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    #16
    Fickle finger of Alfie puts Welsh fate at risk</font>

    Absence of talismanic back will be felt against Ireland, says Eddie Butler</font>Eddie Butler
    </font>Sunday February 4, 2007
    </font>

    Observer</font>Back
    in its days of innocence, rugby could tolerate a crowd invasion. By a
    player into the crowd, that is. When Gerald Cordle, Cardiff's black
    wing, climbed into the terraces at Bridgend one afternoon in the 1980s
    and clouted a spectator, it was seen as a lusty blow against racism.
    Pioneering days.</font>

    Rugby
    is now fully pro and a touch po-faced. For threatening to clamber into
    the Ulster fans at Toulouse's stadium during a Heineken Cup tie and for
    giving them the finger - in support of his Dubliner team-mate Trevor
    Brennan, who was over the barricade and wading in - Gareth Thomas is
    seen not as an apostle of anti-sectarianism, but dear me, as a hooligan.</font>

    Which,
    he is. Alfie, as the Welshman is universally known, is a 100-per-cent,
    full-on nutter. And thoroughly adorable for it. This is the latest, and
    possibly the last, madcap adventure in what has been a deliciously
    colourful career.</font>

    Last
    year, when he was captain of the Wales team, he suffered some sort of
    black-out during Songs of Praise and slid off the couch at his Welsh
    home in Bridgend. This happened after an exchange on BBC Wales
    television with yours truly about the strained relations between the
    Wales players, their coach, Mike Ruddock, and the chief executive of
    the Welsh Rugby Union, Steve Lewis.</font>

    Alfie's
    ban makes him the last of the participants in that episode to go.
    Ruddock had already resigned, BBC Wales got rid of me, Lewis was
    recently relieved of his duties by Roger Lewis (plainly no relation),
    the new group chief executive of the WRU, and now Alfie, sentenced to a
    four-week stretch at the very worst moment for a 32-year-old who had
    already intimated that he would be retiring after the World Cup in the
    autumn.</font>

    And
    as for Trevor. Well, if Thomas got four weeks, Brennan, who did a full
    Cantona, plus some, in the Ulster section, may as well chuck his boots
    away.</font>

    Sorry,
    this was meant to be all about Wales v Ireland today (kick-off 3pm, and
    all that, at the Millennium Stadium). But you could tell last Thursday,
    while the verdict from Alfie's trial in Dublin was still unknown and he
    remained in Gareth Jenkins's line-up, that this was important.</font>

    How
    was Alfie bearing up, we all wanted to know. 'Brilliant,' they all said
    - coach Jenkins, captain Stephen Jones, scrum-half Dwayne Peel and
    back-row Ryan Jones. 'He's been brilliant.' They had a contingency plan
    - Hal Luscombe to the wing, Jamie Robinson into the centre - but...</font>

    It's
    not so brilliant now. Alfie may be a liability in an open stadium, but
    within the confines of the changing room he remains an immensely
    reassuring figure. Wales love a talisman whose mere presence says we
    cannot lose. Gareth Edwards used to exude it. Terry Holmes had it.
    Thomas will be missed.</font>

    Such
    characters are an unspoken part of 'playing the Welsh way'. It started
    as something simple: a high-risk game, because we like it, and we're
    good at it. And that's it.

    Comment


      #17
      Steely O'Sullivan relishing the rollercoaster ride</font>

      Ireland's coach has learned hard way that favourites are there to be shot at</font>Lawrence Donegan
      </font>Saturday February 3, 2007
      </font>

      Guardian</font>Eddie
      O'Sullivan is an avid reader of sports books. "Books about
      mountaineering especially," he says, leaning forward in his seat, his
      eyes wide and bright at the thought of daredevil climbers risking all
      to conquer Everest. "But I like golf books as well. I like the mental
      aspect of the game. And boxing. Football, too - I'm halfway through
      Paul McGrath's autobiography. A terrific book about a great athlete.
      I'm not a big fan of fiction. Non- fiction is my thing. I prefer
      reality."</font>

