Friday, 27 February 2015

England Women on top against Italy

The sun was shining over Twickenham Stoop for the England Ladies as they took on Italy in the second round of the Six Nations. After the previous week's disappointing loss to Wales, England were hoping to re-establish themselves against Italy and kick start their 2015 campaign in to gear.

England started well, putting pressure on the Italians and securing valuable territory. Fly-half Katy Mclean showed the skill of her developed kicking game to manoeuvre her team in to the right areas of the field. Despite early pressure and some promising phases from the hosts, the light blue shirts held firm and England were denied a number of almost-chances. To some surprise, it was Italy who scored the first try through second row Flavia Severin; the first points Italy have scored against England since 2012. 

England soon got the ball rolling, if you like, culminating in first-half tries from flanker Alex Matthews after numerous building phases from the forwards, and Abbie Scott just before half time. England pressed on in the second half with a further four tries from Large, Mclean, Gallagher and Wilson respectively, giving the few thousand spectators a glimpse of the huge potential brewing in this young team.

With the final sore sitting comfortably at 39-7 in favour of the hosts, England will be pleased with the victory. They executed a controlled and dominant performance with moments of magic; a side that is rebuilding and gradually developing it's spark.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

England march to successive 6 Nations victory over Italy

Italy provide England with a statement of intent early on
England have secured the second victory of their 6 Nations campaign against Italy with a convincing 47-17 win over a tenacious Italian side. While many expected England to comfortably out-do the visitors', Italy made life particularly difficult for the hosts in the opening exchanges, preventing England from getting a dominant foothold in the game throughout the best part of the first half. While a 30-point lead at full-time caused many an English fan opportunity for celebration, England will be aware of the missed opportunities they left out on the pitch.

Lancaster's faith in his unchanged match-day squad was rewarded by a controlled performance high in both attacking intensity and defensive physicality. After the loss of Mike Brown to a head injury, the back-line was considerably shaken up; with Josephs moving to wing and Watson filling in at fullback England could have lost their structure and dominance over the game. However, the rearrangement barely ruffled an English feather and the hosts upped-the-anti to close out the win. Individual performances were again key to England's success and in particular that of Jonathan Josephs who scored two tries to help secure victory for his team. England's back row was once more crucial to England's momentum with flankers Haskell and Robshaw putting in monumental shifts and number 8 Billy Vunipola carrying monstrously in to the Italian defence. 

Jonathan Joseph goes over for his second try against Italy
Although Italy provided moments of dangerous intent for the hosts, England's complete team performance weathered the intermittent Italian storms to seal off a comfortable victory. While the display was far from perfect with the help of some rueful mistakes and rough patches, England showed a purpose and determination that stands them in good stead for their round three encounter with defending champions, Ireland.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

England look to build upon Wales success at Twickenham

As the second round of the RBS 6 Nations rapidly approaches, England will have their eyes firmly fixed upon their next opponents; a stalwart Italian side that has caused England many a problem in past fixtures. While English fans will no doubt still be rejoicing the magnanimous victory in Cardiff last week, Stuart Lancaster and his team will have put it far behind them. England did the job in their opening game, but are now faced with an Italian team that possesses the ability to make life very difficult for the men in white. 

England are yet to lose against Italy, although recent fixtures
have proved testing
An unchanged 23 match day squad is a bold statement by the England coaching team, but a wise one. It is certainly a statement of intent. As Lancaster fittingly stated after the team announcement, the boys that performed in Cardiff should have the opportunity to build on their success, and I couldn't have said it better myself. Continuity throughout their 6 Nations campaign will be crucial to England's success, as well as being integral to a stable build up to this year's World Cup. With experienced and very-much talented individuals returning from injury, competition to get in to the match-day squad is at an all-time high, which can only mean good things from an England point of view. However, the current focus of the coaches and their team will be towards this weekend's battle...

