Saturday, February 24, 2007

Welsh Dream Turns To Nightmare

Six Nations Game 9 - France vs Wales (32-21)

Stephen Jones [left] tried for an early drop goal in the first minute, but were given the opportunity of a penalty went wide too. Gough stole French lineout then France stole one back.

Then Mignoni passed a cracker to Vincent Clerc who made it to withing 5m of the Welsh line. The French won the subsequent lineout, and got a penalty too, as a Welshman took out a lifter. David Skrela took the three points and a French lead.

After another Welsh lineout and maul, Alix Popham [right] snuck over for a try and Jones punted the conversion to make it 3-7 to Wales. Then the Welsh stole another French lineout, James Hook took a great pass and offloaded to Tom Shanklin who scored right under the posts. Another 3 points from Jones' boot and the French were down by 3-14. A bit of déjà vue with the Scotland/Italy game!

David Skrela took another three points penalty after a Welsh infringement at the ruck, and France had doubled their points. A messy up and under left Wales offside, Skrela kicked for territory for an attacking lineout on the Welsh 22. They won ball initially, but the Welsh turned them over quickly.

For a few minutes, it was all France in attack, but the red defence held firm. Left, right, they kept switching the ruck. Ref Tony Spreadbury had his work cut out to keep them all under control; eventually France were caught holding on. But they lost the lineout throwing in not straight.

France got a scrum and penalty on half way, and they proceeded to jink up the pitch, Christophe Dominici finally going over the line, his 23rd in a French jersey. A simple conversion for Skrela made the score finely poised at 13-14.

Wales gave away a silly penalty taking a man out in the air at a lineout, and the French forwards then went driving for a bit before switching to the backs for a run. Jannick Jauzion [right] found a hole, the Welsh were scrambling in defence for a couple of minutes before Lionel Nallet scored. Skrela's boot did the job and the Welsh were down by 20-14.

With five minutes to go before half time, Shane Williams was smashed in a tackle by David Marty. Skrela had the chance for another three points which just floated over. Bad news for Wales, now 23-14 down.

Les Bleus were on a roll, running the length of the field. Dwayne Peel had to scramble the tackle. The French lineout wasn't straight, which was bit of a get out for Wales as it was 5m out from their line. They must have been relieved to go in for half time.

After the break, Wales secured some ball, but the French soon snaffled it back. Then it was back to Wales; Shane Williams, James Hook and Tom Shanklin nearly getting it over the line, but being ushered into touch at the last minute. The French were lucky to win their lineout.

Then a huge hack back towards the Welsh line was saved by Dwayne Peel [left] with French players hard on his heels. Somehow he managed to clear with a kick. Wales infringed again at the lineout, and Skrela took the points yet again, making it a 12 point lead.

Soon after, France gave away a penalty but Stephen Jones' kick went wide. The French turned over possession from the restart, then Popham made a massive, crunching tackle on Raphael Ibañez. The French were all over the Welsh defence, deep in the Welsh 22. Then a red hand in the ruck gave Skrela another chance at goal. Sweetly struck, it went over once more and Wales were trailing 29-14.

It looked like the French had made another breakaway, but "Spreaders" had spotted a knock-on, so it was a Welsh scrum. Soon after, France gave away another penalty, this time James Hook stepped up to take it. But it floated wide too.

After a French scrum, Pierre Mignoni spotted a hole behind the Welsh defence, with a lovely kick for touch. The Welsh lineout was solid, but Les Bleus got the ball again, only to be done for hanging on in a tackle.

Wales almost gave away another intercept, and were lucky to get away with a scrum, which the French then bossed. Shane Williams [left] were caught offside, but Skrela's kick at goal missed.

Wales won a lineout, but Martin Williams knocked on, a rare mistake from him in this match. Mike Phillips [right] came on instead of Peel, but France took a run upfield. The next Welsh scrum was a mess, not fault of Philips', it was the forwards making a hash.

The Welsh put together some reasonable passages of play, but were unable to get across the half way line very quickly. Eventaully, with five minutes to go, Jamie Robinson broke loose to score under the posts, with Jones adding the points. Than left the "BRAWN" boys trailing by just 8 points, 29-21.

The French forwards went driving from a lineout win, and crept closer to the Welsh line. They were turned over but then got a chance again with a lineout at 10m. Then another chance with a penalty at 79 minutes. Lionel Beauxis took the kick and sealed the game at 32-21. Skrela was Man of the Match.

Or read my ten word review.

