6 NATIONS 2014 REVIEW

* IRELAND STRONG AFTER WINNING 6 NATIONS

* ENGLAND BEST SINCE 2003?

* WALES FAIL DUE TO LIONS 2013

* FRANCE POOR DUE TO TOP 14 CLUBS

* SCOTLAND AND ITALY JUST POOR!

Well, the 2014 6 Nations has come to an end and it’s been a terrific tournament altogether. Some great performances and the winner was unknown until the very last minute. Like every year, each of the teams have different things to take away from their performances.

 

Irish eyes are smiling of course and England had a great season, very unlucky to have had the same record as Ireland (won 4, lost 1) but lose out on points difference. Still, England did manage to win the Triple Crown.

 

Wales didn’t reach the heights of their previous 2 years but should still be happy with 3rd place. France weren’t that great this year in terms of performance but still managed to be in contention for the title until the very last minute.

 

Scotland and Italy won’t be happy with their results, both suffered a real downswing in fortune and failed to build on the progress they had made last year.

 

IRELAND

 

Ireland came into this year’s tournament on the back of a heroic performance against New Zealand (though they lost). This was also Joe Schmidt’s first 6 Nations in charge. Ireland had performed poorly in last year’s tournament, 5th out of 6 and with only 1 solitary win. Ireland needed to do better this year.

 

Ireland got the ball rolling with tremendous wins against Scotland (28-6) and Wales (26-3), thrashing both teams with dominant performances. Ireland were unable to retain that momentum and were affected by a 2 week lay-off. They looked sluggish against England and lost the match, 10-13.

 

Ireland came back in style against Italy, winning 46-7 and atoning for their loss against the Italians the previous year. Ireland’s high points difference meant that they topped the 6 Nations’ table and had the best chance of winning the title. They only had to beat France in Paris, a feat they had not achieved since 2000 (and Ireland hadn’t beaten France anywhere since 2009)!

 

France were also going for the 6 Nations Title and the match was a close run thing until the final whistle. Ireland managed to hold out until the end and left as winners, 22-20. They had also achieved their first 6 Nations title since 2009 (and only their 3rd since 1985!).

 

Ireland finish the tournament in good standing, and though they say goodbye to the legendary Brian O’Driscoll (who was immense throughout the tournament) they will be buoyed by the tremendous showing of a lot of the team and some talented young players coming through.

 

BACKS

 

Rob Kearney had a terrific tournament (though he was a bit overshadowed England’s Mike Brown) and Gordon D’Arcy showed that he still has a lot to offer. Andrew Trimble returned to the team in style and David Kearney is quickly establishing himself as a player of real class. Jonny Sexton has matured into 1 of the best out-halves around and Conor Murray has built on his great performances for the British and Irish Lions.

 

FORWARDS

 

Losing Sean O’Brien before the start of the tournament was a big blow but Chris Henry took his place well and developed into 1 of the stars of the team. Peter O’Mahony is becoming a talismanic figure and Jaimie Heaslip is playing some of the best rugby of his life.

 

Paul O’Connell has had a resurgence and Devin Toner almost matched the great ones presence. Rory Best has turned himself around after a lacklustre Lions tour and Cian Healy and Mike Ross have possibly become the premier prop pairing in European rugby.

 

Ireland finish the 6 Nations in great health and even have some quality players in back up positions (Zebo, Earls). Ireland are in very good stead to do great things in next year’s World Cup.

 

ENGLAND

 

England have a great record over the last few years. Since winning the tournament in 2011, they have won 12 of their last 15 6 Nation’s matches but have been denied the top spot in each year, losing out to Wales twice and this year to France.

 

It’s still a great record and they deservedly lifted the Triple Crown this year. They were unlucky to lose a very close game to France (24-26) at the start of the tournament but came back in real style and dominated the 3 Celtic countries and put Italy to the sword, 52-11.

 

Mike Brown was their star player at full-back and they have a very good out-half in Owen Farrell, probably their best no.10 since Jonny Wilkinson was at his peak. Amazing to think that Farrell is only 22. Chris Robshaw is also one of the best no.7s around and is a brilliant captain.

 

England are in great form. They’re are playing some very good rugby and have a brilliant defence. They’ll be looking to do some damage in next year’s World Cup (which they’re also hosting) and seem to be the best England team since the Golden Team of 2003.

 

WALES

 

Wales came into this year’s tournament having won the last 2 6 Nations. They were in great form, having contributed the most to the winning Lions’ Series and looked to be on the way to becoming the 1st team in history to win a 3rd consecutive 6 Nations title.

 

The warning signs appeared when they struggled to beat Italy (23-15) in the first round and then came completely undone against Ireland. They came back with a strong win against France (27-6) but their hopes and dreams were dashed when they were outclassed by England (29-18). They still had enough left to inflict a heavy defeat on Scotland (51-3) on the last weekend of the tournament .

 

Wales come out of the tournament in pretty bad nick. They’ve lost their captain, Sam Warburton and full-back Leigh Halfpenny for the rest of the season. Both are 2 of their key players and will be missed (though Wales have able replacements in those positions, the players themselves are inspirational and probably the 2 most important players on the Welsh team at the moment).

 

Paradoxically, it may have been the Lions tour that caused the problems for Wales this year. The players gave so much to the tour that they may not have had anything left for the 6 Nations. When Wales are back to full strength they’ll be dangerous.

 

FRANCE

 

France are a very difficult team to judge. They had a pretty poor tournament in terms of performance yet managed to remain in contention until the final whistle of the tournament. Much like in the 2011 World Cup, where they were imploding but still managed to make the final.

