Monday, March 19, 2007

Saracens Thump Bristol

Great game at Vicarage Road yesterday, Saracens maintained their winning streak at home by stuffing Bristol 36-5 and earning themselves a bonus point win. This means they're currently sitting at 4th in the Premiership table for the first time this season, just overtaking Wasps with a game in hand. That's due to the delayed game against London Irish coming up this Friday, so it's a must-win game for the Men in Black if they wish to consolidate their position in the table.

[Kris Chesney brings down Bristol prop Alex Clarke]

I have to say, there was some great passing from Saracens, who seemed to be offloading furiously before big tackles, and they really kept the ball moving. Kameli Ratuvou continues to impress with his speed on the wing, scoring a brace of tries. And the pack were going forward really well - especially with one maul which saw them make headway from their own 10m line to over half way and into Bristol territory. That got a great shout from the crowd. There were also plenty of crunching tackles, and good defence in the main - one slight error letting Bristol in for their only points of the game.

Kevin Yates also managed to canter over for a score in the second half, which pleased him no end. He's now scored five this season, not bad as the Front Row don't often get on the scoreboard from running play. You can see more photos from the game at as usual.

There was certainly a festive atmosphere at the ground too. Saracens favourite supporters, the Fez Boys, were celebrating their 10th anniversary, featuring on the front of the programme with Yatesy, and also appearing with the Saracens Sensations in a special one-off performance before the game. I have the evidence [right, Bokke in a Bikini, with the Sensations, god help us all!]

Kyran Bracken was also on a high from having won the Dancing on Ice competition on Saturday. So he's proud to have won the club the first silverware of the season!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Welsh Pride Restored

Six Nations Game 15 - Wales vs England (27-18)

England were caught napping in the first three minutes, when Toby Flood's clearance kick was charged down and James Hook did the honours with hand and boot to score seven points for Wales.

Wales nearly got another before Shane Williams [left] was hauled down and England won a penalty which was quickly taken and cleared. With just eight minutes gone, Joe Worsley went off concussed, to be replaced by Magnus Lund. Then Hook had a chance at goal from just under half way and made it into double figures, 10-0.

Then Wales had another strong attack, Chris Horsman just going over the line under a pile of Welsh bodies. Hook's wide conversion just bounced off the posts, to make the score 15-0.

England had the chance at an attacking lineout after Wales gave away a penalty. Wales knocked on to give England the scrum. They spun it out wide, and got within 2m but were getting very slow ball.

With over 30 minutes on the clock, James Hook went for a drop goal but it went wide. Possession seemed to be all Wales' way. But then England managed to make a break, skipper Mike Catt was chasing his chip ahead to the line. It bounced awkwardly, missing the Welsh defence, and Harry Ellis [right] was there to clear up. Toby Flood made the conversion and England were back in the game at 15-7. Shortly after, Flood struck a drop goal to claw back another three points, taking them to 15-10.

A few minutes later, Hook added another three points for an England infringement, taking it to 18-10. But immediately after, Ellis made a great break, with Jason Robinson in support, diving over in the corner. It was a Billy Whizz trademark try. Flood didn't make the conversion, but the score was back at 18-15 at the break.

Just after the second half started, Mike Catt went off to be replaced by Shane Geraghty. David Strettle made a break and were brought up just short, then Wales gave away a penalty. Flood's kick levelled the score at 18-all.

Wales were caught crossing in the England half, and Flood's huge kick down the field put them back into Welsh territory. The lineout was just about won, Ellis shipped it out to the backs but a high kick was caught by Wales, who promptly passed it out into touch. A few minutes later, they did the same thing on the other side of the pitch. England's lineout went long and was nicked, but then Shane Williams knocked on to give England a scrum.

Wales won their own scrum in the England 22, and they were making ground, but Kevin Morgan threw a wayward pass and Mark Jones [left] was unable to take it before it went into touch.

England were back in possession and in the Welsh half when they were caught holding on. At the Welsh lineout, England infringed and James Hook took a chance at goal from 39m out. It hit the right post and was collected by George Chuter. Then England got a scrum on half way but Wales turned over possession in the loose.