The Irish Dream

Six Nations Game 8 - Ireland vs England (43-13)

Crunch time, for both teams. As the anthems played, I felt sick, and that was just me watching in front of the telly! (A new telly, which I had to rush out and buy earlier, when the old one chose to die on me at 10am this morning - what timing!)

It always makes me smile when I see Peter Stringer [tiny fellow that he is, right] dwarfed bewteen the two Locks, as they sing "standing shoulder to shoulder". Wonderful.

And Jonny Wilkinson fit, thankfully. David Strettle in for the injured Jason Robinson. So, a new-look backline.

Joel Jutge blew the whistle and we were off. Wilko's kick taken safely by Ireland. Penalty for England withing thirty seconds, after a high ball kick wasn't taken well by anyone. Jonny punts the ball over, 0-3 to England.

Danny Grewcock [left] took the restart kick safely, but Ireland soon had it back in their possession. They kicked long and it ended over the try line, so it was a 22m dropout to England. Paul O'Connell was brought to ground after his catch. O'Gara put it just out near the England line and it was England's lineout. Easterby went up too, but it was won by Lund and the forwards rumbled them back. Shortly after Ireland won a penalty, O'Gara pushing it over cleanly.

They played ping pong for a bit, Ireland lost their lineout and England made a break. Attack and counter-attack, and then into touch. After the scrum, England won a lineout, and seemed to be getting some quick ball from rucks. Ireland had a chance of overlap but squandered it.

Soon after, Ireland kicked another penalty to make it 6-3. Then they stole a lineout from Grewcock. Then Ireland infringed, Ellis took the penalty quickly and then O'Connell gave away another penalty for high tackle. Wilkinson punted it deep into the Irish 22. George Chuter's [right] lineout was lost and Ireland won another lineout a couple of minutes later.

The rain started hammering down and the ball was getting slippery. Then England gave away another stupid penalty at the lineout. O'Gara made it 9-3.

After the restart, Ireland looked more dangerous, and Josh Lewsey saved a possible Irish chance by making sure it was in touch. Then Ireland were attacking again, just before the line and Danny Grewcock was sin binned. Which meant an Irish lineout close to England's line and a man down. The inevitable - Irish try finished by Girvan Dempsey [left]. 16-3 to Ireland once O'Gara had done the hours with the boot.

After some sticky moments for England, they had a chance at attack, but knocked on. So Ireland had the put-in. Mattew Tait came on for Olly Morgan (shoulder injury). Ireland were on the attack again after a lineout, and almost made it, but Tait made one hell of a tackle and it was out of the dead ball line. Soon after they were back and David Wallace [right] just managed to get across the whitewash. O'Gara did the honours, and Ireland were up 23-3.

Shame to see England on the ropes, I was hoping for a better matched first half. Just before the break, they looked to be making a break, but couldn't manage it. Brian Ashton has some talking to do at the break.

Things didn't get any better at the restart of the second half. Paul O'Connell almost charged down a Mike Tindall [left] clearance kick but it went out. Ireland stole the ball but then knocked it on. The scrum was terrible for England and O'Gara added another three points for the offence, making it 26-3. Ghastly second half start for the men in white.

Julian White came on as a blood replacement for Vickery, Grewcock caught the dodgy England lineout. Then the centres had a go. Andy Farrell kicked a lovely clearance to touch but the Irish lineout was solid, until England turned them over. Josh Lewsey made some headway and England were only 5m out. They had to spin it out wide, and David Strettle scored in the corner on his debut, after seeing the video replay. Wilkinson took the extras and England were back in the game at 26-10.

Ireland's next attack eventually put the ball in touch. England won the lineout, but the clearing kick failed to find touch and Ireland were back on the attack. They were pinged for crossing on the half way line, and Jonny wasn't quite able to push it over.

On 53 minutes, Tom Palmer [right] replaced Danny Grewcock. The next phase of play, Ireland gave away a penalty closer in, and Jonny made no mistake with the boot this time, making it 26-13. Then Julian White gave away a penalty, and O'Gara did the honours - 29-13.

The restart saw Ireland go on the attack, but Lewsey got the ball back and Ireland had a forward pass. The England scrum wasn't performing to best - England done for not feeding straight and Stringer was off for a quick tap and go. They tried to get themselves into the England 22, but Tait was able to take a silly kick from Ireland.

Then Ireland looked like they were making headway before England managed to catch an intercept. Then Ireland had a scrum, and there were a couple of knock-ons either side. A few minutes later, a huge crossfield kick from O'Gara was taken by Shane Horgan [left] to put it down in the corner, O'Gara making it 8 from 8 and the score moved on to 36-13.

