjamin Franklin is credited with writing, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” The sentiment still rings true today but can be adapted to suit the world, our world, as it is now. Today nothing can be certain except death, taxes, tube delays, Torres goal drought and referees getting abuse.

Watching England take on Wales in the 6 Nations with a couple of valley boys with matching JPR Williams tattoos (not really but that would be fun) the referee was getting as much abuse as Jeremy Guscott received the previous weekend for wearing his mothers scarf on national television. Perhaps this isn’t the best example as Steve Walsh, who in a politically correct environment would be described as having a ‘chequered’ past, was verging on dismal.  To say he leaned towards England on the majority of the decisions would be like saying the Costa Concordia isn’t quite upright – but that is a discussion for another day.

English: World Track Championships 2008 Manche...

Chris Foy does not look like this

The recent barracking Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy received through social networks site when irate Spurs fans mistook him for football referee Chris Foy was comical for the burly Scotsman although he has broad, muscular shoulders big enough to cope with a bit of misplaced grief. Again, maybe not the most appropriate example as Hoy not Foy is at least a demi-god.

In other sports referees don’t have such an obvious impact on proceedings, you might not have even known they were there. Diving referees don’t cause much trouble, that is, officials in the sport of diving, not Howard Webb going to ground so he can red card himself and get off the pitch quickly. Without researching the position it is easy to wonder when they might be called into action. Images of the consequences of their decisions could cause splashing tantrums from disconsolate next-to-naked divers. How do competitors break the rules? Do they strap on wings? Tie weights to their ankles? Slather baby oil from head to toe to make themselves more slick through the water? Do these referees have yellow and red cards? Maybe, thanks to the Olympics diving will move into the main stream so more and more people will get the opportunity to shout at the TV screen giving passionate, hearty advice to the referee as their favourite competitor belly-flops for the fifth time in a row.

Sporting Oscars

What do people who are not interested in sport do with their weekends? It’s a mystery. Having just four television channels, not the full fat, wall-to-wall, obesity inducing, pocket robbing Sky Sports package, three rugby matches, one Cup final and spring time horse racing were on show over two days as well as highlight programmes of football league action and the 6 Nations competition. Individually and collectively the performances produced more drama, excitement, heartache and release than many of the films nominated for a Hollywood Oscar did. Sportsmen and women often lament the highs and lows of winning medals or silverware, ranking one performance against another but the truth is, they would rather have the award than not. So stand up, show some leg and accept this weekends Sporting Oscars…..

Best performance – Cardiff City. This is not a sympathetic vote; the Championship side defied themselves and science by staying upright as many of the team suffered cramp and beyond exhausted exhaustion. The Bluebirds literally gave everything they had to force the tie into extra time so much so that Rudy Gestede nearly didn’t make it as far as the ball when he came forward to take a spot kick.

Best leading man – Sam Warburton. What is this man made off? Strong, determined, hard as nails but clever and alert with it.

Best storyline – Gerrard and Gerrard. Cousins and opponents on the day of the Carling Cup final, both miss penalties yet one is the hero lifting the cup high.

Best drama – England nearly scoring a try in the final minute of the game against Wales. It wasn’t a try though and Wales went on to celebrate a victory and the Triple Crown, the champagne tasting all the sweeter as they paraded around Twickenham and under England’s noses.

Best twist – Arsenal versus Tottenham. This script could not have been written. Arsenal off the back of a couple of losses but more worryingly a few hideous performances went two down and deservedly so. The switched was flicked and team suddenly caught up with the imagination of the writer as five goals, scored by four different players, hit the back of the net and at the same time the reality button for Tottenham and their supporters. Yea they are a good team but nothing can be taken for granted yet, they are not guaranteed third spot or Champions League football just yet.

Best reaction – Tom Court. The front row scored a try against Italy when the game was dead and buried as a contest but celebrated like he had just secured the World Cup for his country

Best name – Dodging Bullets. The unfortunately named horse didn’t win the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton, finishing behind Baby Mix ridden by a jockey whose name always invokes a smirk for less literal reason, Robert ‘Choc’ Thornton.

Best newcomer – Stuart Hogg .The 19 year old scored the opening try for Scotland on his home debut proving that his side were not actually physically repelled from the try line but were able to cross the whitewash and claim five point to out the wind up a stagnant French team.

Best oldcomer – Ryan Giggs. As far as the Welshman is concerned it has all been said before but then he keeps setting new records and breaking old ones. On his 900th appearance for Manchester United Giggs scored an injury time winner that ensures his team remain only two points shy of city rivals.