Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Gary Gold: Alan Solomons has got Worcester Warriors playing attacking rugby again

Worcester will attack their way to Aviva Premiership survival, says boss Gary Gold.

Director of rugby Gold says the arrival of assistant coach Alan Solomons in mid-October has resulted in the Warriors refocusing on their attacking game.

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The hugely experienced Solomons – like Gold, a former South Africa assistant coach – was appointed on a short-term contract, and immediately identified that Worcester should forego a policy of defence-first and instead play more expansively.

The first fruits of that policy were shown on November 18, when an impressive display saw the Warriors chalk up their first league win of the season with a bonus-pointdefeat of Northampton.

And Gold says opposition sides and supporters can expect more of the same attacking brio from the Warriors.

Gold said: “During our games in Europe and the Anglo-Welsh Cup, we didn’t think our processes were going in the right direction – the balance wasn’t right.

“We’d gone too much away from our strength, which is our attack and wanting to score tries.

“When Alan came in it was an observation that he made which was really helpful and it moved the pendulum a bit, and against Northampton you could see that it looked like the guys wanted to score tries.”

The attacking philosophy of Solomons, who has also coached Ulster, Southern Kings and Edinburgh, is going down well with the Warriors’ former New Zealand Sevens star Bryce Heem, who scored a hat-trick against Saints.

“With the players we’ve got in our backline, every player is dangerous,” said winger Heem. “We’re not going to run everything from everywhere, but when it’s time to go we’ll take it and we’ve got the skillset to do it.

“Alan’s guided from a bit of a backseat and the coaches who are already in position have been doing their thing.

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“His impact has helped us attack a bit more, realise when there are opportunities, and take them.”

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Sports Journalism: Ethical Vacuum or Ethical Minefield?

Sports journalism and ethics - strange bedfellows, you say? Possibly. But it's important they get together and have a catch up from time to time.

Think about the exposure of cheat-on-wheels Lance Armstrong and his drug-fuelled haul of syringe-tainted Tour de France titles. Think about the fall of plutocrat-cum-football administrator Sepp Blatter. Think about the odour - often less than fragrant - that attaches itself to the Olympics movement and the organisation of other mega, dollar-drenched sports jamborees. Without decent, thoughtful, duty-driven sports journalists, these important stories and issues just wouldn't get covered in the way that the public deserves. And only the hubristic would suggest that the industry doesn't still fall short on occasion.

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The Institute of Communication Ethics’ annual conference - Sports Journalism: Ethical Vacuum or Ethical Minefield? - has been pulled together by myself and Dr Daragh Minogue from the University of St Mary’s, Twickenham. What's exciting is that the conference has a truly international flavour, with academics and sports journalists from Australia, Spain and the United Kingdom all delivering papers. The keynote address will be made by Andy Cairns, executive editor of Sky Sports News.

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Sports journalism - like any industry - has its ethical dilemmas and tensions, but these dilemmas and tensions often aren't properly acknowledged, either within the profession or outside of it. During the course of my own work, I have been confronted by a number of ethical issues, ranging from disagreements with editors around issues of sensationalism and issues of representation to potential complicity with sources.

As a sports journalist, I know that the road of sports journalism is paved with the occasional ethical trip-wire. But while news journalism and news journalists receive frequent ethical scrutiny, sports journalism is often overlooked. That's why I'm doing a PhD on it, and why - on October 27 - we're organising an event where sports journalists and academics from around the world will converge at the Frontline Club in London to talk about the industry's ethics. 

Debate in London will cover everything from clickbait and codes of practice to the issues of self-censorship and sports journalists’ relationships with their sources. 

So, what duties, if any, do sports journalists have? I think a distinction needs to be drawn between the ‘on-diary’ activities of sports journalists - such as attending matches and press conferences - and what might be termed ‘off-diary', issues-based sports journalism. The practitioners of both have their responsibilities, but I think sports journalism can too often be fixated on the on-diary at the expense of the deeper journalism provided through the latter. I term this “ball watching” - by literally focusing on where the literal ball is on the field, journalists can metaphorically “take their eye off the ball” in terms of monitoring the deeper issues affecting the sport they are covering. It is the off-diary activities that provide the stories that have the most powerful effect on society. For a couple of examples in the UK, consider David Walsh's pursuit of Lance Armstrong, and Andrew Jennings' exposure of corruption at FIFA.

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As sport becomes more powerful, both in terms of economic power and cultural dominance, it is essential that sports journalists perform a watchdog function that holds the powerful institutions and people involved in sport to account. There is certainly no excuse for sports journalists to see themselves - or to be seen by others - as “fans with typewriters”, which is the old cliche about sports writers. The gathering in London next week will hopefully go some way to abolishing this caricature.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Dave Attwood: Bath's lack of trophies is increasingly frustrating

A frustrated Dave Attwood says Bath must stop “hinting and teasing” at what they can achieve and instead finally deliver silverware.

