6 Nations Team of Tournament; Winners & Losers

23 03 2010

As the dust settles on the 2010 Six Nations Championship, it is time to look back at the big winners, losers and nutters (Andy Powell).

Team of Tournament?

1. Domingo

2. Servat

3. Mas

4. Nallet                                                                     

5. O’Connell

6. Ferris

7. Barclay

8. Harinordoquy               


10. Parks

11. S. Williams

12. Jauzion

13. Basteraud

14. Bowe

15. Poitrenaud

Unlucky to miss out:  Simon Shaw, Dusatoir, Trinh-doc, Heaslip.

Tournament Winners:

Basteraud– Triumphant comeback after a controversial summer.

Lievremont– Just when we were all about to write him off as a complete nutter, he only goes and wins a bloody grand slam!

S. Williams– The better half of the Williams Twisters returns with a bang.

Harinordoquy– Majestic, powerful, athletic and brilliant.

John Hayes/ Brian O’Driscoll– Centurions; Tá Fair play lads.

Tournament Losers:

Alun Wyn Jones– That trip that cost Wales 17 points in 10 minutes. Oh dear.

Andy Powell– Arrested at 6am on the M4 driving a golf buggy whilst drunk. Brilliant.

Jonny Wilkinson– Just doesn’t look the same player he used to be. Dropped for Toby Flood for final game.

John Hayes– A true warrior but under constant pressure in scrum now.

Best Match: Wales 31 Scotland 24

Worst Match: Italy 12 England 17

Best Try: Tommy Bowe scooting over in Twickenham.


Ireland v Scotland Review

21 03 2010

The 2010 Six Nations finished yesterday with the French deservedly claiming the grand slam and Ireland going out with a whimper against Dan Parks, I mean Scotland. From an Irish perspective, a season that promised so much ended with the most disappointing result in years. The bottom line is that we didn’t pay Scotland enough respect and they looked the hungrier on the day and made far less errors. In fact, Ireland made double the amount of errors than their Gaelic counterparts with 14-7. This was a strangely uncharacteristic performance with many of their perceived strengths becoming their biggest weaknesses. Case in point was the lineout which was an unmitigated disaster. With an average scrum, Ireland rely heavily on their usually excellent lineout to get them on the front foot and bring in strike runners like Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls into the game. This was not the case yesterday and Sean Cronin must be wondering what would have to happen in order for him to get on the pitch. Rory Best is just one cog in the lineout machine but he was clearly off his throwing game yesterday with overthrows and crooked balls common place. Why have Cronin there if not for a situation like this? Kidney had no problem getting O’Gara on the pitch to change things up, why not Cronin or Cullen? Unbelievably Ireland lost seven, yes SEVEN, of their own lineouts.

Similarly, the usually solid Irish defence was leaky and even the hitman Stephen Ferris slipped off a tackle or two. It was almost as surprising to see Gordon Darcy miss a couple. Perhaps he wasn’t fully fit as he looked a little hesitant. John Barclay should also have been stopped for his try.

Inevitably in this Six Nations the debate will rage back to Sexton/O’Gara. The manner in which O’Gara waited for Sexton to take the kick before coming on was unfortunate but surely not intentional. The almighty cheer O’Gara got when entering the fray must still be ringing in Sexton’s ears. The young pretender does give Ireland more in defence and attack but O’Gara’s game management is better and his distribution looks to have more zing to it. It must hurt Sexton though that when Ireland are playing poorly that it is him who will be sacrificed as if the root of all Irelands problems. Unfortunately, playing at 10, that is the nature of the beast. In all honesty, if Sexton wants to cement his place as Ireland’s outhalf, his goal kicking strike rate will have to improve. It sits around 30% at them moment and he will know that’s not good enough. Yesterday was a real eye-opener for this Irish side and if they genuinely want to have an impact at next years world cup, there are some issues that need addressing. Gert Small was talking up Tony Buckley’s potential recently. If he is to be our tight head next year, he needs to start playing now.. Surely John Hayes will not be there.The back line has a relatively settled look to it but it will be all about getting the combinations right. Earls, Fitzgerald, Bowe, Kearney will all be in the mix for the back three so tough decisions lie ahead. O’Driscoll and Earls in the centre? The biggest disappointment for Ireland on Saturday was the manner in which they lost; it was an error ridden display and a frustrating one. This team still has the players to be a top quality side but the Scots have provided us with a reality check in terms of where we are actually at. The Scots could have feasibly won four out of five games in this Championship and are not a bad side. Unfortunately, Ireland’s final game at Croke Park was reminiscent of their first there but there have been some memorable occasions and performances in between.

