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Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been....

2011 Has seen me in a variety of places: Phoenix, Dallas, Houston Minneapolis, Australia, New Zealand, Delware, Virginia, Washington DC, New Jersey, New York City,  and Pennsylvania. I have seen NHL Hockey in Dallas, New York City, and Philadelphia. I saw 5 Texas Rangers Baseball games, I saw a couple of MLS soccer games in Dallas, I saw 3 Rugby World Cup games in New Zealand and I had a chance to see the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Madison Square Garden, two of the most Iconic sports venues in the World.

As far as playing rugby, I only had a chance to play one time in 2011, but at least I had a chance to strap it on for the Metropolis Old Boys against the Old Laurentian Old Boys from Rugby, England. In a sport that is full of really, really fantastic people, the players from the OL's are some of the nicest people you can ever have a chance to meet.

During my time in New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup, I had a chance to actually speak with(and drink with) rugby fans from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Scotland
Argentina, France, England, Uruguay, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Romania, Canada South Africa, Canada, and Italy(Got to get my picture taken with guys from the Italian National team.) I actually had a chance to glad-hand USA Eagle Players after their game against Italy in Nelson. I was also able to meet friends of mine on the rugby blogosphere.

2011 was simply an amazing experience.  As much fun as it all was, it does not matter much if you don't have somebody with whom to share it. I have been lucky to be married to a woman who loves travel and new experiences as much as I do. If 2012 is half as fun as 2011 was, it will be a great year...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Have Yourself a Rugby Little Christmas

Well, my time in Wilmington Delaware working at the VA Medical center is winding to a close. My contract will be up on January 7th. I am looking forward to getting back to Minnesota for a couple of weeks to see my kids and my grandson, along with some of my friends and hopefully some of the guys with the Metropolis Rugby Club.

With Christmas coming, I hope that your Christmas is full of friends, family and a little rugby on the side. I am going to add some rugby images I took this year from playing with the Metropolis Old Boys in the Spring against the Old Laurentians, catching some Dallas Harlequins matches to Rugby World Cup matches, along with the video from the National Anthems before Australia-USA at the 2011 Rugby World Cup at "The Cake Tin" in in Wellington, New Zealand. To be honest, this trip I took in September to Australia and New Zealand was my main Christmas present to myself. Having a great wife with whom I could share the adventure was a cherry on the cake.

Merry Christmas to all...and to all, a good ruck....

Friday, December 2, 2011

Can the US Host the Rugby World Cup in 2023?

Can USA Rugby Pull This Bid Out of Their Ass?
We know already that England will host the Rugby World Cup in 2015
And Japan will get the Oval Ball Orgy in 2019...
Japan Jersey from the 1930's
The question now will be, who where will Rugby World Cup 2023 take place?

It was announced that USA Rugby has thrown in their hat into the ring to host the tournament in 2023. (The plan would be to co-host some games with Canada) Another developing rugby nation, Russia has also thrown it's hat into the ring, as well. The third country who would like to host the RWC is the hosts from 1995, South Africa.

I think even the most vocal Eagles fan would have to say that South Africa is the clear favorite. They have a history with this game that goes way back...
An endangered species...a South Africa Jersey with a Springbok on the Chest.
South Africa is a bona fide power in the rugby world. Thanks to the FIFA World Cup in 2010, they have plenty of stadiums that would be all set to host matches. It is true that Russia will have stadiums, too, since they are hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2018, those stadiums built for that event will still have that new stadium-smell to them. Here in the US, we have no problems on the stadium front, either. I do think that the biggest road block to the Russian and American bids is the simple fact that the IRB will say that by letting Japan host in 2019, they have already thrown a bone to developing rugby nations, and that they will want to come back with the World Cup going to a traditional Rugby nation. By 2027(Shit, will I be old by then) I can see the IRB coming back to a developing rugby nation that also has economic clout. (Well, the US still might have some economic clout by then)

