Sunday, February 26, 2012

6 Nations - England get really close, Scotland fairly close, and Italy nowhere close

The last handy running Scot before Hogg (picture )

Ireland got things underway at the Aviva on Saturday with a convincing win over the ItaliansThe Italians made a good fist of taking the game to a rusty looking Ireland in the first half. The crowd was starting to get pretty restless – first we went to France, and you didn’t play, then we come to the Aviva and you don’t play either. After half time, normal service was resumed and Ireland ran out easy winners. Earls got one, so did Court and Trimble, and Bowe got two, while Kearney is back to near his best. Eoin Reddan’s introduction speeded the game up and gave ~Ireland the front foot ball they needed, and Sexton’s near impeccable boot kept the score board ticking. Kidney must be feeling the pressure a bit – moving Bowe into centre, and using his bench effectively – very unKidney like. So We’re back on horse with a win, let’s get stuck into the French now.

It wasn’t the massacre I predicted at Twickenham as the English manned up and could have got a result with a bit more composure. They’ll feel a bit hard done by, but this isn’t the last great scorer, it’s the jungle of the 6 Nations, and whether you win or lose gets marked, not how you played the game. I just wish Wales had played that badly against us. England defended well, and attacked well, but only in fits and starts. In the long run, that’s not an issue as the new combinations will gel, and they are only going to get better. The Welsh had no rhythm, and there was no flow to their game. Wales staggered but progressed, England came out of it honour intact, and it’s all still to play for as the 6N is not won or lost yet.

The French in typical fashion, kept the Scots guessing up until the last ten minutes, then turned on the power and put the game to bed. It was a hard fought full blooded affair, one for the RSPCA to get on the case, as I saw cruelty to several animals including Rougerie and Grey. On the positive side, Scotland scored two tries, and their backs looked like they really meant it for the first time since, um, Scot Hastings played. On the downside, it’s played three, lost three, and they are going to arriving in Dublin desperate for a win. France are looking frighteningly good (exhibit A – Fofana), and the Wales France match is going to be a killer.

In the Pro 12, Ulster, Munster and Connacht won. Leinster got an away draw against Glasgow, which I didn’t catch because I hadn’t worked enough credit in. Result for Irish rugby!

RBS Six Nations
Saturday , February 25

Ireland 42 - 10 Italy 
England 12 - 19 Wales

Sunday , February 26

Scotland 17 - 23 France

Thursday, February 23, 2012

I'm tipping Ireland, Wales, France, and Stan for Munster!

Stan for Munster (picture )

Ireland are up first to defend their honour against the Italians, and to get back on the horse after their defeat to Wales.  The team still has a bit of a stodgy feel it to it, with O’Callaghan and D’Arcy there for the ride, and Earls badly misplaced in center.  He’s not there for his tackling or handling skills, fairly basic requisites for a center. D’Arcy may be there because of a lack of options, but the time is now to be giving Bowe a go, or look at O’Malley, even Trimble could be an option.  Italy have taken a punt on Tobias Botes  (pronounced Bow-tez) at fly half. Not a bad player, but he can’t kick penalties to save his life. I can’t see any other way Italy are going to score points, so that pretty well scuppers whatever slim chance they had in the first place. I don’t know if it’ll be proscecco rugby from Ireland but they will surely win this easily.

The match of the weekend is the contest between England and Wales. Wales are like a juggernaut pounding down the M25, while England are more like a mini with a learner driver, changing lanes without checking their rearview mirror. The results are not likely to be pretty. England may well beef their team up with Flood, Lawes and Tuallagi, but – loads of unfamiliar combinations, it’s not likely to gel in time. Could easily be a match to go down in history, and not for the reasons England want. Wales by 10-14 points. While we’re on Wales they’ve apparently been boosting their fitness with treatment s in freezing cryochambers in Poland. Aren’t those the ones the Irish team used in the build up to the 07 world cup, which did us basically feck all good. Do you think the Poles sabotaged the chambers as payback for us robbing them of a generation of young people?

The final match of the weekend is Edinburgh, where the Scots will be trying to get the better of the French. Thanks to a colossal balls up on the part of French rugby in Paris on THAT Saturday night, they haven’t played together for a three weeks, while the Scots were actively bashing their brains out  against Wales a mere two weeks ago. The Scots stepped up their game from England to Wales and if they step up again, they are going to give the French a good match. France may feel the backlash of a lingering grudge by the Scots for decisions going against them against Wales. The French, on paper, should beat them easily, and will probably do that.

Finally, with Tony McGahan on his way out of Munster, time to throw a leftfield suggestion into the hat. With the IRFU and the FAI sharing the Aviva Stadium, could the spirit of sharing not extend to managers, or in this case , ex managers, namely Steve Staunton? Graham Henry could be an advisor, but I’d back Stan the Gaffer to deliver something completely unexpected for Munster.