The West Country side have not won a trophy since lifting the European Challenge Cup in 2008, with a loss at Sale on the final day of the regular season ending any hopes of the club salvaging a place in the Premiership play-offs.

After spending five trophy-less seasons at The Rec, lock forward Attwood admits to an increasing sense of disappointment.

Bath were riding high in the league table prior to Christmas, but a lack of consistency saw them gradually fall off the Premiership pace.

And Attwood admits the formula that will give the club the necessary consistency remains elusive.

Bath have had four different bosses since Attwood joined the club in 2011 – Sir Ian McGeechan, Gary Gold, Mike Ford and now Todd Blackadder – and Attwood believes such churn has hindered the side’s fortunes.

“As a club, we are capable and should be achieving play-off rugby, finals and we should be aiming for silverware every season,” 30-year-old Attwood said.

“It’s increasingly frustrating from my point of view.

“We certainly don’t have the answer to what it is that will produce the consistency. We’ll have to keep kicking on and hopefully the process will give us the answer.”

Since Attwood moved to Bath from Gloucester in 2011, Bath were defeated finalists in the Challenge Cup in 2014 and Premiership runners-up to Saracens in 2015.

“We’re on the fourth coach since I’ve been here and that doesn’t help,” he said. “The turnover of the squad has been quite dramatic and there have been a number of other factors that have contributed.

“We’re trying to be very specific about what we are trying to fix. Sometimes it’s strategy, sometimes it’s emotional.

“Trying to put your finger on the recipe is difficult but a number of teams have managed to do it – look at the Bath of years ago, Wasps, Leicester and now Sarries.

“We’ve struggled to find it. A few times we’ve teased that we are there. Hopefully it’s a matter of time before it clicks and it lasts for a whole season.”

Attwood’s season was marred by a niggling knee injury that kept him out for four months, with the 24-cap England forward only returning for Bath’s Challenge Cup semi-final defeat to Stade Francais.

“Four months out with an unfortunate injury which was teasing me with the promise of fitness but not delivering was very frustrating,” he said.

“It reflects what’s gone on with the season as a whole at the club, where we’ve hinted and teased at what we can deliver.”

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Jim Mallinder: why aren't we using Television Match Officials?

My latest piece for The Times, in which Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder ponders the use (or non-use) of the TMO by referee Wayne Barnes in the Saints' last-minute 32-20 loss at Bath.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Matt Scott on Scotland 6 Nations recall: I've Billy Twelvetrees to thank

Matt Scott was on Wednesday named in Scotland's 6 Nations squad, having been overlooked by Vern Cotter for the Autumn Internationals. Just a week-and-a-half ahead of the recall, Scott told me he'd have Gloucester team-mate Billy Twelvetrees to thank if he got the call... Here's that piece, first published in The Rugby Paper:

Matt Scott couldn’t be doing much more to stake his claim for a Scotland recall ahead of the Six Nations – and he says he has an Englishman to thank.

Dropped from Vern Cotter’s squad for the Autumn Tests, Scott has been working with fellow Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees on refining his game.

And it has reaped some immediate dividends.

TEAM EFFORT: Matt Scott and Billy Twelvetrees bring down Leicester's Manu Tuilagi

Scott is tied for second with Bath winger Semesa Rokoduguni in the list of top Premiership finishers this season, with eight tries to his name. Only Wasps’ Christian Wade has dotted down more times in the league.

But it is in defence where Scott has been focusing most of his efforts since making the summer move from Edinburgh to Kingsholm, with Twelvetrees – himself overlooked by his country – proving an inspiration.

AGE: 26
INTERNATIONAL DEBUT: 10 March, 2012 versus Ireland
CLUBS: Edinburgh, Gloucester

"The feedback I got after I was dropped was about the defence – they felt there were a couple of other centres who were maybe more defensively sound than me,” said 26-year-old Scott, who scored twice in Gloucester’s seven-try thumping of Worcester last weekend. “They told me to keep working on it and that’s what I’ve been doing.

HEAD TO HEAD: Scott and Twelvetrees in action against one another in the 2013 Six Nations

“I have been working with Billy and I love the way he has this energy and passion for defending. I’ve not come across anything like it before.

“He is a class player – an England international and a British Lion – and it’s lovely to be able to learn off him and these other guys.”

Scott has 36 caps, with his last appearance for Scotland coming in June against Japan.

“I’m absolutely desperate to get back in the mix for the Six Nations,” he said.

“I was absolutely gutted to miss out in the autumn. But centre is such a competitive position now in the Scotland squad, whereas in the past it maybe wasn’t.

“I need to improve all aspects of my game to get in the squad and if I can get up there where the coaches can watch me then I can hopefully show them why I’m worthy of a place again.”

“Scoring tries gets your name in the headlines but it’s about the whole performance and there are other aspects of my performance that need working on. Sometimes scoring tries glosses over that.”