      This
      literary preference might go some way to explaining why Ireland's coach
      refuses to embrace the optimism that has enveloped Irish rugby since
      Australia and South Africa were beaten in Dublin in the autumn - two
      excellent performances that led to the current squad being installed as
      favourites to win the grand slam for Ireland for the first time since
      1948.</font>

      Who,
      the argument goes, will cope with an experienced Irish pack led by the
      magnificent Paul O'Connell and a back line that has more stars than a
      Vanity Fair party on Oscar night? A French team with its mind on
      winning the World Cup at home later in the year? The lightweight Scots,
      or the dysfunctional English? How about any, or all, of them, suggests
      O'Sullivan.</font>

      "The
      Six Nations is a very funny animal. Most of the time the team predicted
      to win it doesn't win it and there are very few grand slams any more.
      You have got to get five good performances in seven weeks and your
      chances are often dependent on the fixture list, whether you are home
      or away, and your injuries. People can talk all they want but nobody
      really knows how it will go. We were favourites two years ago and look
      what happened then."</font>

      What
      happened then was that Wales won the grand slam at the Millennium
      Stadium and the Irish, who had travelled to Cardiff with ambitions of
      winning a triple crown, were left on the sidelines.</font>

      Since
      then, O'Sullivan has overhauled his squad and altered the way his team
      plays. He is an obsessive collector of statistics on Irish performances
      and his most treasured are those which illustrate how Ireland went from
      being the team that kicked the ball most and passed it least in the
      2005 Six Nations, to the team that passed it most and kicked it least
      in the 2006 championship.</font>

      "As
      a coach you have to cut your cloth to fit what you have got," he
      explains. "A couple of years ago we couldn't have played the kind of
      rugby we play now. We're in a better position now - we've got some new
      players in, and the guys who were there before are more mature and more
      comfortable at the highest level."</font>

      When
      the new, improved Ireland return to Cardiff tomorrow they will face a
      Wales team yet to fully re-emerge from the upheaval of Mike Ruddock's
      departure. They had mixed fortunes in the autumn and remain an enigma -
      although not to O'Sullivan. "They're coming back to where they want to
      be as a team, and they are not being tipped too much by anyone. They're
      simmering very nicely in the background. They could be a very good
      side."</font><p

      Comment


        #18
        Jenkins looks to add grit and guile to tried and trusted Welsh way</font>Paul Rees
        </font>Saturday February 3, 2007
        </font>

        Guardian</font>Gareth
        Jenkins, Wales' head coach, last week treated the media to an hour-long
        discourse on the Welsh way, what he called a unique style of play honed
        over the last 125 years in which guile was essential. The grand slam
        two years ago was hailed as a triumphant example, but it was based on
        opportunism more than guile. Wales played at a high tempo thanks to
        their ability to absorb pressure, force mistakes and counter-attack,
        offloading in contact and complementing pace out wide with athletic
        back-five forwards.</font>

        It
        was a refreshing antidote to the structured games of England and
        France, but in its way was equally predictable and became exposed last
        season when, shorn of a number of players through injury, Wales played
        too much rugby in their own half and were hustled into errors. They
        failed to beat Italy in Cardiff because of their refusal to abandon
        their ideals and play for position, a mistake Jenkins, who tomorrow
        takes charge of his first Six Nations match, will not be repeating.</font>

        He
        has stressed this week the need for variety, for an approach that will
        riddle opponents with doubt. He wants his players to react to what is
        in front of them and, with their injuries and the unavailability of
        Gareth Thomas, Wales do not look to have the advantage against an
        Ireland back division which, even without Shane Horgan, bubbles with
        attacking options.</font>

        It
        is up front where Wales will look to take a hold. The Worcester prop
        Chris Horsman has been recalled to do to Marcus Horan what Jason White
        did for Leicester in the Heineken Cup at Munster last month and wreak
        such damage on the Irish scrum that it impacts on their back row and
        half-backs. Horsman is one of the most destructive scrummagers in the
        Guinness Premiership, and while conditions are likely to be firmer than
        they were in Limerick and more conducive to handling, potentially
        reducing the number of errors leading to scrums, his brief will be to
        get to Ireland through Horan.</font>

