Friday, February 01, 2008

the obligatory 6 Nations preview

There's a sound of weary reluctance to the post title, which might make you think I'm not excited about the imminent kick-off of the 2008 Six Nations Championship. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, but I don't know that I have any pearls of wisdom to share with you, as this looks like being one of the most open tournaments for many years. So these little sketches may be fairly brief.

Wales: Once again we've got a new coach, and once again there's a certain amount of optimism in the air. There may indeed be grounds for a bit of cautious optimism, what with Warren Gatland having persuaded Martyn Williams (the best back-row forward in Britain) out of international retirement and Gavin Henson being (seemingly) fully fit (as long as he can stay out of trouble with the law). The half-back partnership of Mike Phillips and James Hook, though partly forced on Gatland by injury, looks tasty too. Ultimately they probably just haven't got enough size and grunt in the tight five to win enough ball, and I suspect this is where they'll come unstuck against England tomorrow. It's also 20 years since we last won at Twickenham.

England: The retirement of Martin Corry is a big blow, and there's an odd mix of grizzled old-timers (Vickery, Gomarsall, etc.) and youngsters (Strettle, Narraway). They were runners-up at the World Cup playing an ultra-conservative style of rugby, but Brian Ashton has aspirations for something a bit more expansive. We'll see.

Ireland: I think the current exceptional generation of Irish players may have peaked. O'Driscoll probably still has a few more years in him, as does O'Gara, but I think if they had a Grand Slam in them they would have had to convert one of their numerous runners-up spots (5 in 7 years or something ridiculous like that) as I don't think it'll be this year. If they don't improve radically on their World Cup form I think it'll cost Eddie O'Sullivan his job, new contract or not.

Scotland: Frank Hadden continues to earn the respect of many, myself included, for making the most of limited resources. You still have to say that mugging them on a rainy, windy afternoon at Murrayfield is their best chance of a win over one of the big boys, though. Maybe if they can catch the French cold (in every sense) on Sunday?

France: Another team with a new coach in Marc Lièvremont, who seems to have had a radical rethink of team tactics and selection, though having Ibanez, Pelous, Betsen and Dominici all retire on him will have forced his hand a bit. And new outside-half Francois Trinh-Duc looks as if he has a name that's an anagram of something more sensible. And sure enough it's Rancid Ostrich Fun.

Italy: Another new coach - ex-Springbok Nick Mallett - and they seem to continue to improve. Can they keep it up? They still haven't turned over one of the big boys, only Wales and Scotland (twice each, I think, in addition to a draw with Wales). This year? I would guess not.

Here's my final table. I suspect the middle four might very well only be separated by points difference. On that basis I've chosen to be wildly optimistic about Wales, mainly because I may as well cash in on the 24 hours I've got left before reality comes crashing in. I also predict there will be neither a Grand Slam nor a Triple Crown won this year.


There you go. Bring it on!


The Black Rabbit said...

Sorry bate -I'm going to copy, paste and combine indeed, 2 previews that I wrote on another site about a week ago...

Chances for the teams this year (in my opinion....)

SCOTLAND: Lot of talk about how we played the best out of all the home nations in the World Cup. Not convinced mesel. We did what we had to against the lesser teams, put our second team out against the All Blacks, and should've beaten the Argies (who I enjoy watching play a lot).
If Hadden has the guts FINALLY to stick Chris P. in at stand off, for the WHOLE tournament, where he can dictate, we may do well. Three things in our favour - (apart from our immense line out), France at home, England at home, and that fool Marcus Di Rollo has ruled himself out of the squad to concentrate on club rugby.
I think we'll beat France. Bet of the tournament at present, and then we may, we just maaayyy well be the dark horses this year...

ENGLAND: Did very well indeed at the World Cup, after playing like a bunch of school kids early on, and being written off by everyone - including me.
One man doesn't make a team though, and Wasp's Danny Cipriani could be a real star for England, if allowed to play. A name to watch in this tournament I think.
Good to see Tindall back also, a real under-rated work horse, who is often labelled as just a donkey.
"Ronnie" Regan might struggle hooking though - he's seriously lost some form for my Bristol team - so will the England lineout work?
As always with England, a stoic win is all thats necessary. They should do well, but may struggle against a spoiling Scotland at Murrayfield!

WALES: All the talent, and with Gatland at the helm now, a chance to finally, FINALLY rise to the big occasion. The loss against Fiji in the World Cup was a hammer blow though - will they dwell on that?
Interesting to see THIRTEEN Ospreys in the starting XV this weekend, though some of the picks are very questionable.
Tom Shanklin on the bench?!! Come on Warren - he's one of your best men!
I think Wales may suffer this weekend from not having Dwayne Peel at scrum half, and Lee Byrne will have his work cut out, not only replacing the world class "Alfie" Thomas, but also, being peppered by Jonny's Garryowens I think...
Interesting to see Hook picked instead of Stephen Jones also, and this weekend is another chance for Mr.Charlotte Church to forget his hair gel and orange skin, and show just what he can do...
I think Wales have been blessed, big time, by the decision of Martyn Williams to play internationally again, after "retiring" at the World Cup.
If Wales play to their ability, their CONSIDERABLE ability, they'll do well. Chances of that happening?
Like France.... with Wales - who knows?!

IRELAND: An ageing team, on its last legs in my opinion. Stuffed to the gills with talent again, like Wales.
This week Ireland will miss O'Connell in the second row, AND Shane Horgan (both injured). I think Stringer should always play ahead of Reddan at scrum half too, so I think O'Gara may miss his team-mate there too.
Of course, Ireland are still playing at Croke Park at present - I'm not convinced thats a plus in the favour either. Historical yes, but like Lansdowne - No.
I really hope Ireland do well. When everyone's fit, they should...

