Six Nations: Week 2: Cold Comfort

Okay so we didn’t get everything right this week either (although our Italy-England preview was almost bang on), but I don’t think too many people correctly called the farcical events in Paris either.  Here’s our Week Two round-up.

The Winners’ Enclosure

England

Holy hand. England, unbelievably, were worse than in Week 1. And yet they won again. They got bashed backwards at every Italian carry, were brainless in possession and played like schoolboys at the end of the first half. The second half started just as badly, until the arrival of Dickson and Morgan added some zest and go-forward ball. Yet they still needed opposition ineptitude and the enduring excellence of Owen Farrell from the kicking tee to win. This was astonishingly poor. A bright first few phases gave way to an embarrassing march backwards all over the park – Italy looked a hugely superior side, but the lack of any kind of playmaking gumption in the halves meant they kept England in it. Somehow, ten minutes of urgency and they stumbled over the line ahead on the scoreboard. We still have no idea how they did it.

Happiness Index: 2.5/5 – you can’t argue with 100%, but the real teams are next. If Charlie Hodgson’s fingers were an inch shorter, England would be looking at at no wins and a wooden spoon. We sense foreboding.

Wales

It took them 40 minutes to get going, but right from Cusiter’s botched take of the second half kick-off, Wales upped the ante, running in three tries in the third quarter of the match.  Their huge three-quarter line again caused all sorts of problems, and Cuthbert running straight over Greig Laidlaw is just something that’s going to happen every so often when you have backs that big and who run that hard.  The key to their game is their accuracy and aggression at the ruck, which leaves Mike Phillips with the ball on a platter, and he can do his thing.  Injuries are racking up but the replcements seem to fit seemlesssly into Gatland’s systems. Probably tournament favorites now.

Happiness Index: 4/5 – two from two and an inferior England team up next.  But injuries might take their toll; they don’t have huge depth of talent

The Losers Corner
Scotland:

If Scotland had played like this last week they probably would have won.  They looked a bit panicked by Wales’ hard-up blitz defence, and lost their way once Wales got on the front foot, but for 40 minutes they contained Wales admirably – though more could have been asked of the creaky Welsh lineout.  They got their reward for all their endeavour with a rare try in the second half (and had a terrific one lamentably and erroneously chalked out by Poite).
Robinson, though, needs to be brave, and put his best team on the pitch.  Stewart Hogg was sensational when he came on, and was tagged by many as their form back before the game.  Despite what appears to be progress, the wooden spoon is a real possibility.  Italy in Rome awaits, with only France still to come to Murrayfield. 

Happiness index: 2/5 – better, of course, but never looked like winning.  Robinson needs to put out his form team for the next game.

Italy:

Dear oh dear. A dominant pack. Ball-carriers routinely making 5 or 6 metres a carry. A solid defensive line from young confident backs. But Kris Burton and Tobias Botes, take a bow. Your utter ineptitde prevented your (adopted) country attaining a famous win. The forwards won this match, but the out-halves determined they won it by a negative number. Burton kicked the ball aimlessly away when keeping it in hand, specifically the hands of the back rows, would have resulted in easy points. He gave the team no direction or leadership and it was no surprise when he got the shepherds hook. Botes came on and look a bit less dumb in possession, but missed 2 of the worst kicks we have ever seen. Amazing. We venture that any of the Irish 10s currentl playing professional rugby could have piloted Italy to a win here, even Jeremy Staunton. Is Luciano Orquera that bad?? Hell, even do a Lievremental and pick Semenzato at 10 – he cannot do any worse than the curent clowns.

Happiness Index: 2/5 – the forwards and three-quarters were great, but the halves were appalling. We dont think they will go winless, but this was an opportunity lost.

The Freezer Section

France

With the game called off at farce o’clock, just farce minutes before farce-off, this could only be described as a farce.  France will be annoyed about it, and not just because of the embarrassment suffered.  This was an opportune time to face Ireland, just six days after a bad defeat, but the ship has sailed.

Happiness Index: Farce/5 – their pride will have been dented, but they’ll give a Gallic shrug and move on.