        The
        scrum will not be enough. Wales will need to defuse arguably the best
        line-out in Europe and win at the breakdown. Jenkins has chosen the
        abrasive Alix Popham at blindside flanker to give Wales a physical
        presence at the contact area, having been impressed by what he called
        the counter-rucking of Australia and New Zealand whose loose forwards
        used strength to clear opponents after a tackle, allowing them to poach
        possession.</font>

        Ireland
        are comfortably the more accomplished team on paper. What was
        impressive about their wins over South Africa and Australia last
        November was that they balanced aggression with control, physically
        imposing themselves and retaining the ball under Ronan O'Gara's
        guidance. They will need to show mental strength tomorrow now that they
        are the pre-tournament favourites.</font>

        Wales
        lack experience in a number of positions, with four players making
        their first championship starts, and much will depend on the control
        exerted by their half-backs, Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel, while James
        Hook, chosen at inside centre ahead of Gavin Henson, brings guile and
        elusiveness to the midfield.</font>

        "He
        has the ability to step in a close area," said Hook's

        Comment


          #19
          <div id="twocolumnleftcolumninsiderightcolumntop">
          <h1>Irish holy grail is within grasp but beware outsiders</h1>
          The resilient old tournament promises a compelling unpredictability this year.
          </div>

          <div id="twocolumnleftcolumninsideleftcolumn">


          <h2>Robert Kitson</h2>


          </div>

          <div id="twocolumnleftcolumninsiderightcolumn">
          <div id="twocolumnleftcolumntoplinetext">February 2, 2007 12:44 PM</div>


          Someone, somewhere is always predicting the slow death of the Six
          Nations. Not long ago it was dismissed as an Anglo- French carve-up.
          Then the standard was rubbish. Now it's being played at the wrong time
          of year and is regarded by some club aficionados as a poor man's
          Heineken Cup. The world's most venerable rugby tournament is, if
          nothing else, a resilient old bird.



          Perhaps the secret of its continued existence, not to mention
          success, is that none of these design flaws occurs simultaneously.
          There is always one good side, or at least a couple of players, who
          transcend the muddy mediocrity in the fallow, fumbling years. Or global
          warming causes the warmest January on record and makes even chilly
          Edinburgh feel like springtime in Rome.



          Eventually, too, the pendulum swings. One minute the English or
          French are insufferably cocky, the next they are hopeless feather
          dusters. It is not impossible that the defending champions France and
          this year's favourites Ireland could lose their opening matches to
          Italy and Wales this weekend. Does that sound like a competition about
          to draw its terminal breath?



          There is certainly cheerful enthusiasm at Twickenham and Croke Park
          where the two Brians - Ashton and O'Driscoll - loom as the season's
          most influential men. If coach Ashton's new England get a grip it will
          make captain O'Driscoll's life much harder. And vice versa. It is
          shaping up, in short, to be the most fascinatingly complex tournament
          since Italy transformed the old pentagon into a hexagon in 2000. Take
          France. They host the World Cup in September and, in theory, are
          gathering up their skirts for the mother of all cancans.



          The truth is less glamorous: they have injuries and lack any sense
          of permanence at fly-half. In a World Cup year they are also
          uncomfortably aware that the Six Nations can be a stairway to heaven or
          a highway to hell. Italy's highclass tight forwards are perfectly
          equipped to shove them into the Trevi Fountain tomorrow. If that
          happens, France's next game is in Ireland. Gulp.



          Then comes a home game against have-a-go Wales followed by a trip to
          their traditional Twickenham graveyard. The French could as easily be
          P4 L4 as gunning for a grand slam, although any team containing Imanol
          Harinordoquy or S├ębastien Chabal will never be dull.



          The Welsh are in a similar predicament. In 2005 they won every game;
          the following year they became only the fourth team in history to sink
          from grand slam winners to fifth place in 12 months.



          Which way now? For reasons more of gut instinct than tactical
          nuance, I fancy them to edge out Ireland on Sunday. James Hook looks
          the business and the Irish, traditionally, do not start well. But after
          that, who knows?Wales, too, have a couple of key injuries and this time
          the French, among others, will be forewarned.



