Six Nations Preview: Ireland

Head Coach: Joe Schmidt

Stadium: Aviva Stadium (Capacity: 51,700)

Captain: Rory Best

IRB World Ranking: 4th

Last Season: 3rd

Prediction: 2nd

Ireland had a fairly average tournament by their high standards last season finishing behind England and Wales.

Ireland had an outstanding autumn which started with a historic victory over the All Blacks in Chicago, and although they were beaten by New Zealand two weeks after that, the result is a significant one.

They also managed a win over Australia and thrashed Canada in their other two internationals over the course of November.

The pack was outstanding, tireless defence with pace and aggression was the foundations for the win in Chicago. The set piece is also a very strong part of the Irish game.

Ireland do look well ahead of many of their opponents with England looking like the only other realistic title contender after strong years for both sides.

In the forwards CJ Stander just keeps improving, his defence is powerful and his attacking runs are extremely important, puncturing holes round the fringes, making the hard yards for his club or country.henshae

Robbie Henshaw is well and truly in control of the Lions midfield as we head towards the Six Nations. The centre is a proper centre, strong on the ball and a distributor able to open up space for his dangerous wide men.

Ireland only have two home games but they have the massive advantage of playing England in Dublin, that is a hugely beneficial result for Ireland. The trips to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Rome should not pose too much of a challenge.

Ireland will feel they can win this tournament and Joe Schmidt will be targeting a Grand Slam, the game against England will likely be a tournament showdown to decide the champion what a wonderful way that would be for Ireland to cap a truly outstanding year. South Africa, defeated, New Zealand defeated, Australia, defeated, England, maybe.

Fixtures

v Scotland, BT Murrayfield, 14:25, Saturday 4th February

v Italy, Stadio Olimpico, 14:25, Saturday 11th February

v France, Aviva Stadium, 16:50, Saturday 25th February

v Wales, Principality Stadium, 20:05, Friday 10th March

v England, Aviva Stadium, 17:00, Saturday 18th March

My Ireland XV

1 Jack McGrath (Leinster) 2 Rory Best (Captain, Ulster) 3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster) 4 Iain Henderson (Ulster) 5 Devin Toner (Leinster) 6 CJ Stander (Munster) 7 Sean O’Brien (Leinster) 8 Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

9 Conor Murray (Munster) 10 Jonny Sexton (Leinster) 11 Andrew Trimble (Ulster) 12 Robbie Henshaw (Leinster) 13 Jared Payne (Ulster) 14 Simon Zebo (Munster) 15 Rob Kearney (Leinster)

Advertisements

Aviva Premiership Preview: Bristol Rugby

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Andy Robinson

Captain: Jack Lam

Stadium: Ashton Gate (Capacity: 27,000)

Last Season: Promoted

Prediction: 10th

The long wait was finally over for Bristol, they secured promotion back to the Premiership at the seventh time of asking and they have made some serious progress.

There are a number of star names in the Bristol camp, a man with Gavin Henson’s CV is always going to be a talented player pair that with the new duo of Jordan Crane and Tusi Pisi and the squad has quality.

lam

Bristol captain, Jack Lam.

Bristol have a creative backline led by Samoan fly-half Pisi and the creative midfield should give space to the pace and flair of the quicker players out wide such as former Leicester and Wasps winger Varndell.

The pack is match for most Premiership sides without having any big names and lacking internationals. They should not encounter much in the way of trouble.

THREE TO WATCH

Gavin Henson

Position: Fly-Half/ Centre  Nationality: Welsh  Age: 34  Height: 1.83m  Weight: 100kg

The playmaker has it all as an inside centre, he kicks, passes and tackles well, his pace is not quite what it used to be as he enters his mid-thirties but his playmaking ability make him a valuable player.

Henson also brings international experience and a big game knowledge to a team lacking much of that, he is among a splattering of internationals brought in by Andy Robinson to help Bristol acclimatise to the high level Premiership and Challenge Cup games they will face.

Jack Lam

Position: Flanker  Nationality: Samoan  Age: 28  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 103kg

A ferocious tackler who’s size makes the tackle area a really difficult area to establish any dominance against the Bristol skipper. This coupled with effective breakdown work sees the Bristol captain dominate the immediate tackle situation.

Lam is also no stranger to attack and is more than happy to pop up on the inside shoulder of a fly-half to terrorise opposition tens.

Tom Varndell

Positon: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 30  Height: 1.88m  Weight: 101kg

Varndell is an absolutely unbelievable finisher, up there with the likes of Cueto and Hanley he can score from anywhere due to his pace. He adds some ‘X Factor’ to the Bristol backline.

VARNDELL.jpg

Varndell in action for Bristol.

The 30 year old will be Robinson’s main attacking outlet this season, and it is a joy to ahve the talented winger back in the Premiership.

TRANSFERS

IN (13)

Luke Arscott (Bath Rugby, ENG)

Ryan Bevington (Ospreys, WAL)

Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Nick Fenton-Wells (Bedford Blues, ENG)

Jon Fisher (Northampton Saints, ENG)

Will Hurrell (Doncaster Knights, ENG)

Giorgi Nemasadze (Tarbes, FRA)

Thretton Palamo (Saracens, ENG)

Tusi Pisi (Sunwolves, JAP)

Martin Roberts (Ospreys, WAL)

Soane Tonga’huia (Oyonnax, FRA)

Jordan Williams (Scarlets, WAL)

Rhodri Williams (Scarlets, WAL)

OUT (10)

Tommaso Benvenuti (Benneton Treviso, ITA)

Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, ENG)

Craif Hampson (Wasps, ENG)

Darren Hudson (Released, REL)

Marco Mama (Worcester Warriors, ENG)

Matthew Morgan (Cardiff Blues, WAL)

Josh Ovens (Released, REL)

Dwayne Peel (Retired, RET)

James Stephenson (Released, REL)

George Watkins (Jersey Reds, ENG)

Tusi Pisi is a good signing providing them with talent at fly-half. Arscott also has a lot of top level experience making him a clever capture along with number eight Crane. Everyone knows what Tonga’huia is capable of.

PISI.jpg

Pisi lining up a kick for the Sunwolves.

Genge is a hot prospect and will be missed especially as he is now gaining recognition from Eddie Jones. Mama is a good player and could have been hugely influential for Bristol. What a way for Dwayne Peel to end his career and a glittering one at that.

My Bristol Rugby 23

15 Luke Arscott 14 Tom Varndell 13 Will Hurrell 12 Gavin Henson 11 David Lemi 10 Tusi Pisi 9 Will Cliff

1 Soane Tonga’huia 2 Ross McMillan 3 Gaston Cortes 4 Mark Sorensen 5 Ian Evans 6 Jon Fisher 7 Jack Lam (Captain) 8 Jordan Crane

16 Chris Brooker 17 Ryan Bevington 18 Anthony Perenise 19 Joe Joyce 20 Olly Robinson 21 Martin Roberts 22 Thretton Palamo 23 Charlie Amesbury

Bristol will not be challenging for the top half but relegation doesn’t look likely.

Aviva Premiership Preview: Wasps

Director of Rugby/ Head Coach: Dai Young

Captain: Joe Launchbury

Stadium: Ricoh Arena (Capacity: 32,609)

Last Season: 3rd

Prediction: 4th

Wasps played some good rugby at times last season. The Coventry based club have been through a lot including moving home from Adams Park in Wycombe to Coventry.

They have some seriously impressive backs such as Christian Wade whose speed is just incredible, the young centre Elliott Daly is also a massively talented player. Dan Robson has become an exceptional scrum-half and even overtaken Joe Simpson in the Wasps pecking order.

