Every Friday I look ahead to the weekend's rugby for the Irish provinces and beyond.
I may joke about it on twitter but truth be told I am at a loss as to what word to upgrade the Welsh rugby crisis to beyond “farce”.
What says it all for me is the slogan of their so-called grass-roots resistance movement “Save Our Game”. They really do think it’s theirs, don’t they?
Not that I am in any way siding with Roger Lewis and the WRU with the above paragraph, far from it. It’s just that in all the articles and online discussions I have tried to follow in recent months, one theme seems to shine through…there is a over-arching desire to get him out and the personal nature of that desire is blinding many to what is really at stake - the future of the professional game in Europe.
So as much as I’d like to say we should be looking with bemusement across the Irish Sea at our Celtic cousins, the fact remains that our future very much remains in their hands.
They believe the Pro12 is dead, and as long as they do, then it is. Only thing they have wrong is that it is the Irish who are to blame for it.
I really should be focusing on the Six Nations, shouldn’t I? Well in a way, I am.
I believe the Welsh are well poised to make history by recording a 3rd championship in a row (without a slam as I see it) and as wonderful and enviable an achievement as that may be, to do it while they can’t show even a smidgeon of unity for the remainder of the nine-month long northern hemisphere season makes a complete mockery of the whole thing.
OK, got that off my chest. Time to look ahead to what we should be looking ahead to…the actual rugby on the pitch. Can’t wait!!!!
Friday, January 31
Women’s Six Nations
Ireland v Scotland, 7:30pm
Click here for Sarah Lennon’s Women’s Six Nations preview on HoR2, including info on travel to and from tonight’s match.
Under 20’s Six Nations
Ireland v Scotland, 7:05pm
Gwan those Wolfpuppies!!!! I know the name isn’t popular for many, but to be honest when I coined it I was being extremely tongue-in-cheek, that Ryle Nugent used it on air was his decision, not mine! Guess we’re stuck with it!
Plenty to look out for in this latest crop of Under 20s. Many appeared in that classic Leinster SCT final back in March, like outhalf Ross Byrne for Michael’s and Gary “I can kick goals from the dressing room” Ringrose, but the one I reckon we should be looking out for is Sean O’Brien. No, not THAT one, the one who played for Roscrea last year and now lines out for Galwegians & the Connacht Academy. If he continues to display the talents I saw (albeit briefly) last season, it won’t be long before we’re forced to say “Seanie óg” or something similar.
But anyways…I know nothing of the Scots at this level so no predictions from me for matches like this…doesn’t mean I won’t be watching with keen interest, however. Best of like as always to Mike Ruddock and his crew.
Ulster Bank League Division 1A
I’m all for “Friday Night Lights” but I reckon these should be on the Saturday to help focus maximum support on both the Under 20s and the Women…their locations are tough enough to get to for fans in and around the Pale but it’s still a doable journey. Anyway…two Dublin derbies up for decision with 2nd v 3rd at Anglesea Road being the highlight as they try to keep up with Tarf at the top.
St Mary’s v UCD, 7:30pm
Old Belvedere v Lansdowne, 7:30pm
“Ooooh, I’m so excited for the final round of LV Cup matches!” said absolutely noone during the week. We’ll see just how much the Welsh are gagging for an Anglo-Welsh league with the attendance figures from Friday night.
Cardiff v Harlequins, 7:05pm
Ospreys v Sale, 7:30pm
Newcastle v NG Dragons, 7:45pm
Leicester Tigers v Bath, 7:45pm
Saturday, February 1
RBS Six Nations
WALES v ITALY, 2:30pm
Warren Gatland leave a Lions captain out of his starting lineup??? Surely not??? (if you think I could let this preview go without a mention of BODgate you mustn’t know me!)
Despite Warburton’s absence (not quite sure why someone who “hasn’t fully recovered from an injury” can be on the bench?) the Welsh have named a lineup which suggests they have no intentions of taking any prisoners in this opener.
They know how to win this title on points difference and this could be an excellent chance to make some hay, and with names like North, Roberts, Halfpenny and Cuthbert in their backline the Fantasy team selectors will expect a rich reward.
Yet while it is usually the Italians who tend to take gambles with number 10s, and in the 20-year-old Tommy Allen (just 8 appearances for Perpignan) they are definitely doing just that this time around, Gatland’s selection of Rhys Priestland raised many an eyebrow and it will be interesting to see how he gets on.
Plus, to unleash that powerful backline the Welsh will first have to get the ball out of the forwards and the Italians have several wise heads to make that extremely difficult for them. Personally, I’m not all so sure the bookies’ 20-point spread is fair on the visitors, though a home victory should still be easily achieved. Wales by 11
FRANCE v ENGLAND, 5pm
I seem to recall something about not picking your best available players was a bad thing? Well apparently when you award new caps to wingers in Paris when there are more experienced campaigners available, that means you are “building towards 2015”, which apparently is ok.