It's nice to see USA Rugby feeling confident enough to make such a bid, but  I think that in the end, rugby fans will probably need their Afrikaans, Zulu or Xhosa phrase books and guides to the beaches near Durban, because at this point in the game, I think it's South Africa's bid to lose.
A Bok fan waving the RSA flag in Auckland in September before RSA-Samoa

Thursday, December 1, 2011

USA Rugby Gets Some Love from the USOC

USA Prop Mike MacDonald sharing some love at the Ruby World Cup after Italy-USA
When the IOC voted to make rugby sevens a part of the Olymics in Rio in 2016, the hope of a lot of American rugby fans was that where the Olympics are, financial funding is not too far away. First, the Network NBC started showing live action from the Las Vegas Sevens last year. This year they showed some matches from Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand. They showed the USA-Ireland match on September 11th, and they showed the final between the All Blacks and France. For American rugby, this was huge just getting the sport on network TV.

Rugby sevens may not get a lot of respect in the rugby world, but it's a start for the sport as far as increasing the exposure of the sport. The other truism is that where there is TV and Sport, there is also money. Because rugby is now part of the Olympic movement, the US Olympic committee has just announced it will commence its first residency program commencing January, 2012. This will involve the placement of 15 men and 8 women into a full-time residency program at the Olympic Training Centre, Chula Vista, San Diego. Having a full time residency program for developing American players is an important step. American players like Todd Clever and Chris Wyles have been able to parlay their USA sevens experience to be able to play professionally overseas in the 15 man game.
USA-Australia: National Anthems at The Cake Tin in Wellington from RWC 2011

The US has some catch up work to do. In the last Pan-American Games in Mexico, the USA Sevens team took a Bronze medal, finishing behind the Gold-medal winning Canadians and the Silver-winning Argentinians.

No question that the best place for American players to develop is to be able to play professionally either in Europe, or in one of the SANZAR countries, but it's kind of a chicken and egg problem of which comes first, developing the skills to get noticed overseas, or getting American players good coaching and competition while they are young. The residency program care of the USOC will at least be a good start for American rugby.

Monday, November 28, 2011

MCG and MSG All in One Year....

There is an old joke in the United States about a guy who went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.

This past weekend, I had a chance to put another check mark on my Bucket List when I had a chance to catch an Ice Hockey game at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  MSG is an arena that has a great deal of history and has had to be remodeled and refurbished over the years, just like the MCG in Melbourne, Australia.  The big difference is that I don't think there has been any rugby played at the MSG, and I don't think any Ice Hockey matches have been played at the MCG.

The game I saw on Saturday afternoon was between the New York Rangers, one of the Original Six teams in the NHL, and the Philadelphia Flyers. There is a two hour drive separating these east coast cities. Regardless of the sport, these two cities really don't like each other. I had my first hint when I went to a bar across the street from the Garden, which had been taken over by Philly fans. When I asked a group of them to pose for a shot, they were happy to oblige....
Getting Phlipped off by Philly fans.
Maybe it was because I was wearing a Ranger t-shirt...

The guy on the left was one of the few Ranger fans on the upper deck of this bar on an unseasonably warm (61 degrees, about 20 degrees C) and sunny day in New York City. He actually was yelling down at passers by that he would buy a beer for any more Ranger fans that would join him. (Which I enjoyed immensely) There were insults, obscenities and cat calls-and that was just from the female Flyer fans.

I had just settled into my seats at the MSG when they sang the National Anthem, the puck was dropped, and four seconds into the game, a fight broke out. Later in the first period, another fight, which I put on the top of this posting.

It's strange to people who are used to players getting red carded for fighting to find out that in professional ice hockey, fights ARE penalized (a 5 minute penalty), but the players are not always ejected. (That's usually reserved for a player leaving the bench or the 3rd man in a fight) Ice hockey traditionalists cry foul any time there is talk about getting rid of fighting-truth be told, the fans love it.

