Scotland: Dark Horses at the World Cup?

Scotland had a very mixed Six Nations a loss to France were offset by an impressive win over Italy and that frantic draw against England. It was hard to gauge where Scotland are under Gregor Townsend as well with many of Scotland’s star players absent for at least some of the Six Nations.

Scotland face a fairly tricky pool with Ireland, hosts Japan, physical Samoa and minnows Russia.

Scotland do have the talent, Exeter bound Stuart Hogg is an excellent player, his broken field running, siege gunner boot and playmaking brain make him one of the best fullbacks currently playing international rugby.

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Credit: Instagram (stuarthogg21)

Alongside Hogg is Racing 92 playmaker, Finn Russell. Undeniably talented, his kicking out of hand is at times laser accurate, he is also quick for a fly-half and he has a talent for unlocking doors for his midfield at both Racing 92 and for Scotland.

The other outrageous talent in their backline is former Stormers centre, Huw Jones. This man single handedly dealt England a blow last year as Scotland made England look amateur at Murrayfield. His balanced running and upper body strength allow him to ride tackles and put Scotland on the front foot.

Credit: Instagram (@hrfjones)

In the forwards there is the younger of the Gray brothers, Jonny, a stoic leader and inspirational captain. His contribution to games is best summed up by one statistic from a Glasgow match last season in which the 25 year old made 41 successful tackles and missed none. 41 tackles in one match, that requires some engine.

Openside flanker, Hamish Watson is another one of Scotland’s diamonds in the rough. Watson combines all the traditional attributes of an openside with carrying of a number eight and the work rate of a blindside. There is marked difference to Scotland when the 25-cap Edinburgh back rower is playing.

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Credit: Instagram(hamishwatson07)

Now Scotland’s biggest test in the group stage will undoubtedly be the 22nd September meeting with Six Nations rivals, Ireland in Yokohama. Last time out Ireland beat Scotland 13-22 in the Six Nations outscoring Scotland three tries to one, although the Sam Johnson try was a very well worked one.

Ireland won for two reasons, an extreme effort from the Irish duo of Peter O’Mahony (man of the match) and Jack Conan who secured Ireland safe ball whilst causing Scotland’s ruck and maul all kinds of problems. The second was that in the opening quarter they caught Scotland cold, Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale giving Ireland a 12-3 lead inside 17 minutes before fly-half, Jonny Sexton hobbled off in the 24th minute to be replaced by the excitable Joey Carbery.

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Credit: Instagram (@joeycarbery)

Scotland’s next biggest challenge will be their last game when they play Japan on 13th October again in Yokohama. This will be a challenge for two reasons, Japan are hosts and it comes just four days after Scotland’s tie with Russia whereas Japan will have had eight days to recover from their match with Samoa.

Scotland should be wise to the challenge Japan pose, England struggled to put away Japan at Twickenham way back at the end of last year until the second half, in the end English power prevailed. Japan though will be determined to make this the year they finally make it out of the pool stages in front of a home crowd which would be almost as shocking as their brutal dismantling of South Africa in Brighton four years ago.

Whilst Samoa will pose a physical challenge Scotland are firm favourites and against Russia it’s more of a question of by how much than who will win.

How Scotland Could Line-Up Against Ireland in Yokohama

1 Allan Dell (Irish) 2 Stuart McInally 3 Simon Berghan (both Edinburgh) 4 Sam Skinner (Exeter) 5 Jonny Gray 6 Ryan Wilson (both Glasgow) 7 Hamish Watson (Edinburgh) 8 Josh Strauss (Bulls)

9 Ali Price (Glasgow) 10 Finn Russell (Racing 92) 11 Sean Maitland (Saracens) 12 Sam Johnson 13 Huw Jones (both Glasgow) 14 Darcy Graham (Edinburgh) 15 Stuart Hogg (Exeter)

16 Fraser Brown (Glasgow) 17 Jamie Bhatti 18 WP Nel 19 Ben Toolis 20 John Barclay (all Edinburgh) 20 Greig Laidlaw (Clermont) 22 Adam Hastings (Glasgow) 23 Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh)

Rugby World Cup 2019: Ireland Squad (Forwards)

Ireland have announced their 44 man training group ahead of their World Cup preparations with two debutants, former Sale Sharks fullback Mike Haley and Munster’s South African import Jean Kleyn also included amongst the more familiar names such as the retiring Rory Best and 2018 World Player of the Year Jonny Sexton.

