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6 Nations

France – The Blind Leading The Blind

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Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images

“We can do this. But do we work on it? No.” The telling words of Morgan Parra after France’s humiliation at Twickenham. The veteran halfback questioned the preparations of the French team after their disastrous performance against England. “I think that we are capable of doing what the English do, but are we working on this during training? I think we don’t work on it enough, even not at all”.

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Parra has not made the 23 for this weekend’s game against Scotland, for what Jacques Brunel calls “sporting reasons”, so read into that what you will. Camille Lopez is in the same boat; after the game, he acknowledged that the French players were accountable, but he said I think it is not just us, and we are not alone in this disaster”. After watching the Wales game, you would’ve thought that French rugby couldn’t get much more disorganised, but when you hear stories of poor Romain Ntamack being sent on to the pitch not even knowing what position he was to play, there really must be something rotten in the state of France.

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Selection policy is something French coaches generally have difficulty with. Whether its the pressure or expectation of the job, who knows, but most of the time its absolutely mystifying. This weekend’s backline is the most sensible one to be seen on a French teamsheet in quite a while, compared to last week’s rabble of four centres and a wing as the outside backs. Thomas Ramos is wearing the 15 jersey for the weekend. Ramos made his debut in Twickenham, limiting the damage in the second half to fourteen points, compared to 30 points in the first half.

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France at home are a different beast to the shower of chancers that turned up to play England game. Last year it took a Hail Mary moment from King Johnny for Ireland to get over the line in Paris, and they came absolutely flying out of the blocks against Wales. Two early tries from Yoann Huget and Louis Picamoles and a peachy drop goal from Camille Lopez had Wales rattled. Wesley Fofana was a brute in midfield, Arthur Iturria and Louis Picamoles were making gains with ease up front. It looked for all the world like France were back.

The second half was a different story. Wales began defending and two gift-wrapped tries for George North later, France were behind. It is no coincidence that France really began to fall apart after captain Guilhelm Guirado went off. A rather alarming interview with Sebastian Vahaamahina revealed that late in the game there was such confusion in the French ranks that Vahaamahina didn’t even know he was captain.

France didn’t close out the Wales game when it was in the balance because the leaders among them didn’t cool the heads around, nobody was there to say “Boys! Take it easy! Keep it simple!” (or the French equivalent). Instead you had a second row throw a 20m miss pass that ended up being intercepted for Wales’ decisive try. The same thing happened in Twickenham. The lack of consistency in French selections mean that there is no real leadership group in the French squad. Guilhelm Guirado is a fantastic captain, that any team would be delighted to have, but there is only so much he can do, and playing in the front row as he does, he is rarely going to finish a game.

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Compare this to Ireland; Rory Best is captain. He leaves at the 50 minute mark, you still have Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, Leinster captain Johnny Sexton, and you have CJ Stander who has loads of experience captaining Munster. Sean O’Brien is not a captain, but is apparently one of the most influential voices in the Irish squad. This is the benefit of consistent selections. A group of leaders emerges in the squad, but if you pick a different pack every week, this just won’t happen.

For many years France have not had a non-French coach, and this is their downfall. They need a fresh voice, someone from outside the system. Guy Noves was good; his results were not, but there was signs he was building something, blooding players, trying to build combinations. You would be fascinated to see what someone like Vern Cotter or Joe Schmidt could do with the talent of the French backs, but given the FFR’s track record this is highly unlikely.

It is clear there is something rotten in the French team. The players can see it, the fans and pundits can see it, but whether the coaching staff will figure it out who knows. Scotland will arrive at the Stade De France this weekend with an injury plagued squad; as to what kind of France team will face them, nobody knows.

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6 Nations

British & Irish Lions issue Tour Update

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Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The British & Irish Lions and SA Rugby have confirmed they are aligned on delivering the Castle Lager Lions Series in South Africa in the scheduled playing window.

