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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

Schmidt applauds Irish Support.

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(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

He may have led his side out for the final time at the Aviva Stadium today, but for Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, the importance of the Rugby World Cup in Japan meant he could not get too wrapped up in the occasion.

A well-earned victory over Wales for the second weekend running provides Ireland with considerable momentum heading into their Pool A opener against Scotland on Sunday, September 22. Speaking afterwards, Schmidt’s post-match thoughts were already on that Yokohama clash.

“The focus of the World Cup is huge, so you’re immediately starting to think in terms of our next game,” he explained. “Obviously Scotland have had a couple of big wins against Georgia and a good win against France after doing similar to what we did against England, in not really being ready to go from the very start.

“That’s the nature of these pre-World Cup Test matches, where people are trialling combinations and people are at various stages of preparation. For me, it’s been good to take the emotion out of it, as emotionally connected as I am to the team and the performance to the Aviva Stadium and what it’s meant over the last 10 years.

“I was here at the first game of rugby with my kids watching an Under-20 game with the four provinces mixed into two teams. Ever since then I’ve had some really special experiences just being here and absorbing the atmosphere.

“It’s phenomenal for such an open stadium the volume of noise that gets created. We are incredibly lucky with the support that we have and that was very evident with the reception that Rory (Best) got coming off the pitch today.”

Indeed, the emotion Schmidt did allow himself in the minutes that followed this afternoon’s encounter was that of relief. Given how close the start of the Rugby World Cup is, he was pleased to see the majority of his troops coming through the game unscathed.

Cian Healy was withdrawn at half-time for a head injury assessment, and Keith Earls came off with a quad injury, but the Ireland boss was otherwise able to report a clean bill of health.

“After a game, relief is probably the primary emotion. Just because hopefully we’ve negotiated that. The boys who came off seemed in really good spirits. We’ve hopefully gotten through that unscathed. That’s always the most important thing. Then we’ve got a performance that we can be proud of, I think. The first quarter of the game we couldn’t hang onto the ball.

“I think we made 40 tackles as opposed to them having made six tackles in that early part of the game. I thought we did a really good job defensively and then we built our way into the game. I felt we dominated the last quarter. It wasn’t necessarily pretty to watch, but it was nice to get that result.”

On just his third appearance in an Ireland jersey, Schmidt felt that Jean Kleyn was ‘solid, not spectacular’. Nonetheless, he believes the Munster lock has the tools to become a key figure for Ireland in Japan, with the other second rows, including man-of-the-match James Ryan, adding their own unique flavours to the Irish pack.

“Jean’s a good man for us in the engine room. He can carry okay as well. He’s a big man. I think across the board there was a real work ethic out there today. It wasn’t flash, but it was functional. Sometimes when you’re building towards something you want functional. I think James Ryan is James Ryan really.

“He just keeps setting a bar for himself and then looking to jump a little bit higher. I thought Iain Henderson added some value and we’ve Tadhg Beirne too, so it’s going to be a good contest for those spots. They are four quite different profiles of second row. So it allows us a little flexibility in how we change up the game, during a game or from game-to-game.”

Schmidt also has a number of options in midfield as Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell are vying for the two starting berths. The old Connacht centre partnership of Aki and Henshaw received the nod on this occasion and repaid Schmidt’s faith with a pair of powerhouse performances.

“Those two know each other inside-out. They are good friends, they are good players together. I thought Robbie’s first carry, when he gets that ball in behind the line, Bundee knows exactly where to be and punches onto that ball really well. Instead of us just having a ruck on the edge of our 22, suddenly we’re going forward to the next ruck.

“Defensively they got to space. I do think that our midfield defence with those two was really strong as well. We’d have real confidence in all four midfielders we have, especially that they are very good defenders. They are going to compete for spots.

“Some of it is about the combinations, and the fact that Bundee and Robbie know each other well. Then Robbie and Garry Ringrose have been playing together for Leinster and they know each other well. Chris Farrell has never let us down, so there’s a mix there.”

A number of firsts have been achieved by this Ireland squad over the course of Schmidt’s coaching reign. Victories against the southern Hemisphere giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa spring to mind, while 2015 saw them retain the Six Nations title for the first time in 66 years.

Another milestone was ticked off the list today with Ireland’s return to form propelling them to the number one position in the World Rugby Rankings. Although he sees it a notable feat for Ireland, Schmidt still believes his native New Zealand will be the team to beat at the tournament in Japan.

“I didn’t even realise that we were (number one in the rankings) until I did an interview after the game. That’s how far away from our thoughts it’s been. It’s a label, it’s a nice label to get and it’s a nice…first time that we’ve been in that position.

