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Gatland picks a squad to meet Springboks’ physical challenge head on

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Warren Gatland and his assistant coaches will have been relieved when they’d completed their round of media duties yesterday. Coming hard on the heels of a particularly difficult selection meeting before finalising their 37-man Lions squad to tour South Africa, as is usually the case national identity fuelled much of the inquisition.

The Scots seemed close to delirious with eight players, their highest representation since 1989, and the Welsh were pretty satisfied with having 10 albeit with misgivings about the exclusion of Jonathan Davies, player of the tour four years ago, and Josh Navidi.

Despite a the strongest allocation with 11, the English media led the charge on behalf of Kyle Sinckler especially, and also Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade. But even Gatland and Gregor Townsend had to confess that Ireland had the most hard luck stories, even if eight players would have appeared a positive outcome given the absence of any Irish coaches on the ticket save for Leinster’s forwards coach Robin McBryde.

Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw were nailed on, and Andrew Porter and Iain Henderson were strong candidates, while Bundee Aki and Jack Conan were unexpected bonuses. But Johnny Sexton, James Ryan and, again, Garry Ringrose could rightly feel aggrieved.

Sexton was omitted after recently being stood down for six weeks to avoid a third concussion episode since the turn of the year, and the Lions medical team were assured that he has passed all protocols and is, according to Stuart Lancaster “training the house down”.

As Gatland effectively admitted, it certainly wasn’t a form issue.

“I thought we was outstanding against Scotland, great against England. At the end of the day he is a quality player. It wasn’t about concussion for me. We made a tough call about durability.

“We went back and yeah he played the Six Nations. But the thing with the Six Nations is that you have a couple of games and then you get a week off because it is really tough. He’s been rested on a number of occasions for Leinster or Ireland.

“But the last time Johnny played three consecutive weekends in a row was 2018. And he has had some knocks, but he’s had a number of different injuries.

“I just wanted to send a message to the guys we have selected that ‘we have complete confidence in you to do a job’. And this is mitigating against the risk that if we picked Johnny and he doesn’t play games, doesn’t get through the tour, then having to call someone in, for me it’s such an important position I just wanted to get that right.”

The Lions head coach also pointed to Russell’s control and game management against France while still providing “a point of difference” from the other outhalves.

Unlucky

Gatland referenced Leinster’s defeats by Saracens last September and La Rochelle last Sunday when encountering Will Skelton, especially with the Springboks in mind, while admitting Ryan was also “very unlucky”.

Ringrose’s absence from Ireland’s win over England led to the Lions head coach being particularly taken by the “absolutely brilliant” performances of Aki and Henshaw, at 13 that day.

Believing his centres provide a good balance Gatland likened Aki to Tuilagi. “He brings that go forward, that physicality, and has a fantastic mix in his game. They (South Africa) are going to have a big physical midfield and be really direct. We have to have players to mirror that if we need to, but also have to go and play some rugby with centres that can distribute and a back three that can score tries.”

Townsend believes they have three options at 12, in Owen Farrell, Aki and Henshaw, and three at 13 in Chris Harris, Elliot Daly and Henshaw again.

British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones watches the squad announcement on Thursday. Photograph: Inpho
British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones watches the squad announcement on Thursday. Photograph: Inpho

Up front, eyebrows will have been raised over the non-selection of Cian Healy and Sinckler. Both Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson making the cut, and Gatland cited Scotland’s particularly low penalty count at scrum time as well as Andrew Porter’s flexibility in covering both sides of the scrum.

“With the loose forwards, and particularly with Sam [SIMMONDS]and Taulupe Faletau, we looked at number 8s being explosive in the way they carry, with footwork,” said Gatland, which assuredly applies to Conan as well. “Billy (Vunipola) at the moment he is probably not quite there.”

With its decided emphasis on meeting the Springboks’ physical challenge head on, Gatland admitted the squad may have looked “a little bit different if you were going to Australia or New Zealand.

DNA

“I think South Africa have gone back to their DNA. Looking at the World Cup, looking at the documentary they’ve done, it shows you what their mentality is. It’s about being physical and winning that physical battle.

“We want to play some really good rugby but at times we’re going to have to roll our sleeves up and get in the trenches and back each other up, because it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be brutal at times.”

Presuming the Exeter Chiefs reach the Premiership final, Saracens will be playing in the Championship promotion play-offs and also factoring in Finn Russell’s commitments with Racing, at least 10 players could well be missing from the training camp in Jersey.

Although the rising tensions in the fishing waters of Jersey were not expected to sink the Lions’ plans, Gatland quipped: “I’m only concentrating on the rugby side, not the gunboats and the other stuff that’s going on. We’ve just got to make sure that if we do go fishing we don’t go out too far.”

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Covid-19: More than half of Austrians now fully vaccinated

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With 53,386 vaccinations carried out on Thursday, Austria cross the 50 percent mark for total vaccinations. 

This means that 4,479,543 people are completely vaccinated against Covid-19 in Austria as at Thursday evening, July 29th. 

