Aberdeen Caley Coaches Disappointed but Understanding of Decision to Call the Season Void

Posted – 24/03/20

It would be naïve to suggest rugby is on anyone’s priorities list as the globe battles a devastating pandemic.

Nevertheless, a decision had to be made by Scottish Rugby about how to finish the domestic season following the suspension of all rugby in Scotland on the 13th March.

On Tuesday a decision was reached to null and void the league season, preventing any form of automatic promotion or relegation.

An SRU statement detailed this outcome had been delivered as part of a wide-ranging consultation period which involved every club in Scotland, although at least Northern Caledonia side has claimed they weren’t consulted.

The governing body provided five different options to the clubs and noted that around half of them had opted to call the season as null and void.

The second most popular option was to finish the season with the current positions of each club, while another was to award two points to each team for any outstanding fixtures.

Other options involved calculating an average of points over the season and counting earlier fixtures as double headers.

However, Orkney claim they weren’t consulted and despite the difficult circumstances, can be forgiven for feeling hard done by after they looked certain to be promoted to the National Leagues.

The Islanders were eight points clear with two games in hand at the top of Caledonia One when the season was suspended last month.

In Caley Two, Aberdeenshire also saw their promotion hopes being quelled having already gained a place in Caley One next season.

Shire’s Head Coach, Barny Henderson believes a different outcome would have perhaps been preferable.

He said: “The option of awarding two league points for each remaining game would have been fairer.”

“For us its disappointing because we’ve played all our games and gained every point we need to get promoted.”

“I feel very bad for Orkney and Marr who were likely to win their first Premiership title this season.”

“The club has worked hard to return to Caley One which is where I believe Aberdeenshire belong, but in the wider sense this outcome won’t be that important in a few years and we now have an added incentive to be successful again next season.”

Henderson isn’t overly critical of the SRU but does register some frustration at past scheduling decisions and the unseen impact which they are having now.

He adds: “In hindsight its frustrating that the clubs agreed to play through the international games this season, but the SRU didn’t want them to.”

There is a recognition that those weekends lost to international fixtures could have made significant inroads into any matches which hadn’t been fulfilled across the leagues when the Covid-19 outbreak stopped play.

Aberdeen Wanderers aren’t likely to have felt as aggrieved by the null and void outcome as they sat fourth in Caley One when the season ended, unable to realistically challenge for silverware.

Director of Rugby, Russell Arthur said: “It’s an unprecedented situation we are in at the moment and I’m comfortable with the way the SRU went about the decision in asking the clubs what they thought should happen.”

“We can’t expose anyone involved with the club to any unnecessary risks but is it disappointing to lose that momentum that Wanderers have built across all facets of the club this season.”

Meanwhile, RAF Lossiemouth and Aberdeen University Medics had already wrapped up the Caley Three and Four titles respectively before Tuesday’s announcement.

However, the decision does favour Gordonians in National Two who were in the midst of a difficult battle for survival near the bottom end of the table.

The reality is that a difficult decision has been made at a time when rugby isn’t at the forefront of discussion.

There is a shared recognition of the unprecedented situation we as a society now face and it has been heartening to see ongoing community work which countless teams have have initiated during this global crisis.

Caledonia Two: Aberdeenshire leave it late to beat resilient Ross Sutherland

Aberdeenshire 29 (14)

Ross Sutherland 26 (12)

Aberdeenshire finished off a successful season with the narrowest of wins against a tough Ross Sutherland side. 

This game was always in the balance, with Paul Harrow’s penalty at the death proving the difference in a tight encounter.

Harrow had opened the scoring for Aberdeenshire early on and both teams claimed try scoring bonus points, sharing eight tries between them at Wooside.

Scrappy start feeds into running rugby

 

The hosts’s stand-off opened the scoring on ten minutes from close range after a slightly hectic opening period which saw several handling errors in muddy conditions.

Ross Sutherland then responded almost instantly through Chris Watt who found a gaping whole in the hosts’ defence to score.

The hosts then hit the front again through Andy Forman who latched onto a Jamie Stephen pass, the Full-back doing well to set Forman on his way for the score.

Watt then added his second for Ross just before the break to make it a two point game again as the flanker made a good break to leave a disorganised Aberdeenshire defence behind.

Indeed, the Invergordon side started the second-half brightly as well, with centre, Ali Kennedy finishing of a good team try.

John Mann’s conversion made it 14-19 and it briefly looked like there might be a shock on the cards at Woodside if Ross Sutherland could maintain this momentum.

There was a momentum shift on 50 minutes, but it was in the hosts’ favour instead when Aberdeenshire centre, Malcolm White finished off a superb try in the corner.

Harrow then did brilliantly to add the extras from the tightest of angles and the hosts had the lead once again.