So, let's look at the Italian danger-men which could upset England's dream start to their 6 Nations campaign. Sergio Parisse is the obvious 'big fish' in the Italian team; a destructive ball carrier and born leader, he can be dangerous in the loose as well as a safe pair of hands under the high ball. Fullback Luke Mclean can also provide Italy with a dynamic attacking option, and with the likes of hooker Ghiraldini making the most of regular game time in the Aviva Premiership, Italy look to be a side that is building in strength. Always a tough and tenacious opponent for England, Chris Robshaw and his team will have to be at the top of their game to get the best of this proud Italian team.

15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathon Joseph 12 Luther Burrell 11 Jonny May 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs 1 Joe Marler 2 Dylan Hartley 3 Dan Cole 4 Dave Attwood 5 George Kruis 6 James Haskell 7 Chris Robshaw 8 Billy Vunipola 
16 Tom Youngs 17 Mako Vunipola 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Nick Easter 20 Tom Croft 21 Richard Rigglesworth 22 Danny Cirpriani 23 Billy Twelvetrees 

15 Luke Mclean 14 Leonardo Sarto 13 Luca Morisi 12 Andrea Masi 11 Giovanbattista Venditti 10 Kelly Haimona 9 Edoardo Gori 1 Alberto De Marchi 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini 3 Martin Castrogiovanni 4 George Biagi 5 Marco Bortolami 6 Mauro Bergamasco 7 Francesco Minto 8 Sergio Parisse
16 Andrea Manici 17 Matias Aguero 18 Dario Chistolini 19 Josh Furno 20 Samuela vunisa 21 Guglielmo Palazzani 22 Tomasco Allan 23 Guilio Bisegni

Monday, 9 February 2015

Disappointment for England Women in Cardiff

On Sunday 9th February, England Women attempted to follow in their male counterparts' footsteps and deliver victory in Wales. With a depleted squad through injury, retirement and the requirements of the 7's Circuit in Brazil, it was a young but promising team that stepped out on to pitch for their opening game. 

With fourteen absent world cup winners and three new caps in the starting line up, England were perhaps not the strongest team on paper when compared with Wales, but were still expected to win at St Helens. However, the hosts kept England scoreless to the final whistle with a confidence that the visitors could not find an answer to. At only 3-0 at the half-time break, it was clearly set to be a close and fraught encounter between the two sides with missed opportunities coming back to haunt England. 

The final score was 13-0 to the hosts, making this only the second time to have beaten England in their history and setting them in good stead for the rest of the 6 Nations. England, although disappointed with their performance, will look at the positives that they can take from the game and look forward to their encounter with Italy next week on the back of strong individual performances from a young and promising group.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

England victorious in first round of RBS 6 Nations

On a rather chilly Friday night, an emphatic England team travelled over the bridge to beat Wales in the opening round of the RBS 6 Nations. Despite going 10 points down early on in the first half, England put in a dominant and controlled performance which left Wales little room to manoeuvre round the impressive English defence. England had many ghosts to banish from two years ago, and it could be said that the odds were somewhat stacked against them; a hospital wing of injuries, 290 caps fewer than their opponents, playing away from home, and thousands of passionate Welsh supporters baying for English blood (although perhaps not literally...).

An early penalty conceded in the first 2 minutes was hardly the start that Lancaster would have wanted from his team, and a converted try by Rhys Webb resulting from sublime hands from Welsh number 8 Faletau, hinted at the danger the men in red were capable of. However, momentum soon swung in the way of the visitors who went in to the half time break close on the heels of the home side at 16 points to 8 off the back of a superb combination between Brown and Watson to give England their first try of the match. England were clearly the dominant side in the second half, keeping Wales scoreless and looking dangerous in all the right areas of the field. A brilliant individual try from centre Jonathan Joseph, combined with Ford's penalties, led England to a momentous 21-16 victory which will be remembered by many an English fan for a long time.