A further nine percent of the population have received one vaccination, bringing the total percentage of people who have had at least one shot to 58.9 percent or (5.2 million people). 

UPDATED: How can I get vaccinated for Covid-19 in Austria?

The Austrian government has welcomed the news. 

“More than half of the total population is now very well protected against the coronavirus and thus the highly contagious Delta variant thanks to the full immunisation,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said on Thursday afternoon. 

Burgenland has the highest percentage of vaccinated people with 66.1 percent, followed by Carinthia (55.7 percent) and Salzburg (55.2 percent). 

The lowest percentage is in Upper Austria, where 54.9 percent of the population is vaccinated. 

Kleinmürbisch in the Güssing district has the highest percentage of vaccinated people in Austria, with just under 80 percent of people vaccinated. 

The village however only has 230 residents. 

“But we are still a long way from reaching our destination,” warned the minister. 

Around one quarter of the Austrian population has indicated a reluctance to be vaccinated, with around 15 percent saying they will refuse the vaccination. 



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6 Amusing Historic Stereotypes of Major Russian Cities

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About the authorFor lovers of Russian culture, folklore, and history, Kotar’s work is a treasure. The grandson of White Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is an author of epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. You can see his four books here on Amazon.

He is also a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, a professional translator, and choir director at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, where he lives. Here is his bio from his blog, where he writes about many aspects of Russia. We highly recommend following it and subscribing to his email list to get exclusive material.

He has an excellent Pinterest page, and you can follow him on Facebook. Here is an archive of his work published on Russia Insider.

He is currently running a remarkably successful crowdfunding on Kickstarter to be able to publish his upcoming novels. Please support him if you can!


Stereotypes are a funny thing. On the one hand, they’re often no more than caricatures. On the other hand, there’s a surprising amount of bitter truth to some of them. Like the Russians say with their morbid humor, “In every joke, there’s a bit of a joke.”

This is especially interesting when we consider old Rus. We don’t have much to go on, historically speaking, other than chronicles, treaties, and a few bits of birch bark.

However, Russians have preserved some interesting stereotypes about the inhabitants of old Russian cities. Whether there’s any truth to them or not is almost beside the point. They’re fascinating, revealing a window to a world long gone, yet still persisting in the habits and personalities of today’s Russians. (Here’s the original Russian article that I translated)

EVERYONE IN GREAT NOVGOROD IS A REBEL

Novgorod’s rebelliousness is legendary. The image of a brawling Novgorodian is almost a calling card of the city. The reason this stereotype came about has to do with the old chronicles. They were filled with illustrations of the constant arguments at the Novgorodian Veche, a kind of popular assembly that met in the central square. (See my translation of “Martha the Mayoress” for a vivid fictionalized example).

Of course, there were arguments and even fights during the Veche. However, they did not constantly devolve into fist-fights, as the legends suggest. Naturally, the chroniclers would choose the most vivid and bloody examples from history to illustrate their point. After all, Novgorod was often an opponent of Kiev and, later, Moscow. But in actual fact, the inhabitants of Great Novgorod were fiercely loyal to their government and loved their city. Compromise was the order of the day, not broken heads. Plus, they were more than usually literate.

EVERYONE IN PSKOV IS A THIEF OR A MORON

Even in modern times, Pskovians have had to endure countless jokes about their crudeness, stupidity, and their lack of good manners. This may or may not be true. As for their lack of manners, that is entirely a matter of hats. The inhabitants of Pskov, no matter what their social standing, hardly ever doffed their cap before anyone (which is extremely bad form in old Rus). However, this wasn’t crudity or bad breeding.

It used to be that a hat symbolized one’s personal dignity. In Pskov in particular, to actually take off your hat meant to be shamed. It may be a bastardization of the more generally accepted rule that if someone else took your hat off your headthat was a terrible insult.

EVERYONE IN NIZHNI NOVGOROD IS A DRUNKARD

The painful topic of Russian alcoholism became especially relevant in Nizhni Novgorod at the end of the 17th century. A kind of epidemic of alcoholism rose up, and it was normal to see women as well as men lying in the streets in a drunken stupor. Foreign travelers recounted after their visits to Nizhni Novgorod that “Russians don’t do anything but feast.”

Of course, they did more than feast. But on holidays, Russians have always allowed themselves some excesses. It’s not entirely fair to single out Nizhni Novgorod, when alcoholism still is the gravest problem facing Russia today, as in olden times.

EVERYONE IN VLADIMIR IS A CRIMINAL

This stereotype appeared very early. It’s easy to understand. Vladimir itself had five prisons, including the famous “Vladimir Central Prison.” From the beginning, Vladimirians have been considered con artists who like a dangerous life. It didn’t help that the path to Siberia for exiled convicts went through Vladimir. It was even called the “Vladimirka.”

