Six Nations 2013 in Pictures

The weather may have been shocking, but for me the six nations this year was at its unpredictable best, who would have walked into the bookies on the first day and put money on the French propping up the table? Then you had the Italians winning two memorable battles in Rome, the Irish nose diving after their magical performance in Cardiff and of course ‘that’ game to decide the champions of 2013.

Not a tournament for the purists producing a record low of tries but one for the Welsh in the end as they were deservedly crowned champions and bookended the tournament with the two best games (v Ireland and v England). I’m not going to pour over all of the analysis it’s been done to death (especially in Wales with the fickle media slaughtering Howley & Co after the first game and worshiping him after the last); instead I thought I would share some pictures of my experiences of the tournament which included The Rhondda, Cardiff and Edinburgh. As you can probably tell I loved every minute of it!

During our trip to Edinburgh we set off at 5.30am and travelled by car plane and then car to our beautiful destination. So in closing I would like to give a shout out to all who braved the elements in the stadiums, the dads squeezing their kids onto the trains, the drivers who covered the length and breadth of Europe, the drinkers and singers in the pubs, the millions of pundits and selectors and Gabby Logan – Let’s do it all again next year, but please let’s have a little more sun!!!!!!!!

20130321-210620.jpg

20130321-210649.jpg

20130321-210717.jpg

20130321-210731.jpg

20130321-210750.jpg

20130321-210843.jpg

20130321-210939.jpg

20130321-211038.jpg

20130321-211134.jpg

20130321-211228.jpg

20130321-211344.jpg

20130321-211644.jpg

20130321-211714.jpg

20130321-211736.jpg

20130321-211808.jpg

The Italian Job, The Big Bastareaud and Sundays Clash of the Celts – Can only be the Six Nations 2013 Round 3 Preview

Current 6 Nations Standings

After 2 bruising rounds of 6 nations action and a well earned week off the competition returns for round three this weekend with some enthralling match ups:

Italy v Wales (2.30pm) Stadio Olimpico

Both sides are equal following a win a piece against the misfiring French. Wales will be under no illusions that this will be a tough day at the office and (following their victory in Paris) one they will be expected to win. A glance back at their clashes in Rome over the course of the 6 nations (over the years) is a stark reminder of just how close the clashes have been.
Wales have won and lost in Rome with the latter results coming via a dominant Italian pack and rock solid set piece. That said it may be the style of rugby that Italy choose among the backs (this time) that could have the greatest bearing. Against France at home the Italians played with flair, kept the ball alive, offloaded and attacked with intent. If they open the game up then it could prove to be a very different clash in Rome on Saturday as this will also suit Wales.
Rob Howley has kept faith with the starting 15 that delivered victory in Paris whereas Italy are likely to be without their Captain Marvel in Parrisse (check Spelling) which could prove to be decisive in this contest. I’m predicting Wales by 5 points and another nail biter.

England v France (5.30pm) Twickenham

England have brought in Manu Tuilagi to combat Frances big Bastareaud, (should be some clash) making two other changes from the side that triumphed in the Dublin monsoon. France in the other hand have made seven changes in a bid to revitalise their fortunes.
Its hard to look past England winning in this match and even though the red rose faithful will be discussing which France will turn up on Saturday it dosent look like Les Bleus have anything to bring to the table, no flair, no va va voom.
Yes they have power but so do England who also have the ability to control the game through their impressive half backs. The media and the pundits will build this up to be a classic claiming France have nothing to lose, and will come and play with freedom and really take the game to England. Unless they completely change from the side that played the first 2 rounds its England by 12 points for me.

Scotland v Ireland (2.30pm) Murrayfield

This should be some game and to be honest it’s hard to gauge where both sides are at the moment. Scotland had a tough time in the opening round and came 2nd best to the English forwards but then completely hammered the Italians. Irelands opening round win against Wales had them in a strong position (even though they only played for 43 mins) however a loss at home to England and the resulting injuries could prove a body blow to their campaign. Coaches and players alike laud about the all important momentum and the force appears to be with Scotland as will home advantage. This looks the tightest to call and something tells me it will be the Scots by 3 points.

After 2 weeks were back to the action and I for one can’t wait to see how it all unfolds, 3 cracking games to look forward to and as to how it all unfolds, well that’s anyone’s guess!

