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Liam Toland column

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    Liam Toland column

    Seeing as Gerry has his own thread, and Liam's articles keep getting posted to their own individual thread, I thought I'd start a thread for Liams articles...

    Amazed by dramatic change to breakdown</span>

    RUGBY ANALYST: If the ball carrier can maintain the ball, it’ll be a case of happy days, writes LIAM TOLAND

    AFTER ONE weekend’s rugby is it too early to ask how the new rules are affecting Irish Rugby? I decided to find out. Five years after my last competitive game, and at 38 years of age, I returned to my old club Old Crescent, 13 years since my last outing. Last Wednesday night we travelled to Kilballyowen Park, Bruff RFC to tackle their J2 XV (thirds) in the McInerney Cup. I was immediately taken by the total transformation of the breakdown. Where once a backrow lived or died on stealing the ball, now it proved almost impossible.

    Bruff had a number eight every bit the Springbok’s Jackal Heinrich Brussow in shape and technique, only a tad meaner. Bruff’s Jackal, Paddy Cleary, was finding great body positions but was pinged every time. Up until last season ball-carrier technique was everything. He had to power through the tackle and on arriving to the deck had to violently adopt the perfect body position in order for his support runners to protect the ball. Now, the ball carrier can be sloppy. Clearly he’ll have to maintain the ball which many of the Magners League players struggled to do over the weekend. But if he does then it’s happy days.

    The option for all levels (including thirds) is to keep the ball carrier off the deck and attack the ball. This did happen against Bruff and several times over the Magners weekend as it was the only way to stop their flow. Where poor technique can be rewarded the floor is the only refuge for lazy ball carriers as it’s almost impossible to steal it. I expect lots of double teams, with two players aggressively targeting the ball. The skill and considerable risk is to keep the ball off the deck which will take at least two defenders. Interesting skill to watch evolve, at all levels.

    In last week’s article I highlighted the importance of the fullback to Irish rugby’s development. I also highlighted my player to watch, Tony Buckley. With that in mind I hope to watch them specifically each weekend and bring my two cents to their development.

    Before we get into that it’s important to remind ourselves that in a sense each province is rebuilding. For instance you can’t lose players such as Malcolm O’Kelly, Girvan Dempsey, CJ van der Linde and Bernard Jackman and your head coach, defensive coach and not expect a drop in opening standards. Or a new centre combination in Munster and expect flowing rugby.

    When it comes to judging quality I always ask two questions in this order; was the player’s decision the correct one and if so, was his execution correct? If the decision is not correct you are in trouble but the execution/skill will develop. Luke Fitzgerald spilled balls and kicked out on the full but he was doing the right thing. Conversely Felix Jones, who attacked the line brilliantly to score his try, was out of position for several Aironi Rugby kicks. (Jones watch videos of Dempsey.)

    So to the fullback. Thus far the French Top 14 sides have a greater understanding of the unit counter-attack. The Irish policy is currently to do it by yourself. Savage lines are required not laboured lateral passing and too many single ball carriers in isolation as happened in Musgrave Park and Firhill Stadium. Aironi Rugby are big boys and far from inferior, but for the sin bin it would have been very close. They also had a great understanding of space.

    When fullback Julien Laharrague received the ball from a Munster kick at least six Italians swarmed around him, running angles. On my IRFU level two couching course they drafted in an Italian who was an expert on spatial awareness and open-field play. His point, the group must counter-attack. It will be interesting as the w
    On the internet, you can be anything you want. It always amazes me why so many people choose to be stupid.

    Have a lot of time for Toland, any of the new Irish ML broadcasters would benefit from his insight IMO. Good article to boot.


      Me too RHH, I've spoken to him quite a few times about rugby and he's always worth listening to, and a superb coach.
      He was in bits after that game against Bruff, played the full 80 minutes, and didn't back up an inch. The old adage of the first few yards being in your head were evident on Wednesday night.

      On the internet, you can be anything you want. It always amazes me why so many people choose to be stupid.


        Provinces need to exploit breakdown possibilities</span>

        RUGBY: This weekend should bring in the big guns which will indicate much about the provincial squads, writes LIAM TOLAND

        LAST WEEKEND three crucial tries arose directly from the new rules. On 69 minutes Fergus McFadden scored a crucial try for Leinster in beating a very strong Cardiff Blues. Crucial for many reasons, putting his side into a winning position for one, but for me because of the source of the try – counter-attack.

