Here are the Swedish League games played in 2018:
Allsvenskan Men – 20
Allsvenskan Women N – 8 (w.o. 4)
Allsvenskan Women S -11 (w.o. 1)
Div.1 – 11 (w.o. 1)
Div. 2 South – 8 (w.o. 4? + 1 team withdraws)
Div. 2 Mälardalen – 11 (+ 1 match not played)
Div. 2 Mellersta – 8 (w.o. 1)
Games played – 77
Teams – 28
Games played/team = 77/14 = 5,5
As can be seen from the figures, the average team has played between 5 and 6 games, with no team playing more than 8 games. Excluding the July break, teams are playing once every two are three weeks. Some teams are playing once a month.
Exiles´ 3 teams have played 17 games, won 16, were given 3 w.o.
Points for – 1163 Points against – 158
Average for – 68 Average against – 9
Exile´s have had two close games so far, both against Pingvin. Exiles´ Twos and Ladies have won all their games by large margins. Not the most exciting of seasons, easy to see why people are losing interest.
Rather surprisingly, the Tens could almost be called a success this year. The number of teams, especially Swedish ones, was well down on the glory years, but we still managed to get together 24 teams and, even better, show a modest profit. This was Jennifer´s first year in command after Allan had held the fort for 25 years and some of us old-timers feared the worst. But Skarpnäck, where Exiles will be based for a couple of years, turned out to be better than Årsta in many respects. There were a few mishaps, but Jennifer and others did a good job and preparations are already underway for the 27th edition of the Tens in 2019.
There has been considerable dissatisfaction with the Swedish Men´s XV in recent years. Sweden has been at the third European level for two years and a further one year in the now yearly competition. At one time during 2017 – 2018 Sweden were even dicing with further relegation but they managed to recover. For the season 2018 – 2019 they will be facing Moldovia and Luxemburg this Autumn and next May Ukraine and Hungary. I think we have enough decent players to win this group but we must make sure we have a properly selected and prepared team. I have maintained repeatedly in recent years that this has not been the case.
The latest Swedish team which in May beat a very poor and now relegated Latvian team fielded 11 players from abroad, most of them playing at very low levels in England and Ireland, seven from Allsvenskan and five Odds and Sods. The proportions were around the same for the squad against Lithuania in April, where they lost heavily. Sweden should not be taking young men with Swedish connections from abroad unless they are notably better than those playing in Sweden and playing at a demanding level as well. This has never been the case in the last couple of years. I also think that players from lower divisions in Sweden should not be playing at international level. The playing standard is low and hardly any XV-a-side games are played. The leading teams in Div. 1 are Södertälje and Hammarby. They have played five and six games respectively since May, mainly against Erikslund and Kalmar Södra. Hammarby will now complete their season with two further games against the two teams above while Södertälje will have a final two games against Troján. They should not be playing against the heavies from Moldavia in October.
Much has been made of the fact that a number of top level players refuse to play for Sweden. This may have been the case in recent years but was certainly not the case before. There have been to be sure very few players from the top two teams in recent Swedish teams. I am convinced that a combined team from the current Exiles and Pingvin sides would comfortably beat the most recent national teams. And with the European games being scheduled suitably in relation to the Swedish season, instead of the week before or between the two finals as in recent years, there is no reason why the vast majority of active Swedish players should not jump at the chance to represent their country.
Are Exiles only a bunch of foreigners, some of whom stay just three years to become “internationals”? Well, almost all our present players have been here for at least five years and the majority of these immigrants have become Swedish citizens. For the first time in the history of the club Exiles fielded a starting pack against Pingvin who were all Swedish internationals. Five of the backs were internationals too, one more came on at half-time and another was waiting in the wings, injured. We could well have a full Swedish XV starting before the season is over!
I was at the Exiles – Pingvin game last Saturday and have watched it twice on YouTube (the joys of being retired!). On the whole, Exiles were the better team but Pingvin put up a brave fight for the full 80 minutes. Exiles had a large number of line breaks, but staunch defense kept them out. In addition, Exiles´ backs grubber-kicked on about half a dozen occasions when I felt retaining ball in hand would have been a better option. The Pingvin strategy of a couple of pods against the Exiles´ defense before shipping the ball far out was foiled by an outstanding back row where the pods rarely got over the gain line. As a result, Pingvin had no line-breaks and I don´t think their two winger, top try scorers in Allsvenskan, saw the ball from the set pieces.