This try seemed to relight Shire’s attacking firepower and seven minutes later, Keiran Fulton did well to finish in the other corner for his team’s fourth try.

The tough conversion was missed this time round, but it looked as though the hosts could start to regain some control from that point.

Ross Sutherland wouldn’t give in though and Matthew Robinson’s converted try set up a scintillating finish as the sides drew level.

On 74 minutes the visitors had the opportunity to go ahead, but Mann’s penalty kick was just wide and it was Aberdeenshire who sealed the victory when Harrow’s kick sailed through the posts at the death.

The hosts had sealed their promotion to Caley One last week when they defeated Mackie Academy FP, but the withdrawal of their 2nds from Caley Four has proved a slight dampener on their successful season.

It was perhaps important for their confidence that they were able to grind out a win on Saturday, before their National Bowl Semi-final encounter with Dalkeith.

Meanwhile, Ross Sutherland have three games of their season left, but are unlikely to avoid relegation after results elsewhere didn’t go their way. They travel to Highland 2nds next week needing a win.

Aberdeenshire Head Coach, Barny Henderson: “It was good to get the win even if we didn’t perform as well as we can. We were missing a few key players, but we now have three weeks for the guys to recover from any injuries before we go into the semi-final. Its been difficult losing the 2nds team, but the hope is we can rebuild one for next year. I’ve been on the other side of teams pulling out a couple of days before games and we don’t enjoy doing that.”

Aberdeenshire: Stephen, MacLugash, Watson, White, Fulton, Harrow, Morris; Shrewsbury, Mackie, Littlejohn, Watson, S.Lafferty, Penman, Forman, Burton

Replacements: G.Lafferty, Davies, Carr, Dagaga, Falconer, Stuart, El Hidane

Ross Sutherland: Team sheet not available.

 

Caledonia One: Ellon beat battling Wanderers in enthralling encounter

Ellon  38(24) 

Aberdeen Wanderers  31(12) 

Ellon now sit second in the league table after an entertaining bonus point victory against a resilent Aberdeen Wanderers side.

The sides shared ten tries between them as Wanderers fought their way back into a game which the hosts looked to have tied up by the 50th minute after James Hainshaw crossed for their fifth try.

That score had made it 38-12, though within 20 minutes the visitors were back in the fight, assisted by two Scott Byers tries in quick succession.

Scores both sides of half-time prove crucial

Ellon were first to break the deadlock through a straightforward Caleb Jack penalty, but this was quickly followed by a Fraser Christie try which gave Wanderers the lead.

The centre latched onto an Ed Vickers pass at an angle and with pace to score beneath the posts.

The lead then swapped hands twice before the Meadows outfit started to pull away towards the end of the first half.

First Fraser Chalk crossed the whitewash, but this was cancelled out by a Sammy Alkhalof score in the corner.

However, it wasn’t long until Ellon regained the lead in style when Douglas Sharp picked a hole in a disorganised Wanderers defence to cross the whitewash. Jack doing well to add the extras from a tight angle.

Bradley Fraser then added another for the hosts, scoring off the back of a scrum to give Ellon a 24-12 lead at half-time.

Indeed, the Maroons and Golds also started the second half strongly when Angus Craig crossed to increase their lead after a fine piece of interplay with Mark Galloway.

The second rower made a powerful run through a disorganised Wanderers defence to score and Hainshaw’s try followed soon after from the back of another strong scrummage.

This would, however, be the last time Ellon found the try line as Wanderers regained some much-needed confidence when captain Carwyn Walker crossed after the hosts’ Douglas Sharp was sent to the bin.

It was then Byers who skilfully kicked through and gathered his own kick to score in the corner, before scoring an almost identical try minutes later to take his side to within seven points of the hosts.

This set up an exciting last ten minutes, but Ellon held their nerve to win a match which provided the gathering of supporters with plenty of entertainment on a windswept day at the Meadows.

This victory meant they overtook Dunfermline after the Fifers were defeated by runaway leaders, Orkney. The arduous journey to relegation strugglers Alloa is next up for the Maroons and Golds who will look to build on this performance.

Meanwhile, Wanderers managed to gain two bonus points from an encouraging display and will be confident they can bounce back against Glenrothes next week.

Ellon Head Coach, Craig Parslow: 

“We put a very young team out and at one point our back line was basically made up of 17-year-olds. It was a gutsy performance against a big outfit, but we did slack of slightly towards the end of the second half. We were a little naïve at times, but I’m really pleased with how the guys have been performing.”

Aberdeen Wanderers Director of Rugby, Russell Arthur: 

“We paid for that fallow period after half time, but I thought we played well in the opening stages. You can’t deny that comeback and I said during the week that Ellon would be a really tough place to travel to. I thought it was a spirited performance from the guys.”

