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Posts Tagged ‘2015 6 Nations’

The 4th weekend of the 2016 6 Nations has left England still on course for the Grand Slam, and already crowned 2016 champions with the final weekend still to come. In a thorough demolition of Wales at Twickenham they showed that they are much improved from the side that Wales beat there just 5 months ago. England saw off a late surge from Wales to hold on to win 25-21. In the first match of the weekend Ireland thrashed Italy 58-15 to register their first win of the Championships, and in Sunday’s match Scotland beat France 29-18, the first time they have beaten Les Bleus in 10 years!

Ireland v Italy

It is difficult to understand what has happened to Ireland in the last twelve months. To only be registering their first victory of the 2016 6 Nations in its fourth weekend is very strange for the country which has won the Championships the last two years running. Whether they have been traumatised by their heavy defeat to Argentina in the quarter finals of the World Cup, or whether it is something else, I have no idea.

Finally they put in a display which is worthy of them, running in nine tries in Dublin to wallop Italy 58-15. I did not see the game, but am pleased to see Ireland back in form.

England v Wales

This was, for any Welsh person, the big match of the weekend. The build-up during the week had been relentless, as I blogged about on Friday. But, when the game started Wales were nowhere to be seen. We were largely absent for the first 60 minutes of this match, going down 19-0 and 25-7 before we rallied in the last 7 minutes to make the final score a more respectable 25-21.

I really don’t know what happened to Wales in the first half. It is true that England were good, in fact they were considerably better than Wales. But, Wales did not look like they were interested; they looked lethargic, slow, lacking commitment and as if they did not have the will to play a decent game. We missed so many tackles in the first half that I could not believe what I was seeing, 19 missed tackles in the first half, more than we typically miss in a whole championship! The total number of missed tackles by the end of the match was 27. Crazy for a team who pride themselves on their defence. We also kept getting turned over at the breakdown, it was truly shocking. At  half time it was 16-0, and Wales were lucky to have zero.

Whatever Gatland and Shaun Edwards said at half time to the hapless Welsh players clearly had some impact, because they came out in the second half a different team. After Farrel put England ahead 19-0, Dan Biggar charged a kick down to score under the posts. Suddenly it was 19-7. Then, two more penalties to England put them 25-7 ahead, and the brief hope of a Welsh revival seemed to be extinguished.

With the score at 25-7 and only 7 minutes left on the clock the Welsh team came to life. We scored two tries in quick succession to make it 25-21, and England looked rattled. Wales could have snatched it with a late break down the touchline by George North. On replays it is clear to me that the assistant referee made a mistake, North got the ball away before he was in touch. Whether Wales would have scored a try is debatable, as the English player and man of the match Maro Itoje looked ready to nail Rhys Webb who had caught North’s pass. But, who knows? It is frustrating from a Welsh viewpoint that a bad call should deny us a possible last-gasp victory; but I must repeat that England were the better team on the day and deserved to win.

Obviously I wanted Wales to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but had they done so it would not have been a fair result as, for 60-plus minutes of this game, we were thoroughly outplayed. England deserved their victory, and Wales need to get to the bottom of how they can put in such an abject performance for 40-plus minutes of a match with as much riding on it as this one had. It is difficult to tell how good England were in the first half, as Wales were clearly below par. But, there is no doubt that England are a much better team than they were in the World Cup, and this is clearly due to Eddie Jones, their new coach.

 

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Wales’ first half display was abject, I have rarely seen such a lacklustre performance by a Welsh team since Gatland took over in 2008

Scotland v France

With Scotland beating France 29-18, this was the surprise result of the weekend. Not only have Scotland not beaten France in 10 years, but until their victory over Italy two weeks ago, they had gone some ten 6 Nations matches without a win. Now they have two back-to-back wins! By beating France they have ensured that England have won the 2016 6 Nations, irrespective of what happens in the final weekend.

Final Weekend Preview

Next weekend will be the fifth and final weekend of the 2016 6 Nations. The main question is can England go to France and win there to secure the first Grand Slam since 2003? They should do, as not only are they a much better team under Eddie Jones, but France have been pretty useless in this championships. However, of any team in the 6 Nations, France are the most unpredictable, so England cannot be complacent. England have fallen several times at the last hurdle in the last 5-6 years, but I am sure Eddie Jones will ensure that this does not happen this time.

