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Ireland and Wales keep same teams for Six Nations clash

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Wales and Ireland have named their sides to face each other in the all important RBS Six nations clash this weekend.

Wales have decided to keep their team as is for the weekend with Tipuric set to make his 50th appearance

Captain Alun Wyn Jones and Jake Ball continue their partnership in the second-row with Rob Evans, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis named in the front-row.

Ospreys pair Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar start at half-back with Scarlets duo Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies partnering in the midfield.

Liam Williams, George North and Leigh Halfpenny comprise the back-three as Wales welcome Ireland to Cardiff.

“We felt it was important the same group of players had the opportunity to go out and perform on Friday so we have named an unchanged match-day squad,” said Wales head coach Rob Howley.

“Friday night is an opportunity for us. There is a lot of experience in our group and you don’t become a bad team overnight. We want to show what we can do and that experience will be very important this week.

“We know we need to be more clinical and we need to execute better under pressure and we have been working hard on that during the last few weeks.

“Ireland are one of the in-form sides in world rugby and are coached very well and packed with experience and there are a number of interesting match-up across both teams.

“We always say we are fortunate to have the best supporters in the world and we are eager to put in a performance for them under the lights at Principality Stadium on Friday.”

On the bench, Scott Baldwin, Nicky Smith, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris and Taulupe Faletau provide the forward cover. Gareth Davies, Sam Davies and Jamie Roberts are the backline replacements.

Ireland have also named an unchanged starting line-up.

Captain Rory Best is again joined in the front-row by Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong with Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner the locks.

Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander fill the back-row while Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton line out at scrum-half and fly-half.

Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are confimed as the centres with full-back Rob Kearney flanked by Keith Earls and Simon Zebo.

Tommy Bowe comes back into the replacements in place of the injured Andrew Trimble. The bench also includes Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion and Paddy Jackson.

Teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Tommy Bowe

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Samson Lee, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts

 

Ireland secure win over France

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Johnny Sexton guided Ireland to a hard-earned 19-9 win over France in Dublin on Saturday in the Six Nations.

Both teams were unaffected by Dublin’s rainfall and produced a passionate game of rugby that typified European rivalry.

The game did not decline into trench-style combat because of the weather but rather an exhibition of each team’s undeniable skill, in particular Sexton, who was magnificent on the day.

Ireland’s win sees them jump Scotland to the top of the table with England yet to play, a fine position to be in considering their defeat to Scotland in the first round of the competition. France languish at fifth on the table with only Italy below them.

Scrum-half Conor Murray scored the only the five-pointer of the match, his try aided by the flawless kicking effort from Sexton.

France had an inspired start to the fixture, pulling off a magic moment it seemed with every minute on the field.

It started with an unprecedented cross kick from fly-half Camille Lopez close to their own line to winger Yoann Huget that parted the stunned Irish defence like the red sea, allowing the French to initiate a dangerous attacking movement up field which unfortunately didn’t lead to a try for the visitors.

They were the first onto the board though, when Lopez slotted a penalty in the 13th minute silencing a passionate home crowd.

Lopez would then add to his side’s lead seven minutes later. France should have scored a try through outside centre Rémi Lamerat after France pulled off another brilliant move that led to the centre receiving a pop pass and curbing around the defence, which was disallowed by the TMO after it was ruled that Gaël Fickou had knocked it on before the movement.

Against the general current of the game, Ireland scored the first try of the match when Conor Murray took it over the line after a brilliant break from Sexton that would catalyse an Irish revival to the dismay of the passionate French.

Ireland nearly scored again moments later after they rumbled up field, generating some forward momentum when they found themselves on the French line but could not quite break a resolute French defence, before Murray tried to pop the ball back which didn’t go as planned, rolling out of bounds.

Passions were high as Ireland’s dogged intensity had now eclipsed France’s enthusiasm as they pushed up field, almost exclusively through Garry Ringrose’s Herculean effort as he grasped for every metre possible. Murray used the field position astutely, spotted a gap and darted towards the line but was just taken down before the whitewash and offloaded, which came to no avail.

The half ended as a one-point game to the Irish, 7-6.

Ireland didn’t let the break ruin their new-found vigour and put France under pressure from the first minute of the second half, the pressure eventually culminating with Sexton kicking a penalty over and making the score 10-6 in Ireland’s favour.

The crowd was reminded of Sexton’s keen eye for an opportunity when the mercurial number ten had the ball 30 metres out from the French try line and attempted a drop goal, and despite the Dublin wind and deluge it stayed true to its course and Ireland went up by another three points.

Sexton’s boot punished the French once again after Ireland were awarded a very kickable penalty and the fly-half knocked it through making it a ten-point game.

The game became quiet after that as France made some desperate attempts to get back on the scoreboard. But each time their plan was foiled by the cohesive Ireland unit that just kept them out after wave after wave of French attack.

With ten points between France and Ireland, the French used a penalty in the Irish 22-metre area to shoot for goal rather kick for line. Lopez slotted the chance and it became a seven-point game with six minutes to play.

Ireland though replied quickly as replacement fly-half Paddy Jackson widened the gap to ten points once again.

With two minutes left to play Ireland were edging towards the French line once again and looked as though they were going to score their second try of the match, before Kieran Marmion decided that the victory was enough and kicked the ball into touch.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Try:
Murray
Con: Sexton
Pens: Sexton 2, Jackson
Drop Goal: Sexton

For France:
Pens: Lopez 3

Six Nations – Ireland v France

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There will be plenty at stake when Ireland and France resume hostilities in what promises to be an enthralling Test in Dublin on Saturday.

After two rounds of matches both sides have already suffered a loss and know that another defeat will ruin their chances of winning the championship. So, with the stakes being so high, something’s got to give this weekend.

Ireland were slow out of the blocks and were on the receiving end of a 27-22 slip-up against Scotland in their opener but were soon back to their winning ways and claimed a 63-10 win over Italy in their next match in Rome.

That result against the Azzurri was a momentous one as it was Ireland’s biggest ever victory and the most points they have ever scored in a Championship fixture since they contested the inaugural event in 1883.

