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French coach Noves have four debutants for Six Nations opener

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Logo-Wide-France_rdax_438x330_80France will have four debutants when they start their 2016 Six Nations campaign against Italy this weekend.

Paul Jedrasiak, Sébastien Bezy, Jonathan Danty and Virimi Vakatawa will all take the field for the first time in the French colors on Saturday. There are three more uncapped players – Camille Chat, Jefferson Poirot and Yacouba Camara – have all been named on the bench in a bold selection from new France head coach Guy Novès.

Only five players remain from the side who were thrashed by New Zealand in last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final – Louis Picamoles, Yoann Maestri, and the front row of Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado and Eddy Ben Arous.

Vakatawa was called up by France after impressing in the Dubai and Cape Town legs of the Sevens World Series.

Guilhem Guirado, the France hooker, is set for his first game as captain of les Bleus following the international retirement of Thierry Dusautoir.

France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Hugo Bonneval, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Sébastien Bezy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Jefferson Poirot, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Maxime Mermoz

Date: Saturday, February 6
Venue: Stade de France
Kick-off: 15:25 local (14:25 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Jones name his first England side for Six Nations

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England_national_rugby_union_team_(emblem)_svgEddie Jones have named his first side for England after taking over as head coach in December last year with Dylan Hartley that will lead England in the Six Nations.

Jones have decided on Owen Farrel at inside centre and Care will start with the nine jumper. Marler was named at the loosehead prop and Kruis will take up the second row with Launchbury.

Robshaw will start as the bilindside flanker with Haskell as open-side flanker. Billy Vunipola will take up the number eight jumper to complete the loose trio that will start England Six Nations campaign.

Jones have also opted for three vice-captains in Vunipola, Farrell and Mike Brown.

Jones England side has 512 caps between them and they will not just aim to start the Six Nations with a win but also retain the Calcutta Cup, a trophy they have been defending successfully since 2008.

England head coach Eddie Jones said: “There were some tight calls on selection, but we have picked a match-day squad with a blend of experience and youth.

“The boys have worked hard since coming into camp to understand how I want the team to play going forward. We have prepared well and I am pleased with the progress the group has made in the short time we’ve had together.

“We are indebted to the work Stuart Lancaster has done over last four years. I have inherited a talented and highly motivated group of players.

“We are confident we can go to Edinburgh and win, but we’re in no doubt it will be a huge challenge. Playing at Murrayfield in front of a passionate Scottish crowd will be a real test for this team but one I know we can rise to.

“We have named three vice captains in Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Mike Brown who will support Dylan Hartley with his leadership responsibilities.”

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Alex Goode, 23 Ollie Devoto

Date: Saturday, February 6
Venue: Murrayfield
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Experience Six Nations squad for Wales

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walesWales coach Warren Gatland has named a 37-man squad that will take on the quest for the Six Nations in 2016 which only see one uncapped player in Aled Davies and Tom James and Josh Turnbull that have been recalled.

James and Turnbull last represented Wales in 2010 and 2014 respectively although James did form part of the 2015 World Cup squad until he had to withdraw after he picked up an injury.

Gatland have picked an experience and well settled squad which will put them in a good place for the championship with Warburton captaining the squad.

We have selected a squad that rewards players form as well as picking a lot of experience and that continuity is important to us,” said Gatland. “We have picked a larger squad than normal, we have a few injuries at the moment, those players aren’t too far away from getting back on the field so we are happy with the mix. Aled (Davies) is someone who has been on the radar the last couple of years and his selection is reward for his form. Tom (James) is playing very well for the Blues and we have been impressed with Josh’s (Turnbull) performances recently. It is always exciting when the Six Nations comes around and we are looking forward to meeting up next Monday.”

Wales kick off their 2016 campaign away to reigning champions Ireland on Sunday, February 7 before welcoming Scotland to the Millennium Stadium on Saturday February 13.

Wales squad for the Six Nations

Forwards: Rob Evans, Paul James, Gethin Jenkins, Tomas Francis, Aaron Jarvis, Samson Lee, Scott Baldwin, Kristian Dacey, Ken Owens, Jake Ball, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies, Dominic Day, Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Turnbull, Taulupe Faletau, James King, Dan Lydiate, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton (c)

Backs: Aled Davies, Gareth Davies, Lloyd Williams, Dan Biggar, Rhys Priestland, Cory Allen, Jonathan Davies, Tyler Morgan, Jamie Roberts, Hallam Amos, Alex Cuthbert, Tom James, George North, Gareth Anscombe, Matthew Morgan, Liam Williams

Cotter pick his Six Nations sqaud

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dan-parks-kicks-the-ball-during-the-2011-rugby-world-cup-pool-b-match-between-scotland-and-georgia-pic-getty-493744687As the northern hemisphere are gearing up for the 2016 Six Nations, coaches are starting to get there squads together  to see who will be crown champions this year. Scotland coach Cotter has named uncapped props Fagerson and Sutherland in his 35-man squad for the Championship.

Fagerson, only twenty years old are one of four changes made to the Scotland front row from the one that competed in last years World Cup in England. Sutherland is also a young promising player at 23 which will give coach Cotter some exciting youngsters to work with during this years Six Nations. Low and MacArthur will earn there first selection since 2014 as well.

Cotter said: “I think there should be confidence. The guys have worked hard and improved. There are positive signs that we can compete, and this Championship will give us another opportunity to measure ourselves against very good opposition in a tough competition. The guys believe that we can compete, dominate and secure victories in these games.”

Some 23 players capped during Rugby World Cup 2015 have earned reselection – six missing out, at this juncture, through injury (Fraser Brown, Grant Gilchrist, Henry Pyrgos, Jon Welsh, Richie Vernon) and retirement (Alasdair Strokosch) – while Cotter has rewarded the form of back-row forwards John Barclay (Scarlets), Adam Ashe and Chris Fusaro (both Glasgow Warriors), and versatile Wasps back Ruaridh Jackson, with selection.

Scotland will once again be captained by Gloucester scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, who requires the same number of appearances (four) to mark a half-century caps and to equal David Sole’s record as most-times as Scotland captain (25).

Lock Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh) and scrum-half Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) have been invited to train with the squad when it convenes for a pre-Championship camp in St Andrews this Sunday, before returning to their clubs to continue their recovery from groin and wrist injuries respectively.

Scotland squad for the Six Nations 2016

Forwards: Ross Ford, Pat MacArthur, Stuart McInally, Alasdair Dickinson, Zander Fagerson, Moray Low, Willem Nel, Gordon Reid, Rory Sutherland, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Tim Swinson, Ben Toolis, Adam Ashe, John Barclay, Blair Cowan, David Denton, Chris Fusaro, John Hardie, Josh Strauss.

Backs: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Greig Laidlaw (c), Finn Russell, Duncan Weir, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Matt Scott, Duncan Taylor, Sean Lamont, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Tim Visser, Stuart Hogg, Ruaridh Jackson.

Kockott and Bastareaud not making France Six Nations sqaud

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France head coach Guy Novès has named his first squad since being installed in the role, with 30 players included ahead of the Six Nations.

Rory Kockott, Sebastien Tillous-Borde, Mathieu Bastareaud and Noa Nakaitaci are four players missing after France’s dismal World Cup campaign.

François Trinh-Duc, Paul Jedrasiak, Sébastien Bezy, Yacouba Camara, Hugo Bonneval, Jonathan Danty and Jefferson Poirot are named by Novès.

The 30-man group will meet in Marcoussis for the day on January 4 before another squad is announced for a January 11 camp ahead of 2016’s Six Nations, a tournament that will see France begin life without retired captain Thierry Dusautoir.

France’s 30-man squad: Uini Atonio (La Rochelle), Eddy Ben Arous (Racing 92), Sébastien Bezy (Toulouse), Hugo Bonneval (Stade Français), Yacouba Camara (Toulouse), Damien Chouly (Clermont), Jonathan Danty (Stade Français), Alexandre Dumoulin (Racing 92), Benjamin Fall (Montpellier), Gaël Fickou (Toulouse), Alexandre Flanquart (Stade Français), Wesley Fofana (Clermont), Loann Goujon (Bordeaux-Bègles), Guilhem Guirado (Toulon), Paul Jedrasiak (Clermont), Benjamin Kayser (Clermont), Rémy Lamerat (Castres), Wenceslas Lauret (Racing 92), Bernard le Roux (Racing 92), Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92), Yoann Maestri (Toulouse), Maxime Medard (Toulouse), Morgan Parra (Clermont), Louis Picamoles (Toulouse), Jules Plisson (Stade Français), Jefferson Poirot (Bordeaux-Bègles), Rabah Slimani (Stade Français), Scott Spedding (Clermont), François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Sébastien Vahaamahina (Clermont).

The Six Nations 2016 edition starts the 6th of February and France will face Italy in the first round of matches.

A crazy, moving Six Nations finale

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Good luck to future endings of the Six Nations. 2015’s will be remembered as arguably the greatest day in the history of this old competition. A bewilderingly brilliant trio of matches made rugby on the continent at Test level fun again.

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This was pure entertainment – 221 points in a single round is a Six Nations record. 27 tries were scored, with nearly half of those taking place in the final chapter at Twickenham.

Anyone who sat down for the whole six hours should really have undertaken a full medical before doing so. As Joe Schmidt finely put, games like those build coronaries for coaches.

We often accuse the Six Nations of being turgid. Not this time. This was just a joyous occasion, exceeding expectations and packed full of surprises that will have stirred something in anyone with a passion for the sport from those tuning in for the first or hundredth time. Forget the miserable defence of Italy and Scotland and focus on the positives, of which there are so many.

Saturday was a perfect advert for rugby in this most crucial of years with the World Cup still to come. The organisers will pray this standard is matched. This is the rugby we’ve been crying out for.

Wales, Ireland and England all recognised that to win they would have to score an exceptional amount of points, with all three throwing off the shackles and delivering.

Adding try bonus points into the tournament to encourage attacking play has been discussed, but that shouldn’t need to be encouraged. For the record there were would have been five try bonus points in the whole of this year’s tournament, two to England.

Teams should and must want to play like this with their ears pinned back and scoring tries rather than kicking the ball to death, surely? Why not when the results are this satisfying for all concerned. Also, truthfully it was the old points format that led to such an absorbing conclusion in the first place, calculators and all.

In the final minutes of England’s assault on the French line, the heroics of Wales from earlier in the afternoon had been made completely irrelevant. Wales scored over 60 points in Rome and yet finished third. Utterly bonkers.

Ireland might have had some jitters at needing to defeat Scotland by 20 points to take first place, but it never showed as then went and won by 30. Jamie Heaslip’s trysaving tackle on Stuart Hogg ultimately won them the championship, although it would have hinged on the conversion.

Even some kicking wobbles from Jonathan Sexton couldn’t direct Ireland off their course, with Sean O’Brien turning in a mesmeric performance as the Tullow Tank refused to be stopped.

And then England, who flirted with winning the title and catastrophically losing to France within a wild first half before the two sides traded punches and England ultimately fell a converted try short of glory, settling for a fourth straight second-placed finish under Stuart Lancaster.

Even the French turned up, adding to the day’s insanity with some vintage running rugby for the first time in forever.

We were spoiled good and proper. I cannot remember a better day of international rugby with this many matches delivering high drama.

It was like being taken back to that moment when you fell in love with the sport, any sport even, for the first time.

Steve Hansen’s comments about rugby becoming boring and not enough tries being scored weren’t inaccurate at the time a few weeks ago, but the final round of Six Nations games made a mockery of them in the best possible way. Sam Warburton and Vincent Debaty’s scores in particular beggared belief. Hansen spoke of a duty to entertain and his call was answered, but it has to happen more, please.

When played in this manner, while there are still imperfections to be addressed, rugby is irresistible.

Ireland have triumphed again but so has the sport as a whole. What an exhausting, unbelievable day that won’t be topped for some time.

by Ben Coles from Planet Rugby

England and Wales get wins in Six Nations

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England and Wales secured wins over Scotland and Ireland respectively on Saturday as the Six Nations returned from a one week break.

By: Jacques Nortier

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England 25 Scotland 13.

England kept their hopes alive in the race for this year’s Six Nations and also secured the Calcutta Cup when the beat Scotland 25-13 in a sloppy display. The victory did secure England on top of the standings ahead of the final round of matches is this years Six Nations Championship.

England will rue a plethora of missed opportunities in this game as Scotland battled well and stayed in touch until Jack Nowell’s late try sealed the result.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries: Joseph, Ford, Nowell
Con: Ford 2
Pen: Ford 2

For Scotland:
Try: Bennett
Con: Laidlaw
Pen: Laidlaw 2

Wales 23 Ireland 16

In the other Six Nations match on Saturday Wales kept their winning ways in beating Ireland 23-16 in a titanic battle in Cardiff.

After leading 12-0, Wales spent large periods of the second half in their own 22, but Ireland could not get the points for all the territory they got.

Wales made over 289 tackles as Ireland gave everything they got to score tries and win the game. Wales also got yellow cards for Warburton and Davies but showed great composer to kept the Irish onslaught of their line.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Try: S Williams
Pens: Halfpenny 5
Drop Goal: Biggar
Yellow Cards: Warburton, Davies

For Ireland:
Try: Penalty
Con: Sexton
Pens: Sexton 3

Sunday match will see France taking on Italy to round up the weekends Six Nations matches.

 

 

Six Nations glory means little at World Cup

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England and Ireland are the only unbeaten teams after two rounds of the Six Nations for a number of reasons writes John Mitchell for ESPNscrum.com

They are both prepared to build scoreboard pressure by taking the three points when on offer and can create pressure with ball in hand when they enter the opposition 22. They are also strong defensively and possess effective set-pieces, with their lineouts, in particular, functioning well.

