Euro 2020 Final Review: The Final Hurdle

So that was Euro 2020. 4 weeks of football filled with highs, lows, cheers, tears, and Peter Walton agreeing with every refereeing decision. The stage was set for two gladiators of European football to battle it out to see who would be crowned European champions. The mighty Azzurri of Italy against the Three Lions of England trying to bring football home, or bring it to Rome. Rome would be the destination football went to with Italy narrowly beating England 3-2 in a penalty shootout. Tricky old penalties yet again becoming England’s undoing and while 55 years of hurt never stopped them dreaming, the wait for glory carries on. For Italy it would be their second Euros title with their previous win coming in 1968 in what has been an unbelievable rebuild and turnaround for the squad in recent years. From failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup to the Roberto Mancini appointment to now champions of Europe again, it’s been quite the turnaround. So without any further ado, let’s get into the review!

Italy vs England

Result: Italy 1-1 England (Italy win 3-2 on penalties)

The match couldn’t have got off to a better start for England. It took only 1 minute and 56 seconds before Luke ‘Shawberto Carlos’ Shaw fired England into the lead with a brilliant half volley. Early goals always give teams confidence and the Three Lions were going to need it if they were going to stand a chance against Italy. England really impressed me in the first half. They looked dangerous every time they attacked and they could’ve been more than 1 up going into half time. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips controlled the midfield completely with Rice looking solid and managing to keep the shape of the midfield well while Phillips aka the Yorkshire Pirlo created chances and got himself into handy positions. Harry Kane had Giorgio Chiellini completely beat in the aerial battle winning headers and making his presence felt against the Italian captain. Italy didn’t come without their threats in the first half. Tournament breakout star Federico Chiesa was creating chances and getting forward well. Into half time England went with their 1 goal lead and many England fans dared to dream. This was the closest football has been to coming home in 55 years. All those years of heartbreak could be put to end in just 45 minutes.

However they didn’t take one important thing into consideration, the Italian second half. I don’t know what it is but in the second half of games this tournament Italy just look that bit better. The substitutions Mancini made helped turn the tide of the game. Bryan Cristante came on for Nicolo Barella who didn’t have the best game and Dominico Beradi replaced Ciro Immobile who was surprisingly quiet. Following this the onslaught of Italian chances came. Waves after waves of pressure came along with England completely losing shape. They started to tire quite quickly as Jorginho and Marco Veratti completely controlled the ball in midfield. Then in the 67th minute the inevitable happened when Leonardo Bonucci equalised. From here on in it didn’t get too much better for England. I was surprised that Declan Rice was substituted for Jordan Henderson, I thought Rice was doing a good job of trying to keep shape and chased absolutely everything but he did look tired. Neither team could get through in the remaining 20 minutes and it was extra time we went.

Neither team particularly threatened that much in extra time. Italy managed to control the midfield well and they still looked fairly strong in attack even without Chiesa. England had a few chances down at the other end but never really looked like scoring. It was pretty clear that both teams towards the end were playing for penalties with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford coming on for England towards the end of the second half of extra time, and it would have to be penalties to settle it where the Azzurri would be victorious. Harry Kane and Harry Maguire scored their penalties with Jordan Pickford managing to keep out Andrea Belotti and Jorginho. But misses from Rashford, Sancho, and teenage wonderkid Bukayo Saka meant that penalties from Beradi, Bonucci, and Federico Bernardeschi were enough for the win.

Italy are deserved winners of this tournament. From the first game they have been many people’s favourites and yet again it stays true that if you beat Wales at some point then you’ll probably win the tournament. That last bit is true, look at the 1958 World Cup where Brazil beat Wales 1-0 in the Quarter Finals and Euro 2016 where Portugal won 2-0 in the Semis (that has to count for something, right?). As I’ve said many times before, Mancini has completely turned this team around. From exiting Euro 2016 at the Quarter Finals to not going to the 2018 World Cup full stop this Italian team needed some serious work, and that’s what it got. They’ve played brilliant football all tournament and even at times when they didn’t look so convincing they managed to find a way. Not only do they have depth in every position, the quality of the backup players is outstanding. Players like Bernardeschi, Beradi, and Manuel Locatelli are good enough to get into most national team’s starting XI’s, this shows that they are just that good. The best team at the tournament this Euros and without shadow of a doubt will be many people’s favourites for Qatar in 2022. I hope they can end up getting quite far in the next World Cup, the thought of them playing the likes of Brazil, Argentina, or Uruguay makes me very excited. But let’s not look too far ahead yet, they still need to qualify first.

As for England, you can be damn proud. From the team and manager to the majority of fans, you’ve held yourselves in good light. This is a team that is likeable for the first time in however long. A team that stands up for what they believe in. Showing solidarity with black people all around the world and the Black Lives Matter movement by taking the knee before games as well as wearing the rainbow armband in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. Gareth Southgate has been central to this, defending his positions of solidarity and his players when questioned by politicians, aspects of the media, and even small minorities of idiots who have there nerve to call themselves England “fans” despite booing the team when taking the knee. They didn’t win Euro 2020, but Southgate brought football home again for England. English fans now have a national team that they can be proud of and can relate to no matter their background. A team that represents people regardless of their gender, sexuality, or race and a team that stands in solidarity with the English public’s struggles. Some might try and hijack their success and use it to fuel division and their own idea of nationalism i.e. Boris Johnson and Priti Patel jumping on the bandwagon despite criticising them for taking the knee and saying fans had the right to boo it, but this isn’t what this England team represents. It represents a better and more united future. The support that has been shown for Rashford, Sancho, and Saka since they missed their penalties in the shootout has been incredible. Good hearted fans are holding racist thugs accountable online whenever they’ve used slurs against the three of them leading to one losing their job for posting a racist tweet and another 50 year old man arrested for similar. In a world of hate we need to mirror with love and compassion and that has been shown in the last few days since the final. Love will always overcome, and hate will never win.

This was a tournament like no other. With how unstable the last 16 months have been around the world the Euros brought a bit of normality back. It lifted spirits after what’s been an incredibly tragic period in our lives and shows that there is definitely light at the end of what has been an incredibly long tunnel. It was the last bit of football that was played in the UK before the start of the new season in August, and with any luck the stadiums will be full once again because my god it’s been far too long.

Euro 2020 Semi Final Review: Lasergate, Penaltygate, Southgate

And then there were two. The final hurdle is in sight but there’s only room for one at the top. This week we were treated to back to back semi finals at Wembley where four of Europe’s elite battled it out to get that step closer to winning Euro 2020. I’m sure by now you’ve made your choice of who you want to see lift the trophy under the Wembley arch, or maybe you’re like me in that you don’t really care who wins because your national team aren’t playing in which case good on ya! But before Europe halts to a standstill at 20:00 BST this Sunday, there’s still the task for me to look back at the semi finals. Two pretty decent games all in all, and two long games at that. But at the end of it all the two favourites made it through to set up a final between arguably the two best dressed managers in international football, but Gareth Southgate loses a few points for ditching the waistcoat. Dapperness debate aside, lets get into the reviewing!

Italy vs Spain

Result: Italy 1-1 Spain (Italy win 4-2 on penalties)

Bit of a cagey opening this one. Italy are at their most dangerous when they hit on the counter and with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at the back they can afford to be. However I was quite surprised at how little Italy did attack in the first half. Granted, they created some decent chances and did always look dangerous going forward but couldn’t quite get through. Spain on the other hand looked very strong. They were creating a lot of chances and were able to get shots away but the lack of a recognised striker was showing slightly. In the 60th minute Italy’s midfield maestro Federico Chiesa fired them into the lead and it looked as if it would be a dead cert that the Italians would hold on to see them through to the final but as is the rules, football doesn’t care for things making sense and the football gods only want scenes. Alvaro Morata came off the bench to score the equaliser that came in the 80th minute sending us to extra time. Neither team could break through and after some incredibly questionable penalties in the shootout, Italy prevailed making them the first team to make the final. This was a pretty fun game for the neutral. I’m not sure that it was the incredible game that the commentators and pundits made it out to be, nor do I buy Danny Murphy’s claim that it was the best game he’s seen in years when it wasn’t even the best game this tournament. There were some tired bodies out there by the end but luckily for Italy the other semi final would end up going to extra time in order to level the playing field a bit. Italy’s style of football just works. After what was a pretty woeful couple of years Roberto Mancini has got them back to playing at their best. They’ve no doubt benefited from the improvement of what were previously somewhat smaller teams in the Serie A in the last few years. Players such as Manuel Locatelli and Domenico Beradi from Sassuolo, Andrea Belotti from Torino, and Rafael Toloi from the incredibly impressive Atalanta team paired with quality from the big usual suspects such as Juventus, AC Milan, Internazionale, Napoli, and the two Rome teams (Lazio and Roma) then the base is there for a quality national side. The balance of youth and experience seems to be spot on whilst under the watchful eye of Mancini. They’ve more than bounced back from the disappointment from failure to qualify for Russia in 2018 and now they stand on the brink of greatness. As for Spain, with any other team I think they would’ve won that game. They played really well but as I said before I think they’re lacking an out and out striker. Morata is talented but far too inconsistent and whilst Gerard Moreno set La Liga on fire last season he’s not really done it at the Euros. But Spain can take pride in the fact that they proved me wrong, they actually are quite good at football.

