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    Some of Sundays Press Clippings...


    <t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td><t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td valign="top"><t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td align="left" valign="top">@@@@SPAN>The Sunday Times@@@@/SPAN></td>

    <td align="right" valign="top">@@@@SPAN>January 28, 2007@@@@/SPAN></td>
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    <h1>No way forward for limited Wales</h1>

    @@@@SPAN>Jeremy Guscott@@@@/SPAN>

    <h3>For all their talent in the backs, a lack of control up
    front will restrict Welsh progress this year</h3> </td>
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    <td valign="top"><div>WALES
    find themselves stuck in a Catch-22 situation. They want to play an
    open, counter-attacking style of rugby, which they have branded “the
    Welsh Way”, but the truth is that they actually have no option: it is
    the only way they can pose a threat, because they simply do not have a
    pack that is up to the task of dominating a game.

    This “Welsh Way” is very much player led, because they do not want
    to go back to playing stunted 10 or 12-man rugby — but rugby is all
    about keeping the opposition guessing by mixing up your game, and it is
    ironic that although Wales are trying to play wide and wonderful, if
    you have got no other options it can actually turn out to be pretty
    predictable. Without forwards who can smash or maul their way to the
    line, you are really nothing more than a one-trick pony.

    <t></t>Even though the Irish pack is
    itself no great shakes at scrum time, I will take Ireland to win at the
    Millennium stadium next Sunday because Wales are unlikely to be
    powerful enough to make them pay, and Paul O’Connell and company will
    probably get the upper hand everywhere else in the forward battle.

    Wales are going to struggle to ambush the opposition in this
    Six Nations in the manner in which they did so famously to win the
    Grand Slam two years ago. They may be restored to full strength again,
    after being badly disrupted by injury last season, but the signs from
    the autumn internationals are that their backs could struggle for good
    ball because their forwards are simply not going to be up to speed.

    It is great to see a prop such as Gethin Jenkins popping up
    way out on the wing, but against good scrummaging sides that is not
    really an option — his place is with the rest of his mates in the pack.
    However, it will be at the lineout more than the scrum that Wales will
    have to improve.

    Even with the promising young lock Ian Evans furthering his
    impressive start to his international career in the autumn against the
    powers of New Zealand and Australia, Wales were far from convincing —
    and now he is injured they appear to be even more vulnerable in this
    key area.

    Wales seem to lose a handful of lineouts in almost every
    match, when more than a couple on your own throw is absolutely
    unacceptable at international level. With lifting, lineout possession
    should be a “gimme” each and every time your hooker prepares to deliver
    the ball.

    Wales coach Gareth Jenkins has already said that the area that
    Wales most urgently need to repair after their crushing defeat by the
    All Blacks in the autumn is the breakdown. The Welsh forwards must
    target the contact area in force far more if they want to win turnovers
    — hence the need for Jenkins to steer clear of the wide open spaces —
    but they must also be smart, particularly against the Irish, whose
    breathless forward play in the loose is the best in the Six Nations.

    The Welsh forwards have to recognise that Martyn Will

    #2

    <t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td><t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td valign="top"><t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td align="left" valign="top">@@@@SPAN>The Sunday Times@@@@/SPAN></td>

    <td align="right" valign="top">@@@@SPAN>January 28, 2007@@@@/SPAN></td>
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    <h1>Ashton looks to power to restore glory days</h1>

    @@@@SPAN>Stuart Barnes@@@@/SPAN>

    <h3>Despite his attacking reputation, the new coach will first look to choose a team with traditional English strengths</h3> </td>
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    <td valign="top"><div>IF
    YOU are expecting a team of aesthetic beauty from Brian Ashton, forget
    it. England’s most ambitious rugby thinker is likely to name the most
    conservative team of his managerial career. The launch pad for a more
    progressive future is to be founded on the traditional English base of
    power because Ashton knows England must beat both Scotland and Italy to
    snatch some breathing space from the claustrophobic pressure that comes
    with being England. And Ashton, lover of the rugby arts that he is,
    still knows the best way to beat Scotland is to pummel them up front,
    through pace not attrition.

    The pounding both Gloucester and Leicester handed out to Leinster
    and Munster was a screaming reminder that England remain capable of
    living with the best in Europe if they pick a balanced team and select
    a strategy best suited to that side. On current form and with the
    nature of the first opponents, the strategy Ashton and his fellow
    coaches will opt for is pure power — the antithesis of the Ashton
    reputation. There has undoubtedly been a rowing-in of his early
    ambitions as a coach.

    <t></t>When first handed the reins
    at Bath, the side adopted an approach that utilised the whole width of
    the pitch. It became an intrinsic part of the early Woodward years as
    England added strikepower wide to the deeper well of English forward
    power. But Will Greenwood was nearing his subtle best, Jason Robinson
    was ready to rip up the one-on-one attacking rulebook of union and
    Jonny Wilkinson was working his way towards his peak. It made sense
    then.

