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6 Nations

Ireland’s Redemption Mission

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One of the worst Ireland performances of the Joe Schmidt era, coupled with some of the best rugby Italy have played in years, meant Ireland had quite the scare in Rome. The 9th of March will see the French arrive into the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. A competent win against the Scots in Paris last time may have papered over some cracks in French camp, but France do have a tendency to completely fall asunder when playing away from home. Two teams playing below their best, but what can Ireland need to do over the next few days to try get back in form?
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It is clear that some of the senior players are not motivated like they usually are. The best performers of the Six Nations so far have been fringe players trying to force their way into contention. Ultan Dillane stood out against Italy, and in his bench cameo in Murrayfield. Quinn Roux has been rock solid calling lineouts, John Cooney has shined for his all too brief cameos off the bench. The body language some players are showing makes it seem like there is dissatisfaction in camp. The usual high fives, slaps on the back, all of the usual signs of good team atmosphere are not as evident
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Ireland’s halfbacks, the envy of most sides in world rugby have been playing at a level some way below their very high standards. Conor Murray’s usually pinpoint box-kicking has been off kilter; forgivable perhaps for the England game where Eddie’s men did an outstanding job of disrupting Ireland’s kicking game. Keith Earls, usually Ireland’s main kick-chaser, was targeted with Owen Farrell’s up-and-unders. Earls being forced to field the ball, obviously took him out of the game, forcing Conor Murray to kick to touch more often than he would have liked.
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Kicking has not been Murray’s only problem. His passing has not been as crisp as it once was, not quite at his usual accuracy. Murray looks like he has lost muscle mass in his upper body,  due to his injury enforced layoff, and this seems to have had a knock on effect on his passing. It hasn’t been all bad from Murray, he kicked two goals and scored one of his trademark sniping tries against Italy, but he does look like a player out of sorts, perhaps not fully fit.
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Breakdown has been a problem for Ireland this Six Nations. Tom Curry made the seasoned Ireland back row look like amateurs in Dublin, counterrucking like an animal and winning jackal turnovers. Lack of turnovers threat is something that Ireland have been hurt by this year, and for that reason, Tadhg Beirne needs to start against France. Beirne is quite simply the best breakdown operator in the country, and Ireland will need that, and his ball-carrying, against a big French pack. Demba Bamba, Guilhelm Guirado, Felix Lambey, Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles, will all carry ball for days, and Ireland will need all the carriers they can get, so CJ Stander needs to come straight back into the squad.
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CJ Stander is one of the hardest working players in the Ireland squad. He has been criticised in the past by the likes of Stuart Barnes for putting up big numbers of carries, but not having a high enough count of his metres made. This is an unfounded criticism, by people who don’t pay attention to how CJ actually plays the game, and just looks at the stats, stats of course never tell the whole story. CJ takes all of the dirtiest ball, standing start, pod of three forwards in front of him, pick and go, you name it CJ will take that ball and he will make you a couple of yards. He doesn’t always give you big highlight reel carries like Billy Vunipola might do, but he is consistent in what he does. Munster have started using CJ on kick returns, and this something well worth considering for Joe, because once CJ gets going, he is a seriously hard man to stop.
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Joe Schmidt is undoubtedly one of, if not the best head coach in world rugby, but if you had to criticise him, his use of replacement half-backs would be top of the list. Murray and Sexton over the last year have been the best in the business, but as we have seen over the past month, even the best have their off days. John Cooney, the form scrum-half in the country has sat on the bench for the first three games, getting less than ten minutes in each game. Cooney has upped the tempo considerably when he has come on, and has made Ireland look a much better team. Discounting one 80 minute shift, John Cooney has 5 caps amounting to a total of 27 minutes of game time. For a guy who has single-handedly won games for Ulster this year, its borderline disrespectful. Embed from Getty Images

It’s a recurring theme with Schmidt. Even Kieran Marmion, who guided Ireland to a win over New Zealand has been massively under utilised. The Connacht half-back has been named on Ireland bench 23 times, 8 of these he wasn’t used, and he completed two 40 minute stints on the wing. Fair enough leaving Conor Murray on the field if it’s a very tight game and himself and Johnny are on song, but sometimes the kicking gameplan just isn’t working, and you need something different. John Cooney brings that. Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath both bring that. They need to be used. They need to be trusted. Aside from Conor Murray, Ireland have four international quality scrum-halves, and as Kieran Marmion proved last November, there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be trusted.

Schmidt is not the only coach with an aversion to changing halfbacks. Many England fans were bemoaning the fact that Dan Robson and George Ford didn’t make it onto the park in Cardiff, even when it became apparent that the gameplan was failing. The starters may be better all round players, but sometimes you need a change. As with Joe, Eddie has trust issues.
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Tempo is something Ireland will need this weekend. The France forwards are real big boys, and Ireland will not want to avoid a battering match the likes of Sebastian Vahaamahina and Wenceslas Lauret. Ireland will need to run them around the park as much as they can, especially late in the game. This is where John Cooney and Jack Carty could shine. It would be great to see Jack Carty get a decent run this week. With his first touch of international rugby he made half a break. Imagine what he could do with more than two and a half minutes?
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Ireland have to get themselves back on track this weekend. This Six Nations may be a write off, but Ireland need to get their mojo. France are going to be a test this weekend. An unchanged lineup from the team that competently dismantled Scotland must mean that the winds of common sense have blown through Jacques Brunel’s moustache. The cliche of which France team is going to show up is overused at this stage, but has come true in a big way this Six Nations. France’s last away game may have been an unmitigated disaster, but you get the sneaking feeling Dublin could be different. Ireland will have a job on their hands, and they need to get it done.

