Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson out of England tour with hamstring injury

Joe Simpson, whose hopes of featuring in the Six Nations 2011 were dashed by a serious shoulder injury, suffered further disappointment on Monday when he was ruled out of England's summer tour with an untimely hamstring strain.

Simpson, 21, will be doubly frustrated because he picked up the injury during a seven-minute appearance against the Barbarians on Sunday when he replaced David Strettle on the wing and scarcely featured in the game.

All of which represents an undeniable setback for Simpson, a star of various England age-group teams, who was really hitting his stride at senior level when he suffered a dislocated shoulder against Harlequins at the end of December.

When he reported lame after the game manager Martin Johnson had little choice but to play safe and call in the fully fit Hodgson from the England Saxons squad. Although England are embarking on a longer summer tour than usual, time is still of the essence and Simpson would undoubtedly have been earmarked to play in some capacity against the Australian Barbarians in the tour opener a week on Tuesday in Perth.

There was better news however for Johnson over his two other injury concerns after the Babarians game. Newcastle prop Jon Golding went off before half-time with what appeared to be a rib injury but was considered fit enough to travel on Monday and will be reassessed on arrival in Perthy. Fly-half Charlie Hodgson took a bang in the face that required stitches but was also fit to travel.

"I am really pleased to be joining Leeds Carnegie at an exciting time for the club," said Thompson, who revived his career with Brive after orginally retiring from the game with a neck injury when he left Northampton. "I spoke to director of rugby Andy Key and head coach Neil Back and have nothing but admiration for what they have done at the club already and what they plan to do in the future.

Meanwhile hooker Steve Thompson, who in the absence of the injured Dylan Hartley will be disputing starting duties on tour with Lee Mears, has confirmed that he will be moving back to England from France next season to play with Leeds, who he will be joining on a two-year contract.

"It was a big decision for me to come back to the Guinness Premiership but it is a challenge I am looking forward to. In all honesty, I have got more nerves about coming back to the Guinness Premiership than I did about coming to France and I think that is a good thing. I am looking for a fresh challenge in my career and Leeds Carnegie is exactly right for me."

Wales V England Hospitality

England V Italy Hospitality

England V France Hospitality

Rugby: Paul Hodgson replaces injured Joe Simpson for England

England have been forced to make a late change to their squad before departing on Monday for their five-match tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson, one of nine uncapped players in the party, sustained a hamstring injury as a late replacement against the Barbarians.

Fly-half Charlie Hodgson and Newcastle prop Jon Golding, who both picked up knocks on Sunday, are fit to travel.

Hodgson, who left the field with blood pouring from a nose injury, and Golding, who was forced off after a blow to the ribs, will be reassessed when the squad arrives in Perth on Tuesday.

It is the second untimely injury blow for 21-year-old Simpson, who was also ruled out of Six Nations 2011 contention after dislocating his shoulder in December.

He only appeared as a replacement for the last nine minutes against the Barbarians in his first England game, taking over from David Strettle on the wing.

"We are extremely disappointed for Joe," said Wasps director of rugby Tony Hanks. "I am confident Joe would have made a very strong impression on the tour and performed really well, but now our focus is on getting him back to full fitness."

The 28-year-old, who has won nine caps but started just two Tests since his debut in 2008, will compete with Youngs, Danny Care and Richard Wigglesworth for the number nine jersey down under.

Paul Hodgson, who was originally named in the Saxons squad heading to North America for the Churchill Cup, appeared as a replacement in England's first three matches of this year's Six Nations.

But he lost his place in the match-day squad to Leicester's emerging prospect Ben Youngs for the last two rounds, and was overlooked for the original tour squad despite the presence of four scrum-halves.

England play a further game against the Australian Barbarians in Gosford on 15 June and a second Test with the Wallabies in Sydney on 19 June, before their final tour match against the New Zealand Maori in Napier on 23 June.

Paul Hodgson has been replaced in the Saxons squad by Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson, while Leeds hooker Andy Titterrell will come in for George Chuter in the front row.

England V Scotland Hospitality

Italy V Ireland Hospitality

France V Scotland Hospitality

Rugby: Chris Cusiter set to miss out for Scotland

Scotland co-captain Chris Cusiter has all but ruled himself out of the first Test against Wales.

"The injury is improving, slightly, but improving. I have to keep working hard with the medics."

"I didn't train fully last week and I probably won't train fully this week until Thursday or Friday so," he said.

Andy Robinson's side face the Pumas this weekend in Tucuman before the second meeting in Mar del Plata a week later.

Argentina, ranked three places above the visitors in the world rankings at sixth, beat Scotland 9-6 in Edinburgh in their last meeting in November.

"They have a strong pack and a number of world class scrummaggers and their line-out is very good," added Cusiter.

"We struggled last November to get line-outs.

"That time, we didn't take the opportunities. They were very tenacious and then in the second half they played better than us.

"We had opportunities earlier in the game to get a couple of tries on the scoreboard but we didn't take them because they were well organised and their defence is very good.

"They know their game plan and execute it very well.

"They are a very tough team to beat but we hope to win both Tests."
Head coach Robinson has his other captain, Mike Blair, and Rory Lawson available for Cusiter's position.

Scotland V Wales Hospitality

Scotland V Ireland Hospitality

Scotland V Italy Hospitality

Beattie urges Scots to stand up to Argy-bargy

Scotland rugby legend John Beattie believes the importance of the two-Test tour of Argentina cannot be underestimated.

There is also the chance for several of the Scots squad to use the two Tests against the Pumas in Tucuman tomorrow week and Mar del Plata a week later to make a breakthrough.

Beattie said: “This tour is massively important for a variety of reasons. We made some real progress in this year’s Six Nations 2011 and signed off with our first win in Ireland in 12 years – and we want to build on that.

“They gave us our only defeat in the Autumn International Series and the boys will go out there for revenge. For their part, the Argentinians will feel the same after we beat them in the second Test in Velez Sarsfield the last time we were over there.”

“Going forward, what is probably more important is that we are in the same Pool as the Pumas in the World Cup and, if we can get the better of them on their soil over these two Tests, it will give them something to think about.

Following the 24-5 midweek warm-up victory over Japan at Murrayfield, the former Scotland No.8 is also keen to see several of Robinson’s players lay down markers for next season against the aggressive Argies.

“Richie featured off the bench in the Six Nations, but I think he could do with starting one of the two Tests. With the World Cup just 14 months away, this has got to be the start of their build-up to really staking a claim for a starting jersey.

He said: “In midweek, the Glasgow duo of Richie Gray and Richie Vernon both had illness and injury problems but, if they are fit for the tour matches, this could be a very important couple of weeks for them.

 “Although I felt Graeme Morrison had a quiet start to the Six Nations, he really came through at the end with a big game against Ireland. I would love to see him back up two really big Test performances at centre against Argentina.

“Then, of course, there is Dan Parks, who was superb for us in the Six Nations and won three man-of-the-match awards. Now Dan has the chance to control two Tests in Argentina and that is the type of challenge he will be relishing at this stage in his career and in the type of form he is in.”

However, for Beattie there is one area of the impending double-header in which the Scots will do well to claim superiority.

Ireland V France Hospitality

Italy V Wales Hospitality

Italy V France Hospitality

Rugby: Pumas plan ahead for 2011

BUENOS AIRES: In naming a huge squad of 46, Argentina rugby coach Santiago Phelan had more on his mind than tests this month against incoming Scotland and France.

