The Welsh March On, The Irish Regroup and The French Surrender - Six Nations Week 2
It was a difficult weekend sportswise - so much to watch and so little time to do it in. All I can say is thank God for TIVO and the fact that the Six Nations is free to air. Still, in this world of interconnectivity, it has become increasingly difficult to disassociate yourself from what's going on around you. As with every Saturday lunchtime, I took my eldest boy (6 years old) to his football practice/game - another successful session as he scored 2 goals and got the player of the match award. Still it meant that I would miss the beginning of the Scotland v Ireland match so I set my box to record it alongside a mental reminder to not be tempted to look at any sports site for fear that I might catch a glimpse of the score. Everything was going so well until on the train back home a woman got on the same carriage as us and started watching the rugby live on her phone. The glow of the screen and movement of the players was calling to me like a siren drawing sailors towards their watery graves but thankfully I regained my composure and spent the remainder of the journey staring out of the window. Similarly, on Sunday, we were out for lunch with friends who thankfully have no interest in the Rugby. So once again I set my TIVO to record, headed out and this time being as it was the England match I actively switched off almost all my social media accounts for fear that someone would try and spoil the surprise. We left the house after a nice meal and drove back home in silence - I wasn't about to let a stray radio report spoil the excitement for me! My Dad who had also been out and missed the game came over to watch with me and while I had prepped him for the fact that I didn't know the score and didn't want to know it before watching the recording, what I hadn't banked on was who might be trying to communicate with him. My sister was the culprit on this occasion sending him the simple text "did you watch the rugby?". Now I know she didn't exactly reveal the score in this instance but I think reading between the lines one would generally assume that your team did fairly well or else they did very badly and you are dealing with someone with passive-aggressive tendencies which my sister does not usually exhibit. Anyway, lesson learned - clear the diary for all future Six Nations weekends! Ireland hold the Scots at arm's length As mentioned last week, I was really looking forward to this match and the fact that Ireland had lost their opening game added an extra bit of spice to an occassion that saw some monster hits throughout the 80mins. Both sides were guilty of laying a few over the top blows on the opposition's star players with Scotland's elusive full-back Stuart Hogg cynically taken out by a late tackle with just over quarter of an hour gone and Irish playmaker Jonny Sexton getting a good number of solid thumps for his troubles too - neither player made it past the half hour mark ....... Scotland obviously wanted to get off to a quick start by getting their talented half backs, three-quarters and a fired up home crowd into the game. However, their desire to throw the ball around at the back lead to them conceding an opening try as wings Maitland and Seymour got themselves in a tangle that allowed Connor Murray to nip in and score. Rather than overplaying it at the back perhaps the Scottish defenders would have been better off just taking the tackle and looking to reset from deep but that kind of thinking doesn't seem to exist within Gregor Townsend's Scotland side. Ireland's 2nd score was a peach of a try involving the vision and bravery of Jonny Sexton who popped up a lovely little ball on his inside before getting hammered to the floor once more and also for the timing and angle of the run from Stockdale who came off his wing to burst through the midfield. I guess from Sexton's point of view if you know the opposition is out to hit you then you also know that those kind of gaps are going to open up in the defence. However, having the mental strength to remain calm and make that split-second decision while all the while knowing you're about to be hit by the equivalent of a human bulldozer does show what a high-quality player Sexton is. Thereafter it was Ireland's turn to get a bit sloppy and offer Finn Russell the chance to prove that whatever Sexton can do he can match. While not having the raw pace to finish off his interception, he did show the awareness and presence of mind to pop the ball up to Johnson who completed a try that sent Murrayfield wild. From then on the wind was very much in the Scottish sails and the home team looked dangerous every time they entered the final third but try as they might the Irish defence stood firm. Credit has to go to Ireland, their organisation, willingness to put their bodies on the line for the cause but also their ability to finish chances when they came along saw them get into half-time 2points ahead despite the fact that they were outplayed for large parts of the 1st half. You felt that the next score in the game would be crucial and it came to Ireland courtesy of another Scotland error. This time a missed tackle in the midfield led to a break upfield and a fairly routine try for Earls. From then on while you can't fault Scotland for their effort you always felt as though Ireland were comfortably holding them at arm's length. The Scots had a reasonable amount of