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Posts Tagged ‘Warren Gatland’

Tomorrow morning (Disunited Kingdom and Namibian time) the British & Irish Lions will play the 1st Test of their 2017 tour against New Zealand’s All Blacks. It is a much anticipated match, one of the most important in which most of the players will take part. 

My first rugby memory is of the 1971 Lions tour of NZ, the only time that the Lions have won a Test series there. Of course, as a 7-year old I did not realise that the 1971 tour was, and would remain, so historic. 

I didn’t say that I was witnessing history, as live TV of sporting events occurring on the other side of the world did not exist in 1971. At least, not for rugby. So we listened live on the radio, at 4am (as matches were played mid-afternoon local time). Later in the day, highlights would be shown on TV, which we also watched even though we knew the score. 

The “we” were myself, my two sisters and my parents. My father gave us no choice in whether we were woken up to listen to the Test matches in 1971; refusal was not an option. 

The 1971 tour remains burned in the minds of so many rugby fans, and not just supportes of the Lions but those of the All Blacks too. Many Kiwis of my age will tell you that their rugby heroes were Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies or J.P.R. Williams, not the men who represented New Zealand at that time. 

This 2017 tour is not only a chance to get that second series win, It is also a chance for Kiwi Warren Gatland to put one over on his native country and put himself at the head of the list to succeed Steve Hansen as the next All Blacks’ coach. Here is the team chosen for the 1st Test. 


To many people’s surprise, Leigh Halfpenny and George North have not been included. Gatland and his coaching team have, instead, gone with a far more attacking back three. The other major talking point is Allan Wyn Jones’ inclusion ahead of Maro Itoje, but I’m not surprised by this. Although Itoje has been in great form, Alun Wyn is one of the most experienced and best locks in World rugby. Tour captain Sam Warburton had pretty much declared himself out of contention to start the 1st Test, feeling that he’s not yet fit enough. 

If the Lions can win the 1st Test then it will be a huge result. Not only will it make winning the 3-Test series a real possibility, but it will also be the first time that the All Blacks have lost at Eden Park since 1994! A loss by the All Blacks would send shockwaves through New Zealand rugby. The Lions need no greater motivation to play the game of their lives. 

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After the heartbreak of the Brexit vote yesterday, at least I can look forward to some exciting sport today. It is not often that, with a big rugby match on the same day as a football match, that I would choose to blog more about the football, but today is  not an ordinary day. Later today, at 17:00 BST (16:00 GMT), Wales take on Northern Ireland in the round  of 16 of the 2016 Euros. As I have mentioned in previous blogposts, Wales have never been in the Euros before, so getting to the Quarter Finals would be a wonderful achievement.

Before then, in rugby Wales take on New Zealand in the final test of their three test tour. I really don’t have too much to say about that match; we are expected to lose and the main aim will be to stay within 15-20 points of New Zealand. Such is the gulf between the standard of the two teams. If we can give New Zealand a good match, we can come home thinking the tour has been a qualified success.

More interestingly, at 11am BST Australia v England kicks off in the third test of England’s tour down under. England are 2-0 up in the series, and are going for a white wash. It would be a remarkable achievement should they do it. Not only will they humiliate Australia, but it will really set down a marker that England are on their way back to being as good as anyone else in world rugby, a position they have not enjoyed since 2003. I am going to be watching that match with more interest than the NZ v Wales match earlier.

But, the real highlight for most Welsh sporting fans today is our 2016 Euros match against Northern Ireland. After our incredible display against Russia, the Welsh team must be full of confidence. We tore Russia apart in a 3-0 victory, not only ensuring our advancement to the knock-out rounds, but also we finished top of Group B after England failed to beat Slovakia.

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Wales take on Northern Ireland later today in the 2016 Euros. Kick off is at 17:00 BST (16:00 GMT). Neither team has been this far in the Euros before, for Wales it is our first time ever in the Euros.