    Now, the sensible approach to the game is to play to England’s
    strengths but not by painful trudging. That has been the problem in
    recent years. England either messed around with a confused midfield or
    it drew in their ambitions and tried to beat opponents like a gong. I
    expect England to base the game on their current trump card — physical
    power — but also to play with sufficient tempo, predominantly through
    the middle of a Scottish team that defends well wide and on the
    fringes. England, with Ashton’s major league gamble, will attack
    through the middle.

    Enter Andy Farrell; a fine distributor and, as important as
    anything else to the manager’s mind, a man with proven leadership
    skills. Farrell has little union experience but he has a lifetime of
    sporting pressure to help him handle the mental stresses and help out
    Toby Flood. Superb as Shane Geraghty has been in recent weeks, he has
    too few miles on the professional clock. So Flood, with his extra
    season and surer recent goalkicking record, is the man for first crack
    at fly-half.

    Long experience of Ashton makes Mathew Tait the logical
    outside-centre. However, the Tigers template may sway the choice in
    favour of the less subtle but reinvigorated surging game of Mike
    Tindall. His passing game remains woefully sub-standard, but if England
    are in direct mode it could be that his

    Comment


      #3

      <t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td><t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td valign="top"><t></t><table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="465"><t><tr><td align="left" valign="top">@@@@SPAN>The Sunday Times@@@@/SPAN></td>

      <td align="right" valign="top">@@@@SPAN>January 28, 2007@@@@/SPAN></td>
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      <h1>Half of England squad close to exhaustion</h1>

      @@@@SPAN>Nick Cain@@@@/SPAN>

      <h3>A three-year study claims that a packed schedule has played a huge part in player burnout in the Premiership</h3> </td>
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      <td valign="top"><div>SIGNS
      of a resolution to the conflict in England over player release have
      come not a moment too soon given alarming evidence from a three-year
      study into player burnout in the Premiership.


      <t></t>The study reveals that 50%
      of the England squad went into the 2006 autumn internationals suffering
      from mental and physical exhaustion. This level of burnout is more than
      double that in a similar study conducted among elite New Zealand
      players from 2001 to 2003.

      Dr Scott Cresswell, a leading authority in sport science and
      psychology who conducted both surveys, says the figures are
      unacceptable. “The research ends in April, and I am asking what has
      changed?” he said “The players tell me nothing, and it has probably got
      worse with the compacted fixtures around Christmas.”

      The expansion of the international fixture list for England
      players, including an increase from three autumn internationals to four
      , and an early end to the season to accommodate World Cup preparations,
      has played a significant part in the added burden. The clubs, who are
      already playing matches on international weekends, were forced to
      squeeze four matches into 16 days over Christmas.

      Cresswell, a New Zealander who is a research fellow at the
      University of Western Australia, is frustrated that none of his
      recommendations from a study that began in 2005, including that there
      be a mid-winter break, has led to any action. Cresswell says that the
      players are caught in the middle of the strife between the RFU and the
      Premiership clubs, who jointly funded his research along with the
      Professional Rugby Players Association.

      Cresswell praises the Premiership clubs for good work in terms
      of improved training regimes and better attention to player welfare.

      “Many clubs have followed the example of Wasps in customising
      their training environment. This is about highly organised procedures,
      including individual programmes so that players know exactly what their
      commitments are, and the time that is allocated to them.”

      Martyn Thomas, chairman of the RFU management board, said of
      the findings: “It goes to the heart of how much can the top players
      play. This is why the central management of players in concert with
      Premiership clubs is so important.”

      Meanwhile, Thomas revealed that “advanced discussions” with
      the Premiership clubs aimed at ending the sport’s civil war had
      included them being told that they would be penalised to the tune of
      £2.5m for England’s slide down the world rankings.

      “The principle the RFU has wanted to achieve is that there
      should be a control and management of senior players; first, for their
      safety and welfare, and, second, because we want to see a successful
      England, because failure on the field means commercial failure for all
      parties,” he said. “It is about a £2.5m loss to the Premiership game
      for next season, by virtue of the RFU’s financial position in

      Comment


        #4

        <h1> All eyes on the imperious Irish </h1>
        @@@@SPAN>By Paul Ackford, Sunday Telegraph@@@@/SPAN>
        <div style="float: left;">@@@@SPAN>Last Updated: @@@@SPAN style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">12:22am GMT@@@@/SPAN>28/01/2007@@@@/SPAN></div>


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        <t></t><table summary="" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2" width="100%"><t><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Blog: Mick Cleary</td></tr></t></table>

        Eyes
        down for another tumultuous, claustrophobic seven weeks or so. This Six
        Nations could be the closest ever. Italy and Scotland are fast
        improving; Ireland start the championship as marginal favourites; Wales
        have most of their 2005 Grand Slam show ponies back in harness; France,
        if they find a decent outside-half, will be devilishly difficult to
        beat as always; and there are signs that England are emerging from the
        trough that saw them post one paltry victory in nine Tests.