Ireland:

They didn’t lose in Paris for once, which is a plus. Amazingly, some domestic media suggested the French players didn’t want to play as they feared the Irish in those conditions. I doubt it.  Truth is, as Franno alluded to, this isn’t that bad a result for Ireland.  They can get their campaign belatedly up and running with a win against Italy, bed in Earls at 13, get O’Mahony capped, and maybe, just maybe, have a little bit of momentum going to Paris.  They’ll still lose the rescheduled game of course.

Happiness Index: 1.5/5 – the bile from last week is dissipating and a familiar misplaced optimism is returning to Irish rugby.

Six Nations: Match Previews Week 2

So we did well last week – predicting wins for Ireland and the Jocks and a cakewalk for France. Oops – 0/3 against the spread. Egg even got the Superbowl wrong, backing New England. Boooo. Still, luck has got to even out, so we can’t be that wrong again!

Italy v England

So, England are back! Stuart Lancaster’s Revolution began with a resounding victory over Scotland. According to the English press anyway – Stephen Jones had Phil Dowson down as “wonderfully effective”, Owen Farrell’s debut was lauded by all and Moritz Botha will be a mainstay of the team for years to come. In reality, England were dire – of the debutants only Ooooooooooooohh Brad Barritt (and Ben Morgan off the bench) impressed; the halves were anonymous, and only Scottish butchering saved them from a hammering.

Italy, on the other hand, lost but played quite well. The pack looked ordinary beforehand, but made the French 8 work and broke even in the tight. They even tried to play a bit of rugby in the backs. It all seems set for a monumental ambush in the Olimpico, but we have our doubts. The Azzurri have never beaten England, and generally get wiped out, although the last 2 games in Italy have been lost by 4 points and 5.  Their first up tackling continues to be a weakness.

Ironically, Italian teams of recent vintage which concentrated on 8-man rugby may have had a chance here – the English pack is horribly lightweight and looks ripe for a complete mauling. As it stands, Italy’s desire to play it more open might count against them – England’s strongest players are in the backline. Having said that, it can’t be that hard to close down England’s attack – Scotland managed it with ease and the boshing centres don’t get ball to the dangerous backs quickly.

If this comes down to place-kicking, its a definite advantage for England – Farrell is not a man who misses.

Verdict: Until Italy prove they have the mental, its England for us.The spread is 8 points, which seems generous given this is the worst England pack either of us can remember. We won’t be shocked if Italy do it, but look to Italy-Ireland last year for a template for this game – Italian missed chances and away win.

France v Ireland

On paper it’s nigh on impossible to see where Ireland can win this game.  Lethargic and borderline passive against Wales, a largely identical 15 now soldiers on to Paris, where they simply don’t win, even on their good days.  France, as is customary, have a made a few changes to their team, but only one looks to weaken their side.  Harinordoquy and Maestri offer lineout options, while Poux is a technical scrummager par excellence (see what we did there, Gerry?).  The only peculiar one is the starting of Szarzewski over the dogged Servat.  Sure, the great Toulouse hooker can’t go on forever, but while Szarsewski looks like a Roman God, he doesn’t really play like one.  The backline is unchanged, and looks set to purr; there are some big chaps in there too.

These games in Paris usually go one way: Ireland often make a reasonably good start, often creating, but failing to score a chance in the first few minutes before France up the tempo, and clinically rack up the points.  A final twist is usually provided with France falling asleep at the wheel late on (a few terrible substitutions can go some way to helping here) and letting Ireland back into the game.  Ireland’s only chance of winning is to get the first try and put doubt into the minds of the Frenchmen.  They would also do well not to fawn over the beautiful blue jersey’s and Szarzewski’s immaculate hair – they must be utterly belligerent, feral at the breakdown, maniacal in defence and uninhibited with ball in hand.  So, no chance then!

A curious side note is that our favourite double team Blind Dave and Wayne are back in action this weekend.  While this has been generally lamented, it might just work in Ireland’s favour.  Blind Dave might just have it in the back of his mind to be nice to the lads this week to even things up for his abdication of responsibility on Sunday.  [We’re clinging on to a life raft here folks, we’re utterly desperate!]

Verdict: If the pattern of Ireland delivering good performances only when painted into a corner is to be continued, then expect Ireland to leave absolutely nothing on the freezing-cold Stade de France surface.  Another sterile defeat, and Ireland’s campaign will be moving in worrying parallel with the 2008 Championship.  Either way, France to win.

