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Ireland and the 6 Nations Rugby Championship

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 2nd, 2023 at 09:46:03 PM EST

Ireland have a patchy record in the 6 Nations rugby championship with only four wins since Italy joined in 2000. This compares to seven for England, and six for France and Wales, and none for Scotland or Italy. The figures for Grand Slams are even worse, with four for France and Wales and two for England and Ireland. So it ill-becomes us to become too sniffy about a tournament which funds virtually the entire game in Ireland.

Some younger fans, who don't remember the horrible 1990's and early 2000's, regard it as little more than a warm-up tournament for the World Cup, allegedly the only game in town for Ireland as the world's current no. 1 ranked country. We didn't win the 6 Nations for the first time until 2009, even if we did pick up three Triple Crowns in 2004, 2006 and 2007. In the entire history of the tournament, since 1883, we have a positive win/lose ratio only against Italy. We are still playing catch-up with everyone else.

I've never subscribed to the theory that you can peak too early and that experimenting and losing now might improve our chances in the World Cup. Ireland don't wear the mantle of favourites lightly, but that's just one more psychological milestone we have to pass if we want to become one of the world's top rugby nations on a consistent basis.

That said, we have always been vulnerable to injuries to key players, and so improving our strength in depth is a strategic imperative. With absolutely no disrespect to an improving Italy, I would be all for rotating our team for that match to ensure our fringe and emerging players have the opportunity to gain the experience and cohesion required to slot in for established players as the occasion demands.

This year we play France and England, traditionally our most difficult opponents at home. This should give us a slightly better chance of winning, but we have never clinched a Grand Slam on home soil before. We also haven't beaten Wales, our first opponents, in Cardiff in ten years, so there are a lot of records to be broken.

Wales have just re-appointed Warren Gatland, so often our nemesis, as their head coach. He has named a very experienced side to face us, presumably using his famous "Warrenball" tactics of rush defence and high balls into the air. There is an argument that some of his players may be past their best, and that the turmoil in Welsh regional rugby is reducing the number of outstanding new players coming through. Saturday will tell a tale.

Wales: 15. Leigh Halfpenny, 14. Josh Adams, 13. George North, 12. Joe Hawkins, 11. Rio Dyer, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Tomos Williams, 1. Gareth Thomas, 2. Ken Owens (capt), 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Adam Beard, 5. Alun Wyn Jones, 6. Jac Morgan, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: 16. Scott Baldwin, 17. Rhys Carre, 18. Dillon Lewis, 19. Dafydd Jenkins, 20. Tommy Reffell, 21. Rhys Webb, 22. Owen Williams, 23. Alex Cuthbert.

Ireland head Coach, Andy Farrell, has also named the most experienced, tried and trusted team at his disposal, with an absolute minimum of changes from the outstandingly successful New Zealand tour last summer. Bar a late injury to Furlong, the starting pack will be the same as started all three tests against the All Blacks as well as the November tests against South Africa and Australia. The same goes for the backline, bar the injured Henshaw, with Sexton and Lowe coming back in for Crowley and O'Brien who subbed for them in the last test against Australia. Teams don't get to be much more settled than this.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht); James Ryan (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster); Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).
Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Tom O'Toole (Ulster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Ross Byrne (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht).

The main problem with the selection is that quite a few of them have been short of game time recently, particularly Sexton, Aki, Murray, Lowe and Henderson.  All have proven they can come back at full speed after a spell out injured. The plan is probably to pick the team he wants to play against France and give them some game time together against Wales to improve their cohesion and get them back up to full match fitness.

The young guns and other players on the fringe of the team will have to wait until the match against Italy to get their chance - players like Larmour, O'Brien, Osborne, Earls, Stockdale, Crowley, Casey, Kilcoyne, Kelleher/Stewart, Baird, McCarthy, Prendergast, and Coombes. It could be the first time in history Ireland will rotate most of their squad in the 6 Nations, because it is probably the first time we have had the strength in depth to be able to do so. Italy are an improving side, so it will be a real test for the fringe players to step up.

The team didn't quite click in the Autumn, as they had done in New Zealand. However, if they can perform at anything like the level they reached in New Zealand they should be too strong for Wales, even in Cardiff, and then have a right tilt against the reigning Champions, France, the week after. If we can't win those two matches it is unlikely we will be able to make it past the quarter-final stage of the World Cup, given that we will likely be facing the All Blacks or France at home if we get that far. We are also unlikely to be able to win the World cup if our fringe players can't beat Italy, given that injuries and fatigue will mean several of them may have to step up to the first team.

