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6 Nations

The Best Way to Bow Out

This weekend will see Rory Best call time on his Six Nations career and with that we look at his time in the championship

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On Saturday Ireland captain Rory Best will finish up his Six Nations career when the final whistle blows in Cardiff.

It is fitting in a way that it will end where one of his biggest moments took place. Exactly 10 years on from Ireland’s Grand Slam heroics in Wales, they return looking to prevent their hosts from winning their own Grand Slam.

Either way, when the clock ticks past red, Best will head to the stands, speak to the media and possibly shed a few tears as he says goodbye to a tournament that has served him so well.

At 36, he has been given the luxury of calling time on his own terms, something a graceful player like him deserves.

Saturday will see him line-out in green for the 117th time and the 64th and final time in the Six Nations, 13 years on from his debut in the competition.

Few may remember his first couple of seasons with the squad as he had to settle for second fiddle to Jerry Flannery as Ireland won the Triple Crown in both 2006 and 2007 and claimed that famous Grand Slam in 2009.

However, when the Munster man bowed out of the game due to injury it was Best who took up the No 2 jersey and made it his own.

The team as a whole endured a tough time over the next three or four seasons but Best continued to put in good showings. His consistency at line-out time and his hard-work throughout games were often highlights as Ireland slumped to some poor losses.

Then came the arrival of Joe Schmidt, a move which pushed Best’s game on even further. Even with Paul O’Connell being the captain, Best could often be heard motivating and pulling his team though matches.

Back to back championships followed in 2014 and 2015, and with them Best’s influence was noted and rewarded both on and off the pitch.

He was the man picked to replace O’Connell as captain of the national team in 2016 leading them to a third-placed finish in his first campaign as captain.

Under his leadership Ireland have improved with a second-placed finish in 2017 and a Grand Slam first-place finish last year.

When Best lifted the trophy last year, it was just reward for a player who has given his all to his country’s cause throughout the years and has been selfless through it all.

Although this campaign has failed to live up to the heights of last year, things took a turn on Sunday against the French and it was the captain who set the ball rolling scoring his 10th international try in the third minute.

Speaking ahead of the final round of fixtures, Ireland fly-half and world player of the year Johnny Sexton has paid tribute to his captain.

“He’s been a brilliant captain for us over the last few years, always team first, always very selfless and leads on the pitch with his actions. He does what’s right for team all the time and we’ll miss him,” he said

Best’s shoes will be big ones to fill with the likes of Sean Cronin and Niall Scannell needing to step up to succeed the Ulsterman.

With four Six Nations to his name, four triple crowns and two Grand Slams, victories over Australia, South Africa and of course The All Blacks, Best will go down as one of Ireland’s greatest. Yes, we will have World Cup warm-ups and a World Cup before he is gone but Saturday will see the curtain fall on his incredible Six Nations career.

To go full circle, it is fitting in a way that it will finish in the Principality Stadium. However, Ireland fans and neutrals a like would love to see the perfect fairy-tale ending where Best lifts that trophy one last time ten year’s on from his team’s success in Cardiff.

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6 Nations

Scotland Suffer Major Six Nations Blow

Scotland have been dealt a huge blow ahead of their Six Nations opener against Ireland in just over a week

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Scotland could be without fly-half Finn Russell for the entire Six Nations campaign according to reports after he left the team camp of his own accord.

BBC Sport are reporting that the 27-year-old Racing 92 star has breached “team protocol” and it has been confirmed by Scottish Rugby that he will not feature during the team’s opening game against Ireland on February 1st. 

“Finn Russell will play no further part in preparations for Scotland’s Six Nations opener,” a statement read.

Some believed that the player was injured during last weekend’s Champions Cup defeat to Saracens while on club duty, but there are growing concerns that there may be tension between Russell and head coach Gregor Townsend. 

Russell has had problems before with the coaches tactics and didn’t hide anything following last year’s Six Nations draw with England, when the Scots came back from 31-7 at half-time to draw 38-all in the end. 

“I actually had an argument with Gregor [at half-time]. I said to him ‘you’re telling us to kick and when we kick, they just run it back and cut us open, and when we run it, they’re just hitting us behind the gain line and winning the ball back’. Second half, we just came out with nothing to lose, played our rugby, kicked out of our half and scored some great tries. We played good Scottish rugby,” he said after the game last March.

However, there is no certainty as to what is the actual reason behind the scenario, but Russell will in fact head back to Racing for now. 

It is a huge blow for Scotland with Russell being one of the more experienced players among a young group, but it appears as though Adam Hastings would be most likely to take his place. However, fans will be worried with it being unknown whether or not their skillful playmaker will be involved at all during this year’s competition. 

