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

Thirteenwatch – Part Three

The Six Nations is closer than you might think.  Just two rounds of HEC sit between here and the Grande Old Dame of World Rugby, so it’s time for one last look at the thirteen shirt.  We’ll be looking at it again before the Six Nations, of course, but as part of a wider look at the whole team.  Here’s how we’re calling it…

Eoin Griffin (Connacht)

Out of contention. Probably a co-incidence but nothing has gone right since Gerry wrote one of his hagiographies on him.  Undoubtedly a talented lad but Connacht’s lamentable run has taken it out of even their better players.  Needs to be given a little rest and told everything is going to be ok.  Poor lamb.
BOD Rating: come back next year 4/13 (-1)

Eoin O’Malley (Leinster)

Challenge has faded a bit in spite of some classy moments.  The sight of him being smashed out of the way by Beaver (at the Aviva) has been hard to shake from the memory.  Showed nice touches off the bench against Ulster, but needs to get selected for at least one HEC game in the next fortnight to stay in the hunt.
BOD Rating: will be wearing green, but probably with the Wolfhounds 8/13 (-1)

Fergus McFadden (Leinster)

We are still not sold on Fergus as an outside centre, but he has had a good few weeks.  Rock-solid place-kicking is a string to the bow, and while his partership with D’arcy is a bit boshtastic, his familiarity with the Wexford man will do his chances no harm. Plus he is already in the squad – which gets him past Deccie Hurdle One. In the shake-up for sure. 
BOD Rating: a tough cookie, and full of hard yards. 8/13 (+2)

Darren Cave (Ulster)

Another try on Friday night, but the lack of televisual coverage precludes us from commenting on his performance.  This Friday night against Leicester represents a huge shop window for him.  If Paddy Wallace were to return the Ulster backline he could even some good attacking ball, especially if Pwal is outside a Marshall/Pienaar combo. What possibilities!
BOD Rating: Interview in today’s Sunday Times displayed a man who’s after the shirt.  Indications are Deccie’s a fan.  9/13 (unch.)

Danny Barnes (Munster)

Has been largely out of the picture since loss of form and Earls’ return. Colonel Sanders Toland was screaming for his call-up in his bizarre article last week (Ian Whitten??) but its not going to happen for a while yet.
BOD Rating: Six Nations will be spent playing for Munster 3/13 (-1)

Keith Earls (Munster)

When it comes to us and Keith, it’s… complicated.  Defensively frail, low on confidence and not a particularly brilliant footballer, but the boy has gas and, with a far better try-count than LukeFitz or Andy Trimble, we recognise the value of his outstanding finishing ability.  We also feel he’s been hard done by in how much he’s been moved around.  This season, he returns from injury only to find himself back in the centre, after playing wing all last year.  In truth, we’ve never fancied him as a 13, but we do have to accept he’s played pretty well these last few weeks.  In the Scarlets game he showed up well in spite of playing outside Mafi, who was having a mare.  Against Connacht, he showed deft hands – not usually his strongest suit – to send Scanlon over for a great try, and against Treviso his quick feet and hard line got him a nice try.  We’ve been resigned all along to Deccie picking Earls in the 13 slot, but it might not be as bad a decision as it looked a couple of months ago. We doubt he is the best long-term option, but he deserves a shot.
BOD Rating: we have to hand it to him, he’s not doing badly there. Has probably earned a shot at the jersey 9/13

Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster) and Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)

We’d have liked to have seen one or both of these play 13 over the last few weeks, but it looks like it’s not going to happen at this stage.  Luke’s resurgence has been one of the big positives of the year, and one facet of Earls conversion to centre will be to squeeze himself or Trimble into the XV.
BOD Rating: with zero minutes in the position this season, it’s not feasible 5/13 (-2)

Notes for Deccie: With Donncha O’Callaghan bumped from the Munster second row, maybe you could find a slot for him at 13.  You might just do that?  We were joking Deccie.  You were on the blower to Gaffney and he’s in favour?  Erm…