Rugby World Cup 2019: England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland preview as bids to claim the Webb Ellis trophy in Japan start

19 Sep

The Rugby World Cup starts on Friday with plenty of expectation for all the Home Nations.

The opening fixture sees hosts Japan take on Russia in Tokyo on Friday before Ireland, Scotland and England get their campaigns underway on Sunday followed by Wales on Monday.

The 2019 tournament is perhaps the most wide open in years with Ireland ranked as the number one side in the world while New Zealand and South Africa have been drawn in the same group.

Joe Cokanasiga will be playing in his first World Cup for England
Getty Images - Getty

Here at talkSPORT.com we have taken a look at what all four home nations can expect from the tournament.

England

Four years have past since England’s humiliating exit from the Rugby World Cup on home soil that saw them not get past the pool stage.

Their route to the knockout stages may be slightly easier in 2019 but Eddie Jones’ side will be wary of the potential banana skins ahead of them.

This time the tournament is in Japan in surroundings that Jones will no doubt be comfortable in.

He is of Japanese heritage and was coach of their national team at the 2015 World Cup in England where he masterminded their win over South Africa.

The 59-year-old was also head coach of Australia when they were beaten by England in the 2003 final and was also part of the South African coaching staff when they won in 2007.

Jones was appointed in November 2015 so he would have four years to prepare for this tournament.

In his first two years, England could not stop winning as they won back-to-back Six Nations Championships.

The last two years have been a little more inconsistent, with a draw and defeat to Scotland the most notable results, as he has looked to find his best side.

Jones’ record has been strong overall with 34 wins from 44 games with nine defeats and a draw.

England possess some genuine world class talent with an array of pace and power at their disposal.

Key players

Maro Itoje – lock

The 24-year-old lock is in the prime of his career and if England harbour any hopes of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in October then he will need to perform.

Itoje’s incredible athleticism makes England dominant at the lineout while he is also an excellent ball carrier.

There are plenty of players in England’s line-up that opponents will fear but Itoje will be chief antagonist at this World Cup.

Maro Itoje has made 29 appearances for England
Getty Images - Getty

Joe Cokanasiga – wing

Cokanasiga may have only played eight Tests for England but he has already been compared to New Zealand great Jonah Lomu.

The 21-year-old, who was born in Fiji, has already scored five tries in those games.

He has incredible speed for a man who is 6ft 4in and weighs 17st 8lb and is a daunting prospect for any opposing defender to tackle.

Joe Cokanasiga plays his club rugby for Bath
Getty - Contributor

Full squad

Forwards; Dan Cole (prop), Luke Cowan-Dickie (hooker), Tom Curry (flanker), Ellis Genge (prop), Jamie George (hooker), Maro Itoje (lock), George Kruis (lock), Joe Launchbury (lock), Courtney Lawes (lock), Lewis Ludlam (flanker), Joe Marler (prop), Kyle Sinckler (prop), Jack Singleton (hooker), Sam Underhill (flanker), Billy Vunipola (No. 8), Mako Vunipola (prop), Mark Wilson (flanker).

Backs; Joe Cokanasiga (wing), Elliot Daly (full-back), Owen Farrell (fly-half), George Ford (fly-half), Piers Francis (centre), Willi Heinz (scrum-half), Jonathan Joseph (centre), Jonny May (wing), Ruaridh McConnochie (wing), Jack Nowell (wing), Henry Slade (centre), Manu Tuilagi (centre), Anthony Watson (wing), Ben Youngs (scrum-half).

Fixtures

Sunday, September 22 – Tonga (11.15am)

Thursday, September 26 – USA (11.45am)

Saturday, October 5 – Argentina (9am)

Saturday, October 12 – France (9.15am)

Prediction

Semi-final

Wales

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will be Warren Gatland’s swansong as Wales head coach.

The 56-year-old has spent 12 years at the helm of Wales rugby with four Six Nations victories, including three Grand Slams.

Gatland was appointed in 2007 after a dismal World Cup and his record has been solid in the tournament.

Eight years ago, they reached the semi-finals and in 2015 they managed to get out of the pool stage that included England and Australia, before losing to South Africa in the last eight.

Warren Gatland will be returning to New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup
Getty Images - Getty

Gatland will want to sign off in style before taking over as head coach of Super Rugby side Chiefs in his native New Zealand.

Strength in depth may hurt Wales as the tournament progresses but they are a reasonable bet to make it out of Pool D.

They are already without Taulupe Faletau and Gareth Anscombe and any more injuries could hurt them.

Their preparation has been far from ideal with coach Rob Howley sent home amid a betting investigation.

Key player

Alun Wyn Jones – lock

The Wales captain may be 34 but he is still at his peak and his country will need all of his 128 caps of experience if they are to progress.

Jones is one of the best in the world at his position and can drag Wales through matches if he is required.

