Eyes On: 6 Nations 2018 – Round 5

Eyes On: 6 Nations 2018 – Round 5

The 6 Nations is over for another year following a last round that didn’t quite live up to the thrill of some of the recent final weeks. With their title already confirmed, Ireland completed their Grand Slam with an impressive performance over a different looking England squad. This result, combined with France’s 1 point loss in Wales left the defending Champions 5th in the table, behind all but Italy, who were denied a shock result against Scotland by a late Greig Laidlaw penalty.

The final standings from the 2018 6 Nations – From http://www.sixnationsrugby.com

Italy 27 – 29 Scotland

After all the hype I have given him throughout the season, I am so glad Jake Polledri performed when finally given his chance by Conor O’Shea. The former Hartpury flanker has been one of Gloucester’s stars this season and did not look at all out of place on his international debut. He and Seb Negri (a former Hartpury teammate) gave the pack some much-needed physicality and repeatedly made ground with the ball. Polledri’s break for Tommy Allan’s second try especially stands out in my mind: pushing away Ryan Wilson, getting away from Greig Laidlaw and drawing Staurt Hogg before passing back inside to give his fly half an easy finish. Though they may not have got the result, there was clearly plenty for O’Shea to be proud of and it is clear this Italian team is building with young stars like Matteo Minozzi. One Italian who did have a quiet tournament though was captain Sergio Parisse. He is still clearly a highly talented player but he is nearing the end of his career and I will not be surprised if he announces his international retirement following the World Cup next year. He has been a talisman for the Azzuri for years but I would argue that Maxime Mbanda would create a better back row combination moving forward, with either Negri or Polledri moving to number 8. What about Parisse then? His experience both internationally and at a high level of competition should continually be utilised by O’Shea, but I think he would benefit from following a similar route to fellow centurion Alessandro Zanni and moving into the second row. The tight 5 appears to be an area lacking depth at the moment, moving Parisse to lock would immediately upgrade the position while also allowing Parisse to adapt his game and be less expansive. It would be a shame to hold Italy back by selecting a player on reputation rather than history, but at the same time Parisse has given so much for Italian rugby (he is the first player to lose 100 Test matches) and I think he has earned the right to go out on his own terms rather than fade away. It will be interesting to see if Conor O’Shea tries this in the Autumn Tests.

On the subject of talismanic players, I will be very interested in Greig Laidlaw’s place in the Scotland squad moving forward. He is a clear leader and one of the senior players in the squad, having been a large part of Scotland’s resurgence over recent seasons. But will he be a starter much longer? Laidlaw is one of the most accurate goal kickers in international rugby but he has a limited range, while Finn Russell has also developed into a high percentage kicker and Stuart Hogg has a huge boot. As a scrum half, he dictates play well but does not provide the same quick ball that Ali Price has when given a shot. Italy were arguably the better team in this match but Scotland looked much more dangerous once Ali Price came on for Russell and Laidlaw moved out to fly half – where he started his international career. Russell is a quality 10 but when he’s off form he really seems to struggle in this team and there is no other out-and-out fly half that looks an option for Scotland at the moment. I think it would benefit Gregor Townsend to start Price and Russell with Laidlaw on the bench to cover both halfback positions. This would allow Townsend to adapt his substitutions to the match situation while also allowing more options for the other 2 backs on the bench.

England 15 – 24 Ireland

2 brains really did prove better than 1 as the joint effort from myself and Phil Alder topped the EOTB Championship, but congratulations must also go to Gez Williams who had the top-scoring team for a solo manager – From http://fantasyrugby.espn.co.uk

Eddie Jones made some much-needed changes to his starting lineup for the final round and put out what on paper looked a strong team, yet they were still dominated by the Irish. 3 losses in a row does not look great for England but I don’t think the panic button needs pressing yet. I would argue that the poor England performances are due to more to fatigue than anything else. Ireland’s players are centrally contracted to the IRFU whereas the England players are all contracted to their individual clubs. This means that the England players are being asked to play more minutes against top quality opposition, whereas Ireland’s stars are getting significantly more rest. This will never show more than following a Lions Tour, half of the England players have played a season and a half with limited rest! England’s player base is significantly bigger than the other Home Nations. The RFU need to take advantage of this by either rotating the players in the national team much more (giving more players international experience but possibly effecting chemistry) or by coming to some agreement with the clubs to limit the playing time of England’s key players. I can imagine many of the England regulars will be given the summer off by Eddie Jones, but then again he may decide to take them to South Africa to ensure the losing run does not continue against a Springboks team that are surely about to improve under Rassie Erasmus.

