We’re almost there, the Six Nations is now merely days away. So we decided it was high time we sent out the bat signal to summon some of the greatest rugby minds Europe had to offer.
What showed up was even better, though, and we invited passing bloggers from each nation in for a cosy fireside G-Chat.
Bajadita from France, Whiff of Cordite cycled round the corner, England’s Blood and Mud showed up waving some biscuits, then came Dario Mazzochi of Iraly’s Right Rugby, Rory Baldwin of the Scottish Rugby Blog and, with a deafening fanfare of trumpets and a couple of medals swinging from his neck; reigning champion Woodster from The Coal Face.
Here’s what happened when the custard creams were rolled out:
“Blood and Mud: SO, we all agree England are going to win. Can I go now?
Bajadita rugby: Typically English.
TheScore.ie: Yeah, why not start with England? So close last year… yet so, so far.
BAM: That final game was always coming for us and for Wales last year. They were getting better and we were doing alright but lacked dynamism and were shown for what we were
Whiff of Cordite: It’s another youngish squad.
BAM: Since then, we’ve developed a winning habit without looking, for me, particularly convincing. But the forwards look settled and are ever improving, for, as WOC says a youngish squad.
WOC: I think England will have another solid campaign without blowing the house down
BAM: The backs are still all over the shop, and no team that wants to be the best can do so with Brad Barritt in the the lineup, so I’d get shot of him and look at Burrell.
I agree, Whiff, but at least, for the first time in years, us England fans can see what the coach is trying to do. For ages it was utter despair with no light at the end of the tunnel.
WOC: Are they going to find space for Alex Goode?
BAM: I don’t think Alex Goode will get in. Brown has the shirt and deserves to keep it .
WOC: Yeah he had a good November.
BAM: In short, I expect us to be top three, and if we can show something resembling a coherent backline to go with the improving forwards then I’d be happy.
Bajadita Rugby: Alex Goode, Foden, Brown, England has 3 excellent fullbacks.
Press Association Images
WOC: Who’s scrum half going to be?
BR: Hope it will be Danny Care
BAM: Yes, Bajadita, shame we have not shown the ambition to use them properly as yet. But this is definitely a project under Lancaster
WOC: I think he’s the best choice. His form went down the toilet last year… We thought he’d be a Lion – Looks back to his best now.
BAM: I don’t like Care much, he makes daft choices in basic game management. I like Dickson, he gets the job done and with the pack going well he’s great at getting the ball away, but he’s been out of his club team which is a worry.
Dario Mazzocchi: Brunel claimed Italy must win against England in Rome this year. I don’t think that’s possible, anyway, but that’s the mission for 2014.
Rory Baldwin: Is that the last scalp left for them to claim in Rome?
WOC: I’ve never been a Dickson fan but I take your point on Care; an instinctive player.
SRB: Dickson is Scottish qualified, true story
DM: Yes, you’re right Rory.
BAM: What about Ireland? Which version of your transitional period are you in now? 4.7?
I see the Welsh game as being pivotal to the whole thing.
SRB: I like to think Ireland are all too old and past it, then Edinburgh go and get Munstered and it shows the talent they have in certain areas is still strong.
WOC: It’s a momentum competition so if we can beat Scotland and then Wales we can go to Twickenham feeling good.
Lose to Wales and a similar outcome to last year beckons. So all signs point to getting one over on Gatland. They won’t lack for motivation!
DM: I’m ready to bet: Ireland have good chances to win, from my point of view and I’ve written it on my blog two weeks ago.
The Coal Face: Is there still an Irish resentment there then, Whiff?
SRB: For us that first game is key also. Ireland are beatable off their stride and we always get up for the England game so it could be two close results early doors which puts us in good shape. Equally likely is two duff defeats that puts us out of the running very early.
We’ve got beef with Gatland too!
TCF: Dario, I bet you 10 quid right now that Ireland won’t win.
DM:: Ok, Woodster.
WOC: I think Gatty will get a hostile reception. The Irish love a pantomime villain and he fits the role
TCF: Yeah, I think he’ll probably quite enjoy that.
BAM: I think if history has taught us anything, it’s that Gatland doesn’t give a toss what anyone thinks.
SRB: very true
WOC: Very true lee. In fact he’ll revel in it.
BR: Recently Ireland becomes like French team, so inconsistant
WOC: Yeah, we’re a ridiculous team. We appear to sleepwalk into series and then get a jolt.
