Rugby World Cup ends, back to normal sleep patterns

First hopes were on the United States Eagles. Just win a game, maybe get beyond pool place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. A hopeless cause, and unfulfilled.

Then I turned to Ireland. They could win the whole thing, until they could not. Then Wales, another hopeless cause when South Africa destroyed them.

Lastly, I turned to England, who played so well eliminating New Zealand from the finals.

That hope died this morning when South Africa took the championship by overpowering England’s scrums, containing their running game and out-kicking them in penalties. The score was 18-12 at one point, all on penalty kicks, which makes a boring game. Then at 66 minutes into the game, the Springboks opened up scoring with two tries before the game ended, 32-12.

A more interesting game was Friday morning when New Zealand clobbered Wales 40-17 to take third place. One of the announcer said of Wales’ desperate effort to get back in the game, “it’s not tidy, not pretty, but there is a certain freedom in that kind of rugby” — throwing the ball around recklessly like kids on a playground playing keep-away. That’s what keeps me glued to this form of football.

No more 2 a.m. start times for rugby games, at least not until 2023 when the Rugby World Cup moves to France. Or, we could be in that time zone, just down the road a piece to queue up to get into the stadium. Maybe not a hopeless cause.

England in the finals; rooting for a matchup with Wales

“England started well and never gave us a chance to get into the game,” said New Zealand’s captain Keiran Read in a good summary of their 19-7 loss to the English side.

Manu Tuilagi scored 1:37 minutes into the match and George Ford added four penalty kicks. England had two tries called back because of infractions, one for obstruction and one for a call rarely seen: a ball slipped forward in a maul.

England’s defense kept the New Zealand running game bottled up, and we saw more missed passes and penalties from the Kiwis than we have seen in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Their only try came on a poorly thrown or lack of communication on where to ball was supposed to end up in an England lineout. It ended in the hands of a New Zealand player who went untouched five yards for the score.

It’s the first RWC game the All Blacks have lost since 2007, and they will not three-peat.

Tonight’s game — make that 2 a.m. tomorrow in Seattle — could bring a non-RWC winner into the finals if Wales can get by South Africa. Then beat England in the finals, and the Welsh will win their first RWC championship. A tall order, but we’re still singing “Bread of Heaven.”

Missed 20 rugby games to hang out with baboons

Baboon and baby

I missed watching 20 games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup to hang out with a bunch of baboons.

I thought I could watch the games on an iPad while on a 12-day trip to Kenya and Tanzania, but that did not happen. For one thing, NBC Sports Gold streaming service that I paid for is not available outside the United States. Should have read the fine print. Actually it’s in big type under the FAQ, but what male asks for directions or reads the instructions. Another problem was that my international calling plan from AT&T doesn’t cover Kenya and Tanzania. Then there was the spotty wifi coverage in game camps where we stayed. Missed hearing from friends and family, but a nice break from wars, presidential high crimes and misdemeanors and other worldly troubles as we spend our time watching “slavering animals and colorful natives” as Paul Theroux says in “Dark Star Safari.”

Well, sorry Mr. Theroux, but we enjoyed it probably more than you did in your endless bus ride across Africa.

This blog’s future posts will try to introduce those animals, slavering or not, as I edit almost a thousand pictures and videos. Lions, no tigers or bears, but lots of wildebeest, leopards, zebras, cheetahs and birds will come knocking at your door as one baboon did at the Ol Tukai Lodge in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Kathy and I were dressing in the morning when the door suddenly swung open, and there, standing on his two hind legs with his forearms stretched in front of him, was our friendly baboon wake-up call. He stared, we stared and Ian, one of our traveling companions, said from outside, “You should lock your door.” A few yells and Mr. Baboon went away but returned later to peek in the window and eat a small snake just to the side of our porch.

Baboon in window

Speaking of simian behavior, let me tell you about some of it that appeared at the Rugby World Cup before we disappeared into East Africa. The last newspaper we read in the Amsterdam airport was the Sept. 28 edition of The Times of London (lovely to have a paper that covers your favorite sport). Alex Lowe, the Deputy Rugby Correspondent, wrote about the disconnect between World Rugby’s “promised clampdown on dangerous tackles” and the referees and players on the field. In the first week of RWC play, four potential red cards were missed by the referees. Two Samoans got three-game bans for dangerous tackles in their 34-9 win over Russia. But the suspensions came after the game ended when the governing body and judicial hearings used 28 camera angles and Hawk-Eye technology (whatever that is) to spot the offenses missed by the single referee and his two assistant refs (touch judges, as we used to call them).