Phelan was also thinking up to two years ahead, when Argentina will compete with heavyweights New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in an expanded Four Nations.
It was the stunning third-place showing at the 2007 World Cup - where the Pumas beat hosts France twice - that was the impetus for rugby's powers to plant Argentina in either the Tri-Nations or Six Nations 2011.

Geography beat convenience. Most of the best Pumas play for European clubs.

"We think we will be ready for 2011," said Argentine Rugby Union president Luis Castillo. "Of course we will suffer a little bit, but you always suffer in rugby, but more playing teams like those three big ones."

The International Rugby Board and Tri-Nations partners have eased Argentina's inclusion by providing set-up funds for the first four seasons and giving Argentina's professionals a six-week release from their clubs.

The countdown begins this month, with two tests against World Cup pool opponent Scotland in Tucuman on June 12 and in Mar del Plata on June 19, followed by France in Buenos Aires a week later.

"Now begins the last stage of the buildup for the World Cup," Stade Francais flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon, back with the Pumas after straining knee ligaments against the French Barbarians a year ago, told La Nacion newspaper.

"It's in a little over a year but in reality it is nothing because there are few opportunities to get together and play. In this window we need to show signs of a mature team. It's time to figure things out, polish our tactics and begin to see what style we'll take to the World Cup.

"While there is a core of guys who were in France 2007, the mix with the new generation means we need to consolidate. And in these games is the time to do so. As a squad we are growing stronger, and in last November's tour we progressed. But we need to go to the World Cup trained and ready. We cannot go to New Zealand with ups and downs or issues to resolve."

Giving Argentina regular, tough competition from which they will hopefully improve was the point of joining a new Four Nations. Last year the Pumas had only six tests, while most of the other top-10 teams played twice as many.

The Pumas were last seen in November celebrating at Murrayfield, where Martin Rodriguez's drop goal sealed a 9-6 comeback win over Scotland. All 22 of that team are in Phelan's squad, with Leguizamon and regular captain Felipe Contepomi, who has not played for Argentina since the 2008 June home series against Scotland after a knee injury.

Also included are hooker Mario Ledesma and prop Martin Scelzo, who helped Clermont Auvergne win the French championship last weekend, on the same day Leicester was winning the English title, thanks to prop Marcos Ayerza and winger Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

Italy V France Hospitality

France V Wales Hospitality

Ireland V England Hospitality

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Andy Robinson says Six Nations is more important to Scotland than World Cup

It seems there has been a radical rethink at Murrayfield. In place of the system where everything revolved in four-year cycles around the Rugby World Cup, Andy Robinson, the Scotland head coach, has made it clear that the Six Nations Rugby Championship is now his over-riding priority, and that even the autumn internationals play a greater role in his day-to-day thinking than the global challenge.

“The key for me is Scotland getting the right number of matches against the southern hemisphere teams in the autumn and we have got that, playing two of them each year. The other important thing is to focus on the Six Nations 2011. Those games are where we really need to improve and start winning regularly,” he said yesterday.

He is busy finalising the side that will take on Japan A next week mainly players from the squad preparing to face Argentina next month but most of the Glasgow players are likely to be rested and he will have to call some in from the Scotland A team preparing for the IRB Nations Cup in Romania but he was also keen to look at the longer term.

“I’m really focusing on the Six Nations and autumn internationals,” he said. “When we are there, the tours will be important, but not to the detriment of the other matches. This stage of the season you can lose the likes of Euan Murray, players who have had a hard season and need to rest or tidy up injuries. We are lucky this year that we don’t have many players who need to rest.

“The Six Nations is a tournament that we play every year. We will deal with the World Cup when we come to it, but it is only once every four years, we will peak towards the Six Nations every year and we are going to be judged on how we perform in it.”

There had been fears among some supporters that Scotland’s failure to land a major tour to a top-tier nation — along the lines of the three-match series that England, Ireland, France and Wales will all be embarking on during the next decade was a demonstration of Scotland’s falling stock as a world power in rugby. In fact, it is all part the masterplan devised by Robinson and Graham Lowe, the performance director, to ensure a steady progression with the limited resources at their disposal.

“I’m really keen for the players to experience not just playing top-tier Test matches but to experience playing in places like Japan and America. That can help us grow as a team and develop that winning habit. At the end of this schedule we can look at where we are in terms of things like rankings and how many players we have developed and we will have a handle on what direction we will then want to go,” he added.

“Scotland have never played three-Test series against anybody, we do not think that is the right thing for us to do at the moment. We cannot let it get away from success in the Six Nations and the autumn Tests. The summer Tests are a building block.”

France V Scotland Hospitality

Scotland V Wales Hospitality

Six nations Hospitality

Lee Byrne urges Ospreys to show their best in Magners showdown

LEE Byrne has urged the Ospreys to “do themselves justice” during tomorrow night’s intriguing inaugural Magners League Grand Final with Leinster in Dublin.

The Bridgend Athletic product was in a cautious mood as he addressed the 19,500 sell-out showdown at the RDS between some of union’s finest players.

He’ll go head-to-head with his Lions full-back rival of last year, Rob Kearney, while James Hook will be up against Brian O’Driscoll in the centre and Ryan Jones takes on Jamie Heaslip at No 8.

Throw in the likes of Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe, Mike Phillips, Jerry Collins, Marty Holah, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan, Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan and Shane Jennings, and you’ve got a real who’s who of stardust.

The winner of the shoot-out between last season’s Heineken Cup kings Leinster and the star-studded Ospreys will become the first team to be crowned Celtic champions for a third time.

Leinster haven’t been beaten at home – it’s being staged at their ground because they finished top of the league section – in the Magners for 18 months and Byrne admits the Ospreys face a tall order in over-coming them.

But he believes the self-belief generated during last month’s 20-16 defeat in Dublin, that came at the end of a gruelling seven days which had seen them play Biarritz in Spain in the Heineken and Ulster in Belfast in the league, will stand them in good stead.

“It was the end of a hard week, we’d played three games on the road and had the disappointment of Biarritz, but to get so close to Leinster in that game maybe surprised a few people,” said the 29-year-old.

“They’ve not lost at home in the Magners in about 18 months so we know it’s going to be tough, but they’ve got to lose some time and hopefully it’s going to be our time.”

Byrne was playing his cards close to his chest because the Ospreys, despite their squad forming the bulk of two Wales Six Nations Grand Slam winning teams, have got a poor record when it comes to the knockout stages of tournaments.

The only successes the Swansea-based Ospreys have had in knockout matches was smashing the Blues and Saracens – just a fortnight before losing to them in the Heineken – in Anglo-Welsh semi-finals at the Millennium Stadium, beating Leicester in one Twickenham final and accounting for Glasgow a couple of weeks ago in their Magners last-four match-up.

But the Ospreys have lost just one of their last six fixtures in all competitions with Wales full-back Byrne beaming: “We’ve put ourselves in a good position.

“We want to try to make sure we do ourselves justice on the day, and if we hit the standards we have been it could be a good night for us.”

Although he didn’t join the Ospreys until a year after the region’s first Celtic League success, Byrne will still be gunning for his own personal hat-trick having won the title with the Scarlets in 2004, as well being a part of the Ospreys 2007 title-winning team.

And, with the Ospreys having trailed Leinster by three points in the final table, unsurprisingly, Byrne is a fan of the knockout system.

“I’ve won it twice before, but it’s a bit different this year; the play-offs have added a twist to it,” he said.