        That's the theory anyway. It could all go horribly wrong of course. Ireland could, like England in 2000, 2001 and 2002, find that a Grand Slam is a fiendish prize
        to hunt down; Italy might bump along at the bottom of the pile as usual
        and England, well, England might just notch their third fourth place in
        a row which would be unacceptable for a team about to defend the World
        Cup.

        But that's the beauty of this particular
        tournament. The thunderous clash between England and France at
        Twickenham, which so often used to signpost the eventual winner, is no
        longer so significant. All the games look truly competitive. Disregard
        the aberration of a week ago, when Ulster, Leinster and Munster all
        contrived to lose important Heineken Cup fixtures, and Ireland appear
        to be in pole position. Their form in the autumn was imperious.
        Thumping victories over South Africa and the Pacific Islands and a near
        faultless first-half performance against Australia mark them out as the
        side to beat.

        This season Ulstermen Neil Best and
        Isaac Boss have come through which, coupled with the emergence of
        hooker Jerry Flannery and No 8 Denis Leamy last season, has
        strengthened Ireland's squad considerably. Coach Eddie O'Sullivan now
        has genuine options in many positions plus the luxury of choosing
        personnel according to weather conditions or the type of threat posed
        by the opposition.

        That's
        a welcome, new departure for Ireland and a major advantage before you
        begin to consider the excellence of their senior professionals Brian
        O'Driscoll (pictured), Paul O'Connell, Gordon D'Arcy, Peter Stringer,
        Ronan O'Gara and David Wallace. That battle-hardened mob leavened with
        one or two invigorated newcomers should ensure Ireland have the energy
        and experience to edge the big games, even if two of the biggest,
        against France and England, are in the unfamiliar surroundings of the
        82,500-capacity Croke Park stadium.

        But there are
        weaknesses. Shane Horgan, the most improved player in Europe over the
        last two seasons and sidelined for the early games with a knee problem,
        is a cata

        Comment


          #5

          <h1> I'll be rooting for the Welsh, says Henry</h1>
          @@@@SPAN>By Steve James, Sunday Telegraph@@@@/SPAN>
          <div style="float: left;">@@@@SPAN>Last Updated: @@@@SPAN style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">10:24pm GMT@@@@/SPAN>27/01/2007@@@@/SPAN></div>


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          <t></t><table summary="" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2" width="100%"><t><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Sport Talk: Keith Wood</td></tr><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Six Nations - a moveable feast?</td></tr></t></table>

          Graham
          Henry was in Monte Carlo and wanted to talk cricket. Bizarre, but, of
          course, most agreeable – top location and your correspondent is not
          exactly averse to the sport – except that the brief was a Six Nations
          preview and a plethora of PR people were milling around reminding us
          that time was short.

          Indeed it was. The New Zealand
          coach was briefly in Monaco to publicise the All Blacks' new 'global
          partnership' with Iveco, the Italian truck company. "Ten minutes you've
          got," said PR. But of most pressing concern to Henry was that his
          flight had coincided with the New Zealand cricket team's first meeting
          with England in the one-day series.

          He wanted details, even when told the stunning news that England had actually won their first match of the tour.
          He likes his cricket: he did play six first-class matches as a
          wicketkeeper for Canterbury and Otago in the mid-Sixties after all. The
          questions came fast and furious. "What were the scores? Who got runs
          for the Kiwis? Did [Ross] Taylor play?" etc, etc.

          Henry
          had always appeared a decent chap, but here, upon first meeting, was
          instant confirmation – pleasant, friendly and at times humorous. We
          could have gone on for hours. "Maybe you should talk about rugby," came
          the impatient voice of PR.

          Ah,
          yes. Straight to the point, then: who's going to win the Six Nations,
          Graham? "If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Ireland," Henry
          replied. "They are playing some quality rugby and have got some
          world-class players, especially in Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell.

          "Those
          two are very influential on that team. When we played Ireland away in
          2005 they didn't play, but they did when we faced Ireland twice at home
          last year and it made a heck of a difference." It must have been
          disappointing not to have faced them on the recent northern hemisphere
          tour? "No, not all," he said, "those two home games and Ireland's
          recent performances against South Africa and Australia showed us they
          are the strongest team in Europe."

