STUART LANCASTER IS is bracing himself for a mouth-watering Six Nations opener tonight as England look to exact revenge on Wales at Millennium Stadium.
England and Wales will kick-off the 16th edition of the Six Nations, with Lancaster’s men the underdogs in Cardiff following a record loss to their hosts in 2013.
Wales retained the championship via a 30-3 victory almost two years ago — their biggest ever win against England.
England return to the Welsh capital confident they can make a winning start to their Six Nations campaign.
“It doesn’t get any better as a set-up to the championship,” Lancaster.
“The odds for Friday are irrelevant to me. We played pretty much the same Welsh team last year and we definitely believe we can go to Cardiff and win.
“We 100% respect that they have many British and Irish Lions, but equally we have confidence and belief that we can do the job. If we don’t believe that, we’ll have no chance.”
Source: WRU Official/YouTube
Lancaster stopped short of signalling his intent for revenge, but the 45-year-old said the 2013 defeat still haunts his team.
“No doubt about it, that particular one hurt because of the context around it – the title and Slam were at stake. Clearly it is going to hurt,” Lancaster added.
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“But that’s not the only game you go back and analyse. You go back to last year’s game – we scored two tries and played good rugby throughout.
“Of course it is in the back of your minds, but there’s been a lot of rugby played since then. The context of this particular game and two years ago is completely different.”
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IRELAND CONVINCINGLY BEAT England 19-9 at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon.
Read our full match report here.
While it seems silly to reduce a collective performance that was 10/10 into individual scores, we’ve provided players ratings for each of the Irishmen involved in the excellent win.
Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Rob Kearney: 8
Underlined his status as a leader once again with a physical display. Made some thumping hits on the outside edge of Ireland’s defence, covering the backfield as well and opting to join the line at the ideal time.
Tommy Bowe: 7
Time and time again, Bowe makes Ireland’s kicking game as effective as it is. Played an important part in the aerial game as always, although two spills of the ball in the first half will have frustrated him.
Jared Payne: 7
The ideal partner for Robbie Henshaw, providing real solidity around the collisions. Carried on direct lines well, and chopped down any English attacks that were directed down his channel.
Robbie Henshaw: 9
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
This was Henshaw’s finest performance yet in a fledgling international career that promises so much. His pre-contact footwork is reminiscent of a Pacific Islander, helping him to eke out yards under the most intense pressure.
Made superb reads in defence, following them with excellent shoulders into ball carrier, and took his try cleverly.
Simon Zebo: 9
It was Zebo’s dominant judo tackle on Anthony Watson that eventually led to Henshaw’s try, and that moment was typical of the left wing’s work rate. He chased, harried, fielded, tackled, reorganised, chased, covered, beat defenders, hassled and chased. Everything he did was full of energy and enthusiasm.
Johnny Sexton: 9
The out-half is a joy to watch in this Ireland team at present. Sexton is Schmidt’s brain on the pitch, and how reassuring it must be for the head coach to have such an imposing figure at 10. One of the best players in world rugby right now.
Conor Murray: 9
Source: Colm O’Neill/INPHO
The Munster scrum-half is composure personified, consistently making good decisions in a calm manner. Murray seems to have ice running through his veins, and here he directed Ireland around the pitch masterfully, kicking, running and passing with assuredness.
Jack McGrath: 8
Made several strong carries in defensive zones early on, helping Ireland to set up their exits well, while also contributing a handful of impactful tackles. Scrummaged well bar the penalty that allowed England back to 19-6 and remains fully deserving of his place as a starter.
Rory Best: 9
This was another good outing for the Ireland lineout overall and Best deserves credit for his part in that. Part of that strong scrum effort too, as well as adding his typical ferociousness at the breakdown and around the tackle.
Mike Ross: 8
Schmidt’s faith in the 34-year-old continues to be repaid bountifully, with Ross turning in another display full of solidity. He may not be the most explosive carrier, but puts his hand up to be involved. Pinned down Joe Marler impressively at scrum time.
Devin Toner: 8
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Another Schmidt favourite and here was another demonstration of exactly why. His lineout steal in the 23rd minute was a huge moment in this game, denying England a crucial attacking opportunity. Had one knock-on in the lineout, but Toner is so key to Ireland’s set-piece success.
Paul O’Connell: 9
Where Paulie goes, Ireland follow. The legendary lock was among the top tacklers as usual, while contributing handsomely to the set-piece with his intelligent calling. The penalty against Ireland when defending an England maul in the first half will have him on video analysis duty tonight, but he handled referee Craig Joubert superbly.
Peter O’Mahony: 8
Didn’t quite get to grips with the breakdown as he would have hoped, and was frustrated to concede the penalty for England to draw themselves to 19-9 when not supporting his body weight. Very busy as a ball carrier though, and tackled firmly.