RBS Six Nations Saturday , February 25
Ireland vs Italy 13:30
England vs Wales 16:00
Sunday , February 26
Scotland vs France 15:00

Sunday, February 19, 2012

McFadden 16 - Scarlets 13

Dave O'Callaghan - one to watch (picture )

This weekend was a bit of a disaster frankly in terms of watching rugby. Friday night was U11 Leinster cricket for my son, and the rest of the weekend was spent doing some chores and  earning a bit of credit for the upcoming 6 Nations rugby black out weekends on the way

I followed the Leinster and Ulster matches on twitter. It sounded like a filthy night at the RDS (the weather that is, not the ladies night), not conditions for slick ball handling, and from the reactions I’d say Leinster butchered a few good scoring opportunities.  Scarlets were right in the match right up until the last minute, when McFadden, who scored all of Leinsters points, put over a penalty to win at the death. Now YOU know what it feels like to have something taken from you right at the end! The mystery for me, notwithstanding a decent display from the Scarlets, is how the Welsh sides in general are fairly average, but their national team is awesome. While Ireland, with three banging teams, have a good side, but not good enough to beat Wales.

Ulster squandered an early lead to lose to the Blues, and George Clancy is not flavor of the month in Ulster by the sounds of things. I think they should be starting with Marshall/Pienaar at this stage. I’d also be taking a long hard look at Muller in the captaincy role – I saw him have a good few arguments with refs at the Sharks, and there’s only one winner when you argue with the ref.

I caught some of the Munster match, good attack, but their scrum was under pressure a fair bit – and that’s the least Irish bit of the team. Don’t’ tell me you been talking to John Afoa! The guys who caught my eye while I was watching were Peter O'Mahony,  and  Dave O'Callaghan in particular.

And Connacht got a draw against Glasgow – result!

RaboDirect PRO12

Benetton Treviso 14 - 35 Munster 
Newport-Gwent D'gons 21 - 10 Edinburgh 
Connacht 13 - 13 Glasgow
Cardiff Blues 21 - 14 Ulster
Ospreys 23 - 7 Aironi Rugby 
Leinster 16 - 13 Scarlets

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pro 12 , team news for the Irish Provinces, and Steven Sykes, look away now!

I’ve been totally neglecting Leinster since the start of the Six Nations. So now I’m back, homemade Valentine card in bashful hand, I still love you, don’t worry. They seem to have been doing just fine without me, and in fairness I did catch the good half of their match against Treviso, where it all went very swimmingly indeed. It was an opportunity for the young guns like Madigan and O’Malley to strut their stuff, and the y didn’t disappoint.

In team news, Leinster are apparently having a cosy chat with Brad Thorne, who’d be an excellent short term signing, and Donnacha Ryan is also apparently considering a move to the big province in Ireland (I’m talking population here ) which I’d be over the moon with if they can pull it off.  If they are looking to dip into their kitty, and go overseas, I’d look at Andries Bekker from the Stormers, and preferably actually Flip van Der Merwe who’s an up and coming Bok. That is, if Seven Sykes hasn’t permanently sullied the waters for Saffers in Leinster. The big waster is already back playing (ie running a around on a rugby field, something he did precious little of in Ireland) for the Sharks, passing up a golden opportunity to play for one of the top clubs in Europe, and earn some €’s. And the IRFU made us give up Nathan Hines for him?

Munster also have some new additions on the way, with James Downey and Casey Lualua on their way to Limerick. Roger Wilson is on his way to Ulster, and is a great signing, while the rumours are rife that Tommy Bowe is on his way to the Man City of the PRO 12.

With Chris Ashton another high profile mover in the NH, from the Saints to Saracens, and the Ospreys coaching staff clearing out, isn’t it time to start thinking about doing transfers only in the off season? There are enough distractions as it is.

I expect the Scarlets are going to feel the force of Irish disappointment and get sent home with a loss and a flea in their ear by Leinster on Friday. It’s ladies night on Friday, and they’ve already sold nearly 16 000 tickets for the match – take a bow, all you supporters! Cardiff/ Ulster should be a tough match, but I’m backing the red hand, Munster should thump Treviso, and Connacht will be lucky to get any change out of Glasgow.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Snow in Rome, no go in Paris, and no luck for the Scots

Fat lot of good that did (picure )

Snow in Rome for the Six Nations match between England and  Italy... and the snow on the pitch was a lot prettier than the match that was played on it. Easy to  be cynical from a warm dry couch, but you’re not likely to see three more shambolic international tries in a hurry. There was lots of aimless kicking, interspersed with plenty of earnest but ineffectual bashing up the pitch, scrum resets and failed line-outs. But frankly what were we expecting, it was cold and wet, Italy are the least skilful team in the 6N and England has a young inexperienced team. As hard as England tried to throw the game away, Italy just went that extra mile to hand it back to back to them on a plate, with charge down Charlie providing the final coup de grace.

