Neil Francis: Without fans, it's nul points for PRO14's global vision
Sad to relate that I have to choose a Eurovision Song Contest analogy to get my point across on such a subject as the expansion of a rugby franchise, but here goes . . .
Sad to relate that I have to choose a Eurovision Song Contest analogy to get my point across on such a subject as the expansion of a rugby franchise, but here goes . . .
If you are looking for direction or wondering how you should feel this morning after the series was drawn yesterday - rejoice! The All Blacks expected to win the series 3-0 - be happy! The All Blacks...
I went to see one of my favourite Englishmen Ricky Gervais performing at the 3Arena recently. There is nothing more edifying than listening to him nail...
The great attraction and compelling nature of international sport is its continual propensity to astound and amaze. In our adventures against...
One of the most galling things about last Saturday's Test match was that the All Blacks decided to play 'Warrenball'. They didn't do it to mock us; they did it because they weren't sure how good the Lions were.
A painful, predictable and sobering defeat. A scoreline that does not even come close to reflecting the gulf in class. The Lions produced a fitful effort; myopic commentators and apologists will point to the opportunities they squandered in the middle of the game without ever looking at how many the All Blacks passed up.
Funny how you react to adversity: it is character-defining in the great moments of crisis. We might need to look back in history to get an idea of what is going to happen on Saturday - this Saturday only mind!
This is a time for sober reflection. We know that the New Zealand All Blacks have not lost a Test match in Eden Park since 1994. There is a reason for that. We don't know what the sell-by date is on invincibility but, whatever way you look at it, the Lions do have a good chance of winning the first Test.
The run-in to the Test series has arrived with indecent haste. The All Blacks, with an ominously powerful selection, play Samoa in Auckland tomorrow morning.
I stuck a 50 on the Crusaders to win by 11 points or more at odds of 7/1. I thought that was a good bet. What do I know? I have admired the Canterbury Crusaders from afar. They play rugby the way that it is supposed to be played. I have watched them play 10 times this year and they are on fire, but that fire went out yesterday.
Two years ago I brought my three boys to Vanderbilt Beach which is in Naples, Florida. Simple pleasures - sandcastles and splashing. All three are tall, angular, long-levered and lanky. Plenty of rib and clavicle showing and their presence on an American beach was a subject lesson on the incongruous - as an essay in body shapes, this beach was as diverse as you could get.
It's interesting that in a full weekend of competitive and uncompetitive matches, none of the teams sitting on top of the table in the Guinness...
Well Leinster found out the hard way last week - the excuse was in the bank and earning interest - would Munster show the sort of poise,...
In 1994 Ireland toured Australia as part of a two-Test schedule. The results weren't great but we made loads of great friends which is what rugby is all about… apparently.
A week after we lost to Australia in that World Cup quarter-final in 1991, I went to watch the All Blacks play the Wallabies in the semi-final, to see if they could do any better.
We learn from World Cups that we actually learn nothing from World Cups. The ninth edition of rugby's great coming-together starts in September 2019 and when we arrive there we are usually no wiser or closer to getting where we need to go.
The Guinness Pro12 regular season finished yesterday with, well not a dull thud, but not exactly "this is Gareth Edwards, a dramatic start, what a score" either.
The regular season in the Guinness Pro12 ends this Saturday. A little more convention and order restored when compared to last season's irregular season. The best team in the championship are Leinster, but that guarantees nothing and we wait on their team announcement to see how seriously they take Saturday's fixture against Ulster.
I had the pleasure of listening to Senator George Mitchell at a bash in the National Gallery in Dublin on Wednesday night. One of the points he focused on was expectation. He used the analogy of the wedding night of Elizabeth Taylor and her sixth husband. The groom would almost assuredly know what to do; the difficulty would be in making it interesting or exciting. The Lions travel to New...
A bloke goes to the local council to apply for a job in the office. The interviewer asks him, "Are you allergic to anything?"