That fixture was a special one for CJ Stander who made history when he became the first forward to score a Six Nations hat-trick. The big news from the Irish camp is the return to action of first-choice fly-half Jonathan Sexton after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a calf injury.

The Leinsterman resumes his half-back partnership with Conor Murray, who was back to his best against Italy, and if the duo get good front-foot ball from their forwards then it should be a tough assignment for the visitors.

France under their head coach Guy Novès are a side heading in the right direction as they have made great strides under the guidance of the former Toulouse boss.

They were very unlucky to lose their tournament opener to England (19-16) at Twickenham but continued to impress in their next match and bounced back with a 22-16 win over Scotland in Paris.

The form of their forwards in those matches were particularly impressive with Louis Picamoles and Kévin Gourdon combining brilliantly in the back row while Sébastien Vahaamahina has also caught the eye with solid showings in the tight exchanges.

Another player who has done well is fly-half Camille Lopez, both as his team’s chief playmaker and also impressed with accurate goalkicking.

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt knows his side will have to be at their best and expects a tough battle.

“They certainly appear to have the right mix and the right players and I know talking to Guy last year that they were putting foundations in that sound quite promising,” he said.

“I just hope that doesn’t come to fruition on Saturday.”

But despite showing improvement under Novès, France will be desperate for a win as they have lost their last four away games in the tournament since beating Italy 29-0 in Rome in Round 4 in 2015.

Les Bleus have recorded only one Championship victory over Ireland in Dublin since 2007; 25-22 in 2011.

But, France’s 10-9 triumph over Ireland in last season’s Six Nations ended a five-match winless run against the men from the Emerald Isle, their worst sequence against the men in green since the 1920s.

Players to Watch

For Ireland: He’s back! Although Paddy Jackson has done well as his deputy, the return of Johnny Sexton is a tremendous boost for Ireland. When on song, Sexton is arguably the best number ten in Europe and despite being sidelined for five weeks through injury, the 31-year-old will be expected to be at his best this weekend.

With a British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand on the horizon Sexton will be determined to hit the ground running in this clash.

For France: France’s impressive form is largely down to the improvement in their forwards and no one epitomises this more than Louis Picamoles, who was impressive in their previous matches against England and Scotland.

His performance at Twickenham was spectacular and he was rightly named man of the match despite finishing on the losing side. If he gathers momentum, it will take a special defensive effort from Ireland to keep him in check.

Head-to-head: The battle of the two captains will have a huge bearing on this Test’s result. While both Rory Best and Guilhem Guirado will be the forefront of their respective teams’ forward charge, their leadership will also be crucial especially their decision making under pressure which could prove to be the difference between winning and losing this Test.

Previous results:

2016: France won 10-9 in Paris
2015: Ireland won 24-9 in Cardiff (RWC)
2015: Ireland won 18-11 in Dublin
2014: Ireland won 22-20 in Paris
2013: They drew 13-13 in Dublin
2012: They drew 17-17 in Paris
2011: France won 26-22 in Dublin
2011: France won 19-12 in Bordeaux

Prediction: Although France have shown great improvement, it will be difficult to get the better of Ireland in their own backyard. Ireland to win by six points!

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Andrew Trimble

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Bernard le Roux, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Eddy Ben Arous, 19 Julian Le Devedec, 20 Charles Ollivon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Henry Chavancy, 23 Djibril Camara

Thanks to

Ireland set to play in States in June

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Ireland are set to play a Test in the USA again this year when they face off with the Eagles in New Jersey on Saturday, June 10.

After notching an historic win over the All Blacks at Soldier Field in Chicago last year, it has been confirmed that Ireland will do battle with the USA at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, which is the same venue that hosted a Premiership match between Saracens and London Irish in March 2016.

The Irish Rugby Football Union’s chief executive, Philip Browne, confirmed news of the match via a press statemen

“It is great to be returning to the US,” read the statement.

“The team received a fantastic reception in Chicago.”

The announcement of the Test is interesting as it was recently reported that the PRO12 are planning to place teams in the US and Canada with Houston and Toronto earmarked as possible venues.

According to a report in the Scotsman newspaper, the PRO12’s chief executive, Martin Anayi, visited Houston earlier this month.

In light of the PRO12’s reported plans to establish a two-division Atlantic Rugby Championship, Browne added: “There are a lot of Ireland rugby fans on the east coast of America and we hope that they will again come out in numbers to support the team this summer.”

There were plans to for a second Premiership match to be played in New Jersey in 2017 but London Irish’s relegation complicated the issue.

USA Rugby chief executive Dan Payne expressed his delight that Ireland will be playing in his country again and highlighted the development value of the Test.

“We are very honored to be hosting Ireland,” he told the Guardian.

“The value they provided to rugby history throughout the world and toward the growth and awareness of the game in our country this past November in Chicago was phenomenal.

“This match will not only give our men a world class opponent … but they’re also clearly a fan favourite in the United States. With 35 million Americans claiming Irish American heritage in our country, this match will be a strong fit on all levels.”

Thanks to

Sexton in Ireland squad

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Ireland have named a 34-man squad that includes Jonathan Sexton to prepare for their Six Nations clash with France at the Aviva Stadium.

Leinster fly-half Sexton has yet to play in this season’s Championship due to injury, with Ulster’s Paddy Jackson starting both of those games.

Also included in the squad is full-back Rob Kearney despite recent concerns regarding the arm injury he suffered against Italy in Round Two.

Ireland have won one and lost one match so far and face France this Saturday before going to Wales and then hosting England last up.

Ireland squad

Forwards: Rory Best (c), Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Iain Henderson, Dan Leavy, Jack McGrath, Sean O’Brien, Tommy O’Donnell, Peter O’Mahony, Quinn Roux, Donnacha Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, James Tracy

Backs: Tommy Bowe, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Craig Gilroy, Robbie Henshaw, Paddy Jackson, Rob Kearney, Ian Keatley, Kieran Marmion, Luke Marshall, Luke McGrath, Conor Murray, Tiernan O’Halloran, Garry Ringrose, Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Trimble, Simon Zebo

Six Nations Preview – Ireland

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Next in our set of previews ahead of the 2017 Six Nations, we examine the prospects of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland.