Then Brian O'Driscoll's hamstring appeared to go again as England turned over the Irish ruck. It took another ten minutes for him to go off the field, though.

A flurry of replacements for both sides, but Ireland still looked like the dominant force. England won some more ball, but it was basically scraps compared to Ireland's possession.

Even the last five minutes were fairly furious, with possession changing hands regularly. Paul O'Connell was named man of the match, but I'm sure Isaac Boss, a late replacement for Stringer, will be relishing his interception which gave him a simple run under the posts. And then O'Gara added the rest. Again. 43-13.


Ireland certainly looked the most convincing, they played extremely well. And 30 points is the biggest Irish win against England. The best team certainly won on the day, and at Croke Park, they will be partying very hard tonight.

Or read my ten word review.

The Italian Dream

Six Nations Game 7 - Scotland vs Italy (17-37)

Twenty seconds and the Italians were off! Godman's chip was intercepted by Mauro Bergamasco who slid in under the posts and Scanavacca converted. All of a sudden, the Scots were stunned and on the back foot. As if that wasn't bad enough, Cusiter's pass was intercepted by Scanavacca and he put it under the posts too! The Azzuri were 14 points up after only five minutes. Then it got worse! Another wayward pass and another intercept - clinically finished off by Kaine Robertson [right]. The boot added the extras and then it was 0-21 to Italy.

Not the sort of start that Lock Scott Murray would want for his record-equalling 82nd cap, to tie with Gregor Townsend. And not the sort of start the Murrayfield crowd were expecting - boos rang around.

A chink of light for the Scots on 12 minutes - Rob Dewey managing to get over the line and Paterson's boot gaining the extra two points. Then they were only two tries down.

Italy were pushing the Scottish defence again, and were five yards out, when Simon Taylor appeared to foul Roland de Marigny and Taylor was off to the bin for ten. Despite the disparity, Scotland made a concerted effort at attacking the Azzurri's line. But the blues kept pushing them backwards, no matter what they did.

Italy got themselves offside and Scotland decided to kick for the corner. Having won the lineout, Dougie Hall was pushed into touch just short of the line. Another lineout ended with Scottish hands losing the ball forward, so it was an Italy scrum with only seven Scots to push back. The scrum collapsed and Italy had a penalty. They kicked the points to make it 7-24.

They pushed the ball into the Scottish half, then won their lineout and mauled a good few yards up the pitch. Ultimately coming to nothing. The Scots begin to settle down and survive Taylor's ten in the bin without condeding any more points.

Just after the half hour, Scotland appeared to be making more moves and progress up the pitch. But a knock forward gave Italy a scrum. The Scottish lineout seemed to be one of the few parts of the game which worked ok, but they didn't get very far with the subsequent drives. They just couldn't seem to make any headway, despite attacking the Azzurri's line. For the final play of the half, Paterson decides to kick a penalty (at long last) rather than trying for more points via the corner. So they went in 10-24.

Scotland kicked off the second half to the strains of Loch Lomond from the crowd. Hadden must have had stern words in the changing room at half time.

A botched Scottish lineout gave Italy some possession, but they lost it forward. The ball changed hands several times from the scrum, eventually, Scotland took a quick penalty and ran the ball - but Phil Godman's pass to Hugo Southwell was slightly forward.

Euan Murray [left] was taken off for a blood injury for a few minutes, but came back on fairly quickly. He kept having the nose dabbed in subsequent breaks.

Frank Hadden made wholesale changes from the bench with thirty minutes to go, but it was the Azzurri who still seemed to be making the headway. Then Italy lost the ball, Ally Hogg kicked half way down the pitch and Sean Lamont [right] won the chase, but it was pushed into touch. Several phases later and Lamont got them to within five meters of the line. Italy infringed, and Paterson chose to go for the corner instead of the three points.

Their attack always seemed to fall back at the last minute. The Scottish backs had another opportunity from lineouts, but squandered it. They Scots did manage to steal an Italian lineout in their half, but further phases and Nathan Hines knocked on.

Italian coach Pierre Berbizier brought on his front row replacements with just over twenty minutes to go, including Saracen Fabio Ongaro [left].

A minute later, Cusiter offloaded from the back of a scrum and Chris Paterson saw a gap. He was off. And converted his own score. Scotland had a lifeline and the score was a more respectable 17-24. The restart wasn't taken by anyone, and then Italy won a lineout close to the Scottish line. The Scots were forced to defend and Troncon lost it forward at the back of a ruck, 3m off the line.