"It don't matter I won't do what you say, you've got the money and the power, I won't go your way. I can take from the people, they don't matter at all. I'll be waiting in the shadows till the day that you fall."
On June 13, 2016, a strong Wales side took the field in Hamilton against the Waikato Chiefs. Both teams were under-strength, but the Welsh fielded 12 current internationals, with more on the bench.
A 22-20 win for Munster in Thomond. A match they could have and should have lost but still managed to win… as they always seem to do.
Neil Francis says it's time for powers-that-be to stop pretending they care about player welfare.
Twenty-three minutes and 13 seconds have elapsed in the Leinster versus Wasps Champions Cup quarter-final at the Aviva. Das wunderkind Joey Carbery has the ball in his hands after fielding a fairly loose kick. He knows what he is about to do and primes himself: a box kick; he puts up a beauty. The optimum distance for a box-kick is 25-30 metres.
I noticed over the weekend that the in-goal areas in a lot of the quarter-final hosts' grounds would have difficulty fitting a hopscotch court into them and I mean lengthways. Is it because of health and safety reasons? Can't have the players clattering into the advertising hoarding - damned inconvenience to have to clean up the blood and brain matter off their corporate advertisements.
And so the final score read Ireland 32 Wasps 17. The green-print put into practice by Leinster's Ireland players and executed for 55 minutes. The fact that Wasps had a chance midway through the second half was down to some of Leinster's failings, mental failings which will not be tolerated in a semi-final. For a club with such pedigree, Wasps looked like they were overawed by the occasion and when they couldn't hold on to the ball for any more than three phases at a time in the first half, their fate was sealed.
At the end of the season the Leinster management will sit down and review the year.
It's a pretty thankless task trying to unravel the contradiction that is the French. It is hard to know how you calibrate or cultivate the type of vacuous mediocrity that the French rugby team have meandered into. After eventually getting over the line against a determined Welsh rearguard, you would have thought they had all won the lotto when the final whistle blew - it did blow, didn't...
After the match last Saturday, I ended up in one of those hospitality suites deep in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium. I happened upon Damian Hopley and Lawrence Dallaglio and we chatted for a while.
If you were looking for thrills yesterday you would not have had to travel all the way to Blueberry Hill. A riveting contest, raw and belligerent and for the first time in a long time a crowd adjoined in belief in their team.
With your permission I would like one last moan before we attend to matters at the weekend. This refereeing business is a very subjective process. Wayne Barnes, we thought, had a good game last Friday.
Well, our dreams and aspirations of a Championship are six foot under in an overcoat of clay. In the face of another chastening defeat our lofty pretensions embarrass us all to the point of reappraisal. There does not seem to be any middle ground with Joe Schmidt’s teams.
The trick is not to come second after beating England. You can hope that Scotland deprive England of a try bonus point this weekend or ... you can go out and blitz Wales.
One of the most beautiful places I have visited is John Muir Woods, which is a great Redwood enclave an hour north of San Francisco. The death-wall silence and whispering serenity of the place is truly awe-inspiring. These giants can grow to 300 feet tall and some of the trees are over 2,000 years old.
In the 1995 Rugby World Cup we would be playing the All Blacks and Wales at Ellis Park in Jo'burg. The high veldt is about 6,000 feet above sea level. Five minutes of sustained activity and you are barking for oxygen. The rarefied air burns the bronchi deep in your lungs.
A husband and wife discover some bondage and S&M material in their teenage son's bedroom.
Didn’t get up to much last Friday – was sitting in half-heartedly to watch Leinster put 40 points on a poor Edinburgh side. Half-time and the score is 8-3 to the home side and I had a decision to make – ‘Geordie Shore’ or another 40 minutes of this? Apathy reigned – too lazy even to change the channel.