The thing  I would say about professional ice hockey is that you have to see it live. Seeing it on TV just does not do justice to the speed and physicality of the game. I would tell any rugby fan visiting the US or Canada to try to take in an NHL game-it's a lot more fun than watching on TV, and if you can get seats for a rivalry game like the Rangers-Flyers, it really makes it a lot more fun.
The game just ended, the Rangers won, 2-0

Now that I have been to the MCG and MSG, I have got to make it to Twickenham and to the new Wembley.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Direction for USA Rugby...but where ?

Well, along with John Kirwan of Japan, Nick Mallett of Italy, Martin Johnson of England, you can add Eddie O'Sullivan as a World Cup coach who has decided to move on to greener pastures.

Being an American fan of the oval ball can be an exercise in frustration. We have the athletes in this country, but it takes time to develop a rugby culture.

I guess in retrospect, USA rugby was lucky to get an experienced top-fight coach like Eddie O'Sullivan. I think that on the balance, the Irishman did a good job as USA manager. I felt that overall, the USA Eagles played better in New Zealand 2011 than they did in France 4 years ago.  They beat Russia, which was to be expected, but the Eagles showed a great deal of heart against a very good Irish squad in an emotional match on 9/11. I was not able to see that game in New Plymouth, but I did see the Eagles play Australia in Wellington and Italy in Nelson.

I thought that O'Sullivan was pragmatic by emptying his bench and going with the young players against the Wallabies. He knew that the game was going to be a blow out-no sense in possibly injuring his best players for their last match against Italy. The young Americans showed some very bright play in the first half against the formidable Australians.  True they got blown out in the second half, but I could not fault the effort. Against the Italians, the US had a rough day at the office in the scrum-but to be fair, it's not the first time the Italians formidable front row had made life difficult for a team. They have done it against even the All Blacks in international play.

So the question for USA Rugby is, who will replace Eddie O'Sullivan? I would love to see USA Rugby offer a position to John Kirwan, who recently stepped down as the Japanese Head Coach. I just don't think that USA Rugby has the funds to go after a really top flight coach like a John Kirwan or Nick Mallet. (Hell, if he decided against taking the England position,  what chance to we have?)
I would love to see John Kirwan get a shot at the job-if he was interested. Japan, in my opinion, was one of the most improved nations in the past 4 years. I thought they played some great rugby in New Zealand. I just don't think USA Rugby has the funds to get a coach of his caliber.

As an American fan, I am very intrigued by who will be picked to replace Eddie O'Sullivan as USA coach-but given the vacancies at more top tier nations like England and Italy, it will be interesting to see who USA Rugby will pick to lead the Eagles for the Rugby World Cup in England, 2015.

Friday, November 11, 2011


On this 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of this not-so-brand-new century, I share with you a sobering image that I took when I went to France for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.  It's the tombstone of an American Soldier who died and was buried near Verdun, France. In a place where reminders of WWI and death are all over, what struck me about this particular tombstone was that this soldier died on the 10th of November, 1918, the day before the armistice was signed. This tombstone of this soldier from Pennsylvania still sticks out at me, 4 years later.

Today, I try to remember those whose lives were changed because of war, and those who never came home. For me, it's easy because I work as a nurse in the VA Medical system. The one thing with travel, is that if you look carefully, you can appreciate the sacrifice so many other people have made, too. I found this while I was in Nelson, New Zealand-a small country that lost an inordinate amount of people in "the Great War", either on the Western Front in France and Belgium, or in Turkey, during the carnage that was Gallipoli.
On this 11/11/11, I salute those who served.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

RIP Joe Frazier

As a Kid, I really did not know about rugby. I followed Baseball, American football and Boxing. It's hard to believe now but back in the late 60's and through the 70's, Boxing was a huge sport in the US. I admired the courage of boxers and their skill.