I believe that injuries to a number of first-choice players has actually proved a blessing in disguise and benefited England at large, because it has forced coach Stuart Lancaster to select players whom many pundits believe should have been there in the first place.

From a professional coaching perspective, Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph have offered England an attacking edge in the midfield, which simply wasn’t in effect during the autumn internationals.

The 23-year-old Joseph is an X-factor player who reminds me a lot of ex-England international Jeremy Guscott. The Bath back has a unique ability to break tackles, because of the stride of his step, and is a very elegant runner with ball in hand.

 

Ben Morgan beats Adam Ashley-Cooper to score a try, England v Australia, Twickenham Stadium, November 29, 2014

England will have to prove themselves against the southern hemisphere sides at the World Cup © Getty Images
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Furthermore, halfbacks Ben Youngs and George Ford have controlled the game well for England, while Danny Cipriani looked sharp when he came off the bench against Italy. He seems to have regained the confidence he lost after being dropped in early 2009 (he does, however, still need to prove himself against a top Test team). I’ve also been impressed with Dave Attwood at No.4 lock and flanker James Haskell, who has carried the ball strongly and made his presence felt at the breakdown.

England have performed well so far in the embryonic stages of the tournament, but I believe we will only be able to gauge how much progress they have made ahead of the World Cup when they play Ireland in Dublin on March 1. That will prove the true litmus test.

Comparisons have already been drawn between the current England side and that which won the 2003 Rugby World Cup. But it’s important to remember that Clive Woodward’s team went into that World Cup having regularly beaten the top southern hemisphere sides, including the All Blacks in New Zealand.

As such, they believed they could repeat the feat at the World Cup. While Lancaster’s side beat Australia at Twickenham in November, the reality is that they haven’t beaten New Zealand or South Africa for a while now, and winning the Six Nations crown won’t instil the belief that they can finally do so.

We’ll also find out a lot more about the Irish from that potential title-decider. To date, they have only played against an average French team and an Italian outfit ranked 14th in world rugby.

Ireland are fortunate to boast one of the world’s best halfback combinations in Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton, who kicked six penalties against France on Saturday. With Joe Schmidt at the helm, the Irish also know what they have to do in order to win ugly at times. They adopted a more conservative approach against Italy when they were missing two key players in Sexton and flanker Jamie Heaslip. It wasn’t the most entertaining rugby to behold, but it was highly effective.The big three southern hemisphere teams will be watching England and Ireland with interest, in particular All Black coach Steve Hansen and his Wallabies counterpart Michael Cheika. Australia meet England in the so-called ‘Pool of Death’, which also contains Wales. Meanwhile, the All Blacks could face Ireland in the quarter-finals.

The biggest challenge for the southern hemisphere teams at the World Cup will be about generating quick ball from the breakdown. When it comes to the tackler on the ground not rolling away quickly and the tackle assist player going off his feet, northern hemisphere referees are far more lenient than those in the southern hemisphere, who have been instructed by Sanzar to keep the game moving.

The southern hemisphere teams should study the breakdown carefully during this year’s Six Nations and come up with a plan to prevent teams like England and Ireland from slowing down their ball.

The biggest difference between coaching in the northern hemisphere, as opposed to the south, is how you prepare for the heavy conditions. You can’t spend as much time on your feet, so you have to look at ways to accelerate the learning process and keep high-intensity training sessions as short as possible.

Because the game is slower in the northern hemisphere, players have defence-orientated mindsets and focus on exit plays that require an excellent set-piece and good kicking. Ball-handling doesn’t come as naturally to northern hemisphere players as it does to New Zealanders, for instance, but they do have a good work ethic and are eager to improve.

Read more at http://www.espnscrum.com/blogs/rugby/story/256885.html#oxDs64So7vPzPid6.99

Wales, Italy and Ireland win in Six Nations

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Dan Biggar’s second-half try was enough for Wales to edge past France 20-13 in a nervy affair at the Stade de France.

While Wales dominated territory and possession in the first half, their biggest advantage was Leigh Halfpenny, who was virtually flawless from the kicking tee, unlike opposite number Camille Lopez.

Italy claimed a rare Six Nations victory on the road on Saturday, coming from behind to beat Scotland 22-19 at Murrayfield.

The Azzurri outscored their hosts two tries to one in the first half but Scotland nevertheless held a 16-15 lead at the interval. There was late drama however as a penalty try in the last minute handed the visitors the spoils.

Another commanding performance from Johnny Sexton sent Ireland on their way to a 19-9 victory over England in a physical battle in Dublin.

Ireland were smarter, better disciplined and more clinical throughout than their opponents. Even the scrum, touted as their area of weakness, surpassed expectations as England took too long to get going.

The Perfect 6 Nations Fantasy team

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With the annual 6 Nations tournament rapidly approaching the half way mark, we take a look at the best 15 players for their position that the northern hemisphere sides have to offer…by Alex Lewis

From prop to full back and everything in between, here is a team that would give any of the southern giants a run for their money:

  1. Loose Head Prop – Joe Marler

Edging out Gethin Jenkins is a tough call, but Marler has the aggression in the scrum to pip Jenkins to the spot and put in a shift. Marler is the embodiment of England’s strength in the front row and one of 5 potential starters for the ex-World Champions.

  1. Hooker – Richard Hibbard

His Thor like hair emphasise every monstrous hit the Welshman has become famed for. He the clear choice for our team, as indiscipline and lack of form rule others out. Sure, he’s had his problems with the lineout in the past, but expect him to make up for that with enthusiasm and energy all over the field.

  1. Tight Head Prop – Martin Castrogiovanni

An Italian icon, the front row forward makes the team due to years of consistently high performances. Castrogiovanni won Europe’s top club competition last year in the Heineken Cup, and we expect him to get close again this year. Perhaps not the strongest in the scrum contact but his cunning old ways make him a formidable opponent.

  1. Second Row – Alun Wyn Jones

Wyn Jones always leads from the front and with passion aplenty when playing for Wales. High octane ball carrying and athleticism are the cornerstone of his game, a massive candidate to lead Wales and the Lions in the future should the opportunity arise. Alun loves the game, loves his country and loves the contact, easily the first name on our teamsheet.

  1. Second Row – Paul O’Connell

Another legend in the second row is Ireland’s long serving Munsterman. O’Connell epitomises professionalism in its finest form. He never has a bad game for his country and dominates the forward play in the loose and lineout. For us he only just edges out Richie Gray for the spot in the team.

  1. Blindside Flanker – Peter O’Mahony

Another Irishman to make the team, his sheer destructive style of play makes him a shoe in for this team. His strength, both physically and mentally, always shine through when he dons the green jersey and he can always be relied upon to make yards with ball in hand and be a defensive behemoth.

  1. Openside Flanker – Sam Warburton

Arguably the best in the world currently at what he does. The Welsh captain is a machine in carrying, tackling and destroying opposition attacks. He continually wins turnovers, isn’t afraid to do the hard work on the floor and is always willing to put his body on the line. Leads from the front.

  1. Number 8 – Sergio Parisse

The iconic Italian is a must in any team. His biggest let down is that he plays in a lesser rugby nation, but despite this he still puts in mesmerising performances, even against the top nations. A selfless player who puts in the hard graft when it is needed, has the handling skills of any back line player and the power and passion to drag Italy forward by the scruff of the neck.

  1. Scrum Half – Connor Murray

A tough call between the Irishman and Mike Phillips, but Murray edges it on consistency. Has a well-established partnership with Sexton at half back and has the sniping ability to snag himself a try or two. Phillips’ temper is his downfall but expect Murray to keep a calm head when needed.

  1. Outside Half – Jonny Sexton

A formidable partnership with Murray, this Irish duo can run any game. Expect them to be regulars in the national team for years to come. Sexton hasn’t been in the best form when kicking, but his ability to take the ball to the line and bring in his outside backs creates a dangerous attacking team.

  1. Left Wing – George North

The man mountain Welsh winger is lethal when given any sort of time or space. North always makes yards and frequently takes defenders with him. His strength and speed make him a dangerous opponent and his ability to break the gain line every time ensures that he will be among Wales’ record try scorers when his time is done.

  1. Inside Centre – Jamie Roberts

Back to the form of old, nobody better than this Welsh giant when he is on form. A powerful runner with ball in hand but also shows classy touches to link with long-time partner Jonathan Davies. Roberts breaks the gain line consistently and also chips in with a few tries here and there. A solid defender that will give consistency to our backline.

  1. Outside Centre – Wesley Fofana

Another number 12 but the dangerous running Clermont man can slot in to fill the 13 jersey and could arguably interchange with Roberts. Has a balanced running style that makes him deceptively quick whilst also show tremendous power. Expect lines of running that baffle opponents, hard yards being gained and a no-nonsense attitude to defence. Another solid and dependable centre.

  1. Right Wing – Teddy Thomas

Electric Frenchman who lit up the world stage with a hat-trick on debut. Blistering pace that will expose any weakness in defence, so give him space at your peril. Thomas is a clever player who will exploit space but can also cut straight through the middle. He always gets the team going forward so expect plenty of flair with him on the wing.

  1. Full Back – Rob Kearney

Probably the toughest choice in the team. With Halfpenny and Brown failing to show past form, dependable Kearney gets the nod over Stuart Hogg. While both are dangerous when joining the line in attack, Kearney’s unrivalled ability under the high ball gives him the starting berth. Kearney is a powerful runner and a solid tackler which is why is he our starting choice.

By Alex Lewis  who is part of the team at Shop Rugby, a leading UK rugby shop dedicated to equipping fans with everything they need to support their team. Shop our official range of rugby jerseys here.

Nowell in England squad for Ireland

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Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell has replaced Jonny May of Gloucester in a 26-man England training squad to prepare for Sunday’s clash with Ireland.

England Rugby

Nowell, who featured in all five matches during last season’s tournament, inspired his club to a 32-21 victory over Harlequins on Saturday after spending the preceding week at Pennyhill Park with Stuart Lancaster’s starters from the previous weekend’s defeat of Italy.

Elsewhere in the back three, Saracens full-back Alex Goode – a veteran of the 12-6 win in Dublin two years ago – is retained while Mike Brown continues to work through his graduated return-to-play protocol.

Chris Pennell, with England for the first time since last June’s tour to New Zealand, stays in Bagshot to spend some more time familiarising himself with the set-up.

Meanwhile, Bath tighthead prop Henry Thomas will join training tomorrow following a hip flexor strain to Kieran Brookes,

The squad will train on Wednesday before re-assembling at Pennyhill Park on Thursday evening and flying to Dublin on Friday.

“Preparation has gone well and we’ve had a good build up so far. The guys who played against Wales and Italy did really well and the good thing is that others who are now fit and training are pushing hard for selection,” said head coach Stuart Lancaster.

“We’ve had to make some tough decisions but it’s a good position to be in and those players going back to their clubs have another big weekend ahead to lay down a marker for later in the tournament.

“Chris Pennell is in camp for the first time since last summer so we are taking this opportunity for him to spend some additional time with us.”

England squad for Ireland (26)

Forwards (14): Dave Attwood (Bath Rugby), Kieran Brookes (Newcastle Falcons), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), Nick Easter (Harlequins), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Wasps), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Chris Robshaw (captain, Harlequins), Henry Thomas (Bath Rugby), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

Backs (12): Mike Brown (Harlequins), Luther Burrell (Northampton Saints), Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), George Ford (Bath Rugby), Alex Goode (Saracens), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Chris Pennell (Worcester Warriors), Billy Twelvetrees (Gloucester Rugby), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).

Retained in camp for recovery: Manusamoa Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers)

Players released to Aviva Premiership clubs (10): Brad Barritt (Saracens), Danny Care (Harlequins), Calum Clark (Northampton Saints), Alex Corbisiero (Northampton Saints), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers), Rob Webber (Bath Rugby), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints).

Cuthbert left out for France

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Wales winger Alex Cuthbert has been dropped for Saturday’s Six Nations clash with France, as Liam Williams keeps his place on the wing.

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Wales have made four changes with North, Samson Lee, Luke Charteris and Scott Baldwin all coming into the starting XV.

Charteris and Baldwin are promoted from replacement roles in the victory over Scotland to start in Paris whilst North and Lee return to the side after missing the second Six Nations encounter.

Baldwin and Lee join Gethin Jenkins to re-form the front-row that started in November’s victory against South Africa.

Charteris, who has featured from the bench in the opening two matches of the Championship, starts alongside Alun Wyn Jones.

The back row remains unchanged with Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau lining up with captain Sam Warburton (who equals Ryan Jones’ record of 33 matches as captain of Wales).

Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar continue their partnership at half-back with Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies named in the midfield. North comes into the back-three to join Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny.

“We have made some tough calls and there were some tight decisions but it is a very strong team we are putting out,” said Wales head coach Warren Gatland.

“We have a lot of strength in depth at second-row, it is a chance for Luke Charteris to get a start and we have been impressed with Bradley Davies as well. It is nothing against Jake but we have a lot of strength in depth and it’s an opportunity to see the other two.

“It’s a chance for Scott Baldwin to start as well, the last time he started he went well in the victory over South Africa. It is great to have Samson back available and it was a tough call in the back-three but we have decided to go with Liam and George.

“We felt we improved against Scotland and we are looking for another improvement this weekend. It’s a tough competition to go on the road and ask for that but that is what we are looking for.”

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Paul James, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Bradley Davies, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams.

Source: Planet Rugby

Six Nations Quickie

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The Six Nations continue this week after a break….We look at the news coming from the North…

Castro ruled out after dog bites nose

Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni will miss Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Scotland after being bitten on the nose by a friend’s dog.

The veteran tighthead required 14 stitches on his face and has been left out of the Azzurri’s provisional squad for the Round Three clash.

Wasps’s Lorenzo Cittadini has been called up to take the place of the 33-year-old Toulon prop.