A World Cup quarter-final exit to Argentina was compounded by a dismal Six Nations last season, with Ireland finishing in third position. They were five points off eventual winners England after a sloppy opening saw them playing catch-up in a title race they could never win.

Ireland still showed what a dangerous side they are though in 2016 with their power game set to come to the fore again this year, with highlights being a first-ever win in South Africa and that remarkable triumph over New Zealand in Chicago.

It won’t be easy though to wrestle back the silverware as they have away trips to Scotland, Italy and Wales, which will determine if they are going to be genuine contenders heading into their tournament finale against England at the Aviva Stadium. A nail-biting finish could be looming.

Last year: Looking for their third successive Six Nations title, Ireland were kicking themselves after letting a 13-0 cushion go to waste against Wales in their opener. They ended up drawing 16-16 before going to Paris where they lost 10-9 and to make matters worse, injuries to Sean O’Brien and Dave Kearney compounded a result that looked to have ended their hopes of getting their hands on the silverware again.

After a weekend’s break, Ireland returned to action against England at Twickenham and despite taking a 10-6 lead they would go on to lose 21-10 with missed chances ultimately costing them a victory. That left them with just one point from the six available after three games.

Next for Schmidt’s side was a morale-boosting 58-15 victory at home to Italy, which saw them cross the whitewash nine times, and that set them up for a final clash with Scotland in Dublin that they ran out 35-25 winners, ending what was a disappointing campaign on a positive note.

This year: There’s plenty of depth in the pack for Ireland at the moment, even with Sean Cronin and Peter O’Mahony being ruled out. That’s what arguably sets them apart from their rivals as they just seem to have the edge in quality, with players such as Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Josh van der Flier and Tommy O’Donnell impressive options to have on the bench.

Even in behind they have superb back-ups so if injury strikes this year they should be well equipped to continue the challenge. Youngsters are maturing at a rapid rate, which all bodes well for Ireland in 2017.

Starting at Murrayfield won’t be easy though, especially against a side buzzing off Glasgow’s exploits. Escaping that one with any kind of win would be the springboard for a title push as they then travel to Italy before hosting France. Winning those two would create momentum going to Wales, who have question marks surrounding them, before the big one in Dublin against England, which may have a lot riding on it.

Key players: He’s been a rock for Munster for a good while now as CJ Stander continues to carry their charge from number eight. He will no doubt move to six again for Ireland this year but if he gets over the advantage line that makes life a great deal easier for Conor Murray, who will need to remain calm despite the recent pressure he’s been under at the base.

If teams are successful in rattling him then Ireland will struggle to execute their gameplan, with immediate half-back partner Paddy Jackson of course another key cog in unlocking opposition defences.

Players to watch: Most of the talk for Lions loosehead has centred around Mako Vunipola but Jack McGrath has consistently been of a superb standard over recent years. A solid scrummager and carrier the prop will be pivotal to Ireland’s hopes as he lays the groundwork for Healy to come on and cause havoc in the loose.

We’d also advise keeping an eye on one of those youngsters maturing at a rate and that is Robbie Henshaw. Like McGrath he could well be a starter in Auckland for that first Test and a solid Six Nations would surely secure that 12 spot.

Prospects: Surely up there as a main contender for the title after a disappointing Six Nations campaign last year. They have the personnel to challenge for glory and it’s likely that England will be their main rival, with their Round 5 showdown in Dublin possibly a Championship decider if things go to script.

With Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht in impressive form of late, things are looking up for Schmidt’s outfit, with players such as Henshaw, Stander, Iain Henderson and Simon Zebo in excellent fettle ahead of this pivotal tournament in terms of British and Irish Lions selection. A strong campaign from the Irish should see many force their way into Warren Gatland’s touring squad.

Fixtures:

Saturday, February 4 v Scotland (Murrayfield)
Saturday, February 11 v Italy (Stadio Olimpico)
Saturday, February 25 v France (Aviva Stadium)
Friday, March 10 v Wales (Principality Stadium)
Saturday, March 18 v England (Aviva Stadium)

Thansk to Adam Kyriacou and Planet Rugby

Six Nations Round 1 Team Tracker

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The Six Nations Round 1 starts this weekend and here is all the teams for the first round of matches….

Scotland

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has made three changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Ireland at Murrayfield.

Stormers centre Huw Jones is back in the starting line-up in place of Mark Bennett, having recovered from the foot injury that ruled him out of the team’s third and final autumn test match against Georgia in November.

Jones hit the headlines when he became the first Scot to score a brace against Australia in his first start before being injured in the act of creating a try for Sean Maitland against Argentina a week later.

Jones will reform the midfield partnership he forged in those two tests with Alex Dunbar in between returning half backs Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell, and the back-three trio of Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour, who contributed half of Scotland’s 10-try tally in the autumn.

The remaining changes are in the pack which sees Glasgow Warriors hooker Fraser Brown promoted from the bench in place of cap centurion Ross Ford and Josh Strauss (back-row) replaces club-mate Rob Harley.

Strauss’ inclusion at number eight sees Ryan Wilson make a positional switch to the blindside of the back-row, with Hamish Watson holding down the openside role he occupied throughout the autumn.

Second-row brothers Jonny and Richie Gray return to the boiler house with young props Allan Dell and Zander Fagerson packing down either side of Brown in the front-row.

There are four further changes to the bench, with Edinburgh tighthead Simon Berghan in line for a test debut if called upon from the replacements.

Elsewhere, Tim Swinson, Duncan Weir and Bennett occupy the remaining back replacement spots in place of Grant Gilchrist and injured Warriors pair Pete Horne and Rory Hughes.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 John Barclay, 21 Ali Price, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett

Ireland

Iain Henderson will start in the second row for Ireland when they take on Scotland at Murrayfield this weekend in the Six Nations.

