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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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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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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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Wales coach Warren Gatland has announced the Wales team to face France in Cardiff tomorrow (Friday) evening a day early. He has made three changes from the team who defeated Scotland on Saturday February 13, with one of his changes being to bring winger Alex Cuthbert back into the starting fifteen. I have to say, I am surprised by this decision as Cuthbert’s form of late has been woeful, but there is no doubt that Gatland is a fan of the big winger.

The other non-enforced change is to bring Dan Lydiate back in as blind side flanker, with captain Sam Warburton moving back to his preferred position of open side flanker. I think most pundits agree that playing Warburton at blind side and having Justin Tipuric at open side in our opening two games of this year’s 6 Nations has not really worked. Being at blind side, Warburton has been slower to the breakdown than he normally is, and as a consequence Wales have not been able to turnover possession as much as they usually do. We have also, in my opinion, missed Lydiate’s chop-tackling. But, there is no doubt that it is nice to have the flexibility of either playing Warburton with Lydiate or pairing him with Tipuric, and Gatland would argue that he sets the balance of the back row depending on who the opposition is.

The third and final change is enforced by injury to Luke Charteris, so Bradley Davies comes in to replace him in the second row.

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Coach Warren Gatland has made three changes to the Wales team to face France tomorrow (Friday) evening in Cardiff. Two are tactical, one is enforced by injury

Wales go into their third game of the 2016 6 Nations undefeated, with a draw away from home against Ireland in their opening match, and a win over Scotland at home in the second round. France, however, have two wins from two, with wins over Italy and Ireland. In my opinion, France have not looked very impressive in either of these two wins, and Wales have a good chance I think of racking up their fifth win in a row over them.

The other matches this weekend are both on Saturday, Italy v Scotland followed by England v Ireland. Ireland’s chances of retaining the 6 Nations title are all but dead after their defeat against France, whereas England (like France) are two wins from two. Should Wales and England both win this weekend then it will be certainly be game-on for our clash with England; the clash between the two at Twickenham on March 12 could be the title decider. So, here’s hoping that Ireland defeat England and do us a favour this weekend!

The full 23-man squad to face France is below.

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Wales’ 23-man squad to face France tomorrow (Friday) evening

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2016 6 Nations – 2nd weekend review

The second weekend of the 2016 6 Nations is over and two countries remain undefeated. France have two wins from two, Wales have one win and one draw from two, and England have also won two from two. Saturday saw France take on Ireland at home, followed by Wales play Scotland at home. Sunday’s match was Italy against England.

France scraped a win against Ireland, winning what sounds like a very dour game by 10 points to 9. There was only one try, and although I have not seen the match the little I have read about it suggests that it is not a match worth trying to see on catch-up TV. After being absolutely hammered by New Zealand in the World Cup in November, France have started the 2016 6 Nations well under their new coach.

Wales beat Scotland in Cardiff by 27 points to 23 in what sounds like a much more entertaining match, with 5 tries being scored (Wales scoring three and Scotland scoring two). Scotland, in fact, went into half-time 13-10 ahead, but in the second half Wales exerted their dominance and scored two tries to go 27-16 ahead. A last minute consolation try by Scotland made the match appear closer than it apparently was; and this result leaves Scotland still searching for their first win over Wales since 2007. They have not won in Cardiff since 2002.

Wales beat Scotland 27-23 at home in the second weekend of the 2016 6 Nations

Sunday’s match in Rome between Italy and England saw England win convincingly 40-9. The exciting outside centre Jeffries scored a hat rick and England look to have found a new lease of life under Eddie Jones, their first ever foreign coach.

Ireland, who were chasing three 6 Nations titles in a row, now look to have no chance of defending their title with only a draw from two matches. It would seem their heavy defeat by Argentina in the quarter finals of the World cup has dented their self-confidence just as much as I thought it might.

The 6 Nations now takes a fortnight’s break before the third round of matches. The first match of the third round is on the evening of Friday the 26th of February, when Wales take on undefeated France in Cardiff. England will take on Ireland at Twickenham and Scotland will take on Italy. If Wales can defeat France (and obviously I hope that we can), it will set things up nicely for our match against England in Twickenham on March 12. The wiley Warren Gatland is already suggesting that the England v Wales match could be the title decider, and if Wales beat France and England beat Ireland in the third round of matches he could well be right.