Ireland v Wales Postmortem

15 03 2010

In the end, it was fairly comfortable for Ireland and a fifth Triple Crown in seven years now awaits. The Welsh did have periods of assurgency but ultimately they could not breach the solid Irish defence. Jamie Heaslip was particularly powerful in defence, with his last gasp tackle on Jamie Roberts a pivotal moment. The Welsh were once again victims of their own mistakes with Lee Byrne having an Alun Wyn Jones moment in the first half and promptly getting sin binned for his efforts. They were made to pay in those ten minutes and were playing catch up ever since. The French encounter aside, this Irish side is proving to be exceptionally clinical and taking their chances when they fall their way. On a day when their captain and centurion was slightly off his game, it was two young bright sparks from Munster who gave Ireland their cutting edge. This was arguably Tomás O’Leary’s best performance in a green shirt and looked electric going forward. He was a massive threat at the base of the ruck and consistently got Ireland moving forward. He was lambasted for his quick tap and go under the French posts three weeks ago. On Saturday, he was heralded for his quick thinking and dynamism. What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Even his pass looked sharper. Richie Rees is a decent player but how Wales would have liked Mike Phillips on the pitch.

Keith Earls was the other jewel in Ireland’s potential Triple Crown, having now officially arrived as top quality outside back. His finishing was outstanding and he looked very comfortable in the outside centre role. This will not be the last we see of him in this position. He has genuine pace and will be a potent weapon for Ireland for many years to come. It will just be interesting to see what position he ends up in. If D’Arcy doesn’t make the Scottish game, Earls has a massive opportunity to stake a claim for that centre berth. Another big performance on the day came from David Wallace at openside. So often labelled a ball carrying flanker, it was his work on the ground here that really caught the eye. He scored a number of turnovers and a couple of them crucial. He is still the man for the job and you know when you outplay Martin Williams at the breakdown, you are doing something right.

A talking point, with the Scots in mind, will once again be the outhalf slot. Sexton will be criticised for converting three kicks from seven especially as a couple of them were very kickable. He will have nightmares about one of them in particular. However, he didn’t let this effect his all round game and his general play was agin of a very high calibre. He constantly looks to put people into holes both inside and outside of him and began to kick a few nice corners as the game wore on. Yes, his goal kicking will have to improve. And yes, he is still the right man for the job. As for the Welsh, Gatland will come under pressure after this Championship and will lament ill-discipline. He will also be looking to get some of front line players back from injury in a hurry.

Scotland will come to town feeling aggrieved with this six nations as a whole. They were close to looking like a decent side a couple of times but ultimately have only a draw against a struggling English side to their name. Ireland will have too much for them on Saturday and a triple crown surely awaits. As for all you eternal optimists out there who think England could cause a massive upset in Paris and swing the Championship in our favour, don’t hold your breath for you will definitely die!

Ireland v Wales Preview and BO’D Tribute

9 03 2010

As we approach the penultimate round of fixtures in this years six nations, the game of the weekend looks to be at Croke Park. The last time the Welsh came to Croke Park, they emerged with a hard fought victory and went on to clinch the grand slam. The grand slam is out of reach for both sides this time around but Ireland can still emerge with four wins from five and a triple crown while Wales are trying to salvage a mixed bag of a Championship. With the teams announced, there a number of key talking points. In the Irish side, Kidney has named an unchanged 22 with the exception of Rob Kearney unearthing Andrew Trimble on the subs bench. Kearney will be disappointed not to be starting and this decision, along with out-half, were probably the two tightest calls. Murphy didn’t do anything wrong in Twickenham and would probably just about deserve to hold onto his spot. Kearney is recently returning from injury but the reality is that if Kearney had been firing on all cylinders in the opening games, he may well have snuck back in ahead of the Naas man.