Rory Best will captain the side on his 101st cap for Ireland and is joined in the front row by Tadhg Furlong and Jack McGrath.

Devin Toner and Henderson form the second row partnership with CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip named in the back row.

Conor Murray and Paddy Jackson are the half-back combination with Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose partnering in midfield.

Rob Kearney is named at full-back with Simon Zebo and Keith Earls on the wings.

The uncapped Niall Scannell is named on the bench which also includes Cian Healy, John Ryan, Ultan Dillane and Josh Van der Flier as forwards cover.

Kieran Marmion, Ian Keatley and Tommy Bowe are named as the replacement backs.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Tommy Bowe

 

England

England have named their side for their Six Nations opener against France at Twickenham on Saturday, with Elliot Daly starting on the wing.

There are five changes to the starting XV that defeated Australia at the end of last year to complete an unbeaten 2016.

Daly (Wasps) starts on the left wing with Jonny May (Gloucester) installed on the right. In the scrum Joe Marler (Harlequins) packs down at loosehead, Joe Launchbury (Wasps) is named in the second-row and Maro Itoje (Saracens) starts at blindside flanker making up a matchday XV totalling 595 caps.

“We’ve been able to select a very strong and experienced team to play against France and we are excited to get the tournament underway,” said England head coach Eddie Jones.

“There’s a great rivalry between the countries so we’re looking forward to a great occasion playing against one of England’s oldest foes. We are ambitious and want to be the number one team in the world.”

On the bench there are returns for loosehead prop Matt Mullan, flanker James Haskell (both Wasps) and wing Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs).

“In rugby terms you’ve traditionally got two contrasting styles – French flair and England’s dogged conservative approach, but we want to be absolutely daring against the French in this first game and set the standard for the tournament,” added Jones.

“Guy Noves likes a big team. He picks a traditional French forward pack with squat front-rowers who scrummage well, big locks who give a lot of ballast and athletic back-rowers. It’s based on size and crunching that gain line, getting an off-load and then playing with flair. Of course this gives you an opportunity when you’ve got a big forward pack against you and we intend to exploit that.

“We want to get better all of the time, we are ambitious and we want to be the number one team in the world.

“It’s exciting to be back at Twickenham. We’ve got great supporters and we’re looking forward to hearing them turn up the volume on Saturday.”

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell

France

France head coach Guy Novès has named his line-up for their Six Nations opener against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Baptiste Serin has got the nod over Maxime Machenaud at scrum-half and joins Clermont playmaker Camille Lopez in the half-backs.

With Wesley Fofana ruled out due to injury, the midfield for le Crunch will see Rémi Lamerat and Gaël Fickou link up while lethal wings Virimi Vakatawa, Noa Nakaitaci and full-back Scott Spedding complete the backline.

Up front Cyril Baille and Uini Atonio pack down either side of Guilhem Guirado, with Sébastien Vahaamahina and Yoann Maestri at lock.

Damien Chouly and Kévin Gourdon are named as flanks while Northampton Saints number eight Louis Picamoles also starts the fixture.

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Yoann Huget, 23 Jean-Marc Doussain

Italy 

Italy coach Conor O’Shea has named his squad to play Wales in Rome on Sunday.

The side contains a large contingent of players that beat the Springboks during the November series last year.

The front-row sees Andrea Lovotti, Ornel Gega and Lorenzo Cittadini link up and the lock pairing will be made up of Marco Fuser and George Biagi.

Sergio Parisse captains the side once again at number eight with Abraham Steyn donning the six jersey while Maxime Mata Mbanda will play in the fetcher role.

The half-back pairing consists of Edoardo Gori at number nine while Carlo Canna will start at fly-half.

Outside them Luke McLean starts at inside centre and Tommaso Benvenuti will link with from outside centre. In the back three Edoardo Padovani will start at full-back with Giulio Bisegni and Giovanbattista Venditti on the wings.

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Giulio Bisegni, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse(c), 7 Maxime Mata Mbanda, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 George Biagi, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Michele Campagnaro

Wales

Wales head coach Rob Howley has recalled Rhys Webb at scrum-half for their Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome on Sunday.

Howley has made five changes to the side that beat South Africa last November as Webb, Nicky Smith, Samson Lee, Jake Ball and Sam Warburton all come into the starting XV.

Captain Alun Wyn Jones leads the team in Rome, the city where he first wore the captain’s armband for his country back in 2009.

There is just one change in the backline from the side that beat the Springboks, with Webb returning from injury to start at scrum-half, partnering Dan Biggar at half-back. Scarlets duo Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies make up the midfield with George North, who scored a hat-trick for Wales on his last outing in Rome, and Liam Williams occupy the wing positions, with Leigh Halfpenny at full-back.

Wales’ matchday squad features four players seeking their first taste of Six Nations action – prop Nicky Smith who starts at loosehead along with replacements Cory Hill, James King and Sam Davies.

Smith is joined in the front-row by Scarlets pair Lee and Ken Owens, with their regional team-mate Ball packing down alongside captain Jones in second-row.

The back-row sees Ross Moriarty at number eight with Justin Tipuric and Warburton at openside and blindside flanker respectively.

“I’m delighted to name an experienced team for the game against Italy and to welcome back five players who missed out on the opportunity against South Africa in the autumn,” said Wales head coach Howley.

“The Six Nations is a special tournament and we are looking forward to being highly competitive. We feel this is the best side selected to start the campaign, we want to get off to a good start and we feel experience will be vital in that.

“There has been a lot of energy and enthusiasm over the past two weeks and we are excited going into Sunday.

“We know we are going to Rome to face a hugely motivated and very competitive Italian side.”

On the bench Rob Evans, who missed the autumn series through injury, is included alongside fellow front row replacements, Scott Baldwin and Tomas Francis. Hill and King complete the forward contingent with Gareth Davies, Sam Davies and Jamie Roberts the back-line cover.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Ross Moriarty, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sam Warburton, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James King, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Jamie Roberts

Thanks to Planet Rugby

Munster gets triple boost

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Munster have received a boost ahead of their clash with Racing 92 with positive news regarding the fitness of three key first-team players.