England vs Denmark

Result: England 2-1 Denmark (aet)

Ooh this was tasty. This had a bit of everything which made it enjoyable for the neutral and 120 minutes of absolute living hell for the fans of either side. I personally had my heart set on penalties again because I find them fun, some men just want to watch the world burn (it’s me, I’m men). Denmark got off to a very strong start. They were winning the ball back well and looked dangerous every time they went forward. England started to creep back into it slightly before Mikkel Damsgaard scored an absolute belter of a free kick after 30 minutes to fire the Danes into the lead. Was it a free kick? The foul leading to it was a bit soft and it wouldn’t have been given in the Championship but regardless, for the first time this tournament Wembley was stunned into silence… for about 9 minutes. Bukayo Saka’s couldn’t be cleared by Simon Kjᴂr with the Danish centre half firing the ball into his own net. The second half came and went fairly quickly without too much fanfare and then, oh and then, we get into extra time. The game was only going to go one way once this happened. Denmark looked absolutely spent and had used most of their substitutions by that point. Then we get to the penalty which has caused the mother of all debates online from whether Raheem Sterling did his best Tom Daley impression and everyone on earth becoming an expert in military grade lasers overnight. For my two pence, I thought the penalty was a bit soft from Mᴂhle’s challenge but it looks like there was contact from Jensen on the follow through. This is where Peter Walton would’ve been able to give some actual insight but just used the old “plain and obvious” line and agreed with the referee’s decision, in other news the sun is hot. Kasper Schmeichel saved Harry Kane’s penalty but couldn’t keep out the rebound to give England the lead. Denmark did threaten in the second half of extra time but England held on to set up their first major final appearance since 1966 leading to Baddiel and Skinner, Neil Diamond, and Atomic Kitten to be played around Wembley. An interesting trio but I’ll let it slide, my main Spotify playlist is a lot more varied than that. Something weird has happened here, the England is quite team likeable. I know the anyone but England crowd exists and fair enough I totally get why, but you can’t honestly sit there and say you hate Marcus Rashford, Sterling (maybe you can if you support Liverpool), or Saka. The togetherness they’ve shown is admirable and Gareth Southgate’s persistency to stand up for minorities when facing backlash and criticism from politicians in the highest offices in the country and some fans shows incredible leadership. From Southgate wanting players to continue to take the knee in a stand against racism and Kane wearing the rainbow armband in support the LGBTQIA+ community, they’ve shone themselves in a good light. This is how you use a platform to bring awareness to struggles in society. As for Denmark, hold your heads up high gentlemen because my god you’ve made your country proud. To come back from the most horrific of all starts to the tournament to make the semi final is absolutely outstanding. Damsgaard has proven himself to be one of Europe’s best youngsters and Kjᴂr should be in the team of the tournament for the leadership he showed when Christian Eriksen collapsed and performing CPR until the medical team came with a defibrillator. You’ve done your country proud and gained a lot of new fans on the way, be proud of yourselves.

So it’s Southgate vs Mancini, The Three Lions vs Gia Azzurri, Steak and Ale pie vs Spaghetti Bolognese, James Newman vs Måneskin (Eurovision 2021 joke, my references know no boundaries), Carling vs Birra Moretti (I know exactly which one of those I prefer), England vs Italy. If you’re lucky enough to be going to the game then enjoy it, there’s a lot of people who would love to be where you are so soak up every second of it regardless of the result. Just promise me one thing, fans from both teams now, don’t boo the national anthems. It’s beyond disrespectful and booing any national anthem just makes you look like a bit of a mug and yes that includes home nation fans booing God Save the Queen (plus Il Canto degli Italiani is easily in the top 3 best national anthems in the world and a certified banger. And the Italians make a lot of noise so it’ll sound amazing Sunday). Geopolitical(ish) issues aside, this should be an incredible game. Two fairly different styles of play between two teams who not that many people would’ve bet on making the final. I thought it was going to be France-Netherlands myself but both of them went out in the last 16, brilliant cutting edge analysis yet again from yours truly. This will end up being either an absolute trouncing or a 0-0 settled on penalties, there won’t be anything in between. Only thing is I have absolutely no clue which team will do it. Whether you hope football’s coming home or football’s coming Rome, finals on stages like this are always exciting. And I for one can’t wait.

Euro 2020 Quarter Final Review: It’s the (quarter) Final Countdown

Ooh it’s getting close now! Another week down and another step closer to finding out who will win Euro 2020. 4 teams are that step closer to making their dream become a reality whereas 4 had them crushed and were sent home packing. We’re into the final stretch now but before looking forward any further we have the small job of looking back at the game week that was. 4 action packed games filled with goals, drama, last ditch defending, questionable officiating, and Peter Walton agreeing with referee decisions again. This round had some absolute belters, and that’s something I’ve noticed as the tournament has gone into the latter stages. Some of the sleeping giants are starting to wake up and are playing some absolutely brilliant football and it’s making for incredible matchups. So, without any further ado, let’s get into the reviews!

Switzerland vs Spain

Result: Switzerland 1-1 Spain (Spain win 1-3 on penalties)

Okay fine, I was wrong about Spain. I’ll admit it, this team are a lot better than what I gave them credit for. They’ve been one of the previously mentioned sleeping giants and look incredibly strong after a questionable at best first two games in the group stage. Spain started off well with Jordi Alba’s shot taking a huge deflection off Denis Zakaria after 8 minutes played. After this I thought it would be a bit of a stuffing but to be fair to Switzerland they held their own leading to Xherdan Shaqiri scoring the equaliser in the 68th minute. Extra time was needed after the game was deadlocked after 90 and a few brilliant saves from Swiss keeper Yann Sommer meant it would be penalties where Spain won 3-1 in what was a shootout with some awful penalties. I can’t help but think Spain are missing a quality striker to boost their line. That’s no disrespect to Alvaro Morata or Gerard Moreno but they’re not the same level as the quality Spanish strikers of the last 10-15 years or so. Could you imagine how lethal this team would be with a David Villa or Fernando Torres leading the line? Or even a prime Diego Costa? The team are good but with a world class striker they could be even better. Switzerland can be proud, they’ve had to travel an insane amount this tournament and still managed to knock out France and take Spain to penalties. I imagine some Premier League teams or Europe’s elite will come knocking for some of the Swiss players (not Barcelona though, they’re still too busy trying to convince their dead wood players to take pay cuts which they don’t want). Sommer has proved himself to be an incredible keeper, Kevin Mbabu really impressed me and Breel Embolo is turning out to be the player football manager players knew he could be. Congrats to Spain and commiserations to the Swiss, two good teams who have a good amount to offer.

Belgium vs Italy

Result: Belgium 1-2 Italy

Game. Of. The. Tournament. You’d have forgiven Italy if they took a more cautious approach after the Austria game in the last 16 considering they were up against the world’s number 1 ranked team but they put any questions to bed. The Azzurri came flying out playing more of the attacking and possession based football that they did in the group stage games. Leonardo Bonucci thought he’d given Italy the lead after 13 minutes only for VAR to overturn the goal. But that didn’t matter as Nicolo Barella fired them into the lead after just over half an hour played and Lorenzo Insigne scored an absolute screamer just before half time. Belgium were given a lifeline, a penalty awarded in added time in the first half was converted by Romelu Lukaku to make it 2-1 at the break. Then the second half comes, pure insanity. It was like watching a game of basketball with both teams just giving it their all piling their deadly attacks forward. Italy’s defence managed to hold on however with Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci rolling back the years like they have all tournament. Yet again, Belgium fall short of the grand prize for the third tournament in a row. This will really hurt Belgium, and I do feel bad for them. The term golden generation is thrown around so much and usually the said golden generation team in question doesn’t do well. England under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve ‘the wally with a brolly’ McClaren fell short at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup and didn’t even qualify for Euro 2008 despite having a fantastic team in their prime. Argentina had some of the world’s best between 2013-2015 yet still lost the finals of the World Cup and Copa America to Germany and Chile respectively, it’s a cursed term to use for a team. Some questions will start to be asked of a lot of people within the Belgium setup which is a shame because they play incredible football, it just wasn’t to be yet again. As for Italy, it’s a date in London with Spain in front of what will probably be a crowd of about 7 Italy and Spain fans respectively and tens of thousands of Brits. Covid has absolutely ruined the setup of this tournament which was a stupid setup to begin with, Chris Gunter hit the nail on the head with his Instagram post when Wales went out. Anyway, moaning aside it should still be a decent game.

Czech Republic vs Denmark

Result: Czech Republic 1-2 Denmark

Why couldn’t this be a semi-final? I’ve enjoyed these two teams this tournament and I always love and underdog story. Denmark were ruthless in the first half in what was a pretty similar performance to the one against Wales. Thomas Delaney headed the Danes into the lead with 5 minutes gone followed by Kasper Dolberg scoring yet again in the 42nd minute. After half time the Czechs would pull one back through everybody’s new favourite player and resident big man up top Patrik Schick but in the end it wasn’t enough. I thought Denmark would end up on the back foot a bit after Schick scored but they kept pushing on and playing in an attacking way. This tactic just works for some teams and Denmark are at their best when they play like this so why change a winning formula? With everything Denmark have had to overcome this tournament regardless of the score on Wednesday in the semi final they’ve made their country proud. The Czech Republic players can hold their heads high too, I saw a lot of people having them finishing bottom of their group without winning a game but they proved the doubters wrong. Clive Tyldesley said before the game that this tournament needed teams like Denmark and the Czech Republic going far after the Super League shambles and he’s spot on. Football should be all about daring to dream when the odds are stacked against you, and that’s exactly what both of these teams have done. Credit where it’s due, they’ve both been great teams. While Denmark make it to the semi final and are two wins from repeating their 1992 triumph, I doubt highly that it will be the last we see of the Czech Republic on the national stage making it this far into major tournaments.

