Wales v England countdown!

I am currently sat watching South Africa v Samoa, great game so far, massive for both teams too. It’s a great appetiser for what’s to come this evening…Wales face England in Twickenham in what will be a hugely decisive match for both teams.

I’ve been in work until 4pm today, and from about 2 o’clock the shop was virtually deserted. The build-up to tonight’s game has been going on for weeks, months, years even, and I already sense that Wales – and I’m sure much of England too – will be on absolute shutdown come 8pm tonight.

There are so many intriguing sub-plots that it’s difficult to know where to begin: The overall record between these two teams is almost neck-and-neck; recent form seems slightly in England’s favour; Wales’ build up has been dogged with injury. Selection has been massive too, with Stuart Lancaster interestingly fielding Owen Farrell and Sam Burgess in the starting line-up. Could the pressure be too much for the hosts? So many questions, not long to wait for the answers!

I’m going to predict a narrow Welsh victory, 23-19.

Emily is sat beside me, my wife, a massive rugby fan from Dorset. We both have our jerseys on ready for the game (she is wearing an England one). She claims to predict a bonus-point win for England by more than seven points, thus denying Wales a losing bonus point. I can’t see it myself – I think she’s just putting the cat amongst the pigeons!

Whatever the result, it’s sure to be a great game and – as always – a fantastic occasion.

Come on Wales!!!!!!!!!!

 

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RWC: The Opening Weekend

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Incredibly, we are already five days into RWC 2015 and what an explosive start it’s been!

England’s last-gasp bonus-point try against Fiji on Friday could prove to be vital, as Australia failed to win a bonus point against the same opposition earlier today. Wales of course have yet to play all three of those teams, our only outing so far being a rather laboured 54-9 victory over Uruguay. I made it into Cardiff to soak up the atmosphere, and also called around to see the giant rugby ball in the castle wall (above!)

I can’t help but feel Wales haven’t clicked yet. I felt the same during the warm-up games. It feels like the team are tired from what was a gruelling pre-season. Could this be partly to blame for the injury situation in the Wales camp? Cory Allen, man-of-the-match for Sunday’s game, is the latest casualty, limping off the field – and indeed out of the tournament – with a hamstring injury. It goes without saying, but Saturday’s game against England is absolutely huge. It’s time to raise our game, because I feel we haven’t got out of third gear.

England’s team sheet for the match against Wales makes for intriguing reading. Owen Farrell is a physical force, but there’s no doubting George Ford is the in-form fly-half in England at the moment. Sam Burgess will undoubtedly make his presence known, lining up against Jamie Roberts – expect a hugely physical battle in the midfield! I feel the combination of Roberts and Scott Williams in the centres could be crucial in this game. The battle of the back-row forwards should also be one of epic proportions! Personally, I’d love to see Warburton, Tipuric and Faletau start – this was such an effective combination against England in the 2013 Six Nations.

The opening weekend of fixtures were terrific, but special mention has to go to Japan for defeating South Africa for the first time in their history, and winning only their second World Cup match in the process. The tension of the last few minutes were almost unbearable, and Japan’s decision to play for a try – and a win – instead of kick a penalty for a draw, was sheer drama. Moments like this is why we love sport, and games like this one show rugby at its absolute best. The atmosphere looked amazing! I wish I was in Brighton for those celebrations! Seeing just how much this victory meant to the team and the fans was awesome. Japan certainly made a few headlines in causing the first major upset of the tournament. Hopefully we’ll see a few more games like this one in the coming weeks!

The Wait is Over!

It’s finally here!

The Rugby World Cup kicks off tonight with hosts England facing Pool A rivals Fiji, and it promises to be a physical, all-action curtain-raiser. The Pacific Islanders have been known to cause an upset or two in the past – perhaps most notably when they beat Wales 38-34 in Nantes in 2007 to progress to the quarter finals of the tournament. I was absolutely gutted that day, but there’s no denying it was an unbelievable game, and an absolute try-fest! England will be hoping to assert their dominance in the forwards ahead of their showdown against Wales next Saturday. I’m really looking forward to seeing Nemani Nadolo in action for Fiji – the centre/wing is tipped to be one of the stars of the tournament.

For Wales, there was more injury woe this week when Eli Walker – who had been recalled to the squad to replace the injured Leigh Halfpenny – picked up a hamstring injury in training. This has led to Ross Moriarty returning to the squad, following his barnstorming appearance off the bench against Italy. I’m really excited by Moriarty’s inclusion – he plays with an aggressive edge that makes him a real threat from the back row. It’s possible he could provide cover for Faletau at No.8 at some point in the coming weeks, and I’d love to see him line up alongside both Warburton and Tipuric, with Warburton playing blind-side flanker. What an attacking unit that would be!

I’m hoping to be in Cardiff for the game against Uruguay on Sunday, soaking up the atmosphere, get a few photographs, and hopefully get a win!

Oh, and by the way, today is my 30th birthday! It was very kind of World Rugby to schedule the tournament around me, I feel like I should write a thank-you letter to somebody.

RWC 2015…5 Days to go!!!

