Six Nations Launch 2019

The temperature hit -3 in West London as the captains and coaches arrived at the famous Hurlingham Club along with the rugby media for the official launch of the Guinness 6 Nations 2019.

For Joe Schmidt of Ireland and Warren Gatland Of Wales this will be their final 6 Nations tournament as coaches of their respective countries.

Proud new title sponsors, Guinness, provided endless free pints of their product from midday onwards sadly most of us were too professional to be able to partake in even a drop of the black stuff.

Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones went out for a curry the night before the launch indeed all the coaches were very quick to pay respect to each other and there were none of the verbal hand grenades that so often have accompanied these types of events.

Italy coach Connor O’Shea spoke of the need of some consistency from his team

“The skill of the players is there but we have to create a habit of intensity”

Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones when asked about Warren Gatland’s final campaign replied in his own typical forthright manner “There will be no cakes and candles in our camp its business as usual”

Ireland v England on the opening weekend is a crunch match Eddie Jones emphasised that England had two battles to win, one in the air, and one on the ground, whilst Joe Schmidt said “You know if you don’t get things right England can get a long way away from you”

Scotland are looking to end their dismal away record of results and coach Gregor Townsend is confident his side can do this when they visit Twickenham and Paris

.

As for France there is the feeling that on their day they can still be a threat to anyone and their opening game against Wales on a Friday night in Paris could be just catalyst to get them going.

It was a long day for players coaches and journalists all united in the child like excitement we all get at the anticipation of the start of this wonderful annual winter festival.

More Than A Neuf France’s Scrum Half Embarrassment Of Riches


A Neuf is enough for France as they enter the 2019 Guinness Six Nations with a wealth of talent available to fill the number nine shirt.

There used to be talk of a fly half factory in Wales, but there is no doubt that the production of the scrum half model has been well and truly established in France, so much so that a monopolies commission may need to look in to the situation.

Who will start for France in their opening match against Wales on February 1st is very much open for debate.

Baptiste Serin of Bordeaux would appear to be the current holder of the number nine shirt but he is only holding on to it by his finger nails,

Antoine Dupont has been in storming for for Top 14 high flyers Toulouse, who also have former French international scrum half Sebastián Bezy in their ranks.

Hot on his is tails is Teddy Iribaren of Racing 92 who is in the form of his life since taking over from the injured France scrum half Maxime Machenaud, as Machenaud has now recovered the duo will be battling it out for top chien for both club and country.

The man from Metz, Clermont legend Metz Morgan Parra although one of the older candidates cannot be ruled out of international contention either, also Rory Cockott of Castres who can start a fight in a phone box has never let his country down when asked to don the Blue Neuf jersey, would readily step into the fray.

 
But the conveyor belt of talent doesn’t end there, the next generation are already snapping at the heels of the established half backs, Louis Carbonel of Toulon guided France to the junior World Cup in 2018, scoring twenty three points in the final against England, a match won by Les Bleus 33-25 on a glorious summers day in Beziers.

The two other scrum halves in that France U20 squad are also making big names for themselves, Arthur Coville, aged 20, the Captain of that World Cup winning side is making big strides at Stade Francais, and Jules Gimbert is going down a storm at Bordeaux.

France are certainly not going to be short of scrum half  options for many years to come.

France 2019 Guinness Six Nations Squad was announced just as I was finishing this article, the three scrum halves chosen by coach Jacques Brunel are:

Morgan Parra (Clermont)

Baptiste Serin (Bordeaux)

Antoine Dupont (Toulouse)

 

Red Roses Ready To Bloom

The Women’s Championship starts next Friday with last year’s runners up England travelling to Dublin to play Ireland, while Scotland host Italy in Glasgow on the same night.

Reigning champions France will get their title defence underway in a Saturday-evening clash with Wales in Montpellier. 

The 2019 edition of the Women’s Six Nations will be another landmark Championship in terms of growth and change for women’s rugby, with England competing as full-time professionals for the first time. 

And England captain Sarah Hunter is keen to build upon that progress at this year’s Championship by boosting the profile of women’s rugby across the country. 

She said: “Our preparations have been going well, especially with the news at the beginning of the year that we were going to be full-time professionals. 

