Run The Cutter – #RWC2015 Weekend 2

@hamishneal

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As ‘Land of my fathers’ reverberated around the home of (English) rugby and the local fans slinked home in their chariots the World Cup had another upset on Saturday night in south-west London as Wales beat England 28-25. The fans of the red rose may have been remembering bad luck comes in threes. Well in the case of England of it came by not taking a three-pointer in the third game at Twickenham during this tournament, making their third pool game crucial to their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage a home World Cup. Michael Leitch got it right for Japan going for broke to beat South Africa in the group B opener but Chris Robshaw elected to follow the Brave Blossoms’ skipper’s move and it came unstuck. The chance to pass up a penalty to draw level means the Quins captain will need to hope his side can beat Australia on the weekend.

KICK IN TOUCH

Throughout the World Cup in England, and Wales, our wrap will touch on each team, with the order showing their current ladder position in the group. Most sides have played at least two games now.

Group A

Australia – Came through their early quick back-up okay. After labouring to a win over Fiji in which David Pocock stared with two tries and helped nab five turnovers they duly dispatched Uruguay with three players (Drew Mitchell, Sean McMahon and Ben McCalman) snaring doubles in that game. Quade Cooper returned to World Cup benchmark getting a yellow card and missing six conversions. Thus Bernard Foley enhanced his opportunities without playing any part in this game. Still hard to get a read on Michael Cheika’s side given their opponents.

Wales – Dan Biggar’s late penalty and the drama at the end of the match in London exploded after the game as the Welsh celebrated and their Kiwi coach Warren Gatland now holds a 6-5 career record over England since he took charge as head coach. Despite the triumph there is concern for Gatland and co as they had two players (Liam Williams and Scott Williams) carried off on stretchers. Injuries aside Wales are in a good position to qualify for the quarter finals.

England – In this column last week we said Brad Barritt would keep his spot for England. We got that part right but it was surprising to see Sam Burgess start and play at 12. The former Souths man did some good things but had nowhere near the impact of his substitute appearance against Fiji. England’s midfield combination and uncertainty over who plays number 10 could bring them undone. I’d expect George Ford not Owen Farrell to start at ten against Australia. If Farrell starts and throws the ball around too much the likes of Adam Ashley-Cooper, rested against Uruguay, could make them pay.

Fiji – The ten minutes either side of halftime ended up a costly period for Fiji as they fell to their second defeat of the tournament on Wednesday in Cardiff against Australia.

Uruguay – Had chances to really make Australia pay in Birmingham, especially in the first half but often lost possession immediately after the Wallabies made mistakes.

Group B

Scotland – In Gloucester a double to centre Mark Bennett and a superior kicking game helped Scotland overcome the possession and territorial advantage which Japan had before the Bravehearts kept up their 100% record (including bonus points) with a strong win against the USA in Leeds. Former Gloucester flanker Alasdair Strokosch was great in defence as the USA did make some good in-roads on attack to lead 13-6 at the break before Scotland raced away late in the game to win 39-16 on the back of five second half tries.

South Africa – After losing to Japan in game one they have lost a centre with Jean de Villiers calling time on his career in the wake of the Boks’ 46-6 victory over Samoa in Birmingham. Quitting due to a broken jaw it means Heyneke Meyer doesn’t have to make the choice to drop him which he probably should have. However Meyer is still left with some other choices in key positions. The performance of Handre Pollard at ten should be enough to confirm his place as Meyer’s preferred option in that spot unless the 47 year-old coach does anything else funky. The looming clash with Scotland should be a fun watch.

Samoa – Outplayed in every facet against South Africa in a major case of been the side that gets the ‘poking the bear’ reaction but go to Milton Keynes with a chance to stay in the hunt in the pool by beating Japan. They will be hoping South Africa win in Newcastle over Scotland.

Japan – After the win in Brighton maybe a come-down was inevitable but the manner of the defeat after they drew to within two points of Scotland (12-10) early in the second half wasn’t great. It may have been a bridge to far for Eddie Jones’ side.

USA – The Eagles weren’t able to continue their great start at Elland Road and once Scotland made some half-time replacements Mike Tolkin’s side, to a degree, squandered a chance to produce a ‘Brighton level’ upset like Japan had earlier in the tournament.

Group C

New Zealand – It wasn’t error-free and we didn’t learn anything earth-shattering but the All Blacks 44-point triumph over Namibia was crucial in that there were no major injuries or suspensions incurred. Julian Savea is gradually returning to his barn-storming form of 2014 when he scored 11 international tries but the fact there is still talk he is not guaranteed a starting spot confirms the depth of this side.

Argentina – Scoring six tries in the second half against Georgia in their 54-9 win sets up the Argentinians well in advance of their game against an in-consistent Tonga outfit.

Georgia – Georgia were right in the game only 14-9 down at half-time at Kingsholm against Argentina. However once they conceded three tries in the period the Toulon number eight Mamuka Gorgodze was in the sin-bin after an infringement at the breakdown it was all over. They have got Namibia, who are not hopeless, next in Exeter. If they harbour hopes of third in the group a win is a minimum.

