Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 - A Year In Live Music

Before I start this blog about the gigs and festivals I've been to in 2015, I wanted to write a quick something about the recent passing of Lemmy Kilmister. I saw this news break and it really saddened me. I never met Lemmy, nor would I call myself a massive Motorhead fan, but his passing really made me sad. Not long after I saw the news, I remembered back to the words I wrote about Motorhead in my last blog. They weren't overly positive and ended with a somewhat unfortunate sentence, considering.

"Motorhead deserve the slot because they are Motorhead, but seeing them last year in Hyde Park supporting Black Sabbath was a little bit painful and I suspect that this will be no different...The new music they release is consistently good but live? Sadly not so much anymore. Also, there have been quite a number of cancellations recently, so I hope whoever is booked to be 4th from top is ready to step up, just in case. I hope it doesn't happen obviously, but it is an eventuality you have to be prepared for."

When I wrote those words, it was referring to Lemmy being ill. At no point was I thinking he might die. It just didn't enter my head. The sad thing though is that I was right, in the worst possible way. This is one of those situations where I definitely do not like being right. When I look back at the times I saw Motorhead live, I will likely most fondly remember seeing them at Southampton Guildhall as my favourite time seeing them. That gig was outstanding. RIP Lemmy, the world is a worse place now that you have passed.

(Source: BBC)

Nearly two weeks ago, I attended the last gig I will attend in 2015. Not long afterwards, I got to thinking about the end of year blog I write about live music and my favourite gigs and festival sets of the year. In all honesty, the bulk of that discussion was trying to remember what bands I had actually seen this year and where I had seen them rather than what gigs I enjoyed the most. I was convinced I had been to Islington Academy for a gig this year, which I haven’t and also couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been to Brixton Academy in over 2 years (again, I haven’t). Anyway, after that hurdle was overcome, I started to think on the two lists I tend to draw up and what would be on them. A list of the best festival sets this year would be a much easier list to draw up (I thought) as I was only at one full weekend festival (Download). I went to both days of Victorious Festival but don’t count that as a full weekend festival as I walked home afterwards. I was also at a bit of Camden Rocks Festival and the Radio 2 Festival in a Day in Hyde Park. Whereas in previous years, I’d have plenty of choice to make up a top 10 for festival sets, this year it was harder because I didn’t write reviews about Camden Rocks, Victorious or the Radio 2 day, so I had no scores to look back on. I know, my own fault. To make life easier for me, I have opted this year for a top 5 of festival sets, with a lot of honourable mentions, as the top 5 was definitive. So with that being said, this is the list.

Honourable Mentions:

Camden Rocks – Anti-Nowhere League; The Dirty Youth – I was feeling sad when I arrived at Camden Rocks Festival because I’d just come from watching Bath lose in the Premiership Rugby Final. I only managed to catch 3 bands because after The Dirty Youth finished, anywhere with a remotely big band playing had a queue out the door and, having lost a list of stage times, instead of seeing a random band, I decided to leave. However, both these bands here had outstanding sets. The Dirty Youth in particular really picked me up as my mood had slumped a bit before they came on stage. As a side note, as I was leaving the venue of the first band I saw (more on them later), I bumped into someone who asked me for the final result. I mentioned how Saracens had beat Bath and the guy, a Bristol fan, was happy. I reminded him that whilst Bath had indeed lost the Premiership final, Bristol had just lost the Championship playoff final again, and were competing in the second tier of English rugby. Perhaps not the most mature thing to do, but it briefly cheered me up at the time.

Download – Judas Priest; Slipknot; Testament; Evil Scarecrow; KISS – Bands who played Download make up 80% of my top sets list. However, there were other sets that I really enjoyed. Judas Priest were excellent. They inspired me to see them again live later in the year. Slipknot were also excellent – I would say they were better at Wembley Arena – but they still had a great headline set. Testament were ace, they had a short set but came on stage and smashed through their songs. It was a very quick 30 minutes that is for sure. Evil Scarecrow were perhaps the surprise package of the weekend. I went to watch Crabulon to be honest, but the whole set was really very good. I loved KISS as much as I did because it was my first time seeing them. Paul Stanley’s voice struggled a bit with certain songs (especially with Detroit Rock City at the beginning) but that didn’t ruin the set for me (like it did with Motley Crue). KISS were really enjoyable and the show was excellent.

Victorious – Texas; Hayseed Dixie; Primal Scream; The Subways; We Are Scientists – Victorious overall wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be. I think it is because it rained and I knew I could walk home if I got fed up of the weather. I didn’t until I was done with the bands each day, but still. The five bands mentioned above were all really good. Texas were the best band of the weekend for me, closely followed by Hayseed Dixie. I’d quite happily see them both again.

BBC Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park – The Corrs; Bryan Adams – There wasn’t a bad act on this day really. I was disappointed in Rod Stewart’s set as I only really know the songs you hear on the radio regularly (Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, Sailing, Maggie May etc) and he didn’t play any of them. I guess it was to try and sell tickets to a greatest hits tour? Who knows? Anyway, enough with the negativity. It was a good day out in London and The Corrs and Bryan Adams were the best acts of the day for me. Neither set made the top 5 of festival sets for this year, but they were both really very good.

Top 5:

5. Eureka Machines – Camden Rocks Festival – I’m sure there are several instances on this page of me saying the following words, but I fucking love Eureka Machines. This was supposed to be a 30 minute set but they ended up playing for close to 45 minutes as they started early. This was the second time I’d heard them play music from their Brain Waves album live which made it even better. They played in a small bar/restaurant called The Cuban if memory serves, and the place was packed for them. Superb set from a superb band.

4. Faith No More – Download Festival – Headliners in 2009, but on this day they sub-headlined to another band in this list. They were great at BST in 2014, but they had sound problems. They sounded spot on for this set and it was clear to see that Faith No More are more than just a nostalgia act these days. The new material sounded as good as the old stuff, and the old stuff got a fantastic reaction each time. For me, this was the best I’ve seen Faith No More (although I was feeling rough when I saw them at Hammersmith, which didn’t help matters). Off the back of this set, I’d love to see them again, indoors preferably.

3. A Day To Remember – Download Festival – ADTR were one of the main draws of Download 2015 for me. I had gone to see them in Portsmouth in 2014 and the gig was cut short due to some prick jumping off the balcony. That gig would likely have been one of my top 5 for last year but due to events, it wasn’t. They had an outstanding set at Download – my enjoyment of which was helped by the fact they played pretty much everything I wanted to hear them play. Towards the end of their set, there was a rather loud chant of “10 more songs”. A future headliner for Download? Quite possible.

2. Clutch – Download Festival – Last time I saw Clutch was at Download 2011. I had missed a UK tour between then and this set as the closest date to me was on a Thursday, and I decided against going. They had an absolutely belting set on the main stage. They played some new material from an album that at that point, had not been released. It was from an album called Psychic Warfare which is a really good album. I am sad to report that I didn’t pull my finger out quick enough and their London date on their 2015 tour sold out. So after I abandoned plans to go, and made alternative plans that day, the gig got moved due to a venue closure to a bigger room and more tickets went on sale. So on the 12th December, not only did I not see Clutch, but I watched The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Really, I made the wrong call! Hopefully they will be back again soon.

1. Muse – Download Festival – I was toying with the idea of a day ticket to see KISS as they were the only headliner I hadn’t seen live. However, when more of the bill was announced and the main stage run of Rise Against, ADTR, Faith No More and Muse was revealed, I knew I would be going for the weekend. That whole run was just brilliant and set the bar exceedingly high for Muse to reach if they wanted to be the best band of the day as far as I was concerned. They did so with ease. From the second they came on until the very end of their set, they had me and thousands of others wrapped around their little fingers. It was one of the best festival headline sets I’ve ever witnessed (that could be a fun blog to write for another day). As the set rumbled on, it seemed as though the only negative I would have to take away from it would be the fact they didn’t play Plug In Baby. During their encores on this tour, they were playing Uprising, Starlight and Knights in Cydonia and it hadn’t been played in the main set. After Uprising, Matt Bellamy teased playing Plug In Baby before launching into it, which received a massive cheer from the crowd (myself included). Sure, we didn’t get Starlight which is also an excellent song, but I would have preferred to hear Plug In Baby on this day and that is what we got. My final words from my Download review of their set still seem appropriate for this part of the blog. “I could sit here and gush more about how good Muse were…and it is a little bit tempting. But I will leave it there. Muse fucking rocked!” Roll on April when they play arenas in this country, in the round. That will be something else.