England Women have home matches in Doncaster, Exeter and at Twickenham this year, with Sarah enjoying touring around: “It’s hugely important for us to go and showcase the Red Roses around the country, when we play in Doncaster and Exeter, and show what we are all about. 

“Last time we played at Castle Park (Doncaster) the fans were amazing. Wherever we go we’ll have the Red Rose support along the way.”

England Women 89 Scotland 0 Women’s Six Nations 2011 Twickenham

England recorded their sixth straight Six Nations title after a comprehensive win over Scotland Women at Twickenham.The rout was the biggest in England’s history, surpassing the 82-0 World Cup win over Kazakhstan last year.

The hosts took a 41-0 lead into the break after a totally dominant display.

England scored 15 tries in all, with Heather Fisher, Maggie Alphonsi, Emily Scarratt, Fran Matthews, Rochelle Clark and Danielle Waterman all getting two.

England’s women have now won all four matches in this year’s tournament and last year’s World Cup finalists are on course to clinch a fifth Grand Slam in six years.

The women ran onto the pitch immediately after their male counterparts had put a packed Twickenham through 80 minutes of tense, nervy rugby, which Grand-Slam chasing England eventually won 22-16.

For those fans who stayed behind, of which there were plenty, there was little of that tension in the day’s second international as England – much-changed from the line-up which beat France in their last outing – scored four tries in the opening 20 minutes.

Scotland, yet to record a victory in this year’s Six Nations, could not muster one attack in the first half and were constantly under the cosh as England broke tackle after tackle to score try after try.

Katherine Merchant went over in the second minute and Matthews scored her first of the evening four minutes later before captain Katy McLean put full-back Scarratt through to score underneath the posts.

McLean made sure of the conversion, her first of the evening, as England led 17-0 after 12 minutes.

In the 16th minute, Becky Essex proved unstoppable when she burst down the left to score in the corner.

Clark touched down from a yard out for a try which McLean converted, then Matthews went over before, in the dying moments of the half, the impressive Fisher scored a deserved try.

Fisher scored her second of the evening immediately after the break as she burst through from the 22-yard line to score under the posts to leave McLean with an easy conversion.

England made a host of changes, the most notable being Alphonsi for former captain Catherine Spencer, and they passed the half-century mark in the 49th minute when Scarratt scored her second of the evening, which McLean converted.

The dynamic Alphonsi was soon in the thick of it and it was the flanker’s 30m dash down field which eventually led to prop Clark’s second try.

McLean converted to extend the lead to 60-0 and the scoreboard kept ticking over as Merchant burst down her right wing, fending off would-be tacklers, and put the supporting Alphonsi clear for an easy try.

McLean was the next to cross the line and, in the 68th minute, the remarkable Alphonsi scored her second try of the evening and her 19th try in 53 internationals.

Captain McLean once again converted and two tries in quick succession by replacement Waterman, with McLean converting the latter, took England’s score to new heights.

England Women: E Scarratt (Lichfield); K Merchant (Worcester), R Burford (Richmond), K Oliver (Bristol), F Matthews (Richmond); K McLean (capt, Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), LT Mason (Wasps); R Clark (Worcester), A Garnett (Saracens), S Hemming (Bristol), R Essex (Richmond), J McGilchrist (Wasps), S Hunter (Lichfield), H Fisher (Worcester), C Spencer (Bristol).

Replacements: E Croker (Richmond), C Purdy (Wasps), R Burnfield (Richmond), M Alphonsi (Saracens), G Rozario (Lichfield), G Roberts (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), D Waterman (Worcester).

Scotland Women: Caroline Collie (Old Albanians), Katy Green (Murrayfield Wanderers), Annabel Sergeant (Dundee University), Steph Johnston (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Victoria Blakebrough (Richmond), Lisa Martin (Murrayfield Wanderers), Louise Dalgliesh (RHC Cougars); Heather Lockhart (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Lindsey Smith (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Tracy Balmer (Worcester), Anna Swan (Edinburgh University), Lindsay Wheeler (Darlington Mowden Sharks), Charlotte Veale (London Wasps), Ruth Slaven (Murrayfield Wanderers), Susie Brown (Richmond).