With about 20 minutes to go, Hook had another chance at goal and drew ahead at 21-18. England won some good ball fom the restart but an interception put Wales back in the England 22 with a throwin. Then they were up at 5m with a lineout throw. Gough took the ball cleanly, and England were on the defensive. The forwards were picking and driving but were still 2m from the line when Hook took another drop goal, to make it 24-18.

Hook then made a great break but couldn't manage to pass without knocking on. Meanwhile Dwayne Peel was replaced by Mike Philips [right]. England got a bit more possession, but it seemed to be coming out slowly, when Shaun Perry knocked on. Wales then had another go at goal, pulling away to make it 27-18 with eight minutes to go.

No more points were added, despite England attempting to make ground in the dying minutes. At last, Wales had a win to avoid the Wooden Spoon. Hook's 22 points made him Man of the Match.

Or, read my ten word review.

France Win At The Death

Six Nations Game 14 - France vs Scotland (46-19)

Scotland made a bright start, and Chris Paterson had an early opportunity at goal, but it just went wide. After six minutes of dominance, winger Nicky Walker collected a high kick in the corner and crashed over for the first try. This time, Paterson's boot was good, and France were trailing 0-7, and making their target 31 points to win the championship.

France gained possession from the restart, and made headway towards the Scots' line, but they knocked it on. The French lineout was solid and the forwards managed to maul there way up the pitch. Lionel Bauxis (in the squad instead of the injured David Skrela) had a punt at goal for three points, but pushed it wide.

France had possession for a while, but made nothing of it, eventually knocking on while the Scottish defence remained firm. Just after 20 minutes, Bauxis had another attempt at goal and this time it went over sweetly, to make it 3-7.

There was a bit of a lull until the half hour, when the French backs made an incisive break, but the Scottish defence was excellent. Until they gave away a penatly, and the French forwards moved in, Imanol Harinordiquy [right] just managing to ground the ball under a heap of bodies.

Another five minutes passed, then Pierre Mignoni made a fantastic break and chipped ahead, collecting himself and then passing to Yannick Jauzion [left] to go over directly under the posts, despite the best efforts of Sean Lamont to stop the grounding. The boot added the points, to take the score to 17-7.

Shortly after the restart, Raphael Ibañez stole a ball off the back of a Scots lineout, and again the French pushed the Scottish defence to the line. They came away with a penalty for their troubles, making it 20-7.

Sean Lamont [left] was back into the fray with great break, passing to Paterson. The French gave a penalty, and Lamont took a blistering quick tap and go, to run over the line, and keep the Scots in the game, especially once Paterson converted. And a great way to go in at half time, 20-14.

Scotland made a good start to the second half, Paterson would have got another try if the pass from his team mate wasn't just forward. Then it was Les Bleus turn to get some possession. They went through more than nine phases, but the French kick ahead was intercepted by a Scottish hand.

At fifty-odd minutes, France were pushing the Scots defence hard, and had to swing it both ways several times before David Marty managed to dive over in the corner. The extras made it 27-14.

France pressed the Scots' defence again, and eventually Cédric Heymans went over in th corner. Bauxis missed the conversion, which meant it was 32-14, an 18 point lead, gradually whittling down their target to beat Ireland, with about 20 minutes to go.

Incredibly, Sean Lamont was then sin-binned for a shoulder charge into touch on David Marty, when it was acutally his younger brother Rory [right] who was the perpetrator! Immediately, the French forwards mauled themselves over from a 5m linouet. Olivier Millout was the man, and Bauxis added the extras to take them clear by 25 points. Irish hearts must have been breaking in Rome, watching the coverage nervously.

With eight minutes on the clock, Scotland were awarded a penalty deep into French territory. Irish fans would be yelling for them to take the three points, but Paterson booted it into the corner, the forwards won their lineout and the Scots did their best to breach the French defence. Inch by inch, they were turned over 2m short.

Soon after, Scotland had a lineout on the French 22, and the dark blues just about recovered the ball. Ali Hogg managed to get within 5m, then France gave away a penatly. Scotland took it quickly, spun it wide both sides, and Euan Murray [left], a tighthead on the wing, went over for the try which robbed France of the Championship. Paterson didn't make the conversion, which left just under three minutes for the French to score a try and wrestle the title back form Irish clutches.

