Sunday, 30 June 2013

Spain's striking solution

Spain are the current World and European champions at senior level, they are also the reigning U21 and U20 champions.  The country is currently going through as rich a purple patch as any in football terms - better than Holland in the mid-1970s dominated by the greatest team never to win the World Cup and the continental dominance of Ajax.

Spain's beauty is in the rich conveyor belt of talent they have had in midfield led by Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez along with the contemporaries, Xavi Alonso, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata.  What an illustrious list of players. In defence they have had the central threesome of Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos - do not forget that Puyol is ageing and it appears that Pique and Ramos will be the starting central pair for the World Cup, whereas Puyol can do a job his legs are giving up on him.

And how lucky for a side to have one of three goalkeepers to pick from; imagine having at your disposal the trifecta of Iker Casillas, Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina.  All three are exceptional goalkeepers in their own right, but this is akin to the dilemma Ron Greenwood must have had when deciding between Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence.  Victor Del Bosque appears to stick with Casillas in spite of his lack of first team action at Real Madrid, as both shot blocker and captain; yet Valdes (who is choosing to leave Barcelona this year) and Reina (who must fight for his place now against Simon Mignolet at Liverpool) would get into many other countries sides on merit.

However, it is up front that Spain seem to be suffering with a stagnant approach to goalscoring. This has been highlighted by the loss of form in their strikers, injuries being suffered and a victim of their formation.

When they won the European championship for the first time in 2008 and then the World Cup in 2010, Spain were thrust into the spotlight by the brilliant play of Iniesta, solid defence of Puyol but the conversion chances of both Fernando Torres and David Villa who seemed to play in such synchronisation that it was alarming how good they were.

Unfortunately, Torres has suffered a crisis of confidence for some time ever since his transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea eighteen months ago, Villa suffered a terrible broken leg during Barcelona's successful World Club championship roughly the same time ago.  Villa returned to the Barcelona side most definitely in the shadow of Lionel Messi - Messi gets the ball, he scores. Villa gets the ball and he struggles; is it any surprise he might be shipped out and transferred during this transfer window.

Other options like Fernando Llorente and Michu (Swansea) whilst regular scorers at club level are not getting enough of a chance at international level; partly out of loyalty towards Torres/Villa, partly because of the formation Spain more than likely play with the midfield dominated by Xavi/Iniesta with the runners off the wings of Silva and Mata. Even Alonso cannot sometimes get into the starting XI, when you have a bombing left wing back like Jordi Alba (who scored twice against Nigeria) there are options everywhere.

Del Bosque will state we will win, because someone will score, yet they have looked weak especially against a side like Italy who can match them in terms of possession under the leadership of Andrea Pirlo; the possession stats showed Spain only had 54% and they seemed to suffer in the final third as balls were played into the box with no-one ensuring to get a chance on target to trouble Buffon in the Italy goal.

The answer to Spain's troubles might be appearing again on their famed conveyor belt of talent, as showed in the recent European U21 championship in Israel where they successfully retained their title with a 4-2 victory over Italy in the final.  This was punctuated by the first half hat-trick by Thiago Alcantara, and the wing play of Cristian Tello and Isco.  Thiago plays for Barcelona along with Tello, whilst Isco has recently become Carlo Ancelloti's first signing for Real Madrid from Malaga.

In goal for Spain was David de Gea, who for all his troubles at Manchester United is now a young man who is used to winning.  A lot of these players are used to winning at an early age, something lacking in other European players, who struggle to get first team football yet alone a chance to impress.

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Fourth Down & Out - Aaron Hernandez

Listen to my appearance on the podcast talking about Aaron Hernandez along with the illustrious Boston resident, Russ Goldman with his take on the sorry situation involving our tight end.

Here is the link, my segment starts after 16minutes:

Follow the guys on @DundeeNFL
Russ Goldman @Russ_Goldman
and me @JamieGarwood

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Oregon Ducks still swimming

The NCAA released the results of their 27 month investigation into Oregon's College Football recruiting policy, you wonder why it took them so long if they return with such a woeful punishment for such a prominent school, whose illustrious coach is now in the NFL.

