Rugby in Sweden and Europe

Thoughts on rugby from Hunter Mabon Senior

Author: Hunter Mabon Snr Page 2 of 13

Rugby Europe strikes again!

Sweden Ladies will now apparently take part in the Olympic qualifying in 10 days time in Russia. But wait a minute, didn´t Sweden come 5th in the Trophy last week and only two would qualify? No information as usual from Rugby Europe whom I have often described as one of the world´s most incompetent sporting organisations (remember the appalling mismanagement of the Olympics in 2016?).

What has obviously happened is as follows: originally the set-up was 9 teams from the Championship, 2 from the Trophy and 1 from the Conference. Now the Championship only had 10 eligible teams  (Scotland and Wales are not Olympic nations). But obviously three of the weaker nations, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ukraine have said they are not interested in making up the numbers. That leaves 7 who will all participate: France, Russia, Spain, Ireland, England, Poland and Italy

That leaves 5 places which now gives the Trophy 4 participants. The top 2 are Germany and Romania and that leaves places for the 3rd and 4th teams, Czechia and Finland. Finland also appears to have said “no thank you” and that leaves 5th-placed Sweden who have accepted. Moldova from the Conference make up the numbers. To rearrange all this ten days before a major tournament is of course unacceptable but this is the incompetent way European rugby is run. They must have known weeks ago that several countries weren´t interested in continuing qualifying, especially with only the winner going directly to Tokyo in 2020.  But once again they do not want to lose face vis-à-vis the Olympic movement.

Should Sweden have accepted the offer? One would hope it doesn´t cost the Union a penny; they are in the same group as Russia and England (representing GB) and will probably end up playing Moldova for last place. Sweden can however claim to the Swedish Olympic Committee that they got through to the second round of Olympic qualifying and hope that the Committee doesn´t work out how they got there.

Reflexioner kring SM-7manna

Alla tycks vara eniga om att det var en bra helg i Malmö och det kan vi alla vara tacksamma för. Vi behöver en ”feel-good factor” i svensk rugby efter diverse besvikelser. En av dessa var de dåliga insatser som herrlandslaget presterade i Europa-trophy där de slutade sexa, klart sämre än länder vi tidigare spelat jämnt emot eller slagit. Sex av de spelare som visade upp sig i Europa spelade i Malmö, ett par var antagligen skadade och fyra spelar i utlandet. Tre av Europa-spelarna ställde upp i Malmö för de två klart bästa lagen, Exiles och Wexiö. Om jag har räknat rätt var 19 av spelarna i finalen OS-behöriga för Sverige (svenskt pass) plus en till endast Sverige-behörig.

Jag har vid ett flertal tillfällen hävdat att uttagningen till landslaget varit mycket bristfällig. Det är svårt att bedöma kvaliteten hos de utländska spelarna då de aldrig ställs mot inhemska konkurrenter. Ta dock en titt på de två Europa-omgångarna i år. Jag tror inte många vill göra gällande att Sverige skulle slå Exiles i dagens läge. Tveksamt att de ens skulle besegra Wexiö.  Jag tror att Masset T. gjorde ett bra jobb som coach för två år sedan men sedan dess har det gått utför. Han tränar ett lag på Irland, utser sin flickvän som manager, tar ut två spelare från sitt lag på Irland och två spelare från sitt lag i Sverige. Dagsformen tyder på att kanske bara en av dessa spelare borde ha varit med. Hur som helst, jag vill göra gällande att det inte bör vara så svårt att få ihop ett svenskt lag från de spelare som visade upp sig i Malmö i helgen. Det blir billigare och det blir lättare för dem att träna ihop, något som de uppenbarligen inte hade gjort före årets Trophymatcher. Och se till att vi får en ny coach baserad i Sverige, som gärna får ett mindre arvode för att ta hand om laget.

Jag är mindre insatt i damernas spelarmaterial men jag kan med egna ögon konstatera att spelet i Europa gått bakåt de två senaste åren. Nio av de 12 spelarna i Malmö är aktiva i Sverige och jag tror att åtta ställde upp i helgen. De återstående tre har alla varit Sverigebaserade och egentligen finns inga ”utlandssvenskor”. Semifinalisterna i Malmö var klart bättre än de fyra andra lagen; av finalisterna hade segrarna Pingvin noll spelare med i Europatrophy, medan Malmö hade två. I matchen om 3dje plats hade Exiles och Vänersborg en spelare vardera. Således fyra spelare från de fyra klart bästa lagen. Nu finns ingen direkt koppling mellan bra lag och bra enskilda spelare, men man kan tycka det är märkligt att svenska mästarna inte har en enda spelare i landslagstruppen. Var tränaren Mobbs-Smith med i Malmö med anteckningsblocket i högsta hugg?