Captain Peter O’Mahony is following return to play protocols for a concussion he sustained in the closing stages of the win over Glasgow.

His back-row colleague Tommy O’Donnell is expected to train this week after sustaining an ankle injury in their away victory at Racing 92.

Finally Simon Zebo should also train this week after sustaining a dead leg at Scotstoun, with Munster looking to secure a home quarter-final.

Botha leave Bulls for Ulster

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Ulster announced the signing of Blue Bull Arno Botha, who will join the side after the 2017 Super Rugby campaign.

Botha will join the Province on a two-year deal and can operate either as a flanker or number eight.

He has made 46 Super Rugby appearances for the Bulls and is currently vice-captain for the franchise, where he has spent his entire professional career.

The 25-year-old captained South Africa U-20s in the 2011 World Championships in Italy and was also named as their Player of the Year.

He made his debut for the Springboks against Italy in June 2013, but suffered a knee injury just four minutes into his second test, against Scotland, later that month.

Commenting on Botha’s arrival, Director of Rugby Les Kiss said: “Arno was tipped to be a future Springboks captain from a young age but his career was somewhat curtailed by injuries after he made his international debut in 2013. Those injuries are behind him now and he has regained his best form over the past 12 months,” Kiss told the Ulster website.

“His leadership and abrasiveness will be key attributes for us over the next couple of seasons. He is very aggressive in attack and his ability to get over the gainline will be especially good for us. Arno is also strong in defence, he’s a nuisance at the breakdown and he’s a good lineout option, so he has a very well-rounded game.

“He is an ambitious young man and he is determined to make an impact with us. He is a serious competitor who is willing to work hard to earn his jersey. I believe he will settle well in our environment and become a huge fan favourite here at Kingspan Stadium.”

Blue Bulls High Performance Manager Xander Janse van Rensburg thanked Botha for his contribution to the side.

“Arno received a very good offer from Ulster. We have been in constant discussions with Arno about his future since 2016,” Van Rensburg told the Blue Bulls website.

“We want to thank him for his contribution, we are thankful and proud of what he has done. The situation is that we can’t financially make an offer close to what he’s currently earning. Luckily we have great players coming through that we will be investing in,” Janse van Rensburg said.

“He is still a big player for us in the coming months and we are expecting some meaningful contributions from him as we embark on a tough Vodacom Super Rugby campaign.”

Cronin out of Ireland Six Nations

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Leinster have announced that Sean Cronin will not be able to represent his country in any of Ireland’s Six Nations fixtures due to a hamstring injury.

The hooker did not play for Leinster in their Champions Cup match against Montpellier last weekend after sustaining an injury to his hamstring during the province’s convincing victory over Zebre two weeks ago.

Since then, a scan revealed the severity of the injury which will require ten weeks of rest, meaning the 30-year-old is not expected to return to the game until the end of March.

 Cronin will be watching from the sideline when Ireland get their Six Nations campaign underway against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 4 and is unlikely to be ready for Leinster’s Champions Cup quarter-final on the first weekend in April.

“It’s quite a significant hamstring injury,” assistant coach Stuart Lancaster told The42.ie

“It’s a real shame for him as he’s actually playing great rugby but it’s a good opportunity for us to get him right and make sure we don’t get a recurrence of this because it must be hugely frustrating for him.

“He’s got himself into great form and now he’ll miss the Six Nations. He went to push off and accelerate around the corner and saw it go. He’s deeply disappointed but he’ll be back a better player.”

The injury will almost certainly impact Cronin’s chances of Lions selection. Hooker is already one of the most hotly-contested positions, with the likes of Rory Best, Dylan Hartley and Jamie George in the running, and Cronin will now have no international game time before the tour begins.

Luckily, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has several choices for the hooker’s replacement. Cronin’s absence could mean international honours for previously uncapped Niall Scannell or Dave Heffernan.

Alternatively, it may give fellow Leinster hooker James Tracy an opportunity to build on the one international cap he has gained so far.

Taute extend stay at Munster

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The Stromers will be without the service of Jaco Taute for a large chunk of their Super Rugby campaign this year with Taute extending his stay with Irish club Munster.

Image by (Gallo)

Taute loan period was extended until June this year having made 11 appearances for his club and scoring five tries. Taute is a versatile player who can slot in at centre and fullback and will be missed by the Stormers with a grueling Super rugby season lying ahead.

“Thankfully all parties have successfully come together in permitting us to secure Angus and Jaco for the remainder of the season,” Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus told Munster Rugby on Monday.

“We were keen to retain the services of both players as we move on to our next fixtures. With Cathal (Sheridan) continuing to rehab a long-term ankle injury and Conor (Murray) unavailable to us during the international window Angus will bolster our options at scrumhalf.

“Similarly, with Jaco already in the system, having him available as a fullback or centre will be invaluable as our backline options will need to adapt with international commitments and following recent injuries to Alex Wootton, Bill Johnston and Darren Sweetnam

Ireland bounce back against Aussies

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Ireland finished their 2016 campaign on a high when they claimed a hard-fought 27-24 victory over Australia in Dublin on Saturday.

The result is a momentous one for the home side as it means they are the first Northern Hemisphere side, since England in 2003, to beat the Southern Hemisphere’s traditional powerhouses of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in the same calendar year.

Ireland and Australia stayed true to their philosophy in a thrilling encounter, with both sides constantly looking to keep ball in hand, and the lead changed hands on several occasions during the second half after Australia launched a stunning fightback.

Both teams scored three tries apiece and the result was in the balance until the final minute when Ireland managed to put huge pressure on an Australian scrum inside the Wallabies’ 22.

Ireland held the upperhand in the early exchanges but they had to wait until the 17th minute to convert their dominance into points when Paddy Jackson opened the scoring via a penalty after David Pocock infringed at the breakdown.

Five minutes later, the Wallabies were dealt a blow when Dean Mumm was sent to the sin bin for a tip tackle on Tadhg Furlong. It did not take long for the the home side to capitalise on their numerical advantage as shortly afterwards Iain Henderson scored their opening try.