The punishment along with public censure including: A loss of one scholarship from two recruiting classes, including last year's class, and a maximum of 84 total scholarship players -- one below the limit -- through the 2015-16 academic year. Three years of probation ending June 25, 2016. A number of recruiting restrictions, including a ban on subscriptions to recruiting services during the probation period, believed to be a first for NCAA sanctions. 

Whereas other schools who have been convicted of wrong-doing have suffered with a post-season bowl ban, Oregon who have lost a National Championship match and been in the hunt for the BCS title for the last four years, unlike say Ohio State and USC who both had to endure post-season bans.  Last season, the Buckeyes went undefeated through the season and yet could not be selected for the Championship game due to their ban, a slight on a sub-par College Football season as you could not get Alabama versus Ohio State, Nick Saban v Urban Meyer.

Pete Carroll was in charge of the USC Trojans during the period under their investigation, Carroll quickly upped sticks and left for the safe confines of Seattle in the NFL, many felt Chip Kelly's decision to leave for the Philadelphia Eagles smacked of the same conviction to avoid any punishment.  And yet Kelly has been banned from College Football for only 18 months, so if the Eagles experiment (where he threatens to run rough shod over the NFC East) is a failure he can return to the safe haven (a la Steve Spurrier) in two seasons.

As well as Chip Kelly the head coach, the others who failed to monitor - the Athletic Director and University President have all been replaced, meaning none have really suffered any personal setback to their tenure.

Oregon lose one scholarship per season for two years, and are under probation for the same period of time - a mere slap on a wrist to a fashionable destination for young student athletes.  If you are not going to ban the school from the post-season, you make it harder for them to get there.  Apparently, it makes it harder for the school during recruitment with the reduction of one scholarship, yet they still have 24 full scholarships to offer to players who can rule the roost in the Pac-12 conference.

Oregon are head and shoulders above the other Pac 12 schools, owing to USC being behind the eight ball for so long.  Oddly, the punishments served to them by the NCAA to remain in a period of strength and not have to worry too much about the ramifications.  In a way, did they really do anything wrong in the first place?

Monday, 24 June 2013

Explaining Aaron Hernandez

Respect for the NBA players in America, grow year on year.  For these top athletes to drag their body through a 70 game season and then four rounds of the playoffs is quite remarkable given the degree of intensity, the velocity and pace of play and these are not normal shaped bodies - they are men who are in height all over 6' 6" and weigh 18 stone of muscle and brawn.

The other thing they have to contend with is the recognition of their abilities, they play in sleeveless shirts, shorts and Nikes.  They cannot be invisible when they leave the court.

NFL players are luckier, they play for four months of the year, five if they make the Super Bowl.  Admittedly, they do play in the coldest months of the calendar, yet they can hid behind helmets and shoulder pads, distinguishable by the large numbers on their chest and broad backs.  For many defensive and offensive linemen, they are anonymous, if you passed them in a shopping mall or they were out walking their dog, you would think he was a big lump.

The lucky few are photogenic and marketable, these are mostly the quarterbacks the young All-American WASPs who are protected by league rules to not be roughed up, while the dirty work at the line of scrimmage is rarely policed.  The NFL attempt to keep the young and gifted, fit and healthy for as long as possible - while running backs fall by the wayside with new blood leaving College every year in the draft.

For all the anti-NBA jive talk about responsibility and behaviour, it is few and far between the number of incidents involving NBA players away from the court.  Players on the hard court use their down time effectively to recuperate and rest, they have foundations and clinics to put on for children in summer classes, they always want to give back to the community they came from.

NFL players seemingly have a lot of downtime, two thirds of the year in fact to let their hair down and due to the big pay cheques they may encounter some unsavoury characters.  Yet the number of misdemeanors and crimes being committed by young affluent NFL players are high in comparison to other major American sport stars - drink driving, assault and battery, actual bodily harm, drug possession, fights with police.

There can be an argument that the NFL Draft is to blame, you have young underprivileged men leaving college who use their first pay cheque to live large and by giving young men too much money too soon can lead to problems.  English soccer has this problem for some time now, when 17-18 year olds are paid far too much at an early age, without having to earn it.  The NFL teams pay all this money to players based on the idea of potential and possibility, rather than earning it through performance and credibility.  In years past there has been faux pas' like Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell; but yet you still can have Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III; two gifted young men who the ideal NFL franchise player - intelligent and mature.  Is it any surprise they both stayed for the full four years in college and did not jump to the draft when immediately eligible.

