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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christchurch: Rugby is No Longer a Priority

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you know that I am planning a trip to New Zealand for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. I have bought tickets to see matches in Nelson and Christchurch. It is with heavy heart that I have found out that the city of Christchurch got nailed by another earthquake.

Like many in the USA rugby community, my prayers and thoughts are with the citizens of Christchurch, who are dealing with a second earthquake in a 6 month span. The previous earthquake hit late at night, deeper in the earth and not as close to Christchurch. This one hit just after lunch hour, closer to Christchurch and a mere two miles below the ground's surface-and the buildings in Christchurch surely had to be weakened from the previous earthquake, so a 6.3 quake would be strong enough to send structures toppling. The amount of video that you can see on news sites and You Tube is sobering, to say the least.

There have already been dozens of people who have lost their lives, and the death toll will only increase as rescuers are working at warp speed to try to save people trapped in the rubble.

To think about rugby at a time like this is just inappropriate as so many lives have affected by this tragedy.

Keep on keeping on, Christchurch.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Six Nations: England is in a New York State Of Mind

Here in the US, we are getting used to losing American-born talent to the land of their ancestors. In football( Soccer) New Jersey-born and raised striker Giusseppe Rossi decided to play for Italy in matches leading up to the FIFA World Cup. In an interesting bit of Karma, the Villareal striker was not picked to play for the Azzurri in last year's World Cup.(That does not diminish the fact that Rossi is a helluva player with Villareal)

Well, rugby is the latest sport where an American born player is playing for the land of his ancestors.

England prop Andrew Sheridan's back injury means that London Irish loose-head Alex Corbisiero gets a battlefield promotion to start in England's Six Nations match tomorrow against Italy at Twickenham. For his first international, Corbisiero, New York born with with an English mum and Italian grandparents on his father's side, has the unenviable task of going head to head against another  bearded prop with Italian roots playing for a country not listed on his birth certificate: Argentine-born Martin Castrogiovanni is a formidable opponent in the scrum. That said, it won't be a first-time meeting of the props with Italian roots, as both ply their trade in England, with Castrogiovanni playing at Leicester.

To be fair, Corbisiero moved to England as a very young child. He also seems to have a bright head on his massive shoulders, as he also studied at the London School of Economics. He could have chosen to represent Italy, the USA or England. I cannot blame him for chosing to wear the England shirt. He will have much greater competition to keep his England shirt than if he had decided to play for the Eagles, but he in my opinion, it had to be a no-brainer to decide to play for England-look at the top flight opponents England play in the June and November internationals, as well as the Six Nations. Still, as an American rugby fan, you have to wonder "what if..."

As far as the predictions for the weekend: I pick Corbiseiro and his English mates to beat Italy-who almost had a famous victory over Ireland last weekend in Rome. Scotland will rebound at Murrayfield against Wales, and France will be the one road team that wins this weekend when they travel to Dublin to play Ireland.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Six Nations: France wins on Muscle and Style Points...

The last Six Nations Game of the weekend gave us Scotland making a road trip to the Stade de France to take on Marc Lievremont's XV de France.

The match was played in front of a full house in nearly perfect conditions for Paris in early February.

Scotland had the early ball possession after the kick-off, but after some runs at the French, the Scots lost their patience, the ball, and he lead when Rougerie got the ball and made a really nice chip that Medard touched down for the first try of the game. The French did not sit back on their lead, they transformed several phases in the Scottish end for François Trinh-Duc to slot over an easy drop goal. The Montpellier fly-half would end up having a gem of a game-but for him later.

In the 18th minute, sustained Scottish drive and ball control was rewarded when captain Allister Kellock slid low to touch the ball down for the Scot's first try.

Scotland just could not get back into the game, as they continued to shoot themselves in the foot with a poor kicking game, but their most glaring deficiency on the night in St. Denis was their scrum. France-in spite of being out-weighed by a good 10-12 pounds per forward, was having their way with the Scottish Scrum. The Front row of Mas, Servat and Domingo made life miserable for the Scots all night.(Scottish tight head Murray had a really rough time against Domingo) The French pack scored a try of their own when prolonged Scottish infractions in the scrum led to France (on the 4th re-set on the scrum) powering the Scottish front row to where they were standing up. English referee Wayne Barnes awarded the penalty try.

In spite of being outplayed, Scotland still could have been only 3 points down at half time. They were deep in French territory, but again they became impatient and lost possession again just before half time.

In the 54th Minute, France scored the try of the game when they got control of a loose ball from the Scots, François Trinh-Duc made a blind, between the legs pass out to the wing, and Biarritz's Imanol Harinordiquy finished off this glorious movement by putting the ball down for the try.

With the French crowd singing La Marseillaise, the Scots could have just rolled up and died. They showed a great deal of heart by battling on. Kelly Brown made some hard runs that were capped off with a try to try to make it closer, but Damian Traille created a try out of lose play that would put the Scots away.

France's 34-21 win over the Scots was certainly a tonic for Marc Lievremont and his men, who have had a rough go since winning last years Six Nations in Grand Slam fashion.
It will be interesting to see what the French Pack can do against England. In Morgan Parra and François Trinh-Duc, they get great play out of the fly half and scrum half position. Medard is just a lethal finisher.

Scotland ran hard at the French. They broke several tackles and they are going to give the other Six Nations sides a tough outing. They are really going to have to sort out their tactical kicking issues and their scrum to finish in the top half of this year's Six Nations. All in all though, it was a very, very entertaining game.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Six Nations Predictions

In this World Cup year, the Six Nations Rugby Tournament will serve as a dress rehearsal for the big Northern Hemisphere teams as they prepare to go to New Zealand in September and October.

England fans have to be really looking forward to this year's competition. England has not lifted the Six Nations trophy since 2003, when England also were crowned World Cup champs in that epic final against the Wallabies. In the past 8 months, England counts two wins over Australia, and they played some really great rugby in the November internationals.  England kicks off the competition today in Cardiff against Wales, where flanker Martyn Williams finds himself on the outside looking in. Hopefully it will be a better game than last year's miserable game at Twickenham.  Wales, grand slam winners back in 2008 will try to bring out their A game against the auld enemy, but I think England win this in a close one.

With France's less than impressive results in the last 8 months, including some major drubbings at the hands of the Spingboks, Pumas and Wallabies (The last one at the Stade de France), it's easy to forget that France were actually Grand Slam winners of this competition last year, but Marc Lievremont is going to have to do some heavy massaging of some bruised egos. The one thing also easy to forget is that French clubs have done very well at the club level in the Amlin Challenge Cup and the Heineken Cup. Scotland, France's opponent tomorrow at the Stade de France, has not won this competition since the old 5 Nations competition in 1999. In the past year, Scotland have defeated both Australia and South Africa. It should be added that both of those wins were in Murrayfield. If Scotland were to beat France in St. Denis, that would the biggest road win for Scottish rugby in quite some time. I think France huffs and puff it's way to a difficult win against the plucky Scots.

Italy gets to host a really banged up Irish side in Rome. The Irish, Grand Slam winners two years ago, are going to be facing an Italian side who will probably be smelling blood. There will probably be at least a third of the crowd wearing green at the Stadio Faminio, but I think Nick Mallet's men in blue can take advantage of this situation and beat Ireland. This one is my upset special for the weekend.

Enjoy the weekend. I plan on enjoying France-Scotland on TV tomorrow.