Ukraine vs England

Result: Ukraine 0-4 England

 Man this was weird. England in a knockout game but looking completely comfortable for 90 minutes? Well I’ll be damned. With the ghost of Iceland past lurking the England team it felt like this could be a perfect opportunity for England to slip up to give them credit that didn’t happen, nor did it look like it would ever happen. Harry Kane put England into the lead with an early goal in the first half which was needed to settle any nerves. *ARMS UP* HARRY KANE! HARRY KANE FINALLY SCORED!! 10 points if you get that reference and if you’ve not seen that video of Boris Johnson “celebrating” Kane’s goal against Germany which I’m referencing then consider yourself lucky. Harry Maguire added another just after the second half started and Kane got his second in the 50th minute. All for it to be topped off with Jordan Henderson scoring his first goal for England and on that night in Rome, the Three Lions make it to another semi final under Gareth Southgate. Wembley will be buzzing for this one but England can’t overlook Denmark. The Danes are a fantastic squad and have played some incredible football this tournament. I can see this being a very close game and by no means an easy task, but with a home advantage and a (mostly) packed Wembley, who knows what could happen. England will be desperate to make the final after heartbreak against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup and Denmark will want to replicate their unlikeliest of all successes of ’92. This is a game I’m looking forward to a lot and I genuinely have no idea which way it will go. Here’s to it being a great game.

Euro 2020 Last 16 Review: Oceans Rise, (Football) Empires Fall

What a round of fixtures that was. Exciting games, goals galore, and a few shock results. At times it felt like this tournament was a bit of a slow burner and was going to pick up as it went on, and pick up it did. As my dream team took a bit of a battering, this round saw some of the most exciting and best quality games of the tournament so far. Fans of teams are already starting to plan their route to the final (some more than others) in brackets where it really can be anybody’s tournament. There are golden generations, powerhouses, sleeping giants that are waking up, and some dark horses who all believe they’ll be in with a shot at the grand prize that is Euro 2020. This will end up being a pretty long post because well it has to be it has to be, there were 8 games and 8 reviews is quite a lot. So without any further ado, let’s get into it!

Denmark vs Wales

Result: Wales 0-4 Denmark

I’m fine, I’m totally fine. I just don’t want to talk about it, okay? This was a tough one to take as a Welsh fan. Having reached such highs in the group stage and managing to get through to the last 16 finishing second in a very tough group, the Welsh public were starting to dare to dream again like we did in Euro 2016. Denmark were always going to be tough but on the day they were a different level of class. The opening 25 minutes were positive for Wales, Gareth Bale had a couple of decent opportunities while Dan James and Aaron Ramsey looked sharp. However, much like the Switzerland game, Wales stopped and let Denmark attack. This would be Wales’s downfall as it led to 2 goals for Kasper Dolberg and goals from Joakim Mᴂhle and Martin Braithwaite in a convincing win for the Danish. Denmark looked dangerous every time they came forward and their lethal finishing saw them through comfortably. I’m not going to sit back and blame the referee because he wasn’t the sole reason Wales lost, but Daniel Siebert did have a bit of a stinker. Wales can hold their heads high, they had to play 4 away games with next to no fans, travel over 5,000 miles in a short period of time all the while Ryan Giggs is facing trial for coercive or controlling behaviour, causing actual bodily harm, and assault by beating. All of these factors were going to take their toll on the players eventually but they pushed on when there was doubt and made a nation proud. Chris Gunter hit the nail on the head when he said the tournament format was an absolute joke but we as the Welsh need to keep our heads held high. With all things considered, I think it’s been quite a good tournament for Wales. Rob Page’s red army march on (hopefully to Qatar in 2022 for the World Cup) and I wish Denmark the best of luck for the Quarter Finals. Now I just need to do the small task of convincing Gareth Bale to sign for Cardiff City, come on Gazza! Mae’n amser dod adref (that means it’s time to come home for those who don’t speak Welsh).

Italy vs Austria

Result: Italy 2-1 Austria (a.e.t)

This was a really weird one. I’m convinced Wembley Stadium is cursed where top level international teams don’t play that well there (apart from England). Italy didn’t look that interested, and definitely didn’t look like the Italy of the group stage. Austria looked quite dangerous on the counter and probably should’ve scored a couple themselves. Italy’s lazy play was very nearly punished when Marko Arnautovic thought he headed Austria into the lead in the second half only for it to be ruled offside after a VAR check. VAR has worked quite well this tournament yet in this game it was back to its worst that Premier League fans know. Funny how it was efficient enough all tournament until it was a Premier League referee at the helm, coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge. Italy couldn’t capitalise in the time remaining of the 90 after Arnautovic’s goal was disallowed and it was the first game of the tournament to go to extra time. The next 30 minutes were a million times better than the previous 90. I can only imagine how unhappy Mancini must have been because Italy massively woke up with brilliant goals from Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina being enough for the win. Austria did get one back with Sasa Kalajdzic scoring from a corner but it was too little too late. The Azzurri march into the quarters with what I imagine are many people’s bets following game week 1 still safe for now.

Netherlands vs Czech Republic

Result: Netherlands 0-2 Czech Republic

SOUND THE ALARMS!!!! IT’S GIANTKILLING O’CLOCK!!!!! What a crazy game this was! In the first half the Dutch looked to be in quite comfortable control despite not threatening massively while the Czech players looked quite handy themselves. They were solid defensively and looked like they could be dangerous in attack. It was that kind of game we’ve seen a million times before where the favourite look a bit meh before they end up scoring a few at the end to make themselves look good (case in point, Italy-Austria). I thought it was going this way before a handball from Matthijs de Ligt earned him a red card and the tide started to change. A defender down, you’d think surely an attacker would come off for a centre half so the Netherlands could go back to a back 3. Not the Frank de Boer way though! Instead opting for taking off Doynell Malen for Quincy Promes to boost their attack. Just… why? Unbelievably it didn’t work and the Czechs poured on the pressure with the man advantage before Tomáš (good name) Holeš fired the Czech Republic into the lead. The Netherlands tried to muster up some kind of response but to no avail with my new favourite player, Patrik Schick, scoring in the last 10 minutes to seal the game and causing the first upset of the knockout stages. This Czech team are good, like really good. Their attack is dangerous and can cause damage for any team in the tournament and they have a solid defensive unit. Up next is Denmark which is a game I’m really looking forward to. Expect lots of attacking from both sides in what is bound to be a physical game between two top sides. As for the Netherlands, they need to regroup and go again for the World Cup. They will have been expecting a good tournament following failure to qualify for the Russia World Cup in 2018 which to be honest, they haven’t really had.

Belgium vs Portugal

Result: Belgium 1-0 Portugal

Not a giant killing but still a big team out. Winners last time round but this time it wasn’t to be as Portugal were knocked out and Belgium went through in what was a little bit of a dud. Portugal threatened quite a lot and enjoyed most of the possession however they didn’t really do anything with it. They had quite a lot of chances but couldn’t break through with Thibaut Courtois having an impressive showing making some decent saves. I was impressed with Belgium’s incredible attack and their seeming ability to make chances out of nothing, which is what more or less happened when Thorgan Hazard fired Belgium into the lead just before half time. In the second half Portugal attacked more with Joao Felix having a few decent opportunities and Ruben Dias having a strong header saved towards the end of the game. I’ve seen a lot of people online slate Bruno Fernandes but he isn’t to blame at all, the Portugal team as a whole haven’t been that good all tournament with the exception of a few players. It wasn’t enough in the end and Cristiano Ronaldo had another one of his trademark strops when the game didn’t go his way. He’s easily one of the best players of all time and by all accounts a really nice guy but my god he’s a sore loser. Belgium will be absolutely desperate to win the tournament. After disappointment in the quarter finals at Euro 2016 and the semis of the World Cup in 2018 there is a real risk that yet another country’s golden generation could end up not winning anything. It’s a tale as old as time and the term “golden generation” is almost a kiss of death in international football but thankfully for Belgium they don’t have Steve McClaren overseeing it, am I right England? Enough with the England jabs I promise (okay maybe 1 or 2 more). All in all, solid performance from Belgium and one worthy enough to send them to the last 8.

Croatia vs Spain

Result: Croatia 3-5 Spain (a.e.t)

So…. wow. If you know anyone who’s starting to flirt a bit with becoming a football fan but isn’t quite there yet and want to show them highlights of a game to get them fully sold, then this is one you have to. I was convinced that Spain aren’t actually that good at football and had a solid patch between 2008-2012 which made them look good, oh how wrong I was. The game started off with a hilarious own goal from Pedri after an Unai Simon howler, it was genuinely the funniest thing I’ve seen all tournament. Spain responded with their fairly predictable tiki taka style play but actually making it work with Pablo Sarabia equalising in the 38th minute. In the second half Spain looked strong and scored twice with goals from Cesar “Dave” Azpilicueta and Feran Torres to more or less seal the game with 10 minutes to go. However Croatia don’t play by your rules with Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic deciding to set up unbelievable scenes with both scoring in the last 5 minutes. It would’ve been easy for Spain to lose their head after this but to their credit they remained calm, cool, and collected with Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal scoring in extra time. What a game this was. Spain turned up to play and Croatia are absolutely no mugs and weren’t willing to be swept aside. I thought this would end up being a somewhat boring conservative performance from Spain and I’m glad I was wrong. Well done Spain but Croatia can be proud of themselves, this is why we love this sport.