DALY.jpg

Daly dives over for a try.

Wasps eagerness to play expansive rugby is admirable and the way they use their playmaker to open space is remarkable. The wide spaces are there to attack and Wasps do this perfectly using the power of Halai and the pace of Wade.

The balanced midfield last term was perfect however the recruitment of Kyle Eastmond and Kurtley Beale suggests a move away from a 12 in the mould of the now retired Ben Jacobs or international Siale Piutau.

THREE TO WATCH

Nathan Hughes

Position: Number Eight  Nationality: English  Age: 25 Height: 1.96m  Weight: 125kg

Hughes is a key man for Wasps at the line-out and open play. The number eight can make metres for the Wasps using his frightening turn of pace. His ability to change a game make him invaluable.

His incredible form has seen him called up to the England squad after qualifying on residency in July although Eddie Jones sees the giant Wasp as more of a flanker than a number eight.

Willie le Roux

Position: Fullback  Nationality: South African  Age: 27  Height: 1.85m  Weight: 90kg

The Springbok star joins Wasps on a short term deal and as currently one of the best counter attacking fullbacks on the planet along with Israel Dagg, Israel Folau and Stuart Hogg. He has electric feet and blistering pace.

LE ROUX.jpg

South Africa fullback, le Roux

le Roux also has quality in the air with a great ability at diffusing a situation using his powerful legs to control the skies.

Christian Wade

Position: Wing  Nationality: English  Age: 25  Height: 1.73m  Weight: 86kg

The winger is absolute pace and his speed has seen him on the peripheries of England on more than one occasion. He can beat defenders one on one no problem and his appetite for scoring tries is insatiable.

Defending remains a concern but make no mistake Wade is still brilliantly exciting as ever and he remains a constant threat.

TRANSFERS

IN (13)

Guy Armitage (London Welsh, ENG)

Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs, AUS)

Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Tom Cruse (London Irish, ENG)

Nick de Luca (Biarritz Olympique, FRA)

Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby, ENG)
Marcus Garratt (Cornish Pirates, ENG)

Craig Hampson (Bristol Rugby, ENG)

Wille le Roux (Natal Sharks, SAF)

Marty Moore (Leinster, IRE)

Matt Symons (London Irish, ENG)

Tommy Taylor (Sale Sharks, ENG)

Tom Woolstencroft (Bath Rugby, ENG)

OUT (12)

Lorezo Cittadini (Bayonne, FRA)

Bradley Davies (Ospreys, WAL)

James Downey (Retired, RET)

Carlo Festuccia (Zebre, ITA)

Ruaridh Jackson (Harlequins, ENG)

Ben Jacobs (Retired, RET)

Alex Lozowski (Saracens, ENG)

Andrea Masi (Retired, RET)

Charles Piutau (Ulster, IRE)

Ed Shervington (Retired, RET)

George Smith (Suntory Sungoliath, JAP and Queensland Reds, AUS)

Jamie Stevenson (London Scottish)

Two signings from the southern hemisphere stand out in the shape of le Roux and Beale adding real star quality. Danny Cipriani is also an impressive coup for the club. In the pack England hooker Taylor and Ireland prop Moore should bring some stability to the scrum and Symons is brilliant in the air. Furthermore captures of de Luca and Eastmond add depth to an already frightening backline.

BEALE

New signing, Kurtley Beale.

The departures of George Smith and Piutau will hurt as they were by far their best players last season. Davies will also be a loss and it is sad to see Masi, Jacobs and Downey into retirement. The losses of fly-half duo Jackson and Lozowski could hurt Wasps.

My Wasps 23

15 Willie le Roux 14 Christian Wade 13 Elliott Daly 12 Kurtley Beale 11 Frank Halai 10 Danny Cipriani 9 Dan Robson

1 Matt Mullan 2 Tommy Taylor 3 Jake Cooper-Wooley 4 Joe Launchbury (Captain) 5 Matt Symons 6 James Haskell 7 Thomas Young 8 Nathan Hughes

16 Ashley Johnson 17 Simon McIntyre 18 Marty Moore 19 James Gaskell 20 Sam Jones 21 Joe Simpson 22 Jimmy Gopperth 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau

Wasps will be deadly in attack but defence could prove to be a problem.

Summer Tours: Can the North Compete With the South?

All six European giants travel south this June to take on some form of opposition whilst England, Wales and Ireland all have three match test series, Scotland and France have two matches against their hosts and Italy have three assorted matches.

Italy- Tour of Americas

Italy have three tests this summer to see where they really are after a scathing Six Nations campaign in which they were thrashed by Ireland, Wales and England whilst also losing to Scotland convincingly and coming ever so close to France.

They face a very tough test against Argentina firstly before playing the USA and Canada. The Argentina game should be the hardest match for Italy, a fantastic World Cup campaign and with their Super Rugby franchise, los Jaguares playing well Argentina are in good health.

Italy seem to have found a new general at fly-half with Carlo Canna, a talented fly-half, he has some real pace and is not afraid to take on defenders using his pace and skills to punish defenders.

The man in midfield is able to direct play as well as he showed against France, his brain is switched on and making up his little partnership with Gori is exciting Italian fans.

canna

Carlo Canna lines up a kick.

Gori had an indifferent Six Nations and you could argue that Palazzani is the man to take Italy forward, his distribution was certainly slicker than Gori’s and he offers a turn of pace that Gori is simply incapable of.

One other back that was stand out is Michele Campagnaro, the Exeter centre was powerful using his upper body strength to swat away defenders that were left trailing in his wake.

Campagnaro is key player for Italy on this tour if he stays fit Italy have a prominent ball carrier in the backs, the backline can be built around him and add something to the traditionally strong pack.

What has not been said about Sergio Parisse, the leader, a man that is Italian rugby, he can at times try too hard to be the hero as was evident against France with his wayward drop goal.

Elsewhere in the forwards, lock Biagi looks an exciting prospect, the giant lock was athletic in the line out and has a high work rate around the park.

biagi

Biagi on the charge.

Italy must win the tests against USA and Canada to have any real credibility following this tour.

My Italy 23: 1 Andrea Lovotii (Zebre) 2 Davide Giazzon (Treviso) 3 Lorenzo Cittadini (Wasps) 4 George Biagi (Zebre) 5 Joshua Furno (Newcastle) 6 Francesco Minto (Treviso) 7 Simone Favaro (Glasgow) 8 Sergio Parisse (Captain, Stade Français)

9 Guglielmo Palazzani 10 Carlo Canna 11 Leonardo Sarto 12 Gonzalo Garcia (all Zebre) 13 Michele Campgnaro (Exeter) 14 Giovanbattista Venditti (Newcastle) 15 Luke McLean (Treviso)

Fixtures

vs. Argentina, Estadio B.G Estanislao Lopez, Santa Fe, 11th June

vs. United States of America, Avaya Stadium, San Jose, 18th June

vs. Canada, BMO Field, Toronto, 26th June

Predictions

Argentina (LOSE) USA (WIN) Canada (LOSE)

France- Tour of Argentina

France one again disappointing at the Six Nations despite Guy Noves becoming the new head coach, he has not done what Eddie Jones has. No rapid transformation and very little to suggest France are back.

In recent years it’s been too much about this powerful yet rarely effective forwards game. If France are to become a world force again they need to get back the flowing rugby, the backs scything open defences with ease. They certainly have the personnel.

Maxime Médard, what a player, dazzling feet, electric pace and an eye for the half gap. The fullback is a really high quality player and one man that can change the game given half a gap.

medard.jpg

Maxime Médard scoring a try.

Another mesmerising talent is Wesley Fofana, once the greatest inside centre in the world, now confined to the odd start for his country after this change in strategy which has coincided with a downturn in form for France.