“This is the way it is now. We’ve been on a good run to move up the table towards the end of the season and it means we are in with a chance of winning it.”

Wales V England Hospitality

Ireland V France Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Six Nations: Gethin Jenkins injury blow for Wales

SHAUN EDWARDS last night put a brave face on the absence of Wales’ best forward Gethin Jenkins from their summer Tests, insisting it will open the door for somebody else to shine.

Jenkins aggravated a long-standing calf problem as the Blues charged to European glory with a stunning success over French big spenders Toulon in last Sunday’s final of the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Jenkins, who was Blues captain in Marseille and is revered by many as the best loosehead prop in the world, didn’t appear for the second half.

Ospreys reserve prop Craig Mitchell, who is on the stand-by list and has been training with coach Warren Gatland’s squad, would seem to be the front-runner to replace Jenkins in the 27-strong party.

Wales defence coach Edwards hinted that Jenkins’ Blues team mate John Yapp, and not Paul James – Jenkins’ replacement for much of the Six Nations after the calf trouble first struck – might wear the No 1 jersey against World Cup and Tri-Nations holders South Africa a week on Saturday.

“Any team that was to lose Gethin would be suffering a negative because of the fact it would be losing a lot of experience and a British Lions front-row player,” said the rugby league great.

“We all know Gethin’s capabilities, particularly in the loose, but, I’m a big believer in that when one door shuts for one person it opens for another.

“I’m sure, if the person coming in can possess the same attitude to training the other players have at the moment, we will have a very keen and committed loosehead.”

Jenkins fractured a cheekbone in the Lions’ brutal second Test with South Africa in Pretoria 11 months ago and missed the start of the season following shoulder surgery.

He was captain in place of the injured Ryan Jones when Wales concluded a disappointing autumn campaign with a thrashing against Australia in Cardiff.

But his Six Nations campaign was blighted by the calf trouble, which is understood to be caused by a toe problem.

“A prop puts his weight on through the toe at the scrummage and it’s led to Gethin getting problems with a calf,” explained Edwards.

“It’s a long-standing injury which seems to recur quite a lot.

“He needs four to six weeks out, which is particularly disappointing for Gethin.

“We would have liked him to have been fit for the tour of New Zealand and then have a rest, but the medics have said he’s got to have time off now.

“I’m sure, with the right direction and correct rest period, he will be jumping out of his skin come World Cup year.”

Centre James Hook and lock Luke Charteris have also been ruled out of the summer Tests through injury, while experienced scrum-half Dwayne Peel and veteran flanker Martyn Williams have been rested.

Wales V Ireland Hospitality

England V Italy Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Rugby: Sevens can be heaven for Cairns and Capital

BEN CAIRNS is convinced that Edinburgh Rugby is in a win-win situation thanks to their heavy involvement in this weekend's Emirates IRB sevens at Murrayfield.

Cairns says: "Hopefully we can benefit from understandings already developed in the 15-a-side game but there are also opportunities to form on-field relationships with new signings Lee Jones and Alex Blair, which can stand Edinburgh in good stead.

"It helps, too, that Colin Shaw and Mike Adamson (both Glasgow) are old colleagues who I enjoy playing alongside."

Whatever happens Cairns is looking forward to drawing on sevens experiences to make Edinburgh more competitive.

"I'm delighted to have signed on for another three years and hopefully a call up to the sevens squad can play a part in a recall to the full international side as well as looking to do even better than last year when we reached the semi-finals at Murrayfield.

"I haven't played sevens since being included three years ago when Scotland won all three pool matches on the first day and welcome this chance."

Cairns, out of favour with Scotland since the opening match of the 2009 Six Nations, adds: "I've had feedback and what I am working on is a personal thing. I'm only 24 with, hopefully, my best rugby years ahead.

"Playing sevens is a chance to showcase what I can offer, especially as Scotland have done well in the Murrayfield leg of the circuit previously.

"A lot of the skills required are similar to what we do in training with Edinburgh but, of course, they have to be performed under more of a spotlight at sevens.

"By raising standards over the next couple of days there will be benefits on the Scotland A tour to the Nations Cup this summer as well."

As an example of how good a springboard sevens can be look no further than Roddy Grant who starred in the 2009 tournament before going on to be named Edinburgh's "players' player of the year" a fortnight ago.

Grant, part of the latest sevens squad, said: "I was really humbled to be singled out by my fellow players and it is undoubtedly a confidence boost.

"I'm sure sevens played a part. Tactics are different but every individual skill is magnified.

"So much so that, if you miss a tackle, it can lead to a try. That concentrates the mind and being involved in a sevens team which did well at Murrayfield a year ago enabled me to set my personal standards a bit higher than might otherwise have been the case.

"I've also learned, through sevens, a bit more about playing in front of big crowds and dealing with matters such as getting my mind right for ties coming close together."

Grant finished the season as acting Edinburgh captain and that experience is something he hopes to draw on this weekend.

Scotland open against perennial winners Fiji although, on the overall grand prix circuit, it is a straight fight between Samoa and New Zealand for the title.

Welcoming the Fiji challenge, Grant added: "Everybody knows Fiji have an amazing sevens tradition but we beat them at the London tournament last year.

"It's a chance to put down a marker and set ourselves up for the next couple of games."

Next up for Scotland are surprise packets USA, who are already benefiting through sevens being included on the schedule for the 2016 Olympics.

"As for Wales they got to the quarter-finals in London so we know we are up against a form side. Hopefully our home crowd will be noisy."

England V France Hospitality

England V Scotland Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Gareth Charles' predictions for Ireland V Scotland

A fortnight ago before the Wales V France game I said a familiar pattern was emerging to Wales' RBS Six Nations games in 2010. Well nothing much has changed has it?

So what can we expect this time round? Well, to celebrate Brian O'Driscoll's 100th cap for Ireland, the penultimate game in Croke Park before returning to a renovated Lansdowne Road, and with Ireland still in the hunt for a Triple Crown, what about...?
Wales give a parting gift of a 20-point start. Then Shane Williams will begin to shine in the second half and Wales will run in four unanswered tries to end real party-poopers! Wales have become almost predictable in their unpredictability.
Certainly, when the game breaks up late on and Wales' superior fitness levels come through, they are an extremely difficult team to defend against.
But what of the opening hour? Once again France were more than happy to stay out of rucks and mauls, stay off tackles, fan wide and pick off interceptions, leaving Wales too great a mountain to climb as happened in Twickenham and as almost happened against Scotland.
And if France were happy to sit back and let Wales force the pace, what price Ireland? It'll be a case of: "come on, show us what you've got".
Ireland were happy enough to let England have as much possession as they liked, especially with England's recycling seemingly organized by a sloth on tranquilisers!
There were 99 tackles made by Ireland, just one missed, but crucially three clear-cut chances created three tries scored - the kind of clinical finishing Wales would currently die for.
At Croke Park on Saturday there will be two extremely talented back lines but the confidence that comes from finishing and winning could be a telling factor.
Up front Wales are hoping the return of hooker Matthew Rees will stabilise the set piece, which unexpectedly creaked a little against France, and provide a launch-pad for another returnee, number eight Gareth Delve, to show the dynamism that has typified his performances for Gloucester this season.
Delve needs to be prominent to keep quiet possibly Ireland's most potent force - an outstanding back-row trio of Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip and David Wallace who dovetail together so superbly.
Unfortunately statistics show that if Scotland beat England at Murrayfield (unlikely but not impossible) Wales, who went into the first Saturday of the Six Nations hoping for a Grand Slam, could be going into the last Saturday fighting to avoid a Wooden Spoon.
When you're inches away from greatness but inches away from gloom, Croke Park is not exactly the ideal place to be going.