 

France were much improved on last year (they were absolutely terrible in last year’s tournament) which isn’t difficult but their only clear win was against Italy (30-10). They struggled to beat England and Scotland and lost comprehensively to Wales  and were beaten by Ireland.

 

Where to now for the French? They were missing their captain, Thierry Dusaoutoir, which must have had an effect on their performances but it goes deeper than that. Phillippe Saint-Andre has had a poor record as coach and France have lost a lot of their elan.

 

It’s not all Saint-Andre’s fault, though. The French clubs in the Top 14 have the real power and see their national side as an afterthought. In most countries, the international players are rested by their respective clubs so they’ll be fully fit on test-match duty. Not in France.

 

In France, the players play matches week in, week out (the Top 14 is ongoing throughout the 6 Nations) and the top players will often find themselves playing matches on consecutive weeks. While an Irish player like Brian O’Driscoll will only play the 6 Nations games while the tournament is on, the French players are looking to play twice that amount of matches in the same timeframe.

 

Something has to be done if France want to achieve things at an international level. They last won the GRand Slam in 2010 but have been quite poor since then. It might be old-fashioned but I believe that the international side should always get preference.

 

SCOTLAND

 

Scotland had done very well in last year’s 6 Nations, coming 3rd,  and it was hoped that they could built on that this year but they never really got going. They started badly with a heavy loss to Ireland and then compounded that by an even heavier loss against England (20-0).

 

They then struggled to beat Italy (before almost achieving a shock win against France, losing 19-17). They had a chance to do well against Wales but it all ended when they lost Stuart Hogg 20 minutes into the game. His absence seemed to knock the fight out of the team and Wales inflicted one of SCotland’s heaviest defeats in years.

 

WHere can Scotland go from here? They can’t get much worse, to be honest. They showed against France that they can still achieve some good things but their heavy defeats against Ireland, England and especially Wales shows that there is still a long way to go. THey were only saved the embarrassment of the Wooden Spoon by a single point victory over Italy (21-20).

 

ITALY

 

Italy had beaten France and Ireland in the 2013 6 Nations tournament and hopes were high that they could improve on that this time around but they never really got going. They gave Wales a fight but were completely outdone by France.

 

They were then unlucky to lose to Scotland after a spirited performance, but followed this with heavy defeats against Ireland and England. Italy finished the tournament with 5 losses from 5 games, which is there poorest result in quieter a while (they usually manage to win at least 1 game).

 

 

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IRELAND WIN 6 NATIONS TITLE

Well, Ireland have won the 2014 6 Nations Title after beating France in a heart-stopping final match, 22-20! It’s Ireland’s first Title win since 2009 and Ireland’s first win over France since 2000. The contest finished what had been an amazing day of rugby and a terrific 6 Nations’ tournament.

 

ENGLAND V ITALY

 

England still had a slim chance of winning the Championship going into their game against Italy but they needed to win the game by at least 50 points to stay in the reckoning for the Title. They didn’t quite manage that in the end, but they came very close. England eventually put Italy to the sword, 52-11!

 

Italy started the stronger team, putting the English scrum under pressure, which led to Italy gaining 2 penalties. England responded by scoring 2 great tries, both by full-back Mike Brown. Brown has been England’s stand-out performer during this tournament.

 

Things got worse for Italy in the 2nd half, with England adding another 5 tries. Italy managed a try 10 minutes before the end, after winger Sarto intercepted and ran in but at this stage it was little more than a consolation, as the score was 45-11 to England. England managed another try just on full-time to finish 52-11.

 

Although England failed to win the Title in the end, they should still be very pleased with their performance and their campaign overall. Though their play was somewhat disjointed and their scrum was unsettled they showed that they have a very potent back-line and should be able to build on that.

 

Italy, on the other hand, have had a poor tournament. While they challenged the English they still come away from the 6 Nations with a record of 4 losses from 4 games. All the progress they made last year seems to have evaporated. They’ll need to step up their performances if they want to compete in next year’s tournament and the World Cup.

 

WALES V SCOTLAND

 

While England were expected to make short work of Italy, few could have predicted the route Wales would inflict on Scotland. 51-3! Scotland had already suffered heavy defeats earlier in the tournament, from England and Ireland but Wales managed to score more points than either of those teams, combined!

 

Scotland’s fall started when full-back Stuart Hogg was red-carded 20 minutes into the game after a late-challenge on Dan BIggar. The referee had originally issued a yellow card but changed his mind when he saw the incident replayed on the big screen!

 

Hogg is the best player Scotland have at the moment and they completely imploded when he left the pitch. Scotland were already at a disadvantage after their captain, Kelly Brown was taken off with concussion.

 

 Wales were already 10-3 up when Hogg was sent off and they kept piling on the tries. They scored 6 more tries, including braces for Jamie Roberts and George North. It wasn’t all plain sailing for Wales though, as they lost their captain, Sam Warburton, to a dislocated shoulder.

 

It was the same injury that put Leigh Halfpenny out of commission last weekend. Both players will now be out for around 4 months and will miss Wales’ tour to South Africa. On the plus side, Halfpenny’s replacement, Liam Williams, played well, even scoring a try.

 

It was a terrific performance by Wales, who had recovered well from their loss to England last week. They end a disappointing campaign on a high note. They were unable to achieve their 3rd consecutive 6 Nations Title, but still come away with a good record.

 

Scotland have been dire throughout this campaign and were only saved from the Wooden Spoon by winning a very close game against Italy. Their high point was a close loss to France. Their low point was today’s match, the highest score against them in many years.

 

IRELAND V FRANCE

 

Brian O’Driscoll finished his international career in style, helping Ireland to their 2nd 6 Nation’s title in 6 years. The legendary centre was pivotal throughout the game and was awarded his 2nd consecutive Man 0f The Match title for his efforts.