This after Keith Earls did well to gather a perfectly weighted grubber kick from Simon Zebo before offloading to Henderson who went over with a defender on his back.

Jackson added the extras and ten minutes later, it was more of the same when Garry Ringrose gathered a wayward Conor Murray pass close to Australia’s tryline and waltzed past a couple of defenders before crashing over for a deserved try.

The Wallabies seemed shell-shocked by that score but to their credit, they picked themselves up and replied via a Dane Haylett-Petty try on the stroke of half-time after Israel Folau and Trevita Kuridrani did well in the build-up.

The second half saw the visitors continuing where they left off before the break and five minutes after the restart Kuridrani rounded off a flowing back-line move in the left-hand corner which put his side back in contention with the score at 17-14 to the home side.

Jackson extended Ireland’s lead when he slotted a penalty in the 50th minute before the Wallabies’ brilliant attacking play was rewarded when shortly after coming off the replacements bench, Sefa Naivalu ran a brilliant line before crossing for his side’s third try.

Bernard Foley slotted the conversion, which put the Wallabies in front for the first time and on the hour-mark he added a penalty to increase their lead.

Ireland did not surrender and took the visitors on at their own game and after showing great patience, after taking the ball through several attacking phases, Zebo offloaded to Earls who went over for what would prove to be the matchwinnning try in the 65th minute.

The Wallabies continued to attack but in their bid to regain the lead they were reduced to 14 men again when Foley was also yellow carded for a lifting tackle on Devin Toner.

And although the visitors tried to fight back in the closing stages,Ireland were in control and held on for a memorable win.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries:
Henderson, Ringrose, Earls
Cons: Jackson 3
Pens: Jackson 2

For Australia:
Tries:
Haylett-Petty, Kuridrani, Naivalu
Cons: Foley 3
Pen: Foley
Yellow Cards: Mumm, Foley

Source: Planet Rugby

Ireland without Henshaw and Saexton

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Ireland will be without inside centre Robbie Henshaw and fly-half Jonathan Sexton for their final November international against Australia, reports Planet Rugby

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Henshaw was knocked unconscious by a shoulder contact to his jaw last week, suffering a concussion, and will not be involved on Saturday.

In an update from Irish team manager Mick Kearney he added that Sexton suffered a minor hamstring injury and has been ruled out this week.

Further concern surrounds blindside flanker CJ Stander, who was removed against New Zealand for a suspected concussion and will complete the HIA process and the return to play protocols, and full-back Rob Kearney after he developed concussive symptoms after the clash.

Ireland are sweating over the fitness of tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong (dead leg) and wing Simon Zebo.

Ulster centre Stuart Olding and Munster centre Rory Scannell have been added to the squad to provide additional cover, with Ultan Dillane, Peter O’Mahony and Keith Earls all set to return to the training field this week ahead of the mouth-watering Test match with the Wallabies.

All Blacks get win over Ireland

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New Zealand withstood a second-half onslaught from Ireland to grind out a 21-9 victory at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday, Reports Planet Rugby

It was always going to be a tough ask to beat the All Blacks twice in three weeks and even though they couldn’t pukk it off, Ireland should still feel pleased with their performance against the World Champions.

The visitors has the better first half, but Ireland came back strongly in the second. Unfortunately for them, this New Zealand victory was built on an incredible defensive effort.

All eyes were on New Zealand to see how they would respond to their first ever loss to Ireland two weeks ago in Chicago. They didn’t wait long to make their intentions known.

It was another inspired, committed performance from the Irish, but this time they couldn’t find the space and create the scoring opportunities that were so evident two weeks ago in Chicago.

The possession and territory stats were pretty even in the first 40, but New Zealand were again guilty of conceding too many penalties – eight alone in the first half. Ireland, on the other hand, conceded only four in the entire game.

What makes New Zealand’s victory even more impressive is the fact that they were twice reduced to 14 men and still managed not to concede a try.

The hosts were ravaged by injuries in the first half, losing Jonny Sexton, CJ Stander and Robbie Henshaw throughout the first 40 minutes.

The visitors came out firing from the kick-off and made a statement of intent when Malakai Fekitoa scored in the corner after collecting a cross-kick from Beauden Barrett, who had an outstanding game.

The try was the result of 13 phases, but the Irish didn’t wait long to get on the scoreboard too. Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien were brilliant for Ireland and their sniping runs around the fringes. Twice Ireland went over the line and twice they were held up, and after Aaron Smith was sent off for another breakdown infringement Sexton slotted a penalty to get the hosts on the scoreboard.

What happened next you don’t often see at the highest level, but Barrett scored New Zealand’s second try directly from first phase. A scrum just outside Ireland’s 22 resulted in Barrett getting the ball at first receiver to run through a gap and score.

It was way too easy and with the conversion it gave the All Blacks the cushion they needed to ease the pressure and keep Ireland at bay.

Paddy Jackson added another three points for Ireland after a relentless attack on the All Blacks line resulted in only a penalty, despite them having been reduced to 14 men.

Ireland came out guns blazing in the second half, but unlike two weeks ago they struggled to convert their increasing possession and territory into points.

New Zealand were forced to make 166 tackles in the game and was successful with 144 of them, compared to Ireland’s 76.

That defensive effort was again tested when Fekitoa was sin-binned for a high tackle. Yet Ireland couldn’t make their numerical advantage count and it was during this period there the game was essentially won for the Kiwis, their defence once again proving too strong to Ireland’s onslaught.

Jackson added another penalty to reduce the deficit to just five. But when Fekitoa went over for his second after some slick interplay by the backs it sealed the result.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Pens: Sexton, Jackson 2

For New Zealand:
Tries:
Fekitoa 2, Barrett
Cons: Barrett 3

Test Preview – Ireland v New Zealand

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This one will be a classic when New Zealand take on Ireland in Dublin this weekend as there is a score to settle with the Irish for the All Blacks.

ire-v-nz

Ireland have been the only team that could stop the black wave in the rugby world a few weeks ago in America and end the winning streak of 18 in-a-row wins for the men from New Zealand. Although the All Blacks had a few injuries going into that game the Irish was the better team on the park that day.

