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6 Nations

Ireland’s 6 Nations Squad: The Talking Points

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Photo By Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images

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 Embed from Getty Images

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 Embed from Getty Images

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 Embed from Getty Images

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? Embed from Getty Images

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 Embed from Getty Images

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

Scotland name strong team for Wales

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Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

Issued by SRU

Stuart Hogg will return to the Scotland starting line-up as Captain for the final round of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations against Wales on Saturday 31 October – kick-off 2:15pm.

Fresh from securing the European and Premiership double with his club Exeter Chiefs, Hogg plays at full back as one of five changes to the starting XV from the Scotland side that defeated Georgia 48-7 last week.

Finn Russell lines up at fly-half after winning his 50th Scotland cap in the Georgia victory at BT Murrayfield on Friday night, and is joined in the half-backs by Glasgow Warriors’ Ali Price.

In the back division, Blair Kinghorn shifts to the wing from full-back and replaces Edinburgh teammate Duhan van de Merwe, who is named among the replacements. James Lang and Chris Harris continue their centre partnership after playing together against Georgia.

In the pack fellow Exeter Chief Jonny Gray comes into the second row and Scarlets’ Blade Thomson is selected at number 8 and will run out on his club ground on Saturday in Llanelli.Hooker Fraser Brown is named as Vice-Captain and packs down with Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson in an unchanged front row.

Scott Cummings also retains his starting place to partner Gray in the second row.Edinburgh pair Jamie Ritchie, also a Vice Captain, and Hamish Watson make up the back-row with Thomson.

In the replacements Harlequins scrum-half Scott Steele could make his Scotland debut if called into action.

Adam Hastings and van de Merwe complete the backline replacements. Townsend can also call upon the same front row of Oli Kebble, Stuart McInally and Simon Berghan as featured in against Georgia, alongside Worcester Warrior Cornell du Preez and Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis from the bench.

“As a group we are very much looking forward to finally completing our fixture against Wales and returning to play Guinness Six Nations rugby again. We were highly motivated back in March, and that extra edge has come back into our training and preparations this week.
Scotland Head Coach, Gregor Townsend

“It’s been great to bring in quality and experience to our starting line-up with players such as Stuart, Jonny and Finn who have been involved in some high-level games in recent weeks. We were also encouraged by Blade’s display at the weekend for Scarlets, which is a timely boost given last weekend’s injury to Matt Fagerson.

“We are expecting a physical battle against a very good side, one which we will be working hard to stay in the fight and to finish the fight in Llanelli. Ultimately, this game provides an opportunity for us to end this extended championship on a positive note and go into the Autumn Nations Cup with some added belief in what this group of players can achieve.”

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6 Nations

Wales XV announced for 6 Nations finale v Scotland.

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Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones will become rugby’s most capped international on Saturday when he makes his 149th test appearance (140th for Wales plus 9 British & Irish Lions caps).

Jones levelled the record last weekend but will take the honour for himself at Parc y Scarlets this weekend as Wales face Scotland in their re-arranged Guinness Six Nations finale (14.15 KO BBC & S4C).

At the other end of the international spectrum, Cardiff Blues back-row Shane Lewis-Hughes will make his first test appearance for Wales in a back-row alongside experienced Lions duo Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.

Will Rowlands, fresh from the English Premiership Final with Wasps, comes into the side to make his first start for Wales and he packs down alongside captain Jones.

European Champion and English Premiership winner Tomas Francis comes into the front-row alongside Rhys Carre and Ryan Elias.

In the backline Gareth Davies partners Dan Biggar with Owen Watkin coming into the midfield alongside Jonathan Davies.

Liam Williams returns to the back-three to feature alongside Josh Adams and Leigh Halfpenny.

On the bench Sam Parry, Wyn Jones and Dillon Lewis provide the front-row replacements with Cory Hill and James Davies completing the forward contingent. Lloyd Williams comes straight into the matchday squad and provides backline cover along with Rhys Patchell and Nick Tompkins.

Issued by WRU

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6 Nations

England name team to face Italy

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(Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Issued by Rugby Football Union

Eddie Jones has named his team for England’s key Guinness Six Nations tie against Italy on Saturday [31 October].

Ben Youngs is set to make his 100th cap for his country, at scrum half – becoming the second most capped England men’s player of all time after Jason Leonard (114 caps). Youngs made his senior team debut against Scotland in March 2010, where he came on as a substitute in the Calcutta Cup.

There is also a milestone for hooker Jamie George, who will make his 50th appearance for England this weekend.

Both players will lead England out at the Stadio Olimpico. England need a bonus-point win to put them in contention for winning the tournament, depending on the result in France v Ireland, which follows the game in Rome.

Jonny Hill will make his England debut at lock, while Owen Farrell, starting at fly-half, will captain the side. Henry Slade is at inside centre while Jonathan Joseph returns for England at outside centre.

George Furbank is named at full back with Jonny May and Anthony Watson on the wings.

Kyle Sinckler will play tighthead and Mako Vunipola loosehead in the front row. Maro Itoje completes the tight five.

Sam Underhill is named at open-side flanker with Tom Curry named at blind-side flanker and Billy Vunipola, returning from injury for England for the first time since the Rugby World Cup Final, at No. 8.

Uncapped trio Tom Dunn, Ollie Lawrence and Ollie Thorley are named as finishers, alongside scrum half Dan Robson. Props Ellis Genge and Will Stuart also join the bench with Charlie Ewels and Ben Earl.

Jones said: “We’ve trained with good intensity this week and the squad are excited by the challenge of performing at our best against Italy.

“The team have prepared well and are looking forward to putting on an England shirt and showing what they can do.

“We will also celebrate two major achievements in Ben Youngs and Jamie George’s cap milestones. It’s testimony to their skill, hard work and love of playing for England, and there is more to come from both of them.”

Italy v England is live on ITV 1 and BBC Radio 5 Live (4.45pm GMT KO).

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