My British and Irish Lions XV vs South Africa in Test 1

Here is my XV to play South Africa in Test 1 of the Series next Saturday July 24th. Many challenges have been seen by this squad since they met up in Jersey back at the end of May. Covid cases, the chosen captain being injured against Japan in Murrayfield and then making a recovery to take his place back in the squad to play the Stormers this afternoon in Cape Town.

All players in the squad will have had the chance to show there worth over the last 3 weeks, some have had extra game time owing to some players being ruled out due to isolation periods. This evening is the final chance for players to stick a hand up and be selected for the opening Test next Saturday.

I will now select the XV I think will start Test 1,

15 Anthony Watson

14 Josh Adams

13 Elliott Daly

12 Bundee Aki

11 Liam Williams

10 Dan Biggar

9 Ali Price

8 Toby Faletau

7 Tom Curry

6 Tadgh Beirne

5 Maro Itoje

4 Iain Henderson

3 Tadgh Furlong

2 Jamie George

1 Wyn Jones

16 Ken Owens

17 Rory Sutherland

18 Kyle Sinkler

19 Adam Beard

20 Hamish Watson

21 Conor Murray

22 Owen Farrell

23 Duhan Van Der Merwe

My XV vs Japan – 2021

15 Jordan Larmour

14 Shane Daly

13 Tom Daly

12 Stuart Mc Closkey

11 Robert Balcounne

10 Harry Byrne

9 Caolin Blade

8 Caelan Doris

7 Paul Boyle

6 Gavin Coombes

5 James Ryan

4 Ultan Dillane

3 Tom O Toole

2 Ronan Kelliher

1 Ed Byrne

16 Dave Heffernan

17 Peter Dooley

18 Finlay Bealham

19 Josh Van Der Flier

20 Nick Timoney

21 Craig Casey

22 Joey Carbery

23 Will Addison

This is the side I would select to play in the first test vs Japan on July 3rd. I know that injury may rule these players out over the next few weeks but this is the side I would like to see face Japan in the game in Dublin next month. These games vs Japan and USA are important to allow us to see some other players who will help shape Ireland’s rugby future…

Zebo Returns

The rumoured return of Simon Zebo to Irish rugby has been confirmed on a 1 year deal which has been co funded by the IRFU. He has spent the last 3 years with Racing 92 and arguably he will return to Munster a better player than when he left in 2018.

He also has a stated aim to break back into contention with Ireland and add to his 35 caps. His return is also aided by the news that Ian Costello will return and take over as Munster Academy manager from this July once his time with Wasps has come to a close.

Both men will return to Munster with better rugby knowledge than when they left in 2017 and 2018 respectively. It will be very interesting when Munster decide to employ Zebo as he has played both wing and full back while in Paris.

Munster has now assembled a string of back 3 options for season 21/22. It really is time for all that investment start to pay dividends.

Time is starting to run out for a certain section of the Munster playing squad with experience like Billy Holland and Tommy O Donnell exiting stage left.

It is time that Simon Zebo took on a leadership role within this group and with the emergence of the likes of Gavin Coombes, Thomas Ahern and Craig Casey the next crop of young talent will need steady heads within the playing group to help them bring Munster to the next level.

Ian Costello will need to bring the academy up to scratch in the next year or two as Munster will need to produce a few more players and he will need to cast the net wide to make sure they bring in the correct people through their system and underage teams.

There is a big job for Ian Costello to get stuck into from this summer onward and his time with Nottingham and Wasps should help him shape his vision for Munster going forward….

 

 

Six Nations 2021 Team of the Championship

15 Stuart Hogg

14 Louis Rees Zammit

13 Gael Fickou

12 Robbie Henshaw

11 Josh Adams

10 Dan Biggar

9 Gareth Davies

8 Toby Faletau

7 Hamish Watson

6 Tadgh Beirne

5 Alun Wyn Jones

4 Bernard Le Roux

3 Tadgh Furlong

2 Ken Owens

1 Wyn Jones

This is my 6 Nations team of 2021, huge congratulations to champions Wales and to Scotland who won in Paris for the 1st time since winning the Championship in 1999…

CJ Stander Tribute

Maybe 3 or so years before I even thought I would writing a tribute to CJ Stander here I am, he has just announced his retirement from professional rugby when his current contract ends in June. He has made the decision to return to South Africa for personal reasons.

He has played over 150 times for Munster and will most likely win cap number 51 against England in Dublin this Saturday in the 6 Nations. He toured with the Lions in 2017 in New Zealand and was part of the squad in the drawn series.

He joined Munster back in 2012 aged 22, scoring a cracking try vs Glasgow in Limerick in the Pro 12 as it was then to really announce himself to the Munster faithful and has done every time he has pulled on the Munster shirt, Irish jersey and the Lions shirt in 2017.

