Categories
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.

Categories
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!

Categories
F1

7 Bold(ish) Predictions for the 2022 Formula 1 Season

With Barcelona pre-season testing (or data collection or whatever it’s called) done and Bahrain on day 2 of testing at the time of writing, we’re starting to get a bit of a better idea of where everyone is for the upcoming F1 season. This also means that everyone and their next door neighbour have been making their predictions about what’s going to happen this year. With the new season only a week away from starting, I thought I’d be king of originality once again and jump on to that trend and come up with some predictions of my own. Some of these are bold, others not so much, hence why I’m calling them bold(ish) predictions. I’m fully ready for these to age poorly, but last year proved that in the crazy world of Formula 1 anything can happen!

Haas Score Points

Haas were really bad last year, like really really bad. Everything about the car was horrible and things were going just as poorly off the track as they were on it. This is really make or break for Haas now. They’ve undergone a bit of an image change in the last couple of weeks which is one they desperately needed. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine there was absolutely no way they could’ve kept Uralkali as their lead sponsor and as a result of dropping them, keeping Nikita Mazepin as one of their drivers just made no sense. With Maz out it opened the door for Kevin Magnussen to come back to partner Mick Schumacher in what should’ve been the driver line-up last year. Bringing K-Mag back was a massive yes in that it’s starting to make Haas likeable again, and the car looks a lot better than last year. It’s no secret that Haas were putting all of their eggs in the 2022 basket and the early signs are that it may be paying off. I’m not expecting absolute wonders from them, but with two decent drivers in the form of Magnussen and Schumacher in the seats this year I can see them getting quite a few top 10 finishes.

Yuki closes the gap

It’s fair to say that Yuki Tsunoda was out raced by AlphaTauri teammate Pierre Gasly last season, with Gasly finishing p9 in the driver standings on 110 points and Tsunoda p14 on 32. Although with that being said there were signs of improvement from Tsunoda as the season went on, especially in the final stretch of the year. Now that he’s got a better feel for F1 and has had that rookie season under his belt, I think we can see a good season for Yuki this year. I’m not saying he’ll out perform Gasly, but I think the gap will be closed considerably. With this being Yuki’s second season in F1 there will be big things expected of him, especially being a part of the relentless Red Bull system where if your name isn’t Max Verstappen you’re never safe. Personally, I think Red Bull will use this as an audition season for Yuki to take Sergio Perez’s seat for 2023. Now I know that this sounds crazy when Checo is doing a perfectly fine job in the Red Bull and Pierre Gasly has experience driving for Red Bull before, but that team don’t really do second chances. Look at Alex Albon, he could’ve perfectly slotted in to an AlphaTauri seat for last season but the team opted for Tsunoda instead. Plus these are bold predictions, the easy choice would be Gasly’s getting the Red Bull seat and Tsunoda’s getting canned for 2023 but these aren’t supposed to be safe predictions. So yeah, Yuki closes the gap and gets the call-up for Red Bull for 2023. Unless they try and pinch Lando Norris from McLaren which will leave me 50 shades of sad.

Alfa Romeo get a podium

Very bold considering the team didn’t do much last year and haven’t for a long time, but with the new regulations this could be an interesting season for all the teams on the grid. I was going to go one better and say everyone gets a podium but I don’t think Haas will, no matter how bold I try and make this. The artist formerly known as Sauber opted for a completely new driver line-up this year being the only team to do so. They’ll be getting a very nice cash injection from Guanyu Zhou and a tasty bit of experience from Valtteri Bottas. With the grid expected to be closer this year and F1 usually having a few mental races that end up with some shock podiums (look at Hungary and Azerbaijan last year), this could open the door for a podium for Alfa. If I had to put money on who’ll get it, I’d say Bottas purely because of his experience and that I think he’s a better driver than Zhou but who knows. I just want to see Valtteri at his new team and Lewis Hamilton sharing a podium together to make the internet explode. Tell me with a straight face that you don’t want that.

Maiden wins for Sainz and Stroll

So this will divide opinion. First off, Carlos Sainz. I can’t really see there being too many arguments over this one. Sainz drove out of his skin last year in a Ferrari that got better as the year went on. He ended up with more podiums that teammate, Charles Leclerc, and the early signs are that the Ferrari looks white hot this year. The consistency he showed was unbelievable and if he drives as well as he did last year (which I’m sure he will) there’s no question that in a better Ferrari than in 2021, Sainz is going to be pushing for wins and will get his first. Now for Lance Stroll. Truth of it is, I really like him. I’ve said for three years now that Lance is going to get his first win in the upcoming season and I’m just going to keep running with it until it happens. But again, the regs are supposed to shake up the grid and we always end up with some shock winners like Esteban Ocon in Hungary last year so with those in mind, Super Lance gets his first win in 2022. And if he doesn’t? I’ll just make the same prediction next year and keep doing it until it happens.

Just wanted to point out that I don’t think these will be the only maiden wins. I think Lando Norris will get his first win and George Russell is in a Mercedes now so that’s obviously going to happen, I just wanted to go with Sainz and Stroll as the main points of the prediction. So bookmark it peeps, we’ll hear Marcha Real for a winner for the first time since Barcelona ’13 and O Canada for the P1 finisher for the first time since Luxembourg ’97.

