02 Rugby Nerds On The Weekend's Rugby

02 Rugby Nerds On The Weekend's Rugby
By Donny Mahoney
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A toss-up

In this Six Nations, Ireland have scored five tries in four matches, earning three points. If it appears I'm counting down towards it's end, well then you'd be right - it's all been 'two much'. I'm sorry.

Save the first forty minutes of the Championship in Cardiff, nothing has gone right for Ireland on or off the pitch to the extent that regardless of what happens in Rome tomorrow, the campaign will forever be filed in the 'one to forget file.' There has been a litany of mishaps and miscues as well as a shed-load of plain ol' rotten luck. Injury after injury have de-railed any chance of momentum in key areas of the field, and weakened the bench so the chance of salvaging tight games has been compromised. It has been so bad that when it was announced this week that Jonathon Sexton, returning from injury, snapped a tendon in his foot that my genuine reaction was "but of course." Even my fantasy team has gone terribly!

One hopes the players are a bit more optimistic and enthusiastic than yours truly, because if not than Ireland's unbeaten Championship record against the Italians is very much in danger. Still, the Lions tour is drawing closer on the horizon, as well as the Heineken/Amlin quarterfinals. Players will want to salvage what they can, and the fear of a possible wooden spoon if France were to beat Scotland is even stronger motivation.

Looking at this game from the point of view of the home side, however, they've everything to gain and every reason to believe that they can secure another famous win. Where Ireland have been flat, Italy have been more creative than at any other point in the post-Dominguez era. Tomorrow's game should be a keenly fought contest, even though we would be hopeful of breathing room in normal circumstances.

Jettisoned back into the Number 10 shirt, Paddy Jackson has the chance to combine the best parts of his play from the Scotland game with the error-free nature of his display against France. He kicked well in Dublin last week, and hopefully that will be the case once more with the safety blanket of McFadden removed. Conor Murray, while not giving a display for the ages that it may have seemed from some of the punditry, brought a welcome level of decisiveness to his performance last weekend and ironically, will probably have to scale that back somewhat to catch an expectant Italian team off guard. The other worry in the backline is the fitness of O'Driscoll and Marshall. One wonders if they would be playing at all if this was the NFL.


Up front will be key, perhaps more so than in any game since the loss to England. Our back row has been relatively injury free, and Heaslip and co. will need to be at their best in the loose to stop the ever-marauding Parisse. Castrogiovanni's injury should lessen the impact of the Italian scrum somewhat, even if it is not as fearsome as some years ago, but as England almost found out to their peril last Sunday, if they can even gain parity in the set piece then there is now enough guile in the backline for Italy to carve out try scoring opportunities. Ireland beware.

In the only game that matters, expect England to complete the Grand Slam. Ryan Jones is a big loss for Wales, and squeaking by Italy will sharpen the minds Stuart Lancaster's men. Not a classicly brilliant England team, nor a Grand Slam side which will light up the history books in 30 years time, their's is a win of substance over style. They've outlasted, rather than beaten, the other nations in a rudimentary fashion to win an ordinary Championship.

---Gavin Grace



Can't take your eyes off it

Rarely has a tournament promised so much and delivered so little. Since the fireworks of the opening weekend, the Six Nations has reverted to the attritional contest we're more used to on the soggy Spring ground. In spite of the dour games that have been served up so far the last weekend won't be without its intrigue and hopefully a bit more quality. And that's one of the great things about the Six Nations, no matter how poor whats gone before you still can't take your eyes off it.


Wales v England

A miserable 9 months for Wales came to an end with a George North try in Paris and just a few weeks later the Welsh are in a playoff to retain their title. They haven't played much better than Ireland this year but Wales have managed to get over the line against France and Scotland. Such are the legendary 'fine margins' between glory and ignominy in such a short tournament.

The Curious Case of The Welsh Backrow continues as they start their 4th combination in 5 games and finally get around to starting Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton together. Strangely, Warburton starts at blindside even though he was preferred to Tipuric at openside last week. Having two true sevens should give Wales a breakdown advantage over England's army of sixes.


England are going for their first Grand Slam in a decade but their form has slipped precipitously over the course of the competition. The scare against Italy in Twickenham may have been timely and refocus their minds. England will want to replicate the physicality and control they showed in Dublin and take their scores. Three-nil will do.