FRANCE: Now that Laporte has gone, Lievremont wants to make his mark, and stamp his authority all over les bleus, and boy... has he done just that.
Was Laporte "one crepe short of a picnic"? I think so. In that case, Marc Lievremont is deux or trois crepes short...
Sebastien Chabal, Jerome Thion, Clement Poitrenaud, Imanol Harinordoquy, Pierre Mignoni and David Marty are omitted from the team as are Lionel Beauxis, Yannick Nyanga, Remy Martin, Nicolas Mas and Sebastien Bruno
Props Marconnet, De Villiers and Milloud have not been selected (injuries), while Yannick Jauzion is also on that injured boat.
Now. Add to that the fact that Ibanez, Pelous, Dominici & Betsen have all retired from internationals, AND on top of that - Michalak has taken a year off from international rugby to play Super 14.
France are favourites to win again this year. Don't put one euro on that happening.
Stick your pounds instead, on Scotland to catch France (traditionally slow starters) cold at Murrayfield. Oh yes.

ITALY: Who cares?
Seriously though - improving match on match, and traditionally now beat us (after we gift them three tries in as many minutes).
New coach in Nick Mallet, now that Berbizier has gone.
I think Italy will really stuggle this year. They will not beat Scotland, even in Rome, and will sorely miss Troncon, Griffen, Stanojevic (massively under-rated Bristol wing) and De Marigny. I happen to think Borolami will be missed hugely also, in the first part of the tournament at least (injury again).
Italy's chances? Negligible.

To summarise.
Scotland to come good this year, and prove that we can not only talk the talk, but actually walk the walk also.

Then, when I saw Hadden's XV I wrote this...

Oh dear oh dear.
Just checked the starting XV for us against France on sunday.
My "bet of the tournament" is on hold at present...

What is Hadden playing at?!

1) Paterson is on the bench? Sure, he's not had a lot of ball at Glaaarrrrsterr, since he moved, but surely there's a place for him in the starting XV, rather than the match squad?!

2) Dan Parks at standoff? (in place of Paterson I assume). Well... we know what type of game we will be playing on sunday then, a percentage, territorial, tactical kicking game. And France know that now too.

3) Ally Hogg dropped from the 22 man squad?! I hope he's injured (if you see what I mean) or I see no sense in that decision at all?

4) Simon Taylor has a broken thumb. That means, (see Ally Hogg above) our world class back row is now just down to Jason White.

5) Blair at scrum half? More than happy to be proved wrong on this, but I'd always have gone with Cusiter as first choice no.9. At least he's on the bench though...?!

6) Then there's our three-quarters.Wow.
Nick de Luca gets his first cap at outside centre? Dodgggggy.
Nicky Walker (lumbering great oaf, more interested in what his hair looks like) on the wing.
Andy Henderson at inside centre (a slim fella in a pumped up ungainly shell). The only GOOD bit of news is that the classy baldy Simon Webster is back on the wing, where he belongs...

Instead of really cutting loose this sunday, I think we've really got our work cut out now...

I'm having trouble keeping faith with Hadden looking at this starting XV, fingers crossed, I HOPE he knows what he's doing....

He does, doesn't he?

And now I'll add a few more words here, for the halibut:

I fear for Wales this afternoon.
I think you may get bum raped.

electrichalibut said...

Not quite sure what Hadden's playing at with Paterson myself. He came on as a sub in the wet & miserable Bath v Glos game I was at at the Rec a while back & scored a great try, but I gather he hasn't had much game time other than that.

I think Mike Phillips is an excellent sub for Peel, and he's been pushing him for the first choice spot recently. Plus he's a big 6-foot+ psychopath, which is probably not a bad thing against England. As for Shanklin - yes, I agree, but Parker is a good solid (and under-rated) player as well, and Gatland's obviously gambled with trying to transfer the Ospreys' good form to the national side. Let's hope he's right....

The Black Rabbit said...


I should I suppose, give an obligatory post match (post predictia) comment.

It could be summed up in one word.


Or two...


Other words spring to mind also. like "complete capitulation", "headless chickens", "school kids" "no ambition until the last 30 seconds", "EH?" and "HUH?"

I can honestly say I've never seen England play like that, EVER.
They are normaly so good at wrapping up games, normally by playing a percentage, ball up jersey, penalty driven game.

Not this time.
HORRIBLE loopy passes to no-one (even from the Wilkomeist), terrible decision making from the spine of the team, poor kicks which were easily charged down - you name it.


I don't want to take anything away from Wales here - look, you've gone and beaten England AT TWICKENHAM!!! AMAZING!

That said, even though Wales "won" the game, it was blindingly apparent that Wales "didn't win" that game.

ENLAND (forgive the dreadful cliche) LOST IT. COMPLETELY.

If that was a horse race, you'd swear it was fixed.

Italy would have beaten England today given that opportunity.
Christ, High Wycombe 2nd XV would have beaten England!

Congratulations bate. You must be over the moon. Anna is! I hope that feeling is not too diluted by confusion!

I can only hope England do the same at Murrayfield in a few weeks time.

I doubt it though - I suspect they'll have a rocket up each arse, as I write this.

I'll walk away now, wishing I was welsh, wishing I could really celebrate, but instead walk away with a confused look on my face, shaking my head, and uttering the word


over and over again...