Alun Wyn Jones is two matches away from being Wales’ most capped player
AFP or licensors

Full squad

Forwards; Jake Ball (lock), Adam Beard (lock), Rhys Carre (prop), James Davies (flanker), Elliot Dee (hooker), Ryan Elias (hooker), Tomas Francis (prop), Cory Hill (lock), Wyn Jones (prop), Alun Wyn Jones (lock), Dillon Lewis (prop), Ross Moriarty (No. 8), Josh Navidi (flanker), Ken Owens (hooker), Aaron Shingler (flanker), Nicky Smith (prop), Justin Tipuric (flanker), Aaron Wainwright (flanker).

Backs; Josh Adams (wing), Hallam Amos(wing), Dan Biggar (fly-half), Aled Davies (scrum-half), Gareth Davies (scrum-half), Jonathan Davies (centre), Leigh Halfpenny (full-back), George North (wing), Hadleigh Parkes (centre), Rhys Patchell (fly-half), Owen Watkin (centre), Liam Williams (utility back), Tomos Williams (scrum-half).

Fixtures

Monday, September 23 – Georgia (11.15am)

Sunday, September 29 – Australia (8.45am)

Wednesday, October 9 – Fiji (10.45am)

Sunday, October 13 – Uruguay (9.15am)

Prediction

Quarter-finals

Scotland

Scotland are inconsistent at best and on their day they can cause real problems for the top sides, as England found out at their cost in their last two Calcutta Cup clashes.

The bad days often outweigh the good ones and a strong performance is normally followed by an implosion.

Scotland are easy on the eye with lots of skill and pace but lack the ball-carrying up front to grind out results when Plan A fails.

Key Player

Finn Russell – fly-half

On his day, Russell can be a world beater and virtually unplayable but when he is having an off day then the rest of the team seems to follow.

He has scored 137 points in 46 matches for Scotland and has flourished with Racing 92 at club level.

Finn Russell replaced All Blacks legend Dan Carter at Racing 92
Getty Images - Getty

“The Six Nations was up and down. Against Italy the first half was great, then we let in three late tries,” Russell said before the World Cup. “We had a good first period against Ireland too but slipped off again. Then the England game [a 38-38 draw at Twickenham, in which Scotland trailed by 31 points] was like that but in reverse.

“What was frustrating was we never really managed to put in an 80-minute performance. In a World Cup against the best teams on the planet you have to put in a 80-minute display every game.

“But it should be the real Scotland we see now. This is the main stage, the World Cup, so if it’s not the real Scotland we see then it will be disappointing for all of us.”

Full squad

Forwards; John Barclay (flanker), Simon Berghan (prop), Fraser Brown (hooker), Scott Cummings (lock), Allan Dell (prop), Zander Fagerson (prop), Grant Gilchrist (lock), Jonny Gray (lock), Stuart McInally (hooker), Willem Nel (prop), Gordon Reid (prop), Jamie Ritchie (flanker), Blade Thomson (back-row), Ben Toolis (lock), George Turner (hooker), Hamis Watson (flanker), Ryan Wilson (No. 8).

Backs; Darcy Graham (wing), Chris Harris (centre), Adam Hastings (fly-half), Stuart Hogg (full-back), George Horne (scrum-half), Pete Horne (utility back), Sam Johnson (centre), Blair Kinghorn (full-back), Greig Laidlaw (scrum-half), Sean Maitland (wing), Ali Price (scrum-half), Finn Russell (fly-half), Tommy Seymour (wing), Duncan Taylor (centre).

Fixtures

Sunday, September 22 – Ireland (8.45am)

Monday, September 30 – Samoa (11.15am)

Wednesday, October 9 – Russia (8.15am)

Sunday, October 13 – Japan (11.45am)

Prediction

Pool Stage

Ireland

Ireland went to number one in the world with their warm-up victory over Wales in Dublin as the early indicators for the tournament are good.

Remarkably, only once has the World Cup not been won by a side not occupying that top ranking spot.

Ireland’s record at the tournament has been dismal, though, and they have never won a knockout match in their history.

Their win over New Zealand last November was a sign that they can be world beaters but their recent loss to England may have concerned head coach Joe Schmidt.

They have been handed a relatively kind pool but are likely to face South Africa or New Zealand in the quarter-final.

Key player

Johnny Sexton – fly-half

The world’s best player has had his injury scares ahead of the tournament and a slight dip in form during the Six Nations was uncharacteristic.

Ireland’s hopes will be linked to how well Sexton can perform at the tournament and at 34 it is now or never to guide his side to glory (or at least a knockout win).

Johnny Sexton was named as the best player in the world in 2018
AFP

Full-squad

Forwards; Rory Best (hooker), Tadhg Beirne (lock), Jack Conan (flanker), Sean Cronin (hooker), Tadhg Furlong (prop), Cian Healy (prop), Iain Henderson (lock), Dave Kilcoyne (prop), Jean Kleyn (lock), Peter O’Mahony (flanker), Andrew Porter (prop), Rhys Ruddock (flanker), James Ryan (lock), John Ryan (prop), Niall Scannell (hooker), CJ Stander (flanker), Josh van der Flier (flanker).