          Frank Hadden, meanwhile, says it is the first time he can recall
          Scotland's players having to crawl over broken glass to wear the dark
          blue jersey. Assuming the Scots have not been training secretly in Rose
          Street on a Friday night, Hadden was merely speaking figuratively about
          the increased competition for places but he and Italy's Pierre
          Berbizier will both still settle for a brace of home wins.



          England, as well as Ireland, can aim higher. England under Ashton
          cannot possibly be as bad as they have been in the past two years.
          Consecutive fourth places for a union of their playing and financial
          muscle is to

          Comment


            #20
            <div id="twocolumnleftcolumninsiderightcolumntop">
            <h1>Irish find blend to thrill in a mix of all sorts and cracking team spirit</h1>
            Ahead of Ireland's opener against Wales, the green machine has never had it so good.
            </div>

            <div id="twocolumnleftcolumninsideleftcolumn">


            <h2>Robert Kitson</h2>


            </div>


            <div id="twocolumnleftcolumntoplinetext">February 1, 2007 01:31 AM</div>


            They are different characters: Brian O'Driscoll is so famous that he
            goes to supermarkets late at night dressed in a hoodie. Paul O'Connell
            used to be Ireland's fastest schoolboy swimmer. Gordon D'Arcy has been
            trying to help disadvantaged children in India. Few share the same
            dress sense. Yet stick them in the same room, lob in a rugby ball and a
            strange transformation occurs. That common bond is why Irish rugby has
            never had it so good and why the green machine is the Six Nations team
            to beat this year.



            It has not happened overnight. "A lot of them have spent a huge
            amount of time together since 2000," says Keith Wood, the former
            Ireland hooker under whose captaincy the subtle transformation began.
            It was Wood and the former coach Warren Gatland who instilled the
            realisation that gallant defeats were no longer acceptable.
            Subsequently Eddie O'Sullivan took over and cleverly recognised that
            power could be delegated in a dressing-room stuffed with strong
            personalities. There have been setbacks along the way but finally the
            disparate ingredients have blended into a world-class stew.



            In the coming weeks the Irish hope to demonstrate that only
            tight-knit squads win big tournaments, though they have certain
            once-in-a-lifetime advantages: the genius of O'Driscoll, the
            unprecedented status of Munster and the unique Croke Park effect.
            Powering it all from within is a collective belief which few
            adversaries can match. "When you're playing with friends it helps a
            lot," says Munster's coach, Declan Kidney. "When you spend a lot of
            time together, some things become intuitive. There's a group of Irish
            players who know each other well, have grown up together in the
            international arena and play well for one another."



            He is referring essentially to the Munster pack and half-backs and
            the endlessly watchable Leinster backs, all of whom have a playmaker's
            instinct. Talk to an exile like Leicester's Geordan Murphy, though, and
            he insists there are no geographical or cultural cliques. "Denis
            Hickie, Shane Horgan and Brian O'Driscoll are very good mates and hang
            out a bit together and it's the same with the Munster guys. If they
            want to do their own thing they'll do it but no one ever makes you feel
            an outsider."



            As Murphy also reveals, the various individuals have widely varying
            interests. Peter Stringer is "married to his computers" while Ronan
            O'Gara will more than likely be out practising his goalkicking. If the
            lock Donncha O'Callaghan is left sitting in a hotel for four hours he
            is more than likely to attempt a practical joke. Famously he once
            smuggled some ducks into a Munster team meeting; as a young man on
            holiday he bought a pet lobster and took it for walks down the road.



            O'Driscoll, as captain and national pin-up, is normally keener to
            get home and shut out the limelight. D'Arcy is more than happy to hang
            out in a friendly coffee shop. His trip to India last year with the aid
            agency GOAL was a different experience entirely. "I was particularly
            affected by the red light district in Kolkota. As we approached we saw
            probably 200 girls lined up on either side of a narrow little street, a
            400-strong guard of honour of prostitutes. Some of them couldn't have
            been 14 years old, as young as my little sister. Girls that age should
            be enjoying being a kid ... of all the things we saw that left the
            biggest imprint on me."