When I was 10 years old and in fourth grade, boxing fans were treated to undefeated fighters going for the heavyweight title. Muhammad Ali had been the undefeated champ before he was stripped of his title as a fallout from refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam War. With Ali in exile, the power brokers of boxing held a sort of tournament, which was eventually won by Joe Frazier.

Unlike the photogenic, quotable Ali, Joe Frazier never seemed to have things easy- in life and in the ring. Even as an amateur, he was runner up to Buster Mathis for a spot on the 1964 Olympic Boxing Team. When Mathis got injured, Frazier shocked everybody by winning a Gold Medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Unlike Ali, Frazier bore in, willing to take incredible punishment in the process. Interestingly enough, Frazier never should have been allowed to box professionally, as he was effectively blind in one eye. What he would do during fight physicals was when he was asked to read the eye chart, he would read the chart with his good eye, but then when they asked him to use the other eye, Frazier would use the opposite hand to cover the same eye. Nobody ever caught on to it. Because he was fighting with one eye, Frazier constantly moved to his left. His left hook was simply a thing of beauty. I added tape from the 15th round from "The Fight of the Century", as Ali-Frazier I was called at the time. At around 30 seconds into the clip, Frazier floors Ali with a wicked left hook. This was an epic fight with both fighters needing to get medical treatment after all was said and done.

What was sad and unfair were the very personal insults Ali would call Frazier: Ugly, a gorilla, and most hateful of all, an "Uncle Tom", proclaiming himself as the hope for African Americans, whereas Frazier was the fighter that catered to the white establishment. It was a grossly unfair accusation on a very proud man. Frazier was nobody's fool. What made Ali's trash talk even more vile was the fact that when Ali was in exile and unable to make a living boxing, Frazier had actually given money to Ali. There was a very, very real hatred by Frazier over the years against Ali.

That hatred was on full view on a very steamy night in Manilla in October of 1975, Ali-Frazier III was the closest thing that I have ever seen to Mortal Combat. The visceral level of violence in this fight was both compelling and terrible. It was a play in 3 acts, where Ali toyed with Frazier for the first rounds, in the middle rounds, Frazier inflicted horrific punishment to Ali. In the end, Frazier was essentially fighting blind. Even in his fatigued and debilitated state, Ali was teeing off on Frazier's head. Eddie Futch, Frazier's longtime trainer, refused to send his fighter out for the 14th round. Ali barely had enough strength to lift his hand in triumph before collapsing in the ring.

You can make a pretty good argument that neither fighter was ever the same again after the mauling they inflicted upon each other. Both suffered neurological effects that afflicted them after they retired. Frazier, ever gracious with fans, was always somewhat bitter that Ali got more of the headlines and the love from sports fans. When he was diagnosed with the liver cancer that would kill him, Smokin' Joe was able to soften his stance towards his foe somewhat.

In this day and age, it's hard to believe that a man at 205 pounds could be a heavyweight champ. They say that you cannot measure heart in an athlete. Joe Frazier may not have had the speed, size or reach of other boxers-but his huge heart and formidable left hook had him at the top of the boxing world during a period in time where boxing was front page news in the US.

RIP Smokin' Joe.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Delaware Rugby Fundraiser, Johnny and New York City

I have been here in Delaware since the 11th of October. I am working as a travel nurse at the VA Medical Center in Wilmington until early January.