The centre has the most unbelievable step and grace that can turn players inside out or stand them up in spectacular fashion. He has to be playing for France come the tour to Argentina.

Those are just two men who will have to be at their best if France are to get anything in their tour to Argentina.

Argentina will feel they have this series won, two tests against a poor French side should be a win for the Pumas.

That powerful pack and a backline with the likes of Cordero and Imhoff in it is a pretty scary prospect for France and their new coach Guy Noves as they visit South America.

The best player over the course of the Six Nations was most definitely fly-half François Trinh-Duc, every time he came on he changed the game, he is a sensational talent. he kicks well out of hand and the attacking game he brings is unmatched by any other option the French have.

trinh-duc

François Trinh-Duc the all action fly-half.

In the forwards there is just one player that has been a top player for them, that was Toulon hooker, Guilhem Guirado. The skipper epitomised the determination of a France side wanting to be the side they used to be.

He led by example over the course of the championship, an undoubted talent at hooker, he excelled as captain and will be key if France are to win this tour.

My France XV: 1 Eddy Ben Arous (Racing) 2 Guilhem Guirado (Captain, Toulon) 3 Rabah Slimani (Stade) 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina (Clermont) 5 Yoann Maestri (Toulouse) 6 Damien Chouly (Clermont) 7 Bernard Le Roux (Racing) 8 Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)

9 Maxime Machenaud (Racing) 10 François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier) 11 Virimi Vakatawa (France Sevens) 12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont) 13 Maxime Mermoz (Toulon) 14 Yoann Huget 15 Maxime Médard (both Toulouse)

Fixtures

vs. Argentina, Estadio Monumental José Fierro, Tucumán, 18th June

vs. Argentina, Estadio Monumental José Fierro, Tucumán, 25th June

Predictions

Argentina (LOSE) Argentina (LOSE)

Scotland- Tour of Japan

Following Japan’s impressive showing at the World Cup and that win over South Africa in what was an outstanding achievement for Eddie Jones and his troops. Wins over Samoa and USA followed.

The Sunwolves have also recently claimed their first scalp over the new Argentine franchise, Japan have a growing rugby pedigree, Dom Day the latest European star to join the Japanese top tier, a league saturated in money.

They are growing and with players like Tanaka and Goromaru in the backs and Leitch and Mafi in the forwards they have real pedigree and will provide Scotland with a real test in June.

Scotland seem to have discovered a set of strike runners to add to Glasgow star Hogg they now have Seymour and Visser two extremely talented wingers. They also have some great ball players in the middle of the park.

hogg

Stuart Hogg in action.

Bennett is becoming a real asset, his pace make him a seriously valuable player to have at 13 and with a selection of players to have inside him, the midfield is becoming really strong and depth is developing.

Laidlaw is a wonderful leader and has given Scotland some direction in terms of leadership, his goal kicking is up there amongst the world’s best. He also doubles up as one of his country’s best playmakers.

In the forwards the double act of Jonny and Richie Gray is something that really cannot be overestimated, the locks are sensational coming round the corner and are quite brilliant at the lineout and they provide some real drive at the scrum.

Richie has for years been an important part of Scotland’s engine room but it seems as though Jonny is going to be even better, he is being tipped by some as the next Scotland captain.

jg.jpg

Jonny Gray a key cog in the Scotland team.

Scotland will have a real test on their hands against Japan, the improving ‘Brave Blossoms’ will want to continue to build on their win over South Africa. Scotland did beat Japan at the World Cup but a test in the far east is a much tougher ask than beating them on a one off in England.

A defining series for both sides, Scotland could show some real intent to become one of the leading sides in the northern hemisphere and Japan could show they will be a ‘Tier One’ nation. June will tell us the full story.

My Scotland XV: 1 Alisdair Dickinson 2 Ross Ford 3 WP Nel (all Edinburgh) 4 Richie Gray (Castres) 5 Jonny Gray 6 Josh Strauss (both Glasgow) 7 John Hardie (Edinburgh) 8 David Denton (Bath)

9 Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester) 10 Finn Russell (Glasgow) 11 Tim Visser (Harlequins) 12 Duncan Taylor (Saracens) 13 Mark Bennett 14 Tommy Seymour 15 Stuart Hogg (all Glasgow)

Fixtures

vs. Japan, Toyota Stadium, Aichi, 18th June

vs. Japan, Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, 25th June

Predictions

Japan (WIN) Japan (WIN)

Ireland- Tour of South Africa

Ireland, a team in transition that suffered a number of high profile injuries going into a Six Nations which was overall disappointing. Ireland have to accept that now they are playing catch up to England and Wales who are most certainly leading the northern hemisphere pack now.

CJ Stander was a revelation over the Six Nations, a powerful carrier able to power over at least on defender, his offloading game can also open space for the quicker men such as Bowe or Zebo.

stander.jpg

CJ Stander has been outstanding for Ireland.

The Munster flanker will come in for some competition in the back row which looks very strong for Ireland at the moment, especially at blindside.

Another revelation was Ultan Dillane at lock, the 22 year old has been huge for Connacht in their awesome season. Dillane is looking like the real deal and with the likes of McCarthy and Toner stepping up due to the loss of Ireland legend O’Connell, Dillane is the up and coming star of Irish rugby.

A playmaker may take some searching, Sexton is getting on a bit but his all round game is still superior to the majority of options available. Sexton’s kicking game and attacking ability is quite something.

Teenager Ringrose is making quite a splash down in Dublin at the moment, his turn of pace and good hands make him a contender to join the touring party in South Africa. Starting is unlikely looking at the options Ireland have available but exposure to the elite squad can only aid his development.

The aerial ability of Rob Kearney is still unrivalled and his ability to break the line make him a good asset if the Irish back row can force teams to kick long. He really is the definition of a strike runner, against a heavy South Africa team with a kick chase game he could be hugely influential.

kearney

Rob Kearney has been a very influential player for Ireland.

South Africa will be a high pressure environment, they place a huge onus on the kick chase and with wingers like Habana you can understand why. The breakdown will be really tough, Louw, Alberts, Burger are all powerful and strong at the breakdown, Ireland will have to try and combat the green Springbok machine.

Another challenge for Ireland will be the altitude, Johannesburg’s Ellis Park is the stadium furthest above sea level in the world at 1,753 metres. The game in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth should not be as much of a problem.

The effects of the altitude can be a real challenge, Johannesburg will see Ireland facing nausea, anaerobic breathing which will increase the build up of lactic acid and other adverse effects on the body as well as a very tough South African team.

Ireland will believe they can win in South Africa and last year they were in a good place and most certainly the strongest of the northern hemisphere but after the Six Nations they have had it is not looking promising.

My Ireland XV: 1 Jack McGrath (Leinster) 2 Rory Best (Captain, Ulster) 3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster) 4 Iain Henderson (Ulster) 5 Ultan Dillane (Connacht) 6 Peter O’Mahony (Munster) 7 Sean O’Brien (Leinster) 8 CJ Stander (Munster)

9 Conor Murray (Munster) 10 Jonathan Sexton (Leinster) 11 Luke Fitzgerald 12 Robbie Henshaw (both Leinster) 13 Jared Payne 14 Tommy Bowe (both Ulster) 15 Rob Kearney (Leinster)

Fixtures

vs. South Africa, DHL Newlands, Cape Town, 11th June

vs. South Africa, Emirates Airline Eliis Park, Johannesburg, 18th June

vs. South Africa, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, 25th June

Prediction

South Africa (WIN) South Africa (LOSE) South Africa (LOSE)

Wales- Tour to New Zealand

Wales are arguably going to New Zealand at the best possible time, some of the stars are gone and New Zealand will have to go through some pretty serious reconstruction in certain ares, they will be by no means weak but they are the leat settled they have been in 12 years.