What made this win over the All Blacks even more special for the Irish was that was the first win over the All Blacks in 111 years.

One can expect both teams to come out firing with Ireland that will want to proof that that test in the States was not a flook and the All Blacks will want to set the record straight.

Like in any test the match will be decided up front and the half back combination that needs to fire, and this was exactly how Ireland beat the World Champions two weeks ago.

With some excremental choices two weeks ago All Blacks coach have picked his strongest possible side this time around for this weekend. This just show how much this game means for the coach and players.

Hansen will be looking at certain senior p0layers to carry the team this weekend with captain Kieran Read in-front of the line and with Barret, Coles and Smith just behind them.

Hansen highlighted the importance of this weekend’s match and gave the home side the favorites tag ahead of the clash.

“As expected, there is huge excitement and anticipation within our squad ahead of this weekend’s Test against the Irish,” he said.

“While there was obvious disappointment at the loss in Chicago, disappointment doesn’t win Test matches – it’s about having great preparation and attitude, and delivering on the day. We know the challenge we face from Ireland will again be massive and we are going into the game as the underdogs.

“They’ll be full of confidence and committed to delivering on their home patch. So we will have to take a massive step up, to get the performance we are looking for. It is a challenge that this team needs right now and how we respond will tell us a lot about ourselves. As I said, we are very much looking forward to Saturday.”

2016: Ireland won 40-29 in Chicago
2013: New Zealand won 24-22 in Dublin
2012: New Zealand won 60-0 in Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 22-19 in Christchurch
2012: New Zealand won 42-10 in Auckland
2010: New Zealand won 38-18 in Dublin
2010: New Zealand won 66-28 in New Plymouth
2008: New Zealand won 22-3 in Dublin
2008: New Zealand won 21-11 in Wellington

Prediction: One tend to believe that the All Blacks as the best team in the world will be well prepared this time around and will take the win by 10+ points

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Garry Ringrose

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Waisake Naholo

 

Pat Lam on Irish rugby: They’re copying us

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Pat Lam has let the secret out of the bag on why Irish rugby is now able to compete on equal footing with New Zealand – it’s all because they are copying us! reports NZHerald

scczen_inpho_00904853_620x310

Pat Lam coaching Connacht. Photo /Craig Thomas

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery and the former Samoan and All Black test player says that is what is behind Ireland’s emergence as a growing international force in the game.

Now coach of the Connacht province in Ireland, the former Blues boss told Radio Sport’s morning breakfast show that the Irish had deliberately copied New Zealand’s rugby system.

He said the cunning plan began back in 2013 when Kiwi Joe Schmidt was elevated from his role as Leinster coach to the national job. Lam had arrived in Ireland the same year to take over Connacht.

“There was already a big Kiwi influence here when I first arrived here,” he told Radio Sport.

“Joe had obviously had big success at Leinster in changing their mindset, Rob Penney was at Munster, Mark Anscombe was at Ulster and then I arrived and picked up the west of Ireland.

“When Joe got the (national) job, we talked about the way the All Blacks did things with (then coach) Graham Henry moving around the Super Rugby provinces.

“And Joe got us all in. The previous national coach never came out to Connacht area really. So Joe got up in front of all the provinces and the players saw it a genuine step. Now there’s good alignment with what we’re trying to do through the provinces.

“Then obviously there’s (former Wallaby and Blues coach) David Nucifora who runs the professional game and he has been through the New Zealand system.

“So there’s a lot of mirroring if you like, trying to change Irish rugby to be more like the structure of New Zealand.”

Lam said Schmidt and others had looked deeply into the New Zealand rugby system.

“One of the things that they looked at when they looked at New Zealand was what grows the game, and accepting that it is the All Blacks being successful because it funds the game and inspires kids around the country,” he said.

“Over here, there are still traditional people who want the Leinsters and Munsters to be number one but the reality is you can’t beat the English and French clubs with their big owners. And we are centrally contracted by the Irish RFU so there does need to be a focus on that national team.”Lam says that approach is reaping huge benefits and not just around the full national team.

He pointed out that Ireland’s under 20 team defeated the Scott Robertson-coached New Zealand side at the recent world junior tournament, reaching the final against England.

He also pointed out how the Irish women’s team had defeated the Black Ferns in the last year.

“I’m not surprised at all (about the Chicago result). It comes down to the structure and everyone doing their bit.”

“One of the lessons from the review of the last (full) World Cup was the need to build depth.

“Joe has done that.”

Lam said the win in Chicago did not catch him out.

“I was actually on a live TV panel here and they asked me before the game if I thought Ireland had a chance. I said yes because I knew Joe would have a plan,” he said.

“It’s been huge here. All of the national papers are full of the game.”

Lam also was unsurprised that New Zealand fans had greeted Ireland’s win warmly.

“There’s a strong connection between New Zealand and Ireland and it’s great.”

‘The lads have waited a long time for this’ – Schmidt

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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said you need a full squad of dedicated players to beat the All Blacks, writes Planet Rugby

ireland

Schmidt said after his side’s famous victory at Soldier Field in Chicago where Ireland claimed a 40-29 win. The Ireland boss said that lessons had been learnt after their close loss to New Zealand in Dublin three years ago.

“You can’t beat the All Blacks with 13 or 14 or 15 or 16 players, you’ve really got to have about 32 because you’re always going to have a bit of attrition and when those guys come off the bench they’ve got to add value. I felt they did that today and the guys kicked them off really well at the start and probably gave them a bit of confidence when they did come on that we were potentially up to the task today,” Schmidt told the All Blacks website.

Schmidt said he was incredibly proud of his players and that they deserve a break after their momentous victory.

“The lads have waited a long time for something like this to happen and they’ve worked hard in the couple of trainings we had. I think they’re delighted and they probably need a couple of days off after that.