Wales v Scotland

Wales were probably the most impressive of all the sides last weekend, but it’s pretty easy to look great when you have free ball and the opposition let your huge and talented backs run at them. Ireland’s “gameplan” backfired and play straight into Welsh hands. Yet they nearly lost.

Scotland rucked the English back-row into oblivion, tore plenty of holes in the defensive line and had all the try chances. And lost miserably. How Nick De Luca manages to maintain a spot in the team with his hands is beyond us.

The Welsh won’t find it as easy this week – the Scottish back row are manic and won’t allow the freedom of the park to Wales like Ireland did. The Welsh will welcome back Dan Lydiate for some ball carrying threat from blindside, and the Scots ditched Dan Parks after Robbo belatedly accepted his post-RWC retirement. Ironically, Parks ability to kick behind the skillful but not-that-mobile Welsh 3/4 line might have come in useful – but they’re better off without.

As it stands, Greig Laidlaw will attack the gainline with aplomb in a way not seen since his anaemic attack coach retired from playing, and if – big if – they can cut out the handling errors, we might see Scotland actually score some points. Maybe even a try!  They seem to do better on their travels than in the pressurised cauldron of Murrayfield.  Wales will look to get their backs on the ball at speed, and if they do, it’s difficult to see any problems for them. If Phillips, North and Davies are prominent again, you can bet Wales have done enough.

Verdict: Scotland are limpetty and difficult to play against, and we’re going against the usual writing off. We think they will get it together some day and explode in semi-glorious fashion. Not today though – Wales to eke it out, but it will be clsoer than the 12 point spread.

Sergeant Deccie’s Lonely Hearts Committee

We don’t normally do long and winding posts, but we have given some structure to a shared stream of conciousness that has been around for about 24 hours now. Lets see how it plays out…

Look at yourself first
Ok, so this is meant to be the piece where we castigate the management for another insipid Irish performance.  And it will be.  Oh yes.  But first we have to castigate ourselves.  We were overconfident.  We looked at the Welsh tight five and saw four first team names missing and fairly ordinary replacements.  We saw Roberts and Priestland only just back from injury.  We didn’t really rate Priestland anyway (turns out we were right on that one), but we saw the excellent (and huge) back 5 and figured, surely they won’t get enough good ball to figure?
But much more criminally, we dared to hope that all the talk of a new gameplan would come to fruition.  What fools!  Have we learned nothing!?  We also got suckered in to thinking that the provincial success would somehow feed into the Irish team.  And we call ourselves rugby nerds?  Lordy.  We weren’t taken for complete fools though – we expressed scepticism over the committee in charge of attack – but we hoped.  Boy do we feel foolish now.
What’s wrong with Ireland?
Just what is the matter with Ireland?  Why do they look so… average? For the last two years Ireland have been generally poor, only rising above the torpor on sporadic, often emotionally-driven occasions.  Is George Hook’s theory about the natural openside (get that Gick lad away from his textbooks and straight into the team, right George?) correct?  Are we picking the right halfbacks?  Is our backline too small?  Should Donncha have started?
Most of the above are neither here nor there.  In truth our problems look more deeply rooted – the mini centres do fine for Leinster, all four halves in the squad have played well this season and all three provinces have managed fine thanks very much without a fetcher at 7. And as for Donncha … well, we’ve been there.

There just doesn’t seem to be any plan of attack.  On Sunday we saw downtown kicking, Garryowens and box kicks repeatedly deployed.  This was in spite of a lot of talk beforehand of ball-in-hand attacking.  Sexton’s long kicking to the back three was frequently ordinary, but his Garryowens were pretty accurate, and Kearney and Bowe are highly effective chasers, but they still only give you at best a 50% chance of retaining possession.  Conor Murray is a fine kicker of the ball, but didn’t have his best day on Sunday, and there are entire countries where box kicking of turnover ball would see you dropped, no questions asked.


Jamie Heaslip and Andrew Trimble managed to get themselves going forward on the end of some good ball, but the barnstorming flankers of the HEC were anonymous, and Cian Healy barely touched the ball in the loose.

