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Monday, July 26, 2010

Aspen or Bust...

It's been a tough last 14-15 months for me: pulmonary embolism, wife laid off from work, return of my atrial-fibrillation, death of my grandmother, my cardiac ablation, my dad's cardiac bypass surgery, preparation for my son's impending wedding...yeah, it's been chaotic.

Well, things have been looking up, a bit. The ablation took care of my a-fib, I've lost my winter weight gain, I've been lifting weights and biking so I look and feel better(bottom shot of me, my daughter and our dogs Basil and Buddha)  than how chunky I was looking when I was in Portugal back in February as you can see from this shot from a Benfica soccer game...(Our former exchange student Rodrigo is on the left, his buddy Duarte is on the right)

A couple of weeks back a couple of Metropolis Old Boys put out an e-mail looking for players over the age of 35 interested in playing at the Aspen Ruggerfest.
I decided that I am going to be 50 in October, I may not get another chance to play at this tournament and everybody I know who has gone to Aspen Ruggerfest has had a really, REALLY, good time. I decided to throw caution to the wind and get my plane tickets to go to Colorado in September.

I am going to talk with my cardiologist about coming up with a plan to get off the blood thinner that I have been on for the past 15 months. I am increasing my interval training and I will start going to practices with Metropolis when my work schedule allows.(I work straight evenings)

I am really committed to doing this. I may be nuts, but I think going to this tournament serves as a great carrot on the stick to improve my fitness and play some rugby again. It won't be easy...I'll feel like a new kid at rugby practice...but it will put a smile back on my face.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Patrick Watkins-A Death too Young...

Many members of my Metropolis Rugby Club help coach local high school aged teams in the Twin Cities Metro area. As somebody who has coached and been a referee for high school wrestling, I know that coaches and players can have a very close relationship. It's kind of between that of a parent and a big brother.

In the past week, the South Metro Tigers coaching staff had to get that horrible bit of news that nobody wants to hear in the middle of the night: South Metro 8 man Patrick Watkins was killed in a car accident in North East Minneapolis on July 13th  I have had the privilege of watching this 17 year old run hard and play hard for South Metro.

The thing with teenagers is that sometimes they take risks without fully appreciating the danger with their actions.  My hope is that maybe the people who survived this crash, Patrick's family and the rugby community can talk with young people  and use this needless tragedy as cautionary tale about excess speed and having too many teen passengers in one car.

There will be a celebration of Patrick's young life this coming Saturday in Minneapolis:
Greater Friendship Church
2600 E 38th st
Minneapolis, MN

Friends and family are being asked to wear rugby jersey's instead of suit and tie.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself...

Part of blogging is getting thoughts off your chest, venting your spleen and sharing random rants. The beauty of the blogosphere is that sometimes you run into a posting that so mirrors your own thoughts. I would like to share this post mortem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup which just finished in South Africa from another blogger:

I am such a big fan of the Compulsive Hooker's web site, that I am adding it to my blog roll.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Boks Left All Black and Blue in Auckland...

This year's Tri-Nations competition kicked off on Saturday at Eden Park in Auckland, with the holders South Africa taking on the All Blacks, in what on paper looked to be a mouth-watering appetizer to kick off the new season with next year's Rugby World Cup-also to be played in Kiwi-Land now looming on the horizon.

The  All-Blacks looked the better of the two sides from the get-go, and won 32-12 in a match that was not even that close. New Zealand played with an intensity that had the Springboks on the back foot for most of the game. What really impressed me was the All  Black scrum, who had a very, very strong game from their front row. The All Black dominance even carried over to the line-outs, where the Sprinboks and their all-world second row, Victor Matfield usually reign supreme.

It would be the Springboks  other second row, Bakkies Botha, who would figure in a big way in this game-and his impact would be negative for the South Africans. The match referee, Alan Lewis missed Botha's head-butt on Jimmy Cowan, but was yellow-carded minutes later for a professional foul. Playing a man down, the Boks conceded a try by Conrad Smith-the first of four tries for the All Blacks, who earned the bonus point win with some sublime, hard-charging rugby. Center,Ma'a Nonu and Fullback Mulaina played really well with their physical runs. Dan Carter at fly-half was his usual self for the All Blacks in a great opener for Graham Henry's men.

