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Previewpilez : The Amlin Challenge Cup Final – Harlequins v Stade Francais May 18, 2011

And now, the end is near, and so we face the final questions…

Harlequins or Stade Francais?

Leinster or Northampton?

Leinster or Munster?

Leicester or Saracens?

And so begins the first of our looks ahead to the show pieces of  what has already been an exciting, unpredictable and entertaining rugby season.  Well, unless you count the Aviva Premiership final being a direct repeat of last year…

This Friday sees the final of the Amlin Challenge cup, where Harlequins and Stade Francais will both be running out onto the Cardiff City Stadium pitch to prove pretty much the same point: their season hasn’t been all that bad.

With both star-studded  teams having finished in the bottom half of their leagues, and records that can only be described as hit and miss, it’s difficult to tell which way this will go. On the one hand, Harlequins beat Magners League dominating Munster to get to this final, which is no mean feat in itself, but with their away record in particular this season looking a little grim, there’s a bit of a sense of that wonderful ‘it depends which Quins turn up on the day’ cliché we all brought out for France in the Six Nations. Add this to the fact that the moments where Harlequins have shone this year have been when the pressure has been highest, it’s very tempting to put Quins as favourites to lift the trophy.

Stade Francais, on the other hand, are a different animal altogether. With some massive international names on their books and a budget the size of the entire economy of Lichtenstein, it’s hard to understand why they have missed the mark so often this season, finishing a lowly 11th in the Top 14. However, with so many internationals, there is a strong test-match mentality which has saw them through the tournament so far.

Despite this second-string meeting playing second fiddle to Saturday’s Heineken Cup final, some fantastic head to head battles on the field have the potential to make this the more interesting fixture. One of the most interesting oppositions will lie at the back row, as Chris Robshaw, Nick Easter and Will Skinner for Quins up against Antoine Burban, James Haskell and Sergio Parisse, while at scrum half, the occasionally controversial Julien Dupuy will test his mettle against the ever energetic Danny Care.

What is certain, is that Leckwith is not going to know what’s hit it with two particularly voiciferous and passionate sets of fans baying for glory.  We’re particularly looking forward to hearing how loud the chants of ‘Uuuuuugooo!’ will be if Mr Monye works some magic.

Ones to watch:

Nick Easter, sometime England captain and cheeky cockney geezer is never a man to be afraid of putting his body on the line to create a chance.

Sergio Parisse, always. In fact, we’ll give you a tenner* if you can find a rugby player, writer or pundit that can say a bad thing about his play.

One to drool over during stoppage time: We know you lot love a bit of Danny Care action, but we’re going to go Mirco Bergamasco, mainly because Anna goes all gooey when he’s around.

*We wont

Words by Lauren

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Six Nations 2011: The Scrummy XV February 21, 2011

It’s all been a bit serious around here lately, what with all the predictions, analysis and an actual, legitimate interview. Time, we’re sure you’ll agree, to lower the tone. Yes, the pundit hats are being hung up for a short while as we shamelessly celebrate the fine forms, good looks and down right rawr of our favourite Six Nations boys. Alongside an anonymous panel of Manpilers, we have made our selections. This isn’t about fairly representing each squad, nor who has the best chance of taking home the silverware. This, our dear readers, is our Scrummy XV.
 
 
Loosehead Prop
“There is no such thing as a hot loosehead prop,” came the bold claim from one panel member. Before anyone jumped up to counter this argument, the majority realised that they agreed. Several minutes of head scratching later, a lone voice with a serious weakness for front row forwards took a stand and nominated Cian Healy with the proviso it’s “without the shaved head and gypsy mo”. As no one else had a preference, our loosehead was named. A last minute shout out goes to Alex Corbiserio, who’s Italian heritage put him at a definite advantage in what was always in danger of becoming a distinctly continental line up…
 

Cian Healy: defying all odds

Hooker
Again, our unofficial doyenne of the front row was adamant that there was only one man for the job and that man was Dylan Hartley. Needless to say, said doyenne is in no way affiliated with Warren Gatland. Few will be surprised to hear that the rest of the judges weren’t so easily convinced and The World’s Prettiest Hooker, Dimitri Szarzewski was swiftly selected after a majority vote. Because he’s worth it.

Show us you swish: Dimitri Szarzewski

Tighthead Prop
Things got a little easier here as several votes went one way. Sure, we were anxious to get to the squabbling over all those pretty backs, but one voter’s weakness for a certain type of man coupled with another’s claim that “Every team needs at least one cave man” meant that, regardless of the first shout out for Wales with Ryan Bevington, this had to go to Martin Castrogiovanni. Wild hair, wild beard; Castro is classic prop.
 

Mad props: Martin Castrogiovanni

Locks
Ah, locks. The Achilles Heel of three quarters of the Manpilez ladies. We knew there was a risk of all out war with this, so thank goodness there were some definite preferences across the board. Our second Irish boy was brought on board at 4 with the inclusion of prankster extraordinaire, our very own Duck Wrangler, Mr Donncha O’Callaghan. The thighs, the eyes, the mischevious grin; we just can’t resist that Donners charm.