Gethin Jenkins to Return to The Blues

Jenkins in action for Wales

Cardiff Blues have re-signed prop Gethin Jenkins from Toulon in a deal which sees the British Lion cutting his French deal short by a year. Jenkins will remain with the French based outfit until the end of the season and will then rejoin his former club.

In all honesty, the lack of game time since Jenkins headed to France has rendered the Welsh International a shadow of his former self. Only the loyalty of the Welsh management has saved him from being replaced as a starter by Paul James who should probably have been given a shot at a starting berth by now!

The move (of Jenkins) will buck the recent trend of Welsh stars plying their trade over the channel and Welsh fans will hope this is the first of many.

Six Nations 2013 – Round 2 Review

Round 2 – The second round of the 6 nations proved to be a bruising spectacle and the Scotland v Italy clash aside, one lacking in tries, flair and creativity but no less compelling as a result.

image

Scotland 34 V Italy 10 – the pre match talk surrounded the Italians victory over France and whether they could make it two wins on the bounce in Edinburgh. The short answer to that question was ‘No’ as the Scottish defence hammered early Italian advances and the home side began to take a stranglehold on both territory and possession. The Scots also added some vital flair into the mix (which proved a rare commodity in the 2nd round). With excellent handling skills, running angles and support play, causing no end of problems for the Azzuri rearguard, early pressure finally told as Tim Visser crossed the whitewash. The Italians weren’t able to live with the scraps of possession and lack of go forward and aside from a moment of magic from Sergio Parisse setting up a consolation score for Zanni, there was little to celebrate.

France 6 V Wales 16 – This encounter at the Stade De France proved to be as compelling as it was nervous, and just as close as predicted. Both sides set their stall out that the match was to be head on, physical and unrelenting in the cold Paris evening. The pitch did little to add to what was a pragmatic contest (cutting up under the forwards at scrumtime), leaving the resulting penalties as something of a lottery from referee George Clancy.

image

France enjoyed the early pressure and territory making ground and threatening the welsh line on a number of occasions. Some huge pressure and composure from the men in red prevented any such advances and rendered the clash at 6 points apiece right up until the 71 minute.
That was, of course, until a deft chip and a kind bounce saw George North touchdown in the corner much to the delight of interim coach Rob Howley. The try was majestically converted by Lee Halfpenny, who, fast forward 4 minutes, was again going through his pre-kick routine to kill the game off.
In this match the commentators talked of neither side wanting to lose rather than one side wanting to win. ‘THAT’ bounce of the ball and the two kicks that followed saw the pendulum of pressure swing away from Rob Howley and firmly towards Philippe Saint-Andre. Wales are back in the hunt and will have restored invaluable confidence, France however, face a daunting mission to HQ in a fortnight.

image

Ireland 6 V England 12 – All of the players lining up for their respective anthems must have had one thought on their minds in the dire Dublin conditions – this is going to be a nightmare – and for the players it was, but not the spectators. Both sides employ an in-your-face, physical, rush defence and with a slippery ball this was to prove a match the purists need not have tuned-in to watch.

That said I found it to be an enthralling game and early injuries to Simon (Giggsy) Zebo and Sexton sapped some of the Irish momentum and gave that 1% extra to England that proved to be critical. In an exchange of pressure, territory, handling errors and possession, England dug slightly deeper than Ireland when James Haskell was sin binned and ground out the match by four converted penalties to two. Ireland are far from out of the competition but the defeat will hurt both physically and mentally. England are now the only side left with grand slam ambitions and (unlike Wales and Ireland) will hope France don’t come to London to play for the first time in the competition.

All in all the second round dished up a brutal slice of physical ‘win at all costs and win it ugly’ rugby. It wasn’t pretty, and thankfully, nor was it predictable and I for one loved every muddy minute.

Gatland Coming Under Fire For England Comment

Gatland tells Lancaster the joke about the Englishman Irishman and Welshman

Gatland tells Lancaster the joke about the Englishman Irishman and Welshman

Above is tomorrow’s Western Mail back page, is Gatland getting himself in hot water already?Or will this be the first of many little jibes the media love to press?

Either way can’t wait for the squad to be announced, but not before the millions of British selectors out there debate their first 15 of course.

Six Nations 2013 Round 1 Review – Round 2 Preview

What an opening weekend of rugby during the first instalment of the 2013 Six Nations, we had thrills, Zebo’s skills and a huge upset on the cards. Indeed much of the build up to this year’s tournament painted a picture of the most open competition yet, I found that somewhat hard to believe until Rome exploded in celebration at the final whistle signifying a famous win for the Azzuri and an enthralling start to the championship.