Ellon: Shirron, Notton, Jack, Campbell, Chalk, Gray, Hamilton; Whyte, O’Brien, Galloway, Craig, Hainshaw, Brown, Rodger, Fraser

Replacements; Sharp, Aitken, Bridgeford, Fitzgerald

Aberdeen Wanderers: Webster, Alkhalaf, Christie, Scott, Buyers, Vickers, Fox; Barnes, Alexander, Strachan, Coull, Lawson, Liddle, Smith, Walker (c)

Replacements: Parkes, Knight, Dugan, Smith

Yellow Card: Douglas Sharp (Ellon)

French Flair, Irish Intelligence and Scotland’s Silly Errors

This weekend was always going to be just that little better than usual as the crème la crème of sporting events got underway in Cardiff.

I speak not of the Super Bowl in Miami, but instead of the Northern Hemisphere’s rugby showpiece where long-time supporters and long-suffering girlfriends (or boyfriends) alike were treated to two days of sporting festivities to rival Christmas.

Three encounters in three European cites each earned their place on a rugby-esque Richter scale from a small tremor on Saturday afternoon to a rather more ground shaking affair the next day in Paris.

Wales 42-0 Italy: Wayne’s Wales get off to the best possible start:

The Principality in Cardiff was treated to five Welsh tries in a dominant if slightly routine victory for Wayne Pivac’s men against an Italian side which lacked cohesion and structure.

The Azzuri travel home with no points registered and a Six Nations losing streak which has now stretched to 23 games as the Six Nations opener proved a barely competitive match up.

This year’s meeting between the two sides included open rugby but was turgid in its outcome, albeit the hosts struggled to add their much-needed bonus point after having a George North try chalked off by the TMO in the final quarter of the match.

North was eventually able to add the all-important fourth try as he powered over from close range with the assistance of an Alun Wyn Jones push. The battle bruised 34-year-old leading his side from the front with endless energy once again.

This was followed by a Josh Adams score at the death to take the hosts over the 40-point mark which completed the 24-year-old’s hat trick. The World Cup’s highest try scorer (seven) once again proved a vital finisher as he crossed the whitewash twice in the first half to give his side a commanding lead.

Adams’ second on the half hour mark was noticeable for Dan Biggar’s majestic pass through his legs to the winger who finished the move from close quarters to give the hosts a 21-0 lead at the interval.

There were other stand-out performances within the hosts’ ranks, including that of man of the match, Justin Tipuric who worked tirelessly in the Back Row with the ever-present Aaron Wainwright and the returning Taulupe Faletau.

Tomos Williams also put his hand up for selection in Dublin next week after a fine performance at scrum half.

Meanwhile, Franco Smith’s Italy aren’t likely to find a trip to Paris any easier as they look to brush themselves off.

They will need key players such as Tommaso Allan and Jake Polledri to be at their best if they are able to prove more challenging opponents to the French on Sunday.

 

Ireland 19-12 Scotland: Similar Shortcomings for Scotland as Ireland hold firm in Dublin:

Despite the pressure being heaped on Gregor Townsend and his charges, there was little expectation that Scotland would leave the Aviva Stadium with a result.

And unfortunately, but perhaps predictably for travelling fans, this hunch proved true as a strong Irish defensive performance made Scotland pay for a catalogue of missed chances and errors.

Errors which have so often put pay to the plentiful desire and skill which Gregor Townsend’s men have offered in the past and offered again in Dublin.

The Scots showed desire in bucket loads as they looked to banish the nightmare start to last year’s World Cup which had ended in an embarrassing loss to the Irish.

Townsend made ten changes from November’s loss to Japan and his much-changed side played with plenty of flair and passion, but failed to convert chances into tries.

Punters will point to a Stuart Hogg clanger as the clear and obvious error and one that could have proved a gamechanger.

In truth Hogg’s mistake was rugby’s equivalent of an open goal as the captain dropped the ball over the line after a catalogue of hard, reward less work from his forwards who were impressive throughout.

But a measured approach to this rare error from the full-back is to consider it as one of countless Scots try scoring opportunities throughout.

Eleven times the Scots entered the Irish 22 without scoring and that will worry Gregor Townsend. Perhaps this had something to do with the absence of Finn Russell. We’ll never know.

In fairness his replacement, Adam Hastings, strung a solid if not overly impressive performance together at stand-off, but maybe just maybe, Scotland needed Russell’s unyielding tenacity to unlock a prolonged and tireless Irish defensive effort.

To give them their due, Ireland defended with brutal aggression and controlled the game well, Sexton’s clinical first half finish proving crucial in an enthralling affair at the Aviva Stadium.

