Skip to content

New Life’s Resolution

So it’s been a while since I wrote anything that wasn’t about sport or media. Something a bit more personal. That is largely due to the fact that (while I will never be finished growing as a person) I have come through the hardest period of my life and am settled and happy. There’s not too much to talk about when everything is working out so well; and not a lot of time to do so when I am busy with so many of the things I missed out on while I was ill.

Now, while my physical condition is always fragile and potentially on the brink of disaster (touch wood); my mental state has never been stronger. So at 23 years of age I am about to attend my first music festival, so I thought I’d write about why.

As you possibly know; during 2009 I started getting really ill. Into 2010 and I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis which is a lifelong condition with no cure. By 2011 I had dropped out of University and was entering a lengthy period of being housebound. By the time 2012 came around I had split up with my girlfriend and was crippled by a routine of daily anxiety, a mind boggling steroid dose and a never ending disease. We had started to realise as a family that the physical and psychological aspects of this disease were intrinsically linked and that while I was doing everything to improve physically (I event started smoking for its reputed effect of Colitis) I needed to do the same thing mentally. I had an anti anxiety prescription, I was determined to gradually test my boundaries, and even had a course of hypnotherapy. By the end of all this the extent of my progress was sitting on the public bench opposite my house for several minutes until panic got the better of me.

But, for the fact that I have written extensively about this period of my life, I will spare you my eloquence for the salient fact that these limitations had become… somewhat tiresome.

Drastic action was necessary. We were all so desperate that any kind of reservations for the next step were secondary. We might have been aware to some degree that what was to happen next might simply break my brain; but if it ain’t fixed, don’t leave it.

If you’re afraid heights, what do you do? If you’re afraid of spiders, what do you do? If you’re afraid of stepping outside your front door… you fly to Malaysia.

I have very little memory of travelling to the airport. Except that my eyes took a long while to adjust to having to look at things further away than the walls in my house. The panic was strangely subdued, as if my mental demons were so taken aback at this brazen show of defiance it took them some time to gather their considerable forces. During activities like queuing, for example, they were back in their comfort zone of tearing mine to shreds. I took twice the Valium dose necessary for a general anaesthetic, as well as a large number of beta-blockers. I’m sort of surprised my heart didn’t just stop; but my body was producing enough adrenaline for me to be in tears of fear by the time I boarded the plane. But at 37,000ft I had little choice. I had to cling on to the spider at the edge of my cliff, and wouldn’t be properly letting go for two weeks. By the time I got home I may not have been fun to be around, I may not have been happy, but I was alive. And I was able. It amused and frustrated me that shopping and driving were still at all intimidating, but I had a point of reference in my head to look back upon and draw inspiration from. 2012 was an incredibly tough year. There were a plethora of reasons to feel depressed and angry, but at least I was conscious to start experiencing life again. The process was stunted by circumstance and medication, but at some point I realised I had to stop being a passenger any more. Whether my clinical condition had improved or not, I don’t really know, but my acceptance of it had. And really, that was all I needed. That and a plan.

It had been a couple of months since Malaysia, so what was next? I got a job. 2 hours. Twice a week. It was terrifying and exhausting, but it was consistent, and it was normal. I started having places to go and people to see again; and it was not acceptable for me to continue to allow myself to be bullied by my own brain. Being social again was more frightening that would make sense to explain, but it was normal and it was necessary. I needed to get a qualification in the bank, having no real career prospects. All of these normal things felt like huge milestones in 2012, and if there’s one thing that I learned that year, it’s that life is a skill that needs to be practised.

I was aware after each step of the holistic benefit to my self. I was noticing taking two steps forward and one step back. I was pleased with where I had gotten to, but I was hungry for more. I wanted to take two steps forward and one step further, and I learnt something about myself as well. I am a creature of habit. I had developed a powerful desire to accept defeat; born from the unpleasantness of pushing through daily panic attacks, and dreading the next day where the same futile battle would take place. Habitual living is part of what makes me me. It had once made me a determined, and well rounded individual, but it had also cost me close to two years of my life.

The solution to this issue was very simple. I had never taken a New Year’s Resolution before; but this sort of task needed reason, and structure if it was going to work for me long term. I set myself the task of doing one thing every month that scares me.

I don’t know if that sounds like nothing, or too much, stupid, or genius, fun, or pointless. But I knew at the time that I needed it, and I know now that I have loved it.