Tonga – One of the quirks of the tournament draw means Tonga, who started on September 19 with a loss to Georgia in Gloucester and won’t play for ten days until they meet Namibia in Exeter. Not sure what they have done in the time off. Maybe they took in a few castle tours in the royal county or went straight to Exeter to see the cathedral?

Namibia – Compared to a fellow ‘minnow’ like Romania missed 27 tackles in losing to France Namibia were okay against the Sam Cane-led Abs. Sure they missed 23 tackles but they did force six turnovers and pulled off some great front-on hits as well as displaying an ability to slow the delivery from the ruck when New Zealand was on attack. Johan Deysel’s try might have had them dancing in the streets of Windhoek (I’m not sure I wasn’t there) and it was well executed.

Group D

Ireland – The Irish scored early and often to see off Romania 44-10 and played very well given coach Joe Schmidt made a dozen changes for the second game of the tournament. Like Scotland they have full points (ten) from their first two games.

France – Picked up their first bonus point beating Romania and have now used all 31 players in their squad. However in beating the Oaks they took an age to get there and conceded nine turnovers in the first stanza. Even allowing for the squad changes they made that’s a problem that will need to be rectified before the quarter finals as other top sides would make life difficult for them.

Italy – After six consecutive defeats Italy returned to the winners circle beating Canada 23-18 but had to survive a tense contact in Leeds as the Canucks lead 15-13 with 22 minutes to go.

Canada – They play France on Thursday after running Italy close but a quick back-up after a mentally-draining encounter might be troublesome for Kieran Crowley’s side. They improved markedly on game one and Scarlets back DTH Van Der Merwe dotted down again for the men in red and white so they do have some try-scoring flair.

Romania – Minnow or not Welshman Lynn Howells will want his side to execute better on attack to capitalise on chances they got such as in the game against France when they play Canada next. Like Uruguay against Australia Romania missed some chances when the more favoured side lost possession in their own half.

Image via wwww.cityam.com

Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week Three 2015

@hamishneal

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Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from the two preliminary finals this weekend in the NRL. Now clearly you have probably seen both games so this is a look at the two prelims but also a mini-preview of grand final day itself.

Bidding for a first grand final triumph the Cowboys have showed in the last three games how important their forwards are. Starting with their four-point loss at the hands of Brisbane in week one of the finals Paul Green’s side has had three forwards who have each run for in excess of 100 metres in every games. Now other players including Matt Scott and Ethan Lowe have twice run for over 100 metres but Australian prop James Tamou (132 metres v Melbourne, 177 v Sharks and 126 v Brisbane) Kiwi Jason Taumalolo (150, 176, 152) and veteran Ben Hannant (125, 111, 123) have been ultra-consistent going past the 100 metre mark three times on the spin. In the case of Hannant this is off the bench which is significant given the comparative inexperience of the Broncos interchange crew. For Brisbane their sole player to go ‘triple 100’ is Corey Parker, who in round 26 ran for 126 metres against Melbourne before registering 143, having a week off and then running for 140 metres against the Roosters in Friday night’s 31-12 victory. The Queensland forward also made 31 tackles to go with three off-loads (the most of any Brisbane forward in the game) and three tackles breaks in the triumph for Wayne Bennett’s side.

Defensively Brisbane have conceded at the most three tries just once in a game since round 23 of the competition, a period of six matches. For the Cowboys in the same period, a block of seven games, they have conceded more than two tries twice in a game. In consecutive weeks against Souths then the Warriors they shipped eight four-pointers combined. As we have written about previously this susceptibility is concerning when they are coming up against not only a great attacking side but a frugal defence could be worrying.

Sloppiness when in possession could also be an issue for the Cowboys, even allowing for the attacking prowess of future immortal Johnathan Thurston and halves partner Michael Morgan. Whilst the Cowboys continued to play an attacking brand of football at the end of their 20-point triumph over the Storm in Melbourne making seven errors in the second half isn’t ideal preparation for a grand final. Brisbane made four in the whole game against the Roosters. Keeping to a style is important but it may have been somewhat concerning for Messrs Green, Furner et al.

In our week two finals wrap we looked at the use of Valentine Holmes who came into the Sharks’ semi-final under an injury cloud and again a key player was tried but left well before full-time when Mitchell Pearce failed to go the distance on Friday night. The Roosters starting halfback was replaced by Jackson Hastings after 40 minutes. Pearce made one 11-metre run and came off with his side 20-12 down. Hastings had a big ask but came out brightly with a dangerous early kick and four runs. Ultimately it was too much of a challenge for the 19 year-old to guide his side home against a rampant Brisbane.

After holding off a late Wyong charge Newcastle will play the NRL Interstate Challenge on grand final day after winning 20-10 at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday. The Knights will meet Queensland Cup winners the Ipswich Jets in the national second-tier decider. It will be a further opportunity for contracted Knights players to impress new first grade coach Nathan Brown. There is also a similar chance for Manly’s youngsters who feature in the Under 20 Grand Final against Penrith. 2016 Sea Eagles coach, and former Panthers coaching staff member, Trent Barrett will be keeping a close eye on proceedings.