Backs; Bundee Aki (centre), Joey Carbery (fly-half), Jack Carty (fly-half), Andrew Conway (utility back), Keith Earls (utility back), Chris Farrell (centre), Robbie Henshaw (centre), Rob Kearney (full-back), Jordan Larmour (wing), Luke McGrath (scrum-half), Conor Murray (scrum-half), Garry Ringrose (centre), Johnny Sexton (fly-half), Jacob Stockdale (wing).

Fixtures

Sunday, September 22 – Scotland (8.45am)

Saturday, September 28 – Japan (8.15am)

Thursday, October 3 – Russia (11.45am)

Saturday, October 12 – Samoa (11.45am)

Prediction

Quarter-final

Rugby World Cup 2019: England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland preview as bids to claim the Webb Ellis trophy in Japan start

19 Sep

The Rugby World Cup starts on Friday with plenty of expectation for all the Home Nations.

The opening fixture sees hosts Japan take on Russia in Tokyo on Friday before Ireland, Scotland and England get their campaigns underway on Sunday followed by Wales on Monday.

The 2019 tournament is perhaps the most wide open in years with Ireland ranked as the number one side in the world while New Zealand and South Africa have been drawn in the same group.

Joe Cokanasiga will be playing in his first World Cup for England
Getty Images - Getty

Here at talkSPORT.com we have taken a look at what all four home nations can expect from the tournament.

England

Four years have past since England’s humiliating exit from the Rugby World Cup on home soil that saw them not get past the pool stage.

Their route to the knockout stages may be slightly easier in 2019 but Eddie Jones’ side will be wary of the potential banana skins ahead of them.

This time the tournament is in Japan in surroundings that Jones will no doubt be comfortable in.

He is of Japanese heritage and was coach of their national team at the 2015 World Cup in England where he masterminded their win over South Africa.

The 59-year-old was also head coach of Australia when they were beaten by England in the 2003 final and was also part of the South African coaching staff when they won in 2007.

Jones was appointed in November 2015 so he would have four years to prepare for this tournament.

In his first two years, England could not stop winning as they won back-to-back Six Nations Championships.

The last two years have been a little more inconsistent, with a draw and defeat to Scotland the most notable results, as he has looked to find his best side.

Jones’ record has been strong overall with 34 wins from 44 games with nine defeats and a draw.

England possess some genuine world class talent with an array of pace and power at their disposal.

Key players

Maro Itoje – lock

The 24-year-old lock is in the prime of his career and if England harbour any hopes of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in October then he will need to perform.

Itoje’s incredible athleticism makes England dominant at the lineout while he is also an excellent ball carrier.

There are plenty of players in England’s line-up that opponents will fear but Itoje will be chief antagonist at this World Cup.

Maro Itoje has made 29 appearances for England
Getty Images - Getty

Joe Cokanasiga – wing

Cokanasiga may have only played eight Tests for England but he has already been compared to New Zealand great Jonah Lomu.

The 21-year-old, who was born in Fiji, has already scored five tries in those games.

He has incredible speed for a man who is 6ft 4in and weighs 17st 8lb and is a daunting prospect for any opposing defender to tackle.

Joe Cokanasiga plays his club rugby for Bath
Getty - Contributor

Full squad

Forwards; Dan Cole (prop), Luke Cowan-Dickie (hooker), Tom Curry (flanker), Ellis Genge (prop), Jamie George (hooker), Maro Itoje (lock), George Kruis (lock), Joe Launchbury (lock), Courtney Lawes (lock), Lewis Ludlam (flanker), Joe Marler (prop), Kyle Sinckler (prop), Jack Singleton (hooker), Sam Underhill (flanker), Billy Vunipola (No. 8), Mako Vunipola (prop), Mark Wilson (flanker).

Backs; Joe Cokanasiga (wing), Elliot Daly (full-back), Owen Farrell (fly-half), George Ford (fly-half), Piers Francis (centre), Willi Heinz (scrum-half), Jonathan Joseph (centre), Jonny May (wing), Ruaridh McConnochie (wing), Jack Nowell (wing), Henry Slade (centre), Manu Tuilagi (centre), Anthony Watson (wing), Ben Youngs (scrum-half).

Fixtures

Sunday, September 22 – Tonga (11.15am)

Thursday, September 26 – USA (11.45am)

Saturday, October 5 – Argentina (9am)

Saturday, October 12 – France (9.15am)

Prediction

Semi-final

Wales

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will be Warren Gatland’s swansong as Wales head coach.

The 56-year-old has spent 12 years at the helm of Wales rugby with four Six Nations victories, including three Grand Slams.

Gatland was appointed in 2007 after a dismal World Cup and his record has been solid in the tournament.

Eight years ago, they reached the semi-finals and in 2015 they managed to get out of the pool stage that included England and Australia, before losing to South Africa in the last eight.