            Shock tactics of a completely different sort underpin the
            relationship between Murphy and Horgan. The inf

            Comment


              #21
              <div ="line">
              O'Sullivan focused on pack battle
              </div>












              Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan believes Wales will be looking to
              dominate in the pack in Sunday's RBS Six Nations match at the
              Millennium Stadium.











              "Wales know they are good at moving the ball so that is what they will try to do," said O'Sullivan.











              "But if you look at their selection it is evident they believe they will have to soften up our pack first.











              "There is no secret what their plan will be - to stamp their authority on the match with their pack."
















              The scrum is viewed as Ireland's Achilles heel with Wales coach Gareth
              Jenkins admitting the Triple Crown holders' front row will be targeted.


              Destructive props Chris Horsman and Gethin Jenkins are
              expected to trouble John Hayes and Marcus Horan while the selection of
              Alix Popham and Ryan Jones in the back row adds beef.






              O'Sullivan said scrummaging had been a key area in training during the week.











              "We always scrum live on the week of a Test game - that is why we have more people in camp," he said.











              "We have not put a huge amount of effort into it, we have just been more selective about what we are doing.











              "There is an opinion that scrummaging is just a lot grunt and hard work.











              "There is an element of that, but if you do that there is a danger you will leave your best energy on the training pitch.











              "But we have paid a fair bit of attention to scrummaging."





              Comment


                #22

                Born to perform on the big stage</font>



                Sunday February 4th 2007</font>




                WE have been talking for just 10 minutes in the lobby of the Welsh team
                hotel a few miles outside Cardiff and already it seems enough to be
                convinced that this one is different, that even as the professional era
                marches relentlessly forward and the scourge of celebrity embeds its
                fangs ever deeper into the fabric of the game, at least some of its
                most cherished values will remain intact as long as Ryan Jones is
                around. </font>



                It is still early in the day and he has had a rough morning. Already he
                has faced a mob of local reporters hungry for column inches and given a
                piece of himself to at least three television crews. Now he has a team
                official frantically hustling him towards the team bus and he throws
                his hands up in mock exasperation. "It's not even nine o'clock," he
                says with a smile that never deserts him, even in such trying
                circumstances. </font>



                How easy it would be for him to cop out, but that does not seem to be
                Jones' way. He is determined to fulfill his obligation and suggests
                reconvening when he is finished training. He seems happy to talk,
                anything to fill the void during the interminable wait until Sunday. He
                will have perked up by then too. "I need my sleep," he says. "If we had
                to be out at 10, I'd be up at 9.45." His peace of mind is easy to
                understand. The shoulder injury that laid him low for most of last
                season is a fading memory now and he has been playing out of his skin
                both for Wales and his club, the Ospreys. </font>



                At 25 he has emerged as one of the aces in Wales' pack and without the
                giant No 8 having a big season it is impossible to imagine them
                repeating their 2005 heroics or leaving their mark on the World Cup. </font>



                And it all feels so right. Somehow this is the way he imagined it would
                be. If he wasn't a rugby player running out before a crammed Millennium
                Stadium, he'd have been a tennis player lapping up the adulation on
                Centre Court or a cheerful goalkeeper flapping at crosses down the road
                in Ninian Park. All Ryan Jones needed was a platform. Give him a stage
                and he'd fill it. </font>



                When he was 13, his father took him to the Arms Park for the first
                time. England were the opposition, but he can't even tell you who won.
                Didn't matter. What he remembers are the sights and sounds: the short
                train hop from Newport, the red scarf he wrapped around his neck
                against the perishing cold, the schoolboy ticket he clutched between
                his fingers like it was a golden ticket to Willie Wonka's chocolate
                factory. "It's funny really," he says. "When I was young I did
                everything. I swam, played tennis and played soccer in the park. I'd
                come home and say 'Dad, I want to play cricket' and he'd take me down
                to the club. </font>



                I just wanted to be a sportsman. I never knew what until I grew older.
                I just wanted to be on the big stage. I knew I wanted to perform before
                all these people." </font>



                For a time he thought he might make his name as a soccer player. At 14
                he was on Bristol City's books as a goalkeeper but, deep down, he knew
                he was no budding Neville Southall and, gradually, his sporting dreams
                turned to rugby. It was

                Comment


                  #23

                  We must face into Croke Park with momentum behind us</font>



                  Sunday February 4th 2007</font>



                  THE hype is almost over, the match not yet begun, the next few hours will most decide how the season is run.