Rebecca Loos? Oh yeah, she is yer wan one who, eh, David Beckham . . . She had an affair with David Beckham. Alleged affair, please. It hasn't been proven. I have always felt that Posh and Becks' allure and mystique multiplies when they simply keep their gobs shut. The zillion-dollar brand suffers when they, ahem, articulate. Let other clever people do that for them, pay them a small percentage of their turnover per annum and watch the shekels roll in.
We are not even midway in the Championship and already the table lies to us. At first glance it looks tight but England have two home games against the two weakest sides in the competition and, grumble as we did about our Celtic neighbours unseating us in such unchivalrous fashion, we depend on them to ensure that they don't give up four tries to the Chariot.
The only time you realise that you have a reputation is when you are told that you are not living up to it. Big wins against big names last year but a narcoleptic performance against Scotland and everything is thrown out of kilter. Sleepy last Saturday, grumpy during the week and happy yesterday - are we talking about Ireland's state of mind or the seven dwarfs?
The air hung heavy with retribution and revenge. The presiding judge rarely showed any mercy, saw any meaningful mitigation or had any compunction for lenient sentences. Judge Frano was a hanging judge and all those in his court room would be swinging by the time he had finished.
In that famous World Cup quarter-final in 1991 our bus driver decided to go the scenic route to Lansdowne Road and we arrived 45 minutes before kick-off. I did not even get a chance to walk the pitch as there was so little time to get ready.
Neil Francis looks ahead to Ireland's Six Nations opener against Scotland.
Harry Truman - the US President who decided to use the bomb - spent the remaining years of his term looking for a one-armed chairman of the Federal Reserve so that when he made a statement or a prediction he couldn't then say 'on the other hand'.
The ankle bone connects to the shin bone, the shin bone is, I believe, connected to the knee bone, the knee bone, apparently, is connected to the thigh bone, and the thigh bone, we are assured, is connected to the hip bone. Oh dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
A floral tribute before kick-off but if Racing wanted to show real respect and gain some then they would have to turn up. Hard to know what has happened to them this year. Five points from the pool tells you that their lack of application had an accomplice in indifference. Maybe the white flag was brought to Thomond, but it was never unfurled and they gave a reasonable account of themselves.
On August 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Florida with such unprecedented force that a dozen years later we still know its name on this side of the pond. Near enough 1,800 souls lost their lives and there was $108bn worth of damage caused.
There have been many atrocities committed around the world for many reasons over the last 10 or 20 years. The one that stands out for me was the massacre of the innocents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Sometime back in October 2015 I was in a tricky meeting where live rounds were being exchanged. My phone rang and a 'withheld' number came up. I don't normally answer the phone to blocked numbers but I used this as an excuse for a strategic withdrawal and left the room on the pretext of having the take the call.
I promised myself that I wouldn't write a piece about the forthcoming Lions tour in 2016. A silent act of contrition, 10 Hail Marys to myself and I will plough on.
Injury - the Iscariot's kiss of the game. A good way through the season and suddenly a player's body is betrayed by either its strength or its weaknesses and an injured party is led away.
Sometime last season, after writing a piece on Dylan Hartley's unending thuggery on the rugby field, the player responded by calling me a snake. My psychiatrist tells me I may recover from this in a few years - I'm not so sure though. The sleepless nights, the panic attacks, the sense of emptiness. I'm not sure whether I will ever recover.
It is about 6.20pm on Saturday, November 26. I am at the Aviva in the best seats in the house and I am watching a cracking Test match.
It is December 12, 2015 - UFC 194. The Conor McGregor v Jose Aldo fight. I wasn't staying up until 3.0am to watch. How bourgeois is watching UFC on a Sunday morning with a cup of Barry's, two slices of toast with a liberal spread of raspberry jam? I had taken one bite when I had to put my breakfast down and reach for the remote. 13 seconds. Aldo is knocked senseless in 13 seconds.
The warm afterglow - the feel-good factor. This island basks in the success of its rugby team and can live on it till well after Christmas. A debt of gratitude so? The reason why people go to work with a bounce in their step this week - winning? Is it everything? Of course it is - no point having a scoreboard otherwise. The manner of the win last Saturday though was nearly as important . . .
