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Previewpilez: Wales v England (again!) 13th August 2011 August 12, 2011

Here we are again, pontificating on the possibilities of a clash between these two age old rivals. Is it really only a week since we last did this? It feels like a lot has happened since then.

This time last week, I was previewing the clash at Twickenham while trying to avoid even thinking that Wales were likely to lose by a significant margin. England looked like the stable, sure fire winners, Lewis Moody was a cert for captain and Sam Warburton was a young gun and caretaker captain of a Wales side that nobody was truly convinced could reach their full potential.

Fast forward to today, and as well as society having apparently hit the self destruct button, the return fixture looks anything but one sided. England, seemingly shaken by the near miss in their own back yard have made a staggering 13 changes to the match day squad. Five members of the squad have even been ‘temporarily released’ to play for their clubs. Add to that the fact that Chris Ashton is taking up the wing with a rolled ankle, it’s hard to say what sort of England performance we’re going to see.

Wales, on the other hand, are solidifying. After a strong showing last week, Sam Warburton continues to wear the captain’s armband and other than a few boys crocked (Morgan Stoddart with a tournament ending broken leg and Ryan Jones with a calf strain to name a few), those that impressed last week are back to fight another day, with Rhys Priestland being the talking point West of the Severn after a solid showing at 10 on 15 minutes notice. It’s also worth noticing that this time out the Dragons lead the charge. As well as a debut start for Lloyd Burns, Luke Charteris, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau are on hand to breathe fresh flames into a squad that hasn’t seen so many Newporteans in a good long while.

As with Manu Tuilagi last week, this week the press has largely been talking about one man, Northampton lock Courtney Lawes is out to impress after a spate of injury woes and big things are now expected whether or not the pressure at this stage of proceedings is welcome. After a further injury worry during training, some thought his World cup was another one to etch into the ‘over before it’s begin’ column but news from the training camp suggests he might be about to become the key to England’s hopes.

Wales at home are a different animal to Wales at Twickenham and with record tickets sales for a summer test, that incomparable Millennium Stadium atmosphere is going to be electric. With World cup places becoming increasingly sought after and with the chance that England will be out to get a bit of their national pride back, we may be looking at a close game, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any less exciting.

One to Watch: Wales – Lloyd Burns is going to be out to prove his worth in his first starting shirt under the glare surrounding Gavin Henson’s selection. England – Richard Wigglesworth as he throws his name into the mix for the 9 berth ahead of Ben Youngs and Danny Care.

One to get distracted by: Wales –Ryan Bevington, a hot prop, who knew? (Sorry, Props of the world) England – Nick Easter, because Anna’s got a bit of a soft spot for sir Nicktop.

Words by Lauren

Wales: James Hook (Perpignan); George North (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Gavin Henson (The Bachelor), Shane Williams (Ospreys); Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Mike Phillips (Bayonne); Paul James (Ospreys), Lloyd Burns (Dragons), Craig Mitchell (Exeter Cheifs), Luke Charteris (Dragons), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Dan Lydiate (Dragons), Sam Warburton (captain – Cardiff Blues), Toby Faletau (Dragons).
Replacements: Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Ryan Bevington (Ospreys), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Tavis Knoyle (Scarlets), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Aled Brew (Dragons).

England: Ben Foden, Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Mike Tindall (Gloucester, Capt), Shontayne Hape (London Irish), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks), Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Steve Thompson (Wasps), Dan Cole, Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers), Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood (Northampton Saints), Hendrie Fourie (Sale Sharks), Nick Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: Lee Mears (Bath), Matt Stevens (Saracens), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais, James Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams), Charlie Hodgeson (Saracens), Danny Care (Harlequins), Matt Banahan (Bath).

 

 

Reviewpilez: England V Wales, 6th August 2011 August 7, 2011

Filed under: England,Game Reports,Rugby World Cup,RWC2011,Wales — Manpilez @ 1:15 am

The first of these two alleged friendlies between England and Wales today was a bit of a mixed bag. Both teams were as rusty as an old gate but one showed promise of great things to come… but it wasn’t the one we expected.

Yes, England ended the 80 minutes with four more points than Wales, but in terms of defence, tenacity and creativity, it seems Wales may just have clinched the pride points. England, on the other hand seemed to be coming away with a slightly hollow victory.