                  On the cusp of what could be the most momentous season in the
                  history of Irish rugby, the sense of anticipation is tangible as never
                  before - great expectations for some, harsh realities for others and,
                  never to be ignored, unashamed cynicism for a few.


                  As always, the true outcome is in there somewhere and the great
                  challenge and indeed enjoyment is to find it, before it finds us.


                  The importance of today's game cannot be overstated, particularly
                  in the context of the potential for fulfilment of what appears to be
                  the general expectation that Ireland will finish on top of the 2007 Six
                  Nations pile.


                  For that to be a reasonable prospect it will be absolutely
                  necessary for us to be facing into our two Croke Park games with
                  momentum behind us - our opponents there, France and England, have both
                  already created that vital winning momentum as a result of their
                  victories yesterday.


                  Ireland go into the game on the back of a superb November series,
                  but also, and fresher in the memory, a more recent whitewash for the
                  provinces in the final pool round of the Heineken Cup.


                  We can, however, boast almost a clean bill of health with everybody
                  bar Leinster's injured winger Shane Horgan reporting for duty. Horgan
                  is an immense loss for the Irish side as he was an integral part of
                  those November victories. After those games I was convinced he was set
                  to stamp his class on the tournament as one of it's outstanding backs
                  and the sooner he is back the better.


                  Wales, on the other hand, have not had the same advantages in
                  selection and actually delayed the naming of their starting team until
                  Thursday to give several players as much time as possible to prove
                  their fitness.


                  They also had to await the outcome of a disciplinary hearing
                  regarding the now infamous incident during the Toulouse versus Ulster
                  encounter which concerned former captain, and stand-in British and
                  Irish Lions captain, Gareth Thomas.


                  The dismantling of the Munster pack by Leicester in Thomond Park a
                  couple of weeks ago has encouraged Welsh coach Gareth Jenkins to
                  unashamedly target the Irish scrum, and he has selected two props,
                  Horsman and Jenkins, with that task in mind. In doing so he has traded
                  mobility for power and, particularly if the stadium roof remains closed
                  and handling errors (and consequent scrums) are thereby cut to a
                  minimum, may well have overplayed his hand in this regard.


                  Rory Best's throwing should ensure that our lineout, with Simon
                  Easterby invaluable as an auxiliary jumper, can provide enough ball
                  from the setpiece for Ronan O'Gara to get his backline running
                  smoothly.


                  Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, by some distance the best
                  centre pairing in the competition, will play whatever they see and
                  Wales will sorely miss the injured Tom Shanklin from their centrefield.



                  Out wide, Denis Hickie and Andrew Trimble are proven strikers of
                  the highest calibre and, with the dependable Girvan Dempsey, will be in
                  a position to capitalise on whatever opportunities come their way from
                  the dynamic midfield duo. Not to be forgotten either is the presence on
                  the bench of a potentially lethal impact substitute in the person of
                  Geordan Murphy, one of the marquee players of the English Premiership.


                  To get to the point though, after all that, and after the weeks,
                  indeed months, of build-up and speculation, today's game will be won or
                  lost, and the die will be cast for the s

                  Comment


                    #24

                    RYAN JONES v DENIS LEAMY</font>



                    Sunday February 4th 2007</font>




                    THE best number eight in Europe against the best number eight in Wales.
                    This is a fascinating match-up, not least because Leamy's outstanding
                    progress has been slowed by an ordinary performance for Munster in
                    Bourgoin, where he was battling illness. In the circumstances, that
                    probably makes it extraordinary. It was followed by a quiet game
                    against Leicester where Martin Corry - who has a very limited range
                    compared to the Cashel man - won the contest hands down. Leamy has to
                    recapture his autumn form to go toe to toe with Jones (left), an
                    irrepressible character who plays the game with infectious enthusiasm.
                    Anything less and Ireland are in trouble here.


