Eye on Ireland: Week 3 of the 6 Nations

Heading into the third round of games in this year’s Six Nations, there are three fascinating ties, each for their own reasons. Scotland play Wales in Edinburgh, Ireland host France, while Italy make the trip to Twickenham to face England. The second will most likely be the tie of the round, with particular attention being drawn to the inclusion of Johnny Sexton at 10 for the men in green. While that shall be the focus of most of this blog, there are two other games, so I’ll start with them.

Beginning in Murrayfield with Scotland versus Wales, there’s a clash between two sides who fell just short last time out, against France and England respectively. The Scots will be hit hard with the loss of talismanic captain Greg Laidlaw, who gives them an extra dimension in attack and with the boot, both off the tee and out of hand. Both will be hurting after narrow losses, but I can’t envisage Wales committing as many woeful mistakes as France did two weeks ago. If Vern Cotter’s side have a similarly mistake-ridden game on Saturday, Wales have the firepower to punish them and should do so. In probably the least enticing game of the weekend, England should give Italy a bit of a mauling at home, especially with the momentum they’ve gathered. Expect a bonus point win for Jones’ men.

While it sounds cliché, one of the main factors in deciding the outcome of the match at the Aviva Stadium is what mood the French are in. It seems to be a penchant of France to raise their game against Ireland, while they will be buoyed by their win a fortnight ago against Scotland. Joe Schmidt had a genuine dilemma as to who to play at out-half for this game, as the form of Paddy Jackson has been reeling in the plaudits in recent weeks. He’s given the nod to Sexton, most likely because of his proven big-game experience and because of the leadership and direction he gives the team, in attack and defence. It may be harsh on Jackson, but I think having him on the bench is more of an assuring thought than having a Sexton who isn’t match fit and is unfortunately always a liability for lasting until the final whistle. It’s not an ideal situation to be in, but it’s arguably necessary to have a back-up for Sexton, which means if he’s to be included in the 23-man squad, he has to start.

If both sides replicate their performances from the last round of games, Ireland will walk this, because the only reason the game between France and Scotland was any bit close was because of how fraught with errors it was. In the last few years, it seems to be a feature of France’s tactics against Ireland that they will target Sexton, hit him hard and see how long his body will last against the relentless tackling. This year, they are attempting to get back to the French flair that make neutrals fall in love with them, but it seems they simply don’t have the quality to back that up. If Ireland stick to their game-plan, if the back row can secure enough penalties and unless the French discover the fourth and fifth gears they potentially have in their reserves, it should be another home win for Schmidt’s troops. Regardless, a captivating weekend of international rugby is in store.

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Six Nations Reflections: Week Two

There’s a break from the hustle and bustle of barnstorming international rugby this weekend, so the focus of this week’s blog will be reviewing last weekend’s ties more than predictions for next weekend’s fixtures. The second week of the Six Nations has thrown up some extremely entertaining affairs and the results have started to allow the table to take shape. The efficient but not entirely dazzling English have gotten out of jail twice in two games now, the Irish have reinvigorated their campaign against a directionless Italy, while Wales and Scotland will be frustrated with their narrow defeats. The French may have come away from Week 2 with a win, but their unconvincing performances have left their fans feeling like their success won’t be long-lasting.

The first result of the weekend was a thrashing to say the least, with Joe Schmidt’s men taking excellent advantage of a narrow Italian defensive line for the first three tries and a tired defensive line for the other six. The display of Paddy Jackson was one that particularly caught the eye of fans who have grown frustrated at the near-constant absence of Johnny Sexton. The second half hat-trick by Craig Gilroy also gives Schmidt a difficult decision to make in terms of his selection in the back three. Arguably the three most difficult 3 games of the 5 are yet to come for the Irish, so selection against the French will be an indicator more than the first 2 games.

The fixture between England and Wales, while ending in an English victory, has surely given hope to Ireland, Italy and Scotland on where they could catch Jones’ side out. Wales’ determination and vigour at the breakdown made the hugely inexperienced English back row look lacklustre at best. If there’s one line on the field that Ireland have an abundance of experience and a plethora of talent, it’s the back row. One wonders how much damage the likes of Stander, O’ Brien and Heaslip could do on March 18th, if England are as depleted then.

