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6 Nations

England 6 Nations Preview

Who’s in the squad, who are the team to beat, and who to keep an eye on at the 2019 6 Nations.

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Written by Oliver Green
Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

When the 2019 6 Nations begins on February 1st, England will be looking to erase the memories of a hugely disappointing campaign just under a year ago.

They will compete in what could be the most hotly-contested championships in years, with each of the six sides offering a unique challenge.

Eddie Jones’ side look as competitive as ever, following a largely successful set of Autumn internationals at the end of last year. They recorded three wins from four, including a thrashing of Australia that demonstrated how dangerous they can be when things come together.

The only setback was a narrow 15-16 defeat to southern hemisphere giants New Zealand, from which England could still take a vast number of positives.

They will face a similarly monumental task when their 6 Nations campaign begins at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday at 16:45. England will face an Ireland side ranked number two in the world, who have not lost in the 6 Nations in Dublin since 2013. Joe Schmidt’s men have won their last 12 home games, beating every tier-one nation.

Jones selected his 36-man squad last week, and England fans will be pleased to hear that second-row Joe Launchbury and flanker Brad Shields were included despite injury scares just days before. Shields’ return is much-welcomed after fellow back-rowers Chris Robshaw and Sam Underhill were ruled out through injury.

The group travelled to Portugal last week for their training camp.

Another huge boost is that rampaging number 8 Billy Vunipola will be involved in international rugby for the first time since breaking his arm three times. The 26-year-old has scored twice in three games for Saracens since returning.

Centres Jonathan Joseph and Manu Tuilagi were included in the backs, offering much-needed variety in the 12 and 13 positions. Bath’s Joseph returns after just one appearance in an injury-hit 9 months, but is still joint top try-scorer for England under Jones.

Perhaps the only concern for Jones is whether relatively inexperienced hookers Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie will be able to fill the void left by co-captain Dylan Hartley. Hartley will miss at least the first couple of rounds with a knee injury.

Key man: Owen Farrell

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England hearts will have dropped when Owen Farrell pulled out of Saracens’ Heineken Champions Cup pool match with Glasgow. His importance to the national team cannot be understated.

Fortunately, successful surgery on his thumb will see him return in time for the England’s opening fixture, and the decision to omit Danny Cipriani from the squad emphasizes Eddie Jones’ confidence in the fly-halves fitness.

Farrell is quickly establishing himself as one of the best players in the world, and has been outstanding yet again for Saracens this season. If he plays at 10 at the expense of George Ford as expected, he will need to replicate the intelligence and kicking prowess that has left him at the top of the Premiership points-scorer standings.

With Farrell at his dazzling best, England have every chance of a championship victory. His leaderships skills will also be under scrutiny, after he was handed sole-captaincy following Hartley’s omission.

One to watch: Henry Slade

Centre Henry Slade made his England debut in 2015, but it wasn’t until the November tests last year that he established himself as a regular starter.

The 25-year-old started three of the four games England played at Twickenham, and his assured performances in a white shirt have left Eddie Jones with a difficult decision in the centres.

With previous favourite at 13 Jonathan Joseph returning, as well as Manu Tuilagi, Jones will have a choice of silky footwork, raw power, or defensive expertise.

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Exeter Chiefs star Slade said: “Every time I’ve played for England, I’ve felt more comfortable and confident on each occasion. I feel like I played better as the autumn went on and, hopefully, I can continue in that vein going into the Six Nations.”

Should Slade get the nod in Ireland, he has every chance of building on his classy performances in the Autumn, and could be a key part of England’s title challenge.

Team to beat: Ireland

Although every game in the 6 Nations is colossal, few would disagree that England’s opening game will be the toughest. Ireland’s 16-9 victory over the All Blacks in November will have no doubt turned the heads of their 6 Nations rivals.

Lead by inspirational hooker Rory Best, they have arguably their strongest squad in years, and have every chance of back-to-back Grand Slam’s.

To get a sense of the challenge England face, it is important to consider this; Ireland were named Team of the Year at the World Rugby Awards in November; their squad includes World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton; they are managed by Coach of the Year Joe Schmidt.

Despite the arsenal of talent at Ireland’s disposal, England boss Eddie Jones was bullish about his side’s chances.

“Ireland have got to carry the weight of pressure,” said Jones.

“I am not too worried about Ireland, to be honest. All we can do is prepare as best we can. What people think, whether we are underdogs or favourites, doesn’t affect us.”

Should England leave Dublin with a victory on Saturday, there is every chance that their clash with Wales could be a Grand Slam decider.

But of course, as seen with England’s remarkably disappointing 5th place finish last year, no result is a foregone conclusion in the 6 Nations.

Dark horses: Scotland

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Scottish fans may be sick of their side being branded as a potential ‘surprise package’ before almost every 6 Nations, but 2019 may truly be the year they compete with the ‘big boys’.  