The Lions Board confirmed its preference to SA Rugby on Monday evening, prior to follow-up meetings earlier today (Tuesday).

“After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the Board’s intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021,” said Jason Leonard, chairman of The British & Irish Lions.

“We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust COVID-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan.”

Mark Alexander, president of the SA Rugby, said he would inform the Executive Council of the South African Rugby Union of the alignment.

“We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said Alexander.

“We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

“There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners.”

Alexander said the original tour schedule was subject to review because of those considerations. Should any changes be required they will be communicated as soon as possible.

Leonard added: “Every British and Irish player dreams of wearing the famous red jersey, and players from the southern hemisphere aspire to be part of a Lions series. We owe it to the current players vying for a place in both squads to ensure they can become part of Lions history.

“We are very much looking forward to taking on South Africa for what promises to be a highly-competitive Series against the reigning World Champions.”

Alexander thanked the Castle Lager Lions Series’ commercial partners as well as the British & Irish Lions and ticket holders for their patience during the extended period of uncertainty.

“As hosts and ‘owners’ of the Castle Lager Lions Series no one has been more affected or more challenged by the current circumstances than SA Rugby,” said Alexander. “However, with the support of our government and good planning we can navigate the pandemic to nonetheless create a most memorable event for players, fans and partners.”

It is not yet known whether international or cross-border travel for supporters will be possible into the country in July. Supporters who have purchased ticket-inclusive packages through Lions Rugby Travel will be notified directly via email with information on the options available.

The Lions remind supporters that all packages purchased through Lions Rugby Travel are protected by the Covid-19 guarantee*. Supporters who have booked packages with official sub agents should contact them directly. For the latest guidance on travelling to South Africa please visit the UK Foreign Office website: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/south-africa or the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs website: https://www.dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice/a-z-list-of-countries/south-africa/

At this time, it also remains unclear whether spectators will be permitted into stadia in July and August. SA Rugby and the Lions continue to work with relevant South African Government departments to ascertain the latest guidance on COVID-19 countermeasure planning for major sporting events and will communicate any updates as soon as it is possible to do so.

In the event that spectators are not permitted to gain access to the Test matches, Lions supporters who had successfully purchased Test match tickets via the Lions ticket ballot will be refunded.

The British & Irish Lions Test match against Japan at BT Murrayfield Stadium on Saturday 26 June 2021 for the Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup will continue as scheduled. However, a decision on crowd size will be made nearer the time of the event and in line with the latest UK Government guidance. For more information, including ticketing enquiries, please visit:
https://www.lionsrugby.com/1888-cup-faqs/

The British & Irish Lions have toured South Africa on 13 previous occasions, with the first Tour taking place in 1891. In that time, the Lions have won four Test series, lost eight with one drawn. Their overall record against the Springboks is played 46, won 17, lost 23 and drawn six.

*For more information please visit www.lionstour.com

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6 Nations

Ireland make multiple changes for England

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Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The Ireland coaching group have named their final match day squad of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championships ahead of the Round 5 clash with England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

There are a number of changes to the team that started against Scotland last Sunday starting in the half-backs where Captain Johnny Sexton is joined in by Conor Murray.

Garry Ringrose is ruled out of the side through injury so Bundee Aki slots in at inside centre with Robbie Henshaw shifting to the No.13 jersey.

Jacob Stockdale returns to the team for the first time since the Autumn Nations Cup win over Scotland back in December and is named on the left wing with Keith Earls on and Hugo Keenan completing the back three.

In the front row Dave Kilcoyne starts at loosehead alongside Rob Herring at hooker and Tadhg Furlong at tighthead. 

Tadhg Beirne moves into lock to partner Iain Henderson in the absence of the injured James Ryan.

Will Connors was ruled out yesterday with a knee injury in training so Josh van der Flier comes in at openside. CJ Stander moves to 6 for his final Ireland game in Aviva Stadium and Jack Conan is named at No.8.