        The beautifully, balanced and spatially-aware Isa Nacewa fielded the ball on the blindside and countered. Watch Brian O’Driscoll in these situations where he immediately runs back onto the opposite side of the pitch, away from the ball anticipating a potential run out. Cian Healy powered onto the ball before putting McFadden away. Up till then Leinster chose to kick into field position.

        New rules aside I have massive sympathy for our provinces as defences are so tight it’s hardly worth the risk, but Nacewa proved it is. The provinces need to engender the “counter-attack” spirit in the underage structures where defences are a little less exacting; more of that anon.

        Last week I discussed the breakdown realities of life in the thirds league. Not pretty stuff. However, the new laws are having an effect on the game even though the Irish provinces have yet to consistently expose the possibilities. Two examples come to mind, both resulting in crucial tries. Munster had an attacking scrum 15 metres out from Edinburgh’s line. Being almost in front of the post Edinburgh’s defence was sweating both sides which adds more weight to my point. Denis Leamy broke right to Tomás O’Leary who popped to the flying Ian Dowling who was aided by the decoy run of Sam Tuitupou with Ronan O’Gara further behind. Dowling was scrambled to the deck by number eight Netani Talei and his ball placement was perfect.

        But last season the Fijian Talei would have surfed the tackle back to his feet and if not stolen the ball would have added huge delay to the flow. Donncha O’Callaghan arrived, picked and crashed over before Edinburgh could rearrange.

        A split defence ruthlessly exposed by Dowling’s line break and brilliant ball placement was compounded by Edinburgh’s inability to slow the ball. The pace of the break followed by the unaffected ball forced Edinburgh’s “power house” fullback Chris Paterson to fill in at “pillar” – no chance Chris.

        The breakdown rules will affect defences close to their own line and attacking teams should maximise this advantage but the real damage will be done way outfield. With the speed of ball coming back, front-five defenders can be badly exposed. Old war horses watch out.

        The best defenders in the world wear number 13, where the pace of movement and skill levels are at their optimum. O’Driscoll and co rely heavily on their front five to get back into line quickly and fill the space inside him. In doing so the outside centres will face, worst-case scenario, two attackers. If the front five fail to get into place he will be faced with three or more, a fait accompli. But if the ball is particularly quick the front five will find themselves out of position and forced to act like O’Driscoll.

        Such a case arose for Nacewa’s try. All and sundry focused on Luke Fitzgerald’s wonderful hands to unleash Nacewa but it was Cardiff’s secondrow Deiniol Jones who created the space. Again his problem was pace of the Leinster ruck ball. When Isaac Boss arrived at the base he had Nathan Hynes, Richardt Strauss, Fitzgerald and Nacewa outside him facing three and a half defenders. Boss moved quickly, Hynes ran a lazy decoy and Strauss got on the ball. Without thinking Jones (front five) stepped out of the line and hammered Hynes, who was nowhere near the ball. Now Leinster had a three on two with Strauss’ skill upperm
        On the internet, you can be anything you want. It always amazes me why so many people choose to be stupid.


          The Irish Times - Friday, October 1, 2010
          Successful provinces fundamental to successful Ireland

          LIAM TOLAND, Rugby Analyst

          The fight for supremacy of Ireland between Munster and
          Leinster has fed the Ireland team with great players,
          battled-hardened to compete at top level

          ONCE AGAIN the clash is upon us and I don’t refer to the
          rematch between Old Crescent 3rds and Bruff tomorrow
          morning. Some 120 miles from Rosbrien, Leinster will
          entertain Munster. With four in a row under their belts the
          bookies have very conservatively put Leinster at scratch
          for what has now become the barometer of the domestic
          professional game. Why scratch? For understandable
          reasons the opening weeks have not been kind to Leinster
          and the Magners League table less so. In the meantime
          Munster, with key players bedding in, are finding their

          In Ireland we have many restrictions to success at
          international level (playing numbers/climate/physique etc)
          but we consistently compete in the 6 Nations and against
          Australia and South Africa. As the professional era grew
          apace the Leinster-Munster fixture has been a key building
          block to our international success. Put simply, it has forced
          our players in all provinces to a higher level.