I don’t really have a whole lot to say here about the gigs I have been to this year. It occurred to me that this year is the first in a few that I’ve not seen a massive act at an intimate gig. I have tried for a few years now to rein in spending on gig tickets and to a degree, I managed that this year. I still went to London over 10 times for live music this year though so could still do better. I would say my biggest regrets on the not going to gig front from this year are Volbeat in Denmark, Skindred in Southampton, Amaranthe in Islington, Deathcrusher Fest Tour in London and David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall. All of those gigs would have made choosing a top 10 a right prick to be honest! One of those has been rectified as Gilmour announced more RAH dates and I am going to one of them which could well be the gig of 2016 (spoiler alert). As I have a healthy list of gigs to choose from, this list will be much like previous end of year ones. There will be a top 10 and also an honourable mentions list done in chronological order. I feel as though the honourable mentions list could have been longer but I could also be here until 2016* if it was.

*slight hyperbole there but never mind.

Honourable Mentions:

Royal Blood – Pyramids, Portsmouth. January 2015 – Originally supposed to take place at the end of 2014 but due to illness, it was postponed until January, which then led to the strange situation where they played two gigs in Portsmouth, really close together (the Pyramids in January and the Guildhall in March). This gig had Turbowolf in support who were excellent. Royal Blood were better than Turbowolf on this night, and sounded amazingly tight. I read some reviews which called them boring but I didn’t think that at all. An honourable mention for two reasons. First, it was a pretty short gig. They were on stage for about an hour I think. Second, I forgot to include them in my initial long list.

Queen w/Adam Lambert – The O2, London. January 2015 – This was a tough call to put this in honourable mentions as the gig was very good. However, it was between this and the gig that is in 10th spot, and I honestly preferred the other gig (obviously, hence why it is there). Adam Lambert did a fantastic job as the vocalist for Queen, and it was great to hear a lot of songs performed live that I never thought I would get to hear played live (at least by some of the original musicians anyway).

Fozzy – The 1865, Southampton. March 2015 – My first experience of this venue this year was pretty bad actually (not the gig, but the wait to get in) so I over corrected this time and arrived nice and early before doors to find there was barely a queue to get in. Opening were a local (to me) act called Dendera. I like them and this was my first time hearing music from their second album which was great (still need to buy that). There was also another band called Malrun on the bill, who to be honest I can’t remember if I enjoyed them or not. Sorry guys! The main support was a band called The Dirty Youth. This was my first time seeing them (could have seen them before this in Southampton if memory serves but put it off as I knew they were supporting here) and I was completely won over by the end of the set. In all honesty, the main reason this gig is on this list is because of The Dirty Youth. I enjoyed Fozzy and thought they had a great set – my favourite time seeing them live as a matter of fact. On reflection though, the main talking point for me is The Dirty Youth. I have since seen them a couple more times and they were also ace (one mentioned above in the festival recap). I’d like to see them do a full headline set now.

While She Sleeps/Cancer Bats – The Forum, London. April 2015 – The first of 3 jaunts to London in 3 days is the reason this gig only makes the honourable mentions list as I left slightly early to beat the crowd. Both headliners were fantastic though. I now want to see a While She Sleeps headline tour. There is more on Cancer Bats later.

Goldfinger – The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. May 2015 – This gig was just a lot of fun. The support bill were all really enjoyable and Goldfinger just smashed it. Had to leave slightly early to avoid a long wait (or walk) to get home but they played Superman just before I had to leave, which was ace of them.

Eureka Machines – Boston Music Room, London. November 2015 – I absolutely love Eureka Machines. This gig was just brilliant. There were a number of technical troubles but that didn’t really detract from the gig for me. I love going to see them live and they are one of those bands that now as soon as they announce dates, I try to see if I can make it. Thankfully I was able to see them twice this year which was ace.

Judas Priest – Guildhall, Portsmouth. November 2015 – Another tough call as to whether this would make the top 10 but it just missed out. This was a great gig that I never expected to be at. When they finished their set at Download, Rob Halford said “Will you come see us on tour?” to the crowd, and I turned to a mate and said “yeah…if they play Portsmouth!” and we laughed at the very idea of Judas Priest playing Portsmouth. Roll on a few months and that is exactly what happened. It was a really good gig. Judas Priest are still excellent live and this was another example of that. This will likely be the last headline show of theirs I’ll go to for a long while though unless they release another belter of an album as it is pricey going to see them live.

Top 10:

10. Hey! Hello! – Camden Underworld, London. June 2015 – This one was almost an honourable mention in place of Queen. However this beat it out for two reasons. First, I was in the gods for Queen and sat down. Second, this gig was just a ton of fun. Ginger opened the night with a solo acoustic set which was mostly made up of songs from GASS, which I was more than fine with. The second band on were a young band that had Ginger’s eldest son in. I remember enjoying their set as well. The main support were Role Models who are always pretty good live. Hey! Hello! were the best band of the night though and even though the set was brief (a warm up for their upcoming Download set), it was excellent. The night ended with a No Doubt cover that was superb. Hey! Hello! may well be Ginger’s new main project in the coming years, and it was pretty cool to be at their first (?) headline show.

9. Slipknot – Wembley Arena, London. January 2015 – When originally discussing this list, I figured this would be nearer the top of this list. When I sat down and really gave it some thought, I realised that while it deserved its place in the top 10, but not higher than it is. I got in and missed most of Korn’s set (it turns out most of the crowd had the same idea as me and missed King 810). However, I did get to see Korn perform a Beastie Boys cover with Slipknot – that was cool. Slipknot’s set was ace and we got the setlist that I wanted (I think they were doing 3 on rotation). This was only my second time seeing Slipknot indoors and I much preferred it to the first time, even though I loved that gig as well.

8. Less Than Jake – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. July 2015 – This gig was just great from the moment Random Hand started to the minute Less Than Jake finished (if you excuse the band changeover time). I saw Less Than Jake the year before and while I enjoyed them, I think I was so happy to have already seen Reel Big Fish, I was a bit burned out. This time was all about Less Than Jake and it was fantastic. Also, this is one of a few gigs this year where a song has played that I’ve actually welled up at. They played The Rest Of My Life, the song that got me back into Less Than Jake and a song I absolutely love. It was a complete involuntary reaction as well but yeah, that happened. Great gig,

7. Cancer Bats – 100 Club, London. August 2015 – First visit to the 100 Club and first time seeing Cancer Bats headline a show since their tour where they did 6 gigs in one day in London (I excuse the co-headline tour because they may have played the same length set as While She Sleeps, they didn’t headline that night). There were two bands that played before the main support and I don’t remember their names, but I remember them being good. Krokodil were the main support and they smashed it. However, Cancer Bats put it back together and smashed it again. It was such a good set from them and completely justified the jaunt to London to see them again. Thankfully, they are in my home town next year, and I expect to see them in and around the end of year post again this time next year. Also, the 100 Club is a cool little venue. I just can’t imagine Metallica playing in a room that small – that must have been carnage.

6. Epica – The Forum, London. November 2015 – I waited until the week before deciding I wanted to go to this gig, and I’m so glad I went. Last year, this band were on the honourable mentions list which was probably fair enough for last year. This gig overall was better. Epica were just as good if not better than last year. The support bill was just fantastic with Eluveitie and Scar Symmetry opening the night (Eluveitie’s set showing me that Epica seem to always bring a band that does a very long support set before they come on, just like last year with Dragonforce). This was a belting gig and completely justified my ticket buying. I could see them becoming a band that I go and see every time they do a headline tour in this country (providing I can make any dates of course). I say that mostly because I just saw them post US tour dates on Facebook and thought “I’d see them if I was in the US”. I won’t be, so I can’t, sadly for me.

