Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Six Nations & Super 14 roundup

February 13, 2006

A crazy weekend in the Six Nations.

France needed to rebound from their shock defeat in Scotland a week earlier.

With England in the tournament drivers' seat, looking at the tea leaves it appeared the only way France could claim the trophy is to defeat England at home and win the championship tie-breaker on points-differential. But that test is a couple weeks away yet, and in any event was always going to be difficult since England had stacked points against Wales (defending champs) while France was in-minus to Scotland (wooden-spooners). And England are projected to run up huge points against the Scots (although that may yet prove more difficult than expected, unless the lack of depth in the sore Scottish program rears its head as the tournament progresses and niggling injuries accumulate).

So France needed points! Early Saturday against Ireland, France was scoring points, lots of them, they were on fire! Mid-way through the 2nd-half they had an unassailable 43-3 lead at home. The only question was how high they would run the score. And then they took their foot off the pedal and allowed Ireland to claw back into the game with four unanswered late tries. Final score: France 43 Ireland 31.

That leaves France with a 1-1 record and only +8 in point-differential. France host Italy on Saturday and will presumably run up a basketball score.

Ireland has an identical 1-1 record (pt. diff. -2) and host Wales for the Sunday test.

England meanwhile had a torrid time grinding out a tough win against Italy. The forecast predicted a huge score, but at halftime the English juggernaut only had a slim 7-6 advantage, and with France running up the score against Ireland it felt like the 6N ground was shifting. Alas, the French caved in Paris right at the time the English began to assert their superiority in Rome. England scored a couple tries to pull clear by fifteen points, until Italy pulled together a magnificent try by Mirco Bergomasco at the 80th minute and trailed by only 8 points, a very credible deficit and fair reflection of the test. But an injury-time try by James Simpson-Daniel stretched England's lead back to 15 for the final whistle. One wonders how large that late try will loom should the tournament get decided by tie-breaker? Final score: England 31 Italy 16.

England is the only side with a perfect 2-0 record and their point differential sits at a haughty +49. They travel to Murrayfield this Saturday for a vigorous Calcutta Cup clash.

Italy is gasping for air at 0-2 but their -25 point differential doesn't seem quite so terrible. If they hadn't conceded that late try, their point-differential deficit would only be 18 points -- dare I say it? -- almost respectable! This is definitely an improving team in the post-John Kirwan era.

On Sunday the defending champion Wales scraped by Scotland down to 14 men for a full hour, after Scottish lock Scott Murray was red-carded for kicking at the mid-point of the first-half. The game was over as a contest from that point, the scoreline being flattered by two late Scottish tries in the last two minutes. Final score: Wales 28 Scotland 18.

Wales evens their record at 1-1, but will have to work hard in Dublin on Sunday to bite into that nasty -24 point differential.

Scotland is now level at 1-1 and has a -6 point differential on the tie-breaker. They have the unenviable task of hosting England on Saturday.

I know, I know -- too much info about the points differential, but these are the tea leaves!

Former England hooker Brian Moore gives an entertaining analyses of the weekend tests in the Independent, ("French farce right up there with Custer") it's well worth a read.

The opening weekend of the kickass Super 14 competition in the southern hemisphere got underway, with some surprising upsets from visiting teams. The Crusaders, Hurricanes and Bulls all picked up wins with point-bonuses and sit atop the table with 5 points apiece. Inky thinks the opening weekend showed us the promise of two sides in the final, and yes, he names names. Check a full round-up of results and standings here.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a cable subscriber in Canada (and perhaps all of North America) has picked up broadcast rights for the S14. The Red Terror will launch an investigation and get back...

Oddest link of the week -- 2005 IRB World Rugby Player of the Year Dan Carter is interviewed by IGN about a new rugby computer game. Sample:

IGN: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Carter: I always wanted to be the Incredible Hulk when I was growing up.

IGN: Who wears the most hair gel on the All Blacks?

Carter: Everyone on the team says I do!! Ha ha. But I'm sure that's not true! I think Luke McAlister does!

IGN: We've heard you started playing rugby at six years old. What was your philosophy back then?

Carter: I don't think I really had a philosophy at six years old! But I knew I loved Rugby!


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