Jag vet inte riktigt var vi för närvarande står på damsidan. Vi får gott om bilder av leende lag, men ingen reell rapportering om matcherna eller analyser. Det går bra för svensk damidrott för närvarande och när man tittar på landslagen i fotboll, basket och handboll, alla i huvudsak professionella, är det uppenbart att de bästa idrottsexemplaren väljer att delta i sport för pengar i stället för amatörsporten rugby. Nyrekryteringen inom rugby sker oftast inom rugbyfamiljer och basen behöver nog vidgas.

Jag har börjat inse att, om en viss person har en negativ inställning till en budbärare och en positiv inställning till en viss företeelse, då är det omöjligt för personen att godta kritik från budbäraren angående företeelsen. Senaste exemplet på detta var min kritik av en alltigenom urusel engelsk kommentator i Malmö i veckan. I stället för att påpeka vilka förtjänster kommentatorn hade eller kanske rentav tillstå att det fanns utrymme för viss kritik valde en Malmöanhängare att kritisera budbäraren, dvs mig, personligen. Jag borde ha kopplat ihop en tråd till köket därifrån två av mina söner hade kunnat kommentera i stället. Poängen var förstås att sönerna kommenterar rugby och amerikansk fotboll på Viasat och att min kritik egentligen bottnade i att sönerna inte hade blivit tillfrågade om Malmöturneringen.

Nu är det så att mina söner är medelåldersherrar, framgångsrika affärsmän, som flyttade hemifrån för mer än 30 år sedan och har numera egna kök. De har anlitats i många år av kommersiella TV-bolag som uppenbarligen anser att de tillför sändningarna ett visst mervärde. De får hyfsat betalt för detta arbete och varje krona tillfaller ograverat Exiles RFC, då de ser detta som en del av sitt engagemang inom föreningen och idrotten. Det handlar om stora belopp varje år. Inför varje sändning lägger de ned åtskilliga timmar i förberedelser för att kunna ge en initierad skildring av turneringen, lagen, regeltolkningar, spelare, namnuttal och diverse (skämtsamma) anekdoter. Mannen i Malmö hade inte lagt ned en enda minut på dessa förberedelser och kunde således inte berika bildspelet i något avseende.

Jag ser för resten att han är upprörd över att jag kallat honom för en ”engelsk” kommentator som om det vore ett hätskt angrepp mot en del av det förenade kungariket. Jag menade naturligtvis till skillnad från den ”svenska” kommentatorn som lär ha gjort ett hyfsat jobb.

An excellent tournament with some new medalists

Another good day of 7s in Skåne. In the Men´s tournament the expected finalists were confirmed to be Exiles and Wexiö, but not before both  had their problems against Göteborg and Enköping respectively in the semis. Exiles were down 7 – 0 and 12 – 7 as yet another referee handed out yellow cards for insignificant offenses. Exiles had six men for one third of the game and it was then they conceded their two tries. Like most of the games it was stop-start rugby  with referees´ decisions determining the run of play. Göteborg played well, however and deserved their place in the semis. Exiles finally won 19 – 12 without impressing. In the second semi Enköping spent most of the first half in the Wexiö 22, but solid tackling kept them out. Then it was the Melander show again with the brothers running away for three tries to give a final score which did not reflect the run of play. And so on to the final with Exiles methodical build-up versus Wexiö´s inspirational break-aways.

But in the final the Wexiö speed machine came unstuck. Exiles proved to be just as fast as the Melanders and also created enough space to go over for four converted tries. Sean Burke had a superb game, bringing down the Wexiö fast men and running away for two tries of his own. Matt Mitchell, now returning from injury, also had a fine tournament

The Ladies´ tournament had four teams who all seemed about the same standard, but in the first semi Exiles seemed to have run out of steam and were outplayed by the strongly supported home team Malmö. They were 19 – 0 up at half-time and Exiles never really got into the game. Final score a deserved win for Malmö, 24 – 7. The other semi was, as expected, a much tighter affair. Pingvin maintained the same standard as when they lost narrowly to Exiles the day before and in another exciting game beat Vänersborg by the only score, 5 – 0. The final two games confirmed how close the teams were. Vänersborg led Exiles for most of the game for third place but with one last desperate effort Exiles got their noses in front to win 12 – 10 and take the bronze medals. This score was repeated in the final when Pingvin took a 12 – 0 lead but only just held on to beat Malmö 12 – 10.