Sean O’Brien: 7
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
A wild pass early on saw Ireland miss a brilliant counter-attacking chance, but blasted into contact with ball in hand. The hope will be that his head injury does not rule him out of Cardiff in two weekends time.
Jordi Murphy: 8
Stepped in for Jamie Heaslip in convincing fashion, smashing any doubts that he would not match England’s back row power. Particularly evident at the breakdown, winning a clever penalty on 32 minutes, having conceded one shortly before.
Sean Cronin: not on long enough to rate
Cian Healy: 7
Came up with a dominant hit on Nick Easter to force a knock-on late in the game and generally added important energy at a time Ireland looked to be tiring.
Marty Moore: 6
Would have been hugely annoyed that Ireland conceded a penalty on his first scrum involvement. Around the pitch, he showed the mobility he possesses, particularly in defence.
Iain Henderson: 7
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Play didn’t flow his way too often, but he shifted about the pitch comfortably and provided his typical dynamism in limited involvements.
Tommy O’Donnell: 8
Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
There was some concern about the relative lack of experience in Ireland’s back row when Sean O’Brien was forced off, but O’Donnell provided real maturity. Powerful in the tackle and as hungry for work as his teammates, the Munster flanker had a superb impact.
Eoin Reddan: didn’t play
Ian Madigan: 7
Wasn’t afforded the opportunity to show his ability in attack very often as Ireland were forced to defend late on, but looked composed after replacing the injured Sexton. Completed his tackles effectively.
Felix Jones: not on long enough to rate
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Kevin O’Brien celebrates winning
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Mark English with his silver medal
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Stuff.co.nz – ‘Ireland Win Six Nations Title‘
“England won an extraordinary battle but agonisingly lost the war as they beat France by a record 55-35 in an extraordinary Six Nations finale on Saturday (Sunday NZ time) but came up short of the 26-point victory they needed to deny Ireland a second successive title.
“After Ireland’s victory over Scotland England needed to win by a margin they had managed only once in a century of matches against France and it looked an impossible task after France led 15-7 midway through the first half.”
New Zealand Herald – ‘Ireland’s Six Nations Win Delights Their Kiwi Coach‘
“Two tries by man of the match Sean O’Brien inspired defending champions Ireland to a 40-10 win over a hapless Scotland in their final Six Nations rugby match this morning (NZT) in Edinburgh, which ultimately proved just enough to secure their first back to back title wins since 1948-49.
“England did their best to spoil the party with a stunning display of attacking rugby and fell just short of the 26 points win difference they required with a 55-35 humbling of France at Twickenham to round off a crazy day of attacking rugby that contained 221 points scored and 27 tries.
“The agonising near miss leaves England without the trophy since 2011 while France finished fourth and have never managed better under coach Philippe Saint-Andre in four campaigns.”
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Sydney Morning Herald – ‘Irish shed inhibitions to prove World Cup credentials‘
“When it mattered most, Ireland remembered how to entertain again. They had threatened to go through this Six Nations as austere automatons, respected rather than loved for their defensive frugality, but for one afternoon only they unleashed their buccaneering side. With a performance emphatically affirming their credentials to win this autumn’s World Cup, they brushed off accusations of a one-dimensional approach by proving that they could win any way they chose.
“Here at the final reckoning, Joe Schmidt’s players resembled a pack of wolfhounds let off the leash. From the scampish Conor Murray to the unfading Paul O’Connell, from the indefatigable Sean O’Brien to the one-time Gaelic football star-in-waiting that is Robbie Henshaw, they set about Scotland with a style that was enterprising yet disciplined, audacious yet almost unfailingly accurate. Emboldened by Wales’s extraordinary piece of second-half plunder in Rome, they had an unfettered licence to attack. And for once, they put it to wonderfully effective use.”
Walesonline – ‘Wales should rue missed Grand Slam opportunity but they can challenge for World Cup‘
“A resounding way to round off their Six Nations campaign by Wales, but an opportunity lost, nonetheless. Warren Gatland’s men should be celebrating another Grand Slam under their masterful coach, rendering talk of points difference involving Ireland and England on super Saturday irrelevant.
“That they aren’t is because of that still unfathomable second-half showing against England on the opening night seven weeks ago. Gatland’s men have done marvellously well to bounce back with four wins on the trot, culminating in this eight-try slaughter of Italy in Rome at the start of the final day.”
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
MailOnline – ‘An avalanche of points and sense of adventure mean England can build on Six Nations experience‘
“It is amazing what you can achieve in sport ‘in extremis’ and although England didn’t land the Championship which they craved, they will have learned a great deal about what can be achieved when you really want it — and need it.