Don't mention little red pants: Donncha O'Callaghan

The startling inevitability of our number 5 meant that his name was already bolded on the original list of suggestions that circulated. It seems only right that the first of our Welsh boys should be one whose gwlads are always just those few decibels louder, whose pride is just that little bit more fierce and whose pretty blonde curls make all the girlies swoon. Yeah, you know it. We’re all a-flutter for Alun Wyn Jones. Locky love also went out to our favourite giants Simon Shaw, Richie Gray, Nathan Hines and Jerome Thion. Difficult choices!

Scrumming 9 to 5: Alun Wyn Jones

Flankers
After the locks, it’s the lovely fierce flankers that we turn to and where the props left us struggling, we were spoiled for choice here. Because we are very dedicated to our perving, some (flimsy) ground rules were put in place which meant that nominations for injured players were null and void. Thus, the very topical Tom Croft didn’t win a place in our XV. Rather it was a pair of Killer Bs, Johnnie Beattie and John Barclay, who beat off the competition in the shape of Alessandro Zanni, Tom Wood and David Wallace to join our back row.
 

Johnnie Beattie: not affiliated with the Wu Tang Clan...

... although John Barclay has a side project with Raekwon The Chef

Number Eight
Another controversial position, this became a clear Wales v Italy showdown. No amount of insistence and pouting could put Ryan Jones at Eight, however. This one was crafted for the returning wonder that is Sergio Parisse. Hair loss be damned, The Big Man still cuts a fine figure on and off the pitch and the weeping during the anthem is the kind of thing that turns a girl weak at the knees. It’s not just us ladies, either – did you see the BBC’s ode prior to the Italy v Ireland game? It seems no one can resist a bit of a Sergio swoon.

Sergio Parisse: enjoying the novelty of clothes

Half Backs
It’s tempting, when asked to compile the ultimate hot squad, to simply respond with “France”. However, Chabal may not be to everyone’s taste (you fools) and we already have our cave man. Regardless, there were just too many delicious Bleus to not let the bias shine through at some point. To that end, there was a unanimous demand for the pretty, pocket sized powerhouse that is Morgan Parra to take the glamour role of scrum half. The logical conclusion was to appoint the stunning Francois Trinh-Duc as his partner, just the way the gods of the stadium intended.

Straight out of the pages of Vogue Homme: Morgan Parra

You'd applaud yourself if you were this hot: Francois Trinh Duc

Left Wing
And if we’re not talking France, let’s talk Italy. There is a Manpilez lady to staunchly defend both teams, but the Italian camp didn’t have to try too hard to ensure this went to Mirco Bergamasco. Representing both brothers this year, Bergamasco the Younger may have toned down the peroxide and gone all manly with a beard, but he is by no means less gorgeous. Countless comparisons to classical Italian sculpture aside, there’s no doubt that the crestfallen Mirco we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks has pulled at the heartstrings. Come here, Mimi. We’ll give you a hug.

Sassy captions don't apply to this vision. It's Mirco Bergamasco, bitches.

Centres
After all that ooh la la and ciao, bello, the Celts fought back with full force to claim their places at 12 and 13. This is where it got pernickety, with literally less than tens of emails being fired back and forth to the effect of “But x is technically a wing,” and “Yes, but y is being played at centre” and “Ooh, z! Did you see that one photo where…”
 
Feet were put down and eventually, two were named. First up, our favourite Big Doc, Jamie Roberts. No one seemed to really be able to place what it is about Jamie that gets the eyebrow arching in approval. It might be the general massiveness of him, or that endearingly soft voice. Whatever it is, he wears that jaw well.

Jamie Roberts: we love him for more than his Brains. Heh.

There are some that might argue that there’s only one number 13 and those people will probably be wearing green. As it is, the allure of Brian O’Driscoll transcended nationality and with his dual weapons of handsomeness and heroics, there was no way he wasn’t making the final cut.
 
On the bench: Gonzalo Canale and Gordon D’arcy.

At last, an excuse to use the "Sex BOD" pun: Brian O'Driscoll

Right Wing
Much like his counterpart on the left wing, this boy is one half of a pair of beautiful brothers with a penchant for getting their kit off in a series of increasingly jaw droppingly suggestive photographs. If you haven’t guessed it by now, you haven’t been paying nearly enough attention to your lessons at Uncle Gigi’s School of Rugby Filth. It’s Max Evans. Google “Dieux du Stade 2010” but, for the love of God, don’t hold us responsible for the results. The acronym “NSFW” was probably invented for Max and his brother Thom.

It's the innocent looking ones you have to watch: Max Evans

Full Back
This one was the wild card, with no clear front runner to begin with. It’s only in hindsight that the similarities between the three shortlisted players becomes apparent…
 

Beardy brunette #1: Clement Poitrenaud

Beardy brunette #2: Ben Foden

 

Beardy brunette #3: Luke McLean

It was ultimately the refusal of one panel member to make any choices beyond fly half (“I don’t do backs”), that meant Luke McLean was the victor. Yet again, those Italian genes have given an undeniable edge and coupled with that lazy Aussie grin, Luke is a delicious combination of cute and fierce, even when he is the beardiest of the brunettes with his Grizzly Adams look. We’ll be sure to supply plenty of razors with that Scrummy XV shirt.
 
With that much hard work choosing from just six squads, we’d better start shortlisting for the World Cup Scrummy XV now…

 

With thanks to our panel of voters

Words by Anna

 

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