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

Sport time: Six Nations for beginners


The Six Nations, as the name suggests, is fought out between six countries: Italy, Wales, England, Scotland, France and Ireland. The completion began in 2000 when Italy joined. Previously, it was known as the Five Nations which was first competed in 1910.

There are 6 trophies to compete for within the tournament. The most important being the Six Nations Championships and the Grand Slam. The Six Nations Championship is won by the team with the highest points; they get 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss. The Grand Slam is awarded if a team is able to win all five of their games. The other trophies of the competition can only by won by certain teams. The Triple Crown is competed for by Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. The winner is the team who can beat all three of the other teams involved. The Millennium cup is awarded to the victor of the Ireland versus England game and the Calcutta Cup is awarded to the winner of England versus Scotland. The newest inclusion is the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy which has been competed for between France and Italy since 2007.

The tournament will begin tomorrow (Friday) when England will play Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Coverage will be shown on BBC one from 7.30pm.

Mynd ymlaen Cymru

Sport time: Welsh team for Six Nations


Here’s the very first guest article from Paul. It’s suitable for keen rugby fans, but don’t worry, a simplistic guide to the Six Nations rugby tournament will be coming this week- right in time for kick off.

The Six Nations is only four days away and the world cup is looming. All the home nations (plus France and Italy) are gearing up to get their campaigns off to a winning start and it’s their last chance to test players before jetting off to New Zealand in the Summer.

Wales are currently in a slump, and after the draw with Fiji, some serious questions are being asked about players and coaches. It’s crucial for Wales to start off with a win. They’re a team that thrives on momentum, beating England on the 5th February (Wales’ first Six Nations game) will give them bags of it.

The squad for this game were picked on Saturday by Warren Gatland (Wales’ coach), and there are a few surprises. Namely the exclusion of Martyn Williams and Dan Bigger (Wiki them). While I’m glad Bigger isn’t there, I do feel some reservations about Martyn Williams. He would not start because Sam Warburton is playing better, is faster and stronger; but he has such a wealth of experience that would be extremely useful to have around the squad. I suppose, however, it should be taken as a sign of strength that we can afford to not include such a player of his calibre.

Onto the starting fifteen- I feel that because we’re missing the likes of Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones (both out because of injuries), it is especially important that our backs are sharp and scoring tries; something that they’ve been struggling to do recently. To remedy this I propose we start James Hook at 10. It’s a risk because he hasn’t played much there recently but the Hook/Steven Jones rotation we had during the 2008 six nations proved really effective. Also, with the return to fitness of Shane Williams and Leigh Halfpenny ,we’ve got two of our top finishers back on the wings. I’d keep Lee Byrne at fullback, due to a lack of options mainly. In my opinion he’s still a better option than Rhys Priestland (even though I support Scarlets), who will benefit massively from some time in the Welsh squad. Hopefully Byrne will recover some of the form that made him one of the best in the world 2 years ago. Centres pick themselves, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. Both are really big strong runners and are top players for their regions. Scrum half is a bit more difficult. Mike Philips hasn’t really performed recently, but would Dwayne Peel be a better option? I’m not so sure. I think I’ll leave that one up to Warren Gatland.

As for the forwards Sam Warburton and Dan Lydiate are surely the best bet for flankers and, Matthew Rees will captain from hookers, and Alyn Wyn Jones should accompany Bradley Davies in the second row. Number Eight could go either way between Andy Powell, Ryan Jones and Jonathan Thomas. I hear Powell is playing out of his skin at Wasps, but I think I’d keep him on the bench and bring him on in the final 20. I’d also put Thomas on the Bench, like Jones, he covers 4, 6 and 8, and would be a good option if somebody isn’t firing. That leaves Ryan Jones to start. He’s been playing well the last month and probably deserves to prove himself after a run of bad form. Last but not least, the props.  As I mentioned, we’re in a bit of a crisis since we’re missing both Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones are injured. They’ve both been the core of Wales’ team for a few seasons now and will not be easily replaced. Paul James will probably take over at lose head (left side of the scrum) while I’d expect Craig Mitchell to start at Tight head (right side) with John Yapp on the bench. It won’t be the strongest front row, not by a long shot but hopefully it’ll do the job.

If you fancy building your own team go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/welsh/squad_selector/default.stm

It’s available for England, Scotland and Ireland as well so knock yourselves out.

Wales will play England in the Six Nations on Friday 5th Febraury in the Millenium Stadium (Cardiff). Coverage will be shown on BBC one from 7.30pm.

Good Luck Wales!

Until next time, Paul

If this all sounded like gibberish to you, don’t worry, Paul will be writing a post for new supporters of rugby before the Six Nations starts.