          Prof Michael E Porter, based at Harvard Business School,
          noted competition brought out the best in successful
          multinational companies. “Porter’s Diamond” from his book
          The Competitive Advantage of Nations can give us an
          insight into the tomorrow’s benefits.

          The value of this derby fixture directly explains why Irish
          rugby has secured four Heineken Cups, a Grand Slam and
          many Triple Crowns in the professional era.

          BMW and Mercedes have for many years hammered the
          multinational competition, not because they wanted to
          better the Japanese or the Americans but because they
          insisted on beating each other. They achieved such high
          standards before export through their own competition that
          on arriving into international waters they were unstoppable.
          We have already witnessed the value of local competition
          between Jonny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara, particularly to

          Porter’s determining factors start with the God-given stuff
          where Irish rugby is comparatively weakest of any rugby
          nation; factor conditions, the material resources, ie the
          player, the weather and location.

          We have small numbers, small frames and poor weather.
          Consequently the second factor becomes key to
          surmounting the first negative; related and supported
          industries. The GAA provides us with a key advantage of
          footballing skills in our rugby players. Centres of excellence
          such as UL, through its sports science, is another. The
          provincial academies and specialised coaching such as
          around the scrum are relatively new and enormously

          The home demand conditions from the fans who pay for
          the product is so high, when combined with competition in
          the same domestic market for sponsorship etc, it forces
          our players to perform. Incidentally, the home demand
          through the Munster club provincial/AIL competition is
          fundamental to the success of Munster in the early
          noughties. IRFU, don’t give up on the clubs.

          Lastly but most importantly, for tomorrow, remains the
          “competitive domestic rivalry” that continues to exist
          between Leinster and Munster, with their constant search
          for competitive advantage.

          For some time the fight for supremacy of Ireland, initially
          at club level, has fed the Ireland team with great players,
          battled hardened to compete at 6 Nations level. This fight
          reached its zenith in the last decade and has been t
          It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

          Every plan I have is the best plan in the room. Everybody get quiet and listen to it, and everybody will win


            Toland trying to hard to be a clever clogs, his arguement of smaller frames is crap, it's the skillset that differ us from the SH.
            We have the 2 biggest rugby players in the game at the moment in Maguire &amp; Buckley afaik.


              I don't know, a lot of naturally big athletes end up in the GAA.
              If we turn every Gaelic football club into a rugby club we'd
              probably be able to give NZ a game.
              It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

              Every plan I have is the best plan in the room. Everybody get quiet and listen to it, and everybody will win



                Originally posted by JoeyFantastic
                I don't know, a lot of naturally big athletes end up in the GAA.

                If we turn every Gaelic football club into a rugby club we'd

                probably be able to give NZ a game.
                True, but we're well behind NZ in terms of coaching and skillsets at the moment, thats the fundemental difference, they can play at a high tempo with a higher skillset.
                We have plenty of genetic freaks in Wally, Ferris, Heaslip, Buckley. I don't think the best players in the world are freakishly big, Carter, Pocock, McCaw, Du Preez, BOD and Matfield have been the top performers in the past 2/3 years and only Pocock could be considered a freak.



                  Originally posted by Tobyglen
                  Toland trying to hard to be a clever clogs, his arguement of smaller frames is crap, it's the skillset that differ us from the SH.
                  We have the 2 biggest rugby players in the game at the moment in Maguire &amp; Buckley afaik.

                  How big is maguire then?
                  "Just to be clear, Poite is an idiot" The Plastic Paddy 11-04-2012


                    f**k me. Is Toland seriously claiming that the weather in New
                    Zealand in the winter is lovely? I've been to bloody
                    Invercargill on mid-winter's day, at the club that made The
                    Bull a prop. All I'll say is, as a Crosshaven player, it made me
                    homesick for Myrtleville Cross.
                    Ceterum censeo INM irrumandum esse.



                      Originally posted by Tobyglen
                      Toland trying to hard to be a clever clogs, his arguement of smaller frames is crap, it's the skillset that differ us from the SH.
                      We have the 2 biggest rugby players in the game at the moment in Maguire &amp; Buckley afaik.

