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Six Nations Countdown Part One: The Teams, Their Chances, and The Key Players January 31, 2011

With just a few days to go before our favourite time of year begins, all the best rugby sites are turning their eyes to picks and predictions for the next 2 months and we… are going to have a go as well.

Our countdown starts today with a look at what actually might happen, and who might cause it, but over the next few days you can expect our guides to what to eat, drink and sing as well as anything else we can think of to help your Six Nations go with a swing no matter what goes on on the grass….

Over the last few years we’ve had something of a glut of Grand Slams, to the point where it was almost getting boring, with the clear favourites each year eventually trying to get the silverware back through customs once the champagne wears off the critic’s job has been an easy one.

This year, however, all bets are off. All Six of our fair Nations are either in a distinct state of flux or could make a Grand Slam winning team out of their injuries list alone so here’s our guide to each nation’s chances…

France

 

picture courtesy of Ladbrokes, Les bleus

Last year's winners, Les bleus

 

2010’s Grand Slam winners France are not, as last year, coming into the competition with the trophy practically in the bag as they did then. The prime example of a team in flux, Les Bleus have had a very odd 12 months with a form so mixed that at times it looked like they were trying to make a marble cake. With a team that changes more often than the trends in the Champs-Élysées, whoever turns up on the day can make all the difference between Grand Slam and Wooden Spoon and to be honest, nobody can really tell what the pants they’re going to do.

Crucial Injuries List: In a squad as fluid as France at the moment… we can’t keep up 😉

Ones to Watch: Chabal, as ever.

One to perv on: Morgan Parra, Scrummy Scrum Half.

England

 

A sweeeeet chariot, yesterday.

 

After last Autumn’s valliant efforts against the Southern Hemisphere tourists, this year the sweet chariot is rolling into the tournament as marginal bookies favourites,  with the fans and players whispering about a New English Resurgence. We can’t help but wonder if these rumblings might be right, but one thing is for sure their injuries list at the moment tells a sorry tale as many of those who shone brightest in the autumn are in rehab while we await the arrival of spring so while it’s likely we’ll see the boys in white go top three,  we’re not-so-secretly think they’re holding off their big hits until they get to New Zealand in September.

Crucial Injuries List: Tom Croft, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Moody

Ones to Watch: Ben Youngs, who has been putting in some spectacular performances, Chris Ashton, in case he pulls another bit of magic out of the bag.

One to perv on: Simon Shaw, because if I say anyone else Anna will hit me.

Wales

 

picture from the ledge that is Huw Evans

Happier times...

 

Oh, Wales, what happened love? Grand Slam glory to abject misery in the space of two years was never the plan. Do you need some hot sweet tea?

Seven Losses in the last ten games and apparent unrest behind the scenes has left the bread of heaven far from risen and even the other six nations are hoping they’re going to get their mojo back soon, as a misfiring Wales is like a disturbance in the Force. That’s not to say, however, that there haven’t been some fantastic moments of genius flowing around, it’s just that somehow it’s not being converted to the points board as clumsyness and a lack of focus seem to hit at all the wrong moments.

It’s been argued in the past that they lack strength in depth but that’s not strictly true, in certain positions there are young guns emerging that may be the key to not only creating some drama, but providing some much needed security that was lacking last year and unfray those edges that needed tidying.

With talismanic winger Shane Williams back just in time to dance past the opposition, green shoots of hope are starting to peek through the snow and with the back five of the pack in particular looking fierce whatever combination takes the field, we’re quietly confident that Wales can raise their game in time to get some pre-world cup momentum going.  We hope.

Crucial Injuries List: Gethin Jenkins, Adam Jones with rising question marks over Leigh Halfpenny.  Also missing Richie Rees due to Dylan Hartleygate

Ones to Watch: Bradley Davies, Ryan Jones, two great players in particularly fine form at present.

One to perv on: Alun Wyn Jones, Strong, fierce, lovely.

Ireland

 

The Duck Wrangler's certainly excited...