          Not England,
          then? Just joking. But, seriously, can the world champions mount any
          sort of creditable defence of their trophy? "Yes, they can," he
          replied, "They've got more rugby players than any

          Comment


            #6

            <h1> England scalp still top of menu</h1>
            @@@@SPAN>By Ieuan Evans, Sunday Telegraph@@@@/SPAN>
            <div style="float: left;">@@@@SPAN>Last Updated: @@@@SPAN style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">10:24pm GMT@@@@/SPAN>27/01/2007@@@@/SPAN></div>


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            <t></t><table summary="" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2" width="100%"><t><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Sport Talk: Keith Wood</td></tr><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Six Nations - a moveable feast?</td></tr></t></table>

            Sit
            back and enjoy the Celtic challenge. It should be good; it might be bad
            and it may be ugly, but whatever the form guide says and fate has in
            store, the Six Nations starter gun always triggers immense pride in
            Welsh, Irish and Scottish ranks. Contrary to myth, it is not all about
            beating the English. OK, maybe it is.

            The clue is in the championship title. It is not six teams or six jerseys. It is six nations.

            This
            may sound like the emotional ramblings of a romantic Welshman, but you
            really are representing the hopes of your country out there and
            anything you can call on to give you an edge, provide you with those
            extra beads of motivation, you take. Patriotism is a good place to
            start.

            Feed off the injustices, perceived or
            otherwise, of history, be they political, social or sporting. That is
            why, no matter the state of the nations in terms of playing ability,
            the scalp of England will always be the most treasured.

            I
            was once asked whether professionalism had levelled the tournament's
            tribal playing field; that perhaps England were now just another
            opponent to compete with in a rigid, professional environment and no
            longer the big bad wolf. I reminded my questioner that — for heaven's
            sake — he was talking to a Welshman about rugby. Some things will never
            change and the satisfaction of beating England is one of them. Roll on
            Cardiff and the last round of the Six Nations.

            It
            was not so long ago that people with no respect for the sport and no
            idea about the essence of international competition, whatever the
            balance of power at the time, spoke about England and France casting
            their Celtic cousins adrift to head for the playing fields of the
            southern hemisphere. The gap was too wide, they said; the Celts too far
            behind the giants of the European game.

            The Six
            Nations is a magical tournament and you knock its credibility at your
            peril. Follow the crowds, not the administrators who dare tinker with
            an institution. When you see 40,000 people travelling to an away
            fixture, you have your answer.

            What is refreshing
            among the Celtic three is the move away from trying to mimic other
            styles of play, trying to copy England and the southern hemisphere
            sides, as if there was some global template for rugby success, with
            defence, rather than breaking down defences, as its central tenet.

            Wales
            real

            Comment


              #7

              <h1> Ibanez angles for biggest win of his life</h1>
              @@@@SPAN>By Rupert Bates, Sunday Telegraph@@@@/SPAN>
              <div style="float: left;">@@@@SPAN>Last Updated: @@@@SPAN style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">10:24pm GMT@@@@/SPAN>27/01/2007@@@@/SPAN></div>


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              <t></t><table summary="" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2" width="100%"><t><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Sport Talk: Keith Wood</td></tr><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Six Nations - a moveable feast?</td></tr></t></table>

              If
              the Wasps pair Raphael Ibanez and Phil Vickery — who might be rival
              captains when France meet England at Twickenham — were not hard-nosed,
              squash-eared, four-square front-row warriors, you might accuse them of
              talking bull.

              With Fabien Pelous injured, Ibanez,
              the Wasps hooker, is favourite to lead France in their opening Six
              Nations match against Italy in Rome on Saturday. The same day Vickery,
              his Wasps prop, captains England against Scotland.

              Vickery
              is known as the Raging Bull, the name of his sportswear range, while
              Ibanez, in homage to his Basque heritage, has El Toro tattooed on his
              arm. You would not want to be a matador with those two in the ring.

              Ibanez
              is a remarkable man and the World Cup in his homeland will cap a
              rollercoaster 11 years of international rugby since his debut against
              Wales in 1996.

              Most
              assume the essence of French rugby is distilled in their Champagne back
              play; silky three-quarters cutting sublime angles from deep and firing
              out hard, flat passes. But the front-row is where you find the true
              spirit — more fiery Armagnac than Champagne – of the French, where
              honour in battle defines the rugby man.

              Ibanez
              combines all that is required in the tight with pocket battleship
              strength and energy in the loose. El Toro without the blinkers, for
              Ibanez oozes intelligence and attitude.