Some of things have been extremely simple. The sort of thing that might sound like cheating if you weren’t in my brain, but I can tell you that accepting tickets to the Heineken Cup Final in a different city with one night’s notice is far beyond what I thought I’d ever be able to achieve when I was sat staring at my house, hyperventilating on a bench. Some things were inevitable, long term investments in myself. Like starting Uni again, and joining a rugby team. Some of them were (and I hate to say it) YOLO experiences that I would never had said yes to without this resolution. A somewhat spur of the moment trip abroad for a single night and nowhere to stay is something I wouldn’t have considered even before I got ill. A planned, but terrifying nonetheless, journey to Rhodes to for a holiday romance. Open mic nights; which have always racked my nerves.  Entering a powerlifting competition that required strict training and dieting (the polar opposite of comfort with Colitis). I have been fortunate enough to have had opportunities for several public speaking events which are always deceptively nerve racking; but now are something I can enjoy. And now, my first music festival.

I have mentioned this goal setting strategy briefly on my blog before; and largely in the context it is here: to manage my Colitis and medication induced anxiety. But it has become so much more than that. Having had the two best years of my life after unquestionably the two worst, I found that the things that scared me stopped being quite such a big deal. You know what’s ironic? Doing them has become a habit. I now automatically accept opportunities that would have been easier or less stressful to ignore. The doubt I used to feel so intensely barely registers any more. It’s nice to look back on some of the experiences I’ve been afforded or created in 2015 and know that it was a given that I would take the challenge head on and not only thrive but enjoy.

I mentioned earlier that I am never done growing and that is because I won’t allow myself to settle. I no longer accept comfort over opportunity, and this is the essence of making yourself a more rounded person. Don’t get me wrong; I still know the value of comfort, and the essential role it also plays in managing my disease at times. But I treat it as what it should be: a luxury.

For over a year now I have been largely burning the candle at both ends; trying to cram in two years of missed exploits into this one. I know that soon that will have to stop; but once a month to find some way to inspire and motivate yourself isn’t too much to ask, right? I might have started this as a way to make my life normal again; but I am continuing it to help make my life extraordinary.

IMG_1983

Advertisements

15 Things that have annoyed me about the General Election

  1. The bloated coverage. There has been an unprecedented amount of nothing. Which is frustrating when looking out for the “somethings” that might entice you to vote.
  2. The inane questions that don’t consider the big picture. We all want the Prime Minister to increase minimum wage, cut the deficit, create more jobs, fund schools and the NHS, reduce tuition fees and taxes, and make Britain the world leader in technology, enigneering and lead the way environmentally. Are you not listening David Cameron!?
  3. The public trying to “politic” politician’s like they’re on trial; and not simply accepting answers being given. I listened to a 20 minute podcast about the living wage; and believe it or not, Mr Cameron did not know the exact figures for every region in the country. And he couldn’t live on £6.50 an hour. What an ignorant twit.
  4. The “cool” factor of having an opinion because… politics.
  5. The ignorant advice from said “cool” people on Facebook comments. Baaaasically, yeah, they’re all gonna fuck the country right up.
  6. The want for change for change’s sake and general criticism of everything because politics.
  7. The reminders that thousands of people died so that we have to vote. That was the reason, right?
  8. The door to door propaganda. I miss Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  9. The Facebook sharing status. So a lot of my friends have voted. how surprising!?
  10. The question “are you voting?”
  11. The question “why not?”
  12. The pressure to vote…but only for MY party. Not the others. That’s a waste of a vote.
  13. The idea of a wasted vote.
  14. The seemingly overwhelming disregard for compromise…from the public. The government should cater to my every whim, and until that happens, I’m voting for fascism.
  15. Ed Miliband.                                                            

16 Reasons to NOT like Jim Halpert

Let’s be honest; more or less everyone likes Jim. But he is portrayed to be the perfect man in many ways. I am here to provide the other side of the argument in the form of 16 solid bullet points.

