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Rugby

Six Nations Week 5 Recap: All’alba Vinceró

“Although we’ve come, to the end of the road, still I can’t let go. It’s unnatural. You belong to me. I belong to you.” I mean, I assume that Boyz II Men were talking about the Six Nations when they made End of the Road. Yes just like that, the Six Nations are over for another year. All in all, that was a pretty good tournament. We’ve seen France put out a very solid statement 18 months away from a home World Cup, Ireland do their usual look great before eventually going out in the quarter finals of said World Cup, and Italy showing what they bring to the Six Nations (WOAH HOOOO we’ll get into that). Just as we thought many questions have been answered, a whole new bunch have been asked. The Graded journey has yet again come to an end for another year and as I thank you for joining for another fun tournament, let’s get into the last grading of the 2022 Six Nations!

Wales

When I say I would’ve loved to experience the 80s and 90s I meant experiencing stuff like the rise and prime years of Britpop, Thomas Hearns, Mike Tyson, and Marvin Hagler tearing up the boxing scene, and a first date going to see Titanic in the cinema. NOT the Welsh national team being naff. I’ve said all tournament that there were red flags in this team. The inability to take chances when given them (France) and starting slowly (Ireland and Scotland/England to an extent) became this team’s undoing on more than one occasion. But never in my wildest dreams though did I think Wales would lose to Italy. They just never seemed to get out of second gear. Whilst there were some individual moments of brilliance such as the tries from Owen Watkin, Dewi Lake, and Josh Adams, and the late defensive tackle from Adams which stopped an almost certain try, it never felt convincing. Italy were more than happy to soak up the fairly poor and one-dimensional Welsh pressure and managed to make them commit silly mistakes so that they could keep the points ticking over from penalties to stay in the game all before Capuozzo’s moment of magic.

It’s easy to point the finger at the coaches and players, but this isn’t on them. This exposed the cracks that have been in the WRU for decades. There’s never been a sniff of a contingency plan in place since the 70s. Why do you think there was such a slump in the 80s and 90s? The golden generation was coached perfectly under Warren Gatland but one day they’ll leave, and most of them have. What comes next? Much like the past, the WRU haven’t given a thought to it because things were going well for the national team. And when things are going so well in the present not planning for the future is easy to do but can also be disastrous. The regional game has no real depth to it, as was shown this weekend with the Blues and Scarlets losing in South Africa with their squads lacking their main players. You know who wouldn’t have got embarrassed like that? Premiership teams. Teams like Leicester, Saracens, and Harlequins who are missing major players but don’t get turned over when they have to play during the international window. The RFU’s system is incredible in having a smooth transition from the national leagues to the higher clubs and great funding and promotion for the English clubs all the while doing the same for the English national team. While we were concentrating on the glory of the national team over the last 15 or so years the regional game has gone into decline, and there’s no quick fix there.

Oh and the Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan? Last I heard he’s chained himself to the gates of the Senedd and isn’t leaving until Wayne Pivac is sacked. What a mess.

Grade: F-. This was painfully obviously going to happen. You’ve papered over the cracks for too long but now they’re there.

Italy

REJOYCE! THE STREAK IS OVER! 36 GAMES WITHOUT A WIN AND WE’RE BACK BABY! SEVEN YEARS OF HURT, NEVER STOPPED ME DREAMING! IT’S COMING HOME IT’S COMING! RUGBY’S CO… sorry wrong sport. The score-line may have been close but the Azzurri did anything but scrape a win. They were much the better team throughout and had their game plan nailed down to a T. The defence held strong and remained solid whilst they were lightning going forward. Montanna Ioane had probably his best game in an Italy shirt and although he wasn’t on the scoresheet he was an absolute menace all day. That run he made from the dead ball line in the second half was absolute *chef’s kiss*. The dynamic duo of Edoardo Padovani and Paolo Garbisi kept the points ticking over and it managed to build up for Ange Capuozzo going on the run of his life to put Padovani in to score and Garbisi to kick the winning conversion. Being Welsh this does sting quite a lot but this was always going to come sooner rather than later. It ends the debate surrounding where do Italy go next, because they clearly have a bit of quality about them. Call Georgia or Romania up by all means if you want to, but it should never be at the expense of Italy. This could be a turning point in Italian rugby’s recent history. They’ve upset a major player in their back garden, plus when you add their solid base of players and coaches into the mix who know where the future will take them.

Grade: A*. I’ve said for ages that you’ve had this in you! Star of the week!

Ireland

Triple Crown secured in what may feel like somewhat of a bittersweet celebration. There’s no doubt that Ireland would’ve wanted that Six Nations trophy but they’re on the right track. The first half started very well with Dan Sheehan and Cian Healey scoring for the boys in green. Even when Scotland scored just before half time their heads didn’t drop and came out in the second half firing. Josh van der Flier and Conor Murray managed to wrap up the game and the bonus point victory to secure the win and the first piece of silverware for Andy Farrell as Ireland coach. It was a disciplined display and they managed to do exactly what was needed of them. I’m particularly impressed with the strength of the Irish bench. To have players like Murray, Robbie Henshaw, Peter O’Mahoney, and Joey Carbery to come on shows how strong this squad is. Of course in the end it would be just not enough as the result didn’t go their way in the late kick off. This tournament has shown great promise for Ireland. There’s clearly a great team here with some quality players and the coaching staff makes them a world class side. If they can keep this going then there’s no reason as to why they can’t be in the conversation for the World Cup. Now I know that this is vintage Ireland showing up and looking great just before the World Cup for them to crash out in the quarter finals, they’ve done this before so I am throwing caution to the wind slightly, but it’s looking good on paper.