ball but it's difficult to remember them really threatening the Irish try-line in the way they did in the final 15mins of the first half such was the defensive dominance of Ireland and their superior kicking game that pended Scotland back in their own half for large parts of the 2nd half. For Scotland it is another case of "what if" as they look back on a defeat against one of the best teams in the world to whom they gifted a couple of soft tries. As for Ireland it was very much business as usual as they bounced back from the England defeat with a defensive display that will have pleased coach Joe Schmidt and reestablishes their credentials to defend their championship. England's kicks breach the Maginot Line I could go on with the war references all post but let's leave them for now and concentrate on another classy display from England against a French side that looks somewhat shellshocked (ok that's the last one). I'd mentioned last week that I didn't think that the French would particularly mind if England brought a hard-hitting battle between the forwards to Twickenham on Sunday afternoon. The French have some absolute monsters in their 15 and in picking the likes of Bastareaud in the centre the average size of the visitors only increased from their opening fixture with Wales. However, England were smart enough not to go head to head with such players and instead relied on a series of chips and kicks through that caused havoc in the French ranks for the entire game. An early try to upset an already fragile French team still fresh from their 2nd half capitulation in Paris last week was just what England wanted and Jonny May duly delivered. A lose ball was picked up by Elliot Daly and his sithing run into the French half resulted in a kick into space for May who looked like he was running on one of those airport travelators while the French defence meandered along on the tiled floor beside dragging a series of overpacked suitcases. England continued to poor forward in attack and after the big men had had a go at stampeding over the line, it was left once again to the backs to show their worth. Owen Farrell spotted an overlap out wide and floated a long pass to Jonny May who did a rendition of the hookey cookey before diving in for his 2nd of what was becoming a very good afternoon for him. However, the England winger wasn't finished there! More lose handling by the French presented the ball back to England and this time it was Chris Ashton who probably decided to wander in-field and get some of the action that his opposite wing May was enjoying on that side of the pitch. He was on hand to kick another ball through that allowed May to complete his hattrick in less than 30minutes. England were then perhaps guilty of assuming that the French were there for the taking and a series of errors including giving up possession and a couple of missed tackles allowed France to score and maintain a fingertip grip on the English shirt tails. However, any fears of a French revival were put to bed before half time as yet another kick in behind saw the French defence breached and this time prop forward Sinclair was on hand to send a looping pass out to Henry Slade who side-stepped his way to another try in this tournament. Had the scores have been a little closer then the incident that followed may have courted a bit more controversy. You won't be surprised to hear that once again England attacked via a kick in behind the French and the luckless Chris Ashton found himself chopped down just when it looked like he might join in the scoring. For me, he was certainly taken out without the ball but whether he would have gathered it and then scored is another question. Anyone who has played rugby will know that the egg-shaped ball does funny things when it hits the ground and to me it looked like it may have been bouncing back behind Ashton just as he was taken out. Still, the ref disagreed and awarded England a penalty try as well as yellow carding the French defender. England completed their scoring after Jonny May was sent through again by a grubber kick but this time (for once) a defender did provide sufficient cover to prevent the flying winger getting a fourth try though unfortunately, they could only succeed in palming the ball on for the on-rushing Owen Farrel who tapped down to take England past the 40 point mark with 25 mins still to play. From there you wondered just how ugly this might get for the French but in all honesty, both sides may as well have shaken hands at the hour mark and gone off for a nice long bath such was the apathy with which the final quarter was played. England now sit atop the table on 10 points having gained yet another bonus point for the conviction of their win while the French lie 2nd bottom having scored the least number of points while simultaneously conceding the most - worry times for them indeed! Wales v Italy Again, no offence to Italy but with the cricket on the other side, I was never likely to watch what was a fairly routine win for Wales. That victory now sets up the next game between Wales and England with the winner knowing that they would be within touching distance of the Six Nations crown. Elsewhere, Scotland will have to regroup as they look to get their own title push back on track with a visit to struggling France. While Ireland would expect to take advantage of Wales and England syphoning points from one another with what should be a routine win in Rome.