Image via abc.net.au

Run the Cutter – #RWC2015 Weekend 1

@hamishneal

Brighton’s rugby union club Brighton FC (Yes FC) currently reside in London South 1 (the sixth tier of English rugby) so it’s fair to say the seaside venue’s selection as a Rugby World Cup venue didn’t have the impact of a Kingsholm or Twickenham but the city has broken out as ‘the venue’ to open the 2015 Rugby World Cup playing host to Japan’s stunning 34-32 win over South Africa. The following day it saw Samoa’s gutsy 25-16 win over the USA. Lead by Chiefs player Michael Leitch the men in red and white weren’t phased when South African re-gained the lead late in the contest and turned down the chance to take a penalty goal, which would have earned them a draw in the group B contest. Eddie Jones, who is set to coach the Stormers Super Rugby side next year, says there is more improvement in this side. Improvement or not Japan seem to be everyone’s second favourite team now.

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KICK IN TOUCH

Throughout the World Cup in England, and Wales, our wrap will touch on each team, with the order showing their current ladder position, and will appear every few days as an update on their progress. But in the case of this first wrap it’s also a look at the hopes of four sides yet to play a game

Group A

Wales – Wales had a convincing win in Cardiff over Uruguay however the eight tries to none (54-9) triumph was more concerning for coach Warren Gatland as they picked up three injuries. Given Wales already lost the likes of Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb prior to the tournament scoring a bonus-point victory is a good start

England – Mike Brown helped propel England to their late rush for a bonus point when they scored two tries towards the end of the 35-11 triumph. Really good bench impact, including from Sam Burgess who despite reading one play wrong was slick. However for the NRL fans checking out the former Souths forward’s progress don’t expect to see him start against Wales. Brad Barritt is still Stuart Lancaster’s preferred option at centre.

Australia – Yet to play. There is also yet to be a derogatory text message sent by any players to team staff so that’s a plus for Michael Cheika’s side.

Fiji – As well as falling away late against England the Fijians have lost Dominiko Waqaniburotu for one game after his tackle on Jonny May in the tournament opener. The ninth ranked side in the world have had nearly three months together ahead of this tournament but they will need to not fall away late in the game when they play Australia.

Uruguay – Los Teros’ halves combination Agustin Ormaechea and Felipe Berchesi will need to guide their team better in the balance of their pool games. The duo, who both play club rugby in France, are two of only four professional players in the squad and given the side has been beaten twice by Fiji in May their ‘wins’ this tournament will be trying to stay in contention up until half-time.

Group B

Samoa – After beating the USA they now play the out-of-form South Africans! Manu Samoa pushed a few passes that didn’t find their mark but still won in Brighton by nine points. I wonder if they will keep up the same style? Japan kept in touch taking their penalties against South Africa and Tusi Pisi can do the same in Birmingham.

Japan – The Brave Blossoms, as discussed, helped produce the shock of the tournament beating Heyneke Meyer’s outfit. Not just the late try but staying with South Africa in the ebb and flow of the game was a sign of how far they have progressed.

South Africa – Because hindsight is always great it’s worth noting South Africa have now lost four times in 2015. They lost once to each of the other sides in The Rugby Championship so maybe Japan shouldn’t have been outsiders by as much. The last time South Africa lost a pool game at a Rugby World Cup was also at a sea-side town without (at the time) a top flight rugby side, Perth in 2003 against England. How will they rebound and which players will get the chop? Their hugely experience side had near 900 caps on the weekend but are they past it?

Scotland – Yet to play but need to start well when they do against Japan. They have run sides like England close in recent times but Kiwi Vern Cotter will need his team to be at their best to chase a quarter final spot in what is now a very open group.

USA – Lost in the second game played in Brighton. Got ripped apart by Sonny-Bill Williams’ cousin Tim Nanai-Williams (it was a good day for the family) but also gave up taking kickable penalties. A game they needed to win but lost. They will battle to finish third now. The game was also notable for a World Cup return for Hayden Smith. He represented the Eagles in 2011 and in between has played the NFL and won a cup title with Saracens.

Group C

New Zealand – Future Sir Richie McCaw was somehow sanctioned by the peasant referee as the All Blacks won on Sunday. The game was played not far from the Tower of London so referee Wayne Barnes is lucky Richie didn’t use his pending lordly powers to call in a favour from the Queen. Richie did have a sit down as did back Conrad Smith but it was one of the other Smith’s, Aaron, and SBW late on that provided the cohesion to see New Zealand home.

Georgia – Georgia could now make the quarter finals after their win in Gloucester over Tonga and their halfback 18 year-old Vasil Lobzhanidze plays club rugby in Tribilisi. It is the stuff of fairytales (at least Georgian rugby ones.) If nothing else the rest of the tournament, even if Georgia only beat Namibia, will be a great shop window for the Georgian backs. It’s normally the forwards well known for playing overseas but the backs could play their part in at least one more win. The top second-tier European side are also making a good case for inclusion in the Six Nations.

Tonga – They lost to Georgia and it looks like 2011 all over again. In that tournament Tonga were beaten in their first two games (one of them was Canada) before going on to beat France but ultimately their defeat to the North American side earlier in the tournament cost them a spot in the quarters and France went on to play in the final. Tonga were chasing a draw late on and muffed a line-out throw losing possession and the game. It was the story of the game for Mana Otai’s side who were also out-scrummed by Georgia.