                    RYAN JONESDENIS LEAMY


                    Age 2525


                    Height 6' 5"6'2"


                    Weight 18-916-10


                    Caps 1117


                    Points 55


                    Debut 20042004


                    v South Africav USA </font>

                    Comment


                      #25

                      England, France set the pace</font>



                      Sunday February 4th 2007</font>



                      BRENDAN FANNING


                      THE scale of the Championship challenge for Ireland was
                      crystallised by events in Rome and London yesterday. France come to
                      Croke Park on Sunday and if they bring the same 22 who demolished Italy
                      in Stadio Flaminio then it promises to be a fast and physical
                      introduction to rugby at GAA's headquarters.


                      England make the same trip two weeks after that, and after their
                      first game under new head coach Brian Ashton, against Scotland at
                      Twickenham, they will expect to be coming with two wins from two. It
                      was a throwback to the old days when England's approach was bluntness
                      itself.


                      With Jonny Wilkinson more than justifying his rapid call up after
                      only 40 minutes of club rugby - it was his first test match since the
                      World Cup final in 2003 - they had a near flawless points' machine to
                      harvest the work of their forwards. And they will get better.


                      In the interim, England take on Italy - again in Twickenham - and
                      even before the first round is completed this weekend, the Azzurri have
                      established themselves as contenders for the wooden spoon.


                      The Six Nations has yet to get on board with the bonus point
                      system, but if it was in operation yesterday then France would have
                      picked up the extra after just five minutes of the second half. Their
                      confidence was fed by an explosive opening by their pack - remarkably
                      similar to the job they did on Ireland in Lansdowne Road in 2005 - and
                      with loose head prop Olivier Milloud having an immense day at the
                      scrum, Italy's spirit drained.


                      Milloud's power will not have gone unnoticed in the Ireland camp
                      where the first test of their set-piece will come against Wales in
                      Cardiff this afternoon. Eddie O'Sullivan said that while they had
                      competitive scrums in training, it hadn't dominated their week.


                      "We always scrum live," he said yesterday. "We haven't put a huge
                      amount of effort in it - just been more selective about how we go about
                      it. You don't want to leave your best energy on the training field. I
                      wouldn't say we did any more scrummaging, but we paid a bit more
                      attention to it."


                      The issue for next week is who coach Bernard Laporte picks for the
                      Croke Park game. With one eye on the World Cup he has assembled a
                      gargantuan squad for this Championship. He has to decide whether to
                      start his rotation early, or wait until France's first home game,
                      against Wales, in the third round.


                      Ireland watched yesterday afternoon's proceedings from their base
                      in Cardiff, having come through their captain's run in the morning
                      without incident.


                      "The hardest part is watching the two games," said Brian
                      O'Driscoll. "From my point of view the hardest part is trying to
                      prepare my captain's meeting while watching the games at the same time.
                      It's a bit of a jam-packed Saturday afternoon but I've done it before."



                      And after checking out short term and medium term opposition,
                      O'Driscoll is itching to get out in the premier stadium in world rugby.



                      "I was just saying to Eddie that this is probably the best stadium
                      I've played at, as a stadium and for the atmosphere you know you're
                      going to get in here.


                      "The fact that it's a rugby stadium and not an all-purpose built
                      stadium. You forget about it and then every two years you come back and
                      you're in awe of it again. It tends to bring the best out of players
                      and that's great for the individual."


                      It remains to be seen what he makes of Croke Park.
                      </font>

                      Comment


                        #26

                        KEY CLASHES : JAMES HOOK v GORDON D'ARCY</font>



                        Sunday February 4th 2007</font>




                        THE first most Irish followers would have seen of Hook was his
                        demolition of Ireland under 21s last season in Athlone. At the time he
                        was still playing semi-pro for Neath. He is a wonderful talent with a
                        temperament to match - remember his nerveless winning strike against
                        Sale in Europe - and All Black assistant coach Steven Hansen reckons
                        that if he was in the New Zealand set-up he'd be challenging Daniel
                        Carter. But he's desperately short of experience at this level. Three
                        starts out of six games for Wales, with only two of them at centre,
                        puts him in creche territory compared to D'Arcy (right). To compound
                        the situation, D'Arcy is in the form of his life.