France vs Switzerland

Result: France 3-3 Switzerland (Switzerland win 5-4 on Penalties)

If you know anyone who’s starting to flirt a bit with becoming a football fan but isn’t quite there yet and want to show them highlights of a game to get them fully sold, then this is one you have to. Also, SOUND THE ALARMS!!!! IT’S GIANTKILLING O’CLOCK!!!!! The world champions are out! And you know what, apart from 20 minutes or so in the second half they didn’t impress me at all. They showed with the two goal from Karim Benzema and one from Paul Pogba why they’re world champions with their comeback having been 1-0 down and Switzerland missing a penalty but their bottle went and ended up doing their best Spain tribute act and conceded twice late on. Extra time was a bit meh and we FINALLY got penalties, I was absolutely desperate for them. It seemed like none of the attackers wanted to take penalties and Kylian Mbappe showed why with his effort saved by Yann Sommer at what was essentially sudden death to send France out and the Swiss through. This was always going to be a tough act to follow after the Spain-Croatia game but it lived up to expectations and some. France haven’t looked all that convincing this tournament. Maybe it’s a bit of a World Cup hangover but I honestly thought they’d end up doing better than they did. I had them winning it as did many others and again I was wrong. I just need to stop backing World Cup winning teams in their next major tournament because they never do well, it’s like some kind of football law.

England vs Germany

Result: England 2-0 Germany

SOUND THE ALARMS!!!! IT’S GIA-okay so not a giant-killing per se but I wasn’t too sure that it would happen, especially after the first 20 minutes. Kai Havertz was getting himself into useful and potentially dangerous positions and Germany looked solid defensively. England couldn’t create much and were bullied off the ball by the German defence and midfield. Germany looked really dangerous to start but then decided to do their best Wales impression and just stopped. England managed to creep back into it with Bukayo Saka yet again having a very good game. England’s Mr. Reliable, Raheem Sterling, got the first goal with 15 minutes left before Harry Kane got his first goal of the tournament in the 86th minute to wrap up the result for the Three Lions. This was a very good performance from England. I thought Gareth Southgate would revert to the defensive football he’s prone to in big games but he didn’t and England attacked well. They’re at their strongest when attacking and it proved in this game. As well as this though I thought England defended well. Germany’s chances were very limited with their best one coming in the form of the Thomas Müller’s shot that went wide just before Kane’s goal. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner watched on in the stands as their famous song was played around Wembley and there is a genuine feeling among England fans that this is finally the year that football’s coming home.

Sweden vs Ukraine

Result: Sweden 1-2 Ukraine (a.e.t)

My god this took a while but we’re finally at the end. In the last game of the last-16, Ukraine were victorious over fellow team that play in yellow, Sweden. Both teams started well creating a couple of decent chances. It was Ukraine who struck first through Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko who scored an absolute beautiful goal. Sweden nearly scored soon after from a Seb Larsson free kick which caught Ukrainian goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan off his line and having to make a last ditch save. However Sweden did come back with their star man Emil Forsberg scoring just before half time. Quite a few chances came and went in the second half for both sides with Andriy Yarmolenko and Forsberg both hitting the post but neither team could break through. Extra-time would come next and it wouldn’t come without controversy. Marcus Danielson was sent off after a high challenge via a VAR check. I think it was a fair decision, I’ve not seen Danielson commit such a dangerous challenge since the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament Final with his high kick on Johnny Lawrence… I’ll show myself out. Ukraine made the man advantage count with Artem Dovbyk choosing the last minute to score his first goal for Ukraine to send them into the quarter finals. I think they’ll be fired up for England in what will be a physical game. I can see them trying to rough England’s attack a bit like Germany did in the first half and try and hit them on the counter. Regardless, well done Ukraine on making the quarters when they were undoubtedly underdogs for this one.

Man, that was a lot of writing and reviewing. As always thanks for reading, I’m off for a lie down. See you next week for the quarter finals!

Home Nations Gameweek 2 and 3 recap: And That was the Group Stage

What a surprise, I’m late on posting something again. I know I said I’d do reviews for each gameweek but do you know how quickly they come around? Especially when there was only a 2 day gap between England v Scotland and Wales’s last game. I know it sounds like excuses, and the truth of it is they are, but the point still stands. I was busy Friday night and all day Saturday and it felt weird to post a review for Wales’s game against Turkey the day they were playing Italy, so apologies. To make up for it this will be a longer post where I’ll go over the last two group games for the home nations to make up for a bit of lost time. Promise I’ll be better for the last 16 and later rounds. Without further ado, let’s get down to business!

Wales

Vs Turkey

I. Love. This. Team. Little old Wales showing everyone up again! A tale as old as time. To the world’s surprise (again) Wales started off gameweek 2 with a very solid performance with a 0-2 win against Turkey in Baku. Some dark horses eh? In truth, I’m actually super grateful for Turkey for scoring against Switzerland to ease the goal difference pressure a bit, thanks gents. Everything was spot on (apart from the penalty but let’s not get into that) in what was probably their best performance since the Belgium quarter final in 2016. Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale have both still got it (as if there was any doubt about that), Ben Davies is a national hero, Kieffer Moore is winning the Ballon d’Or, Joe Morrell and Joe Allen are the Welsh Xavi and Iniesta, Dan James is proving yet again how good of a player he is, and Joe Rodon… I knew I’d end up liking an ex-Swansea player eventually.

Vs Italy

Next came Italy in Rome and a 1-0 defeat with Wales playing with 10 men for most of the second half. For what it’s worth I thought that was an unbelievably harsh red card for Ethan Ampadu, made even worse with Peter Walton agreeing with absolutely every refereeing decision so far. But it turned out to be enough as Switzerland couldn’t overturn the goal difference and Wales finished second going into the last 16. There’s absolutely no shame in losing to Italy, they’re most people’s favourites by now and have the coolest manager on the planet in the form of Roberto Mancini. But we did enough to get into the last 16 in back to back tournaments. This team has come so far in the last decade. From ranked 117th in the world in 2011 with *that* TalkSport Facebook post which has aged like a fine milk to where we are now is unbelievable. Some might think we’ll be out in the last 16 with Denmark in Amsterdam but keep writing Wales off and they keep shocking the world.

England

Vs Scotland

History is full of iconic duo’s. Albert and Costello, James Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, and Gareth Southgate and playing conservative football in big games. Yeah it was bad. England met Scotland at Wembley on a rainy Friday night in the capital and were frustrated to a 0-0 draw. There were some decent performances, Reece James had a fairly good showing and Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish looked good when they came on. But they were exceptions rather than the rule. England looked flat and were generally quite boring. John Stones was unlucky not to score in what was England’s best chance of the game but that was it really. Not good enough, not creative enough, didn’t do enough for the win. I think Grealish is England’s best creative outlet and definitely needs to play more, but what do I know.

Vs Czech Republic

What a surprise, starting Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish means you create more chances. This was a much better display from England than it was against Scotland. It was always going to be a potential banana peel but they managed to pull through with Raheem Sterling’s first half goal. Saka was a breath of fresh air into the team giving them that bit more attacking quality that was not there for Scotland. His positive style of play mindset was central to England getting a result and was deservedly man of the match. England go through as group winners and next it’s Germany at Wembley in the last 16. Arguably the biggest game of the last 16 and it has potential to be a classic. A rematch of the semi in ‘96 and the first time they’ve met in a tournament since the 4-1 humbling in South Africa. Expect Southgate’s missed penalty and Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal to be played as much over the next week as Gazza’s goal was before the Scotland game.

Scotland

Vs England

The mighty Tartan Army descended on a rainy London in their numbers and boy did they enjoy this one. Scotland weren’t bad, their aim was clearly a draw after a poor result against the Czech Republic. I though Billy Gilmour really impressed me and was central in Scotland getting a decent result. There’s no doubt in my mind that they would’ve preferred the win but a 0-0 at Wembley is a very respectable result. Scott McTominay impressed me and their defence looked far more solid with Kieran Tierney back. I knew Tierney and Andy Robertson both playing were important for Scotland but I didn’t realise they were that central. It leaves them in an okay position going into the last gameweek in Group D, Croatia won’t be easy but Hampden Park will be rocking. Out of all 3 I thought Croatia would be the most winnable and 4 points should see them through with the weird 3rd place qualification deal.

Vs Croatia

Okay so maybe Croatia are better than I thought. Scotland weren’t particularly awful, Croatia were just different gravy on the night. Luka Modric rolled back the years with his goal and proved that he can still perform at the highest level. There was a moment of excitement when Callum McGregor drew Scotland level just before half time following Vlasic’s opener, but two second half goals from Modric and Perisic put the game to bed. I thought Scotland would end up with at least a draw here with it being such a huge game at Hampden but in the end Croatia were just too good. Both teams were going to put everything forward to get as many goals as possible but Croatia just have more attacking talent. Niko Vlasic, Ivan Perisic, and Bruno Petkovic are just better players than Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes. Up next for Scotland is… actually never mind. Sorry, force of habit. Scotland fans can be proud of their team, it was a very tough group and maybe some other time with a better draw they might’ve got through but who knows. The unfortunate streak of being knocked out at the group stage continues as the Scots look to Qatar ‘22 to end it.

Home Nations Gameweek 1 Recap: The Good, the not too bad, and the lob from 50 yards

I’ll keep it honest with you guys, I’ve been a bit under the weather the last few weeks. My symptoms have included a weird feeling of excitement and nerves in my gut, the sudden urge to get myself to the closest pub, and a strong sense of national pride that I don’t always have. I spoke to NHS direct and my fears were confirmed, I’ve come down with a strong case of Euro fever with no cure in sight! Yep, last week Euro 2020 got underway after a year of waiting which felt like forever. This is a particularly exciting one as for the first time ever Wales, Scotland, and England all qualified for an international tournament (sorry Northern Ireland, there’s always Qatar for the 4 of us to get to). Better yet, Scotland and England have been drawn in the same group with Wales having a tasty matchup in gameweek 3 with world beaters Italy. So I decided I’d do gameweek recaps for the home nations throughout the group stage then general recaps for the knockout rounds whether any of the home nations are there or not. Got it? Smashing. Whether you think football’s coming home, fitbaw’s coming hame, mae pêl droed yn dod gartref, or what’s most likely to happen in my opinion la football rentre à la maison (I hope Google translate hasn’t let me down there, my French isn’t what it used to be), there’s plenty to get excited about. Without any further ado, let’s get into it!