The tournament in Malmö seems on the whole to have been a great success and the matches shown on TV should have been a good advertisement for the sport. The matches as a whole were played in a very good spirit and apart from the absolutely awful English commentator, I´m sure a good time was had by all.

I would make a couple of comments about the referees who obviously tried hard to run matters professionally. There were very wide differences in interpretation of the laws, something which was quite apparent in the HSBC series this year as well. Some referees blew for a penalty after almost every passage of play and others gave yellow cards every time someone ducked their head into the opposition, thus creating a “high tackle”. Some referees never played the advantage rule while others did. I know there is a school of thought that thinks the players much prefer a penalty to the advantage rule being played, but this was not applied consistently. Matters to be discussed and some sort of consensus to be arrived at. Exiles struggled against Enköping and could have lost against Göteborg while, when play was allowed to flow, they beat the other three teams including the silver medalists  by a total of 130 – 0.    

Entertaining first day in Swedish Sevens

Standard not always terribly high but there were a lot of hard battles both among the ladies and men and a few teams that knew what they were doing.

Among the men the two top teams going into the finals were Exiles and Wexiö and when the smoke cleared today it could well be those two who meet in the final. Exiles were technically the best Seven´s team although they were short of a couple of speedsters. They scored over 100 points to nil against Malmö and Troján but had to work harder against Enköping who were one of the surprises of the tournament. Exiles conceded seven penalties and a yellow card in the first half and had little opportunity to put together any constructive play. Things got a little better in the second half but after yet another penalty, Enköping got the only try of the afternoon against Exiles on the final whistle.

Göteborg showed some enterprise while Södertälje, Troján and Hammarby all proved to have little to offer. Semi-finals tomorrow: Exiles – Göteborg and Wexiö – Enköping. The Melander brothers, Alexander and Dennis, scored ten tries between them on Day 1 and they could trouble Exiles if the ball goes Wexiö´s way. Exiles have probably the strength in depth, however , to come through to take the title.

A lot of very close games among the ladies, but the four teams who made it to the semis were probably the pick of the bunch. Exiles were none too convincing in their first two games against Kalmar Södra and Enköping but they finally came through with try counts of 5 – 2 and  4 – 1. Pingvin beat the same two teams comfortably and they then met Exiles to determine the group winners. This was the best match of the day with both teams raising their game and the winner in doubt until the end. Exiles just got home 17 – 7 after some crushing defensive work by both sides. The other group was perhaps at a little lower level with Vänersborg, not quite as strong as in recent years, just getting the better of Malmö. Semi-finals tomorrow: Exiles – Malmö and Pingvin – Vänersborg. The two latter teams may well knock lumps out of each other, giving Exiles the chance to take the title on superior fitness. But it will be a close run thing.The tournament has been well run by Malmö, the one black mark being the English commentator. He had no idea of the teams, how to pronounce them or a single player´s name. The number of factual errors about the laws and the games in progress were at about the same level as one of Trump´s incoherent speeches. Can´t you do better tomorrow?                                                                                                                                                                                         

Tack och farväl

Vad skall man säga? Två rätt så bedrövliga prestationer från såväl herrarna som damerna. Av de 24 spelare som vi hade på plan var det ytterst få som hade en idé om hur man spelar sjumanna rugby. Varken herrarna eller damerna går till semifinal i dag och både två kommer att sluta på c:a 6:e plats, våra sämsta prestationer sedan mycket länge.

Herrarna började Dag 1 med segrar mot två svaga lag men blev utklassade av Belgien som vann 35 – 7. Deras väntade motståndare i kvarten blev Tjeckien och inte Litauen. De senare hade visat en otrolig nonchalans och ofattbart dåligt beslutsfattande när de förlorade knappt på poolstadiet till det betydligt svagare Tjeckien. Men det hjälpte inte Sverige, ett lag med få idéer, som förlorade 22 – 26 efter att ha legat under hela matchen. Semifinalisterna blir Belgien – Litauen och Ukraina – Tjeckien. Ser ut att vara Belgien och Ukraina som slutar etta/tvåa.

Damerna på Dag 1 vann två matcher mot svagt motstånd och hade lite otur när de förlorade vid slutsignalen mot Rumänien. Det blev kvarten mot Finland där Sverige under långa perioder knappt vidrörde bollen och ett allt annat än imponerande Finland vann 14 – 7. Semifinalerna blir Tyskland – Finland och Rumänien – Tjeckien. Skulle förvåna om inte Tyskland och Rumänien går vidare.