He has shown incredible durability in the 9 years since he joined and has rarely not been involved in Munster squads since fully establishing himself when James Coughlan left to go to France.

He has played number 8 and also at Blindside Flanker number 6. The same consistency of selection has happened at national level with Ireland since his 1st cap in 2016. He has been a real leader for Munster and Ireland and has lead from the front for both teams in the past 9 years.

He can look back at his time in Ireland will real satisfaction and genuine fondness… He still has 3 months to go before he departs for South Africa. He will face Leinster in the RDS in another Pro 14 Final and then play Toulouse on April 3rd in Thomond Park in the last 16 of the Champions Cup injury permitting of course.

Time now to focus on England this weekend and then Leinster in the Pro 14 Final… Some big games ahead for CJ and his team mates…

Just a word to CJ and his family. I was fortunate to speak to Jean Marie CJ’s wife in 2016 about her own sporting career, her move to Limerick with CJ and more… Thanks to CJ for all the memories and let’s hope there is more to come before CJ departs the scene in June….

My Ireland Squad for the 2021 Six Nations

This season’s 6 Nations is still scheduled to kick off on February 6th but as we have seen things could change in the next few weeks. Ireland will face Wales hopefully in Cardiff on Sunday February 7th. Here is the squad I would select for the Championship.

Of course some of these players will be ruled out through injury and for other reasons over the course of the Championship.

Forwards :

Cian Healy, James Cronin, Peter Dooley, John Ryan, Tom O Toole, Andrew Porter.

Ronan Kelleher, Dave Heffernan, Rob Herring.

Tadgh Beirne, James Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury.

Peter O Mahony, Rhys Ruddock, Will Connors, CJ Stander, Gavin Coombes. (18)

Backs:

Craig Casey, John Cooney, Jamison Gibson Park.

Ross Byrne, Jack Carty, Ben Healy.

Robbie Henshaw, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, James Hume.

Andrew Conway, Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Hugo Keenan, James Lowe, Keith Earls. (16)

Here is the squad of 34 I would select and of course there is room for others to come in and be part of the squad….

 

 

Autumn Nations Cup Vs Wales

Here is the XV I would select injury permitting to face Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup in Dublin in just over 2 weeks time… Given that there no prize money and it won’t affect your World Cup seeding so for the Welsh game and the Georgian game I’d like to see Andy Farrell cast the net as wide as possible and see what he can come with regarding game plans and team selection.. They also play England but they will select a strong 23 to go to Twickenham on November 21st.

15 Shane Daly

14 James Lowe

13 Stuart Mc Closkey

12 Chris Farrell

11 Hugo Keenan

10 Ross Byrne

9 Craig Casey

8 Caelan Doris

7 Dan Leavy

6 Tadgh Beirne

5 James Ryan

4 Ryan Baird

3 Andrew Porter

2 Ronan Kelleher

1 Ed Byrne

16 Rob Herring

17 Cian Healy

18 John Ryan

19 Ultan Dillane

20 Rhys Ruddock

21 Luke Mc Grath

22 Billy Burns

23 Andrew Conway

I have selected this team as a side I’d like to see I know some selections just won’t happen but we can but hope !!

6 Nations Returns

The 6 Nations returns this weekend with Ireland facing Italy in the Aviva Stadium in a game that was originally to be played in early March but that game was postponed owing to the global health crisis that has overtaken the world in 2020.

Andy Farrell has two games to finish this campaign, finishing next Saturday week in Paris on Super Saturday to finish the 2020 Championship well that is the plan currently but as we have seen things can change very quickly.

Farrell will then keep his squad together for the Autumn Nations Cup where they will play Wales, England and Georgia before hopefully make it through to the knock out phase of that competition.

Andy Farrell this afternoon selected a 23 with a number of uncapped men named like Ed Byrne and Hugo Keenan who have made the most of things since rugby restarted and have now earned the chance to make their debuts, Keenan from the start and Byrne from the bench.

Many have questioned the exclusion of Josh Van Der Flier from the 23 this weekend but I think the squad named to face Italy is one that is specifically named to take on Italy, Van Der Flier will come back into contention for the French game and by extension the Nations Cup.

Ireland are blessed to have many quality back rows in the 4 provinces, Both Caelan Doris and Will Connors would have started back in March and there form has been solid since the resumption of rugby.

It will be interesting to see what sort of game Ireland try and play this weekend, will they go out and attack Italy from the opening minute or will it be a more controlled in what they hope to do !!

