Posts Tagged ‘ Ireland ’

Six Nations Donkey Awards: Round 2

Not the busiest weekend on the Six Nations Donkey front, though much of that can be put down to a third of the fixtures not being played (though this in itself will be covered below), while many of the main protagonists of last weekend, Dan Parks and Bradley Davies (one through choice, one less so) were not in attendance. Still, a selection of ‘stars’ could be picked out from the two games that were played, though the first selection goes far beyond any one player or official…

No. 1. Duw it’s cold Mun!

Some cried about the referee’s decision, some cried about the timing of the final decision, while some in the stadium just cried. While the actual motivation behind calling the France v Ireland fixture off could not be faulted (player safety being the one thought of the day), the thousands in the stadium and the millions watching on television screens around Europe, could all be perfectly justified in their disappointment, dismay and general anger given that the final decision was made some 5 minutes before the scheduled kick-off.

Now it is probably too harsh to blame the referee, his emphasis must fall on the side of whether or not a player would be crippled for life should they go out on to a pitch. It’s also probably too harsh to blame the stadium designers, though for such an expensive arena you would have thought the budget could stretch to some under soil heating…or a kettle. There are probably around about twenty six individuals or organisations who could take the donkey points for this, but we are going to award it to two in particular. The RBS Six Nations fixture committee and the people of France. You are the only two in the world who want games played on Fridays, or in the middle of the night! Nobody else wants it, indeed, most of us hate it, and it ruins the Six Nations for everyone. If eyes turned to the French and Irish women, they got a game on in France having kicked off at 2.30pm…there’s a lesson in that somewhere.

The French (for simply giving us the ridiculous concept of night time matches), Donkey Score: 5

RBS Six Nations fixture committee (for letting them), Donkey Score: 4

 

No. 2. We are England.

Following ITV’s coverage of the Rugby World Cup, we all spent a lot of time lamenting the fact that we couldn’t have the BBC and their wonderful commentary team…Italy v England however served to undermine that little theory. An enjoyable game was made almost unbearable by the BBC commentary team, who seemed to be taking it in turns to jerk off over a picture of Owen Farrell in the match day programme in their enthusiasm for the England cause. We can only hope that few if any Italian fans had to rely on the BBC for their coverage!

Donkey Score: 3

 

No. 3. The Charitable Man from Cheshire

Ben Foden was in a particularly generous mood in Rome on the weekend, the man couldn’t stop himself from letting Italy score. While there were some question marks over how much he was to blame for letting Italy score the first try, with the ball ricocheting awkwardly off of Foden’s chest, he wanted to make no doubt that the second Italian try was definitely his fault. A pin point pass into the hands of the Italian centre, meant that Foden will always be welcome in Rome, forever known as the English man who giveth away.

Donkey Score: 3

 

No. 4. It’s all just a little bit of history repeating.

Scotland like to make things challenging no. Having thrown away a commanding lead against Wales in 2010 by allowing half of the starting line-up to retire to the sin-bin, Scotland seemed intent on doing it again. As it was when Shane Williams crossed for a dramatic victory two years ago, Scotland, through two of the most donkeyish decisions seen in some time, managed to reduce themselves down to thirteen men, and consigned themselves to another defeat. De Luca and Lamont, you are our yellow card donkeys of the week.

Donkey Score: 2 (1 each)

 

And then came Scotland…

Round 2 of the Six Nations then and Wales find themselves in a position which few pundits from outside of the country expected them to be in, with a win under the belt. Whatever can or has been said about tip tackles, yellow and red cards, and missed opportunities, it’s hard to take much away from the Welsh performance in Dublin. Before the game there were concerned mutterings about how the lineout would function, and sure enough, the only consistent tool at Ireland’s disposal was their dominance in the line – why they did not kick to the corners more often remains a baffling uncertainty. Regardless of whether or not Ireland made the best use of their strongest weapon, Wales, for the most part, made the most of theirs. Were it not for certain questions being asked of TMOs and kicks going astray, Wales may well have had the game sown up in the first half, such was their physical dominance.

