Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

I vaguely remember writing a similar title a few months ago, but with “England” instead of “Ireland” in the title. Well, this time it is our Celtic cousins who have impressed me, and Wales who have continued to disappoint and frustrate. On Saturday (5 November), we played Australia in the first of our 4-match autumn test series. I blogged about the series here. To say that we got off to a bad start would be an understatement, Wales were woeful and lost the match 32-8. We were 20-3 down at half time, totally outplayed in the first half by a better, faster, more creative Australia. Things improved very slightly in the second half, but not by much really. It is one of the worst performances by Wales of the last 5-6 years.


Wales slumped to a 32-8 defeat to Australia in the first of their 4-match autumn test series. We were woeful in the first half, but not really that much better in the second.

Later on Saturday, Ireland played world champions New Zealand in the first test of their autumn series. But, not in Dublin as one might have expected, but instead in Chicago! As part of the International Rugby Board’s attempts to broaden the interest in rugby, the match was played at Solider Field, home of the Chicago Bears. When I worked at the University of Chicago I drove past Soldier Field on dozens of occasions. I wonder what odds I would have got on a bet that it would be where Ireland would get their first ever victory over the mighty All Blacks! I am thrilled for Ireland, and as they play New Zealand a second time, in Dublin, in a few weeks’ time I hope that they can repeat it in front of their home fans.


Ireland beat New Zealand for the first time in 111 years of trying. The game was played at Soldier Field in Chicago, part of the attempt to increase the popularity of rugby in the USA.

But, back to Wales. Where on earth do we go from ┬áhere after such an abject performance? It is just because it is the first match of the series, and we will get better as the series progresses? Is it because interim coach Rob Howley needs to get his players to buy into his way of doing things? It is because Australia are a very very good side, and we just were outclassed? Our next match is against Argentina, who thrashed Ireland in the quarter finals of last year’s world cup. I await to see how we get on against them, Japan and South Africa before I come to any conclusions, but we could not have had a worse start to the series ­čśŽ

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What a finale it was to the 2014 RBS 6 Nations. With less than 10 minutes on the clock it was 22-20 to Ireland, but a win by France would snatch the Championship away from Ireland and give it to England. France were awarded an easy penalty, but somehow missed it. They then scored a try in the dying seconds, but the final pass was clearly forward so it was disallowed. Ireland hung on to win their second 6 Nation championships, a fitting send-off to Brian O’Driscoll in his final international match.

Italy v England

If England had managed to run up a massive score, they could have made the Title theirs irrespective of what happened in Paris. They had a good go at it, and winning by 52-11 shows how dominant they were, but it was not a large enough margin. They would need France to beat Ireland in Paris to secure the Title. England looked totally dominant and comfortable, and are playing the sort of rugby which I think will make them very difficult for Wales to beat in next year’s 6 Nations or in the World Cup (where they are in the same group). They are definitely a team on an upward curve, and but for a try out of the blue by France in their opening match in Paris, England would have won the Grand Slam.


Wales v Scotland

After our loss to England in Twickenham last Sunday, this match was all about going out on a positive note for Wales. Just after 20 minutes, Scotland’s full back and probably their best player Stuart Hogg made the most ridiculous challenge on Wales outside half Dan Biggar. Initially the referee gave him a yellow card, but the video replay showed that Hogg had hit Biggar in the face with his shoulder, and so the referee changed the decision to a red card. From then on there was only going to be one winner, and Wales eventually romped home 51-3.


It is difficult to know what the score would have been had Scotland not been reduced to 14 men. I think Wales would still have won comfortably, as Scotland were poor, but maybe by not such a huge margin. It was a record win for Wales over Scotland, and so dominant were Wales that they ran in tries from everywhere. It was a nice confidence booster after the defeat at Twickenham.

France v Ireland

With England having beaten Italy as expected, it all came down to the final match. If France won, the title would go to England on points difference, but if Ireland were to win, they would win the title on points difference. For the first time this 6 Nations, France actually turned up to play some rugby. Being a Welsh rugby fan is frustrating enough, but being a French rugby fan must be ten times worse. When they choose to play rugby France, are probably the most talented team in the World, but for some bizarre reason they come out in most games looking like they’d rather be anywhere else but on a rugby field.