The sad thing is that attack seems to be something of an afterthought for Ireland.  Contrast with defence, where Les Kiss proved ahead of the rest of the world in innovating the choke tackle, as well as using line-shooters in 2009 to great effect.  Ireland’s defence has looked calculated, programmed and solid for most of the last three years – but not on Sunday [Should BOD have been sharing some of Kiss’s plaudits over the last 3 years?].
In attack the opposite has been the case.  The majority of the backline is provided by Leinster, where the players are familiar with working with Joe Schmidt, one of the best coaches of backs in the world and by all accounts highly demanding in terms of accuracy and execution.  From there they come into a system with no recognised attack coach, and where sloppiness (so much dropped ball) and comfort zones (you’re picked again anyway) are ingrained.  Since Gaffney departed, the role has been taken over by a four-man committee of the defence coach, the kicking coach, the video analyst, and Deccie himself.  It looks like Ireland play to choke tackle the life out of teams and hope to grind out enough points to finish just ahead on the scoreboard.  They rarely go out and take the game to teams.

Interestingly, Matty Williams has been banging the drum for a while that Gaffney actually had very litle influence on attack, while Kiss had Deccie’s ear. We assumed Matty was just standing up for his mate (which he was) but there appears to have been at least a grain of truth to his claims. Now that the Gaffney hook has been slung, it appears what Matt said was happening behind the scenes has been formalised.

Surely the small matter of attack requires a dedicated specialist? Either the IRFU and Deccie think the Committee is doing a good enough job that there was no need to source one, or they tried and failed to get an established name on board. The delay in hiring a team manager was apparently due to the difficulty of working with Deccie – interesting, and worrying. Was the job offered to someone who turned it down? And if so, why? Was it due to the ill-defined nature of Kiss’ role?  There was surely ample time to hire someone if they wanted to.

Do Ireland have The Mental?
For all that Ireland played poorly, they still should have won.  Six points up with five minutes on the clock is a position you should close out.  Leinster, Ulster or Munster would not have lost the match in those circumstances.  Ireland took the wrong decision to go for a penalty that was out of Sexton’s range, and were passive in the penultimate phase of play, where Wales marauded 60m up the pitch and won the match-winning penalty.  Compare with the mania with which Munster went through 50,000 phases to set up ROG’s drop goal against Northampton, or the way 14-man Leinster defended the line against Glasgow.  You just knew they’d hold out.  The same intensity just doesn’t seem to be there in the green shirt.
Is Kidney’s management working?
‘You can’t really give them a reason why they are out.  I remember telling one or two lads that.  I said “If I was to tell you a reason I’d be trying to justify my decision.”’
The above is a quotation from the grand slam book where Kidney described the process of telling players they’re left out.  Kidney, by his own admission, tries to give little away.  Donncha’s recent autobiography described how Kidney seeks to keep players on their toes, and often in the dark as to his thinking. It works for some players, doubtless, but the modern professional surely needs more than a slippery cute-hoorish platitude – he needs goals, boundaries and targets. It’s fine for Paulie, BOD and ROG, who probably don’t listen anyway, but how can Donnacha Ryan or Fergus McFadden expect to come in and wing it? How can they set themselves defined goals without any organisational feedback?
At Leinster, where over half the starting 15 play, Joe Schmidt is, according to various player interviews, very forthright with the players, telling them in detail why they haven’t got the nod and what they need to do to get picked.  The players, we understand, hugely appreciate his honesty.  You have to wonder if Deccie’s handling of the players, successful as it’s been in the past, is really getting the best out of the current group.

Where to next?

Well, Paris obviously, where Ireland have won twice since 1954. Even a performance of the calibre of those against England in the Aviva or Australia in Eden Park won’t suffice. Hell, even a performance like Leinster in last years HEC semi-final may not suffice. Changes-wise, one would expect Ryan to be rewarded for his painful cameo, and for Earls to slot back in. The thought of Wesley Fofana’s razor sharp mind and lightning feet in Earls’ channel off easy ball do not bear thinking about, but it’s going to happen.


But that’s by the by. What is really needed is a new broom, fresh thinking. The Ireland team are asleep at the wheel, firmly ensconced in the comfort zone. The kick in the behind should either come from Deccie at training, or Deccie at selection. After all, Deccie is CEO, and the buck stops with him. The players havea role to play here as well – they don’t show the type of urgency Wales do. Granted, there is no competition for places – does Tommy Bowe really think Dave Kearney will take his shirt? How about SOB – does he think he needs to give an extra 2% to fend off Padre O’Mahoney? We aren’t advocating either of these switches by the way, but there are a few players going through the motions, playing at levels that would not be acceptable at provincial level.


