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6 Nations Rugby Championship 2018

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jan 28th, 2018 at 01:02:26 PM EST

The 6 Nations rugby Championship starts next week-end is looking more open than ever this year, with England, the champions for the past two years and World no. 2 ranked side suffering a spate of injuries to key players. Do they have the strength in depth to cope? It could be some showdown against Ireland on St. Paddy's day!

France have been a disaster area in recent years but are never easy to beat in Paris and may get a "new coach bounce" under Brunel. They have some very exciting young players and are also very physical - they ruined Ireland's chances at the last World Cup by injuring so many of our top players.

Conor O'Shea's Italy may benefit from some glimpses of form from Treviso and Zebre and the evergreen Parisse, but do they really have the resources to be competitive? One upset win at best, would be my guess.

Wales have had their injury problems too but are never easy to beat. LLanelli Scarlets are the reigning Pro14 champions and have become the first Welsh side to qualify for the quarter finals of the European Cup in years. They seem to fancy their chances (as always!)

Gregor Townsend has Scotland playing some really attractive rugby and they beat Australia and gave the All Blacks a run for their money recently. But is their pack, depleted by injuries, strong enough to give them the front foot possession they need? Disregard them at your peril.

Ireland never seem to be comfortable in the role of favourites and it only takes one below par performance to ruin your chances. We look to have the strength in depth to cope with the loss of O'Brien, Heaslip, Jackson, Payne, and Ruddock, the exile of Donncha Ryan and Zebo, and the ageing Bowe and Trimble; but beating both France and England away is a big ask.

My prediction? Ireland to win the Championship, but perhaps not the grand slam. It's really hard to get it right all the time... but if anyone can do it, perhaps Joe Schmidt can.

No doubt every fan will be picking their ideal team right now, and also trying to second guess the Coach - in Ireland's case, Joe Schmidt. My take is that Schmidt is a conservative selector for crunch games and will go for: Kearney, Earls, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale, Sexton, Murray, McGrath, Best, Furlong, Toner, Henderson, O'Mahony, Stander, V.d. Flier.

I would probably make at least one change and put in Larmour for Kearney even for the away match against France. Schmidt has said Larmour was picked ahead of Zebo on form, so why not put his money where his mouth is? If France can pick a 19 year old (Jalibert) and 21 year old (Belleau) at out half, why not Ireland?

But my real shock selection would be Conan instead of Stander. Stander hasn't been making as much ground recently because teams have prepared for his straight line hard running. He is a bit of a one trick pony, even if a very good one. Conan has better footwork and tends to bounce of the first contact and make better yardage as a result. His support running is outstanding and he also offers another line out option.

Other players unfortunate to miss out of first XV selection would be Healy, James Ryan, Leavy and Conway but it's great that we have a strong bench as well. Schmidt is more likely to experiment against Italy so I suspect some reshuffling of the deck at that stage.

Ireland must be strong favourites against France at this stage but we don't have a good track record in Paris. Hopefully Brunel's team won't find their mojo until later in the championship...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jan 29th, 2018 at 02:58:05 PM EST
In the event Schmidt has made just two changes from the line-up I predicted above. Cian Healy is in instead of Jack McGrath in what was always going to be a toss up selection. The other is the inclusion of Ryan instead of Toner.

Never could there have been a clearer indication of Ireland's growing strength in depth than the dropping of Devin Toner despite the exclusion of Donncha Ryan and Tadhg Beirne from the squad.

Toner has never had a bad game for Ireland, fits unto the game plan, nearly always plays the full 80, and rarely gets injured. He more or less guarantees you good line-out ball, has good hands and contributes around the pitch even if his sheer height limits his ability to make the hard yards.

James Ryan, on the other hand, has played only a handful of matches for either Leinster or Ireland, and has been injured a lot during his short career. It is not in Schmidt's nature to take risks, particularly against France away, so he must rate him very highly indeed.

Let's hope Ryan does well against a very physical French pack. This is going to be some baptism of fire, but at least he has a very experienced pack around him, and the experience of winning in France.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 2nd, 2018 at 04:07:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fly-half Johnny Sexton?

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.
by Oui on Sat Feb 3rd, 2018 at 07:43:05 PM EST
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 4th, 2018 at 04:33:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't you agree, an outstanding performance by nr. 10 on the Irish side. I have no knowledge of the game, but his drop kick clinched victory for Ireland. Just an opinion.

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.
by Oui on Sun Feb 4th, 2018 at 06:13:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely - to win a match like that after 42 attacking phases (without losing possession) and then kick a 45 metre drop goal is very rare and unprecedented in the 6 Nations.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 4th, 2018 at 11:35:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it's safe to say James Ryan justified his selection. For me he was one of the stand-out performers in what was a slightly disappointing Irish performance. Having said that, wins in Paris are as rare as hen's teeth, so I'll take that and move on. At least we know what areas we need to work on if we are to win the 6N.

Once again, the French have been caught cheating after last year's farce in Paris where they took off their second choice tight head, Uini Atonio, allegedly "injured" so they could have their first choice back on the pitch for the vital end game.