France could have won this match. They had a simple penalty to go 23-22 ahead, but somehow they missed it. Then, in almost the last move of the game, they scored a stunning try in the corner. For a moment it looked like they had indeed stolen the victory, but video replays showed that the final pass was well forward. Ireland breathed a huge sigh of relief, and won their second 6 Nations title after their Grand Slam of 2009.


I am delighted for Ireland, not just because they are fellow Celts, but there could not have been a better finale to the glittering rugby career of Brian O’Driscoll than for him to win his 2nd 6 Nations title. And very fitting that he should do it in the same stadium where he burst on to the international scene in 2000 with a stunning hat-rick against Les Bleus. Ireland are going to miss his mercurial skills, and the World of rugby will be poorer for his retirement.

My summary of the 6 Nations

The team that impressed me most in this 6 Nations were England. They have improved a lot since Wales thrashed them a year ago in Cardiff. They are developing an impressive style of rugby, with a good balance between forward power and creative back play. They are going on a tour of New Zealand in June where they will play three Tests, and it will be very interesting to see how they get on. I would conjecture that one win in this 3 match series would be considered a positive result.

France continue to be an enigma. I really don’t understand what their coach is trying to do, and as I’ve said above and before, half the time (or more) they look like they don’t even want to be playing. But, France can beat any team including New Zealand on their day, and one should never write them off in any competition.

Ireland are going to miss Brian O’Driscoll enormously, and I would be surprised if they do as well in his absence. Although their new coach Joe Schmidt is clearly a canny cookie, I personally think they are going to suffer a slump over the next 12-18 months, but we shall see. Scotland and Italy remain far adrift of the other four countries in the 6 Nations, the gulf between them seems to be growing.

And so finally on to Wales. Wales had a “famine and flood” 6 Nations. Two very convincing home wins against France and Scotland, one mediocre home win against Italy, a loss to England in Twickenham and an absolute thumping by Ireland in Dublin. The general consensus from the rugby pundits is that Wales have not moved forward since a year ago, whereas England and Ireland have improved.

In June, Wales go on a two Test tour of South Africa, one of the toughest places to play rugby. Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny won’t be going as they both have dislocated shoulders. Gatland may choose to rest other key players after the Lions’ tour of last summer and a long season. I cannot see Wales winning either Test to be honest, but what we need to ensure is that we don’t come back from there with our confidence shattered by two heavy defeats. We need to be competitive and push South Africa, even if realistically we are not going to beat them.

Then, in November, we have matches against New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Fiji. Again, realistically I cannot see us winning against the Southern Hemisphere big three in the Autumn, but we need to gain confidence from such games rather than come off feeling second best and inadequate. The 2015 6 Nations will be crucial in how Wales go into the 2015 World Cup, where we have to beat either England or Australia to qualify from our group.

Given that good teams have managed to nullify Warren Gatland’s game plan, I feel now is the time to try some different approaches. South Africa is not a place we are expecting to win, so why not use the tour to try a different, modified approach to the horribly predictable style Wales seem to be stuck in. Yes, as Saturday showed, when “Warrenball” works it works very well, but it can only work when Wales are able to overwhelm the opposition. We need a game plan for when we cannot gain that dominance, and it seems to me that at the moment we don’t have it.

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It was an agonising way to lose a match. With 80 minutes up on the clock, Ireland were 22-17 ahead and looking at their first victory over current World Champions New Zealand in 109 years of matches between them. Ireland had the ball, and were picking and driving to run down the clock, just as they should. Then, for some bizarre reason, one of the Ireland players (I think it was the scrum half) kicked possession away, and the nightmare scenario unfolded. New Zealand scored a try in the 82nd minute, to level the scores at 22-22. Then, stupidly, the Irish players charged the conversion before the kicker had started his run up, so having missed the kick the kicker got a second chance and slotted it through the uprights, to win the game 24-22. Agony for Ireland, and as a fellow Celt I felt their pain.

Ireland could have beaten New Zealand for the first time in their history, but lost to a try scored with 82 minutes on the clock

Ireland could have beaten New Zealand for the first time in their history, but lost to a try scored with 82 minutes on the clock

This really is a game that Ireland could have won. Not only could have, they should have. They were 19-0 up in the first half, with three tries to their credit with less than 20 minutes played. Even in the second half, when New Zealand started dominating, Ireland’s defence held firm. Ireland missed a very kickable penalty in the last 10 minutes which would have taken them into a 25-17 lead. But to be ahead with the 80 minutes up, to be in possession and to still lose the game is almost unforgivable. And, what I don’t understand is that the team who are most adept at running down the clock is the Irish region Munster. What on earth possessed Ireland to kick possession away when all they had to do was keep picking and driving and the game would have been theirs?