Wales

Jeez Louise, another 2 group games like that will see me off. This was a weird one, the first 5/10 minutes we looked great. Dangerous whenever we attacked and were winning the ball back well. For whatever reason then we decided that it was going a bit too well and completely switched off for the next 65 minutes. The passing was incredibly lazy, Switzerland saw far too much of the ball and were happy enough to keep possession of it, and any sense of urgency was gone. Unsurprisingly, Switzerland take advantage of this and Breel Embolo (that’s a name familiar to Football Manager players) fired the Swiss into the lead just after half time. Wales woke up a bit after this deciding to attack a bit more before the best footballer (and human being) alive today, Kieffer Moore, used his massive head of his to draw us level. General Page then decided to take off Dan James in his infinite wisdom and the game finished 1-1. This isn’t a terrible result given how Wales played for most of the game, and the fact that Switzerland are a solid team. Whenever Wales attack they’re at their best, it showed in periods of this game and it showed in the first half of the France friendly before Neco Williams got sent off. Why they don’t do it more I don’t know, and they’ll have to adopt this attacking style of play against Turkey in what is a massive game on Wednesday. I’d make some changes to the side for Turkey. I’d swap Neco Williams for Connor Roberts, Ben Cabango for Chris Mepham, and Ethan Ampadu for Joe Morrell whilst keeping the rest the same. All in all, a good result against a very good team after not the best performance.

England

IT’S COMING HOOOMEEEE!!!! England supporters sing in jubilation after beating a geriatric Croatia side 1-0 in their opening game (oh come on I’m allowed one little dig, don’t tell anyone but three lions is a banger). The ghost of World Cup Semi Finals past was put behind the three lions as Raheem Sterling was on target for England to win their Group B opener. Wasn’t a bad game really. I thought England played pretty well in what wasn’t a bad performance at all. Phil Foden nearly set England off to the best possible start after his shot hit the post in the opening 5 minutes in what was the best chance and highlight of the first 45. Kalvin Phillips turned into prime Andrea Pirlo creating some incredible changes and setting up Sterling’s goal in the second half. I’m not too surprised Gareth Southgate opted for Declan Rice and Phillips, he’s a big fan of more conservative possession/defensive football in big games so this was always going to be a given. In the end it paid off and props to him. I’m also not too surprised that Jack Grealish didn’t feature, he’s played a lot of football in the last month for Aston Villa and England in the warmups. I think he will end up featuring at some point for the Scotland game in what will be a mostly unchanged side. It would be massively harsh to drop Sterling after his performance and Foden is Foden so I imagine Grealish will end up coming on as a substitute at some point. The best possible start for a tournament with a lot of hype and expectation surrounding England, but then again when isn’t there a tournament with a lot of hype and expectation for England. Good performance, and one that should beat Scotland with relative ease.

Scotland

Ah lads what went wrong. Wait 23 years to feature at a tournament, have your first game on home soil, and Marshall gets lobbed from 50 yards. I thought the Scots got off to a decent start. Up until the first goal Hampden was rocking and Scotland were playing alright. Andy Robertson had a good effort saved by Tomas Vaclik before and absolutely stunning cross from West Ham’s Vladimir Coufal was met by the head of Patrik Schik to put the Czechs 1 up just before half time. Scotland started the second half pretty well but Hendry’s blocked shot fell perfectly for Schik again who lobbed Marshall from the halfway line to put the nail in the coffin. Stuart Armstrong and Lyndon Dykes had some decent opportunities but Vaclik saved both well. This was a disappointing result for Scotland. Arguably their most winnable game in the group (I personally disagree, the Czech Republic are one of my dark horses and I’m not convinced Croatia are all that) but it wasn’t to be. No doubt they’ll be fired up for England where they’ll be hoping Kieran Tierney will be fit to play. I’m not saying at all they would’ve won if Tierney was fit but he offers more than Liam Cooper in a back 3. There’s still a kinda slim chance of making the last 16, especially with the format of the third place teams but we’ll see. England will be full of confidence and Croatia are still strong, although I think they’re definitely in with a shout against Croatia. It’ll have to be a better performance against England because if not then it could be quite grim reading at Wembley this Friday.

Six Nations Week 5 Recap: Super(ish) Saturday and a Decider in Paris

So I was hoping this would be able to be a reflection piece. A look back at the Super Saturday that was and the tournament as a whole as a winner would’ve been decided, England would’ve played down to their competition again and Italy would’ve had a fairly grim showing again. The latter two happened, but the winner is still well up in the air. It was a bit of a weird one. The first two games didn’t really mean much and the final could’ve been a championship decider, but we have to wait until the conclusion of Scotland-France before we know about that. So what better way than to cover all this than splitting this post into two. The first (and main bulk) will be the bog standard gradings that I’ve done all the way through but keeping a bit at the end until after the Scotland-France game is concluded. I might even do a reflection grading every team’s tournament after all is said and done, but I’m still undecided on that front. Anyhow, I’ve rambled enough. Let’s get into the ratings!

Italy

As certain as I am that the sun will rise in the East and set in the West, Italy will look impressive against a good team for 5 whole minutes before completely going off the rails. I said last week that it would take some doing for Italy to do worse than they did against Wales, but they somehow managed it. Every week since the opener they’ve got progressively worse, and this was the bland icing on top of the disappointment cake. Just a really bad performance, it kind of summed up their tournament. The little sparks of creativity were completely non-existent and the second half was the worst they’ve looked all tournament. Discipline went out the window completely by the end, I think it was down to frustration on Italy’s part. Ioane I thought was quite lucky as well not to get sent off, red cards have been given for tackles like that. They looked weak in their phase play as if (yet again) they had no idea what to do after the third phase each time, add to this getting battered at set pieces then it made for a very poor afternoon. A grim match which Italy were glad to see the back of, and a grim tournament I imagine they’d be happy to see the end of.

Grade: F-. Very poor, and have been progressively the whole last few weeks. Be careful somebody doesn’t sneak into your place with the rest of the class, Georgia has been making a lot of noise and turned some heads recently.

Scotland

B-E-A-uitiful! Yes Italy were poor, but lets not take anything away from Scotland. The first five minutes were an absolute disaster but the Scots bounced back more than impressively. They were brutal going forward yet again and were sound in defence. I was really impressed with Hamish Watson and thought David Cherry was quality. I saw a piece with Stuart Hogg before the game where he said he was nervous about playing at no. 10 but it didn’t show at all, I thought his kicking was tremendous. This has been a really solid tournament for Scotland, and they really could’ve done even better. With 15 men I think they would’ve beaten Wales and the Ireland game was just crazy. The journey of improvement they’ve come on in the last 4 years or so has been brilliant, and long may it continue. A lot of Scottish players had a very solid tournament, and don’t be surprised if we see a lot of Scottish players in the Lions squad for this summer.

Grade: A+. Star of the week! Same again against France would be lovely.

England

I knew after week 1 this was going to be a rough tournament, but never in my wildest dreams did I see this team performing as bad as they did against Ireland. That was England’s worst game in years. The defence was all over the shop, absolutely nothing came flowing in terms of attack and the discipline was laughable. You cannot give away that many penalties at this level of rugby. Too many silly mistakes were made in the back and it cost them dearly. Granted they did their homework at the lineout, but at the total expense of everything else. I thought the Sarries lads were back to their (near) best after the France game but they were way off it this week. The most frustrating thing is that we all know how good this team can be. The world cup wasn’t a million years ago, yet this side is a million miles away from that semi final performance. I was really hoping this would be an opportunity to see the quality in depth there was considering there was so little to play for but alas Eddie Jones stuck with who he knew and we ended up with whatever that performance was. Do I think the big names still go on the Lions tour? Yes. They can still play well, but those who don’t need to be rested for the North America tour. Take them by all means but that tour needs to be about some new blood and the younger lads. Poor game.

Grade: D-. Very poor showing, back to the drawing board and think about where we go from here.

Ireland

I’ve cracked it. So first off, well done on a big win. Did I think Ireland were world beating? No. But they were very clever in what they did. I’ve come to the conclusion Ireland and Burnley are annoyingly similar in their game plans. They have the quality players there, but they’re even better at getting teams to play down to their level if they’re having an off day. Their defence slaughtered England forcing them to make mistakes and thus use the penalties well. They had quality going forward and made the most of opportunities they had. This kind of performance can work wonders against bigger teams, and does it sound similar to a previously mentioned football club from the Lancashire that play in claret and blue? So you could call Ireland the Burnley of international rugby, or vice versa. I don’t know the analogy makes sense to me. In terms of individual performances, Furlong is proving to be even better than I thought and alongside very few other players has basically solidified his place in the Lions starting XV (for what it’s worth I think only Furlong, Stuart Hogg, Josh Adams and Tom Curry have solidified their starting places, the rest is massively up for debate). Sexton was okay and Keith Earls impressed. I’ll be honest I stopped watching before full time, I’d had enough of England being bad and opted for the South Wales Derby instead (needless to say I made the right choice).

Grade: B. Well done! Good work all and I’d like to wish CJ all the best of luck for his future endeavours!