For the first 20 minutes, the sides seemed quite evenly matched, Jonny Wilkinson had dispatched three points from his reliable boots and George North had gone over the whitewash for a try. The turning point came when a promising intercept by Toby Falatau was in turn intercepted by Delon Armitage, who was clumsily pulled up deep into the Welsh 22’. No points were scored, but Wales’ confidence was shaken. Clumsy mistakes and spilled balls followed from both sides with England gaining the edge enough for James Haskell and debutante Manu Tuilangi to breach the Welsh defence before Wales got their groove back.

As much as we hate to use this particular cliché, Ryan Jones in particular was talismanic (sorry) this time around, and it was obvious from the moment he took to the field that not only did he mean business, but the boys around him were going to pitch in with him. The Welsh hope started to build from that moment on and every single man in a red shirt seemed to step up a gear.

While England fell back on trademark Wilkinson drop goals when their attacks were pulling up short, Wales held their nerve to grind out two more tries, going through the phases until they had the kind of space and shape they had been severely lacking in recent tests. This was not the Wales that fell at the English sword at the Six Nations, this was a tenacious Wales with the confidence to push forward even when completely surrounded by black shirts.

That’s not to say England didn’t deserve the win, there were some fantastic performances from the Saes boys. England’s Marmite player Matt Banahan shone out with some fantastic runs and barnstorming tackles, man of the moment Manu Tuilangi was fierce enough to frighten the usually fearless Shane Williams into running into Jamie Roberts for support and Danny Care proved that it wasn’t just Ben Youngs’ residual medical niggles that had seen him pull on the 9 shirt.

The return fixture next week is now looking like a very different prospect as both teams go away and look at what went wrong and iron out the kinks in their game plans. Who can take more from the experience of this game only time will tell, but we’re very glad it’s looking towards being a more evenly matched game.

Manpilez Man of the match – Extremely hard to choose this time around, it’s almost easier to name those that didn’t show flashes of brilliance, in fact. In terms of solid 80 minute performances though, I can still only narrow it down to one for each Team, England’s Matt Banahan and Wales’ Sam ‘The Warburtron’ Warburton

Manpilez’ sniggery moment – Shane’s retreat from Manu, he ploughed into Jamie Roberts like Scooby Doo when confronted by a ghost. Hilarious, if unfortunate, stuff.

 

Previewpilez: England V Wales, 6th August 2011 August 6, 2011

Filed under: England,Rugby World Cup,RWC2011,Wales — Manpilez @ 3:12 am
Tags: , ,

Yes, we know this is supposed to be a friendly, a kickabout between two neighbours and all that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited. By rights, Johno should be out in Twickenham putting jumpers down for goal posts and slicing oranges. Alas not, for there’s a lot more at stake than your average summer international game.

For a start, this is England and Wales, one of the hottest rivalries of the rugby world, between whom no meetings can ever truly be classed as friendly. It also marks the start of northern hemisphere’s countdown to the World Cup. High hopes abound both sides of the border as old hands and new blood battle it out not only for the honour of their country, but for that all important place on the World Cup Squad

On paper, the starting lineups Johno and Gatst have selected look pretty evenly matched, a good blend of the tried and tested (Stephen Jones gets is 101st cap going head to head against England’s high priest of kicking Jonny Wilkinson) the young and hungry (England’s next big thing Manu Tuilagi gets his first cap while Toby Faletau will be making his sophomore appearance in red) and the downright controversial (Matt Stevens returns for England after his 2 year ban before Mike Phillips’ tail has yet to be extracted from between his legs after the McDonalds incident). This means this clash will essentially be a battle of wills and the end result could well be down to which team has the most hunger and belief.

Of late, it has seemed that Wales’ problem lay not in the individual skill of the players, which was largely exemplary, but in their bond as a team.  Rumours of infighting, emergency meetings of ‘senior payers’ and senior coaching staff actually beating each other up have been all too common in the recent past but thankfully, since the team regrouped  in June the whispers coming from west of the Severn haven’t been so tumultuous. Whether splitting the team for the Poland training camps was wise remains to be seen, but there thankfully seems to be a little less discomfort.

In TW1, on the other hand, there is an air not only of harmony, but excitement. At O2’s Get Up For England event (More on that next week) I caught up with some of the boys and it was clear that the mood in the England camp is one of determined anticipation. Each player, though fighting for his place on the squad is getting stuck in just as much for the common good as for themselves and they go into this game seeking to continue building momentum from their Six Nations Win.