Certainly expectation is higher of our beating Northern Ireland in the football than it is of beating New Zealand in the rugby. The Welsh football team are playing full of confidence, and if we can play anything like as well as we did against Russia I cannot see us not advancing to the Quarter Finals. Fingers crossed.

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Not surprisingly, Wales went down to another defeat against New Zealand in the 2nd Test of their summer tour. This time the score was 36-22. Not only have Wales not beaten New Zealand since 1953, but we have never won against them in New Zealand. This defeat by 14 points is actually our best result against them in New Zealand!

Unfortunately I did not see or hear the match. I travelled overnight from Dakar (Senegal) to Istanbul, and although I was in my hotel before kick-off time, I was not able to find the match on any of the many cable channels on the TV in my hotel room. The BBC Radio coverage via the internet was blocked (which sporting events often are abroad), so the most I could do was follow the score on the BBC webpage. But, having not slept on the aeroplane from Dakar, in fact I fell asleep!

Unlike the 1st Test, when Wales were ahead with 15-minutes to go, it seems that New Zealand opened up a good lead in the 2nd half of this match. But, Wales finished the stronger, running in two tries to bring the score back to one which implies that we were not thrashed. Whether these two late tries were because New Zealand had taken their foot off the gas, or because Wales finished the stronger, I do not know.

All I do know is that Wales will go to Dunedin next Saturday for the 3rd Test, and it is difficult to see anything but a third defeat. Do Wales gain anything from going to New Zealand and losing 3-0 in a test series? I believe that we do; it is important to play the best and to see where we are deficient.

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Wales lost the 2nd Test against New Zealand 36-22. The points difference was less than in the first Test, which we lost 39-21. Is this progress?

I was still asleep when the 2nd Test between Australia and England kicked off, but I caught the end of that match. England won 23-7, and so claim their first ever series win in Australia, with one match to spare. England are 8 from 8 since Eddie Jones took over, and have now moved to second in the world rankings. 

I heard Eddie Jones being interviewed on the BBC this morning, he said they were not satisfied with second and want to overhaul New Zealand. It’s certainly a challenge, but not impossible. England rugby has more resources than any other country, by a long way. If they get the right structures in place there is no reason why they can’t dominate world rugby. I believe that, in Eddie Jones, their first ever foreign coach, they may have found the person to do just that. 

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About an hour after this blog is posted, Wales will take on New Zealand in the 2nd Test of their summer tour. As I blogged about on Tuesday, we lost the 1st Test 39-21, after leading 21-18 with some 15-minutes to go. After the first test, I fully expected us to lose the 2nd and 3rd tests, but hoped that we could put up a good fight in each one.

But, in the middle of the week Wales were thrashed 40-7 by the Chiefs, one of the Super-rugby franchises. Admittedly it was Wales’ mid-week team, but such a thrashing has surely battered the moral of the Welsh camp. I fear that this tour may have turned into an exercise in damage limitation…..

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Wales take on New Zealand in Auckland in the 2nd Test of their summer tour, after losing the 1st Test 39-21 and being thrashed 40-7 mid-week by the Chiefs

Meanwhile, in Melbourne, England will be going for a historic series win against Australia. England soar, Wales sink…. It pains me to write it.

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On Saturday (11 June), Wales played New Zealand in the first test of their 3-test tour. Later the same morning, England played Australia in the first test of of their 3-test tour. Wales lost, England won. And therein lies the different trajectories the two teams seem to be on this last 6 months.

Wales were 18-15 up at half time, and even 21-18 ahead with 15 minutes to go. But, New Zealand overpowered Wales in the last 15 minutes, racking up 21 unanswered points in the last quarter of an hour. Wales were left thinking what could have been.

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Wales were 21-18 up with 15 minutes to go, but were then overpowered by New Zealand, who won 39-21.

Later the same morning, England took on Australia in the first test of their 3-test tour. The match was in Brisbane, a place where England have never beaten Australia. Australia got off to the better start, quickly scoring two tries, but England stayed calm and won a pulsating match 39-28. It sets them up to be on course for their first ever series win in Australia, something their Australian coach Eddie Jones would relish.