The subsequent scrum was a mess for Scotland, and it was Italy's feed 3m out again. Scotland went to ground at the next scrum and Scanavacca kicked the penalty to go 17-27. With barely fifteen minutes to go, Scotland needed to do something special, and they promptly messed up the restart catch and it went into touch.

Italy's lineout deep in Scotland's territory was won, and then Troncon steered his forwards for a trundling maul. Scotland brought it down, winning another penalty, but it was reversed when an Italian was seen using the boot on the ground. No points gained though, and soon after, the Scots gave away another penalty at a ruck. This time, it was kickable and Scanavacca duely punted it over for 17-30.

After the restart, the Italian forwards went on a decent drive, Roberston's kick ahead just went into touch, but the Scottish lineout was won messily again. A few phases later, and Italy were attacking the Scots' tryline again. Wave after wave, and it was up to the video ref to agree that Alessandro Troncon [right] had scored. Duely converted by Scanavacca, the hearts of the Scottish fans were heavy and the Italians were singing in the stands. He was well-deserved Man of the Match too.

For the last three minutes, Scotland tried the damnedest to break the Italian defence, and got up to the 5m line. They won a penalty close in, and Scotland battered the defence again - 1m short of the line. Blue shirts were all over them. Eventually, they were bundled into touch, Italy won their lineout and the countdown was on. Quite why Italy replaced Scanavacca with 4 seconds left on the clock is anybody's guess. Perhaps he was the only one left on the bench! Scotland tried to get a consolation score in the dying moments, but it was knocked forward and the Italians went wild at the final 17-37 score.

So, a momentous first away victory for the Azzurri, and well deserved it was too. I'm really pleased for them, they seem to have been the tournament's whipping boys for so long, but it's great to see them finally getting some reward for their hard work and commitment. Must be a hard day to be a Scotland supporter, though.

Or read my ten word review.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Loose-Head Birthday

This blog is one year old today.

Not much of a milestone in blogging terms, you may say. But I've enjoyed blethering away about my favourite sport for the past year. Whether anyone else is reading is immaterial!

I'm looking forward to the rugby-fest that presents itself on Saturday: three games on the trot. Need to stock up on beer and take the phone off the hook!

Jason Robinson's training injury is a bit of a worry, having been scoring well since his return to international duty. Let's keep the fingers crossed it's nothing serious. I'll stick my neck out (no pun intended) and make a few predictions:

Scotland vs Italy, 15:00, Murrayfield
The Scots are on a roll from last time round, and Italy have now lost two in a row. Plus, the Scots have home advantage, even if the ground will be far from a sellout. I think if Italy were to beat anyone this year it would most likely be Scotland, but I'm not sure they're fired up enough yet. So, Scotland to win.

Ireland vs England, 17:30, Croke Park
The clash everyone's talking about. Brian O'Driscoll, fit for this game, thinks Wilkinson will be a big influence (he's not wrong). England looked relaxed in training yesterday, according to reports. If they can keep their composure, they may upset the party at Croke Park. But Ireland's midfield are more of a threat than either Scotland or Italy have been - so Andy Farrell better be on his toes. I think Ireland will win, but not by much. Actually, I don't mind either way as long as it's a great game and doesn't get swung by iffy refereeing decisions.

France vs Wales, 20:00, Stade de France
The Welsh are smarting from two losses, and basically have nothing to loose by going to Paris and doing a number on the French. Captain Raphael Ibañez is worried about Gallic complacency, which could indeed by their undoing. But do Wales have the bottle at the moment? I think not, so my money's on France to win.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sarries Pip The Cherry-And-Whites

By all accounts, Sunday's game between Saracens and Gloucester was a cracking match. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend, so I'm only going by what the reports have been saying.

Sounds like it was a hard fought and close game right up until the last whistle. Gloucester were leading by only a couple of points at half time, and Saracens just managed to hang on at the end for Kris Chesney to score a try, which Glen Jackson subsequently converted, to give them a 24-22 victory.

It's good to see Saracens finally winning close games like that, when in past seasons, they would have not been able to come back and make a break for the win. It's also fantastic to see Chesney's signed another 2-year contract, and with match-winning scores like that under his belt, it can only be good for the team.

The photo above is from when Saracens played Gloucester in the Zurich Wildcard Final at Twickenham on 14th May 2005. Sarries won that too (24-16), to go through to the Heineken cup in the 2005/2006 season.