Rory Best will captain the team from hooker and he is joined by Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and long time deputy Sean Cronin. With Best and Cronin likely to go Joe Schmidt will have a tough time choosing between the two hookers the other side of 30, Niall Scannell, 27 and Rob Herring, 29.

Scannell has the advantage in caps with his 14 doubling the seven earned by Rob Herring and he is highly regarded by Munster head coach Johan Van Graan.

By the side of Best we expect there to be five options. Tadhg Furlong is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world. His Leinster teammate Cian Healy is also excellent and one of the best scrummagers going. Munster pair David Kilcoyne and John Ryan are the form back-ups to provide extra power late on. Then there is a debate to be had about where they will need the extra option.

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By Warwick Gastinger – Rugby World Cup DSCN4902, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43622805

Jack McGrath is heavily experienced with 54 Ireland caps but with he has to contend with the highly rated 23 year old Andrew Porter and the less fancied Finlay Bealham. Porter would benefit from the high octane environment of a World Cup.

If we are totally honest in the engine room there is one man above all others, James Ryan. Just 22 years old but by far the best lock that Ireland have.

To offset the youthful exuberance is the totem pole-like Leinster second row, Devin Toner. He is closely followed by the in-form lock, Tadhg Beirne who has impressed at Thomond Park this season putting in some massive performances in the Champions Cup.

Jean Kleyn has done well to make the squad but he’s not in the same class as supposed Ireland mainstay Iain Henderson and Ultan Dillane. Henderson has 30 more caps than Dillane and provides a very safe pair of hands at the lineout similar to Dillane in many ways.

In the back row Ireland have plenty of options, the main one being Munster’s, Peter O’Mahony. CJ Stander is also a key component to the back row with his carrying a very important part of Ireland’s attacking game, with that in mind Jack Conan is also fast becoming indispensable to Joe Schmidt’s side.

Josh van der Flier is the natural successor to Sean O’Brien and he has that natural openside feel to his game as he has shown countless times not just for Ireland but also his province, Leinster.

Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy have all had some great performances in the green of Ireland, O’Donnell’s long range try over Italy in the Six Nations a fond memory for the Munster back row. Murphy has the most caps with 27, just six more than Ruddock and 15 more than his fellow clubman.

Our Picks

On the Plane: Rory Best (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster)

In the Departure Lounge: Cian Healy (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), Devin Toner (Leinster)

Checking In: Jack Conan, Sean Cronin (both Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), David Kilcoyne, John Ryan (both Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster)

Packing: Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Ulster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Niall Scannell (Munster)

At Home: Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane (both Connacht), Rob Herring (Ulster), Jean Kleyn, Tommy O’Donnell (both Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)

Which World Cup Pool is the ‘Group of Death’?

The Rugby World Cup is just months away and the pools have long been public knowledge. With more teams set to be chasing the favourites New Zealand than usual we take a look at which pool could be dubbed the perilous Group of Death.

Pool A

Pool A contains hosts Japan as well as form team of last year Ireland, a vastly improved Scotland, a competitive Samoa and minnows Russia.

Japan’s heroics from 2015 are still very much in the mind and they pushed England hard at Twickenham back in November. They have some very good players in workhorse, Michael Leitch, veteran scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka and skilful centre Ryoto Nakamura.

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By 江戸村のとくぞう – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74114242

Samoa are always physical and they possess their own array of international stars. Samoa will bring power and pace but much like their Pacific neighbours Fiji and Tonga they lack the finesse and poise to challenge the bigger boys of international rugby.

Russia are there for the ride, it’s taken a valiant effort to get there but realistically they aren’t going to trouble the runaway favourite two from this group, Ireland and Scotland.

There is just too much class from Ireland and Scotland for this to be called the Group of Death. Japan and Samoa might provide the odd moment of magic or a scare but unlikely to qualify for the last eight.

Pool B

Pool B has favourites New Zealand, a very strong South Africa, a competitive Italy, Canada who have really struggled recently and African also rans, Namibia.

New Zealand and South Africa are the clear frontrunners. Canada may have been a challenging prospect two years ago but not now and Namibia aren’t going to beat them.