                      Yes, it is ultimately skill that defines the difference. But the smaller frames argument isn't "crap" at all - it's a natural consequence of a smaller playing population.

                      Let's say that you need to be at least 6 foot , 15 stone plus and able to do 100m in less than 13 secs to be a top class openside.

                      It's all well and good saying that we have players that meet those perameters. But if you only have, say, 6 of them then there isn't as much competition as if there were 30.

                      The point isn't that Mushy is bigger than the 6 foot 2 NZ prop opposite him. It's that the NZ prop opposite him has come past 15-20 guys that size to get to his AB shirt. Mushy has come past, er, a couple.

                      We have guys with the right physical tools. But we don't have as many of them as the SH. And that means that they don't need to be as good to reach the top of their profession here.

                      It's all about bell curves, isn't it?
                      "We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and remember we are not descended from fearful men" Edward R Murrow

                      "Little by little, we have been brought into the present condition in which we are able neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the remedies we need to cure them." - Livy

                      "I think that progress has been made by two flames that have always been burning in the human heart. The flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that you can build a better world" - Tony Benn


                        I don't think this frame stuff is all that though, because it's
                        only the guy playing that is either bigger, smaller or the
                        same size. The fact that there's 10 others that big not on
                        the pitch, not in the squad, not in the comparison is
                        irrelevant really. Likewise I don't think it does make a
                        difference. Nonu is bigger than most centres yet until he
                        developed the skills NZ were only using his as an extra. If
                        there were better THs around Buckley would be nobody still
                        regardless of being the biggest TH around.

                        I've said this before, the Irish are not genetically tiny - look
                        at the size of a lot of the GAA guys, they're big b*****ds.
                        Look at the fact that many Irish people are farming stock -
                        we naturally produce people of the build of Hayes, that's
                        not weights and steroids, he's naturally a big strong guy.
                        There's also the other type that farming produces, the
                        tough wiry guys. That's the genetic history of the Irish,
                        agricultural labour and wars - hardly conducive to
                        producing lightweight wimps. People continually overplay

                        The biggest isues are 1. this simply isn't the be all and end
                        all of sport the way it is in NZ and SA - in fact rugby is a
                        minority sport. 2. the attitude to the sport means that the
                        skills aren't properly developed. We cherry pick and elitist
                        the sport at too young an age rather than making the core
                        skills the absolute basic of the game.


                          Munster ones I'm worried about

                          RUGBY: Leinster and Munster must beat the best teams in Europe just to get out of their Heineken Cup pools, writes LIAM TOLAND

                          IF YOURE going to win the Heineken Cup then you have to beat the best in Europe. This certainly makes sense but unfortunately both Munster and Leinster must beat the best in Europe to simply get out of their groups. Ulster, by contrast, have a great chance to build on an excellent start in the Magners League.

                          All three provinces have not hit the heights that will come with more rugby and continuity of selection. In the meantime, timing is all important and as Bayonne entertain (bash) Harlequins, fellow Amlin Challenge Cup Pool One side Connacht should be easing past Italians I Cavalieri Estra in Stadio Lungobisenzio.

                          Timing is certainly key for Ulster, with the best of starts, at home to Aironi Rugby, while fellow poolers Bath inflict some pain on Biarritz Olympique.

                          As always, the middle two fixtures is the making of the Heineken Cup season, not necessarily based on who you play but who you don’t.

                          In most cases the Irish provinces can control their own destinies but for Munster and Leinster such tough groups can be made all the easier if London Irish and Toulon and Saracens and Racing Métro 92 neutralise each other in the middle weeks.

                          But Leinster will play ASM Clermont Auvergne away on their third week, whereas Munster are at home against the Ospreys, as are Ulster to Bath.

                          At this remove – even after their brilliant Lansdowne Road win – Leinster have the toughest draw. For several seasons Clermont have been the best team in Europe. They certainly forced the very best out of Munster and but for Butch James’ errant kicking in the RDS Leinster would have fallen. That said it is for Munster I have the most concern this weekend.

                          With the loss of Lifeimi Mafi and Tomás O’Leary Munster are forced once again into changes. With Ian Dowling out and Keith Earls unprepared the attention once again will go to Munster’s number 10 and 12, especially due to the battering O’Gara took from all comers in Dublin last week.