Former Gloucester prop Paul Doran-Jones was probably most emphatic “Saturday is going to be a pretty fierce test, you know, England v Wales, there’s loads of history in it. Both squads are going to be looking to get out there and get all those moves and plays we’ve been practicing onto the pitch, so this will give us more real idea of where we are and what to expect . It’s without doubt going to be very tough.

They say it’s a friendly but there’s so much at stake. The guys are playing for the opportunity to go to the world cup so there’s nothing bigger really in that regard. You always want to go and get the best performance, you know it’s not schoolboy trials anymore!”

Clashes between England and Wales are always electric, we just hope it’s not going to be as one-sided as the buzz around each camp seems to be at the moment.

Ones to Watch: Wales – Toby Faletau. It’s only his second cap but he’s showing masses of promise. England – Charlie Sharples. As yet uncapped for England, and on the bench today, we’ve been hearing some incredible things about the Gloucester wing, not least from team mate Ben Foden ‘He’s the fastest white man in the world’. We’re hoping to see him take a run out to see if it’s true!

Ones to get distracted by: England–  Lewis Moody, he’s back, baby! Wales – Luke Charteris, another face we’ve missed being distracted by.

 

Newspilez March 12th 2011 Part Two: Blahdy Hell… March 13, 2011

The penultimate Saturday of the Six Nations is usually an exciting affair as teams make their last gasp attempts to push themselves up the table before it’s too late and Grand Slam dreams are dashed or fueled. This week, with only two of the three matches played, it’s already been a HUM-DINGER.

I’m not going to lie to you, this humble manpiler tuned into Italy v France this afternoon expecting France to walk away with the Garibaldi cup with nary a bat of an eyelid but what actually happened was a lot more like this:

 

Picture from Zimbio

Azzurri: Fuck YEAH!

It wasn’t pretty (well not play-wise..), but the Azzuri finally broke through and did what we all thought was impossible, they beat their nearest neighbours, neighbours who still hold the Six Nations Trophy. After 50 minutes of play that could only be described as ‘scrappy’ from both sides, with an early and clinical try from Vincent Clerc and two failed kicks from Mirco Bergamasco that left nobody in any doubt that France could have Italy for breakfast, something amazing happened.

Quite apart from Mirco Bergamasco’s boot chipping away at les bleus lead, Andrea Masi went over the whitewash for an amazing try that ate into France’s 18-6 lead and left everyone but the Azzuri doubting themselves. Italy became ferocious, defending like their lives depended on it and forcing errors all over the shop until, with a heart stopping three minutes left on the clock, Mirco’s boot once again found its way to another three points which took them ahead of France in Rome for the first time in the Six Nations.

What followed was the most tense and breathtaking three minutes of the tournament so far, with everyone who wasn’t French desperately willing Italy to close it down. A few failed scrums later and the whistle sealed France’s fate, etching Italy’s name onto the Garibaldi prize and making sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

It’s been a long wait for Italy to get this but the way they played today and against Ireland at the beginning of the tournament suggests it won’t be long till wins like this are no longer such a shock.

Manpilez Man of the Match: Mirco Bergamasco, for rising to such intense pressure

Meanwhile, in Cardiff, Wales v Ireland was also going off big time. The most evenly matched  game of the weekend started off a little bit… meh, if we’re honest. Despite a lightening opening salvo with an injury and a try within the first five minutes,  the first half saw neither side capitalising on their opportunities and in the case of  Wales, kicking away possession with alarming regularity.

Ireland’s indicipline was also a big feature of the first half, which though not penalised as much as they probably should have been, was responsible for all of Wales’ points in the first half.

The second half however, opened a can of worms the size of the Millennium Stadium’s over-discussed roof.  After a kick to touch, a mix up around a quickly taken throw-in lead to Mike Phillips’ resulting try being questioned far and wide and was the kind of wrong-balls-up that people are not going to forget in a hurry to the point where Rule 19.2(b) was nearly crowned Man of the match.  The initial kick to touch landed in the crowd, the ball boy handed Matthew Rees the ball, which he quickly fed to Phillips who made a run for the line. The second the Irish boys stopped chasing him they, realised what had happened: to take a thrown in quickly the ball must a) be the same ball that went out and b)must not have been touched by anyone but whoever sent it into touch. As the ball was caught by a spectator and the ball boy had changed the ball neither was the case and a full line out would have been needed. Neither the touch ref or the ref picked up on this and so the try stood, legal or no the ref’s decision was final.