Replacements: Alison MacDonald (RHC Cougars), Beth Dickens (Murrayfield Wanderers), Tess Forsberg (Richmond), Jemma Forsyth (Hillhead/Jordanhill), Tanya Griffith (RHC Cougars), Laura Steven (Murrayfield Wanderers), Lauren Harris (Aberdeenshire Quines).

The Six Nations A Winters Tale

The winters are dark and cold in this part of the world, the daylight is in short supply during the days following Christmas, it is a bleak time for everyone, everyone that is apart from rugby fans.

For us it is the rebirth of the sporting year, and the start of the weekly countdown to the first weekend in February when the 6 Nations tournament begins.

The tournament starts in the depths of winter, and takes us through to the weak sunshine and gentle warmth of early spring, when the tournament concludes in the middle of March.

February 14th, which is of course Valentines day, sits perfectly in the middle of the tournament, so for the romantically inclined what could be a better way to show your undying love for your partner than to take them away for a 6 nations weekend.

But I would offer a word of caution, I would suggest you inform “your other half” that rugby is involved before you travel, I have witnessed couples in Paris having a “domestic” as the non rugby partner is informed, over coffee and croissants on saturday morning, that a large part of the romantic weekend ahead in the city of light will taken up at Stade de France watching an international match.

But the 6 nations is about far more than just rugby, it’s about making and renewing friendships, it’s about the history, it’s about the fans, the wonderful memories of 6 nations weekends past, and those wonderful ones yet to come.

Memories of matches and weekends shared with family, loved ones, and friends, some of whom are sadly no longer with us, come flooding back, and their spirits are with us this at time of year, as we prepare to enjoy a winter sporting festival like no other.

The 6 nations weekend has a heartbeat, a soul, it is a living entity, that has been enjoyed and handed down from generation to generation.

Uncles, fathers, grandparents cousins, have all taken pride in guiding their offspring on their first 6 nations weekend, and those youngsters who have taken over the baton, keep the traditions alive, and when the time comes, they will take their young on a similar rite of passage, and that is why the 5 Nations, as it was, and the 6 nations as it is now, is so unique.

Only in this tournament would you find a middle-aged Englishman wearing a Roman centurion outfit sitting outside a cafe and calmly enjoying a beer in the Piazza Navona.

Each wonderful host city has its own unique atmosphere, sight, sounds and smells.

Whether it’s welsh fans dressed in dragons costumes under the Eiffel Tower, English fans masquerading as medieval knights handing out roses to the scary French riot police, or Italians meeting their ancestors at one of the plethora of Italian restaurants in Cardiff, the joy and friendliness of the tournament are plain to see ,which ever match you happen to attend.

Add to that the kilted Scots sitting around the fountains at Trafalgar Square, with their whisky filled hipflasks to keep out the cold, the Irish a sea of green in leprechaun hats clutching a pint of the black stuff, or the stylish French looking cool in their shades, whatever the weather, and whatever the venue, you begin to get a feel of what a thrill to the senses this tournament really is.

Cardiff is the only city where supporters can watch the game, celebrate, and collapse into bed all within the distance of a Leigh Halfpenny goal kick.

The Principality stadium is squeezed in between the flats, shops, houses and pubs right in the heart of the city centre, and more importantly in a country where rain is a frequent, if not permanent resident , it has a roof.

Cardiff is also the home of Brains Brewery, whose products are rather popular on rugby weekends, one their products is a beer called “Brains SA” the locals will tell you that  “SA” stands for skull attack, which informs you all of you need to know about the side effects of this particular beverage.

Talking of beer, Dublin is of course the home of the silky smooth black stuff, Guinness, and the most popular excursion for 6 Nations fans visiting the Irish capital, is a tour of the Guinness brewery where you actually get a free sample.

The French fans simply adore Dublin, they fly over in the thousands to watch Ireland face “Les Bleus” they used to bring live cockerels with them and release them on the field of play, obviously this is now outlawed, or it may just be that chickens find Air France air fares a bit too expensive these days.

The Irish will charm you, entertain you, smile and then kick the living day lights out of you on the rugby field, there aren’t many more hospitable capitals on this planet than Dublin, as any 6 nations fan who has been there will happily tell you, once they have recovered from their lack of sleep and mind numbing hangover.

