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Later today Wales take on England in the 2017 6 Nations. Unfortunately for Wales, this is only our second game of the championships, and I don’t think we are up to speed yet. Yes, we won convincingly in Italy last Sunday, but our first half display showed many of our weaknesses. England, on the other hand, battled to a win against France, and with only 10 minutes to go they looked like they would lose. So, which side will be better prepared for today’s clash?

Wales have two injury worries to deal with. Both Dan Biggar (outside-half) and George North (wing) suffered injuries against Italy. They have been named in the starting 15, but Rob Howley may find that they fail final fitness tests and do not play. Should Dan Biggar not start, then Sam Davies will start in his place. Davies is a more attacking outside-half than Biggar, and personally I think that he gets the backline moving better. But, if Biggar is fit I would prefer to see him start, with Davies coming on at about 60 minutes as the game opens up for the last quarter.

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Both Dan Biggar and George North are doubts for today’s clash with England. They have been named in the starting 15, but both suffered injuries against Italy last Sunday.

The other impact player which Wales will hope to bring on during the last quarter is our outstanding number 8 Taulupe Faletau. He has been injured, so has not played much rugby in the last few months. But, I am sure that he has kept himself fit enough to put in a barn-storming 20 minutes and I’m in no doubt that he will be brought on as impact replacement.

England have only won two of their last seven visits to Cardiff, so their coach Eddie Jones will be doing all he can to tell his players that they should not fear the Millennium Stadium. But, if you have ever been to this cathedral of rugby you will know that it is intimidating. England have opted to leave the roof open, which does reduce the noise in the stadium somewhat. But, with 74,500 supporters, most of them shouting for Wales, do not underestimate how intimidating that will be for England. And, with England unbeaten under Eddie Jones, there is nothing Wales would like more than to be the first country to break this winning streak. Beating England is not the be-all and end-all of Welsh rugby, but it is very sweet when we do beat our larger, noisier neighbour.

The head-to-head between Wales and England is almost tied. They have played each other 129 times. England have won 60, Wales 57, with 12 matches being drawn. Will it be 61 to 57, or 60 to 58 after today? We will know in a few hours……

DERE ‘MLAEN CYMRU!!!! / COME ON WALES!!!!

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The first weekend of the 2017 6 Nations is over, and it threw up a few surprises. On Saturday, Scotland beat Ireland in Edinburgh, and England came close to being beaten by France at Twickenham. Yesterday (Sunday), Wales won comfortably in Rome, but not before Italy gave Wales a bit of a scare in the first half.

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Wales beat Italy in Rome by 33-7 to get their 2017 6 Nations campaign off to a positive start.

Scotland v Ireland

The biggest upset of the first weekend was Scotland’s surprise win over Ireland. Ireland had gone into this 6 Nations being tipped by many pundits as the favourites to win the tournament. They were not favourites with the bookmakers, but that is because few of them can see beyond England. But, with many (most?) rugby experts, Ireland were felt to be the team most likely to win the title this year.

Scotland, however, had different ideas. In a blistering first half they went 14-0 up with two wonderful tries. They then scored a third try, and were 21-5 up before Ireland slotted a penalty to bring the half-time score to 21-8. The second half saw Ireland surge back to go into the lead 22-21. Scotland teams of the last few years would have folded at this point, but this Scotland team showed glimpses in the autumn of having reached a level not seen by any Scotland team since the 1990s. They scored two more penalties and deservedly won a stunning match 27-22.

England v France

It has, of course, become a total cliché that you never know which France will turn up, and this match against England was a perfect example of why that cliché is so true. France came out with all guns blazing, and were by far the better team for most of this match. It was 9-9 at half-time, but England were lucky that France didn’t didn’t go into half-time with a comfortable lead. France then went up 16-12 in the second half, and I believe a more experienced and better composed French team would have closed out the match. But, inexperience combined with some astute substitutions by England saw them score a converted try to snatch the game 19-16. Their unbeaten run under Eddie Jones continues.