To put it all into perspective, the first match of the day was the pinnacle of organisation compared to events in Paris that evening. So the Italians, where rugby is complete minority sport, laugh off the first snowfall in Rome in 27 years and get THEIR show on the road, while the French, moneybags of the world of rugby, call the match off two minutes before kickoff in front of a packed stadium because of a frozen pitch? Ireland didn’t lose on Saturday night, so at least that was some good news.

Wales saw off the Scots on Sunday in a gritty encounter.  Is there any description of Scottish rugby that doesn’t involve the word gritty somewhere? The Scots managed to drag the game down into an arm wrestle in the first half, then an error from the kick off led to a Welsh try, and after that, the Scottish yellow cards ended the match as contest, as the Welsh scored first against 14, then against 13. Scotland finished the stronger, and got a try, their first in 5 games. Wales could be going for the slam now, they didn’t play as well as they did against Ireland, and they are shipping injuries at an alarming rate, but they have momentum.
RBS Six Nations

Italy 15 - 19 England
Wales 27 - 13 Scotland

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

6 nations preview from a bitter, bitter man

Even though I’m not quite finished sulking over last week’s loss to Wales, I suppose there’s matches on this weekend, so whatever, here are my predictions. And wayhey! It’s post number 200. However did I get here?

The ‘action’ if that’s what we’ll call out, kicks off in Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Stuart Lancaster , caretaker coach, is apparently ‘excited’ by England at the moment. No there’s a man that’s easily pleased. This match promises all the excitement, tension and display of skills that were evident in the Scotalnd/England match i.e. not very much. England have a load of youngsters on a learning curve, and I know Italy beat France here last year. But that’s the bloody French. Italy will only win this England somehow manage to hand it to them on a plate.

Playing the French is difficult enough for Ireland at the best of times, never mind when they’re at home, nevermind when you’re still trying to pick yourself up from being stabbed in the back by your erstwhile Celtic ‘mates’, Wales. Then to add to that, they gone and put the match at 8.00 pm, it’s going to be freezing cold, and even the French are saying the pitch is going to be like concrete. So what can we expect from Ireland? They weren’t terrible against Wales, just inconsistent, so I suppose it’s fortunate in a way we get to play the team whose middle name is ‘inconsistency’ next. We have to work on our tackling and our defence. We seemed to stand off Wales a bit, and not get stuck in to the rucks and mauls. So we need to change all that, and get the Leinster style of the backs running angles onto the ball going. It’s an awesome French side if they play to their potential though, and it’s hard to see us doing much apart from damage limitation.

Wales round up the weekend by entertaining Scotland on Sunday. In team news, Bradley Davies’ attempt at Greco roman style wrestling moves on Donnacha Ryan have been viewed dimly by the IRB, who gave him a 7 week ban. For Scotland, Dan Parks spat the dummy, and flounced from the International scene – probably milliseconds before he was axed from the squad anyway. Wales are going to gobble Scotland up and spit out the bits, with only the Scottish scrum providing a modicum of roughage. Scotland are awkward enough to keep the score the right side of respectable.

On Thursday night Leinster will take on Treviso, with a few youngsters on board, but still a handy enough looking team. !5600 tickets have been sold –that’s massive!

RBS Six Nations
Saturday , February 11
Italy vs England 16:00
France vs Ireland 20:00
Sunday , February 12
Wales vs Scotland 15:00

Sunday, February 5, 2012

6 Nations round up - Ireland need a hug right now...

We need the right Donnacha (Picture )

France’s performance on Saturday has me wondering if I’ve tipped the right horse for the 6N. The ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ (as my colleague refers to them) were in typical erratic form, scoring four trys without ever looking like their hearts were in the match. When they put their minds to it, they were devastating, imagine if they’d concentrated for the other 75 minutes! Italy have a fantastic team 1-8 ,they would win an 8 man form of the game hands down. But it’s the seven bystanders behind the scrum that are their problem. The French front five are looking a little elderly, and are eminently there for the taking. Saying that, Picamloe was massive, and Malzieu, Rougerie, Fofana and Dusatoir were all top notch.