Exiled convicts stopped in Vladimir to have half their heads shaved (a scene vividly recounted in the excellent Russian film The Siberian Barber). Then they’d be branded as exiles or thieves, clapped in irons, and set upon the road to Siberia. In old times, the path could take as long as two years, and those two years were not counted as part of their allotted time.

Vladimir itself, for all that, was a typical enough provincial town.

EVERYONE IN ROSTOV IS AN ARTISAN

When a Russian hears the word “finift’” (enameling), he immediately thinks of Rostov. Nothing could change the old stereotype that every inhabitant of ancient Rostov worked in the enameling guild. That’s complete nonsense, of course. First of all, the best enamellists in old Rus were as a rule in Kiev, the capital city. There were also some famous artisans in Pskov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and Great Novgorod.

The only difference is that Rostov alone has preserved the traditional techniques of enameling since ancient times. Even today, there is a factory producing enameled work. Perhaps for this reason alone, tourists still visit Rostov exclusively to see enameled boxes.

THE INDUSTRIOUS YARSOLAVIAN

The industrious muzhik from Yaroslavl is an image that we even find in Gogol. From the times of Rus, Yaroslavians were known as people who were never apathetic, lazy, or prone to tiredness. Instead, they’re known to be active to a manic degree. This may have something to do with the odd tradition that Yaroslav is a city of buried treasure.

Apparently, wherever you turn, you see someone uncovering a jewelry box or trying to break into an ancient chest of drawers. Perhaps a little more seriously, Yaroslavians have long been known as “chicks of the cuckoo.” In other words, they’re more than usually capable of leaving their homeland without much regret. This quality has a clear historical origin.

Yaroslav was built on the crossroads of ancient roads—a path used by merchants from Scandinavia all the way to the Arab lands. From the middle of the 16th century, Yarsolavl became the most important center for trade in all of Rus. This constant movement often inspired young Yaroslavians to try out their luck in foreign lands.

True or not, such stereotypes make for fascinating stories. For myself, the “myth” of the boisterous Novgorodian comes to life in my third novel, The Heart of the World, in a semi-fictionalized setting of the Veche that goes fabulously wrong for all concerned.


Source: Nicholas Kotar

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Health officials warn of strain on hospitals but Covid-19 admissions remain low

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Health officials have warned of mounting strain on hospitals as coronavirus infections increase, although the absolute number of admissions remains below previous surges of the disease.

Prof Philip Nolan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) epidemiological modelling group, reported rising intensive care admissions but said the rise in hospital and ICU admissions was “far less” than “if we didn’t have so much of the population protected through vaccination”.

Dr Nolan said the expected pattern of infection in coming weeks was “really quite uncertain”. The background of exponential virus growth earlier in July “may or may not be stabilising” but the increase in hospital and intensive care admissions tracked the rising rate of infection.

While there was one intensive care admission every two days toward the end of June, Dr Nolan said the ICU admission rate in the past week was approaching three per day.

There were 152 people in hospital yesterday. The figure contrasts 1,949 during the January peak. There were 333 inpatients at the start of November 2020 and 862 in April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.

But admissions are again rising fast.

“We’re seeing on average 26 per day admitted to hospital in the last seven days and 30 today. You can see that that’s very significantly up, pretty much double what it was two weeks ago,” Dr Nolan told reporters at the Department of Health.


In a sign of pressure on the system, nurses in Limerick’s main hospital complained yesterday that overcrowding there is worsening despite the provision of more than 100 additional beds.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to intervene directly to “look under the bonnet” and see why additional beds at University Hospital Limerick had not made a substantial impact.

More trolleys had been placed on wards and corridors in University Hospital Limerick in recent days as overcrowding continued, the union said.

Uneven pressure

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the uneven spread of coronavirus infections throughout the State meant some hospitals might be under more pressure than suggested by overall admissions data.

“It can happen that individual hospitals can be under quite a degree of pressure when the overall situation in the country might not suggest that’s the case. So we do know that maybe some hospitals in the west have already had a challenge with much more infections based on the most recent wave than other hospitals.”

He acknowledged reported pressure on hospitals in Limerick and in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and cited pressure also on hospitals in Co Mayo.

“We have seen quite a wide variation in case numbers in individual hospitals,” Dr Holohan said. “We have 150 give or take hospitalisations. That’s not spread evenly spread across the 30 or 40 hospitals that might be admitting patients with this infection.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said hospitals would be under pressure if there were no coronavirus admissions.

“The point that obviously the absolute numbers are much less than previous waves is very welcome,” he said.

“The reality is that if we had no cases of Covid in hospital tomorrow morning our hospitals would be under extreme pressure. Unfortunately that’s what we’re dealing with, both pre-Covid and now but particularly as a result of Covid in the last number of months

“Our healthcare workers are exhausted frankly. They’re facing into enormous backlogs in elective care, non-Covid care, non-Covid health plans, social care: both in acute settings and in community,” he confirmed.

“So while the absolute numbers are less than previously we’re very conscious that any increase in those number … has potential to be very significant to the health service that we’re trying to get back up to full function.”

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