Sunday, March 22, 2015

6 Nations - the best Irish team in a generation!

 The Ireland captains and coaches
 (picture http://bit.ly/1EGN31O)

The 6 Nations 2015 wrapped up with a fantastic advert for the game. Ireland squeaked in with a back to back 6 Nations title, our first since 1949. We have the best rugby team in a generation. The ladies joined the party too, smashing Scotland 70-3, and claiming their second title in 3 years. So it was a good weekend for rugby, a good weekend for Irish rugby – the only thing it wasn’t good for was your heart!

I endured every minute of the three games on the trot, watching bravely on in spite of an imminent massive coronary, coping with the mood swings, making every tackle, bursting for every line. Spare a thought for Welsh and English hearts too.

Wales Italy was up first, and the Italians decided they wanted to play early on -  you knew Wales were going to come back but you felt confident that they wouldn’t do too much damage. That confidence evaporated as Wales kicked into gear in the second half, and it was raining tries, this was it, Wales had done it, we had too much work to do.

Then Scotland v Ireland, a bit jittery early on, especially when Scotland got their try, but the supreme competency of the Irish team, their excellence of execution, settled my nerves as they steadily built up a formidable lead. There were a few tries left behind, a few errant penalties, but on the whole, we did as much as we could. There were towering performances from O’Mahoney, Heaslip and especially, O’Brien, Healy and O’Connell were immense, Sexton and Murray back on song, tough to single anyone out, but this isn’t a team of superstars, this victory, and the title, was built on hard work.

So going into the final match, my confidence and sprits were up again, France had the best defence in the competition, they’d never ship a 26 point victory. With a try and conversion for England in the first two minutes, I was plunged back into the depths of despair, France hadn’t turned up, it was going to be an English rout! How very French of the French to then decide they did actually want to play, and play really well, and with sumptuous running lines, inch perfect passes, they quickly went into the lead. Although, in heart stopping fashion, the French wing  Nakaitaci waited until literally the last millisecond to ground the ball before he ran out of play. England are a better team than France, and they fought back building up a lead – oh god they’re going to win! – but  the French keep on chipping back with tries of their own – whew! Allez Les Bleus! After 80 minutes of hammering away at each other, with England on the French line pressing for that last try, they gave away a penalty – game over – we’ve won! But France of course still have to run the ball, as a torrent of bad language erupts in every house in Ireland- Kick it out! KICK THE %$£ING THING OUT!

Very hard for Wales and England to take, but we won the title with the best defence, and by taking the points when we could in every game.

A final word for the generosity of the Scots in letting the Irish fans stay in Murrayfield to watch the final match, and to be on hand ofr the presentation of the cup.

Saturday, March 21
Italy 20 - 61 Wales    12:30
Scotland 10 - 40 Ireland    14:30
England 55 - 35 France    17:00

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ireland for the Championship! But then what else would I say...

Six Nations Accommodation in Edinburgh


The Six Nations all comes down to the last ‘Super Saturday’ with all the teams still in with a say on the final winner. England, Ireland and Wales have three wins each, so one of them should win it, but if France, Italy or Scotland have an awful or brilliant day, that will affect their chances. And it’s not totally impossible that Italy, Scotalnd and France could win – then France could win on points difference! Quelle horreur! That’s probably unlikely though…

Italy kick things off when they welcome Wales to Rome in the early kick off. The Italians are missing Sergio Parisse,  which is a massive blow to them, as he IS Italy. Wales might struggle a bit in the scrum, but apart from that they will be itching and able to inflict a big defeat on Italy. The Italians have conceded and average of 30 points a game, Wales just 18. On average then, Wales will win by 12, on the generous side by 30-40, but Italy at home won’t want to lose by much.

Ireland have made a few key changes for Scotland, with Cian Healy and Luke Fitzgerald starting for the first time. I think Joe Schmidt is planning for Ireland to bust some moves this weekend. I reckon we need to beat the Scots by 20 points, that should see us home safely. Who’d be a Scottish fan, their team promises often, but rarely delivers, and they have Ireland arriving hoping to beat a large victory out of them. But their respective coaches go way way back to New Zealand together, they know each other inside out, and Scotland will be desperate to avoid the ‘Whitewash wooden Spoon’ their speciality in recent years. I’d say we’re going to win, by about 20 points, although we’ll only nail it in the last 10 minutes.

Finally, France travel to Twickenham to resume their centuries old sparring with Les Rosboefs. England will know exactly what they need to claim the championship by that stage.  France were poor enough against Italy, while England struggled to put the Scots away. Out of all the teams, the French have the potential to do the most damage, and concede the most abjest of defeats. Their defence is the best in the competiton, as good as Irelands, so while England will toil, and win, they won’t do it by more than Ireland beat Scotland.

So the net effect, then is that the Championship is going to be Origin Green!