Sverige har nu misslyckats avancera i Europa när det gäller herrarnas 7- och 15-manna och damernas 7-manna. En viktig bidragande faktor när det gäller herrarna är inkompetent administration och laguttagning. När det gäller damerna är vi kanske inte tillräckligt bra, fast det hjälper inte att vi inte tycks ha tillgång till våra två bästa spelare. Rebecca K. och Carina har dock genomgående varit outstanding.

Vad gör nu förbundet? Man kan inte rimligtvis låta den nuvarande uppsättningen rulla ett år till. Varför inte kalla klubbarna till ett möte för att diskutera hur vi skall gå vidare med våra tämligen misslyckade landslag?        

End of the road for this year´s Sevens?

Men: Injuries have resulted in an even weaker team than in Round 1, where Sweden finished 7th. Some of those selected seem hardly to have played any games this year. They should be able to beat Denmark and Bosnia H. in Pool A but are likely to come second to Round 1 winners Belgium. This would give them a quarter final place against Lithuania who were also much better than Sweden in Round 1. I would then expect them to play for placings 5 – 8 and to finish the two rounds in place 6/7, the lowest placing in many years. Ian Gowland, who has a niggling injury, is selected as 13th man and will hopefully be groomed to take over after trainer Massey T. who can point to little success in the job.

Ladies: A couple of team changes from Round 1, but this is basically what we´ve got. Sweden came 5th in Round 1 and will now face Romania, Turkey and Switzerland in Pool B. They should beat the two latter teams but would have to be at their very best to beat Romania. I fear it will be a second place and a quarter-final against Finland. They got to the semi in Round 1 but are beatable and this would give a semi against Germany, winners of Round 1 and almost certainly the end of the road. There are of course various other combinations of results but it´s hard to see Sweden getting beyond the semis. A third place would give Sweden a total of 28 points over the two rounds, but both Germany and Romania would almost certainly be placed higher, promoted and continue to Olympic qualifying. Miracles can happen, games only last 14 minutes, but a happy ending for Sweden would be a major bonus.

Sweden have seen better days


The Swedish senior and U18 teams never challenged on Day 2 with both finishing 7th of 12 teams. Both poor performances, with the seniors perhaps mitigated due to injury. Even at their best they looked nothing like the class of Belgium or Lithuania who met in the semi with Belgians just getting home 17 – 14. In the actual final Ukraine were as usual big and powerful but they were unable to match the speed or skill of the Belgians who won 26 – 7. A pretty good tournament with Croatia and Israel making progress. Time for a rethink for Sweden, they were nowhere near the standard of a couple of years ago with perhaps 4 – 5 of the players not of international class.  Why not take a look at the Swedish finals in a couple of weeks to see what talent is coming through?

By the way, please do not take my comments about the U18s as criticism of the players or their parents. Everyone would love to play for his or her country and if parents are able to help in some way, good for them. My point was that this is no way to run a national team. I might add that the Mabon family has had six players representing Sweden at different levels and my wife and I have been very proud of all of them.

I don´t like just being a cheerleader för everything happening in Swedish rugby. I give praise when I think it is justified and criticism when it is not. As almost no-one else criticises it is difficult to see how Swedish rugby can make progress. There are many serious issues which cannot just be brushed under the carpet.

A few other league games in Sweden at the weekend with someone sneeringly asking a friend why I hadn´t written about the Troján – Exiles B match which the home team won 24 – 17. Well, I´m in Italy for the moment and spending my time watching streaming of the European Sevens. I´m told that Exiles is not in a state of collapse now that their second team has lost narrowly away to a team which we hope will be in Allsvenskan next year. Also that the game was refereed by the Linköping trainer who put in a fine job defending the Troján try-line with a large number of penalties against Exiles.

Midsummer next week and a total of 34 league games have been played so far this season, about four games a week. Well under 100 games projected for the full season. How do we get out of this fairly desperate situation?

Finally, well done Portugal who just beat Germany to return to the 15´s Championship level next year. They demolished all the other teams at the Trophy level this year and deserve another go among the big boys.

Dags för allvarliga frågor!