France got a late lineout, and pounded the Scottish line. They won a scrum on 5m just as time was up, white shirts pushing again. The forwards mauled for their lives. They were over, and it was down to the TMO to decide if it was grounded. Hearts in mouths all over France and Ireland. They'd done it at the last moment! What a fantastic ending. Elvis Vermeulen was judged to have been the man with the ball in his hands. Bauxis added the three points, and France were RBS Six Nations 2007 Champions.

Or, read my ten word review.

Ireland Cut Loose In Rome

Six Nations Game 13 - Italy vs Ireland (24-51)

Italy stole Ireland's first lineout, but the next green throw-in was good. Then Italy turned over Irish ball, made a canter upfield but it went out into touch over the try line.

Soon after, Ireland were making great headway up the field when Sergio Parisse made a massive hit on Girvan Dempsey [left], which had the crowd gasping. Five minutes in, and Ireland were givena a penatly, which Ronan O'Gara duely punted over, 0-3 to the hosts

In the first few minutes, Italy seemed to have control of scrum and lineout, but are prone to giving away penalties. However, Italy were pushing the Irish line through loads of phases. They couldn't be breached, but Ramiro Pez saw his opportunity and dropped a lovely goal to level the score 3-3.

Ireland stole an Italian lineout, Simon Easterby [right] taking off with the ball in the Irish 22, but he was caught holding on. Pez took the points, 6-3.

Sixteen minutes in, Dempsey broke free and went over in the corner for a lovely try. Marco Bortolami didn't stand much of a chance chasing the fullback. O'Gara's conversion from way out wide drifted off course at the last minute, so Ireland just took five points to make it 6-8.

Ireland's scrums weren't going well, but they stole an Italian scrum in Ireland's half, David Wallace [left] turning it over at the back of the scrum. They then ran up the field, passing through several hands before Simon Easterby went over in the opposite corner. O'Gara again missed the conversion, but they were ahead 6-13.

Italy came back straight after, but their attack looked rather predictable. Eventually they got a rolling maul going, Ireland infringed, and Italy had a chance to claw back a few points. Pez did the honours to make it 9-13.

Just before the half hour, Italy had possession but weren't making a lot of progress, Pez was in the pocket and pinged another sweet drop goal to encroach again on Ireland's lead, pinning it back to one point 12-13.

The men in green promptly botched their next lineout and Italy stole the ball. They worked it up field into the Irish half, but Ireland turned them over. Several phases saw the ball move towards the Italian line.

The last few minutes before half time were pretty scrappy from Ireland. Just on the half way, Ireland gave away a penalty, but this time Pez' boot just pushed it wide.

Then Ireland made amends with a break to take Gordon D'Arcy [right] over the line. The replay showed what looked like a forward pass in the immediate phases before, but none of the officials picked it up, so the try was allowed to stand. O'Gara added the points from the boot, and the Irish went in at half time with a 12-20 lead.

In the second half, Ireland's first lineout wasn't straight, and Italy won possession from th scrum. They moved up to the 5m line, when Ireland knocked on, to another scrum was set with the Azzurri to put in. Denis Hickey managed to intercept an Italian pass, and chipped ahead. Blue and green chased, but a blue shirt managed to land on it before green could ground for a try. Ireland gained possession from the restart. They then had a quick tap and go penalty and all of a sudden, Girvan Dempsey was over again just under the posts. O'Gara slotted the points and Ireland began to turn the screw, making it 12-27. They needed points badly to have any chance of winning the championship.

Around fifty minutes, there was a lovely Irish chip ahead, but Brian O'Driscoll [left] knocked on inches from the line. Italy secured their scrum ball and cleared to touch. Ireland won the lineout, spun it out wide, and cut loose sending Shane Horgan over in the corner. O'Gara's boot sent it wide, making the score 12-32.

Then the forwards had a go, mauling to the line. They came up just short but shipped it out to the backs, Denis Hickey going out wide for Ireland's sixth try. O'Gara's conversion just shaded through the posts.

Ireland had a scrum put in close to their own line, they won ball and the centres broke free, flying up the pitch. A kick ahead was chased by Ronan O'Gara [right] who grounded it confidently and promptly converted it too, to make it 12-46. Brian O'Driscoll limped off with 20 minutes to go, but his team were looking like romping away and setting a huge score for France to chase in Paris, if they want to win the Championship.