They say that teams learn more from defeat than from victory, but this will be a very very harsh lesson for Ireland. Not only could they have recorded their first ever victory over New Zealand, but they could have also denied New Zealand becoming the first country in the professional era to go a whole calendar year winning every game (14 of them).

Meanwhile, in Cardiff on Friday evening Wales put in a very mediocre display in beating Tonga 17-7. There were no scores in the second half, and I nearly fell asleep through boredom. Even the match commentators Eddie Butler and Jonathan Davies (both Welsh), referred to it as “dire”. Of course Wales’ big game is next Saturday against Australia, which I have said before could determine not only how Wales reflect on 2013 but also could determine how well we perform in the 2014 6 Nations. So I understand why Warren Gatland didn’t put out a full-strength team, he wanted to rest some players and also to give some players their first international experience.

But, even a half-strength Welsh team should play better than that. We should be putting 30-40 points on teams like Tonga if we have pretensions to challenge for the World Cup in 1015. And, a convincing victory by that kind of margin would have done so much to boost our confidence ahead of next Saturday’s game against Australia. Instead, after a clinical and dominant display against Argentina last week, we were dragged down to the level of a mediocre team and failed to excel. I just hope we can come out next Saturday and end a so-far very good season by finally claiming a long-overdue victory over Australia!

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The second weekend of the 2013 6 Nations is now over, and it was certainly a weekend of tension and even a few surprises.

Scotland v Italy

Italy went to Edinburgh with their confidence high after their superb win over France in Rome last weekend. In addition, Scotland had looked only average in their defeat to England at Twickenham. But, the form book was torn up with Scotland playing superb rugby, possibly their best display ever in the 6 Nations. They ran in 4 tries, and were comfortable winners of a match which never saw Italy play to the heights that they did against France a week before.


France v Wales

If ever there was a match which could turn around a team’s fortunes then this was it. I have blogged about the game already here. But, just to say that Wales were determined and clinical, looking like the side that got to the 2011 World Cup semi-final and which won the 2012 6 Nations with a Grand Slam. At the end of the game one could just hear some Welsh fans singing hymns and arias, but it was hard to given given how loudly the mainly French crowd were boing the home team. If Wales can win in Ittaly in a fortnight and then in Scotland two weeks after that we will return to Cardiff to play England with 3 wins out of 4 and the game against England could end up being the championship decider. Wales fans can but dream!


Ireland v England

This was an attritinoal match played in poor conditions. Ireland never played with the confidence or skill with which they had beaten Wales the week before, and England were clinical and desciplined. 4 penalty goals to 2 in Engalnd’s favour, and the try line never looked in danger of being breached. As Shane Howarth, who has played for New Zealand and Wales, said on Welsh TV last night, Engalnd look lke they are doing everything right, and it is a bit worrying for the rest of us!


What does the 3rd weekend hold?

The 6 Nations now takes a break with the next set of matches being in a fortnight rather than next week. Ireland go to Scotland, with both teams having won one and lost one. France go to Twickenham, facing the unheard of prospect of losing 3 matches in a row and possibly finishing the 6 Nations bottom of the table. And as I have mentioned above, Wales go to Rome with the chance of getting their 2013 campaign back on track if we can win there. Several teams have everything to play for. I can’t wait!

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The opening weekend of the 2013 6 Nations rugby championships is over, and it was quite a weekend of matches.

Wales v Ireland

Wales opened their defence of their 2012 Grand Slam with a home game against Ireland. Ireland came out of the blocks with all cylinders firing, and by the 11th minute had scored a try. Wales repeatedly lost possession at the breakdown, and Ireland went into half-time with the scoreline at 3-23.

Within a few minutes of the start of the second half Ireland had extended their lead to 3-30 through a try by Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland’s 3rd try of the match. Wales looked like they were not only going to lose, but lose by a large margin. Then, as often happens in sport, Wales started to go into the ascendancy and the game turned around. Over the next 35 minutes, Wales completely dominated, and scored 3 tries to bring the score back to 22-30. However, Ireland must be commended for the resoluteness of their defence. With Wales camped for long periods just metres from the Irish tryline, the Irish defence withstood wave after wave of assaults and managed to keep Wales’ try tally down to 3 tries, when it could have been several more.

