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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 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