Scotland go to Dublin on a two-match winning streak, and it is going to be very interesting to see how well a confident Scotland can do against an Ireland who are still below par and lacking confidence. I am pretty neutral when it comes to Ireland v Scotland, but I would like to see Scotland do well and lift themselves from the whipping boys they have become in the last several years.

Wales take on Italy at home for their final game. It should be a comfortable win, but the Welsh fans will want to see some expansive rugby and plenty of tries. We go on tour to New Zealand in the summer, and if we play as we have done in this 6 Nations we are going to get thumped by the All Blacks. If we beat Italy we will finish second in the table, but this should not mask the serious work that Wales need to do to improve, we have gone backwards since the World Cup. 

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What an absolutely incredible final weekend we had to the 2015 6 Nations. It went right down to beyond 80 minutes in the last game of the “super Saturday” to see who was going to win this year’s 6 Nations crown.

Italy v Wales

The first game of the weekend was Italy v Wales. With Wales going into the match with the worst points difference compared to England and Ireland, we needed to pile on the points to stand any chance of lifting the 6 Nations Championship this year.

After a disappointing first half, in which Italy were a match for Wales, the half time score was 14-13 to Wales. But, within the first ten minutes of the second half Wales moved up another gear, and ended up piling the points on to eventually win 61-20, meaning that England would have to win by at least 16 points in their match against France, and Ireland would have to win theirs by at least 20 points. Apart from letting in a last minute try, which is because Wales were trying to run it from everywhere, it was a nearly flawless second half display by us.



Wales beat Italy 61-20 in a fantastic second  half display, to put themselves right back in contention of winning the 2015 6 Nations.

Wales beat Italy 61-20 in a fantastic second half display, to put themselves right back in contention of winning the 2015 6 Nations.



Scotland v Ireland

The second match of the day was Scotland v Ireland, with Ireland not only having to beat Scotland to retain their 6 Nations crown, but to win by at least 20 points. I didn’t see this game as I had to drive somewhere, and unfortunately it was not on Radio 5 but only on Radio 5 Sports Extra, which my car radio cannot get. So I only got a few updates of the score, but much to my disappointment Ireland not only won, but won 40-10, so putting themselves above Wales in the final table on points difference.



Ireland beat Scotland 40 to 10 and so put themselves above Wales in the final table. Now, all eyes turned to Twickenham to see what England could do.

Ireland beat Scotland 40 to 10, and so put themselves above Wales in the final table. Now, all eyes turned to Twickenham to see what England could do.



Now, all eyes turned to Twickenham, to see if England could beat France by 26 points, in order to overhaul Ireland’s points difference.

England v France

As it typical of the French, they shocked everyone by putting in a pretty decent display, much better than their woeful exhibitions in pretty much all of their other games this Championships. But, England were just too strong for them, and with 5 minutes to go the scoreline was 55 to 35. One converted try and England would win the Championships. With just some two minutes to go they had a penalty, kicked for the corner and from the line-out used a driving maul to try to score.

They then got penalised in the tackle, and so France had a penalty. By this time the clock was passing 80 minutes, so all France had to do was kick to touch and the game would be over. But France decided to run the ball from their try line, and came within a hair’s breadth of losing the ball back to England. It was nail biting stuff, but finally sense prevailed and France kicked the ball out of play and the game was over. England had come close, but had just fallen short of getting the 26-point margin they needed.



England beat France by 55 to 35, coming within 6 points of the margin they needed. Close, but not close enough.

England beat France by 55 to 35, coming within 6 points of the margin they needed. Close, but not close enough.



And so, after an incredibly exciting final day, Ireland retained their 6 Nations crown, with England coming second and Wales third, with only points difference separating the three countries.



Ireland retained their 6 Nations crown after a nail-biting end to the match between England and France at Twickenham.

Ireland retained their 6 Nations crown after a nail-biting end to the match between England and France at Twickenham.