The thing that never ceases to amaze me with this sport is that if you go to any good sized city, you can find a rugby club and affiliated community.  My work schedule prevented me from getting a chance to see the Wilmington RFC play, but I had a chance to meet some of their players and old boys at their hangout in Wilmington( )

My wife and I got word about a rugby fundraiser that the Delaware Rugby Union was putting on in Newark-home to the University of Delaware. My wife and I had a great time

While here in Delaware, we had a chance to catch up with Johan, better known as Johnnie. My son Ian's South-African born, rugby playing room-mate during Ian's first year at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Johnnie actually played for the USA at the Under 19 World Cup. He still has been keeping in great shape-a good thing, because he is in Army Basic Training before he goes to Officers Candidate's School. I am glad that he had a chance to drive down to Delaware and see us before he took off for Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Just a really nice young man. He'll make a great Army Officer.
Delaware is the second smallest US State, after Rhode Island. It's located almost exactly half-way between New York City and Washington DC.(About two hours either way) An hour from Baltimore, about 40 minutes from Philadelphia, and an hour and a half from the South Jersey Shore or the Southern Delaware shore. My daughter Rachel came out for a visit, as she had never been to the East Coast before. It was great to see her. My daughter is a huge fan of the show, "Cake Boss", set at Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. What we decided to do, was to drive to Hoboken, New Jersey-just across the river from Manhattan-then go to New York.

Carlo's Bakery did not disappoint. It was worth the drive through a rare October snowstorm on the Jersey Turnpike. They had the best Cannoli's and Lobster Tails that I had ever had. Rachel was in 7th heaven.
Hoboken, New Jersey is known as the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, but if you are looking to get a good picture of the Manhattan Skyline,  Hoboken is a great place to start your trip to NYC.(You can take the Path subway train from the World Trade Center Station to get to Hoboken) I had no desire to drive or find parking in Manhattan. Leaving the car in Hoboken at a parking garage and then taking the PATH Subway to Manhattan was a lot less stressful.

In spite of the bad weather on Saturday, we made the most of our brief time in New York City: We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Times Square, had dinner in Chinatown and toured the area around the 9/11 site, and were two blocks away from the people protesting Wall Street greed.

Overall though, it was a good trip to New York City.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Contrasting Rugby With American Football

I found this column from an American writer,  Jack Bechta,  who wrote an article on "Rugby vs The NFL". (Pics above from USA-Italy at the Rugby World Cup in Nelson, including USA captain Todd Clever)I thought some of the things each sport can learn from the other made some interesting reading:

The article also had video of a nice try Clever scored while playing sevens for the USA.

Bechta takes the IRB to task compared to how the NFL is managed. Rugby and the rugby culture are unique, but that does not mean that the two entities cannot learn from each other. The statistic that should make the NFL red-faced is the number of rugby players pursuing post graduate degrees.

Rugby fans have to be happy with the recent World Cup, but the long and short of it is, the sport can do better.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rugby World Cup Final: Redemption at Eden Park

There have been so many story lines at this 2011 Rugby World Cup: Injuries to key players, referee controversies, inspired play by Samoa and Wales, increased offense, the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history and the hopes of a nation of 4.5 million souls hoping to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy. I was lucky enough to have been in New Zealand for almost two weeks, and was able to see three games with my wife.(USA-Australia, USA-Italy and Scotland-Argentina) As I went from Wellington to Palmerston North, to the wine country of Martinborough, to Nelson, to Abel Tasman and Picton, I saw an entire nation behind it's national rugby team...
I think the word redemption is an appropriate one after the All Blacks ground out an 8-7 win over a gutty French side. France was in need of some serious redemption in they eyes of many rugby fans-this writer included. I have given them a lot of stick for their unimaginative play, their lack of leadership from their coach, losing to Tonga 19-14 in the preliminary rounds, and to being somewhat lucky to have defeated an inspired Welsh side playing 3/4 of the game a man down.

In an epic story, every hero has to have a nemesis. France, for whatever reason, almost always seem to come up big against the All Blacks in Rugby World Cup play. In most matches, if you can hold a side to 8 points, you should win the game most of the time. France simply played inspired rugby. They hit everything wearing a black jersey with all of their might. Dusautoir(just named IRB Player of the Year) was a tackling machine, just like he was in 2007's upset win Cardiff. Like the win in Wales, he also scored a try on Sunday, but it was not enough. François Trinh-Duc, in Lievremont's dog house this World Cup, had to come on for an injured Morgan Parra at Eden Park, and he played his best match of the tournament. France may have lost-but nobody will question their heart after almost breaking Kiwi hearts at Eden Park.