The weekend's win puts Saracens at 5th in the table, just two points behind Gloucester, and with one match in hand (against London Irish, who are currently at 8th). Let's hope they can keep up the momentum going into the last part of the season.

It seems that England's players for the Ireland game all came through their weekend club matches without incident, so hopefully they will be raring to go come Saturday at Croke Park. I think it will be time to replenish the beer stock in the fridge, and sit down for three captivating games.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Eggheads And Arguments

I was minding my own business waiting for a train this morning, when what should I spy on the opposite platform but this poster for the Daily Telegraph:

["We've got Rugby's finest minds"]

I wondered if he'd got the enourmous egg from constantly battering opposition front rows? :-)

The club vs country row rumbles on like an old sore which has had the scab picked off yet again. WHEN are the RFU and PRL Ltd going to sort it out?! It's getting very tedious! They are all looking like bigger eggheads than Keith Wood! And the poor old players just end up as piggies in the middle.

With a Six Nations rest weekend coming up, Brian Ashton named his team to play Ireland on 24th earlier in the week, in the hope that his chosen players would be rested by their clubs, a large number of which have important games scheduled over the weekend.

Wilkinson sits out Newcastle's game against Bristol, but team mates Tate and Flood are in the starting XV. Some of the Leicester boys might come off the bench for their Worcester game. But Saracens are fielding Andy Farrell at 12 for their match against Gloucester. I'm disappointed to be missing that one, especially as a win could mean they move into the top 4! But I'll be watching closely for the result!

It's not just the English who have been inconvenienced - several Premiership clubs refused to let their Scottish internationals attend a training day this week.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cracker At Croke Park

Six Nations Game 6 - Ireland vs France (17-20)

History was made today when Rugby was played for the very first time at Croke Park, the fantastic stadium owned by the GAA. Looks like there was a superb atmosphere in the place, and I'm not sure I've ever heard the anthems sung with as much passion!

Two missing links for Ireland today were captain Brian O'Driscoll and Scrum Half Peter Stringer [left], both missing the game through injury.

The French forwards hard a early driving maul and the subsequent move made Ireland infringe - David Skrela took the 3 points. Then the French disrupted an Irish lineout and won a scrum against the head, making by far the best start to the game. Another 3 points followed quickly, but by 13-odd minutes in, Ireland woke up, the French came in from the side at a ruck and Ronon O'Gara popped the ball over Ireland's first 3 points.

Ireland's comeback didn't last long when Geordan Murphy's mis-tackle let Franch Captain Raphael Ibañez [right] in for a great try, Skrela adding the two points, leaving Ireland 10 points down.

Ireland then won a solid lineout close to the French 10m line, but the passes in midfield were a mess, and even the following Irish scrum could not make any ground.

A couple of minutes later, the Irish had an attacking lineout at 5m and went for a catch and drive, but the midfield passing caused the French to give away another penalty in their half and O'Gara punted 3 points.

The French forwards seemed to have the upper hand, wheeling the odd scrum and certainly giving as good as they got. But after 30 mins, Ireland had a 22m lineout in French territory. Several phases later and a couple of dummies from Ronan O'Gara, a great back pass from flanker David Wallace [left] and O'Gara was over the line to rapturous applause. The conversion went wide, but Ireland were back within 2 points of France.

Rory Best was penalised for slowing the ball down at a ruck, but Skrela missed the posts and the score remained 11-13. France won a scrum an Imanol Harinordoquy [right] made a big break - France looked sure to score but Geordan Murphy's defence close to the line saved the try. Skrela missed another penalty just before half time, and Ireland were lucky to go back to the changing rooms trailing by just 2 points.

Ireland made a brighter start to the second half, taking control of the ball. Sebastian Chabal was penalised twice in quick succession and Ireland won an attacking lineout in the French half but they weren't able to get very far. Ref Steve Walsh was rather quick with his whistle at one point when France had knocked on, and Geordan Murphy [left] thought he was in for a try, but play was deemed to have stopped. Queue lots of jeering from the stands!

Ireland had a go at the French from a turnover ball, and looked dangerous for a few phases, but they ultimately knocked on and France won it back. Denis Hickey made a great break in midfield, but he could not reach the hands of his receiver. The teams played ping-pong with a bit of kicking until Mignoni lost the ball in touch - all of a sudden, Ireland had a lineout in the French 10m line but didn't take advantage of it.

The Irish began to pile the pressure on with several attacking phases, forcing France into making errors. Harinordoquy came in from the side at 55 minutes, and O'Gara duely punished the French by kicking Ireland into a slender 1-point lead.