Reece Hodge, an Australian player, also received a post-game “red card” for a tackle that left a Fiji player concussed. In his hearing that led to his three-game suspension, Hodge “admitted to having no knowledge of the interpretation of rules on high tackles and had not been given any training on it,” according a an article by Steve James in The Times. That seems to have left the Australian coach fuming. Michael Cheika said he coached his players to tackle around the waist and “we do not need a framework to tell them how to tackle.” That framework, he said, is for referees “to decide whether there is a red or yellow cards in a game.”

That did not work in the England-United States game where Piers Francis was charged with foul play after concussing Will Hooley, a USA back. For Francis there was no yellow or red card or even a penalty in the game. The charge came later, and as Ian points out, getting 10 minutes in the sin bin (yellow card) or ejected from the game (red card) forcing your team to play a man short, could have an effect on the game if referees called them. Given that the United States was beaten 45-7, England might have won with10 men. But in another game? Could make a big difference.

Also in the news of Sept. 28: Wales was trying to figure a way to beat Australia (they did), and Ireland’s coach Joe Schmidt said he “hoped to put more width on the ball” in the their game against Japan, according to an article by Peter O’Reilly. I take that to mean get the ball out to the backs more. It didn’t work. Remember when I said Ireland beating Scotland didn’t prove much about their strength? Losing 19-12 against Japan probably says more. Still hoping for the Irish side to take the tournament, but I’m not laying any green on that pick.

Emerging from Africa and reading the Oct. 10 edition of The Times of London in the Amsterdam airport, we find that Japan and the Rugby World Cup there are battened down as Typhoon Hagibis sweeps over them. So far, there are two people dead and nine missing from the storm.

Three RWC games have been canceled – England vs. France, New Zealand vs. Italy and Namibia vs. Canada. Each of these teams will get two points, as in a tie, in the pool standings. England and France are both going into the quarterfinals and the game would have sorted out seeding. Now England goes as top seed, and France as the runner-up. Italy was going nowhere in a disappointing RWC appearance, and New Zealand will go out as top seed. It would have been nice if Canada or Namibia could get a win in the tournament, but they will have to wait another four years.

Scotland vs. Japan is where it will make a difference. If that Sunday game (starting at 3:30 a.m. in Seattle) is canceled, Scotland will lose its chance to advance out of pool play. Ireland, beating Samoa 47-5, moved into top spot in Pool A. Japan, with 14 points, is second and Scotland with 10 points is third. No game, and Japan ends with 15 points and Scotland with 12. Japan goes on as Pool A runner up, and Scotland goes home.

This, according to Owen Slot, Times Chief Rugby Correspondent, would “discredit the entire event.”

“This is the very stuff of which World Cups are made; it is two teams fighting for survival. To dispatch Scotland from the tournament because of Typhoon Hagibis would make a farce of the event.”

Probably not if players, refs and fans got carried away by flooding rivers, but let’s talk important stuff here: Scotland got screwed in the 2015 by a bad call in their quarterfinal game. The RWC should do all to give them a chance in 2019, even though I am hoping for Japan to go forward as a team outside the usual suspects: South Africa and New Zealand in Pool B; England and France in Pool C; Wales and Australia in Pool D; and Ireland in Pool A.

So far, the United States vs. Tonga game is still on (10:45 tonight). Another rugby all-nighter coming up. And tomorrow, I will sleep like a baboon, as one of the African guides said last week.

Coming up: Rhinos and USA Eagles and “Ikale Tahi” (Sea Eagles).

 

 

A bad day/night/morning for North American rugby

These are trying times for North American rugby in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Actually, there are not many tries for Canada and the United States in their games in Japan.

By the time I got out of bed and to the TV, Canada was down 10-0 to Italy 10 minutes into the match. Poor tackling, too many balls fumbled forward, too many penalties. At 17-0, the announcer said Canada had “staunched the flow of points.” But that did not last long.

Fifty-eight minutes into the game, Italy gets a penalty try because Canada collapsed a maul – and a Canadian player sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes. We’re up to 36-0 when a Canadian try is called back because it came off a knock on while trying to field a kick.

Canada did get a try at 69 minutes, but Italy scores at 73 minutes and again once more before the game ends, 48-7 for Italy. Canada did not remember how close they came in 2015 RWC, and Italy looked better than when I saw them play against Ireland in Chicago in November.

So I settled in for a hour-long nap before the England-USA game started at 3:30 a.m. Alarm set, I thought. It was not. Woke up at 5 a.m. and the USA was down 30-0. England scored three more tries and the USA got a try with time expired, 45-7 for England.

The score was bad enough, but flanker John Quill got a red card for a shoulder charge, which will keep him out of upcoming games. Will Hooley was carried off the field in the “pitch retrieval” system – a stretcher – with a concussion, and prop David Ainu’u went out with an ankle injury.