Grade: A. Faultless display. Keep it up for the big one in 18 months!

Scotland

Inoffensive, dull, couldn’t really get much going. The story of Scotland’s performance and campaign as a whole. They never looked particularly interested and even the Pierre Schoeman try didn’t feel like it would be a catalyst for a comeback. Whilst they were somewhat in it in the first half, the second was beyond poor and ultimately sealed their fate. Big name players like Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell couldn’t get anything going in the final 40 and Ireland comfortably took control of the game. There was a feeling that there may have been a point to prove after some of the negative press for key players in the week but it wasn’t really there. The defence looked solid enough at times but ultimately they gave away too many silly penalties and were far too ill-disciplined, all summed up by Ben White’s (not that one) late trip to the sin-bin for his deliberate knock on. This means that it’s a third consecutive 4th place finish for Scotland in a tournament where they should’ve done better. The team and players are good enough to push for championships or triple crowns at least but it’s just not come together, again. There’s plenty to work on for Scotland, but the task isn’t particularly massive. The quality is there, just play to your best players strengths and abandon the try and make chances out of nothing style.

Grade: E. Just a bit of a dud in the end.

France

After 12 long years, Les Bleus finally have their Six Nations championship and managed a grand slam in doing so. They’re deserved winners not only on the day but in the whole championship. Gael Fickou and Francois Crois managed to score in the first half to ease any early nerves while that man again, Mr Incredible, the man with the iron cheekbones, Antoine Dupont took France over in the final 10 minutes to confirm the win. This is something that’s been brewing for years. France have been one of the best teams and have played some of the best rugby for the last four tournaments and this would be the year it finally paid off. With a squad that’s not really been in the Grand Slam winning position before it could’ve been easy to fold under the pressure like the France of old may have, but this isn’t the France of old. They kept it tight at the back and were just better overall in attack, chances created, and with ball in hand. It showed how good France are, and they’ll be an excited nation looking into the future. I would say that it may be difficult to keep this consistency going after such a stellar campaign were it any other team, but France have performed like this for years. With a home World Cup looming after a tournament like that and having played New Zealand off the park last Autumn, South Africa’s grip on the Webb Ellis trophy might be loosening ever so slightly as the Springboks nervously wipe the sweat from their brow whilst looking at the oncoming French train of destruction behind them.

Grade: A. Icing on the cake for a marvellous tournament. C’est magnifique!

England

Another year of Six Nations mediocrity over, thank god. I really had hopes for this team, but Saturday’s game proved how far off the mark they are. The annoying thing is that the players are there. They’re more than good enough but it just hasn’t clicked this tournament. There were instances where they looked like they could maybe produce something, such as the Freddie Steward try and Joe Marchant had some decent breaks, but there wasn’t really that edge to them. In what will be irritating to Eddie Jones and co. it’s a third place finish in a tournament where England really should’ve done better. Even though it wasn’t the worst performance in the world because they didn’t get battered, what does that say about the expectation surrounding English rugby? Clive Woodward talked about Saturday’s game being a potential 2023 World Cup Semi Final, but in all honesty I don’t see this England team anywhere near the last 4 of that tournament. Not being battered by France isn’t enough for it to be a good performance, the expectation should be to be on level terms with teams like this.

The big question now is where do England go from here? Or more specifically, who do England go for from here? If they want a change before the World Cup then now’s the time to do it. There’s 15 games (give or take) until the World Cup which isn’t the longest turnaround but enough time to get the ball rolling for a cup run. The bookies always have people like Rassie Erasmus and Warren Gatland as favourites, but maybe it’s better to plan for the long run? Jones goes on about a “new-look England” and if there’s going to be one with the influx of younger talent, why not go for a younger coach? Somebody like Steve Borthwick would be ideal. As a Leicester Tigers fan I really don’t want him to go but it would make perfect sense to get him. Ball’s in your court RFU, and it’s a monumental decision to make.

Grade: C-. Not great but didn’t get battered, small victories I suppose.

Class Clown of the Week: The Welsh Rugby Union as an organization. Just read back the second paragraph on Wales to see why.

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 4 Recap: Dates With Destiny

All aboard! We’re at the penultimate stop of the 2022 Six Nations Championship, terminating next week at Super Saturday Parkway. After this past weekend, all eyes are now on two teams in who will end up taking the Six Nations crown with a grand slam still there to be won. In a week that my Fantasy Team took a bit of a pounding, there were yet another three games with plenty to talk about. France very narrowly kept their Grand Slam hopes alive, whilst Ireland will be hoping that England will be able to do them a bit of a favour in the last week. But before we can think about next week and all that it will entail, let’s get into the grading!

Wales

I’m not too sure how to grade this in all honesty. All I can say is that I feel sorry for the poor souls who paid £100 or more to watch it. France were there for the taking but Wales just couldn’t really muster up much in the form of attack when it mattered. The game was there for the taking for sure, but a mix of France’s solid defence and Wales’s lack of creativity in attack meant that it was a bit of a dud. The biggest chance for Wales was Jonathan Davies’s opportunity in the second half but as was the story of the game for Wales in attack, it didn’t come to anything. With all that being said there were some good individual performances. Taulupe Faletau proved once again that he’s different gravy and Will Rowlands had a good showing. I like how there’s two good Locks getting gametime in the form of Rowlands and Adam Beard. It’s no doubt that Alun Wyn Jones won’t play on for much longer and with him in the team for Italy I think that’ll be his swan song. I doubt the team will be selected on the base of nostalgia or sentiment but he’ll definitely play at some point. Probably in the form of the last 15 minutes or so just so that he can break the record. All in all, annoying result but it could’ve been much worse. Luckily there was only around 12 people in the stadium to see it.