If Wales can rattle the All Blacks in the first test and they crumble the series win is on for Wales. New Zealand have some really exciting talent coming through though and with players like Israel Dagg also looking red hot this task is not an easy one.

Definitely the most settled squad of the squads touring and with veterans such as Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts and Luke Charteris. The experience could give them a real edge in the first test should the All Blacks be undercooked.

warbs.jpg

Wales captain, Sam Warburton.

Wales’ George North has been out of form for Northampton for the vast majority of the season but he did look at his best in the red of Wales during the Six Nations. Wales will look to get the ball to him as quickly as possible especially if he is up against a lightweight winger for example Habana.

Dan Biggar has emerged as the best fly-half in the northern hemisphere following a very strong Six Nations and consistent performances for his franchise, the Ospreys. Biggar’s attacking game either from kicking or him taking the ball to the line make him a real threat.

Roberts has been outstanding his powerful running lines make him a deadly threat, he proved that against Scotland. His size allow him to punish defenders is he is allowed to get up to speed. If he is marked closely and hit hard he will come down.

biggar.jpg

Dan Biggar performing the famous Biggar Shuffle.

In the forwards there is the awesome Faletau, the Dragons eight is an absolute machine he moves fast and is powerful. The back row is certainly key to Wales and he will be relishing a battle with the unbelievable Kieran Read.

Samson Lee looks to be the answer to all Wales’ prayers at scrum time since the loss of Adam Jones. Lee is becoming a world class prop and although he is not the quickest around the park his set piece work make him dangerous.

Fekitoa and Ngatai look to be making up for the loss of Nonu and Conrad Smith who have left to go and make their money in France.

The All Blacks are a team to be wary of, they are a tough side to beat even though the stars of Nonu, Carter and McCaw are gone. The depth is scary and with players like Ardie Savea, Beauden Barrett and Ngatai waiting in the wings they are not short on talent to come in for the stars.

My Wales XV: 1 Rob Evans (Scarlets) 2 Scott Baldwin (Ospreys) 3 Samson Lee (Scarlets) 4 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) 5 Luke Charteris (Racing) 6 Dan Lydiate (Ospreys) 7 Sam Warburton (Captain, Cardiff) 8 Taulupe Faletau (Dragons)

9 Rhys Webb 10 Dan Biggar (both Ospreys) 11 George North (Northampton) 12 Jamie Roberts (Harlequins) 13 Jonathan Davies (Clermont) 14 Liam Williams (Scarlets) 15 Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon)

Fixtures

vs. England, Twickenham Stadium, London, 29th May

vs. New Zealand, Eden Park, Auckland, 11th June

vs. Chiefs, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, 14th June

vs. New Zealand, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 18th June

vs. New Zealand, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, 25th June

Predictions

England (LOSE) New Zealand (WIN) Chiefs (WIN) New Zealand (LOSE) New Zealand (LOSE)

England- Tour to Australia

Australia announced themselves as back at the top at the World Cup powering their way into the final led by Michael Cheika and their fly-half Bernard Foley being in inspired form for the Wallabies.

Australia are back to being one of the world’s best and despite the majority of their franchises struggling they will be tough to beat for any side and although they won the Grand Slam let us not forget they are still learning to work with Eddie Jones as head coach.

England have riches aplenty in the backs, Alex Goode is in scintillating form, his attacking game is something to behold, one of the few Saracens players to have that flair and with that gives his strike runners like Ashton space to score the tries. A varied kicking game is also very welcome in a back three which will likely be all out pace.

One of Bath’s positives this season has been the rising stock of Anthony Watson although he is better deployed at fullback than wing with Goode in such good form it looks as though the youngster will be playing at wing for the duration of the tour. His electric pace and lightning footwork is something that is frightening for the rest of the league.

watson.jpg

Watson in full flight for Bath.

In the pack it looks as though England have nailed their second row pairing with George Kruis and Maro Itoje looking like the real deal, both are strong in the air and powerful in the scrum, their work rate is just incredible and they will be key in Australia.

Another Saracen, Billy Vunipola is a hugely influential player for England, his impressive outings for England during the Six Nations will mean the Australians will know what he can do. The number eight raw power and defensive capability will see him ripping into the heart of Australia to open space out wide that with the runners England have they can exploit.

Hartley, the contentious captain, he led England by example kept himself squeaky clean thought the campaign and handled the media duty very well. His performances spoke for themselves, his work around the park was evident and the set piece was almost flawless.

hartley.jpg

Hartley with his first trophy, the Calcutta Cup.

Australia do have their own threats one of which being Israel Folau, an athletic powerhouse and with the likes of Kuridrani and Mitchell around him Australia are not short on fast players.

In the forwards players such as Hooper and Pocock have under performed in Super Rugby, they will likely improve in time for the tour but the way they have been playing will not fill Cheika with hope.

They have a scrum to be feared now after years of struggling to get to grips with the complex art of scrummaging they now have a front row that are both powerful and capable when it comes to scrums.

My England XV: 1 Joe Marler (Harlequins) 2 Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton) 3 Dan Cole (Leicester) 4 Maro Itoje 5 George Kruis (both Saracens) 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford (both Harlequins) 8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Danny Care (Harlequins) 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 11 Christian Wade (Wasps) 12 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester) 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Anthony Watson (both Bath) 15 Alex Goode (Saracens)

Fixtures

vs. Wales, Twickenham Stadium, London, 29th May

vs. Australia, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, 11th June

vs. Australia, AAMI Park, Melbourne, 18th June

vs. Australia, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, 25th June

Predictions

Wales (WIN) Australia (WIN) Australia (LOSE) Australia (WIN)

 

Five Players for Summer Tour

England, Grand Slam champions have achieved what they set out to do, now they have done that all eyes are on their June tour to Australia.

England face three tests down under in the summer against the team that knocked them out of the World Cup and if they are to win what will be a testing series a few things will need to be ironed out from the Six Nations performance.

I think these five players could make a difference to the England squad.

  1. Sam Underhill (Ospreys, 19 years old, Uncapped)

The 19 year old is currently plying his trade across the Severn having left Gloucester to play in Wales for three years. He has quickly established himself as one of the back row superstars of the league.

The young flanker is quick, powerful and athletic and could offer some balance to the England back row joining Robshaw and Billy Vunipola.

Underhill is your typical scavenger back row not unlike David Pocock from Australia, a figure England missed desperately in the World Cup as Australia and Wales beat them at every breakdown.

He is sure to be one of England’s new stars as Eddie Jones builds to 2019.

Verdict: As good as in the squad as Eddie Jones looks to use the exceptional circumstances clause. Cap Potential: 40-50+

2. Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby, 26 years old, 6 caps)

The league convert is electric for the West Country club, his turn of pace and electrifying step make him undeniably difficult to defend against.

The centre can beat people one on one but can also act as a second playmaker, having returned from injury recently he looks back to his exciting best for Bath.

Eastmond offers something a little different to Tuilagi or Slade the other two contenders for the 12 shirt that is if Daly is to remain at 13.

He was never given enough of a chance under the old regime it would be nice to see Eastmond cut loose.

Verdict: Depends on who else Eddie Jones takes and if he thinks Eastmond can offer something different. Cap Potential: 15-20

nathan-hughes-wasps_3382712

Nathan Hughes qualifies on residency grounds in June.

3. Nathan Hughes (Wasps, 24 years old, Uncapped)

The Fijian number eight qualifies in June through residency which frankly is a ridiculous rule but one that England should make the most of.