It was of course unfortunate that the promising prospect, Caelan Doris was forced with injury early on, but his replacement wasn’t too shabby in the form of Peter O’Mahony. A player who was at his impenetrable and streetwise best for the hosts.

His team’s opposition could have learned a thing or two from his intelligent manipulation of referees at the breakdown where a long absent Rory Sutherland and debutant Nick Haining impressed amongst Townsend’s charges.

Ireland will host Wales in a battle of the best defences while Scotland will need to work on their streetwise factor when they host England on Saturday.

 

France 24-17 England: French flair overwhelms Eddie’s England:

Even after crossing the English Channel, Eddie Jones’ England looked lost at sea for large parts of their championship opener in Paris.

Le Crunch is always an event not to be missed and its inclusion in the opening round this year added an extra dimension to an already mouth-watering match-up.

England have enjoyed an illustrious five years under Jones. Two Six Nations titles have spent time in Twickenham’s trophy cabinet and three months ago Jones’ men were 80 minutes away from winning a second World Cup.

Cheslin Kolbe’s scintillating footwork and a South African team full of passion to the brim stopped prevented a second Webb Ellis trophy from returning to West London, but England had received many a coin for some absorbing performances in Japan.

These included a rarely witnessed performance of the utmost dominance against New Zealand after France had travelled home after a calamitous second half display against Wales in the Quarter-Finals.

And yet France were expected to prove tough opposition to a more experienced, more successful, but perhaps more predictable English side.

That being said, no one surely expected the 80 minutes which followed Nigel Owens’ first blow of the whistle in a cauldron like Stade de France which never quietened.

Vincent Rattez kick started the onslaught, taking an intelligent inside pass from Romain Ntamack to cross from close quarters on five minutes. A Manu Tuilagi injury did little to help in the aftermath of this opening, as his team mates’ white shirts became splattered with blood and mud in the light drizzle.

Then on 19 minutes Charles Ollivon took advantage of a moment of English confusion and crossed for their second. Jonny May et al thought the 26-year-old captain had knocked on in the build-up to the try and stopped in their tracks.

His team looked shell shocked, distraught and lost amongst the cacophony of sound provided by French supporters starved off success and the changing rooms couldn’t come quick enough for their visitors who found themselves 17-0 down at the break.

This was most unexpected from a French side which were significant in their youth and dominance in recent under 20 world championships. Led by a captain who had never previously started in a Six Nations match and with a commanding lead this was quickly becoming their game to lose.

However, the hosts’ collapse against Wales in similar conditions in last year’s opener will have been playing on the more conservative of French supporters’ minds. Last year they had been leading 16-0 at half time. The final score? A Welsh win by 21-16. They were far from winning it yet.

After an improved England were able to finally throw some punches, the visitors soon found their nightmare becoming worse. A strong French lineout was followed up by direct running from the ever-present Antoine Dupont who set up Ollivon for his second to give France a 24-0 lead after the conversion with 25 minutes remaining.

Surely, they had won it now and would settle to hold their opponents to nul points? That of course isn’t the French way and in all fairness to England they regained some of their shape at scrum time which improved tenfold after the inclusion of replacements like Ellis Genge.

Then Jonny May scored two ingenious tries, the winger creating nothing from something on both occasions, dragging his comrades to almost within striking distance of the French in just eight minutes.

For the first May somehow weaved his way between countless French defenders with the use of his boot after performing an outrageous chip and chase in the little room he had to play with on the right wing.

The second was almost equally as impressive as the 29-year-old ripped the French defence to shreds, using his lightening pace to gas Virimi Vakatawa from a similar position. The visitors had brought it back to 24-14 with 15 minutes remaining. Was another epic comeback on the cards at an increasingly nervous Stade de France?

Despite this the hosts’ defence remained resolute against stout English attack and the world cup runners up were unable to come away with anything more than an injury time penalty. The visitors claimed a losing bonus point through the boot of Owen Farrell who had spent the previous 80 minutes looking slightly off colour.

One round in and all bets are off already. Although, French odds will surely be higher in a Six Nations in which they could finally prove their potential is worth something more than a bottom half finish and will be big favourites to beat Italy on Sunday. The task is more stark for their English counterparts who travel to Scotland far from assured of a win.

Six Nations 2020 Preview: Italy

When thinking of Italy as a country or an entity if you will, the mind might likely conjure images of warm beaches, vineyards full of grapes and great food. For most of us these images are likely to be appetising if not slightly patronising to a more realistic outlook on the Italian national identity. For someone inhabiting Aberdeen in January it is definitely an appetising idea to escape Scotland’s winter for the warmer climes of Italy’s Mediterranean coast.