I was hitting the fast forward button in the Scotland England match to try and get the game going. Scotland’s problems are Italy’s problem. The secret to beating Scotland (covers page) is to give them the ball. They have not a notion of what to do with it, either handing it straight back, or toiling diligently away with scant effect. In fact, both teams treated the ball like a live grenade, to be disposed off as quickly as possible. England at least have the excuse of youth and inexperience, but really, all they had to do was put in a few tackles and let the Scots self destruct. Ross Rennie was just about the only player on the pitch who showed any penetration – has he ever played fly half do you think? 

The last match of the weekend was the best by a country mile with both sets of fans on the edges of their seats and with their hearts in their mouths up until the last second. Ireland need a hug right now for the manner of the loss, but they got beaten by a better team.  Kidney has to keep on weeding out the passengers, DOC for a start, and use his bench better. Murray and Sexton are still building up a relationship which means we go in fits and starts some times, but I can’t think why Donnacha Ryan didn’t start to help match the dynamism of the Welsh forwards. North, Faletau, Priestland and Phillips were all superb for Wales. Tough for Ireland, but it’s no disgrace to be beaten by that team. Completely deflating though.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's the bigest, it's the baddest - it's the 6 Nations 2012!

Six European countries are going to be going into battle, and this time, anyway, it’s not over the Euro. No, it’s Six Nations time, a reminder that spring is on the way, time to get behind your country as they take on all the old foes. But first, a quick look at form.

They won it last year (despite not being good enough to beat Ireland) but a lot has happened in the intervening year. They didn’t have the happiest World Cup, with off field antics (dwarfgate, boobgate, ballgate, etc) getting the way, and on field form being in short supply. They’ve had a big clean out of players, Martin Johnson is gone and they have Stuart Lancaster as caretaker coach in charge of a fairly green looking squad. They have the players, but will the combinations click in time...probably not, so a mid table finish is likely.

They were beaten by Italy last year, then came within a whisker of claiming their first World Cup, so very French of them. Having ditched clown-in-chief Marc Lievremont, installed Philippe Saint-AndrĂ© and retained most of the players that got them so close in the final, they must start as favourites for this year’s tournament. But, never knowing what to expect from the French is the oldest adage in the book, so let’s see.

We came so close to nearly doing well, beating Australia, topping our group – then getting sucker punched by the Welsh. Coach Kidney is still in place,  and our side is a settled side, to me a bit too settled, like a fine wine with a load of sediment at the bottom.  I think the team could do with freshening up, we are treading water at the moment, will probably finish mid table this year, then make the changes we need about a year too late.

Italy have a new manager, Jacques Brunel  but he has the age old problem of no players to pick from, with only one and a bit decent teams as his selection base. They are likely to be winless this year.

The Scots have a bit of player form, with Edinburgh the first Scottish team to make the quarters in yonks, and have a settled coaching team. They don’t have a lot of players to pick from, always struggle in the backs, but have a pack they will make you feel like you’ve been put through a cement mixer.  5th spot beckons unless they can do a number on England and other results go their way.

Wales are the joker in the pack, they were growing in stature with every match at the World Cup, and have all the ingredients for success. But you never with the Welsh. They are playing with  confidence, but are carrying a few injuries, notably Rhys Priestland , the one player who really makes them get their groove on. The draw suits them this year, so second is probably where they are going to finish.

RBS Six Nations Saturday , February 4
France vs Italy 14:30
Scotland vs England 17:00
Sunday , February 5
Ireland vs Wales 15:00
France V ItalyFrance have a bone to pick with Italy after last year’s ignominious defeat in Rome. The French have any number of players eager to impress the new coach, and while the Italian pack will delay the onslaught, France will inevitably win this match, and handsomely.

Scotland v England
Are Scotland up for this one? Do bears poo in the woods? Scotland will be itching to get the new England reign off to a bad start. I can see a ferocious forward battle, but a fairly inept backline duel,  the skill of Fodden and Ashton blunted by the inexperience of Farrell and the woodiness of Barrett. And I hope Charlie Hodgson has been doing his tackling practise – because he’ll need it... Scotland with millimetres to spare

Ireland v Wales
This is the jewel in the crown of the opening weekend, Scots/Eng is likely to have the strange fascination of a slow motion car crash, France/Italy is for the people who pull the wings off flies, but the Aviava should see some decent running rugby. If I was Kidney, I would have booted DOC and D’Arcy  into the stands, and Earls is not a centre, he’s not a centres bottom, Kidney should be made to write out a hundred times ‘Earls is not a centre, he is a wing’ . Otherwise, looking OK, good to see Trimble starting, and O'Mahony and McFadden on the bench. Are we going to be able to avenge the defeat in last year’s world cup? Without Priestland starting for Wales, I’d say we have a good chance. We can put aside old Lion and Celtic friendships for the moment , and give cheery Warren Gatland something to be really miserable about. Ireland to scrape home in undignified fashion. O’Gara drop goal in extra time not out the question.