On the bright side, we haven’t felt as pessimistic since after the USA match, and we all know what happened next! Noooo!!! The hope! Its the hope that kills you!

Should have gone to Specsavers

It’s Sunday in Little Britain and Wayne is bringing his friend Blind Dave on a trip to Dublin. Suddenly there’s an incident and Blind Dave puts his flag up.

Wayne: What is it Dave?
Dave: Dangerous tackle. 4 red.
Wayne: Dangerous tackle. Are you sure? What happened? What’s your recommendation?
Dave: Picked him up, turned him over, drove him into the ground. Yellow card.
Wayne: Yellow card? Are you sure?
Dave: Yeah.
Wayne: Definitely a yellow. That sounds like a tip tackle Dave and I know you don’t like that.
Dave: Yeah I know.
Wayne: But you said that tackles above the line of the shoulders have the potential to cause serious injury and that you’d noted that a worrying trend had emerged whereby players responsible for such tackles were not being suitably sanctioned.
Dave: Yeah I know.
Wayne: So you’re sure its a yellow.
Dave: Yeah.
*Wayne walks away*
Wayne: Captain! And four. Dangerous tackle – yellow card.

Dave: Tip tackle. Red card.

Oh dear. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so close to the truth.

Six Nations Week 1: Wayne (Barnes)’s World

Week 1 has passed, and nothing really has changed. France are still great, England are still rubbish, Ireland still have no gameplan, Scotland can’t score tries, Wales are quite useful and Italy don’t win away.

But we decided to flesh out the above into something more concrete instead.  Our Week 1 Review, split by champions and old nags:

The Winners’ Enclosure

France

A four try win with a minimum of fuss is a reasonable start for France.  They didn’t look any great shakes for large stretches, but late in the second half you could see them start to enjoy themselves.  Wesley Fofana had a good debut, and his partnership with Rougerie is going to cause a lot of teams a lot of problems.  Louis Picamoles was transformed from a pussy cat at the World Cup to his wrecking ball best here.  Happily for France, their favourite opponenets, Ireland are coming to town for their habitual beating next week.  The fixture list is set up nicely, and the final game against Wales could be a decider.

Happiness Index: 3/5 – decent start to the new campaign, but the French public will demand a more complete performance next week

England

Ugh, that didn’t make for pleasant viewing.  New players, new captain, new gameplan… but the song remains the same.  It’s reassuring to see some things never change, and England just can’t fall out of love with the bosh.  Their backrow was thouroughly outplayed, and only when Morgan came on did they have any decent carrier on the pitch, but they defended doggedly and allowed Scotland to shoot themselves in the foot just enough to win the game.  For a scratch team it’s not the worst of starts, but going to a passionate Stadio Olimpico in Rome will be tough. The media loved it though – Stephen Jones was even saying how good Botha, Dowson and Farrell were.

Happiness Index: 3/5 – one away win in the locker, if they can get another next week they are looking at a successful championship

Wales

Missing four tight forwards, losing Warburton at half time, and with Rhys ‘Toto Schillachi’ Priestland having a shocker, you’d think the writing was on the wall.  But oh me oh my, what a group of matchwinners these guys have.  A sensational backrow, and the biggest, bruisingest, and skilfulest backs in the competition.  Roberts looked short of form, but Jonathan Davies boshed hole after hole in the Irish defence, while George North looks like the player of the age.  Hard running, clean lines, great angles. 

Happiness Index: 5/5 – Wales will be thrilled.  Gatty once again outfoxed Kidney and is a shoo-in for the Lions job.  Scotland at home next, and a great chance to build momentum.

The Losers Corner
Ireland:

Gerry Ending: Blind Dave Pearson! *foam* Wayne Barnes!! *froth* Les Kiss does know how to run an attack!!! *thumps desk* Mother Deccie of Kidcutta!!!!

Farmer Farrelly Ending: Sexton missed kicks! *thumps desk* Miniscule Leinster centres!! *foam* Where is Ooooooooooohhh James Downey!!! *froth* Padre PiO’Mahoney!!!!