National stereotypes aside, these images are a polar opposite to the images conjured when Italian rugby is added to the equation. Italy enter this year’s Six Nations on the back of a 22-match losing streak which began after they beat Scotland in Rome, during another championship which us Scots would like to forget.

There’s been several of those forgetful years for Scottish supporters and Italian supporters are perhaps more likely than others to be sympathetic to our plight. Though they may even be a little jealous that the team they’ve beat the most in the tournament have at least recorded some, if little success in recent years.

Returning to the tribulations faced by the Azzurri, and their unfortunate run is perhaps more frustrating by the fact they looked to be making real progress under Conor O’Shea. The Irishmen said as much when he resigned from the role last November after four years at the helm.

The run of results during the O’Shea years may not suggest an obvious improvement in fortunes for this football mad nation, but Italy’s two regional sides, Benneton and Zebre have both come on in this time. This can be seen in Benneton’s third place finish in Conference B of the Guinness Pro14 last season which is coupled with much improved performances in Europe.

It is also perhaps encouraging for the development of the game in the Mediterranean country that 31 of their 35 player Six Nations Squad play for these two sides. This is alongside the talent of players such as Jake Polledri, who is a regular starter in the back row for Gloucester.

Despite the talent of other key players including Tommaso Allan, Matteo Minozzi and Alessandro Zanni, there is a certain talisman which the Italians are likely to miss. Sergio Parisse planned to retire at the end of the world cup but wasn’t quite granted his wish as in an act of god, Typhoon Hagibis prevented the 36-year-old from having the send-off he wanted. The Azzurri’s final pool match in Japan against New Zealand being cancelled.

However, the former captain and formidable Number Eight has suggested he could return to the starting line-up to face England, Scotland or both. This despite being omitted from Head Coach Franco Smith’s squad for the upcoming championship. With 142 international appearances to his name, the third most capped player in rugby history would almost definitely be welcomed back by the Italian supporters.

The former full-back and Harlequins Director of Rugby, O’Shea has been replaced by Smith on an interim basis as the Italian Rugby Federation search for someone to take the reins full-time. The South African faces a baptism of fire when the Italians travel to Cardiff for their Championship opener against the reigning champions and world cup semi-finalists. Perhaps the Bok couldn’t have asked for a more challenging start to his regime.

Wales Vs Italy – Saturday 1st February @14:15:

Italy haven’t beaten Wales since 2007 when a controversial referring decision prevented the Welsh from taking an attacking line-out at the death after Chris White changed his mind about how much time was actually left after James Hook had decided to kick for touch. Search the match on YouTube if you want to see a rightly fuming Gareth Thomas. That 23-20 win is one of two occasions when the Azzurri have triumphed against their Welsh counterparts, the other coming in 2003 while Welsh rugby experienced a rather torrid time at the start of the decade.

However, Wayne Pivac and the Welsh aren’t likely to take any prisoners this time round and the Italians will need a huge, if not historic performance to come away with a win on the 1st February. Although this statement sounds harsh, Italy are yet to beat any other side than Scotland away from home. The closest they’ve come to this achievement being in 2006 when they played out an 18-18 draw with Wales in Cardiff.

A losing bonus point would be a more realistic for target for Smith and his men, but this looks unlikely. In my view, a feasible outcome would be for the visitors to leak tries in the second half, with the positive note being a couple of tries created by some Italian flair. My prediction – Wales by 20.

France Vs Italy – Sunday 9th February @15:00:

Next up for the Azzurri is a trip to the city of romance, although the atmosphere in the Stade de France is likely to be less welcoming than the sites of Paris. Although this game is often overlooked and forgotten about by the

home nations fan base, last year’s outing in Rome was exciting until the very end. This being until the home supporters had to watch Damien Penaud seal an unconvincing French win in the 78th minute.
Italy have beaten the French in 2011 and 2013, alongside a closely run 23-21 loss in Paris in 2016. On this occasion however, its my view that a French backline which is sparkling with talent will overcome an Italian side which would love to travel back across the Franco-Italian border with an unlikely result. I have been wrong before though. Very wrong. My prediction – France by 15.

Italy Vs Scotland – Saturday 22nd February @14:15:

From the outset Italy’s goal has to be record a victory this year and put a stop to a slump which has provided them with four consecutive wooden spoons and the unwanted record of having the longest losing streak in Six Nations history. This goal must surely be achieved if they want to smother the debates raging around the role which the 12th ranked side in the world play in the championship. When the Scots come a calling in Rome, Italy will have hope that they can deliver that elusive win. And why shouldn’t they be hopeful?

