Is That All You Have England?

12 06 2010

We are officially up and running and it has been a mixed bag of a weekend so far which has had the good, the bad and the downright ugly (see France v Uruguay).

If we thought the bell ringer at Portsmouth was annoying, our irritation has reached new bounds with the constant echo of horns (or vuvuzels) at the stadiums in South Africa. It is however a frustration we will have to bear for the duration of the tournament so there is little point in dwelling or letting the horns get the better of us!

Saturday saw two of the pre-tournament favourites begin their campaign in England and Argentina, with starkly contrasting performances. It is difficult to contemplate how England were so poor. Lets be honest here; USA are no great shakes and are a workmanlike side with precious little going forward. Their three best players are Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Londan Donavan; decent players but hardly people who would strike fear into the best teams in the world.

It was astonishing how flat and average England were throughout and they made USA look better than they actually are. It almost seemed that scoring that goal early on was the worst thing that could have happened to them as they more or less immediately began playing cagey football and looked to be playing completely within themselves. This England side, like so many others in recent times, looked to be plagued by fear. It was almost as if they were trying to protect a one goal lead against an average side when scoring after just 15 minutes. Realistically, they should have pressed on and finished the game.

Some people suggest this negativity is Capello’s influence but it could be more a cultural deficiency which is borne from the tabloid media in England. The Sunday tabloid papers will unmercifully rip Green to shreds and he will not be allowed forget about the mistake in the terraces come August. The English side seemed more frightened of losing than confident of winning. Whether this is simply first game jitters remains to be seen.

It was a howler from Green of catastrophic proportions but it shouldn’t mask the other obvious problems scattered across the English general play. Yesterday confirmed that Lampard and Gerrard don’t operate well together as a midfield duo. That’s not to say they couldn’t be effective in the same team but not as a central pairing. They didn’t control the tempo of the game, break up the USA’s play well and provided no real service of note to their best player in Rooney. The United striker looked good when he got the ball but he wasn’t provided with one real chance against a team they should be dominating. England need to alter their system and get Gareth Barry into their team to provide a solid base and free up Gerrard and Lampard to have more roaming roles as it seems hugely unlikely either players won’t be picked. A 4-3-3 seems a better option with Heskey losing out and Joe Cole coming in to support Rooney along with Aaron Lennon.

The inevitable loss of Ledley King to injury has propelled Jamie Carragher into the centre-half role and this spells danger for England. After seeing him outpaced by Altidore, you shudder to think what Villa and Torres would do to him.

This is not a complete disaster for England and they could very feasibly still go on to win the group. However they certainly didn’t stamp their authority on the World Cup and the Spains and Brazils of this world will not be quaking in their boots on the back of this performance.

Argentina on the other hand looked more impressive and consistently dangerous and inventive. The one-nil victory didn’t reflect their dominance and the Nigerian goal keeper Enyeama produced some outstanding saves to keep Nigeria in it. Argentina didn’t exactly steamroll the Nigerians but showed enough glimpses to put themselves in contention as potential winners. Messi looks in good form and dangerous and this will worry anybody who comes in their path. He has the potential to steer Argentina the whole way.

South Korea also produced a great win over the Greeks but in truth Greece looked very poor and will do well to record a point.

We’re off and running and we’ve only seen a glimpse of what is to come. One thing is for certain: England will need to play an awful lot better if they are to make an impact at this World Cup.


Rooney Interview – Repressed Irishman

26 05 2010

Rooney’s first World Cup memory? Ray Houghton. USA ’94. Giants Stadium. Get in!!

Weekend Betting? 12-14th March

11 03 2010

As another big sporting weekend comes upon us, where is the value from a betting perspective? I think Scotland have a good chance to beat England at Murrayfield. They have beaten the English the last three times they played at Murrayfield and they will be hugely motivated. They are generally 10% better when they play the olod enemy in any case.. Expect an arm wrestle in this one as free flowing champagne rugby will not be on the menu. Although the value is not exactly huge with the Scots between 2 and 2.5/1. It may be prudent to back Scotland +4 on the handicap as a close encounter surely awaits.
The only other team that offers any value this weekend is Wales at 4/1 and we won’t go down that road. What about Brian O’Driscoll to score a try on his 100th cap at 15/8?? It is written.
France are 100/1 on so won’t be going down that route either.

What about Everton, Arsenal, Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle and England -4 @ 30/1???

Premiership? Arsenal were excellent mid-week but a trip north against a struggling Hull team without Cesc might be worth a punt on the draw at 4/1.

Cheltenham preview and tips coming imminently with famed tipster Steve ‘the sundance kid’ McGrath and Cheltenham 2010 horse owners.

Feel very free to share your thoughts and tips…

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.” (

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.