Wales v Ireland
This was a compelling opener to the tournament and almost had a cricket feel to the fixture with Ireland scoring all of their points in the 44 opening minutes and then retiring from attack and allowing Wales a 36 minute innings to try and come back. Despite a rallying and barnstorming attacking effort from Wales the Irish held on courtesy of some inspirational (bodies on the line) defending no doubt inspired by last year’s opening weekend defeat to the men in Red in Dublin. Both in attack (1st half and a bit) and defence Ireland had too much overall for Wales who now appear to be increasingly leaderless both on and off the field in terms of inspiration and direction.

Last Week’s Prediction: Wales 17 – Ireland 15 Final Score Wales 22 – Ireland 30

Looks like the prediction of a home win was off the mark although it was based on Wales turning up for at least some of the first half.

England v Scotland
All in all a comfortable win for England and a good, solid start to the competition for Lancaster’s man. Scotland started brightly with some verve and vigour resulting in an early try for Maitland but the Scots were largely unable to match England as key battles in contact, territory and possession went the way of the red rose with England running in comfortable winners come the final whistle.

Last Week’s Prediction: England 32 Scotland 10 Final Score: England 38 Scotland 18

Not a million miles away as the plot failed to thicken at Twickenham and England won quite easily.

Italy v France
This was an incredible spectacle right from the Anthems as hundreds of former Italian internationals stood opposite the current crop of players and shared in a rousing rendition of their national anthem (II Canto Degli Italiani – Translated as: The song of the Italians). The moving scene was summed up within all its emotive glory by the passion and determination on show from one Martin Castrogiovanni as the fans and players past/present brought the stadium to its feet.
Right from the first kick off Italy brought passion, pace and flair to the encounter, unshackling themselves from their traditionally robotic style, adding patience and control with fly half replacement Burton slotting over a prized three point drop goal to put the Azzuri 5 clear with only a few minutes left on the clock. France finally displayed some semblance of urgency (while still managing to look lacklustre) and threw everything at the resolute Italian defence. Even a yellow card for Davide Giazzon with seconds remaining could not stop history descending on the Stadio Olimpico as the final whistle officially blew the 2013 Six Nations wide open.

href=”https://voyleyblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/20130207-194742.jpg”>20130207-194742.jpg

Rousing Italian Anthem

Last Week’s Prediction: Italy 8 France 30 Final Score: Italy 23 France 18

Few would have predicted history repeating itself as Italy pulled off another famous win in Rome.

Round 2 Preview
With this tournament already as open as I can remember at this stage, round two could be even tighter with all three games tough to call.
Scotland v Italy
The Scots will gain a huge amount of confidence from this game being held at Murryfield as a visit to Rome will prove a daunting prospect for any side in this competition after the opening weekend. The Scots will no doubt improve following their visit to HQ last week and will be buoyed by their home fans who will need no firing up for this encounter. The Italians come to Edinburgh with a rare 100% record to protect and much will be made of how they perform on the road this year. Should they be able to replicate the form shown last week then they will be confident of adding a second win to their tally and march with confidence back to Rome.
Key area: Efficiency – This game should be dictated by the Italians should they be able to take their forward game and marry it up with a loose and effective attacking threat. Scotland will ask far more questions of them than France with the side that is more efficient and clinical with territory and possession likely to come out on top.

Score Prediction – Scotland 12 Italy 20
France v Wales
France are likely to be without their captain (Pascal Pape) for the visit of Wales who look to have some key players returning in Hibbard and Ryan Jones, with the latter vital for much needed leadership. This will probably be the toughest to call of the weekends matches as Wales only turned up for 34 minutes and France demonstrated an absence of any intent in Rome. You could of course argue that Wales are under the greatest pressure (following their winless run) but will not be expected to beat a wounded France in Paris. Indeed a lack of expectation often brings out the best from the men in red. I expect this to be another strange encounter especially with these two teams involved on their current form and most recent matches. That said it’s hard to look past a French win as they will have home advantage but the heart says Wales will pull something special out and notch up that all important W.
Key areas: Control and Possession – Both sides will need to impose themselves far more effectively than last weekend and will need to generate a solid platform in attack. Both will need their 10’s to provide control and consistent front foot ball will be essential for the victors. Should both sides bring these (so far missing) elements to the table this will be an exceptional game.
Score Prediction – France 21 Wales 23