“We have been lucky enough to tick a few firsts off with this group in the last six years. But that label is not going to be relevant to anyone. We all know who the favourites are for the Rugby World Cup, and it’s not us.”

The post Schmidt: We’re Incredibly Lucky With The Support We Have appeared first on Irish Rugby.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography

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6 Nations

Two Uncapped Players In Ireland Squad For Italy Match

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(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

There are two uncapped players included in the Ireland match day squad for the opening game of the Guinness Series against Italy on Saturday.

Munster’s Jean Kleyn will make his Ireland debut in the second row alongside Devin Toner in a new look Ireland side captained by Rhys Ruddock.

Ruddock is joined in the back row by Jordi Murphy and Tommy O’Donnell, who won the last of his 12 caps against Scotland in 2016.

Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter are named in the front row.

Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery fill the half back positions with Chris Farrell and Garry Ringrose named in the centre.

Jordan Larmour is at fullback with Andrew Conway and David Kearney on the wings.

The uncapped Mike Haley is included in the replacements. He is joined by Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty.

The match will be live on RTE and Channel 4.

Ireland Team & Replacements (v Italy, Guinness Series 2019, Saturday, August 10, Aviva Stadium, 2pm)

Player/Club/Province/Caps
15. Jordan Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 13 caps
14. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 12 caps caps
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 20 caps
12. Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) 5 caps
11. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) 17
10. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Munster) 18 caps
9. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 10 caps

1. Jack McGrath (St Marys College/Leinster) 54 caps
2. Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 7 caps
3. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 14 caps
4. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 64 caps
5. Jean Kleyn (Munster) 0 caps
6. Rhys Ruddock (St Mary’s College/Leinster) 21 caps Captain
7. Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster) 12 caps
8. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Ulster) 27 caps

Replacements
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 14 caps
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 88 caps
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 18 caps
19. Iain Henderson (Queens University/Ulster) 44 caps
20. Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster) 5 caps
21. Kieran Marmion (Galwegians/Connacht) 25 caps
22. Jack Carty (Buccaneers/Connacht) 3 caps
23. Mike Haley (Munster) 0 caps

The post Two Uncapped Players In Ireland Squad For Italy Match appeared first on Irish Rugby.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography

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6 Nations

Alun Wyn Jones Announces Future Plans

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones has confirmed his long-awaited decision for the future

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(Photo credit PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Image)

Alun Wyn Jones has announced that he has signed a contract extension with both the Welsh Rugby Union and the Ospreys until June 2021.

The second-row, who had been rumoured to be heading overseas come the end of the season has committed his future to his hometown region and confirmed the news on social media.

“I have some news I would like to share with you. I’m happy to announce that I have signed a contract extension to June 2021 with the Welsh Rugby Union and the Ospreys and will be playing at the Liberty Stadium for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The Welsh captain who has gone on to make 134 caps at test level (125 with Wales and 9 for the British & Irish Lions), admitted he considered all options available to him but decided to stay put.

“After serious consideration and taking stock of all options, it is the right decision for my career at this point in time, along with my personal ambitions on and off the field, my welfare, and needs of my family. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to tell you directly, in particular to the Ospreys supporters and all those who have supported me during my career to date. Thanks, Alun Wyn,” he added.

Jones is set to head to Switzerland this week for Wales’ first overseas training camp ahead of the Rugby World Cup, and WRU CEO Martyn Phillips is delighted that Jones will be remaining in the country after the tournament in Japan.

“This announcement is a huge boost for Welsh rugby. Alun Wyn is hugely respected across the game and I’m delighted he has committed his future here in Wales and that he will be continuing to play for his hometown region. It is a boost for the game both on and off the field and I’m sure the news will delight both Wales and Ospreys supporters alike as he continues to inspire the next generation. The extension allows the WRU and the Ospreys to continue working together with Alun Wyn to ensure he has the very best of environments to thrive in,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke is also excited to have the clubs most capped player (238 caps) still in his squad and believes it is brilliant news for everyone in the region.

“Today’s announcement is fantastic news for us as a club and all Ospreys and Wales supporters. Alun Wyn is a man I have the upmost respect for; he is greatly admired not just because of what he has achieved and what he represents as a local boy playing for his home region and country but importantly because of the ambition and level of performance he consistently displays. He’s a tremendous individual and a winner with a deep hunger for the Ospreys to be successful on and off the field. Alun Wyn has spent his entire career with the Ospreys and I expect him to continue his legacy as a player and well beyond his playing days,” he said.

Jones’ announcement will be a massive boost for all Welsh Rugby supporters and will also be a motivation for the national team heading into the World Cup later this year as they look to add more silverware to their Six Nations Grand Slam from earlier in the year.

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