Warren Gatland will be returning to New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup
Getty Images - Getty

Gatland will want to sign off in style before taking over as head coach of Super Rugby side Chiefs in his native New Zealand.

Strength in depth may hurt Wales as the tournament progresses but they are a reasonable bet to make it out of Pool D.

They are already without Taulupe Faletau and Gareth Anscombe and any more injuries could hurt them.

Their preparation has been far from ideal with coach Rob Howley sent home amid a betting investigation.

Key player

Alun Wyn Jones – lock

The Wales captain may be 34 but he is still at his peak and his country will need all of his 128 caps of experience if they are to progress.

Jones is one of the best in the world at his position and can drag Wales through matches if he is required.

Alun Wyn Jones is two matches away from being Wales’ most capped player
AFP or licensors

Full squad

Forwards; Jake Ball (lock), Adam Beard (lock), Rhys Carre (prop), James Davies (flanker), Elliot Dee (hooker), Ryan Elias (hooker), Tomas Francis (prop), Cory Hill (lock), Wyn Jones (prop), Alun Wyn Jones (lock), Dillon Lewis (prop), Ross Moriarty (No. 8), Josh Navidi (flanker), Ken Owens (hooker), Aaron Shingler (flanker), Nicky Smith (prop), Justin Tipuric (flanker), Aaron Wainwright (flanker).

Backs; Josh Adams (wing), Hallam Amos(wing), Dan Biggar (fly-half), Aled Davies (scrum-half), Gareth Davies (scrum-half), Jonathan Davies (centre), Leigh Halfpenny (full-back), George North (wing), Hadleigh Parkes (centre), Rhys Patchell (fly-half), Owen Watkin (centre), Liam Williams (utility back), Tomos Williams (scrum-half).

Fixtures

Monday, September 23 – Georgia (11.15am)

Sunday, September 29 – Australia (8.45am)

Wednesday, October 9 – Fiji (10.45am)

Sunday, October 13 – Uruguay (9.15am)

Prediction

Quarter-finals

Scotland

Scotland are inconsistent at best and on their day they can cause real problems for the top sides, as England found out at their cost in their last two Calcutta Cup clashes.

The bad days often outweigh the good ones and a strong performance is normally followed by an implosion.

Scotland are easy on the eye with lots of skill and pace but lack the ball-carrying up front to grind out results when Plan A fails.

Key Player

Finn Russell – fly-half

On his day, Russell can be a world beater and virtually unplayable but when he is having an off day then the rest of the team seems to follow.

He has scored 137 points in 46 matches for Scotland and has flourished with Racing 92 at club level.

Finn Russell replaced All Blacks legend Dan Carter at Racing 92
Getty Images - Getty

“The Six Nations was up and down. Against Italy the first half was great, then we let in three late tries,” Russell said before the World Cup. “We had a good first period against Ireland too but slipped off again. Then the England game [a 38-38 draw at Twickenham, in which Scotland trailed by 31 points] was like that but in reverse.

“What was frustrating was we never really managed to put in an 80-minute performance. In a World Cup against the best teams on the planet you have to put in a 80-minute display every game.

“But it should be the real Scotland we see now. This is the main stage, the World Cup, so if it’s not the real Scotland we see then it will be disappointing for all of us.”

Full squad

Forwards; John Barclay (flanker), Simon Berghan (prop), Fraser Brown (hooker), Scott Cummings (lock), Allan Dell (prop), Zander Fagerson (prop), Grant Gilchrist (lock), Jonny Gray (lock), Stuart McInally (hooker), Willem Nel (prop), Gordon Reid (prop), Jamie Ritchie (flanker), Blade Thomson (back-row), Ben Toolis (lock), George Turner (hooker), Hamis Watson (flanker), Ryan Wilson (No. 8).

Backs; Darcy Graham (wing), Chris Harris (centre), Adam Hastings (fly-half), Stuart Hogg (full-back), George Horne (scrum-half), Pete Horne (utility back), Sam Johnson (centre), Blair Kinghorn (full-back), Greig Laidlaw (scrum-half), Sean Maitland (wing), Ali Price (scrum-half), Finn Russell (fly-half), Tommy Seymour (wing), Duncan Taylor (centre).

Fixtures

Sunday, September 22 – Ireland (8.45am)

Monday, September 30 – Samoa (11.15am)

Wednesday, October 9 – Russia (8.15am)

Sunday, October 13 – Japan (11.45am)

Prediction

Pool Stage

Ireland

Ireland went to number one in the world with their warm-up victory over Wales in Dublin as the early indicators for the tournament are good.

Remarkably, only once has the World Cup not been won by a side not occupying that top ranking spot.

Ireland’s record at the tournament has been dismal, though, and they have never won a knockout match in their history.

Their win over New Zealand last November was a sign that they can be world beaters but their recent loss to England may have concerned head coach Joe Schmidt.