Although they were beaten by Wales 21-10 in November, Gregor Townsend has assembled a side over the last year and a half that has become much harder to beat.

This was highlighted earlier in the Autumn tests when they narrowly lost to South Africa, despite a tremendous effort.

Captain Greig Laidlaw picked out fly-half Finn Russell, who has been in scintillating form for Racing 92 this season, as Scotland’s key man ahead of the tournament.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast, the scrum-half said: “At times, we’re going to have to look to Finn for answers and he needs to be able to give them. I believe now he’s at that point to be able to do that.

“His skill-set is phenomenal, his passing game is wonderful and his kicking game is really good as well – sometimes people forget about that. He’s got good variety and is a good attacking weapon for us.

With a very winnable opener against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday, followed by trip to an inconsistent French side the next week, Scotland have every chance to be in the top half of the table heading into round three. When England meet the Scots on March 16th   in the final game of the 6 Nations, there could potentially be more to play for than just the Calcutta Cup.


6 Nations

Referee Appointments Made For November Internationals

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The match day officials for Ireland’s international fixtures in November have been announced by World Rugby and the IRFU High Performance Referees will have a busy month on international duty.

For our teams in green, the RFU’s Adam Leal will take charge of the game between Ireland ‘A’ and the All Blacks XV at the RDS on Friday, 4th November. The following day, Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli has the whistle for the game between Ireland and World Champions South Africa at Aviva Stadium.

South African Jaco Peyper is in charge of Ireland v Fiji and New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe is the man in the middle for Ireland’s final game of the Autumn Nations Series against Australia.

IRFU referee Andrew Brace takes charge of two games during this international window – England v Argentina and France v Japan. Joy Neville, who will have just returned from the Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, is in the TMO hot seat for the France game against the Brave Blossoms.

Frank Murphy in on duty for Scotland against New Zealand at Murrayfield and Chris Busby has the whistle for the French Barbarians against Fiji in Lille.  Both Chris Busby and Eoghan Cross are on duty in Dubai for the World Cup Final Qualifier tournament.  Chris is refereeing the game between Portugal and Hong Kong with Eoghan in the AR role for that game and the clash between the USA and Kenya.

Friday 4th November, 2022
IRELAND A v All Blacks XV
REF: Adam Leal (RFU), ARs: Luc Ramos (FFR), Benoit Rousselet (FFR)

Saturday 5th November, 2022
IRELAND v South Africa
REF: Nika Amashukeli (GRU), ARs: Mathieu Raynal (FFR), Andrea Piardi (FIR)

Saturday 12th November, 2022
IRELAND v Fiji
REF: Jaco Peyper (SARU), ARs: Tual Trainini (FFR), Jordan Way (RA)

Saturday 19th November, 2022
IRELAND v Australia
REF: Ben O’Keeffe (NZRU), ARs: James Doleman (NZRU), Tual Trainini (FFR)

IRFU High Performance Referee Appointment

England v Argentina
REF: Andrew Brace (IRFU), ARs: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Pierre Brousset (FFR)

USA v Kenya
REF: Tual Trainini (FFR), ARs: Damian Schneider (UAR), Eoghan Cross (IRFU)

Portugal v Hong Kong
REF: Chris Busby (IRFU), ARs: Damian Schneider (UAR), Eoghan Cross (IRFU)

Scotland v New Zealand
REF: Frank Murphy (IRFU), ARs: Andrew Brace (IRFU), Chris Busby (IRFU)

Romania v Samoa
REF: Mathieu Raynal (FFR), ARs: Eoghan Cross (IRFU), Shota Tevadze (IRFU)

French Barbarians v Fiji
REF: Chris Busby (IRFU), ARs: Ben Blain (SARU), Adrien Marbot (FFR)

France v Japan
REF: Andrew Brace (IRFU), ARs: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Christophe Ridley (RFU)
TMO: Joy Neville (IRFU)

England v South Africa
REF: Angus Gardner (RA), ARs: Andrew Brace (IRFU), Pierre Brousset (FFR)

Wales v Australia
REF: Matthew Carley (RFU), ARs: Luke Pearce (RFU), Chris Busby (IRFU)

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

Emerging Ireland Ready For Currie Cup Champions

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The Emerging Ireland Match Day Squad to take on Currie Cup champions, the Airlink Pumas, on Wednesday in Bloemfontein has been named by the Ireland coaching team.

Emerging Ireland started their Toyota Challenge campaign with a 54-7 victory over the Griquas on Sunday and will take on the Pumas on Wednesday afternoon at Toyota Stadium (Kick-off 4pm Irish time, live on IrishRugby.ie).

Cian Prendergast, a member of the touring party leadership group, will fulfil the captain’s duties against the Pumas.

