Sunday, February 27, 2011

SCOTLAND-18 IRELAND-21

Click here for my pre-match podcast “Take A Luke Up The Railtrack”

rog try

ONE EYE ON THE PRIZE

I’ve been doing this blogging thing for almost 7 years now. The reason I enjoy it is that I can give my opinions without an editor looking over my shoulder.

Still, when writing about the Irish rugby team in particular, I can’t help feeling like there’s someone doing just that.  Like I’m somehow compelled to make sure my write-ups don’t appear “one-eyed”.

Well screw that, I say.

I took two things from this game…

First, it may not have been a pretty victory, but I still firmly believe we can turn the English over in Dublin.

Second, Ronan O’Gara was definitely not the worst player in a green jersey by any stretch of the imagination, but nor was he “man of the match” – that award should have gone to Sean O’Brien.

If you think those two viewpoints are one-eyed, so be it. But if you bother to read the rest of my post and STILL think they are, then I’d suggest it’s not only myself who needs to be more objective.

heaslip tryIn our 240 minutes of playing time in this Championship so far, Ireland have shown the following…

  1. We CAN score tries from attacking positions (pic). Seven overall.
  2. We CAN play good defence. Only two tries against in 3 matches.
  3. We CAN keep our discipline when it is most needed. For this I cite the last few minutes in Rome.

Where our problem lies is our inability to do those three things for 80 minutes, and if we don’t find a way to do that soon, it could well be a sad end to the Declan Kidney era come November.

Even the things we CAN’T seem to do at the moment, like throwing consistent lineouts and sensibly managing our bench, would be negated if we could JUST find a way to keep our overall focus from kickoff to final whistle. 

But call me an eternal optimist all you want, I still back these players to do just that when Martin Johnson’s men come a-calling on March 19.  In my book, for Irish fans it’s either believe we can improve, or throw in the towel now.

Now remember..I’m not saying I was at all happy with what happened in Murrayfield yesterday.  I was furious with all the penalties going against us, and unlike Marc Lievremont wasn’t willing to pin that on the referee.  And of course, if we had been playing any team other than the ineffectual Scots, we would have lost.

But the fact that the Scottish were poor helps me make my point.  They had a measure of success going forward but it really did look like they gave their all on the day.  As for Ireland however, we clearly have been stuck in second gear since the competition kicked off.  That’s a huge difference…at least we have somewhere to go, we just need to find a way to get there.

And if I need something else to try and get folks behind this team, I’ll point to the childish idiots who call themselves Irish fans yet somehow felt the need to send insulting tweets directly to the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip & Cian Healy afterwards.  Full credit to the lads for re-tweeting them to show them for what they really were.

Now…to the “man-of-the-match” thing.  Yes, I KNOW my personal choice makes it look like I’m favouring my blue jersey over my green one, but please let me explain.

When our performance is as average as it was on Sunday, the award for our best player shouldn’t really matter.  But in this case, I have to be concerned about how the squad improves if the likes of Ryle Nugent, Donal Lenihan & George Hook are going to continue to put O’Gara on a pedestal & somehow immune from criticism.

Their persistent gushing of Ronan-love forces me to point out his two missed place kicks and his restart that went straight into touch.  REMEMBER…whenever Sexton did such things, and he did, he was castigated for them.

 But most of all, if Ireland’s biggest faux-pas on the day was that we were constantly giving up penalties, then how can you say our best player was a man who was responsible for two of them?

o'brien scotlandCompare that to O’Brien’s stats, where he led the side in carries (pic), metres gained, net tackles & line breaks, ALL of which contributed greatly to Irish scores, and what’s more he conceded ZERO penalties.  Seemed like a simple choice to me.

My overall point is this…there is a problem in this Irish squad.  And it is there throughout the ENTIRE squad, no exceptions.  But I believe it is one that can be fixed.  And seeing how the Welsh and English also flattered to deceive with victories this weekend, there is still time to fix it before the fat lady sings in this Six Nations.

We just need leaders like Kidney, O’Driscoll and, yes, O’Gara, to stay as one-eyed as they can…one that is fixed firmly on the real prize on offer in 2011, realistic success in the World Cup.

And what of our chances Down Under? Well, with so much provincial silverware up for grabs immediately after this Six Nations is over, I still don’t see how much we can say about our chances in New Zealand until the August warm-ups are in full swing, nor can any country for that matter.