Namibia – Open their tournament against the reigning champs New Zealand after some teams have played two games (work that out) In 2011 their ‘best’ result was a 24-point defat at the hands of Fiji

Argentina – They ran New Zealand close until the title-holders kicked clear in London. Makes Friday’s game against Georgia in Gloucester crucial if they want to entertain hopes of finishing second in the group.

Group D

Ireland – Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton have put in the 9 and 10 virtuoso performance of the tournament so far as they romped home over Canada 50-7. Like Wales and England got a bonus point which is important. Unlike Wales don’t have huge injury concerns.

France – Like New Zealand one of two ‘top’ sides not get a bonus point in their opening win but at least they aren’t South Africa. France have lost winger Yoann Huget to injury but at least it’s not Wales-level injury and coach Philippe Saint-Andre has made 13 changes to their starting side for game two. France should navigate to the knockout phase if they hold their form but will be hoping for no more big injuries or suspensions.

Romania – Haven’t played yet. Beaten by Georgia by 16 points in their last World Cup game in 2011, which now doesn’t look like horrible form but they lost to Tonga by five points before this tournament.

Italy – Their lack of recent progress in the six nations was shown up again. After a good 2013 tournament they have won only one game in two years in the Northern Hemisphere showpiece. This result will see them trying to grab third spot and an automatic spot for the 2019 Cup in Japan.

Canada – Kieran Crowley, who has guided Canada since 2008, has his work cut out for him. Yes Ireland are group favourites but when you concede three tries in the final 16 minutes and your one try comes from an intercept it’s a sign the side has many flaws, including fitness late in games. The Canucks desperately need Ospreys flanker Tyler Ardron back for the game against Italy.

Image via http://www.totalsportek.com

Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week Two 2015

@hamishneal

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Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from the second weekend of the NRL finals during which the Bulldogs and Sharks were eliminated.

Seven North Queensland forwards ran for over 100 metres each as the Cowboys thrashed Cronulla 39-0 to secure a preliminary final encounter against the Melbourne Storm and it’s a stat that bodes well for the hopes of Paul Green’s side in the Victorian capital. With the week off this weekend we have to go back to their win 20-18 triumph over the Roosters for Melbourne’s last game but only two forwards (Jesse Bromwich and Ryan Hinchcliffe) ran for 100 metres or more. Weighing up Melbourne’s effort away from home compared to the Cowboys rampant win over a limp outfit from the Shire is difficult but an early roll on would indicate the Cowboys could assert their dominance.

A concern in terms of away form for the Cowboys could be their recent loss in Melbourne 14-6 when they only got a try late in the game. Melbourne has a great record in defence as we have noted in recent weeks and the Cowboys can give up points away from home early on. As recently as round 24 the Warriors marched in three tries in the opening 12 minutes before the 1995 grand finalists proceeded to put 50 points on the Penrose-based outfit.

Jackson Hastings has been an improving talent for the Roosters and he will be an important player as his side look for another win over Brisbane for the second time in five weeks if Mitchell Pearce (hamstring injury) is unavailable. However if the former Origin halfback is playing Hastings could play a very limited role off the bench. Coach Trent Robinson, bidding for a second grand final spot and title in three years, has used a utility of sorts in the form of Matt McIlwrick recently but the former Raider only got seven minutes in relief of hooker Jake Friend as the Roosters rolled Canterbury 38-12 on Friday night. Hastings in his last three sub appearances (excluding the game in which Pearce sustained the injury against Brisbane) has played 13, 6 and 9 minutes so it would be surprising if Trent Robinson moved away from this formula unless the Roosters get desperate.

Speaking of when to use bench players, Sharks youngster Valentine Holmes came off in the second half as Cronulla cruised home by 16 points in the first week of the NRL finals against Souths but on Saturday night it was almost a complete reversal when he was subbed and his side was belted. This time when Holmes hobbled off in Townsville the game was all but over with the home side four tries to the good. He was replaced by impact player Ben Barba but one has to wonder when Barba would have got a run had Holmes not succumbed to the injury he went into the game with. The selection itself was a gamble even allowing for the extra time off the park in the Bulldogs game Holmes still came into the Townsville encounter a month away from his best form. Averaging 88 metres per game in the last three matches compared to fellow wingman Sosaia Feki (117 metres).

In the week leading up to their 26-point loss to the Roosters, Bulldogs duo Tim Lafai and Curtis Rona had time on the sideline due to a virus and it showed with Rona in particular down in his attacking production. The winger made four errors, two in each half. Rona, 23, who has run for at least 110 metres in each of his last four games made only 87 metres from his eleven runs. In Rona’s defence representative centre Josh Morris ran for 77 metres and also made four errors so the former North Queensland flyer was by no means completely at fault for errors in the Bulldogs’ outside backs brigade.

Image via nrl.com.au

Climate change in football? Why not a Matildas tax?

@hamishneal

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Australia has just cancelled a series against the reigning football world champions.

It’s a sentence that should never have had to be written, but the cancellation of a two-game set of friendlies between the Matildas and Team USA set to be played in front of at least 60,000 fans is hopefully the nadir of the ongoing debacle between Football Federation Australia and the Professional Footballers Australia.