Italy v Wales

Wales usually start each run of games poorly, so having Italy as the first match was a bit of relief as they are still the easiest side in the 6 Nations to beat. However, Wales have lost in Italy, twice I think since Italy joined the annual tournament. And, during the first half Wales could not convert their possession and territory into points. I was a little baffled that, so early in the match, we turned down kickable penalties to go for touch with the aim of scoring a try. I think this was a mistake so early in the match, and Italy went into half time with a 7-3 lead, even though Wales had dominated.

The second half was much better for Wales. At 50 minutes Rob Howley replaced both props, and suddenly Wales were in the ascendancy. One of the Italian props was sin-binned for dropping to his knee in a scrum, and Wales ran in two tries during the time that Italy were down to 14 men. With some 5 minutes to go George North ran from his own 22 to score Wales’ third try, and the possibility was on to score a fourth try and win a bonus point. Liam Williams came very close in the dying seconds, but failed to ground the ball so the match ended 33-7. It was a comfortable win, but I would not say that Wales were that impressive. We should have cut loose in the second half as Italy became more and more disorganised.

Next weekend

I will preview next weekend’s matches properly on Friday, but it sees Ireland go to Italy, Scotland go to France, and England come to Wales. For me, the question is whether England’s relatively poor performance against France is a good or a bad thing for Wales. Some times sides come back stronger after a defeat, and I am sure had England lost against France they would be coming down to Cardiff all fired up to make amends for their defeat. As it is, they scraped a win without deserving it and putting in their worst performance under Eddie Jones. Does this mean that they will come down to Cardiff with their confidence dented, or with a feeling that they can win in Cardiff without playing that well?

As for Wales, we won comfortably in Rome but it was a stuttering performance. We looked very good in the last 20 minutes, and were the better team in the first quarter and the third quarter of the match, but during the second quarter Italy were better than us. We failed to convert lots of chances in the first half, but during the second half we did a lot better in this regard. As even Jeremy Guscott, the ex-England centre, said on TV last night, if the best players in Wales’ side play the kind of game which they are capable of playing we should beat England. Unfortunately, they have not shown that kind of consistency of play for over 3 years now. It will be a fascinating encounter.

 

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Going in to the 3rd weekend of the 2016 6 Nations  there were three unbeaten countries – England, France and Wales. With Wales beating France on Friday, and England beating Ireland on Saturday, the scene is now set for a showdown between England and Wales in the fourth round in a fortnight.

Wales v France

This match was the first of the weekend, being played on Friday evening in Cardiff. I am currently in Namibia (Southern Africa), but there was no problem finding a place to watch the match as all the 6 Nations games are being shown on a South African sports channel here. I watched the Wales v France game in a restaurant, but I have to say I found the contents of my plate far more interesting than the first half of this match.

Wales went in to half-time 6-3 ahead in a dour first half. Thankfully the second half was slightly better; Wales quickly opened up a 19-3 lead thanks to a try by George North and a conversion and two penalties by Dan Biggar. However, the highlight of the second half for me was the wonderful defence that Wales showed in keeping France out during a 15-or-so minute siege of their try line.

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Wales defeated France 19-10 in Cardiff on Friday evening

France did get a consolation try when the game was all but over, to leave the final score 19-10. This scoreline gives a slightly false impression of the game; a game in which France created nothing and looked even worse than a lacklustre Wales. Wales have now beaten France five times in a row, the last time we lost to them was the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup in November 2011. Additionally, Wales have now gone undefeated in seven straight 6 Nations matches; our last defeat was to England in Cardiff in the opening match of the 2015 6 Nations.

Italy v Scotland

I saw nothing of this game, but I am pleased to see that Scotland halted their abysmal run of 6 Nations defeats by finally registering a win, beating Italy 36-20 in Rome. They showed such promise in the World Cup, and I really hope they can use this win to start winning some 6 Nations matches and playing as well as they did in last year’s World Cup. The 6 Nations is better when playing against Scotland are not a guaranteed win, as it seems to have been for almost all the other countries for the last several years.