              The
              Frenchman could teach Vickery a thing or two about the vagaries of
              captaincy. Ibanez led France to the Grand Slam in 1998, having played
              in Abdel Benazzi's Grand Slam side the year before — laurels that
              afford him a place in any rugby pantheon. Ibanez then captained France
              in the 1999 World Cup, with that astonishing semi-final victory against
              New Zealand cancelled out by tame defeat to Australia a week later in
              the final. Typical France. "It is a bit of a cliché to label France
              inconsistent. Yes, we had a couple of tough defeats at home to New
              Zealand in the autumn. But who did not have problems with the All
              Blacks?" asked the veteran of 83 caps, who originally retired from the
              international game after the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

              "Where
              I think France need to improve is in their mental consistency. We need
              more ambition. We must not rely on team systems, but take individual
              responsibility for what is happening in front of us."

              It is not often that more ambition has be

              Comment


                #8

                <h1> Pressure's on from the start for optimistic Ashton</h1>
                @@@@SPAN>By Paul Ackford, Sunday Telegraph@@@@/SPAN>
                <div style="float: left;">@@@@SPAN>Last Updated: @@@@SPAN style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">10:24pm GMT@@@@/SPAN>27/01/2007@@@@/SPAN></div>


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                <t></t><table summary="" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2" width="100%"><t><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Sport Talk: Keith Wood</td></tr><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Six Nations - a moveable feast?</td></tr></t></table>

                Most
                coaches have a five or six-game honeymoon period before serious
                assessment is made. Brian Ashton has two, maybe even just one. If
                England do not start with successive victories at Twickenham against
                Scotland and Italy then the character assassination of the new head
                coach, who unveils his first side tomorrow, will be every bit as
                vitriolic as that which faced Andy Robinson in his final weeks in the
                job.

                That's not of Ashton's making. That's the
                context he inherits, the legacy of a team in free fall, of a group of
                players who, with some of their on-field decisions, made headless
                chickens look clever, of a paying public who found their loudest voice
                to hoot derision at the way in which England contrived to lose Test
                after Test after Test.

                Ashton's task is to turn all
                this round with virtually no preparation time to speak of and with the
                risk of further injuries this weekend unsettling his plans. To call his
                task mountainous is to underplay it hugely, but a strange optimism is
                building ahead of the announcement of the starting 15. The bookies are
                slashing odds on a decent Six Nations for England. Our Jonny might even
                be back before long.

                How has Ashton managed this?
                Well, his rhetoric last week was spot on. "We're going to play
                no-bulls**t rugby this season," he said. "The first step is to build
                our game from the foundations that all successful teams need." In a
                couple of sentences Ashton demolished the reputation, unfairly awarded
                him by some, of a romantic visionary fixated on a version of the game
                far removed from the muscular, confrontational, collision-based reality
                of Test rugby. The other means by which Ashton is adding optimism is in
                the make-up of his side.

                If
                the tea leaves are accurate, England will start with a midfield of Andy
                Farrell inside Mike Tindall; with Josh Lewsey and Jason Robinson on the
                wing and Iain Balshaw at full-back; with Harry Ellis back at
                scrum-half; and with Danny Grewcock and Steve Thompson (neck problem
                permitting) returning to add ballast to the front five. Most of those
                are names of substance. Tindall, for all my reservations about the
                precision of his passing and his ability to cut a line, is a warrior.
                No one puts one over on Tindall easily and his resilience is important
                in the restructuring phase which Ashton is embarking on. <a href="http://www

                Comment


                  #9

                  <h1> And nation shall speak diplomatic cliche unto nation</h1>
                  @@@@SPAN>By Steve James, Sunday Telegraph@@@@/SPAN>
                  <div style="float: left;">@@@@SPAN>Last Updated: @@@@SPAN style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">10:24pm GMT@@@@/SPAN>27/01/2007@@@@/SPAN></div>


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                  <t></t><table summary="" align="center" border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2" width="100%"><t><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Sport Talk: Keith Wood</td></tr><tr bgcolor="#ffffff"><td colspan="1">Six Nations - a moveable feast?</td></tr></t></table>

                  It
                  was the official launch of the RBS Six Nations last Wednesday. In other
                  words a journalists' 'bun fight' – even if the hoity-toity Hurlingham
                  Club venue in west London attempted to elevate it above such – with a
                  horde of hacks straining and scrapping to hang on to the every word of
                  the captain and coach of each country. Quotes were reeled off like
                  machine-gun fire as each country's pair moved from the daily newspaper
                  gathering to its Sunday equivalent, from a group of agency writers to
                  radio, and on to television, and on and on.

                  The
                  hope in some quarters was clearly that weariness of constant
                  questioning might let something controversial slip. No chance. Everyone
                  was far too media savvy for that, despite there being some desperate
                  attempts at entrapment. Scotland coach Frank Hadden was asked: "Do you
                  hate the English as much as they hate you?" Quite rightly he batted it
                  away with a contemptuous: "Next."

                  Unbelievably the
                  questioner, not deterred by Phil Vickery having rebutted the question
                  in reverse earlier, persisted so that Hadden had to say firmly: "Look,
                  I lived in England for five years and my son was born there."