In further bad news for Italy, Wasps back Andrea Masi has been sidelined by a cut suffered against Newcastle resulting in uncapped centre Enrico Bacchin beimg added to the squad.

Meanwhile, Zebre second-row Marco Bortolami is a fitness doubt with Antonio Pavanello included as cover.

Time against Brown for Ireland

England full-back Mike Brown’s chances of facing Ireland this Sunday appear slim after a setback in his recovery from concussion.

Brown had been progressing well after suffering a major blow in a collision during the victory over Italy on February 14.

However last year’s Six Nations Player of the Tournament isn’t due to be back in full training until Friday, putting his place in doubt.

Parra in doubt to face Wales

France scrum-half Morgan Parra is a fresh injury concern for Philippe Saint-André ahead of this weekend’s Test against Wales in Paris.

Parra, one of two scrum-halves in the 30-man squad named last week to train ahead of Saturday’s game, took a knock to his shin playing for Clermont against Racing Métro over the weekend.

Sébastien Tillous-Borde is currently the other number nine option for France, with Rory Kockott left out of the squad last week thanks to a quadriceps injury after starting the first two Tests of the Six Nations.

Quintet called up by Scotland

Head coach Vern Cotter has added five capped internationalists to Scotland’s Six Nations squad, five days out from the round three Test against Italy this Saturday at Murrayfield.

Scrum-half Chris Cusiter and prop Moray Low have been called up from Premiership clubs Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs, along with Glasgow Warriors duo Adam Ashe (number eight) and Alex Allan (prop), and Edinburgh number eight David Denton.

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Preview RBS Six Nations Round 2

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England versus Italy (“Live” on SS6 at 16:20)

Fresh from surprising many in Cardiff, but not themselves, England will look to keep their foot on the gas against Italy this Saturday.

Stuart Lancaster has the luxury of being able to select an unchanged starting XV and bench, buoyed by the performance of so many of England’s young players and returning veterans against Wales. The list of those in the infirmary doesn’t feel as vital as it did a week ago.

Two of those fresh players, Jonathan Joseph and George Kruis, start at Twickenham for the first time representing their country, while Nick Easter and Danny Cipriani, should they be called from the bench, will end exiles of four and six years respectively away from England’s home turf.

Italy will always threaten sides with power rather pace. Shifting the Wasps back Andrea Masi into inside centre will give the visitors reliable distribution and a handy running threat, while Luke McLean has always seemed better suited to roaming into space from full-back.

The onus though is on Kelly Haimona to fire Italy’s backline into life. Parisse and co. upfront can test England’s defensive line, but too often with Italy there isn’t enough skill and guile out wide to exploit any opportunities.

Haimona currently has the nod over Tommaso Allan, although the youngster looked sharp off the bench against Ireland. The pressure for the shirt will hopefully see Haimona fire Italy into life. It’s a big ask.

The teams:

For England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 George Kruis, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.

For Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Samuela Vunisa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giulio Bisegni.

France versus Ireland (“Live” on SS6 at 18:40)

The cavalry returns for Ireland as they seek to beat France for the first time in the new Aviva Stadium.

While Philippe Saint-André is still to beat Ireland as a coach, having never lost to them as a player, les Bleus arrive in Dublin having not lost in the Irish capital since 2009.

This weekend, France will have to beat what is more or less a full-strength Irish side on paper, on the pitch it remains to be seen just how match fit Jonny Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip really are.

As well as their replacements played last week in the 26-3 win over Italy, with Tommy O’Donnell particularly impressive, the presence of those three returning Lions, as well as Cian Healy on the bench, gives Joe Schmidt’s side a more formidable look.

France, by contrast, have made just one change to the team that struggled past Scotland 15-8, Eddy Ben Arous replacing the injured Alexandre Menini.

It was a vote of confidence from Saint-André, and after all the criticism he has taken for chopping and changing, a little continuity might end up doing the team some good.

Last week les Bleus were under the cosh for most of the first half, struggling to cope with the speed on the outside of the Scottish three-quarters, but after the break they got their maul going, and monopolised possession with some ferocious work at the breakdown.

Those are two of the traditional strengths of the Irish, and the ruck battle will be key, as will which team gets the upper hand in the mauls.

A year ago Ireland picked up a rare win in Paris, but France produced one of their better performances in the tournament and could easily have won on another day.

Given their record in Ireland, they should go in with no fear, even if the Irish are rightly favourites for the game.

The winners of this one will likely be in what looks like a two-horse race for the Championship with England, the losers will be left with a lot of question marks, not least, how will they turn it around before the two sides meet again later this year at the World Cup.

Recent results:

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

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Felix Jones

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Vincent Debaty, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Rémi Lamerat.

One change for Wales to take on Scotland

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Wales have made one change for Sunday’s Six Nations clash against Scotland, with Liam Williams replacing George North on the wing.

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Scarlets back Williams will win his 20th cap at Murrayfield.

North is currently symptom-free and whilst nearing the conclusion of the graduated return to play protocol the decision has been taken to allow him an elongated recovery period in light of his recent concussive episode in the November period.

The one change results in the same starting backline that beat South Africa, in the final November international, taking to the field this weekend.

Ospreys duo Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar continue their partnership, as do Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies in midfield. Williams comes in to join the back three alongside Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny.

The pack remains unchanged with a front-row of Gethin Jenkins (who will make his 50th RBS 6 Nations appearance), Richard Hibbard and Samson Lee*. (Lee is currently undergoing the graduated return to play protocol which will be concluded later in the week).

Alun Wyn Jones and Jake Ball continue in the second row alongside an unchanged back row of Dan Lydiate, captain Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau.

“The response from the players has been very positive in training this week and we are looking forward to having the opportunity to right last weekend’s wrongs,” said Warren Gatland.

“Scotland started the tournament well against France, building on their autumn campaign and they will be looking forward to welcoming us to Edinburgh this weekend.

“We know what we need to do and we hope our performance can reflect that.

“We have taken the decision to give George an extended recovery period ahead of the game against France, in light of his concussion in the autumn.”

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun-Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Aaron Jarvis, 19 Luke Charteris, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Scott Williams

RBS Six Nations Week 1 results

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The Six Nations started this weekend and although much was expected from the top teams in Europe, except the Friday night game between Wales and England.

England showed some character in coming from behind at halftime, 16-9 to win the game 21-16. Handling were poor in all three games and decision making even worst for most of the games. One can only hope that things will get better in following few weeks as everyone looks ahead to the World Cup.

Six Nations Round 1 Results:

Wales 16 England 21

Tries from young Bath backs Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph along with the boot of their team-mate George Ford got England’s campaign off to the perfect start with a gritty performance.

Wales started phenomenally to make the likelihood of an English victory here seem remote, but with the ticking of the clock home doubts and errors along with away confidence grew.

Would England learn their lessons from 2013, especially with their discipline? Leigh Halfpenny reminded them that any penalty conceded under 50 metres is an opportunity for him to convert, as he duly did in the second minute.

Discipline and nerve were paramount and England held theirs when it counted. With all their injuries and doubts, they delivered when Wales failed to do the same. The inquest now begins.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Try: Webb
Con: Halfpenny
Pens: Halfpenny 2
Drop Goal: Biggar
Yellow Card: Cuthbert

For England:
Tries: Watson, Joseph
Con: Ford
Pens: Ford 3

Italy 3 Ireland 26

Defending champions Ireland got their 2015 campaign off the ground with a resounding if flawed 26-3 win at the Stadio Olimpico. Tries from scrum-half Conor Murray and flanker Tommy O’Donnell saw the men in green home in a scrappy and error-strewn encounter.

O’Donnell’s try represents something of a fairytale, as the Munster man was only in the side on account of Sean O’Brien pulling an apparent hamstring in the warm up. But the man of the match was undoubtedly fly-half Ian Keatley, who contributed four penalties and a conversion in a flawless kicking display.

All the Italians could muster in response was a penalty from Kelly Haimona and although the hosts looked dangerous throughout the game, they created very little.

The scorers:

For Italy:
Pen: Haimona
Yellow Card: Ghiraldini

For Ireland:
Tries: Murray, O’Donnell
Cons: Keatley, Madigan
Pens: Keatley 4

France 15 Scotland 8

Five penalties from Camille Lopez gave France a difficult 15-8 victory over Scotland to open their Six Nations account in Paris. Under new boss Vern Cotter, the Scots used their pacey outside backs to cause the French lots of problems, while Blair Cowan was a menace at the breakdown.

They were however indisciplined, and three first-half penalties from Lopez gave France a 9-8 lead at the interval despite Dougie Fife’s score on the stroke of half-time.

France had more of the ball in the second half, adding another Lopez penalty, before his fifth three-pointer two minutes from time sealed the win.

The scorers:

For France:
Pens: Lopez 5

For Scotland:
Try: Fife
Pen: Laidlaw
Yellow Card: Beattie

Kockott gets first start for France

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Rory Kockott will make his first start for France in their Six Nations opener against Scotland after being preferred to Morgan Parra.

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The Castres scrum-half came off the bench in all three November Tests, but will start after Sébastien Tillous-Borde suffered a knee injury.

Elsewhere Scott Spedding gets the nod ahead of fit-again Brice Dulin, while veteran tighthead Nicolas Mas misses out, with Rabah Slimani starting in his place.

Les Bleus won two out of three games in November, beating Fiji and Australia before slipping up against Argentina.

Teddy Thomas grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick against the Fijians and a splendid solo effort against the Wallabies.

He was dropped for the final game after missing a team meeting but returns for the start of the Six Nations.

Camille Lopez continues at fly-half after an impressive season for Clermont, while Thierry Dusautoir will once again captain the side.

Loosehead Alexandre Menini is fit to start having had to sit out most of last week’s training camp.

Meanwhile on the bench La Rochelle number eight Loann Goujon is set to make his Test debut, while Rémi Lamerat is preferred to Gaël Fickou as cover in the outside backs.

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Alexandre Menini
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Eddy Ben Arous, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Rémi Lamerat

Date: Saturday, February 7
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 18:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (NZRU) Mike Fraser (NZRU)

Burrell and Joseph start for England against Wales

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England have named an in-form Jonathan Joseph at outside centre for their Six Nations opener against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Friday.

England Rugby

The Bath star will start alongside Luther Burrell in midfield, with Billy Twelvetrees providing cover off the replacements bench in Cardiff.

Joseph will be joined on the pine by Nick Easter and Danny Cipriani while Tom Croft also earns a place amongst the matchday 23 for the fixture.

Chris Robshaw continues as captain in a back-row trio that includes Billy Vunipola and James Haskell, who comes in for the injured Tom Wood.

George Kruis and Dave Attwood form the lock combination while prop Dan Cole is fit enough to start alongside Dylan Hartley and Joe Marler.

“We’ve had to make some tight calls but we are excited about the side selected for what will be a big challenge,” said head coach Stuart Lancaster.

“JJ has been one of the form centres in the country. He and Luther have trained well together and this is a big opportunity for both of them.

“Billy Vunipola has also been playing well for Saracens and it’s good to be able to give George Kruis his first international start after his impressive run off the bench in November.

“Dan Cole and James Haskell bring a lot of experience, as do the bench, and their contribution will be crucial on Friday night.”

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 George Kruis, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.

Date: Friday, February 6
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 20:05 GMT
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (FFR)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (FFR) Mathieu Raynal (FFR) Simon McDowell (IRFU)

6 Nations Preview: Ireland

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Will it be back-to-back titles for the Irish or is Six Nations life after BOD going to have a delayed impact? Injuries to key personnel will be a worry for fans in what is looking like a difficult campaign ahead.

We all know a fully fit Ireland are a match for any team but when players drop out, cracks begin to appear in terms of depth, which is likely to prove the difference between smiles and frowns.

A first Six Nations title since 2009 was won in Brian O’Driscoll’s swansong tournament. Four wins from five saw their only a loss at Twickenham costing them a Grand Slam, with the championship sealed with a 22-20 win against France in Paris.

O’Driscoll’s extended stay in the game was down to Joe Schmidt persuading him to play on and it paid off, as the trophy was in his hands one last time. They began with a comfortable 28-6 win over Scotland and then beat Wales 26-3 before that loss to England.

Two closing victories saw them to the spoils though as Jonathan Sexton topped both the points (66) and try standings (level with Mike Brown on 4).

It’s going to be tough to replicate last year’s title win particularly without BOD and the possibility of fly-half Sexton, Conor Murray, Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien not being fully fit.

While home fixtures against France and England are circled as being must-win games, we believe the Irish are set to lose at least one of their five games, which will mean the difference between success and failure in 2015.

Rob Kearney will need to be a rock at the back while the midfield continues to be an area of uncertainty as Robbie Henshaw and Darren Cave fight for the thirteen jersey and twelve also has doubts.

Up against Wales in Round 4 could highlight that when Ireland take on two of Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. At least at that point they will have Sexton back in the side for what could well be a title decider.

Leading by example is something second-row Paul O’Connell does every time he steps out on the field. His form in 2014 was arguably his best to date and with what could well be his final year in the green shirt, he will be wanting to go out with a bang in the Six Nations and World Cup.

Classy wing Tommy Bowe is another consistent player with his wonderful running lines, and if he can find his scoring form, this Irish team will threaten all rivals in the coming months.

Back from injury for Leinster in recent weeks, Jamie Heaslip‘s return to rugby is significant for Ireland. Without Heaslip, the Irish miss direction and his carrying at the base, and if they can get Sean O’Brien back firing alongside Peter O’Mahony, they have a top class back-row.

Keep an eye on the performances of Heaslip’s team-mate Ian Madigan in the early weeks as he looks to take his chance with both hands in the fly-half shirt.

Meanwhile, whether Schmidt can overlook Cave at number thirteen is a big question. A recent hat-trick versus Leicester has no doubt helped his case.