When England beat Wales in Round 2 it was built on a stunning defence that shut out the Welsh following a strong attacking start. Fast forward a month and England were at the mercy of the Irish defence. Despite CJ Stander not hitting the highs of last year and Sean O’Brien missing the entire tournament through injury, the Irish dominated the breakdown in much the same way that Scotland and France did in recent weeks, winning a number of penalties and turnovers. They also stripped the England players in the tackle a number of times. Even when they were beaten, they still managed to recover, with Keith Earls’ tap tackle on Elliot Daly saving a guaranteed try. Any team would have struggled to beat the Irish with their defence in such fine form!

Wales 14 – 13 France

A cynical part of me can’t help but wonder how much of the different style is due to Gatland & Howley compared to the Scarlets contingent playing their natural game and the rest of the team joining in. I will be very interested to see what happens when the usual starters are available again: how many of them will get straight back in the team and whether the style of play shifts back to what we have become used to seeing. – Eyes On: 6 Nations 2018 – Round 1

I was disappointed but not wholly surprised to see Wales revert back to type as the tournament went on. Despite Rhys Patchell and Gareth Anscombe both performing well on the whole when given the shot at 10, Dan Biggar was straight back in the starting lineup against the big teams. Not just that, but Aaron Shingler (arguably one of Wales’ best players this season) was left on the bench in favour of Justin Tipuric, who did not seem anywhere near the form we know him to be capable of. Wales were back to their usual self against France and it should have cost them the match. A strong defensive performance is important (they did very well to limit Mathieu Bastareaud’s impact on the match) but I don’t think Wales will reach their potential until they start focusing on the more expansive attack that I don’t think will be given a real chance until Warren Gatland moves on. I hope Gatland proves me wrong and gives Patchell the shot he deserves.

When the commentators are suggesting Lionel Beauxis should be brought on to improve the French performance, you know François Trinh-Duc is having an awful game! The Toulon fly half had not been having the best of seasons with his club and was only brought into the squad after Matthieu Jalibert was injured and Anthony Belleau was dropped along with a host of players following a night out. He had a game to forget against Wales, with a missed penalty (which would have won France the game) the least high profile of his errors. Nobody in blue came out of the Liam Williams try looking good, but I doubt even Trinh-Duc knows what he was trying to do when he came over and completely missed the ball! His missed touch-finder from a penalty was enough to piss off any forward and his forward pass to Benjamin Fall under no pressure was inexcusable! France really missed the injured Camille Lopez this 6 Nations, it will be interesting to see how the French perform once they have him and Jalibert available again.

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 31 (Part 1)

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 31 (Part 1)

This weekend’s football was a bit of an odd one as we only had 4 games due to other Premiership teams still being involved in FA Cup action. However with the international break now upon us, I felt that it was right to still discuss the 4 matches that were played in the league and pick up the other matches when they are rearranged.

Liverpool felt they had a point to prove following defeat to Manchester United and took out their anger on Watford in a 5-0 demolition. Elsewhere, Crystal Palace picked up a vital 3 points at Huddersfield, while their relegation rivals Stoke and West Brom both fell to defeats at home to Everton and away to Bournemouth respectively.

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There may have only been 4 matches this week,but there were potentially still some crucial results – From http://www.premierleague.com

The Prince of Egypt

Who would have thought that the guy who made only 19 appearances in all competitions over a 2-year span at Chelsea would go on to be the clear front-runner for Player of the Season for Liverpool this season? Mohamed Salah never looked good enough for the Chelsea teams of 2013/14 and 20124/15 and though he did better at Roma, there was still little to suggest the sensation that he would be for the Reds this season.

We always knew that he had pace, but he has also showed incredible footwork and strength on his way to topping the Premier League goal scoring charts with 28 goals (so far). He has been equally prolific in other competitions too and currently has 36 goals from 41 appearances in all competitions this season. Those are almost Messi/Ronaldo figures. It will be very interesting to see if he can keep these statistics going for multiple seasons – something that many players struggle with. What makes him even scarier is that he is not even a striker but a wide player, so I am not surprised to see him near the top of the assist charts (joint third with 9, behind only Leroy Sané and Kevin De Bruyne). It is no surprise that Roberto Firmino is having his best return of goals in his professional career this season with players like Salah catching the defenders’ attention.