  1. He’s kind of a douche to Karen. He won’t let her move in to a house two blocks away from him because it would be too much like they’re living together? She’s already living like 10 minutes away bro? Grow up.
  2. He’s disproportionately mean to Dwight. Dwight’s annoying. I get it. But Jim torments him. A lot. And elaborately. Many of them (whilst hilarious) go far beyond a mere prank. He tries to get him fired and make him literally lose money. That’s just malicious. Especially cruel is the purse girl set up in Season 1. He deliberately sets Dwight up to fail and laughs all the way.
  3. He’s quite manipulative. This example could have appeared in the previous paragraph; but he is very sneaky about creating a situation where Michael and Dwight fight at the dojo. He uses Pam as a pawn and uses subtle derogation. The branch is having to compete to stay financially viable, and yet he manipulates a scenario for them to all skip work. You might not want to work there Jim, but other people actually need their jobs.
  4. He’s kind of a butthurt. When Dwight snowballs the shit out of him, he plays victim pretty strongly. It’s not even close to being even between you two; let him win one!
  5. He flirts a lot with an engaged girl. Sure, it’s the big love angle of the series; but that’s really not OK dude. If someone gave my fiancée a teapot full of romantic (borderline creepy) mementos, I’d pepper spray that fool and call security.
  6. He’s a coward. He gets really worked up during moments of tension, and always goes into flight mode. When Andy gets angry after he Jello-ed his calculator and kicks a bin, Jim panics. It was your prank; accept there are consequences!? Ditto for Dwight and the snowballs. And on the beach day when Stanley runs at him, he absolutely wets his pants. Man up, it’s only old, fat Stanley!?
  7. He has poor self discipline. This is demonstrated throughout in many ways but as we’re talking about old, fat Stanley… Jim can’t beat him at push ups!? Slim Jim the basketball king!? Do you even lift bro!?
  8. Not good at confrontation. He avoids talking things over with Karen. He doesn’t want to discuss his new career intentions with Pam. He needs to be drunk to break up with Katy in season 2; and then does it like a dick. He never stands up to Todd Packer despite the constant insults. He never goes to Pam’s Meemaw after revealing she is pregnant; Michael even has a go to smooth things over! He gets repeatedly steamrollered by Robert California. He can’t say no to his new business associates in Season 9 when they want larger investment. Want more?
  9. Can’t deal with being disliked. He is an absolute sycophant to Charles Minor, repeatedly trying to get him to return his goodbye, and not wanting to get the run down wrong, or even ask him straight up.
  10. He’s just a yes man. He says what everyone wants here. I’ve already mentioned a couple of examples, but he even does it to his wife: Pam- “Maybe I’m over reacting?” Jim- “maybe.” Pam- “But I don’t think I am.” Jim- “You’re not.”
  11. He’s not honest. Similar to my last point, one the biggest reasons to dislike Jim is in the final season when rather than communicating with Pam effectively about his plans for a new company he lies and agrees to not do it (!?) then just “decided yes anyway”. And Pam gets painted as being more in the wrong than he is?
  12. He’s a kiss ass. I’ve mentioned one instance of him letching Charles Minor, but then lying about being into soccer, and trying to pretend he’s the “Number 2” of the office. Just do some work Jimbo!
  13. He’s so messy, and doesn’t Darryl into consideration at all when they live together. It wouldn’t take much effort to be slightly more bearable when temporarily living with your good friend. But Jim’s not used to spending time with other people.
  14. He doesn’t like parties!? Home by 9 on NYE!? Just have fun dude, stop being self absorbed. There might have been people who wanted to see you on New Years. Not anymore.
  15. He’s unambitious. He stays at a job he doesn’t like for years, and even when his only reason for staying (Pam) rejects him, he just moves sideways. Sure he eventually moves up slightly, and eventually moves on; but how long did it take? Long enough to criticise Pete in the final season for ending up at Dunder Mifflin for years. And years.
  16. He refuses to make friends with the people he works with more so than any other character. Even though they all become close by the end, Jim (and Pam to an extent) don’t engage with the others. They don’t even want them to come the Wedding. I don’t remember Phyllis having that issue, and it’s not like Jim has all these other friends. And when they do get married, they just go off and do it on a boat while everyone who has travelled and paid is just sat at the church.

All in all, unless you’re Pam (and there are reasons why she might not) there aren’t as many reasons to like Jim Halpert as we have been lead to believe. I don’t hate him like a certain Phoebe Buffay (https://jonclarke14.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/22-reason-to-hate-phoebe-buffay/); but maybe you’ll agree he’s far from perfect.

Wrestlemania 31 Review

Rolling into this year’s Wrestlemania most fans (quite rightly) criticised the lackluster build. I was in agreement; but felt like the card was strong enough to make up for it. In some ways I was right, but in others… I still feel slightly flat. This Wrestlemania had a number of fantastic moments, but the overall pace was sluggish, the big fight feel was missing…until the main event. That’s what the world is talking about, that’s what will be remembered, so that’s where I shall start.

By the end of this match I felt like WWE could book any result and I would have been equal parts surprised and delighted. How often does that happen!? The crowd was properly hot for the first time all night, and I have to say a major reason was Roman Reigns. How is this guy still getting booed? He might not be a technical marvel, or a silver-tongued poet; but he is exactly what he claims to be- a badass Samoan. Lesnar gave the doubters everything they wanted: a beat down. It was like SummerSlam all over again. Except this time, when Reigns rallied it felt electric and realistic. It was great Professional Wrestling. It even seemed like he was turning the crowd slightly to his favour, converting the boos with his high octane offence. It reminded me of Rock getting booed vociferously at Wrestlemania 18 only to have the fans cheer in awe as he elbowed Hogan.