 

Machenaud opened the scoring for France with 2 early penalties before Jonny Sexton took a great try at the 20-min mark. Sexton failed to convert, though, which kept France in the lead, 6-5! Trimble touched down soon after, to put Ireland in the lead, 12-6.

 

Sexton missed a conversion and a penalty, though, and those 5 points could have ended up proving costly for Ireland. France aren’t going to be out-done and score their own try soon after a brilliant cross-field kick. The TMO judges it a try and France go into the break, 13-12 ahead.

 

France put Ireland under pressure at the start of the 2nd-half, but Trimble intercepts from out of nowhere to run most of the length of the field before passing to Sexton, who canters in. Ireland now lead, 19-13! Sexton adds a penalty to increase Ireland’s lead to 22-13.

 

At around the hour-mark, France score another try and reduce Ireland’s lead to 22-20! The last 20 minutes are going to be painful for fans of either side. Ireland’s woes increase when the Talismanic Sexton is stretchered from the field with 10 minutes to go. Ian Madigan comes on for his 1st appearance in the 2014 6 Nations.

 

The last 10 minutes are agonisingly painful for fans of both teams. Twice, France have a chance to win the game but are denied both times. First a penalty attempt goes wide and then their try is disallowed. Ireland managed to hold on to win!

 

Ireland were saved from the jaws of defeat (much like in 2009, when Stephen Jones missed a penalty which could have won the match for Wales. Instead he missed and Ireland were awarded the Grand Slam).

 

So Ireland have won the 6 Nations Title, only their 3rd since 1985 and have ended their 14-year bogey in France. A terrific end to a very good Irish campaign. Their performance was patchy in places but they still achieved some impressive victories.

 

France saved their best performance ’til last but it wasn’t good enough to achieve victory (though they were unlucky when they failed in both their penalty and try attempts). Still, they have been really poor this season, they’re only really high point a very close win over England.

 

The performance may have been too little too late for Phillipe Saint-Andre. The French Federation will have to move quickly if they want him gone in time to get a replacement to coach France through next year’s tournament and the World Cup.

 

And so we say good-bye to Brian O’Driscoll as an international rugby player. He’s left us all some great memories over the last 15 years when he has been undoubtedly 1 of the greats of his generation and 1 of the best ever.

 

As well as great memories he leaves behind some terrific achievements as an international player as well. He retires as the world’s most capped player (141) and also 1 half of the World’s Most Capped Centre Partnership, with Gordon D’Arcy . O’Driscoll is also Ireland’s top try scorer with 46 tries. 26 of those tries he scored in the 6 Nations, making him the 6 Nations top try scorer as well!

 

He also played a major role in Ireland’s most successful era, helping Ireland win 4 Triple Crowns, a Grand Slam and 2 Championships during his career. He leaves Irish rugby in much healthier form than when he came onto the scene.

 

He will be sorely missed but he also leaves behind a tremendous team: The Kearney Brothers, Andrew Trimble, Gordon D’Arcy, Jonny Sexton, Conor Murray, Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell, Devin Toner, Cian Healy, Mike Ross and Rory Best. All had great tournaments.

 

Not to mention the injuries to players like Sean O’Brien, Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald, who will be great when they return. There is also the likes of Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan waiting in the wings. And, Stephen Ferris is finally on the road to recovering from injuries that have kept him out of the game for nearly 2 years!

 

Irish rugby is in very good health at the moment and should be for a while to come. There are still a few kinks to work out, but overall Joe Schmidt has done very well in his first 6 Nations Irish coach. Long may it continue!  And Thanks Brian for all the memories!

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6 NATIONS FINALE!

*IRELAND GOIND FOR 1ST WIN IN PARIS SINCE 2000
 
*O’DRISCOLL PLAYING 141st AND LAST INTERNATIONAL
 
*FRANCE HAVE CHANCE TO WIN TROPHY IF THEY BEAT IRELAND
 
*ENGLAND NEED TO BEAT ITALY BY 50 POINTS TO WIN TROPHY
 
* WALES NEED TO THUMP SCOTLAND HEAVILY TO HAVE ANY CHANCE OF WINNING TROPHY
 
Well, it looks like we’re in for a cracking day of rugby as the final series of 6 Nations’ matches takes place this Saturday, March 15th! Firstly, England will have to beware the Ides of March as they travel to Rome to face Italy at 1.30.
 
Then, at 2.45, Scotland travel to the Millennium Stadium to face last year’s 6 Nations champions, Wales. Finally, it’s the big event as France host Ireland at 5 o’clock (all times GMT). 4 teams still have a chance to win the Championship Title but the result all rests with the Ireland/France game.
 
ITALY V ENGLAND
 
England have retained the same starting 15 that beat Wales last weekend. The only change to their squad is bringing Manu Tuilagi onto the bench for Saracens full-back, Alex Goode. Tuilagi hasn’t played for England since last March, but his last test appearance was in the 3rd Test of the Lions vs Australia Series last summer, when he was picked on the bench ahead of Brian O’Driscoll
 
Italy’s inspirational captain, Sergio Parisse returns to captain the side (he was left out of Italy’s test against Ireland last weekend) but they will be without their great prop, Martin Castrogioavanni for the match. Italy will be in for a very tough time against an in-form England.
 
Italy have had a poor 6 tournament, having lost all 4 games so far this year, including heavy losses to France and Ireland. Still, their form hasn’t been all bad, with some very good performances against Wales and Scotland (who they almost beat). They showed some good work against France and Ireland as well.
 
England, in contrast, have been in very good form so far this season, losing only their first match of the tournament so far, a very close loss to France. Otherwise, they have looked dominant against Wales and Ireland and especially Scotland, who they beat 20-0.
 
