A Bittersweet Ending.

So after all of the build up and what have you, it ended as a draw.  Ok it wasnt the result that anyone wanted, really.  Not taking anything away from the Lions, as going to New Zealand and beating the All Blacks (best team in the world), drawing the series overall, is some achievement and they should be proud.  But the quotes coming from players and coaches after the game, of wanting to play extra time etc, proves that nobody wanted a drawn series.  But it is what it is and there is nothing we can do about it.  Maybe there could for future Lions tours, but really, how often does it happen?  The funny thing is, now with a draw, everyone wants a fourth test decider or, at the time extra time etc.  But go back before the tour started and I imagine the Lions players and coaches would have bit your hand off for a drawn series against the world champions.  Especially with the so-called suicidal tour schedule.  So all in all well done to both teams and the Lions especially, what an achievement.

There are few points to take away from the whole tour.  First up, there is no way that future Lions tours can be shortened.  We got a drawn series from a 10 game tour and there’s talk of it being an 8 game tour?  Really come on that’s just defeating the whole thing.  This tour has shown us, if nothing else, that the Lions tours need to be at least 7 warm up games and the 3 tests.  Otherwise the team don’t get time to gel and rest periods between will be shorter, would they not? Why change something that is so successful, with such a great history.  The fans love it and so do the players.  The ball has already started rolling anyway, as England have refused to let any of their players go and play for the barbarians in an unofficial fourth test against the All Blacks.  Where will it roll to next?

Second point is that, the northern hemisphere teams should take note.  The mighty All Blacks can be beaten, they are not invincible, pretty damn good and the best around, but beatable.  Can any of the northen teams beat the All Blacks?  Yes on their day anyone can beat anyone in 80mins, but will we see it anytime soon, I think not.  The All Blacks are going to come back stronger from this.  Yes ok Ireland beat them in Chicago but they beat them the following week and the All Blacks still haven’t lost back to back games in a long time.  If you had the money to put a bet on between them and the All Blacks who would you put it on?  I know who i would.  Going into any games the All Blacks are always going to be the favourites.  But their world dominance cannot last forever…can it?  The players from this Lions tour have got to take their confidence and know how back to their home nations.  One sad thing though is that one home nation will not play the All Blacks until 2019…England.  They are doing great things at the moment and rightly so they should be, they have the biggest player pool to pick from.  So they should be fighting to be the best.  Maybe having to wait until next year for that fixture is good thing, as England will have time to improve and build, whereas New Zealand will have a crop of youngsters with a fair few more caps, from what we saw in the third Lions test.

My last point is, havent we got the best fans in the world.  I mean massive shout out to all of those fans who travelled to New Zealand and out cheered and out sung the New Zealanders.  They are just great and to hear them singing Lions or Oh Maro Itoje gave me goosebumps.  It makes me want to do a Lions tour even more, and I will one day, it’s on the bucket list.  So to all the Lions and rugby fans alike…isnt our game great.  Oh and by the way, to all of those fans who travelled to New Zealand, even though i didn’t get there, we have got one thing in common.  We all have to wait for the Lions DVD…and i for one can’t wait.

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It’s going to be a Saturday worth waiting for.

I dropped to my knees and my eyes started to well up, as i could not believe what i had just witnessed.  Not moving and just trying to catch a breath, from all the running around my living room shouting, Sam Warburton came onto my tv screen for the on the field post match interview.  Answering the question of ‘how does it feel to beat the All Blacks?  He went on to hit the nail on the head.  They are only halfway there, the series is level and they will only be happy if they get a series win next week.  That is what the players want. As do the fans, but where as the players must have the mindset of, it’s on to next week, the job is only half done.  They can’t get ahead of themselves.  The next game would more than likely get away from them, pass them by.  They are professionals and we the fans sadly are not.  So we can run around our living rooms cheering, drink ourselves silly and get ahead of ourselves, it’s what fans do best.  What every rugby fan wouldn’t give to be down there in New Zealand this week, for the build up and the game itself.  The atmosphere will be electric and i wonder how many more fans will be heading out there.  I cannot wait for Saturdays game, but…there is a little bit of fear that started creep in as i eventually started to calm down early Saturday morning.  Even now it is still there, building and spinning round my head.  The All Blacks don’t lose many games, let alone two on the bounce.  They do not like losing, most players and teams dont, but the All Blacks dont as they very rarely lose.  The Lions have got to expect a massive backlash on Saturday, the All Blacks will be determined not to have this feeling again.  So the Lions have got surpass the levels they reached Saturday gone.  They have become legends, now is the time to become immortals.