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By PierreSelim – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17171268

Italy have beaten South Africa before but if we are honest even at full strength Sergio Parisse and co. Aren’t likely to have enough to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Pool C

Now here it’s a little more complex, it has the ridiculously inconsistent France, highly competitive Argentina, a rebooted England, sleeping giant USA and Pacific juggernaut Tonga.

USA did have their moment in the sun last summer as they beat Scotland. They are still far more of a force in sevens, their time in the expanded version of the game is yet to come but that result in June certainly suggests they could trouble England and Argentina and with the temperamental France we all know anything can happen.

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By The National Guard – National Guard sponsorship of USA RugbyUploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30882152

Tonga, a good team. However Wales’ 74-24 win over them in November proved just how big the gap is between the Pacific island nations and the Six Nations giants. Like USA if they copy their cousins Fiji they could beat France.

France, they are among the three most likely to emerge from the group the question is will they have enough to beat England or Argentina? You never know.

England are favourites for the group and rightly so. They should come out of this relatively unscathed.

Argentina was much better in the Rugby Championship last time out and building into the World Cup they will be confident. They have reached the knockout stages in the last three World Cups, their game against France could decide who qualifies for the last eight with England.

Definitely a competitive pool.

Pool D

Six Nations winners Wales, an Australia in disarray, the Flying Fijians, the rising force in Europe, Georgia are joined by South American minnows Uruguay.

Again this is complex. Fiji are exciting they have some real stars Nemani Nadolo, Viliame Mata, Leone Nakarawa, Semi Radradra and Peceli Yato are household names and tearing it up in Europe. They produce some breathtaking stuff and they knocked out Wales previously way back in 2007.

There is a clamouring for Georgia to join the premier international tier by being inducted into the Six Nations. They are known for their terrifying forwards and their famed scrum has seen having a Georgian prop as almost a requirement to win the Top 14 in France. Wales and Australia who are the two obvious leaders should brace themselves.

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By Paata Vardanashvili – https://www.flickr.com/photos/paata/434764326/ Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4593732

Uruguay like Namibia and Russia have done really well to get to the World Cup and they are much stronger than they once were gone are they days where New Zealand beat Namibia 142-0 or England beat Uruguay 111-13. They deserve to be there.

Will Fiji or Georgia beat Wales or Australia? It’s unlikely but Fiji definitely could beat Australia the mess they’re in and with Wales not the same prospect outside the cauldron of Cardiff could hand Fiji the chance and Georgia’s scrum could cause both problems. It’s unlikely though.

A competitive pool no doubt but unlike Pool C two clear frontrunners.

So there’s our verdict, Pool C as they have three teams that have the know how to reach the latter stages of the competition.

Rugby World Cup 2019: Australia Are Genuine Contenders

Australia managed just four wins last year as well as suffering a humiliating defeat to Argentina on the Gold Coast, England thrashing them at Twickenham and Ireland claiming a history making 2-1 series win. They only won one game in November and that was against a very underpowered Italy in Padua.

If that wasn’t bad enough the media storm created by Israel Folau and his contract being revoked following homophobic comments will not have made life any easier for head coach Michael Cheika.

Despite all this Australia are still definitely capable of winning the World Cup.

One significant advantage are their pool opponents, now Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay should not pose a real threat to Australia and despite the abilities of these teams the biggest threat Australia will face is Wales.

Now Wales are in good form, 14 wins on the bounce including Ireland, England, South Africa and Australia but the last time Wales beat Australia away from home was way back in 1987 at the very first World Cup.

Now looking at Wales away form recently they aren’t quite the same team on the road, Wales struggled against France and Italy in the Six Nations, both times escaping by the skin of their teeth. Australia will fancy their chances there.

Australia will also have the chance to unleash arguably the best half back combination of recent Australian history in Will Genia and Quade Cooper both of whom have been in excellent form for the Melbourne Rebels.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.06.24.15.28.29-Quade Cooper, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60479171

Australia are so much better when Genia is playing, his speed from the base and tactical play is better than any other Australian scrum-half. Cooper is a genius, he attacks well and has a good mix to his play with clever kicks, an elusive turn of pace and an outrageous step. His game has also developed to incorporate him in link plays.

This half back mix could cause any team problems, that is Cooper can get his head in the right place and work hard.

One of the most celebrated part of Australia’s current team is the back row and that devilish mixture of Michael Hooper and David Pocock. Both world class openside operators deployed together to not just dominate but monopolise control of the breakdown.