Stuart Barnes's Big Game:France V England

Robinson, the former England head coach, has yet to secure a victory in this year’s competition while England under Johnson are yet to come anywhere near answering the critics with a performance of any imagination or intelligence. So, yes, Ireland and Wales could be the best game of rugby this weekend but this one should have the drama.

Telfer made his assertion based on the opinion that England is no longer much of a team. Johnson can dismiss former players and journalists as having "an agenda" but it is more telling coming from the man who coached him on the successful 1997 Lions tour of South Africa. He cannot snarl and say "what do you know?" because Telfer knows an awful lot and is surely one of the more respected rugby thinkers in Johnson’s eyes.
They were not bad at home to France but were easily beaten and, true, they played close to their limit against Wales and but for injuries would have surely won in Cardiff. Then they went further than even an inept England and lost in Rome with the Scottish forwards banging around one-dimensionally on the Italian line, giving a passable imitation of all the failings Robinson displayed as England’s head man.
They beat Australia, but Australia did everything in their powers to inflict defeat upon themselves. Australia beat themselves before Argentina, who England beat in a desperately dull game that autumn, won in Edinburgh. The theory that Scotland should beat England is difficult to justify.
What is tantalising, however, is the other side of the coin. The argument that England should beat Scotland is an equally unjustifiable assertion because away from home Johnson’s team cannot be banked to win anywhere but in Rome.
The old vices are back with a vengeance. Possession is not a problem but, as in the bad old day’s pre-Clive Woodward, the lions’ share of it was insufficient at home to Ireland. England win ball but it is so slow and static that the backs do not know how to use it. When they do produce quicker service, the back line is far too deep, far too regimented and far too unimaginative.
The quest for a team shape has left them forgetting the importance of having an individual with the ability to break a defensive pattern. England have a great deal to prove but the management, even more than the players, are in the firing line. If the players lack belief or the players are simply the wrong ones, the problem begins and will not be solved until the management is fixed. England’s management will not be changed but they may still be running out of time with the fans.
Defeat in Rome was a desperate disappointment for England but it probably makes life tougher for them. Scotland are not that good a team but they have enough about them to respond to the panic induced by that awful loss to Italy.
Robinson’s role is to channel that desperation. If he achieves that, England are in for a fight. The Scottish scrum is improved and the back row is a proper unit. The Scotland coach will fancy taking advantage of Johnson’s decision to select the hard-tackling Joe Worsley and omit a genuine openside flanker in Lewis Moody to compete with the burgeoning John Barclay. Scotland will not wilt in the set-piece and could outflank England at the breakdown. If they do, the Scottish half backs know what to do.
Chris Cusiter has the defensive capacity to rattle Danny Care, while Dan Parks has the advantage over Wilkinson in the distance and accuracy of his tactical kicking. Should Scotland establish a platform and maintain position it is hard to see where England’s tries will come from.
Whatever the quality of the individuals involved the conservatism that has emanated from the management will not make it easy for England to cast off their shackles and play, like high-class professionals, what is in front of them.

It’s time for the excuses to end for Wales - Six Nations Rugby 2010

WALES have talked the talk... today let’s see if they are good enough to walk the walk.

The Welsh camp’s spin machine has been in full flow during the build-up to the big Millennium Stadiums how down with Triple Crown-chasing Ireland.
No surprise really, because it’s the job of Warren Gatland to convince his players they are better than their results during this Six Nations suggest.
Judging by the comments emanating from Martyn Williams and his team, the coach’s efforts are paying off so he must be doing something right.
Lest people forget, Wales lost to England, struggled to pip Scotland and were beaten by France by half-time.
They are a lowly fourth in the table and out of contention for the championship. This from a team that entered the tournament believing a third European title in six years was very much on the cards.
It might have gone wrong on the pitch, continuing the downward spiral which began after last year’s Six Nations opener with Scotland at Murrayfield, but you wouldn’t realise it from the comments of Gatland and company.
France coach Marc Lievremont could claim he knew his players would be in for a hard time of it during the second half at the Millennium Stadium because they were practically nodding off in their armchairs by half-time, so dominant had they been.
Last year’s Grand Slam kings have the personnel, in the shape of Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, to take Wales to the cleaners.
Ireland have become the sort of consistent force Wales crave to be. And ironically, it has happened since Gatland put down the shoots for their surge towards the top of European rugby while in charge of the men in green at the turn of the decade.
With Wales, on the other hand, it seems to be everything or nothing. Since the Five Nations became Six with the admission of Italy 10 years ago, Wales have twice lifted the title but, on the other eight occasions, their best finishing position was fourth.
On paper, the back five of Ireland’s pack will be too strong for their opposite numbers. The Irish back row of Ferris, Heaslip and Wallace is beautifully balanced and extremely physical at the breakdown.
Even if they didn’t win the ball, the Irish duo put the Red Rose lineout, which had the better of Wales last month, under severe pressure, with the knock-on effect drawing crucial mistakes from the likes of Jonny Wilkinson.
Captain Ryan Jones also sits today out with a calf problem, while Gatland resisted recalling – he admitted considering it – the shamed Andy Powell following the player’s barmy drink-drive escapade down the M4 in a golf buggy.
For Wales to have a hope, they need every player to perform at their absolute limit. Most notably, the forwards have to lift their game under the captaincy of stand-in leader Martyn Williams.
The Lions hooker has only made two substitute appearances for the Scarlets since Wales’ 33-12 thrashing against Australia last November at the Millennium Stadium because of a groin problem.
Gatland’s quite justifiable reasoning is that it is better to see how much time Rees lasts rather than send him on too early.
But it goes against everything Wales have said this season, namely that players have to be fully fit and prove themselves in matches to be considered.
That was the excuse they used not to pick Dwayne Peel at scrum-half. But it didn’t seem to worry Gatland when it came to putting Mike Phillips amongst the replacements against France, so it appears to be a case of a face fitting.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Six Nations rugby 2010 : France V Italy Hospitality

In theory, this should be a simple assignment for Les Bleus, seemingly on an inexorable path towards the title and a potential Grand Slam, but Italy would love to inflict one of the great upsets in the championships history.

France are aware more than anyone else of their own reputation for inconsistency, and no doubt coach Marc Lievremont would have been showing replays of their last 40 minutes of test rugby, when Wales came within a whisker of winning at Millennium Stadium.

That game will remind the Tricolours of their own mortality, and while their final match with England will decide the championship, they will want to make a statement at the expense of an Italian team that will arrive in Paris with some belief, after downing Scotland in Rome.
Italy will try to make it awkward for their opponents, and in more thorough analysis it can be revealed that they have hardly been whipping boys this tournament, with the exception of their first half of rugby against Ireland.