Ireland v England
Based on the results of the opening weekend this game could well be seen as the tournament decider even if there is a lot of rugby to be played yet. Both sides will be desperate for a win and because of the ‘barmy’ outcome of the match in Cardiff and the questionable strength (especially in the contact area) of the Scots is difficult to place the favorites tag on either team. The return of Manu Tuilagi could prove pivotal, especially if Darcy doesn’t return to fitness, given the difference that made defensively for the game in Cardiff. Aside from that both teams have a solid game in most departments and this should be a classic.
Key areas: The Contact Area – Both sides dominated this aspect of their respective games last week and walked away with the all important wins. This will again be a massive contest on Sunday as Ireland will attempt to drain the momentum out of England’s attack and retain their (own) clinical edge going forward.
Score Prediction – Ireland 23 England 20

<a

6 Nations Preview 2013

6 Nations Preview 2013

With just 2 days to go until the 6 Nations party rolls into town to decide the kings of European Rugby, it’s worth a look at the state of play before the Wales v Ireland encounter kicks us off on Saturday.

In this Blog we will be looking at the all important form of the 6 countries to try and predict has become increasingly unpredictable, the outcome of the Northern Hemisphere showpiece.

Why is it so special?

From Treherbert to Toulouse, from Galway to Glasgow, when its match time and the pubs are full and streets empty in rugby towns, villages and cities across Europe, it won’t be hard to find a few tour stories of years gone by.

My personal favourite was one told by the voice of Rugby himself, the late great Bill McClaren. Bill told of a group of Welshmen who had ventured up to Edinburgh on a last minute rugby tour, in the days that preceded the internet, mobiles and confirmation emails. The group found themselves in the back of a taxi searching for their bed and breakfast in the wee small hours the morning after match day. They tried and failed, eventually asking the driver how much he would charge to take them all the way back home to Wales. After a week and a half staying with the Welsh boys and their families the Scotsman returned home with bloodshot eyes and countless stories to tell. In the years that followed the Welsh lads would visit the driver, his friends and family with the Scottish contingent returning the favour on the reverse fixture each year.

This is one of doubtless hundreds of stories over the years of 5 (and now 6) nations doing battle on the field but sharing in beer, laughter and song, the joys of such a magical tournament.

The Form Guide

Wales
In March last year Wales were crowned Grand Slam champions for the third time since Mike Ruddock’s class of 2005 ended 27 years of hurt for the passionate principality. Their crowning victory of their clean sweep (2012) came at home to Les Bleus and sent Wales firmly into party mode and surely (following their semi final heartache at the Word Cup in New Zealand) announced their arrival at the top table of the sport.
As with all matters relating to Welsh Ruby their boom to bust culture is ever present with issues relating to the regions finances, a player drain and poor domestic and international form. Since that crowning day in Cardiff last year they have lost every game and gone into virtual freefall within the IRB Rankings. Wales will be desperate to re-kindle confidence and momentum opening weekend against the Irish. The form guide in recent years states that they either finish fourth or win the grand slam and with two huge games from the start (Ireland home and France Away) it will quickly become clear which way they are heading.

Ireland
Declan Kidney and Ireland are often criticised for fielding a dads army of players due to their ageing squad. Last year’s 6 nations brought an agonising opening weekend loss to Wales followed by a painful draw (away) against France. A bruising defeat at the hands of England Up Front left a question mark over their performances in a tournament that could (barring a couple of refereeing decisions) have been so very different. Again (as with Wales) Celtic consistency is yet to be shown following their own Grand Slam there has been a slow decline and some alarming lows on the (IRB) rankings board (similarities again with their Celtic cousins) following a battering tour of New Zealand. The autumn campaign however can be remembered for the blooding of some exciting youngsters, which poses the question as to whether the dads army will be rejuvenated this year?

France
A change of coach (Philippe Saint-Andre) has brought more stability and consistency than the (often crazy) Marc Lièvremont era which saw Muntinee, Moustaches and a first defeat to the Italians. Saint-Andre’s inaugural 6 nation’s report card will read: two defeats and a draw – with the playing resources they have at their disposal will know they should do much much better.
Indeed that is precisely what they did in the autumn, with a hammering of Australia, coupled with dogged beatings of a dangerous Argentina and Samoa. France look to be ripening and will take some stopping this year. Depending, as the adage always goes, on which France turn up and whether panache, consistency and control can be added to their undoubted power and class.

