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Posts Tagged ‘Twickenham’

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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The wait is nearly over. Tomorrow, at 3pm, the much anticipated showdown between England and Wales in this year’s 6 Nations will kick off. The build up in Wales over the last ten days has been relentless, it is certainly the most anticipated game since last year’s Championship decider between the old rivals in Cardiff. As I have mentioned before, not only will tomorrow’s game go a long way to deciding who is out of contention in this year’s 6 Nations, but also either Wales or England will go ahead in the 124-match series.

One thing I have not mentioned so far is that this game also has important implications for next year’s Rugby World Cup, which England are hosting. Because Wales dipped outside of the top eight in the World rankings when the draw was made, we find ourselves in the same group as Australia and England, with only two countries qualifying from each group. Tomorrow will be the last time England and Wales will meet at Twickenham until the match in those group qualifying matches, so winning tomorrow may play a vital part in determining who manages to get through to the knock-out stages next year.

Thankfully for Wales, we have a nearly full-strength team for the first time this 6 Nations. World-class centre Jonathan Davies is back after tearing his pectoral muscle in our loss to South Africa in November. He and Jamie Roberts have formed a formidable centre partnership over the last few seasons, and shone together in the Lions team in Australia last summer.



Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones are both back in the starting fifteen for tomorrow's showdown with England.

Jonathan Davies and Alun Wyn Jones are both back in the starting fifteen for tomorrow’s showdown with England.



Alun Wyn Jones is also back from the foot infection which made him withdraw at the last minute against France, so with the exception of Ian Evans, who is out of this year’s 6 Nations due to a disciplinary action ban, Wales are nearly at full strength. In a last-minute change announced yesterday, Luke Charteris has had to pull out with an injury, so his place will be taken by Jake Ball (who looks like W.G. Grace reincarnated) who played so well against France two weeks ago. It should be a cracker of a game, as England are certainly on the ascendency. They have already shown in the last 6 months that they are a better team than the one Wales thrashed 30-3 in Cardiff last March. Before the first weekend of matches I tipped England to win this year’s Championships, and should they beat Wales tomorrow they will still be my tip to win it. But, of course, I want Wales to put England out of contention with a convincing win at Twickenham tomorrow. We will know soon enough!

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This next Sunday (9th of March), at 15:00, England will take on Wales in their 2014 6 Nations match. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest game for both teams since they played each other in the Title decider in Cardiff last March, when Wales thrashed England 30-3. This Sunday’s game is at Twickenham, and England will be out for revenge after their drubbing in Cardiff last year.



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Going into the fourth weekend of the 2014 6 Nations, there are four countries all in with a chance of winning the Title. Ireland, England, Wales and France all have 2 wins out of 3 matches. Ireland and France both play on Saturday, against relatively easy opposition in the shape of Italy and Scotland respectively. It would be a big surprise if Ireland were to lose to Italy, and as long as France are not as shambolic as they were against Wales, they should see off Scotland without too many problems. Therefore, whoever loses between England and Wales on Sunday will essentially be out of contention for the 2014 Title.

England and Wales have played each other 124 times, and amazingly the tally between them stands at 56 wins for Wales, 56 wins for England and 12 draws. They are exactly equal, remarkable considering how many times they have played each other. When I was growing up in the 1970s, when Wales were enjoying their 3rd “golden era”, we barely lost to England. But, by the late 1980s and 1990s things had swung completely the other way, England barely lost to Wales in the 1990s.

But, those decades are ancient history really. What is more relevant is how the two countries have done against each other in recent years. Warren Gatland took over as Wales coach for the 2008 6 Nations, and since he took over Wales have played England on 8 occasions, and have won 5 of them, England have won 3. These 8 matches include six 6 Nations matches (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013) and two warm-up “friendlies” for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Wales have won the last 3 matches between the two countries, including 6 Nations wins in 2012 and last year, and the second of the two RWC warm-up matches. Stewart Lancaster, the current England coach, has never won a match against Wales.



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It is difficult for someone like me to know how much recent results play on the minds of the respective teams prior to a big match like this. The players and coaches will tell you different stories, even within the same team. Some Wales players are saying that the thrashing they gave England in Cardiff last March has no relevance on Sunday’s game at Twickenham, whilst others in the Welsh team say it gives them confidence because they know how to beat England. From the England camp you will get some players who will say that last year’s thrashing is of no relevance because it is one year on and the England team has many different players, but others in the England squad will say that they want revenge for their Cardiff humiliation.

All I do know is that the Welsh rugby fans are in overdrive waiting for Sunday’s showdown. The Western Mail has been running stories on the match everyday since reporting our win over France, and to a lesser extent the English newspapers realise it could be a defining game for England as they build up to hosting the Rugby World Cup in the Autumn of 2015. Personally, I cannot wait – Sunday cannot come quickly enough!