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After the great performance against reigning 6 Nations champions Ireland in beating them in Dublin last weekend, on Saturday Wales played their final warm-up match before the Rugby World Cup by playing Italy. The match was in stark contrast to the game the week before; Wales looked laboured and below par, grounding out an uninspiring 23-19 win. At least they go into the World Cup with two wins under their belt, but at what cost? The headline news from Saturday’s game is that two of Wales’ key players came off injured and are now doubts for the World Cup.



Wales ground out a 23-19 win over Italy on Saturday; but the main news is the injuries suffered by Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb.

Wales ground out a 23-19 win over Italy on Saturday; but the main news is the injuries suffered by Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb.



According to the news I heard last night (Sunday night), we should know today (Monday) how bad the injuries are to the two players; but there is no doubt that both are key to Wales. Rhys Webb, at scrum half, provides a speedy service to outside half (and regional team-mate) Dan Biggar; and Leigh Halfpenny is one of the most accurate place kickers in the World game. Both would be massive losses to Wales if their injuries prove bad.

The Rugby World Cup will finally start on Friday the 18th, with the opening match being between England and Fiji at Twickenham. Wales start their campaign on Sunday the 20th with a match at the Millennium stadium; our second match is against England in Twickenham. Here are they key fixtures in Group A for Wales rugby fans. Two of our four group matches are at home in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, and two are in Twickenham. Without taking anything away from Uruguay and Fiji, it is the two away matches against England and Australia which are key to our qualifying from our group (the top two countries go through to the Quarter Finals).


  • Wales v Uruguay – Millennium Stadium – Sunday 20th September 14:30 BST
  • Wales v England – Twickenham – Saturday 26th September 20:00 BST
  • Wales v Fiji – Millennium Stadium – Thursday 1st October 16:45 BST
  • Wales v Australia – Twickenham – Saturday 10th October 16:45 BST
  • England v Australia – Twickenham – Sunday 3rd October 20:00 BST
  • Runner up pool A QF – Twickenham – Saturday 17th October 16:00 BST

    Winner pool A QF – Twickenham – Sunday 18th October 16:00 BST


England played Ireland on Saturday at Twickenham in their final warm-up match. They also ground out a win in a solid but hardly spectacular performance. England were much the better team in the first half, with their pack strangling Ireland’s and denying the men in green any real possession. But, in the second half Ireland seemed to be a different team (it was the same players), and played much better than England to nearly win the match.

So, the warm-up matches are now all over; the real thing will start in just under two weeks on the 18th. As usual, New Zealand go into the World Cup as favourites, I don’t think there has ever been a World Cup when this has not been the case. Who will emerge victorious in October and lift the William Webb Ellis trophy seems a long way off; and for Wales we first of all have to beat at least England or Australia to even get out of our group!

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It was a good weekend for Welsh sport. In Wales’ penultimate Rugby World Cup warm-up  match, we beat the reigning 6 Nations champions in Dublin, no easy feat. I did not see the match, but from all accounts the 16-10 score line was flattering to Ireland, with most rugby writers in the newspapers I read saying that Wales were much the better team. It seems that Wales were particularly dominant in the breakdown. 

How useful these warm-up matches are for determining true form going into a World Cup is debatable. I’m sure they are very useful to the coaching team to test various combinations and tweak things at the set pieces, but personally I don’t think that they give much of an indicator of form. No coaching team is going to reveal any attacking tricks they may have up their sleeves, so I wouldn’t pay much attention to Wales’ lack of attacking potency. 

  
Wales are, of course, drawn in the “group of death” with England and Australia. England have looked fairly indifferent in their two warm-up matches against France, but next Saturday they host Ireland at Twickenham. I will be hoping for an Ireland victory; if Ireland were to win that match I think England’s confidence going into the World Cup would take a massive blow, which can only help Wales. We will play Italy in Cardiff on the same day, the last time we played them in March we thrashed them so how useful a game this will be seems debatable to me. 

Yesterday Wales’ only team in the English Premier League – Swansea – got a wonderful win at home against Manchester United. It puts Swansea into 4th place in the table, although of course one cannot read too much into the standings after just four games. My team Chelsea, however, are wallowing in 13th place after a home defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday. With two losses, a win and a draw from their first four games, it is the worst start to a season that Chelsea have had in many years. Manchester City, on the other hand, have four wins from four and look very impressive. 

 

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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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