Rome is the 6 Nations “new kid on the block” as Italy did not join the tournament until the year 2000 and the shock for fans here, especially those from Scotland, is that you are likely to experience sunshine, now a famous Scotland player once told me that Scots are born with blue skin, and it takes them three weeks in the sun to even turn white, so the Tartan Army are easily to spot, not only because they are wearing kilts, but due to the fact that they are all clutching bottles of factor 50 sun cream.

Italy joining the 6 Nations created an added pressure for the regular 6 nations fans, and  there is a big downside the Azzuri’s inclusion.

Partners, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends who previously had no interest in rugby, and could be visibly seen yawning when you even mentioned the word , suddenly took a rather disturbing interest in the game, when they discovered that joining you on a potential weekend to the Eternal City was a distinct possibility.

Rome is a venue like no other, no tradition or historical rugby hang ups here, it is the brash teenager of 6 Nations rugby, and is determined to enjoy La Dolce Vita whatever the result.

A colleague, when in Rome for an Italy v England match, told me of a time he found himself standing at a set of traffic lights in Rome, when he suddenly became aware of a twelve-inch sword being waved in his face, wielded by a local man uttering threats in a deep loud Italian voice.

A few seconds later his “assailant” reassured my friend that the sword was made of plastic and gave him a “high-five” and a “Ciao baby” and went on his merry way.


If Rome is the brash teenager then Twickenham, the bastion of Englishness, is the grumpy old grandfather, but even so is a shrine for visiting fans, and a shrine that obviously makes visitors extremely thirsty.

At the England v Ireland match in 2014 160,000 pints of beer,were sold at the stadium, another victory over the Welsh who only managed a mere 77,184 pints in Cardiff at a match between Wales and France.

As you walk from Twickenham station to the ground, every inch of pavement is filled with providers of fast food frying their wares, as the aroma of burgers, sausages and onions fill the air with a smokey haze you can almost touch the cholesterol.

For Welsh fans the favourite trip is Edinburgh, this all started due the fact that until 1977, the matches at Murrayfield were not “All Ticket” so people paid at the gate, as a result the Welsh always travelled in heavy number.

It is a like a red tsunami flowing down Princess street as the Scarlet hordes make their way to Murrayfield framed by the beauty of the castle, and the Scott Monument.

Things went horribly wrong in 1977 when at least 110,000 were squeezed into Murrayfield for Scotland v Wales, and it was a miracle that no one was seriously injured, and since that day, Scotland matches became ticket only affairs.

That weekend trip to see Wales play Scotland in Edinburgh was perceived to be a test of manhood undertaken by many generations of Welsh fans.

The journey to this game was known as “The Killer”, leaving Cardiff at 2100 on Friday night, the train would arrive in Edinburgh at 0700 on Saturday morning, the return journey commenced immediately following the match, with the train leaving Edinburgh at 2100 on Saturday night, and arriving in Cardiff at 0500 on Sunday morning, it was not a journey for the faint hearted.

Mind you I know of people who have travelled on this weekend marathon and never even got to see the game, due to socialising a bit too fervently, they returned home with very little memory of the whole weekend, but the moment they got back they started saving, weekly, for the next trip in two years time.

But putting romanticism aside for one moment, the stark economic factors of the tournament are worth a mention.

Supporters spending makes the championship worth £375 million per year to the participating countries economies, whilst the cities that host the matches (London, Paris, Rome, Dublin, Cardiff and Edinburgh) benefit by around £150 million.

The main sectors to benefit are food and drink and accommodation, in a study undertaken by previous tournament sponsors RBS, £59 million is spent in bars and restaurants, and £38 million on hotels and other accommodation, and £19 million spent in shops.

In addition the tournament creates around 3,100 jobs, and all this very real boost to economies occur during what is a quiet time of year for tourism.

In 2017 two matches in Cardiff, where Wales faced Ireland and England, resulted in £52 million coming into the Welsh economy, of which £30 million was enjoyed by the city of Cardiff itself, so it seems everyone is a winner in the 6 Nations, off the field at least.