Much rugby to be played yet, folks. Please don’t give up on the boys in green just yet.

Also this weekend…

(writeups done shortly after full-time in each case)

ITALY 16-24 WALES

The Italians are just missing one piece to their jigsaw and they’ll be competitive in the Six Nations – a good old-fashioned creative out-half who can kick from the tee. Wales are having a Jeckyll & Hyde tournament and much like the Irish were lucky not to be turned over in Rome. I still think they’re better with Hook at 10. If I’m Declan Kidney I’d be looking closely at Italy’s approach…they clearly thought there were holes to be punched through the Welsh defence. Hopefully we’ll re-discover the ability to hold on to our passes long before our meeting in Cardiff.

ENGLAND 17-9 FRANCE

Since I limit these mini-writeups to 100 words, I don’t have space to outline all the chances the French had to win this. But I will say one thing – I believe had Parra started, the result would be different. Wilkinson kicked the key pen right after coming on, but easily the most enjoyable moment was Chris Ashton thinking he’d scored another “swallow-dive” try even though play had been called back half an hour before. England gratefully took the chances they were given and march on to a Slam, but their path goes right through Dublin - Paddy’s weekend, no less.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Leinster-30 Benetton Treviso-5

Click here for my pre-match podcast “I Wanna Stan Wright Your Father”

treviso

SNAP JUDGEMENT

They say every picture tells a story…if that’s true, the collection this blogger took at the RDS on Friday night was an epic tale of woe!

I had a loan of my brother-in-law’s Nikon D60 (or to use the more technical term “fancy-shmancy camera”) for the evening so I wanted to make the most of it.  Sadly I was under the very mistaken impression that because the photos were digital then taking quality snaps would be easy!  Full kudos to those who dedicate more time to it.

Anyway, if you want to see the best from my very bad lot, you’ll find them on the end of this link.

I do like the one I chose for this post because it has so much in it…the lineout being secured by the forwards, the backs standing by at the ready, and looking down from on high in the Royal Box, Joe Schmidt & his coaching minions.  Yeah, like I was going for that. But who needs to know that little detail???

And since it’s a Six Nations weekend, plus to remain in keeping with my choice of headline, I’ll keep this write-up brief.

We should have gotten the bonus point.

OK, maybe not THAT brief!

If all chances had been taken by both sides, then a scoreline of something like 42-18 would have been the outcome.  Treviso were finding try-scoring opportunities out wide and were unlucky with a slightly forward pass or two, while their kicker Willem de Waal couldn’t kick snow off a rope from the place tee.

So as it panned out, Leinster’s younglings led by Isa Nacewa were just too good for their opponents, “too good” enough for at least a fourth try but alas with the “knockon gremlins” that seem to be haunting Leinster and Irish rugby these days that just wasn’t to be.

Ian McKinley deserved his “Man of the Match” award with a tidy display at 10, confirming his place ahead of Ian Madigan in the pecking order.  If Jonny Sexton is allowed to play next Friday against the Scarlets, I’d be very surprised if his fellow St Mary’s out-half isn’t rewarded with a spot on the bench.  O’Malley and Kearney the Younger also impressed.

Elsewhere on the park there was much effort, though one area I thought we were lacking was the second row. Ed O’Donoghue and (though I hate to say it) Devin Toner were both vulnerable in the lineouts and ineffective in the loose.

But in the most part, it was positive.  The winning home record remains intact, we have avenged the nightmare from the reverse fixture last September, thanks to the Ulstermen beating Cardiff we’re back up to second at the time of writing, and we can be safe in knowledge that our next generation has yet more top-level experience under their belts – we’re going to need it next Autumn while the World Cup is on!

As for my sports photography aspirations, let’s just say I think I should stay more “about the words” for now.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cardiff Blues-11 Leinster-3

Click here for my pre-match podcast “Devin Is A Place On Earth”

cardiff try

TRYLESS & ERRORS

There’s loads of ways of comparing this Leinster display to that of the national team last Sunday…excellent defence, several knockons, opposition not playing great, strong start to second half.

But there was one major difference…Jason Harris-Wright’s wayward dart towards the end was just the final insult of an uncharacteristic 80 minutes when we couldn’t even buy a meaningful score.

And although Cardiff were the home side and need success in this competition more than we do, I have to question the coaching calls for the loss.

Joe Schmidt has worked hard to develop an ethos of attacking rugby throughout this squad, but from the looks of our approach when we had the ball in the early stages, seemed to abandon it because of the wealth of experience in our front five.