At the heart of the Matildas component of this pay and entitlements dispute is not only a gender-based issue, it’s actually about minimum wage (no matter the gender), and what is fair and reasonable to expect for additional benefits for doing what is an unusual job.

SOME CONTEXT

In the period up to the World Cup this year in Canada, which ultimately saw the Matildas exit at the quarter final stage, it would have been near on impossible for players to hold down regular jobs. With an agreement for them to be paid to the time up to June, but with no certainty post that date, potential careers outside of football had to be shelved, and clearly players will not automatically be able to resume an external career once the World Cup finished. What has complicated this is the interminable delay in reaching the new collective bargaining agreement – we will get to that later.

In the last three years that have been highlighted by an Asian Cup as well as the World Cup, the Matildas are generally in series of matches for three blocks. This doesn’t count any other camps, and youth sides players may be involved in. Unless the player has a full-time deal with an overseas club (discouraged in some quarters) they would burn through annual leave in most jobs, with the games alone not allowing for any other flexibility. A further point is that this assumes people are in roles which allow people to take time off as needed. Teachers, and people in seasonal-related roles wouldn’t have that luxury. It’s also difficult for those within the squad who may be undertaking high school or tertiary study with exemptions for exams at the whim of their educational institutions and their training programs perhaps not allowing the best study environment.

As former Socceroo Francis Awaritefe suggested in his piece for The Guardian, the Matildas “are entitled to similar working conditions enjoyed by the Socceroos in regards to a high performance environment.”

Currently those players tied to the deal to June had been offered a deal only worth $23,000 pa. The PFA was offering a tiered system in their negotiations, which would offer a higher base pay for 14 players in the top tier at $40,000 players plus for a further six players to be offered deals worth $33,000. This deal would cost $758,000 for the year. A not unreasonable impost for the base pay of Australia’s most successful football side at World Cups.

It’s all well and good to say players have killed any goodwill they may have earned by their gallant World Cup efforts, but anyone trying to pay the rent, bills, and raise a family probably can’t cash goodwill with any banks. Even a rise to $40,000 is likely to see players requiring some form of casual or part-time work as the W-League salary cap for an entire squad is $150,000 a season.

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MYTHS AND MISSING MONEY

$17 million losses for the A-League last year is the headline figure which is easy to get dazzled by when considering the FFA’s financial position and, ergo, it’s ability to pay the Matildas, and Socceroos, and more. But that $17 million isn’t FFA money. It’s the collective financial losses of one group of mostly private franchises who make up one part of three of the FFA’s core strategic pillars. Sydney FC, for example, had Marc Janko as a marquee singing worth $1 million a season. What was the return on investment on that purchase? Well, we can gauge it somewhat in crowds – the Sky Blues average dropped to 18,050 from 18, 681 in the previous year, Alessandro del Piero’s last in the Harbour City. Janko was the perfect playing marquee (if you forget his (spiritual) absence in the GF) but wouldn’t have generated extra revenue. (I have written previously about the value of A-League marquees)

Western Sydney Wanderers refused to take the biggest club football game in Asia to the national stadium at Sydney Olympic Park, instead playing it in front of a far smaller crowd (read revenue) than could have been attracted at ANZ Stadium. Who knows when an Australian side will get that chance again? Maybe in five years? A decade?

Also, Perth Glory cheated the salary cap last season. I find it hard to feel sorry for any of that club’s financial losses.

The $17 million doesn’t allow for good/bad run clubs and is not connected to national team payments. Yes, it impacts on the CBA but an agreement to pay your staff shouldn’t be ‘yeah, another franchisee ballsed up this financial year so we aren’t going to raise your pay or entitlements to minimum wage’… I’m walking out of any job that does that to me.

Filling the gap between the cost to run the Matildas program and revenue they make has been noted as another reason the players can’t be paid more, but there is a school of thought the women’s side aren’t promoted enough when they are in camp in Australia and that an opportunity was lost prior to the World Cup in Canada. Channel 9 Reporter/Presenter and editor of www.sportette.com.au, Sam Squiers, says more games played when the side is in Australia should be open to the public and given relevant prominence. Squiers noted “it’s easy to blame the media for not reporting on the team, but when they’re not informed of the team’s movements, or when the Matildas camps and games are closed to the public, it becomes difficult for the media to keep knocking on their door when there are other sports’ doors opening elsewhere.”

This affects the sponsorship opportunities the side can present and that ability to generate further revenue.

STRIKE-BREAKERS AND ‘OTHER PROGRAMS’

After speaking to the media late on Thursday September 10 about the dispute the FFA was in the media again commentating on the saga a few days later.

Oddly, News Ltd scribe Carly Adno noted on the weekend David Gallop offered an immediate payment of $6,750 “for each player on board” with the FFA. The wording is ambiguous so it’s hard to make out if that meant players ‘on board’ the plane or ‘on board’ with the ‘new agreement’. Was this a strike-breaking technique to get wavering players to ‘just go’ and be supplemented for other (younger) players? More oddly, in the same story it was noted, again by Gallop, that the Matildas were given priority in the lead-up to the World Cup in Canada “over and above other people and programs” Yes, and? What would be a higher priority in that period? Australia didn’t qualify for the Men’s Under 20 World Cup held around the same time, so what other major tournament was the former NRL boss referring too? There isn’t another relevant world event this year?