Reigns smiling through the ass kicking reminded me of Mick Foley smiling in Hell in a Cell. It was a guy showing that he is made for the business of Professional Wrestling and (to quote from amateur wrestling) is Embracing The Grind. As a babyface it showed his guts and resilience; whilst at the same time infuriating the Lesnar fans. They didn’t want to see the Samoan Superman shrug off the suplex slurry. It was the perfect execution of a main event in the Reality Era. Brock was the unstoppable force, and Roman the immovable object.

And cometh the hour cometh the man. I can’t say I was remotely surprised. WWE had to have a cash in at ‘Mania one day, and it could not have been more perfect. They had to know the Rollins was going to blow the metaphoric roof off the place, and by doing this he looks like the conniving heel he has played so perfectly, whilst keeping the other two looking strong. Reigns comes out looking like a man refusing to be beaten, with an arsenal to win any match from any situation. Lesnar still looks like the destroyer he is. And Rollins looks like…the WWE champion. You have to think this sets up a perfect triple threat for extreme rules that has match of the year written all over it. That, upon reflection, feels like the theme of this Wrestlemania- a prelude to something better. That might be a shame in some ways, but in the mean time I shall discuss what we have been given so far.

The opening match was a smart choice. Giving Bryan another win makes for a feel good vibe, taking away crowd anxiety about him getting screwed out of another Wrestlemania moment, and a great fit for the intercontinental title. Although, I didn’t think the match itself was that great. A couple of fun spots and a hellacious bump for Ambrose but this didn’t feel in the league of some of the great Wrestlemania ladder matches of years gone by. This maybe sets up a one on one match for Bryan and Dolph which will steal any show it finds itself on. I fear for the direction, and the cranium, of Dean Ambrose though, which is something I hope is treated as a priority moving forward. The legends congratulating Bryan was a great touch to highlight the title…but Ricky Steamboat saying the match rivalled his classic with Savage!? What!? Why did that need to be said!? Just so forced and such a fallacy. It really annoyed me!

Something that didn’t annoy me was Randy Orton taking on the soon to be World Champ. As good a match as they could have put on so low down the card, and an unbelievable finish that was the highlight of the undercard by a very wide margin. These two guys are on another level from most of the roster, and this was one match I will be watching over again.

And then the main events started. And another theme for Wrestlemania 31 was established- amazing entrances. Terminator H did have me marking out pretty hard! And seeing Sting in a WWE ring was special enough to redeem this bout in the history books. Just. The main thing I will take from this match was the horrific looking bruising going down Triple H’s thigh. I worried that his Quad had completely ripped off his hip and every small bump had me cringing. Nothing seemed to get in the way though, but the sight of it darkening throughout made for uncomfortable viewing. It was fitting that the match became an overbooked mess with interruptions galore as it delivered what we really wanted which was the last showdown between WWE and WCW. The fact that it looked like a TNA main event from 2010 dampened my enjoyment of the appearances. Everyone involved has been overexposed in this style to make it the jaw dropping clash of factions it should have been. But hey, it’s happened. Sting wrestled at ‘Mania and looked good enough to have at least one more match. It’s just a shame that that match will be happening five years too late.

The Divas match happened next. Then it ended. That is all. Nothing happened that signalled a change in the Diva’s division which should have been the aim here when exposing their brand to a huge audience. An NXT debut or a Ronda Rousey spot would have made this exciting. But it wasn’t.

By the time Cena and Rusev were up, I had decided that I simply didn’t care. Unfortunately. I’m a big Cena fan, and I like what’s cooking with Rusev, but this didn’t feel like a big ‘Mania match, and the grand entrance for Rusev seemed slightly overdone. Only time will tell whether or not the result was the right decision. Traditionally the face getting the big win and slaying the monster its the way to end a feud at Wrestlemania but Rusev going over and forcing himself into main event contention would have been fresh and exciting. But now I wonder if this sets up a Cena V Bryan unification bout. If so, sign me up.

It was 42 minutes between the final bell of this match and the opening bell of the next. That was too long. But at least they filled it with one of the most epic moments of this or any Wrestlemania. Anything that involves Ronda Rousey is must-see TV at this stage. She is the female Lesnar. The fact that she was wearing a Vegeta Dragonball Z shirt made it even better. But it took too long to get to it. For once, the Rock’s music hitting didn’t give me the goosebumps it usually does. It seemed shoehorned rather than organic or shocking. And he seemed slightly off? Not sure if anyone else will agree, but he didn’t come across as funny or electric as usual going by his very high standards. The segment dragged until Rousey entered. The sight of that alone had my fan boy levels over 9000. I can only hope she has further involvement in some capacity. Hell, give the Four Horsewomen contracts tomorrow.