Overall, the average age of Ireland's 38-man squad is 28 with an average of 34 caps a man - an ideal blend of age and experience. Most players don't reach their peak until their late 20's, and it usually takes a couple of seasons for them to really establish themselves as a leader within the team. Our injury profile is reasonably good with Henshaw and Furlong the only first choice players unavailable. Prop is probably Ireland's weakest position, in terms of strength in depth, so Furlong's absence is a real test for our back-up players in the position.

Scotland head coach, Gregor Townsend has also picked an experienced side to face England in their Calcutta Cup encounter in Twickenham. Currently ranked 7th. in the World, just behind England in 5th. and ahead of Wales at 9th. They are always capable of causing an upset but have lacked the consistency required to win tournaments. Townsend has had his disciplinary issues within the squad, and particularly with star players Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, but all is forgiven and both players start. Munster's Ben Healy fails to make the bench on his first involvement with the squad, but the scrum half slot seems wide open should Ulster's John Cooney switch his allegiance to Scotland when he becomes eligible in March.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, WP Nel; Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Jamie Ritchie (captain), Luke Crosbie, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, Simon Berghan, Jonny Gray, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Blair Kinghorn, Chris Harris.

Like Wales, England have also just sacked their head coach, Eddie Jones, and replaced him with Steve Borthwick. It is rarely a good sign when a head coach has to be replaced just ahead of a major tournament, but sometimes that can also lead to a bounce in performance. Like Wales, England also have a lengthy injury list and issues at professional club level. But more than any country, bar France, they have the depth of playing resources to overcome such issues. The question is can they achieve the necessary cohesion and unity around a new game plan in time for this tournament? Ireland play them last, so we will know a lot more by then. There is no such thing as a weak England team.

England Team: 15. Freddie Steward; 14. Max Malins, 13. Joe Marchant, 12. Owen Farrell (C) 11. Ollie Hassell-Collins; 10. Marcus Smith, 9. Jack van Poortvliet; 1. Ellis Genge (VC), 2. Jamie George , 3. Kyle Sinckler; 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Ollie Chessum; 6. Lewis Ludlam, 7. Ben Curry, 8. Alex Dombrandt
Replacements: 16. Jack Walker, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Dan Cole, 19. Nick Isiekwe, 20. Ben Earl, 21. Ben Youngs, 22. Ollie Lawrence, 23. Anthony Watson.

France have phenomenal depth in their squad in every position and are best placed to overcome any injury issues which may arise. The reigning champions, and with a home World Cup in September, they won't lack for confidence and ambition. If anyone is going to really challenge Ireland's newfound status as World No. 1, it will be France, even away in Lansdowne Road. Their packs often monster us upfront and they have the outstanding backs to take advantage. Sometimes, in the past, they could be caught cold early in a tournament or lacking in cohesion, especially away or against a team they didn't really rate. I doubt we will have any such luck this time around.

Italy are the perennial whipping boys of the tournament but have had an infusion of outstanding young players in the past year. Victories over Wales (away), Australia and Samoa show they are making real progress, particularly in the backs. In Michele Lamaro, Paolo Garbisi, Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menocello and Ange Capuozzo they have players who would grace any squad. They are unlikely to catch any opposition team off-guard, however.

Italy and France don't play until Sunday and will announce their teams tomorrow. I will update in the comments. This year's 6 Nations is a serious dress rehearsal for the World Cup, as well as being a brilliant competition in its own right. The battle to win both starts now!

An appetizing few weekends coming up.
I agree that the IRL-FR match in Dublin next weekend is the big one, likely the decider.

Here's the French line-up for Sunday's game against Italy :

15. Ramos ; 14. Penaud, 13. Fickou, 12. Moefana, 11. Dumortier ; 10. Ntamack, 9. Dupont (cap) ; 7. Ollivon, 8. Alldritt, 6. Jelonch ; 5. Willemse, 4. Flament ; 3. Atonio, 2. Marchand, 1. Baille

The only novelty is Ethan Dumortier on the wing (11 tries so far this season with Lyon), this is his first selection of many. He replaces Gabin Villière who broke something last weekend.
Seven players from Toulouse, who are very dominant in the championship this year, including the whizz-kid pairing of Ntamack and Dupont at halfbacks.

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

by eurogreen on Fri Feb 3rd, 2023 at 02:33:38 PM EST

All the pre-match signs were ominous. When was the last time we lost three key players shortly before a match? Furlong and Gibson Park are two of our world class players and we don't have like for like replacements. Cian Healy isn't bad either but at least Kilcoyne runs him close for a place on the bench.