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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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Wales win their 20th Triple Crown at Twickenham

On Saturday (25th of February) Wales went up to the home of English rugby, Twickenham, to play England in their annual 6 Nations fixture. Wales were in the unusual position of being favourites for the game which, given that Wales have only won there once (in 2008) since 1988, was not something we Welsh are used to of late. Their favourites tag was based on getting to the semi-finals of the recent 2011 Rugby World Cup, and winning their first two games of the 2012 6 Nations against Ireland and Scotland in slightly more convincing style than England’s two wins against Scotland and Italy.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, Wales were the dominant team in the then 5 Nations (Italy did not join until 2000). Wales won in 1970 (when they shared it with France), 1971, 1973 (when it was shared between all 5 countries, the only time this has happened), 1975, 1976, 1978 & 1979. So 7 of the 10 years (although sharing it on 2 of those). Our results against England during this 2nd “Golden era” of Welsh rugby was even better. Wales beat England in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978 & 1979; the only year we didn’t beat them in that decade was 1974.

Things had changed dramatically by the end of the 1990s, particularly at Twickenham. In 1998 England won 60-26, in 2000 they won 46-12, in 2002 they won 50-10, in 2004 they won 31-21, and in 2006 they won 47-13. These were dark days for Wales playing up in Twickenham. But, in 2008, in one of the most remarkable turn-arounds in international rugby, Wales came back from being 19-6 down to beat England at Twickenham by 26-19, gaining our first win there since 1988. This is an entire video of that 2008 game.

The Welsh rugby public are not known for acting in moderation. It is either all doom and gloom in our rugby world, or we are going to win and win easily. There never seems to be any half measures. The bookies had made Wales favourites going into Saturday’s game, with one well respected rugby pundit (and ex-player) Jonathan Davies predicting Wales would “smash” England. Thankfully, our level-headed coach Warren Gatland, and our team, showed more reserve.

In reality, it was a very close game. England stopped Wales from playing their usual fast, running game by smashing into us in mid-field. The English tackles were brutal, and Wales conceded far too many turnovers at the breakdown. In addition to England’s ferocious tackling, they also ran the ball more than they had done so far this 6 Nations, and made some lovely breaks. Wales’ captain Sam Warburton saved an almost certain try just before half time with an amazing tackle.

With 10 minutes to go, England were ahead 12-9. Then, Wales got a penalty and brought the scores level. With some 5 minutes to go, the replacement centre Scott Williams ripped the ball of an English player and scored a superb solo try from some 40 metres out. The conversion followed, to put Wales ahead 19-12. There then followed on onslaught from England, who tried to score to equalise the match. They did cross the line in the dying seconds, but the Television Match Official decided he could not see enough evidence that England had grounded the ball, so no try was awarded.

David Strettle being stopped from scoring in the last move of the game

These are highlights of this year’s game.

Wales had won a remarkably tight and bruising match. It gave Wales our 20th Triple Crown (the trophy for beating the other 3 Home Nations), and of course means Wales are still on course for the Grand Slam. Our next game is against Italy in Cardiff in 2 weeks, followed the week after by France, also in Cardiff. The Welsh public will go into heightened expectation over the next 2 weeks, and it is fair to say Italy should present no problem to a confident Wales. But France may be our banana skin, although they did not look too impressive against Scotland this weekend.

What has impressed me most about this Welsh team in this 6 Nations is their ability to win games even when not playing particularly well. They were the better team against both Ireland and Scotland, but certainly did not play that well against either team. Against England, they were prevented from playing well by an excellent aggressive defence from England, and yet we still managed to pull the win off in the last 10 minutes. Winning when not playing well is the mark of a team which will achieve great things – and I am beginning to think that this team could go on to achieve great things over the next few years. I hope so, because the 1970s are a long time ago now, and with rugby being the National religion, Wales need success on the rugby field for our national psyche!

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The state of the Rugby Football Union, the governing body of English rugby, is not good. Thankfully for the Welsh, the state of the Welsh Rugby Union is very good, so I am not going to lose too much sleep over the state of the game in England. In fact, I look forward to, hopefully, Wales giving England a good hammering at Twickenham in the 2012 Six Nations game on the 25th of February.

2 Unions

The RFU and WRU

Yesterday (Wednesday 16/11/2011), Martin Johnson resigned as coach of the England national rugby team.

Martin Johnson

Martin Johnson resigns as England coach

Earlier in the week, Shaun Edwards committed to another 4 years as defence coach for Wales.

Shaun Edwards

Shaun Edwards commits to another 4 years with Wales

Shaun Edwards is, ironically, a very proud Englishman, but he clearly feels he will be better treated by the WRU than the RFU. Apparently, four years ago, just before he signed with the WRU to be Wales’ defence coach, the RFU tried to sign him. But, according to what I heard on BBC Radio 5 this week, the RFU wanted him to agree to all kinds of conditions, including giving up working with London Wasps. The WRU, very wisely, were far more flexible, and allowed him to continue coaching Wasps these past 4 years. Edwards has now left Wasps, but the WRU are arranging for him to work with various clubs and regions in Wales in addition to his duties with the National team.

The difference in the state of the two rugby unions could not be greater. The Rugby Football Union seems to be in a state of turmoil, with a story emerging yesterday that Graham Rowntree is set to leave the RFU and, maybe, join either the WRU or the Scottish Rugby Union.

RFU in turmoil

A few of the stories in today's Telegraph about the RFU

Meanwhile, the Welsh Rugby Union are benefiting from a strong Chief Executive in Roger Lewis, and a coach with over a decade of experience at the top level in Warren Gatland. Maybe the RFU can learn a thing or two from the WRU about how to get the management of the game right.

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