A favourable schedule start sees the Irish begin in Rome before they host France and England. That surely has to be viewed as an ideal beginning for coach Schmidt in 2015 but the absence of fly-half Sexton until Round 3 is a concern, not least with Paddy Jackson on the treatment table with a dislocated elbow.

Murray, O’Brien and Healy’s fitness for international rugby is also a concern ahead of a first Six Nations since veteran O’Driscoll’s retirement and it’s for that reason we don’t see them reclaiming the title.

There are just a few too many concerns regarding their line-up at the moment and late-championship trips to Wales and Scotland could prove their undoing. Second spot this time around.

Fixtures:

Sat, 7 Feb v Italy (Stadio Olimpico)
Sat, 14 Feb v France (Aviva Stadium)
Sun, 1 Mar v England (Aviva Stadium)
Sat, 14 Mar v Wales (Millennium Stadium)
Sat, 21 Mar v Scotland (Murrayfield)

6 Nations Preview: England

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The Six Nations kicks off next weekend and this one will be a cracker as each of the six nations will want to get everything in place to stake a claim for the World Cup in September, an no more so that the host of the World Cup England.

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Limping into this year’s competition as injuries to key players rack up, England are faced with the same old issues of who to pick in midfield and remain sitting on the cusp of greatness, having yet to convince that they can actually win this year’s Rugby World Cup on home soil.

Even victory over Australia at the end of November couldn’t hide that England have work to do and in very little time, although the potential is there.

England finished within a whisker of the Six Nations title, ten points behind Ireland’s points difference at the top of the table with four wins out of five. Thrashing Italy 52-11 wasn’t enough but England’s real letdown was the opening loss in Paris, where for once their forward pack were outmuscled and Gaël Fickou’s late try was a killer.

In between the bookends came impressive victories over Ireland and Wales at Twickenham, where the home crowd played a pivotal role and England were excellent all-round, showing real character.

New caps including Jonny May, Luther Burrell and Jack Nowell were given multiple chances to impress, while England battled with injuries to their props. What might have been if they’d won in Paris to disjointed France.

After a disappointing tour to New Zealand overall and then the misfires in November, England come into the Six Nations under pressure. Playing fixtures against Wales and Ireland away from home is extremely difficult and England will have to win one of them to be in contention to win the championship.

There has been major disruption in the second row; Joe Launchbury will miss the whole tournament while Courtney Lawes and Geoff Parling are doubts for the opening weeks, leaving Dave Attwood to partner one of George Kruis or Graham Kitchener.

Owen Farrell’s knee knock against Clermont may also thrust Stephen Myler or Danny Cipriani into the spotlight off the bench, as George Ford looks to cement his place and put to bed concerns over his goalkicking at the highest level.

Even without Launchbury and Lawes, England will expect to dominate most set-piece clashes to supply their backs with enough possession, but the uncertainty over the midfield combination is still there. There are a lot of good options but no great ones, as two from Billy Twelvetrees, Burrell, Kyle Eastmond, Jonathan Joseph and Brad Barritt look to secure a spot.

Manu Tuilagi’s absence leaves a gaping hole, one which Sam Burgess seems unlikely to fill this time even though he has been named in the Saxons squad.

Chris Robshaw is now set to be England’s leader at the World Cup, barring an enormous loss of form or injury, but is not yet regarded as a world class openside. The England management rate him highly and his work at the breakdown and in defence cannot be faulted.

What England lack from him slightly is real gusto in his ball carrying to help them get over the advantage line. 2015 is easily the biggest time of Robshaw’s career, and it will be interesting to see where he sits say this time next year. All eyes now are on him to deliver.

Lock injuries mean that George Kruis is likely to get another shot in the England second row, with the Saracen proving last November that he is some athlete. Currently playing his best rugby this season for club and country.

Out in the backs, Jonathan Joseph’s impressive performance for Bath against Toulouse in the Champions Cup has thrown his name into contention to solve the midfield muddle, as he too like Kruis has begun to produce his best rugby.

Often compared to former England and Lions back Jeremy Guscott, Joseph’s hip-swiveling bursts of speed and agility may just give Lancaster’s backline the jolt it needs. He’s also improved his defensive work considerably.

Finally, whether they use him at full-back or on the wing, Anthony Watson has to be involved given he has more natural talent than any other England back right now.

There’s no doubt that England will be contenders for the title, even with their huge number of injuries – which speaks volumes about the strength in depth they have. With the bigger picture in mind, the priority is on settling down their midfield and laying the final bricks ahead of the Rugby World Cup, meaning Six Nations glory isn’t actually essential.

Winning away in Cardiff and Dublin is a big ask, but England might just take one of them and will expect to win their three home games. With a tough schedule however, and Wales and Ireland playing England at home, Lancaster’s men may narrowly miss out. 3rd.

Fixtures:

Fri, 6 February v Wales (Millennium Stadium)
Sat, 14 February v Italy (Twickenham)
Sun, 1 March v Ireland (Aviva Stadium)
Sat, 14 March v Scotland (Twickenham)
Sat, 21 March v France (Twickenham)

by Ben Coles Planet Rugby

6 Nations: Ireland favorites, Scotland to surprise

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The countdown is on, as the sides from the Northern Hemisphere will look to sharpen up on their game plans, test out combinations and look to see who will make out their World Cup teams.

By: Benedict Chanakira

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With England hosting the show piece this year the onus is on the Northern Hemisphere sides to fully challenge and grab the opportunity of a World Cup. The conditions, referees and schedule seems to favour them.

The Six Nations in 2014 saw a tournament only decided on the final day with three teams still able to have won it. Ireland won it at the end as a perfect swan song for arguably the greatest 13 in the modern era of rugby, Brian O’Driscoll.

England won the Triple Crown, beating all the other home nations but failed to win the Six Nations. Italy was also in the record books for the most tackles in a test match as they made 208!

What do we expect in the 2015 edition of the RBS Six Nations?

England

England

For England there will be no better way to prepare for the World Cup with a challenging schedule in this tournament. England will visit Cardiff and Dublin this year, where Wales and Ireland have been formidable.

The Welsh clash will be special considering they will vie for a spot at the World Cup in their group of death.

With Manu Tuilagi likely to feature in the tournament after months out due to injury, one would hope the big centre stays fit as he will be an integral part of Stuart Lancaster’s plans.

Injuries have hampered their progress over the last four to five months, with young George Ford impressing in the wings as an understudy to the established Owen Farrell.

Farrell had a tough autumn series so it will be key to give Ford a few chances, and a possible call to Danny Cipriani who has been in top form. He showed glimpses of brilliance in the autumn series and it will benefit England to allow the understudies starts against the tough Italians or the arch-rivals Scotland.

One selection we will all be looking forward too is the inclusion of Sam Burgess who is adapting steadily and well to Rugby Union.

What is his best position? In the centres or in the back row? Could he be the English’s version of Sonny Bill Williams? Another x-factor! A call up to International rugby is inevitable.

Is it Saxons first or straight to the Roses?

The best back row player up North has to be Steffon Armitage. Will the RFU find a way to accommodate him, or should the player find a way to meet the RFU requirements?

England will find it tough to win this tournament and are likely to replicate last years’ runners up finish. The two away trips to Wales and Ireland seem beyond them.

France

France

Les Bleus!! The French continue to be the unknown factor in any tournament. Will they be able to take their autumn series form into the event where they won two out of their three games?

France managed to destroy Fiji, beat Australia and will look to win the Six Nations for the first time since 2010.

Could Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Camille Lopez be the halfback pairing France have sought out for so long? Morgan Parra will boast the side which could see a halfback merry go round again.

Despite a poor finish to the tour the French showed a lot of their swagger. With whispers going about in France that Jake “unloyal” White is a possible option for the job post Six Nations or maybe post World Cup.

If there is anyone capable of bringing the best out of the French, and show us what they are about in a consistent manner, then Jake is the man.

Enough about him, France will unlikely win the Six Nations due to their inconsistency but this will be another tournament where they will play a part in deciding who wins the show piece.

Will look to improve on their fourth spot last season. Third will be their best bet.

Wales

Wales

A favorable fixture list with a morale boosting win over powerhouse South Africa, Wales can go into this tournament with their tails up and their eyes firmly set on winning the crown.

Two home fixture against England and Ireland will decide how this tournament will end up. What they just cannot seem to do is play a full 80 minute match.

Should the game have been played for 60-70 minutes the Welsh would be untouchable unless they only play then for 50 minute.

Wales will look to answer the question; have they developed the mental fortitude to win against the big sides. With rhythm returning to their play, the same can be said of their centre Jamie Roberts who is starting to get back to his best.

Will his combination with Dan Biggar prove the difference?

With Gareth Anscombe also in the frame as an unknown factor the Welsh have more going for than their opponents.

This tournament will explain their mental capacity to the rugby world.

Wales will decide the fate of the Six Nations as they host two matches against the English and Irish. Two wins will make them outright favourites. Easy fixture list.

Scotland

Scotland

They continue to improve and they are building toward the Rugby World Cup.

Will the 2015 Six Nations be any different?

Their Six Nations record has been appalling in the last 4 years with just five wins in twenty-five games. They show a lot of courage and are brave but continue to be beaten by the same bug as most teams; inconsistency.

One performance that left all Scots proud as they pushed the All Blacks all the way last year, albeit a weak New New Zealand side.

The Scots boast strength in their forward pack in the form of the Gray brothers, Adam Ashe and Ross Ford.

With Vern Cotter at the helm, they are bullish about their title chances, with Ford recently speaking about their quality, form and title credentials.

It will take a lot as the side managed a solitary, last-gasp win over Italy. The captain Greig Laidlaw, Sean Lamont and the rest of the experienced contingent are enjoying some form and it bodes well for Scotland this year.

With the majority of the squad coming from a Glasgow side that is impressive in the Pro12, a winning culture will surely be there.

An opening round trip to France to get them up and running. What tone will they set?

No title since 1999, does not look like changing. Scotland look like claiming a big scalp. Will do well to avoid finishing below fourth.

Ireland

Ireland

The champions. The year 2014 was the perfect year for the Irish. Every game looked like they reached the end of a rainbow.

The men in green were impressive and showed a lot of class from the Six Nations to an impressive autumn series which saw them rise to third in the world rankings.

They could do so little wrong and saw growing call about their chances of winning the World Cup. Is it possible? Yes it is, but 2015 could be too early.

Teams struggle in their second season with expectations raised few teams have managed this level of consistency with New Zealand the only side to manage such a level of excellence.

Ireland are outright favorites to win the Six Nations. They defend exceptionally well, have a balance to their play and an efficient forward pack. The line out and driving maul a strong weapon.

Will be interesting how they will fare at a packed Olimpico Stadium in Rome on the opening round. Jonathan Sexton will be missing it which will allow Ian Madigan, Paddy Jackson or Ian Keatley set to get the nod.

On the Irish books, no youngster has impressed more than Connacht’s Rob Henshaw. One who has raised his hand and will probably move to Leinster after a big couple of months.

A defining season for the youngster ahead. All Irish sides are in the top half of the Pro12 and continue to stake a claim for the title.

Italy

Italy

The Italians have more wooden spoons than most sides in the competition since their addition.

Fond memories will go back to the 2013 campaign which saw the side put in an impressive two scalps over France and Ireland. The side had an impressive showing against South Africa last year before a Bryan Habana try sealed the match.

Despite spirited performances the Italians always fall on the last hurdle. With their best finish being fourth in 2013, one has to wonder what their chances in the 2015 campaign are.

The only positive is that their home turf is difficult for visiting teams and could see some clashes decided this year.

With a fading scrum, youth integration and the coming to an end of the careers of stalwarts this could be the Italian swan song, go the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni ,Martin Aguero, Lorenzo Cittadini and Sergio Parisse to name a few.

Progress remains slow but the Italians just not world beaters yet.

 

Wooden spoon! An upset will be appreciated to spice up the tournament. Maybe a win in their opening game against Ireland at home? No.

Six Nations: France 20, Ireland 22

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Gauls against Gaels. It is the last of 2014’s Six Nations matches and Paris will certainly be the focus of attention.

By then England will have played – and probably beaten – Italy. Unusually, they will be backing France with great fervour.

If it is a victory for France or, better still, the third draw in a row between France and Ireland, England will rejoice at winning the Championship, which they probably deserve, for after all they were a better side than France who scored more points than they did when they met this year.

A win for Ireland will probably secure them the Championship on points’ difference, unless England have a huge win over Italy.

France must have a chance of winning, too, but it would take a miracle of gigantic proportions, like moving Montmatre. Italy would have to beat England for starters and France would have to beat Ireland.

In the Six Nations, Ireland have scored 81 more points than their opponents in their four matches, England 32 points more and France three points more.

To top Ireland, England would have to beat Italy by more than 49 points, which is not impossible.

By the time the Paris match gets under way, the England position will be clear. Let’s say that both France and Ireland are equally intent on victory and that Ireland need only to win to win the Championship and burst out with three days of celebration ending on St Patrick’s Day.

That could produce a great match.

There would then be an intense battle up front. At the scrums, there would be a great battle between the front rows and one hopes that the surface of Stade de France can stand up to it better than when they played Italy there. The battle at the scrums has a huge effect on team morale and loose forward agility.

In an equal battle between loose forwards, Ireland could well have the beating of France, especially now that marauding Peter O’Mahony is back. Big Louis Picamoles is back, on the flank this time, but more of a muscle man than a clever poacher. In fact Ireland have a better record at the breakdowns in this year’s Six Nations.

They also have a better record at the line-outs, losing just four out of 61 throws into the line-out. Out of 10 line-outs against Scotland France lost three and threw in skew three times. But then Brice Mach has been dropped right out and Dimitri Szarzewski is hooking with Guilhem Guirado to back him up.