Sexton retains his place at ten and on the balance he deserves to. Sexton will play flat and aggressively but if the game is tight expect to see O’Gara come on with fifteen to go. All the weapons are in Sexton’s arsenal but O’Gara’s big game experience and tactical  are made to close out games. However, in general game play Sexton will once again offer us more in attack and defence. His presence alone should offer D’arcy and O’Driscoll some breathing space as the classy Martyn Williams can’t simply afford to slide onto the dynamic Irish centres. Sexton’s fondness of a gap himself should keep the Welsh defence honest. He is also very capable of creating as Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls will testify to from the Twickenham encounter. Defensively, Sexton will not shirk a hit. Ireland will be looking for a similar defensive performance to Twickenham where they missed one tackle from 100.

As Ireland come into the game with a clean bill of health, Wales have no such luxuries. Out along with talismanic captain Ryan Jones are Gethin Jenkins, Alun Wyn Jones and Mike Phillips. The quartet are all key players for Wales and they will be particularly disappointed to lose their captain in the week running up to the game. The number eight has showed some form this season and has looked sharper around the pitch than in previous seasons. Martyn Williams is a class act but will be a very different type of captain to Jones. Leading by example would his mantra as opposed to the passion and drive displayed by Jones. Also, lest us forget that Wales are missing Andy ‘the buggy man’ Powell. Golf clubs from around the country breathe a sigh of relief.

The Welsh backline still has a dangerous look to it with Leigh Halfpenny and Shane Williams in try scoring form and James Hook looking perfectly at home at second centre. How he copes with Brian O’Driscoll may be a different matter. Jamie Roberts has yet to produce his Lions form this season but he remains a threat and the battle between himself and D’arcy is potentially explosive. As dangerous as their backline may be, the problem for Wales will be retrieving quick ball and putting the likes of Shane Williams into space. If Wales are to win, the depleted Welsh back row will have to produce a mammoth performance to subdue Stephen Ferris and Jamie Heaslip, who are both in awesome form. Ireland would be well served continuing their clinical form from Twickenham as, as we saw in Cardiff last week, Wales don’t know when they are beaten and are finishing games strongly. They can score a try from nowhere and Ireland will probably look to keep some structure on the game. Up front Ireland should have the edge, particularly in the back five and that may be key. Ireland should win this game but you just never know what you are going to get with the Welsh, particularly in this Championship. The Scots are probably still in shock from that incredible final seven minutes in Cardiff. Ireland to win by ten.

Ireland’s captain Brian O’Driscoll makes his 100th appearance for Ireland this weekend and there just aren’t enough superlatives to describe the man. He is one of the rugby greats, pure and simple. His attacking ability, defensive brilliance and sheer mental toughness make him Ireland’s greatest. This has been an excellent Irish team over the last ten years but where would we really be without O’Driscoll. How many times has he got that crucial score or nicked the all important turnover. Having been initially explosive going forward when he burst onto the scene, he has matured into one of the best defensive centres in the world. Here are some of his finest moments (excuse the song!):

Ireland v England Review- 6 Nations Week 3

1 03 2010

In what was a predictably tight encounter, Ireland triumphed with a clinical move to seal a hard-fought win in a tense finale. England enjoyed much of the ball, particuarly in the second half, but it was ultimately what Ireland did with the ball when they had it that made the difference. So often, we have touted Irish sporting teams in general as being ‘nearly men’. This Irish rugby side have proved to be the very opposite of that, possessing an innate ability to score crucial tries at crucial times, particularly in the last two seasons. This was the case again on Saturday. The English huffed and puffed with the ball for the majority of the second half but trailing by three points with seven minutes to go, Ireland were able to get their best strike runner into a hole and over the line. This side can be very clinical, a term that would not be overly associated with Irish sporting sides over the years. How the footballers would like a couple of world-class finishers up front for them. Kevin Doyle ain’t bad but David Villa anyone?