                  But
                  the only occasion anyone neared genuine anger was when Italy coach
                  Pierre Berbizier was berating the Rugby World Cup organisers for again
                  lumbering his side with three matches in 11 days in September. He
                  wasn't happy. Nor was France coach Bernard Laporte, but it was rather
                  an air of resignation which accompanied his bemoaning of the excess of
                  foreigners in the French domestic game.

                  "I
                  went to watch Bayonne v Stade Francais recently and there were only 11
                  Frenchmen on the field," he sighed, via the translator of course.

                  Allied
                  to a stated desire to see as many players as possible in this
                  tournament, this smacked of Laporte getting his excuses in early.

                  So
                  beneath the platitudes ("we're excited," "we respect everyone," "we
                  need consistency in this tournament," blah, blah, blah) there were
                  actually some interesting snippets. As when Brian Ashton eventually
                  arrived – hours after the other interviewees had left, by the way –
                  with Andy Farrell an inevitable subject.

                  Not
                  only did Ashton make no secret of his admiration

                  Comment


                    #10

                    Ambitious Irish could be struck down by Millennium bug</font>



                    Sunday January 28th 2007</font>




                    IRELAND start the 2007 Six Nations in the uncomfortable position of
                    favourites after their impressive, unbeaten November series.


                    Our first outing is an extremely difficult one, with the dangerous Welsh poised to pounce in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.


                    Wales seem to be finally returning to the form that saw them clinch
                    the Grand Slam in 2005. Last year was a catalogue of injuries, poor
                    performances, and the departure of coach Mike Ruddock. Key players like
                    Ryan Jones and Tom Shanklin have now returned, although there are some
                    fresh injury doubts this week regarding the latter.


                    The Llanelli half-back pairing of Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones are
                    crucial to the way Wales play. They were at the fulcrum of the superb
                    victories two years ago and Wales supporters will hope that they stay
                    fit for the duration of the competition.


                    Young Ospreys back James Hook has been a revelation this season and
                    a lot is expected of him also. He will probably line out at number 12
                    alongside Shanklin.


                    Ireland's second game against France will see the hype crank up several notches for their historic debut in Croke Park.


                    French coach Bernard Laporte has targeted this game as the most crucial to their hopes of retaining the Championship.


                    There has been something of an injury crisis in the French camp of
                    late with injuries to players like captain Fabien Pelous and
                    Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, although Elissalde was unlikely to be picked
                    ahead of Biarritz's accomplished number nine Dimitri Yachvili.


                    France suffered two heavy defeats at home to New Zealand in
                    November, conceding nine tries in the process, and confidence in the
                    camp could not be at its highest, although with the French one can
                    never be sure.


                    Even allowing for injuries they will have a strong starting XV -
                    their customary strong scrum and maul, running back-row forwards,
                    talented backs like Aurelien Rougerie and Damien Traille and, with
                    Yachvili directing traffic from scrumhalf, they will be tough opponents
                    for Ireland on that historic day in Croker.


                    Next up for Ireland is THAT game against England on February 24.
                    Following England's poor performances in November, former Irish coach
                    Brian Ashton has been given the task of improving on Andy Robinson's
                    woeful record. It was widely anticipated that Ashton would make
                    wholesale changes to the squad and, while he has made alterations, they
                    were not to the extent that some had called for - the options just
                    aren't there.


                    England will have to improve their basics hugely from the autumn if
                    they are to stand any chance of doing well in this tournament.


                    They traditionally have a physically strong pack and this year is no different.


                    That said, they seem likely to be without Bristol's exciting number
                    8 Dan Ward-Smith who suffered a suspected dislocated kneecap yesterday
                    against Northampton.


                    Teams coached by Ashton tend to play an expansive brand of rugby
                    and, if they are to do this, young outhalf Toby Flood will be pivotal.


                    He has been receiving rave reviews recently for his performances in
                    the Premiership but we'll see if he can cope with the pressure of the
                    Six Nations.


                    Murrayfield is a ground which proved a tough challenge for visiting
                    sides last year, when the Scots made huge strides with great home wins
                    against England and France.


                    They will be looking to build on that progress but, with trips to
                    Twickenham and Stade de France, they will be doing well to replicate
                    their 2006 victories.


                    While there was cert

                    Comment


                      #11

                      EDDIE BUTLER'S COUNTRY-BY-COUNTRY GUIDE</font>



                      Sunday January 28th 2007</font>




                      IRELAND
                      Does he go for Geordan Murphy or Girvan
                      Dempsey at fullback? Who replaces the injured Shane Horgan (right)?
                      That's about it. Eddie O'Sullivan is not faced with the pile of
                      questions that challenge the tournament's other coaches.