A simply marvellous game of rugby. A Test match that crackled and sparkled with wondrous skill. There was niggle and aggression - but nothing like what we saw last week - and a match where Ireland looked like they would lose it heavily in the second half.
He who pays the Peyper calls the tune! We suspected that on Tuesday night the bottlers would bottle it and our suspicions were confirmed.
On a bitterly cold night this was a bitter pill to swallow. The better team and the team that created more danger won out in the end. Unquestionably, New Zealand were far more dangerous and inventive with the ball but there are many questions after this game.
I felt that Nathan Hughes' thoughts about representing England earlier in the week were a revelation. Hughes replaced Billy Vunipola in the second half at Twickenham against the Boks. The fact that one South Sea Islander is replacing another South Sea Islander and both are representing England - well, it's just semantics, isn't it? Who cares that Hughes - a Fijian - will be playing against Fiji this...
This is a rugby column, except that this week there is a heavy baseball slant to it - be patient, it will be just about worth it. I love baseball. I could watch it all day. I watched the Yanks play a double header on a rainy Tuesday in July; nine hours. Couldn't move after it; it had nothing to do with the seating; it was the nine hot dogs I consumed.
A game of subdued ordinariness. A 52-21 scoreline looks like what New Zealand used to do to us years ago. Canada were resolute and organised, but they never had the mental skills to consistently trouble Ireland, yet they did take advantage of looseness and they were gamey in contact.
It was an intensely irrational reality. Ireland were awarded a kickable penalty with less than two minutes to go. Mathematically, the game could not end in a draw and with a margin of 11 points New Zealand would need two converted tries to win. The match was over - the contest was over well before that and yet we still refused to believe.
I don't think rugby jocks could ever be classed as Cure heads but I did love Robert Smith's brilliantly constructed lyrics about his recurring nightmare of being eaten alive in his bed by the Spiderman. Smith always had the consolation of the knowledge that " . . . I know that in the morning I will wake up in the shivering cold."
Mortal! When the mighty fall their sense of vulnerability is so much more heightened. New Zealand looked like men bathed in Kryptonite. In Solider Field they were flesh and blood just like the rest of us.
Some of you probably remember the day - clear as crystal. The Oti game in Twickenham. Chris Oti scored a hat-trick against Ireland on one wing and Rory Underpants scored two on the other. Final score was 35-3 - it was a good old-fashioned Twickenham thumping made all the more mystifying by the fact that Ireland were leading 3-0 at half-time but in truth were hanging on like a loose...
It's a jolly, you know, a beano. It's a pity Hawaii or Ibiza don't play rugby because they might have got a slot. Chicago, Rome, Dublin and Paris - what an itinerary.
It had been a while since I had travelled to the Cathedral. I had taken my seat early and idleness brings reflection - and all I could keep thinking of was - what would he be doing now? Anthony would always talk to me after a match but in the lead-up to any match the game face would be on.
Neil Francis was there when Anthony Foley made his Ireland debut. Here, he remembers the Axel he knew.
Okay, sometimes turkeys duck. Castres are one of the great enigmas in Europe. That team that took the park in the RDS yesterday could play football and even though they should be well out of it by the time the sixth match in this pool comes around, if the mood takes them they will be difficult to subdue in January.
I was in Chicago two summers ago with the missus. It really is one of the great cities of the world. You don't need me to tell you what to do and see there.
A good while ago I went to meet someone in my local café. It was summertime and the sun filled the room. I caught sight of the guy I was meeting and was walking down to him when out of the periphery a hand and then a voice. "Hey Frano." I looked over, nodded and kept going. I tucked away my eggs Benedict and as I gave the plate to the waitress this guy is waving again. Thumbs...