They may still be struggling with their attack, but defensively they have the third best defence by points scored in the tournament, and have let in only four tries – with only France (three conceded) having the better record.
But where they have looked better is that it appears Coach Nick Mallet has dropped the “damage control limitation” game plan, and is actually encouraging his team to win. Furthermore, they are embracing their natural awkwardness, proving in this tournament, as they did against the Tri Nations power last year; that they are a difficult team to play against.
Their only victory came in 1997 when Massimo Giovanelli led Italy to a remarkable 40-32 win at the Stade Lesdiguieres in Grenoble, France. The incomparable Diego Dominguez converted all four Italian tries that day and kicked a further four penalties. The best efforts of a strong French team, led by Fabien Pelous came to nothing as they became the first and only team to lose to the Italians.
France has named a strong side, although they continue to be hamstrung by injuries. But despite this, they have a level of depth which shows that perhaps Lievremont’s selection policies were in fact the act of an inspired genius.
Only two changes have been made after their 26-20 win over Wales, with David Marty coming into the side forcing Mathieu Bastareaud to the bench.
Castres winger Marc Andreu takes over for Julien Malzieu of Clermont, while Biarritz number nine Dimitri Yachvili makes his return to the national side, coming in on the bench to replace the injured Frederic Michalak.

John backs Scotland to cause upset in Six Nations Rugby

Scotland head coach Eamon John insists their RBS 6 Nations clash with England on Friday is a winnable game.

John’s young team have already experienced a breakthrough year, becoming the first Scottish Under 20s side not to lose to France when they managed an 8-8 draw in the opening game.
And Scotland have made just one change to the starting lineup that broke another record against Italy – becoming the first Scottish Under 20 side to win away – scrum-half Alex Black replaces Kris Hamilton.
But John insists he has picked a team to win the match and backed his players to cause an upset and avenge last season’s 20-6 defeat.
He said: “We make the selection according to the opposition. We wanted to start quickly against Italy which is why we went with Kris but from an English point of view we need a bit more physicality at the start.
“England will be smarting over their Ireland result and have had a mixed campaign with a variety of players available at different times in the competition but when they have their top players on the field like they did against Wales they ran in five second-half tries.
“Any team in any sport is always beatable. It’s up to us to get it right.
“We respect England who will have players with under-20 World Cup final experience – but we’re going to go out there to do a job on them and make life uncomfortable in Glasgow.”
SCOTLAND: Tom Brown, Oliver Grove, Jonny Kennedy, Alex Dunbar, Dougie Fife, Alex Blair, Alex Black, Nicky Little, Alun Walker, Colin Phillips, Matthew Reid, Robert Harley, Michael Maltman, Stuart McInally, David Denton
Replacements: Lindsey Gibson, George Hunter, Aaron Hall, Callum Stidston-Nott, Kris Hamilton, Matthew Scott, James Johnstone

Wales rugby coach salutes O'Driscoll landmark – Six Nations Rugby

Wales coach Warren Gatland knows better than most the qualities that will have taken Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll to a century of caps for his country when the two sides meet in the Six Nations rugby at Croke Park on Saturday.

"I gave him his first cap, and it was an honour for me to be involved with him with the Lions last year to see how he has developed," Gatland said on Wednesday. "I was incredibly impressed with his leadership and his understanding of the game.
"He was one of the main reasons Jamie Roberts ended up having such a good tour.
"He deserves all the accolades, and I will be one of the first to stand up in the coaching box on Saturday and clap him," Gatland, whose time in charge of the two Celtic nations was separated by a successful spell as coach of English giants Wasps.
"I am absolutely delighted for him and proud I have had an association with him," Gatland added.
O'Driscoll, who a match after prop John Hayes became the first player to win 100 Ireland caps, becomes only the 13th player in rugby union history to notch up a hundred Tests' worth of national service, has enjoyed a glittering career.
The Leinster legend has captained Ireland on 63 occasions and last year led his country to their first Grand Slam since 1948 while winning the European Cup with his provincial side.
But the match that made world rugby sit-up and take notice of his singular talent was in 2000 when O'Driscoll, just two months after his 21st birthday, scored a hat-trick of tries against a France side featuring Emile Ntamack and Abdel Benazzi as Ireland enjoyed a rare victory in Paris.
"That is my greatest memory of Brian - the hat-trick of tries he scored when Ireland beat France in Paris for the first time in 27 years," said Gatland, whose opinion was soon endorsed by one of rugby union's most gifted centres.
"I remember the French great Philippe Sella coming into the changing room to congratulate him afterwards and saying it was one of the most impressive centre performances he had ever seen."
And Wales flanker Martyn Williams, the visiting captain this weekend in place of the injured Ryan Jones, said the passing of the years had done little to dim fellow Lion O'Driscoll's ability.
"Brian is without doubt the best player in the northern hemisphere over the last decade, and probably one of the greatest ever," said Williams. "For me, there is nothing he can't do.
"A lot of players maybe are really good defenders and have great passing skills, but he's got the complete package.

Wales coach Warren Gatland breaks cover over warthog jibe in Ireland

Warren Gatland will tomorrow depart from routine and host Wales's final media conference before Saturday's Six Nations match against Ireland at Croke Park, after finding himself the subject of personal attacks in Irish newspapers.

Gatland, who was sacked by Ireland in 2001 after three years in charge, was described by Vincent Hogan of the Irish Independent as being "as rational as a menopausal warthog" and accused of harbouring a "toxic personal agenda" against Irish rugby. The former Ireland second-row Neil Francis called him "puerile" and said the New Zealander could be out of a job in the summer.
This is the third time Gatland has prepared Wales to face Ireland. The only other time he has presented a media conference the day before a game, a task he usually leaves to his assistants, was before the fixture in Cardiff last year when he had caused a furore by suggesting his players disliked the Irish more than any other side in the Six Nations.
"I, like the rest of the Wales coaching staff and players, have broad shoulders and we are more than capable of rising above this kind of self-perpetuating attempt at controversy," said Gatland. "We should treat this with the disdain in which it is offered and I urge true Welsh and Irish rugby fans not to let anything that has been written affect the respect and friendship they share for each other. It does not deserve to impact on what will be a great weekend."
Gatland has been complimentary to Ireland this week – in the last two years he has not been afraid to provoke a response. Wales were chasing the title then but two defeats in three matches this year have left them needing a win to avoid going into the last weekend as candidates for the wooden spoon.
"We know it is going to be tough against Ireland," said Gatland. "We need to be more clinical. There will be a lot of emotion about, with Brian O'Driscoll winning his 100th cap, but it is exciting and I am looking forward to it. We need to improve our decision-making, not putting ourselves under pressure by playing too much rugby from the start. We should not be afraid to go into half-time at 3-3 or 6-6 because, as the game breaks up in the second half, we will create chances. We are in great shape physically and we are strong at the end of games. We must just stop giving away soft points.
"We do not want to be conservative. We want to play expansive rugby but we just have to be a bit smarter. It would be easy to revert to a tighter game plan but it is harder to go the other way and suddenly become expansive, as England have found. They have been unsuccessful when playing a wider game because they have no experience of it. Attack is costing us at the moment but it will come."
The Gloucester chairman, Tom Walkinshaw, and his fellow shareholder Martin St Quinton have pumped more than £2.5m into the club after it posted a loss of nearly £670,000 in the last financial year, compared with a £209,000 profit a year before.
"Trading has been poor and we needed to do something about it," said Walkinshaw. "We have no idea how the economy will perform in the next year and we now have some clear headroom."

The former England skipper writes for The Northern Echo during the RBS 6 Nations.

England now have a couple of weeks to regroup and prepare for the mustwin game against France at Stade de France.