Super Saturday

There had been some discussion in the week as to whether it was fair on Wales and Ireland that England would play after them and therefore know what winning margin they would need. When it is the final day of the English Premiership in football all the matches start at the same time. So, some people have suggested that this is the way the final weekend should be in the 6 Nations.

Personally, I think it rather adds to the excitement when you have games like today played one after the other. Yes it is true that both Ireland and England knew what margin of victory they needed, but the tension in the last 5 minutes of the England v France game when they were within a converted try of getting the margin they needed was incredible. There have been three 6 Nations in a row now (or maybe 4?) when who would win the title has come down to the last weekend, and even the last game. I would leave it the way it is.

Reflections on the 2015 6 Nations

Scotland, despite showing promising signs of improvement, finish with the wooden spoon, not a single victory in the whole tournament. But, I think they are on the right path and I expect them to do better in next year’s tournament.

Italy beat Scotland, but that was their only victory. They seem to play well for the first half, and then run out of steam and get well beaten in the second half of most of their matches.

England are, for me, the most impressive team in Europe at the moment. It pains me to say this, but I think Stuart Lancaster has put together a really good squad, and they are playing with inventiveness and flair, not something usually associated with English rugby. They scored the most tries in this year’s competition, and with home advantage in the World Cup, Wales are going to find them tough to beat in the group match we have against them.

Ireland are a well coached side. They are not spectacular in their play, but what they do they do very well. Apart from their loss to Wales, they deserved to win each of their matches in this year’s 6 Nations, and did so comfortably.

And so to finish with my own country. Apart from a poor second half performance against England, Wales would have not only won the Championships, but would have won the Grand Slam. So, that is a positive. But, in that second half performance against England, they were completely overpowered. That is worrying. But, again on the plus side, Wales improved as the tournament went on (as we always seem to do, we are slow starters), and if we had been playing England in Cardiff in our last match and not our first I wouldn’t mind betting that we would have beaten them.

And, beat them of course we need to in our World Cup group game, otherwise we will not get out of the group. Most Welsh rugby fans are optimists (or delusional 😛 ), and I think with the several months that Warren Gatland will have with the side from June through to October, that Wales can give both England and Australia a good fight in the group stages. We have two warm-up games against Ireland (home and away), and with the fitness and strength work that I know Gatland has been doing with the Welsh players during this 6 Nations, I think we can build on our improving performances in this tournament. We shall see!

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Later today, at 2:30pm, Wales will take on Ireland in one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of this year’s 6 Nations. After a poor start to our 2015 6 Nations campaign, with a loss to England at home, Wales have now won two matches away from home to Scotland and France. We are now back in the hunt, and if we can pull of a win against Grand Slam-chasing Ireland, we are certainly in good shape to win 4 our our 5 matches and possibly even the 2015 6 Nations Championships.

However, Ireland present formidable opposition. They are not only unbeaten so far in this year’s 6 Nations, but are unbeaten in their last 10 matches! As I have mentioned before, they beat both South Africa and Australia in their Autumn test series, and easily beat England two weeks ago in Dublin. Of course I want Wales to win, but realistically we are going to have to play as well as we did against South Africa in November to stand any chance of overcoming a very good Ireland team.



Today's match between Wales and Ireland is a huge game for both sides.

Today’s match between Wales and Ireland is a huge game for both sides.



With all respect to Italy, whom we should beat next Saturday, today’s match is our last real test before the World Cup. So a win over a very good Ireland team would do wonders to the Welsh team’s confidence, as well as giving us a chance of winning the 6 Nations.

As the match kicks off, I will be on a bus from Valparaiso to Santiago in Chile, at the end of the cruise on which I have been giving astronomy lectures. I am hoping we get to Santiago in time to see the second half (it is being shown on the US Sports Channel ESPN2), but I am also going to look into getting a Chilean SIM-card for my phone so I can follow the match on-line on the bus! Fingers crossed that the Welsh boys can lift themselves and get what would be an unexpected win against all-conquering Ireland. I can only imagine how big the anticipation is in Cardiff today.

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Later today, France play Wales in the third round of matches of the 2015 6 Nations. The kick-off is at 5pm GMT (6pm local time). It is a must-win game really for both countries, with Wales having lost their opening match at home to England but then beaten Scotland away in the 2nd round, and France winning at home to Scotland in the opening weekend but losing away to Ireland in the 2nd round.