He is an incredible talent and providing he continues to get the support from his teammates the sky could be the limit for the Egyptian. Liverpool now just need to hope they can hold onto him!

Timely returns

Crystal Palace’s 2-0 win at Huddersfield was a huge result for them. They had been on a bad run of form as their team was blighted by injuries, but this victory pulled them closer to safety while dragging Huddersfield back into the mix. Palace currently lie in 16th but while they could drop back into the relegation zone if Southampton and West Ham win their games in hand, they would only lie 1 point away from safety!

Roy Hodgson has proved me wrong with the way he has salvaged Palace’s season from such a poor start and it has only been the injuries to many of his key players that has halted their march to safety.

Wilfried Zaha may have moved to United too soon and seen his career stall, but he has been revitalised back at Palace and shown the talent that he has. He causes so many problems for defenders and they are often left with the decision of letting him get away from them or fouling him. With all their remaining matches coming against teams who are mid-table or higher, Hodgson needs to hope he and his fellow key players can keep a clean bill of health to the end of the season. If so, they may just have enough to pull off what at one point looked unthinkable and stay in the league.

Round 32 predictions:

Crystal Palace v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Leicester City – Leicester win

Manchester United v Swansea – United win

Newcastle United v Huddersfield Town – Newcastle win

Watford v AFC Bournemouth – Watford win

West Bromwich Albion v Burnley – Burnley win

West Ham United v Southampton – Draw

Everton v Manchester City – City win

Arsenal v Stoke City – Arsenal win

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 30

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 30

Manchester City took another step closer to winning the title on Monday night with a 0-2 victory over Stoke. This victory means that a win against Everton on 31st March will set up the chance to win the title at home to United on 7th April. United took a great stride towards finishing second by beating Liverpool 2-1 over the weekend, while Spurs’ victory at Bournemouth allowed them to leapfrog the Reds. In London, Chelsea and Arsenal both got back to winning ways with wins over Crystal palace and Watford respectively, but I still find it unlikely either will be able to make up the gap to the top 4. Towards the bottom of the table, Newcastle’s 3-0 win over Southampton brought an end to Mauricio Pellegrino’s time in charge of the Saints with them just 1 point outside the relegation zone.

Too little, too late?

It was a while back now that I suggested Pellegrino’s job could be in danger, so I am surprised they have waited until so late in the season. They don’t have another league match until 31stMarch (at West Ham) so they have a bit of time to get used to a new manager, but the performances have been so poor the extra points earlier in the year would have likely been a big help. Their 8 remaining games include trips to Arsenal, Leicester and Everton and home matches against Chelsea and Man City, so with so few matches remaining there is no guarantee a new manager will be able to save them. Clearly something needs changing as they were dire against Newcastle with the defence not dealing with Kennedy’s run and a simple ball forward for the first goal, while the second goal was far too simple for the Magpies to break downfield following a Southampton corner. They have sold their best players for years and it was always going to catch up with them eventually, I just hope that they are getting a manager who will not run if they don’t avoid the drop.

Swansea held out for a goalless draw at Huddersfield despite going a man down within 11 minuted – From http://www.premierleague.com

Bad scenes in London

Next time I want to remind myself why I prefer rugby over football, I just need to watch West Ham’s match against Burnley. I can understand that the fans are not happy but there is a way to show it and that was not it! To invade the pitch on multiple occasions not only disrupts the game, I would also argue it disrupted the focus for the West Ham players. The defence were at sixes and sevens for the second goal and I can’t help but wonder if Joe Hart would have dealt better with Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson’s long range shot for the third goal. Not only that, a football match is a family day out, and yet the actions of some fans were so bad, the Burnley players felt they needed to empty the bench to make room for children from the crowd (max respect to them for this). Scenes like this should not be seen at football matches in 2018 and I hope we don’t see a repeat anytime soon. If I was a West Ham player, I would want to get out of that toxic atmosphere as soon as I could!

The good, the bad or the ugly?

Within the space of a few seconds during Leicester’s 1-4 win at Leicester, I saw the best of Jamie Vardy before being reminded why I struggle to like him as much as many people do. His goal to pull Leicester level against the Baggies was a contender for goal of the season! The skill required to volley that ball as it came over his shoulder – with his weaker foot! – and not just get it on target but control it beyond the keeper and into the far corner without taking eyes off the ball was absolutely sublime. Unfortunately the celebration was less sublime as he appeared to goad the fans and front up to someone in the crowd. I can imagine that if someone is hurling abuse from the crowd (again going back to why I prefer rugby) it can be hard not to react, but Vardy often appears to toe the line between celebrating and provoking the fans. If he put that extra effort into playing, then he could perhaps push Harry Kane for a starting spot in the England squad.