Rugby’s showpiece event is now only five days away, and it’s certainly been an eventful week in the Wales camp. Confirmation that both Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny will be missing the whole tournament was followed by the naming of warhorse Mike Phillips and the electric Eli Walker as their replacements in the squad. I have to say, after initially feeling devastated by the loss of Halfpenny and Webb, I still feel there is enough experience and talent in this group of players to really press for world cup honours.

Phillips’ return seems to have raised concerns amongst some critics. What do they know?  From what I gather, he dealt with his exclusion from the original squad in the professional manner you would expect from any player. Despite being arguably short of his past form, I believe Phillips has a few massive games left in him, and I back him to return to his best in the coming weeks.

For Walker, who’s career has been dogged by injury, this is a golden opportunity to announce his arrival on the biggest stage. He’s been a live wire at the Ospreys for a number of seasons, and many have tipped him to make a big impact in a red jersey. I expect to see him feature heavily in the game against Uruguay.

Speaking of which, Liam Williams and Samson Lee are likely to be starting that first Wales game. Both are in need of game time after recovering from injury, and will hopefully be back to full strength in time for the game against England on 26th September.

In other rugby news from the weekend, Cardiff Blues lost their second game of the season, away against Leinster. Blues went into the match on a high following the try-fest against Zebre at the Arms Park last weekend, but were ultimately undone by a lack of possession and a penalty-try towards the end of the game. It was pleasing to read that Cardiff’s defence had been impressive all afternoon, as this is one area we need to greatly improve on from last season.

I was really happy to hear Josh Turnbull signed a new contract this week to extend his stay at Cardiff Blues. He is an imposing presence on the field. Turnbull defends and competes ferociously. He performed brilliantly last term, and had a storming start to this season too – he scored a hat-trick of tries last weekend!

 

Just For Fun!

What’s in a Name?

It was announced this week that the Millennium Stadium is going to be changing it’s name to “The Principality Stadium” from 2016 following a ten year sponsorship deal that has been struck between the Welsh Rugby Union and the Cardiff-based building society.

I must say, I’m not a fan of these sorts of sponsorship deals. Many iconic grounds across the UK have been in similar situations – even the neighbouring Cardiff Arms Park is now officially titled “BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park” (although at least this is just an addition to the original name, and not a replacement). It’s the kind of move that will always split the fans. Obviously, there will be substantial financial gains to be made through striking such a deal, and that can only be good for the teams we support.

However, in my opinion, a name can be so important in sport. Wales play at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, right? It’s famous around the world! Rugby players, rugby fans, sports fans from across the globe know its name, and know what it means to run out onto that turf, or to belt out the anthem, to witness the highs and lows. Will the roof be open, or closed? When I hear the words “Millennium Stadium”, these are the images that come to mind. Might I add, it was opened just before the new millennium, partly funded by the millennium commission and, besides, it’s a really cool name!

I’m probably over-reacting a bit. Let’s just hope that we see as much success for the Welsh rugby team on the field of the Principality Stadium as we have at the Millennium Stadium over the past few years. Who knows, maybe even greater things will come with the new name…

Weekend Round-Up

Victory for Wales on Saturday came at a price as both Rhys Webb and Leigh Halfpenny were stretchered from the field during a scrappy, error-strewn encounter at the Millennium Stadium.

It has been confirmed tonight that Halfpenny will miss the Rugby World Cup having damaged his knee ligaments, and Wales will undoubtedly miss his metronomic goal-kicking and ferocious defending. It is arguably the absence of Webb, however, that could have the biggest impact on the squad, the lively scrum-half having been in scintillating form for both club and country all year.

The nature of Saturday’s narrow win over the Italians highlighted a number of key issues which need addressing if Wales are to emerge from the group stages of this world cup. Italy’s forward pack were largely dominant all afternoon, both at the breakdown and at scrum time. They caused a real nuisance, slowing ball down and causing broken play, preventing Wales from getting any real momentum. The number of handling errors was also a concern, as was Wales’ repeated inability to find that final pass to breach the whitewash – Scott Williams’ fine miss-pass to send George North over being the one exception.

Williams’ all round performance was one of the highlights of an otherwise largely frustrating afternoon for the home side. The Scarlets centre has raised his game an extra couple of notches in the absence of the brilliant Jonathan Davies, his sidestep proving dangerous and his passing pinpoint. I feel he could really excel in the coming weeks.

Ross Moriarty’s eye-catching break was also something to cheer about. The Gloucester back-rower may have been omitted from the World Cup Squad, but his scorching run through midfield left a trail of destruction and should have led to a try. I’m expecting to see a lot more from him in a red jersey in the near future.

Saturday’s victory at least affords Wales some momentum on which to build for their game against Uruguay, which is now less than two weeks away, and I can’t wait!

Meanwhile, in other Welsh rugby news…

The Pro 12 returned with a mixed bag of results for Wales’ regional teams. Ospreys were well beaten at the Kingspan stadium on Friday, when Ulster emerged 28-6 winners. The Dragons earned a losing bonus point on their trip to Connacht, while Scarlets held on for a famous win away against defending champions Glasgow. The weekend’s final match saw Cardiff Blues run riot over Zebre, scoring 11 tries in a 61-13 victory.

Nantymoel’s season began with a 38-24 defeat at home against Aberavon Green Stars. The ‘Moel will be looking to bounce back when they meet Maesteg Celtic away on 12th September.