The next match for me was the biggest disappointment of the night. Wyatt reportedly suffered a worrying ankle injury that put the match itself in doubt. But regardless, it was handled poorly. It just felt like an Undertaker match on raw. There was no intrigue throughout, and the couple of predictable spots like the sit up/ spiderwalk confrontation was let down by wrestling by numbers for the most part. This was an occasion to do something attention grabbing for Wyatt. A dominant opening; a Sister Abigail straight away would have made me sit up. Tell the narrative of a past-his-prime Taker being toyed with by a younger, hungrier predator. Instead it was the usual shtick of the heel being afraid of Taker when the bell rings and then a finisher trade before tombstone and done. At the very least, Wyatt had to leave as the dominant figure, even without the 1, 2, 3. Undertaker should have been dominated for much of the match, rallying in the way Reigns did in the main event and maybe sneaking a win with Hell’s Gate, or something unexpected. For a first appearance after the most shocking moment in WWE history, this was inexcusably flat. It did nothing to promote Wyatt as the new Face of Fear. It did nothing to tell the story of Undertaker’s resurrection; and unfortunately it did nothing to make a Sting V Undertaker dream match any more appealing. Ouch.

So Wrestlemania is in the books. I will remember it for an incredible RKO, stunning entrances, Ronda Rousey, and a perfect main event. In terms of comparing it to other editions of the showcase of the immortals, it falls short in terms of undercard, build up, and big fight feel. Choosing not to number it will not help prevent it falling into the obscurity of memory, but when it was good, it was very, very good. It has me excited for the year to come in preparation for Wrestlemania 32 which I can’t help but feel will be one to remember.

Ridiculously Premature Wrestlemania 32 Fantasy Booking

There are far too many variables to take into account, but WWE has plenty of options for exciting, fresh match ups to have in the offing. Some may have happened before SummerSlam, some might not happen for years. But I’d be pretty happy to get even one of these guesses right! I have listed these potential match ups in terms of how confident I am they will be booked.

Sting V Undertaker It WILL be taker’s last match. I have a feeling he will beat Bray this year but continue on to extreme rules to put him over. Sting will have more business to deal with once he’s gone past triple h. WWE would not have missed the opportunity to book this match and with both guys on the same card that to me signals it WILL happen.

Roman Reigns V John Cena Cena will continue his trend of facing younger guys at Mania, but will be closer to the main event with this pairing. This will be a passing of the torch in the most legitimate sense. I feel like the crowd reaction alone would be worth making this a main event.

Brock V Rock This is a huge money match and both guys are still athletic enough to do it justice. It was an epic first time round, but that story needs closure.

Bryan V Rollins This will happen at Wrestlemania one day; it’s too perfect to ignore. Hopefully for the WWE title…but somehow I don’t see that. Sad face.

Bray Wyatt V Triple H I can see a face turn in the offing for Bray at some point in the next year. Targeting the head of the Authority would be an interesting dynamic. This would be a tremendous build and match in my opinion.

Dean Ambrose V Sheamus I’d like to see Ambrose higher up the card, but unfortunately I feel like the company just isn’t as behind him as they should be. This is still a big match against a former world champ, but it’s hardly the main event.

Ziggler V Rusev Rusev may well have cemented himself as a top heel by this stage, but no one can make him appear that way more than Ziggler. Even though they have met before, both guys can look great in this match.

Six Nations 2015: An English Perspective

Screenshot 2015-03-25 13.56.24

(Credit to Tom Brewer @tombrewer_ for this tremendous performance tracker for the six nations.)

It seems the country has mixed views on this year’s six nation championship. Discrepant terms “unacceptable” and “encouraging” have been used in the wake of surely the most extraordinary day in the history of, not just the six nations, but rugby as a whole. So in this article I plan to take the longitudinal view of things I wish had been done differently, the performances in each position, and how this sets us for the elephant in the changing room- The World Cup.

It makes sense to start at the front row, as this is the area about which I have the least to say. Partly because my expertise of the small numbers is minimal, but also because I’m simply content. I would have done nothing differently before or during the championship, and moving forward, I consider it to be England’s most settled unit. Firstly, as a scrum England were impressive for the most part. And in the loose the starting trio look to be on a unique level of emulating their back row contemporaries, with Marler chopping down trees and Cole picking up scraps. Hartley remains, in my books, the stand out all round hooker; and while there are question marks about his temperament, maybe he gives England some of the niggle that seems to lack when the intensity ratchets up.