Now even in the darkest early times of last September I defended him, but I think the coach dropped the ball in Cardiff City Stadium yesterday.  The type of game he has brought to Leinster is a joy to watch and it is designed to produce tries, but if he is to be in charge of such a large squad of players he has to trust them ALL to be able to execute the game plan whatever the competition, whoever the opponent is and wherever the ballpark is.

Andrew Conway has shown with his try-scoring for the A side that he is ready for the top level, so why not get him the ball more often?  He had just the one chance in Cardiff, and but for a matter of inches could have been making the headlines on Sunday morning.

Instead Leinster put all their eggs in the defensive basket, and sure, they made Cardiff work like Trojans to barely get the one try in the corner from the impressive Dan Fish (pic) but the effort came at too heavy a price.

As things turned out, it was a senseless penalty from Dominic Ryan that denied us even a losing bonus, but the guy had run his socks off up to then making tackles and clearing rucks.  I predicted we would lose this match but only on the basis that the home side had a superior back row. Messrs Ryan, Ruddock and McLoughlin (and Keogh when he came on) proved me wrong on that score.

It was just whenever we had the ball, we looked like a right-handed team using our left hand.

To say Cardiff were “aggressive” in defence of the breakdown is being very kind, to the referee that is.  They should have had at least two yellows and more penalties called as well, and that’s down to the inexperienced ref.

But that doesn’t excuse the countless times the ball was poorly protected after the tackle, and that, to me anyway, is a sign of a unit trying something different and failing.

I honestly believe we didn’t need a perfect defence to win.  The Schmidt brand is good, it produces points, and when it works, it produces more points than the opposition.  If the McKinleys and Madigans and Conways are the future for Leinster then I’d like to see them trying it, and if they STILL fail then at least they’re young enough to improve.

But this defeat is not a disaster.  We have dropped to 4th but that slide could, and if we return to the style we’re comfortable with should, be reversed after our upcoming home games against Treviso and the Scarlets.

We can’t expect either side to lay down and die for us at the RDS, but we should at least expect the calibre of rugby we’ve grown accustomed to this season from Leinster rugby.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

IRELAND-22 FRANCE-25

Click here for my pre-match podcast “Sean-son D’Amour”

fads try

TROIS ESSAIS Á UN

At full-time, albeit with a few pints on me, I put this result down to “knock-on gremlins”.  It’s as though there’s some kind of switch that controls Ireland’s ability to produce and it can’t remain in the “on” position for more than five minutes at a time.

Now I know stats aren’t everything in sport, but they do give you a sense of how a match went once you focus on the right ones.

And I know my headline reads “three tries to one”, but to get to the heart of what happened at the Aviva Stadium yesterday, you need to go a little deeper and the following bit of info sums it up for me.

Total Irish phases in French 22 just before Heaslip try (pic) = 25. Total French phases in Irish 22 for entire match = SIX.  Total points from those visits into our 22 = ZERO.

heaslipI don’t know about you but that tells me our defence was as solid as it has ever been.

So how did the French put 25 points on the board?

Poor discipline in the forwards, strict application of the “not releasing” laws by Dave Pearson, immaculate place-kicking from Morgan Parra and one, yes just the ONE missed tackle by Gordon D’Arcy.

OK – so in the most part we did well when they had the ball and whenever we gave them a sniff, they took their chance.  Fine.

Now we get to the main question : Why didn’t we put more than 25 points on the board ourselves?

Well the knock-ons are what will grab the headlines and definitely had us pulling our hair out while watching, but things weren’t quite right in other areas, like situational play-calling, team selections and use of the bench.

I was watching the match in Sinnotts with some friends, and one of them, Tom Power, made a good observation regarding our lineouts when this match was done and dusted. 

First one we had, Best threw to O’Connell at 2 and it was a clean take.  Now of course you can’t do that ALL the time, but it was the last time we did it, and after a couple of losses at 4, towards the end of the game when we were gifted an attacking position outside the French 22, we threw long for the first time and it went nowhere and yet another chance went a-begging.  Why, Tom wondered, didn’t we throw to 2 more often?

On the selection side of things, I was hoping O’Leary wouldn’t start, yet he did, and the ball was STILL shockingly too slow from the rucks, but he did manage what he does best, ie barrelling over the line for a try.  Personally I’d prefer Stringer’s quicker ball usage to one try that probably would have been scored by someone else anyway, but it seems Tomás is Declan’s man.