                          With English opponents tomorrow it is important to note the Lansdowne Road Premiership is a vastly different league to our Magners League. It bases its game plan on survival and then power, power, power and finally pace.

                          Defences are battered open with little subtlety. London Irish are stacked with such players and those who read Bob Casey each week will have gained an insight into their regime.

                          A tad loose, I fancy, Bob, considering your opposition in Pool Three, the “red team”.

                          Last week’s late arrival of Samoan super sub Sailosi Tagicakibau against Leeds Carnegie with two tries in 17 minutes is very telling.

                          Furthermore the English teams tend to use their 10s as a fulcrum, with baby Ryan Lamb bringing as much power into that corridor, not him obviously, but brutes like Tagicakibau off the wing and centre Seilala Mapusua.

                          If London Irish target the inside defence of O’Gara watch how Sam Tuitupou reacts. Then watch what London Irish do.

                          Last week Leinster struggled to get quick ball away from the breakdown having broken the first line at 10. London Irish will look to repeat the contact, with O’Gara happy to suck in Tuitupou and immediately expose the space.

                          Strange as it may appear, Tagicakibau is as well to stop short of contact with O’Gara, hit the deck and ensure an immediate scrumhalf pass wide as the lateral movement of Tuitupou is sufficient success.

                          However, the ball will likely arrive quickly from their excellent “off the top” (OTT) lineout, either to Mapusua running hard or to Lamb, who will bring their blindside wingers into the game.

                          Munster must ensure they don’t have a prop at the tail in defensive lineouts at any stage. The Exiles’ OTT and subsequent power play will expose the tail defence. Munster’s backrow must
                          On the internet, you can be anything you want. It always amazes me why so many people choose to be stupid.


                            The Irish Times - Friday, October 15, 2010

                            Munster need more variation to spice it up

                            LIAM TOLAND RUGBY ANALYST

                            Last weekend Munster failed to balance the team’s needs with the hooker’s needs

                            THE ONLY tangible rugby argument I’ve experienced with team-mates (outside of personality clashes) was based on the lineout. Traditionally the “leader” of the pack called the lineout. It was not unusual that that player was in the front five. If it was the secondrow he might be accused of facilitating promotion to a higher grade by calling ball after ball on himself. The on-looking selectors, oblivious to this misdeed, would happily pencil him in, “fine performance”.

                            You’ll often find the senior secondrow influencing this advantage over the junior partner. Devin Toner, for one, arrived to Leinster in 2006 for his first Magners League start to lock down with World Cup winner Owen Finegan against Newport Gwent Dragons. Toner, at 6ft 10ins, would be expected to have been the target. And as a greenhorn it would have built his confidence. But alas the ball was continually sent to Finegan, no leaping salmon. I discovered afterwards Finegan was making the calls.

                            Similarly, if the hooker makes the calls he will primarily be concerned with the successful completion of the lineout. That is, that the ball hits its intended target from the throw, regardless of where in the lineout – job done. Although successful, this statistical analysis is of no use to the outside backs, especially if their primary requirement is to speed up the flow or attack the outside channel.

                            This is made all the worse if the hooker has failed to hit his target as he will err at hitting his bankable front-line jumper for the afternoon, completely nullifying his backs. In both cases the team’s needs have been ignored for the betterment of the lineout caller.

                            A somewhat happy medium is a backrow or scrumhalf making the calls. Scrumhalves may lack the subtle knowledge of lineout movement; technicalities, etc, and probably have enough problems of their own without adding further responsibilities to an already packed job description. Therefore the backrow is probably best positioned (physically) to understand both the hooker and jumpers’ needs and balance them with the team’s needs. He does this by constantly talking to his outhalf for tactical information and his hooker for technical information.

                            As a lineout caller I found myself at times in arguments, having to overrule someone for the betterment of the team. Last weekend Munster failed to balance the team’s needs with the hooker’s needs. A situation further hampered by the lack of Alan Quinlan or his like at the tail to offer another option. They lacked variation on the line but also on the length. When in doubt, shorten.