France

The mad lads actually did it, they made Super Saturday a bit of a dud (ooohhh the salt is strong in this one, I’ve been working overtime this week at the South Wales Sodium mine). All in all, fair play France, that was a great last effort in the last 20 minutes to come back. The start was pretty mental, we saw much of the France that we did against England in the just attack and hope for the best. Was a bit like an entertaining football match to start, you have a go we have a go and just not care about defending (how un-Shaun Edwards like of them). Once they went down to 14 I thought that was more or less game over, but they pushed on and got the harshest of heart-breaking overtime wins (I’m still not bitter). Wales should’ve done better at the scrum, they had the ball with 90 seconds left in a winning position for a Grad Slam how do you not win from that? But alas, the French fought on and ended up stopping a Welsh Grand Slam setting up a huge decider against Scotland. All eyes on the decider in Paris at 8PM GMT Friday for the second week running.

Grade: B. Did well to come back, please don’t poke other classmates in the eye.

Wales

Hello darkness my old friend, how you’ve come to haunt me with Welsh rugby again. Yeah, this hurt. Thank god Cardiff won the South Wales Derby and something went right (this is where I’d usually say “sorry Swansea fans” but I’m not really sorry lolz). I think Wales had the right idea, fight fire with fire from the off like England did the week before and it worked for a bit. The front and second row had a decent showing again and with 10 minutes left everything was coming up roses and then, well and then. Once Camille Chat overthrew the lineout I thought that would be it more or less done, man advantage with not much time left is always nice, but the rugby gods had other ideas. Too many penalties conceded will always lead to yellow cards and France nick it with two late tries.

*On that note, the abuse Liam Williams got was nothing short of an absolute disgrace. Much like the “fans” who sent abuse to Sonja McLaughlan for her interview with Farrell and death threats to Ellis Genge for not clapping after the Wales-England game, you’re disgusting and not wanted in the sport*

I can’t be angry at Wales, they didn’t get slaughtered, it just wasn’t to be. To have two less than convincing performances to start to be within touching distance of a Grand Slam is pretty special and I don’t think anyone saw it. There won’t be an appearance from Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ this time around, he’s spent his time since the final whistle rapidly searching Ancestry for any kind of Scottish heritage and trying to find the best deals on Scotland shirts. On to Friday we go to see where the title ends up!

Grade: C. Not bad, just lost discipline and tripped at the final hurdle. You’ve done well, dust yourself off while some of you can look forward to a summer trip to South Africa.

So like I said, we’re splitting this into two parts. I leave you now, and I’ll finish it after the Scotland-France game because oh lord that just got massive. In a bit! (or in a now because the game will already have happened)

*Spongebob Squarepants transition voice* One Week Later

France

Hmm, weird one (drinking game: take a shot every time I say those three words to open a grading). For a team that had to win by 20 and get a bonus point, France really didn’t look up for it. They weren’t as free flowing as they have been all tournament and considering they’re known for their quality in attack this tournament it wasn’t really on show. I thought Virimi Vakatawa was a bit quiet, he almost looked a bit hesitant at times. They still looked dangerous whenever they went forward, but they were met by a strong Scottish defence (there’s a Hadrian’s Wall joke to be made there). They should’ve done more with the penalties they were gifted in the run up to halftime and definitely should’ve done more with the man advantage in the 9 or so minutes after but no dice. When another man advantage came with Finn Russell’s red card they shot themselves in the foot three minutes later with Serin’s yellow. Discipline started to drop when it came to the mid point of the second half, they basically did what Scotland were doing just before half time. Then comes the finish, maybe they were desperate for a bigger win but for god’s sake lads just kick it out and save some face when you’re in a winning position. Ah well, I’m not complaining considering it won Wales the championship. Just wasn’t to be for Les Bleus, again.

Grade: C+. Okay at times but fell at the last hurdle. You’re obviously very talented, just try again next year.

Scotland

“OOOOHHHHHH FLOWER OF SCOOOOOOOOOOOOOTLAAAAAAANDDDDD WHEN WILL WE SEE YOUR LIKE AGGGGAIIIINNNNNNN” thank you gents, much appreciated. Scotland went into this with a solid game plan from the word go and it worked. Discipline dropped before half time, they were lucky to get away with conceding so many penalties with only the one yellow card. Their attack was strong when it needed to be and the defence remained solid, even in the times they were playing with 14. Stuart Hogg had a good game solidifying his place as a Lions starter even more, Hamish Watson and Finn Russell (despite his red card) have basically confirmed themselves to be in the squad, and some of the lesser talked about potentials such as Huw Jones, Ali Price, Dave Cherry and Duhan van der Merwe just to name a few made solid cases for squad selection. Scotland needed this win. It had been a long time coming and wins in Paris and Twickenham makes it a solid tournament. This squad is definitely going places, the improvement they’ve shown in the last 4 years or so has been incredible. Don’t be surprised if this time in twelve months we’re looking at a Scotland championship, I think they can do it. On their day they beat anyone in the Six Nations and honestly I think next year might be their year, who knows.

Grade: B+. Very impressed! I know the Welsh contingent of the class were watching closely and are very grateful. Discipline needs working on a bit but we’ll let future Scotland worry about that

Class Clown of the Week(s): Ellis Genge. Not necessarily for anything he did on the pitch but his response to Tendai Mtawarira calling him out on twitter was legendary stuff, a level of unbothered I aspire to have. Well played Gengey.

And that was that! I did have a thing I wanted to write out properly planned but I’m tired. So thanks for sticking around and all the shares, likes and reads. This has been a lot of fun, maybe I’ll do something like this for the Lions but that’s ages away yet. So yeah, cheers peeps!

*Two weeks later, again* Tom here, yeah sorry I kept you waiting. In all honesty, I completely forgot I hadn’t posted this. I’ve had it written for ages and dissertation writing has kept me busy for a few weeks. With so much writing I just assumed it had already been posted until I realised about an hour or so ago that I hadn’t. Soz x

Six Nations Week 4 Recap: Championship Rounds

Ooh it’s getting awfully close now!! To put it into boxing terminology, we are very much into the championship rounds. Another week down and the table is taking shape big time. Wales are a step closer to the jammiest Grand Slam in history, France met an English shaped fork stuck in the road, and Ireland and Scotland gave us pure chaos. It’s shaping up for a somewhat interesting Super Saturday, with all eyes on Paris come 8 o’clock GMT. Am I nervous yet? Not in the slightest. I know come the big day I will be, especially with the South Wales Derby being the same day (mind you with the rugby, the derby and Lawrence Okolie squaring off in the squared circle against Krzysztof Glowacki for the WBO Cruiserweight Championship later on in the evening it will be a helluva day of sport). But we can’t look too far ahead yet, as teacher has still got some tedious bit of admin to do. So without further ado, let’s get into the grading!

Italy

I’ve had enough. I called this team a sleeping giant, a statement that has aged like a fine milk. This was comfortably the worst Italy have looked yet, and unless they pull something hilarious out of the bag against Scotland then this will end up being their worst performance this championship. This was really bad. The decision to take Ioane off for the first yellow card was baffling. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you’ve read these posts then I’m a big fan of Montanna Ioane and in my opinion has been Italy’s player of the tournament and easily their most creative player, which makes the decision to take him off even weirder, beats me. They were poor at set pieces and gave away far too many silly penalties. Their rucking wasn’t much to shout home about, and yet again like against Ireland once it came to the end of a few phases that didn’t amount to much they looked lost. They’ll need to massively turn it around against Scotland, but I don’t see that going particularly well. I’m beginning to think that they are not the sleeping giant I thought they were. All in all, absolutely grim day at the office.

Grade: F-. No where near good enough. Just try and improve somewhat next week.

Wales

“WAAAAYYYYULLLLSSSZZZZZ WAAAAYYYYULLLLSSSZZZZZ WE’RE WINNING THE GRAAAAND SLAA….” No, go away, come on, off my keyboard and let me do my writing, leave me alone Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™. We’re not there yet, but four down and only one to go. What world are we living in where Wales could very possibly win the Grand Slam? Granted, it’s going to be tough going to Paris, but we’re to talk about Italy. What a performance. As I always say you have to take games against Italy with a pinch of salt, but this was the type of performance that was needed, especially before France. Everything was perfect from the first whistle to the last. The intensity was high from the get go and looked strong in every area of the pitch. Italy couldn’t keep up with the strength of the Welsh drive and the wing duo of LRZ and Adams once again looks to be deadly. I was super impressed with Ken Owens yet again (he’s had a blinder of a Six Nations) and Faletau and Navidi had strong showings again, all the more important with Lions places up for grabs. No complaints this end this week which is rare, I know maybe I’m harshest the most on Wales but that’s only because I know that they really are this good. On to Paris where whoooooooaaaahhh Nelly the stakes couldn’t be higher, but this kind of performance was vital for a confidence boost. Da iawn lads.

Grade: A. Star of the week! More the same next week please.

England

Another week, another game where England do their best to see me off. I didn’t see this result coming, like at all. When France scored after 2 minutes I thought it was going to be a long afternoon, yet the men in white fought fire with fire and attacked back at the French blue wall. England’s attacking game was strong, but on the defensive side I think they played very well too. Itoje and Farrell looked much better this week, more so like the Itoje and Farrell of old. Farrell’s decision to kick for the corner late when there were still four points in it was a masterstroke, and it’s that kind of leadership will put him back into contention for Lions captaincy. Anthony Watson played really well and was rightfully given the man of the match. This kind of result will be big for confidence ahead of Ireland. I’m really looking forward to that one, I think that will be an absolute belter of a game. Plus the result puts Wales in a stronger position for the championship, so can’t complain. All in all, good result for England.