And as for the half-back combinations, well I’ll never understand Kidney’s decisions there.  O’Gara did some good things when he came on, but he also did some bad.  And Sexton wasn’t exactly flawless but his missed conversion came right after he got a clatter and O’Leary’s slow ball MUST be a factor in the running game being off kilter.  But after two whole matches refusing to go with an all-Leinster pairing that has been so successful in the Heineken Cup, it’s pointless trying to second guess the coach so I won’t bother.

Plus you have the likes of Leo Cullen and Sean Cronin chucked onto the pitch with the clock is in the high 70s.  I would’ve thought that’s something you only do at schoolboy level with the un-talented kids you feel sorry for, not players of their calibre.  Who knows…if Cronin had been on for the entire final quarter and had the speed of the game he may have held that last pass and our analysis would be a lot different.

MEDARDNow it’s time for the paragraph where I talk about the opposition.  And normally, when my team has lost, I say something like “I don’t want to take any credit away from them, blah, blah…”  Only this time, I can’t say that. France were at best average.  We had them on the back foot from the kick-off then extended a helping hand to get them back onto the front foot.  And they STILL found ways to give us last minute chances to pinch the spoils.

As Irish fans we can look at this two ways…either we can assume the team is going to suffer the same wastefulness every week from now until the World Cup OR we can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume Declan & his brains trust are playing the “long game”.

Munster’s lunchtime defeat in Treviso reminded me yet again of Leinster’s thrashing out there in September and just how bad things looked for the province at the time.  THEN I think of where they are now.  It’s a lot of the same players, folks.  And they’re trying to adapt their game to new law interpretations in time for the World Cup.  If that’s what Kidney is at, we can hardly expect him to abandon everything now and start again.

So more than likely there will be very few changes to the side to play at Murrayfield in two weeks.  I wouldn't be surprised to see both D’Arcy and O’Leary still there.  If there were to be any casualties it would probably be in the back three, but not Luke Fitzgerald; even though I don’t think he deserved his 15 jersey in the “team of the round” (I’d have given it to Sean Lamont).  Although both Earls and McFadden did well, we badly need a fit Tommy Bowe to be able to join the line.

I still think the Triple Crown is irrelevant these days, but the way our schedule works out it’s there to be won, plus we could TECHNICALLY still win the Championship although an England-spoiler role looks more likely.

To achieve any of that, those goddam passes are going to have to stick.

Also this weekend…

ENGLAND 59-13 ITALY

Martin Johnson’s men really showed Ireland how to put away the Italians at Twickers today, and in fact could have had another three or four tries with all the chances they had. Italy left their A-game back in Rome, particularly in the tackling department, and were brushed aside by England’s tight organisation and slick offloading. Ashton of course will make the headlines with his four tries, but Flood was chief orchestrator. I wouldn’t go hanging white and red ribbons on the trophy just yet, however – they’ll top the table for the next 2 weeks but have sterner tests to come.

SCOTLAND 6-24 WALES

No match at this level of rugby should be decided by the team who took more advantage of their opponents’ mistakes before half-time, yet this one was. First, the hapless Parks was so slow with an early clearance it was blocked by a prop, then Wales helped themselves to sixteen first-quarter points. In the second, after Phillips fluffed an easy catch and TWO of his team-mates saw yellow, the home side could only muster 3 in reply. It was like whenever someone did something good, they felt they had to immediately cock-up to restore balance. Painful to watch throughout.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Leinster-21 Aironi-16


When I started this blog I made a little promise to myself that when writing up a match against an Italian team I’d go out of my way to avoid headlines which made any reference to Joe Dolce’s “Whassa Matta You”.
Sadly, now that Aironi & Treviso are in the Magners League, I’ll have to go back on it, especially when the utility back plays so well and hands me the pun on a plate!

Naturally our focus should be on the next generation of Irish stars when Leinster play during a Six Nations campaign, but they still need the glue Nacewa provides to hold them together.  The two missed kicks can be forgiven (the first came after he got a clatter and the second was from the corner) but particularly in the second half he was at the heart of everything positive from the home side, and his mercurial “catch by the touchline on his own 22, stay in play, then kick to touch on opposite 22” was the best of a long list of heroic contributions by last night’s Man of the Match.

Overall, the match bore many resemblances to that in Rome last Saturday.  An Irish team fancied to beat an Italian one struggled to do so, having gone behind and relying on a strong start to the second half to get their momentum going.