They have been handed a relatively kind pool but are likely to face South Africa or New Zealand in the quarter-final.

Key player

Johnny Sexton – fly-half

The world’s best player has had his injury scares ahead of the tournament and a slight dip in form during the Six Nations was uncharacteristic.

Ireland’s hopes will be linked to how well Sexton can perform at the tournament and at 34 it is now or never to guide his side to glory (or at least a knockout win).

Johnny Sexton was named as the best player in the world in 2018
AFP

Full-squad

Forwards; Rory Best (hooker), Tadhg Beirne (lock), Jack Conan (flanker), Sean Cronin (hooker), Tadhg Furlong (prop), Cian Healy (prop), Iain Henderson (lock), Dave Kilcoyne (prop), Jean Kleyn (lock), Peter O’Mahony (flanker), Andrew Porter (prop), Rhys Ruddock (flanker), James Ryan (lock), John Ryan (prop), Niall Scannell (hooker), CJ Stander (flanker), Josh van der Flier (flanker).

Backs; Bundee Aki (centre), Joey Carbery (fly-half), Jack Carty (fly-half), Andrew Conway (utility back), Keith Earls (utility back), Chris Farrell (centre), Robbie Henshaw (centre), Rob Kearney (full-back), Jordan Larmour (wing), Luke McGrath (scrum-half), Conor Murray (scrum-half), Garry Ringrose (centre), Johnny Sexton (fly-half), Jacob Stockdale (wing).

Fixtures

Sunday, September 22 – Scotland (8.45am)

Saturday, September 28 – Japan (8.15am)

Thursday, October 3 – Russia (11.45am)

Saturday, October 12 – Samoa (11.45am)

Prediction

Quarter-final

England obliterate Ireland at Twickenham as Manu Tuilagi stars during 57-15 rout on the eve of the World Cup

24 Aug

England issued a powerful statement ahead of the World Cup by annihilating Ireland 57-15 at Twickenham in a victory which set records for highest score and greatest winning margin against their Six Nations rivals.

Tries in each half by Joe Cokanasiga and additional touch downs from Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Tom Curry and Luke Cowan-Dickie indicated Eddie Jones’ men will be genuine contenders in Japan this autumn.

Manu Tuilagi was dangerous with and without the ball at Twickenham
AFP or licensors

At the heart of a second triumph of the summer’s four warm-up Tests was man of the match Tuilagi, who bristled with power and intent that tormented a vulnerable Irish defence that fell to pieces in the second-half.

It was Joe Schmidt’s team who took first blood through an early Jordan Larmour try, but their hopes of clinching the win that would lift them to the summit of the global rankings at the expense of Wales quickly disintegrated.

The greatest danger England faced was not from impotent Ireland but sunburn as Twickenham roasted in temperatures that peaked at 30 degrees, yet they were well equipped for broiling conditions having spent 10 days in a heat camp in Treviso.

Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola were magnificent up-front, while George Ford is arguing a strong case to reclaim the fly-half duties for the World Cup, but players excelled across the whole starting XV.

Joe Cokanasiga terrorised Ireland all afternoon at Twickenham
AFP or licensors

While England fans will be daring to dream would could unfold in Japan this autumn, their Irish counterparts must be questioning whether a team that laboured to third place in the Six Nations are in full reverse.

And to add misfortune to misery, they also came off worse on the injury count as Cian Healy suffered an ankle injury before Conor Murray was withdrawn at half-time having earlier passed a Head Injury Assessment.

When is the next British and Irish Lions tour? Warren Gatland confirmed as Head Coach for South Africa tests

12 Jun

Warren Gatland has confirmed he will take charge of his third British and Irish Lions tour when they make the trip to South Africa.

Gatland lead the Lions to a dramatic series draw against New Zealand in 2017 and a 2-1 series win over Australia in 2013.

Warren Gatland will take charge of his third British and Irish Lions tour in South Africa in 2021
getty

The Kiwi is now set to do so again when Home Nations team travel to the face the Springboks.

Gatland will relinquish his role as Wales boss after the upcoming World Cup and will then start his official Lions duties in August 2020.

That’ll give him plenty of time to consider his options for the trip to Africa along with new Lions Chairman Jason Leonard and first full-time managing director Ben Calveley.

British and Irish Lions tour: When is it?

The Lions will head to South Africa for their tour in the summer of 2021.

While exact dates have not been confirmed as of yet, the tour will likely take place throughout June and culminate in early July.

The 2021 tour will be shorter than recent editions of the showpiece event.

The Lions have tended to play ten matches during the trips but will compete in a total of eight games this time around.

That will include a three-match test series against South Africa plus five additional games against local teams.

Warren Gatland ‘s Lions drew with New Zealand on their tour in 2017
getty

British and Irish Lions tour: What has Warren Gatland said?

On being confirmed as the Lions Head Coach once again, Gatland said: “I’m hugely honoured and delighted to lead the Lions again.

“It is exciting and a great challenge to coach the best players from the four Home Nations.

