SPORTS TIME: Wales’s World Cup


Wales are going into the world cup with two wins out of three. Safe to say, this is a good result. It gives the team decent momentum before they head down south to face the physicality of South Africa, Samoa and Fiji. But what exactly can we take out of these warm ups? Where does Wales still need to improve? And what are they’re chances of success in New Zealand?

POSITIVES:

1) Some of Wales’s young players have really excelled over the last three weeks. The likes of North, Warburton are always improving and are showing that the 7 and 14 shirts are well and truly theirs. Also Preistland, Knoyle and Scott Williams have been particularly impressive. All of which have done a great job at breaking into the team and have really put their case forward to be part of the starting 15.

2) During their Poland camp, Wales have obviously been working on their fitness. This has really shown, particularly in the first two games against England. In the first game they were able to produce an impressive come back and in the second game their fitness was great.

DRAWBACKS/WEAKNESSES:

1) The set piece has been a horror show. the scrum was a big problem against England, however it did look stronger when Adam Jones returned against Argentina. Adam proved he’s one of the few players that Wales simply can’t replace. If there’s an injury to the ‘hair bear’ then Wales’s scrum is seriously going to struggle. The lineout almost needs no mention. It has been an obvious area of concern, for whatever reason. The coaching staff will have to take the next few weeks to sort out the problem because without a working lineout, South Africa particularly will be ruthless.

2) Injuries have caused Wales some problems. They will be without Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Gavin Henson and Morgan Stoddart for the duration of the tournament. With injury worries for Steven Jones and Ryan Jones. The plus side of this is that it has given others a chance to shine reflecting a strength in depth that Wales have lacked for sometime.

3) Finally we have to question whether Wales will go into the tournament with the mental toughness needed to really challenge the best teams in the world. It has been a problem over the last two years that Wales have lacked a clinical edge that has allowed them to finish off teams when they are on top. Consistency has also been a problem. Wales have been notorious for finishing well after a quiet 60 or 70 minutes or for only being able to sustain a high level of rugby for a limit part of the game. The way the held out against England in the second match suggests that some of these problems have been addressed, however, the Argentina game highlighted some persistent problems of consistency. At the end of the day, however, these were warm up matches. You have to expect Wales to play at an even higher level come September, which i fully expect them to do.

WALES’ WORLD CUP CHANCES

So far I have been reluctant to predict how well Wales will do in the World Cup. I am, however, ready to bite the bullet. I think their performance will hinge on the first game against South Africa. If they can win that and top their group then I can see them building up momentum that could take them all the way. I realise that to beat South Africa is a very big ask, but recent results and Wales’ current form tell us that it’s definitely a realistic goal.

I’m going to take this opportunity to wish Wales all the best. It’s a very young and exciting team who have the potential to reach outstanding heights. I for one cannot wait to see them in action on the world stage.

Sport time: ITALY ALIVE BUT NOT KICKING


As I write this Italy are celebrating their greatest ever victory, a one point win against France. Nobody would have guessed such a result and welcome to the Azzuri for overcoming the odds. However, what must be at the back of the heads of Italian players and fans alike is what position would they be in if they had a decent goal kicker.

Micro Bergamasco has held the kicking duties for some time now, however, he is in no sense a natural, only the best option in a rotten bunch. Today, against France, he put in a fantastic effort with a good kicking record but this has not been the case for the last 3 games. Italy need a player who takes kicking duties week in, week out at club level if they’re ever going to progress into the team that they hope to be.

If you take a look back over the last 6 weeks, Italy lost narrowly to Ireland and to Wales as well as their thrashing of England. The games against the Irish and the Welsh could just have easily been Italain victories if they had just capitalised on their penalties. Of all the teams so far in this Six Nations, Italy has been given the most penalties. This alone tells us how much of a difference it would make if they have somebody more consistent keeping the score board ticking over for them.

In another universe we could be congratulating Italy today for being second in the Six Nations, however, in this one we are congratulating them for beating France; and what an achievement it is. This truly is a fantastic result for an Italian team that could, or maybe even should, have been talking about a championship victory.

