Friday, February 02, 2007

Six Nations Preview: The Rest of the Impertinents

ENGLAND (Saturday 24th February, Croke Park)

By the blood of Michael Hogan, begone from this sacred turf!

The. Big. One. England in Croker. The subject beloved of T.V. and radio discussion programmes desperate for 'divisive controversy'.

TV Vox Pop: "Do you think they should play God Save the Queen at Croke Park?"

Punter: "Don't care."

TV V.P.: "There you have it - this divisive issue continues to prove controversial..."

A few months ago it seemed that we were to have a nice handy afternoon of Saxon-whupping to placate the infamous 'backwoodsmen' who continue to grumble from GAA county board missives. Unfortunately Andy Robinson is gone, Brian Ashton is in, with Rob Andrew upstairs peering through his designer specs at the whole thing. In short, they've belatedly attempted to get their act together.

For all the good vibes coming out of Twickers, much like TSA's dress policy for most social occasions, it all looks a bit too thrown together at the last moment. So much hangs on the three-pronged risk-orgy in the backs. This weekend Jonny Wilkinson starts his first England game since clipping that World Cup winning drop-goal in Sydney in 2003, Jason Robinson starts his first for his country in two years and Andy Farrell, at 31, starts his first international, well, ever, in union at least.

For all Ashton's reknowned ability to coach backline flair, a settled and immaculately prepared Ireland will approach this latest English team with the confidence of a side fully expectant of a fourth victory over the old foe. God Save the Queen might get an airing, but Sweet Chariot certainly won't.

Jerusalem in Croker's green and pleasant land?
As Brian O'Driscoll pointed out last week, for all England's supposed wretchedness in recent years, they have never been given a proper doing, and even a cursory remembrance of last year reminds us how it needed Shane Horgan's telescopic arm to win the day for Ireland in Twickenham.

As Frank Hadden showed last season with Scotland, the creation of a postive working environment and the sense that there is some kind of plan afoot can change a team's fortunes quite quickly. All through England's trough, their forwards continued to win masses of ball, but were scuppered by diffidence behind them.

Coming just a few weeks after Munster were demolished up front by a Leicester pack, five of whom are in the 22 for this weekend's Calcutta Cup game, its safe to assume England will give us a tough day up front.

Last year we had too much guile and nous for them when we had the ball. However if Ashton's talents have had any effect, if Jonny Wilkinson can rediscover a fraction of his ruthless mastery at out-half and if the whole lot of them have even a small amount more confidence about them than we've seen in recent seasons, they might be sending her victorious at the end of the 80 minutes as well as at the start.


SCOTLAND (Saturday March 10th, Murrayfield)

Not so brave now, oh eaters of artery-clogging, deep-fried foodstuffs!
The days of our struggles against the Scots in Murrayfield may be relatively recent - we only ended an eighteen year winless run in Edinburgh in 2003 - but, psychologically, any sense of inferiority to Scotland in rugby feels as remote as, hah!, unemployment and Mike Murphy.

Since we last lost to them in 2001, the Scots have served up a routine victory for Ireland wherever we have played them, only offering mild resistance on our triple crown winning afternoon in 2004.

Scotland are traditionally at their strongest from 6 to 10, ravenous back-rowers and impudent scrum-halves being key to their game. As ever they possess class in these positions this year too. Trouble is, most of it is either injured or just returning from injury. Jason White, last year's player of the tournament, and Alistair Hogg are missing from the back row (although Hogg could be back for the Ireland game), Mike Blair at scrum-half is also out and Chris Cusiter has been bandaged up after a ligament injury to take the 9 jersey.

With an inexperienced tight five and a continuing inability to really spark in the backs - flaws which Ireland do not share - this year should be another business-like trip to Auld Reekie.

They've sent us hameward, tae think again!
Scotland were the big good news story of last season's championship. Frank Hadden proved to be the Walter Smith to Matt Williams' Berti Vogts, reinstilling enough pride and pleasure into performing for the national side to make a stark difference on the field.

That positivity permeated their play in the way that the embarassing error-count of previous seasons was reduced, and with Sean Lamont emerging as an exciting attacking presence on the wing, the Scots were almost able to fill Murrayfield again.

They are also starting to produce quality young players again, Rob Dewey in centre and Ali Kelloch at lock being two currently causing drams to be raised in appreciation north of Hadrian's Wall.

With Dan Parks and Chris Paterson at 10 and 12 they have an experienced creative think-tank and a metronomic kicking presence that could just be a potent fulcrum for the emerging talent around them.


ITALY (Saturday 17th March, Stadio Flaminio)

Get back to organised crime and driving too fast, you immaculately coiffured types!
And no better time and place to win the grand slam than Paddy's Day in the Eternal City, which is how long the wait seems like since Ireland last won one.

We all know the drill here. Italy will batter us about a bit up front, Bergamasco will rampage, Bortolami will rumble. At half time the score will be 6-6 and George Hook will howl in the studio about this being "the poorest performance from an Irish side in living memory."

Then D'Arcy or O'Driscoll will make a line break shortly into the second half, which will end up in Wallace going over after a couple of phases and that'll be that. Cue endless footage of the despoilment of the Trevi fountain.

Rome riddle as Ireland burn!
Or maybe, for once, our traditional first half buffeting by the Italian pack will result in them picking up a few scores, rather than the usual fruitless territorial dominance.

Maybe, after a glorious run to this stage Ireland will come over all, well, Irish and conjure inglorious failure at the moment of truth.

If this happens, as a nation, we should throw our hat it.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Tommy77 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:47 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Using the rubbish gleaned from above, check out the In Fact, Ah 6N prediction compo here

2:49 p.m.  
Blogger Tom the Tim said...

test

5:39 p.m.  
Blogger Tom the Tim said...

another test

6:22 p.m.  

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