The number eight is not just strong but for a big man can shift, he has pace to burn as well as an abrasive edge so can he beat defenders any which way he chooses.

In defence a star turn able to make the big hits and a force in the ruck.

His height also makes him a hugely valuable asset in the lineout, he is sure to provide some competition for the outstanding Billy Vunipola.

Verdict: If he misses out a great injustice will have been done. Cap Potential: 40+

4. Dominic Barrow (Leicester Tigers, 23 years old, Uncapped)

The Leicester lock has been brilliant for Leicester this season replacing Parling as he now plys his trade on the south coast with Exeter.

A strong lock that is hugely valuable in defence and a rangey attacker full of power and ballast.

Barrow is making a real name for himself at Welford Road and is surely the type of abrasive forward Eddie Jones is looking for.

Verdict: Unlikely to feature which is a shame but I expect him to make the squad at some point. Cap Potential: 15-20

harry thacker

Harry Thacker has impressed for Leicester.

5. Harry Thacker (Leicester Tigers, 22 years old, Uncapped)

Another Tiger really impressing this term, his athletic ability is enough to match that of Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie.

He also offers a strong base at the set piece and a really useful weapon coming round the corner.

His form is undeniable the only problem is hooker is such a competitive spot at the moment with Hartley, George, Cowan-Dickie and Taylor also vying for a spot on that plane.

Thacker will have to hope for an injury that could earn him a call-up.

Verdict: The options are just too strong for Thacker to play this summer but by next year he will be a real contender should this form continue. Cap Potential: 30-40+

England’s Summer Fixtures

vs. Wales, Twickenham Stadium, Sunday 29th May

vs. Australia, Suncorp Stadium, Saturday 11th June

vs. Australia, AAMI Park, Saturday 18th June

vs. Australia, Allianz Stadium, Saturday 25th June

Six Nations 2016 Team of the Tournament

So England have won the Grand Slam, an excellent achievement for Eddie Jones’ side winning the championship at the first time of asking. So which players impressed during the course of the tournament.

  1. Rob Evans (Wales)

Really powerful in the scrummage, made life hard for all opposition tightheads he faced. He is one of the reasons the Welsh scrum was so good, Gethin Jenkins is not missed.

2nd Choice: Joe Marler (England)

2. Dylan Hartley (England)

The English captain has led excellently, awesome in the tight making England’s set piece impenetrable. Always happy to take on the ball himself, a real leader.

2nd Choice: Guihelm Guirado (France)

3. WP Nel (Scotland)

The adopted South African has become a hero for Scotland, a scrummaging powerhouse and a rock in defence.

2nd Choice: Dan Cole (England)

nel

Nel in action for Edinburgh against Ulster in this year’s Pro12.

4. Maro Itoje (England)

A star has most certainly been born. Athletic, quick, strong the Saracens second row will be an England star for years to come.

2nd Choice: Richie Gray (Scotland)

5. Jonny Gray (Scotland)

The young Scot is on of the reasons for the rejuvenated Scotland side that have impressed over the course of the Six Nations.

2nd Choice: George Kruis (England)

stander

CJ Stander on one of his trademark carries.

6. CJ Stander (Ireland)

The Munster flanker’s carrying has been one of the best things about Ireland’s ultimately disappointing campaign.

2nd Choice: Chris Robshaw (England)

7. James Haskell (England)

He has proved himself after the World Cup where the back row came in for criticism but it looks as though Jones is forging a back row capable of competing with the best in the world.

2nd Choice: John Hardie (Scotland)

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

Undoubtedly the best eight, possibly the best player in the championship. Powerful and abrasive for England. So hard to stop.

2nd Choice: Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

9. Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)

Kicked well for his team and led from the front. Laidlaw had his critics but he has been a key cog in the Scotland team.

2nd Choice: Gareth Davies (Wales)

10. Dan Biggar (Wales)

The fly-half has been absolutely sublime this championship, his attack has been wonderful and he has become one of the leaders in the Welsh team. Bigger is also now among the best fly-halves in the world.

2nd Choice: Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

11. Jack Nowell (England)

Called slow on many occasions by his critics but has been one of England’s strong wingers over the course of the championship.

2nd Choice: Tim Visser (Scotland)

12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)

The Harlequins centre has been hugely influential for his side over the course of the championship. His power has played a huge part in Wales’ fairly successful last four years.

2nd Choice: Alex Dunbar (Scotland)

camp

Campagnaro on the charge for Exeter.

13. Michele Campagnaro (Italy)

The centre is up there on the defenders beaten chart and metres made charts. His upper body strength is something to marvel at.

2nd Choice: Duncan Taylor (Scotland)

14. George North (Wales)

He is bang back in form. Need I say more.

2nd Choice: Anthony Watson (England)

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

The best attacking fullback in the northern hemisphere, his pace is unbelievable and he has one hand firmly on the Lions 15 jersey.

2nd Choice: Mike Brown (England)

hogg

Stuart Hogg in action for Scotland.

Six Nations Preview

Six Nations Preview

The Six Nations is looming and this year it looks to be a close run affair as Wales and Ireland will look to build on relatively successful campaigns, Scotland try to carry on their World Cup form, England and France rebuild and Italy attempt to recover from a disappointing autumn.

Ireland are the favourites having won the last two championships under Joe Schmidt, a canny operator and he knows which players get the men in green to tick. To add to the old guard are a crop of youngsters coming through such as Ringrose who could add something to an already strong side.1390761721_0

Wales seem to have built a team that can beat anybody at the moment and with many of their home grown players back playing for a top side has given them optimism even. Warren’s Law could affect them down the line but they still look like they will be mounting a title challenge.

Scotland were one refereeing decision away from a World Cup semi-final, it seems Vern Cotter’s style is beginning to rub off on Scotland as they continue to build. This Six Nations could be a defining tournament for the men north of the border.

England are an unknown quantity under Eddie Jones, he has said he wants to base England’s game around their traditional strengths like the scrum, his selection though seems some very exciting talents in the squad.

France also have a new coach in former Toulouse boss Novés, he has reshaped the team and hopefully can bring back some je ne sais quoi. Saint-André’s pragmatic nature stifled what was once the best team in the world to watch.

Italy will look to this championship as a chance to redeem themselves, the World Cup ran to the script for Italy and saw them crash out after the group once again. They need to find something special if they are to get anywhere near the title this year.
Englandeng.jpg

Head Coach: Eddie Jones
Stadium: Twickenham Stadium, London (82,500)
Last Season: 2nd
Prediction: Champions

Fixtures

Scotland, BT Murrayfield, 16:50. Sat 6th February
Italy, Stadio Olimpico, 14:00, Sun 14th February
Ireland, Twickenham, 16:50, Sat 27th February
Wales, Twickenham, 16:00, Sat 12th March
France, Stade de France, 20:00, Sat 19th March

England have faced some pretty tough criticism recently after their World Cup. This lead to the appointment of Eddie Jones.

eddie-jones

England head coach, Eddie Jones

The squad has been named and has a blend of experience and youth, on paper it looks competitive. If England can get their pack moving forward and pick an exciting backline with distributors and finishers this England team could be brutally efficient.

I expect England to pick up wins in Rome and Edinburgh, they should be routine for this England side. I think playing at Twickenham could give them the edge against wales and Ireland but the trip to Paris looks a game too far for this developing English side.

Billy Vunipola

Vunipola on the charge

This Six Nations is a stepping stone for bigger things for the likes of Itoje, Daly, Beaumont, Clifford and Paul Hill. It looks as though they will be key in England’s future joining the likes of Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Launchbury and Vunipola all still young but players that could have 40 to 50 caps come 2019.