“England were fantastic on Saturday and if they can draw from the experience, this can be a fantastic year for English rugby — and indeed British and Irish rugby, because Wales and champions Ireland were quite exceptional as well on the final day of the tournament.
“England cut loose in thrilling fashion and they will never be quite the same players again. They know now for certain that there is another level they can perform to and the Twickenham crowd know that as well.”
The Telegraph – ‘England v France was a knock-down, drag-out saloon bar contest with all-too-familiar ending‘
“Stuart Lancaster must have woken thinking his first proper trophy was touchable. Not a Triple Crown – his biggest prize thus far – the Cook Cup, the Hillary Shield or “the blue thing” you get for beating Argentina, but a Six Nations title, six months out from a World Cup on home soil. England’s coach reached nightfall more staggered than the kick-off times.
“This was a Sevens tournament dressed up as Le Crunch, on a madcap day of 81 points in the Italy-Wales game and 50 in Scotland versus Ireland. The Six Nations saved most of its fun for the end, casting off attrition in favour of art and endless running. But after a barnburner of 12 tries and 90 points, England are still not masters of the northern hemisphere, not kings of Europe, not better than Ireland according to the Six Nations table.”
L’Equipe – ‘Ireland keeps its trophy‘
“In principle, the decisive matches should be played play all at the same time. Except in the Six Nations where he is not about to review a scenario that makes for compelling television.
“On the last day, Wales, Ireland and England could still claim to win the competition. By crushing the Italians in Rome (61-20), the Welsh had set the bar high: eight points in the final standings and a difference of + 53.
“By mid-afternoon, the Irish had done even better by s imposing Scotland. A marked success (40-10) and a points difference of + 63, which forced the English (+ 37 before meeting France) to beat the Blues with a gap of 26 points. That was not the case.
“So Ireland were crowned champions again.”
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NJPW has revealed the cards for February’s New Beginning in Sapporo and New Beginning in Osaka events.
The New Beginning in Sapporo takes place across two nights on Saturday, February 2 and Sunday, February 3. The first night will be headlined by Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada teaming against Jay White & Bad Luck Fale, while the second show’s main event will be IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito defending his title against Taichi.
Night two in Sapporo also features two Tag Team title matches. IWGP Tag Team Champions EVIL & SANADA defend against Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr., and El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru get their rematch against IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Shingo Takagi & BUSHI.
Tanahashi will defend the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against White at the New Beginning in Osaka on Monday, February 11. White confronted Tanahashi after Wrestle Kingdom 13 and was established as his first challenger in an angle at New Year Dash.
Okada vs. Fale is the semi-main event of the Osaka show. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Taiji Ishimori is also set to make his first title defense against Ryusuke Taguchi.
NJPW has yet to reveal the cards for their New Beginning USA events in Los Angeles, Charlotte, and Nashville. Those shows are expected to feature wrestlers who aren’t on the New Beginning tour in Japan, along with young lions from NJPW’s California dojo.
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Billie Kay may have been injured at WWE’s live event in Oakland, California on Saturday night. WZ reports that Kay was teaming with her IIconics partner Peyton Royce against Naomi and Lana and collided heads with Noamia during the match. The accident left her on the mat with what the site describes as a “a dazed and blank look.” Kay rolled out of the ring and was at ringside, with the refere throwing up the “X” to get medical attention.Click Here: Russia soccer tracksuit
JOE SCHMIDT HAS made two changes to his Ireland team to face Scotland on Saturday in the final round of the Six Nations.
See the Ireland team and replacements here.
‘Church’ is back in Ireland’s number one shirt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
After three appearances off the bench in this championship, Cian Healy is finally unleashed into the first team at the expense of Jack McGrath. The St. Mary’s man will see himself as unfortunate after a strong championship, but Healy may just add some of the crucial elements Ireland have been missing.
One of Ireland’s struggles in this Six Nations has been making consistent gainline progress with ball in hand, but the return of Healy to the starting team should certainly aid in bettering that area.
His explosive nature in the tackle is useful too, while it should be remembered how excellent Healy was at scrum time in last year’s Six Nations. His demolition of Aaron Jarvis in the final scrum last weekend was an example of his destructiveness there.
While he is obviously lacking a body of games behind him this season due to the long-term hamstring injury, which is a concern in terms of his performance levels, Ireland have one of a handful of world-class players back in the XV.
Zebo misses out
Zebo training with Ireland earlier today. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
After nine games in a row for Ireland, Simon Zebo misses out on selection for a potential Six Nations decider. The 25-year-old can count himself unlucky, though you sense that Schmidt has long planned to bring Luke Fitzgerald into his team.