Italy have a terrible record against England, having never beaten them in 19 attempts. The last 2 games between the sides were very close, though, with England only winning by 7 and 4 points . This year, England would have to win by nearly 50 points if they were to have any chance of claiming the 6 Nations trophy.
 
I think England will win the game quite comfortably but I don’t see them achieving a high score, probably by no more than 20 points. Italy had a great showing in last year’s 6 Nations (they beat France and Ireland) but they haven’t been able to carry that form into this year’s tournament.
 
WALES V SCOTLAND
 
Wales have made 6 changes to the side that lost against England last week. Full-back Leigh Halfpenny was injured  in that game and is replaced by Liam Williams. Rhys Priestland didn’t play well in last week’s game and is replaced by Dan Biggar at out-half. BIggar will also handle the kicking duties.
 
Mike Phillips comes in at scrum-half for Rhys Webb. The rest of the back-line is the same. Luke Charteris, Ken Owens and Rhodri Jones are the new faces in the pack. Prop, Gethin Jenkins makes his 105th test appearance, a new record for Wales.
 
Scotland have made only 1 change to the team that came so close to beating France last week. Dougie Fife makes his debut on the wing. He’ll have a tough time against the giant George North. Wales go into the game as favourites. Scotland have won only 3 of the last 13 games played between the sides.
 
This contest always provides some great rugby. Wales it has to be said have been a bit disappointing this season, after their great form in the last 2 years. That may have been part of it, though, the expectation and pressure of winning a 3rd 6 Nations title (which nobody ever has).
 
Wales had a tough time against Italy, were completely out-classed by Ireland, before thumping France and then been over-run by England. Scotland have a poorer record, been thumped by both Ireland and England, before narrowly beating Italy and almost beating France.
 
There isn’t that much chance of Wales winning the 6 Nations this year. There are too many factors working against them (they’d have to score big against Scotland, while hoping that Italy beat England and France and Ireland draw).  A win would salvage some respect for either team, though Scotland need it more.
 
FRANCE V IRELAND
 
This is the crunch game of Saturday. Ireland travel to France, hoping to achieve their 1st win against the French since 2000! It’s fitting that Brian O’Driscoll played such a big part in that match (he scored 3 tries, announcing himself on the world stage) as he will make his last ever international appearance there on Saturday.
 
Ireland are also going for their 1st 6 Nations trophy since 2009, which is also the last time they beat France anywhere! It’s a difficult game to call as the last 2 games between the sides both ended in draws!
 
Ireland have made 1 change to the side that beat Italy last week, Peter O’Mahony returns at blind-side flanker. Brian O’Driscoll makes his 141st (and last) test appearance (he has 8 appearances for the British and Irish Lions which are included in his caps total).
 
France have made 4 changes to the side that just narrowly beat Scotland last week. It’s quite a new-look team with Louis Picamoles picked on the flank instead of his customary no.8 position (French coach Saint-Andre said that the 2 players will alternate throughout the match).
 
Castres out-half, Remi Tales starts, with Gael Fickou coming into the centre. Racing Metro hooker Szarzewski has recovered from injury and comes into the side. Saint-Andre has also only picked 2 back subs on the replacement bench (the rest are all forwards) which is rare.
 
This should be a great game with it all to play for. Ireland have been in very good form for most of the season, their 1 blight been outclassed by England. France, on the other hand, have been lacklustre and quite disappointing. I feel whatever the result, Phillipe Saint-Andre will not be retained as coach into the next World Cup in 2015.
 
France, though, can never be underestimated. They are just the team to conjure up a brilliant performance out of nowhere and they’ll be especially keen to do well in front of an unforgiving home crowd.
 
There’s some added intrigue for Jonny Sexton as this will be the 1st time he faces his Racing Metro team-mates since joining the club last summer. If Ireland will they will win the 6 Nations trophy outright (England don’t score 50+ points against Italy. If France win, it will then become a matter of points difference with England and Wales (provided those teams win their games).
 
It’s gonna be a great day of rugby!
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ENGLAND WIN TRIPLE CROWN BUT IRELAND STILL TOP 6 NATIONS TABLE

* IRELAND THRASH ITALY
 
* O’DRISCOLL M.O.T.M. ON HIS 140th APPEARANCE
 
* FRANCE BREAK SCOTTISH HEARTS
 
* ENGLAND WIN TRIPLE CROWN
 
* IRELAND REMAIN TOP OF 6 NATIONS TABLE
 
Well, it was another terrific weekend of 6 Nations’ action! Ireland started slow but eventually put Italy to the sword, 46-7. France got a last-minute penalty to overcome Scotland in a very close match, 19-17. And, England proved too much for Wales, eventually winning their match, 29-18 and with it also winning England’s 1st Triple Crown since the golden era of 2003 (when England also won the Grand Slam and World Cup).
 
IRELAND V ITALY
 
O’Driscoll was phenomenal in his record-breaking, last-home appearance. Setting up 3 of Ireland’s 7 tries and making himself a nuisance around the field. His performance was typified by the fact that he received the Man Of The Match award, despite leaving the field 20 minutes from the end, though the great man himself admitted that his award may have been more to do with the occasion than his performance, though his performance still ranks up there with his greatest games.
 
Jonny Sexton was superb as well, showing no signs of his earlier injury or suspected fatigue. Sexton scored 17 points, including 2 tries. Also touching down were Andrew Trimble, Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Fergus McFadden (who replaced O’Driscoll, to a standing ovation from the home crowd!) and Jack McGrath. Italy were reduced to a solitary converted try, but they didn’t go down without a fight.
 