Speaking this week about Stander, Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton commented,

“He’s done things for the right reason. His wife and daughter are back in South Africa at the moment. They’ve been there for a few months and they went back for the last lockdown as well.

“It takes its toll, doesn’t it? He’s just taken the decision based on family reasons and we respect him for that, but he’s a big loss to Munster and Irish Rugby.

“He’s been huge for both teams over the last five, six years. Very shocked, but we wish him well and we hope that his last game in green will be one to remember.”

The replacements are Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Peter O’Mahony, Jamison Gibson Park, Billy Burns and Jordan Larmour.

The game is being televised by VIRGIN (ROI) and ITV (NI) and kicks off at 4.45pm on Saturday afternoon.

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Engalnd, 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, March 20, kick-off 4:45pm):

15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 10 caps
14. Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 92 caps
13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 51 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 30 caps
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 33 caps
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 98 caps CAPTAIN
9. Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 88 caps
1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 42 caps
2. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 20 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 48 caps
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 62 caps
5. Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 21 caps
6. CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 50 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 30 caps
8. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 19 caps

Replacements
16. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 10 caps
17. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 108 caps
18. Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 36 caps
19. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 2 caps
20. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 74 caps
21. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 9 caps
22. Billy Burns (Ulster) 6 caps
23. Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 28 caps

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6 Nations

Wales name Grand Slam chasing team to face France

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Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Wales have made one change to their side for their Guinness Six Nations finale against France on Saturday (KO 21.00 Local BBC & S4C), with Adam Beard returning to the starting line-up.

Wales are four from four in the Championship and top the table heading to Paris. Beard, who started the first three matches for Wales, comes back into the starting side alongside captain Alun Wyn Jones. Jones, who is the world test record holder with 156 international caps to his name (including nine British & Irish Lion appearances), will make his 148th Wales appearance on Saturday. His Wales caps alone are now equal to the second-highest capped player of all time, Richie McCaw.

Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis are named again in the front-row for Wales with Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau comprising the back-row.

Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar are named at half-back with Jonathan Davies and George North continuing their partnership in the midfield.

Josh Adams, Louis Rees-Zammit and Liam Williams make up the back-three.

“We are all looking forward to Saturday and to the finale of the Six Nations,” said Wales head coach Wayne Pivac.

“We are four from four to date but know this weekend will be a great challenge against a very good French side, but we are looking forward to it.

“We know we need to step up from our previous performances and we want to end the tournament with a performance we know we are capable of.

“We have had great continuity in selection throughout the tournament and that is shown once again with the selection for Saturday.”

Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith and Leon Brown are named as the front-row replacements for Wales with Cory Hill and James Botham completing the forward contingent. Tomos Williams returns from injury to take his place on the bench alongside Callum Sheedy and Uilisi Halaholo.

WALES TEAM TO PLAY FRANCE (SATURDAY MARCH 22 KO 21.00 LOCAL, BBC & S4C)

1. Wyn Jones (34 Caps)
2. Ken Owens (81 Caps)
3. Tomas Francis (56 Caps)
4. Adam Beard (24 Caps)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (CAPT) (147 Caps)
6. Josh Navidi (27 Caps)
7. Justin Tipuric (84 Caps)
8. Taulupe Faletau (85 Caps)
9. Gareth Davies (61 Caps)
10. Dan Biggar (91 Caps)
11. Josh Adams (31 Caps)
12. Jonathan Davies (87 Caps)
13. George North (101 Caps)
14. Louis Rees-Zammit (8 Caps)
15. Liam Williams (70 Caps)

Replacements:

16. Elliot Dee (36 Caps)
17. Nicky Smith (38 Caps)
18. Leon Brown (16 Caps)
19. Cory Hill (31 Caps)
20. James Botham (5 Caps)
21. Tomos Williams (21 Caps)
22. Callum Sheedy (8 Caps)
23. Uilisi Halaholo (3 Caps)

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