Ireland have the much more settled pair of halfbacks in Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray while France have chopped and changed. One would expect Ireland to be better here with Sexton to dictate play. France will be hoping for a more charismatic performance from Rémi Tales after the shyness of Julien Plisson.

In the backs Ireland pass more than France who kick more than Ireland but there is in the outside backs speed and creativity if it is allowed to function though here, too, Ireland look more settled and cohesive. Ireland have scored 13 tries to the seven of France.

Discipline counts. Ireland have conceded under seven penalties a match on an average, France more than eight.

Goal-kicking counts. Sexton is a more reliable kicker than France’s Maxime Machenaud, Jean-Marc Doussain and Rémi Tales. Ireland have goaled 15 out of 19, France 10 out of 15 – 79% vs 67%.

Recent results:
2013: France and Ireland drew 13-13, Dublin
2012: France and Ireland drew 17-17, Paris
2011: France won 26-22, Dublin
2011: France won 19-12, Bordeaux
2011: France won 25-22, Dublin
2010: France won 33-10, Paris
2009: Ireland won 30-21, Dublin
2008: France won 26-21, Paris
2007: France won 25-3, Paris (World Cup pool match)
2007: France won 20-17, Dublin

Teams
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Rémi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Louis Picamoles, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (captain), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 21 Wenceslas Lauret, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Maxime Mermoz.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Date: Saturday 15 March 2014
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 18.00 (GMT 17.00; 17.00 UK time)
Expected weather: Clear skies with little to no chance of rain. Hi of 15°C and a low of 5°C
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

No calculators for England

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England will simply be targeting victory when they play Italy in Rome in their final Six Nations match on Saturday, according to forwards coach Graham Rowntree.

Stuart Lancaster’s men go into the game with a chance of winning the title, but Ireland’s superior points difference means that they will be almost assured of glory if they overcome France.

Should Ireland win in Paris, England would need to beat Italy by at least 50 points to stand any chance of pipping them to the title, but Rowntree says his side will not employ gung ho tactics at the Stadio Olimpico. “The Italian outfit are a bit like France. They’re not small, they’re big guys, and a lot of them are playing in France,” said the England forwards coach.

“Not many teams go over there and push them around and they’ve had moments in this Six Nations. They’re big men. We’ll have to play well on Saturday to beat them and that’s all we’re focusing on – beating them. “A lot has been said about the scoreline, but we’re going over there to beat them. There aren’t many teams who have gone over there and smashed Italy. They just don’t let you do that. “We’re going out there to win the game. We’ve not spoken about points difference. Let’s do what we need to do to win the game. Everything else will take care of itself. I mean that.”

* Meanwhile centre Manu Tuilagi was recalled to the England squad.

Tuilagi, 22 and who comes in for Alex Goode, had been out for six months with a chest muscle injury and has played just once for his club Leicester since his return.

However, he could be just the ideal ‘wrecking ball’ to send on against a tiring Italian defence, who caved in in the second-half of their match last Saturday against Ireland, losing 47-7 having only trailed 17-7 at the break.

“Manu trained well with us last week and today, and is up to speed with the way we want to play,” England coach Stuart Lancaster said.

“Alex Goode has done well for us off the bench and is naturally disappointed but we believe Manu, with the power and physicality he can bring, is the right choice to be included in the 23 for this game.”

England squad:

Forwards: David Attwood, Dylan Hartley, Tom Johnson, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw, Henry Thomas, Mako Vunipola, David Wilson, Tom Wood, Tom Youngs.

Backs: Mike Brown, Luther Burrell, Danny Care, Lee Dickson, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Manu Tuilagi, Billy Twelvetrees

No title means failure for Lancaster

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England coach Stuart Lancaster has said anything less than winning the Six Nations would count as a failure for his side. 

Each of Lancaster’s two previous Championships have seen England finish runners-up to Wales – England’s opponents at Twickenham on Sunday.
They remain the only major European side Lancaster has yet to enjoy a victory over and this weekend’s clash has been given added spice by the fact it will be the last time the two nations meet at Twickenham before a potentially key pool match in next year’s World Cup.
But it is the example of Wales that England hope to follow this season.
A heart-breakingly narrow 24-26 defeat by France in their opening match in Paris put paid to England’s Grand Slam ambitions.
But Wales lost their first match of last season’s Championship, to Ireland, only to take the title with four subsequent wins including a record 30-3 victory over Grand Slam-chasing England in Cardiff on the final day.
“I agree that we need to close the deal and win the tournament,” Lancaster said.
“It was the objective at the outset to try to win the tournament.
“We didn’t quite achieve what we wanted against France. That put us on the back foot.
“From that point on we’ve used Wales as motivation, after they lost their first game against Ireland last year but went on to win the title.
“In order to win a championship you have got to win four straight after losing the first. No-one has won a title on three wins.
“If we can get the win on Sunday, it’s still within our capability,” he added.
Lancaster is due to name his match-day 23 on Friday but fit-again centre Manu Tuilagi and wing Marland Yarde are unlikely to feature despite training with the squad this week following lengthy lay-offs caused by chest muscle and hip injuries respectively.
“They’d have to go some [to be selected] in the next couple of days, it’s fair to say,” Lancaster said.
“It’s a big ask for Manu to come back having had such a long period out.
“He hasn’t had any time with us in camp whatsoever, so Tuesday will be the first training session he’s done since the Wales game last year.”
Source: Rugby365

Cardiff pain to drive England

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England scrumhalf Danny Care believes he is in the best form of his career and feels the “pain and hurt” of last season’s defeat in Cardiff can drive them to the Triple Crown.

The Harlequins man scooted over for his sixth international try in the 13-10 win over Ireland, rounding off a flowing move involving domestic teammates Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown in the 56th minute for what was perhaps the most important score of his 45-Test career.

This capped another intense and punchy game from the 27-year-old, who judiciously manoeuvred his forwards around the pitch and intelligently blended accurate distribution with potent carrying around the fringes.

The resurgent No.9 was third-choice scrum half during last November’s internationals behind Lee Dickson and Ben Youngs, but is now buoyed by the faith in him shown by the England set-up.

“I’m loving every minute at the moment,” said Care, who also delivered the scoring pass for Luther Burrell’s opening try in the victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. “It’s going really well and it’s great to have the coaches trust and have confidence in me. It’s great to repay a bit of the faith they have in me.

“There was a lot of excitement going over for that try. I can’t hide my emotions at times, I was really happy to go over. I think I owe Mike one for sorting me out with the pass but it was just brilliant to score at Twickenham, that’s definitely the favourite try of my career.”

Wales are the next visitors to Twickenham next Sunday, with a first Triple Crown since 2003 dangling as motivation. Not that extra incentive is required for England after the distress of the record 3-30 defeat when chasing the Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium this time last year.

The Twickenham crowd was in fine voice during the nerve-shredding win over Joe Schmidt’s side at the weekend and Care believes home advantage can make the difference once again.

“There is definitely a feeling that we owe Wales one, last year was heart-breaking,” he said. “We’ll use a bit of that pain and that anger. But if we focus on ourselves and we play our own game we know we can be a match for anyone.

“It would be huge to win the Triple Crown. Obviously Wales played really well against France, they’ve bounced back to some good form. We know England against Wales is such a big game and we’ll hopefully use that Twickenham factor.

“It was an unbelievable feeling to play back at Twickenham. From the first moment we walked through the gates the fans were on our side. They were so loud and drove us through for that victory.”

As England recover and prepare at Pennyhill Park, Care concluded by paying tribute to the dynamic, relentless pack of forwards he is playing behind.

Highlighting the impact of Dave Attwood – nine tackles, nine rucks, three scrums and a turnover in 11 minutes off the bench – in closing out the win, Care said the whole 23-man squad bought into the game plan.

“The pack was outstanding, we knew Ireland would come with some real physical threats over the ball and try and slow it down but I thought we reacted and dealt with it quite well.

“The pack worked so tirelessly the whole game and you saw second rows chasing down wings at the end in the wide channels. I thought Dave Attwood came on and was outstanding. Everyone bought into what we were trying to do for the win.”

Source: Rugby365

RBS 6 Nations: Wales 27, France 6

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France are strutting cockahoop while Wales wallow. After all France have won both of their Six Nations matches, while Wales were thrashed last time out.

Not that Wales would normally wallow long and France are unlikely to be overconfident.

France beat England who looked better than they did and they beat Italy with a burst of 21 points from three tries early in the second half. Both of those matches were at home whereas this one will be away. Not that the playing surface at Millennium Stadium, closed roof notwithstanding, will be better than the playing surface at Stade de France.

Both sides have beaten Italy – Wales 23-15 in Cardiff and France 30-15 in Paris. France scored three tries to one but battled for most of the second half for a score that possibly flattered them. Wales and Italy each scored two tries in their match. In both matches Italy struggled for want of an adequate goal-kicker.

There is a belief that France always wins in the aftermath of a British & Irish Lions tour.

There was no such tradition before 1997 as between World War II and 1997 it happened only twice. But it has been true since then – in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. If the effect of a Lions’ tour has a debilitating effect it should be a lot worse for Wales who had 15 of the 37 tourists and 10 players in the third, deciding Test which the Lions won so comfortably 41-16.

On present form and in keeping with the aftermaths of the last four Lions’ tours, France should stay cockahoop on Friday night.

Wales has to overcome France and also the demoralising effect of Welsh Rugby Union’s decisions which have affected professional players in the country. Of Friday’s 23, seven already play in other countries and others will follow next season.

France has a particularly settled side with only one change from the team that beat Italy. Good flank Wenceslas Lauret comes in to replace South African Bernard le Roux, who drops out altogether. France has made changes to the bench where Brice Mach comes in for injured Benjamin Kayser, big Belgian Vincent Debaty for suspended Rabah Slimani who was sent off against Italy and Rémi Talès, fit again, for François Trinh-Duc.

Injury played a part in some of the Welsh changes. Luke Charteris is back in the side after his hamstring injury, replacing Andrew Coombs, and Scott Williams is out of the side because of injury. As he did against Australia in November, George North moves to centre. giving Wales a huge centre pairing. Luke Williams comes in on the wing in place of North. Not injury related but certainly behaviour related, belligerent Mike Phillips who drops to the bench while Rhys Webb moves off the bench to start. The change may well make for quicker thinking and clearing and less kicking, apart from improved behaviour.

Goal-kicking is always a crucial part of the game . Here Wales have Leigh Halfpenny, one of the very best goal kickers in the world, while Jean-Marc Doussain is also no slouch. Halfpenny probably has the edge but much depends on how the team creates opportunities – in other words in which half they ‘get’ the penalties.

Wales may play a different kind of game and we could well have the sight of two sets of creative back running at each other, two sets of creative loose forwards making life happier for the backs and two competitive tight fives going at it hammer and tongs. Much will depend on the make-up of the Welsh minds. If it gets mind, heart and sinew working in unison, they could well win this match.

What the effect of the weather will be on crowd attendance is doubtful but you would not be keen to drive through filthy weather from Aberystwith and back on a Friday. Still the rugby heart of Wales from Llanelli to Newport and up to Neath is not a long way from Cardiff and it may well be a relief to be warmly housed watching Wales play and singing Land of My and Bread of Heaven with heads thrown back and mouths wide open. They are tough people, the Welsh.

This may well be the last match that great referee Alain Rolland of Ireland will be refereeing before slipping off into retirement. It will be his 69th Test in an illustrious career – a rarity as an international player who became an international referee. He will be 48 in August, nearly six years older than the next oldest of current international referees, Steve Walsh of Australia.

Recent results:
2013: Wales won 16-6 , Paris
2012: Wales won 16-9, Cardiff
2011: France won 9-8, Auckland (World Cup semifinal)
2011: France won 28-9, Paris
2010: France won 26-20, Cardiff
2009: France won 21-16, Paris
2008: Wales won 29-12, Cardiff
2007: France won 34-7, Cardiff
2007: France won 32-21, Paris

Teams

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 James Hook.

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Hugo Bonneval, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Wenceslas Lauret, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Yoann Maestri 4 Pascal Papé (captain), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Brice Mach, 17 Yannick Forrestier, 18 Vincent Debaty , 19 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Gael Fickou.

Date: Friday, February 21
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 20.00 (20.00 GMT; 21.00 French time)
Expected weather: The weather does not affect the match as it’s roof is likely to be closed but it can affect getting to the ground. The forecast if a 40 percent chance of rain on a cold day with a high of 8°C and a low of 6°C
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

By Paul Dobson

The quest for your Remote

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Although it is week 2 of the 2014 Vodacom Super Rugby, we are actually only really kicking of the season this weekend which will make life for some very difficult in the domination of the remote control over the weekend.

We already kicked of the weekend with the first match in New Zeeland with the Chiefs beating the Crusaders 18-10 in a nail bitter.

On the South African side of things we will see all 5 of our teams in action this week and all will start in Bloemfontein when the Toyota Cheetahs host the Vodacom Bulls tonight. The Cell C Sharks will take on the Hurricanes in Durban and ending the South African sides matches of with the Xerox Lions hosting the DHL Stormers.

Their is also the Six Nations that resumes up North after a weeks break with Wales and France clashing tonight. The big match up north this weekend must be Ireland and England who will take each other on at Twickenham. Italy will host Scotland in Rome for an afternoon kick-off on Saturday.

Here is a list off all the games for you to have some good South African “Domestic Inflight”

Cheetahs v Bulls, Bloemfontein – 19:10

These two teams were hugely underwhelming in Round 1 and looked as if their minds hadn’t quite awoken from a summer slumber.  It makes for an interesting clash in Bloemfontein this weekend, as they’ll each have a point to prove following heavy criticism and back-to-back defeats would be disastrous for their prospects. I’m leaning towards the Cheetahs to cut out sloppy mistakes, whereas the Bulls look like they have further to go to improve.