The Sunday section of the second round of action took place in Paris, as France overcame Scotland in one of the most blunder-filled games of rugby I’ve personally ever witnessed. However, what it was missing in sheer quality, the result was never really assured until Camile Lopez popped over his fifth penalty of the game with 4 minutes to go. In terms of entertainment, the contest was fascinating, but it leaves us with few answers about either team. An injury to captain and influential half-back Greg Laidlaw will also cause the Scots a huge amount of difficulty in their next 3 games, because of the obvious improvement he brings (even if he did mess up a 15 yard conversion last Sunday). It stank of a performance by two teams that didn’t want to win this, but perhaps the victory will inspire the French to get their act together and compete at the level we all know they can.

The addition of the bonus point to the tournament has led to a situation wherein, after 2 games, there are 3 points between first-placed England and 5th place Scotland. Each country could make a realistic argument for why they could very much win, with the exception of the poor Italians, who have been found wanting in all categories this season. One would have to give the English the nod at this stage because they still have to play the two bottom placed sides, but as Scotland’s victory over Ireland showed, they’re well capable of pulling off an upset. A fascinating month ahead is in prospect.

Six Nations Reflections: Week One

The Northern Hemisphere’s premium rugby competition began last weekend with a flurry of swashbuckling games that have given this year’s tournament twists that few saw coming. For the first time, there are now bonus points in the 6 Nations, which has added a refreshing aspect to a gruelling series. While it’s far too early to tell what impact that change will have on who wins the competition, many are already pointing at the fact that Wales didn’t pick up one against Italy as a significant factor in how they’ll fare this season. In fact, no team picked up a try-scoring bonus point last weekend. Only France and Ireland managed to take advantage of bonus points, both because they lost by less than 7 points. However, I’d argue that neither team will even see a losing bonus point as a kind of consolation, as both will rue a missed opportunity, for different reasons.

France lost at Twickenham to England, in a game that they should have won, after being completely written off beforehand. Ireland probably deservedly lost to Scotland, but even with the disastrous first half performance, a stormer of a second half display meant that the loss still had a bitter taste in the mouth. This was especially the case given that it was arguably Ireland’s fault that they lost seeing as they were in fact winning until ill-discipline allowed Greg Laidlaw to punish with 2 penalties. In the final game of the weekend, Italy will feel aggrieved that they came away with a 26 point defeat after how well they fought and competed for around 50 minutes against Wales.

Their battered and bruised bodies have the quickest turnaround of the 6 teams, as they take on Ireland in the early game on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how Ireland recover from their defeat in Edinburgh and most would say that Italy are the ideal team to play now, a chance to get 5 more points on the board and restore some momentum. The Italians will be tired and sore from their clash with Wales last Sunday, but if anyone is going to have the inside track on Ireland it’s Italian head coach, Conor O’ Shea. The last thing Ireland need right now is another lethargic first half. They need to kill this game in the first 40 minutes, because a flying first half will demoralise Italy beyond reach. Team selection would most definitely have been a bigger talking point this week if it was Wales, England or France, but still, the likes of Kearney, Heaslip, O’ Brien and Healy need to have big games to shake off the attention they’ve been getting for their performances. All that said, in my opinion only a fool would back the Italians in this one.

As for the other two matches, both will be extremely intriguing affairs. England go to Cardiff in another massive test for Eddie Jones and his side. They disappointed against France, but importantly sneaked out with a win, most fans would probably take a repeat of that this weekend. However, Wales have come into this tournament under the radar and they are extremely difficult to beat in Cardiff. They’ll take heart from their comeback against Italy and I think they could just about swing that one. France against Scotland is also a fascinating prospect, both very much with points to prove and the outcome will very much depend on what kind of team show up for both countries. I expect France to win in Paris. This weekend will be a vital one in the tournament, as the table will start to take shape.

The Kwik-E-Pod Podcast Assignment

The Simpsons has been running for just under 30 years, making it a pioneer among prime-time cartoon shows. For more than a decade, RTÉ have been showing at least an episode a day, meaning for the people of Ireland, especially those who have grown up with its customary 6pm slot on RTÉ, it has a special place in their (and our) lives. With such an iconic status, many have taken their own stance when it comes to things like favourite episodes, or moments. However, almost every viewer of The Simpsons undoubtedly has a favourite character, which is the reason I chose that as the prime topic of my podcast. After a riveting discussion with two friends of mine about it, I added a section of the theme tune at the start and a classic catchphrase at the end (this was after I searched for US copyright laws on the Internet). The link is embedded here > Soundcloud Podcast