Grade: D+. Some good individual performances but this was there for the taking, should’ve done better.

France

France managed to look like the France of old here but still kept that shiny new edge that they have. There’s no doubt in my mind that two or three years ago they would’ve lost this, but Shaun Edwards has made that defence rock solid. This looked like a team that would go on to win the Grand Slam in that they played poorly and didn’t have that little ounce of va va voom that they usually play with but still managed to get a big result. When Anthony Jelonch carried over for what would be France’s only try I thought the floodgates would open a bit, much like how we’ve seen France do all tournament. The rugby was fairly free flowing, if not without the odd mistake and stupid penalty given away, but they still looked like the better team. However it didn’t really happen with France having to defend quite a bit. But with Shaun Edwards at the helm against a Welsh attack that never really got going they’ll take that all day. They still had some eye catching moments too such as the previously mentioned try and Julien Marchand and Gregory Alldirit had some pretty nice carries. It wasn’t the French performance that we expected to see but all in all France won’t care. The Grand Slam dream is still very much alive and the championship is very much theirs to lose. Onto Paris we go!

Grade: B-. Not great but you managed to grind out a good result like champions do.

Italy

In two minds about this one. Whilst it’s now 36 losses in a row and looking like yet another wooden spoon, that was the best we’ve seen of Italy in a long time. They never really gave up, even when it looked difficult, and that says a lot about how this team have grown through the tournament. They do play some nice rugby on occasions, and they did so against Scotland. They looked dangerous at times throughout the first half but it didn’t quite click with either silly penalties or turnovers being their un-doings on more than one occasion. But when Italy come to play, they have started to deliver. There’s reason to be optimistic looking forward for this Italy team (I know that sounds insane for a team that have lost 36 Six Nations games on the bounce and are staring down the barrel of yet another wooden spoon but bare with me). There’s some genuinely decent talent in the squad that are capable of playing good rugby. Just look at their first try, it looked like a move France would make. Paolo Garbisi has shown great promise this tournament and I still think Montanna Ioane is a huge asset to the team. But a special mention has to go to the debutant, Ange Capuozzo. He looked incredible when he came on and got 2 tries to reduce the deficit to only eleven in the end. In the last 20 or so minutes Italy were the better team and probably should’ve scored more tries, they were just beaten by the better quality team on the day.

Grade: C-. Screw it, even though you lost you get star of the week. I’m genuinely so impressed with how much better you were today compared to the last few performances and actually making things happen instead of blowing every half chance you get.

Scotland

Stop. Playing. This. Stupid. Style. Of. Rugby. This was such an irritating performance, yet again. There were times where Scotland played some nice rugby, there’s no doubt about that. Their good moments were fantastic and when their foot was on the gas it was obvious who the stronger team of the two was. Chris Harris had a very strong showing and was rewarded with two tries for it, whilst Stuart Hogg not only managed to keep things tight in the back but also orchestrated some decent attacks. Darcey Graham looked dangerous on the wing yet again and managed to capitalize on mistakes in the always suspect Italian defence. But they didn’t keep it up. This has basically been the story of Scotland for the whole tournament. They play well in waves but they never keep up any kind of sustained pressure for a whole game, and it gets so frustrating to watch. This team should be competing for the championship but their style of rugby isn’t letting them. Italy were comfortably the better side towards the end of the second half and had they done more with their chances in the first half it would’ve been a lot tighter. In the end, managing to capitalise on a fairly naff Italian defence was enough to get the win. Although they’ll be pleased with the result and ability to bounce back after France, I’m not seeing anything that would worry Ireland too much going into Dublin next weekend. Prove me wrong lads!

Grade: B-. Not the most convincing but a bounce back win nonetheless, just please keep it up for 80 minutes in future instead of looking worryingly average at times against the worst team in the tournament.

England

You know what? Fair play England. I’d be the first to admit that I’m hard on this team, and can probably be a bit too harsh on occasions, but when they deserve praise they get it and this was once of those instances. It looked like that it would be the mother of all uphill battles after Charlie Ewels was given his marching orders after 82 seconds and Ireland scored two quick tries, but that didn’t happen. England showed incredible determination and spirit that not even all of Ireland’s best could un-do. Ellis Genge and Jamie George were absolutely world class not only in the scrum but also in defence. Jack Nowell contributed superbly in the scrum while Maro Itoje and Freddie Steward proved to be absolute menaces when chasing the high ball. Steward especially had Hugo Keenan on toast when chasing those high balls whilst Genge was a nightmare for Tadhg Furlong all afternoon. In the end, England were just tired after being a man down for so long and the tries came for Ireland in the closing stages of the game to kill it off. But don’t let the score take away from the fact that that was something special from England. My only criticism is get better security at Twickenham, I’m fed up of seeing Jarvo.

Grade: B. Incredible spirit and could’ve won that if not for the red card. Well done.