The road ahead for the USA looks treacherous:

Oct. 2 against France

Oct. 9 against Argentina

Oct. 13 against Tonga

Another rugby all-nighter, but only 2 games

Getting ready for another rugby all nighter with Canada playing Italy, starting at 12:45 a.m., and then the United States taking on England at 3:45 a.m. I should be a champ at Pilates at 10 a.m.

I hope Canada remembers how close they came to beating Italy at the Rugby World Cup in 2015. They were behind 13-10 at half but regained the lead with a try. Italy came back with another try, 20-15. Canada added a penalty kick, 20-18, and Italy finished with another penalty to win 23-18. I thought Canada could have, should have.

Maybe having four members on the Canadian team who played for the Seattle Seawolves in the Major League Rugby will help them to a win. Jeff Hassler is starting at wing, and in reserves are two props, Djustice Sears-Duru and Jake Ilnicki, and the Seawolves scrum half and coach, Phil Mack.

Oli
Olive Kilifi at 2015 RWC

The only Seawolves on the United States Eagles is Olive Kilifi, who was also on the team in 2015. Another Pacific Northwesterner is Titi Lamositele, 24, born in Bellingham and an athlete at Sehome High School. He now plays for the London Saracens in the Premiership League there.

If the Eagles beat England this morning, it might knock Trump’s impeachment troubles off the front page (if I were the news editor). ESPN had a good article on the USA chances, noting that the professional league has brought more fit players into camp. The Eagles are in the “Pool of Death,” with England, France, Argentina and Tonga ranked above them. Tonga might be their best bet for a RWC victory in 2019.

Titi
Tit Lamositele at 2015 RWC

One surprise already in the 2019 RWC: Uruguay beat Fiji last night, 30-27. Wales and Australia also have wins in that pool. Can Uruguay beat either one? Georgia, also in the pool, fell 43-14 against Wales. Los Teros also have several team members who played in the Major League Rugby. Maybe that made the difference over Fiji. With several MLR players for the USA, will it make a difference against England?

Now we’re all flying Con Air

Used to be that unless you had a condom full of hashish stuffed up your ass, you could move about this world without much stress or worry. Now anyone who tries to board a plane knows what it feels like to be a would-be drug smuggler.

The stuff might be in their shoes. Take them off. In your belt. Take it off. Your jacket, everything in your bag, your cell phone, tablet, laptop. Into the tray for X-ray. Put your feet on the footprints, hold your hands over your head for the full body scan. Might as well spread your cheeks.

Maybe making everyone feel like a criminal or an inmate at ADX is the price Americans pay to fly the non-so-friendly skies these days. It’s nice to be safe, especially at a time when everyone in the world has reason to strike out against lunatic-led countries such as North Korea, Iran and the United States. Who knows when some sane grandmother from Lichtenstein or Canada might strike out against this Axis of Weasels’?

Maybe the designated culprit will be disguised as a four-year-old, like our grandson who was pulled out of the boarding line for a second go-round with the Transportation Security Administration. The explosive might be disguised as raspberry jam, like the jar I tried to bring to a friend back home in Ohio. Or shoe polish, like that taken from Officer John, who had to wear scuffed shoes to a wedding. Or maybe in an inky jar of vanilla extract, like the one that beleaguered us as we tried to return from Mexico recently.

We cleared security as we left Oaxaca, Mexico, and again when we changed flights at the Mexico City airport. From Oaxaca to Seattle 12 hours later, we never went outside a secure area. None of that made any difference when we went through security for a third time at Salt Lake City’s airport. The TSA checkers found the three jars of vanilla extract we had purchased in the duty-free store during the stopover in Mexico City. The goods were put in a bag marked duty free and sealed with a plastic zip tie.

Not good enough, said the duty-bound rule enforcer. It has to have a tag on the zip tie that says, “Cross our hearts and hope to die, there’s no terrorist beyond this tie” or some such language.

The agent said he was sorry but he had to follow the rules.

Two choices: Surrender the vanilla extract or check another bag with it inside.

Door number three: Kathy, tired and grumpy, clobbers the agent with her handbag, sends him through the X-ray machine and starts hollering “Vanilla extract matters!” We spend the rest of our lives at ADX.

Time to step in before that door gets opened. I take the three bottles down to the Delta desk, rearrange my shoulder bag to fit them inside and check it through to Seattle despite being told it’s not regulation size. Then it was back through security for the fourth time that day.

IMG_3735.JPGYou could smell my shoulder bag before it arrived on the baggage carousel in Seattle. One of the three bottles had broken but fortunately had not brought down the plane in flight. It did turn my faithful notebook into the “Vanilla Diaries,” now has a nice aged appearance.