My England XV
1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens)
2 Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton Saints)
3 Paul Hill (Northampton Saints)
4 Joe Launhcbury (Wasps)
5 Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints)
6 Maro Itoje (Saracens)
7 Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)
8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Danny Care (Harlequins)
10 George Ford (Bath Rugby)
11 Chris Ashton (Saracens)
12 Owen Farrell (Saracens)
13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)
14 Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby)
15 Mike Brown (Harlequins)

FranceFédération_Française_de_Rugby_logo.png

Head Coach: Guy Novés
Stadium: Stade de France, Paris (81,338)
Last Season: 4th
Prediction: 3rd

Fixtures

Italy, Stade de France, 14:25, Sat 6th February
Ireland, Stade de France, 14:25, Sat 13th February
Wales, Principality Stadium, 20:05, Fri 26th February
Scotland, BT Murrayfield, 15:00, Sun 13th March
England, Stade de France, 20:00, Sat 19th March

France like England have been criticised for not just results but what has been dubbed a boring and drab style in attack and bring weak in defence.

Guy_Noves-300x258.jpg

New France boss, Guy Novés

Novés’ first squad suggests a very extreme change in tactics and a more of a swing towards that attacking play we have loved to watch in the past. With the reintroduction of Médard in the backline and Gaël Fickou coming in there is some flair there.

I think France can pick up wins over Italy and Ireland despite the strength in Ireland’s squad I think Paris will be tough to win in. I think they will also defeat England at home. Tough away trips to Edinburgh and Cardiff could be their undoing.

Maxime-Medard--008

Maxime Médard scoring a try against Scotland.

Flair in the backs and power in the forwards could be a glorious combination. This fresh approach could be either brilliant or horrendous. I for one hope that it brings a new era of running rugby with the likes of Médard and Fofana providing excitement.

 

 

My France XV

1 Eddy Ben Arous (Racing 92)
2 Guilhem Guirado (Captain, RC Toulon)
3 Rabah Slimani (Stade Français)
4 Alexandre Flanquart (Stade Français)
5 Yoann Maestri (Toulouse)
6 Damien Chouly (Clermont Auvergne)
7 Bernard le Roux (Racing 92)
8 Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)

9 Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92)
10 François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier)
11 Benjamin Fall (Montpellier)
12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne)
13 Gaël Fickou (Toulouse)
14 Maxime Médard (Toulouse)
15 Scott Spedding (Clermont Auvergne)

Irelandirfu-social.gif

Head Coach: Joe Schmidt
Stadium: Aviva Stadium, Dublin (51,700)
Last Season: Champions
Prediction: 2nd

Fixtures

Wales, Aviva Stadium, 15:00, Sun 7th February
France, Stade de France, 14:25, Sat 13th February
England, Twickehham, 16:50, Sat 27th February
Italy, Aviva Stadium, 13:30, Sat 12th March
Scotland, Aviva Stadium, 17:00, Sat 19th March

Ireland won the championship last year and put in some impressive displays at the World Cup including a memorable win over France. This year they look to retain the title.

With Ireland’s squad due to be announced next week at some stage it is a fairly settled image we expect to see despite some high profile retirements and injuries for Ireland to come to terms with.

poc.jpg

Ireland legend, Paul O’Connell

Ireland should win all three of their home games against Wales, Italy and Scotland. Hoever away trips to Paris and London could be tough games especially as both England and France will be smarting after a tough World Cup.

Among the players Ringrose is an exciting prospect and big things are expected of the centre. Henshaw is in the form of is life at the moment and the pack will see who can fill the void left by O’Connell.

garry-ringrose-scores-a-try-6-752x501.jpg

Garry Ringrose scores for Leinster

My Ireland XV

1 Cian Healy (Leinster)
2 Sean Cronin (Leinster)
3 Mike Ross (Leinster)
4 Donnacha Ryan (Munster)
5 Devin Toner (Leinster)
6 John Muldoon (Connacht)
7 Sean O’Brien (Captain, Leinster)
8 Robin Copeland (Munster)

9 Conor Murray (Munster)
10 Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)
11 Craig Gilroy (Ulster)
12 Robbie Henshaw (Ulster)
13 Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
14 Simon Zebo (Munster)
15 Rob Kearney (Leinster)

ItalyItaly_rugby.png

Head Coach: Jacques Brunel
Stadium: Stadio Olimpico, Rome (73,000)
Last Season: 5th
Prediction: 6th

Fixtures

France, Stade de France, 14:25, Sat 6th February
England, Stadio Olimpico, 14:00, Sun 14th February
Scotland, Stadio Olimpico, 14:25, Sat 27th February
Ireland, Aviva Stadium, 13:30, Sat 12th March
Wales, Principality Stadium, 14:30, Sat 19th March

Italy had a disappointing World Cup and still are struggling to give that extra 20% that could take them from also rans to join the top table of international rugby where Argentina now dine and Japan are approaching.

Sergio+Parisse+YLd4oyqJdJ_m.jpg

Sergio Parisse

Italy have announced their squad and it really is a mixture of the Italian stalwarts and a few new names as Brunel will try to make Italy competitive it’s a strong enough side.

Italy have two home games against England and Scotland, I don’t think they will win either of those England should have enough to win convincingly and Scotland too. I think repeat heroics in Paris or Cardiff are also unlikely whilst Ireland is a tough trip for any team let alone Italy.

susio.jpg

Marco Susio is one of 18 uncapped players

Italy have picked an astonishing 18 players in a 38 man training squad that convened in November in Treviso assuming the squad will be cut with the France and England based players also to be added.

My Italy XV

1 Dario Chistolini (Zebre)
2 Davide Giazzon (Benneton Treviso)
3 Lorenzo Cittadini (Wasps)
4 George Biagi (Zebre)
5 Qunitin Geldenhuys (Zebre)
6 Alessandro Zanni (Benneton Treviso)
7 Paul Derbyshire (Zebre)
8 Sergio Parisse (Captain, Stade Français)

9 Edoardo Gori (Benneton Treviso)
10 Carlo Canna (Zebre)
11 Gio Venditti (Newcastle Falcons)
12 Luca Morisi (Benneton Treviso)
13 Michele Campagnaro (Exeter Chiefs)
14 Marco Susio (Rugby Calvisano)
15 Luke McLean (Benneton Treviso)
ScotlandScotlandlogo

Head Coach: Vern Cotter
Stadium: BT Murrayfield, Ediburgh (67,144)
Last Season: 6th
Prediction: 5th

Fixtures

England, BT Murrayfield, 16:50, Sat 6th February
Wales, Principality Stadium, 16:50, Sat 13th February
Italy, Stadio Olimpico, 14:25, Sat 27th February
France, BT Murrayfield, 15:00, Sun 13th March
Ireland, Aviva Stadium, 17:00, Sat 19th March

Scotland’s World Cup heroics may be the turning point and rugby in Scotland could be headed for a period of success, this Six Nations they’ll be hoping to kick on.

laidlaw.jpg

Greig Laidlaw has been important for Scotland

Scotland are yet to announce their squad but are due to towards the middle of next week. I expect Cotter will retain the vast majority of his World Cup squad who performed so well. There may be a couple of additions after seeing how well Edinburgh are playing this season.

Scotland should be able to beat Italy in what has for a long time become the wooden spoon decider. I also think that at Murrayfield they should be too much for the French. Trips to Cardiff and Dublin are tough and England should be able to beat them.

gray.jpg

Gray brothers

Scotland’s second row is the frightening Gray brothers who the pack is being built on add to that some pace in the backs they will be formidable opposition.