Adding to the Springbok woes was finding out that Bakkies Botha will be suspended for 9 weeks-the rest of the Tri-Nations season for his head-butt on Cowan. The severity of the sanction is no doubt due to long rap sheet that the Blue Bulls second row has, including  this year's Super 14 play-offs, after being suspended for a month on a reckless charge, and he received a two-week ban for the same offence against the British & Irish Lions last year. Going even further back, Botha was also forced to
miss three weeks of last year's Super 14 for striking and in 2003 he was suspended for eight weeks after spitting at, biting and eye-gouging Australian hooker Brendan Cannon. 

The Springboks have a week to get their act together before taking on the All Blacks in Wellington, next Saturday. It cannot come soon enough for the South Africans to get the bad after taste out of their mouths from a very poor opening at Edcn Park.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Best World Cup Game I Ever Saw: West Germany-France (1982)

With the Semi-finals going on in this year's FIFA World Cup from South Africa, and The Netherlands win over Uruguay on Tuesday to put the Dutch into their first World Cup Final since 1978; it got me to thinking of the best World Cup  match I had ever seen...and I still have to say that in terms of quality of play, the caliber of the players on the field, drama and controversy, it is still hard for me to think of a game that was better than the semifinal played out between West Germany and France in the brutal heat of Seville, Spain during the 1982 World Cup.

I watched most of the 1982 World Cup in Montpellier, France, where I was a student during my junior year abroad. I came back to Minnesota to take some summer school classes just before the semifinals. I was able to catch this game on a new network that had come up with the revolutionary idea of 24 hour sports broadcasting...ESPN.

There was a lot of intrigue even before these two teams met.

France started their World Cup campaign in Bilbao, where they got thumped 3-1 by England, in a match that was not even that close.  Jean-Francois Larios was sent home after it became known that he was having an affair with captain Michel Platini's wife. (Football is not always about diagonal runs) French coach Michel Hidalgo was able to right the French ship, getting France out of group play, where they beat Austria and Northern Ireland to punch their semi-final ticket. After the early hiccup against England, France was really feeling it-particularly after they beat Northern Ireland 4-1 with a swashbuckling display of flowing football with their sublime midfield of Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse.

West Germany (In 1982, Germany was still a divided country) had stars like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Paul Brietner, Manfred Kaltz and Pierre Littbarski. They also had big physical, imposing players like Briegel, Forster and Hrubesch.  The Germans had their own faux-pas in group play: a stunning 2-1 loss to Algeria-still rated as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The Germans had to play Austria in their last match. The one result that would see both Teutonic nations into the next round would be a 1-0 win by the Germans. After Hrubesch scored early on for Germany, the two sides played kickball with one another with no serious attempt at goal. It was clear to all in attendance that the fix was in. Algeria, with two wins and one loss, had to pack their bags to back to North Africa. It is interesting to note that after that shameful display, FIFA made the decision that moving forward, all last round games of group play will have the same kick-off time on the same day to prevent this from happening again.

With Brazil's shocking upset by Italy, and Spain not able to get past it's second round group, most Spanish fans and many neutrals were rooting for France to beat the Germans. It would be a contrast in styles of French flair versus German strength and athleticism.

The Germans opened the scoring when Pierre Littbarski hit a rebounded Paul Brietner shot, and threaded the ball past 4 French players before the ball hit the back of the net. The French equalized off a Michel Platini penalty kick, which was created by Rocheteau getting hauled down in the box by Bernd Foerster.