Hostilities resumed and an undercooked Munster side were outclassed but, importantly, were not overwhelmed. They couldn't look after the ball in contact and their vaunted back-row couldn't get any traction in this match. Their tight five did well at scrummage time which kept them in the game because you sensed that when they turned the screw in this phase, Leinster's walls would come...
There was a murder in my back garden last week. I can't say I was too unhappy about it; the victim got his just rewards. The previous night he had spent hours cooing on my roof - the feathers all over my garden meant he would coo no more.
I wasn't sure if there were directives or regulations about whether you could advertise for Christmas in August or September.
After 47 minutes of some pretty good rugby last weekend at the RDS, Leinster had a choice. The Ospreys had unfurled a Daz-whitened flag and had come to the halfway line to parley for terms of surrender.
I played Samoa just once in my career. The match was played in Dublin. I was an impressionable 24 years of age. I scored a try that day and don't remember much else about a fairly facile victory.
I'm not sure if I know anyone on this side of the pond who likes England winger Chris Ashton. Offensively there are not too many wingers as good as him in this part of the world. There are not too many players who are as offensive as him either.
'So Frano, tell me about the team room." "Which one?" "Well all of them - you know the World Cups, the international championships and when you toured." "Well it's a large room provided by the hotel - are you sure you want to know all of this?"
'Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less travelled by...' - Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken
In 1987, I walked down University Park Boulevard into the LA Coliseum to watch the LA Raiders play the Buffalo Bills. It was a routine victory for the Raiders whose interstellar backfield of Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson sparked the game into life every time they touched the football.
The Beeb, as only they can, produced a stimulating and thought-provoking 'Horizon' documentary on Formula One way back in 1981. They documented the trials and tribulations of the Williams Formula One team after a game-changing directive from the FIA and called it 'Gentlemen please lift your skirts'.
Early on Saturday morning we watched England take a whitewash in their series against Australia. What a difference a coach makes. Stuart Lancaster had every player except Maro Itoje available to him.
At the 1995 World Cup in South Africa - which is not today or yesterday - I have a vague memory of sitting in the All Black dressing room after playing them at Ellis Park in Jo'burg.
This bloke goes down to a house of ill repute. He's got both of his legs in casts and both arms are also in casts. The Madame opens the door, takes one look at him and says "what do you want?" The man says "I rang the bell didn't I?"
On Sunday, November 24, 2013, fate was enjoying a skinny latte on his chaise longue when he remembered he had an appointment in the Aviva.
This tiny island has an uncanny sense of when to outperform. Ireland gave a truly astonishing performance yesterday in Cape Town to seal their greatest ever victory on foreign soil.
Keano was at it again after the Turner's Cross extravaganza last Tuesday against Belarus. "There are other lads who'd be fringe players and would be happy to be fringe players. They don't want the responsibility of being in the starting 11. They will talk about it but they won't do it when they get the opportunities like last night. They'll just go 'maybe I don't want to be in the starting 11 because there is pressure with that'."
All sporting triumph is built on the disappointment of others. Connacht were deserving winners last Saturday - Leinster too were deserving losers. The men in blue were not beaten into submission nor was there a capitulation, yet it was a compromise of a performance - practised endeavour and reasonable levels of energy but no real conviction.
This final was to be a daring adventure or nothing at all. Connacht have displayed all season an incorruptible honesty that just couldn't be denied. The worry was the occasion might overcome them or Leinster might rediscover themselves from distant memory. At all stages in the pre-match and during the absorbing 80 minutes we witnessed, Connacht played with the thoughts menacing their...
Maybe we should start this one off on a low note. The first minute in last Saturday's semi-final at the Sportsground brought one of those moments of chilling unease.
When Steve Jobs went after John Sculley, the then CEO of Pepsi, to try and get him to join the fledgling Apple Macintosh Corp, the words he used were as forceful and persuasive an argument as you could make.
A good while ago in my playing days, in rugby grounds outside this jurisdiction, an extra training session had just finished early for the backs. The forwards stayed on for more.