Seeing red

There were 2 red cards in this weekend’s matches, but there really should have been 3. Jordan Ayew and Anthony Knockaert both received straight red cards at the weekend for poor challenges with high feet and neither of them have any grounds to argue the decision.

West Brom are as good as down, who else will be joining them in the Championship? – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

Knockaert appeared to see the red missed having had the ball kicked into his face moments before by Leighton Baines, and then seconds later dived into him and was lucky to not make more of a contact. I can understand that it won’t feel nice taking a football to the face at close range, but that was pathetic!

I have more sympathy for Ayew as I genuinely feel he was reaching for the ball and got his challenge wrong, but he made contact high up Jonathan Hogg’s leg with his studs. Hogg was lucky to not receive a red though as his boot was also off the ground and he did (accidentally in my opinion) stamp on Ayew as they collided, much like Pogba’s sending off against Arsenal earlier this season.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the tackler and tackle both get sent off before – unless the tackle has reacted and struck out – but in this case a double red would have been warranted. With the incident happening in the 11th minute, I can’t help but wonder what impact that would have had on the game.

Round 31 predictions:

So this will be a bit of an odd round as only 4 games are being played in this round at the moment, with the other games to be played at a later date (still to be confirmed). As injuries and form fluctuations could affect my predictions for those games, I will just be predicting the confirmed games for now and will add in the other games as they come up.

AFC Bournemouth v West Bromwich Albion – Bournemouth win

Huddersfield Town v Crystal Palace – Draw

Stoke City v Everton – Everton win

Liverpool v Watford – Liverpool win

Championship Week – March 2018

Championship Week – March 2018

Viewers of the Schmoedown were given an absolute treat last week as we reached the first Championship week of the season. In the singles, Rachel Cushing got her first shot at the Singles Championship belt against Samm Levine, while in the Teams League, Top 10 attempted to make it third time lucky against the unbeaten Patriots. After a lot of right answers (these guys are all title matches for a reason) and perhaps even more controversy, both the Patriots and “The Inglorious One” managed to hold onto their titles.

Samm “The Inglorious One” Levine 22 – 21 Rachel “The Crusher” Cushing

What a match this was between the 2017 Player of the Year and 2017 Rookie of the Year. After plenty of compliments and nice talk, they could not be separated in Round 1, going into Round 2 at 6-6. Cushing had the wheel on her side in Round 2, spinning Fantasy/Sci-Fi and getting a perfect Round 2 (watch out Innergeekdom competitors), while Levine matched her with his own perfect round after spinning Scorsese (twice!). Round 3 finally saw Levine open up a 1 point lead as both correctly guessed the right answer, but Cushing only bet 2 points compared to Levine’s 3. 17-6 Levine going into the Round 4, and then everything went crazy. The Crusher clearly knew most – if not all – of the answers in the speed round, but was never given a look-in as Levine beat her to the buzzer on all 5 questions and got all of them right to open up a 22-16 lead. Going into the final round 6 points down is always going to be difficult to overcome and unfortunately The Crusher missed on her 5 point question to hand Samm Levine a TKO victory and his first title defence.

levcruI saw enough in this match to believe that the Crusher will hold the Singles Belt at some point in 2018, unfortunately Levine’s experience in title matches was probably the difference in this game, as he has title matches in Singles (a loss to Dan Murrell and a victory over Kristian Harloff) and in Teams (a loss to the Patriots), whereas this was Rachel’s first title match. I know that many people were not happy with the Speed Round following this match but as Harloff said, this is first and foremost a game, so the person with the best knowledge will not always win. The extra rounds in titles matches probably give a disadvantage to a competitor with no experience of a title match, but I think it helps prove who is the best all-round. Rachel’s knowledge is solid and she just needs to work on her speed round, she will learn from this experience and come back stronger than ever.

Let’s not forget, as a member of the Fyffe Club, there is the possibility of Emma using her Number 1 Contender shot on the Crusher to get her an immediate rematch, or maybe she will take some time to build her experience and aim for a match against the Patriots with her new teammate Clarke Wolfe. I feel confident in predicting that we will not have to wait too long to see the Crusher in another title match.