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Smith Defends Parisse “Send-Off” Decision

Italian head coach Franco Smith has defended the decision to allow Sergio Parisse play only one game in the Six Nations this year in order to give him a send-off

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New Italy head coach Franco Smith has come out to defend the decision to allow Sergio Parisse have a send-off in the team’s final home match in the upcoming Six Nations campaign.

It has been confirmed that former captain Parisse, who has a total of 142-caps to his name for the side will not be involved at any other point of the competition other than their game against England in Rome on March 14th. 

The 36-year-old had planned to make his final appearance against New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup pool stages last year, only for the game to be cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis. Smith believes that it is only right to give Parisse one last chance to play in blue. 

“Sergio will be involved in the last game with England and he has a lot to contribute. I said to Sergio two days ago not to worry and he doesn’t want to let the team down. I said we would stick to the plan and I will help him settle in and give him the best opportunity to play as well as he can. There was a misinterpretation that it will be a goodbye game and that is not the case and the agreement we have is that he is going to contribute one last time. We have turned the page, but he (Parisse) is a player of stature and deserves a send-off, but it is not just a send-off game and we hope he can make a difference and contribute from a leadership point of view and also be the icon we can follow,” he said. 

Smith thinks that the other players in the squad may gain motivation by seeing Parisse get a send-off as they will see what could happen to them if they reach the high-levels he has. 

“If other players see the send-off that Sergio gets then that will inspire them to be as good as they can be in an Italian jersey as well. He will come into camp when he can but we have also made an agreement with his club in France. He was a leader for Italian rugby for so long that very few leaders were developed and now it is time for a new leadership group and we have identified seven players of which Luca Bigi is the captain. Sergio will come and contribute for old time’s sake,” he added. 

The news has got a mixed reception from some fans, but maybe it will be something to motivate younger players in the squads as Smith believes. 

Meanwhile, the new head coach, who took over from Conor O’Shea following the World Cup, is looking to Japan for inspiration with his new side. 

“I want to help the team get to the next level and the game is going to change. Japan helped with the way they went about it ( at the World Cup) saying they couldn’t beat other teams with the way they play and we have to find our own way. I think that will be a point of reference (for us). For a long time Italy played in a way to beat teams not necessarily with their own game. The pressure game has been a feature of the last six or seven years and attack is the most difficult area to coach,” he finished up on. 

Italy face a tough task heading into the campaign with current Grand Slam holders Wales up first on February 1st, with the Azzurri looking to end a run of 22 defeats in a row in the tournament.

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Former Scotland Star Fearing Tough Six Nations Campaign

Former Scotland star Scott Hastings is fearing the worst for his country as they head into the Six Nations

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Former Scotland centre Scott Hastings has predicted a tough Six Nations campaign for the national side as they go through a period of transition.

The 65-cap Scot believes that last year was expected to be the year where Scotland produced their best, but they failed and they are now trying to figure things out with a younger squad. 

Some of those youngsters have starred for club and country including the likes of Jamie Ritchie, Darcy Graham and Magnus Bradbury, but Hastings is worried that they will lack the guidance of experienced players with veterans such as Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour retiring after last year’s Rugby World Cup

“I think Scotland are in for a tough season. There is a new era ahead. The team needs to try to put the World Cup to bed but they have lost three experienced heads in Laidlaw, Barclay and Seymour. There needs to be a new energy coming into the team and you can see Gregor is trying to do that with the six uncapped players he has included in his Six Nations squad. But has Gregor learned from the failure of last year? There was a lot of expectancy on the team but they imploded on numerous occasions,” he said while speaking to PA news agency. 

With that in mind Hastings believes that other players in the squad need to step up including Finn Russell, who is now one of the most experienced players in the squad. 

“The things we need to see is how does George Horne become that experienced player, how does Finn Russell strike that balance between exuberance, mercurial brilliance with also the need to be pinpoint accurate so he can deliver a winning performance for Scotland. In the forwards, how does Zander Fagerson turn himself into the number one tighthead in the Six Nations, how does Jonny Gray become the Alun Wyn Jones of Scottish rugby?” he added. 

However, he doesn’t believe that Scotland will be the only side in transition this year with Ireland and Wales in a similar boat in his eyes. While he is backing the title to head to either England or France this season. 

“I think Ireland and Wales are going through something a bit of a transitional period, similar to Scotland. England and France undoubtedly look like the teams to beat but I’m afraid Scotland are looking at fourth, fifth and sixth. I know that sounds harsh and when I played I certainly never went into a season thinking like that. But while I’m still a passionate Scotland supporter this time I’ve got to lead my head rule my heart. They have shown in glimpses that they can play well but you need more than that to compete for a Six Nations title,” he finished up with. 

Scotland will want an improvement from last season, where they only managed a win against Italy and a draw with England in the Six Nations as well as exiting the World Cup in the pool stages. 

However, they face a tough task this time around with their opening game against an Ireland side under new management and eager to impress their new coaches.

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