Second week of G&GR for me and what a week it’s turning out to be. This week’s reading will feature a preview of the 6 Nations and some other bits and pieces
6 Nations Preview
For many years the southern hemisphere has rightfully said of the 6 Nations “yes it’s a great tournament but the rugby is pretty rubbish”. Truthfully that cannot be said anymore the standard of Northern hemisphere rugby has never been higher and neither Australia or New Zealand will be thinking the tours by England or Ireland will be a walk in the park.
Scotland v England
The Calcutta Cup match between is always a highly passionate affair and this promises to be no different. England have an immensely deep pool of talent and the advantage that all of their players have had a week off. Conversely the Scots who ply their trade in the Gallagher Premiership had to run around last week for club on Saturday and Country the following week. Scotland have a settled and unusually more experienced and settled team and I expect them to win in a close affair. The Scots probably have the best squad depth and frontline talent of the last thirty years. Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Hamish Watson are world class and the supporting cast is pretty handy as well.
England will be without the services of Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes injured but can still call on the impressive Mao Itoje and wunderkind Marcus Smith.
Scotland by 10 (I am a Scottish supporter and this prediction is said with more expectation than my usual hopeful stupidity), subject to the weather. The Edinburgh weather is supposed to be rubbish and Scotland choking as often do with the weight of any expectations..
Ireland v Wales
This game will be a cracker. The Irish should be outright favourites; however, the Welsh lift a level when they play the 6 Nations and are the current holders. The Welsh team is very experienced but are without the services of talisman Alun Wyn Jones and have a few other key injuries. They will be lead by the very talented Dan Biggar and while I expect them to give a good account of themselves they should be no match for the Irish.
The Irish have class from 1 to 23 and the Irish union is extremely well run with four very strong provinces. The only caveat on the Irish is if Johnny Sexton goes down he is not getting any younger (Father Time is undefeated). They realistically have three international players at every other position.
Ireland By 20.
France v Italy
Unless the French do something very French they will win without getting out of second gear.
Watch out for former Melbourne boy Monte Ioane (cousin of Digby) another that got away he is a very good winger in a team that will try hard but will fall short.
France by 40
Moana Pacifica have made a great choice as Captain
When the Melbourne Rebels came into the competition, they recruited Sterling Morlock as Captain. The Force recruited Nathan Sharpe. Both were excellent choices and would have brought a gravitas and professionalism to the squad beyond just their talents. Moana Pacifica have done the same with Wallaby Centurion Sekope Kepu.
Kepu, a three time Australian World Cup campaigner with 110 Test appearances for the Wallabies, said he jumped at the opportunity to lead the fledgling team, which comprises mainly Tongan and Samoan players.
“Here is an indescribable bond of brotherhood in this special team even though we have been together for only a short couple of months at most,” the 35 year old said on the team’s website.
“Coming back to New Zealand I never thought I would play rugby again. God works in mysterious ways, to be here and then called into the Moana Pasifika team, it was something I didn’t think twice about.”
Moana coach Aaron Mauger said Kepu had virtually chosen himself as captain.
“Right from the outset, he has led by example-both in the way he trains, prepares, and in the way he contributes to the culture of our team.
“In doing this, he has effectively picked himself as leader.”
Kepu was born in Sydney to Tongan parents. Though the family moved to New Zealand when he was young, he later opted to represent Australia internationally.
Rugby mums help Lockhart eye World Cup
Lucy Lockhart has tapped the brains of other “rugby mums”, outlining her plan to play in October’s Rugby World Cup for the Wallaroos less than six months after the birth of her first child.
The Queensland Reds vice-captain and player of the year, initially forced home from a rugby stint in England due to COVID-19, was on Wednesday crowned last season’s Super W player of the year.
With her baby due in April, Lockhart will miss the Reds’ 2022 campaign but has remained part of the Wallaroos squad and is desperate to feature in New Zealand’s showpiece event.
“My goal is to be ready for selection in October,” the No.8 said.
“That gives me about five-and-a-half months to be ready, physically and mentally.
“I’ve been speaking to a lot of rugby mums, or mum athletes, about their return to play.
“You have to think about it physically, but also mentally because you are away from the baby.
“This is my first. I’m really just learning the ropes and winging it.
“We’ll see how we go. I’ve got that goal but my No.1 priority will be bub.”
Let’s hope she makes it and hopefully the little one picks up a Rugby ball as her partner plays Qld Premier Grade for Bond.
The surprise reason why James O’Connor stood down as Reds captain
James O’Connor has stripped it back after the Queensland Reds captain and playmaker admitted he’d bitten off too much in a run to the Super Rugby AU title and domestic player of the year honours.
Burnt out and injured after starring in the Reds’ 10-year title drought, O’Connor made the choice to step down from the captaincy duties he took on, after Liam Wright’s long-term injury, on the eve of the 2021 season.
The Reds fell away badly in games against New Zealand sides, while a nerve injury and then groin strain left the Wallabies No.10 relegated to the stands until the back-end of a long test calender.
It was an anti-climax for a career that had only surged when the former rugby bad boy sensationally returned to Australia in 2019 from stints in Europe.
“I probably took on a bit too much, wanted to strip it back to focus on the game plan, running that and playing the best I could consistently,” O’Connor, who was crowned Rugby Australia’s Super Rugby Player of the Year on Wednesday, said.
“I felt like I’d possibly burnt out a bit after Super Rugby AU … I was just a little bit off and came into Wallabies camp and did my groin.”