In the opening match of the 2013 6 Nations, Wales lost at home to Ireland 22-30.

In the opening match of the 2013 6 Nations, Wales lost at home to Ireland 22-30.

Cardiff has become a happy hunting ground for Ireland, their win on Saturday marks their 11th win in the last 14 visits to Cardiff. Wales’ chances of a back-to-back Grand Slam are now gone, and in fact based on Saturday’s display I would be surprised if Wales finish the 2013 Championships with more than 1 or 2 wins.

Wales have the difficult task next Saturday of going to Paris, a place where they have not won since 2005. Ireland welcome England in Dublin in game which will almost certainly decide who (in anyone) wins the Triple Crown this year, and may well decide who wins the 2013 6 Nations Championships.

England v Scotland

England came into the 2013 6 Nations Championships on the back of a stunning win against the All Blacks in early December. It was no surprise to see them running out comfortable winners against Scotland.

In the 2nd match of the weekend, England ran out easy winners against Scotland 38-18.

In the 2nd match of the weekend, England ran out easy winners against Scotland 38-18.

The half-time score was 19-11 to England, and to be honest they never looked in danger of losing this match. Remarkably it is now 30 years since Scotland last won at Twickenham, in 1983. England go into their next match against Ireland in Dublin with confidence high, and that match should be the pick of next weekend’s fixtures.

Italy v France

Since Italy joined the 5 Nations in 2000 to make it the 6 Nations, they have been the whipping boys of the Championships. In the 13 previous Championships in which they have played they have only registered a few wins, over Scotland, Wales and in 2011 over France. Much to most people’s surprise, Italy pulled off another win against France on Sunday, deservedly winning by 23 to 18. This is their second win in a row over France at home, having beaten them for the first time ever in 2011.

The final match of the weekend provided the biggest upset, Italy at home beating France 23-18.

The final match of the weekend provided the biggest upset, Italy at home beating France 23-18.

Next up for Italy is a trip to Murrayfield to play Scotland. They will be surely be hoping to register only their second away win in their history in the 6 Nations, and if they play like they did against France they have every chance of of doing so.

Which was your favourite moment of this weekend’s 6 Nations matches?

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In Wales, our National rugby team is either playing fantastically or playing dreadfully. In 2012 we saw both extremes. After winning the 2012 Six Nations Championships with a Grand Slam in March, Wales went on tour of Australia in June and lost all 3 tests against the Wallabies. All 3 were close, but particulary the 2nd and 3rd ones, two games Wales should really have won.

Wales win 2012 6 Nations

Wales win the 2012 6 Nations Championships with a Grand Slam, beating France in the final match.

Wales went into the annual Autumn Tests series with high expectations amongst her supporters, including myself. I blogged about my hopes here. Well, the reality was very different, Wales lost all four tests, the first time this has happened in the Autumn Test Series since it started in about 2002. I guess, in hindsight, that it was not a big surprise to lose to Argentina in our opening game. Wales traditionally start the Autumn Series very badly, and so to have such a tough team as Argentina to play in our opening test was always going to be a challenge.

But, before Wales could recover from the disappointment of losing to Argentina, we lost to Samoa the following Friday. Again, Samoa are a tough team, and we have lost to them before, even in Cardiff. But coming on the back of such successes earlier in the year, it was a tough defeat for the Welsh rugby public to bear. The following week came our annual beating by the All Blacks, whom we have not defeated since 1953!

Our final match was against Australia, our 4th against them in 2012. Just like the 2nd and 3rd Tests in Australia in June, Wales were in a match winning position as the 80 minutes were up. In fact, with 80 minutes on the clock Wales were actually in the lead. But, bizarrely, we kicked possession away and Australia counter attacked, and scored a last minute try to steal victory. The narrowness of the defeat, and the nature of it happening in the dying seconds, made this the hardest defeat of the Autumn series, and maybe of the entire year.

So how will Wales get on in the impending 2013 Six Nations? My fear is – not very well. We are coming off the back of 7 (seven) straight defeats, so confidence in the squad has to be pretty low. Also, we will be without our inspirational team manager Warren Gatland, who has been appointed the Lions coach for the summer tour of Australia, and so is on sabbatical from his Wales duties.