A bag of ham of a game decided by the meteorological Gods! For Racing to win they needed their halves to be on the park and in the full of their health. They needed the ground to be dry and they needed to be able to pass the ball without making mistakes. This did not happen, and all Saracens needed to do was manage their game better, keep their heads and make sure that their front five worked as efficiently as they have done throughout the competition.
On June 11, with a little bit of luck, Ben Te'o may swap his blue jersey with a harp on it for a white one with a rose on it to play against a side in tangerine with a Wallaby on it.
It is part of the human condition that you can see something from a different perspective than your neighbour. How often do eyewitness accounts of a motor accident from two different people tally? How diverse would a synopsis of a national budget be between a socialist and a capitalist? How can an assistant referee/touch judge with 20/20 vision miss something that 20,000 people behind him...
The Pro 12 regular season concludes this Saturday. On reflection we notice that ditch water does indeed have its compensations.
It is the 77th minute of the match at the Kingspan. The moving targets in blue are shuffling the ball laterally and a season’s worth of frustration is about to be expunged in a single moment for Paddy Jackson.
Tomorrow night Munster fight for their lives in Cork. Edinburgh, canny side that they are, may have the skill-set but not the gumption to deprive Munster of what they crave - European qualification.
Let’s go back to the 1980s, the decade of greed and avarice in the financial markets. Anyone remember Michael Milken? Correct and right: he was the junk bond king in Drexel Burnham Lambert, one of Wall Street’s finest, now no longer. Milken made markets in any high yield bond that he underwrote. As long as nobody said anything this market would continue on its merry way. Somebody did say something and sure enough the whole thing came crashing down amidst securities fraud and racketeering. Milken got 10 years, reduced to two on the back of shopping all his buddies.
At a packed and sold-out Galway Sportsground for the Connacht versus Munster match, two Munster supporters were apprehended climbing over the wall - gardaí caught them and returned them to watch the second half . . .
A couple of years ago at a party in Lower Manhattan, I met an ordinary man whose stature and demeanour hid the fact that he was anything but.
When you consider what was on offer last weekend in the sports world, and you think that Grenoble versus Connacht was the pick of it - surely that represents a seismic shift in the way Connacht are now playing.
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it."
In 2012 at Twickenham, Leinster won their third Heineken Cup final against a game but totally out-classed Ulster side. If truth be told it wasn't much of a game - 42-14 doesn't constitute a contest.
In the 59th minute of yesterday's "El Classico" Mike Ross and Ross Molony were on the touchline preparing to come into the action. The only thought that came to my mind was where is Ross O'Carroll Kelly?
Hands up if you know who the star performer was in last Saturday's gritty contest in Galway! Got it in one - Nigel was stand-out. Refereeing can be a chore and on a dirty day in the Sportsground it can be just as unappealing to the man in the middle as the players.
We learn as we get older that we in the western world have no leaders worthy of the name. Clever people with insight and vision who can act decisively when appropriate. A stand-out individual imbued with bravery, principle and conviction.
I'm sure the phone calls and messages of congratulations coming from Eddie Jones' native Australia will be tempered somewhat by a few disclaimers: "Exactly just who did you beat to win this shining prize of the Grand Slam? What exactly did you do that made the difference?"
Maybe if we shine a little bit of light on our political situation it might give us some perspective on where we might end up if we are not careful.
There was a time when heading to Paris for a Test match - particularly if you needed a result - was like heading into a lion's cage in a pork chop three-piece suit. England are Kings of the Castle this year because Eddie Jones insists that his team are all crew - no passengers.
After a match of paralysing ineptitude and a performance where the word 'turgid' has no meaning any more, Ireland just about beat Italy at the death. The calls for Joe Schmidt's head will grow even louder and Ireland must . . .
Last week over in London, one thing was abundantly clear in the great metropolis - London no longer belongs to the English. Indeed it is strange to see the general population wonder in amazement as middle England hop on a train from Waterloo to go to Twickenham.