And as for the performances of the Leinster younglings, we had the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Luckily it was mostly good.  David Kearney particularly impressed me, and not just by the way he finished his match-winning try whilst being relieved of his shorts. Niall Morris also had a good outing with a try AND a try-saving tackle, with O’Malley, skipper Ruddock and (albeit briefly) McKinley also doing well.

The bad was from Ian Madigan, whose inadequacies were laid bare by the visitors.  Two poor clearances cost us a total of ten points, and what’s more I’ve seen players his size stop someone like Nick Williams before yet he was bulldozed out of it.  Don’t mean to be too hard on the Rock 10 though, he has plenty of time to improve.

Thing is though, it’s a high standard being set at Leinster these days and when assessing a youngster you have to ask yourself : “would I be confident of them doing the business in the Heineken Cup?” and Mads fell short on the night.

Also bad, but in this case bad luck, fell to poor Brendan Macken,  After impressive showings for Leinster A and Ireland Under 20 it was an all-too-brief debut for the senior team and hopefully his broken collar bone will heal soon.

Now for the “ugly”….Paul O’Donoghue’s display.  I really rated him when I first saw him in the AIB final in 2009 but at this level he seems shockingly slow from the base of the ruck, and I mean “slower-than-O’Leary” slow.  It was his errant pass that put Aironi on our line and eventually led to their try, and not long afterwards he chucked it straight at Erasmus who really should have added a second in the corner.

Now of COURSE, I have to hand it to Aironi for making this such a contest.  Branded a “rag-tag fugitive fleet” by a witty tweeter beforehand, they’d have been forgiven for keeping the shutters down with a 10-man game throughout to keep it tight, but instead they weren’t shy of the odd chip n chase and really put it up to us.  This was their first ever Magners League point on the road and had they not missed a couple of easy kicks they may have gotten more.

And after the “drive for five” try drought by Munster, JUST how ironic was it that Nick Williams got their more-than-deserved touchdown?

In yet more irony, on what was labelled “referees night” thanks to a Q&A session afterward by Alan Lewis & Alain Rolland, it has to be said Nigel Owens had a shocker.  Unless it was his intention to ignore Aironi’s repeated offside transgressions in the second half, in which case he had a blinder! And in case you think my bias got the better of me, I was seated RIGHT on their 22, and lost count of the times they were in our forwards’ faces too early.

But let this match be remembered by the positives…four league points, up to second in the league, home record still intact, and in the most part impressive showings by the provinces’ future stars.

All in all an enjoyable Thursday night out for my son and I.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

ITALY-11 IRELAND-13



Given the scoreline, the time left on the clock and the implications for our chances in the overall Championship, it has to be said that Ronan O’Gara’s winning drop goal was as sweet a strike as you’re likely to see in test rugby.

But to say that moment defined the overall match would be like suggesting that the EU/IMF bailout is the significant player in Ireland’s economic crisis. It’s not about who the saviour was, it’s more about why the saviour was needed.

And when the full-time whistle blew, I was relieved we had won, but I was VERY gloomy about our prospects for the upcoming campaign.  We had come within a whisker of losing to Italy for crying out loud…how on earth would we fare against England, France and the resurgent Scots? (sorry Welsh readers!)
 
But then it came to Sunday morning and it was time to look back over the match.  And you know what? Things didn’t look anywhere NEAR as bad, to me anyway, as they had the previous day.

Defensively, in the most part, we were excellent, with one major exception that led to their try which I’ll mention later. The Italians didn’t get meaningful possession in our 22 until the 67th minute.  And after the drop goal put us in the lead late on and the home side got possession back on halfway, we showed our trademark resilience and discipline to keep them around 40m out and you could tell from his last-ditch  attempt that they were out of Orquera’s range.

Also when it came to set-pieces, when you take out Roman Poite’s scrambled scrum interpretations, ours were nigh-on flawless, so Mike Ross and Cian Healy have to take plaudits for that.

And of the three players who were considered questionable calls, two of them put in polished performances.  O’Callaghan was mischievous in the lineout and led the team with 20 tackles.  Luke Fitzgerald did everything that was expected of him and more at 15 and clearly earned the same jumper to face France.

Before I critique the third of that trio, I must complement the spirit the Azzurri showed.  Any Irish fan would tell you they’d have been cheering Italy 100% against any other opposition.  Led strongly by Sergio Parisse they were solid throughout and as Kidney and BOD suggested pre-match, are clearly not far off beating us.  Had they not knocked on the restart after their try, they probably would have.