Ireland got the ball rolling with an early Sexton try, set up by O’Driscoll, but Italy were able to cut down subsequent threats by their hosts and proved to be the more capable of converting pressure into points when winger, Sarto, touched down before the half hour mark. The conversion made the scores level at 7-all. Sexton regained the lead with a penalty, before a great Trimble try, again set-up by O’Driscoll, put Ireland at a 17-7 lead before the break.
 
Ireland were able to assert more dominance over their opponents in the 2nd half, and 5 more tries were scored by the home team. Sexton failed to convert any more but his replacement, Paddy Jackson, converted the final 2 tries. Ireland now head to Stade France for a show-down with the French and a 6 Nations trophy very much in their sights.
 
SCOTLAND V FRANCE
 
Neither team had impressed before this match, though France were expected to achieve a relatively easy victory. Instead, the Scots shocked their home crowd, as well as everyone else, by putting in a spirited performance, even providing some champagne rugby, which not many believed they were capable of.
 
Indeed, adventurous play was once the hall-mark of the French, but they have been a shadow of their former selves for a few years now and were reduced to achieving points by penalties in the 1st half. Scotland, on the other hand, chose to run with aplomb and managed to score 2 tries, through Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour. Duncan Weir put in an assured performance at out-half, kicking very well, though 2 errors cost the Scots the game.
 
Scotland were all set up for a 3rd try, which would have likely sealed the win, the French were camped on their own try-line. However, Weir’s pass went astray and French wing Huget was able to intercept and run the length of the field to touch down. Weir also had a chance to win the game with an admittedly difficult penalty but his attempt drifted wide. France crushed Scottish dreams with a last-minute penalty, winning the game, 19-17.
 
Heart-breaking for the Scots, who were the better team on the day. France were pretty abysmal and it looks like it’s time for a new French coach. While the Scottish pack have been somewhat wayward in this competition, the French scrum and line-out have been equally poor. France having been 1 of the poorer sides in the tournament. Having said that, France still retain a slim chance of winning the 6 Nations title, if they manage to score high against Ireland and England fail to dominate Italy.
 
ENGLAND V WALES
 
England put in a terrific performance to beat Wales and claim their first Triple Crown in 11 years. England dominated the Welsh for the whole game and some inspired running and rock-solid defence sealed the victory for the English team. England have probably been the form team in this competition (their hard-fought loss to France the only blot on their copybook) and look set to achieve some great things in the years ahead.
 
England were not without their faults but they proved too much for the more experienced Welsh side, and Owen Farrell easily won the battle at number 10, completely overshadowing  Welsh out-half Rhys Priestland, who was a spent force long before he retired at the hour mark. The English were able to nullify the illustrious Welsh backs and managed to score 2 great tries, through Danny Care and Luther Burrell.
 
Burrell almost got a 2nd try but he was thwarted by heroic defence from Welsh full-back Leigh Halfpenny. Unfortunately, Halfpenny suffered a serious injury in his heroics and has been ruled out for the rest of the season, which is a real blow to Wales. As well as being a great player, Halfpenny was Wales’ chief source of points, being their goal-kicker (indeed he had scored all of Wales’ points during the match).  
 
England seem to have usurped Wales as the dominant team in Europe, however the tournament finishes next week. England have been the most consistently good team this year and have been a superb team over the last 3 years (since Stuart Lancaster became coach). Indeed, England have come 2nd in the last 2 6 Nation’s competitions and have so far won 11 of their last 14 6 Nation’s games (losing only won match in 2012 and 2013 and their early loss to France this year). A great record.
 
We now come to the final weekend of what has been a terrific, exciting competition. It looks set to be an intriguing final series of matches. Scotland and Wales always provide an exciting contest and England will want to do 1 better than Ireland against Italy. But the real head-liner next weekend will be France’s game against Ireland.
 
Ireland are currently leading the 6 Nations table and if they manage to beat France they will win the Championship. For France to win the Championship they have to inflict a heavy defeat to Ireland and hope that Italy can keep England close. Ireland have a lot of momentum going into the game, and have the added incentive of O’Driscoll’s last-ever international, but they will be playing against a French side terrified to lose a home game in front of their own fans who are liable to give them a frosty reception. It’s a great way to end the 6 Nations! Can’t wait!   

 

 

 

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O’DRISCOLL TO MAKE HISTORY/SEXTON INJURY RECOVERY

* O’DRISCOLL SET TO MAKE RECORD APPEARANCE
 
* SEXTON RECOVERS FROM INJURY
 
* HENDERSON IN FOR INJURED O’MAHONY
 
* FRANCE MAKE 7 CHANGES FOR MURRAYFIELD CLASH
 
* DAVIES BACK FOR TWICKENHAM CLASH
 
(Before I begin I have to say that I made a mistake in my last report. I had written that Mike Blair scored a try for England. I actually meant Danny Care! Mike Blair is a former SCOTTISH rugby player. Apologies!)
 
Well, Brian O’Driscoll looks set to make history when he runs out to the field on Saturday at the Aviva. His match against Italy will be his 140th test appearance, making him the world’s most capped player ever (he will have made 132 appearances for Ireland and 8 for the Lions)!
 
It’s a terrific achievement for the great man and does even more for his reputation as 1 of the best players ever and great to see him making that mark in his last international at the Aviva/Landsdowne (his home ground), but I wouldn’t have picked him to play against Italy.
 
I think O’Driscoll should have been rested for the Italian game as Ireland are playing France a week later and we need our best players in top form. The more games played the less potent the players will be. There are also the tough games ahead for the provinces in the Heineken and Rabo tournaments to think of.
 
Jonny Sexton has overcome injury concerns and is also picked for the game against Italy. However, I also would have kept him out of the game. He has already had a very tough season fro Racing Metro and has played 3 near-full tests for Ireland in 5 weeks.
 