The Patriots 28 – 15 Top 10

The third meeting of these teams is a match that will not be forgotten in a hurry due to the controversy. I will give my thoughts on the Round 3 controversy shortly, but first let’s take a moment to look at what happened before this.

After the (inevitable) trash talk from both teams The Patriots took an early lead in this game, coming out of Round 1 with an 11-9 lead. In Round 2, The Patriots took maximum points fromMovie Quotes, whereas Top 10 had to check down to multiple choice on 2 questions, leaving them 23-19 down. And then we came to Round 3 and all hell broke loose. Westerns was spun on the wheel and The Patriots bet 1 point while Top 10 went for the maximum 3 points courtesy of this being one of “The Outlaw” John Rocha’s specialties. Sneider & JTE could not get the right answer, losing 1 point, whereas Rocha was correct, but his answer on the whiteboard was horribly illegible. Rocha initially argued that as he was the first person to say the correct answer he could still get the points, a decision that Harloff agreed with, deciding to award the 3 points, only for Sneider to challenge immediately. After a lengthy challenge, the decision was made to restart Round 3 with a new category spun – Will Smith. Both teams bet the maximum points but only The Patriots were able to answer correctly, leaving them 26-16 ahead. Everyone was getting involved in the speed round but The Patriots even managed to increase their lead in this round (scoring to points to Top 10’s -1) and they won by KO 28-15.

fondaSo, to my thoughts on the Round 3 controversy. Watching the video, Rocha clearly writes an answer in the middle of the board, but as time is expiring he changes his answer and writes the correct one – Jane Fonda – in the bottom corner. The safe thing to do would be to use Top 10’s last JTE rule, but I can understand that he wanted to keep hold of that with Rounds 4&5 remaining. I can understand Rocha’s argument that other players have had their answers accepted in the past with illegible writing provided that they were the first to give the correct answer, however I also agree that when a whiteboard is involved the answer should be clear on there – even if the spelling is not right *ahem ‘Japeto’*. Kristian Harloff said in an interview with Take 3 Productions that in hindsight he would have disallowed the points and played on (which he has said will be the rule moving forward). I think that this would have been the right answer, or if not, that another question from the same category would have been a better solution than a re-spin.

I am glad though that Kristian and the crew showed more of the challenge process than we usually see and have come out and spoken about it immediately, I can’t even imagine how much controversy there could have been had the creator stayed silent.

It is a shame though that the commissioner Thadd Williams in all his wisdom has decreed that Top 10 cannot challenge for the title again while The Patriots are champions. These 2 teams give you great trivia knowledge and great entertainment, much like Manchester United v Liverpool there is a mutual dislike there that draws you into the event even more. I can’t help but wonder if this could lead to Top 10 helping push for the return of Kristian Harloff as commissioner. Could this be the next stage of the Schmoedown Civil War?

Eyes On: 6 Nations 2018 – Round 4

Eyes On: 6 Nations 2018 – Round 4

Congratulations to Ireland whose victory over Scotland wrapped up the 2018 6 Nations with a week to spare, winning their record 11th Test match in a row. They will be hoping to end the tournament with a Grand Slam on Saturday at Twickenham against an England team reeling from back-to-back losses to Scotland and now France. Meanwhile making 10 changes to the starting XV was not enough to deny Wales a bonus point victory over Italy, which leaves them 2nd in the table, a point above England.


Ireland 28 – 8 Scotland

Injuries have forced Ireland to test their depth at 13 this tournament, but things are looking very good for them there. Jared Payne will always be an option but still hasn’t played since the Lions tour, while an injury to Garry Ringrose led to Robbie Henshaw playing for the first 2 rounds until his own injury. Chris Farrell put in a man of the match performance against Wales, but injury ruled him out against the Scots and Ringrose was back just in time to take back the 13 shirt. You wouldn’t have thought the Leinster centre had just returned from injury with the way he played as he nullified Huw Jones for much of the game, while in attack he made a number of breaks. He is the heir apparent to Brian O’Driscoll’s 13 jersey both for Leinster and Ireland and when 100% fit will likely be one of the first names on the team sheet. The quality available in the centre means that Keith Earls can remain as a winger, opening up the depth in the back 3 despite the retirement of Tommy Bowe.