5. Nightwish – Wembley Arena, London. December 2015 – The most recent gig I’ve been to. Fresh in the mind and one that will live on for some time I think. Before this night, I was 1 for 2 in terms of good Nightwish gigs in London. The Astoria was a good night, their end of tour show at Brixton was not so good. This show banished the memories of Brixton for me. The band were on superb form (just as good as when I saw them for the first time with Floor Jansen at Wacken 2013). The stage show was one of the best I’ve seen in an arena and overall what this gig proved is that if they were announced to headline Download, I think they could do it and put on an amazing show. Amorphis were a really good opener and I’m glad I finally saw them. Arch Enemy made me want them to do a headline tour of the UK. If they do, expect to see that gig on this list next year. They were fantastic. All in all, a great night.

4. AC/DC – Wembley Stadium, London. July 2015 – Until I sat down and gave it thought, this was my number one gig of the year. The reason for this is simply because it was AC/DC and they were excellent. The show was simply brilliant and continued my run of good gigs there (Metallica, Roger Waters and now AC/DC). Vintage Trouble were the support and they did a good job opening the gig. I enjoyed them. Very different to AC/DC mind. There really is little more that needs to be said. I’d heard they phoned in their Download 2010 headline set. I’ll never know if that is true as I wasn’t there. On this night however, they were on it, and it was a superb gig.

3. The Wildhearts – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London. September 2015 – P.H.U.Q in full. Enough said. Oh, and also the set after they played P.H.U.Q was fantastic as well (including the song Anthem, which I have wanted to hear live from the moment I first heard it). Hey! Hello! opened the night and that was a great set. A scaled down version of the headline show I saw earlier in the year but still good. The main support was Baby Chaos, a band I’d never seen before but heard nothing but good things about, and I liked their set. The Wildhearts though were just something else. I might be biased as they are one of my favourite bands, but I would like to see them tour every year. Ideally next year will contain a Fishing For Luckies anniversary tour. If so, I think there is a chance I might end up on a plane to see them more than once again (or at the very least, a coach). The night closed (or so I thought) with 29x The Pain, but just before we left the area of the Empire, we could hear they finished with The Duck Song, which was just ace (and had me talking about getting a tattoo inspired by that song for quite a few days afterwards).

2. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Guildhall, Southampton. November 2015 – Last year, I saw Frank Turner in Portsmouth and it was the best gig I went to all year. This year, I saw Frank Turner twice in Southampton and they were two of the best gigs I went to this year. It was a tough call to say that the first Soton gig was not my best of the year, as it was just amazing. The setlist was incredible, and the new material woven in with the older songs just sound like they’ve been a part of the back catalogue for many years. Both nights a different part of the set made me well up (again, involuntarily). The first night it was hearing Mittens live. The second night it was Song for Josh (actually that was a bit more than welling up if I’m being honest). I’ve seen Frank Turner both solo and with the Sleeping Souls and every time has been outstanding. These two gigs really could have been gig of the year had it not been for the night that I have picked.

1. System of a Down – Wembley Arena, London. April 2015 – This was my second time seeing System of a Down. I loved their headline set at Download despite almost every review I’ve seen in the years after saying it was lacklustre. This gig however was far from lacklustre. I could spend time writing every superlative I know about this gig and it still wouldn’t seem appropriate. I’ll just write one for now, it was phenomenal. They played for over 2 hours, playing a 35 song set. As far as dream System of a Down setlists go, this one was as close as I’m sure I’ll ever get to see. But to see them again, and see them just be amazing, was the best moment of 2015 for me in terms of live music. If they release new music and tour, I’m sure I will try to go – but I’m not sure they would be capable of topping this gig for me. I never got to see them play at the Astoria in London (I’ve been told these gigs were something special), but this for me was something very special. Also, Holy Mountains is a fantastic set opener. I had goose bumps from the second it started.

And that is 2015 in live music for me. Next year so far is not looking very full but I’m sure there will be additions made to it. There has already been one gig casualty with The Ghost Inside having to cancel their tour due to a tour bus crash they were in. I was sad to see that the gig was cancelled but the band’s health is more important than a tour and I hope they will come back stronger and better than ever. With regards to gigs that are booked, the potential stand outs for me at this early stage are Avantasia, Muse (in the round) and David Gilmour in London as well as Cancer Bats and Crossfaith in Portsmouth and Bowling for Soup and Hey! Hello! in Southampton. 2015 has been a good one, roll on 2016!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Download Festival 2016 - Thoughts So Far

After a couple of months of writing about the Rugby World Cup (I miss writing about that), it is time to write about another familiar subject for this blog. On this occasion, it is about the Download Festival. Specifically, it is about the announcements made for the 2016 festival. 42 acts have so far been announced for the festival with probably at least another 40-50 to go. Andy Copping, the festival’s lead booker and promoter said in a recent interview on the ‘That’s Not Metal’ Podcast that there will be fewer bands playing next year so that bands could get longer sets. I’ll be intrigued to see how many fewer bands there will be on the main stages but overall, I support that decision. He also said something about staggering the stages so that people could see more of the bigger acts. Festival clashes have been a right annoyance at times (the one that instantly pops to mind is Volbeat and Korn from Download 2013, but I’m sure there have been others). I’d be intrigued to see how this works, however the walk if you are remotely near the front of the main stage to the second stage can be a right prick, especially if the weather has been nasty. I liked what Sonisphere festival did, but personally the model I prefer is the Wacken Festival model, with two main stages next to each other, and another open air stage which directly clashes with one of the main stages. That way the bands that play the open air stages all get longer sets and there is the prospect of seeing more bands for longer. I’m not sure if there would be the space to introduce a double main stage where the festival is currently set up, but it would sure be interesting.

Anyway, on to the bands. The festival, certainly for the last few years if memory serves, has launched with the 3 headliners but also some of the undercard. Usually the headliner, sub-headliner and the band that are 3rd from top on each day. This year's announcement for next year's festival was quite unique on that front because they launched with just the three headlining bands. The three headlining bands for next year’s festival are Rammstein, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. I love all three of those bands so I was quite happy with that first announcement. Only quite happy though because one thing that concerns me about Download and my future going to festivals is that there is no new headliner there that appeals to me. Download Festival has a limited pool of headliners that have not headlined before, that are newer bands. Of course you could say names like Foo Fighters, Blink 182, Pearl Jam, Bon Jovi etc as potential future headliners, but there are fewer bands that could continue headlining this festival for years to come making the step up, or at least it seems that way. The next bands that I think will headline Download that haven’t before are Biffy Clyro (because they have headlined Reading/Leeds and Sonisphere and will draw a crowd) and Bring Me The Horizon (they just seem to be getting bigger and bigger in popularity). This is where my worry sets in – neither of those two bands do a whole lot for me. I guess it is a wait and see what happens situation with bands that will or won’t make the step up, but I find myself concerned that the headliners that appeal to me most won’t be around for years to come, and the headliners seemingly that will don’t excite me.

As good as that headliner announcement was for me, it didn’t overly excite me. In recent years, I’ve been a regular at Download Festival and have seen all 3 play. Black Sabbath played in 2012 and both Rammstein and Iron Maiden played in 2013. For me, what would likely have sold this festival is the main undercard. One thing that is said to me is that a festival is not just about the main acts but the whole undercard. Now, that may be true, but I find it hard to believe anyone would go to a festival where they don’t like most of the main acts. The next announcement was the 6 bands that are filling the 2nd/3rd from top slots on main stage. On the Friday, it is Korn and Motorhead. Korn I was pleased to see announced despite the fact they also played in 2013. I was surprised to see they went from 3rd from top (underneath Bullet For My Valentine) to being the sub-headliner this time. Regardless, I am yet to see a whole set by Korn so I’d quite happily watch them (as long as they don’t clash with Volbeat again…). Them supporting Slipknot, and doing a cover of Beastie Boys Sabotage together was just superb. Motorhead deserve the slot because they are Motorhead, but seeing them last year in Hyde Park supporting Black Sabbath was a little bit painful and I suspect that this will be no different (to be fair, the sound wasn’t great that day in Hyde Park, which really didn’t help matters). The new music they release is consistently good, but live? Sadly not so much anymore. Also, there have been quite a number of cancellations recently, so I hope whoever is booked to be 4th from top is ready to step up, just in case. I hope it doesn’t happen obviously, but it is an eventuality you have to be prepared for. On the Saturday, it is Deftones and Megadeth. Deftones don’t do much for me personally. I’ve seen them live twice and both times it was a bit boring. However, if there is no-one else on stage that I want to see, I would watch them. Megadeth usually wouldn’t excite me at all, but at Wacken 2014, they had a fantastic hour set. So again, if there was no clash, I would watch them and hope they could replicate that performance. The Sunday is Nightwish and Disturbed. Nightwish are just ace, so that announcement is the best one for me out of these 6 bands. However, I am going to see them at Wembley Arena so they are not a must see band for me at Download. Disturbed coming back off hiatus I thought I would be excited about but I’m just not. I listened to a new song of theirs not that long ago and my legitimate reaction afterwards was a shrug. So, there were good bands in this announcement but nothing that had me itching to grab the credit card. I looked at the line-up after this announcement, and thought it would be the first time in several years that I wouldn’t be going.