The Italians slowed their haemerage of points a little, and kept possession for some minutes, frustrating Irish attempts at cutting loose any more. Then, with five minutes to go, Captain Marco Bortolami [left] took a high cross-field kick and just crashed over the line for a late Italian consolation try. Scanavacca's kick just went wide, leaving the score at 17-46.

With just three minutes left, Denis Hickey cut loose and scored Ireland's 8th try. O'Gara failed to convert again, so the score stood at 17-51. D'Arcy was named Man of the Match. Even as the clock went into the red, Ireland kept the ball alive and were going for another score, with three tap and go penalties being allowed, two for Ireland and one for Italy. Roland de Marigny manged to go over in the last seconds, the decision went to the Video ref as it looked like a double movement. It was allowed, after several reruns to deliberate. Scanavacca added the two points with the boot and Jonathan Kaplan blew up for full time, 24-51.

That gave France a target of 24 points to chase for the Champoinship.

Or, read my ten word review.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Want To See A Skating Camel?

Former Saracen Kyran Bracken is skating in the finals of ITV's Dancing On Ice this Saturday. Not to be out done, Saracens' mascot, Sarrie the Camel has been taking some skating lessons of his own. Not sure how he managed to cram his hooves into the boots, mind you...

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Oh, and Good Luck to Kyran for his final performance!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

RWC2007 Here I Come!

I'm very excited. After much dithering, I've finally booked my trip to the Rugby World Cup 2007.

I've signed up for a package which takes me to the Opening Ceremony plus the first game, France vs Argentina in the Stade de France, Paris. That promises to be a big spectacle, and I expect both teams will be out to prove something, but especially France, hosting the tournament.

Then I'll be off to Lens for the Red Rose Boy's first pool match, England vs USA.

The games fall on the first weekend of September, and there was another (non-rugby) event which clashed, so I had a big decision to make. In the end, I figured the other thing was annual, and there's always the 2008 event - whereas World Cups only come round every four years, and the next one is somewhat further away than France, so there wasn't really any contest!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Merde! Les Rosbifs Ont Gagné!

Six Nations Game 12 - England vs France (26-18)

England made a slow start, and France took the opportunity of 3 points after three minutes. Then England looked like they were making a break, only to be turned over. They were let off when France knocked on.

Just before seven minutes, David Skrela took an awkward fall after a tackle by Tom Rees [left]. Toby Flood took the penalty to square things up at 3-3.

England put toghether a decent passage of play but then France turned over, and nearly made it across the line - but Les Bleus knocked on to give a 5m scrum just short of the England line. Then it got messy, and France got another penalty - 3-6 up.

The first twenty minutes was rather odd - flashes of brilliance from both sides, but often little mess-ups later. Then another French penalty gave them a 3-9 lead. Then England put some pressure on France, they infringed and Flood's kick at goal went wide. His next attempt in front of the posts was good, to give England 6-9.

France pushed the English defence again, and Chuter was done for coming in from the side - Dmitri Yachvili [right] took the three points, having taken over the kicking dutes, to make it, 6-12.

From the restart, taken by Sebastien Chabal, Mike Tindall made a huge hit and Chabal was penalised for holding on. The penalty made it 9-12. Shortly after a French lineout, they were again pinged for holding on, at the half way line. Flood stepped up at 51m and it just came up short.

The second half was a bit slow to get going, but the England forwards got to within 2m of the line. They were driven back briefly, then it went out to the backs. Captain Mike Catt [left] made a great break, passed out to Flood who went over for a try. He converted his own score to give England their first leat at 16-12.

Chabal was subbed about ten minutes into the second half, he had not been doing much. England gave away another penalty, and Yachvili put over the penalty, to bring them back to 16-15.

Soon after, England gave away another penalty, an Les Bleus took the lead again, 16-18. Then England went on the break again, nearly made it over the line, and forced France to give a penalty away. Shane Geraghty [right], on for Toby Flood, who had a dead leg, and took the points in front of the posts - England 19-18.

Straight after the restart, France gave away another penalty, Geraghty kicked for the corner, the lineout was solid and they went driving for a bit up the pitch. But then Martin Corry was isolated.