“The Lions rightly have a truly special place in the game and I jumped at the chance to be involved again when I was approached about the role.

“South Africa is a special place to play rugby.

“They have some of the most iconic stadiums in the world which will be packed full of passionate fans, and the Springboks have shown in recent times that they are back to being one of the dominant forces in the game.

“Having toured there in 2009 I know the scale of the task ahead of us – playing in South Africa presents a number of unique challenges such as playing at altitude, while the Boks will always be physical, aggressive and highly motivated.

“History tells you it’s a tough place to tour, but I am 100 per cent confident that we can go there and win. I would not be here if I thought differently.

“I’m delighted to now have everything in place to begin full-time in August 2020 as that gives me the best possible chance to plan for South Africa, but for the time being my focus is entirely on the Rugby World Cup and delivering a successful campaign for Wales.”

Wales 25-7 Ireland: Wales claim Six Nations Grand Slam after dominant victory over Ireland

16 Mar

Wales completed their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2012 after thrashing Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.

They needed just one try and several kicks from the excellent Gareth Anscombe to comfortably take the title after the dominant 25-7 win.

Hadleigh Parkes scores Wales’ try

It took Grand Slam-chasing Wales less than two minutes to cross for their first try. Gareth Anscombe’s perfectly-weighted kick over the Ireland defence was taken by Hadleigh Parkes who had the simple task of finishing the move.

The try was converted to give Wales a 7-0 lead and the dream start in Cardiff.

Parkes followed up his early try by pulling off a try-saving tackle on the marauding Jacob Stockdale to cement that early advantage.

Gareth Davies runs away from Conor Murray

George North departed due to injury in a blow to the hosts however, with Dan Biggar joining the fray at fly-half, Anscombe moving to full-back and Liam Williams to the wing.

Anscombe landed a long-range penalty to stretch Wales’ lead to 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Ireland failed to master the conditions, with the driving rain causing the visitors more problems than the composed hosts.

Ireland’s decision to leave the Principality Stadium roof open appeared to backfire significantly therefore, with Gatland’s men never looking likely to relinquish control.

Anscombe’s excellent afternoon continued with two more expertly-struck penalties to put the home side in total control at 16-0 at the break.

Anscombe’s fourth penalty pushed Wales into an even more commanding position to kick-start the second half.

Gareth Anscombe collects a high ball

And when Sexton punted the restart out on the full, it appeared Wales’ glory march was almost nailed on with half an hour to go.

CJ Stander was pinged for not rolling away in yet another poor penalty concession from Ireland, and once again Anscombe booted the points to twist the knife.

Wales’ 22-0 lead on the hour proved fully justified reward for their complete dominance.

Anscombe added another kick to put the result beyond the reach of Ireland.

The visitors did get on the scoreboard late on but it was a mere consolation.

Six Nations 2019 permutations explained: Can England or Ireland win it? Will bonus points come into play?

15 Mar

This season’s Six Nations is set for a thrilling conclusion today with three countries still in title contention.

Wales, England and Ireland can all win silverware with the former currently top of the table with four wins from four.

Wales take on Ireland this weekend while England face Scotland and there are a host of possible ways to where the trophy will end up.

Wales are in pole position in the Six Nations

What are the permutations?

  • Wales will win the Six Nations title and clinch a first Grand Slam for seven years if they beat Ireland in Cardiff.
  • If Wales and England finish level on 20 points, which is quite possible, then Wales will still be crowned champions as Grand Slam winners are automatically awarded three bonus points under Six Nations rules.
  • A draw between Wales and Ireland – and England losing to Scotland at Twickenham – would see Wales win the title without a Grand Slam.
  • A draw between Wales and Ireland – and England beating Scotland – would see England crowned champions.
  • If Ireland beat Wales and England defeat Scotland, then England will be champions.
  • If Ireland beat Wales and England fail to beat Scotland, then Ireland will be champions.
  • If Ireland beat Wales and gain a bonus point and England beat Scotland but don’t gain a bonus point, then England will be champions due to their superior points difference barring an unlikely 65-point swing in Ireland’s favour.

What about the bonus points system?

A bonus point is awarded in the Six Nations if you score four or more tries or if you lose within seven points.

England have been at their attacking best at times in this tournament claiming three bonus points in their matches so far.

But Wales have had to make do with collecting just the four points per win and are yet to get any extras.

England take on Scotland in the final weekend of the Six Nations

Yet, if Warren Gatland’s side go onto win all five matches, they are automatically awarded three bonus points for achieving the Grand Slam.

This would ensure they lift the Six Nations title, even if England get maximum points in their final fixture.

England can only get 20 points at most in tournament, while Wales will get a minimum 23 points if they remain undefeated.

What are the remaining Six Nations fixtures?