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By http://www.davidmolloyphotography.com from Sydney, Australia – 2017.06.17.15.31.45-Michael Hooper run-0003, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60432829

The breakdown will be a key area at the World Cup no matter what team you play. If Australia get quick ball there will be hell to pay for the opposition Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks and Jordan Petaia are dangerous players and getting the ball in space crafted by a creative Wallabies midfield is what these players dream of.

If Australia can top their pool there is every chance they can win the World Cup. Dark horse is not the traditional Australian tag but one they will definitely be happy with after the horror show of 2018.

Three Players That Deserve an England Recall

With the sun having set on a great European season as Saracens downed Leinster and with awards season already upon us and the World Cup just up ahead this is the time to stake your claim for a spot in your international team’s colours.

For England a settled core group of players will already be packing their bags for Japan but with Eddie Jones being Eddie Jones there are bound to be a few surprises when he names his squad for England’s summer exploits against Wales (twice), Ireland and Italy.

Here are three surprises we would love to see on Eddie’s team sheet.

  1. Danny Cipriani

What a season this man has had for Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester as they have found their way into the play-offs. His excellent form has seen him bag himself the RPA Player of the Year award.

Cipriani is one of those players that tries things other players wouldn’t dare, he’s not just on a different page but a different planet to England’s incumbent fly-half, Owen Farrell. That’s not to say he should start ahead of the Saracens playmaker but Cipriani would make a good game breaker off the bench.

The ability to see things others don’t set him apart and his outrageous talent mean he’s more than capable of executing the improbable at the most unlikely of times. Surely after the season he’s had he will have George Ford looking over his shoulder.

2. Alex Goode

The Saracens fullback has done it again. He’s won European Player of the Year and another Champions Cup with Mark McCall’s Saracens. Alex Goode is one of the Premiership’s best fullbacks but not England’s apparently.

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By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847541

It’s true he’s had his chances in the past and not made the most of them but with his brilliant kicking game, defensive stability and counter attacking vision he is everything you could want in a fullback and far more experienced there than Elliot Daly and if his Champions Cup form is anything to go by more than capable of competing at the highest level he will have stiff competition at 15 though with a fit again Anthony Watson firing and Mike Brown still very much in the mix.

3. Don Armand

England seem to have finally found an openside flanker in Tom Curry and a very worthy deputy in Sam Underhill but blindside is yet to be nailed down, Brad Shields, Chris Robshaw, Mark Wilson have all donned the shirt but none of them have made it their own.

Armand has once again been one of Exeter’s most consistent performers over the course of another table topping season. It is a crime that he is stuck on just one appearance for England in the 2018 Six Nations he could be a real asset for England out in Japan if he is offered that all important recall.

Armand has the ability to make the six shirt his own and offer some balance to a back row that is likely to include Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola.

We think with these three stars Eddie Jones could definitely have a shot in Japan later this year. Who do you think deserves an England recall? Let us know in the comments!

Opinion: The Six Nations Posed More Questions Than Answers for ‘Invincible’ Wales

Wales are in rude health. They have 14 wins on the spin and this culminated in a Grand Slam as Warren Gatland announced that the World Cup will be his last as Wales head coach.

Wales were simply brilliant against Ireland in their final game and led by Alun Wyn Jones Wales swept aside the pre-tournament favourites. Wales also showed great character against England coming back from 10-3 down to bring England back down to earth following their first two games.

On the road Wales seemed to leave their fire breathing dragon at home. For the first half against France Wales simply didn’t turn up and France ran rings round Wales racking up a 19-0 lead before in the most French way possible capitulating and gift wrapping a brace of tries for the totem pole of a wing George North.

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By Liamwarrender at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24426555

Wales would be hard pressed to find any other tier one international side be quite as forgiving as the unpredictable France.

Italy posed a serious challenge to Wales, Rome was alive as Italy dragged Wales to hell and back for the vast majority of the match before the superhero Scarlets centre Hadleigh Parkes popped up with a match winning try.

These away performances are of a concern as the World Cup is many miles away from the infamous ‘Wall of Noise’ and hymns and arias of the Principality Stadium. There won’t be in excess of 70,000 fans baying for English or Irish blood. Wales’ performances in Cardiff are far better than their away games which is why Wales may struggle in the far east.