Ireland

Bit of a difficult one to assess this. On one hand, a bonus point victory away from home to take it to a last weekend shootout for the championship won’t go amiss. But on the other they didn’t half make hard work of it. When James Lowe and Hugo Keenan scored I thought it would be an absolute trouncing, but how wrong I was. Ireland were nowhere near as competitive in the scrum as I thought they would be and ended up conceding silly penalties in the ruck. England’s pressure was a nightmare for Ireland and with the Twickenham crowd behind them it looked at times like the game could be slipping from Ireland’s grip. But it was ultimately won in the last 20 minutes for Ireland. After Marcus Smith kicked his 5th penalty of the day, the boys in green stepped it up a notch and managed to capitalise on England’s tiredness whilst being able to make the most of the bench bringing on experienced players like Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw. Two late tries from Jack Conan and Finley Bealham were enough for the bonus point and to put a spring into Ireland’s step going into Scotland next week where they’ll try and do their bit in winning the Six Nations crown. Flattering score-line? Yes. Do they care? No. Will Irish fans be supporting England over France if it means they have a shot at the championship? Begrudgingly. Hotel? Trivago.

Grade: B+. Did what you needed to do but looked a bit iffy at times, still put a decent mark down for next week.

Class Clown of the Week: BBC commentary. They were beyond shocking. The constant getting players names wrong made it almost impossible to listen to. They made ITV look competent for god sake!

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 3 Recap: Uncontested scrum, uncontested championship

After a week’s break, the six nations came back all guns blazing with another weekend filled with action. There were more brilliant tries, great passages of play, and some incredibly complicated rules on show. In a week that saw the world become a bit of a scarier place, rugby stood with the brave people of Ukraine while also proving to be a bit of a distraction from the incredibly grim realities of the state of the world. In this most recent round we saw Les Bleus march on in their attempt for a grand slam, a close encounter between England and Wales, and uncontested scrums galore in Dublin. The table is starting to take shape as we pass the half way point in what looks like it’ll be a three horse race for the title. There’s huge game weeks in weeks 4 and 5 for the big three at the top but let’s not look too far ahead and get into the grading!

Scotland

I seriously can’t believe I expected things from this team. They really didn’t look great against France and to be honest they’ve not really had a convincing game all tournament. Granted they did well to bring it back to 12-10 in the first half after it looked like France were going to run away with it but Stuart Hogg dropping it when he had a clear try scoring opportunity to take the lead kind of summed it up for Scotland. This team annoy the hell out of me because the quality is 100% there. They’re not playing to their strengths and are trying to create tries and opportunities out of nowhere. Granted it worked against England but they’re starting to get found out and it became their achilles heel against France. The rugby is far too route one and they just end up becoming predictable and easy to play against. If there’s any positives to take then it’s that Rory Darge looked absolutely brilliant and they’ve got a hell of a player on their hands. Plus Duhan van der Merwe looked better so there’s that too. Scotland now head to Rome in two weeks in what’s probably come at the perfect time. You’d hope that they’d be able to get a win against Italy and this is a team that’s desperate for one. Jeez, what a mess.

Grade: D-. Need improvement, and quickly. Stop being so damn predictable.

France

God is French and his name is Damien Penaud, and when I grow up I want to be Antoine Dupont. This is becoming far too easy to write about because for a third week on the bounce, France have won convincingly. They’ve managed to overcome their lousy record in Edinburgh and get another bonus point win. What shows how great this team is that even if one of their key players has a bit of an off day, as was the case with Melvyn Jaminet (and he still kicked 3 conversions), other players stepped up. Gael Fickou was on fire and Cyril Baille was a man on a mission of destruction yet again. Their speed and precision in attack is a sight to behold whereas Shaun Edwards has made them a scarily tight unit in defence. The next stop on the Grand Slam train is a date in Cardiff with Wales. With Wales being the notoriously slow starters that they are, especially in this tournament, this could be yet another opportunity for France to get some serious points in the bag and a step closer to that Six Nations title that’s evaded them for so long.

Grade: A*. Star of the week! (for the third time on the bounce)

England

Bit of a weird one this. England looked like they’d be able to run away with this pretty easily, but it wasn’t to be the case. They started well looking dangerous every time they attacked, and their defence held firm whenever Wales got near the try line. Marcus Smith kept ticking the points over from penalties to put England 12-0 up into the break. It was a boring first half, there’s no arguments there, but it felt like it should’ve been more. It’s what the All Blacks do in going for the points at every given opportunity to build that lead up as much as possible and as early as possible, but they actually score tries and England didn’t. The second half started much like the first with waves of England pressure but this time ending in a try, with Alex Dobrandt capitalising on one of the worst lineouts I’ve ever seen in my life. The team managed to weather a Welsh charge and got a result that was much closer than it needed to be and not even the ITV coverage could spoil it for the England fans. A lot of plaudits went to Smith for yet another great performance, but there were many solid showings from the England players. Ellis Genge had a good outing and Freddie Steward had probably his best performance of the Six Nations so far. As a Tigers fan, that would delight me but it’s just irritating it had to be against Wales. Maro Itoje was on fire and proved to be an absolute menace again, for me he deserved player of the match but hey ho. Pretty meh performance but an important win nonetheless. Up next is Ireland in a “semi-final” as Sir Clive kept putting it (god I despise the ITV coverage). But don’t let that take away from how big England’s remaining games are in the race for the title.

Also, well done to Ben Youngs on becoming England’s most capped player. As the president (and I think only member) of the Youngsy Appreciation Society this was a great win for us and gives us the mother of all propaganda to use in future Twitter arguments.

Grade: B-. Not awful and got the result but was a bit dull at times, you let it be much closer that it should’ve been.