Mega Happy Honest Ending: Ireland were like pussycats at ruck time – only substitute Donnacha Ryan attempted to slow Welsh ball, and he got speared for his troubles. Without BOD, Ireland were clueless at the breakdown, and clueless on how to play. Oh how we hoped the noises about an actual gameplan were true – why we believed them is another thing. The personnel sweep all before them in Europe at provincial level, but look like befuddled fools in a green shirt – it’s time for some coaching please. And by coaching, we don’t mean putting the video analyst in charge of attack. 

Happiness Index: 1/5 – very difficult to see how Ireland can have a good championship from here.  Paris beckons. Tomorrow we’ll be looking in more depth at Ireland’s woes.
Scotland:

Now, this is a tough one. Yes, Scotland lost in desperate fashion. Yes, they butchered countless chances. Yes, Robbo did select Dan Parks, who will surely never play for his country, or Scotland, again. And yet. We felt there were some chinks of light. When the Embra halves came on after 55 odd minutes, they played with real speed and purpose. The laughable handling of the players outside killed a lot of moves, but in at least some cases, they were genuinely unfamiliar with the whole “gainline” thing Greg Laidlaw was at and had to reach for flat passes. And the Scottish back row were brilliant, Ross Rennie’s mastery of ruck time harking back to the days of JJ and Finlay Calder. Robbo made a serious boo-boo in picking this team, and confidence is no doubt rock bottom, but they might actually have something to build on – if Laidlaw gets picked to start, Scotland might actually have *whisper* a platform.

Happiness index: 2/5 – at least they’ll get the right team on the pitch now.  All is not lost, but that was a huge opportunity blown

Italy:

An 18 point defeat was within the bookies pre-match spread and Italy will be happy with that. Granted, the French barely broke sweat, but this was a match Italy were never going to win – what they needed was to leave Paris with their dignity intact. And they did that. They looked pretty breezy, contributed to a good quality and open match, and looked kind of rejuvenated. Clearly, without a 10, they are going to struggle, but they have a great back row, a good coach, a decent pair of centres and, now, a spring in their step. In terms of next week, they got the ideal result from England – an absolutely dire performance with a win, which means few changes are likely. Italy have never beaten England, but they will be waiting in the long grass of the Stadio Olimpico this Saturday.

Happiness Index: 3/5 will feel they’ve a good chance of grinding England into the dirt

Six Nations: Match Previews

After all the drama surrounding team selections, squad announcements and even refereeing appointments, the small matter of the actual games of Six Nations rugby take place this weekend.  We’re looking forward to it.  Now for the bit where we put ourselves in the firing line and predict what will happen.

Scotland v England

We hummed and we hawed.  We saw the England squad and thought they couldn’t possibly win.  Then we saw the Scotland team, with Dan Parks at 10, and thought they couldn’t possibly win.  Then we cried for a bit thinking about the two hours of our lives we’d each be giving up to watch the blasted game.  Then, finally, we saw the England team and went back to thinking they wouldn’t win.

This one’s all about the New England – new captain, new players, new attitude, new interim coach, new playing style.  The trouble is none of it looks all that great.  Mouritz Botha, Geoff Parling and Phil Dowson are adequate Boshiership journeymen rather than exciting new talents, while England appear to be looking to the least creative of the good sides in the country for their midfield (10 – 13 all Sarries!). Chris Robshaw captains the team, and he’s a good player, but looks a bit knackered and will be out of position on the openside.


Verdict: We’re going for Scotland because we just can’t see how England will be able to deliver the gameplan they’re talking about.  Lancaster says they’re looking to play at a high tempo, but high tempo requires quick ball, and just who is going to serve that up? The Scottish back row will be licking their chops at the lightweight trio England have served up – Scotland to shade a dour affair.

France v Italy

France will be looking to hit the ground running and have every chance of doing so.  They seem to have the right team on the pitch, something they haven’t had for some time.  Louis Picamoles keeps out Harinordoquy in what looks a position of real strength (Fulgence Ouedraogo can’t even make the 22), while Trinh-Duc is welcomed back to the starting line-up, with Beauxis a handy reserve.  All eyes will be on Clermont’s razor-sharp Wesley Fofana, who looks like a potential star of the tournament.