                            The touchline was a very lonely place for Damien Varley. Firstly, he picks himself up off the deck to prepare for a lineout. Then he computes the call (generally far too complicated) and as he’s pulling his arm back he can see big Bob Casey and Nick Kennedy ready to launch. Even when the ball was perfect, it was odds-on to land in a London Irish hand. That’s how good they are. Consequently Varley needed much support, firstly, in selection at the tail, and secondly, in selection of the lineout formation. He got neither.

                            It’s hard to know how the fixture would have turned out if the lineout provided Ronan O’Gara with the variation he required to exercise control. Time and again they worked deep into London Irish territory to come away with nought. This is very un-Munster-like to be so generous. London Irish coach Toby Booth’s comments aside, I feel it was an opportunity lost for Munster as Irish are ultimately no match for the European Cup wizards. That said, if Munster’s lineout was better, and it will be tomorrow, what advantage can O’Gara eke from it?

                            What Leinster have achiev
                            On the internet, you can be anything you want. It always amazes me why so many people choose to be stupid.


                              Front five hold key for further improvement</span>

                              RUGBY: If we want to threaten the All Blacks this November, we must sacrifice some of our measurables for the unpredictables, writes LIAM TOLAND

                              THE COMMON concept this November will be that there are no excuses for not winning. Over the seasons Ireland has progressed in all the areas that are measurable; lineout, scrum, breakdown clearouts, line breaks and defence. But the areas that are less measurable are worth examining.

                              In a recent Last Word interview Ronan O’Gara articulated the most important element to Munster’s performance over Toulon and by extension a winning team. When Matt Cooper asked does the axiom hold true, forwards win matches and backs decide by how much, O’Gara was quite emphatic. It was numbers one through 10 that won matches but he then immediately narrowed the numbers further to the front five. His thesis was the front five must first win the collisions before getting on top of the opposition.

                              We saw this in its truest form last Saturday when Munster ran in six extraordinary tries. However, in a week where high-performing players were rewarded by Irish squad selection O’Gara’s words ring truer than he may have intended. Winning the collisions is a given but what more can the front five do this autumn?

                              Pádraig Harrington with three Majors under his belt woke up one morning and decided to change his swing. Why? Tiger Woods did something very similar while world number one. Nick Faldo did likewise but slowly drifted away from the limelight. Why do highly successful golfing pros risk everything to rebuild? They do so in a belief that remaining at the same successful level will soon leave them behind in the race for more Majors. What wins you games and tournaments today (Six Nations, Grand Slams and Heineken Cups) will fail tomorrow.

                              My rugby career reached its ceiling because of my inability to progress my skill-set beyond the level they remained. The fact that my starting point was ahead of many was immaterial as it remained behind others which was crucial. Not until Willie Anderson arrived into my life did I fully embrace the need to evolve, a point which was hammered home by Keith Gleeson’s arrival to Leinster.

                              For his first match in Leinster he was awarded Man of the Match. As I was in competition for his jersey I spent much time analysing why an Irish jersey beckoned for him after just 80 minutes of rugby. I focused on my weaknesses. The lessons opened my eyes even though it was a tad late. But I improved immeasurably in that period. Unfortunately I became an excellent tackle-bag holder!

                              The relevance may be a tad subtle but to me learning skills from those better and more comfortable in their art (Gleeson) may not bring you to their level but it will ensure your own development. This brings me back to O’Gara’s front five. He contends that on winning the collisions success will soon follow.

                              This concept has won at every level for Irish rugby over recent years; AIL, Magners League, European Cup, Triple Crown and Grand Slam including touring sides with two exceptions; primarily the All Blacks and then the World Cup. To beat the All Blacks and progress further than ever before in the World Cup we need far far more than what brought us so much success in the past. Our overall game must improve but it is in our front five where that improvement can be sourced.

                              In beating Toulon last Saturday Munster varied their game like never before, particularly in the front five. With Lifeimi Mafi and Sam Tuitupou’s loss came Johne Murphy, Paul Warwick and Doug Howlett’s big performance. The Toulon try line was pulverised by Munster’s front five seeking tries. But in the middle third the backrow and secondrows provided Peter Stringer a wide option, which sweated defenders and left gaps for Stringer and others to exploit off the fringe. The lineout was varied and the blindside was targeted.

                              If Stringer is to figure in the autumn then his ball-carrying f
                              On the internet, you can be anything you want. It always amazes me why so many people choose to be stupid.