Looking towards the decider, there are two things the Lions need to do.  Number one is not to change the starting lineup, they are just starting to gel and get used to each enough to play good rugby.  For example the Sexton – Farrell partnership worked, so why change it?  Number two is please please stop the penalties.  Well at least stop giving so many away, the discipline has got to be a lot better than the last two tests.  If Beauden Barrett hadn’t left his kicking boots in the changing rooms, the game would have been over within the first 20mins of the 2nd half.  The fact New Zealand didn’t score any tries shows they only have themselves to blame for not getting the win.  Yes ok they had Sonny Bill Williams sent off, but like I said they were on top at the start of the 2nd half, causing the Lions to make mistakes resulting in them giving away penalties.  Apart from the high penalty count the team played really well, they really started to click and they scored two lovely tries.  These were the glimpses of the attacking prowess we’d hope to see from the Lions back line.

So…Saturday probably the biggest games of the players lives.  It will soon be here, it will soon be all over.  There can only be one winner and at work yesterday I got asked who i thought will win.  My answer i was as follows…If you had asked me before last weeks 2nd test i probably would have gone with my head and said the All Blacks will win the series 3-0.  But now looking it, it’s a whole different ball game.  The All Blacks are a wounded beast, their confidence of winning a whitewash series is in pieces and there is a growing pressure – more than normal – from their own fans.  They are worried their team may not even win the series.  But the Lions are on the up, they have momentum on their side.  They are going for the kill and as i said previously straight after they won the 2nd test they didn’t get ahead of themselves, they were focused on the next game, to get the series win.  I have a funny feeling that this weekend is when everything falls into place for the Lions.  There is a 80mins game out there still for the Lions to have, please let it be this.  Imagine trying to come up with the speech to say to the players before the game, a Jim Telfer 97 or Andy Farrell 2013 for example, what do you say to them before the biggest game of their lives.  All i can say is, come on boys, be brave, be bold, be strong, be clever, be proud and be history.

Come on the Lions.

No no no-no.  All over twitter, in the papers and even on radio stations, there was talk of change this player and that player.  So most people’s teams for the 2nd test would have up to four or five changes.  Why?  The Lions didn’t play badly on Saturday, they were just outclassed by the better side, the best side.  Ok there could be maybe a couple of positions to look at, but if you change too much would that not disrupt the team?  I feel it would.  Now i know im not as qualified as some people are, but this is just my view.  So anyway lets look at the game, who the Lions need to change if any and where they need to improve.

First off hats off to the All Blacks they are just magnificent to watch.  We all say it and say it again the All Blacks do the basics so so well, but then they also add the class to it as well.  I mean just look at that offload Kieran Read did from the scrum to set up their 2nd try.  The one area where most thought the Lions would dominate or at least have a bit more was up front, but the New Zealand forwards weren’t going to let that be the case.  They were so much more powerful and smashing everything with so much more power than the Lions.  In the breakdown the also dominated the Lions, the seemed so much quicker and stronger in that department.  Looking at that, you can maybe make a case for Warburton to come into the team, although I don’t think he has hit form yet.  But O’Mahony didn’t have a bad game and he is great in the line out, but you can see the case for Warburton.  I really can’t make my mind up.  It would be harsh on O’Mahony if he was left out, so I think i would stick with O’Mahony.
In the second row it gets even more interesting.  You have potentially four of the five locks fighting it out for the two starting places and probably one on the bench.  The one who isn’t in contention I don’t think is Alun Wyn Jones.  He just didn’t make a massive influence on the game on Saturday.  It would be a massive call by Gatland if he were to leave him out.  But i feel that he might not.  Courtney Lawes and Ian Henderson both played brilliantly today and both have a chance of playing some part on Saturday, looking more like Lawes as he came off around 50mins in today’s game.  I think he will make the bench, that’s where i would put him, bring him on when we need that bit of extra grunt and pure power.  So that leaves you with the Kruis-Itoje partnership which deserves to start.  I know Kruis didnt have his best game on Saturday or when he came on today, but playing Saturday then on Tuesday is tough and tiring on the body.  Also he is the line out master, if he doesn’t play well again you can replace him with another line out maestro in Lawes.  The Lions forwards need to pack a punch against the All Blacks in the 2nd test.  They need to win the physical battle, that will hopefully get the team on the front foot and let loose the backs.