Whether this would have ultimately prevented a try from Phillips when he was clearly on a mission to have his 50th cap a try-scoring one we will never know, but we do know that Wales’ eventual victory by 6 of the resulting 7 points means that the Irish are not going to forget it in a hurry.

The rest of the game was understandably fierce as Ireland tried to answer those points but Wales’ return to the blitz defence, predictable or not, put paid to all attempts and as the clock went red and Wales turned over an Irish ball heading dangerously close to the tryline, it was left to Shane Williams only to hoof the ball out of the park to close out at 19-13 and end Wales’ home victory drought while we all allowed ourselves to breathe again.

Manpilez Man of the Match: we’re going to agree with the beeb here and go for James Hook, who other than hitting the woodwork early on, is proving his mettle at 10 in fine style.

Both games are the kind that will keep us talking for weeks to come, which pleased BBC viewers as it actually shut John Inverdale up about England for a full five minutes.

Tomorrow will see England and Scotland battle it out for the Calcutta cup and we can only hope for the same level of drama…

Words by Lauren

 

 

Newspilez 12th March 2011: The State of The Nations March 12, 2011

As we head into the penultimate weekend of Six Nations action now with that last rest week already fees like a distant memory for players and fans alike due to the ramping up of the excitement for the deciding two weeks of the competition, we take stock of how each nation’s campaign has been rattling on so far…

It’s been a strange tournament so far, with teams we had high hopes for falling apart while teams who looked down and out pulling themselves back up from their bootstraps. Granted, it’s not been as heartstopping as we’d have liked, barring a few shining moments, things are now building up towards crunch time for all six of our nations.

England

At the start of the tournament, England were bookies favourites by a hair’s breadth, but after a hard fought victory to Wales on the first night England have stormed on, gaining momentum while all  around are losing theirs. Now it’s getting harder and harder to imagine anyone but England emerging victorious from this competition. The team appear to be coming together, with the talismanic Toby Flood grounding all around him and leaving even his rival for the 10 shirt Johnny Wilkinson mildly in awe and a cohesion seeming to radiate from him. This is a team that seem to have a hyperawareness of what each other are doing that leaves them able to close down most attacks.

They have, however, yet to be challenged too fiercely, Wales were extremely shaky on their first outing and still gave them quite the battle, they faced an already shaken Italy and France were… insane. However the hype surrounding them at the moment is clearly something they want to live up to and with Chris Ashton able to sniff out a try like a beagle at an airport and the return of Messrs Croft and Lawes, the juggernaught looks unstoppable

Ireland

Here at Manpilez, we’re getting a little suspicious that someone’s spiking the Ireland squad’s powerade with clumsy juice. Between a seemingly complete lack of precision or discipline and a feeling that they’ve lost a bit of the passion that saw them win the grand slam two years ago, Ireland’s campaign so far has been woeful at best.

In their defence, they have had some moments of hope, against France they spent a lot of time as The Better Team and though they beat both Italy and Scotland, both matches were close enough that every soft penalty given away pushed them further down the table, meaning that they are languishing at fourth in the table and looking unlikely to claw their way up much higher.

Scotland

Oh, how wrong we were. At the beginning of the tournament we had high hopes for Scotland, their victory against South Africa having gone to our head and made us think that the wooden spoon contest would be different this year. Sadly, things don’t seem to have clicked into place for Alastair Kellock and his men and despite some almost-convincing performances against France and Wales, they haven’t yet been able to gain that extra something that converts the tenacity they have shown into a win.

With age old rivalries being stirred up in this weekend’s Calcutta Cup, it is possible that the Scots may finally find that alchemical difference between a good performance and a winning one, but sadly we’re not holding out much hope.

Wales

In this case, we are extremely happy to have been wrong at the beginning of the tournament, when we had little to no hope of Cymru even being in the top half of the table by the end of the tournament. Now we’re over the half way point and Wales sit proudly at second position and they have an air of building momentum around them.

Despite losing to arch rivals England on the opening night, the men in red had a relatively good start, with a decent performance keeping the losing margin close. Clearly they took confidence from this and have since gone on to beat both Italy and Scotland well. Though there are still some issues visible (especially around discipline) they have the air at the moment of a side who are starting to believe in themselves again, despite some rather insane positional switching.

