With England’s early departure from the Rugby World Cup there was concern that the event would fall flat. Well the English may not be at the party but the other nations very much are and rugby fans regardless of team are making this the biggest and best tournament on record. Continue reading
Six Nations – as we enter the last week of the Six Nations tournament its time to review performances of the players.
There was much controversy this week on Twitter with the announcement of the Six Nations Top Player vote which was restricted to only those who had received Six Nations Man of the Match Awards. As a result many names which have broken through during this campaign were notable absentees.
In a year that saw Wales break the jinx of their record at Twickenham, a match called off just minutes before kick-off for a frozen pitch which might have broken bones and Scotland breaking records and the hearts of their fans as they failed to win, I decided to pick my Six Nations starting 15.
A Celtic Six Nations team in the main, it reflects the strength of these countries not least the Welsh who took the triple Crown and stand on the brink of a Grand Slam. Just the ever unpredictable French stand between them and history. George North at only 19 has powered his way onto the scene to cement his place after the recent retirement of Welsh winger, Shane Williams.
The Irish promise much and team spirit shines through in this Six Nations. Brian O’Driscoll has been absent for all the matches as expected and his flair has been missed but the team have rallied and its given new players a chance to take on the mantel. A close match against Wales, a false start (no start) against the French only to draw when well ahead saw them rally to beat the Scots and Italians. As with the Rugby World Cup we hoped for better and I expect next year to see this Irish Team take on the Welsh and win.
Scotland have all the Six Nations stats behind them, except number of tries scored. This inability to convert possession into points continues to plague the blues. Good young players in Denton and Ritchie made my 15 and with Ross Rennie, who shows a turn of pace which may just make the difference, Scotland surely must come good soon.
Despite England’s untried line up, the new blood has shown team spirit in this Six Nations and some skill to carve out victories, losing only narrowly and controversially to the Welsh so far. Owen Farrell could easily have made my 15 and in the year Wilkinson announced his retirement surely his successor to the England no 10 is ready to go.
No Italians, despite their continued improvement in the Six Nations and my old friend Martin Castrogiovanni’s miraculous return from injury to play in the final match. Sergio Parisse is always, a standout leader for the Italians.
And Les Bleus? No under soil heating, no players revolt (yet) and no direction on the pitch but with small glimmers in Six Nations matches they continue to defy the odds and win (or draw) where all hope seemed lost.
So here are the names which made my Six Nations 15. Think you can do better? Tweet me @LineoutCoach
Six Nations Forwards
1 – Cian Healy
Immensely powerful scrummager and always prevalent in the loose. Getting better each Six Nations.
2 – Rory Best
Promoted to Captain of Ireland after Paul O’Connells injury. Leads by example and is technically very sound. Scored 2 tries in this Six Nations so far.
3 – Dan Cole
Cole is a protégé of English and Leicester Tigers legend, Graham Rowntree. For years Rowntree has worked closely with Dan Cole, teaching him about the technique and nuances of the position of prop. Cole has obviously been a willing student and is turning into one of the best tight head props in world rugby.
4 – Paul O’Connell
Captained Ireland in the absence of Brian O’Driscoll in this Six Nations. Ireland are fortunate to have such experience and leadership to choose from. Both men have captained the British & Irish Lions. O’Connell is undoubtably one of the greatest second rows in world rugby. Has been very unfortunate with so many injuries in recent years and miss out on Six Nations appearances.
5 – Richie Gray
Scotland’s standout player in the 2012 Six Nations. Gray is incredibly athletic and mobile for a second row. Gray has a big future in the game. Scored one of the best tries of the Six Nations tournament.
6 – Dan Lydiate
Immense in defense for Wales. Wales boast the best defensive statistic for the Six Nations tournament and Lydiate is one of the main reasons for that. He never stops tackling and works incredibly hard around the contact area.
7 – Tom Croft
One of the fastest back rows players in world rugby. Croft provides England with mobility, speed and a fantastic lineout option. Croft displayed his lightning speed against France by scoring the game winning try.
8 – David Denton
Denton has burst onto the international scene with some very impressive performances in this year’s Six Nations. Denton is a powerful ball carrier and one of Scotland’s outstanding forwards.
Six Nations Backs
9 – Mike Phillips
Everything you want from a scrum half, quick, abrasive and a leader.
10 – Johnny Sexton
I played a lot of rugby with Johnny at school and at club level. It has been fantastic to watch him grow into the position of starting No. 10 for Ireland. I firmly believe that Sexton’s best years are still ahead of him and that he will be a future British & Irish Lions out half.
11 – Tommy Bowe
The Monaghan winger returns home to his native Ulster next season and is a fantastic signing for the Province. Bowe is a lethal finisher and leads this year’s 6 Nations Top Try Scorer’s table with 5 tries.
12 – Wesley Fofana
Moves from Centre to Wing for the final weekend of 6 Nations Rugby. Fofana has scored in every one of France’s games in this year’s tournament and will be looking to continue that fantastic try scoring run against Wales.
13 – Manu Tuilagi
Tuilagi is a phenomenal rugby player. From the time he was in Leicester Tigers’ academy, he has always stood out. Now, at 21 years old, Tuilagi is continuing to stand out in this year’s Six Nations Tournament. It is uncommon for any rugby player to possess such an imposing pyhsical stature while also possessing incredible speed. Tuilagi demonstrated his lightning acceleration as he raced away to score a long ranch try against France. I imagine that Manu’s name is already on the starting team sheet for next year’s British and Irish Lions tour.
14 – George North
At only 19 years of age, North’s power, pace and size defy his age. He is a lethal ball carrier and quality finisher to boot. George North is another one of Wales’ emerging superstars.