The pack is full of running and raw power, they have mobility in the 2nd row with Tadgh Beirne alongside James Ryan add to that the qualities of messers Connors and Doris and we may see a game plan filled with pace and power…

The back line is along familiar lines with Sexton and Murray paired at 9 and 10 with Jamison Gibson Park and Ross Byrne on the bench to be sprung in the 2nd half.

Gibson Park will make his debut if he gets onto the field of play and his performance will be watched carefully given the Luke Mc Grath and John Cooney aren’t involved. Cooney wasn’t selected and Mc Grath has been pipped by Gibson Park. Bundee Aki and Gary Ringrose continue at 12 and 13 with Robbie Henshaw on the bench in the number 23 shirt.

The Ireland squad has many options in the centre and back three with Hugo Keenan given are real chance to shine on the wing rather than the full back slot where he broke into the Leinster team.

Keenan of course is a man who has played 7s for Ireland in recent seasons with the likes of Shane Daly both men now of course are heavily involved in their respective Provincial sides in the last while.

It is nice to see a pathway back to the 15s game for players who have been involved in the 7s programme that was restored as a way to keep players in the system if things don’t initially work out in the 15s game while also keeping the 7s programme strong.

It’s been good to have club rugby back since August but the return of the international game to Dublin will also be another small step forward…. Kick off Saturday is 3.30pm

Six Nations Conclusion/ Autumn Nations Cup

My Ireland Squad for the 2020 Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup

Forwards :

Cian Healy, Eric O Sullivan, Denis Buckley, Jack Mc Grath. Loose Head Prop

John Ryan, Andrew Porter, Findlay Bealham, Tom O Toole. Tight Head Prop

James Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Ryan Baird, Iain Henderson, Gavin Thornbury. Locks

Josh Van Der Flier, Tadgh Beirne, Caelan Doris, Jack Conan, CJ Stander, Will Connors. Back Row/ Number 8

Ronan Kelleher, Dave Heffernan, Rob Herring. Hooker

 

Backs :

John Cooney, Luke Mc Grath, Conor Murray, Caelan Blade. Scrum Halves

Ross Byrne, Jack Carty, Billy Burns. Out Half

Andrew Conway, Jordan Larmour, James Lowe, Jacob Stockdale, Hugo Keenan. Wing/Full Back

Gary Ringrose, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Robbie Henshaw. Centre

Here is the squad I would select for the upcoming conclusion of the 2020 Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup.

With the World Cup Pool draw set for December 14th this period will allow for all nations to experiment as the results from this period will now not have any bearing on seeding for the draw in December.

Andy Farrell and his coaching staff will now have free reign during the Autumn Nations Cup while focusing on the Six Nations conclusion….

 

 

 

 

Crusaders 2020 Champions

The Crusaders have won the recently set up Super Rugby competition in New Zealand involving all 5 New Zealand based franchises, Waikato Chiefs, Auckland Blues, Otago Highlanders and the Wellington Hurricanes.

Rugby in New Zealand came back before elsewhere across the World. It has been a fantastic competition with extremely close finishes with the Chiefs unfortunately coming out on the end of 9 defeats under new coach Warren Gatland. On a number of occasions the Chiefs were only beaten by less than 10 points.

Back to the Crusaders who had a bye in week one and then went on to win 8 of their next 9 games only being beaten by the Hurricanes. They face the Blues this weekend in the final round of the current competition with plenty of discussions ongoing as to the way rugby will look south of the equator in 2021.

Scott Robertson has been in charge over the last 4 years winning the Super Rugby title 2 times and now adding the Aoteroa title to the ever growing collection in his impressive CV. Mark Jones ex Wales and Scarlets wing has been added to the coaching team replacing Ronan O Gara who moved to take over at La Rochelle.

When Steve Hansen left the New Zealand job, Scott Robertson was surely in with a shout of taking the big job and did go through the interview process but Ian Foster signed a deal through to France 2023. Scott Robertson will hope to continue to build on the recent achievements and build a stronger squad for 2021 and beyond.

Looking at the strength of the first 23 names on their team sheet players like Bryn Hall, Jack Goodhue , Richie Mo’unga , Sevu Reece and Will Jordan there play a open brand of rugby based on solid forward play and strong defence and then you add their backs into the equation you have a receipt for success !!

They have one game left against the Blues this weekend and Scott Robertson has already told his squad he wants to end the year on a high note by beating the Blues but you can be sure that Beauden Barrett will want to end his first season with a win before he moves to play in the Top League in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath, he will still be free to play with New Zealand if called upon while playing in Japan.

There is always going to be questions as to who the best club side in the World is and on both sides of the equator many will vouch for their chosen side but it would be an interesting clash between current European Champions Saracens and Crusaders. Only time will tell as to whether there is a real appetite for a clash between the two best sides North or South of the equator….