With just over 10 minutes to go, there was a spate of substitutions, but Ireland looked like they were gaining the upper hand. A fumble from Harinordoquy led to an Irish attacking lineout - a few phases later and France had turned it over.

An Irish scrum was nearly wheeled a bit later, but Ulsterman Isaac Boss [right, now without chinstrap beard] did well to kick for touch. The French lineout was won, but the ball changed hands several times in the next few minutes, with both sides desperate to put more points on the board.

Replacement back Andrew Trimble [left] made a good break too, the last Irish hand knocked on and the opportunity was lost.

The Irish scrum wobbled a bit and Boss was penalised for not feeding a steady scrum, giving France a chance at a drop goal - Bauxis hit the post and Hickey' clearance went straight back to French hands. Ibanez was substituted but then Ireland won a penalty. The last ten minutes were agony - even for an English supporter!

The Irish forwards mauled their hearts out and made a good few yards before the French brought it down. Penalty Ireland. Cue O'Gara's kick, on the French 10m line. Croke Park was silent until it sailed over the posts. Cue hysteria! Beautiful strike.

Danger hit immediately after when Franced rushed into the Irish half and Vincent Clerc [right] took the ball over the line. With the conversion good, Ireland had let the game slip away as Mignoni punted it into the stands.

What a cracking game - so nearly Ireland's up til one minute from the end.

Or read my Ten Word Review.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Lacklustre Welsh Beaten By Scots

Six Nations Game 5 - Scotland vs Wales (21-9)

Scotland made the brightest start and were rewarded early on with a Chris Paterson penalty. Wales took a quick tap from a scrum infringement, and Chris Cusiter [right] was just able to save the try for Scotland. Shortly after, Marcus di Rollo nearly crossed for Scotland, but he knocked on from the intercept.

A few minutes later, Paterson incremented the scoreboard by another 3 points after a Welsh infringement.

On 20 minutes, centre Rob Dewey made an incisive break but the dark blues were eventually shrugged off by Welsh defence. Dewey was largely on his own, or Scotland might have done better. Hugo Southwell was caught holding on, and Stephen Jones [left] slotted thee points for the Welsh.

Alix Popham [right] rocketed out of a Welsh scrum, but the move ultimately led to a Scottish lineout. This was fumbled and Wales then got a lineout close to the Scottish line.

The Welsh tested the Scottish defence for a few minutes, but were not able to get through, and then Popham took a forward pass.

Scotland were given a scrum when Czekaj knocked on a high ball catch, then Scotland were into the Welsh 22. Paterson got close to the line, but it was passed wide and they were awareded a penalty. Paterson chose to opt for goal to take them to 9-3.

A messy Scottish scrum led to phases which gave Wales a second penalty, swiftly slotted over by Stephen Jones, just before the half time whistle.

The second half began with the rain coming down steadily, and the game there for the taking by either side. Tom Shanklin [right] came on after the break for James Hook who suffered a dead leg. Then Scotland got a penalty for Wales coming in from the side. Rob Sidoli was briefly forced to run around in stockinged feet when the studs came off his boot but a replacement pair were not forthcoming!

Soon after, Chris Paterson got another three points from the boot, and again after another Wales infringement. Then they were 15-6. Stephen Jones replied a few minutes later with his own penalty kick. Rhys Thomas [right] was sin-binned for coming in from the side and Paterson punted over yet another penalty to make it 18-9.

Paterson made a break with a lovely chip ahead kick, but he was hauled down 2m short of the line by Stephen Jones. The subsequent scrum saw Peel and Cusiter exchanging a few handbag swings, but Scotland won it to push hard at the Welsh line. Incidentally, Dwayne Peel [left] won his 50th cap for Wales today, and he's still only 25!

The forwards barrelled over, and it was left to the TMO to decide if the ball was grounded - his verdict - held up. The Scottish scrum was won but the player shielded himself behind the ref! The reset pushed hard again and the backs were turned over by the canny Welsh defence for a lineout. All this, with Wales still working with 14 men, but the lineout wasn't straight and Scotland won a reprieve with a scrum but could not capilalise getting any points.

Still the Scots kept coming, and still the Welsh line would not break. Suddenly a Welsh turnover saw play back in the Scottish half, having been camped in dark blue territory for most of the second half. A chip kick saw Scotland gather but Welsh hands caught them out and won a scrum.
The last ten minutes saw the ball changing hands regularly, but the scoreboard only progressed by another 3 points thanks to Chris Paterson's boot - to give a final score of 21-9. Simon Taylor got the Man Of The Match award. Scrappy, with no tries, but the Scots can be relieved to have gained their victory.

