Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Some Thoughts Ahead of the Six Nations By Ciarán Duffy

Come the day and the hour and all the rest.  It’s that time of year. 6 Nations go head to head.  What I like about the tournament is that each game has a rivalry and a story.  There’s the triple Crown, the Calcutta Cup, the Millennium Trophy, the Centenary Quaich, the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy, the Auld Aliiance Trophy, and the Dodie Weir Cup.  And along the way teams are vying for the GrandSlam while trying to avoid the wooden spoon. Over the past few seasons Wales, England, and Ireland have been the big guns, France have been in transition, and Italy and Scotland have struggled with calls for relegation growing.  The new decade brings with it a decade of stories.  

And where will Ireland be at the end of the decade, in both the men’s and women’s.  The women see themselves still recovering from a poor World Cup a few years back. It’s a pivotal year for them, 3 home games and then World Cup qualifiers in November.  Missing the next World Cup would be a disaster. The top team in the qualifiers will qualify, with the runner-up going into a repechage. As things stand Kenya are the only team to have qualified for the repechage.  

The men are coming off a terrible World Cup.  As much as they’ll want to forget about it, lessons have to be learned.  The team looked tired and out of ideas. You never know what new management will bring.  When Eddie Jones took reigns at England after a disaster of a World Cup they went on to win a GrandSlam.  At the same time, management can also need time.  

In reality, we can’t be going into this tournament expecting perfection.  This tournament, this year in fact, is about laying the bricks. There has to be an idea there.  Ireland should be beating Scotland, Italy, France (despite having a good young team), and looking to take a scalp of either Wales or England.  It might not be the kind of scores Leinster have been putting on teams this season, but any kind of win with a good performance is acceptable.  

Something Keego brought up on Provincial Jazz a few weeks ago was Leinster fans leaving early.  Very early, like with 20 minutes to go. He said we need to enjoy the bad times and remember the good times.  I largely started following Leinster in the good times. My first Leinster game was against Edinburgh in the final pool game of the 2009 Heineken Cup winning season (I can shake the glory tag because in football I support Bray Wanderers and Charlton Athletic).  But I do remember the recent bad times. I remember a much more empty RDS. I started writing for this site during the bad times, my first article was on an awful game at home to Treviso.  

Of course when we were there I wanted the glory days back.  But the point of supporting a team is you support the team, through double winning seasons and missing out on the play-offs.  That’s something a lot of Irish rugby fans seem to have forgotten. It’s hard to know how many go to games just for the pints and the atmosphere. Being a rugby person has become fashionable in recent years, particularly following Leinster and Ireland.  I wrote about them before the World Cup.  Which is fine when we’re winning.  During 2018 everybody on the island and their dog loved rugby.  Then during 2019 everybody was an analyst talking about how Ireland were never that good. 

Which is rubbish, because Ireland were without doubt the best international side in the world in 2018.  That’s the thing about sport, that’s the thing about life, there are good times and bad times. The last world cup for both Ireland sides were the bad times.  The good times will be back, we need to be patient though.  

Ireland men should be beating Scotland handily enough.  That team is good enough. I would have liked to see Cooney start, hopefully he gets a good 25 minutes.  But ultimately this is a very strong side, that’s slightly experimental but not a complete tear-up of a script that needs revision not tearing up.  Fans need to get behind this Ireland team and accept that there will be flaws. Instead of looking for likes on Twitter for your hot takes, actually watch the game and see if there is any sort of a plan.  Because that’s the first step, a game plan.  

As for the women, the word transition has been thrown around more than the rugby ball itself since the World Cup.  In short, they need 3 wins to go into the Qualifiers with momentum. Last year was disappointing, this year there need to be better performances.  I’m confident they can deliver. The team is a good mix of exciting new talent and veterans who have been around and can keep a calm head.  

This week on Provincial Jazz, Post to Post Sport's Irish rugby podcast, we looked ahead to Ireland men and women's games.  Couch Pundit Keego joined us to speak on the men’s game (it is at this point I’d like to remind you that Keego is no.2 in the contributor rankings while I am no.1 and therefore should get first go in Pick-Up-Sticks).  Keego spoke about what he wants to see. And former Ireland and Munster star Fiona Hayes joined us to speak about the Women’s game.  

For coverage of the Six Nations, tune in to Provincial Jazz Every Tuesday, search Post to Post Sport wherever you get your podcasts.  I’ll also be writing for throughout the tournament.  Tickets are still on sale for the Women’s games in Donnybrook.  

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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019