Secondly Wales have a frankly awful record against the big three away from home. Under Warren Gatland this Wales side have always been there or thereabouts when it comes to the Six Nations but there is suggestion of mental frailty when it comes to travelling to the traditional ‘Big Three’ of the southern hemisphere.

Wales will face Australia in Japan. Wales are the only home nation not to have beaten Australia on Australia soil since the last World Cup. England won a series 3-0 there in 2016, Ireland won a series 2-1 there in 2017 and Scotland beat Australia 24-19 last time they were in down under last summer.

To find the last time Wales beat Australia outside Cardiff you have to go back to the 1987 World Cup and Rotorua when Wales beat Australia 22-21 to claim third place in the inaugural showpiece event.

This mental frailty could see them finish second in their group and a high pressure quarter-final game against the winner of Pool C which contains the likes of England, France and Argentina, all three experts at World Cup runs with 12 semi-final appearances between them, five finals and one World Cup.

A group runner-up has also never won the World Cup, a position Wales would fill if they fail to find their first win over Australia away from home in 32 years.

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By jeanfrancois beausejour from cannes, france – blacks australia 035CN6P5138 internet, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30851908

The final reason I believe Wales will struggle is the fact they have failed to score tries. Their defence was excellent in the Six Nations as they only conceded seven tries in their five games but they only scored ten the joint lowest scoring the same amount as Italy.

In comparison England scored 24 tries, Ireland were the next best with 14 and Scotland and France both conjured up 12 five-pointers. To beat the best you need to score tries and Wales are simply not scoring enough.

Tries win games. It is a well known fact you have to score five tries on average to beat New Zealand. Does a team that averaged two a game in the Six Nations really have the capacity to score five against the most successful team of the last decade?

These are the reasons despite Wales’ recent success they will not be successful at the World Cup.

Opinion: My Radical Revamp for World Rugby

Following the proposal’s put forward detailing a 12 team World League, we thought we would take a look at how we would change the calendar without putting player welfare at risk, increasing travel for the larger southern hemisphere nations drastically or shutting out strong tier two nations such as Fiji and Georgia.

  1. SANZAAR Tier Two Agreement

The November tests are great, they are some of the best games of the year and showcase the best talent the southern hemisphere has to offer in the great European amphitheatres of rugby.

I would have New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina all sign an agreement stating that one of their Internationals in the autumn would be against a European side outside the Six Nations.

Having New Zealand travel to Tbilisi or South Africa play in Bucharest would firstly be a great cash maker for these smaller nations by brining in large crowds and a chance for these nations to test themselves against the very best.

2. Six Nations Tier Two Agreement

This would basically mirror the SANZAAR agreement, in November the major Six Nations teams would agree to play at least one game against a southern hemisphere (including Japan and USA) team outside the Rugby Championship.

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By Dɐ – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32969443

3. Six Fixed Destinations

For the next six non World Cup years 2020, 2021, 2022, 2024, 2025, 2026 I would have a deal where New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Japan and Fiji tied would host one of the Six Nations each year on a rotation basis.

The deal would also state that the destination be a nation that you haven’t played the previous autumn, this would further allow the smaller nations Italy, Japan and Fiji to play a larger array of the world’s best.

In Lions tour years, one destination would be compromised due to the Lions tour, in this case Samoa and Tonga would be added as a joint destination for a two test tour.

On top of this in Lions years any Lions nations visiting would play just two tests to try and reduce the amount of players away for the start of pre-season.

4. A Revamped Churchill Cup

A new Churchill Cup being played on rotation in the USA or Samoa/Tonga. This tournament would include twelve teams in four groups of three.

The teams would be USA, Tonga, Samoa, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Canada, Uruguay, England Saxons, Ireland Wolfhounds, Scotland A and New Zealand Maori.

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via Eoin Gardener (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/18091975@N00/3654141771

The games would be played over the course of three weeks whilst the larger nations are playing test series with each team playing two group games then like in 7’s play offs to decide rankings. This tournament would run up until the same year as the three test tours.

In Lions years Samoa, Tonga, England Saxons, Ireland Wolfhounds, Scotland A and New Zealand Maori would sit have not take part and an abridged version would be played.

We think our proposals would help grow the game and give us some mouthwatering rugby to look forward to as well as a brand new competition. Tell us what you think in the comments, do you think these proposals are better than World Rugby’s?