Wales

This was a typical Twickenham performance from Wales. Get absolutely ruined by a slow start, capitalise on England getting complacent, end up losing by a tight score line when it should’ve been an absolute mullering. Sunrise, sunset. Yeah it wasn’t great. The first half was shockingly bad, England were walking all over the defence whilst the attack couldn’t really get anything going be it from a solid English defence or just lack of discipline giving away silly penalties. Much like Ireland in Dublin, it was a miracle Wales weren’t down by more at half-time. Come the second half things started poorly but much like Wales do, they grew into it. Two tries in quick succession from Josh Adams and Nick Tompkins meant there was a game on our hands, and a late one from Kieran Hardy saw the Ghost of Wembley 1999 Past flash in the eyes of England players and fans alike, but the defence held strong and England ground out the win. There were definitely positives for Wales, they improved massively after the Adams try and did play some decent rugby when chasing the game. Taine Basham yet again had a solid game and Alex Cuthbert massively rolled back the years with his performance, had Wales won he probably would’ve won player of the match. But this starting slow nonsense needs to end, especially with France up next. The French have been incredibly fast starters as was shown against Scotland so Wales will have to be on their A game from the word go if they even want to stand a chance against Les Bleus. In case you’re wondering what Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ thought of this then you won’t hear it, he’s taking a leave of absence for the foreseeable future to get over the result.

Grade: C. Showed promise but was just a case of too little too late.

Ireland

Hard to take too much away from this in all honesty. Yes Ireland were good, but it came against uncontested scrums and a thirteen man Italy for 60 minutes. Once this happened it was just going to be an opportunity for Ireland to score as many as possible to try and get a nice points tally in the lead up to the last two games and a push for the title. Before the red card and uncontested scrums incident, Ireland weren’t all too dominant. Sure they looked decent but Italy were putting up a good enough fight. But once a team as good as Ireland get a two man advantage against an Italy side who the last time won a Six Nations game fire was a recent discovery, the writing was on the wall. The rugby they played got better after a frustrating start, and the who would get a hat trick competition between James Lowe and Michael Lowry was fun (spoiler alert, it was neither), but again, the circumstances in which it came was just quite weird. But hey, that’s rugby. I take nothing away from Ireland as this could be an important win for them. If France slip up then points difference could be key so it was vital that they got as many as possible. A weird game, but a nice result going into the England match in two weeks time.

Grade: B+. Sure you were good but it the circumstances were strange. It became borderline bullying by the end, please refrain from slapping Italy and telling them to stop hitting themselves in future.

Italy

The pure agony Italian rugby fans go through is basically unmatched in sport. It’s similar to that experienced by fans of say Bolton Wanderers or the Jacksonville Jaguars, but turned up to eleven. They didn’t start off too badly, Ireland did get a try through Joey Carbery but it wasn’t a complete demolition job from the word go. But then it went peak Italian rugby with hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi having to go off injured and his replacement, Hame Faiva, was sent off. This prompted uncontested scrums and Italy having to go yet another man down, with number eight Toa Halafihi being sacrificed. Unsurprisingly, it all went steeply downhill from here. It would’ve been the mother of all David v Goliath stuff for Italy to mount any kind of challenge back and to top it all off, they finished the game with 12 men after a late sin-binning for Braam Steyn. This was the purest form of “if it can go wrong it will go wrong” for Italy. The second they went down to 13 it was game over and it’s hard to really slate them too much when they lost in the manor in which they did. In all honesty I thought the red card was a bit harsh, I’ve seen a lot less given for a lot worse, but that’s rugby for you. This takes it to 35 losses on the bounce for Italy in the Six Nations and with Scotland and Wales in their final 2 games, it could be a seventh wooden spoon on the bounce for The Azzurri.

Grade: N/A. It’s seriously hard to decipher anything from that. Like seriously, how can I grade that?

Class Clown of the Week: The band that played the Italian national anthem. They were massively out of time and this somehow made it the worst performance of the day at the Aviva.

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 2 Recap: “Magnifique”, “ffantastig bois bach”,  “bonus point is a bonus point”

Well that was a pretty decent weekend of rugby. We had a very close encounter in Cardiff, a modern day classic in Paris, and somehow the weirdest convincing-yet-still-kinda-meh bonus point win in Rome. We head into a break with no rugby next weekend, and teams will start to be getting early ideas of what exactly they’ll be aiming for in this year’s tournament. Some have been convincing, others not so much, and again my predictions going into the tournament have aged like a fine milk (apart from France grand slam, that’s still very much on). As I try and do absolutely anything to keep myself awake in the battle of a post-Super Bowl ruined sleeping pattern (which I can’t let happen), and find something to take my mind off the fact that this could’ve been the last weekend of rugby before Europe ends up at war again, let’s get into the grading!

Wales

Not bad Wales, not bad at all. I’ll be honest, I didn’t hold any hope in the slightest after the first 10 minutes. Wales looked lazy and lethargic while Scotland were making scary amounts of ground on every wave of attack. Every phase made ground and with a team as big and physical as Scotland that isn’t a position you want to be in. The alarm bells were starting to ring in what I thought was going to end up being a similar result to the Ireland game in Week One. But as they do, Wales slowly grew into the game and Tomas Francis’s try came at exactly the right time. The second half was better from Wales, they defended well and didn’t let Scotland play the rugby they wanted to. Dan Biggar’s consistency was key and I seriously hope he’ll be okay for Twickenham. The drop goal when you’re a man up with only 10 minutes left seemed like a bit of a brain fart moment but it worked in the end. Taine Basham impressed me again after he was a tiny ray of sunshine in last week’s performance against Ireland, and Jac Morgan had a few moments of quality too in what was a very solid debut for him. Although a special mention has to go to the front row. They held their own against pre and post-substitution Scotland front rows which are both absolutely quality, Francis as previously mentioned got the try, Ryan Elias was a deserved player of the match looking solid in the scrum and ruck, and Dillon Lewis added that little bit more strength in the ruck when he came on and secured a brilliant crucial turnover in the closing stages of the game (da iawn Dill!).