This may explain the Aaron Hernandez saga currently being played out on back pages and radio shows across America.  It now comes out that the reason Number 81 fell to the Patriots in the 4th round is due to character issues.  This has never stopped Bill Belichick before as he has signed Randy Moss and Chad Johnson (OchoCinco) before and they both played well but eventually tailed off.  Most NFL teams would say they can offer a large support network to any troubled soul, yet sometimes you never know what a player is capable of.  Did anyone imagine Michael Vick would actually host dog fighting in his luxurious mansions?

Aaron Hernandez is involved in a murder investigation involving a semi-pro 31 year old, Hernandez has done himself no favours by smashing up his security system and destroying his phone - evidence which is a federal offence, and may lead to him incriminating himself.  Hernandez could have done with going to the Patriots and telling them what happened. Instead he thought he was doing what was right, instead of doing what was correct.

Hernandez can probably expect such charges as perverting the course of justice, failure to report a crime and most definitely expect at least a four game suspension from the NFL for bringing the game into disrepute and poor off-field conduct.

As for the Patriots, with both exemplar tight ends either injured or in custody, it gives Tom Brady and the AFC East champions a rather lacklustre roster line-up of receivers to boast about whilst the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills attempt to gain ground on the Boston dynasty.

New England have let go of Wes Welker (Denver), Danny Woodhead (San Diego) and released Brandon Lloyd who is still a free agent, and could be re-signed.  They picked up Danny Amendola, tight end Ballard from the New York Giants and have acquired Aaron Dobson in the draft - they still have the running back combo of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to get yards if the receiving core does not fire on all cylinders.

With all the Gronkowski injury news, the Patriots were probably hoping for a quiet remainder of the off-season, now they have to contend with the possibility of going into the season opener at Buffalo on September 8th without two of their most potent offensive weapons.

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Our Nixon

Richard Nixon is quite possibly one of the most polarising American president - not as beloved as Lincoln or Roosevelt, yet just as controversial as Bush Jnr.  Nixon's name is forever synonymous with the Watergate scandal when advisors tapped into phone lines during the Democratic Convention and brought down the Presidency.  One that he worked so hard for after so many knockbacks.

Tellingly, though Nixon lived in a world before current social media and the immediate culture where judgments are made instantly.  Nixon was in power when we still believed our leaders to be sacred, true and honourable.  To think Nixon and his advisors were as crooked as others was astonishing, and for a President to resign was as shocking as when Edward VIII abdicated the throne in the 1930s.

Young director, Penny Lane, has garnered video tape/home video footage of three advisors - H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Dwight Chapin - were all convicted and served prison time for their efforts during the scandal.  Something that their leader was never afforded the chance to commit to.  

The footage used is quite an intriguing mixture of behind-the-scenes footage and contemporary interview footage of the three advisors.  Their loyalty to their subject is unwavering, even though they were in effect stool pigeons for the administration.

Some nice moments are the shots and views from Air Force One and Nixon pacing the Oval office, yet a lot of the footage is still the sort you watch in bad home videos - vain, self-glorious, egotistical fare that should be saved for the privacy of those who shot it.  The footage stayed locked up in a Government vault for many years along with White House tapes - and for all its blandness, there are some moments that elaborate on Nixon's overwhelming paranoia and rampant idealism for a perfect America that was slowly changing.

Our Nixon screens as part of the Open City Docs Fest (20th-23rd June) on Friday 21 June at Curzon Soho 6.30pm followed by a panel discussion including Paul Mitchell (director Watergate (1994)) and Saturday 22 June 6.30pm at Birkbeck Cinema. for listings and ticket information
Twitter: @OpenCityDocs

Easy Rider by Rob Hayles

If I was to ask you who was the most important person in the renaissance of Great Britain's track cycling revolution you would probably point out a few people to mention.  Your shortlist would no doubt contain Chris Boardman, Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and or David Brailsford.

Whilst the first four names are all either Olympic or World champions and the last name is the scientific genius behind them all with the new training regimes and analytic performance.  However, there are always the nearly men, the men who came so close to glory and yet for one reason or another failed to become the household name their endeavours so richly deserved.