There was then a one act announcement randomly. There is a film called Gutterdammerung that Henry Rollins was involved in headlining the 3rd stage on the Friday. I’m not sure how it will work and to be honest, am not all that bothered. However, if Henry Rollins is there and it means he might do a spoken word show as well, that would be the best. After this, a big 32 band announcement took place. Download helpfully split them into the days they are playing and so in this round up, that is what I will do, starting somewhat appropriately with Friday.

The Amity Affliction – Not a bad announcement. I would consider watching them if they didn’t clash with another band I wanted to see.

Counting Days – Same as with Amity Affliction really. Hadn’t heard of them before this announcement. Listening to a song now and it’s quite good.

Fort Hope – Something very different from the first two bands discussed but not too bad. Again, if there was nothing I’d prefer to see, I would go see them.

Havok – I like what I’ve heard from this band, which admittedly isn’t much. I’d probably give them a watch.

Killswitch Engage – Great announcement. They did play recently but no matter. Also, that new song they’ve just released is really quite good. I have high hopes for the album.

Skillet – I only know one song, and I really like it. That song is Monster. I didn’t see them when they played the other year because they clashed with someone else. I could be tempted to see them just to hear them play Monster to be honest.

Twin Atlantic – They are one of those bands that I know the name but none of their music. Just put them on and they aren’t in any way offensive which is good. They definitely fall into the category of a band that I would see if there was nothing else on that took my fancy at the time.

Architects – Just went back to read what I wrote about them in my review of Reading Festival 2011, but it turns out I didn’t write about them. I must have just caught a song or two and not bothered to write down my thoughts. Anyway, this band are decent enough.

Atreyu – Getting a sense of Déjà vu with my writing here, but this is not a bad announcement. I would consider watching them if they didn’t clash with another band I wanted to see.

Beartooth – This is a band that have somewhat passed me by until listening now (I might have heard the odd song on Team Rock Radio but they didn’t stick with me). As I type, I’ve just listened to In Between and now listening to The Lines, and both songs are quite good. I’d probably watch this band, but again if they didn’t clash with another band I’d rather see (seems as the moment it’ll be clashes between bands I wouldn’t mind seeing).

Black Foxxes - Not really my sort of thing to be honest. Can’t like every band in a festival announcement I guess!

Dead! – Listening to them now and it’s not too bad. Sounds a bit like a poor man’s My Chemical Romance, sort of.  Not sure if I would go out of my way to see them though. If they were on before a band I wanted to see, and there was nothing else on, I’d probably watch them.

Down – Pretty ace announcement. Missed them last time they played to watch Europe I think it was. I’d probably watch them this time around.

Lawnmower Deth – This is a band that seem to play every other year. I am yet to see them but this is doesn’t overly bother me. I don’t dislike them, I’m just not overly bothered by them. Could be fun to watch one year.

Milk Teeth – Listening now for the first time I think (I might have listened to them in preparation for Camden Rocks once before…not sure now). They aren’t bad at all from the sounds of things. They could be worth a watch.

Neck Deep – Another one who bypassed me. Listening now and they seem to be quite good. I would likely watch them if they didn’t clash with someone else I wanted to see.

Rival Sons – Saw this band supporting Black Stone Cherry (I think) in Southampton Guildhall and I remember them being quite good despite the fact support bands tend to get rubbish sound at Soton Guildhall. Anyway, I’d probably watch them again.

Skindred – Skindred seem to be another band that play every other year but they are always good live so I don’t begrudge that. I remember discussing with a friend some time ago about their potential to be a festival headliner in the future as they seem to have the live show down. I’m not so sure now, but they will always play to a big crowd at something like Download.

Tesseract – I like what I’ve heard from this band. If there was no know the rest by now.

Attila – Haven’t listened to this band before, but I like what I’ve heard just now by flicking through their music on Spotify.

Billy Talent – Cracking announcement. Billy Talent are ace live and if this set means a new album is coming, I am all in favour of that.

Breaking Benjamin – I’ve never really listened to this band because all I saw online was how they’d never leave the USA because of the lead singer’s fear of flying. Now they are coming over to Europe for the first time. It will be interesting to see where they play on the bill. As for their music? I quite like it. I’d likely watch them.

Delain – Belting announcement. I missed their recent London show so I’d almost definitely go and see Delain.

Don Broco – Not too bad. Another one for the “if there was no clash” list. That list is getting long now.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Great announcement. Would definitely want to watch this band. I liked Frank Carter in Gallows but didn’t really keep up with Pure Love.

Ghost – I’ve only seen them once at a festival and I think and they are a pretty good live band. I think seeing them indoors would be a better experience but then whenever they tour, I don’t go and see them so I have no-one but myself to blame for not seeing them indoors. Add them to the list!

Gojira – Belting announcement. Seen them a few times now and every time they have been great. Would definitely try to watch (fully expecting a Delain/Gojira clash now just to piss me off).

Halestorm – Very good announcement this. They were pretty much the main draw to the Black Stone Cherry tour I can’t make at the beginning of next year (other than BSC of course). I didn’t really get into their latest album but maybe seeing stuff from it live would change that?

Ho99o9 (?) – I listened to bits of songs from 3 different albums/EPs, and they were all so different. Some good, some not. I don’t think I’d watch them/him/her/whatever.

Saxon – I like Saxon. I’m pleased to see them playing Download. I saw they are headlining 3rd stage which means they might clash with Iron Maiden unless they headline before Maiden come on. That would be the sensible option if you are having Saxon headline. Though personally, unless Maiden have said they want no other band on while they are playing, I’d put someone completely different up against them, like Neck Deep. Clashing Maiden with Saxon doesn’t make any sense. But, if I can, I’d watch Saxon.

Shinedown – Decent enough band. Seen them a few times now. Haven’t kept up with them since I last saw them at Download so don’t really have much to say. It is hard to come up with new ways of saying I’d watch them if there weren’t clashing with anyone, but yeah.

Tremonti – I saw them this year when they played Download. It was decent enough but not good enough to make them a must see for next year. Insert something here about a list.

And that is how Download Festival 2016 is shaping up so far. I doubt we will see another announcement before the end of the year but I would imagine there will be one in January. After the first three announcements (if you include the film), I felt a bit bummed out. Yes there were some good bands announced but nothing that made me say “OH MY GOD I NEED A TICKET NOW”. Honestly? There still isn’t anything that makes me say that. The bill overall following that big band announcement is a lot stronger, with Sunday being the standout day for me in terms of the undercard. There is an awful lot on the line up that I'd watch if I was there but wouldn't be bothered about missing if I wasn't. I’m not completely sold on the idea of going to Download next year, but am hoping something will be announced in the first announcement next year which will sway me. I’m also waiting to see if a few bands are playing the UK next year and if so, where. These bands are Metallica, Guns N’ Roses (with the rumour that Slash and Duff will be back in the band) and Weezer. A possible scenario right now would be GnR and Weezer turn up at Reading and play the same day – which would be all sorts of ace (unless they clashed, which would just be the worst). Anyway, Download Festival 2016 in my opinion is looking much better following that 32 band announcement than it did before it. 