Speaking of intensity, it sure was a pleasure to see the return of Courtney Lawes in the engine room. Not to say we were poor without him by any stretch, but in their absence; Lawes and Launchbury conspicuously reminded us that they are possibly the best lock partnership in the world. It was a good opportunity to blood players like Kruis and Attwood, and reintegrate Parling; but clearly as a competition for bench seats for the rest of this year.

Before moving onto the ever contentious backline, I’ll finish with the back row; where once again; I wouldn’t have done too much different. It won’t be long before Dave Ewers enjoys a few cameos, and until Nathan Hughes is England qualified, and Ben Morgan recovers, the hierarchy is quite clear. Billy Vunipola will hold that shirt until someone smashes it away from him, which may well be never. The stats showed he carried the most metres and beat the most defenders of any forward in the championship. (Although Sean O’Brien missed his fair share of game time!). Haskell enjoyed rare starts and impressed for the most part, but I see him being pushed if Wood’s club form picks up. And I have to believe that Calum Clark will be in the mix by the end of the club season. And finally, what more does Chris Robshaw have to do to eradicate all doubters? Short of putting a hit out on Steffon Armitage, there is nothing I can think of. He was immense in every aspect and in every game. For me, the player of the tournament. If Armitage is to feature moving forwards it will be as a sub covering the whole back row. Robshaw is irreplaceable at this stage.

Now we leave the comfortable platform of the tried and tested for the murky waters that is the backline selection. Here, I have a multitude of issues. Deep breaths everyone. For four games I was wondering what on Earth Ben Youngs was doing to slip under the radar of vilification. And then he shut my mouth with a jaw dropping performance…if that makes sense. He is a natural leader, and a big match player; I simply worry about his consistency. But until one of the many in the chasing pack puts down a marker he is the incumbent number Nuevo. I can’t help but feel that having Wigglesworth on the bench is something of a waste. As a kicking nine, he is somewhat moot with George Ford’s level of game management. And with better deliverers and running threats to compliment the Bath fly half, I’m unsure of his place within the squad. This was made clear when injected into the final minutes against France, when tries were needed and Youngs was buzzing. A game changer like Simpson might fit better on the bench.

What infuriated me most about the thought process of that substitution was that it was the opposite to the decision to not use Cipriani at all against Ireland. A game we never looked like winning, and we have a talent like Cipriani available…and he doesn’t even get tried? What’s the point? I appreciate the faith shown by Lancaster in Ford to be an 80 minute player, but then I can’t help but question Cipriani’s squad value in that case. He seems to be considered the fullback cover; but it is many a season since he dazzled from there. He is a 10, and a 10 only in my view. So as much as I buy into the resurgent Cipriani, if Ford is the choice (and there is only one reason why he wouldn’t be) then surely a player like Henry Slade is more valuable. Someone who can cover both centre positions and fly half and ooze class from each is worth more than Cippers and Twelvetrees combined in my view. Not fully involving a young man of his calibre at this stage is a sin of biblical proportions. He could be everything that England lack. But we shall be none the wiser come the World Cup. Oh and that one thing I mentioned about Ford is that he can’t kick from over 40 metres, and typically misses one sitter per game. He has come a considerable way to clearing his name in this regard with the pressure kicks against France which really were impressive, though I thought he looked uncharacteristically flustered at times in attack. To be critical of his play with ball in hand, despite some truly world class touches, is mostly just an indicator of his excellence in that facet of fly halvery. He reminds me a lot of Aaron Cruden…which can be no bad thing.

Now the area of greatest contention, perhaps. The centre of the debate if you will. At least there are more positives to discuss than in the previous…ten years!? The emergence of Jonathan Joseph has given England far more options. As long as we have been looking for a twelve to go alongside Manu “shoe-in-lagi”; we now have a 13 with different, but just as effective skills. And it seems that finally England have settled on style of play that makes the most of all our weapons. As delighted as I would have been to see Slade in the starting 12 shirt, or Eastmond for that matter, it makes sense that in between our two superstars of the tournament is the closest thing we have to replicating Tuilagi. Luther Burrell has shown that he can perform at the top level, but he has also shown he doesn’t do it very often, or with the unadulterated x-factor of the Samoan bulldozer. England’s backline with Burrell is what I like to consider England lite. It’s the same patterns we can expect when Manu returns, just a watered down version of the sheer destruction he brings. As long as he has been the linchpin of our attack, now he can be used even more effectively. There’s no point having a decoy runner if no one outside you can take advantage, but in JJ you have a man of such rounded skill for someone so young we are now unleashing anyone we put out wide. JJ had an exemplary six nations, and it would have been even more so, outside a runner like Tuilagi. Given this idea of a hard carrying 12 and finesse 13, it is not a far cry to be genuinely considering Sam Burgess. He hasn’t yet shown himself to be the Saviour as some may have expected, though that is due in part to the sometimes baffling way in which Bath has deployed him, but he has been impressive. By anyone else’s standard he would be having a stellar season; but as much as is expected, and as new as he is to the game, it is right to let him find his feet. But he certainly has the potential to fill the role of a hard carrying 12.