But Ireland start as if there is no tomorrow and the forwards barge over for two tries. It couldn't be a better start. 14-0. But then the ref and TMO miss a clear knock on and Keenan just beats Dyer to the touchdown. Wales win a penalty just after the five metre scrum. Ireland attack again and Sexton slots the penalty. Wales mount their first serious attack but Lowe intercepts and has the gas to finish from the Irish 22. Sexton is again spot on with the more difficult conversion 3-24.

Wales almost score but great defence by Ringrose nails Biggar and prevents a score. Wales have now conceded 8 penalties and Sexton nails another one. 3-27. Ireland make one of their few mistakes an knock on close to the line. Porter concedes a scrum penalty and then Ireland infringe at the breakdown but Porter makes amends by holding Wales up over the line.

Ireland have had about 5 attacks and have scored three times. Wales have perhaps had four but have failed to get over the line. Small margins, but rugby score-lines can be cruel. I wrote before the match that I hoped Ireland would start at 90, and bring on the subs when 30 ahead.  My confidence ebbed when Furlong, Gibson Park and Healy cried off, so I will settle for a 24 point lead. h/t

Wales cleverly hold the the tackler in and avoid an intercept try by Keenan because the ref  calls it back.  The ref calls a second harsh penalty against Porter as he tries to get under the ball as Wales finally ground the ball and  get a score. 10-27. A lot of marginal calls now going against Ireland now as the penalty count evens up to 10-9. Williams beats a few tacklers but a bad pass ruins the try chance for Wales.

Henderson comes on and is lucky to escape a yellow card for a late tackle. Dyer almost score after interception of a  Sexton cross lick but Wales attacks by some great defence, including some majestic play by Keenan who hasn't put a foot or a hand wrong. The subs come on. Doris is majestic , Murray defence has been excellent and Bealham hasn't taken a backward step.

The TMO again interferes claiming an Aki off the ball tackle that didn't exist. The officials are more influenced by the crowd than Ireland, but Williams finally concedes a yellow for a shoulder to Sexton's head, Ireland's lineout has been immaculate but the scrum now wheels and Wales get a penalty. Sexton goes off after the head shot. The subs are making a big impact and some great running and off-loading by Ireland leads to a brilliant bonus point try by VD Flier. 10-34.

This has been an 80 minute 23 man performance by Ireland with excellent performances all over the pitch. Sheehan, Porter, Ryan, Beirne, Doris, VD Flier, Sexton, Ringrose have looked world class and the remainder not far behind. The ref did Ireland no favours so there was nothing fortuitous in this rare away win in the Millennium cauldron. For all our injury woes, this match couldn't have gone much better for Ireland.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 4th, 2023 at 04:14:37 PM EST
An entertaining match. I can't agree much of your second-guessing of the referee, who seemed even-handed to me. Wales played with their trademark heart and guts, and to my eye, played the best, most attractive attacking rugby; but made too many errors. They could not match the consummate skills of the Irish, who can win a match at this level by simply not doing anything badly wrong.

A much-as-we-expected result, not quite just another day at the office for the Irish. Wales have just fired their coach (Wayne Pivac) and recalled his predecessor (Warren Gatland, both New Zealanders), but he can't do miracles. Under his guidance they achieved remarkable results, but you can't get around the problem of the state of rugby in Wales, they don't have the talent in depth.

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

by eurogreen on Sun Feb 5th, 2023 at 02:19:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not suggesting the ref was biased, just that a couple of mistakes were made (which isn't a whole lot) and that having the closed roof and vociferous crowd may have influenced perceptions. Par for the course for an away match, which is partly why away wins are so unusual.

In general, I think refereeing standards have improved, and the refs are under a lot of scrutiny from World Rugby management who decide on who gets plum appointments and who drops off the radar.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 5th, 2023 at 08:33:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The math of the day yesterday, for my money. Because you don't know who's going to win, if you're honest.

England, like Wales, have just fired their under-performing, and polarising, coach Eddie Jones, and called in Steve Borthwick, a club coach. Not much he can do to turn things around in a few weeks; and England are visibly a work in progress. At least he had the sense to select Max Malins, unfairly dropped by Jones, who was probably England's best performer.

Scotland, with possibly the shallowest talent pool in the Six Nations, seem to play their best rugby against England. They were superb. But their four-try, bonus-point victory was enabled by countless errors from England : there were three, possibly four English tacklers who should have taken Van de Merwe down before he scored the try that clinched it.

As a somewhat partisan viewer, and even though England were ahead for most of the match, I never expected them to win it.

