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Thursday 03rd February 2011
RBS 6 Nations Preview: Wales

Wales have been on a downward curve for two years.  So far, Gatland's only answer to this is to abuse other nations and/or players in the run-up to tournaments, but he will know that this is not enough.  After finishing fourth last year, in a tournament that was arguably the worst in living memory, and the same position twelve moths previously, the angry Kiwi will be desperate to get this sorted as another poor Six Nations showing will trouble both fans and those in power.

Unfortunately, the injury croupier has dealt him a set of cards worse than mixed low numbers of different suit, covered in dog shit.  He and Shaun Edwards face the challenge of reviving the country's form with second choices in many positions.  This would be hard enough for most teams, but the fact that Wales's first choice props are the two best in the world and the back-ups are Paul James and Craig Mitchell says it all for the scrummage.

Worryingly, Wales seemed to have stopped playing head-up rugby as well.  Anyone who saw the Aus game in the Autumn will know that they kept pointlessly hammering the wide first receiver gameplan despite it blatantly failing.  This changed only when Richie Rees came on, but he is knacked also, we can only hope Peel can inject what the Cardiff man did off the bench.

The above, plus poor team form from the regions recently (Ospreys in particular) means this will be a tournament of fits and starts, mixed results and a mid-table finish. Still finish above Scotland, though.

Having said all that, this is perfect Gatland and Edwards territory: siege mentality etc, so they may surprise us all.  But I doubt it.

Key Player: Jamie Roberts.  Wales have been without him for a while, it's time to be a revelation all over again

Prediction: 4th.  Again.

Player most likely to make Brian Moore's piss boil (excluding scrum-half): Alun Wyn-Jones - "Why oh why did he get involved there?  No need and now they're a man down.  Daft!"

Posted by: , on February 03rd 2011 on 01:01am0 Comments
Thursday 03rd February 2011
RBS 6 Nations Preview: England

England, if you add all the good bits up, have had roughly 2.5 good games in the last three years, two of these have been against Australia in the past six months which would suggest that the team is improving.  In a way it is, there are some very promising young players coming through in a number of positions who have taken international rugby in their stride.  In other ways it is not; the good moments have been punctuated by long, meandering sessions of slow-ball, brainless dreck that made the fans' souls cry; and Mike Tindall is apparently still the best 13. 

Many pundits have for some unfathomable reason installed England - an average team with no pace in the forwards, and little creativity behind - as favourites for this tournament.  I am here to stop this madness.

Fact is, England are 10 months out from a World Cup and somehow still believe that Joe Worsley is some kind of impact sub, Louis Deacon is some kind of international rugby player, and that Matt Banahan is some kind of quality centre.  They are insane.  

Prediction:  3rd, and that's only because the Wales squad has more injuries than Hull on a particularly violent Saturday night

Key Player:  Shontayne Hape. No, that's not a joke.  12 is where games are often won and lost from these days, and for the decent England back three to get moving he'll have to show something from there.

Player most likely to make Brian Moore's piss boil (excluding scrum-half): James Haskell - "Where the hell is he going!  There's no point having all that pace if you use it to run away from your support!  Stupid!"


Posted by: , on February 03rd 2011 on 12:59am0 Comments
Thursday 03rd February 2011
RBS 6 Nations Preview: France

 With all the terrible results and record defeats in their last five tests, it is easy to forget that France won the Grand Slam last year.  Granted, it was a tournament that was about 0.024 out of 10 on the quality meter, but it was a Slam nonetheless.

Can they do it again?  Who knows.  The last six months have been something of a return to the howling insanity of Lievremont's early days in charge, but he will hope to settle down to a core of 22 players that he can stick with in the run up to the World Cup.  

The pack that did so well last year should largely be the same this time around, although the backs look to have a different feel altother.  Last year's centre pairing is no more, with Loco Bastareaud dropped due to being a fat knacker and the wonderful Jauzion losing some magic and being overtaken by Maxime Mermoz.  The coach also seems keen to kill any creativity on the outside, with the man shaped ball cannon Traille looking first choice at fullback ahead of the flamboyant Poitrenaud, and horse-like person Rougerie likely to assume the 13 berth.  

At least that's Lievremont's plan for this week.  Next week he may field and entire team of penguins.

Prediction: 1st.  The decisive factor may be that they are the side with the least injury absentees.  They should have enough quality, and enough first choice players available to win it

Key Player: Morgan Parra, still only 22 but nevertheless crucial

Player most likely to make Brian Moore's piss boil (excluding scrum-half): Damien Traille - "I mean, why has he kicked that away?  Brainless!"

Posted by: , on February 03rd 2011 on 12:58am0 Comments
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