Boks looking to capitalize on defence
When Steven Kitshoff looks back at his early starting opportunities for the Springboks he will recall the emotion of two super-human efforts against the All Blacks. One effort fell short, with his first start in the 2017 test in Cape Town ending with a defeat by the narrowest of margins. He hasn’t started that often subsequently, but he was back in the No 1 jersey for the Wellington game that rocked the rugby world and halted what was starting to look like a Bok slide. In both games he played like he was charged by Duracell batteries and just never stopped moving, contributing as much in general play, both with the ball and off the ball, as he did in general play. Clearly playing the All Blacks brings out the best in him and regardless of whether he starts against the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth on Saturday he should be wearing a single digit on his back in the eagerly anticipated return clash with the Kiwis in Pretoria a week later. Kitshoff’s passionate performance in his two starts against the All Blacks makes him the perfect person to ask the million dollar question that must be bugging Bok fans as their team heads into the final two games of the Rugby Championship - is it possible to pack that sort of effort and passion into two games in a row? It is a fair question given that this fortnight is in some ways a dress rehearsal for the play-off stages of next year’s World Cup, which will already be underway at this point of 2019. Winning a quarterfinal requires effort, it also needs passion to win a semifinal, and of course a final is almost by definition an emotional game. If the Boks can replicate the Wellington effort in both Port Elizabeth and at Loftus seven days later, then it will tell us they can do it in the same time-frame at the World Cup where, who knows, they may well be facing the same sequence of opponents, just on neutral territory. “Every test match is a big occasion and you have to be up physically and emotionally,” said Kitshoff. “What we are trying to get right is being there every week, being physical, being in their faces and making the big hits. As we saw in Wellington, when it comes off it feels brilliant. Our preparation this week is focussing on getting into the game, being in their faces, being up for it from the kick-off.” Creating a presence early in the game is not something the Boks have got right often in 2018. They came from behind in both their test wins over England, and also let Argentina get ahead of them before winning the opening Rugby Championship test in Durban in August. However, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium game on Saturday will show us whether there is a before and after differentiation that will become apparent subsequent to the win over the All Blacks. The self-belief that would have been injected into the squad could just grow them an extra arm and a leg, figuratively speaking of course, while conversely fans will be wary of their team falling back on their old trick of being complacent after a big win. “It is another test week and we always prepare our best to play against any team we face. But the win over the All Blacks did give us confidence, and we must take that confidence into the next couple of weeks. It does feel like there is bigger energy in the squad since Wellington, but we mustn’t waste that. “I think if you look back to the Cape Town game last year (where the Boks did everything but win) it was a very emotional journey afterwards. We really played our hearts out and left nothing out there and yet we still lost. Then coming to Wellington no-one was really backing us. That was a special win, the guys were really chuffed, you could see it on their faces after the game.” The challenge for the Boks on Saturday is to make that big effort and that achievement count by backing up. They will be looking to feed off the confidence that the Bok loosehead was referring to. The team for the Wallaby game is to be named on Thursday, and at this point there is no real clarity about how many changes coach Rassie Erasmus might make, and whether Kitshoff will be starting or go back to his bench role for the Wallaby game. Although he says he enjoys starting, he claims it doesn’t make too much difference to him. “I am just happy to be in the mix every week. There is healthy competition between myself and Beast (Tendai Mtawarira) and we push each other every week. That makes us better players and better scrummagers.” Kitshoff clearly has a healthy respect for the 100 test cap veteran and he says he has learnt a lot from him. “Beast has been there and done that. He knows the game back to front and the scrummaging game back to front. He is someone I look up to as inspiration and every week when we do our work and our preparation we I learn a lot from him. It is special to have someone like that in the squad...pls like my page for more new related to cricket thanks GOD BLESS YOU
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