Tomorrow's game between Ireland and France, the first ever at Croke Park, promises to be a cracker. I think my money is on Ireland, despite them being without key playmakers, Peter Stringer and Brian O'Driscoll. Let's see if Les Bleus prove me wrong!

Or read my Ten Word Review.

Italy Nearly Contain England

Six Nations Game 4 - England vs Italy (20-7)

Jonny got his Six Nations record points score after 3 minutes. Nick Easter [left] scavanged turnover, on his first start for England at No. 6 and was generally busy around the park.

Italy missed an early penalty. Some good pressure around 12 mins lead to an England penalty which Jonny slotted over meticulously. Not surprising since he apparently practised kicking in the snow on Thursday for 2½ hours!

Allesandro Troncon [right] was winning his 92nd cap for the Azzurri.

I thought it was quite a slow start for England, but they kept the board ticking over from Jonny's boot. Italy's forwards weren't about to be bossed about, making a few yards up the pitch and not letting England's grunt boys get their own way.

Twenty-odd minutes in, Italy were close to England's line, but didn't manage to get any points from it, just ending up with an England 22m dropout. Jason Robinson's subsequent tackle made Kane Robertson hold on to the ball after a couple of phases from the restart and Jonny duly slotted another punt through the sticks for three points.

England were much more likely to compete at the lineout, but unlucky Denis Dallan [left], only just back from 2 years out injured, appeared to suffer a nasty ankle twist after 25 minutes. Pratichetti was wheeled on to replace him.

Italy seemed reluctant to run the ball, and constantly kicked for territory. But honestly, what did they have to lose?

Tindall fell short by a couple of yards from the Italian try line, if he'd passed out to Balshaw then they might have had a try. But they were awarded an attacking lineout 5m out and the forwards went for a frantic maul.

Italy infringed, Marco Bortolami [right] was sent to the bin and Ian Balshaw accompanied him off the field with a groin injury, to be replaced by Matthew Tait. The lineout was duely reset and after a few passes across field via Farrell and Tait, Billy Whizz went over for his third try of this championship. Jonny's left boot went wide, but England were then 14-0. Danny Grewcock took the restart, and soon after the hooter went for half time.

Italy came up for a strong maul just after the break, but Farrell turned them over and Jonny duely kicked for some useful yards over the halfway line. A few moves later, Corry was the only white shirt in his half near the ball and Roland de Marigny bundled him into touch. This gave Italy an attacking lineout and England drove them backwards to turn over the ball for an England scrum. England infringed at the subsequent maul but Italy's boot man was unable to kick the penatly.

England spent most of the second period in their own half, but Italy were again unable to capitalise on points. Italy made a mess of an England scrum, but Ellis then scragged Troncon at the Italian scrum and a later infringement then led to another penalty via Wilko.

It was a hard grind and Italy certainly closed England down from last week's performance. But the scoreboard kept ticking over in England's favour.

Andrea Lo Cicero was substituted just before the 60th minute and all of a sudden, England seemed to wake up and run the ball, both sides of the field. It came to naught and then the Italians had a go - falling short inches before the line but they knocked on. England's scrum was solid, but the ball went out shortly afterwards and Italy had an attacking lineout at 5m.

Italy made a break in the 64th minute for Scanavacca to go over under the posts. A well deserved score, and the conversion made the scoreboard 17-7. Tindall went off just after with a dead leg, to be replaced by Toby Flood.

Italy's score seemed to be a bit of a wakeup call for the Red Rose brigade and all of a sudden they started hitting lines and running all over the pitch. They made some good ground and were over the 10m line but Perry Freshwater [right] knocked on. He was duely substituted as were Chuter and Grewcock. Then Jonny's drop goal attempt dropped just short.

Farrell's later clearance gave Italy a lineout in their own half, but England managed to snatch the ball. The backs threw it out wide but the Azzurri defence was pretty strong. Then they had a hand in the ruck, which gave England another chance at goal - Jonny made it 20-7.

Jason Robinson took the restart kick with five minutes to go. Easter was subbed for Tom Rees [left] then England won a scrum, but Jonny's clearance kick fell into blue arms.

Troncon was named Man Of The Match even though he was on the losing side. But as Brian Moore said, nobody from England really stood out.