Wales v France, Wales 21:30

Wales on the back foot and France improving with a young team and building towards being the team they want to be in next years World Cup, this makes it one of picks for the weekend. Wales have everything to proof after two losses and need to win to stay somehow in touch to defend their championship. France will play with much more confidence and should pull this one through but Wales are playing at home.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 22

Highlanders v Blues, Dunedin – 08:35

The Highlanders have disappointed for the last couple of seasons, despite boasting a stellar cast of players – this year, they have said goodbye to the likes of Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh, Tony Woodcock, Hosea Gear and Ma’a Nonu and look set for another unremarkable season. The Blues have more quality about them, and I’d expect them to win on the road this weekend.

Brumbies v Reds, Canberra – 10:40

These two sides approach the new season with new coaches – Stephen Larkham takes the helm at the Brumbies after Jake White departed for the Sharks, and Richard Graham takes over from Ewen McKenzie, now the Wallaby coach.  The Brumbies reached the Super Rugby final last year, but it’s difficult to see them being so competitive without White’s tactical nous, and I’d expect the Reds to edge this derby.

Sharks v Hurricanes, Durban – 17:05

The Sharks lived up to the hype with a bonus point victory over the Bulls in Round 1, and will be looking for the same again this weekend.  The travelling Hurricanes tend to blow hot and cold, but there’s unlikely to be enough puff to stop a rampant Sharks side in front of their own fans and with a competitive game already under their belt.

England v Ireland, Twickenham – 17:30

This is defiantly the game of the weekend concerning the Six Nations. England becoming a team that have all the ability to beat any team on the day and Ireland come to the fore front as the surprise package this year. This game is played at Twickenham and will be an upset if Ireland beat England on Saturday. This is a very tough one to call but I give it to England to just sneak pass the men from Ireland.

Lions v Stormers, Johannesburg – 19:10

Only 12% of players on SuperBru backed the Lions to beat the Cheetahs last weekend, but a sterling performance from flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff sealed an unlikely victory.  Can they back it up with a win over the Stormers?  It’s unlikely they’ll enjoy as many chances as the profligate Cheetahs offered them in Round 1 – the Cheetahs could and should have been out of sight in the second half – and the away side will start as favourites.

Castres v Toulouse, France – 21:30

Just to through something extra in for your Saturday, you can end the day with Castres hosting the money spending Toulouse. A few South Africans in action and a good way for you to calm yourself down after which should be an action pack Vodacom Super Rugby Saturday.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 23

Waratahs v Force, Sydney – 07:05

This Aussie derby is unlikely to shake many people out of a Sunday morning slumber, but if there’s a SuperBru GSP on the line, it might just be worth a watch. The Force have a habit of causing an upset every now and then, and have beaten the Tahs twice before in Sydney, but the home side have a lot more star quality about them, fielding headline players such as Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Michael Hooper and Jacques Potgieter.

Enjoy the ” Huis Moles” and the rugby this weekend.

France get past Italy

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France scored three second-half tries in 10 minutes to beat Italy 30-10 in the Six Nations championship on Sunday and maintain their perfect start to the competition.

Louis Picamoles, Wesley Fofana and debutant winger Hugo Bonneval all touched down between the 43rd and 53rd minutes as France sealed the result following a dull, error-ridden first half at the Stade de France.

Jean-Marc Doussain had kicked France ahead 9-3 at halftime, with Tommaso Allan scoring Italy’s points after both sides had wasted their first two attempts on goal.

The home team, who had made a strong start in last weekend’s opening 26-24 victory over England, showed much more attacking intent after the break.

Picamoles surged from a maul to cross the line three minutes into the second half, Fofana ran down the right wing for the second and debutant Bonneval finished off a splendid counter-attack to put France ahead 30-3, with Doussain converting the three tries.

The hosts were content to see out the match as their gallant opponents tried to force their way into the game.

They were rewarded with a late try to Tommaso Iannone, while Sebastien Vahaamahina was yellow carded for France and team mate Rabah Slimani and Italy’s Michele Rizzo both saw red late on after punches were thrown on the pitch.

Scorers:

France – Tries: Louis Picamoles, Wesley Fofana, Hugo Bonneval Conversions: Jean-Marc Doussain (3) Penalties: Doussain (3)

Italy – Try: Tommaso Iannone Conversion: Luciano Orquera Penalty: Tommaso Allan

Red cards: Rabah Slimani (France), Michele Rizzo (Italy)

Source: Sport24

Scotland 0, England 20

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England are preparing themselves for a pitch battle in more ways than one when they face Scotland for the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield on Saturday.

It was at the Edinburgh ground where England coach Stuart Lancaster began his time in charge of the national side with a hard-fought 13-6 win two years ago.

They now head north on the back of an agonising 26-24 defeat away to France in the first round of the Six Nations, a loss that prolonged the wait for a first Red Rose Grand Slam since England’s World Cup-winning year of 2003.

But Lancaster was sufficiently encouraged by the way England, who had been 3-16 down early on, rallied to lead 24-19 before losing to Gael Fickou’s converted try three minutes from time, to name an unchanged matchday party for the first time in his 23 Tests in charge.

The only lingering fitness doubt concerned Gloucester wing Jonny May, who went off early at the Stade de France with a broken nose.

“It’s good to be able to select the same players and they are all determined to put last week’s result behind us and build on the performance,” said Lancaster.

England showed plenty of ambition in Paris, not always a quality associated with the men in white shirts, and it will be interesting to see if they can play the same sort of game on Saturday, with captain Chris Robshaw determined they shouldn’t suffer another “plucky” defeat.

But the fact that England haven’t scored more than 15 points at Murrayfield since 2004 tells the story of how Scotland, whatever else may be happening, can always rouse themselves for rugby’s oldest international match.

And the fact Scotland, once more paying the price for a back division lacking a cutting edge, were well beaten 28-6 by Ireland in Dublin last weekend will provide additional motivation.

“Scotland will be hugely motivated by their defeat in Dublin and, as we found two years ago, Murrayfield is a tough place to play,” said Lancaster.

While England are unchanged, Scotland coach Scott Johnson has dropped captain Kelly Brown, giving the flanker’s place to test debutant Chris Fusaro and leadership duties to scrum-half Greig Laidlaw.

“Fusaro is picked to do a certain role and we believe there’s an opportunity for him to do it,” Johnson said.

“England are powerful, they have an edge to their side and are assertive and aggressive,” the Australian added.

“They will probably consider themselves unlucky last weekend but it’s not always brute force that wins these games.”

In a bid to find an elusive spark behind the scrum and so help Scotland end a run of four straight defeats by England, Edinburgh centre Matt Scott has been promoted from the bench with Tommy Seymour replacing injured New Zealand-born wing Sean Maitland.

Bad weather has often been a key factor in the quality of Calcutta Cup rugby and, should the forecast rain arrive, the 132nd Scotland-England clash may well be something of a slog.

However, a new and worrying dimension is the state of the once pristine Murrayfield pitch.

The grass at the Edinburgh ground has come under attack from parasitic nematodes this season, making scrums in particular a dangerous lottery, with the packs struggling to keep their footing on the loose turf and even backs in open play undone by the poor surface.

This week saw the Scottish Rugby Union announce plans to install a new hybrid pitch at Murrayfield in time for next season, but that may be scant consolation to the players in action on Saturday.

“I hope I’m wrong but I do have concerns that the state of the pitch will have a big influence over who wins,” former Scotland prop Peter Wright told the Daily Mail.

“Such an important game could be decided by a player losing his footing at the set-piece and giving away a penalty. That shouldn’t be the way a team wins a Six Nations match.”
Recent results:
2013: England won 38-18, London
2012: England won 13-6, Edinburgh
2011: England 16-12, Auckland (World Cup pool match)
2011: England won 22-16, London
2010: Scotland and England drew 15-15, Edinburgh
2009: England won 26-12, London
2008: Scotland won 15-9, Edinburgh
2007: England won 42-20, London
2006: Scotland won 18-12, Edinburgh
2005: England won 43-22, London

Teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain) 8 David Denton, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Moray Low, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Johnnie Beattie, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Max Evans.

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Brad Barritt, 23 Alex Goode.

Date: Saturday, February 8
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 17.00 (17.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Overnight rain clearing in Edinburgh, then becoming heavier by evening. Winds easing. High of 6°C and a low of 4°C
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

AFP & rugby365

Ireland 26, Wales 3

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6_nations_logo

Both Ireland and Wales will be looking to build on their opening Six Nations wins last week when they square off in Dublin on Saturday.

Warren Gatland’s reigning Six Nations champions started their quest for a third successive title with a 23-15 win over Italy, while Ireland kicked off their campaign by beating Scotland with ease on Sunday.

Those Round One results simply add to the sense of occasion surrounding the Aviva Stadium affair, with both sets of players having enjoyed healthy rivalries within the PRO12 and built lasting friendships on the British and Irish Lions tour Down Under last year.

And all those factors, plus the passion of the Irish in Dublin and the way in which Joe Schmidt’s men have spoken of their desire to knock Wales off their perch, means flyhalf Rhys Priestland and co are expecting a no-holds barred encounter in two days’ time.

“There’s a buzz about the place and we’re ready to have the kitchen sink thrown at us from the way Ireland have been talking,” said Priestland.

“It’s going to be hostile out there and from listening to them you can tell there’s a lot of emotion. They are the rivals we know best because both countries have four teams in the PRO12 and come up against each other quite often. We are familiar with the way we both play.

“They are on a high and are desperate to stop us winning a third title. But we are desperate to win and it doesn’t matter what we’re up against, we will give our best because it means so much to play for Wales.”

Priestland spoke candidly about the need for improvement after the opening win over the Azzurri, with the Scarlets playmaker knowing that a similarly unsatisfying second half would likely lead to defeat in Dublin.

Ireland were superb in parts against the Scots and came within a whisker of a first win over New Zealand at the end of last year and Priestland is anticipating similar performance levels from Paul O’Connell and co at the weekend.

“We are looking to test ourselves against a very good Irish team who could have beaten the All Blacks last year. It’s a massive challenge,” added Priestland.

“We are under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be, the toughest challenge we will face in the Six Nations, maybe.

“Defensively, we are going to have to be at our best. We need to improve with the ball in hand from last week, but defences win you championships.”

Recent results:
2013: Ireland won 30-22 in Cardiff
2012: Wales won 23-21 in Dublin
2011: Wales won 22-10 in Wellington
2011: Wales won 19-13 in Cardiff
2010: Ireland won 27-12 in Dublin
2009: Ireland won 17-15 in Cardiff
2008: Wales won 16-12 in Dublin
2007: Ireland won 19-9 in Cardiff
2006: Ireland won 31-5 in Dublin

Teams:
Ireland:
15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O’Driscoll, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Paul O’Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (captain), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Andrew Coombs, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Paul James, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.

Date: Saturday, February 8
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.30 (14,30 GMT)
Predicted weather: Partly cloudy but dry with a wind of 50 kph, high of 11
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), JP Doyle (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

Source: Rugby365

Ireland off to winning start

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Six Nations 2014

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has enjoyed a winning start to his first Six Nations campaign as the Irish eventually eased to a 28-6 win over a one dimensional Scotland at Lansdowne Road on Sunday.

Schmidt, who replaced Declan Kidney last year after the latter was sacked following a disappointing Six Nations, saw his side turn a shaky first-half performance which saw them lead 11-3 into a more impressive one in the second-half.

It will give them some grounds for confidence ahead of next Saturday’s home game against two-time defending champions Wales.

The Irish, who had been hit by the withdrawal just before the match of captain Paul O’Connell who picked up a chest infection, ran in three tries through Andrew Trimble, man of the mmatch Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney, winning his 50th cap.

Kearney, scoring in his second successive Test having scored in the epic defeat by the All Blacks last November, said that the Irish would have to raise their game if they were to beat the Welsh next Saturday, though, they were the only side to beat them last year.

“It is nice to get off to a winning start and very happy about that,” he said.

“However, we are under no illusions at the massive challenge that awaits us in six days. They are going for three in a row (Six Nations titles) which their coach Warren Gatland doesn’t stop telling everyone.”

Kearney said the fact Gatland dropped icon Brian O’Driscoll — who won a record Irish 129th cap on Sunday — from the final British and Irish Lions test against Australia last summer would only serve to heat up the atmosphere.

“Yes, I think it weill spice it up,” he smiled.

It was Ireland who opened the scores on 13 minutes with a Jonathan Sexton penalty.

Scotland continued to attack the Irish line and that effort was rewarded on 19 minutes when Greig Laidlaw levelled the scores with a penalty after Ireland were penalised at the breakdown

On 21 minutes Scotland were penalised for going offside at the lineout and Sexton slotted over his second penalty of the afternoon.

Scotland No8 David Denton went close to crossing the Irish line on 29 minutes when he broke from the scrum inside the Irish 22.

However, his opposite number Heaslip was alert to the threat and with some help from his teammates managed to bundle Denton into touch.

A stroke of individual brilliance by Ireland outhalf Sexton saw him dummy from deep inside his own half then step through the Scotland defence.

The Racing Metro man sprinted up the pitch before releasing Heaslip who was powering down the near touchline.

Despite touching down over the line the score was not given as his foot was marginally in touch before grounding the ball

Ireland secured the first try of the afternoon when the forwards set the platform from a lineout maul for the backs to attack.

Quick hands saw the ball worked along the backline to Andrew Trimble who made no mistake finishing off a fine Irish attack. Sexton was unable to add the conversion.

Scotland got off to a positive start in the second half when Laidlaw added a second penalty on 42 minutes.

However, Ireland responded when they drove from an attacking 5 metre lineout over the top of the Scotland defence and across the line.

It was skipper Heaslip at the base of the maul who touched down. Sexton added the conversion.