England attempted to throw it around early on but Ireland were first on the scoreboard with Jonny Sexton producing a moment of class to put in Tommy Bowe in the corner. From quick turnover ball, Heaslip carried well and found Sexton who put in a sublime chip in behind the English defence. Lewis Moody wasn’t even in the same race as Tommy Bowe. The real touch of class was provided by Sexton who didn’t panic when the pass wasn’t on and took a heavy hit just after he had struck the ball. The weight on the kick was perfect and Tommy Bowe didn’t have to break stride. Sexton definitely doesn’t look out-of-place at this level and had a quality performance on the day. His aggressiveness on the gain line and willingness to play flat allows the Irish strike runners to get over the gain line quicker and makes them more dynamic. They look less dangerous when they slow things down and start looking for pods either side of the ruck. Why don’t they come onto the ball at pace? The beauty of having Sexton and O’Gara is that they are different 10s who have different qualities. With O’Driscoll off the pitch (think O’Connell took the ‘manic aggression’ mantra too far on this occasion!) Kidney could turn to O’Gara to use his experience and put Ireland into the right areas. While he is not as aggressive offensively or defensively as Sexton, you would still back him to get it right in the last ten minutes of a big game. You don’t get 95 caps without having a bit of big game nous. It was refreshing also to see how flat Sexton was for Earls’s try; the young pretender oozes confidence. He did not have his best day with the boot but in fairness to him, none of the kicks were remotely easy. You would still back him to start in the next game. In fact, Sexton starting and O’Gara coming on for the last 15 could be a common theme for the rest of the Championship.

Staying at half-back, O’ Leary had a much improved game than Paris and seemed to be everywhere.. He got the upper hand on Care and he would have enjoyed that penalty reversal. He could still improve his box-kicking and speed at the ruck but around the pitch he was awesome. One of the key factors for Ireland was winning their individual battles around the pitch. Heaslip and Ferris had the measure of Haskell and Easter plus O’Connell lead the Irish lineout to a massive performance. His hands let him down once or twice in the loose but it was a quality effort otherwise. The English were on top in the scrum as predicted and Ireland could seriously use a viable option to Hayes who now looks under pressure in practically every game. A penalty try looked on the cards at one stage. Similarly, their maul was also a destructive weapon for the English and almost won them the game. Heaslip said of it:

“When they (England) get the maul set up, it’s very good and hard to bring down without giving away a penalty. We had to just keep hitting it. We broke it down eventually. It is hard to deal with; the try that they did get started from a maul. It’s a hard thing to deal with.” (Irishtimes.com)

Although England were not hugely creative, the Irish defence was pretty spectacular, missing one tackle out of 100- an unbelievable statistic. Also, the amount of turnovers they managed to scramble was incredible. Les Kiss has done an amazing job on the Irish defence.

How good was it to see Keith Earls have a quality game? He looked really dangerous in broken play, took his try well and didn’t let anyone down in defence. He should prosper into a world-class back for Ireland. With Kearney fit, Ireland’s back three options are very strong.

Ireland were simply more effective on the day; they spent seven minutes in the English half in the second period and scored two tries. Overall, England spent forty five minutes in the Irish half and scored once. Same team to start against the Welsh? Here is that winning score again.. As Paul O’Connell tweeted: ‘Nice one Tommy!’:

Elsewhere, Wales almost came back to stun France after looking like they were going to ship a serious score at half time. Wales will be up for the game in Croker and a tough game awaits. Still can’t belive Lee Byrne missed that kick to the corner!

Scotland, who were decent against France and should have beaten Wales, are now facing the prospect of a spanking from the wooden spoon. Viva Italia!