It’s true that Zebo was not at his best in Cardiff last weekend, but then neither were the vast majority of his teammates. His was not a performance that cried out about a player badly out of form.
The Munster man performed wonderfully well in the win over England in round three, having also been impressively solid against France and England.
There’s little room for sentimentality in international rugby however, and Schmidt has made a decisive move to bring Fitzgerald in despite his relative lack of game time recently.
O’Brien joins Heaslip and O’Mahony in the back row. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Jump back in time to 2013 and Joe Schmidt’s first months in charge of Ireland. Get into his head and attempt to conjure up the very best Ireland XV you can, ignoring injuries and form.
Is this the side Schmidt might have imagined?
The dream team back row of O’Brien, Heaslip and O’Mahony; the experienced front row of Healy, Best and Ross; the complementary lock pairing of O’Connell and Toner. Sexton and Murray at halfback; a back three of Bowe, Kearney and Fitzgerald.
Perhaps Schmidt didn’t know how his centre pairing would pan out at that stage in 2013, but it’s not difficult to argue that the other 13 players above would have been at the forefront of Schmidt’s mind.
Clearly, the likes of O’Brien, Healy and Heaslip have had injury issues, though this looks something like the XV Schmidt might have picked out as his ideal one at the very beginning.
Henderson’s impact off the bench may be vital again. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland
Aside from Healy and McGrath swapping places, the Ireland bench is unchanged for this weekend, the likes of Sean Cronin and Iain Henderson held back again despite impressing in the second half against Wales.
Both those explosive ball carriers have real value as replacements, adding so much dynamism in the later stages of games. If Ireland’s formula is to grind Scotland down for 60 minutes before attempting to cut loose, then Cronin and Henderson will be vital.
Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan can similarly add quality when the tempo is raised in the final quarter, both being ideally suited to quick, incisive, ambitious ball-in-hand rugby.
Felix Jones hasn’t had the opportunity to show much in his limited stints on the pitch during this championship, but the Munster fullback would surely relish a more extended chance in Murrayfield.
Luke Fitz is back in Ireland’s 11 jersey. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Whatever about the disappointment for Simon Zebo, there will have been elation in the Fitzgerald household as Luke returns to the Ireland match day squad for the first time since November 2013. This will be his first Ireland start since 2011.
With 27 Ireland caps, a Grand Slam and a Lions tour under his belt, Fitzgerald is far from a rookie on this stage, even if he has not featured in international rugby for some time. His mindset and mental skills are world-class, meaning it should be no issue re-adapting to the demands of the Six Nations.
The former Blackrock College man possesses superb footwork and his reading of the game also allows him to pop up off his wing in phase play as appropriate. Equally as important is his defence, where he marries intelligent reads with good contact in the tackle.
Fitzgerald remains one of the most exciting backs in Irish rugby, and while some will point to a poor try-scoring record at international level, his involvement in Scotland should help as Schmidt’s side look for a big winning margin.
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Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
HomePaul O’Connell was named the player of the Six Nations after a public vote.Stephen Ward and James McClean returned to Ireland training today and are available for selection to face Poland on Saturday.Jim McGuinness has spoken about adjusting to life without the Donegal manager’s job and says he ‘doesn’t miss it’.Conor O’Shea has rubbished reports linking him with the Italy job after the Rugby World Cup.Munster and Connacht have both welcomed back key men to their sides ahead of their clash at Thomond Park tomorrow evening.Chris Henry will return to the Ulster team tonight for the first time since suffering a mini-stroke in November. Away
Source: Colm O’Neill/INPHO
Reports in Australia indicate that World Cup winning second row Brad Thorn might play on into his 41st year.The first Welshman to ever play Super Rugby is joining a Pro12 team for the first time.Paul Scholes says Gareth Bale would be a ‘natural fit’ for Manchester United.
The best thing we shared
Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp gave a goal from Sunday League side Dynamo Kebab the full MNF treatment.
Source: Budweiser UK/YouTube
On the record
Shane Jennings didn’t try to underplay the importance of Leinster’s Pro12 clash with Glasgow at the RDS tonight.
Where we were today
Our football correspondent Ben Blake was in Malahide earlier to pick the brain of Ireland coach Martin O’Neill.
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
The Fixture ListWe have Pro12 action with Leinster playing Glasgow, Ulster hosting Cardiff and Connacht travelling to play Munster tomorrow.We have a weekend full of Euro 2016 qualifiers with Ireland playing Poland at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.There is more National Football and Hurling League action and Dublin will play Derry in Croke Park on Saturday night.Showbiz, baby!
The excitement for Aldo v McGregor continues to build.
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Answer all the questions to see your result!
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