My Scotland XV

1 Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors)
2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby)
3 WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby)
4 Richie Gray (Castres Olympique)
5 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors)
6 Josh Strauss (Edinburgh Rugby)
7 Blair Cowan (London Irish)
8 David Denton (Bath Rugby)

9 Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester Rugby)
10 Finn Russell (Captain, Glasgow Warriors)
11 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors)
12 Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby)
13 Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors)
14 Tim Visser (Harlequins)
15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors)
WalesWru_logo.png

Head Coach: Warren Gatland
Stadium: Principality Stadium, Cardiff (74,500)
Last Season: 3rd
Prediction: 4th

Fixtures

Ireland, Aviva Stadium, 15:00, Sun 7th February
Scotland, Principality Stadium, 16:50, Sat 13th February
France, Principality Stadium, 20:05, Fri 26th February
England, Twickenham, 16:00, Sat 12th March
Italy, Principality Stadium, 14:30, Sat 19th March

Wales will be enthused after a strong World Cup that meant they would only crash out thanks to a sumptuous offload from Duane Vermeulen.

north.jpg

George North

The core of the squad is settled and is due to be announced soon although the exact date is not set in stone. The squad will be much unchanged from the team last year.

Wales face tough trips to Dublin and London which I can’t see them winning however they should be able to see off the challenges of France, Italy and Scotland at home. Although Scotland and France could go either way.

sammmmy.jpg

Wales captain, Sam Warburton

Wales have the old guard such as Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones in their ranks they know how to perform on the big stage there is very little room for manoeuvre in the current squad.

My Wales XV

1 Paul James (Ospreys)
2 Kristian Dacey (Cardiff)
3 Samson Lee (Scarlets)
4 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys)
5 Luke Charteris (Racing 92)
6 Dan Lydiate (Ospreys)
7 Sam Warburton (Captain, Cardiff)
8 Taulupe Faletau (Dragons)

9 Gareth Davies (Scarlets)
10 Dan Biggar (Ospreys)
11 George North (Northampton Saints)
12 Jamie Roberts (Harlequins)
13 Jonathan Davies (Clermont Auvergne)
14 Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff)
15 Liam Williams (Scarlets)

 

Seven Debutants for Six Nations

Today Eddie Jones named his squad for the Six Nations and his first squad since he took over following the departure of Lancaster.

Eddie Jones was only permitted to make a small amount of changes to the squad that crashed out of the World Cup after three lacklustre, boring, stodgy performances that left England fans questioning who picks the team?

Eddie Jones’ changes include seven uncapped names Paul Hill, Sam Hill, Ollie Devoto, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Josh Beaumont and Jack Clifford. All young vibrant players but you could certainly question the inclusion of Devoto and Sam Hill, both these players however it is important to note are covering for Tuilagi and Slade both of whom would have been included had they been available or fully fit (in Tuilagi’s case).

Maro-Itoje-579264.jpg

Maro Itoje in action against Clermont Auvergne.

I question why Jones includes a centre that doesn’t even start for his club. Devoto is often left to ponder the wonders of the universe sat on the bench whilst Jonathan Joseph (included in the squad) and Kyle Eastmond start for Bath Rugby. Surely Kyle Eastmond is a better fit, he has at times this season shown the form of last season, his blistering pace and agile feet make him almost impossible to deal with.

Sam Hill, a strong ball carrier possibly so the loss of Tuilagi won’t be felt too hard by England. His kicking game is also something to admire but with the kicking ability of Ford, Farrell, Daly and Goode already in the squad it begs the question what does Sam Hill have to offer? One player I think does merit a go in the England squad is Australian born Ben Jacobs from Wasps.

Ben-Jacobs-of-Wasps-001.jpg

Ben Jacobs in action against Gloucester.

The Wasps centre now qualifies on residency and the centre has been playing well, his crash ball running lines and defensive capabilities have complimented Daly well in the midfield for Wasps this year, he would surely add more to the squad than Sam Hill.

The reintroduction of Chris Ashton is a great move, the Saracens wing is scoring for fun in north London and he is certainly a player that is wonderful to watch. Ashton will be hugely influential in this England team and let’s hope he can rediscover that scoring touch in the white of England.

Another winger back in the squad after some time out is Harlequins flyer Yarde. He is fast and powerful, but look at the other options available, Rokoduguni is in fine form for Bath, Lewington is flying for London Irish and Matt Banahan looks like the man he was a few years ago.

Yarde is no better than those three wingers neither is Nowell, Jack Nowell is slow, he doesn’t possess the pace to be an international winger. His talent stretches to being a high level club player but no more than that. He offers nothing to the squad that suggest flair or finishing ability.

England's wing Jack Nowell scores Englan

Jack Nowell crosses the line for England.

The inclusion of Chris Robshaw is possibly the selection that causes the most confusion in my head. I don’t understand how following not only a poor display as an openside, but a shambolic display as a captain can Chris Robshaw remain in the side.

 

To me he represents all that was wrong with the previous England regime. His inclusion undermines this supposed overhaul we are experiencing.

My final talking point involving the squad is around the much discussed inclusion or exclusion of Danny Cipriani. Eddie Jones opted to leave the Sale playmaker out of the squad, good move or poor decision?

Eddie Jones only selected two fly-halves and looking at the make-up of his squad it is hard to see who he could have dropped to include Cipriani. And to drop either the mercurial George Ford or fiery Owen Farrell would have been a travesty.

Hopefully in the summer on the tour to Australia Eddie Jones will have room for the fly-half but for now he’s best developing his game further and continuing to press the golden boys (Ford and Farrell) of English rugby.

Cipriani_2922206b

Danny Cipriani was unfortunate to not make the cut.

A squad that England can be proud of and hopefully one that can do the nation justice in the upcoming Six Nations.

Follwing today’s announcement my England 23:

1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens) 2 Dylan Hartley (Northampton) 3 Paul Hill (Northampton) 4 Joe Launchbury (Wasps) 5 Courtney Lawes (Northampton) 6 Maro Itoje (Saracens) 7 Matt Kvesic (Gloucester) 8 Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

9 Danny Care (Harlequins) 10 George Ford (Bath) 11 Chris Ashton (Saracens) 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens) 13 Jonathan Joseph (Bath) 14 Anthony Watson (Bath) 15 Mike Brown (Harlequins)

16 Jamie George (Saracens) 17 Joe Marler (Harlequins) 18 Henry Thomas (Bath) 19 Jack Clifford (Harlequins) 20 Josh Beaumont (Sale) 21 Ben Youngs (Leicester) 22 Elliot Daly (Wasps) 23 Alex Goode (Saracens)

Eddie’s Eleven

Eddie Jones is close to naming his first set of players to try and rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s rugby superpowers. With the Six Nations happening next month Eddie Jones has been given permission to change just eleven (including Sam Burgess) of the players that crashed out of the World Cup in October.

The fact that Ian Ritchie who’s tenure at the Rugby Football Union has been marred by controversy and ultimately failure has only allowed eleven changes is in itself moronic. How can Eddie Jones make his mark on a team full of deadweight that have overseen England’s worst ever World Cup.

Ian-Ritchie-RFU-chief-executive

RFU Chief Executive, Ian Ricthie

As well as the enforced change of Burgess, Henry Slade, Kieran Brookes, Jonny May will all have been changed due to injury. This leaves Eddie Jones with just seven real changes within the squad that can be used to improve.

If we look at replacement options surely Wasps centre Daly has to be included to replace the Rabbitohs star. Daly has proved this season that he has grown in maturity, his running lines are inventive and a breath of fresh air.