6 Nations Preview England v Ireland

25 02 2010

So, the two teams have been announced with vastly differing approaches for Martin Johnson and Declan Kidney. Johnson names an unchanged side from the one which stuttered to victory over the Italians while Kidney makes several changes, both forced and tactical. The injury to Kearney at full-back forces Kidney to re-jig the back three, opting for the class and experience of Geordan Murphy rather than the raw but talented Keith Earls. Kidney has just about got the back three right in my book by taking some pressure off Earls in playing him on the wing as he does not want to knock the confidence of this potentially explosive broken field runner. He can be prone to a mistake and we can be sure with Jonny Wilkinson starting at 10 an aerial bombardment awaits. This allows Geordon Murphy to slot in at 15- a player who oozes class and confidence and knows the English game like the back of his hand. The concern with Murphy would be his lack of game time, with only 32 minutes of game time under his belt prior to last weekends game for Leicester. In truth it was that very game that swayed Kidney, with a classy 80 minute shift put in by Murphy in a try scoring performance. Tommy Bowe was the obvious choice for the right wing berth although Shane Horgan should count himself unlucky to not make the bench given his form for Leinster this season.

Up front, the Irish team lines out as expected with the only surprise for me being Donncha O’Callaghan in for Leo Cullen. The Munster lock does offer more around the pitch but Cullen’s lineout performances in the first couple of games have been a highlight for Ireland. Either way, it had to have been a tight call. The Bull Hayes is someone who has come in for a lot of criticism for his scrummaging but as he approaches his 100th cap, you can only admire the man. A warrior in the truest sense and a real servant to Irish rugby. Well done Bull! Another test awaits for the Irish scrum with the hugely exciting prospect Dan Cole no doubt frothing at the mouth.. Where is Ireland’s production line of tight heads? Flannery’s citing gives Rory Best his chance and I doubt he will let anyone down, particularly at set piece time. On that, Flannery is appealing the severity of his ban and his case will be heard next Wednesday. Good luck pal!

The big selection call of the Irish side is undoubtedly at 10. Jonny Sexton gets the nod ahead of O’Gara in a tight call. O’Gara did not have his best game in Paris, albeit behind a beaten pack, and you get the feeling that Sexton’s superior physicality particularly in defence won out for him in the end. I still think that O’Gara has the edge in distribution and tactical nous but Sexton gives Ireland an extra dimension in attack and defence. Due to his fondness of a dart himself, it means the English defence cannot afford to just slide onto DArcy and O’Driscoll. At 9, Tomas O’Leary’s physicality around the base surely gave him the advantage over Reddan although he will have to improve his speed at base of ruck. Overall- right call.

England have not really played well yet, especially in Rome. Yet, the six nations is all about momentum and with two wins under their belt and the champions coming to their back yard, they will prove a seriously tough prospect. This, coupled with the fact that this is the best team selection, in my view, that big Johnno has put forward. Their pack is strong and there is genuine threats across the backline. The centre partnership of Flutey and Tait is potentially devastating. Could Flutey be playing his rugby in Munster next year? With De Villiers voyaging back to his homeland, what a signing that would be! Armitage is quality at full-back and Ugo Monye and Cueto are genuine finishers. Although anyone who has watched Monye recently will recognise that there are aspects of his game that he should improve, particularly his link play. All the talk in the last couple of weeks has been English tens- one hero under fire and one pretender jumping ship. Wilkinson has copped a lot of criticism for his performance in Italy but I think he still has a touch of class and would not be priming Toby Flood for battle just yet. Whilst Danny Cipriani has had enough of Johnno’s cold shoulder and is venturing to sunnier climates in the form of the new Super 14 franchise in Melbourne. It might actually be a decent move for a player who clearly has the talent but is not developing the way he should be in England. A couple of years playing high intensity, heads up rugby might be just what England need. Question marks still remain of the English captaincy but who do you give it to?

Two teams looking for a performance, but most of all a win may not make for the most pulsating game of rugby but it will enthrall us nonetheless. Ireland have just about got the  edge in the back row which could be pivotal. Heaslip and Ferris in particular have the potential to turn this game with their athleticism and physicality respectively. Quick ball will be the key and the gain line. England will want to emulate the French pack and do a number on t heir Irish counterparts and the Irish will want to get their lineout functioning as before and get their strike runners into the game.A really tough, physical, tight game awaits. Ireland to win….just.