So now we turn our attention to the backs.  Nothing needs changing there really.  The Lion backs made holes and made chances against this All Black team, but just didn’t put them away.  That’s the next area we need to work on, being more clinical.  The stats say it all, the Lions had something like 5 try scoring opportunities, they came away with 2.  The All Blacks had 3 and away with 3 tries, that is the difference.  Had the Lions been more clinical, they made the breaks, then the final score could have been a lot different.  So for that I would keep all from 9 to 15 the same.  The one area in the backs i originally thought i would change was the bench, with dropping Leigh Halfpenny and bring in either Jack Nowell or Jonathan Joseph.  But unfortunately Joseph didnt get the best of games today.  Playing at fullback i didnt think Nowell would be able to show his best, but with an unfortunate injury to Henshaw he got moved to the wing.  He didnt have a great try scoring game like his last, but he played well and got stuck in and was involved in alot of attacks. But then Leigh Halfpenny came on, he played well really well, well enough for me to reconsider whether to keep him on the bench or not.  You see, i wasnt sure if he could make the sort impact the Lions might need late in a game.  But todays game showed he can.  So that really is the only area i cant decide on.  Either way whoever gets picked they will need to be on top form.  One player i have been massively impressed with is Ben Teo, wow.  He’d looked good for England, but he has really stepped it up on this tour.

So looking towards the next test the Lions need to do two things.  They need to toughen up up front and not focus too much on that.  What i mean is, they need to focus on every aspect of their game, because if the All Blacks spot a weakness they will exploit it and do a pretty damn good job at it.  They are not the best team in the world for no reason.

First test selection.

Standing at work, my mind was racing, thinking of how to start this weeks blog.  The build up of the Chiefs v Lions midweek game was on, sweat running down my forehead down to the bridge of my nose and then dripping off the tip of my nose.  This left me wondering as to whether this was from the extreme heat wave we are having here in the U.K or was it from my brain being in overdrive.  I was hoping it was the former, as im hoping my brain is capable of working that hard.  A certain British and Irish Lions head coach will have his brain in overdrive, as he has a couple of selection headache.  But only a couple that is, in my view.

I feel that Mr Gatland will go roughly with the starting 15 that started against the Maori All Blacks.  There are three selection dilemmas to sort for me, which would have been debated in pubs all around the British and Irish isles.

  1. Second row – For me it would have to be Itoje and Kruis.  Alun Wyn Jones is a top player, with a wealth of experience.  But I think with the Itoje – Kruis partnership we have a two players that know each other so well, their form together for both club and country has been brilliant.  Also imagine having an international captain as a sub.  Alun Wyn Jones with his experience coming on late in the game to see it out or earlier on when things aren’t going to plan.
  2. If Leigh Halfpenny doesn’t come through his return to play protocols, then this is another selection dilemma, as if he can’t play then do thy move Anthony Watson to fullback?  Then who would fill the void on the wing?  With his brilliant display today you could say Jack Nowell, but having just played 80mins would he be too tired?  But there is also Liam Williams and Elliot Daly who both had great games too.
  3. Now we come to the interesting stuff and no it’s not Warburton or O’Mahony that in my mind is sorted O’Mahony all day long on current form.  No this is all about Farrell or Sexton at fly half.  I wouldn’t put Farrell at 12 as Teo has played so well and played himself into a test shirt.  Warren Gatland wont put him there either by the looks of things, if he was wouldnt we have seen the partnership been tried more, but no.  Although maybe he has tried it in training, who knows.
  4. Last but not least…PICK A TEAM THAT ARE GOING TO CAUSE A MAJOR UPSET AND SMASH THE ALL BLACKS…PLEASE.

To finish this blog off i just want to say a few congrats.  First off a massive well done to Scotland.  They only go and beat the Aussies in their own backyard 24-19.  What a start Gregor Townsend has made, he has just picked up where Vern Cotter left and took them that little bit further already.  We saw how good of a coach he was with Glasgow.  Thinking about it what attack coach he would have been for the Lions, what would he have done with the attacking power the Lions have.