This weekend’s must-win game against Ireland could be decisive for both sides, who seem to be struggling in the same way, only with one team on the ascendancy and the other heading into deterioration. We reckon the smart money is in £ not € this time.

Italy

Poor Italy. Though it can still be said that the Azzuri have fronted up a lot better than in previous years, there has still been a sense that other than a few stand out players, this is a team completely out of it’s depth. There is a sense that even they thought they had a chance right up until the moment Ronan O’Gara took the field in their really rather close game against Ireland. Pretty much since that moment Italy have looked like a rabbit in headlights, and their game against England was such a massacre as to look almost cruel by the end.

We’d like to say we thought there was a chance of a comeback but with a wounded France in their future this weekend, it’s looking unlikely.

France

There were many jokes bandying around before the tournament that the changeable lineup of France over the last year meant it depended which side turned up each day how well France would do. Bizarrely, despite a relatively stable roster, they’ve still somehow managed to be completely different teams in each game. Ferocious and clinical against Scotland, Arrogant and lazy against Ireland and seemingly a bit lost against England, it’s a wonder they are in third position and so close to Wales in Second.

However, Italy are going to prove far less of a challenge this week so it will be interesting to see if they capitalise on this or allow themselves to get complacent even after being stopped in their tracks last time out.

We’ll be back in the week to cover this weekend’s action and cover some of the dafter elements of the campaigns so far that we’ve missed over the last few weeks of life getting in the way. Enjoy folks!

Words by Lauren

 

Newspilez: Six Nations round 2 preview February 10, 2011

With most of the teams announced, the unlucky sent home to make themselves useful and the injured strapped up a little tighter in hope for next week, we take a look at this week’s clashes.

England V Italy, Saturday, 2.30, Twickenham

It’s very hard to see how this one is going to go from our point of view. Last week’s win for England came amid a flurry of mistakes from both sides that left us slightly unsure what they were actually capable of. One thing was for sure, however, and that is tenacity, with the forwards seemingly trying to grind the opposition into dust while the backs waited patiently for the slightest mistake, this version of England, unchanged from last week (barring Hendre Fourie on the bench) has the power to sap every scrap of energy from the azzuri and capitalise where it matters.

However, Italy’s heartbreaking defeat to Ireland last week left us saying almost exactly the same thing. With Italy’s pack possibly one of the strongest we saw all weekend and relentless defence work that left even BOD Almighty looking like he was having a coronary by the end, England are going to have a serious fight on their hands and must underestimate Nick Mallet’s boys, who are clearly going to be out to prove a point, at their peril.

Predicted Result : We think Italy might just edge down to sheer determination – 16-21?
One to watch: Sergio Parisse. He was on fire last week, and that was before Ronan O’Gara made him angry, expect boiling this week…

Scotland v Wales, Saturday, 5pm, Murrayfield

Hmm. This could go one of two ways.

Ailing Wales will be travelling to Edinburgh under what must be a massive cloud and eight defeats out of Eleven is going to be an albatross around even the necks of the most stoic that the boys in red will be desperate to shake off. With very few changes, this is a war wounded side that are out to smell some serious blood. With Just two changes to the side that opened the competition last week it could mean the same problems occur, but with one under their belts and a week of uniting in the face of defeat, they may have finally found the cohesion they were so dearly missing against England.

Scotland meanwhile left Paris last week under a different kind of cloud having lost well (if you can call it that) at the Stade de France. With a side this strong at the outset, the wounds will weal quickly and the positives from last week galvanised into pushing out what faults were still present.

We’re either going to see two sides desperate to get a deserved win on the board in each other’s faces right till the end, or, and it pains us to say this, a whitewash for good old Cymru.

Predicted Result: Scotland by 6
One to watch: Bradley Davies – last week it took at least 2 Englishmen to take him out, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he fares against the 12 foot mass of Richie Grey.

Ireland V France, Sunday, 3pm, Aviva Stadium

With Jamie Heaslip’s clean bill of health a much needed boost to the side who managed to scrape victory from the jaws of defeat in Rome last week, Brian O’Driscoll’s merry band will be out to prove a point on home soil this weekend.

Marc Livremont’s almost unchanged side now looks rather more terrifying than the inconsistent wildcard we had them pegged as just a week ago and this is bound to be a physical and intense game that pops the new Landsdowne Road’s Six Nations cherry. If Ireland are to win this they need to take confidence in their experience and the fact that no matter how hairy it looked last week they *did* come back for a win. It’s easy to believe that Declan Kidney and his men underestimated Italy last week, so hopefully they will have taken on board just how fierce ferocious France were against Scotland last week so come out fighting and embrace that experience that took them past the Azzurri.