But when you get into the negativity in Ireland’s display, you have to look first at Tomás O’Leary.  I wasn’t the only one to raise an eyebrow when I heard of his selection given he was leap-frogging over both Stringer and Reddan to the position.

The reason for his elevation, it seems, was due to his “physicality”.  That DID make sense before the match, but after it I have a question…why did he only run with the ball five times?  And more to the point, why did he pass it NINETY-ONE times? Is it that we don’t have a better passing scrum-half?

Don’t get me wrong, O’Leary wasn’t “awful”, and he certainly wasn’t the only man behind the scrum to underperform…both centres will no doubt hold their hands up on that score. 

But it has to be said that when the strength of our game is the speed and precision of our backline, the tiniest delay in supply from the tight can throw off the rhythm, and never was this more evident than when BOD tried desperately to exploit an overlap and instead fired it over McFadden’s head for the second time.  Though the botched pass will make the headlines, in my book it was the initial one that caused it.

And it’s not like we didn’t get a glimpse of what our boys can do going forward.  They began the second half as though their lives depended on them scoring a try and they got it.  All we want is for them to achieve that level of intensity for 80 minutes in each of the four matches that remain in this campaign, and we know they can.

O’Driscoll’s try, and the play that went before it, cannot be forgotten in the analysis of this game.  Sure, there’s some kinks to be ironed out, but remember how Leinster played back in September?  It’s all part of a process, this was our first game playing together since November, and the boys have the time, experience AND ability to get it right.

But now we’re back to what could be a problem, at least in the eyes of wannabe “experts” like myself.  How can we explain not only the match selections but also the substitution calls being made from the coaching staff?

Jonny Sexton made one howler on the day that could have cost us badly when an ill-advised pass on his own 22 was nearly pinched by Parisse.  Other than that, he was solid, and certainly didn’t deserve to be hauled ashore when he was.  I mean…I can only assume that Reddan was on the bench to give Sexton a Leinster teammate as an option, but before he lays a finger on the ball O’Gara is strolling onto the field?

Yes, I know how it turned out, and yes, I know Sexton has fluffed a winning DG opportunity this season while O’Gara won the Grand Slam, but did Kidney know that situation was coming when he made the call?  And how does it leave our two out-halves now?  Does Jonny10 now feel he only has 65 minutes tops in every match no matter what happens?  Not sure how I’d feel about that to be honest.

And to complete my negative vibes, though little was said of it by RTE commentators, I have to call Denis Leamy on his yellow card.  He played well overall, but that’s not the first time he’s given away a senseless penalty that led to a score this season.  There was a clear call of “away green!” and had his Munster team-mate not saved the day this paragraph would be appearing MUCH sooner in this write-up…

But let’s sit back and look at what happened. WE WON.  And all we needed to make the scoreline look more decisive was for our backs to click, and the ones that didn’t click are the ones we know CAN click.  PLUS although the French looked strong yesterday, they had three tries put on them by a backline that’s at BEST as good as ours.

So what say give the lads a week to sort everything out and be ready to make our home advantage count next Sunday?  I have no doubt there’s still much left for us to shout about in this Championship.

Also this weekend…

First, well done to the Wolfhounds, Under 20s AND Women for their excellent wins to make it a perfect Irish weekend!
(both 6 nations writeups done at full-time in each match)
 
While I’ll always favour BBCs commentators over Ryle Nugent, I had to switch off at full-time because to hear them talk you’d think they’d won the Grand bloody Slam! Very average performance, they only scored tries when either Flood spotted he was faced by two props or when they had an extra man. Wales grafted but should have been put away by a team that supposedly are tournament favourites. Whatever about having 3 in a row at Twickenham, they won’t want to play like that in Dublin. Oh, and Austin Healy should really lay off Twitter when England are playing.
 
Well that’s round one of this year’s Championship gone, and I’ve seen three teams that worry me when Ireland’s chances are concerned. Good news, we’ve already played and beaten one of them. The other two played in Paris. I expected Scotland to keep things tight on defence yet struggle to get anything going in the try-scoring department. They only went and did the exact opposite! And what’s more, they’ll only do better at Murrayfield. The French for their part showed much flair and had a frightening scrum in the first half. Declan has but 7 days to banish our demons.
 

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