Prenderast will line out on the blindside flank with John Hodnett in the number seven jersey and James Culhane in the number eight slot. Cormac Izuchukwu and Brian Deeny are named at lock with Callum Reid, Diarmuid Barron and Roman Salanoa in the front row.

Michael McDonald and Jake Flannery will steer the team from half-back with Cathal Forde and Antoine Frisch in midfield. Ethan McIlroy is joined in the back field by Sevens duo Chay Mullins and Andrew Smith.

The replacements named are Dylan Tierney-Martin, Josh Wycherley, Sam Illo, Tom Ahern, David McCann, Ben Murphy, Jack Crowley and Shane Daly.

The match will be streamed live on IrishRugby.ie, while there will be updates on Irish Rugby social media channels.

Emerging Ireland v Airlink Pumas:

Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, Wednesday 5th October, 2022, KO 4.00pm (Irish time)

15. Chay Mullins (Connacht/IQ Rugby)
14. Ethan McIlroy (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
13. Antoine Frisch (Munster)
12. Cathal Forde (Connacht/Corinthians)
11. Andrew Smith (Leinster/Clontarf)
10. Jake Flannery (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
9. Michael McDonald (Ulster)

1. Callum Reid (Ulster/Banbridge)
2. Diarmuid Barron (Munster/Garryowen)
3. Roman Salonoa (Munster/Shannon)
4. Cormac Izuchukwu (Ulster/Ballynahinch)
5. Brian Deeny (Leinster/Clontarf)
6. Cian Prendergast (Connacht)(captain)
7. John Hodnett (Munster/UCC)
8. James Culhane (Leinster/UCD)

Replacements:

16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (Connacht/Corinthians)
17. Josh Wycherley (Munster/Young Munster)
18. Sam Illo (Connacht/Buccaneers)
19. Tom Ahern (Munster/Shannon)
20. David McCann (Ulster/Banbridge)
21. Ben Murphy (Leinster/Clontarf)
22. Jack Crowley (Munster/Cork Constitution)
23. Shane Daly (Munster/Cork Constitution) 

Emerging Ireland Toyota Challenge Fixtures 2022:

Airlink Pumas vs Emerging Ireland
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Wednesday 5th October 2022, KO 16:00 (Irish time)

Toyota Cheetahs vs Emerging Ireland
Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Sunday 9th October 2022, KO 14:00 (Irish time)

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

Aki Banned For Eight Weeks

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Aki will be unavailable for the westerners’ next five URC games, including the derby clashes with Munster and Leinster, and will also miss at least the first two of Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series fixtures.

He will definitely be absent for the Tests against South Africa and Fiji, but could return to face Australia on Saturday, November 19 if he ‘successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme’.

After an act of foul play against Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla, referee Gianluca Gnecchi showed Aki a red card in the 60th minute of the game under law 9.20(a).

The particular law states that a player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.

In his responses to the judicial officer overseeing the disciplinary process (Pamela Woodman from Scotland), Aki had accepted that he had committed an act of foul play which warranted a red card.

She determined that his actions towards Senatla were reckless and took into account, among other things, the speed, force and high degree of danger in his actions.

Ms. Woodman determined that, had it been based on this conduct alone, the offending would have been categorised as mid-range on the scale of seriousness.

However, she also considered Aki’s actions and demeanour towards the referee in connection with the issue of the red card, which she found did not meet the expected standards of conduct or respect.

This was also taken into account (in accordance with URC’s disciplinary rules) in determining that his offending was at the top-end on the scale of seriousness, which warranted an entry point sanction of 10 weeks.

The judicial officer then considered if there were any mitigating factors and found that Aki’s acceptance that he had committed an act of foul play (during the off-field disciplinary process), expression of remorse, apologies to both the opposing player and referee, and willingness to engage with his provincial coaching staff on a plan to address this issue, were relevant mitigating factors.

These mitigating factors warranted a reduction in the sanction of four weeks.

Aki’s previous suspensions for red cards in 2019 and 2021 for foul play involving head contact, as well as his suspension and warning for previous conduct relating to interactions with referees, were considered aggravating factors, which the judicial officer decided warranted a further two weeks of sanction.

As a result, the Ireland international will be suspended for a period of eight weeks. As previously stated, should he complete the Coaching Intervention programme then the sanction will be reduced by one week.

Fixtures Bundee Aki is unavailable for:

Vodacom Bulls v Connacht, September 30, BKT URC
Connacht v Munster, October 7, BKT URC
Connacht v Leinster, October 14, BKT URC
Connacht v Scarlets, October 21, BKT URC
Ospreys v Connacht, October 29, BKT URC
Ireland v South Africa, November 5, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Fiji, November 12, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Australia, November 19, Autumn Nations Series (substituted if the player successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme)

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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