Sunday, 1 November 2015

RWC 2015 - The Final Weekend: A Live Viewpoint

The 2015 Rugby World Cup has finished, and what a fantastic tournament it was. A lot of people covering the tournament have called it the best one yet and I would find it hard to disagree with that. The last two games of the tournament were the Bronze Medal match on Friday night between South Africa and Argentina and the main event – the World Cup Final between New Zealand and Australia. In previous posts I have covered a fair bit of what has happened in the games with some personal opinions thrown in there as well. This one will be a little bit different. I will still be covering what happened in the games, I will also discuss from my perspective of being at the two games. I had a ticket for the Bronze Medal match before the tournament began. However, I only got a ticket for the final on the Wednesday before the game.

I received an email from the tournament organisers talking about events that had occurred at the tournament and building up to the last two games. Towards the end of this email, there was a link to the ticketing website saying if any tickets had been put up for resale for the two games, they would be available online straight away so keep checking back. I did this, expecting to only see tickets left for the Bronze Medal match and to my surprise, there were tickets left for the final. The tickets that were available were in the two most expensive categories (£715 and £515 respectively) and as much as I couldn’t afford to spend £515 on a ticket, I was giving it some serious consideration. After all, how many chances at going to a World Cup Final are you going to get? Well, one every four years technically I guess. However, being realistic, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. I pondered on this decision for several hours before deciding I just couldn’t afford to spend that much money on a ticket. I continued to refresh and on occasion, the website was showing availability for tickets in the next price category down (£315), but every time I opened up the window to buy, it was saying there were no tickets available. It then started to do this for the cheapest ticket category (£150) which was very annoying. I continued to try and as luck would have it, a £150 ticket appeared in my basket. In a bit of a frenzied panic, I rushed through the purchase options and secured a ticket. The confirmation email came through and I was a very happy man (a mild understatement actually but still).

However, before getting on to the final, there was a small matter of the Friday night game to get to. The 3rd/4th place playoff match is almost a dead rubber match but with the chance to get a medal at the end of the game. I was interested in going to this game as I’d get to see two of the semi-finalists play without having to pay semi-final prices. It was also a chance to head back to the stadium where a lot of memories were created during the London 2012 Olympics (I had only visited once previously the year after the Olympics for the anniversary games). As it transpired, it was also a good one for me because it gave me the chance to see South Africa play in person for the first time, meaning I would have seen all of the main southern hemisphere national teams play. Arriving in the general area of the stadium, there was a good atmosphere in the air. The surrounding areas were crammed with fans (although I was surprised the nearby Wetherspoons I went in before the game was not busy at all really). My first thought when arriving to my seat was how different the stadium looked now it had been modified to hide the athletics track. By the looks of things, the modifications were only temporary and it could be reverted back if needs be. It was a bit strange though. I briefly found myself wondering if they have had any issues with inebriated fans and those walk ways (an example of such can be seen in the photo just below this post). I'd have thought they might have put netting in there just in case someone were to accidentally fall over the barrier as that seemed to be a fair old drop without a pleasant landing spot.

The atmosphere was picking up as the kick-off got closer, but I thought it was a bit flat initially. It certainly picked up when JP Pietersen scored the opening try of the night. It was a very well taken try which Handre Pollard converted. Argentina however did not lie down after this early set back – they kept trying to attack all half but South Africa controlled the game and really should have put more points on them in the first half. Pollard was booed when he took penalty kicks at the posts rather than going for the corner. Usually I’m completely against booing a kicker as they line up to take a penalty kick or conversion however it did seem odd in this game, with very little at stake, to kick at sticks rather than go to the corner and potentially get more points. The main story from the first half is that Bryan Habana wasted 2 or 3 very good try scoring opportunities. Had he scored one of them, he would have become the highest try scorer in Rugby World Cup history. As it happens, he didn’t and remains tied with Jonah Lomu. The first half finished 16-0 to South Africa and despite their attacking intent, it did not look as though Argentina were going to get into this game. Perhaps an indication of Argentina's attacking intent throughout this game was the fact that South Africa made about 80 more tackles than Argentina. They also saw more of the ball and gained more territory during the game.

The second half started off better from an Argentinian perspective as Nicolas Sanchez scored a drop goal (and a damn fine drop goal it was as well). However, Argentina switched off for a bit it seems as the Springboks came straight back into it and Eben Etzebeth scored a try. To be honest, there isn’t much worth saying about the second half. It was fairly unremarkable. Argentina should have scored a try close to the hour but a free player on the wing was either not seen or ignored. The main thing worth discussing from the second half is that a number of substitutions occurred which allowed some players to get a standing ovation as they were finishing their final Rugby World Cup game of their careers (and in some cases, their international careers). For Argentina, it was Juan Fernandez Lobbe and Horacio Agulla who were making their final appearances. For South Africa, it was Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield and Schalk Burger who all got the chance to leave the field of play to a standing ovation. However, Burger got bought back on for a blood replacement when Francois Louw had to leave the field. When Louw returned to the field, Burger left with a theatrical bow, literally bowing out. Argentina, for all their attacking, got their just desserts at the very end of the game when prop Juan Pablo Orlandi went over for a try. The final score was 24-13. An epic game this was not, but it was an enjoyable one all the same.

So as mentioned earlier, on Wednesday last week I managed to buy a ticket for the final of the Rugby World Cup. Almost straight away, I started to worry about actually getting the ticket. After all, it had said that these tickets could be resale tickets. I was concerned that my ticket might not make it back in time for them to get to me. On reflection, of course it was foolish of me to be worried about this. I’m sure they would have had to stop selling tickets if they couldn’t honour the transactions. Hindsight is 20/20, in the moment however I said to myself I would be much happier when the ticket was in my hand. When initially arriving in London, Waterloo station is rarely quiet. It was heaving with rugby fans, all of whom were either heading to Twickenham for the game or to Trafalgar Square, where it was going to be broadcast on a massive screen(s). The moment I arrived in Twickenham, there was a genuine air of excitement I’ve never felt before when going to games there. I’ve been there to see England play a few times, as well as a few domestic games including Premiership finals and excitement levels have certainly been high, but this was something else. From my initial guess, there were more New Zealand fans around than Australian but it is hard to know for sure. What was cool to see is that even before the biggest game on the rugby calendar, Australia and New Zealand fans were walking to the game together and discussing how they thought the game would go.

My first port of call was the Twickenham box office and my earlier worries were set aside very quickly as I was handed my ticket for the game. I then strolled around the stadium and around Twickenham for a bit before actually heading into the stadium. As the game got closer, the atmosphere just seemed to grow, as did the excitement around. I did take my seat early as I just wanted to be in place and watch everything that was going to happen on the pitch. My seat was just behind the try line, in the south east corner – I was quite pleased with that. What happened next was completely unexpected. Someone came and sat next to me (that bit wasn’t unexpected) and asked me if I was at the game alone. I confirmed that I was. The person then said he had picked up a ticket to the game for his brother on the Thursday before the game and he was wondering if I’d mind swapping seats with him in order for them to sit next to each other. No issues as far as I was concerned. I swapped tickets, shook hands with the guys and made my way out the stand. I then looked at the ticket that I had just swapped for to find out that the guy had given me a category C ticket. So I had paid £150 and would be sitting in a £315 seat. Not bad at all that! I was now going to be sat in the west stand of Twickenham. My seat was now just in front of the 22 line and I was two rows behind the last row of the media block. Directly around me were mostly New Zealand fans, but over the aisle in the next block seemed to be all Australia. 20 minutes before kick-off and the atmosphere was already electric.