Until next time,

Paul

Sport time: Some thoughts for the second Six Nations weekend


The second round of the Six Nations kicks of this coming Saturday with Ireland versus France at 3pm. Both teams are going into the game with one win under their belts, however, for Ireland it wouldn’t have felt like a win after their miserable performance against Italy. They’ll have to considerably up their game if they want to compete with the French, let alone sneak a victory. Ireland will be hoping their returning star Number 8, Jamie Heaslip, and home advantage will have a big impact and lift the team back to the standard that won them the Grand Slam back in 2009. France will be brimming with confidence and will expect an easier game than last week. Saying that, it would be foolish to underestimate the men in green. France will be looking for much of the same in attack and want to tighten up their defence which seemed like the smallest of chinks in their armour last weekend. I predict a comfortable French win.

The second match that day sees Wales travel up to Scotland for a 5pm start. In contrast to the first game, both these teams lost their opening match despite producing encouraging performances. Both have to win if they have any hope of competing for the Six Nations Crown. Wales have made three changes this week, moving Hook to Fly-half, Lee Byrne to Full-back and Ryan Jones gets a start at Number 8. They will be looking to spark some more creativity into their back line, and make sure their big backs get their hands on the ball so they can challenge Scotland’s defence (Jamie Roberts didn’t get his first touch of the ball until after 40 minutes of game time!) Scotland has kept the same starting line-up and will be looking to play the same kind of exciting rugby they did against France. My prediction is a Wales win. It’s going to be a very close game, and in truth any team could come out on top, however, I can’t but help being a classically optimistic Welsh-man.

Sunday sees England welcome Italy to Twickenham at 2.30pm. Unfortunately, I don’t see Italy putting up too much of a fight for this one. Italy did very well against Ireland, but showed that they are unable to control a game when they take the lead. England will know they’re in for a hard 50 minutes, but after that their backs will start to find gaps and Italy will slip away. My prediction for this game is obviously a England win.

Until next time,

Paul

Paul now has a blog all of his own. This post came from storiesinanutshell.wordpress.com

Sport time: First Weekend of the Six Nations


Chris Ashton celebrates his first try

The first weekend of the Six Nations is over and it certainly hasn’t disappointed. Two fast paced games, and one absolute nail bitter made for good viewing, and boy did the fans make some noise in the stadiums.

England vs Wales was a fantastic opener. The result was an English win, the first in eight years at the Millennium Stadium. It was a closely fought battle, England edging it at 26-19, however, England always looked like the better team. They dominated a Welsh scrum which was left limp without two of their Lions stars, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones. England also came out on top in the backs with some very convincing performances from Toby Flood and Chris Ashton. Flood was instrumental in Ashton’s first try and, was very successful at bringing the big men around him into the game. He was deservedly named man of the match, and cemented his place at fly-half over Jonny Wilkinson. Wales showed some signs of what they could do; it never really felt like they were out of the game. Unfortunately, they failed to finish off the chances they created, which has been a massive problem for Wales for some time.

Italy put in a brave performance against a weakened Irish side, but once again failed at the final hurdle to get the victory, losing as they did 13-11. With a strong forward effort they managed to stay in the game right up to the end. They scored a try about four minutes from the end of the game giving them the lead, however, missing the conversion hurt them dearly. It meant that Ireland only needed a drop-goal or penalty to win. It was the experienced Ronan O’Gara who slotted over the last three points they needed and allowed Ireland to snatch victory away from the Italians.

Richie Gray powering through the French defence.

Defending Grand-Slam champions, France showed their class by brushing off a very strong looking Scottish side. After a quick opening try Scotland were left trailing for the rest of the match, which ended at 34-21. The French team looked very dangerous in attack, but showed some holes in defence that Scotland was able to capitalise on. Honourable mention, however, goes to Richie Gray, the young Scottish second row who was very impressive in both attack and defence.

Until next time,

Paul

Coming up: Paul will be posting some  pre-match thoughts later in the week