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6 Nations Rugby Championship 2018

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 28th, 2018 at 01:02:26 PM EST

The 6 Nations rugby Championship starts next week-end is looking more open than ever this year, with England, the champions for the past two years and World no. 2 ranked side suffering a spate of injuries to key players. Do they have the strength in depth to cope? It could be some showdown against Ireland on St. Paddy's day!

France have been a disaster area in recent years but are never easy to beat in Paris and may get a "new coach bounce" under Brunel. They have some very exciting young players and are also very physical - they ruined Ireland's chances at the last World Cup by injuring so many of our top players.

Conor O'Shea's Italy may benefit from some glimpses of form from Treviso and Zebre and the evergreen Parisse, but do they really have the resources to be competitive? One upset win at best, would be my guess.

Wales have had their injury problems too but are never easy to beat. LLanelli Scarlets are the reigning Pro14 champions and have become the first Welsh side to qualify for the quarter finals of the European Cup in years. They seem to fancy their chances (as always!)

Gregor Townsend has Scotland playing some really attractive rugby and they beat Australia and gave the All Blacks a run for their money recently. But is their pack, depleted by injuries, strong enough to give them the front foot possession they need? Disregard them at your peril.

Ireland never seem to be comfortable in the role of favourites and it only takes one below par performance to ruin your chances. We look to have the strength in depth to cope with the loss of O'Brien, Heaslip, Jackson, Payne, and Ruddock, the exile of Donncha Ryan and Zebo, and the ageing Bowe and Trimble; but beating both France and England away is a big ask.

My prediction? Ireland to win the Championship, but perhaps not the grand slam. It's really hard to get it right all the time... but if anyone can do it, perhaps Joe Schmidt can.

No doubt every fan will be picking their ideal team right now, and also trying to second guess the Coach - in Ireland's case, Joe Schmidt. My take is that Schmidt is a conservative selector for crunch games and will go for: Kearney, Earls, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale, Sexton, Murray, McGrath, Best, Furlong, Toner, Henderson, O'Mahony, Stander, V.d. Flier.

I would probably make at least one change and put in Larmour for Kearney even for the away match against France. Schmidt has said Larmour was picked ahead of Zebo on form, so why not put his money where his mouth is? If France can pick a 19 year old (Jalibert) and 21 year old (Belleau) at out half, why not Ireland?

But my real shock selection would be Conan instead of Stander. Stander hasn't been making as much ground recently because teams have prepared for his straight line hard running. He is a bit of a one trick pony, even if a very good one. Conan has better footwork and tends to bounce of the first contact and make better yardage as a result. His support running is outstanding and he also offers another line out option.

Other players unfortunate to miss out of first XV selection would be Healy, James Ryan, Leavy and Conway but it's great that we have a strong bench as well. Schmidt is more likely to experiment against Italy so I suspect some reshuffling of the deck at that stage.

Ireland must be strong favourites against France at this stage but we don't have a good track record in Paris. Hopefully Brunel's team won't find their mojo until later in the championship...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 29th, 2018 at 02:58:05 PM EST
In the event Schmidt has made just two changes from the line-up I predicted above. Cian Healy is in instead of Jack McGrath in what was always going to be a toss up selection. The other is the inclusion of Ryan instead of Toner.

Never could there have been a clearer indication of Ireland's growing strength in depth than the dropping of Devin Toner despite the exclusion of Donncha Ryan and Tadhg Beirne from the squad.

Toner has never had a bad game for Ireland, fits unto the game plan, nearly always plays the full 80, and rarely gets injured. He more or less guarantees you good line-out ball, has good hands and contributes around the pitch even if his sheer height limits his ability to make the hard yards.

James Ryan, on the other hand, has played only a handful of matches for either Leinster or Ireland, and has been injured a lot during his short career. It is not in Schmidt's nature to take risks, particularly against France away, so he must rate him very highly indeed.