Another concerning aspect included that one September 12 report in News Ltd noted the groups would resume talks to resolve the dispute, but not until ten days later on September 21. The question would be why? If BOTH parties had a genuine attempt to not delay the process further with the A-League/W-League seasons to kick-off in October it’s a further puzzling delay to a months-old process.

In July, Greg Prichard on The World Game website reported on the negotiations noting the June meetings were the 22nd in the process.

WHO IS LEADING THE PACK

Most who fall on the side of not giving the Matildas a pay and entitlement rise will note, correctly, the women’s game doesn’t generate the same revenue as the women’s game. That is true, but it’s worth noting the Matildas don’t have the ability to generate the prizemoney the Socceroos do from major events as the disparity FIFA uses for World Cup is farcical. Germany got US$35 million for winning the 2014 men’s World Cup in Brazil whilst the US side collected US$2 million for winning the women’s event this year. This $2 million figure actually represented a doubling of prize money on offer for the women’s World Cup from the 2011 event, but still far short of the men’s event, even allowing for the difference in rights fees for both events.

The second, more progressive, point is reward for effort, which should if not match male athletes pay based on ability to generate revenue should at least match community standards to generate true diversity and inclusion.

For example, Hockey Australia, which does not have any major TV deals, pays their elite male – the Kookaburras – and female – the Hockeyroos – sides equal money.

In some ways, women’s hockey in Australia is similar to women’s football in that focus on the national side really only occurs at major tournament time (World Cups, Olympics and in the case of hockey, Commonwealth Games) with the national leagues having limited TV coverage. Hockey has some national league action streamed online, so women’s football already has a better position in that regard. Tim Doutre in The New Daily noted “the men currently receive more funding from the Australian Sports Commission (a success-incentivised funding model – not gender-based), so Hockey Australia tips in extra cash to create gender parity.”

As Hockey Australia CEO Cam Vale stated in the piece “we treat our athletes as athletes…whether you’re a Kookaburra or a Hockeyroo, when it comes to basic terms and principles in how we remunerate our athletes it’s exactly the same.”

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FUTURE IMPACTS

The actual withdrawing of Australia of the two games in the USA is interesting in itself. The sold tickets could easily have amounted to $3.2 million in lost revenue to US Soccer, but Australia has been replaced by Haiti (currently ranked 63rd). But what can’t be replaced is the respect for the FFA from US Soccer and other world bodies looking on. Who do you think the US looks to for a friendly next time when they have a time for a camp for their female or male sides? My guess is it won’t be an Australian team.

Between this dispute and the World Cup itself, it has not been a good few months for Australian-USA football diplomacy.

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Imagine if this scenario was flipped and the team cancelling a two-game series in Australia was say from Nigeria or Malaysia. What sort of response would that get?

SOLUTIONS AND SHORTFALLS

The ‘Matildas Tax’ mentioned by Canberra Times journalist Lee Gaskin was relevant and with 1,696,437 people having attended the A-League in Australia* last season, a one dollar surcharge on tickets would meet the PFA demands and also provide a safety net for pregnant players to be paid (and replaced in the squad.) And let’s be realistic – it’s not as if every player is suddenly going fall pregnant; there is one mother in the Matildas squad currently. Like Matildas defender Laura Alleway noted to Gaskin’s Fairfax colleague Dom Bossi, it’s really about having the option to have children and return and not to contemplate retirement just because they want have a family.

Matildas Tax – Budget

Income
Ticket revenue $1,696,437
Income – total $1,696,437
 
Expenditure
Players – salary $758,000
Players – match payments $1,000 per game, 16 players, assumes 11 games which is the figure they played in 2014 $176,000
Travel – tours/games Assumes travel to three games/series. 180,000
Expenditure – total $1,114,000
 
Total $582,437

NB: This budget doesn’t include ASC-linked funding from the Olympic football program, another revenue stream if not a cost which doesn’t have to be expended, and doesn’t include camp costs. Due to the fact finding an FFA Annual Report has proved difficult I have tried to reflect the budget on some common sense figures based on the reported cost for the cancelled USA tour and current PFA proposals.

As a progression to Gaskin’s suggestion such a tax could also fund the Pararoos and more inclusive football initiatives.

WHERE TO NOW?

Now if after what would appears to be up around 30 meetings something still hasn’t been worked out it’s a fair indication you might be doing it wrong.

Maybe it is time to throw away the previous ideas. Start with a blank sheet of paper and go from there. I’ll shout the takeaway Chinese until an agreement is reached. Otherwise… let’s crowd-fund the shit out of this.

*This figure does not include Wellington Phoenix home games as I don’t think its reasonable to ask fans in New Zealand to subsidise another national team when the Australian national federation is unable to secure the Phoenix license sustainability and doesn’t given them a continental football pathway (and potential prizemoney) like every other club that plays club football in the Asian Football Confederation has.

Images via Getty Images and The Australian

Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week One 2015

@hamishneal

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Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points from the first weekend in the NRL Finals. Souths and the Dragons were eliminated.