He has some real pace probably due to the time he spent at fullback, his pace and running lines have shown some of the best defences in Europe crack such as Toulon and Leinster. Daly’s ability to smash the ball over from 60 plus metres is also a hugely handy attribute in international rugby.

Elliot-Daly-551x400

Elliot Daly escapes the clutches of Dave Attwood

Another man that has to be considered after being practically ignored for there last four years is Kyle Eastmond, granted the centre is not having the best of seasons with Bath who are struggling to regain the form of last season which surely will click at some point.

Eastmond’s dazzling footwork is a joy to behold watching him dance his way through defenders was one of the high points of last season. His electric feet and turn of pace make him a nightmare to defend against.

To replace the injured Jonny May there is only one contender in my mind that man is Saracens flyer Chris Ashton. How many tries does this man have to score to be in the England squad?

He is on fire and scoring for fun in north London with the players inside him offering a few kicks ahead and his knack of popping up in the right place at the right time make him an invaluable finisher, just what England and Eddie Jones may be looking for. He will score tries and plenty of them.

The loss of Brookes who looks to be the next big thing in the England scrum is a shame, there are few players who can scrummage like the Saints tighthead. The only option in my mind is Wasps prop Jake Cooper-Wooley who has done a sterling job up in Coventry.

brookes.jpg

Kieran Brookes will miss the Six Nations due to injury

Due to the lack of real talent at tighthead and the way Dan Cole was ripped to pieces by Saracens pack mean Cooper-Wooley may well be thrown into the deep end in the absence of Brookes.

So there are the first four:
OUT: Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints), Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
IN: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Jake Cooper-Wooley, Elliot Daly (both Wasps), Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby)

Assuming Nick Easter is included so England will have a 32 man squad for the Six Nations that gives us six back row spots to work with. This will come as no shock but in my mind there is no place for Robshaw, a huge work rate and extraordinary passion unfortunately does not win you international rugby matches.

My favourite English opened right now has to be Kvesic and with other contenders in the mix like Clifford, Fraser and O’Connor, Haskell also has to go. Kvesic is an unbelievable openside, a ‘traditional’ seven.

He has been brilliant for Gloucester which is why they find themselves in a pretty strong position so far this season. Kvesic has struggled to really break into the England squad despite being around the team for long enough. His turnover rate is astonishing and he’s not shy of a big hit either.

matt-kvesic-gloucester_3255073.jpg

Matt Kvesic in action for Gloucester

Jack Clifford would be my replacement for Haskell. A lot has been spoken about Jack Clifford being England’s next openside and his skills. For me Clifford is a future England captain and his ball carrying and tenacity at the breakdown see him usurp Haskell.

Nick Easter, what a player. An example to players everywhere to never give up after being told by Lancaster in 2011 he would never again play for England four years later he is playing for his country in a World Cup.

A lovely story but he has to go, and there is only one man to replace him, Maro Itoje. The Saracens man who is just as at home in the engine room is my player of the season so far. His athleticism and leadership skills are making Saracens tick this season. Another contender for future England captain.

Itoje has to be in the squad, his form for Saracens is just the start of another wonderful journey.

Another summary:
OUT: Nick Easter (Harlequins), James Haskell (Wasps), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)
IN: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby)

Only four changes left and so much left to change with three changes alone going on the back row you can imagine how much more I have left to change.

Rob Webber has to call time on his England career, he isn’t up to the standard at the moment. His replacement fairly straight forward Dylan Hartley also my captain.

The playing side for Hartley is exemplary he is excellent in the loose an abrasive in the set piece a really good player. The behaviour does however border on thuggery at times and although this may seem contradictory this is why he would be my captain.

The hard edge that made Johnson, Dallaglio, Vickery and Back feared not just by the opposition but by the young players in their team for example a certain Jonny Wilkinson is something Hartley has in abundance.
One player that has to go purely due to the fact I feel he has offered little to the squad since his debut back in 2012 is South African born Brad Barritt.

He has not been good enough, hugely influential for his club and solid for England but not spectacular. Rather than induct another centre into the squad I would have a fly-half come in purely because I think Danny Cipriani. It is still a mystery to me how the Sale out half didn’t get selected for the World Cup following a great display in the warm-ups.

Cipriani_2922206b.jpg

Danny Cipriano training with England prior to their 2014 tour to New Zealand

His form for Sale has been wonderful and he is the reason his team can compete at such a high level this season for Ford and Farrell to be selected and he be left in the north west would be a travesty.

The one cap wonder Semesa Rokoduguni has to be in the squad, he must be having déja vu after once again a scintillating start to this season. His ability to either bash or dash his way to the try line make him a real asset to whatever team he is playing in be it Bath or England.

He would replace Jack Nowell, yes Nowell has been great for Exeter but the fact is he’s not quick enough to be an international winger. Exeter fans would disagree but look at the other three wingers I have picked Rokoduguni, Ashton and Watson would Nowell really trouble any of them in a foot race.

Scrum-half is a really tough place at the moment for England with four or five contenders for just three places. My choice would be to drop Wigglesworth for Joe Simpson.

Wasps although inconsistent have looked sharp in the backs and the catalyst for that is the lightning quick Simpson. His service isn’t bad either and that earns him a place alongside Youngs and Care.

That completes our changes:
OUT: Brad Barritt (Saracens), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Rob Webber (Bath Rugby), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens)
IN: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Semesa Rokodugnuni (Bath Rugby), Joe Simpson (Wasps)

Notable mentions must go to Will Chudley who I hope to see on that plane to Australia in June. Dave Attwood who if he wasn’t injured would be in this squad at the expense of Parling. Dave Ewers and Thomas Waldrom both of whom would be in the squad if there was more space. Manu Tuilagi who had he played more would have been in the squad but he has been out of action for a long time and hasn’t starred for England since 2014.

1390761721_0.jpg

My England Squad for Six Nations

Bold indicates starting XV

Props: Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Jake Cooper Wooley (Wasps), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Davey Wilson (Bath Rugby)

Hookers: Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Captain, Northampton Saints), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Locks: George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs)

Flankers: Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Matt Kvesic (Gloucester Rugby), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints)

Number Eights: Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby), Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Scrum-Halves: Danny Care (Harlequins), Joe Simpson (Wasps), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers)

Fly-Halves: Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby)

Centres: Elliot Daly, Ben Jacobs (both Wasps, Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby)

Wings: Chris Ashton (Saracens), Semesa Rokoduguni, Anthony Watson (both Bath Rugby)

Fullbacks: Mike Brown (Harlequins), Alex Goode (Saracens)

Number of New Stars Promising for England

England have a number of young players in wonderful form and recently Henry Slade, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson have had people within the game purring.

This weekend two more backs hit the scene competing for places, Ben Spencer of Saracens reminded of the class he possesses but rarely gets to show due to the depth at his club.

The scrum-half was blinding. His kick over the top to send Ashton over was masterful you could even argue perfect.

Vision like that is something you cannot teach. A quick look up after a clever break was all Spencer needed to send his winger away.

He added to this with a try of his own. This was created by his fleeting feet and made him stand out.

In the later Twickenham game there was one teenager who stood out. London Irish centre Johnny Williams was outstanding and scored a brace in a game which showed very little positive for the Exiles.

Williams has an excellent record recently with four tries in just three games bagging two tries in the Challenge Cup with one each against Grenoble and Agen.

The centre has only just turned 19 and has a number of age grade appearances for England.

The speedy centre’s tries were not that straight forward either, they were quite sensational. The strong fending and bravery of Williams makes him a very exciting prospect.

The fact that every weekend a new name is popping up as a potential England candidate is only promising for the game in this country.

Spencer and Williams are sure to be around for years and if they can continue their current form there is nothing to stop them being England stars.