                      Ireland are full of promise, and determined to get it right this
                      time. Could be a recipe for disaster, or it could push them to the
                      forefront of the Northern Hemisphere order. No new faces; no need to
                      bed anyone in.


                      Odd-number years suit them, too - they play France and England at
                      home. Croke Park is about the only new thing we shall see. Well worth a
                      visit.


                      Probable XV: Dempsey; Trimble, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Hickie;
                      O'Gara, Stringer; Horan, Best, Hayes; O'Callaghan, O'Connell; Easterby,
                      Wallace, Leamy.



                      ENGLAND
                      It looks as if England will go for experience
                      up in the front five, as a sort of safety net to offset the
                      introduction of Andy Farrell in midfield and the loss of a back-three
                      trio, Jason Robinson, Paul Sackey and Mark Cueto, to injury. That
                      should mean lots of ball, even if it arrives a bit slowly.


                      England need a specialist No 7, with Magnus Lund back in the frame.
                      Martin Corry's performance for Leicester at Munster should have
                      convinced Brian Ashton, especially after Bristol's Dan Ward-Smith was
                      injured yesterday. Harry Ellis and Toby Flood as half-backs? It
                      wouldn't be dull.


                      Probable XV: Lewsey; Balshaw, Tindall, Farrell, Tait; Flood, Ellis; Freshwater, Thompson, Vickery; Grewcock, Palmer; Moody, Lund, Corry.



                      ITALY
                      Up front, Italy will be as awkward as ever.
                      There is no more painful experience in the European game than finding
                      the Italian pack thundering all over you. But the old problems persist:
                      what to do with all that beautiful ball? Italy can be a menace to
                      themselves when in possession.


                      Either they kick the ball away and go into defensive mode, where
                      they are comfortable (scrumhalf Paul Griffen is a master of the
                      defensive arts), or they try to develop a more penetrative running
                      game. Not sure if Ramiro Pez, or anyone in the squad, can manage that,
                      although Gonzalo Canale may well blossom.


                      Probable XV: Bortolussi; Stanojevic, Mirco Bergamasco,
                      Canale, Robertson; Pez, Griffen; Perugini, Ongaro, Nieto; Bortolami
                      (capt), Dellape; Sole, Mauro Bergamasco, Parisse.



                      SCOTLAND
                      As long as Scotland kept their backrow and
                      scrumhalves intact there was every chance they would maintain the good
                      work of last season, when they beat France and England at Murrayfield.
                      No sooner said than down went Jason White and Allister Hogg, Mike Blair
                      and Chris Cusiter. Even if two of the four - White and Blair are out
                      for some while - recover in time to face England in the opening game,
                      they will have played precious little rugby.


                      On the other hand, Scotland will still play at a tempo that may
                      throw a jittery England off balance. Beware dismissing Frank Hadden's
                      team as no-hopers.


                      Probable XV: Paterson (capt); Lamont, Di Rollo, Henderson,
                      Webster; Parks, Lawson; Kerr, Hall, Douglas, Murray, Kellock, Taylor,
                      Brown, Beattie.



                      WALES
                      A crazy element often upsets any logical analysis. Who'd have thought,


                      for example, that Gareth Thomas would get himself cited for
                      inflammatory behaviour in the Trevor Brennan affair? OK, OK cancel
                      that. But anything could happen. The odds are that they will be very
                      good, with James Hook (right) a star. But there is also a possibility
                      that they will lose at home in the first game

                      Comment


                        #12

                        Italy demand fair play from the big guns</font>



                        Sunday January 28th 2007</font>




                        ITALY go into Saturday's Six Nations opener against France in Rome with
                        their coach demanding his side get a fair crack of the whip in this
                        year's championship. </font>



                        Pierre Berbizier believes there is a disparity in the way the Davids of
                        the game are handled compared to the Goliaths and he has grown tired of
                        it. He wants a level playing field. </font>



                        "For Italy, the law of the game is the law, but for other teams it is
                        an interpretation," he says. "Last season in Dublin against Ireland, we
                        saw this many times. (Denis) Leamy stopped us playing and was offside,
                        but nothing happened. It was three points to us and a yellow card for
                        him, but the referee gave neither. Also, Ireland's second 'try' was not
                        a try. </font>



                        "I want the same approach for the other team and that is not happening
                        at the moment. I am all for discipline and I work hard with the players
                        on that. That is fine. But we need the referee to see the same thing
                        with both teams, not just one. For a high level game it is very
                        important." </font>



                        Berbizier sees this as an important year for his side's development,
                        but he has been beset by problems going into the tournament. </font>