28-8 is not an accurate representation of the game. Though Ireland were arguably the better team, the match would have been a lot closer were it not for some timely errors from Scotland. The opening try was gifted to Jacob Stockdale through a horribly overthrown pass by Peter Horne, while Huw Jones did everything right to break through the Irish defence, only to get the pass horribly wrong when he and Stuart Hogg had a 2v1 against Rob Kearney. Hogg and Horne also both sent passes to Blair Kinghorn – who impressed on his first start – too high, denying them opportunities. There was a lot to be happy about in the Scotland performance, especially considering the number of players they have still missing or just returning form injury, but there is still improvement needed if Scotland want to be winning away from home and pushing for titles.

France 22 – 16 England

Not a stunning performance from France but they did what they had to in order to get the win. Their attack may not have been too flashy, but defensively they were very solid. Mathieu Bastareaud had another good game at 13 and fronted up well against Ben Te’o, while the entire team took a leaf out of Scotland’s books and caused England untold agony at the breakdown. They really need to cut out the stupid mistakes though, as Hugo Bonneval’s blind pass back infield almost put his team in trouble, while Lionel Beauxis gave England one last chance to win it at the death when he failed to find touch with a clearance following Luke Cowan-Dickie’s overthrown line out. If the French can continue to build as a squad while cutting out these stupid error, they will become a formidable team again.

Following Ireland’s bonus point victory over Scotland, it didn’t take a maths genius to calculate England’s hopes of winning the 6 Nations relied on bonus point victories in booth their remaining games. Yet England continued to kick their penalties at goal rather than touch, leaving them needing 4 tries in the second half. Barring a monumental collapse, that was not going to happen in Paris. As someone who has felt Dylan Hartley’s time in the 2 shirt has reached an end I hate to admit but there was no leadership from the players out there. Owen Farrell would have been my shout for the captaincy but did not appear to thrive in the role, while fellow starters Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw and Danny Care have all been club captains (Robshaw even has plenty of experience as England captain). Dan Cole and Courtney Lawes were also starters with over 50 caps, while Mako Vunipola and George Ford are also highly experienced internationals. Between the lot of them they should have been able to adapt to the game better. Hughes’ early injury would have been a blow to their plans but injuries happen and an international team should be prepared. I don’t want to come down too hard on this team as many have not had an ideal rest period following the Lions Tour due to the level of competition in the Premiership. It’s no real surprise that Elliott Daly and Kyle Sinckler looked two of the better players considering they have just had a chance to rest while recovering from injury and coming back from suspension! With the chances of victory gone I would love to see Eddie make a few changes against Ireland and rest a few regulars to give players like Kyle Sinckler, Denny Solomona, Don Armand and Luke Cowan-Dickie a chance to start.

Wales 38 – 14 Italy

Job done for Wales who got a bonus point win despite 10 changes to the starting XV, but that really doesn’t give a real idea of the game. They scored 2 tries in no time but one was poor Italian defending (more on that below) and the other came from an interception. Other than that, there was not much for the time to write home about in the first half and they can consider themselves lucky that Liam Williams only saw a yellow card for his hit on the impressive Matteo Minozzi. Wales have a habit of underperforming after making a high number of changes against a weaker team and this was no exception, and it was more poor play from the Italians that helped the Welsh to the win. Warren Gatland needs to be very careful when selecting his teams against supposedly weaker opposition, otherwise he could get left with egg on his face when a ‘lesser’ team turns them over and gets the result.

“The defence was too busy looking inside and watching the ball rather than picking up the runners and that will prove costly against teams at this level.”

I wrote the above following Bundee Aki & Robbie Henshaw’s tries against the Italians in Round 2, unfortunately, they do not seem to have sorted this yet and were once again weak either side of the ruck against Wales. The opening try from Hadleigh Parkes was another pass from the back of a ruck to a centre running out-to-in running line. The defence were too busy looking in at the ruck again and though they managed to attempt a tackle this time, their positioning was all wrong and led to Parkes spinning out of the contact and dotting down, while the attempted tackler had to go off with a head injury. Cory Hill’s try was also far too easy for international rugby as the Italian forwards were too slow to come out of the scrum and wrap around tot h far side of the ruck, making it easy for Hill to push over for a killer score while Wales were at a numerical disadvantage. There have clearly been some signs of improvement from the Italians when you consider the massive rebuild Italian rugby as a whole is currently going through, but they need to sort out such a glaring defensive issue soon or they will struggle to win many games.

Super Saturday’s fixtures to see out the 2018 tournament

6 Nations table and upcoming fixtures are from the 6 Nations website: www.sixnationsrugby.com

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Rounds 28 & 29

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Rounds 28 & 29

Hey guys, apologies for no Round 28 Ramble, when planning my week I hadn’t taken into account the round continuing until Thursday evening, then I didn’t have enough time to write anything before Round 29, so I have once again combined both rounds for this piece.