Next up well done to a young England squad that won the series in Argentina 2-0.  Dont get me wrong Argentina were no pushovers, both teams scored alot of tries.  With such a young and inexperienced squad, a 2-0 series win in that heat and atomosphere is one hell of an achievement.  I still cant understand why Joe Launchbury wasnt picked for the Lions.  So many of those young and uncapped players put their hands up to be battling for an England shirt in the autunm and future, like 2019 for example.  After a good few years of just having Dan Cole to rely on at tighthead we now have Harry Williams and Will Collier coming on well showing they have loads to offer in the test arena, whilst we also have Kyle Sinckler, whi was once just potential but now is an British and Irish Lion.  Now looking at openside…ahh openside, a natural number 7 was the one postion we never really had since the great Neil Back.  We now have two young up and coming flankers who can be our jackals in the future.  They both enjoyed fantastic debuts.  The only problem for Eddie Jones will be who to play at 7.  This tour has certianally opened up the battle for places in the 2019 World Cup squad.

A SATURDAY OF GREAT RUGGERS. P.S Im back.

Well has it really been that long?  I apologise, my last blog was put out 28th March…oops.  Anyway im not here to babble on, well i am but about rugby ha.  So today at work i listened to the latest Lions warm-up game against the Highlanders, which they lost sadly…or is it?  Yes ok the win would have been better for many reasons including momentum.  But the loss tells us plenty more, how much of a massive challenge this tour is going to be for one.  So for starters its made Warren Gatlands choice for the 1st test squad that little bit easier, albeit two or three players, but he will surely figure that out in the so-called 4th test against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday.  Well the game made my test team easier to pick.  The loss shows how high the players have got to lift their performances, make every chance count and be as ruthless as the All Blacks will be, come the 24th of June.  These losses, as painful as they are will bring these players closer together, more than any big win.  This is a massive plus with all the players coming from four different countries, before hand they only know each other as enemies from the 6 Nations and brief meetings.  Some maybe teammates at club level.  When the going gets tough it will and has shown Gatland which of his players have the mental strength, to go that extra mile and not crack under the intense pressure they will undoubtedly be under.  Looking back at the game, it seemed that the Lions had finally got their attack sorted and they were scoring tries, three at that.  But their amazing defence and discipline had somewhat disappeared, both need to reappear before the first test.  Going back to that Crusaders game last Saturday…ahhh last Saturday, what a day to be a Rugby fan.

Not only did the Lions go out and beat the best team in the Super Rugby, without conceding a try.  England’s young cubs went out to Argentina and beat them in what i can safely say was one of the best games i have seen in a while.  Ok the defences werent at the races, but my god the attacking qualities were.  There was also plenty of scrum porn for those who love a good scrum, hats of to the uncapped tight-head props (Harry Williams and Will Collier) who fared well, very well against a team who pride themselves on their scrum.  Tom Curry…Tom Tom Tom, where to start with that young lad, some international debut he had.  At one point England had it seemed no jackals (number 7), now we have two come at once, the other being Sam Underhill.  In the build up to this tour he was being touted to shine and be the answer to Englands long-term openside problem.  Well if he is as good as we hear – Eddie Jones raved about him before he signed for Bath and was eligible for England – he has got one hell of a battle for that number 7 shirt.  I could sit here and go through all the players who shone, but they all played so well, top picks were George Ford, Nathan Hughes, Henry Slade, Mark Wilson and Joe Launchbury (how he’s not on the Lions tour is beyond me).  Not forgetting Denny Solomona, way to atone for his two previous mistakes, with a wonder try.  Seeing these youngsters and the way they played and also didn’t fold when they went behind makes me so excited about the future of English Rugby.  To top it off the u20 side got through to another JWC final.

Two quick notes to end on.  I know its late but well done Exeter on winning the Prem final.  Its pretty much when and not if Rob Baxter will be England head coach, the job he has done at Exeter is unreal and they fully deserved it.  Now back to the Lions, assessing these four warm-up games, looking towards the three tests im left with my head saying a New Zealand series white wash, but my heart saying a Lions series win.  If it was my job to predict an outcome then obviously go with my head, but its not…so LIONS, LIONS, LIONS, LIONS.

TIME FOR SOME CHANGES.