A Sexton penalty on 56 minutes all but kicked Ireland out of sight after Scotland lock Jim Hamilton was penalised at the breakdown.

Rob Kearney showed remarkable strength to shove his way past the Scotland defence and over the line finishing off an excellent piece of play.

Sexton added the conversion and despite both sides emptying their benches, the game was beyond the visitors by this stage and it was Ireland who ran out 28-6 winners at the final whistle.

6 Nations: France 26, England 24

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Six Nations 2014

France will be looking to put last year’s woes behind them when they take on England in their Six Nations opener in Paris on Saturday.

Coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s team endured a horror tournament last year in which they finished last, and only managed to notch two victories in total in 2013.

By contrast England only lost two matches last year – to Six Nations champions Wales and world champions New Zealand – and they have lost just one of their last seven Six Nations encounters with France.

England coach Stuart Lancaster has named the same pack that played against New Zealand in their last match last year, but the backline has a somewhat new look to it with wing Jack Nowell and outside centre Luther Burrell earning their first Test caps.

Saint-Andre named a backline debutant of his own in the form of flyhalf Jules Plisson, although the rest of the backline has a settled look to it.

However, with rain predicted for the Stade de France on Saturday this match is likely to come down to the performances of the respective forward packs.

France appear to have the edge in terms of experience in this area, with a number of seasoned campaigners up front, but the England pack have proven that they cannot be taken lightly and have the added benefit of continuity.

With both teams blooding new players there is an air of uncertainty hanging over the match, but no matter who is playing there is seldom very much to separate the sides so expect another hard-fought encounter.

Recent results:
2013: England won 23-13 in London
2012: England won 24-22 in Paris
2011: France won 19-12 in Auckland
2011: England won 17-9 in London
2010: France won 12-10 in Paris
2009: England won 34-10 in London
2008: England won 24-13 in Paris
2007: England won 14-9 in Paris
2007: France won 22-9 in Marseille

Teams:
France:
15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Pascal Pape (captain), 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Yoann Maestri, 20 Antoine Burban, 21 Damien Chouly, 22 Maxime Machenaud, 23 Gael Fickou.

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Brad Barritt, 23 Alex Goode.

Date: Saturday, February 1
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 18:00 (17:00 GMT)
Predicted weather: 70% chance of rain, 30 kph wind, high of 11
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)

6 Nations: Wales 23, Italy 15

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Six Nations 2014

No one has claimed three outright Championships in a row since it all began in 1883, although Wales did gain three consecutive titles in the Five Nations between 1969-71, with the 1970 crown being shared with France.

It seems as though a poor start to the Championship does not faze the Welsh either – tripping up as they did at home to Ireland in round one last season, but still going on to claim the silverware.

They became just the ninth side since it all began in 1883, and the first from Wales, to win the title outright after losing their opening match, and the only ones to do so in the Six Nations since France in 2006.

The Championship begins at Millennium Stadium on Saturday, with the current Six Nations title holders Wales playing in the opening fixture for the third time in the last four years.

Italy are the visitors who will attempt to double their tally of previous away wins in the Championship.

Italian coach Jacques Brunel said he is hoping for a “strong performance” from his side against Wales on Saturday.

Italy followed up a promising 2013 Six Nations campaign with a mediocre tour of the Southern Hemisphere in June last year and an even more worrying series of displays in the November Tests.

However Brunel, who steered Italy to a fourth-place finish last year, indicated his side should not be under-estimated.

“A win would be beautiful and obviously the result counts, but a strong performance on the field is what most interests me,” Brunel told media as he unveiled his team for the Millennium Stadium clash.

“The statistics show that Wales are the strongest side in Europe, but I think we have a team that can give a good account of itself.

“Wales’s potential is very high but I’m hoping we can stand up well throughout the game.”

Staying faithful to a formula which has had varying degrees of success for Italy over the past two years, Brunel has selected a team infused with youth as well as experience as he continues to build towards the 2015 World Cup.

No.8 and captain Sergio Parisse will help marshal an experienced scrum which, together, boast 587 caps.

Flank Mauro Bergamasco, who is back at openside, returned to Italy’s squad in November for a 37-31 defeat of Fiji, having sat out the second Test, a 20-50 defeat to Australia.

Both Parisse and tighthead prop Martin Castrogiovanni will pick up their 102nd caps for Italy respectively, only one shy of the national record of 103 held by retired prop Andrea Lo Cicero.

Wales have already forgotten their year-end defeats at the hands of South Africa and Australia – their eighth in a row against the Wallabies.

“We’re all looking forward to the Six Nations – it’s what we’re measured on,” captain Sam Warburton said last week, in a worryingly insular analysis.

The comment, admittedly a throwaway line during an on-stage interview at the tournament’s launch, was reminiscent of the 1987 World Cup, when Wales were thrashed by New Zealand in the semifinals and a leading administrator said it did not really matter because at least they had beaten the English in the quarters.

The Northern Hemisphere game has come a long way since then, and most players, coaches and administrators know that they have to strive to compete with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Warburton, on the bench on Saturday having not played since November with a shoulder injury, said the hat-trick target had been brought up as his team sat dejected in their Cardiff dressing room after their latest Australian defeat.

“Shaun Edwards [assistant coach] talked about three in a row after that Australia match,” he said.

“He said to look for positives and to go away and play ourselves into the squad for the Six Nations where we would have a chance to create history.”

With few injuries and a squad packed with players who helped win the title last year and grand slam in 2012, not to mention the bulk of the victorious British and Irish Lions side, Wales certainly look equipped to justify their position as narrow bookmakers’ favourites.

Italy averaged more possession (18 minutes and two seconds) than any other side this season, subsequently
making more carries and metres than any other side in last season’s Six Nations. The Azzurri also finished the tournament with the best line-out (90 percent) and scrum (91 percent) success rates.

Italy also had the most carries, the most metres gained, and threw the most passes last season.

Eight of the nine tries that Wales scored in the Championship came in the second half of their matches. They only conceded one themselves after the break.

Wales had the best defence overall, missing just eight percent of the tackles they attempted.

Wales also had the best rucking statistics last season, securing possession from 97 percent of all the rucks they set up.

Recent results:
2013: Wales won 26-9, Rome
2012: Wales won 24-3, Cardiff
2011: Wales won 24-16, Rome
2010: Wales won 33-10, Cardiff
2009: Wales won 20-15, Rome
2008: Wales won 47-8, Cardiff
2007: Italy won 23-20, Rome
2006: Wales and Italy drew 18-all, Cardiff
2005: Wales won 38-8, Rome
2004: Wales won 44-10, Cardiff

Teams:
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Andrew Coombs, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Francesco Minto, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Iannone.

Date: Saturday, February 1
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT; 15.30 Italian time)
Expected weather: The roof is to be closed, but it looks set to blow a gale on Saturday. Scattered showers through the weekend, some heavy and thundery, and possibly wintry over hills. High of 7°C and a low of 5°C).
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)

Source: Rugby365

Gatland opts for experience

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Gatland

Defending champions Wales have named an experienced squad on Tuesday for the 2014 Six Nations Championships in their quest to win an unprecedented third straight title.

No team has ever completed a hat-trick of Championships in the tournament’s various guises, not even the celebrated Wales team of the 1970s.

There were few surprises in the 32-man squad featuring no uncapped players unveiled by coach Warren Gatland.

The New Zealander, who coached the British and Irish Lions to a series victory in Australia last year, retained flanker Sam Warburton — also the Lions skipper — as Wales captain.

However, back-row forward Warburton has not played since suffering a shoulder injury during Wales’s 30-26 defeat by Australia at the Millennium Stadium in November and Cardiff Blues coach Phil Davies reckons the flanker is still a fortnight away from full fitness.

That doesn’t leave Warburton with much time to regain match sharpness ahead of Wales’ Six Nations opener against Italy in Cardiff on February 1.

Warburton’s fellow Blues forward Gethin Jenkins went off injured during last Saturday’s European Cup defeat by Toulon.

In the backs, centre Jonathan Davies was included even though he is set to miss the first three games of the Six Nations with the pectoral injury he sustained in Wales’ loss to South Africa in November.

Also selected was fellow Lions centre Jamie Roberts, who missed Wales’ entire end-of-year series but nevertheless is on course to return from an ankle injury for French club Racing Metro this weekend.

“We have got an opportunity to create history, and that is something we will focus on and something that will give us extra motivation,” said Gatland, who opted for a squad split between 13 backs and 19 forwards.

“We have got the three games at home and two tough away games, but when we won the Grand Slam in 2008 and 2012 we had these fixtures, so we know it can be done.

“We’ve picked a pretty experienced squad and kept it fairly tight at this stage,” added Gatland, who nevertheless said it was possible he could bring in reinforcements later in the tournament.

This year’s Six Nations takes place against a backdrop of near civil war within Welsh rugby due to a bitter dispute between the Welsh Rugby Union and the four professional regions.

The Six Nations will at least redirect attention to events on the field and Gatland said: “We know there are some politics going on at the moment, but we will put that to one side, come together as a group and focus on the rugby and what we can control.

“We can’t wait to kick off the tournament at home against Italy.”

Wales squad:

Backs (13): Liam Williams (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues); George North (Northampton/ENG), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro/FRA), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets); James Hook (Perpignan/FRA), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Dan Biggar (Ospreys); Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Racing Metro/FRA), Rhodri Williams (Scarlets)

Forwards (19):

Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro/FRA), Toby Faletau (Dragons), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Ryan Jones (Ospreys); Andrew Coombs (Dragons), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Perpignan/FRA), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys); Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Emyr Phillips (Scarlets), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Richard Hibbard (Ospreys), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Paul James (Bath/ENG)

Fixtures:

1 February: v Italy (h)

8 February: v Ireland (a)

21 February: v France (h)

9 March : v England (a)

15 March: v Scotland (h)

Source: Sport24

Welsh pulverise Poms

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Wales thrashed England by a record-breaking 30-3 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday to retain the Six Nations title and deny the visitors a Grand Slam.

Wynand Claassen’s son in Frog squad

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South African-born flanker Antonie Claassen on Monday was called up for the 23-strong French squad to prepare for the Six Nations match against England at Twickenham on February 23.

Rugby round-up

8

Scotland, Wales, the Bulls, Stormers and Lions were all winners in today’s rugby matches.

Williams the hero as Wales beat England in thriller

6

LONDON: Wales snatched a dramatic 19-12 win over England to win the Triple Crown and keep their hopes of a Six Nations Grand Slam alive at Twickenham here on Saturday.

Julian Guyer

February 26, 2012

ENGLAND 12 WALES 19

Crown clincher ... Scott Williams scores the match-winning try for Wales.Crown clincher … Scott Williams scores the match-winning try for Wales. Photo: AFP


The match was all square at 12-12 with five minutes left when Wales replacement Scott Williams stole the ball in the tackle from Courtney Lawes from some 50 metres out and hacked downfield before regathering for the only try of the game.

Leigh Halfpenny converted and Wales, who had been down to 14 men after fly-half Rhys Priestland was sin-binned, were seven points clear.

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Close call ... David Strettle of England crosses the try line, but the five points are not awarded.Close call … David Strettle of England crosses the try line, but the five points are not awarded. Photo: Getty Images

England though hit back with virtually the last move of the match as wing David Strettle went over in the corner. But he was held up in the tackle by Wales centre Jonathan Davies.

Scottish video referee Iain Ramage prolonged the agony of a crowd of more than 81,000 with several minutes study before deciding no try had been scored and Wales had just their second win at Twickenham since 1988.

And it meant England, who like Wales came into this match on the back of two wins, had suffered their first defeat under acting coach Stuart Lancaster.

Captains collide ... Chris Robshaw of England is tackled by Sam Warburton.Captains collide … Chris Robshaw of England is tackled by Sam Warburton. Photo: Getty Images

“It’s unbelievable,” gasped man of the match and Welsh captain Sam Warburton.

“We knew it would be the toughest game and it was so tough. We are over the moon to get the Triple Crown here.

“I am not going to say what the last team who won here in 2008 went on to do (they won the Grand Slam) but people invloved with that team say we have a really strong squad this time round. However, we will set aside thoughts of that and the Italy game in a fortnight and enjoy this for the moment.”

Wales players celebrate victory with the Triple Crown.Click for more photos

Wales claim Triple Crown

Wales players celebrate victory with the Triple Crown. Photo: Getty Images

Lancaster, who replaced Martin Johnson in a caretaker capacity after the World Cup fiasco, said he was proud of his largely inexperienced side.

“Wales are a team who have been together a long long time and we are a team that has been together for three weeks,” he said.

“We should take great credit from that.”

Lancaster made the bold decision to start 20-year-old Owen Farrell, playing only his third Test, at No 10 in an international for the first time after Charlie Hodgson was ruled out with a finger injury.

Farrell gave England the lead with a 23rd minute penalty.

But from the ensuing kick-off, England infringed and Halfpenny, having missed first time, was on target to make it 3-3.

Fit-again Manu Tuilagi, filling the hole left by Farrell’s move from centre to fly-half, gave England a physical presence in midfield they’d so far lacked this tournament.

It needed a brilliant tackle from Warburton to deny the Samoa-born powerhouse a try but Wales were offside and Farrell knocked over a simple penalty to make it 6-3 before Halfpenny levelled the game at 6-6.

Farrell then made light of a tricky penalty from wide on the left to give England a 9-6 half-time lead.

England’s two previous tries this tournament, one each in wins over Scotland and Italy, had been scored by Hodgson charging-down.

And they nearly had a third when his Mouritz Botha blocked Rhys Priestland’s kick early in the second half.

No try resulted this time but Priestland then went offside and was yellow-carded by referee Steve Walsh.

Farrell made it four penalties out of four and England were six points up at 12-6 with Wales a man down.