15 – Leigh Halfpenny
Confirmed that Jonny Wilkinson is his kicking inspiration last week after coolly slotting home the game winning kick against Ireland in Dublin. Halfpenny admits to having sleepless nights after missing that difficult kick at goal against France in the last few moments of the Rugby World Cup semi final. Halfpenny has put those demons to rest and looks like one of Wales’ Six Nations standout players.
So that was the Six Nations 2012, lets see what 2013 has in store.
Gavin Hickie, The LineoutCoach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com
The Rugby World Cup 2011 kicks off in New Zealand in just over 3 weeks. Ireland played against Scotland last weekend and France yesterday. So, what have we learned? More importantly, what have the Irish coaching staff learned?
After losing against Scotland, Kidney made 8 changes to his starting side. Keep in mind that every player in the squad is desperate to get some game time and to prove they deserve to be on the plane to New Zealand. These games are always tricky for individual players. You are so desperate to play well that you can put too much pressure on yourself. Minor problems can manifest themselves until they become huge issues. This happened yesterday to Ireland’s lineouts. If ever there was proof needed that lineouts are of vital importance to winning or losing a game, yesterday was it. For a number of reasons Rory Best’s throws were not finding their intended targets consistently and this played a huge part in the outcome of the game.
For the second week in a row, Leo Cullen captained the Irish rugby team. Having played on the same team as Leo for Leinster and Leicester Tigers, I believe there are few better pack leaders and lineout callers than him. Cullen is second to none at spotting the hole in opposition’s lineout defence and calling appropriate lineouts to expose those holes. He has intelligence and communicates the calls very clearly. As a hooker, I was always full of confidence knowing that Leo was in charge of the lineouts and making the calls. I have no doubt that Cullen himself will be very disappointed with how Ireland’s lineout plays went yesterday.
There are many facets to lineout play. The pack leader must spot where the defence is weak and call accordingly. The lifters must ensure that they lock their arms out at full extension, lifting the jumpers to their maximum height. Hookers must throw the ball accurately while under pressure from the opposition jumpers. Unless all of these components are working in harmony, the chances are, the lineout will be lost. The importance of securing lineout ball cannot be overstated. It is from lineouts that backs can launch attacks and commence building the phases. Starving teams of their lineout ball is a very effective way to nulify their attack. This is precisely what happened in yesterday’s game.
Best and Cullen are both seasoned professional rugby players. They have played rugby at the top level for years and performed consistently throughout their careers. Their ability cannot be called into question. Over the past few years’ Ireland’s lineouts have been very accurate and consistent. As a team, they have worked hard to ensure that they can rely on their lineout possession. They have recognized the importance of obtaining quality ball from their set piece. So, with this in mind, what was the problem yesterday?
Hookers hate throwing crooked lineouts. It is a horrible feeling knowing all eyes are you because you made a mistake. It can play over and over on your mind and distract you from the rest of your game. The frustration of throwing one crooked throw can lead to a hookers’ throws falling to pieces. Along with place kicking, it is a specialist skill performed by an individual within the team. Kickers are judged on how many points they kick and hookers are judged on how many lineout throws reach their intended target. Pressure applied by opposition lineout jumpers competing for the ball often causes hookers to throw crooked balls. Best was penalized for a crooked throw yesterday but that wasn’t the extent of Ireland’s woes.
France have obviously worked hard on their defensive lineouts. Consistently they ensured they had two defensive pods competing for Ireland’s lineout throws. Every time Best (and later Flannery) threw into Ireland’s lineout, they had to navigate the ball between two outstretched French jumpers. The more accurate the throw must be, the more pressure the hooker comes under. I am a big advocate of competing for the opposition’s lineouts. Cutting the opposing team’s possession off at the source saves a lot of energy and obviously maintaing possession of the ball, wins games. I was dismayed by the lack of competition by Ireland during France’s lineouts. Very little meaningful pressure was applied to the French lineout. This guaranteed France easy possession of the ball. In turn, this allowed them to create a lot more attack phases then Ireland. Olivier Magne was appointed as the French lineout coach recently. This is an area they have been working on and it showed yesterday. They could have a very effective defensive lineout come World Cup time.
Many players on both sides yesterday were playing their first game of the season yesterday, added to this was the heat. It was reportedly 30 degrees celsius at 7pm in Bordeaux yesterday. Playing your first game of the season is tough but playing your first game of the season in those conditions is extremely energy draining. Hopefully these factors are to blame for the sub par lineout lifting by Ireland. On more then one occassian, Ireland’s lifters were slow to react to their jumper. If a lineout jumper is not lifted properly by his lifters he will not be able to get to the ball. Hookers throw the ball to an imaginary target “zone” and rely on the jumper to get to the ball. In order to get to where the ball is thrown, the jumper must ensure his two lifters give him their maximum lift every time. This was not the case yesterday.
It should be noted that Paul O’Connell’s appearance early in the second half made a big difference to Ireland’s lineouts. O’Connell’s presence undoubtedly has a big impact on his team mates. He is a true warrior and will play an integural part in Ireland’s World Cup campaign. I would like to see Cullen and O’Connell play in the second row together. Rarely have the two players been on the same team and I believe they could be our best second row partnership.
Next week, Ireland are at home to France in another World Cup warm up game. Ireland will spend a lot of time on their lineouts during training the week. They are aware that their lineouts need to improve and they will address this. Coach Declan Kidney has stressed that the results of these warm up games are not important. He is right. However, Ireland have played two games and lost two games. Winning is a habit and Ireland need to get into that habit next weekend.