What a horrible month it has been for Arsenal! Following their 5-1 victory over Everton in Round 26, they have only won 1 match in the next month – a 0-3 Europa League victory at Östersunds FK – losing 1-0 at local rivals Spurs and 1-2 in the home leg of their Europa League tie (going through 4-2 on aggregate), before losing 0-3 to Manchester City twice in a week in the Carabao Cup final and the league, before Sunday’s embarrassing 2-1 loss at Brighton. These results have left them with little chance of qualifying for the Champions League through the Premier League as they are now 13 points behind Spurs, who currently occupy 4th. West Brom’s troubles continue and their 3 league wins all season (1 under Pardew) leaves them rock bottom of the league 8 points behind Southampton in 17th. Crystal Palace currently have an injury list longer than their list of league victories this season and currently sit just within the relegation zone level on points with Stoke and 1 behind Southampton, while Swansea, West Ham, Huddersfield and Newcastle are all within 3 points of the relegation zone.

pl 28Jobs available in the Big 6?

With the way things are going at the moment, I think there will be 2 vacant manager positions at Big 6 teams by the end of the season.

As mentioned above, Arsenal are on a dire run and a second year without Champions League football, combined with a series of shocking performances in defeat, will surely spell the end of his reign. He has given so much to Arsenal over the years that I hope he is given the chance to walk rather than being sacked, however I cannot see how he can remain in the job another season. Despite finally spending big money on players like Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and signing Mesut Özil to a new contract, they were unable to keep hold of Alexis Sanchez and their results have been awful compared to the teams they should be competing against. They may have improved their attack, but even though they gained Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, they lost proven influential players in Sanchez and Olivier Giroud to their rivals. Their defence is also shocking still despite a couple of signings in recent years. There is no pace in the centre and little confidence throughout the defence, while Petr Cech is nowhere near the keeper he used to be any more and should have done much better for both goals against Brighton. Too often as well the midfield and attackers only seem interested in going forward rather than helping the defence, the balance is completely off in the squad and it needs sorting for next year if they are to have any chance of making it back into the Champions League.

As it currently stands, Chelsea are also looking at a season without Champions League football as losses to United and City have left them 5 points behind Spurs – not the way they would have wanted to defend their title! Antonio Conte has a squad full of quality but when you look at some of his squad selections, you would not think so. Chelsea have shelled out almost £90 million for strikers Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud this season after deeming Diego Costa surplus to requirements, but in a big game against City’s arguably shaky defence, Conte chose to keep Giroud on the bench until the 78th minute and Morata until injury time, instead playing Eden Hazard in a false 9 position that will not trouble the best teams enough. Giroud is getting used to a new team and Morata a new league, but if Conte is not willing to keep faith with them how will they adapt and be able to excel in this team? It does not sound as if Antonio Conte is happy at Stamford Bridge and I expect to see a new man take the reins this summer.

Hanging refs out to dry

If stories in the last week are to be believed, VAR will not be utilised in next season’s Premier League matches. What a ****ing joke! I understand that there are still some kinks to be ironed out, but there are so many wrong decisions being made that are costing teams vital points. Only 7 points separate Brighton in 10th from Stoke in 19th, so a couple of dropped points (or worse, goal difference) due to a bad decision could be the difference between Premier League survival and playing in the Championship next season.

pl29.jpgIt wouldn’t be so bad if the officials were making the right decisions but anyone who reads this series on a regular basis will know that they’re not! In fact I’d argue there is on average at least one completely wrong decision per week! Some of them you can see why the officials may have given the decision they did, but can someone explain to me how Charlie Daniels can be clearly shoved over in the box and not get a penalty? Dele Alli should have also won a penalty against Crystal Palace in Round 28 with the score at 0-0, though I wonder if the decision wasn’t given due to his history of diving. It’s the most blatant penalty I’ve seen in weeks! If a referee and 2 linesman are still struggling to consistently make the right decision, they need that technology to help get the calls right as soon as possible. Football is a big-money business, but technology-wise, it needs to come out of the Dark Ages.

