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6 Nations

Ireland’s 6 Nations Squad: The Talking Points

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Joe Schmidt named his squad for the opening rounds of the Six Nations on Wednesday. While it was full of mostly familiar faces, there were some new caps, and some interesting talking points raised.

Scrum-Half Trouble

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Luke McGrath was helped from the field during the second half of Leinster’s win over Toulouse with what appeared to be a serious looking knee issue. Kieran Marmion is still rehabilitating after surgery on his ankle. This leaves the very talented but also quite green at international level John Cooney, and the uncapped Caoilin Blade. Cooney has won 4 caps so far, not against high-level opposition. He has been a revelation for Ulster, his ‘petit general’ style of play, and clutch goal-kicking has won Ulster several games. He is probably the closest in style of play to Conor Murray out of all the backup nines. Caoilin Blade is the only player to be involved in every game for Connacht this season, and in the opinion of many has moved ahead of Kieran Marmion. He plays a similar snappy game to Marmion and has even captained Connacht in the Challenge Cup. Blade is well deserving of his call-up, but it is more likely to be Cooney that gets the number 21 jersey.

A New 10

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The most surprising exclusion in the squad was probably the Leinster out-half. Byrne made his long-awaited international debut in Chicago this November after his stellar 2017-2018 season. The King of the Crosskick was Leo Cullen’s deputy of choice for Johnny Sexton and saw Leinster through a number of important games. While he has not performed at the same level this season, he put in a good display against Toulouse in the RDS, marking it with the usual crosskick assist. But what of his replacement in the Ireland squad, Jack Carty? The Connacht 10 is having the season of his life. Carty has been playing with a new lease of life, as has the rest of the Connacht backline, since the change in coaching this summer. Why has Schmidt chosen to call him up now though?

The reason may lie in the difference in quality between the forward packs of Leinster and Connacht. The mark of a great 10 is the ability to play their own game behind a pack that’s under pressure and on the back foot, and Carty regularly has to deal with that. Ross Byrne plays behind a pack full of internationals week in week out, and gets an armchair ride from his forwards. Schmidt wants a 10 that’s used to playing under pressure, and Carty has been, and doing it well.

Tom Farrell

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Tom Farrell is the form centre in Irish rugby at the moment. The Connacht man has had a meteoric rise since being brought in as injury cover, winning Fan’s Player of the Year last season and forming a solid partnership with Bundee Aki. Equally adept at 12 or 13, something that could stand to him travelling to Japan this September. Farrell has all the attributes you need, pace, a strong passing game, and defensively rock solid. As of now Farrell is probably fourth or fifth choice centre, behind Ringrose, Henshaw, Aki, and probably Chris Farrell.

Will Joe roll the dice on selections?

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Historically the Six Nations is not a place for experimentation, but a World Cup year is different. Last year we saw some rotation against Italy; Jack Conan started at number 8, with CJ Stander on the bench, and James Ryan rested. Jordan Larmour made his debut off the bench in the same game. Any rotation is likely to come on the bench: Will Addison will probably get some time in the 23 jersey, Tadhg Beirne may get a start in the second row.
It would also be a good idea to bring on the replacement halfbacks earlier in play. Joey will be the replacement for most of the games, and would be beneficial for him to come into a game in the balance with around 20 minutes to go, likewise for the scrum-halves, whoever that may be in the 21 jersey. Tactically, you would imagine someone with the vast playbook of Joe Schmidt won’t show his full hand. It’s all about the mind games

Full-Back

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Rob Kearney is injured, and there is no update on when he will return at time of writing. Jordan Larmour played full-back against Argentina last November and against Australia last summer so has some credit in the bank.

Will Addison however is the likely candidate to start if Rob doesn’t come back. Ireland’s defensive system relies on Kearney covering the entirety of the backfield himself, which allows the wingers to take spot in the defensive line. Jordan Larmour doesn’t yet have the defensive nous to do this to the required level, so it will likely be Will Addison running out against England on February 1st.

It’s certainly going to be an interesting campaign with lots more talking points to come.

6 Nations

British & Irish Lions issue Tour Update

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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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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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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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