Our friend the Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ was, as you could imagine, up to his usual alcohol-fuelled tricks after the game. The last I heard, he was spotted trying to sell the people of Caroline Street his hand drawn portraits of Barry John and Sir Gareth Edwards and some home made “Wales Six Nations 20212 Champions” t-shirts to fund his ticket for Twickenham. All in all, solid result for the boys in red before a huge game in the big smoke in two weeks time.

Grade: B. Better! Keep it up.

Scotland

As certain as I am that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, Scotland will follow up a convincing opening win with an absolutely horrible performance. It started off pretty well. The Scotland attack was clearly getting to Wales and they were making convincing ground in every phase. I thought the Darcy Graham try was going to open the floodgates a bit but then they took their foot off the gas. They let Wales get back into it which was the polar opposite of what they needed to do. Graham and Duhan van der Merwe were threatening on the wings, Stuart Hogg was controlling the ball well, and Chris Harris, Hamish Watson, and Sione Tuipulotu looked menacing every time they went forward, but it all ended up going a bit meh. Losing Matt Fagerson so early to injury was unfortunate and losing Finn Russell for 10 minutes in the dying embers of the game was never going to make things easier but they just looked bang average for most of the game. It’s almost as if they were trying to soak up the pressure like they did against England but couldn’t get anything going in their favour in terms of counter attacks. It looked like a Scotland performance you’d expect 10 years ago, which is beyond annoying because they’re way better than that. The break has come at the perfect time for Scotland, this is by no means game over and they could definitely still fight for the title, but it will require a hell of a lot of elbow grease and a rugby masterclass against France at Murrayfield.

Grade: D. I know you’re better than this, don’t fall into disappointing old ways.

France

What. A. Game. This was like the rugby equivalent of Ali-Frazier, Hagler-Hearns, or Gatti-Ward (all great boxing matches for those who don’t follow the sport). Two megastars going at each other tooth and nail and leaving everything out there. The first half showed why France are such a dangerous team. The build up to Antoine Dupont’s opener was just liquid rugby and they made the most of their penalties. They managed to force Ireland into silly mistakes and capitalised by turning penalties into points. The sheer power they had going forward was phenomenal and they didn’t stop from the first whistle to the last. Even when Ireland came back into it after a crazy start to the second half they managed to keep their cool and answered back with a try of their own from Cyril Baille. Melvyn Jaminet proved to be key in the victory kicking six penalties and a conversion and was unlucky not to get a try himself. Everything about this French team is brilliant. They’re defensively sound, have possibly the world’s best scrum half-fly half pairing with Dupont and Romain Ntamack, they look scarily dangerous every time they attack, they now know how to keep their cool when things are going against them, and you’ll struggle to find a better back three than of Jaminet, Damian Penaud, and Gabin Villiere. They’re the only team left who can still do the Grand Slam and I’m calling it now, they should 100% be in the conversation for winning next year’s World Cup. Whilst I learned on my recent TEFL course that when teaching you should share rewards equally to make sure that morale stays high within the class, when it comes to graded that theory couldn’t be more wrong. Especially when France are as good as they are.

Grade: A*. Star of the week! Flawless yet again!

Ireland

As fantastic as France were, the boys in green took the game to them. Anything that France came at them with, Ireland fought back. After the fantastic Dupont try and a penalty from Jaminet, it looked like it could be a long afternoon. But then straight from the kick-off Mack Hansen capitalised on a French defence caught napping and ran in for his first try for Ireland, 10 minutes gone, 10-7, game on. Ireland’s lack of discipline would be their biggest undoing throughout the rest of the first half as France were able to turn Ireland’s mistakes into points giving them a 19-7 lead at half time. Once the second half started Jaminet managed to kick yet another three points to give France a 15 point lead with Ireland seemingly looking down and out. But the Six Nations script writers decided “nah” and Ireland fired back scoring twice in 5 minutes with tries from Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park. If you commissioned this tv show to Netflix they’d turn it down for being too unrealistic. Yet again, game on. But also yet again, discipline. The French were just that bit too good and forced Ireland into silly mistakes. Despite the Irish bringing the gap down to only three at one point, it would be France who took the win. Whilst this will sting, Ireland can take a hell of a lot of pride from this result. They went toe to toe with one of the world’s best teams and it nearly worked. That performance would’ve 100% beaten the rest of the teams in the Six Nations, it’s just that France are that good. They’re still definitely in contention for the title, as if those England and Scotland games needed to be any bigger, and I don’t think that this is the last we’ve seen of Ireland.

Grade: B+. That was honestly fantastic, it just wasn’t enough in the end. Don’t let that get to you though!

Italy

In a score that is a bit too familiar to Britain’s results in the Eurovision Song Contest since the mid-2000’s, Italy ended up with a grand total of nil-points. It seems like I’m saying the same thing every week with Italy but it just wasn’t good enough. They had a few purple patches but did absolutely nothing with it, their inability to capitalise with absolutely any penalties was beyond frustrating, and they made far too many errors themselves. If there are any positives to take then it’s that Monty Ioane looked better than last week, Paolo Garbisi looked decent again, and at times they did genuinely look okay with the ball in hand. But as England proved last week, there’s no point in having all the possession in the world if you’re not going to do anything with it. In the end it meant that Italy’s poor run against England continues and it’s now 34 losses on the bounce for Italy in the Six Nations (god I feel so sorry for them). Looking forward it doesn’t get much better as it’s Ireland in Dublin next for the Azzurri, those poor souls. Still, at least they have the Euro 2020 and Eurovision titles, and Pierre Gasly (although French) lives in Milan, those have to count as wins, right?