They played ping pong several times, then Geraghty got the ball and scythed up the field, the French missed at least two tackles, and he went almost all the way to the line before offloading to Mike Tindall [left]. Shane converted to put England ahead 26-18 with six minutes left. What a memorable bit of play for the young Fly Half on his first cap.

The clock ticked down, and every agonising minute went buy. Finally the ref blew for full time, and Twickenham erupted.

France looked decidedly ordinary. They never really competed. Where were their forwards? Our forwards had a great game, really getting into the French faces. And there was a good mix of experience and raw talent.

So, the tournament is wide open now, all to play for next weekend. Bring on Super Saturday!

Or, read my ten word review.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Royal Battle In Rome

Six Nations Game 11 - Italy vs Wales (23-20)

Wales won possession at the kickoff, but the boot of Ramiro Pez put them back in their own half pretty quickly. They needed to have a good game, having plaid three and lost all three.

Italy made the first break and went over the line, but the ball was thrown forward at the last pass. It would have been a dream for Pratichetti, making his first start for the Azzurri.

Wales wobbled at the early scrums. The Italian pack were lighter, but they can scrum a lot of folks into the ground. After eight minutes, Pez was given the opportunity to kick for three points, but at over 55m it fell slightly short. Wales infringed again a few minutes later, and Pez had an easier kick for goal, and the aim was true. First points to Italy, 3-0.

Alessandro Troncon [right] was making his 93rd appearance for the Azzurri, a gnarled old Italian warrior.

Wales had a chance after thirteen minutes, Mirco Bergamasco just landing on the ball over the line ahead of a Welsh jersey. A Welsh scrum on the Italian 22 came to naught when they were found crossing. Pez punted the free kick well into the Welsh half for an attacking lineout.

In the first quarter, Italy certainly looked the brighter prospect - and spent more time in Wales' half. When the Reds infringed again, Pez took another three points, making them 6-0 up.

Gonzalo Canale took a bit hit to the leg and went off shortly afterwards. A replacement came on in the pack an Mauro Bergamasco went to cover the midfield duties.

Italy were pushing the Welsh pack backwards at the scrum, but Wales eventually won some ball. James Hook made a lovelykick ahead which was gathered by Tom Shanklin who offloaded to Shane Williams [left], and the flyer was off. Stephen Jones added the extras to take a narrow lead, 6-7. Jones was the recipient of a flying punch a few minutes later, and went off to be stitched up. Mauro Bergamasco was the offender.

After half an hour, Wales brought down an Italian scrum, and the penalty kick gave the Azzurri good field position to attack the Welsh. The made scappy progress but still retained possession. They were turned ovcer just in front of the posts, then Italy turned Wales over, but gave away a penalty shortly after.

Wales snaffled a scrum five minutes before half time, and went for a break. Hook made some good ground, but the support was lacking. Italy turned them over and a kick behind left Kaine Roberston [left] to run against Ian Gough - the No. 14 gathered a kind bounce and made it over the line. Pez then did the honours, giving them a 13-7 lead just before the break.

Wales started brightly in the second half, first with a penalty from James Hook, then Matthew Rees, the Welsh Hooker, sneaking over next to the posts. Hook converted, and Wales took the lead, 13-17.

Then at 50 minutes, Wales infringed and Italy kicked for the corner. A catch and drive was on, and the Italian forwards rumbled towards the line. However, Italy were caught accidentally offside, and Italy tried their utmost to disrupt the resulting Welsh scrum. The Reds weren't put off, and won a lineout shortly after. Then the Azzurri gave away a penalty, Hook did the honours, taking them seven points clear, 13-20.

All of a sudden, the Blues were all over the Welsh line, and the forwards kept pushing, inch by inch. Meanwhile, the Azzurri backs were yelling for the ball, and Wales desperately tried to defend. The ball went to ground, but Italy won the scrum at 5m. It had to be reset, and it came out and they threw it wide to the backs. Still the Welsh defended, Italy creeping closer again. Italy were accidentally offside again, and the impetus was lost.

Wales had the put in at the scrum on 5m, but the Italians kept pushing. The clearance kick went down into blue hands. Italy were still in the Welsh half, when Ryan Jones gave away a penalty. Pez kicked for the corner, giving them a 10m lineout.

However, they were going backwards, and Wales got a lineout in the Italian half. Hook sliced through the midfield, but weren't able to pass to the attacking men.