Grade: B-. Very solid performance, well done. Happy to see Owen and Maro performing well again, keep it up lads!

France

Hmm, weird one. So France weren’t bad, like at all, they were just second best on the day. The defence held up strong again, but the attack wasn’t quite as free flowing as we’ve seen from them so far this tournament. This reminded me a bit of the Ireland game, but there just wasn’t quite enough there to take Les Bleus over the line. Both of the tries were fantastic, Dupont’s showed how deadly their kicking game can be and Penaud oh LAWD that was beautiful. I thought Jalibert had a good game, his kicking was very consistent but it won’t be enough alone to beat England. I thought the attack wasn’t as strong in the second half and even though the defence still played well, it wasn’t enough. England were too physical with a touch of brilliance from Anthony Watson now and again to see them over the line. So the dream of a Grand Slam is dead but the chase for the championship is still very much alive, which should make for a nail-biting affair in Paris come eight o’clock Saturday.

Grade: C. Not awful but not amazing. More than possible for you to bounce back.

Scotland

Chaos, utter chaos. No real attack or defence plan, just pure vibes. This was super entertaining for the neutral, and probably very frustrating for Irish and Scottish fans. Scotland gave away far too many silly penalties, and their line out game was absolutely woeful. They did however make up for it in their scrummaging. I thought they looked strong defensively apart from the first Ireland try, but giving away stupid penalties became their Achilles’ heel. When they played ball in hand I thought they played very well as they have all tournament. Hamish Watson was outstanding in my opinion, the strength he possesses is scary and in my opinion definitely needs to be in the Lions squad, maybe even a starter (but it would be hard to justify him starting over Curry or Tipuric). Some sparks of cute flicky rugby worked, but it wasn’t enough. Said cute flicky spells were seen in motion with Huw Jones’s try, but ultimately they couldn’t muster up enough of a challenge. All in all, weird game and even weirder performance. It was essentially the kind of performance you expect in the last 15 minutes but for the full 80.

Grade: D. Feel a bit harsh doing this but you need to be more disciplined. Silly mistakes cost you valuable points and marks, want to see better next week please.

Ireland

Chaos, utter chaos. No real attack or defence plan, just pure vibes. In all seriousness, not terrible but nothing ground-breaking. Their rucking was fantastic and were really clever in causing Scotland to continuously make mistakes. I fully expected them to kick more as that’s what most team’s game-plan is when it comes to Scotland but keeping ball in hand was definitely the right call. The first try was very cleverly worked, even if benefiting from a Scottish defensive brain fart. But that’s where Ireland were at their strongest, capitalising from Scotland mistakes and turning penalties into points. I thought they tried to be a little bit too cute and clever at times leading to conceding some silly knock on’s but in the end it didn’t mean too much. I struggled with this one, I really didn’t know what to put. It was such a weird game that it was quite difficult to find anything to say about it. Had Ireland lost it would’ve looked awful and probably be put down to lack of game plan, but their quality ball in hand and capitalising on Scotland making too many silly mistakes definitely helped. I thought discipline dropped a little bit towards the end, conceding a few penalties they really didn’t need to and nearly let Scotland back into it, but they held firm. England next and in all honesty I have no idea which way that goes. I think it’ll be one of those games where I have no idea what the result will be but after it’s finished it will be painfully obvious it was always going to go that way, rugby eh?

Grade: C. Don’t think I can’t see you there making your classmates make mistakes for your own benefit! Very clever, but don’t make too many yourself like you did towards the end of the day.

Class Clown of the Week: Maro Itoje. Much like LRZ against England I don’t think he was expecting his try to be awarded. The look of surprise on his face after it was given has strong meme potential. Along with a very solid performance I liked this from him, well played Maro.

Six Nations Week 3 Recap: Trouncing’s and Controversies Galore

I’m back! So… did you miss me? Yeah, thought not. We’re at the midway point now, three games down for most and two to go and things are starting to get pretty interesting. The table is starting to take some shape and it was nice to get rugby back albeit for a day. This week’s post is a tad shorter, unfortunately France-Scotland was postponed due to a covid outbreak in the French squad which isn’t nice. I can only wish them the best and hope everyone makes a speedy and healthy recovery. But we still managed to get two entertaining games, one absolute annihilation and the other wooohhhhooooaaaahhhhh doctor we’ll get to that. I was feeling a little bit under the weather when watching the games and I have watched highlights back so my analytic cap may not have been as sharp as I hoped but I’ve done the best I can. This is shaping up to be a very interesting and possibly even more unexpected tournament than most would’ve thought. Imagine 5 years ago saying the most likely winners going in on paper would’ve been Scotland or France, and suggesting Wales would do the Grand Slam would get you funny looks, crazy. Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. Without any further ado, let’s get into the grading!

Disclaimer: I make more jokes than usual this week with the nonsense in the Wales-England game. I only do them to try make light of the games, not to rustle any jimmies. Nothing is personal or made to annoy anyone, I’m just trying to be clever and have a laugh in good spirit

Italy

Good god. This is the worst Italy have looked all tournament. I never thought they’d win, I didn’t think Ireland were ever *that* bad, but I expected better than that. From the first whistle they really struggled with the Irish drive. The creativity that was there for the opening two games was non-existent. It’s as if whenever they got to their fourth or fifth phase, they had absolutely no idea what to do next. They conceded far too many silly penalties, and when it came to the set piece they got absolutely battered. As the game went on they lost discipline a bit too easy for my liking. Some heads started to drop and they were visibly frustrated during the last 15 minutes, this was shown in the two yellow cards. I’m not angry or ashamed, I’m just disappointed. I’ve talked up this Italy team a lot and I really do think they have potential to be great, but it wasn’t shown against Ireland. Overall, a grim day for the Azzurri.

Grade: F. Very disappointed, you’re better than this. Stay behind so we can properly see what went wrong and where.

Ireland

That’s the Ireland everyone knows! That was desperately needed for the Boys in Green. At times they looked like the Ireland of three/four years ago. The tempo was high from the first whistle and it got them the result. Their game plan was executed to perfection. The attack was free flowing and a very disciplined defence kept Italy at bay forcing them into mistakes. The front and second row played incredible, they completely dominated the scrum. I was very impressed with their rucking forcing turnovers and keeping onto the ball well. This is how good Ireland can be. I know you should take games against Italy with a pinch of salt but they were very impressive. Ireland haven’t been awful this tournament in my opinion. I was never sold on the “Ireland are finished” train because they had to play Wales with 14 men and the best French team we’ve seen in well over a decade. This could kick start their tournament, not to win it but definitely for a strong finish. Well done Ireland, I knew you had this in you.

Grade: A-. Star of the week! Brilliant comeback from the last two weeks, well done!

England

Jeez this was a controversial one, I think talking about Brexit would cause less arguments. Let’s try anyway, in for a penny in for a pound. To address the Elephant in the room early, I think Owen Farrell was absolutely right to contest the referee’s decision for the first try. Fellow Welshies, hear me out a second. If Pascal Gaüzère said to Alun Wyn Jones time was paused so he could get the squad together pre-penalty, just as Alun Wyn arrives at the huddle Gaüzère tells Farrell he can play on who kicks it cross field to a mostly unmarked Jonny May while the water teams were still on the pitch and Wales were mostly huddled for May to score, you’d be understandably angry. You’d also love Alun Wyn if he stuck up for his team and contested it, so I don’t blame Farrell in the slightest. In a game where the referee’s word is so important you’d only want it to be fair. Apart from that and the second try (which I’ll get to), weird performance. England did very well to get back to tie the game and I thought looked very dangerous ball in hand. There were aspects of creativity and I was worried every time Daly, Watson, Slade, or May had the ball in the 22. But to let up 16 unanswered after tying the match isn’t good enough. You need to use that momentum in your favour, not let it slip and blow it. I’m in two minds about Itoje’s performance. Sure he conceded too many penalties but a lot of it was either poor timing or just trying a bit too hard. Someone probably should’ve stepped in and just told him to calm down a bit and to stop trying to do so much, because when he did things right I thought he did very well. Overall, okay in parts but not great at kick starting a genuine push.

Grade: D+. Did well in parts but let slip massively at the end. Need to see out games better and keep your cool.

Pascal Gaüzère… Sorry! I mean Wales

Oh come on! Of course I was going to joke about it! I know self deprecation isn’t for everyone but if you can’t laugh at yourself then who can you laugh at? I’m trying to hear the screams of Grand Slam from our weekly reoccurring friend Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ but I can’t seem to find them. Where you at? Oh… you’re hungover. Still? The game was quite a while back now. Nope, still nursing it? Fair enough. I’m not going to be a bad winner but this was huge, for the first time this tournament Wales have genuinely impressed me. The first try was a bit naughty and calls for it being rough on England are fair and everyone’s made their minds up about the second (for what it’s worth, I thought it was a knock on). But the game wasn’t won there. Defensively sound and not afraid to go forward meant Wales were able to keep their foot on the gas. They showed great spirit to come back from level terms to score 16 more points and that was where the game was won. The Wales that played Ireland and Scotland would’ve probably let England even more back into it and possibly win but they showed great character to stop it from happening. Faletau played really well and Callum Sheedy looks to be one hell of a player. The boys in red looked threatening every time they were in the 22 and Adams and LRZ on the wing excites me not only now but in the years to come. If I’m allowed to be a teeny bit pessimistic still (because that’s what I do) I still think Wales gave away too many penalties and looked a bit meh at times at set pieces but overall, much better. The jammiest Triple Crown winners in history? Maybe. And I can’t believe we’re genuinely looking at a Wales Grand Slam (like… how?).