Let's hope Ryan does well against a very physical French pack. This is going to be some baptism of fire, but at least he has a very experienced pack around him, and the experience of winning in France.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 2nd, 2018 at 04:07:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fly-half Johnny Sexton?
by Oui on Sat Feb 3rd, 2018 at 07:43:05 PM EST
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 4th, 2018 at 04:33:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't you agree, an outstanding performance by nr. 10 on the Irish side. I have no knowledge of the game, but his drop kick clinched victory for Ireland. Just an opinion.
by Oui on Sun Feb 4th, 2018 at 06:13:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely - to win a match like that after 42 attacking phases (without losing possession) and then kick a 45 metre drop goal is very rare and unprecedented in the 6 Nations.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 4th, 2018 at 11:35:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it's safe to say James Ryan justified his selection. For me he was one of the stand-out performers in what was a slightly disappointing Irish performance. Having said that, wins in Paris are as rare as hen's teeth, so I'll take that and move on. At least we know what areas we need to work on if we are to win the 6N.

Once again, the French have been caught cheating after last year's farce in Paris where they took off their second choice tight head, Uini Atonio, allegedly "injured" so they could have their first choice back on the pitch for the vital end game.

That match ended up lasting 30 minutes longer than it should have while Wayne Barnes sought clarification as to what was going on. This time there ought to be severe sanctions against the French Federation and the match "doctor" who turned a knee into a head injury so that the French could bring their first choice scrum half back on again.

But of course we all know, nothing will happen.

I'm so glad Ireland won anyway. Having lost out to France for the Rugby World Cup, to the cheating Thierry Henry goal, and for the European Banking Authority - which is going to Paris rather than Dublin on the toss of a coin - it would have been too much to lose this match and a shot at the 6N as well!

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 4th, 2018 at 04:32:43 PM EST
Ah come on Frank, so the French are dirty cheaters, boo hoo :). But if we're obliged to fall back on national stereotypes, that last-minute drop goal was... the luck of the Irish. Wonderful, but entirely undeserved. It was always clear to me that the first team to score a try would win the match... Spectacular defense by both teams, who will be very hard to beat in the remaining games.

I'm overjoyed to have a competitive French team, it's been a while! Yeah the 19 year old was too green... other than that, great selection. I'm not going to complain about them giving away too many penalties, because, you know... they're French.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Feb 8th, 2018 at 09:35:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
B/S! Ireland had 70% of possession and territory and it was only because the ref didn't penalise France for slowing down their ruck ball illegally that they didn't score tries. Fair dues to France for scoring a very good try against the run of play when Ireland got nervous towards the end, but there are very few teams that could keep possession for 42 phases and then score a 45 Metre drop goal at the end. No luck involved. Just a lot of hard work and sheer class!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Feb 8th, 2018 at 01:30:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was a joy to my heart to see Wales looking so good. Takes me back to their tours of New Zealand when I was a boy. But I can't see them running in tries like that against Ireland or France. Scotland looked very sound, except for the expensive errors...
I only saw the end of Italy/England, when they got overrun, but it looks like they are more competitive this year.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Feb 8th, 2018 at 09:50:12 AM EST
Brian O'Conner has an article in today's Irish Times arguing that Irish rugby is the poorer for it's shabby sacking of Gatland many years ago. I have commented there as follows:

Gatland was a much younger, less experienced, coach when he coached Ireland twenty years ago and has learned and matured a lot since. He only had a 45% win ratio with Ireland which is a lot less than any coach since. (O'Sullivan 65%, Kidney 52%, Schmidt 71%).

That said, his sacking and replacement by Eddie O'Sullivan was a bit shabby, but no more so than Eddie O'Sullivan's treatment since he held the Ireland job. Eddie can't even get an interview for any job that comes up in Ireland.

O'Driscoll was the top 13 in that Lions squad and the fact that the Lions won the last Test without him is neither here nor there. It was the forward pack that won that game and either O'Driscoll or Davies could have done the job required of the no. 13 that day.

Gatland has kept the spat going over the years with his comments about Ireland players and so can hardly complain that he gets a bit of stick in return. It is a coach's lot to have to move on every few years and Gatland's career took off with the opportunities he got with Connacht and Ireland.

Many in Ireland will always have mixed feelings about being part of a British (and Irish) Lions squad which is basically a money making venture of little benefit to Irish rugby. Fair dues to Gatland for making a success of recent tours, and also for his track record with Wales despite the often chaotic relationship between the Welsh regions and Union.

But really Brian O'Connor is only milking a media created "fake news" hysteria. No one in Irish rugby much cares who the Welsh coach is - we just want to beat them! Another click-bait article from the Irish Times stable of rugby "experts" who don't really know or write much about rugby!

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Feb 20th, 2018 at 01:34:18 PM EST

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