That match ended up lasting 30 minutes longer than it should have while Wayne Barnes sought clarification as to what was going on. This time there ought to be severe sanctions against the French Federation and the match "doctor" who turned a knee into a head injury so that the French could bring their first choice scrum half back on again.

But of course we all know, nothing will happen.

I'm so glad Ireland won anyway. Having lost out to France for the Rugby World Cup, to the cheating Thierry Henry goal, and for the European Banking Authority - which is going to Paris rather than Dublin on the toss of a coin - it would have been too much to lose this match and a shot at the 6N as well!

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 4th, 2018 at 04:32:43 PM EST
Ah come on Frank, so the French are dirty cheaters, boo hoo :). But if we're obliged to fall back on national stereotypes, that last-minute drop goal was... the luck of the Irish. Wonderful, but entirely undeserved. It was always clear to me that the first team to score a try would win the match... Spectacular defense by both teams, who will be very hard to beat in the remaining games.

I'm overjoyed to have a competitive French team, it's been a while! Yeah the 19 year old was too green... other than that, great selection. I'm not going to complain about them giving away too many penalties, because, you know... they're French.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Feb 8th, 2018 at 09:35:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
B/S! Ireland had 70% of possession and territory and it was only because the ref didn't penalise France for slowing down their ruck ball illegally that they didn't score tries. Fair dues to France for scoring a very good try against the run of play when Ireland got nervous towards the end, but there are very few teams that could keep possession for 42 phases and then score a 45 Metre drop goal at the end. No luck involved. Just a lot of hard work and sheer class!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Feb 8th, 2018 at 01:30:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was a joy to my heart to see Wales looking so good. Takes me back to their tours of New Zealand when I was a boy. But I can't see them running in tries like that against Ireland or France. Scotland looked very sound, except for the expensive errors...
I only saw the end of Italy/England, when they got overrun, but it looks like they are more competitive this year.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Feb 8th, 2018 at 09:50:12 AM EST
Brian O'Conner has an article in today's Irish Times arguing that Irish rugby is the poorer for it's shabby sacking of Gatland many years ago. I have commented there as follows:

Gatland was a much younger, less experienced, coach when he coached Ireland twenty years ago and has learned and matured a lot since. He only had a 45% win ratio with Ireland which is a lot less than any coach since. (O'Sullivan 65%, Kidney 52%, Schmidt 71%).

That said, his sacking and replacement by Eddie O'Sullivan was a bit shabby, but no more so than Eddie O'Sullivan's treatment since he held the Ireland job. Eddie can't even get an interview for any job that comes up in Ireland.

O'Driscoll was the top 13 in that Lions squad and the fact that the Lions won the last Test without him is neither here nor there. It was the forward pack that won that game and either O'Driscoll or Davies could have done the job required of the no. 13 that day.

Gatland has kept the spat going over the years with his comments about Ireland players and so can hardly complain that he gets a bit of stick in return. It is a coach's lot to have to move on every few years and Gatland's career took off with the opportunities he got with Connacht and Ireland.

Many in Ireland will always have mixed feelings about being part of a British (and Irish) Lions squad which is basically a money making venture of little benefit to Irish rugby. Fair dues to Gatland for making a success of recent tours, and also for his track record with Wales despite the often chaotic relationship between the Welsh regions and Union.

But really Brian O'Connor is only milking a media created "fake news" hysteria. No one in Irish rugby much cares who the Welsh coach is - we just want to beat them! Another click-bait article from the Irish Times stable of rugby "experts" who don't really know or write much about rugby!

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Feb 20th, 2018 at 01:34:18 PM EST
One of my themes in writing posts here has been the increasing strength in depth in Irish rugby. Leinster, and increasingly, Munster, can make up to 15 changes between matches and still win. The increased physicality of the game also makes it imperative that your 8 "finishers" on the bench are as strong as the starting XV.

That is why the win against Wales was so satisfying. Wales had Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, and George North coming back from injury while we had Furlong, Henderson, O'Brien, Vd Flier, Ruddock, Henshaw and Ringrose out. It didn't seem to matter. Most of the bench added value as well.

Chris Farrell, Aki, Stockdale, Leavy, James Ryan and Porter hardly have a handfull of test caps between them and yet all performed like seasoned internationals. With Furlong, Henderson, and Ringrose ready to come back in (if picked!), we look well placed to beat a resurgent Scotland at home, and perhaps even England at Twickenham.

Cover for injuries and strength off the bench will be vital for the World Cup as well. Heaslip's retirement leaves us with Stander and Conan at 8 with Max Deegan improving fast.Tadgh Beirne will add to our second row (and no. 6) depth. With Rory Best already 35, I worry about our strength at hooker. No one is grabbing the jersey from him.

But other than that, things are looking good. If we beat Scotland and England, we might even end up the world no. 2 ranked side. Happy days!

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Feb 27th, 2018 at 01:07:48 PM EST
Mary Hannigan is listed as a "sports writer" with the Irish Times. I have yet to see an insightful article on rugby by her. Today's offering is a commentary on the response to an RTE "Against the Head" programme which asked the question: "Is rugby now the people's game?". I have commented as follows on her article...
Oh dear! I realise that with the snowstorm and all there is precious little sport to write about, but whenever I see an Irish Times article from a non rugby writer I know it's another click-bait article designed to hoover up comments and controversy. Rugby as a snob sport is a standard topic guaranteed to get people going.  