So to Scotland then, and already the crowds skip merrily down Queens Street with ‘Grand Slam’ tattoos already being applied to foreheads across Cardiff – but then it wouldn’t the Six Nations if we didn’t like to get carried away with things! Yet on the evidence of the first round of matches, it is perhaps not an overstatement to suggest that Wales are at the very least amongst the favourites.

With Ireland, the main fears focused on the lineout, so what of Scotland this week? Well, ball dropping incidents aside, the Dan Park related catastrophes forgotten as best we might try, Scotland attacked well. The likes of Lamont and Evans made good inroads, while the Scottish backrow, supported ably by the obvious presence of Ritchie Gray, caused devastation around the English fringes. Were it not for generosity in relation to charged down kicks, wet weather gloves for those slippery fingers, and of course a more generous TMO (it looked like a Scottish try from here), then Scotland might well have romped to a victory. As with the Wales fixture in 2010, Scotland should have been walking away with a win.

However, Scotland’s strength was based on a very powerful forward display. England were consistently bullied in the pack (despite the ‘one each’ efforts of the referee when it came to controlling the scrum and breakdown) and it allowed Scotland the room in which they could make such telling breaks. Dan Parks as well, as predictably dull as he might be, could put the team in the right areas of the field to play. Parks as we know is gone (somewhat to our relief, Parks knows how to undo Welsh rugby teams), as is Ewan Murray due to faith commitments. In one week, two of Scotland’s most effective players (Parks may not be good, but good and effective are not always the same thing) are gone, at the same time as Wales welcomes back two of theirs, Gethin Jenkins and Dan Lydiate. If anything, the Scottish team that lost looks weaker, the Welsh team that won looks stronger.

For Scotland to win, the open game that they are currently boasting about would be an interesting gamble. With the form and ability of the Welsh backs, running rugby seems like the last thing the Scots should be doing. With Murray missing, the Scottish scrum as a weapon will be deflated, but then there is always the lineout. With the likes of Gray to rely on, Scotland can target Wales’ one obvious weakness in the way that Ireland should have done – especially now that Wales are reduced to a single recognised second row. That being said, the man who could pressure Wales in this area, by placing the ball in the right place, Dan Parks, in no longer on the scene. It is with a heavy sense of irony that the one player who might really have undone Wales will be taking not part in proceedings.

There is a way that Scotland can win, and it should not be pretty. Tight, around the fringes and from good lineout pressure, these are the ways in which Scotland could force a result. Opening the game up against a Welsh side that, despite letting Ireland score twice, generally looked solid in defence, and is of course more than capable of matching the scoring rate of other opposition which, frankly, has proven more effective than Scotland of late (the lack of ability to cross the whitewash must be haunting Scotland now – inspiration or heavy burden at this point), would be an impressive and potentially costly gamble.

With one game under everyone’s belt though, and a sense of form to go on, predictions can be made, and it would be a very eager punter who would bet against Wales, especially if the Scots insist on closed roofs – it may suit their game plan, but it certainly will do little to hinder the way Wales will want to play.

Wales: Here Be Winged Giants.

So we finally know. Warren Gatland has whipped off the curtain on his next generation of Welsh Rugby Stars, and shown a hand that is inclined towards the big, the battering and the aggressive. For all the injuries faced by the Welsh squad in key locations, Gatland has managed to assemble a team that looks threatening and powerful, no more so than on the wings. In the known quantity of George North, Wales have a world recognised threat, who in recent games has seen his space vanish as teams mark him out of the game. Now Wales have a second North, or a first Cuthbert, as the next giant from the wing production line comes out. Cuthbert though, while perhaps not having quite the explosive step of North, actually ‘dwarfs’ the huge North (okay, by 2 inches, but such things count for a lot these days). Couple this with the emergence of Rhys Gill this season, whose form has made him one of the most dynamic front row players in Europe this year, and Wales seem to have found a new raft of players to go with the stellar World Cup finds.