England v Ireland

I did not watch this match, but I followed it on the internet. England had a narrow 6-3 lead at half-time, and went down 10-6 through a try by Ireland scrum half Connor Murray. From what I read, in a short 10-minute period in the second half they scored two tries and went from 6-10 down to a 21-10 lead, which they never relinquished, despite having 2 players sin-binned. So far, they are the team that have most impressed me in this 6 Nations, they have found a new lease of life under the new coach Eddie Jones.

Twickenham callling

The fourth round of 6 Nations matches in a fortnight’s time, and the big match is England v Wales in Twickenham on the 12th. Thankfully I will  be back from my travelling for that match, so far I have been away for all three rounds. This game is massive for both sides. For Wales it is, of course, a chance to not only defeat the old enemy, but to win two matches in a row at Twickenham for the first time since the 1970s, and to scupper England’s chance of a Grand Slam and to leave us with the strongest chance of winning the Championships ourselves (with only Italy at home remaining).

For England, it is an opportunity to put the nightmare of their defeat by Wales and their exit from the World Cup behind them. There is absolutely no doubt that both sides will look upon it as the biggest match of the 6 Nations, and I expect a very fiery encounter. if Wales are to stand any chance of winning they will certainly have to play better than they have so far done in this 6 Nations. But, a sign of a good team is when they win and don’t play particularly well in doing so. I think this is true of this Wales team. We shall see in Twickenham!

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On Saturday (6th of February), the 2016 6 Nations begins. This year, for the first time that I can remember, the games are not all on the BBC, but rather are being split between the BBC and ITV. This is because they found that they had to work together to see off a bid from Sky Sports; and thus retain the 6 Nations on free-to-air TV.

Wales start their 6 Nations campaign with an away game on Sunday 7th February against Ireland, never an easy place to go. Because of the way the 6 Nations schedule works, the season in which we play Ireland away is also the season we play England away. But, we have 3 home games; against Scotland, France and Italy. Wales’ full 6 Nations 2016 schedule is

  • Ireland v Wales – Sunday 7th February – KO 15:00 GMT (on ITV)
  • Wales v Scotland – Saturday 13th February – KO 16:50 GMT (on BBC)
  • Wales v France – Friday 26th February – KO 20:05 GMT (on BBC)
  • England v Wales – Saturday 12th March – KO 16:00 GMT (on ITV)
  • Wales v Italy – Saturday 19th March – KO 14:30 GMT (on BBC)

 

The schedule of matches for Wales in the 2016 6 Nations

The Wales team, management and fans were not particularly happy with the performance in the World Cup. Although we were ravaged by injuries, we could and should have beaten South Africa in the quarter finals; getting to at least the semi finals as we did in 2011 was our target. Therefore, I suspect that Wales will perform very well in this upcoming 6 Nations (there goes the kiss of death!). We will be looking to win all of our home games, but unfortunately our first match is away to defending title-holders Ireland. 

Going to Dublin is never easy, but how both teams play in their opening fixture may depend on how they each react to their respective quarter final defeats. Whereas Wales were narrowly defeated by a last minute try against South Africa, Ireland were thoroughly thrashed by a rampant Argentina. How psychologically bruised Ireland are from this mauling remains to be seen. 

If we can sneak a win in Dublin in our opening game I think we will be very difficult to beat in any of the remaining matches. We get the chance also to build on the wonderful victory over England in Twickenham, beating them in this 6 Nations will make it two wins in a row away to England, and I cannot remember the last time that happened (the 1970s probably!)

 

Wales will be hoping to win their 3rd Grand Slam under Warren Gatland. They have won a Grand Slam in each year after the previous two rugby World Cups (2008 and 2012)

Wales will be hoping to win their 3rd Grand Slam under Warren Gatland. They have won a Grand Slam in each year after the previous two rugby World Cups (2008 and 2012)

Whatever the Southern Hemisphere rugby nations may say, the 6 Nations is far and away the best annual rugby tournament. It brightens up the dismalwinter days of February (as I type this I’m in sunny and warm Buenos Aires but that’s a different story!), and the travelling legions of rugby fans who go to the away games of their countries is something that New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina just cannot match.