It was the true game of two halves for Melbourne, and in particular Kurt Mann, on Friday as the Storm earned the week off beating the Roosters 20-18. Mann dropped the ball twice inside the opening 20 minutes but the Dragons 2016 recruit turned it around in the second half to score the try that put Melbourne ahead. His teammates joined him in an error-free second half after making five mistakes in the first half and that efficiency, wrestle or no wrestle, sealed the win.

From the two beaten sides who stayed in finals contention this weekend (Sydney and North Queensland) there were a couple of standouts in the forwards. The Roosters Siosiua Taukeiaho in just 45 mins made 16 runs for 155 metres to go with four tackles busts, the most of any forward in the game. The former Warrior also made 25 tackles. In Brisbane on Saturday night as his side was edged 16-12 the Cowboys’ Jason Taumalolo led some key statistics with 153 metres made from 15 runs. Taumalolo made the most metres of any forward in the match but in a concern for coach Paul Green looking for impact off the bench the Cowboys weren’t able to make any tackle busts.

The lack of impact for the Cowboys in many departments helped Brisbane who weren’t at their best on attack to win on Saturday night. The Broncos saluted after leading 8-2 at the interval despite having only one attacking tackle in the Cowboys’ ‘red zone’ (last 20 metres) in the first half. Ben Hunt’s lone try came from a play started outside the 20 as the Brisbane halfback split the North Queensland defence. That’s a huge concern for the men from Townsville but is good upside for Brisbane if they can sharpen their metres gained at the end of sets in a fortnight when they face the Roosters or Canterbury.

With Bulldogs forwards Frank Pritchard, certainly, and Sam Kasiono, possibly, facing time on the sidelines through suspension who will step up to cover their absence against the Roosters? Des Hasler would seem to have a logical replacement with Dave Klemmer who is second top for the club this year in metres gained behind Aiden Tolman. In 41 minutes on Saturday Klemmer made 16 runs which gained 177 metres and logged 26 tackles. In both forwards are lost Shaun Lane could see more time but he would want to improve on his eight tackles and four runs in 25 minutes off the bench from the weekend.

On the Bulldogs one had to feel sorry for the Dragons who they saw off on Saturday afternoon but even at 6-0 early in the second half I thought the dogs were home. Why? Simple. What side misses two try-scoring opportunities in the space of five minutes against a Des Hasler-coached side (in the finals) and live to tell the tale? Benji Marshall’s jinking run was scrubbed out in that period just after the break and even when Englishman Mike Cooper was held up over the line with 15 minutes to go it seemed too tough as ask to get back in contention. It wasn’t for St George Illawarra who got back in front before Josh Reynolds snuck the Bulldogs home.

Image via abc.net.au

So, you are now a 49ers fan. I apologise in advance.

@hamishneal

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You have been wooed in by the lure of Jarryd Hayne’s journey to the NFL, you remember something about a recent Superbowl appearance, maybe an older relative brought you back a 49ers cap from a holiday once to the USA, and you certainly know there were once really, really good.

Also you can watch all of the Hayne (49ers) games on television in Australia, you have ordered your red, #38 jersey. You are (as they say) all in on the San Francisco 49ers.

Um, ah, yeah, well, about that. I’m sorry it’s not likely to end well. We warn you it will be many Monday morning’s of disappointment.

YOUR SANTA CLARA 49ERS

Some handy tid-bits to get you going before we hit you with a rundown of the heavy stuff and what you have let yourself in for:

–          Firstly, the team isn’t in San Francisco anymore, having last season moved to the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the ninth most populous district in the broader San Francisco area, which is north of San Jose but south-east of ‘Cisco’ itself. From the ‘9ers old base at Candlestick Park to the new venue is 62 kms – roughly the distance from Penrith to Bondi Junction.

–          The franchise CEO might be younger than you. 34 year-old Jed York was shoe-horned into a role at the club after a brief period (less than a year) in the finance industry and has since ascended to the key off-field role. The family has a large wealth gained through shopping malls, property and construction.

–          There have been five Superbowl triumphs. Four of those titles came in the 1980’s – just like the former NRL club of Hayne the Parramatta Eels.

After a decade of failure, which coincided from the only time I watched them play in person late in the 2002 season, the 49ers won the 2012 NFC Championship (the game before the Superbowl, the other conference is the AFC) with a record of 13-4-1 during their second year under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The now Michigan college coach had helped the 9ers to the playoffs in his first year, losing in the 2011 NFC Championship game in overtime. The Superbowl appearance – where they would lose the big one to the Baltimore Ravens – was followed by another Conference Championship loss, this time to the Seattle Seahawks who were on the way to their Superbowl win.

Three conference championship appearances in his first three years as coach for Harbaugh for a side that had not made the playoffs since 2002 was an extraordinary turnaround.

AND THEN

By now, you must be thinking ‘sure, the CEO is young, and in the role due to nepotism, but they sound really good, so why is that Harbaugh fella now a college coach?’

Well… 2014 rolled around, and it was an ‘annus horribilis’. Sure, it wasn’t like the 2-14 season of 2004 but on the field the team stuttered and off the field all manner of problems occurred.