So. they ground out a win, but it was far from convincing. However, don't forget Italy have been getting stronger and stronger recently and long gone are te days that sides can routinely put 30-40 points past them. I wasn't surprised it took such an effort. But there's plenty for them to think about and hard work to be done before the next match against Ireland on 24th.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fantastic Battle In Cardiff

Six Nations Game 3 - Wales vs Ireland (9-19)

The Irish made a dream start with Hooker Rory Best [left] going over in the corner in the first minute. The conversion went wide, but it fired up the men in green and Wales had to sit up and take notice.

There was some fast and furious passing with plenty of ground being made on both sides. Wales seemed to have a good spell but didn't manage to turn in any points apart from Stephen Jones' penalties.

Brian O'Driscoll [right] finished off a great phase of play to score in the corner, dragging a couple of Welsh tacklers with him over the line. Great strength!

Ireland went in 3 points up at the break, 9-12.

Early in the second half, rookie Welsh winger Chris Czekaj [left] was denied in the corner, by an early tackle from an Irish defender, but the ref awarded a scrum to Ireland (Czekaj having lost the ball forward), and the Irish came off lucky.

The two teams put each other under pressure for spells in the second half. Wales made a break from a slightly fumbled Irish lineout, and made good headway up the pitch, but lost it forward and gave away a scrum.

Shortly after, Ronan O'Gara made a big break, but it ultimately came to nothing. One worry was O'Driscoll pulling up with a hamstring tweak, but he was back on his feet soon after.

They kept the tempo up. Ireland's forwards kept pounding the Welsh defence, but were turned over and Wales made some great ground. James Hook's attempted drop goal fell just short, which was a great pity as they deserved the points for their persistence.

At one point, Denis Hickey went off the field with blood pouring down his face, having caught a stud in the head. But a few stitches later, he was back on wearing a scrum cap and running round like nothing had happened.

Ireland's forwards continued to pound the Welsh defence, coming up just short of the tryline. They got another chance with a scrum but Wales won a vital turnover. The clearance kick came back into Irish hands and the green advanced again. Eventually, O'Gara managed another brilliant score in the corner, and managed to convert his own from way out wide.

The Welsh immediately hit back from a lineout, and Czekaj almost made it to the line, but was just bundled into touch just short. A few furious minutes from both sides, but they couldn't put any more points on the board.

I felt sorry for the Welsh, everyone played their hearts out for the full 80 minutes, but Ireland were just that little bit luckier when it mattered. Great game, even though there was only the one score in the second half.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Jonny's Back - With A Vengence

Six Nations Game 2 - England vs Scotland (42-20)

What can you say? For someone who has not played international rugby for 3+ years, and has barely played more than a handful of club matches in that time too, you just have to admire Jonny's skill and determination to then come on at Twickenham and play a blinder of a game.

Whether or not you agree with the try that was awarded to Jonny in the second half, you can't deny he made a huge impact in the game.

Harry Ellis [right] was held up over the line after a few minutes, then two teams traded a couple of early penalties, then Jonny punted over another before Simon Taylor's try from a crap England lineout. Paterson converted and all of a sudden, England were down 6-10.

To be fair, most of England's lineouts were solid, and Scotland didn't seem to compete much in the air, which was a surprise.

I thought Ellis played a blinder of a game too, as did Brian Ashton who thought it was his best game in an England shirt.

A few more penalties later (to England), and all of a sudden, Billy Whizz [left], another player recently out of the Interanational wilderness, strikes for his first try of two during the game. And England went in to the break leading 17-10.

Thankfully for the English fans, there was more of the same in the second half, with Martin Corry stealing a lineout, followed by a huge shove from the forwards, a tackling error from Sean Lamont, and Jason Robinson was over the line for his second.

So, two gambles in selection from Brian Ashton paid off - and so did the third, that of Centre Andy Farrell [right]. He was passing and distributing well, made some good breaks and generally looked like a far more experienced Union player than he actually is. He worked well with Mike Tindall, too, which is great news for the midfield.

A few more points for Jonny, plus a late consolation try for Scotsman Dewey, and the final score was 42-20. Other notable points from the game - Danny Grewcock was winning his 67th cap, which made him the most experienced England man on the field. He made some great lineout jumps and generally behaved himself discipline-wise. And Jonny's 27 points beat Rob Andrew's record of 24 for a Calcutta Cup match.

Jonny and the rest of us were hugely relieved the only injury he picked up was a fat lip, and he said the rest of the game went like a dream.

So, a great start for England. Bring on Italy next week!

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