Individual performances were key to England's success, with each player stepping up to the plate and delivering when it counted. Chris Robshaw gave a captain's performance, setting the example for his team by being everywhere and anywhere with barely a blade of grass untouched, with fellow flanker James Haskell also putting in a colossal performance and adding muscle combined with mobility to a dominant England pack. The new combination in the centres was a pivotal talking point in lead up to the match, but both Joseph and Burrell proved their worth throughout the 80 minutes with dangerous gain line successes. The back three also put in blinding performances, not least that by Anthony Watson who gave us a glimpse of the dangerous attacking game that he possesses. Scrum half Ben Youngs was fundamental to England's success; increasing the tempo of the game by constantly questioning Wales' usually stalwart defence, and combining with precision with Ford who controlled the game with a consistency and maturity far beyond his 21 years. 

In summary, it is hard to pick out one outstanding performer; the entire team, including the mightily strong bench, combined to produce an outstanding performance and victory that no doubt will be remembered by English and Welsh fans alike, for many years to come. Eyes will now undoubtedly shift towards the oncoming group stages of the 2015 World cup, in which these two sides will face each other again. England seem to have gotten the upper-hand in this encounter, and it is Wales who will have a lot to prove over the next 8 months.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

RBS 6 Nations Build Up

Preparation has been underway for what has been dubbed by some as England's biggest test of metal to date; taking on Wales in their own backyard. With such close proximity to the home World Cup, Stuart and his young side will be happy with nothing less than victory and a chance to prove that the depth in the squad is very much present, despite an injury list as long as your right arm. While opportunities are present for new faces to build a name for themselves on the international stage, the return of a number of British and Irish Lions in to the squad will no doubt provide vital experience and stability in the most testing of environments.

Over in Wales Warren Gatland announced his starting XV two days ahead of schedule, and it came as little shock to many as to who is lining up to face England this Friday. As always, Wales will want to attack England with a physicality and dominance that has come to be expected from this experienced Welsh side: with 648 test caps shared between the starting XV alone Wales will want to impose themselves early on upon a relatively young English side. The Millennium Stadium is one of the toughest away venues that England will face in the RBS 6 Nations, and the crowd will undoubtedly endeavour to make England uncomfortable, roof opened or closed. 

For England, this particular encounter will see a new centre partnership in Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph which could set up a mammoth battle against opposite numbers Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. Although, the focus may be on England's new injection of pace from the back three with the inclusion of wing Anthony Watson off the back of a successful Autumn, and Jonny May who is fast cementing his claim to the no. 11 shirt. With Owen Farrell's untimely absence, eyes will undoubtedly be fixed on George Ford. The young fly half will be tested to the extreme by the lively atmosphere of the Welsh crowd, as well as the pressures from home for a convincing away victory.

The history between the two Nations will do much to raise the tempo and excitement in the build up to round one, with a fraught and tension-filled encounter expected. Despite England's injury list, on paper there isn't a lot to tell the two teams apart. While both camps will maintain that their focus is on the game at hand, no doubt eyes will be looking forward to the next time these two teams will meet; the group stages at the 2015 World Cup. 

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny 14 Alex Cuthbert 13 Jonathan Davies 12 Jamie Roberts 11 George North 10 Dan Biggar 9 Rhys Webb 1 Gethin Jenkins 2 Richard Hibbard 3 Samson Lee 4 Jake Ball 5 Alun Wyn Jones 6 Dan Lydiate 7 Sam Warburton (C) 8 Taulupe Faletau Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin 17 Paul James 18 Aaron Jarvis 19 Luke Charteris 20 Justin Tipuric 21 Mike Phillips 22 Rhys Priestland 23 Liam Williams

England: 15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Luther Burrell   11 Jonny May 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs 1 Joe Marler 2 Dylan Hartley 3 Dan Cole 4 David Attwood 5 George Kruis 6 James Haskell 7Chris Robshaw (Capt) 8 Billy Vunipola 
Replacements; 16 Tom Youngs 17 Mako Vunipola 18 Kieran Brookes 19 Tom Croft 20 Nick Easter 21 Richard Wigglesworth 22 Danny Cipriani 23 Billy Twelvetrees

Nicknamed 'The Cauldron', the Millennium Stadium is a tough
place to travel to.