Six Nations
Saturday, March 21
Italy vs Wales    12:30
Scotland vs Ireland    14:30
England vs France    17:00

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The last weekend of the 6 Nations is going to be a total bun fight!

 

Saturdays match against Wales didn’t disappoint in terms of intensity, even if we didn’t get the result we wanted. The Pope is calling for an investigation after Joe Schmidt’s canonisation came through so fast – ‘But you only won 10 in a row!’. This time it was Wales whose defense and nerve  that held, who got the lucky breaks and the tight decisions. Our lineout, which had been thing a thing of beauty, failed a number of times – the Welsh would have to have been lifting Devin Toner for him to catch it where Rory Best was throwing it. Sexton had an off game, we dropped the ball, we gave it our all but it wasn’t just clicking for us. Hats off to Wales for a very hard earned victory. We now go down to an absolute bun fight for the last weekend of matches.

With the Championship wide open again, England  had a chance to rack up a big score against Scotland and set themselves up nicely for the last match. They were a bit too keen, and dominated Scotland everywhere except for the scoreboard. It looked like it was going to be a cricket score after four minutes, but Scotland played the second 20 minutes of the first half as well as they’ve played all year, and went in with a lead at half time. England were never going to lose it, but they’ll be kicking themselves for not winning by more.

Finally, Italy and France wrapped up the weekend with a shambolic match, no shape or structure for either team, and lacking in the most basic of playing skills.  That’s fine for Italy, who have a handful of decent players (though not a single flu half), but France have no excuses.  It ended up with a big French win, but that scoreline flattered them.

Six Nations
Saturday, March 14
Wales 23 - 16 Ireland    14:30
England 25 - 13 Scotland    17:00
Sunday, March 15
Italy 0 - 29 France    15:00

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ireland, England, France. Believe!

 Jonny Sexton is settling into his new life as Racing Metro fly-half
 Jonny Sexton (picture http://bit.ly/1L5VGt0)

After a two week break, the 6 Nations comes roaring back into life with a rip snorting, hum dingering ( and other assorted hyperbole) match as Wales welcome Ireland to the Millennium Stadium! The whole match is an exclamation mark, if our match against England was the biggest thing since sliced bread, well this is bigger. Ireland are the only unbeaten team left in it now, and when you think that between them Wales and Ireland have won 6 of the last ten 6 Nations championships, there’s a reasonable chance that this match will set one of the teams on the way to another championship.

We have Jonny Sexton, and Jamie Heaslip back, while Wales have a full contingent to pick from too. It’s Kiwi coach v Kiwi coach. Warren Gatland has laid his challenge out already. His team was out on Wednesday, and his tactics haven’t changed since Wales started winning more than they lost. It revolves mainly around huge ball carries busting their way up the field. Meanwhile, Joe Schmidt is more coy, his tactics seem to vary from game to game, which makes it much harder  for the opposition to plan for. This is going to be like a game of chess – albeit a game of chess played by large men trying to murder each other! I think Ireland have the edge, even though Wales have home advantage, because Schmidt’s tactics are better than Gatland’s, and because the Irish team is probably the most composed team in the world now under pressure. So a win for Ireland!

England have to try and get back on the horse after losing last weekend – they have to hope Ireland lose, and rack up a big score against Scotland to keep themselves in contention. The Scots meanwhile will still be sick after their loss to Italy, looking for their first win, and really do they ever need much motivation when they are playing England? Hard to see anything else but a convincing England victory though.

Finally, the French travel to Rome, their season pretty well a disaster already.  Philippe St Andre has made 8 changes for this match, continuing his revolving door selection policy. You only have to have an impressive 10 minute spell in a top 14 match and you could play for France! Even with St Andre in charge, you could still France winning with the class of the players selected, but with Italy on a high after beating Scotland, anything could happen!

Six Nations
Saturday, March 14
Wales vs Ireland    14:30
England vs Scotland    17:00
Sunday, March 15
Italy vs France    15:00

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Four provinces, two points!

 Image result for guinness pro12

Well that was a poor weekend for Irish provincial rugby wasn’t it? 4 teams, 2 points, Connacht and Ulster got 1 each, while there was knull points for Leinster and Munster.

I saw a bit of the Connacht match, they only lost it in the last minute, and Cardiff had been banging on the door for a while. They could have sneaked out though, and that’s a pretty decent result for a little team form Galway against a much bigger Cardiff team.

I didn’t wat ch the Munster match, but didn’t miss much by the sounds of things, not much cheer from the Munster fans anyway.

Leinster were poor enough in their defeat to the Scarlets, after leading at half time. Too, too many mistakes, no discernible pattern of player, and lack of leadership. All heads back to the coach, and Matt O’Connor must be feeling the heat. Leinster now slip out of the top 4.

Finally, Ulster muddled their way through the game against the Dragons. Fair play to them for getting a point though, I took the dogs for a walk when they were 12 points down with 4 minutes to play.