Wales have had the better of this encounter for the last several years, winning in Paris in 2013 and beating France at home in 2012 and 2014. But, if France play like they did in the last 20 minutes against Ireland, where they were the better team, we will have our work cut out.



But, with all respect to the two other matches, the match of the weekend is the one on Sunday, between Ireland and England in Dublin. With both teams unbeaten, and Ireland looking to retain their 6 Nations title, it could well be the championship decider, even though it is only the 3rd round of matches.

I will be in Buenos Aires by the time this post goes up, or at least on my way to Buenos Aires, I don’t think I will have quite landed. Argentina is, of course, a keen rugby nation so I am hoping I can get to see both the France v Wales and the Ireland v England matches somewhere in that city before my boat departs on the Sunday evening.

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Tomorrow evening Wales take on England in Cardiff in the opening match of the 2015 6 Nations. Two years ago England were at the end of a thrashing by Wales in their last game of the Championships (see my blog about the match here), losing 30-3 to a rampant Wales. At Twickenham last year England comfortably beat Wales, winning 29-18. Wales and England have been playing each other since 1881, with 125 matches played between them. England have won 57, Wales have won 56, and 12 matches have been drawn. So, it couldn’t be much closer really between the two countries.

Over the last 10 years Wales have had the upper hand over England, since 2005 Wales and England have played each other 13 times with Wales having won 7 times and England 6 times. However, three of these matches were World Cup warm-up matches, so if we just look at the 6 Nations matches then Wales have won 6 of the 10 since 2005, winning at home in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2013 and away in 2008 and 2012. We have lost once at home to England in the 6 Nations since 2005, namely in 2009. Wales have beaten England twice in Twickenham in this period, in 2008 and 2012, both Grand Slam years!

The Wales v England match was also the first match of Wales’ 2005 6 Nations campaign, and was the beginning of Wales’ most recent “golden era” during which we have won three Grand Slams (2005, 2008 and 2012) and four 6 Nations titles (2005, 2008, 2012 and 2013). When we beat England in that 2005 match it was the first time we had beaten them since 1999, when we beat them 32-31 due to a last-gasp try by Scott Gibbs.

Tomorrow evening’s match is important for both sides. Win your first match in the 6 Nations and a team can rapidly gain momentum; conversely losing it can suck away a team’s self belief and can mean bleak prospects for the rest of the tournament. Added to that are the additional factors that England’s last visit to the Millennium Stadium was an absolute drubbing, and that the two sides are in the same group in the World Cup later this year.

Whereas the Welsh team is at full strength with all of Gatland’s first choice players available, the same cannot be said for England who have a horrendous injury list. In fact, if Wales had so many first choice players out injured we probably wouldn’t even have a team to put out ;), but England has so many more professional rugby players than any other country that they can also boast unparalleled strength in depth.

Gatland made the unusual step of announcing the Welsh team two days early, on Monday rather than yesterday. He said it was because he would be telling the players themselves on Monday and decided he didn’t want the team selection to leak out in the intervening two days. But, I suspect it is more to do with England’s extensive injury list and Gatland playing mind-games with his opposite number Stuart Lancaster by highlighting how settled the Welsh team is. This is exactly Gareth Thomas’ take on it too, see below. Apart from the question as to whether Gatland would start with Liam Williams in the back three, the rest of the team had pretty much picked itself and most Welsh rugby fans could have named it two months ago after we beat South Africa 12-6 in Cardiff.



Is Gatland's decision to name the Welsh team two days earlier than planned a question of playing mind-games with his England opposite number?

Is Gatland’s decision to name the Welsh team two days earlier than planned a question of playing mind-games with his England opposite number?



Make no mistake, tomorrow evening’s game is massive for us here in Wales. Having been to a 5 Nations match in Twickenham (back in 1983! It was England v France), the atmospheres do not compare. All of Cardiff is taken over by rugby fans on an international day, with the iconic Millennium Stadium being right in the centre of the city. Also, the design of the stadium with the steep stands means the crowd are nearly on top of the pitch, creating an atmosphere which is just not found in any other rugby stadium.

