RUGBY

Well, whatever happens at least Ireland will finish the season with a Triple Crown. Yes, once again it was the Irish woman’s team that came through for the country, beating Scotland, 30-3, to win their first ever Triple Crown.
 
There is still the Grand Slam to play for, of course, with a tough game against France coming up. Congrats, and Good Luck to them! The win against Scotland also means that Ireland have now qualified for the Women’s World Cup, which takes place in 2014.
 
I would currently bet on their doing better in that tournament, than the men’s team in 2015! Let’s see about televising the women’s games. They would certainly prove to be more exciting television than the men’s games at the moment. 
 
6 NATIONS:
 
It was another poor result for Ireland, losing to a pretty dire Scots team, 12-8. What makes the loss worse, is the fact that Ireland were in control for the majority of the 1st half, winning an astonishing 80% possession of the ball. Unfortunately, Ireland weren’t able to transform this possession into more than 3 points, and the half finished, 3-0 in Ireland’s favour.  
 
Ireland added a quick try at the start of the 2nd half, but Paddy Jackson missed the conversion (he was unlucky with the boot, missing 3 of 4 kicks), so Ireland were only 8-0 ahead. It seemed that the try did more to galvanise the Scots than us, and Scotland came back to win the match with 4 penalties, and stopped Ireland from scoring further for the remainder of the match.
 
Ireland had some scoring chances in the 1st half, but failed to show a clinical edge, and the chances went astray. New cap Luke Marshall made some nice breaks, but moves filtered out. Keith Earls had a good run, but couldn’t finish it off.
 
New out-half Paddy Jackson showed some good handling skills, but he failed where it really mattered, his place kicking. He isn’t even the first-choice kicker for Ulster, Ruan Pienarr handles kicking duties for the province. Unfortunately it was a day where more things went wrong for Ireland.
 
Ireland’s scrum was poor, with Tom Court under a lot of pressure throughout (he doesn’t seem able for international rugby). The line-out malfunctioned as well, with Rory Best failing to reach his jumpers on a number of occasions.
 
With Jackson’s poor kicking performance, Ronan O’Gara was brought on to steady the ship, but unfortunately RO’G had a poor game, and almost handed the Scots a try. O’Gara looked far removed from a player making his 125th appearance for his country.
 
It was a poor Irish performance all around, with Jaimie Heaslip unable to command the team, and guilty of some poor decision making. None of the players really shined on the day and it was another match to forget.
 
Ireland continue their 6 Nations campaign against France (Saturday 9th March) and with no chance of winning the tournament, they now play for nothing but pride. France, though, are in an even worst state, having lost all their matches so far, including an embarrassing loss to Italy.
 
France did improve in their match against England and can’t be counted out. Factor in the unfortunate statistic that Ireland have only beaten France twice in the last 10 years, and Ireland are in a for a real challenge. Luckily Cian Healy will be back for the match so he should improve the scrum, but it looks unlikely that Jonny Sexton will be fit for the game so the debate remains on who should play at out-half.
 
The consensus is that Jackson should be left there, as dropping him after his 1st cap would be a terrible blow to his confidence. Unfortunately, this means that Ireland would take the field without a recognised goal-kicker, a must in modern rugby. 
 
None of the other players are recognised kickers, and even if RO’G returned, he hasn’t been playing well for either country or province. 
 
As regards the rest of the 6 Nations, England are the only team that remain undefeated in the tournament and so are favourites to win, with only Wales looking likely to challenge them. The countries square off on the last weekend of the tournament, which should prove to be an exciting game!
 
LIONS CALL:
 
(i had hoped to do this after every weekend)
With the 6 Nations drawing closer to an end, the Lions tour of Australia moves closer (starts in June) to reality. With 12 games already played certain players are looking like certainties, while others, it has to be said, have dropped out of the running entirely.
 
Of course, current form isn’t the only thing to consider when picking a Lions squad. It must also be taken into account how players will react in unfamiliar circumstances, and how they will cope with adversity. A Lions tour is a step up from international rugby, some players are unable to cope with the higher level (the same way a lot of players can’t progress from club/province to country.
 
Having said that these are the players in my radar for selection (I’ve only concentrated on internationals, just for simplicities sake):
 
IRELAND: Healy, Ross, O’Brien and O’Driscoll look to be almost certain picks, possibly even test starters. Best is another. Donncha Ryan is an outside chance. Heaslip needs to improve. As does Murray. Kearney has tough challenges from the other full-backs, especially Halfpenny. Currently Rob would be joint 2nd choice.
 
Hopefully Sexton will be fully fit. It’s probably too soon for Gilroy. There’s probably too many other players ahead of Earls. O’Driscoll would be looking for his 4th tour and would probably be the only player picked who was on the 2001 tour to Australia.  
 
WALES: Sam Warburton’s has suffered a real drop in fortunes. If the tour was picked last year, he would have been a shoe-in for the captaincy, now he can’t even get on the Welsh team. Ryan Jones has improved a lot and has experience from the 2005 tour, where he was one of the few success stories (I don’t count 2009, he went out as a replacement, was found to be injured, and never played a game).
 
Jenkins and Jones should still goes as props, though behind our boys. Philips is inconsisten but when he’s on form, few are better. He also did great on the 2009 tour. As did Roberts. Cuthbert and North look like the front runners. As does Halfpenny.
 
SCOTLAND: There are a few players with a chance of touring: Alot has been said about Tim Visser and Richie Gray. Hogg is doing well at full back. Euan Murray and Ross Ford have previous tour experience.
 
ENGLAND: Though England are leading at the moment, they don’t have too many real stars. Captain Chris Robshaw is the current front runner to be ‘Lion King’. Owen Farrell looks certain to start at out-half. Manu Tuilagi has a good chance. Alex Goode is playing well at full-back. Danny Care and Ben Youngs are in contention for the scrum-half role.
 
Whatever squad is picked, it certainly won’t be short of talent.
 
SCHOOL’S RUGBY:
 
(i also meant to do something about this)
The Leinster School’s Senior Cup Tournament is at the semi-final stage, with St Michael’s taking on Newbridge, and Blackrock facing Roscrea. St Michaels are the reigning champions and, as previous readers will know, my alma mater.
 
This year the tournament had a different set-up, foregoing the usual table. Instead, each round was decided by drawing names out of a hat. Michaels beat old rivals Clongowes in their quarter-final. The semis will take place around the 3/5 March, with the final on St Patrick’s Day. Could it be Michaels v Blacrock?

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