Wednesday, 30 January 2008

6 nations Review 2008

My 6 nations review.

So who is going to win it this year? Who will get the wooden spoon?

It looks to be the most open championship for some time due to the change in players and coaches/managers since the world cup.

I suspect that no team will be able to obtain the Grand Slam this year. It will all come down to the away games for the title hopefulls.

England are away at Scotland, Italy and France. With Wales and Ireland at home. My ambition for England is to come at least second this year. I believe that England should beat Wales at home and hopefully beat Ireland for the first time since 2003. I think that France away from home will be the crunch match for England.

I predict that France will win the championship overall, but not the Grand Slam I suspect they will slip up on one of their away games, potentially the first game against Scotland, as the French are notoriously slow starters in the 6 Nations. The Scots often catch people out at home with their defensive style of play that tends to grind the opposition down and frustrates them into errors.

Italy I believe will get the wooden spoon and Wales, Ireland and Scotland fighting out the 3rd,4th and 5th spot.

Ireland, bad World Cup and believe there will be a hangover from this performance through the 6 nations. There is obviously issues in the Irish team and these have yet to be dealt with properly.

Wales I believe under Gatland will be become a decent team again. However, not this year as it is too soon for the management to make a major effect on the performance on the team.

Scotland continue to make progress, but its slow progress at the moment. Good World Cup for Scotland, but can they build on it! They must be looking for at least a 3rd or 4th place finish to continue this progress.

Good luck everyone, lets show the Southern Hemisphere why our Rugby is the best.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

England V Wales

So the England team has been announced.

England: Iain Balshaw (Gloucester), Paul Sackey (Wasps), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Toby Flood (Newcastle), David Strettle (Harlequins), Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle), Andy Gomarsall (Harlequins); Andrew Sheridan (Sale), Mark Regan (Bristol), Phil Vickery (Wasps), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Steve Borthwick (Bath), James Haskell (Wasps), Lewis Moody (Leicester), Luke Narraway (Gloucester).
Subs: Lee Mears (Bath), Matt Stevens (Bath), Ben Kay (Leicester), Tom Rees (Wasps), Richard Wigglesworth (Sale), Dan Cipriani (Wasps), Lesley Vainikolo (Gloucester).

A few surprises. I fully expected to Tait in the squad so I am surprised that Balshaw he hasn't been playing that well for Gloucester have been picked instead. The reason being they needed a experience full back. Well I agree you do need an experienced full back but Tait should be playing in the center. If you needed a proper full back why wasn't Josh Lewesy picked in the first place. Ashton seems to have a thing for Balshaw as it was him who spotted Balshaw when he was 16 years old. It almost that he is trying to prove he was right all those years ago by picking him again.

Tindall playing center is no surprise either, another of Ashton's old bath crew. However, I will have to admit that Tindall has been in great form in recent months. Great to see Sackey and Strettle team up on the wingers, both of them have proved they can also defend as well as attack. So were does it leave Cipriani to play? replacement fly half for Jonny, replacement centre for Flood and Flood replace Jonny, replacement full back for Balshaw. Knowing Balshaw he will get injured after 30 minutes and so I guess this is where we will see Cipriani play.

Not a bad side, but not our best either still missing Harry Ellis at scrum half plus need a solid full back. Be interesting to see come the final game against Ireland who is still in the squad!!!

So that leaves the Welsh side.

Wales: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Shane Williams (Ospreys), Sonny Parker (Ospreys), Gavin Henson (Ospreys), Mark Jones (Scarlets); James Hook (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Duncan Jones (Ospreys), Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Ian Gough (Ospreys), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Martyn Williams (Blues), Ryan Jones (capt, Ospreys).
Replacements: Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Gethin Jenkins (Blues), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Alix Popham (Scarlets), Gareth Cooper (Gloucester), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Tom Shanklin (Blues).

He has basically picked the whole Ospreys team where he can and filled in the blanks with the other teams where necessary. I assume this is to bring some level of compatibility to the side and knowledge of playing together. At the moment they have looked the best welsh team in the European competition. May be he is hopingt this well help the team gel quickly together and try and transfer team understanding to a national side. Strategically this is an interesting decision, I wonder how many of the Osprey moves and plays he is bring with them to game on Saturday.

Sun Tzu said "If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle."

I believe that by playing a majority of the Osprey's team he is making sure they know them selves. So how well do they know their enemy? Not sure anyone knows how England well play at the moment, not even Gatland. This could be England's biggest advantage in this competition or their biggest weakness as they have yet to gel into a team. I would suggest they have a reasonable idea after the World Cup and 2 weeks training together. At least they will know what to expect from the Welsh side if the play like the Osprey's play. Again they could play a totally different game, however then what is the point of picking the squad for all he same team?