In the 12 victories which the Azzurri have recorded since the turn of the century, seven of these have come at the hands of Scotland. Their largest victory in the Six Nations being a 37-17 victory at Murrayfield in 2007, which was of course the Nixon family’s first outing to the rugby. Through misty eyes full of tears, we watched Italy storm into a 21-0 lead after just six minutes, as two of Chris Cusitier’s passes were miserably intercepted by the poaching Italians.

Eleven years after that sombre Scottish display, Italy should have beaten us in Rome. The Italians led the Scots 24-12 with 60 minutes remaining at the Stadio Olimpico after dominating their final match of the 2018 championship. Despite this, they some how blew their lead as Greig Laidlaw’s men managed to grab a victory from the jaws of defeat as a late Laidlaw penalty meant the game finished 29-27 in favour of the visitors.
Scotland’s away form has been below par for a long time and Italy have recorded five of their seven wins against the Scots in Rome. I predict another close one in the third round, but I’m going to say less than confidently that Scotland will steal it in a similar fashion to that match-up two years ago. I reckon it’s going to be pretty tight. My prediction – Scotland by less than five.

Ireland vs Italy – Saturday 7th March @14:15:

The record books show the Italians have struggled against Irish opposition since their participation in the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest competition began. On six occasions the men from the Emerald Isle have scored a half century of points against the Azzurri and are known for giving the Italians a bit of a beating in Dublin’s fair city. In 2018 it ended 29-10 in Ireland’s favour, while in 2016 Ireland were able to put 58 points on their Italian opposition.

Sandwiched between these two fixtures was a 63-10 battering at the Stadio Olimpico in 2017. Not a fine day to be an Italy supporter, though perhaps they can find some hope in re-watching Italy’s 22-15 victory against Ireland in 2013. Again, however, it saddens may to say that the best Italy can probably hope for is to salvage a losing bonus point from their trip to the Aviva Stadium.

Similarly, to the Welsh game, I predict Italy will be good value in that they should be able to snatch a couple of tries but will also likely leak a few. This is a game Ireland like to go all out in and if their tournament hasn’t been going quite like they would have wanted it to, Andy Farrel and his men aren’t likely to take any prisoners in this fixture. My prediction – Ireland by 40.

Italy vs England – Saturday 14th March @16:45:

It could just be the fairy-tale ending for a stalwart of not just Italian rugby, but of European rugby and the game on a global scale if Italy beat the English in Rome. This is of course dependent on the inclusion of Sergio Parisse into the Italian squad and more significantly, on a perfect rugby display by the hosts.

During 20 years of Six Nations action, the Italians have failed to better the English. This despite running them close on a few occasions and in 2017’s infamous ruck gate performance where the Italians attempted to use an unconventional method to challenge England in that encounter. It certainly left their visitors slightly befuddled and as so often in these fixtures, Italy were still in the running until around the 45-50-minute mark, before the Red Roses ran away with it.

From this year’s game I expect to a see similar structure being played out with England running away with it in the second half while Italy cross the whitewash two or three times. Expect it to be less close if the championship is going down to the wire like it did on Super Saturday five years ago. My prediction – England by 20.

My prediction for Italy – 6th with one point.

Word Associations:

Tommasso Allen – Sad he didn’t play for Scotland.

Conor O’Shea – He will be missed within the Italian coaching set-up.

Scotland – There for the taking in Rome.

Sergio Parisse – It would be great to see him pull on a light blue shirt for a proper send-off.

Rome – I would love to see a game there one day, though not a Scottish one. I’d rather it would be one I could actually enjoy without biting through all my finger nails.

Man Up – Re-post

I originally posted this on the 15th May during Mental Health Awareness week. I thought I would re-write in for World Mental Health Day which was on the 10th October. Reading the previous post I thought my writing could have been more concise and less sweary, so I  decided to implement these changes.

It was with some misfortune that I woke up early one morning last week. This wasn’t merely unfortunate because of the early hour which I’ve become unaccustomed to as a lazy, half employed student on his summer holidays. Instead, the real misfortune lay in this student’s decision to watch television while eating his breakfast.

Recently the TV in my student halls has been playing up and we have only had certain ITV channels at our disposal. Of course, this isn’t a huge issue as there’s plenty of good quality content to find on ITV. However, at 6.30 am ITV 1 viewers are watching Great Morning Britain, the channel’s attempt to rival BBC Breakfast on weekday mornings. These viewers are greeted by the sounds of a certain loudmouthed and obnoxious presenter.

This presenter and journalist adores the outrage and attention he receives for his repugnant views. Perhaps, he should even be applauded for achieving a very similar form of notoriety to the likes of Katie Hopkins. Like Hopkins, Piers Morgan has successfully created a paradoxical situation in which the more discussion surrounding his controversial opinions is always a win-win for the 54-year-old.