Yes i know i didn’t get a blog out last week, so i’m practically a week or maybe more behind.  I apologize, but in my defence i have good reason for not getting one out there…first off i was all flued up and i had been doing too many hours, as it got to the point that i was getting home, spending five minutes with the kids and after just collapsing onto the settee, and not moving until the morning when i started all over again.  So what did i miss…oh yes England won the 6 Nations (with no grand slam), Leicester Tigers appointed Matt O’Connor as head coach replacing the outgoing well now gone Aaron Mauger, which being a Tigers fan i find disappointing, the Aviva Premiership got back underway as main rugby priority and of course Lions talk and debate continued.

I’m not going to dwell on the Dublin defeat too much.  So the England game in Dublin did not go as they would of liked, but you’ve got to hand it to Ireland they turned up and were up for it.  England were just outplayed and out passioned in my view.  I just got the feeling from the start that it wasn’t going to be England’s night for making history.  But thinking about it, maybe, just maybe was this a blessing in disguise for England.  They will learn a lot more from defeat than they would of had they won again, in a 6 Nations where they have only reached top gear in one game.  The defeat and the 6 Nations as a whole to a certain extant shows that England need a bit of a freshen up, and that maybe some players are here but are they here to stay?  The tour of Argentina is a perfect chance to forget Dublin and another perfect chance to give some new fresh faces a run.  This will help in the long run even if these new players just provide backup to the ones currently with the shirt in possession.  Imagining that all English players who have been mentioned for the Lions went to New Zealand, these are three players who i feel deserve a chance on the Argentina tour this summer.

ZACH MERCER: Captain of the Grand Slam U20 winning side in this years U20 6 Nations.  I sat and watched their highlights every week and he was nothing short of immense in every game.  His speed for a back rower was just what England needed as ours felt sluggish at times.  Some of the offloads as well my god, all of this you would of thought he was one of the back three.  I remember the one try in which he eventually scored started from him sprinting down the touchline like Usain Bolt.  He is also powerful and has a great rugby brain.  It is only a matter of time before he gets picked.

HENRY SLADE: An amazing talent, with a sumptuous left boot.  He just makes everything look simple and i cannot for the life of me understand why he hasn’t been picked more for England, i mean he only got i think about 20mins against Italy as a sub.  I would like to have seen a 10 12 combination of Farrell at 10 and Slade at 12.  He is just a lovely, talented and graceful player maker who i love to watch.

SAM UNDERHILL: Not much seen of him as i would of liked, but i hear great things of him.  A genuine openside is just what we need, a jackal of our own and i’m hoping he can be just that.  For Eddie Jones to name drop him and to ask about him whilst at Ospreys, shows what people think of his talents and potential.  He was under the strict over-seas rule to have been picked for England but now after joining Bath, it’s his time.  By the way he hasn’t had a bad mentor…Justin Tipuric.

We also need to sort out tight-head and Kyle Sinckler would be my pick but i would love to see him go on the Lions tour.  We need an experienced back up to Dan Cole.  Eddie Jones said a few days after the Dublin debacle that we are now going into the next stage of his four year project building towards the 2019 World Cup.  I hope we now see some fresh faces to give the team a little kick up the backside and get ready for autumn 2018 and facing the best team in the world the All-Blacks.  Seeing as it’s not going to happen this year.  Having that game over a year away is maybe a blessing in disguise, it gives them more time to build perfection and build more hunger to beat the All-Black with it being so long since they have been able to have a crack at them.  Imagine the confidence boost that beating the All-Blacks at the end of 2018 would provide going into a World Cup year.

So back to the 6 Nations to finish off i just want to look back and give my view overall of how it went etc.  I felt it was an entertaining tournament, with so many different talking points coming from it.  For example Italy’s ruckless tactics to the revival of Scotland.  Breakthrough players like Zander Fagerson and Baptiste Serin.  Also as we’ve talked about, England playing poorly and still winning the title and of course the main subject of every game barring the Italy v France game…THE LIONS.  Lions talk of squads and captains have and will continue to be argued and discussed until they are announced.  Which i find great as it just add to the excitement and i really, really can’t wait.

MAKE HISTORY BOYS.