But a huge hit by Wales centre Jonathan Davies on Farrell turned an England attack into defence and Halfpenny’s third penalty cut the lead to 12-9.

Farrell then missed his first penalty from five attempts and, with 17 minutes left, England were still just three points in front.

Lancaster took off Farrell with 14 minutes and brought on the experienced Toby Flood as England looked to close out the match.

Wales then missed a great try-scoring chance when Scott Williams didn’t pass with two men outside him.

But Halfpenny tied the match with 10 minutes left and Williams then atoned in dramatic fashion.

WALES 19 (Scott Williams try; Leigh Halfpenny con, 4 pens) defENGLAND 12 (Owen Farrell 4 pens). Referee: Steve Walsh (AUS). Att: 81,598

AFP

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-union/union-match-report/williams-the-hero-as-wales-beat-england-in-thriller-20120226-1tvzf.html#ixzz1nWrQKnhW

Poms praise Barrit and Botha

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Two South African-born elements of England’s narrow Six Nations victory over old enemies Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday have earned laurels for their contributions.

Mouritz & Barritt included in England 6N squad (updated with Methos news too!)

21

England coach Stuart Lancaster picked nine uncapped players on Wednesday including Owen Farrell in a rejuvenated 32-man squad for rugby’s Six Nations.

Six Nations Fixtures

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There are 3 Six Nations games taking place this weekend where Italy will host Wales, England host France in the pick of the matches, and Scotland will play host to Ireland on Sunday.  Find your kick-off times and teams here.

Frogs beat sloppy Oirish

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Defending champion France have fed off sloppy errors from Ireland to claim victory in Dublin and join England on maximum points.

Coal Miners rout Kilts

2

Wales brought a wretched eight-match winless run to an end by beating Scotland 24-6 at Murrayfield with a try in each half from winger Shane Williams in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Associated Press

James Hook, brought in by Wales to provide some creativity at flyhalf, set up Williams’ seventh-minute try and kicked three penalties to push the visitors to a 16-3 halftime advantage.

Two penalties by Scotland No. 10 Dan Parks reduced the deficit, but Williams grounded Jonathan Davies’ kick through in the 70th to grab his 55th test try and kickstart Wales’ campaign, following its 26-19 loss to England last week.

The win will take some of the heat off under-pressure Wales coach Warren Gatland, while Scotland suffered its second straight defeat in the competition after going down 34-21 in France. It was also the Scots’ eighth defeat in nine matches against Wales and they will rue not taking full advantage when the Welsh went down to 13 men during the first half, following quickfire yellow cards to lock Bradley Davies and fullback Lee Byrne.

Hook was named as Wales’ flyhalf for the first time in two years after regular No. 10 Stephen Jones sustained a neck injury, although the latter was fit enough to make the bench.

Gatland charged the Perpignan-bound playmaker with giving the team’s misfiring backline some go-forward and inspiration, and he did just that in the seventh.

Hook spotted Scotland prop Allan Jacobsen struggling in the defensive line and darted through it, offloading 10 meters out for Williams to slide over.

The Ospreys winger is behind only Japan’s Daisuke Ohata (69) and Australia great David Campese (64) in the list of all-time tryscorers in test rugby.

Hook converted and then landed three penalties in the space of eight minutes to extend Wales’ lead to 16-0.

Scotland had been pinned back in its own half for the majority of that time and was having trouble containing the powerful midfield charges of Wales center Jamie Roberts.

The flow of the game changed when Davies was sent to the sinbin for cynically kicking the ball away at a ruck as the Scots made inroads for the first time toward the Welsh line.

Wales then lost Byrne to a yellow four minutes later, leaving the team six minutes to hold on with only 13 players. In that time, however, Scotland scored just three points – through a penalty from Parks – and the visitors had their full complement by the time the halftime whistle was blown.

Scotland remained on top in the early stages of the second half but had no cutting edge, at one stage going through 15 phases without really denting the Welsh defense and then aimlessly kicking possession away.

A second Parks penalty did trim the deficit to 16-6 in the 59th but Wales never looked threatened and nearly claimed another try when Roberts fed off turnover ball and sprinted 40 meters, only to be hauled down by Sean Lamont 15 meters out.

A penalty came moments later, though, which Hook converted before being replaced by Jones.

Williams provided further relief for the Welsh by dotting down for his 53rd try for Wales, running onto a kick forward by Davies to ground in the left corner.

Poms paste Pastas

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Wing Chris Ashton scored four tries as England overwhelmed Italy 59-13 at Twickenham on Saturday to maintain their unbeaten start to the Six Nations championship.

Frogs smash Kilts

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France look a good bet to defend their Six Nations crown, after they smashed Scotland 34-21 in an entertaining first round encounter at Stade de France, in Paris, on Saturday.

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In an opening weekend when most teams looked rather stodgy and dour, with skills levels mostly shocking, the French laid down a huge marker in this World Cup year.

They scored four tries, three of those great creative efforts. There was also a penalty try, as the French scrum monstered the Scottish pack.

In a fast-paced game – certainly the best match of the weekend – the French often left the Scottish defenders floundering with their blistering counter attacks.

There will be some concern over the fact that thew French defence let in three tries, but they were always well ahead in the game.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries: Medard, Penalty try, Harinordoquy, Traille
Cons: Parra 2, Yachvilli 2
Pen: Yachvilli
DG: Trinh-Duc

For Scotland:
Tries: Kellock, Brown, Lamont
Cons: Parks 3

Poms end losing streak

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England withstood a furious fightback from Wales to open their 2011 Six Nations campaign with a 26-19 victory and end their eight-year losing streak in Cardiff on Friday.

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Two converted tries from wing Chris Ashton and four penalties from flyhalf Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson secured a nervy victory for Martin Johnson’s men at the Millennium Stadium in a see-saw battle between the archrivals.

Wales fought back from 23-9 down heading into the final quarter to go within four points of England at 23-19 with 10 minutes left before a late Wilkinson penalty saw the visitors home.

It was England’s first win in Cardiff since 2003.

Early Welsh pressure saw a nervy-looking England concede two penalties but neither Stephen Jones nor James Hook were able to take advantage.

Instead, England gradually settled into their routine and quickly began exerting pressure on the Welsh scrum. And with their first visit to the Welsh 22, England were able to put points on the board.

Poor Welsh defence at the side of a ruck allowed Flood to burst into a gaping chasm and pop the simplest of passes to Ashton, who dived over under the posts with flourish for the opening score on 15 minutes.

Flood added a routine conversion to give England a 7-0 lead which soon became 10-0 when the Leicester flyhalf punished Wales again after another infringement at the scrum.

Wales got their first points on the board shortly afterwards when James Haskell committed a needless infringement at a ruck in front of the posts to give Jones a simple shot at goal.

England were looking dangerous again though shortly afterwards and advanced into a menacing position in the Welsh 22.

However they failed to secure possession at the breakdown and Wales swept back up field to the evident disgust of Johnson watching from the stands.

Buoyed by the deafening crowd, Wales pressed under the posts and with England scrambling to get back in position Louis Deacon committed a blatant off-side which saw referee Alain Rolland produce a deserved yellow card.

Jones added a simple penalty to make it 10-6, but thereafter Wales were unable to take advantage of their extra man.

In fact, it was England who scored next on 32 minutes, Flood slotting his second penalty when Andy Powell was needlessly off-side at the breakdown and England held on to turn around 13-6 at the break.

Jones reduced the deficit with another penalty but disaster struck Wales soon afterwards when tighthead Craig Mitchell was sin-binned for killing the ball at a ruck.

Flood added the three points to make it 16-9 and soon afterwards England turned the screw.

England’s line-out, which had functioned smoothly all night, won clean ball on the left and from the ensuing drive the ball was spun right and Mark Cueto’s miss pass sent Ashton haring in for his second try.

Flood’s touchline conversion made it 23-9 and Wales looked to be beaten. But they were gifted a route back into the match when poor marking by Shontayne Hape in midfield allowed Jonathan Davies to put Scarlets star Morgan Stoddart over in the corner.

Jones’s conversion made it 23-16 and another penalty from Hook put them to within four points heading into the last 10.

England, who by now had emptied their replacement bench, mounted a furious series of attacks on the Welsh line. But despite their pack battering Wales repeatedly, the home side somehow held firm and won a penalty when replacement hooker Steve Thompson held on too long.

Yet the respite was fleeting and when Wales were penalised with five minutes to go, Wilkinson, on as a replacement at flyhalf for Flood, stepped up to restore England’s seven-point advantage at 26-19.

Man of the Match: England winger Chris Ashton deserves a mention for his try-double, but the man who pulled the strings for the visitors was flyhalf Toby Flood, who also managed a points-haul of 13 for his country.

Moment of the Match: Definitely Ashton’s second try – after good line-out ball and Mark Cueto popping up on the right-hand side, off his left-wing – as it gave England a crucial 23-9 lead shortly before the start of the final quarter. Even though they came close, it was a deficit that proved too much for the home side in the end.

Villain of the Match: You could argue that the two yellow card recipients, Louis Deacon (England) and Craig Mitchell (Wales), should get this award. However, their sin-binnings were merely professional fouls and there wasn’t really much in it. There were some pushes and shoves… but nothing too serious in a tense match.

The scorers:

For Wales:
Try: Stoddart
Con: S Jones
Pens: S Jones 3, Hook

For England:
Tries: Ashton 2
Cons: Flood 2
Pens: Flood 3, Wilkinson

Yellow card(s): Louis Deacon (England, 29th minute – slapping ball out of scrumhalf’s hand); Craig Mitchell (Wales, 47th minute – hands in the ruck).

O’Gara drop pastes Pastas

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Ronan O’Gara landed a drop-goal with two minutes remaining to give Ireland a fortuitous 13-11 win in their opening Six Nations match against Italy in Rome on Saturday.

The teams had scored one try each in a scrappy affair that never reached any great heights, with the O’Gara drop-goal proving decisive against an Italian team looking for its first ever win over the Irish.

In fact for long period in the match it looked like the Azzurri could pull off a famous win.

They held a 6-3 lead at the break and a well-worked Luke McLean try five minutes from time saw them take a one-point (11-10) lead, only to be denied by the boot of the British and Irish Lions flyhalf, O’Gara.

Ironically, at that stage Ireland had been reduced to just 14 men, after flank Denis Leamy was yellow carded for a professional foul.

Italy took an early lead on seven minutes, as Thomas O’Leary was penalised for holding on the floor and Mirco Bergamasco kicked the penalty.

The game settled into a midfield stalemate until 20 minutes when Ireland started knocking on the door.

A good break that went wide left then saw Gordon D’Arcy cutting inside and off-loading to Luke Fitzgerald but Alberto Sgarbi got back to haul him down 10 yards out.

Ireland enjoyed more success down the left when a miss pass took Andrea Masi out of the game and saw Brian O’Driscoll almost get away.

The pressure finally told when Italy were penalised for handling in the ruck and Jonathan Sexton kicked three points.

Bergamasco pulled a penalty from 40 yards wide while flyhalf Kris Burton also missed a drop-goal attempt for the hosts.

But the hosts went in front again on the stroke of half-time as Bergamasco landed a penalty from out on the right flank, after O’Leary was punished for holding onto the man after a tackle.

Italy’s good humour didn’t last long after the restart, though, as Ireland stretched them right and then left from a scrum deep inside Italian territory with O’Driscoll bursting between props Martin Castrogiovanni and Salvatore Perugini to score.

Sexton kicked the extras.

Ireland should have had a second try on 57 minutes as they worked an overlap on the right in Italy’s 22 but O’Driscoll horribly overplayed his pass to Fergus McFadden.

Ten minutes from time Italy got the crowd going as they won a penalty 10 yards from the Ireland line and tried to heave their way over but after eventually getting the ball out, Andrea Lo Cicero spilled a poor pass from Sergio Parisse and the chance was gone.

But when Leamy was sin-binned for a trip, Italy sensed history in the making.

The Azzurri kicked a penalty to the corner and then got the drive on with the forwards before spreading the play left and after a miss pass and a half break from Gonzalo Garcia, McLean burst over in the corner five minutes from time.

Bergamasco missed the conversion but Italy led 11-10.

However, from the kick-off, Ireland went straight up the other end and O’Gara kicked over a drop-goal to give back the lead to the visitors.

Italy’s last roll of the dice was a long range drop-goal attempt from Luciano Orquera with the clock reaching 80 minutes but it had neither the distance nor the direction needed.

Man of the match: Brian O’Driscoll had his moments, some of them really enjoyable. Ronan O’Gara obviously landed the match-winning drop, but our award goes to veteran Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni for the huge amount of work he got through in general play – not to mention his power in the set pieces.

Moment of the match: There is no doubt that it is Ronan O’Gara’s drop-goal two minutes from time.

Villain of the match: Easy decision. Denis Leamy for his trip and yellow card. He could have cost his team the game.

The scorers:

For Italy:
Tries: McLean
Pens: Bergamasco 2

For Ireland:
Try: O’Driscoll
Con: Sexton
Pen: Sexton
DG: O’Gara

Yellow card: Denis Leamy (Ireland, 73 – professional foul, tripping)

Poms told to relish hate

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Martin Johnson has urged his players to embrace “the most hostile atmosphere in the Six Nations for an Englishman” when they begin their quest to win the tournament away to Wales on Saturday.

Poms in a spin about night game

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MOVE TO ATTRACT LARGER TV AUDIENCE
The controversial move to stage England’s opening Six Nations match against Wales in Cardiff on a Friday night next season has sparked fears of travel chaos and led to criticism that supporters have been overlooked in the desire by championship chiefs to attract larger television audiences.

England needs Jake White – now!

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The farce that is English rugby continues its long downward spiral, a fall from grace unchecked since 2003. Yes, they played in the 2007 World Cup finals, but only an idiot would claim they were the second best team there.