 

Ireland, like France and Wales are in a bit of a flux phase at the moment. We’d hope that it’s about priming for the World cup but on the evidence so far it’s hard to say. After their grand slam in 2009 they’ve continued to play expansive, clinical rugby but that x factor we saw two years ago seems to come and go with the direction of the wind. With two of their biggest influencing players on the injury list, it’s hard to see Ireland lifting the trophy, but with the right conditions, it’s hard to see them doing anything less.

Crucial Injuries List: Tommy Bowe, Jamie Heaslip

Ones to Watch: Jonny Sexton, who’s rapidly becoming the go-to 10

One to perv on: Brian O’Driscoll, legend, point scorer, fox.

Italy

They are ready to die. Well, Mirco is, Mauro says 'BRB'...

Italy, who seem to come out of the traps fighting every year then spend the rest of the time scrabbling around in the dust to avoid the wooden spoon, are actually one of the more stable squads this year. With few noteable casualties and the increased influence on home growing new talent in the two new Magners League sides, we could well be faced with an Italy very much on the ascendancy.

However, after just five months  those two new sides have yet to mature, so though we may come to see vast improvements this tournament, next year we may all be watching our backs, the Azzurri are coming.

Crucial Injuries List: Mauro Bergamasco, Craig Gower

Ones to Watch: The Big Man Parisse. He’s back, baby.

One to perv on: Mirco Bergamasco, though you may have trouble recognising him fully clothed.

Scotland

 

Pic  courtesy of the Telegraph

Richie Gray and Max Evans warm up

 

Let’s be honest, Scotland have had an abysmal few years in this competition, seemingly battling it out with Italy over the wooden spoon year in year out but this year it all feels a little different. With no noteable injuries, some fantastic results in the autumn internationals and the sheer power of Dan Parks’ boot, the Scotland going into the competition this year are something new, something dark, something exciting. I’m going out on a limb and putting Scotland in the top two come the end. I may be wrong, I may be right but I think it’s going to be very interesting finding out.

Ones to Watch: Richie Gray, if only because he’s so massive you can’t see past him

One to perv on: Max Evans, well he’s lovely isn’t he?

Words by Lauren

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Rawr Data – Team Profile: Cardiff Blues August 15, 2010

In an effort to put all our cards on the table from the start, fresh from our homage to the Ospreys, here’s our tribute to Cardiff Blues, aka Gleision Caerdydd, if you’re so inclined.

Strength Through Unity

The Blues formed in 2003, when the nine professional Welsh clubs had to reform into regional teams due to lack of money. Cardiff Rugby Football Club were allowed to form their own team, rather than amalgamating with any of the eight other professional clubs, and so the Blues were born.

It’s actually only recently that the team has started to perform really well and bring in the silverware (EDF Anglo-Welsh cup in 08-09 and the Amlin uropean cup in 09-10)  – their first few years were unfortunately a bit dire. Various players have come and gone – we used to have Mike Phillips, then he moved to the Ospreys for a rather larger pay cheque!

The Blues’ motto is ‘Strength Through Unity’, which is written across all their training gear. In the wonderful win over Toulouse last season, the skipper Paul Tito said that they had a desire “to go out and die for each other”. Pushing my team-spirit buttons!

The Squad

Picture by Getty ImagesWe’ve got one of the greatest props in the world in the form of Gethin Jenkins. Some say he’s the best in his position in the world at the moment. He’s fantastic to watch at live games, just hearing the impact he makes when he tackles, seeing him get everywhere. Here’s what Martyn Williams reckons:

“He’s a frustrated openside flanker I think. He tries to teach me how to play the game, where I should be, where I shouldn’t be. He gets frustrated he’s in the front row and I think the scrummage is a dirty word in Geth’s language! He’d rather be out and about like a back rower. He’s got a soft side to him – he’s a very generous lad when he wants to be.”