The last fifteen minutes were pretty scrappy. but it was mainly Italy in the Welsh half. Then, once the boot was on the other foot, Wales made a forward pass. During time out, there were bodies all over the place. It certainly looked like a hard-faught battle.

With ten minutes to go, Italy stole a lineout. There were several phases until Wales gave a penalty in front of the posts. Pez opted to kick the points, and his aim was good. Italy 16-20.

Italy won possession from the restart, but then Wales knocked it into touch. The Italian's possession was disrupted just over the half way line, and they were awarded a penalty. This time, they opted for the corner with five minutes to go.

The Azzurri's lineout was solid, and the forwards went driving with a massive push. They were stopped 3m short. Then 2m. The red line was straining not be be breached. Still the Italains drove on. Then Troncon spun it out wide, a chip ahead and Mauro Bergamasco grounded the ball just under the posts. Pez added another two, and the Stadio Flaminio went mental. Italy 23-20 with three minutes to go.

Wales kept possession from the restart, and pushed into the Italian half. Then the Welsh won a penalty. Massive decision with 10 seconds left! It was punted into the corner, but there was some messing about, and Chris White blew up for full time. Cue pandemonium - from the Italian supporters celebrating their win, and from the Welsh players, feeling they were robbed of the opportunity to pull ahead.

My heart was pounding - and I'm an independent observer! Well done to the Azzurri for their first back to back win.

Or read my ten word review.

Lacklustre Ireland Do Just Enough

Six Nations Game 10 - Scotland vs Ireland (18-19)

Scotland started relatively hesitantly, but still smarting from the first seven minutes of their game, it was perhaps understandable.

Ireland got a couple of penalty kicks in the first ten minutes; Ronan O'Gara punted one over but missed the second. Ireland then began to get into gear, winning lineouts and running the ball. Pushing their forwards up the field in mauls. Girvan Dempsey [left] fumbled a pass in the Scottish 22 which would probably have been a try if he'd have held on.

Round about 15 minutes, Scotland made a break, and were awarded a penalty kick - Chris Paterson duely did the honours to make it 3-3.

Each side had a little go at the other, and Ireland looked dangerous when they got the ball, but for the first 20 minutes, it wasn't the massacre that perhaps observers were expecting.

Sean Lamont [right] made a great break around 25 minutes, and Chris Paterson took a pass to charge up to the Irish 22, but he was brought down and gave away a penalty for holding on.

Close to the half hour, Ireland made a forward pass; the teams had a go at a little handbags, and Brian O'Driscoll was singled out. Ireland were pushed back 10m and Scotland had a lineout. However, off the back of that, Dan Parks' kick was charged down by Ronan O'Gara, and three or four passes later, O'Gara was through the sticks. The conversion was good, and it was 3-10 to the visitors.

After the restart, Scotland stole a lineout and made excellent headway up the field. They were then awarded a scrum on the Irish 5m line. They swung it out wide and got rucked at the other side of the field. Scotland knocked on, so it was an Irish scrum this time on 5m. Surprisingly, Ireland gave away a penalty when the front row went to ground. Paterson kicked the points, to claw it back to 6-10.

Three minutes to half time, Scott Murray was pinged for holding on, and Ronan O'Gara took the points with his boot, making 6-13.

Scotland were making good progress, going through the phases, but an Irish tackler failed to roll away, and Scotland were awarded another penatly 39m out. Paterson did the honours - keeping in touch at 9-13 at half time.

Just after the restart, Nathan Hines was penalised for not rolling away, and the ref sent him to the bin, having warned them all in the first half. Ireland had a lineout close to the Scottlish line, and got within 1m, but Scotland turned them over, despite being a man down. Sean Lamont came in for the scrum so at least the blues still had 8 men to pus. Despite pressure, Dan Parks [left] managed to clear to the 10m line.

Ireland won their lineout and ran it quite a way up field, but lost it into touch after an iffy pass.

Around 47 minutes, Ireland made another big break, Denis Hickey looking certain for a try, but Sean Lamont managed to bundle him into touch right at the corner flag, and Scotland had a 22m dropout.