                        Yet the Frenchman remains animated by the challenge he confronts. "I
                        have to build a new team, it is interesting and a new challenge," he
                        says. "All the time, we wish to increase our level and be competitive
                        with the other countries. But so much depends on injuries because our
                        club system is not strong enough. It will be terrible if we lose more
                        players during the Six Nations. </font>



                        "We have a good basis in the forwards and we can be competitive there,
                        I am sure. In the backs, we have some interesting players and we are
                        working to find this equilibrium. We will try to play more with the
                        backs in this Championship than we did last year. But it will depend
                        which backs we have available. </font>



                        "That is my problem, much depends on the players I have. We had
                        considered a young full-back playing in French rugby with Montpellier,
                        Bortolucci, but he is injured and out for three months. There are
                        others too we would like but they are injured. </font>



                        "It is the same problem as last year for Italy, a big problem. And I do
                        not know about my number 9 or 10, that is another difficulty. Pez
                        played in the last Six Nations but was injured against Scotland. I
                        still do not have a fly half who is an obvious replacement. Finding a
                        player for that position of a sufficiently high quality is very
                        difficult. Remember, even England and France have that problem so we
                        are not alone. </font>



                        "If we have all our best players available, Italy can be competitive in
                        the Six Nations. But to lose some without four or five good back-up
                        players is a major handicap." </font>



                        If he is uncertain about the prospects of his own squad, he remains
                        even more perplexed about his native country's chances. As he plans fo

                        Comment


                          #13

                          Suits that set Ashton's alarm bells ringing</font>



                          Sunday January 28th 2007</font>




                          I've got a great love of Irish rugby and over the years was living in
                          hope and disappointment really. Suddenly here I was with, at the time,
                          the greatest coach in the northern hemisphere - and probably the world
                          - and Ireland didn't have a coach. I was getting more and more
                          despondent. And I thought: "Bugger this - Brian hasn't got a job and
                          Ireland haven't got a coach." And I rang directory enquiries and asked
                          for the Irish rugby union. </font>


                          ACTUALLY,
                          Ireland did have a coach at the time. His name was Murray Kidd, but
                          from Tim Drohan's office in Bristol he could see that there was about
                          to be a gap in the market. And he knew just how to fill it. It was
                          sweet: Brian Ashton was his client; Ireland was his passion. </font>


                          One
                          needed a job and the other needed a boss. The girl in the IRFU gave him
                          the number for Pa Whelan in Limerick. He rang it straight away. </font>


                          "Hello Pat, my name is Tim Drohan. I'm an agent." </font>


                          Before
                          he could continue, he got a long blast from Whelan who believed agents
                          lived under the same rock as leeches and assorted bloodsuckers. </font>


                          "So what do you want?" asked Whelan, when he'd delivered his rant. </font>


                          "I have the best coach in the world," Drohan replied. </font>


                          "We already have a coach. So who is this guy you've got?" </font>


                          "Brian Ashton." </font>


                          "Oh." </font>


                          A
                          few days after that conversation, on January 4 1997, Ireland played
                          Italy in Lansdowne Road. They lost. Kidd got a call to come to Dublin
                          on the Tuesday. He brought his lawyer with him, and left with a
                          severance package. On the Wednesday, Brian Ashton made the same trip
                          with his agent. When they flew back to Bristol that night he was
                          Ireland's new coach. That's how it all started. </font>


                          * * * * * </font>


                          PA
                          WHELAN was quite pleased with the way it worked out. He had come across
                          Ashton three years earlier when Garryowen played Bath to mark the
                          opening of a new clubhouse in Dooradoyle. Garryowen went to the Rec the
                          next season and the connection between the clubs has continued over the
                          years. Bath put on a brilliant show that day in Limerick. Afterwards
                          the two men chatted, and Ashton expanded a bit on how rugby could look
                          so good. </font>


                          Brian
                          Ashton is, as he described himself, a proud Lancastrian. He was born in
                          Leigh, rugby league country, in 1946. By the time he was five he was a
                          season ticket holder at Wigan's Central Park. He tells you this with
                          some pride. He grew up understanding professional sport, that it was a
                          job. But it was rugby union that took him to Tyldesley, Fylde and
                          Orrell in the north of England, and then abroad to Montferrand, Roma
                          and Milan. </font>


                          <font color="#000000" fac

                          Comment


                            #14


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                            Who's been busy this morning then? Nice one. Thanks. [img]smileys/thumb-up.gif[/img]
                            "This was the performance Ireland had been threatening all championship but had only managed to produce in fits and starts. Defeats at the hands of France and Wales had put paid to their title aspirations, never mind a Grand Slam, but yesterday’s emphatic 24-8 win shows that this is a team moving in the right direction."

                            The Irish Times after Ireland beat England at Lansdowne Road on 19/03/11

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Not a bother.....slow day here in Donegal.........[img]smileys/smile.gif[/img]

                              Comment

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