Rob Hayles is one of those nearly men. In spite of being the proud recipient of two rainbow World championship jerseys for the Team Pursuit and Madison in 2005 (Los Angeles) and three Olympic medals (two bronze, one silver); Hayles' name is the type you really have to know your cycling to recognise, despite his continued involvement in the sport following his retirement in 2011 - as a training partner of Manxman Cavendish or as a commentator for Eurosport or BBC Radio.

Hayles has written a biography entitled Easy Rider: My Life on a Bike; the title is a pun of course on the seminal counter-culture film directed by Peter Fonda and Denis Hopper in 1969. Whilst Hayles whilst never an anti-hero, the title is misleading as the life and career of any top level elite cyclist is anything but easy.

Hayles started out as an amateur cyclist who quickly became renowned for his speed on the track and yet he was not averse to riding on the road as he did for French team, Cofidis, tackling long stage races on the road when a team-mate of David Millar, allowing us to hear a different interpretation of the mask of Millar who succumb to drug usage in spite of being naturally gifted and heralded as a class apart.

Hayles freely admits that he hates training, and that his laid back nature could be infuriating to team-mates who continually work hard and yet do not enjoy his level of success.  In contrast to the metronomic nature of people like Boardman who are knowledgeable and precise; Hayles comes across as a carefree soul who just loves to ride his cycle - for fun, for money, for life.

Reading about Hayles attempts to make Olympic teams, his watching the new blood come through his compelling and makes you wonder what the man would have achieved if he had been able to sustain Lottery funding for himself instead of it being granted halfway through a twenty-year career.

Hayles is at pains to make clear that without the National Lottery funding that came after the complete Great British team debacle of 1996 (when only Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent won a gold medal together in rowing), Britain needed to change before a lost generation of potential was lost.

The funding allowed for more coaches, better training facilities including the construction of the Manchester Velodrome; when Hayles started there was only one in Leicester.  Now there are four nationwide including the aptly named Sir Chris Hoy velodrome in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the place where Hayles fittingly concludes his book in the epilogue.

As Hayles enjoys his summit at the 2005 World Championships in Los Angeles, he is joined by a star-studded cavalcade of future talent - Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas, Ed Clancy, Jamie Staff, Jason Queally, Cavendish and Victoria Pendleton.

Whilst the 2004 Athens Olympics were fantastic, the 2005 World Championships seems to be the watershed moment for British Cycling - four gold medals including the two for Hayles; one silver and one bronze giving a total of 6 putting them atop the Medal table - this would lead to the domination of the 2008 Olympic cycling programme in Beijing with Hoy's three gold medals amongst the 8 track/road Gold medals amongst 14 total - the great story goes that every member of the British cycling team flew home with an Olympic medal, except one, Mark Cavendish (who still searches for one but that's another story).

The hardest thing about reading a biography of a person whose name you may know, but be unfamiliar with, is that you have to trawl through a lot of material before you get to the good stuff such as the victories.  Hayles is not shy either to mention the drinking enjoyed by the team after the championships and why not, how often can you celebrate being the best in the world.  The book whilst a bit dour through the hard training regimes, it practically soars when the good times arrive.

Hayles writes freely and candidly letting us into his relationship with wife Vicki, a former Olympic swimmer, and how the pressure of training and competing puts on their partnership, but never making you think other than his admiration of her talent.

Whilst all biographies can be deemed as selfish, Hayles never gives the air of arrogance about his achievement - the surprise is how ignorant he is of his place in the vanguard of British cycling, every sport needs trailblazers who capture the imagination of the many and the respect of his peers.  Hayles has many friends that still compete, they should be grateful that he was there 20 years before them to make sure they have the platform and innovation of training to make them fulfil their potential, something but for a bit more luck would have done so himself.

Easy Rider: My Life on a Bike by Rob Hayles is released by Transworld Publishers on Thursday 20th June for £16.99 rrp

Hayles wrote the book in conjunction with Lionel Birnie, who covers the Tour de France for the Sunday Times and writes for Cycle Sport and Cycling Weekly

Monday, 17 June 2013

No - review

The much heralded Chilean director, Pablo Larrain (Tony Manero (2008) and Post Mortem (2010)) completes his Pinochet trilogy with the critically acclaimed No starring Gael Garcia Bernal.