The match would turn in the second half. Michel Hidalgo brought on Patrick Battiston to midfield, and that injected some more life to the French attack. His stay in the game would not last long. After being on the field for maybe 7 minutes, he chased after a loose ball in the box...the German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher made no attempt to play the ball. He hip-checked Battiston, and knocked the St. Etienne midfielder out colder than a mackerel. Incredibly, the Dutch referee, Mr. Coerver did not see the infraction that everybody else in Seville and watching on TV saw. At the very, very least Schumacher should have been red-carded and France should have had another penalty. As it was, Hidalgo had to go with his last sub for Battiston, Shumacher stayed in the match, and the game carried on.

After near misses by both sides-including a 25 yard bomb from defender Manuel Amoros that rattled off the crossbar in the 89th minute, it came down to overtime. In the overtime, defender Marius Tresor scored a goal off  a magnificent full volley from a deflected Alain Giresse free kick.  Six minutes later, Giresse finished off a wonderful movement between Giresse, Rocheteau, Platini and Didier Six, who laid the ball off for Giresse to bury in Schumacher's net.

At 3-1 down in overtime, German coach Jupp Derwall had to roll the dice and bring on the injured Bayern Munich star, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The move paid almost instant dividends, with Rummenigge putting the ball past Jean-Luc Ettori to make it 3-2.  France was wilting in the heat, and they just did not have it in their DNA to just put bodies on the ball and defend. In the 108th minute, the Germans tied it off a spectacular overhead scissors kick by Klaus Fischer.

The match continued into the cruel drama of Penalties. Harald Schumacher, the man who should not have even been on the field for his assault on Battiston, stopped penalties by Didier Six and Maxime Bossis to get the Germans into the final against Italy(A match won by Italy 3-1)

I cannot tell you how gutted I was after this game. I was sad that France had lost...but over the years, I have come to appreciate what a special game this really was-even the great Michel Platini said that this was the greatest game he had ever played, and in spite of the loss, the match still holds a special place in his heart..

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Bad Month for French Sport.... How Do You Say "Road-Kill" in French?

For French sports fans, June had to be a particularly rough month. For the people out there who delight in Gaellic misery, June had to be more fun than a wagon full of puppies.

Where to start? French Rugby  won the 6 Nations this spring and had very decent results in last fall's internationals. In the span of a couple of weeks,  they did not just get beat on the southern hemisphere tours, they got totally dismantled in Cape Town at the hand of the Springboks, and then suffered their worst ever loss to the Pumas in Buenos Aires last week, 41-13 It looks like French Coach Marc Lievremont is going to have to go back to the drawing board after these two dismal displays where he had decent squads on the field who simply did not play with any heart or intensity.

If it's at all possible, France's soccer teams poor play, bitching, back-biting and incompetent coaching brought French soccer to a nadir that has not been seen since they failed to win qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States by losing consecutive matches at the Parc de Princes to Israel and Bulgaria. (In the case of the loss to Bulgaria, they gave up a goal in the closing seconds of the match off THEIR own corner kick that Bulgarians cashed in to punch their ticket to the World Cup.)

The French media have been rightfully lambasting the lack of effort by a team that had decent players, but were not able to play together. When striker Nicolas Anelka threw an expletive-filled tirade against befuddled coach Raymond Domenech, the coach banished the whining Chelsea forward to the next plane back to France. The players showed what a bunch of divas that they were by refusing to practice to protest Anelka's removal from the squad. Domenech also showed an utter lack of class by not even shaking hands with his South African counterpart, Carlos Parriera after France lost their last game to South Africa 2-1. France lost to Mexico and South Africa for the first time ever, and had  really dull, drab, listless 0-0 against Uruguay. If there was anybody who had to be more angry than the French soccer fan, it had to be Ireland's national team and their fans who had to watch France qualify for the World Cup on Thierry Henry's hand-ball goal against Ireland that punched France's ticket to South Africa.  Italy certainly failed in a big way by not qualifying for the round of 16 out of an easy group with Slovaka, New Zealand and Paraguay, but France's lack of sportsmanship, class and hustle in South Africa was breathtakingly hideous.

Maybe the French Rugy Federation and the French Football Federation can come up with a new emblem for their sports teams...