Penalties for everyone

Okay bit of a boring one but at the same time it needs to be talked about. The goings on off the track are just as important as what happens on it, as was proven last year in the lead up to, and including, the final race of the season. The FIA and stewards were nothing short of an absolute joke last season when it came to penalties with them seemingly throwing darts at a board of penalties to decide who would get which punishment. They’ll be absolutely cacking their pants after the fallout of Abu Dhabi and will want to be in motorsport’s good books once again. They’ve made the right step in binning off Michael Masi, but expect this season to be done by the book to the absolute letter of the law. Being a strict teacher that nobody likes is the only way that they’ll be able to win any kind of credibility instead of just being grossly inconsistent with their penalties. This will annoy us as fans and will lead to more bickering on Twitter (not that it needs much for F1 fans to argue on there) but it’s going to happen.

Charles Leclerc wins in Monaco

This is bold, very bold. If you’re not an F1 fan then driver wins race in place might not seem that ground-breaking, but this is Charles Leclerc and Monaco we’re talking about. Whenever the Monegasque prince races in his home country either his arms turn into spaghetti and he crashes or his car decides to power down and it’s over before it’s even started. It’s a bit of a meme now that Leclerc and the Monaco Grand Prix’s relationship is as rocky as literally any couple who met on Love Island (with the exception of Tommy Fury and Molly-Mae Hague) but I think this is the year it changes. Ferrari are going to push for both the driver’s and constructors championships this year, the car looks incredibly fast and the drivers are more than capable. If Charles is going to push for the big one then he’s going to have to overcome his fear of street circuits and not put it into the wall on any track with a narrow road. Monaco will be the perfect opportunity for this because even though Saudi Arabia comes before it in the calendar I don’t count Jeddah as a real track, it’s beyond a joke how bad it is. With all this in consideration, this will finally be the year that Leclerc wins his home race to the delight of everyone.

The Champion?

Picture the scene. It’s Abu Dhabi, the last race of the season after another close year, we hear Crofty’s giddly little voice coming from the tv saying the following lines:

INTO THE FINAL TURN, FERRARI THREW ALL THEY COULD AT HIM BUT IN THE END IT JUST WASN’T ENOUGH. THE FIREWORKS HAVE BEGUN, IT’S TIME, IT’S HIS TIME, THE RECORD HAS BEEN BROKEN! IT’S NUMBER EIGHT FOR LEWIS HAMILTON, CHAMPION OF THE WORLD!!!!

Bit dramatic but you get the point. To lose it the way he did last season, Lewis Hamilton will be absolutely desperate to get that world championship to break Michael Schumacher’s record. Notice I said Ferrari too and not Red Bull? I think Ferrari will take the constructors title with how unbelievably consistent I think they’ll end up being, but Lewis will get the drivers championship. I’m not going as far to say that Red Bull will completely flop like some are predicting, but I don’t think they’ll be as good as last year. So much time went into making sure that the car was perfect for the last stretch of the season for Max Verstappen to win the world championship in 2021 but it’s come at the expense of development on this year’s. It won’t be an awful car, I just think that other teams that have spent more time on development will be better (case in point, Ferrari and Mercedes). Anyway, this is about Hamilton. He came so close last year to breaking the record and with the Mercedes looking pretty good for this year it could be his time. Plus now he has George Russell as his team mate who I can 100% see being used in a defence minister role to keep the other drivers off Hamilton’s tail, much like Sergio Perez was for Verstappen last year. With the fire that will be in his belly and the record in touching distance, this will be Sir Lewis Hamilton’s year.

Bonus predictions:

Victor Martins takes the F3 title: Hard to decide this one because it’s a fairly strong grid but I think Martins will just edge it.

Theo Pouchaire wins the F2 title: If you’ve never heard the name Theo Pouchaire then I’d get used to hearing it. You may as well give him the nickname Bisto because the lad is different gravy… I’ll show myself out. I think he takes the F2 title and I’d even go as far to say that if Lewis Hamilton wins the world title and retires this year, then I want to see Pouchaire in the Mercedes for 2023. He really is that good.

Andretti F1 team get announced for 2023: It’s the worst kept secret in F1 at the minute but they’re coming! At some point Andretti F1 Team will be announced with a lineup that will include Indycar golden boy, Colton Herta.

So those were the predictions! I hope you enjoyed and they don’t all look awful come the end of the year. I’m off to watch the newest season of Drive to Survive. See ya!

Categories
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.

Categories
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
Boxing

Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk review: A fork in the road or a new era of dominance in Heavyweight Boxing?