Sadly, we think France may be just too strong for them, but it would be very exciting to be proved wrong…

Predicted result: France by 15
One to watch: Francois Trinh-Duc, we reckon he might actually be magic.

And finally, in what we hope will become a series we’re heading off up to Leicester next week to interview the man who was your winner of our ’Workhorse Award for Best All Round Performance‘ award, Mr Tom Croft. Now we’ve got quite a few things we want to bend his ear about but we want to throw it out and let you lovely lot have your say. If you’ve got any burning questions you’d like us to put to his Croftyness, contact us in the usual ways and we’ll gather all the clean ones before we head up the East coast mainline…

Words by Lauren

 

Newspilez 6th February 2011: Six Nations Round One February 6, 2011

Though the LV= rumbled on this week, lack of televisation and downsized stadia was never going to allow it to compete with The Main Event so we’re not even going to attempt to distract you and cut straight to the chase.

The Six Nations bus finally rolled into town and the first weekend has been mighty interesting. We had another call in ‘James Hook Shirt Bingo’ (We’re only waiting on Tighthead prop before we win a jar of chutney), Italy brought the goods but had their hearts broken, France got a quite frightening amount of mojo back even against a fierce Scotland and Chris Cusiter and Tommy Bowe distracted crowds and armchair supporters alike by using their downtime to practice their punditry.

Now the hangovers have finally been banished, Lauren and Anna have taken some time out to give their thoughts on what occured, what didn’t, and who we should be running away from.

Wales v England, Friday 4th February

 

Photo courtesy of Zimbio
The Storm before the Storm

 

Three weeks ago, I was sat in the Liberty Stadium watching the Ospreys take on Toulon, fingers crossed every time James Hook put ball to boot, cheering Alun Wyn Jones at each line out and genuinely thrilled when Shane Williams came on in the second half.  I was willing Jonny Wilkinson to miss a kick. Just one, just for once.

How quickly things change. Being an English Ospreys supporter is hard (and stupid, some might say) and means that Friday was some kind of sick torment for me. There was a lot of hype in the English press about Johnno’s boys being the tournament favourites and endless harking back to 2003, with glib predictions about a repeat Grand Slam to pave the way for World Cup glory.

Forget all of that, because this was about one game and overall, it wasn’t really that impressive. Both teams made their fair share of mistakes and for all their calm demeanours in post-match interviews, you know that Gats and Johnno will be dealing out the “rollockings” which the latter promised once the dust has settled.

Ultimately, it was England who managed to capitalise on those mistakes. Not many will be surprised that Chris Ashton was the man to give England their first try of the campaign and although it might not have had the same build up as THAT try against Australia, it was by no means any less theatrical as Ashy adopted what’s fast becoming his signature move, arm aloft as he went over the line with a dive. Should he have celebrated before touching down? Maybe not, but I’ll be the first to admit that I was already out of my seat and shouting at the telly before he’d launched into the air. The try was set up brilliantly by Toby Flood, who later went on to quite rightly be named man of the match. He was nothing short of superb.  Another try followed for Chris Ashton in the second half after a tidy little pass from Mark Cueto and it seemed then that England might have sealed the deal.

But we’ve seen Wales turn a game around in the dying minutes before and I stayed on the edge of my seat until the bitter end, having a small heart attack any time the ball got near Shane Williams or Jamie Roberts’ hands. It was Morgan Stoddart, though, who eventually clawed back a try for Wales, a deserved reward for the solid game he played. Kudos also to Bradley Davies, a man so tough that it seemed it to always take at least two England players to take him down and even then he was still fighting. There were shining moments of the Wales we have known, but it just didn’t come together for them on the night.

As for England, yes they won and yes it was a big deal, but was this a team ready to win the World Cup? There’s still a ways to go yet, boys.

Manpilez Man Of The Match: Morgan Stoddart, because he tried, bless him.