That’s too much to ask of a player and expect him to remain on top form. He was clearly struggling in the last quarter against England. Taking nothing away from Italy (they beat Ireland last year, let’s not forget) but players need to be rested and Paddy Jackson needs to have at least 1 start.
 
Irish coach Joe Schmidt has made only 1 change to the team that lost to England 2 weeks ago, with Iain Henderson coming in for the injured Peter O’Mahony at blindside flanker (6). Italy have made some changes to their side, most notably bringing in Barbieri for Sergio Parisse at no. 8. Italian second row, Marco Bortolami captains the side, on his 103rd appearance for his country.
 
I would have liked players like Simon Zebo and Robbie Henshaw included in the team, both to give those players a start and to rest the more experienced players. Neither Zebo nor Henshaw are likely to be picked for the match against France, which means they will have not started a game in the whole of the 6 Nations. They would also provide more attacking flair, which Ireland are lacking at the moment.  
 
Italy will provide a pretty tough challenge for Ireland. Although Italy have yet to win a game so far in the tournament this year, they haven’t gone quietly. They lost narrowly to Wales and made a few mistakes against France before losing by a point against Scotland. Italy can never be underestimated. Ireland will want to make up for the 22-15 loss they suffered to Italy last year.
 
Ireland are still in the running for the 6 Nations’ title, being top of the table on points difference. If they manage a heavy defeat against Italy this should only increase  their lead as I don’t see big scores being achieved in either of the other 2 games this weekend. Ireland face Italy in the Aviva this Saturday, 8th March at 2.30 pm.
 
FRANCE V SCOTLAND
 
France and Scotland come into this contest with differing fortunes. France suffered a heavy defeat to Wales 2 weeks ago while Scotland narrowly beat Italy. France, however have had a better overall campaign so far, as they’ve also beaten England and inflicted a heavy defeat on Italy. Scotland themselves have suffered a heavy defeat against Ireland and an even heavier defeat against England in what was 1 Scotland’s worst performances in recent years.
 
Scotland’s record against France has been poor in recent years, managing only 1 victory in the last 11 years, a narrow 20-16 win in 2006. France have made a number of changes to the team that were steamrolled against Wales, while Scotland have reinstated captain Kelly Brown, who had been dropped after Scotland’s poor effort against Ireland and missed the subsequent matches against England and Italy.
 
Neither France nor Scotland have been particularly impressive so far this year, with both Phillipe Saint-Andre (French coach) and Scott Johnson (Scotland coach) coming under scrutiny for the somewhat lacklustre performances of their teams. Both countries are looking to restore pride to restore some pride. Scotland have the home advantage, which is a slight comfort. The match takes place in Murrayfield on Saturday at 5 pm. France are still in the running for the 6 Nations’ trophy but they’re last of the 4 contenders with only 1 solitary point difference!
 
WALES V ENGLAND
 
Save the best ’til last! This match looks set to be the barn-burner of the weekend. Wales comes into the contest with 3 consecutive wins against England, including last year’s 30-3 drubbing. England came to the Millennium Stadium searching for their fist Grand Slam title in 10 years are were soundly beaten by a terrific Welsh performance.
 
Both sides are still in contention for the 6 Nations’ title, having won 2 and lost 1, though England have a much higher points difference (21 to Wales’ 6). England were narrowly beaten by France before coming back to thrash Scotland and overcome Ireland. Wales struggled to beat Italy before been thrashed by Ireland and thumping France. There isn’t that much between the teams.
 
Wales have a far better team in terms of player personnel (13 of the starting 15 all starred for the Lions) and they welcome back centre Jonathan Davies, but England showed against Ireland that they have the ability to shut down the opposition with a staggering defence. There are some great battles to look forward to, especially the 2 captains, Chris Robshaw of England and Sam Warburton of Wales, who are 2 of the best open-sides in the world.
 
I believe England may just have the stronger momentum to overcome Wales. I don’t believe that it will be quite the drubbing of last year when England welcome Wales to Twickenham on Sunday, March 9th at 3! It looks set to be another great weekend of rugby action and should make the race for the 6 Nation’s title a little clearer.
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IRELAND TOP 6 NATIONS DESPITE LOSS TO ENGLAND

* IRELAND TOP 6 NATIONS TABLE

* ENGLAND BEAT IRELAND 13-10

* WALES SHOCKINGLY THUMP FRANCE 27-6

* SCOTLAND STUMBLE PAST ITALY, WINNING 21-20

Well, Ireland were derailed in their quest for a 4th Triple Crown in 11 years (2004, ’06, ’07 and ’09 (as part of the Grand Slam that year)) after losing 13-10 to England. However, Ireland still have a chance of winning the 6 Nations title this year as they remain top of the 6 Nations table.

While Ireland, England, France and Wales have all got the same record so far in the tournament (2 wins and a loss from 3 games) Ireland are in the lead due to the higher points difference the team has accrued in their last 3 games (high scores in games against Scotland and Wales and low number of points conceded by Ireland).

The 6 Nations tournament has really been thrown open, with 4 teams on an equal footing. I personally can’t remember the last time the tournament was spread out so evenly, with there been 4 possible winners and it makes for a very exciting last few weeks.

Ireland’s game against England was a real barn-burner, with the action flowing freely in the 1st-half, the advantage changing hands constantly between the 2 teams as neither country were able to gain a lead in the game. The 1st half finished with England leading by 3-0. The low-score was testimony to the topsy-turvy nature of the game.

Ireland came back with a bang early in the 2nd half, a terrific try scored by Rob Kearney (Kearney took a great angle for his run, cutting through the English defence to score under the posts. A copybook try, straight off the training ground, England were left embarrassed having conceded it.) Sexton added the conversion.  