And skipper Paul Tito reckons:

“I have never seen a prop like Gethin. He’s got a very big engine, that fella. He’s got the highest work-rate of any prop I’ve seen. He’s class. When he gets out there he gives it death. I’d like to see how many kilometres he does in a game, chasing kicks and covering backs. He says some funny things at times, but his heart is right in it. Just look at the first tackle of the game against Toulouse and who made it. That just sums up Melon. He’s awesome.”

Photo from the midst of time - if it's yours please let us know butdon't tell us off too harshly!We’ve also got the legendary Martyn Williams as open-side flanker. I couldn’t possibly sing Nugget’s praises enough either in just one sentence, so I won’t go into it! Let’s just say he’s much loved – a national treasure, of course!

Photo from Huw Evans at www.welshrugbypics.co.uk

Then there’s the world-class centre partnership in the form of Tom Shanklin and ‘The big Doc’ Jamie Roberts. Shanks is 6’2″ and Jamie’s 6’4″, and together they make a  tough old pair.

Photo from the midst of time - if it's yours please let us know butdon't tell us off too harshly!

On the wing, we’ve got Leigh Halfpenny, always exciting to watch for his pace and acceleration. Up until this season his partner in crime was Andy Powell, always a joy! He’s now off to the Wasps, so best of luck to him there.

Photo from the midst of time - if it's yours please let us know but don't tell us off too harshly!

We’ve also got numerous other players who have been capped for Wales, notably John Yapp, Gareth Cooper, the hard as nails Bradley Davies (above) and serious contender for the coverted Scrum-Half throne, Richie Rees.

Pic by Huw Evans at www.welshrugbypics.co.ukUp until just recently, we had the legend that is Alfie. After being the most capped Wales player ever, the man known to his mum as Gareth Thomas is now having a successful time with Rugby League side the Celtic Crusaders!

Pic by Huw Evans at www.welshrugbypics.co.uk

We’ve got some fantastic international players, including the bulldozer-like number 8 Xavier Rush,  Kiwi kicking machine Ben Blair, Tongans Ma’ama Molitika and Taufa’ao Filise and our fearless leaderand lock extrordinaire, Captain Paul Tito.

Paul Tito, aka ‘Fish’, aka simply ‘Tito’, has been a fantastic choice of captain. He’s a lock, so he leads from the front, and he is a serious grafter. He puts in tonnes of work, and is always hard as nails, and the Cardiff Blues supporters have really taken him to their hearts. He’s been here for a few years now, and his appearance and his work on the field is usually greeted by a chant of ‘Teeee-to, Teeee-to!’. He used to play for the New Zealand Maori team, and on the residency rules is now eligible to play for Wales…watch this space. You can’t miss him.

The KitPhoto from the midst of time - if it's yours please let us know but don't tell us off too harshly!

Here’s another reason to love this team – obviously they wear blue most of the time, but they have a hot pink away strip. Stade Francais may have the corner in pastel, but we’ve got an unmissable version too! Here’s Gethin, working hard to make it manly. Seriously, though, the boys first wore these to raise awareness for cancer research. Thanks to the popularity with the supporters, it’s now the away colour too.


Moving from Cardiff Arms Park to Cardiff City Stadium, Leckwith

The Blues’ move from Cardiff Arms Park to the new stadium has been a worrying, difficult affair. Whereas the Arms Park was bang in the centre of Cardiff, the new place is something of a trek for most of us, being bang in the middle of Grangetown (Strangetown).

The Blues are also paying an extortionate amount to rent the place – they don’t own it. Being a 25,000 seat stadium, supporters can rattle around in there sometimes when there’s a game that’s not considered important by the majority.

It’s excellent that the team will have better facilities, of course, and that the place will be family-friendly. Also, you can argue that if we want to attract bigger players to join the team then we need a nice stadium, and if we want to attract the kind of following that Munster or Leicester get, then we need enough seats.

Still, the Ospreys have had the same problem of not enough bums on seats with their new stadium, and that’s only a 20,000 capacity. What really needs to happen is MORE PEOPLE go and watch rugby!

Go on, chivvy your friends and get going!

Words by Ellie, pictures by various, hover over for details.