 

Italy v Ireland, Saturday 5th February

 

picture courtesy of Zimbio

Even Paul O'Connell was wrong footed by the Azzurri ascendency

 

The defeat suffered by Italy in their opening game of the tournament was simply heartbreaking. Having never beaten Ireland in the 6 Nations, this was their chance. Not only were Ireland missing a glut of key players due to injuries, but it was apparent in the first quarter of the game that this was an Italian squad who simply would not be bossed, with fresh faced scrum half Edoardo Gori paying for his efforts with a dislocated shoulder. The defensive tactics that the Azzurri exhibited throughout the game were staunch and fervent, with fullback Luke McLean throwing himself into tackles with wild abandon and flanker Alessandro Zanni making a real impact.

Looking at the game from the opposing side, it was somewhat of a shocker for Ireland. Were they ready for Italy? Brian O’Driscoll had said in the press this week that they weren’t going to be complacent and expected a tough, physical game, but the sheer level of mistakes that they made beggared belief at times, especially from experienced players like BOD Almighty himself. Was the ball greased up? It would certainly explain the amount of times it slipped from Irish fingers.

Mirco Bergamasco started the day well, landing two penalty kicks in the first half which put Italy ahead at the break. The inevitable finally came in the second half, however, as O’Driscoll touched down in the 44th minute. From there, the game went back and forth until the final ten minutes, when Ireland’s Denis Leamy ended up in the sin bin and Italy gave a mighty push which saw Luke McLean finally make it over the line for a hard fought try. To say the Italian supporters in the Stadio Flaminio lost their shit at this point would be fair. Victory was so absolutely close, but unfortunately our beloved Mirco wavered and missed the conversion, which would prove to be fatal.

What followed was a hideously tense four minutes in which Ronan O’Gara took to the pitch and landed a perfect drop goal to edge Ireland ahead by two points. Despite Kristopher Burton’s attempt to counter, his own kick fell well short of the sticks and the Azzurri saw the win snatched away from them. Look up the word “dejected” in the dictionary, and you’d probably find a picture of those boys.

The positives? Italy made a fierce impression regardless of the final score. Their defence was fantastic and there is no doubting their passion. They have so much to prove and their standing on the international field has been steadily improving. They’re almost there. As for Ireland, they’ll no doubt be calling their own faults into question ahead of next weekend’s game against France, who showed a return to form against Scotland that bordered on terrifying…

Manpilez Man of the Match: The Big Man, Sergo Parisse, for leading Italy, so close to victory, from the front.

 

France V Scotland, Saturday 5th February

The captain leads the charge

With Scotland going into the tournament as the ‘In form’ team and France veering between fierce and foul, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, with this game but what we got was most definitely the stand out game of the first round.

France came out of the traps like a runaway train and within the first three minutes they’d turned over what had been looking like some promising Scottish possession and turned it into a stonking Maxime Medard try which Morgan Parra converted with barely a flinch. From then on in it was clear that France were taking no prisoners with pretty much every single Scottish mistake being turned into points, meaning Les Bleus were 10-0 up within 10 minutes after Francois Trinh-Duc almost casually pitched in a drop goal.

That’s not to say that Scotland were not giving them a serious run for their money, their defence in particular were exemplary, with Richie Grey and Nikki Walker in particular extinguishing a lot of French fires.  Their set pieces at the beginning of the first half were almost flawless, but with them failing to convert that into territory or opportunities it felt like all they were doing was exhausting themselves so that by the end of the first half, the scrums were collapsing like houses of cards, meaning the security they had built up from Captain Alistair Kellock’s try was soon broken down by giving away a penalty try before the break, leaving the score 17-7.

The second half had a completely different texture altogether. Though both teams were still playing open, expansive rugby, it felt like both sides were now out for blood which lead to scrappier, pacier action. However, that 10 points separating the teams at the break was never far away and there was a feeling of Try-ping pong around the hour mark as a quite frankly remarkable pass from Francois Trinh-Duc set Imanol Harinordoquy up for a try that was promptly countered by Kelly Brown, creating the feeling that Scotland had upped their attack.

France, meanwhile were clinical and ruthless, which meant that once again, each slip from Scotland turned into points for Les Bleus but with some hard work from Scotland, that 10 point gap was maintained all the way into the closing minutes to keep the hope alive right up until a penalty from Yachvilli broke every Scottish heart.

Could we be seeing back to back slams from France?  It’s too early to tell but they have definitely chosen the exact right moment to get their mojo back and Scotland, well, they currently look ‘nearly ready’ a few tweaks and a bit more confidence and they could well be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the competition.

Manpilez Man of the Match: Francois Trinh-Duc, because that pass really was extrordinary.

Words by Lauren and Anna