DM: The commander in charge, Schmidt, he’s the key factor for this team.
WOC: The hope will be Schmidt can get the team to focus from the first game.
BAM: Re::sleepwalking – WOC, you started like a rocket vs Wales last year, but all came crashing, relentlessly to earth.
WOC: We ended as a farce. Kidney was a busted flush and he managed the series dreadfully.
BAM: if Ireland had maintained their first forty minutes vs Wales form, then they would’ve won the whole thing
SRB: Is the centre pairing still going to be Darcy and BOD?
WOC: I think you might see Marshall in the first game. Darce will feature. Bod’s form is now an issue. And one with no alternative solution than to hope he comes good.
DM: As an Italian joining Celtic League, I’ve always admired Leinster scramble defence and if Schmidt can work on it as well as he did in Pro 12, well, I think Ireland have the chance to get the title.
BR: But Ireland has to play in Paris and London
WOC: Yeah, Schmidt is a great coach. So much depends on how much he can bring his vision to bear on the team. His sides are all about accuracy. Can he implement what he wants in the timeframe?
That’s the crux of it for me.
WOC: Paris and London alway makes it hard to win the pot.
BAM: What games are Scotland targeting as wins, realistically?
SRB: Realistically, Italy. We scraped past Ireland at home so shouldn’t expect the same in Dublin, but on the other hand Ireland don’t seem to faze us as much as Wales or France. And we always get up for England (which can be annoying)
BR: Rory, it will surely special for Scotland this year, cause Cotter is coming after this 6 Nations
TS: It’s an interesting point – how is Johnson managing that interim?
SRB: It will be an interesting dynamic for sure between the two of them. At the moment he is basically unaccountable; then he moves upstairs…
DM: The same old story: Italy and Scotland…
SRB: Johnno seems to be capping as many as he can so he can hand over the player pool to Cotter and say: ‘here’s who you pick from’, Which may come at the expense of results in the Six Nations.
BAM: Which is sensible, I suppose
WOC: I see Scotland v Italy as a wooden spoon decider.
DM: Italy are going to play two matches in Rome and the first is with Scotland. Tough day.
BR: Cotter it’s a very good choice for Scotland, he’s very good
BAM: That’s your cup final then, Dario?
SRB: It usually is, but then look what happened last year. Every year Scotland fans have a two week long buzz before the first game where we think we’ll have a good tournament. Then the first game happens… we know our players are under-rated but very often they don’t give onlookers much to rate them on the big occasions
TS: Do you think they can get that back three going?
WOC: Hogg, Maitland and… Evans is it?
SRB: Hmm. Could be Seymour, Lamont or Dougie Fife
Most likely Seymour I think
BAM: Any backline that contains Nick De Luca will never get anything going. Apart from misery, perhaps.
WOC: And scrums
DM: I’m scared: we’ve lacked of commitments in the last matches we played.
SBR: The key to that is Matt Scott’s fitness and who plays outside him. It’s ironic, as the whole reason for Tim Visser’s success at club level is De Luca getting it going for him. But he fails to back it up at International level
BAM: The old club great/country crap problem, eh?
BR: Dario, who will play at flyhalf? Allen?
SRB: And is he Tommy or Tomasso!
DM: Good question: he could be an option, but I think Orquera will be on the pitch at Number 10.
SRB: Allan is a bit young, he needs time to develop
DM: Of course it depends on injuries, too.
BR: He’s a young talent. With the injury of Camille Lopez he plays very often in Perpignan
WOC: I presume Parisse and Zanni will be doing their usual and playing the roles of 8 players?
DM: First of all, we must understand Brunel’s game plan, then we may try to guess who’s gonna play as fly-half.
TS: What’s that game-plan, Dario?
TCF : Parisse – the Italian rugby union equivalent of Ryan Giggs
BR: You’re sceptical about Brunel, Dario?
WOC: Results and performances were impressive last year I thought.
DM: I haven’t got so much confidence in Brunel. And I still must find his game plan.
WOC: Impressive commitment to run and offload
DM: Keep the ball? Move it? Wide or tight?
Scrum or backs? We’ve shown confusions in summer and November matches – and no defence”.
Time for a virtual tea-break. Tomorrow, the Keyboard Warriors will focus attention on the number 10s across Europe and wonder whether Wales can win yet another crown.