There was a bit of a pre-game show involving people waving flags of the teams that took part in the tournament which was cool. As the teams took to the field, there were flames, fireworks and the Red Arrows flew over the stadium. A very impressive way to start the game. Last time I saw New Zealand play at Twickenham, I was so close to the action I could hear the All Blacks singing their national anthem – although that is because no-one else was singing it. This time however, it was very different, with the fans belting out the anthem along with the team, as did the Australian fans. I like watching the haka on TV, but watching it in person is just great. Not for the first time on this day mind, but seeing the haka gave me goosebumps. The game started and within the first minute, Conrad Smith hit Michael Hooper with a massive tackle, one that was heard all around the stadium. The story of the first half seemingly was New Zealand attacking and Australia trying not to concede. New Zealand had edged ahead on the scoreboard 9-3 as the first half was coming to a close. Dan Carter was kicking perfectly from the tee and generally was playing very well, as were the rest of the All Blacks. It wasn’t that Australia were playing badly (they were looking very good at the breakdown again) but New Zealand were noticeably the better team. Australia were rocked with two first half injuries to Kane Douglas and Matt Giteau which probably didn’t help matters. Neither set of fans around me were overly happy with some of the calls made by referee Nigel Owens, and some of the Australian fans were practically livid when a New Zealand forward pass was missed by both Owens and Wayne Barnes, the nearby touch judge. I am amazed they did miss it as it looked forward from where I was and the pass was down the other end of the pitch. Anyway, New Zealand’s continued pressure eventually paid off. A lovely bit of play between Conrad and Aaron Smith and some quick hands from Richie McCaw allowed Nehe Milner-Skudder to go over in the corner. Dan Carter converted and the All Blacks fans around me were very happy at half time as their team went in front 16-3.

The half time chat I heard between Australia and New Zealand fans was about the forward pass being missed, but also how New Zealand were the better team. Looking at some of the statistics, it was hard to argue this point. However, one fact about the first half which will not have made for good reading for those in the Australia camp is that Australia did not make it into the New Zealand 22 with ball in hand. The second half started with a bit of a surprise change as Sonny Bill Williams was on for Conrad Smith. A ruthless change considering this was going to be Conrad Smith’s last game for the All Blacks, and he had just helped make the try and the end of the first half. However, Steve Hanson’s faith in SBW paid off pretty quickly as he made two very good offloads, one of which set Ma’a Nonu off, steaming towards the try line. He made it over and suddenly, New Zealand were 21-3 up. No team had won the World Cup having been behind at half time. Not only were Australia down at half time, but they had just conceded another try. The roar when Nonu got over the line was one of the loudest I have heard at Twickenham. Game over? I certainly thought so. 

Australia looked more alive after New Zealand’s second try, with a few line breaks really getting the block of Australian fans near me animated to say the least. Australia finally made it after about 50 minutes of play into the All Blacks 22 with ball in hand when a real game changing moment occurred. Ben Smith, when tackling Drew Mitchell, lifted his legs above the horizontal and put him down on his shoulder. The tackle was flagged as foul play immediately and the TMO was called into action. There was an All Black fan who started screaming at Wayne Barnes for raising his flag to indicate foul play for this, saying Barnes had robbed them in 2007 and he would not do it again. Having watched the game back on TV, I think Nigel Owens was prepared to give Australia a penalty and leave it at that, but the TMO recommended he take another look at the incident. When this happens, that is pretty much code for the TMO recommending a card is shown. I would say the incident was worthy of a yellow card and that is what Ben Smith received. The penalty from this incident was kicked to the corner, and the subsequent driving maul got Australia over the line with David Pocock scoring the try. Foley converted the try and suddenly, the score line looked a bit closer. It was at this point in the game we started to see the Australia we had seen throughout the tournament as they began to get their groove back so to speak. Right at the end of Ben Smith's sin binning, Tevita Kuridrani scored Australia's second try of the match which Bernard Foley converted to make it 21-17. Game on! New Zealand conceded a penalty in the Australia half and suddenly, the mood I’m sure all around the stadium but certainly around where I was sitting changed dramatically. The block of Australian fans to my right all burst into song, singing Waltzing Matilda. The New Zealand fans all around me were suddenly looking very nervous. This game was on edge, and it remained that way until the 69th minute when Dan Carter scored a magnificent drop goal to extend New Zealand’s lead back to seven points. I haven’t spoken much about the contribution individual players made to this game, but Dan Carter was just superb throughout the whole game. He then increased the lead further when Australia conceded a penalty just in front of the half way line. There were people around me spuggesting that this kick was not within Carter’s kicking range but he made it no problem. Again, the mood shifted. The All Blacks fans were starting to believe again. Dan Carter was announced as Man of the Match, which was hardly a surprise. The game was coming into its final minute when Ben Smith, making up for the earlier costly yellow card, chipped the ball forward and Beauden Barrett beat an exhausted David Pocock in a foot race for the ball. Barrett kicked the ball on, it bounced nicely for him and he gathered it up to score a try. The roar in the stadium was deafening. Dan Carter converted the try and New Zealand were up 34-17 with less than a minute to play. From this point on, it was all a formality. New Zealand got the ball back and, with the clock having gone red, they kicked the ball out to confirm themselves as champions of the world for the second time in as many tournaments. Fans all around me were cheering, dancing, crying and hugging. There were Australian fans leaving their seats to shake hands with the New Zealand fans, congratulating them on the win. It was a wonderful moment.

It took about 10-15 minutes for the stadium to be set up ready for the trophy presentation. As that was happening, there were several interviews taking place. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter’s interviews were pretty much drowned out with cheers, as was Steve Hanson’s. Michael Cheika and Stephen Moore’s interviews were met with somewhat muted cheers but a round of applause from everyone still in the stadium. The stage was set for the teams to receive their medals. I think most people had stayed post game to watch the trophy presentation and the Australian team again were given a long respectful applause as they were collecting their medals. The cheers started when Richie McCaw went to receive his medal first and the whole New Zealand team and squad were being cheered. After everyone received their medal, Richie McCaw was invited back centre stage to be handed the William Webb Ellis trophy. New Zealand were the better team on the day and the best team of the tournament and thoroughly deserved this moment. There were quite a few All Blacks who were definitely wearing the jersey for the last time including MOTM Dan Carter and try scorer Ma’a Nonu. Richie McCaw in his interview stopped short again of giving a definitive answer as to whether he is retiring or not. If so for him, and for all the players playing their last games for New Zealand, what a way to go out. Once again the roar in the crowd was very loud and as the cup was raised, fireworks shot off as well as flames and streamers. It was at this moment I made my leave. As I left the ground, the chat outside the stadium was pretty much everyone agreeing we had just witnessed one of, if not the best, Rugby World Cup Finals. The whole day was one I’ll never forget - and on reflection, would have been worth £515 (and then some), but I’m still glad I didn’t pay that!

And that is it for Rugby World Cup 2015. It truly has been a spectacular tournament. Of course there will be plenty more rugby between now and 2019, but I am very much looking forward to seeing what happens the next time it is Rugby World Cup time. Until Japan!

Monday, 26 October 2015

RWC 2015 - Two Teams Left Standing

The Rugby World Cup semi-finals have happened and I found both games to be thoroughly enjoyable. I’m planning on talking about both semi-final games and briefly about the final two games of the tournament. It is crazy to think this tournament is nearly at an end.

The first semi-final match was between New Zealand and South Africa. New Zealand were coming into this one having demolished France, whereas South Africa had won a very tight game against Wales with a little bit of magic towards the end of the game. New Zealand had won the encounter earlier in the year between the two teams during the Rugby Championship 27-20 but that game would have no bearing on this one. Before talking about the game, I want to mention something that happened before the game. For those who just know, or who found out by watching the film Invictus (great film by the way) – the South Africa team that won the World Cup in 1995 went for a jog around the streets of Johannesburg the morning of the final against New Zealand. On Saturday morning, members of that same team, led by the 95 captain Francois Pienaar, went for a jog around London. They were joined by thousands of fans and all ended up at the statue of Nelson Mandela in Westminster. When there, Francois Pienaar led the crowd in singing the South African national anthem. What a great moment.