No stars Bernal as a cynical young advertising executive, Rene Saavedra asked to spearhead the 'No' campaign for those opposing the dictatorial regime led by General Pinochet, and attempt to bring democracy to Chile.

Larrain uses his methodical eye and observational style to bring to the screen a perfectly rendered 1980s set film; pleasingly the film harkens back to the start of the campaign as we follow them using scant resources and being under constant scrutiny from colleagues and the Pinochet regime.

At stake for the dissidents is a chance for freedom and to be as affluent as they wish they could be.  The irony is not lost on the audience when we first me Rene who is pitching a campaign for a new soft drink, called 'Free'.  It is telling though that in the country, everyone speaks in whispers, scared to say anything against the totalitarian regime and end up dead like so many before them.

Larrain cleverly mixes scripted and imagined scenes with carefully selected archive footage, and kudos to cinematographer Sergio Armstrong for shooting with a 1983 U-matic camera so we cannot distinguish between the imagined and the real 1980s footage.

Credit also to Bernal for taking a role that is neither built on his in-built charm, nor a man who is a charmer - Rene is the son of a dissident and yet he remains honest in his pursuit of the campaign and the ultimate victory.  The contrast and similarities with Ben Affleck's Argo are noticeable - the beards, the anti-totalitarian regime, the faithfulness to the era the film is set in.

No is one of the most compelling and visually daring films of recent memory.

It is released on DVD (£19.99 rrp) and also on iTunes (£13.99 HD rrp or £3.49 to rent) and the Curzon Home Cinema, courtesy of Network Releasing.
Special features include an interview with Pablo Larrain; a conversation with Gael Garcia Bernal at Curzon Soho; a Q&A with Larrain from the 56th London Film Festival and image gallery

My thanks to Network Releasing for the opportunity to review this title.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Gaffer - Book review

Released in time for Father's Day, Neil Warnock has released a book entitled The Gaffer: The Trials and Tribulations of a Football Manager.

The book which can be considered Warnock's first public statement since he departed Leeds United is a look back on his career throughout football via the big moments of his career from guiding Sheffield United to the Premier League, to the fall-out of being relegated and the ensuing Carlos Tevez saga which ultimately cost him his job.

Focusing primarily on the time at his QPR and the money involved with the club, Warnock is keen to stress he holds no ill will towards the owners who sacked him but would be more inclined to focus on the privilege in guiding the club from near relegation the previous season to table toppers helped by such talent as Adel Taarabt, Heidar Helguson and Jamie Mackie.

Warnock's tone throughout the book (helped by Glenn Moore of the Independent; for whom Warnock wrote a weekly column which was as entertaining as this title) is one of eternal optimism, you get the sense that Warnock loves doing the job he does, and for every job he loses due to poor form or new owners, he is reflective on the job he has done has been to the best of his abilities.

Warnock comes from the same school as Harry Redknapp - not the greatest of players during the playing career but a man who has a keen observation of tactical formation and man-management. Warnock mentions how he used speed of his youth team at Crystal Palace to good effect prompting the promotion of John Bostock and Nathaniel Clyne amongst others to the senior side; Warnock set the framework by which Palace continue with Wilfred Zaha at the forefront of Palace's promotion season.  Warnock's belief was that these youngsters need to play games before moving on to bigger clubs, where they will stagnate and plateau - a telling remark in light of England U21s disastrous European tournament.

This may be a view of one man on his life in football, and at times like most biographies it can be self-congratulatory yet Warnock's joie de vivre for life and football does come across mostly; his numerous famous interviews made him appear to be a man you would like to sit down with for a pint.  This book does not disappoint in that respect, and his chapter on refereeing standards is both enlightening and eye-opening.

The Gaffer is a perfect gift for Father's Day, for a no-nonsense account of life as a somewhat scapegoat in a business first approach to football.

The Gaffer is out now from Headline Publishers at £16.99 and is also available as an e-book.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Mea Maxima Culpa

The renowned documentary film-maker Alex Gibney whose documentary projects have ranged from such subjects as economic breakdown (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), American in Iraq (Taxi to the Dark Side) and  baseball (Catching Hell)

Now he returns with Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God a documentary that pushes back the veil on the rampant sexual abuse by Catholic priests in North America.  Gibney focuses on the transcripts of four courageous deaf men who recount the molestation they suffered at the hands of Father Murphy whilst at the Hearing School in the 1950s and 60s.