The try caught the English off guard and they took a while to recover. Sexton punished them with tactical kicking and English frustration got the better of them as they conceded a penalty. Sexton made the score, 10-3 to Ireland. All was looking great for the Irish but they were unable to maintain their lead.

Firstly, English out-half Owen Farrell kicked another penalty (making the score 10-6). Then, England showed that they could play some rugby as well: full-back Mike Brown (voted M.O.T.M.) ran a great line, off a pass by captain Chris Robshaw, before timing a beautiful pass to scrum-half, Mike Blair, who touched down under the posts. Farrell was quick to make the score, 13-10.

The lead looked set to change hands again, but the Irish players started to run out of ‘gas’. The 1st half had been played at a frantic pace, but this seemed to have had more of an affect on the Irish team than their English counterparts. For the last 20 minutes, the Irish were confounded by a wall-like defence and had no strike runners to counter this.

Ireland’s lack of pace in the back-line was badly exposed. Neither D’Arcy nor O’Driscoll have the pace to really threaten an opposition back-line anymore and Trimble is more of a direct runner. Only the Kearney brothers had the requisite snap but they had few opportunities. The absence of a Keith Earls or a Simon Zebo was sorely felt.

Ireland were also not helped by some wayward kicking from Jonny Sexton. In contrast to his performance against Wales, Sexton seemed to decline as the match wore on, kicking aimlessly and sometimes into touch on the full, therefore not gaining any ground for his team.

Ironically, the fortnight layoff between games seemed to affect the Irish team negatively as they had lost the momentum they had built up in their opening matches, although England had the same lay-off. Ireland have always had a problem with staying focused and fresh in the last quarter of a game.

England’s performance was a master-class in how to cut down an attacking team. Their defence was impenetrable and they expertly blocked any Irish momentum. England are on a roll at the moment and still have a chance at winning the Triple Crown, as they’ve already beaten Scotland, 20-0. They still have to face Wales though, who are a very tough prospect!

Ireland next face Italy (Sat, 8th March @ 2.30 in Aviva). Jonny Sexton is an injury worry for that game, though I wouldn’t have picked him anyway. By no means should Italy be underestimated, but Irish coach Joe Schmidt should be looking to rest some of his players before the big game against France.

O’Driscoll is another who definitely should be rested, he’s not looking great out there, he’s been quite off the pace the last few games. Still, it will be his last international at Landsdowne and he could run on to his home pitch as the world’s most capped player (although he’s got 139 caps, 8 of those are for the Lions so he’s ‘only’ played 131 times for Ireland).

No disrespect to Italy, but Ireland should be looking to gain as many points as possible from this game and should really try to thrash the Italians. France scored 30 points against them and Ireland should try to do even better.

WALES V FRANCE

After falling badly to Ireland 2 weeks ago, Wales came back with a bang, thumping France, 27-6! The Welsh played with renewed vigour and crushed their hosts, scoring 2 great tries and conceding none. It was another poor outing for Phillipe Saint-Andre’s men and it looks like the French authorities will already be looking for a replacement.

The former great winger has had a very poor time since he took over as coach of the national side but he hasn’t been helped by the French clubs refusing to rest their international players during the season. Nearly half of the French squad played for their clubs during the lay-off.

Take nothing away from the Welsh performance, though. They were a much changed side from the team that failed so badly against Ireland. They were all over the French team from the get go and took a form grip on the game. The French had no answer to the Welsh onslaught and were already 20-6 down by the time the 1st half ended.

The French did well to only concede one try in the 2nd half, but already the damage had been done and the French came away as very poor seconds. The French crowd will not accept such a turgid display when France host Scotland next weekend. France’s backs are against the wall.

Both France and Wales are still in the running for the 6 Nations trophy, though, as both teams have only lost 1 match. France have the better record accumulatively, as they beat England and thumped the Italians. While Wales struggled to beat Italy before been thumped themselves by Ireland.

ITALY V SCOTLAND

Scotland had to really battle to achieve a win against Italy. Scotland were losing for most of the match before a Duncan Weir drop-goal secured a win for the Scots, minutes before the end of the match. It was quite a match, short on brilliant play but full of excitement and drama. 

There were some great tries scored in the match, by both teams and the lead changed hands many times before been decided by a last minute drop-goal. Scotland repaired some of the damage after failing woefully against England, while Italy showed that they cannot be underestimated and will fight to the last minute.

CONCLUSION

We now come to the penultimate weekend of 6 Nations rugby action and it looks to be a mouth-watering fare. First, Ireland host Italy, then France play Scotland. And on Sun 9th, Wales face England. Scotland have a chance to really turn things around while France will be looking for redemption.

Wales and England are on an even keel and there isn’t much separating the teams. The Welsh personnel are some of the best in the world but Ireland showed that they can be nullified and England have proven that they have the ability to silence a more illustrious opponent. I’d say this match will go down to the wire. I think the English have the edge in momentum.

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6 NATIONS ROUND-UP

* IRELAND TOP 6 NATIONS AFTER 2ND WEEKEND

* IRELAND THUMP WALES, 26-3

* ENGLAND DOMINATE SCOTLAND, 20-0

* FRANCE PUNISH ITALY, 30-10

 

Well, it was a series of one-sided wins in the 6 Nations last weekend. Each of the 3 matches saw overwhelming victories for Ireland, England and France. Ireland got the ball rolling with a crushing, 26-3 victory over Wales. Then, England did 1 better, beating Scotland, 20-0. Finally, France disposed of Italy, 30-10.

 

One-sided wins are nothing new in rugby but it was quite strange to see 3 happen in 1 weekend, usually they’re spaced out a bit more. Also, the teams in the 6 Nations had become more equal in recent years and overwhelming victories by 1 side seemed a thing of the past.