I was not impressed by the refereeing. The final penalty count was, I think, 9 -2 to Pingvin in the first half and 6 – 4 in the second. After about 55” it was 13 – 3 to Pingvin. Ten of Pingvin´s 13 points arose from a run of 2 – 3 penalties awarded in quick succession. A large number of these seemed to be for offside. A competent referee and two ARs should ensure that very few offside penalties are ever awarded. It was instructive to watch Wayne Barnes refereeing the most recent NZ – Australia game. He talked almost non-stop throughout the game, warning players by name, encouraging them when they avoided penalties and explaining in detail complicated decisions. I thought it was great to watch the free flow which he encouraged. Our referees seem to be falling back to the old pattern of pouncing with great glee on an offense after it occurs, rather than doing everything possible to prevent it. Exiles game this week saw 21 penalties and the previous week 23. That´s too many.
So how many Pingvin/Exiles players should on current form be in the Swedish XV squad?
Starting with Pingvin, I think Lars Tuneståhl, Tobias Rörstam and Erik Sjöbeck are worth a place in the forwards. Oscar Larsson had his first start of the season and didn´t do too much, apart from jumping well. The key players in the backs are mainly non-qualified; Erik Arvidsson was kept on a tight rein last Saturday but I would have him in my squad. And keep an eye on Noel Strandquist and Anthony Rafael for the future.
Exiles should have a ton of players in the squad. Several have been injured for long periods but, judging by Saturday, are coming back to form. Nikorn Thamavongsa (Neets), born in a refugee camp, is coming back to form and is regarded by many as Sweden´s best wing forward. The other two in the Exiles back row were Sean Burke and Rikus van Niekerk. Sean is a top-class line-out jumper and scored a hat-trick for Sweden on one of his last games; he gets through a load of work with ball in hand and in defense. Rikus, basically a centre, has been outstanding in the back row in the last couple of games. At present, I would have all three in my Swedish starting back row. In the front row Casper Forsberg, capped at 18, is a much better hooker now at 20 and could come back into the reckoning. Theo Karlsson, at prop or back row, is the best new young Swedish forward in recent years and should also be included. I was impressed by the work Mak Jelec Dozo put in on Saturday, first as a second row and then as a prop. Mak talks too much and is not always popular with coaches, but should certainly be considered. In the backs, veterans Matt Mitchell, Dustin Eaton and Neill Erasmus should all be included while Daniel Nissila´s hat-trick last Saturday also shows that he is by no means a spent force. Finally the forgotten man, Oliver Sharp, who had a very solid game against Pingvin. He is a very good utility man who can play anywhere from scrum-half to full back. I´m still leaving out another half dozen Exiles internationals, who are not far behind the eleven I have suggested.
What other players in Sweden should be considered for the squad? From Enköping, Robin Fransson has had an up and down season but would still make my squad, as would prop David Bergvall. Jono Edwards is my only choice from the Gothenburg area, although we´ve seen very little of him this season.. Trojan should supply Tobias Borg along with Troján/Vänersborg/Ireland players Richard Nunstedt and Björn Aloander. Taking a quick look at Div. 1, Fredrik Enstad från Södertälje has been an excellent asset in the past and, judging by Saturday´s performance, seems to have recovered from his long-term leg injury. I don´t see anyone from Hammarby showing international class at present. Possibly Robert Persson as a backup scrum-half, while Christopher Sidgwick should be encouraged to put on some kilos to strengthen his claim.
Who else? I´d like to see more of the Melander brothers from Wexiö, but are they playing any XV-a-side rugby? This proposal includes about 22 players.
Then we have our army of British/Irish based players. Frankly, I don´t see any of them as obvious Swedish starters. But let´s get them across to Sweden for a training game where they can show what they can do against the Swedish alternatives. Perhaps two or three might make the cut and that would give us around 25 players to work with.
It´s time for decisions, the Moldovian game is less than two months away.