Finally onto the back three, which has been chopped and changed as much as any faction under the Lancaster regime. This partly due to having a plethora of legitimate options, but also due to the fact that some players obvious shortcomings have been slow to manifest. Jonny May is one of those players who is not of out and out international standard; he just has Earth shattering pace. Every time you thought it’s time to try someone else, he would score a wonder try that only he could score. This delayed the inevitable in bringing in more deserving players. I have been delighted with Jack Nowell who was the outstanding wing all tournament and has cemented his place in the side. Finally a wing who simply cannot be dropped. Watson on the other hand has all the hallmarks of a talent not yet ready to be in a World Cup winning campaign. The stats say he beat the most defenders of any player, but stats don’t tell the whole story. As many good things as he did, he undid them with moments of panic or clumsiness. I would have chosen to have him on the bench, as someone who can cover all the back three with great effect. As he develops he may be a long term starter in the white shirt, but again, there is plenty of unfortunate talent missing out. Since being dropped David Strettle has been in the form of his life for Sarries. His team mate Chris Ashton has returned to his poaching best. The recently dominant Rokoduguni has lost all confidence having been dropped after a rare loss of faith from Lancaster. And it seems that until Christian Wade is proven at international level, he won’t be picked for internationals. I hope this mindset doesn’t take too long to change. He is the most dazzling attacking threat England has seen since Jason Robinson…or arguably ever.

At full back Mike Brown is back on the rise. I fully expect him to peak for the World Cup. Even below his unplayable best, he brings an intensity and consistency that no other 15 can bring. Ben Foden’s return could push for a bench spot, but the palpable desire Brown radiates is enough on its own to keep credit in the bank. I just hope he stops being shunted onto the wing. Another pointless attribute of Cipriani’s bench tenure.

So in summary, for me the pack is a deep, and effective roster with a hierarchy as clear as ever. Armitage remains to brought in for Hail Mary time, but even so, they are capable of winning the big one. I’d like to see Wood back in to start and Haskell on the bench as a player with tremendous impact who can effectively cover 6, 7, and 8.

The backline is taking shape more definitively than it has in recent memory. We have a 10 to build the team around, and a simple shift of Manu into 12 will present headaches for any defensive coach. I would like to see a winger do a Jack Nowell and make himself undroppable, and have Watson on the bench. Slade needs to be involved in place of the woeful Billy Twelvetrees, whose current value is a ten minute cameo of desperation. With those two and a second scrum half, we have serious threats that will be hard to ignore at 60 minutes, rather than players being shoehorned late on to stretch the legs. If the unthinkable should happen to Ford, then the stage is set for one of sport’s great comeback stories; for Danny Cipriani to fulfil his longstanding prophecy and deliver his country the one trophy that really matters.

So here is my team of the tournament: plenty of English players, but an Irish Kiwi at the helm:

Head coach: Joe Schmidt

  1. Marler
  2. Ghiraldini
  3. cole
  4. Wyn jones
  5. O’connel
  6. O’mahony
  7. Robshaw
  8. Vunipola
  9. Murray
  10. Ford
  11. Nowell
  12. Henshaw
  13. Joseph
  14. Bowe
  15. Hogg

Wrestlemania 31: Fantasy Booking

This year, I must say, I have been extremely satisfied with how the dance partners have lined up for the show of shows. Provided Daniel Bryan gets his show stealing opportunity against Dolph Ziggler then all the pieces will have fallen in together. But, as always, there is more than one way to do things; and half the fun of being a wrestling fan is dreaming up how you would choose to have things play out. In this fantasy booking I can only use wrestlers available to WWE so there will be no CM Punk V Stone Cold bout on my imaginary card. The other guideline is that my retrospective build can only go back to the start of the Road to Wrestlemania. WWE promotes this as being the Royal Rumble, but more often than not the preliminary seeds are sewn around Survivor Series. So I cannot, for example, realistically put Tyson Kidd in my main event. That build ain’t happening. But, just for funsies, here is one Wrestlemania scenario that we won’t see, but would have earned my Network Subscription at least.

Main event: Brock Lesnar V Daniel Bryan.