So to their first test, a new Six Nations for a team who will no doubt be weighed down with their fair share of expectation given their showing in New Zealand, yet they face in their first fixture a team who carry their own helpings of national demands for success. Ireland are many pundits firm favourites for the tournament, and who would deny them such an accolade given the way in which their regions are romping over Europe. Add to that all this talk of revenge and surely the Irish will be firing on all cylinders? Well, for the pre-match talk at least, everything sounds very similar to a few months ago, when these teams contested a certain World Cup quarter final. Then the talk was of the Irish regions and their recent achievements, then the talk was of Mike Phillips and ‘owing Wales one’. Scan the news pages, and it seems like the Irish are stuck in the summer/autumn of 2011.

Wales will know though that this is an Irish team that at the very least ‘should’ be high on confidence, even without Brian O’Driscoll to shoulder the burden of the late game revival that we have become so used to. Yet, regional rugby aside, Wales remain a threat. In fact, all this talk of regions may as well be ignored for all the relevance it has to the national game. If international rugby was based on regional showings, Ireland and France would be the only nations to have contested a Six Nations in recent years, and these grand slams and championships that Wales and England have put together of late would be a figment of our imaginations. No, the team selected by Warren Gatland has more than enough fire power, in the forwards and the backs, to trouble anyone, whatever is happening in the clubs game. If the Irish stop a returning Jamie Roberts, then will they stop North, and if they stop North, will then they stop Cuthbert? Contending first with Gill and Jones in the front row, the Irish pack will have serious questions posed of them, and rolling from the back of the pack, an in-form Ryan Jones rumbling on with Faletau and Warburton – they will all have eyes on whoever carries the No10 jersey.

For weak links, the second row. Ireland will surely dominate in this area, and look to kick to the corner as often as possible and from wherever they are on the field. Try and run at this Welsh team, and the World Cup quarter final showing will come back on the Irish like a rash. There is one obvious game plan for Ireland, and it does not involve the backs or ‘open rugby’. Stick to what they know best, and the Irish should be able to squeeze the life out of Wales in this area alone, and might well have done even if Wales had their first choice second rows on display.

Yet the one unknown quantity is of course, and once again, Poland. Ireland will be the guinea pigs in many respects. The video footage released from the Poland camps looked hard, and toughening. All through the World Cup, game by game, the camp was dismissed as all talk, and nothing special, but what marked Welsh performances as special, was their ability to do it for the whole 80 minutes. Bring the same fitness levels to the field, and Wales may well be able to do to the Irish what the Irish hate most, beat them.

Ireland as favourites, no doubt there, but dismiss the Welsh at your peril, Grand Slams come on a three yearly cycle these days, and a return to a Polish spa might well be the start of another one…

And then the Six Nations Came…

One thing after another these days, World Cups, one off internationals, club games, European games, LV Cup games, and to cap it all, the Six Nations starts just as winter decides, having been distracted by rugby for so long, to finally make an appearance, just in time to make all those away day train trips a little bit more unbearable. Suffice to say, it’s been a long season (officially this is still part of the 2010-11 season for anyone keeping track – with an IRB directive issued earlier in the year indicating that the 2011-12 season will happen between April and May before going straight into the pre 2013-14 season build up), and one which is taking its toll. No shortage of teams are already patching up their squads, with at least two of the nations involved bringing some giant squads to the party in preparation for the inevitable whittling down of those capable of walking.

So, excited much for the imminent tournament? If you are the BBC then you know already that England won the tournament several weeks ago, and a number of journeymen Europeans are going to be scrapping it out for the crumbs under their table. Then, you never know. The nice thing about a post world cup Six Nations is that predictions tend to go out of the window. Those who underperformed are ringing the changes, those who over performed are often paying the price for their success in a body count. Certainly for two of the three games this weekend, you would be hard pressed to call either fixture.

France at home seems to be a certainty to defeat Italy. The Italians rarely cope well in the early days of a new coaching regime, and to produce a result in Paris on day one of the new era seems far too much to ask. Scotland hosting England though is another kettle of fish. Not a great deal of change from a Scots perspective, other than a need to banish a sense of underachievement from the summer, when for want of conviction they really should have topped their group, yet fell by the wayside at stage 1. England come to the tournament having, for many in the international community, taken to putting every English qualified player’s name into a hat, and drawn them at random to produce their current squad. Of course there was a little more logic to it than that, but certainly new names are the theme of the squad. It’s almost impossible to say what England will do, their new coach was still part of the wider coaching structure that oversaw the World Cup shortcomings, yet the desperation in England to banish the ghost of New Zealand will surely force them to play a more expansive game. Yet, with so many new faces, and a frozen Edinburgh awaiting them, is it too much to expect them to revert to type once more?