Som befarade visade sig Ukraina vara alldeles för starka för ett sargat svenskt lag. Vad jag förstår hade Sverige upp till fyra skadade och de som fanns kvar räckte inte alls till. I skrivande stund spelar vi nu mot Israel om platserna 5 – 8, men även om vi kommer femma kan vi glömma avancemang till OS-kval efter andra omgången om en vecka. Litauen och Belgien har visat sig vara klart bättre än vad vi är och även Ukraina, som vi sett idag, är mycket farliga. Jag har skrivit till leda att detta inte var vårt bästa lag även med kravet på svenskt pass och än en gång kan det vara dags att se över ledningens agerande.

När det gäller U18 vet jag inte riktigt vad de gör här. Som jag nämnde i går hade de ingen chans mot Tjeckien som spelade illa, lekte med dem och ändå vann 24 – 0. Här var det pojkar, nybörjare, som spelade mot unga män. Om jag förstått saken rätt var det flera andra spelare som hade varit med om de haft råd att betala resan. Deltagandet i landslaget bör inte vara beroende av föräldrarnas betalningsförmåga. Om man representerar Sverige skall det vara förbundet som betalar. Klarar vi inte det skall vi inte deltaga.

Som jag nämnde för några veckor sedan borde förbundet ha tre mål för denna säsong: att herrarnas 7- och 15-manna samt damernas 7-manna alla går upp till Grand Prix 2020. Med en riktig satsning hade vi haft möjlighet att uppnå alla tre. Nu kan vi glömma herrarna och damerna hänger på en skör tråd. Dags för förbundet att ta ett krafttag. Personligen tycker jag inte om att landslagen lever ett fristående liv från förbundet, med ofta felaktiga eller regelvidriga beslut i bagaget. Det är inte lätt att vara förtroendevald i en styrelse, men nu krävs lite civilkurage!

Sweden making progress in 7s

Sweden had a reasonable first day, winning all three matches and topping their group. They ran away from Bosnia H., laboured a  bit  against Latvia and rounded off with a pretty smooth performance against Luxemburg. They were probably in the easiest group however and the bad news is that they will now meet Ukraine who put up a very up and down performance, but a team I would still rate as possible contenders. If we get through that it will be Israel or Croatia in the semi, both of whom put up very creditable performances on Day 1. Then it would be a final against Belgium or Lithuania, probably the latter who looked the best team on Day 1.

The U18 won two games easily and then went down 14 – 15 to Latvia. There is bad news here as well; they will meet the Czechs in the Quarters, who look to be the best team in the tournament.

Sweden´s chance of qualifying perhaps 50 – 50

An exciting Seven´s tournament where Sweden finished fifth and their chances of qualifying for the two places in the next round of Olympic qualifying and the European Grand Prix are rather slender. Sweden started off very well on Day 1 and were certainly one of the favourites. Their play disintegrated , however, on Day 2 and they were eliminated in the quarter-final by Czechia by a single try 5 – 0. The speed and interpassing on Day 1 were gone and they had nothing left when the Czech speedster sprinted away for the only score. Another quarter-final upset was the last-minute defeat of perhaps the best-looking team on Day 1, Portugal. They dominated and led 7 – 0 at half-time but faded away after the break and let the powerful Romanians in by 14 – 7. Germany got through comfortably against a plucky Turkey and Finland were just a bit stronger than Norway. So the surprise semi-finals were Germany – Finland and Romania – Czechia. Germany were too fast for Finland but the other semi was a thriller; the Czechs who had put out Sweden played well and Romania could only get through in extra time. Germany were always in command in the final although Romania came back strongly to make it 20 – 7.-Sweden had a titanic battle against Portugal for 5th to 8th place  with Rebecca more or less single handed getting them through 12 – 0. There was very little of the fluency from Day 1 although the tackling was still solid. Sweden´s final match gave a comfortable win 29 – 5 and fifth place.

When it comes to qualifying, Germany and Romania are in the driving seat while the surprise package Czechia in third place still has a chance in the second round. Portugal in 7th place is probably too far back to qualify but can still do damage by defeating some of the contenders. I doubt if Sweden can beat Germany at present but the remaining three would all present serious challenges to Sweden. If Sweden came second in the next round with Germany winning, they would only qualify if neither Romania nor Czechia were placed among the top four. Which is not very probable, but in 14 minutes anything can happen.

As mentioned after Day 1 Sweden had improved considerably since last year but for the first two games today it was back to square one. I don´t know if fitness is an issue but they looked out on their feet against the Czechs. As their interpassing deteriorated it was clear that they had no out and out sprinter in the squad. The Czechs had and it was she who sprinted away to get the deciding score against the Swedes.     

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