“I’m incredibly proud of how the boys put themselves out and worked incredibly hard at 33-29 with that All Black wave, there was a little bit of déjà vu there with them doing a similar thing to us in Dublin three years ago but it was great the way they bounced back and managed to get that score [Robbie Henshaw’s try] and get a little bit of breathing space,” he said.

Test Preview – Ireland v All Blacks

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It’s been three years since Aaron Cruden converted Ryan Crotty’s late try to secure a win for New Zealand and break Irish hearts in Dublin, reports Planet Rugby

That result at the Aviva Stadium meant so much to the All Blacks as they ended 2013 with a 100 percent record in Tests in a thrilling game.

Ireland were understandably distraught after all their hard work had come to nothing, but it was a much-improved effort from 60-0 in 2012.

What they will have gained from the narrow defeat is that they can compete with the All Blacks and after a long shift in Super Rugby, June and the Rugby Championship, the driving force for Ireland will now be to find out if New Zealand are feeling the effects of so much rugby.

Steve Hansen is without three of his second-rows but that appears to be the only real concern for him from a coaching viewpoint. Possibly the goal-kicking of Beauden Barrett is something that needs addressing, as winning fixtures via tries alone will not continue forever, no matter how well they play. Barrett has been outstanding this year but if he cannot sort out his strike then Hansen has to look elsewhere.

Hansen has though managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat in terms of selection as Jerome Kaino starts at lock, with Scott Barrett on the bench. Sam Cane and Liam Squire are the flankers while George Moala gets the nod at centre alongside Ryan Crotty. Aaron Smith is at nine.

Smith will be desperate to return to the rugby field in Chicago this weekend and with TJ Perenara having put the pressure on with brilliant performances in his absence, how the Highlander goes will be an interesting watch. Patrick Tuipulotu also has a big opportunity to impress.

Ireland, whose form has dipped since back-to-back Six Nations success in 2014 and 2015, enter Soldier Field without Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien. They do however have Rob Kearney back at full-back, behind a solid midfield of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne.

But this is surely going to be a huge ask for Ireland to hit the ground running in their first international since June, with New Zealand, in contrast, having blown their Rugby Championship rivals away only a month ago. Expect Ireland’s winless drought against them to continue.

Players to watch:

For Ireland: With Sean O’Brien still to return, Ireland must rely on the power of Jack McGrath and CJ Stander while Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip will also add their unique strengths to the cause. McGrath is surely currently a player on Warren Gatland’s Lions squad list after his consistent performances for his country over the past couple of years. He’ll relish his personal battle with Owen Franks, as will many.

For New Zealand: Back in the side after an injury, Sam Cane usurps Matt Todd and Ardie Savea to the seven jersey. Todd filled in admirably last time out while Savea is very much a work in progress, bursting with talent so this is a position that has depth. Cane will rise to a challenge – as he did whenever he was given a rare chance in Richie McCaw’s era – so expect him to slot back in seamlessly this Saturday.

Head-to-head: The Irish need a commanding performance from Johnny Sexton or they will not win this game. When bossing his team-mates while also being solid with his running and kicking game, there are few better fly-halves in the world. We have not seen that from Sexton for a while and Chicago on Saturday is the perfect opportunity for the Leinsterman to put that right against an untried All Black midfield duo. Meanwhile all Kiwi eyes will be on Beauden Barrett especially off the kicking tee following his recent woes. As already mentioned the All Blacks simply cannot persist with such a low percentage goal-kicker, with Barrett set to be eager to prove he has the nerve this weekend.

Previous results:

2013: New Zealand won 24-22 in Dublin
2012: New Zealand won 60-0 in Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 22-19 in Christchurch
2012: New Zealand won 42-10 in Auckland
2010: New Zealand won 38-18 in Dublin
2010: New Zealand won 66-28 in New Plymouth
2008: New Zealand won 22-3 in Dublin
2008: New Zealand won 21-11 in Wellington

Prediction: Ireland will make life difficult, mostly early on, but the All Blacks’ class will then shine through. New Zealand by 15.

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Garry Ringrose

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 George Moala, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Jerome Kaino, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Malakai Fekitoa

Ireland squad to face All Blacks

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Ireland have confirmed the 27 players that will travel to Chicago on Monday to play against New Zealand at Soldier Field on Saturday, November 5.

ireland

Although there are a number of bumps and bruises from involvement in the weekend’s PRO12 fixtures the squad selected has been declared fit to travel.

Players returning to full fitness Sean O’Brien, Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony along with Paddy Jackson, unavailable due to personal reasons, will not make the trip to Chicago.

The players trained this morning at Carton House and will train again on Thursday ahead of this weekend’s match versus the All Blacks.

Ireland Squad for New Zealand: Finlay Bealham, Rory Best (c), Joey Carbery, Sean Cronin, Ultan Dillane, Tadgh Furlong, Craig Gilroy, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Robbie Henshaw, Billy Holland, Rob Kearney, Kieran Marmion, Jack McGrath, Luke McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Conor Murray, Jared Payne, Garry Ringrose, Donnacha Ryan, John Ryan, Jonathan Sexton, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Andrew Trimble, Josh van der Flier, Simon Zebo

Schmidt commits future to Ireland

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Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has committed himself to the job until the 2019 World Cup, ending months of speculation about his future.

ireland

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) confirmed the news on Monday afternoon.

Appointed ahead of the 2013 Guinness Series, Schmidt has been involved in a period of sustained success and achievement with the national team.

Back to back Six Nations titles were secured in 2014 and 2015, a first Test Series win in the southern hemisphere was recorded in Argentina in 2014 and a first ever Test victory on South African soil was achieved in Cape Town at the end of the 2015/16 season.

“I’d like to thank the IRFU for their patience and confidence as the decision to continue took somewhat longer than I’d anticipated,” Schmidt said.

“It is difficult at times being so far away from extended family but we appreciate how lucky we are to have the support we have here in Ireland. The strength of the rugby community has been incredibly visible over the past week and the enthusiasm of management and players to improve and compete is complemented by a really positive camaraderie.”