It should all be too much for Italy.  The Italians were poor in the World Cup, and never looked like troubling Ireland or Australia.  They just don’t travel.  Their home games, now in the Stadio Olimpico, will be worth watching and they may try to keep some of their powder dry for England’s arrival there next week.

Verdict: this one is set up for France to rack up some points; we expect them to win by a couple of scores.

Ireland v Wales

Obviously, this is the most interesting game from our perspective. Even before the Welsh squad started dropping like flies, we fancied that this was a game Ireland were targetting – the noises from the squad echo those we heard prior to England in March and Australia in October. Now, with the Welsh down several front-liners, Ireland will be confident as well as motivated.

We foresee an urgent and effective Ireland performance with some tries thrown in. Wales will play a smart game and target our weaknesses (second row in the loose and Earls’ defence at 13) but it won’t be enough. Ireland really want this one, and nearly all the squad go in brimful of confidence after the HEC group stages – stark contrast to Wales.

Verdict: We don’t think Ireland will blow Wales away early like they did to England, but they will have enough. This could be quite high-scoring – the Welsh backs are more than useful – 30-20 or something. Ireland by more than a score

Six Nations: Vive La Revolution!

Pope Benedeccie I announced his team for the opening Six Nations match and there weren’t many surprises. The 22 is picked almost entirely from the World Cup squad, with the only newbie being Peter O’Mahony taking his place on the bench. Good for Frankie’s day job anyway. Not one of those ‘promoted’ from the Wolfhounds game made the final call. Well, what else were you expecting?
This was not a selection to get the pulses racing, but, truth be told, it was never going to be. As we flagged earlier this week, Ireland’s fate this season rests more on their ability to deliver a more potent gameplan in attack than with rafts of new personnel. There were only ever four starting berths where there was uncertainty, and even that was minimal. We knew all along Earls was going to get the nod, and made our peace with this decision. There are some outraged voices out there over this selection, but with no overwhelmingly obvious choice, Earls is a good bet. Yes, his defence is a concern, no, he’s not a natural centre, but those who lament Kidney’s conservatism (count us in) can at least be consoled by the notion that it’s a choice built for attack.
Sexton and Murray starting was pretty well flagged. Great and all as ROG is playing, few expected Kidney to give him a start in this one given his age. It’s in everyone’s interests to give Sexton and Murray an extended run in the side, and hope they can provide Ireland with a stable half-back pairing for years to come. Both undoubtedly have the talent to do so. Reddan can count himself unlucky, but he has been poor on his two most recent outings.
Which bring us to … Donncha … our old friend, selected at 4.. What can we say? It’s clearly a selection based on incumbency rather than form or potential contribution to the team or building for RWC15.
We have moaned about Donncha in the past, but have still advocated his selection, based on his partnership with Paulie and a lack of viable alternatives.
Neither argument now holds water. Donnacha Ryan has usurped him at Munster, started 5 HEC games, 4 alongside Paulie, in a campaign where Munster have gone 100% and earned a home quarter-final. Dan Tuohy started all 6 alongside the very Paulie-esque Johann Muller in a campaign where Ulster demolished Leicester and nearly turned over Clermont in Clermont. Both have earned rave reviews for their performances.
Either is a superior option than Donncha, who is more underpowered than ever, cannot pass, rarely gets across the gainline with ball in hand, and rarely prevents an opponent getting past the gainline. Ok, so he is an expert at “unseen work” (Egg and Palla wish they could trot out that line come appraisal time) and also at the choke tackle, which is clearly top of the list of priorities.
We would argue that if indeed Ireland’s game is to be remodelled around more ball-in-hand attacking, that more players comfortable with handling the ball are required: Ryan and especially Tuohy are vastly superior in this respect. Ryan is playing in the form of life, and at 28 is in or around his prime. Is he going to be 30 by the time he starts a test match?
It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a massively depleted Wales side, and Ireland should win comfortably with or without Donncha. Vexingly, the likelihood is Donncha will be picked for Paris … where he will be shredded. The man has been a loyal servant who has been a part of every triumph this team has had, but his time has gone. Paulie’s provincial partner, Ryan, should have started, with Tuohy on the bench.