England can expect to be faced with a wall of noise from 74,000 passionate Welsh fans. I have not heard whether the roof will be closed or not, Gatland has stated that he wants it closed but it requires both teams to agree so it will be up to England to decide. But, whether open or closed I think we can expect a ferocious encounter, and I am confident Wales can win and level the series between the two rivals at 57 wins each.

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Over the weekend Adam Jones announced that he was retiring from international rugby. Although not as widely known to casual rugby fans as some of the more glamorous players, Jones has been one of the most important players in the Welsh team since his international debut in 2003. At tight head prop, he did the hard graft in the front row which was the foundation stone of the Welsh scrum, and many pundits think he has been one of the best tight head props in the game in the last decade.

He is also one of only six post-war Welsh players to have won three Grand Slams, the others being J.P.R Williams, Gareth Edwards and Gerald Davies in the 1970s; and Gethin Jenkins and Ryan Jones in the 2005, 2008 and 2012 Grand Slams along with Adam. As I mentioned in my blog about Gatland’s announcement of the Welsh squad for the 2015 6 Nations, Adam’s omission was one of the main talking points. After also not having been included in the 2014 Autumn Tests squad, he has decided to bring to an end an international career which saw him get 95 caps for Wales, and five test appearances for the British and Irish Lions.



Adam Jones has retired from international rugby after winning 95 caps for Wales.

Adam Jones has retired from international rugby after winning 95 caps for Wales.



Having only ever played as a back, the details of what goes on in a scrum are largely a mystery to me, and even more so what goes on in the front row. But, it would seem that Adam has been struggling to adapt his scrummaging technique to the new laws which have been introduced last season, and it is possibly this combined with his age which have seen him fall out of favour with Warren Gatland. Whatever the reasons, Adam himself has expressed his disappointment at being left out of the 2015 6 Nations squad, and has made the difficult decision to quit the international game. I hope rugby fans from Wales and beyond will recognise what a wonderful servant he has been of Welsh rugby these last 12 years.

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On Tuesday Wales head coach Warren Gatland announced his squad for the upcoming 2015 6 Nations tournament. The tournament will start in just over two weeks’ time on the 6th of February with Wales taking on England at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in a Friday evening match. Gatland announced a squad of 34 players, and one of the headlines is that New Zealand-born Gareth Anscombe has been named in the squad, having decided to pledge his allegiance to Wales through his Welsh mother. Anscombe moved to Wales last summer and has been playing for the Cardiff Blues this season. He is one of four uncapped players in the squad.



New Zealand-born Gareth Anscombe has been named in the 2015 6 Nations squad.

New Zealand-born Gareth Anscombe has been named in the 2015 6 Nations squad.



The other headlines from the squad announcement is which players have been left out. Fly half and “utility back” James Hook has once again been overlooked by Gatland, despite performing well for Gloucester this season. Veteran tight-head prop Adam Jones is also left out, despite their being injuries to Rhodri Jones and Nicky Smith, leading many to believe that Gatland would include the 95-times capped Jones.

The full squad is

Forwards

Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Paul James (Bath), Rob Evans (Scarlets), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues), Richard Hibbard (Gloucester), Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Bradley Davies (Wasps), Luke Charteris (Racing Metro), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), James King (Ospreys), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, capt), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Backs

Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Cory Allen (Cardiff Blues), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Tyler Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons), Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), George North (Northampton Saints), Liam Williams (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon).

The full schedule of games for Wales is

  • Friday the 5th of February – Wales v England – Kick-off 20:05
  • Sunday the 15th of February – Scotland v Wales – Kick-off 15:00
  • Saturday the 28th of February – France v Wales – Kick-off 18:00
  • Saturday the 14th of March – Wales v Ireland – Kick-off 14:30
  • Saturday the 21st of March – Italy v Wales – Kick-off 13:30

This will, of course, be the last 6 Nations before the 2015 Rugby World Cup. With Wales also being drawn in the same group as England, doing well in this 6 Nations will play an important role in giving the Welsh side confidence going into the World Cup. I will preview the Wales v England match once the team for that game is announced.

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