                        JAMES HOOKGORDON D'ARCY


                        Age 2126


                        Height 6'0"5'10"


                        Weight 12-1114-8


                        Caps 626


                        Points 5115


                        Debut 20061999


                        v Argentinav Romania
                        </font>

                        Comment


                          #27

                          Settled Irish have the edge</font>



                          Sunday February 4th 2007</font>




                          THE last straw for Gareth Jenkins came late on Thursday afternoon. The
                          phone call from the lawyers in Dublin told him exactly what he didn't
                          want to hear: Gareth Thomas, the 90-cap man he desperately needed to
                          rally the troops, had come out badly from his ERC hearing. Jenkins had
                          been hoping that 'Alfie,' the former captain, would pick up no more
                          than a fine for his part in the off-field incident in the Toulouse
                          versus Ulster game last month. He got the fine and four weeks with it.
                          You wouldn't be backing him to be top try scorer in the Championship. </font>



                          The loss of Thomas was like conceding an intercept try in the opposing
                          22: not only do you lose your advantage, but you concede more at the
                          other end. Into the breach steps Jamie Robinson, with Hal Luscombe
                          moving to the wing. The only reason Luscombe was there in the first
                          place was because the excellent but injury prone Tom Shanklin was,
                          well, injured. So are Shane Williams, Sonny Parker and Mark Jones. And
                          then there is the soap opera that is Gavin Henson, who is not even in
                          the 22. </font>


                          It
                          would be astonishing if all of this wasn't uplifting for Eddie
                          O'Sullivan. Two summers ago he was part of a Lions test team coaching
                          staff that was under the cosh in New Zealand from the moment they
                          stepped off the plane. Meanwhile the midweek coaching crew, which
                          featured Jenkins, Ian McGeechan and Mike Ford, developed into a happy
                          little camp who seemed to be having a whale of a time. At press
                          conferences, Jenkins would make good copy, especially when talking
                          about the passion of being a Lion. </font>


                          On the face of it, running with Girvan Dempsey ahead of Geordan Murphy can't be ascribed to form </font>



                          His team were winning, the press were lapping up what he had to say,
                          and now he has - at last - got the top job in his own country. Jenkins
                          has since discovered that it's a long way removed from the midweek gig.
                          Watching his team being suffocated by the All Blacks in Cardiff in
                          November was excruciating for him. And now he's embarking on his first
                          Six Nations against a settled, successful side, whose coach is starting
                          his eighth campaign, either as assistant or head honcho. If he thought
                          the autumn was hard going, he's about to sail on rougher seas. </font>


                          "I
                          made my six Nations debut in 2002 when Eddie had taken over from Warren
                          Gatland and I remember him impressing on me that the autumn tests were
                          nothing like the Six Nations in terms of intensity," recalls Mike Ford.
                          "And I've been trying to get that over to the management in England.
                          I've had good experience now of a few Six Nations games and definitely
                          that's going to work in Eddie's favour (on Sunday)." </font>



                          Before the team left for Cardiff last week, O'Sullivan was explaining
                          his selections, some of which, he said, were tight calls. On the face
                          of it, running with Girvan Dempsey, who has played only one game since
                          returning from injury, ahead of Geordan Murphy, who has been busy and
                          productive, can't be ascribed to form. Where you suspect the coach went
                          wrong was in passing over Murphy a second time when Shane Horgan's
                          absence opened up the wing. </font>


                          <font color="#000000" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" siz

                          Comment


                            #28
                            Cheers Flycaster

                            Comment


                              #29
                              fly caster your a human newspaper[img]smileys/lol.gif[/img]

                              Comment


                                #30
                                My Pleasure Guys - easy when you are organised to do so !

                                Lets hope we get a win now !

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