That editorial strategy has become so obvious and repetitive the IT should really try to come up with a novel idea - such as teaching its rugby correspondents how to write, or its non-rugby correspondents that the quality of your twitter feed comments is directly proportional to the quality of commentators you choose to follow. That RTE are playing the same game with "Against the Head" is no excuse.  

So what have we learned from this article?  That rugby is gaining in popularity? (Stats please, hard evidence helps to make a case). That people like to follow a sport that is currently successful? Wow! What a stunning insight! That some people say rude things on Twitter? The mind boggles. That sports supporters like to engage in friendly rivalry?

I suppose you learn something every day. Just not today, In the Irish Times, The self entitled "Paper of Record"...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Mar 6th, 2018 at 08:08:52 PM EST
Joe Schmidt has just sent an unmistakeable message to all aspiring Irish rugby players. Perform well, and you will keep your place on the team. Lions Sean O'Brien and Iain Henderson may be fit and raring to go, but Sean has to be satisfied with an outing for Leinster against the Scarlets, and Iain is on the bench. Prove your match fitness to me, he seems to be saying, if you want a chance to start against England.

The days of some players being "untouchable" are long gone. It used to be harder to be dropped from the Irish team than to get on to it. Ireland used 19 players in their last grand slam in 2009. Now form players like James Ryan, Porter, and Larmour are getting their chance regardless of their tender years.

Sexton and Murray are probably the last "untouchables" left on the team, but that is only for as long as Schmidt needs to develop their understudies as world class replacements. Rory Best has also been able to see off all contenders despite his advancing years. You can be sure that Schmidt is working on developing alternatives.

You can also be sure that Schmidt is determined to avoid a recurrence of what happened in the last World Cup, where injuries to a few key players derailed our chances. You don't win a World Cup without having at least 31 players who can perform at the highest level.

Winning the 6N Championship, the Grand Slam, and the Next World Cup is now what it is all about for Joe Schmidt and the squad. Nothing less will do. I fully expect Joe to succeed with the first two tasks in the next 2 weeks, gaining a no. 2 ranking in the world in the process. Then only the All Blacks will stand in our way.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Mar 9th, 2018 at 01:25:06 AM EST
There has been a surprising amount of criticism of Ireland's performance against Scotland, given we are on the cusp of an historic achievement. Apparently our back three can't defend, Stander is one dimensional, and our general play is all too predictable. Predicting it is one thing, stopping it seems to be quite another!

There will never be the perfect game without work-ons for the next. Schmidt is the master at identifying and rectifying weaknesses from one game to the next, and sometimes even within a game. Scotland have improved out of all recognition, and France, Wales and England are never a bad team, especially at home. So in many ways, beating them all would be as good an achievement as we have ever achieved.

Added to that has been the number of injuries to key players we have suffered and the youth and inexperience of so many of our players. We had 7 players with less than 10 caps, and Ringrose with 11 on Saturday. This bodes well for the future, and, hopefully, an improved performance at the next world cup. We still have a way to go, but lets not underestimate how far we have travelled.

The days of "moral" victories are over: Of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Of being reliant on one international class tight head in the whole country. Of making school-boy errors at key moments - as we saw with Scotland on Saturday. That was us a few years ago - without the flair. Rugby is the one team sport where we can regularly compete with the best in the world. Let's not knock it - regardless of the result on Paddy's day.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Mar 14th, 2018 at 05:41:54 PM EST
A straight bat, as always, from Schmidt, brushing away minor media distractions from the task at hand. Eddie Jones' comments about the Irish being "Scummy" and England employing a match official to coach them on what the referee will be looking for is all a bit "not cricket", but who cares? Peter O'Mahony summed it up by saying "You are on the wrong page if you are looking for motivation from that stuff."

I always worry about Ireland's psychological state coming into major matches we are expected to win. We always seem to start very cautiously and passively and only really get going when we are up against it. And sometimes, by then, it is too late. Remember Scotland last year?

Hopefully we can take a page out of the New Zealand play book and start at full tilt and build up from there. No point in waiting for England to catch up. Take the initiative and drive on to victory. The players know they can do it. But have they the confidence to really take this match by the scruff of the neck, dictate the terms of engagement, and take the scoring chances as they arise?  

We shall see. If they do, they are worthy of their no. 2 ranking in the world and ready to take on the All Blacks on their own terms. It's about time the All Blacks had a realistic challenger for their crown, and it is looking less and less likely that that challenger will be England.

This whole episode just  makes me even more glad we have Joe Schmidt as our Head Coach. Eddie seems to get a bit of a free pass because he is seen as a plain speaking Australian, whereas if he were English all the old cliches about arrogance would be trotted out. Nice to know we can get under his skin though, not that any more motivation is needed for Saturday. We just need to let our rugby do the talking...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Mar 15th, 2018 at 04:45:32 PM EST

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