The destiny of the championship is, to some extent, still in their own hands. If England can beat both Scotland and France in their final two games then points difference could be crucial.
Ireland’s ability to score tries, three to be precise, was a shining example for England, if ever they needed one, of where they are falling short.
Jonny Wilkinson will always be able to keep the score ticking over with his boot, however the indents that penalties make need to be supported by the greater blows inflicted by tries.
Indeed, Wilkinson was the best of England’s backs on Saturday and their performance was benefited by the introduction of the lively Ben Foden in the second half.
It was good to see a player in an England jersey whose first instinct was to attack and his incisive play should be rewarded with a greater opportunity against Scotland.
I presume his replacement Paul Hodgson was brought on to shore up the defence, but unfortunately that never happened. Care seemed to have grown into the game by the time he was taken off but perhaps his industrious afternoon in muddy conditions had caught up with him.
While England are now looking at another twoweek hiatus, I’ve strapped the lycra back on for the penultimate stage of the Dallaglio Cycle Slam. A tricky 410km ride from Twickenham to Fishguard via Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium will set up the final leg, but there is a lot of pedalling to be done before I can even begin to think about the finish line.
In total I’m cycling 2,800km from Rome to Murrayfield, taking in Paris, Twickenham, Cardiff and Dublin along the way.
A crazy idea I know, however it’s all in aid of Sport Relief and the Dallaglio Foundation, so well worth the physical challenge.
Follow my progress on www.dallagliocycleslam.com I’ll look ahead to the game with Scotland in next week’s column.
England will have to bounce back quickly to keep their championship hopes alive but one thing’s for sure, the fat lady hasn’t sung just yet.

Murphy flavour of the Irish month – Six Nations Rugby

IT says much about the transformation of Geordan Murphy’s international fortunes that he’s keeping Lions Test star Rob Kearney out of the Ireland team to face Wales this weekend.

Despite being recognised as one of the most naturally talented players in British rugby, the Leicester full-back was frequently overlooked by O’Sullivan, who tended to prefer the more prosaic qualities of the solid yet far from spectacular Girvan Dempsey.
When Kearney was ruled out of last month’s game against England with a knee problem, it was Murphy who Kidney turned to.
That was despite the fact he’d only made one start for the Tigers after a five-month layoff with a shoulder injury.
He responded with a fine display in the 20-16 victory at Twickenham and has kept his place for Saturday’s Croke Park clash, even though Kearney is now available again, with the Lions ace having to make do with a spot on the bench.
“Rob looked fantastic in training and I thought if he was fit and he was picked I couldn’t have any gripes because he was the guy in possession of the shirt when he got injured.
“I think that’s the way sport is. It generally goes back. So I’m really pleased to be in. I’ve been happy with the way I’m playing.
“I was thrown into the England match with not a lot of game-time, but it went OK and I went and played again for Leicester at the weekend and I was happy with how that went.
“I think I’ve still got a little more to go, but I’m really enjoying it, that’s the main thing, especially having been on the outside for so long. It’s nice to be back involved.”
Asked whether his confidence had been sapped by the previous Ireland regime, he replied: “I don’t know.
“When I picked up my shoulder injury in September I was worried about my place in the squad.
“I fully expect to see Rob on the field this weekend, he’s too good of a player to not be out there. He’s world class.
“But I’ve got to try and play as well as I can and let management make those decisions.
“I’ve always said I want to play in a green shirt and I want to do my best. If I’m an asset then hopefully I’ll get picked. I’ve just got to keep trying to do as well as I can.
“Everyone’s been saying they’re not playing that well , but some of the tries they’ve scored have been some of the best you’ll see in the Six Nations.
“They’re dangerous across the board and when they get to play they have great players like Shane Williams who can score a try from absolutely nothing.
“They’ll probably try and raise that again and they’ve got no fears coming to Croke Park. It’s going to be a very tough match.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New boy of France unfazed by first start – Six Nations Rugby 2010

New boy of France Marc Andreu says he is unfazed by making his first international start as his country go for a Grand Slam against Italy in their Six Nations rugby clash in Paris this Sunday.

The Castres winger is the surprise name in Marc Lievremont's starting line-up following his debut for Les Bleus against Wales in Cardiff two weeks ago.

 "I now have to stay focused and continue to train well this weekend to be at the top of my game on Sunday.

Andreu made his bow for the France team in a three-minute cameo appearance as a substitute against Wales a fortnight ago.

"That was a first step. I'm now in the starting line-up against a fine Italy side that are having a great tournament.

"For my first start, I'm going to try and perform well so I can stay in this squad that is packed full of top players."

"This does not bother me at all. On the contrary. It should be seen as a strength and not as a weakness. I have always been small and it has never posed me any problems. I'll play to my qualities to beat my opponents," Andreu said.

That has been shown this season as the winger has become a key part of the Castres team, the surprise leaders of the Top 14 league, starting 20 times and scoring five tries in all competitions.

Born in the town of Frejus on the Cote d'Azur, Andreu grew up in southwest France in a small town outside Bordeaux.

But the pacey winger could well have been lining up for another French national team alongside Thierry Henry and Yoann Gourcuff: he spent his early teenage years concentrating on his football and played in the same youth team as Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh.

He took up rugby seriously at the age of 15 and later signed for Toulon in 2002.

In his seven-year spell with the southern club, Andreu became known for his lightning speed and mazy running with the ball, winning call-ups to France's Sevens and university sides.

Now Andreu is fulfilling a long-time dream in turning out for the full national team against the Italians.

"All kids who start playing rugby dream of one day playing for the French team and even one day appearing in the Six Nations," he said.

Italy have a wretched record in the tournament, having notched up only their seventh-ever win in ten years against Scotland a fortnight ago.

Yet Andreu is refusing to underestimate the threat they pose.

"We'll have to take the Italians very seriously after they beat Scotland. They played well against England and Ireland so we must be very careful," he said.

France V Italy Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Six Nations Rugby 2010 : Scotland V England Hospitality

Scotland will target this game as their “championship” having not won a single match in 2010.  While their final game against Ireland will be intense, to beat their oldest enemy would put them in the winner’s circle, but more importantly, will scuttle any hopes England have of winning the Six Nations rugby 2010.

Andy Robinson and his side will want to again take steps forward.  They were on the right path, being competitive against France and dominating Wales for most of the game.  But the loss to Italy in Rome was damaging coming into this game for two key reasons.

Again the spectre of being unable to score tries reared its head, with the Italians keeping their try line intact.  But worse still is that England will in all their glorified pragmatism know that they need not do anything particular intricate to beat a Scottish side that is slowly growing, but still seemingly missing the necessary munitions needed to win them a test match.

Still, while England march up North with a stronger record in this tournament, and with a stronger looking match day squad, this is far from a guarantee of any success.  Far more impressive English sides than Martin Johnson’s current hybrid have come to Murrayfield and lost.  

Much of Scotland’s ability to succeed in what is only their second and final home game in 2010 will come down to belief.  Any confidence they had carefully built up since Robinson came on board would have evaporated with their loss to the Azzurri.

But they can compete, and will need to heed their coach’s call to be ruthless against England.  Scotland’s two domestic sides, both who are in the top four of the Magners League, showed that Scottish rugby is stronger than their mediocre recent international record suggests.  

Captain Chris Cusiter himself said that the creating and hard work is being done by the team, it is just a case of being more clinical to finish moves - and by association matches - off.

Crucial to their hopes will be their Glasgow spine, with their entire back row and numbers 9, 10, 11 and 12 in the backline all being Warriors.  These combinations should ensure a little more cohesiveness on the field, and that could be the difference between the two sides.