Archive footage obtained by Gibney and his indispensable editor, Sloane Klevin, portrays Murphy as a saintly figure who works with deaf children and helps them become better men, leading them to college and employment.  However, the boys soon learned that Murphy would molest the boys by watching them touch themselves, then sleep in the same bed with the boys.  What is all the more sickening, is that Murphy chose boys whose parents could not read or understand sign language; meaning the young boys were locked in a hell of accepting the punishment with no-one able to help them.

The accusations against Murphy ran from 1957 up to 1963 when our protagonists were first complaining, meaning Murphy had been accusations of sexual abuse for some twenty years.  Gibney uses the archive footage to piece together the boys attempts to make a case against Murphy which more and more is being ignored by the higher powers, who chose to ignore the complaints as the life of a Priest is more important than that of a young deaf child.

Gibney uses the three boys on screen now as they appear doing sign language to the screen, so they speak with all the fury of their convictions, yet he has them voiced by famous actors, Terry (Jamey Sheridan), Arthur (John Slattery) and Garry (Chris Cooper).  This is a clever device as you see the anger in the faces of the deaf men, yet the voices are given clarity by the actor's delivery.

Gibney, quite possibly the best documentarian currently alive, again creates an important piece of not just cinema but also of social awareness of an ever-increasing problem which in this current day and age of apparent rampant peadophilia; think of the Jimmy Saville cases and the continual claims of sexual abuse against Catholic priests across the world.

Mea Maxima Culpa is not only a document of a past era, but an attempt to show behind the curtain of a very powerful organisation that has too much influence over too many people, the thoughts that the priests are not only above and beyond the law and that the Diocese and even the Vatican can deal with this in secret and deal with the matter how they feel is appropriate - by denying and refusing to acknowledge the presence of sexual predators in the Catholic church.

Mea Maxima Culpa is released on DVD on Monday 24th June from Peccadillo Pictures

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Rugby's Teething Problem

Rugby Union has been professional since the mid-1990s and has had a lot to contend with during the intervening near two decades of changing landscape for the sport. However, the sport is seemingly going through an unseemly change on the field, the like of which we did not expect to happen in the ugly sport played by gentleman.

In the last two weeks of rugby action there have been three incidents of note, all with a direct impact upon the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia - the last bastion of amateur ethos in this professional age, where you get a combined sense of four nations coming together for a shared purpose away from the glare of homeland media.

Rugby Union is finally becoming undone by the age of professionalism, as the grind of continual play and the need of victory anyway possible over the style or substance of the play; a type of feature more prevalent to the round ball game is now infesting the oval ball game.

It all started in late May during the Premiership Final at Twickenham between eventual champions Leicester and finalists Northampton, with the comical antics just before half-time.  Dylan Hartley, the Saints captain, allegedly called elite referee Wayne Barnes, a f***ing cheat, the sort of coarse, industrial language which is apparent in everyday culture but not the sort of thing you ever say to someone in a position of authority, the final result - Hartley is sent off, the first player to be sent off in a Premiership final. His resultant ban of 12 weeks meant he was not available for the tour of Australia.

The first game of the Lions tour was held in Hong Kong versus the Barbarians, as capitalist a statement in honour of tour sponsor, HSBC, as ever seen with the players competing in near 90% humidity all in the name of a quick buck.  The stadium was not even sold out because the ticket prices were far too high for the casual fan.  The match descended into a one-sided contest as expected.

During the game, Owen Farrell was given the chance to stake a claim for the No. 10 fly half position ahead of Jonathan Sexton.  Yet Farrell's play was overshadowed by his altercation with Saracens team-mate Schalk Brits (playing for the Baa-Baas) who punched Farrell and prompted a heated response, which was warranted.  Yet the fall out of the incident has focused more on Farrell's reaction rather than the malicious nature of Brits' original act which caused the reaction - has Brits been cited and banned, whereas Farrell's chance of starting a test has been blindsided before it has started owing to his natural reaction.