Grade: B+. Much better but not without a few wobbles throughout.

Class Clown of the Week: Brian Moore. His “The Super Bowl was last week” comment when the TMO was looking at a possible Wales forward pass just before half time was absolute gold (even if technically wrong because it was 3 weeks before the game, I won’t let facts get in the way of a funny). Well played, Brian.

Six Nations Week 2 Recap: The Good, the Somewhat Unconvincing, and the Defensive Masterclass

Told ya! I said this would be weekly and I’d stick at it. Another week of Six Nations fixtures down, no more wiser or have any clue how this tournament will end up going. There were more moments of beautiful rugby, questionable officiating, unconvincing performances from the big boys and shoulder charges. Kind of a weird one this weekend, we were treated to real Jekyll and Hyde games. A really close nail-biter in the form of Scotland-Wales, a high scoring yet still scrappy affair between England and Italy and I’m still yet to make my mind up about Ireland-France. My Dad messaged me after that last one saying he didn’t know if it was brilliant or terrible and I’m with him, kind of a weird game overall. Nobody played particularly awful but nobody was really too convincing. This made it an absolute nightmare to grade, hence why some scores might be a bit generous this week. Teacher was a bit tired at the time of marking so he wanted to get it done. But still, the final whistles have been blown, another game-week down, and a week off gives teams the chance to potentially go back to the drawing board and re-assess where they go from here. Although the rugby’s stopped for the time being, the show goes on at the Sport Addict Corner and without further ado it’s time for the grading!

England

Why must this team be the way that they are. I didn’t think an international rugby union team could annoy me as much as these guys do, but they find a way to get on every last nerve. Those opening five minutes were downright awful. When Ioane scored after 3 minutes I thought it would be a very long afternoon, before quickly remembering the opponents were Italy. Conceding stupid penalties continues to be an issue and there were far too many loose balls, but the game got better. Once Jonny Hill scored we all knew it was only going one way. Credit where it’s due, that was a good win. Sure the performance wasn’t fantastic, far from it, but you can’t criticise a team that won with a bonus point too much. I was far more impressed with England’s work in the 22 this week, in that they actually got there and didn’t kick for 80 minutes. It showed that when England have the ball in hand and play a bit of possession rugby, they’re not bad at all! Who would ever have guessed that a team with a back 3 of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, and Jonny May were actually really decent when attacking the 22 ball in hand? Speaking of May, that try was *chef’s kiss*. Majestic jump with the elegance of a gazelle. I was really impressed with Maro Itoje, I think he played a very good game and is looking more like the Maro of old. However the other Sarries lads aren’t there yet, their lack of minutes at a top level is starting to show. Farrell looked meh again (I really need to stop putting him as captain in my fantasy rugby team, but the second I take him out I know he’ll turn into prime Jonny Wilkinson) and Vunipola didn’t look fully fit. Taking a more serious tone however, I really do wish Jack Willis a speedy recovery. Rolling players in the ruck really needs to be outlawed because it can leave players seriously hurt. The scream he let out and the look of pure horror Ellis Genge had on his face proves how nasty it was (which I think contributed to Genge’s performance dipping a bit towards the end, seeing your friend get injured like that will leave an impact). All the best, Jack. Hope you get well soon. Overall, not too convincing but the result was badly needed.

Grade: B. Better than last week, even if I am being slightly generous, but there’s areas that need improvement. I would like to see Owen and Billy after class please for a chat about their recent performances!

Italy

What can I say but yikes, again. Italy started really strong. The Ioane try was fantastic and I thought they looked dangerous every time they got into the final third. But, as always, Italy gonna Italy. It was better than last week, but that’s not too much to aim from. Yet again, they gave away far too many silly penalties and struggled with England’s strength at set pieces. There were some decent showings. I thought the front row played fairly well and the Tommasso Allan try showed how good this team really can be, but it’s not there yet. This is a long term team and they were always going to struggle this tournament. The talent is undoubtedly there and I think they can end up being a sleeping giant, but not now. This week they were less punching bags and maybe more punching pads, bit more resistance but still got hit fairly badly without too much response. I don’t know what much else there really is to say. I think most entries for Italy will end up like this unfortunately, but me making any prediction on sport as a matter of public record tend to backfire pretty badly (just look at what I posted about the Pittsburgh Steelers last November) so maybe they’ll turn the tournament around. Who knows?

Grade: D-. Again, sorry to be so harsh on you guys as you did try. Granted it was better but you can’t let up another BP loss and expect a decent grade, speak to me after class where we can discuss some extra hours for a bit more help.

Scotland

Remember what I said earlier about Jekyll and Hyde? Without trying to sound too much like giving an answer to the press on Football Manager, this really was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from Scotland (I’m going to stop saying Jekyll and Hyde, saying it 4 times in one post is surely the limit). This team is still very good and plays fantastic rugby. The first try was incredibly worked with a very clever use of the chip kick. The kicks killed Wales’s rush defence, because believe it or not if you rush everyone forward when Darcy Graham is on the wing with space to run into, the attacking team might have a bit of success. On the defensive side I was really impressed. They bullied Wales into their own territory and made it near impossible to muster up any kind of attack. And then the second half comes and… yeah. Unfortunately for the Scots the ghost of shoulder charge past decided to pop in for a quick cuppa and nasty challenge, this time in the form of Zander Faegerson. Again, it was an unfortunate red card. Like O’Mahoney I don’t think it was deliberate at all however you can’t keep a player on when they commit a foul like that. Much like Ireland, this changed the game. It was never comfortable for Wales in the slightest and Scotland may feel a bit hard done by but in the end just switching off for one second swung the game in Wales’s favour, again.

Grade: C. WHAT DID I TELL IRELAND LAST WEEK ABOUT SHOULDER CHARGING FELLOW CLASSMATES?!?!?!?! Aside from that, unlucky. The performance was good again but I can’t really grade you any higher.

Wales

I really do get the worst of it when it comes to sport and my dual-nationality (makes it sound far more exotic than it is). This team are trying their best to see me off in their inability to comfortably win games with this week being no exception. From the first whistle Wales were clearly absolutely terrified of making mistakes. I thought it would resort to a similar game plan to England’s but thankfully it didn’t. I’m not a fan in the slightest of rush defence and it should be binned off immediately. Shaun Edwards would be saddened watching this display, sat in a chateau with a glass of Merlot seeing what has become of his slow and steady defensive strategy. It’s not Leigh Halfpenny’s job to defend as much as he did and that’s where some errors came from. This won’t work against England. The defence struggled against the Scottish back three, how will it cope against Daly and co.? And the less thought about France’s gorgeous offload play the better. That being said (you’d think Wales lost with the way I’m speaking), there were strong points. The front row impressed me again, I thought Ken Owens and Wyn Jones played very well. But the player of the match (and the weekend) was that boy again, Louis Rees-Zammit. I knew this lad was special, but sweet mother of god I didn’t know he was that special. I’m calling it, once he starts to improve his defence a bit then Wales has their next Shane Williams. See now this is part of the irritating and goading side I wanted to come out last week, and it still isn’t coming out, but Louis looks the real deal. In the faint distance you may hear the irritating Welsh rugby fan scream at the top of their lungs to the high heavens how Wales are winning the Grand Slam, but let’s take it one step at a time. Nice to win? Yes. Convincing? Anything but. Improvement still needed? Absolutely. Hotel? Trivago.

Grade: C+. Similar performance to last week, would like to see some improvement. And PLEASE will you stop relying on your classmates shortcomings and brain farts to wake you up.

Ireland

I don’t know where I stand on this team, I really don’t. Losing Sexton was far from ideal, but I’m not convinced they would’ve won had he played. They were nervous at the beginning, it was quite a cagey opening. Billy Burns was clearly quite anxious at the start, I’m not sure he was fully over last week. A strong point for this team is the lineout for sure, as is the scrum, but it won’t win them the game alone. I felt they tried to beat France at their own game but it didn’t go as they hoped. They tried to be a little bit too cute in their passing and a bit flicky at times but it didn’t pay off. The defence struggled with the French back three, but then any defence would’ve. That being said however, I can’t help but think that performance would’ve beaten Wales. They took France right to the death and came close to winning, but it wasn’t to be. The clash of heads between Healey and Henderson was absolutely sickening and I hope they’re both okay. Overall, quite a strange game from the boys in green. Looked very good at times but just wasn’t enough.

Grade: C-. Not a terrible effort but still not really great. Please see me after class so we can talk about realistically where we can go from here.

France

Hmm, this was odd. I’m really not sure where I stand on this performance. Three years ago I think they would’ve lost this pretty comfortably, leading to “just goes to show you never know which France will show up” comments which have been done to death and have lost any and all meaning by this point. I think this team were scared of making mistakes, and that showed with how much they kept it in the air at the start and were willing to let Ireland have possession throughout the game. The trip from Le Roux was stupid, no other way of putting it, but I thought it was a good bit of officiating from the referee and linesman to spot it. There were sparks of how this team can just switch on showing in Ollivon’s try, it was a great bit of offloading. And France win the first class clown of the week going to Paul Willemse, I found the ball bonk off his head at the try line far funnier than I should’ve. All in all, kind of weird but disciplined. They did what they needed to do in what was a real Shaun Edwards gutsy defensive masterclass. Credit as well to Antoine Dupont, that lad really is something else and in my opinion the best scrum half in the world today.

Grade: A-. Star of the week again but less convincingly. Try not to lose that spark that makes you a bit different and special, and as funny as it was try not to make Paul the class clown too much.