On to the game - I’d say it was a fairly even first half, perhaps South Africa edging it as the better team of the half. They took the lead in the game with an early penalty but found themselves down on the scoreboard after 6 minutes when Jerome Caino scored a try which Dan Carter converted (at the second attempt mind, because Bryan Habana attempted to charge it down too early causing the first attempt to miss). These were the only points of the half for New Zealand. An interesting talking point occurred after 20 minutes when Richie McCaw appeared to strike Francois Louw with his elbow, causing him to need 20 stitches after the game. As of this writing, it seems as though he will not be cited for this. There is a case either way for whether or not he should be cited, but given a Samoa winger got a 5 week ban (reduced on appeal) for running and catching a low tackling player with his knee – it is easy to see why some of the Tier B nations feel aggrieved at the differences in sanctions they receive in comparison to a tier A nation. Anyway, one thing I noticed was just how many penalties they were conceding. I think in the first half, they conceded 9 – which is shockingly high for New Zealand. As a result of that though, South Africa were able to nudge ahead, scoring another two penalties to make the score 9-7. Then at the death, Caino conceded a pretty cynical penalty and was sent to the bin for 10 minutes. The last kick of the half was scored and South Africa went in at the break 12-7 up. New Zealand were down on the scoreboard, and would be without a member of their pack for the first 9 minutes of the second half – things weren’t looking good for the All Blacks.

You couldn’t help but feel that New Zealand needed something special to overcome those odds. Or at the very least, not to lose too many points when they were shorthanded. Up steps Dan Carter. His 10+ years of game management experience for the All Blacks shone through. He was sublime in this game. His first contribution of the half in terms of altering the scoreboard was a rare successful drop goal for New Zealand (only his 7th in international games). He also had a hand in New Zealand’s second try, a try which came about following a South African knock on. He converted that try from the touch line. New Zealand had not only not conceded points in Caino’s absence, but had now taken the lead 17-12. To add insult to injury, Bryan Habana was sent to the bin for his somewhat illegal attempt to disrupt the ball to try and prevent New Zealand from scoring a try. New Zealand scored the try and he got a 10 minute sit down in the bin – not ideal for him or for South Africa. South Africa scored two more penalties in this half, but these came either side of a successful penalty kick for the All Blacks, meaning the score was 20-18 in the 60th minute and lead to a tense conclusion. No more points were scored but both teams but South Africa came close with JP Pietersen coming close following a probing kick from Pat Lambie but Dan Carter got to the loose ball first and cleared it away into touch. New Zealand won the game, and made it to their 2nd successive final. They have been one of the best teams at this tournament and deserved to make it there.

The second semi-final took place yesterday between Argentina and Australia. Australia made the semi-final after a late win against Scotland (enough has been written about that game in the last week without me briefly recapping it again). Argentina made the semi-finals for the first time since 2007 by taking apart Ireland. The first half could not have started worse for Argentina, as they were passing the ball around a bit loosely and one of those passes was intercepted by Australian lock Rob Simmons who ran over for the first try of the game. The second try came as a result of an Argentinian mistake as well. Argentina were awarded a penalty in their own 22, and instead of clearing their lines, scrum-half Martin Landajo tapped the ball and them knocked it on, giving Australia a scrum right under the posts. A long pass after the scrum allowed Adam Ashley-Cooper to go over in the corner. 14-3 and I was wondering if the game was done. A yellow card was given to Argentinian lock Tomas Lavanini for not using his arms in a tackle. Personally I agree with it being called back and Australia getting the penalty but I’m not sure a yellow card was fair. Australia made the extra man count and scored another try with Ashley-Cooper again going over, this time in the other corner. This try was not converted but the score was 19-6. Argentina got another 3 points before half time but what was evident is that the Australian defence we saw against Wales was not a one off. Argentina were furiously knocking on the door looking for a way through. On occasion they even found a clean break but Australia held firm and did not concede. Half time 19-9.

The second half was mostly how Argentina battled back into the game. They found themselves within a converted try away from tying the game up twice. Bernard Foley scored one penalty and Nicolas Sanchez scored two. Argentina were starting to rumble forward, winning scrum battles and gaining territory. I think a lot of people started just to believe a little bit. However, with this came wasted chances. There were at least 3 times Argentina had overlaps out wide which they didn’t convert into points. And then, a moment of sheer magic. Drew Mitchell broke the line and dodged so many Argentinian tackles before shipping the ball out for Ashley-Cooper to score his hat trick – game over. The full time score was 29-15 and that score line is probably fair. Australia were superb at the breakdown again, with David Pocock making 4 of them. I mentioned it earlier but the defence was imperious. Australia made 142 tackles – which shows just how much Argentina were trying to break through their back line. Australia have looked to be one of the world’s best in this tournament at times, and definitely have earned their place in the last two.

So, the final is Australia versus New Zealand. Remarkably, this is the first time these two nations have met in a Rugby World Cup final. Whatever happens, a record will be broken as no team has won the competition 3 times. New Zealand could set two records if they win as they will be the first team to retain the World Cup. I really have no idea which way the final will go. I think they have played each other twice this season and each won a game – so looking back on past results doesn’t really help. However, the game Australia won was a very close affair, the one New Zealand won…not so much. We are down to the last two games, and what has arguably been the best Rugby World Cup in history will be over. These last two months have been a great time to be a rugby fan for sure, and I have no doubt the last weekend will be fantastic. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

RWC 2015 - And Then There Were Four

As of Saturday morning, there were 8 teams left standing in the 2015 edition of the Rugby World Cup. Now, there are only 4. Looking at these fixtures before this weekend, there was only one game I was confident about how it would finish. I also figured that all 4 games would be relatively close. It didn’t quite play out that way mind! I’m going to talk about all 4 quarter finals and what I thought of the games.

The first quarter final was South Africa versus Wales. I had predicted a South Africa win but I really had no idea how this one would end. The first half was a very even affair. Neither team was significantly better than the other I’d say. One thing which was evident however is that Wales had not learned from the mistakes they made against Australia the week before. Gethin Jenkins spurred a very early chance to give the ball to Tyler Morgan who was in a ton of space on his wing. His pass went over the Morgan’s head (Morgan is over 6ft tall by the way) and went out into touch. North had a chance pretty early on to score a try but was stopped short of the try line. I think if he had opted to go to the corner, he would have got across the line but he went into the middle of the park (I guess to try and get closer to the posts) and was unsuccessful in scoring. Wales gave away 4 first half penalties which lead to shots at goal, some of which were a bit cheap. Wales scored the only try of the half to take the lead at that point, but then coughed up one of those aforementioned cheap penalties which gave South Africa the lead back. It looked as though the score would remain 12-10 to South Africa going into the break before Dan Biggar nailed a very sweet drop goal to give Wales the one point advantage going into the break. A very level first half only really as close as it was due to Welsh sloppiness.

The second half was another close affair with each team scoring 6 points apiece with Wales initially extending their lead before South Africa scored a penalty and a drop goal to take the lead. South Africa missed penalties either side of the drop goal, which left me wondering if those misses would come back to haunt them. Wales scored another penalty to take the lead again to make it 19-18 in the 64th minute. South Africa then attacked Wales quite ferociously, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them. Wales were defending these waves of attack very well until a late scrum opened up an opportunity for South Africa. They gained a bit of space on the blindside of the scrum, which allowed No.8 Vermeulen the chance to pick up the ball. He was then tackled but managed to offload the ball in a magnificent way (backhanded offload? My word) to the scrum half Fourie Du Preez who dotted down for South Africa’s only try of the game. It was not converted but South Africa had the lead 23-19. This was the final score and Wales were eliminated. A very rough end to Wales’ campaign, especially given the pool they were drawn in. However, they certainly had a couple of chances they didn’t take and coughed up too many penalties. In the end I think, that was their undoing.

The late game on Saturday was New Zealand versus France in the same venue of the famous 2007 quarter final where France had won – the Millennium Stadium. I had hoped for this game as soon as I realised it was possible. In 1999, it was a semi-final that France won, in 2007 a quarter final. New Zealand won the World Cup in 2011 by beating France in the final (by a single point). These two nations had some previous at World Cups and I thought there was no way this game wouldn’t be something special. It turns out I was right, but not in the way I could have possibly imagined. I had predicted a New Zealand win but I assumed it would be a tight game. One thing that is worth remembering from this game is that France took the lead via a Spedding penalty. However from this point, it was pretty much one way traffic. France suffered a pretty significant blow in the 10th minute when not only did New Zealand score their first try, but one of the men involved in the famous 2007 win, Freddie Michalak picked up a game ending injury. New Zealand scored another two first half tries which Dan Carter converted almost taking the game out of France’s reach before Picamoles struck back with a try of his own. If this try raised France hopes, then Savea’s second of the evening dashed them again. Half time the score was 29-13.