For Wales and Ireland, it’s familiar territory. More will follow on this game during the week, but for now, it’s worth noting that there are more familiar faces in this fixture than in many of the other line-ups to be had in the tournament. Old battles, one on ones replayed, heck, there is still a change that O’Gara at the grand old age of 74 will get a starting birth, there is little ‘new’ to be found in this fixture. On paper the Irish should have it, with the regions in dominant form in Europe and a home advantage, there can be no obvious excuse for why the Irish should fall short in their first fixture. Yet historically Ireland have failed to hit the ground running in the Six Nations, and more than once in recent years they have opened the tournament at home, with fixtures that should have been won, only for the game to trickle away. And yet, even with all the talent in Ireland, so often the solution has been to put the ball in the hands of O’Driscoll and leave it to him to save the day, one thing that certainly won’t be happening this year. Wales though, while the form team from the World Cup, have the air of a team that is running on empty, with walking wounded being the tale of yet another Six Nations opening weekend. But then there is Poland, and how Poland transformed an underachieving team into near World beaters – will the ice baths do it for Wales again?

The way the fixtures fall, Wales and England look to have the most favourable draw for any slam ambitions, but for a winner, well, let’s see what happens this weekend, as six teams, unrecognisable in some cases, unpredictable in others, show us what has been happening in those training camps this weekend.

RWC 2011: More Style as Bennett Danced to the Tune of Victory.

After the Halfpenny hat shuffle (http://eye-on-wales.com/2011/09/18/rwc-2011-a-try-of-fortune-and-style/), Wales added a touch more style to this years’ World Cup, as Huw Bennett brought a unique little shuffle to the celebrations, following victory over Ireland. Fist pumping and leaping is the usual path for post match celebration, but Bennett has clearly been in front of the mirror practising a brand new victory dance. Involving a bounce, and a lift knee lift, Bennett has created a dance move that, although unlikely to be seen in the South Wales valley clubs anytime soon, will hopefully be seen at least one or two more times as Wales continue their push for World Cup victory.

Who knows, a win or two more and maybe we will all be doing the Bennett shuffle…

RWC 2011: Wales Dispel the Irish Myth.

 Going into Saturday’s quarter finals, all the talk had come to focus on Ireland. Ireland were the side that would conquer the world, this being the time in which their legendary generation of players, at their final career hurdle, would rise to the occasion and achieve their predetermined destiny of World Cup greatness. We were told Irish experience would win the day, we were told the Irish front row would be too strong, the Irish second row would steal all the ball, that the Irish backrow, the best backrow in the world they said, would crush Welsh ambition, while the ability of BoD, RoG, Darcy and such would be too much for the youngsters of Wales, this is what we were told would bring the Irish glory at least.

As things transpired, the exact opposite happened. Wales were the ones to look ripe with experience, the Welsh front row consumed their opponents, the second row competed, while the backrow, whether the best in the world or not, certainly showed that the much vaunted Irish equivalents have, at the very least, work to do to be able to boast such a title. Then there were the backs. For Wales, the pre match talk had obsessed about North, yet this would be one of his quietest games of the cup so far. Instead, the game turned out to be one of redemption for Mike Phillips. The scrum half has been pressurised from all sides, inside and outside of the squad, for some time, yet managed to produce his finest performance in a red jersey since he spearheaded a second half recovery in Twickenham in 2008. His efforts, completed with a magnificent dive for Wales’ second score, were symbolic of the changed attitude which has brought Wales to this point in the tournament.