Thuggery has always been a part of rugby union, yet sometimes the players police matters themselves yet the unsavoury scenes last year involving Chris Ashton and Manu Tulagi in a Premiership match led to many citations and bans.  However, no sportsman should act like Brits did and you wonder why he chose to have an altercation with a club team-mate in Hong Kong, why did he not wait until pre-season to make a statement.

Warren Gatland has reiterated that the Lions need to maintain their composure for the tour as they face the wily Wallabies who will needle and upset the tourists at every opportunity they can get.  Gatland would not have been pleased by the actions of prop forward, Cian Healy.

Healy has been cited for allegedly biting Brett Sheehan on the finger during the breakdown. Sheehan complained to the match referee, and the video referee stated that Healy had a case to answer after seeing alternative viewing angles.  The angle most legible shows Healy was in possession of the ball when he bit Sheehan, prompting the question, why bite someone to ward them off, why not just recycle the ball?  Healy faces a 12 week ban, which is of little relevance following the ankle injury he sustained, his tour is over one way or another.

Biting is barbaric, as we have seen with the incident in football involving Luis Suarez and Branislav Ivanovic at Anfield in April that prompted to a multiple match ban for the controversial Uruguayan.  Whilst Suarez has previous in this action, for Healy it is most unusual and not what Gatland would have wanted.

You can imagine the Australian coverage focusing again on the unsavoury nature in a Lions win, rather than the dominant victory helped by Brian O'Driscoll being his influential self at centre and the exceptional kicking of Leigh Halfpenny whose kicking may be the difference between a series win or defeat.

Rugby has a problem with this ever increasing professionalism happening in their ranks from grass roots up; you have youngsters starting at 17 and 18 who are getting good money far too early and feel they have made it, whereas professionals like Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter (neither who made the Lions squad) still live by the code and for the glory of the game.  What glory is their in a game when you can make good money being pretty average?

The old adage is that football is gentleman's game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentleman.  Yet too often, rugby is making the news for the wrong incidents. When you are told about a specific incident about a game, before the scoreline is mentioned, then something is not right. Luckily rugby union is smart enough to turn this around - and at least they are quick to dish out punishment for illegal actions, in stark contrast to association football which takes forever to throw the book at people, probably because they are still reading it.

Unfortunately, and much like everything in life, once you throw money at anything it all becomes ugly and that class distinction from the outside looking in is getting smaller to differentiate.

Follow me @JamieGarwood

Chasing Ice

Released on DVD by Dogwoof and also their first ever Blu-ray release, Chasing Ice is the multi-award winning feature documentary that shows a changing planet before our very eyes.

Chasing Ice is directed by Jeff Orlowski and tells the story of world National Geographic photographer James Balog and his work with time-lapse cameras for the Extreme Ice Survey.

Starting in 2005 with his work for the magazine when Balog ventured north to the Arctic to take pictures of the changing landscape.  Balog was shocked to realise the landscape changing before his eyes prompting him to challenge pre-conceptions and let the world know what was happening to a world that was being taken for granted.

Balog's plan was to set up time-lapse cameras in several locations across the world ranging from Alaska to Greenland to Canadian mountains to Norway.  Balog could be described as a globe trotting humanitarian James Bond or Jason Bourne.

Throughout the film we follow Balog as he comes to terms with what he is discovering, the pressure both emotionally and financially he puts himself under through the process (ultimately leading to vindication on his part). The audience really feel for him when he goes to see the cameras for the first time after a few months and finds that they have malfunctioned meaning a loss of time, effort and money; he breaks down by a camera his frustration apparent to all concerned.

Being a film on a photographer, the film-makers use a lot of Balog's archive of which there are some stunning shots exhibiting his keen eye for scale and depth of perception.  One awe-inspiring sequence is when Balog and his team are setting up a camera, and a sheet of ice that looks perilously close to breaking up from the huge ice expanse actually breaks off before their eyes - climate change in front of their eyes.

Whilst climate change has been a format for documentary makers for many years especially Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and last year's The Island President (also released by Dogwoof) those films reflected more on personal political diatribe and descended into more of a soapbox mentality - this film benefits from having an everyman lead character who is personable and likeable coupled with physical evidence of the changes happening on film, prompting even the hardest cynics to admit that maybe a change is happening.