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

by eurogreen on Sun Feb 5th, 2023 at 02:32:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
France ran in three tries in the first half, mostly because of tactical errors from Italy.
But the penalty count against France is telling : they haven't been taking this match seriously, and they are sloppy. Just nos, a penalty try for Italy and a yellow card for France.

I made fun of Ireland above for their unspectacular win against Wales, but France are not taking this game seriously, and it's starting to cost them. French arrogance, anyone?

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

by eurogreen on Sun Feb 5th, 2023 at 04:21:16 PM EST
I just noticed, this seems to be the Guinness Six Nations. You must be very proud, Frank...

But seriously. Business, and dirty business, may be about to mess up France's World Cup this autumn. Just a hunch at the moment...

The French rugby federation has devolved into an interminable messy maul in recent weeks. The president, Bernard Laporte, was convicted of corruption in December, and decided to tough it ought, appealing the conviction and declining to resign. He still, inexplicably, has a majority on the FFR board.
But last week, he was forced to resign, but was replaced as interim president, incredibly, by his treasurer, in spite of the fact that the FFR is being investigated by the French administration for financial irregularities on their watch...

It gets better. Laporte was condemned for a contract he signed with an incredibly generous sponsor, Mohed Altrad (who dominates the world concrete mixer market in his day job, apparently), the owner and chairman of Montpellier rugby club. Signed in 2017, Laporte ceded his "image" to Altrad (sounds a big Faustian), but in practice, Altrad gained undue influence over disciplinary decisions concerning his club, Montpellier.
And it gets worse... You may have noticed Altrad's name on the jersey of the French national team (and, incredibly, also on that of the All Blacks). Obviously, there is suspicion as to the attribution of that contract, as he demonstrably had President Laporte in his pocket.

I'm now waiting for someone to blow the gaff on the (surprising) attribution of the World Cup to France, which came about when Altrad started sponsoring the jersey. I wouldn't be surprised if envelopes full of banknotes changed hands.

(I suppose I'm writing about this because there's absolutely nothing I want to say about the match that just finished. Angel-faced Ange Capuozzo is my man of the match.)

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

by eurogreen on Sun Feb 5th, 2023 at 04:52:32 PM EST
Shock horror. Rugby unions are influenced by their sponsors!  Didn't follow the Laporte trial, and so don't know the specifics of the charge or evidence. I always assumed France got the World Cup through graft. Ireland had the best case, and SA the best technical score.  As usual the Scots betrayed the Irish for a few dollars. Those who think the Celts stick together haven't a notion!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 5th, 2023 at 08:40:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Amazing - a try that is not valid for three different reasons is still granted to Ireland.
Of course, France should not have been in a position to concede it, it was very sloppy, but what's the point of video if you're going to ignore it?

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sat Feb 11th, 2023 at 02:40:32 PM EST
You are referring to the illegal no arms tackle on Lowe as he was grounding the ball while still airborne? Touching the top of grass is not the same as touching the ground! :-)

And of course the illegal and dangerous shoulder on head challenge by 160Kg Antonio on Herring which caused a brain injury from which he couldn't recover should have been a red card!

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 11th, 2023 at 10:05:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
French TV broadcast an angle where the toe of his boot was clearly ploughing through the grass.

But fair doos, it was a beautiful try.

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

by eurogreen on Mon Feb 13th, 2023 at 02:43:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Admit it, France were outplayed today. Outscored by 4 tries to one and Ireland where held up over the line 5 times which under the old rule would have resulted in a 5 metre scrum and a great attacking platform.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 11th, 2023 at 10:20:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think they were outplayed, yes, with far too many easy possessions given, but with competent refereeing it seems that their luck in last yard defence should have seen them register an unlikely win.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sun Feb 12th, 2023 at 08:24:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Highly unlikely win! But yes, the game could have gone either way, which is the main thing.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Feb 13th, 2023 at 02:44:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did Scotland really beat Wales? History

I don't know the rules ... this was a brilliant move 😂

'Sapere aude'

by Oui (Oui) on Sun Feb 12th, 2023 at 06:44:28 AM EST
35-7, so that would be a "yes". Finn Russel is my player of the tournament so far.

Scotland has come a long way in recent years, while Wales, sadly, continues to decline. I remember the magic of their tour to New Zealand in 1969. I have a friend who went to the airport and got autographs from Barry John and JPR Williams.

(I confess I don't know the rules either... they change them every other week anyway, only full-timers - players, coaches, refs, journalists - can possibly master them... Or possibly retired fans also)

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

by eurogreen on Mon Feb 13th, 2023 at 02:55:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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