Certainly the Scottish pack is strong enough to resist anything the English throw at them.

For England, they have made only two changes, bringing in Wasps flanker Joe Worsley and Tigers second rower Louis Deacon.  

With their backline retained from their loss against Ireland, it is now or never for what is England’s front line three quarter division.  A loss here, coupled with another directionless display from their on-field tacticians, should increase the cadence – and rightly so – for Johnson to look elsewhere for men to wear the red rose.

England does have the superior record overall against the teams, including winning nine of the last 12.  But since 2006 the ledger stands at 2 wins apiece.  

Scotland V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Lee Byrne warns Ireland that Wales will end their Triple Crown hopes

Wales full back Lee Byrne is gunning for Ireland and second place in the RBS Six Nations 2010.

The 29-year-old has been stunned by his country's bad luck in the championship, narrow losses to England and France just one score away from being victories.

But Byrne insists Wales can go to Croke Park this Saturday  and upset the Irish in their bid for a Triple Crown.

'We've got nothing to fear there,' said Byrne.

'It's been a very  odd year for us - both matches we lost we could have won and the match we won, we should have lost.

'The one thing about us is our fitness - we have some strong in the last 20 minutes of every match we have played.

'All we need to do now is start a bit stronger. Ireland are a very good side! but then again so are we.'

Victory in their final two games - against Ireland and Italy - will mean they cannot be overhauled by Scotland, Ireland or Italy with England having already lost a game as well.

'Second place is our goal now and that would be great given the start we had.'

Byrne himself has had a Six Nations in the spotlight. Initially suspended because of the 'subgate' fiasco when he became the 16th player on the pitch for Ospreys in the Heineken Cup against Leicester, he was able to play when the ban was lifted at the last minute.

Then he was accused of deliberately falling over under pressure when chasing a ball against Scotland, resulting in the Scot being sin binned and the penalty from which the Welsh drew level seconds from time.

They went on to grab an injury-time try through Shane Williams to beat the 13 men in blue.

Byrne, who had earlier scored a try, insisted he WAS tripped by Godman and that his opponent got what he deserved.     

The former Bridgend union and league player has joined up with RBS RugbyForce promoting the sport at grassroots level.

He said: 'I came through the grassroots system so it means a lot to me to put something back.  I'm happy to get involved with this because it means so much to so many people - including me.

'My days at Bridgend were really enjoyable and I made a lot of friends - I try and get back there whenever I can.

'RBS RugbyForce is spreading the word and the more people involved in the game the better for it - and the Wales team of course!'

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

O’Driscoll’s Ireland ton simply an almighty achievement – Ireland V Wales Hospitality

BRIAN O’Driscoll has had more than a decade in which to become accustomed to being Irish rugby football’s golden boy.

He has won European rugby’s biggest prizes at club and international level, with his straining-beneath-the-weight personal trophy cabinet including Heineken Cup and Grand Slam mementoes.

Some of the mere mortals who pay to watch Ireland’s oval ball superstar do so dressed in T-shirts extolling him. ‘BOD Almighty.’ One was on view at Twickenham on February 27, his face emblazoned upon the green cotton fabric for the benefit of anyone unable to decipher who BOD might be. Those requiring such help must lead very sheltered lives, for O’Driscoll is the best-known exponent of the game on the planet.

Paul O’Connell, who knows more than most about going in where it hurts, said: “He takes unbelievable punishment for a guy who would be considered to be a flamboyant player. He takes unbelievable punishment in the tackle and the ruck.

“He has set a standard for players across the board. He’s a complete player and that’s what everybody aspires to be — the complete player, both in defence and attack.”

If O’Driscoll feels burdened by the weight of expectation resting upon him, he does not allow it to show. That is another of his many strengths. Calm in a crisis.

But even by the levels of fuss and acclamation with which he is familiar, this is an exceptional week for an exceptional player. For on Saturday, two weeks after John Hayes became its founder, O’Driscoll will join the Munster tighthead as the second member of Irish Rugby’s 100 Cap Club.

O’Driscoll himself said: “When you get your first cap it’s such a huge honour. I was such a young age; I was 20.

“At the start it’s about winning as many caps as possible and then your mindset changes and you want to win as many times as possible in getting those caps. It’s about winning individual games.

“Then you get selfish and you want to start winning trophies, but you don’t really look at things and think, ‘Oh one day to attain 100.’ You just keep playing.”

He admitted that in recent years there have been moments when he has thought, “the next game in a green jersey could be my last. I don’t think you can go too far wrong if you have that attitude.”

“I love going training every day and I love playing, though obviously there are parts of the job that I wouldn’t love. But getting on the pitch and getting to exercise every day for a living is pretty good,” he said.

“When you look at the greatest players of all time they have always said that there is always room for improvement.”

Citing Gareth Edwards and Dan Carter as greats O’Driscoll added: “These guys were always working on certain aspects of their game.

“The second I think that I have it cracked it will be time to hang my boots up because you’ve lost the plot.”

Ireland V Wales Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Italy coach Mallett salutes fantastic victory France V Italy Hospitality

Italy's South African coach Nick Mallett hailed his team's 16-12 victory over Scotland at the Stadio Flaminio on Saturday and said it should be cherished.

Italy won for the first time since they beat Scotland 23-20 with a last minute Andrea Marcato drop goal in 2008 and Mallett admitted it was wonderful to feel the glory of victory once again.

"This is the seventh time we've won in 10 years so it's not as if we get many wins and every single win is fantastic," he said.

"We've come very close on a number of occasions such as getting to just five points from England last time out but it's a completely different feeling when we manage to hold onto a win, it's really great for the players and the staff."

Despite Italy's players praising Scotland before the game for the way they have been playing in this tournament, it was the hosts who made the only foray over their opponents tryline.

Italy trailed 12-9 midway through the second period but then Gonzalo Canale made a weaving midfield break and offloaded to Pablo Canavosio who darted under the posts to score.

"The players were very impressed with the way Scotland played against Wales and if they didn't have those two yellow cards they probably would've won," added Mallett.

"The compliments from our players before the game were genuine, they're playing very good rugby and we were nervous before the game about how they would play today in the sunshine with perfect conditions for fast, flowing rugby.

"We're very satisfied to hold them to not scoring a try, even if twice they came close." Mallett was particularly pleased with his team's defence, not just against the Scots but throughout the tournament.

"We knew the Scots play a lot in the hands, they have this high tempo game and play with many phases and they have good individuals," he added.

"Our discipline was very good, it was important to tackle, we had to get in position and we've improved our defence a lot.

"We have only conceded one try in the last 80 minutes against England, 80 minutes against Scotland and the last 50 minutes against Ireland and we're pleased with that." Scotland coach Andy Robinson, the former England international and coach, admitted defeat was hard to take but gave credit to the hosts.

"Any losing experience is pretty deflating, I thought our players put a lot of effort into their performance but we didn't manage the scoreboard well enough and obviously Italy scored a good try which allowed them to win the game," he said before lamenting their poor start that saw them fall 6-0 down.

"Our execution was poor in that first 10 minutes, we dropped a number of balls and that was frustrating for the way we wanted to play.

"We got back in there with some very good play from (man-of-the-match) Dan Parks (author of all 12 Scottish points).

"But in that first 10 minutes we lost the contact battle but also dropped a lot of balls which allowed them to get the six points."