Today was the first of four days, of one of my favourite yearly sporting events.  It’s the time of year when we all start to dress in tweed and become horse whisperers, doesn’t actually mean we win many bets, but we give it a damned good try.  We haven’t become horse racing specialists over night, even if we do read the Racing Post front to back.  That is unfortunately the route i take.  But some just like to pick their favourite colours or lucky numbers.  Either way we all love the excitement, and to put a little or a few bets on over the four days.  Go for the favourite, or take a chance on the outsider.  Yes i’m talking about the Cheltenham Festival and talking of taking chances, this takes me to Dublin on Saturday.  (Hey… you see what i did there, with the link).  Just imagine the amount of pints of Guinness that will be consumed this week and the weekend, especially with it being St Patrick’s Day.  Anyway the rugby, the game that will take place on Saturday is England’s chance, their chance to achieve greatness, to quote Eddie Jones.  He has also said that the players should treat it as their World Cup Final.  So they should, they may only ever get to one World Cup Final and this may be their only chance at creating history with winning this game in Dublin.  Not only will they have won 19 consecutive games in tier one, which would be a new World Record, but they would also be the first team in 6 Nations history to win back to back Grand Slams.  But lets come back to all this and lets look back at the games that happened last weekend.

Going in order again, takes us back to Friday night and with the roof shut, under the lights Wales and Ireland took part in an incredible game of rugby.  Making this 6 Nations one of the best that i can remember.  This game had everything, huge hits, attacking rugby and of course bundles of passion.  Wales seemed up for it from minute one, Rhys Webb is taking the battle for the Lions number 9 shirt right to the wire.  George North showed why never to doubt him and what a little warning/pep talk from the coaches can do.  They also showed England what to do to keep the Irish threat quiet, get at Murray and Sexton and also defend and tackle like your lives depend on it, stop the likes of CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien making the metres, with the carries they can make that is some challenge, but Wales succeeded.  Don’t get me wrong Ireland had their chances too, i’m pretty sure Robbie Henshaw will be kicking himself after the maul debacle.  But i just felt that Sextons yellow card didn’t help and by the time he came back on, Wales had ruffled up his fellow half-back to the point where he could hardly pass the ball.  They never seemed to get the same momentum they did against France.  I felt that Stander had a quiet game as well, i only really remember one big barnstorming run, i mean what a run but when he got substituted i had forgot he was on the pitch.  But anyway this loss for Ireland will only fuel the fire more for the visit of England.

Which brings me to the England v Scotland game on Saturday.  I was a nervous wreck minutes before kick-off.  I was confident of an England win, but a little part of me was not so, as Scotland had played so well up till then.  So what came after kick-off was just…just what we had all been waiting for.  Few, thank god and wow what a performance.  Don’t get me wrong Scotland weren’t the best but that was also because of how good England played.  Straight from the start with the Fraser Brown tackle on Daly (i felt the ref got it right with a yellow card), things just went from bad to worse for Scotland, they just didn’t recover from that and England were soon up 10-0.  Then Scotland lost Hogg and then it seemed player after player to injury, which made it harder and harder.  The onslaught didn’t stop there, Youngs, Ford and Farrell were outstanding and the way they passed and played was top notch.  Straight off the line-out 1 phase boom, boom, boom, try.  The forwards had their best game apart from Launchbury and Lawes who just carried on their outstanding form from the other games.  We finally saw the Hughes we had been waiting for, but the crowd could not contain their excitement when they finally saw Billy come off the bench, then makes an impact within no time with a try.  Joseph got the Man of the Match award and deservedly so for his hat-trick of tries, the bonus was that there was so many candidates.  So the All Blacks record of 18 consecutive games unbeaten was matched and another 6 Nations title in the bag, but all is not complete, they and we as fans want the Grand Slam.  Scotland need to forget this game, erase it from memory fast and just focus now on beating Italy and beating Italy good, to try and climb back up the table to get a finish that their previous form before this game deserved and give Vern Cotter the right send off.

The France v Italy i didn’t really see much of, but from the result it seemed as though there was nothing much really to talk about.  We expected a French win and we got no different.  From what parts i did see, the man mountain Louis Picamoles was causing havoc with no great surprise.  But it just made me think of another gigantic battle we will have in store with him going head to head with Ross Moriaty in the France v Wales game.