We’ve been reacting to the “Liquid Bomb Plot” since August 2006 when three bottle-heads in London were mercifully stopped from carrying through on plans to concoct a bomb from chemicals carried aboard separately. All three are resting uncomfortably, we can hope, in British prisons for the next 30 or so years.

But can we please make some room for common sense? Give the TSA people a little leeway to make decisions on their own? Allow passengers to taste their raspberry jam, vanilla extract or shoe polish (?!) to prove it’s the real stuff as mothers carrying breast milk have been asked to do?

Besides, in the overall scheme of things, taking my shoes off at the airport has not made the world a safer place for many people. Showing off the holes in my socks did not save the 58 people killed and the 500 wounded during a country music concert in Las Vegas. It didn’t save the 26 people killed in a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherlin Springs, Texas, or the nine shot to death at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Or the 49 dead at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla., or the 14 dead at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Or on and on and on . . .

We seem unwilling to do much to stop the terror within our borders while keeping everyone on high alert to keep out the imported variety. I’m not big on terrorism from any quarter and would cast a plague on all its sources: Akbar on your Ali-babi-ding-dong and same to our Iraqi-tacki bush wars.

Dump the fear-mongering and leave the pre-boarding jitters to those with their heads up their asses.

A drive through England’s Cotswold stirs the memories

Cotswold
Trish, Kathy and John window-shopping in a Cotswold village.

We’ve been in the Cotswold area of England before, but it was 33 years ago, which for our memory facilities is almost like visiting for the first time.

It was great to be back, traveling with John and Trish through pastures and crops separated by fences built with stones cleared from the fields and stacked without mortar. Moreton-in-Marsh, Chipping Camden, Stow-on-the-Wold, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water and Burford are still there with their stone houses, tea rooms and narrow streets (thanks for driving John and Trish).

It brought back some great memories from 33 years ago when Kathy and I went off for four months on a tour of Europe, starting in England and the Cotswold.

Wales wins, 23-13; England gets no help from Fiji

Wales will pick up four points in the standings from their win over Fiji today. But neither the Welsh team nor the Fijians could make good at the end of the game on efforts to get the extra bonus points: Wales could not put in a fourth try and Fiji could not pull within seven points in the loss. Each would have been worth a bonus point in the standings.

So Wales gathers 13 points in the standings with one game to go. A win by England Saturday against Australia would get them to within two points in the standings, a bonus point for four tries would put them within one. A win by Australia would tie them at 13 with Wales; a bonus point for four tries would give them the lead in Pool A.

Wales has one more game after Saturday, against Australia on Oct. 10. If England loses to Australia on Saturday, the Wales-Australia match will decide who goes out as the winner to face the runner up in Pool B and who will face the Pool B winner.

On doing barbecue in England

A Manhattan in a bottle. This may have taken the sting out of eating barbecue in England.
A Manhattan in a bottle. This may have taken the sting out of eating barbecue in England.

They laughed when told there was a recommended barbecue place in Leeds, England, but hunger drove them to seek it out. However, they held me responsible if it turned out to be worst than cold mushy peas.

Kathy is especially upset when forced to eat American food in foreign places. Still thrown up to me is the worst desecration (in her mind) of all time: Eating in a McDonald’s on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

“We’re in Paris, for God’s Sake,” she cried — and has ever after and that atrocity (in her mind) happened back in 1992. No matter that we had hungry, crying children to feed: “We’re in Paris, for God’s sake.”

So asking her to eat American barbecue in England was a tough sell. Plus, we had to wait to get into Red’s True Barbecue. “This better be worth the wait. You’re never picking another restaurant again if this turns out to be awful.”

The Corn Exchange in Leeds is now filled with shops.
The Corn Exchange in Leeds is now filled with shops.

So the five of us (we are now traveling with Dave, Tina and Ben Carpenter) moseyed around the Corn Exchange next to Red’s until it came time to face the music (American rock ‘n’ roll) at Red’s.

A Manhattan served in a bottle smoothed the way for Kathy. A huge selection on the menu meant something for everyone. I chose “The Sleepy James.” It was the special developed after Red’s 2014 pilgrimage to the American South. They go each year and bring back something new to share with Leeds.

The Sleepy James comes from the Dodge Gas Station in Memphis, Tenn., and is named for a near toothless wanderer near the place. “Sleepy” rambled on about drinking moonshine since he was five but started making sense when the talk turned to techniques for smoking meat and fixing barbecue.

The Sleepy James involved waffles, barbecued chicken, bacon and greens. It was delicious. In fact, it was all delicious, according to my four sticky-fingered traveling partners.

I might get to pick a restaurant again.

Dave and John at Red's True Barbecue in Leeds, England.
Dave and John at Red’s True Barbecue in Leeds, England.