England
What a difference a new coach makes. From the World Cup which saw the naughty boys brigade sent home at the quarters at the hands of France, a hammering of New Zealand has made for a very interesting turnaround in fortunes. In truth England haven’t been far away from knocking over one of the Southern Superpowers. In particular some agonising encounters with South Africa and dubious kicking decisions were laid to rest by an enthralling if unexpected hammering of the All Blacks.
Last year’s Six Nations proved a rarity for England, an interim coach mixed with relatively low expectations which, aside from the Welsh and Scott Williams in particular, were exceeded with a very solid 2nd place finish. However following the appointment of Lancaster on a permanent basis and their most recent victory it will be normal service resumed as England will again expect.
A step forward will be needed from the young squad to convert promise into results and silverware.

Scotland
The Scots have not been impervious to the Rugby Rollercoaster that has been boarded by Wales and England. The sound bites from the Andy Robinson Era were of performance standards, the need for a winning mentality and to score more tries. Sadly however none of these three key requirements really materialised as a collective and imploding performances in key games saw their World Cup campaign end for the first time at the group stages.
The SRFU firmly backed their coach regardless of their World Cup exit and 2012 Six Nations Wooden Spoon and despite, a vastly encouraging (unbeaten) summer tour, the autumn proved a string of poor performances too far and Robinson duly walked away from the frustration of steering the ship for the Scots.
Since Robinsons departure the SRFU have appointed Scott Johnson as head coach with the likely brief of avoiding the wooden spoon in this year’s 6 Nations.

Italy
Much was made of the inclusion of the Italians to the traditional 5 Nations format, discussions in the main centred around the need to support the global development and growth of the game. Few can argue that although Italy have propped the table up on the majority of occasions they have added something special to the tournament over the years. From the majestic Sergio Parisse, the metronomic kicking of Diego Dominguez and of course the barnstorming Bergamasco brothers, not to mention Griffins side burns.
The realistic objectives of head coach Jacques Brunel will be similar to that of his Scottish counterpart, although it will be interesting to see whether the inclusion of the Italian teams in the Pro12 has made an early impact on the National Team.

The First Weekends Fixtures and Predictions

Saturday 2nd February 2013 – 13.30 – Wales v Ireland (Cardiff)

This is more than likely going to be the tightest encounter of the weekend. Wales will be desperate to get back to winning ways but have been blighted by injuries over the last few months. Ireland on the other hand welcome back their talisman Brian O’Driscoll and will be seeking to blend their youthful autumn vigour with their solidity at regional level and end a run of three test defeats in a row to Wales. Home advantage is key and I think Ireland will come second best to Wales. This prediction is down to the home crowd and the need for Howley and his team to make a statement and put an end to a painful losing streak.

Score Prediction: Wales 17 Ireland 15

Saturday 2nd February 2013 – 4.00PM – England v Scotland (Twickenham)

It’s hard to predict anything other than a comfortable win at home for England and the key for Scotland will be to silence and expectant crowd following their win against World Champions. Scott Johnston will have to ensure Scotland keep their defensive discipline, avoid England’s set piece and grow into the game. Attack could well be the best form of defence for the Scots and territory will be massive in this game, if Scotland’s attack doesn’t turn up and mistakes creep in, they will be dispatched easily.

Score Prediction: England 32 Scotland 10

Sunday 3rd February 2013 – 3.00PM – Italy v France (Find name of stadium and place)

France will return to the Italy for the first time since Nick Malletts‘ class of 2011 bagged their first ever French scalp. The memories of French despair and Italian jubilation on that day will count for little when the match kicks off on Sunday. Philippe Saint-Andre has built on the power-play evident within the French League and extremely evident to all who watch the Heineken Cup. Despite home advantage its highly unlikely we will see a repeat of ‘that’ win. Expect plenty of kicking from the Azzuri and plenty of tackling for that matter and a comfortable day at the office for the French.

Score Prediction: Italy 8 France 30

And Finally
Whatever happens this weekend there will be controversy, TMO’s, Flair, Force and Finesse in equal measure – One thing is guaranteed whether your Red, Green, White or Blue, it’s going to be emotional and I can’t wait for it all to start.