Now to Dublin we head and a St Patrick’s Day weekend, a defeat to put right, fire in their bellies, wanting to do a nation proud on home turf and they just want to beat England full stop.  All of this will lie ahead for England team who hopefully are hitting form at just the right time.  They face one hell of a battle, i can’t wait.  We want both teams to be on top form to create a great spectacle, but for England to win they must take every chance to put Ireland to the sword, and watch that Wales v Ireland game back and take note of how they stopped Murray and Sexton playing.   England have without doubt got to see this game as their World Cup Final, or maybe it is an even more important game than that.  As to get to the World Cup Final in 2019 they will either along the way or in the final need to beat the best team in the world…The All Blacks, and i’m sure they would get the job done if they were in England’s shoes.  This game is another step in the long road to building a team to beat the All Blacks and win the World Cup 2019.  But what the hell, a good amount of Guinness’s will be sunk by yours truly on Saturday night and i’m a fan, and i want us to win the Grand Slam god dammit.  Go on boys, make history for England and of course most importantly…yourselves.

I DO WATCH RUGBY…HONEST.

To sit here and talk about rugby like i have sat and watched it all weekend, would be lying.  Instead i have been chasing my two kids around a Disney store.  They were over-tired and over-excited, running around like bulls in a china shop, except it was Disney characters in a trail on the floor behind them.  They wanted one thing then saw another, so they wanted that one instead.  I was trying my hardest to keep them away from the breakable stuff, but they were so fast (whatever energy kick they had i want) and they worked together.  To other parents yes i know this is just a normal day with 4 and 1 year old.  My whole weekend has been a busy one with my beautiful family (BROWNIE POINTS!).  Hence the reason i have not watched any live rugby, only highlights.  I know what your thinking, “what sort of blog is this and he won’t get any likes”, well surely i can’t do any worse than ZERO likes from my last one!  But anyway bare with me, i will try my hardest to make this interesting, i know i am as my brain is starting to hurt.  But according to my wife, that is a regular occurrence when i’m thinking.  But anyway this is a rugby blog and the only bit of rugby so far has been the word RUGBY.

So, where to start?  Friday lets go in order.  Exeter thrashed Leicester convincingly away and gained a bonus point.  Wasps were immense in beating Bath and everything is back to normal winning ways at Sarries.  They even had big Billy back and fair play he played 72mins after just coming back from injury.  Looking at the Leicester and Bath beatings- who are in 5th and 4th- by the teams in 2nd and 1st, for me shows a massive gap and that the top three are miles ahead.  So no matter which of Bath or Leicester finish in fourth, they will be just making up the numbers i’m afraid.

Down the other end Worcester v Bristol was another one sided game, but with totally different consequences for the losing team.  Sorry Bristol but i think that was the final nail in the coffin.  I do believe they will come straight back up, but this season just shows how hard it is, that once you get to the Premiership its so hard to stay up.  But fair play to Worcester, they were outstanding and wanted to make sure the gap between them and Bristol was made even bigger which they did.

A few days ago after Harlequins beat Gloucester dramatically, i saw a re-tweet of Laurie Fisher saying something along the lines of “unbelievable capitulation, not good enough, time to move aside” or something like that.  Only to find out today that he has left with immediate effect.  Its a shame for a great club, who only won the European Challenge Cup in 2015.  So now we wait to see who they bring in for next season.

Finally just a little well done to Sale’s Josh Charnley, on scoring his first union try the weekend.  Its took a little longer than it took Denny Solomona, but not everyone adapts to the game at the same speed.  I feel now he has that first try he will kick on and really make strides.  I followed him playing for Wigan in Super League, he was a try scoring machine and he was a invaluable player for them.  I have a feeling he will soon be that with Sale if they are to be better next season.

SIX NATIONS

I’m so excited for two of this weekends 6 Nations games.  France v Italy i will watch it, i just feel its a forgone conclusion, but i like Conor O’Shea and hope Italy can cause an upset.

So back to the biggies…first up on Friday night Wales v Ireland.  Part of me thinks Wales will be reeling from the Scotland defeat and could get the win, wanting to prove a point.  Especially with them being at home, thats a big factor.  Lets not forget either they have top class players who have been there and done it before.  But i feel Ireland are building steam at just the right time and they are so well drilled.  Joe Schmidt has got some team together there and i’m nervous already for the Ireland v England game (whether we beat Scotland or not) and thats over a week away.  Just think the back-row battle between Wales and Ireland will be gigantic, massive, earth shattering and erm..you get the point, i can’t wait.

