Friday, February 03, 2006

Idiots Guide to the Six Nations

So you're having a pint with your soccer-loving mate and he floors you with his criticisms of Ireland's "off-loading in the tackle". Or you're at the water cooler and the Kilkenny hurling fan from accounts is holding forth on the importance of "getting a solid set-piece platform".

What the hell is going on?

Ahhh, of course, its Six Nations time, when the often impenetrable curiosities of the oval ball game become part of the vernacular and dogs in the street purr in knowledgeable appreciation of Brian O'Driscoll's "angles of running".

So if you spend the rest of the year in blissful ignorance of the rugby and everything to do with it, to spare you the embarassment of making a faux pas in front of that bit of posh tottie you've had you're eye on while watching an Ireland match in the pub, here is your idiots guide to surviving the Six Nations .

FRANCE
Ah la France, memories of Sella and Blanco, audacious flair at the back and broken nosed ugly Basques battering in the forwards. Enduring image, yet true. One of the secrets of the Six Nations success is the oppsrtunity it provides for enjoyable away trips, and Paris is the pick of the venues, especially as it great for "the wives".
Always there or thereabouts. The French are generally only defeated by themselves: be it indiscipline, or simply taking the huff. Generally always have at least one bona fide genius and names like Yannick Jauzion, Frédéric Michalak, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, Damien Traille and Benoît Baby will light up this year's championship. Worthy favourites and the side with fewest question marks hanging over them.

Smart sounding thing to say: "This year's championship will be decided by the quality of centres, and the French are certainly well stocked in that regard"

Odds: 4-5

ENGLAND
Like in all sports, we don't like them, and victory over them is, of course, the sweetest of all. Indeed, it is rumoured that only victory over Bumface (the dastardly Will Carling) and co. in 1993 and 1994 stopped Ireland from chucking rugby altogether in the grim early days of the 1990s.
However we prefer them to their football counterparts because they have manners and are proper posh, don't riot and the only headhunting they do is of the executive variety rather than the Chelsea kind.
Toiling since winning the World Cup in 2003, their rugby is traditionally stout and based on yeomanry in the forwards, and they only do well when they poach someone from rugby league to add some flair, of which they currently have little and so will continue to struggle.

Smart sounding thing to say: "Sheridan is dominating as expected in the scrum, but England lack imagination in the loose to capitalise on their superior possession"

Odds: 15-8

WALES
The boys from the valleys, hewn from coal and lusty of voice, Welsh rugby has a proletarian essence all of its own. Red faced and, according, apparently, smell slightly of cheese. Also have a proud and distinctive style of improvisational rugby which was reborn in glorious style with last year's glorious Grand Slam success. As thrilling as Wales were last year, they took advantage of peculiar championship where the English were leaden, the French at their most schizophrenic, the Irish limp and the Scots and Italians woeful.
Injuries and suspension have dimmed their prospects this year, but if their scrum can hold up they still have plenty of flair to cause problems

Smart sounding thing to say: "Young Peel's display was reminiscient of Gareth Edwards in his prime"

Odds: 8-1

IRELAND
Having long progressed from the give it a lash, pint-swilling days of Neil Francis and the Claw, Ireland have in recent years some of the best teams in their rugby history and can be said to have adapted best of the Celtic nations to the professional era. We're not quite sure what to think of ourselves right at this moment in time however, as November's grim humblings and incantations of doom were followed by the explosive abandon of January's Heineken Cup successes and a wave of new optimism.
Question marks persist about coach Eddie O'Sullivan's ability to successfully graft the Munster pack/Leinster backs combination and free the innate creativity of the latter. The front row is also an area for worry, as John Hayes has been long considered fit of the international scrapheap yet remains for lack of an alternative, and Jerry Flannery, while a success in the Heineken Cup, is untested at this level.

Smart sounding thing to say: "Wallace's natural ball carrying abilities are superb, but he has really added a new dimension in his possession-snaffling at the breakdown"

Odds: 9-1 - but a tempting sixes for the Triple Crown which is generous given England's less than fearsome form. Also Geordan Murphy, mesmeric for Leicester this season, is at 6-1 to be Ireland's to try scorer - snap it up.

SCOTLAND
Closest spiritually to Ireland in rugby terms in that the have a small player base taken from well to do private schools in the capital, Ednburgh, and from a separate, more prosaic (i.e. sheep worrying) southern enclave, the Border region. Also similar in that there best rugby is based on passion and overwhelming opponents in the manner of dervishes.
Emerging from a desperate low period having struggled to adapt to the professional era, this is an important championship for the Scots in restoring self esteem. Possess an enviable back row in Jason White, Simon Taylor and Alistair Hogg, but are weak in the half backs and have struggled to add scoring penetration to spells on top.

Smart sounding thing to say: "Scotland are looking to get their traditional rucking game going here"

Odds: 50-1

ITALY
Suspicion persists that Italy were only added to the Six Nations rota to provide another attractive trip for "the wives". Sole aim is to justify their continued participation by picking off whichever one of the Celtic nations is currently weak, so will be looking at the visit of Scotland to the Stadio Flamini in Rome with eager anticipation. Always fearfully strong in the scrum, they will give anyone a torrid time up front, but are virtually barren in back line potential.

Smart sounding thing to say: "It is strange that Italian rugby has never been able to exhibit the flair which comes to so naturally to them in other aspects of life"

Odds: 1000-1

* Odds courtesy of A.Synnott Sportsbook

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