On this morning I was sitting in my worn-out running shorts enjoying a bowl of piping hot porridge. This is typical millennial snowflake behaviour I suppose. Meanwhile, the discussion on GMB had moved onto the topic of mental health.

I won’t take the time to recount the exact details of the discussion here as you can probably view it on STV player or YouTube if your so inclined to. I also think the tail end of the televised conversation is likely the most fascinating and stinging part.

It all ended with Mr Piers Morgan concluding that as a society we all needed to “man up” a bit. This really hit home with me and here’s why. I don’t take issue with using the pre-mentioned words per say as I’ve often used them myself in jest.

However, there is one setting where I think these words and the advice to “man up” should be avoided at all costs. This is when speaking to people who are struggling with their mental health.

As well as those with diagnosed mental health conditions, I would also refer to anyone who hasn’t been feeling quite themselves of late. This is easily all of us at given times in our lives and I’m convinced that when his massive ego allows it, even Mr Morgan admits he’s feeling down in the dumps. Maybe he feels some sadness at the realisation that he’s almost like a puppet. A puppet for outrage who spends his waking hours shouting like a dying dinosaur at the younger generations because they experience human feelings.

It was the documentary maker, Michael Moore, who described Donald Trump and everything he encompasses as being like the “sound of dying dinosaurs” in 2016. That being the politically infamous year Morgan’s friend was on the precipice of becoming the President of the United States.

It’s a good soundbite from Moore but I remain unconvinced about its actual validity. As we now know, President Trump was riding on the crest of a populist wave which may return at the next US elections in 2020. Neither is it perhaps valid when examining the views of the former Daily Mirror editor.

Many of us like to believe we now inhabit a mutually tolerant society which treats issues like mental health with the relevance and respect which they deserve. When it comes to telling anxiety sufferers to “man up”, however, I fear Morgan’s misplaced advice isn’t coming from the mouth of a dying prehistoric creature.

For me this is hugely concerning as using this rhetoric is not only plainly unhelpful, but also dangerous. Although I am of course hypocritical as everyday I tell myself to “man up”.

Feeling sad Finn? Man up. Finding it hard to concentrate on the simplest of tasks Finn? Man up. Worrying yourself into an uncontrollable frenzy Finn? Man up.

Coincidentally, the rest of that given day wasn’t a good one from my perspective. From Piers Morgan’s perspective it might have been a good day. He probably went home and watched a film or read the comments section under his column on Mail Online oblivious to the countless others who are having a bad day. Though perhaps he was having a bad day as well. We’ll never know.

I spent a large part of that day playing out the man up battle in my head. This hadn’t been specifically triggered by the insensitive discussion on GMB that morning but was more because that always how I’ve convinced myself I should cope with an anxiety that I often experience. An anxiety which returns every now and then like an annoying friend your unable to quite cut ties with.

When I struggling to control the anxiety in my complex headspace the last advice I need is to “man up”. I can’t be the only one who tells themselves that their feelings of intense negativity are non-sensical and a waste of other people’s time. I know I’m far from being the only one.

In my opinion, manning up doesn’t equate to having resilience. Today this has seemingly become an equation that is promoted by those who forever hark for the good old days when we all had a stiff upper lip and just go on with it apparently.

There is no doubt freedom of speech is paramount to the foundations of our society, but I shouldn’t be labelled an ultra-politically correct snowflake if I call you out for being horrible. I think telling people with poor mental health to ‘man up’ is quite clearly horrible.

We are reminded during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week that suicide is currently the largest killer of men between the ages of 15 and 35. Men who on receiving Piers Morgan’s callous piece of advice might not go to their local GP practice when they’re not feeling quite right. Men who will likely factor in feelings of shame and emasculation when considering whether they should open up to their friends and families. Lives are at stake.

This specific age group is often who the older generations seem to enjoy taking aim at. We are labelled weak snowflakes who can’t look after themselves. We are told we don’t have any resilience and any idea how to grow up to be breadwinners for our families.
I was lucky however, as my bad day passed and the next day was great. I went to the beach with my girlfriend and we had ice cream. The sun was shining and for once I was happy to just be living in the moment.

I’m not that naïve though. I realise there is another bad day coming and that I will try my best to face it with all the resilience I can muster. Despite my best efforts, I’ll likely telling myself to man up again and that I should stop being silly. I’ll beat myself up in inside because I’m feeling anxious and a bit miserable.

I guess my overall point is that we don’t need any help with identifying the degradation and attempted normalisation of how we are feeling. We have that part all but nailed on. Instead, we need someone to talk to. Someone who won’t belittle us because we’re not tough enough in their eyes. And by we I mean all of us.