 

IRELAND V WALES

 

The 23-point difference was the highest Ireland had ever achieved against Wales. With the expectation before the match been that Wales would win in a close game, it was quite a shock to see the reigning 6 Nations’ champions been reduced to also-rans.

 

The Irish teams did a terrific job in cutting off the Welsh team and preventing them from gaining any momentum. The Welsh pack were constantly driven back by our forwards and were consequently unable to gain any useful ball for Roberts, North et al, to capitalise on.

 

While Ireland were somewhat flattered by the score-line, Wales failed to put any noticeable mark on the game. It was a reverse on the 2011 World Cup quarter-final, where Wales suffocated Ireland and prevented them from gaining any momentum.

 

It was a terrific, tactical performance by the Irish, who perfectly dominated the Welsh side and reduced them to giving away penalties. Trimble was a star in the back-line, perfectly marshalling Welsh wizard George North, while Sexton improved from an early stuttering start to really damage Wales by his kicking, both penalties and tactical kicking (kicking for space).

 

Chris Henry (who’s proving to be a great replacement for Sean O’Brien) scored a push-over try, which Sexton converted. Sexton also kicked 4 penalties. More points were added by Sexton’s replacement, Paddy Jackson, who ran in a great try towards the end of the match, which he himself converted. Wales only points came from a solitary penalty by Leigh Halfpenny.  

 

The day really belonged to the Irish forwards, who were dominant in all facets of play. Ireland now have a real chance to win the Triple Crown and even the Grand Slam. But we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves. Ireland have always managed to stumble when they’re favourites. And this England team are far from push-overs.

 

Ireland can’t use the same tactics to suffocate England. The English have a much bigger pack of forwards. Ireland should try to use the back-line more as the English backs are much less experienced. Maybe brining Simon Zebo into the side would give Ireland more of an attacking threat. Ireland’s performance against Wales was more concentrated on defence.

 

ENGLAND V SCOTLAND

 

England came back from a heart-breaking, 26-24 loss to France, to pulverise Scotland, 20-0. The England v Scotland fixture is the oldest rugby international in the world and dates back to 1871 (England v Scotland is also the oldest Associated Football (Soccer) international in the world as well).

 

The 2 countries compete for the Calcutta Cup (a rugby club was started in Calcutta, India in the late-1800’s but never took off so the members took the money the club had accumulated and melted it down into a cup and gave it to the RFU in 1878 and the 2 countries have competed for it ever since).

 

Originally, the cup was going to be competed over by the top clubs in Britain, but the RFU decided that this type of competition went against the amateur ethos of rugby and decided to award it to the winner of the annual England/Scotland match, in honour of it been the oldest such match. There have been 132 contests between the countries so far, no matches took place during the 2 World Wars.

 

In the late 1980’s, after the match 1 year, the players went drinking together and took the cup with them. Dean Richards of England and John Jeffrey of Scotland played their own game with the cup and it got damaged and both players were subsequently punished by their respective unions!).

 

The score-line in last week’s match could have been much higher as English out-half, Owen Farrell missed a few kicks and England were denied 2 or 3 tries. English centre, Luther Burrell, looks a dangerous runner and ran in a great try. Full-back, Mike Brown (who was awarded man-of the match) got another. Farrell converted both and scrum-half, Danny Care, got a drop-goal.

 

England’s 20-0 win is their 5th consecutive win since 2010 (the match that year was drawn) and it was the first time Scotland failed to score a point since 1961 (the score that day was 6-0 to England)!. Of the 132 matches played, England have won 72, Scotland 42 and 18 drawn.

 

England have been overwhelming favourites in recent years, Scotland have only beaten England 3 times since their famous win in 1990. The countries have also met twice in the World Cup, England winning the semi-final in 1991 and the pool game in 2011.

 

Scotland’s performance last weekend, though, was 1 of the worst in the history of the fixture (it could be said that they were lucky to get nil!). The line-out was a shambles (Scotland lost almost half of their own throw-ins) and Scotland were also constantly penalised at the breakdown, giving away far too many penalties.

 

Scotland rugby is in a shambles and has been for many years. They’re the only country, apart from Italy, that failed to win the 6 Nations’ title in the 2000’s (their last title win was in 1999) and they’re usually found propping up the 6 Nations table, competing for the Wooden Spoon most years.  

 

Scotland do have some good players (Glasgow are 4th in the Rabo 12) but interim coach, Scott Johnson, seems reluctant to pick the best team. I would like to see Stuart Hogg (ordinarily a full-back) start a few games at out-half. He played very well at out-half for the Lions in the summer. 

 

Scotland did well in last year’s 6 Nations, ranking 3rd (though they only won 2 of their matches, against Ireland and Italy). Scotland seemed to be going through a resurgence, they had a good run of victories in the summer and winter (though against weaker opposition) but their progress seems to have stalled.

 

FRANCE V ITALY

 

France got revenge for their shock, 23-18 loss to Italy in last year’s 6 Nations, by thumping the Italians, 30-10. The score-line somewhat flattered France as Italy were undone by some simple, rookie/schoolboy errors. The type of errors which are going to keep Italy from sustaining a good run in the 6 Nations.

Italy were only 9-3 down at half-time, but had no real answer when France turned on the power. Italy scored only 1 try, while France got 3. Both sides missed a number of kicks. And it was a very ill-tempered game, with a player from each side getting red-carded (for head-butting each other!).

Red cards are unusual in a match and 2 in 1 game is almost unheard of. France also had a player sin-binned, so for 10 minutes of the match, 13 French played 14 Italians! It finished the 6 Nations weekend on a sour note.   

 

 

 

 

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