It is also the year when we play 3 games away from home, and only 2 at home, which of course makes it a slightly tougher proposition. Our fixture list is

Wales’ 6 Nations games, 2013
Date Country Kick-off time (GMT) Home/Away Record in all competitions (Played/Win/Loss/Draw)
Saturday 2nd February Ireland 13:30 Home 118/65/47/6
Saturday 9th February France 17:00 Away 92/45/44/3
Saturday 23rd February Italy 14:30 Away 19/16/2/1
Saturday 9th March Scotland 14:30 Away 117/66/48/3
Saturday 16th March England 17:00 Home 123/55/56/12

It may surprise readers to see that the only nation in the 6 Nations that Wales have lost more than won against is England, with the games standing at 55 wins to Wales and 56 to England. The game against England in March provides an opportunity to equalise the series of games between the two countries. On the other hand, the game against France in February provides France with the opportunity to equalise the series between the two countries, currently Wales have 45 wins to France’s 44.

Of course, how players across all 4 home nations perform will determine who gets picked by Warren Gatland and his team to go on the Lions tour of Australia in June, so this year the players are playing for more than just their country.

Who do you think will win this year’s 6 Nations?

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The other night I was watching U2‘s “Rattle and Hum” DVD. It is one of my favourite music DVDs, and one of my regrets is that I didn’t see U2 in concert during this time. I did see them at Live Aid in London in 1985 (when I thought they were one of the best acts), and I also saw them in 1997 during the “Popmart tour“, but I do regret not seeing them during the 1987 Joshua Tree tour from which Rattle and Hum is taken.

For me, one of the hightlights of this DVD is their performance of their 1983 hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday“. This is because they show the version U2 did on the very same day as the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. On the 8th of November 1987, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombed a remembrance day parade in the small town of Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, killing eleven people and injuring 63 people. The bombing is seen as a turning point in the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, such was the outrage against the attack. Bono, U2’s lead singer, talks on this day, when they were playing in Denver, Colorado, about the atrocity of the bombing as he introduces the song. The subsequent performance is charged with the tension, anger and sadness that Bono and the rest of the band clearly felt.

To give a little background to the title “Sunday Bloody Sunday“. There are, in fact, two “Bloody Sundays” in Irish history. The first Bloody Sunday happened on the 21st of November 1920, when 31 people were killed. Irish separatists killed 14 British troops in Dublin. In revenge, later the same day, the British Army (the Black and Tans) went into Croke Park stadium where a game of Gaelic Football was being played, and opened fire on the crowd, killing 14 members of the crowd. Later that evening, 3 IRA suspects were beaten and killed by their British captors. This was the first “Bloody Sunday”.

Bloody Sunday (1920), when 31 people (14 British and 17 Irish) were killed in the same day in Dublin.

The second Bloody Sunday happened in 1972. The British Army opened fire on unarmed protestors in Derry, Northern Ireland, killing 26 of them. I vividly remember seeing the footage of this on the evening news back in 1972.

A British soldier attacking a protestor during the 2nd Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972. 26 unarmed protestors were shot by British soldiers.

U2’s song is about the 2nd Bloody Sunday, the one in 1972. Or, to be more correct, it is about the horrors of a person witnessing “the troubles” in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. It is seen as one of U2’s most political songs, and yet as Bono makes clear through an impassioned break during the performance shown below, it is an anti-war and anti-violence song. Mid-song, Bono says the following to the audience:

And let me tell you somethin’. I’ve had enough of Irish Americans who haven’t been back to their country in twenty or thirty years come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home…and the glory of the revolution…and the glory of dying for the revolution. Fuck the revolution! They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution. What’s the glory in taking a man from his bed and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where’s the glory in that? Where’s the glory in bombing a Remembrance Day parade of old age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day. Where’s the glory in that? To leave them dying or crippled for life or dead under the rubble of the revolution, that the majority of the people in my country don’t want.

To my mind, this performance is one of the seminal moments in rock music. It shows how powerful “pop music” can be, how it can be used for social commentary just as much as it can be used to sing about a boy and a girl falling in love. As an iconic moment, it is up there with the moment when a member of the audience in Bob Dylan‘s “Royal Albert Hall concert” in 1966 shouts “Judas” for Dylan daring to play a rock set, rather than his acoustic folk material. Music can be one of the most powerful tools for social change and social commentary that we have.

Which is your favourite U2 song?

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