Wales looked good, very good, and had the boot of Priestland been less hampered by wind and post, the scoreline would have better reflected just how dominate Wales had been over their much vaunted opposition. Looking ahead, France come next, and while they always remain a potent threat, England knocked so many lumps out of the resurgent men in blue, that Wales, with their fitness continuing to be a 16th man on the field, should once again find themselves free of fear. A position in the final is possible, Wales can go further than they have ever been before, but contemplation on this must be left for another time. For now the nation must celebrate, celebrate a victory hard earned, and totally deserved. World Cup semi final appearances are very rare things for Welsh teams, and our mere presence there is reason enough to wake up tomorrow with a smile.

Well done boys, you continue to do us proud.

RWC 2011: Wales need feel no fear in knock out stages.

 For many, the rugby world cup in New Zealand has been one of redemption for Wales. Increasingly impressive results over Samoa and Fiji have put to bed any lingering concerns regarding the mental fragility of this squad, and broken a hoodoo to have held back Welsh rugby teams at the highest level for nearly two decades. In their comprehensive route of Fiji, Wales managed to produce, not a perfect performances, but something verging on a complete performances. Attack and defence, ruck and maul, scrum and lineout, Wales controlled it all, and did so for 80 minutes. Unlike certain teams though, Wales this time were not waiting for their opponents to tire as the game went on to put away the points, the job was down in the first forty, yet with the result in the bag, the points kept coming, as the so called ‘tier 1’, mentality came into the Welsh game.

Next up is Ireland, and if you take the pundits views, it would seem Wales need not bother turning up, Irish experience is going to win the day. ITV’s dreadful world cup coverage has been covered in detail elsewhere (http://oneeyeonwales.blogspot.com/2011/09/hating-itv-at-rwc2011.html), but according to that particular commentary team, Ireland will ease to victory, while England will prove too much for both the French and Irish, and ease into the final. What these assessments is based on is hard to determine.

It should not be ignored that this will be Wales’ toughest fixture, knockout rugby brings more pressure, Ireland come in with their much vaunted experience and a squad with a track record in such stages of tournaments and of course, on paper, Ireland hold the better recent run of results over stronger opponents and a higher world ranking. But there is very little for Wales to fear. Ireland come into the quarter finals with a pack that is remembering how to play tight, one channel rugby, with backs that are slowly reminding themselves how to finish, and a truly world class back row, against Italy much of this came together to finish off the Azzuri with some style. But Wales are not Italy.

This column has been amongst the first, and repeatedly so, to mock the constant talk of team fitness coming out of the Wales camp. Fitness this, Polish training camp that, they went on, a first match warm up defeat to England did little to espouse the value of such merits. Yet as this tournament has progressed, that fitness has shone through game by game. Wales are finishing teams off, and by 80 minutes, look like they could go for another 40 minutes. Others in this tournament have been blowing, and hard, by the final whistle. There is much for Wales to cite as a strength going into the knock out stages, a strong pack, backed up by a lineout dominating Charteris, who behind him has three of the most exciting backrow players to enter the world stage since, well, since the respective Irish trio. Yet, as devastating as the Welsh forwards, led by Warburton, they need only find parity for the Welsh backline to open up Ireland, with a strength and speed not seen in many other teams. Roberts, North, Halfpenny and Williams (Shane that is), have now been joined by Scott Williams, the latest of a prodigious backline of Welsh attacking talent. If the names listed here do not give Ireland cause for concern, then they have not been doing their homework. As stressed at the start of this tournament, Wales will see the true potential of this backline in the 2015 world cup, but their ability at the moment, to break open defences, be it from first phase, broken play, or on the back foot, should be frightening. But put all of this to one side, it is the fitness that should really concern Ireland. Wales will be hitting them for 80 minutes like no team has done so in New Zealand so far. That goes for Australia as well, who suffered without the presence of David Pocock. Wales have no injury concerns, and a wealth of talent at their disposal that simply won’t tire.

While it would seem that everyone has settled on Ireland to simply turn up, use some of that much relied upon experience, and ease away, judging teams on form and ability, there is at the very least no reason for Wales to fear the Irish challenge, and plenty of reason to think that it will be a red and white semi final, rather than a green and white one.

(That is to suggest England will come through their quarter final. However, France are always due one stellar performance, they give one, and only one in every world cup – it hasn’t happened yet, and as things stand, they only have one chance to do it now, so who knows…)