As the 2019 tournament approaches, many of us, in the middle of a cold dark winters night will lie awake, and as the wind and rain beat against the window, we will feel a cosy warmth, as we remember with fondness, the matches, the weekends, the laughter, the tears, but most of all we will remember the people we have shared the matches with, and those friends we have met, because it is they that make the six nations tournament so very special.

Quins Win The Battle Of The A316

Quins and Richmond co-exist 3 miles apart, the A316 road being the artery that divides and unites them.

This afternoony at Twickenham Stoop, Harlequins Ladies won the bragging rights and more importantly five points in an exciting and colourful local derby in front of 1200 fans at the Stoop.

Rachael Burford may have been at sea in the Caribbean over the Christmas period, but there was no cruising from the Quins skipper on this occasion, as she marshalled the defence, stoked the attack and subtly guided the referee using all her skill and experience.

In freezing temperatures an excited passionate Stoop crowd roared Quins on to the pitch and they did not have to wait long for the home side to rattle the scoreboard.

After just 3 minutes Leanne Riley burst over for a try converted by Emily Scott, just nine minutes later Leanne got over for her second, I don’t know what she had for breakfast yesterday but she was on fire.

Richmond were under the cosh as Quins played with pace and accuracy behind a pack that looked like it had been fed raw meat and barbed wire all week.

Fiona Fletcher, Davinia Catlin, (after a sumptuous give and go), and Jess Breach went over for further first half tries and a penalty try right on half time gave the home side a 36-0 lead at the break.

In the second half, to Richmond’s credit, they kept Quins out until the 62nd minute when Jess Breach touched down, Emily Scott put on the after burners for a try before Jess Breach completed her hat trick, Quins 90th try of the season.

On 79 minutes Ellie Green slipped back into the pocket to slot over a sweet drop goal and on full time Emily Scott went over for her second of the match, giving Quins a 59-7 victory.

As hundreds of young girls flocked to meet the players after the final whistle the true winner here was women’s rugby, autographs were signed, selfies taken, and with matches and occasions like this, the womens game will continue to grow and encourage the next generation, the future of the womens game is looking brighter by the week.

 

 

The Highland Bear And The Monster From The Black Isle

It is fourteen miles from Inverness to Loch Ness, a place known around the world for its mythical monster, but Nessie’s neighbour is a sporting monster and a very real one that is frightening the life out of everything that crosses its path.

There have been many reported sightings this season, both north and south of the border, and the conclusion is that Nessie is a lightweight compared to the Inverness version.

I am in my cryptic way referring to Scotland and Harlequins number eight Jade Konkel who has been knocking the living daylights out of the opposition since her return from a long term shoulder injury in the latter stages of 2018.

She returned to international duty after only a handful of club games, and hit Canada like a guided missile, Scotland lost on that occasion but Jade had a storming game tacking, as the great Bill McClaren once said “Like the crack of doom” and launching those “Rhino” charges from the base of the scrum as if her life depended upon it.

Jade Konkel was born on December 9 1993 in Inverness, and lived on the Black Isle an appropriately named location for any respectable monster to reside.

Inverness lies on the Great Glen Fault, where there are minor earthquakes, usually unnoticed by locals, about every 3 years, I have a theory they nearly always occur when Jade is home doing some tackling practice, but geological confirmation is difficult to come by.

Fortunately off the field Jade is one of the most modest and friendly individuals you could wish to meet, a smile is always close to hand, and her soft highland brogue could charm the birds from the trees.

With the Six Nations approaching, whilst taking one game at a time, she is delighted that Scotland will be playing France in Lille, and at a ground that became her home whilst excelling in the colours of Lille Metropole Rugby Club Villeneuvois

Jade won her first cap against England in 2013 and thirty three caps later she is nailed on to start in Scotland’s opener against Italy in the 2019 Womens Six Nations.

The basketball skills honed at the top level following two seasons with the Highland Bears, are evident on the rugby field, I do not recall witnessing her dropping a single ball during the current Tyrrells Premiership campaign, where she has worn the Harlequins shirt with such pride and passion.

The dictionary definition of Jade is ” A semi precious stone” maybe that should now be changed to “An extremely precious Scottish rugby player”, a monsterous Six Nations awaits.