6 Nations

Wales & France name side for 6 Nations restart

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Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has named his first squad in seven months as Wales kick off their Autumn campaign in Paris against France on Saturday (KO 21.10 local, ITV4 & S4C).

Captain Alun Wyn Jones will level the world record of test appearances when he makes his 148th international appearance (including 9 British & Irish Lions test caps). Jones will pack down alongside Cory Hill who makes his first start for his country since February 2019.
Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias and Samson Lee comprise the front-row with Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau featuring in the back-row.

Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar are named at half-back with Nick Tompkins partnering the returning Jonathan Davies in midfield. Josh Adams, George North and Leigh Halfpenny make up the back-three.
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said:


“The players are excited, it has been a long time, we can’t wait for Saturday.
“We have six matches this autumn and the game against France helps us get back into our stride international rugby-wise. We have picked an experienced side and are up against a good French team so we want to start this autumn well and get on the front foot for the Guinness Six Nations fixture against Scotland.


“We have talked already about how fortunate we are to be going about our work on a daily basis. A lot of people can’t do that and certainly within our organisation there are a lot of people not back at work.

From our point of view this Saturday is an opportunity to prepare for this tournament and for Scotland, but two, to put some smiles on faces and put on a good performance and make the nation proud.
On Alun Wyn Jones equalling the world record for test caps, Pivac said:

“It is a fabulous achievement. He epitomises what a great rugby player is all about. He is a true professional on and off the field and a gentleman of the game. On the field he leads by example and you can’t ask more of your captain and we are very privileged here in Wales to have him.

”Uncapped duo Sam Parry and Louis Rees-Zammit are both named on the bench for the test at Stade de France. Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies and James Davies complete the forward replacements with Gareth Davies and Rhys Patchell joining Rees-Zammit as the back-line cover.

France have also named their team.

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6 Nations

Scarlets provide updates on Williams & Owens

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(Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Liam Williams has recovered from a foot injury that has prevented him playing for the Scarlets so far this season. He has been released from the Wales squad to train with the Scarlets ahead of Friday’s Guinness PRO14 clash with Benetton.

Ken Owens has undergone surgery on the shoulder injury he sustained against Glasgow and it is expected he will be unavailable for three to four months.

Josh Macleod has started his rehabilitation for a hamstring injury sustained against Glasgow. He will be targeting a return to play in December.

Scarlets also confirmed that Sam Lousi has been banned for a period of four weeks as a result of his red card in the Guinness PRO14 clash with Glasgow Warriors.

Lousi was shown a red card by referee Frank Murphy (IRFU) under Law 9.13 – a Player must not tackle an opponent early, late, or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling, or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulder even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.

The disciplinary hearing was handled by Roddy Dunlop (Scotland) and it was accepted that the player’s actions warranted a red card for foul play. The incident was deemed a mid-range offence, which carries a six-week suspension.

Due to the player’s previous disciplinary record (red card for punching incident, February 2020) the judicial officer could not offer full mitigation therefore, resulting in a four-week suspension.

Lousi is free to resume playing from midnight on November 9, 2020

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6 Nations

Scotland name squad for Autumn Internationals

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(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend has named a 40-man squad for the forthcoming autumn international matches, which include the conclusion of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and newly launched Autumn Nations Cup.

Scotland Head Coach Gregor Townsend has named a 40-man squad for the forthcoming autumn international matches, which include the conclusion of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and newly launched Autumn Nations Cup.

The squad features three uncapped players in Glasgow Warriors prop Oli Kebble, Edinburgh winger Duhan van der Merwe and Harlequins scrum-half, Scott Steele. In the 23 forwards there are five players who did not feature in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations earlier in the year, with Glasgow Warriors trio Richie Gray (lock), Rob Harley (back-row/lock) and Kebble selected alongside London Irish flanker Blair Cowan, who won his last Scotland cap in 2016 and earns his first call up under Townsend. Scarlets’ Blade Thompson (back-row) also re-joins the squad having last featured at Rugby World Cup 2019.

In the 17 backs selected there are returns for Harlequins centre James Lang, who last featured in the national side during the summer of 2018, as well as Glasgow Warriors centre Nick Grigg and Edinburgh winger Damien Hoyland, alongside squad debutants van der Merwe and scrum-half Steele.

Racing 92 fly-half Finn Russell also joins the squad, with an opportunity to earn his 50th Scotland cap during the campaign.Gregor Townsend said:

“We are very much looking forward to coming back together as a coaching and playing group after such an unprecedented and challenging period in our sport and across society in general. “There was a strong feeling that we were growing as a team during the Six Nations earlier this year, making progress from game-to-game as well as building closer bonds within the squad.

Our aim is to keep this momentum going as we take on Georgia and Wales before competing in the Autumn Nations Cup in November. “The squad we have selected is formed by the majority of the players we worked with in the Six Nations alongside players who have grabbed their opportunity in the past few weeks and have been in form for their respective teams. “Given the lack of games since March, there will be opportunities for players out-with the squad to break into our group over the next few weeks, but for now the focus is on this group that will be in camp from tomorrow.

It will be great to see some familiar faces, welcome a few back into our squad and also introduce some new players to Test match rugby.”

Scotland begin their autumn test matches at BT Murrayfield against Georgia on Friday 23 October before facing Wales in Llanelli on 31 October in the rescheduled 2020 Guinness Six Nations fixture.

The newly formed Autumn Nations Cup begins in November with Scotland in Pool B alongside France and Fiji who they will play at BT Murrayfield as well as an away test match against Italy.

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