Yet with the astonishing imagery available to see, the film is that rare gift of one that makes you think but also makes you angry, a facet that documentaries should strive for upon release.

Chasing Ice is available on DVD (£14.99) and Blu-ray (£19.99) from 10th June 2013 in glorious high definition.

Extras including a Making of Interview with the Filmmakers, a commentary track with the director Jeff Orlowski, James Balog; a week with the film in Sundance, updated time lapses and an interview with composer J. Ralph about his Oscar nominated song, 'Before My Time'

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Future's Oxlade

England drew valiantly with Brazil 2-2 in the Maracana Stadium in Rio last night, and no doubt would have lost on penalties if this was a tournament match-up.

However, following on from the drab encounter against the Republic of Ireland last Wednesday, England came away with some much needed credit to their name after being described as going backwards as they stuck to a 4-4-2 formation.

In this day and age of fluency and flexibility, the requirement of players and coaches to adapt to in game changes must be prevalent and the need of utility and adaptability is paramount from all concerned.  Players need to have many strings to their bow and not just be very good at one facet of play.

Roy Hodgson should be applauded as well for going for broke in Brazil, with the Samba stars taking the lead  through Hulk, many expected either Brazil to push their advantage home or for England to wilt in the stifling conditions.

Yet the England manager decided to be bold and took the initiative substituting Glen Johnson for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal, this allowed Phil Jones to revert to his more familiar right back position having been a part of England's three man midfield - along with Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard - and struggling to maintain possession.

This allowed Oxlade to play his preferred central position behind Wayne Rooney with James Milner and Theo Walcott threatening from the wings.

Oxlade was exceptional in his brief time on the field, he played with passion, a desire to get the ball and distribute it keenly and with intent to those around him.  Rooney appreciated this play to feet as for much of the first half - link play was disrupted by Walcott's wasteful possession and poor decision making.  Oxlade's injection of confidence to a flat-lining team paid dividends with him scoring his first international goal away from home, a crisply struck drive through a sea of players that left Julio Cesar no chance to thwart.

Oxlade's influence of counter-attacking had a hand in England's second goal scored by Wayne Rooney with a slight deflection - crisp quick passing from a Brazil corner led to link up between Walcott to Milner to Oxlade who freed Rooney to run with the ball and curl in a shot that with the deflection escaped Cesar for a quick turnaround lead.

England's lacklustre defence however, could not keep Brazil at bay and parity was restored when Paulinho converted a half-volley unmarked past Joe Hart, whose first half performance deserved more as he kept a rampant Brazil led by new Barcelona signing, Neymar and Chelsea's Oscar at bay with some fine saves and brave blocks.

Whilst this performance as a whole did not warrant a victory, it did give us a glimpse of England when let off the leash - an attacking threat which with the right personnel can be impressive and ask questions of any team, although this Brazil side is not the greatest vintage as they are going through changes themselves in preparation of hosting the World Cup next summer.

Call it is his lack of experience or perhaps the innocence of his play, but Oxlade-Chamberlain is a breathe of fresh air compared to his club-mate Theo Walcott who is a frustrating blend of expectation and a lot of overblown hyperbole.  Walcott has pace and speed to burn and yet unlike contemporaries Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, he seems unable to run with the ball at this feet nor be able to make a decision that does not involve shooting at goal.

If Lennon had not picked up another injury it was likely that based on his overall level of performance could have started one of these internationals, Lennon's final ball and delivery is vastly ahead of Walcott's yet Lennon does not have the shooting boots Walcott has something that is most helpful in an international tournament.  With Michael Owen retiring due to a series of hamstring injuries that caused him to slow down and end with a career somewhat unfulfilled, perhaps Walcott should take advantage of his potential now before his first serious injury causes him to slow down and burn out.

Whereas in numerous international appearances, Oxlade has shown himself to not be over-awed by the occasion and looks like the sort of individual who after another season in the battle of the Premier League will become a better player.

Albeit by this time next year as Hodgson runs the rule over his final 23 for the World Cup (should England qualify -fingers crossed), Oxlade will not be a secret weapon but nevertheless be the sort of player who can make an impact coming off the bench.

And in this age of rampant commercialism amongst football, pardon me if I use a pun.  For England, the future is bright, the future's Oxlade.