Saturday, March 16

Italy v France: 12:30pm, Stadio Olimpico

Wales v Ireland: 2:45pm, Millennium Stadium

England v Scotland: 5pm, Twickenham

Ireland can still win the Six Nations

Ireland 26-14 France: Joe Schmidt’s men maintain faint Six Nations hopes with bonus-point victory over hapless French

10 Mar

Three teams are in contention to win this year’s Six Nations after Ireland kept alive their hopes with a 26-14 victory over France at the Aviva Stadium.

Joe Schmidt’s men also secured a bonus-point win after scoring four tries with the French going over twice in the final five minutes.

However, the Irish will need to win against Wales, who are chasing the Grand Slam, in Cardiff and also need England to not beat Scotland at Twickenham.

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Ireland vs France: Flanker Sean O’Brien omitted from Joe Schmidt’s squad for Six Nations clash

8 Mar

Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien has been left out the squad for their Six Nations clash against France on Sunday.

The British and Irish Lions man, 32, put in a below-par performance during Ireland’s lacklustre 26-16 victory over Italy in Rome.

O’Brien in action for Ireland against Italy last month

Josh Van Der Flier is starting in his stead at openside, while the fit-again Garry Ringrose will feature at outside centre with Robbie Henshaw still battling a dead leg.

Meanwhile, Iain Henderson returns after finger trouble at lock and CJ Stander at number eight.

Munster star Stander suffered a nasty broken cheekbone in Ireland’s opening-weekend 32-20 loss to England in Dublin, but has recovered quickly to step back into boss Joe Schmidt’s team.

Ireland have restored all available big guns after a mix-and-match line-up to take on the Italians, with captain Rory Best back at hooker and Cian Healy also starting at loosehead prop.

Schmidt confirmed O’Brien’s omission was on form, with the Ireland boss excited by Van Der Flier starting in the back-row.

“With Sean, Jack Conan was going to be given the opportunity against Scotland and he didn’t get that, so we wanted to give him the chance.

“Josh Van Der Flier hasn’t let us down at all. So it’s a perfect opportunity to put him back in there, so he’s very much keen and ready to go.

“This selection is about giving a bit more opportunity, great to have CJ back in there, James Ryan, Rory Best.”

Joe Schmidt has decided to leave O’Brien out of the squad to face France at the Aviva Stadium

Schmidt added: “Jack Conan was initially due to start against Scotland, so we wanted to give him an opportunity to get back in with a foot in the door and demonstrate what he can do off the bench.

“And to spread the opportunity again at hooker and at prop.

“As tempted as we were with Tadhg Beirne, he’s just been a little bit sore this week coming back from injury. He was in the mix but he’s going to get the weekend off, to come back in refreshed and train next week.

“Ultan Dillane has played very well for us, so we wanted to reward his performance in Italy.”

Italy 16-26 Ireland: Defending Six Nations champions labour in Rome as Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton struggle

24 Feb

Ireland tiptoed away from Rome with an unconvincing 26-16 Guinness Six Nations victory, claiming the four-try bonus point but suffering a serious scare from Conor O’Shea’s men.

Quinn Roux, Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls and Conor Murray crossed for an Ireland side who are still struggling for fluency and rhythm.

Stockdale helped Ireland to an unconvincing win against Italy

Edoardo Padovani and Luca Morisi bagged tries for Italy to lead 16-12 at half-time, but Ireland edged home to leave the Azzurri still without a Six Nations win under O’Shea’s stewardship.

Ireland’s niggles were underlined by Johnny Sexton muttering angrily to himself and kicking out in frustration when he was replaced late on for Jack Carty to make his Test debut.

Bundee Aki suffered a head injury and Sexton played through a minor leg problem that led to Murray taking over goal-kicking duties.

Head coach Joe Schmidt wanted Ireland – and chiefly half-backs Murray and Sexton – to rediscover the rhythm which underscored their stellar 2018.

Sexton cut a frustrated figure in Rome

That fluency continues to elude Ireland and their British and Irish Lions playmakers, but Schmidt’s men must at least be credited for emerging unscathed from a tricky situation.

Captain on the day Peter O’Mahony admitted beforehand that Ireland’s 22-15 defeat to Italy in Rome in 2013 still sends shivers down his spine.

The Munster flanker led his men to avoid any further such trauma at the Stadio Olimpico then, but this was another Ireland performance littered with indiscipline and inaccuracy.

Roux and Stockdale handed the visitors the perfect start with two tries in the first quarter, but Ireland had already wasted several scoring platforms by that point.

Padovani is congratulated by his teammates after scoring for Italy

Connacht lock Roux capped a 19-phase move by ploughing in for Ireland’s first try, with Stockdale then exploiting a cheap Italy knock-on to canter home almost unimpeded.

Both Italy tries came from Ireland errors, first Ireland overthrew a line-out in their own 22 and Italy pounced, Tommaso Allan firing a ball over the top for Padovani to nip home.

Then Tito Tebaldi pinched the ball at the base of an Ireland ruck to spark a field-length counter-attack which ended in centre Morisi powering over the whitewash.