Scotland prop Allan Jacobsen twice drove over the line under a pile of bodies but both times was denied the score after the video referee could not determine whether the ball had been grounded or not.

France V Italy Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Worsley replaces Moody in England team to play Scotland - Scotland V England Hospitality

Flanker Joe Worsley will make his first start in this season's Six Nations for Scotland V Engalnd on Saturday after Lewis Moody was dropped by manager Martin Johnson on Tuesday.

Worsley will appear in the starting lineup for the first time since sustaining knee ligament damage in the opening minute of England's 19-6 loss to New Zealand in November.

"It was a very tough call. It is not a reflection at all on how Lewis has played," Johnson said. "It is more of a reflection on the strength and depth of the players we have in the squad.

"We felt it was the best call to put Joe in the starting team and have Lewis on the bench to make an impact. They are two different players. They can both play six and seven. There is not a weakness in Lewis' game but Joe's defence is good and his ball-carrying is particularly strong."

With lock Simon Shaw injured, Louis Deacon will start in the second row after coming off the bench early in the 20-16 loss to Ireland two weeks ago.

Lock Courtney Lawes comes onto a reshuffled bench which features a return for hooker Steve Thompson and a first call-up for Leicester scrum half Ben Youngs, who has replaced Paul Hodgson.

"Ben is playing well enough and we feel he deserves a chance," Johnson said. "Delon proved his fitness yesterday and trained vigorously. The same with Toby Flood, he has come through well after his injury at the weekend (playing for Leicester)."

England: Delon Armitage, Mark Cueto, Mathew Tait, Riki Flutey, Ugo Monye, Jonny Wilkinson, Danny Care; Tim Payne, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Louis Deacon, Steve Borthwick (captain), James Haskell, Joe Worsley, Nick Easter.

Replacements: Steve Thompson, David Wilson, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Moody, Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Ben Foden.

Scotland V England Hospitality

Six Nations Hospitality

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Six Nations: Scotland recalls De Luca now engagement against England

Nick De Luca has been recalled to the Scotland team whereas Saturday's Six Nations rugby match lambaste England.

De Luca, who has not started over November 2008, commit play at outside heart sway the idiosyncratic change to the side run over drag Italy press on life. Max Evans moves to the wing cloak Simon Danielli dropping to the bench.

"Max has been our most go-ahead attacker and we also wanting to see cut and the qualities that he obligatoriness bring to this game," head cram Andy Robinson said.

Captain Chris Cusiter has shaken off a virus and flanker John Barclay has recovered from a knee injury to start.

Injuries posit forced changes on the bench, with Mike Blair, Alasdair Strokosch and Alasdair Dickinson all ruled out. Rory Lawson, Geoff crotchety and Alan MacDonald consign bring their places.

Scotland has lost all three Six Nations matches so broad this season.

"The pair has played some seemly rugby besides we have been creating chances," Robinson said. "We correct concupiscence to take that forthcoming step and finish off a game."

Scotland: Hugo Southwell, Sean Lamont, slash De Luca, Graeme Morrison, Max Evans; Dan Parks, Chris Cusiter; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Jim Hamilton, Alastair Kellock, Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie.

Replacements: Scott Lawson, Geoff Cross, Nathan Hines, Alan MacDonald, Rory Lawson, Phil Godman, Simon Danielli.

delayed Wales addition Delve targets Dublin job

GARETH DELVE is in line to show parachuted regard Wales’ Six Nations settlement hole up Ireland – like if captain Ryan Jones is passed fit.

The Gloucester captain could effect at Croke Park in the No 8 head-set since coach Warren Gatland looks for fresh draft from his ball-carriers domination Dublin on Saturday

Ospreys star Jones meanwhile is poised to impress to blindside flanker if he recovers from a nagging baby injury.

The shake-up comes amid reports Delve has signed a deal to play for new Super 15 franchise Melbourne Rebels.

The Australian newspaper was yesterday stating that the player had become the first-rate forward to mortise the wider team Down Under.

However, Delve’s modern focus consign impersonate on proving he has what it takes to answer his country’s distinguish command Dublin.

“I certainly feel serviceable of reaching in and doing a job,” said Delve, who has only in process once for Wales prestige his nine Test appearances.

Delve declined to go on last summer’s tour of North America after consulting power-brokers at his club.

The 27-year-old’s career has frequently been interrupted by serious knee further shoulder problems and he took time exterior to realize fit.

“I hell bent that the best burden was to get in my first full pre-season owing to a few years,” he said.

“It was a walloping accommodation not to tour but I believe it original to symbolize the true one.

“My main motivation through all the rehab has been to get to a eradicate where I’m playing better than I was before.”

Delve said he hasn’t had glaringly communication with the Wales management this season but kicking criterion Neil Jenkins defended that.

“I don’t presuppose we need to phone players advance every minute, every day,” he said.

“It’s just one of those things. Look, he’s playing well, he’s predominance the partners. I think he consign be pleased with that and, obviously, we are pleased with him as well because he’s a quality player.

“He’s been here before, been involved direction the squad.

“He’s had a few injuries but is playing notably well of late.

“We have information the issues with Ryan regarding his calf and stuff but I think everyone expects Ryan to personify seemly for the weekend.

“He got because the game against France also did pretty well mastery that.

“He seems to serve as fine. He obviously had a quieter stint last week with a lot of treatment, rehab further stuff.”

Delve showed a glimpse of his pains as a dynamic ball-carrier when invalid Wales give lessons Mike Ruddock picked him agency an uncapped match stifle the Barbarians at Ashton Gate six elderliness ago.

But he’s hardly managed to string a voluminous withhold of games together because then because of injuries, with his playing career threatened by shoulder problems while with Bath.

When the 2008 Grand put on winner – he appeared as a replacement in three Six Nations games – got wider Wales start, against the Springboks in Pretoria two oldness ago, he suffered a serious knee injury and was forced off.

Jenkins disputed whether Wales had an come out adumbrate the amount of go-forward as supplied by their pack in the loose, saying: “I don’t be read about what we haven’t got but he (Delve) is certainly a big, powerful trouper. He runs hard, is a pretty intelligent player as well and has got good hands. He’s just a belonging all-round performer further is a great addition to our squad.”

A new-look Wales back-row could see Delve again fellow claiming rookie Sam Warburton face Triple Crown-chasing Ireland at Croke Park.

The Irish have a onset breakaway trio esteem No 8 Jamie Heaslip, blindside flanker Stephen Ferris again openside David Wallace and Gatland knows Wales deem to brawl them physically at the breakdown.

Gatland is believed to be toying reserve the idea of opening with 21-year-old Warburton and bringing mature ball-player Martyn Williams cream the conciliator – if the game opens boost and becomes looser in the second half.

Deiniol Jones’ injury could grim that Jonathan Thomas is switched from blindside flanker to lock.

If Ryan Jones is unfit, Thomas might also be handed leadership duties.

Mike Phillips reported seemly for Wales duty yesterday despite picking ongoing a “dead leg” in the Ospreys’ defeat at Edinburgh on Sunday.

So Gatland’s capacious decision imprint the guide division is whether to retentiveness Phillips at the expense of Blues scrum-half Richie Rees,.

“Mike is quality player,” smiled Jenkins. “Whether Mike has no scandal sheet or two thousand minutes I don’t credit it makes lot difference with him.

“Richie was nonpareil against France. He’s in fantastic constitute. I’m express legitimate commit exemplify close between them.”