Grade: F. Got nil-ed lads, ‘nuff sed.

England

Having nil-ed a team and got a bonus point victory to put them second in the standings you think that I’d be full of praise, but I’d be lying if I thought that was a perfect performance. To start, the positives. Marcus Smith was the magician yet again, scoring the opening try, kicking the points, and generally making things happen. I can’t stress this enough, the team needs to be built around his strengths. Generally going forward as well England were much better, the blend of youth and experience was spot on. For every Smith, Freddie Steward, and Joe Marchant, the balance of experience from Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, and Elliot Daly (when he came on) was just the perfect formula. Jamie George was outstanding, he managed to keep the scrum stable and was key to keeping the lineout solid. I was super happy to see Ollie Chessum make his debut, and the Ben Youngs fan club (which I think by this point I’m one of very few members of) got a new whack of propaganda to use with Youngsy equalling Jason Leonard’s 114 England cap record. But to be cynical, and I am me after all so I have to be a bit, there were a couple of red flags. First of all were the changes. As much as I liked seeing Youngs equal the record, the team did lose some stability and intensity once Harry Randall came off. Also, and not to sound like a broken record, discipline. There were just too many handling errors for my liking, especially in the final third. The score would’ve been much higher were it not for silly mistakes and it was quite frustrating to watch at times. Plus if Italy were any better with using their penalties wisely then they definitely would’ve scored points, but I digress. Even when you’re me it’s hard to be too negative about a bonus point win. Next up is Wales at Twickenham in a game that I genuinely can’t call, a huge game for both team’s title ambitions.

Grade: B+. Much better, but still a bit messy in places. Tighten up some mistakes and it would’ve been first class, but don’t let that dampen morale. Well done.

Class Clown of the Week: Again, me. For thinking I’d be able to write any kind of analysis after having around 4 hours sleep after the Super Bowl last night. Also, can a player do something hilarious after the break please? Be it hilariously bad or just something funny, I don’t want to have to win the Class Clown of the Week Triple Crown.

Categories
Rugby

Six Nations Week 1 Recap: Weekly Graded 2, Electric Boogaloo

Guess who’s back baby! Yes after 12 months and 3 jabs the Six Nations is back and this time, with fans! The stadiums were full once again after last year’s tournament and the home fans got to see three fairly dominant home victories. There were highs, lows, and questionable officiating in an opening weekend absolutely packed with action. But as well as the return of the Six Nations, it’s the return of graded! It did pretty well last year and in the spirit of most American TV shows when it does well in it’s first season why not run a sequel. It would be a historic weekend as well, with Scotland-England being the last game that Brian Moore would commentate on as a BBC pundit. He is one of the iconic voices of rugby for me. Growing up I would always associate rugby commentary with Brian, Eddie Butler, and Jiffy, so not hearing him on commentary anymore after he’s been on for as long as I can remember will be super strange. Anyhow, the first weekend is now in the rear view and it’s time to get into the grading!

Ireland

Win against a top Southern hemisphere team in the Autumn Series? Check. Absolutely embarrass an opposition team in their opening Six Nations game after said win? Check. It must be 18 months away from a World Cup. This is all setting up perfectly for Ireland to go crashing out of the Quarter Finals to either France or New Zealand at the 2023 World Cup. Jokes aside, very good performance from the boys in green. From the first whistle it was completely one sided as the Irish ran rings around Wales for 80 minutes. Bundee Aki, Gary Ringrose, and Andrew Conway would end up with the tries for Ireland in what was a flawless 29-7 win. In all honesty it should’ve been more, the conditions didn’t really help Johnny Sexton’s kicking and I thought Mack Hansen was going to end up scoring a few times. The attack looked so dangerous and in the opening 20 minutes it looked as if they would end up scoring every time they got into the Welsh half. Whenever they needed to be called to defend they did that brilliantly, with Jack Conan, Tadhg Beirne, and Andrew Porter making themselves nuisances for Wales in the ruck and managing to turn the ball over cleanly. The pack remained disciplined without conceding a penalty in the first half and didn’t until the 50th minute. If I can be a bit nit-picky then I would say that they did waste a few opportunities, the missed kicks were what they were but they definitely should’ve scored more in that opening 20, the fact that it was only 10-0 at half time was a shock to many, myself included. Dominant stuff from Ireland as they get their campaign off to a great start.

Grade: A+. Star of the week! Keep it up.

Wales

What can be said other than yikes? Granted the team is injury ridden with Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, and George North to name but a few all side-lined and Louis Rees-Zammit’s ankle looked like it was taped fairly heavily in the warm up, but even still it wasn’t the best performance. The opening 20 minutes were incredibly poor, there didn’t seem to be much sense of urgency and the defence struggled with wave after wave of Irish pressure. The discipline was even worse and it’s a miracle it wasn’t more than just one yellow card. I wasn’t alive to witness the Welsh teams of the mid to late nineties but this gave me a taste of what it must’ve been like. The fact it was only 10 down at half time is a near miracle, but the second half started just as well as the first. To take any positives from it is pretty tough but there are a few glimmers of hope. I thought the scrum and front row (pre and post substitutions) held itself well against an Irish front 3 that is so quality and Taine Basham looked fairly decent. Up next is Scotland and Wales need to be so much better. Even if it’s at the Principality/Millennium/whatever sponsor has it today Stadium, Scotland will be on cloud nine after retaining the Calcutta Cup and won’t let as many chances go to waste. Room for improvement is there (such as not starting Josh Adams at centre, he’s a quality player but he’s not a centre) and my god do Wales need it.