The final game, England v Scotland, the Calcutta Cup, the old rivals.  This could be i feel a really close game.  Both teams on their day can be sensational, although England haven’t really got there yet in this 6 Nation.  But you feel it is due sometime and that should worry Scotland somewhat.  Scotland’s form worries me, they have been the form team so far this tournament.  You can’t signal out one player there have been so many outstanding players for them.  The one area where i feel England can get big dominance is the scrum, as Scotland has not been the best.  They also need to stop Finn Russell playing, get on top of him.  Then also take advantage of Hogg’s defence, which is a weak point of his game and he doesn’t have many, and hes nailed on for Lions fullback in my opinion.  Also England need to start quick and well, not giving away to many pens like in the game against Italy, do the basics well.  Scotland also need to start quickly, to unsettle and quieten the Twickenham crowd, plant that seed of doubt in their heads and eventually they will start to turn on the England players, just look at the Italy game, the were booing them then.  But England’s morale should be higher with the return of Big Billy to the squad, and if on form he could be the missing link that England have needed this 6 Nations.

But anyway i hope all games continue with the great rugby and entertainment we have seen in the previous games, building towards a momentous final weekend.  Enjoy the games…i know i will.

PREDICTIONS;

Ireland win.

France win.

England win.

 

 

‘RUCKGATE’ AND 6 NATIONS REVIEW.

Lets get the main talking point from the weekends 6 Nations, out of the way first.  The tactics that Italy used against England, were 1: Intresting and 2: Great.  Intresting because it made the game less one sided than orignally thought it would be, which made the game better (for neutrals).  Also it was intresting as we got to see how England would react to it and also counter it.  Bit disapointed it took them until after half time, but who am i too say.  Great because it was great use of tactics from Conor O’Shea, Brendan Venter and Mike Catt to do what sport is about, which is trying to cause your opposition problems, which they did.  They could of been more ahead at half time, had they had a better goal kicker.  Credit to Italy for playing like it for the full 80mins, they went in whole heartdily.

Anyway away from the ruck tactics, i thought England were sloppy, and didn’t execute the basics at all well in the 1st half, but they did pick up 2nd half.  So looking back fair play to Italy, they got some of their pride back, but still have a long way to go to get where they want to be.  Conor O’Shea has said its a long term project and i think they have the right man in charge to do this.  England must have a top gear performance to come somewhere, and with Scotland to come to Twickenham a week Saturday, they need it to be then.

That brings me to Scotland and Saturdays games.  Scotland were brilliant against Wales, they have been the best team to watch so far in the 6 Nations for me.  Stuart Hogg just keeps cementing his place more as Lions fullback, and the Gray brothers continue to make the second row battle for the Lions mouthwatering.  Scotland have a real chance, of putting England in their place at Twickenham, in their next game.  People have been asking, will Scotland do an Italy, or use another form of surprise tactics, but i think they will just come to Twickenham and play their normal game, which will make it an exciting game.

Wales on the other hand are going through a transition of playing styles, and it will take a couple of years, whilst also blooding some new youngsters.  But they are still a good side and still have big game players, in their prime.  So they will always be there or there abouts.  Also they need George North to find form again.

Now we turn to Ireland, who are just starting to build steam at the right time.  The loss in the first game, was just the kick up the backside they needed.  Stander and O’Brien were outstanding ball carriers against France, with maybe the Lions starting half backs pairing of Murray and Sexton behind them?  Murray is my pick for Lions No9.  The last game in Dublin against England (if England beat Scotland) they will be well up for and could be epic.

Last but no means least France…erm we are getting some France of old.  Their pack is monsterous and can cause havoc for whoever.  Same to be said for the backs, if they can get the flair and offloads going.  When it all clicks, like it did against England in the first game, they will run most teams close.  Maybe, they haven’t reached the consistant form they wanted, yet.

QUICK PREMIERSHIP REVIEW:

Did any of us expect Sarancens to really lose a third on the trot?  They are to good for that, even though they have a ruck (excuse the pun) of players missing.  So back to winning ways for them.

Looking at Leicester Tigers line-up on Friday, it just looked an awesome team even with Dan Cole, Ben Youngs, Manu and Matt Tooma missing.  They are hitting form at just the right time.  They are also the first team to beat Harlequins at the Stoop this season.

Finally well done to Bristol.  Beating Bath 12-11, their old rivals.  It was a shock but it makes next weeks game against Worcester even more massive.