As an aside while writing about officials, I don’t understand how a referee can interfere with play and then allow the game to continue! Bobby Madley (who I praised in Round 25) arguably cost Burnley the game in their Round 28 match against Southampton by blocking off Ashley Westwood from a pass leading to the Southampton equaliser, before then not giving a penalty for a pull on Ashley Barnes in the box. Maybe I am coming from too much of a rugby background, where a referee would stop the game and award a scrum to the team in possession if the ball hits him or he blocks a tackler, but I don’t see how an official should be able to influence the match in such a way. I have a lot of sympathy for Burnley and their fans as that is 2 points lost that they should have had, while a Burnley win would still see Southampton in 17th but only due to goal difference rather than a 1 point advantage.

Round 30 predictions:

Manchester United v Liverpool – Man Utd win

Everton v Brighton & Hove Albion – Everton win

Huddersfield Town v Swansea City – Draw

Newcastle United v Southampton – Newcastle win

West Bromwich Albion v Leicester City – Leicester win

West Ham United v Burnley – Burnley win

Chelsea v Crystal Palace – Chelsea win

Arsenal v Watford – Draw

AFC Bournemouth v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Stoke City v Manchester City – Man City win


Both images in the text are from http://www.premierleague.com

Managing Expectations

Managing Expectations

Back in October, I had a look at how the season had started for Gloucester Rugby and the other #glawsfamily clubs: Hartpury RFC and Gloucester-Hartpury Women. Back then, Gloucester were a familiar story: 8th place in the league with a 100% winning record at home and 100% losing record away from home. Over the next few months however, the cherry and whites’ results improved and saw them break into the top 4, before a 25-15 loss at Worcester, 25-25 draw at home to Wasps and most recently this weekend’s 20-21 home loss to Newcastle have seen them drop to 6th, 4 points outside the playoffs.

Over the last couple of weeks I have noticed some negativity from fellow Gloucester fans on Twitter, and while I can understand fans’ disappointment, Gloucester are in a much better place than they have been in recent years.

Kingsholm is becoming a fortress again and though they may have dropped points in their last 2 home games, they were still the last team to lose their unbeaten home record in the Premiership this season. But for a couple of defensive lapses and missed kicks, both these matches could have been wins, and I would not compare the late try conceded against Wasps to the repeated late-match collapses of last season. Let’s not forget, Johan Ackermann only arrived from the Lions a couple of weeks before the season started following their run to the Super Rugby final, so imagine what this team will be able to do when they have a full offseason with him!

Ross Moriarty – a star of recent seasons – has barely featured, but with the form of Lewis Ludlow, Ruan Ackermann, Freddie Clarke and Jake Polledri (he needs to be playing for Italy!) he has not been missed as much as many fans would have feared. Polledri especially has been fantastic and I can not remember the last time I saw him pushed back in contact, while many teams have been caught out by his pace in open play. Lewis Ludlow on the opposite flank has been a tackling machine, while the second row is deeper than I can remember in years with Jeremy Thrush, Ed Slater, Tom Savage and Mariano Galarza and James Hanson has made an immediate impact at hooker, while Val Rapava-Ruskin will hope to put injuries behind him and show the quality Premiership fans have seen at Worcester.

In the backs, Willi Heinz and Ben Vellacott have both been great for Gloucester and their differing styles of play have created a great one-two punch at 9, while Billy Burns (who may have had a bad game off the tee against Newcastle but has been great all season) has really stepped up the the challenge set by the signing of Owen Williams and has earned the 10 shirt this season. Henry Trinder has stayed largely free of injury and has shown good consistency whether at 13 or on the wing, while the much-maligned Billy Twelvetrees appears to have his confidence back and is playing some of the best rugby I have seen from him in years. Moving on to the back 3 and Gloucester have not missed Jonny May as much as I feared, with Ollie Thorley, Henry Purdy, Trinder, David Halaifonua, Charlie Sharples, Tom Hudson, Tom Marshall and Jason Woodward all impressing at points in this season. Hudson runs such beautiful lines and looks to have reignited his career, while Woodward is something special and I would love to see Eddie Jones give him a chance in the England setup.

Yes it may be disappointing to see a couple of home games get away from the lads, but let’s not look at that in isolation and instead look at the season as a whole. In October’s piece I stated that as long as performances were improved I would be happy with finishing 6th/7th, especially when you consider they have not finished in the top half of the table since the 2012/13 season. If someone had told me back then that I would see my team in the top 4 for a couple of weeks this season, I’d have bitten their hand right off.

This is a minor rebuild under David Humphreys and Johan Ackermann, I truly think a top half finish is entirely possible this season. Next season? Well the future looks bright…