There won’t be an appearance from our friend Irritating Welsh Rugby Fanas he’s being held in a cell after inciting a riot in the Temple Bar in Dublin. But extenuating circumstances of Irish police not wanting to listen to drunk ramblings of why Gareth Edwards should be the First Minister and how Wales are still going to win the grand slam despite losing, it means he’ll be back out in time for Scotland.

Grade: F. Extremely disappointing, see me after class.

Scotland

Strange one. I don’t know if it was a defensive masterclass from the Scots or if England were just that bad with the ball, I’m putting it down to a little from column a and a little from column b. The performance was okay, but maybe that’s a testament of how far Scotland have come over the last decade. 10 years ago this would’ve been celebrated as some kind of masterclass but maybe I’ve just grown to expect more from Scotland now. They managed to weather waves of England pressure and made the most of opportunities when they came. Ben White used his time in the Premier League winter break to switch sport and nationalities to score on his Scotland debut in a move that was completely against the run of play and Finn Russel kept the points coming from his kicks in what was a patient Scotland display. A penalty try in Scotland’s favour ended up sealing the game for them in what was a strange performance. They looked okay but hardly world beaters. Duhan van der Merwe looked pretty handy at times (WHERE WAS THIS FORM IN THE SUMMER IN SOUTH AFRICA? EH?), and Stuart Hogg was as solid as ever. Confidence will be high as they head to Cardiff to play a Welsh team off the back of a poor result, and you can’t help but think that a win there would really throw the cat amongst the pigeons in terms of the title.

Grade: B-. Not bad, not brilliant, but enough in the end. Well done.

England

Seriously? Not as bad as Wales but come on! England should’ve won this fairly comfortably. This isn’t sour lemons from me but you shouldn’t have that much possession for 80 minutes and lose in a one score game. There was no sense of urgency and players just looked slow. Marcus Smith tried to get things going on multiple occasions but to no real avail. It had the makings of an early Eddie Jones type of game in that after the slow start I fully expected England to hit a purple patch and end up running away with it with a flattering score line but it didn’t happen. They just needed to keep the pressure on after the Smith try but they let Scotland back into it. Two moments of madness from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Joe Marler ended up gifting Scotland a penalty try and penalty to give Scotland the win. I’m not putting the loss down to Marler and Cowan-Dickie because that would be unfair, there just needed to be better decisions made with ball in hand and it would’ve been nice if they actually did something with the possession they had. If any positives can be taken from this then it’s Marcus Smith. The man is an absolute genius and is England’s talisman going forward. For god sake Eddie just build the team around this man and play to his strengths. The maturity he shows on the ball is unbelievable and he just makes magic happen. Plus next week is Italy so you’d hope that will be a win.

Grade: D-. Please actually do something with the class supplies if you’re just going to hog them all lesson.

France

Much like Scotland, interesting. But much better. I expected this to be an absolute battering and in some respects it was, just not to the extent I thought it would be. Anthony Jelonch was gifted a try at the 26 minute mark in what was a huge lack of communication from the Italy team, Damian Penaud managed to get onto the scoresheet and Gabin Villiere kept his impressive run in the Les Bleus XV with a hat trick. On paper yes it’s a great performance, you’ll never say no to a bonus point win to start off the tournament, but it was quite scrappy too. It didn’t look like the team that absolutely embarrassed New Zealand last Autumn but then at the same time it didn’t need to be. Italy never really looked too threatening after the first try and despite frustrating France with their tight nit defence I thought their attack struggled a bit with the French ruck at times. They will 100% get better, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will no doubt be back to their best soon having both been out for a while with covid plus it’s only the first game. All eyes will be on next weekend where they travel to Ireland in what could be an early indicator in which way the title will go. It’s taking every ounce of my self control to say that you’ll never know which France will turn up because it’s quite boring now and rugby hipsters love France to do well, but if they turn up to be at their best then I think it could be an incredible game next Saturday in Dublin.

Grade: B+. Good, but you can do better.

Italy

So it wasn’t great, make no mistake about that, but Italy looked okay in spells. I just wish that they managed to play a bit more than they did. I think if they gave it a proper go and kept their performance levels up then no doubt this game could’ve been closer. They started well with Tommaso Menoncello becoming the youngest try scorer in the competition when it’s been in the six nations era but much like Italy usually do it didn’t last. France basically scored when they could be bothered despite a fairly solid defensive display from the Azzurri. They did manage to frustrate the French XV but there was an obvious difference in quality. In what’s a fairly more grim statistic, it’s now 32 losses on the bounce for Italy in the six nations with their last win coming in 2015 at Murrayfield where they beat Scotland 22-19, a result that seems absolutely barmy 7 years down the line (yes that’s right, 2015 was SEVEN years ago, yuck). I can only hope that this can be a bit of a kick up the backside in the same way it could be a confidence booster for them. It’s not too unlikely that kind of gritty performance could’ve got a result against another team who weren’t quite as good, and as a Welsh fan that worries me. But until that day, Italy remain the punching bags of tier 1 European rugby.

Grade: F. Disappointing because you could’ve done better there, but to perform like that again is nowhere near good enough.

Class clown of the week: Me. For putting Monty Ioane and Joe Marler in my dream team.

Categories
Uncategorized

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.

Categories
Football

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.

Categories
Football

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.

Categories
Uncategorized

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!

Categories
Rugby

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