DERE ‘MLAEN CYMRU!!!!! / COME ON WALES!!!!!

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The first weekend of the 2015 6 Nations is over, and obviously for me as a Welshman it was hugely disappointing to see Wales lose to England on Friday evening. But, apart from that game which Wales were expected to win, I don’t think there were any other surprises. Defending champions Ireland beat Italy comfortably in Rome, and France beat Scotland at home in Paris, despite a greatly improved performance by the Scots.

Wales v England

The opening match of the 2015 6 Nations was the hugely anticipated Friday evening clash between Wales and England. Wales v England is always a huge match for the Welsh, but with the two countries being drawn in the same group for this year’s World Cup, this match had an extra edge to it. Tension had been building all week in Wales, and on Friday evening just before the match the anticipation of the encounter was palpable.

Wales went into the match as favourites, partly due to the 30-3 drubbing they inflicted on England the last time the Red rose came to Cardiff, and partly because of the huge injury list that Stuart Lancaster was facing. But, despite a dream start of being 10-8 within the first eight minutes, and being up 16-8 at half time, in the second half England just upped their game and sucked the life out of the Welsh team, particularly up front. As every rugby fan knows, matches are won by the forwards, and particularly the front five. In the second half the English pack totally dominated the Welsh pack, out muscling them in every aspect of play.



The front page of Saturday's Western Mail sums it up really.

The front page of Saturday’s Western Mail sums it up really.



This match wasn’t even close. Although the final score of 21-16 suggests that it could have gone either way, once England had scored a converted try just a few minutes into the second half,to bring the score back to 16-15, I personally had no confidence that Wales could maintain their lead and win. In contrast to the matches between Wales and both Australia and New Zealand in the autumn, where Wales were competitive until well past 70 minutes, even by early in the 2nd half it seemed obvious to me that England had the better of Wales, largely due to their total dominance up front. I have not seem the Welsh pack being out-muscled in this fashion in a long time, and theories are aplenty in Wales as to why this might be.

England could and should have scored two more tries, which had they been converted would have meant a final score of 35-16, which to me would have been more reflective of England’s dominance. Wales were just not good enough, completely and utterly outplayed by England in the second half, or really after the first twenty minutes. It was a much larger margin of defeat for Wales than last year’s game in Twickenham, despite the scoreline being closer.



Despite being up 16-8, Wales were turned over in the second half by a rampant England who won comfortably in Cardiff, exorcising the ghosts of their humiliation two years ago

Despite being up 16-8, Wales were turned over in the second half by a rampant England who won comfortably in Cardiff, exorcising the ghosts of their humiliation two years ago



Italy v Ireland

I watched the first half of this match, which ended 9-3 to Ireland, but it was so uninteresting that I didn’t bother watching the second half. Typical of my luck that the game should improve considerably, with Ireland ending up comfortable winners 26 to 3. Ireland are not only the reigning 6 Nations champions, but after beating both South Africa and Australia in their autumn test series, they are many peoples’ favourites to retain their title. Wales will play Ireland at home, in their 4th match of the 6 Nations, and that match could be the match which decides whether Ireland do indeed retain their title.



After a reasonably close first half, defending champions Ireland were easy winners in Rome

After a reasonably close first half, defending champions Ireland were easy winners in Rome



France v Scotland

Scotland yet again came up short in Paris, it has now been far too many years since they won there. But, it was a greatly improved performance by Scotland, and they certainly won’t be a push-over for Wales next Sunday up in Edinburgh. They scored the only try of the match, and are developing under the new coach into a side which in a year or two will no longer be the pushover they’ve been the last several years.



France beat Scotland xxx in Paris. But, it was a greatly improved performance by Scotland over previous trips to Paris.

France beat Scotland 15-8 in Paris. But, it was a greatly improved performance by Scotland over previous trips to Paris.