Including the 2014 season and into 2015 the following has occurred:

-Defensive End Ray McDonald was indicted by a grand jury on charges of rape and a separate violation of a domestic violence restraining order. He was one of FOUR players arrested since January 2014 – Center Daniel Kilgore and Cornerback Chris Culliver were also arrested, with the then 25 year-old Culliver charged with hit and run and possession of brass knuckles last year. Culliver has since left the team to join Washington.

-Key pass rusher Aldon Smith was arrested for a fifth time and tossed off the team this year.

-Fullback (not the NRL kind) Bruce Miller reached a plea deal in June and has undergone counselling for domestic violence charges. He remains on the roster.

-Just last month, McDonald (since cut by the team) and Linebacker Ahmad Brooks (who remains on the active roster) were charged from an alleged sexual assault in January. Note this is a different case to McDonald’s previous incident, but both Brooks and McDonald face jail time according to the San Jose Mercury News’ reports of the incident.

-In non-violence related departures, during March both Patrick Willis – the team’s defensive leader – and Chris Borland quit the team. The two Linebackers were seen as key to any 49ers revival. Borland, 24, left millions on the table when he quit due to concussion-related health concerns after just one season as a professional player (an issue for another column, but if you have 15 minutes free grab a coffee and read this http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/13463272/how-former-san-francisco-49ers-chris-borland-retirement-change-nfl-forever) Willis, aged 30, called time due to injuries related to his feet, or toes more specifically.

Following a ‘disastrous’ season where the team went 8-8, Trent Baalke, General Manager since 2011, sacked Harbaugh in December 2014, which is strange considering the coach’s overall record in San Francisco, and that Harbaugh was the man Baalke went so hard to hire to replace Mike Singletary in 2011. Harbaugh was undermined throughout the season by media commentators and ex-49ers players as being “too intense” – is that even a thing? He also, apparently, committed the cardinal sin of ‘losing the dressing room’ whatever that means. The coach was even accused of getting cranky about game day logistics at the new stadium (as an aside, I’ve read you can order a hot dog via the stadium app which arrives in under four minutes to your seat – so whatever Harbaugh didn’t like about the stadium surely this makes up for it).

Baalke replaced Harbaugh with 9ers Defensive Line Coach Jim Tomsula, a rather gruff looking man (not unusual for an NFL head coach) but one who had little experience as a head coach in the NFL. Tomsula, 47, has spent all his time in the NFL at the 49ers in various roles including coaching the last game in 2010 after Singletary was given his marching orders. I’m all for paying your dues, but given the NFL has 32 franchises and having been with the same club since 2007, one would think Tomsula would have been head-hunted if he was any good by now. He is also less than impressive as a media performer – I submit this to your dear reader from when he took over the role in January of this year. In an interview with CSN Bay Area, his answer to one question about the style of defensive coordinator he was after said “I wouldn’t say that, I wouldn’t NOT say that.”

Tomsula has experience coaching ‘gridiron’ overseas, and his background in working with project players (ie, players with no significant grounding in the sport) was part of the draw for Hayne to join the franchise initially, so hopefully he communicates better now nine months down the track.

We haven’t even got to the matches themselves last year for the 49ers.

2014 – THE YEAR OF THE INTERCEPT

Here is as brief summary of the carnage: Finishing off the pace at 8-8 and despite the constant rumours about Harbaugh’s inevitable departure, the side was well in contention to make the playoffs in November, but then lost four straight games before winning their last fixture of the season to finish at with a 50% win record.

Forgetting any dressing room issues, it was a season in which star players failed to fire, none more so than Wisconsin native Colin Kaepernick – the team’s quarterback.

The below table from sportsonearth.com articulates how Kaepernick has regressed since the Superbowl season:

Year Completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
2012 62.4 1814 10 3
2013 58.4 3197 21 8
2014 60.6 2910 16 10

What new (and old) 49ers fans might be hoping for is that a new coach can turn around Kaepernick, but Tomsula’s primary background in the NFL is defense. What might be more likely is the 27 year-old Kaepernick will be motivated by money – you may be aware his current contract is worth US$160 million, that’s not strictly true. It could be worth as ‘little’ as US$25.9 million into next season, as it is heavily linked to the performance of the team and his personal accolades and statistics. If the side fails to make the playoffs and/or ‘Kap’ doesn’t make Pro Bowl selections, the deal reduces dramatically.

Kaepernick’s slide could benefit Hayne more if he gets work as the third or fourth-tier running back as Tomsula may elect to employ a more conservative ’run first’ offence. The issue becomes the level of protection Hayne can be offered when he runs the ball in those close-contact scenarios.

In all reality, Hayne’s biggest moments – should he be included in the 46-player match day squads – may be restricted to scoring touchdowns on punt returns, but in all reality it will be in 35-10 losses.

Finally, the odds makers in Las Vegas don’t fancy San Francisco one bit. The consensus ‘over/under’ win line (projected wins) for the 9ers is 6.5, with only four teams projected lower – Jacksonville, Tennesse, Tampa Bay, and neighbours Oakland, the four worst teams in the league last season, who combined to win only 10 games in 2014.

If after all this you are still on board then do not say we did not warn you.

Image via smh.com.au