Welcome to another week of G&GR news, folks! I trust your livers have recovered sufficiently for the upcoming 6 Nations, soon to be followed by the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific!
This week, we’ll have my preview of the 6 Nations and how team are likely to go, the referee appointments for the matches, some Sevens news from Espana and local Super Rugby updates.
The 6 Nations are rapidly approaching and the countries have named (or will shortly) name their squads. My thoughts on each country are:
France: I think will be very hard to beat this year, particularly holding the home ground advantage for three matches out of five. Their squad will be bolstered from the self-inflicted “B” squad that toured Australia last winter and, in theory, ought to have the majority of their players available. That said, some recent positive spicy cough tests could see a rejig of their starting 15; however, this could well be the case for all squads so it’ll obviously be a squad performance over the tournament. As incredible as their backs are, if Cameron Woki gets a run then he could be devastating.
England: Eddie has finally started to see the light i.e. getting away from the Sarries’ egos and started to select more on form. While there will always be unlucky players in a pool of talent as large as England’s, a recent injury to Owen Farrell could well be a positive for the Poms. Marcus Smith at 10 still seems the best way forward for me and will be the player to watch. I love that we may well see Marler and Genge in action together, too!
Ireland: definitely a dark horse with a lot of their players coming through a highly successful Leinster programme at present (they’ve given Bath and Montpellier a right shellacking the last two weekends) thus indicating their players are in a rich vein of form at the right moment. Crucially, like France, they have the benefit of three home games. What does concern me though is that a lot of their squad are ageing and their youngsters are not finding the game time at the higher level. For instance, Sexton, Earls, Henshaw, Murray, etc. are still holding their spots. At some point, a player like Joey Carbery is going to require a decent run at the 10 as one example. I see Josh van der Flier having a standout tournament at 7, he’s been in phenomenal form for Leinster.
Scotland: The Jocks are another side that could cause a few headaches for their more fancied opponents. Their best players are both available and fit – for once! With any luck, they will be able to have a strong tournament and really stick it to the Poms. As always, Stuart Hogg and Duhan vd Merwe will be players to watch.
Wales: The Sheep Rooters are in for a world of hurt methinks. They have been exponents of Warrenball for too long and their game hasn’t moved on in the same way as the other big guns. Similarly, they have paid the price for selecting the same cattle without providing the opportunity for the younger lads to step up which will hit them this year. Some names that are missing include AWJ, Faletau, Halfpenny, Lydiate, North, Navidi, Macleod, Owens and Tipuric. Furthermore, selecting Dan Biggar, a highly emotional (read – serial whinger) at the best of times as the skipper could well lead to some sloppy options. LRZ will shine despite lacking the opportunities he had last year.
Italy: no chance. I’d be genuinely shocked if they come within cooee (i.e. within 20) of any of these teams*. I don’t quite have the rundown of their squad to suggest any ‘best players’ either. Still, they have to start putting performances together or the calls for Georgia to join the 6N will continue to get louder than they already are. Indeed, the Japanese are in discussions with the 6N and TRC to join with a preference for the TRC… but stranger things have happened when the dollarydoos are concerned.
*at their best… France can still do really dumb shit.
Referee Appointments – Men’s 6N
The referees have been announced for the 6 Nations 2022. A mix of experienced internationals in Wayne Barnes, Jaco Peyper and Gus Gardner among debutante referees in the form of Karl Dickson, Nika Amashukeli and Damon Murphy.
For those who may be curious, the phase in between the World Cups is similar for referees as it is for playing teams. World Rugby take the opportunity to ‘test’ upcoming referees with significant matches in order to decide on the group of referees at the next RWC. With the recent retirements of other ‘big name’ referees, it’s clear(ish) to those watching that some decisions have already been made. Personally, I have big wraps on the Georgian referee, Nika Amasuhkeli, who I thought had an excellent match in Dublin last year.
My ‘Top 10’, in no particular order, for referees is: Barnes, Gardner, Peyper, Berry, Pearce, Carley, Raynal, O’Keeffe, Williams (not refereeing in 6N… assume due to NZ’s MIQ and having a young family) and Brace. The others all have a chance to impress in this round of the 6N tournament. Others, including Pickerill, Murphy, Fraser, Doleman, vd Westhuizen, Jacobs, Busby, Amasuhkeli, Adamson, Dickson and perhaps a Japanese referee, will have another chance during TRC and the July/November internationals. The 2023 6N and TRC appointments for centre gigs will then be the referees chosen for RWC 2023.
Significantly, this is the first weekend in 6N history that we have THREE Australian referees officiating over the same weekend (*and an Aussie TMO in Berry’s game). Watch out for the contingent over Round 2!
Ireland v Wales – Jaco PEYPER (RSA)
Scotland v England – Ben O’KEEFFE (NZR)
France v Italy – Mike ADAMSON (SRU)
Wales v Scotland – Nic BERRY (RA)*
France v Ireland – Angus Gardner (RA)
England v Italy – Damon MURPHY (RA)
Scotland v France – Karl DICKSON (RFU)
England v Wales – Mike ADAMSON (SRU)
Ireland v Italy – Nika AMASHUKELI (GRU)
Wales v France – Matt CARLEY (RFU)
Italy v Scotland – Luke PEARCE (RFU)
England v Ireland – Mathieu RAYNAL (FFR)
Wales v Italy – Andy BRACE (IRU)
Ireland v Scotland – Wayne BARNES (RFU)
France v England – Jaco PEPYER (RSA)
SEVENS – SPAIN
At the time of writing, both the Men’s and Women’s Aussie Sevens sides were through to their respective quarter-finals in Malaga for the World Series. The Aussie Women have come through in straight sets with wins over Belgium, Canada, Spain and Ireland to continue their 15-match winning streak!
The Men’s side, despite mixed results (read – embarrassing) with wins over Japan and the US, a loss to Ireland and a humiliating 12-all draw with Germany which will now see them face the Blitzbokke.
Super Rugby News
The teams are coming to the end of their respective pre-seasons and it has been interesting to see my Ponies (with my blue, gold and white glasses on) having a real focus on their ball skills. A fundamental gap between the Kiwi and Aussie sides over the previous decade or so has been, among other areas, a real lack of precision and/or creativity with the ball. Aside from the usual gym work, their Instagram and Facebook pages have shown many differing skill drills with the focus on handling. They could well be right in identifying that, with the Kiwi sides being who they are, and the introduction of Pasifika sides who, if true to form (and hopefully not bogged down by ‘western white boy’ coaching) will throw the ball around.
The Horrortahs (sorry… biased…) have signed Jamie Roberts from the Welsh Dragons. If anything, he is an experienced figure in a back line sorely lacking in game management and calmness.
In the coming weeks, I’ll look to review and provide predictions for the Super sides… I’m usually wrong but fuck it!
Finally, news on the vine is that Amy Perrett has retired from refereeing rugger matches. If so, congratulations and well done on an amazing career, Pez! You’ve been an inspiration to many referees, male and female!
Right folks, that’s all I wrote on this fine Sunday evening. Up the Barty Party, the Alcott Farewell Tour and the “Kyng Kokks” in the “whack it with the racquet” tournie!