Stephen Donald was not even supposed to be on this All Black side on Sunday. Yet with All Black #10's being chewed up and spit out with injuries during the World Cup, Donald found himself replacing an injured Aaron Cruden in the World Cup final. The collective sense of dread at Eden Park had to be palpable as he trotted on the field. With Weepu misfiring his kicks at goal, Stephen Donald ended up with a battle-field promotion and hit the penalty in the 45th minute, which would end up being the difference in the game.

The All Blacks, by any yardstick, have been the best team in the World for the past 7 years in terms of winning percentage, Tri Nations trophies-but the NZRU headquarters in Wellington have been waiting for the return of the Webb Ellis Trophy. The All Blacks found redemption after coming up short in 1999,2003 and 2007. They were the best team of the tournament, and I think deserved their victory.

It was just a wonderful tournament. I am happy for New Zealand, the All Blacks and their fans. It's been a miserable year in the land of the Long White Cloud. Let the celebrations begin...

PS-I wonder if there are going to be a bunch of World Cup babies being born 9 months from now?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Final Cheap Shot Before New Zealand-France

While we were in New Zealand, I grew to become a big fan of the "Yeah Right" add campaign that the New Zealand Brewer Tui Beer came up with. I must confess to enjoying a few cold Tui's( as well as Speights and Mac's) during my time in New Zealand.

Our hostess in Lower Hutt, Annette, alerted me to this latest of the Tui "Yeah Right" campaign. I loved it because it not only speaks about the somewhat star-crossed relationship New Zealand has had with France on the Rugby pitch, and also the political arena, for those who remember the French bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbor.

A little bit of fun before the All Blacks take on France for the Rugby World Cup title in about 7 hours.

Who says that Kiwis don't have a sense of humor.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Last Wallaby Standing....

Well, the third place game at the Rugby World Cup between Wales and Australia was an entertaining affair, in my opinion.

The 21-18 victory by the Wallabies gives them a Bronze medal from this Rugby World Cup. Wales, once again will rue the number of missed kicks at post. It cost them against France, and it cost them again against Robbie Deans' men in gold.

It really was a battered Australian side that survived. They had to get through this game without Kurtley Beale, who re-injured his hamstring, and the Wallaby-Kiwis-Love-to Hate, Quade Cooper blew out his knee in the first half. Berrick Barnes was the man of the match for the Wallabies, he scored a drop goal, a try, and after Cooper had to leave the game, he was a calming influence in the Wallaby back line. James O'Connor had a very solid game at the wing, and Wales would love to have somebody who could be as dependable of a kicker as O'Connor has become for the Wallabies.

You knew that the Welsh were going to be up against it in this match. Wales just does not have a ton of depth, and it was clear they missed their captain, Warburton in this match. As a fan you had to admire Shane Williams being able to score a try in what will almost certainly be his last Rugby World Cup match. At the end of the game, it was evident that there was no way that Wales could win, but yet at the end of the game, the Welsh pushed hard for the try, they put over 30 phases of ball together before Leigh Halfpenny was able salvage some Welsh pride in what has been a very, very surprising World Cup for Warren Gatland's men in red. Wales may have lost this match, but they gained a lot of fans in this tournament. I also think that they have to be really looking forward to the Six Nations in February.

Australia had to take some serious stick in this tournament for losing to Ireland in the preliminary round and the antipathy of Kiwi fans against Quade Cooper. The Wallabies also have a bright future, I think. A Bronze medal from the Wallabies-including a win over the defending champion Springboks-is a bit of a salve for any wounds left over from the semi-final loss to the All Blacks.

This match was a bit of an appetizer for Sunday's final between France and New Zealand. I know my appetite is very keen after this.