Away Days – Taking the Ferry to Shetland

As I left my flat on a grey Aberdeen afternoon, my legs decided they wanted to take me on a long, winding route to the harbour. It was a Thursday and I should have been attending a lecture like a good student does. However, there was a good reason for my absence as the time had finally arrived to go and visit my girlfriend.

Usually it would have taken me 20 minutes or less to walk to Leah’s flat which is ironically located near the ferry terminal. On this day, however, it was going to take slightly longer and was going to involve a huge test of my pretty non-existent sea legs.
My lack of sea legs had let me down when travelling to the Hebrides in the past and when boarding the Yasawa Flyer to the Fijian islands among other boat-related experiences. I didn’t entrust a huge amount of confidence in them at this point in time, realising it would be an even longer journey if I couldn’t stomach the often unpredictable North Sea waters.

You see Leah is on placement in the Shetland Isles, but more specifically she is on placement in Lerwick, the isles’ largest settlement and a town which is home to the northernmost Tesco in the British Isles. Obviously, this was slightly less exciting than the chance to see Leah again, but it’s a fact worth noting in my opinion.

I boarded the boat a good hour before she was set to leave on her 14-hour voyage. I was very excited, but also hugely nervous. Nervous because I had no sea legs. Nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to keep my ever-restless body entertained for 14-hours. And nervous because I had stupidly been reading up on the shipping forecast and it said it was going to be a little rough.

Just before 5pm the large roll-off role-on ferry left its berth and I was able to take some good photos of the old pilot’s house, my late grandfather’s former place of work. As we left the harbour’s sea wall behind, I realised I wasn’t too displeased at all to be leaving Aberdeen behind for a few days. The Granite City was looking as grey as ever and my mind needed sometime away from the urban sprawl.

Not long after passing the new and more modern pilot house I wondered if my grandfather would have thought I was pathetic for feeling slightly seasick already as we encountered the first North Sea breakers. Having approached my reserved reclining seat nearer the bow of the ship, I quickly realised I wouldn’t be able to stay there for long as a staggered around helplessly, suddenly feeling sick to the gills.

Eventually I was able to steady myself as I became more in tune with the motion of the boat, plonking myself down in the dining area, located near the vessel’s stern.

Occasionally I would step out onto the back deck, the fresh breeze helping as I watched the coastline north of Aberdeen in the fading light. I have no doubt it could have been a lot rougher, but the occasional larger swell would sometimes result in other passengers losing their footing to the cacophony of crashing silverware in the nearby kitchen.

As the Northlink ferry steamed away from the coastline, I was even able to eat something as I gradually began to feel less queasy. My concerns where transferred from my stomach to the adventures of Winston Smith as I dived into reading ‘1984’. I haven’t read many novels in recent years but had completed 200 pages of George Orwell’s terrifying dystopian masterpiece by the time we reached Lerwick.

More importantly, it kept me busy during a long sleepless night in the dining area. I had again attempted to no avail to return to my reclining seat, but despite the calming seas, I was unable to stomach any significant time spent away from my camp out near the vessel’s stern.

At around midnight the MV Hrossey had reached Orkney. I watched the lights of Kirkwall flickering from out on the deck as a sniffer dog smelled me curiously. I wondered how easy it would be to smuggle illegal substances into the Northern Isles, though this dog was more interested in my polos in my pocket.

After departing Kirkwall, the remainder of the journey was punctuated by short cold and uncomfortable bouts of sleep and reading. Unsurprisingly, ‘1984’ wasn’t doing much to lighten the mood as I sat alone, trying to ignore the noticable motion of the boat.
Throughout the night, I often wondered out onto the back deck, shivering uncontrollably as I watched the slight outline of the vessel’s wake as it cut through the icy cold North Sea waters. There was very little else to see except the frequent emergence of the stars in the night sky when the clouds would temporarily clear.

However, I found peace in looking out into the dark abyss as I searched for any distant lights of other boats, land or oil platforms in a natural darkness unlike any other I had ever experienced. There was something mysterious and slightly magical about it all as I looked out into the seemingly never-ending darkness. I almost felt like the world was my oyster, a feeling which had escaped me in recent months.

Eventually, the darkness faded into light as we passed the southern tip of the Shetland mainland, before Lerwick came into view on the starboard side of the boat. My poor stomach was finally able to relax as the Captain skilfully manoeuvred his boat into its berthing spot in the town’s harbour. I had somehow survived the journey without throwing my guts up. Perhaps I do have some sea legs after all.

Before I knew it I was on dry land again and with Leah, having experienced what getting the boat to Shetland is like. It had been a long, tiring journey while being an adventure which had reminded me about how exciting travelling can truly be. It was also worth every second as Leah reminded me when she gave me a big hug in the ferry terminal.