Attacking hasn't been a huge part of the Six Nations and hopes won't be high for a try-fest in the decider. The respective centre partnerships have been fairly anonymous as attacking entities, despite the hype, and Mike Brown and George North have been the pick of the running threats from the back threes.

Evenly matched front fives, solid if unspectacular flyhalves and high percentage goal-kickers. This may not be a thriller but it will be compelling.


France v Scotland


Scotland will feel relatively sated going into their final game. They have more than one victory for the first time since 2006 and Scott Johnson must feel pretty confident of getting the coaching gig on a full time basis. The most surprising thing about this campaign is the number of Scots in contention for Lions spots (though that may have more to do with form over the Britain and Ireland generally). A competitive pack, solid halfbacks and the highest scoring back three in the Six Nations, a win in Paris would turn a good campaign into a great one.

Nothing looks likely to salvage the French season. Winless from four games and trying to avoid embarrassment at home (again) the French national team is at a low ebb. They should have enough quality to overpower the Scots but that could have been said of any of their games in 2013 and yet they prop up the table. PSA has selected Freddie Michalak at 10 again, ignoring just about all evidence available (France's most effective hour of rugby came against England with Parra and Trinh-Duc together).


The class of Picamoles and Fofana has to begin to tell at some stage but can anybody back France with any confidence? A fast start will be essential for them to prevent the Stade de France crowd getting on their backs. Scotland will play to their seasons plan; hang in there and wait for their opportunity.

---Ronan Murphy

Good news, bad news

With just one round of games to go in the 2013 Six Nations championship. Since a free-scoring first weekend it's been a fairly
dour championship with very few tries scored. Here's a quick look at some good news and bad news for each team, with some Six Nations team records that could possibly be broken on Saturday.

Good news: They're top of the table and playing for a Grand Slam. This is an unremarkable but terrifically well-organised England team. Organisation is not a new phenomenon for English Six Nations teams; since 2000 every other Six Nations nation has endured at least two seasons in which they conceded an average of at least two tries per game. England have never done so, and with one game to go this team is no exception.

Bad news: Their attack is unremarkable, being outscored by Wales and only ahead of Scotland by a nose.


Good news: Wales are the top point scorers in the championship, scoring 30% more points than the average team in this year's Six Nations. They also have the best try defense.

Bad News:
Wales have already conceded more points in four games (63) than they conceded in five games in 2012 (58).

Good news: Scottish fans are seeing points on the board! The four games (33.3% of all games) involving Scotland have accounted for 39% of all points scored in the championship to this point. The Scots are on pace to score the most points any Scotland team has scored in the Six Nations era and need 14 points against France to lock it up.

Bad news: Those Scottish fans are seeing points on the board for both teams; Scotland are conceding half a point more than they're scoring themselves.

Good news: If Ireland hold Italy to 14 points or less it will see Kidney's team achieve Ireland's lowest ever points conceded total in the Six Nations.

Bad news: Kidney's team is also on pace to achieve Ireland's lowest ever points scored total in the Six Nations. In both 2008 and 2011 Ireland scored just 93 points in five games and to avoid the dubious honour of setting a new record Ireland must score 37 points in Rome. This season's combination of stern defence and toothless attack have combined to give the Irish watching public a fairly dour Six Nations experience. 2013 Six Nations games involving Ireland have seen just 27% of points scored in the championship. Only two teams have ever "achieved" lower values than that; coincidentally they were both Scottish (2001: 26.1%; 2006: 25.3%).

Good news: If Italy hold Ireland to 24 points or less this will have been their finest defensive performance in the Six Nations since they became that sixth nation in 2000. The better news is that this is no flash in the pan, they set their previous defensive best just last season. Italy are still conceding a championship-worst 24 points a game but that's a long way from those days in the early 2000s when Italy allowed over 40 points per match.

Bad news: Italy are still conceding almost twice as many points as they manage to score.

Good news:
Their defense isn't completely awful, allowing 19 points per game.

Bad news: France need to score 52 points against Scotland to avoid being the lowest-scoring French team since 2000. To put the likelihood of this in context, they're currently averaging 12.5 points per match.


---Andy McGeady

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