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England beat Australia to not only win the first test of their 3-test series, but it was also their first win ever in Brisbane.

The second tests are next Saturday (18 June). England could clinch the series, and Wales will try to narrow the gap between themselves and the All Blacks. But, to me, Saturday’s results just illustrate the different paths Wales and England have been on since that memorable game in the World Cup in October. Wales narrowly beat England in that match; partly by being fitter, partly by maybe wanting it more, and partly because of poor decision making by England in the last 15 minutes.

Since then, England have been transformed. Eddie Jones has been brought in as head coach, and they are now playing a style of rugby which is difficult to beat. They have won 7 from 7 under Jones, whereas Wales have gone backwards since their win over England in the World Cup. It was good to see Wales try to play some expansive rugby on Saturday, and maybe playing such rugby against almost anyone but New Zealand would have led to a victory. Two more tests, which i expect us to lose, at least gives the Welsh team and management a chance to play agains the best and to work on improving their game so that we can have a successful 6 Nations in 2017, and a successful Autumn test series in November.

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Tomorrow morning (Saturday 11 June), Wales have the rather daunting task of taking on World Champions New Zeland in the first of three test matches. Warburton was injured for the warm-up match against England a few weeks ago, a match in Wales looked very poor and jaded. It is never easy going on tour to New Zealand, be it the Lions or Wales, and nobody in their right minds expects anything but a 3-0 series win to the All Blacks. Realistically, the most that Welsh fans can hope for is to keep the scores respectable, and to show some progress compared to the form that Wales have shown the last few seasons.

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Wales’ captain Sam Warburton has been declared fit to face New Zealand in the 1st Test tomorrow in Eden Park, Auckland. Wales have not beaten New Zealand since 1953.

As I have said in other blogposts, since the thrashing of England 30-3 in Cardiff in March 2013, Wales have gone backwards. Yes we have won some important games, beating South Africa in the Autumn Tests in 2014 was a significant win, but Wales have not looked dangerous and creative in several seasons. Rugby moves on, and it seems to me that the Welsh management team need to develop the game plan. Warren-ball works well at times, but against good teams it often comes unstuck and Wales do not seem to have a Plan B.

England are a good example of a team which has made massive strides in just 6 months under new coach Eddie Jones. He is using essentially the same players as his predecessor, but they are playing with an inventiveness which Wales can only envy. I am not suggesting that Wales should ditch head coach Warren Gatland, but I do think it is high time that he and his team got their heads together and started thinking of ways for the Welsh team to play more creative rugby. We have just become far too predictable.

Even with New Zealand missing some nine players from the team that won the World Cup in October, due to retirement, they will still be far too good for Wales. I am not sure, without looking it up, how Wales got on during their last tour of New Zealand, but if we can improve on that then progress will at least appear to being made.

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Tomorrow (Sunday 29 May), Wales take on England at Twickenham in a warm-up match before the two countries’ tours of New Zealand and Australia respectively. Quite what the value of this match will be remains to be seen. Many of the England first choice team are not available as Saracens are involved in the play-off to determine the winner of the English Premier League, and Wales are missing their talismanic captain Sam Warburton through injury.

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Sam Warburton is injured for Wales’ warm-up match against England at Twickenham tomorrow (Sunday 29 May).

 

It is true that Wales seem to start every series of matches very poorly, be it the 6 Nations or a tour series, or the Autumn tests series. So, knowing this, Warren Gatland felt his team should  play a warm-up match before embarking on their daunting 3-test tour of New Zealand. As none of the Welsh regions qualified for the Pro-12 playoffs, some of the Welsh players have not played any competitive rugby in the best part of a month; certainly not ideal preparation for touring New Zealand.

It is strange to think of winning a Wales v England match as not being the main concern of Welsh rugby fans; but it is true that for this game we just want to see the Welsh team avoid any injuries and blow off a few cobwebs before we head to take on the All Blacks. If we manage to sneak a win we won’t be complaining, but for once that is not the main goal.

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