When you look at the table, the 4 Irish teams are still in the top six, but it’s a serious underperformance from Leinster. And fair play to the Welsh teams for putting in the passion.

Friday, March 06
Glasgow Warriors 26 - 5 Zebre    19:35
Cardiff Blues 18 - 17 Connacht    19:35
Saturday, March 07
Ospreys 26 - 12 Munster    14:40
Scarlets 23 - 13 Leinster    17:15
Benetton Treviso 8 - 29 Edinburgh    18:00
Sunday, March 08
Newport Gwent Dragons 26 - 22 Ulster

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Another clean sweep for Ireland coming up in the PRO12!

 Wiehahn Herbst
Wiehahn Herbst (picture http://bit.ly/1Gok0TP)

Last weekend was a pretty good weekend for the Irish sides in the Pro 12, Munster went top after beating Glasgow, Connacht massacred Treviso, Ulster sorted out the Scarlets, and  Leinster got an away draw at the Ospreys. Of course, the Dragons, after beating Leinster away two weeks ago, followed up last week with a loss to Zebre. Zebre! Can you not do things in the right order please?

This week is a preview to next weekend, with all the Irish sides in action against Welsh sides.  Leinster are away to the Scarlets, both teams shorn of their internationals. And as we know that under Joe Schmidt, all Ireland places are on a first refusal basis for Leinster, we are missing  about a whole team, and half our bench. We can still put out a pretty good side however, and on the basis that these guys are playing together as is for the third week running, I’d say that a bit of polish may finally develop on the crappy form they’ve been showing, so a win for me. They have Shane Jennings and Jack conan back in selection contention, and I fancy that Rhys Ruddock will be trying to force his way back into the Irish team.

Connacht travel to Cardiff, with the Blues still fresh from hoofing their Kiwi coach. You should have hung on guys, look at Gatland, Schmidt and Lam. And with Mils Muliaina back I think that they’ll win too!

Munster travel to the Ospresy, fancying they’ll go one better than Leinster did, and I can see that, as the Ospreys are the hardest hit Welsh side by the 6N. Dave Kilcoyne will be pressing his case for a return to Ireland.

Finally, Ulster go to the Dragons, for an eminently winnable match, which they should win, no problem. They’ve just lost Luke Marshall for 5 weeks and  Roger Wilson for a week after citings, but they have Wiehahn Herbst back, and Paddy Jackson will be back in training soon.

Finally, I see the IRFU is bidding for the women’s world cup 2017, it’d be great if we got that!

Guinness PRO12
Friday, March 06
Glasgow Warriors vs Zebre    19:35
Cardiff Blues vs Connacht    19:35
Saturday, March 07
Ospreys vs Munster    14:40
Scarlets vs Leinster    17:15
Benetton Treviso vs Edinburgh    18:00
Sunday, March 08
Newport Gwent Dragons vs Ulster    16:00

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sweet satisfaction as Ireland beat England!

 Joe Schmidt (picture http://bit.ly/1aIjTW4)

Sundays win over England is easily one of the most satisfying wins of recent years. There was France in Paris last year, there was South Africa and Australia in the Autumn, but this was rich in flavour, with notes of yeah boy! We seemed to cope pretty easily with everything England had to throw at us, and it was them that were struggling to make ground or play with any fluency. There was a mighty shift from the loose forwards, especially the young guns Murphy and O’Donnell, epic performances from O’Connell and Best, MOTM for Henshaw, and brilliant from Murray and Zebo. But the MC was Jonny Sexton, kicking out of his skin, controlling and directing the game, and putting in some mean tackling of his own. Let’s face it, Ireland have the best coach in the world now in Joe Schmidt.  England just wilted under the pressure, and with a few exceptions, mainly Billy Vunipola and Alex Goode at the back, they were out of ideas. They are missing players, put Courney Walsh, Mike Brown and Manu Tuallagi back in and they’d be a lot more competitive, but that’s for a another day, for now it’s Ireland s turn to savour a sweet, sweet victory.

And Ireland’s ladies also beat England, what a weekend!

Scotland will up in the Hague for committing war crimes against a perfectly innocent win against Italy. They tortured the poor win, and their fans, until it expired in the last minute of the game – that after leading 10 nil after 10 minutes. It was easily their worse performance of the tournament,, and while Italy weren’t exactly in scintillating form themselves, they at least made less mistakes.

Wales played out a smart win in Paris, keeping it tight and strangling the life out of the French. France played like they’d been introduced to each other for the first time shortly before kick off. I was going to say that I was surprised with how easily, Wales beat France, but really, nothing is surprising about France anymore. All set up perfectly now for the Millenium stadium in two weeks!

Six Nations
Saturday, February 28
Scotland 19 - 22 Italy    14:30
France 13 - 20 Wales    17:00
Sunday, March 01
Ireland 19 - 9 England    15:00