Without trying to come across as a disgruntled meta-fan, only hate-watching wrestling to bash Roman Reigns, this is one match that I would love to see. Maybe if Brock sticks around it will happen one day. But after last year’s event, this was the biggest dream match in wrestling. I’m confident this would have headlined Summer Slam without Bryan’s injury. Bryan was riding a unique wave on top of the wrestling world, and the Beast had just ended the Streak. These two were the top two stars in the business, and taking that story full circle would have been hard to top; even though Reign’s coronation is also a compelling story.

Sting V Undertaker.

I know. It could be as bad as Great Khali doing the can-can; but it’s just one of those matches. It wouldn’t have to go very long. The entrances would be the real spectacle, and the build-up would be awe-inspiring. But I can’t help but worry about the quality of match that Bray Wyatt can draw out of Taker these days, so if he’s on the card at all why not fulfil the biggest dream match in wrestling? Or make it a triple threat with Hogan? Just kidding.

Triple H V Roman Reigns.

Reigns is destined to be the top star. And while I think he is more ready than he is being given credit for, it would have been nice to let the idea simmer a little longer. Have the Authority get wary of Reigns’ obvious ascent to the top and prevent him from winning the Royal Rumble. Have Triple H say he’s getting to big for his boots and get any ideas of a Roman Empire out of his head. Rollins in the future after all! Reigns goes through Rollins in the build-up and get the head of the Authority, the COO himself at Mania. What better way to build him up make fans forget (for a short while at least) that he is being groomed for mega stardom.

Dolph Ziggler V John Cena.

I really, really want Ziggler in a high profile match. Doesn’t get much higher than the face who runs the place. Ziggler is tired of playing second fiddle to Cena. He put the Authority out of business at Survivor Series, and where did it get him? Cena sold that up the river, and ends up with a title shot. Where is Ziggler’s title shot? Cena keeps saying that young guys need to go through him? Ziggler is ready to do just that at the Grandest Stage of them all!

Rusev wins the Andre The Giant Battle Royal.

This story with Ryback simply never got resolved. Have Rusev continue his path of destruction by eliminating the Big Guy to be the last man standing.

Bray Wyatt V  Orton.

Randy could have come back slightly earlier and wrapped up with Rollins, the feud seems to have slightly missed its peak and has been too predictable an outcome for months. Bray talks about Orton feeling lost without the Authority having his back. Randy might be the face of WWE, but Bray is the Face of Fear. Having Randy getting snap happy with RKO’s left and right on RAW as he cracks with paranoia while Bray pulls some Undertaker esque mind games would be fun to watch.

Ambrose V Sheamus.

Have Ambrose win the IC title from Bad News at Fastlane. That should have happened in all honesty. Sheamus returns as a heel for the Authority and looks to cement his position by bringing some gold back to head office. Their respective intensities would have made this a fun, fresh brawl.

Rollins V Jericho.

It looks like Mania 31 could be Jericho-less which would be a great shame, but he is still receptive to good offers, and it doesn’t get much better than having a show stopping performance with the Future of WWE. Rollins has been taking pot shots at Jon Stewart, which should culminate in a silly segment on RAW. Stewart could easily bring in some back up in the form of a returning Y2J who is back to save us from Rollins’ smug arrogance. Rollins will prove once and for all that the future is here by putting the “has-been” Chris Jericho in his place.

Cesaro & Tyson Kidd V The Usos V The Ascension V Harper & Rowan

Harper and Rowan make a fantastic monster team, and they seem to be struggling on their own as late. Having had them join forces again properly at the Royal Rumble (as was teased) would have been a smart move to strengthen the tag team division. This match instead will probably feature the unfortunately struggling New Day. The match will be good but not memorable. Having Harper and Rowan reunite as an official team in the build to Mania and win their first titles here would be memorable.

Charlotte V Nikki Bella.

You could promote a Nikki Bella V Paige rematch only to have the Bellas attack Paige backstage. Paige cannot compete, but thinks she knows someone who can teach the Bellas a lesson. Out comes Flair. We’ve had lots of debuts the night after Wrestlemania, but if WWE is going to promote the Divas at all then they need to be exposed (sexual innuendo not intended) on a bigger stage. Having them all in one ring at once and getting a rushed, botched finish achieves nothing. And the shock moment of having Charlotte debut would at least get some positive social media, right? It wouldn’t be doing Paige many favours, but one thing at a time, and her character is already badly damaged. Start redefining the division first and Paige will find her place.

I know this would have produced a possibly 5 hour card, but I’d watch it start to finish. As it stands I still think we’re all in for a great Wrestlemania anyway. So let’s sit back and enjoy the road, and in the mean time, why not post your own fantasy matches you wish you were seeing come March 29th?