Ireland’s half-time problems could even have been worse, had full-back Rob Kearney been punished for what appeared a deliberate block on Tebaldi.

Conor Murray is struggling to replicate his form from 2018 for Joe Schmidt’s side

The marauding Italy scrum-half chased his chip deep in Ireland territory when Kearney stepped into his path and sent him tumbling.

Referee Glen Jackson ignored the incident entirely though, in a clear let-off for Schmidt’s men.

Ireland improved after the break, though in truth not nearly enough to touch anything like the heights of the 2018 that included the Grand Slam and the November win over New Zealand.

Earls stepped his way over the line to wrestle back Ireland’s lead, before Murray’s sniping finish secured the try bonus.

Munster flyer Earls so nearly claimed the score of the match, only to be dragged down mere metres short. Italy fell for the latest Schmidt special move, with this one seeing Sexton run a wraparound decoy line allowing Earls to blast through midfield.

Hauled down just shy of the line though, his pass fell astray and the move broke down.

Job done for Ireland in the end, but precious little else, leaving Schmidt’s men needing to step up several levels to face France and Grand Slam-chasing Wales.

Scotland 13-22 Ireland: Joe Schmidt’s men get back to winning ways at Murrayfield despite Jonny Sexton injury

9 Feb

Joey Carbery steered Ireland to a redemptive but gritty 22-13 Guinness Six Nations victory over Scotland, as Joe Schmidt’s men got back to winning ways in Edinburgh.

Johnny Sexton suffered a nasty-looking facial injury as the British and Irish Lions talisman was targeted with huge hits from the hosts, leaving Munster fly-half Carbery to pilot Ireland home.

Carbery stepped up in the absence of Sexton

Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls all crossed for Ireland, while Sam Johnson replied for Scotland with Greig Laidlaw posting eight points from the boot.

Sexton’s understudy Carbery so nearly fluffed his lines when throwing an intercept pass to Finn Russell, who raced on and popped off the ground for Johnson to score.

But the 23-year-old Carbery quickly found his place in the script, wriggling free and lofting out a fine pass for Earls to score the winning try.

Scotland lost Lions full-back Stuart Hogg to a shoulder injury, with Gregor Townsend’s men unable to add enough industry to their impressive finesse.

Conor Murray went over for Ireland to start the scoring

Ireland failed to convince for long stretches in their search for a riposte following last weekend’s punishing 32-20 home loss to England.

Scrum-half Murray again struggled with his kicking out of hand, and Sexton only lasted 24 minutes before being withdrawn, with Scotland constantly targeting him physically.

Schmidt’s men found the route to victory however, and having been so shaken and bullied by England last week, he will take this win any which way.

Ireland tiptoed to half-time with an unconvincing 12-10 lead, somehow fending off strong Scotland pressure.

Sam Johnson replied for Scotland

Murray’s poor kicking and further inaccuracy gifted Scotland plenty of territory and possession, with Russell a constant threat on the ball.

Laidlaw slotted a penalty to put Scotland first on the board, only for Ireland to strike back through huge fortune.

Tommy Seymour should have comfortably dealt with Stockdale’s chip over the top, but instead flung a wild pass that eluded the helpless Sean Maitland.

Murray nipped onto the loose ball and scooted across the line, but curiously the half-back did not dot down under the posts.

Keith Earls crossed later for Schmidt’s men

Sexton duly missed the conversion, but Ireland eased those frustrations with another quick-fire score.

Peter O’Mahony’s midfield switch with Sexton opened the door for an inside ball to Stockdale, and the Ulster winger screamed home in style.

Murray slotted the conversion, as the big hits started to take their toll on Sexton, for Ireland to lead 12-3.

Just when Ireland looked to kick on though, further errors invited Scotland back into the contest.

Jacob Stockdale raced away to extend their first half lead

Sexton was forced to admit defeat in his battle to stay in the game, trotting off with a bloodied nose and facial injury.

His replacement Carbery looked to have settled quickly, but then threw a wild interception pass that Russell gobbled up and hared towards the line.

Earls hunted down Russell in style, but the Racing 92 fly-half kept his cool and popped off the ground to the onrushing Johnson, who finished neatly.

Laidlaw’s conversion had Scotland trailing by just two points, and Ireland’s panic set in.

Sexton’s injury will be concern for the Irish

Another poor Murray box kick gifted the hosts the ball, Carbery fumbled rather than collected and Earls had to sweep and roll into touch just five metres out.

Ireland disrupted the line-out but Rory Best had to touch down over his own line under pressure from Stuart McInally.

Scotland twice fended off the visitors to open the second half, only to concede a poor score.

Carbery wriggled through heavy midfield traffic, arced wide and floated a fine pass out to Earls, who nipped home.

Munster pivot Carbery slotted the conversion for Ireland to lead 19-10 approaching the hour.

Laidlaw and Carbery exchanged penalties as Ireland maintained that nine-point advantage, and so it stayed, leaving Ireland mightily relieved to head home with the win.