So an extremely experimental backline for Stuart Lancaster, but so it also goes for his opposite number PSA…Jules Plisson is the latest to sport the numéro dix, although there is an array of fine talent outside him with Médard, Fofana and Dulin all capable of running up fantasy scores.
But if I thought Wales v Italy was going to be a battle in the forwards, that ain’t got nothing on this. Monsieur Pape? Meet, Mister Lawes, and his club-mate Dylan.
Let’s just say Nigel Owens will have his work cut out and then some.
Bookies make this tight and edge the French by 4. If they show up, I reckon they could blow this England team off the park, but that is an extremely big “if”.
What swings it for me is the home side’s 6/2 split on the bench. More beef bourguignon for the pack, plus in Gael Fickou they have an outstanding talent to bring on after Bastereaud has worn down the English resistance. France by 6
Ulster Bank League Division 1A
I’m not exactly Eddie O’Sullivan’s biggest fan, but how he hasn’t landed a top coaching gig baffles me. He would certainly do his street cred the power of good, at least in Irish circles anyway, by keeping Garryowen in the top flight, which won’t be easy as they have lost their first ten. Great chance to kick-start a revival this weekend, however, as they host Hinch who are immediately above them on the ladder.
Clontarf v Cork Constitution, 2:30pm
Dolphin v Young Munster, 2:30pm
Garryowen v Ballynahinch, 2:30pm
Northampton v Saracens, 3pm
Worcester Warriors v Exeter Chiefs, 3pm
Gloucester v London Wasps, 3pm
London Irish v Scarlets, 4pm
Wild Knights v Brave Lupus, 5am
Sunday, February 2
RBS Six Nations
IRELAND v SCOTLAND, 3pm
Despite all the late injuries to the likes of Eoin Reddan and Luke Fitzgerald, this is a very impressive matchday 23 that Joe Schmidt has been able to put together. And what’s more, judging by online reaction anyway, most appear to be happy with it, or at least if they aren’t they are keeping quiet.
The key to our success this weekend will be Jonathan Sexton. Although the ROG documentary made the former Munster-man out to be some kind of victim during their rivalry for the Ireland jersey, it certainly wasn’t easy for Sexton during that phase and this will be his first competitive opportunity to show what he can do, and he has the ideal man as his coach as well.
It doesn’t hurt that he happens to be coming into some form…a great outing for Racing last week could have been costly injury-wise but thankfully wasn’t.
Who has he with him besides the great BOD? Although we remain unsure who Joe’s first-choice at 12 was, we can have no complaints about the inclusion of a fully-fit Luke Marshall, and Sexton will be ken to make the most of the devastating lines the Ulsterman can run.
He also won’t mind putting up a few high-balls for his back-three to chase, for despite the dangers that the Scots 11, 14 & 15 can cause, if done with the right degree of accuracy, the Kearney brothers & Andrew Trimble are well able to do some damage.
In fact my point about accuracy can be said about pretty much every aspect of “Schmidt-ball”. It’s a style of game that demands that you leave no margins for error in what you do, and indeed why should you if you hope to go in search of silverware. It is a challenging philosophy to bring to the sport but as Leinster fans well know it is one that has reaped rich rewards in recent years.
Of course the accuracy won’t be just needed in the backs…with the tough-tackling Chris Henry starting hopefully Jamie Heaslip will be free to gain some or all of the yards lost with the absence of Sean O’Brien, and of course we also have Cian Healy who has been known to break a gainline or six.
At set-piece time things should be a lot steadier…Paulie and Toner will hopefully be more than enough to secure the lineouts, an area where we badly struggled against the Scots last year.
Another key factor in Schmidt-ball is the bench…an 80-minute performance using the entire 23 names on the teamsheet will be the order of the day and we can fully expect to see Sean Cronin, Tommy O’Donnell and Fergus McFadden in the latter stages, hopefully to help bring victory home rather than bring us back into it!
Should we struggle to trouble the scorers in the early stages, we all know the Scots have plenty to take advantage of our mistakes. Even the tiniest gap in our defences will no doubt be spotted by the likes of Kelly Brown and Greig Laidlaw so despite the fact that we’re favourites the visitors certainly cannot be taken for granted.
But you won’t get any negative vibes from me going into this opening match. I think this year’s 6 Nations tournament will be wide open and we can only assess the matches on a week-to-week basis. For this opener, I’m confident of a reasonable victory. Let’s get behind them this weekend! Ireland by 10
Steelers v Sungoliath, 5am
Be sure and enjoy your Six Nations action this weekend wherever you are. JLP