At the time of writing it’s been nearly a week since Oleksandr Usyk shocked the boxing world and stripped Anthony Joshua of his WBA Super, WBO, and IBF world heavyweight titles. The dust has settled and people have drawn their conclusions of what this fight proved and what the future could hold for both men. Nobody really needs another opinion to be thrown into the void of the internet but without it this blog wouldn’t exist so here I am! This was an incredible fight, make no mistake about it. I know that you should never underestimate anyone in the heavyweight division, especially Usyk, but I didn’t see this happening. It wasn’t only a win for Usyk, it was a complete demolition job. This was the biggest fight of his career so far and without shadow of a doubt his biggest win. It adds to his already impressive CV of wins away from his native Ukraine, where he has already beaten Tony Bellew and Derek Chisora in England, Michael Hunter in the United States, Marco Huck in Germany, and won in hostile environments in Poland, Latvia, and Russia against Krzysztof Glowacki, Mairis Briedis, and Murat Gassiev respectively.

He lured AJ into his trap from the first bell and didn’t let him go. His jab was relentless and he didn’t take his foot off the gas for the full 12 rounds. It seemed like everyone was waiting for Usyk to tire a bit so it could lead to Joshua piling on the pressure but it didn’t happen. Usyk has one hell of an engine and an even stronger chin. Whenever he did find himself in spots of bother he clinched on and fought on the inside. Many thought before the fight that Joshua would be able to use his size to his advantage against someone who was 9 kilograms lighter and 3 inches shorter, but if anything Usyk did. He was much lighter on his feet and looked far quicker. Joshua did well in the sixth and seventh rounds when he won more success with shots to the body but he couldn’t keep it up and looked tired as the rounds went on, with Usyk pouring on the pressure and wobbling Joshua a few times. This isn’t the first time Joshua has lost his titles but this felt incredibly different to the first fight against Andy Ruiz Jr. Ruiz caught him on the temple which in turn ruined his equilibrium and balance for the rest of the fight before the stoppage, Usyk completely dominated the bout.

According to the point-scoring system CompuBox, a computerised point scoring system used for fights around the world, Usyk not only landed the more punches (148 landed compared to Joshua’s 123) he also landed a greater percentage of his punches (28% to Joshua’s 19.2%). Whilst AJ was technically the busier fighter throwing 641 punches compared to Usyk’s 529, Usyk made his count much more. Interestingly, Usyk’s 148 landing punches is the highest amount landed by any of AJ’s previous opponents and in round 12 Usyk landed 29 shots which is the most any opponent has landed on Joshua in a single round. Through Usyk’s incredibly impressive win it means he’s only the third person to hold world titles at cruiserweight and heavyweight, after Evander Holyfield and David Haye (not the worst company for the Ukrainian).

So what exactly does this all mean? In my opinion, it shows that Oleksandr Usyk really is that good and I honestly believe he will be a huge draw in the UK for years to come. Not only is he a great boxer he has a brilliant personality to go with it. Some people online are trying to use the result to shine Joshua in a negative light and I couldn’t disagree with them more. All you need to do is look at Usyk’s career path. You don’t become an amateur world champion, win a gold medal at the Olympics, unify the world titles at cruiserweight, make the jump to heavyweight, end up dethroning one of the division’s biggest names in your third fight at the weight, and do all of this while undefeated by accident. None of that is a fluke, in the same way that Joshua didn’t win Olympic gold and his heavyweight titles by being a naff boxer which people are still trying to argue in the big ol year of 2021. It’s proven that AJ can fight conservative and box well in his wins over the likes of Andy Ruiz, Joseph Parker, and to an extent Kubrat Pulev before the knockout as well as possessing terrifying power which stopped the likes of Dillian Whyte, Wladimir Klitschko, and Alexander Povetkin.

Fans will understandably be disappointed as it means an all British fight between AJ and the ‘Gypsy King’ Tyson Fury is off the cards for the foreseeable future with a rematch with Usyk in Kiev looking incredibly likely for Joshua. I really wanted that fight as did everyone else in the boxing world and we were so close to seeing it but Fury got tied up into a trilogy fight with Deontay Wilder. This isn’t to say that the fight won’t happen one day, Joshua may end up winning the rematch setting up a Fury showdown next summer. Fury-Joshua for all the belts at Wembley, July 2022 anyone? Even if not try and tell me after Saturday’s fight that you wouldn’t want to see a Fury-Usyk unification if it came to it. If Usyk wins the heavily rumoured rematch with AJ then that’s easily the two best heavyweights in the world fighting for full heavyweight unification (for what it’s worth I think Usyk would beat Wilder fairly comfortably, not a hater I just think he doesn’t have as strong a ring IQ as AJ and Usyk coped with him fine). This is all just hearsay mind and who knows what will end up happening next, plus we all now how quickly things could change in the division in the next few months (I’m looking at you potential Joe Joyce WBO mandatory).

Saturday night will be one of those performances that will be talked about for years to come. How the challenger came into the champion’s back garden with 67,000 in attendance watching on, rose hell, and left with the titles. You can’t underplay Usyk’s performance at all. Maybe Joshua wasn’t at his best on the night but in all honesty I’m not sure which plan would’ve stopped Usyk from getting the win. This could definitely be the start of something special in the heavyweight division. There’s a new king at the table and he won’t be going away anytime soon.

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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.

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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.

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Football

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

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

Wales

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

England

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

Scotland

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