I predict England to win more due to the home advantage and the lack of preparation from the Welsh squad together under the new management. This is more down to time than talent with regards to the new management.

From there another game against Italy should build the confidence and allow the team to form properly unless injuries prevent a similar squad being picked again. After Italy the big one, France in Paris. The French well be after revenge but they will also be in the midst of rebuilding their team!!!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

More Heineken cup rugby at the weekend.

I was pleased to see Gloucester, Saracens and London Irish to going through to represent the English clubs. I am not sure how far they will manage to go in the rest of the competition however. I was surprised to see Wasps collapsed to Munster, I really thought they would put up a better show in that game. They were missing however the likes of Flutey and Sackey how have been instrumental in game plan so far this year. Flutey has been involved in some of their best moves of the season and it could be seen what a loss it was not have him playing.

Although Leicester were already out of the cup I was pleased to see put on a good performance and stop Lenister progressing in the competition. Leicester seem to play much better with Rabeni in the centre than with Ollie Smith. I think Ollie is a great play and will continue to improve, but so is Rabeni and he has the confidence and experience we need in the big Heineken cup games. I haven’t seen Tuilagi play for a while, and can’t find any news on him on the internet either. Is he injured or just out of favour?

The Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup games really get the excitement warmed up for the 6 nations. I have got a ticket to the England V Wales game on the 2nd February. I am hoping for another record win just like before the world cup. Be very interesting to see who is picked for both teams and how Warren Gatland shapes and manages his new team. No surprise that Gareth Thomas hasn’t been picked for Wales. He may be a great playe but he seems to be the a disruptive influence and main reason behind Welsh sides slip from Grand Slam Champions to continual wooden spoon prospects.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

England 32 man squad

The 32 man training squad has been announced and there are a few surprising names left out and few inclusion as well. Josh Lewsey out and Andy Farrell out (not sure if this is a surprise). Hodgson in , Balsaw in, Tindall and Noon in???

So why put some of our promising talent put in the Saxons instead. All I can think is that 32 man squad will only actually become 15 starting and 7 subs, leaving 10 of those players with out a game completely. For a number of those players, a game in the Saxons wouldn't prove anything about their performance or ability. We all know what Charile Hodgson can do, we all know how Mark Cuteo can play. However, for players like Lamb, Varndell, Hipkiss and O Smith a game in the Saxons is a chance too shine. It's a chance to gain experience of the England setup, the preparation and the match day. Aston could put the likes of these players in the 32 man squad, but are they actually going to get any reasonable game time. Possibly not. Being named in the 32 man squad is all about perceived status and not necessarily player development etc.

The other big point was that Vainikolo was named in the starting squad. Again as before I doubt he needs the experience of the Saxons and playing in international games he has that from his league days. As a winger as well I would have said it was the easiest position to switch from League to Union. I remember Jason Robinson receiving similar press saying it was unfair on others etc etc. I think Jason proved everyone wrong. He still took a couple of years to fully adapt, but the best place for him to do this was in the England squad. I think the same will be the said for Vainikolo. I don't believe this was the same for Farrell however, as he switched codes too late and the positions he played in didn't allow for such an easy transition, therefore he need the game time to build up his experience.

The truth will come out once the starting 15 and the bench is picked. At that point we will see Ashton's real strategy and can see if he is moving the game forward or doing an Andy Robinson.

The point the really stuck my was the amount of talent coming through the England squad. The Saxons team is very strong and by it's self could beat a some of the other 6 nations full international squads.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Christmas games

Caught a few games over the holiday season.

Firstly saw Sharks v Tigers with the Sharks winning 20-14. Leicester suffered from some poor goal kicking and lack of a finishing touch to some good moves. Leicester seem to be stuttering at the moment and can't quite bring it all together at the moment. The BBC match report says they, "lacked precision". This just about sums it up at the moment and seems to be the same problem they had against Toulouse the week before. I think the change in coach and players will have something to do with it. It will take some time for them all to gel together. Can't be good for Andy Goode to hear all the rumors about Juan Martín Hernández
joining at Fly Half.

Wasps v Bath. I hate to say it but Wasps are looking good this season. They have started some games extremely well and almost demolished the opposition in the first half. However, they do seem to have a tendency at the moment of taking their foot off the gas and let the opposition back in the second half. They allowed Clermont back in the game in the heniken Cup and nearly let Bath back in the game if it wasn't for Paul Sackey's try saving tackle near the end of the game.

At the end of the game in the post match interview Lawerence D looked very tried and as if he had enough. So it didn't come as much of surprise to hear the announcement of his retirement only a few days later.