After the restart, Brian O'Driscoll passed forward to Denis Leamy, so Scotland won the put-in. Then the Scottish forwards went for a trundle and rumble, going through half a dozen phases until Ireland infringed - Paul O'Connell [right] coming in from the side and the Scots were looking at a punt at goal. Parks did the honours to bring the blues within one point of Ireland.

So Scotland were immensely lucky to survive Hines' spell in the bin without shipping any points, even more lucky to score another three!

Ireland pushed again, but Chris Cusiter [left] made a fantastic hit on O'Gara to bundle him into touch. The Scots won the resulting lineout, but lost it when Murray caught a pass with his foot on the line. Ireland messed up their lineout, not straight, and so Scotland got the scrum put-in.

A few moves on, Scotland had a 7m lineout, won by Scott Murray, and the forwards went for a drive, albeit slow to start. They were pushed backwards, then the ball changed hands several times. Scotland were camped in the Irish 22 for a few minutes, and Paterson's drop goal attempt went wide, but with 20 minutes to go, he was able to put Scotland ahead with a penalty - 15-13, game on.

This seemed to fire up Ireland, and they looked like they were going somewhere, but a Scottish clearance kick landed loose in the Irish 22 and was fumbled into touch to give the blues a lineout. They won it, but were penalised for holding on. The Irish kick missed touch and Scotland had another go at running the ball. Ireland were penalised next, coming into the side of a ruck. Paterson opted to kick for the sticks, and did the honours, his 20th in a row. So, with 15 minutes left, the Scots were up 18-13, to the surprise of everyone.

Ireland won another penalty shortly after the restart (blues not rolling away). O'Gara took the points from 30m out, and the Scot's lead was cut to 2 points. Nailbiting stuff for the supporters at Murrayfield.

With 12 minutes left, Denis Leamy was replaced by Neil Best [right] and made some progress into the Scottish half. They were awarded another penalty, taken by O'Gara, so they were then 1 point clear, at 18-19.

As the final ten minutes unfolded, Ireland started to wake up, getting a few runs in and winning another penalty in the Scottish half. It was a long shot at 47m and it didn't quite make it over the bar.

The Scots took it upfield for a short way but were turned over and Ireland turned the screws again. Close to the Scottish line, Brian O'Driscoll went down injured after being tackled. Then Scotland chased a kick ahead from Sean Lamont, which Peter Stringer failed to gather cleanly. Scotland got the resulting scrum and the blues crept up the field, but knocked on in Irish territory.

Ireland's scrum was solid, and with under two minutes to go, all they had to do was hold on to the ball and not give it back to Scotland. O'Gara had to kick for touch, and the Scots had a lineout was won safely. Another run up the field was stopped at the half way line. They regrouped, but it was turned over by Paul O'Connell. The whislte blew, and the men in Green were relieved to have held on for a one point win, and the 2007 Triple Crown.

Or read my ten word review.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Looking Back & Looking Forward

I've had a stupidly busy few days, so haven't been able to write much until now. Saracens beat Sale Sharks on Sunday at Watford, in the pouring rain.

Thanks to some nightmare traffic, I only arrived in time for the second half, which annoyed me somewhat. But I had a new lens to try out at the game, and was keen to give it a spin despite the rain:

[Mates in Mud, Mark Cueto and Glen Jackson pick themselves up after a roll on the turf]

The second half saw no tries (Adam Powell having scored the only one during the first half), but Jackson kicked several panalties over. The rain let up a bit, but of course, the pitch was sodden and the players soon ended up filthy - it was quite easy to play "Spot The Subsitute" when they came on from the bench:

[Spot The Subs, Sale bring on fresh legs and fresh shirts in the front row]

Sarries took the game 22-9 in the end, leaving them fifth in the table, one point behind Wasps, with a game in hand. Another home win, which must be good for team spirit. Next up is Newcastle away, then Bristol at home on 18th. You can also see more photos from the Sarries/Sale game.

And talking of Bristol, they were nilled at Wasps on Sunday too - final score 28-0. Bit worrying to see Phil Vickery suffering concussion thanks to a wayward haymaker swung by Jason Hobson - who's already been suspended by Bristol for two weeks and faces an RFU disciplinary panel next week.

So where does that leave the current England Captain for the game against France? On the sidelines. The team will be lead by Mike Catt on Sunday, which is pretty much a crunch game for England. France have a few old faces back in their team, including The Seabass.