France scored no more points in this game. New Zealand on the other hand scored 5 tries, 4 of which Dan Carter converted. Those 4 converted tries came within 12 minutes. I’m not sure if France stopped trying at times during this or whether New Zealand were just that good. Honestly it could be both. I’m thinking back on the game now and cannot think of a single passenger in the New Zealand team – everyone put in a fantastic shift. Savea’s first try, by the way, was New Zealand’s 300th try across all of the Rugby World Cups. They are currently on 306 as a result of this game. The next country on the list is Australia with 203. That just goes to show how good New Zealand are at World Cup time. On a personal level, that was Savea’s 4th test hat trick for New Zealand and he has now scored 38 tries in 39 appearances. He is also the 5th highest test try scorer for the All Blacks, now having surpassed a certain Jonah Lomu. What a game this was. I would never have predicted this game being as one sided as it was. New Zealand put on an attacking masterclass and played some real champagne rugby. France never got out of first gear. New Zealand won 62-13. The twitter account of the Eggchasers Rugby Podcast pointed out that Namibia only lost 58-14. Remarkable stuff.

The first game of Sunday was Ireland versus Argentina at the Millennium Stadium. Ireland had been knocked out of the previous 5 World Cups at the quarter final stage. Argentina had only made the semi-final once before, in 2007. The pre-game build up to this one couldn’t have been more different. Argentina last played Namibia and were able to make 10 changes from the team that started in that one. Some of the players starting had a 2 week break before lacing up their boots for this one. Ireland’s last game was almost exactly a week earlier, in which they lost 4 (I think? At least 3) players to injury and had another suspended for striking an opponent. Included in those players missing for this one was Paul O’Connell, Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien. Still, the patchwork Ireland team that was on the field did manage to beat France and played really very well. It wasn’t exactly a poor Ireland team that took to the field. Although it is probably fair to say they got off to a slow start, which against Argentina at the moment is the worst thing you can do. 13 minutes in, Argentina were 17-0 up thanks to tries from Moroni and Imhoff - and Ireland were looking shell-shocked. They were playing too narrow in defence and were left exposed. Ireland did manage to get back into the game before the end of the half, Fitzgerald scoring an excellent try. As the teams went off, it was 20-10 to Argentina. The momentum was definitely with Ireland though.

Ireland started the second half positively and Argentina now started to look rattled. Ireland scored a try in the 43rd minute bringing the deficit down to just 3 points and suddenly Ireland believed (as did I) that the biggest come back in Rugby World Cup history was on the cards. The teams exchanged penalties to make the score 23-20 to Argentina when Ireland missed a long range shot at the posts. There was an argument as to whether the Argentinian prop that conceded the penalty, who had already been sent to the bin, should have been sent off for conceding this penalty for a no-arms tackle, but the ref deemed the offense not worthy of a yellow card. Huge call there. Argentina were awarded another penalty for a high tackle which they scored. The momentum, which had been with the Irish for some time, was now shifting to the Argentinians. They made this count in the 68th minute by getting over the line again for another try. The conversion for this try was spectacular. This try came from Ireland being too narrow again in defence. The score was 33-20 to Argentina and there were just over 10 minutes on the board. Ireland had to score 2 converted tries and prevent Argentina from scoring again. This would be a mammoth task. It proved to be simply too much for them to overcome as in the 72nd minute, Argentina punched a hole again in the Irish defence and scored another try. This again was converted but this time from in front of the posts. To add insult to injury, Argentina scored another penalty to take the score to the total of 43-20. Ireland had been well and truly beaten in this one. The better team on the day have made the semi-finals.

The final game of the quarter finals was Scotland versus Australia. I’ll be honest, pre-game I had written Scotland off. Australia had looked so good against England and Wales in this tournament and were coming off the back of a successful Rugby Championship campaign – how could they not win this? Early doors there was an Australia try which was deserved. Australia had the best of the possession in the first 10 minutes. It was at this point I wondered if this would be the start of one way traffic similar to what we had seen the night before between New Zealand and France. However, this was not to be. Scotland popped a penalty over the posts before the Australia defence fell to sleep, allowing Horne to grab the ball from the ruck and almost stroll over the line. 10-5 to Scotland and not that it wasn’t already, but game on! Nerves appeared to set in for Australia, evident by Bernard Foley dropping a fairly straightforward catch, leading to a scrum penalty for Scotland which they scored to make it 5-13. Australia knocked on the door a fair bit at this point and for the rest of the half. They scored another two tries but didn’t convert either of them. Laidlaw scored another penalty for Scotland meaning the score at half time was 16-15 to Scotland.

The second half started with a massive decision from the referee Craig Joubert. Bernard Foley managed to offload the ball after being tackled and Sean Maitland appeared to try and grab the ball with one hand. He was unsuccessful and knocked it on. This was ruled as a deliberate knock on and Maitland was sent to the sin bin. That is a tough call to make. I’m sure it was a knock on, I’m not sure it was deliberate. This was to prove costly to Scotland as Australia scored a try which they then duly converted making the score 22-16. Laidlaw shortened the gap with another penalty before it looked very much like Ashley-Cooper had scored another try. However, there was a knock on in the build-up and it was scratched off. Big sigh of relief for Scotland there! Australia scored a penalty of their own to re-establish the 6 point deficit before Scotland returned to full strength. Scotland still looked very much like they stood a chance of winning this one. This much was confirmed when Russell charged down a kick from Foley and got the ball to Seymour who scored a try. Laidlaw missed his first kick of the day but the deficit was back at 1 point, 25-24. Australia banged on the door again and again before they scored another try. It was converted, making the score 32-24. Scotland never gave up, and when awarded a penalty in the 68th minute, they opted to kick for sticks (I can only assume to reduce the deficit and give themselves the chance to get back in the game). This worked, and they scored it. Scotland continued to give it everything they had. The rain started hammering down in West London, making things more difficult for both teams. Then, a wayward pass from a replacement Australian prop allowed Scotland in to score a try, which was then converted. 34-32 to Scotland with less than 6 minutes to go. Could it be? Well…

Scotland got the nod at a scrum which collapsed. I’m not sure that was the right decision but I was happy it went the way of Scotland. Then a moment which will be talked about for a fair while I think. Scotland had a line out, which they threw to the back of their line (poor call if you ask me), the ball was then knocked on by Scotland, and it hit an Australian player (Phipps I believe) before being gathered by a Scotland player, when an offside call was made. Personally, I think this is the sort of thing which should be covered in the TMO remit. The technology is there, why not use it to confirm? I think in this instance, Joubert might have got this one wrong. There is definitely a knock on by a Scotland player, which means the game should have been stopped there. The last contact of the ball is from an Australian player before being gathered up by Wells. Australia did not take advantage following the knock on which therefore means the game should be stopped. Now, the Scotland player was in an offside position from the Scotland player who last touched the ball, but the player who last touched the ball knocked it on, thus in theory ending play. Sometimes, this sport is complicated! The video is here if you can come up with something different. Anyway, Joubert gave the penalty to Australia which they scored. 35-34 to Australia with less than a minute left. That was the full time score and Scottish hearts were broken. What a game this was. Two massive decisions against Scotland proved costly and the last northern hemisphere team in the competition exited. Scotland played really well though and this was such a cruel way for their World Cup to end.

And with that, the quarter finals ended. The semi-finals, which will take place next weekend are as follows:

South Africa v New Zealand
Argentina v Australia.

For the first time in Rugby World Cup history, there is no team from the northern hemisphere in the final four. Not good news for those of us based in Europe. However, both semi-final games have the potential to be superb games. Both fixtures that occur in the Rugby Championship but with slightly more edge as there is no return fixture this time out. At this stage, both games could really go either way. I think we will see a New Zealand versus Australia final, repeating the inaugural Rugby World Cup final. However, I could well be wrong. I am sure looking forward to finding out if I will be though.