Next weekend

The opening match of the 2nd weekend of the 6 Nations will be England against Italy at Twickenham. This should be an easy win for England, and when a team has won 2 from 2 in the 6 Nations they become very difficult to beat as confidence builds. Later on Saturday is Ireland v France in Dublin, and with Ireland’s current form I think they will win reasonably comfortably. The final match of the weekend will be Scotland v Wales on the Sunday in Edinburgh. I think Wales will win as I think we will just be too strong for Scotland, but should we lose and the Wales 2015 6 Nations would have every chance of becoming a disaster with two losses from two.

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Scotland v Wales

This match was ruined by the referee. I think I heard that it set a new 6 Nations record for the number of penalties awarded. It seemed to be a succession of penalty infringements punctuated by some rugby here and there. I really don’t see why the referee didn’t send one or two players to the sin-bin if he was so concerned about the number of infringements. Wales scored the only try of the match, and so for the 3rd game in a row stopped the opposition from crossing the try line. It is also Wales’ 3rd win on the road, after their loss to Ireland at home in the opening weekend of the 6 Nations.


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Ireland v France

France came very close to losing this game, they only managed to salvage a draw in the last 10 minutes. It has been the worst 6 Nations ever for France, and you would probably have to go back several decades to the last time they did this poorly in the old 5 Nations. Ireland too have performed much below their usual consistent standard, and go to Rome next weekend with Italy feeling they have every chance of beating them.


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England v Italy

This turned out not to be the stroll in the park that England expected. Maybe they were thinking too much of their match against Wales next weekend, but they only just scraped a victory against Italy. In fact, in the second half, Italy were much the better team.


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The final weekend

Next Saturday (16th of March) will be the final weekend of the 2013 6 Nations. All eyes will be on the second game of the day, Wales v England in Cardiff. Sadly I will not even be in Cardiff, as I am going to Liverpool to give a talk on the Friday and am staying up in the city for the weekend. I will have to find a nice Welsh-friendly pub in Liverpool in which to watch the game.


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Because England only won by 7 points against Italy, it means that Wales can not only derail England’s Grand Slam hopes by beating them next Saturday, but we can also win the Championships ourselves if we win by 8 points. This is not too high a mountain to climb. If we win by 7 points we can still win the Championships, as long as England do not score two more tries than us in the game.

Obviously I am very biased in these matters (but not wholly so, I have been as critical of Wales as anyone when we have played badly), but I really think Wales will go into next Saturday’s game really believing we can beat England and beat them by 8 points. Wales’ confidence is sky high after 3 wins on the road, whereas England were very poor against Italy, and will not be anything like as confident. So much of modern test rugby is down to confidence these days, and I think with our confidence high and 75,000 Welsh supporters baying for English blood, that we can spoil their party and rain on their parade in a major way.

We shall see!

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Tomorrow is the third weekend of the 2013 6 Nations. There has been a fortnight’s break since the last round of matches, two weeks in which the Welsh squad have hopefully been able to build on their fantastic win against France in Paris so that they can go to Rome and get a victory against Italy.

On Tuesday (19th of February) Wales announced their team for Saturday. The surprise is that Sam Warburton, who is fit again after his shoulder injury, is not starting but is on the bench. This means that Ryan Jones will captain Wales for the second time this 6 Nations, despite Sam Warburton starting the 6 Nations as captain. I heard Rob Howley, the interim Welsh coach, on Tuesday describe Ryan Jones as a natural leader, and I think I am right in saying he has now captained Wales more times than anyone else in history. One of our other main players Alun Wyn Jones is also back fit after a long layoff and surgery, he too starts on the bench.


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On the plus side, Wales have now put together 120 minutes of good rugby, the second half against Ireland and the whole match against France. But, we must not take Italy for granted. Although Italy disappointed against Scotland two weeks ago, they were just as good against France three weeks ago as Wales were two weeks ago. We have lost to Italy before in Rome, and if we lose tomorrow our 6 Nations will go completely off the rails.

If, however, Wales can win tomorrow, then I am optimistic that we can go to Scotland in two weeks’ time and win there. if we manage that, who knows what we can achieve in our final game against England at home in Cardiff in the last game of the 6 Nations.

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